I… am literally speechless right now. But I have so much to say. I don’t know where to begin, so I must warn you readers that I will circle and weave around in an incredibly obnoxious way throughout this entire reflection.
To begin, I want to regroup my thoughts. Well actually, let me start off by filling you in on what I’ve have been doing with my life for the past four days.
I began my journey this past Wednesday. At about four in the afternoon, I jumped in the car with what I would now like to call my second family, my closest friends of the youth group I attend regularly. We drove to Cranks Creek, Kentucky, an Appalachian community struggling with poverty. Our mission was to collect, deliver, organize, and distribute food, clothing, toys, shoes, bags, coats, blankets, and home supplies to the people in need who live in that community. A man named Bobby and his wife Becky opened a donation center in an old barn nearby, and keep a survival center for the groups who come down on mission trips throughout the year. I rode down with an advanced team of about 18 people, to get the survival center and barn cleaned up and ready for our mission before the rest of the group arrived. Going down early was something I will never regret. It gave me an opportunity to be patient with myself while I acclimated to the new environment I pushed myself into.
The trip for me was indescribable. (I say this as I proceed to describe every detail.) At the beginning, I was closed in my shell, being patient with myself, knowing that it might take me a day or two to warm up to the group I would be spending so much time with. In new situations, I take a little time to let myself totally free. But I got there, eventually. I spent most of my first two days in personal conversation with my fellow advanced team members, getting to know each one on a deeper level than I know most of my good friends. It was strengthening, and provided growth for me, offering new perspectives. I will go deeper into how these conversations affected me later. One of the big moments of the first two days was on Thursday night. The team visited with Bobby, and he told us riddles. We laughed together. It was a really good exercise of patience and listening, and helped me grow in both of those areas.
Most of the action (the events and moments I remember the most) didn’t occur until the main team arrived. On Friday afternoon, the rest of the group showed up. We organized clothing and food in the barn, getting a head start on our work. We also participated in a group prayer session, one of my favorite things to do. Saturday was one of the biggest days for me. We started off the morning with a Mass, given by a wonderful priest that came down with a group from Maryland to lend a hand in the mission. We continued with our work during the day, decorating the barn, organizing the clothes, moving the toys, and unloading and packing the food. It was crazy. We had music playing the whole time. It was a party. So much happened that day, I can’t even remember it all.
But I do remember a couple specifics. I had one of my best Confessions yet. I would say it was my second best, after my experience with Confession at CYSC this past summer. I mustered up the courage to pour out everything I had been holding in, and truly decide how I would ask for the Lord to help me improve and grow in my relationship with him. Amazing.
In the evening, I was given a wonderful opportunity to share in a group hug with four or five of my favorite people. And you may think this is too common of an occurrence to be special in any way, but this hug was special in every way. And the memory of the hug stands out among many. It consisted of a few people that had previously been a mystery to me for so long. One of them was the same little friend that I had my favorite reconciling encounter with (read below) and one of them included a friend that I got to know so well and that I now hold dear to my heart. The hug also included my group’s youth minister, whose personality I had not discovered fully yet. The fact that I was swept into this loving encounter with these mysteriously amazing people was just something I will never forget. I felt loved and included: a part of a family. And that’s what everyone needs. This loving exchange was amazing, in such a small way.
