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Weakness

This summer I spent six golden weeks in middle-of-nowhere Dahlonega, GA at LifeTeen’s summer camp Hidden Lake, and it wrecked my life. As has every mass since. At camp we woke up exhausted and went to bed exhausted, and we did everything as a community (including peeing our pants (if you didn’t pee your pants at every dance party was it really a dance party?) ) That part was exhausting too. Community is hard, people. But it’s more than hard, and that’s what I learned this summer. That “hard” is just a tiny part of life with Christ. In fact it becomes so minuscule that it becomes sweet, because the amount of love and grace and fruit that comes from “hard” makes you ardently desire sacrifice and desire to give in those particular ways, small and big, in order to be made soft.
At this camp I was given the opportunity every weekday morning to wake up early for either a holy half hour or a holy whole hour. I didn’t always choose the whole, because sleep was scarce, but when I did it was fruitful. And when I didn’t it was also fruitful, because Jesus was there both ways. (🔥) Then the community would pray morning prayer and each day the schedule was different after that. When there were campers, we went straight to breakfast to see our people and hang out with them the rest of the day until the missionaries met again as a community late that night. Y’all. Waking up was so hard, but I honestly wouldn’t have wanted to serve any other way. And what made it sweeter was on the way to the chapel teens were showing up to confession. They were waking up the same time as us, walking down the road to face their weakness on a grassy knoll in the middle of nowhere Georgia with a priest they’d never met. That’s Jesus winning y’all. I saw Jesus in these teens every day. And I saw Jesus doing so much work in every single person who stepped foot on camp property, from the mailman to the food delivery truck drivers to the bus drivers to the chaperones to the teens to the summer missionaries. He just wants to move and love. And it’s so obvious, and literally all that people did was pray and ask. That’s it. (#Jesusincreaseourdesire)

Like seriously. I am the worst summer missionary. I am so bad at so many things, and I failed so many times in so many ways. And I am so weak. But in all that, this summer I was able to see how much I needed a Savior, and that knowledge allowed my heart to let Jesus be who He is. Just by asking. He is no longer just a friend, to me, He is a Savior, a compassionate Father… This was so slowly revealed to me this summer, but it all peaked when I was kneeling on a mountain at mass at the end of camp, looking at myself in hatred and disgust and just being really mean to myself. Amidst all of that, Jesus spoke to me and He said this: “Emma. Your weaknesses do not discount you from my love.” Jot that down. Because he did not say to me that I am perfect and wonderful and amazing, He said he loved me. He did not lie to me or deceive me, but He said He loved me. Y’all… We just always think we need to be more. We need to be better at praying, more disciplined, more. But really, we just need more Jesus. Which means we need to be weaker.

Jesus Christ died and walked with us and suffered with us, and that’s a freaking big deal. But that is not the end of the story! The end of the story is that HE ROSE. And that is the part of history that we get to live into, that Jesus conquered death and sin. And the glory of that is that NOTHING can separate us from His love, He has shown us that. He is still here and He promised to send His spirit to dwell with us, that means He walks with us and that’s flipping cool. You know that gospel where the disciples are fishing, and they aren’t catching anything, but then Jesus says, hey throw the net in the exact same spot, and they do and they catch TONS of fish? (John 21) The disciples were doing an ordinary task, and it was only successful and fruitful and fulfilling when they did what Jesus told them to do. That was the difference. They did it with Jesus. He is here, and He is alive. And we are chosen and we are loved. And I am so grateful for the simple genius of LifeTeen missions and the yeses of each person who served with me, from summer staff, to those who cooked for us (and loved us so well!!), to those full time missionaries who led us so well. Thank you for trusting me, and loving Jesus, and being the best at building a good community.
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In Savannah ♫

