Welcome to Ryley Writes, a collection of thoughts, stories, and work from deep in the heart of Texas.

Youth Ministry: Deep and Wide

shoutout Tuesday morning breakfast crew

I took the job in Katy on a Monday, when the last puzzle pieces had fallen into place; and in the first 48 hours of making the decision, I was surprised at how unbothered I was by the whole thing.

Family, blood or otherwise, was first to know, followed by a few close friends. Each time I shared, it was with genuine peace and enthusiasm, and the support I received in return gave me strength.

I am handling this so well, I thought to myself. I am, like, power and zen itself.

Then I went to youth group Wednesday night, and my soul imploded.

I held it together through a million hugs, updates on school and friends and family and love lives (or lack thereof, more often), and a lot of frozen yogurt. We ended the night with a group devotional and prayer time, by which point I was beginning to crack.

I was house-sitting for a family that week, and as soon as youth group was over, I drove home, curled up on their floor with their dog, and cried so hard I gave myself a headache. And the next morning I had to take three ibuprofen at once, and I never take more than one ibuprofen at once because I am a paranoid hippie, and it was just a really dramatic time for me, okay.

The meltdown was the result of finally slowing down enough for the emotional and mental momentum I'd been building for days to finally catch up to me, more than anything. I have this super cool but highly unsustainable strategy in sad situations where I just try to keep moving for as long as possible and juke my own feelings.

Life requires a stop in motion sooner or later, though — like froyo on a Wednesday night — just long enough to let everything hit me.

I've only been a part of these teens' lives for six months, so it's not as if they won't go on without me, or vice versa. But I love them with a fury that surprises even me sometimes, and I don't take lightly the trust they've placed in me in such a short time.

As a youth leader, I extend an invitation to my kids to let me enter into their messes and help bear their burdens. People are quick to applaud that; but honestly, I think it takes extraordinary courage for them to take me up on the offer.

The teenagers that have dared to pull back the curtain on family dysfunction, abuse, health issues (mental and otherwise), bullying, and all manner of other challenges are taking an enormous and vulnerable chance. Even revealing the good parts of life — their successes and dreams and joy — means offering something of high value in faith that it will be received as such.

Getting your hopes up is risky. Having them let down hurts. And when one look backstage has sent others running or been dismissed with a shrug; to gear up and try all over again with a twenty-something-year-old woman who showed up at your church one random Sunday is stunningly brave.

Walking with them has been humbling and hard and richly rewarding. Walking out just feels weird, even if I know I'm supposed to go.

"Love deeply, hurt deeply."

It's a phrase I've often heard from two people dear to me, especially in the past couple weeks. It's true. It kind of sucks. But the latter is an indicator of the former, and it's always, always worth it.

It's been a few weeks since that first Wednesday night meltdown, and I'd be lying if I said there haven't been a few more in between. I'm excited for a new chapter, but I'm going to miss my middle and high schoolers — seeing them grow into the people God made them to be a little more day by day, and teaching me a thing or two about Him along the way.

Thankful to have experienced in a whole new way how deep and wide God's love is for His children, simply through the love I have for my kids.

Youth Ministry: Quotable

On Hiking and Life-ing