I spent last weekend at the CYP Lifted Retreat, which happened to be at the same the retreat centre where I went to my first YFC youth camp back in July 1999. So it’s been almost exactly 20 years to the day since that first youth camp where I first properly considered that God was extending a personal love and invitation directly to me. No small thing.
It has also been well over a decade since I’ve been to Grose Vale. The retreat centre is unrecognisable on Google Maps – there are upgraded accommodation wings, a fancy new hall and a humble yet stunning chapel.
But… The conical building that was the hub of all activity for our YFC camps still stands. From there you can see the basketball and volleyball courts and the soccer field where hundreds of us would have spent our Saturday afternoon free time. I could practically hear the voices of my Kuyas and Ates embedded on those courts.
As I walked down the steps outside this building (which is now the designated dining hall for the retreat complex), a flood of memories came rushing back: listening to talks and the feeling that came with hearing someone speak such profound truth that my heart would sting; the testimonies from young people who have had a personal experience of healing and transformation and wanting desperately to feel that too; untangling and handing out name tags during Friday night registration; teaching songs with the music ministry; the exhilaration of riding the flying fox through the gum trees; laughing so hard my stomach hurt during the Saturday night talent shows… and, perhaps most importantly, the countless moments I discovered and rediscovered the face of Jesus in the hundreds of young people I have had the honour of meeting and serving with over the past 2 decades.
Coming back to this place (which I now know is a sacred space where I forged lifelong friendships and learnt so many beautiful but also challenging and heartbreaking life lessons) was something I wasn’t really prepared for. I didn’t think it would affect me that much. But I have a knack for remembering fine details and small yet significant moments… So as I knelt in the hall during Adoration last Saturday, I felt an overwhelming wave of gratitude. It charged through my body and left me sobbing.
I realise now what it was: profound gratitude for every single moment that God has had a hand in over the last 20 years since that first camp (and, let’s be real here, the last 30-something years of my life and far before that).
As a lifetime of memories flashed before me – of hearts broken and healed, of lessons lived through and learnt from, of all the amazing and all of the awful, of all the times I have worried and waited only to find that God really was looking after me in the best way possible… all the doors that have opened every time I’ve whispered ‘Your will be done’, every time he’s guided me (so often in my stubbornness) to something I didn’t realise was better than anything I had ever hoped for or imagined… I could just see so clearly and so plainly His infinite love… a love so perfect and profound and so powerful… I just wept and wept and even now as I write this, I’m weeping…because… guys… HE REALLY IS SO GOOD. It doesn’t always have to feel that way… but if you know in your heart that He is looking after you… my goodness, what peace you will find.
I look at where I am today and I just know I never, ever, ever, ever could have planned how my life has unfolded. Never. The control-freak in me could never have orchestrated the blessings I have in my life today. I would have played it safe. I would have stayed small. I would have let my fears get the better of me. I would have believed the lie that I don’t have anything worthy to offer the world. But no. God would not have that. Not for his daughter. Not for any of us.
Here’s the thing… Not everything feels or seems to be a blessing all the time or even at the time. No way. Some days are so painful I don’t want to get out of bed. Some work is so frustrating I want to throw things at the wall. Some people try my patience daily.
BUT what my faith has granted me through all of this is context for all my crosses. And when I look back, I can see God’s grace carrying me AND those crosses. I see how he’s turned my insecurities and uncertainty and incomplete gifts into opportunities to grow and to shine. He has transformed anything and everything I have ever given him – whether it’s a talk I feel unprepared to deliver, a difficult conversation with a colleague, deteriorating health, moments of unworthiness as a daughter or mother, 3am breastfeeds, a dodgily packed school lunch, an argument over (not) cleaning the kitchen… literally anything and everything – into something so much bigger and greater than I could ever really fathom.
So God… thank you. Last weekend I was asked to serve you by delivering a talk, but once again you floored me with your generosity, and showed me that whenever I give to you what little I have… you return to me an immeasurable, unsurpassable fullness of heart.
So blessed, I can’t contain it. So much, I’ve got to give it away.
P.S. If you’re in that photo from 20 years ago and want me to smudge out your face, contact me.