Sunday, January 30, 2011

FOCUS 2011

This weekend, Ross, Mary Kate and I headed north to Nashville to attend a FOCUS conference. Encouraged and helped by our favorite priest-friend Father Tim, we made the trek to the gorgeous Gaylord Opryland Hotel. 'Hotel' is a little misleading. A more accurate word might be 'town.' It was massive and toting a 17 lb baby monster totally counted as exercise for the weekend! Anyway, we joined Father Tim and 1500 college students from around the country, including our favorites from SCAD and GSU. It's a little early to process it all but I want to get it down before the week runs away with me.

I can describe the conference like this. For college football fans, a part of the joy of the game is the energy you get from all the people around you, all as pumped up as you are cheering on the Dawgs. Or if you love Jimmy Buffet, it's awesome to wear your  goofy shirts and sing along with other parrotheads who love him as much as you do. Well, for me, being in a room with over a thousand people who are all there to worship and praise their God as well as to learn and grow their faiths- it was pure joy. I stood next to my husband who was happy that one of the praise songs sounded more like Bono and less like my "loaf" songs (His translation for the Atlanta radio station, the Fish). Our child snug on my chest, I sang too loudly and too off- key but could not have been happier. Surrounded by my little family, watching those students pour out their hearts in love of and in need of Christ was pretty freaking awesome.

I feel like it was yesterday that I was one of our Campus Crusade retreats at UGA with chill bumps on my arms. I remember reading "the Light shines in the darkness" from the gospel of John. College was both a wonderful and difficult time in my life. Alongside the good, I was battling depression and terrible self-image. Being at one of those retreats where I heard over and over that God loved me no matter what I did or didn't do, no matter what I had done or would do- it was amazing. It seemed like the light truly was beginning to shine in a time of darkness for me. So, eight years later, I smiled, looking at the students knowing the hope that some of them, experiencing their own darkness, would find during their time in Nashville.

Some other tidbits of excitement for me during the conference came from the breakout sessions. The director of FOCUS missions spoke about love of God and love of neighbor being 'inseparable' and forming one commandment. Because, in a sense, God is your neighbor. He is the guy on the exit ramp holding a sign or the family member making you want to pull your hair out. If we claim to love God, there is no choice but to love our neighbors.  I loved that. The executive director, Curtis Martin, spoke later about how we often serve God. He told a great story about a pope who was sick with a bad heart, confined to his room in the papal apartment in Rome. Starting with one person and then multiplying to thousands, people said "Father, Take MY heart," out of a desire to literally give their hearts to save his. One day, the pope teetered out to his balcony and said, "okay, I will blow this feather down and who ever it lands on can give me their heart." People were excited, ready to give their heart to save the pope. Except that as the feather grew nearer and nearer to them, they started to blow it away.

It's hard to get the effect without hearing the story, but I loved the point- that we frequently say "I'll follow you anywhere God, do anything for you, be it done unto me according to your will" except in certain cases where your will might be uncomfortable,  scary or not involve cable tv, chocolate and diet coke.  I left feeling pretty convicted about areas of my marriage, about plans for our family and our future where I was talking a whole lot of smack about trusting God but in the end, blowing the feather of God's will away when it got scary.

So, in the end, this weekend for me was an exhilirating, exhausting, encouraging and wonderful experience. To spend a weekend in worship with my family was a lifelong dream come true. Even if the littlest member of this family was up literally every hour Friday night in what Ross agrees was maybe the worst night since she was BORN (saying a lot because that monster was a pain in the neck months 1-3). We forgave her quickly Saturday morning when I discovered the culprit as her first, precious, piercing baby tooth. It was wonderful even if taking a 6 month old to Mass 3 times in 2 days is akin to cruel and unusual punishment. It's okay, we fully expect for there to be no roadblocks on our way to St. Peter for that craziness ;)  And despite our belief that no weekend away should ever include a baby crib in our hotel room, we are so glad we went. Our time with the students, our wonderful talks with the nuns and priests there, our time worshiping God lit a fire inside my heart to keep  answering God's call for my life- as a wife and mother and sometimes social worker. Every bit of squealing baby and the absolute craziness that is traveling with a child was worth it. Thanks to Padre Tim for making it possible and for being so accomodating and to the many, many students that loved on and smiled at and complimented the little girl squealing during talks and Mass.

MK and FT during praise and worship. Our only pic of the weekend (we were tag teaming that smiling little loud mouth) but one that melts my heart into a puddle.


  1. keri - that's awesome! i would love to do a weekend like that. of course our weekends being fri and sat kinda makes that hard. by the way i just read another karen kingsbury i am pretty sure you would love: divine. read it? it's a modern day story of mary magdalene. awesome.

  2. sounds like an awesome weekend! miss those college days...