Dear Adventures in Odyssey: I Love You, But It’s Complicated

“Did you know that Lizzie used to work for Focus on the Family?” he said, she said, with a gleam in their eyes.

It’s not a secret, my internship from last decade, but it doesn’t come up often. When it does, though, it’s a conversation starter, a newsworthy item for my friends to pass along. I don’t fit their picture of someone who once worked there, you see.

Even at the time, I didn’t really think of myself as working for Focus on the Family (FOTF). I was there for Adventures in Odyssey; nothing else at the organization held much appeal.

With the Odyssey crew
With the Odyssey crew at the end of my internship (2009).

Adventures in Odyssey (AIO or Odyssey for short), Focus on the Family’s seminal children’s radio drama, turns 30 this year – today, in fact. On this day in 1987, a 25-minute episode aired about a boy named Davey who feels like a failure until kindly shop owner John Avery Whittaker (“Whit”) helps him realize his worth as they invent something that goes wrong before it goes right. The story, set in the small, Midwestern town of Odyssey, is bookended by a skit with the show’s host, Chris, who tells a story about Abraham Lincoln to reinforce the theme. “Whit’s Flop,” that very first episode, aired one year and four days before I was born, and all my life the show and I have been moving in tandem toward our own milestones.

Can I say I like Odyssey but not Focus on the Family, as I would say I like Jesus but not Christianity?

No, I didn’t think so.

It’s a poor comparison anyway. Odyssey was birthed from Focus on the Family and, like it or not, is a product of its parent organization. Jesus, however, wasn’t always entangled in Christianity, especially not Christianity as we know it today. But that’s another topic for another time.

I do know that I’m not the only one who has been able to partition the two, approving the one and rejecting or ignoring the other. A college roommate was vocal about her dislike for Focus on the Family, but made an exception for AIO.

Even when I was jumping at the chance to be an intern for my beloved radio drama, back in the day when I believed what everyone I knew growing up believed, I was still taken aback by the interview question asking “what my opinions were on the five major issues most important to Focus on the Family.” I bumbled through the answers I knew they expected of me, without much thought as to whether they were really my answers.

Lately, it’s gotten harder to separate the AIO from the FOTF. But once upon a time, it was just Odyssey tapes, Odyssey at 4:30 on the radio, Odyssey before bed and on car rides, and, later, Odyssey on message boards and at events. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

From its earliest days, Adventures in Odyssey has employed some of the best and most versatile voice actors in the business. This is not hyperbole. The show’s main actors include (or have included) Hal Smith from the Andy Griffith Show, who also lent his voice to Beauty and the Beast and An American Tale; Alan Young, best known as Wilbur in Mister Ed and as Disney’s Scrooge McDuck; Will Ryan, featured on The Adventures of Teddy Ruxpin; Katie Leigh of Totally Spies; Chris Anthony, the former voice of Barbie; and Jess Harnell with his hundreds of film credits, including Wakko Warner in Animaniacs. These actors and many others have or had extensive careers, spanning decades, and it still chokes me up how many of these people have passed away since I first “visited” Odyssey. I have met many of the actors as an adult, but I was too late for some of them.

Me and Will Ryan
Meeting Will Ryan, voice of Eugene Meltsner (and writer Paul McCusker, in the background), at the 20th anniversary live show (2008).
Me and Katie Leigh
Spending time with Katie Leigh, voice of Connie Kendall, when she came to speak at my college (2011). Photo by Cara Strickland.

I once joined a Facebook group that probably doesn’t exist anymore, about how “Adventures in Odyssey was the soundtrack of my childhood.” I didn’t grow up with Saturday morning cartoons or Boy Meets World or whatever else my peers were watching in the ‘90s. Odyssey was a cozy backdrop to my life, but it was just a backdrop in many ways, piping from the tape deck on the dining room windowsill while I would color and make lists and watch fat squirrels eat birdseed from the feeder in the backyard, filling my long-term memory and stealing my heart.

