September 22nd, at about half past three in the morning, He woke me with words.
A running stream of fluid thoughts, an answer to prayers for just this, poured into me so I could pour them out.
Eyes half open but heart awake I reached for my iphone, and tapped as fast as my fingers could go.
Over the next five weeks, He confirmed and expounded through His word what He wanted me to share.
I practiced and prayed and tweaked and prayed again and cut a ton out and prayed all the way up to the point of standing, dry-mouthed, in front of all their beautiful 6th-12th grade faces.
It was a Monday, about 9:30 in the morning, and while some of them look half-asleep I was as wired as if I'd just inhaled 3 shots of expresso(which I intentionally passed on, though running on way too little sleep).
My thirteen year old sister, Claire, was in the crowd, and I found her lovely face first as I set down my notes.
After a shaky sip of water, an attempt(denied) to speak without the microphone, and an awkward comment about how much I enjoy public speaking later, I began:
Before I begin, I want you to know that I consider it a huge privilege to speak to you all. I want you all to know how I view you, and I'd like to share some of my story, because when I have been in your position I think these things are important for understanding the perspective of the person I am listening to.
Each and every one of you are a beautiful, unique expression of God's character that has never before graced the earth, and never will again. That is how I view you because that is who you are.
You guys are at an awesome stage in life because you are really learning and experiencing this in your friendships and romantic relationships. You know that there is no replacement for that person that is so special to you. There is no one else like them. And while it's easier for us to recognize that about other people I want you to know: that is who you are. A perfectly, beautiful, wonderfully unique expression of God's character.
And that was actually part of the challenge in deciding what to share with you all: you are all so different! You guys are from 6th-12th grade and are young men and young women... and even where there may be many similarities--like with Claire and I, we have the same parents and siblings, but she is the youngest girl in our family of nine children, and I am the oldest... so our life experiences are still extremely different.
So I'm not pretending that I know you, or what is going on in your life, because I don't. But what I would like to share are some ways that God has made us all the same. And if you like psychology, you're going to enjoy this, because these similarities determine how everyone functions, why everyone makes the choices they do, and how we live, and seek out joy and purpose in life.
But before I share these, I told you I'd share a little of my story, and while I don't want that to be the focus of my talk, I am going to try to cram my 27 years into about 2 minutes... so if you don't care to know about me just tune out for about that long, and we'll go from there.
I'm going to go back before my junior high and high school, because something happened that really set the framework for how I viewed life during those years. When I was about seven years old, I was sexually abused by someone who should have taken care of me, but didn't. This shaped a lot of how I thought and felt even though I didn't fully understand it.
My first close friends in high school had messed up home lives, and as a way of dealing with their pain they were into cutting. They taught me and encouraged me in this as a way to deal with my pain and confusion as well, so cutting was something I did from about 13 on.
I fell in love with a guy and made him my whole world. But my parents don't allow their children to date until the age 18, so there was constant tension in our relationship because we didn't want just a friendship. After a couple of years, he decided he had had enough, and he broke up with me.
Because I had structured my life, and joy, around him-he really was the reason I cared to get up and go to school-I fell apart. I didn't know what to do with myself. So I decided to get drunk. I asked a friend of mine to go with me to a party, and to remain sober, to take care of me. When I woke up in a world of pain the next day I learned the details of the date rape situation where my friend had remained sober, but hadn't cared for me. I was 17, this was the summer before my senior year.
At this point I made a conscious decision to turn my back on God. I quit caring about school and I dropped out of classes needed to be valedictorian. I also quit trusting authority as unbiased because one of my senior class teachers, who was also my soccer coach, quit half way through the school year to try and pursue a relationship with me.
I started dating another guy, and shortly after I graduated I found out I was pregnant. Now, I knew it was a baby, I am the oldest girl in a family of nine, but I intentionally did not think about my decision, and I had an abortion.
After this I was completely dead inside. I moved away to Dallas to continue modeling, I began drinking and doing drugs, and when I was 19 I found out I was pregnant again. I scheduled another abortion.
