Why I Went Back

Tonight I found myself in a strangely familiar environment. I walked through the doors of my former high school and in instant mental flashbacks, memories, sights and smells flooded my head. It’s a place that at one time I wanted to completely forget but here I found myself in the same situation as a person who hasn’t ridden a bicycle in years, mounting and suddenly finding that they still remember.

Many people don’t know this but I actually dropped out of high school. Being born with a physical handicap I constantly struggled with how to fit in. It probably isn’t true, but when you appear to be a little different on the outside you think everyone is looking at you, something you think even more when you’re a teenager. How do I get people to see past the braces on my legs? the gimpy way I walk? These were always a question in the back of my mind. Combined this with the normal zits and awkward changing teenage body and I was a mess. Unfortunately, having the maturity of a gnat, I didn’t have much of an answer. I typically tried two methods; Standing out or standing down.

Standing out consisted of making a fool of myself. Being a class clown. Telling my peers elaborate stories that weren’t true. I remember one particular incident I was passing a note back and forth (texting wasn’t much of a thing yet) with a kid in a class I was trying to impress. The note which consisted of me telling the kid about my drug usage (which never happened) was confiscated by the teacher and I had to sit through a family/teacher meeting about a problem I didn’t actually have.

Standing down was my more common approach and something I struggled with even into college. Standing down was the opposite of standing out in my all or nothing approach. I couldn’t be embarrassed if I didn’t exist. In this approach I thought people didn’t need to see past my disability, they just didn’t need to see me at all. Many days were spent walking through hallways, sitting in classes, not making any attempt at conversation or relationships. My sole focus in school became getting out. I wouldn’t do anything. Not class work, not relationships, nothing. I was simply a body in a chair some days.

I wasn’t involved in anything, or connected to the larger student body. I didn’t go to anything; not prom, homecoming, football games. Nothing. The closest thing I had to any social support was a group of fellow outcasts in a small -independent of any church- Bible study group. We met in a 40 something year old’s basement which sounds creepy I know, but  I am eternally grateful for this random group of rousers.

It would take a book or two to explain the whole process but now I find myself working with the same exact person I dreaded being; a high school student. I’m a sort of catcher in the rye now.

“Anyway, I keep picturing all these little kids playing some game in this big field of rye and all. Thousands of little kids, and nobody’s around – nobody big, I mean – except me. And I’m standing on the edge of some crazy cliff. What I have to do, I have to catch everybody if they start to go over the cliff – I mean if they’re running and they don’t look where they’re going I have to come out from somewhere and catch them. That’s all I do all day. I’d just be the catcher in the rye and all. I know it’s crazy, but that’s the only thing I’d really like to be.”  

I realize I am taking this quote out of context. Holden here was talking about preventing young people from entering into ‘dreadful’ adulthood and yes, I also realize his morals were less than desirable, but bear with me here.

As I sat in the auditorium of my alma matter, I felt regret. First, let me emphasize that I believe things worked out according to God’s plan and I would never trade the few friends I had for anything. With that said, I wish I could have a high school diploma on my wall. Sure, I have a 4.0 in graduate school which is a phenomenal feat for a high school drop out but what I really want are those moments I opted out of.

So I go back. I go back to the halls of high school through the students currently in them. My moments have come and gone and I could wallow in that regret. I could stand down again but this time I choose to stand UP. Through being the big person that is around, I keep other students from going off the cliff like I did and it’s the only thing I would like to be.

Regret turned into beauty tonight as I sat in that auditorium. My old world and my new world collided in a moment of redemption. You see, I was there for a seminar on adolescent mental health. Just another tool to add to my belt as I go back to help the kids in the rye.

No Such Thing

Today in the very county I live in marriage licenses are being handed out for the first time to homosexual couples. While I am deeply bothered by the moral stances our society is taking, I’m more concerned that we have forgotten what marriage really is. Marriage is more of a spiritual act than a legal one. In fact, I would argue that it is not even possible for two people of the same gender to be married. There is simply no such thing as gay marriage. Let me explain.

