A year ago, I walked through the door of Mary’s Home — broken, lost, exhausted. I never thought I would be here, waiting to walk into my first graduation ceremony, surrounded by other Mary’s Home graduates lined up in caps and gowns.
As we walk down the aisle of New Life Church, all eyes are on us, and it makes me nervous. I find my son, Cash, smile at him, wave, and think, This is for you. I make eye contact with my Family Advocate, the woman who has helped me through every step of this journey. I’m so grateful and so proud. Thank you, I think.
We take our seats in the front row, and the girl next to me grasps my hand. I reach out and grab Kelsey’s hand, too, and soon all six of us are all holding hands, linked. We did this together.
Pastor Brady Boyd takes the stage. “When you walked in, God was smiling,” he says. “He’s not finished with you. This is just the beginning.”
For once, I believe this. I believe that this is a new beginning for me, for every single one of us. I believe that God is proud of me, that He has a reason to smile at me. I’ve worked hard and I’ve made good decisions and I’ve come a long way. Pastor Brady shares the story of Moses hiding his face from God, and I realize how familiar this is to me. How I have lived most of my life hiding — ashamed and afraid and hopeless. Not anymore.
Pastor Brady encourages us not to run from God, to be brave enough to have a face-to-face conversation with Him. I realize that in the midst of all of the training, the classes, the studying and counseling, we’ve also learned to talk to God. To believe He loves us. To believe He is for us.
Mary Hogget speaks next. She says, “One word to describe today: Courage.” She shares a quote about courage — that courage can be simply gritting your teeth through pain, working hard every day, walking slowly towards a better life. I think, This is what we’re doing. This is what we’re celebrating. The slow walk towards a better life.
Kelsey, a Phase One graduate like me, speaks next. She’s been so nervous these past few weeks about her speech. She looks at all six of us before she starts talking, takes a deep breath. “I’m proud to walk alongside these women,” she says. I feel the same way, overwhelmed by pride for what we have chosen and fought for and accomplished. Kelsey says that the lesson that sticks out the most to her is that we are powerful and independent. That we can overcome.
I have grown up thinking the opposite, believing that I’m weak, that I’ll never be or do anything important, that I just need to survive one day at a time. Today, graduating from Mary’s Home Academy, I see myself differently. I have thrived in the midst of challenges and rigorous requirements. I have my GED; I’m learning how to cook healthy meals for my family; I’m starting to save money. I will begin nursing school in the fall and I’m dreaming about my family’s future.
As I toss my cap into the air, I cheer with the rest of the crowd, tears streaming down my face. We are worth celebrating. We are strong and capable. We can do hard things. We are courageous and proud and we will overcome.