Things 2009 Taught Me

12 01 2010

I’m figuring that most people post some uplifting message about the hopes and dreams of the New Year—that untarnished, sparkling, exciting 2010. Ever the realist, I’ve spent some time thinking of some practical things I learned in the last year—including some things I don’t want to repeat this year.

For instance, I learned that it’s never a good idea to invite kids to do an activity called “Gingerbread Head”. To the pragmatic youth worker who buys rolls and rolls of thick plastic wrap and carefully plans to instruct the kids on how to put this over their head before building a gingerbread house on their face: IT WILL NOT WORK. Those kids will smear frosting all over the poor victim’s face, stab them with licorice strands, and explode several bottles of sprinkles all over their heads. You will spend close to an hour cleaning up this simple, fifteen-minute activity.

I’ve learned that middle school boys have the most disgusting, filthy, foul-smelling things in their gym bags. And, they don’t hesitate to throw them on you if you get to close to them. So, if you’re ever on a mission trip with 28 kids, don’t go near the boys.

I discovered the reality that mashed potatoes will always be flung if you have them out when kids are around. And that it’s impossible to peel an orange with your toes. And that you should simply never host a youth event entitled “Play With Your Food Night” unless you want to spend the rest of the evening removing all of the furniture from the youth center and hosing it down.

I learned that, in a Bigger and Better Scavenger Hunt, kids will wheedle just about anything out of poor, unsuspecting people. And then they’ll hoof it back to the church with these incredibly strange things—everything from full sandboxes and giant clocks to baby swings and ping pong tables. I also found out that a group of 7 kids wheeling a ping pong table down Erb road at 8:30 pm doesn’t even raise the eyebrow of the police officer sitting in his car, clocking speeders.

I figured out that, if you try four times to host a “movie under the stars” outside, it will always rain. And it will only start to rain about twenty minutes before the event starts, so you don’t have time to make other plans.

I discovered that you should never give glow sticks to people under the age of 25. And you should really never play a game that involves calmly sliding the aforesaid glow sticks across a gym floor. The translation to a middle schooler becomes: “Collect as many glow sticks as I can, whale them at my friend’s head as hard as I can, pray that one of the sticks breaks open on his face”.

I’ve also learned that somehow, when children in the state of Missouri pray for a snow day, God answers their prayers. He never answered mine when I was in school. He also did not answer mine this year, when I was hoping for an extra day off of work. Apparently, God listens to those in Missouri more than anyone else. (Really? Do I have to insert a disclaimer here that I don’t actually believe what I just wrote?)

I’ve learned that patience is indeed an incredible virtue, that kids are more interested in relationships than the perfect event, and that sometimes the best days of your life can be driving in a van full of 13 and 14 year-olds.

I’ve learned to always triple-check my files after an event, because that’s always where that missing check will be found. I’ve learned that a hug from a kid is better than an hour of reading a book on youth ministry, that parents should never be undervalued, and that coffee is not necessary when 8th grade girls are anywhere within earshot.

I’ve learned that God works through the most imperfect vessels, that no feeling on earth can compare to watching the kids in your youth program pick up a Bible unprompted and read it to their peers, and that sometimes the most meaningful conversations occur in the strangest places.

I’ve learned that I can hang in there with a job that sometimes seems impossible and overwhelming, because God’s running the show. And I’ve learned that God is working and will continue to work, despite the daily frustrations I have with the copier, my PC, and myself.

Yes. Good ol’ 2009 was indeed a very valuable year.

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