Plans and Life


Commencement speech at NCA, Annalise’s graduating class of 2018.  You can also see and hear it by clicking here and going to -51:43 for however long Facebook keeps it posted. 

[Last time, student self-rating, one through ten.]

Thanks for having me speak, Guys. This is an honor. Of course, no one listens to a commencement address, since you’re sitting there thinking, “OH. MY. GOSH! I’m finally graduating!” So thanks for the honor of making me the last person in high school you don’t listen to.

C.S. Lewis writes, “The great thing, if one can, is to stop regarding all the unpleasant things as interruptions of one’s ‘own,’ or ‘real’ life. The truth is of course that what one calls the interruptions are precisely one’s real life—the life God is sending one day by day; what one calls one’s ‘real life’ is a phantom of one’s own imagination. This at least is what I see at moments of insight: but it’s hard to remember it all the time.”

Now I know it’s difficult, but try to imagine what it would be like if your plans didn’t work out exactly the way you wanted them to. I don’t know, I’m just—let’s think of some hypothetical situation in which you had worked really hard on something and it didn’t turn out at all the way you wanted.

Imagine if you were seniors in high school and had a month left of school, just an ordinary day, classes going by slowly, and then suddenly it turned out that was the last day you’d ever have classes together. Imagine if you were trying to teach a Bible class and all you needed was to be able to be in a room together—and then you can’t be.

It’s not that hard to imagine, is it? Everything is interrupted right now. In fact, we’re having trouble now imagining a life in which everything goes the way we plan it.

So this is what I want to tell you, and it’s one simple thing that I honestly hope you remember for the rest of your lives: Life doesn’t go as planned. Plans are a fantasy. Lewis calls it “ a phantom of one’s own imagination.”

Now that I’ve told you the simple thing, here is the paradox: Of course we make plans. You had a whole Senior Presentation Night—I mean, morning—so you could share your plans for your future. You’re going to college. You’re going to work. You’re going to meet that beautiful person and marry them, or marry the beautiful person you’ve already met, and have beautiful kids. I mean, Mario has a girlfriend.  (I got Mario’s permission to say that.)

That’s the plan.

But life doesn’t go as planned. Life is the constant back and forth, the tug of war, the push and pull, between what we want try to make happen and what actually happens. Life is the dialectic between our plans and our lives.

Dialectic,” in case you happened not to be listening to Miss Pasker that day, either, is a reasoned argument between two sides holding opposing views. Like when Santi and Juan P didn’t agree and argued. Every class.

I could stand up here and tell you that everything will come out perfectly for you if you just work hard enough. Or pray hard enough.

But you know my testimony. That isn’t true. Imagining that if we just pray, God will make all our dreams come true is fantasy.

Jesus gives us a very clear picture of what will happen. In Luke 6, Jesus says, 46 Why do you call me ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do what I tell you? 47 I will show you what someone is like who comes to me, hears my words, and acts on them.48 That one is like a man building a house, who dug deeply and laid the foundation on rock; when a flood arose, the river burst against that house but could not shake it, because it had been well built. 49 But the one who hears and does not act is like a man who built a house on the ground without a foundation. When the river burst against it, immediately it fell, and great was the ruin of that house.”

The most important word, for us, is “When.” When the flood arose. In every life, the flood will arise. How can we live in Nicaragua right now and not know that? Did any of us plan for this. I’m being completely serious—did any of foresee what the last month of your senior year would be like? What kind of storm we’d face?

Some of you have already faced storms and that’s why it’s hard for you to trust God. Some of you have had smooth sailing, no big floods, no nasty storms, and you don’t really want to give up running your life because you like how it’s going.

If we know the storm is coming, then we prepare for it. Jesus says that acting on his words is building a house that has a foundation, that can stand through a flood. Because the flood will come. We know that. It’s here now.

Jesus also says that not acting on his words is like building a house with no foundation. It might look nice. It might look beautiful. But when the flood comes, that house doesn’t have anything to stand on, anything to hold it strong in place. The flood just carries it away. “When the river burst against it, immediately it fell, and great was the ruin of that house.”

I know some of you don’t believe this, and I respect that, because I respect that you have to make your own decisions about your lives. Part of what we’re doing today, handing you your diplomas, having you flip those tassels from one side to the other—don’t mess that up, Gabe—is symbolism that you have made it through this preparing time in your lives and you’re ready to make your own choices for your lives. Or you’re not ready, but it’s time, anyway.

I have only this to offer you, and I sincerely pray you remember it: God loves you. God loves you if you are following Jesus and doing your best to live by what He says. God loves you if you aren’t following Jesus and doing your best to live by only what you say. God loves you.

