7 Observations about Today’s Middle School Kids…

8 11 2011

I’m still recovering from our annual confirmation retreat, which was a few weekends ago.

Yes, still recovering. I’m old. My 26-year-old self can’t pull those all-nighters like I could just a few years ago in college.

Earlier this month, I spent my beautiful fall weekend running a huge retreat for our 7th and 8th grade students, at a camp about an hour and a  half away from our church. I spent pretty much the entirety of my waking moments meticulously running through checklists, transportation arrangements, schedules, songs, props, and handouts…not to mention constantly giving direction and instruction, problem-solving on the fly, breaking up rowdy fights between 7th grade boys, hugging crying girls, speaking and teaching, checking in with leaders and musicians and tech people, shouting through a megaphone, and acting as liaison between our group and the camp staff (translation = every time a kid wanted to go shoot arrows at the archery course, I had to stand and supervise to make sure no one came home missing an eye).

It was a great weekend. I managed to get about three whole hours of sleep each night in my room of non-stop hyperactive girls, I only got hit in the face with a dodgeball twice, and only one student dared pull a prank on my water bottle.

I use this time, each retreat, to scrutinize each wave of students. I love to learn their culture, their norms, and their group’s personality, as well as what they struggle with, what they need, and what they’re growing up to be.

Here are 7 of the observations I made about this particular generation of students:

  • We are, without a doubt, seeing the impact of strictly scheduled kids who are completely immersed in technology. Kids don’t really know what to do with true free time. These kids are so used to being told what to do, every second of their day, that they don’t understand how to think on their own or structure their free time at all. They also wouldn’t stop asking about the schedule. It’s clear that they are used to keeping their own schedules and knowing what’s happening each day, and even though we told them “not to worry about the schedule”, they did.
  • I think these kids crave a release from their technological world. We don’t hear many complaints about it not allowing cell phones at our retreat anymore, whereas it was a constant complaint just a few years ago. Kids seemed all too happy to be away from the “stress of keeping up with Facebook and their texts from friends”. I just wrote an article about this at my youth ministry column at thESource, if you want to dive into this topic more here.
  • These kids are more noticeably distant from adults and older teenagers. Even our high school students, who helped out as leaders at one of these retreats for the very first time, noticed this and commented on it. Our middle school kids were polite, but distant. I wonder if this is a reaction to the fact that they are constantly ordered around by adults, with their highly structured teams, clubs, and other organizations—and deep down, maybe unknowingly resentful that these adults don’t care enough about them to force them to unplug, take downtime, and quit the activities that they can’t mentally and physically keep up with.
  • This group of students is losing the ability to read and write at the level that should be standard for their age group. Many was very rudimentary in their ability to think critically, fill out answers, and spell. I know this is the generation that is the techie generation, and it’s clear to me that using autocorrect and not learning how to write things out by hand is eroding their ability to spell, construct sentences, and even their handwriting itself. I fear for their college professors–and the future of literature.
  • Attention spans are getting shorter and shorter. The old adage I’ve heard that a student has about a minute of undivided focus for each year old they are (so, about 12-14 minutes at a time for these kids) seems to be shortening. They want everything instantly, and they get antsy even if they have to wait in line for something. They lose focus in the amount of time it takes to hand something out to their group.
  • I think these kids are absolutely dying for individual attention. It’s a trademark of their age, of course, but it seems like even the smallest amount of personal, one-on-one time just completely lifts them up. One really cool thing we did this year was have all of our small group leaders pray individually with kids, while we were doing our closing worship service—so each student there was prayed for personally by an adult. Many kids were crying, even though most of the adults spent only a few moments praying with them. I wonder if this is another effect of them feeling like they are over-programmed and expected to produce results in most everything they do—that simply by having an adult love them, without expecting anything from them in return, is something they aren’t used to.
  • At one point, when I told the entire room that we had had a prayer team of 80 people (including 60 teenagers who had gone on the retreat before), praying for them by name for the entire month of October, I saw jaws drop open. I think the idea of being a part of something that’s a legacy is something that’s important to this group–which makes perfect sense, because the technology they’re so used to is so temporary that they crave something that lasts for a long time. Kids were coming up to me and telling me they were excited to get to pray for this group when they became teenagers, and many were asking me if they could come back to the retreat as teen leaders in the future. I think this wave of kids will be very interested in their personal genealogies, and will be captured by the idea of being a part of something that’s bigger than themselves.

