Monday, September 12, 2016

Plans Change, He Remains

Let me preface by saying, I know it has been an absurdly long time since I've written a blog post.  Freshman year sort of took hold of me and didn't let go.  I'm hoping that, as a sophomore, I can balance things a little more effectively and be able to make time to share through this blog what God is doing in my life.

If most of you remember, I started my collegiate journey at Liberty University last year as a Biomedical Sciences major with big plans to go onto medical school.  Although I possibly may have had the capacity to pull this off, it was very much my plan for my life, and not necessarily God's plan.  I still wonder where my heart was in that.  I still very much have a passion for the medical field, don't get me wrong.  I love observing hospitals and researching illnesses and such, and I think it's something I'll always care about, deep down.  However, for so long, it was less of a passion and more of an "I'm intelligent, and this field would use that intelligence to my best advantage."  In retrospect, I think pride motivated a lot of this.  Proving myself was my focus a lot of the time.

When I entered college last fall, my heart wasn't in it.  I tried to make myself love it.  I did every assignment and reading for my biology class and truly gave it my all for over two months.  I never missed a class or lab.  I would study all weekend for my tests and forgo weekend plans to go to study sessions.  My test grades kept falling and on my fourth test, I actually failed, which left me in tears, dealing with a huge existential crisis.  I didn't understand how I could give this my all and still fall so short.

It took me weeks to understand that this. wasn't. me.  It wasn't God's calling on my life.  Studying biomedical science had nothing to do with me pursuing something I loved and rather, the more I got into it, the more I realized it was about proving myself.  The lie of "if I go to medical school, then I'll finally mean something" kept circling around my head, or the even more dangerous alternative: "If I drop out of this major, I will be nothing."

But it happened.  I made a 34% on a test.  I don't cringe as much when I think about that now - God used it for good.  But, with that grade, I realized I needed to drop Biology and switch majors.

I cried.  A lot.  I questioned my life.  I was embarrassed, a lot.  I had to tell my friends and teachers that I backed out of the science major because I wasn't cut out for it.  That was a huge blow to my identity.  My identity wasn't in Christ; it was very achievement-based.  The hardest part of that is when you disastrously fail at something, your life comes crumbling down.  And that's what happened the third month of my freshman year at college.

I had to find things to refocus on, otherwise I would completely collapse.  I spent night after night up very late praying and writing and reading scripture until my heart would calm down enough to let me sleep.  I had panic attacks left and right; as a perfectionist, it was hard to handle the realization that the life I had built up for myself was crumbling apart.

With the sudden free time I gained from no longer having biology class and lab, I poured my free time into piano, which was something that I didn't consider part of my identity.  I was free to try and I was free to fail.  I had an amazing teacher who encouraged me to grow in so many amazing ways.  I fumbled my way through a Chopin waltz and started to shape myself into a halfway-decent musician.  Every time I walked into the school of music, my heart settled down a little bit.  Looking back, I feel so stupid for not seeing it earlier.

In November, I changed my major to Instrumental Music.  And, just two weeks ago, I changed my concentration to Piano Performance, which, alike Biomed, is terrifying in its own way, but it's a challenge that every day, I am honored to take on.

Do I miss being a science major?  Short answer is yes.  A lot, sometimes.  I walk past the science hall on the way to the music building every day.  Sometimes it hurts.  Sometimes I'm really sad about no longer going to medical school, as it was my dream for so long.  Sometimes I feel like I'm letting everyone around me down.  Sometimes I'm disappointed in myself for not living up to who I think I should be.

Then, I have to remind myself that God is still very, very good to me.  He has me right where I need to be, and I take comfort in knowing that I am right within his perfect will for my life.  Proverbs 16:9 tells us that "In their hearts humans plan their course, but the Lord establishes their steps."  I have a way of being stubborn and doing things my way, but God has a way of shutting off all of the other paths until I see that his perfect path for me was there all along.  He let me fail that test so that he could show me his much better plan for my life.

Maybe it's taken me almost twenty years to get to this place, but I'm finally content with letting God lead me where I should be.  He has me in the perfect major at the perfect school, two decisions I agonized over for years, and I think him daily for the opportunity to study under an amazing piano instructor and learn so much about being a musician.  Studying music is something that has shaped my life in so many incredible ways, both spiritual and otherwise.  I still have to fight the desire to let my major be my identity, and some days it's very hard to separate the two.  But I know my identity is in Christ, and no matter how well I perform, I am still worth so much.

