On June 4, 2015, high school students from Elim Christian Services graduated into the next stage of their lives. Sending them on their way were these words from our retiring art teacher, Kathryn Aggen.
What an honor to stand before you and address Elim’s graduating class of 2015. As I look out at our graduates I’m aware that I’ve had the distinct pleasure of teaching each of you at some point during your years at Elim. Including Joey Richie and Keith Murphy, who were with me before becoming pioneer students in the newly founded Autism program. With the exception of Joey and Keith, who came a year before me, I was here at Elim to greet you one by one as you came on board this boat that we shall call Elim.
First came Ana, Casey, and Sammy. Then Jamie, Joe Banser, Jalen, Colleen McCann, and James. Next Matthew, Colleen Cline, Paige, Briane, and Treyvon.
Along with you came your families with their individual expectations–some with great excitement for what Elim and the future would hold, others with a more cautious, tentative approach, but all with the hope that this adventure would ultimately lead you to this very night. Elim, in it’s ideal, would be the life raft to see you safely through the shallow waters of childhood, then the higher waters of your teen years, and now delivering you into the deeper waters of adulthood.
The waters that surrounded each of us at any given time on our Elim boat journey could best be described as being both calm and rough…peaceful and chaotic. The gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke all tell a story of Jesus apparently sleeping in the boat while a storm was thrashing against it. The disciples were frantic. At Elim, we’ve known frantic. Even being with Him as he calmed the waters, they missed the boat, so to speak, and did not recognize that their Lord held all power…even over the storms. Just as Jesus was in the boat alongside his disciples, so has He been here at Elim with us. Him being totally in control, with us too sometimes missing the fact that he was present. He has faithfully continued teaching us to trust Him as we’ve sailed through the years.
Have we learned HIS lesson of where to put our trust in the calm and in the stormy journey?
I use the word “us” and “we” because the students weren’t on this boat alone. Their families, friends, teachers, staff and yes, even their art teacher, were all along for the voyage. I’ve been on board for 16 years, and like all of you I’ve been tossed about in the storms (namely in the form of Fine Arts Night!) but also, I’ve basked in the cloudless, windless days filled with the laughter, delight, and humor that only Elim can present.
As an example, yesterday I received a most wonderful gift from one of the students. She excitedly handed a gift bag to me and urged me to open it. Her excitement and pride at her handiwork was contagious. Along with a handmade card that said, “Bye-Bye Mrs. Aggen, I will miss you, Love, Sammi”…was a list of my so called favorite TV shows. (Apparently, unbeknownst to me, I love Barney, Winnie the Pooh, Rudolph and the Misfit Toys and CBS News!) The bag was very heavy and contained colorful newspaper ads wrapped around an old Christmas tin. The tin was safely secured with what might have been an entire roll of pink camouflage tape. Inside was the prize! A handful of big rocks and a smattering of Hello Kitty candy! The humor at Elim is not to be taken for granted. It’s precious, pure and profound.
When I came on board, Sharon Clausing was the out-going commander of the ship. She said something to me at my interview that I’ve never forgotten. That our first and foremost goal as educators at Elim, (our destination, so to speak), is to usher our students into the place where they can bring kindness, grace, and joy into their world after they leave Elim. Thus assuring that these attributes would serve them well.
What I found is that many of our students came with those qualities naturally. It was I that had to be taught to be kinder, more grace-filled, and to express joy more often.
Jesus has taught us in the safety of this ship’s hold that he is the teacher of such things and that we must trust Him completely with every aspect of our lives–from the major to the minutiae. He will deliver us when we falter, extend and stretch us, grow us into the followers that he intended. All the while using His Spirit in each of us as the catalyst to tend to one another and love each other by serving and seeing others the way HE sees them. We’ve done a fair job of that on our journey, but we are not finished learning. He is not finished teaching.
Also in the gospels of Matthew, Mark, and now John is another story where the disciples once again find themselves in the boat where the winds are striking heavy against it. However, this time, Jesus is not in the boat, but he suddenly appears to them walking on the water. The disciples are terrified and think him a ghost. He says to them, “Take courage! It is I, do not be afraid.” Testing Peter’s trust level, he calls Peter to step out of the boat and come out onto the water to meet him. Has Peter learned the lessons on the boat that he can step out…and walk on the water to Him? Have we?
Peter is confident and assured…like we are tonight… and he readily steps out.
And guess what? He DOES walk on the water! Straight toward his Lord! I can’t think of anything more exhilarating!
But the second thought Peter has, is “Whoa! I can’t do this! The winds are too strong! This is frightening!” He takes his eyes off the Lord. Instead of seeing the power of Jesus, he allows the power of the waves to scare him… and he panics and begins to sink.
He most definitely got wet!
