Dear Young People at My Church,
I haven't been blogging much, mostly because I do it for work, too, and I get tired. I saw something awhile back that was important enough for me to put my writer's whining aside and try to make words out of it. I hope you see this, and I hope you know I mean it.
I'm a born traddie. I was in public school through sixth grade and then I was homeschooled. We had teen groups and youth groups and co-ops and homeschool proms. We had our besties and our frienemies (are those the words you kids are using these days?) I'm fairly hip, right? Tell me yes. And also tell me we're still saying "hip."
When I was young, our church was very small. Aside from cousins, I had a small group of friends. There was one boy, and we fought over him a little. Say a prayer for him, as he no longer walks this earth, and trust me, he is very missed. He was one of the good ones.
Through all of my growing up years, I knew people who wore only skirts, those who pretended they only wore skirts, those who wore only jeans (okay, that was me), and one or two who would push the limits so much they invented a new style - Little Skirt on the Prairie. (I'm not making fun, by the way. My most fashionable outfit was an Air Force uniform shirt I got from my dad's buddy, paired with hot pink earrings and a scrunchie. Hawt.) We had the kinda weird friends that nobody could really relate to, and we had the one who showed up out of nowhere looking like a Parisian model. I had friends who weren't allowed at my house because I was in public school, and I had friends who weren't allowed at my church because we "worship Mary." It was a well-rounded childhood, I guess.
Anyway, enough of the MannyRee Story Hour. I watched an interesting dynamic happening a few weeks ago, and it reminded me of those years. I don't know where you all fit in the long-skirt/short-skirt/jeans/sleeves debate. I don't know who is nice and who is just pretending. I don't know who has a crush on who, or who's hiding behind the church to sneak a smoke.
Some kids are weird or hard to get along with. Some are just mean. Some don't know where they belong. Some are just hanging out, getting through their Sunday. And some are already deeply into their Faith. Wherever you are, you have a job to do, and it's important. These people, even the annoying people, are in your life for a reason. Be a beacon. Most of you are - I see it. You are shining points of light in a dark world.
You have not been left with a world that makes it easy to be good. You are living in the very midst of darkness and evil. It's hard to do the right thing in a hostile world. At about age 16, I got the idea that it was me against everyone. The world didn't want my Faith, and my parish didn't want my world. It sucked, and it took me a long time to figure out where I fit. Well into adulthood, actually. Like, last week. And when I did, I realized I don't fit in the traditional sense. Alas, I am no longer 17, and my rebellious streak is still not appreciated among many of my peers. But this day calls for rebellion, albeit pointed in the right direction, and I know that I am this way for a reason.
So, in remembrance of my 16 year old self, I want to tell you that you are a vital piece in the Body of Christ. I'd argue that you are one of the most important pieces. Your energy and potential is unmatched. And most importantly, this is your church. This Church, and our parish, is yours. Even if you screw up, even if you have a bad attitude, even if everyone else has a bad attitude, if you love it or hate it or wish you could just get away from it all, it's yours. The Church is alive and growing, and you are a part of it. Own that. Show up, even when you don't want to. Be kind, and ignore those who aren't. Listen to your conscience - don't let everyone intrude on the conversation, but develop an ear for wisdom.
Grow, live, make mistakes, do good, be a light, and own your space. It is yours, even if I don't agree with you all the time. It is yours even if you are angry. It is yours if you've been hurt by it. Show up and be right with Our Lord. That is all. I want you to experience the beauty and the joy of our shared Faith, and the friends you have because you belong in the Communion of Saints, and the true and honest love that comes from only those things in common. Be a rebel! But have a cause - rebel against darkness and cruelty. Fight for beauty and light and good. We need your generation to stand in the gap.
So, I open my heart to you, the young people at my church. This is not easy for me to do. It turns out that saying these things to a giant group of young adults I hardly know feels exactly like standing in front of a firing squad, reciting "The Jabberwocky" in hopes they they'll like it enough not to shoot. But here goes.
I am so happy we share a parish. You have an enormous task ahead of you - coming into adulthood leaves nobody unscathed. It's not easy, it's not always pleasant, and whether it's one of your peers or mine, you'll probably have to deal with a "mean girl" or two. Don't let them win. Make a point to see beauty - really see it. Experience joy and hope. And please, when my own children are your age, be a beacon to them. When they hate my rules and my idiotic parenting (and I know they will), I'm glad you guys will be the ones they look to for guidance.
*UPDATE: I changed this post. I made a mistake and I apologize.