What a weekend. My church hosted a retreat near Devil’s Lake for all the high school youth groups from multiple campuses. This was the fourth and final one I was able to attend during my high school career. Retreats just so happen to be my happy place. I love the people, the messages, the people, the fellowship, the people, the fun we have, and the people. The theme of this year’s retreat was revival; focusing on ideas and hurdles preventing us from fully living life WITH God. Things like identity, lingering doubts, fear, anything possessing great potential to stand in between.
Friday night, we arrived at the campground, only to be greeted by mud and sloppy water. Every step was carefully taken to avoid the numerous puddles, mud patches, ice and snow, and to rather direct our footing towards solid ground. Later, one of my favorite people brought up mud resembles life. Life has to start somewhere, and the furtive, wet, nurturing mud is probably one of the best places. Mud, while physically unattractive and displeasing to the touch, is where small plants thrive. We together decided we wanted this weekend to be muddy. We wanted it to be not easy and straightforward, not planned, fluid, or totally appealing, but rather, we wanted to be fully submerged in figurative mud, nurtured and sheltered for a short amount of time in order to begin long term growth. I want to grow, and also bear fruit, as God works through me to lead others to Him. In John 15, Jesus repeats multiple times the phrase “remain in me.” Remain. To dwell, to rest, to continue, to live. All synonyms. A specific opposite of the word remain is to hurry. On an unrelated tangent, so many times it is SO easy to disregard God’s timing and rush ahead on our own. Other times, it is easy to go astray, to divert from the path, to run away from our Savior. Instead, God calls us to remain in Him. To rely on Him, to rest in His arms, to follow Him, to do life WITH Him; and it is there so we will grow more than anywhere else. Just as mud encloses upon a small seed, sheltering it, protecting it from wind, most animals, drought, etc.; God calls us to remain in Him, for He longs to cover us with His grace. And sometimes, it’s not going to be easy. Maybe His direction won’t seem like a moist hug, or maybe it will, depending on your aesthetic values of moist hugs… okay. But as we begin to root ourselves in Him, His word, His truths, we become more confident and through Him begin to bear fruit.
Later, I fell asleep with ease, which is not a common procedure for me. The next morning, we were woken up around 7:00, and me and R (who had the mud notion) went out to our cabin porch and digressed in devotionals for a good thirty minutes give or take. As I looked around, a big hill blocking the distance stood a ways in front of me, the mud everywhere, a deep yellow brown color, trees sprinkling the hill, but lastly, the sky a beautiful blue. All around it was blue. A deep blue, like the color of the ocean, a periwinkle almost, incorporating ranges from sky blue to a deep navy purple towards the top. Except, the sky was clear. Perfectly clear. If you’ve been here the entire journey we’ve taken, you know I asked God to show up to me in the clouds a while back, and He did. Over the summer, there was essentially a cloud in the same place every single time I cast a look out over the lake. And it was crazy. Crazy good. Over the summer was also when I was very focused, taking time to look for God and creating a routine of spending time with Him. Back to the retreat, not a cloud dotted the sky. Not even one little wisp or a general covering. Disappointed, I expressed this to my leader before breakfast. We prayed God would show up, and continued on.
During chapel the first morning, T talked about our focus and highlighted the ease of radical revival within us. But rather revive ourselves from picking up different habits and appearing like we have it all together (FOR God), why not let us God change us from the inside out? We were each given an ace bandage. If we travel back to November, you’ll remember we wrapped up some kid in ace bandages to resemble Lazarus. At the retreat, after talking about how God raised Lazarus from the dead, we were encouraged to take our bandages, unroll them, and write down internal hurdles which might be preventing us from having God’s life for us. Sometimes, we are so wrapped up in every day life (laugh) and cannot seem to adjust our focus to the one who can actually rescue us. We are all called to something greater. Something of more substance, a deeper relationship, a meaningful purpose. It’s all there. But will you accept your calling?
