There are a few things I know about myself. I like to tell stories, I like to feel wanted, I want to make a difference and I don’t want to wake up in my forties and wish I had become something that I wasn’t. I know now is the chance to shape my life into what I want my future to look like but sometimes getting started makes me dizzy. I know step one is important but where do I plant my foot and how do I know that’s the right step? I don’t want to be just a dreamer. I want my dreams to become a reality and I want “can’t” to be replaced with “I already did.”
Step Two takes us from where we are, and puts us closer to where we want to be.
Step Two is the difference between complacency of being, and the activation of DOING.
At fifteen I realised there were only two places in my home town that would hire someone as young as me. One place was too far away for my Mom to drive me everyday so I was really limited with options. I wanted a job. I wanted to start having my own money, responsibility, and ownership of becoming my own person. The first time I walked into this fast food restaurant I shook the manager’s hand and asked for a job. He said they weren’t hiring… “Sorry” and walked me out the door. As I made my way to the car I said back “Great, I’ll check back tomorrow!”
The next day he told me the same thing, so I told him the same thing… “I’ll see you tomorrow then!” After six days, I walked in and he chuckled. He tossed me a polo, a visor, and a name tag and said “I’ll see you tomorrow!”. My step 1 was wanting a job…that was easy. My step two was wanting it enough to require action. My step 3 was getting that job.
I worked there for over 4 years throughout school, summer, and even off and on through the beginning years of University. It was a great job! I loved my co-workers, management, and the lessons I learned from cooking, dealing with money, being on time, that gossip is always a bad idea, the importance of the assembly line, the customer is always right (well….), and not to dance on greasy floors at closing (one headache and ambulance visit later). That job helped shaped me into the adult I am today. I wouldn’t change a thing about that time in my life! I did however wake up one day, now at the age of 19 and wondered if there was something more for me. Wondering If I was just meant to bring joy and love people where I was and that be all. Or maybe there was something out there for me as well.
I found myself at a University that I hated, a little lonely and feeling a little emptier than I had envisioned. I had friends around but it just wasn’t enough for me. I was on the track to become a nurse. I had no desire to be a nurse but that’s what my older and cooler friend was so it seemed to make sense. I began looking up overseas trips to Africa. Looking back, I’m not sure what that would have solved but it seemed like a good idea. Having just got out of a relationship in which I thought was going to last forever, I found myself at a loss and I just wanted SOMETHING. Anything. I’ll spare you the long story here but in short – I ended up on a YWAM Townsville website and signed up for DTS (Discipleship Training School). I had no idea what I was in for and to be honest I’m glad I didn’t! I didn’t know what I needed but this was it. I got on a plane for the first time in my life and flew half way across the world to Townsville, Australia. I found myself completely out of my comfort zone. I was suddenly aware that my accent was strong, there were things about the world I had no clue about, and that I had a lot to learn.
Once I arrived I realised that we would be involved in training for a portion of our DTS and then later going on outreach to Papua New Guinea or Thailand. Taking this six month gap in my life to focus on myself, my faith, and others was the most rewarding six months of my life at that point. I learned how to communicate with other people from all nations! I learned to love people even when it’s hard to. To prefer others and not ALWAYS have my own opinion. I learned that everyone, just like me has “stuff” going on. We worked through stuff together, learning to lean into and strengthen our faith. I was seeing that this world is full of humans, not machines.
What I didn’t realise is that what I needed from this DTS was something I couldn’t even identify until I had experienced it.
I needed to be away from the known, the normal, the habits of everyday life. I was put far outside my comfort zone in an incredibly safe place with people that cared and shared the same values. Not everyone agreed on everything and it wasn’t always easy – but it was always worth it! I was championed, affirmed, challenged, loved, and accepted.
After flying far from home I realised that I had put myself in a position where I could choose to sink in my own insecurities, bottle up things inside, and close others out or I could grasp my own personality tightly, learn to make my own decisions, lead myself, choose growth, and own my identity. No one knew the other stuff that had always held me back. I finally felt what it meant to thrive, to love and use my strengths, to be okay with my weaknesses while still growing in them.
The second part of DTS was outreach. Once again, I boarded a plane to a country I never imagined I would see with my own eyes. As we landed in Thailand, I was in awe that God had led me to a point in life, that I could never have dreamed of myself. It felt like an accident that I had ended up here, but it wasn’t.
Spending seven weeks in Thailand and another two in the Outback of Australia was a whole new eye opening experience. I was able to live with orphan refugees fleeing the Burmese Civil War, show them love, teach them English, and watch them laugh for the first time in a long while. I was able to meet children in begging rings along the boarder of Thailand who were scarred from acid burns and working hard to meet their $1.00 USD quota for the day in preventing more scars. I sat with them on the ground and ate dinner with them and listened to their stories. I was invited to Burma to see their homes where they hosted our team with fresh yams and juice on their living room floors. I met women working in bars in Pattaya who were just happy to talk instead of having painful expectations from whoever decided to rent them for the night. They saw first hand love and got to relax with people who weren’t after their own selfish needs being fulfilled. We instilled a hope that does not disappoint and a love that goes far beyond what we are capable of. They got to see the heart of God and realise just how valuable they are.
Developing my own faith and character was enough to convince me it was worth it, but when you partner that with the opportunity to use what you have learned to radically affect other lives… that’s a fulfilment you can’t replicate. It’s a high that doesn’t crash easily. My gap year taught me things that now, five years later I am still using and reflecting on.
What I loved most about my Discipleship Training School is that it wasn’t a temporary fix. It was a type of growth that is sustainable for time to come. DTS really is just the beginning! In the last 5 years DTS has only made my life sweeter, and while I would relive it in a heartbeat – it just keeps giving, and getting better.
As I reflect, doing a DTS as a gap year was just the Step Two I never knew I needed.
Step Two got me to Step Three, and continually gives me excitement for the many more steps I’ll be taking in my life. It’s no longer just about me, it’s about what I am doing to make my life count and that’s something I’ll never regret.
5 Big Life Lessons I Learned On My Gap Year
- Giving is far more rewarding than receiving
- Let go of control, it’s more fun that way
- My past does not define my future
- People are the worlds most valuable resource and asset
- Only you are responsible for you, so figure out who you want to be
Lea is a bright ambitious young woman. She’s from Paris, Texas but has been in Australia on staff for 5 years. She’s an excellent leader, teacher and story teller. She enjoys coffee, being with good company, and watching documentaries.