What I Want Them To Know

26 05 2013

Prayer request time felt especially heavy tonight.

A local teen killed herself earlier today: the second suicide to rock our community in two weeks. One of our youth’s brothers is on trial for murder this week. Another of our youth will be moving to Mexico on Wednesday. One youth’s dad is being deployed with the Air Force next week. And yet another’s grandmother is in ICU.

I offered up a prayer for all these, and more, wondering if my words could possibly be adequate.

In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans. (Romans 8:26)

In many ways, tonight was just an ordinary night. We played kickball, ate hot dogs, made homemade Icees, ran around, got sweaty, celebrated summer.

I think that life happens, MINISTRY happens, in the midst of ordinary moments: the spaces in between the silly games and the heartfelt prayers.

As I drove home, I wondered about the spiritual resources we are passing down to our students. How are we equipping them to cope with the stuff of life, both now and for the long term? What have we given them through youth group that will continue to sustain them after they’ve graduated? It isn’t as though there will ever be a prescribed formula for what to do when life gets tough…they need their faith to be strong enough to endure whatever life throws at them, but flexible enough to adapt to their own situation and emotions.

Here’s what I came up with (in no particular order):

1. I want them to know that our God is big. That there is nothing God can’t handle, including our sins, our doubts, our questions, our grief, our pain. That in the midst of all things God is working for the good of those who love him. And that even though he’s big, he is always with us.

2. I want them to be able to pray. We emphasize prayer all the time at church, but all too often we present it as a boring, dead discipline that we do because it’s good for us…like taking medicine or brushing our teeth. But prayer has so much more potential than that; it is our chance to encounter the living God. I want them to be able to offer short prayers in the midst of their daily, busy routines. I want them to be able to throw themselves at the feet of Jesus and express whatever emotion they’re feeling. I want them to know that they can pray even when they can’t find the words.

3. I want them to be able to search Scripture. I have found so much comfort through the words of Scripture as well as through other psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs. Instead of just waiting passively for us to tell them what story to read, I want them to be able to use the Bible as a resource on their own, so that they can find what they need when they need it.

4. I want them to understand and appreciate the power of community. I say this all the time: this youth group is not an ordinary group of people. You’re joined together because you have the same purpose. You’re here for each other because you love Christ, and that helps you love each other better. I want them to really do life together, and help each other THROUGH the hard times: bear each other’s burdens, laugh with each other, encourage each other, love each other. And I really want them to experience true community now so that they will seek it out in the future.

5. I want them to have hope. Faith, after all, is “the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” In non-religious terms, hope is “facilitating creative visions for the future” and developing resilience (Carey, 2007). I want them to know what God’s vision is for his kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven. I want them to recognize that kingdom breaking into our world, to know that this is just the beginning, and to hope for what God will be doing tomorrow.

This is just a rough beginning. I’d love to hear your thoughts. What spiritual resources can we give our youth for when life gets tough? What resources have most helped you?

Reflections: On Bygone Interviews

30 04 2012

We moved back to Shreveport nearly two and a half years ago, without any clue of where we would land once we arrived. Youth ministry was barely even on my radar, except for a telephone call I had received a few weeks earlier from a pastor friend. Apparently, there was a church looking for a youth director, and he knew I was moving back…was I interested?

I shrugged my shoulders, sent in my resume, and continued seeking out other job prospects, as well. Before I knew it, I had two job interviews lined up for day after we would be moving into our new apartment. One job entailed coordinating an annual arts festival; the other was that pesky youth director position. I thought I knew which one I wanted, but I decided to keep an open mind.

The first meeting was by far the weirdest job interview I’ve ever had. Sample question:

Interviewer: This job involves a lot of communication. Let’s say you are waiting to hear back from someone, and you’ve emailed them and called them, with no response. But you can’t move forward unless you hear from them. What would you do next?

Me: (clearly this is a test of my creativity and ingenuity in a tough situation) Well, if it was appropriate, I might try to visit them in person. Or if we had a mutual acquaintance, I could see if they might be able to get in touch with that person. Or, depending on what I needed from them, I might be able to talk to someone else instead.

Interviewer: (flatly, disappointed) No. The right answer is to send a fax. After we call and email, our third form of communication is fax.

Me: (brightly) Well, fortunately I do know how to use a fax machine!

I walked out to my car, blinking back tears. That clearly did not go as well as I had hoped. And I only have a an hour to pull myself together in time for the next one! 

