It was February 2014.
I was at winter camp with Flood Youth, I was standing outside in the dark, and I was mad.
I had been with these students for a year and a half, seeing how far God had brought them in such a short time, seeing small glimpses of the work He was doing in their lives. I cried – me! crying! – during our church time, when girls who barely opened up to anyone stood up and shared vulnerably to the group. I held their hands as they shook from nerves, I stood next to them and belted out “Oceans” during worship, I stayed up far too late giggling with and affirming girls who had come to mean more to me than I’ll ever understand. It was a beautiful weekend, in so many ways, and I was pissed at God. Because He was calling me away from it. Away from them. Away from my girls. All my dreams were coming true, and I was getting ready to head back to Malawi when I graduated in June. All my dreams except… my girls. My girls! How could I leave?
I’ll always remember standing outside, alone in the dark, staring into a dying fire pit. Arms crossed, I was yelling at God in my head. “Why? WHY? How can I leave? How could You ask me to? Why would you have me pour so much into these girls, invest so much in this community, only to leave? How can I??” I was bitter and furious. I was letting Him have it. “They need me, God. THEY NEED ME. How can you ask me to go somewhere else – the other side of the world – when these girls, right here, need me…”
“Do you really think I need you to take care of these girls? Do you really think you’re that necessary? I can take care of these girls with or without you. I WILL take care of these girls without you. You can trust Me with them. You can trust Me.
“Don’t you think I’m big enough? Don’t you think I am enough?
“Maybe the best way to minister to your girls is by leaving. Maybe the best way to point them to Me is by following where I lead – no matter the cost, no matter your fears.”
I’ve been with Flood Youth for four years (okay… four years minus some chunks of time spent in Malawi). Four years that have flown by, and yet, at the same time, four very long years. I’ve lost track of the basketball games I’ve attended, the football games I’ve cheered the cheerleads on at, the birthday parties I’ve hosted, the dinners I’ve made. I’ve lost count of the McDonalds trips we’ve taken and the stops at Starbucks we’ve made, the boys we’ve discussed and the breakups I’ve consoled. Unfortunately, I remember every trip the ER, every phone call with a crying girl on the other end of it, every funeral. There has been so much life in the past four years, and, sadly, a fair share of death. When you live life with people, you don’t get to choose only the good parts. You jump directly into the mess, and take the good with the bad – the laughing with the crying, the highs and the lows, the beginnings and the endings.
Flood Youth has consumed me in a way I never expected, in a way I still don’t fully understand. I became the “mom” of a youth group, unknowingly, at 20 years old. I had no idea what was happening, the work God was starting. My life plans have been changed, my goals have been impacted, and my faith has been reshaped by a group of teenagers. I never saw that coming.
For four years, my Thursday nights have been solely dedicated to Flood Youth – so much so that friends of mine know when they plan a birthday dinner or gathering that night of the week I won’t be able to make it. For four years, my conversations have revolved around “my students” – so much so that strangers often ask if I’m a teacher, various people assume I’m on staff at Flood. For four years, my life has intermingled with these girls’ lives – so much so that my friends and family ask about them by name, for I talk about them that much. My life has, for all intents and purposes, revolved around Flood Youth.
And that’s about to change.
I was driving home on a Thursday and a question suddenly popped into my mind: “Do you know who you are outside of Flood Youth?” It, quite literally, knocked the wind out of me. Who am I outside of Flood Youth? I am Flood Youth. That’s my passion, that’s my ministry, that’s me. Of course I don’t know who I am outside of it, without it. We should be defined by our ministry, for that’s God’s calling on our life. Right? Right?? I’m okay with being known by my passions, by my dedication to these girls, by my love for investing the next generation. That’s perfectly healthy. Right?
It stuck with me, coming up every few days, like most nudges from the Holy Spirit. Who are you outside of Flood Youth?? Who are you, without being the youth worker? Who are you, apart from the helper? Who are you, when you aren’t Krysti-who-saves-the-world?
