A Note to the Young’uns

Gentle Reader,

…set an example for the believers in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, and in purity.

– 1 Timothy 4:12b (CSB)

You thought you were going to escape, didn’t you?

No, the elders are not supposed to despise you. We are supposed to come alongside you, build you up, encourage you, empower you. We are not always good at this. In fact, we often fail at this. We are short-tempered, easily frustrated and stuck in our ways. Because, you see, we have not arrived. We have not figured it all out. We’re still in process with Jesus, still needing Him to shape us into the people He wants us to be.

But.

You knew that was coming, right?

Our failures are not an excuse for you.

You, dear one who is often confused in the middle of the growing and the learning and the raging hormones but really does want to follow Jesus, are called to a higher standard. You don’t get to do whatever you want and then get mad when someone with a little more experience, a bit more wisdom, corrects you. That’s just not an option. It’s not the good or right option, anyway. In all the chaotic mess that is your thoughts and emotions, you have to make the choice to learn how to slow down and listen.

It’s hard. It doesn’t seem fair. But in a year or five, you’ll back and realize, “Wow, okay. That person loved me. And maybe they did know what they were talking about.”

I was the teenager who had big fights with her parents. I broke curfew. Spoke disrespectfully. Got so tired of hearing about how I needed to be responsible. Threatened to not go to college because…I really don’t know why, it just seemed like a good idea at the time. And that’s the key phrase: Seemed like a good idea at the time.

I was the teenager who tasted alcohol long before she should have. (Never was that into it, though my dad once asked why I skipped beer and went straight to vodka. I honestly don’t know). Who had dysfunctional relationships. Who looked okay on the outside, but everything inside her was screaming, desperate to be real but not sure how to do that. Full of the correct answers when asked, but really a hypocrite.

I was the teenager who let fear rule her life. The plain fact is that I could have gone to school just about anywhere I wanted to. Harvard was an option. If I had continued in journalism, I could have pursued a Marshall Scholarship and gone to England to study at Cambridge or Oxford. Now, at this point, I’m relieved that I made different choices and am not hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt, but that practicality isn’t why I made the different choices. I was insecure and scared. I chose not to believe that I was capable.

There were people in my life who pushed me to step up and step out. I chose to ignore them. I let an opportunity to attend Samuel School, an Evangelical Friends retreat offered to students who have been identified as future leaders by church elders, pass me by. I didn’t pursue a summer internship with a local newspaper, even though my adviser and mentor assured me that I was shoe-in. Every time someone noticed me, pinpointed something in me or about me that God had planted there, I turned tail and ran away.

Sweet one, listen to me.

Don’t follow my example in these things.

Yes, we fail, hard and often. But there are adults in your life who really do care. We really do want to see you flourish. We really do believe that you have been placed in this context for a reason. We get on your case about certain things, like your addiction to your smartphone (yeah, we’re addicted, too), because we know, via our own stupid decisions and the radical, amazing grace of God, that there is more and better for you. Not one of you has to settle for the paltry, stale crumbs the world offers.

And there’s more.

Do you know that you are an elder, too? There’s always someone younger than you, looking at you, watching all the things you do. They want to be like you. They think you’re beyond cool. They love you so much. While you are one-hundred percent not responsible for choices that they end up making, you are meant to set a good example. A holy example.

You can do that. By staying connected to God through the words on the page (yes, the page, because those notifications are so distracting, even if you are sincerely trying to use your Bible app) and through prayer, especially those, “Help me, Jesus!” prayers. By finding a mentor, someone who has permission to call you on your crap and point you toward the good and the right. By sticking with church, even though it’s a real pain sometimes.

I believe in the God who made you, so carefully and tenderly. I believe that you can walk through life with your head up, neither looking down to or upon anyone. I believe that there are things that only you can do, special work designed and planned for you long before the stars began to flame. I believe that you have great value.

I believe in you.

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A Note to the Elders

Gentle Reader,

“Don’t let anyone despise your youth…”

– 1 Timothy 4:12a (CSB)

I’ve heard this verse so many times. When I was fourteen, a traveling preacher came to my school and spoke during chapel. Most of us hated chapel; it was boring but required. This particular day, however, was better than most. This man was engaging. He was funny. He had a passion for truth. And he seemed to think that we, lowly teenagers, could actually have a positive impact on this world.

The school was rooted in the soil of Pentecostalism, so at one point he asked anyone who wanted prayer to come forward. That was fine and dandy, something that all traditions do, but he started speaking in tongues and I regretted stepping forward because, honestly, it scared me. Not something I’d experienced before. Almost fled back to my seat. But when he got to me, he stopped doing that and looked at me for a long time. Everyone in the room got still. He took my hands and said, quietly, “You are a woman after God’s own heart. Never forget that.”

I never have. Never will.

