Morning Rush - I worked a full day - racing from task to task then headed toward LA traffic where I arrived late and up early to a full day of Disneyland where i found joy in the midst with my two early twenty something aged daughters. I was conservative on my social media stance as to not bring attention to a well-deserved day off. I am an observer by nature; let's face it, the expensive price tag, tired crying kids, stressed parents, it is not always conducive to the happiest place on earth. Up early so I could make the long drive to be at work by 11, phone down to 2%, I forgot the charging cord, music pounding, traffic at a stand-still, headache from no caffeine, Los Angeles highway lane changes, people rushing. I was going to be late and already borderline exhausted, I made the diversion to a google mapped Starbucks off the freeway - placed my order, brief chat with late teen barista ... all met with: Yes, same!
Tummy round, shoes flat, hair straight, the outward appearance was a pregnancy glow, one I cherished. Inwardly, faith was tugging. It was twenty years ago. I was involved in a Wednesday women's bible study, I was involved in a women's Christian organization, I was involved with a part-time evening/weekend job, I was involved (or tried to be) in supporting my husband's career, I was involved with helping in my older children's schools and activities, I was involved and intentional about building a home (not just a house) but as I stood on the church lawn, I looked not just upward into the clouds but inward toward a calling. There was a peace deep inside and i paused.
I prayed. I listened. It was a sense of belonging that loomed in the air as though I was meant to be in a place I had yet to know. A teenager had committed suicide. I didn't know the person. I hadn't grown up in the church. I had never even been to youth camp; I had always stood on the peripheral door of acceptance and come to believe that is where I belonged in the church as well. I loved Jesus. Perhaps I had something of worth to say to young men and women in high school about faith. I let the thought dribble toward the sidelines.
The problem with the church is it has become linear.
This has been an exhausting month, emotionally, physically, spiritually. I stand at the precipice of change tipping my toes over the paved concrete of a swimming pool wondering do I have what it takes to write another post ..... or blow my consecutive writing streak? Twenty years later, do I have something to say to a generation of kids and parents and a thought about faith?
There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed. Ernest Hemingway
I was a last minute walk-on player for a personnel committee of four individuals that had the task of interviewing a panel of applicants for an entry-level part-time position. Our questions were carefully divided amongst the judges to inspire broad-based answers. Each applicant had gifts and talents conducive to being a good fit for the team but one was the inspiration behind this month's post.
College degree, check. Extra-curricular activities, check. Tangible goals, check. A vision for the future, check. Humanitarian efforts, check. Quite frankly, the achievements of this applicant were measurable and impressive and the delivery was confident and quantitative. There was no doubt this person was qualified but as I listened to his/her accolades, the volunteer youth worker in me, quietly sighed ... I get it. The divide between this young person and the other applicants was palatable.
"For the first time in UCLA history, freshman applications have surpassed six figures. According to preliminary data, more than 102,000 high school seniors applied to admission to UCLA for fall 2017. (Did you catch that? Yes, I said 102,000 applications for 17,500 spots.) They represent the most economically, ethnically and geographically diverse pool of talent to ever apply to UCLA. Contributing to this success is a record number of applications from California high school seniors."
I've got everything ... on Monday, I ate through one apple. On Tuesday, I ate through two pears. On Wednesday, I ate through three plums. On Thursday, I ate through four strawberries and on Friday, I ate through five oranges. Anyone who works in youth ministries ... or is active in suburbia U.S.A. knows the pressure to succeed. I have yet to meet a young person that intentionally wanted to disappoint their parent/s. As parent/s, we want our children to experience all that life has to offer. I have yet to meet a parent that wanted their child to fail.
This is year #10 in college costs; as such, I feel as though I have a tiny seed of knowledge of who that 102,000 applications represent. They are an accomplished group of young men and women of cultural, gender and ethnic diversity. They have demonstrated excellence in academics, sports, music, drama, art, SAT scores, AP classes, mock trial teams, leaders in the community, in the church, in the world. They likely have overcome struggles and have demonstrated perseverance and have a story. They are likely represented by a strong support team: family, friends, coaches, teachers, youth groups; they have access to resources and ideas, churches and have lived on a field where success is measured in quantifiable terms.
It's getting harder and harder for Christianity to compete in a culture of appetite. Let's break this down.
I. The Ripple
Students - now certainly, a busy schedule does not represent all families, all students but it is important to understand the pressure that surrounds them. They have grown up in a world of prospect and possibility.
II. The Momentum
Parents - we have become a generation that lives through our children. We fight for them, we shield them, we advocate for them, we protect them. We have become dependent on our children's success or failure.
III. The Culture and the Church
The fields are green and lush. A sprinkling of rain has transformed the musty, dry scent of heat scorched dirt and weeds into the blossoms of dew - scented with the fragrance of hope and life. An orange colored hummingbird lands at eye-level. It hovers outside my window amid a bouquet of tiny red flowers. With my feet perched up on what was once a vintage school bleacher plank of wood, I watch this fragile life stretching it's long narrow beak into nectar that will nourish it's otherwise lifeless body toward flight.