Later, I would discover Odyssey’s ability to keep me on the edge of my seat, I would get up early on Saturdays to catch the new shows, I would pull out my old cassettes with stronger feelings, I would catch the pop culture references that had once eluded me. Still later, on the verge of college and the verge of leaving Odyssey behind me, I found a fan message board, and everything dormant and untapped in me found its home and sprang to life.

AIO live show
At the 20th anniversary live show (2008). Pictured from left to right (on the stage): Chuck Bolte, Will Ryan, Katie Leigh, Dave Madden, and Jess Harnell.

In 2008, my first visit to Colorado for the 20th anniversary live show became one of the best weekends of my life. I met the actors, the writers, and fellow fans, many of whom I’m still in touch with. In 2009, I spent my summer interning for Odyssey and administrating the above-mentioned message board, and then returned to college and promptly started a club for fellow fans. We made video reenactments and went on a road trip to Colorado and even brought one of the main actors to our Indiana campus to speak in chapel.

This was the zenith of my love for the show, and my nostalgia for that time of my life is matched only by my nostalgia for the show itself.

I was never on fire for Jesus, not really, but I was on fire for Adventures in Odyssey.

Life seems a simpler place when you know what you love and you have ways of expressing that love.

I wouldn’t go by “Lizzie” now if it weren’t for the show, and I might not be living in Colorado. I might not have changed my major to media communication or worked in radio or spent three months in China or done a whole host of other things. Adventures in Odyssey helped me keep my head above water in times of deep depression. It brought about friendships that never would’ve formed otherwise, leadership roles I never would’ve accepted. Directly and indirectly, I have Odyssey to thank for so much joy in my young adult life. I will never forget this. To me, Adventures in Odyssey is much more than the sum of its dialogue.

Adventures in Odyssey Club party
The Adventures in Odyssey Club at our first Christmas party (2009).
Club with AIO showrunners
The AIO Club meeting showrunners Dave Arnold and Paul McCusker (2011).

And it was a dream come true to meet the people behind the voices and the people who wrote and directed and made magic with sound, to work with them in some cases, to go behind the scenes, to know and be known. They are lovely people, thoughtful and professional and funny.

As for the episodes themselves, the writing quality ebbs and flows, as it does in any long-running production, but I’ve found a lot to appreciate: How to craft a story arc, how to tell a story with sound, how to move forward when the actor who plays the main character dies suddenly.

I haven’t listened to any new episodes for a few years. This is partly because the aura of nostalgia is missing with the newer shows. Every semi-reboot has sawed off more of the glue binding my fate to the fate of the show, which I suppose is only natural when the child grows up but the show does not. I am also skeptical about any program’s ability to carry on indefinitely and still remain a high-quality production. The longer I listen, the more déjà vu I experience.

When I was younger, I hoped Odyssey would still be producing new episodes if and when I had kids. Now, if I ever have kids, I would want them to listen to some episodes but not others.

You see, I am not only out of the target age range, I am also out of the target ideology range. The segment of Christianity that AIO is a spokesperson for is one I am no longer a spokesperson for. I used to think Odyssey was good at avoiding denominational squabbles and sticking to the basics of the faith. However, because this show and its parent organization focus on conservative evangelicals and conservative evangelicals focus on them, it’s a narrow list of squabbles that are avoided, a narrow list of “basics” that are adhered to. Christianity has many different expressions, interpretations, and practices, but you wouldn’t know that from listening to the show.

In this make-believe world, the conservative Christian worldview and its applications have no baggage, no side effects, and no viable alternatives. All the characters are so nice and well-meaning, their faith clean and tidy and straightforward. There are some episodes that show a cognizance of the things we do not know and that hold certainty loosely, but the farther I get from my “on fire” days, the fewer stories I see, past or present, that do a good job managing that tension. More often than not, it’s oversimplifications and assumptions, and even though I find it’s usually lines here and there that trouble me rather than whole storylines or episodes, those lines add up.

This is not an “open letter” or a rant. I am not going line by line through episodes to point out everything that makes me cringe now. I know everyone is doing the best they can with what they have. Odyssey has gotten better over the years at portraying more diverse characters, more diverse families, but I still see room for improvement.

