In fairness, I do enjoy the limelight, and rainbow hair has a way of attracting attention. We can unpack later whether that's healthy, though I'd say you can't do this job without at least a little desire to be in front of people (as long as that isn't the only reason you do the job!).
But my favorite part of VBS isn't the stage or the Bible stories. It's not the epic guitar solos or even singing Space Oddity (though full disclosure here: that was awesome). Believe it or not, it isn't even the snack room. Well, it isn't and it is. Because my favorite part of VBS is watching relationships grow. Relationships between the kids as they find new friends. Relationships between the youth and adult volunteers. Relationships between everyone and the Divine. Yes, I want kids to learn about the Bible, but what I really want is for them to learn about Christian Community. That's what I see in our VBS. Top to bottom. And it's inspiring. I love being a small part of such an amazing effort.
As is often the case, there was one song lyric from VBS that kept coming back to me. It was from "Safe Inside Your Love." "Wherever you lead me is where I will go. I'm safe in your arms. I'll hold nothing back; I surrender control. I'm safe in your arms." It probably resonated with me because I had just returned from Music Mission. There's a lot of planning involved in the mission, but in the end the pieces tend to fall into place on their own; I often think of that as the work of the Spirit.
Sometimes when the hours get long and the nights get late I find myself wondering if it's really worth it. It's a massive investment, not just for me but for so many. As I sat back at the church in the afternoons of last week writing thank you notes to everyone who made our mission possible, I was struck by just how much people have given. Funds, sure, but more significantly their time and attention and effort. It's staggering. Why should we put so much into a single week?
I've said before that music mission has a few purposes. We spread the love of Christ by listening and sharing with our audiences. We build community with each other. We make great music. And if we've done everything right, we help the youth experience the world just a little deeper...to see past their phones and the thin veneer that covers life into the dentin of existence. Each night on tour I asked the youth to write about something that moved them sometime during the day. It was not unlike the "God Sightings" of VBS. I reread those sheets just now. Let me share a sampling (in their own words).
Spread the Love of Christ by Listening and Sharing with Our Audiences
I talked to the sweetest lady and we had a genuine long conversation and it made me happy. When I first joined choir I dreaded visiting with people and I wanted it to stop. I now realize how it can be beneficial and fulfilling for both people. I hope I can continue to meet incredible people and learn more about these peoples' stories.
A woman told me I reminded her of her granddaughter who also sang so I was glad I could bring a little piece of her family to her.
The guy that talked to me at the end of the second concert really moved me since he shared his great story with us. Also he wanted to hear my own story which really made me feel good.
When the concert was ending and people slowly trickled out of the room I saw this one lady blocked by some chatty people so I went over to talk to her. She was crying and I could see the tears running her cheeks. She grabbed my hands and held them and she was shaking. I could tell there was something. She told me I was a gift from God and that she could feel God's presence in me.
I met a lady today named Nancy. She told me and Erin a story about how one day she had asked, "Lord have you anything to say to me?" When we asked what God had said in return she began to recite a beautiful poem. She started to tear up, and me, Erin, and another lady named Emogene were also close to tears. It was sweet.
After the second concert, I spent almost the entire time talking to the same woman. At first I was concerned because she kept going on and on and I couldn't think of much to say, but then I realized that maybe she just wanted someone to listen to her.
After our second concert today, one of the ladies I talked to gave me a hug and then saw that there was someone else wanting to talk to her and was like "NEXT" and gave them a hug too. It was funny but also nice to get a hug instead of just complements.
A lady said that were were given a gift and that it was our job to share it. She said that we were doing a wonderful job of sharing it and that she saw God in each of us.
Today we talked to a guy who was a veteran. he immediately started telling us about his life and experiences and asked us many questions about us. he told us about how he coached Neal Armstrong's kid in little league baseball! He was so sweet!
Today I met a couple, they were high school sweethearts and married for 63 years. And the lady in the blue shirt kissed all of us on our heads and gave us a hug. But we don't know her name and did not have time to get a pic with her.Build Community with Each Other
I saw God in my bestie--for always making us laugh and keeping it real. "I cry when I look at rollercoasters." "What? I don't eat bugs." "Why do you call him tape?" I love being around such an honest and real person. Thank God I got to know her.
I had been struggling with finding who I was going to go do different things with and where I fit in the groups of our church. But today I let God guide me and I end up having an amazing time with people I probably wouldn't have been with. I felt comfortable and loved.
I feel close to God by my friends making me laugh along the way.
Today hasn't been super amazing for me. I've been in a lot of pain, and I've also just been overwhelmed, so by the time bowling came around I just wanted to be by myself. Then I had to wait forever for my food and they got my drink wrong (well, not wrong...it was just gross), and I just had to take a moment so I pulled an old trick outta my hand and hid in the bathroom. Basically the people that noticed I was upset moved me.
Everyone coming together as a team and sharing the moment when we were bowling.
Talking amongst ourselves and playing games.
