What you’ve all taught me

Almost five years ago I was approached by the youth pastor at our church and asked if I wanted to begin leading sixth grade girls. Because my son had been so greatly impacted by the youth program at our church, I immediately said yes. I also felt strongly that I had insight and guidance to give to young women. Our church operates in a special way and when you lead students, ideally you stay with them throughout middle and high school. That’s seven tentative years of commitment.

When sixth grade began, and we had our first youth group, I found myself feeling lost. I had only raised a boy and had minimal experience with pre-teen girls. I did not have a typical upbringing and realized very quickly that I was out of my element. I did not understand how to be genuinely silly. I was very self conscious. I had a hard time truly feeling connected. What had I done?!?

Youth group was loud. We played a lot of messy games. We sang and hugged and talked. I had never been to anything like this. It felt annoying at times. It didn’t make sense. Sometimes the games grossed me out. I wanted to be present and participate but I also wanted badly to run away and quit.

Growing up, I lived a life that was full of pain, abuse, horrific things that kids should not see or experience. I didn’t understand relationships, I had “friendships” out of convenience or obligation. I used people and took all I could from everyone I met. I did not know God, I had never been to any sort of formal church and had never been a part of any youth program. I had minimal freedom in my heart and lived a life full of fear, shame and disconnection. As an adult, I carried my insecurities and shame into my life. I protected myself from vulnerability. I avoided emotions and trusted no one.

I was not sure how to mesh my survival skills with my present day circumstances. I believed leading would be an easy weekly commitment: I could show up, hang out, go home and repeat until graduation day. It’s not that I didn’t care or want my experience to be fuller, I just didn’t know I was lacking and didn’t know how to be any other way.

Over the past four years, in a surprising but also not surprising twist, my girls (and many other students) have been the ones to shift my heart. I have seen them be kind, vulnerable and silly. I have watched them grow and share and love. I have heard of their heartache and my walls have softened. I have grown to love them so greatly and began to release my fears and become more childlike. In the space where I believed I was leading, they led me to places I didn’t know I needed to go.

And here I am, at the end of a weeklong summer camp with our church’s youth group realizing that what started out as serving and commitment has turned into a deep love and adoration. I love every one of my girls and every one of the students that are “not mine”. I love every leader and door holder and worship leader and speaker. My heart comes alive in their presence. My soul is filled up with the sound of their laughter, watching them all worship, hearing them speak truth over each other. Seeing them all fall in love with the creator of the universe. I am in awe.

Camp is for them but man, it feels pretty spot on for me. Late night wild dancing and laughter can seem childish to grown ups but sometimes, it just what the spirit needs. My week consisted of minimal sleep, surviving on red bull and coffee, losing my voice singing and riding on a bus a cumulative 37 hours with 72 high schoolers.

I loved every second of it.

They always say that serving isn’t just for the charity or group you’re volunteering with; that it does something for the person who gives of their time. I feel so strongly that I am getting a bargain here. I can’t imagine my life without these humans.

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Two weeks down

What am I even counting up or down to…

My second week in the Pacific Northwest was much better mainly because I was traveling and the reality of the move wasn’t directly in my face every second. I got to adventure with my husband and this time, we even got to bring Parker!

Yosemite was magical, amazing, beautiful, and even made me cry a bit (so shocking). The waterfalls were spilling over every peak and edge and the river was rushing in an intriguing and intimidating fashion. The lush greenery and hints of wildflowers created a canvas so perfect even Bob Ross couldn’t haven’t concocted it. I fell in love with her and sensed the magic that I envision John Muir himself was drawn to. Even though there was a lot of work to be done (mainly for Brent), it felt very relaxing, enjoyable and fun. We had a hiking guide with us every day and a few other friends/work companions which added to the experience. Somehow, everyone was perfectly matched for weirdness and friendship. We all got along as if we had known each other our whole lives. I was reminded of my doubts about moving and being afraid I wouldn’t make new friends and my uneasiness concerning feeling connected to others.

I learned a few things on that trip. I learned to appreciate my husband more, to see just how smart and amazing he is. I was able to watch him work, be himself, share his knowledge and engage with others. He is truly an impressive man. In my mind, I have always known he had talents and of course, he must know what he is doing because he continues to be elevated in this field. I have been on many trips with him and seen him take pictures, but somehow, this trip was different. The way he relates to people, the way he is himself, his honesty and authenticity, it draws people in. He is warm and inviting. He is hilarious and goofy. He is super smart about photography and art and fashion and social media and marketing (like way smarter than I thought). I don’t say that in a negative way, but I began to look up to him more and respect him much more than I had before. I think back to leaving Ohio and am reminded of my fear of allowing someone to take care of me.

At times when I feel afraid, I always reflect on Doubting Thomas in the Bible, how he didn’t believe Jesus was raised from the dead until he saw him in person and saw his wounds and touched him. How I have seen miracles and life change over and over again, yet I still find myself hesitant and doubting Gods goodness at times. How I walk into a space trusting His plan but with lingering doubts in my mind and heart. I moved across the country because I believe that is part of God’s plan for my life. I left my job and son and community and friends because I believe that there is something even bigger happening. I was scared. I still feel scared in moments. I did not have a lot of answers (and I still don’t have a lot of answers) but God continues to remind me that He is with me and He sees my every worry.

Everything I could consciously be concerned with has been taken care of and He even shows up with relief from things I didn’t know I was troubled with. Every moment I feel stressed about an outcome, He has given glimpses of hope. Every anxious feeling I sense is replaced with ease and laughter. When I worry that I will feel alone, He gives me comfort and when I am scared that I won’t be taken care of, He reminds me just how cared for I am.

Years ago, my husband had a literal dream and without elaborating too much, the dream detailed how God had a plan for him and it included freedom and him going outside to play with Jesus. I was reminded of this dream last night, as God has continued to open doors and offer up multiple opportunities for our future. Even since we have moved, God has increased our opportunities, He has answered more prayers and continues to shower us with blessings and kindness and joy.

I do not know if this goodness will cease at some point. Sometimes I think my husband and I endured so much pain and brokenness in the first 40 years of our lives, that we won’t have any more during these next 40 years. Or maybe we will just never experience pain and suffering in the same way because we have a hope and faith that shifts our way of experiencing heartache. Maybe we are storing up goodness for when that day arrives…

I am just along for the ride, praying my decisions align with Gods plan, praying I can glorify Him in every moment and being grateful for every season I have walked through.