Twenty-three hours one way.
Twenty-four on the way back.
A Soviet-era, metal train car being baked by the August sun.
No open windows.
The air becoming more stagnant by the hour, magnifying the smells of b.o., sausage & vodka, & the lovely scents drifting from the bathroom.
Sitting/lying absolutely still, not moving a muscle, but still drenched in sweat.
…And I would do it all over again in a heartbeat.
For the second year in a row, I am overwhelmed at the gift of having been invited to lead worship/perform my own songs at the Without Walls (Без Стен) youth festival.
“You thrill me, Lord, with all you have done for me! I sing for joy because of what You have done.” – psalm 92:4.
To be honest, for a while now I have been exhausted. Completely spent. There are always people to love. Ministries to run. Twenty-one World Racers to host for 3 weeks. And I’ve allowed all the busyness to push out my alone time with God.
Without filling up from the Source of love & strength, there’s only so long any of us can keep giving out from our limited supply before finally feeling absolutely & utterly…exhausted.
But there was no time to rest. Before I knew it, it was August 24th, time to board that train, & head to Donetsk, this year’s festival city. After the 23-hour train ride, our feet met Donetsk soil on the evening of the 25th, and we were immediately whisked away in a van to the festival grounds. We arrived just in time to run on-stage for a sound check. After hurriedly getting everything set up, we got to eat a quick dinner, and then it was time to head back to the tent to lead worship for the evening session.
As soon as we played the first chords, & joined our voices and our hearts with over 200 young Jesus-lovers, in worship of our Father, all of the exhaustion & sweat on my body & my heart just melted away.
“What joy for those whose strength comes from the Lord…They will continue to grow stronger…” – psalm 84:5 & 7.
God took me all the way to Donetsk, on a sweaty, stinky train, to refocus my heart. To remind me that HE is my strength. Period. And when I tear down the walls of busyness (or anything else) that tries to steal my alone time with Him, my joy and my strength will constantly be renewed & overflowing in His presence. And it doesn’t matter how sweaty my heart or my body gets, exhaustion will find no room in my spirit!
I went to bed that night with a full & rejuvenated heart. Life didn’t slow down, & the next morning we were up & running (& sweating) again, but I found a new energy filled my bones. An energy that only the Holy Spirit of God can give. After breakfast, we led worship for the morning (& closing) session of the 26th, and then I was so blessed to be able to share 3 of my own songs with them. Two of the songs were upbeat & joyful, all about God’s goodness & faithfulness, and the other song is one I wrote a little more than a year ago. It’s about a good friend’s suicide that took place 12 years ago. Here’s a video I posted of it last year, right after I wrote it:
While we were performing this song at the festival, I noticed one young woman on the front row crying. I could tell the song was touching a wound, and my heart was breaking for her while I was singing. It was the hardest thing – trying to get through to the end, while seeing her in so much pain. After we finished the mini-concert of my original music, we had a short break before we would go back up to lead in 2 last worship songs. While the festival-goers were listening to an amazing sermon, I went outside to the water table to get a drink. And while I was out there, I saw that same young woman also getting a drink. I approached her gently, and asked her if she would tell me what had happened, and I learned that a year and a half ago her husband committed suicide! Leaving her & their three children behind! I didn’t know what to do. What words could I say? So, I just reached out, gathered her into my arms, and held her while she cried.
“The Lord is close to the brokenhearted; He rescues those whose spirits are crushed.” – psalm 34:18
With so much love & tenderness, while I held her, God told me to tell her that He wants to be her Husband now. That He will protect her & love her as a husband.
“I will make you My wife forever, showing you righteousness & justice, unfailing love & compassion.” – hosea 2:19
The Lord is so good! After my previous exhaustion, a whirlwind 3-day trip, & a 24-hour train ride home, I should technically be on the floor, unable to move. But He has renewed my spirit! He has breathed life into my bones! His presence is my life!
“A single day in Your courts is better than a thousand anywhere else!” – psalm 84:10
My heart overflows with thankfulness. Thanks to God, for more grace than I could ever deserve or ask for. Thanks to the Without Walls organizers, for giving me the huge gift of inviting me back this year. Thanks to my talented friends (Krista, Katya – my drummer, Pavlik – my guitarist, Tom – my keyboardist, & Andriy – my bassist), for giving their time & energy to prepare, and then to make that long, sweaty journey to Donetsk & back with me. And thanks to all of you who give financially to make it possible for me to live here, in Ukraine, serving until my heart’s sweaty, learning along the way to live without walls. Please don’t stop giving. There’s still so much serving & loving to be done!
And please pray for us. Pray that we won’t allow any walls of busyness or exhaustion (or anything else) to build up between us & our Source. Pray for miraculous love & strength to keep giving and pouring out every day. Pray for more & more opportunities. And pray for Ukraine. Pray for the young Jesus-lovers of Ukraine, who have so many things pulling and vying for their attention & devotion; pray that they will fix their eyes only on Jesus, the Author & Perfecter of their faith!
From a sweaty heart Without Walls…