It’s hard to imagine that ten years ago life was incredibly different than what it is now. Like most high school graduates, those of us in the 2010 class of Stillwater Christian School had big dreams. I knew of one that said when we have our ten-year reunion (here we are) he’d show up in his limousine (or private plane, can’t remember which) and come out with his smoking hot wife. He does not have a limousine nor private jet/plane and it’s not my place to speak of his wife, but I know her to be very kind-hearted.

Others were after those college degrees to give them good-paying jobs that we were told we needed college degrees to get. I’m not trying to speak ill of college. If you’re able to go and that’s the route you want to take, go for it wholeheartedly. I myself had gone to college for a Bachelor’s in Secondary Education. Once more, I graduated in 2010 and met my wife in 2012. We also married in 2012 and no it wasn’t because she was pregnant (I got that a lot).

My plan was to finish my two-years at the local Flathead Valley Community College and move on to the University of Montana down in Missoula. We’d live in married student housing, I had a job lined up, my wife had half a dozen leads for physical therapy offices to work at, and everything had the appearance of coming together nicely.

Then, with most things, plans came to an abrupt change. My wife discovered she was pregnant with our first child just months after marriage and we were to later discover he had gastroschisis. This was a birth defect that kept the intestines from forming on the inside of the child. This is perhaps a post for another time. Jack Grady Gaines is now six, loves wrestling, and is a beast. You wouldn’t have known he had anything wrong at birth, save for a scar next to his belly button.

Two more children would follow, and shortly after the first I dropped out of online college because I couldn’t successfully manage life at all. Something had to go. I struggled because my plan had crumbled. In the past, people had asked me what my five-year plans were, or even my ten-year plan. I daresay those plans did not include half of what we had gone through not talked about here.

Now with the ten-year graduation of my high school class coming up amidst the COVID-19 crisis, I can’t help but to think about everything that has transpired in that stretch of time. Not just for me, but for my classmates. Thanks to social media platforms I’ve been able to keep tabs on most of them and am unbelievably happy for each and everyone of them.

I remember something my father had relayed to me just before my graduation. It was from Joshua 1 in the Bible, when Moses dies and the leadership falls onto Joshua. God tells him that He has given him the land. It’s like buying someone a gift and telling them to go pick it up. It’s going to take effort, but it’s done.

God tells Joshua repeatedly to be “strong and courageous,” even after God continually reassures him that He will not “leave you or foresake you” (v. 5). Looking ahead ten years on the platform in the sweltering gym in 2010, I saw the world was mine and I was going to conquer it. It was not conquered but I don’t regret where I am ten years after. It’s given me some lessons that I would like to bestow upon the graduates of 2020:

  1. Life doesn’t adhere to your plans or comfort. Make goals and create plans to reach those goals. Plans can change, goals cannot.
  2. Trust in God and fear not. The outward battles have been won, the inner battles are the true test.
  3. Learn to bend. Not only to bend, but be conscious of your own bend.
  4. Relish the good seasons, because they don’t last.

Lately I’ve been looking at life much more differently than I had in the past. Since I’m a writer, it makes sense to view life as a story. You, the character, makes a plan and goes out on a journey. Nothing ever goes according to plan. I went to my friend’s house for fellowship and food, not knowing I was going to meet the woman I’d marry.

Life is full of plot twists and conflicts. That’s just the way it is. It sucks and it’s uncomfortable, but there’s always conflict. That’s what Joshua was facing and that’s why Joshua needed to hear “be strong and courageous” several times.

A decade later…lots of conflict, lots of opposition, but amazing times, as well. My happiest moments involved my wife and kids, especially being their when each of them were born. My advice to anyone stepping into new territory is to be strong and courageous. For the graduates of 2020, be strong and courageous. Expect opposition and conflict, but be smart. You’re not alone and never will be.

Don’t forget to check out the first book in the new series by Ethan H. Gaines, Tears of the Saint!

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