Top 5 Thursday: The Blessings And Challenges Of My Youth Ministry Background

I grew up in a healthy, thriving Youth Ministry. 


I joined the team at my home church first as an intern during college and, shortly after graduating, as a full-time staff member on the Junior High team. 

 (That's me--second from the left.)

(There I am, in the purple shirt... with black hair.)

About 6 years later, I was hired by another local church where I served in the High School Ministry before joining the Worship Department. 


Even in my years as a Worship Leader, I led a High School small group.


You would think all this experience would be nothing but good news in my new marriage to my Youth Pastor Husband, but there are definitely a few thorns among those roses...

Here are 5 Blessings and Challenges of my Youth Ministry background:

::: Blessings :::
1. I have a heart for teenagers.

2. I understand the desire to put in the extra hours, to answer phone calls during "off hours", to go to football games and dance recitals and five graduation parties in a single Saturday... there's always more to do... I get it.

3. I have ideas... and like to brainstorm events and series and volunteer care.

4. I speak 'ministry'. Hype, care, you name it. This comes in handy with parents, leaders, students, and my husband.

5. I've had the advantage of watching many, many marriages in the church... most of them really close-up and over long stretches of years. I've learned a lot as I’ve seen them balancing Youth Ministry schedules, budgets, and parenting.


::: Challenges :::
1. Since I like teenagers, it's easy for me to jump in and serve in Student Ministries. But in the last few years, I've found other ministries within the Church I've loved. Finding my place in our new church--exploring new ministries and serve opportunities--has been tricky because it's fun, safe, and comfortable to serve alongside my husband.

2. There are two of us who could spend an entire date night talking about students, leader care, and upcoming events.

3. I have ideas and a ton of opinions... not to mention pretty high expectations. You can imagine what this can do to my poor husband!

4. I know what it is to be on staff at a church (show up early, stay late, model enthusiasm and support to the congregation)... but I also know the joys of simply being an attendee. (If I'm honest, there are days I really miss having the option to sleep in and stream the message later in the week.)

5. From what I remember, a majority of those Youth Ministry marriages started around the same time, so they were figuring out this newlyweds-in-ministry life together. Nobody had kids yet, nobody had any money, everyone was really into the "Must See TV" lineup on NBC. I can't help but feel a little envious of the world they lived in: a lot of friends in the same life stage in the same church. 

Make, Take, or Bake. Our Christmas Tradition

Christmas morning was always such a special day for our family because my mom was really, really good at playing Santa. 


She'd pin a sheet across the doorway leading into the living room where the tree was so, if we woke up early, we couldn't peek at the gifts he'd left. There would always be a mix of things we needed (new toothbrush, the big bottle of our favorite scent of shampoo, a massive box of our favorite cereal) and things we wanted (a tree-shaped Reese's, new video game, and one year, a bike). It was magical and exciting... honestly, even into our early teens.

And it only got better from there. 

Once we'd finished opening our gifts at home, we'd pack up and head over to Bum and Papa's (my mom's parents). My mom is the oldest of five girls (the youngest was only 6 when I was born), so their house would be filled with Christmas morning energy and anticipation by the time we arrived. 


There were more stockings to open and gifts to unwrap, but my favorite part was giving the gifts we'd specially picked out for each person... and watching them unwrap the gifts their sisters had chosen for them.

The tradition has always been that everyone buys for everyone. And, starting from youngest to oldest, we give out gifts one-by-one, each watching the others to see what they've received. 

It takes hours

And there are several breaks for bathroom runs, coffee refills, or more food. 

But it is my very, very event of the entire year.

As the years went on—as sisters married and/or gave birth—the house became more and more full and the list, and, thus, the expense, became greater and greater. 


So we switched things up.

We went with the classic: Secret Santa. We pulled names at Thanksgiving and purchased one $50 gift per person. But some people broke the rules and bought more expensive things (think Michael Scott and the iPod) and others went the opposite direction and brought me a bag of clothes from the back of their closet. (Thanks a lot, Creed!)

So we switched it up again... and it worked really well for us!

