Monday, February 17, 2014

It's Where I Learned to Love Jesus

This was supposed to be a post about story. A post about how we are all living a story, and it has characters and setting and plot twists. And how some of us settle for a lesser story when our story could be filled with adventure and spontaneity and whimsy. So the plan for tonight was to write about how to live that bigger story, the one where we do cartwheels on the beach and go on road trips and meet fascinating people at quaint little diners.

Enter the plot twist.

7:30 PM, the phone call. The "did you hear what happened today?" "oh no who died..." phone call. But it wasn't the death of a close family member or friend, it was this:

Shock. Disbelief. Awe. Last week, a fire took out a bathhouse that was a memory machine. I colored my hair purple in there. I sang Britney Spears in the shower. I did free laundry there. My favorite 4th-of-July clown costume is in a box somewhere in that room. I rinsed with Suave Green Apple conditioner after way too many 7am polar bear dips in the big lake.

And now this. Where to start? My mind went to the lip sync. Multiple lip syncs. How many hours did I put in that building, in ridiculous late night heat, rehearsing and decorating? Middle schoolers and high schoolers and fellow college students, dancing and emceeing and singing?

How many church services did I attend, at 10am and 6pm, sitting in the second section, second row, fourth seat in? I counted kids during the children's message (110) and sang on the praise team (I Stand in Awe of You) and wondered if they would ever get rid of that ugly brown panelling. I ran out the screen door (use the right one, the left one sticks if you push instead of pull) to get the first glass of pink lemonade.

I secretly never returned a key after it was issued to me in 2005. It's still on my keychain, sitting on my table right now. Which is silly, because everyone knows the door unlocks with a woodchip.

And how many hundreds of kids did I teach about Jesus? Bible School, wow. Puppets and skits and setting up crafts every day. Let's not talk about how long it took to organize that ridiculous craft corner on the other side of the garage door from the infamous and mysterious Glory Hole (the curtained-off section of the building where "things die and go to glory"...aka stuff we don't need but can't get rid of)!

The garage door. STOP BANGING ON THE DOOR!

That's just high school and college. It hits me. Not only did I work here, teach here, and light up the stage with my mad lip sync skills...this is where I was taught. This is where I learned about Jesus. This is where I sat on the stairs as Jerry Vreeman sang to us "Samuel, Samuel, God is calling on you...Samuel!" Fuzzy Floyd taught us that "they who wait upon the Lord will renew their strength, they will mount up on wings like eagles. They will run and not be weary, they will walk and not grow faint," and told us to meet him at the Big Rock after the service to take a picture (and it was SO big back then!). 

This building is where Jenni and Teresa and Angela and Julie (in polyester robes) marched around the walls of Jericho and they came tumbling down. It's where Miss Henny and Mrs. L (aka Mom) talked with Fuzzy and Granny and Jake and the gang. It's where I learned I don't want to be a Pharisee (they're not fair you see) and if I had wax for my board, it would keep me surfing for Lord. Sauce for my taco would let me witness in Morocco. It's where I was interviewed daily by Josh on the markerphone.

It's where I learned to love Jesus.

And this is all just me. For others, it's the place where they attend Saturday night concerts or play the piano or store their trailers in the winter. It's where they circle up to pray before Sunday service or drop their kids off during Bible study or vacuum. It's ridiculous black plugs all over the floor because seriously, how do you just leave them in the back of the chairs and NOT pull them out and play with them?!

But today it was gone. In the midst of the most intense Michigan winter, the roof couldn't take it anymore and collapsed under the weight of the snow, taking with it the 40 camping trailers stored inside (summer homes to my friends and family), piano, sound equipment, Bible School supplies...and the contents of the glory hole :)

It was a physical loss...and also a sentimental one. I guess I always thought one day my daughter would sit on those same steps and hear a children's sermon from Grandpa Randy, and my son would be the one banging loudest on the garage door just waiting for 9:45 to get his little hole-punched cardstock-and-yarn nametag. 

It seems to odd to be sentimental and torn up about a BUILDING. It's bricks and paint and wood. But it's not odd to be sentimental about the memories made inside it. It was a piece of my childhood, my youth, my young adulthood. Shoot, I was even still speaking on that stage this summer! (I'll just pass the mic to Mike...oh geez.) And it's gone. But in my processing tonight, I've realized this:

Buildings don't make memories or write stories. They're just the places memories are made and stories happen. PEOPLE make memories, and GOD tells the stories.

