This defining moment requires some back story.
I had lost my mojo years prior when a middle school student asked if I was the mother of a 19 year old guy. I was 33 at the time. If I was viewed in the genre of "parent" by students, what credibility could I possibly have in youth ministry? I mean I'd heard them complain about adults for years, so I knew what it meant if their suspicions were that I was a parent... even more so the parent of a college student.
I was willing to try again with some Colorado middle schoolers 4 years later, so I chaperoned what I now consider the worst retreat ever. I couldn't be relational and fun because I was too busy being a Gestapo. I had to stop 8th graders from making inappropriate videos and sexting, explained why it was not okay to use someone else's mattress to surf down concrete stairs, and slept in front of the door to prevent the planned sneak out. I was getting too old for this.
A month or so later I got a FB message asking me to speak at the Winter Retreat for the high school group with which I had previously worked. Their original speaker had backed out and they were in a pinch. I agreed and immediately began to wonder what I would talk about. Then I got nervous. I was out of practice. I hadn't spoken to high schoolers in years... not since the mojo left. And I was now in the "parent" genre. I'd lost the automatic cool factor that accompanies people in their twenties.
I continued to struggle with what I would say right up until the week before the event. I skipped a community group meeting to wrestle through the last talk. I'd spent the weeks before praying for wisdom about what to teach and how to present it. But the last talk of the three just wasn't coming together like I'd hoped. I prayed and wrestled and brainstormed and then I had it. It was simple. It had the potential to be a re-run for the students. But it was the plan and I had a peace about it.... until I got up to Winter Park.
I was sick, barely had a voice the week of the Retreat. It was bad enough that I packed Thera-flu and a bag of cough drops. Introducing myself was difficult, singing impossible, and speaking a challenge. Add to that a new phenomenon: I was nervous. I hadn't been nervous to talk to high schoolers in years. But after all the prayer and struggle with the topic, I was still unsure about it. The weight of being God's messenger was especially heavy, as was the insecurity about how I would be received by the students. (Teenagers don't know this, but sometimes they intimidate adults. It's dumb, but it happens.)
I sat with the student ministries secretary and learned names, cautiously observing before entering "their" turf. They'd just finished their long bus ride and most were sleep deprived. So the "lesson" consisted of a series of youtube videos depicting the way some people see Jesus. We laughed, critiqued, discussed in small groups, read the passage in which Jesus asks His disciples "Who do you say that I am?" and adjourned. Nobody threw rotten tomatoes or rolled their eyes. Sometime during the evening my hands had stopped shaking. So far, so good.
We talked about John the Baptist, who went from declaring Jesus "the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world" to questioning whether or not He was actually the Messiah. John's faith seemed contingent on circumstances. So I asked the question, "Who do you say Jesus is, not just in the good times, but in the hard times, too?" That evening on the tubing hill a student approached me and said, "Good talk tonight. Convicting." It began our conversation about her temptations and doubt. I was encouraged by both her honesty and her willingness to approach me. I prayed with her and for her and went to bed with a contented smile on my face.
With the exception of the previous night's conversation, most of my interaction with students had been on the surface level in the cabin, on the slopes, or while "checking" them during broomball. We could joke and smile and chat, but only one conversation had gone much below the surface. And I was okay with that. I had no idea what was about to transpire. Night three was the night I was nervous about. I'd spent time alone in the cabin rehashing it, second guessing it, and finally seeing no way around it. I'd prayed. This was God's answer. I had to trust that. So I cut cardboard (well, someone else cut cardboard on my behalf), made a playlist, found some volunteers to set the example, and prayed some more.
If you've never seen cardboard testimonies, do a youtube search and be encouraged. After a brief discussion about how people who encountered Jesus were changed (i.e. Peter and Paul specifically), I challenged them to write their cardboard testimonies and describe how Jesus had changed them. So some of them did. And it was pretty cool. Somehow along the way we transitioned into a time when students just ministered to each other. I was long done talking. Cardboard testimonies were complete. And God just got hold of some people. There were tears and then there were people loving and praying for the tears. And it just kept going. I said folks could leave if they wanted but nobody left. I asked the people in tears if they wanted an "out"; nobody did. They sat there letting God work on their hearts and their peers encourage and pray for them beyond the time for them to play broomball. They didn't care. They didn't budge. I just sat and watched the Spirit do His thing, amazed that I got a front row seat to it all.
We finally disbanded and I was mingling with various tear-streaked faces. One girl I asked more than once if she wanted to talk. She declined each time. The next thing I know she and another girl wanted to chat. I invited an intern to join us, knowing I would be leaving later that night (or the next morning as it turned out). The girls and I sat on a couch and the intern pulled up a chair. That's where the story began. She wanted a cardboard testimony too. She had the first part down: drug addict, but the other side was blank. We talked for hours. She shared her heart, her hurts, her tears, her fears, and her new faith with us. She met Jesus that night and became a new creation. God let me be there when she was "born again."
There were more conversations that night. More hearts shared. More prayers offered. More ministry opportunities. More relationships established. I fell into bed at 1:30am exhausted in the best possible way.
Typically students that you meet for one weekend on a retreat will only stay in touch for a couple of weeks after the retreat. I never want to believe that will happen, but it always does... well, did.... until this retreat. The relationships intensified in this case. I flew back to TX for a wedding in January and spent time with them. I flew back in April and spent time with them. For weeks on end there were three girls I heard from DAILY. My Colorado friends knew that if I jumped up and left the room during game night, a TX student was on the phone. They knew that if I threw my phone across the room, a TX student had been dumb. It was obvious that the TX students had my heart. So when the opportunity to move back to TX and go to grad school presented itself, the TX students definitely played a roll in the decision... and were some of the first people I wanted to tell.
I still reference that Winter Retreat. I'm still thankful for it, amazed by it, humbled to have been a part of it. It is one of only a handful of "tangible" God moments in my life. I saw Him work. Looking back, I know He wasn't just working on the students; He was working on me. Love outweighs mojo AND cool.
So now I live in TX, within walking distance (a long walk, but still...) from the girl who met Jesus that weekend. I spent Christmas with her family this year. She has slept on my couch more than once. There is snack food in my pantry simply because it's what she likes. I have learned about unconditional love, gained a greater appreciation for parenthood, and watched God transform her. Others I met that weekend have joined me at my apartment for movie nights or to work a puzzle or to eat breakfast for dinner.
I volunteer with that youth ministry now because leadership isn't dependent on a job or a title, and God's ability to use me (despite myself) in student ministry is not limited by my age. "Mom" isn't the insult it used to be.
January 31, 2011 06:27 AM PST
:) I remember a good chunk of that process. Even the part that started the year before when we kept making fun of each other on brads facebook page because we weren't friends yet...and not just in the facebook sense vwe both had only heard rumblings of one another. Then you came up to the YMCA to see people and we decided that we were cool enough for each other and became legit friends. Then a few facebooks here and there in between that time and then till what you described....you'd think God knew what he was doing sometimes
January 30, 2011 10:29 PM PST
Aw, couldn't have been said better.
January 30, 2011 09:35 PM PST
tears, lots of 'em. just made muh birthday. i love you, "mom"
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