By: Crissie Miller Kirby
As many of you may know, Columbia College is an institution that is very near and dear to my heart. The years between August of 1996 and May of 2000 were life changing for me and I owe it all to those hallowed grounds. When I wanted to obtain a Masters degree, and after trying an “online program” from another institution, I migrated back to that same North Main Street/Columbia College Drive campus. I successfully completed the Master in Organizational Change and Leadership program in August of 2013.
In late October, I was contacted by the Director of Alumnae Relations and asked if I would be interested in speaking at Mom’s Day. Mom’s Day is a tradition that dates back about 40 years and is a day on which Moms (or other important female influences) join their Columbia College daughters on campus for a chapel program, lunch, and other activities.
Unfortunately, I did not plan ahead well enough, so I do not have a live recording of my presentation. However, I would like to share with you here the written version of my speech:
I am a Columbia College woman, twice over, in fact. I’m a blogger. I’m a daughter, sister, and friend. But, my favorite job title is mom. I am blessed to be the mother to two beautiful, precious, and mischievous little boys. Yep, no little girls for me to groom and send to CC; but that’s okay, I am just trying to work hard and do my best to show my boys that the best women are Columbia College women. So, maybe I’ll have Columbia College women for daughters-in-law one day, a very long time from now!
I have really struggled with what to say to you all today that will matter, that will make a difference to at least one of you sitting in the pews in front of me, and it is my prayer that you will be able to take a little something from the words I share with you now.
Then it came to me, just share your story.
Last weekend, I attended a Christian Women’s Conference called the Magnificent Mess and the theme was “Embrace Your Story.” I firmly believe that we can learn a lot from each other when we share our stories. They can provide validation; they can provide comfort; they can provide inspiration. I can only hope that you will allow me the indulgence of embracing my story and my prayer that you will find some measure of inspiration within my words.
Let me tell you how I came to stand before you today; it is probably not what you think.
5 ½ years ago, I thought that my world was pretty near perfect. I was happily married, two beautiful children, a job I was happy with, a house, a few cats, and a couple of dogs. What in the world could possibly go wrong with this story?
Oh what a difference about six months can make.
My world, as I saw it, started to crumble around me as my eight year marriage starting falling apart right in front of my eyes. I didn’t know how to react. I didn’t know what to do. I begged, pleaded, and tried to bargain with my husband. I begged, pleaded, and tried to bargain with God. My marriage was part of my identity and I was terrified of who I would be, or really who I wouldn’t be, if I didn’t have that as part of my identity anymore.
Everywhere I turned, though, God kept showing me a Bible verse: Jeremiah 29:11. Many of you may know it. “For I know the plans I have for you declares the Lord, plans to prosper you, and not to harm you; to give you hope and a future.”
Literally, I kept seeing this verse everywhere. God was slamming it in my face to remind me that while I was in this mental and emotional turmoil, He knew already what I would face and He already knew the outcome. But, even better was that He already had a hope and a future planned out for me and my children; and that He intended no harm to come to us. But, I had to seek Him first.
Not easy for someone who has always liked just a slight bit of control over her own life; who liked to plan things weeks and months in advance. It was a little too “fly by the seat of my pants” for me, but in the end, what could I do?
I recently heard, at the aforementioned women’s conference, the very best analogy for dealing with our lives when something isn’t going the way we want it to.
Have you ever been reading a book or watching a movie that has a twist to the plot that you just don’t really like? Maybe things are going too slow in the story? You are ready to close the book, put it aside; turn the movie off in the middle? Yeah, sometimes our lives can be like that too. Often, we find our lives at a juncture or twist in the plot that we, as humans, are not really very fond of. Lord knows I was not really comfortable with where I was in early 2009.
But, who wrote our stories?
And He reminds us at several points in the Bible that He knew us before he knit us together in our mother’s womb. He reminds us that He already knows what is going to happen to us and that He has that future all mapped out. We just sort of have to let go of that little issue of control.
Okay, so I tried to sit back and do what I thought God would want me to do. While everyone around me pushed me to go ahead and end my marriage; I sat tight. God impressed upon me the importance of not taking the easy way out; He impressed upon me the fact that I needed to wait and be confident in saying that divorce was a very last option for me. I really felt like that is what I was supposed to do. So, I did. I tried to wait out the storm.
Now, I’ll be honest, there were a lot of times that I thought by sticking it out, God would answer my prayers and heal my marriage.
But, that didn’t happen.
I have been divorced for almost three years now. My final divorce hearing was, literally, only three days shy of being two years from the date my husband first said he wanted a divorce. Two years!
At that point, I had to make a decision: Would this bump in the road, this game changer, this plot twist – would it make me bitter or would it make me better? Would I try and close the book or would I simply push through and keep reading the story until I could turn the page?
