I did not enjoy being 13. Or 14.
It was stressful, frustrating, and my mom and I wanted to rip each other’s hair out constantly. Girls were mean. I mean, friends would just as easily stab you in the back as smile at you, and boys- OH boys. They were 13 and 14 too, so that explains it all. I also switched churches, schools, and houses during that time. I hated it.
Things obviously got better, but I haven’t forgotten how it felt to be that age. And that’s exactly why I decided to co-lead a middle school girls’ small group a few years ago.
At our church, they have you start with the kids as they leave 5th grade the summer before their middle school journey begins. And you stay their small group leader until they go into high school. (And high school is the same way- the two or three high school small group leaders that get them as they leave 8th grade stay with them until they graduate high school.)
It’s a big commitment. You are asked to attend 2 overnight camps with them each year, be at church every Sunday with few exceptions, and attend their events outside of small group on Sundays. You are also asked to coordinate group outings and follow up with girls who haven’t attended things in a while. You give your email and cell info out to the girls and their parents so they can contact you any time about anything.
And if you’re lucky, you also get to be these girls’ facebook friends and follow them on Pinterest and Instagram (and twitter, if they do that). Social networks keep me in the loop with the girls outside of Sunday better than anything else, honestly. I love it. They’re willing to share all their silly pictures, teen angst, and crushes with you there, so it’s a safe topic on Sundays too.
Social networks also get credit for keeping me connected with my old small group. I started at Northpoint, but I moved to Gwinnett Church when it opened up and about 8 of my girls moved to that church with their families.
They and I got a new co-leader and new middle school girls in our group there, and my old group got a new co-leader to replace me. I still miss my old group and co-leader, but I love my new ones too. So now I can be plugged in with both.
People, when they hear I need to get back for Sunday night church so I can be with my middle school girls, often tell me that I’m “brave to take on middle school.” But these girls are surprisingly NOT mean. They’re the kind of girls I wanted to know at that age- they’re actually sweet.
Also, It is never boring. Sweet though they may be, they are also very comfortable after all this time together being themselves, and we all love to pick on each other. Here are some things I’ve heard lately:
1. “Did you know that a 19-year-old and a 10-year-old could date, legally, as long as they stay pure?” (After 5 seconds of stunned silence on my part, I commented, “If a 19-year-old WANTS to date a 10-year-old, legality is the least of my worries!” And so began a rather interesting conversation, that I won’t go into here.)
2. Me: “I have a blog. Don’t judge me. I’m a nerd.”
Co-leader: “I would read your blog!”
Me: “Aww! It’s loquaciouslady.com.”
Girls: “What does ‘loquacious’ mean?”
Me: “Excessive talker.”
Various girls: “OH MY GOSH! That is SO Perfect for you!” “You are SO loquacious!” “HAHAHA! That IS perfect!” “Hahaha you do love to talk!”
Me: “Alright, Alright! I get it! haha”
3. “There are a lot of cute boys that came to church tonight. I call the one in the white polo. ALL of you back off!”
4. Me: “Prayer requests?”
Girls: “EIGHTH GRADE BOYS!” “YES! Top of the list! Every time!”
Me: “Do you think they ever come in here and see that they are a consistent prayer request?”
Girls: “Probably.” “Definitely.” “I hope so!” “They need it!”
5. “Oh my gosh! I looooove One Direction! Niall is SO cute!” “He’s mine! I call him!”
6. Girl: “Do you still coupon?”
Me: “You know it!”
Girls: “I bet you’re crazy about it.” “I bet we’re going to have an outing where all we do is clip Meghan’s coupons! haha”
Me: “Hmm. Maybe I should start bringing my newspapers to group every Sunday. Not a bad idea!”
7. Me: “So what’s up with that guy you had a crush on? The quarterback?”
Girl: “Oh, we’re just friends. We still hang out, but he’s going to college next year.”
Me: (mimes heart attack) “WHAT!???”
Girl: “Yeah, he’s a senior. And he has a girlfriend. So we’re just friends.”
Me: “YEAH, you better just be friends! What are you doing going out to eat with a senior who has a girlfriend anyway??”
Girl: “Well, it was a group.”
Me: “Oh my gosh, you could have led with that! haha Don’t do that to me!”
Girls: laughing again
Girl: “Well, my mom knows I have a crush but said we’re just allowed to be friends. But I only told my dad we’re friends.”
Me: “For the friend’s sake, that was probably a smart move. I’m glad your mom knows though. It’s good you’re comfortable talking to your parents about who you like.”
Girl: “Well, they can always tell. It’s kind of obvious.”
Me: shaking my head and grinning, thinking how much I love these girls.
So, those are just a few examples of things I hear being a middle school group leader. I love these girls. They’re smart, talented, hilarious, and just a lot of fun. And yes, the first thing that is written down as a prayer request every week is “8th grade boys!!!!!!” (We let the girls write the requests on the board in our room.)
They bring me so much joy. I laugh at at least one thing from small group every week, I always have stories to tell Tom after church, and I love getting to know them more. And getting to know them is important, because under all the funny stuff, there are some really hard things going on in the lives of some of these girls.
When they know you well enough, they’ll actually open up about the harder stuff. A death of a close friend, feeling like they just can’t manage everything at school, a friend who stabbed them in the back, parents separating, an addiction in the family, an emotionally abusive relationship.
There are things that you just want to throw yourself in front of to protect them from experiencing. And you can’t. The flip side of growing to love these girls is hurting with them, praying for them, wondering how their day is going and why they missed church that Sunday.
The gift of it is knowing you have the ability to check in. Telling them you are ALWAYS there if they need to talk, and you’re willing to be there if they have to confront something difficult.
I love these girls. I can’t believe that I’m in my last year with them. But I’m proud to say that I gotten to experience not one, but TWO small groups filled with the not-so-mean girls of middle school. It’s been a fun ride, and I think this year is going to be the most fun I’ve had with them yet.