I met Claire the first day I came to observe the high school ministry at our church. She made an immediate impression. At that point in time, our ministry met at a house on Monday nights. Claire’s parents had graciously opened their home every Monday night to about 40 to 50 high school students. It was clear Claire wasn’t crazy about the fact that her parents had volunteered to let her peers come into her space, mess with her stuff and then leave.

I didn’t really know what to make of Claire. She wasn’t afraid of being completely honest, and as a result some things she said sounded incredibly harsh. At the time she had a steady boyfriend who also occasionally attended our student ministry. One of the first experiences I remember with Claire was when her leader asked her if she was coming to an upcoming youth retreat. The leader had recently made a comment about how some people put all their eggs in one basket, and as Christians, we needed to make sure we were choosing the right baskets. So when the same leader asked her about the youth retreat, Claire replied, “Nope. I have something to do with my boyfriend. I’m putting my eggs in that basket.”

A few months later we re-organized our small groups and Claire was not in mine, but I continued to hear of various antics from her leaders, and from the kids in my small group. It was never anything horribly bad, we all wondered if we were really reaching her. She was one of those difficult students—the kind that is completely lovable, but you wonder how much of what you’re seeing is real.

So, imagine my reaction when I walked in to meet my new sixth grade girls group last June, to find Claire sitting in the room, and telling me that she was leading a sixth grade girls group. I was flabbergasted. I simply said, “Oh, that’s nice,” thinking silently to myself that I would be having a long talk with Adam, our student minister about this decision. Adam ended up approaching me though.

Adam’s theory was that our problem with Claire was the way we were challenging Claire on some of her decisions. His theory (which was sound) took into account that Claire had a very nurturing nature. Therefore, his belief was that if she was held accountable by being responsible for younger students, it might have the effect that we weren’t getting in her peer small group.

Almost immediately we noticed a change in Claire. She was suddenly at church every time the doors were open. Her parents reported to Adam that she was more respectful at home. She would tweet me and e-mail me about her group. To put it mildly, I had NEVER expected to see this level of interest from Claire.

Shortly thereafter, we decided our youth group would participate in WorldVision’s 30 hour famine. The 30 Hour famine happened to fall on Claire’s 18th birthday. Rather than go and celebrate in the usual fashion, Claire spent her entire weekend not eating, and herding sixth graders.

A few weeks later, one of our sixth graders called Claire and told her she was engaging in self-mutilation and had cut herself. Claire immediately dropped everything she was doing and rushed to the student’s home. She talked to the student and her parents, partnering in the best possible way given the situation. Since then, Claire has maintained weekly contact with the student’s mother, and the student considers Claire as one of the biggest influences in her life. I also recently learned that Claire anonymously paid for one of our students to go to summer camp. She CARES.

There is no one I would rather have than Claire serving next to me as we try to guide and lead these young women. I love looking across at her when we’re asked, “Ummm….I have a question, is it against Jesus, that scene in Titanic where Jack paints Rose?” or, most recently, when Claire had to interrupt the discussion to tell our girls to, “Put your shirt down.” I always laugh after these incidents and remind her of the time I had to have the chat with her about mooning folks, or the numerous times she managed to derail a topic in our small group.

Claire has come light years from the princess I met two years ago. I can not think of a bigger win than the kid you wonder if you’re reaching, growing into a beautiful, responsible adult who serves alongside you.

by: Kristy Kirkland

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