They arrived in flip flops, about a hundred friends and our petite but precious extended family.
Summer flirted and we liked it.
It all felt so familiar, like the smell of home. Here we were again at the place where we’ve made the dearest memories over the past decade of summers.
Big sister graduated here too. Three years ago but it seemed like yesterday. And it felt like déjà vu except it was real. And beautiful.
The colored paper lanterns hanging from the tall pine trees swayed gently contributing to the festive vibe.
The sidewalk was grafittied with celebratory greetings in chalk.
Down the hall, images of Lily’s story hung with clothespins on twine.
People sat together munching on finger foods talking and laughing, the music of friendship.
Then we invited them to join us in recounting the faithfulness of God in Lily’s life.
And with the exchange of a well earned diploma and these words, one chapter of her story ended and another began.
Lily, like other young adults on the cusp of forever, you wonder what it looks like to embrace God’s calling on your life.
You’ve glimpsed yourself in the mirror and seen a young woman shaped by mission, deeply influenced by the story of Lillian Trasher, your heroine of the faith, who served God in Egypt for over 50 years as an angel of mercy to orphans, widows and the blind.
You’ve assessed your competencies in math and science and your fascination with cells and the human body.
You’ve reflected on your relational style, an excellent match for kinesthetic caregiving.
And you’ve decided that the next step in your journey is to pursue nursing.
Dan Allender answers the question “What is my calling?” with these words,
“It is to make known something about God that is bound to my unique face, name and story.”
So tonight, your dad and I gift you with a first aid kit and bless you on your own unique journey of mercy. These tools of the trade represent more than their tangible application for acute care, they symbolize instruments to tend the deeper needs of hurting people.
And, truth is, we’re all hurting people.
Let’s consider a few items in the kit together:
The Kit comes with an Instruction book.
Know the book well enough that you don’t have to stop and search it every time something comes up. But never think of yourself as beyond instruction. Read the Bible often. And also learn to read the story that God is writing in your life; for that is instructive too.
Hand cleanser and gloves. These are for your own protection. But they assume that you are getting involved in the messiness of wounds. Caring involves wise risk taking.
Antiseptic ointment cleans wounds and kills germs to prevent infection. Applying salve requires a delicate balance of resolve and gentleness. Your patient may recoil or cry, “Ouch, that hurts!” And you will need to remember that stinging often precedes healing.
Care givers need Bandages of all shapes and sizes. As physical wounds are distinct and diverse, so are spiritual and emotional ones. Some are big; some are small. Some are in awkward places – private and deeply personal. Others need butterfly closures to minimize scarring. You’ll need God’s word, the Holy Spirit’s discernment, and a commitment to prayer to help you bandage those wounds, providing protection that promotes healing.
There is an appropriate role for pain relievers and we hope that you help relieve others’ pains. While pain meds may mask symptons, they are not cures. For the soul, “we want a cure, not a medication.” To hear the soul, we can’t just “numb the pain.” We need each other’s hurt and pain. “It’s not love any other way.”
Tissues. These are not in the kit, but you remember Louie’s illustration from Matthew 7:4 where Jesus talks about the log and the speck, and Louie illustrates with the chainsaw, sword and the tissue. Stock up on tissues, preferably the kind with lotion. To gift another with a most tender act of compassion is to not just to wipe away their tears that result from physical pain, but to share tissues and tears, for you to practice empathy by giving them a safe place to hurt, to expose the soul wounds that are oozing, to sit quietly with them in it and suffer too. And perhaps harder yet, is to learn to give yourself that same tenderness when your own contusions are seeping.
Over the course of a life, you just keep washing your hands and dirtying them up again with the next person God places on your path to serve. And therein, you become an extension of the hands of Christ to a wounded world full of broken, busted up people.
It’s not glam and ultimately you won’t be able to fix them or yourself. You’ll have to reconcile with that reality and content yourself with urgent care this side of heaven.
It’s not a winner’s story– this life in a fallen world.
When you love well and serve humbly, you’ll be broken too.
It will hurt.
And you will groan.
You will grapple with the mystery of this melancholy story you are living in.
You’ll wonder about the character of a God whose sovereignty allows so much chaos on a massive scale. You’ll get tired of looking at suffering and death, physically, emotionally and spiritually.
Satan will tempt you to despise your story and look for a prettier one, a cleaner one, a more Facebook worthy one. When he does, remember these words expressed as only Ann Voskamp can do.
“There’s a reason I am not writing the story of my life and God is. He knows how it all works out, where it all leads, what it all means. I don’t. So, I will let God blow His wind, His trials, oxygen for joy’s fire. I will leave the hand open and be. Be at peace. I will bend the knee and be small and let God give what God chooses to give because He only gives love. And, I will whisper a surprise thanks. This the fuel for joy’s flame.”
And there it is, the greatest tool you will ever add to your first aid kit.
It is gratitude.
It’s waking up every morning, no matter what your story was yesterday and reminding yourself of the truth.
This is the truth.
The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; His mercies never come to an end. They are new every morning. Great is your faithfulness. (Lamentations 3:22-23)
And so you get out of bed anticipating his fresh mercies, abundant for each new day.
And as you count your blessings, day after day, year after year, you find yourself a long way down life’s road a lot sooner that you expected and looking back through the rear view mirror your story is broken beautiful, and you wouldn’t trade it for a photo edited version because the real one looks a bit like Jesus who bloodied himself up cleaning the lacerations on your infected heart with His nail scarred hands.
And you realize that it’s actually your scars that make you beautiful.
And that is the essence of joy and foundation for hope.
So, on this night, Lily, your father and I bless you with these words from Romans 15:13
May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.
We prayed over Lily, then circled the room and took hands.
All of us.
A beautiful menagerie of people representing the creative color palette of God.
From Syria to Haiti and Ethiopia and China and Korea to Grand Rapids, Michigan.
Everybody with their own broken beautiful story connected to each other.
And God was right there in the middle of it.
So we sang a benediction acknowledging where all our stories ultimately start and end.
To the glory of God.
Great things He has done.