It took me a while to realize I don’t know. I don’t know. I’ve been on some kind of leadership within ministry since I was 14. I’ve been serving within the church for longer. I’ve been overcommitted, overworked, overstressed my whole life. That’s who I am – the multi-tasking, problem solving, future thinking force of nature that everyone relies on. That’s who I’m good at being. That’s who I’m comfortable being.
But who, I’m realizing, I need to learn to be? Krysti. Just Krysti. No leadership title to hide behind, no task being done to earn my worth. Just Krysti – daughter of Christ, beloved child, enough. Enough not for what I am doing, who I am saving, or what I’m creating – but enough just because I am. Just because I’m me.
This is something I know, at the head level. But it’s something I need to learn, at the heart level. I know so much about God, about faith, about ministry. But I need to re-learn it – to feel it, to breathe it, to know it so intimately I’m living out of it. After so much prayer and talking and question asking and deep breaths, I realized the scary step God was calling me into: I’m taking a 6 month sabbatical from ministry. It’s probably the scariest thing I’ve committed to. TEDx talks, moving to the other side of the world, malaria – those things I’ve handled. But committing to not doing anything?! To not being in charge of anything? To not serving in any capacity? That terrifies me.
Having to leave Flood Youth for a reason like this seemed so selfish to me, at first. How could I turn my back on my girls, on my ministry, simply because I needed some personal growth? How could I take away the impact I have on their lives, for the sake of a lesson in my own? It didn’t seem right.
But I’m learning to value personal health, personal growth. I’m learning that I can’t care for others fully, until I care for myself fully. I’m learning that God IS big enough to care for them – with or without me. He taught me that back in 2014, and yet somehow I forgot. Somehow I have to relearn it all over again. As much as I love Flood Youth and love my girls, I don’t need them and they don’t need me. It’s easy to think that, to believe that. The harder, scarier reality is all we need is Jesus Christ. (Not Jesus Kryst, as some started calling me and I’m still worried I’m going to hell for…)
The day I finally sat down with our youth pastor and told him this would be my last school year with Flood Youth was a tough one. It was a conversation I had been avoiding, a decision I was hoping if I didn’t say out loud it wouldn’t be real. Growing our youth group into what it is today and going through the ups and downs of ministry together over the past four years has been the craziest adventure, and I’ll forever be thankful for his friendship and guidance in my life. All seasons come to an end, I just didn’t want this one to.
I think my biggest fear in leaving Flood Youth to take care of myself is it makes it seem like Flood Youth was a bad thing in my life. Like Flood Youth was unhealthy for me. This couldn’t be further from the truth, as I’ve learned more about God and His heart and His redemption from my girls than anything else in the whole world. I am beyond grateful for this ministry and these people and have no idea where I would be or who I would be without them. God truly works in mysterious ways, and Flood Youth is proof of that to me. I have come to learn things about Him and about myself that I wouldn’t have without Flood Youth; I have been pushed to grow in certain ways that I never would without these students.
And yet, I’ve come to learn that He calls us to say “no” to some good things in our lives; He, at times, calls us to say “yes” to some crazy. Flood Youth is a very, very good thing in my life. And He’s called me to say no to it. Leaving Flood Youth feels crazy. It breaks my heart, it terrifies me. I’m crying as I type this, even thinking about it. But I know I have to follow. I know I have to listen.
I thought this blog would be highlights of the last four years – the faces I’ve come to cherish, the laughing-till-we’re-crying moments, the conversations about faith that changed my life. I thought it would be life lessons and youth ministry lessons (sometimes they are very similar, sometimes they are very different) – I thought it would be a blooper reel of my awkward attempts at working with high schoolers. Instead, it became something of it’s own. Like much of my life, when I give God space to move He ends up surprising me. He’s allowed me the memories and the laughs, but also gave me so much more – pointing again and again to the fact that He IS faithful. He is good. He is enough.
Once again, I’m hearing, “Maybe the best way to minister to your girls is by leaving. Maybe the best way to point them to Me is by following where I lead – no matter the cost, no matter your fears.”