Mentor Me

make the big time where you are.

-frosty westering, football coach, pacific lutheran university (1972-2003)

several months ago, i had the privilege to spend some time with some young men and women who were mentoring other young people (teenagers) through a local faith community (one of the most amazing faith communities i’ve ever had the blessing to be a part of — upper room community, minneapolis).  the young people they were mentoring were adolescent boys and girls.  for my part, i spent the majority of the time with the male leaders.  we talked about what it means to be a man in our world today, specifically in american society, and how to teach and guide young boys–so that, they will be great men one day.  it was a really great opportunity, to sit with these male mentors–to hear from them and to talk about doing life together in this way (they are a really awesome group of committed men, i can tell you–and the boys they work with are lucky have these kind of guys in their corner)!  as a part of the time together, we viewed the first 25 minutes of the video, tough guise 2–it’s about the challenges and struggles that men face today, the expectations and pressures imbedded in our society, and what it means to be a man in america–and what we teach all boys and men in our society.  what is the core message of the video? to bring awareness to mainstream society’s ‘tough guise’ posture–which teaches boys and men to never back down, to never show weakness, to be able to dole out verbal abuse at a moment’s notice, and to use violence as the “go to” for resolving just about any problem or conflict–shtuff that can be really damaging to the world at large–trust me, i teach criminal justice for a living 😉  the video is based on research done by sociologist jackson katz and it is very thought-provoking, to say the least.  all in all, good things to think about if you are teaching, raising, or guiding boys today.  especially, in a faith community, where the emphasis and importance in how you live your life can and should challenge the expectations and  goals of each individual–as well as the very fabric of our society--to the good!

after we watched the video clip and discussed some of the challenges of being a man in america–and being a christian man at the same time–one mentor asked…

how do we teach this stuff to the kids we mentor?

well, you’re probably doing it already.  by showing up every week, hanging out with a teenager, spending time talking to them, that’s huge right there…how many men do that every week?! 

then, i told them three things:

1. teach from what you know. in your twenty plus years of life, you’ve had experiences that can be meaningful to these young men.  you know the pressures and expectations that our society puts on boys and men–because you’ve lived it (at least in some way, shape, or form).  now, technology has changed the game.  because of social media and phones and instant messaging–the stakes are higher for these boys.  the pressure is more intense and unrelenting today.  kids can’t escape the shtuff that they once left behind at school (peer pressure, bullying, harrassment, etc).  it follows them, everywhere.  that makes what you’re doing every week even more important.  your ‘being here’ is big time.  and, the fact that you (a young, cool adult) are showing up in these kids’ lives every week is most likely because you know that there’s more to the story than what the world gives us, at least you hope there is.  so, you’re already heading in the right direction. run with that.

[teacher’s note: in my opinion, every single man in america should watch the video ‘tough guise 2’ (and read everything they can by jackson katz).  it gets at the core issues of how we teach some really harmful things to men in our world today, while still giving men room to think about things without thinking the worst about themselves.  importantly, to know that you can still be a tough, gritty man–without harming those around you.  from a faith perspective, a lot of what the world teaches boys and men, is pretty much the complete opposite of the life of Jesus–and in that space and tension, understanding and change is waiting to happen.]

2. don’t lie.  one of the quickest ways to undermine the rapport you are building, and ultimately, your own self–is to lie.  hard to recover from that.  be as honest as you can be within the bounds the experience–share as appropriate.

[teacher’s note: most kids can sense bullshit before most adults do.  and since we’re all human, we’ve all lied.  some of us are really, really good at it.  but, it can be really destructive.  so, tell the truth–as much as you can, as often as you can.

and, to be honest, some kids want to know more about you and your personal shtuff than is appropriate–just tell ’em: no comment, or that’s personal to me, or some things are just for my family — because, get this, they don’t get to know some things.  gotta have those boundaries.  at the same time, honesty and directness go a long way with kids.  especially, when there’s already so much bullshit floating around out there in the world.]

3. spend time around men who are older than you on a regular basis.  older than me, too, for that matter;)  i’m talking grandfather types. if we’re only relying on each other, people who are our peers, then we’re in trouble.

