Living for the first time

I’ve had a bit over a week to reflect on my time in Daytona Beach and I’ve come to one major conclusion: I needed this more than I realized.

In preparation for a week long camp with 86 high schoolers (actually 5500 high schoolers nationwide) I thought of all the things I was worried about. I felt nervous to have to share a space with teenagers. I was concerned how I would handle the lack of sleep. I had literally no interest in an 18 hour bus ride EACH WAY…

I made a list and gathered all my required snacks, packed my GoPro ready to capture all the amazing moments and got my mind ready for hearts to shift.

I soon came to see that my life was also going to change.

The first night was full of worship and a moving message from Loui Giglio. We quickly found our way out of our seats and onto the floor, jumping up and down, singing at the top of our lungs. Our eyes began to swell and tears started pouring down. I took a moment to look around, to breathe in the atmosphere. I saw a room full of teenagers who were falling deeply in love with Jesus. I felt a sense of overwhelming gratitude that God had put me in this place, honored me with this responsibility. As the evening ended, all my lack of sleep was overcome by excitement and joy.

I promptly awoke at 6am without an alarm set. In that moment, I wanted so badly to go back to sleep. I hadn’t slept but five hours and I was coming off of a painfully long bus ride. Little did I know that I had been awakened for a specific reason. I found my way quietly out of the room, down the elevator and onto the beach. I watched the sunrise over the Atlantic Ocean and began to cry. In the silence of the morning, I was surrounded by students journaling and praying. There were groups of teenagers without their leaders or adults, who woke up early to praise God and pray over each other. Students gathered with bibles and journals and sat alone, feet in the sand, and just existed in His presence. I imagine that everyone on that beach shared the same emotions I was feeling; indebtedness, awe, delight. I found myself full of expectation for our future, hope for a generation many say are too entitled, selfish, unfocused, lazy etc.

And then came the evening session…. our group had found seats three rows back from the stage. The energy was electric, on fire, lit… all the words you can imagine to describe a volcano about to explode, a rocket about to lift off. The music was blaring, 5500 students were belting out all the emotion and heart ache and praise they could muster. Lights were flashing, we all were jumping up and down, hands raised, completely undone, no restraints, unaware of potential judgements, fully immersed in the moment.

And I looked up. I paused for a minute to breathe it all in and I realized that I was there just as much for myself as I was for my students. I was experiencing life change, freedom, bliss, youth. I wasn’t getting back something I lost. I wasn’t reliving something from my younger years.

I WAS LIVING THIS WAY FOR THE FIRST TIME.

This moment, the laughter, the abandonment, the friendships were all things I had never experienced, not in this way. I was enjoying parts of life and myself that I thought were long gone missed opportunities.

Everyone has them, things they didn’t get growing up. Maybe your parents got a divorce or they traveled too much. Possibly a father who was overly harsh or a mother who critiques everything. A school mate who bullied you or a horribly embarrassing, unforgettable moment that scarred you for life. All situations that can make a person question themselves or create marks on a soul.

Whatever it is, that thing can create a longing for resolution, a desire to feel complete, loved, valued. Some people work their whole life to prove worth to their parents. We enter into relationships hoping to heal some hurt from a past relationship. We can literally choose to live a past life forever.

I had long ago accepted that some of the missed emotions and experiences were just that: lost. I am an adult. If I feel like my parents didn’t love me enough, I wasn’t going to revert back to being five and somehow obtain that love. I have a child of my own and it’s my turn to be the parent. The freedom of my youth that I felt I was missing was never going to be mine. I had found freedom as an adult but I had forced myself to forget any longings from my childhood.

And then camp happened. And I saw the things I had never felt be given to me. Moments I didn’t know I could ever have were mine, and not just hints of them BUT COMPLETE FULLNESS! I was a 38 year old child, experiencing the freedom of youth and it was so sweet. And in the following days, that healing grew greater, the insecurity and old messages became faint and my load became lighter.

