This post took a long time in coming.  I had to sort through my feelings, my reactions, and think about how I could have handled this differently…

A few weeks ago, we took our Middle School Hand bell Choir (The Bells of Joy) to a ringing festival for other young ringers.  We do this every other summer and I really look forward to it.  The youth that go are not always the same youth I get for youth group trips, the music director goes, and I have someone to share responsibilities with.  The people who run the festival do an awesome job, and leave little of the usual responsibilities to me (food, housing, scheduling, the rules and what nut).

We headed down, destined to have a good time; ready to ring our little hearts out.  And we immediately hit trouble.  One chaperone/driver had a death in the family and immediately had to go home upon arrival.  Then there was a scramble to figure out how to get the kids that were in her car home once we were done. But I could deal with this, it’s my job.

Then we had some PDA issues.  One young girl was constantly hanging on one young man.  Despite frequent conversations about what was and was not okay, it was a struggle for her to understand the boundaries.  This too I could handle, part of the job.

Then came something I did not handle well.  One of my young girls dresses differently than most of her peers.  She is often in all black, has different color hair,mega eyeliner and black lipstick, and other things.  In a word, I guess it is called “Goth”. She is one of the nicest kids in our group.  Tries hard in everything she does, genuinely cares for others, and typically is someone I can count on to do what’s best.  She’s not perfect, no one is, but she is a genuine good kid.  She and I have had conversations about her appearance.  One thing that I try to tell her is to “be above the starring.”  People are going to look, she makes the choice to be looked at when she gets dressed each day.  People are going to make judgements based on her appearance, and she should do her best to make sure that each person she encounters will get to know the true girl.  So, naturally, at this festival of typically appearing young people, there was the usual amount of starring.  The girl was an ace at handling it.  She smiled, made friends, worked to ring hard, anything you could have asked from her.  Then I went to the bathroom.  While I was in the stall, a group of folks from other churches came in.  THEY WERE TALKING ABOUT MY KID!!!!

“How can a Christian dress like that?”

“What church would allow that?”

“Do you think she was forced to come here?”

“I bet she’s a witch.”

I flipped.  It was all I could do finish my “business” before confronting these young girls and telling them about making judgements and assumptions, and all sorts of other things.  walking out into the common part of the bathroom, I realized that this group of horrid young girls was actually a group of female adult chaperones from another church.  I’m certain I turned purple.  But I was shocked into near silence.  My comments as I washed up were limited too… “What if that girl you’re talking about had been in one of the stalls?”  and “I hope you set a better example for the young people you brought here than you are setting for each other.”  If they replied, I didn’t hear it.  I was still purple and seeing spots.  Back with my group, I was near tears.  The one that noticed?  The one that asked if I was okay?  Guess who?

Dear adults, volunteers, professionals, whomever…Please strive to set the example for your youth 100% of the time.  Even when they are not with us, we are accountable to our youth, just as they are to us.  If we are not striving to be at our best, how can we expect them to be striving?  If we are not authentic in out faith and behavior, they will see right through us.  I am not certain I handled this correctly, and I am almost certain that my young girl would have handled it better.  I will always be proud of her for having the courage and strength to be who she is.


About Abby Triebel

Abby is a Full Time Youth Leader in Upstate NY.
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