At the Conference's Center
It's Wednesday, the high point of the week. Today we focus on the most important things, we attempt excellent creativity, and we gather for one of our most joyful experiences of community. It's something like heaven, the best one-day picture that we offer of full Christian life.
Today, we also had a very ill student, whose mom was coming to take her home, but who didn't want to leave. She's an alumna, and she had been looking forward to the conference for months. She was bedridden and crying. So we started by praying for her up in the chapel, all together. We asked God to heal her, and asked him to let her stay. It was beautiful to hear her friends telling God how wonderful she is, how much they didn't want to see her go.
I went down with some staff to pray for her in person, while the rest of the students heard Dr. Reynolds give a powerful talk about God's leadership, our place in his plan, and a ton of other things too. He has a remarkable way of figuring out exactly what the particular group in front of him needs to hear. He took a lot of hard, honest questions. After, I returned to read Philippians (our theme text) aloud to the group. The students heard it as one pastoral letter — a spiritual father who might die soon giving comfort and direction to his children. Then they went out to pray in solitude. It was beautiful.
Lunch came, then discussions started, about when the ill student's mom showed up. They went off to a local hospital, and we kept praying. Discussions went deep: students trying to define courage, or to distinguish between courage in words and courage in actions, or to understand why the characters in Laches behave the way they do. They grappled for three hours, with mentors' help and hospitality.
Then the fun: Wednesday opens up to Artisan workshops, where groups go to learn about an art form from a practicing artist, and to try their hand at it. They went to painting or animation or martial arts or percussion, where they aimed for excellence. And then, that finished, they joined mentors all across campus to share in things that the mentors love to do: bookmaking, poetry, hymnwriting, dance, soccer, capture the flag, and on and on. There was laughter all over campus. We call it "Community Night," and it's worthy of its name.
Right in the middle, our ill student came back, made well enough to stay for the rest of the week! Her face was joyful as she rushed off to join friends at one of the games. Have you seen joy like that? Joy from answered prayer?
Everyone came back to the chapel at 9:00, crowding in with noisy energy. There was a roar of cheering for the student who had come back to us. The stage was set, and the students' souls were open. John Anderson, a Wheatstone alumnus and singer/songwriter, gave an opening set, picked just for the students. His music is contemplative, personal, and full of longing. The students leaned in.
Then the Show Ponies. As the students rushed out of the pews and into the aisles and up to the stage, it was clear that this would be something special. It was: I can't remember when I've seen a group of teenagers so free and so simply happy. They clapped and sang and danced and danced and danced. The set stretched on, song after song made even more beautiful by the students' rousing enjoyment of it. And when the set ended, The Show Ponies started again, but this time to lead us in hymns: Amazing Grace, Great is Thy Faithfulness, The Solid Rock, How Firm a Foundation, and Be Thou My Vision. The students held hands or raised their hands, and belted good theology. To close, we quieted the instruments, and sang the Doxology slowly and loudly. The last chord rang around the ceiling. We paused, then headed out with joy.
The dorm lobby was, unsurprisingly, raucous. But after a bit — when the licorice was almost gone and the jokes were past their climax — a student asked a question about how to find this or make this again, after she goes home. She was afraid she wouldn't get to have it again. So we talked about community. We talked about making friends with elderly people, and throwing dinner parties, and making music. We thanked each other for caring. In that time of gratitude and care, one brave student shared about how much she was hurting after her grandma's death. We shared stories of grief; we cried together. We talked about dying well.
We kept talking until 2am, and now I'm turning in. (It's good this is only a week. How would I survive?!) After such Christian wealth of life all day long, I think I'll sleep quickly and deeply... for not nearly long enough. Then tomorrow: to art and theater. From joy to joy.
See the Day
Hear the Day
"...Well you guys are a great group! Sounds like you're having a lot of fun. And we're going to continue to have fun, actually (believe it or not), as we talk about holiness..."
A theme song for Wheatstone alumni (and for The Show Ponies!).
A song that brings energy to endurance.