Monthly Archive: May 2011

Dear Monica

Dear Monica,

Wow. You make a beautiful 12 year old. Gorgeous actually. And I love you so much.

Seriously, sometimes I just find myself brushing my hair or driving to work and I am struck by how much I seriously love you.

You. Are. Awesome.

This year you had your first full year of junior high school, you took a trip to Jamaica, we had our first full-out conversation that didn’t require you to hand the phone off to mom even once, and we both got to go to Florida on our first mission trip.

You still have a lot of school left though, and probably many more trips out of the country, and I pray we will get to have many, many more phone conversations and mission trips.

The thing I’m most proud of is your love for God. You listen to Christian radio and pray and read devotionals and really, you just ‘get it.’ You believe with all your heart that he is real, and you do your best to live your life in a way that lights the world.

I think my favorite moment this year was when you and were both at a Christian book store and I was donning my Saturday fashions (see: dirty hair, yoga pants, flip flops) and I was going on and on to the store clerk about a youth leader book I liked, and after we left you mentioned that you were a little embarrassed by the whole thing, but then quickly figured, “it was for God, so whatever.”

I loved that.

Sure, sure we both know you’re not perfect all the time, but I see how hard you try to always be a better person and it constantly amazes me. I wish I had your ambition and your faith at 12. I wish I had your world awareness and your courage.

Lucky for me though, I get to have you in my life — and that’s more than enough for me.

Happy Birthday.

Love,

Crystal

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May 15 Sermon: Things I learned about being a better Christian by being a youth leader

Crystal’s note: Below is the the text from my very first sermon, which I gave at Crossroads of Faith UMC in Bolingbrook, May 15, 2011. I obviously tweaked it as I gave it, but for those interested in reading what I had, here you go. :)

