This morning I was up at 5:30am. Not to catch a plane to Europe. Not to make a business appointment. Not even to catch the sun rise or spend time with God, as frequently my habit (my wife is the night owl). This morning Jennifer and I were up to speak for middle school students–one of my most important jobs in the world.
Indian River Middle School is the largest in Jefferson County with well over 700 students. Today I had the privilege of addressing the entire student body for a one-hour assembly at 8:00am. This is the second during-school assembly for me up here (you can read about the Thousands Islands High even here). Today’s assembly was focused specifically on bullying, a topic the staff asked me to address. As each school is unique, so too is each message I bring, custom fit to what the needs of the school are.
I challenged them with a new philosophy, that bullies are not brutes, meanies or menaces, but they are actually insecure, unstable and fearful, taking advantage of weaker individuals because they are the only “things” they can control in their lives.
As Indian River services Ft. Drum families, many of whom are deployed, as well as indigenous northern NY families who are trying to make ends meet, there are many kids who’s home lives are challenging. But equally notable is how many truly phenomenal kids there are, representing various socioeconomic and ethnic backgrounds, each pushing forward and giving their best. Today was not only about calling bullies on the carpet, but shining a light on those who are the true leaders of the school and empowering them through recognition. “This is your school. Own it.”
I was able to share much of my own stories about being bullied and work in a lot of humor. Jennifer and I both shared in song at the beginning and the end which they seemed to really enjoy. I interviewed one of the “worst bullies” in the 8th grade class and the “most picked on” 6th grader at the same time. It was funny, but also very powerful as I spoke into both of their lives, eventually pointing out that there was nothing keeping them from being friends but their own trust for one another.
By the time the assembly was over, we had numerous kids weeping, asking forgiveness from one another and even from their teachers (also crying)! The presence of the Lord was palpable; He never ceases to amaze me. And the fact that I was able to bring both the love of Christ and Biblical principles (like “you hold life in death in your tongue”) right into the school while never needing (or being allowed, for that matter) to mention the name of Jesus is really quite staggering. I believe it continues to stand as a perfect example of how we as Christians must be able to let the Light in us shine regardless of our Christianese language. As St. Francis of Assisi said, “Go into all the world and preach the Gospel, and when necessary use words.”
I have no idea what doors God is going to open next, but I had members of the PTO already asking me how they could get me in to two more schools in the county. Truly, the Lord is at work and I can only point to Him. All I did was say, “Yes.”
I would appreciate all yours prayers as I’m speaking at the Thousand Islands Middle School tomorrow at 12:30pm on “Overcoming Obstacles to Pursue Your Dreams.”
Many thanks to Principal Nancy Taylor-Schmitt, Assistant Principal Jeff Keruski and all the amazing teachers, parents and students at Indian River Middle School. One word: Wow.
Thanks for reading!