Building Belonging

When we moved to Michigan (this April), our boys transferred to a new school mid-year. They were nervous about changing schools and making new friends. Understandably, they did not know what to expect since they have never made this kind of transition. The first morning before school, they both were nervous. As I walked them into the building and into the school office, they both shyly hid behind me.

Soon a stir began among the kids waiting for class in the hallway. A few of them looked at the boys and checked them out. One came over to us and asked, “Are you, Matthew?” Matthew shyly shook his head yes. The little girl’s eyes lit up as she said, “It is so good to finally meet you!”

As many of you know, we had intended to move to Michigan (early in 2017). We enrolled our boys in their new Michigan school since the Fall (of 2017). Since September, the boys’ classrooms have had empty desks with their names on them waiting for them to arrive. The teachers shared with me that the classmates have been asking about the boys all year. They have even prayed daily for them to come to join the class. When the teachers informed their classes that Matthew and Andrew were coming, the classmates rejoiced, counting down the days until they would meet their new friends.

My boys were not sure what to expect on their first day at the new school. While I assured them that their classmates would be welcoming, the boys still felt uncertain. Instead of being greeted with an unwelcoming message of “who is that new kid,” they were greeted with the joyful message of, “We have been waiting for you! You belong here!” What a dramatic difference that makes!

When I went to pick up the boys after their first day, I asked how the day went. Matthew answered, “School is AWESOME! Can I stay here?” When I asked Andrew who his friends were in his class, he looked at me puzzled. He replied, “Mommy, the whole class are my friends.” Both answers brought such joy and warmth to this Momma’s heart.

This reminded me of Matthew’s first day of kindergarten at his old school (in Illinois). He was nervous about starting kindergarten. His two best buddies from preschool were attending the same school for kindergarten with him, so he already had a couple of friends that he knew. We heard the school had a “buddy bench” on the playground where kids could sit if they don’t have anyone to play with. I encouraged him that if he couldn’t find his friends at recess, he could sit on the bench and meet some new friends. If someone else was sitting there, he could invite them to play with him.

When he arrived home after school, I was eager to hear all about his first day. He was excited to report that he spotted a little boy sitting on the buddy bench. He called over to his two friends from preschool. They all went together to the bench and invited the little boy to play with them. It brought such a smile to my face to hear how Matthew created belonging for this little boy on his first day of school. They had lots of fun together. Soon he discovered they rode the same bus to school. The little boy from the buddy bench became one of Matthew’s closest friends and his seatmate on the bus.

The message “you belong here, you are one of us” is so powerful. It is obvious the difference it makes to children starting at a new school, but truly, all of us need to feel we belong. We don’t need to wait for someone to invite us to belong. We can create belonging around us. How can you create belonging today?

To learn more about creating Belonging, check out Connexus and learn more about Ed Khouri at Equipping Hearts.

Comments 4

  1. Betsy Stalcup
    June 12, 2018

    What a sweet story Jen! So glad to hear that the boys are enjoying their school. Love the idea of the buddy bench. I think we need one for grown-ups! Love, b.

  2. Suzi Young
    June 12, 2018

    This is an awesome concept! I am going to share it with my children and remember it myself! Thanks for sharing!

  3. Erna
    June 12, 2018

    What a cool idea–to have a ‘buddy bench’! I wonder what would happen if churches had 1 or 2? Also city parks?

    Usually I create belonging at my church by looking to see who’s sitting alone, then ask them if I can sit with them. Last Sunday there was a First Nations lady and grandson sitting alone at a coffee table in the atrium with whom I sat. At AquaJog my protocol is to give a big smile, say ‘Good morning’ and introduce myself to newcomers as well as to introduce them to others at the swimming pool.

    Thanks for this post, Jen 🙂

  4. Pam H.
    June 13, 2018

    We miss your family here in “The Hood” and want you to know that you are always welcome to come join us for a day on the beach!

    Praising God for the words of wisdom shared in your post above! Thank you! As one person posted above, we adults need to take the “Buddy Bench” process to heart with those strangers we encounter at church, work, or even in our own neighborhoods!

    We were grateful for the encouragement and wisdom you shared with our Immanuel Team recently and would greatly appreciate and enjoy having you join us again once you are settled in and life is less stressful and fluid!

    We are thrilled and excited to have your family relocating here to Holland as we continue to pray for that “perfect” home, in God’s “perfect” timing, and His “perfect” plan for you, your ministry, and your family in this place.
    Blessings and continued prayers,

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