Friday, August 10, 2012

I Heart EFY.

I never went to EFY. I don't know why, but it never really interested me. I definitely was more interested in my sports or music to do anything more with the church. Plus, I think part of me thought it was just another part of "mormon culture" that had bothered me. Maybe it was that I still didn't know if the church was true and was afraid of being brainwashed or something.

Then when I came back from my mission, I hated the EFY weeks during Spring and Summer terms at BYU. There were children EVERYWHERE and they often were inconsiderate, not to mention how annoying adolescents could be in packs without any parents. Plus, I had friends who worked for Housing or Catering who only told me horror tales about the kids and counselors they met.

Well, Charlie kept telling me I had to be a counselor, but I was really fixed on going to school and other things in my life. Plus, I had got into a little bit of a spiritual slump and wasn't really feeling like spending my summer with hordes of immature youth. Finally, this summer I had decided not to take classes and my job was only available during the school months, so I needed something to do....well, there was always EFY. Why not?

You may remember another post about an awesome EFY interview I had, but then I hadn't received word until pretty much right before I was coming home from study abroad and when I was supposed to start as a counselor. I was to be a counselor. I was excited, yes...I had some awesome experiences during my study abroad where we could say I "found myself" and I think I finally became ready to live as God wanted me to. Was a terrified? A little. Could you imagine spending time with 20 14-18 year olds 24/7? Terrified, yes.

BUT IT WAS AWESOME! I only wish that I had taken the opportunity to do it when I was a kid, because it seriously was the most awesome experience of my life and it wasn't even for me. I'm going to describe some of it, and I'm sorry if it bores you, but it was amazing. And when I say "my kids" I'm referring to the ridiculously fantastic youth that I had the opportunity to work with.

Well, my first group came and I had no idea what I was doing. My co-counselor was awesome and did great at helping me understanding the unwritten rules and expectations. Unfortunately for her, I was given music program duty. This meant that during lunch and free times I would work with the youth who wanted to do a choir program on Thursday. More about that later. 

This first group will always be in my heart.  I love them more than words can describe. Each one of them strengthened my testimony in some way and we had an awesome time together. To be honest, I had become a little somber during my stay in Italy as I was observing how low the culture had degraded and disgusting life was becoming. Sadly, when I returned to the states, I saw some of the same things happening. I was becoming a little discouraged at thinking of how we were supposed to build each other up and make the world a better place. 

Until this group. I saw such strength and power in each one of them. I got to hear their testimonies of the Savior and of the Gospel. I saw them strengthened as they grew together and become ready to share their love to others. I instantly received hope in the future and I knew everything was going to be great! A group of them even called me after they got home telling me how they had shared the Gospel with some older ladies on a flight home! They showed me, albeit somewhat rambunctiously, that this life and the Gospel is supposed to be one of joy, happiness, and much of the time FUN! There is a power in understanding that we are not here to slave out our lives to some unknown master. Rather, we are here to enjoy life and to return to our loving Heavenly Father who has given us the world.

One of my favorite parts of this group of guys was how close they all became friends. They did everything together and that really helped the Spirit grow stronger. Pizza night was awesome and we had a great time talking about everything. Kyle then decided to go tell everyone that I was getting engaged, so all the girls ran over to me screaming about how I was going to do it. Funny joke, Kyle...

It was really difficult to see this group go, especially my boys. They were so awesome and really helped my testimony and understanding of the purpose of life grow stronger. I had felt such love for them that I grew to know a little bit better how much God cares for His children. I was a little afraid about getting a new group, because how could I love them like I did this group?

Well, the next group was definitely a surprise. From kids not washing their hair for the past 3 months, to brothers trying to deceive the whole group by switching names on us, to fantastic musicians and athletes, I didn't know how to react to such a completely diverse group of kids. But they grew on me and I came to love them too.

During this week, I was taught another lesson: BE YOURSELF! That may sound stupid and trite, but really there is a power in truly living as you are. I've seen a lot of members during and after the mission trying to fit the "perfect mormon" stereotype. You'll hear my past roommates and I describe it as "the missionary voice" or ARMS (awkward returned missionary syndrome). Some people try to speak how they think a mormon to speak or act how a mormon should act. Well, unfortunately I don't fit that mold in many ways. It's always been a little bit of a struggle for me to decide how to live. Should I conform to the "mormon culture" or should I be myself?