For the last nearly ten years, we’ve done a Make, Take, or Bake Christmas. You can create the gift from scratch, wrap something from your home, or cook up something excellent... the one rule is: you can’t spend more than $5 per person.

It’s been so fun to see everyone’s clever spin. 

My cousins have created incredible works of art from clay, metal, and wood. My aunt drove all over the county to find street signs with each of our names and gave us each a framed photo of ours. My Papa gave each of us a beautiful, hardback book from his collection with a personalized inscription inside. 

One year, I made "About Me" journals for my Bum and Papa and asked that they fill it in and gift it, completed, to me the following year. It took two years for my grandmother to complete it since her childhood was pretty painful for her to recount. On the morning she passed away, it was sitting on her bedside table. It's now, my most treasured possession--the thing I would run back into a burning house to save.


People think about it all year long. For the last three years, Papa has gifted volumes of his life story. He spends all year writing and editing then has a copy printed and bound for each of us. What a treasure they are... and something he may not have done had we not switched to these kinds of gifts.

Needless to say, there's a lot of bragging at the pre-Christmas family gatherings when someone has figured out what they’re going to make everyone that year. (My aunt Gina is known to have her mind made up as early as Easter!)

This year, I decided to cross-stitch something special for each person. (This is part of the reason I’ve been a little MIA in this space... every spare minute was spent making sure these were ready.)

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Side story: A friend of mine recently saw me stitching one of the bigger pieces and commented, “Oh, I used to love cross-stitching when we were newly married. I would stitch while we watched LOST!” 

I laughed and told her I’m about 10 years behind her since we’re currently watching LOST and I’m big into cross-stitch.

She laughed and said, “Enjoy this season, because it’s short... then you’ll have kids and wonder what happened to all of the time you once had!” 

(When I relayed the story to Josh, he said, “Oh, she’s right... maybe we shouldn’t have any kids!") 
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I thought it might be fun to share them here... if for no other reason than to commemorate the holiday season I had all the time in the world. 

• • • • • 

For my aunt Debby and her two sweet dogs 


For my aunt Sarah and uncle Scott, who met Josh for the first time last Christmas and told me about a week later that they went straight home and looked up Josh’s birthday on Facebook so they could check our astrological compatibility.



My cousin Elijah traditionally makes dozens of pancakes for breakfast one morning during our family weekends in Palm Springs. I wouldn’t be surprised if he ends up at Le Cordon Bleu. He can look back on this and remember when he was just starting out.


For my cousin Sunny who has celebrated her birthday at Sushi restaurants since she was three and has taught me so much about the history of women in politics—especially as she’s taken class after class at UC Santa Cruz.


Sunny and her boyfriend, Derek, went to Spain this summer. This gift for him felt like a sweet little keepsake to remember the trip. 


My brother runs a record label called Doom Trip Records, which releases albums primarily on cassette.


And for my cousin Thatcher who is the perfect blend of surfer and artist.


Logan is an avid Orioles fan. (In my family, mentioning you really like something means you’ll receive anything and everything people see with that logo. Hence the dozens of Abe Lincoln books, stamps, and banks I have displayed in my home!)


Logan’s girlfriend, Jamie, loves Alice in Wonderland. This was the last piece I made, but maybe the most fun. I finished one character each night and really loved watching it come together. And she cried when she opened it, so I'd say she liked it, too.


My aunt Gina got two because I couldn't choose between this one:


And this one. (They were both too perfect for her!)

For my mom--who has beaten me and my brother in every game of Dr. Mario we've played since the early '90s. She made up words to the background music, so I stitched those around his little face. (They just bought an arcade game archive for their living room, so Josh and I played Dr. Mario while we were in CA over the holidays. The skill is in my blood--I dominated every round!)


For her husband, Dave. He loves a good martini! This now hangs in their bar.


The more I stitched, the more inquisitive Josh grew. He'd lean over while I was working on a piece and ask questions like, "how do you know where to start? How do you make the little 'x'?"

Then lo and behold, Christmas morning, I opened this little beauty. (He's desperate for my logo to be a T-Rex wearing a space helmet.) Sure, it's a little rough and ready, but it's also so dear.