And so we're back to what we all love about the Conference Grounds. Did we lose a building last week to a fire? Yes. Did another building collapse today? Yes. But does that same God who wrote so many stories in my life at that place still want to write more stories for others to come? YES!

And he doesn't need a building to do it. 

I hate to be all cliche and say "I know we can't see it now, but it's part of God's plan and something good will come out of it" but...


I honestly believe it. That's why I wrote it in caps lock. 

Wow, it's a confusing time. Do I want to hop the next flight to GR or pack up Roxanne the black and tan Mini Van and head north tonight? Duh. But in all honesty, what good would it do? Let me cry over the building in person instead of over Facebook photos? Productive.

I think instead what I need to do is be thankful. I'm thankful that 18 years ago my parents decided we were going to live in a camping trailer. I'm thankful that other kids were jealous of me growing up because my summer home was AWESOME (what up Lisa B...LaFumfe here). I'm thankful that I grew up with SO many college students to look up to and more sets of grandparents than I can even name anymore. I'm thankful that I can grow up and leave and come back without feeling like I've ever left at all.

I guess what I'm trying to say is this: the buildings and everything in them are a tremendous loss. My heart is so sad for the people who lost their summer homes and belongings. The loss hits them on even another level. But God is still writing the story of the Conference Grounds. This was a hard chapter to get through, and it's not over yet...but maybe it's just our inciting incident. Maybe this is the turning point, the part of the story that we all point back to as "when everything changed." Maybe this is happening so we can see God at work in even bigger ways in 2014. 

Maybe this is God reminding us that we don't need buildings, we don't need stuff...we just need Him.

The ministry of the Grounds will go on, buildings or not. This is home. We are family. If you're reading this and think I'm ridiculous and you just wasted your time and have no idea what I've been talking about, you've probably never worked at the Grounds. But those of us who know it best know that at the heart of it God's given us an incredible cast of characters in the story set at the Conference Grounds. 

Here's how I know. In the midst of a burning building and a collapsing building, this is going on too:

Breathtaking beauty. Summer or winter, I'm in awe of the setting of this story. In the midst of chaos, God is still showing his beauty in awe-inspiring ways. Despite this tragic chapter, I love being part of this beautiful story. And if this is the inciting incident, the story only gets better from here. This is the time where we get to see God at his best work. Knowing that if even if I was there right now, there is nothing I could do to fix things only reminds me that this truly is God's work. This is His camp. His story. How blessed we are to be a part of it!

"All of my life, in every season
You are still God, I have a reason to sing
I have a reason to worship
And I will sing praise
I will sing praise
No weapon formed against me shall remain
I will rejoice, I will declare
God is my victory and he is here."
- Desert Song

"Then I said to them, 'You see the bad situation we are in, that Jerusalem is desolate and its gates burned by fire. Come, let us rebuild the wall of Jerusalem so that we will no longer be a reproach.' I told them how the hand of my God had been favorable to me and also about the king's words which he had spoken to me. Then they said, 'Let us arise and build.' So they put their hands to the good work."
-Nehemiah 2:17-18


  1. Beautiful post, Sarah. I still am in shock and disbelief.

  2. Wow Sarah u now how to make us remember. But this is God's will and something good will come out of this and we will all say what and awesome God we have!!!!!!! Thanks for the memories.

  3. You're showing us how, Sarah. We can acknowledge the shock; loss is hard. Reflect; memories are stitching and frame. We're to testify of what we've witnessed. We've watched God (in his people) scoop sand, breath in life, play, weep, stand again and offer a hand and restore. Yes, the Lord is good.

  4. That was terrific. Joshua past it on to me. Our God will continue to do amazing things. We just need to keep our eyes on Him. Yes, I think our trailer is gone, but God has a better one in store for us somewhere.

  5. awesome tribute. Thanks for saying it better than many could.

  6. Thanks for that story of what the Conf. Gds. life meant for you and it can be repeated many times but many people - young and old. We do not understand God's ways but He has a purpose and a plan and many prayers are going up to His throne of grace to show the way and give the leaders there His wisdom.

  7. Thank you for saying what so many of us are feeling. We too are in Florida and felt that same draw to pack up and go home to do something, but at this moment what can we do other than pray and see what God has planned.