Letter to Steven

Instead of writing the story out that I wanted to tell y’all, I decided to just copy and paste the letter I sent to Pastor Furtick. 🙂

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Pastor Furtick (I call you “Steven” to my friends because I fully believe we’re on a first name basis already, but for formality-sake…), Holly (trust me, you and I are on a first name basis, too), the staff, and INCREDIBLE volunteers at Elevation,

I got divorced in January of 2014.
It sucked, y’all.
It was the WORST pain, the WORST confusion, the WORST downward spiral I’ve ever experienced as an adult. And ooooooh how I lost my way.
Now, I was baptized Lebanese Cathlioc, so most of my first memories of church are in Arabic. Throughout childhood I went to a Lutheran church, a Unity church, and a non-denominational church. When I met and married my ex-husband, I accept Judaism. And as we went through divorce, I explored Sikhism and Hinduism. But about 7 months ago, a friend I didn’t know too well suggested I listen to your Crash the Chatterbox series.
Y’all can see where this is going, but there’s a couple left turns your not expecting so stay with me.
I now go to church every Sunday here in Jacksonville, FL, at Celebration Church but I still I listen to Pastor Furtick AT LEAST once a week (often more as I find myself re-listening to podcasts to hear something new all the time), and for EXTRA credit, I started adding a few entries a month to my blog outlining the lessons I learn from Pastor Furtick’s sermons so that my friends who get a facial tick at the mention of the word “Jesus” can see He’s not all that scary.
My undergraduate degree was in theatre, and last month I was cast in a local community theatre production in Time Stands Still. I was over-the-moon-excited to get back on stage, still am. But three weeks ago Sunday, sitting in church being a good Christian, singing and celebrating God, what do I see? Pastor Furtick’s face flash across the big screen with the caption, “Guest Pastors in January 2015.”
I grabbed my boyfriend’s arm as if Taye Diggs had just asked me to accompany him to dinner RIGHT THERE IN CHURCH, and trying to catch my breath from the marathon around the room I was metaphorically running, I whispered, “That’s. Pastor. Furtick.”
He smiled as I haphazardly clicked for the church calendar in my phone in the middle of poor Pastor Stovall’s undoubtedly fabulous sermon.
Thursday, January 29. 7pm. Done. I’m there.
DONE, SON.
And then.
Then I realized I had a show that night. My heart, my soul, my first love theatre was Pastor-blocking me. I’m not even kidding you…I cried on the way home.
You see, it’s not because I think Pastor Furtick is a deity, or a celebrity, or even something greater than myself. But he was a conduit to God for me when I lost my way. He was a voice I could understand, and now one I recognize. He represents to me a way of life that gives me strength and light to continue trusting in God. (And his wife Holly is stupid-cute and I’d like to be just like her.)
So I went to bed that night, now in the anger-stage of my grief, and as I prayed I said this to God –
God, you wouldn’t bring Pastor Furtick to my town, only MILES from my house, so that I could miss seeing him preach. You’ve got something better planned. You BETTER have something better planned. And so I will wait for you to give me something SO WAY BETTER than seeing Pastor Furtick preach at my very own church here in Jacksonville that I won’t even be able to believe. I’ll wait.
And in my mind, I crossed my arms and tapped my foot.
At God.
I know, I know, but we all make bad choices in the middle of temper tantrums…
But y’all know God delivered so big that it’s ridic.
Visiting my entire family in Charlotte, NC for Christmas one week later, I looked up the Blakeny Campus, the one where I thought Pastor Furtick would be preaching Christmas Eve services but I wasn’t sure. I asked my mom to babysit, arrived at Elevation an hour early with my boyfriend, and approached the building.
“Is that the line?” I asked him.
“I’m not really sure what I’m looking at,” he responded. We just sort of stood amongst crowds of people both coming and going. “Follow me,” he said and we walked inside.
“What if we’re not allowed in yet?” I asked.
“No one is going to let us in if we aren’t supposed to be here. There are plenty of people to ask,” he told me.
He walked us straight up the stairs past 3 or 4 volunteers, all wishing us a Merry Christmas, another volunteer at the entrance of the auditorium, and 4 or 5 more as we took a seat in the 5th row.
The place was nearly empty.
“We’re not supposed to be in here,” I told him.
“There are volunteers all around us. Why wouldn’t they kick us out?”
“I don’t know but we’re not supposed to be here,” I repeated.
“Oh, if we’re here…then we’re supposed to be here.”
I sat in my anxietal state for 30 minutes until suddenly, the doors flung open and in came the congregation, probably all the ones who were standing in line outside.
“WE WERE NOT SUPPOSED TO BE IN HERE!” I whisper-screamed at him.
“Well, we’re here. So enjoy it,” he snarked.
I didn’t even know if Pastor Furtick was preaching at this campus, but there we sat, near the front on Christmas Eve at Elevation Church. And a few moments later, Pastor Furtick and Holly did come out. And I watched a sermon no more amazing than any other awesome sermon I’ve heard him preach every week on the podcast, but one where I was sitting there within the energy of the room and calling back to him the way I do when I’m doing the dishes and listening along at home. I was really there, doing it, in the 5th row. “AMEN!”
And as we walked out of the church to our truck, I heard God say to me, “So. Would you call that ‘better‘?!”
Yeah. He got me. Good one, God.
I wish I could attend live and in person, there in the fifth row, every week. I wish I could come see you on January 29. But for now, I’ll listen, I’ll include your message in my blog, and I’ll continue telling my friends to “just start with the Crash the Chatterbox series because it’s not that scary…”
Thank you and the entire church for being a part of that awesome Christmas gift. And thank you for finding a way to reach so many of us.
And of course, if Pastor Furtick and Holly or any volunteers are here in Jacksonville together while Pastor Furtick is visiting and you’d like to come see my show, I’ll comp y’all some tickets in the 5th row. 😉
Love, Gratitude, but mostly just a bunch of Joy,
Erin Salem

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