Monday, September 5, 2016

Farewell, Sweet Summer

Labor Day, 7:40 PM, CRCG beach

I can't not be here.

Just five hours ago I moved from my summer home to my not-summer home, and after the last boxes were unpacked (ok, I gave up on unpacking) I was back in the car, set on autopilot back to the Conference Grounds. 

Everyday Sarah would say this place is magical, but soul-Sarah says this place is sacred. No place has ever meant so much to me, to my family. How else do you explain 20 summers of camping trailer-living? This place is sacred because it's a place where life change happens. 

At a business meeting last week, I presented a report that stated the facts: how many kids we averaged each week, how great my team was, and what our rental schedule looks like for the next couple months. Real talk - pretty boring. What I didn't mention in my report was everything you simply can't sum up in a neat little business bundle: relationships, heart, God encounters, life change. The things that make me LOVE my job. It's the stuff that happens on the inside, the stuff sometimes I don't even know about until years down the road. It's the stuff that causes my staff to stick around for hours after they say goodbye on their last day because they simply don't want to leave.

This is the "favorite place" of so many people. It's mine. It's a favorite for many of the people I work with. But my mind was kind of blown this summer by how many 5th-12th graders just LOVE the Grounds. All year they look forward to the one week they get to spend here. I shouldn't be surprised - I was them once - but I guess sometimes thinking on it just leaves me in awe.

It's such a special place, and here's the craziest part - the part few people know...I almost left.

I'm sure this is the kind of thing you're not really supposed to share, but I've always valued transparency. Mid-summer I got a phone call, followed by a whirlwind interview process and dream job offer out of state. I could not have been closer to taking it (seriously, a dream). But as par with my life, God used this place to tell me to stay. To be faithful. To know that He is God and his dreams are bigger and better, even when they don't make sense.

He used this place and he used these people. My team was rehearsing songs for worship one morning and singing one of our regular summer songs. In my decision-making mind fog, the lyrics struck me in a new way.

"Letting go of every single dream, I lay each one down at Your feet"
This job offer IS my dream.

"Every moment of my wandering..."
EVERY moment is consumed with wandering these days. My thoughts. I can't focus on anything.

"My hands are weary, I need Your rest"
God, I cannot possible handle making this decision right now. I'm working insane hours with no time to rest. My mind and body need a break.

"When You don't move the mountains I'm needing You to move"
Why aren't You moving these mountains?! Why is there so much in the way of taking this job?

"When You don't part the waters I wish I could walk through"
Why can't I find peace in seizing this opportunity?

"When You don't give the answers as I cry out to You"
So. Many. Tears.

"I will trust, I will trust in You."
I will trust in You.

"Truth is You know what tomorrow brings. There's not a day ahead You have not seen. So in all things be my life and breath; I want what You want Lord and nothing less."

My team, up front, singing these words. My, in the back room, completely broken down in every sense. In that moment I knew. I called and turned down the job. I knew my act of trust in this season was to stay.

And now the old hymn rings true - "Tis so sweet to trust in Jesus." It really, really is. The fives week that followed this decision to stay? So, so sweet. The blessings God has brought into my life? Amazing. God is at work.

I'm still processing, trying to find words for this summer. Last summer was rough, a time of newness and transition and emotional instability. But this summer - it was beautiful in so many ways. This summer reminded me why this place is my favorite, magical and sacred. God showed up, showed me who He is and who I am. 

I think that's what this place does - through its people, its pace, its sunsets - it reminds us that we are loved. We are His. His provision is all we need.

We lost a couple buildings in the last few years, and God provided. We lost some staff, and God provided. We lost energy about week 5...and God provided. He always provides. I will trust in You.

Ironically (aka not irony at all but in a way only God set up) the next song in our worship set list, right after singing "when You don't part the waters," says this: "You split the sea so I could walk right through it, my fears were drowned in perfect love." From not parting the waters to straight up splitting the sea - that's our God. In perfect love, he knows what his people need and when they need it. He knows what I need...and what I don't.

I will be eternally grateful for this sweet summer, the relationships and the lessons learned. The people I've met and things I've been a part of in just the last six weeks - I can't imagine if that had never happened. God used this place to keep me here, and now that I'm here, I can't imagine being anywhere else.

This camp is where I grew up. This place is in my DNA. I always knew I would be back; I never thought it would be so soon. I'm grateful it was.

Summer is over now. The sun just set, on Labor Day, as I'm writing this. I am exhausted. I need the kind of rest that September brings. I need a new season. At the same time, I never want the sweetness of this one to end.

As the light of sunset fades into starry sky, I leave this place tonight thankful.

Thankful for 20 years of this home, and no sign of that count ending. For people who knew me at age 10 and still consider me family at 29.

Thankful for a God who rewrites stories, brings things full circle, constantly causing me to stand in awe.

