Are we not all desperate one way or another? Taylor Caldwell, author
The funny thing about standing on the edge is that there’s typically little to no warning that you’re about to go over. No countdown. No alert system. I usually only realize that I’ve arrived at this point when one foot is dangling and the other is making every crazy attempt to stay planted. It’s a dance I’ve seen countless times and one that I’m not proud of.
Lately, this idea of desperation has been rearing its ugly head in all kinds of places. I see it everywhere–in my home, overheard at the grocery store, on television/radio, it’s become a mainstay on social media, I hear it in the voices of my closest loved ones and it even stares back at me from the bathroom mirror. It’s become practically inescapable and totally overwhelming. And it appears to be the new norm.
What I hate most about desperation is that it clouds decision-making, muddies our sense of right and wrong, and worst of all causes us to say/do things we (should) almost immediately regret (although that’s not always the case.) And “desperation” has become so incredibly clever. Nowadays, it masks itself as “urgency,” “FoMO” (fear of missing out) and even “self-righteousness”…often times creating an anxiety that holds us captive. This type of desperation not only leaves us hopeless but it creates fear, anger, and sadness. Desperation puts us in situations we could have never imagined…poisoning ourselves and everything around us. Numb and cowering like a defenseless animal, we can only respond by lashing out at one another or internalizing our darkest fears. When these feelings reach their peak, one is left feeling incredibly alone. And yet, we keep coming back to the same well. Doing the same things. Repeating this frantic pattern over and over.
Where is the faith, the peace, the hope? As a Christian, I think it’s in the same place it’s always been–Jesus. I’ve noticed that as our culture continues to distance itself from God…the only truly content people I can find are those who consider themselves followers of Christ. In fact, one of the reasons I was so drawn to Christianity was the sense of peace that Jesus offers. Picture the most devout person you know and I’m willing to bet that person just exudes peace. Shining, content, grace-filled peace…in abundance. The kind of peace we hope to capture for ourselves.
We’ve been conditioned to believe that peace is elusive…only attainable after years of practice. We’ve been told that peace is for the enlightened, those who have achieved some higher level learning. We’ve been advised that peace is for the naive. And we’ve been warned that peace simply cannot exist. And I think that’s exactly what the world wants us to believe.
There are no quick answers here, only prayer. Distancing ourselves from desperation requires discipline and personal growth. I imagine it’s a lifelong endeavor, but one well worth every effort. I refuse to drink from the world’s cup and fall prey to these desperate times. I will continue to seek out those whose grace-filled examples serve as encouragement and inspiration. And I fully plan to surround myself with only His perfect peace.
May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in Him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit. Romans 15:13
She believed she could, so she did. –R.S. Grey
A young woman who I know AND love is about to do something BIG and brave…and I couldn’t let this occasion go by without penning a few thoughts…because what’s the point of growing older (and wiser) if you can’t drop some knowledge on a youngster, right? Amen.
Most of these musings came to me at 2am. I mention this as both a disclaimer and an explanation to the randomness of these points, but let me start at the beginning. I remember the day you were born. Driving down the highway to the nearby town, your aunt and I talked excitedly about our soon-to-arrive niece. I’m pretty sure we didn’t know exactly what to expect, so when we were invited into the delivery room we stood dumbfounded. Now that you know us (and my aversion to all things medical) you can probably guess that we declined and opted to do the next best thing–MAKE A SIGN! We sat in the hallway with a poster board and some markers scribbling a “welcome baby” greeting just for YOU! From the beginning, you were so loved. For years, our whole family life revolved around you. When I would come home from college, you were one of the people I most looked forward to seeing. I liked to rock you to sleep and quietly sing the KU alma mater song…because I found the song both hopeful and soothing (and I wanted to make sure you grew up to be a Jayhawk fan.) Funny how things come full circle…it was this memory that actually brought me to write this blog which I hope will be equally hopeful and soothing to you as you ironically prepare to move to Manhattan, Kansas! So here goes:
- Moving away from home/going to school takes guts. Not everyone can do it. Not everyone should do it, but having the courage to walk away from everything you know and try something new/exciting/scary and uncomfortable deserves some major props. In doing this, you have already proven one thing: you are WILLING to take chances. Kudos.
