This past week, at St. Louis University High School (St. Louis, MO) I accompanied 15 students and 5 adults to Martin, KY, on an Alternative Spring Break trip. We spent the week constructing a ramp, a porch, a new set of stairs, as well as covering a house with vinyl siding for a family in the area. It was a week of hard labor, little sleep, yet unbelievable joy. However, to be honest, before the week began, I was dreading it.
Coming out of exam week and wrapping up a quarter that seemed to end with a sprint, traveling and doing manual labor for a week was not my immediate desire. Additionally, I’ll admit that I was very nervous. I’d never done a mission trip before so I didn’t know what to expect. Maybe it was the exhaustion and frustration affecting me but my thoughts on the week were ones of fear, anxiety, and doubt. Not knowing many of the students, I was skeptical. My judgments of the group led me to believe this wasn’t going to be the greatest mesh of personalities. I assumed the trip was going to feel like a chore to be completed and I really doubted it would be worthwhile. I’m embarrassed to admit all of this but it’s true. This is the exactly where I was at.
A week later, upon returning home, I was relatively speechless when my family asked how the trip went. I didn’t know exactly how to describe the beauty I had just seen. All my preconceived notions had been chattered, all my doubts quenched, and fears replaced with joy. Yet, I couldn’t formulate a proper way of saying it. The only real thing I could articulate was that God was present.
That week, those 15 students impacted me profoundly, through their drive, enthusiasm, compassion, inclusivity, and faith. This was a group of students who weren’t afraid to be themselves, who were goofy and weird and awkward around each other and no one felt excluded. This was a group of students who worked hard on the construction each day, genuinely wanting to be there, and maintaining a high level of energy the entire time. This was a group of students who went out of their way to engage people, to interact, to form relationships. This was a group of students who brought faith to the forefront of the work. This was a group of students who, when asked to do a short reflection at the end of the evening, reflected for an hour and a half. In one word they were remarkable. Love was present. God was present and I saw Him every day we were there. They inspired me, they left me speechless.
What stands out to me, though, is that this was not the first time I’ve had this awe-inspiring experience. In fact, this has been a frequent occurrence. Too often, this year, I have participated in something with predetermined doubts, only to be blown away with love. Why then do I still doubt? How many times does God have to amaze me before I start believing?
The beauty of this ASC year is that you get to do so much. People are constantly coming to you with a trip to go on, an event to chaperone, a retreat to lead, or even boring jobs to complete. The wealth of experiences truly helps define the year, however, the busyness can also leave you with stress and pessimism. At times, I’ve struggled to find the proper balance.
I heard a quote recently in a talk that has stuck out to me:
“Jesus didn’t complete tasks in the Gospels. He was with people.”
When I get caught up trying to get everything done, my mind reverts to that attitude I had at the beginning of Spring Break. But what this year has taught me is the importance of being present with others during those times. When I was able to remove the judgments and immerse myself amidst those 20 other people, I was transformed. The love they showed and God’s presence amongst them challenged me to reevaluate myself. Hopefully, this is a wonderful testament to how we should orient our mindset each day. It’s not about what has to be done or all that is left to do, my focus should be on who I get to interact with, on where I can discover the beauty in others.
As I enter the final quarter of my ASC year, I have a new goal: each time I get bogged down with work, I must remind myself of the areas in my day when I can stop and be present with those around me, to whom can I show love?
Don’t complete tasks. Be with people.