But God stepped into my life in some amazing ways--that I would love to tell you all about but don't have the time today--and I changed my mind and decided to keep the baby. That baby is now my seven year old daughter, Selah, and she is amazing. I was a single mom for about 3 years, married, and now my husband and I have two more children.
But it was when I first decided to keep Selah, at 19, that I chose to develop my relationship with God. I wanted to know if He was real, and good, I wanted to know if He was Truth. I wanted to be a good Mom, so I began to pray, and read, and develop my relationship with Him. And He is now my Best Friend. And He is real, and good, and He is no imaginary friend. I'm not talking to the air when I pray. No imaginary friend can help with the kind of issues I had.
So though the details of our stories may be very different, this very real God made each and every one of us with some similarities because we are all created in His image.
The first similarity I wanted to discuss with you all is this: we are all created, designed, to know God, and to be fully known by Him.
And I'm sure I won't have to convince you all of this--but there is evil in this world. There are dark powers. You, personally, have an enemy who seeks to steal from you, or to flat out kill you--i.e. by suicide--, and he seeks to destroy you.
The scripture says that we are destroyed by lack of knowledge.
One of the ways your very real enemy will try to destroy you--is by lack of knowledge. Specifically, he doesn't want you to know God and understand that you are fully known by Him.
One of the key ways that he does this is to convince you that you already do know Him.
You guys have probably heard a lot of Bible and God related things, since you go to a Christian school. So if you think you already know something, a scripture or a story, it's really easy to tune out.
I did this. For many years. I thought I knew all about God and so I didn't pay attention. It was when I started reading my Bible on my own, at 19, that I discovered how much I actually did not know.
For example, even though I'd been in a Christian family, and church, and school, I could not even have told you what the ten commandments are. I could have probably told you five of them. And these are commandments that God Himself took the time to write with His own hand. Twice. These are critical expressions of God's character and how He wants me to live and I didn't know them.
Another example... I didn't know what the Bible said eternal life is. There is a very clear definition of what eternal life is, and I didn't know it. If I had been asked about eternal life I would have said something about golden streets and pearly gates and angels and singing--and while these things are descriptive of heaven--they are not eternal life. And quite honestly? I don't really care about those things, my guess is you don't either. They wouldn't be enough to keep me from doing whatever I wanted to do.
But John 17:3 says: Now this is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom You have sent.
Eternal life is knowing Him. A personal, intimate relationship.
And we can choose to know Him or not, but we are known by Him. He knew us before we were born, He knows our thoughts while they are still far off, He knows when you came in here and sat down and He knows when you will stand up. He knows you fully.
And we are designed this way--to know Him and to be fully known by Him. We are created for intimate relationship. This is what we all seek out. This is what brings us joy, and purpose, and what we structure our lives around.
So if you don't have God as your God--you will have another person in His place. And they will be what brings you joy, and purpose, and what you structure your life around. And if you don't have even another person in that God-place... you will quickly lose interest in life. You will feel increasingly empty and lonely. Every single person works this way. We simply cannot thrive, or sometimes even survive, without intimacy.
I heard a story about some infants at an orphanage. Even though the nurses fed the babies and changed their diapers the infants still continued to die. It was because there were not enough nurses to hold the babies enough, they did not receive enough love, and they couldn't survive without that intimacy. Even from infancy, we are designed to need intimacy.
We are designed to know God, and to be fully known by Him.
And our deceptive enemy wants us to think we know God so he can confuse us and suggest "did God really say?... No. Surely you won't die from that sin...". We need to know specifically what God says is good and best for us so we can identify when we are being lied to and tempted. More than that, we need to know the heart of the One behind the instructions and commands. Because even if we have scripture memorized but don't understand the One who inspired it, we can still be deceived. Satan tried to tempt Jesus this way in the desert. He quoted scripture to Him. And Jesus said "No, no... this is what the scripture really means."
We have to really know Him.
