Leif was baptized in fall 2022 at our annual kick-off. If you have interest in getting baptized at Hope Community Church, you can learn more by visiting hopecc.com/baptism.
I was fortunate to be raised in a God-fearing family and Jesus was always present at home in conversations, meals, work, Sunday services, and youth groups. I can (and do) thank my parents for being diligent in ensuring their kids were experiencing the love of God both through them and directly in prayer and Bible reading. The covenant mantra of “where is it written?” was always on our minds as well, creating a sense of importance in understanding what God said.
The family farm was great for displaying God’s presence, even if just through nature’s existence, as it’s hard to stare at an open-face limestone quarry wall and not imagine God speaking to Job about laying the foundations of the earth. It always seemed silly to me that anything else could even come close to explaining how these wonders came about. God was always big to little Leif. But sometimes, God felt distant. I had one instance as a child of the spirit opening my eyes while reading Galatians that proved he was not only the great and all-powerful creator, but also a loving friend who spoke softly when help was needed. I was being consoled that my sin is not greater than Jesus’s death and resurrection and despite my stubborn and thickheaded do-it-yourself approach to life (even at a young age), my own actions would never be enough to save me. My natural insistence on legalism would only keep me from knowing God and being free through Jesus.
As I matured and decided to attend the University of Minnesota after several arduous transfers and what-am-I-going-to-be crises, I was introduced to Hope Community Church through a friend from back home who also attended the same university. I fell in love with the worship and how the hymns of my rural childhood were given such life and vibrantly displayed the deep longing, sorrow, joy, and hope that I believe the original authors intended. I still get emotional from several of the pieces that have been curated like fine art, and yet are openly shared with the congregation to fully enjoy and participate in the display and recognition of God’s beauty through song and music. I also met several of my best and closest friends through the small group system that helped show how important this community was to my personal growth. Though I likely wouldn’t have admitted to the profound impact it had on me at the time.
After graduation, I spent several years chasing various jobs and women around the country in search of a family and home of my own. I always felt unusually strong, capable, and confident when I was on the road with an unfamiliar destination, and I knew God was with me in my travels even if I didn’t know why I was going somewhere. However, I wound up stumbling back to Minnesota thanks to an old Hope small group friend after a particularly draining stint in Phoenix. A couple of road trip hiccups later I actually landed a professional job that would keep me in the Midwest, right smack-dab in the middle of a pandemic. That alone was a miracle attributable to God given how my resume looks like it was written by a job-hopping circus performer, which isn’t too far off the mark.
Once I was back and trying to settle into a more consistent lifestyle and career, I found myself openly speaking to God on a drive back to my apartment one Sunday morning. I was speaking about how I don’t really know the gifts that I have been given at the moment and I asked how I should be working for Him in my current position given how foreign it was to me to be tied down and not actively feeling that familiar, unnatural confidence. And how could I incorporate a desire to learn about everything in my career, personal, and spiritual life? I felt like I had lost direction by choosing a stable path. As a direct and immediate response, a single word that was not my own came from my mouth. “Encouragement”. Tears immediately poured down my face and I did my best to not get into an accident since I was now speeding down highway 62 in a rickety old truck with useless water-filled eyes. I had once again experienced that soft and gentle kindness that only the spirit can provide. That single word answered all of my active questions and let me know that I was already doing what I was meant to be doing. I was to encourage others to be how God designed them using my ability to be flexible, open, and genuinely curious.
The only problem is that I’m not a particularly encouraging individual. In fact, I can be blunt and I frequently trip over my words and do not always put my meaning into intelligible or polite sentences. But for several weeks after my interaction with the Spirit on Highway 62, various people would tell me how something I said in the past had really stuck with them. These weren’t things that I thought would have been impactful, and I probably didn’t intend them to be, but apparently my connections were getting consoled, advised, or dissuaded in ways that they needed at that time. “Encouragement”. I can only hope that in my fumbling with words and conversations that God encourages and works through me and my imperfections how he sees fit. His gift, not my ability. I’m just working on being present and pursuing those passions and chances to relate to others. Hope has been an important part of this journey, and I’m glad to have been baptized and given the opportunity to become a member of such a wonderful group of people. I hope I can be a blessing to my community, whatever that means at the time.
Now I’m attempting to continue a regular reading and prayer schedule to learn more about God and invest in a relationship like I would with any of my other friends or family. I have good weeks and bad weeks, weeks where it’s a chore, and weeks where it’s a joy. But I’m trying, and I’m loving the process and growth. I’m hoping to continue learning about everything so I can speak with anyone about God so they can also experience a personal relationship with their creator, savior, and counselor. While I am looking forward to seeing the future glory with a new body and new earth, I feel like I have lots to do here yet and why wait for the future when I can speak with and know God now? We may not be walking with God in Eden anymore, but he’s certainly with us.