- In many ways you’ve been preparing for this your whole life and in many other ways you’re not prepared at all. This is okay. In fact, it’s better than okay. It’s absolutely normal.
- Good things will happen and bad things will happen, too. How you deal with these things will make all the difference. My favorite quote is by author Og Mandino. It says “Count your blessings, proclaim your rarity, go another mile, USE WISELY YOUR POWER OF CHOICE, and one more–to fulfill the other four–do all things with love…love for yourself, love for all others, and love for GOD….You Are the Greatest Miracle in The World.” You can always choose. Remember that no hole is too deep, no place is too far for redemption.
- Never date a man with hair longer than your own. Random, I know…but really. Who needs the competition? I actually came up with this rule while visiting friends at K-State. I can’t remember what the circumstances were exactly, but it’s a rule that has served me well. BTW…man buns are now included in this one.
- Talk to God (a lot) and don’t forget to listen, too. Although I think you should go to church, I have to admit that I didn’t attend while I was in college. I can honestly tell you that I missed out and I would definitely do this part differently today. Nonetheless, I did a whole lot of praying during that time and LISTENING to God, too. This saved my bacon more than once and I am eternally grateful. Looking back I can clearly see God at work during my college years. Make your relationship with Him a priority.
- Practice the “pause.” I didn’t come up with this…I’m not sure who did, but it makes a lot of sense and it may actually save your life someday. “When in doubt, pause. When angry, pause. When tired, pause. When stressed, pause. And when you pause, always pray.”
- Keep an eye on your drink. Again, another random one…but this is vital. There are bad guys (and girls) out there. People who do not have your best interest at heart. People who will try to use (and abuse) you and hurt you to satisfy their own evil desires. These people will buy you drinks and worse, they may even spike your drink. I made it a practice to never, ever, EVER accept a drink from a stranger (and eventually I didn’t accept any drinks at all.) It was not always well received. I’ve been called countless names, been yelled at, and made fun of. I didn’t care. In fact, it just proved that this was someone who I definitely didn’t have any business hanging out with. If someone wants to buy you a drink, great. The two of you can go up to the bar and order it together. At a party, keep in mind that you are perfectly capable of pouring your own drink. Carry a water bottle (drunkenness is overrated anyway.) Be on guard. Protect yourself…and look after your friends, too.
- You’re not expected to peak now. While these clearly are some of the best days of your life…they’re not the only days of your life. Someday you might choose to travel, land your dream job, become President, meet an awesome guy, have a fabulous wedding, start your own business, become a mother…the list goes on and on. Life is a series of journeys. Never think that your best days are behind you…always look forward.
- Trust your gut…that’s the Holy Spirit at work. Look people in the eye, but more importantly watch what they say and do. I wholeheartedly believe God speaks to us and a little warning light goes off when we’re in bad company. Do not ignore this! Women (especially) tend to discount this small little voice. We want to be nice, we want to give people the benefit of the doubt, we don’t want to seem childish or afraid…you get the point. So we make nice…and often times this puts us in very vulnerable situations. If it doesn’t feel right, it isn’t right. End of story. You owe no one an explanation.
- Finally, know this…you can always go home. ALWAYS. There is no shame. You’ve stepped out once, you can and will do it again. This IS life. Having a home base is a luxury not afforded to everyone. You have a family that would move mountains for you (just ask.) This is an incredible blessing.
There are a lot of people rooting for you, kid. Team MO is firmly in your corner! You’re going to do great…I just know it. Do your very best, make good choices, and have lots of fun. You are so loved.
The old is gone. The new is here. 2 Corinthians 5:17
“Be strong and take heart, all you who hope in the Lord.” Psalm 31:24
The Holy Spirit spoke to me while putting away Christmas decorations last year. “Leave this one out,” it urged, “Place it some place where you will see it. Leave it some where so you won’t forget.” This Divine nudge prompted me to leave the Dollar Store Jesus on the shelf in the dining room.
