Can I just tell you how much fun it is to do Memorial Box Mondays? This is my second time doing it and I have had so much fun talking with God about what to write and put in my Memorial Box next! If you missed last Monday. A Memorial Box is a place to place items to remember or "memorialize" what God has done in our lives. He has done so much! He is so amazing! He cares about each little detail! It is so easy for us to forget. So the idea of a Memorial Box is to write those stories down and place an item in your box for each story...so when times get tough we can look back and remember all that God has done and have hope for all that He will do. You can read more Memorial Box posts on Linny's blog (she started Memorial Box Mondays) here: http://aplacecalledsimplicity.blogspot.com/ or click on the box to the right.
So this week, when I have prayed about it, this is the story that God keeps reminding me of. So here we go!
"For it is written: 'He will command his angels concerning you to guard you carefully; they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone." Luke 4:9-11
Back in the mid-90s, I got to go to Seminary. After college I spent a summer on a mission trip serving in a Romanian orphanage, then moved to Boulder Colorado for an internship at a college ministry at CU Boulder. That year in Boulder left me torn and challenged. I loved working with the college aged girls, loved the mentoring and counseling piece of that but...God was doing a strange thing in my heart. Every time I drove down to Denver I seemed to get lost and always wound up in the tougher parts of town. Now as a good little girl who grew up in a small community I locked my doors, but my heart came alive like I had never felt it before. I found myself longing for those neighborhoods, driving through them purposefully because for some unknown reason...they felt like home. I can vividly remember driving past block after block of graffiti and barred windows with tears running down my face as I begged God to show me more of His heart in these places and to let me know the kids hanging out on the corners. What should I do? Move towards a counsleing degree or some sort of youth program?
So, the end of my internship came and (another story for another time) I found out that Denver Seminary had a double Master's in counseling AND youth ministry. Somehow they agreed that I could be the first (and only at the time) person to do the double Master's with an extra emphasis on at risk families. I packed up my stuff and moved to Denver not knowing a soul and showed up green as green can be to learn about how to serve those kids hanging out on the corners.
My very first semester I started an internship. I got to help choose it and it seemed tame enough. A church in the West part of Denver needed a middle school youth pastor. I remember thinking "Come on God....middle school? All they need are some fun games and a quick Bible lesson. No sweat!" Ahhhhh.....anyone been humbled by God lately? I sure was!
My very first night of youth group came. I showed up at the church right as the pastor was leaving. He told me good luck and handed me a big wad of keys as he pointed to an old white 16 passenger van. He gave me my list of kids to pick up and headed home. So, I got in that big old van and eyes barely peeking over the steering wheel (I am a bit short) headed bravely off.
The sun was just setting as I pulled up to the first house. I will never forget the sunset pink on the peeling siding of the project housing or the yelling going on inside the house as I knocked on the door. It was painfully obvious as the first guy I picked up quickly slid through the door, that the adults inside were shooting up. In the few seconds that door was open I saw the scene clearly. The next house, no parents were home but the girl swore they knew she was going. I left a note just in case and headed on (yikes I was naive back then). More houses, more kids, more stories. Some parents came out to say thank you. Some hardly noticed their kids leave. With each new passenger God opened my heart more and more to His love for these kids and their families. The depth and scope and details of their lives were beginning to become a bit more clear. They were much more than just "kids hanging out on a corner" and I could not believe that I got the honor of knowing them a little bit.
So, this being my first night of my first internship, I thought I should wow the kids a bit. We stopped at a park I had scoped out in the daylight that had a spectacular view of the city. I had planned a time of teaching and prayer, I time of talking about how much God loved them. Before they even were all out of the van my plans were dust. As kids jumped out of the van the boys started beating the tar out of each other. You see, unbeknownst to me (and obviously the pastor) I had driven all over this part of Denver picking up kids from rival gangs. So as I drove to the park, the van had become a little pressure cooker that exploded the second I stopped!
I honestly do not remember what I told them or how I stopped them. I do remember telling them that I wanted to teach them about a God that loved them more than anyone they had ever met and begging them for the chance to do that. Somehow (most likely an act of God!) they willingly got back into the van with an agreement that the van and the church would be a neutral zone. I hightailed it to the church where at least there was a phone to call 911 if I needed it!
We pulled into the parking lot and all got out, heading to the darkened church doors. I had the wad of keys with me but had no idea which one opened the church. The kids had a good laugh at me as I fumbled, hands shaking, to find that key. Finally at the next to last key, one turned in the lock and I ushered the kids inside, pulling the door behind me. As the door closed we heard a tremendous "Crack!"
The kids all fell to the floor. I had no idea what had happened but quickly learned it was a gunshot. We crawled to the inner part of the church, flipped on the lights and talked and prayed. I called the police, they scouted the area and told us they couldn't find anything, that we should be safe. By now it was time to drive the kids home so, we piled in the van to head home. Just as I got in the drivers seat one of the kids said, "Miss Shannon...look!" In the drivers side window, right where I would have been sitting... was a bullethole.
Well, in many ways, that night changed my life. I left the final child's home in tears, finally beginning to understand a little bit of what it meant to count the cost of following God, a little bit of what it meant to be one of these kids, a little bit of what they walked through everyday. By the time I got back to my home all that I wanted was MORE.
I got the honor of going back (with trembling knees), week after week. Of getting to deeply know those kids and their families and they changed my life. I realized that so many of my ideas of what the "kids on the corner" would be like were completely off and found myself again and again speechless by the face of God that I got to see through them. That night was the beginning of 10 years of urban ministry in my life and some of the most breathtaking times of seeing God move!
In my Memorial box???? I don't have the bullet so a red bandana will have to do!
If you want to read more....click on our journey to Georgia and her open heart surgery on the right. It is one of the biggest and most miracle packed journeys God has taken us on yet!