Sunday, December 30, 2007

My Conversation on the Beach

DISCLAIMER: Please take this blog for what it's worth as a glimpse into my life and not as a theological treatise. As always, I recommend that we root our theology on truth revealed in God's Word and not on personal impressions. That being said, I was reading my journal today and found this entry from three years ago that encouraged me, so I thought I would share parts of it here.
* * *
I can't wait for the day when I will finally be free from the uncertainty of God's voice. I so often can't decide whether I speak to myself (in a somewhat schitzophrenic manner) or whether it is God speaking to my heart through the Holy Spirit. But today I was so certain of his voice.

I was walking on the beach--thinking and praying. I was so confused with all the uncertainty of my life and God's will for it, and I began to dialogue with him. I asked if he had big plans for my life--because that's something I long for. And this was the response I heard in my heart:

"Kristi, look at the sky: the clouds, the color, the atmosphere. So much went into tonight's sunset. See the grand, vast ocean? I orchestrate its tide. Do you see that seagull over there? It's a mere bird, but I made it. I know it and I care for it. All these things I made point to my glory. As do you--but much more so! You were created to relate to me, to be in relationship with me. To know me. Only you can know me exactly as you do because you are the only one exactly like you.

"You worry about playing a 'big part' in my plan and doing 'great things' for me. But don't you see? My plan for you is for you to know me. And to play your small part. You play a small part, as did the seagull, and the clouds and the setting sun. But small isn't unvaluable or insignificant. Your role is small, but it is yours. I give it to you. I made it for you to fill and I made you for it. And that is enough."

I walked back to where I had left this journal and wrote down those precious words and then asked God if there was anything else that I had forgotten or just needed to know, and he silently told me, "I love you. I love you and I made you and I will bring you to the purpose I have for you."
* * *
And that is a promise that I continue to treasure. Despite the tulmult of life and all the questions and worries that plague my mind, I can rest in the fact that the all-knowing God will be faithful to bring about his purpose for me--a truth that is confirmed in Scripture as well as evidenced in my life. Several weeks after that journal entry I received an almost-miraculous job offer from a very unexpected source! Looking back, I can definitely see how God was leading me to a place where he would continue to grow me. So, now I'm just looking forward to what's next.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

At Home With the Smarts

At last! Thursday night I lived alone in a two-bedroom, two-bath apartment (pictured below). I had furniture and clutter enough to fill every room and closet in the house.

Yesterday I started packing at 10:00 AM, and I packed and packed and packed some more. My mom came over and helped for a few hours, but went back home after midnight. I packed all through the long night. I was horrified at how much STUFF I had accumulated over the past three years. At 10:00 AM this morning a group of wonderful, generous people came to help me move! My awesome parents and brother came, and so did my wonderful friends Nikki, Megumi, Ibrahim, Stacy and Mi. Eric & Ibrahim packed that U-Haul expertly and we were able to make it in one trip!

Which leads me to my new home! I am temporarily living with my dear friends the Smarts who have not only so generously opened their home up to me, but ALSO cleaned out an entire room for me, AND cleaned out half of their garage and attic so I wouldn't have to pay to rent a storage unit! Meet Andrew, Amber, Zachary & Christopher Smart, some of the coolest people I know! (Amber and I direct Jr. High Girls' camp together.)
Then, as if making space for me and sharing their home weren't enough, they even unpacked my room and made my bed for me while I returned the U-Haul!
As you can see--it's a tight fit, but I got a LOT of stuff into that room--everything I could possibly need over the next couple months! :-) Isn't it cozy-looking?

So, I am now home in my new home.....and I'm going to go to bed! I haven't slept for coming on 37 loooong hours. I feel like my life changed a lot in two days--but God continues to bless me and provide for me and care for me! He is very gracious, even when I'm a whiner. :-p

Friday, December 21, 2007

Packing Woes

Ugh. How in the world did I imagine that I could easily pack up my apartment in a day?! I've been going at it for about 12 hours now, and I'm no where close to being finished. Where did all this stuff come from anyway? I have to go pick up my U-Haul in eleven hours... the countdown continues. I'm in packing misery here....but think of how organized I'll feel when I'm done! :-)

Glue Finale Banquet

It is finished.

Last night was my final time with the students as their youth leader. We invited a few adults who had helped out with events over the past few years, all the students who currently attend a few of the students who have attended in the past. We had a total of 32 people who came for the evening. The evening had been planned by a committee of current students. We wanted it to be special, so we set up the tables nicely for a special banquet feel.
We started off the evening with a few games. The first one was a baby-food eating relay. By the end, I think the participants were feeling pretty sorry for the babies of the world. :-)
We also had a ginger-bread making contest--or should I say "no contest"? One of the houses collapsed early on in the game.
After a game of Glue trivia, we ate tons of pizza and salad and watched a special slideshow of pictures from the last three years.
First we gave the students an opportunity to share favorite memories and ways that our group had impacted them. What an encouragement it was to me to hear how God has let us play a role in bringing people to him and helping them mature in their faith!

After that, each leader had the opportunity to share some "last words"--the things that we wanted the kids to walk away with. Unfortunately, at this point a group of four or five students began to be distracting and disrespectful. This ended in a showdown between one of the adult leaders and a girl who refused to comply that only was diffused when I interrupted my sharing to offer to call the parent to come pick up the girl and her friends. That kind of ruined the night for me. I don't really even remember what I said afterward--it's hard to come back from an interruption like that. I feel like the rudeness of a small group of kids ruined the culmination of three years of building relationships--their behavior robbed me of the chance to really say goodbye. I'm aware that I'm probably being melodramatic, but that's honestly how I'm feeling right now. I'm not sure why God let those girls come last night, but I pray that it was because he will use it for good in their lives, and not let their actions taint the memories of the majority of the kids who were hurting and listening and saying their goodbyes.
We finished the evening with a time of worship together, singing songs offering our lives up to God to go where he leads us and do what he asks us. After a group picture, we allowed the kids to take photos that we had used to decorate the youth room, and I gave them all a contact card with my new email address that I will be switching to shortly and my phone number.
That was the night. Afterward, I was exhausted (I haven't been sleeping well) and a group of leaders and two students stayed to help take things down. I cleared stuff out of the youth room that belonged to me, and cleaned my stuff out of the church office. Nikki and I took one last visit together to the church baptismal--where we used to sit and talk growing up. And then we left the church that had been like home and like family to me for 25 years, eleven months and two days.
If you'd like to see more pics of the evening, check out my photo site at

