Today, I got to see a bully apologize to those he had bullied and promise to stop.
I saw a 13-year-old girl apologize to all the girls she has talked about behind their backs, as well as her teachers and even her principal.
I saw a scrawny, sweet little kid stand up for himself, and I saw the kids who picked on him respond with love and respect.
I watched kids (and adults) as they grieved the things they had suffered in their lives and came alongside one another when they realized other kids (and adults) had gone through the same stuff.
I watched as kids sobbed into each other's skinny jeans and push each other's swoopy hair out of their eyes for a tiny moment as they acknowledged the oppression they had experienced as a result of who they are, their family situations, the color of their skin, the size of their bodies, or how much money they have.
Today, I watched a 7th grade boy stand up in front of his entire 7th grade class and teachers and apologize to any women in the room who had been mistreated by men. He said that he was sorry, and that in the future, we should remember the truth about how we deserved to be treated.
I'm not even kidding.
Confusion at this point is to be expected. Today I volunteered for this thing called Challenge Day at Grant Middle School. I literally had no idea what I was getting into - at all. But it was so stinkin cool I can hardly stand it!
The catch phrase for the program is this, and I think it says a lot: "Imagine a school where every child feels safe, loved, and celebrated... where bullying, violence, and other forms of oppression are a thing of the past... This is the work of Challenge Day." So basically these two very high-energy individuals come and run this day long program at schools all around the country. We played lots of games, affirmed each other, identified oppression and talked about really hard stuff, and then the kids got a chance to talk about what they were going to do to make a difference in their school. Who knows if the things mentioned above will stick - clearly, there will still be problems. But even baby steps are steps, after all. I had a kid in my small group who was resistant to share anything because she didn't like talking about her feelings with people she didn't know very well. After we did the oppression exercise (which was wildly powerful and had me in tears several times), we came back together and her "lips are sealed" attitude was practically gone! The gym, our group, her peers, became a safe place because they got to see that every person there had crap in their lives that was really horrible and sucky. I can't help but think that this whole day would have just made Jesus so happy.
This goes hand in hand with what I blogged (I love blog as a verb, I feel very hip using it) about back when I was all jazzed about my small group. The leaders of the program kept talking about the ways we're told it's not ok to be how we are and feel what we are feeling - and I STILL think this is problem numero uno in the church! I won't go off on this again... but lets just get real, you know? Just do it. You know you want to.
There are two things I want to do with my life/profession/ministry/whatever the heck I do: I want to refute lies (more on this at a later time, I assure you), and I want to make kids [and people] feel safe, loved, and celebrated. Lofty goals, but if I do nothing else ever I think that will be puh-lenty. So in terms of counseling, I am definitely taking a TON from the day...
Mostly, I'm going to try really hard to resist giving advice and just give kids space to feel what they're feeling for a while. I hate sadness, and I tend to try and be funny and make people laugh so they aren't sad anymore. But sometimes, we just need to be sad [mad, angry, frustrated, scared, you name it] for a while. Instead of trying to fix it or tell them the reasons they'll be ok, I'm gonna let them sit in it. I'm gonna sit with them. Life isn't about learning how not to suffer, as I think many of us can attest to... but about learning how to suffer well. Learning how to sit in it, and sometimes, [like, I don't know, when we feel safe, loved, and celebrated] letting someone sit with us.