Senior High School Youth Group
May 7, 2017
First UU Church of Austin
4700 Grover Ave., Austin, TX 78756

The Senior High Youth Group provide their reflections on growth and what it means to grow up.

Welcome: Julia Heilrayne

Chalice Lighting: Marah Moers, Ava Gorecki

Call to Worship: “Glory Days” (Olivia), read by Rae Milstead

Affirming our Mission; Paige Neemidge

Story of all ages: “Four little seeds” Shanti Cornell

The Kinds of People
by Kate Hirschfeld

Let’s go back. To when the days were counted not in numbers but by discoveries. Small fingers outstretched to the sky, trying to get a grasp on this world, one experience at a time. Asking questions without answers Your favorite word was always “why.” “Why” Punctuated with intensely curious eyes, Your head cocked slightly to the side, Expecting a response even when there wasn’t one to give. Minds full of fairy dust Wide eyes of wanderlust Never knowing what life had in store for us.

Back to when you had perpetually paint-stained hands, Dirt under fingernails, Hair tangled by the wind, Mud stains on your new dress.

Don’t tell mom but you always liked it better like that anyway. Said it reminded you of chocolate milk. And everyone knows, there’s nothing on this earth better than chocolate milk.

Back to when we gazed at the stars so long our eyes themselves began to twinkle. We took to staring contests during the day to share our galaxies. We woke up early to watch the sun paint the sky like a canvas. Pink stained clouds never ceased to take our breath away.

Call us crazy, but thought it beat Cartoon Network any day. We stayed up past our bedtimes to wave the moon goodnight. We searched the sky for the Big Dipper and Orion’s Belt. They were the only constellations we knew, But the way our eyes lit up when we saw them, Made them the only ones we needed.

Back to when wonder was our only motive. We dived in head first not because we had courage, But because we didn’t know to be scared yet.

Back to when we rolled the windows down just to taste the wind without fear of ruining our hair. And daydreaming was a common pastime not a waste of it. When we were more than just people, We were heroes and pirates and wizards and royalty. We soared through stormclouds and danced with dandelions. Our heartbeat was the only music we ever needed. And every raindrop was proof that magic really did exist. Bedtime stories didn’t seem so far off.

What happened between then and now? How did magic become merely a device for Disney to make a profit. And four-leaf clovers became so rare we stopped even bothering to look. We stay up late but keep the curtains closed from the cosmos. They say money can’t buy happiness but it’s starting to replace it. We shy away from opportunity because we finally learned what fear was. Our dresses remain clean and we don’t drink chocolate milk We close our fists and turn our eyes from the skies. We don’t have time for staring contests so our galaxies flicker and dim. Your favorite word became “Because.”

Except, for a few. Some people never stopped daydreaming They still wish on dandelions though some may call them childish. And wander forests in their free time because their curiosity surpasses their fears. They love for the sake of loving, their joy does not need justification. Most of all, they still ask questions.

Change is the Only Constant
by Julia Heilrayne

Change is all around us, all the time. It is what we live and breathe. As a science nerd, I love the saying “change is the only constant” because well, that’s the truth. Change is scary. I’ll admit that, but without it, progress and growth would be impossible. Change and growth are the driving forces in life — pushing us forward to the next discovery, the crucial part of history, the next step in our own lives. Without change, people would never grow, plants would never blossom, and none of us would be where we are today.

In my 15 years, change has been one of the best and worst things to happen to me. It has saved my life, and made it infinitely harder. Change has let me breathe again, while at the same time, it has taken my breath away and refused to give it back. But most of all, I have learned to love and appreciate the constant state of change in the world because without it, I have no idea where or who I would be today.

When I was in sixth grade, change took over my life. Just after the second semester had started, my parents told me I was switching schools. This news was wel- comed with tears, excitement, and relief but most of all, fear. I had been having problems at school for a little while, fighting back against a system that no longer worked for me, and fighting back against a teacher who no longer taught me. Even though I was glad to get away from that school and get another go at this whole learn- ing thing, I had never known any different than my little tiny private school and that scared me more than I can explain. So in February of sixth grade, I was abruptly pulled from the school that I had at- tended for eight and a half years, ripping me apart from my friends and much of my identity at the time.

To me, switching schools mid-year felt like being thrown into the Atlantic Ocean in the middle of a storm. I was alone, scared, and more vulnerable than I have ever been. As I was tossed around in the stormy waters of public school, otherwise known as STAAR tests and cafeterias, I struggled to swim, or even keep my head above the water. For those of you who don’t know me, I like to win. I like to be the best at everything I do. So as I watched the other kids, most of whom had been in public school for their entire lives, navigate this world with ease, I felt like a failure. I saw the other students around me, excelling at school and at sports, swimming through life gracefully, as I struggled to find my next class.