On Sunday March 13th, the UNG’s Catholic Campus Ministry took the Mobile Missions’ bus on a trip to Savannah, Georgia for a Spring Break Mission Trip. For those of you who don’t already know, the bus has been completely overhauled and renovated by our campus minister and her husband, Jaime & David Roberts (who run the Mobile Mission Ministry). There are benches that line the interior walls, making it convenient to talk, have fun, and even sleep during a road trip.  We made it down to Savannah in about six hours after two stops: one for gas and one for food – but really they were both bathroom breaks. We arrived at the Villa Maria Center, a Catholic retreat center run by the Diocese of Savannah and maintained by Sister Pat. The center was beautiful and had a dining hall, large commercial kitchen, a pool house with showers, a chapel, fire pit, dock, and fields to play soccer, badminton, and volleyball on. The sun had set on the first day of our trip to Savannah, and we all prepared our sleeping spots, either in the dining hall or on the bus. All of the girls claimed the bus, and as we got into our sleeping bags and hunkered down for the night, we talked about our dreams and aspirations.

On the next day, we awoke at 7:15am. Rising and shining was not easy, 12593914_10102121225025073_2733725866981445118_obut we got dressed and headed down to the chapel to do MorningPrayer together. We then got back on the bus to drive to St. James Catholic Church for their 8:30am Mass. When we walked in, I’m confident that we lowered the age average by at least a few years. The Mass was short and the parishioners were welcoming and friendly. We got back on the bus and headed back to Villa Maria to change into play clothes for the day and to enjoy a hearty breakfast together, cooked by the one and only, David Hunter.

12027376_10102121187071133_8476906216317656042_oWe then got back on the bus to head to downtown Savannah to explore the city we were there to serve. We walked through Forsyth Park and up and down the beautiful streets of the city. We explored some of the grassy squares, saw the spot where Forrest Gump was filmed sitting on a park bench in Chippewa Square. We used the restroom inside the SCAD welcome center, took pictures outside the front of the cathedral, and we took a stroll down River Street. We ate lunch at Tubby’s, a restaurant that overlooks the river, and then walked back to the bus to go to Blessingdale’s, the thrift store where we would do our mission work. This store funds The Living Vine, a Christian Maternity Home that houses pregnant women that have nowhere else to go. They also host a yard sale every month and split the proceeds with local youth groups who volunteer and help the yard sale.

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When we arrived to Blessingdale’s, we got the grand tour of the chaos we were being thrown into. The thrift store had a few other college groups who were volunteering there for the week also. We jumped right in with them. 12841411_10102121228857393_6968189626917290546_oSome of our group was in the processing center, where the donations are dropped off to be sorted later. There were countless shoes to be sorted into pairs by gender, sizes, and how they should be sold (either in the thrift store or into a yard sale pile.). The other part of the group was brought to an annex storage facility with cold water and ice for the group that had been there all day. 12308166_10102121231871353_236504269034707087_oThere was no air conditioning and the volunteers who were there 10549213_10102121231117863_5375589133194822441_olooked like the ice and water we brought was an answer to their prayers – looking back on it now, it probably was. Those of us on that trip finally made it back to the processing center to help sort, not only shoes, but also housewares, small appliances, décor pieces, and clothing. The men of the group used their muscles to move the heavy furniture and trash items. We closed down the shop at 6pm and made it back to Villa Maria, our temporary home. We played games together and had a delicious dinner together. We took turns taking showers in the pool house and counted down the hours until we could sleep.

Tuesday started just the same, Morning Prayer in the chapel, then off to St. James for 8:30am Mass. This time Mass was celebrated by a different priest than the day before. We talked with a few parishioners afterwards who were interested in what we were doing and how we were helping their community. One lady even donated $50 to us for our efforts (which we donated to The Living Vine Maternity Home). After Mass, we went back to Villa Marie to change and eat another breakfast, and we also made and packed our lunches for the day. We then walked out the door and onto the bus, as we left for Blessingdale’s.

