When we first moved to the Atlanta area and started attending a church with our little preemie babe, they needed small group leaders for the middle school ministry. My husband started going to youth group in middle school in order to meet girls and found God instead, so he felt drawn to these young teens and dragged me with him. I did not feel drawn.
The first time I sat in a room with a bunch of eleven- and twelve-year-old girls staring at me I had no idea what to say. The topic, my maiden voyage as a small group leader for young teens, was pornography. Seriously?!? I stared at the printed list of discussion questions and wondered how I’d ever get these girls to stop talking all at once and start talking about the lesson.
I came back, week after week, trying to lead a discussion and hear about school and their pets and all the cute boys. To get them to start listening to one another, I instituted the M&M game. Each girl got three M&Ms, so they could say three things throughout the discussion. On the way home from church every week, I worried to Alex that I wasn’t cutting it as a leader and felt like I’d never forge any kind of connection with these girls.
That was seven years ago. And now my mailbox is filling up with invitations to their graduation parties.
In between those first few months of chaos and these last few months of college acceptances and AP tests, we’ve giggled through sleepovers and wrestled through faith and life crises and driven all over the state to everything from a spelunking expedition to a laser show to retreats with zip lines and archery. We’ve held fundraisers and gone on mission trips and these incredible girls have started leading small groups of their own.
This year, with them popping into bright, beautiful adults and making huge life decisions, our relationships are morphing from leader-student into this new territory of friend and fellow wayfarers on the journey of life. I’ve been pondering what to say to these girls who have brought joy and purpose and plenty of drama to my life for the past seven years. Call it a commission. Call it my last nuggets of advice to my sparkling seniors. Here are the top 10 things I want to tell my senior girls.
1. Be brave.
Be brave always. The world will tell you that you can’t make mistakes and you have to know your major and your job and you need to have it all together and it can be paralyzing. Keep moving, keep pressing, and don’t cave to the pressure. It’s okay to make mistakes, to say “I’m doing the best I can,” to fall and get back up. Try new things, without fear of embarrassment or failure. Ask God for big stuff and partner with Him to achieve it. Hurl yourself into the unknown and never stop learning.
2. Help people.
Put other people first. Serve. That’s really unpopular sometimes, in a world that says we have to fight to get on top. You will never regret serving others. Any talents and gifts and wealth and influence that you have, use it all to help people, use it all for the glory of God. Help the person next to you and help the person around the world. Just help. This world needs your big, gorgeous heart, and don’t be afraid of letting it break in pieces, because God will sew it back together bigger, with more people inside.
3. Never stop hunting for God.
In everything. Everywhere. He relentlessly pursues us and is with you always. Find other people who want to seek Him, too. Don’t go it alone. Find a church, find a group, find other people who love God and run your race with them. This won’t happen by accident, so be intentional, moving toward Him and learning how to follow His path.
4. Life is a journey.
Sometimes you’re going to feel pressure that you have to achieve everything all at once or behave perfectly every second or know what’s going on and where you’re headed and how to do everything. Life isn’t like that. It’s a long journey and you’ll have stages. Sometimes you’ll run fast and have lots of answers and feel a sense of purpose that propels you forward and onward. Sometimes you’ll just need to sit down and breathe and regroup. Sometimes you’ll take one tentative step forward each day and just hold out your hands to God and say things like “please” and “help.” People will try to tell you that you need to arrive at a destination, but sweet girl, here’s the secret, and I might as well just tell you now, life isn’t about the destination. It’s about the journey, so if you try to rush through it, you’re missing the whole point. It’s all about the journey. The journey is all of it. It’s a big road trip, and sometimes you’re driving through the Rockies and sometimes you’re driving through Kansas, and you can have fun and learn something in both those places but the fun and the learning are going to be dramatically different.
5. You are beautiful.
This world is going to tell you a lot of things about beauty, and you’ll see all kinds of struggles on campus, from the Freshman Fifteen to raging anorexia, and I went through both of those. People think that beauty is homogenous, but it’s unique. Be unique. The things you see as imperfections are your strengths. People are going to tell you that clothes and products and weight loss make you beautiful, but it’s a lie. People are going to tell you that you aren’t beautiful unless a guy wants to be with you, and it’s a lie, too. You know what’s beautiful? Kindness and humility and tenacity and love. Also, studying your brains out and working your butt off.
6. Say you’re sorry.
You’re going to mess up. Sometimes it’s going to be colossal, and sometimes it’s going to be a blip. Say you’re sorry. You’ll feel better. You can’t fix anyone else, but you can be accountable for your own junk, so say you’re sorry, make amends, and keep moving. No one has time for power-tripping pride-balls.
7. You are loved.
You might feel lonely sometimes, away from family and safe people who get you and share your background. You might feel lonely even in a crowd. In those times, remember that you are loved, sweet girl. You are known. The God of the universe knows every hair on your head and He knows when you sit and rise and all your thoughts, but don’t let that freak you out either. It’s intimate and sacred, to be known like that, to be loved and cherished at your very core.
8. Have some Bible and laughter everyday.
Life will always be crazy. It will get crazier every year. Crack open your Bible, on your phone or bound in leather, and read a little slice of God’s heart and His voice every day. Some phases of your life you’ll soak up whole chunks, and other times, you’ll be lucky to squeeze out one verse, but fight for that time. Every day, pause long enough to hear His voice and thank Him for this incredible life. And laugh. Every day, no matter how difficult, laugh. Laugh at the pain, laugh through it, never miss an opportunity to laugh from your belly. It’s great for the abs and your face and your soul. Laugh while reading your Bible.
9. Being a woman is awesome, and anyone who tells you differently is either misguided or sucks.
Sometimes people try to misuse some things in the Bible to make girls feel inferior or unable. That really stinks, because when you read about Jesus, you feel darn right empowered. Avoid men who think you’re less than. Seriously. Even if he’s cute. And partner with men and women who want to speak up and end oppression around the world. Start now making a better world where women don’t have to live as property and where my daughters don’t buy the lie that they can only play with pink Legos that involve small animals or food sales.
10. I am here.
I hope you make awesome choices and learn and grow even further into exactly who you are and feel more rooted and grounded than ever and love God with your heart, mind, soul, and strength. I want to hear all about your grand mountaintops and everything you’re learning. And if you screw it all up, like royally screw everything up and can’t find yourself and can’t find the light and can’t remember who you are or why any of it matters, I want to hear about that, too. I’m here, and I always love you, no matter what. And I’m just a tiny shadow of how much God unconditionally loves you, sweet girl. So call, and we can unravel it together. Or call, and I can just listen. You cannot run out of God’s love and you can’t run away from mine either.
Do you have a graduate? What do you want to add to this list?
image from IttyBittyWedding on etsy.com