I'm a 21-year-old who likes to believe that I know everything that there is to know—immature, I know, but I never said I was a mature 21-year-old. Now, you see, in my immaturity, I am often smacked in the face with truths that are contrary to what I previously thought through words, actions, or people. In this case, I was convinced that I knew what it meant to love other people; however, the people I thought I was here to teach and mentor were the ones who showed me the reality that I had no idea the depths to which I am to love: My high school breakout girls.
I've only known you a few years, but it honestly feels like I've walked with you through almost everything. I wasn't confident in becoming a junior high leader—heck, I was convinced that I was a child myself, so I couldn't possibly have anything to teach you, but I tried anyway. I met you when you were just in seventh grade, and now you're in high school (am I really that old?).
Ministry is messy, and I've been stretched so much farther than I ever thought possible. I've been stretched by trying (always) to keep you guys on topic; I've been stretched by the questions that you ask about the nature of God, the meaning of predestination, and the details of eternity; I've been stretched by you. When we began this ministry over three years ago, I didn't know where life would take me or what God would show me; He brought me you, and I could not be more grateful. You have taught me so much more than I can express, but I'm going to try, so bear with me.
You guys have taught me the meaning of joy. Whether through uncontrollable laughter in our "after Jesus" stories about your crazy librarian or your resolute commitment to continuing to trust the Lord in the midst of struggle and hurt, you remind me that joy is visible in the good times in the bad. Through watching and helping you endure life, you have shown me that even in the worst, God gives strength to rejoice in His goodness.
We've had so many conversations about so many hard things: death, hurt, struggle, natural disasters, etc. Though all of these, however, each of you has held a firm view on one thing: people are precious, have value, and deserve love and respect. As an old woman, I can get callous to the world and brush off the things that happen on a day-to-day basis; however, you guys bring me back to how I am to live in relation to others: with love and compassion. You remind me of the simplicity of a nice word, a warm hug, and a friendly smile.
As I said above, I thought I had mastered love. I thought I knew what it meant to love people in spite of frustration or exhaustion, but boy, was I wrong. I have had to reign in the conversation by snapping my fingers and chanting, "listen to Dani, listen to Dani" more times than I could possibly count. I have had to say hard truths when mediating friendship drama. I have stayed up until the wee hours of the morning after an exhausting weekend of a retreat to discuss the complexities of life and Christianity with you. And you know what? I wouldn't change a single thing. In all of these things—the minor frustrations and the deep exhaustion—I continued to learn more and more about what it means to love and care for the people in my life. Through your sidebar conversations and unending laughter, I have learned to let the small things go and love the people I'm with, even if the conversation doesn't fit my agenda. Through the exhausting nights, I have learned to love watching people process and seek to understand the important things in life.
Through you guys and your faith, I have learned how to be a better person, Christian, and leader.
I have grown in the Lord because of you guys.
Love you guys. Don't ever stop wondering, laughing, or seeking after Jesus.