Three hours of sleep one night, five the next. No cell service. Freezing cold. Sleeping on a couch. This was my last weekend. And yet it’s a weekend I look forward to every single year. What could possibly make all of that worth? It’s pretty simple, really. Luke 18.
Luke 18 is a retreat that my parish has every year for the 7th and 8th graders as they prepare for Confirmation. It’s a retreat that takes months of planning and preparation. We pick a theme, create props for an environment, and plan talks. My favorite part about this retreat is that the high schoolers in the youth group are the ones that put on the retreat. The Core Team is definitely involved and helps guide the teens throughout the process but once the retreat starts it’s all up to the teens.
One other important aspect of Luke 18 is that it’s kind of two retreats in one. There’s the main retreat for the 7th and 8th graders. That one is run by our juniors and seniors, who are called Disciples. They’re the ones giving the talks, running all the activities, and leading small groups. They’re the leaders for the weekend. Then there’s this other group, called the Cori Team. This consists of all the freshman and sophomores and their primary role is serving the Lukers. They set up the big room for meals, set up/change the environment throughout the weekend, and most importantly, pray for the Lukers and Disciples. I should also mention: the Cori Team cannot be seen by the Lukers. That means they have to sneak around and do everything in secret. So while the Disciples are giving talks and leading small groups, the Cori Team remains hidden and has a retreat of their own. I was lucky enough to help lead the Cori Team retreat this year.
As I mentioned, the Cori Team is responsible for serving the Lukers in any way possible. That means we would sneak back up to the main room and set up tables for the next meal while the Lukers were occupied somewhere else. Occasionally we’d go put things in the cabins for the Lukers. But for a majority of the weekend we were all cooped up in a small game room. That’s where we slept, ate, and held our own retreat. The other leaders and I prepared our own agenda, including activities and talks. Going into this weekend we really wanted to emphasize going deeper. We wanted to encourage these teens to let go of their inhibitions and truly open up and share their biggest struggles. That’s a tough thing to ask anyone, let alone in front of a dozen other people. But man did they deliver. I was so blown away by their honesty and vulnerability. It’s easier for us as leaders because we have weeks and months to think about what we want to say. But we put them on the spot. I wouldn’t have blamed them if they tiptoed around such difficult topics but they dove in. Each and every one of them. Honestly I don’t think I could be more proud of a group of people. They didn’t just knock down walls of hesitation. They demolished them. That allowed each of us to be comfortable and at ease. There was no shallowness in our group this weekend. Everything felt real and genuine.
Another emphasis for us was to build a community. It’s natural for people in any group to gravitate towards their close friends. I do the same thing. What we wanted to accomplish was to bridge that gap between groups and create one cohesive community. I think we took a huge step in that direction. One of our activities throughout the weekend was having everyone pair off while we gave them a topic to discuss for five minutes. Once those five minutes were up they’d get together with a new partner and a new topic. We gave everyone a chance to meet with each other. For me personally that was one of my highlights of the weekend. I really enjoyed getting to know each teen a little more, especially the ones I didn’t know very well. It was really cool to look around see them all engaged and talking to one another.
The Cori Team wasn’t secluded all weekend long. We eventually revealed ourselves to the Lukers and told them that we’d been serving them the entire time behind the scenes. It was awesome to hear from all of the Disciples about how the weekend had been going. I loved seeing their genuine excitement and to see their leadership on full display. We also got to be a part of the most powerful stretch of the retreat. We were there for the last couple talks as well as adoration and what we call “Warm Fuzzies.” Warm fuzzies is a time for everyone to go around the room and affirm each other. It gives you a warm, fuzzy feeling inside (get it?). That’s always one of my favorite part of the retreat. It’s incredible to feel the love in the room. But this year my favorite part was adoration.
