N.B. I have often heard people say that they try their hardest to obey God and to put Him first in their lives, and yet, often they live comfortable, well rounded lives. Being an Optimum volunteer means that for the last year, I have been actively putting God first, and I can tell you, it has been anything but.
Over this last year, I have been constantly challenged to do the things that I was completely terrified to do, things that make me shake inside, things that make my stomach knot itself tighter and tighter. Things that confront me head on because they force me to relieve old memories and emerge myself in old situations. But I don't think anything made me rely on God more than this weekend. Let me tell you a story...
God likes to make you do things you really don't want to do. If only but to teach you to rely on Him. Since I could remember, I said, "I'm not going to Uni, I'm staying in Brentwood." I didn't go to Uni, no. But did I stay in Brentwood? No. God packed me up and sent me to Southend. [Lesson #1 - Don't tell God where you will or will not go. Just listen!]
So there I am, in Southend. On Optimum. And the one thing I hated more than anything else was talking about myself. So on the fourth day of September Training Week, we all have a nice session where we sit around and tell each other our testimonies. Was I terrified? Yes. In fact I spent the majority of the time in between when we were told about it, and when we did it, crying. And when it came to it, it actually went quite well. [Lesson #2 - Don't be afraid to be open with other followers, everyone has a past.]
So I was done with sharing after that. I said, "God, that's it! I'm not speaking in front of people any more!" I was still a fairly insecure person, not really ready to share myself fully with others, but I got on and did the job God had sent me to Southend to do as best as I knew how [minus the speaking up the front]. Everything went pretty good until the date of the School's Work assignment was due, and I had to give an assembly to a whole bunch of Infant school kids. Was I terrified? YES! And I spent the majority of the morning before the assembly trying not to cry. [Lesson#3 - God will make you do the things you told Him you were not going to do...]
So that was it. After that, I said "God! Seriously! No more speaking up the front, please!" (Obviously hadn't learnt my lesson yet...) and so a few months later I am in church, doing some kind of kids talk/drama. Was I terrified? YES!! But God came up trumps and it went really well. But still I said, "Please, God, no more talking things." And a few months later I was giving two talks at a Youth weekend away. Teenagers I had never met before were listening to me talk about the Bible. Was I terrified? Absolutely. But God remained faithful and some of the things I said really hit home with them. [Lesson #4 - Seriously. He'll make you do it, and He'll make it go well too.]
After that, I thought I was pretty ok. I thought I was in control of what I could cope with. Talking about the message of God was okay, because it is an awesome message! I was prepared to take more of an up the front role in terms of church and youth group, because I knew God was the one speaking, not me. He was the one that made things go well, because in those situations, He held me up. But I still asked God not to make me talk in front of large groups of people, and especially to talk about me, because I just wasn't ready.
Then, spending a few days at home before the SOLID youth festival, I got an email from Claire Parry asking me if I would give a few minutes talk during the main worship on Saturday about my journey on Optimum. It sounded like the scariest thing I had ever heard of, but for some reason, I felt it in my gut to say yes. I made notes, I prepared, and I thought it would be ok. (Still spent a good few hours fretting over it... but I didn't attempt to back out.)
About 45 mins before the main Saturday evening session we were having the usual 'last-minute-check-everyone-knows-what-they-are-supposed-to-be-doing' meeting, when I was told that actually, I was to be giving a five minute talk on my personal journey to God, not just a talk on my journey on Optimum. A talk about me. About me before I came to Southend. AAAAHHHH! To say I panicked would probably be putting it lightly. On the outside, I remained calmish. On the inside, I was practically screaming. But even though all of my senses were telling me to run far far away, I didn't back out.
And when it came for the time for me to go up on stage (and it came... very quickly...) I went. Head held high. And I started talking... and I talked, and I talked, and I paced the stage, and I talked and I just didn't shut up. I talked about myself, about my past. And then I told them this story. I finished by saying, "And I said, okay God, I'll do the talking up front, but I am NOT talking about myself in front of lots of people..."
I spoke to quite a few teenagers afterwards who really connected with the things I said. And I can honestly say that the whole experience, it was completely amazing. If I had learnt nothing else this year, it was to trust that God knows the best plan for my life, and I can waste as much time as I want trying to fight against it, but only truly amazing things will happen when I surrender to his plans.