Things A Pastor’s Wife Won’t Tell You (But WANTS To…)

24 07 2014

I don’t blog as much as I’d like to.

The majority of my infrequent blogging has to do with the fact that A) I’m really busy and B) I have a problem with saying “no” to the things that keep me busy.

I also can’t forget C) I hate living in a house that isn’t vacuumed multiple times a week (see “B”).

But frankly, a big factor in my blogging is the fact that I’m under a microscope as a church worker and pastor’s wife. That means every single thing I write is scrutinized. Often, by thousands of people.

But every once in a while, I get an uncontrollable rebellious streak. Like now.

As a fairly young pastor’s wife, I’ve not yet grown that thick shell of impervious battle armor that all pastor’s wives seem to possess. I still find myself laughing over things that probably won’t even register when I’m a hardened, turtle-like character in a few decades.

So in my formative state, I feel compelled to make note of the many things a pastor’s wife won’t tell you…but WANTS to.Pastor

I don’t dress him.

It may be difficult to believe that a grown man who survived graduate school can successfully pick out his clothes, but it is true.

And no, if we happen to be wearing the same color on Sunday morning, it’s merely coincidence. Only a crazy person (or someone trapped in a family photo, circa 1993) would ever dress to match their spouse.

I’m not a messaging system. 

There’s this incredible new invention out there called “technology”. It’s amazing, really.

You can get on a tiny computer in the palm of your hand and type on a teensie keyboard to send messages a whole variety of ways. Seriously, you should try it. It’s the latest thing. You can even record your voice and leave a message in your own words.

Really. Try it. I’m not a reliable courier system, anyway. And I’m sure as heck not getting paid to take notes as my husband’s administrative assistant.

I have an automatic role in VBS, no matter what.

I’ll never be able to escape some sort of leadership role in yearly Vacation Bible School. I know that even if I’m crippled and struck blind at the same time I’m attempting to adopt twelve kids from an orphanage and tenderly nurse a baby bird back to health, you’ll still pester me to take on something.

It’s just one of the laws of pastor’s wifedom.

I don’t know what he’s going to say about me in sermons. 

Yeah, I’m hearing it for the first time, too.

No, I don’t know what embarrassing or bizarre real-life story he’s using about me until he says it. Yes, the blushing is authentic. Yes, I do indeed color-code my closet, and I’m glad the entire congregation now knows about it.

I don’t know everyone’s names, let alone their gossip. 

Everyone knows me, but I don’t always know everyone else. It’s challenging to try to learn a zillion names and facts about a congregation. I’m accosted with new stories by the dozens every Sunday, so forgive me if my brain shuts down and I can’t remember what day you took your dog to the vet last week. I really do care. Unless it’s gossip–then I’m already disinterested.

I’m the designated pinch-hitter when everything goes wrong. 

Communion team forgot to show up? I’m in the back, pouring wine into tiny cups. Sunday school teacher late? I’m already halfway through the lesson. Sound system or lights malfunctioning? I’m the first one up to deal with it. Building leaking? I’m dragging out the buckets. New guest arrives? I’m introducing myself and making small talk. Bulletin board needs updating? I’m already drawing. Disgusting disaster in the bathroom? I’m the makeshift janitor. Ushers absent? I’m handing out bulletins and lighting candles. Dessert reception? I’m wiping off tables and serving up pie.

Before you complain about church, realize that I’ve already done your job before. Quietly and thanklessly. If I can do it with a smile and make the best of things, you certainly can, too.

I can hear you when you talk about the pastor.

It doesn’t matter if you’re sitting five rows behind me, or on the other side of the church. I have supersonic hearing when it comes to hearing any phrase that involves the word “pastor”.

I hate when people judge me by what I wear. 

I’m not a nun, I happen to like fashion, and I actually have eyeballs. No, I don’t judge you by what you wear to worship–so kindly don’t return the favor for me.

You don’t have to point out the obvious about either my husband or me.

Sunburned? Yes. We’re human and went to the beach. We are already aware and don’t need your loud guffaws to inform the entire church.