Eventually though, I memorized my schedule and I stopped getting lost on my way to classes. I found my group of friends, and I stopped feeling lonely all the time. But best of all, my mind moved on from my old school. Although I will never forget the experi- ences I had there, both good and bad, I don’t think about it as often as I used to. In sixth grade, I realized that my new school, friends, and teachers, had been my saving grace and exactly what I needed. It wasn’t until seventh grade when I accepted the change that had turned my life upside down and shaken it around a few times, and at that point, I started to really love what had become of all the shaking.

My new school gave me confidence I never knew I had. My friends taught me how to laugh like I hadn’t laughed in a long time. And my teachers taught me how to breathe, and how to live again.

If you ask anyone who knew me when I was a student at my old school and who knows me now, they will undoubtedly agree when I say that I am a completely different person. Although switching schools was one of the most painful things I’ve ever been through, if I was in the same situation now, I wouldn’t do anything differently. Public school gave me my life back, and led me to my best friends, my mentors and my teachers. My experiences forced me to fall back to the amazing support system I have in the UU world. My closest friends, some of who sit behind me and some of who live 4 or 5 hours away, exist in my life only because of this church and my other UU communities.

Today, I am a freshman at Austin High School. Today I am part of the Academy for Global Studies, and today I am one of the top students in the Biomedical Science program. Today I am 100% positive that I want to go into the medical field and today, I am 100% positive that I want to work with chil- dren as part of my job. But I would not be any or know any of this today, had it not been for the immense change that swept through my life yesterday.

Change has been and will continue to be the only constant in my life, and in yours. It is the force that keeps us going, and refuses to forget anyone. Change is the reason we grow, adapt, and adjust to our world in the best pos- sible way. Drastic, painful change is the reason that most of my closest friends are my closest friends. Change has forced me to grow into the person I am today, and I could not be happier.

Although it can be scary, change is necessary. It causes growth, and allows us to live. So I ask you, embrace change, and learn to love it for all it has to offer.

Growing Up a Human is a Lot Like a Tomato Plant I Once Had
by Everly Rae Milstead

A few years ago, my family decided to have our very own garden in our backyard. We grew things like squash and tomatoes and peppers. We would harvest them and I would proudly bring my harvested tomatoes to school and give them to my teachers. I would go on long speeches about how much we had to do to get this one handful of toma- toes. It was my own take on trying to be the teacher’s pet. Now we fast forward a few years and our little home garden is pretty much a heap of dirt that has grass growing on it. I plan to eventually get myself out there again and get my garden back up and running, keyword being eventually. Now the real reason for why I am telling you a story about a little home garden, besides that it goes so comedically well with the theme of this service, is that I hadn’t realized how much my life related to this tiny garden. Just like this garden falling apart, my life fell apart. Along with dealing with the normal hormonal roller coaster that is teenage-hood, I also had my family life completely turned over in front of me. There were so many nights that I cried myself to sleep wondering what I had done or what my family members had done to deserve any of what was going on. I watched a sibling who was the strongest person I knew fall defeated to none other than themselves. I watched my mom have to handle things that no mother deserves to go through. I watched my happy, sunflowery self become wilted and sad. My seventeen-year-old self was an abandoned garden.

But the thing is, throughout the years this garden was left unattended, a toma- to plant was able to persevere through it. This tomato plant made it through the Austin droughts and the floods and the freezes and heat waves that sometimes happened in the same week, because we live in Austin and that’s what Austin does. This little tomato plant once pro- duced juicy tomatoes during the early summers and now it produces a meta- phor for my life. Like this tomato plant, I dealt with my own winter freeze. My winter freeze took shape as depression and feeling lonely and cold. This tomato and I went through our roots, what kept us stable, getting frozen and our happy bright leaves falling off. Like this tomato plant, I went through a drought. My drought was the feeling like I just may not make it to the finish line or the next cycle of seasons. The little tomato plant wasn’t able to see whether or not it would make it just like I did. Life is rough, but like this little tomato plant, I have shown the grit to get through it no matter the circumstance.

I feel as if everyone is a plant in their own way. My mother has been a giant tree with roots that go so deep into the Earth that I know I am safe to lean on her. My siblings and I grew apart as we grew up, just as plants need space in order to live. We all made it, just as that tomato plant did.

While my life is still going on, I have realized that I don’t have to grow on my own. Just like plants have bees, ladybugs, and spiders, and many other critters to help them grow, I have friends, mentors, and this church to help me on my pathway of life. I have skills like making sure I get myself in a safe place before my life enters a hard freeze, just like we put hooped covers over plants to protect them from the cold. Life is going to keep going, whether I like it or not, and plants are still going to need to be tended to, just as my life will need assistance at times. As I plant more tomato plants, I will always think of that tiny tomato plant that seemingly made it through everything I could imagine. I will think of it the next time my life hits another drought or flood.

