I refer to them as “my girls” because they are just that. I think of myself as their leader, protector and friend. Someone who prays for them daily and has their best interests at heart. As a hen gathereth her chickens, I gather my girls under my wing. I practically think of them as my daughters (although admittedly I cringe at that statement because I feel way too young to be their mother). I am the leader of my youth group at church and they are my Young Women.
These girls are in my thoughts daily, and as high school graduation approaches, I find them filling the recesses of my mind more often. I think of how much I will miss those who are moving on to college and greater adventures. I think, with gratitude, of the ones who will be sticking around for a while longer and pray that I can develop with them a relationship of trust and help them to mold themselves into the individuals that God wants them to be. Lately I’ve also pondered advice I would give my girls if given the opportunity, and I began to consider lessons I’ve learned in my life and what I wish I would have known when I was in high school (ok, and some of these points are things that I knew in high school and which helped me be successful and happy during those years).
It Doesn’t Matter What the Somebodys Think It has been 15 years since I was in high school but I don’t think much has changed where cliques and popularity contests are concerned. In high school I was never obsessed with being popular and I was comfortable enough in my own skin such that I wasn’t too worried about what others thought of me; however, I would be lying if I said that I didn’t care at all about climbing the teenage social ladder. I liked (and still do like) to be the center of attention. I got a high from being admired. I liked to be the person that others looked up to and wanted to emulate. I craved the boost I felt when I invited someone new into my social circle. Strangers were simply friends that I hadn’t met yet. I loved high school and high school loved me. Then came graduation and a few months later, college. It didn’t take long for me to realize that I was now a very tiny fish in an extremely large pond. Granted, this realization may be a good turning point for those fish like my shy, keep-to-herself little sister. When she dove into the big pond, she realized that the high school social ladder meant nothing and recognized that she now had the world at her fingertips. She very quickly blossomed. For me, it was a harsh pruning that I had to endure until I finally came into my own and also bore good fruit – the kind that would leaf and blossom and bear again and again. First I had to come out of the shock that nobody cared. Nobody cared that I was the Senior Class Vice-President. Nobody cared that I was on prom court. Nobody cared that I played tennis. Nobody cared that I had a million friends. I felt like a nobody. And for the first time, I asked myself, “Who the heck am I?!” That brings me to my next point.
Nobody is a Nobody Yes, those first few months of college were painful. They were, however, filled with prayer and faith and self-discovery. In time, I learned that while I felt like a nobody, I was in fact a somebody. Marvin J. Ashton, former General Authority of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints said, “We do ourselves a great injustice when we allow ourselves, through tragedy, misfortune, challenge, discouragement, or whatever the earthy situation, to so identify ourselves [as a nobody]. No matter how or where we find ourselves, we cannot with any justification label ourselves ‘nobody.’ As children of God we are somebody.” This truth is what I learned that first year of college. I developed a faith in God that was unshakable. I learned and believed and felt that I am a daughter of a Heavenly Father who loves me. I learned that a relationship with God is the most important one to have. I learned that I was not a nobody. I knew that I was a somebody to God – His daughter. One of noble birth and one who had the ability to create, to learn and to grow. One with the potential of becoming all that He wanted and knew I could be.
The Power of “Nice” You’ve all heard the saying, “Kill them with kindness.” Well it’s true and this is one of the mantras I live by. This one was taught to me by my mom. Throughout my childhood and high school, if someone was unkind to me (now I’m not talking about bullying so we won’t go there. I’m talking about the individual who might have said an unkind word or left me out of a group, etc.), then my mom was always quick to point out that I had the choice to treat that person with kindness. She would say, “Perhaps she was just having a really hard day.” Or, “Be kind to him anyway. Maybe his home life is not quite happy.” This philosophy of “kindness come what may” was instilled in me as a child and came in handy when Jeremy and I moved next door to two of the most cantankerous people I have ever known. They were not so neighborly toward us. For example, we had a beautiful maple tree whose branches reached across the fence into our neighbor’s yard. In the fall, they would rake the leaves that fell from the tree (the ones that fell into their yard) and they would proceed to throw them over the fence into our yard. They really did this. I’m not making it up. And it’s even worse than you think – we lived in Kettering, OH where nobody has to bag their leaves. All you have to do is rake them into the street and then the street sweeper rolls by and sucks them all up! It was irritating and I could have fought back with negativity, but because I had resolved at a young age to kill people with kindness, I did just that. I smiled, waved and said hello. On their front step, I dropped off flowers from the yard in the springtime and cookies at Christmas. For years I did this, and for years that couple did not reciprocate – not so much as a smile or a nod. Then one holiday season, a miracle happened. Our doorbell rang and there, standing on my doorstep with a small Christmas plant, was my neighbor. From that moment on, she waved to me from the driveway and asked me how my kids were doing. She brought treats for the holidays and even brought the boys a birthday present. You see, negativity is contagious. But so is a smile and kindness.
She Might Be Your Next Best Friend I learned a lesson while I was in high school – don’t judge or overlook someone just because you think you have nothing in common. That person just might become your next best friend. When I was 15, a very dear friend of mine graduated and moved away to college. I know she cared for me very much, but in my 14 year-old eyes, this girl (although 3 years my senior) was one of my best friends. I was devastated when she left. I cried to my mom, “I will never have another friend like her!” In response my mom asked, “What about Sarah?” (not her real name but changed for privacy). I retorted, “I don’t want to be friends with Sarah! We could never be best friends. We have nothing in common!” After days of pondering my mom’s encouragement I decided to give it a shot. It didn’t take long for me to realize that, while Sarah and I did not have much in common, our personalities meshed so well. We quickly became inseparable. To this day we are still best friends. Don’t be afraid to step out of your comfort zone in order to reach out to and befriend another.
Trials Don’t End at Graduation The teenage years are difficult. I had a ton of fun, but I have never wished to go back and re-live them. There were plenty of times of stress, anxiety, sadness and loneliness. Well, in case you didn’t know – that part of life doesn’t end at graduation. 🙂 There were many times during my teenage years when I faced a trial and I felt like the world would end. I was taught by my parents to face those trials with prayer, study, faith and hope. As I did so, I was strengthened again and again. That pattern served to build a foundation upon which I would tackle trials and hardships throughout my life. By experience I have come to know that these things are given to us for our good so that we may learn and grow and understand true happiness.
Enjoy the Doing Don’t get caught up in the “I’ll-be-happy-whens”. “I’ll be happy when I have my own car.” “I’ll be happy when I don’t have to walk these dingy high school halls.” “I’ll be happy when I don’t have to share a room with my sister.” “I’ll be happy when I don’t have to run errands for my mom all the time.” “I’ll be happy when I get out of here.” When you find yourself saying such things, you are missing what matters most. One of my favorite quotes (and one that I will quote on this blog more than once) is by Anna Quindlen. She said, “The biggest mistake I made…is the one that most of us make… I did not live in the moment enough… I wish I had treasured the doing a little more and the getting it done a little less.” As a teenager, there are an endless amount of activities and responsibilities to keep you busy. Don’t let the busy-ness of teenage life keep you from enjoying these years. In no time at all, they will be gone and you’ll wish you had them back. In no time at all, you’ll be sitting in your own little apartment. Gone will be your father’s footsteps as he walks through the front door. Gone will be your brother’s melodic laughter and squeals as you chase him around the yard. Gone will be the late night talks that you and your sister share. This is not a sad thing and it’s not a bad thing – we all grow up and move on. But don’t focus so much on the “moving on” that you forget to live in the here and now. Enjoy each stage of life and enjoy the doing!