Tissue paper and burning candles do not mix well with two dozen teens at a Christmas party.
Never mind that the kid who opened the gift bag and tossed the paper behind him wasn’t thinking, or paying attention to what the rest of us watched in horror—only too late to prevent the paper from igniting.
Thankfully an off-duty Sheriff’s deputy and fellow youth leader was also sitting in our living room. As I blew on the floating, fiery missile he reached for it, assuring me he wouldn’t let my lace curtains or my house burn down.
Did I mention, soda exploding in my kitchen?
I learned two valuable lessons that evening:
Never, ever blow on burning tissue paper, and never hold a teen’s foolish escapades against him (or her).
A decade later these young 20-somethings are out of college, and pursuing careers or ministries; a few are now married with kiddos of their own. Somehow between our conflicts and reconciliations and shared memories, we have become friends.
My husband has stood before brides and grooms who once sat in his learning center shooting spit wads and plodding through algebraic equations (that they’ll never use in real life, of course).
A couple weeks ago at church one of our Christian school graduates introduced us to his bride-to-be. They met on a ship while serving in the US Navy.
Some work and attend church close by; some relocated to other parts of the country. M is an English professor; E is preparing for married life as a missionary in another hemisphere; R serves as an intern with a ministry among Native Americans.
And one of our teens who came weekly for music lessons, is now leading worship at a church back east.
Do not remember the sins of my youth, nor my transgressions; according to Your mercy remember me, for Your goodness’ sake, O Lord. – Psalm 25:7
When we came to this tight-knit church in a small mountain community we were the unwanted “step-parents,” replacing the former couple who had been here for years. The kids were not ready to embrace strangers. We were reeling from a situation gone awry at our previous place of ministry. It was a difficult transition all around.
They sat stone-faced in metal folding chairs during Sunday school as I led singing; then whispered, chatted and passed out candy and gum while my husband taught. Every Sunday morning it felt like walking into the lion’s den, requiring strength and courage I did not possess. We weren’t any more thrilled to be here than they were to have us here.
But God had a plan.
Teens grow up. As do youth leaders. Through the years, persevering through the challenges of learning about each other and how to work together, surviving an extended building program, and in persevering through difficult church, community and family struggles, we’ve grown as individuals, and in our relationships. Our lives have literally become intertwined.
Last night at church, sitting behind me was a young family of four: one of our all-grown-up teens with his wife and two little girls—and they were singing. It was the sweetest sound in the world.
I stood listening, amazed at God’s plan. And a jumble of emotions spilled over. Most of all, this heart swelled with gratitude for God’s wisdom in bringing us here, and with love for these people who have not only become friends, but family.
The end of a thing is better than its beginning; the patient in spirit is better than the proud… – Ecclesiastes 7:8
(Candle photo courtesy of Malene Thyssen)