Thursday, December 20, 2007

One Reason I Love Ministry

Let me tell you about a 6th grader I'll call Kay. A year ago, I had never met this girl with a winning smile and an astute mind. In June a friend of hers invited Kay to come to church. She came for a few weeks and then attended our VBS program at the end of the month. During that week, she came to understand her sin and her need for forgiveness and she trusted in Jesus. During the summer she came to camp with us and the past few months she has been one of the most faithful students in our youth group, attending every possible youth meeting and small group meeting.
One of the awesome things about Kay is that she is a learner! She's not embarrassed by the fact that she doesn't know the Bible stories most church kids take for granted, but she is eager to catch up on them by reading her Bible regularly. Last week she set a spiritual life goal of reading her Bible and praying a certain number of days out of the week and came back saying she went OVER her goal, because she was excited about what she was reading. :-) A few weeks ago, I referred to a common Bible character (Moses, maybe?) and when she didn't know who I was talking about, one student said to her incredulously (and rather rudely), "Are you serious? You don't know who that is?" She retorted, "Hey! Give me a break, I'm new to the Bible!" Another week, two girls had planned a trivia game for our youth group activity time. Kay represented her team and received the challenge to quote John 3:16. She didn't know the verse, and felt bad when other students on her team responded with "C'mon"s and "That's an easy one!" A couple weeks later John 3:16 came up and she jumped to her feet and started quoting it. "I know it now," she quipped, "I learned it that night when I got home."
Kay is a great thinker, and therefore a great question-asker. When we talked about salvation and Heaven she raised her hand at the end of the lesson: "I have three questions," she laid out, "First, what happens to people who don't get a chance to hear about Jesus? Second, what about people who are handicapped and can't really understand?" [She has an autistic brother.] "And third, what would happen if a pregnant woman didn't believe in Jesus, and she died but God knew that the baby in her would have trusted in Jesus if it lived? What would happen to the woman and the baby if they died before it was born?"
One of the things that brings me a lot of joy is teaching Kay--because she gets it! Her quick mind gets to the point I was hoping to make before I even make it. When I'm teaching and I ask a question, I might call on six kids who have ridiculous answers, but Kay's answer will always be dead on. Often she'll say what I wanted to say, but she'll state it better than I could have! One night we were talking about something and I could tell I wasn't making much sense to the group. I tried to re-explain and then asked their confused faces, "Does that make any sense?" A couple of the kids stared at me with glazed-over eyes but then Kay answered, "Yes! It does! That was one of the things I didn't get before, but now I get it!" She then proceeded to reexplain what I had been trying to say, but had failed to communicate. Suddenly the other kids were nodding their understanding. When Kay explained it, it made sense to them. :-) I love the look in her eyes when we're reading a passage of the Bible and suddenly she makes a connection. Her eyes light up like the proverbial "lightbulb" moment, and I can see that she is understanding something new about her faith.
Tuesday night Kay and I were driving down the road and talking about technology. She observed how it seemed like technology that was supposed to make life easier (cars, computers, etc.) seemed to cause a lot of frustration for people [this came up because my car was making odd noises]. I agreed, and then pointed out that technological development brings both positive and negative results. "For example, instead of taking weeks or months to communicate with people at home, missionaries across the world can now email prayer requests to their friends and family and have people praying for them within minutes! But at the same time--the ease of communicating without ever physically interacting with people makes it so that the internet generations are less able to see other people as individuals, and have less personal communication skills." "Kristi," she told me, "that's one of the things I'm really going to miss about you--you always make me think about things differently." That's how I feel about her! Please pray for Kay. She's very apprehensive about youth group ending. "This is the only place I've ever learned about God!" she exclaimed, "I don't want to go somewhere where I don't know anyone!" I reminded her that when she started coming to our group, she didn't know many of us, but she's still worried. If God leads me to stay in the area, I would LOVE to keep meeting with Kay to read through the Bible with her. She teaches me so much as I watch her fresh response to the Word of God.

On Tuesday, Kay gave me a Christmas gift. We've been studying the fruit of the Spirit in our small group, and she told me that when she saw this engraved piece of glass, she thought of me. I was delighted! It's sitting in my living room and whenever I look at it, I'm reminded of two things: (1) No matter what is going to happen next in my life, I can rest in the peace that God gives, and (2) God is faithful to work in the hearts of people, causing them to draw close to him! What a privilege and blessing it has been to be able to witness him working in Kay's heart!

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

But Officer, I Only Had One Piece!

Sorry it's been a while, but life gets so busy! Last Thursday was our last regular Thursday youth group--and it went VERY WELL! I'm glad that I got to preach my last message to an attentive and receptive group of kids. :-) It made me feel good. This week was my last Sunday at Cascade, and I was thankful for the opportunity to publicly thank the congregation for all their support over the last 25 years. It was sad, but not quite as sad as I had feared it would be. I guess things are already changing so much that it makes it easier to leave. Yesterday we had our final small groups. That was kind of sad, but both of them went well. Tomorrow night is our youth group's Finale Banquet. I've got a lot to do to finish preparing for it, but I'm looking forward to the evening. :-)
As if all these "lasts" aren't enough, Friday night will be my last night in my apartment. On Saturday the 22nd I will be moving in temporarily with my dear friends the Smarts, who have been gracious enough to clear out and fix up a room for me. Since I'm going to be moving so soon, I've been trying not to buy any groceries and instead eat up my canned goods so I don't have to move them! Well, I had some friends over last Saturday for home-made pizza and I had some extra pizza dough that I left in the fridge for future use. Today I decided to make a pizza that I could eat for my meals until I move. The dough smelled odd today--as if the yeast had fermented. In fact, it smelled very much like a nice red wine--great for drinking, not so great for pizza crust flavor. I quickly whipped out my trusty laptop and allowed my old pal, Google, to assure me that sometimes dough smells like that, but that the fermenting scent/flavor bakes out. Hooray! So, I rolled out the dough, smothered it with sauce and topped it with turkey kielbasa and TONS of olives and cheese (trying to get rid of what I had left).
Fourteen minutes later, I pulled it out of the oven, and cut myself a slice. That's when I discovered that Google had betrayed me. In fact, the pizza did still smell AND taste fermented. I forced myself to finish the whole piece (because of course, there are children starving around the world who would probably be happy to eat fermented pizza). But by the end of that piece I was looking for ways to rationalize throwing it out. I was, afterall, going to the store later on--what if the pizza crust impaired my driving abilities? In the end I comprimised: I peeled all the abundant cheese and toppings off of the pizza and saved "slices" of toppings in the fridge for tomorrow (or else I'd only have canned corn and frozen spinach to eat), but I tossed that nasty crust! Unfortunately, after eating one "topping" slice, I'm not sure if I'll be able to stomach it tomorrow. It's odd how a bit of bread under the cheese and meat make it more digestable, but without the crust the other stuff seems really bad for the stomach. Anyhow, I need to go work on some stuff for our finale banquet, but I just wanted to relay my fermented pizza experience and leave you with a photo of my "topping" pizza.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

What Is This?

It was one girl's second night at youth group and as I passed out Bibles for the lesson time she took one and looked confused. "What is this?" "It's a Bible," I told her. "Oh...what's a Bible?" I glanced at her in surprise, but saw that her face was sincere. "The Bible is what we call this book that contains messages for us from God," I explained in passing. After the lesson she asked me "Why doesn't this book have an author's name on it?" I explained to her how God spoke through many different human authors over many centuries, and how sometimes the smaller 'books within the book' were named after their human writer. Then she asked me the toughest question of all, "So, if it's from God, why did he have all those other people write it--why didn't he just write it himself?!" These kids constantly challenge me to think about things in entirely new ways. :-)

Loosening the Ties That Bind

Tonight the kids were disrespectful, inattentive, unloving, defiant and downright rude! Not all of them, of course, but I'd say more than half of them were problematic tonight. One girl kept pointing a laser beam at sensitive parts of peoples' anatomy. A group of kids were angry at another girl for telling the truth about their disobedience and getting them in trouble. A boy pretended to sleep during the lesson and when I asked him to sit up he heaved a humungous sigh and then began to noisily blow bubbles with his gum. A group of girls who seem to think that their "cool" status gives them more value as human beings than everyone else were taunting, teasing and terrorizing some of the kids they didn't think were cool enough to be treated with dignity. More than half of the kids were throwing food during snack and then lied about it when confronted. Some of them refused to help clean up the mess they had made. Ugh. You have to understand, I do love those kids; God has granted me a deep inexplicable desire for their well-being. But tonight I sure didn't like them much. It was like a den of werewolves in the full moon. All the kids' beastly, hairy, growling hearts were exposed in two short hours. And while I still love them and earnestly want what is best for them, I have to admit that I think God may have been using tonight to help loosen the ties of my heart that bind me to them. If every meeting were like this, leaving wouldn't be so hard.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Nightmares on Clinton Street

Today all three girls in our afternoon small group confided that last week they each had a nightmare about church or youth group. Oddly, all three of them said this was the first time they had ever dreamt about church. Each of their dreams involved antagonists infiltrating the church and preying upon our youth group community. One of the girls dreamed that a man wearing the "Scream" mask broke a window and killed me while the rest of them were trying to escape. Another girl dreamt that there were two ghosts--one of which pretended to be a student--who then attacked and ate some of the kids. The third girl had a dream that a group of assailants with weapons broke into the church, took me hostage and hunted down students executing them.

