i’m moving to the country. or perhaps to one the youthfront camps. my best running and praying of the year is almost always done within a couple miles of camp, and last saturday was no exception.

(outside of this parenthesis, i’ll pretend i never stopped blogging regularly. sorry.)

a week ago, rene and i were blessed to engage in a weekend “pilgrimage” to youthfront south with the jacob’s well community. different from a retreat, the intent of pilgrimage is to intentionally disrupt our routines and, as a community, to journey together with Jesus as our travel companion. unlike so many activity-frenzied retreats in the past, it was an extraordinary time of refreshment. other than meals and fixed-hour prayer times, there really was no expectation of participating in any particular activity. if we wanted to take a walk, take a nap, read, or just hang out and talk, we had grace-filled freedom. but the true blessing came in stepping beyond our comfort zone and talking to people we didn’t know yet.

speed limit 15it was also so relaxing to have zero responsibilities for planning or leading activities, although we both hung out with the kids community for a bit on saturday morning. it was a little surreal to be so close to the youth group, yet virtually unknown by them. after talking with parents and just being observant, i know most of the names, but it isn’t until this sunday that we finally step back into weekly volunteer roles. (more on that in the very near future. i promise.)

however conducive each of the youthfront camps is to prayer and communion with God, it is always when i engage in the dual disciplines of solitude and physical exercise that i most feel His presence. normally, i run outside 3-4 times a week around the kansas city area, but it’s always with headphones and plenty of company on the roads. my loops from camp bring me into contact with virtually no other humans, and i watch the rural world wake up. and oh! the prayer times are amazing.

keep rightas i reentered camp with its awakening band of pilgrims, and being not nearly as steamy as i figured i’d be on such a chilly morning, i literally slowed down and took notice of the various road signs posted around the property. it occurred to me, in a moment of divinely sparked imagination, that i’ve been missing too many signs in my hurried attempts to get to whatever is my destination.

the signs posted along the camp roads were placed there by humans, because they knew something more about the path than others with less experience might know. so it is with our life in community. some call them spiritual guides. others refer to 360° discipleship or point to 2 timothy 2:2. however you frame it, other people have perspective that we, in our limited experience, cannot see. sometimes it’s the long road of wisdom that enables another to speak into our lives. but – and i’m enjoying every moment of this space – it is the awe and wonder of someone younger or newer to the path that gives them an amazing vantage point that we can only gain by being near. either way, we need others.

do not entersome signs were not put in place by people. or if they were, it was only at the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. i speak of revelation, both natural and specific as contained in scripture. the fact that there is a tree directly ahead of me is a great opportunity to not run smack into it. but, as was pointed out later in a wonderful time of outdoor worship, the trees themselves all have their “arms” constantly pointed upwards in praise, and join the constant chorus of cicadas in singing to our glorious God.

if you’ve ever traveled with a history buff, you know it’s a completely different experience to hear the stories behind the weathered buildings and timeworn landmarks. they see what you would otherwise miss, and they bring it to life. so it is with the scriptures. each of us brings our own stories, knowledge, hurts, joys, and insight when we open the common book. and so we must remember to heed the signs left not only in the pages of holy writ, but also by the “vast cloud of witnesses,” and we must interact with the story of God as a living story, in community.

i also picked up a resource that i might have otherwise missed. among the wristbands and ultimate discs, there was a stack of copies of presence-centered youth ministry: guiding students into spiritual formation by mike king. although it’s been published for several years, it wasn’t until this week that i finally took in his transformative story of engaging in spiritual practices both personally and in community that focus ministry not on programs and numbers but on seeking the continual presence of God. i will continue to explore and engage for many years, i am sure.

i’ll share more soon about my our return to active youth ministry, as well as giving some quick updates on the transitions in our lives. blessings to you all.

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checking in, pushing pause, turning the page

leaning into the challenge.

today marks the end of my first 6 months on my new job. there were multiple times during the first couple of months when i had serious doubts i would make it, but around the first part of october, something clicked. i think a big part of it was working shifts or parts of shifts on the other teams in the facility. i recently realized i know the name of every kid in the facility. that gave me a great deal of “buy-in” – there is a lot more to the job than wading through an avalanche of glitter (the girls use it on their program work presentations a lot, to say the least).

i’m not saying i think i’ll stay in this position until i retire. this is considered an entry level job, but the opportunities from there are much wider. i officially have three more months until i’m eligible to move from probationary status to regular status. after that i can apply for transfer within the agency, or if for whatever reason i leave the agency and later come back, there are several pre-employment hoops i wouldn’t have to jump through all over again.

that said, i’m not actively looking elsewhere at this time. if i come across something that seems like a really good fit, i’ll look into it, but i’m starting to get kinda good at what i’m doing. it can be stressful, sometimes extremely so. the hours often suck, and there is no cancellation for inclement weather. as a residential facility with 24/7/365 supervision, we have to be at work no matter what. but in those moments when you realize the kids really are making significant changes in their lives, somehow it seems worth it. goodness knows, none of us are doing it for the lucrative paycheck or the extravagant benefits package.

