I received a thank you note today from a youth in our ministries. She's the kind and thoughtful sort that writes thank you notes after retreats and special events, even if I begged her to be okay with her mom coming along because I was desperate for another leader. Beg seems like a strong word, but it is really a balance of my inner thoughts and reality. In my mind, I was on my knees, bawling my little itchy eyes out, groveling. On the outside, I was calm and rational and listened to her concerns about having her mom there. In the end, they both had a great time and mom is coming again.

This time, however, the thank you note was not preceded by anything in particular, except perhaps the sentimentality of the year coming to a close. She is an eighth grader, graduating on Sunday. Soon she will be promoted into the big and scary senior high ministry where they travel out of state and separate by gender for bible study.

Her gratitude is so untimely, unsolicited, and wonderful. I am tremendously grateful for her. Her frolicking maturity has surprised me, delighted me, challenged me. She has gently grown up and brought her classmates and friends with her. She's shared with me and I've learned from her.

As I reflect on her thank you, it almost seems scandalous that she would write me such a note. I've done nothing more than what is expected of me. Rather it is I who should be writing. It is she that has risen above expectations and shared her faith so tremendously. Her gratitude is a reminder to me of the blessing that she is.


here comes trouble

This Saturday, I spent some time with Jacob, my soon-to-be-two cousin. I kind of think he's the cutest thing since pug puppies. Here's a few pictures that argue my case.



When I was a wee-intern three years ago, my university supervisor and I had a long conversation about self-differentiation. Basically, I used the word and then he asked me 325097 questions about why I would use that expression and talk about striving for it at my age and blah dibbity blah.

As a young ambitious youth worker, self-differentiation was easy. I didn't care what each and every person thought of me. I cared what 6 people thought of me, maybe 7. I could separate my self-definition from their imposed definition. I could separate my emotions about the success of Thursday evening bible study (mmm, do we call that success or utter failure?) from my self-definition. I could do it without blinking an eyelash. I was impervious to most things.

What they forget to tell you when they hand you the diploma and send you on your way is that as these adverse reactions or questioning emails or poorly received ideas build up, you lose your immunity. Like an aging woman barraged with seasonal viruses, with each situation the difficulty compounds. Over time, you forget to remind yourself that Lorene's opinion of the Sunday School program doesn't define your ability to effectively share Christ with kids. You forget that you can share Christ with 3 pennies, no pennies or $35,000. You forget.

I forgot.

Despite my every attempt to keep my self-definition separate from negativity, it's wandered in, stealthfully, like the H1N1 into the corners of our world. Imperviosity has departed from me and I'm left to learn the real process of self-differentiation.

Self-differentiation requires the ability to meaningfully connect with each person, their concerns, their hopes, their problems with you, and walk away from them knowing that you aren't ultimately defined by any of those things. It's harder than I expected. I want to wave some sort of magic Jesus wand on my heart and make it content.

Faithfulness to God's redemption in me is much more challenging than simple acknowledgment or redemption's existence. Faithfulness to Christ's redemption in me requires that I set aside my feelings about myself, good or bad, and move forward in the mission of the Church. What I strive for is no longer self-differentiation, but self-loss.