Why I Love: Young Life

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I have wanted and wanted to write this but I have put patience to it. Waiting for that right moment.

The silliness being I don’t even know where to begin with this. Maybe beginnings? Yes, let’s start there.

2005. I had just turned 14 and I was attending a private Christian School. It was a small school. I was an 8th grader who had just found his way to being his own self. Finally owning who I was and not sensitive to how others treated me. It was our 8th grade retreat. We would be going to a place called Camp Weed. (Yes, that is the actual name.) Some of the parents at the private school were interested in bringing a program that had been absent from Tallahassee for over a decade back to our city. I don’t remember much from the trip except I still have the clearest memory of being called up in front of all of my friends to play a game with my P.E. coach Corey Stuhmer. I loved the guy. Thought he was great. But this thing they were about to do was absolutely CRAZY. Coach Stuhmer sat on a chair and they played The Police’s greatest hit “Roxanne.”  What’s so absolutely crazy about that? Well, every time the word “Roxanne” was sung I had to feed him a marshmellow, and every time they sang “put on the red light” I had to  give him a chug of Coca Cola. It was ABSURD. And it was STUPIDLY fun. Hilarious. It had to of been, I still remember it so well. I also remember being given a small green rubber bracelet with the words “Young Life” on it.

I’m not sure a soul at the camp or the parents who made it happen had any idea what would become of that silly, ridiculous, absolutely crazy, ABSURD game. I’m not sure they knew the power of what was about to happen.

That fall thousands of students would flood the High School campuses of Tallahassee. Some like me, for the very first time. It would also be the beginning of Tallahassee Young Life. I was a student attending Chiles High School and I LOVED IT. My friends from that private school stuck together at Chiles and somehow our group of friends just grew and grew and grew. It was like we were the central hub for every group of friends at Chiles. I had heard about Young Life starting but it was always on Wednesday nights. This just simply would never work for me. This was my TV night. Firstly, you should know that if there is something I love, I will put every bit of passion I have into that thing. Like I would have a near panic attack if I had to miss my TV show. (THEY WEREN’T ON THE INTERNET THEN OKAY!!!!) Wednesday nights were Smallville nights. So whenever my friends invited me to Young Life club I told them I couldn’t go.

As the semester went on every now and again after school at pick up I would notice this skinny tan skinned older looking guy talking to my friends. I knew he didn’t go to Chiles because I had never seen him before. One of those days I came up to see my friends and he introduced himself as Trevor. He was a college student at Florida State. (What the heck are you doing HERE?) He was a funny dude. Had a certain draw to him. He invited me to come to club and I  instantly was like,

“Yeah I know, but I have a TV show commitment.”
“Oh yeah, what show.”

“…Smallville.”

“Dude! I friggin’ love Smallville!”

My immediate high schooler thought was “Bullsh** nobody likes Smallville.”

“Hey man, just record it, would love to see you there.”

Over time I would slowly get to know Trevor Muir. He would continue to make efforts for me to make it to club.

I never went. My entire freshman year of High School. I watched Smallville and LOST every Wednesday night.

At the same time my parents would give me the most devastating blow a kid in High School could hear.

They told me that we would be moving to Sarasota, Fl. I was pissed. I had just made so many new friends. I finally wasn’t the kid who was picked on but a kid people would actually invite to hang out. Moving was basically the end of the world to me.
Around the same time I started hearing word of this Camp Trip to a place called Windy Gap. My friends were all talking about going and Trevor was like “Dude, you HAVE to come.” I went home and told my parents that I really, REALLY wanted to go to this camp with my friends.

They gave me the okay. Trevor Muir and a man with a lustrous blond pony tail named Chad Borgestad showed up to my house to meet with my parents. They worked everything out we all agreed that this would kind of be my send off party before I moved. That it would be the last thing I would do before we moved to South Florida.

I still remember the bus trip. I remember sleeping on a hard cement floor at a church halfway there. I remember stopping to play this crazy game where you scoop up a ball on go carts and shoot it into baskets for points. I remember driving up the mountain worried that we wouldn’t make a turn and start tipping over. I remember all the guys sharing jokes. I remember singing current pop songs. I remember them saying camp was just ahead. I remember pulling up and seeing the entire staff already waiting for us where the bus would pull in. I remember crawling through a tunnel of all of their raised arms. I remember them grabbing MY luggage to take it up and up these stairs to what would be our cabin for an entire week. I remember looking from that cabin below and seeing the single nicest place I had EVER stayed at. It was a resort. And it was all MINE.

We were given some time to just run around and see the sights. We were LOSING IT. This place had bunks that went three high. It had horses. Go carts. A blob. A rock wall.  Frisbee golf. hoops. soccer field. lake. giant slide. The food was INCREDIBLE.

Every inch of this camp was put in place for my friends and me.

It was sold to me as “the best week of my life” or my money back. With one foot stepped on to that property I knew I wouldn’t need my money back.

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This week I got to know my friends so very well. I got to know Trevor and Chad as if they had always been my friends. The cabin grew from friends to brothers.

Every night I would hear the gospel in a way I had never heard it before.

It wasn’t here that I so called “gave my life to Christ” that is something I would have said I had done years ago rather it was here that I understood that Christ gave his life to me.

My life changed at Windy Gap. God met me. God spoke to me. And to this very day the most important moment of my entire life, past and future, happened at night on the side of that mountain looking at the stars and coming back crying, terrified, and shocked at what happened.

God spoke to me.

