Wednesday, August 28, 2013

What I would like to tell my middle school self.

I'm gonna be a mighty king, so enemies beware...

It's a line from I Just Can't Wait to be King from Disney's Lion King.  These days I listen to that song over and over and over.  It's my two-year-old daughter's favorite, and if I don't have it blaring from my iPhone, she'll take it upon herself to belt it out for the world to hear.

I remember when it was my favorite song, too.  It was middle school for me.  I had been invited to a sleepover with some girls that were a lot cooler than me.  And there we were, squeezed into a minivan and on our way to someone's house.  We were talking about the new movie and our favorite songs from the soundtrack.  "My favorite is Just Can't Wait to be King!" I blurted out.  "My cousins and I each sing a part."


And then, from another girl: "That song is dumb."

I still remember that feeling, sitting in a dark minivan, thankful no one could see my face.  Color rising in my cheeks and tears welling in my eyes.  I was mortified.  But more than that, I felt I should choose a different favorite Lion King song, and make excuses for my former favorite.  My taste in music simply wasn't up to scruff.

And now, a few weeks before my 30th birthday, I still think back on that and cringe.  But not because of the embarrassment I felt, although I do remember that feeling quite clearly.  But mostly because back then I didn't think my own tastes and opinions and self good enough.  So here's what I want to go back and say to that girl...

1. Hold your head high and like what you like and be the girl God created you to be.  Unkind people will say unkind things, but they usually aren't worth listening to.

And those girls in that minivan?  I haven't thought about or talked to or had any non-facebook contact with them in a decade.  Probably longer.

2. The friends that stick don't care how "cool" you are.  They don't care about your sense of fashion (or lack thereof).  Or your haircut or ugly glasses.  And certainly not your musical tastes.  

I've never been all that interested in music.  I enjoy a smattering of things, but don't have much of a passion for it otherwise.  I downloaded an Adele album a few weeks back and I'm pretty sure it's the first music I've bought in years.  And I'm fully aware that the album is a few years old.  I have no idea what artists are at the top of the charts.  Heck, I had to Google Nicki Minaj when she showed up to judge American Idol last season.  But my close friends today?  While we might share a chuckle about my musical clueless-ness, I know they couldn't care less.

3. Social politics.  Hurt feelings.  Awkward moments and hard conversations and humble pie.  They don't end when middle school (or even high school) does.  But that's a good thing. 

Friendships are hard, hard work.  At age 29, I'm still learning how to be a good friend.  Hopefully I'm better at it than I was at 13, and hopefully by age 45 I'll be a lot better.  But I'm a sinful, flawed, selfish person.  I can look back on all kinds of occasions where I wish I would have handled things differently.  And it's only by God's grace that I've been able to keep the friends I have.  And my friends?  Well, we've all got issues.  So I've learned that sometimes it takes a lot of love and believing the best and grace and humility to be friends long-term.

I also believe that hard spots in relationships are purposely and lovingly given to me by God for my own refinement.  When something is amiss between me and another person, it gives me pause to examine my words and actions.  Was I putting that person's needs before mine?  Was I treating them with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience (Col 3:12)?  Were my words used for building people up, blessing those who might hear me (Ephesians 4:29)?  If, in my lifetime, I was only bumping into people and situations that were pleasant, how would my rough edges get filed down?  How else would I know that my words or actions might be offensive or hurtful?  And rough patches with people are also an always-needed excuse to seek God in prayer.  For peace.  For humility.  For grace.  And an extra dose of His love for another person.

4. Don't be a social climber.  Because you usually have to step on someone.  

I remember 6th grade.  I had a group of friends in school, but no one super close.  If there was a group gig going on, I'd get an invite.  But rare was the day when I'd get a call to do something one-on-one.  I remember spending an afternoon with one of the other girls in the group.  And we admitted to each other that we felt like "last resorts."  As in, I've called everyone else and they were all busy so I guess I'll hang out with you.  But - hooray - we had each other.  We could be LR's together.  And we had a great time of it.

And then she went away for a year.  Her dad's job, I think.  While she was gone I made new friends.  A cool crowd.  I even had a 7th grade "boyfriend."  We danced to Bon Jovi in my living room and shared popcorn at Mr. Holland's Opus and life was pretty good.  But then that girl came back.  And I hardly gave her the time of day.  She wasn't cool.  I was getting there.  She was still a LR but this time she didn't have a buddy.  I didn't want her to drag me down.

I've always, always regretted doing that.  I pray that God lets our paths cross again so I can apologize.

5. Make a point of being kind.  

I SO wish I could tell that middle schooler me to be kind.  As in, befriend the friendless.  Or the LR's.  Stand up to mean kids.  Be the kind of girl in that minivan who would say, "I like Just Can't Wait to be King, too" to mortified little me.  And that mean girl?  Be extra kind to her too.  Even if she hurt your feelings.  She's probably hurting, too.  Don't participate in malicious gossip.  Give of your time and money and agenda to bless another person.

True loving kindness?  The kind that sometimes requires sacrifice - or maybe even just inconvenience?  It has lasting meaning.  It matters.  Kindness shines a light for Jesus in a way that little else can.

6. God has your life in the palm of His hand.  And He has major blessings in store.

Looking back on my life, it's been so very true.  God has never left my side.  Through doubts and trials, blessings and joys, He has been faithful.  And He always will be.  He holds my hand and guides me with His counsel.  And nothing can separate me from His love.

I would definitely want middle schooler me to know that God is just as faithful when you're 29 as when you're 13.  His love is immeasurably wide and long and high and deep, and His mercy never fails.   


As I look back on this list, from the wise old age of 29, I know in my heart that God is still teaching me these lessons.  When I'm 45, I may well want to go back and tell the current me some of these same things.  It gives me pause.  What silly little things do I care WAY too much about right now?  (Lion King songs, anyone?) And what don't I care enough about?

I look up at the list right now and think, yikes, I've got a long way to go in most of these areas.

But the grace of God that carried me back then will continue to do so throughout my life.

The Lord is my Shepherd...
He restores my soul...
Surely goodness and mercy will follow me all the days of my life.
And I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.

Psalm 23:1, 3, 6