We arrived at the church on Thursday, unpacked and set up equipment in our separate rooms, and played a few short camp-style games before heading off to our host homes. I went with Katie D, Katie M, and Candy to the home of a pilot and his wife and 8th-grade son, and the entire house smelled like pumpkin spices. When the father and son both left for the weekend, we got a chance to have “girl talk” without them around.
On Friday we came back to the church at around 8:30, and the first thing on the schedule was a devotional time. In my experience, morning devotionals tend to be simple and encouraging for the day, not necessarily too deep or emotional. Stretch #1: morning devotionals that were incredibly deep and emotional and self-examining. He asked us to write down 5 words to describe ourselves, calling it the 5-word story of us. Then, we were to write down the 5-word “ideal” story, possibly changing some of the words. Finally, after a bit of discussion that I zoned in and out of (hey, it was 8:30 in the morning!), he had us write down a 5-word story of lies that the world had told us that we had believed. After the difficult day I had had on Thursday, I wanted to stop and leave that area blank because I had just finished forgetting those lies. But once the pencil hit the paper, those 5 words came out like they were rehearsed, formulated much faster than the other two 5-word stories were. I stared at those words, wanting to rip that section off the page and burn it. I knew these were lies; I shouldn’t have to look at them and be reminded of them! But he told us to keep those papers for later, so I did, but I folded that section over so I didn’t have to see those lies and took one more quick look at my ideal story before heading off to rehearsal for the rest of the morning.
After a great morning of rehearsing, we had lunch, followed by another devotional time. This time, we were all given a sheet of paper and we needed to find five other people to write 5-word stories about us. The next 10 minutes felt like 10 hours as I watched everyone exchange papers, grabbing for each other’s papers, eager to write on them. Three people wrote on mine, and they were all great words, but I saw many people getting more than five people writing on theirs, and it made me feel very alone. It seemed as though all of these people knew each other well, and I sat there wishing to disappear because I didn’t really belong there. After we were all encouraged by each other, we were asked to get with our teams and share with each other our five lies from earlier that day. I felt so exposed sharing those lies that I knew weren’t true. I didn’t want to accept them as truth, but for some reason sharing a secret makes that secret ring truer, and I felt awful saying my secrets out loud to people I barely knew. For the rest of the day, rehearsal seemed like a blur as I wrestled with my emotions inside. By the time the day was over, I was emotionally exhausted, and my roommate Rachel, whose family was hosting some of the guys, could tell when she came to pick them up. She told me later that all day Saturday she was praying for me because she knew something was wrong.
I needed to read the Bible and get some truth back into my life. When we got back to the host home and were ready for bed, I opened it up. I started in Leviticus, which I needed to read for a class, but I couldn’t stand reading a bunch of rules after one of my lies was that I was a failure. So I grabbed the book that my roommate Rachel had given me for my birthday called “Come Away, My Beloved” by Frances J. Roberts (a daily devotional meant to be a letter from God) and turned to the second page. The verse at the top was James 1:5; I stopped after reading the verse and turned to James in my Bible and started reading:
“Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him. But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind. For that person must not suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord.”
That was James 1:2-7. I stopped there and went back to “Come Away,” and read this:
“The days ahead may call for greater endurance and more robust faith than you ever needed before. Welcome this, for you must surely know how precious are the lessons learned through such experiences. Even if you are unable to fully anticipate them with joy, you can certainly gain an appropriate appreciation of them in retrospect…Seek Me above all else.”
I knew that God had planned for me to read those verses and that devotional page on that night. I was the only one still awake as I read, and I knelt down right there by the cushion I had been sitting on and prayed. Stretch #2: surrendering my life to Christ, not for the first time, but for the first time in a while. I asked Him to carry my burdens, to give me wisdom, to help me know what is truly important instead of what I think is important, to guide me and be with me, and to strengthen my faith. Even though I don’t remember the exact words I prayed, God answered by giving me a peaceful night’s sleep and a rested soul for Saturday.
On Saturday we rehearsed some more, this time as all three teams together, which was how we were to perform on Sunday. It was odd; I was able to play the piano for a couple of songs, but it didn’t seem real to me. I could not wrap my mind around the idea that I was in HeartSong and I was meant to be there. In the evening, we all dressed up like we were from the 50’s and went to a 50’s-themed restaurant to eat and play games like mini-golf, ski-ball, and mini-bowling (which I rocked at, by the way!). For some reason I couldn’t shake the feeling that I didn’t belong, that I was on the outside of this group of people, especially when I ended up with groups with couples in them. After we got back, we had some team time, and at that point I was physically exhausted!
Tommy had noticed all weekend that I was tired and stressed, so he found me before we left for our host homes on Saturday. He asked me how I was doing, and then promised me that it would get easier and told me that God intended me to be here and that I wasn’t here by mistake. He also said that he was there for me if I needed him. Stretch #3: getting an older brother. Until now, the only man in my life that had sought to protect and care about me was my dad. This weekend, I gained a brother who cares about me like I’m related to him and who seeks to protect me. I also gained 4 other brothers and 2 sisters, and my prayer is that by the end of the year, we become a true family.
Sunday was the day I worshipped in HeartSong for the first time. It felt incredibly natural. Not scary, and not necessarily exciting. Just very natural. There was no adrenaline rush, no incredible feeling that told me that I was where I was meant to be, no amazement that I was actually a part of HeartSong. I knew that I was supposed to be there, ministering to that church, and I knew that my worship was pleasing to God, and that was all I needed. After our worship service, we walked over to where HeartSong: Generation were leading worship and sang some songs with them, including my ultimate favorite, “Rise and Sing.” And I remembered why I was supposed to be there; because God called me there. It didn’t matter what I would do or how God would use me. When He called, I followed, and I am where I am supposed to be, whether I “feel” it or not.
Stretching is about discovering the scary things in our lives and purposely embracing and facing them, knowing that the trials will produce steadfastness. It’s about breaking out of the “comfort box,” as Rachel Lee would say, and doing what God tells us to do. Not just going, but doing and acting His will for our lives, even if that means feeling incredibly overwhelmed and stressed at first. What God has in store for me is beyond my level of comfort, and that excites me and terrifies me at the same time. What is going to happen next, I wonder?