So, you’ve made it to the end.
But it’s not really the end.
You’ve just read six essays of my new book Permission to Speak Freely: Essays and Art on Fear, Confession and Grace. This is the final one…for today anyway.
There are still 22 essays you haven’t read, plus all the art and poetry and other things that have been compiled into this lovely four-color book.
But fear not, you can pick up a copy of the book here. Or if you’d like an autographed copy, or a T-shirt, you can click here.
Or you can leave a comment below and tell me how you landed here (whose blog did you first stumble on?) and I’ll choose two people to each win a copy of the book on Friday.
Now, without further adieu…the seventh essay.
Essay #7 – Listening
Julie and I both had some friends in the Kansas City area. Two of them were in a band, and they drove down to Dallas in their band’s van to help us move. We trekked nine hours back up to the Midwest, where we rented an apartment we had never seen before with a roommate we didn’t know very well.
A few weeks after we moved, their band played at a youth group event at a local megachurch that was Baptist but pretended not to be by calling itself a “family church.” It wasn’t too far away. Since moving, I had developed a huge crush on one of the guys.
We walked in, and Julie went up toward the front. I stayed in the back, with an overwhelming since of panic gripping me. Taking a seat, behind a partition, I rested my head in my hands and attempted to get the sense of dread from overwhelming me. My heart was racing, and I could feel it pulsating through my body.
More clearly than I have heard God in my life, He said, “Remember the letter you wrote to Me when you were sixteen? Remember the times you’ve wondered where I am? I’m here. This is My church, and it’s time for you to be a part of it.”
I told the Voice in my head to shut up. I was probably going crazy. Surely God doesn’t speak like that. I thought back to the last time I had taken one of the many pills I would take to feel normal and wondered if it was still in my system.
But then it happened again.
“HEY! Remember the letter you wrote to me when you were sixteen? Remember the times you’ve wondered where I am? I’m here. THIS IS MY CHURCH, AND IT’S TIME FOR YOU TO BE A PART OF IT.”
Go away! I silently screamed back.
Maybe it was time for another pill. I started to dig through my purse.
A girl with bright red hair who was about my age came up to me between songs. She introduced herself. “Hi, I’m Kristi. I work here. Can I pray with you?”
For some reason, my panic turned into anger. My skin began to crawl, and I wanted to run out the doors of the church and never stop. I didn’t want to let this random girl in on the dialogue that was unfolding between the voices in my head.
Or the fact that I had voices in my head, for that matter.
What? Why? Who is this girl? No. No, you can’t pray with me. I don’t think I still believe in your God anyway. Just because I’m in church doesn’t mean I have to buy into this crap like you do. Seriously!
But acting nonchalant, like people offered to pray with me every day, I shrugged, casually pushed my hair back from my face, and calmly responded, “Sure. I guess so.”
She took my hands, but I pulled back. Instead, she put her hand on my shoulder, which tensed up at her touch. She began praying for me, for my friends, and then she said something that made my pounding heart stop dead in its tracks.
“I pray for Anne’s involvement with church. With this church.”
She wasn’t trying to manipulate me. Her prayer was very genuine. She was very genuine. I started to get a little more nervous as I wondered why in the world she would pray such a thing for a complete stranger. Later on, I asked her. She simply said she felt like that’s what she needed to pray.
Growing up in the South, I learned that even if you don’t agree with someone or like them, you could still be nice. So I responded nicely and said thank you. She asked if I’d be up for getting coffee with her sometime. She gave me her phone number, and a few weeks later I called.
Kristi and I became friends, and eventually I started attending the Baptist Family Church (known from this point on as “the BFC”) with her. She worked on the student ministry staff, I started volunteering at youth functions. Slowly, I began to fall in love with these teenagers. They made me think of myself when I was in junior high and high school. They were seeking a God and a faith they truly believed in. And through them, I remembered what it was like to be found and loved by God and to chase Him on a crazy adventure where anything was truly possible.
I can’t recall a specific moment when I finally chose to surrender my heart to God again. That makes me even wonder if there was a specific moment. Maybe it was just a lot of little moments stacked up on top of each other. God didn’t prove Himself trustworthy to me in one big burning bush. He didn’t guarantee my happiness or take away all my fear in one fell swoop.
But He did find me again.
Or perhaps, maybe I just allowed myself to be found.
To read all the essays, you can take the below route. Thank you to each blogger who so generously opened their virtual doors and shared part of the story with you today.
Donald Miller (Essay #1 – The First Brick)
Jon Acuff (Essay #2 – The Final Brick)
Carlos Whittaker (Essay #3 – Losing Faith)
Pete Wilson (Essay #4 – Finding Love in All the Wrong Places)
XXXChurch.com (Essay #5 – Shattered Pixels)
Catalyst Conference (Essay #6 – Ghosts of Churches Past)
FlowerDust.net (Essay #7 – Listening)