By being a Christian, I don’t mean, the “I give my heart to Jesus’ speech.” “Or the ‘I was baptized” thing or even the whole ‘I went through confirmation” part. I don’t even mean the “I go to church every week” part.
Those are the easy parts.
I’m talking about the actual giving of the actual heart. In other words, the “living convicted part.”
Being a youth group leader is basically like reaching into your chest, cutting through your ribs, grabbing a chunk of your beating heart, pulling it out and putting it on the table.
There are long hours, lots of praying, pleading, crying, coffee, and emotional stress.
Like, the one time, after I had that one youth group session where everything blew up in my face, and I went to my only parent volunteer and started crying and telling him that there were in fact kids out there who actually like me.
Or that time when I put every ounce of my emotional energy into a session only to leave so drained that my roommate had to remind me that God was in fact, good.
Or that other time when I saw a mouse in my office.
But then.
Then some days are so amazing that you wonder how heaven could be any better than this.
Days when a student runs over to sit by you in service. Or days when a parent tells the Christian Education committee that he thought your plan to start a high school group was like a boat with a lot of holes in it, but now, he’s really impressed. Or when a student  sends you a text message telling you, you rock.
Those are the days that bring the good tears to my eyes. That make me think that maybe God knew what he was doing putting me in this role. And on those days, I’m grateful, and happy, and blissful.
And I know that it’s my calling.
I’ve learned so much about being a better Christian by being a youth leader. I don’t always feel comfortable telling people how to live, but I do love telling stories about how God has affected my life in amazing ways, and that’s what I hope to do today.
First though, I want to tell you a little bit about how I got here. I had been hearing the call for a few years and I was ignoring the heck out of it as best I could. Just pushing it aside because holy molley had I committed an insane amount of time to being a journalist.
See, journalism was MY dream. No God needed.
I went to four years of college to learn how to do it, and I was even editor in chief of my college paper — a fact I am pointing out mostly because telling people I was editor in chief of my college paper is about the coolest thing I got out of that.
After college, I decided to go to more college. In fact, I went through an elite master’s program that only accepted 19 people from the country each year and I got a graduate degree in political journalism. From that, aside from again being able point out how cool I was, I got the added bonus of thousands of dollars of student debt.
Then, I moved to Iowa, South Dakota, Wisconsin and back to Illinois chasing MY dream.
God had different plans though.
And he kept telling them to me over and over and over and OVER again. And there were others who could sense it. I remember quizzing a youth leader one time about the path he took to get his job and in the middle he stopped and said, ‘Are you being called?’ and I said, “Me? Nope. Not me. I was just, you know, wondering and stuff.”
I was being called though.
And finally, when I found myself living in Woodstock, Il, I decided to just listen to God’s voicemail. I saw a church at the end of a block one day, and it just about called out my name outloud and told me to attend. So I did. Timid at first.
But then, I started praying about the call and asking God to lead me. So, He did. There was a volunteer fair at this church one day, and I walked up to the youth group booth and said hello and asked if they needed volunteers, and this wonderful woman named Lynn told me YES! YES THEY DO!! And then she said I should come that very night.
And I did. And Lynn turned into the best spiritual mentor ever and I turned into a youth leader.
> Pick up the phone:
And that brings me to the first thing I’ve learned, when God calls, pick up phone.
I think sometimes we get confused here though and scared because we think God only calls us to do huge, gigantic things like become a youth leader, but often times, he just calls us to follow him one small step at a time.
I’m not saying it’s easy, but I will say that there are small ways we can take a leap of faith everyday. We can donate that extra $10 each week to church or the homeless or Haitai and know that God will help us through. We can talk  about God to that co-worker we see everyday who’s begging for hope. We can give someone a second chance. Or we can just help out with Vacation Bible School.
There are two times in my life that really stand out to me where I knew God was asking me to take a leap of faith. Both were small things, but for God, I’m sure they were big.
The first time, I totally ignored him.
I was meeting with my former pastor in Woodstock after church one Sunday and a homeless man came to the door and he said he needed money to buy a tent because the shelter was closing for the summer.
My then-pastor wasn’t really on board though. He was off the school of thought that you should not give money to someone if they’re taking advantage of you. And he told the man to go wait downstairs until he was done meeting with me, and then he would figure it out.
