One of the things I took for granted before moving from the Sunshine State is the great amount of wildlife that can be encountered so closely to where people are localized. I love returning to my “homeland” because I become nostalgic and because a heightened appreciation constantly grows for the place I consider home. While my deep love for Florida wildlife may slightly bias my opinion, I think that Florida is one of the coolest states for viewing wildlife, as animals are fairly active year-round.
Today I went to the Circle B Bar Reserve in south Lakeland, Florida for the first time. This nature reserve is one of many in Polk County, and its recent claim-to-fame was thanks to a viral video of a massive gator, nicknamed “Mr. Humpback” by frequent park-goers, walking across one of the trails. I had vague hopes of catching a glimpse of this seemingly-prehistoric beauty, but I figured the odds were small, as the ranch is composed of 1,267 acres. However, I also knew that, being in central Florida, the odds of seeing an alligator were high, especially down the trail aptly named Alligator Alley.
What I didn’t expect when I got to Circle B was the overwhelming natural beauty I encountered at every turn of every trail. I was so in awe at the wild serenity that surrounded me — all I could do was take pictures and soak it all in. Wildlife for viewing was not sparse, either. As soon as I stepped onto the trail I was met by all sorts of bustling animals, including great egrets and great blue herons. I soon saw osprey flying high above the treetops and out over the lake in what seemed to be a hunt for food, bald eagles tearing through the blue sky screeching and fishing, and other birds basking in the setting evening sun. After doing research and looking-up different animals, I’ve composed a list of those observed on my hike: great egrets, sandhill cranes, great blue herons, bald eagles, osprey, alligators (I saw 5!!), squirrels, bob head quail, white ibis, red bellied woodpeckers, ducks, turtles, and others that I was unable to identify.
Another thing that struck me unique about this nature reserve was the way that it remained seemingly untouched by man, serving as one of the rare truly wild places left in the world. For example, I was walking along the trail when, further out in the marsh, I heard a splash and a deep bellow. Spinning around to find the source of the sound, my eyes landed on an alligator shaking its head in the water, gobbling up a quick snack or meal. In all my time spent alligator-watching growing up, that was the closest I’d come to watching an alligator catch prey in the wild. In yet another part of the trail I stood still, allowing myself to be engulfed in the sounds of the different birds and animals — it was one of the coolest, most natural experiences I’ve been able to witness.
As a Lakeland native, I can assuredly say that my short time spent at Circle B was some of the most fruitful time I’ve spent on a nature reserve. Wildlife was present in all different forms, and the scenery was simply stunning from every angle. If you ever get the opportunity, I urge you to give Circle B Bar Ranch a chance — it’s free to the public, easily accessible, and worth every minute spent there.
As I sit and write this at 1:32 in the morning, I can't help but feel let my mind wander to the seemingly unending upcoming demands of my life: exams, studying, assignment due dates, application deadlines, fundraising, and SLEEP (which I'm obviously not getting much of), among other things. If I could just make it to the end of this week then maybe I'll be able to get back on my feet, I tell myself. The problem is that this mindset traps me in a cycle until suddenly the semester is halfway through and I'm left wondering how time has flown so quickly.
Rather than let myself fall victim to this diversion of the enemy, who so relentlessly tries to get us to focus our attention on anything other than the goodness and faithfulness and consistency of God, I've chosen to stand in the storm, trusting the truths of the Lord instead of the lies of the evil one. As I was spending time with the Lord literally just a few minutes ago, I felt compelled to share with you all my prayer of joy to our Father:
Lord God, Abba, I thank You for the assurance of Your goodness.
Thank You for the promise of peace that is rooted in trusting You.
I thank you that in the midst of the relentless storm I am able to step out of the boat and onto the waves.
I trust You when the world says I should worry.
You are my hope.
You are faithful.
"Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of is own."
