|Chocolate pudding. I like mine sugar free with a vanilla swirl.|
I went on a retreat again.
A year ago I set out on a three-and-a-half hour drive to a place in the mountains of western Pennsylvania that would become sacred ground. I didn’t know anyone who was attending this retreat. Many of the forty or fifty participants had introduced themselves in a private Facebook group, but that’s about all I had to go on. I met up with Sue, who lives twenty minutes from me, at a truck stop so we could caravan over together. Ask us sometime about the best way to get to Camp Christian.
That afternoon we had some free time to read, write, reflect, do whatever with the story of the prodigal son. I was feeling over-prodigaled, though. And I’m not so much into rules. A couple days prior I had pulled my “travel bible” off the shelf while starting to pack. I typically rely on my YouVersion app, but I wanted a paper version for the trip. As I pulled the bible off the shelf, the business card of a missionary friend fell out and onto the floor. It had been marking the beginning of Ecclesiastes. (It still is.) Chills went up my spine. I didn’t know what it was a sign of, but I knew it was a sign. I just knew.
So I blew off the prodigal son (sorry not sorry, Schultzie) and read Ecclesiastes instead and wrote in my journal while listening to Switchfoot’s Stars on repeat all while sitting outside on a rock. This is a highly recommended prescription for anyone who feels like they’re having a bit of an existential crisis.
I told that story at the campfire later that night. Perhaps somewhat teary eyed. With all my new ragamuffin friends gathered round.
I made it through the rest of the weekend in a less emotional fashion. Instead of heading home, I headed east to Fairfax to spend the evening with the girl. Then onward to Mount Vernon for a few hours – also sacred ground (raises hand toward heaven) – and then to Virginia Beach. Hotwire and off-season rates make for a lovely, quiet solo vacation for a few days.
God often speaks to me at the beach. Usually it’s more along the lines of non-specific reassurance. This time, though.
Wow. You are out of your mind.
I was looking for direction. Where should I be. What should I do. Perhaps a day job. Maybe a new ministry opportunity. Something. I’m at a crossroads here and I feel a change coming, but could we talk about something that makes sense?
I really heard only one word from the big guy, and it was different enough from what I would have said that I knew it came from him.
But the doubts.
And the expectation that anyone hearing this story would think I require psychological help.
I acted on that one word a couple weeks later. Ever so cautiously. Little teeny baby steps. Maybe all he means is … and I would be okay with that.
I didn’t tell anyone the whole story for four plus months. My apologies if you were a recipient of one of my non-answer answers. I’m still not telling all y’all the whole shebang.
Much to my pleasant surprise, my crazy story was met with excitement. But then.
Oh. The. Doubts.
Things did not go how I expected. Maybe God didn’t mean what I thought he might mean. It wouldn’t be the first time I misunderstood. More like the infinity-eth time.
Okay. X isn’t working. Let’s try Y. Y didn’t work either. I metaphorically threw my hands in the air and said, “I give up. If this is what you want, make it happen. I’m tired of trying.”
And oh the doubts.
I threw myself into concert promotion and filmmaking adventures. Still having no idea what I was doing in life. But feeling those adventures were what I was supposed to be doing in the moment. And I got my sign along the way. And some good things happened.
But the doubts.
I went on this year’s retreat last weekend. In southern Ohio this time. Slightly different subject matter, mostly the same leaders, a mix of new and repeat participants. I wasn’t quite the teary-eyed pile of mush like last year, which is really quite okay with me. Dave Mullins still always manages to say something that blows my mind or makes me think about things in a new way.
I was having a nice experience. Nice. Oh that’s nice. So very nice. Nice reminders to keep hanging in there. Whatever.
And despite still hearing that same soundtrack from God, I went in with doubts about what he said, and I was still having doubts. Thanks to the doubts and mostly some other random craziness, I did have a small group of prayer warriors on the job for the weekend. You-all are awesome.
The retreat was over. The car was packed. Goodbyes were being said amongst the last six or eight stragglers. And then something seemingly small grabbed my attention and removed about a year’s worth of doubts.
Okay, fine, I’ve got it. Praise the father, son, and holy ghost. Even if I think you are out of your mind. Minds. Whichever.
One of the video clips used during the weekend included a scene where an obnoxious student throws a container of chocolate pudding on the floor in the school hallway. He does it specifically to give the elderly janitor more work to do. I’ll avoid spoiling the rest of the story, but one of the small group discussion questions was, “Who are you in this story?” And we weren’t allowed to be the pudding.
Really. Watch me. J
I like chocolate pudding. Not sure I want to be chocolate pudding, but at last year’s retreat that’s kind of how I felt. Pile. Of. Mush. Or chocolate pudding. This year I’m closer to being the floor. Not sure if that’s something to aspire to or not, but I’m closer to being solid and sure.
I’ll leave you with a song that was on repeat on my drive home:
The smoldering wick will not be quenched
Nothing can snuff the flame
You’ve been promised a stone with a new name
Within you there’s a glowing treasure
Like flowers of pastures green
The darkest shadows can’t cover up its gleam
Come back to your heart
Come back to your soul
Come back to your heart
Come back home
~ Mitch McVicker’s Come Back to Your Heart
Note: In the course of last weekend's discussions, Sue Bowles and I agreed to keep each other accountable to post more often on our blogs. And thus the great chocolate pudding challenge was born. You can find Sue's writing at bebold7.wordpress.com