What in the world was I thinking?
I call it the “Eight O’Clock Question.” It’s a question I ask myself without fail around 8 o'clock Friday night every time I take youth on a trip. The question dates all the way back to the first time I took 16 third grade Girl Scouts on a camping trip in the rain. That was about thirty years ago. Do the math. Yes, I am old.
Somewhere I switched from Girl Scouts to the church youth. Same kind of kids, same energy level; same S’mores, stomach aches and asthma attacks at midnight and stupendous smiles framing gleaming orthodontia. Same Eight O’Clock Question. Even thirty years ago my body was rebellious by evening on Friday.
Why do I do these things? I could have easily declined. No... I brought this whole thing on myself so I could never pass off the blame.
Friday evening is usually when I remember with some surprise than I am not as young as the other people in the room. I will invariable prefer to go to sleep at that moment or, at least, find a way to make these young creatures be still and silent. Even for five minutes. Dear God, couldn’t we have just five minutes of peace? Maybe three? One?
But I keep forgetting these things and the Spirit moves me to do it over and over. The minute they ask for sponsors my hand is the first one up. Why?
Because I love it. Because I know something now that I'm older that I didn't know 30 years ago. Because I know the Eight A.M. Answer to the Eight O'Clock Question.
Because there is a huge Pay Day: the glorious moment when the answers come. Pay Day is Sunday morning when we start wrapping things up and I realize that I have survived. My muscles will scream at me on Monday morning but by 8 a.m. on Sunday I get a second wind and I sprint to the finish. That's when all the energy released over the weekend settles in my soul and I connect with the Holy Spirit of God who brought me here, who sustained me, who whispers in my ear that there is a beautiful plan for us all and that I am part of that plan.
Staying forever youngI didn’t set out to try to stay young. My body certainly hasn’t stayed that way but my mind has. And that may be the cruel joke here. For the present I am able to limp through. I know that someday I will have to hang it up but for now I’m not ready and I thank God for that.
Singing songs underneath the sun
Let’s rejoice in the beautiful game
Then together at the end of the day
We all say:
When I get older I will be stronger
They’ll call me freedom just like a waving flag
So far, the only adjustment I've had to make for my age is not playing Giants, Wizards and Elves. I almost cracked a rib playing this game back in the fall when I got knocked down and sort of trampled over by a herd of sixth graders.
Somewhere between the 8 O'clock Question and the 8 A.M. Answer my spirit is filled with the sight of boys running full speed down the hall, bouncing off the wall and girls with pristine complexions whose deepest fear is that they are not pretty enough. I will meet youth with unbound imaginations who can do things with their cell phones that the manufacturer never dreamed the phone would be able to do or really helpful tips like not feeding a guinea pig Dr Pepper because they will explode if you do. I will see friends who feel so deeply that tears come easily and without embarrassment, and adults who dish out trust as though their supply was bottomless.
I will link arms with adult sponsors who say, "Come--Come borrow my faith for a while until you can develop your own." And sometimes the tables turn and it's the youth whose faith outshine our own. Faith doesn't have age brackets. Somewhere between the question and the answer we realize we're all in the same boat together. But even more important than any of that is that the guy in charge of our boat is Jesus.
We look out into the stormy weather together and see Jesus walking toward our boat. And we remember He is the master of all storms. Every single youth event, no matter what we name the theme, tells us this. Just as any sermon preached always ends up being about Grace, every retreat ends up teaching us that Jesus is found in the storm.
No matter how old you get there will always be storms. No matter how strong you get you will always need Jesus to pilot your boat. We are all in the same boat. Thank God for good traveling companions.
Now here's a couple of people I want you to meet that will explain why I enjoy youth work so much. This is the planning team for Senior High Youth Connection of 2016. It's a mixture of adults and youth who spent a year planning for the weekend. I want you to note especially Sean Drennan front row, far right with the grin to melt your heart. He's one the youth from my church in Winnsboro. He's a senior and is going to be a counselor at Camp Gilmont this summer. He's just one of so many youth who have caught the leadership bug. Then note Rev. Jamye Cook, front row second from the left in the glasses, Jamye is someone I've known all her life who has been a youth group leader for several years now. She's one of a growing group of people I call my "paychecks", someone I've watched grow up and assume responsibilities of leadership in the church. Every time I go to a youth event nowadays I always see a paycheck or two. I have become quite wealthy over the years this way.