“Happy 40th anniversary! This date in 1972 was a Thursday. You gave the valedictory address at 7:30 in the evening, and I have a picture of you in the line as we walked out to the chairs on the football field. You were looking pensive. I was goofing around behind you.” I received that email on June 8 from a high school friend while I was sitting in a plenary session at the West Michigan Annual Conference. I was taken aback, having completely forgotten the anniversary.
A week ago I was rearranging the basement when I stumbled upon a box labeled “Laurie senior year in high school.” Intrigued, I removed the tape from a box that hadn’t been touched in 40 years and began reliving my past. It was fascinating to discover that what I chose to keep reflects interests and values that continue to shape and form me today.
- Dozens of newspaper clippings and box scores, many related to the field hockey and basketball teams in which I participated
- My hockey cleats
- A letter from the local bank, giving me a $25 scholarship
- Report cards (my biggest regret: why didn’t anyone require me to take typing?)
- Church bulletins and concerts where I played the organ
- The worship service from a 24 hour prayer vigil for the Vietnam War
- Clippings from a life-changing experience with Mennonite Disaster Service, assisting flood victims in Wilkesbarre, PA after Hurricane Agnes
- A pin that said “War is not healthy for children and other living things”
- Information from several colleges that I visited in the fall of my senior year
My passions as a teenager were sports, books, writing, music, church, and peace and justice. Not much has changed over the years. My biggest find, however, was four handwritten rough drafts and a final manual typewriter copy of my speech on graduation night, “Living in Hope.”
“Are you living in hope? Are you looking to the future with anticipation or dread? Are you able to endure the trials of the present because of a confidence in the future, or are you so weighed down by earthly problems that life promises nothing anymore?”
Could have been written today.
“Unfortunately, life has no meaning for many people, for they have nothing left to believe in; nothing to comfort and reassure them; no life preserver to cling to. They see no reason to continue their struggle in life because they are sure that the future will bring nothing but more problems. For other people, however, hope sustains life, for hope is a faith in the future. The kind of hope I am talking about is not a craving for material possessions, nor is it a blind optimism which sees only a world of roses.”
I’ve always been a serious person. No humor in this speech!
“Hope recognizes the inevitable suffering of man but elevates him to a level where he can realistically cope with life and at the same time eagerly await the future. Hope provides a foothold to grasp for many people who are poor, sick, and lonely. Hope is, in fact, a will to live….”
Clearly, I had not yet been exposed to inclusive language.
“Hope is naturally directed toward God, for He is the ultimate source of hope. Only through faith and trust in God can we look to the future with confidence and anticipation. Hope can give us security in times of loneliness and faith in times of despair. Hope can free us from the life that binds us and lead us into a new kind of freedom, a freedom in which we know that the future is in God’s hands.”
Even as a teenager, I took advantage of times when I could witness to my faith. Probably wouldn’t be allowed at today’s graduations.
“But what do we graduates, who are the future of the world, have to hope for? The future looks very dim when we talk about the senseless of Vietnam, the tensions in the Middle East, the growing arsenal of nuclear arms, the pollution of our environment, the overwhelming number of college graduates out of work, or such issues as poverty, ignorance, dissension, and prejudice. It seems that we are living in a sick society for which there is no hope.”
Forty years later, and we’re still lamenting the same problems. Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on us.
“Many young people, even your own sons and daughters, are speaking out against the corruption and hypocrisy in America. Contrary to the opinions of many Americans, however, we are demonstrating and protesting out of a genuine concern for America. The popular folk song, ‘We shall overcome,’ reflects this hope and confidence that we still have in America and the world.… Although the words do seem a bit idealistic, our hope and willingness to work toward a better life for every man can become a reality.”
Protesting injustice and oppression wherever they present themselves is the responsibility of every Christian as we work together to bring in God’s kingdom of shalom.
Near the end of the speech, I quoted Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech. “I don’t know what will happen to me…. We’ve got some difficult days ahead, but it doesn’t matter to me now…. I just want to do God’s will. And He’s allowed me to go up the mountain. And I’ve looked over, and I’ve seen the Promised Land. I’m not fearing any man. Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord.”
I graduated from high school just four years after King’s death. I still remember the pit in my stomach when I heard the news that day.
“What Martin Luther King Jr. said applies to me as well as to all of you. Like Mr. King, I don’t know what will happen to me after tonight. I know that my life will not be all happiness and that I will have to suffer endure much (I changed words at the last minute), but I am able to look beyond today toward a joyous future. I am not afraid because I am living in hope.”
How could I have ever imagined the truth of this paragraph? I was just 17 years old: out of the mouths of babes.
“We all have great hopes for the future, but that doesn’t mean we can ignore the present. Everyone must do whatever he can to make hope for the future a reality so that all people can live in happiness and peace.”
I had no inkling at the time that this just might have been my first sermon.
The primary difference between the five drafts was the beginning. Even though I had not received any coaching or help with the speech, I evidently realized how important it was to get off to a good start.
I was also curious that the fourth draft included this sentence, “The old proverb, ‘Where there is life there is hope’ has a much deeper meaning to me if it were turned around and it read, ‘Where there is hope there is life.’” For some unknown reason it didn’t make the final cut. I should have kept it in.
I am much older and a little wiser than I was in 1972. I now know what it is like to feel utterly helpless and subject to circumstances beyond my control. I know what it is like to offer up my life and my loved ones to God because there is no other option. I have known deep suffering, intense fear, and existential sadness.
I have also seen the fruit of intense prayer for individuals, nations, and our world. I know what it is like to ride the crest of the Holy Spirit as it makes all things new. I’ve seen great and lasting change take place because of the persistent outcry of faithful people who imitate Christ. Like Martin Luther King Jr., I’ve been to the mountaintop and the thin places and have seen the glory of the Lord.
Forty years later, I am still living in hope, especially as we enter the season of Advent, for the people who walked in darkness have seen a great light. I am still looking beyond today to a joyous future as I do my part to prepare the way of the Lord. And I still vow to make hope for the future a reality so that all people can live in happiness and peace. Come, Lord Jesus, come.
P.S. My 40th high school reunion was last Friday night in Souderton, Pennsylvania. I chose instead to spend a few days in Florida with my four year old grandson, Ezra, who inspires me by living every second of every day in hope, wonder, and joy.