In the Old Testament, we read that two people coming together in a sexual experience makes them one (Gen 2:24). Think about it; Adam and Eve didn’t have the opportunity to be legally married by a government agency before they had their first kid. Did they then have pre-marital sex? NO! In a sense then, sex IS marriage or at least it was originally meant to be. So often when we tell teenagers not to have sex before legal marriage we forget the very important spiritual emphasis. Bonds are created in sexuality that are far beyond our comprehension. There is no such thing as pre-marital sex. Maybe legally but not spiritually. Homosexual marriage is impossible because two people of the same gender cannot come together physically how God intended and therefore cannot be joined or married. The bond is not there. The push for a legal homosexual marriage is an attempt at legitimizing the pursuit of this sin but in the spiritual realm, it just doesn’t work. The government recognizes it but God sees it as a revolt from his design. Whereas legal marriage for heterosexuals on the other hand should be more akin to an outward symbol of what God has done between the two, kind of like baptism after one has accepted salvation.

Marriage is the symbolism used throughout the New Testament to describe our relationship with God. In New Testament times people where often married in their early teens. After being arranged by their parents the girl would be offered a cup of wine by the groom to be. She doesn’t have to drink it but if she does it is a symbol of her accepting this marriage proposal. They haven’t come together yet but the initiation has begun.

If she does take the drink then the groom goes back home and immediately starts building an addition onto his family’s house where the two will start their new family together. What is interesting is the fact that the groom doesn’t know when he will be finished. His Father supervises the work and when the Father decides it is satisfactory and time to get the bride he tells his son to go get her.

Sound familiar?

“In my Father’s house there are many rooms, if it were not true I would have told you. I go and prepare a place for you so that where I am you may be also”. (John 14:2)

and

“Nobody knows the day nor the hour except the father” (Matthew 24:36)

In the same way, the bride does not know when her groom will be finished building the addition to the home. She has each and every night filled a lamp with oil and set it in the window so that when the son’s father says he is done and comes for her he will be able to easily find her.

Sound familiar?

“You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven. Matthew

When Jesus offers us His blood through the wine of the Eucharist essentially what He is doing is proposing to us. He is saying “I have come to offer all of myself for you, will you become one with me?.“

We now have a choice to accept His proposal or not and we are told not to do choose lightly, in the same way a couple is encouraged to go into pre-marital counseling, taking the covenant very seriously. “Therefore whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord unworthily will have to answer for the body and blood of the Lord.. A person should examine himself, and so eat the bread and drink the cup” (1 Corinthians 11)

The Holy Eucharist engages our senses of touch and smell and taste and through this sensory and sensual experience Jesus invites us to become one with himself and promises that one day He will return and take us back to Him so we can be one with Him forever. “Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me, and I in him” (John 5). It is a powerful bond with a spiritual emphasis.

We may call both the spiritual act and the legal one ‘marriage’ but they are certainly not the same. In sexual encounters, people are connected in a way that no government can ever undo and no government can change. Can you imagine if we used the same logic -that marriage is only a legality- and applied it to whether one is a Christian or not? We would run into some serious issues. For example, we could not consider those who are not allowed to legally practice Christianity as Christians. There is no such thing as a legal Christian in North Korea. But there are Christians. These people continue to worship in secret because of the intimate bond of their spirits with their savior and whether their government recognizes it or not, THAT is what makes them Christians.

Special Youth Ministry

After turning a couple pages to pass a few ads and the table of contents, I came across this issue’s Youth Ministry Minute in Group Magazine. This is a brief section where Rick Lawrence, editor of Group Magazine, dedicates a page to special topics in youth ministry. Working with students who have different abilities and having special needs myself, I was ecstatic to see a mention given to addressing the needs of this minority group of students. “And we discovered a sleeping giant in youth ministry-addressing the needs of special-needs kids is a much, much bigger issue than the public conversation in youth ministry would indicate.”  (Lawrence, 2014 pg.8)

It’s been a long overdue conversation. In the 1950′s many mental health institutions were closed down in favor of more humane approaches. The buildings erected were originally in response to not really having any idea on how to help these people. Many horrid things had been tried from hydrotherapy where people would stand against a wall and sprayed with freezing water hoping it would stimulate them to electrical shock therapy and lobotomies. The failure of these attempts led to  an ‘out of sight, out of mind’ approach. Persons with special needs were considered a menace to society, a challenge we didn’t want to put forth the effort into and therefore in a sense we ended up telling an entire group of people ‘you just aren’t worth it’. The same thing happens today when youth are confined to padded rooms in alternative schools (yes, it is still happening) instead of someone taking the time to teach them new social skills.

