My name is Julie Keeley. Right now, I’m a DCE at First Lutheran Church in Bozeman, Montana, but I actually just got a call to Peace Lutheran Church, Grand Island, Nebraska. I’ve been in Bozeman for five years, so it’s been my first calling.
I think it was really hard to just decide what to do, to figure out where to go. My church has really good people that I will be leaving. But, I’m excited, still, to try something new, and go to this congregation, but I don’t know. Last time I moved to Montana, I could…you know the days you can move things in your car? Last time I moved, that was what I could do. And now I have to rent a real U-Haul, and move that way. It’s just so complicated.
After college I went to Camp Perkins in Idaho. Then I worked there for about eight months. Then, I went and hung out in Portland for a while. Then I went back to Camp Perkins, then I got my call to Bozeman. Oh, my gosh! It’s beautiful there. Working through the transitions is hard. You learn, it takes time, I think. I just had a conversation with one of my former campers, and he was in a leadership position at a camp. He was asking me about how you learn how to balance it, how you learn when to do what, how much to do, how to keep yourself not exhausted, that kind of thing, and I didn’t have any good answer for him. I said, “You just gotta live it.” Because, I think I wanted to jump ahead ten years in wisdom and be like, “I just want to know everything now, so I don’t have to go through those mistakes.” And the pastor’s wife was just like, “ Nope, you just gotta do it.”
I’m really good at learning, knowing things logically, but then accepting them in my heart or really being able to apply them has only taken years, and I still have a lot to learn. So I think, was I grounded the entire time? I don’t even know what that means. (Laughs) It’s been hard. There have been a lot of good parts but, I think more recently, I’m really glad I’m facing this way. But more recently… One of my youth group kids died by suicide, and it’s probably been one of the hardest things to go through as a ministry worker. And while it’s still… I’m still struggling through it, and I’m told that it’s not something you can get over in two weeks.
This was less than two months ago. A month before he died–it was coincidental that we did– my church staff went through some grief counseling training. You learn all these facts, and what to do and how to work through it, and what the steps are that people naturally go through, and I remember when it happened, I would try to track my steps. Okay, well I went through this step. I went through the anger phase. I went through the denial phase. I should just be progressing through it and I think I was trying to go by the textbook.
Anyway, during this time, I was swinging back and forth. “What is my purpose as a youth director? ‘Cause obviously, I couldn’t save him.” I would go through that guilt, what I could have done to fix it. You know, or should I have picked up on something? Did it not matter anything I did, the good or the bad? Is my job useless? Or, did my job not have enough power to save his life?
Neither of those, I found, are right. I think, even though I’m still in mourning about it, it’s helped me to come to a true conclusion of my heart that I will do what I can by the power of Christ, and that is enough.
Because you’re always, as a youth director, or any job I hear, especially the first one, you try to do everything and be everything because you’re so worried that everyone is going to find out that you have no idea what you’re doing. You’re working your butt off.
So why even try? It’s a very helpless feeling. But, yeah, it’s the work of the Devil messing with your head. God does enable us to do all we can, and that’s enough. And that actually has been a huge part in giving me a sense of peace to move on to a different call. And to know that even though I’m really sad about leaving, I’m going to miss them dearly.
They have already started making me cry, you know, but that they’ll be okay because God is in control and He’ll take care of them. I did enough. I’m really glad you don’t have a camera, I mean like a rolling camera; that would have been really awkward.
I think even as a church worker, I think I still needed to be given permission to not be okay for a while. You work trying to take care of the families, you’re trying to take care of the kids, you’re trying to answer questions, and when I think I felt like I had permission to just be broken about it, and to be given time to mourn and to say, it’s okay that you’re still messed up about it. That’s enabled me to talk to more people and actually give his life… I want people to know how valuable his life was. And so I’m not going to be silent about it, you know? Why hide a beautiful, beautiful thing?
I find my identity in Christ because there is nothing else that satisfies. With everything that’s going on, with the doubts, everyone’s debating stuff. It’s men and what’s women’s role in the church. Women’s rights, even racial tensions, white, Black, Asian, whatever.
Everyone’s trying to apply their identity to everything else. Which is not necessarily a bad thing. That is also what helps us, but that’s not our foundation. And so, if my identity is resting in anything else but Christ, my pastor taught me that it’s too small. You know, you have to live every day in grace because otherwise, I don’t know how other people get through it.
Photo credit: Matt LaVere, 2016 LCMS Youth Gathering Media Team
These Exclusive Stories do not necessarily reflect the teachings of The Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod. They are the reflections and thoughts of participants at the 2016 LCMS Youth Gathering as they wrestle with what it means to be a child of God. Please continue to pray for these participants as they grow in faith.