Much wandering and insecurities across the years, but I can tell you that the Holy Spirit never let me go. The voice was always there. Always drawing me back to His love. To His truth. To His grace.

I watched Him do the same with others this past weekend. Young men and women, of various ages and backgrounds. They bounced and danced in the aisles as the worship music played, free in their movements. They listened attentively to the speaker, full of insights and questions after each session. Played truly competitive dodgeball. Flung themselves happily into a service project. Got hangry and tired, but who doesn’t?

And I thought, “Yes. The church is going to be okay. These people truly want Him, even if they don’t all fully realize that yet.”

So, elders, whether an elder by many years or just a few: Don’t despise them.

That’s the implied command in Paul’s words. He’s aware that some will not respect Timothy because of his age. He tells his protege to set an example for them by conducting his life in a Christ-pleasing way. All very straightforward. In the roundabout, he’s also saying that Timothy shouldn’t be disrespected simply because he’s young. He shouldn’t be despised.

I’m a Millennial, set to burn the world down while clutching my avocado toast. At least that’s what all the think-pieces claim. That’s what some of the elders in my life have communicated to me in the past. You can’t do this. That’s a dumb idea. I don’t get you. Get back in your place. It sucks. It hurts to be shot down just because you haven’t reached certain milestones or you have a different way of approaching situations.

And, if I may, it’s an arrogant and fear-based attitude.

Battles between the generations are as old as Adam, Eve, Cain and Abel. (I wonder what they fought about)? But here’s the thing: We don’t have to keep repeating the cycle. We who have the Spirit of Christ within are enabled to make better choices. We can approach the younger with open hearts. We can say, You can do this! And then teach them how to do it. That’s a crazy idea and I love that you came up with it! And then, slowly, patiently, show them how to implement those crazy ideas. I don’t always get you, but I love you. And then genuinely, truly love them, just as they are. Your place is right here, with me, doing this thing. And then actually, really, integrate them into the life of the Body.

Teenagers aren’t some separate, scary species. They don’t need to be tucked away in a basement room, cut off from everyone else. Their awkwardness, enthusiasm and ideas breathe life into the church. They are our brothers and sisters. Sure, little brothers and sisters, squirrelly brothers and sisters, but equal participants in the Kingdom of God.

Let them in.

Let them do.

Let them be.

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In the Snow, Beneath the Pines

Gentle Reader,

You will notice that the variety of bodies is stunning. Just as there are different kinds of seeds, there are different kinds of bodies—humans, animals, birds, fish—each unprecedented in its form. You get a hint at the diversity of resurrection glory by looking at the diversity of bodies not only on earth but in the skies—sun, moon, stars—all these varieties of beauty and brightness. And we’re only looking at pre-resurrection “seeds”—who can imagine what the resurrection “plants” will be like!

– 1 Corinthians 13:39-41 (MSG)

I stood shivering in the cold, despite layers of clothing, my eyes, never of too much use in the darkness, scanning the yards ahead of me anyway, watching for any sign of trouble. My warm breath mingled with the frigid air, swirling clouds ascending to the treetops above. Weak lamps cast a pale yellow glow, unable to compete with the beauty of the stars above, but useful in their own way. Laughter and screaming filled my ears, never mind that they had all been instructed to be quiet. Panting and full of good cheer, a couple of teenagers fell at my feet, soaked to the skin but not seeming to mind.

I hadn’t planned to be there, in the snow, beneath the pines. Hadn’t anticipated earning a new nickname that I shall not reveal here because reasons. Hadn’t dreamed of climbing on a stage and lip syncing to “The Schuyler Sisters” with someone with whom I apparently share a brain. Hadn’t longed for sleepless nights. Hadn’t pictured myself in suddenly deep conversations. And certainly hadn’t, in any way, thought that I would be so thoroughly and completely embraced.

Drenched in love of the most wonderful variety.

All following hard on a year filled with harshness, with brokenness and rejection. I hardly know how to handle such acceptance. I’ve come to expect glares, frowns and tight-lipped whispers when I enter a room. Grown accustomed to the fear associated with knowing you’re being talked about – because you dared to disagree, because you went outside the accepted boundaries, because you aren’t perfect and wonderful and exactly what everyone wants you to be at all times. Believed that every bit of gossip and petty meanness was exactly what I deserved. Wondered if I really was that unwanted, undesirable and unloved.

So to have a group of people actually want you around… Encountering nothing but smiles and laughter…

Frightens and delights in equal measure.

Helping at a youth retreat is work, no doubt. My whole body feels it today. Neck aches from headbanging. Side of my hand throbs from pounding it on a table while shouting, “One two three four, JFK, FDR!” I’m not sure I will ever be warm again after giving my coat, scarf, gloves, snowpants and boots to people who claimed to have “packed everything!” Definitely had a moment when I thought duct-taping them all to the side of the lodge was a good idea.

