The Long Story: The Story That Should Have Never Happened

In my monthly newsletters I will typically feature a blurb about a student who I work with on campus. I would call those one-paragraph glimpses into the student's life the "short story." It's part of my job to train students how to tell the short story, and that's very important! We consider it something like an elevator speech.

If you're not familiar with the term, an elevator speech is a short proposal of something (usually pertaining to business) that is meant to be delivered in the short amount of time that you might have with your supervisor riding up to their floor on an elevator, walking them to their car in the parking lot, or grabbing coffee in the break room. Your proposal might be a business idea, a promotion request, a recommendation, or anything that you want to get across to someone that you don't have a lot of time with. 

We help our students to prepare a three-minute version of their story so that the moments between classes, walking to the rec center, or waiting in line at one of the on campus dining facilities can be opportunities to share their story of how Jesus changed their life. In sharing that story, a student is trained to share the aspects of the Gospel message that are evident in everyone's story, so they are also sharing the beautiful message of the Gospel. 

Obviously, I love the short story! However, what I really enjoy about training students to share their short story is getting to hear, in its entirely, their long story. I would like to do a series of post in which you as supporters or friends of the ministry can learn the long stories of our students and love them just as much as I do. 


I would like to start this series out with my own long story. Mine may be longer than the students that I feature later, since I am a long-winded writer.

I grew up in a home that had been harmed by religion and its people. Both of my parents were deeply scarred by those who claimed to be working in the name of God, and while my mother held to a quiet faith, my sisters and I were not exposed to dynamic, unapologetic Christianity. 

Abby, my friend who invited me to church, and little baby high-school Michele

Abby, my friend who invited me to church, and little baby high-school Michele

My first exposure to people who lived surrendered lives to Christ came with an unorthodox invitation: I was a freshman in high school and my best friend invited me to her youth group to meet the boy that she was crushing on. Of course, I couldn't resist involvement in my friend's "love life," I was fourteen, after all, and crushes, love notes, and school dances dominated my focus.

Youth groups are fun and I had a great time my first night at New Canaan Baptist Church. I continued attending every Wednesday for lack of better things to do, plus they offered to pick me up on the church van and drive me there, so I had no excuse not to go. The man who drove the church van was called Mr. Clay and was very involved in the youth group as a volunteer. His wife was a teacher at the elementary school that I attended and his daughter was only a couple years ahead of me in school. In case you're not from a small town, I'll fill you in on why that matters: knowing someone's family is how one determines them to be trustworthy or not.

Mr. Clay helping me sort sheet music in my youth pastor's office

Mr. Clay helping me sort sheet music in my youth pastor's office

I couldn't tell you why, and I'm not sure that I've ever asked him, but Mr. Clay took a particular interest in me. Knowing because of my involvement in my high school's choir that I liked music, Mr. Clay brought me popular Christian music CD's almost every week. This is the queer and mind-boggling way that I heard the Gospel. 

My mother bred and sold Yorkshire Terriers and I got my allowance by feeding and cleaning up after them every day before and after school. I would bring with me to the kennels my iPod classic and listen to whatever CD Mr. Clay had most recently given to me. I very distinctively remember the time I spent in the kennels listening to Jeremy Camp's 2008 album Speaking Louder Than Before because I was so confused by it. All of this talk of the beauty of God, abundant life, the Way, and the love that Christians are supposed to have was in stark contrast to the religious people that I had encountered in the past and how I thought their God must be. When I rode to church in the van with Mr. Clay I  told him all the questions I had about the music and found that nearly every line in Jeremy Camp's songs had basis in the Bible. When I got home that night, I dusted off the family's old King James and started doing my research. 

From that moment on, I was a critic in the church. Every time my youth pastor mentioned a scripture from the Bible, I wrote it down and researched when I went home. Over time, I became very bothered by all that I had learned. If this was true, everything would change. I could not continue living my life for Michele. I had to make a decision. It felt like fire in my bones. Now I know that Holy Spirit was beckoning me to come and be in relationship with the Holy God of the universe, but then all I knew was a feeling unlike anything I had encountered before and I was sure that everyone could tell that I was burning up.

Having a blast on my first worship team!

Having a blast on my first worship team!

I went to a Disciple Now (D-Now) retreat and had a positively miserable weekend. I don't remember what they talked about or who was in my small group. All I remember is being arrested by the decision I knew I had to make.

The Saturday night of the retreat, we went to a big church in what seemed like the middle of nowhere for worship. Many Baptist churches in the area were having D-now weekends and we were all coming together for a worship night. The feeling of anonymity in the crowd was freeing for me. I felt like I could finally listen to God, since I was surrounded by people who were also listening and I didn't feel like anyone was looking at me.

It was the first time that I heard the hymn "Jesus Paid it All" and it broke me into tiny pieces. I was sobbing on my knees in that church's sanctuary wrestling with God over my life and future. That night, fighting sleep in the floor of my host's spare room, I promised my life to God. It was March 7, 2009.

The first person that I told was a family member who was still hostile to the idea of Christianity. The response I got was "I thought that you were smarter than that," so obviously I didn't tell anyone else. It wasn't until our spring break retreat when my youth pastor asked me, "Michele, are you a Christian?" and I responded with a small, fearful "yes," as if I had be caught. He promptly invited me to sing with the worship team, and I've been leading worship in some capacity every since.

