I'm thankful that His ways are not my ways. It was a true joy to serve with Bethie (my co-leader!) and Aidan (one of the song crew) and to spend three months preparing with a great group of hard-working, enthusiastic kids.
One of the perks of being on the song team was that I had a break between my daily responsibilities. Some of my time was spent visiting with others and watching the kids enjoy their activities.
When possible, however, I tiptoed away to a quiet corner on the church property, Bible and journal in hand. I found a picnic table among the towering fir trees, quieted my heart, and listened. Mostly I heard the birds and the wind through the trees mingled with the children's voices across the lawn as they played their camp games. (It was a delight to occasionally hear Drew's voice take command as the fourth grade game leader. Wasn't he just a fourth grader himself?)
But I also heard the Lord whispering truth and love to my heart during those moments of stillness. He brought such timely, fitting passages to me as I read that it was as though He had tucked a precious note into my pocket for me to discover at just the right time. I was particularly struck by Psalm 68:4 which seemed to mirror my experience as song leader:
"Sing to God, sing praises to His name; Lift up a song for Him who rides through the deserts,
whose name is the Lord, and exult before Him."
VBC went by quickly, and we barely had time to catch our breath before packing up for camp. Jamie and I serve as leaders for The Calling, a young adult ministry at our church. I'm new to the group and felt anxious about jumping into a different situation. Especially one that involved mosquitoes and port-a-potties. But I knew from experience that camping is a pretty good way to quickly connect with others. I bit the bullet, grabbed the bug spray and hand sanitizer, and said yes.
Again, the Lord rode through the desert. (And again He did so rather literally -- it was a hot week in Leavenworth). I learned to join this uniquely dynamic and vulnerable group in singing praises to His name. They warmly welcomed me, and I was blessed by their conversations and obvious love for each other, their group, and their Savior. It was also a delight and blessing to my mama's heart to see them scoop up and love our kiddos. (We got to bring Aidan and Avery along. Avery was in heaven with the many French braids and daisy chains with which she was adorned, and Aidan glowed with every fist bump he shared with the guys.)
This morning it all came to an end, which felt rather abrupt after weeks of pressing forward. Don't get me wrong -- I loved having my own bed, a long shower, my leisurely cup of tea, and no nagging details to arrange or plans to make. But I knew that this day would represent more of a valley than a mountaintop in my journey.
As I opened my Bible this morning, I turned to my bookmark and continued where I left off. I'm in Judges, and I so desperately wanted the Israelites to continue in the Truth they had learned under the leadership of Joshua. (Maybe they'd get it this time?) But we know the story. By chapter two, they had forgotten.
After that whole generation had been gathered to their fathers,
another generation grew up, who knew neither the Lord
nor what He had done for Israel.
That first word hit me: after.
Our faith is tested and revealed in the after. After a mountaintop experience, after a lesson learned, after a new step taken . . . after a powerful week at raft camp or VBC or wherever we may have met the Lord in a new way in which commitments were strengthened and friendships made, the "after" is inevitable.
I find myself in the after today. The day after weeks of preparation and activity, learning and connecting with others. And a prayer rises within me. I pray that the Lord would fill this "after" with his presence, wisdom and joy, that I would keep listening to the whisper among the trees, and that I would keep learning from the shouts I both heard and joined in declaring when leaping nimbly among the peaks with His people.
As often happens in my life, Spurgeon's Morning and Evening text for today spoke to this reality: How discouraging it would be to allow "days of sloth" in the after to "ruinously destroy all that I had achieved in times of zealous industry!" So my prayer continues: May my zeal remain, Lord, and may it remain for each student who experienced your presence this week. These "after" days must be "fed in the right meadow, spent with the Lord, in His service, in His company, in His fear, and in His way. I have had more experience of my Lord," and because of that I have learned to "be more like Him." (Spurgeon)
And so may I be more like you, Lord. May my husband and children be more like you. May the men and women of The Calling be more like you. May the kids and leaders of VBC be more like you. And may Drew and Bethie learn the same as they head to Leavenworth for their own camp experience with the high school group today. Richly bless each "before" and "during," that together we may rejoice evermore in the "after."