Last night a friend told me that he ended up reading my blogs at the same bar in Houston every week and has, at several points, begun to cry. He worries the bartenders are going to think he is creepy. I agree Gregg- this should be a legitimate concern. He asked me if I think through what I am about to write or if it is just a word dump?
I think he meant word vomit, he was just being sweet though.
So am I calculating every twist and turn of the story in order to elicit your tears, anger, and laughter... or do I innocently sit down and write a story- start to finish- in a furry of emotion, passion, and word dumpetry?
99% of the time, it's word dumpetry. These entries are lightly censored, rarely edited, and often written faster than it takes me to fill out the paperwork at the doctor's office.
1% of it is storytelling. Or, maybe 5% of it is. OK, 10% at the most.
But usually, the honest truth is, I sit down and it flows out.
The same thing happens on stage.
If you were to follow a musician around on tour, odds are, he or she will say nearly the same thing each night. In the context of the church, this gets a little strange and can possibly derail genuine worship when a pastor or worship leader relies on the same prayer three services in a row. Or, when a band decides on a "tour message" and rarely deviates from the stories they tell or the emotions they convey each night of the tour.
It's a hard call. You want excellence in programming; you want the flow and connectivity between songs or messages to fit; you want the words on the screen to match with the words you are speaking; you need some sort of concrete direction. It can't just be a free for all. But, it's way too easy, in protecting the perfection of programming and services that must flow like clock-work in order to herd people in and out of the doors before the next cattle call; to lose a free flowing, genuine spirit that comes new into God's presence. I guess I've always been afraid that I would fear the clock, the schedule, and the pre-set direction so much that I would become it's slave.
So, I decided a long time ago, to err on the side of letting things flow freely and naturally.
Get to the Point
I am pretty sure my dad let Ryan in on a secret before we were married. The conversation went something like:
"Now Jenny talks a lot."
"Lord, don't I know."
"So you just got to tell her: get to the point Jenny. For the love of all that's holy, get to the friggin point of your story."
"And that's all we ask. Debbie and I give you our blessing. Just don't let her beat around the bush. Look, you let her do it once, she'll do it a million times. Trust me. I'm married to her mother. You understand?"
"She'll start telling you one story and before you know it, mark my words, she will have you back in kindergarten with her and then talking about some man she met at a gas station and then talking to you about the gas station her and her sister crashed the car into and then she'll be talking about her sister... and then... and I'm telling you Ryan it won't end. And you can't act like you like hearing these stories cause your young and stupid and in love. Don't let her get a foot hold or you'll never hear the end of her... you gotta promise... nip it in the butt. Make her get to the point."
I am pretty sure that conversation happened. A sort of man support group for any man who married me or my sisters.
The point of my story is this:
Sometimes I open my mouth on stage and I have no idea what has just come out. I didn't plan it. I didn't rehearse it. It may not have even crossed my mind that day. But there I am, mouth open, telling some random story and there is a little voice in my head forcefully protesting, "What the heck are you talking about? Why are you even talking? You are being paid to sing. Not talk. " I try not to get nervous in that moment when the mean voices of criticism come out in my head. I try not to listen to the demons. I try not to think. I try to avoid being logical, structured, or afraid. I try to just keep my mouth open and keep going. No thinking. No stopping. No analyzing. No reality. Just keep letting it flow Jenny. Just let it flow.
And this week, I just wanted you to know, it paid off.
My mouth is open and I am telling 1300 students and adults the story about the little boy in the restaurant who threw his rock and made the whole restaurant stop and gasp. At a pivotal point in the worship service, I have stopped to tell this story, about a dad who picks up his little boy and holds him and kisses him and whispers in his ear and how this little boy fights against it, but the dad keeps hugging, keeps whispering, keeps kissing. And before I know it, the room is silent, and people are crying in every corner of the room. It's one of those moments where I feel like God has actually used me.
There are a lot of tough kids at this camp. I know. I have spent my week talking to them. They are here, at a church camp, because somebody paid for them to come and that meant their parents, for those whose parents hadn't kicked them out already, had a week off. They knew it. They were only there so their parents didn't have to deal with them. Thanks mom. Thanks dad. There were a lot of tough kids at camp this past week.
I've met kids with stories this week that would rip your heart out. They did mine. One night right before worship I talked to a girl who was raped by her student pastor. For two years. She has not gone to the police. He has since divorced and will re-marry a girl who has no idea what happened. And the response of her church, parents, and community? They call her a whore. Her dad calls her a bitch. Her mom won't talk to her because of the "affair" she had with her student pastor. No adult has stepped in to be an adult. No one has told her that she was seduced by a predator, that she was a victim. No one has wanted to put this guy in jail. No one has given her a chance to start over again. Instead, at a recent concert, she ran into a group of students from her old church and they spit on her.
I talked to this girl all week. Now, I am making plans to drive to her hometown to go to the police station with her because no one else will. She's just one of many, many tough kids I met this week. She can tell the story, show me the emails, the text messages that she saved as evidence... she can do it all without crying. Her eyes are glazed over. My heart breaks for her.
Imagine a room full of students with similar stories. Two girls this week had been kicked out of their homes. They are bisexual and living together in an abandoned motor home. Their churches want to talk about fixing their sexual preferences. That's it... forget the fact that they have both been sexually abused, abandoned, and have no understanding of Jesus Christ, those issues aren't on the table. Just fixing their sexual preference... My heart breaks for them.
