Thursday, February 28, 2013

I've Seen It All

I’ve been in student ministry year-round, non-stop since June 2004.  Before that, I did three summers of student ministry.  Back then it was known as “youth ministry.”  In many careers nine years would not be substantial.  But in student ministry, I’m getting close to “dinosaur” status.  (Then, of course, I’ll be my paleontologist-wannabe-son’s hero.)

For many pastors, student ministry is a necessary first step, a building block to a career in “real” ministry.  The dramatic, confusing, scary, intimidating, unknown, rebellious, exhausting, LOUD, LOUD, LOUD world of teenagers is a world that must be endured, suffered through, until a church deems you mature enough to teach, preach, plan, and pray for people over the age of 18.  So, lots of young pastors do student ministry for 3-4 years and move on.  This means most students have more than one student pastor during their 6-7 years in “student ministry.”  It also means students often feel like the stepping stones they are.

So, while I’m only 31-years-old, I’m in an elite group of pastors.  I’m one of the ones who actually love teenagers to my very core.  I’m one of the ones who willingly step into their world, even though I’m not part of it anymore, willing to risk looking like the old, non-cool person I am.  Because I know they matter.  I know they need to know there are people who love them, accept them, want to understand them, listen to them, believe in them, and advocate for them. 

Recently, I read an article and watched a video, “I’ve Seen It All.”  It’s a video to encourage people like me who pastor to, with, and for students.  I enjoyed the blog and the video.  Check it out here:  I decided to make my own list.  If you’ve been in my student ministry as a student, parent, or volunteer, then I’d love to see your additions to this list! 

I’ve Seen It All

Youth group.
Student small groups.
Bonfires, scavenger hunts, river floats, laser tag, ski trips, bowling, putt-putt, amusement parks, concerts, ice skating, beach trips, progressive dinners, shaving cream wars, Capture the Flag, outdoor movies, go-carts, inflatables, ping-pong, 4-square, volleyball, basketball, football, foosball, skateboards, dodge ball, Trainwreck, Mafia, Apples to Apples, Ninja, Kumcha, Red Rover.
Lock-ins for 30 students…and 150…and 225.
Mission teams that fit in one 15-passenger van.  Mission teams that require 15 such vans.  Mission teams that require airplanes.
The parent who forgets their kid is at church…for over an hour after everyone else is gone.
The never-ending, inappropriate testimony.
Trips to the ER for busted lips, broken toes, and broken arms.
A hole in the dry wall from a skateboard.
Suicide attempts.
Students lying in the middle of the road…at dusk…just because.
Air mattresses turned into rafts in a city water main break.
The parent who screams at the pastor, because they really want to scream at their kid and know that’s not okay.
The parent who cannot believe you’d show that movie.
The junior high boy who knocks down his mom and steals her car.
The student who walks miles to my apartment to get away from a drug-using, passed out father.
The students the schools have kicked out.
The judge in the courtroom hearing my plea to extend grace to at-risk students.
The visiting room at the jail, the phone to communicate through clear plastic, when grace wasn’t an option.
The School Board passing judgment on whether a student can stay or not.
The ecstasy of high school graduation, for the one who barely made it.
The tears of parents who don’t know what else to do or if they’ve done anything right.
The tears of students who don’t know what else to do or if they’ve done anything right.
Cigarettes smoked at youth group.
Drugs sold on the mission trip.
Divorce, and the deep wounds it inflicts on families.
Teenagers having babies.
The hospital floor for mental health—the lockers for personal items, the locked door, and the young girl who jumped on my back, begging me not to leave her there.
Cancer.  In a teenager.  It’s not okay…
People come…and go…and come back sometimes.
Parents and teenagers out of control, yelling at me, denying my faith, cussing at me, calling me a colorful variety of names.
I’ve listened to stories of abuse—drugs, words, fists, sex.
I’ve been highly esteemed and highly criticized.
I’ve been told I made a difference and that I make no difference.
I’ve been in trouble with the Senior Pastor, the Executive Pastor, and just about every other pastor.
I’ve been in trouble for mentioning Grey’s Anatomy and the “S” word—sex.
I’ve fallen in the puke of a drunk student.
I’ve fought for students to have a full-time pastor with full-time pay.
I’ve fought when I didn’t have any more fight in me.
I’ve wanted out.
I’ve been unable to imagine doing anything else.