At first, it felt odd. Really odd. Not a lick of glittery, sparkly Christmas décor around and there sat the clumsily painted baby Jesus. A gift to my son from several years back. A tradition really as I always try to purchase a little something for the kiddos to remind them of the true Reason for the season. Mostly I buy ornaments, but when the children were very young I wanted them to have a “hands on” experience with Jesus. The Dollar Store is perfect for gifts like this…it was a cost-effective way to teach the children to be careful with breakables while allowing them to touch, feel, and hold an item so precious. If it broke, no problem. We would carefully glue it back together or (as is prone to happen with little boys) we would sweep up the pieces. I wanted them to know that Jesus was always within reach and as a result various Dollar Store Jesus figurines would live among other toys, on their bedroom night stands or carried in a backpack to preschool show-and-tell. All December long. The collection grew larger each year with a few duplicates after Casey was born (whatever Sean had, Casey had to have, too) and then back in the box they would go. Until now….
Over the past year, this Dollar Store Jesus has lived among various holiday decorations, next to the kiddos’ photographs, by the clock, near the plants, and on the piano. I laugh to myself every time I place Him in a new “home.” Will anyone notice? (They did.) Will anyone care? (This is yet to be determined.) Regardless, I know He’s there…reminding me. Every day Jesus.
Peace on earth will come to stay, when we live Christmas every day. -Helen Steiner Rice
The kitchen is the heart of the home. –author unknown
When I was a kid I remember telling my Mom all about my dream house. I mean, if Barbie could have a dream house…surely I could, too. In my simplistic, imaginary abode there would be few rooms (less to clean,) one room completely without furniture (reserved exclusively for me,) and absolutely NO KITCHEN. “How will you eat?” she asked, “Where will you prepare your food?” Okay, Mom, I didn’t have it all worked out. I always thought food was overrated anyway, but in a pinch I figured a microwave and a mini refrigerator would bail me out. Eventually, I developed a love for baking and thus a kitchen became a necessary evil in my small mind, but it still didn’t make me an overall fan of the kitchen. In fact at that point, I started championing the idea of paper everything. Paper plates, paper cups, disposable silverware, etc. I even spoke of inventing paper pots and pans (I was a tween at this point and HATED doing the dishes!) Finally, as a young adult preparing my own meals in a “one-butt” kitchen, I gave up on the idea of the “kitchen-free” home.
Fast forward many years (and many kitchens later,) and I practically double over laughing at myself for these crazy anti-kitchen ideas. Especially now that I claim the kitchen as my favorite room in the whole house. No, it’s not because I somehow became a master chef (we all know that didn’t happen.) The reality is that no one in my home seems to really enjoy being in the kitchen. For our family, the kitchen is for doing homework afterschool and grabbing the occasional meal together. This means that I basically have this room all to myself, ALL THE TIME. As an introvert…this qualifies as my own little inner sactum. And I like it that way. So when everybody on HGTV demands open concept, I’m the one screaming at the television, “DON’T DO IT!” Keep your walls, people. Whatever you do, keep your walls!!!
Obviously, no one is listening to me. Kitchen remodels are underway as we speak and the people are clamoring for the open concept. Apparently, we’re all hosting large dinner parties and get-togethers thus making the need for a life without walls mandatory. I believe the folks on HGTV call this ideal for “entertaining” and everyone on the planet is doing this but me! Look, I’ve had the open concept kitchen before. It meant that I was subject to watch/listen to whatever the person in the “family” part of the room had on the television. It meant no private phone calls. It meant constant interruptions. If I wanted to take in a little talk radio or music (as I am prone to do,) I had to do so via ear buds which meant I couldn’t hear my kiddos (this is imperative as everyone knows that the best time to act up is when mom is out of earshot.) The open concept was also problematic whenever company decided to drop by unexpectedly (as is apt to happen in a parsonage.) Oh yes…on HGTV the kitchen portion of the open concept is always spotless. In real life, however, the kitchen is a constant work in progress. I don’t know about you, but a pile of dishes in the background quickly negates any inclination toward hospitality. I just remember feeling so self-conscious. I know, real friends don’t judge…but come on, it’s a little weird to have your breakfast leftovers hanging out for all to see. Then there’s the smell. Okay, we all burn the bacon every once in a while, but sitting down on your couch and catching a whiff of it in the fabric of your decorative pillows hours later is just not worth it. And since I’m laying out my case, have you ever noticed that food travels just a little easier in the open concept home? Toddlers suddenly believe that mac and cheese is good at the kitchen table, but even better on the living room floor. Uuugggghhhh.
