For the final November Friday Month-of-Thanks post, I'd like to mention a few things and people that are especially dear to my heart.
I grew up at the Maysville congregation in Gurley, AL. Until college, I'd never even visited anywhere else really. In which case, all of my early ideals and expectations about the church and the people that make up the church were formed at Maysville, and by some especially outstanding individuals. It is to those people that I dedicate this post.
First, let me start with Mr. Tim. Tim is the preacher there, and has been since I was in the 2nd grade (aka since I was old enough to really listen to the preacher). I remember when he first got there--he took the youth group (not just the older ones, but the younger ones that he always paid special attention to) to a skating rink. I remember holding hands with Mr. Tim so I wouldn't fall. I also remember him passing me off to his son--who was my age--and I was highly irritated by it. Little did I know that Mr. Tim was fostering a relationship that would grow to be one of the very best I would have while I lived there.
From an early age, Mr. Tim took special care of me and my sisters. After all, we were the same age as his three kids. Though I knew that he loved and cared for me personally, the ways that he taught me and influenced me generally came from a public setting. Be it "Freed Camp" when he would walk through what the hymns we sang meant or in North Carolina were he would give sage spiritual advice while making us clean up the 'kitchen'. Whenever I was around Mr. Tim, I was learning something.
When I got older, I started understanding more of what he was saying from the pulpit. It's not that I hadn't been listening; it's just that Mr. Tim is one of the most intelligent preachers I've ever heard, and he makes you dig so much deeper into a text than you would normally. When I was younger, I couldn't quite appreciate or grasp it, but as a teen and then college-aged young adult, I craved his sermons and what new thing I would learn.
I know that I wouldn't be the person that I am today if it hadn't been for him. If he hadn't taken me in to his own family, if he hadn't taken special care of our young and impressionable souls before I was technically youth-group aged, if he hadn't provoked me and urged me to be better spiritually, and if he hadn't always believed in me. The most influential thing he ever did was introduce me to Freed-Hardmen, where I met my godly, spiritual husband. A million thanks could never be enough for Mr. Tim.
The second person I need to mention is Lonnie Jones. I'm sure a lot of people recognize the name, as he is a remarkable public speaker. But most people don't know Lonnie like I know Lonnie. He came not long after Tim did, meaning I was still very young. He taught most of our classes on Sunday mornings and Wednesday night, and always spoke to us at camp. He took us on countless youth trips where he was speaking, played games with us all the time, and even opened his home to us nearly once a week for as long as I can remember---fostering the greatest friendships I've ever known.
Lonnie kept us involved. In high school, it's easy to get distracted by different things and hectic schedules and boyfriends and friends and having a car and everything else. Lonnie made spending time with the youth group fun, and something you always wanted to do. There were always tons of us hanging out at his house, or going out after Wednesday night services in the summertime. Lonnie just helped make us like spending time together, because he knew that if you had close friends at church--you were more likely to be there.
One of the key ways Lonnie influenced me--I didn't even realize until recently. You see, I started teaching the teenage girls class at East Hill in September. Sure, I'd taught classes before, but only the little ones (3-5yr olds). When I started teaching kids who understand sarcasm and jokes and, well, me, I started seeing Lonnie's influence. He taught me, through the hours of lessons I heard him give, that studying the Bible doesn't have to be boring---that it shouldn't be boring. Every scripture has a practical application, and it is the teacher's job to practically apply that to the age group. I am definitely no Lonnie, but I'd like to think that this is the approach that I have in the girls class. And I know that a lot of my style comes from him.
Finally, I'd like to thank the 'older' youth group kids. When I was in 3rd-6th grades, my oldest sister and her friends were in high school/college. But they didn't treat us like outcasts, or like the annoying children we were (see for reference mine and Jessie's ski trip video--wow). What they did was include us. They took us on trips to Sonic. They sat with us on the way to 6 Flags. They played games with us and taught us songs at camp. They braided our hair. They taught me alto (thanks Lacey!). They made it "cool" to be in the youth group, and while that's not what having a relationship with God is about, at 10 years old, I needed that perspective. I needed something that made me want to be there, and that group of people were it.
It didn't stop, either. All throughout their college life, they would come back and hang out with us. I can remember the summer between my freshman and sophomore years of high school especially well--going to concerts, hanging out every Sunday and Wednesday night, taking trips together, learning cool music (I still attribute my love of Sister Hazel to Leah and the mixed CD she made for Julia). Those people helped me so much at a time that could have been so difficult. They all still mean the world to me--even if they never knew how much I looked up to them. So thanks Lauren, Leah, Lacey, Juls, Chad, & Weaver. You guys are remarkable. And also..."look at the bones!!"