Sunday, November 20, 2011

Blogging from NYWC--Sunday, Part 2

So, I don't regret not having gone to any of the Big Room sessions, but I'm sure I would have really enjoyed them had I gone. The multimedia components of the sessions were a riot--YS is nothing if not masterful with multimedia. There were Scenes from the Youth Van and Youth Ministry Boot Camp that were true enough to real life to be pee-my-pants funny. Although I promise I didn't.

We started with Propaganda (a spoken word artist) and went directly to Superchick. They're not

my favorite, but I really do like Stand in the Rain.
Then it was time for Kenda. *Cue chorus of angels and the warming of my heart, Wesley-style.* She talked about the National Study of Youth and Religion and the church's need to reclaim its missional imagination. And that lady preacher got a whole Civic Center full of youth workers and youth to holler Amen! She was brilliant. Have I mentioned that I love her?

And the only thing that might have been better than that was David Crowder. I think it takes a special artist with a special heart to show the lyrics of all of his songs so that the crowd could sing along, and that's just what he did. In fact, he occasionally stopped singing so that we could. It was really fantastic.

I had been trying to figure out all week what to get the kids. T-shirts get ruined too quickly, and they have too many anyway. Blah, blah, blah. So I got them each a David Crowder CD, and when I told Joshua that I had heard the real singer of "How He Loves" sing "How He Loves," Joshua's head almost exploded.

Heading back to the hotel, I found myself walking next to a professor at Asbury Seminary who had been on the panel that I attended yesterday. It was nice to be able to pick his brain some more and swap kid stories. I got back with just enough time to eat and purchase download cards. Yes, one more stop at the bookstore to buy cards to use to download MP3s of some of the speakers that I missed. The people at the bookstore assured me that they were closing soon and that the temptation to purchase would no longer be ever-present (22 pounds of books, people. 22 pounds.)

One final session and I was off to the airport. It wasn't the most helpful session I went to, but it was a good way to close my time there. One of the last conversations I had at NYWC was with a woman that had also been in the Spiritual Retreat with Mark Yaconelli. We both shared that we were probably ready to go home but wouldn't have hated one more day. My problem was that I was starting to get a little anxious about picking the "right" seminars to attend and thus potentially missing something crucial in another seminar. Enter the beauty of the $6 MP3 download.

I arrived home to find all of my people intact and happy. I was too.

Blogging from NYWC--Sunday

I did not rally. I wanted so desperately to get into my jammies and take out my contacts that I succumbed to the temptation. After an episode or two of Big Bang Theory.

I went to Lauds again this morning. I'll be so sad not to do that tomorrow morning. It's been such a lovely and centering way to start the day. My morning choice was Duffy Robbins. I've heard of him in multiple circles, but have never read any of his stuff or heard him speak before.

Have I used the phrase "It did not disappoint" too much over the past few days? Because it applies here too.

His session was titled "The Ministry of Nurture: Helping Teenagers Grow Spiritually." This guy should do standup. His timing is impeccable.

More importantly, his content was fantastic. And he recommended a few of his own books which I will eventually purchase. But not now. (Hindsight from Sunday afternoon reveals that I bought so many books that I had to check an extra bag. A 22-pound extra bag. Full of books.)

After Duffy? My first Big Room.

Why? My new heroine Kenda and, of course, David Crowder.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Blogging from NYWC--Saturday, Part 2

After my brunch and much-needed nap (I think the true sign of Sabbath is the ability to listen to the body and respond to it appropriately. I'm totally giving that up as soon as I get off the plane--not looking forward to it).

One of the highlights of this year's event is a Theological Forum. It's geared toward youth workers who don't have theological degrees but are still interested in engaging in theological thinking and discussion (which I would hope would be all of them). The topics were:
  • What Does it Mean to Be a Person?
  • The Interaction Between Human Action and Divine Action
  • Theological Issues Impacting the Christian Formation of Adolescents
  • How Do Practical Theology and Culture Interact?
That doesn't really include me, obviously, but I was drawn by the panel members, particularly by Kara Powell and Kenda Creasy Dean.

