1 Month Down, A Lot to Go

So here I am, over a month of college in the books (literally and figuratively) and it already feels like I’ve been here forever and never actually attended high school and whatever they call organized schooling before that. It’s been a month that honestly spanned the entirety of human emotion, but its been worth it. Here, in no particular order, are some of my thoughts, tips, and anything else I deem worthy of mention during my first month of college.

  • There are some weird people in college, but chances are you’re one of them. -I was told this week that I was considered the most normal person in the honors dorm…until I started playing with the textured accent wall. Clearly I’ve been hiding my weirdness far too well.
  • Don’t stereotype people by their major- While making jokes related to majors is totally acceptable and actually encouraged. I came in with certain negative preconceptions about people only based off their majors and most of them were so wrong and I really like the people that I’m living and taking incredibly difficult and/or time-consuming classes with. The next 4 year with them is so exciting sounding.
  • Take your time- Getting involved in activities and groups in and outside of the actual college is really important, crucial I’d say. However, don’t feel the need to jump into every single organization or activity you’re asked to join or else you will literally drown yourself in time commitments. Also, don’t feel the need to start doing all these things the second you get to college. Take some time and settle in to the new atmosphere and find things you enjoy and want to be a part of. Just because friends are doing something doesn’t mean that you have to.
  • Caferteria Food is still Cafeteria Food- Yes you are now in college and cereal, chocolate milk, and ice cream are available at every meal but its still just a cafeteria. Some of the food I legitimately enjoy, but fairly frequently I go into the Caf, look around, then wish I hadn’t already used up my valuable swipe. IMPORTANT- Regardless of the taste of the food, IT WILL MESS YOU UP.
  • Brian Gill was right- With the last bullet point in mind, the toilet paper is trash. If you can afford your own, do it. If you can’t just be prepared to suffer the consequences.
  • Laundry is fun- I don’t understand why I enjoy laundry other than the fact I just feel responsible and independent. On the topic of laundry, do it. Otherwise you smell and no one will want to get anywhere near you. If you don’t want to do laundry, say once a week, make sure you have enough essentials (boxers) to make it through however long you it is till you want to do laundry.
  • Get some sort of schedule- While it is great to be flexible and do spontaneous fun stuff in college, but if you want to pass classes without stupid amounts of anxiety-filled late night work sessions, then have a schedule. Find time everyday to do some sort of work/something productive. Don’t spend all day on work though or else you will hate life, have no friends, and still probably not have the highest grade in the class (which coming from an honors student, is completely irrelevant).
  • Find a church without killing yourself- I am in the midst of the process as well as watching people I care about have the same struggle of finding a church to call home for the next few years. It can be very difficult and incredibly stressful. I personally have had to come to grips that I am not going to find a church that is exactly like The Hills and has everything I want. Even more recently I had expressed to me the necessity of balancing the “church shopping” consumer mindset, with “where can I serve and be needed in a church.” I want to find a church that will fill me when I go and has opportunities for community outside of Sundays and Wednesdays, but I also want to find a church that has a place for me to not simply receive but to give. It really is a difficult process that once its over and you’ve found the right place I guarantee it’ll have been worth the effort.
  • Questions Abound- I have questioned my life more in the past month than I think I have ever before. Is that a bad thing?  I really don’t think so. It’s a growing experience to see who am and what God has in store for my life. It’s not a lack of plans that’s scary, it’s the abundance of plans down a plethora of different paths that is intimidating. Also being at a Christian college I’m being presented the opportunity to not simply take my faith for granted but to have new view and ideas being presented to me and I have to decide what it is I believe. That’s pretty stressful but I think it’s necessary for a real faith to blossom.
  • Make friends that matter- Making real friends has been one of my biggest worries thus far. I’m worried I’m doing something wrong because I’m not constantly surrounded by the same large group of new people and we do everything together. Part of it’s my personality that I don’t like to socially be a follower. I tend to be in a position of leadership in a group or else I don’t really like being in the group. But I also don’t think I want or need a bunch of new superficial friendships. I want meaningful relationships with people where we can talk about the deep stuff that lasts. Part of the problem is that those friendships rarely (I can say never is incorrect from experience) happen in such a short span of time as the first month. So my advice for myself and for anyone else is to look for those friendships as they begin to form, but don’t freak out if it takes time.
  • Eat well(ish), Sleep(sometimes), Exercise(When you feel like it)- Try your best to be healthy but realize sometimes you will epically fail at one or more of these things in a day and that you will recover because you are young, but don’t make it a habit.
  • Have fun- This is the easy part honesty. College is fun as long as you have the right mind set going in.

I’ve probably got more thoughts on the subject but I think I’m done with this blog as I am currently failing at the getting sleep portion of health. Just know that college for me is exciting and challenging and emotional but I’m absolutely fine with it all because I know it’s part of the process of growing as a person and as a Man of God. I don’t know how to end this so..

THE END.