Youth with developmental and physical disabilities deserve so much more than a ‘minute’ or a page in a magazine. Indeed, a conversation needs to begin. With 1 and 88 children being diagnosed with Autism and an increase of confirmed cases by 10 to 17 percent each year not due to better diagnosing practices, (autismspeaks.org, n.d) it is very likely that youth pastors will encounter a teenager on the ASD Spectrum. Sadly, many of us who have had little to no experience with these types of conditions will have no idea what to do. My undergraduate studies were in Youth Ministry and not once did the topic of ministering to youth with special needs surface.

Collaborative efforts among youth workers have taken place for many topics. Even this weekend some 2,000 youth workers will gather at Group’s Simply Youth Ministry Conference to discuss a wide variety of issues. The church has seen many things come up against Biblical lifestyle principals in our culture and has needed answers. At the forefront have been concerns over our societies changing definitions of sexuality and gender.

We are seeing an increase in youth who are confused and struggling as they are presented with a larger array of culturally acceptable options for who or what they are attracted to and therefore have an even more challenging time navigating through this period of life and the formation of a sexual identity. No longer are relationships simply heterosexual with clear definable boundaries. It is now acceptable for them to be homosexual or bisexual. In addition to sexual orientation, gender orientation is also becoming less definable. Instead of being male or female based on reproductive organs and genetic make-up, we are seeing the addition of how one feels about themselves as an acceptable way to define gender. Having a conversation with a young man who feels like he is actually a female and therefore wants to define himself as such is a real possibility.

It would have been so convenient to just ignore this topic.  Many youth workers are afraid of even delving into this topic because of the potential dangers involved such as being accused of sexual harassment but we haven’t been silent on this issue. We have articles, blogs, and an array of curriculum covering these topics. Yet, when it comes to ministering youth with special needs we have been quiet. Too quiet.

Dare we break the silence and awake the sleeping giant? Without a conversation we don’t have a solution and without a solution we do the same thing institutions did, we pretend these youth doesn’t exist and simultaneously tell an entire sub-group in a generation that they don’t matter. Ministry to persons with special needs is worth it. Jesus thought so too. To the blind who couldn’t see, the lame who couldn’t walk and the mute who couldn’t speak, Jesus was love, compassion and hope. We can be the same for those students with special needs in our ministries but first we have to talk about how. Government and private mental health agencies have done extensive research into successfully helping people with disabilities live meaningful lives. Could you imagine if the church joined that same conversation, taking what has been discovered and infusing it with Jesus?

 

Autism Speaks (n.d.). What Is Autism? Retrieved March 6, 2014, from http://www.autismspeaks.org/what-autism

Lawrence R., (2014, March/April). Special Needs. Group Magazine, vol. 40

the way it is

 

This has typically been the time of year that my blogging substantially decreases as my homework load substantially increases. I rarely have the opportunity to connect what I’m learning to what I am experiencing in blog format. That’s why I’m really excited about this particular post.

We have been studying a concept of adolescent development called ‘deidentification’. Basically, this is when an adolescent disassociates their value or self worth with something because they consider it an unimportant indicator of success. What’s interesting, however, is that the importance they place on an indicator is mostly based on the importance the culture around them puts on it.  

Deidentification is a protective measure adolescents take so their self-esteem is not harmed. This may sound like a good thing because of
the words used ‘protect self-esteem’ but much like drugs mask the real life issues a person may be facing, deidentification does not allow students to
activley change their situation, it just lets them ignore it. Think of it this way, a student performs poorly in math class but because of the expectations of
the adult community around the adolescent that this would happen or is normal and without a higher standard set to attain, the youth also accepts the situation not as something he/she needs to personally resolve but as ‘just the way it is’

Nothing worthwhile has ever come out of a ‘just the way it is’ mentality. New inventions, discoveries and accomplishment where born out of the lives of people who knew there had to be something more and a better way to do things. Most of these inventions came from people who were surrounded by people in their culture who said it couldn’t be done, was a waste of their time etc. They defied deidentification, mastered their skills and proved everyone around them wrong.