All observations aside, I need to add one purely emotional statement that comes straight from the gut:

I love these kids and leaders.

Even with the kids’ wild dodgeball-chucking energy, and that twinkling in their eyes that indicates that they just poured a cup of sugar into my ice water, and their insistence that we stay up “just a little bit longer” to tell stories in our room late at night, and our leaders’ good-natured assistance with pranks, stealing creepy dolls out of rooms when no one is looking, and hiding candy bars in their Bibles…they make retreats like this a blast.

And now, for the first time in weeks, I can relax…and leisurely sip my sugar-free water.





The #1 Sin of Church Workers?

27 05 2011

I know, you haven’t heard from me in a while. I’ve been busy.

This whole spring-rolling-into-summer-rolling-into-summer-camps-and-VBS-and-mission-trips-and-confirmation-stuff thing is pretty much the most chaotic time of year for those of us in youth ministry.

But trust me, things haven’t slowed down in my mind at all, even though I’ve neglected my blog here in the last month.

Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about ministry and what sort of legacy I want to encourage my youth to have in their own lives. I happen to have a couple of kids who aspire to be in ministry someday, so I’ve been pondering what the most important bit of wisdom I could possibly impart on them could be, in view of this long-term goal.

After a lot of careful thought, I think it comes down to this single shred of wisdom:

Remain humble.

It seems so simple. Anticlimactic, almost.

Yet I think that the sins of pride and arrogance are the ones that cripple church workers the most.

The very nature of a pride issue cuts one off from being teachable or moldable. From ever admitting wrongness or failure. From sharing the credit with others. From truly connecting with other people. From ever apologizing. From rolling up the shirtsleeves and doing the gritty, hard work that’s required—because, after all, it’s beneath you or it’s not your thing.

Pride makes it impossible to try someone else’s idea. It isolates from being open to God’s promptings. It makes it difficult to work with others. It prevents others from coming to you—because who wants to confide in or seek counsel from someone who sneers down their nose at you?

Most shamefully, arrogance can lead us off of the real path of God’s work and instead focus our eyes inward, on our own kingdoms, accomplishments, and successes—whether actual or merely perceived.

By the very nature of the problem, it’s impossible to try to convince someone that they do have a pride issue. Anyone who offers an honest opinion, a helpful remark, or even a harsh criticism is brushed off by those who think they know better than anyone else.

Pride says that people are just bodies to control. Pride whispers falsity. Pride dominates and boasts and refuses to actually care about anyone but itself.

I definitely know that there are incredible, humble, servant-hearted people out there. I thank God for those people—they are the salt of the earth. I have many of them in my ministry, and I absolutely couldn’t function without their constant encouragement, love, and care for others.

But lately, I’ve realized more and more that pride is a stronghold for many in the ministry. Pastors, youth workers, students across the board seem to struggle with being possessed with an arrogance problem.

In fact, in my opinion, pride is the number one sin that has a grip on those in the ministry.

Is it possible to start out with the purest of intentions, and become something that does a disservice to our loving Savior?

Absolutely.

Which is why we must constantly be on guard with our actions, and aware of what we’re allowing into our hearts. We must regularly and honestly evaluate ourselves, and ask those we trust to evaluate us. Sin can—and does—swallow us whole, without us being aware that it’s happening. And only our ever-patient, ever-loving, ever-forgiving Savior can help us guard our hearts and minds from this deceit.

Jesus had the harshest criticisms for the Pharisees, the teachers of the Law. When I was younger, I didn’t understand that. Now that I work in a church, I completely understand. As people charged with the task of sharing Christ with others—with leading and teaching and exhorting—we should be the biggest proponents of humility.

Instead, it’s the trap that Satan has carefully laid for those in the ministry—and he has snared many in its deadly clutches.

When I was in college, I was a resident assistant for two years. During our month-long training in the summer before school started, we were asked to help prepare the school for the arrival of students by cleaning the dorms. On a skin-searingly hot summer day, we spent ten hours scrubbing mold from refrigerators, plunging toilets, mopping floors, painting hot metal railings, moving back-breaking piles of mulch, and repainting parking lines in the student lot.

