Dear staff friends, former students, current students and past teammates:
This letter is for you.
There’s a joke in Cru world, well, there are a ton of jokes in Cru world, which can annoy those who are not, and understandably, but the joke is, “Who is Cru?” Is Cru a big fat man behind a desk? Is Cru the people who work at Headquarters? Is Cru a giant 4 Spiritual Laws booklet?
Cru is all of us.
When I was 20 I walked into the Knoxville Hyatt for my first Christmas Conference. I was the only one from my campus attending and I didn’t really know anyone. I finally got to meet my long-distance staff discipler who had been talking with me on the phone every week since August. She had been trying to coach me on how to lead a ministry on a campus where there were no Cru staff. Her name was Debbie and she changed my life. I shared a room with 3 girls I didn’t know and got the flu. I remember hearing Nancy Leigh DeMoss share about broken people and proud people and I was in awe of the presence of God.
When I was 21 I went on my first Cru summer missions project to North Myrtle Beach. I had to raise $1,400 for 10 weeks and I was so nervous about asking people to give me money. What would they think of me? It felt risky. I showed up to North Myrtle Beach and learned what it meant to be honest with a group of women about my struggles and while I still didn’t disclose all that I could, I took a baby step. On the first two day’s of outreach where we had to do beach evangelism (poke my eyes out), I faked sick, hid and eventually shared my faith with a girl who prayed to receive Christ. It was the worst presentation of the Gospel in the history of mankind, but I was convinced that truly salvation does belong to God and not me. 🙂 For the record, I have been on staff for 17 years and I still do not like beach evangelism and I doubt I ever will. There. I said it. You can still love Jesus and not love beach evangelism and get this, you don’t even have to feel guilty about it. Freedom (William Wallace).
It was with Cru, at 22, that I went to Russia and spent 3 different summers in that country that Churchill describes as “a mystery wrapped in an enigma” (not to be confused with “enema”). I’ve never been as far away from home as I was when I flew to Russia, took a 28 hour train ride to our city and then a six hour boat ride to Tchaicovksy, a small village on the river where we would lead English camps, eat cow tongue and watch The Patriot & The Jesus Film with Russian college students. Jon Dando and Andy Wood were the first two staff guys I ever led with and they brought endless amounts of laughter and encouragement. I have such respect for those men. They empowered me to lead, and as a woman who wasn’t quite sure how I felt about leading, their words had weight and power. My friends Anna Claire, Jen Carey and myself also listened to endless amounts of Celine Dion and talked about weddings a lot. It was Mother Russia in the summer. Give us some grace.
Right after my broken engagement (from a Cru boy – great guy, no hard feelings), I joined staff and started raising support, because what else is more miserable than trying to heal from heartbreak than asking people for money? That was fun. While it was one of the hardest seasons of my 24 years, God brought ministry partners into my life that are still with me 17 years later. I cry when I think about my ministry partners. I think about all they have invested. They could’ve just as easily taken their money and given it to another worthy cause or taken their family to Disney or bought a new car, but instead chose to risk on God’s call on my life.
My first assignment was at Western Kentucky University. If you know me at all, you know that was a challenging place for me to be, not because of the people, but just where I was personally. It was the first time I realized how much I had stuffed and how little I knew about myself. When I sat down across the table from college students who were sharing their struggles, things in me were triggered that I had never dealt with. I was also dealing with my first disappointments of “I thought life would be different at this age.”
It was during this time at WKU that God gave me two shepherds in Thomas Weakly and Janie Farwell, along with a hilarious team and a dear roommate who was also on my team, Kim Davenport. Thomas is amazing. He is beloved and sometimes misunderstood if you aren’t around him a lot. He taught me hard work, integrity and that I could be a mess, yet still loved. He was the one who encouraged me to open up my heart again. He was the one who told me I would make a good director. He and Janie were the ones who so patiently sat and asked questions while I was crying so hard during staff meeting while talking about the Bonding section in Changes That Heal. 🙂 He and Janie were the ones who gave me time off to go to counseling. Thomas and Janie were the ones I confessed watching Days of Our Lives in the dorm rec room when I was supposed to be knocking on doors sharing my faith. I was such a hot mess and they knew it yet loved me anyway. Janie was the first person to ever ask me to speak for a women’s time. Janie and Thomas, you both changed my life. Thank you for putting up with such a green staff girl who was hurting.
Janie had told me when I first reported to WKU that when I started my freshmen bible study that there would always be that special place in my heart for them that no one could ever replace. She was right. Jill, Kristin (two-eyed), Sarah, Sara, Abigail, Laura, Kelly, Krystal, Michelle…..16 years later and you still hold that special place in my heart. You were the guinea pigs, my first born and for that I am grateful and I am sorry.
The funny thing about life and Cru, as you disciple women year after year and you grow up yourself, you realize all the stupid things you did and ironically next year I’ll realize something I’m doing now that was stupid. So you go back and apologize and you keep growing and owning.
