A Door Opens

I don’t usually have the courage to ask for things from other people, let alone to ask for things from God. One of my biggest downfalls is that I assume what I can do can be done in my own strength and if I can’t do it, it just won’t get done. I know this can be insulting to the other youth leaders when they know I am struggling with something but I won’t accept their offers to help. This also entirely contradicts Matthew 7:7-8 which states, “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened.” 

On the last Wednesday service of 2016, I met and connected instantly with a student. It was our week to celebrate and there was not much use for me behind the computer. Acting on a whim, I went out and talked with a few of the students I already knew and with them was a girl who had just recently started attending regularly. I complimented her on something trivial like the key chains that dangled from her lanyard; I’ve learned that students open up faster when you compliment them first (after all, who doesn’t?) and it’s an easy way to start a conversation when you’re socially anxious and painfully introverted. In the few short moments that we talked, I learned a lot about her and it seemed obvious to both of us that there was a reason God had brought us together that night.

Since then, I have started to build a purposeful relationship with her. She began attending the pre-service prayer that I started (but is now student-led!) and actively participating in all the other aspects of Wednesday night. I learned that she has desires to be a nurse and was honored to be given the opportunity to open the results of her GNA test and tell her that she passed! She was one of the first students to reach out to me when my grandpa passed away last month and came to his viewing in a group of almost forty other students and volunteers. Later this month, I’ll be attending her pinning ceremony for nursing and in April I’m taking her prom dress shopping. She’s also expressed excitement in volunteering with the youth group after she graduates this year. To put things in perspective, I have been talking with her on a consistent basis for just a little over two months. The speed at which God has progressed our relationship is definitely not something I could have ever anticipated.

Last month, I was faced with a situation where I just had to ask for a favor from God and from our youth pastor. If you’re following along, that means I felt like I was really putting myself out there.

Every year, our youth group attends a conference where we come together with other groups from our district for a weekend. There is a worship band, a speaker, and late night activities like laser tag and a trampoline park. When I was a student, my grandparents made it possible for me to attend Conference and Camp every year and for that I am forever thankful. As a leader, I am still awed by the experience and I have witnessed the Holy Spirit moving in students’ lives in unbelievable ways during and after this event. I understand first hand the importance of getting students out of their normal environment, in a way making them vulnerable, and helping them open up to the many ways that God wants to work in their lives. I believe in the importance of this event and my hope is to see every student have the opportunity to experience it at least once.

On February 10th, a day after the viewing for my grandpa, she texted me to see how I was doing. I want to take a moment to say that being a youth leader is so rewarding. To have a student reach out to you not because they need anything but instead to check on you and pray for you is something that I will never be able to put into words. It’s inspiring and uplifting in a way that you just have to experience to understand. During the course of our conversation, I asked her if she was going to conference. She told me that she really wanted to go, but hadn’t signed up because she couldn’t afford it. Something in my spirit told me that she needed to go and I had to find a way to get her there. I felt like God told me that there was going to be a radical moment for her that weekend, much like the one I had when I was her age. But, what required getting her to conference was me asking our youth pastor to add one more student to his detailed Excel spreadsheet weeks after the deadline for the deposit was even due.

So I asked.

He didn’t have an immediate answer to give me. He couldn’t. There were logistics to work out – leader to student ratio, hotel rooms, the number of vans we have to rent.

While we waited for an answer, we prayed. She and I prayed very hard for her to have the opportunity to go to conference this year. As a senior, this is the last time she can attend as a student. Even though she wants to come back after graduation and volunteer, there is a distinct difference in the experience of conference from the perspective of a student and that of a leader. Since February 10th, we have been praying for God to make a way.

Every Wednesday, I’d ask our pastor: “What are her odds of going now?”

February 15th: 60/40 chance.
– We’re waiting to see if the students who haven’t given a deposit drop out.

February 22nd: 60/40 chance.
– No change.

March 1st: 70/30 chance.
– We’re going to see if we can scholarship her.

Seats in the vans didn’t seem to be a problem. I told him I’d bring a blow up mattress and she could sleep in my hotel room, even if I was at max capacity with my leader:student ratio. He said we couldn’t deceive the hotel. Oh-kay. As the weekend approached (March 17th-19th), my hope was fading and I could feel her’s fading too.

We had been praying for what seemed like forever and we were losing hope. We had asked, we had been seeking, and we were knocking feverishly. Then today, just a little after 10 AM, God answered our prayers. Our youth pastor texted me and told me she can go. I immediately texted her to tell her the good news and she was so excited. We both just kept repeating how happy we were; there seemed to be no other words in that moment.

What I learned from this experience is it’s okay to ask. You may be told “no” (which thankfully wasn’t the case here), you may be told to “wait” (oh, did we wait), and you may be told “yes” (which we were!), but you’ll never know the answer unless you ask the question. Had I ignored the strong feeling in my spirit that this would be a life-changing weekend for her and her walk with Christ because I was afraid to ask, I wouldn’t be honoring God. He has allowed us to grow so close in these few short months and I truly believe that it was so she could go to conference and I would be reminded of this valuable lesson.

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Uncharted Territory

Last Wednesday, I sat with them.

You know. Them. 

The middle school boys who cluster together and sit on the far side of the room after playing hard for half an hour before the start of service. The ones who draw on the back of offering envelopes and flip their Gatorade bottles during announcements. I sat with them.

Technically, I wasn’t the only leader on that side of the room that night. But, I sure felt like it. For the past few years I’ve been “Command Center” – sound-checking the worship band, creating and projecting slides, being the resident DJ,  setting the stage lights, E) All of the above. I have a wonderful group of friends who are also leaders on Wednesday night and they help ensure everything runs smoothly, even assisting me if need be. This has allowed me to sit comfortably behind the partition in a “pay no attention to that (wo)man behind the curtain” kind of way. For two years that has been my office. The students know where to find me without question. I’m constant…

… or so I thought I was.

I was consistent, but not constant. Students knew they could find me in the back; it even became a running joke during services. They knew to come to me for sign-ups, take-home forms, and other miscellaneous items of importance that must be distributed at the end of service. They knew my name, some knew my face, and some knew both. I was consistent in showing up early every Wednesday and sitting behind the computer. The word “consistent” comes from the Latin “consistere”, which means to stop or stand still – and that’s exactly where I was in relating with these students: at a stand still. 

In a slow and (sometimes) painful process, I have been relinquishing control of the multi-media center, which will always be my office, to a few students that I’ve chosen as protégés. Their desire to learn the ins and outs of a service is truly inspiring and has given me a renewed vigor in what I do. Having built this reliable team, I am now able to extract myself from my little corner and sit with them during service.

March 1st, I threw myself to the wolves. While not completely willingly (it was the only section of chairs left with an unclaimed end seat), I am beyond grateful for a God who had directed my path before I even knew where I was walking. The seat that I chose was in a section of students that I believed I had nothing in common with, but when I looked around it hit me just how many of these students I had talked to in small group a few weeks ago. That small group was powerful and students opened up about real-life experiences in a way I had never witnessed before. I led that group and they remembered me for it. In that moment, as I took in who I was sitting around, I realized what it truly means to be constant.

“Unchanging, loyal, or happening all the time,” is the definition of constant and perfectly defines the way I want to disciple these students from now on. I want them to know me as more than the the youth leader that sits behind the computer. I want them to see me as loyal – to God, to youth group, and to them. I want them to see that the type of relationship I have with God and the one that I desire to see them have with God happens all the time – every day – not just bottled into one weekly service.