Choose this day whom you will serve.

Introduction by Mr. Stephen Danish, ICS Head of School:
Ashley Traficant graduated from Immanuel Christian School in 2004. She loves Jesus, books, people, basketball, and learning new things. Ashley graduated from Liberty University, and is now thankful to be experiencing one of her life goals, to be working in politics, a dream she has had since elementary school. She is now 26 years old, and works as the Senate Legislative Director for the Christian non-profit Concerned Women for America, the nation’s largest public policy women’s organization.

Ashley is the first alumnus to be the speaker at our Graduation and Awards Program. She is excited to see what God has in store for this ICS graduating class and is confident He will carry to completion the good work He has already begun in them. 

17Grad_0132017 Graduation Speech by Ashley Traficant:
Congratulations Immanuel Christian School class of 2017! You have achieved a major accomplishment and milestone in your life. You are on the cusp of the next chapter of your lives and all the excitement that goes with that as you turn the page to start high school and close the pages of your time at ICS.

I remember sitting where you sit tonight, eagerly waiting for my turn to walk across the stage. Graduating from Immanuel is a coming of age moment; I was excited and a little nervous to start high school. For me, it was bittersweet—I was a little sad to be leaving Immanuel, but even more eager to begin a new adventure. I remember sitting where you are and thinking, ‘it was finally our turn’. For years, my class watched those before us and each year it came a little closer to us being the oldest in the school, our turn to sit in this auditorium for one last time, before being sent off to high school to put in to practice all we learned here.

17Grad_014I imagine you feel a lot of those same emotions as well: excited, a little nervous perhaps, eager, and celebratory. I also had a slight, nagging fear underneath my excitement. Could I make it? Could I remain steadfast in my faith in a public high school, would I remain faithful in the world outside of the ICS bubble? I had heard about the challenges I would face and wanted to continue walking with the Lord, but wondered if it was possible. Let me tell you, it is possible—by God’s strength and grace, you can be in the world, not of it, and follow Christ. If you have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, and I hope you do, He is at work in your life in a profound way and He will provide what you need as you journey day by day.

But you have to make a choice. Whom will you serve? The decisions we make every day point to who or what we choose to serve, regardless of whether or not we realize it. My challenge to you is to daily choose to follow Christ and put Him above everything else. It isn’t always easy, but it is always worth it.

This next chapter of your journey is an exciting one. This is a time where you get to discover and expand different skills and interests. Take an elective of something you want to learn or try, broaden your horizons—get involved in extracurricular activities, find out what excites you! The world is open to you. A friend once told me that our calling is where our passion and gifting collide. Explore and see where your passion and God-given talents line up. That’s your sweet spot, your niche. You may not find it right away, but that’s okay! The journey of discovering where your gifts and passion connect is a beautiful process in and of itself.

17Grad_016In the midst of this exciting time of discovering where God is leading you, remember that this is not about arriving, but walking. What I mean by that is your calling is not something that you simply arrive at one day, like a point on a map, but instead it is found in journeying with God day by day—as we walk in obedience we find ourselves answering God’s call on our lives.

Now, as we follow God in this journey, there will be challenges—that’s just part of living in a broken world. Challenges can take many forms; sometimes, they are out of our control, like trials or perhaps something that is the result of someone else’s choices. Challenges may also be the result of our own choices and sometimes, oddly enough, success can even be a challenge because it can make us lose sight of our need for God. Regardless of the shape or form, we will all face challenges in our lives. But they can become a beautiful part of our story because God can redeem all things.

This brings us back to the choice we all have to make: Whom will we serve? Who or what will we choose to make top priority in our lives? Our lives are comprised of the choices that we make, many of them small. The decision of what we prioritize in our life lays the foundation upon which all of our other choices are made. We must make these decisions so that when challenges come, our foundation is already secure. You all know the parable of the man who built his house on the rock and the man who built his house on the sand. This is the same thing. Are you going to build your life on the foundation of Christ or on the sands of earthly things?

I’m sure many of you have already faced challenges in your life. I want to share one of the challenges I have faced in my life and how God as my foundation carried me through it. My dad has had two liver transplants, the first of which actually happened while I was attending ICS, the summer after third grade. His second was during my second year of high school. Now, an organ or liver transplant is a surgery where someone who has a sick and dying liver is given a new liver to save their life. My dad was home for three months to recover after his second liver transplant. The day he went back to work, my mom was taking me to a doctor’s appointment. After months of seeing different doctors and specialists, we finally had an answer. The week after I turned 16, I was diagnosed with the same liver disease my dad had. I knew what that meant. I felt the weight of those words. My dad had just recovered from his second transplant as a result of this disease. I also knew there was no cure. At 16 years old, I knew I was going to one day have a liver transplant myself.

This was my challenge, my trial. And I had a choice to make: Would I continue to follow and trust God? Would I still believe that He is good? Is He really enough? To quote the hymn, I had decided to follow Jesus and by His strength and grace I decided there was no turning back.

The beautiful thing about choosing Christ as your rock solid foundation is that you don’t face challenges alone or in your own strength—you get to face them in His strength and that makes all the difference. It doesn’t make the pain of suffering go away or magically make your situation easy, but it does mean that God will give you the strength to walk through the challenge and redeem it for our good and His glory.

As a result of that diagnosis, I was chronically sick for almost eight years. I went from playing basketball for my high school and doing theater and honors classes to having trouble staying awake during the day and eventually finishing my senior year of high school from home. High school and college looked different for me than I had planned. I was in and out of college due to my health.

All of this came to a tipping point a little over four years ago. Four years ago, my liver was failing and I was dying. I was so weak I needed a wheelchair to just leave the house for appointments. Everything I enjoyed doing or things I could have found my identity in, from academics to sports to youth group and ministry, were all stripped away. What is left when everything is stripped away? When your faith and foundation are all that’s left, is God enough?