I have deeper problems with Focus on the Family as a whole, of the choices they make politically and the ways they choose to engage culture and the world. Their pictures of the ideal world or family or culture are not my pictures. When I listen to AIO now, I notice things I didn’t notice before.

Sometimes, though, I am noticing good things. I recognize how a three-part mystery from the mid-90s is all about championing differently-abled people. I am moved by unflinching stories about the Underground Railroad and the Fisk Jubilee Singers. I appreciate the nuanced handling of subjects such as forgiveness, doubt, and grief. I go on everyday adventures with the characters as they take vacations and learn how to drive and fall in love. I go on extraordinary adventures with them as they solve decades-old mysteries and foil the bad guys who want to take over the world. And the best of the Bible story adaptations capture a glimmer of why Jesus is so appealing to so many people.

I can’t help it. I will always love Adventures in Odyssey, even when I have trouble liking it. Whit and Connie and Eugene, Tom and Bernard, Jack and Jason, Jimmy and Donna and George and Mary, they all feel like real people, real friends and family members, even when they fight, or maybe especially when they fight. I’ve seen the same warmth and camaraderie in the recording studios as I see in what comes out of those studios, that sense of connection that we all long for, and this is perhaps the epicenter of my nostalgia.

I would like to think that if these characters became living and breathing people, they would not fall prey to the us-versus-them polarization rampant in our country today. I would like to think that I could have a conversation with Whit or Jack, that, despite our differences, we could sit down over milkshakes for a heart-to-heart, and they would really listen, and by understanding more of the Other with our heads and our hearts, we could change the world a little at a time.

Happy birthday, Adventures in Odyssey.


All my Odyssey possessions
Posing with all of my Adventures in Odyssey gear for a contest (2008).
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Day 30: Pieces of an October

Ozzie, the dog, and me
Ozzie and me

Cookies sliding into the oven while the phone is sandwiched between my shoulder and ear. I am laughing and the batch is small because I eat so much of the dough.

The black-and-white dog I am growing to love walking fast with me in the waning twilight. I think we both prefer the longer loop.

Long conversations filling my heart like music and love, and mingling with music and love.

Cell phone reaching its text message capacity yet again, bursting with precious words waiting to be transplanted into the safety of a Word document.

My voice spreading out over the airwaves from our old station and old microphone, and I still can’t explain why it’s so easy to be on the radio most days.

Firewood finding its way into the woodshed in the rain and shine of summer and fall, filling two nostrils and one face with dirt and accomplishment.

A cat waking me up and a junior-high boy introducing me to anime and two houses of new responsibility weaving into real life.

Boxes of crackers and other scrounged-up snacks being passed into the hands of adolescents in my Sunday school class after we act out Bible stories together. Still, I miss grown-up church.

Thin Bible pages turning to Isaiah and the Psalms and the Gospel of John, mostly, in the shades of evening. I rejoiced the few times it didn’t feel like an assignment. I longed for freedom and I longed for true rest.

A girl with wet hair and a too-big T-shirt drifting off to sleep in an empty house. She is ready for tomorrow.

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31 Days in the Word

31 Days in the Word

I need this.

I found out about the 31 Days Challenge late. I returned to the Bible late.

Outside of work and church, I’ve barely read the Bible in months. Lately, though, I’ve felt the longing. Two nights ago, I listened to the longing and opened and read. Isaiah and John. And then it seemed a natural thing to lean over my pillow and muse on paper for a few minutes before shutting the light off.

Hundreds of bloggers are accepting the 31 Days Challenge to write something each day in the month of October. I’m one of them.

I’ll be writing about the Bible. I’m anticipating doing most of my writing based around the book of John, chapter by chapter, but that may change (especially since there are 31 days in October and only 21 chapters of John).

Let’s start with John 1.

When I read this chapter, the words “come” and “see” stood out to me. John the Baptist saw Jesus and recognized Him as the Messiah. His testimony encouraged others to follow Jesus, but that was just the beginning. It wasn’t just “take my word for it,” it was “listen, and then come and I will show you the truth of these words.”

