It’s been three days since my last Sunday as youth leader at Crossroads of Faith United Methodist Church.
I find myself spending all my free time staring at group photos of the youth, and watching this year’s mission trip video.
I woke up this morning to a long wall post from one of my favorite girls, Shelby.
“I think for the first time since Sunday it’s really sinking in that a big part of my life is changing and it hurts,” she wrote.
It does hurt.
It sucks actually.
As many of you know, I had to resign because of my health issues.
My current diagnosis is intercostal neuralgia, and I’m always careful to say “current diagnosis” because I’ve had five diagnoses since I’ve been sick and I feel like it can change at any second.
In short, I wake up everyday feeling like I’m being stabbed in my right side with a butcher knife. And I walk around feeling like someone just broke all my ribs with a baseball bat. I’m also doped up on Hydrocodone all day, everyday.
And holding down that part-time job at the church and my full-time job as managing editor of Candy Industry magazine was just too much for me.
Being sick means I feel almost a morbid sense of peace about knowing I don’t have the weight of the youth leader job on my shoulders any longer.
I know that getting out of bed to get to church on Sunday morning felt like getting up after being hit by a car some weeks. And I know that the stress of running that group was chipping away at every drop of strength I had inside of me.
But I love those kids. So much.
And I feel as though I’m walking away from a part of my identity.
I kept telling the kids that, “I’m not dying.” That they could still call me, text me, Facebook me.
But I know that over time, the communication will fade. That the phone calls will get further and further between. And that I’ll be lucky if I even see one of them ever again.
I’m old enough to know that the end of things really is the end of things sometimes. And this is the end of my time as youth leader at Crossroads of Faith United Methodist Church.
A few months ago, when I first breathed into the air that I was even considering leaving, my spiritual mentor Lynn was trying to counsel me through the decision. And as she sat next to me on the couch, she looked into my eyes and said, “If you do leave, you can walk away knowing you did a fantastic job.”
I keep going back to that. Hoping with all my heart it’s true. That she wasn’t just saying it. That I did all I could while I was there.
But even that doesn’t make the change any easier.
And of course, Shelby put it best,
“I almost feel like it’s a book. Like I was on this one amazing chapter that was so good. Then, I turned the page, and it’s a new chapter and I’m scared because I HAVE to, in a way, start ‘reading’ or living this chapter and I don’t know what’s going to happen. All I know is the last three years of my life, having you a part of them — with your kindness and helpfulness and the way you were so understanding — was amazing. Everything that you did for us was something that a 100 thank-you’s couldn’t tell you how thankful I am.”
Right back at ya girl. Right. Back. At ya.
Editor’s note: Today, Sunday Aug. 11, 2013, was my last Sunday as the youth leader at Crossroads of Faith United Methodist Church. Below is the letter I read to the youth for our final youth group.
Dear youth group,
I feel the need to start by telling you that I love you so much.
I know. I know. I tell you guys that all the time. I’m always blabbering on about how I love every single one of you. How I pray for all of you, all the time. How I love you all individually.
But the reason I say it all the time is because it’s true. It’s so, so true.
I love you all. Every single one of you.
I also want to tell you that I hate that I have to leave. I really, really hate it.
I ask God all the time, why he’s taking something I love so very much away from me. And sometimes, I question whether God is even there to hear my question.
I tell you that for two reasons.
One, so that you’ll know I seriously tried every single thing in my power to stay in this role. Seriously. I feel like I clawed at the edge of cliff, until, finally, my hand slipped off and I couldn’t hold on any longer.
The other reason I tell you that is so you’ll know that as you go through life, horrible, unexpected things will happen to you, and they will make you question your faith. They will make you question your beliefs. And they will make you question the very God you pray to.
And that’s OK. The questions are good. They are normal and healthy and as long as you keep asking them, everything is alright. It’s when you stop asking questions that you should be worried. Because it means you’ve given up. Don’t give up.
Also, don’t be afraid to fail. Imagine how many things you could do today, if you’re weren’t afraid to fail? You could ask that hot guy on a date. You could write a poem. You could make a YouTube video. You could write a song. You could start a band.
