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.

Living for the first time

I’ve had a bit over a week to reflect on my time in Daytona Beach and I’ve come to one major conclusion: I needed this more than I realized.

In preparation for a week long camp with 86 high schoolers (actually 5500 high schoolers nationwide) I thought of all the things I was worried about. I felt nervous to have to share a space with teenagers. I was concerned how I would handle the lack of sleep. I had literally no interest in an 18 hour bus ride EACH WAY…

I made a list and gathered all my required snacks, packed my GoPro ready to capture all the amazing moments and got my mind ready for hearts to shift.

I soon came to see that my life was also going to change.

The first night was full of worship and a moving message from Loui Giglio. We quickly found our way out of our seats and onto the floor, jumping up and down, singing at the top of our lungs. Our eyes began to swell and tears started pouring down. I took a moment to look around, to breathe in the atmosphere. I saw a room full of teenagers who were falling deeply in love with Jesus. I felt a sense of overwhelming gratitude that God had put me in this place, honored me with this responsibility. As the evening ended, all my lack of sleep was overcome by excitement and joy.

I promptly awoke at 6am without an alarm set. In that moment, I wanted so badly to go back to sleep. I hadn’t slept but five hours and I was coming off of a painfully long bus ride. Little did I know that I had been awakened for a specific reason. I found my way quietly out of the room, down the elevator and onto the beach. I watched the sunrise over the Atlantic Ocean and began to cry. In the silence of the morning, I was surrounded by students journaling and praying. There were groups of teenagers without their leaders or adults, who woke up early to praise God and pray over each other. Students gathered with bibles and journals and sat alone, feet in the sand, and just existed in His presence. I imagine that everyone on that beach shared the same emotions I was feeling; indebtedness, awe, delight. I found myself full of expectation for our future, hope for a generation many say are too entitled, selfish, unfocused, lazy etc.

And then came the evening session…. our group had found seats three rows back from the stage. The energy was electric, on fire, lit… all the words you can imagine to describe a volcano about to explode, a rocket about to lift off. The music was blaring, 5500 students were belting out all the emotion and heart ache and praise they could muster. Lights were flashing, we all were jumping up and down, hands raised, completely undone, no restraints, unaware of potential judgements, fully immersed in the moment.

And I looked up. I paused for a minute to breathe it all in and I realized that I was there just as much for myself as I was for my students. I was experiencing life change, freedom, bliss, youth. I wasn’t getting back something I lost. I wasn’t reliving something from my younger years.

I WAS LIVING THIS WAY FOR THE FIRST TIME.

This moment, the laughter, the abandonment, the friendships were all things I had never experienced, not in this way. I was enjoying parts of life and myself that I thought were long gone missed opportunities.

Everyone has them, things they didn’t get growing up. Maybe your parents got a divorce or they traveled too much. Possibly a father who was overly harsh or a mother who critiques everything. A school mate who bullied you or a horribly embarrassing, unforgettable moment that scarred you for life. All situations that can make a person question themselves or create marks on a soul.

Whatever it is, that thing can create a longing for resolution, a desire to feel complete, loved, valued. Some people work their whole life to prove worth to their parents. We enter into relationships hoping to heal some hurt from a past relationship. We can literally choose to live a past life forever.

I had long ago accepted that some of the missed emotions and experiences were just that: lost. I am an adult. If I feel like my parents didn’t love me enough, I wasn’t going to revert back to being five and somehow obtain that love. I have a child of my own and it’s my turn to be the parent. The freedom of my youth that I felt I was missing was never going to be mine. I had found freedom as an adult but I had forced myself to forget any longings from my childhood.

And then camp happened. And I saw the things I had never felt be given to me. Moments I didn’t know I could ever have were mine, and not just hints of them BUT COMPLETE FULLNESS! I was a 38 year old child, experiencing the freedom of youth and it was so sweet. And in the following days, that healing grew greater, the insecurity and old messages became faint and my load became lighter.

I don’t think I will ever love the long bus ride but man, I can’t wait for next year!