I'm asked a lot what I'm going to do with a music degree from a Christian liberal arts school.  Simple answer is: I don't know.  But I'm overwhelmingly comfortable with not knowing, for the first time in my life.  My goal is graduate school, then my dream to go on to get my Ph.D. or DMA and teach at the collegiate level.  Again - I don't know.  But God is so good.  He wouldn't have gotten me this far to leave me know, and I have faith in his perfect will for my life.

I realize that this has gotten rather lengthy and I apologize.  This is something that God has pressed on my heart to write for months now, and I know I am not the only one who has had their identity shaken about when they were forced to change their plans and goals.  Maybe there is someone out here who needs to read this.  I don't know.  But who am I to say no to God, when he puts something on my heart?

My final point is this: pursue him, and everything else will fall into place.  Don't be ashamed of whatever he calls you to, even if it's not as prestigious or honorable as what others are doing.  Follow God and your heart, and live in full confidence that who you are resides in an unchanging savior.

Friday, August 21, 2015

Take Heart

For those of you who do not yet know, I moved into college yesterday at Liberty University!  It was pretty crazy, and the last two days have been such a whirlwind.  From the moment I stepped out of my car to face overly-enthusiastic student leaders (who very, very kindly took my stuff all the way up to the seventh floor for me!), time has taken off.

And of course, a college move-in blog post would not be complete without the obligatory dorm pictures:

My desk is covered with photos, an owl-shaped metronome, a letter covered in play pictures, a copy of the book I wrote, and, not to mention, a stack of books I brought to read. (I limited myself to only a few. Mostly) My roommate and I color-coordinated it all, so it all fits into this perfect little theme.  Plus everything is super-organized, which really helps me focus.

But in all seriousness.  In two days, my entire life has changed.  Technically, I've been an adult for almost six months now, but it didn't really feel real until my family drove away, and I was left to decide where to go and what to do with my night.  I didn't have to wake my mom up when I got home.  I woke up when I wanted, went to the gym if I wanted, and ate whatever I wanted.

There's kind of a stigma about Liberty, that students here aren't really "adults" because of the rules.  For one, no, it's not really that many rules, and two, no, it does not make you any less of an adult.  What I do with my life and my time is completely up to me, which is thrilling and terrifying at the same time.

What did today look like?  I navigated my way to the gym, and felt very exposed and very embarrassed while I ran, even though I know no one was actually paying attention to me.  I explored the finished portion of the new music building, only to (surprise surprise) find myself in the piano lab.  I tried to find my classes in DeMoss hall, only to get lost for nothing short of half an hour.  On one floor.  (I'm telling you, the walls of the 4th floor move when you're not looking.)  I ate breakfast and lunch alone, which was okay.  (Soon, I know I'll treasure that alone time, when I'm so crazy busy once classes start.)  I sat in the Honors Lounge for a while and put class stuff in order. (I know I'm a huge nerd because the library is already my FAVORITE place.)  My roommate and I made a Target run - and we're already planning another (somehow, we can never manage to get all the stuff we need.)  And, on top of all that craziness, I managed to meet about a hundred new people and call my parents and grandfather.

Life moves fast, and there's no hiding the fact that moving out of the house and into a dorm is hard.  All you can do is hold fast onto God and know that while everything is up in the air, He's still there.  Even if you don't know what your major will be (me), what you want to do with your life (me), who your professors will end up being (me), if that last textbook order will actually arrive before classes start (also me), or if you'll make that awesome GPA you need (oh hey also me), God's got you.  And it's all going to be more than okay, because where ever you are, or whatever situation you're in, you're exactly where he wants you.

"I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world." John 16:33

Friday, February 6, 2015

Green Pastures

"The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not be in want. He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters, he restores my soul. He guides me in paths of righteousness for his name's sake. Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me. You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies. You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. Surely goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever."

Psalm 23.

The prevailing theme this Psalm is peace.  I truly think that there is no greater gift than peace from God.  In this world, it's hard to trust and have peace.  I pray daily for God to give me peace about everything that's going on. I need him to lead me.  I need him to protect me.

Lately, my battle has been awaiting notification from the National Merit Foundation regarding whether or not I became a finalist.  My full ride to Liberty hinges on this, and it's been a stressful wait. I had thought that I was receiving notification on Tuesday.  Now, I learn that it could be four or more days until I hear back.  It's becoming harder and harder as the days drag by and I still have not received any word. It feels like everything hinges on this, and I can't wait know a little more of what's coming this fall. Many other things have fallen through, and it's clear that God has a hand in it all.  I can't wait to see what he's bringing this all to.

But, as much as I don't like it, I'm being forced to wait.  So, in this wait, I turn to scripture, because it's the only thing that truly helps lately.

