7 Observations about Today’s Middle School Kids…

8 11 2011

I’m still recovering from our annual confirmation retreat, which was a few weekends ago.

Yes, still recovering. I’m old. My 26-year-old self can’t pull those all-nighters like I could just a few years ago in college.

Earlier this month, I spent my beautiful fall weekend running a huge retreat for our 7th and 8th grade students, at a camp about an hour and a  half away from our church. I spent pretty much the entirety of my waking moments meticulously running through checklists, transportation arrangements, schedules, songs, props, and handouts…not to mention constantly giving direction and instruction, problem-solving on the fly, breaking up rowdy fights between 7th grade boys, hugging crying girls, speaking and teaching, checking in with leaders and musicians and tech people, shouting through a megaphone, and acting as liaison between our group and the camp staff (translation = every time a kid wanted to go shoot arrows at the archery course, I had to stand and supervise to make sure no one came home missing an eye).

It was a great weekend. I managed to get about three whole hours of sleep each night in my room of non-stop hyperactive girls, I only got hit in the face with a dodgeball twice, and only one student dared pull a prank on my water bottle.

I use this time, each retreat, to scrutinize each wave of students. I love to learn their culture, their norms, and their group’s personality, as well as what they struggle with, what they need, and what they’re growing up to be.

Here are 7 of the observations I made about this particular generation of students:

  • We are, without a doubt, seeing the impact of strictly scheduled kids who are completely immersed in technology. Kids don’t really know what to do with true free time. These kids are so used to being told what to do, every second of their day, that they don’t understand how to think on their own or structure their free time at all. They also wouldn’t stop asking about the schedule. It’s clear that they are used to keeping their own schedules and knowing what’s happening each day, and even though we told them “not to worry about the schedule”, they did.
  • I think these kids crave a release from their technological world. We don’t hear many complaints about it not allowing cell phones at our retreat anymore, whereas it was a constant complaint just a few years ago. Kids seemed all too happy to be away from the “stress of keeping up with Facebook and their texts from friends”. I just wrote an article about this at my youth ministry column at thESource, if you want to dive into this topic more here.
  • These kids are more noticeably distant from adults and older teenagers. Even our high school students, who helped out as leaders at one of these retreats for the very first time, noticed this and commented on it. Our middle school kids were polite, but distant. I wonder if this is a reaction to the fact that they are constantly ordered around by adults, with their highly structured teams, clubs, and other organizations—and deep down, maybe unknowingly resentful that these adults don’t care enough about them to force them to unplug, take downtime, and quit the activities that they can’t mentally and physically keep up with.
  • This group of students is losing the ability to read and write at the level that should be standard for their age group. Many was very rudimentary in their ability to think critically, fill out answers, and spell. I know this is the generation that is the techie generation, and it’s clear to me that using autocorrect and not learning how to write things out by hand is eroding their ability to spell, construct sentences, and even their handwriting itself. I fear for their college professors–and the future of literature.
  • Attention spans are getting shorter and shorter. The old adage I’ve heard that a student has about a minute of undivided focus for each year old they are (so, about 12-14 minutes at a time for these kids) seems to be shortening. They want everything instantly, and they get antsy even if they have to wait in line for something. They lose focus in the amount of time it takes to hand something out to their group.
  • I think these kids are absolutely dying for individual attention. It’s a trademark of their age, of course, but it seems like even the smallest amount of personal, one-on-one time just completely lifts them up. One really cool thing we did this year was have all of our small group leaders pray individually with kids, while we were doing our closing worship service—so each student there was prayed for personally by an adult. Many kids were crying, even though most of the adults spent only a few moments praying with them. I wonder if this is another effect of them feeling like they are over-programmed and expected to produce results in most everything they do—that simply by having an adult love them, without expecting anything from them in return, is something they aren’t used to.
  • At one point, when I told the entire room that we had had a prayer team of 80 people (including 60 teenagers who had gone on the retreat before), praying for them by name for the entire month of October, I saw jaws drop open. I think the idea of being a part of something that’s a legacy is something that’s important to this group–which makes perfect sense, because the technology they’re so used to is so temporary that they crave something that lasts for a long time. Kids were coming up to me and telling me they were excited to get to pray for this group when they became teenagers, and many were asking me if they could come back to the retreat as teen leaders in the future. I think this wave of kids will be very interested in their personal genealogies, and will be captured by the idea of being a part of something that’s bigger than themselves.

