Like other parents, I dutifully attend the parent session at the beginning of the school year. I then spent a year listening to her come home on Wednesday nights talking about her small group. Honestly there were times I was frustrated because it seemed some weeks their time was just talking and not really getting to a lesson or scripture. I wondered what the point was and the question, "is this just a waste of time" crossed my mind more than once. Guess what?!?!?! Those nights they didn't get to a scripture or lesson, they were learning something just as valuable. They were building trust, relationships, forming bonds with their friends and learning to pray for one another! Those things will hopefully be there for the rest of their lives AND they were doing this in the best house ever-God's house surrounded with a multitude of prayers that have been filling the space for generations. Wow, definitely NOT a waste of time!
*A quick Pomegranate AKA Squirrel moment...*
I'm what one might call a person of "spiritual fluidity." I was born and raised a Methodist, all 49 years of my life, you could say I'm a card carrying member. Confirmation class when I was in the sixth grade piqued my curiousity about other religions and how we all fit together. None of us are purists you know, Jesus wasn't the first christian. He never said GO BE A CHRISTIAN. He simply said, follow me and I will make you fishers of men. Follow me; learn from my stories of how to be a better human, a loving member of your community NOT make rules about how you have to act, worship and believe. Love your neighbor just like you love yourself, forgive others like I forgive you-be kind, be helpful, be nice. I don't believe any one organized religion is 100% correct in their intrepretation of the bible or the stories contained in it. I don't believe there is a single perfect person roaming this earth today nor has there been with the exception of Jesus.
After Mel's first year when I attended the obligatory year beginning parent meeting, I was asked if I would consider helping on Wednesday nights. All the alarms went off in my head-I'm a homeschool mom and I don't really *like* other kids. I really wasn't interested in being with a bunch of hormonal, over dramatic, petty and somewhat obnoxious teenagers but like so many times God had different ideas. After much prayer and litteral wrestling with the answer I kept getting I hesitantly said yes. Me, Dana Hope...I said yes to meeting weekly with a group of teenage girls, 7th & 8th graders you know the ones full of drama and boy problems, trying to find their place in the world, arguing with their parents and full of so much love they are about to burst at their proverbial seams. These girls quickly became "my girls." I know, I know...I have three daughters, I have girls but they are my daughters. Each of my Wednesday night ladies are and will forever be My Girls.
My first year I was full of ambition and I would work hard to find things to fill our time. We learned about the strong women in the bible-Ruth & Naomi, Esther, Mary & Martha, Puah & Shiphrah and of course, Sarah. At the end of the year, the girls selected stories and parables-voted on the ones we would learn about and we did. It was a great year but a lot of work. I spent hours each week preparing and not nearly as much time as I wanted praying for those girls. When it came time for year two, my personal life had changed a litte and I knew I wouldn't have the hours each week to research and study so I asked for some curriculum and the Lord, through Brooke-youth pastor, provided exactly what I needed!!!
Two years of material that would cover the bible in three lesson topics. From the first sample, I was thrilled with it and knew it would be perfect. My 8th graders and Allison moved on to high school and a new crop of 7th graders moved in. We had a new classroom and brand new couches, a television I could cast video clips to but best of all a new group of young ladies who were eager to become...each and every class a teacher has is special to them. I know I'm particularly emotional this morning because these girls are so fresh on my heart and next Wednesday is the last time we will gather as our Wednesday night group. These girls have fed me, my faith, my belief, my relationship with God more than I ever thought possible. Each week we all share things, sometimes something as important as cellulite or the cheer girls being particularly "cheery." Other times someone will ask timidly, this will stay with just us, right??? And it always does. Our room is a safe place, no words or thoughts are off limits because I am a firm believer that they all have a place and time if addressed properly and used appropriately. (If you doubt my belief on words just ask a certain someone who let the f*bomb fly inappropriately during class and another who referred to someone appropriately as sh!tty.)
Sometimes I feel like a secret holder. Sometimes I feel like a gift giver. Sometimes we don't get to a lesson at all. Sometimes I read a poem. We've imagined flowers, we've learned about love, friendships, doughnuts, chocolate...I've encouraged them to talk to their parents and give them the gift of talking to them. I've even heard about relationships bloom where hate once grew. I've watched girls come in with problems, work through them and grow. I've seen the bonds of their friendships strengthen not just within the walls of our classroom but at home and at school (even when someone slips on the food in the cafeteria or hates bandanas). I've heard them encourage one another when they're nervous about a grade, performance, competition or presentation. I've seen them support one another and share with me places they have gone together-even their walks from school to the church! I hear them congratulate one another on jobs well done and be there for one another when something goes wrong.
Last night something new happened. I was speechless. Those of you who know me understand the rarity of that ever happening. We were sharing how our weeks had gone-happies & crappies, glads & sads, joys & concerns-we often refer to them in different ways when Brooke peeked her head in the door. She told me to close my eyes, put down my pen and hold out my hands. She told me that I "love hard" and the girls love me back-they wanted to do something for me. I opened my eyes to find a Converse box, colorful writing on the lid. As my eyes teared up and I focused, I could see the names of my girls and several scriptures. I removed the lid to see the sidewall text showing through the tissue paper FIERCE FEARLESS FEMALE I pull back the paper to see pastel tie dye and gold eyelets then the real kicker...Be Salt my favorite scripture and phrase I always tell the girls when they're going somewhere with friends, 4-H or church! Speechless.
Never would I have ever-even in my wildest thoughts-would I have imagined that I could love someone elses kids as "hard" as I love My Girls. We've caught glimpses together of Genesis-Revelation, shared our *hopes*dreams*fears*, wondered in awe at Gods creation, Jesus' sacrifice, learned to forgive ourselves and others together. When I was a kid in the 70's my Mom faithfully taught a high school Sunday school class every week, she lovingly recalls stories about many of them; a few even stay in touch. My hope, my prayer is that these girls, My Girls, will know a few things for certain and remember for the rest of their lives:
- Jesus loves you-just like you are because you are a wonderful, dynamic, unique masterpiece straight from his Dad! When you ask for forgiveness (and really mean it), he forgives you as far as the EAST is from the WEST. He doesn't hold on to it and remember it, grumble over it or hold it against you.
- Dana loves you unconditionally, you can never mess up bad enough that I won't. You may annoy me but I'll forgive you every time. You can talk to me about anything, I won't judge you; your secret is safe with me as long as you're not harming yourself or someone else. I encourage you to ALWAYS keep communication open with your parents, seek out their advice because they love you.
- Each one of you have created a very specific mark on who I am (whether your fingerprint is above my head each night when I sleep or not).
- Forgive freely, you'll feel better in the long run. Just because you forgive someone doesn't mean you have to maintain a friendship or relationship with them. Holding onto a grudge when someone wrongs you only festers in your heart, spoils your life and affects you. Forgiveness is about you, your heart, your mental health and well being-not theirs.
- Lastly, love and respect yourself--always!