Ten paces behind H and Harrison, I walk slowly, passed hundreds of tents stacked like doll houses on the floor of God’s living room. Marquees shake violently in the wind naming each distinct community – St. Johns, Holy Trinity, St. Stephens, Emmaus Road – markers in a tapestry of nylon, metal and bunting framed by vast windmills and small sheep.
We have arrived at Pontins Camber Sands, a holiday park in East Essex tucked in tight by arms of the sea. It is the home of FOCUS, an annual summer event boasting 7500 participants.
Here for H’s work, we insert ourselves on the top of a steep learning curve in the HTB community. I’m sliding down on my bottom while H is on his feet.
A few moments pass when H and Harrison pause mid-sentence, turn around in tandem and face me. Consternation quickly erupts between them, a mirror to the look on my face.
Perhaps it was my eyes swollen round and fixed, mouth gaping open or the slowness in my gate that evoked their quizzical exploration into my sudden malaise.
“What in the world is wrong with you,” they ask.
Between you and me, all the feels in my ENFP personality were standing up and saluting their broad chested logic. Those unadulterated looks from my thinkers are commonplace, not only among an extravagance of tent dwelling Christians. I used to make excuses, feel the need to explain the easy sway of my body from clarity to confusion. But I don’t do that anymore. I own my humanity.
We don’t need to make excuses for fearfully and wonderfully made.
I had no place, no hidden crack or extra room in my memory for what I was seeing. Thousands choosing to sleep on cold, hard earth; the howl of wind keeping them awake for one whole week of . . . . Vacation?
Perhaps this explains why Bear Grylls is one of the 7500?
When rain arrived and the wind picked up I was glad we chose to stay in a “chalet,” more accurately described by many as an army barracks with a warm shower and stove to cook. But God wasn’t to be found in the wind but . . . in a gentle, quiet whisper — those words scrolled through my mind endlessly everywhere I went.
When God wants to pour you out like Daniel, Joseph and Moses, He erases all the ways in which you have learned to define life. All the ways you have chosen to simply live faith. All the ways in which you’ve become too familiar with how He shows up.
I’m starting over.
This is not the kind of starting over that looks like words written, wadded up and tossed in the rubbish bin. It isn’t about making a decision to end something important and re-invent myself or failing and being humbly put back together by circumstance. No, it’s not about learning how to perform familiar tasks with uncharacteristic verve inspired by a fresh outlook.
The kind of starting over I want to tell you about isn’t any of those things and yet, it is all of them.
This starting over is about God exchanging your adult heart to remember what it means to be a child again. It is an unexpected birth in mid-life, a tributary discovered mid-stream in thought, a revelation hatched mid-sentence in the story of life.
When the wind and rain cease and sun warms up community interaction, my mouth is no longer hanging open. But my heart remembers the teenager.
The teenager displaced and dropped off in a new town, alone among a throng of strangers in a crowded community swimming pool. Watch girls dive for pennies for hours while sweat drips off my forehead.
Walking into a church for the first time certain everyone can read the brokenness on my face.
How small it feels to be the only student performer whose parents are missing in the audience. How redemptive it seems to have your best friend’s parents fill in the gap.
I remember the faces of Laura, Jenni, and Kelly on the first day at each of three new schools as an adolescent and how kindness diminishes the awkwardness of starting over.
We think starting over is about a roof, income, and bread but God is saying, “No, starting over is about me, the Kingdom and trust.”
Starting over means listening for answers to questions you aren’t asking because you are over confident in where the path is leading. And trust doesn’t require your assumptions.
Trust owns how God made you when everything around is foreign like Daniel confidently eating fruit when everyone else is eating meat.
Trust is humbly stuttering in your American accent to connect with people because like Moses, you know God is your mouthpiece.
Trust is leaving the comforts and familiarity of home to embrace influence God is orchestrating. Influence like Joseph, among people who don’t know your name, spiritual legacy or how you’ve been successfully tending sheep in other places.