My fellow small group leader and trusted friend Kyra once shared from a devotional the definitions of vision and mission as they pertain to a relationship with and a calling from the Lord: vision is your purpose here on earth and mission pertains to the way(s) you walk out your vision. Personally, as I see it now, the vision for this life of mine is to spread the gospel of Jesus with as much intentionality as I can, especially throughout the scientific culture, and to encourage people to lovingly preserve the Creation, and all of its inhabitants, that God has so generously blessed us with. As this perception of my vision has long been shaped and molded by God, and will continue through that process, different missions of mine have come and gone. From openly talking about Jesus and my faith to fellow biology students and professors to sharing my testimony with a Muslim friend to approaching a stranger in a restaurant to remind him that the Lord loves him, my mission has always been deeply rooted in the desire to make the King known throughout my world. The Lord has recently tasked me with a new mission, one that is sure to greatly expand the horizons of my world as I know it.
In September, I came across a unique opportunity to go to Botswana, Africa. I was scrolling through Instagram when an ad appeared for Okavango Guiding School. That’s cool, I thought as I clicked on the picture. What was presented to me was the opportunity to attend the Okavango Guiding School for a month, learning how to nature guide and trail guide in the African bush. Checking the prices, I excitedly realized that this trip may be one that I could realistically afford and manage. I pitched the potential idea to my mom and, hesitantly, she agreed that it would be an amazing experience for me. I quickly stopped myself from becoming too excited and emotionally committed, however, remembering Gator Country and that, despite my excitement and desire to go, the Lord had asked me to stay home, ultimately because He was aware of the ways that He both was protecting me and had something better in store for me (If you want to read more, here’s the link to my blog post about it: http://www.kerringtonmaner.com/home/see-ya-later-alligators). After praying and speaking to a friend, I decided that I would ask the Lord for confirmation through listening prayer.
Later the next day I returned to school in time for Kyra and me to lead our small group, which consists of my roommates and several friends. At the time, I was beginning to disciple one of my roommates, Katie, who had recently recommitted her life to the Lord. Towards the end of our small group we were all practicing listening prayer and just trying to hear from the Lord about different areas of our lives. I felt prompted by Him to ask Katie to listen for me. As I hadn’t mentioned anything to any of them about Africa yet (this is important to keep in mind), I thought it would be a cool way to allow the Lord to move if He so decided.
I asked Katie, “Would you mind asking the Lord if He wants me to take the opportunity that has been put in front of me?”
“Sure,” she excitedly replied. The Lord had already been speaking to us in several ways, and I hoped that He would do so again. She closed her eyes for a few moments, and I waited in anticipation of what would be said.
Opening her eyes once more, Katie turned to me and shared what the Lord had showed her while she prayed:
“I saw you sitting in a field, surrounded by a bunch of animals. They were all circled around you and you were just, like, in the middle petting a tiger. Somehow — I don’t know how — I just knew you were in Africa, and it felt like you were at home. I felt very much like you were at peace and at home there in Africa, surrounded by all of those animals. And then I saw an image flash before my eyes. From the glimpse I got, I could see that it was an airplane and a sunset. That’s what I saw! Does it mean anything to you?”
I smiled, nearly disbelieving that the Lord had just revealed this to me through Katie. He hadn’t said just a simple yes or no; instead, He chose to confirm for both Katie and me that we were talking about the same thing and that, yes, He was commissioning me to go to Botswana.
“I intentionally didn’t tell you this,” I started, “but that was confirmation for me. The opportunity I told you to ask about was me going to Africa. The Lord just confirmed to me, through you, that I’m going to Botswana, Africa this summer.”
I then explained the previous events that had led up to that event, and both of us were amazed by how the Lord had moved. We started laughing and rejoicing that the Lord had chosen to reveal Himself to us in that way. I was hesitant to believe that this was confirmation, solely because it meant that I was really going. However, it’s safe to say now that I trust the confirmation that the Lord gave me.
