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)