New Beginnings

Addison Coughlin

Ecclesiastes 3.1-14, Youth Sunday

“In the beginning, God created the heavens,” the bible begins.   “I am the “alpha and the omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end.” “Our God is the same yesterday, today and forever” is what it says in Hebrews chapter 13.  God embodies this idea of beginning and ends for a blueprint of life’s journey. 

My journey with faith and my journey with  life has been filled with beginnings and ends that  have shaped  me into the person I am today. I began my relationship with God and faith  in a small church in Virginia where I was baptised. Growing up catholic a lot of my major events and commitments in church occured at a young age and I don’t remember many of them. In fact the only thing I remember from my first reconciliation is how much I loved my purple dress that I wore – and what I remember from my first communion is how bad the wine tasted. It wasn’t until I became an altar girl and went through the process of confirmation that I really began to remember some of what I was taught in the Catholic church. While I am no longer there, there are still things from my Catholic upbringing and Saint Pius that I hold dear. One of my favorite things about Saint Pius was how beautiful the services were.  Even at 7 am  – standing up at the altar acting as the priests personal bookstand, hearing the choir singing hymns or the prayers that have been engraved in the back of my mind  – the beauty of the voices in song and prayers just seemed to make everything better. I think the thing I loved the most though was the uniformity within the services.  Everyone knew exactly when to do what and in some weird sort of way I loved it. These memories from that church are something I will always hold dear, and I am grateful for the spirit that filled me then and that pulls me to want  to go back one day and take in this beauty again.

From there my faith journey blossomed while participating in  Grimsley’s Young Life program my freshman year. Every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday I attended their programs and engaged in the  the lessons they were teaching. . My Young Life leader quickly became one of my best mentors and friends, and to this day someone I know I can always rely on. One week on a Young Life retreat, I clearly remember sitting out alone in the middle of the night and feeling the overwhelming presence of God around me. One of my most significant and meaningful  lessons about God and Jesus  that I  learned on this same trip is the idea that God will never abandon you even when you are struggling and turn away from God . One of my favorite all time poems that delivers this same message is called footprint in the sands and it goes something like this – “One night I dreamed a dream. As I was walking along the beach with my Lord. Across the dark sky flashed scenes from my life. For each scene, I noticed two sets of footprints in the sand, One belonging to me and one to my Lord. After the last scene of my life flashed before me, I looked back at the footprints in the sand. I noticed that at many times along the path of my life, especially at the very lowest and saddest times, there was only one set of footprints. This really troubled me, so I asked the Lord about it. “Lord, you said once I decided to follow you, You’d walk with me all the way. But I noticed that during the saddest and most troublesome times of my life, there was only one set of footprints. I don’t understand why, when I needed You the most, You would leave me.” He whispered, “My precious child, I love you and will never leave you Never, ever, during your trials and testings. When you saw only one set of footprints,It was then that I carried you.”” 

While midway through my sophomore year my journey with Young Life ended, this lesson that was taught to me and reinforced to me by my Young Life leaders has stayed with me. This year has taught me many things, but one of those is how to adjust when life takes turns and how to accept when one chapter is at an end.  I have also learned that part of moving on to new beginnings is being able to give thanks for the way the closing chapter has helped to shape who I’m becoming. I am beyond thankful for Savannah as she has continued to lead me outside of Young Life and helped me and embraced me in my struggles with building my relationship with Christ. I’m also thankful for the faith lessons I’ve taken with me. Savannah  always used to tell me that there is no perfect relationship with  God. I struggle to this day and I work every single day to further build my relationship with god. This alone changed my outlook on what it means to be a Christian  and my outlook on my own relationship with God. I no longer felt like I had to be perfect to be faithful and I realized that my relationship with God was more defined by my prayers and personal time spent with God  and the relationship I formed within myself, than how many Sunday School classes I attended.

