What I Would Have Said at Graduation

accomplishment ceremony education graduation
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

The weirdest thing happened senior year. I was chosen as a student speaker for graduation.

No no no, that’s not the weird part. I was in speech and plays and used to speaking in front of people, so that part made sense.

It got weird when I suddenly wasn’t on the speaking list anymore. (Which was sad, but honestly, also a bit of a relief.) But then graduation day came, and it got really weird.

At the ceremony, my principal lied about how they chose their three speakers. 

Why? I hadn’t asked him why I wasn’t speaking, and the decision had been made months in advance so I don’t think anybody else asked either. It was an elaborate explanation that–to this day–I don’t understand.

But every time graduation season rolls around, I remember and fume and scratch my head, still wondering what the heck happened there.*

And my poor husband is tired of hearing about it, so at his request, I give you what I would have said (remembering the themes I had considered before I was cut and doing my best to channel 18-year-old Michelle who was a very different person from 30-something Michelle).

1. Don’t let these be the best years of your life.

We will never have more freedom than we do at this moment, being sent out into the world with no strings or encumbrances. Most of us probably lack money and will have to go to school or work or the military, but beyond those obligations, that time is ours, just like it’s been in high school.

We’ve had the freedom to pursue interests or go to parties. To stay up late with few consequences and go wherever our cars would take us. I’ve learned that Perkins is way more exciting after opening night of a play or post-prom than it is any other time of day.

We have spent our lives thus far able to focus on discovering who we are and what we like doing, whether it’s band or football or drama or watching the clouds roll by. We have made friendships and learned how to navigate the way they change–sometimes gracefully, sometimes not.

There have been high highs and low lows, and for many of us, it’s been a great ride.

But. I worry that there are too many songs and storylines out there that look back on high school with immense longing, calling these “the best years of my life.” Friends, the average life expectancy in this country is close to 80. Can we really afford to peak sixty years early?

I hope that as we scatter from these place, the memories will remain warm and happy, but if they aren’t eclipsed by brighter ones, we have done ourselves (and society) a disservice. We were made for more than high school glory.

In that vein, I have two pieces of advice. The first one brings us to my second point:

woman in orange academic dress
Photo by Feedyourvision on Pexels.com

 

2. Don’t chase unicorns.

We hear parents say all the time that they want their kids to be happy. They aren’t looking for their kids to become president or start the next Amazon; they just want them to be happy.

It’s a nice sentiment. But.

Happiness is like a unicorn. Happiness is an emotion; it’s fleeting in nature, such that when the candy or coffee or drug or Instagram or whatever spiked the pleasure centers in your brain is gone, so is that feeling.

Parents say that they just want their kids to be happy, but really, they want their kids to be content. But contentment is not as pretty as a unicorn; contentment is like a mule that plods along day by day, doing the work required of it, work that matters to you and to society, work that is needful and important, and you can do it well.

That mule-level contentment can mean finding in a person to love in good times and bad and building a life together, working together to invest in the community around you and in the next generation–through your own children or other people’s children for the sake of the future.

Now, this doesn’t always look like fun. Sometimes, mule life is full of frustrating co-workers or not knowing the next right step. Mules struggle with babies who won’t sleep at night or spouses who never pick up their socks, no matter how many times you’ve asked.

And sometimes mule life is so much harder. Failing. Admitting serious wrong against someone, or worse, being caught in that wrong. Working for a terrible boss. Losing a job. Losing someone close to you. Losing a baby. And then having to pick yourself back up and do whatever it is in front of you.

It’s not flashy, but over time, the mule life, one of consistent effort and commitment, leads to contentment and a body of experiences to proudly call your life.

Be useful and become content. Because the unicorn chasers out there will die searching, and mule life is full of bursts of happiness all along the way, the bright and shiny top-of-the-mountain moments that come from the days and weeks and years of faithful plodding.

And now, we arrive at our third and final point.

achievement cap celebration ceremony
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

3. Look up.

This might be 31-year-old Michelle talking to a large extent, because 18-year-old Michelle did not know about the coming wave of smartphones that would radically alter how we interact with each other and the world.

You see, it is easy while living the mule life to keep your eyes on the ground as you plod along. And in this day and age, it is easy to keep your eyes glued to a screen rather than your shoes.

