Summers are an interesting thing. It is lovely, of course, to have a break from constant due dates and the worry that classes, thesis, comprehensive exams and student organizations can bring, but summer still strikes me as an interesting time of the year.
Summer is a “middle” for most of the world, a time to push through to December and the end of the year. But for those of us on the academic calendar, summer is both a beginning and an ending and can often feel like hardly enough time to do anything at all.
I spent a lot of time this summer thinking about stories. While serving as the interim youth director at First Presbyterian Church in Birmingham, Ala., one of the trips that I went on (and was most excited about!) was taking a group of high school youth to Montreat, N.C., for the Montreat Youth Conference.
The theme this year was This Is Our Story, and, as you may guess, we heard a lot of stories, stories that were not all happy and innocent. We heard real stories, those that people are so often afraid to share.
We heard stories of youth who felt like there was no place that they belonged and stories of youth who are living in dark, dark places. But we also heard stories of youth who had found some comfort, stories of youth who felt like they had found a place where they belonged, and stories of youth who had seen some of the very darkest of places and yet had struggled through until they were on the other side.
We also heard stories of preachers and keynoters, stories that were authentic and genuine, stories of isolation, fear and anger, but also stories of love, community and belonging.
It was a hard week, but it was also a beautiful week. It was beautiful to see teenagers stand up and share stories that I know I would not have had the guts to share. It was beautiful to see the community that formed in that valley, a community that I have had a hard time finding anywhere else.
A conference that revolves around stories seems to bring out the most vulnerable parts of people, especially when the stories being told are not just the stories that ended happily. I admit that I often run in the opposite direction when asked to be vulnerable and share the parts of my story that I would rather keep to myself.
Knowing this about myself, I was surprised at how moved I was by so much of the conference. Part of it, I am sure, was that the stories being told from the stage of Anderson Auditorium were the stories of some people that I deeply love, but there was also something inspiring about watching fifteen, sixteen and seventeen-year-olds share stories that they should not have to tell.
It was a week of acknowledging and accepting that our lives are messy. They are not perfect, have never been perfect and will never be perfect. Our lives are messy, hard and not always very pretty, but they were given to us by God, who loves us all the time, will never abandon us and will love us through the darkness.
Our lives were given to us by God who sent Jesus to walk these roads with us. We are messy people living in a broken world, but we will be alright. We were never meant to be perfect, and even though it may feel like it sometimes, we aren’t walking this road alone.
Our stories are connected and always changing. This year begins a new story, our new story, and I am hopeful that this story will be a good one.