Name: Mandy Miller
“In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.” – Matthew 5:16
Why this verse is important to me:
Have you ever been inspired by someone before? I mean really, truly inspired – so much that you wanted to make a change in your life because of them?
In the summer of 2011, I was the assistant photographer at a wedding in Okoboji. I knew it was going to be a blast before I even met the bride and groom. The bride was a singer and the groom was a wrestler. I have always loved to sing, and I was a wrestling cheerleader in high school.
When I read the program before meeting the groom and groomsmen, I noticed the best man’s last name: Wernimont. Having come from a big wrestling community in northern Iowa, I knew of the Wernimont name, and knew they were good. I asked the best man if he was one of those Wernimont brothers, and he was the youngest of them: Aaron.
Although this was the first time I had met Aaron, it felt like we were old friends. He was so kind and helpful – offering to carry my camera bag multiple times. It was a hot and sunny summer day, and he was wearing a black tux. Although it’s always tempting to have someone carry your gear, it should never be someone in the wedding party.
Aaron had an electric smile and he was always smiling, so it was easy to grab a ton of photos of him that day. It didn’t matter if he was in the church kitchen leaning on his beautiful fiancé Kahri while talking on the phone, or walking down the dock – he made my job easy.
At the beginning of 2012, I knew I wanted to make a change in my life. I had been noticing other people living their faith out loud, and it was very inspiring. Besides saying my prayers at night, my faith had mostly been an item on my Sunday morning “to-do list” during most of my adult life. I would see these people wearing their faith – no matter what day it was – and I wanted to find a way to have what they had.
At the end of February 2012, I started going to Lutheran Church of Hope. I went to Hope one Sunday evening, after having a strong urge to go to church that day (and I had missed the services at my church). The church I had attended before Hope was great – full of tradition! However, after attending for over two years, I realized I really hadn’t met anyone. I knew a couple of families there before I started attending, but did not leave with any new friends.
The minute I walked into Hope that evening, I felt welcomed and comfortable.
Fast forward a couple of weeks to March 13, 2012. I heard some news that really rocked my world. At the young age of 26, Aaron Wernimont had passed away. What? How could this be possible? And why was I so saddened by the death of someone I barely knew? I was devastated – almost to the point of being embarrassed of how sad I was for only meeting him once.
Shortly after Aaron died, a tribute video was made in his honor. I watched it and couldn’t believe my eyes. Some of the photos I had taken were in this video to remember Aaron.
I replayed the video several times – touched more and more with each time I watched. At one point in the video, it was mentioned how Aaron and Kahri always put faith first. It didn’t matter how late they were out the night before, they always went to church on Sunday morning. Always. I remember thinking – “I want that. I want faith to come first in my life. I don’t want it to be once in a while on Sunday mornings if I get up early enough.”
After Aaron died, I was reading all kinds of messages about him and the kind of person he was. I was actually relieved to read that others felt like they knew Aaron after meeting him just one time.
I was so incredibly touched by all of this that I had considered sending an email to Pastor Mike at Hope with a link to Aaron’s video. I couldn’t believe how much Aaron’s story inspired me, and felt like the rest of the world needed to hear about his story and his faith, too.
Did I know Pastor Mike at that time? Nope.
Did I know Pastor Mike knew Aaron? Nope.
Did I send him an email telling him about the video? I started to compose a message, but never sent it.
Fast forward a few weeks to April 8, 2012: Easter Sunday. I was nervous about attending Easter at Hope by myself. I had heard it was crazy busy, and for some reason I was intimidated by it all. I even asked my brother what I should do. We decided I would go to the early service at Hope by myself, and then I would join him and his wife and daughters for the later service at their church.
I showed up alone for the early service at Hope that Easter Sunday. Little did I know, by going to the earliest service, I avoided most of the mass chaos that came with the next two services – whew!
I wasn’t sure what to expect, but I had a feeling it was going to be good. The service started with “Were You There” in three-part harmony, a cappella – in that very moment I knew I was right where I was supposed to be.
Pastor Mike’s sermon that day highlighted the stories of three people. First was Tyrone. It was powerful to hear about his story of overcoming addiction.