Sitting with college girls I have learned how much they need grace and truth in the presence of love (don’t we all?). I’ve learned how much they struggle to confess really hard things, yet they risk because they want freedom. I’ve learned how each student is unique and those gifts need to be called out. I’ve learned not everyone needs or should be on staff or leading. The fact that someone might not lead in an up front, more seen way, doesn’t make them any less important. I’ve learned that your words have weight, so be careful. I’ve learned that most are forgiving and gracious when you screw up or disappoint them. I’ve learned they are fiercely loyal if they know how loved they are by you. I’ve learned that they disciple me as much as I disciple them.
After 3 years at WKU, I moved to UT and became the director of the ministry with Hank. What a dream team we had those first years. Eric, Darren, Matt and Jill, Brad, Haley, Tif and DL….such hilarious times. I don’t know that I’ve ever laughed that hard. Sweet Jill and Haley were my guinea pigs with training and leading. I didn’t know what I was doing. Then there was the group of seniors I inherited and the group of freshmen that I started leading. Becca, Katie, Crystal, Heather, Kristen, Stephanie, Holly …..such a great group of women.
Hank and Chrisy taught me so much and still do. Hank said UT was just as much my campus as any of the college students and I should walk on campus like it was mine. This was huge in my heart growing and expanding for my school. Historically UT had a reputation for lots of men being raised up and sent to the world, but on the women’s side of things, staff women didn’t stay there very long due to marriage or career changes. I wanted a vision to pray towards. God gave me a picture of a crowd of women standing arm in arm on top of The Hill in front of Ayers Hall and they were praising God and running hard after Him. I’ve seen God do this with women from UT. Just this past weekend I was able to speak to the student women at UT’s women’s retreat. It was a full circle moment for me.
All throughout my time on staff I’ve met people who have become like family. It’s hard to explain the culture of Cru. Some resent it, have been wounded or deeply miss it when they leave. But like any family, there’s always dysfunction, but ultimately there is a lot of love and understanding. With Cru I’ve seen the world on a salary that frankly was laughable when you are talking about seeing the world. It has been God’s kindness and generosity.
With Cru I learned to share my faith and how not to. I learned how to have conflict and not avoid; a quality that I am learning is not normal, even in the Church, but is normal in Cru culture. I’ve learned to hear hard things about myself and respond poorly and receive grace so I then respond better the next time. I learned about laughter and sharing vulnerably. I’ve learned about servant leadership (Barry Bouchillon) and loving staff well and creating space for community (Mike and Sharon Mehaffie). I’ve learned that leadership is lonely and that the audience you work with never ages, but you do!
I’ve learned that you fight for things that really matter and eventually someone will listen (single women being included in the wives conference, the need for staff care, knowing your calling even when others say you can’t do it). I’ve learned that a great boss is truly a gift (Bonnie, Thomas, Hank, Cindy, Janie). I’ve learned there’s a lot of freedom that comes from stepping away from leadership for awhile in order to remember who the heck you are and what drives you. There are just things that need to die and ministry will surface those. The shame and guilt that compelled me so many years would say, “Do more! You are disappointing people.” I learned to address that voice and march a little differently, but it was a severe mercy that got me to that point and a whole lot of crappy decisions.
I’ve seen how young, new mom’s feel so alone and wonder if they have anything of significance to offer outside of changing diapers and barely sleeping. I’ve seen how grown men can love one another deeply and come in from all over the country to be with a struggling brother. I’ve seen how teams can hurt one another and wonder if they will ever heal. I’ve seen single women share and weep over the longing to walk in purity, yet it is so rarely talked about and can this space be safe to discuss it? I’ve seen Dr. Bright in his blue suit and white shoes weep over the people who do not know Jesus in our world. I’ve heard Steve Douglass share his story of being a student at an Ivy League school and telling his professors and peers he was going to join staff with Cru and their response was crickets.
I’ve heard Ney Bailey share about the great flood where many staff lives were lost. I’ve worshipped with Fernando Ortega and Chris Tomlin right after Dr. Bright passed away. I’ve seen Vonette in her coronation dress. I was able to go to New York right after 9/11 to just be WITH the people there in such pain. I have seen headless puppet shows in Santa Cruz and marched in midnight parades in Gatlinburg. I’ve seen White Nights in St. Petersburg and stunning sunsets in Clearwater. I’ve sung God of This City more times than I ever care to, yet still cannot remember the words. I’ve emceed our staff conference with my buddy Eric for 9 years and have loved every minute of it. Largely because of Cru, I’ve been in 23 weddings. I’ve gone through cynical phases and blamed everything wrong in my life on “Cru” and then fiercely defended her to people who have called her a cult. Ain’t nobody gonna talk about my mama like that, but me.
Cru, I have loved you for half my life. In many ways I don’t know who I am without you. You’ve been my Act 1 and now it is time for Act 2. Leaving you will be the hardest thing I have done up until this point. I grieve and yet my heart is full. Each of you that I have met on this journey has had a profound impact on my next season. In the coming months I will share more about what’s next for me, but know that in July, the curtain closes on my full-time staff season with Cru. For now I want to stand on the stage a little longer and linger. I want to pay attention to every face in the crowd, every college student that I’ve sat with, every staff member that has walked with me. I want to memorize the details of this season and say, “Thank you.” with every part of my heart.