All observations aside, I need to add one purely emotional statement that comes straight from the gut:

I love these kids and leaders.

Even with the kids’ wild dodgeball-chucking energy, and that twinkling in their eyes that indicates that they just poured a cup of sugar into my ice water, and their insistence that we stay up “just a little bit longer” to tell stories in our room late at night, and our leaders’ good-natured assistance with pranks, stealing creepy dolls out of rooms when no one is looking, and hiding candy bars in their Bibles…they make retreats like this a blast.

And now, for the first time in weeks, I can relax…and leisurely sip my sugar-free water.


Things I Probably NEVER Should’ve Said Out Loud…

24 03 2011

While in the office today, chatting with some of my male coworkers, they confessed that they think I’m a very intimidating person.

Dare I mention that one of these coworkers saying this was my own husband?

When I pressed the issue–genuinely a bit concerned, I might add–they wouldn’t stop laughing long enough to give me serious reasons why they view me this way. I think they were snickering at my disbelief.

Finally, one of my coworkers stopped giggling long enough to say, “When you write things like, ‘I’m going to chop your fingers off’, that scares people!”

Hm. Good point.

Let me explain…it’s not as bad as it sounds.

I think.

Back away from the cookies....

About two years ago, I had a problem with people from the office sneaking into my candy and cookie stash that I was saving for middle school events. When I dragged in several large cookie trays one day and had to leave them overnight, I was obviously concerned for the welfare of said cookies. So, I did what any other creative young individual would do, to deter people from creeping into my cookie stockpile:

I wrote a note saying, “If you steal a cookie from here, I will chop off your sticky fingers and feed them to you.”

It worked. Not a single cookie was stolen.

However, I haven’t lived it down since then. It gets brought up at least once a week around here.

I had another one of those, “Oops, I probably shouldn’t have said that out loud” moments a few weeks ago, as I was teaching a Communion Instruction class at church on a Sunday afternoon. As it was a large group and I was busy with organizing paperwork and prepping for the long lesson I’d be teaching, I had a few young students standing around me, pestering me mercilessly.

Since I was about ready to get up and teach the large class of students and parents, I had to get this youngsters to leave me in peace for a few moments. So I asked them to leave me alone and go sit down.

I actually don’t remember what I said, to be quite honest–but plenty of witnesses later reminded me of exactly what I said:

“Hey, go sit down or I’ll have to stab you with a pencil.”

Their response? “Whaaaaat?! You wouldn’t stab us, would you, Cassie?”

Me: (glancing around the table) “Well, you got lucky today. I only see pens here. Go away.”

I know, you’re wondering if I would actually stab a sixth grader with a pencil, aren’t you?

Come on–I don’t want to ruin my pencils. Silly.

I think the problem stems from the fact that I’m coupling my sarcastic and witty humor along with the fact that I work with such a turbulent and boisterous age group.

Often, I’ve caught myself saying things at youth events like, “Don’t make me throw you off the roof, pal” and “If you don’t put that basketball away, I’ll shove it up your nose”.

You think I’m joking? Ask my kids.

Or my coworkers.

Or…anyone that knows me.

I’ve become infamous lately for the “Focus Fist”, an effective (albeit cruel-sounding) form of silencing a large crowd during Bible study. The “Focus Fist” actually used to be the much more humane “Focus Fox”, where I held up my hand and formed an adorable little fox by extending my index and pinky fingers and clamping the other fingers down into a little snout. The purpose of the “Focus Fox” is to distract the group just long enough to refocus them. And it’s usually quite effective.

