Four yesteryears ago, on a Sunday afternoon, sunny like today but 20 degrees warmer, two mamas and a handful of friends prepared hors d’oeuvres, decorated tables, hung photos like clothes on a line recording the 18 years of our girls’ stories. It was a labor of love and we wanted it to be perfect.
That day, we celebrated Angela, her best friend Mollie and the completion of their homeschool, high school education. Four parents, two mentors and about a hundred family and friends gathered together to bless them on to the next chapter of their stories. Our charge to the graduates proposed that the most beautiful life blossoms from an understanding of the value of embracing love, purity, gratitude, passion, friendship, rest and mystery.
I mused aloud about mystery with these words:
Mollie and Angela, today I present you with the purple rose of mystery because life if full of unanticipated delights, unexplainable rescues, undeserved graces, unfathomable losses and insolvable problems. And all of it is mystery.
Fredrick Buechner said, “God speaks to us… who knows what He will say to me today or to you today or into the midst of what kind of unlikely moment He will choose to say it. Not knowing is what makes today a holy mystery.”
Our knee jerk response to this mystery is insatiable curiosity because inquiring minds want to understand. So we ask “Why?”
Why do I have a family who loves me while innocent children die of AIDS in orphanages in Haiti?
Why is there pain in this life?
Why do I have to say goodbye to people I love?
And while God delights to hear His children ask those bare souled questions, the most important question we will ever ask about the mystery of life is not why but who?
Who’s got your back?
Who won’t ever leave you?
Who holds you close to His heart always?
Who knows how many hairs are on your head?
Who counts your tears and puts them in His bottle?
Who can you trust?
You can trust the One who had thorns pressed into His brow, nails pierced through His hands and feet and your name and my name written on his cracked lips.
You see, the mystery of life is less about solutions and more about a relationship- a relationship of trust between you and God. Because when you trust Him, you can open your hand to Him. You can embrace the mystery of a life that will unfold in ways you could never anticipate today—a mixture of beauty and tragedy. You can say of God like JJ Heller does in her song, “I don’t know what you’re doing, but I know who You are.”
Your life can tell that compelling story to a world looking for someone to trust.
My favorite author Ann Voskamp sums up the mystery of life with these words, “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 is the fuel for joy’s flame.”
So ladies, today we have gifted you with roses—an entire bouquet. These roses represent your lives and the potential in your future. You can be a fragrant and beautiful bouquet to this world.
You can live in bloom.
Love, purity, passion, gratitude, friendship, rest and mystery all intermingled, all embraced, as you hold tightly to the hand of God, is what will make your life a “sweet life for Jesus”.
With that colorful bunch of roses, we sent them out into the big world with our love, support and prayers entrusting them to the care of the God who is not bound by time or space.
And we went on living, forging new normals, siblings moving up the pecking order.
And the years unfolded one at a time as illusively as the breeze with surprises and graces, tragedies and losses, new people loving and influencing.
And our girl, her childhood dream of becoming a missionary evolved into an English degree and an apprenticeship in graphic design, and then a career and a trip to Africa and a calling to stateside partnership in kingdom work around the world.
And a love for Michigan and Pastor Louie’s sermons and her BHBC family morphed into residency in Illinois and a new esteem for icons and liturgy and prayer books.
And she bought a car and rented an apartment and grew up.
And here we are at another graduation ceremony. It’s the most expensive ticket we’ve ever bought. We’re spectators this time, watching it unfold from row 22. The first graduation was our season to shape and nurture, to foster and instill. The next one was influenced by professors and scholars, mentors and friends.
And as predicted, it has been mysterious, with twists and turns that could not have been imagined, surprises that hadn’t been anticipated.
And the words I spoke as I handed those two eighteen year old girls each a purple rose are as true today as they were four yesteryears ago.
It’s a beautiful gift to participate in God’s story writing from one generations to the next.
Despite of our weaknesses and in view of our strengths, we influence our children to pursue their goals and create their own unique signature on their story.
So today we celebrate our “biggest” girl, Angela, her educational accomplishments and excellence all intermingled with God’s faithfulness, and we entrust the next season of her story with all it’s mystery to the only One who already knows how it will be written.
That May day in 2013, her choir sang a Benediction.
May the Lord show his mercy upon you;
may the light of his presence be your guide.
May he guard you and uphold you;
may his spirit be ever by your side.
When you sleep may his angels watch over you;
when you wake may he fill you with his grace.
May you love him and serve him all your days;
then in heaven may you see his face.
I’m humming it reflectively again today because at the end of every day and every season, the Benediction remains unchanged, like the faithfulness of God abounding in fresh, new mercies for every step of her journey.