My Beautiful Graduates

The day has finally come.  My sweet Young Life girls are high school graduates, strewn across the country, ready to pursue the next four years of their lives with a spirt of grace and adventure.

Girls, my words could never fully encompass what the last four years have been, but it would be a shame to not try.  This one is for you.

It feels like just yesterday we were sitting outside in the McCallum courtyard, me trying to be cool, you trying to not talk to me.

Well, really, it all started before that.  Here is how I really ended up with you girls.

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Natalie sent an email, and I called dibs.  August 7, 2012.

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We went to Mozart’s.  Natalie got a strawberry steamer, which I pretended was cool, but was really just warm milk and pretty weird.  We talked about her moving to Austin and starting high school and we realized that even with five years difference between us, we had a million things in common.

It all started from there.  I went to McCallum lunch, back in the day when leaders were still allowed in the courtyard, and I sat with some girls who didn’t want to talk to me until Natalie came and introduced me to her friends Hannah and Haley.  The group grew quickly.  At one point Meagan just jumped into my car and put her number in my phone.  Melissa showed up at sleepovers and polar bear, even though she “didn’t even go here.”

Our friendships built quickly, and I am thankful for every moment of them.

I remember those precious mornings your freshmen year, when we would sit around a table at Thunderbird and share our lives.  We talked about what it meant to be a woman, what it meant to seek Jesus.  Those times were transformative.  And then there was the time you didn’t quite make it to school on time, and Mark walked in…oops.  It was in those moments gathered around that table, sharing the Word of Jesus, that I knew these relationships were special and intimate and would last a lifetime.

I remember freshman year sleepovers, too many girls to count.  There was the time Meagan and I showered together, and somehow the curtain was pulled down.  It was one of the many, “don’t tell Mark” moments.  I don’t think there has ever been a time when whipped cream has been in the room and not ended up on my face.  I would let you girls cover my face with whipped cream a million times over if it meant that you would somehow know Jesus a little better because of it.

I remember sitting at Starbucks with you, Haley, and hearing you speak about Jesus for the first time in a way that was full of grace and gospel.  For the first time, you knew Him.  You had experienced grace, and it wasn’t about how well you had performed.  It was about the cross.  I came home and I cried that day.

 

So much can happen in four years.  So much change, so much growth, so much redemption.  Each year, our relationships have looked different, and each year, they have grown and transformed.  Sitting at your graduation parties, looking back on slideshows full of pictures from freshman year, it is evident that none of us are the same as we were when we first met.  Over the past four years, we have laughed, we have cried, we have celebrated and we have been silent.  You have faced conflict, you have been hurt, you have mourned the loss of leaders and friendships, boyfriends and relationships, and each time, we have seen redemption.  Jesus has shown up, revealing his mercy and lavishing his grace upon you.  In the end, you are not the same people because of it.  You have grown, you have been changed by the grace of an ever knowing, unconditionally loving God.

This year I have felt the sweet freedom of knowing that you are not just my Young Life girls, but you are my friends.  I have found rest in knowing that your relationships with Christ are not based on me or on my performance, but that they are based purely in the grace of Jesus.  Any part I have been able to play in that has been a gift, and the ability to step back and know that your hearts are, and forever will be, securely placed in His hands is the greatest gift that I could ever ask for.

So, Natalie, as you move across the country today, and Meagan, as you step out of being a camper into leadership at Pine Cove, and Haley, as you travel across France and eventually land back in the US at one of the country’s most prestigious universities, and Hannah, as you snapchat me from your couch until it’s time for you to head to college, and as all of you move forward into this next stage of life, know that I am right here beside you.  But more importantly, than that, Jesus is always and forever beside you, before you, and behind you.  I am forever yours, and Jesus is forever yours.  We have an eternity to share together.  The party is just getting started.

 

 


Placement Night and Kingdom Chasers

Ministry wise, the past semester has been hard for me.  Life is changing and priorities are shifting, and the time dedicated towards Young Life has been minimal.  My days have been spent writing lesson plans, teaching ten year olds, and trying desperately to fit in time to write for this blog, a dream that must be fed if it is to stay alive.  But in the midst of career chasing and dream chasing, I’ve gotten a little lost.  Little by little, my life has become increasingly more about me.

