I recently had the opportunity to review a new book. I highly recommend it for parents, youthworkers, church leaders—just about anyone who has or will have an adolescent in their lives. A simple, but powerful read.
Youthworker.com – The Orphaned Generation
Does My Youth Ministry Have the Shape, the Story and the Staff that Will Anchor Students’ Faith?
New 3-part article series on the Youth Worker Update Blog…this is part 1!
A few weeks ago, I stepped back onto a familiar road. I parked my car on a Thursday morning and walked across a parking lot, up a walkway and through the doors of Metro Christian Academy in Tulsa, OK. For the next five hours, I met faculty and staff, started setting up my office and enjoyed watching students pass in the hallway each time the bell rang. Working in a school might be a very new geographical location for me to be in ministry to kids, but still the world of students has remained sweetly familiar terrain.
With twenty-some days down now as Metro’s Spiritual Life Director, I’m already realizing notable changes that have occurred in my own life in the four years I’ve been away from daily vocational ministry:
- I’m a little older. No news there! The last time I was up in front of students and families every week, I had a kindergartner and was 7 months pregnant. Now that I’m knocking on the door of age 40, I have a 5th grader and a preschooler. These few years have given me greater appreciation for the daily joys and struggles of parenting.
- I understand myself a little more. It sounds a bit funny, but I really do think God used the last few years to help me grow up a little more in my identity. There were so many things I did not recognize about myself until I stepped back from ministry for a while—1) I have some strong ADD traits that truly shape how I function in life and relationships, 2) I have a natural passion to help people lead well and 3) I find tremendous clarity and soul-centering in putting my words to paper.
- I’m a little healthier. Two years ago I got a reality check of arm pains during my runs, pretty high blood pressure and cholesterol levels that quickly reminded me to take better care of myself and not take my health for granted.
- I’ve climbed two not so little mountains. At a point in my life when I had plenty of fears about life changes and future possibilities, Gary and I started hiking on our vacations. The feeling of standing at the keyhole of Long’s Peak in Colorado surrounded by the tips of the Rockies was the triumph I needed to tackle some emotional mountains that threatened my hope and confidence. Last year, we drove out into literally the middle of nowhere in Wyoming with literally no one around for what seemed 50 miles and hiked Laramie Peak just before my 20 year high school reunion. That climb was memorable because it took me to the top of the world that I called home for most of my childhood.
I’ve also reflected on joys that have not only remained constant, but have dug deeper roots into my soul:
- I still love spending my days with youth. It doesn’t matter where I am or how much time has passed since I officially worked with students—their stories, their struggles and their spiritual growth is where I’m drawn. If they are aloof, I’m patient. If they don’t trust adults, I work to earn that trust. If they are exploring their abilities, I want to give them a place to practice and shine. If they have questions, I want to be a safe person to come and ask. If they don’t know how much God loves them, I want to make sure they know.
- More than ever, I want to live in the legacy that’s been given to me. So much of my story is rooted in the lives of people like my parents who opened their home for 20 years to foster children with no where to go. And, it’s rooted in the ministry of people like my youth pastor, Jeff Mugford, who modeled what it looks like to follow Christ in the real world. I want to continue to be faithful to the good work God began in my life through them and I want to be faithful to how God is urging me to live out that legacy today and tomorrow.
- I love words spoken, written and sung. From my son’s well timed one-liners, to my daughter’s wonderful prose, to my own addiction to my Ipod Scrabble game, I cannot get away from the joy of communicating with just the right word. I want every article I write, every song I sing, and each prayer I lead to guide people to a fresh, new place in their thinking. As this desire grows stronger, I strive to minimize the moments where I waste my words on futile endeavors like complaining, gossiping or boasting. Oh, that I could conquer that struggle for good!
So, I feel as if I have just returned from a long journey away—one that I needed to take in order to be ready to travel this road with students and families once again. I am so grateful for this beautiful wilderness that lies just behind me. It was not easy, but it was worth it.
I read the article below this morning and had a brainstorm: What if a group of people/churches in Tulsa who really love teens and young adults could come together to provide long term training, mentoring and shelter to homeless youth in Tulsa? I know there are some great organizations involved already, so this group would be a partner to places like Youth Services of Tulsa and kids aging out of the DHS Foster Care program. Hmmm, it’s certainly got me thinking! Check out the article and stats below and let me know if you’ve got some great idea, info or passion you’d like to offer to the brainstorm!
Tulsa drop-in center helps homeless youth get back on feet story by Mike Averill of Tulsa World
Amber Dueberry was a student at Tulsa Community College and living with her mother until about three months ago.
She and her mom don’t see eye to eye, so she decided to move out, she said. The problem was that she really didn’t have anywhere else to go.
