Saturday, September 7, 2013

there are moments...

What moments come to mind when you think of youth ministry?

There are really fun, exciting moments, like spontaneous snowball fights, dance parties, and captive audiences for storytelling. There are sweet, heart-warming moments, like when a kid opens up and starts sharing their heart with you, or when they run to give you a hug, or when they are worried about you when they see you sad or sick. There are powerful moments, like when a kid chooses to do the right thing when it is hard, or when they consider and serve each other, or when they remember and respond to something you said or did that you thought had been lost.

And then there are moments that make you want to scream and storm off and not look back. If you've ever invested your time and energy and heart in a teenager, and if beyond all wisdom and understanding you still love them, then you know what I am talking about. They know which buttons to push and what boundaries to test.

For me, it's most hurtful when I feel like I'm being used as a resource - a car, a bank, a computer, a tutor - and then a teenager flat out says they don't want to spend time with me just to play or chill or have a friendship. And I feel silly and immature and selfish and overly-emotional, and oddly like an annoying "kid sister"... as though everything I do for the teen is to get them to like me and want to be my friend. I shouldn't have that expectation, and I don't even consciously realize that I do most of the time. I do things because I love them - really, truly love them - and I want to see them succeed and have joy and peace in their lives. That's why even when I scream and storm, I come back. But it is hard to love like that and not hope for that love to be returned.

Then it hits me, is that how Jesus feels about me? I mean, I know he doesn't have the selfish, immature attitude that I have, but how does he feel when I come to him with problems and requests, and ignore or avoid time with him when I feel like things are fine? Sometimes I hear him say, "Come rest with me, play, talk, listen, walk with me. I want you to know me more," and I blow him off for "me time." I don't know if he ever feels like screaming and throwing in the towel, but I'll bet he gets very sad. And when I realize that, it makes me sad too... because I love him, just not very well sometimes.

Sometimes I think God has put me in youth ministry just to teach me more about Himself, and what His heart is for me...

Friday, September 6, 2013

Family time

Joe scooped the ice cream, Todd split the bananas, and Jared... well, Jared poured caramel sauce when I specifically told him not to. Bowls of M&Ms and bottles of Hershey syrup and eight chairs squished around the dining table of the guys' "Lake House"... that is our idea of a family meeting. And what a great lookin' family, too, don't you think?!

me, Hannah, Brandon, Jared, Shannon, Todd, Joe, and Lisa

I thank God for blessing me so richly with friends, family, ministry partners who are so incredible - strong, wise, fun, passionate, loving, kind, and good. We've laughed and prayed together, we've celebrated good news and wrestled through bad news together. We plan activities, pick up kids, pray for creativity and energy, keep our doors open and our schedules flexible, and work hard together because we share a common desire to love and serve teens and families in our community... and we remind each other of that whenever we get discouraged. We might not look like much, but we know God's power has been crazy at work in and through us this year. He has done great things, and we know we will continue to see him do great things, as we keep our eyes focused and our hands open and our feet ready for action. 

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Some recent thoughts on ministry

I've been thinking a lot about ministry this week... and how at least in American culture, I think it is a hard thing to stay focused. Even the most well-intentioned leaders and boards and teams can get so distracted by so many things... financial security, social reaction, political correctness, scales, results, measurable goals met, liability, protection, permission, votes, and numbers... so many numbers... so many ways to determine and judge if we are "successful" in our work. Grassroots ministries grow and prosper and get more organized and then more socialized and then more political until they look more like businesses with staffs and balance sheets than anything else.

And this scares and upsets me, because it doesn't look like Jesus. When I study his life, I see that his "big-picture, long-term goal" was to die. And everything leading up to that was simply him offering hope and healing and life and opening people's eyes to the Kingdom. He did a lot of walking, a lot of moving... he didn't have an office that he worked out of or a headquarters where programs happened. He was in homes, by the lake, on a mountain, in boats, under trees, beside pools, and at people's work places.

His "mission statement" was Isaiah 61:1-3, and I can't even imagine how you could measure the results of that or determine when that goal is reached! How many broken hearts did you bind up this year? How many prisoners in darkness have been released? On a scale of 1-10, how much good news has been proclaimed to the poor? That work is not finished yet, and won't be until he returns again! And I think it is an all-encompassing work... not limited to a people group or need or curriculum or social style. It basically was about loving whoever was in front of him at the moment, at any given time.

