Today is one of the most important Sundays of the year. It’s the first Sunday after the 4th of July and that means it’s the start of Montreat Youth Conference Week 3. 1500 youth and their leaders have rolled through the Montreat gates (or perhaps around. No need to bring back #MakeMontreatGateAgain.), bringing their energy, excitement, and passions with them.
As far back as I can remember, I have been giddy on this day. It’s one I look forward to all year—Montreat is the place in my life that feels most like home, and when I pass through those gates for the week I know that I’m going to be with some of the greatest people I know.
I knew going into this YAV year that I’d miss Montreat this summer, and even that this particular week wouldn’t be easy. But I didn’t expect the deep ache I’d feel knowing that all of my people are in my favorite place and I’m not, an ache that I can’t identify as anything other than homesickness.
Catherine and I started going to Montreat with the youth group when we were practically babies–Catherine still had to take a nap in clubs (she’s still bitter about that). My summers are marked by Youth Conference themes, theme songs, and the normalcy of seeing the same people once a year. Montreat was, and is, home.
Sometimes I think that Montreat is how I, a preacher’s kid who has seen some ugly stuff in church world, made it through life still loving the church. The weeks I spent in that thin place were the weeks that I was reminded that I had pastors, freeing my dad to just be my dad. Those were the weeks that I knew with full certainty that I was surrounded by a group of people who would love me no matter what. As a rising senior in high school, Montreat was the place where I realized how hard it would be to move away from the only home I could remember, and it was with the circle of people that I’d trusted and counted on for so long that I could allow myself to feel the weight and pain of that move. As a graduated senior, I stood in Anderson Auditorium on the last night and was surrounded by people who reminded me that I was never going to be alone as I left home to journey through the sacred mess we call life.
Montreat and the people I associate Montreat with have only become more important as I have gotten older. Sometimes I laughingly tell people that I use summers to recharge from the craziness of the academic year by exhausting myself through youth trips. I leave things like the Montreat Middle School Conference or the High School Conference ready to sleep for days. And yet, I’m energized, ready to take on new passions, and so assured of my place with those I love that the physical exhaustion doesn’t really matter.
It’s been a long time since I have done a summer without at least one trip to Montreat, and I’m not really sure I remember how to do it. I miss it: being reminded to be gentle with pews that are older than my grandmother, the feeling of the freezing cold creek water on my toes, the sound of 1500 youth and adults actually singing together, feeling silly (and not caring!) during energizers, the peace of an early morning run, even the way that your towel never really dries.
More than that, though, I miss sitting on the porch of The Huckleberry with mint chocolate chip ice cream and catching up with my family (the ones I chose and the ones I was given), laughing so hard that I worry my stomach will never feel the same, being reminded that nothing is so horrible that some time with your people can’t make it seem a little better, crying both because of life’s beauty and also it’s brokenness, and simply being in a beautiful place with some beautiful people.
This week, my body is in DC, but my heart is in Montreat. If you need me, I’ll be the one singing Come Thou Fount under her breath, trying desperately hard not to think about what people in Montreat are doing (because, let’s be real, I have the Youth Conference schedule memorized at this point), and reminding herself that not going to Montreat is not the end of the world. For those in Montreat–sing loudly, do Wavin’ Flag with much gusto, drink a lot of coffee from the Drip, enjoy some mint chocolate chip ice cream, and stick your toes in the creek… And know that there’s no where in the world I’d rather be than with you.