Have you ever wondered what it would be like to be in a decompression chamber? Well, I’ll give you an idea of what I think it feels like. Spend a week at the Montreat Youth Conference – any week you choose – and sign up to be a small group leader while being a back home leader, too. Then, come home to the real world and jump back into work and try to focus. Words won’t form, passwords are forgotten, worship is more low-key, the days are dreadfully long… Basically, it’s like being on warp speed for a week and then being strapped down to a table and being expected to revert to your normal self in no time flat. Virtually impossible.
I had the distinct blessing this past week of being both a small group leader and a back home leader at Week 6 of the Montreat Youth Conference. Words cannot describe the week that I had, and I’m still trying to make sense of it all. I’ve been asked if my head has exploded yet and the answer was originally no, but I think I may be getting close. This week God challenged me in so many ways – in my relationship with my youth, in my relationship with my small group, in my relationship with church volunteers, in my relationship with my husband, in my leadership, in my education, in my public prayers, in functioning on little-to-no sleep each night, and in my relationship with and commitment to God.
I’ve been to many, many conferences at Montreat – lots of them being youth conferences – and this was by far the most powerful conference that I’ve ever attended there. From the moment we piled the youth into the cars to head up the road to the moment we returned back to Blythewood, the Spirit was present in a mighty way. These youth were excited and I was ecstatic about the trip, but none of us could even fathom what God had planned and waiting for us last week. From the music, to the keynote team, to our preacher, to our small group leaders, to the youth attending, to the planning and leadership teams…the week was amazing. And I don’t use that word lightly!
Having never been a small group leader (SGL) and having only found out 3 days prior to conference that I would in fact be a SGL, I was slightly overwhelmed and freaked out about this role. I didn’t know what to expect, but God put me at ease from the very start. I was blessed with a very understanding and patient group. And did I mention talkative?!? There should have never been any worry about this group sharing during our SG times together!! They really bonded in our first two meetings, and then they all discovered that they were “living” near each other so they continued to bond throughout the week. Every time I saw them, they would yell my name and I’d run up and hi-five or hug them. They could always be found laughing…even on our day of broken doors. I’m telling you, God could not have blessed me with a better first-ever small group experience. They even felt comfortable enough with me to douse with a bucket of water on Friday afternoon. They very meticulously planned the trick, and then all came up to me and even wanted wet hugs! I love these kids and will never forget them. I’m sure that no other SG I have will ever compare to the amazingness of SG 41- God’s Groupies!
I’ve always bragged about how great our youth are at NKP and I’m going to brag some more so you’ll just have to bear with me a bit. It was such a privilege to be with these youth on their first ever trip to MYC. We had shown them a video, talked it up, told them a bit of what to expect, and given them lots of ground rules, but nothing quite prepared any of us for the week. These kids were amazing…as usual…but on a whole new level. Everyone participated, everyone laughed, everyone loved, everyone cried, everyone shared, everyone was grumpy at some point, everyone was elated most of the time, everyone tried new things, and everyone grew in faith. This trip brought a core number of our youth so much closer together than even imaginable. If I ever thought that we had a great group of kids, I was not even close to describing them adequately. We have a phenomenally amazing group of kids, and it is truly an honor, a joy and a privilege to be one of their leaders.
Each day was jam packed and we were tired, but God still found ways to wake us up and really get in our faces this week. Morning Keynote was beyond incredible. Our keynoters Bill & Aimee Buchannanbrought with them a team of 5 youth from across the country to be our drama team. While Bill & Aimee taught, the drama team brought things to real life through acting, dancing and even rapping. Yes, we had a Reformation Rap about Marty Luther! Worship at Montreat is always a special treat. This year we were graced with the preaching of Michelle Thomas-Bushwho really opened our eyes to the presence of God in every situation of our lives and challenged us to respond accordingly in faith. Our music was led by the very talented Jorge Sayago-Gonzalez and he had the help of our friend Walnus from Haiti during most of the week. We all loved the theme song Open Doors for the week, and little did I know that Jorge had written it himself specifically for Weeks 5 & 6. It made the theme song that much more special for those of involved with the conference.
I’m going to carry so many things with me from this conference, but most importantly I’ll hopefully never forget the many different places where God showed me love and made me realize God’s presence. I saw Godin the faces of each member of NKPY this week, in the love that they had for each other, in the patience they showed when grumpy, in the forgiveness given when needed, in the listening during our Tuesday night “broken doors” back-home session, in the joy of each new day spent with each other, in the leaps of faith in swimming the French Broad River during our rafting trip, in the sacredness of our worship time, and in the eagerness to see and do everything possible at Montreat – all at the same time. I felt Godin the peace given to me during my anxious Monday morning SG session, in the strength given to me after nights of only 3 or 4 hours of sleep, in the love shown from my youth after being hard on them, in the presence of my Mama as our house mom, in the comfort of my husband’s face after a long day, in the laughter that Kyle’s antics brought about, in Kristen’s peace, in Daniel’s eagerness, in Melissa’s energy, in Margaux’s laughter, in Rachel’s pondering, in Rusty’s leadership, in Candy’s calm spirit, in Mason’s joy. I recognized Godin my leadership ability, in the love of SG 41, in the sacrament of Communion, in the quiet and peace of the Candlelight service, in the healing at the Service of Wholeness, in the leadership team, in the beauty of nature, and in the gratitude of the Second Loaf volunteers on Saturday morning.
It was not an accident that we were there at MYC for the last week of conference. While all of my seminary buddies (with the exception of Tai who was there last week with us) were there in the first two weeks, and we were anxious and hesitant about having picked the last week, we were right where God called us to be this year. I am grateful that God has put me at this place in my life, and beyond humbled and honored to serve the youth at New Kirk and to experience events like MYC ’08 right alongside them. I hope that I never stop being as humbled as I am at this very moment.
Yes, I know that I’m still decompressing and that all of the words run together and sound the same, but it was a week that was totally indescribable. And I thank God for every bit of it!