As I closed my eyes, I gripped the sweaty hands of my kiddos, who were sitting on their knees along each side of me. I stole a peak at the both of them, as well as my 18 year old cousin, who was holding each of their hands as well. They all had their eyes squeezed tight. I squeezed each of their hands and they each gave a squeeze back. We continued in this stance for the next ten minutes as Lou Giglio led us in prayer and the Holy Spirit made his presence known; a hush made its way across the crowd, as people settled into conversation with the Lord. Tears were falling down my face. A few minutes later, chords were struck and Jeremy Camp began to lead us in worship.
My ten year old looked at me and he said, “Mommy, I just feel really weird.”
“I can’t believe that I can see the White House right over there while I am singing about Jesus with Jeremy Camp.”
“I know what you mean, bud.”
Last weekend, more or less on a whim, I attended the Together 2016 event held at the foot of the Washington Monument on The National Mall in Washington D.C. I almost didn’t go, but I am really glad that I did and that I took my boys with me to this once in a lifetime event. Together 2016 was the brainchild of Nick Hall, founder of Pulse Ministries. This event was not evangelical in nature; it was not an event designed for you to bring a friend who doesn’t know Jesus to hear about him. Rather, it was an event designed for believers of Christ from all denominations to come together for an intense time of prayer and worship:
“We believe there’s power in coming together. Jesus promised whenever two or more come together in His name, He is present. It’s emboldening to join with others, to know we’re not alone, to realize we can do more together than apart. July 16, 2016 is the day when this generation lays down what divides us and lifts up Jesus who unites us. On a day of unified prayer, worship, and a call for catalytic change, we will meet on the National Mall to declare that Jesus changes everything.” (www.reset2016.com)
An event over three years in the making, I hadn’t heard about the event until one week prior. My son’s youth pastor and his wife told me about it and wondered if I might be interested in going. At first, I shrugged it off, saying it sounded pretty cool, but a million people in the National Mall? No thanks. However, a couple of days later, I felt a nudge that maybe I should just go. You know that nudge, right? The one from the Holy Spirit? The one that you can’t ignore? So, I contacted them to see if they were still interested and a mere five days before the event, we decided to go.
I called my sister, who moved to just outside of D.C. a few months ago, to see if we could bunk with her and then just take the Metro into the city. Turns out, her family was going out of town for the weekend, and it would be great if we could house sit and take care of the dogs. See how God did that? Anyhow, I, along with my two boys and my 18 year old cousin, jumped in the car and headed down on Thursday to spend a day with her and her family before they headed out of town. I had plans of my friends meeting us early Saturday morning. We had a grand time of pizza and karaoke on Thursday followed by a quick trip into the city to see the butterflies and bugs (my four year old nephew’s favorite things!) at the Natural History Museum at the Smithsonian on Friday morning.
When we got back to my sister’s house on Friday afternoon, I received a text that my friends from church were not going to be able to make it down after all. My initial thinking was that there was no way was I going to take three kids to this event on my own. I normally have no problem dragging the kids anywhere and everywhere on my own and I absolutely love exploring city sights. However, given the nature of the event and the recent tragic events in our country and abroad, I was less than gung ho about taking them. I prayed and decided that since there would be five other adults with me, I felt I had more of a safety net in place. Now, that net was gone and I was faced with the prospect of taking three kids into our nation’s capital, to a Christian event at the foot of the Washington Monument, with a theoretical one million people in attendance. I hit my knees and prayed. It wasn’t like I could go home, I was house sitting. What to do?
Almost immediately, I felt calm and reassured that I was to still go to the event. To not go would be playing into the spirit of fear that Satan was laying upon me. I was not going to do that. I did however, amend my plan. The event was scheduled to be a 12 hour event filled with speakers and music. I knew they were calling for extreme heat, so I decided to go in the morning for a few hours, and then cool off in a museum for a couple of hours before heading back to my sister’s house to watch the live stream of the last block of speakers and songs on the TV.
The next morning, armed with backpacks full of 24 frozen water bottles and lunch, the kids and I jumped onto the Metro and made our way to the Washington Monument. What happened in the next few hours is almost too hard to describe in words. To be amongst hundreds of thousands believers from all over the USA, (estimates put the numbers around 500,000-600,000; not quite reaching the million goal, but certainly not too shabby a gathering) who put aside all cultural, racial, denominational and political differences for the sole purpose of lifting the name of Jesus (and boy was his name exalted) and to pray for unity and our country, had me in goosebumps and tears for practically the whole time. Goose bumps. Tears. For real.