My time on McCallum Young Life is phasing out, slowly but surely coming to an end, and so I know that it is only natural to pull away.  That’s okay, I know that it is.  But I haven’t just pulled away from Young Life, I’ve pulled away from ministry.

Last week four eager and bright-eyed new leaders were placed on our Young Life team.  Four leaders who are essentially taking my place, stepping up to fill a spot I am leaving behind.  On that Friday night, I was reminded of the power of this ministry, the beauty of a ministry that I fell in love with, the ministry that led me to the feet of Jesus all of those many years ago.

I was reminded that life isn’t all about me.  It isn’t all about getting a job or chasing a dream, it’s about Jesus.  It’s about remaining in a posture of worship, proclaiming redemption and grace and celebrating new life.  It’s not about chasing my dream, ultimately, it’s about chasing His dream.  It’s about chasing the Kingdom.

One hundred and sixty new leaders were placed on Young Life teams through out Greater Austin.  One hundred and sixty leaders, eager and terrified and unprepared, getting ready to jump into the lives of middle school, high school, and special needs students all across the city.  They’ve joined hands and made a leap of faith, trusting that Jesus has great plans ahead of them, proclaiming that the next four years of their lives aren’t about them at all, but they are about Him.  They are about chasing the Kingdom.  Two hundred new Kingdom chasers.  I don’t know what could be better.

I owe an apology to so many.  My eyes have been focused so much on myself, my energy has been devoted so much to my own priorities.  But if there is one thing I know, it’s that at the feet of Jesus, we find grace upon grace upon grace.  Grace for the new leader, scared of her mind, and grace for me, tired, self-centered and world-consumed.

Thank you, to the new McCallum Leaders, for reminding me of the journey I began four years ago.  Thank you, for reminding me to chase something bigger.  Thank you for joining a mission more important than anything else ahead of you.  Thank you for choosing to deny the world to spend your time with high schoolers.  And thank you, to the new leaders all across our city, who have been obedient to the call of Christ, ready to bring new life into the worlds of so many who so desperately need it.

 

 


10 things you should know before going on a trip with Wilderness Ranch

Hey campers!  I’m talking to you, yes you!  You signed up to go on a Wilderness Ranch trip, huh?  Well I am unbelievably excited for you and the adventure that lies ahead.

Here’s what has been happening the past couple of years with campers + Wilderness:

You’re signed up, you get really excited to go on the trail, and then at the beginning of the summer you searched some instagram hashtags like #wilderness2014.  A lot of you made that search and found this picture:

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Afterwards, you were terrified and wondering why that girl looked so sweaty and sad.  And the rumors began…”do we have to pass running tests!?” Panic ensued.

Let me explain: the running tests are for guides, so that we can be the best and most capable guides for you.  The running tests are not for campers, although they are so dang fun I wish everyone had the opportunity to run them.

So now, I’m thinking, wouldn’t it be cool if when campers searched “Wilderness Ranch” on google searches and social media, they found a cool letter that was meant for them, instead of this terrifying picture?  And I’m thinking, “yes, that would be really cool.”

So here it is:

10 things you should know before going on a trip with Wilderness Ranch

 

1. Your life will be changed.  Like really, truly changed.  Seeing the world from 14,000 feet does something to people.  You cannot look out upon the world from that height without feeling something new and incredible and life altering.

2. It will be really hard.  Hiking is hard work.  Heck, even walking at that kind of elevation is hard work.  Your pack will be big and heavy and intimidating.  You are going to have some really long days and you’re going to be really tired.  Don’t trick yourself into thinking that this is going to be easy.  But…

3.  It will be really worth it.  At the end of the week, you will celebrate so big, your heart might just burst right out of your chest because you just spent a week climbing a freaking mountain.  Every drop of sweat and every tear and every swear word your guide had to endure will be worth it.

4.  Only 1% of the world’s population ever gets to do this.  You are doing something big and incredible and awe-inspiring and brave.  These are the stories you will tell your kids and your grandkids about.