After chapel, R and a friend of ours were walking around the grounds, laughing and catching up with one another. At one point, we were all sitting on a wooden bench swing (?) and I had the sudden urge to look up. And I did. And I kid you not, one small, wispy, white cloud appeared just over the hill. Our friend probably thought I went crazy because he didn’t know anything about it. But I ran off, probably screaming, urgent to find my leader, and show her this cloud. And I did. And seconds after we both looked up at it, in awe, it disappeared. It was gone. Just as quickly as it had come, it had gone. And we had both seen it. Like WOW.
For a good portion of Saturday, we went tubing, and it was a mount of fun (laugh again). The tubing place actually allowed you to connect tubes and make trains?! And they had a conveyor belt? Yeah, it was great. And it was fake snow, so despite all the mud elsewhere, it was white and clean.
At chapel later, another youth pastor talked about our identities. How our world it materialistic, and many of us find value there. Expectations at home, personas, our most valuable object – each of these has potential to be something in which we find our identity. Rather, God calls us to give up those things and find our identity in Him and Him alone. In Mark 10:17-31, Jesus tells the story of a obedient man who had one great hurdle to jump – his wealth. The man approaches Jesus and tells Him he has followed all the commandments and inquires what more he must do to inherit the kingdom of heaven. Jesus responds by asking him to sell his stuff, house and property included, and give the money to the poor. Appalled, this man walks away, for he cannot bring himself to do so. He was called, but did not accept his calling. Often, we let our values stand before God. Unless we find our identity in Him, it needs to go. In order to completely give up our cross and follow Him, we must rid ourselves of, well, ourselves. Especially this week, this has been a recurring issue for me. I’ve messed up a lot of things in these last few days, and at each opportunity, satan tries to come in and take control. When I mess up a play in basketball, get lectured for a messy room, fail a test, screw up a lab, mess up my solo, basically anything and everything, it’s so easy for me to give in. To agree I’m failing, to agree it might have worked better if I wasn’t there, to agree I messed up the relationship. And almost every time, I’m reminded God doesn’t see me through man’s eyes. And how comforting, beautiful, merciful is the thought? Can we trust God? What do we have to do to ensure He is first in our life?
After chapel, we were each encouraged to take a stone to an alter, resembling us taking what stands between our relationship WITH God, and leaving it there. Leaving our selfish desires behind. Leaving in full faith God is enough and will more than fill the gaps which may be left. And we did. As a group, stood there and prayed for God’s power to help us leave these things behind and focus on Him. Not only did the rocks represent past values, but the alter itself was a symbol of sacrifice, complete trust, and worship of our Savior. After, however, a recurring feeling of longing to be alone WITH God overtook me, and due to the cold, it needed to be somewhere warm, which was odd for me, as I usually see God’s hand in nature and the outdoors. I retraced my steps back to the cabin, where two other girls sat – one diverged in reading scripture, the other resting, solemn, laying on her bed. I entered one of the rooms, notebook and bible in hand. But for some reason, my focus and longing had departed. But yet, it was still there, reaching from the deepest parts of me. I threw myself on the ground, and tried to sit calmly and listening. During chapel, I had written near two pages of a prayer. If you’ve been following our virtual adventure together, I’ve been feeling somewhat of a disconnect resulted from living life For God and the multitude of distractions surrounding me each day. And there I sat, eager to meet God in the moment. But I couldn’t. For thirty minutes, I sat, knees on the ground, listening, searching. And nothing came. Disappointed, I sat up and began to write again. This time, questions flooded my head, and I wrote them down. Questions like who am I and how do I move past empty words and how do I stop doubting. Others were more desperate, like how do I follow God when I long to, but don’t know where He is and why do I feel alone and how do I begin to trust again and experience genuine feelings again. And a few, I answered, as I’ve grown up knowing all the “right” answers, according to the Bible and all the good old stuff. God was there, you’re not alone, and you begin to go back to what you were, because whatever it was, it was working. And as I look back, revival isn’t going back. Revival is taking the old and making it new through new notions, perks, and ideas. Rather than go back, I should go forward, but carefully, ensuring each step is in collusion with my Savior. After answering a few of my questions with the basic church procedures, I left, disappointed.
