Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Youth Counselor Hi-Jinks

I have written before (The Youth Ministry Team) that one of the great joys of serving the First United Methodist Church of Kissimmee was working with the group of Youth Counselors who made up the Youth Ministry Team (YMT). We had a lot of fun together at our monthly gatherings and occasional retreats, and today I want to tell you two stories about those times together.  The names changed over the years, but their love for Christ and the teenagers we served never did.

I am not sure at what point this happened, but at some point during my time at FUMC-K it became tradition for our YMT to meet in the Youth Room and to have lots of food.  Fruit, cookies and Pizza Rolls were most always part of the deal.  It was my bribe to help keep youth counselors, and I think for the most part it worked!  The other tradition that developed over time concerned the agenda for our meetings.  Each month I would bring an agenda of topics to be discussed and have on for every YMT member.  But here was the kicker- once the meeting began, the order in which we would discuss those topics was decided by Becky Watson McCleery (at the head of the table in picture above, with hubby Michael, Karen Fry and Carol Kraus- this was at a YMT Christmas dinner at Disney's Grand Floridian Resort.  I knew how to bribe that group...).  How she received this power I don't remember.  I just know that she had control.  Others were allowed to lobby for things they thought sounded interesting, but Becky had the final power.  It kept meetings interesting and unpredictable- which are both things that should always be true of student ministry!

Story number two concerns one of our YMT retreats, held at a time-share out near the Disney Crossroads.  How did we get a weekend at a major vacation destination?  We couldn't afford the place, but I had received an offer to come take a tour and hear their sales pitch, and you in return they offered a free weekend in their condos.  So I took one for the team, spent a morning not buying a time-share, and then just paid the upgrade to get us into a condo big enough for our team.  It was awesome.  And we were still within our budget until I sent some of the team grocery shopping.  Led by the mad shopper herself, Jill Painter, and the equally bad Darin Miller, they spent a fortune on groceries and snacks.  I remember there were hilarious stories of the team fighting over what to get while in the store, but I do not remember specifics.  Despite the blown budget, we had a wonderful weekend and came up with our very first mission statement as a team.  It read like this:

At the First United Methodist Church of Kissimmee Youth Group we are dedicated to establishing an environment which is safe, caring and accepting.  This environment will be Christ-centered and will enable youth to take ownership of their own faith and strive for continued growth in Christ.

We didn't always do everything right; if you have been paying attention to this blog at all you know that is true!  But I have said it before and I will say it again- our YMT from Kissimmee for those 6 years was the best group of adults working with teenagers I have ever seen.  They played, worked and worshipped with equal passion, and our students felt the love.  I hear from them often that they still do.  I would try to list all of the Youth Counselors from those years, but I know I would leave someone out.  So I just say THANK YOU to all of them.  It's not often you can humbly say "together we changed the world."  But you know what- we did change it in the name of Jesus for the youth we served.  Can't do much better than that...

Because of Jesus,

Monday, August 30, 2010

Happy Anniversary, Baby!

Today is mine and Marilyn's 24th wedding anniversary.  It's hard to believe that 24 years ago today I was playing football in the parking lot of a little motel outside of Elkin, NC with my groomsmen, getting ready for the big event!  There is not a whole lot left to say that I have not already said on the pages of this blog, so I will just say again that she is the best wife, the best friend and the most faithful servant of God that anyone could ever wish to share life with.  The way she lives her life and the way she has treated me through all of the stuff I have put her through is the very definition of the word GRACE.  She is a fabulous mother to our son Will.  I know the influence she has had in many of your lives is still felt today.  I thank God every day for the blessing of having her in my life. 

We have been blessed through these 24 years with some amazing friends who have helped make our life together special and unique.  We have lived in a variety of places, served a variety of churches and have now settled in to a new life here in Tampa.  Through it all- through the adventures, the mysteries, the hardships and the incredible joys- there have been two constants.  One is our unwavering faith in Jesus Christ.  The other is our love for each other.  Anyone who tells you that marriage is not hard work is lying.  Anyone who tells you that marriage is not a blessing from God is also lying.  Twenty-four years seems like a long time in many ways.  It also feels like it is "only the beginning of what I want to feel forever."  Happy Anniversary, Marilyn!  I love you!  Now bring on year 25...

Because of Jesus,

Sunday, August 29, 2010

If I Stand...

"The stuff of earth competes for the allegiance
I owe only to the giver of all good things..."

When I was growing up there was a popular religious saying that was almost a mantra in many Christian churches.  It stated that "God loves you, and has a plan for your life."  The first part is certainly true enough- God does love us all.  It is the second part that was a bit misleading.  In fact, it was theological horse poop!  Let me explain.

God does have plans for our lives, the kinds of plans that may be better expressed as hopes and dreams.  He wants what is best for us; He wants us to trust in his Son; He wants us to feel valued and loved.  But when people hear that God has a plan for their life, they begin thinking "blueprint."  They too often begin to believe that God has preordained a certain life path for them in which they have no choice.  It is implied that God chooses for us whether we are to be a CEO or a janitor.  When life goes wrong, when disaster strikes, when tragedy befalls us- "it was just part of God's plan."  Please hear this:  God does not put roadblocks in our lives ("all good things come from God")- He helps us navigate them!  It is also true (contrary to much popular preaching) that being a Christian does not insulate you from pain and suffering.  You still have to live in the real world, even if you follow Jesus.  This faulty thought process denies the scriptural truth of free will and our ability to make really bad choices;  it refutes the creative role of the Holy Spirit in our lives.  In this way of thinking, as long as we do everything we are supposed to, then God will love us and bless us.  As long as we stay on the path, God is with us.  In this theology, it's all up to us to do the right things and be the people God wants us to be.  Sounds like a man-made plan to me.  God's mission statement is found in John 3:16-17 (NIV):  "For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him."  It's not about us- it's all about Jesus!  He IS the plan!

If we could stand on our own (and we can't), then Jesus was not necessary.  He was a fool on a fool's errand.  If we could find salvation ourselves by following some blueprint for success, Jesus didn't need to die for us.  Sin will always separate us from God, and only the living Christ, crucified and resurrected, can bridge the gap.  I cannot stand on my own- I need a Savior!  The late Rich Mullins wrote a song called If I Stand (see video at bottom) that addresses that very topic.  Think about these words:

So if I stand let me stand on the promise
 that You will pull me through
and if I can't let me fall on the grace
that first brought me to You...