[teacher’s note: one of the ways men get into trouble is by just relying on themselves or their friends/peer groups for guidance.  if we are just around other guys who…look and act like us, who are the same age us, who just have the same experiences as us–then we reinforce those same things–and some of these things aren’t at all healthy for ourselves and the world at large.  and, because of that, we can mislead the young men we’re working with because we ourselves have been misled.  unfortunately and nowadays, we often think that our peers are the best ones to lead and guide us.  that is wrong thinking.  today, we are not often enough around our elders.  we intentionally and deliberately abandon and sequester them away in rest homes and care centers.  and, in isolating them–and us–we are missing out on some of the most important generational learning and wisdom that can be passed down and exchanged.  honestly, these people need to be around and among us–and we need to be around and among them, regularly!]

Last, I finished off by telling them that this job doesn’t require that they are perfect, that they are doing a really good thing for these kids–and that most of what we’re talking about with ‘men in the world today’ is about awarenessso, keep doing the good job you’re doing, but keep ‘what we talked about’ on the forefront of your minds as well!

Honestly, speaking with these men about this stuff was one the of the highlights of the past year.  Kudos to them and to the church staff for the chance to have this kind of conversation!  I wish communities everywhere could have these kinds of discussions–they’re big time!

*A special thanks to my friend, the Rev. Katie Sanders, for her great leadership of these mentors and for inviting me into this time and topic–thank you so much, it was an honor and a privilege!!!  How many years have we be talking about doing this?!  At least three?!  Additionally, it was a pleasure to team with my friend, Jeannette Vickman, a strong woman and professional counselor, who led the breakout time with the women (which, based on what I saw from the puffy-red eyes of the women in the crowd…was a success!;)–great to work with you!!!  Cheers!!!

i swear

i have a language problem, and anyone who knows me knows it’s true–it’s no secret…it’s been something i’ve been trying to work on since we’ve had children–and there was one day, in the not too distance past, when i knew–things had to change…here’s that story…

it was a day after many long weeks–we had sold our house and just moved into a new house–and at the same time that we were dealing with that major life transition, my wife and i were trying to keep up with our kids and our jobs…anyways, one day after work, i picked up our kids from daycare and headed home–they were tired from all of it, too…and it showed in their behaviors, as they were crabby with each other and with me for the whole ride home…

[author’s note: when we got home my kids were demanding snacks and juice and having to go to the bathroom and 100 other things…meanwhile, i was running through a mental checklist in my brain of what we had in the liquor cabinet, because daddy was going to need some “juice”, too!  🙂 ]

so, here’s what went down on that fateful day in october…

jack: daddy, i have to go poopy.

me: go ahead and head into the bathroom, i’ll be in there in a minute.

he goes into the bathroom and gets to work and i get grace some juice and a snack…

jack (after a few minutes): daddy, i’m done!

daddy (walking towards the bathroom): o.k., i’m coming. 

jack: can you wipe me?

daddy: yep.

i say this as i turn towards the toilet paper holder…unfortunately, i don’t see any toilet paper on the holder…i look to the basket where “backup paper” is kept and it’s empty, too…then, i hear my son’s voice again…

jack: can you wipe me, daddy?

me: yes, jack.

then, i hear my daughter crying for more snack from the other room…and i shout to her…

me: in a minute, gracie.

feverishly, i start going through the cabinets, looking for the almighty tp…it’s not looking good, i can’t find any…and i hear jack again…

jack (impatiently): daddy, i need to be wiped.

daddy (more impatiently): i know.

frustration is mounting on all sides when i go to the last cabinet…no dice…no toilet paper in there either…and that’s when i say it, that’s when i swear…

me: fuck!

i realize i’ve said it “out loud”, but it’s too late…because jack speaks up again, to my chagrin…and this is how it goes…

jack: fuck!

[then again]

jack: fuck! fuck! fuck! fuck! fuck!

