Skateboards and Cigarettes
A short, gap, toothed man adorned with a scraggly beard, several tattoos, and silver ear piercings grabbed a microphone and yelled, “Yo, it’s time for the word! Grab your boards, head upstairs, and find a seat!” JD was the skate pastor at Serious Juju, a skateboarding ministry held in an old quansit hut that had formerly been a cleaning supply store.
JD and his wife, Nicci, had started this ministry out of the back of their garage with a couple of ramps, a few hot meals, and hearts full of love. JD and Nicci were obsessed with caring for the kids in the community and making sure they were loved and protected. To them, every dirty skate kid who walked through the doors of Serious Juju was their kid.
My sister Kirsten and I caught this contagious obsession and developed a passion for the youth at Serious Juju. On Thursday nights, one hundred hot and sweaty kids would gather upstairs as my sister and I led them in worship. As we began to sing, several young boys started laughing at a text on their phone. The cool older boys sat in the back with their arms crossed. Some of them still had their earphones in and others of them were dozing off to sleep. Blank stares sent signals of indifference, ignorance, and confusion.
I closed my eyes and began to sing. My heart broke and I cried out to God for the skaters to receive Him. I opened my eyes and glanced over at my sister. She appeared to me like an angel with her small pale face and long, golden hair. She looked as if she were in another world as her petite fingers effortlessly ran across the piano.
All my fears and insecurities seemed to flee when I looked at her. She was innocent, strong, and beautiful, yet didn’t let that keep her from engaging in conversation with the skate kids who had rough backgrounds. Kirsten was my spiritual hero and inspiration.
After JD preached, the kids quickly ran downstairs. Loud rap music drowned out the banging sound of skateboards as they hit the ground. “Hey, look at that girl, she is gonna drop into the half pipe!” I turned around just in time to see Kirsten slip off the skateboard and fall flat on her back. I ran over to her side and tried to offer her assistance. “I’m fine, I’m fine!” She got up and hobbled over to the half pipe; jumping up to the top, she set up her board to drop in once again. A group of middle school boys gazed in amazement as she skated without falling. The entire skate park echoed with cheers. Kirsten’s face glowed with happiness and I ran over to give her a hug.
A year later, I returned from a missions internship in the Czech Republic. While I was living in Europe, my sister and I had slowly grown apart. For the first time in my life, I had learned to adore the church, while my sister had started to despise it. She was hurt by Christians, their judgments, and slowly had begun to distance herself from me and other believers. For some reason, I still thought we would be the best of friends when I returned home.
It was a bitter winter day and the wind whipped against my face as I opened the door to step outside the local community college where I was studying. I ran over to Kirsten’s junky blue mini van, hopped inside, and immediately stuck my frozen hands on the heater. Although she was only 17 at the time, she was the family genius and had decided to take classes at the same college as me.
I squeezed inside the front seat of the small Chevy and was greeted by the smell of cigarette smoke and strong incense. I turned down the blaring loud rap music screaming profanities in hopes to ask my sister how her day was. “It was fine, I just went to class and shit” Kirsten replied as she lit her cigarette. She peeled out of the parking lot, and took another puff of her cigarette. I looked down and fidgeted with my phone. My mind was racing a million miles an hour yet I couldn’t think of a single word to say to my sister. Hot tears slowly trickled down my face as I leaned my head up against the window.
I stared out of the window at the foggy, dismal scenery outside and thought about asking Kirsten about God or perhaps talking with her about some profound concept I had learned in class. I opened my mouth to share a thought with her and then quickly shut it again as I saw that she was on the phone. A bitter voice in my head began to talk to me as it so often did. Just a year ago you were my best friend and now we don’t even talk with each other. What the hell happened? Why are you doing this, God? I was completely confused as to what had happened between Kirsten and me.
A year earlier, she was my spiritual inspiration and now she wouldn’t even hold a spiritual conversation with me. I had a flashback to the first time I had walked into Serious JuJu with Kirsten. We gazed up at the broken boards on the ceiling that were covered with sayings like, “Death is Dead”. I remember looking out over the sea of faces being overwhelmed with a passion for the kids at the skate park. They had come from such rough places and had more life experience than I could have in ten years. When the dirty-blonde-haired skater boy had gone up to talk with Kirsten, I had poked fun at her later. “You are such a goody-two-shoe, why are you so awkward around him?” I hit her playfully. She had been so perfect and good and I had hated her for it. Now, she was so awful and cruel, and I hated her for it even more.
We had talked about changing the world together and being awesome witnesses for our Lord Jesus Christ. My sister’s voice interrupted my thoughts. “What the fuck dude, are you serious?” My sister threw back her red scraggly hair and laughed. My heart welled with bitterness as I heard her cuss. “So much for changing the world,” I whispered under my breath. I wiped my tears away, put in my earphones, and grabbed a cigarette. I took a puff and looked forward to the day we would talk about God again.