I had the pleasure of sitting down recently with Ernie Merino – newest member of the Inland NW Region of Young Life and new Area Director in Spokane Valley. As a member of the regional board I wanted to get to know him some, hear his story and journey in life. What a treat it was! I decided to share it with you here on the blog and hope it encourages you. I even decided to give it a title because, well, it just seems appropriate.
Good vs. Good Enough
Ernie grew up in Everett, WA. Born in Auburn, he moved with his mom after his folks split up. He was just a little guy then and they moved in with his grandparents. When he was 5 his mom remarried and they relocated up in Snohomish County.
Ernie was a good kid. He worked hard at being a good kid, a good student, a good soccer player, etc. Yet as he grew into the high school years he found himself moving deeper into a sense of hopelessness and depression. Something was missing. He didn’t know what it was.
Ernie reminds us that growing up, regardless of how good or difficult the family situation, it is hard for pretty much everyone; that there’s often more going on beneath the surface than we can see. Ernie’s life was that way and he remembers the weight of depression and emptiness he felt, yet maintaining a trajectory that would make folks think everything was just fine. It wasn’t. He recalls how he adopted a way of thinking; if he did good, then he was good, that his performance somehow informed his value. Teenage years do that to a kid. School, sports, friends – they all reward performance. It’s easy to get sucked into thinking the way he did.
Good as Ernie was doing he still felt empty. Being good enough wasn’t enough. He was “craving pure water but it felt as though I was drinking muddy water instead”.
Ernie played keeper on the Everett High School soccer team. His position coach was also a Young Life leader, none other than Jeff Huber. Soccer was a meaningful part of Ernie’s life, as sports often are in a young man’s development. It was a place he succeeded and a sport he enjoyed. Jeff would have a big impact on his life, well beyond soccer.
Ernie had plenty of friends but still felt alone. He didn’t know why. One of his friends attended a local church and Ernie invited himself to tag along one week. He’d had some exposure to church but he’d never entertained the idea of actually having a relationship with God. The concept of a good Father had been taxed some, seeing his folks split up years ago and things that go along with that. His stepdad had been a great man in his life, he still had some wounds that needed tending, wounds that needed healing.
In February of 1999, 2 weeks before the spring season kicked off, Ernie met the God of the gospel message. He met Jesus who offered him the pure water that would quench the thirst in his soul. He didn’t know all that would happen down the road, he simply knew that he began to experience purpose and meaning in his life where, before, he’d known the emptiness of trying to always be good enough.
God simply told him that he was good. He could drop the trying, the attempt to be enough, to be good enough to earn something from God and others.
Back then Ernie worked at Albertsons and, when he was 19, he met Joanna – a coworker. When I asked what inspired him to ask her out, the answer was quick. “I thought she was hot!”. Ok then. Got it. Their first date was 12/23/2000 and he took her to see Family Man with Nicolas Cage. He took her out again the next night, Christmas Eve, by going to the Christmas Eve service at church. He grinned when he told me that he kissed her for the first time that night.
Turns out she, too, was originally from Auburn. As they talked (& kissed, I’m sure) more they found out that she was not only born in Auburn, she was born in the same hospital, in the same month as Ernie (December) and that both their mothers had taken their little babies home in the red Christmas stockings that the hospital sent “Christmas babies” home in back then.
If that isn’t a sign from God…
Well, as we know, Ernie and Joanna became a thing and, well, they’ve been married 17 years now. They have two beautiful kids, Silas (9) and Ellary (Ella – 5). They’ve been living and working with the Young Life mission up on Whidbey Island for this last season of life.
And now it’s time to serve together in Spokane!
Moving away is not easy. Their folks still live in Everett. There are friends and kids they’ve served still on the west (wet) side of the state. But they’ve wanted to be in ministry together since they day they started dating and this is where they know that God has called them to go.
And Ernie is stoked! I mean he is seriously excited and nervous and overwhelmed…and yet he is no longer a stranger to the invitation to hear from God, to know that God is good and that He thinks Ernie is good too.
Ernie and Joanna close on their new home in Spokane any day now. There’s lots of unpacking and settling in at home as well as in the ministry. There are 5 high schools and 10 middle schools in the Spokane Valley Young Life area. Currently there is ministry in 2 high schools and 2 middle schools. Young Lives, Capernaum, leader development, committee development, 11,000 students to get to know.
Yes – lots of work to do.
Ernie and Joanna are excited to walk together, one on one, with kids and parents, leaders and supporters, in life and ministry. Their heart and goal is to lead others to the well where the water of life flows, Jesus Himself. Jesus: the goodness of God springing up in abundance and freedom. Jesus: where purpose and meaning and life are found.
Welcome to Spokane Valley, Ernie! Welcome Joanna and Silas and Ella! You’re good peeps and we’re glad you’ve come.
Welcome home, indeed.