Second was Ashley Oakland. I never knew her personally, but my friends Brenna and Susan were very close to Ashley. I will never forget the part of Ashley’s story when her friend described Ashley as “on fire with her faith”. I vividly remember hearing these words, and thought to myself – I want to be on fire with MY faith!
It was time for the third person in Pastor Mike’s sermon. His photo came up on the screen and I could not believe what I was seeing – a picture of Aaron Wernimont. I had absolutely no idea Pastor Mike even knew Aaron, let alone to include him in his sermon. I started crying in that moment and could not stop. I kept looking around wondering if anyone knew what was happening. A large part of why I wanted to make a change to my life and to deepen my faith was because of Aaron’s story.
I went home that day and wrote Pastor Mike an email telling him what was happening. At the time, I’m sure I called it a coincidence. But after attending Hope for a while, I heard Pastor Mike call this kind of occurrence a “God thing”. I don’t really believe in coincidences anymore, but love seeing “God things” happen all around me all the time.
Easter Sunday 2012 was a total “God thing” for me. It was that very night when I signed up for my first Alpha. I wasn’t sure how I was going to start making this change, but I thought Alpha might be a good start.
As I look forward to starting my 8th session of Alpha in September, I could write 100 pages on Alpha and what it means to me. For now I will tell you this: Alpha is for all levels of Christians – brand new to faith, wanting to grow deeper in faith, for a refresher in faith, and even for those curious about faith. I have always believed in God, but besides singing out of the green ELCA hymnal, I knew nothing about the Holy Spirit.
At my first Holy Spirit retreat, I wasn’t sure what to pray for, so I prayed to be filled with the Spirit. Cue the fire hose of the Holy Spirit!! I could not explain the emotion I was feeling, the tears pouring out of me (I wasn’t sad, but couldn’t control it) or the tingly feeling I felt over my entire body – it was crazy! And it was awesome.
As this session of Alpha came to a close, I decided to reaffirm my baptism. Pastor Jeremy said a verse I had never heard before: Matthew 5:16. The words really hit me that night, “Let your light shine before others.”
I have the NIV Life Application Study Bible, and the text for Matthew 5:14-16 really hits me as well. “Can you hide a city that is sitting on top of a hill? Its light at night can be seen for miles. If we live for Christ, we will glow like lights, showing others what Christ is like. We hide our light by (1) being quiet when we should speak, (2) going along with the crowd, (3) denying the light, (4) letting sin dim our light, (5) not explaining our light to others, or (6) ignoring the needs of others. Be a beacon of truth – don’t shut your light off from the rest of the world.” THIS! This is why it’s my favorite verse. If we let God’s light fill our life, our light will help to brighten the world, and could possibly help to brighten someone else’s light.
One of my favorite things about being a photographer, is having the opportunity to capture quick little moments in time that end up being some of the biggest, most beautiful memories to cherish forever. Who knew how much my life would be impacted by being an assistant photographer at Lauren and Justin’s gorgeous wedding in Okoboji that summer. Well, God did. By Aaron letting his light shine SO BRIGHTLY, my faith has grown an incredible amount. Now I try to let my light shine for others to see God’s light shining through me. Sharing our faith can truly change the lives of others – Aaron Wernimont is the perfect example of this!
Looking back, I can’t believe all of the “God things” that have happened in my life. There have been so many times when I’ve been nudged by the Spirit to do something or introduce people to each other. The timing of running into someone or a song playing at just the right time. I am thankful every time I am rocked by the Spirit.
One last thing to share – a “God thing” that just happened this weekend at my church’s huge Taste of Hope event. As we were watching this beautiful fireworks display, I had another nudge from the Holy Spirit. It made me think of how many people were able to see the fireworks right from where they were, but had no idea why the fireworks were happening or where they were coming from. I was loving the idea of God’s LIGHT touching so many people through fireworks! Another perfect example of how His light really can shine on anyone – anywhere!
May we ALL be able to let our light SHINE!
Some of the photos I captured of Aaron:
“Don’t let someone dim your light simply because it’s shining in their eyes.” – Dale Partridge