That's pretty much the whole story.  We either stand because God is holding us up, or we fall with the unfailing knowledge that God will forgive us.  You want to see a plan for your life, some burning bush or parting sea that will show you exactly what God has in store for you?  Good luck with that- the disciples certainly never got one.  They seldom knew where they would spend the next night.  The Apostle Paul never had a clue what was coming next- including shipwrecks and prison time.  They just stood on the promises of God, tried the best they could to follow Jesus, and then fell into His loving arms when they failed.  Sounds like a pretty good plan to me.  It's called being saved by grace.  And that, my friends, is God's plan.  Give your heart to Jesus, and then enjoy the wild ride that follows.  We are called to follow Jesus, even if we seldom know where that will lead us.  Get caught up in "the reckless, raging fury that they call the love of God..."  Enjoy the video and have a blessed day!

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Saturday Shout-Outs!

I have said from the very beginning that I am writing this blog for myself, and I am.  However, it sure is a lot more fun when I know people like you are reading it!  During my writing these past few months there has been a core group of readers - people like Jennifer Minnigan Kuramochi, Lisa Kraus Spires, Todd Willis, Teresa Reep Tysinger, Meagan Hill Halquist, Kelly Jeck,  and Jill Painter Watson  (all from FUMC-K)- that have kept my spirits high and the words flowing on this blog.  They know not only who I am, but also know the worst thing about me- and they care about me anyway.  Only God fills people with that kind of love!  I could not do this without their encouragement, or without the kind words from so many of you as your stories have been written.  As I move into my second year of blogging I want to occasionally take a moment to thank some of the people who have been encouraging me during the previous weeks through their comments (here and on Marilyn's Facebook), e-mails and tweets.  Just think of it as my Saturday Shout Outs!  Today I have several:
  • Connor Lewis (FUMC-K) who has supported me and made sure I didn't quit after one year.  Connor you are the best!
  •  Charles Freedle (Springfield Friends) and Jocelyn Sessions (FUMC-K) always make me laugh- just like the old days! 
  • Thanks to Cindy Martin (FUMC-K) who has been encouraging my writing here and reading along since the beginning.  Her kind words have often kept me going when I doubted anyone really wanted to hear what I have to say.
  • Ann Hale Saunders (Springfield Friends Youth) has brought a smile to face several times these past couple of weeks, and I appreciate her so much.
  • Caitlin Esry (FUMC-K), just because-  her words to me mean more than I can say.
  • Hal Gastler (Wesley Memorial) let me know this week that he has been reading and shared words of encouragement with me.  Hearing from anyone from Wesley was a blessing; hearing from Hal made my week.
  • I received an e-mail from Lauren Carr Cacciatore (FUMC-K) that moved me to tears.  Then I got a comment from Amber Herrick (FUMC-K) that made me smile my biggest smile.  Two Angels in one week!   Some people are just special...and always will be!
  • Will Rees (Springfield)- no one can understand how cool it is for me to hear from Willie!
  • Brook Teoli Elaine (FUMC-K), whose words to me are always encouraging and whose words on her own blog are a constant inspirtation in my own faith journey.
  • Laura Wheeler (Quaker Lake) and Darek Newby (New Garden Friends), two friends who go all the way back to the beginnings of my ministry, made me stop and thank God for what a long, wonderful trip it has been...
  • Amy Simmons Stanley, who just last night suggested another Springfield Alumni Reunion!  Reunions are unlikely, but they are fun to think about and just the mention of them always makes me a bit giddy!
  • Susan (Boom-Boom) McBane Tuggle, who worked on staff at QLC with me in 1978, stopped by the blog to make me laugh until I cried.  I have been blessed with so many amazing friends!
  • Jamie Robinson (Springfield) who has encouraged me to finish my story... 
  • Anonymous (all youth groups) has left more comments than anyone else!  What would I do without good old Anonymous!!!  Although I have to admit trying to figure out who some of them are has made me a little crazy...
That's it for now.  Thanks to everyone who is part of my blog family of readers- leave a comment soon and you may find yourself in an upcoming Shout Out Saturday

Because of Jesus,

Friday, August 27, 2010

Behind the Scenes

Thanks to everyone for all of the kind words and thoughtful expressions sent my way yesterday, via e-mail, Marilyn's Facebook, Twitter and comments here.  It means so much to me every time I hear from old friends (and a few of the friends I heard from yesterday are getting really old!).  If you would like a CD of The Great Adventure slide show so you can see the pictures in all their glory (keep reading), just e-mail me your address and I will ship one out to you.  You guys are the best!

I have heard from a few people over the past year how interesting it has been to get to see "behind the scenes" of the youth events you attended.  Most students have no idea how close to disaster many youth events are.  When you are a teenager, you don't think about how things happen; you are just glad they do!  Today I want to take you behind the scenes of yesterday's special video- and the story of how it was almost never seen by anyone but my family.

I began working on the slide show for the "blog-aversary (thank you Meagan!)" post a long time ago, searching for pictures and scanning old ones.  About a month ago, when Marilyn and Will left on vacation, I began to work on putting the pictures to the music.  Almost every day I would change or add pictures, trying to get things just right.  It may just look like music and pictures to you, but to me, EVERY picture is in exactly the right spot in the music.  And after all, I was doing this whole thing for me!  So on Tuesday afternoon I finally pronounced the show finished, and uploaded it to YouTube.  It looked wonderful, especially when you looked at it full screen.  Even the really old pictures looked good.  Then Wednesday I watched it again and did the blog post to go with it, so everything would be ready to post on Thursday morning.  I was so psyched...

Thursday morning about 6:15 I posted the whole thing to Blogger, then went to preview it as I always do.  The post was there, but there was one small problem- the video was missing!  It seems that the music company that owns the music of Steven Curtis Chapman does not allow you to make YouTube videos with their music.  My video was no longer available to anyone but me.  After freaking out, and getting Will to check with his phone to make certain it was no longer visible, I began to upload the video using Blogger's video app.  This seemed to take forever, and then after it uploaded I still couldn't see it.  So I did it again.  This time it worked, but I was still not happy.  The pictures, which with YouTube had been clear even with a full screen view, were now small and a bit fuzzy.  The full screen version was blurry.  But there was not one thing I could do about it.  So that is what you saw yesterday, much to my disappointment.  But at least it was there...

Life seldom goes the way we plan.  Hours of hard work and planning often fall apart at the last minute.  Relationships are unpredictable.  Money and power are fleeting.  People will let you down.  Only one thing remains the same, yesterday, today and forever- and that is the love of God as found in Jesus.  He is the Alpha and Omega, the beginning and end.  And I hope that despite the small, fuzzy pictures, God's love was visible in that slide show.  As always, it's all about Jesus

Because of Jesus,

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Happy Birthday, Blog!

Joy at the start, fear in the journey
joy in the coming home
A part of the heart gets lost in the learning
somewhere along the road.

