Today I Saw God
It is so refreshing to see your newly decorated caps and gowns, photos on the quad and smiling announcements on social media. Whether from high school, college or graduate school, graduation often symbolizes new beginnings and bright futures. However, I also remember a fair share of anxiety around these milestone moments. As we prepare to honor our graduating seniors at Floris United Methodist Church Sunday, June 4, I want to take a minute to address some of the stress and anxiety that so many experience.
Our culture tends to always focus on tomorrow. "What's next?" "Where are you going?" "What are you doing with your life?" This is true of almost any phase, but I can think of no worse time than high school and college for these piercing questions. "Have you chosen your major yet?" "Which college will you go to?" "Are you sure you want to go to a liberal arts school?" "What is your career track?" "Do you have an internship lined up?"
I wish I could tell you that this anxiety-producing conversational style would end after college, but it doesn't. Instead, the questions simply shift a little. "When are you going to settle down?" "Why are you still renting?" "Why aren't you married?" "You know, you are getting a little old. Aren't you worried you won't be able to have children?" People get in such a frenzy over other people's tomorrows that they barely let you enjoy today.
When I was in high school, I hadn't really figured out my future, and this seriously stressed me out. As it turns out, I never really mastered predicting the future, which tells me fortune telling is probably not in my life plan. This is still disappointing. Even in college I had no idea that my chosen career path in education would later come to a screeching halt so I could pursue worship leadership. Slightly older Megan still had no idea what she was doing, and I'm pretty sure I can say the same about my present self.
I see this as a common worry amongst my younger musicians as they fumble about, trying on different titles to see how they feel. Psychologist? Doctor? Musician? Dog walker? CIA operative? However, I'd encourage you to relax a little. It's okay. You're going to be okay. Choosing the wrong school or major freshman year will not ruin your life. It's important to do work, make plans and be responsible, but there is no eleventh commandment that states, "Thou shalt get your life together by eighteen and map out a plan for your entire future by twenty-two." Honestly I don't even think it's possible to have your entire life planned even by forty-two or fifty-two. My experience has taught me that God's will and call on my life might morph and change over time. What is appropriate for me now might not be where God leads me a year from now.
God does not call us to have the perfect plan. Rather, God calls us to abide in him. Love the Lord your God with all your heart, and love each other. Those are the most important commandments. The right career path will reveal itself to you, but often it is easier to discern God's calling in your life when you are truly in relationship with God. When you start to feel overwhelmed with applications, deadlines and an uncertain future, take a minute and return to God's word. Abide in him and carve out time for prayer and meditation. You never know what door God might open or what answer might be provided in the quiet stillness of prayer or while diving into a Bible study.
It's also important during this stressful time that you remember God's call to love others. Kindness and generosity are forgotten relics when we become hyper-focused on accomplishing our next task or getting from point A to point B. When you're considering blowing off your family gathering because you need one more hour to study, don't. Give yourself a break and actually spend time with your loved ones.
For those of you in high school, you might soon be leaving your childhood home forever. You will revisit, but it will never feel the same as it does right now. Some day you'll miss waking up to breakfast on the weekends or late night chats with your sister. That annoying brother will not have as many opportunities to poke fun at you again, and you'll even miss the "Dad jokes." Hug your mom a few extra times and help your sibling with their homework. This time is precious.
For those of you leaving college, there will never be another time like this in your entire life. Embrace your friends, laugh all night and soak in the experiences. Spend some time lounging on the quad and barbecuing with neighbors on their tiny, beat-up grill with cheap frozen hamburger patties you bought by scamming off your parents' Costco membership. If you are too focused on what's next, you'll miss out on the beauty of this special moment.
So go forth, my darling little graduates. Like so many others in your life, I'm overwhelmingly excited for what the future holds for you. However, I'm just as excited for the experiences you are capturing right now. Hold on to them, enjoy them and forget about tomorrow for a minute so you can truly appreciate today.
An old(er) person who gets called "ma'am" occasionally
This week is high school graduation week. As avolunteer leader for a small group of 12th grade girls, this is a big week for the students with whom I have formed friendships over the past six years. I've attended countless graduation parties and end of the year celebrations. I've had a lot of time to reflect. I wanted to share my reflections with you.
I first met them when they were 11 years old. They were in seventh grade and not really sure how to interact with adults. Most of the adults in their lives were teachers or coaches or parents and there was understandably a large gap between likes, interests and maturity levels. Though I knew of few of their parents, none of them knew me.
The first few Sunday nights I felt like I was the one back in middle school: struggling to find a place to sit. I like to remind them how I used to sit down with a group of them while they were talking, the conversation would grow quiet within a few minutes, and a few minutes later they would one-by-one get up and walk away to find a new place to sit. It's not that they meant to be rude, they were just 11, and they were a bit awkward and it didn't occur to them that I was intentionally sitting down to talk to them.
But I stuck with them. Because I knew the key to relationships was time. And year after year I showed up. And they showed up. Which is no small thing to ask of an aging teenager. Soon, when referring the girls in my small group to others, I simply called them "my girls".
