We gathered at Portola Valley Presbyterian Church at 10:00 on Saturday, January 16, 1999 for our youth group advisors retreat.
I’ll start by saying that I don’t like retreats. Never have. I’m the sort of person who has no trouble laying out her personal thoughts to her Web page, but I’m not interested in sharing with a group.
So anyway, my number-one condition for attending the retreat was that there be coffee. I walked into our meeting room, oversized CIO coffee mug in hand. Kimberly looked at my mug and then at Andy, our oxymoronically named Youth Elder.
“Andy, did you bring the coffeepot and the filters?”
“Uh, was that my job?” Andy asked.
We rummaged through the church kitchen for Mr. Coffee and his filters. Jim L. got the coffee going, and I was anticipating my first swig of the day when the coffee maker erupted. Coffee grounds and hot water spewed out the top of the filter basket. I turned the coffeemaker off and started to wipe up the mess, when it erupted again all over my left hand. I said some not-so-very-Christian vocabulary words and then ran it under cold water and wondered why I was there.
Andy cleaned up the mess and I supervised his coffee making.
Once the second pot was actually done, I settled down on the couch with my laptop to keep notes of my personal commentary throughout the day. We began by sharing who we are and what we do and a story from when each of us was in junior or senior high school. I told the group about when I ran for student body president when I was in eighth grade. Michelle Laidlaw was supposed to run, and she was the odds-on favorite to win, but I became her opponent regardless. Then, much to the surprise of everyone at Pine Hollow Intermediate, it was determined that Michelle would be disqualified from the race because she’d received a D grade on her report card the previous year. By that time, the application deadline had passed, so I ran unopposed and won the election.
Leila strapped on her guitar and we sang a couple of songs. My hand throbbed under the ice pack Jim had fetched for me.
After singing, we went into the first meaty part of the program: Lectio Divina. That’s Latin for “Divine Reading.” It’s a way of praying with Scripture. The whole group participated. Kimberly, our youth director, read Psalm 62 to us twice. The first time, we concentrated upon opening our minds to what God wanted us to hear. The second time, we listened for a word or a phrase to grab us. We were given a bit of quiet time to write down the word and reflect upon it.
The words I selected were “assail” and “deliverance.” They made me think of Christina Williams, whose 13-year-old decomposing body was found three miles from her house on January 13. I’ve struggled with that ever since hearing that the remains were indeed hers. Leila read the Psalm to us a third time. Her reading was fluid and emotional. This time, the phrase “and set no vain hopes on robbery” hit me with a wallop. I hadn’t even heard that line the first time. It started me thinking of my buddy Ken (ed note: see 1997’s entry “the worst pick-up line of all time), who is currently serving time in San Quentin for armed robbery.
I reread the Psalm and picked up my Bible to read its interpretation. It never ceases to amaze me how well God knows us, how intimately he understands our humanness. Even as I write this, sitting on a stone hearth with a fire’s heat licking my back, it chills me to realize that God knows all of our faults and, even so, allows us to act upon our own selfish whims and desires. I used to be really hung up on money, until I parted ways with IBIS and watched my income slide as a result. Ken, who used to attend church twice weekly, is now suffering God-only-knows what sort of abuse behind the bars of a maximum-security prison. And why? Because he felt he needed to hold up a bank. What type of Entity, what sort of parent who loves us, allows us to screw up repeatedly, even though the consequences of our actions may cause us nothing but pain and suffering for many, many years? I guess a parent who knows His advice is worthwhile, and trusts his child to follow it. It makes sense to me. But sometimes it’s a real pisser. And despite all of that, I praise God with my actions and my voice. I sing the Doxology many times a week, and always wholeheartedly.
Then it was time for lunch. Kimberly and Andy went to get the sandwiches. Megan brought in a long stick she’d found during our 20 minutes of quiet reflection and we played baseball indoors with the stick and a Styrofoam cup. We ate lunch when the sandwiches arrived, and talked about spelunking. I told the group about tunneling though the storm tunnels of San Carlos with my roommate. The story was met with much admiration.