I could go on and on about the pitfalls of the open concept, but what really inspires me are all the perks of having a “real” kitchen (complete with WALLS.) This is my space. I control the lighting, the radio, and the level of activity in this room. I can quickly whip something up for dinner or I can methodically (and slowly) try out a new recipe with the level of concentration a less-than-great cook requires. I can spread out without the risk of someone “observing” and judging the madness. I can multi-task and take my time cleaning up (or better yet, I can just walk away.) Like a dictator, I can make sure food doesn’t wander out of this space. While kitchen smells always migrate, I am less likely to catch a whiff of “Taco Tuesday” in the couch cushions on Wednesday morning. Still, my all time favorite argument in defense of kitchen walls is that I can dance. A lot. I can blast New Kids on the Block, George Strait, or my non-stop Christmas music and jitterbug, two-step and let loose to my heart’s delight. It’s at times like these that walls make all the difference.
I’m no interior designer (and no one is asking,) but I have a feeling that the open concept is here to stay. As much as I love HGTV, I am fully aware of the more/bigger/better/different agenda that permeates our culture and homes. Still, I will not be deterred. Say it loud, say it proud…I AM ALL FOR WALLS…because if cooking is good for the soul, then the sanctity of the kitchen must be a personal heaven.
When life is heavy and hard to take, go off by yourself. Enter the silence. (Lamentations 3:28)
I’ve loved the stars too fondly to be fearful of the night. Galileo
A “cool” Mom would have packed the kiddos in the van (snacks and blankets in tow) and strategically driven into the darkest part of the night to view this summer’s Perseid Meteor Showers. But I never said I was a “cool” Mom. So instead, I mandated the offspring turn off their devices, shuffle out into the backyard, and plant themselves on carefully arranged patio furniture (all under threat of a grounding if they took ONE look at their tablets or phones.) “Your eyes,” I said, “need several minutes to adjust.” It was shortly after midnight…and just two days before the first day of school.
We should have already been a week into school night “practice,” but we weren’t. So putting respectable bedtimes on hold (yet again,) we looked to the sky. We were on a mission to see a shooting star…or at least I was. Prior to that summer evening, we had spent several nights staring at the heavens. I had studied a constellation app and was armed with lots of information–some I learned as a kid, some I had just recently found on the internet. It was still super warm outside and oh so humid! Aside from the crickets, the only sounds at that late (early?) hour included two passing cars, our dog’s crazy panting (not sure what her deal was) and the occasional meow of the neighborhood cats. So on this particular night, starwatching was an exercise in patience. I’m not sure what you know about the Perseid Meteor Shower, but I heard upwards of 30 shooting stars per hour! WOW! That, however, did not happen.
Within the first five minutes the complaining began. I decided to impress the kiddos with my knowledge of constellations. We picked out the standards…Big Dipper, Little Dipper. I taught them how to find the North Star. We saw several planes fly through the night sky. And finally we moved on to Cassiopeia and the story of Perseus himself. I should be happy that the children politely listened to my little lesson, but it wasn’t very long before they shifted back to their “we’re bored” posture. Convinced they were outside for no reason at all–we finally saw a shooting star! And what a shooting star it was….
It’s not like my husband and I had not seen a shooting star before. We had. But despite all the time we had spent stargazing this summer, the kids hadn’t been so lucky. But right then and there we had finally witnessed one…and it was a good one! Very dramatic, very bright and especially long-lasting—given the fleeting nature of shooting stars. It streaked across the night sky right above our heads! It was a spectacle to behold and an experience we will never forget…for several reasons: 1) because all four of us saw it together, 2) because everyone made a wish, and 3) no one told what they wished for (not even a hint.) The last part was sort of a surprise. We had never talked about wishing on a star and yet, it was the first thing we all instinctively did.
