Commencement Means Beginning

What is it about long, late-night rides in crowded cars that make the oversung words of favorite songs somehow much more poignant? What is it about evening fog settling in on fields and forests in tiny towns that make me see so clearly? What is it about doing the Cupid Shuffle on a small concrete dance floor with my friends or compiling swing dancing techniques with a fellow education major that make me want to dance forever?

My time as a undergraduate student is coming to a close. Plans are already in motion for the next stage of life; I even have a job interview on Monday! I’m ready for the next steps and the new beginnings. I’m excited about the adventures.

And yet, part of me feels unfinished here. Maybe it is the battle between my head and my heart. Maybe it is the emotional turmoil surrounding a shift made by important people in my life. Maybe it is the ones who have little pieces of my heart, and the one or two who seemingly try to clamor for more of it. Maybe it is that the details for this mysterious “after-college” thing haven’t been ironed out yet. Maybe it is the simple fact that my final grades haven’t been posted yet.

Switchfoot swings:

And I got my heart set on what happens next
I got my eyes wide: it’s not over yet
We are miracles and we’re not alone

Even though many things would like to hold me back, when I examine my heart and ask God to point out what I could do at this point, I find myself at peace with the realization that I cannot change the past. I find myself aware that, as far I can see, I have said my apologies and thank-yous. I pray that I would be confronted in love if there is more I can do, but until then, I know I cannot belabor what is done. My heart is set on what happens next. Not the immediate plans, but the long-term. The plans for eternity. That’s where my heart is and that’s what I’m aiming for.

It seemed to me that college would last forever. As a freshman in the thick of schedule planning and paper writing and procrastinating, four years seems like a lifetime. And then you make it to seven days before graduation and you realize you had no clue what you were doing all those semesters. That student loan exit counseling sure is a reality check! My point is that college is short and real life comes knocking.

Maybe there’s a reason why “commencement” (aka graduation) means “beginning.” The act of graduation is a natural celebration for a healthy grieving process at the end of an undergraduate career, but it also the beginning of a new stage of life. It is more a beginning than an ending. And it is good. I am learning to take fear and worry and panic and turn them into joy and anticipation and adventure.

I am discovering that change can be good.

Welcome to a new beginning.

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The Discovery of Failure turned Success

Physical distance provides clarity and objectivity.

I wrote that earlier this week, and I’ve found it to be true, even in the three short weeks I’ve been here in Chiang Mai. Yes, being away from everyone I just spent seven semesters of college with is a challenge. Being away from my family and my best friends and all that is familiar and comfortable is difficult.

But it is also providing me with clarity and objective thoughts. I am reminded of how much I am truly am loved and how incredibly blessed I am to be here and how precious community is, but I have also been graced with the insight that comes from distance, both distance of time and space. And it is beautiful.

I’m seeing that maybe what I had perceived as failures in my past might actually be successes.

Maybe God is taking situations in which I felt like I had completely messed up everything and turning them into examples of his grace. Maybe God is taking moments in which I did not act like a child of His and using them to demonstrate his power. Maybe God’s ways are higher than my ways and maybe his thoughts are higher than my thoughts. And maybe, just maybe, he is working all things together for my good.

Okay, so it doesn’t sound like any big discovery, but it took moving halfway around the world for me to see it.

I worried for months about a situation that happened last Fall. A couple weeks ago, it finally dawned on me that God knows what he’s doing even when I don’t know what I’m doing. He has a plan I will never hope to understand.

I can trust him. I can depend on his provision even when I’m not exactly the person I want to be. Because if God’s power and love stopped when I failed, would he even be God? 

Granted, there are usually unfortunate consequences when we make decisions that don’t reflect God’s best for us. I know those all too well. But God’s love is not reserved for saints, or people who think they are saints. It overflows for sinnners like you and me. We once were lost, but now we’re found, and we keep striving for that which is God’s best because we know, in the end, it will satisfy us in ways no sinful choice ever could. We are blessed beyond measure by our patient God, and when we mess up, we try again.

Because, ultimately, God is good. He turns failures into successes, after all.

What College Has Taught Me

What College Has Taught Me

Give and Accept Grace

“I think college broke me of my legalism.”

I was sitting in front of my boss in our monthly one-on-one meeting time several weeks ago. She had asked me what I had been learning personally, and that was my response. The fact of the matter is that college taught me that rules don’t work. During semesters when I made straight A’s, I didn’t have a lot of fun. During semesters when I participated in and led half a dozen groups or activities, my grades suffered. And what measure of learning are grades, anyway? I gained so much from my Exceptional Child class, and I talked about what we were learning outside of class on a regular basis, and I still made low B’s on two of our projects. Are A’s worth three hours of sleep a night? Is spending time with friends worth a dip in grades? No matter how many times I thought I could beat the system, they’re right when they say college students have to choose between grades, sleep, and a social life. So right.

College broke me of my legalism in that I have chosen not to feel bad when I do not achieve the goals I arbitrarily (and often thoughtlessly and habitually) set for myself, such as writing more pages than the minimum or not having two caffeinated drinks in one day or limiting my introvert time in favor of giving time to others. College taught that good intentions and a desire to do good are different from the insatiable need to always surpass expectations. I’m a woman, not Superwoman. And when I realized that there was grace for not meeting expectations–mine or another’s–I learned to relax. I learned to show myself grace and to give grace to others.