Thankful, privileged, honored to play a role in the story of this place and the lives of the people who love it.

Thankful for free Diet Coke, tie-dye Friday, campfires, and cookie dough flurries.

Thankful for new seasons and the adventures they bring.

Thankful for past seasons and the lessons learned only by walking through them.

Thankful for grace, peace, love.

Thankful. Just thankful.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

the next chapter of the story

Once upon a time, what seemed like a tragedy struck a little campground in Michigan. I was living in Florida and wrote these words about it. Last night tragedy was redeemed as we held the "first look" dinner, an incredible banquet in our new camp facility. I was asked to speak at the event, and here is what I shared:

My name Sarah Ledeboer and I’ve been the Youth Director here for a little over a year now. It’s crazy to me, to say that title following my name, because it really is something I never planned on, an unexpected twist of events in the story of my life. I use that phrase “story of my life” with intention, because this year I’ve been fascinated with the concept of story. Setting and plot and character, heroes and villains and inciting incidents - and not just in fiction or in the movies, but in real everyday life.

I went to a story workshop in Chicago in November, and was led in an exercise where I made a timeline of my life. I plotted out certain events on a straight line, and I drew them at different levels on my page, indicating their negative or positive impact on my life. I worked through various events - moving here or there, starting that job, meeting this person - but in 1997 there is a tick mark that sits a little higher that all the others on my page. It’s labeled by four letters - CRCG. I was ten, my mom took a job as the Bible School Director here, and I had no idea then what an influence that one little mark would have on the rest of my timeline...the rest of my life.

Like people, places have a timeline too. Once upon a time, the Conference Grounds was started. Various facilities were built, programs started, staff hired. There were highs and and there were lows. On February 16, 2014, we added a very unexpected mark to our timeline - the collapse of the auditorium. 

I was leading a bible study when I got the call. I excused myself, had a pretty big ugly cry, and then went back to leading. But when I got home that night, I sat down and tried to put words to what I was feeling. I’m one of those people who processes things through writing them down, and at a time when I was in Florida and this situation was here, I felt pretty helpless to do anything but write. So I wrote something and it was messy and I posted it online, and judging by the amount of times the blogpost was viewed and shared, I saw that I wasn’t alone in the sentimental attachment I had to this old building. Together we tried to make sense of it.

If you asked many of us at the time (February 2014) to analyze whether this mark on our timeline was positive or negative, the easy and obvious answer was a clear and resounding negative! How do we saw goodbye to a place that holds so many of our best memories? I was Shania Twain and Celine Dion and Troy and Gabriella in that building for countless lip syncs.

For years I attended every church service, at 10am and 6pm, second section, second row, fourth seat in. I knew that you had to use the right screen door, because the left one stuck if you pushed instead of pulled, and that you could unlock the door with a woodchip. I set up crafts and threw puppets in the air and taught the Bible to hundreds of kids. If you really want to go back far, I used to be one of those kids! I sang Father Abraham and sat captivated as my Bible School teachers donned polyester robes and brought down the walls of Jericho.

With all those good memories, naturally February 16th was a difficult day. It was a low point. But what I’ve learned about story, about the low points on the timeline, is that there is always opportunity for redemption. I think we’ve found it - we’re in it - the beauty that’s resulted from tragedy. May 16th, 2016 is a day I think we can all agree is a ten. It’s a high point on the timeline of the Conference Grounds. 

And it’s not a ten because this building is big and beautiful and finally finished (but praise God for that). When the building needs to be cleaned or when the sound system isn’t working or when the first *something* breaks, it’s bound to feel like less. But it’s a ten because it marks a new story, one that will affect the storylines of SO MANY OTHER PEOPLE.  Our storylines don’t run straight. In reality they twist and turn and intersect with the storylines of so many other people and places. This building might be the setting for the mark on Ella’s timeline when she asks Jesus into her heart for the first time. This building might be the setting for the mark on Kyle’s timeline where he hears God’s calling to be an elementary school teacher after a summer of teaching Bible School. It might be the place where Carol brings a friend to a Saturday night concert and through the musicians' lyrics her heart is reopened to the love of God after years of past pain.

Tonight is about a building, but also…it isn’t. It never has been. Tonight is abut the the amazing work God has done, is doing, and will continue to do through his people at the Conference Grounds. 

There are so many stories yet to be written here.  This new, big and beautiful building will always be more than a building, because this place will always be more than a place. 

Buildings don’t make memories or write stories. They’re just the places memories are made and stories happen. 

I’m so thankful to share in a little part of this story with such a beautiful cast of characters. This is home. This is family. But best of all, this is God’s campground, it’s his story.  We will undoubtedly make many new memories here, and I am so thankful for all the ways God has blessed us as he writes this next chapter of the story.

