I think one of the most powerful things in church, or even in life, is when we learn someone else's story. The commonly used term in church is "testimony". Often in church we hear them in front of an audience. Sometimes we learn them within the walls of someone's home. Other times we gradually learn them as we do life on life with people. What I'm more interested in, though, is the stories that aren't told.
I think that most of the time our stories aren't told for two reasons. The first reason is that our we are scared to share, in fear that we will be judged or that our stories are too much to burden someone with. Some of these stories might deal with shameful addictions, past/current abuse, and other things of this nature. What I would like to say to these people, is to take a chance and open up to someone who you feel can be trusted. And what I want to encourage the listeners to do is to delight in those people's burdens. By that I mean encouraging them to open up, being a safe person for them to share with, and then helping carry those burdens with them. Okay, so that sounds depressing right? Well my point is that it doesn't have to be. We can delight in their burdens by saying, "Okay so we have to deal with these problems head on. But we can also do life together and have fun in doing that." Sharing these kinds of stories is about the transformation that comes after the trial, and if someone tells you their story you are now part of the "after". Make this a joyous thing!
The second reason we don't share our stories is that we don't feel like our story is worth sharing. When we hear powerful stories of transformation, it is easy to fall into the trap of comparing our own story. It's even easy to feel the need to over exaggerate your story to "live up" to others'. Sometimes telling your story might feel like you can't even distinguish when you really started living for Christ. Now, this might be because you haven't actually started living for Christ. If this is the case I want to challenge you to seek out a mentor whose faith you look up to. Maybe another reason that you can't distinguish the point at which you started living for God is because you were raised in a church where your faith was able to blossom and your church family encouraged the growth in your faith. I wish more of these stories were told. It is such a beautiful thing to see the huge work that God has done in a life through transformation, and it is also a beautiful thing to see how God uses healthy environments as well.
Satan uses these insecurities to separate us. He tells us to find shame in the fact that our stories are either too much or too little. So some people reading this could be in either category. But I think what we should do, what the Bible tells us to do, is to share regardless. The thing about sharing stories is that no matter what kind of story you have, you will always bring out something in whoever is listening. You might have a similar story, or you might have something completely opposite. But the point is that God wants you to take pride in your story, because the whole time He was right there making it with you.
I recently had a conversation with Trace that sparked some interesting thoughts. While eating at a local Memphis restaurant, in walked a crowd of girls all wearing low cut belly shirts and short skirts. "And THAT's why I don't want to have a daughter one day," Trace said under his breath. "Why?" I asked. "Because I don't want her to dress like that and have guys staring at her. They'll expect that they can get something from her because of how she's dressed."
I thought for a minute and I came to two conclusions. One: I would hope that if we had a daughter, she would want to dress modestly because she knows that some men can be pigs (only some of them), and doesn't want to be subjected to that. Two: I hope that if we have a son, that we can raise him to respect women enough to not itemize them.
Then I realized the undertones of these two thoughts. Traditionally in Christian homes when it comes to raising our boys, we tell them to respect and protect women. When it comes to raising our girls on the other hand, we tell them to respect and protect themselves. This way of thinking is practical in some cases, as there are men out there who will take advantage. Don't get me wrong, I fully want my daughter to respect herself and also to be aware of her surroundings. In other ways, though, it is telling our girls that their role in society is to helpless. They are prey to men who don't see women as anything else but an object.
Although in Christian homes we tell our boys to treat women with respect, our girls are the ones who get a slap on the wrist if they wear clothes that are more than four inches above the knee. If they choose to wear daisy dukes and a guy objectifies them, well they had it coming. What? No. All I'm asking for is some consistency here. I have gotten pulled aside in church a few times growing up for dressing immodestly. But if the guys around here can't control themselves around a girl in Nike shorts and a t-shirt, the problem is them- not me.
