Sister, You’re Going to Kenya

Dear Sister, 

I know that “we” don’t do sappy, but I do. I do. I feel. I worry. You’re going to Kenya. With Bible Quizzers, which are your favorite group of people on this planet.  And I’m so excited for you! But I’m oh so very nervous. 

And I know I shouldn’t worry, but I’m a worrier. I worry about anything and everything, and I always jump to the worst case scenarios. But I’m not going to jump this time, because you’ll be fine. 

You’ll be more than fine. You’ll be great, spectacular. 

But just in case, you know, because you’ll be there and not here where I can make sure you’re safe, and because it’ll make me feel better, I’m going to give you some advice (not that you need it, but I need it because I’ve done a missions trip before, and it’s my job to teach you).

So, here’s what I know, what I hope you learn. 

When you wake up one morning and feel like you can’t do this, like you can’t minister to people, and trust me, you will wake up one morning on this trip and feel like it’s all too much, I hope you remember that while leading people to Christ is important–it’s our duty as Christians–sometimes giving people what they need in that exact moment is just as important. If you can lead even one person to Christ, good. If you can give one person what they need in that moment–a listening ear, a friend, food, water, clothes–even better. 

God works in mysterious ways. And sometimes one simple act of kindness is all you need to open the door. 

Your comfort zone is being left an ocean away, but I hope that by the time this trip is done your comfort zone will have expanded to include the ocean. Because the most amazing, life-changing, heart-wrenching moments happen when we step out of our comfort zones and let God do what God does. And I hope God does some amazing things in your life and on this trip.

If you can do this, you can do anything. And you’ve already done so much–overcome so much. I hope you’re proud of that. 
I hope you hold on to every feeling you have, every emotion you feel during this trip. Embrace the fears, the sadnesses, the happiness, the triumphs. Wrap them up. Put them in the pocket of your favorite jeans. Pull them out when you need a reminder of who God is, what He’s capable of. Pull them out when you want to reminisce. When you want to remember the first time you really challenged yourself. 

Because this trip will challenge you in ways I can’t even possibly begin to describe. And I hope it changes you. I hope it leaves you on fire for God, for His kingdom, for spreading the news that we are all one under Him, for showing his love.

When people ask me if I’d do a Missions Trip again, I say yes. And when they ask, why, I respond, “because of the people I’ll meet along the way.”

The people you meet will change you. I hope they have as much of an impact on you as you do on them. I hope the mark they leave on you will last a lifetime. 
Because it’s so easy to forget that we’re not the only ones in the world. You know, you and me, we’re pretty privileged here. So many of our brothers and sisters in Christ are not, even the ones who live here. 

I hope you don’t forget the people you meet, both those who are in Kenya and those who are going with you. I hope you don’t forget they way they challenge you, inspire you. I hope you learn their stories, help them shoulder their burdens. I hope you share your story, too. 

We all have a story. Nobody’s is unimportant. 

I hope you going into this asking yourself, “What can I learn?” Instead of “What can I teach them?”

They will teach you more about yourself than staying here ever could. They will teach you more about God than you ever thought possible–even if they don’t believe in God, God will work through them like He will work through you.

I hope you remember what they teach you. I hope you leave a small part of yourself in Kenya when you leave, so you remember to pray for them when you return. Because it’s so easy to come back and return to everyday life, forgetting everything that just happened, and return to normal.

I hope the life you live when you come back is anything but normal. Not in a bad way, but in a way that inspires you to change the world, to have an impact, to create a mark, to leave the world a little bit more beautiful than it was when you entered. 

And when you come back and begin college, I hope the skills you learned while in Kenya you carry with you while at college. 

There will be people there who challenge you, whose beliefs don’t line up with what you believe (yes, even at Roberts). Listen to them. Learn from them. Expand your worldview. Believe what you believe because it’s what YOU believe, not because it’s what you grew up believing. 

Go into all of these new experiences with an open mind, allow God to work, allow your views to change if that’s what needs to happen.

Don’t let what you believe stop you from seeing other people’s beliefs.

Don’t let what you see stop you from seeing what other people see. There is more than one way to view the world, and each person has only a very limited scope made up of lenses of their experiences and where they live. Sometimes understanding means putting down your scope and picking up someone else’s, trying to see the world through the eyes of someone else. 