That’s the one thing I can promise you will be constant in your life. That’s the only plan I can tell you for certain will work out.

When you set out in your little kayak, you expect to paddle out and paddle back. That’s your plan. That’s how it’s supposed to work.

But it doesn’t always, does it?

Life doesn’t go as planned.

I trust you all remember what X is?

This is your calling. This is where your passion, the thing you love, the thing you were made for that grabs your heart, intersects with the world’s needs. Where you are able to do the thing you love and use that to help others.

But we don’t try to say that’s going to happen on these exact dates, doing this exact job, with these exact people. Because life doesn’t go as planned. If we get locked into “It has to happen in a certain way, exactly like this,” then we get frustrated and discouraged. We can get cynical.

As Lewis said, “the interruptions are precisely one’s real life, the life God is sending one day by day.”

Live that life. Don’t let the interruptions knock you off track from your calling. They are your calling. Your X is where your passions meet the world’s needs IN REAL LIFE. If you have this perfect picture of how you’re going to carry out your X but then it never works out that way so you never really do anything, you are missing your real life.

Some of those interruptions will turn out to be your husbands and wives. You’re going to get knocked off your plan, you’re going to go paddling out into the Laguna, and in the midst of being off course and stuck, you’re going to run into someone just as off course and stuck as you are. That’s your real life. Live it. Build on rock and live it. We can get angry that we don’t get to have the graduation party you all planned, and that’s fine, that’s legit, but don’t stay angry, don’t get so stuck in your anger that you miss the party we’re going to have right here. Because this is the party you get, with your classmates, one last time, and then everyone goes their way. This is the interruption. This is the life God has sent us and we can embrace it or we can reject it, but we can’t send it back for a better one or hold out for the one we planned on.

Last thing. Because life doesn’t go as planned, the things you need most are God’s love and true friends. Most of you already know that. Some of you know you made it through because you have true friends. That’s a good thing. Find those friends. Keep those friends. Friends who will love you unconditionally, who will stick by you, who won’t bail on you when life gets ugly. God shows us his love through one another, through our friendships. When you are praying and asking God to reveal himself and you have real friends, God has revealed himself to you.

Let’s get you diplomas.

The Sacrament of the Present Moment


This is the commencement address I gave at Nicaragua Christian Academy International–or the manuscript, anyway.  Apparently I went off notes once or twice.  The speech was translated into Spanish and projected for everyone to see, so I was trying to stay faithful to what I’d written.  Trying.


You’re graduating. You made it. It’s happening right now. All the times you thought, “I’ll never survive this,” you survived. For every time you said, “I can’t wait to get out of here,” you’re getting out of here. You’ll never do this again. You’ll never be a high school student again. You’ll never be a student at NCAI again. You did this. You’re done.

Take a breath. Feel that breath? That’s the breath of an about-to-be graduate. We are in the moment, right now.

Here’s the problem with big moments: they go fast. They take what feels like forever to arrive, and then they zip past like (snap) this and they’re over. Whenever I do a wedding, I make a point of telling the couple, “Pay attention during the ceremony. Be aware. Be present. Otherwise, it will fly by and you’ll hardly remember any of it. Be present.”

Sometime tonight, however late, or tomorrow morning, you’re going to be back in your room in your fancy clothes and this will be done. You’ll think back about what was cool about your ceremony and what was fun about the reception. Maybe you’ll smile a little, maybe you’ll cry. But it will be over.

All the friendships that you’ve made here, those are now going to transition. You may not see some of these people again after this week, even though you’ve shared 3 or 4 or 14 years together, day after day after day. Some of you may remain best friends. You may be in one another’s weddings…one way or another.

But everything we were doing here together is over now, with this ceremony. We have this ceremony to celebrate, as a community, that you have accomplished it, you have stayed the course, you’ve been faithful and run the race—or limped the race—but you made it to the finish line and now this part is over. We have this ceremony to transition, together, from one reality to the next. I believe that’s why we have ceremonies like weddings and funerals and baptisms and graduations. We’re stepping, corporately, from our reality that is ending into our reality that is beginning.

If that sounds extreme, believe me, it is. In a few months, some of you will wake up in Canada and some of you will wake up in Korea and some in Florida and some in New York City and some some in Los Angeles and some in Managua and one in China. You will be spread out throughout the earth, literally. And if you ever do come back here, which we welcome you to, any time, you will be treated differently. No dress code will apply to you (unless you become a teacher), you will be greeted as a visitor, as a returning alum, as a who once made this your home but has now transplanted somewhere else to follow your calling.

