The day I met Jodi Haun my life changed forever.
I didn't know it at the time. And her friendship was only
the tip of the iceberg. But that day set in motion a whole sequence of
events that changed my life.
And now she has left the earth to go live in heaven
forever. And we will have to figure out how to muddle through on our own.
But, my goodness, the woman was a Christian Educator by profession, by
lifestyle, by hobby and by habit and if she didn't teach us how to be
Christians she taught us a whole lot of other stuff along the way that counts
as just the same. They were inseparable, don't you see. It was her
whole identity and you couldn't identify Jodi without seeing Christ. I can't describe
the woman without describing Jesus. Her close friends took to forbidding her to
talk about work on vacations or wearing church t-shirts.
I'm not sure there was any daylight between her and
Jesus....except for her rabid love of the Oklahoma State football team.
There might not have been anything Christian in there. Yeah, that might be
where she parked Jesus at the curb.
I met Jodi in 1991. My pastor had asked me to go to
the Synod Youth Workshop and serve as a small group leader. At the time I
assumed my entrance to the world of youth leadership was because I drove a
station wagon. I walked into the room as someone who went to church every week
and did her best to keep her kids quiet. I had a Girl Scout troop and we
had a lot of fun together. But that's about as deep as my life got.
When I walked into the room for Orientation at Trinity
University in 1991 the first person I encountered was Jodi Hahn. She
wrapped me in a hug that was different from any hug I had ever had
before. It was no bigger nor tighter than others, so I can't analyze
it. But it was different. Definitely different. But I do remember
thinking to myself at the time: "these people are different from any
sort of people I've ever encountered before."
And the whole week I got the same kind of hugs from total
strangers. Maybe that was the difference: people I had never met in
my life hugged me like I was an old family member they had not seen in a year.
I had, in fact, joined a family. I didn't realize it at the time but
would come to realize it through the years. I had joined the "Synod
Family." That hug from Jodi Hahn was my introduction and I will never
Jodi was the mistress of Lights Out. Every time I had hall
duty after hours, she was there. If a kid wanted to challenge her to a
rule, she was game. And she would beat them at it every time. She
could spot a flaw in your plan a mile away: if your light was supposed to
be out and you stuffed a towel under your door to hide the light she brought a
golf club to push the towel away. Don't even think of hiding a friend in the
closet; that's the first place she would look.
She also could operated on far less sleep than I required
so I never knew how a lot of these power plays evolved; I was fast asleep, I
just know Jodi always won and the kids ended up loving her. She had more energy
than anyone else.
But, like all the other Christian Educators, she brought a
truck load of equipment that could make an amatuer's head spint. Things
like: staplers, copiers, paper cutters and laminators. A lot of small
group leaders during the summertime were teachers out for the summer but I was
just an accountant and that was NOT my mindset. Post-It notes were about
as fancy as I got for a long time until I upped my game and began to bring my
But it wasn't the equipment that made the event. It
was the conversations. and here is where Synod was different from
anything you've ever seen.
Two things happened here. Total acceptance. And
total confidentiality. These two basic principals drove everything else and
Jodi was a master at them.
I know without a doubt that Jodi took a lot of secrets to
heaven with her.
At Synod Youth Workshop we worked off a covenant that
everyone signed. It assurred the kids confidentiality. The layering
to achieve this was made possible by arranging the small groups so that no one
in the group ever knew the people who were in their group. A Synod in the
Presbyterian Church is composed of large areas; in our case it was Texas,
Louisiana, Arkansas, and Oklahoma. Texas alone has five
presbyteries. It was fairly easy to divide the groups up so that nobody in
a group of 10 had ever met each other before. The stated rule is that I cannot
break confidentiality unless your life is in danger. And I never have.
I never found out if Jodi infected Synod with that special
sauce or if it was the other way around. She had already been there ten years
by then. But the two fit like hand and glove. They were made for
each other. People who have been around the country have told me that
other youth events in our country do not possess the same spiritual secret that
Synod Youth Workshop has. I could spend a lot of words if you wanted me
to explain it or just tell you that it is the most spiritual experience a youth
There were two things about Jodi the world needs to
know: She never gave up. And she knew how to laugh.
I don't know when her cancer started or where it
started. The first I heard was that by the time it was diagnosed it had
reached stage four. And that was over ten years ago. I have no idea
how many surgeries or chemo or radiation treatments she had. I only
know that she never missed a youth retreat or mission trip that I know
of. And those events are physically grueling. And she kept going
even when she was on a scooter whizzing around running errands for folks.
And that's just the cancer. Then there's the knees. She had both
knees replaced more than once. The last time I saw her was a couple of months
ago when we gathered around a campfire in the cold evening to inaugurate a new
fire circle at Camp Gilmont, her favorite camp. Even with the weak and
bum knees she made it over the rough terrain that most of us needed a hiking
stick to negotiate.
Sometimes her cancer faded into the background and I forgot
about it until it startled me by coming into the forefront.