 

 

Major Change

Hello friends! It’s been awhile since I lasted posted something. I went to college and things started getting busy so excess writing was one of the first things to go off of my schedule. However I would like to take the time to let everyone know about a decision that I’ve made in the last 36 hours or so. But first, story time.

In my Intro to Ministry class we often have speakers come and talk about something churchy. We’ve had church planters, church revivers, Craig Altrocks, and other various ministers talking about numerous subjects. This past Monday we had three women come speak in class about Children’s Ministry. One of the women was Vicki Wallace who is a current children’s minister as well as the professor over the children’s ministry major at OC. She gave a pretty basic talk on why ministering to children is so important and briefly pitched being a children’s ministry major. It wasn’t anything that blew my mind, but it was something that I think may have hit my soul. I felt something very strange when she began talking about children. I don’t understand the feeling but something just sort of welled up inside me when talking about the necessity of ministering to children. Now I’m not a very intuitive person- I don’t make decisions with my heart, I make them with my head. So needless to say it startled me to have what I know was the Holy Spirit tugging on my heart, period, let alone at this specific moment. My immediate reaction was simple- I need to do this. So after some prayer and talking with friends and family about it, the decision is clear that I need to add a second major in Children’s Ministry. No, I’m not dropping Youth Ministry, I just feel that both paths are appealing and that God’s leaving them both open. Also the extra training in both areas wouldn’t hurt me regardless of which position I end up in eventually.

The crazy thing is that the idea of entering into children’s ministry has been in my head for less than nine months. I really enjoyed working with 1st graders during Ready,Set,Teach last year and I mentioned it to Patty Weaver one day and she planted the bug in my head, and more importantly, my heart, that I could be good at and enjoy being a Children’s Minister. In comparison to Youth Ministry, which has been in my head since 8th grade, this idea is insane. But it’s exciting. I have no clue how I’m going to fit it with my current major and honor’s courses, how summers now literally full of internships will play out, or even if this will require more time at school and more money. But I don’t care about those things right now. I’m just ridiculously pumped about this currently; the details will come with time. Right now I’m just following what I feel is God’s calling for me right now. I just am super excited to let you all know:

I could be a Children’s Minister!

Your continued support and prayers for college life as well as this specific decision are always greatly appreciated. I hope to be back on here in the next week or so with my collection of thoughts on the first month of college. Be looking for it on a newsfeed near you!

Thank You

This blog really has a dual purpose. First and foremost, I’d like to thank everyone who has been involved with The Hills Church of Christ 24:7 Student Ministry, to any degree, for changing and shaping my life. The second purpose is to brag on what an amazing student ministry 24:7 has been, and will continue to be in the future. But first, a disclaimer..

*In no way, shape, or form does my declaration of immense gratitude to all 24:7 related parties signify  the end of my contact with said parties, or the participation in said ministry. I plan on staying active in the lives of those at The Hills, and will be as involved as humanly possible while living three hours away. You can’t get rid of me that easily.*

Now before the tears start flowing, thank you…

The Hills Elders and Senior Staff: Thank you for being possibly the most loving and caring church leaders on the planet. While The Hills is the only church I’ve attended regularly for the last 13 years, I’m well aware that many church leaders do not look upon the youth of their congregation with the same fondness and respect I have seen from you. I love that you have thrown out the old saying that “children are the church of tomorrow” and have actively sought to make us a part of the church today. I can’t imagine other churches having most of the senior staff speak for the youth group on an annual basis like Rick Atchley, Cary Branscum, Mike Washburn, Charley Taylor, and many others have now done the past few years. Even more incredible is the way you have attempted to integrate teens into the church wide ministry boards whether it be Men’s ministry, Women’s ministry, or Missions. Saying that we are the church of today is one thing, but asking us to take responsibility for what is going on in the church is another level of confidence that means the world to me and many others who want to feel like an important part of the church. Thank you to the elders who constantly prayed over us before retreats, camps, mission trips. The words of blessing sometimes spoken at 7am or earlier on a Saturday morning mean more than I can fully appreciate. Thank you for the way you treat the youth staff. From watching and hearing stories of how my dad was treated by elders and senior staff as a youth minister, I should have no desire to become one. But because of the love and respect I have seen you give Dave, Jason, Darin, Melanie, and Nicole, I have hope for my future church to want show Christ to all they meet, regardless of age.

