Tuesday, May 17, 2016

the next chapter of the story

Once upon a time, what seemed like a tragedy struck a little campground in Michigan. I was living in Florida and wrote these words about it. Last night tragedy was redeemed as we held the "first look" dinner, an incredible banquet in our new camp facility. I was asked to speak at the event, and here is what I shared:

My name Sarah Ledeboer and I’ve been the Youth Director here for a little over a year now. It’s crazy to me, to say that title following my name, because it really is something I never planned on, an unexpected twist of events in the story of my life. I use that phrase “story of my life” with intention, because this year I’ve been fascinated with the concept of story. Setting and plot and character, heroes and villains and inciting incidents - and not just in fiction or in the movies, but in real everyday life.

I went to a story workshop in Chicago in November, and was led in an exercise where I made a timeline of my life. I plotted out certain events on a straight line, and I drew them at different levels on my page, indicating their negative or positive impact on my life. I worked through various events - moving here or there, starting that job, meeting this person - but in 1997 there is a tick mark that sits a little higher that all the others on my page. It’s labeled by four letters - CRCG. I was ten, my mom took a job as the Bible School Director here, and I had no idea then what an influence that one little mark would have on the rest of my timeline...the rest of my life.

Like people, places have a timeline too. Once upon a time, the Conference Grounds was started. Various facilities were built, programs started, staff hired. There were highs and and there were lows. On February 16, 2014, we added a very unexpected mark to our timeline - the collapse of the auditorium. 

I was leading a bible study when I got the call. I excused myself, had a pretty big ugly cry, and then went back to leading. But when I got home that night, I sat down and tried to put words to what I was feeling. I’m one of those people who processes things through writing them down, and at a time when I was in Florida and this situation was here, I felt pretty helpless to do anything but write. So I wrote something and it was messy and I posted it online, and judging by the amount of times the blogpost was viewed and shared, I saw that I wasn’t alone in the sentimental attachment I had to this old building. Together we tried to make sense of it.

If you asked many of us at the time (February 2014) to analyze whether this mark on our timeline was positive or negative, the easy and obvious answer was a clear and resounding negative! How do we saw goodbye to a place that holds so many of our best memories? I was Shania Twain and Celine Dion and Troy and Gabriella in that building for countless lip syncs.

For years I attended every church service, at 10am and 6pm, second section, second row, fourth seat in. I knew that you had to use the right screen door, because the left one stuck if you pushed instead of pulled, and that you could unlock the door with a woodchip. I set up crafts and threw puppets in the air and taught the Bible to hundreds of kids. If you really want to go back far, I used to be one of those kids! I sang Father Abraham and sat captivated as my Bible School teachers donned polyester robes and brought down the walls of Jericho.

With all those good memories, naturally February 16th was a difficult day. It was a low point. But what I’ve learned about story, about the low points on the timeline, is that there is always opportunity for redemption. I think we’ve found it - we’re in it - the beauty that’s resulted from tragedy. May 16th, 2016 is a day I think we can all agree is a ten. It’s a high point on the timeline of the Conference Grounds. 

And it’s not a ten because this building is big and beautiful and finally finished (but praise God for that). When the building needs to be cleaned or when the sound system isn’t working or when the first *something* breaks, it’s bound to feel like less. But it’s a ten because it marks a new story, one that will affect the storylines of SO MANY OTHER PEOPLE.  Our storylines don’t run straight. In reality they twist and turn and intersect with the storylines of so many other people and places. This building might be the setting for the mark on Ella’s timeline when she asks Jesus into her heart for the first time. This building might be the setting for the mark on Kyle’s timeline where he hears God’s calling to be an elementary school teacher after a summer of teaching Bible School. It might be the place where Carol brings a friend to a Saturday night concert and through the musicians' lyrics her heart is reopened to the love of God after years of past pain.

Tonight is about a building, but also…it isn’t. It never has been. Tonight is abut the the amazing work God has done, is doing, and will continue to do through his people at the Conference Grounds. 

There are so many stories yet to be written here.  This new, big and beautiful building will always be more than a building, because this place will always be more than a place. 

Buildings don’t make memories or write stories. They’re just the places memories are made and stories happen. 

I’m so thankful to share in a little part of this story with such a beautiful cast of characters. This is home. This is family. But best of all, this is God’s campground, it’s his story.  We will undoubtedly make many new memories here, and I am so thankful for all the ways God has blessed us as he writes this next chapter of the story.

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