I am in the aisle seat of the third row back from the stage. The auditorium is filled with hundreds of teens and youth leaders at summer camp. A dramatic depictions of the Angels' point-of-view of the crucifixion just finished and the speaker is asking us what that means to us. He begins the invitation. The lights dim, a quiet hymn begins to play, and he asks, "Are you sure? Do you know for sure that you belong to Jesus?"
My palms are sweaty and I close my eyes to block out that nagging unsureness. I'd been in church all my life and thought I was a Christian. But three years of awake-at-night was making me wonder.
And tears fell from my eyes while sitting in that aisle seat. So I stood up and was soon on a bench outside with a friend, a few feet from the overlook on this mountain-top college that boasted a view of three states on clear days. She read scripture and prayed, said, "You know what to do." And I said that prayer again. The one I'd lead other people through on mission trips. And this time it felt like peace.
Though my views on the concept of moment-of-salvation, (soteriology is the word I've learned in seminary) have changed drastically, I try to save this moment from my often judgmental and cynical hindsight because it was pure and honest and, ultimately, life-changing.
I am in London. I have come with a small group from my youth group to join other kids from United States youth groups to be "on mission" here. I have walked the streets of Northern London for a week, offered prayers with the owner of a boxing gym, offered my "British" sandwich to a grateful homeless man, sang then sings my soul, my savior God to thee, how Great thou art with friends at the top of our lungs in the twilight darkness next to a sidewalk fruit stand where we marveled at the bounty of bright red cherries being sold by the man wearing a turban.
On Sunday I find myself sitting in a pew at St. Paul's Cathedral, refraining from communion because they use real wine. I am cringing at the "smells and bells" and the way I see it all as fake and stuffy. On Wednesday nights at home we sang with drums and lights and smoke and that felt real as I waved one hand in the air, the other hand patting rhythmically over my heart. But in that pew, while I scowl and judge I hear a whisper in my heart, I am here too. My scowl softens and I wonder what I am missing.
A speaker at one of the youth trips said, "You should have something marked on every page of your Bible." So I am laying on my bed with my Bible open and a pen and highlighter near me. Genesis and Exodus were a breeze. Leviticus was no trouble at all. But now I'm in Numbers and I am faced with an entire page of names and numbers. Eventually I find something, I don't remember what and that Bible has long been retired, but by the end of the year every page in my bible has a circle or a star, an underline or a highlight. And then I start again the next year. And somehow all these words, even the names and numbers, are burrowing into my soul and that is going to make all the difference in the hard years that are coming.
There are five of us in a side room. We are going slowly through a stack of "visitors cards" and praying for the names one by one. Praying for God to be peace and salvation, healing and hope. We are on our knees and holding hands, and then as our knees begin to ache and our palms grow sweaty we are flat on our face and palms to the ground. Prayers for these names become praise to God. When the last person has spoken and the quiet has reigned for a few minutes, we get up, walk into the main room, grab a slice of pizza and join in as worship music plays from the stage and 300 teenagers fill our youth room for our monthly "outreach" event. Later that night, we'll stand to the side as some of those names we prayed over come over to us and want to know a little more about Jesus.
I am sitting on the floor of a small waiting room at a nursing home. A couple dozen of us had just spent the afternoon visiting some of the residents, and as we end our time and wait for everyone to finish we gather here in this room. Someone starts singing, O Lord please light the fire, that once burned bright and pure, replace the flame of my first love, that burned with holy fear. And then one song cascades into the next and we are offering an impromptu concert. Our hearts overflowing in song, if not fire.
It is years later. I have journals stacked at the end of my bed detailing my love-relationship with Jesus the Messiah, detailing the peace and joy a midst my questions and fears. Somewhere in those journals the questions become stronger. The writing less frequent. Until one day I am driving down the road, tears streaming down my face, and telling God he lied. I trusted you, and this is what I got? I will spend the next many months-rolling-into-years making myself show up at church and I will sit in the pew, white knuckles gripping my Bible as I listen intently for some path back to the peace, but deathly afraid that all I'm going to get is hurt again. The songs and underlined verses pop into my head at the oddest times, I kneel down to pull a box from under my bed and I remember the aching knees that went with earnest prayers, a friend invites me to a Mass and the candles brings back the voice, I am here.
And this time it adds and I will not let you go.
You have been sifted as wheat, but I have prayed for you, that your faith may not fail so that when you turn back you may strengthen your sisters and brothers.
. . .from on fire, to sifted like wheat, and turned back again with a different flame.
This is part of a synchroblog event for Addie Zierman's new book When We Were On Fire. I'm hoping to read it soon - her blog has blessed me and given me so many "me too!" moments about my evangelical upbringing - it's blessings and struggles. More info on how to link up your blog entry and find other submissions by clicking here.