Thursday, September 22, 2005

Why I am a Young Life Leader

As anyone who would call me a friend would know, for the past three years of my college experience I have been involved in a group called Young Life. To many, it appears that this "doing Young Life" thing causes me to disappear for long periods of time. Others are convinced that I am in a cult. Still others think that I hang out with high schoolers because I can't find any friends my own age. I have decided that it is finally time to explain why it is that I turn down offers to go out, miss opportunities to go out with my boyfriend, spend half my money on gas driving around the county, and find myself at high school sporting events for sports that in any other circumstance my non-athletic self doesn't like at all.

I actually don't have an easy answer. When I was in high school, I went to Young Life club sometimes. I was a pretty busy kid, what with riding horses every chance I got and running around doing all sorts of other things like small group and orchestra and trying to start my own club at Sherwood. I started going to Young Life because my best friend invited me and because it was fun to watch people do lots of silly things and play games and be random. It definitely didn't hurt that a boy that I had a huge secret crush on went too. Ok fine, that may actually have been the real reason I first went. My leaders were Stacy and Christina, and I thought they were pretty awesome and fun. By my senior year Young Life at Sherwood had fizzled down a little and I got really involved in running my church's youth group, but I still loved when Stacy would invite Kim and I to breakfast or a concert or something. Once I graduated and decided to go to UMD, it was Stacy who suggested I go to the Young Life Leadership Bible study and think about being a Young Life leader. I figured I would check it out because after all, I thought Stacy was pretty cool and I wanted to be pretty cool too.

It was during these Bible study/hang out times that I realized what Young Life was all about. I realized that Stacy didn't hang out with us because she didn't have anything better to do. I realized that she didn't get paid, that she didn't help coach the softball team just because she liked softball. She spent time with us because she wanted to make a difference in our lives. She wanted to be someone who cared about us, someone who showed us how awesome it really is to live life with Christ at the center. This was where I started to panic. I though, "Um, no way can I hang out with high schoolers. I mean, seriously, no way are they going to want to hang out with me. What do I possibly have to offer them or show them about Jesus?"

But I kept going to new leader training. I wanted to give away something of myself. I didn't want a life centered solely on me. My life to that point had been such a testimony to the way God works and moves in our lives, and I wanted to share that. I wanted people to know this Jesus that I knew, this Lord that I knew had a specific plan and purpose for all of the people He created. I started to think that maybe I wanted to be a Capernaum leader, and hang out with high school kids with special needs. The idea of hanging out with regular, every day high school kids was somehow still terrifying. And yet at the end of my freshman year of college, I was asked to be a Young Life Leader at Blake High School, because that was where the greatest need was. I had been praying that God would send me where He wanted me, so I didn't even hesitate when I said yes.

My first real experience as a leader was at a Young Life summer camp right after my freshman year. I went not knowing any of the kids. There were basically three girls I was intended to hang out with that week. I couldn't believe how different they were from me; they were all about boys and cheerleading and such, pretty much the stuff my farmy self was not about at all. How was I possibly going to fit in with them? And yet by the second day of camp, I dearly loved these girls. I realized that beneath it all, they struggled with the same insecurities I had struggled with when I was in high school. They had the same needs to be loved and paid attention to and encouraged. We had so much fun that week, I couldn't believe it.

I "do Young Life" because I love it. I love hanging out with kids who are different from me. I love talking with them and hearing their struggles and sharing mine. I love how excited they get every week at Campaingers to share their "highs and lows." I love how each has a different and hilarious sense of humor. I love how each new kid I meet shows me a different aspect of God I didn't know before. So often these kids encourage me and grow me more than the other way around. I realized a long time ago that I actually don't have anything to offer these kids, except one thing, and that is the love of Christ. And that is all that they need, all that they are searching for. It doesn't matter who you are or what you do or where you come from; if you love Jesus, you can love a teenager.

I won't say though that it's not hard sometimes. Sometimes it's hard to make time, sometimes it's frustrating to give up time with my college life, a lot of times I miss riding horses all the time like I used to. Sometimes I wish Lenny and I were hanging out instead of being at the football games of two different high schools. But if even one kid's life is a little better because someone took some time to care about them, then I know it's all worth it.

So there you have it, for any of you who have been wondering. Today I went to Blake at 7 am for See You at the Pole day. I was so proud of the kids I knew who were willing to stand outside their school and pray for their friends and teachers and the nation. It was beautiful to see them holding hands in a circle around the flag in the cool, misty morning air with the sun rising behind them into a completely clear blue sky. You never know which kid is going to grow up and change the world. I know that sounds all cheesy and whatnot, like the soundtrack "I Believe the Children are Our Future" should be playing in the background. But I'm completely serious. I guess I just feel blessed that I get to be a part of these really special kids' lives.

I'm going to stop now before I get all emotional. ;)

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