Oh, and you can entirely abolish the phrase, “My, you look tired” from your vocabulary when you’re talking to me.

I know, I’m making it easy for you.

The phrase “poor as church mice” is accurate. 

Most pastors are barely scraping by and their congregations are largely clueless to the immense financial toll that years of school and a low-paying salary give you.

Basically, we broke as a joke.

We prefer not to dwell on it, and make every effort to be faithful stewards–but I sure can’t tell you what a delightful treat it is to receive something as simple as a gift card for coffee. It also has the added benefit of helping you never say, “My, you look tired” to me in the morning.

We love the church more than you know. 

I’ve met my fair share of pastors’ wives who are angry and disillusioned with their churches, but I don’t feel that way. Despite frustrations, I know that tension is a natural part of ministry and I welcome it because it means we’re growing. We’re tirelessly supporting our churches, and will do whatever it takes to contribute.

Yeah, yeah, even cleaning the bathrooms. Been there, done that. More than once.

I have an opinion of my own. 

Despite what you may assume, I have a brain entirely of my own. I have my own opinions, talents, passions, and ambitions.

Someone once told me that, as a pastor’s wife, I should “never open my mouth about anything, ever.”

That’s ridiculous. How could I possibly take communion?

I don’t buy it. As a pastor’s wife, I’ll open my mouth about what matters–and what matters to me, more than anything, is my Savior.

And despite however critical someone may choose to be, the fact remains that I’m a sinful human who’s been redeemed–just like everyone else. So when I get my rebellious streaks and spout off about the challenges of being a pastor’s wife, you just softly smile and respond as every good Lutheran does:

“Oh, I’ll pray for you.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Don’t Judge the Savior By the Screwball…

17 03 2011

(Author’s Note: This post is part of a multi-author blog site called “The Question”, where a variety of authors will be blogging about a sole topic. To check out the site, please go to whygrudge.blogspot.com or facebook.com/The-Question)


It’s the epic question that, provided you had the right answer, could land you a multi-million dollar book contract and enough speaking engagements to last you a lifetime.

The problem is that I don’t suspect that there’s merely one answer to this taxing question: why do people have a grudge against Christians and the church?

The implications of the answers affect each one of us, as Christians. However, if we’re being honest with ourselves—do we really want to know why we’re so disliked?

To put it in another perspective, isn’t what we’re asking here tantamount to the nerdy dweeb asking the most popular kid in school to bluntly list out all the reasons why he’s not cool?

Quite simply, one of the biggest reasons that Christianity isn’t popular is that we’re soldiers stranded in a hostile enemy territory.

Jesus himself tells us in Luke 12:51, “Do you think I came to bring peace on earth? No, I tell you, but division.” The world we live in has little patience for our standards of life. They don’t understand that our philosophy isn’t “every man for himself”, but instead “love your neighbor as yourself”. In a culture obsessed with freedom and success, the idea of submitting and laying down idols seems downright stupid.

And worshipping someone you can’t even see? Ridiculous.

For a year in college, I lived with a roommate who wasn’t a Christian. She was so clueless about Christianity, in fact, that when she watched “The Passion of the Christ” for a mandatory religion class assignment, she paused halfway through the scene of Jesus being whipped mercilessly and asked me, “They don’t kill this guy in the end, do they?”

My roommate observed my behavior as a Christian for an entire year. She asked me questions about why I would get up early on Sunday for church, or why I would waste time reading my Bible when I could be hanging out with the boy I had a crush on down the hall. When I finally convinced her to come to a campus chapel, after months of praying for the opportunity to get her in church for the first time in her life, she sat in mute silence, her face stony. She never came to chapel again.

I valiantly tried my best to point out all the benefits to my life as someone who had a relationship with Christ, but she wasn’t won over by my best arguments. To this ultra-hip, beautiful girl who had everything in the world going for her, she didn’t have the slightest interest in giving up her wild weekends and changing her lifestyle to live a life of obedience and thankfulness for her Savior.

Ultimately, my former roommate became a Christian five years later, after she hit rock bottom in her life. It wasn’t until everything in her life was shaken that she finally realized how important Christ really is.

