Sunday, March 20, 2016

A Letter to a Dedicated Youth Leader

Hello Friend,
     It feels strange to write you a letter, because I see you almost every day. It feels even stranger to suddenly express so many emotions about my experience having you as my youth leader, because our relationship has changed. You’re my friend now, and I’m not technically even considered a “youth”. But I’ve had some new thoughts lately that I feel like I need to share with you, and you’re always a good listener, so here we go.
       For a while, I was worried that I was overstaying my welcome at youth group and only showing up to hang out with you. I didn’t think I had a place with teenagers. I can talk to most children and adults pretty easily, but I thought teenagers were the one group I would never know how to connect with. But lately, as I’ve been thinking and praying about what I’m supposed to do with this time in my life while it just feels like I’m always waiting for the next thing, (a degree, a “real” job, a more exciting social life) I’ve started to discover a new desire to be a role model, for the youth I see every week and all of the other younger people I encounter. I don’t always know the right way to connect with them, but I want to try. I want to give them what you gave me. Before I even realized it, you were showing me how to be the kind of person I want to be, and I want to thank you for that.
     Thank you for all of the things you did for me when I didn’t fully appreciate them yet.  My psychology professor says that it’s natural for adolescence to be a self centered time, and that we should “love teenagers until they can love themselves”. Thank you for loving me when my mind was consumed with trivial things like feuds with friends, or my inability to get along with a certain teacher. Those things were important to me at the time, so thank you for taking me seriously when I constantly complained about them. You helped me make it through that painful phase when I couldn’t love myself, and I’m so glad you were there beside me on that fateful night in Honduras when I could finally admit that my inability to love myself was a real problem that I needed God to help me solve. Although those problems are in the past now, being a college student and young adult comes with a new set of challenges, and you’re someone I can always count on to give wise advice when it’s needed, and to just listen without judgement when I need to vent.
     Thank you for all the hours you spend with the youth group, when there are so many other things you could be doing. I have a better appreciation now for just how busy you are, and how you consciously choose to make us a priority. Being our youth leader is not something you do because you have free time you want to fill,  it’s something you choose to make time for in your ridiculously hectic life. And it’s not an afterthought, even though it’s often your last commitment before you get to go home. You teach solid lessons week after week, lessons that often lead to great discussions that I learn from still.
    Thank you for being honest, and for being the one to make me understand that as a Christian, I need to overcome my desire to fit in, not accommodate it. I hope no one ever makes you feel like you need to replace substance and honesty with fun and games to draw larger crowds, because your honesty about what it really means to be a Christian is something that shaped my faith in a lasting way.
    Thank you for taking the time to really listen to us. As a teenager, it was uncomfortable to hear adults talk about people my age and imply that we were mysterious and unpredictable. Instead of talking about me, you talked to me. You ask me and the rest of the youth group about our lives, and you listen to our answers. I’m almost twenty one now, and you’ve become one of the people I trust most when I need to talk about something, because you’re still listening.
     Our youth group is like a dysfunctional family. We tease each other like siblings, but I believe that’s because deep down we must love each other like siblings. We don’t know what quiet is, and at times we treat the simplest of service projects like a prison sentence. I know sometimes it must seem like we don’t listen to anything you say, but we do hear you. In the midst of all the times we interrupt you to say something off topic, or make fun of your driving whenever you take us anywhere, or accuse you of yelling or using your “teacher voice” when you talk to us (That last one is usually me), we have grown to trust you, respect you, and I think I can speak for all of us when I say we love you. I might be the only one who will actually say it right now, but that’s because I’ve had more time to understand the impact you’ve had on my life.
    I know the day might come when God will call you away from your position as youth leader, but I don’t want to think about that right now. I’m just thankful that we’ve become friends so you’ll always be a part of my life, even if that doesn’t include youth group. You showed up, and you listened, and you cared. That’s exactly what I needed you to do. You’ve showed me how to be an example to others by being an example to me. Thank You.

2013 in Honduras, and today in the rain on a youth group adventure. I'm happy that our friendship has grown stronger and my hair has grown longer.

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