During this time, verses I memorized while at ICS came flooding to the forefront of my mind. Verses like Romans 5:2b-5: “And we boast in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.

“And hope does not disappoint us…” That phrase haunted me in the wee hours of the morning. There I was, sick, weak, unable to stay awake during the day or sleep at night. I had been hopeful, I fought so hard, I trusted God and hoped deeply. Yet, there I was, disappointed. But God’s Word is true. He is faithful and He is Truth. So, I had to make a decision. Do I trust what I know of God despite my inability to see past my immediate circumstance and my challenge? Or do I rely on how I feel?

That night, I stared at the ceiling talking to God, trusting He was there because He says He is. Trusting because He was and is my foundation. And choosing to trust because he is the One I had decided to follow and serve, no matter what. So I prayed and talked to God. I told Him: “I am hopeful. I am disappointed. But I know You and Your Word are true, so where am I wrong? You have to help me reconcile this.”

And He did.

The hope that does not disappoint us. The hope that not only endures but blossoms in suffering is the hope of salvation from our broken and fallen state. It is the hope of redemption by grace through faith in Christ alone. That is the hope that comes from choosing to follow Christ above all else, from making Him your rock solid foundation. His strength carries us in our weakness, as I have experienced firsthand.

That reminder of hope, springing from Scripture I memorized in my time at ICS, helped carry me in my challenge and reminded me to keep an eternal perspective in my suffering. Even as I was dying I had hope because of the God we serve. That same hope carried me as I faced my own liver transplant. You see, the reason I am not in a wheelchair today is that God used my brother Jeremy to save my life in a living donor liver transplant three and a half years ago.

17Grad_129What’s special about how God made the liver is that it can regenerate. If you cut it in half, it will grow back. This allows a person who is alive to donate half of their liver to someone who is dying in order to save that person’s life. And that is what Jeremy did for me. He risked his life to save mine. Do you know how he was able to have the courage do that? Because he has Jesus as his foundation too.

I’ll never forget the morning of our transplant. That was the point of no return. Without the surgery, I would die in probably just a couple of months, but even the transplant itself had risks and there were concerns that I wasn’t strong enough to survive the surgery. But I had peace and my family had peace. Another ICS verse came to mind, Philippians 4:7, “And the peace of God which transcends all understanding will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” Oh how real that peace is! Because of the peace of God that comes from having Him as our foundation, I knew that regardless of whether or not I woke up from surgery, I was going home. If I didn’t survive the surgery I would wake up in eternity knowing I had completed the race set before me. And if I woke up in the hospital, I would know that God had more for me on this side of heaven and that I’d fight to recover and come home and live out whatever He had in store.

God showed me that every day we wake up means that He isn’t done with us yet, that He has more for us this side of eternity. That His plan for our life, the good work He has begun in us, is not yet finished. I had a dramatic challenge bring that to light, but that is a truth for all of us. Philippians 1:6 says that “God will carry to completion the good work He has begun in us.” Every day you wake up is a day you make a choice of whom you will serve.

God has begun a work in your life and every day wants to continue to work in and through you, to reveal Himself more to you as you pursue Him and grow in your walk with Him. In Him alone we find purpose and satisfaction. Other things are tempting and may seem fulfilling but anything other than God and what He has for us will leave us empty.

This is my charge to you: See every day as a gift and realize it comes with a choice. Who or what is your priority? Is your foundation built on Christ the rock or on sand?

17Grad_032You are entering an exciting chapter in your life’s journey! As you discover and explore your passions and gifts, you are laying blocks that will impact the rest of your life. Now, I want to be clear – this isn’t to say you won’t make mistakes or that those mistakes will somehow derail God’s plan for you. That is the beauty of grace! But the decisions you make in the coming years have consequences, both good decisions and bad ones. Nothing is beyond God’s redemption but it is a lot easier, even with challenges, when you continue to choose to follow God and serve Him first.

And you can do it! I know you can because God says so. This is the verse that encouraged me when I sat where you sit tonight and wondered how and if I could continue to follow God in the midst of the challenges that come living in a fallen world.

1 Corinthians 10:13 says, “And God is faithful, He will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, He will also provide a way out so you can endure it.”

How awesome is that?! That means that no matter what challenges we face, God will never allow it to be more than we can handle in His strength. This is your first step towards adulthood. Choose this day whom you will serve. When challenges come, will your foundation be on the rock or on sand?

Own your faith for yourself. Make it a habit to spend time with God every day in prayer and in the Bible. Pray and ask Him to give you a longing for that time and a love for spending time with Him.

Keep memorizing Scripture, don’t stop just because it’s no longer an assignment. I promise you won’t regret it.

This is how you build up your foundation on Christ. Life will be richer as a result. What is greater than knowing every day you have a mission? Knowing that God has more in store for you on this side of heaven? Enjoy and live life to the fullest! Being a follower of Christ is not always easy, but it is always worth it.

I am confident that God is going to carry to completion the good work He has already begun in your lives and in your time at ICS. You have been given the tools to succeed academically and more importantly, spiritually. Put them into practice. I know you are prepared for this new chapter and ready to bring God glory as you live it to the fullest.

17Grad_004I want to close with Paul’s prayer for the church in Philippi. This is my prayer and hope for you. Philippians 1:9-11: “And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ—to the glory and praise of God.

Congratulations Class of 2017! You’ve made it, well done. Know that you always have the love, support and prayer of your Immanuel family. I know because they have continued to love and pray for me to this day. They have your back.

We are all proud of you and cheering for you. Enjoy taking your turn to walk across this stage one last time. Savor it. And let me be the first to welcome you to the family of ICS alumni.