During the 30 days leading up to my 30th birthday, I am posting a letter a day expressing thankfulness for someone or something that has played a major role in shaping the first 30 years of my life.
Dear Kayla, Corie, Allison, Danielle, Alana, Kevie, Crystal, Maryanne, Jess, Damaris, Lauren, & Leah,
Thank you, you beautiful ladies, for the amazing role you have played in my life. A couple of you I used to babysit when you were very small, but most of you I got to know when you were in 8th grade and I started leading your cell group (or later in high school, whenever you started attending the group). First off, let me say that I love every one of you so much and I am so proud of each of you. I know that saying I'm proud of you makes it sound like I think I'm way older than you, which I don't. Most of y'all are in the old married woman club with me now :) I just say I'm proud of you because I've had the opportunity to watch you go from being awkward and awesome jr. high students to the lovely women you are now.
Thank you for letting me be part of your lives for the 6 years we were together as a group. Thank you for showing up and for wanting to know more of God and for wanting to find a safe place to belong. I always felt that we all fit together as a little family so well - with all my heart, I hope you did too. Thank you for being a measure of accountability in my life. I had a deep desire to lead you with integrity, so I wanted to be able to answer to you honestly about any part of my life without shame. I viewed dozens of decisions I made in college through that lens. Movies I watched, dating relationships, various other lifestyle choices ... I wanted all of those things to set a godly example. I definitely wasn't perfect and I definitely didn't share every struggle that I had with you girls; but God used your presence in my life on multiple occasions to help me make healthy and life-giving choices. Thank you so much for that.
Thank you for giving me a way to serve the Lord when I was in college and grad school. It was so wonderful to have you all in my life during those years to serve as a reminder that my life wasn't just about me. Our relationship brought Paul's letters in the New Testament to life for me. When he wrote about his deep love for the younger believers he was hoping to encourage, and his desire to see them rooted in the deep and wide and high love of Christ, my heart resonated with his words. I earnestly desired those same things for you girls, and I still do. To many of you I may just be the college girl who helped lead your Bible study for a couple of years (nothing wrong with that, by the way), but each of you is permanently knit into my heart.
Thank you for the role you played in my relationship with my husband. When I brought the boy I dated for a while in college to a high school football game to meet you girls and he didn't make an effort to make conversation with any of you, red flags went up for me. Y'all were so important to me ... I wanted the man I married to know you as people, not just as the Bible study I helped out with. I wanted him to love you and laugh with you and care about your lives. That was actually part of what attracted me to Josh, later on. I knew he understood how important you were to me. I loved that he joked with you and included you in our relationship. I love that you girls were escorted into our wedding by his boys. That wasn't just for show - the place of honor in our wedding was just an indicator of the place of honor you held (and still hold) in our hearts. We love you.
Finally, thank you for what you have taught me, in retrospect. I started helping lead your group when I was 18. I was 23 when you graduated from high school. I had a lot to learn, and you helped teach me. I pray that there are some things that I did well, that at some points you were able to see the love of Christ in me. However, in the 6 years that have passed since you graduated, I have come to recognize a number of things I wish I had done differently. I wish I had really gotten to know some of you on a deeper level. There are a few of you I knew so well, but others I only knew in a large group sort of way. I regret that. I wish I had been better at relating to those of you who didn't have as much in common with me. I stayed in my comfort zone too much. I didn't ask the questions that I thought might have answers I wouldn't know what to do with. I didn't have much experience with pain, suffering, and hard questions about God, so I tended to avoid those things. If I could do it all over again I would say, "Let's be real," and, "God loves you no matter what is going on, and so do I," and, "I want you to say what's in your heart, not what you think a church girl should say." Maybe I said those things sometimes, but I wish I had said them more. Gratefully, I know that I was just one teensy part of God's plan for your lives and I pray that my weaknesses haven't served as stumbling blocks for any of you. I am just honored to have been with you.
Thank you for all you've been to me. I love you dearly!