As we looked to the sky I couldn’t help but wonder what everyone had wished, especially the kiddos. As a child, I can remember wishing for lots of things…everything from new shoes to a “good” hair day to getting to go someplace special. As I got older, my star wishes moved on to passing a tough test, getting a certain boy to notice me and making it through college. Nowadays, my wishes are typically for others…and especially for my kids. But I wouldn’t necessarily call them wishes…because they’re more like prayers. That night as that star streaked across the sky…the wish on my heart was really a silent petition to God.
Later, after everyone else had gone back inside, my daughter asked if I thought wishes came true. We had seen two more meteors that night. She said she was pretty sure that she had wished hard for a flat screen TV one Christmas, but she didn’t get one. It was the start to a long conversation about magical versus miracle, God versus “genie,” and the incredible power of prayer. Thank you, Perseid Meteor Shower…for one last summer hurrah! Under that night sky, when we should have been fast asleep, the heavens opened the door to something truly amazing…a blessed conversation. An answered prayer. I honestly could have stayed out all night.
I’m already looking forward to more sky watching. I hope that someday the kids will share their wishes (and prayers!) with me–because if (when) mine comes true…you know I’ll be the first one to tell.
The only difference between a wish and a prayer is that you’re at the mercy of the universe for the first, and you’ve got some help with the second. –Jodi Picoult, author
A wise man can learn more from a foolish question than a fool can learn from a wise answer. –Bruce Lee
People ask questions. Some appropriate, some inappropriate. Some thoughtful, some downright stupid. I have to admit that as I’ve aged I’ve noticed that I’m often on the receiving end of very polite queries (because being 40-something has its perks?) Gone are the days of fielding ridiculous questions from peers. Adios, unseemly questions from guys. It seems like the only people with a license to ask me anything personal has been narrowed down to family and a few close friends. It’s not that I’m anti-question…I just think for the most part my matronly disposition wins out–“respect your elders” and all that. I wouldn’t even be entertaining the topic of questions if it hadn’t come up recently. And when I went to file it away in my little brain I realized that I put it in a folder that I’ve labeled “My Least Favorite Question,” and let me tell you…this file is getting thick.
The funny thing about this file is that My Least Favorite Question has nothing to do with me and everything to do with my kids. I’m trying to decide if I’m overreacting…and if nothing else, just get to the root of why it bothers me so much. So here it is. My heart absolutely sinks when people ask my kids, “Are you going to be a Pastor like your Dad when you grow up?” It probably doesn’t sound like much but it’s bothered me for years and now that my kiddos are getting older (tween & teen,) it actually bothers me more. I mean, if your mom’s a teacher does that mean you’re going into education? If your dad sells insurance is that your child’s assumed destiny? Not necessarily, right? So hear me out. I would love for my children to go into the ministry! What an amazing blessing it would be to see my children choose to serve the church full-time. I would be so incredibly proud if they opted to attended seminary/Bible college and become ordained clergy. I can think of nothing better. Still I cringe when people ask…mostly because I think it is unfair. Unfair…and maybe even detrimental to their faith development.
If you have a minute just google “pastors kids” or “PKs.” There’s a lot more out there than I expected…and most of it negative. Despite the stereotypes, I’ve tried really hard to raise “regular” kids. “Regular” kids who go to church. I remind them that they are loved by God, created for a purpose, and gifted with talents and abilities. These are things that I think all parents should say to their children. They are not more special than anyone else, set aside or placed on any sort of pedestal. They are works in progress (as we all are) and yet in a recent conversation I’ve discovered (again) that they have been placed in uncomfortable positions and asked faith questions that no youth should have to answer to. One child responds politely (perhaps because this child hasn’t been asked particularly difficult questions yet) while the other child has been asked about homosexuality, evolution vs. creation, validity of the Bible, and more. I don’t know about you, but I couldn’t answer these questions as a kid…I’m not sure I want to debate these questions as an adult…let alone with someone older or in a more authoritative position than myself. It’s not right…and it never takes place while my husband and I are around.