It is easy because this world is noisy–and has only gotten noisier since I graduated. Advertisers know that we can’t resist screens

In the noise are millions of voices selling millions of products aimed at fixing some problem you have, real or perceived. Even if they’re not selling you an actual product, they’re selling you on the idea that they have something you don’t have that you want, whether it’s influence or a perfect body or enough money to travel the world.

Chasing this noise is the same as chasing that unicorn. But if we look up from our shoes our own phones, we will see people. Real people. And when we look at real people, we can find real joy in being with them–singing and laughing and sharing stories–or in serving them and making the world a better place, which is worth more than any product any influencer can peddle.

So go out into the world, head up and ready to work hard. Build great things and let your best days be ahead of you. Good luck, class of 2005.

 

*Me not speaking may have had something to do with a senior prank involving some pigs. All I can say is that I was not involved. I may have mentioned in conversation where you could get feeder pigs but had NO IDEA ANYBODY WOULD ACTUALLY ACT UPON IT. And also, they never actually got into the school, okay? No harm, no foul, amiright?

My Sister, Gladys

white concrete houses
Photo by James Wheeler on Pexels.com

I didn’t grow up having a sister. My brother is great (and I can say that now that we’re grownups!), but there’s something about watching sisters that has always made my heart yearn. You can see their shorthand–in language or facial expression–that ends in a knowing giggle, even though no one else understands the joke.

But God did not make a mistake or withhold a good gift from me by not giving me a blood sister:

But he replied to the man who told him, “Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?” And stretching out his hand toward his disciples, he said, Here are my mother and my brothersFor whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.” (Matthew 12:48-50, emphasis mine)

To all who received him, to those who believe in his name, he gave the right to become children of God — children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God. (John 1:12-13, emphasis mine)

If all believers are children of God, then ALL believers are my brothers and sisters. I have more sisters than I could possibly know in the short time I have on this planet!

This also means that I have sisters who have already gone on before me. They lived lives of faithfulness and little-by-little sanctification–and luckily for us, some of them wrote about their lives or were written about.

20b2f3e6-8801-4370-9264-31edfaee0b87

Gladys Aylward is one of my sisters. She had a burning heart for China and worked tirelessly to get there to do missionary work–even after she flunked out of Bible/missionary school.

My sister Gladys prayed in a moment of trouble and saw God’s certain and providential answer–in that very moment and throughout her life in less immediate but still impactful ways. Her example reminds me to pray without ceasing.

My sister Gladys showed me what obedience looks like when it feels pointless and stupid–and that God readies the obedient for his purposes.

My sister Gladys reminded me to sing hymns during tough times. And since my tough times are infinitely easier than leading a hundred children over a war-infested mountain, surely I can find the gumption to sing.

My sister Gladys taught me that God uses unlikely people and equips them where he calls them.

My sister Gladys is a sober reminder that God calls many of his people to hard circumstances I can’t even fathom–and that I should be praying for my sisters and brothers around the world in those situations.

It was so sweet to share this story with my children. To ask at every turn, “Guys, was this a coincidence that everything just happened to line up exactly to provide for Gladys’s need in this moment?”

“Nooooooooooooo,” came their resounding voices. My sister Gladys is helping to disciple my children, giving them a picture of the Lord’s continual provision for his people, even though she’s not here anymore. Praise God!

Book Review: How to Manage Your Home Without Losing Your Mind

person using mop on floor
Photo by rawpixel.com on Pexels.com

Do you ever feel like an idea is chasing you? Like when you buy a new car and suddenly see that make and model everywhere?

I’m being hit over and over again by the idea of assigning tasks to days of the week.

I read a post somewhere about Ma Ingalls and her ditty about “Wash on Monday, Iron on Tuesday…” and so forth. Then, I saw a headline about a writer who assigns different writing tasks to different days of the week.

And I just finished How to Manage Your Home Without Losing Your Mind by Dana White of the blog A Slob Comes Clean. She has a laundry day and other habits that help her keep her home, despite still being a slob at heart (and she’s funny to boot).

HowToManageCover_CVR-683x1024

(Page numbers not included in quotes because I read it as an ebook.)

