My high school years are full of memories I can vividly remember. Like how I changed best friends eighteen times from Britney to Kelly to Courtney and then the Sarah’s.
There were a few Sarah's.
All of my time and babysitting money was spent on clunky shoes and bad chick-flicks and nights out at Chili’s where we pretended we were grown up and knew everything. Those were the years I would obsess about guys and wonder what sex was like while sharing mozzarella sticks and Dr Peppers with my girlfriends. I remember how Saturdays were devoted to shopping and scrapbooking, and the nights were for games of chicken feet and Ms. Senecal’s home-made popcorn and staying up late talking about God and theology and I would leave, head spinning.
High school was high school. I was kind of a nobody and preferred it that way. I didn’t want to draw attention to myself. I wanted to be left alone and survive as I always seemed to find myself an easy target for the girl-bullies to pick on. Every once in a while, the real me would peek outside of the shell I hid under - like when I wanted a role badly enough for a musical or when it felt safe to be me.
And I always remember the disappointment that came when I wasn’t chosen to be Maria in West Side Story even though I’m still convinced to this day that Leonard Bernstein totally wrote that music just for me even though I’m in no way, shape or form Puerto Rican.
But most of my good memories from high school came from youth group. It felt safe to be me there. I could play games and sing on the worship team and be my loud, silly self. I made girlfriends there who knew Jesus and encouraged me when I was hurting or down. Our youth pastor was fun, and we always did fun things. It kept me grounded when my world had been turned upside down.
Youth group nights were my favorite nights of the week. I couldn’t wait to get there and I didn’t want to leave.
Fifteen years later (for serious, how am I this old), I still go to youth group. Granted, I’m a leader, and it’s a completely different church, but it’s still my favorite night of the week. For the last year and a half I have been serving and ministering to and getting to know the teens of our church. My friend Kat and I lead the junior/senior girls group and we’ve laughed, we’ve cried, we’ve challenged them and they’ve challenged us.
Every once in a while I catch my teenage self in one of them. I find myself in their tears about how they feel ugly or fat or stupid. I find myself in the boy crazy ones who you have to force out of the bathroom every week because they’re taking selfies and working up the guts to talk to so-and-so that night. I find myself in the quiet ones, the ones who are ashamed and are hiding something. Each and every one of them remind me of the me I was. They invite me to remember what I was needing at their age. And every week I show up to be an ear, to be a voice, to share a story, to give a hug, to play and laugh, to remind them that they matter and that they are fiercely loved by God.
And that this loud and still silly 30-something woman thinks they rock.
In the last couple of weeks we have been honoring our Seniors, celebrating accomplishments and savoring moments before life changes and they head out to greater adventures. It’s been bittersweet for me as I have been preparing for goodbyes and reflecting on my time with these precious girls I have come to know and dearly love.
Perhaps I show up every Wednesday night hoping that my presence or my voice or words will have an impact – that God will use me in some way to show them more of Himself. Yet, every week without fail, I would always leave feeling like I was the changed one. I’ve left feeling humbled, challenged, and convicted. These girls, these relationships I’ve been building over the course of the last couple of years, has stirred something in my heart. God has been calling me to more, calling me to something greater. I don’t know exactly what it means or what it looks like yet, I just know that I want more of this.
As summer is officially upon us, I am bracing for goodbyes and arranging the last of the get-togethers and game nights and hoping that they really believe I’m here if they need anyone to talk to.
I hope these girls can take away sweet memories of laughter and games and heartfelt teaching and remember their own youth group as fondly as I remember my own. More than anything though, I hope that these graduated, now-adult people, will move on from high school youth group with a heart that wants to forever follow after Jesus.