Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Reflections on Mentoring Students

This past weekend, I had a chance to chaperone 14 teenagers from my church on a trip to Duluth for the EFCA's biannual district youth conference. These weekends and trips and retreats (and so on and so forth) are really tiring, but they're fun, and they're a chance to get to know the students I work with. Especially after my time working in public schools, I know that all too often students just need someone who will pay attention to them and let them know that they are worth your time.

One of the traditions that has been evolving with these kids is that on a trip like this, they get one night when my hair is fair game. They can do just about anything they want to it... and it usually ends up involving Elmer's glue. This past weekend it was glitter glue. I let my eighth grade girls put a full bottle of glitter glue and a full bottle of neon green temporary dye gel in my hair and swirl it on top of my head like an ice cream cone.

And they thought it was great.

One girl in particular was so enthralled. She spent most of the evening telling me how cool I was, how I was her favorite person in the world, and how she didn't know anyone else who would ever let people put glitter in their hair. I know that this particular girl can be a little outcast sometimes, and it just warmed my heart that she felt so included. I had the thought, that it would be a pretty incredible world if all I had to do to make a meaningful connection with students was let each of them put a bottle of glue in my hair. Most people think I'm crazy, but this particular tradition has endeared more than one high school student to me over time. It's absolutely amazing... (and yes, it washes out pretty easily!)

Something else that really convicted me this weekend was how this same eighth grade girl reacted to the lessons presented. This particular students has a learning disability and can really struggle sometimes to comprehend abstract ideas that others in the group are talking about. She doesn't read well, and it's nearly impossible for her to memorize anything. I can tell sometimes when she gets frustrated trying to follow discussions I have with other students. I do ministry on a very different field with her than with anyone else in my small group.

But while she's struggling to follow the abstract discussions the rest of us are wrestling with, I have never seen someone so gung-ho about doing.

During the last session of the weekend, the speaker talked about letting God take control of your relationships, and specifically your relationship with your parents. He told the audience to tell their parents when they got home that they each loved and honored their parents. This girl didn't even wait that long. She whipped her cell phone out on the spot and texted it to her mom. When I talked to her mom later, she was in tears. It's amazing. That's something I struggle to tell me parents as an adult.

I also overheard her talking to her step-dad on the phone in the car on the way home, and she announced that she's had the best time of her life. She gushed about the weekend, the speaker, and the band. She told him that she wanted to get the band's CD, and that she wanted to erase everything on her iPod and replace it with all Christian music. It was pretty incredible. God moves in amazing ways. While this girl may not be in the same place as others, God is using her as an example of action.

This is why I work with students - because they are amazing and inspiring and beautiful creatures. There are not words to express how much I love them.

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