Believe me, I have a long way to go before I consider myself a gracious (or graceful!) person. One of my biggest pet peeves is incorrect grammar, and my tolerance for bad grammar is very low. I also learned that no matter how confusing or frustrating or irritating people are, they are still in desperate need of grace. To be honest, I am one of those confusing, frustrating, and irritating people myself, and I must learn to give myself grace, which is probably the hardest thing.

I think that the simple act of giving and receiving grace makes me want to keep trying. In my education classes, our professors say that positive reinforcement (giving a reward for good behavior) is the best form of student discipline. I wonder if it works the same way for adults. Grace makes me want to do difficult things to achieve that which is good. I am not shamed or scared into doing those things – I am “loved” into doing them. Grace does not mean that I do not set goals for myself, work to achieve them, or even mess up. It means that when I do mess up, when I do fall short of my goals, I pick myself up and try again. I will fail. I have failed. But I choose not to give up. I choose to keep trying or to modify my goals.

Let It Change You

There is a fine line between holding to your convictions and refusing to let anything mold you. The problem exists when 2014 dawns and you are the exact same person as you were when 2013 was dawning. We must allow what is within and outside us to change and shape us, and one way that college has shaped me was by inviting me to take risks.

I like to know what will happen ahead of time. But if I had known what college would have been like before I began this crazy journey, I would have refused it. I probably would have taken one look at the heartache, the steps (and giant leaps) outside of my comfort zone, the really late nights and really early mornings, and the awkward situations and said, “No, thanks.” In my finite mind, that which is relatively simple, clean-cut, and dare I say “easy is best. I can wrap my mind around it, I can see it, and I can plan appropriately. 

But what would life had been like these past three+ years had I not been required to step out of my comfort zone by leaps and bounds? What life lessons, skills, and attitudes would I have come out of college with had I not known the all-surpassing joy of depending upon God for literally everything?

College has taught me to be willing to let circumstances, people, events, attitudes, knowledge, and passions change me. I intend to keep letting these things change me, especially as I embark on my student teaching trip in less than twenty days.

I will board a plane for Seoul, South Korea, spend a layover in Bangkok, and then arrive in Chiang Mai, Thailand, where I will spend three months student teaching, volunteering, and sight-seeing. My plan is to spend five days in Hong Kong following Thailand to see friends and visit familiar places I enjoyed in 2012. I will then have four flights to make it back home by mid-April. This is the longest trip I have ever been on, period, not to mention the fact that it is both my longest overseas trip and my furtherest trip from home by myself. Now that I think about it, this is actually a little crazy. Part of me can’t blame my parents for being a bit uneasy about sending their daughter to Asia for over three months.

But this is just like me. I hate doing what everyone else is doing. Well over half of my high school graduating class went to big state universities. I enrolled at a tiny Christian college in the next state over. Typically, student teachers spend a semester observing and teaching at the local public school near our college. I’m flying half-way around for mine. I’m willing to make it happen–to stay up until 4am, to pay $20 to overnight letters and money orders (twice), to struggle with time zones and fees and plane tickets and vaccination appointments–because I want it. I want the different opportunities because they matter to me. Because broadening my horizons (figuratively and literally) matters to me. Because loving on ninth grade missionary kids matters to me.

Follow Your Passion

There is this drive and passion and desire that sits in a place in my soul. Sometimes it peeks out from behind obligations or baggage or whatnot and whispers words of courage. Other times, it raises cain and roars for all to hear. I have been reading Allison Vesterfelt’s book Packing Light and I came across her discussion of the passion and desire in herself, and how she realized that maybe the desire was good. I think that many people growing up in the church have forgotten that passion and desire can be really God-honoring things. She writes that she had lost passion until a friend asked her to pursue her dream, and then the passion emerged. Her desire, no holds barred, was to take a road trip to all fifty US states, and she did it.

For all of my life, I have wanted the stainless-steel kitchen/Cuisinart mixer/Pinterest ideas/Room Mom life. I’ve wanted silver jewelry and little kids in matching outfits and everything-from-scratch and a planner full of appointments and playdates and coffee dates. I think I still want a life that resembles those things, or at least, embodies the good things of a life like that. However, I’m willing to follow my inner passion even if it means excluding some of those things. I think I’ve finally come to terms with the fact that life can look different, really different from my original plan – and that is okay. Maybe the desire, the passion is what is good and long-lasting. Along the way it is going to take work. A passion for teaching English has erupted into this crazy four year journey through long nights and busy weeks and not nearly enough time. And it might be a bit boring (English Literature, anyone?), but it is a passion I am pursuing. Why? Because, like Frederick Buechner wrote: “Vocation is where our greatest passion meets the world’s greatest need.” There just happens, of course, to always be a need for teachers in this world. That’s where my passion and the need of others collide.

When I was in high school, I wrote an auto-biographical paper for a school assignment. I finished my concluding paragraph asking the reader to wish me well as I “throw caution to the wind and embark on the journey to adulthood.” It was a bit cheesy for a high school assignment, but I feel like those words have become, in a sense, a self-fulling prophecy. I am still a very cautious person, but I am embracing the decisions to give (and accept) grace, let life change me, and follow my passions. Life is an adventure.