I am still a bit shaken. I’ve been home three days now after a long weekend, and I still have their words and stories in my head and on my heart. They will probably stick around for quite a while.
I can only hope.
The weekend youth retreat is designed to help young people in their walk of faith and includes a number of talks by the teenagers themselves. They talk about the masks we wear in our lives preventing our true selves to emerge, reconciliation, grace, and religion, among others. The talks are followed by further discussions in small groups, then communal sharing in the large gathering.
I was thinking that many of these young folks would be too shy or insecure to truly express themselves to this many people, many of whom they’d only just met. I was proven wrong.
Stories and experiences were shared with no holds barred – bullying, issues of body image, victim of family molestation, cancer survivor, sudden deaths of family members and close friends, discrimination, alcoholism, worry about a parent being released from prison for murder.
I keep thinking these are things that no child should have to experience; that perhaps we can just keep them in a bubble for a little while longer. What these teenagers have done, though, is create such a safe space with each other on a mountaintop camp in Lee County so as to face this life head-on and know they’ll be supported, lifted up, and loved.
My son came back from college to work on the staff of this retreat. Because of his own time on that mountain these past few years, he was able to give back a bit and share his own heart and his own soul. I give thanks for the many opportunities given to these folks throughout the year to reconnect with each other, to laugh and sing and play games, and to be ever reminded that they’re never alone in their troubles and in their joys.
God our Father, you see your children growing up in an unsteady and confusing world: Show them that your ways give more life than the ways of the world, and that following you is better than chasing after selfish goals. Help them to take failure, not as a measure of their worth, but as a chance for a new start. Give them strength to hold their faith in you, and to keep alive their joy in your creation; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.(Book of Common Prayer, p. 829)