(above) I actually have a few versions of this picture. I took this particular one last summer and tried to recreate it last week, but I like this one better. The skies were much brighter last year. It's of the corner of Shryock Auditorium on SIU's campus, which is where we had Celebration (the evening worship session) every year when I went to CIY in high school. This place has held thousands of students over the years, and it has certainly held God's presence in a mighty way. How do I know? That's where I first truly encountered Christ and felt a tugging on my heart to accept Him, but I ignored it the first year. It's where, the second year I went to CIY, I finally accepted Christ while singing "At the Cross" and found myself at the front of the auditorium and literally at the foot of the cross. I was baptized that next Sunday at church.
(above) These red stairs, leading to the balcony of Shryock Auditorium, also led me to a different perspective. I remember, quite vividly, the incredible times of worship from the balcony and how I thought that looking down on the rest of the auditorium praising God must be a slight picture of what He sees looking down at us. That image is still in my mind, and I love it. And as a side note, I'm sad to find out that this summer was the last year (I'm pretty sure) that they'll use Shryock for CIY...the huge arena will now be the location for all 3 weeks in Carbondale. That makes me sad.
I remember these stairs, outside of Shryock, for multiple reasons. Every year we took JCPenney photos with the entire youth group (first the guys, then the girls, then each grade, then the entire group--like 65 of us). I still have these photos and now it seems like when I look at them I find random people in the background that somehow I know now!
One other reason I remember these stairs is because something strange happened on them the summer before my senior year in high school. While we were inside those very doors worshiping God, there was some big crazy concert going on here on these steps. It was sort of a funny paradox of the two kinds of singing going on that night. When we came outside, the concert was over, and the remains of a big party scene were all over the ground...beer bottles, cans, trash, cigarettes, etc. As we walked to our His Time (youth group time) locations, something else was working on my heart. Keep reading...
(Above) This was our His time location every single year. I could almost cry still thinking of all the good times in the huge circle we had there. The 3 benches were always offered first to the girls wearing skirts and dresses while everyone else sat on the ground or stood part of the time. On the night of that concert, I remember standing up at His Time and deciding to go to Lincoln Christian College. I had never thought about that before in my life, and never before did I have the slightest desire to go to Lincoln. I can remember exactly where I was sitting and what direction I was facing and everything... Something hit me that night when I saw the university party scene outside, and I realized I wasn't quite ready for that atmosphere like I thought I wanted after high school. In that decision to go to Lincoln, I had no idea what I was going to do w/ my life, but I just knew the Spirit was calling me to a greater purpose in life. I'm thankful I had that moment. Had that concert never happened that night, I might not be where I am now, and that's crazy to think about.
I don't ever remember there being flowers and beautiful landscaping around the campus when I went to CIY at SIU in high school. However, this year I noticed it. It made me realize that there's a different hope on that campus after 10 years of having CIY conferences there. Whether or not the SIU students recognize it throughout the year, something powerful happens there every summer for 3 weeks, and it's an amazing thing. I just thought this flower represented the life and hope and beauty that can come of something that may not have had life before Christ.
I could probably post a million memories from CIY's of the past, but I'll refrain from nostalgic overload. But I can't help but share this--I ran into one of the SIU staff guys who runs the cash register in the cafeteria area as I was on my way to leave last week. He's physically handicapped somehow, but I'm not sure exactly how, and you'd never know other than his crutches and thick dark-rimmed glasses aiding his vision. Anyway, I have seen him every year probably since I began going to CIY 10 years ago, and it's amazing that he still works there and in the same cafeteria line swiping cards. I introduced myself to him and we made some small talk, his ride showed up, and I left. Sadly, I don't even remember his name now, and I don't remember exactly what we talked about. That day, something about him reminded me of Jesus, and even the thought of that memory makes me smile.
It's not anything that CIY does, necessarily, and it's certainly not SIU that changes people. But I pray that the atmosphere created at these conferences leaves people with not only memories of a great experience, but with a life that is different. From that very campus and conference a lot of things have stemmed in my life: I accepted Christ; I rededicated my life once; I decided to go to LCC and live for a greater purpose; I served as Bible College staff and got connected with my first internship with One 5 Oh; I had a possible job opportunity; I spent a summer with 5 other girls (who are now all over the U.S.) that remain some of my best friends (the BCG's) in the entire world after only 6 weeks of life together; I have somehow impacted students and reconnected with people from years ago that have impacted me in great ways. The cycle of ministry is such a cool thing.
And for all of these memories and recollections, I'm thankful. I'm mostly thankful for where they've led me.