By: Staci Stallings
If you read last week, you know that over the weekend the Holy Spirit and I staged the Stations of the Cross with live actors. What an experience!
First off, the fire that took out our church three years ago (how can it be that long ago?) also took out our costumes. I’ve been making costumes for VBS for the last three years. Unfortunately most of those were for teenagers. With mostly adults acting in this one, we were short a bunch of costumes. My plan (I see You laughing up there, God!) was to make costumes on Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, and Saturday. I figured two costumes a day would be doable.
Then I got sick. On Wednesday.
I got half of a costume made on Wednesday, and then dragged myself out of bed on Thursday to finish it.
As I laid in that bed for two days, no energy and no way to get anything done, I was like, “Holy Spirit, why would You give me this idea, set it up so we could do it, and then take me out of the game so I’m going to have to let the kids down and the parents and everyone who has agreed to come and help? Please, please, help me.”
Well, He was helping… just maybe not in the way I expected.
Thursday I was up for whole stretches of five minutes at a time, drinking Sprite, eating half pieces of toast or little piles of rice. In the midst of these I finished that one costume and got the scripts out to everyone. But we still had major problems. Half of our characters had no costumes, we had no cross, and I hadn’t gotten the readers’ scripts together.
There was a point on Thursday when I seriously considered postponing or canceling it altogether because the sad fact was, I just couldn’t move.
Still, the Holy Spirit wouldn’t put it on my heart to say, “It’s over.” (That was ME ready to give up, begging to give up, pleading with Him to let me give up, but He kept whispering, “Just rest. There’s plenty of time.” “HA! Sunday is coming. Every hour brings it closer. I don’t think You realize how much there still is to do.” And then I would go to sleep again because I couldn’t even hold my head up.)
By Thursday evening when I got the chills so bad it pulled muscles and then a fever that had me sweating so bad my clothes were soaked, I really was ready to throw in the towel. I was disappointed. So many things were so right about this year. Good parents, ready to help. A wonderful young man who was perfect to play Jesus… And it was going to end with me in bed letting everyone down. Talk about feeling your weakness and lack of control, being at the mercy of things you cannot control nor even power through. There was simply no power in me to be had.
Sometime in the midst of Thursday night, I knew I was better. Weak and tired, but no longer sick. By Friday morning I managed to get my kids to school and then came home to a mountain of costumes to make. How was this ever going to work? So I said what I’m getting really good at saying, “Holy Spirit, You’re going to have to do this because there’s no way I can.”
Thus began a marathon of costume making and living–keeping kids and house going–that I can’t even adequately put into words.
Saturday night I was ironing and ironing and ironing, trying to get the costumes unwrinkled and ready. It was 11 when I started the binding process for the readers’ scripts and midnight when I fell into bed.
The next morning, my wonderful husband made the cross and got the hardware for the screen into the van. I loaded all the costumes and props, and I was off to church.
OH… I forgot to mention that the venue I had planned to use also fell through on Friday. We couldn’t use it. So I had to find a completely DIFFERENT place, which all fell into place. Again, not by my effort, planning, or agenda–it was all HIM, and it turned out to be perfect.
Sunday when I got to church (the school where we ended up having it), I pulled up and two of my actors had just arrived. (Thank YOU, Holy Spirit, because I could not have gotten it all set up without them!)
What transpired next is simply an amazement to me. It was as if the whole thing was mapped out in front of me. Do this. Do this. Do this. Put this person in costume, show these four what to do, where to stand. I had an hour from the time I got everything into the school to get the whole thing set up, costumes on, the sound equipment going, stations marked. Too much work for one hour if I was doing it on my own power.
Then truly strange things began happening. Our Mary got sick. Her husband showed up and said she was trying to get someone else to come play the part… this was about 7 minutes before we were supposed to START! There was no time to panic or even do more than just take a breath that the Holy Spirit was handling that too. I had kids, parents, readers, actors, costumes, set issues to deal with and now no Mary…
The whole room was a flurry of crazy activity!
