They Stuck With Me
I faced many of the typical teenage pressures, but God graciously put some adults in my life who showed interest in me. Just as Constance hopes to see each student connecting with five adults who model faith, I had at least five adults who made a profound impact on my life.
Two of them were my parents. Their faith in the Lord permeates every area of their lives, and their relationship with me was no exception. I've learned countless lessons from them, but I'll just hit a couple highlights:
My dad was the one who helped me understand the basics of the Gospel and prayed with me to follow Jesus when I was five years old during one of our nightly family prayer times. He then continued to show me what following Jesus meant throughout my childhood. He exemplified patient listening, especially when I was a teenager. As I began to form opinions of my own, we had our disagreements, but he asked thoughtful questions, listened to all my ideas, and discussed them with me. His intentional listening made me feel heard and respected, and I felt then— and still do— like I could safely open up to him about nearly anything.
My mom is one of the most compassionate people I know, and she showed me how to step outside of my own thoughts and self-conscious feelings and look at situations from the perspectives of others. She helped me see outside of myself, which often made me forget my sometimes trivial "problems." The teenage years are typically filled with introspection. Many kids are trying to figure out who they are and how they fit in. Wisdom from my mom helped me understand how focusing on others could contribute to my own growth.
Another adult who influenced my faith I would never have known about had no one told me. My youth group was informed at the beginning of seventh grade that a group of senior citizens in our congregation had committed to praying for us regularly. They had prayerfully chosen students to pray for, by name, and it was arranged for us to meet them in person. I remember how wonderful it was to see all these teenagers intermingling with many of the gray and white-haired members of our church. A woman named Bettie had chosen to pray for me. Though we didn't actually interact much in person, her white curls and sparkly eyes framed by beautiful smile lines made such an impression on me. But her commitment to praying for me made an even more significant impact. She asked me a few brief questions during our meeting, and I made sure to send her the occasional prayer support letter for missions trips and such, but other than that, she didn't know much about me. Yet realizing that this older person with whom I had little in common cared enough to regularly and fervently pray for me— a virtual stranger— instantly made her feel like no stranger at all. I felt significant, special, and honored that Bettie prayed for me, specifically. My parents still touch base with her every so often, and have told me that Bettie continues to pray for me.
One of the biggest influences on my faith came through Mary, the mom of one of my friends, who opened up her home to lead a Bible study for high school girls. She didn't just stick to a fluffy, dumbed-down curriculum, either; she showed us respect and confidence by initiating Beth Moore studies. If you're unfamiliar with Beth Moore, she doesn't shy away from studying the Bible in-depth, diving into the original languages, cross-referencing Scripture, and exegetically encouraging understanding of many complex truths. Beginning in ninth grade, Mary invited a handful of girls to come to her house, watch a video, and ask some questions. The study grew from that handful to sometimes more than 30 girls crammed in Mary's living room, and continued on for years even after her daughter and I graduated.
The fifth adult role model is not limited to just one individual but is a composite of those who held the role of my "youth leader." Their involvement in outreaches, small groups, messages, retreats, missions trips, and service projects was certainly influential, but these leaders provided even for me. My junior and senior year of high school, I began to feel like I might be outgrowing some facets of the youth ministry's programs, but I also felt like "big church" with the adults did not meet all my spiritual growth needs. I had started to lose motivation for being involved at church. Then one day a youth leader asked if I'd want to teach Sunday school for younger kids. Another youth leader asked if I'd try out for the worship team. And another youth leader asked if I'd pray about being on the student leadership team. Suddenly I found myself involved in all of these things. Even if programming at church didn't seem optimal for my needs, I couldn't complain anymore because I felt like I had some ownership of the ministry that was happening. Not only was I helping others and meeting needs, but I also was learning to develop some of the gifts God had given me. Those adults believed in me and trusted me enough to give me these responsibilities, which gave me the confidence to do more. One of the ways God poured through those adults into me was by showing me how to overflow and pour out into others.