“Jesus, where are you staying?” Come and see.

“Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Come and see.

“Jesus! You know something about me you couldn’t have known! You are the Son of God!” You will see so much more!

If I’m honest, sometimes I wonder if I’ve ever really “tasted and seen.” Maybe I’ve experienced what words like freedom and hope and love mean on a human level. Maybe years of seeing them printed in a certain holy Book and hearing them spoken of in warm, inviting tones from pulpits has convinced me that I’ve experienced them on a spiritual level too. But have I? Have I really?

I want to. I want to know that there really is something … Someone … to taste and see. So I am opening wide my eyes and arms and heart as best I can and returning to the Bible and prayer and following the longing and returning to the reinforcers of faith.

I am coming. I want to see!

(If you’d like to get these daily blog posts delivered directly to your email, you can enter your email address in the box on the right. Thanks for stopping by my little corner of the Internet! As always, your feedback is welcome.)

Day 2: All the Good Feelings

Day 3: Wonderful Words of Life

Day 4: Brought to Wide and Wild Life

Day 5: The Cup

Day 6: Never Lose Hope (a Sunday blessing)

Day 7: It’s a wonderful thing to be human

Day 8: A Confession From One Who Loves the Bread More

Day 9: In which it all feels like too much

Day 10: Why did he use mud?

Day 11: When the Outcome Matters Most

Day 12: Breathing in Saturday

Day 13: The Resurrection and the Life (a Sunday blessing)

Day 14: I am not a Sunday-school-teacher robot

Day 15: Lectio Divina and a Lost Conference

Day 16: Was I Ever on Fire?

Day 17: Let the Lower Lights Be Burning

Day 18: Suffering and Adventures in Odyssey

Day 19: A Saturday for Leaving

Day 20: Keep running toward love (a Sunday blessing)

Day 21: Thoughts on balance, rest, and multitasking

Day 22: I need you.

Day 23: Performance vs. Conversation

Day 24: When November 1st Can’t Come Soon Enough

Day 25: Public Speaking and Other “Performances”

Day 26: A Saturday for Looking Back

Day 27: Be Still (a Sunday blessing)

Day 28: Walking with God (Psalm 1)

Day 29: God vs. King (Psalm 2)

Day 30: Pieces of an October

Day 31: Here, at the End of This Thing

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12 Things I Learned in June

Each month since February, one of the bloggers I follow, Emily Freeman, has posted lists of things she learned in that specific month. They’re full of the serious and the silly, the informative and the introspective, the this and the that. This month, she invited us readers to participate with her and, on June 28, post our own lists of the things we learned this month.

Here’s mine:

1. It’s easy to reclassify iTunes media as an audiobook, not music. Who knew the Options tab really was important? (You right-click the file or files in question, click “Get Info,” go to the Options tab, and enter the drop-down menu next to “Media Kind”). My slowly growing collection of audiobooks isn’t stuck with my music after all!

2. What I call a freeway, all my Midwestern and East Coast friends (not to mention most of America) call a highway. It was Joshua Katz’s Maps That Show How Americans Speak Totally Different English From Each Other that made me start to realize this linguistic difference, but it took a conversation with a few college friends to really drive the point home. The question is, how did I know them for seven years without knowing this?! (because of course “freeway” is my most-used word of all time).

what I call a freeway

3. I learned the hard way what a bedbug looks like and what to do when you encounter them on vacation. No, I am not posting a picture.

4. Corn on the cob with a thin layer of mayonnaise and a sprinkling of cheese is delicious! Seriously! I enjoyed most of the food I had on my Mexico missions trip, but the corn on the cob stands out. Probably because we look good together in this picture.

corn on the cob in Mexico
my mayo-and-cheese corn on the cob

5. Mexican nights can be colder than Alaskan nights in June. Never underestimate how much it can cool down in the desert at night, nor what a heatwave is capable of doing in the land of the midnight sun.