Suddenly here was Mary, a young woman I have gotten to be friends with over the last year. She was perfect though I had never so much as thought of asking her. Sure she had to take the sunglasses from her head, but she was great!
Five minutes to go, I called for attention, went through the spots for each station (we had never actually practiced this with any of them. Some of them didn’t even know each other!). Then I said a quick prayer that the Holy Spirit would be with us as He already had been over and over and over and over to that point.
In seconds we had 35 kids in the room, and for the next hour, holiness reigned in that room. It wasn’t perfect. We missed a couple of cues. But it was right just the same.
I will forever remember Jesus collapsing that first time because he did it “before” he was supposed to and it surprised me, but I remember him lying there, the blood on his robes, the crown of thorns on his head. Somehow I’d never quite pictured it like that. Jesus weak, falling and not being able to get up or even wanting to get up. There was something about that that really got to me.
Because we hadn’t practiced and the actors only knew in round terms what they were supposed to do when, I stood in the back with a script to kind of direct them. That was interesting because it was never verbal. I would look at them, nod, indicate a direction to go, a time for when they were supposed to do something. And they did it. In retrospect, that’s why Jesus fell that first time when he did. I nodded for him to stop that that’s where he was supposed to fall. And down he went!
Through the stations we went. Simon, Veronica, John, Mary, Peter, Judas… each telling their story as Jesus’s last walk played out.
In the tenth station, I had written it from the perspective of the High Priest who was just ready to get this all over with so he could get back to the Temple and onto something “important.” It was a hard, calloused depiction, especially with Jesus not even being able to get up anymore, lying there practically at the man’s feet. It was rough.
And then the High Priest stormed off because he just couldn’t wait around any more.
The thing is, the gentleman who played the High Priest was also supposed to be the voice of God in the 12th Station when Jesus dies on the cross. Between 10 and 12, there was 11–nailing Jesus to the cross. I was watching and directing and thinking through to the end, getting ready. We made it through 11, and 12 started. That’s when I realized…
Somehow, I had lost God!
I looked over to where the “High Priest” had gone, expecting to see the man to read God standing there. He was not.
Now that room was big but it wasn’t THAT big, and there was only one way out, which was blocked by 35 kids, 2 readers, and a couple of actors–plus, it was right next to me. There was no way he could have escaped.
It’s funny how there are moments that you will remember forever. That was one of them. It lasted all of about three seconds, but my heart jerked, “Where is God? Oh, no! I’ve lost God!”
And then his voice. That voice. Old but strong. Peaceful. Powerful. Loving. Kind. Caring. Suddenly filling the whole room.
It was only then that I realized God hadn’t left. I just couldn’t see him. In fact, all of the kids kind of looked around because the voice came from the opposite corner of the room to where people had been reading.
The voice had gone into the “tomb”–behind the screen we were going to use for the tomb. Just because I hadn’t been paying attention, just because life in front of me took my gaze from God, and just because I couldn’t see Him, didn’t mean He wasn’t right there. It didn’t mean I was on my own, that I had to read the part or fix anything. It was all well-taken care of…. just as it always is with God.
In the end there was one final heartwrenching moment I hadn’t anticipated. The men went up and took Jesus down from the cross. Now I had told the actor, “Once Jesus is dead. You do NOT move on your own. Let them do it all for you.” Boy, he took that direction to heart. He practically fell off of that cross, limp and more trusting than I could ever be in my life. And they took him and laid him in Mary’s arms. I was supposed to read that one from the perspective of Mary Magdalene who was heartbroken and trying to hold onto the love Jesus had taught her, grateful for what he had taught her so she could walk through moments she would have fallen apart in before. Crying by that point, for me, was not acting. It required no effort.
Seeing Jesus there, in Mary’s arms, a most perfect picture that I hadn’t put together–God did. For me. For my kids. For all of us.
Yes, God is there… even when we take our gaze off of Him for a moment, even when we are too weak, even when we’re facing a mountain we can’t climb. He is quietly, patiently, lovingly putting the pieces together so we can see HIM in a whole new way.
It’s a lesson I’ll forever be glad He taught me.
He’s right here.