Brittanie and high-school me getting ready for homecoming!

Brittanie and high-school me getting ready for homecoming!

My mother was very supportive and bought me my first study Bible, which I still use. Around the same time that I gave my life to Christ, my older sister Brittanie also started a relationship with Christ. We have spurred each other on for the entirely of our Christian lives. The family member who discouraged me told me later that Christianity was "good for me" and is now supportive of my walk with God, and even my career in professional ministry. 

I call this the story that never should have happened because I feel like the stars had to align perfectly so that I could encounter Christ. If anything happened differently, the Rube Goldberg machine of events that lead me to that night would have fallen apart. I know that the Lord wanted me to be with Him, drew me to Himself, and is currently working out the plan and purpose that He intended for me before the beginning of time.

I am so thankful for my long story and am excited to share more long stories! Thanks for reading!

2017 Atlanta Winter Conference Project

One of the many things that I love about working with Cru is the uniquely fluid job description. Right now the spring semester is in full swing and my team is focused on building community and training our student leaders in various ministry skills. In the summer I have the pleasure of working with a new team in an exciting location on a summer mission, like Jackson Hole. In the fall my focus is 100% on sharing the Gospel and building our local campus ministry. Near the end of our first semester, my responsibilities shift with the winter weather to collaborate with other staff and work toward an elaborate and impactful conference experience, like the one that took place in Atlanta just after Christmas. 

The Gallery the night before the conference— this only has the content that I worked on. Mia added more interactive materials the next morning.  

The Gallery the night before the conference— this only has the content that I worked on. Mia added more interactive materials the next morning.  

My Winter Conference experience to this point was primarily as an assistant to my Team Leader, Monica, who oversees the conference experience and ambiance. This year I worked under my new teammate, Mia, to create thought-provoking content for The Gallery: a 24-foot long prayer tunnel. The object of The Gallery was to give students who had five or ten minutes before their next meeting or session something to do that would keep their focus on spiritual things. With free creative license and only the somewhat vague theme of the conference (Witnesses) to work with, I settled on focusing my content on evangelism. 

Working in campus ministry, we talk about evangelism a lot. Most of my conversations with college students on the topic of evangelism are about why they don’t want to do it. I decided to tackle this issue under the assumption that many other students at the conference had reservations of their own about sharing their faith with others, using the two walls of The Gallery to communicate two ideas about evangelism.

On one wall, I used ten frames and interactive materials to bring to light some “Barriers” to the gospel (in other words: excuses I hear from students about why they don’t share their faith). The frames expressed Barriers and prayer points for students who struggle with that Barrier. For Example, one Barrier was “Evangelism is not my calling.” After a quick paragraph with scripture references explaining that all Christians are, in fact, called to evanglism, I added at the bottom, “Pray that the Lord would share with you His heart for evanglism and show you how to be an effective witness.” The interactive materials were simple colored pens, note cards, and a box that I bought from Michael’s and painted one of the conference theme colors. The instructions were to write out a fear you have about evanglism and drop it into the box, as a symbolic way of “casting your cares on Jesus” and trusting Him to help you conquer your Barrier.

Cast Your Cares Box: the interactive portion of my Barriers wall. 

Cast Your Cares Box: the interactive portion of my Barriers wall. 

I tried to be a bit more positive on the opposite wall. My idea was to take nameless examples of effective witnesses from the New Testament and share their stories with students who fear evangelism or feel ill-equipped to share their faith. I wanted to use examples who were not mentioned by name in scripture because they are more relatable than a “Saint So-and-so” would be. Inspiration for this wall came at an Advent service when my pastor* talked about the first witnesses of Christ’s birth: the nameless shepherds, and the powerful nature of their testimony in spite of their lowly social standing. The effectiveness of a nobody’s testimony or boldness encouraged me because I identify with the little guy more than the super saint, and I’m sure that students do, too. The format of my “Biblical Witnesses” frames was telling a wittness’s story from scpriture, making a connection between the story of the witness and our own spiritual journey, and tagging it with prayer points asking God to make us like the witness in some way. 

Bibilcal Witnesses Wall— my witnesses were The Woman at the Well, The Shepherds, The Blind Man, and The Demon-Possesed Man. 

Bibilcal Witnesses Wall— my witnesses were The Woman at the Well, The Shepherds, The Blind Man, and The Demon-Possesed Man. 

The Gallery was incredibly well-recieved by students and was mentioned by many as a highlight of the conference. I was so blessed and humbled by the compliments I recieved, both from students and from fellow staff memebers. I love writing and have been a skilled wordsmith since I was very young. I can’t imagine a better way to use my gift than this! I am thankful for the seasonal nature of my job and projects like this that allow me to use my specific giftings to glorify God.  

 

 

 

*For the sake of giving credit where credit is due: Micah and I are members of Fullness Christian Fellowship in Vestavia Hills pastored by Bart Brookins, who I mentioned above. If you ever find yourself in Birimingham and in need of a church to visit on a Sunday morning, please come to church with me at Fullness! Check out the website before you visit: fullnesscf.org