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

dear friends of my friends

Dear friends of my friends,

Hello! I just wanted to take a second and say I'm so glad we're friends. I mean...friends of friends.

A funny thing happens when you leave a place. Did you know you don't get to take your friends with you? Their lives continue on and they make new friends. Or they get closer with old friends. And good for them, why shouldn't they? They are awesome, and apparently you recognize it, too.

I watch your friendship bloom and grow from a distance. I see your pictures on her Instagram, I read the hilarious things you've said that he quoted on Facebook. I wish WE could be friends! It's too bad you moved into town the same time I left...I think we would have gotten along great. Scratch that, I know it. Because my people are your people. They're our people. So that makes us some sort of friends...right?

I give in and just add you on Facebook. You pop up all the time in my feed, so why not just make it official? If you hear as many stories about me as I hear about you, we're pretty much already there. There's not an correct official "relationship status" for us. The bots just tell us we're friends. Okay? Yeah, I'm okay with that.

Oh hey! I'm coming to visit. I live in a cold state and I miss the warm one you all live in and need I say more? But how does that work? I'm not part of your group. I know them, and now we are Facebook friends, but how does that translate to real life?

I don't know, but it just does. Why did I worry? Turns out, you're pretty awesome in real life too. I shouldn't be surprised my friends have good taste.

We hang out one night. The next morning. Later that night. And once more before I leave. I like you guys more and more. Because even without knowing you, I know you, and we skip that awkward get-to-know you phase. We jump straight into making fun of each other ganging up on our friends and scaring around corners and sharing ice cream and hugs goodnight. Yeah, the more we hang out, the more I like you. I want to bottle up the night and squeeze your group in a suitcase and take you home. What you have here I don't have there yet.

When I moved, I was so sad to leave my friends. But I knew they would be okay because at least they had each other. And then you came along, making their circle wider and lives richer and laughs deeper. I love the way you seamlessly fit in with all of them. I'm sad again that I can't be there with you all forever.

I find out that this weekend isn't actually the norm, and you don't really all hang out as much as you did this weekend. It was special because I was in town, and because there was a birthday party, and because these were "special occasions" to bring you together. But you all loved it. You tell me I need to come back more often. We need more special occasions.

But it wasn't me. It's you, collectively, all y'all. And it's neither practical or affordable for me to come back every other weekend, as much as my heart wants to. But why does it take a birthday or a visit to make an occasion "special"? I'm wondering because what I saw between all of you was so special and I don't think you even know it. 

I will fight to the death saying you are SO lucky to have them. I hope you know it. But now that we are friends, I see how lucky they are to have you. You're around each other every day and life is crazy and this specialness often goes unnoticed. But I was gone and I came back and I noticed. You can try telling me the whole group doesn't hang out all the time, and often pairs of you in that group don't even get along, but I love what happened when you tried. Whatever disagreements or distance is between some of you, I know you could turn it off in an instant if one of you needed another. Like I said, it's special.

So dear friends and friends of friends, can I just encourage you to make more special occasions? I think you need to hang out more. Live life together while you have each other. Shoot off a confetti cannon because it's Tuesday and you've got your crazy socks on. Eat tacos and wear sombreros on Cinco de Mayo. Ooh, and buy a piƱata for that one. Share pit and peak of the week over a giant pot of cheesy potato casserole (because is there a better comfort on the planet?).

Just be intentional, and make it a priority. I wasn't the first to leave, and I won't be the last. Your circle will continue to stretch and shrink. I just hope for you that it is stronger with each rebound. I pray you see how special you are. I can't wait to visit again because like I said before, I'm so glad we're friends of friends.

Saturday, January 16, 2016

i'm not going to tennessee today.

Today is the day we leave for Tennessee...except we're NOT.

Because I don't live in Florida anymore. Because the kids who I poured into and traveled with for five years aren't mine anymore. Because I'm not their youth pastor anymore.

This reality is hard on a daily basis. It's been almost a year and I still miss them with all my heart. But it's a reality made even harder on special days, like this one. The day we're not going to Tennessee.

I spent seven years with the same kids, five as their youth pastor, and in those five years we traveled...A LOT. Seventeen times, to be exact. And those are just the out-of-state, more-than-one-night trips. We also went camping and to camp, overnight beach and concert trips, and trips with just leaders. Some trips were with organizations and some we organized. Five of those trips were a high-school only conference* in Pigeon Forge this third weekend of January, when the kids have an extra day or two off of school.We went from traveling with ten students and leaders in 2011 to forty by 2013. That's just shy of 100% of our high school students. Amazing. Tennessee became THE trip of the year.

