Tuesday, April 24, 2012

13 Again

"I'm spending the weekend with 60 jr. highers."

When hearing this, the most common reaction I receive goes something along the lines of this:

For most people, the thought of spending three days surrounded by 7th and 8th graders is terrifying. And rightly so. They can be quite a scary bunch.


But to be honest, this past weekend was probably the most fun I've had doing my job in a long time.

Don't get me wrong - there have been some good moments. However, this has been a rough few months. 

Going on trips with the youth is one of my favorite parts of my job. They can be really stressful because there is always a lot of planning that goes along with it, and parents are trusting you with the lives of their children. 

Yet, they are such a wonderful and unique opportunity. Within a matter of only a few days you get to see these teenagers transform and grow before your eyes. They try new things. Concepts that they've been hearing their entire lives finally click in their heads. They meet new people. They get to relax after a long week at school. 

One of my favorite parts of this trip that I just took over the weekend would probably surprise you. 

THE DANCE.

Yes, you read that correctly. Jr. high dances are one of my favorite things. Our high school counselors who came with us gave me a really strange look when I told them this.

But come on! It's so fun. They're all awkward. The girls are taller than the boys. "Slow dancing" is actually just kinda rocking back and forth. If they're brave they'll turn in a little circle. "Fast dancing" is basically bouncing up and down. They also aren't afraid to be goofy and ridiculous. You would be surprised how intense our traditional game of musical chairs is at this dance. Every year I'm shocked we aren't sending kids to the hospital at the end. 

Do you remember jr. high dances? They can be big moments in your adolescence. 

There's that kid who you can only describe as a very watered down version of Sheldon Cooper. He sits in the corner reading a big book because the idea of actually socializing and interacting with humans is a terrifying thought. But then he surprises you... and he dances with a girl. TWICE. 
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It's the girl coming up to you so excited because she danced with a boy for the first time. 

Then ten minutes later she finds out that already he has moved onto another girl. I gave her a hug at the end of the night.

(Oh the woes of being 13. When I told my high school girls at youth group on Sunday about this they were all "He is such a player!" When this happened, it made me grateful that I was able to get through that stage of life in one piece. It's rough)

It's cheering for your friends so your church can win the musical chairs competition.

It's the girls who think the older high school boy is "SO CUTE!" and trying to secretly take pictures of him on their phones - and it's completely obvious.

Chaperoning jr. high dances is like watching an episode of Boy Meets World unfolding before your eyes.

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Even beyond the dance though, it's so fun seeing these kids transform before your eyes into teenagers. That's the beauty of jr. high. At my church we start youth ministry in 6th grade because that is when they have their first year of confirmation class. To be honest, those first few months are rough because they are still in the elementary school mindset. Then they go to their first jr. high retreat. They start talking about subjects in class that are tougher than they thought. They have their first school and church dances. Athletics become tougher and more competitive. In a short amount of time they become young adults. 

I was so stinking proud of our group. They stepped up to help clean at every meal. They included everyone and made new friends. They never complained and had a great attitude the whole weekend. 

I also love talking with the high school students who come with us as counselors. They can relive some of their jr. high days and put together the pieces of what they learned with their experiences now, then share that with the younger students.

Yesterday morning I had a long conversation via Facebook with a high school student and he shared with me how much he loves going back to this retreat every single year because he learns so much and he loves being able to be a mentor to the jr. high kids, and how much closer he comes to God every year.

Another high school boy we took told me how much he wishes he had gone to his own retreats when he was younger. Then on Sunday night he texted me to share how glad he was to be able to have these experiences. On Monday his mom called us saying how he's usually so quiet and doesn't share much about his life, but when he came home from this retreat he talked for about three hours non-stop.

Our high school female counselor didn't hesitate to say yes when we asked her to come with us and is already inquiring about coming as a counselor to a retreat in the fall. 

So yeah... jr. high students are scary. They're also exhausting. I think I'm still recovering from the long weekend. But it was fun, and I needed that fun.

Could you all remind me of this post when I get frustrated with this job?

14 comments:

  1. Blessed are those who love jr. high/middle school kids, for there reward in heaven will be great! Bless you my friend!

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  2. I'm glad you had such a good time. I love youth work, despite it being exhausting and often difficult. When I tell people that I spend my Friday nights with secondary school age kids (11-16), I usually get the same reaction as your first picture so beautifully describes! The youth can definitely be scary. When I first started youth work I was terrified of them. But they are such great people, they're a lot of fun to be around, and seeing them grow in their faith is amazing. Keep up the good work Emmy :D

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    1. They really can be scary- and same with high school students! And there are a lot of tough times in youth ministry. More than they tell you. Which is why weekends like this are welcome with open arms!

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  3. Walcamp dances are the best! Awkwardness at it's finest!

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    1. AH WALCAMP! I used to LOVE those CYM trips!

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  4. Love it! Going to go click & follow your blog in a minute. Stopping by from Mingle Monday. Looking through your tags, it looks like we have a lot of similar interests. I can honestly say, though, working with youth is *not* my calling! ;) But I LOVE the stories people tell! :)

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    1. Awesome, and welcome! I actually just sent you a welcome email too! lol. And I'll have to check out your blog as well!

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  5. I spent the last two years working with the 7th-8th graders at church, and it was both frustrating and rewarding. I was the only female leader some nights, and trying to wrangle a dozen or more preteen girls? Difficult. Made me want to cry and scream sometimes. But I learned things from working with them, too. :)
    I helped lead a small group of 9th grade girls (very small, max six) last year and it was so good. But I didn't help with much else of the high school stuff. I felt like I was too close to their age to be their leader, and none of them paid me much attention anyway.

    I went to one dance in all my years of junior high and high school. The one that I did go to was an end-of-the-year dance at school that we were almost required to go to.
    Okay, I went to another, but it was a New year's Eve party at the Y and it was as much swimming as it was dancing. My best friend got a free Dilly Bar stick from the DJ for being the first one on the dance floor. Good times.

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    1. IT. IS. SO. HARD. Like... I remember in school they told us it was hard (I think), but they didn't tell us REALLY how hard it is. Thankfully two of the other staff at my church used to do the youth ministry, so they understand how it is. Ministry in general is hard, but a lot of people don't see how youth ministry is one of the hardest areas. The good moments are few and far between sometimes. But I love the good memories!

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  6. aw good for you for making something so meaningful possible for these kids! And thanks for the little reminder of hor far I've come since middle school. hehe

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    1. Isn't it funny to look back and be like "Was I really like that????" I think this week I'm going to pull out some of my old scrapbooks and photo albums from the Jr. High years and see what I can remember. OOOO! Blast from the past post! That would be fun!

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  7. Bless you and your patience. My first slow dance was in 7th grade on a Friday afternoon with a boy named Daniel. Afterwards, we were "dating" and by Monday afternoon, he had his friend John dump me. What an awkward time in life. Kudos to you for the work you do with kids, I am not blessed with such skill.

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    1. As my girls would say, "What a player!" But such is the way of jr. high "relationships".

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