While that chapter of my life came to a close, the next chapter in my faith journey began when I joined College Park, and specifically the College Park Youth Group. I remember  begging my dad not to make me go to the first youth group meeting of the year. My family had joined a few months prior and I didnt feel comfortable yet. That quickly changed when I met the amazing community of people and youth leaders at College Park. I am forever thankful for the opportunities I have had here  to grow and learn , and simply be myself – which is something I did not find at  previous churches I had attended. The openness of College Park is something truly remarkable and rare in many Christian communities. The thing that shocked my whole family the first time we came to a service here was the sermon talkback time  The ability to openly agree or disagree with your pastor during the service was completely unheard of to me. I was also surprised by the acceptance and the ability for people to go back and get a coffee or allow your kids to draw in the back of the Tessera service. This was a luxury my parents were not afforded when they had to deal with 4 little kids climbing underneath the pews during mass. 

College park has become more than a Christian  community to me – It’s more like  a family. I think the first time I realized this was when I preached my 8th grade sermon at Canterbury Episcopal School. I remember the pure joy and shock when I saw the faces of College Park People who had come to hear me and support me. It was not something I was used to or had ever really expected, but something that made a huge impact on me.  Michael’s sermons were also like conversations and often left me thinking deeply about what he had said and what that means for my own faith.  I quickly realized that many times he was talking about current events or real life problems not just interpreting text written thousands of years ago, and I was able to really see and understand what it meant to be a Chritian in today’s world . But the most special place I found family , was with the youth group. The youth sponsors and my friends in the youth group are  continuously there for me. They show support by coming to games and events, sending me texts when I go MIA, and for never judging me – allowing me to be fully myself. 

Today’s scripture specifically focuses on this idea of beginnings and ends – how “theres a time for everything on this earth”.  What I have learned and continue to learn in my faith journey  is that just because something is ending does not mean it has to be bad. The ending of one thing leads to the beginning of another, and the ending of something does not mean it’s gone. You are still able to appreciate and look back on the memories and lessons made, but you are also able to look towards the future to the memories and lessons you will create and learn. This past year has been a struggle for so many people, and I think, at least for me, while there has been a lot of downsides, it has also been a year of growth and change.   This has been true in my relationships with others, in my priorities, and in  my outlook on life. And while I look back on myself from a year ago and miss certain things, I am also happy for the opportunities I have had, the friendship and memories I have made, and I don’t think I would trade those for for the year I thought it would be. . I am at a critical point in my life where a major ending and beginning is about to occur. I am leaving Greensboro, my family, my friends, my dogs, Grimsley High School, and College Park, and while I will be back to visit, I am starting a new chapter at UNC. I am beyond nervous and scared and part of me wishes I could rewind to freshman year and live it all over again. The plain truth is i’m not  ready to leave  – I don’t know if I ever will be –  instead I’m leaning into what I’ve learned about the gift of new beginnings and trusting that this, too, will bring unexpected joy. 

As the scripture for today says, 

there is a time to weep and a time to rejoice – 

a time to let go and a time to cherish what has been – 

A time sow and a time to harvest – 

There is a time to stay and a time to go. 

This is all of that for me. 

 I am sad about this ending e, but I can also find joy in the last 18 years and the people who have been  along this journey with me. 

This change is scary and letting go is even scarier. But I’m trying to remember that  the end of this chapter   does not mean it’s gone. As I cry, I will also give thanks for all that has been. As I let go, I will also  cherish from a distance this faith community that has helped make me who I am. As I plant myself in this new phase of life, I will also harvest the fruits of what I have learned over the years. And even as I wish I could stay, I will make peace with this time and accept that it is time for me to go on –  to venture into a new beginning. 

There is a time for everything, and the time is now. 

It is time to put our faith in the promise of new beginnings 

To take a leap of faith – 

to step into the next adventure –

To let go of what is holding us back – 

and to trust that God is always walking with us,

helping us to see how the ending of one chapter is opening us to the beginning of another where we can ultimately grow more within ourselves, learn more with one another, and live faithfully with God.