The Last Last Last Day of School

Graduation 2011

It wasn’t just the last day of classes. Today was the end of the school year … the end of my undergraduate career … the end of being a Taylor student.

My 15 seconds on stage passed in a blur, as did the last 15 days. An exhausting blur of going, going, going. It needed to end, and, in a way, I’m glad it did. The lifestyle I adopted toward homework long ago and took to an extreme this semester had become an unsustainable one.

A few months ago, if someone had told me that I would be back in Indiana for the fall, I would’ve groaned inwardly. I wanted the West and the mountains and change and new adventures. Leaving Indiana was right up there with finishing school.

Now, knowing that I’m going back is what’s keeping my eyes (mostly) dry.

Some other time, I’ll tell you the story of my Adventures in Odyssey Club. I’ll tell you how it became more than just a club. I’ll tell you how I came to love them and how special they are to me. But until then, I’ll just say that there are people here that I don’t want to leave behind. I don’t want to say goodbye without knowing when I’ll see them again.

My goal this summer is to recover.

I don’t just mean “recover” in the sense of recuperating after a stressful year. Rather, I’m talking about rediscovering what has been lost … and restoring what has been broken. Here are a few of them:

  • Relationships (with God and with other people — especially my family)
  • Motivation
  • Faulty heart attitudes and actions
  • Hope
  • The real me who is real with others

I don’t know exactly what this will look like, but I know that I need to pursue change and growth and healing, and that those things won’t happen if the only goals I make are external ones, like “read X amount of books,” or even “blog once a week.”

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What About the Change?

After graduating from college, she went to China and spent a year there teaching English. It had nothing to do with her major, but she still went, and it was an incredibly rewarding – and growing – experience.

As I read her story in an alumni newsletter today, I felt something that I hadn’t felt in a month or two, since talking with several YWAMers about their DTS experiences.

I felt excitement, a yearning for adventure.

I love to dream. I love the possibility of new, exciting adventures in untested waters. New cultures, new languages, new travels that are all my own. The prospect of finally finding myself and becoming the person I want to be.

I’m restless here at home and, to an extent, at school. Life in my small town continues on at the same pace as before I left. Not much has changed, except that I now know fewer people here.

I don’t know what I want to do with my life, not really. Oh, I have interests, but how many of them are really mine? How many of them are just my latching onto other people’s visions and thinking – hoping – they are mine too? Would I still be drawn to this or that country after the novelty wore off? Will my media interests fade, like history, like journalism, like fill-in-the-blank, on further exposure? What about missions?

The more “different” the opportunity, the more likely I am to dive into it, hoping for it to change me, to teach me discipline and point me in the direction I should go. But the changes I seek tend not to follow me home. It’s something I’ve experienced time and time again, but I’m still restless, chasing dreams as if they’re the gateway, the only gateway, to a happily-ever-after.

But life isn’t a fairytale. Sure, there are such things as life-changing experiences – hopefully my DTS will fall into that category – but usually, it’s the choices of everyday life that reveal one’s true character. My travels have left me with beautiful memories and a strong wanderlust, but they haven’t been the be-all and end-all that romantic me still hopes for.

And meanwhile, as I dream, real life continues on, latent with a different kind of possibility.

I’m still, it seems, waiting for tomorrow’s adventure to make me the person I want to be.

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All or Nothing

At around 2 this morning, I started cleaning our apartment kitchen. It took three hours. I may not touch the dishes for days — or even weeks — on end, but when I do, well, watch out bread-crumbs-hiding-in-obscure-places.

This all-or-nothing mindset permeates (too) many areas of my life. The further I get into this semester, the harder it is to find the motivation to do my work. And when that motivation is absent, the “nothing” side often wins.

Now if this were just a homework-related issue, you’d call it procrastination or senioritis. But unfortunately, it has infected my spiritual life too.

In my mind, the ideal devotion time is my sitting in a quiet place with a Bible, a Chuck Swindoll Bible commentary, and one or two other books stacked up next to me. I read portions from all of them. I have an amazing prayer time. I spend at least an hour with God.

Those kinds of quiet times are few and far between, and there hasn’t usually been a middle ground. Even my last resort of breezing-through-a-chapter-when-I-can-barely-keep-my-eyes-open-at-night has fallen by the wayside.

On the rare occasions when I have had my ideal devo time (or pretty close to it), there’s a sense of satisfaction and joy … and foreboding. Will I spend this time with God the next day, or will I fall again? And after each fall, each mismanaged day, each me-centered decision, my motivation slips and I’m much more prone to “nothing.”

I don’t want that. I don’t want to have one rockin’ devo time every two or three weeks but virtually nothing the rest of the time.

Just because I can’t always be “all” doesn’t mean my only other option is “nothing.”

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The Future is Now

The future will be better.