But, after an extremely long day at work and an evening capped off by attempting to lead a Bible study with the most tenacious group of ten and twelve year olds you’ve ever seen in your life, I abandoned the “Focus Fox” and instead waved my fist at them. Thus, the “Focus Fist” was born, and a new youth group tradition was started. And quickly spread to other youth groups a few weeks later, at a retreat.

My legacy: one of fear and control. How nice.

I guess my coworkers are right. I’m quite an intimidating person.

Now, stop reading my blog or I’ll throw you off the roof, buddy.

Vegas…or A Weekend With Middle Schoolers?

2 11 2010

It’s been too long since I last posted. I know, because I’ve heard it from nearly a dozen of you people–“Cassssssie, when are you going to write another post?”

It harkens me back to my days on the mission trip this summer, when I literally got sick of hearing my own name because I heard it so dang often:

“Cassie, what time is dinner?”

“Cassie, where’s my medicine?”

“Cassie, where are we going next?”

Multiply that by 30 kids for 7 days straight, and you get the picture.

So, the reason for my absence from the blogosphere is pretty simple–I’ve been crazy busy. In the last few weeks, I’ve been writing curriculum for our Wednesday night Bible studies, planning a whole slew of winter and spring classes and activities, and putting together our annual Encounter Camp, a giant retreat for our middle school students and their small group  leaders–among the other rigorous duties of my job.

Incidentally, while I was spending my weekend with a slew of middle schoolers busy teepeeing my door at 3:00 am, my brother was at a conference in Vegas, schmoozing it up with cocktails, fancy dinners, and expensive shows.

Hmm...must be nice...

I don’t have the most glamorous job in the world, that’s for sure.

But–sometimes glamor fizzles in the face of unmistakably real, life-shaking events that punctuate my ministry on occasion.

Let me explain.

Our Encounter Camp was incredible this year. It’s always a privilege to work with such wonderful and servant-minded leaders, and I always leave this weekend feeling blessed to interact with so many people.

This year, for only the second time, we had a “Parent Recap”, where we spent half an hour sharing details from the weekend–highlights of where we had seen God working, what we talked about, our favorite things from the Camp, and how parents could help their kids carry that spiritual growth they experienced at Camp with them through their daily life. It was inspiring to see so many parents excited about their kids’ relationship with Christ.

Honestly, I think one of my favorite parts of this whole weekend was simply hanging out with people. I absolutely love getting to know these kids and adult leaders–and it’s been fascinating to watch how the Holy Spirit has worked through them to mold them in the last few years.

I’ve been able to witness first-hand how some of these kids have grown into Godly young adults.

I’ve been privy to conversations about how some of our students didn’t know Christ at all, and now have a thriving relationship with him.

I’ve watched kids cry as they start to comprehend how much their God has done for them for the first time.

I’ve seen boys grow from hashbrown-slinging terrors into young men eager to live meaningful lives of purpose.

I’ve watched girls toss their ridiculous drama aside and strive to live up to their calling as Christian women.

Recently, one of my youth confided to me that when she came into the confirmation program last year, she was a Wiccan. Now, her faith in Christ is so solid that she’s not only rejected all of her old ways, but she’s reaching out to others who are caught up in the same spiral of evil and sharing her testimony with them.

Over the weekend, I saw one of our eighth grade girls stand up and choose to learn about God rather than go to a hockey game and get a backstage pass to meet her favorite hockey player, who’s been her role model for over half her life. Even though her parents drove up an hour and a half to present her with this surprise present, she chose to stay at the Camp and learn more about her God–because, as she put it, “This hockey player is my idol, but he’s not my Savior.”

Additionally, in the last few weeks, I’ve had the absolutely incredible experience of watching two young men start to step into leadership roles. They started out helping in small ways with our Fusion 56 Wednesday night Bible studies, and with a little encouragement, started taking on more and more leadership responsibility. Last week, they both led small groups for the first time–all on their own.

The coolest part? They totally rocked those small groups. The fifth and sixth grade kids were completely enthralled with having these teenagers as teachers. And I was blown away by the teaching ability of these two young men. I mean, seriously–I was floored. I felt like I just stumbled across a buried treasure that was hidden in plain sight, right in front of me all along.