As I stood with a gallon of bleach in one hand and a brush in the other, panting in the heat, I kept looking over at our directors. Although they were the loudest cheerleaders for doing this service project, they had been sitting all day in the shade, sipping their ice waters. They didn’t do a thing the entire day—in other words, their talk didn’t even come close to matching their walk.

And when we had finished up what later became known as “Slave Labor Day”, they were the ones to receive the accolades from the university for working so hard.

Their arrogant pride ultimately turned an entire staff of student leaders against them, in pure disgust. And no amount of team building or pep talks could ever restore the respect that was lost in one day.

If that can happen, I shudder to think how many people we’re turning off from Christianity because of our pride issues.

People’s eternal lives are being impacted.

All of those people in the world that shout “hypocrites” to us? I get it.

Pride. It’s a dangerous pitfall—and that’s why I tell my student leaders over and over and over again that they must remain humble.

I recently saw a quote online that said, “We’re called to be fishers of men, not keepers of the aquarium.” I’ve found myself repeating that constantly.

He didn’t call me to lord over a church.

He didn’t call me to put myself up on a platform.

He didn’t call me to consider myself better than the rest of my synod, other churches, my staff, or the students and families I work with.

God didn’t call me to be a keeper of the aquarium, but to be a fisher of men.





4 Hours of Sleep + Russian Accents + Raps about Nuns = Quite the Memorable Weekend

21 02 2011

It’s a rare thing for me to get only four hours of sleep for two nights in a row, and still come home so amped that I can’t even calm myself down enough to sit down and relax.

Unless it just so happens that I’m involved in something that is my absolute passion.

Like this last weekend, when I was at the 2011 Peer Ministry Training Retreat.

Oh, goodness. The glory of the weekend was unparalleled—except, perhaps, if I would’ve spent an entire week in Venice, eating sushi and listening to piano solos while sitting outside in my flip-flops and drinking caramel macchiatos.

Not possible on my paycheck, friends. Don’t worry. I’ll settle for what truly was an incredible weekend instead.

Imagine 23 of the brightest, most compassionate, caring, driven teen leaders you know, coming together alongside a team of committed, knowledgeable professionals for an entire weekend away at a retreat center out in the country.

Picture all of these kids learning practical counseling skills, coupled with intentional leadership development techniques, and watching them practice what they’re learning on each other, right in front of you.

Visualize all of these teens sitting together in a darkened chapel, singing “Amazing Grace” together, praying for each other, and sharing the Lord’s Supper together.

Envision these strangers becoming close friends in just a few days, hugging each other on the last evening and exchanging phone numbers and Facebook names and posing for goofy pictures—all while lingering, because they don’t want to go home just quite yet.

Oh, forget it. I can’t even paint a picture of how wonderful and inspiring the weekend was with mere words. Just trust me—it was amazing.

I don’t often get the opportunity to immerse myself completely in something I enjoy so much. I’m always racing around, running events and preparing leaders and making copies and instructing kids, juggling the responsibility of big programs and lots of leaders. It’s not that I don’t like my job—I do.

It’s that I’ve found something that gives me life, something that I could do every moment of every day and I would never get tired of doing it…and that thing is investing in this next generation of student leaders.

As trite as it may sound, I can’t think of any better way to help make this world a better place than by investing in shaping the future of our teenagers, who are our hope for the future.

And honestly, I think we are at a pivotal brink in history where our most important focus should be on our future and the future faith leaders of this world. As Gabe Lyons says in The Next Christians, “This moment is unlike any other time in history. Its uniqueness demands an original response. If we fail to offer a different way forward, we risk losing entire generations to apathy and cynicism. Our friends will continue to drift away, meeting their need for spiritual transcendence through other forms of worship and communities of faith that may be less true but more authentic and appealing.”

After all, if we don’t care about this next generation, who will guide them in an increasingly complex and muddy world? How will they grow into morally upright adults in an age of no absolute truth, no expectations, and no direction? How can we expect them to influence the world positively when they’ve never had someone tear them away from their texts and their laptops and their iPods and plant a serious thought in their brains?

That’s our calling.

I realized this weekend that I’m willing to give up every dream and aspiration I’ve had for my life, in order to empower this future generation—if that’s what God requires of me.

