It's been nearly seven years now. The graduations I have been to recently bring it all back...What seems like yesterday has been far longer than I think. Wasn't it a mere few days or weeks ago that I, too, walked across the stage? Has time passed me so quickly? As I marvel at the rapid fleeting of the years, I look back and reflect on what that aspiring graduate was like:
That June afternoon, as she spoke to her classmates and those in attendance, she talked of honoring God. She spoke of how her education had taught her to love Him. She quoted one of her favorite writers, John Milton, in that one's learning was to fit him for "repairing the ruins." But did she realize that her own soul was beginning to crumble? Did she know that she would soon need a restorer of her own? She also quoted hymn-writing preacher, John Newton. In doing so, she echoed his desire that God would continue to teach her in all areas of life. How little she realized that that she would have her hardest lessons still in front of her! Within a matter of weeks, she would find herself in a hospital room, staring at her father's weakened body as he lay feverishly struggling to survive. And she would feel as though life had cheated her. She would believe the graduation well-wishes had run empty. She would begin to think that God had nothing to impart to her except pain...more pain...and more pain.
As time wore on, she wasn't sure that she loved Him anymore. Even worse, she began to believe He might feel the same. As her classmates went on to nursing, biblical theology, and political science careers; as they made friends on their campuses; as one even traveled to Egypt - instead, she sat in doctors' offices; she tied her father's shoes because he was too weak to do so himself. She didn't wish for the college life necessarily, but she did beg God to change the one she had now. She questioned Him constantly. What had gone so wrong between the grad who looked forward to a future full of success and the hurting teen who only wished to escape? Where had the love gone? She now saw her own words turn prophetic: there were ruins to repair, but these were her own. There was much she had to learn but not the things she wanted.
Years would pass before she finally understood. A day would come when she would start to accept her life-story. She would begin to embrace, not to fight. Seven years later, she stands in amazement at how far God has brought her. The promise of ruins being repaired, of waste places being restored, has come true in her life. The hard lessons have been applied. Now, she finds herself blessed with a reward far greater than any diploma: sharing her journey with others and giving them hope. She is becoming God's hands to them. She is able to help repair their ruins, having once stared in silence at her own.
Now, as I attend one graduation after another, I think about this girl often. I can think of so many things I want to tell her. If I could speak to others like her, I wouldn't talk about "believing in yourself" - I would say that learning to trust yourself less is one key to greatness...because that is where one experiences God: at the end of themselves and at the beginning of Him. I would speak less about success and more about failure...for those who truly succeed are the ones who have learned to get up when life knocked them down. Perhaps, in our desire to wish our young people well, we do them a disservice regarding what life is really about. How many of them probably sit there on their big day, sporting cap and gown, oblivious to a life-changing crisis that awaits them! It happened to me and, later, to some of my friends.
This is where the wisdom of experience comes - that those who are down the road can turn back and tell the youth: those who endure are the ones who make a life; those who learn to die to their own ambitions for the sake of others receive God's blessing; those who know what it's like to lose become grateful for what they have. Only the people who walk this road and, by God's grace, persevere can truly change and influence a lost and hurting world.
Seven years time makes a difference. I can only begin to imagine what valuable things I will gain in another seven...and another...and another...until I look back on an entire lifetime of watching God teach. Of seeing Him rebuild.