One year ago today I began this blog with words (albeit different words) from Dan Fogelberg's Along the Road, and I return to that song today (see above). Writing this blog has indeed been a journey- sometimes scary, more often wonderful. It's been fun, therapeutic and enlightening for me. The e-mails and comments from friends I had not heard from in years have been so encouraging. I hope it has been meaningful for my readers as well. When I began to put together the video you will see below to mark this "birthday" for my blog, I had many significant songs to choose from. I could have used Let Me Be There, or perhaps Still the One (by Orleans). Other classic slide show tunes from over the years include You're the One That I Want from Grease; Friends by Michael W. Smith; Come As You Are by Peter Wolf; Friend Like Me from Aladdin; Me and Jesus by Stellar Kart; and Good Riddance (The Time of Your Life) from Green Day. But in the end, the choice was obvious. Steven Curtis Chapman's The Great Adventure sums up perfectly the 28 years I spent in youth ministry. It was never dull; it was always an adventure! It's actually 2 songs; I can't play The Great Adventure without first hearing Prologue, the instrumental that precedes it. That's like hearing We Are the Champions without We Will Rock You! It all goes together...

You will see people from many places in these pictures. In the very first picture, that is me (on the far right) as a teenager on a youth trip. Ronnie Osborne (partially wrapped in toilet paper) was at the first youth meeting I ever led at Centre Friends Meeting in September of 1978. Chris Jorgensen (the female in a Statue of Liberty hat) is the only representative of my time in New England. Every other group I ever led is represented multiple times, and most of us look a lot younger than we do now. I can still tell you the names of at least 92.7% (rough estimate!) of the hundreds of students pictured in the show, because these are people who have never ceased feeling like part of my extended family. You will see familiar faces from the pages of this blog, and you will see many brand new people. You will see UBD, DB3 and a BDIT. Blue is here, along with Prudence Irwina, Ice and Taco. You will encounter Doe, Jiffy, Bob, The Buggar, Flash, Teddy and Wheels. Much of it (like those names) may seem strange to you. But much of it will feel familiar as well. I think it will be clear that if we accomplished nothing else, we did indeed "leave long-faced religion in a cloud of dust behind..." At our best, in their own ways, all of these groups were united by "one saving scarlet thread"- we were just a bunch of Jesus Freaks!

So friends, it's time to "Saddle up your horses- we've got a trail to blaze through the wild blue yonder of God's amazing Grace..." It's 28 years of ministry, people and events reduced to just over 7 minutes. I did this for me, but it is awesome to be able to share it with you. I have a couple of suggestions for watching.  The pictures move very quickly (and are very old and small-  YouTube rejected me!), and you will be tempted to pause the video and get a better look. Don't!  Let it play through the first time, then watch it again and stop it as often as you like. It's meant to be seen as one show, because the pictures quite often match the music and lyrics.  And finally, leave comments. Not so much for me (although I greatly appreciate them!), but for your old buddies who may be watching, and for those from other groups you may not even know. We are all part of a long line of believers, watching a great adventure pass before our eyes. Thank you all for being part of my life and this blog. I look forward to what is to come as we "follow our Leader (Jesus) into the glorious unknown. This is life like no other- this is the Great Adventure!"

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

365- And Counting!

Happy birthday to Heather Beggs Varner and Jill Gilbreth Bryant!  Thanks to Heather and her 18 month countdown to her 16th birthday, I will never forget this date!

Today is the final day of my first year of blogging.  Tomorrow we will celebrate the first birthday of I'd Laugh with a slide show that offers a look back (the picture is of me, looking back- almost 28 years ago!  Wild, huh?) at my 28 years of student ministry.  Join us- I promise it will be memorable.  As I have said before,  if you were part of my youth groups or active at Quaker Lake when I worked there, you will see people you know and you may well see yourself.   There are nearly 150 pictures that will splash before your eyes in just over 7 minutes.  Lots and lots of wonderful people...

I have decided to continue blogging past my one year goal because I enjoy it, and because there is still much to tell about my life and ministry.  If you had asked me in the summer of 1999 (which is about where we are in my history at this point in the blog) what else I had to learn about life and being a follower of Jesus, I probably would have said, "not much."  I thought, having been married for 13 years (with a 4 year old son) and been in ministry for over 20 that I had a pretty firm grip on my life and my faith.  As it turns out, not so much!  I actually had no grip on much of anything.  Fortunately, Jesus still had a grip on me.  Going forward, there will still be plenty of stories about the wild, wacky, wonderful world of student ministry.  We will follow my professional path from Kissimmee to Chicago, back to Tampa and up to Waycross.  I will also give you a deeper look at the struggles of a man of God (me) as he deals with everyday life.  It's not always pretty.  I started to believe my own press clippings and thought was doing some amazing things for God.  That is not how it works.  God was doing some amazing things through me.  When you think like that, sometimes Satan gets the upper hand.  But no matter the struggles and no matter the failures, Jesus will still be there.  Listen to these words of the Apostle Paul from 2 Corinthians 4:7-10 (The Message): 

If you only look at us, you might well miss the brightness. We carry this precious Message around in the unadorned clay pots of our ordinary lives. That's to prevent anyone from confusing God's incomparable power with us. As it is, there's not much chance of that. You know for yourselves that we're not much to look at. We've been surrounded and battered by troubles, but we're not demoralized; we're not sure what to do, but we know that God knows what to do; we've been spiritually terrorized, but God hasn't left our side; we've been thrown down, but we haven't broken.

That's me in 2010- sometimes battered and thrown down, but never broken.  So keep reading and I promise that more than ever this blog will point to Jesus.  I never thought after a year of writing every day that I would still have anything left to say- I was just praying to last the entire year!  As it turns out, Jesus is not finished with me yet.  I hope that you and all of your friends will be here tomorrow, watching the video and leaving lots of comments.  Thanks for sharing in this journey with me.

Because of Jesus,

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Top 25 Memories: Songs

Music has always been an important part of my ministry.  I was fortunate enough to learn the art of leading group singing from Beth Phillips Massey and Martha Ratledge Farlow at Quaker Lake Camp.  The skills I learned there were then fine-tuned by lessons I learned from Young Life,  J. David Stone and the great Yohann (YO) Anderson.  You don't just randomly select songs to sing; you choose songs in an order and of a variety that will lead the group where you want them to go.  I became quite adept at moving groups from wild, crazy songs into deep worshipful music without them ever being truly aware where they were going.  And I loved every minute of it!

