As I was cleaning up from my teen ministry, picking up the paper plates filled with pizza crust and cookie crumbs, I gathered the papers on clipboards that the kids filled out during the writing exercises we worked on together. Piling them in my hands, one by one I glanced at their words, their doodles, their identity.
I’ve worked with teens for 30 years in group homes and psychiatric hospitals, in ministries at church and in my home and my mission is always the same:
To help these kids understand who they are and how they fit into this world.
The teen years are often when kids begin to come into themselves – growing to discover new emotions and often confusing and overwhelming needs, desires, and questions.
So we talk about how they think others see them, and how they see themselves.
This particular group session was focused on how others see them.
Each kid took the spotlight, while the other kids each shared how they would describe that particular individual. I had them write down what their peers said, and afterward, circle the descriptions they felt were accurate.
This exercise is always valuable – giving each kid a new perspective on how others see them. It can be both empowering and enlightening to the teen, as they learn the difference between how others see them and how they in fact, view themselves.
So as I was picking up the last clipboard, the artwork caught my eye and I glanced at the lower corner of the paper where I saw a bordered section that read, “How I see myself.” This was to the be the next exercise in next week’s group, but we hadn’t gotten to that yet. Out of curiosity, I skimmed the words she listed and one in particular stole my breath.
I stared at this word and thought about this girl who wrote it, and I began to cry.
I haven’t stopped thinking about it since, because there is so much I want to say in response to reading that word.
This is for all the girls out there who deem themselves as “Fragile”…
Dear Beautiful Fragile Girl,
You are so wise in describing yourself as fragile. Understanding how vulnerable you are shows that you have a keen awareness to your emotions, your weaknesses, your complexities, your raw side that is often hidden from view.
I want you to know something.
There is power in your fragility.
Did you know that?
You see, something you may not fully understand just yet, is that we are ALL fragile.
You’re not alone.
Yes, even the girl who struts the halls with sheer confidence and popularity is fragile. Even the bully who seems to dominate the halls is fragile. They just don’t show it, and sometimes they just don’t know it…
But you do.
Because of your incredible insight, you are stronger. Because of your ability to claim that, you are braver. You have the ability to acknowledge you don’t feel safe in your skin and in this world. And you know what?
That is normal.
Completely and utterly normal.
You love, are normal.
I know you think you’re weird, broken, insecure, and so messed up. You’ve told me so…
But listen up, okay?
This is the time in your life where emotions emerge that you have never felt before, and ideas and opinions all clash and conflict and rise with a fierceness you can’t control. You may feel weak, scared, and confused. You may not know what to do with all these feelings that circle around you like a hungry hawk, ready to dive in for the kill. There may be a bottomless dark pit that swallows you up, or a twisting tornado that grips your thoughts and tightens your nerves. You might feel like you’re losing your mind.
You’re not. You are not losing your mind.
You are submerged in the battle. The perfect storm of adolescence.
[9 Things My Daughters Need to Learn About Life]
I call female adolescence the perfect storm of estrogen, emerging womanhood, and awakening to the world. These factors all seem to meet on the battlefield during the tumultuous teen years and fight it out through a long and bloody agonizing war that can last a decade or even more.
You’re growing into a woman, as your body is rapidly changing and you’re not even sure you like it. In fact, you might even hate it. Your hormones are surging through your body with rapid fire flooding you with overwhelming and unpredictable shots of emotion that are foreign to you.
The world as you once knew it, is opening up and sometimes you feel it’s swallowing you whole. There’s so much to decipher, to navigate, to understand in this new territory and you feel lost and afraid. There’s new weaponry, new artillery, and dangerous grenades going off every day on this battleground you are fighting on, and you don’t know where to go to be safe. You’re not even sure who your allies are and who’s the enemy. You don’t trust this expanding world or the people in it. And the risks you have taken to connect and confide, have often left you deceived or misled. You’re trying to make sense of all this new scenery, but there’s just too much to take in, there’s too much to process, and it feels like you have no idea what you’re doing.
So where’s the power in THAT you ask?
It’s in the knowing.
The knowing in all you have and what you hold.
It’s in learning that you have soft places that need protection and scary wounds that need attention. It’s in validating all the delicate discoveries and complicated questions and unsettling emotions you have. It’s in becoming aware of what makes you feel unsafe, insecure, unloved, and insignificant. It’s in growing your strength by enduring the hard-fought battles and learning how to take care of this you, you are becoming. It’s in realizing your worth, as you persevere through difficult decisions and battling boundary lines for the sake of protection. It’s in embracing who you are and claiming your developing strengths, your talents, your gifts. It’s in learning about yourself, and understanding how to care for, protect, and nourish the soft spots and hard places within who you are.
It may be scary. It may be hard.
But this is the road to self discovery, self-preservation, and self-worth.
This is the journey toward honoring who you are and where you fit into this world.
Your ability to feel deeply and see clearly, that which makes you thrive or makes you hide, is the most valuable gift you have.
You are armed with knowledge and equipped with wisdom.
You have a fierce kind of fragile.
Keep shining your light on those things that make you feel strong, and reach out for help in exploring those things which make you feel vulnerable.
You may not know it yet, you may not feel it yet.
But I promise you, you’re going to be just fine.
To The Village Who Helped Me Raise My Daughter
My Daughter Turned 13: This Is What I See When I Look at Her