Traveling with the kids was no doubt my favorite part of the job. It's not a surprise, really. As a kid, my favorite computer "game" was my dad's Rand McNally Map Maker CD-ROM. It was basically MapQuest or Google Maps before the internet was a thing. My favorite Christmas gift was a kid's atlas that I highlighted, marked up, and paged through until the glossy red cover fell off. My dad traveled a lot for work and I grew up in a family that took a lot of vacations together. As a young adult I moved across the country, ensuring much travel back and forth. Somehow travel became part of my DNA, a core value, and though it was subconscious at first, that DNA also became part of my youth group.

At first it might seem selfish, because gallivanting across the country costs time and money and the camp-high lasts about a week. It's so much prep work, time off work, coordinating of schedules and meals and drivers and rooms. Is it really worth it?


It is so worth it.

I have this "theology of travel" that I've been thinking through the last couple months. It's dawned on me that so many youth pastors DON'T travel much with their students. A "big" trip is heading an hour away for a weekend. When I tell them I took forty people on a fourteen-hour roadtrip, they look at me in panic. (I don't even tell them about the time we took two days and drove all the way from Florida to Michigan). It has caused me to ask: why the panic?

In talking with some of my students ministry friends, I've discovered three common reasons** why youth pastors don't travel:

1) They're lazy. Planning a trip is a TON of work. Repeat: A TON OF WORK. It is a daunting task! From picking a trip to setting payment deadlines to coordinating schedules and planning every detail, it really is overwhelming. But since when is it okay to be scared of a ton of work?! Recruit volunteers and leaders to help with the details. Make a timeline of when things need to be done...looking at each individual component of a trip is so much easier to handle than the whole thing at once! In my humble opinion, there is just no room for laziness in ministry. Stop putting it off, balance your schedule, and find time to plan.

2) Cost. Yes, trips cost money. Camps, mission trips, conferences...all $$$. So cost can be an obstacle...or it can be an opportunity to get creative. Fundraisers are your friends, as are generous people just waiting to be asked. And a trip doesn't have to cost a fortune...with some effort, you can pull off your own low budget retreat (but you'll have to get over hurdle #1 for that). I think cost can so quickly become another excuse to be lazy and not plan anything, when instead it should just be a known thing that we need to creatively figure out.

3) They don't know how. So you've moved past lazy and you're not letting cost hold you back...but where do you start? That might just be the hardest part. No doubt your mailbox is full of flashy flyers and you're bombarded daily with potential events. But once you've selected your trip, it's time to get down and dirty in the details BUT LIKE HOW?!? My solution to that is a few paragraphs below :)

Y'all, I've been in ministry for years. I've felt the shadow of excuses and pushed past them. Why? Because travel matters. Here's why:

1) It's biblical. Ok, there is no verse (that I know of) that says, "Thou shalt travel with thy youth group or the Lord shall smite thee." But read your Bible and look at all the freaking travel that happens ALL. THE TIME. The Israelites? They casually travelled through the desert for 40 years (which I don't recommend for your next trip, btw). Paul, Timothy, and other believers and preachers traveled regularly. Yes, the intent of their trips was to teach the Gospel, but I've got to believe they did an awful lot of learning as they encountered new people and cultures. Oh and then there's this Jesus guy and his disciples...remember the sermon he gave telling people to "go and make disciples"? those two letters - GO - are huge. Again, they were to go for the purpose of making disciples, but don't you also think maybe "going" had to do a bit with the way their own souls would be touched through travel?

2) A fresh perspective. One of my favorite quotes (because of its complete truth in my life) by Mark Batterson is this: "change of pace + change of place = change of perspective." There is something to be said about what happens in your soul when you get out of your every day sameness and open your eyes to the world around you. It's why I never let my kids take cell phones and other electronics with them on our trips. Remember that verse about "where your treasure is, there your heart will be also"? I want to challenge what they treasure. Sometimes that means complete removal from "normal." Every trip they complain for about ten minutes, and then by the end of the week they THANK me for the break. They are slaves to their cell phones, unbeknownst to them until they are forced to go without. Life is slower when they are not trying to capture every moment for Snapchat, and they are there in the moment, really living. It's a change of pace.

We mix it with a change of place for so many reasons. I love providing an experience for my kids that they otherwise would never have. For many of my kids, our trips were their first time out of Florida, their first time on an airplane, their first time away from their parents, their first time seeing snow. It's almost magical to be able to experience that joy when they pick up that first handful of fluffy white powder. They meet new people and experience new cultures and laugh at different accents. Most of our trips were to the mountains, and I think there is something sacred about that as well. Noah's ark came to rest atop a mountain. It was on a mountain where God gave the Israelites the Ten Commandments. God chose a mountaintop to spare Isaac, blessing Abraham with the promise of numerous descendants. Jesus' most well-known teaching is titled "the Sermon on the Mount," and it was on a mountain that he ascended to heaven. Mountains dotted the topography of the entire Bible. The songwriters and prophets alluded to them time and again. There has to be something there, right? I guess I really can only speak for myself, but I find mountains to be a thin place, one of those "rare locales where the distance between heaven and earth collapses." It's in hiking to a waterfall or summiting a giant mountain that God is the most real to me.

