I’m a small group leader for the youth group, and we are about to start this series of talks called “I Wish I’d Known.” Basically, some of the small group leaders are going to spend 15 minutes each over several weeks giving a talk to the big group about what they wish they’d have known when they were in high school. I am presenting on February 19, so I’ve been spending a whole lot of time thinking about this topic in preparation.
And honestly, that is impossible. First of all, I wish I had known like everything. I wish I had known I’d get the best husband ever so I could just calm down about that. I mean, seriously, I could give a whole talk to teenagers about dating relationships (couldn’t we all?). I wish I’d known that my hair would end up being controllable. I wish I had enjoyed the lack of effort required at the time to keep myself in shape. I wish I’d known that cheerleading wasn’t everything. I wish I’d known that people are always difficult, and they’re always going to disappoint you, and that doesn’t change the fact that you love them anyway and pray for them anyway and like them anyway. I wish I’d known that some of those things that I hated about myself were actually blessed gifts if I’d use them with God instead of Satan’s twisted methods. I wish I’d known that I’d find the absolutely perfect career and never change my mind once. I wish I’d known I would, in fact, get to stay home with my babies in the midst of that career. I wish I’d known how to budget better then.
And then second of all, I wouldn’t change ANY of that, so I don’t really wish I’d known anything in particular back then. I wouldn’t trade a bit of it. The choices I made were based in what I understood of myself and God at the time, and God blessed me immensely in my obedience and taught me endlessly amazing lessons in my disobedience. Not that I recommend disobeying God, but he truly does work all things for good.
And that’s what I’m going to talk about: He works all things for good. He really, actually, truly does. And I wish I’d have known that at 16.
At 15, as I’ve mentioned before on this blog, my family went through a very difficult period in which I felt alone and ostracized from my church “family.” I was disgusted at the behavior of many people who I’d previously respected as strong Christians. I was hardened, sad, and lonely. And a little jaded. I didn’t do anything wrong – why was I being treated like a leper? This was NOT what God called Christians to act like – including those church leaders who were treating my family the way they were (and those same church leaders who had taught me for 2 years before that about how God calls us to love each other with grace). I was realizing for the first time just how messed up God’s church is, and it jaded me. The true magic, though, is that God kept me with him. I never wanted to stray from him. I never felt like he suddenly wasn’t real. It’s a miracle, honestly. I was angry and upset and unforgiving and not really Christ-like, but I still desired and believed in Jesus.
My family moved that year, and my dad took a new church job in Alton, Illinois. I should mention that I grew up completely in the south, and Illinois was total and complete culture shock. I did not care for anything about Illinois – the way the people acted, our new church, snow/winter/cold weather, my new schoolmates, the way people made fun of me for my accent and assumed I was stupid and assumed that I thought the South won the “war of northern aggression.” (SO. MANY. EYEROLLS.) After feeling ostracized by people who were my people, I moved into the land of not-my-people and felt ostracized some more. I didn’t fit in at all. So I immediately started looking for a boyfriend (should I mention here that I actually still had a boyfriend in Mississippi? No, I shouldn’t mention that. It makes me look like a jerk. Which I was.) and found a nice new boy to date. I got rid of my accent best I could, although I still stick “y’all” everywhere and even a good “used-to-could” in there every once in a while. I tried out for the top singing group at school and made it. I worked hard on grades. It probably looked from the outside like things were good, but I was incredibly unhappy, which I think was clear to anyone who talked to me. When you are incredibly unhappy, it is obvious to everyone. I literally do not keep in touch with a single person my age from Alton, Illinois, which is a real shame, because as it turns out, a lot of them were fantastic people. I wish I could go back and treat other people better. I wish I could go back and get outside of myself and see the people who needed love around me. I could have made such a difference, and I could have figured out that joy comes when we get outside ourselves and love others instead of wasting away in self-obsession.
The biggest thing, though, is really that God works all things for good. First, I dated that boy I mentioned above for over a year, and he taught me SO MUCH about myself. In Alton, I met the most influential people in my spiritual life besides my immediate family – my youth pastor, Mike, who shared my great passion for musical theatre, and my Sunday School teacher, Sheri Steward, who I still keep in touch with. The Purpose Driven Life came out during that time, and that church I didn’t care for at the time participated in the 40 Days of Purpose, which completely changed my life. That’s when I first learned that it wasn’t about me (which is the first sentence of that book). Casting Crowns, the band who seriously defines my life (someday I’m going to write an entire post about the difference Casting Crowns has made in my life) released their first album and they just spoke my language. I realized how much I loved music and that I couldn’t part from it, thanks to two incredible women, Ann Davis and Laura Plummer, and an incredible man, David Drillinger. I went to Honors All-State Choir my senior year and bawled my eyes out as the boys sang “The Awakening” around me. Ann Davis told me about a school that put out great music teachers called Millikin, which I had never heard of before. The Chamber Chorale came to us on their tour, and they were amazing. I decided I would be in that choir, and I would go to Millikin, and I would become a choir director like Ann Davis. And it probably goes without saying, but I never would have done any of the above listed things if not for God planting my family in the weird little place of Alton, Illinois. (I feel like I should mention that I ended up truly treasuring my little church in Alton that I hadn’t originally cared much for.) The two things that would define my life most strongly – my relationship with God and my relationship with music – were nurtured and developed and grew exponentially while in Alton, and I hated almost every minute during those two years of high school. I wish I’d have known how God would use that, and I wish I had enjoyed it instead of dreading each day.
Fast forward: I did go to Millikin, and I was in Chamber Chorale. I realized quickly that Chamber Chorale was actually the second choir at Millikin (even though it’s better than top choirs at most universities, I’m not biased or anything), and the top choir was University Choir, which I was unfathomably blessed to be part of and was single-handedly the most influential part of my character development in my entire life. I met another boy at Millikin who I dated for 3 years and learned an incredible amount from, most acutely that we weren’t the right match for one another, which helped me to define the characteristics of the right match for me. I did major in music education, and I graduated among the top of my class and immediately got a job teaching music. A week after graduation, I met a really cute boy whose face I get to stare at every day and also get to see in tiny 3.5- and almost-2-year-old form every single day, to my greatest joy. We’ve settled our lives in a church that truly strives to love the way God calls us to and into ministries that give us great pleasure. My life is so good, and it is so full of direct, obvious, amazing blessings. Everything that has happened to me has resulted in such a good life. God pieced together all kinds of nasty sin and brokenness and selfishness and cowardice and rage and bitterness, cleaned it up, and made my life truly beautiful.
I wish I could have known in high school how good it was going to end up, because I would have faced each day so differently. I would have treated others so much better and cultivated better relationships with my peers. I wouldn’t have necessarily made different life choices – I love where I went to college, I would still break up with all the boys I broke up with, and the pain I experienced from being left out of things taught me how to lean on God and turn outside of myself, which I wouldn’t trade for anything. But the thing that would change would be how I treated others. In my selfishness and worry and distrust, I pushed aside so many people who needed Christ’s love. When I made things about myself, I missed incredible opportunities to serve God’s people and make disciples. I would adjust my attitude to one of joy, and hope, and peace, because I should have been confident in the promises of God.
The plans he has for you are good. They will help you prosper, and they will not harm you. They will give you hope and a future.
He will work all things together for your good.
He will never leave you or forsake you.
He will lift your burdens and give you his instead, which is easy and light.
He will heal you, and he will teach you how to praise Him in the storms. He will teach you how to love and forgive and let go.
He will give you a really good life. Trust me. Trust him.