I repeat: It wasn't like this.
The assigned topic of the speech was "What does this church mean to you?" This might sound oh-so idyllic in a very "what I did over summer vacation" kind of way, but if you stop and think about it, they were asked to answer the shortest and perhaps hardest question of all: Why?
Why them? Why now? Why this place? Don't just Testify...Justify! And just to make it interesting, please keep the combined remarks under five minutes. ReadySetGO.
Now, I can only speak for my child when I tell you she wasn't doing back flips when she was asked to do this. "I don't like speaking in public!" wailed the Drama Queen. "It's OK. Do it anyway," I answered. "I don't know what to say!" she countered. "You'll figure it out," I said. "Think about all the things you've done, and the people you know. Talk about the things that are important to you. There aren't right or wrong answers. They asked to hear your thoughts...whatever those might be."
I lucked out big time on this assignment because for once I didn't have to remind her twenty seven million times to do it. You see, there were several (yes, plural) terribly important social events the night before the speech, and with TeenTuna's ENTIRE DRAMA-FILLED FIFTEEN YEARS hanging in the balance, it was more than carrot enough. Halloween was credited with the parental assist, and it was much appreciated.
The speeches that Sunday were forthright and honest. Each truly represented the speaker, and they were in turn funny, moving, and thought-provoking. And no, no, emphatically no...the parents did NOT write their speeches. I can easily speak for both mothers when I say these kids were on. their. own. My only request was a single read-through before Sunday, to make sure she wasn't declaring Beelzebub or SpongeBob Squarepants to be her Lord and Savior. Even I have my limits.
Although at the time I downplayed the difficulty of this task, I am quite in awe of these kids for having the courage to answer "why" out loud. A teenager's personal belief system is less like Martin Luther's Ninety Five Theses nailed to the church door and more like Silly Putty smooshed against the Sunday comics. Their beliefs are shaped, changed, skewed, forgotten and then abandoned, only (hopefully) to be found and reworked once again. Like Silly Putty, if you examine these beliefs closely, it can be extremely difficult to get a clear picture. You know something is there, but it's a little hard to tell what exactly it is. Or was. Or might become.
But they were asked, and, willing or not, they stepped up to the plate. Standing in the pulpit amidst a menagerie of stuffed horses and sheep and cows that were serving as a visual reminder of the ongoing church sponsored Heifer project, these kids laid it on the line. They answered 'why' without pretense or apology. If asked, I would imagine that neither one of them would think of themselves as particularly inspiring or brave. But if you ask me, to stand up and speak your own beliefs is one of the bravest things each of us can do.
I'm so proud of both of them for finding their own answers to the big "why" questions. And I'm especially grateful for the people inside the four walls with the pretty windows who not only allowed them, but encouraged them to stand up and speak their own beliefs, and loved them all the more.