But having such a deep sense of motivation to do these things isn’t easy. Sin typically causes us to be apathetic toward betterment of self and pursuing an intimate relationship with God.  But how much easier would it be if it were the norm? What I mean is the way it is isn’t ok. The way it is now we see acts of drugs, violence and recklessness as those which our culture promotes through song and video. If these are the standards set then we have a big problem on our hands. Its not just about the wrong things adolescents pursue, its also about the good things they won’t because their culture doesn’t.

Adolescents don’t have a strong personal daily relationship with Jesus in part because its not what the adult-driven world around them values therefore their self esteem is not dependent upon their walk with Christ. This is dangerous. When the surrounding culture tells them that ‘everyone is too busy to read the Bible everyday’ or ‘nobody tithes a full 10%’ then adolescents don’t feel convicted be any different. They believe they are attaining the social norm around them when they read and tithe every other week and are even going above and beyond when they do these things everyday.

Instead of being encouraged to have an identity based on who they are in Christ and to strengthen that relationship, they are told to achieve in other areas. Our cultural values are reflected in the amount of debt we find ourselves in which reflects the notion that identity and value is based on what you have no matter the cost yet there is a deidentification with being debt free because ‘everyone goes into debt’ aka it is the way it is’.

What can youth leaders do to intervene?

Studies suggest four steps that I would like to expand upon.

 1. Preparation-“If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you. John 15

This word spoken by Jesus allows youth workers to warn students of a world that will love them on one condition; you accept that it is the way it is and you don’t mess with that rhythm. If you do, the world will hate you. But the best part about Jesus’ words is that they remind students who they belong to and that its this relationship with Christ that they should base their self-esteem and worth on.

 2. The truth-Now the serpent was more crafty than any other beast of the field that the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden’?” Genesis 3

From the very beginning, deception has been the way of the world.  Youth leaders need to let students know that the lack of effort they put into their relationship with Christ is actually sinful. Busyness, lack of resources, circumstances, these are acceptable excuses to the world but not to God. Jesus’ standard was ”be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:48) It’s here when the excuses start to get in the way. Culture tells our students ‘well nobody is perfect’ and while it is true that we are sinners in need of a savior, too often this phrase turns into a justification not to be deliberate. There is no justification if we take God’s word seriously because He doesn’t just challenge us He also provides “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:13)

 3. Success Experiences- Going against our sinful nature involves practice. We are all familiar with James 1:2-4 “Consider it pure joy my brothers when you face trials of many kinds because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so you may be mature and complete, lacking nothing.” Trials offer opportunities to say yes to God’s will and no to sin. In youth programs this might look like mission trips we’re the trials of complaining about the heat or other selfish complaints are overcome and instead “what is helpful for building up others according to their needs” (Ephesians 4:29) is spoken.

4. Mentoring- Finally, students will need strong support throughout this process. Often times I find the ‘unexplainable’, ‘outrageous’ behaviors of youth are easily explained when you examine the skill-set they have to handle the problem at hand. What’s outrageous is when we don’t teach & develop new skills within youth to be competent in all the ecosystems they find themselves in yet at the same time expect them to change.

 

Celebration/Affirmation

In just three weeks I’ll celebrate my 27th birthday. Admittedly, I’m a little excited about it. Some might even say excessively so but every year since I was a kid I’ve tried to find a way to make this once-a-year occasion something special and why shouldn’t I? I mean it wasn’t the day I came to life, but it was the day that I started my journey in this world and that’s a big deal. The thing is, so few occasions are celebrated in our culture anymore which makes my excitement deemed immature and well, weird. Think about it, whose birthday do you hear about the most? Typically, the person is either 8 or 80 and somewhere in between we lose the importance of celebrating this day.

