Except last night was the end of an era.
It was the last night of my small groups.
For seven years now, I have left my home and made a 110-115 mile round trip to Chico, anywhere from one to three times a week to meet with college and post-college gals to talk about Jesus. To learn more of His deep love and concern and care for us. 30,000 miles on my cars, new tires, crazy mountainous driving, all to experience life with "my girls".
I remember my first group. There were seven gals who were Young Life leaders in Chico that just wanted to grow in their walk with their Savior. We met in Christie's apartment that she shared with Tiffany, who later joined us. We studied the Psalms and we got to know each other and share our stories. I remember vividly deciding to share my story first so that they would learn how to be vulnerable and not have to worry about "what will she think if I say this?". Their leader had a sordid past, so they could be as honest as they wanted.
The following fall, we began a study of frosh girls that I asked Christie to help me lead. I had the name of one gal from a friend who was an Area Director in San Diego. That gal brought five of her friends from her dorm and we had three girls from Chico that stayed in town to attend college join us. We investigated Jesus and His claims to be God through the Nooma videos. Half of the girls did not know Jesus, so the discussions were lively and I tried my best to answer their questions.
I also continued to meet the gals that I started with in another bible study.
Sometimes we would meet at 7AM and other groups would meet at 7 pm and then I would try to meet with these sweet girls individually during the weeks as well.
Can you imagine what it would be like to meet for seven years with girls that are in college, really trying to figure out life for themselves, often for the first time? To share life, the ups and downs, the trials, the struggles, the questions, the joys, the happiness and the sorrows.
What a privilege I was given to walk with them, encourage them and offer suggestions when asked.
There were also the times when it wasn't fun. When I had to confront them about areas in their lives that were contradictory to what their Savior desired and/or commanded of them.
It's alot easier to be their friend than the bad cop. Sometimes I wish I could have ignored their behaviors, but that wasn't what God had called me to do. But I also was privy to their secrets, their fears, their hopes, their questions about the future.
To watch these amazing, life-loving girls grow into the women God envisions them to be is one of the most wonderful gifts I've ever been given. To watch them fall in and out of love, to watch them marry their guy, to celebrate their marriages is a wonder to behold.
To help them pick up the pieces after a break-up or comfort them in the loss of loved one are examples of times where I could only rely on Jesus to give me words (when appropriate) and just hug and be in the moment present to them.
Don't get me wrong; it wasn't always good times and wonderful.
There was heartache as I watched some of my girls walk away, instead of, to the Savior. Or see them choose to marry a man who didn't share their faith. And then came the feelings of inadequacy and failure. Life is full of disappointments with tears, but also full of surprises and laughter and joy. Why would I not expect to encounter both in these years of sharing life with my college friends?
The bible studies we did (OH Beth! we your SISTERS love you!), the books we read, were all geared towards strengthening their individual relationships with Jesus, but also fostered community and vulnerability and deep friendships. What a blessing to see these young women form lasting friendships.
My drive home last night was etched with the memories of each small group, each girl. I was reminded of how full my heart is -even right now. What an awesome privilege I have had.
So to Christie, Erin, Co, Chomps, Sam, Hilary, Dana, Carlie, Morgan, Bri, Robin, Casey, Katie Mann, Emily Brooks, Cambria, Katie Mesa, Molly, Julia, Sarah B, Lauren, Katie Lee, Caitlin, Kristin, Kendra, Emily Green and Sarah LaSalle, I thank you from the bottom of my heart for allowing me the extreme privilege of walking with you through such critical and forming years of your lives. I will NEVER EVER FORGET YOU.
A very special shout out to Brianna Lea, the only gal I have had with me the entire time.