Oh how my heart ached as I listened to them laughing at the "bizarrity" of their dreams being so similar. I don't think they realized what I (who also dreamed last night about being turned out of Cascade) could see. Each of these girls is feeling apprehensive about the changes in the church--and feeling helpless as their community is ripped apart.

Please join me in praying for these kids, that they will discover a new community of believers to encourage and challenge them to continue to grow in love for God and people. Pray that God will ease their apprehension and grant them peace and comfort in his presence.

Saturday, December 1, 2007

I Am Woman, Hear Me...Google!

My family is mechanically illiterate. Yeah, we know how to change our oil and our tires and maybe replace a battery or an air filter. But that is about as much as we do. So having never tackled my headlight or the windshield wipers before, I was tempted to rely on someone else. It would be easy enough to let Jiffy Lube fix everything up, but you know how much they charge for simple repairs. I was sure if I mentioned it to one of several of my friends, they would volunteer to help. But for some reason, I wanted to do this one myself.

The old windshield wipers came off easy enough, it's torn blade flapping in the wind, but I was seriously confused by the diagram on the packaging of the new one. After quite some time trying to figure out what the teeny diagram was referring too, I finally just tossed the instructions and eyeballed the parts and the screws they had given to me. I pulled something back, pushed something through, shoved something on (and then realized that I needed to redo the past two steps and push the something through in the other direction), and then, voila! It looked right! All I had to do swas screw it back on and for the first time in almost a year I had a complete driver's side wiper! Here's the not-so-complex-looking part that took me a while to figure out. :-)

It only took me a few minutes to replicate the process on the passenger's side, and suddenly I had two beautiful, windshield wipers which actually WIPE the windshield when I turn them on! Aren't they shiny and pretty?

The headlight was more challenging. I popped the hood and found how to pull the light out of the casing quickly enough. But then I couldn't figure out how to unplug it from the wiring! The most frustrating thing was that I wasn't sure if this was a brain-issue or a brawn-issue. When I thought I just needed to pull harder, I broke some pieces of plastic off of an attached part, so that made me afraid to pull. I ended up running inside to google the parts to see if I could learn anything more. Google confirmed my prior suspicions that I was doing what I needed to do, I just needed to pull harder. I tugged and pulled, and yanked at that part, but I wasn't budging. I was starting to get frustrated. I hated the idea of admitting defeat and taking my car to a friend's house to ask them to pull since I wasn't strong enough. I'm a single woman! I have to be able to handle these things on my own! This is not that difficult! Finally I muttered a plea for help, "Lord, please. Help me get this thing off!" I thought that I had been pulling as hard as I could before, but now I really was. (I'm sure my neighbors were laughing at me doubled over the headlight of my car, foot on the bumper and grunting as I pulled with all my might!). And then, with a beatiful POP, the old lamp came out! "Thank you, Lord!" And to my delight, after plugging the new one in, the light worked!

Here's a picture of the offending piece! The green arrows point to broken pieces of plastic that fell below.

I can't wait to drive at night while it's raining! I'll be able to see! :-) The final result is below, which I captured for you despite the odd looks from my neighbors as I finally stopped fighting my car and then began to photograph it! Isn't she a beaut, though?

Friday, November 30, 2007

When Worrying Becomes Absurd

"Oh Lord, help me get through this night!" It was 30 minutes until the students would be showing up and I was consumed with worry. Tonight would be the night I was going to share with the kids that our time as a community together was drawing to a close. I was worried that I would say the wrong things and that they would somehow think that this was their fault. Or maybe that I would say too much and implant in their hearts a seed of bitterness toward the church. I considered putting it off, but recalling the pain I experienced in high school when my youth group ended suddenly and without warning made me certain that I ought to tell these kids what was happening as early as possible to give them time to process the situation. Certain of this, my mind found a new topic of worry.

What if not very many kids came tonight, and then they heard about things second-hand from their friends instead of from me? That could cause lots of miscommunication and unnecessary pain depending on what they were told. "Lord, these kids are yours," I prayed, "and you care about them even more than I do. I trust that you will do what is best for them in this situation. Please bring the students who need to be here to hear this from me tonight, and if it would be better for any of them not to be here, then please keep them away tonight." Once again (as has been happening so much the past few weeks), an overwhelming sense of God's peace calmed my heart and hushed my worrying mind. He was in control, it was all up to him now.

One of the students was dropped off by her mom and she and I sat in the foyer chatting and waiting for the van to arrive. The van was already 10 minutes late and still the clock ticked by the minutes. Finally the front door of the church burst open and a noisy, laughing stream of students poured in the door. "Kristi!" one of the girls squealed and ran to give me a hug. Another one was close behind her yelling to be heard over the group, "Eighteen, Kristi! We had eighteen students in the van--so nineteen people including Debbie." I tried to imagine how they had managed to cram nineteen people into the van and winced thinking of the safety problems that could pose. But here they were--a Thursday-night-record-breaking nineteen students (17 had been our last record)! And that was without three kids who usually get a ride from their parents, but didn't show. There were four boys who had never come before and one girl who was a second-time visitor. All of the core students who I had been worrying about were there! "Thank you God" I sighed in relief.

But what about all these new kids? Why did God bring them here on such an odd night when I would be telling the students that we only had three weeks remaining in our youth program? Then it hit me. I had been focusing all my thoughts on the time after the games when I would sit the kids down and talk with them about youth group ending. I was so preoccupied with what to say and how to say it that I hadn't been thinking much about the lesson that would follow.

Later that night I stood before nineteen kids and addressed three big questions that we sometimes wonder:
(1) How do I know if I really do have a relationship with God?
(2) Can I ever lose my relationship with God?
(3) What happens when I mess up big-time or when I choose not to walk in obedience to God?

I was so thankful that God gave me the opportunity to spend time Thusday night answering the kids questions about the church and my job and their future, and to hug those who were crying and upset and spend time grieving with them. I was also humbled and overjoyed that he gave me the opportunity to clearly share with four new students the good news of forgiveness of sins through Jesus' sacrifice, making it possible for fallen humans to experience fellowship with a holy God! Why in the world do I bother to worry so much when God has proven to me time and time again that he is in control and that his plan is GOOD!

Friday, November 23, 2007

November Seventeenth

November Seventeenth. It's an odd day. It sneaks up on me like any other day and then BOOM, something strange happens. It's not necessarily a terrible day, just a day that notable things often seem to happen. It started November 17, 1994--the day my Grandma Smith died. That was a bad one. A couple years later November 17th was the day of the first snowfall of the year--the earliest date I ever remember it snowing in Portland! November 17, 1999 was the day I first held hands with a boy. Weird things happened on November 17ths in college: I randomly received money in the mail one year and I had a strange encounter with a crazy boss another year. Last year, I spent November 17th at the beach with a houseful of Jr. High students who were perhaps the whiniest, rudest group of students I had ever encountered up to that point. My friend Ibrahim attributes my November 17th superstition to "confirmational bias"; he thinks the only reason notable things happen that day of the year is because that is the day of the year that I am looking to notice them. He could be right...but then again...

November 17, 2007 joins the list of notable November 17ths. That is because this is the day that I officially received notification of losing my job at the church. The long deliberated merge is happening, and the termination of my employment at Cascade helps relieve our struggling community of some of its financial burden as well as allows a new church to emerge from the two groups that is not tied down to extra committments. I've chosen not to be a part of the newly merged church, but will continue attending Sunday morning services at Cascade until my work with the youth is wrapped up.