She stayed with friends and couch-surfed for a while. Then, about a month ago, her circle of couches diminished until finally she was homeless, living in a shelter …
Read more from this Tulsa World article at http://www.tulsaworld.com/news/article.aspx?subjectid=11&articleid=20100817_11_A1_ULNSme321726
- According to the National Alliance to End Homelessness, researchers estimate that 5 to 7.7% of youth experience at least one episode of homelessness each year. Applying those percentages to the number of teenagers in Tulsa County
- Based on national research, 2,837- 4,369 teenagers in Tulsa County experience homelessness each year
- The Tulsa Police Department received 1,022 reports of runaway youth during 2009
- Tulsa Public Schools reports 2,632 homeless youth are attending the district’s schools
- 150-200 youth age out of foster care in Tulsa County each year, according to the local Child Welfare unit.
- Only 30% of youth exiting foster care in Oklahoma have a high school diploma or GED.
Read more stats from this Tulsa World article at http://www.tulsaworld.com/news/article.aspx?subjectid=11&articleid=20100817_11_A1_ULNSme321726
Next week I’ll be in one of my favorite environments once again—surrounded by students from middle school and high school. As I return to the field work of youth ministry, I keep stumbling across articles that remind me there are kids in places where adults are not going to help them.
All adolescents need many caring adults to step on the road of maturity with them to offer guidance, help and encouragement. But, sadly, there are kids who never benefit from even one adult mentor or guide all through adolescence. I want to make room in my life to help an adolescent who has no one.
As you read any or all of these links, maybe you’ll be asking yourself the same question I’m asking myself: “God, where are the kids that need me to go to them?”
Foster Kids Gain From Mentoring, Relationship Skills – Business Week
Emergency Department Visits for Drug Related Suicide Attempts by Adolescents – The DAWN Report
Groups Promote Juvenile Justice – Youthworker.com
Last week was a phenomenal week. I had the privilege to take 50 or so volunteers into an elementary school and lead an arts camp. Now, there are lots of summer camps that happen around the city all summer long—but DreamBuilders Rhythm and Art Camp was a little unique because we were told these kids had never had a summer camp opportunity before. These were beautiful, hopeful faces who did not always have the luxury of counting on things like breakfast, clean clothes, or safety.
Our theme was Dream Big, Dream Now and the song that anchored us was “What Faith Can Do” by Kutless. The goal was to help these kids put a firm hope in God’s purpose for their lives, and encourage them to look beyond immediate circumstances that might weaken their dreams. We did that by giving them a highly relational week with about 1 leader to every 4 campers (sometimes we had so much help, it was 1 on 1!) We also tried to leave them with tangible experiences in ArKIDtecture, Creative Writing, Glee Choir and Drumming that planted seeds for developing their gifts.
I’m still processing all of it, but here are a few take aways I keep celebrating:
- It was an amazing collaboration between two ministries and a school. We truly relied on each other and focused on what we had in common. Lasting friendships and more dreams of making a difference were forged.
- It was a powerful reminder that miracles do “just happen” and God will surprise us if we give him room to work. While at a bookstore looking for Bibles to put in the camper gift bags for the end of the week, I was startled by an abrupt, but generous woman who reported that God told her to give me her $43 to help pay for the Bibles. I tried to protest, but she would not allow me to. Then, 5 minutes later, she startled me again by ripping the $43 from my hand and slapping a $100 bill on my shoulder and saying, “I want you to have this instead!” I attempted to say thank you and find out more about her, but in so many words, she told me to leave her alone! I’m guessing that she did not give from her abundance, but she gave anyway. I keep praying for beautiful blessings for her.
- It was a beginning to keep building on. Both churches have been helping this school all year, but this camp introduced dozens of people to the possibilities of how they can play a vital role in these kids’ lives. (I promised lunch and a back to school phone call to a little girl that spent time with me!) We discovered the kind of songs that kids will sing with all their might. We realized if we could help them build and design their own picnic tables for the playground—there must be other things we could help them build and improve for their school and lives. We read poetry that revealed emotions that need to be expressed and realities that need to be faced. We heard 30 hands pounding on djembes with exhuberance and joy that we want to help them harness.
I’m so thankful for all the volunteer leaders that gave up their time and served. They were middle school, high school, college and adult leaders who were the light from the city on the hill over and over again all week.
My new article at YMToday:
Everyone in ministry is a spiritual giant, right? For all the wisdom and teaching that we pour into the lives of adolescents and their families, practicing a faith that is deeply focused and consistent might feel necessary. At least that’s what I felt my devotional life should look like if I was challenging students to live out their faith each day. But as a person who loves learning and who can be a bit of an overachiever, I discovered that when it came to Bible study, journaling, and prayer time, I felt like quite the underachiever! I couldn’t stay focused, didn’t like taking lots of notes, and certainly had a hard time being consistent. read more…