Everyone needs a nickname, or tends to get one assigned whether they need it or not. At Grace Fellowship, among the youth, mine is “Papa Schmuck.” I don’t know if the young lady who originally tagged me with that nickname knew that “Schmuck” is a term of 19th century Yiddish derivation that, graciously translated, means, “Jerk.” I’m certain it was a simple shortening of my last name that led to me being called “Papa Schmuck,” the “Papa” part being of we-were-taught-to-respect-our-elders derivation.
One of our summer interns started calling our youth, “Youthers,” a term that loosely translated means “wonderful, beautiful and full of life and possibilities, the hope we have for our future.” That name stuck, too. I’ve kind grown attached to what we all call each other.
I’ve really grown attached to these youthers, too. I’ve never been closer to a group of youth, as a pastor, than I am with these kids. It’s part of the blessing of being the pastor of a small church. About thirty percent of our average worship attendance consists of Middle and High School aged youth. The downside is that we keep graduating about ten percent of our active membership each May. It hurts just a little more every May. Even this week, we bid goodbye to this year’s college-bound ten percent. It hurts to see them go.
This summer, I asked each of the kids to meet me one-on-one for one hour at Starbuck’s. I don’t usually care much for coffee in the summer but the Venti, black, unsweetened iced tea is pretty sweet in the heat. The conversations make me forget I’ve got something to drink until all of the ice is melted anyway.
I’ve laughed until I thought I’d be sick. I’ve wanted to cry. I’ve sat in utter astonishment as one after another told me of what they dream of doing with their lives. So far, most of these kids have left-brain skills that are simply mind-numbing to me. I think my left brain was starved for oxygen at birth or something because, beyond reconciling the bank statement, math leaves me out in the dark every time. I can tell you funny stories about math; I just can’t do math.
One youther dreams of landing on the third moon of Jupiter one day, and maybe playing his cello there. Why not? One dreams of being a pediatric cardiologist. Another has her sights set on biomedical genetics while another will someday mix medicines that make us well. Some will teach. One is committed to serving his country as a military officer. Some will do music and the other arts that help us interpret the meaning of it all. The list goes on.
The most significant thing I’ve felt with these kids is dignity. They are so good and respectful, so thoughtful. Thoughtful in that they are thinking very seriously about their lives, about their God and what their lives mean now and what they can mean.
One young lady told me of a surgical scar that is hers from early childhood. She said that she’s proud of the scar because it reminds her of what a gift her life is and how grateful she is for the one who was gifted enough to save her when she was too young to know she even needed saving. She wants to spend her life paying it forward.
I sat there, trying not to let my jaw drop. The third moon of Jupiter! Genetics! Pediatric cardiology! And, most of all, the maturity already to appreciate the value and meaning of scars. Youthers!
I’m feeling better about the future with each Venti, black, unsweetened, iced tea. Wish you could join me. I’m the lucky one!