The school year has started and so have the faith formation programs. I coordinate the middle school program at my parish. I recently took a class on prayer and sacraments for this job. In this class, we did a lot of praying and sharing about our past prayer experiences. And that got me thinking about how I got myself all wrapped up in this youth ministry thing. Yep, it all started with a prayer and I have ended up in a place I never dreamt I would be.
I went on a retreat called Christ Renews His Parish (CRHP). Great retreat! If you every have such an opportunity, do not pass it up. Anyhow, when you go to this retreat, you have the option of being on the team that gives the next CRHP retreat. And that is where I was. I was the CRHP weekend coordinator and therefore, I had one of the grave yard shifts for adoration. But this isn’t probably where I should start. You would benefit from a little back ground information.
I didn’t grow up in the Catholic Church. I was raised in the Southern Baptist Church where I was very involved throughout my teenage years. The church was my second home and my peers and youth ministers were my second family. Then, my junior year rolled around. I started asking questions and really challenging the theology of the Baptist church (which is a completely normal thing for a teen to do). I asked a lot of questions and engaged the youth minister in a few heated debates. That is when the distancing began and I started slowly walking away. By the end of my senior year, the adults at the church were done with me as I was done with the Baptist church. And when I finally left, they didn’t call me to make sure this is what I wanted. I sent a letter asking to be removed from membership and that was it. The girl who sang in the choir, sat on the youth council and even lead music in worship services was leaving the church and they didn’t see the need to talk me out of it. I had to conclude they were happy to see the debater go. They were tired of their theology being challenged on a weekly basis by a know-it-all teenager. Imagine that.
So, I carried this hurt around for years. I never really dealt with it because I concluded it was God’s plan. God wanted me to experience the fullness of the Catholic faith and made sure all ties were cut from my childhood church. But after many years of avoiding participation in a community beyond showing up for Mass every once in a while, I had to come face to face with it at CRHP. If I was going to embrace a community at this retreat, something I desperately needed to do for my own sanity and spiritual growth, then I needed to face the fear of why I wanted to run away. I had to look at my brokenness and find forgiveness in my heart for the adults who betrayed it. I was in the middle of this process when I found myself alone with the Blessed Sacrament in the middle of the night.
I was praying for the next step. I was asking God what he wanted me to do. Where did he want me to serve? I was at the end of the CRHP formation process and soon the weekend that my team was facilitating would be over. Now that I was investing in the community once again, where should I serve and what should I do? Youth ministry was always something I thought I would never do because of my past and the fact I wasn’t raised in the church. Not only did I have a falling out with my youth minister that led me to leave my childhood church, but as a convert, I felt like I didn’t know enough about the Catholic faith to teach youth. Nope, I was too broken and inexperienced for youth ministry and anyplace else seemed like a better fit. But that is not what the Lord thought.
There I was before the Blessed Sacrament. I had left my career as a middle school band director the year before and I felt like I was in the position to really lay down my life. I wasn’t tied to anything professionally. Serving the Lord was my greatest desire and I was filled with great joy to surrender myself so recklessly. And that is where I was. I was surrendering and experiencing this joy when the Lord hit me with a ton of bricks. He said, “I want you to work in middle school youth ministry.” All of a sudden, I couldn’t quite catch my breath and I started shaking. “Really, Lord? Seriously?” And, like a paper doll under a ton of bricks, I crumbled. I started in with the litany of why that wasn’t going to work and how I wasn’t fit for the job. But He didn’t stop asking. He wanted me to trust Him because He knew me better than I know myself. He knew the wounds I carried around, wounds that left lasting scars, and yet he still wanted me to serve in this capacity. He could see something I couldn’t. So, I surrendered. And luckily, I pulled myself together just in time for the next holy hour shift to begin and in walks the middle school youth minister. “Really, Lord? Seriously?”
I spent the next two years as a volunteer on the core team for the middle school faith formation program. During holy week of my second year on the team, I felt the Lord calling me again. My youngest son was just one year away from Kindergarten which meant I needed to figure out what I wanted to do when I grew up. Was I going back to teaching or was did I want to change careers? By this time, I had some experience in youth ministry and I really enjoyed it. Despite my past experience and my convert status, I fit in well with the youth. It seemed like the perfect place for me to volunteer. Actually getting a paying job in the field didn’t seem feasible since I didn’t have the correct degrees and let us not forget that I am not a cradle Catholic. Anyhow, I remember it so clearly. Our pastor was preaching on Easter morning and in his homily, he challenged us to participate in the resurrected life of Christ. In order to do that, we needed to die to ourselves and surrender our lives as Christ did. And that is when the Lord whispered to me that he wanted me to surrender once again and do the youth ministry thing for real. Again, ton of bricks, but this time there was an unexplained joy behind them. I trusted Him so recklessly the first time around and things turned out great. So, why not? If it was the Lord’s will, then I would get a job. If not, then I would continue to volunteer. It seemed like a win-win situation.
That week, I asked my friend, the middle school youth minister how one would go about seeking a job in youth ministry. At this time, our youth ministry staff was undergoing some change and little did I know, the parish leadership was restructuring the program. My friend, the middle school youth minister was discerning if she should step into the newly created Youth Director position. If she did, who would step into her role? Who would run the program she poured her heart and soul into for these past few years? My name popped into her head and later that week, my email popped into her inbox. Yes, my friends, that is the Holy Spirit at work. Long story short, here I am in my second year filled with joy doing what the Lord has called me to do. And in this service, a healing has taken place. I’m more whole, more complete. The lasting scars have faded. Five years ago, if you had told me I would be working in youth ministry, I would have stepped outside to see the flying pigs. Never did I imagine that this is where I would be. Never did I imagine I would find such joy in serving the Lord in the one place I most feared.
So, be not afraid. “Trust in the Lord with all your heart.” (Proverbs 3:5). Because, “I know well the plans I have in mind for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare, not for your woe! Plans to give you a future full of hope.” (Jeremiah 29:11) And when we trust and place our hope in the Lord, we “will soar as with eagles’ wings; [we] will run and not grow weary, walk and not grow faint.” (Isaiah 41:31)
All glory be to the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. As it was in the beginning, is now and ever shall be, world without end. Amen.