Coolness Does Not Always Trump Experience!
I have observed that people are not really interested. Interested in what, you are probably asking at this point. I am beginning to believe, that in general, people aren’t really interested in other people. I spent 4 days last fall at a National Youth Workers Conference, in which our small band of youth workers were jumbled together with some 8,000 other youth workers and youth pastors from across the nation. After congregating together in the “big room” for worship and a speaker, we quickly dispersed to various seminars on a myriad of subjects. We tried to spread ourselves throughout the seminars in order to gather as much information and knowledge as possible. I found myself in a couple of classes alone, well not alone, but sitting among strangers. I had tried hard to read name tags as people passed me in the convention center and in the classrooms, curious to see where all these people who must love working with students were traveling from to learn more about ministering to youth. I noticed that we band of eleven from the heart of the south, the belt buckle of the Bible belt, were in the minority. Most people seemed to hail from the north and west to California, then the East Coast, and a large group of mid-westerners. I tried engaging some people in conversation by asking “Where are you from?” and usually I was given a short, quick answer. I started to think my southern twang was hindering our ability to converse. As I sat in one seminar, the instructor instructed us to turn to someone next to us and give three words that described our Middle School experience. I shuddered inwardly, not wanting to remember those three years of torment. I glanced at the young woman sitting one chair away from me, waiting for her to glance toward me to follow our instructions. She stared forward for a moment, and then slowly looked toward my southern (albeit awkward) smiling face. I saw her forehead give just a slight crinkle as if she was suppressing the urge to frown. With no expression, other than the brief crinkling of her perfect brow, she uttered three words in a distinct Midwestern accent, “They were great.” Then she turned her face back toward the speaker, never waiting for my response. Was she trying to be amusing, I wondered? Did she misunderstand the assignment? I sat there staring at the side of her face, examining her perfect make-up, her long thick hair twisted into a perfect bun and clipped with some ornate hair accessory. She wore a long dark fitted top with a gray lightweight coat and one of those wonderful scrunchy scarfs that only people with long necks can pull off. Her long legs were crisscrossed and covered in dark tights and riding boots. Her arms were crossed across her waist, adding to her air of superiority. I was 49 years old and this 30 something young woman had just dismissed me. Her body language and actions revealed her apparent belief that the activity was beneath her or that communication with me was unnecessary. I was still disturbed by her response and by the fact that if you stood the two of us before a group of teenagers, she would be their obvious choice among the younger generation. She was young and hip (that word alone ages me!), she was tall (I am not), she was beautiful, she seemed educated, for all accounts she was visually more appealing than myself. I could see the scenario play out in my mind. She would be surrounded by giggling girls and hormonal teenage boys. I would be left standing alone, rejected and cast off. I shook my head, clearing the scene from my mind. I became determined not to be ignored. I had worked with youth for 20 years in many different aspects. I had seen and heard things that would have left this young woman speechless. I had held the hand of many a crying teenage girl as she blubbered about a broken heart. I had been roused in the middle of the night by a phone call from a student to come and pick them up or just because they wanted to talk. I had endured sleepless nights at camp and retreats and the most feared – lock-ins! I had had my house rolled and forked so many times that at one point I had decided to leave the yard décor left by students to make it easier for the next go around. My car had been painted and saran wrapped on many occasion – no small feat when you drive a mini-van! I had convinced many a student to come clean with their parents over secrets they were keeping or to reveal an unplanned pregnancy. I had prayed over and with students about small and big decisions as they looked forward to life after high school. I had taught the truths of God’s Word to every age from 12 to 18. I had earned my stripes and the sprinkle of gray that was shining in my auburn hair! I was not going to be discounted as some short, fat old lady trying to be cool by attending a youth leader’s conference. I smiled my most charming southern smile and tapped the young woman on her shoulder. She slowly turned her face toward me annoyed that I was trying to engage. “Excuse me; I am sure you were wondering what three words I would use to describe my middle school experience. And yes, in my day, it was called junior high, but nevertheless it was middle school. The three words I would use to describe that time are Challenging, Abstruse and Empowering.” I smiled at her again and turned my attention toward the speaker who had resumed her lecture. I felt the young woman still staring at me but mustered up the most pensive expression I could and pretended to be engrossed in the speaker’s content. I felt a sense of victory at having trumped her aloof manner. She might be young and pretty, but I was old and experienced!