When I graduated from HS the hardest part was leaving my youth group at Delphi United Methodist Church. My youth pastor had built us up and encouraged us, I'd grown in faith and confidence, younger girls had become like little sisters to me and my friends and I had gone on so many adventures together. I can still remember retreats to Willow Creek in Chicago, countless Toby Mac and Superchick concerts, 30 Hour Famine weekends, Synago small groups, youth Sundays and paper chain wars. It was my home and my family.
For so many of the kids that I get to work with, Young Life is that home and family. Every Monday they know that we'll be gathering together whether we're dressing up for Club or sitting in the cubby room for Campaigners. We'll be there and everyone is invited.
Tonight, at our last official YL of the year, my friend Ashley told everyone, "This is only my 3rd time here and it's my biggest regret of High School. I wish I would have come sooner. Take advantage of the opportunity that's right in front of you. Keep those doors open. Be willing to show up." When you find something this good, show up and soak it up. My youth group meant so much to me in HS because it was such a huge part of my life. Young Life means so much to these Seniors because it has been such a big part of their stories.
This Senior class is extra special to me because they're my first class of students to graduate. Six years ago I started being called Miss Wright and stumbled my way through my rookie year of teaching 7th grade. I remember having Chad, Jacob and Max in class-- Bananagram wars on Fridays, seeing there was something special about these guys and getting to know them through their papers and conversation. Natty B immediately made me love being a teacher--she embraced FBC, came with me to Wyld Life in Carmel, surprised me with presents of crispy M & Ms and Build-A-Bear, and always said yes to adventures like climbing snow mountains or throwing "Wreck This Journal" out my classroom window. Even before YL started, these kids meant so much to me.
HSE Young Life started when this class was just beginning their Sophomore year. Those first few months we met in the Robertson's living room, all squeezed together as everyone learned what this Young Life thing was all about. Those old students of mine were there from the very first week.
There were also some kids in that class that I hadn't known before who showed up. It's because of Young Life that Hannah Conrad and I became friends. She thought I was weird in Junior High because she didn't understand why I would hang out with students. But in the past three years as we've sat together in Campaigners circles, gone to camp together and shared our lives, Han has become one of my best friends. Six years ago we never would have predicted this. God loves giving us friendships that surprise us. I've loved being her leader and I've learned so much from being her friend.
One of the beautiful things about Young Life is that everybody's in. Cass, Ashley and Katie each started to coming to Young Life just this year-- they each thought that it wasn't for them but once they showed up to check it out they just kept on coming back. Now these three Senior girls are some of my favorite people. I love Ashley's genuine heart and the way she thinks through things. I love Cass's spunk, contagious enthusiasm and her honesty. I love Katie's commitment, her positivity and her old soul. I only wish I could have met these friends sooner. They will be so missed.
My youth pastor Sheila back in Delphi told me that she'd only be able to measure the success of our youth ministry when the graduates had been out of HS for five years. She didn't measure success by how much we loved our youth group while we were in it, but by how much we loved Jesus down the road. Did our years at DUMC build a strong enough foundation to last? Had she given us the tools to make our faith our own? Was our relationship with God going to be a priority?
That idea has stuck with me. All of this isn't about how much we love Young Life. And heck we love Young Life a lot--trips to Sharp Top, big cookie, YL clothes, Club themes, small groups, the list goes on. We'll all tell you Young Life is awesome. But my hope is that we've helped point kids to Jesus over and over again. My hope is that five years down the road when I meet up with some of these kids, or hear about what they're doing, that I will see their faith has grown since their YL days.
My first group of Senior girls from Carmel are finishing up their first year out of college. My old girls like Taylor Porter and Allison Stamer love Jesus so much more now than they did when they were Seniors. Their faith has led them to serve others, to become leaders, to study their bibles with passion, to build Godly relationships, to explore and adventure and to point others to him. They've got it.
My second group of Seniors from Carmel just finished their Junior year of college. Riley and Hannah were in that class and it's an understatement to say that they inspire, encourage and challenge me. They love Christ with a passion that makes them want to live it and share it and prioritize it. They've got it.
Emma's first experience at Young Life was the night we did Love Tanks. Her wisdom tonight was, "Love people openly. You never know how much you words can mean to someone." I think we are all continually learning how to love and be loved. I think that's something we do beautifully around here.
Young Life is a safe place to land every Monday night when the rest of life is nuts. Many of the Seniors said that they're thankful to see the faces of Young Life people around every corner at school--they've got this shared experience. I always love watching friendships form here between people that might have never happened otherwise. I've seen leaders love kids when it's easy and when it's difficult, they've shared grace and told them about forgiveness, they've laughed with their friends and shown them how to live life to the full. We've got a whole lot of love over here.
The other night Hannah asked me, "When do you feel the most in your element? Like you're doing what you know you were made to do?" It's all of this. It's Campaigners and devotions and cabin times. It's getting to mix my faith and friendships together.
My favorite thing is being in a one on one conversation with one of these Young Life girls, with one of my campers at Tecumseh or with a Wyld Life kid. I love getting the chance to ask questions, to hear what's going on with them, to just be someone that will be there with them. I don't know if there is a greater privilege than having someone share their life with you. Getting the opportunity to pray with and for these girls-- it means the world to me. There is something so cool about the friendships we've grown. Girls like Haleigh and Hannah and Julia and the rest have become a mix of being little sisters, best friends, younger versions of myself and an answer to prayers. I can't imagine life without them.
Something I know is true is, "The best is yet to come." For the Seniors that are about to start new journeys, the best is yet to come. For the Sophomores that get to become Wyld Life disciples next year, the best is yet to come. For the 8th graders about to start High School, the best is yet to come. For this whole Young Life family that just keeps growing, the best is yet to come.
There is so much comfort and hope and joy in that truth. As good as life is right now, the best is still yet to come. It doesn't mean we have to say good-bye to what we've got right now. We'll hold on to these friends no matter where we go, but the friendships will grow and change as we do. The best is yet to come. God's promise is as true today as it has ever been, "I'll show up and take care of you as I promised and bring you back home. I know what I'm doing. I have it all planned out-- plans to take care of you, not abandon you, plans to give you the future you hope for." Jeremiah 29:11
I love you all more than you know. Thank you for letting me be part of your stories.