That challenges me. That has knocked me off my feet, rendered me useless every time I really think about it. Who am I to decide what "my ministry" is, who "my people" are, and when I am finished with the work I start in? It's God's ministry, and I can't tack a name - mine or an organization's or anything else - to it and put it in a mold or frame. God hasn't called me to run a program or lead an event... he's called me to follow him. That is not dependent on money or location or relational status or health... though at times I have tried to make it so. That means I don't actually know from one day to the next what ministry will look like - what He will bring into my life or what He will call me to move into. This is both thrillingly and terrifyingly adventurous, and often gives me heartburn.

He's been shaking things up a lot lately, forcing me out of some sweet and comfortable spots, asking me to do hard things and let go of my own plans. Life looks so different now than it did last year, and infinitely more so than I could have imagined five years ago. How can I formulate a five year plan, or even a six month plan when he is constantly changing and shifting me, my perspective, my work? I'm learning that sometimes I shouldn't fight the shake-ups so much, that more often than not it is just God moving me forward to the next step... because as I refocus and simplify and remind myself to follow him, He takes me deeper, further up and further in to his heart.

Monday, September 2, 2013

MDA stars: Where are they now?

Twenty-four years ago today, my mom was untwisting my blonde hair from little sponge curlers that I somehow slept on the night before. She dressed me in my frilliest frock and used a whole can of hairspray in my poofy bangs, and we drove to Four Seasons Mall in Greensboro, NC. There, we found the bright balloons and glittery stars, the tables of volunteers on telephones, and the news reporters (anyone remember Cindy Farmer?) who would kneel down beside me and put a microphone in my face and prompt me to talk about how important it was for people to call in and pledge money so that kids "like me" could have the walkers, wheelchairs, and medical care we needed. Somewhere else - most likely Las Vegas - Jerry Lewis was in a bow tie, making jokes, telling stories, and urging people to give... and how could you look at a cute little Miss Muffet like me and not want to give?

The annual Labor Day telethon by MDA (The Muscular Dystrophy Association) was a big part of my childhood. Back then the telethon was an all-day event, but for me it was a year-round job. I was the poster child for several years - meeting the governor, Miss North Carolina, TV stars, race car drivers, corporate business CEOs, and the workers of the US Postal Service. My heart still smiles when I see local fire fighters out on street corners with fire boots, their fund raiser for MDA, or when I see people raising "bail money," or when the shamrocks start filling up storefront windows in March. I got to do some pretty incredible things and challenged the generosity of a lot of powerful people in those days, and I really did love being one of "Jerry's kids."

Kevan and Connie: "We are God's sibling trial!"

Today I was talking to Kevan about our childhood days of stardom, and what I could possibly write about us today in the sense of "Where are they now?" His response was this: "Well, we've beat all the odds." Powerful and true. I wonder how many people who met us as kids believed we would live the lives we have so far. There have been some scary close-calls for both of us, and there are some things we cannot do and have to depend on others for. But it is really amazing to me how much we have done and are doing. We aren't in denial of our disability - we know its effect on us and those we love, and when it comes up as an issue (whether political or personal) we face it head-on and fight for and encourage those who don't have the kind of amazing parents we had, or the resources and knowledge we've had.

But we don't allow our disability to define us or become an excuse for not living life fully and richly. I mean, I earned a Master's degree, work at a college, do life with incredible people in my dream-job ministry, traveled the country this summer, own my own car, and manage my own personal care. And my quality of life is pretty darn good, considering the minimal medicine and treatments I require.

I work hard to help people see past my wheelchair and my flimsy arms and wobbly neck and twisted feet and asymmetrical frame. It's not that I'm ashamed of my body and I don't cover up my weakness, but as a disciple of Christ, my life isn't about me or making people aware of me. I love to write and speak and teach, but my message is now about Jesus more than anything else - my disability isn't my platform, the gospel is; and my disability is just a backdrop to highlight the grace and power and faithfulness of God in my life.

Everyone has a disability... mine just looks more obvious than some. But think about what cripples, paralyzes, and weakens you. And instead of living as a victim of that, ask God how he can take even the worst of things and make it into something beautiful and powerful, to change the world and to bring him glory.