The Future of Our Faith–A Return to Simplicity?

6 12 2010

Yesterday, I experienced a glimpse of heaven on earth–which prompted me to seriously ponder my faith, the spiritual state of our world, and the future of Christianity.

And no, this wasn’t because I successfully survived wearing high heels for over twelve hours without my toenails falling off in sheer protest.

I took two of my musical students to the Cathedral Basilica in downtown St. Louis, a breathtakingly beautiful monument created entirely out of mosaics. If you live anywhere in the Midwest and want to see something that rivals the grandeurs of Europe, this is the place to check out. I’ve been inside nearly a dozen times, and each time I’m stunned into reverent contemplation. It’s incredible.

We went to enjoy “Christmas at the Cathedral”, a two-hour concert extravaganza featuring two choirs, a handbell team, an organ, and an orchestra. I had been wanting to go to this concert for two years, and couldn’t convince any of my friends to go until I finally found some fellow (albeit young) music-lovers this year who are just as captivated by music as I am.

I was swept away by the beauty of the music, the strings and brass echoing hauntingly through the massive stone walls. I marveled, with tears in my eyes, as the choir sang an a cappella version of “Silent Night” from the transepts. And, when the entire crowd stood at the very end of the concert to sing “Hark, the Herald Angels Sing” together with the organ, orchestra, choirs, and handbells triumphantly blasting, I literally choked up and couldn’t even utter a sound.

Listening to the pure voices resound through the crowds as they sang classical Latin and Italian hymns and simultaneously seeing the lights shimmer and glint off the magnificent and intricate mosaics transported me back to the medieval times–a time when God wasn’t my “homeboy” or a plastic action figure on my desk, but the Creator who imbued man with the ability to create, dream, and act in ways that couldn’t help but glorify Him.

Back then, the Bible wasn’t an application on our phones–it was a life-giving message of hope in an otherwise dark and dangerous world. And back then–without the myriad of useful objects that have cluttered our lives and distracted us to the point that we can’t have a meaningful conversation with anyone for even a few minutes–people had time to contemplate how grand God actually is.

In our present day and age, I think we’ve become too familiar with God–too comfortable with treating Him like He’s just another buddy. We paste Him on shirts, erasers, and lunch boxes. Athletes and celebrities occasionally throw Him an obligatory “shout out” and a generic, politically correct (and thus totally bland and meaningless) statement about how they “believe in Him”. We create nicknames and fan clubs of Him on Facebook, and mock Him on South Park.

More than anything, I am stunned that the God who inspires people–no, who designed people to rise up and sing, paint, dance, speak, live and love beyond their own limits–that He could possibly care about someone as insignificant as me.

It’s an ignorant and shameful idea that we can mock Him and treat Him so condescendingly and lightly. He’s not my “homeboy”–He’s beyond comprehension.

It’s an unspeakable privilege that I am even blessed to pray to God, let alone claim to be His follower.

English pastor F. W. Robertson once said, “One thing, and only one, in this world has eternity stamped upon it. Feelings pass; resolves and thoughts pass; opinions change. What you have done lasts–lasts in you. Through ages, through eternity, what you have done for Christ, that, and only that, you are.”

Lately, nearly everything I’ve read and heard about is pulling up obscure passages from the book of Nehemiah. It’s uncanny, actually–that so many unrelated sources and people are all pointing me back to this simple book.

In short, Nehemiah’s fellow countrymen, the Jews, were living in the rubble of the once-powerful city of Jerusalem. This broke Nehemiah’s heart, and he began praying for God to work mightily on the Jew’s behalf. He started planning for rebuilding the city, and as he served King Xerxes as a cup-bearer (a trusted position), the king asked him why he was so downcast. Nehemiah jumped at the opportunity to share his thoughts, offering a well-planned solution for rebuilding Jerusalem. Xerxes agreed to supply him with the materials he needed, and eventually Nehemiah inspired the people to rebuild the city–despite plenty of opposition. The gates were completed in an incredible 52 days.