I hope your time in Kenya changes the way you see the world, the way you see God, the way you see yourself. 

But most importantly, I hope this trip leaves you energized, hungry for God, eager to change the world. 

I hope you share your stories of your time in Kenya. I hope you hold close the most precious moments. 

When you become weary of the future, I hope this trip serves as a reminder that you can do anything if you let go and you let God do what He does.

 
I hope I can remember the same. 

So, go in peace, go with joy, go with eagerness. Go with the hope of a life-changing encounter with God. 

I’ll be here. We’ll all be here, praying for you the whole way. 

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Open Letter to Wide-eyed freshmen and eager seniors

Sitting at the reception desk this morning, watching all the new students stream into the building for their first day of classes, my heart aches a little bit. I want to be a part of it all: the hustle and the bustle, the reunion of friends after a summer hiatus, the meeting of professors and new classmates.

It is when I look at my bank account and realize I didn’t spend hundreds of dollars on books and supplies that it hit me I’m not a part of it anymore—college life continues without me. I can stay on campus as long as I want, but I still won’t be an active participant: my friends will go to class and will leave me sitting alone. And they did. And they do.

I am now that alumni that refuses to leave, the one who, maybe, doesn’t even know how.

So, I sat in the café for four hours after my shift ended, taking it all in—the sights, the smells, the sounds—like a person on a diet, trying to quell their cravings by immersing their senses. Or, better yet, a reader who lives vicariously through the characters in a favorite book.

Looking at the sea of faces in front of me, I don’t recognize half of them. The ones I do, I say ‘Hello’ to. The ones I know well, I hug. The ones I don’t, I say a prayer for, asking God to bless their time at college like he did for me.

I’m a whole different person now than I was when I started college—thank God for that.

I was a wide-eyed freshman who thought she knew everything, and somehow along the way I turned into an alumnus who realizes she still has a lot to learn. Life would be pretty boring if I knew everything.

One day, you wide-eyed freshmen will turn into eager seniors who are just ready to be done: ready to be done with all the all-nighters, ready to be done with the 2 am fire alarms, ready to be done seeing that one professor you just don’t agree with.

Embrace the time you have in college. Trust me when I say that someday that ‘one day’ will turn into tomorrow. Tomorrow comes sooner than you think.

Wide-eyed freshman, there will be at least a few times when you doubt everything. The first will come when you meet someone whose life challenges everything you thought you knew. You may go to a small, Christian, liberal arts school, but the people here are as diverse as NYC. You will meet someone who causes you to question every belief you learned growing up. Embrace these people. Learn from them. Listen to them with an open mind. It’s only after your beliefs have been truly questioned that you can stand firm.

I believe what I believe not because it’s what my parents believe. I believe what I believe because I have questioned.

Wide-eyed freshman, you will doubt yourself again when your senior year draws to a close, and you wonder if you are going to make it in the ‘real world.’ You will. The skills you have learned along the way have prepared you for this moment: you are eager to learn, you can cooperate well with others, you’ve learned how to manage your time. The things you haven’t learned yet, you will learn along the way.

You will doubt yourself many times between these two and many times after. But, remember this: there are people around you cheering you on, even if sometimes it doesn’t feel like it.

Wide-eyed freshman, it might take a while, but you will find the place where you fit. You will find friends you encourage you, challenge you, laugh with you, cry with you, rejoice with you. Hang on to them. The friends you make in college will be some of the best friends you ever have.

Wide-eyed freshman, there will come a day when you stop feeling homesick. Don’t forget about your family. Write them, call them, text them. Let them know how you’re doing. Don’t be afraid to tell them about the hard things, the parts of yourself you’d rather keep hidden. You will make mistakes. It’s ok. We all do.

Eager seniors, you’ve done it! You’ve made it this far, and now you’re ready to be done. I was too, and now I realize how much I’m going to miss (not syllabus week, or finals week, or the all-nighters trying to write the paper that’s due tomorrow that I procrastinated on). I’m going to miss seeing my friends every day. I’m going to miss having conversations that challenge me to grow as a person and an intellectual. I’m going to miss taking time away from studying to go to Taco Bell (because sometimes taking a break is the best thing you can do).

