Lessons from The Young Ones

If you have ever accompanied two dozen middle school students to camp, you know…it’s an experience. An exhausting, highly valuable experience. To laugh, play, learn alongside 5th, 6th, 7th, and 8th graders, it’s an honor and a joy. They teach me so much.

Here are some highlights of the lessons they taught me at camp this year:

The space between words said and words heard is a dangerous place. 

In the middle of an intense game, words were being thrown around in a buzz of accomplishing the task at hand. We had to work together and yet, in the pressure to accomplish the task, we were thinking more about the tiny details than the people we were working alongside. When a moment of offering solutions turned to a misunderstood statement of value, a student’s heart was crushed. The intended message was, “We are near the end. Some of us can rest now.”  Instead, what was received was “I am not valuable.”

Without even knowing the details of what we were doing or what exactly was said, I’m sure you can relate. I know I can. How many times have we heard in someone’s ill-timed words, “You don’t matter”? How many times have others interpreted our words to be a measure of their worth?

It’s heartbreaking. It destroys friendships.

I took this student aside and we talked about what her friend might have possibly meant and how it made her feel when she first heard the words. Her friend followed her around until she would allow her to give her a hug and apologize. Both were afraid to step back into the relationship. One wounded and one wondering what happened but feeling guilty nonetheless.

It is difficult to always be aware of our words, but if we can remember just a bit more often than we forget, that the people are more important than the project, then the space between spoken and heard might just shrink.

Bravery is personal and requires community.

The high ropes. Every camp has some form of this torture (or thrill, depending on your point of view). There are always three groups of participants. You have the spider monkeys, who are the first to gear up and scale the wall, the pole, the net. These are also a little bummed that they can’t just hold onto a bar to fly down the zip line. “Aw, man. Do I have to wear the harness?” Then of course you have those who know enough to know they want to sit this one out. Either they have done their fair share of rock walls and it no longer holds a challenge for them or, they have done their fair share of rock walls and they have no desire to relive that feeling of their stomachs blocking their airways for yet another 10 minute build up to forcing myself…ahem…I mean, themselves off the platform into the fall of the zip line.  Then there is the third group. The in-betweeners. They want to try. They want to know the feeling of flying down the line. They want to prove, mostly to themselves, that they can scale that wall. But, they are terrified.

For some, it takes only a nudge and the courage rises up in them. For others, it takes circles of conversation with peers, with leaders, with themselves to work up the nerve to give it a go. We had one sweet girl on this trip who was all geared up and warming the bench. She went back and forth. Leaders and friends encouraged her to give it a shot. We assured her the harness would hold her. After a few, “I wills” and “I can’ts”, she said this, “My goal is to try.”

And let me tell you, this little in-betweener scaled that course like a spider monkey. She was the fastest one! She got to the top and struck a wonder woman pose of victory. And when it came time to throw herself off the platform for the zip line, an older student walked her through it and held her hand until they both went soaring down the line. It was beautiful!

At the end of the day, she dropped this truth bomb, “I was able to go fast because I knew Jesus was with me. He makes me brave.” Well, amen.

Her bravery was dependent on her willingness to take the first step.  Her bravery was dependent on the other students cheering her on and holding her hand. But ultimately, she still recognized that the source of all that allowed her to be brave is Jesus. For you and me too. It is personal. It takes the community. It all depends on Jesus.

No need to worry, we will get to where we are going.

Our drive to camp is about four and a half hours, plus a stop at the world’s greatest gas station/corner store, Buc-ees. If you don’t know about Buc-ees, take a road trip through Texas ASAP. Overall, the trip takes about five hours. Unless of course, one of your crew gets violently ill. Then that five hour trip home might just become a nine hour trip.

As the leaders of the trip, when this sort of thing happens, your mind is suddenly split into a billion alternate universes. You are suddenly the parent of a 5th grader, waiting for your child who was supposed to be home long ago. You are also the friend and nurse of the person whose insides are demanding they get their moment in the sun, if you know what I mean. You worry about what they need; you are searching your history of violent illness to find a cure. You are also selfish and just want to be home, for the sake of all that is good and holy. And you are waiting for that moment, when the students will snap and the deluge of whining will begin.

Only, it never came. Middle school students, at the end of a fun but exhausting week of camp, who had plans to go to the beach or hang out with friends or eat an awesome home cooked meal…they never once complained that they were stuck in a van for four extra hours. I am telling you, the Spirit of The Lord was upon us.

They occasionally, understandably asked about where we were and how far we were from home, but it was always in a sweet, curious tone. And beyond that, they were much more concerned for our sick passenger than they were about getting home. There was even a point (thank you Houston rush hour), where I expressed the smallest amount of irritation and from the students, heard this response, “It’s ok, Erin. We will get there.”

Sometimes things don’t go as planned. Sometimes people get ill and you have to slow down to take care of them. Sometimes, what should take 5 hours, gets stretched. Our plans don’t always play out as we hope. Sometimes, you know when you are twelve years old that you are built for student ministry but you don’t get there until you are thirty. Sometimes, you know you are meant to adopt that precious child you have been fostering and the system is just not cooperating. Sometimes, you are confident that God has called you to move to a new city but your house just will not sell. But don’t worry, we are headed toward being home with Jesus, and we will get there, even if things don’t go as planned along the way.

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In scripture, we find many places where the young brought more to the table of wisdom and faith than the seasoned. Don’t forget that while you are teaching, raising, avoiding children, they may be the ones who will teach you. What have you learned from young ones lately?

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