Saturday, January 22, 2011
Defining Moments Countdown -- Part 2

#9 Wedgwood Baptist Church Shooting
It was a typical Wednesday night youth group event.  An intern was leading games, students were exerting the energy they'd had to keep pent up all day at school, some people were trickling in late... It was Christian teen merriment all around.  When Anna walked in crying, it was an anomaly to the environment into which she stepped.  I asked what was wrong, never expecting to hear what she proceeded to tell me.  "There are helicopters flying all around my house.  A gunman opened fire at Wedgwood at the youth rally and I don't know if my friends are okay."

Our youth group had been invited to that rally but had opted out.  We told our students about it but scheduled our regular Wednesday night event.  We weren't sure which, if any, of our students were there. 

I spent the evening hugging students and watching the news reports.  Snippets of what the reporters said would catch my attention as I examined every square inch of footage looking for students I knew.  bodies... bomb... gunman... worship... injured... bullets... sanctuary

There was no preparation for this type of situation in seminary.  Nobody told me what to say to students when I could no longer tell them church was a safe place.  Armed security guards became the norm at youth events.  The student I knew who watched her best friend die in a pool of her own blood didn't want to tell her parents about the nightmares she was having.  I couldn't imagine them being worse than what she'd already lived through.

I wasn't there, but it shook me to the core.  Even if I had been there with "my" students, I couldn't have protected them from the bullets, the trauma, or the nightmares.  No matter how much I love them, I can't always protect them.

#8 "You're discipling me"
This was the statement made by a friend in college who was only a couple of years younger than me.  I balked at first because it felt like the label put a hierarchy on the friendship.  It was my first realization that discipleship was a friendship of faith.  I had no idea then that my life would eventually be defined by such friendships.

#7 Nederland

I sat on a rock beside a mountain lake on a Saturday in August asking God what to do with my life.  Around the country 78 people were fasting and praying for me.  I was miserable in Colorado, hated my job, wasn't feeling connected to my church, and had no ministry outlet. I needed a word from God.  Should I look for another "secular" job or go back to ministry?  Should I stay in Colorado or move back to Texas?  If I stayed, where/how could I get connected with teenagers?

I journaled my prayers, listened to Chris Tomlin, and searched scripture for how God spoke to others.  The story of Elijah has long been one of my favorites (1 Kings 19).  I read it again to remind myself of the truth that God sometimes speaks in a whisper, unaware that a single phrase would leap from the page.  I'd read it countless times, but this time it held new meaning, deeper meaning.  "Go back the way you came."

Posted at 12:32 pm by bayski
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Friday, January 21, 2011
Defining Moments Countdown -- Part 1

In the context of teaching a lesson on Esther, my friend and brother in Christ asked this question:  "What are the top three defining moments in your life?"  Follow-up questions included:  What events have shaped you into the person you are today... even if they didn't seem to be a big deal at the time? 

I had a difficult time narrowing it down to three and an even harder time ranking them.  But I've come up with a top 10 list and will begin the countdown today and work through through them gradually.  A couple of disclaimers:  some of these stories have been told repeatedly throughout this blog.  My apologies for the re-run factor.  But if it's defining, it's gonna come up in conversation.  The other disclaimer is this:  Christ changed my life and continues to change my life.  That's a given so it's not on the list of defining moments.  He uses the other moments to draw me to himself or to teach me something.  That said, let the countdown begin...

# 10-- Mrs. Sanderson's class

I still remember one of the questions I missed when I was being tested for the gifted/talented program in elementary school.  Who discovered America?  I paused as long as I could and still couldn't come up with the answer.  The educational psychologist even gave me a hint "In the year 1492,..."  It would've been a great hint if I'd ever heard that little jingle.  But I hadn't.  So I made the best educated guess a third grader could give, "The pilgrims".

I'm not sure how what the scoring system was, but my test score was just shy of what was necessary to qualify as G/T.  The teacher put me in her class anyway, arguing that test scores don't tell the whole story.  Mrs. Sanderson was cool like that.  But she meant business in the classroom.

