I’m trying to write my final words for you guys, knowing that I’m starting a long line of girls who will set up camp here and eventually have to move on. It isn’t easy, mostly because GRIT has been a home for me in a year I really needed one. Lisa, Sarah, and Celeste have taught me how to see myself, how to apply for apartments, and how to both listen and speak boldly. I will forever think of them as those special women we stumble upon that are never mean and like you exactly how you come. See, I haven’t always had the best experience with women in the church. I am a pastor’s kid, and pastor’s kids see it all with big eyes and young, impressionable minds. My mom wasn’t exactly accepted by the congregation, and I saw women use their words to destroy any of the hope she had of belonging. I held her hand as she cried in the car after women’s ministry and grew sick, and eventually learned to hide from the people that made my mama so sad.

Eventually, she left the church and my family (which is her story, not mine) but I couldn’t help but think of the long list of women who had abused her, and see their hands covered in blood as they still asked me how she was on Sundays. I grew in my heart this hate for women of the church, chalking up the destruction of our family to the things I had watched them do for close to half my life, and all the years I was aware enough to notice. So, the way that these three women have loved me, and exemplified Jesus’ love, has been healing and given hope to a heart that has felt deep loss. I did not know who to look to on the journey, but God gave me the best of the best to look to during the most transitional stage of my life. There is hope for you, too.

As you journey through school and this rather confusing part of life, allow yourself to be bad at things. Say aloud, "I am allowed to be hurt. I am allowed to disagree with professors. I am allowed to be quiet or laugh too loud. I am allowed to be unattractive. I am allowed to be phased by my family no matter how old I get." The clearer the vision you have of yourself, the less shame you will feel in your growing pains. You are allowed to be both old and young. You’re allowed to get your feelings hurt and miss your parents. I think the important part is what you do with and after these feelings. What is the best move for you? Feeling is not wrong but how you act after can be (you are also allowed to respond badly). But just try to be kind. Face your fears, ask yourself hard questions, look at your flaws fearlessly, and see a counselor.

Now is your time—this place is nothing like the real world so don’t start thinking it is. Use it's resources and say "no" to doing stuff with your friends to study sometimes (very unpopular sentiment, but it really pays off). In the same vein, love your friends with all you’ve got. Hold on to the ones that ask you how your day was, and don’t waste your time on the ones who don’t. Let people be humans, don’t tear them to shreds no matter what they have done. Let yourself be a human, don’t tear yourself to shreds no matter what you have done.

Sacrifice looking cool to falling in love with yourself. Don’t be afraid of asking questions, of looking stupid, or of being honest. Any of the things I am proud of, I was once very afraid of. A joke is never worth it if it bruises someone. Don’t be afraid to doubt, rather be afraid of not searching and seeing who the Jesus you love really is. Listen to and validate the experience of others. I laugh when I think about what I came in believing, and how many gracious people shared their stories and allowed me to care deeply in a way I was previously not capable of.

You can do all the stuff you want to do if you work really hard. Celebrate your own victories, because chances are that no one else will understand how big of a deal it is when you conquer your biggest battles and finally begin growing boobs on your soul. Take notice of your life, and take responsibility for raising yourself now. Sometimes it really does help to think of yourself as a little kiddo that you have to take care of. You wouldn’t let a little kid eat all the Taco Bell she wants (I know, that hurt writing), or go to sleep really late all the time, or talk half as nasty to her as you do to yourself. You’re worth it.

I’m out ladies, but I am excited to witness the projects you start and the ideas you share in this place.

And to all the girls who took responsibility for me- I will love you forever.

My love,