The truth is that we live in a society that is saturated in sex. Movies, magazines, advertisements. This way of living gives a very unreal expectation that every woman who dresses a certain way is sleazy. In some cases this might be true, and I don't want to be naive in saying that some women aren't seeking attention from men. What I'm really trying to get at is that I don't think it is okay for men, or any one else for that matter, to assume that those women are seeking attention.
So there has to be a line drawn. Don't think that this totally discredits everything that I've said leading up to this point- bear with me. As I said before, I got a talking to on numerous occasions about wearing shorts that were "too short", but I never felt like I was being immodest or being disrespectful to myself during those times. So I honestly don't know where to draw the line if Trace and I ever have a daughter. I know that I don't want her to be naive about the world, but I also don't think it is okay to dismiss the responsibility that men have to respect their sisters in Christ.
Any comments or anecdotes to this problem? Let me know. These were just some of the ramblings of the conversation Trace and I had. Open to anything.
Thursday was Soma's annual fundraising dinner. I expected this year's dinner to be the same as the previous years that I attended. But as I was sitting in my chair in one of the back tables I was struck with just how different this one was. In prior years I was just getting into the ministry and most of the people who were awarded I either didn't know personally or I didn't know at all. The cool thing about this year's dinner was that two of my favorite people were acknowledged for their accomplishments in Soma!
My best friend Rachel Smith spoke on her spiritual growth since coming to Soma. This was one of my favorite parts of the night, as was most people's because her speech was hilarious. She spoke on her spiritual development over her three years at Soma. It hit me how much she, and all of us, had indeed changed since we got here our freshman year.
When I first met Rachel we were at a welcome week activity that Soma put on. It was a slip-n-slide and I thought it was really weird that she came and didn't want to get wet. Haha. We stayed at Soma that night until midnight laughing and watching youtube videos- Rachel's favorite pass time.
Fast forward a full school year. I went with Soma on the trip to Japan and Rachel helped practically lead it. I saw her confidence in Japanese grow that year and the next year as she helped translate between our team and the people there.
Pretty much ever since Japan Rachel and I have been really close. During that time Rachel has shown me what it means to be loyal, joyous, and humble. And the biggest change I have seen in Rachel is her relationship with God. She used to shy away from conversations about church or God. Now she's one of the people I feel the most comfortable talking with about those things because I know I can come to her with stupid questions about God and we can just think through it. I love my best friend.
Trace also got an award that night! I'm going to take a minute to brag on my husband. His transformation has been pretty awesome as well. His award was for the student who showed the most spiritual growth this year. When Trace first came to Soma not many people knew it but he was going through a rough patch. I've already shared our story on here before so I won't go into all those details, but since he has come to know God as father and lives accordingly. Trace says that he isn't learned enough in the bible to teach other people as well as he would like, but the more I watch the way he lives his life I know that he has more influence than he knows. Sometimes he lacks confidence, but he is learning how to find his identity in God. When I start to lose my vision, he encourages me to take it to the Lord. He's pretty cool.
Soma has taken each of us and molded us into honest God followers. I honestly don't know where I would be right now if it hadn't been for this place.
We all know that one person who seems so in love with the Lord. And we want that! We really do! But when we start trying to model after them, tell people about Jesus, be positive all the time, throw in a few extra prayers into our schedule… we seem to always fall short. Our desire to live up to that standard burns out. This is something I have difficulties with- we put people on pedestals and try to have the faith that we see in those people. It's not bad to look up to people and seek council and community, but it becomes more about being like that person and less about being like Jesus. I used to have this friend. And every time he spoke the conversation would eventually turn back to God. I never saw him get angry, never saw him get frustrated, he was always happy, our conversations would revolve around the wonders of God, and he would advise me when I had problems to seek the Lord. I would come away from those conversations so uplifted. He was a disciple of the Lord no doubt. But my problem was that when I left those conversations I would be on a high for a few days and then life was back to the mundane routine. Then I realized that I wasn't living my own faith, I was living vicariously through his. I could be the person that he talked about Jesus to, but I couldn't be the person who talked about Jesus to other people. And on top of that, I wasn't having these types of conversations when I prayed. My prayers were just as surface level as they always had been. How could I leave those conversations and not be blown away by God? Because I wasn't putting God on a pedestal, I was putting another person on a pedestal.
