Taking the Next Step: A Graduation Address

I had one of the most unexpected honors of my life this past Friday night, as I was invited to speak at my son's high school graduation ceremony.  It wasn't something I had imagined happening, the senior class voting for a mom to give the graduation address, but I loved every minute of it.  It not only helped me hold myself together and keep the crying to a minimum, it caused me to reflect deeply, not just on what my house is losing by seeing my son launch into his future, but also what he's gaining.

I know many of my readers are in similar stages of life, with transition and change and letting go defining the season.  So, if that's you today, I pray these words are a blessing.

It’s an honor to be speaking at my son’s graduation because (1) I've loved getting to know you all these past couple of years, even feeding most of you at one time or another, and I’m a big fan of this graduation class, and (2) Brandt von Atzigen has political aspirations, and if I do well enough here, maybe he’ll let me speak at his inauguration someday.  So, let's consider this my audition, and you guys help me out here.
When I first received the invitation to speak tonight, my first thought, like any parent, was, "What an honor!"
And my second thought, also like any parent, was, "What embarrassing story can I tell on my boy?"
And let me tell you, the list was long.  But, still in hopes of speaking at that inauguration someday, I've chosen a story that's not embarrassing, but rather helpful for us this evening.  However, feel free to find me at the punch and cookies table if you want the full list of embarrassing stories.
When Brandt was about five years old, he was playing outside and he came running in yelling, “Mom! Mom!  You’ll never believe it!”  And I said, “Ok.  What?”  And that’s when he looked at me and said, “It’s amazing, Mom.  I…can read….my own mind.”
I was still trying to absorb the significance of this information when he said, “Watch……..do you know what I was thinking?”  And I said, “no.”
And he said, “I do!”
And with 20 graduates in the room, you’re probably in various stages of relatability to that 5-year-old Brandt.  Some of you are thinking you know your own mind really well and you know where you’re headed and what you’re going to do with your life. 
And then some of you are thinking, not only do I not know my own mind, I’m not sure I have one anymore.  I think a few of these teachers wiped it out, I’m just glad I made it this far, but I have no idea what’s coming next in my life.
And it doesn’t really matter today which group you’re in.  Because I have good news and bad news that applies to both of you.  Let’s do the bad news first.
Whether you have a plan or not, your plans will rarely go as you planned in your life.  I know that because my plan was to marry Jordan Knight from New Kids on the Block, and let me just tell you, sometimes the Lord surprises you with something way better than what you're dreaming of.  And my husband says, "Amen," tonight! 
But, unless you’re like the two-year-old that visited our house last week, your plans may not go like you think they will.  Brandt asked her what she wanted to be when she grew up, and she said, “I want to eat sausage.”  Now, if that’s your life goal, I bet you can pull that off.
But, when it comes to your dreams and finding your purpose, those things are usually accomplished in much more of a winding, weaving pattern than a straight line.  There will be obstacles in the path that you didn’t plan on.  There will be some detours, and some backtracking, and some finding of brand new on-ramps.
But, here’s the good news for all of you.  Whether you have a plan or you don’t, God has one.  And it’s a good one.  And we have a promise of that in the Word of God, so let’s look at that together.
Psalm 139 – The Passion Translation
1 Lord, you know everything there is to know about me. You perceive every movement of my heart and soul, and you understand my every thought before it even enters my mind. 3–4 You are so intimately aware of me, Lord. You read my heart like an open book and you know all the words I’m about to speak before I even start a sentence!

Did you catch that?  God knows your mind better than 5-year-old Brandt knew his own mind.  He knows what you’re going to think before you think it!
You know every step I will take before my journey even begins. 5 You’ve gone into my future to prepare the way, and in kindness you follow behind me to spare me from the harm of my past. With your hand of love upon my life, you impart a blessing to me.
This is probably the best news you’ll hear today.  God has been preparing your future and his heart is full of love and kindness for you.  He wants you to succeed in life more than your parents do, which is saying a lot, isn’t it, parents?  He is working things for your good, and like it says in Jeremiah 29, to give you a hope and a future.

