Expect the unexpected, went a prophetic word on that first morning. Hooray, I thought. A husband, at last! A call to DC! Both rolled into one, maybe: my own Jesus-loving, Church-planting Josh Lyman. Well, a girl can dream. And this girl does. A lot. Too much, maybe.
I was missing the point. The unexpected means you can't anticipate it because you don't know what it's going to be. You can't conceive of it, a bit like those verses in - 1 Corinthians, is it?: no eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has ever conceived what God has prepared for those who love him. If no mind has ever conceived, then it's going to be something unexpected.
At this year's conference the unexpected was this: what God did in my heart through relationships. Relationships? At Brighton? Dashing from one meeting to the other with barely enough time to peg it up the hill in between for yet another Costa latté? Yes. Strange. I know. But I reconnected with some people from my past - from my eighteen-year-old past, back when Impact was called FYP and my heart was filled with dreams of changing the world and hopes of church planting, and also pain that God would graciously come and minister to, in large part through the wonderful family that I lived with.
Every year at Brighton I see them again and every year it's special, but this year it was different. We got some real, quality time together, sitting on the beach in the sun, and we really talked, and prayed, in particular about some hurts and unforgiveness I have been carrying around for years. You know how preachers always say that when you don't forgive it's really you that you are hurting? Well, turns out it's true. Even if the other person does know about your unforgiveness. Which, as it turns out, sometimes they do. And sometimes you have to go and say sorry for that. It's humbling. It's embarrassing. Turns out that it also has incredible power.
It was emotionally exhausting and I had a headache and puffy eyes for what feels like a lot of the time. (Thank goodness for Boot's cucumber eye gel: it should be standard issue at Christian conferences.) I'd forgotten (somehow) how tiring it is when God deals with stuff in your heart. I didn't really know if much was happening but since coming home I've realised what God has been doing, and I'm so thankful. He's been softening and healing my heart, and if I let him, if i pursue him, this could transform me.
There were some other things, too. Some of them less unexpected. Ever since Stoneleigh days (yes, I'm that old) I've been underlining David Stroud's seminars in my programme and making sure I get to them. Something about his style really connects with my spirit and he always seem to speak into what I'm passionate about: whether it's the prophetic, church planting (yes, that again), and, more recently, the concept of "Everything": the earth is the Lord's, and everything in it, so part of our mandate as Christians is to transform culture. I was buzzing when I came out of his seminar, having realised that my book is not just a soppy love story but actually does challenge an idol in our culture: the idea that girl + getting the guy = ultimate happiness. The next day, in Matt Hatch's seminar, part of the same training track, my eyes kept filling with tears as I listened to inspiring story after inspiring story, and as I talked afterwards with two other teachers I gained fresh vision for my job: being an excellent teacher, and building good rapport with my students is not just "something I should do 'cause I'm a Christian, hrmph", but part of the mandate to transform culture! Suddently it's exciting again!
Another thing I love in Brighton is this: for one week it feels like anything is possible. God might call you anywhere, and He will be with you as you go, and with you as you stay. Madrid? Back to London? Could the US stuff, the politics, the writing, any or all of it, really be God? After all, the writing is in part a product of another unexpected Brighton moment on the last morning in 2008. And... ooooh... did anyone else notice Brussels being mentioned from the stage? So who knows where to from here. But I know this with new-found certainty: there is a cup-bearer in heaven, and He has not forgotten me.
And also, next year I will take a swimsuit.