Sure, we celebrate the big things, Weddings, Babies, Anniversaries (especially the big ones), Christmas, The Super Bowl etc but any list of North American events celebrated fails in comparison to the long list of things celebrated in many other cultures around the world.

Take for example, the Bar and Bat Mitzvah of the Jewish culture. This of course being the celebration of transitioning from being a child to being a man or woman

It’s a clear defined moment of transformation, something seriously lacking in our culture. Before the industrial revolution, kids were kids and adults were adults. This whole teenager\adolescent phase really didn’t get any recognition until the 1920s and now that it exists, we aren’t sure when it ends. When in our culture do we celebrate an adolescent becoming an adult? When they get their driver’s license at age 16? 18 when the right to vote and typically when high school graduation occurs? Or perhaps when financial independence occurs which becomes even more complicated with the average age of marriage and independent living being pushed into the late 20s.

Whenever we as youth professionals decide it’s the right time isn’t as important as deciding there is a right time. A pivotal moment in the gospels in when Jesus celebrates and affirms Peter:

When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say the Son of Man is?”

14 They replied, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets.”

15 “But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?”

16 Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”

17 Jesus replied, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by flesh and blood, but by my Father in heaven. 18 And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it. 19 I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” 20 Then he ordered his disciples not to tell anyone that he was the Messiah.

Youth Pastor and author, Rick Lawrence refers to this moment as ‘Who am I’ and ‘Who are you’ ministry. It’s a moment where Peter decided who he was and his Rabbi affirmed and celebrated with him.

In an adult-driven culture where the interests of adults reign supreme, we have to ask, who is affirming and celebrating our young people? The truth is, for more than half of all married adults, their real interests ended up being themselves as they walked out of their family life to pursue a career or more comfortable living arrangement. Active Fathers who are mentoring and raising responsible young men and letting their daughter’s know their priceless is becoming a rare exception.

And it’s creating a deep chasm in the souls of our youth. If you’re friends with any teenagers on Facebook, all it takes is a quick glance before you start to notice a trend. “Like my status (LMS) and I’ll tell you my favorite\least favorite things and my favorite\least favorite things about you.” Or “Rate me and repost to have your friends rate you”. Or the even more dangerous trend of young girls posting YouTube videos asking anonymous viewers if they’re ugly or pretty.

In the Old Testament, each son would receive a meaningful name and a blessing. Their name was foundational to who they were. Abraham, the Father of many nations, Jacob, the deceiver, Moses, the deliver. In addition to these names, blessings were given from father to son, usually given at the end of the Father’s life and were considered a high honor and even prophetic. Not having this blessing was the equivalent of being cursed. Is it any wonder then why our sons are so lost when they don’t have their Father?

It’s time we purposefully and intentionally give names to our students. Names like, ‘The sons of thunder’ (see Mark 3:17). Remember, some names were prophetic so even if students aren’t living up to them now, they will be the more we affirm it in them. It’s also time for us to celebrate. Students need to know they’re important and their accomplishment matter. It’s not our job to give teens a big head and I’m not suggesting we celebrate uselessly every little thing and yes, affirmation includes affirming areas of growth as well.

Youth workers would do well to learn from Jesus’ example who celebrated Simon/Peter’s decision to follow him, affirmed him with a new and very meaningful name, “The Rock”, testifying to his foundational faith, and spoke a very specific and prophetic blessing over him. Our teens are hungry for this, social media proves it and when they don’t get it at home or from another adult in their life, they go looking for it elsewhere.

Good Luck

I feel so cool right now. I’m sitting at a long wooden table at Starbucks. The room is filled with the  sound waves of jazz music flowing from the corner speaker just directly above me.. Seating is limited so I joined a table of classy cats instead of leaving and braving the cold again. It was one of the last seats and I was lucky to get it. Sitting directly across from me is a guy in his 20′s with thick curly black hair and scarf. It’s sort of a Freddie Mercury look. His HP laptop with want-to-be apple sticker towers over my slim tablet. I’ve snapped and unsnapped the magnetic keyboard several times now just loud enough so everyone knows that I have the most versatile computing device at the table. I’m drinking an Americano which I’m not even sure what the difference is between it and regular coffee but I felt much cooler ordering ‘Americano’ instead of just ‘Coffee’.