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O12377827_10102121232320453_7683220904718349108_our group broke off again and many of us went back to sorting shoes, and the other half went to the back room of the store. You see, the store has always been at this location, but they had just recently secured the warehouse building next door to use as their processing center. There was almost no good working system for them because as soon as they could put stuff onto the shelves to sell items, 100’s of new donations were being dropped off. We were really able to leave them in much better shape than we had found it when we arrived. Those of us in the back room group put some stuff out on the floor to sell and then the real work started. We wiped down the pollen-covered shelves, and moved them so they were all together. We moved, boxed, and organized tools that the store uses. Lunch came and we could finally sit down and eat on the bus while talking about all the work we were doing. We were on an amazing journey of self-discovery because while we cleaned and organized we were also helping people who could not help themselves. We quickly got back to work and continued the tasks we were given. After 6:00pm, we got back on the bus, exhausted and happy. We made it home to shower and play games. We set up some tents and hammocks this night too. We had built an amazing community among ourselves – we laughed about inside jokes and were making new ones. We built a fire and cooked hotdogs for dinner, then prayed the rosary together to close out the day.

Wednesday started with Morning Prayer and Mass again before breakfast and heading back to the thrift store. All of the workers who were there were so grateful, but to me, it really did not seem like that big of a deal. I just saw this as sharing the time and talents we had been given with people whom we might not ever get to meet. I saw it as an opportunity for growth. We finished the backroom and the shoes, and we were given different tasks, like taking down tables, fixing the clothes racks and putting more clothes out. We worked the tedious jobs that I’m sure the ladies at the store were glad they had people to help do. We wiped furniture and trinkets, and put tags on pins and earrings. At the end of the day, we took a moment to shop and buy some things from the store as well. We invested some of our money into the shop we had spent so much time improving. We also got to share the Mobile Mission bus with the ladies at the shop to show them how cool it is. We prayed with them before leaving, maybe to never return or see the fruit of our labors, but we know we helped them and that’s all we could ask.

After leaving Blessingdale’s for the last time, we went to Leopald’s, a famous ice cream parlor downtown. We had prayed that we would get a good space in line because on Monday we saw that the line was wrapped outside the building. Our prayers were answered – there was no line at all when we arrived! The ice cream was just as good as the company we shared it with. We made it back to Villa Maria to shower, play games, and grow closer to one another in our conversations. We built another fire and had dinner around it again, before closing the night out with another rosary. Because it was our last night together, we tried to keep our eyes open as long as possible and spend more quality time together into the wee hours of the night.

10575264_10102121204476253_4915432978764126931_oOn Thursday morning, we had to wake up much earlier in order to say Morning Prayer and make it to a different church for an 8:00am Mass at the Cathedral downtown. The parking was atrocious because of it being the St. Patrick’s Day parade. We finally found a spot and hiked over 20 blocks to Mass. The Cathedral was packed to the brim with a sea of green Catholics in preparation for the big parade. The Mass was said by the Bishop of Savannah, and there were close to ten other priests on the altar to help celebrate Mass. The homily was said by an Irish priest, and his words made me want to go to Ireland and see the beauty and the seminary there. There were photographers taking pictures throughout the Mass, which in all honesty, made me feel a little awkward, but we got through it. After Mass we trekked back to the bus and headed to Tybee Island. On the way to Tybee, we noticed how many of our other friends were in Savannah for the parade, but I was thankful for not being in the chaos.

We made it to Tybee and hung out on the beach. The weather was nice, but the water was cold. We played frisbee and talked about the future, and tried not to think about the fact that our time together like this was almost over. We got back on the bus and went to Villa Maria. We packed and loaded up all of our things. We swept and cleaned the areas we used, and then we loaded on the bus and headed home.

12484849_10102121232874343_8274138329976764201_o12794867_10102121232954183_1559684659614895432_o12593921_10102121168747853_2839063439468622476_oThe bus trip was filled with music from a guitar, a djembe drum, and an authentic tin whistle. Laughter filled the air, as did the heavy breathing of sleeping people.  We made it back to Dahlonega and grabbed food before sharing our goodbyes and going our separate ways. We started great friendships on this trip and we were able to share our talents with those who needed it. While we may not see the fruits of our labor during our time serving in Savannah, we still served God and shared him with everyone we met.