You Are Not Alone // Exploration 2011 Saturday Morning

I shared in my last post that I came to Exploration 2006 solo. I’ve never been one to have an issue showing up somewhere by myself. Even though I’m an introvert, I don’t have any issue with meeting and getting to know new people. I love traveling (one of the many fringe benefits of the Explo event), and I love hearing people’s stories.

So when I arrived alone in Jacksonville, I wasn’t exceptionally uncomfortable. I quickly found a group of other folks who also came without a group, and we made quick friends. Many of those people are still friends today, and I know they are praying for all the Explo participants right now.

Although the worship experiences workshops, and small group experiences were formative, the most important part of my Explo experience was forming relationships with other participants.

I knew I was called, and the ministers in my life understood that and supported me in that call, but most of my peers, though they were supportive, did not truly comprehend my journey. The experience of being called is one that cannot be put in words. It is something that is difficult to share with someone who doesn’t know that feeling themselves.

So when I began to engage in conversation with other participants at Exploration, I was amazed. Each time I shared a story or a feeling or a frustration, I was met with more comprehension, understanding, and compassion than I had been since my call journey began. It was incredible to be understood so well by people I had just met.

This morning, our teaching time included a word from the Lord through Rev. Juan Huertas. He encouraged us all to hear God’s voice through others in our lives. He reminded us that we are not alone — that the Spirit is with us. He encouraged us to trust in the Spirit as we continue on these journeys of discernment.

It’s not always easy to trust in the Spirit. I am not always that strong or faithful. But when the Spirit moves in a group of people such as those found here at Exploration — in the community of understanding and compassion that is not easily found elsewhere — it is powerful. It is a unique opportunity, and I find incredible encouragement and strength in thhe community here.

I hope you who are participating are finding that experience as well. I hope you have felt that connection. I hope you have felt understood and cared for in a way you might not have felt before. I hope you know that you are Not Alone.

And again, for those of you who are not here, please welcome these young people home with open arms, and even if you don’t fully understand what they’re experiencing, love them through it.

We are Not Alone.

What if I Can’t Remember My Baptism? // Exploration 2011 Friday Night

When we hear the phrase “remember your baptism,” it always feels a little awkward. I don’t remember my baptism; I was a newborn. (My formerly Southern Baptist husband has a much easier time with this task.) I deeply resonated with the video testimony shared tonight — what if I can’t remember my baptism??

Even with a theological education and having “passed” my theological interview and paperwork for ordination, the concept of baptism is a little fuzzy at times. Remembrance, though … remembrance I can do.

As I boarded the plane in Orlando at 8 a.m. Eastern, a flood of memories rushed back. No, I don’t remember the flights from the last two Exploration events, but the events themselves are firmly etched into my spiritual memory.

I gazed over the airplane wing and the faces of so many people rushed by me. Most of them were people I have only been with in person for three days of my entire life, but they were people that changed my life forever.

My first Exploration event was Explo 2006 in Jacksonville, Florida. The theme was “Dive In, Make Waves.” I remember finding it a bit cheesy at the time, but it was kinda fun to raise strips of cloth above our heads and make an ocean of discernment around the room. That’s an image that sticks with me, to be sure.

I remember a Saturday night birthday supper shared with folks I had not known 24 hours before. I had come alone to Explo, but quickly we loners found each other and formed a ragtag group of individuals desperately seeking community, and desperately seeking discernment (which we did — together).

I remember sitting in the front row of Saturday night worship weeping with a new friend as the Spirit engulfed us, clarifying our calls to ministry.

I also remember one lone admissions director standing by her table just outside the worship space, as the final worship service of the weekend was about to begin. Soon after I remember a whirlwind campus visit during which I found a place that would change me forever, and a place in which I would begin a lifelong journey of theological inquiry and love for ministry.

I remember in 2009 returning to represent that same school in Dallas, sharing my seminary, call, and ministry experience with other young people who were walking around with the same excitement and bewilderment as I had been only three years before.

There are so many more memories that can’t be captured with mere words, and I look forward to experiencing another weekend of memories here in St. Louis.

Remembering is exciting, and if we’re honest, memory is often about an image. The image of water is powerful. It represents renewal of life, a new beginning knowing that God is present in our every move. Baptism is a time to prepare to share in the work of Christ, a cleansing of those things that keep us from God. I experienced much of that in the rather haphazard community I found at Exploration 2006, and in the devotion of an admissions director to stick around for those last few moments, and in tears that fell on newly kindred shoulders.

It’s interesting to reflect on the 2006 theme: “Dive in.” The image of water is pervasive in my story in particular, but I pray that we can all dive into this experience, and be immersed (no, not just sprinkled) in God’s presence, that we can listen for God’s voice, that we can put aside those things that distract us and remember our own baptisms, when God began that work in each of us.

I loved the possibility sprinkled through Adam Hamilton’s sermon tonight — that this weekend in St. Louis could represent a reawakening in the church. Tonight could have begun an opportunity to reaffirm its own baptism, in a way. As young people, we do hold the keys to the future of the church. As a young clergyperson, I feel that pressure more and more each day, and I was reconvicted tonight during his sermon.

I have to confess that I’m an idealist. I believe in what the church can be, not just what it is. I still believe that I (we) can do anything. When Adam Hamilton began the Church of the Resurrection, he was told his dreams were too big; but I loved his response: “I was 25 and I didn’t know it couldn’t happen yet.” Well, I will be 27 next week, and I still commit my life every day to minister within a denomination that appears to be dying. The statistics scream at me, “Get out while you still can!”

But, I see in events like this light that has the power to “knock some holes in the darkness.” This weekend could be the beginning of something big. So this weekend, do remember your baptism. Let it be a renewal of mind, with clarity of intention, and openness of heart, to hear what God has for you — for us.

And for those of you reading this who are not present in St. Louis, know that there are nearly 600 young people seriously trying to figure out what God wants them to do with their lives. Pray for them. And support them when they return to your communities with newfound clarity and excitement. You will be amazed at what can — and will — happen.

Curiosity killed the cat …

Three years ago I went to Jacksonville, Florida, all by myself. I don’t mind traveling by myself, but I usually know someone at my destination. I’m usually traveling to a place where I’ll meet someone specific to spend time with, or who will show me around (in the cases of visiting seminaries).

This time, I knew no one. I was going because God called me. Not so much to Jacksonville (although arguably God did call me there), but I knew I had a call to ministry. So I went to Exploration 2006, an event for 18-24 year olds who are considering ordained ministry in the UMC.

I can’t say my call was any clearer as a result of that experience. I know it’s supposed to help you in discernment (and it was as far as where I should go for seminary), but that wasn’t what I needed and it’s not what I got.

The most amazing part of that experience was walking into a hotel where I knew there were hundreds of other people of my generation feeling some of the same things I was feeling.

We all had experienced something supernatural. We all had experienced something of the Divine that said, “Do this crazy thing!”

The thing we hadn’t experienced was being in the same room with other people who had that same experience.

The life-altering experience for us was to be able to share our experiences, our feelings, our doubts, our fears, the complete ridiculousness of what was going on in our lives …

Going by myself ended up being a pretty awesome experience, too. A few of us who had all come individually ended up forming a great group to spend the weekend with (not to mention an awesome birthday dinner). Although we don’t all keep in touch anymore, I still have a bond with those folks that is unlike any other. I could hardly tell you a thing about any of their lives, but I know if something amazing happened in my life, I would be able to share it with them gladly.

I hope you will pray for all the amazing young people who will be at Exploration for the first time this weekend. Pray that they will open themselves to as many others as they can so they might open themselves fully to God’s plan for their lives and ministries.