[then]

me: no! no! no! no! no!

eventually, i locate some tp in our bathroom and use it on him and get them their snacks and juice…and eventually, everything settles down…

but, deep down, i know that parent fail #76 just happened…

in the months that followed, i tried, really hard, to regulate my language…that experience was enough to startle me into some efforts for better behavior…i mean, having my son mimic me like that, like a little mockingjay–what the fuck?! 🙂

then, recently…i was startled again, when i heard my daughter say…

oh my God!

when i heard her say that, i stopped right in my tracks (again, i was making them their after day care snack) because she said it like an expletive–not in a praise to the Almighty kind of way…

here’s our exchange…

me: hey, now…we don’t say that.

gracie: oh, o.k.

me: we say, “gosh” or “golly”, right?!

gracie: o.k.

me (not really wanting to ask): where did you hear that?

jack and gracie are silent and then look at each other…then, gracie sings…

oh my God, i’m coming home.

at first, i don’t get it and am a bit confused…

me: what? wait?! from the song we play?! 

[we have an i-home where we play all kinds of music, and what i realized–in that moment–was that she was referencing a song called, “Oh my God, I’m Coming Home” by the christian musician david crowder.]

after a short conversation about the differences between singing it like the way he does and using it in everyday life as an expletive, my kids go off to play and think/say nothing of it going forward…

but, i’m still worked up about it, i’m still ticked…mostly at david crowder…mr. pop-christian musician...in my mind, i envision confronting him and throwing down…damn you, crowder, damn you!

since the most recent incident, i have mixed up the playlist…and substituted in–“Mama I’m Coming Home” by ozzy osbourne…

rock on!

🙂

love is thicker than water

but nothing lasts forever
your best efforts don’t always pay
sometimes you get sick and you don’t get better
that’s when life is short even in its longest days

-john mellencamp

my cousin died when she was 46…

her name was lisa and it happened last fall…

and i remember walking into the funeral home with my mom, dad, and sister…we came first to an anteroom, and upon entering, my eyes found her three children…one in college, one in high school and one in junior high…and then, i saw her husband coming ’round the corner…and that’s when i lost it…and then her husband lost it, too…and then we all embraced in a messy, tearful, tangled hug…

my aunt and uncle were there, too…bonnie and jay…and though they were visibly broken, somehow, some way they were keeping it together…my cousin john was there, too (lisa’s brother–it was always just the two of them)–wrecked, but holding strong as well…i guess they had all cried enough tears in the previous few weeks…lisa had been in the hospital for a little while before she died…and despite the fact that she had maintained an amazingly optimistic and hopeful attitude, right up until the end, the cancer was merciless and relentless…it would not be held at bay, it would not yield…

sometimes you get sick and you don’t get better…

so, over three days time, we went from the viewing, to the funeral service, to the burial and then to the reception …returning to my aunt and uncle’s place on occasion to regroup…it was weird, it was surreal…being around people who you normally long to see and visit with…our relatives, our family…yet, not having her there…it didn’t make sense…

along with that, i didn’t have a lot of experience being at funerals or knowing people who had died…in my world, it added up to a handful of people….most of them were older…grandparents, even great grandparents…people from “the greatest generation”…people who had lived long, full lives…and while we definitely felt the loss of their passing, their dying made more sense…and their funerals more closely resembled what people commonly call “happy funerals”…where the person “is celebrated” and the funeral is “a celebration”…

this wasn’t a “happy funeral”…this wasn’t “a celebration”…

this was sadness, grief, and pain…

i think everyone felt that it happened too soon…

probably because everyone that was there knew lisa…and if you knew her…you knew what living life really meant, you knew what true innocence and goodness and faith really meant…you knew it because when you saw her, when you talked to her…you would see it, you would hear it…and when you see that kind of life, that kind of life force…in a human being…you think to yourself...nothing on earth can stop that, nothing can extinguish that fire, that spirit…  

and when a light like that goes out, it goes dark for everyone who looked upon it…

that’s the way i felt (and feel), anyways…

and there was something else…there is something more to the story…

something remarkable, despite the utter pain of her passing…something unique about her story…from beginning to end, from birth ’til death…

the remarkable thing is the love that her family holds for one another…the four of the them–lisa, john, bonnie, and jay…now, don’t get me wrong they’re not perfect or without trial or tribulation…they’re like any other family–any other real family, that is, that goes through the up’s and down’s of life…and believe me, they’ve come through their own fires…and yet still remained–a family…a family that they created…in love…especially between lisa and her parents…and, most especially, between lisa and her mom, bonnie…a mother and daughter…but more than that, best friends…i guess it’s significant for me because lisa (and her brother, john) were adopted–early in their marriage my aunt and uncle came to realize that they couldn’t have children…but, they still wanted kids…so, they adopted lisa and john…

as a man, i have no idea what a woman experiences or feels when she’s told she can’t have kids…when she’s told she can’t give birth to her own children…i mean, i know women who have had that experience outside of this story and often think that…

that’s really, really terrible

because

man, she would be an amazing mom (and he would be an awesome dad)

then instantaneously, the same thought always pops into my head…

i wonder if they’ll adopt?