Several years ago I was asked about my song-leading style, and in the course of my explanation I was asked a most interesting question.  If I was given the opportunity to lead music for a group of teenagers that knew every song that I had ever led a group in singing (a list of over 300!), which songs would I pick- and what order would we sing them in?  It was a wonderful hypothetical query that I had no answer for at the time.  Today, however, I am going to take a shot at it!  So here it is- my Ultimate Set of Youth Group Songs.  I chosen 25 (and a bonus or two- you know me and lists, I always cheat!), which would be over 90 minutes of singing.  That might even wear out the Kissimmee gang, and they did love to sing!  Here they are; if you find yourself singing along, I understand...
  1. Lahina
  2. Lean On Me
  3. Pharoah, Pharoah
  4. Big House
  5. Eat Right!
  6. Shine
  7. Let Me Be There
  8. Undignified
  9. Open the Eyes of My Heart
  10. He's Alive!
  11. We Are the Family of God
  12. Ain't No Rock
  13. The All Day Song
  14. Blessed Be the Name
  15. The Happy Song
  16. Lord I Lift Your Name on High
  17. Breathe Deep
  18. Awesome God
  19. Peter, Peter
  20. Seek Ye First
  21. Hope Set High
  22. Create In Me
  23. Prince of Peace
  24. It is You/ Oh God, You Are My God/Sanctuary
  25. Sing Alleluia To the Lord
So how did I do?  Which songs were your favorites?  Which songs did I leave out that you would have chosen?  I would love to hear your opinions, because there were few things that connected us more- with God and with each other- than music!  Now I think I will break out my guitar and sing a few of these.  But it won't be the same without you to sing along...

Because of Jesus,

Monday, August 23, 2010

Hall of Fame: Marilyn Jones

Want a quick way to catch up on the first year of this blog?  Click on 5 for 5 and explore some of my favorite posts!

When you enter my Youth Group Hall of Fame (located on the first floor of the Betsy B in North Myrtle Beach- well, it will be as soon as one of my readers buys it for me!) you will enter an open area and see signs leading you to various rooms.  There will be a room for each ministry I served, featuring various artifacts and the busts of each inducted Hall of Famer.  It will be a great place, and admission will be free! It will be s shrine to to love and grace of Jesus Christ.  And the first thing you see when you walk in will be the statue of the one person who was significant to every ministry I was ever a part of-  Marilyn Steele Jones.

I met Marilyn in 1981, and from that day forward she has been a part of my life and a part of my ministry.  She went with a group from New Garden Friends Meeting and NC Yearly Meeting of Friends to New York in November of 1981, and God only knows how many trips she helped lead (and how many vacation days she used to do it) after that one.  We were married August 30, 1986 (anniversary #24 is a week away!) and began serving Springfield Friends Meeting upon returning from our honeymoon.  From 1986 -1994, she was the unofficial associate youth pastor at Springfield.  She was at TNT every week, often driving kids home when it was over.  She went on every trip.  Many of the girls in the group turned to her for help and friendship.  God used her is some great ways in High Point. 

We had only been in Kissimmee a few months when she became pregnant with Will, and her role changed quite a bit for a while as he became her priority.  She hated missing youth stuff, but she knew where she needed to be.  Any of you who have met Will over the past few years as he has become a teenager already know what an amazing mother she is and has been.  He simply could not be a better kid, and she deserves most of the credit. And yet, even with her time with the youth cut back, she always had a ministry of her own.  She often taught Sunday School.  She shared her beautiful singing voice at every stop along the way.  She was there when the youth needed her.  She chaperoned the last ski trip we took (from Waycross) even though she was sick.  She was always there when I needed her.

She is my rock and my best friend.  The only constant of youth ministry is change.  It is often a whirlwind of activity, with many people moving in and out of your life.  It is not an easy life to be married to a pastor; you truly live in a glass house.  She always did it with style and flair.  Marilyn has always been there for me.  She was there in the times when we laughed for hours on end.  She was there when we cried and tried to figure out God's will for our lives.  And she stayed with me when my professional ministry ended, when it would have been so easy to give up on me as a person and a husband.  I had taught people for years about the grace of God as found in Jesus Christ.  Marilyn (and others) have shown me that I really had very little idea what grace is really all about...

So welcome to the HOF, Boo.  I love you more than I can ever express, and it fills my heart with joy and hope to know that whatever God has planned for us in the future, we will face it together.  And to all of my readers that know Marilyn and understand the impact she has had on so many lives over the years, leave her a comment today.  Let her know what she means to you.  And welcome her to the "front row" of my Hall of Fame!

Because of Jesus,

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Hope Set High

I've got my hope set high, and like a star at night
out of the deepest dark it shines the purest light
I've got my hope set high, beyond the wrong and right
I need to see the truth, I need to see the light
'cause I can do my best and pray to the Father
but the one thing I ought to know by now...

We've entered the home stretch now.  There are only three more days left (after today) in my first year of blogging, heading towards the big "birthday" celebration on Thursday.  I can't begin to explain the emotions and feelings I have been dealing with as I prepare for August 26th.  For me, it's not just about finishing the year of blogging I set as a goal for myself.  That, by itself, is not a very big deal, and I do intend to keep blogging after Thursday.  I am only up to 1999, so there is still much to tell.   What is a big deal (for me) is looking back at 28 years of student ministry- all at once.  For a year now I have been telling stories and reliving adventures from days gone by, but I have been doing it one tale at a time.  In preparing the slide show for Thursday, I have been looking back at all 28 years at once.  Hundreds of friends who changed my life in so many ways, captured in time.  And that has been overwhelming.

Anyone who reads this blog understands how much I loved and enjoyed all of the trips, programs, special events and adventures that were a part of being a youth pastor.  But as I have been putting together the birthday show, I have been reminded over and over again that what made my life as a youth minister so special were the people.  Hundreds and hundreds of teenagers, adult volunteers, co-workers and parents who impacted my life in so many ways- indeed, in ways I am just now beginning to understand.  There are over 140 pictures (yes, the number keeps going up!) in the 7+ minute slide show.  I estimate that over 300 different students make an appearance.  I can still tell you the names of the vast majority, because so many of them made such a difference in my life.  Looking at all the pictures and remembering all of the great times has humbled me and left me feeling blessed.  It has also left me very aware that everything good, everything worthwhile that happened over those 28 years happened because of Jesus.  To finish the thought from the Amy Grant song at the top, there is indeed one thing I ought to know by now:  "When it all comes down, when it all comes down, if there's anything good that happens in life it's from Jesus..."    There were so many moments, spent with so many students, that remind me of the overwhelming presence of Jesus in my life- both then and now.  Despite all my failures and sins, I still have my Hope Set High, because my life is not defined by my failure or my success; it is defined by the grace of God as shown through Jesus Christ.  And as I look at these pictures over and over again, remembering each face and each name, I know that the grace of God will reunite us all someday in a reunion that will be greater than anything we can imagine.

