Thursday, July 11, 2013

What I Learned from the Class of 2013

Recently, we held a community day at the Y.  These are days where we open our doors and invite everyone in to sample the many great programs and services that the Y has to offer.  I enjoy these days as it allows time to simply be available to talk with folks, answer questions, and listen.  On this particular day, I had the opportunity to spend some time with a recent graduate from Carlisle Christian Academy.  Alongside her family, we stood in the Youth Fitness Center and talked for almost an hour.  I was captivated and encouraged by her story.  Though she is 20+ (ouch, adding the + is painful) years younger than I, her faith and courage was a great reminder for me.  She exuded a contagious passion that I wanted to catch. 

Each year at CCA, the seniors go on a class trip.  The trip is focused on mission, serving others, and giving back to those with less.  Since the trip began some 8 years ago, the class had always gone to the New York School of Urban Ministry.  There, they visited some tourist spots like the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island while also serving in soup kitchens in the Bronx and doing homeless outreach on the streets on Times Square.  These were fantastic trips.  This class, however, felt that they we called to do something else.  Along with their Senior Advisor and united as a class, they sought a different path.  This disrupted the status quo and they wandered aimlessly for a bit searching for an alternative trip.  Through the course of the school year they journeyed together, eyes wide open, to identify a trip that was unique to their class and for a situation where their gifts might intersect a community's need.  Ultimately, they found an opportunity in the Midwest with a church plant that was doing significant community outreach.  They drove an overstuffed van many miles, found little sleep, served together, and came back changed forever. 

There are many miraculous and inspirational details from their trip that the seniors will carry in their hearts forever.  This piece doesn't allow the space to retell them in full.  However, the overarching leadership lessons from their trip are clear and can be summarized as the four "L's." 

Look For What Could Be.   In telling her story, the senior said that the traditional senior trip didn't fit them and they had a sense that there was something more for their class.  This was quite ambiguous at the beginning and increasingly frustrating as they looked for what that "something more" entailed.  Yet, they knew their unique gifts were a better fit for a different experience.  They searched hopefully and with great expectations for that experience.  Ultimately, they found their "something more."  Danish philosopher Soren Kierkegaard said, "If I were to wish for anything, I should not wish for wealth and power, but... for the eye which, ever young and ardent, sees the possible."  Seeing beyond what's in front of us is a gift that turns dreams into realities. 

Learn From Others.  The student told of a specific incident during their trip that was particularly moving.  During one of the outreach initiatives, she looked across the room and saw a pastor sitting with a prostitute.  However, the pastor wasn't lecturing or even leading.  Instead, the pastor was leaning in and learning.  The student recalled, "the pastor was so open to get to know this woman and learn about what God was doing in her life."  Author and blogger Ann Voskamp writes, "The untold stories of the messed up people all around you, they wouldn't make you laugh - they'd break your heart. And if the broken would just love the broken - this might fee us all from the chain of rejection."  We each have something extraordinary to give and must also be open to receiving the unique gifts from others. 
Let Yourself Be Changed.   "Nobody left this trip unchanged."  The student concluded her story of the senior missions trip.  The stereotypical teenager already has life figured out.  This class showed great vulnerability in being open to dropping their preconceived notions and allowing their perspectives on life to be transformed.  Writer Leo Barbuta said, "Each day is a journey, and we load ourselves up with material possessions, with task and projects, with things to read and write, with meetings and calls and texts.  Our hands are full, not ready for anything new.  Drop everything, be open to everything.  Enter each day empty-handed, and full-hearted."  Change requires trust, courage, and margin.  These are not forced upon us, but rather choices that we make. 

Live In Thanksgiving.   Looking back on the senior trip that occurred only a few weeks earlier, the student was already deeply reflective and still clearly in awe.  "It's a trip we'll unpack for years," she said.  "I [often] overlook small things.  God was speaking to me through this whole trip but I didn't see it.  [Now I do]."  The French theologian John Calvin once said, "...the faithful, to whom He has given eyes, sees sparks of his glory, as it were, glittering in every created thing."  It's the ability to look for the miraculous and see the gifts that's the engine that drives a life of happiness and contentment.  Voskamp challenges men to drop their prideful bravado and see the glory in every created thing as well.  She blogs, "... real men let go of self-sufficiency and know it's all pure grace and pull it straight out into lifestyle, wholesale thanksgiving."  Terry Brensinger, a friend, mentor, and pastor once offered great advice that went something like this, "You will miss the extraordinary miracles God offers in the everyday if you spend your whole life just waiting for him to deliver earthquakes."  We were created to live our lives with hopeful expectation, gratitude, and thankfulness.  Anything less that that is dulling, a life constrained.

I applaud this senior class for their bravery, passion, belief, and pursuit of something more.  It's a great reminder that life is about becoming.  And the becoming is a fogged journey with risk, healthy fear, and excited anticipation along the way.  I believe God is OK with our desires to be comfortable, yet he yearns for us to step beyond our comfort and purse a life that's truly life.  This pursuit isn't always neatly mapped out, but it's the seeking that is exhilarating and rewarding.  Evangelist Christine Caine frames it this way, "the purpose of life is not to arrive at death safely and there is nothing safe about what God calls us to do."   Too often, we never get out of the gate.  It's in the doing that our senses are awakened.  Bob Goff, author of Love Does, says, "Everything worth hearing's already been said.  All that's left is just to go do stuff."  Like the CCA Senior Class of 2013, let's go do stuff. 




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