my thinking probably plays out like this because at my base, at my core…i know lisa, john, bonnie, and jay…i know their story…i know what they mean to me…

i know that their family was (and is) closer than some biological families are…

i know that bonnie and jay have always seen lisa and john as their own…their son, their daughter…

i know that we (my sister and i) always saw them as our cousins not our ‘adopted ones’…

i know that, growing up, they were (without a doubt) our closest cousins…

i know that they have been and always will be my family…

not by blood, but by love…

beyond tradecraft

“you do not need to know precisely what is happening, or exactly where it is all going…what you need is to recognize the possibilities and challenges offered by the present moment, and to embrace them with courage, faith and hope.”
― thomas merton

one of the toughest kids i ever worked with (he’s on my top 25 list of all-time toughies-coming in at #25) was a high school student i encountered at summer camp…the place was the outdoor lutheran camp called luther heights bible camp (mentioned in several previous posts) and the summer was 1995…

note: just because you’re working at a bible camp doesn’t mean all the kids you meet are angels 🙂

anyways, up until this point, my experiences working with kids included working one-on-one with an at-risk, elementary school student in an after school mentoring program (for two semesters in college) and coaching soccer at sports camps (for four summers)…i had not yet delved into the world of juvenile justice, church youth work, or teaching…

i was an apprentice…

at herding cats

and he was a master…

at defiance 

and he was in my cabin group for the week…meaning, i was his counselor for the week…so, i was responsible for leading him and about 12 other high school boys through each day at camp (at the same time, there were about seven or eight other on-site cabins filled with the same number of high school students and a counselor)…the days would include games, challenge activities, morning/evening worship (a super-scaled down version of what you might encounter at an elca lutheran church on a sunday morning–to this day, i still prefer it to the formal sunday church stuff;), hikes, an overnight, special interest activities, talent show, bible study, etc…

usually, high school week is one of the best weeks of the summer…i mean, you’ve got kids who you can reason with and have relatively serious conversations with…ones who get your jokes…and often, ones who are really engaging and give you hope for the future of the world at large;) …but, this week was a tough one for me…because of carl (his name has been changed for this story)…

and no one could predict or foresee what was to transpire…at the end of our week together (and beyond)…it was unimaginable…it was unbelievable…or, so i thought…

anyways…

right away, when he got to camp, he had a major attitude–especially with anyone in authority–which revealed itself in an edgy tone and (sometimes) harsh language…i got the feeling that he had come through some hard knocks…given this, carl took up most of my time and energy that week…it began on sunday afternoon (that’s when the kids arrived–the typical week went from sunday – friday)…and each day his demeanor seemed to get progressively worse…no matter what we were doing–he opposed it, was non-compliant…and worse, tried to get the other guys in the cabin to follow his lead and join his rebellion against me…interestingly, he was quite charismatic and had a bit of charm–(his face reminded me of a young leonardo dicaprio–i didn’t care for the young dicaprio much either;)…so, he had some influence among the other guys…which doubled-down on the challenges for the week…

funny thing–this was summer camp…about as far as you can get from the responsibilities of work or school or home…so much of what we did every day was really fun…and it was that fact that made the whole week together so much more exhausting…in retrospect, carl’s behavior was a lot like that of my 2 year-old son…who says ‘no’ to just about everything i tell him to do…even if it’s the most fun thing in the world…that’s exactly what carl said to me…’no, no, no, no, no’…for 16 waking hours a day for an entire week…

by mid-week, the rest of the staff knew what i was up against…there were a couple of instances when the program director (kt) met with him and he received consequences for his behaviors…but, he was undeterred…he kept coming…

and all i could think about was friday…when the week would be over…for me, it couldn’t come soon enough…

over the course of the week, my fellow counselors supported me the best they could and i tried to keep a positive attitude…and hang in there with him…but my resolve was fading…

he seemed unreachable…

then, thursday night arrived…

we came to the final evening worship of the week…the one that usually carries a little more weight, because it’s the last one of the week and the kids will leave the next morning…and go back home…

honestly, i don’t remember worship being anything special that night…that doesn’t necessarily mean that it was lacking in any major way–more likely, it was because i was lacking…i was fried-stick a fork in me, i’m done! 

