Day 34: Carly Lunden

1 Timothy 4:14
"Do not neglect the gift you have, which was given to you by prophecy when the council of elders laid their hands on you."

CLEAR! (Like a defibrillator). You know? Like those electric pads you rub together to get someone's heart beating again.
2023 was like one of those. It brought ME back. To life. Back to community. Back to church. Back to God, wholeheartedly. "Let all that you do, be done in love." (1 Corinthians 16:14)
For reference, 2022 was probably the worst year of my life so far. It brought so much heartbreak. I lost myself. I was convinced everything was going badly because God was trying to bring me back to Him. And even though I was digging my heels in, by 2023 I was hungry again. Hungry for more of Him.
When I left my old "home" church in 2020, I told myself I didn't NEED to go to church every Sunday. Without realizing it, my faith wasn't more than a flicker in my regular life, and 2022 was just the culmination of my downward spiral. I had been to Devoted and Grace Chapel a couple of times in 2022 and really admired how real and honest Pastor James was/is.
As January 2023 started, I threw myself into every possible extracurricular church activity I knew about; Bible study every Monday, Devoted every other Thursday, church every Sunday. I didn't realize how much I craved a community of believers my age. I pushed myself into awkward situations where I didn't know anybody in order to make friends. I made a promise to myself that if I didn't have plans, I would be at church every Sunday. I like to think I kept that promise, because out of 52 weeks, I went 39 times. Yes, someone made me count! HOWEVER, I went to every single Devoted meeting we had. Perfect attendance!
By February, I already felt myself building new friendships. Friends that I didn't just want, but needed. I would spend a lot of my days driving from Easton to Bedminster to hang out with these new found friends of mine. And every drive was worth it. Every friend I've made has helped me along my path, God's path and has helped keep me there. I don't think they know how vital each one has been to show me God's love and faithfulness. What an amazing gift from God that these friends have been.
In March, I moved into my own apartment. Now, this was all set up by God, of course. Because how else does an apartment become available across the street from your job for $1000? AND with an included parking spot in the back! If I can tell you anything about Easton, the parking is horrid. So the parking spot was a real blessing. I (barely)looked for an apartment for two weeks, and God just set this one up. Amazing landlords. I could not be more blessed.
In May, I went on a retreat called Women's Walk with Christ. Now, this was also set up by God. I am a hair stylist, so if someone is scheduled on a day I want to take off, it’s over; I have to work. I thought about signing up, checked my schedule (it was clear), saw the price, and decided not to go. A couple of weeks later, the retreat was advertised again and I mentioned that I couldn't afford it. A friend told me it was a "pay what you can" retreat. So I signed myself up for what I could spend. Got my email that said "no phones". Okay. My first thought was, "how do I sneak my phone or apple watch on this retreat?"  Of course, I left my phone in the car, because I'm a rule follower.
This retreat was everything. I will admit that I was skeptical at first.  BUT, I stayed with it because this is where God wanted me. I will never forget that weekend and what peace I encountered. If you ever hear about it, I highly recommend it.
"Today, the purpose that God has called you to is revealing itself. It feels familiar, and it feels inspiring."
So here we are. I saved the best for last. I was so sad to see Pastor Frankie leave. I remember seeing him at Lake Champion trips growing up. But when I heard Miss Jen was taking over as Youth Director, I was ecstatic.
In August, I began the process of becoming a youth leader at PlusOne. The quote above is from a study I was doing right before my meeting with Jen. It seemed like further clarity for me to be involved in youth ministry. I have always been so passionate about youth ministry. I had such a positive experience when I was in youth, that all I want to do is be part of showing Jesus to these kids and give them a safe space to have their own community outside of school and sports.
I was a youth leader at my old church, at the youth group I grew up in. I had so much love for it; yet sadly, I watched it crumble right before my eyes. My beloved youth pastor was forced to resign, and his replacement did not even come close to replacing him. It was devastating for me to see. We went from having 100 kids a week, to 20. By the time we came out of quarantine, I did not return to the church or the youth group.
In 2022, I took a back seat at Grace Chapel before I got involved in ministry because I wanted to be sure. In September of 2023, I started working with the Senior High. For those last four months of 2023, I really saw myself grow, like I was watching from outside my body. I became more and more comfortable at getting to know these kids first-hand. I don't want them to have my experience with youth group, rather I want theirs to be even better.
God has been so kind to use me as a leader at PlusOne. Every Wednesday is joy. I am also so honored to work with leaders that have the same passion as I do. You can just tell that each leader was hand-picked for this role. They have also become close friends that I can always just talk and talk with about youth ministry and what we can do to elevate it. Seriously, 75% of our conversations are about youth ministry. I am so excited to see what God brings in this new year.
"God, thank you that I can boast of your blessings. Thank you for using me in the church and in the youth ministry. I pray for Your continued guidance for me and for all leadership at PlusOne; that we would seek You, and then speak. Give me patience and peace when I'm faced with life's trials; and there are many. You are my confidence. You are my peace. I thank you that I do not have to worry about what tomorrow brings because You are in control. There is no better place to be than in Your will. I pray that I stay there. In Jesus' name, Amen."

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