That’s what I tell myself when school feels irrelevant, or life seems dull and unchanging, or I seem dull and unchanging.

In high school, I wanted to go far away to college to gain independence and maturity, to finally start the rest of my life.

In varying degrees, I had the same expectations when I transferred to the Upland campus, when I interned at Focus on the Family, and each time I changed my major. Now, YWAM is that grand, life-changing future that’s surely better than the monotonies and the stresses and the insecurities of the present.

But I don’t want to pin all my hopes and dreams on any one future experience, be it an internship, a spring break trip, or even a five-month DTS. I’m very much looking forward to these things, it’s true, but I don’t want to just slide my way through the weeks and months in between, rushing through them as fast as I can to reach the next high that much sooner.

My DTS could be more than a year away. That’s 5% of my life. That’s significant. That’s too much time to just sit out.

So much can happen in these months, so many opportunities, if I widen my vision a little and expect God to do big things.

I’m notorious for starting my end-of-semester countdown early, and for Excel-ing my next-semester schedule months in advance.

But life isn’t about just getting to the next thing.

It’s not about skipping past all the parts that seem boring or hard (a la Joey and his life clock :)). I don’t have to wait until college is over to start my adventure with God; He can work just as well in small-town Indiana as He can overseas. “Familiar” doesn’t have to equal “boring.”

Don’t just dream about the future. Live in the present.

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“For I do not do the good I want to do…

… but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing.” (Romans 7:19)

I just finished a wave of projects in most of my classes. Now I don’t have any major assignments due right away.

This is my danger zone, and not just because of the procrastination factor.

“I don’t hafta, so I don’t wanna” becomes my mantra during these lulls. I sleep in late, I park myself in front of my computer, I don’t do much of anything … especially not what I most want to do. It’s the worst in the summer, when I have week after week of unscheduledness. It’s not the stretching, satisfying route, but it’s the easiest and the safest.

We all need times of rest after periods of intense work, but it’s easy to drop too many things during that rest, and to wait too long to pick them back up … or to gravitate toward the wrong kinds of rest.

I think it’s pretty obvious what you should not drop during times of rest (or busyness too, for that matter): God.

The most effective way to grow and mature is not to look at all those areas of your life that you fall short in, but to walk with God.

It’s simple, but it’s not easy, and you can’t expect to jump from 0% to 100% just like that.

It’s a process, a day-by-day journey, and you will fall down sometimes. But falling down doesn’t equal defeat, a going back to the very beginning, video game style.

It’s spending that free hour wrapped up in God and not yourself. It’s learning to let God infiltrate your thoughts and conversations. It’s not letting doubt or fear grow uncontested. It’s praying without ceasing. It’s letting your spiritual life expand beyond “quiet time.” It’s not waiting for the perfect time, but coming as you are.

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Exploring Doubt

I need to stay away from the IMDb message boards.

One minute, I’m on the page for the movie “End of the Spear”; the next, I’m reading “You Know You’re a Fundamentalist Christian When…”

Debates about religion and especially Christianity rage in message boards and the comments sections of articles, YouTube videos, blogs. And probably Facebook posts too, but I lead a sheltered Facebook life.

In these mostly anonymous arenas, atheists and agnostics whip out their arsenal of “reasons why Christianity is absurd.”

Those debates trouble me, and not just because I’m saddened for those who don’t understand who God is.

They trouble me because my arsenal of “reasons why Christianity is the answer to everything” is smaller, and I hold it with less confidence. In those moments of attack, I cling to it with shaking hands, hoping, hoping, that it doesn’t turn to dust in my weak arms.

I wish I were stronger. I wish I had all the answers to every question raised. I wish I knew more with my head. And I wish I knew more with my heart, to fill in the holes that head knowledge never could. I wish I could stand undisturbed when the arrows rain down around me.

Books like “Mere Christianity” and “Reason for the Hope Within” are faith-bolstering, encouraging, inspiring. But when I read the persuasive counterarguments, I remember that kernel of doubt in my heart.

It’s hard being in the minority. It’s hard knowing that there are so many people smarter than I am who reject Christianity.

This summer, I wrote an editorial about illegal immigration. It was an agonizing experience. I spent hours researching the issue, but made little progress in formulating an opinion.

How do you choose a side? You pick the one with the most evidence, of course. But how do you do that when both sides use facts and statistics and precedents to argue their case, and your knowledge of all those things — of the lengthy legal and historical documents, the raw data, the scientific experiments — is all based on the analyses and interpretations of biased intermediaries?

Yes, biased. We all bring our own biases to the table when examining evidence. Ultimately, though, we have to decide whose interpretations to trust, since we can’t all be experts in everything. But those experts have biases too. Science can only go so far in explaining how the world works. History can only go so far. And with these imperfect resources, our imperfect minds can only go so far as well.

