Thursday, June 26, 2008

God and Harmonicas

One of the youths under my charge this summer is a boy named Kyle.

Kyle was born "normal" (as people here explain it to me), but was injured when falling off of a truck at the age of 7. His brain was damaged in the accident and his physical development was stunted as well. Now he speaks with a severe stutter, although is able to carry on a conversation. He rides his bike with reckless abandon and attempts dangerous stunts daily, and is for all intents and purposes a child in a young man's body. Sometimes relating to him is like singing in different keys.

Lately he has been particularly challenging to connect with. When he is with church friends, he will speak Christian words and churchy language and talk of his struggles (always with mention of how he has overcome them). But when he is with non-church-friends or his parents, he is different.

And lately he has been pulling away from the church, so I try to involve him. He comes to the office, but all he wants to do is play video games (not one of my favorites, with the exception of DDR - and that is not much of an option with his bad leg). We go to lunch, but he just wants me to drive him places to cash his checks, spend his checks, and look at video games. I go to his house, and he wants to play video games or make me watch him jump over trash cans. What is more, lately he has been increasingly irritable and angry at church friends whenever we correct him on anything, however small it may be.

But a couple of weeks ago, we had a breakthrough.

I needed to pick up a P.A. system for camp, and Kyle had been over the day before showing me videos of people beatboxing with harmonicas on Youtube. He wanted to get one to put him on the track of becoming the next Rahzel, and so I called him and asked if he wanted to come with me to the guitar store.

There, he plinked on all of the keyboards and we marveled together at the odd sounds he would produce. He thumped the drums and thankfully did not bother the guitars. We looked at harmonicas together and each picked one out. I bought a cheap nine-buck harp in G, knowing that he would buy a nicer one, and he picked out one in D that costs thirty dollars. We left with our purchases and the P.A. system, both giddy to try them out.

We turned on the radio while I drove, rolled the windows down, and tried to play along. When we got notes right, we celebrated by nodding with the beat. We ate lunch and he played for the table next to ours, infuriating our waiter. After, we stopped at a video game store.

Taking him home, he told me of his hopes for camp and his desire to quit smoking and make serious changes from his bad habits. I told him we'd work on it together, and we played our harmonicas.

And even though we were playing in different keys, we were happy.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Camp is Over


Or at least I am as close to home as I can be.

I am worn out from a week of untrustworthy bathrooms, cold showers, and less oxygen. I am sick from a cabin of boys that do not cover their mouths when they cough and people that take bites of your food when you do not look. I am bleeding from boots that cut my feet and a kid that doesn't know what nail clippers are. I am exhausted from a week spent with 10-18-year-olds, trying desperately to teach and to love and to serve.

I taught two classes five times each, delivered one sermony-type lesson, MC'd a talent show, and "slept" in a cabin with five smelly teenage boys.

It was a good week.

The snow made things interesting. My first night there, I wanted a shower more than anything in the world and thus ran outside in just my towel and flip-flops. I trudged for a while through snowbanks, confident that there would be dry land before the bathroom. There was no such land, and soon my pace was slowed to a crawl by my sinking in up to my knees. Finally, I reached into the powder, grabbed my sandals, and sprinted in spite of the cold and the blood.

And then the water was tepid.

The highlight that made the week worthwhile: after one class about how we are lovely and valuable because we are created in God's image, I was a little disappointed by the lack of participation from the youths. Miss Ann talked to me afterward and said that one girl had given me her complete attention throughout. This was decent news, and I was grateful.

Later, Miss Ann came up again and told me that this girl had talked to another counselor. She is 13, but has already tried to kill herself. She has a poor home life and had mentioned to me before that "most people don't remember [her] name." Her counselor asked, "Do you know that you have value?" The girl responded, "I know that now, after Lucas's class."

And I wept. How can we let a 13-year-old try to end herself? Have I failed the world that lets this happen? Do I encourage its death-life? Its empty existence and offer of hopelessness? How can this happen?

But God has dreams for what this world will be, and he is changing it. And he let me witness his working, his doing, his being, this past week. This girl wants to become a Christian, but doesn't know how. So we will continue to talk, and I will continue to pray.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Trying Something New

This summer I have tried to be more adventurous. This has included riding my bicycle without a helmet, eating cream cheese, and as of last night. . .redneck jousting.

