Friday, November 17, 2006

I Loved This Day

A-M-A-Z-I-N-G. That is the only way that I know how to describe today. Debbie and I are in Cincinnati. That's in Ohio for you who are geography challenged. We are here to attend the National Youth Workers Convention. There are 4,000 youth workers who paid well over $300 for the privilege of coming. And that does not count the hotel, transportation, food and the obligatory t-shirt. I have come to this convention many times during my career as a youth pastor. But this year is different in one key way. I did not pay them to come. They paid me. Can you say, "Freebee's out the wazoo?" I mean they loaded me up with a backpack (complete with the "Youth Specialties" logo,) actual CASH to pay for meals while we are here, a check ... A CHECK ... that I can actually cash for m-o-n-e-y when I get home, a voucher to turn in for my other expenses like mileage and stuff and a free pen! Oh, and THEY pay for the hotel room!


And you know what I had to do in order to score these goodies? This so crackes me up. I cannot believe they paid me for this. (I feel like I robbed a bank or something.) I had to stand at the front of a room where a bunch of youth pastor's had freely and voluntarily come to hear what I had to say about (you will love this...) about having an ADD (attention deficit disorder) personality and still surviving in youth ministry. Anybody who knows me understands that I am the postor boy for ADD. I have not been doctor diagnosed. No, my credentials are better than that. I have been wife diagnosed. I have been children diagnosed. I have been close friend diagnosed. That carries more weight than anything Mayo Clinic could print out.

AND I HAD A BLAST! I do not know how many showed up for the seminar but the room was full. And as they came in I just decided to mess with their minds. Those who knew they were ADD in a complete and uncompromising way sat to my far left. And then they graded themselves down from there. Those on my far right were probably forced to come by their Sr. Pastor. For the first 20 minutes or so we traded our ADD youth ministry experiences. One guy said that sometimes he thinks of two things at once and tries to say them at the same time thus creating new words. I watched as nearly every head in the room bobbed in understanding and agreement. They've been there. I thought it was just me!

Then we got serious and I told them about my 2001. It's not pretty so we won't go into it here. I told them what ADD and a raging "Type A" personality drove me to when I got smacked by more than a few consecutive crises situations. I described the unrelenting pain, mental confusion and blurred vision. Then I told them about getting well. I told them about a church that loved me so much that they paid big bucks to help me survive. Without them I do believe I would be in the vinyl repair business by now. I told them what I had learned on those hard days and how God taught me so much about "soul care" for the next two years. And then the next big disaster hit. That one lasted 3 years for me personally and then I found myself being drug back under by the same currents of stress, the same pain and mental fog, the same ADD characteristics and pure fatigue. I told them that I've already been sick for a couple of months but I'm drawing the line here ... now ... and I'm moving on with God. Where? I don't know. When? I don't know. What all does it mean? I don't know. But I am committed to soul care on the personal level.

Here's what is interesting. In the middle of talking to these men and women I realized something. It was not in my notes. I believe it was from the Holy Spirit. I told them that if God gives you an assignment and you work 5 minutes longer than it takes you to complete what He told you to do ... you are asking for trouble. You are out of God's perfect will. Obey God. Period. No matter what anybody ... I repeat ... ANYBODY ... tells you. Obey God. It's the first and the greatest commandment. Jesus said that the second is like it. Love you neighbor as you love yourself. But get the order straight. We ADD youth pastor types tend to love our neighbors, better known as our youth groups, first and foremost. And we assume that because we are loving them we are pleasing God. Wrong. Wrong. Wrong. Our direction is to love God first and then we will love our neighbors and our youth groups out of the over flow of what He does in us as we love Him. Guys, I'm not smart enough to figure that out. But it's in the bible. Read it yourself.

Then we talked some more. When we closed a few stuck around to ask questions and seek advice. I talked with them, I prayed with them, I hugged them. They ... are me. Ok, they are 20 or 30 years younger than I am but that's why I know more than they do. That's not bragging. I've just been around for a long time and God has taught me a lot.

I loved this day. I love youth pastor's. They are some of the best people that I know. I have been honored to be one of them. I have trouble believing that anything I do with the rest of my life will be as fulfilling, as joy filled, as plain old fun as being a youth pastor. I have lived my dream for 32 years. I fully believe that God created me to be a youth pastor.