If you know me you have heard the story. It has become the defining moment of my life. But you can’t imagine what it was like to be a Freshman in High School walking back to that cabin for what we called cabin time and sitting there trembling in fear. Having all the guys stare at me wondering what was wrong and having Trevor ask me if I was okay. And then telling them that while we were all out having our fifteen minutes of quiet. That a force pushed me to the ground. That God told me that I was loved. And that there was a perfect constellation of a heart in the sky. My hands were shaking. Afterwords Trevor and I would sit outside the cabin and just talk.

My senior year of High School would be the first night I would tell people who weren’t in my cabin about what happened that night. It was my last Young Life club at Chiles High School. And it was one of the most emotional nights of my life.
I get tears at the mere thought of that night. The importance of it.

Sitting up at the top room of Hannah Hayward’s house with all of my close friends praying in a circle with all of our leaders. People we had come to know and love so well. And the tears that began to fall because in a way it was over. What we had was special and we all knew it. We all knew that somehow, we, these imperfect high school students, the party kids, the inappropriate relationships, the ones with a need to be popular, the ones who felt alone, the ones who were confused, we KNEW that we were loved. We knew that we mattered. We knew that we were KNOWN. Those leaders STILL love us well. And to think that we wouldn’t be seeing them as often any more hurt every single one of us because we loved them. They changed our lives. They showed us Christ. And there has been nothing more influential or meaningful in my life than my Young Life Leaders.

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They suffered me not coming to club, they suffered me throwing skittles at them while they were trying to be serious at the front of club, they suffered me stealing their car every week and hiding it in the woods. They woke up at 6 in the morning to drive 45 minutes across town just to have a bible study with us. They came to our games. Our pep rallies our meals, went to movies with us. Turned us on to our favorite bands…..(Yeah, that DMB obsession…blame Trevor Muir.) They went through so much because they cared about us. They thought we were worth it.

They built a relationship with me so that I could know just how much God loves me. They were Christ in my life.

And in every ounce of love I can give, thank you for being the aroma of Christ in my life. For being the aroma that brought me in to LIFE.

The bible says we love because He first loved us.

In the same way I am a Young Life leader because my Young Life leader first loved me.

My Young Life leader Trevor has influenced my life more than anyone else. More than any pastor, more than even my parents. He got me into my favorite band for crying out loud. But most importantly, through him I was able to see that our God is love. Trevor has more to do with who I am today than anyone. And it has everything to do with one fact: He showed up.

At one of the Explore meetings I stood at a campfire and told everyone this story about my friendship with Trevor.

“I am the Christian that I am because some goofy tan skinny guy came up and talked to me about Smallville. Because he helped get me to camp where for the first time I found God. He was there for me. He invited me to his wedding for crying out loud. He talked to me about Smallville and now I’m a Young Life leader. I am a leader because I want to give back to the organization that gave me so much. I do this because what if one day, someone is standing here, some kid I haven’t even met yet, is saying the exact same things about me. That is my goal. That is my mission. If I can bring just one kid to Christ my life has meaning.”

I have been a leader for five years this year.

There has been no greater joy in my life than spending the years that I have with these kids. The blended up taco bell. The foot sundaes. The cricket spitting. THARS A BAR!!!, Orange neck passing. Plexi glass peanut butter licking. Camp trips. Conversations. Struggles. Watching kids say “Ohhhhhhh” during a club talk. Watching a cabin of guys stand up and say they gave their lives to Christ.
No greater joy than leading with a community desperate for kids to know Christ. To be a member of the greatest teams God has put on this planet. To always be inspired by the hearts of those who work in Young Life.

This is what I want to do FOREVER. If I were to ever start a ministry it’d just be stealing everything Young Life already does. Because man it lives out Christ’s word. Relational ministry. People matter. Because he laid down his life for us so we should lay down our lives for others.

Last night was one of the best nights of my life. The amount of fun you can have celebrating the life Jesus has called us to live is the most amazing thing ever.

I love Young Life because it has given me the best times of my life. Because I have met the greatest people ever from all over the world. Because it has pulled me in close to my Father, my Maker, my King. Because it is there when I fall and there when I succeed. Because we worship our Creator like NOBODY else. Because through it I have found life and because without it I wouldn’t.

Jesus without life is religion. Jesus with life is relationship.

I HAVE LIFE!

I HAVE LIFE!

I HAVE LIFE!

Earlier this year I lost a friend.
A kid I met through Young Life named Price Thornal.
It was painful. It hurt. And I grieved his loss. It happened on Good Friday.
The Gospel had never been clearer in my life than sitting in a Church that day and seeing Jesus on the cross.
Seeing my sin on that cross and seeing Price’s sin on that cross.
Sitting there KNOWING that Price was with Christ. Knowing because a leader loved him and showed him who Jesus is. Showed Price that he was LOVED. Showing Price that he mattered. Showing Price that life has been given.
Because at Price’s funeral they put this picture up.
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Price has LIFE!

Price HAS LIFE!

PRICE HAS LIFE!

This is why I love Young Life. Because I know what we do matters. I had never felt it more than sitting in a room of thousands as we mourned the loss of our friend.

On Good Friday in the midst of this we sang a song at church that when I was at club we would sing all the time. We’d sing it at camp. And when it started it hit me. It was powerful.

Amazing love, how can it be?
That you, my king, would die for me
Amazing love, I know it’s true
Its my joy to honor you
Amazing love, how can it be?
That you, my king would die for me
Amazing love I know it’s true
Its my joy to honor you
In all I do I honor you
In all I do honor you

That day I saw the importance of ministry clearer than ever in my life.

And being eternally grateful that someone took the time for me.

This is why I love Young Life. Because by it, I came to love Jesus.

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