But I’d do it again.

The things they said:

“You’re so fun and young, like one of us. But then we can talk to you about real stuff and that’s cool.”

“Would you pray with me for a second? There’s this thing going on…”

“You brought M&Ms? Hand ’em over!”

“Can I sit by you?”

“Ugh. Why don’t the boys shower? Their hallway smells like butt.”

“I frickin’ love you.”

“You are the prettiest!”

Makes a lady feel all bright and snuggly inside. The gooey, chewy center that she tries to hide all exposed but, for the first time in a long time, she’s okay with her tender heart beating loudly for all the world to hear. She is not trying to defend herself or be anyone other than the woman God so carefully designed and placed into this context. She wants to wrap her arms around all of them, teen attendee and adult leader alike, because she loves them so. She’s full of life, overflowing with it, and wants nothing more than to be a gracious, healing presence, soft and gentle and kind and warm. She hopes to be, empowered by the Spirit, a safe, comforting port in the storms, to provide the shelter of a listening ear and a shoulder to lean on for any and all.

For every compliment they gave, I had the joy of showering them with words of affirmation in return. I got to watch their eyes light up with wonder that someone saw good things in them, told them that they are smart and capable and a powerful force for good in the world. I got to watch them take steps, some microscopic but real, of belief. Belief in God, belief in themselves.

What a privilege that is.

Who am I, that this should be something I get to do?

I forget sometimes that this body of mine is fragiler than most. That’s the thing about walking around with an organ that’s doing it’s level best to kill you; when you get a reprieve from the pain, you feel energized and free and so you forget all the caution and warnings and go all in. I was blessed with a few hours’ release from the sharp stabs in my side. So I took all the hugs and knocking about that I could get. Then it came screaming back, a tangible reminder of my desire for resurrection wholeness, and I had to steal away for a moment to let the tears fall.

Then I kept taking the hugs and the knocking about.

It was worth gritting my teeth for them. It will always be worth gritting my teeth for them. Because they need a person, who isn’t a parent because what do parents know, to be present. To be willing to handle the discomfort in the service of true life and love.

I curl beneath a heavy blanket, dog on one side and coffee on the other. I know I have yet to truly begin processing all that I witnessed and participated in this weekend. My journal awaits, ready for the deeper notions and feelings, the things that I can’t write here but are safe before God’s eyes. It will soon come spilling out in sentences that make sense only to Him.

For now, this. Utter physical exhaustion. A glowing soul. Spirit full of love given and received. Mind entranced by thoughts of what might be next. Pessimism obliterated by optimism. Miraculous, divine and unexpected loosening of heart-knots.

Without doubt, supremely blessed.

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Five Minute Friday: Influence

Gentle Reader,

North Idaho has decided that mid-January is the right time for winter to begin. Its residents have been spoiled with unseasonably warm temperatures (for the most part) and a distinct lack of the white stuff, which has been falling from the sky since I got up a little after five this morning because the dog simply could not wait for breakfast any longer. It’s pretty. I recognize the privilege that it is to sit here in my cozy house, drinking coffee while I read the book our youth group is going through. But…I’m not sure that I’m prepared for six-to-eight weeks more.

Kate says: influence.

Make yourself an example of good works with integrity and dignity in your teaching.

– Titus 2:7b (CSB)

I am the non-energized bunny, always ready for a nap or five. The odds of me taking on some great, extended adventure exist within the realm of imaginary numbers. I don’t tackle anything in life with gusto. Give me peaceful walks among the flora and fauna, a la scenes in a Beatrix Potter story. Quiet days. Interesting conversations with friends, pitched at reasonable volumes. 

Not exactly what anyone thinks of when they hear the words “youth worker.”

The first official ministry thing I ever did was run a small group for middle school girls. I still remember their names. I was so young, still discerning the gifts and passions God had given me. If time machines were real, I’m sure I’d cringe at some of the things I said to them. Thankfully, the Lord is big and kind enough to work through our missteps and mistakes.

Life went on. Marriage, work, writing, illness, volunteering. I know now that my heart is to teach Scripture to whoever will listen so that they can receive and respond to the God of, in, behind and around the text. I’ve led adult groups. Briefly served on the church board. Stood as the kid wrangler during children’s classes.

Today – full circle. With the teens again. Some days, I’m still not sure. I’m older now (34 is practically ancient in our society), so my role has changed. Before, there was a seven or eight year age gap. Now, it’s two decades and more.

I’m stepping into that spiritual mother role. Or maybe spiritual auntie. Someone with a lot more life and lot more scars under her belt. They don’t need me to have all the answers. They don’t need me to be perfect. But they do need me to be honest. And they definitely need me to point them to Jesus at every turn.

God, let me wield this influence well.

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