But Grace…

Florida Camp Meeting: Friday

Guest speaker Pr. Ivan Williams shared special words at Florida Conference’s Spring Camp Meeting that resonated within me as I sat in my chair a few rows back from the front stage Friday night, April 19, 2024. “Some of you know you shouldn’t be here tonight, but grace….” Tears welled up in my eyes as the Holy Spirit connected me to Pr. Williams’ words: SVT episode 2019 where my heart had to be shocked back into rhythm. Car accident 2020 resulting in obstructive sleep apnea and needing a CPAP machine to breath while I sleep—still needing it today. Severe case of Covid 2021, followed by Covid-induced asthma. Many nights wondering if I’d wake to see the next morning. And that’s just the past five years of a life that’s spanned almost five decades. But grace!

God knew I had wrestled with the devil the entire drive up to camp earlier in the day. I had kept quiet in my seat while my husband drove, but crazy drivers had me holding my breath, and I didn’t feel safe. I kept thinking, “God must have something really incredible He’s about to reveal or want me to do this weekend for the devil to be pursuing me so relentlessly. I shouldn’t feel this out of sorts.”

Over the years, I’ve come to learn the signs that scream, “Beware: the devil is prowling.” He’s a sneaky little dude, usually the cause of agitation, restlessness, and no real reason for anger or depression. Heaviness will often plague my overall spirit, even though everything around me seems more or less fine. “Make him go away,” I begged God in the car. “The devil is not welcome here. Make. Him. Leave! You have my permission to take action. This is not how I want to start my spiritual weekend with You. I want You to use me, but I can’t do that while distracted.” I grabbed the car’s arm rest and cringed inside as the vehicle in front of us slammed on its brakes, creating more tension inside me. “I mean it,” I addressed God. “I want him gone!”

As our tires hit the dirt road, turning onto Camp Kulaqua’s property, I felt the shift. The Holy Spirit’s presence blanketed the atmosphere. My entire body responded by exhaling every ounce of negativity I had been holding onto during the ride. In the cafeteria, greeters guided us through the registration process with genuine smiles. Kitchen staff made navigating food restrictions an ease, which became a true blessing and relief for someone like me who has a hard time finding food to eat. Sitting with fellow believers during lunch also turned acquaintances into new friends. I could feel God pursuing my heart.

At the end of lunch, a longtime friend I hadn’t seen in person in 10 years spotted my husband across the cafeteria and came over to say hi, walking up behind me. Oh, the look on her face when she saw me sitting there, too! Priceless. The in-person hug, even better. Since we’re not connected on social media, she asked about my adult children, and I shared some of the highs and lows we’ve experienced over the past few years. Knowing vulnerability had a safe place to land, I also chose to admit some of the places where I felt I had failed them as a mom, even though I have always tried my best with what I’ve been given. She didn’t miss a beat, holding up a finger to stop my train of thought. “It’s OK. God’s got them,” she affirmed. “They’re still breathing. It’ll all work out.” Wow! I didn’t know I needed to hear that, but I did; and she had no idea how far her positive reinforcement would go to help me shake off years of shame and guilt. I can adequately term this moment a God thing.

Later, sitting outside the gym with no one else around, I scrolled through my email, using my phone, checking recent messages. What should appear, but an answer to a medical question I had been asking God to answer for months! In my excitement, I first called my aunt to confirm some details. Then I called my mom to share how God had chosen to reveal Himself in this very concerning health matter. Her amazement matched mine, and we went on to discuss how God uses the simple things to bless us in big ways. It can be something as simple as a smile from a stranger or a seemingly insignificant kind gesture you might not have expected. I’m incredibly blessed to have a godly mother who understands how God works and who encourages me in my walk with Him.

After the phone calls, while getting in more than 10,000 steps walking around camp, I crossed paths with my friend’s husband and daughter—the friend I had seen at lunch, that is. We did the math and figured I hadn’t seen the now-13-year-old since she left Florida at three years old. When I mentioned I had photographed her in her mother’s belly, she flashed her beautiful pearly whites with braces and exclaimed, “That’s really neat!” Not sure why, but I hadn’t expected such an enthusiastic and genuine response. Let’s just say, God showed up in the simplicity of the moment; and, again, I smiled.

If that’s not enough feel good for the day, when I got back to my room late afternoon, my phone alerted me to a private message waiting for me on Facebook. It appeared a fellow doll collector in the business world wanted a reference for someone I knew. I gladly gave a positive review. Since I hadn’t talked with the woman messaging me for almost a year and a half, I verified she is the one who has a daughter with the same birthdate as my oldest daughter. She marveled at my memory. Even though we haven’t communicated since 2022, she mentioned seeing me and my doll artistry online in various doll groups we both frequent. When I shared a picture of my latest work, she raved, “Oh, my goodness, Lori! You have become an amazing painter!!” Her words moved me, so I sent a voice message in response so she could hear my voice instead of just reading my words as I thanked her for speaking such kindness into my life. I also shared about being at camp meeting, even though I knew nothing about her religious affiliation or her belief in God. I had no idea how speaking His name with confidence would affect her. Sharing my faith felt risky at the time, yet genuinely natural all in the same breath. I had no way of knowing how she would perceive me or my best friend, Jesus. Her response amazed me:

“Lori, you have me in tears!! GOD WINK! I so needed to hear your encouraging words today, too! Isn’t God great? Please enjoy your weekend! I love those retreats! They are the BEST! Please, please keep in touch! I’m going to listen to your message again! Thank you for touching my heart and giving me purpose today! Sending loving thoughts that you have the best weekend!”

No joke. Tears immediately saturated my face. Completely stepping outside my comfort zone, I sent a second voice message, this time inviting her to join us online for the Friday night evening program. I shared how my home church in Orlando would be leading out in the praise and worship portion of the night and how my husband would be helping with the technical side of things—the very reason for our attendance at camp. She responded, “Oh, my goodness!! Yes! I will try and watch! This will be so awesome!”

Is witnessing for Jesus hard? Not when He’s living inside you. Does the devil get scared when we step into our purpose and allow God to rule the unknown? Without question! God speaks to our hearts and meets us where we’re at even in the struggle, despite the struggle, and because of the struggle.

Later that same night, after leaving the evening meeting, lightning bugs lit up the wooded area along my walk back to my room. I then remembered a Mason jar sitting on my dresser at three years old with holes punched in the lid and fireflies inside—a much simpler and innocent time—and I smiled. “God is healing and restoring the past so I can live in the present.” In my humanness, I often want to give up the fight, because life is hard…but grace!

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