Something inside me told me that my then-pastor wasn’t going to give him any money though. And I had a $20 bill in my purse that I knew God wanted me to give him.
And I thought about the scripture in Matthew 25:34-40.
Then the King will say … For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? 40 “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’
I didn’t give the man the money though. I just walked by him and on my way out and I said Good Luck.
It’s one of my biggest regrets.
The next time though, I answered. Reluctantly.
I was on the mission trip in Florida and a parent was scheduled to pick up his daughter early and take her to Disneyland. The only problem was, she was going to have to miss the foot-washing ceremony, which is the the most life-changing part of the entire week.
Then though, the parent’s plane got delayed and it looked like she would be able to stay after all. However, the parent ended up getting there about 45 minutes before the ceremony and he was insisting on taking her early.
He told me he was tired, and he’d had a long day, and that he wanted to go.
And I looked at him, and I just thought, I’ve spent the last week on a mission trip sleeping on an air mattress and coordinating 19 teenagers and you’re complaining to ME about being tired?
Now, contrary to what you might think, I actually hate to disagree with parents. And, so I really wanted to just let her leave. But God didn’t. He wanted her to stay. And he wanted me to tell her dad that.
God basically pushed me into the entry way area and spoke through me to this dad. And while I was resisting God kept working. And I stood there, firm with my feet on the ground, and I said, she has to stay. This is important. Inside though, I was ready to run away.
And after the dad yelled at me, I said it again and then he yelled at me some more and I stood still on my feet and I said, she has to stay. This is important. And so, maybe because he was tired, he gave in, and she stayed.
And it was life changing and powerful and I’m sure that the girl had never to that point experience the holy spirit in the way she did during that ceremony. The girl was a hot mess of tears and joy afterward and I sent on her way.
About a month later, I saw her dad at church. And he hugged me and he whispered in my ear, Thank you for insisting.”
God does amazing things when we pick up the phone. After we take the call though, it’s important to talk back to him.
The next thing I want to talk about is Prayer.
> Prayer is for real. You should do it more.
Ya, ya, you know that already. I know. But do you really?
The Bible says in Matthew 7:7 Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you: 8 For every one that asketh receiveth; and he that seeketh findeth; and to him that knocketh it shall be opened.
Prayer is for real. We should do it more.
The most startling example I have of this happened late last year at my old church in Woodstock.
I remember thinking that I was pretty sure the little girl in the pew in front of me was a little freaked out when she looked back and saw me crying during the prayer in the service.
It was a low point.
Being broke is a suffocating hardship that people don’t like to talk about, or help you out with. Or maybe I just don’t like talking about it, or asking for help.
I had just made a $728-student-loan payment. It was nearly half my monthly take-home pay.
And, I had just spent $6.15 on food for the day’s youth group lunch, leaving me an empty tank of gas and $27 for the next two weeks.
So yes, I was crying during the service.
The only solution I could come up with by myself was pretty bleak.
I figured, I spend about 20 hours a week doing youth-group leader related activities. (Which at the time, was not a paid position). And then I spend the rest of my time at my day job. (Which was barely a paid position). So, I was looking for a second job, (which would really be a third job), but that’s hard to find without any availability.
As I sat in the wooden pew and held to the Bible for dear life, I thought, ’I just can’t do this. Not right now. I have to find another source of income. I have to. And youth group is just too much time.’
The idea of quitting hit me hard though. It hit me in my soul. For those unfamiliar with such a hit, it’s like getting whacked in the chest with a baseball bat, and then having your boyfriend tragically dump you, and then having your car break down – all at once.
I love youth group work.
Love.
When I’m doing it, I feel at peace, and complete, and inspired. I pray everyday for God to use me as a tool, and every Sunday, he does.
But I was feeling very desperate.
I was praying, or more accurately begging God for help. Pleading, desperately, for something. Anything.
Just help.
And I was trying to remember what a friend of mine said about how God giving us our daily bread. Not our weekly bread. Or our monthly bread. Our daily bread. He gets us through each day, and gives us what we need, and why would we ever have to ask for anything more?
But it’s hard to think that when you have no money.
