The highlight of every week for me has to be Wednesday nights. I spend them at church with teenagers for youth group where we play games and hang out and talk and fellowship together. There is something about being up close and personal with these young women especially that feels like a necessary part of ministry and living for me. It both fills and empties me and every conversation or embrace or inside joke we share, (I'm eatin' a sandwich) is as if I'm going back in time and loving on my teenage self. And she desperately needed loving on.
Much like my five year old, teenagers have many questions that I simply can't answer for them. Because at this point, they are old enough and mature enough to ask the big questions that even I am still figuring out and struggling through. Because our faith is always something to be worked out. I pray regularly that God would speak through me and use His words. Because I am human and I never say all the right things and I know the power and weight that words can have for a young woman. I want my words to be His words.
Often times, I find myself in this sacred space where they have offered me their hearts and I land somewhere between friend, youth leader, mother and used-to-be-teenager in my responses. It almost feels like holy ground to sit in these places, as while I am offering hope to someone else, there is a measure of healing occurring in my own heart.
Back in January, I got to spend an entire weekend with my precious teen girls on our annual youth winter retreat. I love, love, love the retreats. Probably because I get more than two hours with them and instead get this up close and personal time of connection for almost three whole days. They see what I look like without makeup and encounter me before my morning coffee. And if you are a female, we all know that there is something about the vulnerability of being in your pajamas with people you don't know well, that instantly bonds you together.
The retreats seem to be the place where I get invited in to know more of who they are, what they're dreaming and fearing and questioning.
And we may or may not sneak out of the cabin after curfew and have a middle of the night adventure together. Though if that were true, what kind of youth leader would I be if I encouraged rule-breaking?
But whether we are in pajamas, or it's 3am, or quiet moments by the river or at a picnic table, relationships are built and solidified. Where they can see that I'm not simply their youth leader, but their friend. And I care truly, deeply and sincerely about what is going on in their lives and hearts.
I would propose that every teenager needs a grown-up friend. And every grown-up needs a teenager friend. My life and my heart would be significantly less.
One of my girls asked me that weekend, "So, am I like a person to you yet? Do you see me for me, or do you see me as the younger sister of who used to be in your group?"
And I hoped my words reached out and hugged her as she heard them. I told her she was SO a person to me. And that I so dearly enjoy her for her. She's not just someone's sister, she's precious to me.
She smiled back at me when I said all of that. And I think she believed that I meant every word.