While I’m incredibly excited for the experiences that lie ahead in Africa, I can’t help but feeling that the Lord is calling me there for more than just learning how to nature guide. I don’t believe in coincidences, and the Lord has brought up a couple reminders that have led me to believe that He’s sending me there to do His work. Throughout my whole life, Africa has always held a very special place in my heart, even moreso than Australia, which may be hard for some to believe. I’ve always felt the need to go, to be apart of the land, to interact with the animals and the cultures, to just be there. And for some reason the thought of Africa has always stirred in me feelings of desire and of being called home. I feel that these feelings have been innately instilled in me by the Lord with great intention. I believe the Lord is allowing me to go on this trip so that I may begin to understand His reasoning for calling me to this amazing continent and get my first taste of what He’s got in store for my life.
Secondly, He has instilled in my heart a desire to be a witness to those in the scientific world. This calling was defined and confirmed with me as I watched a TedTalk for one of my online classes at Southeastern University,
“Our new mission field is the scientific culture,” the speaker fervently explained.
Having written it down years ago, I feel that serving in this mission field is a way that I get to live-out the Lord’s calling for my life. Being drawn to science, I’ve always welcomed the difficulty that accompanies it for a Christ-follower. I deeply feel that the Lord is sending me on this trip to Africa to be a witness of Jesus, not to the local tribes or cultures, but instead to those who may put their trust in science rather than in God. The Lord is tasking me with this upcoming mission, and all I need do is trust Him and be faithful over what He asks of me.
I trust the Lord’s provision for and over this trip, including the financial aspect. If after reading my story you feel at all compelled or prompted to support me in any way, I will welcome it greatly, whether it be through prayer or through finances, one of which is more important than the other (hint: it’s prayer!!). You can help by spreading my story, by praying or even by giving financially if you feel led to. I am also selling original drawings for donation, the ideas of which were inspired by the Lord (check the Fundraising page on my website for more information). I thank you greatly in advance for your support, whether it be through prayer or through finances.
When Kyra and I entered Chipotle today for lunch my eyes fell on a man sitting by himself on the other side of the restaurant. As soon as I laid eyes on him I felt a pressing on my spirit that urged me to go talk to him. I was incredibly nervous for some reason and suppressed this feeling, trying to block it out by studying for my cell biology lab practical exam. Each time that I tried to read the words on the pages I was reminded of the man. I felt the Lord convict me: Is this exam really more important than he is? Frustrated and nervous I continued to act as though it really wasn’t that necessary that I talk to him. I’ll probably get rejected anyways, I told myself. The enemy was trying his hardest to convince me that it wasn’t important or that I would simply get rejected. By the time Brent showed up to the restaurant I knew that I needed to go talk to the man. I confessed to Brent and Kyra what I felt like the Lord was asking of me, but I was still nervous. Brent began sharing a story and, as I was listening, I turned my head to make sure the man was still there. I watched him pick up a napkin as if he were wiping down the table in preparation to leave and I immediately leapt up, full of conviction, and nearly ran over to his table, sat down, and introduced myself. I felt very strongly like the Lord had asked me to tell him how much he is loved by God. The first thing he asked me was, “What else did He say?”
This question caught me completely off-guard, as I don’t get asked that often. Stuttering I responded, “Uhm - I dunno. I feel like He told me that He loves you, and I feel like He wanted me to come tell you that.”
“Oh yeah? What else did He tell you?,” the man asked again.
Stumped once more I tried to recall what the Lord had told me right before the part about Him loving the man. I was then reminded that I had also planned to ask the man if he needed prayer.
“I feel like He wanted me to ask you if there was anything I could pray over you for,” I responded hesitantly but assuredly. Still unsatisfied, the man asked me, “What’s your life verse?” Before I could even find the verse that came to my mind he began to share a bit of his story with me.
“I’m actually a Christian — Well, that’s not wrong, but I’ve been questioning everything recently. Every day I get up and question God. I question His love for me, and I question if He’s even really here, among us, looking out for us. I don’t see Him in my everyday life, and I am struggling to believe that He’s really there.”
Pausing for a moment both to consider his words and to try to pay attention to what I felt like the Lord was bringing up in my own mind, I pondered before asking, “Do you feel as though you’ve ever had a relationship with the Lord?”
