THIS IS SIGNIFICANT
No more than two weeks ago my friend Micah and I found ourselves sitting across the table from a man who was trying to hold back tears. We had just finished eating some good barbecue and now this man was telling us how he had contemplated suicide over the holidays. He felt like he was alone, like no one cared about him, like no one wanted to be around him. This broke my heart.
Kenny is an interesting fellow. He is 62 years old, lives in Westport, and loves to frequent Chili’s. He laughs a lot and has an uncanny way of turning a 5 minute conversation into a 35 minute one. I first came across Kenny in the latter years of the nineteen-nineties. The band I was playing with at the time would frequent a local venue where Kenny was head of security. In fact, he was the only security. After most shows were finished the band and I would go to a downtown diner and converse into the wee hours of the morning. Many a night Kenny found himself at the table with us. We shared life, laughs and birthday cake as our friendship grew.
A few years later, the venue held secure by Kenny shut its doors, leaving my new friend with one less outlet for meeting new people. Without the regularity of rock shows my relationship with Kenny grew distant. Thankfully, some time later our paths crossed once again and we decided to go to lunch one afternoon. As we sat at Uno’s Pizzeria reminiscing about our late night hangouts Kenny posed a question to my friend Katie and I. “Do you think we could meet like this every month?”
We immediately agreed and A.W.K. was born. “Afternoons With Kenny” quickly became the ex-security guard’s place for conversation and making new friends. This month marks the two year anniversary of the monthly lunches spent with Kenny and I can honestly say that it has been eye opening. I never could have imagined how significant our time spent together would be until I got to know this man on a deeper level.
We are all called, as followers of Christ, to feed the hungry, welcome the stranger, bring good news to the poor, bind up the brokenhearted, and bring hope to the hopeless. After hearing Kenny open up about his suicidal thoughts it dawned on me that God was doing something much greater with this time than I could have ever dreamed. The seemingly insignificant times spent around the table laughing and talking about nothing were in reality giving Kenny good news, hope, and a healed heart.
Not even a year ago Kenny lost his only relative in town which left him without any family nearby. Upon hearing this a group of us called to check up on him and later that month we all met together to let him share what he was going through. We offered nothing more than a listening ear and an empathetic heart, but that kind of genuine love and support really helped Kenny be able to cope with the loss of someone so dear to him.
These kinds of stories and encounters really affirm in me the value of “doing small things with great love.” It is so simple to hang out with someone over a meal or to listen to someone when they are down. Over and over again I am confounded by the significance of the seemingly insignificant. Jesus knew two years ago that Kenny would need some friends here on earth to remind him of the fact that he is not alone—that he is a vital part of God’s family. Two years have passed and I am so thankful for getting to love Kenny right into God’s arms...through meals, laughter, and a 35 minute conversation.
Kenny and I at his birthday party last summer.
TEEN STAFF LOCK-IN
Shortly after all the Christmas turkey is eaten and the new year has been rung in, something spectacular happens here at the YouthFront Headquarters. Once a year some of my coworkers and I host what is called the Teen Staff lock-in.
The concept is fairly straight forward. We invite the Teen Staff from both camps to come and converge on one location for one night. Pizza is served, fountain drinks abound, and many games are played. It is definitely an exhausting night as it is an all-night event spanning from 9pm—6am. This night, however, was especially great.
Over the years I have taken part in many lock-ins for the Teen Staff and you could usually distinguish who had Teen Staffed at which camp. The two groups hardly ever interacted with each other. The past couple of summers, though, we have had larger and larger numbers of Teen Staff who would volunteer at both camps. We encourage this so the students understand that the camps are both there for the same purpose—to foster environments where students can experience and choose to follow God. The staff have always tried to convey unity between the camps and this year’s event shows that progress is being made.
My hope is that this trend can continue. The more interaction these students have with both camps, the more they will understand that we are all part of the greater whole. No camp is better than the other, they are both working to bring youth into a growing relationship with Jesus Christ.
Teen Staff belly bumping at the lock-in.