I love how verse 2 of this Psalm says that "he makes me lie down in green pastures." To me, green pastures sound heavenly.  Bright.  Safe.  Happy. Full of life.  That is what God desires for us.  But, we don't always want his plan.  We reject his way and do it ourselves.  Sometimes, he intervenes strongly and makes us "lie down in green pastures" by manipulating situations to lead us certain ways.  I can see him doing that in my life right now.  We may not always be happy about it at the time, but in the end, his plan is always perfect and righteous.

But the thing I love most about this Psalm is just how much you can hear love and care ooze out of every word.  For me, it's impossible to read it and not picture God as a loving caretaker.  To those who feel that God is cruel and heartless, read this.  How can the Lord not be kind?  He is a gentle shepherd.  His desire is to care for us, to lead us to peaceful waters, to give us green pastures.  Even in the midst of waiting and struggle, he loves us more than anything.

And there's this reoccurring theme of guidance.  For me, I picture a father holding the hand of his young child and leading them along.  As a child, it was hard to feel afraid when with my father.  I held his hand and nothing could touch me.  Is that not the way that God loves us?  He loves me even more than my earthly father.  Surely he holds my hand and guides me along also.

Through good and bad, he holds onto us.  Even when we try to do our own thing, he does not let go of our hands.  It is said in Romans 8 that "For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord."

In the valley of the shadow of death, he is protecting me.

In the presence of stress and trouble, he is there.

In times of waiting and anxiety, he knows the future.

When I cry out for help and guidance, he has my hand.

When I try to do it alone, when I make mistakes, when I fall, when I forget to call upon him, he is still there.

Nothing can separate me from the love of Christ.  Nothing in all creation can ever take me away from him.  Because, after everything, I'm still his daughter.

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Consider the Lilies

"Consider how the lilies grow.  They do not labor or spin.  Yet I tell you, not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these.  If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today, and tomorrow thrown into the fire, how much more will he clothe you, O you of little faith!  And do not set your heart on what you will eat or drink; do not worry about it.  For the pagan world runs after all such things, and your Father knows you need them.  But seek his kingdom, and these things will be given to you as well."

Luke 12:27-31

Today's random ramblings are, once again, on anxiety and worry.  As college acceptances come flowing in, and other things, like financial aid and relationships, come into play it's hard to have a peaceful spirit about it all.  The last few months have been such a roller coaster, and I've never known what to expect next.  I hope that I lot of the back-and-forth will die down soon, but again, who knows.  However, I know that God has a plan for it all, so I'm not entirely worried.  I'm ready to know where I'm going, of course, but I've seen that he's beginning to guide me to an answer.

Whether it's Furman, or Liberty, or even Duke, God's got me.

But, instead of dwelling on my own problems and worries, as I often tend to do, I now turn back to scripture.

I think God uses the example of the lilies for several reasons.  First off, they have such a natural, wholesome beauty.  God took the time and care to ensure that even the least would be perfection.  Also, flowers are powerless to help themselves, nor do they need to.  They don't sit and worry about if God will provide for their needs, and he still does.

Lastly, and likely most importantly, flowers are such a small (seemingly meaningless) party of life.  They clothe the ground.  They are the least.  If God can take care of the least, then surely he can provide for his most treasured creation.

God even acknowledges the fast that he knows that we need these things!  He knows that we need food, and water, and shelter, and clothing.  He is not discounting our needs, not at all.  Instead, he wants us to trust that he will provide, rather than sit and worry.

College is no different.  If God can make the flowers and the grass grow, surely he can take care of me at college, no matter what decision I make.

And the closing verse of this selection of scripture is a promise.  It closely mirrors Matthew 6:33, and, very simply put, says to seek God, and the rest is covered.  Put him first, and he will provide.

And never once have God's promises been untrue.  He's made some pretty big prophecies, and they've all come true.  If he can raise himself from the dead, surely he can provide for the simplest of our needs.

His promises are pretty comforting.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Glittering City Lights, and All the Life Below

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First off, yes, I know it's a crummy photo.  It's the best I could get out of an airplane window, with the weird glare and all.  But the point of this edition of my random ramblings isn't about the photo.  That's just an introduction.  Bear with me.

I love flying at night, or just flying in general.  I haven't been on a plane for a while, but this last weekend, on the way to California (an experience that I hope to soon write about), I got plenty of time on a plane.  Including one flight from Atlanta to Charlotte, just about forty minutes in length, meaning that it didn't fly too high in the clouds, and I could see all the beautiful lights beneath us.

