by Katie Garoni

How have four years gone by so quickly? Let’s start by saying I am not ready for them to go. It has truly been an honor and a pleasure to spend the last four years with such an amazing group of young high school women, who take time out of their insanely busy lives to sit down and just be with us for a few hours each week. Though some of them might have been prompted by their parents to attend in the beginning, these students are the ones who made the decision, the effort and the time to come back week after week.

Four years ago, I, with my co-leader Kimberly Pinckney, was chosen to lead the group of 9th and 10th grade girls. In the beginning we spent a lot of time talking about TV shows, weekend plans and whatever else we could think of to keep their attention. But slowly, their hearts opened up to us. The walls came down and the trust grew. We became a united group as we watched these students grow a little more every week.

We have gotten to see each girl embraced by the group when something has happened in their lives: a break up, family issues, betrayal from friends, school and sport stress, and the list goes on. We have had tears and endless laughter, pranks and surprises, birthdays, frozen yogurt and cupcake dates, obligatory trips around the block with us all piled in the car when each student turned 16, recitals, plays, sports, games, marathon cheer leading, retreats, my wedding, talent shows, funerals for loved ones, excursions to get crepes and jump on the secret Rice trampolines, college visits to Nashville and summer celebrations. We have asked the hard questions, as well as been asked the hard questions. And in our group, we have always told the truth, even when the truth was tough.

The parents of these students thank us for our dedication to their daughters, but they do not know how much these students have worked in our hearts in the past few years. My heart is so full of love for them that it is very hard to imagine my Wednesday nights without their smiling faces. I will miss the joy they bring to us every week, and the trust that has allowed us to unload all the hard parts of our lives into our trustworthy group. I have loved watching them all develop over the past few years and I cannot wait to see what the future brings to these hard-working, fun-seeking, Jesus-loving, question-asking, truth-telling, incredible young women! Thank you for making it to small group, even if it meant having to roller blade to get there. Thank you for not just showing up, but for being present. Thank you for filling the awkward silence some weeks with your truths, and for always showing love and respect to each student who showed up. I am truly a better leader because of you and I could not be prouder to have co-led you these last four years.

Joshua 1:9 says, “Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.” We will continue to follow you along your journey, and we are never more than a phone call, a car ride, or airplane away!