So today I ask a favor of all of my former students who are reading this blog.  Invite everyone you know who has a connection to any of the ministries we shared- Quaker Lake Camp, New Garden Friends Meeting, Springfield Friends Meeting, FUMC-Kissimmee, Union Church, Wesley Memorial UMC or Trinity UMC- to check us out this Thursday.  Share a link on FacebookTweet to your followers.  Send e-mails to those with whom you are in touch.  You will see pictures of people you love; you may even see pictures of yourself.  I want everyone to be able to feel what I feel; to know the bond that acknowledges you are part of a long line of believers that is connected by God's love.  I have prepared this slide show as a gift to myself, to remind me of God's amazing love in my life- past, present and future.  I have my "hope set high" that as a bonus it may remind you of the same thing.  I know there are people out there who have avoided this blog because they are angry or disappointed with me.  I understand that, but it does not change the fact that God used all of us to make a difference in each others' lives- and that is what we will praise Him for this Thursday.  It's not about me- it's all about Jesus and His love for us.   Invite everyone to come celebrate together, because it is the people who made this such a Great Adventure!  I'll see you tomorrow with my most important Hall of Fame induction so far...

Because of Jesus,

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Top 10 Memories: Trips

A couple of years ago on a job application I was asked to estimate how many miles I had driven 15 passenger vans in my life. I couldn't really do it; the answer would be staggering! I was blessed to drive a lot of vans to a lot of places over the years. I was also blessed to accompany youth groups on buses and planes, as well as the occasional boat, to some pretty fantastic places on some pretty awesome trips. Today I remember 10 of my favorites!

10)  Walt Disney World, 1990-  The middle of our three Disney trips from Springfield Friends Meeting (also known as Floridays '90) was a great adventure. There are lots of great stories from the trip already posted here, but it will always be memorable to me for three reasons: losing Jeff Byrd, losing Jill Gilbreth and riding Mr. Toad's Wild Ride with Jeremy Godwin. And those amazing root beer floats at the A&W across the OBT from the Gold Key Inn...

  9)  Night of Joy, 2003- This was the first time I ever took a group to Disney's weekend of great Christian bands and stayed for the entire weekend. A huge group from Wesley Memorial UMC in Tampa made the trek to Orlando and stayed on-property at Disney's All-Star Sports Resort.  We took in both nights of concerts, had great times in the pool, and just generally had a spectacular weekend. I took lots of pictures, but lost my camera bag at some point while we were loading up to go home. The group shot you see here is the only evidence I have of this great weekend!

  8)  Ski Trip, 1997- The stories of this FUMC-K trip to Winterplace are endless, and most have been told here already. The frozen bus, Vern Watson peeing by the roadside, Erin Augenblick seeing flames shooting out the tailpipe, Dr. Jill forcing me to buy her chocolate cobbler at the Cracker Barrel and Jessica Overstreet sleeping in the bath tub are just a few of the moments that made this the only ski trip to make my list.

  7)  New York, 1999- Another FUMC-K trip, this was another huge group that had an amazing time together. Great memories include Jill Souther on crutches; Kay Hill and Debbie Rogers getting their hair done by real New York stylists; Jerry Hanbery repeatedly saying "Get some monkey, work that dum dum (I still have no idea what that means);" and seeing Les Miz and The Scarlet Pimpernel. It was also the week of the most fabulous meal ever, dinner for 60 at Carmine's. All of my New York trips were great, but this one was especially special!!!

  6)  Chicago, 2004- On this mission trip taken by Graceland, the student ministry of Wesley Memorial UMC, we worked hard, played hard and worshipped hard. I wrote about this adventure recently in a post on mission trip memories, but I have to say again, the worship service we shared in a small room one night on that trip is among the most significant and meaningful I have ever been a part of... 

  5)  Live To Tell, 1996- This FUMC-K mystery weekend in Myrtle Beach was memorable for so many reasons, not the least of which was the incredible amount of time we spent driving to and from our destination. We had a great time and some awesome group building experiences. We ate lots of seafood. We had Sunday morning worship on the beach.  And we did not kill Kendall Crotty... (see Live to Tell for details!).

  4)  New York, 1982- This was my final New York trip with my New Garden Friends Meeting group, and we took almost everyone! It was an amazing group, featuring superstars such as Marshall Ratledge, Ling Lee, Michael Garrett, Kim Winters, Marnee Larkins, Linc Dewar and Darek Newby, and Quaker Lake friends like Ronnie Osborne and Carla Garrett.  We had one of the best seminars that the Methodist Center at the United Nations ever did for us. Lots of great memories, lots of great people.

  3)  Myrtle Beach, 1989- No countdown would be complete without at least one week at the Betsy B! This Springfield Friends Meeting trip featured so many memorable moments- and I have many of them on a video that I hope to share someday! Among the classic moments were Shelley Godwin getting everyone talking about Total BabesRussell Farlow and the Big K cola; Heather Beggs trying desperately to belch on camera;  early morning wake up calls for the females, and then later the males, using pots and pans; Laurie Rees and Cecily Livengood meeting their very own Mike and Mike on the beach; Judy Rees and Brockie Farlow imitating Heather and Keri Vinson; the big KISS concert featuring Jon Moran, Mike Mercadante, Patrick Tillman and Danny McCorquodale; and of course, everyone taking every opportunity to rag on Todd Farlow for not being there! An amazing week!

  2)  Spanish Wells, 1997-  You can read all about this trip by clicking here. But seriously, how can a trip (even a supposed working trip) to the Bahamas NOT make this list? One of the great weeks on my life, no doubt about it!

  1)  Walt Disney World, 1993The Magic Tour was just that- a week full of magical adventures at Disney's Caribbean Beach Resort for the youth of Springfield Friends Meeting. It took me 19 posts to this blog to cover this trip, so to read all about it just look to the LABELS box at the lower right hand side and click on Magic Tour. From the Polynesian Luau to The Comedy Warehouse to the Hoop-de-doo Musical Revue, this trip simply rocked. For me, it will always be the standard against which all other youth group trips are measured.

So there you have it- my list of favorite trips.  Which trips would make your list?  Did I leave out your favorite New York or Myrtle Beach trip?  I would love to hear from you (hint, hint!) and discover what you remember- and who you remember.  Because as I will write about tomorrow, the people are what made this all special!  The people, and Jesus!

Because of Jesus,

Friday, August 20, 2010

Hall of Fame: Carl's Angels

You have probably seen the picture to your left before, and you will quite likely see it again.  It is one of my all-time favorites, featuring three of my all-time favorite people.  They were all such an important part of my FUMC-K group.  I could have shared other pictures of them, but this is the only one I have of all three, and the only picture of them in their Charlie's Angels pose.  And that is important- because this is the day that Carl's Angels make it to the Youth Group Hall of Fame! 