“I pray, but I don’t hear anything. I ask the Lord to tell me what to do and I hear nothing. I grew up as a Christian, but I feel like my whole life, as I’ve gotten older, I’ve lost my relationship with the Lord. I’ve read scripture and I’ve tried to pray. I used to be closer to God — I call Him Papí; I don’t know if you can do that, but I do — but as I’ve gotten older it’s gone away. I’ve pulled back. I’ve questioned it more and more. I doubt and question His love for me.”
“And that is all perfectly okay,” I replied. “I’ve been through degrees of that, myself, in which I’ve questioned His love for me. I’ve known that He loves me, but I used to really question whether I actually believe that He loves me. And I experienced some of that through my leadership team with InterVarsity. I used to think that I wasn’t contributing to leadership because I wasn’t hearing from the Lord all the same things that others were. Sometimes I wouldn’t hear anything relevant. But I then realized that it wasn’t at all because of the Lord not being present. It was because of me being distant and me caring too much about whether or not I could hear from the Lord. It mattered too much to me and I thought that my worth was dependent on that. Do you think you have an idea of how to hear from the Lord?”
“No,” he responded despondently.
I immediately attacked his hopelessness. “That’s okay! I didn’t know how to either until I was taught. Most people aren’t taught and they go their whole lives questioning how to hear from the Lord when, in reality, we’ve been hearing from Him our entire lives!”
There at Chipotle I ended up teaching him listening prayer. He was incredibly eager to learn and kept asking questions: How do I hear? How long do I wait after I pray aloud and ask Him to show me how He sees me?
I reminded him of the tips that Kennedy and Brent have both shared with me:
I also taught him a little bit about what ‘hearing’ from the Lord is like, describing how it can arise in our thoughts as a voice or a song or become present in the form of feelings, smells, memories, images, visions, etc. Too, I reminded him that the Lord has been speaking to us our whole lives in a voice that sounds like our own — our ‘conscience’. We’ve been guided by God for so long that His voice has become regularized and unfamiliar.
I asked the man if he wanted to practice listening for himself, and he agreed readily.
“Okay, this is what we’re going to do,” I instructed, “I’m going to pray over you and pray over the space and our time right now. When I’ve finished, I want you to ask God aloud to show you the way that He sees you. Whatever you see or hear or feel or smell — that’s God.”
“That’s God?,” he asked.
Confident and unhesitant I answered, “Yes. And remember that the next part will be you questioning whether it was Him.”
He was nervous, and I’d be lying if I said I weren’t nervous in that moment either. This stranger I sat down next to had been questioning God for the last who-knows-how-long. He’s been asking the Lord for answers to prayers and “receiving nothing” according to him. I VERY CONFIDENTLY just told him that the Lord was going to bring something up — what if He doesn’t? What if this is the thing that makes this man lose complete faith in the Lord?
Despite the lies of the enemy running through my mind, I laid my hand on my new friend’s shoulder and prayed. After I finished I gave him an nudge, indicating that it was his turn to ask the Lord to show him how He saw him and to ask the Lord to bring it up in that moment. I then waited for what seemed like forever. In reality, it was most likely for 30 seconds that I waited. And then I asked, “Well, did anything come up?”
He looked up, emotionless. “No,” he said. Disappointed, I was scrambling to find the words to say. His watering eyes told a different story though, and I was encouraged in my spirit that something had actually been brought up.
“It was something that has come up in the past,” he said. “The Lord told me that He sees me like Peter.” I grinned, for surely this would’ve been a good thing, an honor.
“As I read scriptures, Peter always seems so stupid. He always asks Jesus for proof, for more miracles. That’s what I feel like. I feel like I need proof, I need God to prove Himself to be in order for me to believe.” He was holding back tears, but I gave him a comforting, reassuring smile and nod, encouraging him to let himself cry. He then began to cry right there in Chipotle, unbothered by the surrounding bustle of customers and strangers.