After lunch, we played team-building games. I was the only person who refused to be blindfolded. I took off my glasses and shut my eyes instead.
No, I didn’t peek.
We were all led to a piece of rope and were challenged to create a perfect square. Jim H. became our leader, and had us count off. We determined who was a corner and who was a side. The corners put their hands in the center of the circle to ensure congruency. Then we all stepped back five steps, adjusted our positions, and then the sides took a couple of steps back as well. After final adjustment, they took off their blindfolds and I opened my eyes. Our square was nearly perfect!
We played some more improv games after that. A pen was passed around and we used it as a prop. I pretended it was an arrow shot into my heart. My silent death scene garnered applause. Then we pretended that a folded piece of fabric was pain, and had to act out what we do with that. I wiped my eyes with it and then wadded it up and threw it at Joel.
Why does there always have to be negative imagery involved at retreats? At the IBIS administrative staff retreat, Brenda (then the president of IBIS) led us in our group exercise, which was to pretend we’d all been fired from IBIS and had formed our own consultancy to do for IBIS the jobs we’d done while on staff. And I said, “why would we *want* to work for IBIS after you’ve fired all of us?”
Then we played a translation game. I volunteered, essentially so I could say I’d volunteered for something during the day’s events. Andy was from the island of Samsua and had to talk about the public transportation system there. His performance and my translation were truly inspired.
Then, at 2:30, an hour behind schedule, we got down to the heart of the matter: The Youth Advisor Application Packet. When I started advising for the junior-high group five semesters ago, the only prerequisite was that you have interest in being an advisor. Now, the Youth Ministry Team has created an 11-page packet that includes a four-page application, which is to be completed by all Quest (junior high) and Sonlight (senior high) advisors and potential advisors.
I flipped through the application quickly, expecting to be personally bothered by at least part of it. Satisfied once I was, I flipped back to the beginning to follow along as Andy spoke. We discussed the covenant/mission statement of the Youth Ministry team, and then the different youth ministry groups we could work with. Then came the job description: Growing closer to Christ through regular Sunday worship attendance and personal Bible study, having fun without getting too excited, appropriate physical contact (not too violent during the games, not too close during a hug), being a good Christian role model, and having good listening skills to help kids focus on the speaker.
I know that the kids are the reason why we’re doing this new application process. But it’s difficult to impose structure in a group that has been remarkably structureless since you became involved with it more than two years ago. Especially when the youth programs have already kicked off for the winter/spring semester of 1999.
So we’re going through it and the Youth Elder is joking his way through the packet, to the point where I finally stood up for either doing this seriously or not doing it at all. Andy agreed that he was just kidding. But why would you kid your way through this packet when the whole reason we were there was to be serious about it?
Have I mentioned that I hate retreats?
So then we took a break until I asked that we resume the program (because I really wanted to get to the driving range). Among other things, we discussed my inappropriate grabbing of Justin last week — he’d attempted to throw me over his shoulder and I reached for any part of him that would keep him from dropping me on my head. Unfortunately, my arms weren’t long enough to reach his legs, so, unknowingly and unintentionally, I took hold of his butt. I again apologized for it, but he *was* trying to throw me over his shoulder at the time, so I don’t think I’m wholly to blame…
I asked if we were to complete every question in the application, which was met with an affirmative answer. Sigh. Then Joel talked about how to facilitate fun for the kids, while also facilitating fun for yourself. Fact of the matter is, we’re not in this for ourselves. We’re in it for the kids. If we have fun, that’s great, but we ought not to have our fun at the expense of our charges. We are Advisors, which doesn’t mean we’re always Participators.
So now it’s 4:05 and I think we’re starting to wind down. Based upon this application, I’m seriously doubting what my involvement in Quest will be this year. I have to admit that I’m not happy that this is being introduced in the middle of the year. Now that we’ve already had the first meeting, I’ll look like a quitter. But I am nowhere near eager to fill out this application. I am not comfortable with sharing the three significant events in my life that have impacted me spiritually. I am not comfortable with sharing my dating history. I am not comfortable committing my personal and lifestyle information to paper, especially when the confidentiality clause states that each completed application may be read by as many as eight people.