Our responsibilities as Christians are challenging to say the least. We are called to go and make disciples of every nation, but it becomes all too easy to dismiss this command and hope that others will take on the responsibility of furthering the kingdom. It's just easier to sit down on the back row of pews on Sunday, listen to the lesson, and at some point during the week post a Facebook status of a bible verse or a quote out of a book we picked up for five minutes… "Just so you know I'm still a Christian over here!" Sometimes it just doesn't even seem rational to be a Christ follower. In our world today, especially with my generation, it's way too easy to make people feel uncomfortable. If they feel uncomfortable, we now feel like we have suddenly sacrificed all future hope of having a relationship with that person. And that's what it is, right? We are afraid of the outcome.
The same can be said in other areas of our faith. Beyond discipling, we are afraid what the outcome will be if we actually start living a life similar to Jesus'. If you're like me, you might refuse to pray about something because you think God might break you're heart for something you don't want it to be broken for (and he did). But that shows a departure from faith, doesn't it? Also if you're like me, you might be afraid of the next steps God has pointed you in. They may be dangerous to your relationships with people you care about, they might be dangerous to your safety, and they might be dangerous for your family. But if I know that God is beckoning me to a certain mission field, can't I know that God is faithful and He will protect me and use me for His purpose? If God calls Trace and me to live in the ghetto long-term, can't I trust that He will protect my child in a Memphis city school? Yeah, it's kind of scary when you put things into real perspectives.
Also, one step further, can I trust God when He tells me that He doesn't need me in that particular field anymore? If we moved into a bad part of town because God laid it on our hearts to do so, but then later down the road Trace starts feeling like God is pushing us to start ministering to a community of people who are wealthy and absorbed in a materialistic lifestyle, we have to be able to literally let God do the leading.
It's hard to let God lead because I think that without knowing it we can let our passions take the driver's seat. And those passions can even be good things as well. At this point, God has given me a passion for inner city. But can I allow that passion to become my god? Yes. Eventually, God might call me to go somewhere different but I am enjoying what I'm doing so much that I ignore the pull to relocate. Right then, my passions just became my god. I have to know that in everything God is faithful. Now you might say, "Holly that's ridiculous.. Why would God want to take you away from something you enjoy?" And my answer to that is, "Why does it matter?"
Call me crazy.. and I'm not sure if you could call it this.. but I think I had a vision type thing happen to me a couple days ago. I wish I would have written about it right when I saw it. I haven't told anyone about it because I always feel like that when I tell people about these things that it gets mangled when I try to put it into words. When it happened I was sitting by myself, honestly I don't really remember where. I don't know if it was a vision, day dream, or just my imagination running wild. Anyway, here goes...
I saw this body, if you could call it that. It was a body made up of bodies. It didn't seem as scary as it sounds. I guess this body was supposed to be the church.
The hands were serving. They were in communities with troubled people in soup kitchens, battered women's shelters, inner city youth villages. They were caring hands. They kept placing things in front of people. Some of the things I remember the most that the hands gave was food and money. They kept picking people up and putting them down in places that they needed to be. During this part I remember feeling a hand on my shoulder. But it was so peaceful....
The feet were going. Not going, running! They were running after people who needed help. Whenever I was seeing this it was all from an outsiders perspective. The more that I focused on the feet, I saw that they were running to the people while they were also running toward something else. They were running to God. But neither of their destinations outweighed the other. They were simultaneously running to both. It was like the harder that they ran, the quicker they reached the people and also God. I understand now that the people and God were one in the same.