In the end, it all comes down to faith and belief. Yes, I want to strengthen my intellectual “arsenal,” but my prayer is that what I wrote a few weeks ago would remain at the forefront of all my pursuits:

The Christian’s surest reason for belief is experiential knowledge of God, above and beyond all the intellectual reasons.

Lord, I believe; help thou mine unbelief.

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Dreaming in Red

“I tell you the truth,” Jesus said to them, “no one who has left home or wife or brothers or parents or children for the sake of the kingdom of God will fail to receive many times as much in this age and, in the age to come, eternal life.” —Luke 18:29-30

Before I went to bed a couple nights ago, I read Luke 18.

That night, I dreamed that I did a YWAM DTS (or something similar) this year. Or at least, I started one. I returned to college shortly after it began, troubled that I was putting off graduation still further. I didn’t want to wait another year to get my degree. YWAM could wait a couple months.

Someone in my dream confronted me about my reasons for leaving. Was I sure God didn’t want me to be there at that time? I hemmed and hawed about wanting to be done with college. After all, five years is already a long time.

I don’t remember exactly what the response was, but it was something that challenged me and made me uncomfortable … something that reminded me that God can and does interrupt our best-laid plans, and that that’s okay … and awesome.

It wasn’t until I woke up that I made the Luke 18:29-30 connection, and found it incredibly thought-provoking (and cool) … and consequently sat down at my computer to write down a slightly extended version of what you’re reading now.

Would I be willing to change my plans in response to a call from God? Would I be willing to forgo my spring break Colorado road trip, or stay in Indiana after I graduate, or do a DTS in the States, or even delay my last semester of college?

I’m not saying that God is calling me to do any of these things, but this dream definitely brought that Scripture home in a new way. Some of the above things are things I have long taken for granted: Of course I’m moving back west after I graduate. Of course I’m graduating in May 2011. Of course, of course, of course. I say I want to do whatever God calls me to do, but if I’m setting limitations, even small ones, on my future … am I?

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With God, All Things Are Possible

When I started college four years ago, I expected the new place and the new circumstances to change me. I also thought I knew what I was going to do with the rest of my life.

My last blog described my recent academic upheavals. Now I want to write about the spiritual ones. 2010 has been a landmark year in so many ways, the most important of which revolve around my relationship with God. I’ve wanted to write about this topic, really write about it, ever since last spring, but back then I was too busy and over the summer I was too lazy. Now is the time.

On September 1, 2006, my first Friday as an undergraduate, I started a journal. Over the last four years, I’ve written over 100 pages in it, mostly in times of emotional highs and lows. This evening, I read through all 100 of those pages. It was a very revealing experience. The main thing I came away with was that I spent most of the first three-and-a-half years of college wanting to be closer to God, wanting to have a “faith of my own,” but never really doing anything about it other than writing in my journal every few weeks or months. And so I stagnated.

My mom would encourage me to read my Bible and pray. It seemed like a Sunday School answer to me then, and I virtually ignored the counsel, thinking cynically that it wouldn’t “do anything.”

And yet, I wanted to make my faith my own. I wanted to change and grow and be real with people. But as the years passed and my journal writing became more repetitious, I started to wonder if I would ever change.

I would get fixated on all the little things I didn’t like about myself. I could see cracks and holes and inadequacies in almost every area of my life. How could I possibly go from this chronically broken person to someone who was at least on the right trajectory?

I wanted a big, life-changing moment to jolt me out of my aimlessness and into a purposeful faith that was my own. Oh, there would be blips in the flatline that was my life – a challenging chapel speaker, an excellent sermon, a desperate prayer during a time of discouragement – but I wasn’t pursuing God, not really. I was pursuing an image, an end to insecurities, more friends, the approval of my peers and my professors. I sure didn’t like where I was at spiritually, but I didn’t do anything about it – namely, fix my eyes on Jesus.

That was then.

Last spring, I found my new major classes helpful and informative and interesting, but it was Contemporary Christian Belief that changed my life.

Contemporary Christian Belief (Contemp for short) is a class every student at Taylor has to take. But I was excited for the class, especially after I found out what we would be reading.

In a nutshell, it was a philosophy class that centered on apologetics – the defense of the Christian faith. Our main textbooks were two excellent books – The Reason for God by Tim Keller, and Reason for the Hope Within by a collaboration of Christian philosophers, edited by Michael J. Murray. I read many intellectual arguments for Christianity and probed many of the hard questions.

As much as these readings stirred my mind and my heart, what made the biggest difference in my life wasn’t an argument at all. It was something very simple, something that I had always been told but hadn’t really pursued.