I really love advising for Quest. But I’m really not going to complete this application.
At 4:12, Kimberly thanked all of us for the time and dedication we’ve exhibited today and throughout the youth programs. She started to fiddle in her bag for the awards she’d created for each of us.
“You’ll have to bear with me, though, because they’re homemade, and therefore…” Kimberly began.
“Homemade-ish?” Justin asked.
Then, while attempting to clean up, Steve dumped a cup of water on his crotch.
“Guess he’s really excited about the awards,” someone said. Or maybe I just thought that.
My prize was “Most Rambunctious.” Kimberly praised my energy level, but also my upbeat personality and my optimism. She mentioned the meeting I led about disappointment and how to use it to your advantage. She thanked me for the creativity I’ve shown in planning meetings (making hats for the homeless, top 10 things Jesus did, etc.). She also thanked me for sticking with Quest even during difficult times in my life.
What, me feel guilty? Naah…
At 4:33 we broached the idea of closing in prayer. Kimberly asked us to pray about things on our hearts, and to share them with the group. I requested inspiration and guidance. We prayed a circle prayer. Justin had to pray for me because we prayed for the person at the right of us. Justin began his prayer for me: “God, be with Lynn, because she rocks.” I busted out laughing.
So at eight minutes to five, we were released.
I put my laptop and application packet in my truck and went back to visit the sanctuary. It is beautiful. The sanctuary (where church services are held) is an A-frame structure, and when you sit in the pews the wall you face is all windows, windows that allow you to look out into the trees. It’s very Godlike. I sang the Doxology and went back to my truck.
While driving home, my odometer turned to 60,000 miles. Upon returning home, I was totally wiped out from the intensity of the day. Abby came by and I talked to her about it. We decided to hook up with our friends Jim and Charles. I went with her to feed her parents’ cats (her folks were out of town for the weekend). While we were there, she called Jim, who said that a buddy of his had just given him two tickets for tonight’s Sharks game, and would she like to go with him? She agreed.
“Does Charles want to talk to Lynn now?” We planned to all meet back at my house. When Jim and Charles arrived I read some of the questions from the application packet to them. Everyone agreed that they’d never answer the questions posed. Heck, I don’t even think some of them are legal.
After Abby and Jim left, I went into my room to put on a sweatshirt when BOOM! What I needed to say about the application came pounding into my brain. I grabbed the application packet and quickly scrawled what was in my head. I’m convinced it was an inspiration from God.
I walked out of my room, the weight of the application lifted off my shoulders. “You look like you feel better,” Charles commented.
I read to him what I wrote, and we left to rent a movie.
I completed the first page of the application (“General Information”) during “Lethal Weapon 4.” At the “Marital Status” question I ignored the “Single” and “Married” boxes and checked an “Unmarried” box of my own creation. I thought about who should act as my references and chose my colleague John, my past Photojournalism advisor Jim, and my Mom. It said that the references shouldn’t be related to you, but I talk to my Mom more than I talk with any other human being so I figured they might as well give her a call.
I was much relieved when I finished the page.
On Sunday morning I made a copy of my application and sought out Kimberly. We spoke quietly in a corner of the Narthex. I handed her my file folder. “This is my application. If it isn’t OK, I need to know before this Thursday, because I don’t want to keep going to Quest and get the kids accustomed to me if I’m going to be disqualified based upon my answers.”
“Oh, Lynn, I’m sure it will be fine.” Kimberly said. “It’s just something we need to do across the board. We can always talk about it.”
“No, I don’t think so. If it isn’t acceptable, please call me before Thursday. If it is OK, well, no news is good news,” I told her.
I don’t know if she’s read it yet, but this is what I wrote on the back of my one-page application: I know that, without God, I am but an empty vessel. The life I lead is that which He has granted me. Therefore, I discuss intimate, personal secrets with Him alone. I hope this does not disqualify me after more than four semesters of “upbeat and positive” (Kimberly, 01/16/1999) service to Quest. –(signed) M. E. Benson
On my way out of church after the service, I picked up an informational brochure about the choirs. We’ll see if I’ll need it.