I have received "three months notice"--meaning that I will be paid for an additional three months work. However, since over the past three years I have worked about 12 weeks of overtime hours, the church has agreed to pay me for the next three months and allow me to decide how much of that I intend to work. I plan to wrap up my administrative responsibilities next week, but take a longer time helping the youth to deal with this change and provide them options for future growth in community.

November 17th. I told you it's an odd day! (Do you believe me yet, Brahim?) Although this year it was painful, it also marks a great transition that God has in store for my life and I'm trusting him for whatever comes next!

Sunday, November 18, 2007

It Made Me Smile When...

A boy was trying to steal a girl's spot on the couch and in the process he hurt her finger. She made an overly big deal about it, which made him really mad. I talked to him about letting go of his anger, but he seemed unable to do so and seethed in the corner for at least an hour. After a while, I glanced across the room to see the girl he "hurt" and him apologizing to one another and giving each other a big hug!

Sunday morning I was emotionally and physically drained from dealing with students who had been telling lies and trying to steal another student's property. The mood of the entire group that morning was somber as half the group was waiting to see who would face consequences for the night before. Three girls (who are never behavior problems) came up to me and gave me a card that said they hoped I would cheer up and feel better soon, because I seemed sad. They had also drawn me pictures. At the bottom of the card they each printed their name and signed in cursive above the printing--all official-like.

In the car, on the way home there were two girls who seriously asked me "are we there yet?" and "how much longer will it be?" every 10-15 minutes! (It was just like the family vacation movies). One of them didn't seem to get the concept of cities and towns.
--She asked, "Are we still in Tillamook?"
--"No," I replied, "We left Tillamook about 15 minutes ago."
--"Yes! So we're in Portland, now?"
--"Well then where are we?!"
--"We're in the mountains...on Highway 6...between Tillamook and Portland."
Then about 15 minutes later...
--"Kristi, now are we in Portland?"
--"Nope, we're still in the mountains."
--"Are you sure we're not in Tillamook?"
--"Yep, I'm sure."
Just a couple minutes later...
--"That sign said Tillamook on it!" she shrieked accusingly.
--"It said Tillamook State Forest," I explained, "we're still in the forest, but not the city."
--"Oh, good," she sounded relieved, "so we're in Portland now?"
At this point I decided it was time to explain something to this carload of kids.
--"Everyone look up here," I called, interrupting a serious argument between two girls over whose dad or stepdad was the horriblest father. "Have you guys ever seen one of these weird things? It's like a big piece of paper." I drew an imaginary rectangle on the windshield of the van. "There are little dots and circles on the paper with names of cities and towns, and inbetween them are lines that represent the roads that connect the cities and towns."
--"They're called maps, Kristi," called a seventh-grader patronizlingly.
--"Oh yes, thanks. I always forget things...anyway these maps. If we had one right now, it would show Tillamook over here," I said as I pointed to a spot on the windshield near the passenger side, "and it would have a bigger circle over here that said 'Portland,'" I pointed to the driver's side. "Now there are roads connecting the two cities and we would be right about here, inbetween the two." I pointed to the center of the windshield emphatically. "We're still in the mountains--in the mountains in-between the cities of Tillamook and Portland."
Everything seemed fine until Highway 6 dumped out onto Highway 26, then...
--"Kristi, now are we in Portland?"
--"No, we're still about 30 minutes away."
Several minutes later the same girl read a sign on the road announcing that we would soon be reaching the Hillsboro exits.
--She turned excitedly to the student next to her and exclaimed, "Hillsboro! Yesss!!! We're in Portland!"

Toward the end of our car ride, one of the students needed to use the restroom very badly. To keep her mind off of her desperation, she decided to teach the rest of the van how to count in Spanish. The other students listened respectfully to her as she rattled off her spanish numbers: "once-uno, once-dos, once-tres....doce-uno, doce-dos, doce-tres...", etc. But my favorite came after the "treces" when she said, "Sometimes I forget forty--oh yeah, it's quartito! Quartito-uno, quartito-dos, quartito-tres..." I thought about correcting her, but it was keeping her mind off going to the bathroom--and besides I wanted to see what she would call fifty!

Sunday night, one of the girls I had sent home without ice cream called me after 10:00 PM. "I was in bed, but I couldn't sleep," she explained, "and I decided it was because I needed to apologize to you for being bad this weekend." I thanked her and told her I had forgiven her and then we had a great talk during which she admitted to me, "I'm sad that even though I was telling the truth you couldn't believe me because I have told so many other lies."

In one of the small groups last Tuesday one of the students had just shared something semi-personal, when she suddenly asked, "Can I make a rule for this small group we're having?" I told her to go ahead, assuming that she was going to request that we not share her story outside of the group. Instead she said, "Let's say that we cannot chew chips while other people are talking--sometimes chewing is really loud!"

In that same group we were talking about kindness. "What sorts of people are hard to show kindness to?" I asked. One student's hand shot up into the air, "I know: cheerleaders!"

I was looking around the room and I happened to notice one girl burp, and then puff out her cheeks, holding the burp in her mouth. She looked like a chipmunk with nuts bulging in her cheeks and I watched (unbeknownst to her) as she held her burp-air in her mouth for about 20 seconds before slowly blowing it out.

In the evening life group, we were sharing with one another how we rated ourselves at showing love to people the past week. I told the group I felt that I had done very well at loving people that are difficult to love, "I asked God for love for them," I told them excitedly, "and that love was just pourin' out!" One boy looked up startled, "Did you just say that love was porno?"

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Tales From the Retreat

Tears flooded my eyes as the van crammed with students pulled away from the church after youth group. The next day we would be leaving for our Fall Retreat themed "Walk With the Family of God." I was hoping and praying that the students would experience loving fellowship with one another over the weekend and that they would be encouraged to always be plugged into a group of believers. Suddenly, however, I feared the weekend would be a huge flop. Earlier that night two girls had argued heatedly and although I sat down with them to try to help them work it out, they didn't seem interested in reconciling. I verbalized my fears to my brother: "Eric, what was I thinking? There's no way that these kids are going to be able to be kind and loving and encouraging to each other this weekend! They're going to be mean and rude and hateful just like last year, and then instead of being drawn to fellowship with other believers they're going to be turned off to it!." Eric listened patiently while I unloaded and then we prayed together telling the Lord our concerns and begging for his help for the weekend. Afterward I felt less emotional, although I still had a knot of dread in the pit of my stomach thinking about the coming weekend. I spent a lot of time that night and the next morning asking God for wisdom to know how to deal with the situations that would inevitably arise on the trip.

The next night right before leaving for the beach, I sat all the kids down and explained to them our theme and our hopes for the weekend. "If you feel that you won't be kind and encouraging this weekend, let us know now and we will take you home on our way out of town," I warned them, "I don't want to let one or two bad attitudes ruin the weekend for the group. That being said...I'm sure that all of you are able to show one another God's love this week--it'll be great!" And amazingly, it least for the first day.

Our first night there we took the kids on a trust walk and I was very impressed with the way that the students demonstrated patience and concern for one another as we led them blindfolded through a simple obstacle course. When a girl fell down the students on either side of her would help her up. Afterward the students did a great job of connecting our activity with the lesson: "We Need the Family of God" as we walk though life following Jesus, our guide.

It seemed like the kids were getting along really well that night and the next morning. Our morning lesson ("The Body of Christ Needs You") was illustrated by the Triminator Quest--an activity where groups of three students were given a list of simple tasks (put on and tie your shoelaces, make a PB&J sandwich and eat it, etc.) to complete together. The catch? Only one person could speak--and the speaker couldn't use their hands to complete any of the tasks. Each of the other two could use one of their arms (one right, one left) but could not speak during the quest. Afterward we talked about how the teams suffered if someone refused to do their part, or how sometimes some people felt like their ability wasn't as important as someone else's but they needed all three to complete the Quest. It was fun and led perfectly into our discussion of 1 Corinthians 12.

