When people ask me what my “Southern Style” summer was like, I find myself using phrases like “it was awesome” or “it changed my life” but.. I’ve had an extremely hard time putting my experience into r e a l words. Finally after about a month of thinking about it, I think I’ve figured it out. My Southern Style experience was the perfect picture of the Gospel and how much God loves me.
I know that’s not exactly what people want to hear when they think of Southern Style but for me, it rings to be true. God revealed Himself to me in places I never thought God could be. This summer, I was met with a strong identity crisis, feelings of shame, feelings of not being enough, times where I didn’t feel valued or heard, times where I felt like I was disappointing God and myself, and so many moments where the harsh reality that I am not perfect slapped me in my face. And through all these tough times, I was forever changed. I know people want to hear about the happy moments, the times we laughed until we cried, the late night shenanigans, and all the great meals we had but none of these things transformed me as much as the hard times that were happening inside my mind and my heart.
For years as a Christian, I lived my life with this image of who I was supposed to be. I wanted to be perfect, I wanted to be seen as a virtuous woman, I wanted to be a role model, and I wanted to set myself a part from other people. I pretended like I wanted to be and do all those things because I wanted to win others to Christ but in all truth, I was afraid that if I was fully known by the people around me, they wouldn’t like me. Like if they REALLY saw me, they would deem me unworthy. So it was easier for me to seem perfect and judgmental than to show my truth. For years, I lived a life that I barely enjoyed because I was afraid to mess up and afraid that people would deem me “not good”.
The Southern Style experience, one that pushes you to share yourself with other people and to be authentic, was HARD. I had lived my life every single day only giving people the parts of me that I thought were “good enough” and here I was being asked to give more, to share more, and to open up more. The first thing Southern Style taught me was that I was not as open about myself as I pretended to be. I had a way of allowing people to share themselves fully with me and to be comfortable doing so while I gave nothing in return. I soon learned that if I was going to connect with my team members and leave this past summer with real friendships – I would have to stop lying to myself and the people around me. I would have to say “THIS IS ME. I MAKE MISTAKES. I AM NOT PERFECT. PLEASE LOVE ME ANYWAY.” That was the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life, but it was worth it. God had been trying to show me for a long time that the only way to be fully loved was to be fully known, and it took allowing myself to be fully known by strangers for me to see His point. He knew me fully and still loved me but through Southern Style, He showed me that other people would do the same if I let them.
Now I would be a liar if I didn’t tell it all. I have never been afraid to be honest in my writing and I won’t start now but some things are definitely harder to admit than others. So, bare with me. This summer, I drank for the first time in my 21 years of life. I went out for the first time as well. You can only imagine some of the things that transpired in my life because of these two occurrences. There were some instances where a glass of wine and good conversation was perfect after a long orientation. But there were some instances where I indeed overindulged and made a lot of mistakes…. A LOT OF MISTAKES. I can remember crying at least four times this summer after drinking not because I felt like drinking was a sin but because I knew that some layers of myself were being peeled away. I thought that because people could see my humanness, they would think that I wasn’t good. I remember having conversations with myself about how I could enjoy wine and dancing and still be a Christian. How could I want to go out with my friends but still find my identity in Christ? It was a long hard battle and the conclusion that I came to is this – I made mistakes this summer for sure. Some of which I had to apologize and repent for. But enjoying my life and being a Christian were not things that had to live separately from one another. I could order a glass of wine with my dinner and still blog about Christ. I could sing karaoke at a bar with my friends and still worship God at church with no guilt for having fun. I could want to lead women to Christ AND know my limits with fun. I realize that I can’t have sin and Jesus, but I CAN enjoy my life with Christ living on the inside of me. I am still not an advocate for underage drinking nor am I willing to make some of the mistakes I made this summer over again, but I am an advocate for personal convictions, making sure you’re listening to God, following His word, and living a life pleasing to Him without being restricted by the opinions of others and the convictions of other people. Southern Style taught met that I could have Jesus and fun.
There was a point this summer where I became ashamed of being a follower of Christ. It was a mixture of ridicule and judgement from others, identity issues, and concerns of what people would say that pushed me toward this place of hiding who I truly was at the core of my being. After I allowed myself to explore different things I’d never engaged in before, I wasn’t sure where Christ fit into all of it. I was afraid that if I was still Imani, the girl who loves Jesus, I couldn’t be Imani, the girl you could share all your problems with or the girl you could go to Wing Wednesday with (HAHA). I thought that I couldn’t love a glass of Riesling AND love Jesus. I was surrounded by people who were different than me. We were all being taught to accept ourselves, accept others, and to love despite those differences, but I felt like nobody was really going to do that for me. I felt like my passions for Christ and my convictions were something that these people who I wanted to love me so badly couldn’t accept. So I stopped talking about it, I stopped writing about it, and I hid that part of me because in my head, my differences didn’t seem “good enough” or “profound enough” to be accepted. But what members of my team were able to show me was that my convictions, my faith, and my identity in Christ was the thing that a lot of them admired about me. The part of me I thought didn’t mix well with my Southern Style experience was the part that made me different and that others were able to accept and love even if they didn’t share those convictions and passions. Southern Style taught me that although what makes me different isn’t the same as what makes others different, I could be exactly who I am and they would accept it and love me in spite of.
Through the waves of fighting for my identity, letting my mistakes define me, and not knowing exactly where I fit into the Southern Style equation, one thing I just couldn’t make myself believe was that I was good. I didn’t feel good. I didn’t believe it, and I couldn’t see how God could turn all of these internal struggles I was having into something good. I would literally lie awake for hours during the summer trying to see how the fun I was having, the future I wanted, the way I loved Christ, and some of the mistakes I’d made could make me good. For some crazy reason, God loved me enough to show me through members of Southern Style just how good I was. During some of the lowest points, someone would randomly remind me that they thought I was strong, or that I spoke well, that I inspired them. My dark moments were always, ALWAYS met with the sweetest reminders of just how good I was. Through pertinent conversations and necessary life debriefs, God used Anastasia specifically to remind me of His goodness and mine. No matter how low I felt or how dirty I felt, she always showed me the best parts of myself and was a simple reminder of the goodness that still lived inside of me. God used her mightily in my life this summer, and I don’t even think she knows it. I saw God’s love for me through her friendship, and I will be forever grateful for it. Every time I was met with a hard situation or a moment of darkness, God used a member of Southern Style or the experience within itself to remind me that I am good. Southern Style also showed me just how good God is. Because God is good and His holy spirit lives inside of me, I AM GOOD. As a result of His goodness and my goodness, I am now equipped to do good things.
Southern Style gave me friends, a host of good times, and a lifetime of memories. But it also gave me some of the rudest awakenings that I didn’t know I needed, some of the most honest and necessary internal life changes, and the perfect picture of redemption, grace, and love. I highly encourage anyone considering it to be a part of a Southern Style team one day. Your experience won’t be the same as mine but it’ll change your life regardless.
As always love God, love people, and remember that you are good. Also APPLY FOR SOUTHERN STYLE 2019 if you have the chance!
If you have any questions about my walk with Christ, my blogs, or my life, feel free to email me at “email@example.com”! Follow me on social media to keep up with my blog through that avenue! Insta: _sincerelyimani and Facebook: Sincerely Imani 🙂