I remember select moments of my first day of middle school perfectly–particularly one. I hope none of you had the displeasure of shopping at Weiner’s as a child. It was a discount clothing clothing store in Houston. No junior high kid who cared an ounce for his reputation would be caught dead in there. I wore my hat low and peered down aisles before entering to make sure the coast was clear of peers. Even though my back-to-school wardrobe consisted mostly of clothes from that store, somehow I still felt really confident about my first day of sixth grade. I thought I looked great. I ranked high on the social totem pole of my elementary school so I felt solid about that translating into a good start for middle school. I was moving up to the new campus–the place where I had heard you could use your lunch money to buy slushies and candy bars and no one would do anything about it.
I sprung early from a restless night as you do before the first day of a new school year. I threw on my Georgetown Hoyas shirt with its repeating bulldog face pattern. Super cool. Check. I found some Girbaud shorts at Weiner’s–the equivalent of getting a Ken Griffey Jr. rookie card in a ninety-nine cent pack of Topps baseball cards. It was one of the few things Weiner’s was good for. Every once in while you could get name-brand stuff that seemed like it came from the cool store in the mall. I laced up a pair of black suede Nikes with a purple swoosh, not Nike Air because adding the air was too upscale for Weiner’s. It was just black rubber between my feet and the ground. I spent a good bit of time perfectly pasting down my bangs in a diagonal across my forehead to barely cover my right eye.
I don’t know if any of you can identify so far, hopefully not, but up to this point I may have avoided the social suicide of that first day of school if not for the next move. I stood in front of the mirror in order to finalize the fresh look and that’s when the demonic instinct came over me to reach down and create a nice… clean… roll in each leg of my shorts. Yes, you read that right. I rolled the shorts up the height of my lanky sixth grade legs. It’s painful to talk about. It was irrational. Unforgivable. But it seemed so right in the moment. I take full responsibility for my sins, but there were at least two people who I know saw me before leaving for the bus stop, thus my relationship with my mother and older brother are still strained.
All it took was the first moment of encounter with an eighth grader for the winds of confidence to turn on me and make my sails sag. I won’t repeat what he said to me, but he said it in front of my peer group and alongside his posse who chimed in with their derivative versions of the same insults. They worked me over from the bangs to the airless shoes but the pant-roll was the main target. The boys just emptied their ammo on me, holstered their weapons, and rode away whooping and hollering. I don’t remember much of anything about that day, but I sure remember that moment. And I will remember that boy’s name forever. Jaime, if you’re out there, God bless you, brother.
Kids are mean. You are mean. I am mean. I’m not too worried about the student at TCS who was made fun of on the first day of school because someday she’ll write about it in a light-hearted way on a blog post. She’ll be better for it. Don’t get me wrong, I hate, hate, hate seeing kids get made fun of, even more-so with other kids than my own. I experience the table-flipping wrath of Jesus about it. Why? Because part of what it means to grow in wisdom is to grow in our ability to see just how precious God’s image is in its varied manifestations. This includes the topic of economic, cultural, and ethnic diversity we hit on at Vision Night this year. The fierceness about it comes from a place of love. I know all my colleagues at TCS feel the same way. We walk the halls of TCS as adults/leaders/ministers and feel a fierce love for each type of student in those hallways, with all their quirks and quips. They are all equally and abundantly endearing and precious. Beloved.
This creates an intense desire that the kingdom of God would come upon our kids and speed up the learning curve. Why can’t they see the beauty in each other? Why can’t they see that it’s the little things that sting, that the tongue is a sharp sword? Why is it so hard to realize that they are ALL struggling to accept some aspect of how God has made them? Every arrow strung and shot comes from a quiver carried for defense. Shoot in order not to be shot. Shoot early and often. Avoid being shot. Here is a sentence I find myself using more and more these days when talking to the student who has been hurt. “They hurt you because they are hurting.” I think it’s always true. We do tend to be mean people. But even more, we are hurting and insecure. So the prayer is that the heart of Jesus would manifest through the presence and power of the Holy Spirit towards the end of healing the whole situation. Because Jesus heals the insecure heart. And the healed help others to heal.
God bless the cocky kids with the hairspray and rolled-up jeans. Bless the freckles and the crooked teeth. God bless the guys that are “too-short” and the gals that are “too-tall.” Comfort the lanky and the portly. Take care of the brash and the bashful–the bad haircuts and the cracking voices. God, make varied skin color and ethnic attributes to be the loveliest of things in all your creation. Holy Spirit take hold of these students at a young age. Make them drop their weapons in the presence of your holiness. Make them meek. Tame their tongues. Minister to their insecurities. Heal them with your indiscriminate love. Please, God. Amen.