In July of 2013 I noticed the cashier in the dining hall at
Synod Youth Workship looked really blue and I asked what was wrong. I found out she was having chemo treatments
for breast cancer and it was causing her to lose her hair. As we talked I realized it wouldn’t take but
about five minutes for me to rustle up a support group of cancer survivors just
among the Synod small group leaders I knew personally and before the day was
out Shalise had her own personal support group.
We met every year after that on the first day of our week. When Jodi found out she joined the group and
found us more survivors. It became one
of our most hallowed traditions every year to take our picture.
In January of 2014 I went to the Senior High Youth
Connection. It was a weekend retreat held at Austin College. Very
relaxing, low-key, easy. I took my youth from Winnsboro and just set them
loose and was free to do my own thing.
By this time I had reached that wonderful milestone of
being in the game long enough that some of the youth I had led were now in
positions of leadership themselves. And this year Leslie Yager was the
Director of the event. She may have felt stressed but certainly
having Jodi around helped calm her. So she ask if Jodi and I could help
wash the new communion ware.
Each small group would have communion as a group on the
stage. I had bought new glass goblets for the groups but we felt like we
needed to give them a rinse before we used them for the Lord's Supper. But
where do you wash the new goblets in an auditorium? There was no
So Leslie and Jodi and I took it all to
an upstairs bathroom. It was out of the way and quiet. Nobody
probably even knew about this bathroom. The bathroom like everything else
in the building was in pristine condition. We're not talking about some
dingy 13th century dungeon. As bathrooms go, if you are going to wash out
glasses for the one of the most sacred acts on Christianity I would recommend
this one highly. There was even a baby changing table I could use to lay
paper towels out for the goblets to sit and dry.
Once inside, I noticed immediately it was a smallish
restroom. We would be tight on space. And then came the
comment: “I’m not sure I’ve ever washed the communion ware in a
public restroom before.” And we started laughing. And we laughed. We
laughed those great gasping spasms that billow from your stomach while tears
run down your cheeks. Yes, we laughed until our sides ached.
There are just so many times in youth work that you
do the imaginative, off the wall thing that no one in a million years would
plan but seems to be the perfect answer at the time and indeed ends up a
Whatever logic appeared within that bathroom seemed acceptable to Jodi and me. By the end of youth retreats you usually settled for just about any kind of logic and the standards usually dipped pretty low. We commenced to take the new glassware from the box and wash it.
But the room was small. There was barely any counter space. And that’s when it came to me that we could use the baby changing table. It opened up to provide us with a nice little table at just the right height. I laid out clean paper towels; everything was very sanitary.
The sight of the glasses there only intensified the laughter. Then we had a hard time getting the price stickers off the plates until I dug deep inside my purse and found a crumpled and tattered envelope with a disposable lens wipe for my glasses. It looked like it had been run over by a car but it held just enough alcohol that took the sticker right off. We were finding resources all over the places. You do what you gotta do and you keep going.
Jodi was laughing so hard by this time that she was doubled over. This changed her balance enough that her new knee started to hurt. So she went into the handicapped stall to sit on the high toilet for a bit. Apparently this was a technique she had used before because she said height allowed her to dangle her leg. I finished up the washing and drying. We laughed more about communion stories.
Communion stories are always ripe for a good laugh. There is something inherently funny about the most sacred rite in Christianity having some element of simple humanity to it. And not just that Jesus was a human but that we are such poor imitations of his humanity, such clowns to his humility, such buffoons. Sometimes it's a pompous cleric leaving the bread wrapper on a loaf of bread, which can be a mild diversion that can be swept away with a quip. Sometimes it can go down in church lore like the time the pastor noticed his fly was open but compounded the error when he surreptitiously remedied the situation by quietly zipping his fly during a prayer. However, in this case, he mistakenly included the communion tablecloth in with the zipper so that as he walked away from the table later he carried the entire table contents with him: bread, wine, chalice, platen, the whole megillah as they say in the Holy Script.
My final story was my personal favorite: the time someone at my church dropped the bread in the choir loft and it rolled under the organist' pedal as he pumped the pedal: "Get the bread! Get the bread!," he hissed as the poor loaf became more and more mangled. My fingers darted in and out underneath his feet until it was safe to grab the bread. As I looked at what was left of the Body of Christ all I could think of was that it was a good thing we weren't Roman Catholic. I plopped the bread back on the plate and kept going.
God sends us laughter to bless us. To help us
relax when things get tense or we get tired. The laughter bubbles
out and takes a lot of bad juju with it. Laughter is cleansing. I
keep a mental picture of Jesus and His disciples laughing around a
table. In my mind’s eye there is a pizza and some bottles of Coke or Seven-Up, maybe a beer or two, depending on who is around the table. Maybe some grapes or apples. Definitely some Girl Scout Cookies. Either Thin Mints or Trefoils.
As our laughter died down and took an intermission of
sorts, Leslie and I started organizing the goblets and plates for each
group and prepared to leave, that’s when Jodi finally stood up. We had forgotten where we were
until the automatic flusher went off with her movement and a loud WHOOSH!! rang
throughout the room. And we lost it
If our work of oblation in that upper restroom had been an
act of worship, Jodi had provided the benediction.
Thanks be to God for the life and laughter of Jodi Haun.