6. Mice can fit in very, very tight spaces. Our poor garage.

7. I would rather risk my (future) kids falling asleep in church because I let them sit during worship than risk them growing up thinking that all I care about, and all anyone else in church cares about, is outward expressions of religiosity. I know that I could discuss this a lot more and that the line between freedom and legalism — not to mention parenting itself — isn’t as cut-and-dried as blanket statements like this make it seem, but it’s a start, and it is something I realized this month, so there you go.

8. I’m not a picky eater anymore (at least, I’m nowhere near being the afraid-of-what-new-food-they-might-give-me-at-camp child or the I-will-always-request-plain-foods-when-I-go-to-restaurants teenager and young adult I once was). Huzzah!

9. There is a wit and cleverness about me, a delighting in the ridiculous and the foils and the opposites around me. And yet I am much more heart than head, much more grace than justice, much more soft, malleable shapes than rigid lines and corners. I don’t expect everyone to be like this, but this is who I am, and as much as I need people who get my sense of humor and can exchange witty dialogue with me, I need, even more, people who will see me and love me with so much grace and understanding and acceptance.

10. My dream is to be a writer and a voice. I’ve known the writer part for a long time, but and a voice came to me for the first time when I was in Mexico. It’s very simple and definitely connected with writing, but it also encapsulates the other areas of communication that I’m becoming increasingly interested in (teaching, speaking, etc.).

11. “Te doy mi corazon, eres mi Rey” means “I yield my heart to you, you are my King” in Spanish. And I think it sounds prettier.

12. I learned how to make concrete! Two 80-pound bags of cement, three wheelbarrow loads of sand, two of gravel, lots and lots of water, and voila!

What did you learn this month?

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Reflecting on my 2012

Lyme Park
At Lyme Park (in England) this summer

Today, I’ve been reading this year’s journals and reflecting more on the past year than perhaps I’ve ever done before on a New Year’s Eve. And I have a few things to share…

12 Changes of 2012

I wrote something similar in the eleventh hour of 2010, two years ago now. Now, after such a landmark year, I think this is an idea whose time has come again.

  1. My three weeks overseas prior to this year has turned into more than seven months this year. I’ve lived in the UK, I’ve lived in China, I’ve tasted and seen and heard the good and the bad music of culture with eyes wide open.
  2. I was used to having friends all over the country, but now I have friends all over the world! It’s been wonderful connecting with people from (sometimes vastly) different cultures and backgrounds.
  3. My outlook on life, myself, and, well, everything has been radically transformed this year. I know myself more, and I am more real with others. It’s all thanks to God, who used my experiences this year to grow me and help me find true freedom in Him. I have more hope and joy than I’ve ever had before.
  4. Growing up, I always wanted to be a writer. At university, I got discouraged and set that dream aside. This year, I’ve dusted off the dream of writing and picked it up again, daring to believe, decrying the fear, dancing in hope. I’m discovering the kind of writing I love to do, and I’ve been doing it in journals, blogs, and devotionals.
  5. In the six months I’ve spent with my parents and sister this year, I’ve realized with great joy that my attitude toward my family has changed, and, thus, that we’re connecting and relating to each other better than ever before. This has been one of the greatest blessings of the last six months.
  6. Through my improved relationship with my family, as well as my improved perspective on life, I’ve been able to “redeem my time” here at home. Incredibly, amazingly, thankfully, I’ve enjoyed living at home for the first time since I left for college six years ago.
  7. “You enjoy meeting new people” reads one of the statements on many job application assessments. Before this year, I wouldn’t have been able to honestly respond with “Strongly agree.” But now I can. I’ve become more outward-focused and more willing to step out of my comfort zone with greater confidence and into new things.
  8. Speaking of stepping out, I’ve found a niche for speaking to and teaching groups, both seen (Sunday School and youth groups) and unseen (radio audiences).
  9. I’m learning how to enjoy and fully live in the present, rather than living off of memories of the past or expectations for the future. There is joy in today.
  10. Head-knowledge has become heart-knowledge in a number of areas. I’ve learned so much more about relationships and communication, what it means to truly love, how to deal with doubt and unbelief, and so much more.
  11. I’m learning how to be more intentional in relationships, and my fears and sense of self-worth are no longer at that all-time low they remained at for so long, freeing me to love and care about others more.
  12. My personal devotional time has exploded! I’ve written through almost three complete journals this year and read a good portion of the Bible. But I can’t stop there. It comes back to relationship: my relationship with God. That is the change I’m really celebrating, and I’m grateful for the means He’s used to bring it about. I’m learning how to seek God with all of me.