so, worship came and went…and we were dismissed to our cabins…

as i was herding my group towards the trail that led to our cabin, i realized that carl was not with us…so, i looked back to the fire ring where we had been seated for worship…and i could see him in the firelight, sitting there, like a statue…my first thoughts were, what now?! are you serious?!  so, you’re gonna take it to the limit?!

quickly, i caught the attention of one of my fellow counselors (one who was on support staff and didn’t have a cabin that week–all of the counseling staff had to serve a rotation on support staff…where they would help with cleaning dishes, maintenance, meals, leading random games and activities, preparing campfires, etc) and asked him to take my guys back to our cabin…

i watched my guys head back up the trail for a moment, then i turned back to the fire ring…i took a deep breath and walked back to where carl was sitting…and sat down right next to him…

i asked him…

so, what’s going on?

there was a moment of silence…then, i heard him…

carl started crying…it was the full-on, shoulder-shaking kind…

so, i sat there…waiting…

after a while, he said…

i’m so sorry, i’m so sorry for the way i’ve been acting–for the way i treated you…all week…

[i couldn’t believe what i was hearing, i was floored]

after a moment, i said…

it’s alright, don’t worry about it…

we talked for a little while longer…and he gathered himself together…after a while, we headed back to the cabin…the next day, it was like he was a whole new kid…no attitude…we were good…except for the fact that i was in complete and total shock at what had happened…

later that morning…his ride came, we said ‘our goodbyes’ and he headed home…

i thought that was the end of the story…but, it wasn’t…

one year later…

i was walking through camp (i went back again, in the summer of 1996, for tour #2) when i heard someone call out my name…

hey, dett!

[since there was another dave working at camp they called me ‘dett’–short for my last name: dettmann]

in response, i turned around and was surprised to see a face i would never forget–it was carl…so, i spoke up in earnest…

hey, carl, how’s it going?!

we talked for several minutes, he was enthusiastic and positive…then, he said…

good to see you, dett…hey, i’ve got to go…got to get back to my campers…

i was confused by what he said, so i asked…

campers?! 

he responded with a smile and said…

yeah, i’m one of the counselors for my church group that’s up here this weekend…look, i gotta get back (some churches utilized the camp for their own programs at times during the summer-usually when we were running a smaller camp on-site–as was the case this weekend)…

immediately, he took off after his campers…and i stood there in the middle of the trail, dumbstruck…

to this day, i am still struck by what happened all those years ago…by the realization that while we can do great things in the world…sometimes, what happens is beyond anything we can do ourselves…or, beyond any special talent or skill we might have…sometimes, what happens is truly extraordinary…

so, in closing, i would like to share this poem with you…forwarded to me by my friend/pastor katie sanders…i think it comes the closest to capturing what this experience means to me…

a future not our own

[by ken untener]

it helps now and then to step back and take a long view.
the Kingdom is not only beyond our efforts,
it is beyond our vision.

we accomplish in our lifetime only a fraction
of the magnificent enterprise that is God’s work.
nothing we do is complete, which is another way of
saying that the Kingdom always lies beyond us.
no statement says all that could be said.
no prayer fully expresses our faith. no confession
brings perfection, no pastoral visit brings wholeness.
no program accomplishes the church’s mission.
no set of goals and objectives include everything.

this is what we are about. we plant the seeds that one
day will grow. we water the seeds already planted
knowing that they hold future promise.
we lay foundations that will need further development.
we provide yeast that produces effects
far beyond our capabilities.

we cannot do everything, and there is a sense of
liberation in realizing this.
this enables us to do something, and to do it very well.
it may be incomplete, but it is a beginning,
a step along the way, an opportunity for the Lord’s
grace to enter and do the rest.
we may never see the end results, but that is the
difference between the master builder and the worker.