What is your calling? We’ve talked about that a lot. I hope it’s helped. I hope you can walk out of here with some idea of the passion God has put in you to live your life fully, and to find that place where your passion intersects with the world’s need. That’s how you’ll become the most alive and joyful version of you, When you do that in Jesus’ name, as his disciple, you bring the Kingdom of God and you are the Kingdom of God. You spread God’s Kingdom wherever you go—and God only knows where that will be.

Here’s the thing I have to tell you tonight: Live in the moment. Be present. Not just right now, when you have these robes and funny hats on that you’re only going to wear once. Yes, be aware, live in the Big Moments. But—logical connector—live in the small moments, too. Be present in all your moments.

Wiser Christians than I am named this “The Sacrament of the Present Moment.” A sacrament is holy time: a baptism, sharing together the holy communion or eucharist, the bread and the cup of Jesus Christ, or gathering for a wedding, joining two lives together to become one, covenanting before God till death do you part.

Baptism, Lord’s Supper, Weddings, Funerals…Graduations. These are Holy Time, the moments when we KNOW God draws near and we are paying attention. He’s not more present, but we are more attentive.

My challenge to you is: live the moments of your life as a sacrament. Pay attention. Learn to be present. Be mindful. Let the Present Moment be a Sacrament in your lives. Not just right now—breathe in, breathe out, you’re graduating! My speech is half over and you’re that much closer—but daily.

Some of you couldn’t wait for this to be over. Your prayer request was, “I just want to get through it.” There are harder times in life, sometimes long seasons when it’s tough to enjoy the present, when you feel like “I just need to survive this.” You might have a job you hate, you might have a class you hate, you might not really enjoy the two years you serve in the Korean Military, and you think, “I just want this to be over.”

But here is the truth: Our lives are in these moments. Our relationship with God is in this moment, only the present moment. Some of you have already wrestled with “I’ll make more time for God later, when I have more time.” You won’t. You have exactly the time you have, one moment at a time, none of them ever come back again, and you choose how you live in these moments. You choose whether in your moments you are Present with God or whether you ignore God. You’re never going to “make more time,” because you can’t. You can’t manufacture time. And you can’t add one hour to your life span. That’s why the Psalmist asks God, “Teach us to number our days.” To value each one. To gain wisdom. You need wisdom, because you cannot manufacture time, you can only choose how you spend it. It’s a choice. When you spend a moment here, you choose not to spend it there.

We’ve talked about finding your calling, but really you are choosing how you will spend each moment of your life, and that will become your calling. Spend your moments awake. Keep your eyes open. Learn to be present.

On my graduation night, I was out late. We had the ceremony, and then a big party, and after that I was out driving around, because I lived in a small town and that’s what we did. Not a great environmental practice, looking back at it. I found my friend Mike, not one of my closest friends but a guy I’d played baseball with. We’d actually considered each other enemies back in elementary and middle school, but we’d gotten over that. Things that seemed important when we were younger just didn’t matter the same anymore. We sat on the hood of Mike’s car and talked about school and our friends and our futures and girls—of course—and we had a lot more questions than we had answers. And I went home, probably 4 in the morning, and wrote bad poetry about it, which I will not share at this time.

Mike was in a horrible car accident which left him not fully able to use his legs. When we were in fourth grade, I bet him a dollar that I would beat him in the fifty yard dash during our school Olympics. I lost and paid him the dollar. After his accident, he had multiple operations, trying to restore his lungs and his spine and all the parts of his body that were damaged. This last year, my friend Mike died.

Now I know you don’t know Mike, but you know me. This year I had a bad car accident. I’m here speaking instead of looking down on you from Heaven. Praise God. One moment I was driving to play intramural soccer with Joel, the next I was doing something else entirely.

Life is uncertain, and you know that, though only a few of you believe it yet. We learned that “knowing” and “believing” are different things. One of the biggest uncertainties is that you don’t know how many moments you’re given with all of the most important people in your life, and with the things that matter most to you. That’s why we pray “teach us to number our days.” Teach us to value, to live fully present, each day we’re given. It’s not just that we might die; more importantly, we might forget to live.

I’m going to say this one last time: Forgive one another. Reconcile. That’s part of living fully. Make the most of the moments God gives you. Live them to the fullest. Look up from your phones. Pay attention. Love people. Love as deeply as you can.  Live your moments as a Sacrament. Be present.

Now Go. Live your passion with every ounce of your being for all these moments you’re given. Take a breath. You’re graduating now.