Last night as I wrestled with going to sleep after such an unexpected first day of our new normal, I couldn’t help but stop to pray for a particular group of individuals being impacted by these events: high school seniors.
You see, I can identify with so much of what they’re experiencing because it wasn’t too long ago I was in their shoes.
It wasn’t a pandemic, but a hurricane.
It wasn’t 12th grade, but the last semester of my Master’s Degree program.
But it was scary, unpredictable and complicated.
It was full of more emotions than I would have liked, ranging from fear of the unknown to grief at what would never be.
I would never say goodbye to sweet professors or sit in their classes one last time.
I would never be able to hug the necks of all the people I had met along the journey.
I would never turn in my last exam or study in the library again.
I wouldn’t sit in the cafeteria or the student center sipping coffee.
I would never walk from our tiny little on-campus apartment to the chapel for graduation, reflecting on all that had happened during those years.
Instead, I would be 3 states away, as an evacuee, living in my brother’s old bedroom, with bright orange walls and a computer in the closet.
I would sit there and finish classes online, as teachers scrambled with grace to figure out virtual learning for the first time.
I would attempt to find friends who had fled west in online chat rooms and would pray that one day our paths would cross again.
I would mourn the fact that I wouldn’t step back into the place we had made into a home there and instead start over from
I would put on my cap and gown in a hotel room and graduate in yet another state because it just wasn’t safe to return to New Orleans.
In fact, I would not return for years.
Years that I carried these stories, these feelings deep inside.
Oh, friends, I get it.
I have felt the sting of what should have been.
I have felt the weight of an unexpected reality hanging heavy over my heart.
I have cried tears.
I have been angry.
I have grieved the way I dreamt it would end.
I also survived.
I learned a lot about growing up, about moving forward, about dreaming new dreams while others washed away.
I learned how to have hope when it felt grim.
How to sit in silence and pray for God to ease the hurt.
And He did.
He helped me walk through the tough months that were filled with deep loss and heartache until I reached the other side.
Now that I’m years removed, I can see the lessons gleaned but I can also still feel it all – it comes in waves as I see others hurt or when a hurricane makes landfall or a class of seniors face the last months of their high school years in isolation.
I still get the lump in my throat. The tears still well up in my eyes.
And that’s ok.
They are reminders of both what was and the beauty that came from it all.
So today, while you are still sitting in the middle of it, I want to share a few things I learned along the way:
- Feel all the things but don’t cave in to fear. It’s natural to move through the stages of emotions and healthy to process and work through them. But there was one emotion that I decided needed to be pushed away: fear. You see, I could have been terrified about the unknown future, I could have thrown my hands up in defeat, fear could have crippled me from putting one foot in front of the other. But I knew God did not give me a spirit of fear (2 Timothy 1:7) and I knew that living in it wasn’t really living at all. So instead, I chose faith. I encourage you to choose it too!
- Lean on the people who love you the most. When we fled from New Orleans we drove to a tiny town in the middle of Florida where I grew up and where my family lived. For 6 months we called this our home too. But it wasn’t just the roof over our head that made that period of time manageable. It was the people. We spent most of our days secluded in my parent’s home, working to finish our classes and when tears came, there were hugs to meet them. These types of uncertainties remind us of what matters and while my heart was wishing I was finishing my degree on campus, I began to see that having my support system surrounding me was a gift. One to never be taken for granted. So sit with your people, on your couch, eye to eye, heart to heart and breathe. These moments will pass, but these people- they love you. They are your biggest fans and sometimes in the midst of chaos, it’s just comforting to know that no matter what- they’re in it with you!
- Enjoy the moments. It’s hard to imagine enjoying anything when it feels like you’ve lost so much. But treasuring what is will help shift your perspective. Sleeping in, slower days, more time with family, moments to pray without a clock telling you to stop. These are tiny gifts you’ve been given, that otherwise might never have been. Unwrap them. Find the beauty in them. Build a memory. A better memory than the ones filled with disappointment.
- Yes, you’re strong, but He is stronger still. When faced with incredibly difficult circumstances, you’ll discover there is a deep inner strength that will bubble to the surface. But you’ll also find that it needs a source. I found mine in Jesus. When the weight of all the loss got too heavy for my own strength, I discovered what it meant to lean into His. The more I did this, I realized that compared to the power that is found in Him, I am just a weak girl trying to make it. Yet connected to Jesus, I was able to tap into a fountain of strength that never ran dry. If you’re worn out from all of this, call out to Him. He wants to meet you in the middle of this mess. He wants to give you peace and hope and His strength! (2 Corinthians 12:9-10, Ephesians 6:10)
- Look for the miracles. This one may seem a little crazy, but I promise you- there are miracles surrounding you, even now. During Hurricane Katrina, I witnessed more than I could count, day in and day out. They came in the form of friends and strangers dropping off food and clothes at my parent’s house when they heard we had lost everything. They came in cards of encouragement with words that felt as if they had been penned straight from Heaven. They came in “coincidental” moments, like running into a friend who you didn’t get to say goodbye to – in a restaurant hundreds of miles away from school. They came and came and came. But if fear or anger or all the what if’s had gripped my heart- I would have missed these generous gifts from God. Please don’t miss your miracle moments. The ones that you’ll look back on in 15 years later, like me, and realize that with tender mercies the Lord wove it all together so you would have a rich tapestry of remembrance to cling to when the next trial comes. Because it will.
- Life isn’t always predictable or easy. It will go sideways sometimes and throw you a curve ball. But He will always be steady. Immovable. Your Rock and Defender. None of it will be a surprise to Him. So lean in friends. The moments may not be what you imagined, but you’ll grow. You’ll mature. Your faith will stretch and you’ll have the choice to dive deeper into the journey with Jesus, full of hope.
- And as you dive deep, take someone with you. Don’t leave them stuck in fear. Don’t leave them alone in their worry. Call them. Text them. FaceTime them. Write them a letter and mail it. Drop off some flowers or ice cream on their door step. Let them know you’re on their team and that you care. Let this become your new way of living. Less of your own worries, more of what matters to Him. More giving. More caring. More seeing and meeting needs. More generosity in spirit and in deed. Let this become your rhythm now so that years down the road, your heart will know to keep doing the same.
You see, one day, you’ll look back and realize this was indeed YOUR MOMENT. The one where you saw God show up and care for your personal hurts and heartache. The moment where your faith grew wider and deeper. The one where your life changed from the easy and carefree, to understanding that there’s more to live for.
Become someone through this.
Someone who will be an agent of hope and peace.
You can do it! I’m cheering for you!