We always have adoration Saturday night of Luke 18 and it never disappoints. But this year’s adoration was particularly powerful for me. This past year has been pretty tough for me and was the subject of a talk I gave to the Cori Team. If you’ve read any of my previous blog posts you’ll know I’ve been searching for fulfillment and that it’s been pretty elusive. That’s been a huge struggle for me. I fall into these funks where it’s hard for me to find enjoyment in the things that I do. At times it’s hard for me to feel much of anything. This particular adoration I was praying to God and telling Him that I was tired. I was tired from this past year. I was tired of being so worn down and not feeling like myself. I was tired. I wanted to feel something again. I wanted to feel alive. And then I looked around the room. I saw all of these teens praying and singing. They were so on fire with their faith. They were so filled with God’s love. They were so alive. And I cried. I cried for the first time in a very long time. I just had so many emotions hit me at once. Frustration, happiness, sadness, excitement, joy, confusion, fear. It was overwhelming, honestly. But there was something else I felt. Pride. I had so much pride in every single one of these teens. I was proud of them for embracing their faith and letting God take over. I was proud of them for buying into this weekend and letting God’s love flow through them. As a core member it’s my responsibility to guide these teens through their faith and to do my best to share God’s love with them. But they don’t understand just how much they teach me. They don’t know how inspiring they are. I wouldn’t be where I am without their example. So to the Cori Team (Kelly, Mason, Jaylin, Sam, Emily, Emily, Emily, Lexi, Meghan, Olivia, Drew, Maddie, Luis, Lily, and Haley), to the Disciples (Luke, Grace, Gloria, Jake, Quinn, Jill, Abbie, David, Jane, Catherine, Julia, and Camryn), to the Core Team (Tom, Katie, Beth, Bob, TJ, Angie, Jennie, Tony, Matt, Chris, Megan, and Nancy), and the rest of the teens that weren’t here this weekend: thank you. Thank you for making me feel so unbelievably loved. I wouldn’t be the man I am without you all.
I also want to take some time to talk about the theme. We always spend a couple meetings trying to figure out what we believe will be the best theme. Last year we struck gold with Brother (thanks Needtobreathe!), so the bar was set pretty high. After some discussion and discernment we landed on Anchored. The thought behind it is that God is our anchor through the storms we encounter throughout life. God’s love is what keeps our boat steady through all the chaos. I liked it. But I wasn’t in love with it. I think the main reason for that is I was comparing it to last year’s theme. Regardless, I wasn’t as committed to it as much as I probably should have been. But now after the retreat I see how perfect it is.
My life is about to change dramatically. I’m going to be starting a new job, which means completely new responsibilities. It means new people, new area, new stresses. It means finding new places to eat and driving new roads. It means establishing a totally new routine. To be perfectly honest, this change was starting to scare me. I’m someone that loves comfort and familiarity. So the idea of saying goodbye to that comfort in favor of the unknown is daunting. Don’t get me wrong, I’m incredibly excited to start this new journey. But that doesn’t mean I’m not at least a little stressed about it. This was all starting to settle in before the retreat. Luke 18 began and I started paying closer attention to the theme that we had picked out months ago… anchored. How appropriate for everything that’s about to happen to me.
Over the course of the retreat I started focusing on what the anchors are in my life. I began to realize just how unbelievably blessed I am for all of the people that are there to help me keep steady through the storms I endure. My life is about to become a storm of transition and learning. God expresses Himself as the anchor in my life through the people I encounter. I have the best family in the world. I have the best friends in the world. And I’m a part of the best youth group in the world. All of these people are always there for me to lend support, love, and encouragement. I have so many people to share in my triumphs and to lift me up through my struggles. These people are my constants through the change. And I was reminded this weekend that God is my constant through everything.
I couldn’t have experienced all of this without the teens during Luke 18. Their honesty, caring, and selflessness really opened my eyes to God’s presence in my life. At times these storms can feel lonely and unending. But that couldn’t be further from the truth. Through it all God is there. His love never fails. And I’m so beyond grateful to have such amazing people, especially my youth group, be my anchors.