The 24:7 Youth Staff: Thank you for literally changing the course of my life. I have no idea where I would be going and what I would be doing with my life if it wasn’t for your love and example. It was 8th grade when I first decided I wanted to become a youth minister. At that point it was just cause I loved worship and liked the idea of going to camps and retreats and getting paid for it. But over the last four years, especially this past year, you have taught me what being a youth minister really means. It is so much more than anyone on the outside could ever imagine. You have let me in on the heart of 24:7. You’ve shown me hearts aren’t always pretty; tensions flare, stresses rise, patiences are tested, and heartaches happen. But the joy I’ve seen radiate through you in spite of all you have seen is what is truly inspiring. Thank you Darin and Melanie for getting me hooked on 24:7. Until E-camp my 6th grade year I wanted nothing to do with 24:7 and the OKC and Little Rock mission trips made me realize the joys of serving others. Thank you Jeff and Jason Allen for being a light in my life from another campus. I thoroughly enjoyed the time I spent with each of you on trips. Southlake and WFW are in excellent hands with the two of you at the helm. God is doing amazing things through you. Thank you Nicole for the impact you made on so many teens lives while you were here. I learned a lot from hearing stories of you counseling students and watching you work in the lives of many of my friends on incredibly intimate levels. Nashville is ridiculously blessed to have you changing lives there. You and Melanie have been shining examples that women are needed in youth ministry. Thank you John for all the things that you have done with the band and your creative inputs throughout the ministry. Also thanks for helping me realize I could sing. Leading worship with you is one of my absolute favorite experiences in 24:7. Thank you to Jason and Dave for putting so much into my life to help me grow foremost as a man of God, but also as a future youth minister. The experiences you have given me I wouldn’t trade for anything. Whether it was letting me on staff at e-camp, taking me on speaking engagements, letting me teach lessons, or just talking with me about life, you have shaped the way I look at life and at ministry specifically. If I could be half the men you are, I would be perfectly content with my character and my ability to minister. Thank you to all the staff on each campus for being an example of Christ to so many teens over the years and for years to come.

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The Adult Volunteers: Thank you for being what likely separates 24:7 the most from other student ministries. I have never seen such a large group of adults care so deeply about kids that were not their own. However, many of you have treated me like one of your own and because of that I am truly blessed. D-groups have shown me what it means for the body of Christ to raise children. The love that I have felt from The Wards, Halls, Peschells, Jones, and all the other parents of my class involved has kept me on the path for years now. I love knowing that just because I’m farther away the relationships don’t end and you will continue to make sure I’m on the path. Thank you to the Herrera’s. Brian and Angela, you have been actual family to me and I often forget we aren’t actually related. It feels like I have known you forever but its really been less than three years. But in that time you have opened up your home and opened up your lives for me and so many others. Your transparency is inspiring and your willingness to give advice and encouragement is wonderful. I don’t know what I would do without your family. Thank you to all the volunteers who have simply talked with me and encouraged me throughout my 24:7 experience. Without you 24:7 would not be the safe place it has been for countless teens who desperately needed caring and Godly adults in their lives.

The Students: Thank you. I am honestly at a loss on how to display the affection I have for all of you. I have been blessed by so many who have come and graduated before me but blessed my life and gave their friendship to me. I have so many dear friends in classes behind me who consider me a role model but I learn more from them than they possibly could from me. Awesome things are going to happen through 24:7 because of those of you who will be leading in the years to come. Thank you most of all to my fellow graduates. We did it. We made it through the hell that was middle school and thrived in the joys and pains of high school because of the bond we have with each other through Christ. I have no doubt that I have been a part of the greatest class to have ever gone through 24:7. The things that you all will do with your lives for the Kingdom are limitless. I don’t know what to say other than each one of you has my undying love and regardless of us going separate ways, we are still the body of Christ. In times of joy, we will be there. In times of pain, we will be there. In times of normality, we will be there. In times of uncertainty, we will be there. When time is no more and Heaven has come to earth, we will be there. 

 

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“I will give them a heart to know me, that I am the LORD. They will be my people, and I will be their God, for they will return to me with all their heart.” -Jeremiah 24:7 

 

 

Camp Barnabas: The Tale of Two Jareds

Now that I have had ample time to process, I would like to share the life-altering experiences I had at Camp Barnabas.

Backstory: Camp Barnabas is a christian camp designed for special needs campers aging anywhere from 8-40 years old. Needs vary from the physically handicapped to those with genetic disorders but all campers have something that would make it difficult for them to function at a typical christian summer camp. The newest camp that we worked at had only those with autism, downs syndrome, or other disorders that were a handicap but did not limit them to a wheelchair (the camp was on a lake and almost entirely rocky terrain so wheelchairs would have been extraordinarily difficult). Each volunteer aged 16-29 was paired up with one camper who would be their responsibility for the week. We could help each other and there were full time staffers who worked in each cabin as well as a cabin parent (adult volunteers) who was there for support as well. However, while we weren’t alone, we each felt extremely isolated and burdened with the seemingly impossible task of caring for, entertaining, and, most importantly, sharing/showing Jesus to our specific camper.

The Anxiety Before the Storm: We arrived at Barnabas with very little training (not at the fault of anyone, just simply unaware of all that faced us) and we received a very minimal amount of training when we arrived: how to deal with biters, hair pullers, how to change diapers and clothes, how to brush teeth, and how to deal with a crisis. Now I look back and question how instructions could have been generalized enough to apply to every kind of crisis we faced. The answer is they can’t be but I don’t blame them for trying to give us a basic blueprint. Throughout all of this time and training at the camp prior to the campers coming I was about as panicked as I have ever been. The idea that I was going to be responsible for any other human’s well being for a week, let alone one with a disorder that would make it even more challenging, scared me to death. Add in my perfectionist tendencies and you have the royal mess in my head and my heart when campers started to arrive..

