Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Born to Juggle

My dad, Ron, turned 80 in October, and all five of his kids were present to celebrate with him. My mom, Audrey, would have been 80 on Nov. 18. (She died just shy of 52.) Since we couldn’t celebrate my mom’s 80th in the flesh, I honored that date by wearing a shirt Wendy painted for me for Christmas 18 years ago:  “Born to Juggle,” with a baby in a stroller juggling a bottle, a ball, and a block with a “P” on it.  When my mom gave birth to me, she didn’t set out to nurture a future juggling director. However, she did work hard for my first 16 years of life to instill in me godly virtues, faith, linguistic and theatrical skills, a love for family, recreation, travel, and exemplary unconditional love that transcends health, wealth, life, and death. My dad didn’t see his bouncing baby boy as a future entrepreneur working with kids in a vaudevillian art form, but he trained me in manhood, education, sports, frugality, citizenship, marital fidelity, and taking responsibility.  

To my perspective, I was born with a thousand possibilities for my life’s direction. However, from an eternal perspective, I believe that I was literally “born to juggle,” inasmuch as God ordained my gifts and led me “in paths of righteousness for His name’s sake” since my own Day One (see Psalm 23:3). Similarly, I have no idea for which specific purpose(s) that any of our 12 dozen current Jugheads were born, but that’s not for me to know. All I know is that through God’s grace, with the help of my coaches & student leaders, I’m passing along life lessons that will hopefully accumulate in kids’ hearts and nudge them toward God’s will for their lives. I was born to follow Jesus, and juggling is a tool. He knows not just what’s good for me, but what’s BEST for me. I don’t believe in luck or coincidence. I believe that I’m called here, and that every Jughead has value and latent callings from birth that are developed through love and mentorship...and juggling.

Some of us may live 80 years; others will fall short. Regardless of our tenure on Earth, may we all say in the end that we fulfilled our callings­—however unexpected they were—for our joy, others’ good, and God’s glory.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Less is More

Juggling in front of a big window atop the Hancock Tower in Chicago.
The above philosophy does not come naturally to me. From about ages 16-37, I struggled with fairly significant bouts of burn-out: my effectiveness to my various responsibilities often diminished due to being spread too thin, and it took genuine crises in my life to have the courage to drop one or more activities that were burdens on my schedule and well-being. So, I’m not merely giving intellectual assent to the wisdom of a simplified lifestyle; I’ve learned through trials that even a man of my energy level needs boundaries and is most effective when doing fewer things well.

Here at JH, we specialize in three basic areas: youth mentorship, juggling, and performing. Outside our regular clubs & camps, we essentially only have three events involving the whole company: Jingle Jam, the Winter Showcase, and Juggle Jam. But even with such a seemingly simple schedule, even one day a week for the average Jughead can make a big difference in their sense of accomplishment, connection, community, and accumulated skills.

At the most involved end of our member spectrum, some student leaders immerse in virtually every event, gig, camp, and bonus volunteering days, making this their main extra-curricular focus. On the surface this may seem imbalanced, but their choice to become resident experts streamlines their schedule and offers lasting benefits. The track record of many JH grads having successful collegiate and professional careers indicates that their choice to specialize, rather than do too many things half-way, pays off.

Just like a page needs margins and a runner needs rest, a life needs to breathe. And while the Type-A achiever in me seems at odds with the guy longing to just stare out the window, I’ll keep a handle on my commitments, and how our JH clubs are structured, so we can have moments of levity, laughter, and time for just being lest we be overly defined by our doing. As I’ve said before, balance is key, and sometimes it takes just as much faith to give things up as it does to take things on.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

For Such A Time As This

Rookie Bennett H. (Thur. Rec. 4th grader) learned to juggle while wheelchair-confined (!) due to a long-term leg injury.