Well, everyone in this group was true to themselves. They lived exactly how they wanted to and it was amazing to see the power in that. Each of them brought different talents to the table and different experiences. Just as Paul said that the church needs different kinds of people to work properly, so does an EFY group. If everyone tried to conform to a certain mold, the church (and the EFY group) would fail. These kids, despite being completely different, were able to mesh perfectly because they were the people that God wanted them to be.

Aren't we just so cute...
The testimony meeting this week was a special one as we got to be all alone (sometimes they combine us with other groups). As I was listening to their testimonies I wrote key words of what they were testifying of. It was amazing to see how their lives had brought to understand different parts of the Gospel so well, but they all came back to knowing that the Savior loved them as they were. It was humbling to see how mature they were in their understanding of the Gospel and I am so thankful I had that opportunity to hear from them.

Who could ask for a better group...or a cooler banner?
Well, I had to watch this group go home too. I was finally getting a hang of the "EFY job", although for me it was not a job. It was such a great blessing to learn and grow with all of the church's fabulous youth. As this group left, I thought surely it's been a fluke to get such great groups. I've heard horror stories from other counselors about terrible youth groups. I was terrified to get my 3rd group because I was worried that it was going to be "that group."

I won't say it was my easiest week at EFY, but I'm attributing that to the fact that it was my 3rd week as a counselor and I was sooo tired. Thank heavens I had such a marvelous and lovely co who loved the kids just as much as I do. A lot of time there are counselors who I feel are there for the wrong reasons (just need a job, want to be adored by little children, etc.), however this co was perfect for the job. She really did care for the kids and all we talked about was THEM. She made them her life! It was amazing.

Elysse and I...and some photobombers. I don't know
what faces we were trying to pull....
Anyways, my kids were so (I'm sorry for the boys) cute. They were the younger group, 14-15 year olds, and so I kind of had to change tactics on how to go about connecting with them. With my other groups we talked about girls and sports, but with this group it was smarter to talk about movies, games, and books like Harry Potter and the like. It was a lot of fun, but also was a lot more draining because they were a lot more active and rowdy.

Yet, I realized that I couldn't judge them like I had the other groups. They weren't 16-17 year olds, they were sports fanatics (well, some of them were), and they had different testimonies. I was at first expecting to treat them the same way as the others, but that wasn't right. Working with this group taught me how to work on their level and reach toward their understanding. The Gospel reaches us all in different ways and we have to understand people to connect with them. Some people are living different situations and it is not right of us to expect them to be similar to others.
And then they attacked me. What should I have expected?

But, what this group really taught me is charity. So many of the boys, without me even suggesting it, would go pick up the ladies' trays or open doors for people or ask what they could do to help. They did their best in making it an easy and fun experience for everyone. They never did anything unless they could see it helping their counselors or their comrades. They were such a great group of kids and they were awesome!

Two more fun little goodies about this group. Thursday, 5 of my boys did the talent show and lip synced One Direction. I personally can't stand boy bands that make girls in their mid-20's swoon, but it is quite attractive for the I encouraged them to do it. Anyways, they did AWESOME! It was pretty fun. I wish I had a video of it, but maybe one of the girls can put one up. Second, Friday night I took the girls for a Q/A session and we had such a fun time. We talked about all my dating experiences and they were so cute about it. Maybe they were just humoring me, but we had a good time laughing about everything that happened.

Well, finally I got a break and spent an awesome week with my family in Idaho. I don't know if I'll ever get to blogging about that, but let's just say I needed some time to wind down shooting shotguns and glocks, playing board games, going hiking, sleeping in till 8, and reading Robin Hood.

And then my last week arrived. I seriously was just as excited and nervous as if it was my first week. Almost everything I wanted I got: older kids, new heritage (the old heritage buildings are like death), music program duty again, and an awesome Co. The only bad thing was our meetings were all the way at the JSB. From New Heritage to the JSB is a long, long walk. I was not excited about it and neither were my kids once they realized how much time they had to spent escorting each other. :)

I don't have words for this last group. They were just so great and it was a perfect week to end my short summer at EFY. They were my largest group of boys and ranged from a 15 year old to an 18 year old who was about to put in his mission papers. They never ceased to make me laugh, it was so awesome. Once it was appropriate to be reverent, however, they didn't miss a beat to settle down and pay attention.  It was amazing to see how even before EFY, these kids were converted to the Gospel even if they didn't know it. They had been living it before they had arrived! I miss these kids so much...

