500 Reasons to Hope (post-inaugural & non-political things)

In the midst of an angst-ridden world (the reasons for which I am not inclined to either debate or deconstruct ) I am filled with hope – genuine, deep, joyful, solid, reasonable, tangible, and vibrant hope.

It has nothing to do with marching or winning, protesting or legislating, yelling or cajoling, or anything else that currently floods the media waves.

It has to do with this only: that in the past three weeks I have been in the presence of 500 people who are changing the world.

Their impact ripples past rhetoric, policies, statements, and signs. Their influence extends beyond sound bites, screen shots, strategic branding, and social media. Their identity is rooted deeper than gender, race, economic reality, and Enneagram number.

They are youth workers from across the country – students pastors, Young Life leaders, youth workers, WyldLife leaders, small group leaders, Capernaum leaders, middle school ministers, and Young Lives leaders.*

They are men and women – some paid (but many not) who love Jesus, love adolescents and believe that life without the Saviour isn’t life as it was meant to be. They spend their days living out these truths, working creatively and tirelessly to collide their passion, calling, and faith in such a way that Jesus shines brightly while students are loved deeply.

In the past three weeks, I spent time with 300 new staff from across the Young Life mission and 200 youth workers from 17 churches in the Madison area, which is to say: in the past three weeks, I spent time with 500 people who are changing the world because they are pouring into the lives of those who are often ignored, bemoaned, overlooked, demeaned, stereotyped, disregarded, brushed off, feared, sold short, sidestepped, and otherwise treated as less than someone created in the image of God.

These 500 people love, care for, spend time with, are committed to, walk alongside, mentor, listen to, talk with, and pour into middle school and high school students – joyfully, enthusiastically, fully, sincerely, energetically, and prayerfully.

While the world is focused on large-scale events; while people debate what should and shouldn’t be; while groups tackle policy and those who generate it; while movements stake a claim for their particular vision of right and wrong; while some embrace and others reject someone or something; while some cry foul and others cry fair; while the world spins crazily on its axis (as it has done since just about forever), I invite you to stop for just a moment and rejoice because FIVE HUNDRED PEOPLE (and so many, many more) who you will likely never see, meet, or know are quietly, confidently, boldly, and faithfully doing the work to which they’ve been called.

And because they are, this world is being changed, one beloved adolescent at a time.

Indeed, that is reason to rejoice. Over and over and over again.

[These people are changing the world – and the world is sweeter because of it.]

* WyldLife (Young Life’s ministry to middle schoolers); Young Life Capernaum (Young Life’s ministry to teenagers with special needs); Young Lives (Young Life’s ministry to teen moms)

 

 

 

THANK YOU (a note to Young Life and WyldLife leaders everywhere)

I love The Church.

I love Young Life.

(Much less than I love Jesus – but true love for both, nonetheless.)

During the past 15 years, in my work as a youth ministry trainer and cheerleader, I’ve said THANK YOU to countless youth pastors – thank you for loving our kids; thank you for all the unseen hours of ministry in your day; thank you from every parent who’s forgotten to say it, or who doesn’t understand why you do what you do; thank you from every adult in your congregation who watches from a safe (and often disinterested) distance; thank you from every teenager who grows up under your love and guidance; thank you for ushering in the next generation of The Church with dedication, energy, creativity, and passion; thank you for leaning in to your sacred calling with joy and grace; thank you for sticking with your vocation for the long race; thank you a thousand times over.

My single thank you can’t begin to express the true depth of those sentiments – but I offer it with sincerity.

During the past 25 years, in my role as a Young Life spouse (and other YL things), I’ve said THANK YOU to countless leaders – thank you for loving our kids; thank you for all the unseen hours of ministry in your day; thank you from every parent who’s forgotten to say it, or who doesn’t understand who you are and what you do; thank you from every adult in your community who watches from a safe (and often disinterested) distance; thank you from every teenager who sees and experiences the love of Jesus through you; thank you for believing that pursuing the most disinterested kid is worth your time; thank you for introducing teenagers to the God who created and loves them; thank you for leaning in to your sacred calling with joy and grace; thank you for sticking with your vocation for the long race; thank you a thousand times over.