The Angel in front is the famous Chrissy Weaver, who you can read all about by clicking on her name, since she was already a featured character on this blog!  To the left is Lauren Carr (who had a birthday yesterday- Happy Birthday Lauren!), who came in with the first 6th grade group I had in Kissimmee along with Chrissy.  Lauren was a tiny, shy little thing at the time, but after suffering through The Giant Cookie Machine in Melbourne for her birthday (twice, I think) the shyness faded away a bit.  She was not as active in youth as the years went by, but that didn't change our relationship much at all.  I once told her that "youth pastors aren't supposed to have favorites- but we do, and YOU are!"  (I think I said similar things to all three of these young ladies.)  Amber Herrick was a year younger, but will always be connected in my mind to the class ahead of her.  She had many friends, but it was with Lauren and Chrissy that she had some of her greatest adventures at youth.  She was among the first to let me know when I was wrong, among the first to let me know that I was loved, and the very first to call me (with great love!) a JERK when I left!  She would also tell you that she was never an Angel; she was always a little demon!  These three girls meant the world to me.

I have already told many tales of them here- Lauren and the Frosty, Chrissy mooning people at Myrtle Beach, the night the 4 of us spent together hanging out at Friendly's, Amber punching Chrissy (and vice-versa!) at a Super Bowl Party (oops- don't guess I actually told that one yet...) - and there are so many more I could tell.  But I won't.  You see, one of the things most special about my relationships with each of these Angels is that they were among the first FUMC-K kids who trusted me enough to let me in to their lives.  So many of our stories will just remain our stories.   They didn't always like each other (providing more eveidence of the 3 Girls Rule I learned from Beth, Terri and Kathryn back in my New Garden days!) and they didn't always like me- but we never quit on each other.

I know that Amber and Lauren occasionally read this blog, and I know that they both have busy and productive lives.  I still have no idea where Chrissy is these days.  Sometimes it is difficult to express with words how much people mean to you.  It can all sound so empty when you see it in print.  I don't put people into this fictional Hall of Fame lightly.  It really means something to me.   Amber, Lauren and Chrissy are no different.  They were a huge part of my life, and I am glad to honor them today.  When I left FUMC-K Amber and Lauren gave me the keepsake you see here, so that I would never forget them- like there was any chance of that!  The puffy balls represent warm fuzzies, from a story I liked to tell about sharing love with one another- it was a very significant gift.  I look forward to the day when we can all cram into a booth at a Friendly's somewhere and catch up on life one more time.  There are new stories to tell and much to learn- plus I know you guys want to try and make me blush one more time...  I love you guys. Come back tomorrow and we will take a look at 10 of my all-time favorite youth group trips!

Because of Jesus,

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Hall of Fame: The Moran Family

L to R:  Butch Moran, Justin Whiaker, Erin Moran, Ben Moran, Natalie Whitaker, Barbara Moran, Brenda Whitaker (1987)

One week from today this blog will celebrate its first birthday with 7 minutes of music and over 13o pictures that cover 28 years of youth ministry.  If you were ever a part of any of my groups, I can guarantee that you will see people you know- and quite possibly yourself!  Spread the word...

Upon our arrival at Springfield Friends Meeting in 1986, it didn't take us long to find out that the Moran family- Butch, Barbara, Jon, Ben and Erin- was going to be very significant in our lives.  Eight years later when we left for Kissimmee it was hard to believe just how important they had become.  Today I honor their friendship and dedication to our ministry by making them the first family inducted into my Youth Group Hall of Fame!

First and foremost,  Butch and Barbara were our best friends during those years in High Point.  We went to dinner and to the movies on more nights than I can remember.  We were often at their home to watch major sporting events on the big screen.  There were great stories (getting Butched is what happens when you eat too much) and so many memories.  We had long talks about the church, faith, family and how much better Carolina was than Duke (just kidding; they were Duke fans, but we loved them anyway!).  Deciding to leave them was every bit as hard as deciding to leave SFM when the time came.

The entire family was immensely important to our student ministry as well.  Jon was already in youth when I arrived, and he was important as we built the group in the early days.  The entire family went with us on both the 1987 and 1990 trips to Walt Disney World (and everone but Butch went again in'93) that had such a major impact on our ministry.  I spent many an evening watching Jon play soccer, and later, watching Ben play basketball.  Ben was a part of the famous Class of '96 that is already in my Hall of Fame; he becomes the first two-time inductee!  Erin and her cousins (of which there were many!) helped hold the group together over the final year, and were amazing in their outpouring of love to Marilyn and I when we left.  Indeed, it is almost impossible to imagine an event during those years without a Moran involved in it.

I have written before about the abnormal number of relatives involved in our ministry at SFM; Butch and Barbara were in many ways responsible for that.  Butch's sisters, Brenda and Bonnie, each had children who became very involved in our ministry.  His sister Debbie contributed her husband Mark Rumley, who became a legend on the 1993 Florida trip (see Chicken Man!).  Barbara's brothers and sisters (Bob, Margaret, Cathy, Becky)  contributed half the youth group, and her father, Max Rees, was my boss!  Their family was the "crossroads" at which our group gathered and flourished.  And I could always count on them to help me anyway they could in every situation.   After we moved, Jon was part of the 1994 Alumni Trip to WDW; Erin came to stay with us at our home in Kissimmee; and the entire family spent some time at Disney and we shared that with them.  We still love to see them in High Point when we can.  They are forever special to us.  And now, they are forever in my Hall of Fame.  Thank you so much for everything, Moran family- but mostly for a friendship that changed our lives!

Because of Jesus,

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Top 12 Memories: Restaurants

Over the years my youth groups visited many fine restaurants- and a whole bunch of not so fine ones as well!  Each time you take a group of teenagers into a restaurant, you can see the fear on the faces of the employees and patrons.  They expect mayhem, wildness and no tips.  We always tried to surprise them and make our time there as much fun for them as it was for us.   Today I take a look back at 12 places that were favorites of various groups for a variety of reasons.  All of them share one thing in common; we were always invited back.  I had the best students anyone could ever ask for!  So here are 12 great memories:

12)  The Jade Dragon-  Located only a block from Union Church in Hinsdale, IL, this great little Chinese place was a regular stop for meetings, lunches with students and SHO-Time.  We had a great meal there one night with the gang from Spooky Tuesday and had my farewell dinner there as well.

11)  Sonic Drive-In-  In both Tampa and Waycross we used a Sonic for a summer program called Happy Hour.  I would go sit at the tables outside and spend several hours greeting students, playing cards and drinking Cherry Limeaids.  It was always a great time of relationship building, and I miss those very hot summer days!

10)  Captain John's Seafood-  I picked this fine Calabash restaurant (a favorite since my own youth group days) to represent all of the seafood restaurants we visited in the Myrtle Beach area over the years, including the all-you-can-eat places (pictured) we favored in the later years.  Special memories include Lisa Kraus destroying an entire army of crab legs and the night I discovered half of the Springfield group didn't like seafood.  Not included in this list is White's Point.

