What a week this has been.
If you've been following me on social media, you know that I accompanied our youth group this past week to Nashville, TN, for a mission trip focused on serving the community. My husband is the youth director at our church, so I've been helping him prepare for this trip since we got to St. Paul's back in November. I have to admit, I was more than a little nervous about this trip for a number of reasons. As an introvert, I value my alone time and we had almost fifty students and leaders going on this trip. The church we stayed at didn't have shower facilities and only had two toilets/sinks for all of the women staying there. We slept in a big room on air mattresses with a small window air conditioning unit to keep us cool. Basically, all of the comforts of home were going to be missing on this trip.
But it was an amazing experience and God totally "reframed" my attitude in many ways throughout this past week.
|Justin and I the day before we left for the trip. We went with several other leaders to pick up the rental vans.|
|The kids (and adults) decorated the vans with car paint during one of our pit stops on the way to Nashville.|
|Our sleeping arrangements at the church.|
|Our tiny air conditioner that worked very hard to keep our room comfortable.|
|Our shower facilities at the church. They were tents with hoses where we had to shower in our swimsuits.|
|At least the water was cool in the hot weather!|
|The church that hosted us!|
|Trinity United Methodist Church, Nashville.|
I am the type of person that likes to feel like I am in control (and I'm sure God gets a good laugh out of that). I worry about things a lot and I feel like God is constantly reminding me that he is in control of my life and he loves me and won't let me fall.
I was practically smacked upside the face with these truths this week in Nashville.
The first experience that reminded me that God's plan will always prevail and that he is orchestrating my life happened on Monday during our first shift at our work site. We were on this mission trip with two other church youth groups, one from Michigan and one from southern Indiana. I was the adult leader for my group (Crew 6) and I had three students from our youth group (Brad, Cameron, and Gavin) and two students from the Indiana group (Nick and Brielle). We were assigned to a summer school program for kindergartners and first graders that was sponsored by an organization called the East Nashville Hope Exchange. The first day, the supervisor at the school assigned Brad and Cameron to a single classroom that was particularly rowdy and then put Nick in a classroom by himself and Brielle in another classroom. That left Gavin and I to work in the kitchen preparing meals and snacks for the kids throughout the day.
|Crew 6. I was continually blessed by these students throughout the week.|
|Working in the cafeteria.|
|Preparing snacks for the kids at my work site.|
|I got this pic of Justin after he returned from his work site one afternoon - he must have been working hard since he broke the limb cutters!|
The second way that God reminded me that he is always in control still blows me away when I stop and think about it. When I went off to college my freshman year, I joined a campus ministry called Baptist Collegiate Ministries (BCM) with my best friend and roommate, Cohen. Through this ministry, I met my friend, Nathan, and through Nathan, I met his sister, Heather. Nathan and I became amazing friends in college - he was in a band and my roommate and I would go to all of his concerts, we would go to music festivals and concerts together, we would share in fellowship at BCM and beyond. He has always been one of those friends that, no matter how much time would pass without seeing each other, we would always pick up right where we left off when we would see each other. About a year ago, Nathan told me that he wanted to move to Nashville (where his sister was already living), but that he wanted to pay off some debt and save some money before he did. He worked very hard, and about two weeks ago, he was able to move to Nashville from Indiana. Because of schedule conflicts, Justin and I were unable to see him before he moved.
Before we left for the trip, I let Tim and Bobbie (leaders from our youth group) know that I had some friends in Nashville and asked if it was a possibility to have them meet up with us at some point during our trip. Tim said it would be great to have someone familiar with the area show us around, so I let Nathan know that we were coming and to meet us during our "free night" on Tuesday at Dave & Buster's at the Opry Mills mall. I couldn't wait to see him and it was such a wonderful blessing to give him and Heather a huge hug when they showed up at the mall on Tuesday. They joined us for dinner and I introduced them to our group. They fit in immediately. Since Nathan had only lived in Nashville for two weeks, Heather took charge on showing us around a bit and took some of our group downtown to see the sights. It was amazing to spend time with them and it was hard to say goodbye that evening when they left to go home, but God had other plans.
|Getting ready to enjoy our free night at Dave & Buster's.|
|The whole St. Paul's crew enjoying their dinner at Dave & Buster's.|
|Getting to see the Opry Hotel with Nathan and Heather.|
|The Opry Hotel.|
|Heather took us downtown where we were able to see this gorgeous view of Nashville from the top of the George Jones Museum.|
|The students getting energized to Audio Adrenaline's "Get Down" before the evening program.|
|Justin sharing a "God sighting" with the group.|
The third way God reminded me of his ultimate plan happened on Wednesday at our work site. I was working in the cafeteria alone when the supervisor at our school ran in and said one of my students had been hurt. I ran up front to find Brielle bleeding profusely from her leg. The custodian at the school was holding pressure on it with paper towels, but it was bleeding through. Brielle had been cutting a backdrop out of cardboard with a box cutter and sliced her leg open. The wound was deep and definitely needed stitches. I managed to get a hold of Justin at his work site and he contacted a leader back at camp. The leader, Kristen, dropped Justin off at my site so my students would have an adult present and then took Brielle and I to the hospital in downtown Nashville. It was definitely a scary situation, but God used it for good. Because we were at the hospital for four hours, it gave the three of us the opportunity to get to know each other and spend time with each other. We laughed, we waited, we smiled, we joked...it was a bad situation that ultimately brought the three of us together.