And on that note of seeking God, I want to share something I wrote this summer that I rediscovered today. I’ll call it The Greatest Commandment, and it is my prayer for 2013:

To love the Lord with all one’s heart, soul, mind and strength, that is more than burnt offerings. Not just to seek You and serve You with all of me, but to love You.

I want to love You with all my heart – to turn my depth of feeling toward You; to trust You with my heart in all its frailty; to give You the outpourings of my heart, and to give them to You first; to experience true joy in You; and to let You awaken my heart.

I want to love you with all my soul – to pray to You; to listen for Your voice and be ready to act when You speak; to lift my soul to You and no other; and to keep coming after You.

I want to love You with all my mind – to use my intelligence for Your glory; to battle through any doubts I have about Your character or Your actions; to think for You, not just feel for You; to come to You with any and all questions; to commit my mental energies to the purpose of knowing you more; and to listen when You speak to me through the logic, the reasoning, the processes of my mind.

I want to love You with all my strength – to run to You with all the speed I can muster; to stand up again each time I fall, even when it feels like the weight of the world is pressing upon me; to do everything for Your glory; to not give up, or believe the lies that I am not strong enough and never will be; to live the truth that I can do all things through You who strengthen me; and to step out to You and for You, even when it seems like all the odds are against me.

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DTS: Coming to the Altar

When we walked into the classroom that Friday morning, we saw a big, white sheet hanging near the back wall with a midsized wooden cross propped up in front of it.

We were nervous, excited, hopeful. But not surprised.

Our speaker, Mark, had been preparing us for this all week. Work duties were cancelled. Local outreach was cancelled. Instead of the usual three hours of lectures, Friday, today, was to be an all-day experience of finding freedom in Christ, of stepping deeper into intimacy with God, deeper into the glory of the tabernacle in all of its Old Testament foundations and New Testament fulfillment.

While that Friday was the pinnacle of intensity, the whole week had been a whirlwind of color and noise and passion. Mark clocked in more hours of lectures than any other speaker we’ve had before or since, but that wasn’t his legacy. He wasn’t afraid to shout, or look ridiculous, or even offend people if that’s what he thought it would take to reach them … if that’s what he felt God wanted him to do. Sometimes, he was so frank and expressive and persistent that we couldn’t help but laugh, and love him for saying it like it was. Other times, he was so frank and expressive and persistent that we were turned off, offended, even upset. His lectures were chockfull of content, but he spoke with an urgency intended to shake us and make this week, the only week he had with us, be five days we would remember. And, love him or hate him, he succeeded.

“What do you want to get out of today?” he asked Friday morning.

Freedom. More love. Revelation. Transformation.

“Things happen in one day,” he stressed, urging us not to just wish or hope that God would do something, or start something, but to desperately want it. Expect it. Believe it. And God would honor those desires of our hearts.

After this beginning, we filed past the staff members and into the classroom, giggling a little as we took part in the hongi (“sharing of breath”), a nose-to-nose Maori greeting.

We started at the gate with thanksgiving. Songs of worship gave way to sharing something God had done in each of our lives over the past few weeks. Then, we moved into the outer courts of praise. The English students and staff members welcomed us the traditional English way: with cups of tea and handshakes (minus the tea). We turned to each other next, taking mere greetings to the next level. Love through embraces, encouragement through words, and truth through the attributes of God we’d seen in each other.

Then, we began to step out of our comfort zones.

We moved to one end of the classroom, across from the sheet and the cross. Between those objects and us, right in the center of the room, stood half a dozen chairs back-to-back. One by one, we were to climb on the chairs, speak out or shout out words of praise and acknowledgements of who God is, then climb over to the other side. Once there, we could spend as much time in front of the cross as we needed to. Those who felt like they couldn’t make it across would receive help.

