To date, seven months into the cross-country adventure, there have been two moments that have forever changed our lives. Today, I’m going to share the first one with you. The month of May was dedicated to our fundraising partnership with Make-A-Wish Texas Gulf Coast and Louisiana. Our first event was on May 5th at a church in Austin. Sydney and Brayden would perform their regular show and then try to recruit some of the students to participate in the Fundraising Initiative.
In preparation for these events, we always jump on a call with the Youth Pastor or Event Coordinator prior to a performance. (This is the best way to know a church’s expectations and how we can best pray over the day in preparation for the event.) On this occasion, the church was wanting the performance to run about 30 minutes longer than a typical show. Sydney was more than happy to oblige and gave the youth pastor a few topics she felt comfortable discussing in front of a group of teens: doubting the existence of God despite being raised in the church, the pressures of social media, the dangers of placing your identity in your relationships, anxiety and depression, as well as the importance of using your gifts and talents to help others.
Without taking any time to think about it, he said that doubting God and depression were the topics his youth group needed. He then went on to explain that one of their students had attempted suicide a few weeks earlier and that many other students were going through some difficult stuff. He really didn’t have to say anything else.
Sydney knows what it’s like to grow up in the church, to be known as the “good Christian kid.” She hated it, for a lot of reasons. There was this unspoken pressure to not make a mistake, and sometimes it was spoken… or self-imposed. But a few years ago, a young lady who helped me with the kids while I was in seminary, articulated her own uneasiness so perfectly and it resonated with Sydney. She talked about a pivotal point in her own life where she had to decide between working with teens inside the church (professed believers from Christian homes) and those on the outside with little to no knowledge of the Christian faith.
This young lady talked about the earnest desire for those teens outside the church to pursue truth by asking hard questions. In comparison, almost all of those inside the church had all the “right” answers when asked a question, but those answers just seemed to be surface level. Sydney would repeatedly say that knowing how to say the right answers with your lips doesn’t mean your heart believes them.
Sometimes you’re told to “fake it ‘till you make it.” But what happens when you fake it for so long that you begin questioning your reality?
Sydney’s heart is for her generation to see that following Jesus is so much more than seeing how fast you can chug a Happy Meal that’s been pulverized in a blender. That knowing the right answers means little, if anything, if you’re not willing to live out those answers.
Sydney shared her heart with those kids and her desire for them to know that God IS real and that they need to push into their doubt because He will meet them there. Then, for the first time, Brayden shared his testimony to a group of his peers. He shared his struggles with depression and not being able to control the thoughts of suicide that flooded his mind. (This was during the time that a Netflix show centered around the issue of teen suicide seemed to be everywhere. Our kids didn’t see it, but they still couldn’t escape it. Even at youth group. Once the thought was planted, Brayden, who struggles with OCD, couldn’t stop thinking about it.)
Afterwards he shared a song he wrote about his struggles. The video below explains some of that story:
The show ended with this song and Sydney’s invitation for the students to come talk to them afterwards. It was during that time that the young teen the youth pastor had told us about came up to Sydney and shared her story. She shared how she almost committed suicide… and that moment changed everything.
But we didn’t know it at the time. Hindsight makes things so much clearer, which is one of the reasons there’s a six month lapse in the blog. (If I wrote this stuff down as it happened… I don’t think it would make sense. Maybe it still doesn’t six months removed!)
Jamie and I sat back and watched two lines form, one for Brayden and one for Sydney. We watched our kids listen to these students, pray for them. We looked around and saw the youth pastor and volunteers watching their students connect with our kids. None of us had any idea how impactful this night would be.
The following morning, I woke up to a message from the youth pastor. He knew what happened the previous night was outside the norm. But, his words still echo in our lives… especially when we want to give up: Whatever this is, keep doing it.
He told us how parents had been texting and calling asking who the church brought in to speak to the kids. These kids were talking to their parents, some for the first time, about their struggles. And this wasn’t an anomaly. Everywhere we’ve been, the stories are the same. And every youth pastor, or parent, we’ve spoken to has ALWAYS said the same thing:
Our message is no different than anything these adults have said countless times before. The difference… it’s coming from their peers. More importantly, it’s coming from kids their age who are still in the thick of it. Sydney and Brayden don’t pretend to have the answers. They don’t have polished “church” answers. You see their pain and they give Jesus glory in the midst of it.
Their message isn’t “Just sit tight because tomorrow’s a new day.” Their’s is something different:
Today might suck, but push into it. Fight for it. Fight for one another because tomorrow isn’t guaranteed.
Six months removed… that statement rings true now more than ever. Why are we STILL living in our RV, quite LITERALLY on the opposite side of the country? (We’re in San Diego today.) Because we’re not taking today for granted… or any other day. We have one life to live and we’re no longer living it for ourselves.
This was the first day in a hard and painful lesson the Lord would begin teaching us. (He’s still teaching it to us!) Up until this point, we really knew nothing about following Jesus. We just knew how to “do church” really well.
That was about to change.