As I’ve been preparing for tonight the only thing I had in mind was this: It’s Josh’s last youth group and we need to make it awesome for him. Josh was my intern for the past two years. Over my time at North I’ve had a college intern most years – some for a semester, others for the entire school year. When Josh agreed to continue on for a second year I was beyond thrilled! He’s organized, prepared, joyful, outgoing and everyone loves him. On top of that, he works hard – really, really hard. I’m constantly amazed at all he is able to accomplish in a day!
So, tonight, the last youth group of the school year, was also Josh’s last night with us. However, it later dawned on me – this was my last night at youth group too. I honestly had not considered that until a few days ago.
The last time we’d sit around the tables for Sunday night dinner. The last time we’d gather together in the youth room. The last time we’d share in “candle time” together. The last time I’d wait outside with volunteers until the last student is picked up. It’s funny because normally I’m ready to leave as soon as that last student is picked up…tonight though, it was like none of us were ready to leave. The last one was gone and all the adults just stood around talking. Thirty minutes later I had to say – ok, it’s time for us to go. And even then, there were more hugs and more goodbyes.
There are still more “lasts” to come. Thankfully I didn’t have to say my final goodbyes to anyone tonight. Josh and I will still be in touch. I’ll see most of the families again this Friday night for the ASP reunion dinner (North’s 25 years of participating in this mission project!). There are still a few more events before June 11 – my last Sunday. And even after that I’ll still have a week with 27 youth and adults on our final mission trip together.
Tonight felt like a significant ending though. I remember the first time I saw that youth room. One of the associate pastors, Lisa, also known as my boss, gave me a tour of the building one evening before VBS started. I remember running into Maddy and Sarah in the kitchen – Lisa warned me about them 😉 But, walking into that youth room, I had no idea what was in store for me… Sunday night conversations and group singing, Friday night lock-ins, weekend fasts, Sunday mornings of pastries and half-asleep teenagers. The stories that fill that room…it’s almost too much to consider.
As we sang You are Holy one last time tonight, I scanned the room – new faces of 6th and 7th graders, my college kids who I’ve known since they were 11, parents who’ve supported me continuously, even my boss was there. I couldn’t help but smile and let my heart fill with gratitude. It’s not always been perfect – there were some tough moments in that room. But those tough moments brought us closer, helped us grow, and taught us about grace and forgiveness.
In a few months someone else will walk into that room not knowing what that space really means. They won’t know the stories told there. But, like me, they’ll learn some of old stories while creating new ones.
Laughter, tears. Joy, sorrow. Firsts, lasts. There’s no right or wrong way through this journey. I go from laughter to tears and back to laughter. I hug knowing it’s not the last one quite yet, but also knowing the last one is coming. One step at a time. Each moment by moment. That’s the only way through.