The church is linear while the culture is more reminiscent of rocks on a Mancala board. Rather than the orderly pews in a sanctuary, the petrified stones have been formed through a momentum of cause and effect.
Team 1: Days after I was on an interviewing panel of judges for a part-time position, I attended a good-bye work party for my husband. With 75+ people in attendance, men and women visibly were in tears. He had built a loyal team of colleagues that spoke of him building culture and climate that allowed them to flourish. His team was solid. I thought about the concept of team - at work, in school, on fields and courts.
Team 2: Klay, Green and Curry were executing magic on a court. Well rehearsed Set Plays, their offense and defense was solid. These three players from the Golden State Warriors had built a strong team and we, the audience, peered through a windowed screen. A flagrant foul upon Curry forced him to the ground; there was no drama in this fall as it caught him off guard. Green noticed: set stance, slight turn, chest bump and a look. It was a subtle team play that spoke 1000 words - don't mess with Curry.
That began my love relationship with Green - there was a subtle communication between teammates.
Draymond Green: power forward (6'7", 220 lb, 2012 2nd round draft pick)
Stephen Curry: point guard (6'3", 190 lb, 2009 1st round draft pick)
Klay Thompson: shooting guard (6'7", 215 lb, 2011 1st round draft pick)
Team 3: For the first time in my life I got an impassioned cell phone call from my father over the determining games ushering in the final four NCAA basketball elite. I was ALL IN on the conversation. I was secretly (like dad or maybe because of him) hoping for a Duck/Bull-dog final but settled for a Gonzaga/No Carolina competition for all the eggs.
New cable system, exhausted from a day of work and weekend fundraiser to raise money for kids, I settled in with a DVR remote and a late invitation to the game. I was sure to turn off social media so as not to get any spoiler alerts. The pre-game seconds did not disappoint, the current spectacle on a screen and the soon to follow social media conversation meant I was both spectator and participant. A full month of conversations boiled down to two minutes left (thirty minutes late to live coverage) ... until the dreaded happened. Because of all the foul plays, the DVR stopped suddenly. A deer in the headlights look, in a second I knew there was nothing I could do. Weeks of watching games boiled down to the last two minutes where the Bull-dogs were up by one point; anything could happen! The Bull-dog/Tar Heels game was over and I had missed it. I could yell? A last ditch effort to try to watch a televised finish without a final score was blocked at the glass. Pretty quickly, I saw the disappointing finish. With technical fouls and a lack of rebounds, Zags did not get the look for a game winning attempt.
I eventually called my dad who said, S--- give them some breathing room to play the F--- game.
On Monday I hear social media is the problem with kids these days.
The Artistry of Strings: With a solo complementary ticket at Will-Call, I was met at the entrance to the concert theater by two high school kids who asked me with all assurance whether I wanted "with or without" notes. Pausing, I demonstrated my intellectual vulnerability which in turn, provided an invitation to a common language. We were momentary equals but I knew they were among a class of superb string musicians and I was but an observing student in a room of musical athletes.
A google search for program notes: String Trio in G, Op. 9, No 1 (Ludwig van Beethoven) of the LA Philharmonic at Walt Disney Concert Hall is an example of a language of which I have little familiarity. At this event, however, I sat not new to an orchestra symphony but open as a student ready to absorb as a sponge soaks up water the exquisite play of sound between just a handful of instruments. The conversation spoken within this room was masterful; yes, a violin, viola and piano but the subtle ambiance of love, connection and inclusion was performed. First, the clothing - a common etiquette of formal attire where light bounced ever so slightly off of diamond gems of stone and prism crisp white starched shirts and ties, next the theater - vaulted, arched with scrupulous swirls where sound was swept through crevices of wood, hands - meticulously exercised through hours of practice and literary study, faces - chiseled with the passion of reaching deep into the soul of history and self and finally, the interaction between a team of colleagues separated through time and space but together to perform a commanding story. I held an invitation to a game-changing musical score.
On Tuesday I hear the lack of responsibility is the problem with kids these days.
Fundraiser 1: The benefits of music in schools has been well documented over the past two decades. With fiscal pressures on public schools, Physical Education as well as Music and Arts were the first discretionary cuts to a budget. Luckily, there were and continue to be advocates for kids.
Competitive by nature, I was amid a strong formidable group of volunteers. Now, almost fifteen years later, I still remember the full-court pressure. It was an evening of raising money specifically for music and arts. Each table was assigned the task of building a theme that would draw donors toward spending money for a good cause. We built the bow of a pirate ship at the front corner of the room. Costumes, over-stuffed treasure chests with imitation gold and silver with the tune of Pirates of the Caribbean playing through the wood of a cross-bow. Giving up our coveted first place reputation, raising thousands of dollars, we lost that year to a valued opponent who brought in a Harley Davidson Motorcycle; a Biker Chick beat the Pirate Wench that year.
