On Wednesday, I looked down at my phone and realized I had gotten a text from dear Danielle to see if I would be willing to sit on a panel of women to share during the girls-only evening of high school camp. Having seen what God had in mind for me by simply saying "Yes" to Alysha just a few days prior, I knew that saying "No" wasn't an option I could consider. Even though they were wanting me there at 9:30pm, when normally I'd be asleep - and of even greater concern - it was HIGH SCHOOL GIRLS. Ugh. High school girls are scary. And after seeing a video sharing "Post Secrets" from last year's high school camp, I had no disillusions of the heavy amount of drama, tragedy, and rated much higher than PG-13 violence their young lives had already been a part of. As if I'd have anything with my "very-rated-G" high school experience to offer these girls. But, said, "yes" I did...
To prepare for the experience, I spent the afternoon plowing through the book "Fierce Beauty" - written by Kim Meeder, the speaker at our last Womens' Retreat. I topped the book with hot pink post-its bookmarking pages that addressed beauty, insecurity, hopelessness, etc. And tried to absorb Kim's wisdom gained from her own extraordinary life and surviving only through Jesus horrific experiences - as well as the stories garnered from witnessing the miracles unfold on her ranch where rescued horses end up rescuing the broken teenagers that come to visit.
This was the scene of where we gathered and the crowd of over 100 girls. It was just me, Carrie Mertz (the wife of Dave, camp director), and Elisa (the girl we recently took out on the boat with just Heather). While the realization of just having 3 of us was daunting, I was thrilled that I could completely trust these other ladies and thought we were a good "fit" with each other.
The evening's activities were started with this. Danielle is so gifted.... I wish my phone had gotten its act together to not have cut off the beginning of this, but it's so worth a view.
After that fun, the girls did an activity that demonstrated just how many of the same struggles each of them deal with - and then the fun began - they wrote down specific questions of their own personal concerns they wanted addressed from us.
"How do I tell a guy I'm dating I don't want to go 'all the way' without making him mad?"
"What if I have no talents to offer - I'm not good at anything?"
"What do you think about dating guys of different religions?"
"How far is too far to go physically?"
"How do I deal with thoughts of suicide?'
There were sooooo many more - Danielle was the one sorting through them as fast as she could to pass on to us to answer. We barely touched the surface of the pile in her lap.
When the "having nothing to offer" question came up - I fielded that. I shared one of Kim's stories that had to do with a girl that, after having her family taken away, ended up in a new high school half way through the year with NO ONE who seemed to care. After literally months of not ONE student talking to her, she made a plan to end her life that afternoon. However, as the exited her math class and entered the crowded hallway, the unthinkable happened. She locked eyes with a girl across the hall - and the girl smiled at her.
Still, she proceeded with her plan, but stopped at the last moment that afternoon as she remembered that girl with the smile. What if it wasn't a fluke? What if meant something, like maybe ONE person cared? So, she decided to give herself one more day - just in case.
The next day was more of the lonely same, until the very last period of the day, when against all odds, she caught a glimpse of the same girl - and again the girl looked her in the eyes and smiled. That continued, day in, and day out - with never an introduction much less a conversation between them, but simply a smile across the hallway. It saved the girls' life.*
I really tried to hit home throughout the night the power of the enemy and just how much he wants to destroy the hearts of all of the girls - to leave them so lonely, empty, ashamed, and destroyed in their hearts that they lose all hope and try any worldly route to fill the void. If they felt insecure, it was because Satan viewed them as a threat and wanted them derailed from seeking the Lord and being filled with His glory. So, with this story, I tried to emphasize that sometimes it's not all about what they think they can't do, but what they are capable of giving to someone else - even just a smile.
By the end of the Q and A I did end up sharing my own story of the darkest place I've ever experienced. (Mom and Dad, I'm not even sure you know this story....). It was the Sunday after Thanksgiving weekend, 1994. It was about one month after the man that I had "said yes" to marrying told me he "no longer wanted to marry me". His name was Lance. He'd proposed the previous December, I'd gone to Africa with him, we had a wedding date set, invitations ordered, dress purchased. While we were in Africa, his view of me changed and he canceled the date of our wedding due to his doubts, but asked that I continue wearing the ring indicating we were still "technically engaged". (A limbo I would never want to wish on anyone). Throughout the summer, my heart shattered a little more each day as I felt I was continually losing the battle to measure up to the woman he'd originally asked to marry. By October 31st, he finally called it all off and I gave back the ring.
Initially, it was almost supernatural how God cradled my broken heart. I firmly felt like I was able to smile and get through life because He guided each step and gave me hope that somehow I'd get though.
However, after that Thanksgiving weekend spent with a friend in Sunriver - and then dropping Michele off at her house to be with her husband, I had a 90 minute drive ahead of me to dwell in my darkness. My guard was down, my circumstances were lonely, and it was prime territory for the enemy to attack. And, attack he did. I felt consumed by darkness. The only thing that felt like would solve the despair I felt was to just drive off the road. After all, I no longer had the dream I'd built to live for - the marriage to Lance - the kids in our future, etc. What was there left to do? In the end, it was purely the firm sense of "I just couldn't do it" and the knowledge on what that act of selfishness would do to all of the loved ones in my life that kept me driving to my home instead of plowing into the ditch or off the road.
When I returned home (I was 22, having graduated from college, living at home and subbing at the time), Mom and Dad were already in bed. It was about 10:30, and while I was ACHING in my hurt, the phone rang. It was my best friend at the time, Keri, who was engaged to one of Lance's best friends. She was crying as she shared with me how they had just broken off their engagement.
Why did Satan hit me so hard on the way home that night? Because he didn't want me to be there for Keri - to be the only one who could relate to the intensity of pain she felt. He didn't want me to recognize just how much I'd already healed as I listened to Keri relay her fresh wounds. And, most importantly, he didn't want me to recognize that EVERY pain and hurt we go through can be used by God, somehow. Even if it's just to comfort someone else in their moments of similar grieving. Being there to take that call was a turning point in my grief, from then on I recognized God's plan was much bigger than the story I'd already authored for my life.
At the end of the evening, the girls all left to go to bed, or talk with their cabin leaders. I did have a really cool chat with one of the girls on Harlow Staff who related to some of the story I shared about John and I. I'm not even kidding, there's not one sordid detail of our life that somehow hasn't been used to some "good degree" in conversation. Unbelievable how good God is that way - and consequently, I get excited when I chat with someone who's own story is not "pristine" - knowing it will end up being just what someone else needs someday to get through their own heartbreak.
That's what happens when "Light" is brought into the dark....
* A little postscript about that story of the smiling girl. After this friend of Kim's shared the story with her and agreed to have it printed in her book, they were able to determine the name and address of that smiling girl. The book outlining the story of the life she saved with her smile was going to be sent to her home with a note indicating that story had the ending it did because of her. =)