"I remember walking these halls," I whisper to Aaron. Standard gray concrete-block walls, blue speckled tile floor, a ramp matted in brown rubber. I'm in eighth grade again, wearing that army green sweater and braces, not sure of where to part my hair. My eyebrows need plucking, but who knows how to pluck their eyebrows in eight grade?
It's funny how fresh the memories feel, how these halls unscrew memory jars I haven't touched in years. We're heading to the gym to hang with middle schoolers during their free period. Middle school, though I am near 27 now, slams me with all the emotion of that tough season: insecurity, self-consciousness, uncertainty.
The gym is crowded. The boys and the athletic girls are bouncing around basketballs, forming pick-up games at either end of the court. The girls that aren't athletic walk the perimeter in groups of three or four. I spot a couple of girls I know from K-Life, and I am relieved. No one wants to be alone in that gym, not even me. We chat a few minutes, and they continue ambling, round and round, fading into free period with all their might.
She sits alone on the bleachers, a short girl with strawberry blonde hair and a red t-shirt.
"Hi, I'm Lara. What's your name?"
Her name is Michelle, and for a girl sitting solo on a creaky wooden seat, she likes to talk. "I scrapbooked with my mom Saturday, and we scrapbooked all day, from 8 to 6:30, and finally, I was like, 'Mom, you have to stop scrapbooking!' I had to make her stop, I was just so tired of scrapbooking."
We talk of other things, deeper things, unanswered questions her young life already pulls behind her like a heavy wagon. I am surprised she is sharing so openly, me a stranger fifteen minutes ago. I am surprised by her confession that it is hard for her to make friends. She is spunky, she is funny, she is sweet. She has a beautiful smile.
She is the beloved, you know. She is a masterpiece wrought by Him.
Middle school is not the place to showcase masterpieces. Here, you just want to blend in, look like the cool kids, hit the ball when it's time for P.E.
"Middle school will be over soon," I want to tell her. "And there's a great, huge, loving God so much bigger than this hot gym. He knows your name and calls to you. And though you can't believe it yet, His opinion of you is the final answer, not these estimations here and now."
I don't say it, for the bell has rung, and the herd drifts to the double doors, back to class. "I'll see you next time, girl," I say, and she smiles and filters into the crowd.
On my run later, I pray. I pray hard for her precious, innocent heart. I'm left with a glorious weight, a reminder pressed hard into my heart like a fossil. His image is in us. In all the people, everywhere.
I could cry with the joy of this. It is not a project, not a list of to-do. It is His life spouting out of us: the privilege of seeing humanity as He does, the gift of telling His story, the best story.
That story, it can seep strong, seep through the strongest of standard gray concrete walls.