My left wrist currently sports a grand assortment of colorful friendship bracelets; a sure sign that I spent the summer with the people and doing the things I most love. It’s not a very sophisticated look for a woman well past forty with a 3-word job title, but I don’t care. They will all remain on that wrist until they fray and fall off of their own accord. I can tell you the name of every young person who spent their time and energy weaving these bracelets. I could tell you a variety of stories about these kids and how we connected to each other this summer.
But you don’t have all day and I only have another 700 words.
I think that if I learned anything from leading 3 mission experiences and hosting a weeklong summer camp in 8 weeks – and rest assured, I learned many things from this marathon Summer of 2018 – it’s that the WHY of what we do in helping young people form faith is so much more important than how we do it or even what work we do.
So much of raising our children happens down in the weeds:
- Where do they have to be and when?
- How are we getting them there and back home again?
- What do they need to do and have and learn?
Too often it seems we lose sight of the more important questions:
- How are we nurturing compassion and empathy and faith in their daily lives?
- What do they believe about themselves, and the world, and their place in it?
- Where is God in their daily lives, in their relationships, and in their struggles?
As a parent and the Director of Christian Formation at a large cathedral parish, these are the questions that drive nearly everything I do, yet it is still all too easy to find myself down in the weeds, as I did in the midst of our 3rd summer mission at the end of July.
We were hosting 66 middle and high school youth from across the Diocese of Colorado, along with 24 adult and young adult leaders, to do community service and service learning here in Denver. Our trip leader (the person who had planned all the activities, coordinated all the work sites, and who knew every minute of the schedule like the back of her hand) came down with pneumonia and was ordered to strict bed rest three days before our mission was set to begin. Suddenly I was hosting and leading this mission.
My youth minister, who is a young woman of amazing faith and energy, had been on the job for 6 weeks and suddenly she was in the deepest of deep ends. Baptism by fire, I told her, unaware of how terribly prophetic that almost became when our parish hall was struck by lightning 24 hours into our week. Fire alarms, firefighters in full regalia with axes, systems around our large, 3-building campus going berserk, leaking ceilings and flooded office floors, not to mention youth in emotional states everywhere from tears to hyper anxiety to jittery glee because, excitement! It was quite an evening. By the time we finished compline and were sending everyone to bed, I’d lost track of all the important questions and was an anxious, exhausted mess.
And then the next morning the Holy Spirit stepped in and forced me to put down my lists and schedules so that I could drive teams of kids to the various places they needed to be. I took a carload of middle school youth to the guarded address of a safe house for women and children who’ve been victims of domestic violence. They spent the next several hours cleaning and painting and sorting and fixing; doing all they could to make this space as comfortable as possible for its residents. When I picked our team up they were grubby, sweaty, and thrilled with the way they’d spent their day. No sooner had I returned with them than another team asked if I could help transport them to the park. They’d finished at their work site, packed a picnic, and now wanted to go play. I loaded 7 youth into my car and was immediately welcomed into the community they’d already begun to form, just 2 days into our week. Music reverberated, probably a bit too loud, from the speakers of my car as these kids laughed and sang and joked.
The day continued this way; more time with kids and music and laughter and less time with schedules and plans. It all culminated in an impromptu dance party in the parking lot after I shuttled my final group of youth home from dinner.
So I will wear these bracelets with gratitude and as a constant reminder that the WHY of forming faith is in our relationships with one another, and that the how and the what matter only in how they serve the why.