The classroom was a 4th/5th grade class combined so I had her for two years.  Up until that point in my life, I was hide-behind-my-mama's-skirt shy.  This class changed that by forcing me to lead peers and younger students through learning experiences 4 different times each week.  Other weekly assignments in Mrs. Sanderson's class included a weekly creative writing assignment, weekly math drills, weekly vocabulary tests, and a weekly radio show.  I gave my first formal research presentation in fourth grade.  (I yawned through the whole thing.)  She taught us calligraphy, dental hygiene, how to write, how to create, how to teach, how to write a research paper, and how to floss our teeth.  She raised the bar higher than any teacher I've had since... so high that my mom called her at one point to make sure it wasn't too high.  Mrs. Sanderson told her it was within my ability to meet the expectations if my parents were supportive.  They were and I did.  We learned that the shortest distance between two points is a straight line.  (She taught us that by marching us back to the barrack if we were too loud on our way to the cafeteria.)  She played along with my pretend wedding--even though it was scheduled for recess time.  And to this day, I get a Christmas card from her each year.

Without my experiences in her class, I don't think I would have the confidence to write anything, I wouldn't value education like I do, and I would still be shy.  She took a chance on me, and I'm grateful.

Posted at 06:45 pm by bayski
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Thursday, January 13, 2011
chair massage

Is it normal for the massage therapist to fix your mascara after a chair massage?  I don't think it is.

I can count on one hand the number of professional massages I've had in life.  Something about a stranger touching my unclothed self made me think it would be a less-than-relaxing experience.  Yesterday's massage, too, was a less-than-relaxing experience despite the fact that I was fully clothed and in a very public location.

There are a couple of awkward things about a chair massage.  The one that is most pertinent to this story is what I will call the face hole.  The massage therapist carefully places paper towels over rounded cushions that look eerily similar to the toilet seat cushions my grandmothers had at their houses.  Once the paper towels are in the proper position she nods and smiles at me.  That is my cue to place my face in that "hole" with my skin only touching the paper towels.  It's more comfortable than it sounds once I forget how many other faces have been there and how thin paper towels are and how small someone's butt would have to be for this particular configuration to be a toilet seat.

The events of the previous two months, two days on the couch with a fever, and a week of wearing heels combined to form the perfect storm of knotted and twisted muscle clumps ... which the massage therapist was quick to identify and eradicate. With her elbows.  I was on the emotional verge before her meat-grinding maneuvers caused the pain receptors in my brain to jump up and take notice.  So when she stretched, pulled, and pinched each knot right up to my tolerance threshold, the dam was breached.  I didn't break down in sobs or anything, but there was a dampness behind the eyelids.

While I sat there reminding myself to relax and breathing deeply so as to not jump out of my skin, I recognized the metaphor.  I want God to take care of the tough stuff without acknowledging that it might hurt.  That at points it might make me want to run away and say "Never mind."  Like the massage therapist (apparently), He knows my tolerance threshold and pushes me to the very boundary before moving on to another area.  It hurts for my good.

I don't know what she thought when she saw my mascara all over her paper towels or as she tried to blot my raccoon eyes, but I smiled and recognized the black splotch as a trail marker on my journey and a reminder that the pain doesn't last forever.

Posted at 08:03 pm by bayski
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Tuesday, January 11, 2011

"It" was closing in quickly.  You ran as fast as your little legs would carry you (faster if you were wearing NEW sneakers).  Your heart pounded, your face was flush, your hands and forehead grimy with a combination of sweat and playground dust.  You arched your back to dodge the hand that reached for you.  So close.  Just a few more steps... 

Ahhhh... base.  The designated place of safety for those fleeing "it".  The location that provided the freedom to both rest and taunt simultaneously... in a panting, nanny-nanny boo-boo kind of way.

