Testimony Spotlight: Nick Vance

One of the dangers of writing a little tidbit like this is that it can make one’s life look all neat and simple: you have a story with a beginning, middle, and end, tie it off with a bow. I found that life is rarely that neat or ties off that easily. Things tend to get messy, that’s just a fact.  So as I attempt to write this, please know, dear reader, that my life is by no means neat or tidy, but I will try and give you a little snapshot into the mess in the hope of seeing some way that God has worked in my life.

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I was born at a very young age and grew up in a suburb of St. Paul, Minnesota with my loving parents, one brother, four sisters, our grandma, and too many cats. My family was very supportive and encouraging towards me throughout all of my childhood, helping us foster our personal relationship with God, connecting us with other good Catholic families, programs and opportunities. Seeing my own parents’ personal faith, especially that of my father, was an incredible example to me, and has followed me to this very day.

When I went to a public charter school in 5th grade, I was not well prepared to see those who believed and valued things that were very different than what I believed and valued. All throughout middle school, I felt like I was trying to figure out where I belonged in that whole mix. I was trying to be friends with people who did not really want to be friends with a rather nerdy Catholic kid. To try and fit in and make friends, I did and said some things that I’m still rather embarrassed about today. Anyone who knew me in middle school would say that I, like most middle school boys, was just… awkward.

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Like I said in the beginning, life is rarely neat and tidy. I make my middle school years look rather bleak, but I did still have friends and a loving family and I was never really a social reject by any means, but the running theme throughout all of it was that I did not know who I was. Things were just happening around me, and I was hoping to just find my little place in social circles to slip in and maybe make a funny comment here or there.

Fast forward to the end of my freshman year of high school: I had made some more friends, sort of found my place in the sphere of this public charter school, and was pretty comfortable with the little life that I had carved out for myself. I learned about a program that was being hosted at Dunrovin Retreat Center during the summer. Both of my older siblings had attended the program the previous summer, and only had good things to say. I had gone to Dunrovin a few times before to a Catholic summer camp that was hosted there, but I had never been exposed to anything like DLITE (Dunrovin Leadership Intensive Training Experience). One of the key parts of the week out at DLITE is some of the leadership training that you receive, and a major component of this training was responsibility. I had heard people talk about responsibility in the past much like one has responsibility for their chores or their children or their job, but for the first time I heard someone talk about having responsibility for their life. On DLITE, you are taught that you can’t always control what happens to you, but you are responsible for how you respond, and the manner in which you respond has massive effects on who you are (e.g. if you usually respond to something that is irritating with anger, you naturally turn into an angry person.). This had massive effects on the way I viewed my own identity.

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As I said earlier, I didn’t really know who I was in middle school: I just kind of tried to carve out my little place in this public school atmosphere, trying to have friends and be the “funny guy.” Hearing this message of responsibility was like a light shining into the darkness of mixed up identity. I have a responsibility for my own life, for choosing my own friends, for choosing how to respond to hardship, for my faith, for deciding what kind of life I was going to live. Throughout that week at DLITE, I was wrestling with all these issues of identity, of trying to figure out who I was, because I had never really honestly tried to answer that question. That week saw me letting the identity question play out as I received leadership training, teambuilding, service opportunities, and prayer (not to mention all the other crazy fun activities that take place out at Dunrovin).

I wish I could say that question was answered that week during the summer following my freshman year. I wish I could say that I took responsibility for my life and my responses and my choices of friends. I wish I could say that I answered that question of identity permanently, and I went forth from that week out at Dunrovin to go out and bless the others in my high school with my strong sense of identity, unafraid of obstacles or ridicule.

Instead I went back to my high school and still wrestled with the same insecurities, still had friendships that were not the greatest, still did really broken and weird things to get attention from others, still tried to carve out my little spot in social circles. I even went so far as to do a lot of things behind my parents’ backs (even though they knew pretty much the entire time (once again, Mom and Dad, so sorry )), that were really destructive to myself and others and sabotaged a lot of relationships. Like I said, life is messy.

But in the midst of all of this, that question of responsibility and identity still resided in the back of my mind. What I had missed in the mess was the God who had been directing it since the beginning. I had never really taken the identity question to God, but the more I look back upon it now, so much of what happened in my middle and high school years has was God was directing all of it to train me.

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When I started my college career, there were other faithful Christian guys around me who were asking some of the same questions directed at God: who am I? For what purpose am I here?  We (both individually and collectively) landed on this answer: “For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God, for you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received a spirit of adoption, with which we cry “Abba! Father!” (Romans 8:14-15) We had received the Spirit of God, and thus we have been called “sons.” Those other college guys around me had all dealt with similar things and issues of identity, and we ended up realizing that: when you take responsibility for your life and your identity, you are actually making a claim on who takes the lead. Who was taking the lead in our lives? Was it other people, other things, or events? Or was it God the Father calling you a beloved child?

God has used a lot of things in my life to drive this home, including all of those insecurities and weird, broken things I resorted to. But what I’ve landed on is that my life and my identity is the result of my cooperation with God’s leadership and grace.

My father worked as a master carpenter when I was growing up. There were many times when he invited me into the workshop to help him on a project or building a piece of furniture.  He was the master carpenter and I was an apprentice: watching his work and his style, seeing how he would go about planning, measuring, cutting, refining, sanding, watching the grain of the wood, seeing how it would all play out. There were times when he would have me jump in and help, and there were times when he had to stop me because I was doing something wrong.

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I’ve realized that my life is a lot like studying as an apprentice with God, the master carpenter. It’s me following His lead, allowing Him to work to craft something beautiful, and it becomes my joy to cooperate with Him. I can track several big turning points in this journey, and the first was out at DLITE. Hearing the messages taught that week was much like stepping into the carpenter’s shop, and seeing my life for the first time and how it was partly my responsibility to craft it, and then getting introduced to the master carpenter who would guide and guard the whole process, and it was His joy to allow me to work with Him. He has adopted me as a son, and the two of us are continuing to shape this little life of mine into something to glorify the Maker.

I did say at the beginning that life is messy, even though this little snapshot seems to tie it off nicely. I promise you, dear reader, that my life is still messy. I still struggle with issues of identity, and there are times when I refuse the guidance of the Master Carpenter. I still turn to some of the weird and broken things, I still sometimes think that I know best. At the beginning I said that this was going to be a “testimony of how I’ve seen God work in my life.” I think that the phrasing of that statement can be a little deceiving. It was never really my life to begin with.  Before I was even formed in the womb, God knew me (Jeremiah 1:5). My life belonged to Him since the beginning, and it’s my job to cooperate with Him. I never thought that this journey would bring me on full-time counseling staff at Dunrovin for the Summer, let alone have the job title of “Summer Camp Program Director.” But here I am. God has guided me from the beginning, and “being confident of this, that He who begun a good work in you will be faithful to complete it, until the day of Christ Jesus.” (Phillipians 1:6)

Please pray for me, and for all who come through the doors of Dunrovin, that we could know, love, worship, and serve God in all things. Live, Jesus, in our hearts, forever!

– Nick