You'll enjoy reading these reflections from some of our youth on their recent retreat regarding Hosea and God's reckless love.

   Susannah Ellis (Senior)  "This year's Santa Cruz retreat was bittersweet because it was my final time experiencing it as a student. It has always been a weekend filled with memories and meaningful community. Something I learned about myself this weekend is that although I'm not listening enough for God's response, he's giving me another chance. God keeps telling me what I need to hear, and this weekend it was through the story of Hosea. Hosea blindly followed God's instructions-as daunting, crazy, and undesirable as they seemed-and after years and years, it led to an abundance of good. This weekend I experienced that the church is a good place to be honest, both with myself and others, and I can be heard and fulfilled through that. We discussed how God's reckless love is pursuing others to a breaking point. He is patiently waiting for them to see who and what is able to guide them humbly and lovingly. Our speaker reminded us that we can't earn his reckless love, but even when we wander far from him he still gives us gifts out of goodness. While the world is bidding on our souls, Jesus is hoping we primarily will look up at him. The way that I experienced community and affirmation at Santa Cruz has already altered the way I live and represent Jesus in my day to day life because it gave me a soul-filling sensation that I want others to experience as well."

   Rebekah Smith (Junior) "I had a blast at Camp Santa Cruz with the Rooted youth group. Some of my favorite memories were going to the beach at night, making smores, and singing worship songs in the gym. During the span of 48 hours, we studied the life of Hosea and Brad, our speaker, used it to demonstrate God's reckless love for us. I had never heard this story before which made his lesson more intriguing. Basically, God tells the prophet Hosea to marry a prostitute (Gomer) which radically defies the social norms, even more in Biblical times than it does today. After they are married, Gomer retreats to her old ways. She believes that it will satisfy her. In a tragic twist, Hosea is told by God to go find her and bring her back. I learned this is just like Jesus. It hurts his heart when we push away his gift of grace and fill it with money or popularity. God's love is so immense that he allows his heart to be broken for us. He doesn't just love the people who he knows are going to love him back. We are all like Gomer, standing in the slavery of sin. The world bids on us, but Jesus shows up just in time gives himself up for us. He loves us THAT much. Finally, this trip reiterated a truth that has been marinating in my mind for a while: I am worth Jesus to God, and that's just awesome!!"

   Matthew Smith (7th Grade) "I have looked forward to going to Santa Cruz for a long time because so many people have raved about it. But it surpassed all my expectations! Santa Cruz was a special getaway and has had a big impact on me. I knew God but Santa Cruz really helped me fill in a lot of the gaps in my relationship with Him. For example, the speaker talked about the parable of the lost sheep and I had heard it many times but he gave me a whole new perspective on it. He explained that we don't just decide to get lost, we keep our heads down and see a good piece of grass over there and then you see another piece of grass a little farther and you keep doing this until you look up and your in a strange and bad place with the shepherd to be nowhere near. It is the same with us and Santa Cruz made me look up to see where I am and where the shepherd is. Santa Cruz also filled in some of the blanks about how to keep your head up and see where the shepherd is when you come home and that is reading and digging into God's word. The answer was staring me right in the face and I just chose not to see it. Santa Cruz is an amazing place and I can't wait to go next year."

   Eli Rooney (8th Grade) "During the weekend at Santa Cruz Retreat I learned how I need God and it's up to me to connect and build my faith. When I'm put in a place to receive God will be there and will help me get through my struggles. I really got to understand how God is going to be there but also it's not free in the sense that you can't just get God at the grocery store. Making time and space to connect and notice God matters in building a relationship with him. I also learned how powerful it is to spend time with other people that are going through the same experiences I am and who love God too. When it comes to God's reckless love for us I learned that God loves us even when we don't feel close to him. As a follower of Jesus, I can't hide anything from him and it's a relationship I can't live partially."