For once, I was disappointed. But I probably should have guessed that I would be. The information wasn't very practical and it was really a little obtuse. But I got Kara and Kenda to autograph their books, so there you go. And I found out that Kenda is a UMC clergywoman, which I didn't know. She was splendid.

So I bought a few more books (I'm going to have to ship my new library back home because it's not going on the plane with me) and went to rest for a while.

I was headed back down to the Exhibit Hall for more free stuff when, get this...

...I ran into someone I knew!

Well, almost knew.

Gavin and I have been blogging and Facebook friends for about 6 years now, but we've never met in person. And seconds later he introduced me to a colleague of my aunt in Kentucky, and then I found myself walking in a group of 15 people to Ted's Montana Grill for dinner courtesy of the Kentucky Annual Conference! Thanks Becki!

Back at the Exhibit Hall I met another friend, too! I ate with people! And found friends! I feel like I'm in kindergarten all over again!


Tonight there's a United Methodist shindig. How did it take me two days to find the Methodists?

Blogging from NYWC--Saturday

Even though last night was long, I decided to get up early for breakfast before Lauds, which wasn't really at 3:00am, but we're doing the best we can here. Starbucks has great oatmeal, if you're interested, and, yes, I ate alone.

Lauds was a wonderful way to start the morning and then I had another tough decision. The options for the morning Seminar were many, and most of them interested me. There was more Tony Campolo, Doug Fields, Michael Novelli, Kara Powell (she is such a babe), Duffy Robbins, and even more Mark Yaconelli.

But I went with the Wild Card: Steve Argue (isn't that an unfortunate name? Good thing he's got a sense of humor about it). His seminar was called "What Youth Workers Must Understand about Adolescent Faith Formation and Why it Matters."

The presentation itself was over-the-top fantastic. Even more, and what I love about this event as a whole, is that he hung around for about 30 minutes after it was over so that the desperate among us could ask him more questions.

I'm trying to decide if there's some meaning behind the fact that, when the rest of the room emptied, there were three UMC youth workers still there asking for help. He was brilliant and humble and funny and I was so sad when it was really time to leave.

After that I was hungry. So I bought myself a salad and some pretzels with hummus, went to my room, ate, and then took a nap. Yes, I ate lunch at 10:30 (9:30 my time) and then slept until 1:30.

You would have too. Admit it.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Blogging from NYWC--Friday, Part 3

So, I rallied.

Actually, I wanted to hit the Exhibit Halls for some swag.

Little did I know...

I got a ticket when I walked in the door. The cutie that gave it to me said that they would be giving away prizes every quarter hour. And when she came through the exhibit hall at 10:15 (about the time Evening Prayer started, which I had planned to attend) I followed her and her bullhorn to the back corner where the giveaway was to be held.

And I won an iPad2.

And then I hung around the exhibit halls some more and decided to stop by and see if Lost and Found was still playing. And they were.

And I bought their stuff. And they indulged my photo desire.

This totally cracked me up. It was on the Message Board at the Conference. You know, So-and-So meet me at Starbucks for coffee at 1:00, stuff like that. This was my favorite.

Blogging from NYWC--Friday, Part 2

I have eaten more meals by myself in the last few days than I have in the rest of my life put together. But I think it's good for me. I'm so used to being with other people and enjoying distraction that it's probably a good way to stretch myself. I don't think I would have been ready for it had I not had the retreat experience with Mark. Yeah, we're on a first-name basis now. If we're ever having a conversation and I casually mention "Mark," you'll know who I'm talking about.

I'm a sucker for a sale, so I dropped an obscene amount of money in the bookstore before lunch because, you know, it was only 10% the whole selection until 1:00pm.

Just trying to be a good steward and all.

Then I had lunch. By myself. Here. (I had breakfast by myself too, for the record)

And then I had a problem. To go to Tony Campolo's lecture or to Kara Powell's lecture. It's a good problem to have, really, because there's no wrong answer.

Just for fun, here's the text conversation I had with Dan, my Senior Pastor.

