Today was graduation for our students at Lancaster Bible College. While I could skip ironing all that regalia at the end of every semester, one of the blessings of being a faculty member is getting to share in this special day with students who have worked so hard for it. Today, I saw a student get the award for a graduate showing all-around excellent improvement. I was proud beyond words of her. Really, I was; the preceding sentence is quite possibly one of the most boring ever written on my blog because I can’t think of how to say how proud I was. This morning, I was thinking about her in my English class her first semester — so much frustration, so many doubts about her ability, and, to her credit, so much hard work. She kept pressing on, and today she walked across that stage. The teachable spirit that got her through that English class has only continued to deepen and mature; some ministry better snatch her up because I promise she’ll be one of the best hires they ever make.
Wiping tears away was also part of the afternoon. We were blessed to have Wes Stafford, President of Compassion International, as our commencement speaker for the afternoon. He literally oozes passion for the mission of rescuing children from poverty. And, he’s a great speaker as well. At the end of graduation, LBC gave him an honorary doctorate of divinity and surprised him by announcing the initiation of The Wesley K. Stafford Leadership Development Scholarship. One of the beautiful pieces of Compassion’s work is how they take promising sponsored students and help them obtain further training in a post-high school environment. I’ve been able to hear a couple of these students who have gone on to receive Masters Degrees speak, and my jaw drops when I hear their passion to take their educations and to help their native countries. The scholarship announced today will provide the opportunity for some of those students to receive a PhD in Leadership from LBC to further enable their leadership efforts around the world.
I was sitting on the stage where I had a direct line of sight to Dr. Stafford as the scholarship was announced, and his immediate and spontaneous reaction to the announcement brought tears to my eyes. His hand flew to his mouth as he choked back tears. I honestly think if we’d offered him a three million dollar beach house that his reaction wouldn’t have been nearly as overwhelmed or joyful. What a beautiful illustration to our graduates that when you stay the course and give your life to others, you will find joy indescribable at seeing those you serve be blessed. I hope the picture of Dr. Stafford receiving that news stays with me for a long time.
The day was also a little surreal for me since this year is my own 10 year anniversary of graduating from college. I stood in the lobby all decked out in my regalia talking to one of my colleagues who was formerly one of my hero professors. I watched students who I knew as freshmen graduate with master’s degrees. I reflected on being chair of a department with members who were some of my professors of old. How can time fly and crawl at the same time?
And, so, while I couldn’t hold a candle to Dr. Stafford’s commencement address, I did reflect on what I would tell graduates today now that I have 10 years of miles and minutes between me and walking across that stage.
First, don’t panic that you don’t have all your plans in place. This doesn’t give you free license to retreat to your parent’s basement (though I did for a year, and I think I turned out ok). The reality of the matter is that you can’t anticipate what life is going to hold in the next 10 or even 5 years for you. Weeks before I walked, I said in jest to the LBC dean at the time that he should look for my resume in a few years, and I wound up sending in that resume and getting hired. But, I never anticipated being chair, never anticipated being single still, never anticipated buying a house on my own, and never anticipated the journey of this summer when I will start looking at PhD programs not in the English field. Graduates, if you adopt one plan and doggedly pursue it without staying open to what else God may layer in, you will miss many blessings and opportunities for growth.
Second, you’ve already made your decision to follow Christ. I’d be unfair to you, graduates, if I told you that the next ten years will be easy. You’ll be starting families, new jobs, and in some cases uprooting your lives here to live in completely different cultures. If the statistics and my own observations of my graduating class hold true, some of you may face unchosen singleness, infertility, the lost of a child, or the illness of a spouse. Because you are young, these events will strike you as odd and ill-timed. As you serve and serve alongside people, there is incredible opportunity for mutual blessing, but at the same time, you are opening yourself willingly for some of those people to cause the deepest hurt. Some of them will be ungrateful, will squander the training you’ve poured into them. Some of those you serve will lose heart and lose faith and because you care about them, you will have pieces of your own heart break as you watch this happen. And, unfortunately, there may be a morning when you wake up and ask yourself if it’s really worth it. Do you really want to live another day for Christ? Or, you may walk the floorboards at night and ask yourself why you shouldn’t just storm off to find your own way, to make your own path by cutting a few corners or sidestepping a few of the values that you’ve held to that point. I pray in those moments that you redirect your decision, that you understand that you’ve already made your decision to dedicate your life to Christ. In those dark moments, you need only to decide whether you are going to do that one more day. And, you can do that. You can keep doing that one day at a time as you walk through the trial. And, I pray for you that the intimate times with God and the blessing sprinkled amidst the trials will hold you steady and will cause you to remember that if you would run, there is no destination where you’d rather be.
Finally, since you will be navigating new territory, often without much of a map and often with much at stake, surround yourselves with good people. Don’t walk this road alone. Find married couples who’ve walked the road before you who will invite you into their homes to learn by observation. Find someone who you can walk with everyday who will listen to your heart. Find someone who shares your passions and can stir you to greater commitment to them on a regular basis, and find someone who is different from you so they challenge you to continue to see the world in new ways. In the 10 years since I’ve left college, these people in my life have been lifelines. They have reminded me to breathe, to have fun, to continue to serve. They have modeled marriage and parenthood in the way that I hope someday to be able to live it out. They have been there to take slow, limping steps beside me in the moments when my heart has been broken or I have faced times of doubt. It’s foolish to think the you’re too busy to find time to build these key relationships. Wherever your path goes next, be intentional to seek out this people and be fervent in prayer that God will bring them into your life.
And, finally, don’t forget where you are launching from. Many of you have wonderful families and a group of faculty watched you graduate today. We collectively know your passions; we’ve heard of the formative decisions that you’ve made, know your character strengths and your weaknesses. So, sometime, ask us to meet you for coffee. More than likely, we’ll know that you’re still living on a shoestring, so we’ll pick up the tab. And, we can remind you of the day when you had big dreams; we can help you navigate tough waters, and we are humbled to both rejoice and mourn with you as you stretch in new ways. You do our hearts good when you continue to share with us how you are students, of God’s word, of the world.