we are workers, not master builders, ministers, not
messiahs.

we are prophets of a future not our own.

kt

i’ve had the opportunity to work with a lot of different kinds of people throughout my career herding cats…some good and some bad–but, my good friend, kt, was…hands down…one of the best youth workers i ever worked with…kt is short for katie (christensen)…

we connected at luther heights bible camp in the summer of 1995 and worked closely together for four summers there…at the time, she was the camp program director (the position directly under the camp pastor–who you all know now as big e)…some of my best memories from camp surround the times when big e, kt and i worked together during those days…especially so, in the springs/summers of 1997 and 1998 when kt and i had the chance to work closely with big e in 1) preparing/planning for the upcoming summer programs and 2) sharing responsibility for some key parts of staff training (during this time new/returning staff members would participate in a 2-week training…where they were schooled in the fine art of camp counseling…

reflecting back, i think that the time was so special was because we were all on the same page–we all had similar passions, work styles/ethics, faith perspectives…and importantly…we all had the same philosophy and approach about working with kids…what it meant for us…and ultimately, what it could mean for campers for the summer and beyond…

one year, before staff training began, we actually wrote down our philosophy about working with kids–it was something that we also passed on to the counseling staff during training and something we tried to live out during the summers…it’s even something that i think about in my work with kids today…

here’s what we put down on paper:

camp counselor philosophy and focus

1 – put the KIDS first

  • keep it safe (physically, emotionally, and spiritually) , keep it fun (kids will be bored sometimes and that’s o.k.–but, do what you can to keep a positive attitude–for you and for the kids you work with), and don’t forget God (there’s something more going on here than just what you’re doing)

[safe, fun, and God were dubbed the big three]

2 – be a POSITIVE role model

  • lead by example–children/youth remember more of what you do and less of what you say
  • play the ‘put up game’ vs. the put down game (westering, 1990)–affirm, appreciate, compliment and encourage their legitimate achievements and victories…do not give empty praise…

i know that kt still uses this philosophy and focus in her work with youth and families as a congregational minister today–more importantly, it is something that emanates from her…if you’re around her, you can’t help but feel it–her enthusiasm, her commitment, her faith, her love for youth and families…it is unstoppable and contagious…because it’s the real thing…let me put it this way, she has been doing this kind of work in churches for nearly 20 years–and she’s still fired-up about it–that’s not something you see every day!

so, if you’re a parent or teenager or child…and you’re looking for a high quality church youth and family program…and you happen to live up near Alexandria, MN…you should check out the church she just started working at (calvary lutheran) as the director of congregational ministry for youth and families…introduce yourself and have your kids meet her…you’ll see what i’m talking about…furthermore, if you’re a wannabe youth worker…it would do you well to intern with her there, to walk alongside her for a while…she will school you…and you’ll be better for it…

because when it comes to church youth workers…she’s the best of the best

cheers, my friend!

hot pursuit

i grew up in a lutheran family…we were church regulars (every sunday)…it was important for us, growing up…we would pray before dinner and at night before bed; we would talk about religion and faith (in addition to politics) at the dinner table…and my sister and i actively participated in “youth group” (monthly meetings for kids at church where we would do a variety of activities–some faith related and some not)…

but for me, when i was thirteen, the main reason why i got up and ready for church every sunday wasn’t for the love of Jesus–and it wasn’t to deepen my faith

it was because i thought the pastor’s daughter was ‘hot’

she was two years older than me and i had the biggest crush on her…so, every sunday…i really, really wanted to go to church–crazy, right?!  i wanted to, though, because…i hoped to catch a glimpse of her…a glimpse of beth is all i wanted…and sometimes i did see her there…when i did, my heart would start to beat a little faster and i would see (and hear) blue birds flying around and chirping (the cartoon version)…everywhere…zippity do da day…

and, i tried to get close to her and talk to her–i wasn’t subtle…

i was thirteen…

my motivations, my intentions had to be blatantly clear to everyone… including beth…in fact, anyone who saw my face on those sunday mornings knew what i was feeling, knew that i was love struck

to give you an idea of my mindset…let me take you to a prayer we used to recite at church (nearly) every sunday…the Apostle’s Creed…the opening line went like this…