In this latest exchange, my child was so put off by the questioning that the only way to move the conversation forward was to change the subject altogether. And for the first time, I sensed a weariness in the retelling…almost like this might not be worth it. God. Faith. Church. Often times, Christians are characterized as being judgemental, but I’m pretty sure it works both ways. I hate that this happened (again.) I can only imagine how uncomfortable this must be…to have what was a fun evening with friends, suddenly interrupted by an adult who puts you on the spot about what your Dad does for a living. So now I’m scrambling…for coping mechanisms and tools, for words and remedies. How can I make this better? How can I better prepare them? Being a Pastor is nothing to be ashamed of, neither is being a Christian or going to church. In a world where anything goes, why does this put my kiddos on the hot seat?
Here’s a newsflash…these kids didn’t choose their parent’s profession. These kids didn’t go to Bible college alongside their parents. And I’m pretty sure these kids aren’t giving sermons on Sunday morning. Today, I know of a handful of PKs who have left their faith…and statistics point to so many more like them. Each story varies but a couple of comments stick out like “glass house,” never feeling like a “regular kid,” and “negative experiences.” Countless blogs and articles have been written about these types of hurts. Intense feelings that lead them to walk away from God altogether. My heart sinks more. I’m not asking that you handle my children with kid-gloves. I’m asking that you not single them out, understand that they’re not Biblical scholars, and please stop asking them if they’re going into the ministry (because if they do, I’ll let you know. In fact, I’ll probably throw a party!) In the meantime, just let them be “regular” kids…”regular” kids who go to church.
“Do to others whatever you would like them to do to you.” Matthew 7:12
Under all speech that is good for anything, there is a silence that is better…. –Thomas Carlyle
Let me start by saying that I have mad respect for public speakers. It takes a great deal of time, thought, composure, and courage to share your ideas and perspectives with audiences both large and small. It is no easy feat to step up and out into this arena, which is probably why public speaking is high on the list of our “greatest fears.” It’s one of those occurrences where we are typically happier on the receiving end and offer pity to the “poor soul” up front with a microphone. Often times though, it’s equally uncomfortable for both parties…and yet this is exactly where many of us will find ourselves this graduation season.
The whole idea causes my mind to take a stroll down memory lane. First, as a sixth grader giving a pseudo-valedictorian speech to my classmates as we prepared to advance to junior high. I can remember pouring my thoughts onto a few sheets of wide-rule notebook paper…the usual platitudes intermixed with memories of sixth grade antics. I can recall wearing my hair up (an attempt to look more sophisticated, I’m sure,) donning a flowery dress and trying very hard to speak slowly and clearly. My palms were sweaty and I hardly recognized my own voice over the loud-speaker. The event venue, a school gymnasium, seemed extra cavernous and despite the dozens of parents and family members in the audience…there were moments where I felt like I was all alone. Time passed so slowly…each second its own eternity. The whole speech couldn’t have been more than seven or eight minutes and while it concluded with applause, I always wondered if maybe they were just happy that it was done? I know I was.
Twenty plus years later, I can still see the faces of those who spoke at my high school graduation ceremony, but what they said is a complete blur. Classmates, community leaders, administrators…their mouths were moving, but I have no idea what they spoke of that day. What I can clearly remember are my sunglasses: mirrored wannabe wayfarers. We wore our graduation caps toward the back of our heads to accommodate our extra-large mall bangs and adding sunglasses (and not disturbing the bobby pins) was not easy. It was an extraordinary, bright, sunshiny day (I remember that)…and I NEEDED those sunglasses. Gathering in a long line, I remember looking at the faces all around me and realizing I didn’t know everyone’s names (a sad fact that weighs on my heart today.) Obviously, it was loud as we paraded onto the football field with music and cheering family and friends in the background, but as soon as the ceremony began I was lost in my own thoughts. Deliberately taking in the moment, I was convinced that I would never experience anything like this again. I looked for my family in the stands. I smiled at my best friends. I scoped out a cute boy. I looked at the sky…a lot. This day could never be duplicated and in some ways both the world and time stood still. There was a charge in the atmosphere (one that would eventually lead to a thunderstorm and tornado warning that night.) And while the message was lost on me, I silently prayed that the valedictorian would just keep talking. That didn’t happen. And in a blink of an eye, I found myself preparing for yet another graduation.