but that’s not all the news i have to share today.

north is the new south. go east, young man. missouri loves company.

driving from lenexa to the north side of nowhere (ok, maybe just north of excelsior springs) and back again every day is not such a fun drive after a while. because of this, we are looking to move into missouri in the next couple months. it wasn’t worth the financial penalty of breaking our lease early, but we are now looking at places to the north (liberty, north kc, maybe gladstone) and east (lee’s summit, independence). the trick will be to find someplace that’s not a super long drive for rene to get to work. there’s also a bit of a gamble in that if i do transfer, the drive for me may be way longer or way shorter depending on where we live and where i end up working. in any case, the likelihood is that for the first time since 1979, the year 2011 will find me with a home address outside of kansas.

a long overdue break.

here’s the news that has taken people by surprise. after nearly 20 years as a volunteer youth leader (those 2 months of a very part-time paid youth intern don’t count), and 15 years for rene, we are taking a break from weekly youth ministry involvement. there are several reasons for this.

first, we do really need some rest. there are so many weeks when we literally have not one evening at home, alone together. not a great plan in the long run.

second, there have been times in the last several months when one or both of us have questioned whether we’re starting to lose our ability to connect with kids like we once could. i don’t know if that’s necessarily true, although we are certainly no longer the spring chickens we used to be. but when you’re in the trenches for too long without coming up to see the horizon, funny things can happen to your perspective.

the last reason i’ll share here is that we are looking at some churches in missouri that may be a better fit for us, not only for where we are personally but also geographically. when and if we do decide to step back into youth ministry – and we are trying not to rush that decision – we’d like to be close enough to the kids’ homes and schools that getting together with them, going to ball games and plays, etc. isn’t an all-day affair with long drive times.

we will miss so much about christ community. it’s been the church where rene and i met and got married, and where each of us have attended and served the longest of any in our lives. we have been tremendously blessed by doing life with such a caring, integral, and deep body of believers. it’s been an exhausting week as we’ve made announcements and said goodbyes. we certainly don’t want to just “drop” anyone, so keep in touch through whatever means, and we’ll try to do the same.

be looking in the next few weeks for a multi-post series in which i reflect on 20 years of youth ministry. pulling my thoughts together for this has been bittersweet.

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my grown-up Christmas

for the first time since i moved to kansas in 1979, i did not wake up today (Christmas morning) at my parents’ house. it’s quite possible i have experienced selective amnesia on this, but i’m pretty sure it’s true. actually, i didn’t mind working on Christmas this year. my sister is in – get this – austria. her boyfriend’s parents live there. and rene’s parents have been in south korea with her cousin and family for the holiday. talk about worldly!

i spent a good chunk of Christmas eve napping in order to stay up for my shift, midnight last night to 8 this morning. we went to the candlelight service at church. and that is where my traditional patterns ceased. i did not watch any of the movies one associates with Christmas (it’s a wonderful life, a Christmas story, miracle on 34th street, elf, white Christmas, holiday inn, etc.). oh wait, that’s because i already had earlier in the month. gotta love netflix! i did not put out any presents, but that’s because my supervisor was there to set out the kids’ gifts. it was pretty cool knowing that my (well, actually our – rene helped) efforts to raise extra funds by selling otis spunkmeier cookie dough had paid off. not only that, one of our friends bought cookies but asked me to bake them for all the kids at the facility. talk about a sweet treat for Christmas morning.

on the drive home, i called each of my grandparents. a small gesture, but before it’s always been them calling my parents’ house and me taking a turn on the phone. when i got home, we opened no presents, other than stockings full of candy. (we’re not doing Christmas with my family until january.) rene and i watched a movie on our new tv, then i settled in for a nice, long winter’s nap.

not the picture-perfect holiday. or was it? three things came to mind over the past 24 hours, with sleep and meal times completely scrambled.

  1. there is something beautiful about having a gap between the celebration of Christ’s birth and the ritual of giving gifts to one another. the old saying rings especially true – at what other birthday party but one for Jesus would we give the gifts to the guests? not being caught up in the hustle and bustle of last-minute mall shopping allowed us to enjoy a relaxed time of reflecting on the true significance of Emmanuel, God with us, entering our world to bring peace on earth. it’s really not about the gifts. talking to and spending time with my family (as many as were in the country) was enough.
  2. i have gained a whole new appreciation for those who sacrifice family time to serve our cities and country. i’m thinking of first responders, emergency room personnel, the military, and anyone who is “on call” even on holidays. sure, all i did was sit and make sure the girls were safe as they slept, just like i’ve done all this month. but doing it on a holiday imbued it with a dignity i hadn’t realized before.
  3. there are many, including most of the kids at watkins mill, for whom Christmas and birthdays are not an occasion for excess. some have even said that shopping at wal-mart for clothes is bit of a luxury. but these youth see that the community, including several area churches, has not given up on them. in fact, several kids have said that this Christmas, or a birthday spent in the facility, has actually been one of their best. not because they’re locked up, duh. simply because people showed they care and they were celebrated in an environment of calm and safety.

may each of us remember that, no matter the season, it is not the giving or receiving of stuff that brings us hope. it is the fact that the Giver has bestowed the greatest Gift we could ever need.

