At the beginning of the youth group retreat (a week and a half ago, now), it came to pass that we were stopping in our cars and vans, organizing a caravan, most-but-not-quite-all of the way to our cabins in Cazadero… when lo and behold, my own head and a car door met one another in mid-air, and each caught the other by surprise. It bled dramatically. One of the girls grabbed an extra-absorbent sanitary pad from a first aid kit and stuck it on my forehead. The advisors told the youth to stay in the cars, but, who are we kidding? They all gathered around anyway, wielding flashlights and cameras and enthusiastic exclamations of “gross!” The bleeding slowed and stopped and two people engaged in a very cooperative head-bandaging exercise. They held up fingers and asked me to count them, assessed my dizziness (none) and spirits (only shaken), and teased me mercilessly, but they wouldn’t let me stand up again until the other adult advisors had conferred and decided to take away my car keys for the evening, just in case.
There’s something about me — and maybe it’s true for some of you too — but I tend to learn profound spiritual lessons whenever I’m injured or ill. Maybe it’s because I keep my guard up until it’s broken down… or maybe it’s because of some important truth in that “blessed are you who are poor” line of thinking. But despite the pain I experienced, I come away from this retreat deeply grateful. I think there are three big lessons:
1) Youth Group is full of awesome people. We went to Cazadero to do a ropes course and practice cooperating, but the youth already knew this lesson really well, and proved their abilities that night. All hands were on deck to take care of whatever needed taking care of, from flashlights to ice packs and bandages and more… from little details all the way up to one very brave 16-year-old, Justine, who had recently passed her driver’s test, and was licensed to drive her mother’s car (how convenient that we’d borrowed it for the retreat) with her sister as passenger (again, how convenient). She volunteered to drive, and saved us a carpool maneuver that would have lasted well into the middle of the night if we had been a driver short. She did an incredible job driving – and it was her first time on real country roads. I’m so grateful for her, and the rest of our awesome group, who showed their courage and capabilities that night.
2) Youth Group isn’t “The Talitha Show.” I try to avoid the cult of personality, which is so tempting for pastors (especially youth pastors) but tends to build weak & shallow church communities. I try to put the other adult leaders in the middle of the action, but sometimes, especially when it comes down to details, it’s easier to be a little red hen and do it all myself. Well, I found that hitting yourself in the head is a very effective way to lead yourself away from temptation. When we got to Caz that night, Jim, Keith, and Niki sent me straight to bed with my ice packs, and they ran the evening meeting, organized games, sent the youth to bed in record time, and greeted me in the morning with breakfast ready. I felt fine in the morning, but I knew that the retreat would have been in good hands even if my injury had been severe enough to send me home.
3) Be grateful for what you have. Contemplate it. If the door had hit me differently it could’ve been much worse. I don’t usually stop to give thanks for my health… in fact I’m more likely to gripe about whatever little thing isn’t perfect. So today I’m grateful for the chance to count my unbroken bones, touch and feel their strength, and give thanks for them.
As you go to your Thanksgiving tables this week –
whether the MPC table, a family table, Friendsgiving, a soup kitchen, or anything in between –
may you be surrounded with people as awesome as our MPC youth;
may you have others to trust and rely upon;
and may you have enough health to be grateful for.