(This is the second in what will probably be a long list of articles about my experiences before and after STEP.)
The dining hall was dressed up pretty for graduation night, with lights set on dim, and semi-formal dishes laid out perfectly on long tables.
I stood in the back of the room, trying to blend in with a safe-looking grand piano and shredding a pile of dog-eared notes in my fist. My Dad was here, my friend’s families, all of our leaders, and a good many of the ministry’s big shots. Worst of all, I had volunteered to speak in front of them.
All of them.
A kind-hearted person had put me near the bottom of the list, so I listened to several other students speak before me. They were brave, they had wisdom, and all I could think of was the knot in my stomach growing tighter. I looked around the room for emergency exits, just in case.
“Dear Lord,” I prayed, outwardly silent, inwardly screaming, “What am I doing here? The only thing that scares me more than heights is people. And there’s a lot of respectable people here. If you don’t mind, I’d rather not make a fool of myself in front of them…”
God always waits until I’m done thinking, a very admirable trait. He replied, “You didn’t come here. I brought you here.”
Well, that was true enough. I remembered earlier that day in the auditorium, when the sign-ups were being held. It was completely optional, no pressure, so I decided to slip out the door and join the rest of the team outside.
“Next year, Lord, next year…”
Half-way there I came to a dead halt, almost tripping the line of girls behind me. There was a cold, disapproving silence in my heart, and I couldn’t move another step. I dropped my shoulders.
“Okay, Lord, I’ll sign up.”
Thus, I found myself hugging the piano beside the stage in the dining hall. The room was filled with soft candle-type light, except for the blinding spotlights pointed our direction.
Like a prison break, I thought stupidly.
The person in front of me stepped down, and I was ushered onto the blue regal-looking platform. I blinked in the light, and saw a hundred faces – if not more – watching.
I tried to look very professional, tilted the microphone slightly, and leaned forward to speak.
I jumped at the sound of my own voice reverberating through the room. I adjusted the mic again, wondering how close my mouth was supposed to be the mysterious mesh surface.
And I spoke. Several minutes of jumbled thoughts and straight reading from my notes, with the general theme of keeping the faith once we get home, and not forgetting what we’d learned. Somehow I summed the piece up, and disappeared into the safety of the darkened room again.
It felt good to do the hard things for God, challenging my deepest fears. And I’d tested just about every deep fear I had that month, except one:
Fast forward almost two weeks and a thousand miles eastward. No dining hall, no blinding lights, no piano-hugging. I’m comfy in my own bunk at home, nestled under the blankets, the room pitch black, just the way I like it.
But I’m not sleeping like a normal person, I’m tossing and turning the hours away. Midnight. One am. Two. Adjusting back to home life was harder than I was prepared for, forget what I’d just tried to teach. My mind bounced from subject to subject like an awful game of Pong, covering everything from CPR to the confidence course, everything STEP. I ached for the friends I’d left behind, for the thrill of doing hard things for God. Home life was so … easy. And somehow, that made it hard. I wondered how in the world I was going to pass the remaining year until STEP Advanced, when I could feel accomplished and busy again.
I glanced over the wooden bed railing at the alarm clock, and 2:30 stared back in steady green digits. I dropped my face into the feather pillow.
How was I ever supposed to do great and adventurous things? One month away from home in a safe, fun environment, and every aspect of my life was shattered. And, being the clever person that I am, it made only sense to do it again next year.
My mind drifted back to the banquet, and the speech. I honestly couldn’t remember a word of it, only the pauses in-between. I sighed. At least I was done with that.
“No, you’re not,” God said, “There’s next year.”
I moaned. “But…”
“You said next year.”
Again, clever me. I’d promised to speak next year before I’d even finished the current year.
“Okay, Lord, I’ll speak. But will You give me the words beforehand this time, please? I’m a terrible ad-libber.”
No response one way or the other, so I undertook the job. Surely I could expand what I’d learned these weeks at home into a three minute “speech”, just for practice. I skimmed through my memories of personal devotions, which mostly involved me admitting to God that I felt like a misfit among believers, a useless weight, and a broken vase, begging for help.
I can be quite poetic when in emotional pain, it seems.
Well, so far so good. I imagined a slightly older and much braver me, standing confidently on the stage and giving a convincing testimony. How STEP challenged me and gave me focus. How what we learned that particular month was not nearly as valuable as what it prepared us to learn when we got home. I’d tell the dime-story version of rededicating myself to God, and feeling humble and broken like shattered pottery, but…
Here I was stuck. Now what? Everything was true so far. I’d been challenged and changed, and God had indeed shattered my hard heart. But that was the end of the story, no amazing twists or pretty wrap-up. Just raw openness and pain.
I bit my lip. What kind of speech was that? “I came to STEP, was completely broken, and sent home in shatters.”
“Dear Lord, I can’t speak. I just can’t. I’ve been broken, but not repaired. I still feel like a useless heap in the middle of nowhere.”
I rolled onto my back and stared at the ceiling, definitely not drifting off anytime soon. The speech from this year, or coming next year, no longer mattered. I had to settle this for myself and know God was still working, somehow, somewhere, and that I was staying in the midst of His will. Because when you play the part of a broken vase, it’s easy to feel useless and forgotten. The past month I had seen more dimensions to God’s character than I ever knew existed, and in comparison, more disgusting flaws in my own humanity. In short, being shown the difference between yourself, and a fraction of the Almighty Being, is enough to smash any created form. Including me.
But humility and brokenness, while helpful in putting things back into perspective, can also make a person vulnerable to Satan’s lies. In fact, the broken pieces around me were the very lies I’d believed for so long, chipped away one by one. And already they were trying to over the open wound before God could bandage it. Like gnats buzzing in my ear, I could hear the chanting lies: that I wasn’t worthy to be used, I had no talents to offer, I’d only be a burden to ministry.
And I agreed with every word. “Lord, I can’t be used. I’m too full of sin, of lies, and am just generally unlikable. You’ll have to find someone else to build houses for the homeless and distribute tracts and comfort hurting people. All I’m good for is sitting in our lonesome house in the middle of nowhere, making useless plans and having grandiose dreams of adventure. Find someone else, Lord, because I’m nothing more than a broken vase.”
I finally shut my mouth and rolled over, determined to forget my troubles and get some sleep. Today was going to be the same as tomorrow, and the next day, and the next year; STEP was the only distant training or service I was allowed, and since I was no good anyway, there was no use bothering them with my presence.
I imagine God was sitting beside me, shaking his head, like a parent dealing with the same problem for the hundredth time. Finally, He spoke to me. “Girl, the self-righteous, put-together pots in the shelf, the ones you’re envying, are no good to me.”
I almost bolted upright in bed.
He continued, “Look at Abraham. Look at Israel. At Joseph, Ruth, Daniel, Saul. Or David Livingstone, George Muller, Dwight Moody, Fanny Crosby. I am the potter, I have no use for hardened vessels. But the ones that are broken, soft, and willing, I can shape into the items I truly need. And every shattered vase put under my hand becomes a vessel of honor.”
I gulped. “God, honor?”
Of course, honor. God doesn’t waste His time on worthless dollar trinkets; when He touches a heart, He doesn’t let it go until there is something priceless and valuable for His service.
As the clay, we only have to be soft and broken.
“Being confident of this very thing, that he which hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ … Being filled with the fruits of righteousness, which are by Jesus Christ, unto the glory and praise of God.”
Philippians 1:6 and 11