I think that’s part of it, truly. Our lives are so comfortable and convenient, so fast-paced and chaotic, so distracted, that we forget that we need a Savior. In fact, we’re not entirely convinced that we have anything we need to be saved from. Sure, maybe we screw up every once in a while—but me? Deserve death for my disobedience? Nah.

Sometimes we don’t even realize that our lives have an ending point—and a future home after death—until something earth-shattering forces us to recognize our own invincibility.

And maybe, if we’re being honest, we don’t like to be reminded that we’re invincible. Perhaps we resent the fact that Christianity points out the weaknesses we want to hide, the secret flaws we want to pretend don’t exist in us, and the fact that we, too, will someday cease to breath and will die.

But why, too, are people so opposed to Christians themselves?

Being a Christian, I’m not sure if I can answer that for the “other team” accurately. But I suspect that maybe we find people hating us so much because, well, we’re kind of lame sometimes.

A Christian shirt I actually own...

We wear our pithy Christian shirts. We listen exclusively to our Christian radio stations. We read our Christian books with ridiculous titles, we drive our cars with silly bumper stickers, and we frequent Christian establishments.

Do we ever intentionally look at the bubble of safety we’ve created for ourselves to live comfortably within, and think that maybe we’re not meant to live solely in this zone? That maybe God called us to live out in the world and witness Him to people who don’t read Christian magazines and listen exclusively to Chris Tomlin?

As hard as we try, we’ll never be anything like Jesus. Yet we walk around proclaiming to be His earthly representatives. Unfortunately, when we yell to the world, “I’m a Christian!” and then screw up—as we so often do—we’re representing Him poorly.

Imagine a secretary who proudly claims to represent her boss so well…yet she continually forgets messages, doesn’t return phone calls, loses important receipts, chews out other employees, and bungles one business deal after another. Isn’t that sort of like what we Christians are doing to God?

I hate when I hear a band do a cover of a song from another popular group. Sure, it’s technically the same song—and sure, they can hit all the notes—but at its core, it’s merely an imitation of the real thing. And really, that’s what we are, as Christians. We are merely an imitation of Christ—not Jesus himself.

Sometimes we’re a pretty darn lousy imitation, too. But just as you can’t judge a horrible rendition of a song and give up on the original tune because of the blockhead cover artist, the world shouldn’t judge Christ based on our failed attempt to represent Him.

Somehow, I suspect our mission needs to be getting ourselves out of the way and letting the Holy Spirit shine through us as unclouded as He can. To share that, as Christians, we’re not perfect–but even as the fact that counterfeit money is circulated in the world doesn’t detract from the real money that’s out there, our weak imitation of Christ doesn’t truly represent who He is.

His kindness overflows. Ours does not.

His love is endless. Ours is not.

His forgiveness is limitless. Ours is not.

We are human. He is Almighty.

Our mission, should we choose to accept it, is to realize how far we really are from Christ’s perfect love, and to honestly show that gap to the world. It’s only when we’re actually open to the stinging truth of our own failures and shortcomings that we can admit our own infallibility and our desperate need for a Savior.

Because really, that’s the beauty of our faith in a nutshell: in our deepest shame and our biggest mistakes, we can be forgiven and renewed and given a future we don’t deserve through the grace that Christ offers us freely and unconditionally.

And when we, as His earthly representatives, can be candid about this—maybe we’ll encounter a world more likely to sympathize with us.





“This Moment Is Unlike Any Other Time In History”

1 03 2011

Recently, I was chatting with my husband about literature. The conversation occurred when he stood looking at my office bookshelf, which is quite tiny and so crammed with books that I can barely pull one out without ripping my fingernails off.

Would that count in a worker’s comp lawsuit?

If so, I better note all those papercuts I get from doing mass postcard and letter mailings, too.

Tyler gazed over the titles of my books, and said to me, “Some of these books are probably the life’s work of some of these people. Do you think that their life’s work–their legacy in ink–matters to anyone else?”

Good question.