A change of pace and place combine to change perspective, and isn't that what we all need? A reminder that our life and struggle are momentary, that there are people and places out there beyond just what we know, and that this God who holds it all together loves us so, so much.

3) R-E-L-A-T-I-O-N-S-H-I-P-S. Written like that for intentional emphasis, because something magical happens at about hour 6.5 on I-75. When you cram that many people into mini-vans for hours at a time, fueled by Taco Bell and 5 Hour Energy, with no electronics or entertainment but each's magical. Perfect. Hilarious. LOUD. But so, so beautiful. The conversations we have in the vans, hotel rooms, tents, small group times, and hikes are beyond anything that happens in the normal 2-3 hours a week on Wednesdays or Sundays that we spend with our students. We even used to pick up friends in South Carolina and Atlanta because why not? Relationships. And it's not just students bonding with students. They also see leaders let their guards down, acting crazy, drinking way too much Mountain Dew in their Star Wars jammies. What's so cool is that those relationships LAST. You go back home with everyone you experienced this trip with (hopefully! Remember that time Hunter almost didn't make it home?!). So these relationships don't just last a week and then exist only in the sphere of social media; they are relationships that exist as long as these students and leaders are in that ministry (and possibly beyond). And finally, leaders bond with leaders. Many of my best Florida friendships came out of youth trips...kind of crazy.

Obviously this is not a conclusive list. I didn't even touch on the spiritual transformation that happens during a well-programmed retreat. I hope that is a given, and my focus in writing this is kind of on everything else, but it can't be totally ignored. The opportunity to worship with hundreds or thousands, to hear incredible and inspiring messages from difference voices...these are all things I couldn't give my kids if we never left Lakeland. The speakers may say the same thing I've been telling them for years, but sometimes you need to hear it from someone else for it to really sink in. My favorite trip memories are sitting around the fire in Ohio, and sitting on the steps in Michigan, with everyone just kind of at a loss for words to explain the feeling God had placed in their hearts. Thoughts came out as tears, and those tears said more that words ever could.

This has gotta come to a wrap, but it's hard because I could probably go on FOREVER with reasons why youth groups need to travel together. Like I said in the beginning, traveling became part of the DNA of my youth group while I was there. Having these experiences created memories and traditions that the kids still talk about. Our travels were life-shaping experiences, and as I look at my former students growing through the years, I can point out specific changes in each of them that resulted from one of our trips together.

If you're a youth pastor reading this, please consider taking your kids somewhere this summer. Actually don't even consider it...just do it. I will help you. I mentioned earlier that I had a solution for youth pastors who don't even know where to begin planning. That solution is   If you click that link, it will bring you to a website I'm still working on, but just really feel like tonight is the night to launch it and just throw my big audacious idea out there to y'all. I'm so passionate about kids and leaders taking trips that I want to offer you my knowledge and skills to help make that happen. I'll walk with you through the steps, give you packing lists, let you know the forty-seven things you haven't thought of but probably should. An incredibly wise volunteer leader once told me that my job on a youth trip [as the youth pastor] was simply to care for the spiritual lives of my students. I want you to be able to feel that, instead of stressing over every single detail. Shotgun Katie is me riding shotgun, helping you navigate your trip. I'll explain the name more later. I really don't have a plan for it, any idea how it's going to work...I just know it's been on my mind for a long time and I want to help as many of you as I can. So when the website is for real up and running, I'll let you know, but for now please email me (! I would love to tackle your questions, share ideas, and help you every step of the way as we intentionally create a meaningful experience for your kids.

So that's all. Sorry not sorry I was long winded, but preachers gotta preach, you know? Little 9-year-old Sarah is still alive in my heart, clutching her map-making CD ROM. Are you with me?

*Shout out to our friends at the Scott Dawson Evangelistic Association for putting on Strength to Stand year after year. You're incredible, your conference is quality, and there are so many reasons we kept coming back. And AtlantaFest in June was a DREAM. (CIY, we LOVE you too! Mix, Move, and Believe have been pivotal formation points in my students' faith journeys. (Sorry about the time they broke curfew and your entire team AND campus security had to look for them.))

**Are there more than 3? Yes! Do youth pastors sometimes not have control over decisions like this? Sadly, yes! These are just the most common I've heard...feel free to add your own in the comments below.