Now project that out into your life. There are so many things we stop ourselves from doing every single day because that little voice in our heads tells us that we might not be good enough, or we might not finish it, or we might not do it better than the other guy.
But that voice is stupid. Do it anyway. Chances are you probably won’t fail, and even if you do, it won’t be nearly as bad you think it will be. Also, you will have succeeded more than if you had never tried at all.
Have a plan for your life. You don’t have to stick to it, but you do need to have it.
It will help you keep your priorities in order. It will help you make huge life choices. And it will help you get to the next step.
I started out wanting to be a teacher, so I went to college. Than, I thought maybe I could try the writing thing, so I started working for the school paper. Then, I ended up being pretty good at it, and now I work for a candy magazine. I never became a schoolteacher, but imagine if I had never taken the first step to go to college?
Know which rules to keep and which ones to break. Maybe you need to miss a week of school to go to Europe. Do that. Maybe you need to finish all your homework so you can graduate. Do that. Maybe you need to play a clip of Zach singing “I like Big Butts and I cannot lie” in the mission trip video, for the whole church to see. Do that. Maybe you need to wear your yellow Mission trip shirt when everyone else does, so that everyone matches, and it looks awesome. Do that.
Serve others every chance you get, whether it’s opening the door for your mom, or painting a house on a mission trip.
Go on every mission trip you’re invited to go on. I promise it’s always more important than whatever else you have going on.
Read the Bible. Every day.
Brush your teeth twice a day.
Never text and drive. Never drink and drive. Always keep at least a car length of space between you and the car in front of you when you’re in heavy traffic.
Say please and thank you.
Don’t check your phone when you’re on a date.
Go to church every week. Even if you don’t feel like it. Especially if you don’t feel like it.
I confess that one of my biggest fears right now is that I will come back in six months and this entire youth group will be gone. I pray every night for that not to happen. Don’t let that happen. You are the group. No matter who comes in as the new youth leader, you are all the people who make up the youth group. Every single one of you. And as long as you keep showing up, you will all continue to have the wonderful place to come to every week to share your souls with each other.
Take your hat off when you pray.
Donate lots of money to lots of things. Give money to the church. Give money to the homeless man on the street. Give money to your mom. Give money to your friend. Give it away like you can’t take it with when you die, because you can’t.
Never, ever, wear navy blue with black, or brown with black. Just trust me on this one.
Buy the cheap gas, and the expensive deodorant.
When you are old, remember what’s it like to be young. Remember how crazy this time is for you. How emotional it is. How scary the world seems. And have compassion for those who are younger than you.
When you heart is broken, take the time to cry.
Maybe you need five minutes, maybe you need five months. Either way, give your heart time to heal before you date again. It’ll make finding your next love much, much easier. And yes, there will be a next love. I promise.
Start by forgiving your parents for all the stupid things they did to you.
Then, forgive your best friend every time you have an argument, and your least favorite teacher when she gives you 10-page papers to write. Forgive the guy in traffic who cuts you off, and the boy who never calls you back, and the college that’s too stupid to accept you. And then take a deep breath, let it all go, and move on.
Ask for help.
I have gone through some extremely dark times these last few months, while I’ve been sick. And I’m not afraid to say that on some nights the pain was literally too much for me to handle. And I would think about things I shouldn’t have. And the only way I got through those nights was by picking up the phone and calling Eric or my mom or my friend Terri and having them answer at 3 a.m. and listen to me cry.
I would not have made it through the last few months without the help of my friends and family.
If you can ask for help, you can literally make it through anything.
Live your whole life with passion. If someone asks you to lead a youth group, don’t just show up on Sunday morning. Instead, plan an out-of-state mission trip; start a night group and then personally ask every single kid, every single week if they’re coming to that night group; decorate the room with the kids’ hand prints; serve pizza and Taco Bell and McDonald’s, respond to every single one of their text messages immediately; and pray for them all individually all the time.