Nehemiah left the city and returned after 12 years to find the walls sound, but the people in moral decay. I was thrilled to highlight Nehemiah 13:25 in my Bible: “I argued with those people, put curses on them, hit some of them and pulled out their hair” (boy, I guess I’m doing just fine with how I handle those rowdy high school boys!) Eventually, Nehemiah reestablished true worship and sincere prayer, and encouraged a cultural revival which led to the people actually reading and listening to the Word of God.

Maybe this is where God is leading His church today–another revival, a step away from the shallow, technology-obsessed, discontent world we’ve let take over our lives. Maybe the future of our faith is a return to the simple majesty and wonder that the early Christians had for their Savior.

I’m currently reading Mark Batterson’s book, Primal. In his opening chapters, Batterson says he took a trip to Rome and embarked on an underground tour into the catacombs of an ancient church, which were hidden under layers of church buildings that were topped off by a cathedral–as was the Roman habit, to build on top of preexisting buildings, century after century.

He writes, “As I tried to absorb the significance of where I was, I couldn’t help but wonder if our generation has conveniently forgotten how inconvenient it can be to follow in the footsteps of Christ. I couldn’t help but wonder if we have diluted the truths of Christianity and settled for superficialities. I couldn’t help but wonder if we have accepted a form of Christianity that is more educated but less powerful, more civilized but less compassionate, more acceptable but less authentic than that which our spiritual ancestors practiced.

Over the last two thousand years, Christianity has evolved in lots of ways. We’ve come out of the catacombs and built majestic cathedrals with all the bells and steeples. Theologians have given us creeds and canons. Churches have added pews and pulpits, hymnals and organs, committees and liturgies. And the IRS has given us 501(c)(3) status. And there is nothing inherently wrong with any of those things. But none of those things is primal. And I wonder, almost like the Roman effect of building things on top of things, if the accumulated layers of Christian traditions and institutions have unintentionally obscured what lies beneath.”

I’ve talked to a lot of unchurched people about Christ in the last several years–probably upwards of 100. And when I really think about it, their opposition to Christianity usually isn’t Christ–it seems to be an opposition to what Batterson aptly described, “the accumulated layers of Christian traditions and institutions”.

Maybe our best hope for the future is to strip away these layers and reveal the raw majesty of God, the Almighty Creator who fashioned neurons and cells in the tiniest of organisms. To show people the passionate love of Jesus, who didn’t worry about being inoffensive and politically correct, but who truly embraced everyone. To share the power and creativity of the Holy Spirit, which equips and empowers average people in incomprehensible ways.

Maybe our generation needs its own Nehemiah…

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Vegas…or A Weekend With Middle Schoolers?

2 11 2010

It’s been too long since I last posted. I know, because I’ve heard it from nearly a dozen of you people–“Cassssssie, when are you going to write another post?”

It harkens me back to my days on the mission trip this summer, when I literally got sick of hearing my own name because I heard it so dang often:

“Cassie, what time is dinner?”

“Cassie, where’s my medicine?”

“Cassie, where are we going next?”

Multiply that by 30 kids for 7 days straight, and you get the picture.

So, the reason for my absence from the blogosphere is pretty simple–I’ve been crazy busy. In the last few weeks, I’ve been writing curriculum for our Wednesday night Bible studies, planning a whole slew of winter and spring classes and activities, and putting together our annual Encounter Camp, a giant retreat for our middle school students and their small group  leaders–among the other rigorous duties of my job.

Incidentally, while I was spending my weekend with a slew of middle schoolers busy teepeeing my door at 3:00 am, my brother was at a conference in Vegas, schmoozing it up with cocktails, fancy dinners, and expensive shows.

Hmm...must be nice...

I don’t have the most glamorous job in the world, that’s for sure.

