This week is high school graduation week. As avolunteer leader for a small group of 12th grade girls, this is a big week for the students with whom I have formed friendships over the past six years. I’ve attended countless graduation parties and end of the year celebrations. I’ve had a lot of time to reflect. I wanted to share my reflections with you.

I first met them when they were 11 years old. They were in seventh grade and not really sure how to interact with adults. Most of the adults in their lives were teachers or coaches or parents and there was understandably a large gap between likes, interests and maturity levels. Though I knew of few of their parents, none of them knew me.

The first few Sunday nights I felt like I was the one back in middle school: struggling to find a place to sit. I like to remind them how I used to sit down with a group of them while they were talking, the conversation would grow quiet within a few minutes, and a few minutes later they would one-by-one get up and walk away to find a new place to sit. It’s not that they meant to be rude, they were just 11, and they were a bit awkward and it didn’t occur to them that I was intentionally sitting down to talk to them.

But I stuck with them. Because I knew the key to relationships was time. And year after year I showed up. And they showed up. Which is no small thing to ask of an aging teenager. Soon, when referring the girls in my small group to others, I simply called them “my girls”.

Each week, I found myself looking forward to Sunday nights. The small talk before the program began and the small group discussion afterward provided meaningful insights into the lives of my girls. It’s amazing how much you come to learn about a group of girls in six years. I can tell you what sports they’ve played, the classes they took, who they went to homecoming and prom with, who they dated, who broke their heart, when they’ve struggled in their faith and when they’ve felt God’s love the most.

Throughout the years, I did my best to pass along my greatest pieces of biblical wisdom and model my faith. In return, they taught me how to use the latest social media platforms and corrected me when I got the words wrong to pop songs.

By their senior year, I wasn’t the awkward adult always hanging around them. I’m happy to report they no longer get up and move when I sit down next to them (in fairness to them, this habit stopped once they got to high school). Now, when something happens and I am not around, they text me to fill me in.

I won’t lie, this last year I felt the pressure was on. Were they ready for college? Have I told them all the stories I could tell them? Are there any other nuggets of truth that I’m keeping to myself that I could pass on to them? I often caught myself starting sentences with phrases such as “When you go off to college”

At some point you just have to trust God and let them go. Trust me, it is not lost on me that if it’s this difficult to let these kids go off to college, I cannot even begin to understand how it feels when it’s your actual child.

Somewhere in the midst of all the grad parties and final gatherings I took a step back and reflected on it all.

This is why Jesus calls us into community, I thought. This life of connecting, sharing and mentoring others is exactly the life Jesus lived. Of course this is how he wants us to live. Life is so much richer when we invest in others. As I sat with students and traded memories I thought about how the significant moments in our lives are woven together by the people with whom we shared those moments. In the end, each person is blessed with his or her own beautifully woven tapestry of life.

The section of my tapestry from the past six years is very brightly colored. The students that helped weave this section added a vibrancy and youthfulness that only a group of teenagers could provide.

Six years ago, when I signed up to lead these students, I did so because I felt a nudge from God to help teenagers build relationships with Christ. I didn’t expect my life to be changed. I thought I had my life pretty figured out. I was two years into marriage and had a 6-month-old baby. Six years later, I’ve watched God do some pretty cool things in the lives of these students through me. But perhaps the most surprising part has been that I’ve watched God do some amazing work in me through them.

Congratulations to the class of 2013. Thank you for weaving a section of my tapestry and thank you for allowing me to weave a section of yours.

-Susan Ward

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