Eager seniors, don’t forget what you’ve learned along the way. Dream big. You will do great things with the talents you’ve been forgiven. When you become rich and famous, don’t forget about the people who helped you along the way. Don’t forget to keep learning, exploring. There is so much world out there to explore, so many different kinds of people to meet, so many cultures to experience.

The best advice I ever received came from one of my favorite professors. One day he said to my class, “Trust me.

Wait, don’t. Don’t trust me. Question everything.”

I went from a wide-eyed freshman to an eager senior to a college alumnus who is still trying to figure her life out. And that’s ok. Because the more I question, the more I learn; the more I learn, the more risks I take; the more risks I take, the harder I fall; the harder I fall, the stronger I become; and the stronger I become, a better human I will be.

That is what college is all about: becoming a better human.

I stayed on campus for four hours after my shift ended, trying to take everything I could in because I’m still trying to become a better human. And the people I met in college have helped me along the way.

continue reading: Unsolicited Advice to Incoming Freshman and Returning Students

The End is Nigh: Graduation

Tomorrow is a big day for me: I graduate from college.

It’s a terrifying prospect, really, because the future is a great unknown, an expanse of uncertainty, a looming sea with uncharted waters.

It’s terrifying when you don’t have a plan, and you probably should.

For years, people have looked at me incredulously when I’ve told them my major: English?! What are you going to do with that?

I’ve always responded the same way: I have no idea.

Now, here I sit, on the eve of graduation, and my answer hasn’t changed. In the long-term I know exactly what I want to do: I want to write. I bleed words: sentences and stories run through my mind, records on repeat. I want to write because words have power.

There are so many stories out there in the world that are waiting to be told. There are so many stories inside of me waiting to be awoken.

Psychologists and neurologists have studied the power of the mind to think, to feel, to connect, to create. Imagination is a powerful thing, and it can provide insights into a person’s brain, which is why Art is so important.

Since I’ve started this journey of writing, my stories haven’t really changed, at least superficially, but when the layers are peeled back, the true meanings are revealed. They’re like an onion: multi-layered, can make you cry, and are sometimes smelly.

Writing has been my therapy; it’s been my way to process life, and there is so much more life out there to experience, not just mine, but others’ lives, too. Stories have a way of changing the world, and so I want to write.

But with the way this economy is set up, writing is not a practical short-term solution (to the chagrin of budding writers everywhere whose sighs are heard all over the worlds). So I need a job to help supplement the writing, at least for a while. And on this brink of adulthood and all the responsibilities that come with it, I don’t have a plan.

And that’s ok because I’m looking, and I know life has provided me with a toolbox full of tools and knowledge to help me along the way.

Tomorrow, I graduate from college. I’m not the same person I was when I graduated from High school. Words cannot express how thankful I am for that.

As a senior in High school, I thought I knew everything. I was cocky and arrogant and so sure of what I believed.

Life has a way of knocking you off your feet when you get too confident. Mostly it uses gravity.

As a senior in college, I relish in the fact that I don’t know everything; there’s always more to learn. Thank goodness for that because life would be pretty boring if there was nothing else to learn.

I enjoy the fact that our finite human minds can’t comprehend the infinite nature of the universe; it keeps the appeal of mystery and wonder.

College has taught me how much I enjoy learning, how much there is to know. There are so many things to learn about other people, literature, history, philosophy, history, math, science, and the universe. One person can’t possibly learn it all.

If you’re not learning, what are you doing?

Emily Dickinson wrote: Lad of Athens, faithful be / to Thyself, / And Mystery – / All the rest is perjury.

Life is a mystery; embrace it. Learn, learn, learn.

College is the perfect place to learn from other people. And boy, have I learned.

I’m not the same person I was when I graduated High school because I’ve learned so much from the people I’ve come in contact with. I’ve learned more about the world, more about people. I’ve become more open-minded; my beliefs have changed because of the people I’ve met, and I couldn’t be more thankful.

I graduate from college tomorrow, and it’s bittersweet. I’m ready to move on and to handle what’s next. My Liberal Arts education at this private Christian college has taught me more about myself and the world than I ever thought possible.