     We’re in the simplistic and relatively blissful season of normalcy: no imminent graduations, show rehearsals, festivals, or transitions. It’s often during these “ordinary times” that some of the best life lessons can be taught, and role modeling is often most real in mundane circumstances. Every year, I have kids that drop out without a good-bye. I also have kids that go down in history as deeply significant to the company collectively and/or to me personally (regardless of their length of tenure). Ironically, I can never truly predict how any given Jughead career will pan out! Part of this makes me slightly jaded— “Why care if kids just stop coming or lose interest?” But another part of me rises to the challenge— “Is there any way I can lovingly influence the kids for however long I have them, whether they discontinue due to choice, graduation, or circumstances out of their control?” I know that affecting a child’s life need not take years, but sometimes minutes (for good or bad). I believe that “love” is spelled “T-I-M-E” for a child, but still, quantity of time doesn’t guarantee that a true difference is made in a young person.  

     Queen Esther is the biblical hero who stood in the gap for the Jewish people in the face of imminent genocide. Her cousin and adoptive father, Mordecai, challenged her to bravely approach the king and intervene to stop the edict to slaughter the Jews: “For if you keep silent at this time, relief and deliverance will rise for the Jews from another place...And who knows whether you have not come to the kingdom for such a time as this?” (Esther 4:14, ESV). Sometimes it takes decades or even centuries to change a kingdom. For Esther, influenced by her wise mentor, it took a couple of feasts (after she and many Jews fasted and prayed for three days!). Even 10 years is only a fraction of a person’s life (assuming he or she reaches 78.7 years), so I can’t slack and delay good work in the lives of youth because time is on my side. It’s really not. But whether over a couple of meals, a couple of years, or a couple of words, my mission to develop youth through juggling remains alive, and I’m grateful to my coaches and student leaders to be serving your kids with Wendy & me for such a time as this.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Developing Balanced Youth

Any given year, our individual coaches could probably summarize their perspective on JUGHEADS (JH) in a single word. For one, the word might be “Fun.” For another, “Discipline” or “Focus.” For yet another, “Teamwork” or “Friendships.” For me, one of the key words to describe this company is “Balanced.”
When asked about our summer, Wendy & I have responded about how balanced it was: juggling camps, parades, and IJA; extended family time, such as our annual DeGroot clan campout and my unique trip to the Boundary Waters with eight Arneberg men & boys; a marriage getaway to Chicago; and a backyard patio project which gives Wendy a new “canvas” for her gardening while opening a new dimension for hospitality. On top of this, we had “forced” down time for half the summer due to Wendy’s heart surgery and recovery, which was a welcome opportunity to simplify our schedule and slow down our pace.
The lesson I take away from my summer as applicable to JH is that the heart of this company is balance. Unlike football or cross country teams with their August two-a-days, even our most intense juggling clubs and camps are offset by a generous amount of time for open juggling, snack, and recreation. Unlike the classroom, our kids are free to move about at will, save for our meetings, warm-ups, and rehearsals later in the year. And unlike theatre productions or basketball play-calling, our students (especially our leaders) are invited to give their opinions regarding company policies, Juggle Jam themes, club workshops, and even what equipment and snacks we buy.
As a natural Type-A person, I have experienced all of the above (two-a-days, theatre, basketball, etc.). I’m grateful for that, and I believe that such intense discipline, immersion, and “learning to follow” is necessary for every kid to experience. However, now in our 20th year, I believe that because JH is different is precisely why kids keep coming back. I don’t claim to have a corner on child psychology or recreational expertise, but I can say this: our Jughead members like challenges, the freedom to choose, the ability to contribute, opportunities to work with a wide age range of both boys and girls, and the guidance of a team of role models ranging from teenaged leaders to middle-aged “life coaches.” That represents the balance that makes up our company, and if the Lord wills, we’ll keep exploring new ways to develop balanced kids through juggling for another 20 years.

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Stewards of Grace

During our courtship, Wendy & I were involved in InterVarsity Christian Fellowship at the U of M, the same ministry through which we met and became friends for a year before officially dating. It was in that campus group that we both began to stretch and hone our various talents: my roles included worship song leader, Large Group announcements, comedic/dramatic presentations, and Bible Study leader; Wendy’s roles included graphic designer, social event organizer, and occasional skit participant. We never would have guessed half a lifetime ago that those uses of our gifts would become the foundation for the mom-and-pop business of a large, one-of-a-kind youth juggling company! For this reason, I admonish young adults (including my own kin) to maximize their talents & interests, no matter how trivial or mundane they may seem. One never knows how our gifts can be used both now and in the future!