Saturday afternoon we headed out to the beach for Beach Olympics where the teams competed in silly events: backward sprint, steamroll race, logput, etc. Although the forecast had predicted rain, God graciously gave us beautiful blue sky and very warm November weather. During free time five girls got into an argument, but after working with them for about 45 minutes they seemed to work things out, which was such an encouragement to me!

That evening we talked about how the early church remembered Jesus together as they ate in one another's homes, and then we had a communion dinner. Before dinner we thanked Jesus for coming to earth and taking a human body and we thanked him for dying for us so that his blood pays what we owe to God for our sin. During dinner we made sure that we were showing loving concern for one another by following two simple rules: (1) no one was allowed to dish up food for themselves, and (2) no one was allowed to ask for anything. Instead we all had to keep our eyes open to the needs of the people around us to make sure that everyone got what they needed and no one went hungry. True, some of the kids found ways to get around the rules (once you ask five people who already have salad dressing if they want any ranch, usually somone picks up on the clue and will offer it to you in turn!), but afterward they decided that if everyone always looked out for one another selflessly, then everyone would be cared for.
So far, pretty good, right? Right. Well... to tell you the full story of what went on later Saturday night would take up far more time than I have to write this blog and certainly far more time than you have to read it (I thank you if you are still reading at this point!). Suffice it to say, I almost took home 7 girls at midnight because of the outrageous disrespect they showed by their disobedient actions followed by a tangled web of lies that I spent the next 10 hours sorting out (minus the three-and-a-half hours I actually slept). Ten revisions of their original story later, I felt I had a good enough understanding of what happened to punish the three girls who had told the most lies and who had been involved in an attempted cell-phone theft. We sent them directly home with the luggage Sunday morning instead of letting them stop at the Tillamook Cheese Factory for ice cream as the rest of the group did. Now the whole story is very complicated and insanely crazy--if you ever care to hear it you'll have to call me and I'll share it with you. What I would like to say, however, is that the entire time I had no clue what to do. Every moment, with every sentence spoken to the girls I was praying for wisdom from God--and I let the girls know! Although at the beginning I couldn't have told you what we should do, I look back at how it was handled and see how God led us step by step through the whole process and I honestly don't think there is a single thing we should have done differently. God's word is proven true where it says in James "If any of you lacks wisdom he should ask God who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him." What a faith-builder this weekend was for me as I watched God amazingly lead me through a minefield of lies and deception, to a place of love and truth! God is so good!

This was hands-down the most difficult retreat I have ever been a part of. Since last weekend I've been wondering if retreats are actually an effective tool for urban ministry--perhaps they worked very well for ministry to suburbanites, but my retreats with urban kids have so far proved fairly disastrous. I came home physically and emotionally exhausted, yet spiritually strengthened because of having to rely on God. Ultimately, I'm not sure whether we were successful in our goal of experientially teaching the kids the beauty of being linked with the family of God. However, I am sure that some of them learned something new about God's patience and love as we went through the discipline process with them. It seemed ugly at the time, but in the morning as we tossed a ball of yarn around and shared things we appreciated, it became apparent that they had sensed God's love through it all. And for that, I'm extremely thankful! The weekend is done; the seeds are planted; it's up to God whether or not those seeds one day produce a harvest of fruit in the students' lives.

Friday, November 2, 2007

Pardon My Singleness

It's not really so bad that people always ask, "So...are you seeing anyone?" They're mostly just curious. But then there are the students who say things like, "You're twenty-five and you don't have a boyfriend?" implying that there is something hideously wrong with me (which of course we all secretly wonder on our own from time to time, even without the help of prying adolescents). That's okay, though. I mean, they're thirteen and for them relationships are status badges, which means that their surprise indicates that they think my status merits a relationship (in other words, it surprises them that I'm not with anyone, isn't that sweet?).

You know what really frustrates me, though? It's having to explain myself over and over and over again to other Christians who should have similar world-views to me. I mean, aren't we reading the same Scripture? It happened to me twice today! Both times someone asked me (instead of the standard, "are you seeing anyone?") "So when are you going to get married?" How in the world am I supposed to answer a question like that? It's rooted in the idea that of course I will get married. Don't get me wrong here (as both people did today); I don't have anything against marriage--in fact I would love for God to bless me with a companion and co-laborer in service to God. But their question assumes that I will get married. I don't make such presumptions. I don't find anywhere in Scripture where God promises to send believers a husband or a wife, and I certainly don't feel that he owes me this blessing. So I may wish for it, and I may occasionally pray for it, but I don't expect it and I definitely don't put my life of service to God on hold waiting for it.

So I tried to explain that twice today and I got two of the usual responses. The first person basically argued that almost everyone gets married and that if I want to get married I should make decisions that lead toward that (the classic "put-yourself-out-there" approach). The second person was quick to reassure me that there was someone for everyone and I would meet the right man someday, etc.

Argh! Both of these responses annoy me.

The second response makes assumptions that are no where in the Bible. Usually if I point that out ("maybe not all people get married...") these sorts of people start to suspect that I am a man-hater. Next they say things like, "Well, if that's what you really want..." No people, that's not what I'm saying! What I'm saying is that what I'm after is what God really wants for me, and his plan for my life just might not include a husband.

The first response implies that if I held marriage as a higher priority I could be married. Well...that's probably true. I'm sure if being married were my highest aspiration I could be married by now, but it shouldn't be my highest aspiration. What I should want more than anything is to glorify God with my life. If this is my goal, then marriage would require not only finding someone who can love me that I can love, but also someone who increases and strengthens my passion for God rather than diminishes it. That's a tall order! I'm so happy for those of you who have been blessed with such a relationship, but let me tell you that from where I'm standing it looks like a long shot for me.

I guess that's all I have to say. I don't mind people asking me about my relationship status. But being single is hard enough without having to worry about the fact that other people are uncomfortable with my singleness. I'm tired of seeing eyebrows raised at my presumed "feminist leanings" and I'm tired of hearing false assurances regarding the certainty of my nuptials. It would just be nice someday to hear someone say "Kristi, I really hope God blesses you with a husband, but just think: if he doesn't you'll get to experience dependence on him in an even richer way! And married or unmarried, I know God will continue to use you for his glory!"

Thursday, November 1, 2007

You Should Probably Try Not to Be Jealous...

Sometimes I'm a whiner and I feel sorry for myself because my job doesn't provide any benefits and I work a lot of hours. And sometimes I feel stressed out by the way things happen (or don't happen) at my church. It's true that I've sometimes groaned when getting calls from kids late at night or early in the morning thinking to myself, "I just want one day to myself!" But those are the times when I'm being crazy. In my saner moments I can't help but saying, "THANK YOU, GOD for blessing me with an amazingly cool job!"

Take this week for example:

Sunday: I went to church. I would do that even if I weren't getting paid, but it just so happens that it is part of my job because I went early to set up visual equipment and then I ran the system for one service and led the congregation in worship music during the a different service. Except for when I'm worrying more about what other people think than about what God thinks, I love being able to serve God and his people in that way. Sunday evening I had some company over, but had to step out of the room for several minutes when a parent called to talk about our upcoming youth retreat.

Monday: I spent several hours preparing next Sunday's bulletin, and performing general receptionist duties. In between phone calls and email messages I spent time reading a theology book in preparation for Thursday's lesson (notice that I'm being paid to learn cool stuff, there.) Then I had a meeting with my brother where we discussed interesting theological concepts after troubleshooting some stuff about youth group. Later that evening I called each of the kids in the youth group to remind them and their parents about the retreat and answer any questions they may have. I followed that up with a trip to four of the students' houses to take them the form that I had already mailed to them, but they apparently lost. When I arrived back home, I selected the songs for next Sunday's worship service before going to bed.