I learned that the Christian’s surest reason for belief is experiential knowledge of God, above and beyond all the intellectual reasons. I learned that the more I seek after God, the more I pursue Him and desire to know Him, the more I will know Him. Here’s what I wrote in my journal on April 9:

Instead of worrying and thinking about all the things in your life you don’t like, and how to change them (or despair that they will never change), lean on God. Talk to Him about everything. Get to know Him. Essentially, that is what prayer and Bible reading are – a sincere heart seeking after God. Anyway, by knowing God, the burden of all those worrisome things is transferred to Him, and He will begin to mold me.

This realization began a gradual process of growth that was different from all the transient spiritual highs that had preceded it. Instead of focusing on changing myself, I was focusing on deepening my relationship with God … or at least starting to focus on deepening my relationship with God. Since then, I’ve sought to “live my life as a prayer,” to dig deep into the Word, to earnestly seek after what – and Who – really matters.

It hasn’t been overnight change. There is still so much room for growth. But now I know the secret. I’m trying to seek God not as a means to an end, but as an end in Himself. I have a lot to learn, but now, at long last, I know I’m facing the right direction.

Where am I now? I’m in the second month of what’s looking to be my best school year yet. (Okay, I should probably remove that “yet,” since this actually is my last year). I don’t know what I’m going to do in the long-term, but I’ve discovered a heart for missions and a discontent for living the typical suburban middle-class life with a 9-5 office job and all the trappings. I want to live for God wholeheartedly.

I have a lot of decisions coming up, some rather soon, but above and beyond future concerns, I’m so grateful for what God has done in my life this year. It’s amazing, knowing what can happen when you put God at the center of your life. It’s going to be quite the adventure.

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The Learning Curve

… [“The bends in the road”] captures my outlook on life at this time.  I’m nearing the end of my college career, and as that clear, defined end draws closer, so new beginnings approach as well… beginnings undefined and unclear, yet full of promise… a series of ‘bends in the road.’

When I wrote that, almost a year ago now, I had no idea how fitting the title “the bends in the road” would be even before “the end of my college career.” Then, I looked forward to May 22, 2010 — graduation day — as the day I would round that first bend.

But I was wrong; it happened much sooner.

One late night last August, hours before flying back to Indiana, I happened to browse through the course requirements for the media communication major. It struck me that this was the major I’d been searching for, two years ago, when I bumbled into (and quickly out of) the computer science — new media major, and I mused about what could have been.

I became a history major as a sophomore because of interest and necessity. History was the safe choice and, thanks to a good U.S. history class, an attractive one too.  But over the next year and a half, it didn’t go much further than that. I liked my classes (some of them, at least), I learned things, I met professors who cared about us students and were passionate about what they did, but I didn’t have that passion.

And so I coasted through the rest of my sophomore and junior years, often feeling like I wasn’t learning anything. I was accruing some knowledge of history and foreign cultures, yes, but I didn’t feel as if I were learning anything that was preparing me for the real world. But it was too late to change my major again, so I approached my senior year with the mindset of just getting through it as quickly as possible and getting on to the real world.

But then, hunched over my laptop computer that late August night, what could have been became a very faint what if…?

It was so incredulous an idea, especially to someone like me who so anxiously wanted to be done with school, that I hardly took that whisper seriously. All the same, though, I couldn’t deny that media communication was much more closely aligned with my interests and skills than history or, really, any other major I had dabbled in.

That whisper soon grew louder, but it still wasn’t an easy decision. I didn’t want to watch my closest friends graduate and leave while I lingered on. I was afraid that my senioritis and procrastination and lack of motivation that had been steadily worsening each semester would staunchly follow the law of entropy and infect this new path.

It took months to decide, months of weighing pros and cons, of discussion, of prayer. But I’ve made my decision: to stay an extra year and graduate with a double major in media communication and history, plus a minor in creative writing. I’m so glad that my parents convinced me to take last summer’s internship for credit — a requirement for my new major!

Already, I’ve learned so much — namely, about media writing. Four months ago, I didn’t know there was such a thing as AP style. Now, I’ve worked as copy editor for the school newspaper and have written several articles. I don’t want to be a journalist, but learning these useful skills and gaining actual experience has helped make this semester one of my best yet, and I’m excited (and a little nervous) about my year of straight media communication classes coming up.

I still don’t know what I want to do after I graduate. I don’t know where the happy medium is between this new media writing and my old friend, creative writing, nor how that will jibe with next year’s inundation into video, audio and web. But my outlook on school has already changed so much, and I’m excited to learn, and to have another year to “redeem my time at Taylor” … time that was lost in apathy.

May 22, 2010 — nine days ago — I watched my old class graduate. It was a bittersweet experience, sitting in the audience writing congratulatory cards and watching instead of being one of the 470 strong bidding the school adieu. And yet, I know I’m supposed to be here one more year.

Last June, I anticipated “bends in the road,” but I also anticipated my college career coming to a “clear, defined end” in 2010. So much can change in a year. It makes me smile.

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