I love our family Christmas traditions. (Even when it takes six hours to give open presents.) I'm grateful to be part of a thoughtful and generous family who knows and loves each other enough to give great gifts! (A big recap of our Christmas in California to come!)

Have you ever made all of your Christmas gifts? What did you create? What's the best gift someone has made for you?

Trading Butterbeer and Turkey for Gatorade and Tylenol: Thanksgiving 2019

I had high hopes for our Thanksgiving break...

We'd be spending the week before in Tampa at the Youth Specialties conference (more on that later) and then head down to Orlando to visit Universal Studios. (Josh and I have spent the last few months listening through the Harry Potter series--we're over halfway through book 7!--and we’re very excited to visit Hogsmeade and Diagon Alley together.)

After a full day at the park, we would fly back to Texas where I’d spend the day prepping for Thanksgiving. (I had dreams of making these cookies and this chocolate tart.)

We'd drive to Dallas Thanksgiving morning, rolling in just in time for dinner with his family. We'd spend the following day at the movies before returning home to decorate our house for Christmas.

But, when we arrived in Orlando, all of that went out the window.

Let me back up...


We left the conference Sunday morning and had a beautiful lunch with a dear Mariners family now living in Florida. They dropped us at the airport to pick up our rental car (a Jurassic Park-style Jeep! Pretend there's a photo of us in it here. Once you read the rest of this post, you'll understand why it's only imaginary.)

We made the drive to Orlando with relatively few issues. About halfway there, Josh mentioned his allergies were acting up, so we stopped by Target to pick up some Claritin. I suggested we grab some cold medicine, too, just in case it was more than allergies.

Josh's dad generously gifted us a hotel room that came with early admission to Universal Studios, so we checked in, bought our park tickets, and set an alarm for early the next morning. We drifted off to sleep with visions of chocolate frogs dancing in our heads.

When the alarm went off the next morning, I looked over at Josh and knew our plans had changed. He said, "I think you’re going to have to go without me."

My initial response was frustration... we were so close! We could practically see Hogwarts! Not to mention the hundreds of dollars we'd already spent on admission. So I ran down to the lobby to find out if we could get any of our money back... if we couldn't, I had plans to drag my sick husband through the park. (Compassionate, I know.)

Hearing the news that the tickets are valid for a year kicked my care-giving side into gear. I swung by the coffee shop, grabbed myself a big iced coffee and him a banana and a Sprite. I whiled away the morning watching a Twilight Zone marathon and working on a Christmas gift while Josh faded in and out of sleep. 

By the time we got to the airport that evening, I knew I had not been lucky enough to avoid whatever it was that had taken down Josh. And, as judgmental as we all are about people who choose to fly sick, there was no way around it!

We texted his family to let him know we would not be subjecting them to whatever had taken over our bodies and boarded our flights, doing our best to cough into our elbows and navigate our way to the restaurant in each airport that serves hot soup. (I'm still not sure if the tortilla soup in the Houston airport is actually delicious or if I'll just remember it that way because it was so incredibly comforting.) 

We made it home... 


When I woke up the next morning, the first thing I said to Josh was, "I am so sorry that I even considered trying to make you go through the park feeling like this! I feel like I’ve been hit by a bus!" I hadn't been this sick since high school. It was the pits.

The next few days were a blur of sleep and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and a lot of episodes of Lost, Seinfeld, and The Great British Baking Show. (Incidentally, that is one of the most comforting shows to watch while you’re sick. They’re so nice to each other!)

After a few days, the fog began to lift. Still a bit groggy and heavy-limbed, I began a Velveteen Rabbit-level scouring of our home. No dish, towel, sheet or countertop was safe. Everything was deeply cleaned to wipe away any chance of round two. (I threw away our toothbrushes, too.)

Finally, on Friday, we felt well enough to venture out of the house. We grabbed some Chick-fil-A and picked out our Christmas tree. The warmth of a fully decorated house was some kind of medicine all its own.

This was definitely not how I had imagined spending holiday week, but I did feel wonderfully cared for by my sweet husband and I was so grateful that we had those days to hole-up, rest, and recover.