Reflections from Wednesday, June 27, 2018
After a long day of travel on Tuesday, we took the opportunity to have a relaxed morning on Wednesday. The youth and adult leaders were able to get some rest and recharge before the Gathering would officially kick-off that evening at Mass Gathering.
After breakfast, we walked to the Galleria Mall where youth had the opportunity to choose what they wanted to do and broke into small groups for different things. Some explored the mall, which is a Mall of America-size complex. Others skated at the indoor ice rink that is in the center of the mall's bottom level. Many of our youth knew that I had ice skated for 17 years of my life, so naturally they wanted me to skate. I was hesitant to do this for a few reasons:
1. I have not put on skates and stepped on the ice in four years.
2. Hip Arthritis (yes, "young people" can have that too!)
3. The skates were the hard blue plastic kind and not the figure skates I was used to skating in.
4. I could picture a very particular phone conversation in my head: "Hi, Pastor Tom, it's (insert adult leader here). Lindsay fell while skating and hit/broke her _____." Fearless leader goes down. (At least my primary adult leader binder is done, right Todd?)
I shared these things with the youth and said that maybe this time around it would be best if I watch, and maybe in the winter we could have an outing to an ice rink back home and I could skate with them then.
A few moments passed, and that is when I realized that the thing actually preventing me from skating that day was not the four things I listed above, but the fear that comes with those four things: fear of not being able to do something like I used to (or at all), fear of pain, fear of falling, fear of not being adequate.
Youth Gatherings give us the opportunity to step out of our comfort zones, which includes facing and working through fear and things that make us uncomfortable.
After realizing that I was letting fear hold me back, I changed my mind and got on the ice for the first time in four years, and I'm really glad and grateful that I did. Even though the skates were totally uncomfortable, (granted, I was spoiled with having custom skates for most of my life due to the level of skating I was engaged in, and due to my feet being two different sizes) it was an incredible feeling to be back on the ice again. It was also somewhat liberating to overcome the simple fear of possibly no longer being capable of something that I once was. It was kind of like riding a bike, and I didn't fall or break anything after all! I call that a success.
I had a great time skating with the youth and one of the other adult leaders. It was fun to share in something that had been such a big part of my life, and it was even more fun to see them enjoying it too. Several of the youth were overcoming their fears and took advantage of the opportunity to try something new, as some kids had never skated before. I was very proud of our youth stepping out of their comfort zones and embracing new opportunities on Wednesday, even opportunities that posed some challenges or came with fear.
As the day went on, I realized that overcoming fears and engaging in new opportunities went hand-in-hand with the theme for our first official day at the Gathering: God's Call Changes Everything. At Mass Gathering, we heard from several speakers regarding what it means for God to call each of us.
During Final 15, (the time that we debrief our day as a group each night) I asked for the youth to share their understanding of what it means to be called by God. Reflections included youth saying that God calls us to a greater purpose in life, that God gives us unique and special gifts and that we are called to colleges and vocations by God because God knows that we are needed in that way. I loved all of these answers. And there was one more answer shared by one of our youth about God's call being a feeling and process of "being drawn closer to God" as we seek to live our lives in the way God would have us live them. I love this answer, as it gets at the heart of discernment and how living into our calls not only puts us in relationship with one another, but it strengthens our relationship with God.
Just as the fear almost got in the way of my decision to skate with the youth at the Galleria, fear often gets in the way of living out God's call in our lives. We heard at Mass Gathering some of the fears that prevent us from answering God's call in our lives: fear of not being good enough, fear of not belonging, fear of failure, fear of being judged, fear of getting it wrong, fear of being vulnerable, fear of taking risks, etc.
The speakers at Mass Gathering emphasized the importance that comes with being open to how God calls us, but they also acknowledged the internal and external forces that often get in the way of answering and living into God's call. I grew up using the language of "call" when it came to describing vocation, which is one expression of understanding what it means to be called by God. I had this language because the pastor of the congregation in which I grew up (who is also here at the Gathering) taught me that language and it etched itself into my brain. I am grateful that this theme of God's Call Changes Everything was the first point of emphasis at the Gathering, as it introduced this concept and language that is often foreign and not understood when it gets "thrown around" in the Church.