THE CAMPERS ARE COMING!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! (go crazy)

Jarrod: The night before campers arrived our cabin volunteers picked our individual campers based on some very basic (and we found out later, inaccurate) camper applications filled out by the parent/guardian. The first sheet I picked up was one for a kid named Jarrod (spelled incorrectly but no one’s perfect). I don’t know if it was just the name at that point or the Holy Spirit already working on me, but I felt like he was the camper I absolutely had to be paired with. Everyone else agreed that  “The Jared’s” would be an excellent pairing for the week, and so my journey began.

Jarrod is 10 years old, but his mental and social ages are similar to a 2 or 3 year old. He was born with xyy chromosomal disorder, autism, and cerebral palsy. Jarrod is non-verbal, meaning that he doesn’t know how to communicate with words, sign language, or frankly any means of basic communication (pointing,grunting,etc.). He is also entirely ADL (Activities of Daily Living) dependent meaning I was in charge of feeding, bathing, changing, and essentially anything else needed for him to survive. All of these were quite necessary: he was a choking hazard so all food was cut into small bites, he was only mildly potty-trained so he wore pull-ups that had to be changed multiple times every day, and he couldn’t communicate anything he needed so I had to be acutely aware at all times of how he was doing. The biggest blessing/curse about Jarrod was that he was so autistic that he lived almost entirely in his own world which consisted of him, a couple of small toys he never let leave his hands, rocks, sticks, and anything else interesting he found on the ground. All day, every day he sat down somewhere and would simply play with the things he had or things he found and would take with him to the next place. It was a blessing that he entertained himself so easily for literally hours on end and that he wasn’t a runner, but preferred sitting in one spot. It was a curse that he rarely made eye contact and had barely any interaction with me during the week unless I sort of forced (nicely, not as maliciously as that sounds) my way into his little world. It was also incredibly difficult for me personally to interact with Jarrod because he is the exact opposite of me. I want to engage in every activity; He doesn’t engage in any activity. I want to be in the center of groups of people; He wants to be on the outskirts of any group of people. I want to interact with everyone; He wants to interact with no oneIt a conflict of polar opposites that took many shapes throughout our week together.

Fun Stories: Because Jarrod didn’t do much I don’t have lots of exciting stories but that doesn’t mean I didn’t enjoy the simple time together, so here are a couple of the more interesting stories.

I don’t know why our culture enjoys bathroom humor so much but even autistic kids get in on the jokes. When we would go swimming, pull-ups have to come off or they would just fill with water and sink like an anchor so Jarrod was only in his swimsuit before, during, and after swim time. On three separate occasions, Jarrod decided this was his opportunity to prove his manhood and pee wherever he stood or sat. It didn’t matter if we were standing on our second floor porch where his urine would rain down upon the unsuspecting porch on the first floor where it would narrowly miss creating a yellow puddle inside of a volunteer’s hammock. It didn’t matter if we were sitting amongst a crowd of people on benches by the pool and I had just dried him off. I turned back to him and saw a waterfall dripping off of his swimsuit and down his leg but it took me a mine to realize, no I had not just dried him poorly; he had to go, so he did. Awkwardly enough one of the biggest smiles and giggle attacks he had all week was after peeing by the pool. I guess he just loved bathroom humor, but couldn’t tell the jokes so he had to just create some!

Jarrod loves water. While he can’t swim at all and its really a miracle he never drowned since he hasn’t really figured out not to swallow all water that enters his mouth from the pool, he wanted to be nowhere more than around water. The legitimate biggest smile I ever saw from him was when we took him out for a boat ride on the lake. Something about water all around and wind blowing in his face combined for an enjoyable experience he may have never been able to enjoy before.

Not So Pleasant Stories: The part of Jarrod that frustrated me more than anything was the lack of an ability to communicate with him and vice versa. One of the main ways he communicates at all is by scratching and pinching. For the first day and a half he made me so mad by pinching and scratching me. He would get my attention by scratching and do nothing or would have my attention and pinch me randomly. It wasn’t until I had a heart change that I realized that this was the only way he could communicate mildly effectively with me whether it was pain, frustration, hunger, or just wanting my attention. After that became clear to me whatever pain he caused me didn’t bother me because I knew it wasn’t out of some irrational hatred of me, but out of desperation to be understood. What did bother me was the way he would communicate frustration, pain, or other troubles by self-mutilating. He would get upset and begin to pinch his arms and legs and even his temples till they were raw and red. What hurt me the most was when he was at his breaking point he would slap himself in the face. Not weakly, but actual slaps. When he became upset the red mark created by his hands on his face would be flushed out and every time hurt me because I didn’t know how to help him.

