Danielle’s Story

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Danielle and I met over a decade ago when attending Texas Tech University. We shared mutual friends and often found ourselves at the same places, but never got to know one another much beyond a friendly “hello” and a handful of group conversations. From what I knew, Danielle was effortlessly gorgeous and had a quiet confidence that made her both intriguing and easy to be around.

As we have stayed connected over the years via the magic of social media, it has been evident that Danielle is a woman after the heart of God, refusing to settle for the status quo, and living a life marked by beauty and adventure. The joy she carries radiates from her, and as silly as it may sound, the light of Christ even shines through her posts and pictures.

Recently reconnecting with Danielle has been more than a blessing. I can’t begin to express how very much I admire her fearlessness, honesty, and relentless pursuit of a life completely surrendered to Jesus! May her words and wisdom refresh our perspectives and challenge us to prayerfully examine what we consider valuable and, ultimately, to ask ourselves who we are becoming.

You Are Loved,
Marissa Hays

Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will. – Romans 12:2


What do you want to be when you grow up? We’ve spent decades of our lives answering this question. You might still be answering it.

Do you know what nobody ever asked me? WHO I wanted to be when I grew up. What kind of character traits did I hope to develop? How would I treat my closest friends? How would I treat strangers? What would people say I was most passionate about?

I’m the youngest kid in my family and we always joke about how well we each fit into the stereotypes of our birth order. My oldest sister’s motto is “I’m the oldest and I make the rules.” My brother’s, “I’m the middle child and I break the rules.” As the youngest, mine is “The rules don’t apply to me.” I simply want to offer a different perspective of what is worth chasing in life and to question the rules that we’ve been told to follow. Maybe those rules shouldn’t apply to us.

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For two decades, I wrestled with what I was supposed to do with my life, assuming that the career I chose and the amount of money I earned would be the most defining things about me. Not to put the blame on anyone, but I got this from looking around at most adults and finding that they lived as if this were true. People paraded their wealth as a badge of honor and largely won respect from others after finding out what neighborhood they lived in, what car they drove, or by assessing the value of their clothing. Respect came from the quality of a suit instead of the quality of the man wearing it.

“For two decades, I wrestled with what I was supposed to do with my life, assuming that the career I chose and the amount of money I earned would be the most defining things about me.”

Wanting to prove to no one in particular that I was driven and intelligent, it was important that before arriving at university, I choose a degree based on earning potential, even though what I thought I’d enjoy was teaching. And when asked about my future plans, I would attempt to answer in a way that sounded equally ambitious, confident, and forward-thinking.

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But then something happened that flipped my worldview upside down. I started following a man named Jesus who hung out with poor uneducated fisherman and tax collectors on the fringe of society; he didn’t care about their achievements, he saw their hearts. Jesus told a rich man that in order to inherit the Kingdom of God, he must give everything he had to the poor and follow him. He told his friends not to store up treasure on earth, but in heaven. Jesus changed everything. He still does.

“But then something happened that flipped my worldview upside down. I started following a man named Jesus…”

Around this time, as I was sorting through what it looked like to live a life submitted to Jesus, a mentor told me that in order to know what my life would look like in five years, all they had to do was look at the three people I spent the most time with. It’s true that we become the company we keep. I imagined my future and for the first time in my life, instead of picturing a particular career or a cozy home, I dreamed about what kind of person I would become. WHO did I want to be in five years? After a lot of soul searching, I moved to Cambodia to surround myself with people who were obsessed with Jesus, who didn’t care that they only made $6,000/year, who served orphans and those in poverty; people who wanted to make the world a better place. That decision changed the trajectory of my life and I’m convinced it also changed who I was becoming.

Dani Cambodia

Some of the changes were small. For instance, it was easy after living out of a duffel bag for two years, to realize how much of what I owned was superfluous and start to discard that which was unnecessary. The people I worked with didn’t notice I wore the same thing each week, and if they did they certainly didn’t care. They were too busy trying to change the world to notice something as insignificant as wardrobe.

Henry David Thoreau says, “Most of the luxuries, and many of the so-called comforts of life, are not only not indispensable but positive hindrances to the elevation of mankind.” Other changes were more substantial. Cambodians taught me that you can live generously even if you possess little, that time is a commodity much more precious than money, and that one of the most effective ways we can direct people to our Father in heaven is by living a joyful life even in the midst of suffering, waiting in expectation for the place where all tears will be wiped away. I am a better person because of them.

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Being a developing country, Cambodia was a safe place for God to rid me of my materialism and to change my view of what the “abundant life” he offered me looked like. I remember walking down the street where I lived in Cambodia and praying that God wouldn’t change anything in my life. I felt like my cup was completely full of blessings; I had amazing friends who were challenging and encouraging me, was loving being undivided in my devotion to the Lord as a single person, had tons of time to spend to do things I loved, and though living simply, had every need met.

“Cambodia was a safe place for God to rid me of my materialism and to change my view of what the ‘abundant life’ he offered me looked like.”

But things in my life did change. By the time I moved, I was ruined for “normal life” and refused to get a job that would just pay the bills. I wanted to live an abundant life, spending my time and resources on people while playing in the mountains and the ocean, and was convinced that this is exactly the kind of life that God wanted for me too.

So I continued to look for people who I wanted to learn from, and picked jobs based on the communities they were creating, not how much they would pay me. I worked with the homeless populations and recovering addicts in Colorado and Texas, with some of the best church leaders in the world in the Atlanta area who are creating churches “unchurched” people love to attend, and currently for a group of self-proclaimed dirt bags in South Africa who just want to tell their surfing buddies about Jesus.

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When that old sin nature creeps up and I start questioning what I’m doing with my life or if I’m making a difference, I remind myself that God is much more concerned with who I’m becoming than what I’m doing. He tells us we don’t live under rules but under grace and in freedom.

“When that old sin nature creeps up and I start questioning what I’m doing with my life or if I’m making a difference, I remind myself that God is much more concerned with who I’m becoming than what I’m doing.”

So let me ask you, is your life characterized more by rules, by what society says is valuable, by what you do; or by the grace and freedom found in Jesus, by pursuing the passions he’s placed inside of you, regardless of what society has to say?


image5Danielle and her husband currently work at Christian Surfers International and reside in Jeffreys Bay, South Africa.

 

 

 


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