Remember that you are always setting an example. People will do what you do. If you jump during the “Waves of Mercy” song, everyone else will too. If you are a hard worker, those around you will become hard workers too. If you care, everyone around you will start to care too.
Love your neighbor.
Youth Leader, 2010-2013
Editor’s note: On Sunday, June 30 I announced that I will be resigning from my role as youth leader at Crossroads of Faith UMC as a result of my health issues. I will be moving in with my mom and sister who live near Rockford. Below is the letter I read to the congregation.
I never felt like I chose to be a youth leader here. From the second I interviewed for the position, I knew I was called to serve in the role.
I interviewed in front of what seemed like 45 people on the staff parish committee in the farmhouse, which was about 94 degrees that day because it lacked air conditioning. It was all pretty much a blur except that I remember looking down to the end of the table, past all the members of the committee, and seeing the most reassuring smile I had ever seen in my life. It was Pastor Wes. And his eyes let me know that everything would be all right.
That night, after I left here, I barely slept. I had never felt such a strong call from the holy spirit in my life and I knew in my heart that I would get the job, even before Wes called to offer it to me the next day.
And so, when I got here, I stayed.
I stayed even when I saw a mouse. I stayed even though the church met in a tent and the youth group met in a barn. And I stayed even though the work was sometimes grueling and exhausting and difficult.
And I loved every single second of it.
I loved it when somehow, by a miracle of God, 12 kids went on the very first mission trip to Oklahoma. I loved it when 18 went the next year to Denver. I loved it when they all got back and ran up on the church stage and shared their excitement with the rest of the congregation.
I loved it when the youth pulled me aside and trusted me enough to share their deepest secrets and heaviest burdens. I loved it when they would text me after night group and tell me that the lesson was exactly what they needed to learn that night. And I really, really loved it when we’d all sing together, with our arms crossed over each other’s shoulders, standing as if to say, “They will know we are Christians by our love.”
As many of you know I have been pretty sick since February. Feb. 3 to be exact. I remember because it was the Super Bowl. And I woke up that day with some pain on my right side. Then, the next day I went to the emergency room. Since then I’ve seen four different specialists, I’ve gone to an average of two doctors appointments a week and I’ve gotten to the point where I’m now taking 19 pills a day.
My current diagnosis is intercostal neuralgia, which I assume is latin for my it feels like there’s a butcher knife in my right ribs — all the time. Unfortunately, all the doctors at all the hospitals I’ve sought treatment at have yet to figure what is causing this horrible pain.
I cannot tell you that either.
What I can tell is what it has done to my life.
In five short months, it has chipped away at every single aspect of it. It has literally made it difficult for me to do my own dishes, or wash my own clothes. Some days, the pain is so horrible that I literally do not get out of bed at all.
I feel like I went from 100 miles an hour to 3 miles an hour in one second and the shift has been incredibly jarring.
Sadly, this pain has also taken away my ability to lead the youth at this church. It started with small things. At first, I was skipping first service or missing leadership meetings. But now, I’m at a point where I can barely get through the morning group and I will no longer be able to do the evening group.
And so, it with more sadness than I can possibly express, that I am announcing my resignation from the role of youth leader at this church.
Things have lined up for me to go live with my mom and sister in Rockford and I will be moving out of my apartment in August. My last Sunday with the church will be August 11.
I am still planning to go on the mission trip to Alabama. We will be taking an extra adult, so that I will be able to rest during the day and then simply be with the youth in the evening. I know that it will be hard for me to go on that trip, but I want to go and I refuse to let this pain take that away from me.
I truly hope everyone knows that I did not make this decision lightly and that I did not go down without a fight. But I have realized that I am truly too sick to continue in my role and that I need to take some time to be with family now and hopefully work on getting better.
Personally, I would appreciate your prayers for healing. But more than that, I would appreciate it if you could please, please pray for the youth during this transition time. Change isn’t easy, no matter how old you are, and I know that the next few months will be difficult for them. I love the kids here more than I thought was possible and I am truly sorry I have to leave.
Thank you for having enough faith in me to allow me to serve here for the last three years.
Love and prayers,