The next thing that I saw was the neck and the head and the eyes at once. The neck was turning the head to make the eyes see something. It was turning it to see the hurt in the community. And the eyes started crying, because they had compassion on the community.
The eyes spurred on the mouth, which told the body to get on its knees. The body got on its knees and picked up the community in its hands. The hands held the community. Then the hands raised the community up to the mouth, and the mouth spoke words to the community that comforted it and spoke of a Father that loved it. The mouth spoke words that healed the community.
Here comes one of the weirdest parts..
So, the body was made up of all these individual bodies, right. And these individual bodies were actual people with actual lives. But they weren't all just happy-go-lucky people. Some of the people, I remember feeling, were alcoholics. And some were porn addicts, and some struggled with homosexuality, and some were adulterers. And they were all spaced out within this body. And what I think was the holy spirit, was running in between each of them and running through them and among them. And all of these people made up the body, and all of these people had one common goal- to connect with God through the community. The best part of all.. they were all telling God that they loved Him, and they meant it. And while they were saying it I kept hearing this echo saying, "What ever you did for the least of these.. you did for me."
I know that this sounds crazy.. I hesitated putting it up. I feel crazy talking about it. It was probably just a day dream, but I have been thinking about it ever since. What can we as a church do so that when we see hurt in the community it brings tears to our eyes, and we are called to heal, and renew, and then praise God for giving us the opportunity? What can we very specifically do in our churches to reach out to our circles and our community?
I believe in a God that has risen. I believe in a God who died for ME, his beloved daughter. I believe in a God that heals and reveals. And then I believe that He hands it over to me and says, "Now you go." I believe it so I commit to it. Believing that my God has resurrected is the first step to experiencing it. I believe that He rose from the dead, but not because the Bible tells me so. I believe because I interact with my God and my Jesus every day. I have conversations with Him and at times, I can really feel Him sitting beside me. At times I really can feel Him telling me how much He loves me. I believe because God won't let me not. I pray so hard that He will teach me how to love Him more. Because I don't think that I can possibly know how. Because I don't think that I can convince myself how. I don't think that I can tell myself that I love Him and it will happen.. which I think is how I have gone about it in the past. Like maybe if I say it enough that I will actually mean it. I believe that He is the owner of me because He bought me. He bought me with His blood and so He controls me. I believe that God is capable of controlling me. I believe that He beat sin and death forever.. for me.
And I love Him. And I love Him. And I love Him
So that you, together with all God's people, may have the power to understand how wide, how high, and how deep, is Christ's love.
Day 1, Forth Worth
Last night we got settled with our new families for the next week. Mine are really cool. They have a son (12) and a daughter (16) who are both so hilarious. They have a somewhat dry sense of humor that I can appreciate. They also started me on Downton Abbey, which turns out is an actually entertaining show- I kind of thought it would be one of those really dull British shows.
This is our first full day here. We are going to church this morning to scope out Southside Church of Christ. We walk in and I'm not going to lie, the first thing I thought was that this was a place where old wealthy white people attend. Service starts. I forgot how pretty acappella music was! I can hear every part being sang in the crowd..
After service me and Trace head to the youth group to teach (which we just found out about last night). We start by having me ask some questions.
I ask them, "Where do you tend to find love? Do you find love in friends, family, possessions?" "I find love in food." ....high schoolers. We should have expected that answer, ha ha. So we go around and get a few answers and then Trace tells part of his testimony that correlates with that question. He talks about how throughout his high school years and a small part of his college career he found love in being part of a team (athletics) and relationships.
I ask a second question, "Why do you find love where you find love?" "Because it's comforting. We can rely on those things."
The third question I ask is, "Why don't you think that we seek love in Christ? What stops us?" A lot of the kids talk about how He isn't tangible, so it makes it harder to "seek love", when "seeking love" seems like something you do with other people.
Trace follows up with his next part of the testimony. He talks about how the first time he ever sought after God. It was on our trip to Japan. He said that the first time he sought God in Japan was the first time that he allowed himself to view Him as an actual father.