And everyone was trying to talk to me about stuff at church. All, ‘Did you take care of this?’ And ‘What are your plans for that?’ And ‘How are the youth doing with this?’ and I was on the verge of running to bathroom in tears. I was about two inches away from crying on a toilet for 15 minutes.
I didn’t. But the possibility was right there.
After service, I was trying to handle things, and figure out a plan, and not cry during fellowship time when one of the former youth leaders started talking to me about mission trip planning.
I wouldn’t say we were “close,” but by this point, I was very frustrated and very exasperated and, finally, instead of crying hysterically I just blurted out , ‘I need help with buying the youth group lunches. I have somehow just ended up doing it myself nearly every week. And I can’t afford to. I just can’t. I cannot afford it.’
Maybe he saw the tears in my eyes, or he recognized my struggle because he knows what it’s like try to teach teens about God while playing pumpkin olympics and coordinating flower pot sales, but whatever it was, within about 2 minutes, he was handing me $40 cash.
Just like that, God answered my prayer.
I hugged him. The man I had never hugged before because he had just saved me.
He had gotten me through the day and given me my daily bread.
God always gives us what we need when we ask
>Read the Bible
Which brings to my next point, Read the Bible so you can remember God’s promises.
This line of work means I have to read the bible every week so I can prepare a lesson. And I admit that before I became a youth leader, I did not read it as often as I should. But the more you read it, the more you want to read more.
When people say they follow Jesus, but they don’t read the bible, I always think they just have an imaginary friend named Jesus because the relationship is so one sided. When you don’t read the bible, you start to follow a God that you’ve created instead of the other way around.
You see right and wrong through your eyes and that’s something you don’t have to do because there’s this amazing book that God gave us that teaches us exactly what God’s ways are and what God’s promises are.
When I got started, I was always Googling verses for interpretation, but then I found The Message Bible, which is a contemporary version. It’s the version that was used for today’s scripture reading, and it’s wonderful and easy to understand and you should get one, like yesterday.
> Your life is an inspiration to others whether you’re living it that way or not.
But why does it even matter if you answer God’s call, or pray or read the Bible? The biggest thing I’ve learned from leading youth is that your life is what inspires others, whether you answer God’s call or not, whether you pray or not, whether you read the bible or not. What you do is inspiring someone else to do the same thing.
That’s powerful stuff.
You could even be inspiring somebody right now. Sitting here in church, could be just the thing someone else needs to see.
Leading by example is so important.
This was another lesson I learned on last years mission trip. It was our first night there, and I was exhausted and still a little nervous about everything, and it was time for praise and worship.
I was perfectly content to chill in the back with the other adults and watch the kids sing. But, Kris, one of the other adults, had different plans. He stood up right away, said “This is my favorite part!” and started clapping along with the music.
And you know, it says in Psalm 110:2, Serve the Lord with gladness! Come into his presence with singing!
And so, I stood up too. Because Kris inspired me. And eventually the other kids started doing it too. And by the end of the week I’m pretty sure the praise and worship was everyone’s favorite part.
It was such a small moment, and I’m sure Kris had not intention of inspiring me to stand up and sing. He was just living his life, and by extension he was just inspiring me to be better. It happens everyday to every one of us.
Which brings me to the most important question. Are you living the kind of life that would inspire YOU? Are you living the kind of life that you yourself would want to emulate?
Nobody is, I don’t think. Because we’re human. And really, that’s my favorite thing about being a Christian. There’s always room to improve.
And that brings me back to the main scripture.
I love how it says, “You’re not taking God seriously.”
These are the disciples. These are the people who left everything they had to go follow some eccentric guy named Jesus, and he’s telling them, “YOU’RE not taking God seriously?” Really?
In, The Interpretation, it says,
“Faith that cannot work miracles is not real faith… modern Christians need to be challenged, not condemned by this…. We must not be allowed to be content with a flickering faith that is not sure whether God has anything to contribute to our every day lives. We can attempt great things for God only when we expect great things from God.”
You could be moving mountains right now.
You should be moving mountains right now.
All you need is a morsel of faith.
And then, when you do move the mountains, you’ll inspire others, which could inspire the whole world to move mountains.
That’s my challenge for you, no, God’s challenge to you. Have enough faith to move mountains. Answer God’s calls, pray, read the Bible, and most of all, live the life you’d be inspired by.

