Its youth group night.
I’m a leader.
Junior High, that’s my poison of choice.
It’s Wednesday and I’ve been hit up on Facebook and via text, “R U kmn 2nit?”
Honestly, I should be the one asking, because I’m always there; I’ve got a 97% attendance rate after three years. Most kids are hitting the 50% mark—although there are a couple right on par with me.
I try to respond to their questions in whole words and intelligible sentences. But now and then I get the wild hair to respond in their language, “C U SN!”
Walking through the doors into youth group is like playing Russian Roulette. Frightening. Exciting. And very insane.
“Oh Sherrrrrrrrrryyyyyy!” Naïve (that’s what we’ll call her) is running my way. Full speed like a baby rhino. I brace myself for the tackle hug. I have yet to be knocked down—but it’s been close a time or two.
“How are you?” I ask.
“Oh I’m good. Guuuueessss what?” There isn’t time for me to answer.
“I like someone…” And she proceeds to tell me her new crush and wonders if she should like him or not. And what did it mean when he used her pencil. And should she play soccer with him? And “OMG it was so embarrassing when I saw him at lunch, because he was with his friends and he smiled, and I waved and he waved back, and then his friends laughed, and I kept waving, and then he turned around and I dropped my lunch, and I thought I was gonna die. WHAT SHOULD I DO?”
Naïve said all this in one breathe. She’s amazing.
Next I walk up to Twiggy (again, that’s what we’ll call her).
“Hey Twig, I’m so happy to see you! How have you been?”
Twiggy is kinda shy, but is always up for a conversation with me. “Good,” she nods.
Twiggy takes a minute to warm up to conversations. Luckily I’m like an electric blanket, “So, Twiggy, did you get to go to the mall with your friends?”
“Oh yeah, we went and I got these,” she shows me a pile of bangles on her arms, some mismatched socks, and massive hoop earrings.
“Very cool, and how did…” Twiggy sees her friends and I can tell she’s eager to be with them. Who am I to hold her back from her friends she hasn’t seen in a whole 3.4 hours. I get the unintended hint, point towards her friends and say, “Hey! Look who’s here?” That’s Twiggy’s sign of approval that she can dart off and see her long lost friends. Twiggy and crew will be back on me in about seven minutes; until then I’ll round the large group of kids, greet others, and look for loners on the fringes.
Every time I think I spot a loner and introduce myself, I discover it’s their third year at youth group. Okay, kid, maybe it’s your third year—but only like the fifth time ever, right? Whatever, I get lots of opportunities to be a complete dork at youth group. Kids have no idea how awkward it can be for an adult helping in youth ministry.
Eventually we make it into the “big room”. This is where the worship band rocks out the kids and the youth pastor delivers the topic of the night. Tonight we’re finishing up the “Dirty” series; kids just love saying “dddiiirrrrtyyyyyyy!”
An hour later, nearing 8:00 p.m., means it’s time to huddle into small groups. Kids get loud and boisterous as they make their way into private rooms with their leaders. The leaders are given a set of questions to springboard discussions; some are hardcore and follow the questions to a T. I’m not one of those leaders. I’m very intent on letting the Holy Spirit guide the way. This method tends to look like utter chaos at first—and I’d be lying if didn’t admit that often I wonder when the Holy Spirit is gonna kick the conversation into something of essence.
Tonight I’ve got eleven girls. That’s almost manageable. Naïve, Twiggy, Sunshine, Curious, Punk, I-Don’t-Care, Sweetie, Impediment, Purity, Thinker, and Smiles are all there. Over the last three years, I’ve fallen in love with each of these girls as if they were my own favorite niece. I remember when they just arrived three years ago—sixth graders—sweet and quiet. I don’t know what happened between then and now, but something about eighth grade makes you automatically A.D.D.
The girls are recapping their life since we last met, and it’s getting out of control and wild, I’m counting on the Holy Spirit to kick in. Soon! And then it happens. One girl shows off her new Purity Ring.
Ding, Ding, Ding! Perfect segue to get on topic for discussing tonight’s message – “thank you God!”
But then the hideous awesome happens. As Purity is showing off her ring, one of the girls asks, “what is it for?” Purity responds, “You know, it’s like a promise to your dad that you won’t…you know…do it.”
I love Naïve as she asks in all honesty, “Do what?” There are giggles. Naïve reiterates, “I’m serious, what won’t you do?”
Out of the corner of my eagle eye, I watch Punk make a circle with one hand and proceed to use the pointer finger on her other hand to demonstrate… yeah, that’s not happening on my watch! My ninja cat like reflexes stop her impending illustration. No one is the wiser. And we continue on like nothing happened. Okay, Thinker might have noticed—and she likes being in on the secret.
The rest of the night plays out well. There are giggles, and serious talk, and everyone is getting bad grades in math and are grounded from one thing or another. So the group decides it’s a great idea to pray about this stuff.
And that’s when it hits me how far these girls have come. Three years ago, I was the one to close every small group with prayer. But now, I rarely get to pray anymore—they are Johnny-on-the-spot in offering to pray. Even Punk and I-Don’t-Care pray; surprisingly they do a great job.
And that’s when I’m reminded; I’ve got one of the best jobs in the world. Loving your amazing kids and watching the Holy Spirit work amongst its favorite little A.D.D. souls.