The second interview should have been intimidating — the 12-member hiring committee crammed themselves into the pastor’s office and tossed questions to me, firing-squad-style — but all I felt was a sense of intense calm. Peace, you might call it. Sample question:

Interviewer: What is your five-year plan?

Me: I used to think I had one of those, but I don’t anymore. I’m here for the time being, and I guess I’ll see where God leads me from here.

It was an entirely honest answer, and the committee members nodded their heads — if not in approval, then at least in understanding.  I was only 22, after all.

Two and a half years later, that answer still rings true. I’m here for the time being, and I guess I’ll see where God leads me from here. We’ve neared the end of an era, Jordan and I. We thought we’d be preparing to move again at this point … but instead, whenever we have had the chance to move on and do something else, we have made the conscious choice to stay right where we are.  We realized this past weekend that we just might be planting roots…and the more shocking realization was that we’re okay with that.  Though we’re still open to being uprooted, as well.

Yesterday, we attended the very same arts festival that I had once applied to direct … and we enjoyed being able to experience the decorations and the booths and the music without having to stress about any of it.

I wondered about the person who ended up with the job. I hope she’s happy and thriving and planting her own roots. I hope she’s loving her job and her path as much as I’m loving mine. And by golly, I sure do hope she learned how to use the fax machine!

I do…

8 03 2010

We spent the weekend in Monroe watching two of our friends get married. The wedding was beautiful, and the music wasn’t half-bad either, if I do say so myself :). After perusing all the facebook pictures posted so far, I have to say that I think this one says it all:

What a Day!!

11 12 2009

Tomorrow we’re moving to Shreveport.  We’ve spent the last couple of weeks packing…and packing…and packing some more.  Most of our furniture has been disassembled into a pile of boards and screws, and we’re eating from paper plates and cups.  But no matter how much prep work gets done, it seems there are always bunches of last-minute details to think about.  So today was “errands day.”

In the midst of our errands, we decided to go visit Camille at 17 Steps.  But along the way, our car started making a horrible grinding noise that only got louder and louder the more we drove.  We were close enough to Don and Sally’s house that we decided to stop there and regroup; Sally came home to find us in the driveway with the hood of our car open.

She knew a good mechanic in town, so we decided to follow her to the shop.  We didn’t make it far, though, when our car died (in the middle of an intersection…of course).  A cyclist stopped and helped us push the car into a parking lot, where we stood out in the cold and  Jordan called the towing company.

Turns out the A/C compressor was broken and had shredded the belt.  Fortunately, the mechanic was able to do a “quick fix” so that we could get the car back today and drive to Shreveport tomorrow.  The catch? We have no air conditioner in our car….but I don’t think  we’ll be needing that anytime soon! (The other catch is, of course, that we have to fix the compressor when we get back).

All in all, I think we were pretty lucky.  If our car had to go crazy, it couldn’t have picked a better location — in the middle of a big city, right near Don and Sally’s house.  We’re so thankful that this didn’t happen in the middle of rural Alabama tomorrow!!  And an extra bonus is that we got the whole car examined, and other than the compressor, the mechanic said we’re good to go.

Here’s hoping for an uneventful move tomorrow…

I Married a Lumberjack

22 11 2009

In case you haven’t heard, Jordan and I are both in a bit of a limbo about our futures/careers/life plans.  Some would call it a quarter-life crisis, and we have alternated between being stressed and excited about the opportunity to have no obligations and figure things out.  Tonight, on our way back from the a capella concert that we attended with Jana and Rob (super-fun, by the way!), we started talking about the different things that make us tick.  By the time we got home, we both decided to find an online career inventory.

It actually took us a couple of different tries before we found a test that actually gave your results to you for free, without having to sign away your soul.  But we finally found this four-stage test that presents you with ten career choices that best fit your responses.  My test was fairly accurate, or at least, it confirmed that I’m headed in the right general direction: family counselor,  musician, lawyer, etc.  Jordan’s test, on the other hand, cracked us both up.  Here were his responses:

Hunters and Trappers
Logging Equipment Operators
Earth Drillers, Except Oil and Gas
Farmworkers and Laborers, Crop
Roof Bolters, Mining
Lathe and Turning Machine Tool Setters, Operators, and Tenders, Metal and Plastic
Tire Builders
Rock Splitters, Quarry
Molding and Casting Workers

Which career do you think would fit him best??

