July 24, 2012

33,309 Strong

The Minis and I just returned from our national church youth gathering this past week in New Orleans. I cannot think about anything else until I share some reflections and observations with you. I appreciate your indulgence.

There is an amazing energy that radiates when you gather such a high number in one geographic locality. The youth gathering is highly structured (as it should be when turning that number of teenagers loose in a city that is well known for crazy debaucherous stunts).  As a chaperone, I will admit, seeing The Big Easy as a chaperone for a teenage youth gathering was not how I envisioned my first trip there. There truly was no down time. I came in with an idea that we'd have time to explore what the city had to offer. What I learned was the city was waiting to see what we could offer it. That shift in perspective was mind boggling, but welcome. 

The theme of our gathering was Citizens With The Saints (or #CWTS if you're a Twitter sort). We were not there to take, but rather to give. Sometimes that gift was labor, sometimes it was monetary, and sometimes it merely was listening. Each group attending the gathering was required to spend a day in service around the city. It was interesting, as no group knew where they'd be assigned prior to the project. Our national church surveyed the non-profits in the area and  asked, "what do you need, how can we help, tell us what you want?" Once that information was gathered, it was a number game. We were assigned days as well as times of service, with one requirement. Show up and do what you're asked.

And we did.

We learned that our assignment area was "Community Care" and told to make sure we packed gloves and wear closed toe shoes. Expecting to weed city gardens and the sort, I stashed extra gloves in my suitcase, figuring I had the "just in case" covered.

We arrived at the Superdome, at 6:30 AM, ready to go. We had no additional information, so we waited patiently. We clustered with our bus assignment and waited some more. Papers were passed around for us to fill out and that was our first hint. We were assigned to something with the Park System in the state. We loaded a bus with other groups from around the nation, including Colorado and Minnesota. Our Colorado group was a bit subdued, thinking about the tragedy that befell their area the previous day. But we had a purpose.

The park ranger kindly explained that State Parks were also destroyed in Hurricane Katrina. They lost their cabins and invasive plants took over their forest. After getting a brief botanical education, we were released to create a new hiking path in area of the bayou, the swamp lands. The soil was muddy, the bugs dense, and the trees, hindrances.

Yet, it was our project and we attacked with vigor.

We ripped out trees (invasive, non native trees) and pulled up weeds. We swathed a path. We laughed when one of our girls ripped a tree out bare handedly, yet shrieked a moment later when she couldn't identify a bug flying by. We had to cut our work short as lightening and thunder were in the vicinity. We loaded the bus and drove back to the Superdome. The water in the streets had reached flash flood heights. We disembarked from the bus into knee-deep water.

We marched with joy. Our insides were exhilarated. We sang, danced and marched with not just purpose, but JOY. Pure unadulterated joy. We smiled at the trials and tribulations we logged, as we stood face to face with nothing more energetic than... JOY!

Every day, we took a recap... best/worst moments of the day. We also asked our kids to share any God moments they had (on the off chance those God moments weren't part of the best/worst summary). As the week progressed, there were more and more God moments as well as best moments.

This tale isn't intended as a chest thumping "I'm a Christian" moment, but rather as a reminder that when we spend time reflecting on our beliefs and practicing what we hear, those God moments find us. Those moments are always there, as is God. We just have the chance to see, hear, and live them.

We can take that energy and love out to the world. In fact, I challenge my group, as well as anyone else reading this to inhale that God moment. Feel it and share it. Take it out to the world. When you're sent into a task knowing nothing more than "Care for the Community" grab onto it with two hands. Grab onto it with gusto. Hold that moment with all you have and remember it. Cherish it and reflect... because...

That's how God talks to us.


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