But–sometimes glamor fizzles in the face of unmistakably real, life-shaking events that punctuate my ministry on occasion.

Let me explain.

Our Encounter Camp was incredible this year. It’s always a privilege to work with such wonderful and servant-minded leaders, and I always leave this weekend feeling blessed to interact with so many people.

This year, for only the second time, we had a “Parent Recap”, where we spent half an hour sharing details from the weekend–highlights of where we had seen God working, what we talked about, our favorite things from the Camp, and how parents could help their kids carry that spiritual growth they experienced at Camp with them through their daily life. It was inspiring to see so many parents excited about their kids’ relationship with Christ.

Honestly, I think one of my favorite parts of this whole weekend was simply hanging out with people. I absolutely love getting to know these kids and adult leaders–and it’s been fascinating to watch how the Holy Spirit has worked through them to mold them in the last few years.

I’ve been able to witness first-hand how some of these kids have grown into Godly young adults.

I’ve been privy to conversations about how some of our students didn’t know Christ at all, and now have a thriving relationship with him.

I’ve watched kids cry as they start to comprehend how much their God has done for them for the first time.

I’ve seen boys grow from hashbrown-slinging terrors into young men eager to live meaningful lives of purpose.

I’ve watched girls toss their ridiculous drama aside and strive to live up to their calling as Christian women.

Recently, one of my youth confided to me that when she came into the confirmation program last year, she was a Wiccan. Now, her faith in Christ is so solid that she’s not only rejected all of her old ways, but she’s reaching out to others who are caught up in the same spiral of evil and sharing her testimony with them.

Over the weekend, I saw one of our eighth grade girls stand up and choose to learn about God rather than go to a hockey game and get a backstage pass to meet her favorite hockey player, who’s been her role model for over half her life. Even though her parents drove up an hour and a half to present her with this surprise present, she chose to stay at the Camp and learn more about her God–because, as she put it, “This hockey player is my idol, but he’s not my Savior.”

Additionally, in the last few weeks, I’ve had the absolutely incredible experience of watching two young men start to step into leadership roles. They started out helping in small ways with our Fusion 56 Wednesday night Bible studies, and with a little encouragement, started taking on more and more leadership responsibility. Last week, they both led small groups for the first time–all on their own.

The coolest part? They totally rocked those small groups. The fifth and sixth grade kids were completely enthralled with having these teenagers as teachers. And I was blown away by the teaching ability of these two young men. I mean, seriously–I was floored. I felt like I just stumbled across a buried treasure that was hidden in plain sight, right in front of me all along.

I guess I’m rambling right now…this isn’t exactly my most cohesive and well-planned post. But, it’s a glimpse of what’s swirling around in my mind right now.

Even though my brother may be livin’ it up in Las Vegas, I’m still pretty happy with my weekend and the little rays of sunshine that shine into my life every once in a while.

However, don’t get me started on missing out on the famous Monte Carlo buffet…





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 Most Insightful Car Ride. Ever.

27 09 2010

I woke up this morning with a contradictory thought in my head:

I think I’m most effective in my job when I don’t realize that I’m doing my job.

Let me back up and explain. Since our confirmation group moved up to high school this year, my small group co-leader and I decided to move up with them. Dawn and I both feel like these girls are family to us, and we’ve seen the Holy Spirit work so powerfully in our relationships that we made the committment to be their small group leaders for another four years–which, if you’re doing the math, adds up to six years total of hangin’ with the same girls.

Yep. We love ’em.

So, this committment to our small group is what moved me into high school ministry on top of my actual job, which is middle school ministry. Basically, I’m now doing ministry to 5th through 12th graders–which is something I love, because I appreciate so many different things about these different age groups. This is what I was trained for, really–to do intergenerational, lifespan ministry.

Added bonus: free pizza is now practically a staple in my life.