The heart was brutal: 96 degrees with a heat index of much higher; yet my kiddos sat, ate their lunch and drank their water without complaint, listening to the speakers, singing songs of praise, and falling alongside me to pray. If you know my kids, then you would know that this is a miracle in and of itself. They have trouble paying attention for a hour and fifteen minutes in church on Sunday morning; and we have an amazingly cool, Bible speaking pastor. The fact that they were intent on listening and actually taking it in, in this brutal heat for hours, was a clear testament to the Lord moving during this event. During the time we were there, we heard Lou Gigilo, Nick Hall, Josh McDowell (one of my favorites from my teen days at Creation!), Passion, Jeremy Camp, Crowder, Tedashii and Lauren Daigle. It wasn’t meant to be a concert and it didn’t have that feel at all. You could definitely feel outpouring of worship. You could feel the Lord’s presence profoundly. My kids could feel it. They may not have been able to quite identify in words, hence, Bubb’s feeling of weirdness, but they knew. There were things they were hearing and seeing that allowed us to have awesome teachable moments, as I like to call them, conversations there and since. I have to tell you as well, that not once did I feel a tiny bit unsafe. The event was extremely well ran with the security of what seemed like Fort Knox. That and the presence of the Holy Spirit. You really can’t feel safer than when you are in his presence.
I mentioned that this was an event three years in the making. There was no way that Nick Hall, or any of the speakers, musical artists and other organizers could know what the landscape of America or the world would be in this day and time. They couldn’t know about ISIS and other terror attacks, about the racial division that once again would be at the forefront of our newscasts, about the horrible political landscape, both here and abroad. They couldn’t know how these and other issues were starting to pull God’s own people apart, unlike any other time in recent history. But God knew. It’s absolutely amazing to me that God laid upon Nick’s heart, this call to gather a million of his people in our nation’s capital, at the foot of an iconic national monument, across the street from the White House, for the sole purpose of uniting his sons and daughters in prayer and what Nick called, reset. Of getting back to what, or rather, who, unites us: Jesus. Instead of allowing Satan to divide and conquer us. To remind us that Jesus changes everything.
I think one of the things that really stuck with me came right before I hit my knees as I described in the opening paragraph. Lou Giglio, pastor of Passion City Church in Atlanta, Ga and just an awesome Jesus speaker, was challenging us. He spoke of how we look to all kinds of stuff to change the things that are wrong with this country and world right now; to deal with all the strife and division. That we try and travel everywhere to get that change, whether it’s our church, which is a few miles away, or we look to two blocks to our right (which was the White House), or two blocks behind us (which was Capitol Hill), a couple of hundred miles to the north in Philly or a few hundred miles away in Ohio. He implored us to remember that those places and those people are really never going to effect the change that is needed to “fix” things. That we travel too far; that we look in all the wrong places. He reminded us who God has already equipped to effect change and that it’s pretty much high time we remember that. He said:
“Twenty inches is the distance between my knee and the ground. That’s how far you have to go to find mercy.”
What profound words. He then fell to his knees and called for others to join him on their knees, hands united. My eyes were closed, but I can only imagine what it looked like when over a half million people of all races and denominations dropped to their knees and grabbed a stranger’s hand unified in Jesus and in prayer. I can’t tell you what it looked like, but, like I said before, I can surely tell you what it felt like: goose bumps and tears.
We found out just as we arrived back to my sister’s house, that the event was forced to shut down nearly five hours early by the police. Apparently, the heat was just too overwhelming; emergency services were overwhelmed with over 350 people overcome with heat exhaustion and other related ailments. They hurriedly changed the schedule to accommodate some of the remaining speakers and artists. They then closed with this awesome reminder:
“What happened here on The Mall, isn’t meant to stay on The Mall. Let’s be encouraged by one another— to spur one another on to be bold and courageous as we carry the message of Jesus to the world.”
People safely dispersed. Once dispersed, a large storm tore through the city, letting loose downpours and quite the lightening show. There are multiple reports of a huge rainbow that ended at the Washington Monument as the storm dissipated. God is good!
I am so glad that I heeded the Holy Spirit’s nudge and took my kids to this gathering. To be a part of this gathering, in that place was both a blessing and a charge. A reminder that God is in control and he has equipped me and millions of others to battle the unseen war going on all around us and there’s no need to be afraid. That we are to be united, not divided. I am convinced that this gathering was a key moment for both my kiddos and my cousin in which they will look back on and be able to pinpoint with clarity how awesome a thing it is to feel the Holy Spirit move and speak to you. I believe we are going to see real change in America, in a ripple effect, as believers who attended go back to their home state and home towns and share this message of unity and not of division.
What a great reminder it was that it’s not me or you or anyone else, but Jesus who changes everything.
It’s such an awesome thing to know he’s got our backs.
For more fantastic photos, please visit the Together 2016 Facebook page by clicking here.