901west, I miss you. I miss holding our rocks in our right hands and not letting go and not crossing our arms and toilets flushing to set the mood. I miss stacks of pizza crusts 16 inches high. Victoria, I know your secret. Slim Jims. Peeing on the side of road...but not really. Meeting every one of our favorite rap artists. Falling on my butt 17 times because I am not a good hiker (thanks Little Sarah for always having my back). Catching fireflies. Being very, very close to getting kicked off an airplane. Breakdancing resulting in my pulled hamstring. That rental BMW swag. Prank calls. Foot charades. FUDGE POPS. And why do we ALWAYS have to deal with some sort of INSANE storm?! Roxanne the mini-van and the Vanpire Diaries. And Tuesday night. Forever and always, Tuesday night <3

Mark, Beth, Shelli, Kristi, Brent, Erika, Julie, Michael, Trevor, Josh, Pam, Rhena, Jordyn, Chris, David, Ryan, Phil, Lou, Katie, Amy, Eric, & Cathy - thanks for being student ministry rock stars and giving up your cozy beds for hotel floors and sorry excuse for a mattress in a dormitory. I love how you love students.

Julie, Jasen, Mike, Kim, Sam, John, Saul, Sharon, Heather, John, Mark, Lisa, Craig, Susie, Bobbi Jo, Eric, Steve, Lacy, David, Amy, Brent, Tina, Josh, Jessica, Wes, Marlena, Derrick, Jenna, Barb, Cathy, Jim, Marnie, Jay, Mark, Ruth, Bill, Emily, Michelle, Kym, Shawn, Kevin, Rhena, Brian, Kristi, Pam, Bob, David, Kim, April, Karl, Lori, Emily, Sean, Terry, Nancy (and 14 I no doubt forgot) - sometimes it still blows my mind that you just let your kids get in a van with me and hit the highway. You're so cool. Thanks for trusting me with the most precious things in your life.

And mostly: Jenn, Cody, Deborah, Caleb, Katie, Jordan, Kayla, Tyler, Wayde, Jordan, Cody, Kirstin, Katie, Alayna, Missy, Stephanie, Alex, Sam, Jean, Marcus, Eil, Sarah, Ashtyn, Taylor, Tanner, Ashley, Krista, Kandace, Judy, Justin, Sam, Alex, Libby, Ryan, Abby, Tatum, Matt, Aly, Eddie, Lucas, Nixie, Victoria, Rachael, Kari, Robbie, Abigail, Kassidy, Caleb, Arthur, Kara, Hannah, Holly, Josh, and Taylor - my heartbeat. You are my favorite travel companions both on the road and in life.

"There's a river rippling a whisper, the crickets sing their song to the trees. A place like this will sink down in your soul and you're only gonna want more. It's times like these that make you wanna slow to a creep, that make you want to breath in deep, real deep. It's times like these that make you sing 'I wanna believe there'll be more times like these." -Jake Ousley, Times Like These

Monday, September 28, 2015

why my bags are packed...again.

Y'ALL. Life changes in seven days. Hokey Pete. Looking back at things a week ago...looking at them today...seriously blowing my ever-loving mind.

Remember my whole platform (for pretty much the last...YEAR) about surrender and saying yes to God EVEN WHEN we don't know what it means or how it will work or where we're going? When we are brave enough to say yes, GOD DOES STUFF. Like bigger than we can ask or imagine and crazier than we dare to dream stuff.

Well...He's at it again. OBVIOUSLY.

One of my biggest "just trust" moments in moving was that once summer was over, I had no idea where I would be living. I also needed to secure an additional part-time job to be able to afford said living space. Oh and find a church...and some know, life.

I've been pretty chill about things all summer, not freaking out too much or worrying about it all working out. GOOD, because worry would have been a ROYAL WASTE OF TIME (about always is). But the most important thing to me in these living/working/community situations was church. I wanted to find a church I loved and could be active in, and it was important to me to live in the same town. Finding a church 45 minutes away just wasn't gonna work.

Over the course of the summer I spent many Sundays at a church I ADORE. There were so many things I wanted to get involved in. But I was so hesitant, because it was in Holland, and even though that is my #lifegoals city, my home was looking like it would be Grandville, and most of my work even further east. Bumdog millionaire. Physically I was part of the church, but mentally and emotionally I just couldn't invest in the people or programs because 45 minutes each way a couple times a week IN THE SNOW isn't cool.

But then two weeks ago...VISION SUNDAY. And I was already on board with the vision, but hearing it cast by Brian, seeing it in all it's bullet-pointed glory....I was hooked. Excellence. The heart of this church is so, so, SO good. The problem with getting hooked're hooked. And I decided I wanted to commit to this church. Housing, job...God will work it out. Imma just do it.

AND HE DID. Whoa baby, He did. Enter the last seven days of my life:

First move in getting involved was emailing the youth pastor (because...duh. You can't be 4 weeks away from a Masters in Youth Ministry and not be a youth leader. At least I can't). And Johnny's all like "Sarahhhhhh! Get to our meeting TONIGHT." Well that's more exciting than homework, so I'm there. We ate pizza (obvi), made a video (Theodora Pufflepants made her grand Michigan appearance...#winning), and then got down to bidness. Loved it. Love the strategy, the intentionality, the heart. I'm all in. And this isn't even about that!