My single thank you can’t begin to express the true depth of those sentiments – but I offer it with sincerity.

I also offer this – a real note from a real teenager written to a real person who was doing real ministry borne out of real passion flowing from real grace abiding in Real Love.

This camper articulated what countless kids truly experience but few actually express.

It’s good to reminded why you do what you do (because there are kids who need to be seen, noticed, befriended, loved, and introduced to the Savior). It’s good to remember what this ministry is really about (Jesus and teenagers…not me or us). It’s good to close your eyes and humbly remember that thank yous – as sweet as they are – aren’t the goal or the prize (that’s Jesus – always and only Jesus).

Even so, thank yous matter: so thank you. All of you. Each of you. A thousand times over. And more.

young-life-leader-card

[Young Life camper-written notecard, c. 2010. The leader’s name has been removed – but I sent that leader a picture of this card because, oh gracious, what depth of precious and sweet grace is wrapped up in these simple 25 words?! See your name in that big white space and ask Jesus to steer you towards the kids who currently feel as this one did, because that is who we are and what we do.]

 

 

How to make a cereal wallet

This is a cereal wallet. 

  
Actually, that is a trio of cereal wallets, which are in fact cereal box wallets – or even more precisely, pieces-of-cereal-boxes wallets, but who’s got time for such a sloggy name? “Cereal wallet” is perfectly concise and zingy. 

This is how to make a cereal wallet:

1. Cut two pieces from a cereal box that are this size (a litter bigger than a credit card, driver’s license, hotel room key, school ID, or Starbucks card) –

  
 2. Clip out a triangle from one of the cereal box pieces like this –

  
Don’t fret about perfection. Just snip-snip.

3. On a sewing machine, zig-zag around the edges like this –

  
 You know all those ridiculous colors you’ve accumulated over the years from altering bridesmaid dresses and patching baby clothes? This is your chance to use them all up. Finally. Forever. 

Be sure to do that forward-backward-forward thing (that probably has an official name) when you start and stop sewing, like this – 

  
4. Put something precious in the wallet, like a photo or a Starbucks card or a handwritten note or a dollar, like this –

  
Cereal wallets are the perfect kitschy and inexpensive token of you-are-awesome-ness. 

Important: cereal wallets are suitable for framing, public display, holding a dollar, and carrying in your pocket – but don’t swim with them. They will disintegrate. 

The end. 

You’re welcome. 

 

Clearwater Cove Day 0

CWC yl hands

In less than 24 hours, several hundred middle school students and leaders will descend on a sacred place in the Ozarks for the very first week of summer camp at Young Life’s Clearwater Cove.

Most of the world knows absolutely nothing about this.

But a very small sliver of the world – and all of God himself – knows very well what is about to happen here: fun, love, Jesus, grace, hope, and real life.

While much of society is bemoaning the current trends and behaviors of teenagers, twenty high school students have given up a month of their summer to willingly, enthusiastically, and joyfully serve middle school students at this sacred place nestled atop a mountain of rock. No joke. These people right here are people you should know. They are going to change the world – while they are still in HS – because they are serving the very God who made the world.

CWC work crew

In the midst of depressing headlines, deadly conflicts, and desperate situations, these twenty high schoolers (and 36 college students, and so many others) are choosing hope, life, love, joy, forgiveness, and transformation.

God does that. He gets hold of a person’s heart, flips it upside down and inside out, remakes it into something  alive, and sends it out into the wide world to be light and love, salt and sweet aromas, in order to draw others into his infinitely welcoming arms.

I don’t know what you’re doing this summer. But these folks here, and countless others like them across the US and the world, are doing something big and bold and beautiful: they are being obedient, they are being humble, they are serving, they are giving, they are considering others as more important than themselves – and because of that, God is going to do mighty things. I have no doubt.

Clearwater Cove, tucked away in a corner of God’s overwhelmingly breathtaking creation, is ready to fling wide open its doors and welcome teenagers to a week they will never forget. Gracious sakes – the work of celebration and the celebration of work have just begun, and for many people, life will never be the same again.

