The sky is black and swirling, frequently and dramatically ablaze by spears and daggers of lightening. A ring of mountains is illuminated with each stab, surrounding the tumultuous body of water I find myself on. There’s a boat nearby, and the yelling voice of mankind. There’s also a luminescence far purer than the flashing above; to my left, parallel, a white light glows. White as can be; no other thing could call itself that color (or lack thereof) when compared. Taking over the physical space it inhabits, removing it, breaking through it. Over-existing it. It’s Him. Walking or standing, I cannot tell, but I know that it’s Him. On the water, with me. In the storm, with me. Yet so far beyond it. Like the heavy reality of the light transposes its surroundings, He can eradicate anything, move anything, manipulate any particle whether subatomic or macro-cosmic. And I realize that all I need to do is move to Him. This movie has built and played out and recycled through my mind over and over these past few weeks. It’s not any scene that I’ve created, in fact, it’s a merging of two that you’ve surely heard of, if only from the many allusions to them both in the spiritual and secular worlds. *** Tuesday, July 22nd, I received a shock and a blow. Not bad health news, not anything to do with any relationship. But it was earth-shattering, to a startling degree. The goal I’d been working so diligently towards, through sickness and roadblocks, after victories and dark nights of the soul, appeared to be being ripped away from my grasp the very moment it seemed so certainly mine. I had done nothing wrong, which was frustrating. I couldn’t blame myself. At the end of the day, I was finally experiencing the very jaded but adult realization of what bureaucracy can needlessly and painfully prevent. My heart broke. My mind revolted, ever-eager for exercise, it tore through channels looking for solutions, pointing fingers at the problem(s), trying to protect its more vulnerable side and ACT. I cried and cried out. Help me! Pray for me! Show me what to do, and I will do it….just please don’t ask me to give up this dream. Don’t humiliate me. Don’t punish me; teach me this lesson another way. Teach me quickly. It was mourning. It was the death of a dream, and hope was the last thing I could grasp hold of. Many well-wishers had faith for me (this is important; you should never be afraid to hope for those who can’t. They’ll see it isn’t futile someday). The unfairness of it all cut so deeply; it even felt unjust, but that was probably my wounds speaking. I worked effortlessly, jumping through every hoop I could think of, humbling myself yet fighting like a desperate warrior. (Aren’t all immortalized heroes fighting out of humbled desperation? This tradition isn’t new with me, and I’m certainly not going to be legendary). I even found time to be still in that 2.5 week period. I found truth pursuing me relentlessly, whispering gently yet firmly, lessons and confessions interchanged, an intimate and constant and raw dialogue. I know many people have different views on what constitutes a damaging amount of pride, but I felt my own being chipped away just by milling through theoretical situations; I was forced to lay it down and accept potential solutions. Time and again I had rhetorical arguments; I was WRONGED…and on top of it, the situation seemed destined to be misunderstood. And often in those moments of burning, angry tears, I would come upon a verse or receive a text or an email that checked the fruitless, one-sided dialogue with my enemies, real or perceived. Six days after the damning news, I read this brief piece by Oswald Chambers, and it changed the game. A part of my mind opened, a part of my heart was restored, and the value of this tormenting time began to be felt. An excerpt: We have the idea that God is leading us toward a particular end or a desired goal, but He is not. The question of whether or not we arrive at a particular goal is of little importance, and reaching it becomes merely an episode along the way. What we see as only the process of reaching a particular end, God sees as the goal itself. It cut so deeply. I had built up a castle in the sky; I had created a massive piece of finish-line tape and focused so heavily on the journey towards teaching that I never stopped to see that maybe the end goal was so much larger. A few days later, my dear friend Erin was listening to my situation and whipped her phone out to read me this: James 1:2-4 Consider it a sheer gift, friends, when tests and challenges come at you from all sides. You know that under pressure, your faith-life is forced into the open and shows its true colors. So don’t try to get out of anything prematurely. Let it do its work so you become mature and well-developed, not deficient in any way. She spoke truth to me, the importance of seeing such trials as occasions for JOY. And I did. I thought about it; and I realized…I realized what I’ve always professed and firmly believed: I do not believe that everything happens for a reason, but I do believe that this world is a broken place. Bad things happen, oftentimes because of natural consequences to wrong decisions both within and beyond our control. But this world is not broken beyond repair. When my own small world is broken, and the divine reaches in to fix it, how can I possibly not find a reason to rejoice? Even if the healing process is longer and more painful than I anticipated? My life is a series of this in symbolism; my year-long tooth surgery process, my