Spoiler alert: the above photo is from Summer Camp two years ago when I was FORCED (that is correct) to shave my husband’s beard (which, by the way, I adore his beard) on a stage in front of HUNDREDS of TEENAGERS. If you aren’t familiar with youth ministry, well, that is just a tiny, little glimpse of what it entails. Read on, my friends.
Trying to be a supportive wife, I took to volunteering in the youth group in Fresno with Ben on Sunday mornings and Wednesday evenings. The group was middle school and high school (so, 7th– 12thgrade) and there were probably 50-60 kids who consistently attended. I was deep in the midst of child rearing at the time, having two little girls under the age of 4 and concurrently running a busy photography business.
In my mind, I was here purely to observe and support Ben in his element, and hang out with the kids. I wasn’t trying to step into a pastoral role, I wasn’t trying to be in a leadership position, I wasn’t trying to slide in alongside next to Ben in his clear calling. Watching him leading youth in all his hilarious and crazy glory, caring and loving all the while bringing laughter and silliness and security to a room full of kids who were in the most difficult season of their lives was nothing short of amazing. I couldn’t help but want to be a part of the culture he was creating. Who wouldn’t?
And then….the kids… “the youth” as they prefer to be called, “the teens”…..I just fell in love with them. I felt like the Grinch when he finally learns to love. “And Danielle….her heart grew 10 sizes that day”! Not that I was closed off to loving younger people, I just was being stubborn about serving in a pastoral capacity. I didn’t realize until that moment that being “pastoral” didn’t require an official license or 4 years of seminary. It meant to love and cherish and mentor and serve those around you. Investing in someone is pastoral. Listening to someone is pastoral. Taking someone out to coffee to pour into them (pun def intended) is pastoral. I could love and mentor and pastor these teens by simply being there. By simply committing my time and energy and care. I guess I had been pastoring my own children at home this entire time too, now that I think about it.
Suddenly I was ready to serve alongside my husband in any capacity, putting my family first, of course. So, we dragged our kids to Summer Camps, Missions Trips, two services a week, Bible studies, game nights, the list goes on. They loved it too. They were surrounded by teenage girls who “ooed” and “aaaaaaed” over them (and let’s be honest, I had never learned to French braid hair until a 15-year-old named Anna taught me at camp). Our family’s entire world had been turned upside down, in the best possible way!
I realized one day that I had always said to myself, “if only I had someone who was able to mentor me when I was a confused, young teenage girl (someone that wasn’t my mother, of course…because, teenagers….you get it)”. Then it hit me. I get to be that person now. It was my turn to give back. It was my turn to sacrifice nights and weekends and comfort and healthy food (cause youth ministry is all about that pizza and soda) to be there for young people who had no one else. I wanted to walk alongside young men and women who were experiencing the same feelings and confusion that I had experienced. I wanted to share my stories with them, so they didn’t feel so alone, so ashamed, so “weird”.
While I realize that God doesn’t actually trick us, that story I just shared with you is what I like to lovingly and jokingly refer to as: the story of how God “tricked” me into serving in youth ministry.