There was one night that Jarrod had developed a slight cough so we gave him some medicine to suppress it. During the talent show that was our event for the evening he let out a pretty big cough and immediately started crying. I was really surprised because these were the first tears I had seen out of him during the week and it seemed so sudden. He began sobbing and he started to pinch and scratch at my arms and hands. He also instead of slapping himself chose to beat his fists into the concrete floor as hard a he could. At this point I had learned that I couldn’t stop anything like this but that my one job was to protect him. So I sat with him for a solid 15 minutes, maybe longer, letting him pinch me and punch my hand instead of the concrete below. The thing that will always bother me is not the violence; I would gladly take the pain as opposed to him taking it. What will always bother me is that I will never know what happened. He couldn’t communicate what was going on, what started the melt down, or what I could do to help. I felt so helpless and like a failure because I couldn’t fix what was wrong.

Things I Learned: Selflessness- In a way that I don’t think can ever be duplicated, I was taught what it is like to be completely selfless for another person. Barnabas teaches selflessness like going and living in another country teaches you a language: full emersion. There is no better way to learn French than to go live in France and try and learn the language by experiencing it 24:7 and being forced to use it. In the same way I believe there is no better way for someone to learn how to be truly selfless than to spend a week caring for someone who is completely dependent on you. It takes a very special person to be able to handle caring for special needs people on a regular basis but I fully support the idea that everyone should experience it for a brief period during their life.

I can’t fix everything- Being a perfectionist and someone who just prefers to be in control, working with someone who can’t communicate issues to you was very difficult. I want so badly to be able to fix his problems. I want him to be able to live on his own. I want for him to be able to even say simply yes or no to me so I can help him, but he can’t. I had to learn that I can’t fix him. I had to love him for who he was created to be and do what I could for him, nothing more. This lesson may be the hardest one I had to learn but it could make the biggest difference in my life.

Everyone Needs Jesus- All people need Jesus. We are all broken in one way or another so we need a savior. The overall goal for the week was to show our camper what God’s love for them looks like and if we didn’t accomplish that, we failed, no matter how much fun they had. Even Jarrod needed to hear about Jesus. We had a designated time to talk to our camper about the Gospel and even Jarrod and I needed to participate. I don’t know what he understood but I went straight through the story of Jesus and how he died so that we could live in Heaven with God. I don’t know how sin works for people like Jarrod, but I know regardless of how he fits into the Kingdom, he does. He is loved by God just as much as I am and therefore needs to be told how much he is loved just as much as I do.

I had one moment that really defined my week with Jarrod. During our talk as the NRH Hills campus during our short break one day we were talking about why faces were so impactful on us. I mentioned that in my case that week that faces were all I had to communicate with Jarrod and faces were all I would remember since no words were spoken. Jason then told me the thought that had been running through my head since gospel time- One day Jarrod and I will be in Heaven together and we will be able to talk to each other and do things together worshipping God. That is the thought that made the week worth the effort and heart ache. That one day, because of the impact I made on Jarrod, we will get to talk together in Heaven.

I’ve left out a lot of stories and moments that I just couldn’t all fit in this blog. Frankly I could write a book on my experiences if i had the time, skill, or will power. Feel free to just ask me about it. When I say everyone should experience, I mean it. I fully support The Hills continuing to work with Camp Barnabas in the future so that more people can have the experiences I had with their own Jarrod.

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Lord I Need People to Need You

Well it has been quite some time since my last post, but I’d consider that to be a good thing. It means I’ve been busy living life and doing things worth blogging about but not having the time and energy to sit down and do so. Finally though I have time and energy and some things worth saying so here it goes.

I spent last week with a couple hundred middle schoolers and a couple dozen very dedicated and Godly volunteers where I had the best week of E-camp I may have ever experienced, but I’ll get to that in a minute. I’d like to talk about a song I heard for the first time on the radio a couple days after I got back from camp. It’s a really catchy boy band song that I would love to say is just awful, but really, I kinda like it. The basic lyric summary is pretty standard for boy bands- sees girl, wants girl, nothing else matters. Compared to some of the garbage coming on the radio currently its pretty safe but when I heard it that day it really rubbed me the wrong way.

Here’s why: The chorus is simply this…

All I wanna be, yeah all I ever wanna be, yeah, yeah
Is somebody to you
All I wanna be, yeah all I ever wanna be, yeah, yeah
Is somebody to you

Nothing vulgar or even remotely suggestive, but my problem isn’t really even the song, its the world in which the song was written. I just spent a week trying to teach some wonderful teens that they have been made in God’s perfect image but that through our sin we have broken and distorted that image. Thankfully though God sent His Son to restore that perfect image in each of us. We talked long and hard about the different sins that caused the perfect image to be ruined and how the world tries to convince you that there is a certain image you must have (not God’s image) or else you are doing something wrong. We talked about sports, school, extra-currciculars, social media, movies, music, video games, fashion, relationships, and all sorts of things that we has humans are told need to be our image so that we can be somebody important or cool. But that is NOT what we were created to be. We were created to be like God; perfect in HIS IMAGE. What bothered me so much was that, even in such a subtle way, this song was saying that this person needed to be somebody different not because they there was anything wrong before, but simply because that was what image needed to be created to please some girl. I felt like the message that I had been preaching all week was being literally attacked. I grew really attached to those kids, especially my 6th grade boys, and I did not want them to forget what image they needed to be reflecting because of the way the world constantly tries to change their image and tell them their’s isn’t good enough.