I think the real question is whether or not a book can truly transform your life. If so, the hard work and sacrifice to write the book is definitely necessary.

In my humble opinion, my life truly has been impacted by literature. I’ve been deeply provoked, challenged, comforted, and inspired by countless authors. In fact, I’ve written to a few authors over the last few years and told them how much their books have meant to me. I’m convinced that some of these authors and I would be kindred spirits if we actually knew each other.

One such book that has impacted me is Gabe Lyons’ book, The Next Christians: How a New Generation Is Restoring the Faith (I received this book for free from WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group for a review).

Holy cow, people. If you read one book this year, make it this one.

And trust me, I’m quite the book critic. I don’t highly recommend any old book–only the truly outstanding ones.

Lyons writes brilliantly and clearly, with honest passion and intensity as he tackles a complex subject: the future of Christianity in the upcoming generations. His optimism and belief that the younger generation desperately wants to be a “force of restoration in a broken world” and is embarking on a revolution to rebrand the name “Christian” as something that stands for authenticity, truth, beauty, and intelligence resonates completely with what I’m seeing in the world of young Christians around me.

Lyons states, “I believe 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.”

Preach it, brother.

Through statistics, stories, and personal reflections, Lyons weaves together a gem of a book that hit the nail on the head so many times that I literally stopped and pumped my fist in excitement in a few places…however endearingly nerdy that may sound to actually admit.

Fine, I may have a bit of a geeky streak. Proof? I was in marching band, love musicals, and adore art history.

Counterproof? I hate Star Wars, Star Trek, and video games.

Let’s get back on track.

Lyons gets it. He has his finger on the pulse of young Christians. He knows what he’s talking about.

One of the most compelling chapters in this book was where Lyons explained the different types of Christians and the way they generally interact with the world. I read through the entire section, and started getting worried–none of these descriptions fit me. “Am I a total misfit?” I wondered.

Lyons then went on to describe what he calls “the restorers”:

“I’ve observed a new generation of Christians who feel empowered…They have a peculiar way of thinking, being, and doing that is radically different from previous generations. Telling others about Jesus is important, but conversion isn’t their only motive. Their mission is to infuse the world with beauty, grace, justice, and love.

I call them restorers because they envision the world as it was meant to be and they work toward that vision. Restorers seek to mend earth’s brokenness. They recognize that the world will not be completely healed until Christ’s return, but they believe that the process begins now as we partner with God. Through sowing seeds of restoration, they believe others will see Christ through us and the Christian faith will reap a much larger harvest.

They are purposeful about their careers and generous with their time and possessions. They don’t separate from the world or blend in; rather, they thoughtfully engage. Fully aware of the seachange under way, they are optimistic that God is on the move–doing something unique in our time.”

It’s amazing, really–not only that Lyons described me and many of my young Christian friends to a “T”, but that Lyons echoed a sentiment here that I’ve been preaching to my middle school and high school students for a year now: God is doing something unique in our time.

Trust me. This is a must-read. It will challenge and inspire you, and give you hope for the future of our faith.

You can always judge how much I truly liked a book by how vigorously I wrote my notes in the margins. I circle, highlight, draw arrows, write my reactions and observations, and disagree with the text all the time–and leafing through, you can see just how much I wrestled with the text and therefore let it saturate my brain.

Guess how jam-packed the margins of this book are?

You got it: full.





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…





Who Thought that a Creepy Clown Note on My Computer Could Brighten My Monday?

20 09 2010

Mondays.

Have you ever actually met someone who didn’t mind them?

Nope. Didn’t think so.

Mondays are so miserable, truthfully, that I usually dread going to bed on Sunday…just because I have to wake up and slog my way through a Monday.

And remember–I even enjoy my job. I can’t imagine how Mondays are for people who hate where they work.

However, I came into my office this morning and found my computer peppered with Post-it notes. Three of my youth had discovered my secret stash of pens and sticky notes the night before while at a youth event, and went to town on decorating my work space. It was pretty funny, actually, to come in and read them all this morning.

