Sunday, August 24, 2014

Best Mom Tip #194: Invest in someone younger

Clearly, if you're reading this, there's a decent chance you're a parent and therefore investing in someone younger than you all the freakin' time. Keep doing that.

But, also, find someone in their teens or early 20s and invest in someone on the verge of adulthood. It's mind-blowing and hard and funny and poignant and can matter in ways that you will probably never see.

For the last four years I have been blessed and honored to volunteer with a special group of students through my church. In 2010, these girls were giggly, goofy, boy-crazy Freshmen who were far more concerned with how they were "betrayed" by "like, my best friend in the whole world" than they were about becoming decent human beings with meaningful and purposeful lives. They were loud and gross and there were, no joke, originally 42 of them on my roster because we didn't have enough adult volunteers.

Over the next four years I was challenged in so many ways and I was often totally unsure what to say. We dealt with unwanted pregnancy, emotional scars from child abuse, parental divorce, drug and alcohol abuse, and the suicide of a friend. For the first year I didn't have a fellow adult to share these burdens with and when my wonderful co-leader Courtney came into my life, I found a new friend as well as a fellow volunteer. Courtney and I did the best we could in situations where we almost always felt out of our depth.

Courtney and me totally acting like adults
What it really came down to, every single time, was just listening. Responding to texts late at night. Offering advice for what to do when one boy has asked you to prom, but you're really hoping another boy will ask. (Answer: say yes to the first boy--he gets props for having had the guts to ask first)

We went on weird trips where the carpet was always vaguely wet feeling and it turned out that the only blanket we could find was actually a mattress pad cover. Yuck. Also, we once got chiggers and then had to go be adults while scratching the heck out of our legs.

This month, the girls with whom we've become the closest started moving into their dorm rooms and heading off to their next adventure in college. As I got texts about new rooms and roommates and heard about class worries and parent stresses, it made me think back to my own college experience.

Super awesome dorm room decorating in progress
Twenty years ago I was an 18-year-old Freshman at the University of Georgia. I'm pretty outgoing so I met lots of people and was doing fine adapting to college life. Until one night I found myself the designated driver at a keg party looking around at a bunch of drunk people and thought "I'm bored. And my mama raised me better than this. I have got to find something else to do with my time."

The next week I got invited to a Bible study for freshman at the Methodist Student Center (Wesley Foundation). The boyfriend of a girl I had gone to high school with said he'd been invited by a guy in one of his classes. I grew up going to a Methodist church so that seemed like as good a place to start looking for something to do as any.

What happened next changed my life.

I met Tom and Melissa Tanner, the director and his wife, at a pig roast. Which basically grossed me out, but I went back anyway. Tom was the first preacher I'd ever heard who spoke to me-- to what I wanted to learn about God. He and Melissa were warm and open about their lives, they were honest about their struggles, and they created an environment I wanted to be in.

They fostered church without condemnation. They encouraged growth and connection with other people.

Last week I had the privilege of hearing Cori Moon sing (she's an old friend from my UGA Wesley days) and it got me thinking about how many adults can point to Tom's influence on their lives today. How many of us are more giving of our time, more passionate about our desire to spread joy and love, because of something Tom and his family taught us?

Amy Griffith and her family have spent years overseas, giving to impoverished communities. Tyler Reagin, Rodney Anderson, Joel Brooks and many others have devoted their lives to ministry and leadership.  I literally do not have enough time today to recount all of the amazing people I got to know in my college years who are inspiring me and encouraging others today.

Good grief, Jud and Carrie Thompson, Andy and Miranda Byers, and Jay and I have more than doubled Tom's influence on the six of us through sheer reproduction alone.

Most of us are not called to or gifted with the qualities that gave Tom the opportunity to matter so much to so many men and women during their formative years. But every Christian is called to investing in future generations. We are all called to teach and share and support--to build one another up according to God's word.

Tom's impact on me made it possible for an 18-year-old girl to be so excited about her new dorm room that she texted the picture above to me, a 38-year-old stay-at-home mom with four kids. That girl, in turn, has chosen to spend her summers leading camps in eastern Europe that help students there learn English and learn more about their faith. What a gift. What a blessing.

If you're thinking that you might, maybe, want to be involved somehow with students or young adults, go for it. Stop wondering if you have enough knowledge or patience or child psychology know-how. All they need is faithfulness--to feel as though someone cares because they've chosen to care.

I encourage you to reach out and volunteer at your church or a community center nearby. Get a chance to tell a kid "there is nothing you can do that would make me stop caring for you" and just see how far that one statement gets you in earning the trust and the ear of someone who can still learn major life lessons before they make major life mistakes.

How beautiful is the ability to encourage someone else, just because you're there? I am certainly grateful for those who invested in me and I definitely hope for the same love for my children in the years to come.

So, Happy Sunday! Now go volunteer.

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