I believe in God, the Father Almighty, Creator of Heaven and earth; 

my version went like this…

I believe in God, the Father Almighty, Creator of Heaven and beth;

🙂

well, time went by…and beth and i became friends…nothing more, nothing less…it was an infatuation that came and went…though it took up a lot of my ‘mind time’ and focus at that point in my life…especially, on sundays…

years later, i realized that while i had been going to church…i really hadn’t ‘been there’ (fully)–at all…i had spent a lot of that time focused on the wrong things…not that relationships and romance aren’t great…they are…i am a hopeless romantic, after all…but, my heart and mind were always preoccupied…caught up in the ‘shiny object of a teenage crush’…

at the same time, i realized that as intensely as i was seeking out and pursuing beth…God was intensely seeking out and pursuing me…i was just too foolish to realize it then…still, God (through the Holy Spirit) was laying the foundation, working on me, whispering to me…and it stuck…a lot longer than what i had hoped for with beth…

but, it is a greater love, after all…

when i think back to that time, i think of an onion…and realize that, back then…when i was  at church or contemplating my faith…i was just living on the surface…enamored with the ‘surface things’ of life; the superficial and material world around me…over time, i began to see the layers, see what i was missing out on…

and, go deeper…

and, eventually, turn to and embrace the God that had been pursuing me for years…

that doesn’t mean that my gaze hasn’t faltered or my faith hasn’t wavered since that realization…it has happened, periodically, througout my life course…when it has, i find myself on surface again…apart from what’s really important…distracted by other shiny objects that come along (whether it is something from within, like my anxiety and fears…or something outside of myself, like my career, household projects, sports, media and entertainment, or other material pleasures and possessions)…

thankfully, God’s gaze does not falter, God’s faith does not waver…

God does not give up the chase, He continues the pursuit…the desire to know and love me…and the world…

i know this because it’s in these moments when He calls me ‘to go deeper’, to come back home (sometimes with a whisper, sometimes with a shout) and return to His loving embrace…

and, somehow, some way…i make my way back…

[and now, as parents, becks and i are passing on our faith to our kids…slow and steady like…because we know what that relationship means to us; how important it is in our lives…how it has and continues to transform and change the way we see and love people…and we want that for jack and grace…so maybe, just maybe…as they get older…they’ll see what’s below the surface, see the layers, see what they might be missing out on…and, go deeper…into the loving arms of God…who is relentlessly pursuing them (and has been doing so, since the day they were born)…]

joe

joe has been in my class for two years (the curriculum is set up so that you can take four semesters of criminal justice if you want to (and if your schedule “allows”)…

joe is a rarity among adolescent boys in today’s world…

because joe is the real deal; little about joe is a “front” or “false”…he possesses real self-confidence and bearing and maturity…and holds a worldview that, while not perfect, is truly positive…

joe has the potential to be a great man…

a few weeks back, i told the students that we would be watching freedom writers in class as a part of that week’s lesson (as a teacher, it is a truly inspirational tale–erin gruwell did some amazing work with those kids!)…a movie which usually gets groans from the boys, especially in a criminal justice class…and there was a groan that was voiced by one of the guys…but, joe cut it off…instantly…saying…

dang, d….you’re getting all inspirational on me now…it’s a good movie…makes me want to volunteer and donate all my money to the community…

he was saying it in a very awesome way, kind of giving me a hard time…but, mostly lending his positive support to the movie choice…legitimately so…and the other guys got on board with it too…they got on board with it because joe said it, because joe is a leader…to the positive…

not in some cheap-ass, rose-colored, leave it to beaver way…but, with gravitas (a word i’ve never used to describe a teenage boy before;)…and because he can communicate in that way, he can speak with some authority to his peers…in a way that immediately wins them over…

iron sharpens iron, and so one man sharpens another…

it is something that i’ve appreciated all year–and especially, during this year…one that’s been really tough, one where i’ve been ‘on the ropes’ more than not…

but, joe’s been there (many times)…in my corner, and i can pretty much guarantee that i wouldn’t have made it this far without him…

in a couple of months, when he graduates…i plan on shaking his hand and telling him…

thanks for ‘having my back’ this year, i appreciate it…keep on keepin’ on… with ‘what you’re doing’…you’re a good man…you give me hope…

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