Here’s the thing: as a project lover, I like to finish stuff. I like to work hard and then step away, living the rest of my life with the memory of how awesome I was in that moment.       Of the amazing results of my hard work.
I like to finish and move on.
Not much sticks in my craw like redoing something I did right the first time.

Here’s what I had to accept: Cleaning my house is not a project. It’s a series of boring, mundane, repetitive tasks. The people whose homes are clean all the time do these boring, mundane, repetitive tasks. (emphasis mine)

I still struggle to accept that I’m going to be doing housework until the day that I die. It doesn’t matter if I have little kids or big kids or grown kids–unless our financial fortunes change so drastically that I can afford a full-time, live-in maid in good conscious, then I need to put on my big girl panties and just do the daily work of keeping house–rather than wait for it to become a “project.”

Weeks into my deslobification process, I was learning that habits were the way to go. Habits were making a much bigger impact than I ever thought possible.
So I kept going. I added a new habit once the last one started to feel natural. Not easy, but natural.

Now I think of these things as pre-made decisions. This perspective works for me.
I don’t get to decide if certain things need to be done. I know for a fact they do. Just like I don’t get to decide the sky is blue.

I’ve written before about being an obliger. We’re taking May off of school, so that will be the perfect time to sit down and write out a plan–and then finding someway to oblige myself to stick to it.

Now, Monday is my laundry day. I start on Sunday night and end on Tuesday morning. I don’t have to think about laundry the rest of the week! I fold and sort right from the dryer and I put tons of stuff straight from the dryer to the donate bag! I can see a difference and more importantly, I found a system that is not overwhelming.

That’s actually a reader quote from the end of a chapter, but it sums up the whole “laundry in a day” concept so nicely. I’ve done this off and on for several months and when I actually buckle down and ensure I switch the loads and do all the folding, it’s magical. Definitely keeping it.

Here’s the author’s “ah-ha” moment about space after trying to fit fifteen-feet worth of cookbooks into a three-foot shelf (or some similar measure):

Soon after this space-in-my-home-doesn’t-expand-to-fit-all-the-stuff-I-want realization, I grasped that the root work of container is contain.
Like that shelf, containers are limits.

Not a radical concept, but the language was really helpful to me–especially for future purchases–in a way that “everything has a home” wasn’t quite sufficient.

And I realized something: I had established routines by not establishing routines. When I asked my family to do something I hadn’t been doing myself, they were confused. Things worked a certain way in our home. I twas the complete opposite of how I wanted things to work, but it was all my kids knew.
Once I established routines for myself, my family could jump into those routines because the routines existed.

This is a link I think I’ve been missing. I desperately want to teach my kids to learn how to care for a home so that they’ll be ready to leave the nest…but in wanting them to learn, I’ve waited for them to be “ready” before really establishing cleaning routines.

But if this is the year that I ATTEND to my family, maybe I pull on my oxygen mask first: figure out how to keep the house myself (with the kids still doing the chores they already do, like the dishwasher, a daily pickup, and the dreaded cleaning of their room) and then invite them in.

This easy, breezy read was encouraging and helpful–and I so look forward to putting many of Dana’s ideas into practice for my own (albeit not as dramatic) deslobification process.

What have you been reading lately? I’d love to hear!

 

Laying a Foundation of Security

“Mom, my friend asked me what’s going to happen to our house when you get divorced,” my oldest asked me in a whisper as the other kids ran past us from the backyard to the playroom.

Matt and I are not getting divorced. We are never getting divorced. We do not even use that word when joking or fighting. It’s off the table.

(And marriage has, praise God, always felt pretty easy for us, though I know not everyone is so fortunate and there are circumstances that require separation and/or divorce.)

But the little friend saw our bedroom door open and the his-and-her laundry scattered around, visible signs that two parents sleep there.

Unlike at her house.

It’s natural for children to project their life experiences onto others. I assumed everybody knew how to milk a cow and that every dad drank Mountain Dew for the longest time. This little friend was simply wondering how things would look for my daughter: would we still live nearby? Who would stay, who would go?

More than just projecting, kids want to share their experiences with others. It would probably be cathartic for this young girl to have a friend to relate to.

But I told my child, “Remember, we’ve talked about this. Papa and I said divorce wasn’t an option from the beginning. We are never going to leave each other or you.”

(Again, I recognize that some extenuating circumstances arise and change the calculus for many couples.)