Besides, how often do you get to see students speaking in horrible Russian accents, break dancing in conference rooms, climbing trees like monkeys, throwing each other into the pool, rapping made-up songs about nuns, and crying as they pray for each other and hugging like best friends all in the course of one weekend?

Not too often.

Oh, and the now infamous nun-rapping student, whose hit ditty is being quoted by every student at the retreat?

One of mine, of course.





On A Hamster Wheel and Spinning Madly…

5 01 2011

Sometimes, I feel a bit like a hamster running frantically on a little metal wheel.

This weekend, I went to the City Museum, a zany and creative interactive playground in downtown St. Louis, with a few friends and some of my high school students. While there, I had the opportunity to actually jog in a glorified hamster wheel–a contraption I privately think of as “the DeathTrap”. It’s a large, wooden circle that rotates as fast as you can run in it–which, if you really get going, can be pretty darn fast.

Every time I’ve used this thing–usually with a few other people–I’ve ended up falling down and seriously bruising my knees on the hard wood planks and gigantic metal hinges.

Me, my husband, and my brother on the City Museum's wooden "DeathTrap" last spring...the boys may LOOK like they're happy, but we were all secretly fearing for our lives.

I don’t know how hamsters survive. Seriously. How do they get off of those maddening metal wheels?

Do they ever get off?

You can obviously tell I’ve never owned a hamster, right? I seem to have a lot of questions about their lifestyle…

So, back to this DeathTrap machine that skinned up both of my knees with surgical precision this Sunday afternoon. I really did feel like a hamster, frantically trying to keep myself upright while this machine rattled around faster and faster–I kid you not. The only thing missing was the cedar woodchips–which, frankly, are more interesting to me than the actual hamsters. 

Sometimes I wish my bedroom floor was coated in cedar woodchips. What a lovely scent that must be to wake up to each morning.

I digress, as usual.

Today, we had a staff meeting that totally sent me spinning, hamster-style, in a new direction. It’s exciting, confusing, uncertain, and exhilarating all at once. Our staff has a lot to discern and pray about in the coming months.

It’s still messy, and we all have lots of questions…but to me, the most important takeaway is that my church is willing to change in a time when the landscape of religion is definitely changing all over the world. I feel so fortunate to be a part of a staff that’s actively studying culture, striving to be influential and relevant in our communities and world, and is ready to take whatever steps necessary to reach people with the life-saving message of the Gospel–even if it means stepping away from everything we’ve always done, and all of the carefully crafted programs and events we’ve so meticulously created over the last several decades.

Somehow, God managed to place me perfectly at this church. It’s not a church that’s going to bury its head in the sand and let the world pass it by, becoming obsolete; rather, it’s a church that is seeking to understand what’s going on in the world and how it can still be relevant with an eternal truth that the world needs to hear.

Yowzah.

I’m excited for the future of Faith, and I’m looking forward to the new directions that our church will be heading soon. I truly think that God is guiding us–in fact, I think that we’re heading the same direction that a lot of other churches and leaders in the Christian world are heading.

2011–it’s a whole new adventure.

The wheel’s already spinning, friends…





A Call To Authenticity…and Only Read If You Want Raw Honesty (Otherwise, I WILL Offend You)

10 10 2010

Whether you’ve known me for thirty seconds or twenty years, you can readily surmise a few key things about me:

  • I’m confident and outgoing, and have never yet experienced a situation in which I was truly intimidated.
  • I’m curious and hungry to constantly learn.
  • I’m driven and purposeful, and attempt to plan everything in my life.
  • I’m steady and reliable, and will get the job done at any cost.
  • I’m brutally honest and open about who I am.

Lest you think I have an elevated sense of ego, let me quickly point out some negative qualities I possess:

  • I doubt and wrestle with literally every decision I’ve ever made.
  • I love people, but often run out of compassion and tolerance for them.
  • I’m competitive, and constantly have to refocus my zealous nature so it doesn’t consume me.
  • At some point or another, I scare the living daylights out of others because I’m “too much person in one body” (a statement made by not one, but two ex-boyfriends)
  • I feel and think more deeply than anyone else I know, which makes my life feel like a rubber band constantly stretched out and tight with tension.

In short, I am human. Fashioned in the image of God, but riddled with sin.