One of the staff members led the way, then I stepped out. Before I could climb on the chair, however, Mark had a few words to say to me: He was proud of my courage in being the first girl to come forward, but encouraged me to take my time. I slowed down a little, then clambered up and shouted one “GOD IS…” sentence as the person before me had done.

“Keep going!” Mark said, so I did, and was up there another minute or two before crossing the barrier and kneeling before the cross. While it was definitely a moment of stepping out of my comfort zone, I’ll admit that the music in the background assuaged some of my nervousness. Perhaps it would’ve been better had the music not been there … had our raw voices been the only sounds piercing the silence. Because of the music, too, I had trouble hearing what a lot of the others said, but it was still a powerful experience.

Two people needed to be helped across. One was raised up and carried on the shoulders of others. Another gingerly crossed the wall with the supporting hand of a friend on each side. I was one of those friends.

From here, we moved to the altar to make two offerings to the Lord. We spent the most time here, comforted by the warmth of the blaze, but also afraid of what would be required of us. What would happen when we placed certain items in the flames? Important items, treasured dreams … secret items, shameful deeds. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

The first was the burnt offering of public surrender at the cross. Some brought passports, money, and other important objects to either symbolically lay down at the cross or give away to others (with the exception of the passports, of course).

I didn’t have any physical mementos of my offering, but I offered up myself, my future, my time, and my right to marry.

Part two, the sin offering of public repentance, came after our lunch break. This was the part I had been dreading, and not just that week. In conversations with other YWAMers over the last year or two, I had learned that this kind of baring of one’s soul happened on DTSes. For months, I had been dreading this, but knew that it was necessary. For freedom’s sake.

This offering of repentance lasted nearly three hours. One by one, after a sharp intake of breath and a painful hesitation, each of us stepped forward into the middle of the room near the cross. A backpack filled with firewood was provided for those of us who felt the need to physically carry a burden as we confessed our sins, then to lay that burden down after repenting of those sins.

I won’t recount what anyone else said, only to say that all were vulnerable and real in what they shared, which gave me the courage I needed to be equally real. No one was forced to speak, but everyone did.

For me, it was a huge step. In the past, I had shrunk from so many similar opportunities. Will I ever be able to be completely open in certain areas? I had often wondered, my heart sinking as the years passed but the morass within me never did. If left to its own whims, my mouth seemed destined to remain forever closed. Hence the strange combination of dread and hope within me as this day drew near.

After we’d repented, Mark would often share encouraging or challenging words with us, or invite others to pray for us. Here’s some of what he said to me then, and later that evening: “At first, you were just sitting there, but then you came up not just once, but a second time and a third time. I’ve been watching you all week. You know that. I don’t have a daughter, but if you were my daughter, I would be so proud of you. God’s going to do great things through you in Asia.”

Our afternoon of repenting was somber, heavy, quiet. Then, after a break for dinner, the music was switched back on. When I returned to the classroom, the building was pulsating with worship. I felt drained. The afternoon especially had taken a lot out of me.

From here on, I’m not completely sure which activity correlated with which aspect of the tabernacle, but I’ll give it my best shot. We reached into the brazen laver (washing basin) of the Word through praying for each other and worshiping. I especially appreciated these prayers, and the love they exemplified, after such a heavy emotional and spiritual ordeal.

The golden candlestick is the Holy Spirit. The staff anointed our foreheads, our wrists, and our feet with oil and prayed for us individually, that the Holy Spirit would come upon us. Following this, we listened for words and pictures from the Holy Spirit about specific people, then shared the messages with those people. Some of us (me included) didn’t hear anything conclusive, a recurring issue for me that has been frustrating and discouraging.

I’ve since realized that my attitude, often a mixture of fear and unbelief, has likely been at the root of it and other self-denigrations. Too often, it’s all about me and what I can or cannot do. Too easily, I’m resigned to the patterns and failures of the past, believing the lies that I’m too weak to ever change. Too quickly, I let hope harden into cynicism.

