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
Over the holidays, our home was brimming with joy and laughter, a continuously messy kitchen sink and the rustle of wrappings. All of the chicks were back in the coop as I like to say, and it was heaven on earth! We had some family game nights, competitive family card games and even an adventure to an escape room in D.C. where we were forced to work together to unlock the clues (and the door) to our room.
Butlast week, my youngest adult child packed up his car and drove off to head back to college. My husband and I cried, as we have done as each child takes flight from the nest, even for a short while. It is always bittersweet when someone leaves you, regardless of the circumstances. The time you just spent together makes you miss them even more as they head out the door; you are keenly aware of the unique and wonderful person that loved one is, and you feel the emptiness of their absence even as you are still in their presence. It's an emotionally charged moment.
Having recently studied the apostle Paul and learned more about his life and his travels, I imagine the pain and loss he must have felt when Jesus was no longer with him. He not only knew Jesus was the Son of God, the Truth, the Life, but Paul undoubtedly also knew what made Jesus laugh or the meaning of a glance his way while sharing a parable. The very God that made the sunrise and the sunset with all of its glorious colors, the God that made such an intricate and sustaining system here on earthtrees that can go barren and blossom with vibrant color over and over with each passing season, and something as small as an mosquito having a role in the circle of lifeyes, that God, walked here, on this earth right next to Paul. And then he died, rose again and ascended into heaven. While I don't mean to compare the infinitely more meaningful and memorable departure of Jesus to my son driving off with a carload of boxes, the point is that both left a hole for those standing back, both were filled with emotion none-the-less.
Paul was able to muster up his courage to go on, leaning into the trust, hope and love that he had not only in the teachings and miracles of Jesus Christ but also in honor of the man, the person that he came to love so deeply. Oh, it wasn't easy for Paul. He encountered hardships of all kinds including beatings, illnesses and imprisonment, but his love for Jesus and the need to spread the good news was all the motivation he needed. The life story of Paul is one I feel a personal connection to, not because I too have had any level of suffering that even begins to compare but because I have met and ministered to people that have.
I worked for a prison ministry for seven years, and in that time, I learned so many valuable lessons. I learned that people go their whole lives struggling against the pressures and realities that come with trying to make a life for yourself that is sustaining and fulfilling, and they have to make choices every day that impact the next step in their journey. Many choices get made without a conscious decision; we just act on the next step on the path we've set ourselves on. And it is not until all choices are taken away from uschoices of when and what to eat, what to wear, where to sleepthat we are forced to realize that every choice that impacts our lives starts with choices of the heart and head. I look at Paul like so many of the men and women who unselfishly volunteer in prisons all over this country every day. They too met Jesus. Some, like C.S. Lewis, met him with their heads as they worked through a very intellectual process to get to him, and others, like many of the prisoners and ex-offenders I knew, met him with their hearts. But each one that did was touched deeply by a love that motivates them to tell others all about it.
When my children are near, I long to hear every detail of their day, their hopes, their concernsusually to the point of making them crazy with all of my questions. But it's because I want to keep a little piece of them with me, to ponder on what I can do to make a difference for them. When they are far away, I peek at their Facebook pages; I hope for a Snapchat or text; and I reminisce over their childhood activities, sayings or antics so I don't forget any part of the wonderful and unique person each of them is. It's the same with my faith. When Jesus is near, I can't get enoughI want to hear more and more, feel his presence and seek ways to put his spirit into all that I am and do. And when I feel he is distant, I remember those times I felt close and work to get back to those moments.
I feel the love of God when I consider my children. The impact each of them have on me and others is not measured by their academic achievements, their net worth or the titles they hold, it is measured by their kind and spirited souls. They are each their own unique person, each beautifully and wonderfully made, and counted by God, the Father Almighty as one of his own.
When Jesus came to earth, it created a kairos moment, a moment when God chose to act and his spirit was and still is palpable. I believe the birth of a child is also a kairos moment, a moment when God acts, when heaven most certainly has touched earth.
In August, we sent our youngest off to college. Her departure marked a new and exciting beginning for her. She had prepared for this day all her life, as far as she was concerned, but practically speaking, certainly all summer. She had busied herself making lists and purchases; sorting outfits; and packing boxes, bins and bags so she would have what she would need when she moved into her freshman dormitory.
What was remarkable in this process was her diligence in discarding what she didn't need. Things she had held on to since elementary schoolposters, pictures, notebooks, clothes, trinkets, gadgets, stackers, bins, books, art work, lettersall went into the pile. Some she sold. Some she gave to friends. Most she gave away. Everything went.
One box particularly touched my heart. It was filled to the brim with trophies, medals, ribbons and plaques. These awards and plastic figurines with their engraved nameplates were mementos of her accomplishments on the fields, courts and swimming pools across the region. They stood as testimony to 'how good she was that day' or where her team had finished in the standings. They were tangible and irrefutable proof of her value and valor.
Now, as she readied to depart to her next life destination, she loaded that box of dusty statues along with all the other boxes and bags and drove them to The Closet, which accepts donations of gently-used stuff including plaques, medals and trophies to be refurbished and reused by future athletes and teams. My daughter would be carrying a much lighter load to college.
Oh, the value of those trophies wasn't lost. In fact, her discarding them was confirmation. She no longer needed to show them to anyone. The accomplishments they represented had done their work; the trophies were just outward representations of her inward growth. She would take that with her wherever she went.
It took me a lot longer than 18 years to even begin to embrace that message. In fact, I seem to have to keep relearning it. I need a constant reminder that the crown I imagine I wear and the trophies I think I deserve are just poor earthly imitations of the worth that's already been bestowed by a creator who calls me beloved. What a beautiful reminder is offered in the scene at the heavenly throne in Revelation 4:9-11:
"Whenever the living creatures give glory, honor and thanks to him who sits on the throneand who lives forever and ever,the twenty-four eldersfall down before himwho sits on the throneand worship him who lives forever and ever.
They lay their crowns before the throne and say:
'You are worthy, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they were created and have their being.'"
Why do I hold on to earthly things? God understands they mean something to me, but perhaps they're ultimate value comes in my laying them down at God's feet. In that very act, they become priceless.
What's your trophy? Your crown? What might you take up if you laid these down?