I had an experience that was completely new to me at camp. Wednesday night after the whole of what we had been learning had essentially been explained and wrapped up, we sang what is easily my favorite worship song, Lord I Need You by Matt Maher. I absolutely adore the simplicity but power that the lyrics hold. As I was singing I noticed a very peculiar feeling coming over me. I realized I was staring off in a weird direction and I was beginning to cry. It became clear to me that I was staring at a handful of my 6th grade guys who had particularly difficult stories and had not always been the easiest to deal with as campers, but I felt they had been learning important things throughout the week. I honestly don’t know how this works but I just had this wave wash over me and I was no longer singing the song about myself; I was singing about those boys. I was pleading partially with them and partially with God so desperately they realize and believe these words.

Teach my song to rise to You
When temptation comes my way
And when I cannot stand I’ll fall on You
Jesus, You’re my hope and stay

Lord, I need You, oh, I need You
Every hour I need You
My one defense, my righteousness
Oh God, how I need You

I wanted nothing more than for them to understand how much they need God and that He is the only one that they need to be somebody to, but that He is also the only one who they will always be a somebody to. A somebody who is a child of God that is unconditionally and unfathomably loved. A somebody that God sent His only son to die for so that they could spend eternity with Him. A somebody made in His perfect image. It was one of the most painful experiences I may have ever had up to this point in life. Maybe this is what it feels like as a parent trying to point your kids to the cross and help them understand the endless love that God has for all of us broken people. 

To more than counter the pain of that experience, I was tremendously blessed to have three of my guys realize that truth and get baptized, one of which I helped with his “group dunking.” (See below)

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Being a part of something as beautiful as baptism for the first time on the “baptizer” side was an unforgettable experience that I pray I am able to experience many more times as a youth minister. Words cannot describe the joy I felt and still feel recalling the moment.

I don’t really know how it can get better than talking about baptism so I guess I’ll wrap this up.

My prayer for you is the same prayer I pray for those boys. That you would realize that you are made in God’s perfect and wonderful image but that you have sinned and shattered that image. And that you would realize that there is nothing you can do to fix this but to turn to God and say,

“Lord I need you”

The First of Many Lasts: Big Picture

This will be the first of what now seems like a never-ending  sea of  “lasts” over the next couple weeks and months. I probably won’t write about all of them because first, that might emotionally end me, and second, not all of these “lasts” are worth writing about. However, Big Picture is without a doubt the single greatest activity I’ve participated in my entire life. So naturally, that means it is worth writing about.

I’ve thought fairly long and hard about this blog since it’s the first of the “lasts” and therefore I had time and energy to prepare myself for it. The conclusion that I came to about  Big Picture was affirmed tonight after the show when I had someone come up to me and say how great the show was. Specifically they said it made them laugh, it made them think, and it made them get emotional. The conclusion that I came to is this- that while it’s never been clearly stated, every Big Picture show’s subtle goal is to give everyone a “Jimmy V” day in the process of 30-40 minutes. If you are unfamiliar with a “Jimmy V” day the term came from the 1993 ESPY awards when North Carolina State’s inspirational coach, Jim Valvano gave a speech in the midst of his fight with bone, cancer where he said this:

“To me, there are three things we all should do every day. We should do this every day of our lives. Number one is laugh. You should laugh every day. Number two is think. You should spend some time in thought. And number three is, you should have your emotions moved to tears, could be happiness or joy. But think about it. If you laugh, you think, and you cry, that’s a full day. That’s a heck of a day. You do that seven days a week, you’re going to have something special.”

I believe this statement to be completely true and am proud to say that Big Picture unintentionally uses his model to present our show. Our goal is to make people laugh, make people think, and move people to tears.

Make People Laugh- I’m not shy to admit that making people laugh is just something that comes so naturally to those in Big Picture that it’s often difficult because we have too much material. In many of our strictly comedy skits we have to start dialing back jokes because we would get to the point where the skit would be 15 minutes long and nothing but one-liners. while it would still be hilarious, it wouldn’t be something we would want to present on stage. Over my four years in Big Picture I have done some pretty crazy things. From my first show delivering the line as a dramatic doctor “He’s got the joy, joy, joy, joy, down in his heart.” Where? “Down. In his heart.” to the last show where we literally spoofed Weekend at Bernie’s. Here comes a quick but lengthy list of some of the best: The Curious Case of Benji-George Bailey (yes you read that right), turning a pre-written skit about abstinence into a skit with dead possums, Gingerella, every Oscar’s opener, building a barricade on stage, making fun of Jason in every manner possible, Spelling Bee, 60 second Bible stories, anytime I got to sing, throwing things into the audience, violencing people, watching Caitlin Scroggins violencing people, pigeons, marriage,  good idea/bad ideas, 24 hour plays,  and so many other things I can’t remember from my (at least) 25 shows with Big Picture. While these moments often had no point other than to make people laugh, Dave always made one of them into a legitimate point that we would never see coming. For example, he turned a skit about drinking your own urine into a substantial message. It’s ridiculous what that man can turn into a lesson. As silly as it seems, without some good hard laughter at the beginning we would never be able to connect with a crowd in later skits where have a point we want to make.