Change: Never Wanted, Always Needed
by Abby Poirer

Life is all about change-it’s commonplace and a vital part of the way we live. Change is scary, many people dislike it, but the thing is, if none of us ever changed, if none of us ever grew, we wouldn’t be where we are today. I wouldn’t be where I am today. You wouldn’t be where you are today.

Without change, without growth, I would be stuck. Stuck in a mind- set that rendered me incapable of learning. Stuck between a rock and a hard place simply because I refused to find another way. I don’t want to be stuck — I want to do things, discover things, change things. Even though it’s scary.

When I was between the ages of 11 and 14 I stared down the barrel of many a change. In the fifth grade my parents told me they were going to take me out of public school and enroll me in online school with some others for my sixth grade year. Part of me was excited, part of me was sad, and the other part of me, the biggest part of me, was terrified of everything that was about to change.

I was only 11, I didn’t have a say, and I didn’t really try to argue too much about it. I bought my uniform, I learned how to use the program, and I walked into my new “school” with a bunch of other kids my age that were even more scared than I was. I quickly became close to all of them and we remain friends to this day (one of them is even on the verge of graduating now), but still, it was terrifying to lose everything I was accustomed to in the public school system.

After two years of using on- line school, after I’d mastered the software and the format, after I’d made lifelong friends, after I loved where I was at this point in time, we disbanded. I had to start over again. I had to change everything. Again. I bought the new uniform I needed for this new school, went to my ori- entation, then walked in and became friends with the first girl I noticed smile at me. She welcomed me to her group, and the amount of relief that I felt when they later called me their friend made everything okay. It made all the changes I’d endured okay. Sadly, she and I stopped be- ing friends after about six months, which still hurts me to this day, but without that horrible, awful change, I wouldn’t have gotten even closer with another girl, who became my best friend, to whom I also remain very close.

As scary as it was, as much as it hurt, it was definitely worth it. I’d never had a friendship abruptly end before, and then all of a sud- den I had. She and I slowly became friendly again but we never got back to being actual friends, never got back to being close. On the last day of school, an enormous group of us wanted to take what we called our “family photo” and the girl I was no longer friends with was a part of it. We all huddled together, snapped the picture, and then, going our separate ways, we all started heading to our cars to go home for the summer.

But then I heard my name called in a voice that hadn’t been spoken to me in months. I turned around and there she was: hopeful. Welcoming. Changed. She opened her arms for a hug and we both pulled each other in oh-so-tightly as if to make up for all the lost time. But what has stuck with me ever since is what she whis- pered in my ear between each of our sobs: “thank you.” I couldn’t believe what I’d heard, I said “for what?” Her response? “For everything.” Even though we weren’t friends anymore, even though we still aren’t, even though it took every bit of courage she could muster to say those two words “thank you,” even though neither of us could ever ad- mit, until now, that our experience allowed us to grow. Not only apart, but within ourselves. The old her never would have been able to utter those words, but she wasn’t “the old her” anymore, she was the bigger person. She allowed the experience to change her, as did I.

In the beginning, this whole issue kind of drowned me. It hurt so bad and I was gasping for air but there was nothing. So badly I wanted to make up, but I wanted to maintain my pride and keep saying I was right even more. I kept gasping, hoping to rescue this friendship, this person, but eventually, as you do, I ran out of air. A part of me died, I was devastated that we had both given up on each other, on ourselves. But this allowed me to approach my new school, yes another one, with no guilt, nothing holding me back, and nothing to weigh me down.

There’s a stigma around growing up, around aging, becoming an adolescent, then later an adult, even just matur- ing, because it means you’re not a kid, it means you are about to enter the world with all your rights and all your freedoms and the world is now yours to experience and no one can control you and it’s scary. But the thing I’ve learned as I’ve grown up, all these 16 years: growing up is freeing. Sure it’s scary, change is scary, new is scary, different is scary, the unknown is scary, every- thing in the world is scary. But growth as people is the only thing that can save us from a numbingly monotonous life where the only real growth is your height. I’m not scared. I’m not scared to be a better person. I’m not scared to become more understanding. I’m not scared to grow. I’m only scared to stay the same forever. I want to grow. I want to change. Every day is a learning oppor- tunity, how could I fear that? Growth is what the world is made of. We can all grow, because we are the world. The young, the old, the everywhere-in-betweens, we can all grow. It’s what makes the world go round.

Bridging Ceremony

Podcasts of this and other sermons are also available for free on iTunes. You can find them here.

Most sermons delivered at the First UU Church of Austin during the past 16 years are available online through this website. You will find links to them in the right sidebar menu labeled Sermons. The Indexes link leads to tables of all sermons for each year listed by date (newest to oldest) with topic and speaker. Click on the topic to go to a sermon.