Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Sunrise, Sunset: Half a Lifetime of Youth Work

As this column often focuses on my personal experiences, I risk being perceived as narcissistic, self-important, or preachy. However, I love (measured) transparency, so please indulge this career milestone reflection, including my commission of sorts.

On 5/19/92 at 4:03 p.m. in the parking lot of the Edina Community Center, I prayed in my car before my first interview with KIDS Club Founder Linda Sisson. I wrote in my prayer journal, “Whether or not I get this job, and whichever career direction You choose to give me right now, I WANT TO RISE AND SAY THAT IT WAS GOD WHO DID IT, BECAUSE I COULDN’T DO IT MYSELF” (emphasis in the original). I didn’t want my personal charisma or interviewing skills to land me the job; I wanted it to be God’s will, partly because I felt scared to death to take on the full-time responsibility of managing a huge older childcare program at age 23 with virtually no supervisory experience and only one summer of working with kids. As we ended the interview, Linda asked, “Is there anything else?” I replied, “I want you to know that my motivation to love the kids is my Christianity.” She smiled and nodded; granted me a 2nd interview; and I started on 6/1/92.

23 of my 46 years have been devoted to full-time vocational youth work in Edina, MN. I’ve written and said much regarding my journey, and perhaps the reason I’m so introspective is this remains a one-of-a-kind job. Believe me, I’ve bandied about ideas such as teaching, youth pastoring, speaking, writing, and entertaining. This was especially true after college graduation (Dec. ‘91); during my first bout of career restlessness (Winter ‘94); in career burnout (‘97-‘98); and Winter ‘15, when our relocation was unknown. Through it all, God has provided, I’ve not quit, and I exercise a variety of (learned) director skills.

I never left Edina for Disney World or dinner theatre, but I taste stage performing during Juggle Jams, occasional gigs, and church performances. I was recently rejected by WORLD magazine to take a mid-career writing course for potential part-time reporters, but I get to write this monthly newsletter in addition to many other things for this company. I’ve never taught in a classroom (except Sunday School), but I have the privilege of teaching life lessons and occasionally meeting with students and families outside our normal operating hours for deeper forms of spiritual and relational mentorship (with careful propriety).

I continue in youth work through God’s grace, affirmation, humble gratitude, and opened & closed doors. However long I work with kids—whatever the final fraction of my life—is truly up to God rather than me; He who created the sun has determined how many times it sets before the work of Wendy & me is complete (i.e., God’s work in us--Phil. 2:13). Our mission among swiftly flying years is to be found faithful until we’re called away or called Home.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Integrity (Wholeness)

It’s been a while since my monthly column focused exclusively on one of the many virtues we try to reinforce here at JUGHEADS. On the brink of our 20th annual show and our big move in May, reflect with me on one of the most precious virtues: integrity.

I’m not a math guy (my brothers got those genes from my dad), but I find it interesting that the root word of “integrity” is “integer”--the same word for a whole number. Just as a whole number has neither decimal points nor fractions, a person of integrity avoids compromise and compartmentalized character. Integers and integral people are whole, complete.

The problem is we as humans have a fallen nature, and integrity needs to be both taught (by mentors) and caught (by soft-hearted learners). Compromise is easy; living by convictions (even when no one is looking) is hard. Integrity is doing the right thing and having the right character even when it’s neither popular nor convenient, and even, dare I say, when it could get one in trouble, hurt, or even killed. Our world is often hostile to integrity.

Sober words for a juggling newsletter, are they not? Well, I prefer large talk over small talk, and I prefer to mentor youth toward potentially difficult lives of deep purpose and meaning rather than shallow lives of mere temporal comforts and worldly fame and fortune. Of course it’s possible to have both integrity and worldly success. However, it’s never a good bargain to trade integrity for riches, fame, acceptance, etc. Steal a trinket, and one may get away with it, but is the resulting loss of integrity worth it? Pursue the American Dream apart from learning to love one’s neighbor, but is selfish ambition and vain conceit worth it?

Introspectively, I’m a work in progress, seeking sanctification. On many days, my own self-doubts and shortcomings seem to disqualify me for leadership. But as I grow every day in my mission to become more Christlike (modeling myself after the ultimate Whole Person), my solace is that a mentor need not teach integrity from a place of arrival–he teaches just a few steps ahead on the journey toward true, lasting wholeness.