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merry holidays

has it really come to this?

please accept with no obligation, implied or implicit, my best wishes for an environmentally conscious, socially responsible, low stress, non-addictive, gender neutral, celebration of the winter solstice holiday, practiced, within the most enjoyable traditions of the religious persuasion of your choice, or secular practices of your choice, with respect for the religious/secular persuasions and/or traditions of others, or their choice not to practice religious or secular traditions at all, and a fiscally successful, personally fulfilling, and medically uncomplicated recognition of the onset of the generally accepted calendar year 2011, but not without due respect for the calendars of choice of other cultures whose contributions to society have helped make america great, (not to imply that america is necessarily greater than any other country or is the only “america” in the western hemisphere), and without regard to the race, creed, color, age, physical ability, religious faith, choice of computer platform, or sexual preference of the wishee.


by accepting this greeting, you are accepting these terms. this greeting is subject to clarification or withdrawal. it is freely transferable with no alteration to the original greeting. it implies no wisher to actually implement any of the wishes for her/himself or others, and is void where prohibited by law, and is revocable at the sole discretion of the wisher. this wish is warranted to perform as expected within the usual application of good tidings for a period of one year, or until the issuance of a subsequent holiday greeting, whichever comes first, and warranty is limited to replacement of this wish or issuance of a new wish at the sole discretion of the wisher. this greeting constitutes the entire wish and should any part or parts of this greeting be held invalid, all remaining parts shall continue to have the full affect allowable under generally accepted wishing practices.

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leverage as a volunteer

“make the most of every opportunity.” paul’s advice is unbelievably relevant to a volunteer youth leader.

for most of my “career” as a volunteer, i’ve had the luxury of a really flexible schedule. this school year, though, i’m finding what it’s like to have a full time work schedule and not be able to do every single event i’d like to do with the  youth group. i can’t imagine how anybody with young kids can volunteer effectively. in fact, several i know have taken a break while their kids were young, some to return later, some to move on entirely.

while i do miss being able to show up to everything, it’s made me more aware of how i use the limited time i have. while any opportunity to spend time inside kids’ world outside church walls is important, when you can catch more than one at a time, your time investment multiplies.

last week rene and i went to the cyt (Christian youth theater) production of “aladdin jr.” we love going anyway, and have actually gone to a couple we didn’t even know anybody in. but whenever we go, it seems like there are 8 or 10 kids from youth group performing. the funny thing is we often have multiple kids or parents thank us for coming to see them. they all assume we’re there to see their kid. (shhh. don’t tell, k?) the same effect comes into play if there are a couple kids on the same sports team. once i actually had like 6 of my boys playing, 2 on one team and 4 on the other. hard to decide who to cheer for, but they all loved that i was there.

they were not only the envy of their entire table, you could see them beaming from across the room.

i’ve written several times about the impact my (once-)weekly lunches with ben have had. i am still trying to get to him every couple of weeks, but this year i’m finally making it to other schools to bring lunch to kids in this year’s group. today i took fazoli’s to two of my 6th graders. they were not only the envy of their entire table, you could see them beaming from across the room. that just doesn’t happen most wednesday nights.

as a volunteer, or even as a paid youth worker, make every effort to spend time in kids’ lives outside of church activities. go to games, go to concerts and plays, and arrange to bring in lunch. it is worth way more than your time and money. and if you can find more than one at a time, the leverage pays off.

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how to use a traffic circle

the burden of being the only driver in kansas and missouri to understand how to use traffic circles correctly has finally become too much for me to bear. please allow me to enlighten the uninformed majority.

  1. in all traffic circles, enter to the right and proceed in a counterclockwise direction.
  2. for a 2-lane traffic circle (or “roundabout”), you may turn left from the left lane, or right from the right lane. do not turn left from the “outside” lane.
  3. you may proceed straight from either lane.
  4. for a single-lane circle, you may turn right, proceed straight, or continue around to turn left.
  5. here’s where it gets confusing, so pay close attention: there are no stop signs anywhere at a traffic circle. yield (see the “yield” signs?) to traffic already in the circle, but if no other cars are coming, you may enter without stopping.
  6. under no circumstances should you stop and use your turn signal, then wait for all traffic in other directions to abate.
  7. do not drive to the left/clockwise (see #1).

study carefully. there will be tests.

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