Graduates, in a few minutes, you and I will turn around and head back down the aisle. That will signify our own stepping out of the boat. Out of the sanctuary and security that Elim has afforded us and into the rest of our lives. We are being called by Jesus to take what we’ve learned here at Elim and trust Him as we step out onto the water of our future. Before we go, we need to understand what made Peter able to walk, and what made him sink?
There’s a beautiful song sung by Taya Smith of Hillsong United titled “Oceans (Where Feet May Fail).” Many of you know it, and if you don’t, I urge you to go straight home and YouTube it. I easily could’ve just gotten up here and played the song and then sat down. Some of you are saying to yourself, “Why didn’t you?” but I will continue on…the least I can do is spare you any attempt at singing and simply read the lyrics:
You call me out upon the waters
The great unknown where feet may fail
And there I find You in the mystery
In oceans deep My faith will stand
I will call upon Your name
And keep my eyes above the waves
When oceans rise my soul will rest in your embrace
For I am Yours and You are mine
Your grace abounds in deepest waters
Your sovereign hand
Will be my guide
Where feet may fail and fear surrounds me
You've never failed and you won't start now
Spirit lead me where my trust is without borders
Let me walk upon the waters
Wherever You would call me
Take me deeper than my feet could ever wander
And my faith will be made stronger
In the presence of my Savior
Peter’s faith got him jumping out of the boat, but he began to sink due to fear…and he put borders/limits on his trust.
Casey, as a representative of the graduates, when you are up at college in Wisconsin and tempted by the waves of frustration, fear, and anger, don’t sink. Trust Jesus. Have peace and walk on the water.
Parents, as you and your graduate flounder in the tidal wave of emotions facing and adjusting to a new placement, don’t sink. Trust Jesus. Have peace and walk on the water.
Teachers and staff, as you face another school year, and new students are coming on board that test your patience and perseverance, and begin to rock your boat…don’t sink. Trust Jesus. Have peace and walk on the water.
No matter what waves and storms life may throw against us, we too can keep our heads above water if we realize that it’s our own weaknesses that will sink us. Are we showing kindness when it’s not easy? Are we extending grace and forgiveness when we begin to feel bitter? Are we bringing joy when darkness settles in?
We must keep our hearts trusting in Him to transform us, and our eyes turned to the One who is calling us. Remember, it is the Lord himself doing the calling and He is out on that water with us! By doing so we can rise above the murky water, and actually walk on the water overcoming anything that attempts to make our feet fail….even if it is shor- lived walking until the next wave hits and we have to call out again! But after enough battering by the waves we begin to learn the balance of that “great unknown.” The wind, waves, and swells will never be totally conquered by us, but rest assured, they already have been tamed by our Lord. Don’t sink. Praise Jesus. And have peace while walking on the water.
Jesus rescued our sinking Peter. Likewise when we sink He faithfully will rescue us too because He will never let us drown. WE ARE HIS for all eternity and he isn’t about to let a puny raging ocean, or anything for that matter, separate us from Him. He may let us sink a bit when we rely on our own strength, but NEVER will we drown.
There may be times while bobbling out on that water that we longingly look back and want to be back on our floating Elim boat. In the middle of the storms we will be tempted to remember and desire the safety that Elim afforded us. But, none of us were ever meant to stay on this boat forever. We were intentionally and carefully chosen to be here… to serve and be served, to love and be loved, to trust and be trusted. Each to be called out onto the water according to HIS timeline. For some our time aboard ship has been seemingly brief, for other’s it’s been a long journey…how about our dear Linda Kleyn being called out this year after serving on this boat for 40 years! Thankfully she wasn’t wandering in a desert all of those years, but faithfully navigating Elim through…and to…new Discoveries!
God’s timing is perfect.
For those that God is calling to remain on the Elim boat. That is a sweet privilege for you. You are right where He wants you to be. Yes, as you continue on there will be storms of disagreements, disenchantment…even sea-sickness! But, don’t forget He is in your midst offering you gifts. Gifts perfectly wrapped in colorful newspaper ads and pink camouflage tape! Serve Him well. Love Him well. Trust Him well. Be kind, grace-filled, and joy-bringers! For each of you will be called at some point to step out on the water too. I’m convinced that what we gain by being sailors on this worthy vessel known as Elim will act as a life buoy for each of us as we step out into the great unknown.
The definition of commencement is to begin, to start.
With that…it is time. Time for me. And time for you graduates. Time for us to step over the sides of the boat and begin our walk out on the water.
It’s time for us to get a bit wet! Jesus is calling us! And, as we step out, we declare … “Anchors aweigh!”
Thank you Elim! And may God richly bless and guide you as you leave this journey, and start your new one.
It is the Standard of Elim Christian Services to admit children and adults to agency services regardless of race, color, national and ethnic origin, to all the rights, privileges, programs, and activities generally accorded or made available to agency service recipients. Elim Christian Services does not discriminate on the basis of race, color, national and ethnic origin in administration of its educational policies, admissions policies, scholarship and loan programs, and athletic and other school-administered policies. Read Full Disclosure.