“I think it’s really cool what you saw, especially if it’s something you’ve seen before. The Lord wants to remind you that He loves you and that He sees you as Peter. Peter was Jesus’ friend, His disciple! It’s not a bad thing to be like Peter. It’s not a bad thing to ask the Lord to prove Himself to you. I’ve done it several times. I’m actually on a full ride here at UNC Charlotte, and unfortunately that’s caused me to hold my academics as an idol in my life. When the Lord asked me to surrender them to Him, I couldn’t fully trust that He would be faithful over it. So I asked Him to prove it in a very specific way. And when He did it, that’s when I knew that He actually is really trustworthy over that thing. It’s okay to ask Him to prove Himself to us — we just have to be obedient after He does it.”
“You make a good point. That makes sense,” he enthusiastically and earnestly responded. As we continued to talk, new questions arose on his behalf about listening prayer and what he could do next. I encouraged the man to daily practice listening prayer for himself and for others, including his friend whose wife has just left him. I also encouraged him to be obedient about what he heard from the Lord and to share it with those for whom he listened.
“If the Lord brings something up,” I reassured, “You should be obedient and share with someone if it’s about them. The Lord is perfectly capable of getting to us without our help. The Lord didn’t need to use me to reach you — He would’ve reached you some other way if I hadn’t come over here. But He asked me to do it so that I would have the opportunity to grow closer to Him and see His glory through it.”
“I have a different perspective on it now,” he told me. “I feel like my prayers will actually mean something now that I know what to look for in a response.”
I was overwhelmed with joy. Throughout our entire conversation the man continued to remind me how impressed and shocked he was at my attunation and obedience to the Lord.
“I kept waiting for my friend to walk around the corner and joke with me or for a camera to be pushed in my face like on a tv show prank or for you to ask me for money. I wasn’t sure what to think at first. I didn’t believe it, and it’s still hard to believe that you came over here because of God. You’ve been a Christian your whole life, right?”
“Yes,” I replied, smiling. “I’ve been a Christian my whole life, but my relationship with Jesus has become increasingly more intensified in the last year or so. Ever since last August I’ve really been on fire for Jesus!”
“Do you think that’ll ever go away?,” he asked curiously.
I smiled and confidently responded, “No. I know it won’t. So long as I continue pursuing Him, the fire will remain.”
He smiled and just looked at me. “You’re an amazing woman, you know. I saw you when you walked in, but it was just an observation. I also saw you and your friend (Brent) look over here, and I wondered what was going on, but I didn’t think much of it. For you to be that obedient — that’s brave. And I thank you for that. You’ve helped me so much today. And the cool thing is this: not once did you tell me how wrong I was or how I shouldn’t be thinking the things I’ve been thinking or how I should be changing and doing things right instead of wrong. No, you’ve encouraged me. You’ve openly related to the things I’m going through, and not once did you put me down or tell me I was wrong. You’ve helped me understand what I can do instead, what I can do in order to grow closer to the Lord. But you’ve done it all in love and in kindness. You’re very special. Your spirit is special — you’ve allowed me to feel comfortable enough here at lunch in Chipotle that I wasn’t even paying attention to the people around me or what was happening around me. You created an environment in which I, a 40 year-old man, was comfortable enough to cry in public in front of all these people. I don’t even care. It wasn’t important. I didn’t even care what they thought because your spirit allowed me to be comforted and focused. That’s really cool. I just can’t thank you enough.”
Flattered and grateful that the Lord chose me to do that work, I bid my friend goodbye only after praying for him once more before we parted ways. In my prayer, I asked God for another encounter with the man. I confidently declared that we would meet again and that when we did, I wouldn’t recognize the man that I met in Chipotle because of how far he was running into the presence of the Lord. We left, our hearts both overflowing for different reasons and our spirits both refreshed and reassured.
I share this story to try to remind you that sometimes the Lord does ask us to take risks, to put our needs aside and die a tiny bit to ourselves, going out of our way to show people who Jesus is and what He means to us. The Lord allowed me to be a part of this man’s story, maybe even serving as proof that He is here and among us. I just pray daily that the man pursue the Lord, believing that a relationship with the Lord is just as accessible to him as it is to me.
“Take delight in the Lord, and He will give you the desires of your heart.”
