Greetings from beautiful Montreat, NC where I am spending the week with the IPC youth for the annual youth conference. This has been a fantastic week together with lots of worship, singing, small groups, great conversations, much laughter, and some holy tears. Montreat is the kind of place that invites that. I find I breathe more deeply when I am here. I hope you will join us next Sunday night, July 23 at the 5pm worship service to hear more from the youth about their experiences here. They have a lot to share!
What I want to tell you today is that I am grateful to again be in a place that above all else reminds me of God's provision. The picture you see is the view out the front door of the house we call the "girls' house," where I am staying with our rising 10th and 11th grade girls. Can you think of a better image of the goodness of God than a flower and vegetable garden bursting from the side of a mountain? We start our days with this view in mind.
You see, Montreat and the conferences and study opportunities offered here have been a significant part of my Christian formation. I've been coming here since I was a youth myself. When I sit in Anderson Auditorium during worship, I find myself thinking about all the other times I have been there. I wish I could find my 15-year-old self in the crowd- and I swear it feels like she could be there!- and whisper in her ear, "All will be well." I think about how when I was a teenager we joked about all the rocks and benches that have plaques with people's names on them. Now, there are even more plaques, and I know a lot of the names of those saints. I count it as blessing to feel them near, and to be in this place that so many Presbyterians have stewarded for these many years. That makes me grateful for our connections within this appendage of the body of Christ, and for our rich Presbyterian heritage. Again, pure blessing, God's great love poured into and out of ordinary, yet somehow extraordinary men, women, children- and especially this week- teenagers!
You might have heard us say with some pride (forgive us) that we have a record number of youth with us on this trip. We are here with 33 teenagers, 3 IPC staff members (Catherine Goudreau, Gann Wright, and me), 4 adult volunteer chaperones (Kitchen Goddesses Stacy Pulliam and Cathy DeLozier, the man who can drive a van up the steepest of grades, Barry DeLozier, and Gann's mom, Suzanne Wright who is not even a member of IPC but who was willing to jump in), and 1 delightful intern, Sam Phillips. I mention them by name, because they too are signs to me of God's provision. As the size of this group continued to grow, we wrung our hands a little bit, worried that we would not be able to handle the logistics of taking a large group. But housing, transportation and chaperones fell into place. By some miracle, we even ended up with precisely the right number of functional air mattresses. At every turn, God made a way.
The Psalm that plays in my head as I tromp up and down these hills is Psalm 121, not coincidentally a psalm about God's provision:
I lift up my eyes to the hills— from where will my help come?
My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth.
He will not let your foot be moved; he who keeps you will not slumber.
He who keeps Israel will neither slumber nor sleep.
The Lord is your keeper; the Lord is your shade at your right hand.
The sun shall not strike you by day, nor the moon by night.
The Lord will keep you from all evil; he will keep your life.
The Lord will keep your going out and your coming in from this time on and forevermore.
This is the Word of the Lord, and the gospel truth. Thanks be to God!