Anyway, after our Refuel high school small groups last night, I had a few kids ask me for rides home. Oakville is a pretty small town (face it, folks, it is–don’t give me more of that “You’re from California, you don’t understand the Midwest” mumbo-jumbo as an excuse!), so I don’t mind dropping them off.

Oh, the things we do when we love kids...

However, when I climbed into my car stuffed to the brim with kids, I found myself unthinkingly doing ministry as I drove the various kids home. It was like suddenly their arms failed at carrying the weight of the world, and all their real thoughts and frustrations came tumbling out as we scissored across Oakville. I found myself listening and counseling, consoling and giving advice, and talking about God and the big picture of life as we drove.

As I dropped the last student off and sat talking to her in her driveway, listening to her tearfully pouring her feelings out, I realized suddenly that I was no longer talking. Instead, the Holy Spirit was prompting me to have insights and say things that she needed to hear. I have no other explanation for the eloquent and meaningful answers that came out of my sleep-deprived, utterly exhausted brain.

I drove home, pondering the fact that I thought my ministry was done when we wrapped up our small group time in prayer earlier that evening. I know that God is all around, and that there’s never a wrong time to talk about Him–but I guess I figured the kids would be their usual chaotic selves as I drove them home. I didn’t expect them to be so honest–to be transparent in their struggles–to be listening to each other and sharing their feelings so willingly in my car.

 I really think they wanted to go deeper, to talk more about their faith and their lives, for even longer than we gave them. And that made me realize that I, as a youth leader, need to pick up on that and give them opportunities to go deeper. Otherwise, I’m stunting them.

It reminded me of the first time I realized I loved talking about spirituality and faith. I was a junior in high school, and I was sitting in the sunlit library at my school, chatting with five other guys. I don’t remember the specifics of what we were talking about–I know it was Lutheran theology and prayer–but I remember the scene vividly.

I remember getting an overwhelming feeling of peace and contentedness. I remember looking around the room, tangibly realizing the many blessings God had given me. I remember looking at the faces of the guys I was debating with and thinking, “I could do this for the rest of my life.”

I remember walking away after over an hour, marveling at how much that one conversation about faith impacted my entire week. And now, looking back, I realized that this one conversation started me down a path that ended up with me becoming a Director of Christian Education–a position that allows me to share my faith all the time.

I think the reason I feel like I’m most effective in my job when I don’t realize that I’m doing it is because that’s when the Holy Spirit is flowing through me uninterrupted. That’s when my ego doesn’t get in the way. It’s in those moments that I’m not worried about saying the wrong thing, or overthinking things. God’s Words of comfort just flow naturally, and I don’t even need to analyze or think of what to say–it’s just there, at the tip of my tongue.

As a church worker, there are plenty of dangerous temptations out there. It’s so easy to overanalyze and doubt sharing God’s Truth–because sometimes it convicts, and drives people away. It’s easy to forget how insignificant you really are, as you’re standing up in front of hundreds of people and wielding a microphone in your hand. It’s easy to put yourself in front of God, and to hog the stage instead of letting Him be the focus.

I’ve met so many church workers who’ve fallen into these holes and wear their identities on their sleeves:

“I’m a martyr. I don’t get paid enough for what I do.”

“You can’t ever possibly understand what my job is or how hard I work.”

“Of course I can dabble in this–I have to be real, don’t I?”

“I need those kids to complete me.”

As it says in 1 Peter 4:11, “Whoever serves, let him do so as by the strength which God supplies.” What it really boils down to for me is this: God doesn’t need me; He simply works through me. And I suspect maybe the best way to let Him work through me is to just shove myself out of the way, as often as I can.

All of this from one night of driving kids home…pretty impressive, huh?





Revelations from A Smilin’ Dog

15 09 2010

I just had a revelation while talking to Bonzer.

And just so everyone’s clear, Bonzer is my toy Australian shepherd puppy.

Fine. Call me crazy.

(Cat lovers, zip it. You have no room to judge. You guys are even weirder with your furry, hairball-gagging friends. At least my dogs fetch and sit on command, which is more than I can say for those of you who prefer aloof pets.)

