It was an amazing, beautiful, difficult week.
My first year of Gleanings was incredibly fun. We worked, we played, we worshiped; joy was in the air you breathed. I guess I was expecting this year to be the same.
This year, Gleanings was rough - in the challenging kind of way. It was like one of those sermons in which every single word the pastor says was exactly meant for you - except this 'sermon' spread out over a week. Morning and evening, every day, there was something new to encourage and challenge me. It was somewhat exhausting, albeit exciting.
It started on Monday evening when one of the staff members, Brian, shared his testimony of coming to Christ after spending 17 years in prison (obviously there was a lot more to his story than that, but I'm not going to expound on it here). On Tuesday morning, one of the young men on summer staff got and up and shared his testimony. It started with the seemingly classic "born and raised in a Christian family" line, and ended with him seriously contemplating suicide. It was at his lowest that he found God, and now, two years later, he is doing immensely better.
His encouragement to us was to take off our masks; to share our testimony in its entirety. To be open and honest and raw about the demons we face and the battles we fight.
Daniel's testimony had a domino effect on the rest of the week.
At every chapel gathering, at least one person shared their testimony at the open mic. And it was - well, shocking. You look at all these beautiful, put-together people - many of whom you've known for years - and you would never guess what they struggle with. Suicide, pornography, self-harm, unworthiness - just to name a few.
You might think that such a confession would put the sharer in a negative light. But there is something incredibly beautiful about the strength it takes to share something so personal. All I felt was admiration.
On Thursday, I felt a strong prompting to share. Which kind of freaked me out to be honest, because I've never really felt lead to share before - especially not something this personal. I fretted about it all day, trying to script out what I wanted to say in my mind. Evening chapel came, but they didn't give the little "if you have anything to share, please come up" message at the beginning. Which meant that if I was going to share, I would have to march up to the front between songs, uninvited. Lovely.
So I decided to give God a contingency. I told Him that if someone got up and shared, I would follow them.
At the end of the song, Deanna went up.
While you shouldn't need to strike a bargain with God to obey His voice, it was reassuring to know that He wanted me to do this. Deanna sat down, and I made my way to the front, Bible in hand. And I told them.
I told them that I had been depressed. I shared some of my struggles and the oppressive weight of my guilt. I read a passage from 1 Peter that I had read in my devotions that morning. Then I sat down.
I don't know if my words made a difference. I don't know if anyone was blessed by them. But there was a relief knowing that I didn't have to hide anymore. They might judge me, they might not understand, but at least they knew.
It can be hard - terrifying - to take off the mask. To expose yourself to the often-judgmental eyes of the world. But your testimony could be exactly what someone needs to hear - even if it's just the knowledge that they're not alone. We were meant to bear one another's burdens, not struggle through life on our own meager strength.
There is so much more I could say, so many more things I learned, but I'll save it for future posts. Suffice it to say, I had a wonderful, blessed week. We did good work, we had good fun, and we made good memories. I am so thankful for God's goodness in providing for me to go.
Remember that everyone has a past. Everyone has a story. And no matter how put-together they may seem, they may very well be breaking apart on the inside. Let us love one another as God has loved us.