Life Interrupted, by Julie Doerfler
July 24, 2012
The following verse is one we heard often in New Orleans at the ELCA Youth Gathering: “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?’ And the king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.’” Matthew 25:37-40
It was truly a privilege for me to be at the gathering in New Orleans with seventeen young people and unbelievable adults who felt called to chaperone our kids. All week, the kids were bombarded with the message of service. Many times we heard, be the change you want to see in the world, go out and serve, listen to how God is calling you and many more phrases that challenged all of us. Even the gathering theme song was “I Want My Life to Make a Difference”.
Pastor Mary wrote a blog a couple of weeks ago after a trip to Green Bay with several of the interns for Pastor Todd Murken’s funeral. Unfortunately she had car trouble on the way to Green Bay, barely made it to the funeral and had to leave her car there, find rides for herself and the interns and try to get back to preach for the Wednesday night service.
In her blog she wrote, “My plans for the day were totally interrupted by LIFE. But it’s amazing how many of our most memorable moments happen when life turns us upside down. I’m pretty sure that the interns who were with me will remember this time in the moving sauna more than any sermon that I might have preached. We formed a hot and hopeful community in that Ford Windstar. I feel that I was blessed by getting to know our interns a little bit better and surviving this experience with them. My original plans for the day were only a small portion of what God had in store for me.”
I would like to share with you “a couple of interruptions” that our group had this past week and how we were blessed by those interruptions. First of all, most everyone in our group was looking forward to some good New Orleans style food on our trip. Well, unless you call pizza and subs good New Orleans style food, we didn’t have any. The restaurants were packed and even groups with reservations were turned away. Champion’s Square, where there were many food booths, was closed part of the time because of inclement weather. So one night before the large group gathering at the dome, after trying to find a restaurant for our group and finding our only option was Subway again, some of us decided to treat ourselves to an a la carte buffet that we had at Walgreens which included cheese sticks, yogurt, various kinds of canned nuts, ice cream, crackers and lots of candy. It was a beautiful evening and they did have wonderful outdoor seating ….but just no tables or chairs. There were very few complaints though as we were sharing the sidewalk with a sleeping homeless lady with her life’s belongings beside her in a shopping cart. We also witnessed JR take a man who had asked for money into the store to buy him a loaf of bread, some peanut butter and a drink for his dinner. As Pastor Mary said, God had different plans for us.
Another interruption was definitely the weather. We were all hoping to see a little of the city. Those in the group who were there three years ago got us all excited to see some of the historic parts of New Orleans, the French Quarter and of course Bourbon Street (in the daytime). Well, unfortunately the only day that we would have had time to do this, we were caught in a flash flood walking to the Convention Center and couldn’t walk back until late in the day because of the weather. Still wet and cold when we got back to the hotel that night, we decided that we couldn’t do another walk in that weather, so opted to not go to the Superdome for the evening gathering, to order pizza (again), and to do some activities at our hotel with just our group. We did a five page trivia with questions about everyone in our group. We learned a lot about each other through that little exercise. We did “highs and lows” which was very interesting and later sang and had a communion service in our room. This was a great bonding night for our group. Not sure God planned the flood so our group would become closer, but he did have a plan for our group for that night.
It is obvious when spending a week with a group that each individual has a different gift. Some of our kids needed to rise to the occasion and lead us to the convention center that morning when all of our heads were covered with hoods and umbrellas and the water was knee high, some of our group needed to be the hands on the shoulder and support when one of our kids shared a difficult time that she was going through, some kids needed to be the worker bees and take care of the tasks, some of the kids needed to keep us organized as we tried to travel in one big group, some kids felt comfortable leading us in prayer. We definitely had outreach people, we had unbelievably conscientious workers at the painting project and true caregivers.
I am a firm believer that every decision you make in life and everything you do impacts the direction of your life in at least some small way. There is no way that these kids could do what they did during this past week and not have their lives changed to some degree. Our service project was painting a school in New Orleans. It was interesting to watch the expressions on the kid’s faces as they were being told that it was the second most dangerous school in the country, that they have a nearly 80% drop out rate, that there were only a total of 25 kids on the combined A,B and C honor roll, that there were no lockers because of the drugs and weapons in the school and that a gang from the school had made 27 attempts to burn the school down. The speakers, the music, the worship, communion, sharing a bus with 50 people for 18 hours….all things that may change the direction at least just a little bit.
I am quite certain that for many of you (and I know for myself), what we are doing in life now is not what we thought we would be doing when we were the age of the kids who attended the gathering. Our plans have been interrupted by LIFE along the way, sometimes more painful than we think we can handle. It is exciting to sit and talk to these kids about what their dreams are, but it is also reality to know that along the way God will interrupt their plans with LIFE. After sharing this past week with them and seeing the gifts that all of the kids have been blessed with, I am excited to see the paths that these wonderful young people will be taking and where God will be leading them.