Miley does not define 20-year olds (or: six people you should know)

Well.

Fifteen hours after millions of people watched 20-year-old Miley Cyrus offer friendly benefits to a foam hand while twerking in the presence of life-sized teddybears – and fourteen-and-three-quarter hours after the entire world began tweeting about it – I find out that there was a bit of a to-do at the VMA awards last night.

Shocking.

I didn’t watch the VMAs last night. Not even as a way to keep pace with the most recent cultural trends. Instead, I rested after spending a weekend away with six Miley-aged college-student youth workers. And by “youth workers” I mean people who minister to teenagers, regardless of whether they get paid for it or not, which in this particular case happens to be “not.”

Fifteen hours after no one watched us sit around an open fire and talk about things as divergent as C. S. Lewis, Herb Brooks, and satellites, no one is tweeting about those particular 20-year olds – which is really a shame because they are the 20-year olds that are going to change the world, sans cable broadcasting, million-dollar budgets, and infinite wardrobe changes.

Instead, they are going to change the world through persistence, patience, and countless live appearances at such extolled venues as the middle-school cafeteria, the high-school track, and the public city park.

I might like to say a few things to Miley – as a musician: “Please work on your rhythm.” -as a mother: “If you keep hanging your tongue out, it will freeze that way.” – as a mentor: “Maybe we should meet more often.”

But I’d rather say a few things about the six 20-year olds that I spent the weekend with and that most of you will never meet.

I’d like to tell you about how they love middle-school and high-school students with their whole selves.

I’d like to tell you about all the ways they invest in teenagers, just so they will know that someone genuinely cares about them.

I’d like to tell you about how much fun they have, how much joy they exude, how much laughter they share.

I’d like to tell you about how they intentionally choose to live life differently than so many of their peers.

I’d like to tell you about how every day they seek to reflect Jesus in all they say and do.

I’d like to tell you about all of the minutes and hours and days and weeks and months and years that they commit to being the hands and feet of Jesus in the lives of teenagers.

I’d like to tell you about how they lead and encourage a large community of other 20ish-year-olds, all of whom are equally committed to knowing and loving and showing Christ’s love to middle- and high-school students.

I’d like to tell you about how much they give up in order to gain the privilege of doing kingdom work in a ministry setting.

I’d like to tell you all of that – and so much more – because those are things that matter. Immensely.

The twerking, the profanity, the lewdness, the degradation, and the mockery seen and heard by millions will all pass away.

But the faith, hope, and love of these six (plus fifty) 20-year olds will remain.

That’s a story (within a Story) worth knowing and being part of.

20-year olds worth knowing (Photo: CKirgiss)
20-year olds worth knowing (Photo: CKirgiss)

Update: After posting this, I realized there is one more thing I might like to say to Miley – as a minister: “You are fearfully and wonderfully made, deeply and eternally loved. Believe it.” Really, that would be the most important thing of all.

The bend in the road…

Bend in the road (Photo: CKirgiss)
Bend in the road (Photo: CKirgiss)

I walked this still, peaceful, and lovely country road a few days back.

I had no idea what lay at its faraway end, nor even what lay just up ahead, around the bend.

I surely do wish that my life were as still, peaceful, and lovely as this road instead of frantic, anxious, and distorted. Fortunately for me, I live life with the One who is the very essence of peace, the very source of beauty, and the very fulfillment of a still, small, quietly whispered voice. Even when my life seems not to be quiet, peaceful, and lovely, the Source of my life is those things. As long as I abide with and drink from Him deeply, there is hope beyond measure.

But also: I surely do wish that my life were not as bent as this road, first in its essence – because way down there, buried under layers of undeserved grace, is a heart bent beyond recognition but for the righteousness of Christ in which it is bathed, once and for all, each and every day – and second in its progression – because up ahead, just within my sight, is a great big bend in the road beyond which I can see nothing. Nothing at all.

It seems like that bend has been there for a mighty long time now. Maybe forever. And for folks like me, a forever-bend is just about unbearable.

Except for this: God works on folks like me. Patiently. Deeply. Lovingly. Daily. And because of that, there comes a day when the bend up ahead, the one beyond which I can see nothing at all, is not such an unbearable thing as it once was. The change in perception is slow coming (especially for folks like me). But come it does. Not in the road itself, but rather in me myself. Because that’s what God does – unbends our bent hearts so they can rest, so they can trust, so they can take their eyes off the bend up ahead and see instead all the still and peaceful beauty that flank us on both sides.

I don’t know if the bend ever goes away entirely, or even gets any closer. I suspect that the life of faith is best lived on a road that runs straight in its purpose even as it bends endlessly in its knowability.  Fortunately for us, we can live life with the One who not only knows all but also can be known. This road is His. He not only walks beside but He also waits up ahead. Around the bend. Meaning that around-the-unknown-and-unseen-bend is not a place to be feared but rather is the most beautiful place to be headed.