In addition to our “public” forms of expression, we’ve have always tried to grow in our Christian faith as a couple. Our times of prayer, Bible study, and relational ministry hold some very sweet memories. Years ago, Wendy pointed out a passage that reflects our complementary gifts:  “As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace: whoever speaks, as one who speaks oracles of God; whoever serves, as one who serves by the strength that God supplies—in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ. To Him belong glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.” (1 Peter 4:10-11, ESV)

Talk about weighty words! Speaking with God’s words; serving with God’s strength. If I had made that up, I would be guilty of tremendous arrogance—to dare to speak for God or serve in His strength! However, since the Apostle Peter wrote it under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, I believe it. For 20 years of marriage, Wendy & I have tried to live “as good stewards of God’s varied grace”: Wendy as the “server” (graphics, organization, hospitality) and me as the “speaker” (visionary, leader, communicator). Again, lest you think I’m ascribing divine qualities to our gifts and marriage by my own authority, I’m not—we’re just relishing in the privilege to speak & serve as God’s stewards for His glory, others’ good, and our joy!

I know that many JH families do not share our Christian faith. However, in honor of our 20th anniversary next week, I wanted to shed some light on the spiritual history of Paul & Wendy Arneberg, and how our faith has not only has sustained us for 20 years of marriage, but it sustains us in this work. As we face heart surgery on May 28, we’d like to deeply thank all who have expressed concern for us while expressing gratitude for JUGHEADS. God willing, we will continue speaking & serving for God’s glory for years to come, and we’ll continue helping youth and young adults to find their gifts which will then bless others for a lifetime.

Strength in Weakness

In a recent update to the JH families’ group email list, I quoted 2 Corinthians 12:10: “When I am weak, then I am strong (in Christ).” This is a paradox, and although it’s never initially pleasant to experience weakness and the surrender of one’s control, there is a surprising strength that comes (by faith) only through trials. My deep belief is that God Himself through Jesus is my strength, especially in my weaknesses, but even in “secular” settings such as Juggle Jam 15, we can all experience being strong for each other when somebody else is weak.

Consider our annual production. Ultimate Club members, specialty acts, and skits have more stage time than the average Jughead. However, even the strongest individual or team is “weak” when ones remembers that we need a stage, an audience, a sound man, a lighting technician, ushers, safety codes, and audience amenities to make the show complete. The “star performers” would not have any fame without a strong network to make up for their weaknesses. And that all applies to our most seasoned performers! For the younger and/or less experienced Jugheads, stage fright and self-doubt can sometimes be overwhelming. One young performer literally prayed about his stage fright in last month’s EYJA Showcase, and his success led him to say, “Now I finally know that God is real.”

Wendy and I have expressed that same sentiment countless times, and we do so now daily perhaps more than ever as we’re between two major surgeries while peaking JJ preparations and approaching our 20th wedding anniversary. I’ll reiterate what I often wait until JJ to say, here quoting one of the great hymns of the Christian faith: “To God be the glory, great things He has done!”

Friday, March 1, 2013

"Leave No Trace" vs. "Leave a Legacy"

Even though I’m a life-long suburbanite and not a Grizzly Adams, I love the outdoors and any chance I have to run, hike, camp, and generally experience God’s creation. My outdoors experiences (however limited) continue to form life-long and character-shaping memories, from camp counseling in the Sierra Nevada in 1989 to hiking Half Dome with Wendy in 2008 to adventures with my brother’s B.S.A. troop (Troop72.com), including a planned trip to the BWCA with seven other Arnebergs (two brothers and five nephews) this summer.

Anyone remotely familiar with wilderness etiquette knows that the phrase “leave no trace” means that we shouldn’t leave evidence of our presence through littering or excessive disruption to the ground, wildlife, and surrounding environment. This I try to do, even in my daily suburban life. However, it strikes me that the opposite is true in mentoring and parenting roles: we’re to leave a major “trace” (legacy) on the lives of our youth through loving and molding young people’s character in every way possible.