I was sitting with Bonzer, watching him rolling around and playing on the floor. I called his name in my “happy” tone of voice (that same tone of voice which I use when I talk to babies, incidentally–they’re a lot like puppies, right?). He immediately trotted over and started furiously wagging his little stump of a tail with a smile on his face.

Yes, he smiles.

Chalk up another mark on the crazy board, I know.

Anyway, Bonzer just stood there, looking at me. Every time I said something to him, like, “Ohhhhh, you’re such a good pup, aren’t you buddy?”, he would wiggle his whole rear end in excitement.

Who knew that Bonzer could inspire me with such insight

I could’ve said, “Hey stupid, I’m going to throw you off the porch after I feed you your delicious dinner of dry kibble, ok?” in a sweet tone of voice, and he still would’ve responded with pleasure.

Something as simple as praising my dog totally made his day.

And I didn’t get tired of watching him wiggle his little tail and jump up in happiness once. I could praise him all night and still enjoy watching him dance around.

Isn’t it funny how we don’t really apply that same principle to humans?

Something as simple as complimenting someone else could totally make their day–it could make them wiggle their rear ends with excitement.

Ok. Maybe that’s not exactly the image I’m looking for?

Perhaps it’s because I work with pre-teens and teenagers who are often stuck in stages of self-doubt and low self-esteem, and I’m extra-sensitive to it–but I feel like sometimes I walk around and want to say something positive to every single person I see. Frankly, I think every single person does need to hear something good about themselves on a daily basis.

I guess I’ve just realized that we live in a world that just wants to tear us down. Everything around us–television, magazines, Internet ads, billboards–tells us that we’re not beautiful enough, strong enough, smart enough, fashionable enough, capable enough, or savvy enough.

And maybe being the hands and feet of Christ in this world means we try to counteract the demoralization of our culture and instead bring a little joy into the lives of those around us.

Maybe we need to try to make others wiggle their stumpy tails, so to speak.

Maybe one of the best ways we can truly impact the lives of those around us and share the love of Christ is to simply point out the things we love or admire about them. To speak those words of praise about the special traits that make them unique–and in doing so, give glory to the magnificently creative God who made them that way.

Hm.

Look at the life lessons you can learn from a cheerful dog…it’s astounding.

You sure as heck wouldn’t get anything like this from a cat, would you now?





Teens Say the Darndest Things…

17 08 2010

I’ve spent quite a bit of time with my teens in the last few weeks, savoring the  sweet dregs of last-minute freedom before school starts tomorrow.

Yep. I’m pretty much as bummed as they are. No more spontaneous trips for ice cream and snow cones, no more Saturdays at Six Flags, no more trips to the mall on lazy Sunday afternoons, no more surprise fake mustaches showing up in hidden spots all over my car after giving the kids money to buy vending machine goodies, and no more random kids jogging to my office on a 101 degree day to just “hang out” with me.

One parent asked me (in half seriousness, I think) if I wanted to sign the adoption papers to take custody of her son. I think she was surprised when I readily agreed.

Sure. Skip the baby part. I’ll go from being childless to having a 14-year-old overnight. Sounds great to me.

I’ve been keeping a mental log of the memorable things I’ve heard come out of these kids’ mouths over the last week or so, just so I can either laugh uproariously about them in the privacy of my own home or ponder their sweetness later on. So here, for your pleasure, are a couple of the stand outs that these kids have said to me in the last week:

#1.”Cassie, I really can’t figure out how old you actually are. You just seem so much like you’re totally my age.”

Why I Like It: I still feel like I’m their age–just wiser and with a better sense of fashion than my 14-year-old self. Oh, and a college degree and a ring on my finger, too. I’ve realized that because I can just hang with these kids and live my life with them, side-by-side, they don’t see me as an adult from Planet Lame. And, because of that, they trust me. So I hear the inside scoop–on everything. And yes, I mean everything.