head-on collision with Lyme Disease, my family being torn apart, even my broken arm in kindergarten all demonstrated that healing is most often achieved through discomfort. How tragic would it be to take a cast off of a healing broken bone before the process was complete because we couldn’t endure the annoyance and pain? The itching of the captured flesh beneath the cast, the weight of which interferes with everything? And what guarantee is there that choosing another option will result in long-term painlessness anyway? The joy.. the gift of it… Maybe it’s a matter of course for some that believing we have a loving and personal God means that He’s going to get involved…but maybe some of you are like me in that, while I recognize refining will happen, I forget the ultimate motivation is not to make bad-me good. The ultimate motivation is LOVE. It is the all-knowing simply knowing what I need more than I do, much like we know what infants and small children need and will fight to provide them with it in spite of their struggles against us. I also learned to accept the death of a dream…even if it didn’t die. (It didn’t; it’s working out in ways more mysterious than I could have EVER anticipated). We should be dreamers; we should have goals and of course we should be working diligently towards them – especially when the desire and pull and natural gift-set all point in that direction. I’ve known and relished in that since I was small. But what I have learned recently is that we shouldn’t be so arrogant as to think our dreams are the end-game. They are a part of a greater whole, both in terms of our own lives and in terms of our communities and our world. And for me, for those of us who believe…well, the end goal isn’t a secret. The purpose we are trying to achieve isn’t a mystery hidden, waiting to be revealed when we finally cross this or that hurdle. It’s Jesus. That’s it. When we’re walking on water, the point isn’t to master the elements or to walk away from our fellow men to some transcendent level of holiness. The point is to keep our eyes on Jesus and walk to Him. He’ll take care of the rest, whether it’s an issue of bureaucratic red-tape, internal fear, or the physical, elemental properties of dihydrogen monoxide.
I do not understand #100happydays.
It represents (to me) a fundamental problem
Of trying to make permanent that which isn’t sustainable
That which was never intended to be.
Happy. Oh, happy. Happiness is not the truth.
It’s an emotion, the very nature & promise of which guarantees it is temporary.
You cannot change that even if you choose to, and I would venture that you shouldn’t try.
I have read what appears to be the central landing page of this hashtag heavy challenge, and it does a nice job of saying “this is for you!” “You’ll be more positive” and the like. It argues that it is a remedy to an overly busy culture. But what does happiness have to do with busyness? What if a bursting at the seams schedule does release euphoria in some?
Slowing down and being happy are not synonymous, in other words. The connotation of the hashtag/movement is non sequitur with it’s supposed goal. #100daysofhappy connotes AND denotes feeling good as an ultimate goal, and that isn’t realistic or wise.
Choose to be hopeful from the midst of your despair, choose to see beauty from ashes, choose a myriad of realistic cliches* born from truth to cling to, but please, please, don’t think happiness is the end.
You are choosing a life of constant disappointment if you do.
You are deciding to chase a fix no less addictive and elusive as the next high from a potent drug if you seek to make it (happy) your status quo.
*Cliches in a literal sense here. Not a negative connotation
Accepted! Graduate school! I’ll be a Master!
Course load. Navigate it. Online/residential combined. So many students, who’s my advisor?
Advocate for myself.
Take the sub job; keep my foot in the door, my name top of mind!
Take the writing job; sock money away, the collectors are hungry, I’ve got to!
What’s my homework this week?
Something due Tuesday, something due Wednesday, due Sunday for the rest.
Reading, writing, find another teacher to observe, find all the schools, all the grade levels.
Advocate for myself.
The phone’s ringing again – take the sub job!
Discussion board posts, lesson plans, original sources? Which library has those?
The client’s emailing again – get writing!
Laundry, dishes, cook, scrub, repeat. (Thank you, babe, for cooking again!)
Ouch. Toothache. Tooth break. Funds to the dentist, always the dentist.
1% chance of this procedure failing? That’s me! See you 8 times a year, dentist.
Time to go, time to travel – two weeks on campus.
Oh how time flies (thank God, this is torture)
Prep coursework, more sub jobs, keep running, stay fit!
Travel east (thank you family for coming along with)
Classes and adventure and it’s over so soon -
Or has it only just begun? What’s wrong with these bug bites?
Break from classes for two exams with a twist
(That’s how you order a drink with Lyme, right?)
Get it together, House, fight the lethargy, fight the disease, no rest for the weary-
Classes back in session.
Subbing back in session.
A new job, steady, fun.
Juggle the deadlines, chain myself to the computer
Which university department screwed up now?
Advocate for myself
Online for classes, online for work, eyes hurt.
Winter in Virginia
(Avoid the great outdoors)
Icy weather anyway, kindness of strangers saves the day
Student teach! Full time hours, no pay.
Full time hours for the first time in almost 4 years.
