1995, again. I’d spent the last year in a deep depression, which I hid fairly successfully most of the time. At one point I tried to resign from a leadership position at church, telling the pastor that I was not in a good place, that I was not fit for duty. I couldn’t get him to listen. He just kept trying to jolly me along with lines about motherhood being stressful and “you’re only human” and “everyone has rough days”. I didn’t have the courage to yell, “Hey, listen! I’m not sure I believe in God anymore, I hate myself, and I fantasize about getting drunk all the time. Am I really the person you want in charge of your missions program? Should I really be teaching the teens?”
So I kept going through the motions, hanging on by my fingernails.
And then I went to Cornerstone.
I’ve told this story many times, to many people. I worry sometimes that I’m remembering the details about weather and timing incorrectly. Would the whole experience be invalidated by that? Nah. It was too powerful; nothing takes it away.
It rained. It poured. Concerts had to be moved and rescheduled because of the rain. At some point I wound up outside the tent where the Lost Dogs were playing, standing in the mud, listening to them perform “Breathe Deep”. I already knew the song, knew the words, but somehow that night it was aimed at me. I was being invited to open up my atrophied lungs and breathe in the life of God again, the Spirit that turned Adam from dust to man. I was still standing in the mud at Cornerstone, but God was speaking directly to me. We had a long conversation, He and I. I told Him I was a wreck. He didn’t seem surprised, or particularly bothered by that. He didn’t explain why He’d seemed so absent for so long, He just drew in close that night in the mud. And I honestly don’t remember if it was really still raining, or if it just felt like rain. Either way, I felt washed clean for the first time in a long time.
Later in the fest I saw Mike Roe in the exhibition hall. Mike is the lead singer of the 77s, one of the members of the Lost Dogs, and a larger than life figure in the history of Christian rock. But this day he looked so very human; sweating, middle aged, slipping away for a cigarette break. It rattled me to think that he’d been one of the voices singing “Breathe Deep”. Such an imperfect person, and yet he’d been an instrument of healing for me. “That’s who I use,” God spoke just as clearly as when he’d met me in the mud. “That’s how grace works. I don’t need you to be Nancy Nazarene. In fact, your efforts are getting in the way. Stop trying to earn it and just let me be gracious because I love you.”
I’ve never been the same, truly. Not every fest brought such a dramatic change, but the elements were always there: dirt and sweat and messy people, and grace and the breathe of God.
That’s my Cornerstone.