Make People Cry- I joked about it during the recruiting bit and how it’s how you know your acting is really good, but that’s really not true. The sketches that bring people to tears are not because of how good our acting or writing is, it’s because the message hits close to home with the actors, so it’s not really acting but just telling a part of their life, or because the message hits too close to home for the audience members. Now that doesn’t mean we don’t prepare and that we just walk up and improv the serious stuff. They are often the most difficult things to write because there is always a perfect line to express our emotions and thoughts and it’s a beating to find every perfect line for a 5-7 minute sketch. There are four sketches that stick out in my mind as ones that best exemplify this idea and they have one main similarity- God showed up and the Holy Spirit moved in us while we were on stage. No matter how hard we try, no amount of prep can be more powerful than a spontaneous, spirit filled moment. I can’t really go into detail about the four sketches on here but I’ll say them and you can ask me about them some other time if you so desire. They are: the Radiate retreat final sketch with Dillon and Jamie, my sophomore year closer “You don’t have to choose Jesus,” my junior year closer “Berricades,” (inside spelling joke) and finally this years closer with Spencer and I. Each of these were so special to the cast and audiences because it was real. We were expressing our doubts, fears, and mistakes and that’s an emotional thing to do regardless of how straight forward its done. The sign of these sketches being done properly are when, after countless run-throughs, we still get emotional during the actual performance because it means so much to us. These sketches may very well all be at the top of my favorite all time.

Make People Think- Making people think is what Big Picture wants above all. We write things and perform them not just for entertainment but so that people will take a minute and think about how what’s on stage relates to their lives and the lives of those around them. One of the most satisfying feelings is knowing that we nailed a skitch that made people think, and the way we know that is not the massive applause or vocal affirmation during the skit. It’s when we have people so captivated that not a sound is made in the audience during the entire skitch to the point where they don’t know if they should break the silence with applause when it’s over. Over my time in Big Picture we’ve made people think in a wide variety of ways: handing them the point, creating stage pictures, creating “pin drop” moments, and (my personal favorite) leaving the skitch unresolved. I love giving no resolution because it is so true to life most of the time. Our struggles don’t often get wrapped up neatly with a closing statement like a bow on top. Our lives are messy. We need Jesus to clean it up. Above all the things we present, I sincerely hope that the message we preach most is that we are broken and desperately need a loving savior who we should surrender our lives because He is the way.

I don’t really know when it’s going to fully fit me that I have done my last Big Picture show. I really hope no ones around when it happens because tears will be in full supply. The thing that I appreciate most about Big Picture and will miss most is not the acting or the praise we get afterwards from those who watch our show and are so supportive of what we do. It’s the relationships that I’ve made/grown through the years of being in the cast. It allows and really calls for deep meaningful relationships between cast members and a director that come from an array of backgrounds and are all in different places in their faith journey. Most of my closest and truest friends have at one time or another been a part of the cast with me.

To all previous casts- thank you for being my friends and mentors. You have all taught me so much about acting, life, and being a Christian with your words and actions. I would not be half of the person I am today if it wasn’t for your examples.

To those leaving with me this year- it’s been fun. I could not have had a better group of people to go through this journey this year with. I have been so blessed by all of you and I’m excited to see and hear about what each of you does with your life in college. Don’t quit acting. Use it for God’s glory. He’s given each of you a gift that is evident to anyone who has seen you act.

To those who have time left in the cast- You are all so amazing. It has been my privilege to have worked with each of you for even such a short amount of time it feels like this year has been. You are all so talented and I know that Big Picture is in perfectly capable hands with you in the years to come. I’m so proud to have seen the immense growth you have all made this year. I hope that I’ve been an example of what experienced cast members are supposed to look like and how they are supposed to lead but also listen. I’ll be back to watch shows next year, so don’t be terrible.

To Jason- Big Picture could not have a better leader. Words can’t describe how important you are to every one who has ever been in the cast. You are a man with ridiculously large doses of knowledge, sarcasm, and kindness expressed through throwing things. You specifically have helped make me a better man. Keep it up.

Thank you to all who have supported me in my four years and please continue to support Big Picture in the future. This group is only limited to what God can do with them, so anything is possible.