  9)  The Roadhouse Grill/Rio Bravo-  These two Kissimmee restaurants were favorite SHO-Time spots, and we ate at both on many occasions.  We loved the queso at Rio and the bread and throwing peanut shells on the floor at Roadhouse, and both places knew us well.  Later on a Roadhouse in Clearwater became a favorite of the Wesley Memorial group.  None of those three restaurants are still in business.  I blame myself...

  8)  Dick's Wings-  This wonderful wing house became the home of our 5th Quarter "after football" events in Waycross, which drew big crowds of students on Friday nights.  You had to beware of Dick's Special Sauce- it was lethal!

  7)  The Beaches & Cream Soda Shoppe-  Located at Disney's Yacht and Beach Club Resort, this place serves great hamburgers and hot dogs- but no one cares!  They have some of the most amazing ice cream creations anywhere, and we visited often, as tourists from Springfield and as locals from Kissimmee and Tampa.  This was the home of the Kitchen Sink, and the much-missed Disney Dash Ice Cream Bash event. 

  6)  The Fireworks Factory-  Another out-of-business restaurant and the second in a trilogy of Disney eateries, we only had two meals there with youth groups.  The first already received its own post, and you can read it by clicking here.  The second was the night Marilyn and I informed everyone on the Springfield Alumni Trip in December of 1994 that she was pregnant.  A very special place.

  5)  The Cape May Cafe-  On long trips or just going over for the morning, there was no place quite like Cape May when it came to breakfast.  Both the Springfield and FUMC-K groups got to experience the wonder of this all-you-can-eat buffet that never ceases to amaze.  Plus you get to share the meal with Chip, Dale, Goofy and other Disney stars!  Located in Disney's Beach Club Resort, this one is still open for business- and I am going soon!

  4)  Lee Gardens-  Located near Wesley Memorial in Tampa, this Chinese buffet was host to us on so many occasions, and they never failed to show us a great time.  To this day when I walk in with just Marilyn they are stunned, and ask "Only 2?"  Best egg drop soup ever!

  3)  Carmine's-  This Manhattan establishment has the feel of something straight out of The Godfather.  It is a great place under any circumstance; to go there with a large group simply defies description (especially when I got to order everything in advance!).  The service, the sheer amount of food, and the desserts are all amazing.  We didn't find this place until Jill Painter's Aunt Gerry took us there in the late '90's; I didn't ever miss a chance to go there after that!

  2)  Kyotos-  Many of my former students will be stunned to see this come in at #2.  After all, no place spanned as many years of my ministry as did this Japanese steakhouse.  While at Springfield, we discovered one in Greensboro, NC, and began to plan regular group events there.  It became tradition for me to take youth there to celebrate their 16th birthdays.  When we moved to Kissimmee, we discovered one in Longwood (just north of Orlando; see picture) and began regular pilgrimages, often with huge groups of teens.  Later, we discovered one in Myrtle Beach and ate there with both the Wesley Memorial and FUMC-K groups.  So many stories, so many memories and so much food!  Also have to give a quick shout out to Kado Japanese in Tampa, which also hosted many a memorable meal!

  1)  Pizza Inn-  Although we ate at Kyotos many times over many years, for shear quantity nothing came close to Pizza Inn in High Point, NC.  It has so much meaning to so many people who were a part of the Springfield Friends Meeting youth ministry (see The Ministry of Pizza Inn), partly because at least a portion of us ate there every week- at least once a week!   No other restaurant ever had as much impact on my ministry, and we had a pretty major impact on them as well.  Congrats, Pizza Inn- you are still #1!!!

So there it is- I would love to hear your thoughts on oversights and omissions from this list.  Join me again tomorrow when the Hall of Fame makes a return trip to Springfield!

Because of Jesus,

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Hall of Fame: Quaker Lake Edition

I spent many years working and volunteering at Quaker Lake Camp (QLC) in Climax, NC.  It is in many ways unrealistic to try and pick just a few people from those special times to add to my Youth Group Hall of Fame, but today I will attempt to do just that.  To read stories about others who could just as easily by added, check out these older posts:
Having acknowledged the difficulty of choosing from this wide cast of characters, today I would like to welcome the following three Quaker Lakers into my HOF:
  1. Jay Osborne-  There are many stories that feature the name Jay Osborne (far left in the picture above, along with myself, Jodi Coble, Terri Johnson, Beth Edgerton and Danny Newby) already on this blog, from his leadership of Young Friends Yearly Meeting to his dropping my guitar off the roof of the lodge at QLC!  Jay was a camper in my cabin; he was my Counselor Assistant on a couple of occasions; and later on on we worked on the QLC staff together.  It was Jay who once famously said that being a counselor at QLC is "where the rubber meets the road."   Jay and I had many long talks about the state of Quakerism, about the wonders of camp, and about females.  I kept trying to fix him up; it always ended in disaster!    In later days, Jay was one of the people who worked desperately to keep the true spirit of QLC alive when others where trying to tear it down.  He used to tell me he looked up to me;  today I can tell him that I always looked up to him as well, so much so that I am putting him in my Hall of Fame.
  2. Laura Wheeler-  You can pretty much read all about Wheels in the "Pops" post mentioned at the top.  She was another one of the young people whose influence in my life at the time cannot be overstated.  She was a great camper and later on a fabulous counselor at QLC, and a legend to all who knew her.  I'm not sure why I didn't just induct her when I wrote about her the first time, but I will not make the same mistake twice!  Welcome, Wheels, to the HOF!  And try to make a little room for the rest of your "sisters" as well...  (Left to Right, BackSharron Tutterow, Mollie Edwards, Me, Debbie Tully, Kristin Hayworth, Wheels.   Front: Jane Tesh, Jane Terrell)  I was proud to be their "Pops!"
  3. Jodi Coble-  Pictured at the top next to Jay, Jodi was another camp friend who became so much more than that.  We became letter writing buddies who stayed in touch during the off season, and saw each other quite often as well.  One of my most ill-conceived "fix-ups" was getting her to go out with Jay- that just never took off!  She eventually worked at camp as well.  She was my Abby Normal- a very unique and talented person whom not everyone understood.  That didn't keep her from being one of my favorite people ever.  She was at my wedding and I was at her's, and it was only after her nuptials that we lost touch.  But there is no question that Abby deserves, and now has, a place in my Hall of Fame.
Be sure to join me tomorrow as I take a look back at the Top 12 Restaurants that were favorites of my student ministries over the years.  Sorry QLC cooks, but the dining hall at camp will never make that list...

Becasue of Jesus,

Monday, August 16, 2010

Do You Remember?