Out company's cheer which included Angry Birds...we are
pretty much pretty legit.
Well, we also had some talented young men here too. One of them could rock the Chinese yo-yo like you would never believe and we had another one play the cello like nobody's business and he even played for the music program. A group of us played sports almost every day, and we had some awesome athletes. I was terrible at basketball, but these kids were awesome. I had a couple who could teach the Gospel so effectively and clearly I'm so excited to hear their mission stories. We had a fun time "appropriately" teasing each other and these kids were actually pretty clever in their jabs, I was quite impressed. This group also won every game at games night, and so we decided, quite objectively, that we were the best group at EFY. It is pretty much a fact.

I had a most amazing experience this week with my Music Program kids. Alyssa and I were so excited to be on musical program because we knew the power that it held and Spirit that the kids felt in the choir. However, we were a little worried at the beginning because of some ... counselor pride that was going on, of which we were all at fault. Then a couple of the kids were getting frustrated because a couple of directors were getting too nit-picky and technical. Most of the kids had no idea what they were talking about. So, Alyssa and I decided to change tactics: "SING THE MESSAGE!" I actually came up with that slogan on the spot, and we were pretty proud of it.

For the rest of the time practicing with these kids, we went over what each song meant and how we really didn't care how they sounded but we wanted them to focus on the Spirit they were singing with. We thought they got the message, but when we got into the our huge performance room, they were still a little timid as they sang. It was a little scary because they could barely hear each other, which made them nervous and then they sang even softer and it was disheartening. We could all tell, and so right before we sat them down before the performance, I tried to give them a little pep talk.

In it I included everything I had felt the last couple of weeks at EFY. Everything the youth had taught me and I tried to help these kids realize how powerful they were and how much potential they had. These youth are the Hope of Israel and I'm excited to see the things they do. I let them know that on the last song, the image behind them as they sing is the picture of Christ with His hands outstretched as He ushers in the Second Coming. I made sure they recognized that they are His brothers and sisters and it is up to them to help Him gather everyone to Him.

Well, the performance started and they were singing better than the practice, but I was still afraid that not everyone could hear on some songs. Well, the last two songs were Called to Serve and Hope of Israel. Called to Serve always gets you pumped up and so when I got up to direct Hope of Israel I think they were ready for it.  It was incredible. As they started to sing, there was an immense power in what they were saying. I started to get emotional, and if you know me, you know that I can't help myself and I started to cry a little ... a lot. Well, unfortunately, half of the choir started to cry as well. I tried to compose myself so that we could all keep singing, but that never works. However, the Spirit of the choir changed. I felt a real and intense power emanating from the youth. I don't know if they really were singing louder or if it was just the force of their spirits, but on the last chorus, I was seriously almost knocked over by shock at how intensely and beautiful they sang. It was a different Spirit altogether and I hoped that they felt it as strongly as I did. It was such a touching moment. I wanted to go give all of them a hug and thank them for the power that they showed me. Once again, these youth proved to me that there is Hope in Israel.

In any case, this was such a memorable summer. I love all of my children and all of their talents and the lessons they taught me. It has made me seriously contemplate finding a career that can help me work with them all the time. I just love the youth so much! And, if God is willing, I would give everything I can for them. But, we'll see where He takes me. I can only hope that it is with them. :)  I'm expecting to see great things from all of them and if I don't hear from them, I'll see them in the Celestial Kingdom and I'll get to hear all of the awesome things they did there. I know they will all make it. If there is anything I have faith in besides the Savior, it's in the power of these kids. They are too awesome! I'm going to miss them a bunch, but I know they are all exactly where the Lord needs them to bring about His awesome work.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Due Tramonti

Well, some of my EFY kids wanted to see this video that I did with Jill last summer (Holy Cow it's been a year). So, here it is. I thought I had uploaded it already, but I can't find is Jill and I performing for our Biology 100 class.