As I age, I must confess that it’s often easy for me to hide behind the excuse that I’m too busy, selfish, and/or non-confrontational any given day to chat with a Jughead, admonish a nephew or niece, or give unexpected time to someone craving encouragement or fun. But just as we’re to minimize our carbon footprint in nature, we’re to maximize our “footprint” in the lives of kids and young adults so that their lives are more fruitful because we were there for them. Leave a legacy for the young people in your lives! Remember: time is short.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Mending Wendy's Heart

No, this isn’t a metaphor for Wendy’s emotions. :-) Wendy literally needs surgery for a “broken” heart! She and two of her three siblings inherited mitral valve prolapse (MVP) from their dad, Conrad DeGroot, who tragically drowned in 1970 at age 36 due to fainting in a hot spring while teaching his son to swim. So while Wendy’s weak valve was discovered when she was one year old, the medical strategy has been to avoid surgery for as long as possible. (MVP means that Wendy’s valve doesn’t close all the way with every heart beat, causing her heart to pump less efficiently. If left uncorrected for too long, her heart could have permanent damage.) After years of receiving annual echocardiograms, Dr. Eric Ernst of U of M Physicians via Fairview Southdale has told us that surgery shouldn’t just happen this year...it should happen this winter!

This column lacks my usual efforts at inspirational insights into youth juggling. However, consider this a warm-up toward a future column (or two) regarding how our bodies are “fearfully and wonderfully made” (Psalm 139:14) and that every heartbeat is a gift. Our nervousness for this surgery is eclipsed by our gratitude for her healthy life up to this point and our hope of full restoration. Would you join us in praying for wisdom and skill for her doctors and for patience and recovery for us so that we’ll have many more years together of faithful service to our God, family, company, and community? We’re resting in our Great Physician!

Dependent on God for Every Heartbeat Since 1968,


Use Well the Days!

While I’m not a strict adherent of New Year’s Resolutions per se, I am an avid year-round goal-setter. Thus, when a close friend recently asked me if I had any resolutions, I replied, “I have updated discipline goals.” In other words, I’m not endeavoring to change any behaviors overnight merely due to the turning of the calendar, but I do use occasions such as New Year’s, my May birthday, and Labor Day (the start of a new school year) to set and revise ongoing and long-term goals.

I referred to J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit in last month’s column, and I’ll now refer to his grander epic The Lord of the Rings for an excellent quote that reflects the purpose behind all resolutions and goal-setting. When Galadriel (an immortal Queen among the Elves) bids farewell to the mortal Aragorn as he begins his 120-year reign as King, she says, “Through darkness you have come to your hope, and have now all your desire. Use well the days!” I interpret these words of Prof. Tolkien to mean that we need to be cognizant daily of how we’re stewarding the time and opportunities given to us during our short time on Earth.

The Apostle Paul delivers an even deeper and more comprehensive admonishment in Ephesians 5:15-17 (ESV): “Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is.” The phrase “making the best use of the time” is better translated “redeeming the time,” meaning we’re to impart good in exchange for the evil we find in any situation or relationship. Easier said than done, yes; but I can think of few higher goals than redeeming the time, literally conquering evil with the good done through us.

On the heels of the cinematic release of Les Miserables on Christmas Day last month, I can’t help but hold up Victor Hugo’s character of Jean Valjean as an amazing redeemer of evil times. He exchanged bitterness for joy, hatred for love, thievery for generosity, and self-sufficiency for caring for others. I’m praying that I will be more like Jean Valjean (that is, like Christ, my Redeemer) in 2013 and beyond.

None of us are guaranteed another breath, let alone another week or month or year of normalcy. We don’t know what the future holds. But as we kick off 2013 with all its promise and worries, may we use well the days and redeem the time in ways large and small. May we be found faithful in little things so that we will be entrusted with big things, according to the will and grace of God—who transcends evil times.