I guess I’m rambling right now…this isn’t exactly my most cohesive and well-planned post. But, it’s a glimpse of what’s swirling around in my mind right now.

Even though my brother may be livin’ it up in Las Vegas, I’m still pretty happy with my weekend and the little rays of sunshine that shine into my life every once in a while.

However, don’t get me started on missing out on the famous Monte Carlo buffet…

Who Thought that a Creepy Clown Note on My Computer Could Brighten My Monday?

20 09 2010


Have you ever actually met someone who didn’t mind them?

Nope. Didn’t think so.

Mondays are so miserable, truthfully, that I usually dread going to bed on Sunday…just because I have to wake up and slog my way through a Monday.

And remember–I even enjoy my job. I can’t imagine how Mondays are for people who hate where they work.

However, I came into my office this morning and found my computer peppered with Post-it notes. Three of my youth had discovered my secret stash of pens and sticky notes the night before while at a youth event, and went to town on decorating my work space. It was pretty funny, actually, to come in and read them all this morning.

Here’s just a sampling of their randomness:

“Howdy Hey, Cassie A, Have a great Monday!”

“Got milk?”

“Howdy, partner!”

And, my personal favorite:

“Hey, just remember when you’re at work, I’m at SCHOOL.”

I also had a random doodle of a tree, a mouse, a concerned face with snot dripping out of an overly large nose, and three pictures of smiley faces with gigantic mustaches–among other inside jokes.

And, particularly disturbing was a picture of a clown with vampire teeth, stuck to the very middle of the screen.

Gulp. I hate clowns. And those kids know it. In fact, several have kindly offered to rent me a clown for my upcoming birthday. Which only makes me wish that I hadn’t opened my home to them–now they actually do know where I live.

Oh, the sheer and utter insanity of youth ministry. Every day, I tackle all sorts of weird jokes on Facebook, answer random silly and sometimes nonsensical texts from dozens of kids, and meet new teenagers who expect me to remember their faces, names, and random facts about themselves–even if it was just a fleeting encounter I had with them.

It’s hard to describe, but things like this must give you a little glimpse into my daily life, right?

Because–because….sometimes it’s even too indescribable for me.

Fine, too deep. It’s still Monday, after all. Mind-numbing shallowness is in order.

All things told, those rascals did make my Monday a little brighter.

Now, maybe if I can just cajole them to do this for me every week, I’ll actually start to look forward to Mondays…

Finding Contentment On Returning Home From Vacation (And NO, I’m NOT Lying!)

9 09 2010

I was on vacation for the last week.

I know. Shocker, right?

To be clear, I don’t sleep under my desk–as some of my co-workers and more than a few of my youth have asked me. Sometimes I actually go home and get away…and on the rare occasion, I sneak away to have fun.

Like last week, when I traveled to Florida to celebrate the wedding of two of my closest friends.

It was a blissful trip, a beautiful wedding, and I had a great time catching up with old friends at my husband’s home church, St. Luke’s in Oviedo–a place that has become my “second-home” church. I worked on staff there as a Director of Christian Education intern for a summer a few years ago, and have been blessed to have incredible friends and mentors there ever since. It’s an amazing place.

In a way, it was strange to be back there–almost like a parallel universe. Stepping into the church and seeing old youth and co-leaders was like dropping right back into the middle of a whole different realm of my ministry–one that’s still active, but that I’m not as close to, now that I live in St. Louis and work at a different church.


What am I trying to say, anyway? I have no idea. Just noting my observations about ministry, I guess.

I think I just never realized that moving away from a place doesn’t kill the impact you’ve made there, or force those connections you’ve made with youth and families to die completely. The Holy Spirit is alive and active, and working even in your absence.

And, really, the impact has little to do with me, anyway. It’s simply God working through me.

As Robert Louis Stevenson once said, “Don’t judge each day by the harvest you reap, but by the seeds you plant.”