Me: Do you think I'd enjoy Tony Campolo? Or would he not be my thing?
Dan: Ooooooooo! Don't you DARE miss him!
Me: Yes sir. Is he Methodist?
Dan: American Baptist. With a PhD in Sociology. Wonderful tradition-challenging man.
Me: Oh, then he's not some crusty old conservative. That's good.
Dan: No - neither crusty nor conservative.

So my mind was made up. And, again, it did not disappoint.

The lecture was called Recasting Theology for Postmoderns and most of what he said can probably be found on his website and in his book, both titled Red-Letter Christians. He is funny and wise and I think I may be just as crazy about him as I am about Mark Yaconelli.

After the lecture, I ran down to the bookstore to buy Red-Letter Christians, because now it's become a challenge to get a picture and autograph from each speaker I hear. He was
surrounded by a bunch of high school and college-aged students who wanted to talk more about the early church and pacifism. And then, bless him, his handler made him stop talking and leave.

But not before I shoved my book in his face.

Dinner was at Mary Mac's Tea Room, mandated by the boss man. I ate chicken and dressing that would make you smack yo' mama. And then I chose poorly which street to take home. But I'm alive. And now considering whether to be done for the day or to rally for a chance to see Lost and Found. But I sure wouldn't leave my room until I finish listening USJ trounce Knoxville-Webb in the state semifinals!

Blogging from NYWC, Friday

Oh, yes, there was more on Friday, but this time it wasn't quite so brutal.

Today Mark asked us to spend time reflecting on
someone we love dearly, to imagine ourselves filled up with love, and then to turn that overflowing love onto someone that we really don't like. Then we got clay. Once again, the profundity of the experience is lost in words, but this is what I made. I made it for Jay. I don't have it anymore, but I took a picture of it so I could tell him about it.

Afterwards, we sat around the floorpiece again, and took turns placing our clay symbols at the foot of the cross. As we did so, we were welcomed with a hug and the words "Welcome Home."

It was funny, but when it was finished, most of us didn't want to leave. We had been out to the lobby the use the restroom or to get a cup of coffee and it was so loud and busy and swirly. We wanted to stay in the dark and the quiet and silence--the outside felt so unholy,, so not sacred.

But I left, remembering what Mark said, "God is an ordinary experience."

Blogging from NYWC--Thursday, Part 3

There were three huge things that struck me.
  • I was amazed when, over and over, I heard people name the fear that I was going to name--often even using the exact same words. Every single person in the room had some profound fear or longing--even though, by all appearances, they had it all together. While I was sad that everyone had such deep fears and longings, part of me was relieved that I was not the only one who felt exactly the way that I do.
  • When we finally all sat down, Mark asked us to picture ourselves with Jesus outside at night, sitting with him like the disciples would have. And I thought for a second if it might be that just sitting in the presence of Jesus would have mended all the broken places in the disciples; if just being there with him just somehow healed up the wounds like the phoenix tears healed Harry's shoulder. And then I realized that of course that wasn't the case. But the profundity was that even in their brokenness Jesus was happy to sit there with them and call them friends.
  • Mark reminded us several times of the compassion and vulnerability of Jesus. He talked about how the compassion of Jesus makes Jesus willing to sit at the very bottom of our pain and brokenness and wait. And that when we're not willing to go there--when we stay out of our pain and choose not to look at it (and he certainly wasn't judging us for choosing not to look at it) we often wonder where God is. But when we descend into our wounded, we find that Jesus has been there all along, holding it himself and treating it tenderly. So even though it hurts, maybe we don't need to be so scared about going there. Because that's where Jesus is.

Blogging from NYWC--Thursday, Part 2

The name of the retreat was Come Home: An Invitation to Rest in God. The scripture that formed our time was the story of Mary and Martha when Jesus comes to visit.

He talked, then he'd send us out to do a prayer exercise. Then we'd come back and he'd have us share in small groups. I usually hate that, but in this case it wasn't bad. No one felt the need to overshare, and no one was attention-seeking, which are the two things that can make small groups really obnoxious. We were all just sort of overcome by the silence and contemplative spirit of the retreat, so we shared and then we moved on.