I remember another special moment. We took the afternoon to drive around town, visiting the homes of the sick: those who would not be able to make it to the pick up on Sunday. We visited a lady named Geneva. She was beautiful, inside and out. She had a nice big picture of her entire family on the wall of her home, and she took the time to describe each one of them. She told us where they were in life, and how they impacted her. She told us how she was looking forward to their visit on Christmas. She also told us about the many great deeds her neighbors had done for her. She even shared her sadness in the fact that a lot of her friends, even her husband (who she mentioned as being a great friend to her) had passed away. She was so open, and I was able to share in her emotion completely. It was a changing experience, because in that moment, I felt God’s grace in the work of mercy that I was participating in. I suddenly saw life through her eyes, representing the eyes of all the sick, lonely, or aged. They are all so loving and sharing, and often times in the past I have asked myself how they could be that way. How could they take on such a position to serve others with their love, when they were in such a position to be served? Talking to Geneva answered that question in my heart. These people know God, because God has never left and will never leave them. As they begin to lose those dear to them, they come to a realization that He is always by their side. They continue to develop a loving relationship, thanking him for their family and friends and everything they’ve been given. At that point in life, what else is there to really do? Being saddened and trapped in by sickness limits the ability to go out and be distracted by worldly things. So these people reflect, think, ponder, and pray. And it’s amazing. They hold so much inside of themselves, begging for someone to share it with. And when someone comes along, it pours out. And I thank God for the opportunity I was given, and ask that I be open to more, because not only was I able to grow in my sharing of emotion with Geneva, but she was able to pour out her love to us, a moment she had been so excited to have since last Christmas. Amazing.
On the way home from our house visits, we stopped at a Dollar General for a bathroom break. A little uncomfortable incident happened during the stop, which I would not like to share (don’t even ask). But the boy who caused the sudden distress felt terrible for causing it. And a little later, he came up to me with teary eyes, and asked me if I was okay. At first, my eyes teared up as well. I thought to myself, how cool is it that this young man is doing such a mature thing, to come up to me and ask for my forgiveness and show that he cares? To reconcile a relationship from even the tiniest amount of brokenness? My heart pretty much melted on the spot. So I said, “Please don’t feel bad, I’m okay!” And he said ok, and I gave him a hug. I might have to put this reconciling encounter up in my top five favorite moments of life so far. Amazing.
Another great thing that happened to me, not just on Saturday, but throughout the entire weekend, was the relationships I was able to build. And I built them from ground zero. A couple girls I had never actually met became my best friends, and another great friend I had never spent time with became one of the people I hold dear to my heart. How did this happen? The Lord really does work in our hearts, and when we are open to him, we accomplish great things. When we open our hearts to each other, we accomplish great things, with great people beside us. We become unstoppable and powerful. Life really is all about relationships and a journey. And there isn’t a thing about life that is truer. Once again, amazing.
Finally, Sunday was give away day. Cars lined the stretch of the road as far as we could see, waiting to receive their annual Christmas bundle.
I took orders from each car, asking what food, clothes, and toys each family wanted. I asked for special prayer requests, and my friends handed rosaries to as many as we could supply for. I met one young woman, she was very sweet. She thanked me many times for my prayers and my giving heart. She told me about a family in which the parents are struggling with a drug addiction, and the children are lost without support. I shared my sympathy, and will forever hold her and the family in my prayers. Talking to people from all different walks of life is something that requires strength and understanding, and I don’t know how I did it. I walked into this task blindly, questioning my ability to impact each individual’s life in the way I longed for in my heart. But I did it, and it was awesome. The Holy Spirit shined through my works, his gifts truly revealing themselves from deep in my heart. ‘Twas truly Amazing.
That same day, I was also blessed with an opportunity to work on mending a seriously broken relationship with a dear friend who I have been struggling to communicate with. He was sent over to take orders, and I happened to be working there as well. I think that this task that we shared worked as a means by which we could communicate externally, about something completely detached from emotion. This enabled us to get along and act as friends for a good amount of time. I rarely have a chance to spend this kind of basic bonding time with him anymore, because we both have no clue where to start or how to go about it. I thank the Lord for this. I really do. It was so simple, yet so perfect. It didn’t compare to the deepening conversations I had had with so many others all weekend. But it was something in itself that was so full, because the simple encounter that we had mended all that needed to be mended at the time. This proves that patience in the Lord is really important to have, because he works through us in such small, unexpected ways which come about when we are just beginning to lose hope. I was just losing hope in our friendship. Now I realize it will be okay.
