Of course, I didn’t jump in a pool of students fully clothed. I was a leader. I was supposed to be “respectable.” And I had my phone in my fanny pack. Well, actually I did jump in. On purpose.
I was leading at a church camp for students, and up to that point, while I was physically there, I wasn’t really experiencing camp. I had been sitting on the side of the pool watching. As I watched, I felt a nudge (figurative, not literal) to jump in. I had been so buried in the tasks, I was missing out on the experience. That day, as I sat on the side of the pool watching students on each others shoulders doing chicken fights and the leaders, very young leaders, laughing and having a blast, I wondered, “Am I missing it? Is this where God wants me, sitting here on the side of the pool?”
I had a bunch of excuses to sit on the sidelines. I’m a grandma. Students want to hang out with someone closer to their age, not someone who is older than their parents. As staff leader of Student Ministry, my role was to manage and oversee what was going on at camp. Or was it?
As I sat on the side of the pool the girls shrieked, “one last jump.” As I watched the girls get ready for their final jump, I thought I’m not sitting on the sidelines any longer. So I got up and took off my fanny pack (in case you didn’t know, fanny packs are back in). As I walked to the end of the pool, the girls shrieked some more. They said that we were going to dab as we jumped in. I’d heard of dabbing but wasn’t quite sure how to do it. After several minutes of instruction, including two of them actually standing behind me and moving my arms—I jumped. And I dabbed. And we laughed. And we shrieked.
At that moment, I realized I had been believing lies.
Those students didn’t care how old I was. They cared that I jumped in. They cared that I wanted to learn the stuff that was important to them—like dabbing. And they cared that I’d sit and listen and then listen some more.
As I listened, I learned.
I sat on the grass with two students. One of them was having a hard time in her group. When asked how many siblings she had, this student had shrugged and said I don’t know. Everyone had interpreted it as an unwillingness to share the most basic info. But as I sat with her, I got to know her and hear her story. At one point she said, “Kim, my dad, he’s got kids all over the place. I don’t even know how many kids. He takes his girlfriends out to fancy dinners, cause I see them on facebook. But he won’t pay child support for me.” That moment confirmed what I had suspected. She really didn’t know how many siblings she had. As we sat in the grass, I listened and told her that’s not the way a dad is supposed to care for his daughter. And I got to share about a heavenly father who is always there for his kids. Once again, God was teaching me that everyone has a story that deeply matters. This student’s behavior that appeared to be anger was really deep hurt. Her mad was actually sad.
Another student I met that year at camp was high energy and always on the go. Camp was hard for her initially, so we hung out. We went paddle boating. She taught me some dance moves. We talked. She told me that as a little girl, her father would call and say he was coming to take her out. So she would sit on the porch steps and wait. Hours would pass and she continued to sit and wait. Her mom would tell her, “honey, I don’t think he’s coming.” But still, she would wait and cry hoping he would come. As she grew, she began to realize that her father made promises that he didn’t keep. He seemed to have time for others, but not for her. This hurt her deeply.
We began talking about a God who doesn’t desert, about a God who doesn’t abandon his kids. For a kid like her, it’s hard to imagine a father like that because all she’s known is a father that can’t be counted on, a father who doesn’t show up. But on the last night of camp, as we were doing baptisms in the lake, she told me that she understood that God was a father who wouldn’t leave. And that her hope was in Jesus, not in an earthly father. She asked me and her group leader to baptize her. So we slipped down the muddy shore to the lake. She was full of joy as she proclaimed that she was following Jesus. And I got to be there with her. It was the highlight of my week. Now two and a half years later, she is an important part of my life and is a regular in our home.
I don’t know what you believe about God, but here’s what I believe:
Jesus came so I could have a rich and full life. Jesus says to me, and all of us, in a part of the Bible you can find in John 10:10, “I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” “a better life than I ever dreamed of” an “abundant life.” Abundant life isn’t material wealth or fancy cars. It’s not necessarily a neat and tidy or pain-free life. But because of what Jesus has done for me, I can live a life that is overflowing. I can fully experience life and be used by God.
That’s what I experienced at camp when I fully engaged and jumped in. But often we miss out on abundant life and the adventure God has for us.
We’re missing out because we’re sitting on the sidelines. For me, I thought I was too old and too out of touch with today’s culture to develop relationships with teenagers. Maybe you think you’re too young. Or you may think you’re not mature enough or prepared enough or maybe have some stuff in your life you’re not proud of. I believe we have an enemy (God’s enemy, the devil) who would like us to believe that we’re not ready for the adventure. He wants us to sit this one out. He wants us to believe that the best place for us is on the sidelines. But that’s a lie and Jesus gave us a heads up on that in John 10:10. There’s more. The beginning of that verse is, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy;” He wants to steal our joy. He wants to destroy us. He wants us sitting this one out. Cause the enemy knows that abundant life doesn’t happen sitting on the side of the pool.
Jesus came so we can have life to the full. Life to the full happens when we jump in. Don’t believe that you’re too young, too inexperienced, too fully clothed, or too messed up. Stop making excuses. Our lives and the lives of those around us will be forever changed when we fully engage. Jump in.