…those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength…they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not grow faint…

Prayer stars

Paper prayer stars (Photo: CKirgiss, Folding: LTenBrink)
Paper prayer stars (Photo: CKirgiss, Folding: LTenBrink)

At some point, every pray-er — no matter how devout — struggles to pray, sometimes for surprisingly pathetic reasons. One would think that shutting oneself up in a dark and quiet closet in order to listen to the Almighty would be a delightful gift to oneself, especially in a world that is spilling over with glaring and blaring distractions.

But it turns out that sometimes the dark and quiet closet is its own distraction. So much darkness. So much silence. So much closeness. The simplicity and sparseness can be quite overwhelming.

And then instead of praying, we end up thinking in spirals and worrying along rivulets and wandering through mists.

So we pinch our arms, reprimand our souls, nag our chattering minds, and get back to it. Diligently. Mercilessly. Stoically. Because, well, we should; we must; we ought; even though it’s so much work and requires such sternly disciplined singleness of mind. (And by “sternly disciplined singleness of mind” I mean “something that looks quite a bit like joyless self-martyrdom”.)

But – if you are very fortunate and very willing to listen and very emptied of self – something might break through the joyless self-martyrdom. You read a book that helps you understand prayer in a new way. You have an experience that peels back all the false layers of piety. You sense the Spirit gently whispering within the holy breath of life.

Or maybe even this: you receive a box of 8 small folded stars (that are beyond comprehension) and a note that says,

When I prayed for you I made these.

What manner of miraculous friendship is this, that someone not only prays for us but at the same time creates anew (from the old) something that reflects not just us but also the very One who made us?

In that moment – and everyone should have such a moment as this – prayer becomes something much sweeter and larger and more miraculous and divine and beautifully disciplined and creatively focused.

To the star-making pray-er: thank you for making prayer and creativity and friendship even sweeter and more brilliant than they already were.

To the rest of us pray-ers, including myself: what could be more unspeakably amazing than that we are invited to converse with the Almighty Creator (of the individually named and intentionally placed Stars), who is also Abba Father (of the undeserving and helpless flock known as humanity)?

Let us all find our own manner of star-making so that we will joyfully and often enter that sacred space to utter sacred words in the presence of the Sacred itself.

Summer’s End (or: Why going back to school sometimes hurts)

Summer's end (Photo: CKirgiss)
Summer’s end (Photo: CKirgiss)

Classes started today at the university where I teach. Classes started last week in the local K-12 public schools and the week before that in the Big City just down the road from me.

But it’s 83 degrees outside today and (says my weather app) the heat will last for several weeks. The flowers are still in bloom. The frogs are still symphonizing every night.  My garden still needs regular weeding.

The timing on this seems all wrong.

But timing in life is rarely predictable and is often surprising. A month ago, Christmas decorations and supplies suddenly appeared in the craft stores. Back-to-school supplies have already been displaced by Halloween candy. Somewhere an Easter rabbit is poised and ready to spring free from its storage space.

It makes my head spin. The discombobulated rhythm of the seasons, holidays, months, and days (for which we can heartily thank Madison Avenue) makes everything seem just a bit off kilter. I shouldn’t see Santa before the harvest is in. I shouldn’t see Halloween candy before school starts. And I shouldn’t see “School is in session” signs until summer is over. Which it isn’t.

Meh.

Thankfully, above and beyond and around and behind and under all of the topsy-turvy calendric nonsense is God’s soft whisper, reassuring me that there is a time for everything that truly matters and season for everything of eternal value. That’s more than any of us deserves and is quite enough to soothe my frazzled sense of annual rhythm back into a place of peace and contentment.

I’m baaaaaack….. (or: Why Middle-Schoolers Are the Awesomest)

Wyldlife boys Wyldlife girls

It’s been a long summer. A long and full summer. A long and full and amazing summer. Mostly because I got to spend 5 of the 10 weeks with awesome middle-schoolers.

That’s right: “middle-schoolers” and “awesome” – all in the same paragraph, same sentence, same phrase.

The reactions I get to spending half my summer with middle-schoolers range from eye-rolls to offers of sympathy. The reactions I get to the fact that I spent half my summer with middle-schoolers – and loved every single second of it – range from disbelief to concern to condolences, as though there’s a direct and quantifiable connection between my love for middle-schoolers and my impending mental demise.

To which I say: phooey.

And phooey again.

Middle-schoolers are simply delightful beyond words, and if I could bundle them all up and bring them home with me, I would (though that would require a pretty big supply of Axe and neon nail polish).

To every middle-schooler I met this summer: thank you for being you.

And to every middle-school doubter out there: you don’t know what you’re missing. Fact.