The other characteristic that God put in us all is this: we are designed to give of ourselves.
I know you all know this scripture: "For God so loved that He gave His only Son..."
He so loved that He gave. He is a Giver.
And when we willingly give of our time, energy, talents---and I know y'all have heard this one from church---our money... we feel most alive because He made us in His likeness.
Listen, if y'all know someone who remains in an abusive relationship and you just can't understand why... whether that is abusive verbally, emotionally, or physically... these characteristics are key reasons why they're putting up with it. We are designed to know and be known(and there is probably an element of intimacy in that abusive relationship), and we are designed to give of ourselves. There is a God-part of us that even understands that there is a sacrificial element to real love. Satan loves to take these God-designed characteristics and our lack of knowledge and twist us all up.
So. We are designed to know God and be known by Him, and we are designed to give.
And I know it probably gets you guys in trouble, but I personally love how critical you all are. As long as it's expressed in a respectful way. I love that you see something that is messed up and just call it what it is. I love your awareness and tenderness to things being off and wrong.
I know you all see lots of things that are broken and wrong in your families, in your friendships, in this school, in your churches. And you're right. There are lots of things. Please hear me when I say this: God is giving you eyes to see the brokenness to be a part of His plan in fixing it. In making things right.
I don't want you to be deceived into a false sense of waiting. God has good works planned for you this day. He has all your days ordained before one of them comes to be. The scripture says He specifically placed you in this location on the planet at this specific time in history for specific purposes.
You have a sphere of influence that no one else on the planet has. In your family, with your friends, in this school, in your church. You are a beautifully unique part of God's character with beautifully unique purposes.
And y'all know the church is limping. I'm just suggesting that you may be the lame foot. I'm not calling you lame. I was just seeing if anyone was still listening.
What I'm saying is-- are you asleep? Do you need to wake up to what God has for you this day? To help the body of Christ walk correctly?
Because y'all know that coming to school and having a job to get a higher education to get more money to get more stuff isn't the point to this life. If that's all you let it be, you will feel like these years are wasted. You will be bored. And if you are bored--that is a clear sign you are not living out God's plans for your life.
There is nothing boring about walking with Jesus.
And I also want to say something to those of you who haven't had any of the life experiences I mentioned, those of you who are maybe called "goody two shoes" and told that you "just can't understand" what you friends are going through because you haven't personally experienced it.
Don't believe that lie.
The exact opposite is true.
The scripture says that it is the fear of the LORD that is the very beginning of knowledge.
And that all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge are hidden in Christ.
When I was making wrong choices I didn't even understand my own thoughts and why I was doing what I was doing. Your friends don't either. Darkness is confusing. If you really want to help them, you can only clearly understand what they are going through by choosing right and following God.
So while it's true that you haven't experienced something, it doesn't mean you can't understand it.
You can only truly understand the darkness from the perspective of the Light.
Following Christ is what makes sense of all the darkness and suffering and pain.
I've told people: don't envy me the death I've known.
You can know Life without experiencing death.
And it's okay if you don't know how to read your Bible or pray. I didn't. No one is born knowing! We all have to learn. Just like you have gotten to know your friends by another friend, it is really helpful to have someone "introduce" you to God. To show you how to talk with Him and hear from Him. I would be happy to tell you what I do in my quiet time and how I develop my relationship with God if you want to know. Or ask a friend, or and adult you trust, someone you see has a real relationship with Him.
So. You are created to find joy and purpose in life by knowing God and being known by Him. And if you don't have God in that place, you will fill it with someone or lose joy and interest in life. You are designed to give of yourself. Don't buy into a false sense of waiting and waste these years, and know that you can understand life without experiencing death.
I would love to talk with any of you if you have any questions. I know not everyone is comfortable talking about sensitive issues like the ones I've brought up, but if you want to ask me something, just know that I am truly fine with answering questions because my life isn't about me, it's about God, and I'm happy to share about my process to help others.
Thank you for listening to me, it has really been a privilege for me. I hope some of what I said helped!"