I don’t think I will ever love the long bus ride but man, I can’t wait for next year!

What am I even doing?

Tonight I leave for a week long adventure to Daytona Beach. I will embark on an 18ish hour charter bus ride with roughly 85 high school students and 14 or so other leaders. I will forego sleep and alone time and comforts and routine. I will miss out on making money as I can’t work all week. I will be uncomfortable and stretched. Daytona Beach is slated to be hot and sunny and possibly have some thunderstorms which means most likely high humidity. I’m nervous because of my recent reaction to the sun. Will I break out in a rash? Will I be able to apply enough sunscreen to avoid burning myself? I will miss my bed and my husband and my dog. I won’t be able to make my daily frozen protein shake that’s like a coffee milkshake treat. I may not get to workout because no sleep and a pre determined schedule. I mean, really, why am I doing this???

I actually paid to attend this camp. I paid to not make money and to give up my life for a week. I wholeheartedly agreed to this journey. And I will do this four more times, every summer for the next four years.

Three years ago, I was asked to help lead sixth grade girls in my church’s youth program Boom. I felt honored and agreed. I wanted to give back. My son was involved in the youth program and I felt grateful for how it had impacted his life. In our church, you begin leading in sixth grade and as long as you’re willing, you stay with your group every year until they graduate (yes, seven potential years of youth group leadership)! And we’re not talking once a week events. This is daily texts, coffee dates, sleepovers (I’m almost 40 and sleepovers even with adults aren’t really my thing). This means investing money, time, emotion into the lives of teens who are not your own. This includes getting covered in cornstarch during a color war or allowing ice cream to be smeared all over your face during the annual biggest ice cream sundae event. This means being silly, eating baby food, dancing and playing games.

So again, why would I do this? I’m not a naturally selfless person. I’m fairly controlling and definitely an introvert. I get anxious when I anticipate large group settings. While I’m a well spoken person, I dislike all eyes on me. I have great leadership abilities but prefer solo projects.

So seriously, why would anyone do this????

I do this because I know that it matters. It’s important to give to others. My life is amazing even in the darkest moments. I’ve always been taken care of even when my bills aren’t paid and my outlook seems grim.

I show up because my girls matter. They are unique and amazing and beautiful humans and I have grown to love them with all my heart. They are talented and fun and intelligent and kind and I am honored they let me be a part of their life.

I sacrifice of myself because I know that I’m not the only person in this world and caring only about my comforts not only destroys my insides but the world around me suffers greatly.

I stay with my girls because I have watched my sons leaders care for him selflessly. I see how much he looks up to them, how they are some of his greatest friends and how he relies on them when he needs guidance. I have watched them give when it’s hard, drive him around, help him pay for things, mentor him and love him with all of their being.

But mostly, I commit to them because I serve a Creator who has strategically placed people in my life to love me, to listen to me, to lift me up and to pour into me. I see His hand in my life and want to honor Him with my life. I know that I gain so much more by giving than I ever will with the pursuit of personal increase.

And let’s just remove God from the equation for a moment because not everyone who reads this believes He even exists.

All of the reasons to serve or sacrifice are valid regardless of your belief in Jesus. Being a giving human matters. Putting yourself aside for a moment (or a week) is a good thing. Trying to understand where a teenager is coming from is important. They are our future you know? Telling them how much they matter, showing them that their voice deserves to be heard, that’s real. Walking beside them when they struggle and cheering them on through their greatness, it’s invaluable.

So tonight I will load myself on a bus and attempt to sleep (maybe). I will shift my mindset to that of a freshman in high school. I will be as goofy or vulnerable as my girls need. And I am certain I will come home tired but full of joy. I will long for my routine but miss the trip. I will grow and surely cry and create memories with my girls that will hopefully impact us all forever.

In a world full of clearly hurting people, where kids shoot up their school and the suicide rate is over 100 people per day, doesn’t it seem to just make sense to take time to be kind to someone?