6 This is just too wonderful, deep, and incomprehensible! Your understanding of me brings me wonder and strength. 7 Where could I go from your Spirit? Where could I run and hide from your face? 8 If I go up to heaven, you’re there! If I go down to the realm of the dead, you’re there too! 9 If I fly with wings into the shining dawn, you’re there! If I fly into the radiant sunset, you’re there waiting! 10 Wherever I go, your hand will guide me; your strength will empower me. 11 It’s impossible to disappear from you or to ask the darkness to hide me, for your presence is everywhere, bringing light into my night. 12 There is no such thing as darkness with you. The night, to you, is as bright as the day; there’s no difference between the two.
And in these verses, we start to get down to the core of what it is that brings us fear or anxiousness when we come to these places of transition in life, like the one you’re standing at today.  See, there’s a reason that right alongside the excitement that you’re feeling today, you’re also feeling a bit of terror.  Because you are at the greatest point of change you’ve ever experienced in life to this point.  And in seasons of great change, you leave behind what is familiar and comfortable and you launch out into the unknown.  And there’s no one on earth that can take that step without having to wrestle with it.
But, this is the rest of the best news you’ll hear today.  You don’t do that alone.  Look around you---look behind you at the people who came to celebrate you today.  They love you and they care about you.  And your relationship with them is in the process of changing and growing and maturing, as you step into making decisions more independently, but they are still there for you.  There to give you wisdom and counsel and a hot meal when you can’t take the college cafeteria food one more time.  They’re there to pray for you and cheer you on.
And it’s true they won’t be with you as much as they used to.  But, you still won’t be going out alone.  These verses hold a promise.  There is no where you can go that the God who formed you in your mother’s womb won’t go with you.  He will go with you because you will be going IN him.  He can’t separate Himself from Himself.  And if you’ve trusted your life to the Lordship of Jesus Christ, you are wrapped IN him.  And there is no darkness on the face of the earth or below it that can separate you from Him.
Let that sink in as I read the next few verses.
13 You formed my innermost being, shaping my delicate inside and my intricate outside, and wove them all together in my mother’s womb. 14 I thank you, God, for making me so mysteriously complex! Everything you do is marvelously breathtaking. It simply amazes me to think about it! How thoroughly you know me, Lord! 15 You even formed every bone in my body when you created me in the secret place, carefully, skillfully shaping me from nothing to something. 16 You saw who you created me to be before I became me! Before I’d ever seen the light of day, the number of days you planned for me were already recorded in your book. 17–18 Every single moment you are thinking of me! How precious and wonderful to consider that you cherish me constantly in your every thought! O God, your desires toward me are more than the grains of sand on every shore! When I awake each morning, you’re still with me.
And here, in the heart of these verses, is another platform of confidence for you to stand upon.  Because Your God, the one who formed you, knows all of your uniqueness.  He knows what makes you tick, what inspires you, what gives you joy, what causes you pain.  He knows what will satisfy you most. 
And His plan for you is as unique as He made you.  He has a calling on your life that is specific to YOU.  Those beautiful graduation gowns you’re wearing today are one size fits all, but that’s not how God sees you.  Nothing about how He is designing your future is one size fits all, it’s specific and tailored for you.  Which means it’s better than anyone else’s plan for your life, even the one you may have in your own mind today.
And I can guarantee there will be things and there will be people that will try to rise up against God’s plan in your life.  It might even be your own heart that tries to go its own way.  We see that in the next few verses that seem to come out of nowhere in this Psalm…
19 O God, come and slay these bloodthirsty, murderous men! For I cry out, “Depart from me, you wicked ones!” 20 See how they blaspheme your sacred name and lift up themselves against you, but all in vain! 21 Lord, can’t you see how I despise those who despise you? For I grieve when I see them rise up against you. 22 I have nothing but complete hatred and disgust for them. Your enemies shall be my enemies!
Those are strong words, but they describe the kind of zeal we have to have to protect our relationship with the Lord.  Because there will be things that will rise up against the Lord’s place in your heart.  They will try to steal your affection away from Him, they will try to distract you from listening to His voice, and they will even lie to you and tell you He’s not good and that He doesn’t have good things stored up in His heart for you.
And I want to encourage you that when those moments and those thoughts come, allow yourself to be grieved by them, like David says here.  Don’t entertain the enemies of God in your heart.  Don’t give them a place to set up a home in you.  Do what David does in verse 23…

23 God, I invite your searching gaze into my heart. Examine me through and through; find out everything that may be hidden within me. Put me to the test and sift through all my anxious cares. 24 See if there is any path of pain I’m walking on, and lead me back to your glorious, everlasting ways—the path that brings me back to you.
I can’t promise you a lot today.  Because I don’t know the journey you’re on and I don’t know all the winding it’s going to take over your lifetime.  But, I can promise you this one thing.  The path that brings you to Him.  The path that leads you to His presence.  It’s the only one you want to be on.  Because it’s the only one that brings life.  It’s the only one that leads to a future of hope that is not only for this lifetime, but for eternity.
And it’s good.
May the Lord bless you as you take the next step on that path.  May His face shine upon you and give you peace.  May He lead you in the way everlasting.  And may you bring a world that needs Him along with you.
Mindy von Atzigen