It wasn’t so very long ago that I stood right where you did
On that stage
Behind that podium
Fighting those nerves
Okay, that may be a stretch. It has been a good number of years by now. But sitting among the crowd this time around watching you address your classmates and walk across that stage and turn your tassel, somehow the last 8 years felt as close as skin. And yet, not at all. I know it doesn’t make any sense. One day it will.
Sitting there listening to all those eager seniors sing-songing about the best years of their lives and the lifelong friendships that no distance nor bond can ever break, and all the originally profound things that Mr. Webster has to say… I couldn’t help but consider all the things I wish I could have told my 18-year-old self knowing what I do now. The 18-year-old version of myself that stood there on that stage, terrified of the same future I spoke so boldly about, as though I had any idea what I was saying. Because as you probably know little sister, the title valedictorian does very little to make you feel prepared for what lies in wait for you once you exit stage left. Once you retrieve your hat from three rows back. Once the lights and confetti and fuss all grow dim and get swept up and swept away.
I think I knew better than to believe that high school would ever amount to the best years of my life, and thank goodness for that. But in light of certain recent & tragic events, the biting reminder of the sacred and fragile nature of life forces all of us to take a more critical look at how important every single moment, every single action really is. Because we never know when the dawning light of a new day will be the same one that carries us from this life into the next. And there simply is no way to prepare for that. There just isn’t.
So with the moments I am given, however long, remembering they are sacred and numbered, I am struck by an overwhelming sense of gratitude. Gratitude for the really outstanding opportunities and experiences I have been given that have shaped me. Gratitude for the really hard times that have forced me to grow, challenged me and cultivated character. As counter-intuitive as it sounds, my absolute favorite lessons in life have pretty much all come as the result of learning the hard way. And you’ll have to learn many lessons the same way I’m certain, and that’s okay. The following are just my two cents from my own journey. Many of them are things I wish someone would have said to me when I was your age. But know that as I reflect on the last 8 years of my own life, I am simultaneously dreaming with excitement and anticipation for all the ways you will live them [God willing] differently and boldly, courageously and beautifully, just the way you do.
Pursue the thing(s) you love.
It’s too late for me to look back now and wish I had chosen differently. But I wish someone would have given my heart permission to do this when I was your age. To have looked at me and spoken faith and courage into my terrified, green heart. Truth that who I was, the way God designed me with the talents & passions so deeply embedded in all the ways and places they were, that all of it was created right and good and at the end of the day, success or failure, that person was and is… enough. To know that you are enough. I hope and pray you know that you, sweet sister, are enough.
And even still, we both know that God works all things together for good, and so He most certainly has. I no longer regret nor resent the path I chose, but it’s taken me a long time to believe in myself. To believe I was capable of choosing my own way, blazing my own trail rather than just following in the safe patterns others had laid out before me. Fear is a crippling thing. It will never rest in its attempt to rob you of joy and passion and the unfathomable richness, beauty and fullness that comes out of an intimate, trusting relationship with your Maker. Fear will find you in this lifetime, no doubt, but know that it is never from the heart of God. So don’t let it paralyze or guide you. I wish I would have had someone in my corner rooting for me when I was your age, standing behind me, beside me, saying I believe in you. You are more than capable! Go for it! So if ever you need that voice, that little cheering squad, know I am here to be just that. Because I do believe in you. You are more than capable. And you should go for it!
I know the safe road looks so, well… safe. Our culture tells us that safe is good. Security, just a little more stability, just a little.bit.more…
But it’s a lie. There is no such thing. If you live under this pretense, you will never feel safe and you’ll never have enough. Safety doesn’t come from an income bracket or a security system on your home or the dollar amount that sits in your savings account, it’s found in Christ alone. Your relationship with Him is your only security blanket. And quite honestly, what you’ll find is that more often than not, the safe road is the most crippling. No where in Scripture are we told that safe is synonymous with good. God makes no promises that pain won’t be a part of the journey. In fact, he promises the opposite! Pursue instead the things that leave you breathless in this lifetime. Take some risks, step out, lean into faith, lean into the adventure. I’m not saying be a reckless adrenaline junkie, be wise and judicious. But life is too beautiful and too short to never wander off the beaten path. Embrace the adventure and don’t give fear permission to debilitate you.
