I am not your typical “Younglife story.”
For most kids, being a “Younglife story” means for the first time finding the Lord in Younglife, whether that be at summer camp, Polar Bear, campaigners, club, etc.
For me; however, it was a different story.
You see, I knew all about who Jesus was all growing up. I was the nice little southern baptist boy who would treat you as inferior because in my mind, my sin wasn’t as bad as yours. Simply put, I had no idea who Jesus was and what his Gospel meant. Sophomore year was my lowest point. I had inferiorized (new word) all of my friends to the point that I essentially had no friends except for a few faithful that to this day I have no idea why they put up with me.
About halfway through the first semester (I think) of my sophomore year, this guy named Billy Suess started this thing at my private high school called “Younglife.” Here’s the thing though, I didn’t know anything about it. The few things I had heard were things like “Ah, younglife hardly does ministry” or “they just hang out with all the partiers.” So to the nice little baptist boy who thought he was superior to all the partiers, Younglife sounded like hell. This caused a ton of cynicism and skepticism. Mostly because I thought I had life and Jesus and the Gospel all figured out. It’s almost comical how wrong I was. But really it just shows a fraction of the depth of God’s grace.
At the end of my sophomore year, I lost someone who was very close to me in a motorcycle accident. That’s where the process started for me. Jesus began turning my life over like the tables in the temple that he angrily flipped. He began driving out the thieves in my heart and making room for real worship to begin. But that’s a-whole-nother story.
So we get to football two-a-days my junior year and I was a trainer (aka I made sure no one died when they threw up or passed out). I see this familiar guy standing on the sideline that for sure was not a coach. He was wearing his cargo shorts, flip flops, t-shirt and his bear hat (regular hat, bear as the symbol above the bill). So I go up to meet him and talk to him and figure out that it was Billy Suess, the team leader/area director for Hyde Park Younglife and NW Austin Younglife. We get to talking and he listened to my insane summer and all my encounters with Jesus. He just stood there, listening to my every word. He actually cared (or at least faked it really really well).
Then comes the (unkowningly) life changing question: “So Billy. I hear all of these rumors about what Younglife is. But I want to hear from you what it is. What it’s intended to be.”
He goes on to explain that Younglife is just another way to show high school students who Jesus really is. It’s an avenue for the Gospel. Then, the life-changing answer: “Heyden, you can believe whatever you want about Younglife. Just come hang with us.” He never begged or pleaded. Just said “we want you to come hang” and left it at that.
DONE. I was completely sold at that point.
Heading to spring semester of my junior year:
I get asked to go on this “Student Leader Retreat” where I would meet friends who are to this day family to me. Then this burly, man’s man named Andy Baxter sits down in front of us and says: “We’re gonna learn how to pray.” So he and Billy start talking about prayer and how it truly is a conversation with our Dad. My mind was blown. Then he sent us out to be by ourselves and to pray like we had just learned (15 minutes of talking (out loud) to Jesus and 15-30 minutes of sitting still and listening to what He had to say back). Because Dad always has something to say back. That was the night, after 17 years of churching, that I learned how to pray.
WE MOVE TO SUMMER AFTER JUNIOR YEAR: (I’m getting pumped just remembering all of this.)
Load the buses! We are going to Crooked Creek (ahh CC). Little did we know that the bus ride would actually be hell. However, words leave me when I try and describe the incredibleness that was experienced when we pulled into Frasier, Colorado. Friend, I cannot begin to describe to you that it was literally the best week of my entire life. When I got back, there was the common question:
“So, Heyden. What was your biggest takeaway from camp?”
“Life with Jesus is the greatest possible adventure I could ever go on.”
Guess who taught me that? Billy Suess.
So onto senior year:
About halfway through the first semester, I get a call from Pierce Harmon, the new Hyde Park team leader, asking my thoughts on being a student leader. My answer?
“*insert overly giddy emotions that cause me to hardly be able to talk* Pierce, is that even a real question?!?!”
I could go on and on about all the things my team taught me, but I won’t. Here’s a few, though:
-be all in wherever you are. Don’t play on your phone or think about what is coming next. When you’re with somebody, BE THERE.
-leading well and loving well means being organized.
-making people feel loved isn’t even close to as hard as some people make it out to be.
-silliness is essential in life.
-be patient and go where the Lord takes you.
-stories are important.
-once you’re in the family, you’re never out. No matter what.
The theme of my Younglife story: Being able to love well isn’t dependent on my abilities, it is because I’ve been loved well. Not only by my Younglife family, but by my Jesus.
“Yes. There will be some people that just don’t like you, but at the end of the day, Jesus was the life of the party. You know why? Because he loved people. And he loved them with everything he had.” – Billy Suess