The youth attending the Gathering are in many different stages and places in their lives and it is important for them to know that they are valued and loved by God, no matter what the world says, and that they don't just have a place in the Church, but that they are needed by the Church and play a critical part in carrying out God's mission in the world. While our vocational calls differ, we are all called to live God's love and serve on another for the sake of the world, and I think discussing how God's call changes everything here at the Gathering was an important and critical step for helping youth (and the adult leaders present) to reconcile the two in their own lives.
It was a very full day, and I continue to be grateful for the ways that God is moving in the lives of our young people and in this Gathering experience. In my next post, I will share how God's love changes everything.
Go in peace. Go with God.
Reflections from Tuesday, June 26, 2018
The first day of our Gathering journey was very full. Our day began at Cleveland Hopkins airport. The youth and adult leaders gathered bright and early at 6:15am eager and ready to begin this adventure. Our travels were surprisingly smooth and seamless. Even though the adult leaders had a quick moment of fear when the pilot on our first flight shared our take-off would be delayed because the computer systems had to be rebooted, thinking that we would miss our connection in Charlotte, by the grace of God, everything worked out just fine and we arrived in Houston ahead of schedule and boarded the shuttle that took us to our hotel for the week. After checking-in at our hotel, which was somewhat of a gray-hair inducing time for myself, we had a few moments to decompress before exploring Houston and enjoying our first evening in a new city.
We had a wonderfully laid back evening. First, we walked to the Galleria Mall, which is only a few blocks from our hotel, to have a big Luther League Family dinner at the Cheesecake Factory. We have three birthdays this week, so we took the opportunity to celebrate them at dinner: Alex Holthouse on June 28th and Nathan Reising and Jenna Saleker on June 29th. Keeping teenagers full and hydrated is no easy task, but the wait staff at the Cheesecake Factory was up for the challenge! Thanks to the generosity of the folks at St. Matthew, we were able to provide a wonderful meal to the kiddos. I can confidently say, I have never signed a restaurant bill that large, and I got a glimpse of what it would be like to be a mother of 28 children (even though 4 of those "children" are actually adult leaders). Following our dinner at the Cheesecake Factory, we walked to Gerald D. Hines Waterwall Park to spend some time out and about in the city of Houston and to expand our understanding of Houston's culture. (And we took advantage of the picturesque scenery and magnificence of the waterwall to get a few photos!)
To end our evening, we debriefed the day, updated our group covenant, discussed our game plan for Wednesday and had a time of prayer. I continue to be immensely grateful for the adult leaders who are accompanying me on this adventure: Teri Uttech, Dawn Reising, Todd Costello and Tom Kotick. I am also very surprised and glad that we have been able to keep up with the energy of the kids! It is truly a gift, for the youth and for myself as a leader, to be able to share in this adventure and formative faith experience with such loving, gracious and compassionate leaders who truly care about the lives and faith of the young people at St. Matthew. Thank you God, for the gift of Teri, Dawn, Todd and Tom - (and Jen Knaggs, who is with us in love and spirit!)
I love traveling to new places. I find it fascinating to observe how other people live and what their experience of "normal" is. However, what I love even more about traveling to new places for experiences like this one is being able to witness Christ's Church in new ways, as it comes together as one body of Christ ready to change the world. What a great time to be the Church, and what a great way for youth to understand what it means to be loved, redeemed and desired by a God who calls each of us by name to serve a world in need.
It was not hard for me to see God at work as we traveled and began our time together in Houston. God gave each of us the strength, patience and endurance for our first long day together. God was present in the different airports as folks from all over the country acknowledged, greeted and engaged in conversation with one another as they traveled to the same city for the same purpose: to learn and experience how God's love through Jesus changes everything. God was moving in the city of Houston and the people who call this place "home" as thousands of youth began to flood the city, many wearing their respective group t-shirts, which communicated something much bigger than youth and adults simply on some kind of trip. God was moving in the people whose curiosity was peaked as they inquired about this ELCA National Youth Gathering "thing". And, God was moving in the observations and reflections of the youth as they prepared their hearts and minds for all yet to come this week.
In my next blog post, I will share experiences and reflections from our first "official" day at the Gathering, as we explore why God's Call Changes Everything.
As I have said to kids several times before we temporarily depart into smaller groups:
Go in peace. Go with God.
(aka "Lil' Deac" according to many of the youth)