5. You will be safe.  So many fears come along with spending a week in the Wilderness.  Here are a few fun facts to reassure you:

  • your guides are medically trained & can run really fast
  • the San Juan mountains are not bear country.  In 14 trip1517704_10204247887778457_8344551537281882575_ns, I have never seen a bear.
  • this guy will pop up on trail occasionally  to protect you & check in with your group

 

6.  Your guides are BAs.  Honestly.  These people are incredible (I can say this humbly now as I’m no longer a full time guide) and have gone through so much training and have sacrificed so much to do what they do.  They are in love with the mountains and they are absolutely head over heels about the idea of experiencing this week alongside you.  They love Wilderness Ranch so much that they have dedicated two summers to do this without any pay.  Listen to them and learn from them.

7.  You have been prayed for.  You are being prayed for right now.  Everything that happens at Wilderness is intentional and meaningful.  Your leaders and your area directors and your friends have been praying for months for you to sign up for this trip.  People prayed that you would get here, and every day you are on trail, people are praying for you.  You are never alone in this.

8.  Every trip is different.  Forget what you’ve heard and be excited for a trip that is unlike what any of your friends have ever experienced.  Every trip has different guides, goes on different trails, and experiences different things.  No two trips are ever the same.  Walk into this week with an open mind and a heart ready for adventure.

9.  You are already brave.  Signing up for this trip is big and scary, and you did it.  You are already brave, and you will be able to face anything that comes along during your week on trail.

10.  Jesus has some big things planned for you.  I don’t know where you’re coming from, I don’t know if you’ve been following Jesus for years or if you only come to Young Life because your friends do.  Maybe you’re Jewish.  We’re cool with all of those possibilities, honestly.  Either way, Jesus has known for all of eternity that you were going to go on this trip, and He has been anxiously awaiting everything He is going to reveal to you.  You will be changed, and it is not because of the mountains or because of your guides, it’s because of Jesus.  He’s about to blow your mind.

 

Wilderness Ranch is the best thing you will ever experience.  It has changed me forever and I hope that it will do the same for you.

 

As you eagerly await your week, here is a sweet video from Katie Smelko to get you pumped:

 

Did you like hearing about Wilderness Ranch?

Here are some other posts you might be interested in:

A Letter to You, Adventurers

Surrender and Embrace

Willow Creek

Further up and Further in

They Shall Run and Not Grow Weary

 


A Letter to you, Adventurers

What I seek most in going into the wilderness is not exercise or escape, but a physical and spiritual depth of intimacy.  I’m moved by nature’s power and beauty, but what sets me afire is the longing I sense there of everything else wanting to connect, the desire for an intimacy that is as alluring as it is frightening.  I go to spend time alone with God…in a robust and full-bodied way.  The two of us marvel at fresh deer tracks in the mud and black clouds looming over the ridge.  We revel in the wildness and grieve over what isn’t wild enough.  We argue over the bloody business of insects devouring each other.  We fall in love all over again.  We connect.” -Belden C. Lane, Backpacking with the Saints

As  I read these words, I am reminded of the life that I fell in love with.  The life lived on trail, in the beauty and the wholeness and the danger of being in the wilderness.  The life that a whole new group of guides is about to experience.

Wednesday afternoon, Wilderness Ranch officially announced its 2015-2016 guide class.  Fifteen new guides, eager and excited and equally terrified.  These words are for you, new guide class.  The words that were spoken to me, and the words that I wish had been spoken to me.

You are about to embark on the greatest journey of your life.  You are about to meet some of the greatest people you will ever know, a group of friends who will forever change you.  Two summers from now, you will not be the same.  Wilderness will grow you, challenge you, push you, and better you.  You will be different, somehow older and yet newer all at the same time.

Be eager to learn, eager to train, eager to experience everything around you.

Let yourself be excited and let yourself be scared and let yourself be weak and let yourself be brave.  Let go of you and cling to the one who has called you.  Let yourself feel and experience and cry and shout with joy.

Know that you have been chosen for this ministry.  You have been prayed over and chosen unanimously by a group of people led entirely by the Holy Spirit.  Do not for one second believe that you were chosen as a mistake.

You will pass the running tests.  It might seem impossible now, but let me tell you, if this girl can pass those tests, so can you.  Train hard, and wake up every morning with the decision to believe truth.