This is a good start to the day.

Hang on, Freddie just picked up the phone. Nope, doesn’t sound anything like Freddie and his voice makes him sound much younger than I thought. He’s hanging out with several friends today. He’s got big plans. Big. Yes, I am being nosy but the truth is I love people watching and the fact that I have the ability to relax right now and participate in such a intrusive hobby means I am having a very good day.

Good days are always easy to blog about. Then there are days that are so horrific, so awful that you just have to blog about. As I have said before, blogging is my way of making sense of things. Wrestling with various events and conversation after I’ve gained some distance from them helps me to process and grow, spiritually, mentally and that sounds just cool enough that even Freddie wouldn’t disagree. He’s off the phone now.

My day yesterday started out very similar today. I was in a competitor of Starbuck’s but I wasn’t sipping coffee. No, I had forgotten my wallet. I left it home sitting on my dresser right next to my brain that day. My good friends will know this isn’t the first time I have forgotten my wallet and it certainly won’t be the last. When I went out to my car to search for my wallet there I came upon more bad news. Peering through the drivers side window as I reached into my empty pocket, I saw a vision. There were my keys comfortably resting on the drivers seat where they were safely locked inside.

I picked the wrong day to do this. I waited nearly 45 minutes listening to the intermittent sounds of a piano before I was able to speak to a AAA agent. It was all arranged, the AAA calvary would arrive soon by 7:10pm. It was only a five hour wait. The roads here in Michigan have been like driving on tracks of ice since a snow storm we had last weekend. Unfortunately, the balmy -15 tempetures were not enough to melt the frozen tundra. Needless to say, I was not the only one with traveling difficulties and since I was not stranded on the freeway but safe and sound in a parking lot I was a fairly low priority.

Figuring I could walk home in five hours, I did. Just kidding. I called a second source, my friends at the Oakland County Sherriff’s. They said they would send someone out ‘right away’ and so I found myself sitting in the coffee shop waiting to see who would arrive first. I watched the time tick by as it inched closer and closer to a staff meeting that I would end up missing but hey I was in a coffee shop. I was warm, safe and thankful for those things. Besides that, I could enjoy a hot cup of…. oh wait, I forgot my wallet.

During my second hour of waiting, one of the baristas started sweeping the floor. She came near me and uttered a familiar phrase “See a penny pick it up and all the day you’ll have good luck.” I looked down to see a shiny copper Lincoln staring back at me, thought about the silliness of such an idea but picked it up thinking it wasn’t the time or place to get into a theological debate with a barista about luck. After briefly and humbly explaining the situation to her she took mercy on me and prepared me a free cup of their finest brew. This would have been a blessing but I only drink decaf because of the negative effects caffeine has on me. So I sat and held the 12 ounce teasing hand warmer and I continued to wait out the race of the century.

AAA showed up first! They beat the police. Who would’ve thought. Little did I know, I would have a visit from the Sherriff’s Department later that day. Back on the treacherous roads again, I approached an intersection where the light was turning yellow. I had a choice to make. I lightly tapped the brakes and started to slide. At that point I decided it would be best for me to continue through the light even if I missed it by a second or two than to stop and slide. I made it safely through and felt like I had made the right decision. That was, until the red and blue lights started flashing in my rearview mirror. After explaining exactly what I just told you, I was still issued a citation and was unable to produce identification because as you’ll remember… I forgot my wallet.

It was a rough day and I was done. I went straight home and to bed without passing go. Earlier this morning, a friend of mine texted me who has had a similar week. Delving more into the conversation it turns out we both had one thing in common. This week in particular we had been praying for a deeper relationship with Christ. We had been praying to be all-in. We had been praying to be tested, a dangerous prayer indeed.

James 1:2-3 We all know the verse. ‘Consider it pure joy my brothers when you encounter various trials of many kinds because you know the testing of your faith produces perseverance.’