Today I was in awe because of how the [high school] seniors felt so strongly about choir. I started thinking about how quickly I'm going to be moving on to high school and college. But because of what Hanna and Anna said, I really feel like everything will be ok.Make Great Music Together
Today I was moved by the way the whole choir sang together as a team and the baritone section singing in full unison.
Something that moved me today was at the beginning of "Hush." I could hear our voices echoing int he room and I thought it was pretty special.
I loved the new version of the concert today. What really moved me was a couple of things. The guy in the Jesus T-shirt closed his eyes and started to hold his necklace when we started singing Stand By Me. That was really powerful to see him be fully into the songs. Also during Total Praise I reached won and held hands with my friend because that songs fills both of us with lots of emotion. It was kindof like we were supporting each other and saying we would be there.
Stand By Me changes the whole feel of the concert. I think the mood switches from an "Everything will get better becasue God/Jesus" to a "we will support you through whatever/we stand with you." The religion lessens but the community feel grows. I like the community message more. And I feel like the audience today felt it more.
The way the choir worked together singing.Experience the World a Little Deeper
While walking about I got to see the sun setting, oh, and it was stunning. Huge reflective glass buildings with a golden sun that sparkled on the river. A gentle, rolling, lush green hill that led to where the water met land. There was a refreshing cold breeze from the water...it was a perfect peace.
At Jump Off Rock I thought the view was so pretty and made me reflect on how we need to take care of our planet to enjoy the sights given to us.
It was so special that we got to go and do a mini-concert at the fire station tonight. I have never been to a fire station before. It was nice to do something special for them because of all they do for the community.
Today I was moved by the world outside the bus window. I usually don't pay attention to nature, but the way the water droplets were on the window, the blue-gray clouds, the trees were almost completely black, but it painted me a picture and it was beautiful.
What moved me today: taking the time to look out the bus window to see the sun set perfectly. It gave me hope that everything is okay.
Something meaningful that happened to me today were all the little interactions I had with strangers around me. I generally don't like strangers, but something about having a shared experience, like the zoo, makes it a little better. Here are a few examples that I enjoyed: A guy saw a diaper in the bushes and pointed to it saying: "Look, a wild diaper!" It cracked me up. Another was a lady looking at the lion exhibit. She said she wanted to dip in the water really bad and I said me too and we laughed. I usually feel very disconnected from the rest of the world, but moments like these make me feel more like a part of something.
Something that moved me today was the fact that when we started singing it was raining and when it ended it wasn't. This meant to me that God was present and heard us singing.
Today I went on my first upside-down roller coaster, or my first "real" roller coaster. As I went up the track, about to fall 40 feet, I looked around and saw the entire park. Individual people having their own lives, facing their own obstacles. People who have lost and gained. It was such a crazy feeling.
Today when I was talking to a lady and she was so interested in our choir tour. This made me realize how lucky I am to be on this tour with my friends and how I had previously taken it for granted. I believe this was a message from God to stay grateful.
I never realized what it meant to be homeless. While singing I saw people with ripped pants, clothes that were too small, and someone who could not stop smoking. This moved me to see the reality. Not all people have a warm place when it's cold. It helped me to see how much my eyes weren't open. I know this is supposed to be happy, but it's what moved me...and now my eyes are wide open.And lest you think all of these must be the older kids...this from a 7th grader on her very first music mission, which sums it all up nicely... (You'll need to know that one of our seniors, Anna, was not able to come on tour this year, but she used a phone to participate in our senior night activities)
Well...something that moved me was Anna's speech. It really touched me because she really cared. I mean, she was at summer camp and cared so much she called us and spoke through the phone. She could have been watching Netflix or whatever but she chose to talk to us and contribute to tour...even though she couldn't be there.
Also...once again the mountains moved me. That was a really cool place to stop. I could have stayed there forever (Katie agreed). But as I mentioned last night those things don't last. Oh, this one lasted longer than the deer or mountains on the roller coaster or maybe even the duck but it came to an end like all good things do. Like how these seniors will be leaving but I'm grateful that it happened. It's better that choir, the mountains, the deer, the duck, meeting all of these people, happened because even though it all comes to an end the only alternative would be that it never happened at all. It is something to be grateful for. I went on a loop roller coaster, I met Kelsey and Courtney, I got to hang our with Katie, Sarah, Brooke, and Kathryn, I had an amazing birthday. We had a good time. And even though people are leaving and that is heart breaking, there is always next year, and it's not like these people and memories are gone. They are still there, and I will still see them.So...is it worth it? I have to believe it is. For the children and youth. And for our audiences. And, if those aren't enough, for me. For the two solid weeks of Music Mission and VBS, I get to be a part of it all. I get to make my own memories...like the ones they shared. And in a sort of inception mind-bender, their memories become mine as well because they share them.
That will keep you awake looking through pictures to post on the blog when your body craves sleep. It will push you up the stairs from the assembly to the music room and back again when your legs complain about the trip. And all the preparation. Waffle-off's. Music rewriting and recording. Staff skits.
And so, like my astute 7th grader, even though the two weeks came and went too quickly, I find myself grateful that it happened. "We had a good time...and it's not like these people and memories are gone. They are still there, and I will still see them."