Rewind to pizza. I sit next to my new friend Sherry. The "I live in a camping trailer" has become classic get-to-know-you fodder. It's followed by "but it's about to freeze in the arctic winter of this frozen tundra and I really need to find somewhere else to live lest I turn into a coconut-flavored icicle." Sherry: "Oh, I work down the road at Camp Geneva! You should come live there! Be a retreat host! Live for free! Life is but a dream!" It went something like that.

Rewind to the week before, where I'm meeting with Young Life Bryan and he told me THE EXACT SAME THING. So this thing is worth investigating and Sherry's got my hook-up.

Fast forward 3 days. I'm killing time at Biggby, about the only place I can focus on homework these days. Who's working but Emily, Student Ministry Coordinator by day, barista by night? We just met Wednesday, but she's my friend. We chat, because that's what you do with baristas, and boom, guess who else used to be a host at Geneva?! Hello world, you're still getting smaller.

Holla. Next day. I'm at Geneva being interviewed, and the first question is if I'm related to Tyler. Do I want to claim that? Sure. I hear the deets, I see the house. Ballin. Stacey says, "We love you. We want you. We have to have you." (Again, maybe not her exact words, but that's how I remember it.)

Pause. Is this for REAL?! Like you're offering me JOB and I work in exchange for a FREE place to LIVE and it's in HOLLAND where my CHURCH is?!

5 days. I said yes to God's work in this church, trusting He'd provide a job and place to live. Over the course of the next 5 days, He did.

AND HE DID MORE. Not only will I be a hospitality and retreat host at Geneva and living in this house, but it comes with friends. Community. There's 9 other people who live there, and together we get to be family, all going to school and working at camp and elsewhere and loving Jesus and doing. life. together. Did I mention the house is called the Phat Pad, and these are the people who live/d there?

Let's be real...these are my kind of people. Also, yes Phat Pad Phamily, I did stalk you on Facebook and steal your photo. I get the impression you won't really care.

Also on this day, I met with Johnny and Emily. (Biggby again...because I can). They do Student Ministry. I get their life. I love their life. I'm so, so glad to be led by them and with them. They love Jesus and they love students. They had to interview me and make sure I wasn't a crazy person before I could join the Student Ministry team. I am crazy; they let me anyways.

Last night, day 7. I'm back at church, it's youth group kick-off night. My emotions ranged from This is awesome! to This is overwhelming! to I miss MY kids! to I Love 9-Square! At 9:30 pm, clean-up's done and I'm tapping out. I stop and say goodbye to Emily, meet the guy sitting next to her, and eventually the conversation leads to her saying, "you guys are gonna be roommates!!!" Ha, what? So we start talking because these random meetings are just crazy talk!! But what a fantastic way to end the another one of the Phat Pad Pham, and hearing that a couple more of the guys are involved in this youth group too. Love.

If you are still reading this, you are a star. I started writing it a week and a half ago, so you're doing better than I did. (I HAD to take a break and get to Florida). Now it's Monday and I'm moving tomorrow - what?!

But getting back to it, I guess I had two reasons I needed to share it all...A) this is the easiest way to communicate to all my friends and family what's going on my life and B) let's recap paragraph two. Say yes to God and his plan for your life. I've done it more in the last six months than ever in my life, and every yes opens up more doors than I even knew existed, doors I couldn't see without opening the one before. It's scary. There's still a lot of unknown and I by no means have all the answers...or any of them. But tonight I'm happy going to bed knowing that tomorrow grand adventure awaits.

PS...this doesn't affect things at the Conference Grounds at all! I will still be working there 15-20 hours a week all winter and then living the trailer life and seeing your beautiful faces all summer! No worries, you can't get rid of me that quick :)

Thursday, August 13, 2015

let's be brave together.

After all the feedback on my last post, I think it's time to keep being real about about how the move / new job / life in Michigan have been for the last five months: HARD!  It's not that I hate it or regret my decision; I actually have way too much fun most days and am so at peace. It's just that it's been a transition and transitions are hard! You can't spend your entire adult life in one place and then completely move on overnight. There is a grieving process involved in any change in life, and leaving an entire life behind is no exception. 

Instead of really giving grief the time it needs, I've had to stuff it and get to work...there's 80 kids and a team of staff members relying on me every week. 

Now we don't really have internet at camp, but when the wind blows the right direction sometimes I get a wifi signal, and there's this quote that pops up often on my Pinterest feed: "You have to be brave with your life so that others will be brave with theirs." 