I've yet to find an adult equivalent.  One of the problems with adulthood is that responsibility looms around every corner.  If the couch is designated "base", the dirty apartment is there.  A massage costs money.  Vacations require negotiating time away from work.

I think that's why it's so hard for me to grasp the concept of God being a refuge.  With a Pharisaic mindset, I assume there will be strings attached.  Casting my cares on Him should bring a sense of relief, not guilt or obligation.  If He is a refuge, stronghold, shelter as His Word tells us He is, then prayer should bring a sense of unloading, sighs of relief, rest, reduced anxiety.  It should be somewhere we strain to run as fast as we can, not a last resort to which we hobble after fighting the battle ourselves.

Or maybe that's just me.

Spending time with my Creator should bring a greater sense of peace than watching the sunset on the dock at the lake, than listening to waves crash on the beach, than drinking lemonade on the porch during a summer shower.  It should be a greater stress relief than running, punching a wall, or driving until the fuel gauge says "E".  It should be something I look forward to rather than a chore that "must" be done.

The gospel says that I am hopeless to overcome sin, adversity, and life's daily struggles... but He's not.

The gospel says that I can't do anything apart from Him... and that's okay.

The gospel says that He loved me while I was still sinning, and in spite of my sin.

The gospel says that I can't fix it, no matter how hard I try... but He can. Or He already did.

Trust in Him at all times, you people; pour out your hearts to Him, for God is our refuge.  Psalm 62:8

Posted at 08:07 pm by bayski
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Saturday, January 08, 2011

Thursday was weird.  Doesn't sound like a day that would be all that interesting, but it was a scattering of emotions.  Let's see if I can explain it this way... if Thursday was a cue ball and the triangular formation of all the other balls was my emotional state, the opening "shot" that broke it all was lunch.  I was asked to talk to a middle schooler in one of my classes about the death of her mother.  She doesn't know me and has no reason to trust me yet, so that was an interesting challenge all by itself.  She needs love.  She needs a mother figure.  She needs a shoulder.  But am I that person?

At the end of lunch I returned to the Home Ec room to wash the plate I had borrowed.  A close friend is the teacher in that room so I entered with a smart aleck remark about the dishwasher.  My friend gave me a blank stare.  Long story short, the blank stare lasted far too long before she spoke nonsense words that were indicative of something seriously malfunctioning in her brain.  I stayed calm while the school nurse checked her blood pressure, while I called her husband to come get her and take her to the hospital, while I picked up her son with Down Syndrome from school and took him to dance, and while I relayed the story to a friend on the way to an unrelated memorial service.

Yeah... I went from an emergency situation to a student-led memorial service for Nick.  At one point, the passenger in my car asked "Are you gonna cry at this thing?"  I answered honestly.  "I don't know."

Emotions exhaust me and I've been running on fumes for weeks now.  My life is beginning to sound unbelievable:
* moved back to Texas without a job
* dropped classes this summer to deal with a student in crisis
* students sharing stories of rape, depression, and personality disorders
* picking a student up in an intoxicated state
* car accident leaving a student in a coma... followed by a miraculous recovery
* Winter Retreat with lots of unexpected turns... including a trip to the med center to have my heart checked
* fatal car accident taking a beloved young man from the youth group
* close friend having a stroke? aneurysm? seizure? something? in front of me...

In the midst of all of it are two unrelated thoughts that haunt me:  I'm a failure and I am tired of being the stable one in the midst of crises... especially when the crises happen in machine gun fashion.  I can stay calm (on the outside anyway), take care of necessary tasks, and console... but so can the Red Cross.  In the midst of intense ministry opportunities, I have failed to make Jesus the center.  I fail to consistently point people to scripture.  I fail to introduce people to Jesus when they most need Him.  I get in the way.

Last night the failure came to a head when I met a young lady who has... well,... been at the center of some trouble with another friend of mine.  I don't like the influence she has on my friend.  I don't like what they do together.  I hate their sin.  But instead of seeing her like Jesus does, I let my flesh take over and I was rude. Out loud. More than once. To a teenager.  I was immature, judgmental, and self-centered.  The irony is that I made a comment to someone else yesterday that Jesus' death was big enough for the troublemakers she wanted banned from church. Yeah...  I'm a hypocrite. Still.

