Saturday was one of the greatest days of my life. Thanks to everyone who participated in the youth group reunion — either by your physical attendance or by your updates, thoughts and kind words.
I was profoundly and emotionally affected by the whole experience. I need to blog about it to help me process it all –and for those of you who weren’t there, I want to tell you how it went.
For months I personally invested a lot of time, effort, and mental energy getting ready for this reunion. It was the right thing to do and I was going to get it done. The preparations were all very task-oriented and I like tasks: planning, communicating, reserving, organizing, displaying, etc. I spent the last two nights at church, maximizing the time needed in making the final preparations.
At 7 am Saturday morning we loaded up all the memorabilia and refreshments for the “Meet & Greet”, which was held at our old church building. (Thanks to Faith Bible for letting us use their facility.) We set up 20 tables in their gym and displayed a year’s worth of memories on each (photos, t-shirts, trip booklets, etc). Haley Neiderhizer, our intern, surprised Mark and I with giant photo posters of us for people to sign. It was neat that she gave people a way to express themselves. Gina, my admin, set up the refreshments.
At 10 am, people from the “early years” started arriving, and it was fun to see people reconnecting and reminiscing and sharing long-forgotten stories. As the “Meet & Greet” progressed, alumni from later years arrived. It was delightful watching these students and sponsors reconnect with each other. My enjoyment was watching them enjoy it. This event was planned just for them!
When the “Meet & Greet” ended at 3 pm we had a mere three hours to clean up and transport everything back to our new building for the Banquet. We set up the memorabilia display tables once again and checked on the decorations and food (Ken Owens and his team did a fabulous job!)
Alumni started arriving just before 6 and I again enjoyed watching them enjoy their event. During the delicious dinner, we projected the 100+ current family photos that had been submitted by alumni and we played a youth group worship CD that was recorded in 1997. Everything was going just as I had planned.
The after-dinner program was to be simple. We would sing worship songs from over the years–using an overhead projector for the earliest ones! We would recognize the sponsors for their service and present a special gift to Charley Snodgrass, who has been a sponsor for 25 consecutive years. And then Mark Eades and I would each share about 15 minutes of reflections.
When Mark E got up to speak, rather than address the alumni, he started addressing me. I could sense that something was going on that I had not planned. Little did I realize that the party that I had planned was about to be sabotaged! Suddenly, he announced that a special guest from my past had arrived to join me for this celebration of mine! Just as suddenly, my old friend Brian Carroll emerged from the side room and came up on the stage. He had driven 20 hours from Texas just to surprise me.
But I think the greater surprise to us all was the emotional impact that occurred within me at that moment. It wasn’t about Brian — because I’ve never gotten emotional over him before — but it was about what he represented. Since we became friends in college, Brian has been influential in my life — helping me to grow, challenging me to godliness, calling me on my sin, modeling Christlikeness to me. When he walked in, it reminded me of how significant relationships are.
And then I looked across the room full of people and I realized that what was true about Brian was equally true about every person in the room — and many more who couldn’t attend. During our youth group years together each of these precious people had shaped my life and I had shaped theirs in some way — on a retreat, in a bus, on a trip, in a stairway, etc. I realized at that moment that this reunion was not just for them, it was for me too. It wasn’t about well-managed tasks resulting in a party, it was about celebrating life-altering relationships. That is what had brought us together this day. A day that I will never forget.