You are going to change lives.  You are going to meet high schoolers longing for what you have.  (No, they’re not longing to be guides, most high schoolers don’t want to be on trail at all.)  They’re longing for intimacy with God, with their Creator.  They are going to experience that with you and through you.  Your Father is about to use you in unfathomable ways.  Words that you never knew you had are going to come out of your mouth while holding a mountain dew, standing on the top of a 13,800 peak, and for one brief, fleeting moment, a seventeen year old kid is going to get his first glimpse of grace.

You are going to hear a great club talk from Izzy Ismert.  And then you will hear it again.  And again.  And again.  By the end of two summers, you will accidentally quote our camp director’s words as scripture.

You are not doing this on your own.  You were called by God to do this, and He is working in and through and for you, every single moment you spend on trail.  Do not rely on your own strength or wisdom, rely on the one  who gives all strength and wisdom.

Your two summers will go by faster than you can imagine.  Before you know it, you will be done.  Cherish every moment of it.  Cherish the blisters and the collapse at the finish line when you finally pass the two mile.  Cherish the laughter and the music in the dorm lobby.  Cherish the conversations with campers and the extra time spent getting your roll spice just right.  Cherish the day you knock the double boil off of your whisper light and spill boiling water all over your legs, because let me promise you, you will.  Cherish the 3am mornings and the brief moments you will spend at the peak, the moments when you are on top of the world.  Cherish each time you can convince a camper they are literally one mile from the sun.  Cherish the aching shoulders, and the tears that come with life stories, and the aches of feeling someone else’s heartbreak.  Cherish the good and cherish the bad and cherish the incredibly hard.  Cherish it all, and treasure every moment as exactly what it is- a precious and a powerful gift from above.  Life is never going to be the same.

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photo by Chris Paredes


Surrender and Embrace

I’ve always been driven- a go-getter, a self-starter, a leader.  I start things and I do things and I put my whole heart into things and I carry things out to completion.

I have always done what I am good at, and I have done it incredibly well.

But I have also always had an incredible fear of failure.  Like, absurd.  I’m good at a lot of things, and being bad at things terrifies me.  So I stick with what I’m good at, and run from what I’m bad at.  So for as long as I can remember, I avoided risks, and ran from new things and anything I was bad at (not actual running, metaphorical running.  Real running is hard).   But God has been doing the funniest things in my life the past couple of years.  He’s been calling me to things that I’m bad at.  And the crazier thing?  I’ve actually listed to Him and followed those callings.

I was never the girl that everyone (well, really anyone) pegged as a Wilderness guide.  My parents didn’t even think I was cut out for it.  Sure, I had always loved the people, the ministry, and my one week on trail, but it was hard.  And me?  I had quit every sport I had ever started (with the exception of seventh grade B team volleyball, when they did not invite me to play again the next year), I didn’t enjoy large amounts of physical activity, and I probably couldn’t run a mile if my life depended on it.  So how in the world would I be a Wilderness guide?

But that summer, I had applied for summer positions all over the place.  Pine Cove, summer staff, internships, full time nanny jobs- everything.  But I didn’t feel peace about any of them.  I didn’t feel peace about anything except applying to guide.  There was a small voice that kept whispering, “do this.  do this.”  And so I did.  And I turned down every other offer to wait and hear if I was accepted to guide.  Something that I knew I was not naturally good at.

Throughout my entire process of applying and waiting, I answered everyone’s questions the same way.  I said over and over again,

“If they want someone qualified, it won’t be me. If they want someone so small and weak that anything good that came out of her would have to be attributed to Jesus, if they want someone who His power can be perfected in her weakness, well, that’s me.  But no, I’m not qualified, and no, I probably won’t be chosen unless they’re absolutely crazy.  But I’m confident this application is what I’m supposed to be doing.”

And guess what?  They were crazy.  In February of 2013, Lisa Ismert called to tell me that I was invited to be a guide for the next two summers at Wilderness Ranch.

I cried.  Half of my tears from joy, half from the realization that I was about to have to do something really, really hard.