Being a Christian can be hard.

By being a Christian, I don’t mean, the “I give my heart to Jesus’ speech.” “Or the ‘I was baptized” thing or even the whole ‘I went through confirmation” part. I don’t even mean the “I go to church every week” part.

Those are the easy parts.

I’m talking about the actual giving of the actual heart. In other words, the “living convicted part.”

Being a youth group leader is basically like reaching into your chest, cutting through your ribs, grabbing a chunk of your beating heart, pulling it out and putting it on the table.

There are long hours, lots of praying, pleading, crying, coffee, and emotional stress.

Like, the one time, after I had that one youth group session where everything blew up in my face, and I went to my only parent volunteer and started crying and telling him that there were in fact kids out there who actually like me.

Or that time when I put every ounce of my emotional energy into a session only to leave so drained that my roommate had to remind me that God was in fact, good.

Or that other time when I saw a mouse in my office.

But then.

Then some days are so amazing that you wonder how heaven could be any better than this.

Days when a student runs over to sit by you in service. Or days when a parent tells the Christian Education committee that he thought your plan to start a high school group was like a boat with a lot of holes in it, but now, he’s really impressed. Or when a student  sends you a text message telling you, you rock.

Those are the days that bring the good tears to my eyes. That make me think that maybe God knew what he was doing putting me in this role. And on those days, I’m grateful, and happy, and blissful.

And I know that it’s my calling.

I’ve learned so much about being a better Christian by being a youth leader. I don’t always feel comfortable telling people how to live, but I do love telling stories about how God has affected my life in amazing ways, and that’s what I hope to do today.

First though, I want to tell you a little bit about how I got here. I had been hearing the call for a few years and I was ignoring the heck out of it as best I could. Just pushing it aside because holy molley had I committed an insane amount of time to being a journalist.

See, journalism was MY dream. No God needed.

I went to four years of college to learn how to do it, and I was even editor in chief of my college paper — a fact I am pointing out mostly because telling people I was editor in chief of my college paper is about the coolest thing I got out of that.

After college, I decided to go to more college. In fact, I went through an elite master’s program that only accepted 19 people from the country each year and I got a graduate degree in political journalism. From that, aside from again being able point out how cool I was, I got the added bonus of thousands of dollars of student debt.

Then, I moved to Iowa, South Dakota, Wisconsin and back to Illinois chasing MY dream.

God had different plans though.

And he kept telling them to me over and over and over and OVER again. And there were others who could sense it. I remember quizzing a youth leader one time about the path he took to get his job and in the middle he stopped and said, ‘Are you being called?’ and I said, “Me? Nope. Not me. I was just, you know, wondering and stuff.”

I was being called though.

And finally, when I found myself living in Woodstock, Il, I decided to just listen to God’s voicemail. I saw a church at the end of a block one day, and it just about called out my name outloud and told me to attend. So I did. Timid at first.

But then, I started praying about the call and asking God to lead me. So, He did. There was a volunteer fair at this church one day, and I walked up to the youth group booth and said hello and asked if they needed volunteers, and this wonderful woman named Lynn told me YES! YES THEY DO!! And then she said I should come that very night.

And I did. And Lynn turned into the best spiritual mentor ever and I turned into a youth leader.

> Pick up the phone:

And that brings me to the first thing I’ve learned, when God calls, pick up phone.

(more…)

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Too late to talk about Osama?

We got Osama finally, huh? True fact, I keep accidentally saying Obama instead of Osama and vice versa. That’s kind of the worst copy-editing mistake you could ever make, ever. It’s not a Freudian slip though, I swear. Those two names are just easy as crap to confuse.

When I heard the news, (via text from Cnn) (we’re tight like that) I basically just went back to sleep.

But then, the next day, I started soaking in news sites and NPR like it was water for my soul. I wanted to know everything. I wanted to know who was there, and how they found him and what phone numbers, exactly, were sewn into his clothes, and did he really use one of his wives a shield, and how did Pakistan really not know he was there? (Seriously, HOW?)

And really, selfishly, I wanted to see the death photo.

That makes me morbid doesn’t it?

I mean, you know, I genuinely believe he was killed. Obama put it best when he said something along the lines of “you’ll know he’s dead because you won’t see him anymore.”

But I still wanted to see the photo. I wanted to absorb the details of how it went down with my own eyes. I wanted to finalize everything.

I understand that it couldn’t be released though. I understand that it would do much, much more harm than good. And I’ve accepted that.

I think it all just goes back to the shock I felt on 9/11 and the way those feelings, which I thought were gone, all came rushing back Monday morning.

Those feelings that solidified for the first time for me that this world is a crazy place, and that you never, under any circumstances, can take the next minute of your life for granted. You can never take that next minute and file it away, confident that what you think will happen will actually happen, because the second you do, a plane flies into your meeting.

9/11 is when I went from naive American teenager, to world-aware.

When Osama became world-aware, he decided he hated everything about most of it.

When it happened for me though, I realized, for the first time, that each of us has to make a choice — are we going to make the world a better place, or not?

Imagine if everyone chose the former.

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