This past weekend I had the privilege of attending and helping out at the parish retreat in Canaan Valley of West Virginia. What an amazing weekend it was! Being the middle school ministry intern, I was able to help out with all of the middle school activities. Including a couple talks (which were great; about the Bad News and the Good News given by Laura and Jim), paint ball, banana rugby, swimming, entertainment night, dance party and duh, awesome relationship building.
This weekend was the first time I had ever been played paintball! I was thrilled at the thought of totally creaming some students! My host little sister, Alyssa, and I were on the same team along with the lovely Mary-Elliot that we so fiercely named, "NORTH FACE." Let's just say that team NORTHFACE truly got "tow-up." We were facing four 6th grade boys (one who was an 8th grader, mind you) and we were getting attacked left and right. Of course, two boys were after me the whole time... but I put up a good fight, no doubt. If it weren't for my cat-like reflexes, NORTHFACE would have been goners within seconds. By the way, paintballs hurt. If they do not explode on you immidiately, they will indeed puncture your skin. Let's just say that Matt, my co-worker, looks like a leper now. Check out this early photo of this bruise. Right now, it is the size of a cantaloupe. I will update with a new photo soon...
I have about four huge bruises in places that cannot be displayed in this blog. But check out my hat! That's what I would like to call INTENSITY.
Who would have thought!? Kudos to Matt for running the game: it's ultimate frisbee with bananas. Can you imagine 40+ middle schoolers and about 6 leaders playing this game?! It was hilarious. Catching a squishy banana in the end-zone = victory.
I looked for a photo on google images of a squished banana all to be surprised when I saw this:
Who on earth saves a banana like this? Some people's children...
Here's the thing... Every year the fellows put on a skit at entertainment night and it is "always good." So the pressure was totally on for us to do the best job EVER. We came up with this as our performance. ((Sorry the edited version will not post - but this should be okay for now.)) We received many a kudos for our incredible performance. :-)
I think I have shin splints from dancing so hard on the dance-floor. Let's just say that Cornerstone and Crossroads kids know how to get down! I loved dancing with my little host sisters all night long. Their names are Jordan, Shelby and Alyssa and I think that they are awesome. They have cool friends, too. Have I told you lately how blessed and thankful I am... well, I am.
On a serious note; there were so many things that I truly loved about this weekend. I really enjoyed getting to know my students more on a different level. We had a smaller group attend the Canaan Valley retreat, about 43 or so, and we enjoyed being silly together, talking, and just affirming each student there. Along with learning all of their names slowly but surely, I am also growing in love with each of them. I love being surrounded by my little brothers and sisters in Christ. I see their hearts opening up to me and the other fellows and leaders, and especially to Christ every day I spend with them. What an honor it is to do what I do... Some may call it a job; I'd like to find another word to use to describe it. What do you call a "job" that is constantly exciting, fun, fulfilling, honoring, glorifying, satisfying, emotionally stretching, exuberant, exhausting, and energizing all at the same time? Yeah... chew on that for a while and email me later at firstname.lastname@example.org.
It is amazing to see students loving each other the way the do. When I was in middle school, I would have LOVED to have had friends like these guys. I was a hungry student: hungry for attention, hungry for affirmation, and hungry for any delicious and unhealthy snack. I needed so much, and I was receiving so much but I didn't really understand the right things that I needed. I can only imagine how my life would have been with these kinds of friendships or what it would be like if I were in a program like this. Well - I wouldn't be here now, would I?
It is incredibly humbling growing in relationship with these students and seeing God through their eyes and hearts. St. Augustine once said, "Preach the Gospel always and if necessary, use words." I saw this being played out all weekend either through the middle and even the high school students, among my own friendships with the fellows, or amidst the rest of the congregation attending the retreat.
One student in particular named Matthew F. really took hold of my heart. Matthew is a student with William's Syndrome. Matt is by far the master of affirmation and his favorite line is, "You're awesome!" and if you return the compliment, he hits you with, "No, YOU'RE AWESOME!" Being with him, spending time with him, and looking into his heart will amaze you and effect you directly in such a way that most of the time, it is hard not to smile or cry when you think about him.
Here are a just a few of many major quotes from Matthew this weekend that squeezed my heart so tightly:
"I am so glad I got to share my love with Greg and the other fellows this weekend."
"I think about love ALL the time."
"What's awesome is that when I walk into a room, everyone says hello to me; they all know my name. And they listen to what I have to say."
"Super-poke!" (That one is just cute and funny if you know him!)
As my friend and fellow fellow prayed, Matthew says things that God would say to us. Matthew affirms us in a way that God does each day. Matthew just says it loud enough for us to hear it and acknowledge it. Mind-blowing.
These young people are creating some serious marks on my heart. Marks that aren't at all similar to that of a permanent marker, but that of carving knife into a tree. Friends - I know you don't know who they all are but God does. He knows each and every one of us so deeply and I just ask that as you lift up your prayer requests today, lift up the youth of this church. As it is written in the song: My name is graven on His hands, My name is written on His heart. "Before the Throne of God Above" by Sojourn. Just shout out a prayer for their hearts - that they may be continuously encouraged by Christ and in return, encourage their friends and anyone who they come in contact with.
Sometimes, I feel like these kids are serving me more than I am serving them.
1 Peter 3:8-9
Finally, all of you, live in harmony with one another; be sympathetic, love as brothers, be compassionate and humble. Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult, but with blessing, because to this you were called so that you may inherit a blessing.
Of the Vine,