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Thursday, October 11, 2012

After the Conference

Liz and I enjoyed our group of high school girls during the conference, sharing a lot of favorite Christian songs Liz played on her guitar. Of course, the kids loved that. There were serious times, too, as we shared our testimonies and Bible stories. As with most girls that age, sharing their own concerns proved more threatening. By the end of the conference, only two girls had the boldness to indicate an interest in spiritual things in front of their peers. That’s pretty par for the course and doesn’t mean the others weren’t interested, necessarily. Based on the way both of us had felt at their ages, we pressed on to give the information requested by the two to the entire group. Nobody yawned and nobody got up to leave. Interested or not, they listened. Who knew what the result might be later on… only God.  In any case, the girls did seem to have had a good time and that was important, too.

Actually, they had received a lot more than we could have imagined; or, at least, they expressed that to the right people. Liz and I were packing up our room, the conference was over and we readied ourselves to head home.

“Sojourner, could I see you for a minute?” Reverend Vance was speaking to my back, having called to me on our way to the car.

“Sure, how did the rest of the conference go? It seemed like our kids had a good time but can one ever really tell with teenagers?” I laughed and waited for Reverend Vance’s reply.

‘”Everything went very well. Thank you to both of you ladies for your participation. Your girls were very positive about the experience. In fact, that’s why I have a favor to ask of you.” Liz and I smiled, waiting for the request. Actually, both of us wanted to jump up and down for joy at this confirmation of what we had hoped.

“If I can help, I’ll be glad to do it. What do you need, Reverend Vance?”

“Well, I know it’s short notice, but would you be able to do the sermon tomorrow morning?” I reckon he saw the sudden blast of anxiety that spilled out my eyes, as my eyebrows shot heavenward because he had to stifle a laugh before continuing. “I know you can do it. The kids said you never used notes or anything and had such interesting things to say. I hadn’t planned to do this but another one of the staff had also heard from the girls and asked me to make the request. It seemed fitting to me, since we had just held the youth conference at the church. Asking one of the youth counselors to share the platform just felt right to me. What do you say, Sojourner? You can take all the time you like and can speak on whatever you have on your heart.”

“Of course, she wants to do that, Reverend Vance!” Liz didn’t give my stunned silence a chance to respond. She was so excited at the request. I, on the other hand was struck mute. “I know Sojourner will have something just right to say and the people will see it was a good idea, first time or not.”

Turning his gaze back on me, Reverend said, “And, you, Sojourner. What do you think? Are you willing to try?”

“I… I… I’ve never done anything like that, Reverend Vance. What if I stand up to speak and can’t get any words out or something?” They both laughed like this was an absurd possibility but I knew better. It was entirely possible!

“Well, you do your best. I’ll be right there to step in if you choke up. I know your girls would really be proud to see you up there in front of the congregation.”

Reluctantly, I agreed to try and Liz and I headed home. “What an opportunity! You can just ask God to tell you what He wants you to say tomorrow. I’ll pray for you the whole time; it’ll be fine. Just don’t try to come up with anything on your own and God will do His thing through you. I can hardly wait to hear what you will say up there!”  Same with me and I only hoped it was something from God and not just a mumbling stammerer trying not to faint.

The entire evening I tried not to think of the sermon but topics kept jumping into my mind at random. Some had possibilities but would take far more research than I had time. Besides, I really did think God would fill my mouth if I would only let Him and not get myself in the way. Curt and I prayed about it before going to bed, but struggling not to think about something seemed even harder than writing the sermon.  I was sorry he had to work in the morning so couldn’t be there with me.

In the morning I sang familiar choruses as I took my bath and prepared breakfast. Every time a thought crossed my mind, I just said, “I’m not going to think about that. God already knows what I will say and when the time comes, that’s what I’ll say!” Then the volume was ratcheted up on whatever song I was singing. At last it was time to leave for church.

The service progressed in the familiar order and, then, Reverend Vance introduced me. As I walked over to him, my adrenaline output took a giant leap off the charts. My cheeks were burning so I assumed they were also blazing beet-red.

“Take a big breath, Sojourner,” whispered Reverend Vance while the people shifted in their seats. I did as he suggested, asking if I could remain where I was instead of standing in the large pulpit perch.

“Hello, I’m happy to be here with you this morning. I hope you don’t mind that I stand here instead of up there.” I turned to look at the impressive pulpit and people laughed. Was that a good sign? The platform was still raised and away from the people but it felt more like the stage I used to stand on when I led the pep Assemblies at my high school; hence, a lot more comfortable to me. “Reverend Vance asked me to share whatever was on my heart this morning so I asked God to tell me what that was.” More laughter from the congregation. I wasn’t trying to be funny but pressed on, hoping they were just encouraging me to continue.

I took a long, deep breath and new that Liz was on the sidelines praying for me. Okay, God, I thought; it’s time for You to do Your thing. I’m going to open my mouth now. Please, fill it with whatever is on Your heart for these people.

“Life with God is like this…” God had instantly dropped a picture into my mind and I began sharing what I saw was his example. From that point on, I listened to the sermon as it proceeded out of my own mouth. It was an unusual sensation, to be sure! The people were as interested to hear it as I was, even though the sermon time had doubled from the usual twenty minutes on the schedule.

People actually clapped when I finished with, “Thank you and may God bless you with understanding of His message to you today.” Honestly, it took everything I had to not breathe out a loud sigh of relief but that’s how I felt. It was over! I hadn’t fainted and Reverend Vance hadn’t had to come rescue me. My mouth felt like it was full of cotton; I desperately needed a drink of water.

I started moving to the side stairs and Reverend Vance grabbed on to my hand and whispered I should wait for him. He wanted me to stand next to him at the door to shake people’s hands.

The final hymn sounded and off we went to position ourselves at the side of the front exit from the sanctuary. One-by-one the congregation filed out, shaking my hand and thanking me for speaking, as well as for helping with the kids. One man just wouldn’t let go of my hand.

“Well, Reverend Vance, whenever you need to be out-of-town or just need a break from preaching, you can call on this little lady to fill in for you. I could listen to her any time.” I thanked him and apologized that I’d gone over their usual time by so much. “Awe, that’s nothing any of us noticed. You had us too interested in what you were saying to check the clock.”

“I’ll keep that in mind and thanks for letting me know.” Responding to the man with a big smile, Reverend Vance gave my shoulders a quick squeeze.

“You can count on me, too, pastor. I loved hearing this young woman’s sermon. Come back anytime, Honey.” The lady gave a firm shake of my hand and moved on.

So many people echoed these sentiments that I began to be really embarrassed. My face warmed up every bit as much as my heart as the encouragement for Reverend Vance to have me come back continued. It was not at all hard to pass the praise on to the Lord, however, as I knew without any question I was as much a listener that morning as anyone in the congregation. I have no idea what I could have come up with on my own but I’m pretty sure it would have been more along the lines of a university first-year speech class assignment. My utter joy was that the Almighty God had chosen to use me to speak for Him that beautiful Sunday morning.

****Simon and the Holy Spirit… Next Post

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