At the house of a wealthy family from our church, two men drove 4-wheelers towing tarps behind them. On the tarps were placed boogie boards upon which we stood and tried to beat each other with lances.

I was asked to join in, and hemed and hawed a bit. But I decided to do it, in the spirit of Trying New Things.

And I was creamed.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Another Random Memory

While riding to work this morning, I remembered a couple of things from last summer that made me smile and probably look goofy to people driving past me.

The one that I'll share was from a Bible study last summer that was intentionally light. The other intern, Mary, and I worked on it for a while, making note cards with different celebrities' names on them. We taped them to people's foreheads and everyone else had to describe the person on the card. The person with a card on his/her forehead had to figure out who he/she was.


Cards with "Michael Jackson" and "Brittney Spears" were big hits, of course. Then we got into more obscure celebrities, like Bjorn Borg or something. I don't know. As a lark, we put "Lucas Matthews" on one of the cards, and I waited for the maelstrom of insults like "big, big dork" and "laaaaaaaaaame."

But instead, there was a wave of chuckles as people read the card and I remember one of the teens yelling, "pretty much the coolest guy ever." Adjectives like "awesome" and "funny" followed, and I felt my face grow very red.

The cards then became vague, with either stereotypes or short descriptions of random people that you would meet on the sidewalk. Then we rolled out the lesson, talking about how you never know what people are really like or how they would respond to the gospel. That is, we can't pick and choose with whom to share the Good News based on if we think people would be receptive to it.

It wound up being one of our better lessons, and a good day overall.

Monday, June 9, 2008

My Communion Thoughts from Yesterday

Communion is my favorite part of church. When I was young, I was lost by the ritual of it and distracted by the shiny trays. Back home in Kentucky the lights would reflect off of the heavy silver plates and cast reverse shadows that would dance all over the ceiling. And I was distracted.

And I would be distracted by the sound of breaking bread, like raindrops landing in shallow pans all over the church.

And I would be distracted by the personal stories the man at the microphone would tell.

I didn't understand any of this for years until I learned that Communion is sharing. The very word comes from what we share, what we have in common. Common = communion. Communion is sharing. We share food while a brother gets up and shares what the death of Christ means to him.

And the death of Christ is so significant, so beautiful, so powerful that people have been sharing their joy for 2000 years, re-telling the story daily in their lives. We come together to celebrate as a family because we share the joy that Christ's death freed us from sin, and the joy that Christ's resurrection freed us from fear.

The angel at Jesus' tomb met the women there and told them, "Jesus is not here! Go back and tell the apostles!" I prefer to read this as "Share this news with them!"

And so we share this good news. Just as we do not light a lamp and hide it under a bowl, so we cannot help but share the good news of Christ.

At this point, I asked the church to turn to each other and share what the death of Christ means to them. An old, beautiful man leaned over to me and told me, "Hope. Joy."

Oh, how much we all share in Christ.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Love and Bible Class

Today (Saturday) was a full one.

The Thing That Scares Me that I did today happened twice. That is to say, I attended two weddings.

Being a non-married 22-year-old male who just graduated from a Christian college with a Youth Ministry degree alone is enough to mess with your head. But when you attend two weddings in one day where all four parties are younger than I am? Man. . .

The first one was on top of the Colorado National Monument, on top of mountains. It was sunny and lovely and I am a little burned as a result. The ceremony was no-frills, short, and intensely sweet. We ate food and I fought back memories of being in Colorado and being in love with women who don't care that I exist anymore.

I went on a bike ride afterwards to proactively avoid those same memories and worries. Came back just in time to wear the same clothes to the next ceremony, deciding that wearing anything else (only nicer options remain clean) would almost be akin to showing favoritism. And so I successfully avoided a tie and went.

During the second, I noticed that I was losing it when I began writing my own future vows in my head. I looked at older men who still sat with an arm around their woman and then to the young children who are oblivious to any concepts of love and low self-esteem and sighed. Amey's vows touched me when she told Shawn, "I praise God for you."

