The bulk of my career has been devoted to working with teenagers. I love them! I love High school students and I love Middle school students. I always have. But the truth is that middle school can be really challenging for many students and their teachers…and their parents…well pretty much anybody who has interaction with middle school. For that reason I was so nervous when Spencer entered 6th grade. He was my first child to experience middle school and I think I was more nervous than he was! Was this going to be the year he began being embarrassed by my very presence? Was this the year he would get bullied? Would this be a season of drama? Would his grades suffer with the intense increase in homework? I was worried about all the things that I’d seen in my work. I was so relieved when he breezed right on through. His grades were great, his schedule was appropriate, and his friends were lovely. Each time another one of my boys entered middle school, I held my breath, but each one breezed on through just like their older brother. So the worry was nowhere on my radar when my sweet tiny but mighty Sydney entered 5th grade. It was her last year in elementary school…the year her class would “rule the school”…the last year of sweet elementary innocence before the threat of middle school turmoil. Only a short time into her 5th grade year, I was completely blindsided driving home from church one day when Sydney began to sob uncontrollably in the passenger seat next to me. In between gasps for air, she begged me to let her stay home from school the next day. I agreed immediately because I thought maybe she was sick, but when I asked her why she couldn’t go to school the next morning, she said, “I can’t go to school because my face is too ugly.” My heart sank. Had I heard her correctly?
Did she really just say that she couldn’t go to school because her face was too ugly?
So I asked her to clarify. And for the next 25 minutes of our drive home, she told me how she was being bullied mercilessly day after day at school. She told me how she was told that her teeth were not right and her nostrils were too big for her face, and her mole was ugly, and many other painful things that I cannot even begin to write because of the tears streaming down my own face even now as I relive that conversation. I did all the things that I would counsel another parent to do in this situation if they came to me. I spoke to her teacher and she was shocked and jumped into action. All the teachers at her school loved my girl so much and they were hurt and surprised as well. Eventually they got to the bottom of it and identified the source and things began to calm down but not until close to the end of the school year. Unfortunately, these things can take time.
My sweet Sydney still had to get up every morning, get on the bus, and go to school knowing how hard it was going to be.
I did the only things I knew to do. I prayed. I walked in her room everyday and prayed over her life and her future and the details of her day. And I began a new routine. I spoke life into her until she could repeat it verbatim. It was something I’d always done since the day my babies came into the world, but I usually did it at night. During one of the hardest years I’ve experienced as a mom, it became our morning routine. We would sit in my car at the bus stop waiting to see the flashing lights turn down our street. As soon as we knew the bus was approaching I would turn to Sydney and say, “God only made one Sydney Kronauge in all the world. She is kind. She is smart. She is talented. She is valuable. She is beautiful. Every feature on her face is perfect. She uses her words to encourage people. She is forgiving. She loves Jesus more than anyone I know. Now, go be that girl today because you are not the girl the bullies are trying to make you.” And so it went everyday. There were still hard days and tears both for her and for me, but they became less and further between. As Sydney and I walked through that year together, God began to impress upon my heart how powerful our uniqueness really is to our spiritual well-being, our effectiveness, and our contentment in the world this side of eternity.
I believe that if these other little girls knew their unique value to the Kingdom, they wouldn’t have behaved the way they did.
You see, they were lashing out because Sydney had things they thought they wanted. Sydney is a leader and therefore chosen to lead in many areas of her life. She is helpful and therefore selected to help. She is a good communicator and therefore chosen to speak. The other girls also possessed unique qualities that we need…qualities that are valuable, they just didn’t understand that yet.
You see, God created each one of us with unique giftings and talents and interests and facial features and body type. No interest is any better than another. No talent is any more valuable than another. No facial feature or body type is any more beautiful than another in the eyes of the one who created it all. If we were all the same, first the world would be a very boring place and second, we’d never accomplish a dang thing.
We were made to do Kingdom work and God uniquely shaped each of us to do our part AND work together.
Paul, a former Christian hater turned follower, founded a church in Corinth many years ago. Several years later after moving on from that church, Paul got word that the people of Corinth had forgotten what he taught them. They were full of pride and treating each other poorly causing division among them. Paul wrote them a letter, now known as 1 Corinthians in the Bible, to help get them back on track. In that letter Paul gives some clarity to the people that is still helpful to us today. He compares our uniqueness to the human body. He says that we are all a part of the body; eye, ear, head, foot, etc, but together we make up one functioning body because no one part can function alone. And then he gets super specific:
15 So if the foot were to say, “Since I’m not a hand, I’m not a part of the body,” it’s forgetting that it is still a vital part of the body. 16 And if the ear were to say, “Since I’m not an eye, I’m not really a part of the body,” it’s forgetting that it is still an important part of the body.
17 Think of it this way. If the whole body were just an eyeball, how could it hear sounds? And if the whole body were just an ear, how could it smell different fragrances? 18 But God has carefully designed each member and placed it in the body to function as he desires.[d] 19 A diversity is required, for if the body consisted of one single part, there wouldn’t be a body at all!
Paul goes on to explain that we need every single part of the body for this life to work. God did this intentionally so that we would take care of each other. God did this intentionally so that there would be no division among us. God did this intentionally so that we would feel what the other parts of our body feel…so the entire body would suffer if one part is suffering…so the entire body would celebrate when one part of the body is celebrating. We need each other. We need the unique shape of every part of the body if we are to accomplish our Kingdom work.
If the little girl who caused so much pain to my Sydney knew the value of her uniqueness and that it complimented Sydney’s, it did not compete with it, she would have celebrated the things that Sydney was chosen to do. That’s true for every single one of us.
We each need to settle into how God has shaped us to do the work He has planned for us understanding that no work is any more important than other work.
So if you are gifted to help then help. If you are gifted to lead then lead. If you are gifted to write then write. If you are gifted to sing then sing. If you are gifted to organize then organize. If you are gifted to clean then clean. We need you. The Kingdom needs you. There is a lot of work to be done and it will take all of us; doctors and lawyers and teachers and stay at home moms and retired people and grandparents and retail workers and police officers and students and children. It will take all of us doing exactly what God shaped each one of us to do.
If you have forgotten who you are, let me remind you now because you have work to do. Without ever having met you I know this about you: You are the only you that God ever created in the entire world. You are kind. You are smart. You are talented. You are valuable. You are beautiful. Every feature on your face is perfect. You use your words to encourage people. You are forgiving. Now, go be that person today because you are not the person the world is trying to make you.”
I love you. And I’m glad you are here.