Working with people is never easy, no matter what career you have. Ol’ Stevenson really hits the nail on the head for me with that phrase, because it’s what I have to remind myself every day: I’m just planting God’s seeds. That’s it. I can’t expect to see the results all the time.

(Confession time: I have that quote taped to my computer right now. It’s staring me down with beady little eyes of truth, 24/7.)

Trust me, working with young youth means I rarely see the harvest.

However, on vacation this last week, I realized how truly happy I am as a youth worker. It’s a long story for a whole different blog post as to how I ended up working as a middle school ministry coordinator–and working in the church at all, for that matter–but it’s something I wrestled with for a long time.

But, being on vacation and receiving a steady stream of texts from kids and parents–getting the long phone calls as soon as I got back, with my kids squealing about their latest crushes and complaints about tryouts–that’s my calling.

I’m called to work with people, to care for them despite their zany quirks and frustrations, and to let them know that God loves them. And that no matter what, nothing can separate them from that unalterable, unending love.

Oh, I love my job.

I’m not saying that in the hopes that my bosses will read this someday and give me a raise, or that someone will pat me on the back. I’m saying it simply because it’s true, and my eyes were opened on this trip to how much I have loved my job for the last several years–even before I arrived at Faith and started my ministry here.

I guess that’s how I know it’s truly a calling, in a way.

God is sure good to me. The fact that He guided me through some hurricane seasons of my life into a career that I’m passionate about and love so dearly is proof of His incredible love for me, I believe.

That being said, I guess I can’t really complain about those early morning, pre-school texts I’ve been receiving from my little squirts lately–because, after all, I’m doing what I truly love.

And I’m perfectly content with that.

5 Phrases They NEED To Hear (But Often Don’t!)

23 08 2010

No matter what you do, I won’t give up on you.

To me, it’s hard to believe that my students would ever think that I would give up on them—but when I really think about it, I can think of plenty of adults that I looked up to and trusted who did give up on me. Some of the adults I looked up to most in high school stopped talking to me entirely—I mean, wouldn’t even acknowledge me at graduation—after a silly prank I pulled as a senior. I was so devastated that it took years for me to get over that rejection.

Adults who influence for a weekend, a few months, or even a year are a dime a dozen. People who are passionate about students, invested in them in the long run, and who are willing to love fiercely—even when those kids they love so much screw up—are a rare breed.

But they’re life changers, I think—and I’ve been privileged to work with many of them in the last few years. They are truly shaping the entire future of the kids they’re invested in, and allowing God to literally speak through them to these kids—and as a program director, there’s nothing more inspiring than that.

I expect more from you.

As strange as it sounds, it was an epiphany to me when I first realized that I could set my own expectations and standards for my students. And believe me, up until that point, it was my biggest struggle in ministry. I used to think to myself, “How can I expect things out of kids when they aren’t given the same standards at home? Isn’t that unfair? Just because I was raised with high standards doesn’t mean that I should impose that on other people’s kids—right?”

In the real world, though, I quickly realized that kids need standards. Everything they do, in fact, is an attempt to find out where I stand on every issue. And, their constant nagging is simply a way to find out how firmly I stand on things.

Kids—especially middle schoolers—are adaptable. They quickly figure out what adults expect a lot out of them, and respect those adults in their lives much more than those who don’t expect anything out of them at all.

My students would likely all tell you that I have high standards, and that I expect a lot out of them. And, several of them would probably be able to tell you when I’ve had a stern but loving talk with them about how I do expect more from them as young Christians. I’ve always been upfront with my kids, clearly telling them that if I catch them swearing on Facebook, for instance, I’ll call them on it. And I do. That’s my standard—and kids respect that.

In fact, they strive to live up to it. Within my standards, too, I always strive to teach students life skills. To me, everything is a learning opportunity—a chance for growth. For instance, I’ve demanded that every young man remove his hat while praying. Unnecessary? Maybe. But a teachable moment about the respect and reverence we should have towards our Creator? Definitely.

It’s ok to wrestle with God.