It first came up months ago when I was deliberately searching quotes on bravery, looking for some inspiration as I had just made the decision to go back to Michigan and was looking for some encouragement, someone's words to voice what I was feeling when I couldn't figure out exactly how I was feeling or what I needed to say.

Brave felt like a good word. I was stepping out into the unknown. It was big. It was scary. I needed some courage. There is a ferociousness to brave that I liked. 

In January and February I took this quote to heart. I needed to do this Michigan thing. I needed people to see me do something scary and big so that they would be inspired to do the same. The ability to leave was like a superpower, and I was commended on being "strong" enough to do something so scary.

But now that I've been gone, I don't think the brave thing was leaving. Yeah it was scary and still puts my faith to the test daily, but I don't know that it was brave.

Brave is the way I handle it now that I've left. And this time, brave to me isn't about being strong, it's about being weak, being vulnerable. It's about being not-ok, and being okay with it. Brave is courage, but not in a sense of's courage in my ability to share with others how I'm actually doing. It's admitting that yeah, even though the days are good, I'm still grieving. Yes, somedays I'm still searching for hope, waiting for this all to make sense.

Brave might be one of the easiest things to fake. It's easy to masquerade around in a parade of accomplishments and look-at-me-nows. But when the mask is off? Is the person under it really brave? Or is brave a front for insecurity, loneliness, the feeling that you can't really share how you're doing?

I want brave to be going to church with a tear-streaked face because I'm lonely and I need my people and I need them to know it. Because how will they help me if they don't know my struggles?

In March I was back in Florida for a wedding and able to reconnect with so many people I haven't seen in a long time. I wanted them to think I'm brave so I told them about this big new move. But what if real bravery is found in my ability to tell them "I moved, and you know what? It's been a struggle."

Here's the problem: people really don't know how to deal with that. Oh, yes, some do and they do it well. But I think this kind of brave is unexpected. And that's what makes it important! I've found that being brave in my struggles helps other people be brave in their struggles. 

In the last couple months I've taken notice of the struggles of some of my friends. They are struggling in their jobs, in their marriages, struggling with their weight and with their kids and their own insecurity and loneliness. 

Can't we all just struggle together?

What makes me most sad about all these friends who are struggling is that so many choose to do it on their own. There are the few who have let me in on their struggles...what about all my friends fighting their own battles who aren't brave enough to talk about them yet? Can't we all just struggle together? That would be brave.

I think now I want brave to be synonymous with real. Authentic. Genuine. Brave isn't strength in the struggle, brave is admitting there is a struggle. The courage to be yourself might be the bravest thing you can do.

Let's be brave together.

Monday, August 10, 2015

glimpses of hope

I could have lied.

When the woman sitting next to me in church (who I’d just met 50 minutes ago) asked if I had lunch plans, it would have been so, so easy to respond with a smile and “Yeah, sorry...I have to get back to camp. Thanks though!” and then out the door like normal.

Lies. My “plans” included picking up Qudoba and climbing back into bed with a burrito and One Tree Hill (Season 4, for the 11th time). That plan is so much easier than the hard, awkward work of meeting new people at a new church in a new town. A church I don’t know that I will for sure be attending in a town I don’t know that I’ll live in.

But for whatever reason I said no, I didn’t have plans. It was uncomfortable to answer that way, because I knew what would come next. It did, and when she asked if I like Mexican and wanted to join her family for lunch, I agreed. Fifteen minutes later I was sitting across the table from a precious three-year-old, making faces and eating far-too-large of a burrito. We shared stories of moving and life changing and God at work even when we couldn’t see it. (And of course we played some Dutch Bingo, too). 

It was nothing major. It probably wasn’t a big deal to them. But it spoke volumes to me. For the first time in too long, I felt hope. The hope that comes with taking a risk, the hope that comes with knowing change is around the corner. The hope that says it’s been a rough season, but it won’t stay that way. The hope that says you haven’t lost yourself, you’re still in there somewhere, and here’s a reminder of who you are and why you’re here.

Sometimes it’s hard to have that hope when you live in a camping trailer and aren’t sure where you’ll be living in two months. It’s hard when you don’t know how you’ll pay for that unknown place in two months, because your job is about to be part-time. It’s hard when all your friends are together 1200 miles away and you miss them terribly and wonder if you will ever find a connection like that in your new town. 

These last five months have been, without a doubt, the most challenging months of my life. They’ve been filled with unknown and emotions and more questions than answers. Yet God has been so good in showering me with little glimpses of hope - warm fuzzies, text messages, cinnamon rolls on my stoop (true story), conversations with students, sunsets, and burritos after church. Whatever situation you are in, I pray you find hope where you need it today. And if you’ve got enough hope to pass around, share it. You never know what one word, one invitation, one cup of coffee could mean to someone who just needs a little hope.