After a No Talent Talent Show, we all returned to our cabins. As we sat there, slowly, the number of persons in the room began to diminish. The numbers went from sixteen to three. The three left being me, a trip leader from Trinidad, and a childhood friend. And it was there I knew I needed to get messy and get vulnerable. As my friend began to doze off, I told my trip leader how my trust has been tested many times through relationships in the past year. She asked me how I can still love these people, even if I long to flee or am quite hesitant to trust. Then I asked it. I asked how I would begin to lead others towards Christ by allowing Him to work through me to give them truth if I felt I didn’t know Christ myself. But like I do. But like there’s so much more I could know. And I feel I am not grounded enough relational-wise to lead others; my faith is plastic, as it looks good from the outside, only to be discovered as in-genuine. I’d describe myself as a flower in a grocery story. Physically attractive, alive because it’s soaked in water, separated from the dirt and the initial plant, but yet thriving, only to die. I think I look pretty good on the outside, faith-wise, or at least I’ve tried to make it look good for the past year. When I’m around believers, I am like a detached flower, soaked in water; I can thrive there and obtain all their knowledge and truth while I am submerged. But yet, I am separated from the true plant, God, who is the only one who can truly make me thrive when I become rooted in Him. And eventually, I’m going to die. But maybe it’s symbolic of little deaths, like when I feel inadequate and when I mess up. Or maybe even to go as far as to say I become spiritually dead.
Anyways, she responded slowly as I told her I was searching. At first, she seemed to process everything but then go beyond processing and share how she has gone through a similar process. Because her job involves her to preform as a “professional christian,” she found herself completely missing God a few years past. Expectations from others, including her bosses, pressured her into creating an attractive and plastic outward appearance. Of course, being raised in the church, she knew all the answers. But yet, something was missing. Things weren’t lining up. In fact, she expressed she was living For God, and was doing a heck of a good job at doing so. Realizing this, for the past year, she’s been making an effort to meet alone WITH God and seek Him intentionally. Devotions, listening, and following through are all vital parts, even if it means leaving a job behind. We stayed up until 3:00 AM. And the last words of the conversation she said to me went kinda like this: you’re not alone in this. I have complete faith you will overcome, and I’m here to support you. I’m on your side, and to be completely honest, I don’t think you’re as far off as you think you are. And as I exhaustively carried myself to my bed, those words rung over and over again in my ear. You’re not as far off as you think you are. But yeah, it was a pretty fantastic conversation, and I was beyond blessed to have it.
Sunday morning consisted of more devotionals, a sky scattered with clouds, and many Kairos moments. During the last chapel service, we connected all the topics covered to a greater purpose. This world is in desperate need of revival. Even today as I write this, a shooting left 4(+) dead in Kansas. How broken this world is. satan is present, but what’s comforting is God is present too. And He is stronger. Are you ready for God to do anything? How can you change the world – for God? God is calling this generation; will you be a part of it? Can you say yes?
Ever since the last day of the retreat, I’ve been fasting even more fastingly. Okay, sorry the past sentence made absolutely no sense. As I’ve been trying to fast since January, I’ve messed up here and there. And so far this week, I haven’t. Besides a extreme decrease in the amount of processed junk food consumed, I’ve also been making a point to only eat with my family, at meal times. Although after school snacks are nice, I’m replacing the time with doing devotionals. But yeah, it’s a work in progress.
Unrelated, but I also signed on to be a special needs camp counselor for next summer this week! I’m so excited.
Your eyes and mind are probably exhausted. Keep watch for a post about the end it movement, because I’m deciding not to drop it here.