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ADVENT: Joy & Grief

This week, we focus on JOY. True joy can come only from the presence of Jesus in our lives and through the salvation He has gifted us, not from our ever-changing circumstances.

Hailey Smith, World Race: Gap Year 2020 (Gap D), reflects on the unexpected end of her time on the Adventures campus in Georgia and how God has taught her about joy in the midst of grief and pain.

You make known to me the path of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence…

(Psalm 16:11)

Well, here we are. My World Race: Gap Year squad was supposed to go home for 10 days for Thanksgiving break, but those 10 days have turned into 6 weeks at home.

For those who may not know, our squad had the opportunity to serve in Louisiana with Samaritans Purse TWICE during our first three months of Gap Year. During that time, we were blessed to help homeowners whose homes had been damaged from Hurricane Laura & Delta, which involved hands-on ministry and also connecting with homeowners.

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Brooklyn and I felt the Lord call us back to Louisiana during Thanksgiving break, which meant waiting until Christmas to see our families. We were going back to where we knew God wasn’t done yet.

So we drove little old “Betty” (my car) to Deridder, Louisiana, where we were blessed to serve for 2 days before we got news of a few positive cases of the virus on our squad. Samaritan’s Purse did the right thing, but that meant we had to leave the camp (to limit exposure).

After 12 hours of driving the following day, I got home around midnight and immediately felt overwhelmed. I had been living out of a backpack for 3 months and came home to a bedroom full of JUNK, and all of the things I had grown used to not having in my life and space.

It was also the first time I had been alone in 80 days. I always had people around me, I mean, I did have 40 roommates…

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The last time I sat in my room, I was a completely different person. I changed so much in Georgia that being in that space became uncomfortable for me.

Thankfully, I tested negative for COVID, but still had to quarantine, which became a time where I felt myself emotionally and spiritually shut down.

On Friday, November 27th, we got an email that just wrecked me. “Dear Racers…” 

That’s how you know it’s an email filled with not so good news. Due to the positive cases in 2 different squads we weren’t returning to Georgia anymore after Thanksgiving; we were finishing the semester virtually.

This was so hard for me because I wouldn’t get to spend any more time with the Team Leaders (who I grew so close to). I wouldn’t get to enjoy all of the fun things planned for our return, and I wouldn’t get to see my Gap D family for so long. I wasn’t expecting to be home for Thanksgiving, let alone for 6 more weeks.

That’s what is so hard about being a Christ follower: you have to trust His timing.

So far I’ve been home for 18 days, and it hasn’t been the easiest. I’ve allowed the enemy to rob me of what I’ve learned and how much I’ve grown, and I haven’t shown that to others around me back home. I’ve become shut down because all I want to do is go back to Georgia.

I wouldn’t allow myself to feel those hard emotions because I felt overly dramatic.

That’s when the Lord reminded me that grief is real. It’s the response to a loss. Grieving isn’t reserved for when someone close to you passes away. Grief is necessary for many more losses and experiences.

Certain seasons in life come and go, and my experience in Georgia is one of those that I have had to grieve. I had to learn to let go of trying to control circumstances I have no control over. I was allowed to cry and feel sad because Georgia was the best 3 months of my life.

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I am allowed to cry over this chapter closing because I have started to become the person I’ve always wanted to be. The powerful words I’ve declared over myself are things sophomore-year Hailey would have never seen coming.

Georgia impacted my life in SO many ways! There is a never-ending list of things the Lord taught me, and my journal entries make so evident that I’m just getting hungrier for more and more of His Word.

Because of the joy He has given me, even in pain, all I can do is smile so big that it hurts because His truth will last even after the pain of this loss has passed.

The 3 months in Georgia that weren’t supposed to be are now officially over, and as I go into this next season of ministry with Gap D in Costa Rica, the Lord reminds me of this:

This chapter is closing, but this isn’t the end of my story. He is always going to have the greater plan; I can’t be afraid to walk even if I can’t see what’s ahead.

Sit with God and ask Him how you can find JOY in this season. His timing may not line up with ours but true joy comes when we have to learn how to trust beyond our own understanding. 

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