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Chris's Story

I grew up in a small town. You know the sorts. Everybody knows your name, sickly sweet smiles are plastered everywhere you look; that kind of place. Over the years my church-going grew repetitive, tedious. Fifty people attended it when my family began going there, fifty people attended it when we finally left.

There were three children besides me in the town. Looking back, I'm sure that's an exaggeration, but it sure felt like that. It was like the Apollo Lunar Launch whenever we would leave town for a camp or event with a big group of peers.

I loved the camps; mostly, I loved leaving the speck on a map called my hometown, but, of course, I really did enjoy the church camps. I prayed fiercely on those trips, loved the people, loved the faith, played the games, sang Kumbaya, the whole bit. One year, however, something different happened.

"Hey..." a voice whispered to me. Not an audible voice, mind you. Not even a voice. More of an intuition, like Spider-Man or something.

"Hey, ever think about being a youth pastor?"

And that was it. Bang, pow, voice of God calling me. I was amazed and ready, as if I had been waiting for that my whole life. I fell to my knees, already warming up for Kumbaya, and prayed, "Lord!" (I'm pretty sure I was screaming in my head.) "Lord! If Your will is for me to be a youth pastor, speak to me again!"

Nothing.

Just a small breeze blowing across my neck.

I shrugged off the Spider-Sense incident and returned to the tiny tank town, falling back into the routine: Up at dawn, school, church, homework, wash, rinse, repeat.

One night, between the homework and wash steps, I was up at ten o'clock, talking to one of the three other kinds in the hamlet, a girl named Susie. (This was my rebellion stage of life: My bedtime was ten, and I was supposed to be off the phone at eight.)

Susie came up with this problem at school, that I promptly responded to with the solution that I thought suited. And out of the blue, Susie says, "Ya know? You should be a youth pastor. You're really good at helping people."

The wind got knocked out of me.

From that point forward, I was determined, with all my might, with all my stubborn grit, to not be a youth pastor. Why should I? Nobody appreciates those guys. Nobody gets rich from reading from an old book to a couple of kids. I'd probably end up in Oklahoma or some place like that! Youth pastor? No way!

I'm sure there's plenty of other people willing to do that.

Not me.

I was in college now, zipping through my life as if I was on steroids. My junior year was drawing to its end, enrollment was approaching more than some people would've liked, the seniors began to hug and weep (for various reasons).

A cocky, devilish grin was always painted on my face. It was a bit much, but why not? I'd earned the right to be a bit cocky. I was on the fast track toward graduation. Plus, I was engaged to the most beautiful girl I'd ever met: Holly. We were to be married after graduation.

Cocky? Why not?

One night, I was looking through a college credits, and all of a sudden, all the blood left my head. For some reason, even though I was on schedule, by the end of my senior year, I would not have enough credits to graduate. Sweat formed at my brow like Niagara Falls gurgling behind a flimsy dam.

I was in serious trouble. Serious, deep, destroy-your-entire-life trouble. If I didn't graduate, I would have to be in college one more year. Holly would have to wait to get married, or, if we did say "I do", she would have to support us both. I'd be one of those dirty, free-loading husbands you see on the news! On top of all that, I'd have to go home, look my dad in the eye, and say, "Yeah, It's going great. But, um, I could use another $10,000."

This was not good.

I grabbed the enrollment catalog that contained all the information for all the courses. A semester class would do it; one semester class stood between me and a world of hurt.

My fingers flipped through that catalog faster than my eyes could register. Finally, I saw it. The blood returned to my body.

'Christian Studies.'

One semester of doing what I had perfected in my hometown: praying and singing Kumbaya. Not to mention Professor James. I already had him in the palm of my hand. Christian studies... the study of Christians. Nothing to it.

I got the form that Professor James needed to sign and headed for his office the next day.

"Hey, Prof!" I greeted. I got away with calling him Prof. Perfect.

Professor James welcomed me into his office.

"Prof, after much praying and deliberate meditation," I began, the cocky and devilish smile creeping across my face, "I decided to enroll in your Christian studies class for next year."

"That's great! Wonderful." Blah, blah, blah.

"Now if you'll just sign this form..." I slid the paper across the Prof's desk.

"Actually..." Professor James didn't even look at the form. He stared into my eyes. "We just started a new program for youth ministry. I think that'd suit you perfectly."

The wind got knocked out of me.

I didn't let him realize that, though. Professor James dug out the catalog and showed me the youth ministry class.

"Well, Prof," I said through my smile. The Niagara Falls of sweat was forming again. "I think Christian studies are the way to go." I tapped the form to reiterate my point.

"You have a talent for ministry, Chris. Please, take the class." The Prof had moved from the defensive to the offensive. His eyes were wide and genuine, but...

...but I just needed one semester.

"Christian studies, Professor James."

"Chris!" the Prof thundered. "I'm done playing games. Youth ministry!"

I was done playing games, too. I had tried being nice; I moved on to something more sinister. Blackmail.

"Professor, I pay for this school," I said in a low voice. "And I say Christian studies."

"Why not, Chris?"

Why not?

I told him why not. Like how Professor Stewart is way more difficult. Like how pastors never get appreciated. Like how I could stand on some stupid stage and read that stupid book all I wanted to and those stupid kids would still run off and do stupid things. Like how I didn't want someone's life in my hands.

I told him that.

Professor James grabbed the Christian studies form without averting his eyes from me. He crumpled in up and threw it at my face.

I'll never forget what he said.

"You are afraid and you have Moses Syndrome," he growled. "Get out of my office."

Feeling as if my head was rapidly emptying, I stood and left the Prof.

Later that day, I was out on a walk with Holly, like we so often did together. The showdown with Professor James was weighing on my mind like an obese elephant, and I shared it with Holly.

Then, she stopped and looked at me.

"Chris, if we can't go anywhere or grow, we can't get married. You need to get yourself together and fast."

The wind got knocked out of me.

Then, she left.

I staggered back to my dorm as if her words were a physical punch. In one day, I had gone from being on the fast track to not having a clue about my life. My mouth was agape, the cocky smile nowhere to be seen.

I sat on my bed, numb. I sat there for God only knows how long before my phone rang. The annoying dings scratched at my mind. I let three rings pass before I answered it.

"Hello?" I said. It took far too much energy to say.

"Hello. Is this Chris?"

"Yes," I said slowly, skeptically.

"Good! I've been trying to get a hold of you for days. My name in Jim Parks and I'm with a church in Illinois. I'd like you to come be a youth ministry intern."

The wind got knocked out of me.

I smiled. For the first time in hours, I smiled a smile that was of no relation to my cocky one. A light chuckle came from my throat.

"That sounds great, Mr. Parks," I said. "Thank you."



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This article has 2 comments. Post your own!

DantesDilemma This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. said...
Oct. 22, 2011 at 3:03 pm:
I like it! Having a great youth pastor myself, it's something I have no problem identifying with.  The informal tone makes it easier to conect to, but is held back by a couple instances of awkward/repetitive sentence structure. (Not talking about the repetition of "got the wind knocked out of me," that was spot on) The emotions of the piece really set the tone, the themes of defiance, and uncertainty in one's purpose, those are universal, and will probably strike a chord with most teens who... (more »)
 
LASwan replied...
Oct. 23, 2011 at 9:00 am :
Thank you very much! I hope more people give it a chance, despite its imited appeal, and realize something about themselves. Again, thanks!
 
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