Ten plus years of hanging out with teens snuck up on me. One minute I’m leading a small group of high schoolers on the patio of a church member’s home in Stuart, FL and the next minute, my Timehop is reminding me that exactly 10 years ago…on the very same weekend… I was leading a small group of middle schoolers on the front lawn of a church member’s home in Fort Lauderdale.

Here’s some of what I’ve learned so far: 

  1. Cleaning up another human’s regurgitated food doesn’t necessarily get easier, but the more you do it, the more times you can say, “I’ve done this before, I can do it again.”
  2. Teenagers will break your heart in a good way. When they trust you, they’ll let you peek into the craziness that is their world. Often, what you’ll find is insecurity, fear, and confusion. It’ll make you want to sit there in that world with them…just so they aren’t alone.
  3. They might get married before you (and you just might get to be a part of the bridal party single as all get out–but so stinkin’ happy and proud).
  4. Love big, but don’t pretend that love will keep you in the same place forever. We bloom where we’re planted, and that means putting down roots that grow from love…but it doesn’t mean God won’t plant you elsewhere one dayjust don’t love conservatively because of it. Love big!
  5. Teenagers are messy and they might break your heart in a bad way—we’re just here to show them that they are loved regardless. We can’t fix them, we can’t choose Jesus for them, and we certainly can’t stop them from: complaining about how tired they are at an event you spent countless hours planning…and you definitely can’t constantly police them…so they might draw inappropriate words/images with the paint they are supposed to be using to paint someone’s house in order to show that person the love of Jesus…Kids are messy and we love them anyway.
  6. Getting old and irrelevant is the worst, but it doesn’t discredit your role. Yes, I’m a millennial talking about getting old, but when you hang out with teenagers…there’s no avoiding it. I don’t understand meme culture and I do not understand Snapchat but I love kids and that love is timeless.
  7. I’m learning to care about people more than politics. Sometimes I have opinions on hot-button issues, sometimes I don’t. I reserve the right for either. Regardless, Jesus’ love for humanity led Him to sacrifice His life on a cross…I refuse to let my opinions overrule love. My convictions are harder to love through, but if Jesus can be perfect and yet still love perfectly, I can bother with learning how to muddle through somehow.
  8. Ministry is difficult, but being single in ministry is a special subcategory of difficult. How much time is too much at work? What about Netflix? What about self-care? Friends? Dating? When someone finds the perfect ratio, let ya girl know.
  9. Ministry shouldn’t be done alone. Up until 5 years ago, I didn’t know that local ministers could truly be friends and not secret competitors underneath the surface. I was astonished to discover that local ministers can be a family of believers that, “get” what each other are going through, pray them through it, and encourage each other in their various styles of ministry. Quelle surprise!
  10. Jesus saved Mary Magdalene, she followed Him, and when He revealed to her that He was alive she went and told others that He was alive and she had seen Him. So yes, this born and raised Southern Baptist girl preaches. As far as I’m concerned, Jesus is alive, I’ve seen Him and I’m gonna tell people about it. Don’t @ me.

Here’s to more years and more learning…because teenagers are awesome!

Uncommon Insecurity

Middle Schoolers are weird and I love it.   Insecurity, self worth and body image are rampant issues as a rule.  My youth group traveled to BigStuf summer camp the other day in Panama City; it was there that I had the opportunity to engage in a conversation with a student who seemed to struggle with insecurities that were very much opposite to that of her peers.  I ended up giving her what seemed to be a reverse pep talk.  First time for everything.

Where I am very used to encouraging 6, 7 and 8th graders to be confident in who they are even through the awkward teenage stages and to overcome the feelings that they are ugly or too skinny or too fat and all the usual teenage insecurities; I found myself face to face with an 8th grader who was not in fact awkward and whose peers could not keep their eyes off of her, not because of her gawkiness, but because of her natural beauty.

Racially ambiguous, flawless skin, petite figure, stylish fashion sense, a welcoming smile…this kid has a lot going for her when it comes to the outward appearance alone; that’s all before getting to her fun personality and sense of humor.

“I just feel like everyone is always looking at me, trying to figure out what I am.  And I’m like humble and stuff…so I don’t really know like…what to do…” she explained.

Well what do I say to that? The usual, “you’re beautiful because you are God’s creation “doesn’t really apply here.  Neither does the, “Your body is going through an awkward stage…hang in there and you’ll grow out of it,” speech.

This is where I’m thankful that as a Small Group Leader, you can never get too much help or too much training.  One of the authors that helped write the book Lead Small gave taught an hour long leader training at summer camp this year.  In the session, one of the things he said that stuck out to me was, “Change is not an option, but how you respond to it is. You can either ignore it and drift nowhere, hold on and let it drive you where you don’t want to go, or make an adjustment so you can move in the right direction.”

So here I am standing next to this frustrated 8th grader and it hits me, she’s struggling with how other people are treating her regarding her appearance and it is effecting her feelings and the way she views life.  The way that she is letting other people effect her is the same way that we as humans get bent out of shape when change happens.  But just like we must learn to accept that change is not an option, she has to learn that her God given beauty is not an option either.  She can’t change the fact that people are going to double take when she walks down the street and she can’t change the fact that people are going to want to know what combination of races created her gorgeous skin tone, eye color and the placement of her cheekbones.

She has the option to ignore it and just drift through life, miserable.  Or she can hold on to the discomfort and anger she feels and let it drive her somewhere she does not want to go in life. Or, she can make an attitude adjustment so that she will be moving in the right direction.

After getting through that whole thought process, I was at least able to use the classic ending of, “You just do you no matter what,” but it was really interesting to see how different people struggle through those young years regardless of whether you are considered pretty or awkward.

At the end of the day we all have to come to the conclusion that we are going to be in charge of our attitude about things that happen in life and the ways in which we react to them.  There may be a different journey to that conclusion for all of us, but we get there nonetheless.

Through that one conversation with one student I saw the importance of being open to establishing community with a student and building relationships.  That one conversation was the only time I talked with that student during the week. Every other time we crossed paths it was simply in passing, but the foundation is there and the door is always open.  That’s when “leading small” gets big.