The first sermon I ever preached was on the infamous Love Chapter. Having worked myself into the position of Religious Vice President (it was a small school, these things happen), I was slated with the first Wednesday in February for the chapel devotional. Valentine’s Day being so close, the subject of love seemed appropriate.
I was “then but 15 years old.” The student body was riding the wave of an emotional short term mission trip, where we’d encountered a bevy of love triangles. You know the kinds: small school mission trips, everyone in love with everyone else but never with the one who loves them; all hearts in tangles. Some guy had wooed me under the stars only to be stolen the next day by my best friend, so I really knew how to drive the subject home.
I labored over that sermon, I’m telling you. The words were wept over, prayed over, memorized and rewritten. In the end I held naught but a rough paraphrase of the Apostle Paul’s words–but the paraphrase was mine, and I was on fire. The Wednesday came, 10 o’clock rolled around, a few songs and a prayer later had me standing before my peers. I preached my heart out. I owned it, you know what I’m saying? I felt like I had found what I’d always been looking for–like this was the sweet spot, this spot proclaiming the Word, where I forever belonged.
The years went by and with them came several speaking opportunities. While I may have been the awkward uncertain girl at the large high school to which I transferred, just try placing me on the stage before a youth tent with hundreds of kids and I would be right at home. Tell me to speak in speech class about any subject under the sun and I would quiver, falter, shake. But give me a microphone and a Bible, and I would preach you to Kingdom Come.
So I did what any kid looking for a vocation would do–I went to college, and majored in my passion. But a Theology Major really only gets pastoring gigs, and pastoring in a church setting was not at all something I wanted to do. So then I did what any young woman in a Religion Department might, and dropped out of college to marry one of the cute Theology guys.
About that time I had my last (decent) speaking gig (at age 21; I know, eons ago). I was two years deep into sexual abuse healing and oh, so raw. Events that transpired over the course of that year caused me to take that fiery gift and lock it deep, deep inside. I got married and learned to love, I learned to be loved and to carry life. I birthed six children and had my heart broken six distinct times, broken over, and over, and made new. David and I walked through flame and flood, we waked through famine and back again. Those who are forgiven much, love much, and I’m telling you, we learned to love.
But last year something happened. The amazing grace of a stressful experience–heightened by pregnancy and a deployment–split me open, as I’ve described often here on this blog. We live with fear, you know, fears that dictate our action and inaction, and sometimes God grants us experiences that simply cause that fear to be too heavy to bear. “What is this?” we ask ourselves. “Why am I carrying this? What in the world am I holding on to that I don’t need, and what am I surpressing that needs to be released? What am I not grasping that I need to hold?” Priorities shift, the chasm opens, the inner rooms of the heart get air.
And there they were, words. Older now, though still young and with much to learn, but words all the same.
A couple of Wednesdays ago I was able to stand up and speak at church for the evening service. Not preaching, but speaking, from the heart. 14 years slipped like sand between my fingers, and there it was, that old joy, my old friend, that old fiery gift. It felt like a coming home.