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.
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. 🙂
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.
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.
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.