And, like the video, I’ve seen amazing things, too…
Victims of sexual abuse move forward.
The at-risk student become the go-to chaperone.
Students and families heal and learn from divorce.
Adults find healing in the community of teenagers.
Adults re-discover their faith in a student small group.
Students come to church and to faith all alone, without their families.
Whole families come to church and to faith together.
Students and adults learn to live with mental illness.
Parents make good, hard, tough love decisions…and see them pay off.
Parents heal from their own adolescent scars.
Students lead worship, preach, lead ministries, lead kids to Jesus.
Students grow up, get married, have babies, serve on the board of elders (Steering Team for us), serve in the student ministry.
God save, redeem, restore, and make new.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Two Powerful Words

The idea that the words “thank you” are powerful is not new…at all.  But, recently that power has stopped time for me, stopped my frantic feet and thoughts, enabling me to see and to hear the beauty and love around me.

One day last week, I worked my eight hours and went home, like lots of other people.  I initiated the evening workout routine:  feed the kids a quick and easy dinner, get dressed for the gym while they’re eating, gather the coats, diaper bag, and iPOD, workout, come home and do bedtime.  

(I recently overheard some non-mom girls in their 20’s--one a full-time student and one a part-time employee--sarcastically talking, making fun of people like me, “Oh my gosh!  You worked today AND fed your family dinner AND made it to the gym?!  Wow.  You deserve a prize.”  I restrained myself from addressing these unmarried, non-mom girls, deciding to let them enjoy their ignorant self-righteousness for the next ten years.)

My sweet boy and me last Easter
I plopped the plate in front of my four-year-old and moved toward my bedroom to don my yoga pants and oversized t-shirt.  His sweet voice stopped me mid-step, “Apples AND hot dog AND barbecue chips?!  Great dinner, Mom.  Thank you!  Thank you!”

Of all the things I’d done that day, putting apple slices, a hot dog, and potato chips on a plastic preschooler’s plate was the thing that earned me a “thank you.”  It wasn’t an expected or socially mandated word of thanks, but a thoughtful, genuine one.  It was a “thank you” that said, “You know me.  You know what I like.  You gave me exactly what I wanted.  I appreciate your thoughtfulness.”

The next day, my husband, daughter, and I picked up that same boy from preschool and headed to the circus.  One of the grandparents had given us circus tickets and a hotel reservation in the city; other grandparents had pitched in money for the insanely-priced toys.  After an awesome time at the circus and gathering take-out from everybody’s favorite place, we headed to the hotel for our dinner picnic.  Then the boy realized that he hadn’t packed a bag; I hadn’t asked him to.  He said, “I wish I had some dinosaurs to play with tonight.”  

When we entered our room, I handed him a small book bag, “I packed this for you while you were at school today.”  

He opened it to discover four toy dinosaurs, an electronic gadget, and two favorite books.  He gasped, threw his hands up to hug me, smiled and said, “Thank you, Mom!  You did a great job; it’s perfect!”

A woman I have the pleasure of ministering to called me that day.  The despair, worry, and hopelessness I’d seen on her face and heard in her voice days before were gone.  Instead, I heard joy and hope as she said, “The prayers you prayed for me two days ago were perfect.  You really listened to me and were able to put words in a prayer that I didn’t know how to say.  I’m sorry to bother you on your day off, but I just wanted to say, ‘thank you.’  I’m seeing the answers to your prayers for me today!  Thank you for your time and your prayers.”

Five minutes prepping dinner.

Five minutes packing toys and books in a book bag.

Five minutes praying with and for someone.

It cost me so little.

“Thank you” gave me so much.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Faith and Faithfulness

I recently read this in a book by an acclaimed pastor, “We determined that faith is what grows in a growing relationship.  Specifically, a person’s confidence in God.  Confidence that God is who he says he is and that he will do what he has promised to do.  Faith, or trust, is at the center of every healthy relationship…A break in trust signals a break in the relationship.”

I agree that faith, or trust, is at the center of every healthy relationship.  And, this is probably splitting hairs with semantics, but I’m advocating that faithfulness is equally important.

The two words clearly go together—faith and faithfulness.  In relationships with other people and with God, there should be both faith and faithfulness.  But, that’s not always reality.  And, I have to say, I want faithfulness as much as I want faith.

I became married to the idea of faithfulness in a seminary class, Basic Pastoral Care.  Dr. Bagby proposed that a presupposition to pastoral care is faithfulness.  The idea is that God is faithful to his people; therefore, as representatives of God’s love and grace, we are to be faithful to his people.  That idea has defined the way I approach ministry and more.