And I did.  I did it.  I spent two summers guiding high school kids through the mountains.  And I passed running tests and I responded to emergency evacuation situations and I shared the Gospel and I heard stories of the hardest home lives and I lost feeling in two of my toes and I slept on snow and I hiked 200 miles and I woke up at 3am to peak mountains.  I did incredible things, and incredibly hard things, things that don’t come naturally to me.  And every morning, whether waking up to peak or waking up to run the 5 mile test for the 5th time, I woke up to the knowledge “I am not the best at this.  Someone else is better.  This is hard for me.  This is a struggle.  But I’m still called to do it.  And Christ is still faithful.”

“But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.”  2 Corinthians 12:9

There is a beauty in failure, and in embracing our flaws and struggles.  There is a beauty and a realness to throwing our hands up in the air, and shouting “I’m bad at this!” and then, continuing to do it.  There is a beauty in total surrender, in letting Christ perfect His power through our weakness.

I’ve learned to have courage, and to be brave, and humble, and to trust in Jesus and in His goodness.  When I can’t run another step, He comes up behind me and pushes.  When I don’t have the words to say, He speaks them for me.  When I am weak, He is strong.  And so I will continue to do the things that I am most terrible at, because the most beautiful triumphs and successes are those which can in no way be attributed to ourselves.

photo by Chris Paredes

Sunrise on trail. Photo by Chris Paredes


It is Finished

This weekend my Young Life girls and I spent our third Polar Bear Weekend together.  The past two years have been full of crowded cabins, confessions, tears,  and celebrations of salvation.

This year was a little bit different.  There were no monumental, ground breaking moments.  Cabin times ended on time, conversation was seemingly normal.  Our group was smaller, and I was the only leader for our grade.  I felt like I had less to give, and my energy and patience were spent.  I felt like nothing good came out of me, like all of my girls were the same coming out as they were going in.  Like this whole weekend didn’t really matter.

But as I look back over the weekend, I have to trust.  I have to trust that Christ is working even when I don’t see the fireworks. I have to trust that He is working in the little moments- the morning wake ups, the hugs, the small words of encouragement, the laughs, the piggy back rides, the time throwing the football, the third time jumping up and down to “Let it Go.”  My girls might not remember this weekend as the weekend they accepted Christ, or made a life changing decision, but they will remember me.  They will remember our relationships.  Even when it feels like I haven’t done enough.

During our last cabin time together, the question I asked was, “On the cross, Jesus’ last words were ‘it is finished.’  Everything that needs to be done is done.  We can rest.  In what part of your life do you just not believe ‘it is finished?'”

They had a variety of answers- insecurities, body image, family relationships.  But I realize now that for me, the answer is them.  It is so hard for me to believe that it is finished, that all of the work that needs to be done for them, for those high school girls I hold so close to my heart, is done.  Because of Christ, they are fully loved, fully known, and fully accepted.  There is nothing I can do to make them believe this more, and there is nothing I can do to make them believe this less.  They rest in His hands.  Their futures are secure in Him.  The work for their salvation was done on the cross.  It is finished.  Their futures and their relationships with Jesus are in His hands, and my shortcomings are nothing compared to His grace. Their lives are resting in the palms of the one who created them, and I can trust in Him.  I can stop trying to do everything right, and beating myself up for not doing enough.

One of my favorite memories with my sweet high school girls is one of rest.  We spent a weekend at a lake house in Corsicana last Spring, and while a bunch of the girls were chatting in another room, I curled up on the couch in the living room with Haley and Meagan.  There were no words spoken, no scripture read or hard questions asked.  We laid there wrapped up together, and fell asleep.  It was a moment of complete rest and security.  I didn’t need to say anything, I didn’t worry that I wasn’t doing enough.  I just needed to be there.  To rest.

I want to have more moments like that.  I want to rest, to fully believe that my Creator and my Savior can take it from here.  That I don’t need to work work work for these friends to know Him.  He lets me join Him and walk alongside His precious daughters in this journey, but ultimately, the work is done.  It is finished. He has done what needs to be done, and there is nothing more that I can do.

This weekend was just as valuable as every other weekend together- just as valuable as the tears, and the confessions, and the moments rejoicing over a new sister.  Jesus is consistent, and He shows up and speaks truth to our hearts, even when we can’t recognize it.  He’s teaching me to rest, to give up control and trust that He’s got it from here.  It is finished.

 

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