Tuesday: Again in the morning I performed general office duties (not too exciting), but after that I got to refresh myself on a learning theory called "Bloom's Taxonomy" that I proceeded to use to help me write a discussion guide on "Kindness - A Fruit of the Spirit." (for the evening life group). Then I reviewed the discussion guide for "Patience - A Fruit of the Spirit" (the afternoon life group is a week behind the evening one). I had an hour before the students arrived for the first life group, so I went to the Baby Grand Piano and figured out the keys we needed to play Sunday's music in. Only one girl came to the first life group, so rather than tackle "patience," I took her out for ice cream and we chatted about her life. After taking her home it was time to call the students in the evening group to verify if they were coming. I spent the evening talking with kids about their lives and God's Word and how the two can interact. After taking them home, I got to finish up the evening with some more studying in preparation for this week's lesson.

Wednesday: I went to the church an hour later than usual because I spent time in the morning getting my house ready for the high-schoolers to come over in the evening. I spent the rest of the morning in the office typing up Sunday's music into the keys in which we'll be playing them, then made song copies and also copied, folded and assembled Sunday's bulletins. I studied more for this week's lesson, and then we had Music Practice. Right after that, Mindy and I went to my house to await the arrival of trick-or-treaters and the other members of our high school group. We spent the evening talking, reporting on last week's spiritual goals and making new ones, handing out candy, eating pizza (and of course, candy) and playing a board game. The last students left just after 10:30.

Thursday: This morning I woke up exhausted and with a headache, so I slept in additional hour. Once I arrived at the church I focused all of the week's studying into coming up with a viable outline for tonight's lesson--a tough one. (We're doing a series called, "Are You Ready For What's Coming?" in which we address issues such as death, heaven and hell, general eschatology, Jesus' return and the final judgment. Tonight we talked about Hell--a first for me, which I wasn't particularly looking forward to, but God is gracious and he blessed me with a very smooth evening.) I fleshed out the outline, while trying to figure out how to present systematic theology in a way that would keep the students' attention. That's when it hit me--I needed cartoons! I made an emergency run to the library for a couple cartoon books and spent an hour perusing them for cartoons that purported common misconceptions about Hell. After the lesson was ready, I prepped the upstairs and downstairs meeting rooms and then the kids showed up! I spent the evening playing Chair Basketball with them, playing my guitar to a couple of my favorite worship songs, teaching the lesson, trying to answer incredibly insightful questions about salvation, heaven and hell, and eating cookies and chips with the students.

I'm now home and basking in the fact that I was paid this week to have cool discussions, chat with kids, play music, study my Bible, read theology books, visit students' homes and talk with their parents, write lessons, play games, eat food, talk about Jesus, hand out candy and read cartoons! Seriously, my job is incredibly cool. But it isn't about the candy or the cartoons or the games. Those are just tools that I use to build relationships with the students. What really makes my job awesome is those relationships themselves, as they provide me with opportunities to encourage students to love God with their whole hearts. And watching God work in those students' hearts and transform their lives--even just in small ways--that is what makes my job one of the most incredible jobs in the world!

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

The Year of Accountability

This year in our small groups, we're really stressing accountability. Each week every person is encouraged to set "specific spiritual goals" to help them continue to grow in their relationship with Jesus. Knowing that the following week we will check up on how they did encourages them to be faithful in fulfilling their goals. Well...that's the idea, at least. I thought I would anonymously share with you some of the specific and not-so-specific goals that have been shared over the past few months.
  • I'm not going to be rude to my mom this week by calling her names like "poopy-head."
  • Read my Bible in the morning and in the evening every day this week.
  • I'm going to stay away from the friends that are bad influences on me.
  • I want to pray every night before I go to bed, but I keep forgetting. So to help me remember, I'll put a reminder note on my dresser drawer so I'll see it when I get ready for bed.
  • Memorize a verse about anger and say it when I get angry. (We helped this student choose James 1:20 which tells us that our anger doesn't lead to the sort of right-living that God wants for us, so we should not get angry quickly. The following week the student exclaimed upon arriving "I did it! I learned that verse and I said it a LOT!")
  • To say nice things instead of snapping at my brothers.
  • I'm going to not fight back when Kevin* and Joseph* try to pick fights with me.
  • I'm plan to read my Bible four times this week and I'm going to spend quality time with my Mom three times this week. I also am going to have a talk with my boyfriend. Oh yeah, and I'll pray about it before I talk with him.
  • I'm need to make a list of ten things I appreciate about the parent I've been having a hard time getting along with, and I'm going to pray about it too.
  • I'm setting a goal of not hitting any people in the head this week when they cuss. Usually I just smack them in the head whenever they say stuff.
  • Start up a conversation with my friends about what I believe. (Came back the following week talking about how she had talked with her friends about creation in a social studies class and was mildly reprimanded by the teacher.)
  • This week I'm not going to call Kristen Congdon* a walking zit. (When asked next week if they'd been able to refrain from name-calling, the student exclaimed, "Yeah! Kristen* got kicked out of school, so I never even saw her!")
  • To not gossip (We get this from several students every week--often it's accompanied by a plan such as walking away when friends start gossipping or saying one true nice thing about whoever is being talked about.)
  • Read my Bible (also set by most students each week, goals range from three chapters a day to 1 verse five days of the week).
  • Pray (another common spiritual goal that ranges from twice this week to three times each day).
  • To show love better to my dad by praying for him and by not being disrespectful even though he's making bad decisions by doing drugs.
  • To help me be less superficial I'm not going to wear any Hollister clothes for a week.
  • There's a kid who my friends and I always look down on, but I'm going to be kind to them this week by having a friendly conversation at lunch time.
  • I'm going to pray for patience for my sister so I don't yell at her and get grounded from coming to youth group.
  • This week I'm going to try to live for God. (When asked for specifics she said,"I've been doing bad stuff and not really caring much, but now I want to follow God again.")
  • To do better on my algebra test so that my Dad won't get mad at me again.

Some of these goals seem spiritual and some seem not so much so. Some are very specific and some are very general. The common theme: each student is recognizing that God wants them to move on from where they currently are. Although they may not have realized it yet, maturity is not so much a destination they should aim for as a path they should continue on. Whether their steps be small or large, continuing to take them each week moves them along the path of maturity. What step is God calling you to take this week on your path of spiritual maturity?

*Names have been changed to protect students' privacy.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Text-Message Ministry

I've been wondering about itinerant preachers who traveled through the western settlements in the 1800's, preaching and performing religious ceremonies as needed. I mean, can you imagine the isolation they probably felt? They most likely experienced hours of travel uninterrupted by the ring of cell phones or the jingle of their iPods. Imagine the time they would have for Bible study and meditation! They probably truly did "pray without ceasing" as they traveled through the tall grasslands, riding a horse or steering a wagon--maybe sleeping under the stars in between towns.

Although their job was probably very demanding and required great personal sacrifice, I can't help but wonder if in some way they had it easy. I mean, since they didn't stay in one place they didn't have to get involved in all the nitty gritty details of the people to whom they ministered.

Not that I would trade with them. Although Jesus was in some ways an itinerant minister himself, I believe that those people he affected the most were those who he shared his life with. He saw them at their best as they professed his messiahship, and he saw their worst as they quibbled over who among them was the greatest. Because he lived his life with them and before them, he was able to turn everyday experiences (paying taxes, herding sheep, drawing water) into teaching moments. But the wisest of all Teachers--the only perfect One who has ever lived--realized that since he would one day no longer physically be with his students, he needed to give them opportunities to go out on their own (under his authority, of course), so he sent his disciples out to minister to the surrounding countryside.

In my own feeble way, I try to pattern my ministry after the great Teacher. Unfortunately for my students, I am not always wise, not full of gentleness and patience, not astute enough to see the teachable moments in many mundane aspects of life, and I often fail to love them as I should. Fortunately for my students, the great Teacher has given to his followers his Holy Spirit to continue to teach our hearts and consciences. And just as the great Teacher weaned his students off of his presence, but left them in the cabable presence of the Holy Spirit, I want to make sure that I wean my students off of feeling as if they need me, since they have the same access to that same Spirit that the disciples of the first century had.