Ok, I just wanted to say all of this before time mellowed the memory. It was a dream day. A day I am grateful for. It is good to be alive and it is good to look back at the day just before you fall asleep and be able to say, "Today ... I fulfilled the purpose for which I was created."

Oh ... and did I mention that in the speakers lounge there is FREE CANDY 24/7? Unfreaken real.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

The Yellow Brick Road Is A One Way Street

Have you ever found yourself in a position where you are not certain if you have been complimented or defamed? I think that maybe I am not smart enough to tell the difference. That's entirely possible.

I have a friend who is employed by "Youth Specialties," the premiere producer of youth ministry materials in the country. This friend is pretty smart. We've only met one time but have exchanged many emails. In the course of our e-versations she picked-up on a few things about my personality. Things like ... oh ... I am "mentally focus impaired." Some people would call that A.D.D. or "Attention Deficit Disorder." Now understand that no medical professional has ever diagnosed me as such. No matter. My wife has. My kids have. And the spiritual director for Youth Specialties has. And that is what prompted her to call me up last spring and ask me to speak at a break-out session of the National Youth Workers Convention in Cincinnatti this fall. I said yes because it sounded fun. And then I just put it in the back of my brain and forgot about it. And now ... well now "this fall" has turned into "this week." And I have not given a lot of thought to what I am going to say.

A lot of people come to these conferences. They are mainly professional youth workers. They know their stuff and they work their butts off serving teenagers all year long. And then they come to the National Youth Workers Convention looking to get fed, filled and fired up. I've known a lot of youth pastor's in my day. Almost every one of them (at least almost every successful one) has had an A.D.D. personality. This means that my little conference may not be so little after all.

I know what to say to these men and women. I've had some interesting years this decade. (And might I point out that there is quite a bit of decade left.) In the last half of the previous decade, known as the '90s, I saw some pretty extreme ministry. Suicides. Sexual abuse cases. Kids who were "cutters." Kids who are now in prison. There was much more but you get the picture. I walked my brother through a horrific stroke that almost cost him his life. I stayed near him as his marriage dissolved, his church closed and his life fell apart. I buried my parents. My response to those events was to fall back on my A.D.D. tendencys and run myself into the ground. That finally made me sick. Then I got well. It took nine months before I learned how to stop all over the place. I got sane. Then my church blew apart and I spent three years trying to fix it before I gave up last week. And one of the reasons for the timing of my giving up was that I had fallen back into being "mentally focused impaired." In other words I found myself getting sick again. It's pretty clear to me that this is not God's perfect plan for my life so I followed His clear direction and hung it up. It hurt to do that. But my choices were few.

So now I get to go talk to these youth workers that are generally younger than I am. Significantly so. And I really want to help them not to do what I did. Not to become what I became. So I think what I am going to do is to scare the living daylights out of them. How? Simple. I'll tell them the truth. That should take about twenty minutes. And then I am going to tell them how to be smart. That's simple too.

You see, God does not intend for His kids to self-destruct. Ministry is important but guess what. All we are responsible for doing is what the Holy Spirit leads us to do. That's it. If you do any more than that, if you work five minutes longer than it takes you to obey ... you are screwing up and begging for trouble. And the enemy will be more than happy to provide it. How do I get that truth across to those young and energetic youth pastors? Will they listen? Would I have listened when I was their age and working their insane schedule? I hope so. Who knows? I just know that if they listen to me it will save some marriages, enrich some families, and make them much more effective in ministry.

I always wanted to be the first eighty year old youth pastor. Now that I am fifty-one it occurs to me that I do not want to be doing it at eighty. And I am really torn about that. I am addicted to the bright eyes, the quick smiles, the easy laughter that comes with being a teenager. I have not lost my passion for winning them to Christ. Sometimes it is as easy as picking a ripe apple from a tree. You just do not find many adults like that. But I've got some things that I know now that I didn't know ten years ago. And I feel like it is important that I share those things.

Since I resigned I feel better physically. I know why but I am not going to tell you. it isn't something that you need to know. It is between God and I. If you know me you probably think that you know why. You may even tell other people what you "know." I can only tell you that you are dead wrong. Sorry. I am 100% confident that you are clueless. I did not even know myself until God told me. And at least for now it is between He and I.

He has not told me what is next but I've walked His "yellow brick road" too long to go back now. Too late for a detour. And God's yellow brick road is a one way street that leads to His throne room. I may not know what is on the horizon but I'm pretty certain ... I'll know I'm not in Kansas anymore.