The morning we all thought that would never come, but when it did, it came early. Saturday was here.
We wanted to pull out of the city early in the morning since we were driving the entire way back to Athens in one day. We left on time–for the most part. It was actually a pretty amazing feat. All the girls had their luggage in the lobby ready to go once the leaders were almost back from retrieving the van and trailer from Brooklyn. Once the van pulled up it was a mad rush to load all the luggage and get everything in the van, but we did it–in record time.
So we pulled out of the city for the final time crossing under the Hudson River through the Lincoln Tunnel. When we surfaced in New Jersey we looked back towards the city we had fallen in love with in a week’s time. The sun was reflected off the skyscrapers. The line of cars waiting to enter the city. The water lapping at its shore. It was a bittersweet moment for everyone, I’m sure.
But our group was not one for reminiscing, at least not this closely removed. There were too many things to talk and talk about to keep us emotional for too long.
The ride itself was not too exciting. Other than a few stories which I will share.
First, Nick is a trooper. He drove four-fifths of the way back to Athens (a short spurt was driven by Brittney, but due to extenuating circumstances which I will explain shortly, she did not drive for long). 14 hours. Sure, there were pit stops and food breaks, but that man was in the driver’s seat for the better part of the day. To say he carried the weight of the driving on the trip would be a grave understatement. He was the reason we made it back to Athens, plain and simple. Kudos to you Crotchmander.
Second, a word to the wise: never eat a day old, frozen hamburger that has been thawed by the body temperature of fifteen people in a fifteen passenger van. It is not good to eat or even smell, for that reason. Not to mention, Brittney was still feeling some lingering effects from the Shake Shack burger the day before, so the revolting funk that eeked out from between those buns did not help the situation. We had to throw it out; otherwise, the backseat would have been swimming in an unpleasant conglomeration for the remainder of the ride. We got rid of it.
We had another unfortunate food mishap when someone opened stowaway bag of two-day old popcorn from the hostel. This caused another revolt in the back seat resulting in the bag being passed up to the front of the van–an action detested by everyone in the van by that point–and tossed out the window on the fly. That was the last of the food incidents; so after that, people began to calm down and things mellowed out.
The trip home was just as lively as the week in the city had been. People were laughing, talking, joking, asking questions, and listening. It was interspersed with spontaneous naps, but for the most part we kept each other busy.
That is, until the last thirty minutes. By that time–as anyone who has ever been on a church retreat knows–people’s fuses were starting to get real short. While we still loved each other, we were ready to get out of the van that we had been cramped in for what seemed like an eternity. People started getting a little snippy and words started to take on a little bit of a bite. People were getting really restless.
Luckily, we pulled into the Wesley Foundation parking lot just in time. The van threw us all up, along with our stuff, much to our joy. We gathered our luggage from the trailer and circled up for one last group prayer. We thanked God for the time we were able to share and the safe journey He gave us on our way home. We praised Him for the encounters He orchestrated during the week and thanked Him for the new family we had become.
And that was it. We all hugged, said our goodbyes, and parted our ways.
But it really wasn’t it. There was not an hour the next day that went by we were not thinking of the trip and the people who were a part of it. At one point, my phone vibrated for 5 minutes straight from the Facebook notifications of people tagging and commenting on pictures I posted. We were not in the same hostel as each other anymore, but no distance could keep us apart.
I am pretty sure every night that first week there was a reunion somewhere–usually at Two Story. At any given time, there would at least be three of us posted up in a corner talking and “doing homework.” The Monday night after we got back, I am pretty sure we had ten of the fifteen on the porch at once. We were definitely the loud, obnoxious group that everyone hates while they are trying to study, but we didn’t care. Wednesday night the reunion was after Wesley at Wafflehouse. All fifteen of us packed around two tables and laughed for a couple hours just enjoying the company of those who had become family.
Because we were family.
At the beginning of the week, we were all strangers united only by the fact we had all signed up to go on a mission trip to New York City for spring break. By the end, we were a family bonded by an experience none of us could have predicted would have happened.
At the beginning of the week, we prayed God would appoint times for divine encounters. By the end, we had experienced the Living God moving in the hearts of not only the people in New York but in our own.
At the beginning of the week, we saw the Darkness that was so entrenched in the culture of the city. Buy the end, we understood that with every step we took we brought Light to people who were in desperate need of hope.
I do not know what themes you picked up on throughout the previous eight posts, but this is what I hope I communicated: Prayer and Light.
Yes, that is the title of this series of posts, but I hope those words echoed throughout the words as you read them. Prayer and Light.
Prayer, because we cannot ever pray enough. The Wesley Foundation at the University of Georgia openly admits to be a ministry founded on prayer. Everything they do is centered around the idea of asking God to intervene and change lives. The New York trip was no different. God taught me that I do not pray enough. My natural reaction whenever something happens–good or bad–is not to pray. God showed me that regardless of the situation the first response should be prayer. God taught me that it does not matter about size of the request. It can be something as big as asking God to set up opportunities for you to share your story with someone or as small as favor on a test you have in the morning. Regardless of size, God wants to be involved.
Light, because we are always Light. This world is full of Darkness. You do not have to look any further than the front page of CNN.com to find that to be true. Greed, anger, lust, pride, selfishness. They are diseases that run rampant not only in New York City but in cultures across the world. That means that you do not have to go to New York, Jamaica, or China to bring Light to a Dark place. Chances are your classroom is just as dark. Chances are your office is just as dark. Chances are your dorm is just as dark. Chances are your apartment is just as dark. God has called us out of Darkness into the Light so that we might be the Light into the Darkness. Remember, you are the brightest Light some may ever see. Never forget that you carry this Light with every step you take. When you walk into the Darkness you expose it. Expect resistance. Expect it to not understand. But, do not be intimidated. For the Light inside of you has overcome all the Darkness and all the world. The Light invades the Darkness, and the Darkness must retreat. You are Light.
That is why this series has been called Prayer and Light. Those are the two themes that reoccurred in my mind as the week progressed, and as I looked back while writing these posts. There are so many other things that God taught me through conversations with people and friendships I made while on the trip, but these are the core nuggets that I walked away with knowing I could apply them to my life away from the city.
And that was one of our goals of the trip: We wanted to be able to take back what we learned from our trip to New York and apply it to our day to day lives back in Athens. So, from that perspective, our trip was successful–again.
I hope these posts have encouraged you in ways that I cannot even imagine. I pray that my words have spoken truth, hope, life, and grace into your life. That, in the end, they are not my words, but the very words of God that resonate deep within your soul.
So, may you be lead to a posture of prayer daily. May God remind you that He wants to be a part of every area of your life–no matter how big or small. May you never forget that you take the Light wherever you walk, that with each step you take, Light invades the Darkness; it cannot hide. May you be bold in your steps and strategic in your movements. Never forget that God is not finished with you yet. He is still crafting, still molding, still creating a new You, chipping away and smoothing out the parts that do not fit. Do not be overcome by the desires that this world tempts you with. Its illusions of instant gratification, perfection, and love are just that: fake. Remember that this is not your home; you are a stranger in this land sent to proclaim Good News to the poor, blind, and oppressed. So take the message of hope, love, grace, peace, and life to everyone. Look for divine appoints. Ask for unbelievable favor. Believe God for the impossible. Expect things bigger than you can comprehend. Never short-change our God for He does miracles every day–whether we acknowledge them or not.
So, may God give your heart the eyes to see this season of life be defined by these two simple things:
Prayer and Light.
An Open Letter to My Famiglia