The summer before heading to Alabama, I continued to be actively involved with the youth group, slowly becoming more comfortable in that role. We went to a big conference that summer in Atlanta. There were various talks throughout the weekend but then our group broke up into smaller groups for discussion. Leading and facilitating these discussions always made me nervous.
In the months between getting laid off from my job and moving to Alabama in August (I did apply for the fellowship and was accepted), I did a lot of journal writing.
I filled four notebooks (averaging 70 pages each) in a matter of six months. Yes, I lived with pen and paper. So while I’m grateful to have some documentation of what I was going through at the time — what I felt, my worries and fears — what isn’t addressed is also quite telling.
I lived in my head.
So exactly two weeks after that NET retreat experience, I went to my job as normal. And my supervisor called me into her office. There, I was joined with our human resources representative.
Very matter of factly, my supervisor explained that today would be my last day. I was being laid off. They had decided to dissolve the “new business” sales team, redirecting everyone else into different positions. There was no need for me.
Being with the youth group was awesome and challenging. I gave a few talks and eventually lead some small group discussions. The talks were scary and I was certainly nervous the whole time, but I got up there and I did it. A few people made a pointed effort to thank me for sharing, no matter how raw the delivery was.
What I enjoyed most was being part of this community, having the opportunity to be involved in some way. I was learning more about my faith, and seeing it in action meant everything. I really reveled in the teens’ enthusiasm.
I had known this woman for many years. She was my P.E. teacher when I was in grade school and always involved in school activities.
During the summer before I left for California, I had helped in small ways with the youth group. It was something to do and a way to be involved. I enjoyed being with this group, but I didn’t have high hopes that I was actually able to offer more than chaperoning assistance.
Yet when I returned from Los Angeles, the youth minister approached me and invited me to join her team. I know I hesitated, wondering if she was asking the right person. So there was a compromise. She invited me to check out the regular Sunday night program. No strings attached. I could come, see for myself, and join or choose to walk away.
Along with participating in the high ropes course, a major aspect of my experience with LifeTeen and the youth group was pushing the boundaries of my comfort zone. This happened on a regular basis during 11th and 12th grades through lectoring at Mass.
One of the adult leaders made the rounds among the teens one night seeking recruits to be readers. I got guilted into signing up. Not because my friends jumped up to agree and I risked being left out. That wasn’t it at all. Hardly anyone stepped forward, and for some reason I felt responsible to fill in since no one else did. The people pleaser in me couldn’t resist the request from an adult. Or maybe it actually indicates some degree of leadership skills, taking on an undesirable task instead of waiting for someone else to do it.
In April 2001, the church youth group went on retreat at a nearby campground for some team building, bonding, and fun.
By eleventh grade we were embarking on a new program at our church, following Life Teen, which meant having more adult leader support in youth ministry. It wasn’t just one person in charge but more of a team effort. And there was music. Fantastic music.
We met every Sunday after Mass for something fun to break the ice and then learning and discussing the Catholic faith, but in a friendly environment. I really enjoyed having something consistent to participate in. I connected well with the adults, over time feeling like I could trust them.
My church was trying to establish a consistent presence with the youth in our parish. There had been a few different leaders/youth ministers over the years but none at the time lasted more than a year. The constant turnover didn’t help with creating stability in the program and keeping interest.
By tenth grade church leaders were trying again, and there was a guy in charge. I remember we had a social event. It must have been an actual dance because there was dancing that night and I can’t imagine dancing just being a small part of the evening rather than the focal point. Anyway, it’s awkward enough to go to dances, but I was trying to push myself and trying to meet people.
Anyway, what I’m sure was intended to be a fun ice breaker ended up having an isolating effect. Wouldn’t it be fun for the girls to leave a shoe in a pile and the guys pick up a shoe and that’s how the first dance begins? What could possibly go wrong?