Thursday, March 16, 2006

You know, I really don't understand it. I was tired all day today. It's been a long week. We've had youth events 4 out of the last 7 nights. They have been really great. First we did our "True Love Waits" retreat. I don't know, there was somewhere around 50 there. Thirty-three signed commitment cards to remain sexually abstinent until marriage. (Maybe the others will remain sexually obstinate?) And then on Sunday night we went out together and ate pizza at Imo's until all I could dream of was cheese that night. Last night we had bible study and a lady from our church (who also works at the "Arms of Love Crises Pregnancy Center") came and talked about her experiences ministering in that arena.

And then tonight. Like I said, I was already tired. On top of the youth stuff I've been to some hospital's, visited some very sick people both there and at homes, worked on summer plans, and basically tried to stay out of trouble at the office. And at 7:00PM tonight JPL started. I went without much energy or desire. I had purchased supplies to run 7 games, knowing we would not get to them all. I just hate "down time" where I have to stall or kill time until bible study begins at 8:30. So I had the stuff all ready in the kitchen along with "bomb pops" and assorted flavors of soda. Music was playing on the stereo. The lights were up, the bull horns had fresh batteries, and Scott and I were as ready as we could be. But ... as I said ... tired.

Then the kids started arriving. First it was a trickle. Groups of 2 or 3 would enter and mill around the big empty room waiting for something to happen. Then some of the crazier ones came in and things would start popping. By now I had a couple of spare adults around to watch out for problems. College students actually. Their help is VERY appreciated. We were in the kitchen making final preparations and you could hear the growing roar on the other side of the door. 7:00 came and we stepped into the room, bull horns hanging from our shoulders, music blaring on the stereo ... and we cranked it up a notch. Let the fun begin! And did it ever.

It almost always happens. At that point I forget that I am tired. I suppose it's adrenaline that kicks in. Something does. And its a 2 hour roller coaster of fun mixed with work mixed with policing a ready to explode crowd of teenage energy. These are great kids. Many of them already know and love Jesus. Some have just begun on their journey. Others have made commitments and have not even had the chance to make them public in church yet. 4 of them are waiting for the baptistry heater to be repaired so that they can be baptized. How can a career youth pastor NOT get buzzed about that?

We closed out the evening with a rather odd bible study. I had a copy of some weird grocery store tabloid newspaper. The National Enquirer or something. I would read a bizarre article claiming to be true. One was about how a human virus had now mutated and was affecting computers. Riiiiiight. And then Scott would read a story from the words of Jesus taken out of Matthew's account of the sermon on the mount. I would read a story from the rag. Scott would read a story from the bible. It went back and forth like this for about 10 minutes. Then we told them about how there really is a "right" and a "wrong" in life. Situational ethics don't work. God's Word is true and ever lasting. And you know what? For the first (and only) time this night ... they listened. They were quiet. They paid attention. I told them that anytime they hear somebody tell them that they don't matter ... that they are no good ... that they are worthless ... it is just like the trash written in the tabloids. It is a lie. God made them, He loves them, and their lives have a plan and a purpose. It was not hard to see the wheels turning in some of their heads. Not all of them hear this at home. God, forgive us, but it's true. Some of these kids are pretty beaten down and live under a constant berating.

And so it's not really all that hard to come to JPL on Thursday nights. All you have to do is to stick 700 Q-Tips into a kids head (photo's available upon request!) and then they will listen to you tell them about Christ. I will never understand how those things connect. But they do. I've been doing it for quite a while now. How can I stop when they keep listening? It's a strange trade-off. But it is oh so worth it ...

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

It was just me and the mountain. One on one. Just the way it is supposed to be. I stood overlooking the steep, snow covered slope and felt it sneer at me. Daring me to take it on. I clicked into my rented Solomon ski's and pointed their tips over the edge of the slope. As I dug my poles into the snow I thought about "crossing myself" and remembered that I wasn't catholic. So I pushed off and felt the wind begin to rush by my nearly frostbitten cheeks.

It had been five years since I had skied. Sixty months of solid ground under my feet. The last time I had been on the boards I was in Colorado. I knew that i was not well but I did not realize just how sick I was. I had finished up a difficult month but could not have guessed that I had eight more ahead of me before I felt anything even approaching normal. After four runs down various slopes on that day I coasted off a lift that dropped me several hundred feet below the ridge of the continental divide. I love to ski. In the winters I have lived for it since I learned at the late age of thirty. On that March day I began my descent from above 12,000 feet. A quarter of the way down I had to stop short. I was still above the tree line and snow was blowing over the divide and skimming along above the pack making it nearly impossible to see what terrain was coming. Several hundred feet lower I had to stop again. And yet again as I entered the tree line. I was suffering vertigo. My head was spinning and I could not catch my breath. I looked below at Interstate 70 where it enters the Eisenhower Tunnel. It looked like it was a mile away. I limped the rest of the way down the mountain, clicked out of my ski's and turned them back in at the rental hut. After a mere five runs I realized that if I kept on skiing I would probably get hurt before the day was out. I felt sad and yet relieved. Sad to be unable to enjoy my favorite hobby. Relieved to be able to walk away without the help of a stretcher or a crutch.

And now the five years have gone their way. I have stayed healthy most of the time but the last two years have been very stress filled and I've got a relapse or two under my belt. The doctor calls it "adrenaline exhaustion." I call it "hell." But on that March day ... I skied again.

Where was I before I interrupted myself? Oh yeah.

My legs were not very stable. It's tough to do anything that really prepares you to make the quick turns and absorb the rough bounces of downhill skiing. You just have to get your legs back. So I was pointed down my first black diamond run for the first time in a long time. True, it was just cheese laden Wisconsin but it was vertical and snow covered so it counts.

Everything went fine for the first couple of turns. I struggled a bit through a dip that resulted in a short but very steep pitch. I told my skis to turn right. They caught an edge in a rut that went to the left. I didn't go right or left. I went forward. Over the tips of my own skis. I felt them fly away and then I was on my back looking up at the beautiful cobalt blue sky. I realized my poles were no longer in my hands. I was still going downhill but I was doing it head first and face-up. I probably only slid twenty feet but it felt like two hundred. When I coasted to a stop ... I smiled. Nothing hurt. I looked up the way I had come and my equipment was scattered across the mini-mountain in a way that resembled a yard sale. My sons skied up and gave me a very pathetic look. I am the guy that taught them to ski. Now they make me look like the old man that I often feel I am. and you know what? It's all right. I have done my job. I taught myself to ski on a small hill in suburban St. Louis, managing to put a hairline crack in my shoulder the first day on the bunny hill. A few years later I went to Colorado all alone and skied the highest (though not the steepest) peak that the state offered before I even told my family I was going to try it. And then I came home, taught them to ski on the same suburban hill, and took them to Colorado with me. Now they make me look silly at every turn. That is a dad's job. Learn yourself and then teach your kids to be better than you are. I did ... and they are. Mission accomplished.

The next day I felt like I had been run over by a Hummer. My sons felt great and did most of the driving home. And I did not mind at all.

Life ... is good.