On our drive home, hearts full of wise words, warm faces and worship, brush strokes of purple, gold and salmon shade sky a brilliant masterpiece. Our necks stretch like baby birds hungry for glimpses of beauty. Through open spaces in walls of stone and ivy we spy streaks in the sky until the strain turns into a sleepy haze pushed into my son’s pillow.
I awaken to stars shimmering like twinkle lights dangling at dusk in the trees of London and the smell of bread baking in an oven filling up my senses. Except I am the only one who smells the aroma and hears the whisper.
I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.
Metaphors are all around us. Do you see them? Can you smell them? How do they taste?
If you are starting over, this is the most important thing I can tell you. Remember what it feels like to be a child again and the vulnerability will lead you and those you influence to the Kingdom.
You will remember that life is not about where you sleep, the weather, or who knows you, but that God’s got you, no matter the circumstance. He will pour your life out and stretch your tent pegs at precisely the right moment.
so beautiful. so powerful. so raw in some places and real. thank you.
Thank you Sharon, encouragement is definitely one of your gifts. xx
The windmills were a surprise! On the way to visit my parents in ILLinois, there are lots of these windmills. It really changes the view in farm country where they live. They would go camping a lot, but they would park a motorhome! No tents for them! HaHa I guess that would be more your speed too. Since my 30s, I gave up on tents. My body complains too much, and the bathroom is too far away in the middle of the night. 😉
The windmills are such a startling juxtaposition in all that barren landscape Janet. We saw them throughout Texas last December travelling from the east coast to the west. Like artwork hanging in a place you least expect!
You triggered memories of times when I have endured very uncomfortable circumstances (in a roach-infested house, for example), only to discover that joy breaks through in the morning (Psalm 30:5), as God provides opportunities in the neighborhood, relationships are built, and we ALL grow deeper in Him. (Oh, and the blessings of exterminators and strong disinfectant helped, too!)
‘Loved that last paragraph, Shelly, as you summed up the life-lessons we learn when stretched outside our comfort zone. Well said!
I’ve been a few uncomfortable situations for the sake of community and while at the time, I didn’t feel happy about it, I realize the reward of deeper relationships when I press through undesirable circumstances.
Oh friend I love this for all the feels and all the reasons… and this: “rubbish bin” How very non-American! 😉
Thanks Karrliee! I know, I’m already slipping between the two cultures in conversations.
Thank you so much, Shelly, for those beautiful words. I am at a starting over place and am struggling to let go of so much, but, in the midst of the struggle, your words brought peace… “We think starting over is about a roof, income, and bread but God is saying, “No, starting over is about me, the Kingdom and trust.””
He still sees me, and he’s still “got (me) no matter the circumstances”. Thank you, friend, for the lovely and gentle reminders.
Sandy, I’m thankful you stopped by and left a comment. I’m thanking God with you for words that bring peace and praying for you right now as I type this reply. Hang on. He’s got you!
Shelly… I so get this… This makes me think of Richard Rohrs writing on the first and second half of life… I love hearing how you are abiding in His love and letting Love transform… Quote Richard R “In the second half of life, you are strong enough to hold together the contradictions in yourself and in others. And you can do so with compassion, forgiveness, patience, and tolerance”
Shelly…really enjoyed reading this today. It hits home for me – to feel like a child again and being vulnerable, but knowing that His Love and Grace protect me. Wonderful words with a beautiful message. God Bless.
I’m leading a Bible study for young moms this summer, and last night part of our study was on the Feast of Tabernacles (or tents). This post reminded me so much of that–the celebration, the feasting, the rejoicing over what God has done. What a party! And what a great reason to celebrate!
Great message, Shelly. The vulnerability of our youth is often misplaced; but never forgotten. You are a great one to encourage and lead through change. Your life’s experience speaks well to that. Love getting a glimpse at what Focus might look like. I can feel the sea breeze!