There’s a tradition at the University of Kansas…maybe it’s more lore than tradition…that advises students not to walk through the Campanile until graduation day. Those who choose not to heed this advice, “risk” not graduating at all. (In my mind, I equate it with dropping the “spirit stick,” like in the movie Bring It On.) If you know me, you know I wouldn’t dream of breaking tradition. While the landmark is one of my favorite places on the campus, I vowed to not pass through it until that special day. So, when it arrived, I was ecstatic. The opportunity to walk through its doors was symbolic in countless ways…a memory that I truly treasure. (I secretly relive the moment every time we visit the campus.)
The forecast called for yet another extraordinary, bright and sunshiny graduation day. (Newsflash: It’s also very humid in Lawrence, Kansas.) Thinking ahead, I decided to wear a red tank top and a pair of cut off jean shorts under my graduation gown. Not your typical graduation attire…oh well. I had a paper fish on the top of my cap (so that my grandmother could pick me out of the “sea of students” making their way down the hill.) I wore comfortable brown sandals as we walked in a procession according to major. (If I close my eyes, I’m practically there all over.) As you can imagine, a large university has an especially long ceremony. There were many, many speakers that day. We took our seats under the hot sun and fanned ourselves with the graduation handout. I remember thinking (again) that I would never experience anything like this. I looked for my family in the stands (futile with this many people around.) I smiled at my friends and remembered that the cute boy in my life at the time was sitting in the audience. And, of course, I couldn’t resist looking up at the sky.
Everything moved in slow motion. The audience’s applause were my only signal that one speaker had finished and/or another speaker was being introduced. They just kept going…probably offering up similar platitudes to the speech I gave way back in sixth grade. “Reach for the stars, believe in yourself, this isn’t the end…it’s only the beginning,” at least that’s what I imagine they said. Honestly, though, I have no idea. Another motivational speech in one ear and out the other. But what I do know for sure is that the sky was the best shade of blue that day. The breeze was satisfying in a way that you can only appreciate when you’re wearing the color black in the heat. Joy and relief abounded in every direction. And while most of my classmates could hardly sit still, I remember thinking that I wanted to stay there forever. I regret that I didn’t take more pictures back then…although I am grateful that we didn’t have the distraction of smartphones. And just like that, it was over. The speeches stopped and real life began again…a new chapter. I threw my cap (paper fish and all) high into the afternoon sky and never bothered to retrieve it. I congratulated the eight-year old girl inside of me for accomplishing her goal of graduating college and securing her “dream” job. And just like in the movies, I had a hard time leaving that day. There were several glances back over my shoulder. Last looks.
Fast forward all these years later and I now find myself attending these same type of events. I see students waiting (some anxiously, others joyfully,) parents reacting emotionally, spectators sitting impatiently, and speakers searching for new and interesting ways to connect with the audience…to say something worthwhile and meaningful. Maybe even something unforgettable. Having done some public speaking in my adult life, I feel a little guilty when someone approaches the podium. Guilty that I didn’t pay attention back then…knowing all too well how much work actually goes into preparing such a speech. Yet today I finally realize that maybe the graduation messages of my yesterdays were not actually lost on me. Perhaps, delivered in that moment was the exact message that I needed to hear after all. When the speaker took his/her place at the podium I was invited to sit, to pause, to reflect and to savor. It was an opportunity to take a deep breath and fully absorb the moment…each participant processing the occasion in their own unique way. Graduation and commencement, (often used interchangeably) in truth speak to two different ideas…one an ending and the other a beginning. And I can’t think of a better way to mark the importance of that moment than by fully taking in the present.
Listen to me; be silent, and I will teach you wisdom. Job 33:33