One of the distinctives of twenty-first century ministry is that due to current technology, the students to whom I minister have 24-hour access to me via the cell phone. This is something that can get tiring, but ultimately I am glad that the students know they can call me at any hour of the day or night if they need help or someone to talk to or pray with.

Well, there is one student in particular (I'll call her Sarah Jane) who calls me or text-messages me usually two or three times a day. Often it is just to say "Hi," but she also lets me know whenever she's feeling low or experiencing emotional crisis. A couple days ago, as I was at work mid-morning I received a text message from her that indicated she wasn't doing so well. I decided that since I had already worked through one or two previous Jr. High crises with her, it was time to coach her through this one on her own. The result was that I spent the rest of the morning like this:

(Photo credits to my friend, Ibraheem Alhashim)

Our texting conversation went something along the lines of this*:

Sarah: Hi Kristi whats up how are you 2day.

Me: I'm ok. Just at work, working. Aren't you at school today?

Sarah: No I had 2 much on my mind so my mom said I could stay home...I'm just goin crazy.

I asked her what was going on and she listed off to me several of her problems which included a relative making bad decisions and a boyfriend moving far away. My practical side wanted to point out that the she would get over this boyfriend within a day or two just as she did the last one, and that their relationship wouldn't have lasted much longer as it was already at the three week mark. Realizing, however, that no matter how trivial her relationships seem to me, they are very real to her and that makes the pain she experiences very real as well, I decided to try to minister to her pain rather than try to reason with it. I also decided that this time rather than reading her Scripture and praying with her, I would try to coach her to turn to God on her own for comfort. I figured that it was great timing since the previous week in our small group the fruit of the Spirit we had studied was peace.

Me: So what are you doing while you're at home to help you find peace in the middle of all this sad stuff?

Sarah: Talkin 2 my bf [boyfriend] and goin crazy. That's pretty much it.

Me: Maybe you could try reading the verses we read about peace last week at life group, and then try to do some of the things those verses say will help you experience God's peace.

Sarah: Ok. If I try to read right now I'm crazy so I can't think straight.

I wasn't sure if this excuse was because she really didn't want to read the Bible or if it was because she had no clue where to find the verses we had read the previous week.

Me: I wasn't sure if you remember the reference. It's Philippians 4:6-9. Some other good ones I read when I need peace are John 14:27 and 16:33.

Sarah: I will try to read those later. I'm so stressed out over this its crazy.

At this point it became clear to me that she was behaving as a crisis person. Crisis people feed off of the crises in their lives. Big or small, any issue is made out to be a huge issue in order for them to gain attention and sympathy from those around them. You can tell when someone is behaving like a crisis person because they aren't looking for a way out of their crisis. They want you to feel sorry for them, but they are not interested in taking steps to alieviate their stress because they feel like their stress somehow gives them importance. They usually don't realize what they're doing, and they make excuses for why they can't take steps to be helped. I realized that at this point she would not be able to deal with her pain unless God worked in her to empower her to do so.

Me: Pray Sarah Jane. God made you and he knows you're hurting. He is strong enough to calm your heart and your mind--even now. Ask him. He is always with you.

Sarah: I will and thx. Im gonna go to my bf's house now to talk.

I could tell she was feeling uncomfortable and was beginning to shut me out, but I desparately gave it one final shot.

Me: Just be careful Sarah that you aren't turning to people instead of to God. People will always make mistakes (like your relative) or they will have to leave you (like your boyfriend). If you rely on people for your comfort, you will end up discouraged because God is the only one who will NEVER mistreat you or leave you. I love you so much Sarah. I will be praying for you that God would bring some good from these hard times by using them to help you experience the peace that he gives.

Sarah: I know. It just makes me feel better because he [her boyfriend] is always so positive and he cheers me up. I luv u and I will pray that God will show me why life is so hard and why the people u luv the most hurt u the worst.

She didn't get it; she was too preoccupied with being a victim to see how God could use her pain to teach her about his grace. I so badly wanted her to see beyond herself to see his plan.

Me: Life is hard because people sin. But when life is the hardest it makes me the most excited for a world without sin...and in God's presence!

Sarah: Ok. cool beans. cant talk no more. im sittin here wit my bf so talk 2 ya 2maro.

Me: Ok...see you tomorrow.

You know, an itinerant preacher would not have been accessible during one of his congregants mini-crises, which means he would not have felt the disappointment I felt the other day. I made a concious effort to coach "Sarah" to turn to God for peace and her unwillingness to do so made me feel like a failure. But you know what? Just like an itinerant preacher, I really can do nothing more than speak truth, point her to the Truth and then entrust her to God to let his Spirit work in her heart and her life. And because I'm not an itinerant preacher and because I have this lovely little piece of technology called a cell phone, I'll be here the next time she's in crisis to once again encourage her to turn to the Source of all comfort for peace.

*I received permission from the student to post excerpts from our text conversation to give you guys a sneak peek into this aspect of my work with youth.


When I was little I had a recurring nightmare. I would be walking down this dark hallway in my grandparent's house. There were two large furnace vents--one on each end of the hallway. In my dream, as I walked down the hallway a wolf would come out of the vent in front of me and start coming after me menacingly, fangs bared. I would turn to flee only to see a ferocious grizzly bear crawling out of the other vent (okay, the vent wasn't that big, but hey, it was a dream). Both animals would advance with hungry looks in their eyes and then I would jerk awake just prior to being mauled.

Shaky. Sweaty. Heart pounding. Nightmares may just be stories in your mind, but they certainly are convincing to your body. At my house we had a particular protocol for nightmares. There was a spot on the floor to the left of my parents' bed that was the "nightmare spot." If I felt scared I could drag my blanket across the hall, tell Mom I had a bad dream and she would let me spread my blanket out on the floor and sleep right there next to her and Dad. Something about being near them made me feel invincibly safe. Wolves, bears and bad guys were no match for my parents! Of course, I think I realized even then that my parents couldn't necessarily protect me from everything, but there was something about being near them that helped ground me in reality when my mind was terrified by my imagination.

I don't have my recurring nightmare anymore--maybe because wolves and bears are no longer my greatest fears. Tonight my nightmare involved an armed predator taking hostages at youth group and assaulting some of the students. No matter what I did to try to fight him off, he seemed able to outsmart me and overpower me. I finally made it to a phone to call for help, but panicked and couldn't remember the address for the church (stupid dreams!). The bad guy found me on the phone and was going to kill one of the students as punishment for me calling 911. He pointed the gun at her head and cocked it. That's when I jerked awake. Sweaty. Shaking. Heart pounding.

I can't help wishing tonight that I had someone else here with me to help ground me in reality and make me feel safer. I hope that those of you whom God has blessed with a spouse feel thankful the next time you wake up feeling frightened and are calmed by seeing them sleeping next to you. But I'm not writing to throw a singleness pity party. :-) My nightmare protocol is pretty much the same as it was when I was little, only I go to a different Parent and I only spread my blanket out next to him figuratively.

