In the midst of five thousand sweating bodies and the excruciating humidity of Tennessee, my life took a turn. Last summer, on July 11, I headed across the country to the city of Knoxville with thirty other kids from my church youth group. As a group, we had been through a lot together, but nothing that equaled the life changing experience of CHIC 2009. CHIC stands for Covenant High In Christ, which is a national gathering of all high school students that belong to the covenant church.
At three o’ clock in the morning, my close friends, Ellen Howell and Sara Ryan, and I stood in the church parking lot awaiting the start of our journey. It is widely known that when Ellen is sleepy, you do not want to cross her. For her sake, Sara and I tried to contain the urge to jump around and scream as the adrenaline of excitement pumped through our veins.
With our group package from Southwest, we were able to all fly on one plane. Once on board, my body began to crash and I was no better off than Ellen. The three of us leaned on each other so we could sleep as the plane sped off towards Tennessee. Little did we know that throughout that next week, we would be forced to lean on each other in more than one way.
From the moment we stepped out of the airport, we knew we were in a whole new world. Our bus driver spoke the first words we heard in that southern twang to my friend Matt. She said, “Honey, you pack like a gurrl!” I laughed, knowing she was referring to the giant flowery suitcase he had brought.
The conference was held at the University of Tennessee, so we slept in dorm rooms. Some of my fondest memories are from those dorm hallways, where I attempted to race my friends while hopping like a seal. Don’t ask!
Every day was filled with experiences that challenged me, but at night we headed into the Arena for mainstage, where many lives, including mine, were changed. Here, I felt like a part of something bigger than myself. We had many speakers every night, challenging us to make a difference and telling us that we have what it takes. On the last night, our speaker, who introduced herself as Judy, sparked a wave of emotion in all five thousand students. Our whole youth group gathered together afterwards and began to connect in a way I never thought possible for such a diverse group. We could be who we were, without inhibitions. I felt like a weight had been lifted off of me, as Ellen, Sara, and I shared some of our deepest emotional struggles. The three of us, in tears, connected on a level not possible without this amazing trip. We were removed from our daily lives and everything we were accustomed to, so that we could find purpose. It was the kind of happiness that bubbles over, and we celebrated it by eating a tub of ice cream back in our dorm room.
I found my purpose in worship. The trip was at a time when I was newly appointed to Worship Band Leader. Listening to David Crowder and Third Day, two of the amazing worship bands, play and inspire people in their faith, made me want to do the same. It gave me courage to be the leader that I was expected to be.
The CHIC experience is worthwhile and with me everyday. I would recommend it to all high school students.
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