Each week, I found myself looking forward to Sunday nights. The small talk before the program began and the small group discussion afterward provided meaningful insights into the lives of my girls. It's amazing how much you come to learn about a group of girls in six years. I can tell you what sports they've played, the classes they took, who they went to homecoming and prom with, who they dated, who broke their heart, when they've struggled in their faith and when they've felt God's love the most.
Throughout the years, I did my best to pass along my greatest pieces of biblical wisdom and model my faith. In return, they taught me how to use the latest social media platforms and corrected me when I got the words wrong to pop songs.
By their senior year, I wasn't the awkward adult always hanging around them. I'm happy to report they no longer get up and move when I sit down next to them (in fairness to them, this habit stopped once they got to high school). Now, when something happens and I am not around, they text me to fill me in.
I won't lie, this last year I felt the pressure was on. Were they ready for college? Have I told them all the stories I could tell them? Are there any other nuggets of truth that I'm keeping to myself that I could pass on to them? I often caught myself starting sentences with phrases such as "When you go off to college"
At some point you just have to trust God and let them go. Trust me, it is not lost on me that if it's this difficult to let these kids go off to college, I cannot even begin to understand how it feels when it's your actual child.
Somewhere in the midst of all the grad parties and final gatherings I took a step back and reflected on it all.
This is why Jesus calls us into community, I thought. This life of connecting, sharing and mentoring others is exactly the life Jesus lived. Of course this is how he wants us to live. Life is so much richer when we invest in others. As I sat with students and traded memories I thought about how the significant moments in our lives are woven together by the people with whom we shared those moments. In the end, each person is blessed with his or her own beautifully woven tapestry of life.
The section of my tapestry from the past six years is very brightly colored. The students that helped weave this section added a vibrancy and youthfulness that only a group of teenagers could provide.
Six years ago, when I signed up to lead these students, I did so because I felt a nudge from God to help teenagers build relationships with Christ. I didn't expect my life to be changed. I thought I had my life pretty figured out. I was two years into marriage and had a 6-month-old baby. Six years later, I've watched God do some pretty cool things in the lives of these students through me. But perhaps the most surprising part has been that I've watched God do some amazing work in me through them.
Congratulations to the class of 2013. Thank you for weaving a section of my tapestry and thank you for allowing me to weave a section of yours.
They say that public speaking is the #1 fear experienced by adults in this country. Apparently, no one told this to the teens who shared their stories, their faith and themselves with us this Sunday. I only got to hear Mary Francis and Hannah but I know Kevin and Emily were powerful, too. There is just nothing like a young person to tell it like it is and then wade in after it. Usually while we adults are watching from the shore.
Mary Francis, I loved your description of merging onto 66: "I just hit the gas and hoped for the best." It was absolutely the punctuation for this life lesson you seemed to breeze by: "Might as well go forward because you can't go backward." And oh, how we try. But I get the feeling you'll be navigating the HOV lane without a problem very soon.
Hannah, I do know your family loves the beach. How stunning yet simple your beach metaphor for prayer that the "times we are alone with the ocean we hear nothing but theocean." But today I am taking great comfort in your honest question "How do people faithfully live this life?" With two of the best role models I know at your constant disposal, I guess seeing may be believing but adopting it has to occur with each new generation.
Thank you both for your willingness to let us into what life looks like at eighteen or so. May taking time to reflect on and to celebrate in this ending and beginning give you just the right traction for all that comes next.
On Thursday we celebrated our daughter Jodi's graduation from Washington and Lee University. We are very proud of her and what she has accomplished. It is that time of year. Lots of transitions. Lots of celebrations. But I clapped with particular joy when Jodi's classmate Natalie walked across the stage to receive her diploma. "Natalie's comeback" was one of the things noted as memorable in the President's remarks.
Eighteen months ago I received a text message from my daughter telling me that her friend and housemate Natalie had been in a terrible car accident. This vital 20 year old collegiate champion sprinter was on a ventilator. The next 48 hours would be critical. I texted back one word, "praying." When you get news like this, you don't wait. You already are.
What a moment that was. I pictured the young, strong girl I knew, now fighting for her life. No surgery would save her. Her rib cage smashed. Her lungsseverelydamaged. She could not breathe on her own. I pictured this mother, at the bedside of her daughter who might not make it to Christmas.
I admit, I did not pray "God's will be done" in this circumstance. But how does one pray? There are no words. I went on the Caring Bridge site and read the notes of encouragement left by people supporting Natalie and her family. They prayed for the 'usual' stuff – praying for you, for complete healing, for your strength. Thankfully, no one wrote, "this was God's will for her."
One prayer struck me so profoundly that I wrote itdownin my journal. It was from a six year old girl named Maggie who didn't actually know Natalie. She wrote "for Joe's like 20 year old cousin, that she'll not have a hurt lung so she can breathe." And that said it all. How do we get so tongue tied when we get older?
This Thursday, I applauded Natalie as she graduated with her class. I saw her later as we moved out some furniture and couldn'tquite get over the healthy, whole and delightfully spunky young woman that greeted us. This was God's will standing in front of me, and I was dumb-struck with awe. That's when Jodi's words from the fall semester came back to me, "Mom, Nat is back! It's nothing short of a miracle."
I'm not sure how my prayers intersect with God's will, but I know it's so simple even a child can do it. What do we teach them? At the intersection, "stop-look-listen." The Spirit adds…repeat.