I watched the tension drain from her face and shoulders, replaced only by what I can describe as a sense of security–and I got to see it light up her features again later in the week.

Since buying my PowerSheets for Christmas, I’ve listened to a lot of audio from their founder, Lara Casey. I listened to one of her audiobooks and have listened to several of her podcasts.

I will admit, she repeats herself a bit. She uses the same stories and themes, whether her garden or her Grandpa’s Bible that’s now hers, and so on. But these play like a CD player on loop because they have shaped her. So when we were driving home the other day, we took a minute to go two blocks further and drive down our old street.

Murray was the best landlord. The girls mostly remember their bedroom and that Murray bought them a Frozen Jeep that they drove up and down the massive driveway, blasting “Let It Go” all along the way.

“Do you know why Murray gave you that Jeep?” I asked. They didn’t know.

And so I got to add a layer of meaning to their memory of that house and that tiny apartment over the garage, the one we called our treehouse because every window gave us a view of greenery.

“Murray found out he had liver cancer. Shortly after that, he asked if he could give you kids a big gift. He had worked for money his whole life and wanted to use it well before the end. He wanted to share what he’d been given–and he wanted to share it with people he loved, like you.”

There is security in knowing who you are and where you come from. But more than these, I will spend my years, day by day, telling my children of the God who loved His own so deeply that He sent Jesus to buy them back.

Murray was great and a happy, healthy home is greater–but nothing compares to the security that comes from the all-consuming, neverending love of Christ.

Peter vs. John: Comparison

action-athlete-athletics-618612
Photo by Snapwire on Pexels.com

The Bible isn’t known for being a comedy…because it isn’t. But sometimes a little humor sneaks in there, like this:

So Peter and the other disciple started for the tomb. Both were running, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. (John 20:3-4)

Commentaries expound on the significance of this moment, that it’s actually an important thing that shows that neither of them entered the tomb alone, etc. But at first blush, it just comes across as humorous, right?

“We were both running to the tomb–I got there first–and then we went in.”

We know that the disciples weren’t perfect, that they sinned and struggled just like we do. And since comparison is a major struggle today, I’m guessing it always has been, even if this particular passage has a further point. But in finishing our church ladies’ study of John last night, we see Peter outright comparing himself to John after learning that Peter’s own death will be terrifying:

Peter turned and saw that the disciple whom Jesus loved was following them…When Peter saw him, he asked, “Lord, what about him?” (John 21:20a, 21)

I love Peter. So much. Over and over, he does the wrong thing or doesn’t understand or charges in where he shouldn’t–but the Lord never gives up on Peter. Even here, when Peter doesn’t like his lot and compares it to another, Jesus basically just says, “Mind your business. I gave you a job; go do it” (my own paraphrase of John 21:22).

John is promised a long life with ample comfort and time to write books, while Peter is promised suffering. Both are good and both glorify God–but these men can’t have both things.

And neither can you or I. Sometimes, I look at other people’s lives and want the ease I see there: family around to help, job security, clear and visible calling. Other times, I read a touching tale of someone clinging to Christ in great trial, and I long for what they have or despair that I’m too weak-willed to walk the road they’ve been given.

This is useless, fruitless, and deadly. If I am looking to the path of another, I am not looking to my own–and then I become useless and fruitless. But God anticipated this and reminds us over and over and over to look to our own:

  • The tenth commandment tells us not to covet possessions, but wouldn’t this extend to the work and lives we’ve been given? (Exodus 20:17)
  • Jesus tells the parable of the workers in the field who receive the same wages for different work–what kindness! (Matthew 20:1-16)
  • Paul instructs the Thessalonians to live quietly and mind their own affairs (1 Thessalonians 4:11)
  • Paul uses the example of a body to explain to the Corinthians that are different roles within the Body and that it suffers without people doing their part (1 Corinthians 12:15-16)
  • Hebrews 11 offers an extensive list of faithful men and women–and they made that list by acting in faith where God had put them

There’s plenty more examples, I’m sure.

Peter, John, and all of the disciples had to rise above their desire for comparison in order to be useful. We need to do the same. need to do the same.

My friends’ struggles and victories can encourage me to run the race before me only if my heart is rightly praising God for His work in and through them–not when I’m trying to insert myself into their (or any other) narrative.