The summer is coming to a close.  In the coming weeks, school buses will take to the roads, transporting our bundles of joy to the halls of learning.  Or, something like that.

If you remember, my summers at the Women's Care Center are largely centered around the Children's Attitude Motivation Program (CAMP). This summer, we had our lowest participation, only working with students from one neighboring county.  But what started with disappointment at only working with one group, turned into a blessing that I am so very thankful for.

Because I only had one county, I was able to focus my interest on my 13 students. In addition, my normal two weeks turned into almost five. I was able to have some good conversations with the students, and often challenged their thinking. Which, of course, they were able to do to me as well.

Because I had more time with my students this summer, I was able to expand a lesson I've normally had to keep to just one day. In CAMP, we focus on reinventing and remaking who the students are.  Many of them are involved in drug and alcohol abuse.  And though they spend their summer learning healthy habits and breaking addictions, at the end, many are left to go back to the same friends, and in some cases, family members, that introduced them to the drugs in the first place.  And this is the cycle I wanted to break.

John Kuebler (among many others, I'm sure) said "Show me your friends and I will show you your future." This pearl is so very true for our teens. Many of these students are part of friend groups that are involved in many of the same unhealthy activities. I explained to my students that it is so much easier to be pulled down to a lower level than it is to pull someone up.  Can it happen? Sure. But are these young souls strong enough yet? No.

And so we talked about remaking ourselves. We talked about moving on from the past, and using our experiences as a chance to learn and grow.  And this time, we talked about redefining our relationships.

To do this, I gave my students a ceramic tile.  On the back, I had them write a relationship that they knew needed to change, even if that meant ending it. I told them to list a relationship that had a negative impact on their life, either physically or emotionally.  I was pleased when many of the students recognized the negative effects of substances, listing relationships they had with marijuana, alcohol, tobacco or even methamphetamine. One student acknowledged that in order to move forward, she had to release herself from the burden of her past.  A few students put names of their "friends" down, while one student simply listed her mother.

I then told them to decorate the front of their tile with whatever they wanted.  Many of them took a lot of time planning out what they wanted to draw or color.  I specifically didn't tell them the next part of the activity so they would really value what they drew.

The next day, I explained that in order to redefine our relationships, at times we have to break them down to nothing. I pulled a hammer out of my bag, and asked who wanted to go first.

Understandably, many did not jump at this opportunity.  They put their time and energy into these pieces, and despite what was written on the back, they were proud of the front.  But they had no choice. I made them smash every piece.

The student who listed her mother as her bad influence stepped up, and grabbed a huge rock. With a shaking voice, she exclaimed "I will no longer allow this relationship to be a negative influence on my life!" She slammed the rock onto her tile, and I seriously got goose bumps.  She was ready to move  on.

I gathered all the pieces, and this week I've been working on something special.  Out of their broken pieces, I made beautiful mosaics for each of them.  Because, really, that's what life is like.

We each have something that we are holding on to.  We know it is a bad influence on us, but we try to cover it up and make it as beautiful as possible.  But it is still there, exercising  its power over us. In order to really move forward, we have to let our walls crumble. And it hurts. We've created our walls to hide what is really going on. And to break them down is to become completely vulnerable.  To break them down is to let people see who we really are. Many of us don't want that. We aren't ready for that.

But here's the cool part.  Out of the brokenness and mess that was our past, and specifically these students' pasts, something truly beautiful can be made. Our past will always be a part of us, but it doesn't have to define us. We can move forward, past the pain, and the hurt, and the brokenness, and piece ourselves back together. Not on our own, of course, but with the help of those who truly care about us, and want the very best for us. We will not look the same. We may have some rough edges. But we will be stronger, and for that I am grateful.


"You are more than the choices that you make. You are more than the sum of your past mistakes. You are more than the problems you create. You've been remade." - Tenth Avenue North, "You Are More"