Tonight I'm supposed to be planning the talks I will present at a leadership camp next week.  How exactly do I stand in front a group of future leaders as an example when I don't have a full time job, bomb ministry opportunities that fall in my lap, and live hypocritically?

Posted at 10:00 pm by bayski
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Tuesday, January 04, 2011

I've been trying to think of a way to teach you a lesson when I say you're forgiven after the stunt you pulled this weekend.  

I think I've got it:  Peter!!

Like you, Peter seemed to make mistakes that he knew better than to make.  He spoke and acted before thinking a lot. He was impulsive. He took risks and then faltered (walking on water and then sinking; cutting off Malchus' ear with a sword only to be scolded by Jesus for doing so). He was the first to call Jesus the Messiah/Christ.  He also tried to talk Jesus out of going to Jerusalem where He would eventually be crucified.  Jesus' response:  "Get behind me, Satan." Kinda harsh, eh?  Peter swore he would die before denying Jesus... just a few hours before he swore he'd never met Him.  He let his Friend down... broke his trust.  Even still, after Jesus died, Peter was one of the two disciples to run to His tomb when it was found to be empty.  And he jumped out of the fishing boat to greet Jesus on the shore after His resurrection.  He knew full well that he'd blown it and that Jesus had every right to be upset with him.  But he approached Him anyway.  Kinda like you did with me on Sunday.  You knew you screwed up.  You knew I'd be mad.  But you walked up to me for a hug anyway.  (And goodness knows I'm not Jesus.)

Jesus didn't specifically tell Peter he was forgiven, didn't lecture him about keeping his word, didn't even bring up the denials.  He simply asked Peter the same question 3 times:  "Do you love me?"  Peter responded each time, even though he knew Jesus knew the answer.

That's where the parallel stops... at least for a bit... because I'm not the all-knowing Savior of the world and because my question would be different.  (I'd ask if you were sorry.)

Each time Peter answered Jesus, Jesus told him "Feed my sheep."  It wasn't penance.  It was more like "If that answer is true, then prove it." 

Peter spent the rest of his life doing just that... and he was never the same.  His impulsivity and boldness were harnessed for the sake of telling others about the resurrected Christ.  Jesus didn't give up on Peter, and I'm not giving up on you.

If Jesus were to ask YOU, "Do you love me?"  after you fell, how would you respond?  What would He have you do about it?

Posted at 10:52 pm by bayski
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Saturday, January 01, 2011

On December 21, I got the following texts:

One year ago today you were up on the stage at the lodge having people write down their BC and their "saved" lives on a piece of cardboard with Matt Redman in the background.  I don't know if you expected to help change someone's life who desperately needed it and I don't know if you were prepared for the story that I told you.  But I completely remember me saying that I was addicted to drugs and your eyes got big. That's all I remember completely from that conversation.  I can honestly say that going into Winter Retreat last year I never expected to be here with you right now.  I never would have expected to be the center of attention and the main point of a "story" like I was last night. I never would have imagined to be where I am now.  I know that you hate when I say that you're my "rock" and such, but I'm saying it once again, for like the six-hundredth time. Of course He is my rock and shelter, but you,_______, have become one of those people where I don't know how I'd live without you.  You are my rock; you've helped me more than I can even remember, you're there when I need you no matter what the circumstances are, you're always there to make me stronger and help me rebuild my faith when it starts to slip.  I want to thank you so much for speaking last year, and thank you for listening to me while I was crying and trying to talk through my tears. Crazy to think it's already been a year, and look where we are now (hey, backseat).  I bet you didn't expect to be where you are now and I didn't expect to be where I am either.  Thank you for always pushing me to be better.  Thank you for being the good parent that I've always needed, even though you aren't my legit mom, you're close enough to the point where people can call you my mom and I don't even realize it.  You're an absolutely amazing woman, ________, and I will never forget you or anything that you have done for me.  I've only got a little more than a year left here before college, so let's make it a good one.  I love you so much and I'm more than thankful that I was given the chance to stumble into your life a year ago today.