Too wonderfully, I’m here for six months learning about the God who is faithful and makes all things new.

After the anointing, we took Communion at the Table of Showbread. When taking Communion at home, the congregation is almost always silent. Here in England, though, whether in a church or YWAM setting, the person passing me the bread and the cup says “The body of Christ, broken for you” for the first, and “The blood of Christ, shed for you” for the second. And then I say those words to the person next to me. It makes it so much more real and personal.

The final four elements of the tabernacle were the altar of incense (prayer and intercession), the veil (disobedience/alienation), the ark of the covenant (Holy Spirit – the presence of God in us), and the Cloud of Glory (the Holy Spirit above us), but they weren’t as strongly emphasized, and, if I’m remembering correctly, all that happened after Communion was worship and a debrief that involved sharing our thoughts about the day and praying.

We finished at 10 p.m.

What a day. What a week.

I felt absolutely drained by the end of it, and because I spent the weekend away from Holmsted and without much time to myself, I didn’t have a chance to process it all before the next week started. That threw off my whole week. Since then, though, I’ve finally gotten the chance to sit down with this wealth of material and memory and try to sort through it all.

Now, however, it’s been more than two weeks since that unforgettable Friday, and I’ve been wrestling with what it means, what it looks like, to continue living in that freedom. I do know one thing, though: I can’t just live off of that experience. Been there, done that. After an incredible few months of spiritual growth in 2010, I stopped walking forward. I basked in the glow of what God had done then instead of seeking a deeper intimacy with Him now. I had no accountability, nor did I seek out deeper human relationships. Essentially, I knew the key to a deeper relationship with God in theory (still a major breakthrough), but I stopped applying it and barely looked at my relationships with others. I learned that I couldn’t live on old revelations and unapplied knowledge forever, though, when I returned to school in the fall. All the familiar challenges, insecurities and fears hit me again, and I found myself unequipped to deal with them.

I don’t want to do that again. Now, I’ve discovered a new freedom, a truth to the lie that people wouldn’t love me if they knew the darkness within. But you know what? My value in God’s eyes doesn’t change based on others’ perceptions. He knows the truth, has always known the truth, and still, He loves.

But how to walk in that freedom? What do I do to live each day in light of my value in God’s eyes, to know not just in my head that I am free and beloved, but to know it in my heart and press forward confidently in that knowledge?

Maybe it’s as simple as my revelations two years ago: Focus on God, not on the things I don’t like about myself, and seek Him not as a means to an end, but as an end in Himself. To that fundamentally important ambition, I would add this: To give the love of God to others, and to find people to grow and share with, for mutual edification.

While transformation is a process, our generation is “quick to repent and slow to obey.” So stand up, fix your eyes on your destination, and start moving. Say, “Today is the day. God will change me. I will believe this and will step out in obedience even though I can’t see the big picture.” Do this again the next day, as you wake up bleary-eyed and bewildered. And the day after that, and the day after that.

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DTS: Pictures of God

I wrote this during a special “make something for God” worship session here at Holmsted, then shared it with the group…

Sometimes, when I’m trying to worship but feel flooded with distractions, I close my eyes and try to focus on a picture of You in my mind. Until now, that picture has been of You seated on a throne, reflecting glory, and me, standing at the other end of the long room, looking at You from a distance.

I didn’t realize until yesterday how impersonal that picture was. Maybe sometimes in that picture, I’ve ventured closer to You, moving down the velvet-carpeted aisle along with other worshippers, but I don’t remember You ever leaving Your throne and coming to me. But that is what You do, isn’t it?

Certainly many songs describe Your glory and majesty and radiance, all if which are inseparable from who You are. But You also reach out to me. You understand where I’m coming from, and Your throne is a throne of love as well as glory.

I’m still working through what the new “picture” in my mind should look like. Maybe of You, as a shepherd in a field. Maybe of You taking my hand. Or maybe I shouldn’t limit myself to one picture, one image, one view.

You are there and yet here. You are king and yet You serve. You are mightiest and yet You love the most. You are all.

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