Tired. No, exhausted was more like it. That’s the emotional state I was in when the B.A.D. girls of ECC gathered at last year’s retreat in Naples. Pooped out! I had just weeks before finished an all-day conference with S.W.O.R.D., a ministry that Michelle Schumacher, Shelly McKnight, and I had created two years earlier. But it wasn’t just having finished up that conference that left me feeling worn out; it was what would happen afterwards.
Immediately following that conference, I had begun to hear what I thought was the whispering of God asking me to step out of SWORD ministry. Step out? Why would I do that?! I questioned. This was a ministry that Michelle, Shelly and I had lovingly and pain-stakingly put together. We had spent countless hours, sweat and tears (lots and lots of laughter, too!) to bring the ministry to where it was. We were just getting started, now was not the time to step out. Surely, I reasoned, I am not hearing from God. But the whispering continued. “Step out.”
If there is one thing I’m afraid of (and I confess that I am fearful of many things, forgive me Lord!) it is being out of position that I fear the most. I fear this because being IN position is so darned important. So when the whispering of “Step Out” didn’t cease, I entered into a time of fasting to hear clearly from the Lord. Within a few hours I felt clear that this was indeed what I was to do and was to do quickly. I gave God my assurance, “I will step out. Though I don’t understand, I will do it.”
Within a matter of hours I received a phone call that would change the direction of my life. A phone call that opened a door (okay, blew it off its hinges is more like it!) to my becoming the Senior Chaplain of Agape Ministries – a Christian drug and alcohol treatment facility for women. As only God can do, everything moved together swiftly and seamlessly to put me into position at Agape. As soon as I entered the role of Chaplain, I knew I was in my sweet spot. I loved those women! I loved my role! One thing however became crystal clear – this new role would demand all my energy and spiritual resources. It didn’t make me long to see the why of why I needed to step out of SWORD in order to take on this new role – I simply could not do both, at least not well, and certainly not at the same time! Another might be able to, but not me.
So, by the time I arrived in Naples for the retreat, I was feeling tired. After all, I’d only been in my new position for less than a month and I had not really rested from the last SWORD conference. Plus, there was the emotional toll of having to say goodbye to Michelle, Shelly and the rest of the wonderful SWORD ministry team.
In short, I felt blah, empty. I felt like how the flavor vanilla must feel when it has no fancy sprinkles or anything yummy-sweet on top of it. Just plain vanilla. (Sorry vanilla fans, but this is being spoken from the heart of a lover of dark chocolate.)
The focus of the Naples retreat was, “It’s Time to Graduate, Princess!” I look back now at the whole thing and I can’t help but chuckle. See, although I favor being a ‘big-haired girl’ who loves lots of flash and sparkle, there was nothing blingy about me at this retreat. My hair wasn’t ‘oomphed and poofed’ – in fact, I don’t even think I wore my tu-tu correctly, I actually think I had it on inside out! Wearing contact lenses seemed like too much work, so I just wore my glasses. Simply put, I was coasting on auto-pilot fumes.
“Am I even supposed to be here, God?!” I asked. “Will my message even make a difference?” I wondered. Even though it had been planned in advance, I was grateful that the lineup required that I be the first speaker, bringing the opening message on Friday night. It’s like what you do with a band-aid when you are afraid it will hurt – you just RIP IT OFF and get it over with! I knew that going first would allow me to then relax and receive the rest of the messages that the other speakers would share over the course of the weekend. However, going first sets the tone for the whole weekend. It’s like building a cake, the foundation is important. There’s little room for error. NO pressure, right?!
“Help me, God!” my soul cried. “Help my message to make sense and make its mark!” And as I set out to talk about princesses and dragons, forks in the road and the Hebrew letter for grace, hey, the Lord’s presence met me. The message that He had stirred up in my heart over the last few months began to make its way out of my mouth into what I hoped was their hearts. And then it happened. IT. That it that I could not have foreseen but in my wildest dreams! As I was getting ready to wrap up the message, as the words were still in my mouth, inviting any woman who did not yet personally know the Lord to come and receive Him, I caught a glimpse of a movement in my peripheral vision. I kept speaking but the movement came closer – a woman! But not just any woman, a precious young woman I know, Christy Thompson. And Christy wasn’t just coming forward – she was practically running! Right. Towards. Me. Before I could even respond, she was in my arms crying out, “I want to receive Him!”
Truthfully, it was my daughter, Jennie Garret, who had invested heavily into the life of Christy. Jennie was the one who had shared Christ with her. Jenniewas the one who had
showed her the love of God over and over. Jennie was the one who had reasoned time and time again with Christy regarding the things of God. In fact, it was Jennie who had even invited Christy to the retreat in the first place. Yet, here Christy was, in my arms…and in the arms of her Lord. I had the unspeakable joy to not only lead Christy to the King but to place a beautiful tiara on her head as the symbol of Him making her His princess! Right before our eyes, Christy had graduated!
How awesome it is for me to reflect that it was certainly not ‘persuasive speech’ that won Christy’s heart that night, nor was she moved by my sparkles or my wit. I was just plain ol’ vanilla delivering the SWEET life-giving message of Christ and it was to Him she had responded. (And is still responding today, praise God!)
That night as I retired to my bed, I felt weariness roll off of me. And then I felt it…a very definite sense that at that very moment a turning of a page was taking place. Just weeks earlier God had spoken. I had obeyed. And just like that, hundreds of little moments had played out into one perfect crescendo-ing finale, resulting in a young woman’s salvation. And with the turning of the page – the closing out of one chapter and the beginning of a new chapter in my life, I knew.
I knew that this princess had just graduated also.