Middle School or Jr. High Whichever?!

Next week the daughter of one of my dearest heart friends is starting Middle School. I have had the privilege of walking along the road with my friend during infertility, the choice to adopt and finally the wonderful day when her beautiful China Doll came home forever. And now that beautiful, amazing girl is at this very pivotal point in the road and since I have spent 33 years in middle school I thought I could help so I wrote her a little note to give her some guidance. I received a text from her Mom this week telling me that my card and letter came on what was a very middle-schooly-day…God’s timing is always perfect. So I thought maybe I would share these same thoughts with others who might have students entering these challenging years as well.

What you should know about Middle School from a teacher’s perspective.

  1. It’s awkward. Everyone is awkward in middle school, everyone has awkward moments and everyone is trying to avoid being awkward, but being awkward is normal when your body is constantly changing from child to adult. Awkward is normal when you have little kid feelings and grown up feelings at the same time. Awkward is normal when you want to be brave but feel afraid. There is a lot going on in this life transition so awkward is going to be normal. Embrace it because everyone experiences it in this stage of development. And when someone else is having an awkward moment encourage them because you will want someone to do that for you.
  2. Don’t be afraid to try new things, even if the outcome is different that you thought it would be. This is the time in life to try out for things at school that maybe you have never done before like sports, music, clubs or other school organizations. It is the time to take on leadership roles where they are offered and see what you can do in that arena. It is the time to deepen your faith by getting involved in something new in your youth group like a mission’s trip, or worship team. This will help you develop the talents and abilities that you already know about and may help you find new ones. There be will success and there will be opportunities to grow through missteps and that is ok that is part of learning about your self during this time.
  3. Be Kind. In middle school, the students who are most often respected and admired are the ones that are kind to others, the kids who make other kids feel wanted and apart of the group. It is important to have your own trusted circle of friends that you can rely on but offering kindness to everyone else is a good way to grow true connection with others. Kindness heals the nervous anxiety every middle schooler feels, someone must be first to show it. Be First!
  4. Laugh Often. Don’t take yourself too seriously or situations that you cannot control. It is easy with all the emotions surging through your changing body to see everything seriously or as the most awful or as the most embarrassing or the most horrible…but really it just isn’t. Emotions are good guides that help us understand what is happening in relationships but they tend to be very exaggerated during this season in life.Tears are necessary but so is laughter.
  5. Keep talking to your parents. The biggest mistake middle schoolers make is they quit having conversations with their parents about important things for all kinds of reasons. But trust me your parents can handle anything you need to tell them and it is their desire to help you. I have sat in many meetings where a kid was afraid to tell their parents something but when they finally did it made all the difference. Parents may freak out initially but in the end, they always do the right thing and really your well-being is everything to them. EVERYTHING!
  6. Trust your Spidey Sense. Your Spidey sense is your intuition, God gave you intuition to protect and guide you and you should never ignore it. When you get goosebumps or your stomach churns pay attention to that your body is trying to get your attention so you will pay attention to your intuition. When someone or something doesn’t feel right it probably isn’t. So, take your time, talk to your parents or a trusted adult and don’t follow the crowd. Time often reveals the truth about people and circumstances.
  7. Substances. There is no middle school campus that doesn’t have marijuana(weed) or other types of substances on it, I am sorry but that is just the truth. You will be approached at some point in your time at school and the best strategy for handling that correctly will be to decide how you will respond before it happens. Substance experimentation can steal from your life and create habits that are very difficult to break. Once you try something you can never go back to before you tried it. Life is intoxicating enough it doesn’t need to be enhanced by substances that have the potential to harm you.
  8. Don’t let insecurity interfere with your individuality. Everyone who has ever attended middle school has had to deal with insecurity…EVERYONE! And often the choice is to give into it and just try to be like everyone else, do what everyone else is doing, dress like everyone else, and act like everyone else. There is nothing wrong with fitting in to a point it is necessary to blend in with others but it is never good to lose yourself for the sake of being accepted. This is a time in life when you are truly trying to find out who you are and if you let insecurity guide your decisions, it will keep you from truly seeing your individuality. Only you can be you!
  9. Own your mistakes. A lot of middle schoolers play the blame game, never taking responsibility for their behavior when they make wrong choices, are disrespectful in their words or tone or choose selfishness. These are common issues for middle schoolers because they are experimenting with becoming an adult and there are a lot of missteps along the way but the way to grow through those mistakes is to just own your stuff. The best way is to simply acknowledge the mistake, apologize and make it right. Arguing about it, lying about it or blaming others just prolongs the circumstance. Own your stuff and learn from it, this is the best and easiest way forward.
  10. Embrace this season. When you are in it and on a bad day middle school can feel like forever but it isn’t really. It is a short transitional season filled with lots of new and sometimes scary stuff but it is also filled with wonder, discovery and delight. Enjoy it, lean into it and learn all you can. And most importantly have fun…lots of fun…innocent no regrets fun.









