July seems like a sort of pivotal month for me. At this time last year, I was just returning from the Off the Mat, Into the World Leadership Intensive that was at Omega in New York. That was a week that took me by surprise, shook me up, and totally rocked my world. It was the week that I challenged myself to raise money for Haiti, a country I felt so drawn to with no explanation as to why. I made a ton of new lifelong friends who continue to awe and inspire me. I cried until I was ultimately weeping and laughed until my belly hurt. It was the week when I dedicated myself to becoming a vegetarian. It was a week when every person in the room looked and acted like my teacher.
It was definitely an unforgettable time.
These ladies (and the one gent who put up with us for the entirety of the week) have left a permanent indentation on my heart that I give thanks for each and every day. It’s as though life looked me in the eye that week and said, ‘yes, you can do this…you have the power and the passion..what in tarnation are you waiting for!?!?’
What an anniversary to celebrate. An anniversary of finding the roaring leader inside of myself, one who steps out of her comfort zone to make the impossible happen.
Who knew I would be where I am right now.
This past week brought about more pivotal moments for me. Months ago, I signed up to be a Servant Companion for the ELCA National Youth Gathering held in New Orleans, LA. I had no idea what I was getting myself into, all I knew is that I wanted to be of service in that way, and this position seemed to fill that space. So my friend Beth and I headed down to Louisiana last Saturday, making a pit stop for a few days in South Carolina.
We saw a LOT of cornfields on our way there. So many that we decided that we needed to take a picture with them. We were so tempted to grab an ear or two while we were at it.
After ‘wow’ing while driving past each and every cornfield, discovering the 90’s pop radio on Pandora, and being amazed by the endless amount of sky (and random rain showers), we made it to South Carolina. The weekend was filled with joy and laughter. Our bellies were full of such good food and we even had the chance to go stand up paddleboarding (also known as SUP)!!!!! We had the great pleasure of being there to celebrate Tia’s birthday, had so much fun getting to know the most awesomest kids on the planet, had extremely meaningful conversations that refreshed our faith, and we were both very sad when we had to depart. The Gamelins are such a gift to the world.
Next stop: Louisiana.
We drove a good ten hours, over the most beautiful bridges, and were amazed by the incredible masses of fields and continuous endless skies.
Then, we were there.
After checking in to our hotel, we headed over to the convention center to meet up with our groups. I should have known it was going to be a really good week when our team leader took us out for beignets the first night…followed by a quick walk down Bourbon St (yes, it was quite the experience. just being there for five minutes.). Tuesday and Wednesday consisted of intense training for the three days to come.
We woke up at 4am each morning (which may be the reason as to why all I’ve been wanting to do since I’ve been home is sleep), and met our groups at 6:30. I am so, so glad that my team was with me all the way through, because frankly I would have been miserable at that time of the morning without them! They kept me laughing…all the way to tears for most of the day (pretty sure it’s because we reached a point to where we were delusional).
Hence this next picture….taken at 5:45am.
We were all team leaders, assisting youth groups on service projects all over New Orleans. I was assigned to Literacy Camps two out of the three days, and on the third day we went and visited the Louisiana wetlands.
Who knew you could learn so much in just a few hours.
90% of children in Louisiana (K-12) are 2 1/2 years behind in reading.
The Louisiana wetlands are disappearing QUICK…a football field size of wetlands every HOUR.
The work that was done during the National Youth Gathering added up to $3 million.
I have discovered that I am really, really sensitive to factual information that I end up seeing with my own two eyes. Meeting kids who proved the fact I listed above gave me more to think about. Not only because the kids in Louisiana NEED this education…but the kids in my own backyard, as well.
…Cue spurt of creative ideas.
The drive back home gave me a lot of time to think; these next few weeks are going to consist of me doing just that: thinking and planning and seeing if I can put some of the things that I learned into action within my own community.
It was so great being a part of the National Youth Gathering in a different way. There was no way I couldn’t embrace it all. I met the most AMAZING people, ran through CRAZY rainstorms, heard incredible speakers, was almost brought to tears by the music, and even had the chance to spend some time with my own youth group and other kids from youth retreats I have helped out with in the VA Synod.
I continue to remind myself that I’m a lucky girl. That I can’t take any of this for granted….not these relationships, not these experiences. I have to soak it all in. And continue to try and make changes where they need to be made.
Because after all, we need to BE the change. Not just wish for it….