The first time I ever said this to a group of kids, it was when I was a college student stepping in at the last-minute to lead a weekend retreat with a bunch of middle schoolers. I hardly knew the kids, but connected with them well. So well, in fact, that we ended up cramming all 11 of us into a hotel room that night to talk about the day.

As the kids talked, I began to notice a common thread—they were all wrestling with doubts about God, but skirting around the issue. It was like they just couldn’t admit that they did have those thoughts.

When I finally blurted out, “You guys are human! You’re grabbing onto your own faith and understanding it as teenagers now, stepping away from the faith that your parents have thus far raised you in—you should have doubts and be wrestling with these issues if you’re actually thinking about this stuff seriously!”, a sigh of relief literally went through the room.

A whole new, deeper level of conversation started—one that went beyond the “right answers” to brutal honesty that actually impacted these kids. I’ve moved half a country away from these particular kids, but they still remember that night and talk about it with their youth pastor often.

I think the story of Jacob wrestling with God is one that all teenagers need to hear. They need to be told that they’re not going to hell just because they’re questioning and wondering. We’re all sinful, imperfect people, and we all experience doubts from time to time—but how crafty is Satan, to sneak in there and pry these kids away from their faith entirely by convincing them that their questions about God make them unworthy of His love?

(Answer: very crafty!)

Sometimes I think that maybe my only purpose for being on this earth is to comfort those kids who are struggling so painfully with this issue–and have been stressed and guilty and overcome with shame for years because no one’s ever told them this before.

Because, at the end of their questions and doubts, stands a God who outlasts every query.

You can trust me–really.

People constantly open up to me. I don’t know if that means I’m a nosy person, a good listener, or just have a knack for being approachable…but whatever it is, it happens all the time. I’ve been in grocery stores, talking to random people, and have had them telling me their life stories. And usually, people confide in me so deeply that at some point, they suddenly reel back and say, “Oh my goodness! You can’t ever tell anyone else that I said that!”

Kids, especially, tell me all sorts of things they don’t want others to know. I’m more trustworthy than their peers, I suppose—but still close enough to them that I’m not a total stranger. They know that I won’t promise them blind trust—I would have to seek professional help and connect with their parents if I found out that they were severely depressed, anorexic, or suicidal, for instance.

But what they constantly want to know is how trustworthy I am with their day-to-day confessions. I need to remind them that I do keep my mouth shut—and that I would always inform them if I ever were to share anything confidential with anyone else.

I don’t like your behavior, but I still love you.

I learned this little nugget as a resident assistant in college. It was simply incredible what a difference it made to the students I was disciplining—keep in mind, those students were my peers.

You learn fast how to avoid making an entire student body angry with you when you bust up one of the biggest sophomore parties of the year, believe me.

Explaining to people that while I didn’t like their behavior or the choices they made but I still cared about and wanted a relationship with them was the dealmaker. It seems like an almost unnecessary thing to say–but simply saying it makes all the difference in the world. And it does make a difference to kids, too, on the occasion that I do need to discipline them.

Teens Say the Darndest Things…

17 08 2010

I’ve spent quite a bit of time with my teens in the last few weeks, savoring the  sweet dregs of last-minute freedom before school starts tomorrow.

Yep. I’m pretty much as bummed as they are. No more spontaneous trips for ice cream and snow cones, no more Saturdays at Six Flags, no more trips to the mall on lazy Sunday afternoons, no more surprise fake mustaches showing up in hidden spots all over my car after giving the kids money to buy vending machine goodies, and no more random kids jogging to my office on a 101 degree day to just “hang out” with me.

One parent asked me (in half seriousness, I think) if I wanted to sign the adoption papers to take custody of her son. I think she was surprised when I readily agreed.

Sure. Skip the baby part. I’ll go from being childless to having a 14-year-old overnight. Sounds great to me.

