Sticking It Out
In the midst of these challenges, God gave me a variety of small affirmations and encouragement to stick with it. One example is a conversation I had with Tracy, an involved member at church, as well as a mother of seven kids. Conversations I'd had with her revealed the many ministries she's served in over the years, despite her number of kids, homeschooling, moves, and all sorts of busyness. I finally asked her how she does it. She told me to never underestimate the power of presence. Sometimes just being there is exactly what somebody needs. I realized how true this is. I can't tell you how many times a student who had rarely or never talked to me before came up to me and vulnerably shared something they were dealing with. Simply showing up and being available was enough to earn trust and create a safe space to open up in.
Another reason I've continued volunteering in youth ministry might be somewhat self-serving; I just wanted to. I've reaped and relished the benefits. Sometimes at least part of what fills me is the reward for pouring out. I've taken joy in the moments when God seems to teach me through my students more than He's teaching them through me. I've been convicted and inspired by the mature actions of the youth I'm supposed to be an example for.
Being a youth leader has provided some of the most rewarding, joy-invoking experiences in my life. I've been able to see eyes look inquisitively, then light up as they grasp a truth from God. I've had girls come to me and confess their deepest sins, struggles such as premarital sex, drugs, and porn addiction, and been able to help them pursue healing. I've seen teenagers who thought they were supposed to fit a particular mold soften as they surrender to God shaping them. I've provided a crying shoulder and shared tears for reasons ranging from schoolwork stress, to being hurt by a friend, to a death in the family, to abuse. I've experienced students' hearts catching fire for the Lord on retreats, conferences, and more, provoking even the most insecure of kids into unabashed prayer and joyful dancing during worship services. God's spoken through me to talk suicidal teens off a figurative ledge. I've smiled big and laughed hard, enjoying each youth's individual personality as I've gotten to know them. I've watched students invite friends to church, invest in them, and then be a part of that friend coming to know the Lord. I've witnessed God drastically transform students, sometimes right before my eyes in a mere moment, sometimes over the span of years of prayer, patient love, and struggle. I've shared joy with students who were the first Christians in their family as they've led each family member, one by one, to Christ over the years. I've been able to watch kids grow up, make mistakes, and go through hard stuff, yet rely on God through it all. I've observed them let compassion, a sense of justice, and humility fill their hearts as they gain a better understanding of different lifestyles, needs, cultures, perspectives, and experiences of all sorts of people on missions trips and service projects. I've observed students hone in on and expand their God-given gifts and passions, then watched them progress to become people who get involved with children's ministry, missions, worship ministry, social justice, youth ministry, teaching, and more. I've seen them stick with their faith. I've been honored to experience God at work in profound ways.
So, in spite of the less-than-ideal 25%, in spite of my frequent weariness, weaknesses, lack of time, and excuses, God had me persevere in less of a capacity last year than I thought might be worth it. To my pleasant surprise, He's shown me that it was. I've been greeted at church with warm waves and enthusiastic smiles from students. I've received comments from girls and some of their parents as well, expressing some way God has used me in their lives. I've received hugs and thank you cards. I've seen evidence of beautiful growth in them; and I've grown as well, through sticking with it and learning to trust God in my weakness.