I read the verse Ephesians 3:18. "So that you, together with all God's people, may have the power to understand how wide, how high, and how deep, Christ's love is." I think one thing that is really telling from their answers is that they don't think that they can rely on God. They don't think that this thing that "loves them so much" actually has any depth to it.
Little did I know that God would continue to show me through the week exactly just how wide, how high, and how deep, His love really is.
Throughout the rest of the week our team mainly worked with the different ministries that the church offered. One day we worked with some inner city kids at a place called Fortress. Another day we worked in the community garden that the church had started. Another day we worked in the food pantry (a big undertaking by the church to help the low income families in the neighborhood). Yet another thing that we took part in (well, mainly sat in on) was the Overcomers class.
This church was one of the most unique churches I think I have ever been to. It was SO missionally oriented. It was actually a part of the community. It was interwoven in the area directly around it, but also it was interwoven into the city with all of its different ministries.
I think one of the best things about this church is that it had such a variety of people. There were older people, young people, families, singles, hispanic people, white people, black people. Each one of these groups was represented. I think what was the coolest was that there were a lot of older people who attended, but the church didn't feel old if that makes sense. I feel like some of the churches that I have been to have been made up of a lot of older people, but in some sense complacent older people. The people at Southside Church of Christ in Fort Worth still had a vibrancy about them. They still had that fire for God.
During the course of the week God had shown me through these people and these activities not just what it means to show to love of Christ, but what the love of Christ is. Coincidently the preacher at Southside, Steve, based his sermon on Sunday morning around the same verse that me and Trace taught on. The point at which I started to realize that God was telling me how much He loved me was Sunday. Not only was Steve's sermon based around this verse, but the Sunday school class we went to also was based on this same basic message. The Hope class (the class that partners with the Overcomers ministry) focused on redemption. But you see, there's no way to talk about redemption without talking about God's love. How wide is His mercy. How deep is His love. How high does His longing for a relationship go?
God wants me. He wants to redeem me. How wide and deep and high He wants me. He wants to take this empty person and fill it. He can fill it as wide and as deep and as high as I need. I can never gain that from the things of this world.
Affirmation from other people? Not wide enough. Seeking contentment from possessions? It never goes deep enough. Getting a mental high from substance abuse? Not high enough.
So that you, together with all God's people, may have the power to understand how wide, how high, and how deep, is Christ's love.
When do you think contentment comes? Guys, today this hit me like a mac truck(sidebar- I have never understood this saying). At what point are you finally just.. okay with everything? When do you stop regretting past decisions, present decisions, and the decisions you are afraid that you are going to make?Better yet, when do you stop thinking about those mistakes. Or better yet- when do they stop becoming mistakes?
And WHY do I ask so many questions on these blogs? (It's a bad writing habit, I guess... I'm trying to keep you guys interested. Leave me alone!)
In the past hour especially the Lord has really convicted me on this. He keeps showing me how much regret and guilt I live with. Whenever something that I'm struggling with comes up in conversations, songs on the radio, or drenches my memories in a 24 hour period- I start to listen.
Trace says it all the time. "Why do you think so negatively about everything?" And it's true. I do. I think negatively all the time. I think negatively about my body image (she's so skinny, look at her legs!), my personality (Why am I such an introvert? Why am I so awkward? Why am I so self-centered? Why is it so uncomfortable for me to express my feelings?), and conversations I have with people (Did I say the right thing there? Ugh, no that was probably the WORST thing to say. Another person would have said something way better).
And its not only that I think negatively, I act on those negative thoughts. I often don't pursue things because I expect them to fail based off of past decisions that turned out badly. I wish I could practice what I preach.. but it's a lot easier said than done (two cliches in one sentence, like that?). I tell my middle school girls all the time that the past doesn't matter, "God can forgive anything!". Again, sometimes my actions make me think I don't really believe that.