And, of course, being me, I had some deep profound thought while flying above the city.  That, or I was just really bored and wanted something to keep my mind busy.  Probably the second.

Anyway.  The thing that caught my attention was looking down at the highways, and all seeing all of the cars driving around.  I know this may sound lame, but I got all caught up in following those little dots on the ground around, seeing where they were going, and how small they seemed to me.  There were millions of lives beneath me, all moving in harmony (to some extent, of course.)

It made me stop to think about how complex our world really is.  Not only are there several billion completely different lives all going on at exactly the same time, but we have all these different systems and places for everyone.  There are lawyers and doctors and businessmen and waiters and clerks and managers and performers and teachers and cab drivers and literally everything you could imagine.  Right beneath me.  And they all exist together, working together to fill all the roles in a system.

For some reason, that blew my mind.  Not that humans could work together towards a purpose (although that is surprising at times), but just how vast and harmonious our world is.  All those little glittering dots on the ground have a purpose.  God designed each person to have a purpose.  And it's amazing when you can look down from the sky and see everyone coexist together.

Our world isn't perfect, but it's pretty freaking cool.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Why I'm Roughly 90% Done With Texting

I was watching Night at the Museum 2 with the kids at work today, and one part in particular really stuck out to me.

The former nightguard is talking to Teddy Roosevelt, and his phone buzzes.  Instead of waiting for the conversation to end, he pulls out his phone and replies, interrupting Teddy mid-sentence.  But, when he looks up from his phone, he realizes his lost his opportunity.

I've seen this movie a dozen times, but that never hit me like this before.  I always just took it as the movie's way of implying that he works too much and his job is too important.  And perhaps, that's the point the movie was trying to make.  After all, it came out in 2009, before cell phone addiction was wildly prevalent.

None of that mattered to me today, though.  the first thought that hit me tonight was "Huh, I wonder how many times I've done that to people before."

The answer kind of made me sad.  It's funny, how texting puts phone interaction over human interaction.

I'm not judging people who text, at all.  I am one of those people.  I spend likely over an hour a day typing messages back and forth.  And here's my secret.  The deep, dark secret I don't usually share with the world.

I actually hate texting. *Cue large dramatic gasp.*

Honestly, though.  It feels like an obligating most of the time.  Like, if you text me, I'm obligated to reply, even when I don't have time to talk or just don't feel like talking.  And, more so, everything gets misinterpreted the wrong way over text.  I've almost destroyed several relationships because of the way things sounded over text.  Because I couldn't hear their voice or see their face.  I got mad over words on a screen - words they might never have said out loud.  But it doesn't matter.  Because I've let those words on a screen control my life.

Now.  There are many merits to texting.  First off, it's fast and simple.  It's an easy way to convey information and get a quick answer.  And, you can do it around people without the whole world overhearing a conversation.  It's very convenient.  And I don't have any issues with using it, for convenience sake, or to have a quick conversation, or when something is going on but you can't visit or call up a person.  Obviously, sometimes it's just easier to text.  It's a great thing, and a great blessing we have. (Thus, why I said in the title that I'm 90% done with texting.  I'm definitely not completely done with it.)

My problem is when texting steps outside its role of fast, easy communication, and starts to replace normal conversation altogether.  I don't think it was ever meant to replace a face-to-face (or even over the phone) conversation.  When messages on a screen, without expression or tone, become more important than real interactions, there's a problem.

I'm not calling anyone out.  If anything, I'm calling myself out.

I love the random little texts I'll get from my boyfriend throughout the day, the little updates about class and going-ons at college.  But not every text has to be turned into a full conversation.  I don't have to be texting him right as everything happens.  Instead, it's healthier for us to call each other frequently, and just talk about how things are going - rather than try to explain it all over text.

I came to the realization this evening that things were the way they should be, texting-wise, over the summer.  Let me rewind.  I often consider last summer to be the best time of my life.  I woke up at 6:30, would text my boyfriend for ten minutes to wake myself up, and then went for a run.  Then, I headed to work for eight hours, where I would have no attachment to my phone (except maybe to take pictures.)  After work, I went home and either went to hang out with friends, spent time with my family, read a book, or called my boyfriend to talk about how our days were.

Notice what's missing?  The incessant texting.  Obviously, I still texted.  A lot, even.  But it didn't replace real communication.  Not in the slightest.

I want the summer back (for a number of reasons.  It really was the best.) and, in order to do that, I'm going to have to fight to get real communication back.  Besides, I work four days a week, run, tutor, participate in a play, and lead at church.  On top of taking several difficult classes.  I don't have time to be clicking away on my phone.

