Westmont Monroe Scholar Banquet Speech

(Given at Westmont College Monroe Scholars Banquet, Feb 2010)

So there’s this book that I love called Peace Like a River, incredible book.  And near the end of it one of the characters, Swede, a girl with a cowgirl’s heart and a poet’s soul, says

 “Is it hubris to believe we all live epics?”

I don’t think it’s hubris.  In fact, I think it’s the opposite.  I think that it’s the worst kind of selfish pride to think that God has given us such incredible potential, potential to literally change lives, and all we are supposed to do with it is to find success and live comfortably. 

I believe that we were all made to live epics–that God does not call anybody to a life that is merely ordinary.  I believe that God calls us to fight harder than Hercules, to love truer than Romeo and to trust that the One who charts the paths of the stars is capable to write the steps of our life.

I believe, too, that we were meant to share our stories with each other, and to give encouragement and inspiration through the chance to see God’s hand in each other’s lives.  So tonight I want to share with you some of what God has taught me, as He’s written the Westmont chapters of my story.  I’m sharing in the hopes that this will encourage you to trust God as He charts your own story, and to step up to the incredible life that you were made for.

I want to share first how I learned to seek interdependence over independence.  I know that a lot of you are excited for the independence that comes from college, and that independence is a good thing.  It gives you the chance to find your identity outside your parents, and it lets you learn how to make decisions on your own (although granted some of those decisions might not be the best–such as mine when I learned that I could buy and eat cookie dough WHENEVER I WANTED).

But don’t stop there.  God made us for each other.  Bonhoeffer said that “God Himself taught us to meet one another as God has met us in Christ”  My time here at Westmont has been so defined by the community of friends I’ve made here–through the conversations around the DC tables, through the late-night walks, through the hugs and the tears and the hurt and the grace and the love.  But in order to live in this community I had to give myself over to interdependence–to letting myself need these people, even as I acknowledge their need for me.

It was a wonderful day when I realized I couldn’t do life on my own, when I realized that no matter how smart and strong and hard-working I was, I was screwed up, and I needed people to love me through my screw-ups.  So I want to encourage you to seek interdependence as well.  Learn to depend on those who also depend on you, begin to give yourself freely to a community that gives back to you.  Learn to be vulnerable, and learn to trust.  I think if you do, you will  learn to understand God’s grace in a new way as you give it and receive it within a community of people who love you dearly.

The second thing I learned as God wrote my story here at Westmont was that I had to pursue love, not success.  I learned that success would eat me alive if I let it, because ultimately success couldn’t satisfy what I needed it to.  I sought success because I thought it would give me worth, and give me identity–I was good because I was smart, because I worked hard, because I was good at helping people, because I was good at being a Christian.  But I learned what the Apostle Paul meant when he said that “If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have.  not. Love. I am nothing.”

The reason is because success can’t give me identity and worth.  The only way to provide those things, the only way to really answer the question of “Who am I and why do I matter?” is to go to God.  And when again, I learned that I was screwed up and finally let God love me through my screw-ups, I found my identity.  And in doing that, I was freed to love.  I was freed to help others because I loved them, not because I needed them to love me.  I was free to study in my classes for the joy of learning, not for the fear that  if I got B I would be less of a person.

So for all of you, I have one thing to say.  And if you hear nothing else tonight, if you hear nothing else this entire weekend, I want you to listen to this.

You are good.  You are beautiful.  You are beloved of God, you are truly and deeply and forever loved by God, and nothing–not your own sin, not your own failures, not your own doubts–will ever ever change that.  You are a child of God, and He made you well, and He does not give up on His own.

So with that knowledge of your identity comes freedom.  The Bible says that perfect love casts out fear, and you are perfectly loved.

Have the freedom to love others well, without worrying about being loved back.  Have the freedom to love what you do, and take classes based on the joy they bring you, not based on your fear of failure or your need to excel.  If success comes, then great, glory to God.  But you don’t need it.  You have the love of God–nothing aside from living in that love is necessary, and nothing aside from living in that love will ever satisfy.

Finally, I want to share how I learned to seek adventure over comfort.        

Comfort is one of the most dangerous things in the world because with comfort comes fear.   It’s fear that you will lose that comfort, and fear that you will lose the control that comfort brings. And that fear can paralyze you from living your life for all it’s worth and from taking God at His word when He says “Trust me, and come–I will provide!”  Growing up, my comfort was Mario games on my Super Nintendo.  I had a lot of social problems during the early years of my life, and so life outside of the television screen was scary–people acted in incomprehensible and often very cruel ways, and I wanted no part of them.  But Mario was safe.  Mario was comfortable, Mario I could control, and Mario never made fun of me.

But as I grew, and especially as I came to Westmont, I learned that there was so much more to life than what I could control.  I learned the beauty in abandon, in being willing to go outside my comfort zone and take risks and say “I don’t know what I’m doing–but I’m doing it anyway!”  I spent a semester in Mexico and a summer in Europe, I took fencing and scuba diving (although sadly never succeeded in my attempts to combine the two), I added an extra major and an extra language, took classes from almost every department on campus, and even learned to swing dance (or at least to fake it). 

And I’ve learned to trust God when the adventure has taken me beyond the limits of what I can handle–to trust God to provide for me as I spent a summer in the slums of the Dominican Republic, to trust God to provide for me and my family after the loss of my Grandma, to  trust God to provide for me as I walked with friends through seasons of depression and despair, to trust God to mean it when He says “My grace is sufficient for you, for my strength is made perfect in weakness.”

So my last encouragement for you is to embrace adventure over comfort.  Throw yourself into the epic that God is calling you to.  Commit to living in freedom from the fear that comfort brings–commit to trust God to be your everything (not just your last line of defense beyond bank accounts, and GPAs)  God knows your weaknesses and He will give you courage to match your fears. 

The story of a lifetime–of your lifetime–is waiting for you.  All that remains for you is to trust, and to go.