I think I’d be lying if I said my life was terrible—it’s far from that. I’ve been incredibly blessed by an amazing and relatively pain-free childhood, a wonderful family, and a loving and understanding husband. I danced through college and graduated with high honors, and secured a job in a highly competitive field before I was even done with my education. And, while facing daunting choices in the last few years, God has been faithful in every situation and every time.

But so often, I still feel unsatisfied and jaded. My life feels overly complicated, and I feel like I’m lost, stranded alone in the middle of a storm on a wild and unpredictable ocean.

I feel like no one can possibly understand me completely, and that I can’t hope anyone ever will. My zeal to win drives me to want to do anything it takes to achieve status, purpose, and acclaim—yet reaching one goal after another feels empty. I’ve given my life to work with people and share Christ with them, but I can’t help myself from wanting to sucker-punch a lot of these people in the face for being bean brains.

Remember that part about brutal honesty, and scaring people away? Yep. Guilty.

In all seriousness, if that last line offended you, you probably never should’ve started reading my blog in the first place. Trust me, there are plenty of nice people who write about loving kittens and needlepoint, and who like nothing more than Thomas Kinkade art plastered all over their walls.

If that appeals to you, quit this page while you’re still ahead.

Why write all of this out and share it with the world? Because I had a moment this last week, when I was attending the Catalyst Conference in Atlanta. (Actually, I had several moments—but let’s be honest, I don’t want to write out every thought and you don’t want to read it.)

One of my biggest “Aha!” moments was this: I’m fed up with our shallow world.

I crave authenticity, not more meaningless, trite drivel. If I wanted that, I’d spend my life watching “E News” and reading Cosmopolitan.

I’m tired of filtering my words, walking on eggshells, and trying to say things in the most bland, politically correct way I can—and thus effectively not saying much at all.

I’m sick of living in a world where people think more about updating their Facebook page than about how to truly understand each other.

I’m annoyed with people who arrogantly think they know it all in a big world that’s constantly growing and ever-changing.

I’m fed up with a Christianity that attempts to summarize itself onto a t-shirt or bumper sticker, when I connect with and revere a Savior who defies description and operates in ways far beyond my pea-sized brain can ever attempt to understand.

Part of the courage I feel in saying this is that I think we’re truly at a crossroads in our world, at this point in history. Our world is changing and shifting literally every day—but at the same time, Christ is timeless and unchangeable.

And in a world that never stops moving, we can only find rest, relief, and richness in Him.

That’s what our world needs to realize.

I’ve read a lot of books lately, and have been weaving together a lot of challenging concepts and keen words from people who seem to be saying these same things I’ve felt for a long time. I just flew through Pete Wilson’s book, Plan B: What Do You Do When God Doesn’t Show Up The Way You Thought He Would?, and recently pondered my way through Josh Riebock’s My Generation, Tim Elmore’s Generation iY, and Dick Staub’s The Culturally Savvy Christian.

In short, all books that deal with understanding our world, the emerging generations, and what our society most needs to hear.

In all of these books, I see a calling for more people to shed the lame, crippling superficiality that punctuates every nuance of our lives.

I see a calling for the true Jesus to be shared—our incomprehensible Savior who didn’t walk around giving out daisy-chains and pats on the back, but who powerfully spoke the truth, hung out with the unlovable and marginalized people in society, and wasn’t afraid to flip tables around in a sacred place to stir up a place rife with mediocrity and apathy.

I see a calling for us to shed the stigma that we all have to fit in one perfect box with a nice Christian label, to operate a certain way or be a specific gender or have the right degree in order to effectively reach people.

I see a calling for Christians to speak the truth in love, in a post-modern society that barely comprehends what absolute truth is, and to offer a deep and satisfying Truth that defies earthly explanation—a Truth so rich and consuming that it stands in stark contrast to the empty, meaningless sham of society we’ve brought about through chasing empty foolishness for far too long.

Hey, if you’re offended, don’t say I didn’t warn you. Frankly, I don’t really care what you think—not when my brain is fired up with wrestling with divine truths. Sorry.

As much as it bugs me, I know not everyone likes me—but as screenwriter Randall Wallace quoted his mother’s wisdom this week in reference to being well-liked, “If they crucified Jesus, don’t you think there are probably going to be some people out there who don’t like you?”