No pay, no rest.
Clients still email – answer them!
Work to grade, plans to create, stay in shape, House.
Stay on top of it.
Glasses! Get them! Headaches scratched off the list; at least that’s one thing.
Loan confusion – should be in deferment!
Advocate for myself.
Tally the days but they’re all a blur.
Log my hours, all three spots every week.
Discussion boards, portfolio. Homeworkneverends.
Work on work emails at the gym.
Piles of laundry and traceable dust, sorry babe can you cook again?
May? May! Time has come…
What do I do?
It’s all done.
I’ve learned a lot these past 18 months – far beyond the psychology, philosophy, and pedagogy of education although those clearly made up a bulk of it. And thank goodness, as this is the degree I have obtained and paid for, after all.
I can confidently say that I’ve learned that I was in need of refining far greater than I was aware of, and this time of graduate studying has (painfully at times) brought me to a place where I could receive it.
I’ve learned that we can finish what we start, and we can finish strong. My final course of grad school somehow resulted in the highest grade you can get (that of 11 points over the maximum allowed). Does it make sense? Nope, but I know that if I can finish strong, so can you. This goes in hand with my simultaneous love of running and getting tattoos; it’s the same lesson. Yep, it hurts. Yep, there might be battle wounds. But keep going. Push through it. 9 times out of 10 I find myself thankful for whatever irritated me about a daunting task in the first place, so shut up and move.
I have learned that there’s a difference between multi-tasking and multiple responsibilities. Multi-tasking really can be counter productive, but juggling multiple hats (student, teacher, assistant, elder, wife, friend, etc.) is possible. The thing is…be present. In whatever moment you are in, in whatever role you find yourself, be fully in it. I have seen the effects of hanging out with a loved one while writing a paper in my head or thinking about the emails that I need to answer. It’s horrible. It’s unkind to the person I am with, and I have learned that if it means spending less time with my friends because I have work or school to finish by a deadline, that’s what it means. BUT that also means that when I do have time for them – I really do have time, and instead of offering a distracted Emily, I can give the best of me. It’s what you all deserve.
This journey has taught me that we are capable of far more than we can imagine. That very good things have very high price tags. That, as a clearly repeated theme stated, if we are going to succeed we must be advocates for ourselves. Be educated on what you need for your particular situation and take responsibility to ensure things fall into place. I’m a big believer in faith, but I save that for God and gravity, not organizations and procedures.
I’ve made the mistake of too much self-reliance during this journey, and for that I apologize. I took friendships for granted and I deeply thank you who have stuck by my side and come to my rescue. Inward processing has its place, but too much is lethal. I’m not going any further down that road. I am so grateful for all of you who have stuck by and supported me through this journey – it’s not just my graduation day we’re celebrating.
It’s done. 36 credit hours in 18 months. The fastest 18 months of my life — I’m ready to slow down and enjoy life a little bit more. Join me?
From Philippians 3:
Focused on the Goal
12-14 I’m not saying that I have this all together, that I have it made. But I am well on my way, reaching out for Christ, who has so wondrously reached out for me. Friends, don’t get me wrong: By no means do I count myself an expert in all of this, but I’ve got my eye on the goal, where God is beckoning us onward—to Jesus. I’m off and running, and I’m not turning back.
15-16 So let’s keep focused on that goal, those of us who want everything God has for us. If any of you have something else in mind, something less than total commitment, God will clear your blurred vision—you’ll see it yet! Now that we’re on the right track, let’s stay on it.
17-19 Stick with me, friends. Keep track of those you see running this same course, headed for this same goal. There are many out there taking other paths, choosing other goals, and trying to get you to go along with them. I’ve warned you of them many times; sadly, I’m having to do it again. All they want is easy street. They hate Christ’s Cross. But easy street is a dead-end street. Those who live there make their bellies their gods; belches are their praise; all they can think of is their appetites.
20-21 But there’s far more to life for us. We’re citizens of high heaven! We’re waiting the arrival of the Savior, the Master, Jesus Christ, who will transform our earthy bodies into glorious bodies like his own. He’ll make us beautiful and whole with the same powerful skill by which he is putting everything as it should be, under and around him.
Rainy days are my happy days
White noise that effectively cancels out my frantic thoughts, replacing them with whispers of “it’ll be alright” heard in the cadence of the pitter patter of rain drops
No harsh sunlight forcing me to squint my eyes, they’re wide open, shielded by long lashes meeting their purpose
No bright sun burning skin so pale from generations of lives born under Scottish skies
Rainy spring days shield the grass from sunlight, too. Emerald green, unbleached by long hours of light exposure
Blossoms out, drinking their fill
Alive. Fulfilled. Peace.