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the 32 who walked the journey with me

Friends and family, I return from the 18 Inch Journey a new man, full of wonder and gratitude, for you and all that the Father has done and taught me the last two months in Sophia, NC. There’s no way I could share all that I did and received, but you are worth the effort!

The Journey was much more than I expected it to be. From the opening dinner to closing dinner, we were celebrated, fought for, and challenged by leaders who loved us so well to become more our true selves than we’ve ever been before. One of the major themes from my Journey was childlike joy. In a deeper and truer way, I realized that the Father God is trustworthy and is my provider and sustainer; He always has enough for me because I am his beloved son. His Spirit is like a little boy at the beach inviting us, “Come play! I can teach you all about the seagulls.”

Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, we usually had teaching sessions in the mornings. The first three weeks focused on the Father, then Jesus, followed by Holy Spirit. In the weeks after, we started learning how to walk in the love of God. I was given amazing tools on how to ask my heart what it needed in certain moments, how to communicate my needs, feelings, and thoughts with others in an assertive and encouraging way, and how to repent and forgive others correctly.

On Tuesdays and Thursdays, we had art class. We made our own watercolor journals, and in them, we invited the Holy Spirit into our process and wrote his voice beside our paintings. In those moments, I learned how to slacken and let God speak his better way into my life. We also had collectives on those days. I was in music collective; we learned theory and the foundation of writing songs through the lens of wonder and how it connected to our hearts. My love for music was reawakened; I was made to sing songs with God that only I was made to sing. At the end of the Journey, each collective presented its hard work. I got to share a song I wrote alongside my classmates, but we each got to play as a little band for each other’s songs.

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Every Wednesday and Saturday, we would take care of the farm, and I had the privilege of being on the garden team with four other guys. It was in killing aphids with soapy water and watering plants over and over that I saw the kind patience and faithfulness of the Father to fight for me and ensure my growth. When we got on our hands and knees in the mud and planted kale, beets, spinach, lettuce, and other winter greens, I saw the Father’s strength and intentionality, love I can put all my weight on. And when we pulled weeds, I saw that it wasn’t the plants’ fault that weeds grow. Likewise, when lies appear in my life, I can pull them out and cover my heart with truth, but I don’t have to fearfully dig around to uncover them. Always let the Father’s voice be the final word. It was also really special to harvest the greens and eat our hard work, and knowing that the Holy Spirit will bear much fruit in me, and my family for generations will eat from the work I did with God at the Journey.

I was also in a small group, and they quickly became my little family within the bigger family. They helped me realize how beautiful family is, and how important my voice is. One thing Melissa Helser said will forever mold me, “boys will build ministries, but fathers build and cultivate families.” Because we celebrated, laughed, and encouraged each other so often, I want to be a man who cultivates a culture of family in my community.

One special event I got to partake in was celebrating all of the ladies. Jonathan Helser led all of the guys in writing our own vision statements of who we wanted to be as future fathers and husbands. As one of our first action steps to being men of God, we planned a secret celebration dinner for all the ladies. After we wrote encouragement cards, decorated the tables, and prepared the food, we all dressed up in our white dress shirts and suspenders and escorted the girls with a rose to the table. Being on the serving team, I carried 3 courses of fondue with my partner on a 12 foot wooden board, and then carefully lifted the board up and over the girls’ heads onto the table. They went crazy at our creativity and were blown away. At the end of the night, we surrounded them with a song and a prayer of blessing. It was so encouraging to hear how impactful it was for them to receive the lavished evening, and how empowered I now feel to celebrate my own sisters and people around me.

Pictured below are Sarah, Mark, Tim, Tori, and Kelsey, the 5 in my small group who were also on the Journey with me. We were blessed every Thursday morning to walk up the hill to Papa Ken and Miss Linda’s house (Jonathan Helser’s parents) and have time with Papa Ken, discussing Oswald Chamber’s devotionals and any questions we had. Papa Ken challenged me to always journal the voice of the Lord after I read and pray with my devotions because praying and reading without letting the Lord speak is like looking at a menu and never ordering any food.

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Here are a few other highlights to the Journey. I got baptized in Lake Linda by Johnny and my small group leader, Jake Stevens. It was one of the most victorious feelings I have ever known, like winning the soccer championship I wanted to win in high school. Whenever I see the Father celebrating me in pride and delight, I see him surrounded by many others as if he is watching me on TV, roaring and cheering as if I had scored the winning goal. We had a poetry night, where each of us shared a poem we were prompted to write that related to our journey and the meaning of our names. This taught us how powerful our voices are and how words are a beautiful gift. The poem I wrote is attached at the end. The staff surprised us by taking us to the North Carolina Museum of Art and the North Carolina Symphony. At the museum we let the Lord through the art speak to us wonder and honor, and at the symphony, we let the pieces of Sibelius teach us the beauty of harmony and releasing your own sound freely within boundaries.

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This is Jonathan and Melissa Helser, the leaders the 18 Inch Journey. Mel looked me in the eyes and taught me how to smile, inside and out. Literally. During sessions, she would stop and make us smile, showing our teeth for 15 seconds. Johnny showed me confidence as a man and full-dependency on the Father. Both are so full of wisdom and yet they are so approachable.

Like I said, this is just the surface of all that happened at the 18 Inch Journey. Now that I am back home, it is definitely an adjustment, but I am so glad to be back home and practice daily all the things I have become and learned. I want to encourage you all—everything I received is accessible and available to you. If you look at Jesus, he didn’t have anything we don’t have or can’t have. All we have to do is ask, and he will give abundantly. If you would like to get coffee or a meal to hear more of my Journey, please let me know; I would be honored. I look forward to sharing in the months and years ahead!

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