May I always remember that God can turn our chaos into joy.
|Kristen and I with Brielle at the hospital before she got her stitches. She was so brave through the whole situation.|
I am a very private person. I struggle to tell anyone about concerns or worries that I have because I always want to appear strong. I hold back emotions and tears when other people are hurting so they can come to me for love and support. I have a hard time expressing my emotions at times because I see it as weakness. I know this is a huge problem.
But God helped me open up this week. He showed me that it's okay to be vulnerable. He showed me that I need to trust people. He showed me that I need people to help me through difficult times. He showed me that opening up isn't embarrassing or weak, but that it's why God created friends, family, community, and fellowship.
Our last night in Nashville, some of the students and leaders in our group wanted to hear Nathan sing some more. After the evening program, a few of us got together in the sanctuary to hear him sing while Justin played guitar. I asked him to sing the song "Amazing Because It Is" by The Almost, a song he used to sing all the time when we were in college. The song really got me thinking about my best friend, Cohen, mostly because Nathan sang that song at a retreat we all went on about five years ago with our campus ministry. I automatically associate Nathan with Cohen, as well, since we all used to spend so much time together. And if you don't know about my best friend Cohen, this post will fill you in on the details:
After Nathan sang, I felt God putting it on my heart to have us pray for Cohen right then and there. No one except Bobbie knew about Cohen, so I started to share her story with the others. I'm usually good at keeping it together (at least in front of people) because I don't like people seeing me cry, but God opened up my heart in a way I haven't let myself open up in a long time. I broke down, sobbing because I miss my friend and sister and because I don't know how to pray for her or help her. It has been a hard couple of years trying to grieve for Cohen during her illness and pain and I truly feel like a piece of me is gone because things will never be the same for her.
But this moment of vulnerability turned into a beautiful time for me to be surrounded by friends and students and love and prayer. They cried with me and comforted me and Nathan prayed for me and for Cohen and we all shared in a moment of God's overwhelming presence and love.
God is always making me new. He's teaching me trust. He's teaching me vulnerability. He is helping me to open up and express myself in ways that I never knew I could.
3) God showed me how beautiful it is to serve, even when I am out of my comfort zone.
We are called to serve others, but I know my heart and attitude were not in the right place when I was getting ready to go on this trip. I was worried about showering outside in a tent with cold hose water, I was worried about the heat and lack of adequate air conditioning, I was worried about sleeping on the floor, I was worried about not having access to vegetarian food.
But it was a blessing to not have the comforts of home on this trip.
It helped me to focus on the reasons why we were in Nashville in the first place - to share in fellowship with other believers, to serve the community, to praise and worship God, to get to know the members of our group and the other groups on a deeper level.
When you are put out of your comfort zone, it's a lot easier to focus on the important things. I stopped worrying about the outdoor showers after the first night. God was with us and he was going to provide for us immensely, and he did.
I got to know our students and leaders so much better.
|The wonderful group of student leaders I was able to work with in Nashville.|
|One of my students asked me to proofread her English paper for a summer class, so naturally the adult leaders left plenty of goofy photos for her on her laptop.|
- Having Danielle (one of our leaders) braid my hair every other day to help me stay cool in the hot weather
- Getting "stuck" in the freshman room as the only adult, and then realizing it was a great blessing to be with those girls
- Finding out that an air mattress on an old church floor is actually quite comfortable when you are completely exhausted at the end of each day
- Loving the cold water of the outdoor showers when I just spent the entire day in the Nashville heat
- Watching everyone fill out "care cards" for their fellow crew members and leaders (everyone at the church had an envelope where you could place a "care card" to show them what you loved about them)
- Getting to know the leaders in our group on a personal level (Mike, Danielle, Allie, Dan, Beth, Tim, and Bobbie)
- Having the opportunity to help one of our students write and proofread a paper for her summer English college course
- Seeing Brad and Gavin (from my work crew) step out of their comfort zones and work with the kids at the East Nashville Hope Exchange and love it
- Seeing everyone love on each other and offer hugs, sympathy, support, and a listening ear during "cry night"
- Hearing everyone's "God sightings" from their work sites at the end of each day
- Having the option to get peanut butter and jelly for lunch everyday (the vegetarians were definitely taken care of!)
- Having Heather and Nathan show our group around the Opry Hotel and downtown Nashville
- Getting to see all of Nashville from the top of the George Jones Museum and getting to hear live music
- Being able to see old friends (good friends are truly one of God's greatest blessings)
Thank you Jesus for always making me new.
If you want to see more photos and videos from our trip, visit our youth group's Facebook page:
You can also see photos and videos on the Week of Hope Nashville Facebook page:
"For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them."
Matthew 18:20 (NIV)
"Finally, all of you, be like-minded, be sympathetic, love one another, be compassionate and humble."
1 Peter 3:8 (NIV)