One of the real privileges of my job is that I get to roll up my sleeves and not only study culture from a front-row seat, but connect with teens before they’re overly consumed with the pressures of adulthood and forced into a one-size-fits-all mold of a person.

And I think maybe my willingness to be transparent in who I am and how I feel—the way I can admit my faults and failures and not pretend to be something I’m not—helps them feel like they, too, can be honest with me. So, I think I probably hear a lot more brutal and unfiltered stories and emotions than your average person.

So, what do these honest kids say to me?

“I’m fed up with the bull crap.”

“I’m sick of this world.”

“I hate the fakeness of everything.”

“Life feels totally empty.”

“Why am I even here? Where am I going?”

If our thirteen and fourteen year-old kids are saying this, what are our thirty-five and fifty-year-olds saying?

More importantly, what are they feeling?

What are they daily wrestling with, doubting, fearing, questioning, and dabbling in? And who can they possibly share it with?

We’ll never know what truly goes on in our world, with the people we claim to love, and never be able to reach them with the Truth they desperately need to hear until we can first shed our protective layers, risk vulnerability and rejection, and take the step to be real with others—to show our mistakes, fears, failures, and personality flaws to them.

And, at the same time, powerfully show them without words that we have a Savior who’s bigger than our biggest screw-up, faithful even when we’re not, restoring and life-changing, and utterly incomprehensible in power and majesty–in contrast to a world where everything is explained and detailed on Wikipedia and the only real mystery is why they can’t make a mascara that doesn’t flake off after twelve hours.

Authenticity. Maybe that’s our simple calling in this century.

And hey, if I offended you? Just spend some time playing with your kittens and gazing upon your Thomas Kinkade prints. You’ll feel better in the morning.





The Lightning Bolt to My Brain: Informal, Organic Ministry

19 07 2010

I’ve been working in youth ministry full-time for just over two years now, and according to all the research I’ve ever read, this is a dangerous quitting point for the majority of people in youth ministry. Why? No one can put a finger on it and figure it out completely….it’s apparently just the average shelf-life of a youth worker.

Two years in.

Am I in danger of quitting?

Nope.

I spent the majority of my weekend with students, carting several of them to Six Flags with a few other leaders and taking them on an all-day excursion to area thrift stores. I think most people would balk at that. But I can’t think of a better weekend, honestly.

In college, I was trained in all the ideals of ministry–how to lead, pray with, counsel, and set an example to kids. I was even trained in how to appropriately hug students–the “side hug”, initiated only by students.

My college training was invaluable. But in the two years since I graduated from that formal setting, I’ve seen a different side of things.

A more organic, informal side of ministry.

Quite simply, I’m seeing the value of just inviting these kids into my daily life. And coaching other leaders to do the same.

It’s making all the difference in the world as to how I really do ministry, I think, by allowing people to just see the Holy Spirit working in my life, without me getting in the way.

One of my friends recommended for me to read the book “mY Generation” by Josh James Riebock. I’m currently halfway through, and felt that figurative lightning bolt to the brain as I read these words:

“I thought about how our world often only pushes people out, about how rare it is to be invited into someone else’s life, and about how I often feel like the only people that invite me into their lives are those on television–some late night talk show host or weatherman. I thought about that feeling I sometimes get that I don’t know some of my closest friends from Adam, anything about them, what they’re thinking, what they like or why they like it–that feeling that they won’t let me in.

I realized that, maybe, the greatest thing I can do for someone is not try to convince them that I can be trusted or that Glorious God is who they hope for, but maybe the greatest thing I can do for someone is to invite them into my life to see Glorious God in me and let them decide those things for themselves. I realized that, maybe, the greatest thing I can offer someone is what Glorious God…offers to me–an invitation in.”

Unintentionally, I’ve already started to do this in my own life, with my students:

Letting them see me outside of my formal 9-to-5 role as their youth leader.

Allowing them to pick my brain, read what I’m reading, think about what I’m pondering, feel my frustrations and joys.

Giving them a glimpse of the real me, as I pick through old clothes and ratty tennis shoes at the local Goodwill stores.

After all…I doubt that the disciples’ lives were changed more by the meaningful stories and lessons that Jesus taught them more than they were changed by actually being with Jesus–seeing His absolute holiness and power seeping out from every pore.

