My son, Allen-Michael, has been traveling around the country since September with nine other young adults facilitating retreats for middle and high school age Catholic adolescents. The purpose of their mission: to ignite faith and inspire them to give their hearts and lives to God. Allen-Michael has traveled to more than half a dozen states, completed dozens of retreats, and touched hundreds of lives during his months on the road.
He is currently working in the Dallas diocese, and I had the opportunity to watch one of his retreats the other day.
Talk about "Mom Moments"...
I arrived with my in-laws (who are on respite from winter in Wisconsin) as the team was introducing themselves to the kids. The parish was in a beautiful area of Dallas, it was evident these seventh graders hailed from families very able to provide.
There were the typical eye rolls and yawns at the beginning, I am certain these junior high kids would rather have been doing almost anything other than listening to a bunch of college-age kids talk about their love for the Lord. As a mother of one of the presenters, I was a little worried about how this day might turn out.
The skits they led were silly, yet the content was relatable to the age group and fairly quickly the NETters were able to get the student's attention and even to encourage them to participate. The small group discussions (which we could not be a part of for obvious reasons) helped the larger group of kids bond with at least one of the team members on a more intimate level.
One young girl caught my eye because she really seemed to struggle with interacting with her peers. There were times when I wanted to reach out myself and work with her because her classmates appeared to go out of their way not to include her. It was difficult to watch. We all know it doesn't matter if your child attends private or public school, there are always going to be some kids who are more popular and who lead the pack, and those who struggle just to fit in. Having spent most of my junior high and high school years on the fringe (THAT may even be pushing it), I felt particularly drawn to this child.
Later in the afternoon, the retreat culminated with a trip to the church where there were additional dramatic skits and testimony from the team members. By the time we arrived in the church, the atmosphere and the mood/facial expressions/demeanor of the attendees had changed dramatically. Fully engaged, they were looking forward to what the next skit or presentation would be.
I was relieved at this point, and honestly, upset with myself for doubting the NET kids' ability.
Allen-Michael played Jesus Christ in a skit which, for the most part, was communicated by words on posters and through carefully chosen background music. It was tough to keep the tears at bay, my heart swelled with pride in watching him communicate his passion and dedication and desire to inspire other young people to remember God is always with us.
The final talk was about how God is ever present, in the good and difficult times in our lives. If we choose to have a relationship with Him, He will not let us down. Which does not mean life will be a picnic everyday, but He will help carry us through those times in life when we'd rather just throw in the towel.
For their last exercise, each child was to find a quiet corner in the church and write a letter to God. They were asked to respect others privacy, feelings and reactions. There was soft music playing in the background, and as each child did as told, their small group leaders quietly approached each participant individually and prayed over them while they contemplated and wrote their letters. This went on for quite some time. To say it was interesting and highly moving would be an understatement.
I was particularly interested in the reactions of the "popular" eye-rollers I had seen earlier, as well as the girl who seemed to struggle so. I observed a lot of tears, I saw many boys who I would never have guessed would participate or react in the way they did...and, all the while I prayed the girl who seemed to need a place to fit would have been the one to most hear the message of the day.
I believe Allen-Michael has found his passion and calling in the sharing of his faith in God. And in helping others. It is so gratifying as a parent to know my two oldest children have taken the road to helping others through their God-given, individual gifts. I look forward to the future and to what my additional three will share with the world.
I haven't added a song to my post in awhile, but this one was playing during the retreat, and I hear it often on the local Christian station...I had been thinking of using it, but just never found the right application. I choose to believe when I heard this song in the church the other day, it was God's way of telling me to share it now, I hope you have a few minutes to listen to it's powerful message.