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“Corner Hugger”

by Clarissa Cintron

God gave me—a shy, corner-hugging girl—the courage to do something terrifying—preach a sermon!

 If five years ago you had told me that one day I’d stand on my church platform and preach the Word of God, I would have probably thought that you were mistaking me for someone else. I’m what people call a “corner hugger” when it comes to attending church functions, family get-togethers, classes, birthday parties, you name it. You can always find me in a corner, away from everyone. People, large crowds, and strangers cause my heart to speed up and my face to burn.

One time when I was about 10 years old, my Sabbath school class was going to give special music during the church service. I didn’t have much of a choice, since everyone was supposed to participate. Yet I dreaded the thought of getting up on the platform and singing before the entire, staring congregation.
To get out of having to sing, I devised a sneaky little plan to disappear before having to go up front. When it got close to the time for us to sing, I slipped off to the bathroom and hid in a stall. Just to be sure I didn’t show up in the middle of the performance, I waited five minutes. That’s how desperate I was to avoid the spotlight.
My mother, who found me hiding in the bathroom that day, encouraged me to become involved with something. “The youth of the church should be the most active,” I remember her saying to me.
Thanks to her prodding, I agreed to do Scripture reading for the church service once every few weeks. It wasn’t too difficult for me to read a verse or two from the Bible and then hurry off the platform. To me, this was the only way I could serve God without getting embarrassed or scared.
The greatest challenge of my life came in January of 2009. The pastor of my church asked our youth leader to call a brief meeting after potluck. We gathered in the kitchen and  talked softly among ourselves. We wondered what the meeting was going to be about.
Pastor Kimbrough came into the kitchen and explained that the members of our youth group were going to give an evangelistic series. He said he needed 12 volunteers, and he explained that each night of the series two of us would deliver our sermons.
I sat in terrified silence as, one by one, the others in my class willingly accepted the challenge. To my relief, I wasn’t the only one who chose not to volunteer. My pastor acknowledged us cowards with an understanding nod.
“I know it’s difficult,” he said, “but it’s worth a try. Remember that this is for a good cause.”
I felt a pang of guilt. Why am I such a coward, Lord? I thought to myself as he waited for the remaining others to volunteer. My stomach somersaulted as he suddenly looked at me, hiding in my corner.
“Would . . . you . . . be willing to do this, Clarissa?” he hesitantly asked. He knew my history of shy behavior.
This isn’t just my pastor asking, I realized, God is asking me to do this. I’ll never know why, but I suddenly nodded yes.
My spur-of-the-moment decision didn’t really hit me until my pastor scheduled a practice session with him two hours before the program started. He set up the notebook computer and table for me on the platform. The pews were empty, but I still felt uneasy the second I stepped up near the podium.
“Hit the down arrow to change to the next PowerPoint slide, OK?” he called as he trotted to the very last pew at the back of the church. “Remember to look up sometimes. And clarity—clarity is very important.” He sat down and waited for me to begin.
Please, Jesus, I said silently, be with me. I looked up and saw that the pastor was waiting patiently.
“How many of you, with a show of hands, can live without oxygen?” I began. “Tonight’s title is ‘Move Your Hand.’”
Last-minute jitters
On the day of my sermon I waited in anxious suspense as David, the boy delivering the first sermon, got up to speak. As an entire group, we had fasted for a day the week before and asked God to help each of us do well for His sake. Before David went up, we gathered to pray one last time.
“I am so proud of you guys,” our youth leader, Ivette, announced with a big smile. “Be brave for Christ, and He will take care of the rest.” She rubbed my shoulder. “Are you ready?”
I managed to nod and keep a calm face, but the swarm of butterflies in my stomach wouldn’t settle. While the others whispered and discussed the songs they were going to sing, I retreated into the kitchen. Once alone, I leaned against the counter and took a deep breath. Then I did what I should have done the day of my “bathroom” episode.
Be with me, Lord. I beg You, be with me. Speak for me, give me the words to speak. Speak through me, Lord. I beg You, I prayed silently. I quickly stopped once I heard someone come into the kitchen.
Lizmarie, another shy girl who’d also taken up the challenge of a sermon, gave me a smile. “Are you nervous?” she asked.
“Yes,” I flatly admitted. I then remembered something we had read the night our youth group gathered when we opened our day of fasting: “For where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them” (Matthew 18:20, NIV).* It just wasn’t the moment to be shy. “Would you pray with me, Lizmarie?” I blurted.
She agreed with a small smile. We bowed our heads. Though I felt my voice shaking, I did not hesitate to ask God for His strength: “Father in heaven, I pray that You will give me courage. Use me to speak, Lord. Be with Lizmarie also when her night comes to speak for You. In Christ’s name I pray, amen.”
We opened our eyes, and I felt so much more at ease. “OK. I’m ready now.”
I returned to the hallway connected to the platform. Ivette motioned me over when she saw me. “After this song, it’s your turn to go up.”
Felix, the guy running the sound system, handed me the lapel microphone. “Point it up toward your mouth, or else we won’t hear you.”
Fingers trembling, I forced myself to clip the microphone onto my sweater. The song seemed to last forever, torturing me with suspense. At last, Ivette gave me the signal and opened the door for me. Sharon, one of the girls who had just finished singing, gave me a thumbs-up.
I climbed the two steps and emerged onto the platform I’d been avoiding for years. Here I was, facing a congregation as they stared at me. Many of the adults sitting in the pews offered me smiles of encouragement.
At that moment a wave of warmth swept over me along with a sudden, unexplainable peace. My face wasn’t burning, my hands weren’t shaking, and the butterflies in my stomach didn’t exist. I smiled at the congregation. “By a show of hands, how many of you could exist without a source of oxygen?” I asked in a smooth, strong voice.
Afterward everyone showered me with compliments and praises.
“You looked so relaxed up there.”
“Wow! You spoke like a professional!”
“I was praying for you all week. You did a great job!”
All I could say was “Thank you!” and “Praise God!” I was still in shock that I had been so comfortable throughout the sermon. As everyone made their way to the kitchen for refreshments, I disappeared outside.
“Thank You, Lord. Thank You, thank You, thank You, thank You!” I prayed, laughing incredulously.
Truly, God has no limits. I never understood this until I experienced it myself—that night. I know I wasn’t alone on that platform. He was with me throughout the entire sermon, and I can’t help but smile when I think about it. If a corner hugger such as me can gain the courage through prayer to preach God’s Word, anyone can. “I can do everything through him who gives me strength” (Philippians 4:13, NIV).*
*Texts credited to NIV are from the Holy Bible, New 
International Version. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 
International Bible Society. Used by permission of 
Zondervan Bible Publishers.
Clarissa Cintron enjoys writing, reading, photography, and soccer. She would like to become a nurse. She writes from New Bedford, Massachusetts.

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