Now since we are in church, I am not going to stand up here and tell you an outright lie; that I was never, ever bitter. My mama raised me not to tell a lie and since she’s sitting here with us today, I have to be honest; I was bitter at times; very, very bitter. But, I did make the decision that even when I was bitter, I was going to learn from this experience; that some good would come of it; that it would not have been in vain; that I would become better and brighter and I would share my story and pray that if I could help only one person it would have been worth it. I was so very fortunate to have had some wonderful friends and family who encouraged me, shared their stories with me, allowed me to laugh, cry, and rage on occasion during that time. I wanted to pay it forward.
And in seeking that desire to help someone, God has really given me some wonderful gifts over the last five years.
He allowed me to reconnect with some old friends and make some wonderful new friends who have been so very supportive of me, even when they thought I was absolutely insane at points over those two years of waiting.
He helped create a bond between me and my brother that had never really been there before.
He created a bond between me and my in-laws that had not ever been present before during my marriage.
He also gave me the courage and the tenacity and the drive to do things that I had long forgotten I could do or that I loved.
The first of these was writing; I have always loved to write. In the late summer of 2011, I decided to enter a blog contest being sponsored by Lexington Medical Center for a new blog they were creating; the EveryWoman blog, it would be called. For women, written by women. I took a giant leap of faith and even though I was terrified of rejection, I entered the contest.
And I was one of only 10 women chosen to be a featured writer for them. And that has been a wonderful experience for me. I have met some wonderful ladies from different parts of the Midlands and formed meaningful friendships. I got to participate in Lexington Medical Center’s 2012 entry for the Pink Glove Dance, which they won for the 2nd year in a row. Fortunately, you couldn’t see me in the video, but I was there and it was an awesome and inspiring event to be a part of.
As the result of one of my blog articles, I was contacted by the editor of Mamapedia, which is a national online mommy network and was blessed to have written several articles for them, as well. I gained a lot of courage and backbone through that process because my articles were seen by thousands of people. Not everyone agrees with what I think, and I’ve learned that’s okay. I also gained new friends that I’ve never met. We correspond through Facebook mostly, sort of like new age pen pals. But, we encourage each other and pray for each other and empathize with each other over being single mothers of little boys.
Then, God renewed a drive and desire for education in my soul. I had always considered going to back to school to further my education, but honestly, never really thought it was a possibility when I was a working wife and mother. Oh no, I waited until I was a single, working mother to decide that it would be just the perfect time for me to get my Masters degree. Brilliant move, right?
I know, don’t say it.
And let’s not forget that not only was I a single working mom, I was also involved in our church and I was the Secretary and then co-chair of the Parent’s Association at my children’s school.
Now, I’m going to tell you that graduate school here at CC is no joke and there were many nights that I thought to myself, there is no way on earth I can finish this program; I need to just drop out.
No, I couldn’t do that. I had to finish the program.
God led me back to my educational roots for a reason; and I had to finish my Masters from Columbia College.
You see, Columbia College is where I originally found my voice; nurtured by some of the very best professors, like Belinda Gergel, Anne McCulloch, Bob Moore, Seldon Smith, Tandy McConnell, and the rest of the folks in the History and Political Science department as it was known back then. When I was allowed the chance to participate in one of the first Washington Semesters and this girl from small town South Carolina walked the streets of Washington, DC and realized that she could be anything and do anything she wanted.
And on August 4th, 2013, I walked up that aisle and across the front right here, received my Masters degree, and my children helped place the hood around my neck, with my parents, my brother, and my in-laws all sitting in these very pews to witness it.
Never, when I was married, did I think that I could write on a semi-professional level. Never, when I was married, did I think that I had the courage or willpower to go back to school. Never, when I was married, did I think I would have the courage and the confidence to stand before you today and share my story.
But, God knew that all of those things were important to me – recall His words from Psalm 37:4, “delight yourself in the Lord and he will give you the desires of your heart.” And He granted them to me.
But, not in my time; in His time.
And that is what led me to stand in front of you today.
I had to persevere and push through, get through that trying period, finish that part of the book and get to a point where I could turn the page; and start a new chapter. And what a chapter it has been for me.
But my story isn’t finished and neither is yours.
You might be facing a struggle right now; roommate or suitemate problems; problems with one of your courses; decisions regarding your major; boyfriend issues. They all seem so major in the moment. Not to diminish them at all; they are major for the point that you are at in your life.
But, never, ever put a period where God has only placed a comma.
Allow the mess you are in today turn into a message.
I just did.
And you can too.
Never before have I been so overwhelmed at the response to something I have written or spoken; mothers and daughters stopped me and thanked me for my words of encouragement, of perseverance. I was truly touched and honestly think that I received more encouragement and words of affirmation and perseverance than anything I gave. I felt free; I felt invincible; I felt confident. I finally felt like I had been able to give back to the institution that originally gave so much to me.
It is in the giving that we receive.