On Thursday, Harvest was something of a success. We had more people than I expected (about 20-25) and a sense of anxiety hung in the room. The teens did not know what to expect, and so we talked of what the world sees in Christians, and what we should strive to show them. So many people have such negative views of our faith and I encouraged the teens to dream of the day when their faith causes a reaction such as what Paul writes in Ephesians 1:

"Ever since I heard about your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for all the saints, I have not stopped giving thanks for you."

I have a hard enough time thinking that anyone could ever love me. Can I really cause someone to thank God incessantly? Could my faith and love really turn a heart to take song?

Harvest received positive feedback, but I got little active participation and a lot of tired, empty eyes. I left exhausted from nerves and honest prayers and more than a little disheartened. The teens left the class thanking me and not God, and singing no songs.

It is still early, so please keep praying for a change. For a fire. For a harvest.

And I guess pray that someone will ever marry me.

Friday, June 6, 2008

Will I see you give more than I can take?

Last night we started our "Harvest" series here at the church, a class on learning how to evangelize.

This is kind of "my baby." This is the first brand new series that I've brought to the table in my three summers here, and I've been working on it and crafting a vision for it almost completely by myself. In it, I am hoping to break our youth group of comfort and complacency so that we get out and bring people in.

Last night at 6:30 I realized that I hadn't set up our area for the class and feverishly began to throw chairs around. No matter what, there still looked like too many around the tables so I stacked and got rid of many of them (having a whole lot of empty chairs just looks pathetic and often distracts). I looked at my watch and it was 6:35.

So I paced.

I have never been so nervous for any lesson that I've given, for any activity that we've done. I have never prayed so much before anything I've done. Earlier in the week, the teens had tried to hide their quasi-skepticism, but I could see that they didn't know what to expect from the class and were leery.

And I know that they need this! This is why I am so nervous about the whole thing! I don't want a success story. I don't want a personal victory. I don't want to save these kids my-stupid-self. I just don't want to mess up this opportunity. I don't want to get in God's way.


Why am I typing these things on here? Does anyone care?

(and the title of this post comes from Neil Young's song "Harvest")

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Why I let a church pay me

I was talking to my friend Hannah the other night about how things are going with my youth group here in Colorado. She said something to the effect of not being totally sure of the point of youth groups, never having been in a real one herself. The closest thing she had been a part of was her siblings and then the children of another family.

This struck me as interesting, because I have always gone to a church with a youth group. But always having had something is no reason to have it. So why, then, do we have a youth group?

Truth to tell, that "closest thing" that Hannah was a part of is exactly what I hope for out of my kids here. Family. Intimacy. Relationships with deep roots.

And with those relationships, you can do some great things. This is my third summer out here and I am just now catching my stride. Now that I know these youths so well, we can get on with our real job together: forming a spiritual outlook and spiritual habits to build on for the rest of our lives. We read and wrestle with the Bible together. We pray together. We serve together, although not as much as I would like. And this summer we are learning to share our faith together.

Maybe none of this needed to be said. But it is on my mind and I own this blog, so deal with it. Haha.

Monday, June 2, 2008

Emo Garbage . . . FOR GRADUATES

I remember hearing as advice, "Do one thing every day that scares you." I imagine it was from some moronic book like "Wisdom - FOR GRADUATES" or "Chicken Soup - FOR THE GRADUATE'S SOUL". Or maybe it was from the movie, "The Graduate."


Anyhoo, last night I watched "No Country for Old Men" and it was a masterpiece of fear and pain that didn't leave you feeling like you've been out in the sun for too long (as is the wont of other flicks). We finished it at midnightish and I gathered up my belongings for the bike ride home. I turned down offers for rides (they were going the opposite direction) and left.

I turned onto the road after two cars passed and quickly realized that I could see less and less as they drove farther away. Soon I could not see the road at all, and began to nervously expect rednecks to barrel around the blind corner that I approached. After having watched the movie, I also began to entertain the thought of serial killers coming up behind me and killing me with an air tank.

I prayed as I pedaled, my words becoming not much more than a whisper for fear of disturbing the quiet around me. There were no cars, only temperature changes. And I was alone.

It was not the looming threat of potholes throwing me off of my bike and into a ravine that scared me. It was not the killers waiting for me in the bushes. It was that I am alone.