I meet a girl whose dad has been trafficking her. I mean, I'm still stunned this even happens. A beautiful, young girl... Tia. You would never know by looking at her that her own daddy sells her body out. I told her about a girl I met in another state, Charissa, and without Charissa even knowing, her story of healing changes Tia's life.
Still... how crazy is it that I have now met two girls in the last six months, in the context of a church setting, who have spent half of their lives being used as prostitutes by their own dad's? My heart breaks for them.
The stories go on and on. From simple stories to horrific stories... and this week I found my self a bit stunned. I wish this were storytelling 101. I wish this were some sort of sick imagination. I wish these stories were not real. But they are real. And with each knew story I hear, the more sick to my stomach I feel. I don't even know what to say. I just cry and hug and listen. And I feel like the air has been knocked out of me.
These are tough kids. My stomach churns before worship.
Welcome! Worship with me for all the good things the Lord has done! Easier said for me than for the girl whose dad has sold her soul for fifty bucks...
It's in these moments that I am so grateful there is no set plan. No certain prayer or replicated story. I am quite sure those pre-prepared words would sound phony and stilted in light of the reality of the stories in the room. I am grateful there is no agenda on my end and grateful there isn't a certain scripture I have to read like, "rejoice in the Lord!" But, while I am grateful for the freedom of the moment, I am also terrified. "Lord, I have no idea what to say. I have no idea what to do next. No. Clue. What do I say? How do I lead worship?"
I feel desperate for help. For direction. I feel like the scrawny kid on the playground trying to lead the bullies in red rover. I am in over my head. I have no idea what their lives are like. I cannot even begin to relate. And, what's worse, I can't make it better. I cannot fix.
I open my mouth, songs flow out, and stories take shape.
It's in these moments I am grateful for word vomit.
This week the word vomit came in the form of the blog entry I had previously written, A Human Touch. I tell 1300 students from stage that the mom is frustrated and the poor kid is ADD and how it sounds like a machine gun is going off in the restaurant and I get a few good laughs. I get to the part about the dad holding the boy. And- what I believe to be the Spirit of God- takes over. I tell them that the Lord holds them the same way that dad scooped up and held his little boy. The tough kids who have been beat down by this world. Who have been hurt. Abused. Spit upon. The ones who are full of rage and anger. Who have shut down. That tonight they need to be reminded that no matter what they do or how hard they try and escape... a true dad holds you while you are kicking and screaming and kisses your cheek, whispers your name, tells you that he loves you.
The self doubt begins to settle in. Where did this story come from? Why am I telling it at the end of a worship service? And even more frightening, I'm getting emotional. I have a strict policy about intertwining emotion with worship... especially when vulnerable students are involved. I refuse to manipulate on behalf of God. He does not need me to twist anyone's arm. He does not need tears and lame promises to make Himself known. He is God. To emotionally intimidate people into knowing Him is a terrible offense. It's an insult and I want nothing to do with it. But here I am, almost in a whisper telling these kids that the God of the Bible promises to be like this dad in the story. That Psalms 139 says that God does not let go of us. Ever. Whether we are in dark or light. He just holds on. He just keeps loving. He remains constant. Good. Untouched by the pain of this world. Whispering in our ear...
A lady came up to me before leaving camp to tell me about R. R is an orphan from the Czech Republic. She has been suicidal and has felt utterly alone. Her adoptive parents got her as a third round pick. And she knew it. She was a mistake. She couldn't believe anything good about herself. "But that story," the lady said through tears, "That story saved her life. It did. I watched her as she realized she was being held by something bigger than herself. As she realized God was holding her. You could feel it. We all could. She fell to her knees and wept and said that it was the first time she had felt love..."
An 18 year old guy came and said the same thing. "That story saved my life, thank you."
Another guy came up, he was 16. Then Tia... this story pushed her over the edge. She finally decided to believe in God's love for her. And they kept coming, kept telling me what that story had done for them. Who knows how many people felt God's love for the first time. I have no idea. I just know that this week I was reminded that sometimes our word vomit ends up not even being our own words. Sometimes it's just Holy Spirit vomit. We open our mouths and it comes out. Flows out. Pours out. Gushes out. Pukes out. Whatever you want to call it.
God is faithful. When we are willing. When we are available. When we say no to the clock, the schedule, the boundaries, the etiquette, the fear of free-falling... when we put our logic, pride, confidence, and security aside for something that ebbs and flows with a reckless inability to control what happens next... sometimes the Holy Spirit shows up and does something amazing. Sometimes the Holy Spirit uses us.
The lady who came up in tears said something peculiar, "We've been praying for this girl for over a year. She's been suicidal and has tried several times to take her life. Nothing has gotten through to her. Nothing. But this story... I've just been thinking, maybe that family in the restaurant, maybe they were angels."
Angels? Do I even believe in angels roaming the earth? Coming to restaurants? Sitting by hospital beds? Her comment totally took me off guard.
"Maybe you saw angels. Maybe God sent them so you could see what it looks like for God to scoop us up and hold us in his lap. So you could tell us that today. These kids Jenny. Today they needed to be held. That family, what if they were angels? Just so you could tell people what you saw? I think you saw angels. "
Structure stifles spirit. Caution curbs creativity. Fear fosters faithlessness.
Don't be afraid of word vomit. It won't always be life-changing. And most of the times you might mess up or say something pretty simple or mundane. But sometimes, every once in a while, when we leave enough space...
our words are not our own.
sometimes there are moments of brilliance
sometimes there are angels
and sometimes the Holy Spirit says something we would never think to say...
sometimes He says something perfect through us.
Today, I am grateful for that. That God knows what to say when I don't.
I know dad, I should've skipped the story and just said that :)