I’m writing this quick, scarfing beef stew and trying to get out the door because I have to be somewhere in less than an hour. Um…yeah….I’m going to be late.
Because just a few minutes ago I got a great text message from one of “my girls,” and it made me think so many great things that I had to tell you about it. HAD. TO.
I call them “my girls” because I’m not sure what else to call them. They’re all in college, and they’re mostly in their twenties, and now we’re trying to figure out exactly what we are to each other. I’m not their teacher, they’re not my students. I’m not their leader, they’re not my youth. We’re not peers, but we are friends, and we matter to each other. We care deeply about one another, and we’re all better when we’re in together than when we’re not.
Shauna Niequist writes about her girls in Cold Tangerines and she calls them puppies, because in a season of teenage turmoil (for the girls) and twenty-something angst (for her) they found a place in their small group that felt as safe as being curled up in a box with all their puppy-friends. This makes sense to me, so sometimes I call my girls “puppies”, and sometimes we woof at each other, and always we send the doggie emoticon over iMessage.
And this is what I HAD TO tell you — Youth ministry is awesome! Teenagers are awesome! This is the 1 Peter kind of mentoring/shepherding that we’re supposed to be doing, and it’s is no joke. It matters. It matters to the girls (or guys) you’re investing in, and it matters for you. Because it honors the relational God who set it up in the first place.
Mrs. Jean was that “once in a lifetime person” for me. She taught my eighth grade Sunday school class, and she chaperoned the first mission trip I ever went on, and on that trip she ended up being the only other person from my church in the group painting houses in small-town Tennessee. I was a smart-mouthed thirteen year old and she was a snarky woman my grandmother’s age, and we got along as if there were no age gap between us.
And long after I’d gone to college and she’d stopped serving in the youth ministry, we’d catch up on Sundays, sitting in a pew after service, and she would always ask me, “Are you staying out of trouble?” and I’d always say, “No,” and she’d always say “Good for you, Ornery.” She always called me Ornery, as if it were my name, and I think sometimes that she understood me better than I understood myself.
Mrs. Jean saw me. She saw past my thirteen year old awkwardness and anger, and she saw me. And she believed in me and she loved me in spite of myself, and being loved by her made all the difference. Her love for me helped me grow up into someone who believes that God is good despite how bad the world may seem, and who seeks to find things to laugh about. And she loved me right into being a youth leader myself, because I experienced what it is to have someone see me and believe in me and love me right into the person she always knew I was.
Now I’m sitting on the other side, with my own girls whom I love and believe in, and am watching become exactly who I always knew they were. And I’m full to bursting tonight because I know God is really happy for all of us. Because it’s exactly what He wanted all along —
“So I exhort the elders among you, as a fellow elder and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, as well as a partaker in the glory that is going to be revealed: shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you; not for shameful gain, but eagerly; not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock. And when the chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory. Likewise, you who are younger, be subject to the elders. Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” (1 Peter 1:1-5)