The ride home on Sunday afternoon was actually one of the most amazing parts of my trip, believe it or not. How can a seven hour road trip be better than an eight hour dance party in a barn? I don’t know. But it was close. I spent more than half the time pouring my heart out to my friends (my family) who had been by my side the whole trip. I felt gifted and strengthened to be able to speak everything I had felt and experienced since eighth grade year when my faith started playing a big role in my life, and I shared my reflections on self-growth and experiences I had on the trip. It was such a fulfilling conversation for me, receiving affirmation and love from my close friends and leaders. I can’t even describe it. It was amazing.
Lastly, I want to say that I was given a great opportunity to meet some lovely new faces and personalities that will serve as role models in my life, and I am so happy I met these people. It was great to experience their openness and friendship right off the bat, without any introductions. They just hit it off, and seemingly knew my name before I ever talked to them. Being surrounded by people like this for a whole week makes it hard to move back to a life of brokenness and healing, but I trust in the Lord that I can bring the love back to this life. The Lord would never ask anything of us that we are not equipped to handle. I am equipped. And I am ready.
I want to close by saying that this mission trip was life. I lived, and I lived fuller than I’ve ever lived. I lived for, with, through, by, and in others. I lived outside of myself, and don’t plan on stepping back in. Looking outside of me gave me the opportunity to gain an understanding of others, and myself. I was able to see who I used to be, and how I’ve changed to be who I am now. I can see where I’ve grown; I can see what I’ve learned. I can see who I am; I can accept it. I have more patience with myself than ever before. And the virtues and gifts just keep growing exponentially. It’s restorations like these that set my heart on fire, and it’s sad to me to realize that after restorations like these, I usually let the fire die.
Lord, thank you for the fire you set in my heart, to go out and do your work. Not only to do your work, but to spread your love and kindness in my work. Not just to take the journey, but to form strong relationships throughout. Help me to constantly feed your fire, and never put it out with sinful actions, laziness, or fatigue. Every time I encounter you closely, I grow more equipped to be an instrument of your love. Thank you Lord, thank you for sending your Holy Spirit upon me. Thank you for sending your love and salvation in your son, Jesus Christ. Amen.
What I learned about myself/How I changed (in a nutshell):
I have acquired more patience with myself, in trusting my life to God’s plan for me, and realizing that I am sent to carry out his mission, and my life will fall into place the way it is meant to.
I should trust in my given abilities and talents, and never doubt something I am called to do.
I am able to share my thoughts and emotions so easily, filled with hope that the person receiving my ideas will be open. Even if they aren’t open, I share anyway. I learned that I need to share my love with everyone, but sharing my every thought with everyone isn’t always the right thing. I should share my thoughts and feelings with those who love me unconditionally and will affirm my thoughts and build me up.
If I take the time to breathe, and think between my words and sentences, I actually have a gift for speaking and finding the right words to say. I can be clear and explain things that seem unexplainable, if I just have patience with myself and give myself time. Previous to this trip, I decided I was too nervous to ever be able to share something without feeling awkward or dissatisfied.
In the words of the Lord, spoken through my dear friends, I acquired the knowledge that in the eyes of the beholder, I am crazy, fun, open, loving, lovable, patient, beautiful, selfless, forgiving,gentle, pure, clear, kind, filled with unending potential, weird, and truly amazing: apparently more than I know. Thank you everyone for showing me who I am, where I belong, and where I want to take my life. With God’s help, I will surely figure out how to get there.
I learned how to communicate efficiently and effectively (through observation of others and my own experience) with people who may be hard at hearing, or understanding, or confused, and to listen with patience to those who may have trouble communicating or may have accents that are hard for me to understand.
When I begin to lose hope among my brokenness or in seeing the brokenness of others, it helps to step back and watch the healing that the Lord is doing in us, through our encounters with each other. I learned to have more trust and patience in the Lord, because just when I start to lose hope, He finds some unexpected way to plant it back inside of me.