Good morning congregation and 7th and 8th graders. I’d like to begin by thanking Rev. Garcia for allowing me this opportunity to speak with all of you today. I have been looking forward to speaking at Youth Sunday all year, however as a New Trier graduating senior, I have been on New Trier’s speech team for four years, and this year I qualified for the Tournament of Champions in Orange County which unfortunately was last weekend, the weekend of Youth Sunday. While I have given speeches about topics I am passionate about to audiences all over the country that range from 1-200 people during my time on the speech team, I have never had the chance to speak with my community: The Kenilworth Union Church Congregation. So I am very thankful to have been given that chance today.
Kenilworth Union Church has been a part of my community for 18 years. I have grown up in this church. I was baptized and confirmed by our beloved Dr. Bowen and I attended Sunday School regularly. However, while pondering religious questions in my classroom and going through many, many drafts of my Statement of Faith during confirmation class, I really struggled to find my faith. I remember sitting at my desk, staring at my computer screen while listening to the soft rumbles of thunder on a rainy afternoon. Just waiting for the epiphany that would tell me what exactly it was I believed in. The epiphany did not come. I have always believed in God but I didn’t think I could foster a relationship with Him until I had experienced an intense hardship. Relatives and friends told me stories about the periods of trying struggle in their lives and that it was their faith in God that replenished their despair with hope. Well as a high school freshman, I had not yet experienced that kind of suffering and reflection that would stimulate a spiritual
connection with God. Also contributing to this belief was my interpretation of Jesus’ life. I looked upon Jesus’ story as one primarily about suffering, about loss. However, it was not until I began as a high school helper for the fish, lambs, and doves, KUC’s youngest members, the three, four, and five-year-olds, that I realized Jesus’ story is not solely about suffering and loss, it is about the beautiful miracle of his resurrection. His story is about the joy and vitality of life.
Today I want to share with you how the young people I have the privilege of sharing my Sunday mornings with have brought me closer to my faith by teaching me that my faith can be found by contemplating the sources of joy in my life. Every Sunday morning at 10:30, I am spoiled with one hour of undivided attention and appreciation. Walking through the classroom door, fifteen smiling children peer up from their coloring sheets and crayolas, and squeal, “Ms. Jacqueline is here!” When we journey over to the story rug to listen to our lesson of the day, five little bodies fight over who can sit in my lap, while others argue over who can play “beauty parlor time” with my hair. Occasionally, I haven’t been able to attend Sunday School for a couple of weeks in a row. When that was the case, I was scolded upon my return by four-year-old Lilly, “Ms. Jacqueline you haven’t come to church in a million bajillion years.” Whatever we’re doing, these little people never cease to live in the moment. Their eyes light up at the suggestion of goldfish
during snack time just as they do when we’re talking about Christmas. They relish the simplicity of each and every moment that they’re living and breathing and experiencing new things, and in doing so, have taught me a lot about my relationship with God. I think we all need to be reminded of the beautiful, sacred, holiness of each moment of life we have on this Earth. I admit, it is so easy to get bogged down by the daily maintenance that comprises the monotony of most days. Rather than being grateful for every moment of life I have on this Earth, like the children in my Sunday school class, all too often I succumb to magnifying the imperfections of the moment, and thus, my life.
Stress about schoolwork, college applications and the fatigue of not getting enough sleep seem to be the popular subjects of my complaining. However, it is in these moments that I overlook and even complain about God’s handiwork. If I do not make the conscious decision to recognize the holiness of seemingly trivial tasks, then I am going to be miserable every time I perform life’s daily maintenance, which is much more often than those perfect moments of happiness when my natural default setting is an appreciation for my blessings. However, if I concentrate on observing my surroundings through a different lens, it will actually be within my power to experience every moment of every day as not only meaningful, but holy, on fire with the same force that resurrected Jesus from his grave.
Because I will attend Wake Forest University in North Carolina this fall, I can no longer serve as a high school helper. And while this very thought brings tears to my eyes at not being surrounded by the love and joy of the little people who have taught me so much, I know that the lessons I have learned during my two years as a high school helper will forever be a part of me. As a closing thought, I’d like to read the prayer that the children recite twice every Sunday. Once, before they eat their yummy snack, and a second time at the closing of chapel. I think that it is beautiful because in the dangerous, complicated, fast-paced world that we live in, it emphasizes the simplicity and unbelievable comfort of our Father. “We know our God is here because he’s everywhere. He calls us each by name and loves us all the same. We can go to Him in prayer and He teaches us to care. Amen.”