They are to bring to the priest as a guilt offering
a ram from the flock, one without defect and of the proper value.
In this way the priest will make atonement for them
for the wrong they have committed unintentionally
and they will be forgiven.
I had to leave this blog as a draft for a full week before I could come back and write it. Partly because I kept getting distracted every time I sat down to write it, and partly because I was done with dealing with it for a little. I have this tendency to just come to God and tell Him my problems and not actually listen to what He is trying to tell me. I feel better for a few days and then the same thing hits me again. I just really want to feel like "Yeah! Woo that's right, got that off my chest. Me and Jesus are cool. He loves it when I tell Him my troubles and then don't stick around to listen to what He has to say!"
I went to the back of my bible to the concordance and looked up "GUILT". This was one of the verses it gave me. So I thought, "Old Testament. Old school. Cool." At first I thought I couldn't take anything from it because it was about preparing a sacrifice. We don't have to do that anymore, though.
Oh, but wait. Why did they do that? They made sacrifices (male lambs specifically) to God to forgive them, because they were waiting for the lamb to come later that would take away everything they needed to be forgiven for.
Why don't we do that? Oh yeah, because we already had a lamb who came and covered everything. So if I let regret and guilt infiltrate my every thought, aren't I saying that I don't really believe in my God who I say saved the world from its sins? It's almost like I tell Jesus, "No, it's okay. I can handle it! I'll take it back from you. Let me put this on my own shoulders, Jesus. I can take care of it better than you can."
This might be a gross metaphor, but it's the only one that I can see that really fits. It's kinda like when a cow eats. It swallows, and then it throws it back up and eats it again. Following me? When I keep reliving these mistakes it's like I'm the cow that keeps throwing it back up, just so that I can deal with it again. I let God have it momentarily, but then I want it back.
Another thing that stood out to me in this verse was that this ram that the people offered didn't only forgive the sins they knew they committed, but it also forgives their unintentional sins. This is something else I had never thought about. These mistakes that I made so long ago were unintentional. Mistakes can be unintentional for two reasons:
1) They can be unintentional because at the time you thought you were doing something that was good. Something that you thought would make you happy. You can't really go on hating yourself for something you did when you only thought you were doing good.
2) There is another way that sin can be unintentional. I think this one most applies to what I have been dealing with: If sin was committed, and you knew at the time that you were in the wrong. You can know that you are in the wrong, but if you were at a point in your life where you didn't know the Lord, it is a whole different subject. Oh, you can still have a conscience when you don't know the Lord. Believe me. Because I felt bad while I was doing these things. But the fact that I couldn't wrap my mind around a God who loves me unconditionally, and had already taken care of the bad things in my life- I did them anyway. I was so broken and unwilling to mend myself, that there was no way I was going to be able to comprehend God telling me why He didn't want me to do these things. I understood that He didn't want me to do them, but I didn't understand that He didn't want me to do these things because He just wanted to protect me.
Let Him protect you. Don't try and take that back from Him. He wants you to let Him.
Anna waited for 84 years to meet Jesus. Anna held out for 84 years for God. But actually, she didn't really "hold out". Anna saw how sufficient God's promise was, and so she waited. Anna waited 84 years to see Jesus. Anna waited 84 years because she KNEW that God was going to come through.While all of Anna's girl friends and women relatives were getting married, making babies, raising a family... Anna waited. That's a humble woman right there.
I just imagine people constantly questioning her.
"Why haven't you gotten remarried?"
"What was this 'quest' you feel like God has put on you?"
"What value can you feel if you haven't remarried and had children by now?"
"After all, isn't that what a women's role is?"
And then to eachother I imagine them saying,
"Silly Anna. She thinks she can know what God has in store?"
"Stupid Anna. She contributes nothing to society; all because she only wants to spend her time in prayer to a God who doesn't listen to the idle minds of women."