How do you change? Simple.  You just do it.  It doesn't happen overnight.  But it will happen, if you fight for it.  So, I'm going to set my phone aside and focus on living life.  I'm going to invest in real communication, and text only when necessary.

I'm going to stop missing those opportunities and conversations that float around.  I'm going to set down my phone and see how my life is changed.  I challenge you to do the same.

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Fear and Love - a short scene from my novel

Sometimes, a scene from my book tells more than a post filled with my ramblings.  This story is my heart.


He stares straight forward, towards the school, towards the small glittering lights in the distance. “Have you ever wondered what it’s like, though?”

I snap out of my slight trace. “What’s that?”

“Being in love. Haven’t you ever wondered what it’s like, not having to be alone?”

I hesitate, because I guess I'm really not sure about what to say. “I try not to think about it too much,” I admit. “You know. Part of being self-sufficient and all that.”

“So you’ve never dreamed of what it’s like. You’ve never imagined how it feels to be loved and know that someone has you.”

“I guess, if I'm being completely honest, the idea of falling in love scares me.” I brush a strand of hair behind my ear and glance over at him. “I don’t want to love anyone. It would make my life easier if it was just me. I could achieve anything, and nothing would hold me back. You know me. I don’t mind being alone.”

Kai takes a long breath as he looks over at me. “Then why are you crying?”

I bring my fingers to the corner of my eye and realize that a few tears have formed. Embarrassed, I use the sleeve of my hoodie to dab them away. “I'm not sad about anything.”

“Sure you are. We’re all only human, Shailyne, even you. We want to be held, to be loved. You’re no different than the rest.”

“But I have to be,” I say slowly. “I have to be different. It’s who I'm called to be.”

“I don’t disagree with that. You are different. I've told you that before. But you don’t have to be different like this. You don’t have to shut yourself away just because you’re scared to love.”

I'm silent for a long time, and he allows me to enjoy the quiet. I stare out across the field, down the hill, and all the way back to the residence halls. Across this campus that I've been a part of for the last six years, and never once have I had a friend here. I have been alone, and until now, I guess I've been comfortable with that.

“I'm not afraid to love, Kai.”

“Then why do you push me away?”

I look over at him, a little startled that he would ask me something that bold, and then back across the field. “I’m not pushing you away.”

“Then what, then? Why don’t you let me in?”

I sigh, frustrated, as usual, at how persistently he asks questions. “I don’t know. Do I have to have answers to everything?”

“No. Can I tell you what I think?”

I debate replying with some sort of sarcastic reply about how he always tells me what he’s thinking, then, on a whim, decided to hold my tongue. Maybe the setting sun and gentle, cold wind has put me in a more serious mood. Or maybe I actually want to hear what he has to say.

So, for once, I don’t say anything. I just nod.

“I think you don’t want to be vulnerable to anyone. You think you can do life alone, and Shailyne, that’s the biggest lie ever told to humanity.”

I laugh and roll my eyes. “What do you know about the truth of humanity?”

He’s quiet for a little while. I wonder if I hurt his feelings, but then again, it’s Kai. He’s put up with me for several months now. He’s learned not to take my cynicism too personally.

“I may not be school smart like you, but that’s not the only kind of smart. I like to think about the world. Why we’re here. What our purpose is. What truth is. Not the sort of thing they teach you in school. It’s a different kind of intelligence, but I happen to think that it’s equal to what you’re taught as truth in class.” He pauses for a minute, his bright eyes focused on the horizon, where the sun is quickly sinking. “I don’t know everything, but I understand humanity, and I think I get truth. And you’re lying to yourself if you think you can go through life alone. We were made to need other people.”

I shrug, but he doesn’t give up.

“Someday, you’ll see. Someday, you’ll love.”

I stare at his face, watching for any trace of emotion, but he keeps his expression steady. “Have you ever loved, Kai?”

“Sarah,” he said softly. “But I wouldn’t take back my love for her, even as much as it hurt to lose her. Loving is what makes us human. The pain is not a consequence or punishment for loving, it’s a side effect. But it’s one I'll gladly take any day.”

I let his words sink in, instead of rushing to tear them down. I guess that’s a sign that I’m changing? Maybe he’s having a little bit of an impact on me, as much as I don’t want him to.

I find I have nothing to say to that, and I think Kai understands. He doesn’t say anything more to me. Instead, he slides a little to his right, a little closer to me. I don’t completely mind. We sit there for a few minutes, quietly, together. Then, as the exhaustion from another long, hard day begins to drag me down, I rest my head on his shoulder, and together, we watch the dark overtake the evening sky.