Buster and Eddie Buster too…

I had my feet up on the dash and I was immersed in the current summer novel of choice and Tim was lost in his thoughts as he sometimes likes to be when he is driving, companionable silence in our little Honda Fit as we buzzed across highway 152 on our way to Morgan Hill. We were meeting my college roommate and her husband to see Michael McDonald and Boz Scaggs in Saratoga at the Paul Masson Mountain Winery (amazing venue) when you are older trips back to your younger days with friends and music of those days is always a wonderful way to end the summer. My cell phone rang breaking the quiet and I looked down to see Mychal’s name on the screen and immediately answered the phone, “Hey bud, what’s up? My phone was connected to the Bluetooth so we could both hear him and he answered  “I have a fun story to tell you…”

 For the fun story to make sense you have to know the original story first and for that we have to go back to when Mychal was 4 years old, it was a Sunday in the 90’s and we were staff Pastor’s at Capital Christian Center. On this particular Sunday Tim was filling in for the worship pastor who was on vacation and he had gone early to rehearse with the choir, Mychal had started going early with Tim because I was at home with Taylor who was a baby and Mychal could play in the nursery area relatively soon after Tim arrived on Sundays. I will always hold a very dear place in my heart for the nursery workers at Capitol, I am not sure I could have navigated that time in ministry life without them. The nursery was not quite available yet so Mychal found himself sitting on the front row of the church watching his Dad lead the choir. On the platform was a box for prayer requests, slips of paper and pencils were provided so you could write your request and then slip it into the box.  Mychal watched as a young woman from our singles group, Judi came down to the alter, wrote a request on a piece of paper and then slipped into the box. Mychal asked her what she was doing, and she explained to him the process. He then told her that he had a request and that he wanted to put it in the box. So Judi got a piece of paper and wrote his request out for him and then she slipped it into the  box for him too, He asked God for a gold fish. Shortly after finishing his request for a gold fish it was time to go to the nursery.

 A week later Judi arrived at Single’s with a gift for Mychal, an adorable baseball aquarium she had found at a garage sale and a $5.00 gift certificate to a local pet store for a gold fish. She told Tim that as she walked away from Mychal that morning she wanted to make sure that he knew God answered prayers. She had felt led by the Lord to be the one to help answer his prayer request.  She was not a woman of unlimited resource; this was a sacrificial gift of obedience.

 I had no idea that this interaction had even taken place and Tim only knew that they had talked that Sunday morning but not about what or that Judi had helped Mychal fill out his prayer request.                                                                                       Tim sat and told Mychal the story of how God had put it on Judi’s heart to be God’s answer to his request. He had huge blue eyes as a little boy and they grew really big and round with excitement. The next day off to the pet store we went and that is when Buster the gold fish became a part of our lives.

 I cannot tell you as a Mom what that act of kindness meant to me, when you are raising a kid in the fishbowl of ministry you are just always praying that when your kids interact with fellow believers that the experience is good and that people will be forgiving and understanding of our children when they are less than good. So when someone chooses to invest in your kid and that investment comes from a place of love and authenticity that is a gift with eternal ramifications. Mychal learned in this interaction that he could trust his heart’s desire with a church family member; he learned that God does use people to help us along in life; he learned that people listen and obey God on our behalf and he learned that prayer matters…always… no matter the content.

Buster lived in Mychal’s room for about 4 years and he lived a happy contended life and grew to be the biggest goldfish you have ever seen in a kid’s room, really  he was legendary. And then without realizing it when I was cleaning around the bowl one day I did not get the little air cord that kept the bowl filtrated, clean and oxygenated back into the little groove that helped everything to flow properly, it got pinched and cut off the much needed flow of life to buster and he basically well…suffocated. I inadvertently killed my Son’s manna-from-heaven gold fish! I was sick, but he handled it like a champ. He was older and wiser and understood that there is a circle of life thanks to the Lion King.

 And now that same son was on the phone telling me a story about Ben who is a 5 year old pastor’s kid who wanted a fish. Mychal had heard about this desire and so after church he got $20 from his wife and bent down to Ben’s level and told him the story of Buster and that he understood what it is to want a fish and that he wanted Ben to have one too. The next day Mychal got a text with a picture of a Beta fish whose name is Eddie Buster. Mychal once the receiver was now the giver, from one pastor’s kid to another.

 And now Mychal passes along  Judi’s investment in him to Ben, taking Judi’s choice to obey God and be His hand extended to the 4 year old PK sitting on the front row early on a Sunday morning and adding his own obedience to grow another 5 year olds faith in a God who cares about even the smallest things…really kind is the circle of life.