What a humble woman. Not only because she took this criticism I have imagined, but because she denied what her culture thought "made you a woman".
Pride has been hitting me hard lately. I've realized that pride isn't the same thing I always thought it was. I always thought that pride was the same thing as conceit. But then I started to understand that pride can be one of the greatest strongholds that we have without realizing it. Pride can be the opposite of conceit.
Pride can be scared to go in the direction you know God is pushing you. Okay, come on guys. Stop acting dumb. You know when you feel God push you. You know the basics of what God wants from you. It absolutely does not matter how little God is actually incorporated in your life, you have a yearning (that God put inside of you) to want more for yourself. Does that mean giving up a job? Does that mean changing your major? Does that mean changing your friend group? Are you feeling tugged yet? Do you identify with any of these things? Maybe something not on this list just popped into your head?
And you’re still hesitant? Pride check.
Pride can be having a low self esteem. Girls spend so much time putting themselves down. Prideful? Noooooo. Actually, yes. Yes it is. How much time do we spend in the mirror every day criticizing ourselves? How much time does that mean we are focusing on ourselves? And all the time we are thinking about what people think about us (which are probably most if not all false)? We obsess over ourselves.
Identify with this, maybe? Pride check.
Pride can be admitting that you have a problem. For example, porn. Half of the struggle with pornography is not wanting to admit that there is an actual addiction there. There is something addicting about looking at things you know are bad on the internet. At first, you felt guilty. Now, it gets easier every time. You have a problem. Admitting that to a friend or mentor is one of the hardest things, but also the most humbling. Put away your pride for a second. Tell someone you trust what you are struggling with. Having an honest conversation with someone about the things you are most ashamed of shows humbleness.
See how pride sneaks up on us? “I don’t boast about myself. I’m good!” Pay a little closer attention to yourself. How much pride do we have to put aside to see the things that God wants to give us? Because He is a loving God who does want to give us those things that He wants for us. But He needs us to get rid of some stuff first. And the more you think about the things that God is asking us to give up, the more you see that all of those things boil down to Pride.
I have spent the last three weeks in Atlanta, Memphis, Arkansas, and Panama City Beach. These few weeks have been extremely exhausting and challenging, but blessings nonetheless. From January 1st-5th I was in Atlanta, Georgia at the Passion conference. Passion was intimidating for someone who doesn't like big crowds and comes from a Church of Christ background. It took place in the Georgia dome, and it filled up almost all of it. There were 65,000 college students from around the world all coming to praise our God.
When we first got to the dome I had really hardened my heart to the worship and speakers. I go to a nondenominational church currently, but whenever I realized how many people were going to be at this conference I figured that most of the worship bands and speakers would be trying to put on a show for all these people.
God used this trip to keep kicking down barriers in my heart. I had been putting up this huge wall prior to this trip. I didn't even want to go on the trip, to be honest. God kept tugging at me, though. Someone paid for my trip, I had some friends going, and somehow a spot opened and my boyfriend even got to come with me. Even though this was obviously God making it nearly impossible for me not to go, I was still resisting.
It wasn't until one of the last nights that I fully let God in. The worship was what first got me. The same worship that I had been trying to stiff arm this whole trip. We sang a song where we kept repeating this one line "I love you". I started recalling one of the worship leaders at Soma telling us one night at Refuge, "Don't sing it unless you mean it." And I still sang it! Even while thinking about how I needed to mean what I was telling God, I still kept singing! I was telling God that I loved Him for the first time in my life. And not only was I telling Him, but 65,000 other people were telling Him too.
All of the sudden I felt this enormous feeling of happiness. But it wasn't my happiness. It was God's. I felt how joyous He was that His children were finally that reciprocating! All of these prodigal sons and daughters were finally returning to Him. And His arms were open and His face was smiling and He finally said "YES! Come home. I've been waiting, and I love you too." I can't even describe it. All I know is that I bawled like a baby.