The Ordinary Matters

The mission of Young Life is filled with stories. Some are dramatic and breathtaking, others are intimate and heartbreaking. Whether it’s at camp or in a club room or across the table over coffee, each one is a beautiful picture of God working in kids’ hearts. And nearly every time, His favorite tool is a Young Life leader.

But it’s not the records of the spectacular or impossible that measure ministry success. Equally significant work is done in the day-to-day, where staff and volunteers learn to look past the facades and love the forgotten and the furthest out.

The friendship of Callie Delaney and her leader, Maddie Crawley, staff associate for Grand Rapids Southwest, began just two years ago. But it reminds us why Young Life leaders show up for the ordinary — so their young friends will know where to turn when the weighty and painful circumstances of life overwhelm them.

Young Life started in Callie’s high school in Grand Rapids, Michigan, a full year before she decided to check it out. She attended a fall weekend and became a regular at club her senior year. It wasn’t long before Maddie — who moved to Grand Rapids to start Young Life at Caledonia High School — became a fixture in Callie’s routine.

Callie said Maddie would show up at her soccer games every week and check in just “to see what I was up to.” The pair started spending a lot of time together.

And Callie was growing in her faith: “I grew up going to church with my family, but I never thought about God outside of church until I started going to Young Life.”

Falling Apart

Two weeks before Callie left for Castaway Club the summer after high school graduation, one of Callie’s close friends passed away. Maddie had been there for Callie in the ordinary, now she would walk with her through tragedy.

“I would ask how she was doing that week at camp, and she’d say, ‘OK,’ but I could tell she wasn’t,” Maddie recalled. “She really struggled with the idea of death in general. We talked about how Jesus saved us through death, but that was painful to her at the time. She would say, ‘I know Jesus died to give us freedom, but this doesn’t feel like freedom. How can His death be freedom for us?’”

Callie described the week as “a week where I felt like I was in a million pieces and they were flying away in a slow motion wind that was completely out of my control. Life seemed full of darkness, but in no way was it lacking in God’s goodness. I laughed with my friends; we zip-lined, swam and had lots of fun. However, there was always the intense sense of hopelessness that kept surfacing in me when things got quiet in the club talks and cabin times.”

Maddie saw her struggle, and she didn’t let her friend wrestle with her doubts alone.

“I felt like all the things I had grown up knowing about God’s love were ripped from me. I could not grasp God’s truths that deep down I knew I believed,” Callie said.

“Maddie sat with me when I had no words. She listened to me talk in circles about all the things that did not make sense. She cried when I couldn't. She didn't leave my side. She reminded me that even though I couldn't see Him, God was still there. She said wise words. She grabbed my hand and held it tightly. While we sat together in the hard times and had the hard conversations, she never let go.”

Putting the Pieces Together

Maddie remembers the last night at camp when the light went on for her friend.

“We were looking at the stars that night, and she said, ‘I finally get it — I understand the freedom He gives me,’” Maddie said. “It was a mature way of experiencing her faith, which is just how she is.

“Relationships like Callie’s are hard when they’re processing hard things, but also very life-giving. [Young Life leaders] have the best job — the growth we get to see, the conversations we get to have. That’s the power of why we do what we do every day.”

Callie said her friendship with Maddie only deepened after camp.

“In the months after camp there were lots of long talks and phone calls and long walks. Day by day, piece by piece, life started to feel a whole lot less hopeless and a whole lot more full of energy and hope and light. I finally felt freedom. Which sounds easier than it was, but through the exuberant breakthroughs and the ever-frequent falls in the process, Maddie helped me get back up again and again. And she never let go.”

Callie is now a sophomore at Ferris State University in Big Rapids, Michigan, where she is also a WyldLife leader. She said she hopes to have the same kind of impact on her middle school friends that Maddie had on her.

“I try to exemplify the grace and gentleness she showed to me,” Callie said. “I don’t have all the answers, but being someone who cares and listens like Maddie does is important to me.”

Maddie said she’s witnessed a true transformation in Callie’s life in just one year.

“It’s been a year of growth,” she said. “From going to camp completely numb with lots of big questions to having a lot answered through the ministry of Young Life and Jesus. I know she wants her WyldLife girls to experience the same thing.”

What once was a struggle has become a gift of faith, thanks to the work of God in the heart of a teenager and a faithful Young Life leader who has become a lifelong friend.

“The hopelessness I felt is now replaced with trust in God,” Callie said. “I have grown exponentially in ways that I never could have imagined. The past 10 months have been the best months of my life. God is no longer something I know, but Someone I know. And there’s a fire in my chest to chase Him harder and to know Him more.

“Today, I stand boldly in the love of Christ because of my Young Life leader. I am anchored in God's truths because of my Young Life leader. And I am forever changed because of my Young Life leader.”