Let me be clear, you won’t get it all right the first time. Know that you don’t have to! Give yourself permission to fail. In time you will figure out who you are and what you need, and you’ll fumble and cry your way through to some pretty outstanding revelations and unforeseen blessings. And just when you are certain you’re about to break, you’ll find you break through instead. And the destinations… oh, the destinations!
When you don’t remember or are uncertain of who you are, strive instead to remember whose you are. Sometimes a little perspective can make all the difference in the world. You are royalty dear sister. You are the daughter of a King.
Begin thinking early on about the kind of woman you want to become. Then begin taking active steps toward that vision before you. Do you want to be a woman of prayer? Then today… choose to pray. Even when you don’t know how, even when you don’t feel like it, you will learn and in time, that image will begin to sharpen as you become more fully the woman you were created to be. And don’t let your heart be discouraged when it doesn’t happen overnight. Rome isn’t built in a day, and yet, every decision, every action has a compounding effect. You will get there. But start thinking about this now. It’s definitely something I wish I would have started doing much sooner.
Define what it is you believe about love. What you believe it can and should look like in your life. Know your non-negotiables… and then don’t negotiate them. In the same breath I implore you to always love fully and deeply and well. Don’t ever hesitate to take a chance on love when a genuinely beautiful opportunity presents itself. I know it’s hard to see sometimes, but honestly, all the heartaches along the way, they are worth it. But go in with a strong sense of self if you can; a strong sense of what you want and need. Do not settle for less. The longer you compromise that vision, the more it hurts when the ties break. But regardless, you learn an enormous amount from love, in all shapes and sizes. And at the end of the day, choosing to love is always worth the risk involved. It is the one thing you can look back on in life and not regret. Don’t harden your heart against it in an effort to protect yourself; this is a great tragedy.
Give yourself some grace. Now give yourself a little more. Go on… keep going. One of my very favorite verses of all time: Lamentations 3:21-24. I pray it’s the lifeblood that pulses through your veins all the days God graces your lungs with sweet air:
Yet this I call to mind and therefore I have hope: because of the LORD’s great love we are not consumed. For his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. I say to myself, “the LORD is my portion; therefore I will wait for him.”
The imagery this verse paints has captured my heart. No matter how difficult the day or season of life, no matter how far down the fall, new mercies wait in all their renewed fullness, grace and splendor with each new dawning of the day. I love this characteristic of God. This is what God is like. When this really sank in for me, it was like chains and weights fell off in an instant. This truth is one of the most liberating and redeeming lessons I’ve ever learned. This verse is the framework for how I view my relationship with Jesus. It’s not perfect because I am not perfect, but by His grace, it is perfected. Each new day is bursting at the seams with restored and redeemed potential and possibility. Marinate yourself in this truth… rest in this truth, then live, dwell and thrive in this truth all the days of your life.
Community, genuine, authentic, transparent community… it will change you, break and humble you, then it will heal you, transform you, pick you up and rebuild you… if you let it. If you jump into it. Contribute to it, certainly. But also, be willing to receive from the community God puts around you. This part of the equation took me a long time to really learn, but it’s just as critical. And when it all comes together, it’s freaking awesome!
Jesus is your King. Live like it.
You’re in charge of bringing the Kingdom. Act like it.
Life is a broken, beautiful disaster. Embrace it.
And finally, disregard all of this and go boldly and bravely on your way. You were created to be you and no one else. You have the Scriptures and the Spirit of the Living God dwelling in you. You are already equipped with everything you need. Other than this, there is no road map, no golden nugget that can help prepare you for any of it. It’s an all-in, nose-dive, sink-or-swim, breathless kind of thing. That’s just life, and that’s okay. All lessons come in due time, and we cannot be refined without going through the refiner’s fire. There is no substitution for a few hard knocks in this life. But that’s the beauty of it all. Only when the pain threshold gets high enough do we ever really grow. So grow baby grow. It’s painful and it’s beautiful in the same breath. You are more than enough. Now go be the woman you already are.
Grace & peace