thin place- a place where the boundary between heaven and earth is especially thin
On Saturday I returned home after a week in my favorite place in the world, Montreat. Montreat is a tiny town of less than 800 people nestled in the mountains of western North Carolina. It is also home to Montreat Conference Center, a Presbyterian Church (USA) conference center. Although many conferences take place at Montreat during the year, the six weeks of summer youth conferences are arguably the highlight of each year.
I attended Montreat Youth Conference for the first time at age sixteen. My youth minister convinced me to go, even though I was nervous about the trip and wasn't so sure what was so great about this place anyway. I quickly found out. These mountains became a place where I experienced God's peace and love, which previously seemed out of reach. The growing pains of being a teenager were eased by genuinely friendly faces who made me feel safe and known. That first summer, I saw a woman minister in the pulpit, who told us that she was persuaded that nothing could separate us from God's love in Christ Jesus. I believed her. Her words would come back to me years later; during each difficult season, I was reminded and persuaded of the fierce love of God.
At seventeen, I returned for my second youth conference. This time, I was able to help with conference leadership through a special small group called the Jeremiah Project. I didn't know what the word "vocation" really meant back then, but I knew I wanted to be a part of the group that was able to help plan and lead worship. One night, I was leading the liturgy in front of nearly one thousand people; all was dark except for the bright spotlight on me. In that moment, my typically shy self felt a wave of peace, the peace that comes from God alone. One of my youth leaders suggested that maybe I was meant for the ministry instead of teaching. I brushed off her comment at the time, but the seed was planted.
My final youth conference was a blur of emotions and nostalgia. I remember wondering when I would return to this place again, for these mountains held so many pieces of my story.
I would return several times during college, but it was never the same as that Montreat magic that seems especially alive in the summer. I say that these mountains hold a part of me, and it is absolutely true. This place is where I learned to truly love myself, where I first felt the call to ministry, and where I started to grow into the woman of faith that I am today.
I served as a small group leader for one week this summer, and as soon as I stepped foot onto the Montreat grounds, I was reminded of the hold this place has on me. I have swam in the bluest Spanish waters, hiked to castles that hold thousands of years of history, and stood in awe before the works of Picasso, Gaudí, and Goya. Yet this sacred corner of the North Carolina mountains is what has captured my heart the most. I entered this week excited, but nervous. I knew all of one person there, and didn't really know what to expect in terms of serving as a small group leader.
Thanks be to God, because this week was filled with grace, community, and the Spirit working in more ways than I could have imagined. I quickly found new friends in the planning team and other small group leaders. It took getting sick at Montreat to remind me of the depths of God's grace. As a classic Helper (Enneagram 2, anyone?!), it is difficult to be in the role of the one being cared for. I am the first friend to reach out and lend a listening ear, boots on the ground, ready to help. I was simply overwhelmed as I experienced my new friends pulling together to be Church for me. Soup and crackers in bed, cold meds delivered, friends checking in on me, a plate of food waiting for me after I emerged from my room...
And maybe that's the thing about grace. It's so shocking because it's always abundant and can never be earned. For me, crackers and hot tea became a sneak peek of what I would experience at the Table that Thursday; grace and nourishment for the journey, because of the One who shared that holy meal with his friends almost two thousand years ago.
And don't even get me started about the group of teenagers entrusted to me this week. It was truly one of the deepest honors of my life to hold space for their questions and stories. Adults, consider that a lot of kids aren't looking for an answer, but for someone to show up and be with them in both their joy and pain. These bright, funny, and insightful teenagers showed me grace, love, and some serious Kingdom of God action. For the Kingdom is not some far off place, but when God's people are laughing, praying, crying, and playing together. Group 23, thanks for being my faith teachers.
Montreat is my thin place, through and through. The line between heaven and earth gets thinner each time I come back. These mountains hold my laughter, tears, joy, and sadness. They hold memories of a sixteen year old learning to love herself as God sees her, and a twenty-two year old trying to live in light of God's call. It's where laughter is abundant, new friends are always near, and the Spirit is gleefully at work.
At the core of it, Montreat always leaves me feeling a bit lighter, and a bit more free.
Thanks be to God.