This week I was blessed to attend the University of Notre Dame in Indiana as part of the Diocesan Leadership Observation Track (DLOT) of ND Vision (for teens) and ND Vision CYM (for youth ministers and campus ministers). As a Diocesan Director, I had the ability and permission to in essence “bounce” back and forth between the teen and adult conferences. This unique perspective allowed me to better evaluate the entire program and also provide feedback to conference organizers.
I first heard of the ND Vision DLOT (dontcha just love how we use acronyms in youth ministry?) back in 2007 when Mike Patin was in Vancouver to serve as our keynote speaker for Youth Day. Mike was awesome with our youth and youth leaders (as expected) and also awesome with my family. We spent a wonderful five days together and became close friends (and have remained so ever since…praise God).
I learned so much from Mike just by being in his presence, and since then he’s continued to affirm me, challenge me, and encourage me…and not just because that’s what his website says!
Thus, I was looking forward to seeing Mike ever since I confirmed my attendance at Notre Dame earlier in the year. We exchanged a couple of emails and texts the week prior, wishing each other “Happy Country Days” on July 1st and 4th respectively. I also asked him to bring me a bit of merchandise as my “godisnowhere” t-shirt is getting a little faded (considering I wear it every time I give a talk). I figured that I would see him once or twice throughout the week. Little did I know that I would end up seeing him and enjoying a memorable moment with him each day.
Over the 4 days I was reminded why I (and so many others) respect Mike so much. His humour, his pastoral presence. His talent. And his vulnerability and humility.
On Tuesday morning, we first spotted each other outside of the Basilica. As I held the door open for conference participants to enter (trying to make myself useful), I saw out of the corner of my eye I relatively slender man with a moustache mimicking me, waving his arms in the air ala Vanna White. Now, usually I speak about imitation being the sincerest form of flattery, but this was barely imitation and it certainly wasn’t flattery.
“Hello Mr. Mike” I said.
“What is this…a beauty pageant?” was his response.
We caught up for a few minutes (while hundreds of teens filed into the church) and then Mike handed me a package with my goods.
“I threw a little something in there just for you…check it out.”
Like a toddler on Christmas morning, I quickly unwrapped the package to discover an additional t-shirt. I laughed as I opened it up…it had a picture of Mike’s face on it with the slogan “Not Pretty, but LOUD.”
I didn’t even bother asking him why he was giving it to me…I already knew.
“Thanks a lot brother!”
“You’re welcome man…that’s a limited print t-shirt…I only made 36 of them.”
Wow…that made me feel pretty good. Not that I’m one of Mike’s 36 best friends. Just one of his 36 loudest. Or unprettiest.
He continued, “And 18 of them had to pay for it!”
I laughed as I entered the Basilica, quickly switching from play-mode to pray-mode. After Mass and lunch, Mike and I were among 50 or so people who prayed the rosary at the grotto. It was a very peaceful and reverent experience. I also finally met Megan, Mike’s beautiful daughter, who was attending ND Vision for the teens.
On Wednesday morning, both Mike and I sat in on the keynote talk for the teens. The speaker challenged the participants with a powerful talk about self-acceptance and self-love. After the talk, Mike noticed his daughter talking with the speaker. In the meantime, Mike and I chatted about the irony in having your own child learn things from another speaker instead of from you…even if you have spoken to your child about these things before. Mike was very honest and very vulnerable as he warned me that it will happen to me too.
He analogized it to God the Father trying to teach us as His children, yet we can be so slow to come around or to “get it”…sometimes even needing to hear it from someone else. But all along, He loves us unconditionally, faithfully trying to show us the way. That’s why I admire Mr. Mike so much…he readily and easily finds connections and teaching moments like this!
I was humbled as I saw Megan and Mike talk for just a few short seconds before embracing in a warm hug. I had seen Mike connect with thousands of youth at a national conference, and now I had just seen him connect with his very own daughter with barely anyone else around. It was a few minutes that I’ll never forget.
On Thursday night, I few of us gathered in a lounge to wind up the day and Mike apparently had to don a Chicago White Sox t-shirt after losing a friendly wager to another youth minister.
(As an aside, why do why do youth ministry people like to make friendly wagers on sports? Anyway…I digress).
So Mike put on his t-shirt, we all laughed, and thought that would be the end of it. Until I noticed the shorts Mike was wearing. Picture a pattern you might see on a tablecloth from the 80s. Then picture two skinny white legs coming out the bottom.
Making sure everyone else was listening, I asked Mike “So what bet did you lose to make you wear those shorts?”
The group broke into laughter (no exaggeration), with some people even giving my hi-fives and fist pounds. Mike slapped me across my back in what was slightly more than a love tap (no exaggeration) and proclaimed: “You’ll never work in this country again!”
I wasn’t sure how to react…nor could I come up with a good come-back, so I just grinned and continued sipping my Pepsi.
Friday morning, Mike gave his long-awaited and much-anticipated session for the adults…thankfully he was wearing khaki pants instead of the tablecloth-shorts. At one point of the session, Mike had us break up into pairs and discuss a couple of questions, one of them being “Where do you experience the presence of God?”
As we reconvened, Mike asked the participants to share some of the answers. My partner Tom offered “My partner is Clay and he experiences God in spending time with his wife and children.”
Mike replied “I’ve met his children.”
Cool…I thought…a shout-out from Mike Patin!
Mike continued, “They’re cool kids.”
Even better…a compliment from Mike Patin to follow the shout-out!
Mike went on, “And they’re FREAKS!”
As the participants erupted into laughter, I shot back, “No wonder they like you so much!”
Then, without skipping a beat, Mike answered “Yeah…they come down to my level really easily.”
As the participants continued to giggle and chuckle, I couldn’t help but marvel at Mike’s comedic genius and timing. To no one’s surprise, he delivered an absolutely stellar session, full of affirmation, challenge, and encouragement.
My daily encounters with Mr. Mike ranked highly among the many blessings I received from my week at the University of Notre Dame. He once again proved why he is the best among keynote presenters, and more importantly, why he is such a great friend and mentor.
I’m just surprised he didn’t call me Kneejerk.