II. A sharp pebble
I’d been to church camp before. Four straight summers, as a matter of fact. Each year was pretty much the same: fun activities, some teaching about God, a vague uneasiness that I was not living a “good Christian life,” and a resolve to "do better" once I got home. That awareness typically lasted all of two weeks (at the outside most) before I was back to living my normal life: a good-girl Christian facade covering a rebellious, prideful, self-righteous heart.
By the time I was a freshman in high school, the rebellious part was growing. I wanted to have fun; I was tired of being labeled goody-two-shoes, teacher's-pet. In the grand scheme of things, it could have been a lot worse, but I'm sure my parents lost a fair amount of sleep the year I turned 15. I lied to them and cursed about them; we fought endlessly over my curfew. The only thing that stopped me from partying on the weekends was the reality that in a town of 4,000 people, news of the school superintendent's daughter getting drunk would get back to my parents faster than I'd recover from the hangover.
So my desire to go to a new church camp that summer after my freshman year--our church's district senior high youth camp at Lakeside--really had little to do with growing close to God and everything to do with having fun with my friends. Two of them had gone before and talked about how great it was. Plus, they said, the college guys in the music group who came every year were hot!
My best friend almost backed out on me at the last minute. She had some problem with money or her registration form or something; I don’t remember the specifics, but I can picture myself on the phone with her the night before we were supposed to leave, flipping out that she was talking of abandoning me. There was no way I wanted to go alone. And so Satan came close to wrecking what would change the trajectory of both our lives. But God’s purposes will not be thwarted.
Julie and I showed up at Lakeside on a Sunday evening and reserved beds in the coolest part of the dorm. On "Section Porch," we stayed up late giggling and perpetuated silly traditions.
But there was also something really different going on here. Those college kids, the good-looking guys and the girls on their team, they loved God and His Word. I mean, really loved Him. They *knew* Him, in a way that this “Christian” good-girl didn’t.
On Wednesday evening, we listened to a concert from the college group, and they performed a skit called "The Pretender." I squirmed as I saw myself portrayed, and the punchline pierced me: "You may talk like a Christian, and look like a Christian, and you may go to church—but I don't think you really are a Christian."
Afterward we were instructed to go outside and pick up a pebble. Put it in your shoe, the leaders said, while we walk six blocks or so down to the lake. That pebble represents whatever is standing between you and God, whatever it is in the way of your relationship with Him.
I was wearing sandals, so I squeezed the sharp, tiny rock in the palm of my hand, forcing my fingers to push its edges into my skin until it hurt. I needed to feel that pressure, needed to see the indentations, needed to make the self-righteous good girl squirm.
We spread out along the shore of Lake Erie, several dozen campers and counselors. That stretch of shoreline doesn’t have a beach, just big gray boulders separating the water and the land.
I climbed out onto a rock and watched the sun sink into the lake, waves pulsing against the rocks below me, and that little pebble pushed its way into my proud heart.
The lyrics of one of the songs the college kids had sung rolled through my mind:
Lead me, Lord
I will follow
Lead me, Lord
I will go
You have called me
I will answer
Lead me, Lord
I will go
Really profound, right? But it was part of what God used to draw me. I realized with sudden clarity that I wasn’t actually a Christian at all. I’d played the part of the holier-than-thou church girl; I thought I had it all together and secretly looked down on my friends who slept in on Sundays and took God’s name in vain. But God wasn’t going to let me play games any longer. He was calling me to follow--*really* follow.
The performance I had taken such pride in wasn't nearly enough to earn me His favor. His requirement was a perfection beyond even what my perfectionist self was always striving to attain. He didn't want outward forms of religious duty; He wanted my heart, surrendered to Him and humbly admitting that I needed Him. He wanted me to know that my very best was not enough--but that He had freely given His very best to me, for me, in spite of me. I was ready to toss my pebble, my self-righteousness, into the water. I threw it as hard as I could.
I returned from the rocks that night a new creation. I felt a joy unlike anything I had felt before. I was free. I wasn’t pretending anymore. I *knew* this God, and I was hungry to know Him more.
A broken piece of cornerstone