Friday, November 22, 2013

A Harvest of God-inspired Memories: LifeTeen

Some people you think of and just get the warm fuzzies. This week I ran into one such person. Chris Benzinger, the former youth minister whom I served with in ministry in the late 1990's. He was on his way on a missions training trip when I ran into him at the Atlanta airport.

Me and Chris at a youth retreat at Marion Meadows in 1996.
 Immediately, a flood of warm, happy memories came to mind. And the realization that these great memories reflect what was really a very pivotal time, and one of the best times, in my adult life. A time that truly saved me. 

It was the fall of 1996 and I was a hot mess. I had recently graduated from college, was trying to launch my career and at the same time recovering from a bad break up that had really sent me into a tailspin of binge drinking and desperation.

This break up left me single, on my own, for really the first time since 9th grade. I was a serial dater. I always had a boyfriend resulting in three significant, long-term relationships in my high school and college years. That last one lasted five- and-a-half years and I thought he was the one I'd marry. Just before I was about to graduate, that dream fell apart. 

For the first time in a long time, I was not identified as "Jennifer and someone." I was just "Jennifer" and I had no idea who that was. In the months after graduation, I floundered trying to find that out. I made a few desperate attempts to get back with my ex (Oh, if I could talk to that girl now), spent nights partying in the bar district and drinking way more than my 5'1 inch, 120 pound frame could hold. I also took my first cross-country trip, on my own, to visit my dear friend stationed at the Naval base in San Diego. I got my first job in PR in Atlanta and enjoyed living in an apartment in town.

During that time of searching, God reached out in a very real way and said "I haven't forgotten you. I have a plan. Follow me." 

On the front page of the Atlanta Journal Constitution he showed me a familiar face from my past--my former youth minister. Through that connection, I was reminded of God's mercy, grace and love and found a community of believers that changed my life.

I re-dedicated my life to Jesus, returned to church and joined the core team of our youth ministry. I met some amazing young adults who supported me with acceptance and love as I began to discover who I was in Christ. I also met some amazing teens, who perhaps taught me more than I did them. 

Through fellowship, camp fires, dew filled mornings along the Chattahoochee, cherry pies made on the campfire, sing-along songs (Country road, take me home...), mountain retreats, white water rafting, skiing, ultimate frisbee, weekly teen girl bible study group, skits ("If you want to be a Catholic....") and so much more, I began to realize I was ok on my own. I grew in faith. I gained confidence.  I learned about leadership and made some very important friendships, including the man I would eventually marry. 

God, didn't just meet me where I was, he jumped out and embraced me and said "Do not despair. You are mine. You are worthy. You are loved."

Yes, that was an important and dear time in my life story and for those years and the relationships and experiences I had, I am deeply thankful.