When I think about my relationship with God, I hope it has both faith and faithfulness.  But, if I’m honest, sometimes my faith wanes.  The more I read from others further along in their faith journey than I am, the more I hear of others who experience such lapses of faith.  I’ve learned that when my faith is lacking, I can still be faithful.  The faithfulness is what gets me back to a place of faith again.  When I’m not confident that God will do what he has promised to do, I still follow him, serve him, and worship him.  God is faithful to me, even when I don’t feel it, and I will be faithful to God, even when I don’t feel it.

Sometimes, putting one foot in front of the other and moving forward in acts of faithfulness is all I can do.  And putting one foot in front of the other eventually leads me back to faith.

When I think about relationships between people, particularly marriages, I think they should have both faith and faithfulness.  But that’s not always reality.  Sometimes faith wanes.  Sometimes faithfulness ends.  I’ve seen marriages recover from both situations.  Faith, trust, and confidence in one another and in the marriage can return.  After a breach of faithfulness, a marriage can continue and become one of faithfulness again.

I know there have been times in my marriage when one or both of us have wavered in our confidence in us.  But we’ve remained faithful.  Always.  And faithfulness has gotten us back to the place where we believe in us again.

I want faith in my relationships.  But when faith fades, faithfulness provides stability and sustenance.  I’m aiming toward faith and faithfulness, but if I had to pick, I’d pick faithfulness.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Valentine's Day

I’m a hopeless romantic.  Valentine’s Day is this week.  I like Valentine’s Day.  That puts my husband in a difficult position.
last Feb. 14's breakfast for my husband

But, he planned January’s date, and he’s already planned March’s date.  So, he asked me to plan February’s date.  I said, “Yes; I’d love to plan our Valentine’s date.”

He replied, “I can’t do that; I can’t let my wife plan the Valentine’s date.  What kind of husband would I be?”

I won:) 

I planned the Valentine’s date, and I enjoyed planning the Valentine’s date.  Since I’m the one who likes Valentine’s so much, it makes sense for me to plan it.  A couple years ago a woman told me that women had too many holidays; that we should make Valentine’s for the men.  First, can women or men or anybody have too many holidays?  Can we ever have too many “excuses” to lavish love, appreciation, and kindness on the important people in our lives?  Second, I don’t think Valentine’s is a holiday for women.  I don’t think it needs to be for men either.  It’s for everyone.  Everyone loves.

Our Valentine’s date was Friday night.  We dropped off the kids with Aunt Mandy, Big Tristan, and Buster.  We went to the Boathouse for drinks and the sunset.  I intentionally used this time for us to catch up and to clear the air on an issue or two so that we could each be fully present for an enjoyable evening.  I didn’t want unspoken frustrations to linger over our date night; those nights are too rare and precious to waste.

Then, I took him to a Japanese steakhouse for dinner.  We tried a new-to-us steakhouse; we’ll go back to our usual next time.  Regardless, the food was great, and we had some great conversation.  (We also had some church conversation; the people beside us were church shopping.  What can you do…)

Then, we went to Barnes & Noble just to browse.  If you know my husband, then you may know that the one kind of shopping he likes to do is book shopping.  His love of books may border on obsession.  Usually, we have the kids in tow and spend our time in the children’s book section.  So, leisure time to peruse shelves of books (and walk off dinner) was relaxing and enjoyable and us.

Then, we went to dinner at the Desserterie, which is a jewel of a local shop serving decadent desserts, coffee, wine, and gelato.  It’s the closest thing around to the patisseries we fell in love with in France!

It was a great Valentine’s date.  We both enjoyed it and deemed it a great night.

...which is significant considering our history of Valentine’s dates.  There were the teenage years when he poured on over-the-top romance.  There were the college years, once when we were apart, once when the holiday was deemed “worldly” and therefore not celebrated, and the next year when my roommates let him into my room to literally cover every inch of the floor with those elementary-school Valentine’s.  Then there were the married-without-kids years when we splurged on great food at great restaurants; we love great food at great, local restaurants.  Then there have been the married-with-kids years.  So, far we’ve spent one February 14 in the hospital thanks to RSV, and then last year we came home on February 14 to a sick baby girl and promptly cancelled the babysitter and dinner date.

Last year's Feb. 14 breakfast for the kids
So, this year was a great one.  And we’re going to try something new—spending Valentine’s evening with our kids.  As I tell them, “I love you to the sun and back.”  (The grandparents already staked claim to “to the moon and back;” the sun is further away.  Have I ever said I’m competitive?)
Happy Valentine’s Day!