*Lights down*

 

The “Village” People

In light of things that I’ve read and witnessed this week, as well as events that are occurring in my far too immediate future, I have something I feel the need to write about-  the village. Not the  M. Night Shyamalan movie The Village (I actually watched that in school in like 6th grade and I’m not really sure why) but the village that it supposedly takes to raise a child. While the saying in itself is very cliche to me and really not very applicable as I don’t live in a village it still rings incredibly true concerning the roles that other adults should play in a child’s life. I feel like the sayings original intent is more focused on little child/babysitter relationships than the teenager/mentor relationship I’ve come to find so important. However based on this tweet, village babysitters are nice too.

The need for adult mentor’s has been stressed to all 24:7 students, parents, and other volunteers and in all honesty the adults who have poured into me over the years because of this acknowledgement that students need adult role models in their life other than their parents is one of the greatest blessings 24:7 has given me. While parents are an irreplaceable part of many students’ lives, it is known all too well that every teen goes through a stage (of various lengths) where they decide that other people’s parents are way cooler than their own. The incredible irony is that while I may think my parents are weird (which I do in the most loving way possible) someone else will adore my parents because they think they are cooler than their own parents while I may think the exact opposite. It’s a huge cycle, but not necessarily a bad one. Here are some of the things that I think truly make the adult mentors in my life the heroes that they are to me.

They Talk to Me- This is probably the simplest thing and the most difficult thing an adult can try and do with a teenager- talk with them. Admittedly, it can be very awkward at times. Not every adult understands how to communicate in the very diverse and ever changing teen language, and frankly many teens don’t often have the ability/attention span to carry on semi-intelligent conversation with an adult so there are issues on both ends. However, it is a necessary step in any type of relationship, especially a mentorship, to talk with people. People do not open up to and accept advice from people that they don’t have any sort of previous relationship with, and that cannot be gained unless conversation happens. The great thing that I think most adults can and should take advantage of is this: teenagers give brownie points. If an adult comes up and initiates a meaningful conversation (this doesn’t mean serious, just intentional conversation) even if its semi-awkward, I give that individual a certain amount of brownie points because I see that they care enough about me to try to get to know me. If they try and have another intentional conversation with me later than I am already beginning to come around to them and through a process as uncomfortable as this can be at times, lasting relationships can be formed. This is the first substantial step in a mentor relationship.

They Aren’t Perfect- This for me is something I’ve experienced first hand very recently,  but I realize has been consistent in all of the adults in my life I trust and ask for guidance from and that is that they aren’t perfect. “Well, duh Jared, Jesus is the only perfect person who has ever lived.” Yes I know, but as dumb as it sounds, adults who are not afraid to share the mistakes they’ve made in hopes that the lessons they have learned will be beneficial to me move from good mentors to great mentors. It’s one thing to simply talk with someone but it’s a whole new level once you begin to talk about your sins. If an adult has the fake appearance that they are perfect and have never made a bad decision or had to go through difficult experiences, then why would I want to take advice from them about something they have no experience with? Sure, you can always break out a Bible passage or poignant movie reference (A good Remember the Titans reference is always appreciated) but those don’t have near as much credibility as a story from someone who made the mistake, dealt with the consequences, and now can look back and see what they should have done instead. I want to take advice from someone who has real life experience and is willing to share it, not someone who wants to pretend mistakes have not been made. 

They Are Relentless- This goes two ways in my opinion: they are relentless in their pursuit of a better relationship with God, and they are relentless in their pursuit that I pursue a better relationship with God as well. So many adults in my life have inspired me not by incredibly wise words said to me or good deeds that have been done for me, but by simply living a Godly, spirit-filled life for all to see. This alone is often key in helping me stay on the narrow path. Even more incredible is when these adults see us stumble in our journey and instead of condemning us and hoping we get straightened out, they continue to pull us along. I have not seen a better example of this than what the parents of my senior class have been. D-groups leaders and other parents have been relentless in making sure that we all stayed involved in the church, grow in our faith, and show the love God has shown us to all we come in contact with. They have laughed with us, cried with us, and when we strayed off the path, gave us a good kick in the butt just to say “We love you, but you aren’t living the way you know you should so stop it.” That may sound harsh but what a but what a blessing it has been to have adults genuinely investing in my life on a regular basis. I know that come Senior Sunday if all the adults who have poured into me over the years joined the hug line on the side, the line would probably extend out of the church and down Iron Horse.

Now the flip side of this is for the teenagers who read this and are in, or about to be in, my shoes. When you find adults who have the characteristics I’ve described- they intentionally talk with you, they share their mistakes, and they pursue a greater relationship with God and want you to do the same, then hold onto them. Open up to them and allow them to invest in your lives. Friendshoes. When you find adults who have the characteristics I’ve described- they intentionally talk with you, they share their mistakes, and they pursue a greater relationship with God and want you to do the same, then hold onto them. Open up to them and allow them to invest in your lives. Friends are so important, but significant relationships with adults have really been one the biggest blessings I’ve had to help me along my journey so far.