I’ve learned a lot about myself in 2016. I learned that you throw a lot of stuff away when you move.
I’ve moved two times in the last four years. I suppose that’s not a terrible average.
On June 1, 2012, I got in my car and drove north to Rock Hill, South Carolina.
I spent the next four years and two months pouring into the lives of many different teenagers, all at different parts of the journey of faith. I made friends, I made mistakes, but most of all, I learned a lot about myself.
The memories, though. Wow did I make some incredible memories that will last a lifetime. My file where I stuff my “joyful memories” in my heart is filled to the brim from my time in Rock Hill.
One of my favorite memories was from our last winter retreat together at the beginning of 2016. I went into that weekend knowing that my future was uncertain due to the recent retirement of our pastor. I was honestly an emotional mess the entire weekend. So much happened that weekend that should have brought me anxiety and sadness, but I decided to turn it into “good” and remember it for the great memories we had that weekend.
Each teenager that went through our ministry during my time in Rock Hill was special in their own way. I was able to get to know some much more than others, and others not nearly enough. I miss each one in different ways. I miss seeing their happy faces at church. I miss playing 1-4 rounds of ping-pong before and after the services. I miss throwing the football around with others outside of the youth house. I miss the excitement of getting in the driver seat of the church van ready to embark on another trip with our group.
I’ll miss the memories that I made in 2016. I spent the first seven months of 2016 in so much stress and anxiety, but I decided to make the best of it and live out my calling the best way I knew how. That meant taking more opportunities to be “in the moment”.
If I am being honest, I did not want to leave Rock Hill. There was literally nowhere I wanted to go. I was happy in Rock Hill. I loved our church. I loved our home and our really big yard, which Jules loved the most. I loved the friendships that I made and getting to spend time growing them. I loved the city. More than all of that, I truly loved those kids.
I literally prayed that God would keep me in Rock Hill – basically no matter what.
During one particular service at our yearly Family Camp Meeting, I heard something (that I forgot) that made me realize my prayers had been backwards. I told God to have his way and I’ll get out of the way.
But something happened in the month between realizing that God was calling me away from Rock Hill and actually leaving.
On July 13, 2016 I woke up and started singing. I was walking around the house singing and I was in an incredible mood, which is very rare for me first thing in the morning. But I woke up knowing without a doubt that God answered my 7 month long prayer – that He would lead me where He needed me, even if it meant leading me to a new city. Once I made the call and the initial announcement, I felt this giant weight was lifted from my shoulders.
Once I made the announcement to my kids, I knew that even though I had so much more that I wanted to do, so many more events, so many more messages…even though I had all of those things I still wanted to do, I knew that I had done all that I could do.
I knew it was done. I knew that I had finished what God wanted me to do.
I decided not to dwell on all of the missed opportunities, or the messages that totally flopped, or the times when I should have said “this” instead of “that” to “that” kid. I decided to leave all potential regrets and failures behind me.
There was a specific moment when I really felt that I had been freed from the burden of stress and anxiety and that God was truly in the midst of this move. I was cutting grass at the church one day listening to music, like I did weekly. As much as I hated having to do that, I look back and miss it for the time I was able to just spend riding around listening to music and still doing work! But I was listening to my favorite artist, Ben Rector’s song Brand New. I’d listened to this song at least 5,000 times in the last year so this was nothing new. But there’s a line in the song where Ben writes, “I feel like for the first time in a long time I am not afraid, I feel like a kid, never thought I’d feel like this.” For some reason, singing that line that day evoked such emotion within me that I just started yelling, crying, and laughing for the rest of the song. That day I truly felt that I could let go, that I was no longer going to allow my fear of failure or my fear of rejection stand in the way of me doing what God was calling me to do. I was going to live my life like I was brand new.
In the 35 days between the day I decided to move and actually leaving, I had a lot of hard conversations and a lot of tears. I had to tell people to their face that I was moving away. There was one of those conversations that I was able to have one-on-one with someone who’d become like family to Kate and I. It was absolutely gut-wrenching and it still hurts today. I suppose that’s what happens when you open up your heart and allow yourself to love people.
Once those conversations and announcements were out of the way, I embarked on what I like to call the “Terry Bennett Farewell Tour.” Looking back, I wish I would have just left the day I made my announcement. It would have saved me from more tears and pain. However, If I had done that, I would have missed out on some incredible moments that I wouldn’t want to forget anytime soon.
On August 17, 2016, my wife and I were in the final stages of moving. This was our last day living in Rock Hill and we still had three car-loads of our belongings that needed to be moved to Columbia. All day was basically spent moving, up until it was time for my final youth service at Rock Hill First.
I’d rather not share the details of that last service other than to say that I still get emotional thinking about it. It was one last special moment that I was glad to have had with my kids. Afterwards we went over to the fellowship hall and enjoyed some snacks with the rest of the church. They presented me with two very large gifts: a large poster of the Panera Bread Baguette Lady from our local Panera Bread that we spent countless hours at together, and a large poster print of our final winter retreat together, with the frame signed by several of my kids. There were cards, a scrapbook, and some really nice words and hugs shared by many.
After it was over, I went back to my house for the last time, had a Will Smith Fresh Prince finale moment, grabbed Jules and a few belongings, and left.
On August 17, 2016, I got in my car and headed south, leaving Rock Hill with quite a goodbye.
Since I have been in Columbia I have kept pretty busy. I have rarely had time to even process what has happened over the last five months. In some ways I have actually pushed all of that down and out of sight.
Much like my usual self from the last five years, I did not take enough time after I left to really process life. Life has happened fast, as it always does.
But I needed to get these thoughts out there before too long had passed.
I moved to Columbia because it was truly a calling. God has continually made that clear over the last five months. I have been overjoyed at my experience thus far in Columbia. I have loved every minute of it. I get to work with a great team and I get to minister to an incredible group of kids that have been so anxious for a youth pastor. God has opened up my heart to love the kids West Columbia the way that they need.
I know God did all of this. I know God called me to Columbia. When I look back on 2016 I know without a doubt that it all worked together for my good and for God’s glory. I choose to believe that God is simply working everything out according to his plan.
My heart has a very special place in it for my Rock Hill family. I will always love them and think about them. Those kids will always be special to me. I will never forget them.
I miss my house quite often. I miss having a peaceful place to rest, a yard to sit around fires on cold nights, and a place where my dog can be a dog. I really miss that.
But what I miss the most will always be the kids. I miss the relationships that I built over the four years I spent there. Soon they’ll grow up and graduate and move on to college and careers. I believe that I did all that I could have done to minister to those kids and make a difference in their lives. I pray that I did.
2016 was a weird year. I can’t go back and change anything, nor would I if I could.
I’m so thankful for 2016. I know there are so many people who feel like it was the worst year ever, and for some it truly was. Even though it took a lot of pain to get there, 2016 was the most shaping year of my life.
I realize now that I needed the move. I needed the change of scenery. I needed that to grow. I’m not as “grown” as I’d like to be. But the great thing about life is you never stop growing and learning.