Here’s just a sampling of their randomness:

“Howdy Hey, Cassie A, Have a great Monday!”

“Got milk?”

“Howdy, partner!”

And, my personal favorite:

“Hey, just remember when you’re at work, I’m at SCHOOL.”

I also had a random doodle of a tree, a mouse, a concerned face with snot dripping out of an overly large nose, and three pictures of smiley faces with gigantic mustaches–among other inside jokes.

And, particularly disturbing was a picture of a clown with vampire teeth, stuck to the very middle of the screen.

Gulp. I hate clowns. And those kids know it. In fact, several have kindly offered to rent me a clown for my upcoming birthday. Which only makes me wish that I hadn’t opened my home to them–now they actually do know where I live.

Oh, the sheer and utter insanity of youth ministry. Every day, I tackle all sorts of weird jokes on Facebook, answer random silly and sometimes nonsensical texts from dozens of kids, and meet new teenagers who expect me to remember their faces, names, and random facts about themselves–even if it was just a fleeting encounter I had with them.

It’s hard to describe, but things like this must give you a little glimpse into my daily life, right?

Because–because….sometimes it’s even too indescribable for me.

Fine, too deep. It’s still Monday, after all. Mind-numbing shallowness is in order.

All things told, those rascals did make my Monday a little brighter.

Now, maybe if I can just cajole them to do this for me every week, I’ll actually start to look forward to Mondays…





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.





God in the Midst of our Community Tragedy

24 04 2010

I’m struggling with how to possibly start explaining the events I’ve been through in the last week.

To begin with, I was already swamped. Our gigantic confirmation banquet is this weekend, so my schedule was packed every day with meetings with confirmands and more things than I could actually do in a workday (i.e. I didn’t eat lunch every day this week). Add to that the fact that all of the pastors and two-thirds of the rest of the staff were out of town at a conference, and you begin to see where this is going.

On Wednesday afternoon, one of my confirmands came in from school with the news that his cousin–a seventh grader named Chelsea who attended school with him right down the road from our church–had committed suicide.

I was shocked. She was only 13 years old.

In the ensuing hours, my cell phone buzzed with texts and phone calls. All afternoon and all evening–until 11:00 at night–I fielded phone calls from parents and students, Facebook messages, and texts. Students were incredibly shocked, and many didn’t even know how to process.

No one understood why…and no one had a clue that it would be this girl.

As I took a moment to breathe, I heard the church bells from the chapel across the road ringing out one of my favorite hymns: “Abide With Me.” I listened to that song, with a fresh understanding of what it meant. Abide with Jesus. Be in constant communication with Him as you go through something like this.

In the most chaotic moments, and in the moments in which I was comforting upset students, I truly think He was guiding me–without me even realizing it.

In the course of that evening, an idea began to take shape in my head. I felt compelled to open up our student center, the Hangar, as a safe place for students to come and grieve together. After a few phone calls to the staff in Florida, we set things in motion. I posted a message on my Facebook page, inviting students to come to the Hangar after school the next day.

By the time I woke up the next morning at 6:00 am, several of my students had reposted that message on their own page. I hastily sent several emails to staff members, explaining what was going on, and sent an email to my confirmation leaders, asking them to come pitch in that afternoon. I then headed to the middle school to see if they needed any extra help.

I hadn’t even pulled into the parking lot when I saw one of my seventh grade boys sitting on the playground, bawling his eyes out. I rolled down my window and talked to him, and then parked and ran inside.

As much as I had steeled myself for what I would likely face, I wasn’t even prepared.

The school was like a war zone. Students were sitting on the floor, standing, draped in stairwells–all sobbing. Some kids were just blindly wandering around, crying by themselves. I ducked into the office, and could barely squeeze in the door with the number of students congregated there with tears streaming down their faces. The secretaries were frantically answering call after call.

I sought out one of the adults standing in the office and managed to say, “I’m Cassie, I’m here from Faith Luth…”

They didn’t even let me finish. I was immediately grilled for information about the after-school open Hangar time, and then led downstairs by the guidance counselor.