As I continue to prepare for this blog's first birthday on August 26th, I am discovering how difficult it is to cram 28 years of youth ministry into 7+ minutes worth of pictures and music.  But I am really having fun trying!  Today I want to share a few of the pictures I will not be using as part of that event (and some other random thoughts!) to ask the following question:  Do you remember? 

*  On my 28th birthday, someone put a giant sign in my yard at our little house across the street from Springfield Friends Meeting inviting the world to "honk".  They did...over and over again!  It made for quite a celebration.  Who did it?

*  Do you remember Burger Doodle, our once a month trips from New Garden and Springfield to various fast food shacks for dinner after YFYF?

*  Remember playing 4 On A Couch?  Remember how the guys team never won?

*  At some point during the FUMC-Kissimmee years a train carrying Wendy's supplies wrecked near town, and my friend Eddie (who worked for the train company) got us huge boxes of giant Wendy's cups.  There were hundreds of those things...

*  Do you remember the day when the Wesley Memorial UMC youth group skipped our Sunday evening Graceland meeting and went to a local sports bar for dinner?

*  We had this Newsboys stand-up in the youth room at FUMC-K, and I am fairly certain I have pictures of 50 different youth in this very pose!  Were you one of those youth?  Obviously Catlin Esry was!

*  Remember when we used to play Kick the Can in the graveyards at New Garden and Springfield?

*  Do you remember playing Sardines?  How about Murder, the card game where if you got an "Ace" you winked at people to kill them?  Both of those games go all the way back to my own high school years in youth group.

*  Over the years many of our students got to eat at Kyotos, in Greensboro, Orlando or Myrtle Beach.  Were you there the night in Orlando the chefs honored us with our signature rice?

*  Do you remember camping at the Ponderosa, staying at the Betsy B, spending a week at The Spinnaker or crashing at the Ocean Surf Club?  If you do, you probably went to Myrtle Beach with me...

So there it is, a quick little run through the years.  It is just a tease for what you can expect on the 26th.  In the meantime it would be awesome to hear some of your memories and favorite moments from over the years, so leave comments or e-mail me at youthguy07@aol.com.  I have one more picture to share today (at left);  be the third person to tell me who is dressed as Santa and you will win a free sweet tea for 1 at Kado Japanese Restaurant.  In Tampa.  Tonight.  Other restrictions may apply; Prizes that are not claimed never existed in the first place!  Have a wonderful day, and I'll see you tomorrow with some new Hall of Fame inductees!

Because of Jesus,

Sunday, August 15, 2010


I don't remember when I first began to hear students using the term BFF.  I know it's been a while now, and I know that those who used it were mostly teenage girls.  Hearing it always brought a smile to my face.  For the uninitiated, the abbreviation stands for Best Friends Forever.   I am sorry to be so blunt, but there are few demographics in society who know less about the concept of BFF than teenage girls.  Their best friend today often turns into an enemy tomorrow.  Forever is the time between arriving at school and the end of the day.  If you listen to conversations or read social networking pages you would be led to believe that each girl has numerous friends who fall into this elite category.  In fact, by definition, you can only have one BFF, because "Best" is an absolute.  And that is what I want to talk about today.

In truth, a BFF is someone with whom you share things that you have experienced with absolutely no one else.  It is a person who knows you in ways other people are clueless about; it is a friend with whom you share so many inside jokes and stories that your conversations can leave other close friends wondering what language you are speaking.  A BFF is not someone you share a brief period of your life with before moving on to a new group of friends.  People like that can be among your best friends, but there is nothing forever about that type of relationship.  There is something in the BFF relationship that is eternal.

If this post was taking a spiritual or theological path, then I would write about how Jesus should be everyone's BFF- and that would be accurate.  But that is not my purpose today.  I want to tell you about my best friend for the past 37 years or so.  Steve Semmler became my best friend in the 8th grade.  In the years that have passed since that time we have shared so many moments, so many adventures and so many laughs.  We have listened to music from odd folks like Hurricane Smith, Tom Leher and Gilbert O'Sullivan and thought it was cool.  We took long walks on Myrtle Beach under full moons, complaining the entire time that the moon (The Turkey, we called it) was doing NOTHING to help us meet girls.  We memorized entire Beach Boys albums that no one else we knew had ever heard of.  We spent hours playing basketball and eating Fig Newtons.  We went to a Jimmy Buffett concert in 1974 at an ice skating rink, and a drunk guy threw up on our dates.  We learned to play guitar and went through the desert on a horse with no name at least a million times.  We could always immediately pick which waitress we would have as soon as we entered a restaurant, because we always got the least attractive one!  And I haven't even brought up Schlock Rod or Jim Stafford yet...

We made a friend, Sabrina Perry, who dated Steve once, then didn't speak to either of us for a year.  She then became our adopted "Sis."  Her parents Bill & Linda were like a second family to both of us; we ate more tacos and peanut brittle at their house than you can imagine.  When they moved to Jacksonville, FL after our senior year, we went to visit them.  The picture on the left is Steve, Sabrina, myself, her little brother Billy and some unknown rug-rat.  Later on Sabrina decided she wanted to date Steve again (I might as well have been his agent) and when he picked another girl instead, she punched me as hard as I have ever been hit!  It was not always easy keeping his admirers happy...

Steve and I attended the same college our freshman year, choosing not to room together.  His roommate was a drunk and mine a drug dealer, so we spent lots of time with amazing friends like Danny Hines, David (The White Boy) Nelson, Andy Walker, Bob Peterson, Tom Piner and Bill Moser- The Stallions!  Later on we shared an apartment for a couple of years. Steve was always there for me when things went wrong, not just when times were good.  We were in each other's weddings, and shared many great moments with each other's families.  He was simply a part of my life.

We have now lived many miles apart for a lot of years.  We have seen each other occasionally, and we call from time to time.  I called him the day before he turned 50 so I could be the last person to wish him a happy 49th birthday; he called me recently just because a Beach Boys song came on his I-Pod.  There are friends I speak with more often.  There are certainly friends I see with more regularity.  But even if I don't see Steve for another 20 years (when we have moved in next door to each other at Friends Homes) he will still be my best friend.  The reasons listed above, and those would be more than enough by themselves.  But there is one thing more.  Steve, with his unending invitations to join him at youth group at New Garden Friends Meeting in the early 1970's, started me on my way to finding Jesus.  He didn't do it by preaching or quoting scripture; he did it by being my friend.  And thus, his impact on my life is never ending.  Eternal.  That is the true definition of a BFF.  And that is the best kind of best friend...

I know he occasionally reads this blog, and I hope he is reading today.  Someday I will once again leave the state of Florida, and when that happens, I look forward to hanging out, listening to Beach Boys, eating at Calabash and walking the beach and singing.  "Hit it, Hal!"  And if you didn't get that reference, then I guess you are not my BFF...

Because of Jesus,