Last night was the last full night of PRIMS, a program I teach at church. If you are not familiar with this, it is similar in concept to the Girl Scouts: it’s a Christian-oriented club for girls that’s under the Missionette umbrella. We have sleepovers, we go on field trips, we do community service projects. It’s purpose is to encourage fellowship in girls while also teaching them fundamentals of Christianity, and how it connects to everyday life. For completing units, girls earn badges, pins, and other rewards. I have been teaching this program for a couple of years now and I just cannot stress enough how ABSOLUTELY FANTASTIC it is, or how much I believe in it. It really does change the lives of the girls, establish friendships that last for years and it also changes the lives of the leaders. I know, at least, it has for me. Last night, my heart simply overfilled with love and gratitude for my group of girls, half of whom are “graduating” from the two year PRIM program and moving up to STARS, and for the amazing grace of God that has allowed me to be a part of this program, and these girls’ lives.
I never have had many friends. Growing up, I had none. Part of that was because we moved more than any nomadic tribe ever did. Part of that was because I have serious, deeply rooted issues with trust and intimacy. I fail to understand why in the world anyone would want to remain my friend — and I question it so seriously that I am convinced the only intelligent thing for others to do would be to walk away, should they ever get to know the “real me”. So I simply build nearly impenetrable walls and deny others access to the deepest parts of myself. Being alone by choice is, after all, better than being left. But, still… I remember watching my younger sister, who has always been able to make friends much easier than I, and wishing I was more like her, wishing I knew what it felt like to be “normal,” to have others as friends. The irony is… I LOVE people. I think the human being is God’s Monet, only ten thousand times better. The compassion and strength humans are capable of displaying blow my mind. How people can endure the kind of hardships they do and still come out believing in the point of living is really… Just mind boggling. I really love people. I care very deeply about them. So I’m generally quite friendly and engaging. Sincerely so (at least until you try to dig past the ready cheerfulness). My point is, I’ve always been much more of a private and guarded person than I appear to be–and that has left me alienated from much of the human race.
I think about all of that and then I think about the girls in my PRIMS class and how some of them have shared a Missionettes class since Kindergarten. Last night, we made autograph posters for each other and the girls wrote messages on everybody’s poster. I was struck by how much they seemed to know about each other… ”you are so smart,” “I hope you have a good life in KY,” “You are a great artist!”, “You are so silly!” These were a few of the poster messages the first and second grade girls wrote to each other. We’ve watched girls suffer badly through the year with uncontrollable illnesses, we’ve talked about the bullies they have dealt with at school and looked up Bible verses to give them courage and encouragement, we’ve seen them come in praying that their grandmother will start coming to church, we’ve seen them lose their first tooth, we’ve seen them move into new homes after crisis, we’ve seen them welcome baby siblings, we’ve seen them baptized, we’ve discovered through some of our community service projects that a few of them have a heart for the elderly, while some can always be depended on to help others learn the memory verses. These girls share more than classmates–they have grown together, they have shared their hearts with each other, they have grown stronger in their faith because they have had a place to grow it. And, most of all, we have felt the presence of the living God. At Easter, He moved them to tears, at the sleepovers, sweet, young hearts followed His voice and gave their hearts to Him. And we’ve encouraged one another, we’ve hugged one another, we’ve laughed, we’ve healed and we’ve made it through another year together.
The girls aren’t the only ones who have learned valuable lessons, though. Our unit on Health deeply moved me. One night, during the lesson, I asked them to do an affirmation for themselves. As they took turns doing so, it dawned on me that what I was telling these beautiful girls WAS TRUE.: we ARE made in the image of God Himself, and we are made in His image without a single drip of make up. We are made in His image if we’re tan or pale as a ghost. We’re made in His image whether we’re ninety pounds or two hundred and ninety. We’re made in His image whether we have hair like Rapunzel’s or purple and pink striped hair. We’re made in God’s image and God is beautiful–more than the stars, more than any person on earth. And His mercy and blood keep us pure. Therefore, we can’t be that bad. We can’t be that ugly. I was supposed to be teaching my group of 12 girls–but I had learned alongside them that night. I’ve learned re subtle lessons too. I’ve learned that not everybody leaves when they find out you’re not perfect. I’ve learned that it’s okay to admit when you’re wrong or have made a mistake because the people who really care about you won’t use it as an excuse to shame you. I can’t even tell you how many Wednesday nights I’ve gone to church to teach and had a kid hug me or tell me they thought of what I said sometime during the week, or been super excited because she finally knew the memory verse and, as a result, I walked out of the church uplifted, refreshed, touched by grace and with a more complete understanding of what friendship is all about.
When my girls were born, I decided that we would go to church every week, no matter what. I decided this because my own childhood had taught me that socialization skills are definitely NOT innate– they must be taught. And being strong but alone is a really hard road to walk. As a result, they have made what I hope are lifelong friendships, with the adults who have acted as their leaders and with their fellow children, with whom they roam our huge campus barefoot, cartwheel at midnight during sleepovers and bow their heads in collective prayer for one another as they continue to mature into beautiful, strong, compassionate, intelligent, Godly friends. That’s what friendship is about–supporting, guiding, laughing, crying and trusting. I’ve been with this group of girls for two years so far, and will be moving up to lead their STARS class in the fall. I’ve watched them, and I have seen God in them. What greater honor, what greater privilege is there than to count myself as a part of them. They have given me hugs, they have drawn me gifts, they have trusted me with their secrets, they have allowed me to share in their joy. But I can only hope they know that their love is returned full-fold. I can only hope they know that they delight me, and that their unique personalities are what has made our group so special. I hope they can feel that their lives matter to me and that I am sooooo proud of them–not because they’ve made awesome crafts, not because they know their motto and their pledge, not because they can recite the memory verses but, quite simply, I love them because they are each special treasures, beautiful and shining lights that have lit my heart and enriched my life. I am proud of them because they are caring and compassionate, sweet and innocent, full of hope and overflowing with joy. They have each put their handprints on my heart.
The greatest lessons we ever learn are the ones we learn when we least expect it. I came in a teacher and am ending the year feeling quite humbled and as much a student as they. It is how every year in this club leaves me feeling because it isn’t about me: it’s about standing amazed in the ever bright and awe-inspiring light of God. This Fall, we will leave PRIMS behind and enter STARS–I cannot wait to see how much brighter that light gets and discover the growth another summer unearths in each of you!