Was I happy during the course of these events? Hardly. But we have to remember, joy and happiness are not the same thing. I don’t see it yet because I’m right smack dab in the middle of this process where God is changing my heart to reflect His. But one day when I am able to step back from the picture and take in the panoramic perspective, I know that I will experience great joy. Obviously I am not telling anyone to leave their wallets at home, lock their keys in their cars or run red lights so they can experience more of the mercy and compassion of Christ. We’ll do enough of that on our own.

What I am telling you is to be constantly aware of Christ in your life. He never left me in those moments and even with my troubles he is teaching me to be able to say like Paul, “I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” (2 Cory 12:9-10)

I don’t believe in luck.

Indeed, there is no such thing as good luck, just glimpses of God. There is no such thing as bad luck either, just the trial and perfection of your faith.

TMI! TMI!

The luggage is untangled and although I am more than ready to go to bed after averaging four hours of sleep every night, the memories are fresh and I find myself needing to wrestle with them to make sense of the conversations and events that made up winter camp.

I lost my voice pretty early on this year. I’ve been fighting with a ear\throat thing and the combination of sub-zero temperatures and interacting in a confined room with excited, voice-projecting teenagers was just enough strain on my vocal cords. I found myself constantly frustrated trying to lead group games, prayer and small group sessions the best I could. I prayed for relief and ate enough menthol to cool a volcano but it never got easier.

I have discovered that often times (not always) when we ask for something God could easily fix but He doesn’t, He is trying to teach us something. A familiar example is Paul who was given a thorn in his flesh and had to realize that God was actually glorified in his weakness.

The truth is that I had many incredible conversations (the best I could) with teenagers who were carrying around heavy hearts and pockets full of regrets. These were intimate moments where our worlds collided and as they shared with me their current struggle, I tried to share with them what I have learned along the way.

Camp was also a time of renewal and refreshment for myself as I was able to connect with God. He spoke to me several times and in one particular incident told me something I’ve been begging to hear for the last two years. Indeed, camp was filled with great conversations with teens and my savior and I don’t want to share any of them with you.

Not a single one.

I think our culture has a sharing obsession. From sharing a sunrise on Instagram to posting a status update about what we had for lunch on Facebook. There isn’t hardly an encounter that hasn’t been tweeted, put on YouTube, SnapChatted, incorporated into a Vine video or even blogged about. Now, there is nothing inherently wrong with doing this but I think the more we share with others the more we subtract from its sacredness and when it comes to our relationship with God we subtract from the very personal relationship Jesus wants to have with us.

When the shepherds and wise men visited baby Jesus, they shared with Mary all the wonderful things they had heard about the meaning and depth of His birth. If Mary had access to social media she would be putting filters on pictures of baby Jesus, #manger #thefirstchristmas #stillavirgin She would be tweeting quotes of the angel who visited her @GabeTheAngel #halo and without any question she would be putting up ideas on Pinterest on how to make the cutest manger ever using just the basics; hay, rocks, twigs, swaddling clothes etc.

Yes, there is no doubt, we would’ve heard all about it all across the world. Or would we?

Luke actually tells us Mary’s response. While everyone around her was loudly exclaiming, Mary’s reaction was much more personal and intimate. “But Mary pondered all of these things in her heart”

There was an on going joke between another leader and I at winter camp. He told me that he reads my blog from time to time and although he has thought about it, has never started one himself. The on going joke was that whenever he said something even remotely profound, I told him he should blog about it. But in reality not everything needs to be shared and not everything should be shared not because it isn’t profound but precisely because it is.

There’s a box in my room on my dressed labeled ‘grace’. Its full of moments I’ve written down on little pieces of paper. These are moments I never want to forget. Life changing moments in which I experienced heaven on earth with friends, family and Jesus. They are moments I will never share publicly because I dont want them to lose their sacredness. I should pinterest the idea, I know.

So maybe its ok that I couldn’t always share what I wanted to at camp. Maybe God silenced me so I wouldn’t say something stupid, I wouldn’t be surprised! Or perhaps He silenced me so I could hear Him better and take everything in without spoiling the sacredness of it. I want to encourage you. In the time you have in your personal relationship with God, your friendships, the sunsets you watch and even the amazing lunch you eat ponder and treasure those moments in your heart. Don’t give out so much information that the moment, the conversation, the event isn’t special anymore.