The church and I only have them, on average, four hours a week. That leaves one hundred and sixty eight hours for someone, or something, else to fill.
Weekly: 4 versus 168.
Monthly: 16 versus 672.
Yearly: 208 versus 8,736.
The enormity of that difference is frightening.
Who or what is filling those hours? The answers that commonly come to mind are: school, sports/hobbies, family, friends, sleeping. The not so obvious ones: opposite sex, social media, depression, etc.
I remember my middle school years vividly, even if my SmallGroup girls think they were during the dark ages of history. I began middle school in Cheyenne, Wyoming and wrapped those years up beach-side in sunny Florida. (Talk about a culture shock!) I went from wearing tie-dye tshirts and not brushing my hair (I was a total hippie) to dyeing my hair, wearing tight tanktops, and staring at the local surfers who brought their boards to school. Middle school was a tough time for me because I moved in the middle of seventh grade and did not know where I would fit in. Spoiler alert: I survived and you will, too. Take it from me, there will be times where you think you cannot go on. There will be times where you want to give up. There will be times where you feel alone. Honey, I can promise you that giving up is the easy way out and that you will never be alone. Trust me on this.
Things I wish my middle-schoolers knew:
-You are beautiful, really beautiful. Yes, you are awkward and your body is going through what feels like a million changes, but you are the only you there will ever be. You may not look like anyone else, and that may seem like a bad thing, but one day you will realize how truly wonderful being unique is. Dare to be different, because you are radiant. Be you! The next few years those around you in middle school will be discovering just exactly who they think they are. Find ways to express your talents and discover more about yourself through clubs, school projects, volunteering, and activities outside of school. If you love to read, read! If you love to show pigs and everyone thinks pigs are disgusting, show pigs! Be you, sweet girl, because again, there is only one you in the history of forever and I love knowing you.
-You are smart, funny, and brave. Never give up your intelligence to fit in. You are smart, really, really smart. Do not let the fact that you failed your math quiz, played the wrong note during your clarinet solo, or forgot your locker combination make you think otherwise. Learn to laugh when you feel like falling apart. You are going to be ok. Things might get rough here and there, but you are going to make it. There will be moments that your world may seem like it’s ending, but it’s not. These years are but a short adventure in your life; keep your head up, baby girl. Life is going to be wondrously great one day and I do not want you to miss it. You going to need to be brave because this is the time to discover yourself. Enjoy singing? Join the choir. Think basketball is your thing? Try out for the team, even if you are sure you will not make it. Yes, these things are scary, but you will never regret trying.
-Things happen that will be out of your control. Even the smallest things will overwhelm you. As a die hard Spice Girls fan still, I hate to break it to you, but your favorite band will eventually break up. You will survive. #SpiceGirlPower
-Don’t believe stereotypes. Get to know people personally instead of judging them.
-Mind your manners. Say thank-you to everyone. Write thank-you notes. Say please and you’re welcome. Apologize and employ forgiveness. Manners will take you far in life.
-There is drama and lots of it. Middle school is filled with gossip, but people who talk about and judge others are just insecure. They put people down to make themselves feel better. It will be tempting to join in, but try hard not to participate and never, ever be a bully; your words leave a permanent mark on others. Be kind even when those around you are not; you will not be sorry.
-Be insightful and responsible. Everyone around you is growing and changing at different paces and experiencing a lot of the same things as you. With great change comes great responsibility. What you do now will have an effect on the rest of your life. Make good choices. Especially when it comes to social media. Those pictures and words you post, share, snap, will always be out there. Just because the app can be deleted or tells you that what you post will disappear, it won’t. Stop subtweeting your drama and bullying other girls online. seriously, enough is enough.
-Parents. Your parents actually do love you and they are not as stupid as you think they are. They have been through some of the things you are going through and they don’t want you to get hurt. They set boundaries for you because they want to keep you safe. They are going to make mistakes, but they mean well, so quit rolling your eyes and talking back. Tell them you love them more. Always remember that you are never too old for a kiss and a hug from your mom and dad before and after school. Stay connected to family (including siblings).