Fundraiser 2: The culture is changing. Almost twenty years later and the robust team of volunteers is dwindling. Preferring to write a check, or working full-time jobs, or slowing down from the fast pace busyness of life, the fork in the road has come.
Raising money for technology and enrichment classes for kids, I was a team alongside people who have grown children and young children at the same time thereby solidifying their foot firmly in a generation of the past and present. Silent auction items, Live auction items, bid sheets, booths, costumes, prizes and food, families come together in unity for the common goal of not just money but experience.
On Wednesday I hear the parents are the problem with kids these days.
We have a race issue in this Country?
We raise a generation of kids where everyone gets a trophy. Is it really that far reaching to believe they might extend that to an adult playing field.
On Monday, I ate through one apple. On Tuesday, I ate through two pears. On Wednesday, I ate through three plums and on Thursday, I ate through four strawberries and on Friday ...
The full court pressure had been mounting. Taking my rear view lens off, the ones where my sunglasses are perched upon my head, I stared at the game plays of a fifty plus year old life reading the shots and missed shots of a player with 100% effort and 100% heart. It is not by accident that I gravitated toward a player such as Draymond Green and whether you like him, don't like him or have never heard of him, he is an emotional player; I get that.
Having prayed, having surrendered my plans, having squelched my desires, like water bursting through the hole of a tea kettle, my steam blew in words in a crowded shopping mall hushed at a table of two amid a food court of a variety of cuisine and culture. Walking away, I opened social media. Getting a reminder of being in a game that people not only get me but encourage me and I get back on the court.
Yes, there is the abuse of social media and a long list of why technology is NOT our friend but in a culture where kids are getting squeezed by the world, their schools, their churches, their neighborhoods, their teachers, their coaches, their friends and their families, it might just provide the escape valve from the pressure.
Before we get to Sunday, we have to venture through Saturday and like the full-course meal of variety, our kids are faced with every possible morsel of taste and texture. We, those folks, that put ALL OF THE EGGS into one basket push through our own doubts into a full-court pressure of replacing the dropped balls of prospect and probability with the scribbled scripture notes of faith and hope.
I have given up sugar for Lent; it is my tiny seed of restraint as a reminder of the anticipation of Easter.
Before we get frustrated reaching kids for the sake of the gospel, we have to understand why they aren't showing up to youth group, why parents are putting other activities first and why we are failing as a church. Lets be perfectly clear what we ask.
Those of us in the teeny, tiny seed of a calling toward youth are up against a Goliath-sized culture with a bible and a pen. The week after my last post, I said to myself, I'm OUT. It is too tough. And then, through prayer, a bible, worship songs, restraint and social media, I heard the proverbial:
Green - get back onto the court; we need you - I need you.
An intense incident at the high school this week reminded me the harvest is great and the workers are few. 102,000 pieces of paper sent via technology to only one of many schools that say there is a lot of folks doing good things ... but who will help the 80,000+ disappointed that hear the whisper hard work wasn't enough. And, so I made the diversion to a google mapped Starbucks off the freeway - placed my order, brief chat with late teen barista: all met with - Yes, same and offer the hope of the cross where I can.
We love people into the Kingdom. The culture is kin to a Mancala board because people come from all sorts of starting points and rather than a one size fits all approach, we become vulnerable, pray and allow God to do the rest.
I remember another parent I didn't know expressing her concern that while at the Junior High outreach program dispersing food and clothing to the homeless, my daughter was hugging people. This week, we were asking high school students to get out of their comfort zone and stand in the gap of a generation that needs to hear the hope of Christ.
God asks us to put our hope in Him and with all of the eggs in one basket, press into hope, faith and love, all for a ticket for a dusty dirt road that will welcome folks onto a bus where one by one, they are carried home. Jesus was crucified and died on the cross for our sins; the good news is found on the third day when he rose again.
I purposely used blue, purple and scarlet as the colors of LENT so that you might hear the triumphant bag pipes of EASTER where Jesus was resurrected through the promise of water turned to wine so that you, too, may hear the promises for your life.
Blessings to you - forever,
I purposely chose the end of this song ... because we are but a tiny dot on a map where others have gone before and others will come after us.
Note: having missed the end of the NCAA final two minutes, I know how this one ends but I don't yet know the dashes in between. May you, too, be in the deep end of faith - that is where He calls us to be!
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Songs may be purchase from I-Tunes
Video link through You Tube
Info found on Google
Stories uniquely my own - copyright 2017.
Kingdom work takes some sweat and balls - so church give us a little breathing room.
A person who searches for depth and beauty in the simple things.