The “problem” with middle school ministry (how they got it wrong…again)

In case you missed it, middle schoolers (all of them, presumably) are in the news this week.

Real Simple (which I thought was mostly about food, fashion, and repurposing canning jars and wood pallets into anything and everything you could ever need or want) recently posted this story:

“Sorry, Parents. Middle School is Scientifically the Worst (and you thought the Terrible Twos were bad).”

Spoiler alert: the article isn’t very hip on early adolescents. And I quote: “middle school is not fun for anyone” and “[every middle schooler is] a surly, exasperated pre-teen.”

Bah. Boo. Piffle. Grrr.

Then there’s this from Science Daily last week:

“Mom, You Think Babies Are Tough? Wait Until Middle School.”

This sounds a little less alarmist than the other article, but equally down on middle schoolers. How thoughtful of them.

Both articles are lay-summaries of a study out of Arizona State University titled:

“What It Feels Like to Be A Mother: Variations by Children’s Developmental Stages” (Luthar and Ciciolla, Developmental Psychology 52:1 (2016), 143-154).*

You may notice that this title doesn’t diss middle schoolers at all – doesn’t even mention them by name. That’s not to say the article is all warm and fuzzy on middle schoolers. In fact, before the study was even conducted, the authors “anticipated, first, that the middle school years would be the most challenging” for mothers. (Fathers weren’t part of this study, so there’s that to consider.)

The study – conducted between 2005 and 2010 – of 2,247 well-educated American women showed that many mothers (many of those specific mothers, anyway) do/did in fact experience some more negative things and some fewer positive things when their children were in middle school than when their children were other ages.

So, therefore, hence, ergo middle school is scientifically proven to be The Worst.

The End.

Except for, well, these (and other things) that the authors concede:

  • mothers might have experienced higher stress levels because they themselves often become busier when their children reach middle school (extra-curricular activities, more friend events, extended soccer-mom chauffeuring – that kind of thing)
  • mothers might have sensed more child negative to me attitudes – which were measured by distancing behaviors because middle school is when children start naturally displaying more independence
  • mothers might have experienced less fulfillment and lower levels of life satisfaction because of their own transition to mid-life (a time of “heightened introspection and increased awareness of mortality” due to “declines in their physical and cognitive functioning” (150) or: My Life Rots)
  • mothers might have experienced more depression and parenting overload due to “contagion of stress” in which mothers internalize and worry about their children’s ability to cope with middle school challenges (perhaps because she is reliving her own middle school experience, something mothers are notoriously good at doing)
  • &c.

All of that to say – “Middle School is Scientifically The Worst” is horribly misleading and ridiculously unhelpful and eminently unfair – to middle schoolers primarily, but also to those who care about them.

But it sure makes for a dramatically catchy headline, which the world loves. And it confirms what those of us in middle school ministry know the world thinks of us: “you are big losers” (or maybe “you are demented saints” depending on the day).

But we know better. We know that we are the big winners not because of anything we’ve done or said (don’t stumble by patting yourself on the back) but because Jesus has graciously given us an enthusiastically authentic love for the kids too many people think are unlovable and unmanageable.

Guess what: we don’t care one teeny tiny bit about dramatically catchy headlines. We care about middle schoolers – each of them and all of them.

Here might be the most important statement in the study:

“This developmental transition [early adolescence] is especially difficult because junior high schools bring decreased personal, positive relationships with teachers at a time when youth particularly need connections with supportive adults.” (150)

Spoiler alert: enter – you.

The middle school pastor. The Wyldlife leader. The involved parent. The caring aunt and uncle. The interested neighbor. The loving grandparent. The faithful small group leader.

So go ahead – go change a middle schooler’s world today by showing up, being present, celebrating them, sharing real life, and breathing Jesus all over the place.

Really. Just go do it. Now. Because the only problem with middle school ministry is that there’s not enough room in our hearts for all the love for all the kids.

*The original peer-reviewed study can be accessed through EBSCO host PsycARTICLES research database. You can find an earlier public-access version of the study here.