Lord, thank you for being with me always. Please calm my heart tonight. I know that all things are in your hand--including the youth group kids. Please protect their bodies and their spirits and help me to rest in the fact that YOU are a much better protector than I could ever be. Thank you for giving me your peace. Please help me to experience restful sleep knowing that you are near me.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Chuch Update

Many people have been asking me how things have progressed at my church with the possible merger. Everything is still pretty much in limbo. People from both groups are meeting weekly with the goal of discovering if we have compatible ideas about church doctrine and structure. My understanding is that once that study is complete (probably sometime in December) leaders from the two groups will decide whether or not they feel that God wants us to join into a single community of fellowship. As such, I do not expect to have any more news about the situation or about my position at the church until the end of this year. Thank you to those who have been praying. God has been so faithful to grant me peace midst my current uncertainties. Please continue to pray for wisdom for the leaders involved in the decision-making process.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

2007 Passion Awards

Each year thousands of people are killed in collisions due to drunk driving. With such serious statistics, why do so many people continue to get behind the wheel after they've had several drinks? Because their judgment is impaired. Too much alcohol causes you to overestimate your abilities. Sometimes even without alcohol in the mix, we tend to overestimate our abilities. At least I sure do. God has warned us not to think of ourselves more highly than we ought, but to consider ourselves with "sober" judgment.
There's nothing that snaps me out of "drunken" self-evalution quicker than a conversation with Jr. Highers. I teach lessons each week to our various youth groups and I have to admit, I really enjoy preaching. I enjoy the preparatory study, and then the presentation even more. Maybe because I enjoy it so much, I've "drunkenly" deluded myself into thinking that I'm good at it. Then came my sobering conversation with a sixth grader. Last Thursday I mentioned to one of the students that the lesson that evening was going to be really short. Immediately her face lit up, "YESSSS!!" I smiled half-sadly and she quickly backtracked, "No, no--it's not that I don't like the lessons, it's just that I don't have very good attention so it's easier for me to learn when you don't talk much." Ouch. And yet I know it's true. The lessons that the kids really remember from the past three years tend to be the lessons that were associated with creative activities.
The last several weeks I spoke to the kids about passion, and about how God wants us to be people of passion, but that passion misdirected can have disastrous results! We talked about four particular passions God's Word instructs us to cultivate: a passion for God, a passion for other people, a passion for truth and a passion for continuous growth. Last Thursday I spent about 3 minutes reiterating these ideas to the kids, and then we commenced with the 2007 Passion Awards.
I had wanted the kids to see specific examples of what it would look like to cultivate these passions in their lives, so Eric and I went through the youth group roster thinking of specific examples of how particular students had demonstrated love for God and people or a pursual of truth and spiritual growth. We wanted to encourage and challenge the students by sharing those stories so that they could see concrete ways they could live lives of passion--even as youth. We created special award certificates, lit the sanctuary with stage lights only, and made a "red carpet" down the center aisle using butcher paper. The kids were so excited that they decided to sit in the back pews for the awards so that they could walk the full length of the "red carpet" when their name was called. (We discovered part-way through the awards that Butcher paper makes a very slippery carpet!)
Above: A student walks down the aisle to receive her award.
Below: Members of the awesome small group from the other week pose with their certificates awarded for demonstrating a passion for truth and growth.

Friday, October 5, 2007

The Nerd in Each of Us

My hypothesis is that everyone is a nerd about something. Several years ago a group of people from our church wanted to redesign the exterior landscaping to make it look more attractive and inviting. I thought it sounded like a waste of time. Who cares about shrubberies, anyway? But the landscape work was done and to my surprise I heard several first-time guests comment on how nice it looked. That's when I understood. Some people are landscaping nerds and a well trimmed lawn surrounded by symmetrical shrubs and small boulders really shows them that people take a place seriously. Some people are interior design nerds, feeling the need to put up wall-paper and paintings in a restroom furnished with wicker chairs. Me? I'll just share one of the many diseases of nerdom from which I suffer: I'm a paper design nerd. Again about the church, I couldn't care less how the lawn and landscaping looks or how the bathroom is decorated. But the paperwork--you know, like the logos and letterhead and business cards--that's the stuff that shows me how serious people are about the structure and well-being of an organization. It's dumb, I realize. Most people feel the way about logos and websites and business cards the way that I feel about shrubberies and wall-paper. But then, I guess that's why God makes us all different. Not that ANY of those are the heart of a church, but it just is one silly example of how each of us are different and play a different part in the body of Christ.

Okay, so that was a little bit of an explanation to why it makes me feel so loved people take the time and energy to make me laugh with nerdy paper things! :-) My poor friend, Amber, sent this to me in the mail very soon after the postcard from Eric, but I didn't check my mail for over a week, so she had to wait patiently for me to find it! Anyway, I received notification of my acceptance into the BHCC (Baby Holding Crazies-Club), as well as my very official-looking, laminated membeship card complete with a fake barcode on the back.

This paper-product and graphic-design nerd is signing out saying thanks to the people who spend time and energy making life fun. I love you guys!

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

The Fruit of the Spirit's Work in Their Lives


According to my statcounter, this is one of my most recently looked at blog entries found by people who are searching for "Fruit of the Spirit Lessons" or something like that. If it is helpful to you, I wanted to share a link to the study guides that I found to be a very helpful resource. It was written for families, and I when I used it I adapted things slightly to better fit the youth, but it is an EXCELLENT resource. The best I found on the topic. You can download their study guides for free at: (If you don't mind leaving a comment if you found the link helpful, I'd enjoy knowing.) Okay, back to the blog entry I wrote about a year ago -- Kristi Smith (September 29, 2008)


I never know quite what to expect in our Life Groups (small groups with 6th-8th graders). I meet with two groups of students each Tuesday consisting of a total of 11 students who are interested in accountability and Bible Study. Each week we encourage one another to be consistent in meeting our spiritual life goals, and report to one another on how well we showed our love for God and others the past week. The second half of the meeting is dedicated to studying how we can apply God’s Word to our lives; we’re currently studying the fruit of the Spirit.

While preparing, I generally have a picture in my mind of how students will respond to the lessons/discussions—it’s never accurate. Sometimes I’m disappointed, but recently I’ve been encouraged by the willing hearts of these students.

Last week we talked about love and how God wants us to show love to all people—not just the ones that are easy for us to love. At the end of the night we asked ourselves, “Who can I work on showing love to this week?” I expected the students to talk about enemies and bullies at school—wouldn’t you? Instead I found that the overwhelming majority of students I work with have the hardest time showing God’s love to their parents. Okay, you’re thinking, so maybe that fits the years of adolescent angst. Sure it does—if we’re talking about loving our parents despite the fact that they set boundaries and make us do chores. But these students were sharing prayer requests about showing love to their parents who have abandoned them, who struggle with mental illnesses, who consistently choose substance abuse over the good of their children. Imagine being a middle schooler and trying to figure out how to best honor both parents if they’re in the middle of a bitter battle and are constantly trying to get you to agree with them about how terrible the other one is. There are no easy solutions for these kids—just lots of prayer and turning them to the guidance of the Holy Spirit in their lives.

Today the topic of study was joy. Well…it was supposed to be. In the first group we never got around to our study because instead the students engaged in theological discussion on everything from gender differences and similarities to evolution to salvation of babies and the mentally challenged. I was amazed at the wisdom and insight that these students shared with one another—it was truly discussion (not me teaching them a lesson), and boy did they make excellent points!

In the evening group we did manage to get around to our discussion on joy. It went well, despite the fact that two girls spent half the discussion coloring their fingernails and purses with permanent markers (a distraction easily remedied by removing the Sharpies from my pen jar so that they won’t be available next week). There’s one student in particular in the evening group who is a new believer and seems to be soaking up everything she can. I love watching her make the connections in her head and then her hand shoots up as she “gets it” and she shares the exact point that I hoped she would get from reading a passage. Even one of the Sharpie girls made me grin tonight as she announced before leaving that she hadn’t been “very serious about religious things recently” but that she wanted to “make some changes and seriously follow after God.”

Okay, so I know from first-hand experience that ministry isn’t always like this. I mean on Thursday night I was vehemently told “I hate you!” by a student. But then, the same student told me as I was saying goodbye later that night, “We love you too, Kristi.” So…whether they’re loving me or hating me, I have to say that I sure am LOVING these kids! I am so privileged to have the opportunity to be a part of their lives, and there is nothing more encouraging to me than seeing the Spirit stir in their hearts, drawing them closer to God.