#2. “It’s hard being Cassie Moore sometimes, isn’t it?”

Why I Like It: Working with teens is no job for those who only desire to be popular and well-liked all the time, I’ve discovered. There have been plenty of times where I’ve had to put my foot down and discipline kids. No, I don’t like being the Bad Guy–and that’s exactly what was happening when one of my younger students made this comment to me. In the course of one morning, he saw me balancing the challenging tension of having fun, connecting with students and leaders, and reigning in the unruly troublemakers. I guess the demands of my job that day looked pretty darn unappealing to this poor, innocent youngster.

#3. “I’ve prayed for you, every single night for the last two years.”

Why I Like It: As I watched my 44 students walk across the stage a few weekends ago to be confirmed, I realized that I had prayed for each one of them by name dozens of times–some of them, likely hundreds of times. I had tears in my eyes through both confirmation services, just thinking about how much I truly care for each one of these kids–and most of them don’t even know how much I care about them. To know that one of my dear students was doing the same thing in praying so faithfully for me, unbeknownst to me, gave me chills.

#4. “I think you’ve become my second mom…sooo, you wouldn’t mind buying me a snow cone now, right Mom?”

Why I Like It: One of my students joked last week that he was going to change my name in his cell phone  to “Mom 2”, because I always take “such good care of him”. I’ve bought this kid everything from shoes to dinner, so sometimes I do feel like his mother. I’m grateful that my students know I care for them–that I’m not just going to temporarily plug into their lives and then unplug as soon as the next wave of students comes through my program. I’m invested in them for the long haul, as a good mother would be.

#5. “You know slavery is illegal in the United States now, right?”

Why I Like It: Working with teenagers is challenging–usually it feels like you’re working in the complete dark, because you so rarely see the results of your investment. But, every once in a while, you get a little glimmer of the seeds you’ve sown growing and producing fruit. Last weekend, I spent an entire day at a theme park with twelve teenagers and three other adults, enduring sticky humidity and sore feet and a profusion of “your momma” jokes. At the end of the night, one of my students asked me how he could help me because I was “always helping him”. When I jokingly told him that I was always swamped at work in the summer and that I needed some “slaves” to help me file papers and organize the building, he committed to coming in the next day and working for me. Despite my pleas to not give up a precious last day of freedom before school started, he recruited a friend and spent eight long hours assisting me, tirelessly working without breaks. Their work ethic so clearly revealed the power of the Holy Spirit working in them that it gave me goosebumps–and reminded me that while working with teens is definitely harder than herding cats, it’s infinitely more rewarding (even when you only get an occasional sliver of the results).

#6. “I want to be hanging out with you in 30 years.”

Why I Like It: I want to be hanging out with them in thirty years, too. A few months ago, two of the girls in my small group confided that they had been utterly crushed one afternoon last year, as they realized how insignificant they probably were in my life. In their minds, I was going to leave this church someday and completely forget about them. As they laughingly told me, “You matter too much to us–you’ve changed our lives–but we thought we were going to be nothing to you, that you wouldn’t even remember our names after you left.”  Honestly, I went home and cried over this. I know exactly what they were feeling–I’ve felt it, too. There have been people I’ve connected with and looked up to, and I doubt they can even remember me now. That hurts. But, the fact that these girls know that I won’t do that to them–that they’ve changed my life just as much–is something I’m grateful for. And the reality that they want to be involved in the rest of my life is something that causes me to fall to my knees in thankfulness.





The Culmination of My Weird Week: Getting Hit By A Shopping Cart

10 08 2010

It started last Sunday evening, as I stepped outside my apartment doorstep on a balmy evening to take the dogs out at midnight before I hit the hay.

I took one step before I landed right on top of it.

A folder.

Nestled right outside my front door.

In this neat, color-coded file folder was a whole collection of assignments from one of the kids in my confirmation small group.