And hey, if Jesus did it…

Just sayin’.





172 Hours, 30 Kids, and WAAAAAY Too Many Bathroom Stops

4 07 2010

Last evening, I returned home from our middle school mission trip to Loveland, Colorado. I think my brain is still recovering. I sure hope it returns to normal capacity soon.

Our new "family"

You see, I spent the last 172 hours straight with 30 kids under the age of 15. 

Ah. Now you get it.

I slept barely four hours a night, sharing a slowly deflating air mattress with a fellow leader, crammed in a tiny classroom with 15 other girls–three of whom talked in their sleep. I nightly attempted to fall asleep to the sound of boys running down the hall and body slamming into each other.

I ran around and played with little kids at a Boys and Girls Club in Colorado, where I had kids sneezing on me and crawling on my lap to whisper their breathy secrets to me. Naturally, I’m now sick.

I have a hard time hearing anything because my ears have been plugged since we left the Rocky Mountain National Park, where I walked around in a constant state of fear as 30 kids scampered around like Bigfoot running from a camera, flying through the woods and scrambling up and down rocky ledges, craning for a view of the unguarded sheer cliffs. 

In the last week, I’ve only had three showers. And, at one point, I joined the desperate kids in bathing in a local lake–in full knowledge that the toddlers a few feet away were probably tinkling in the very water I was washing my hair in.

I’ve basically lived on sandwiches and water–sometimes not even that much, as I had to share my lunch one day with a kid who forgot his.

I’ve helped sweep, mop, wipe down counters, empty trash cans, pick up infinitesimal pieces of paper off the ground, serve food, cut paper, hand things out, pack and repack vans, inflate air mattresses, hand out medicine, balance our budget, plan our routes, hold cameras for kids, juggle phone calls, break up fights, comfort crying kids, direct leaders, discipline kids, and say “because I said so” more times than I can count.

I’ve been alternately sweaty, freezing, sore, ticked off, mischievous, lackadaisical, angry, sobbing, awed, shocked, organized, disorganized, and exhausted.

But, I’ve never seen God so powerfully at work.

While on our trip, we found out that one of our student’s young cousins had been in a car accident and passed away. It was devastating, and beyond heart wrenching to be the one trying to figure out how, when, and where to inform this student about the tragedy that will forever affect his entire family.

It was heartbreaking to inform the entire group, and to see them tearfully embrace each other as they hurt for their friend, but the way that God worked through the kids is something that touched me deeply and will forever impact my own faith.

Seeing these young kids, some of whom have dealt painfully with death already in the last few months, cling to God in their sorrow–praying for each other, sobbing into each other’s shoulders, holding each other, taking care of each other, praising God in the midst of some of the most challenging moments of their lives–it was beyond moving. Every single person in our group cried together.

Without spending the twelve hours I could spend writing about this entire trip–sharing countless inside jokes, insights into the incredible kids on our team, and the gory details of being inside a car with half a dozen teenage boys who just wolfed down Taco Bell–I really just want to give glory where it’s due.

The Holy Spirit moved powerfully in our kids and leaders this week, in undeniable ways.

There’s something special about our group–and I see them now as part of my family. It sounds like such a corny thing to say, like something that would be written in a senior yearbook by the homecoming queen…but I really mean it. 

Our church is special, our leaders are incredible, and our youth are even more amazing. Our kids were willing to do anything–including leave halfway through our trip and driving straight through the night to get to St. Louis–to get their friend home for his cousin’s funeral.

Some of the students even volunteered themselves up to fly home with their friend, offering to pay for part of their ticket by themselves. Anything it took to help their friend. It was incredible to see how they absolutely paid no attention to themselves, but only strove to do everything they could for each other.

Part of me really feels like I was blessed more by this trip than anyone else–interacting with so many kids who poured out their hearts to me, who challenged me in my own faith, and who ran to me when they were hurting was quite an experience I’ll never forget.

I’ve never felt so connected to a group, many of whom I’d never had a significant conversation with at the beginning of the trip.

I’ve never interacting with leaders who I was so sure were the perfect leaders for this trip.

And I’ve certainly never, ever been more impressed with any group of kids. Ever.

God is good.