As we were walking down, she quietly said, “This is nothing, upstairs. We’ve told everyone to come downstairs to process, down here in The Pit.”

I walked into The Pit, and was floored. All I could see was a sea of middle schoolers in this cafeteria, all in various stages of grief and distress.

I barely made it in the door before I heard, “Cassie’s here!” and had a whole swarm of Faith kids launch themselves at me. Even my eighth grade boys threw themselves at me and hugged me fiercely.

Literally every kid who had ever stepped foot at Faith or attended a youth event there came up and hugged me. Several wouldn’t leave my side.

I cried with them, seeing how devastated and heartbroken they were. In my mind, I pleaded with God to give me the right words to say to these kids.

I spent most of the school day there, comforting not only the Faith kids, but plenty of total strangers. The school was doing a great job handling the chaos. Everyone I saw, from the teachers to guidance counselors to the school police officer to even the janitors, were busy talking and counseling kids.

All day, I heard kids talking about coming to Faith that afternoon. Before I left school, the principal actually got on the intercom and made an announcement about it. I was stunned–not only that an announcement about our church was being made in a public school, but what I pictured as a small gathering of students was turning into something the entire school was talking about.

That afternoon, we had hundreds of students pour into the Hangar, and dozens of parents come in. Some arrived even before school had ended. In the end, Chelsea’s father and one of her brothers even came.

I was so thankful for our incredible staff and amazing leaders. The tiny staff that was left–Mary, DeeAnne, Andy, Steve, Wayne, and Dave–pulled together and made signs, slides, assembled tables and chairs, and prepared the Hangar for the giant onslaught of kids. The preschool sent over all of their staff to pitch in. Pastor Tim Wesemann came and brought tons of helpful resources for kids and parents. Randy King came and was our in-house counselor, and was able to give me some great advice on handling the kids. We had tons of middle school leaders–and a few high school leaders–come and spend time with these hurting kids. With little notice, they did an awesome job and were a great help.

I was drained–but so strengthened and appreciative of the many leaders who came up to me and whispered, “I’m praying for you!”

It was an amazing event, and we were able to pray for and connect with so many kids. God was so clearly working through so many people, and a lot of hurt kids were able to hear the saving Gospel message–straight from Chelsea’s grieving father himself.

To me, one of the most powerful ways God worked through this whole experience was how He prepared me. Several weeks ago, the editor of the LCMS youth ministry publication, the ESource, asked me to help her out and write a resource for suicide. The person who was going to do it apparently backed out at the last minute, and she needed it done in a week. She actually offered up two different topics I could write about–either suicide or handling grief in general. For some reason, even though I knew it would be the harder topic to research and write about, I was drawn to choosing the suicide topic. I researched like mad for a week, talking to every expert I could get a hold of to write this piece.

Originally, it was only supposed to be a Bible study on suicide. Instead, I opted to write an additional resource, a guide for parents and leaders to help youth cope with suicide. At the time I was writing it, a few weeks ago, I remember thinking that this would be the most helpful resource I could picture handing out to parents and leaders, if I were ever to encounter a suicide situation.

Amazing how God works, isn’t it?

I wrote the resource, and ended up being the very first one to use it.

Just a few weeks earlier, and I would’ve been wholly unprepared as to what to say and how to answer the “tough questions”.

We printed off copies of that resource, and every single parent I saw walk through the doors took one. Just being able to offer something to confused and emotional parents was evidence to me that God was so powerfully at work through this whole experience.

As I write this, exhausted and emotionally drained, I still marvel at how I’ve seen God work through all of this–in our leaders, in our staff, in our students, and in the situations that have played out. I know this is just the beginning of a long healing process for many kids and families, and my heart goes out to them. It’s no easy thing to handle suicide at any age, let alone when you’re as young as 11 or 12.

As I write this now, the church bells are softly ringing out, “O God, Our Help In Ages Past”. I know from memory the most poignant lines of that song:

“O God, our help in ages past,

our hope for years to come,

our shelter from the stormy blast,

and our eternal home.”

As one of my leaders said simply yesterday, “God is good.”