Apparently, my dear little friend Ashley had been too embarrassed to knock on my door that late at night–so she just ditched her folder on my welcome mat without saying a word to me.

All I could think about was a movie I saw one time, in which a disgruntled ex-boyfriend kills his girlfriend’s dog and leaves the poor puppy’s head on her front stoop to terrify her.

I don’t think that was the kind of message Ashley was trying to send to me, don’t worry. But of all the things to have left on my welcome mat, I never expected to see homework assignments there. Sort’ve like my work truly followed me home.

Hm. Strike one on the Weekly Weirdness scale of my life.

Strike two followed swiftly after that–the very next evening, in fact.

I was preparing myself for a highly stressful week, so I had invited some of my ninth graders over to my apartment to watch a movie that evening. At the last minute, they all backed out on me, so I was left with a gloriously empty evening, stretching out in front of me–one filled with wasteful hours of eating dry Fruit Loops and watching “Criminal Minds” reruns while lounging in my pajamas.

Suddenly, my dreams of doing absolutely nothing were shattered by one forceful “bang-bang-BANG-BANG” on the door.

My first thought was, “That’s gotta be a neighbor. My ninth-grade students can’t drive yet–there’s no way I have to worry about them just showing up at my door randomly.”

I cracked open the door, and found out just how wrong I was.

Apparently, while my students can’t yet legally drive themselves to my house without any warning, their parents still can.

Within half an hour, I found myself managing the utter chaos of having five unruly teenagers goofing around in my apartment. I never really realized how many breakable things we own until I saw two of the biggest klutzes I’ve ever met handling these objects.

Hastily, I drove them to the only place I knew where they couldn’t break anything:

The church parking lot.

Bingo. Sometimes, it does pay to be a church worker.

Strike three was even weirder, as hard as that seems to believe. It’s a long story, but it involves a handful of kiddos eating a frozen french silk pie in my car, late at night. I still have the crumbs on my dashboard to prove that it actually happened–it wasn’t just a sleep-deprived hallucination.

Strike four occurred just yesterday, as I was at Walmart.

I know, I know…that place is a magnet for all things bizarre. You’re not phased by me telling you that something strange happened at Walmart.

In fact, Lady Gaga looks downright normal compared to some of the people I’ve seen at that store.

So it should come as no surprise to you that I actually got run over by a cart at Walmart yesterday.

Yep. Poor me, looking for thank-you cards for my confirmation leaders…I step around the corner cautiously, and get nailed by a suburban housewife looking for school supplies.

I kid you not. She rammed her cart right into me.

It's out to get me...

My eyes must’ve been as big as saucers as I backed away from the Killer Cart Lady, listening to her apologize profusely for her carelessness. I managed to squeak out, “Oh, no, it’s ok! I’m fine! Really!” before I practically sprinted over to another aisle to get away from her.

I think I was in shock that I actually managed to get hit by a shopping cart–especially considering that I had been peeking around the corner so carefully…a habit I’ve learned by watching other people almost get run over by these metal monsters.

I walked over to the scrapbooking supply aisle in a daze. I turned and stared at some stickers, and suddenly heard an ominous sound behind me.

I spun around, only to see the same lady–Killer Cart Lady–about to run over me again.

Like I’ve said many times: I can’t make this stuff up.

She dragged her eyes away from the display and locked eyes with me, startled. When she realized it was me again, she froze and screeched her cart to a stop. I literally backed away, palms up, to another aisle.

We didn’t say a word to each other. It was a mutual agreement that we’d never meet again in this fashion.

As I hastily left Walmart, I began to realize the truth:

I’m on someone’s hit list.

Come on–that has to be it. There’s simply no other explanation. Who almost gets run over by the same lady twice, other than someone who’s on a hit list?

Now, I just need to figure out why I’m on that list…and who else in nice, quiet, suburban Oakville is going to come at me this week…