Be Brave…Be You.

Last night we had our monthly club gathering in Huntington Beach. There was the usual fun, silly games, a yummy dinner, friends and their mentors hanging out and toddlers running around giggling – an overall great evening that is what club is all about! We were especially encouraged to welcome 4 girls who came to club for the very first time! And 6 teens met with local college staff before club started to talk about next steps for going to college! After dinner, the kids were checked into childcare with amazing and loving volunteers and the rest of us sat down for the club talk. But tonight instead of one person sharing, we had the distinct privilege to hear the stories of four of our volunteers.


As the volunteers started sharing, the room fell silent. These weren’t just “ordinary stories”. We quickly realized they were raw, personal, heart wrenching stories. Each of them shared honestly and boldly about the rough turns their lives had taken, about finding themselves at the end of their ropes, and about God’s undeserving, flawless grace that redeemed them. As I listened to each of them share, I was struck by their bravery. If you’ve ever been at the end of yourself, you understand that it’s not really a place you want to go back to. You don’t want to relive the pain, the hurt, the shame of bad choices you made. But these men and women courageously took us there for one reason – they wanted all of us (volunteers, mentors, teen moms and teen dads alike) to know that God will redeem our stories. Every single one of them. They are living proof of that. Because these aren’t just stories they share, it is who they are. Each of them is wholeheartedly serving God with their lives. And instead of letting their past define them, they are choosing to allow Him to use the pain of the past to bring Him glory.

And as I looked around the room, it occurred to me that I was surrounded by some of the bravest people I’ve ever met. In addition to these amazing volunteers and many more like them, I was sitting in a room with dozens of teen moms and dads. Teens who chose life for their children. Teens who chose the really difficult path of raising their children while they are still in high school. Teens who had to change schools or take on independent study because of their pregnancy. Teens who are raising their babies alone. Teens who are determined to create a better life for their children. Teens who love their babies. Teens who are making daily sacrifices for their children. And teens who are learning about Jesus, how much He loves them and just how amazing His grace is.

So often I feel like I’m failing. Failing as a mom, failing as an employee, failing as a friend, a sister, a daughter. And I’m quick to be hard on myself for everything I’m not doing well. But sitting in that room, God gently reminded me that I am exactly who He made me to be – strengths, weaknesses, successes and failures. He delights in ALL of me. His grace is sufficient for ALL of me. And it is Christ who makes me brave too. It’s not a competition of who is the most brave. It’s not about doing it all. And it’s certainly not about doing it all on my own. But rather, it’s trusting that God has a plan for every single one of us. And even better? His plan is PERFECT and each of us can choose to (bravely!) walk out the life God has set before us – weaknesses, brokenness, hurts, pain and all! It’s about living life in community with other believers. It’s about letting Him redeem our stories for His glory. And it’s about bravely being me…His masterpiece.

“For we are Christ’s workmanship [masterpiece], created in Christ Jesus for good works,
which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.”
Ephesians 2:10 (ESV)

~Nicole Maiocco

Liz & Jessi’s story

At 24 years old, there have been many days I’ve deemed monumental throughout my life. Getting my license, graduating from high school (and almost college too!), getting married, my first real “big girl” job…you know, the kind of monumental days that we all anticipate having in one way or another. But then there have been the monumental days that I have in no way planned for, most of which have a connection to my involvement in YoungLives.

I joined YoungLives almost 4 years ago completely unaware of the effects that it would have on my heart and everyday life. At first I was skeptical of what I could possibly bring to these teenagers’ lives since I wasn’t a teenager that long ago myself. Then I met Liz and her daughter Melonie. Our first conversation ended in Liz asking me to be her mentor and I was both excited and extremely nervous! Our relationship was shy at first, we had a couple of lunch dates here and there and I picked her up for club regularly each month. Then one day Liz came to me with a question, “Hey Jessi, I have a question for you but you can totally say no.” After failing her driver’s test, she wanted me to teach her how to drive.

My mind immediately went back to all of the driving tips my dad drilled into my brain when I was learning how to drive. I thought, well my car already has a few scratches on it, what’s the worst thing that could happen? From there, I spent a couple nights a week in an empty mall parking lot teaching Liz everything that I knew about “Driving 101”. When the day finally arrived for Liz to take her driver’s license test, I watched her drive away with the instructor in my little Nissan Sentra. Once the two drove out of my sight, I can tell you that I have never been so nervous in my entire life! If she came back and got out of the car with a smile on her face, that was the sign that she had passed. If she came back and got out of the car with a frown, I’m sure we both would have cried. (Or maybe I would just be the one crying!)


We rejoiced when she got out of the car; Liz was a licensed driver! Now fast-forward a couple of years. Since the day she passed her driver’s test, a lot of things have changed for Liz. She graduated high school, is wrapping up her freshman year of college, and Melonie is officially a 5 year old. I am so happy and grateful to have witnessed these monumental days in her life, and this week we added another one to the list.  A few short days ago I handed over the keys to my car (the car Liz learned how to drive in!) to one of the most influential people in my life. Liz now has her own set of wheels to drive herself to college, to pick her daughter up from play dates and soccer practice, and I could not be more proud of the responsible individual she has blossomed into.

Life is about celebrating each other’s monumental days and I absolutely cannot wait to keep on delighting in all of Liz’s accomplishments! Thank you YoungLives for bringing Liz and I together, and for being the biggest demonstration of what God’s love can do.