Like I've said before that when I grow old and gray like you, I hope to have the same attitude and such like you.  Looking back on the last year, I now only wish to have made an impact on someone's life like you have made on mine.  I don't know if you realize it, but you saved my life.  A year ago today I was just about ready to kill myself and be with ________.  I don't know if you remember saying this, but you told me that there was still hope for me in my life, and that sentence, although it seems small and unimportant, saved my life.  You have helped me into who I am now, and who I am becoming.  You are helping me with more than you know and I don't think you realize how you have changed my life along with so many others.  After meeting you, and basically living with you over the summer, I see you as more than a role model or a "best friend", I see you as the loving, caring, amazing mother that I never had.  You stepped into my life when I needed it most, and I can't thank you enough for that.

Amazing, right?!  Whose heart wouldn't melt to read those words?  But the fact of the matter is that I'm not all she claims I am.  I get disappointed, angry, hurt and don't know how to help her make better decisions.  My words fail. My example falls short. My prayers are inconsistent. Something isn't connecting or we wouldn't be here again.  I wouldn't be scared of what might happen when she spends time with certain friends.  I wouldn't worry about designated drivers or car accidents or another horrific phone call.  I'd be planning a two month celebration instead of starting the count over.

Posted at 07:56 pm by bayski
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Thursday, December 30, 2010
suspended with pay

Dear brain,

I am placing you on a leave of absence pending an investigation into your affiliation with one "heart".  Do not report to work until further notice.

The Management

Posted at 10:53 pm by bayski
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Friday, December 24, 2010
In Memory of Nick

I need to write.  I need to process.  I need to FEEL.  It's too unbelievable, too blurry to be reality.  It doesn't make sense.  We all got down the mountain safely, only to have one of us die at home in an accident we can only interpret as tragic.

If you are in youth ministry long enough, these things happen.  It never gets easier.  We cry with hope, but we cry because it hurts.  We prepare teenagers for the "rest of their lives" never guessing that the "rest" ends their sophomore year.  At the same time we know that their impact is NOW.

The first memory I have of Nick was at last year's Winter Retreat.  On the last night, I asked the students to share their cardboard testimonies.  Nick's was the only one I remembered well.  His B.C. post:  "Who gives a f***?"  His changed-life post:  "I do."  I remember thinking it was ballsy to write that... even with asterisks... on a church trip.  But it was the truth of his testimony.

The second memory I have of Nick was a Facebook post after his friend, Ryan, decided to follow Jesus.  Nick proudly and publicly welcomed him to the family of believers and continued to live his life in such a way that Ryan got to know Jesus better and trust Him more.  Ryan was on this year's Winter Retreat, a changed life because of the Lord using Nick to lead him to the cross.

Despite the fact that Nick was a competitor, he was never hesitant to tell his friends he loved them.  It didn't threaten his masculinity to offer a manly embrace or send a text just to say "I love you".

I'm sorry to say that most of our interactions involved me challenging him in some way, rather than encouraging what he already did well.  On the Reconnect Retreat I told him to live out all he claimed to already know.  My "Truth is..." on his wall was a challenge to step up his leadership in the youth group.  He didn't know that I only push those I know can handle it, that I saw miles of potential in his life.  Now his potential is fulfilled, and he is hearing, "Well done, my good and faithful servant."  For that, I am jealous.

Posted at 03:56 pm by bayski
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Numb. Empty. Spent. Exhausted. Frustrated. Hurt. Anxious. Hopeful.

Posted at 10:37 am by bayski
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I am pondering the deep things of life as well as the taken-for-granted mundane. Writing helps me to formulate complete thoughts and record milestones of faith. This journey can be a bumpy ride; tag along at your own risk.

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