You unlock this door with the key of imagination. Beyond it is another dimension: a dimension of sound, a dimension of sight, a dimension of mind. You’re moving into a land of both shadow and substance, of things and ideas. You’ve just crossed over into…
Nope… you’ve entered into a Christian youth group such as the one on Wednesday nights at Vineyard Christian Church in Yakima, Washington.
If you’re like me, you approach teenagers gingerly, or not at all. When God tugged at my heart to support my husband’s decision to help with the youth group I replied…
I get God choosing my big-hearted hubby to work with youth… he’s just like them only biologically challenged. But me? Please. I had already survived a couple of teens. Why would I do that again? (Note: My teenage grandson gets a disclaimer because… well… I know him. He’s a great kid, different from all others. He’s… mine).
God ignored my whining. He’s had a lot of practice with that – i.e. the Israelites. My first night I climb the metal steps to the designated youth zone, deafening noise blasting through the door, I wonder what heinous acts of mischief are underway.
I’m expecting huddles of teens practicing eye rolling and sulking techniques while jabbing at each other with verbal sticks. If I had a tattoo it would read SKEPTICAL across my forehead. After all, at their age, I’d already involuntarily ridden in a cop car and could have penned the book “Smart Mouthing for Dummies.”
Walking through the door, I catch them, inhibitions set aside, getting their goofy on – carefree as toddlers in a room full of balloons. They pause mid giggle when a new youth walks through the door to shout a welcome and usher them into the zone with non-verbal cues saying, “it’s okay… check the annoying awkwardness at the door. You won’t need it here.”
Baffled, I settle in as the youth leaders, who need badges so they can be identified as such, gather the group for worship. Not ready to trust, I’m incapable of entering into a time of worship myself, so I study each face. Some sing freely, ethereal in stance. Many rest in quiet reverence. A few, like me, witness, question, contemplate. Later I learn that the group is a hodge-podge of faith – ranging in time – cradle to not yet – and depth – deep to highly doubtful.
A tear drop surprises me when it splats on my hand. I sop pools from the worry lines on my face with a tissue. My thoughts travel back to a pizza parlor buzzing with cheerleaders and jocks from my junior high days. Feelings of shame and embarrassment surface along with the details of my failed attempt to join the group with a simple “Hi.” My moment of courage swiftly shot down with bullets of mocking, finger pointing, name calling and snobbery. Wanting to show indifference and prove myself unscathed by their attack, I pull a fat cigar from my purse, (stored for just such an occasion?) and flipping the Zippo lighter open, puff away Clint Eastwood style. The audience review? The Good the Bad and the Ugly – minus the good part. I stared them down in a “go ahead, make my day” manner. Smoke swirling round my face as I sent a subliminal scream across the room, “I don’t need any of you. Not now, not ever.”
Is that when my heart hardened? That vengeful day puffing away on the cigar? I don’t really know. Maybe.
I continue searching faces finding nothing to discredit the sincerity of these young people. The spirit of worship remains as they divide boy/girl for prayer groups. Emotions shaken, I choose a safe place for continued scrutiny.
One by one the girls share, trusting that their personal package of hurts will be handled with care. They speak of divorce, abandonment, abuse, bullying… dreams crushed… innocence stained… hateful words tossed their way… trust shattered. Hands touch shoulders, stroke hair, pat knees.
The leader, a Mom with a big life of her own, tenderly guides them along. Her soft voice speaks words of hope and encouragement to willing, open hearts and ears. Heads are bowed. Names lifted. Prayer received and given like wise Moms partaking before passing an oxygen mask to their child.. breathing in life, before giving it away.
Prayer time ends. Laughter and chatter return. Volume cranked up.
I feel odd… as if something broke… not busted into pieces, but blasted open, exposing light and air. My thoughts return to the pizza parlor and the faces spitting mean words my way. I look closer. They’re young… fragile… hurting… scared. I see God’s children living in a shattered world. My heart breaks… for them… for myself. I’m grateful for groups like this one where our youth can be safe and real with each other. A place where it is more cool to be kind than cruel.
We live in a world where beauty and ugliness coexist. Blessed lives… cursed lives… joy… sorrow. A place where acts of kindness and unimaginable horror live side by side. Where the unthinkable occurs – children are murdered… children commit murder.
What do we see when we look at our youth? Or anyone, for that matter? Do we have expectations of light? Or darkness? Do we expect, imagine, judge based on our past hurts? I know I did…I know I do… I hope not to any more.