After returning from two weeks of mission trips it is really easy to reflect on how much I witnessed God in my youth. I can come up with hundreds of examples that broke my heart and rebuilt it over and over again when the youth leaned into discomfort and loved from their very cores. Serving with youth is inspirational and through their gestures I learn who I want to be.
It is a lot more difficult to look back over two weeks of service with amazing, spirit-centered, selfless teens giving of their time and talents to our city in need, and then ponder how I saw God in me.
I just led devotion with the very interns who hosted and led my small groups this month and it hit me how hard it is for all of us to verbalize how we experience God in ourselves. Each of us remembered a moment with a kid that changed us forever as we all sat together in the dim lit quiet of their old house. We are all tired and satisfied with lives in service alongside others. We all know how to give and give more. We give well of ourselves, at least, I think so.
After reminding them that they have to “love their neighbors as they love themselves” emphasizing the “self” part, it hit me that I wonder if they could identify how they experienced God in themselves this month. We are all practicing self love so that we can tap into the Spirit which pours out abiding love but do we really live into the practical truth that this Spirit abides in me?
For my return I am going to do something that I haven’t ever thought to do and actually feel a little strange about doing- I am going to reflect on these two weeks of mission trips by explaining how I experienced God in me. Please understand that this is a discipline, another chance to practice what I preach.
I experienced God in myself when we were part of orientation and the youth I minister to each week seemed comfortable in the worship spaces and answered all the questions about expectations and scriptural reference with confidence and openness. I knew that God had provided me with the education that I could pass on to them and they seemed fully prepared to serve in love during those weeks.
I felt God’s presence in me when we would participate in service and ministry around the city. I was able to touch people who were sick and dirty with a firm grip that I don’t suspect I have day to day. I allowed myself to look people in the eye who were hurting and broken and listen to their stories with the assurance that God was sitting right there with me as we mourned and laughed together.
I experienced God in me when I prayed for the youth. I’d wrap them in my arms (most of them bigger than me now) and pray for them, just letting the words flow freely. Sometimes those prayers would turn into tears that we’d shed together just out of love and appreciation for one another.
I knelt over a basin in the middle of the fellowship hall and spoke affirmation into my kid’s hearts as I scrubbed those big stinky teenager feet. The most meaningful moment I experienced was when I happened to be in a position to wash the feet of a girl from another youth group who I hadn’t had a chance to talk to. I just started washing her feet and I looked up at her and said “You are so worthy of this love. You are important and so beloved.” She immediately started weeping and my heart just ripped apart. I knew these words were not mine, I felt them come from my lips but I knew who spoke them. She did too. We both were overwhelmed with God’s messages that night.
I felt God in me when I had a moment with a youth who I could affirm. It is a joy to point out their gifts and ponder ways that they might discover to use them to serve and love people better.
I knew God in me when I cried. I have been so stubborn over the years and would not allow myself to cry in front of my youth. This year, I let the tears flow with authenticity and truth. I felt God in the humility of crying through my own life story and having a youth step forward and wrap his arms around me. I knew God in that gesture, just like I knew God in my response to it- I hugged him back.
God was the patience that came out of nowhere right when I thought I was going to loose it when the youth were really giggly and we just needed a moment for quiet reflection in worship. God was the joy and celebration that we all felt together when we’d circle up and remember the day we were blessed with and the people we met. God was the leader that stepped out of her comfort zone to model loving your neighbor and judgment free care of those we served. God was the voice, body and arms that held the youth and told them how important and loved they are. God was the careful instruction and education that supported the youth into a place of transformational growth. God was the woman who made sure we all had enough sleep, food and quiet time so that we could pour out more and more each day.
The kingdom of heaven is here, I say as I point to my heart.