I’ve been keeping a mental log of the memorable things I’ve heard come out of these kids’ mouths over the last week or so, just so I can either laugh uproariously about them in the privacy of my own home or ponder their sweetness later on. So here, for your pleasure, are a couple of the stand outs that these kids have said to me in the last week:

#1.”Cassie, I really can’t figure out how old you actually are. You just seem so much like you’re totally my age.”

Why I Like It: I still feel like I’m their age–just wiser and with a better sense of fashion than my 14-year-old self. Oh, and a college degree and a ring on my finger, too. I’ve realized that because I can just hang with these kids and live my life with them, side-by-side, they don’t see me as an adult from Planet Lame. And, because of that, they trust me. So I hear the inside scoop–on everything. And yes, I mean everything.

#2. “It’s hard being Cassie Moore sometimes, isn’t it?”

Why I Like It: Working with teens is no job for those who only desire to be popular and well-liked all the time, I’ve discovered. There have been plenty of times where I’ve had to put my foot down and discipline kids. No, I don’t like being the Bad Guy–and that’s exactly what was happening when one of my younger students made this comment to me. In the course of one morning, he saw me balancing the challenging tension of having fun, connecting with students and leaders, and reigning in the unruly troublemakers. I guess the demands of my job that day looked pretty darn unappealing to this poor, innocent youngster.

#3. “I’ve prayed for you, every single night for the last two years.”

Why I Like It: As I watched my 44 students walk across the stage a few weekends ago to be confirmed, I realized that I had prayed for each one of them by name dozens of times–some of them, likely hundreds of times. I had tears in my eyes through both confirmation services, just thinking about how much I truly care for each one of these kids–and most of them don’t even know how much I care about them. To know that one of my dear students was doing the same thing in praying so faithfully for me, unbeknownst to me, gave me chills.

#4. “I think you’ve become my second mom…sooo, you wouldn’t mind buying me a snow cone now, right Mom?”

Why I Like It: One of my students joked last week that he was going to change my name in his cell phone  to “Mom 2”, because I always take “such good care of him”. I’ve bought this kid everything from shoes to dinner, so sometimes I do feel like his mother. I’m grateful that my students know I care for them–that I’m not just going to temporarily plug into their lives and then unplug as soon as the next wave of students comes through my program. I’m invested in them for the long haul, as a good mother would be.

#5. “You know slavery is illegal in the United States now, right?”

Why I Like It: Working with teenagers is challenging–usually it feels like you’re working in the complete dark, because you so rarely see the results of your investment. But, every once in a while, you get a little glimmer of the seeds you’ve sown growing and producing fruit. Last weekend, I spent an entire day at a theme park with twelve teenagers and three other adults, enduring sticky humidity and sore feet and a profusion of “your momma” jokes. At the end of the night, one of my students asked me how he could help me because I was “always helping him”. When I jokingly told him that I was always swamped at work in the summer and that I needed some “slaves” to help me file papers and organize the building, he committed to coming in the next day and working for me. Despite my pleas to not give up a precious last day of freedom before school started, he recruited a friend and spent eight long hours assisting me, tirelessly working without breaks. Their work ethic so clearly revealed the power of the Holy Spirit working in them that it gave me goosebumps–and reminded me that while working with teens is definitely harder than herding cats, it’s infinitely more rewarding (even when you only get an occasional sliver of the results).

#6. “I want to be hanging out with you in 30 years.”

Why I Like It: I want to be hanging out with them in thirty years, too. A few months ago, two of the girls in my small group confided that they had been utterly crushed one afternoon last year, as they realized how insignificant they probably were in my life. In their minds, I was going to leave this church someday and completely forget about them. As they laughingly told me, “You matter too much to us–you’ve changed our lives–but we thought we were going to be nothing to you, that you wouldn’t even remember our names after you left.”  Honestly, I went home and cried over this. I know exactly what they were feeling–I’ve felt it, too. There have been people I’ve connected with and looked up to, and I doubt they can even remember me now. That hurts. But, the fact that these girls know that I won’t do that to them–that they’ve changed my life just as much–is something I’m grateful for. And the reality that they want to be involved in the rest of my life is something that causes me to fall to my knees in thankfulness.