Her name is Shelby. She’s tall and thin, and her face is covered in freckles. Like most other 5th grade girls, she’s reached the point where she won’t allow her mother do her hair for her anymore. She doesn’t really style it either, though, so it hangs from her head in a mass of untidy locks. She arrives at church wearing a charity run t-shirt, a skirt, and brightly colored running shoes. She walks through the double doors, awkwardly crosses her skinny arms, and alternates between staring at the floor and scouring the room for someone she knows. I notice her right away. I rubberneck in order to make eye contact with her, and finally she spots me and trots over. She plops down in the chair next to me, and lets out a sigh of relief because suddenly she belongs.
She’s one of my few, so there are things I know about Shelby that the majority of folks at church don’t. I know she loves art; oil painting, specifically. She plays cello and piano, and is really talented. She loves to read and is the oldest of 5 kids. Although she often gets annoyed with her 3 brothers, she still enjoys playing with them in the backyard. She plays tennis and golf. She thinks boys are gross. Well, most of them. All except one in particular that happens to be in our small group.
Perhaps one of the most incredible facts about Shelby, though, is that at the age of 11, she already has a passion for helping others, and is on fire to mobilize other kids her age. I wouldn’t have known this if it wasn’t for a conversation I had with her mother several weeks ago.
You see, up until recently, I hadn’t quite cracked the code on getting to know her mom and dad. Like most other parents on a Sunday morning, they’re in a hurry. They have 5 kids, ranging from ages 4 to 11, so you can imagine how hectic things are for them. I usually see Shelby and her brothers stagger in late, and her mom or dad is lagging behind to finally catch up and sign them in.
The code was cracked, however, on the day I came to Shelby’s school orchestra concert. For the first time, I really began to get to know her parents. I learned about what they do for a living, where they’re from, and what they like to do for fun. Attending the concert was a wonderful way to show Shelby that I care about her, but I was also able to show her parents that I am here for them too.
From that point on, a partnership began. Conversations with them started to take place in the middle of the week, in addition to Sundays. These were simple correspondences. I’d shoot her mom a text to ask for a restaurant recommendation. Her dad forwarded me a coupon to a running store, knowing I was in the market for new shoes. Yes, I am their daughter’s small group leader. But my ability to reach her widens greatly when I also become someone her parents know and trust.
Here’s the thing: Parents are generally open to the idea of another adult investing in their child. But they don’t always know how to foster those relationships. Perhaps that means we need to take intentional steps into their world so that can happen. We need to do what we can to help them feel like they can safely trust us. Be present…both in the lives of your few, as well as their parents. If we don’t, we might miss out on an incredible opportunity to make an impact on the next generation.
By Ashley Litton