Today I experienced a relapse into my old self, as happens now and then in my personal walk with Christ. Falling into old habits, I again return to the regularity of what my old self would do or say rather than responding the way I should in Christ. I am getting better in a lot of areas, sometimes shocked at my changed responses, but this situation today hit me in the heart. I’ll share the story:
I was scrolling through Facebook in an attempt to rid the app of the little red notification when I came across a set of photos that sent my heart into my stomach. Gator Country — the alligator rescue I planned to intern at this summer — had posted a gorgeous set of graduation photos one of their interns took at the park. Picture this: a beautiful girl thigh-deep in a swampy pond wearing her graduation cap and gown, face-to-face with a massive modern-day dinosaur lurking in the water. The pictures were absolutely gorgeous, but my heart broke. Shattered because it wasn’t I who got the opportunity to feed and work with alligators this summer, saddened at this passed experience, I put my phone down and exited the app, my heart heavy and my mind temporarily filled with doubt. I was at work, and I told my fellow guard briefly what had happened. He shared a few words in an attempt to cheer me up, for which I was grateful, but a panging sense of jealousy still lingered over in mind and in my spirit.
The choice I made next, however, was decisive in determining how the rest of my day was going to proceed. In the midst of the provoked, but not justified, jealousy — in the midst of losing sight about my purpose here in Huntersville, North Carolina — I let God invade my heart and spirit. Rather than shutting Him out, choosing to be miserable and, ultimately, choosing to let the enemy have a victory, I let Him in, ears open to what He wanted to tell me.
Suddenly I felt a sense of calm and contentment overwhelm me, and my spirit was filled with this word from the Lord:
“You’ve been obedient and you’ve been patient. That could’ve been you, but you chose to be faithful over what I called you to do rather than satisfy the desires of your flesh. When you do get the opportunity to do this — to work with animals — it will be so incredibly much more rewarding than if you had done this on your own terms. You will appreciate it more, as you have sacrificed your dream for the sake of obedience to Me.”
Instantly I felt seen, known, and held in the Father’s loving arms. For Him to reassure me of my decision to stay and of my future was an incredibly joyful experience that rested my mind and spirit. It was because of my willingness to conform to the image of Christ instead of a desire to return to my former mold that I was able to hear the Lord and His promise to me.
Almost as to reassure me of His love for me, a major storm appeared out of nowhere, the eye of the cell passing right overtop of us. I absolutely love thunderstorms, and I crave the summer torrents that plague Florida. Having grown up with those storms, I began to miss them soon after my move to North Carolina. This storm, however, was worthy of comparison to a Floridian summer storm. Thunder shook our building and lighting split the darkened sky. Now, I’m not saying by any means that the Lord sent that entire storm just for me, but I sure was thanking Him for it! It was a humble reminder that we are minutely nothing compared to the overwhelming power God has granted nature, yet we are everything to Him.
I’m incredibly happy for every intern that got to experience Gator Country in such a unique way this summer, and I’m particularly happy for that young woman who got to document her experience with those modern-day dinosaurs in such a meaningful way. No tinge of jealousy stirs in my heart at this point, as I know that my opportunity will one day come in God’s timing.
I urge everyone who may read this to make the daily decision to conform to Christ rather than the world or your former self. How? Choose not to reach in the way that you usually would. What would Christ do? What would the Bible say? When you begin thinking with the heart of Christ on the forefront of your mind, you simultaneously begin thinking about the ways that you have the potential to become more like Him. I feel myself falling back into the same cycle. How would Christ react differently? Seeing the two options that face you — reacting in your normal way or putting-on Christ's heart and reacting in that way —, it is the decision that determines how everything else will ensue. Choose the self and the cycle continues; choose Christ and you will be met with inexplicable peace. I believe that strongly.
It is there in the lowly surrender of self that the Lord will gently lift you up off of your feet, proving to you that He sees and cares for you. Hear the reassuring whisper of His voice in the silence of your mind.
1 Thess. 2:2
"...but with the help of our God we dared to tell His gospel in the face of strong opposition."