Today I had lunch with Chris and Latif to discuss summer plans for West Side’s Jr. High Ministry. In passing, CHris mentioned that he’d like to discuss what drew Latif and I to Jr. High Ministry. My easy, first-come-to-mind-answer is always “VBS” (I’ll get to that in a minute). As I contemplate that a little more, I think it’s probably deeper than that (most things are with contemplation).
When I first started volunteering with anything at West Side it was in the Children’t Ministry. Erin, the Children’s Minister at the time, was one of the only people I knew, and at that time I was working as a pre-school teacher and had realized I really like kids and can relate to them. I had done VBS the year before (with 1st graders) as a way to connect with Sarah Jumber (now Admire)(a friend and co-worker of mine from the Puppy who had just gotten baptized that summer). It was something we could do together that was God-related and kid-related, a place where we could connect on multiple levels.
So that next year (2004 I think it was) we decided to do so again. She was going to a small country church with her family, but it was doing the same VBS curriculum as West Side, only the week after. We decided to do both VBSs (THAT was a crazy 2 weeks, let me tell you 🙂 ). That year West Side needed help with the 5th graders. I generally prefer (or so I had thought) to work with younger kids, but I’m also pretty laid back and like to help out where I’m needed, so we took the 5th graders.
And, boy, were they a challenge. I don’t think I’ve ever been as frustrated with kids (or had as much fun) as I was/did with Evan and Shane that week!
But amazingly, I don’t think I’ve ever fallen in love with a group of kids as quickly either (and this coming from someone who really does enjoy being with kids). While they were challenging, they were also soooo much fun! And I could see so much potential in them. They were right there on the verge of something and it was so fun to be there with them. So I went to Chris to find out how I could continue to be a part of their lives at West Side when they moved to 6th grade.
That could be where the story stops… I followed a great group of kids into the ministry.
But I realized today that those kids are almost done with their freshman year of high school! (and are still some really great kids). But I didn’t follow them to High School… So it had to be more than just that group of kids.
So why do I STILL do Jr. High ministry?
My mom says it’s because you should never say never… when I was contemplating teaching as a career I always knew I could handle any age… any age, that is, except Jr. High. I could NEVER handle Jr. High kids… and now look at me 🙂 maybe she’s right 🙂
But I think it probably has more to do with the fact that I remember being in Jr. High (yes it might have been awhile ago, but not THAT long ago). I remember how lost and alone I felt and how much I would have loved having adults who weren’t my parents to hang out with, to accept me for who I was and to offer guidance and… presence… in a loving way. I remember feeling like I didn’t belong anywhere, that I was in some kind of “lost” stage or “limbo” between childhood and being a young adult.
And I remember tht you probably would have NEVER known that about me. I was friendly and outgoing. I wasn’t popular, but I wasn’t the least popular kid in school. I could meld well in several different social groups; I as totally boy-crazy and had several boyfriends; I got along well with teachers and, though I was only a C-student in Jr. High, was smart enough to get by without notice.
I didn’t have anyone close enough to me or willing enough to delve behind the mask, to see the girl who wrote morbid, dark poetry; who cried herself to sleep most nights; who was boy-crazy because she wanted the attention, not that she really liked the guy; who spent hours upon hours in her head making up a different life for herself to take herself away from actual life.
And that’s sad.
Most of the time Jr. High Ministry is a high energy, high fun, oft-times silly and/or gross experiment in living life. But underneath that energy and the silliness and the craziness that is an adolescent; I know and understand the feeling of being in “limbo” or “lost” stage of life. And I know that those same feelings can occur in any life stage, but I know that if I had a better view of myself, a better view of my value as a child of God (heck, knowing Jesus AT ALL would have helped), and a feeling that I was not alone when I was younger, the times as an adult when I feel like that would be fewer and further between.
I wouldn’t say my giftedness lies in being able to counsel anyone through that (far from it, it’s one of the biggest reasons I know that I couldn’t have pursued a psych. degree). But I LOVE being present and available. And I really love investing in others to help them learn to be present and available (yay for being able to invest a little bit more in other leaders as well as kids this year).
So I continue to do Jr. High ministry because I want them to know that God cares about them, and by extension, so do other people. I want to be present and available. Whther that be as a person to giggle about boys with, the person to referee a dodgeball game, the person to throw toilet paper at, or the person to talk to because things aren’t going great right now. Because sometimes there just aren’t answers. Most of the time life just happnes, and sometimes you just need someone there to help you know that you’re not alone, that you’re loved and valued for who you are, raging hormones, pungent BO, rebellious independece, goofy silliness and lingering childhood innocence included.