Boys. That little blonde headed boy with the bowl cut that you think you are in love with and cry yourself to sleep over, will be a jobless, chubby bald guy in about twenty years. He won’t be nearly as cute as he is now. It is perfectly ok that you don’t have a boyfriend and you’ve never been kissed or asked to a dance. I know that makes you feel ugly and sad, but I promise it’s completely ok. It’s actually a good thing. You will be happy you waited for all of that. Life does not give trophies to people who have the most experience in that department. It’s also ok that you don’t know what the heck your friends are talking about when they are discussing sexual stuff. Honestly, they don’t know what the heck they are talking about anyway and are making up some stuff. Teenage boys will say anything convincingly to get what their crazy stupid hormones want. You will want to believe it, but don’t. You were beautiful before he told you. Just like girls, not all boys are nice, and a lot of those mean ones are awfully cute. Don’t bother with boys who act like jerks, even if you think they are cute.
Friends. You will never regret standing by a friend, but you will always regret not doing the right thing. Remove yourself from drama and fake friends. Sometimes middle-schoolers can be just plain mean, which is especially hard when the meanness is coming from some of those former friends. Know that the meanness is more about them and not so much about you. Hold on, just hold on, that things will be brighter and will get better. You will find new, wonderful friends! Try not to worry about being in with the cool crowd- look for friends who are your friend for you and stand by you! Friendships may wax and wane. Your best friends, or your whole circle, may change, or not. Don’t be afraid to reach out and make new friends, or try something new. A new school offers a great chance to do that. What seems normal for everyone else may not be normal for you. The other kids are rarely what they appear to be anyway. They just look like they have it more together from the outside. Most people have the same insecurities and just want to be liked. People will remember your kindness and you will be rewarded for it. Be a good friend. Stand up for what is right even when it’s not popular. Yes, there are mean girls. Stay away from them. They just grow up to become mean women and you don’t need them in your life no matter how popular they are.
Teachers. Be nice to your teachers! They are moms, dads, sisters, and brothers who have feelings too. No, your teachers don’t know everything, but they know more than you think. You’ll get some great ones, teachers who will build you up; you’ll remember them forever. But you’ll also get a couple of burned-out, grumpy teachers, and they’ll take their frustrations out on you. It’s okay; the world is full of grumpy people. This is your first lesson in dealing with them. Respect your teachers and always do your best.
God. Stop running from God. Seriously. I know He may not seem like the cool choice and trust me, I totally understand that. God calls us to do some awfully uncool things in life. He wants to us to love people and let’s face it, some people are just too darn unlovable. He wants us to choose Him when there are far more enticing temptations out there. He wants us to take the path less traveled, sometimes alone, when the party trail is much more exciting. It is not easy to follow Jesus. If it’s easy, then you are probably doing it wrong. He loves you, I mean really loves you. All consuming, life wrecking type of love. You are loved and valued by the King. This Jesus guy you are getting to know about is actually a really big deal. He’s God and even with that incredibly huge job and title, He wants a personal relationship with you. You accepting Him is the biggest decision you are ever going to make. He’s going to be the best thing you will ever have going on. There are going to be some really difficult times coming up. You are going to make mistakes, but Jesus is never going to. He loves you and wants you and He will never leave or fail you when you mess up. Always keep your relationship with Him priority in every decision you make. Learn to love and trust Him with all your heart. Never let anything come between you and him, whether that means friends, a boy, sports, etc. There will be times that you are going to rely on Him more than you think.
-You are not the only Christian. Hold on to your faith, tightly. It is not a thing to feel embarrassed about or denied. You may be the only Jesus that some people experience. Love them hard.
Let’s recap: It is just a bad day (or days), not a bad life. Stop pretending to be someone that you are not. Stop comparing yourself to others. Love God and love people. Acknowledge your mistakes, learn from them. Don’t let the bad times overshadow the good. These next few years you will be faced with a lot of change; you, your friends, expectations, school, etc. The person sitting next to you will be faced with similar challenges. You are never alone. Talk with someone who will listen and be there to support you. It is a tough time in your life not sure what you are feeling and why, but know that you are incredibly loved. You may not always realize it, accept it, or think you deserve it, but you are extraordinarily loved more than you will ever know. Be you, sweet girl, because again, there is only one you in the history of forever and I love knowing you. Life is going to be wondrously great one day and I do not want you to miss it. Do not make permanent solutions to temporary problems. So many people love you regardless of your past mistakes and would never want to live in a world where you are not present.