Make Space

11 10 2009

Last weekend, Jordan and I drove to Shreveport to spend time with our families.  Somewhere in the middle of Mississippi, we grew tired of our own CD collection and instead turned on the radio for entertainment.   We happened upon some random Christian station** that was hosting an interview with Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove about his newest book, God’s Economy: Redefining the Health and Wealth Gospel.  Jonathan is the director of the School for Conversion and the founder of Rutba House, a new monastic community, in Durham, N.C.

The conversation touched on several issues and Scripture passages that I have been mulling over lately.  At one point, the interviewer asked what we Christians are supposed to do with those pesky verses that tell us to take everything we have and give it to the poor; i.e. what does that look like for someone who walks down a busy urban street everyday and passes scores of homeless people, each begging for money?

(My ears perked up.  This particular question is one to which I have yet to find a satisfactory personal response.  As often as these interactions happens, I’m nonetheless always caught so off-guard that I never know exactly what to say or do.)

Jonathan responded, not by prescribing some universal protocol, but by explaining his own community’s response.  Rutba House, he said, has created space in their house for visitors who are in need of a hot meal or a place to stay.  Community members do not ignore their neighbors in need, nor do they salve their own consciences by giving out whatever leftover change happens to be in their pockets at any given moment.  Their policy requires far more work: a certain kind of openness, a radical hospitality, an investment of time (and space), and a willingness to build relationships.

Too much to ask?  At first glance, it may certainly seem that way.

But what sticks out to me most about his response is the forethought that is required: that the community has made space to allow these kinds of interactions to happen.  They prepare an extra room for their guests, make  sure they have an extra place setting at the table.  They probably allow a few extra minutes into their daily routines, just in case they meet someone new along the way.

I’m often frustrated by my failed attempts to embody “the Christian life.”  As much as I desire to embody the love of Christ, I end each day with the realization that I have a loooong way to go.  I don’t take the time to love people like I should; I don’t embrace opportunities to share my faith; I don’t give my money, time, or possessions away as freely as I should; I forget to pray, or read the Bible, or spend any kind of quality time with God; and I certainly don’t go out of my way to build relationships with people outside of my bubble.

But these things don’t just happen on their own.  I am slowly learning that I, too, must make space: in my schedule, in my home, in my mind, in my budget.  As Jordan and I prepare to move (again), we have the perfect opportunity to plan for our priorities and to be intentional about building our lives around a new kind of rhythm.

We must make space for the people and opportunities that pass us by on a daily basis.

We must make space for God.

**According to Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove’s website, the program was Moody Radio’s Prime Time America.  If you have a chance, listen here.


18 09 2009

Well, it’s been two months now, and although I miss Louisiana deeply, I’ve noticed that Atlanta is starting to feel like home.  Here’s why:

1. My socks don’t match.  You know about the laundry machine monster that eats socks, one at a time, so that you can never find a matching pair?  Well, when it came time to pack up our boxes in Ruston, I somehow managed to find almost all of them again.  But we’ve kicked off our shoes enough times, done the laundry enough times, and avoided doing the laundry enough times, that my socks have started to separate.  Yesterday, I wore a blue-and-white sock on my left foot and a plain white sock on my right (I did the best I could–better than green and purple or something, right?)

2. I survived rush hour. To be more specific, I successfully merged onto I-85 in bumper-to-bumper traffic and then moved over 4 or 5 lanes within half a mile in order to get off at the right exit.  Given my irrational fear of driving on the interstate, I would say this is a huge accomplishment.   In any case, it made me feel invincible for the rest of the day.

3. Our futon is already well-used.  We waited a few weeks before finally breaking down and buying a futon, and we have enjoyed it ever since.  It does need a new mattress, as there are already indentations the places where we sit  It has twice been used by house guests, first by my sister and brother-in-law, and one week later, by one of my very best friends!   And just three evenings ago, I spilled a can of Diet Mountain Dew on it (Note to self: NOT a good idea.  Taking the cover off of a futon mattress is way more trouble than it’s worth).

4. I found an orchestra. When I arrived at the first rehearsal,  I didn’t recognize anyone and didn’t know what to expect.  What if I couldn’t hang with the Atlanta freelancers?  What if they did rehearsals differently?  What if the music threw some curveball that I wasn’t prepared for?  What if “concert black” meant something different here than in Louisiana?  But as we began playing the first song, I felt all my anxieties melt away into a feeling of familiarity.

5.  My planner is full.  I have determined that, to a certain extent, being busy makes me feel fulfilled.  Or at the very least, involved.  Last weekend, between work, orchestra rehearsals, auditions, church services, and teaching commitments, I hardly had time to breathe… and I wouldn’t have it any other way!