Within all of the Dream Center’s transformative, life-changing programs, there are two that look a little different from the rest: the Dream Center Leadership School and the Immersion Experience. Through these programs, young people from all over the world leave home and commit their time to the Dream Center to serve the vision and learn Gospel-centered leadership.
I have spent the last three years of my life walking through both programs. Similarly to a student going off to college, moving to the Dream Center was my first time leaving home. And leaving home for me meant gaining the autonomy I had craved for years. Moving from a small town in Illinois, I had a new opportunity in Los Angeles to explore myself as an individual––and that was only part of it. Even beyond exercising new freedoms, the city could give me new creative opportunities, fresh perspectives to feed into my relationship with God, and a whole new world of things to do and explore. Once I felt like my home could no longer give me that, the life that raised me became completely overwhelmed by the appeal of all that Los Angeles had to offer.
COMING TO THE DREAM CENTER
September of 2019 is when I enrolled in the Dream Center Leadership School and when I discovered what a force independence could be––for better or for worse. I was living without my parents, going to the store for my own groceries, I no longer had to ask permission before leaving the house, and it felt good. My life had turned a corner into a new world and home became a thought lost in the thrill. The distance that I had created between myself and where I had come from was something I was completely okay with. But on the other side of gaining autonomy is reason to grieve.
I was changing. And going home for the holidays started to become much less appealing to me. I realized that the people and places I was most familiar with were changing too. Over the last two years, every trip home was bound by a desperation to leave again. The newfound freedoms were hindering the daughter, sister, and child in me. Once I recognized that, I saw just how much the charm of independence can blind the young eye to the joys of spending the holidays at home.
As the beginning of my time in the Immersion Experience came and went this year, what came and stayed was a longing for the comfort of home. While I was gripping onto the joy of my obtained autonomy, I had yet to view going home for the holidays as comfortable. However this year, it feels different.
HOME MEANS FAMILY
Home is all of the best parts of me. It is the space my parents created for me to grow, learn, and love, by way of their delicate hands. It is where, in a tiny pond in the middle of Illinois, I first committed my life to God at just thirteen years old. And where later on, at the age of seventeen, I committed my life to God for a second time.
Home is where I grew up beside my two younger brothers who used to be the annoying little siblings, but now are my friends. I swear they grow a whole foot every time I see them in person! It is where, even if the sign hanging above our kitchen stove said, “Fend for yourselves”, I was always able to find food to eat. This is something I am especially grateful for after the time I have spent serving the many people in need through the Dream Center.
I have become acutely aware in my time here that many have not experienced life the way I have been privileged to. For some, returning home is actually extremely difficult. They feel unwelcomed and the intense emotional turmoil is almost too much to bear. For others, the journey home brings unexpected sorrow. While time can be healing, it will also catch up to old friendships and grandparents and going home will mean having to process loss. Some remember home as the place where they had to grow up before they were ready––where family tension always drowned out the joy. Some, for reasons beyond their control, do not get to go home at all. If that is you, here is some encouragement for you.
ENCOURAGEMENT FOR those facing challenges going home
- You have an opportunity to enter into an old place with new strength. You are not the same person you were when you first left home. And you now stand with a new community to support you as you face the difficult task of returning home.
- God is with you. He is Emmanuel- God with us- and whatever home stirs in you, it will not be felt alone.
- When you feel shaken by the memories and loss weighs heavy on you, when you feel the enemy bringing war down on your soul, God is the Prince of Peace. No person or thing can take away the calm that is yours to receive from Him.
- You can make this holiday beautiful for yourself. Focus on gratitude and thanksgiving for the people you love. Be open to celebrating in unconventional ways until you are able to develop new traditions that will rewrite memories past.
MY BIGGEST TAKEAWAY
I am so blessed with a beautiful life both here at the Dream Center and at home with my family. It makes going home easy and returning to ministry just the same. As the season approaches, I begin to feel the anticipation of finding myself in the comfort of my family, my home in just a few short weeks. I know going home for the holidays will be revitalizing for my soul.
Rather than home giving me the discomfort of being in an old place while feeling like a new person, I see it as a haven. Full of warmth, rest, and life. With time, going home for the holidays has become something I crave whenever I begin to grow wear. And when I grow weary, what I want most is just to be somebody’s child again. Even if only for a few days, to have no other role but to be a child. Home can feel like that.
The past two years of my life have been full of growth and change. Both the Dream Center Leadership School and the Immersion Experience have been imperative to that spiritual and personal transformation. God has nursed me back to health where I have struggled to understand so much. I once understood independence as needing to be separated from the things and people who raised me. But my perspective changed. You can actually still be the changed and refined version of yourself while enjoying the people who love you and the places you knew before. I can say now with certainty that for many Thanksgivings to come I will see home as one of the greatest gifts.