The tough part was that he had us digging around in some pretty tender and wounded places. So much so that by 6:00 Thursday night I was pretty worn out. He had us spend a lot of time thinking about our childhood home and our childhood selves, and then we had to have conversations with our childhood selves about their greatest fear and their greatest longing.

Yeah, it was intense.

Then we spent a lot of time reflecting on a time that was sacred for us in our past, and when I say a lot of time I'm talking like 30 minutes...a far sight longer than most of us (me included!) are comfortable sitting in silence with ourselves.

There were other exercises that won't sound profound if I describe them. It was a very sensual and experiential time...and so unbelievably cleansing. By the time it was over I was deeply centered and grounded. I had pushed aside the anxieties that I had brought with me. I found myself able to respond rather than react, and I found myself to be much more compassionate.

At the end of the night we sat stood in a circle around a floorpiece made of a cross and three candles. He asked each of us to name our deepest fear or our deepest longing and then to sit down in the way that Jesus encouraged Martha just to sit with him (the premise being that Martha felt that she needed to be "doing" instead of just "being" in order to be found acceptable.

Profound doesn't begin to describe it.

Blogging from NYWC--Thursday

First things first--The Atlanta Marriott Marquis is massive. It's like its own city. There are four lobbies. Fortunately, there are little cheat sheet plaques in the elevators that
list some of the things you can find on each floor. But sometimes I still get it wrong.

There are people with bullhorns everywhere. They stand in the street to direct people to the Civic Center for Big Room events. They were standing in one of the lobbies to direct people to registration, the bookstore (dangerous!) and the Exhibit Halls. It's loud.

There are two massive exhibit halls giving away enough swag to require another piece of luggage on the way home. And the bookstore is just the right size to be dangerously manageable.

It feels a little lonely. I feel like I'm one of the only people here by myself. But it took about an hours for me to get over that. Now I appreciate it. I appreciate being able to come and go as I wish and not needing to coordinate with other people. I'll be happy to come with other people next time, but this is good for now.

Now let's talk about Mark Yaconelli. Before I started at Grace in 2010 I knew zilch about youth ministry. Let's face it...that's mostly still true. But I happened to be looking through a Cokesbury catalog and saw a book called Contemplative Youth Ministry: Practicing the Presence of Jesus. It didn't sound like your typical youth ministry book, so I bought it as well as Growing Souls: Experiments in Contemplative Youth Ministry.

Oh my goodness did they make sense to me. I read and reread. I took notes. I decided that Mark Yaconelli was the greatest thing since sliced bread.

I hemmed and hawed about coming to NYWC. Would it be worth it? Do I want to leave my family for four days? Is it going to be all skinny, hipster guys with goatees? But when I saw that Mark Yaconelli was directing a Spiritual Retreat the day before the event started--not a seminar about leading spiritual retreats, but an actual Spiritual Retreat--my mind was made up.

And it did not disappoint.


I'm in Atlanta at the National Youth Worker's Convention sponsored by Youth Specialties. My intent was to blog every day about my life here, but last night I was just pooped and went to bed instead.

Why was I tired?

Because I spent five hours in spiritual retreat with Mark Yaconelli. It was a pre-conference offering that I couldn't pass up. Then we got up and had three more hours of retreat this morning. Whatever they charged for it, I would
have paid three times as much. Or asked the church to pay three times as much. Or something.

Anyway, here I am with the man whose book I happened to run across, and with whose theology and philosophy of youth ministry I find no fault.

I am so grateful for this.

Saturday, November 12, 2011


Seventeen years ago today (also a Saturday) I met my husband and went on my first date with them. You can read about that here.

Six years ago today (almost to the minute, also a Saturday that year) I was eating Portillo's (Jay may never forgive me for requesting that that be our "last supper") between contractions and trying to decide when to go to the hospital. You can read about that here.

November makes me happy. And it makes me reflect on my amazing journey with this incredible family that God has given me.