However, it’s going to be hard to leave people behind. In the past few years, I’ve found my niche, my posse, the place where I fit, the people who have taught me the most. And for that I’m glad. I wouldn’t be the person I am today without the friendships I’ve made along the way.

I graduate from college tomorrow, but I didn’t do it on my own.

And I have so many people to thank:

My family for their endless support and love. My mom for helping me get to this point. My dad for the coffee dates. My grandma for making sure I was always fed. My grandpa for letting me “borrow his knowledge.” My sisters for showing me how to laugh in the midst of stress.

My friends for letting me vent, for showing me what it’s like to have people who truly understand you, for letting me into your lives while you share your struggles and hardships.

My advisor, Prof Q, for being that guiding light, for knowing what to say at the right time, for giving advice, for listening to me pour my heart out when I was having difficulty, for encouraging me in my writing and in life.

You, the readers of this blog, for letting me share with you my struggles, for your feedback and encouragement, for sharing your stories with me.

The whole Roberts Wesleyan Community for showing me that not everybody is the same. There are so many reasons why I didn’t want to come to Roberts, but I’m so glad I did.

These last few years have been a blast (while also being a struggle, a nightmare dressed like a daydream, a daydream dressed like a nightmare, and so much more).

So, yes, I graduate from college tomorrow. And it’s terrifying and bittersweet and everything in between. I’m 50 shades of anxious disguised as cool and collected (at least most of the time. I’m sure tomorrow there’ll be a few gallons of tears). But for now, this is it.

Time waits for no man. The world doesn’t stop spinning for you when you’re life is about to change. Change is inevitable, and I’m welcoming it with open arms. (Even if I have to wear a hefty trash bag in 90 degree weather)

Graduation: I’ll Be Ok

On Wednesday, I ordered my tickets for my College graduation. It’s crazy to think that in a month and a half, I will be a college graduate. But, here I am standing on the threshold of adulthood and adulthood. And people keep asking me, “What do you want to do after graduation?”

I don’t know what to say to them. So I tell them, “I’m not quite sure. I’ve started looking to see what’s out there, started looking to see what kind of jobs I can get with an English Degree. I’ll probably go to Grad school at some point, but that costs money that I don’t have. So I’m looking for a job, any job I can get really. I can’t afford to be picky: there are student loans to pay off, a car to buy, my future to save for. Everything’s being thrown at me all at once, and I can’t avoid it no matter how hard I try—I’ve never been good at Dodgeball.”

Except I don’t actually say that because, well, it’s pretty obvious.

The truth is, I have no idea what I’m doing after graduation. I know what my end goal is: to be a writer. But that probably, realistically won’t pay the bills that need to be paid (at least not right off the bat). I’m looking for a big-kid job that will pay the bills, but it’s a terrifying process.

And Depression isn’t helping.

Every time I sit down to work on my resume or work on an application, depression brings his cousins anxiety and doubt over for a visit.

It’s really hard to work on your future when the three cousins are interrupting you:

No one is going to want to hire you.

You didn’t do as well as you could have in college, and now you messed up your future.

Hah! English majors. What good job will that give you?

And maybe their right. Maybe I did mess up my future. Maybe I didn’t do as well as I could have in college because maybe I was too busy focusing on my mental health to worry about getting all A’s.

But maybe their wrong.

Because I didn’t necessarily do as well as I could have in High school, but I still got into college. And not doing well in College is not any indicator of how well you will do in life.

One thing I’ve learned for sure is that I’m worth more than my GPA. My GPA does not measure how many battles I’ve faced, how many battles I’ve lost, how many battles I’ve won. My GPA does not measure how smart I actually am, just how good I am at studying or BSing my way through essays. My GPA doesn’t measure my talents, my personality, how much I care for others.

My GPA can’t tell you how hard I am trying to be ok.

My GPA can’t tell you how bright my future is.

But my doubts certainly can. The harder I doubt, the stronger my belief is that I will do great things. (it’s counterintuitive, I know. But I’ve been fighting depression long enough to know that this is the case.)

I’ve been doubting a lot lately.

And all this doubting has made the world seem a lot heavier on my shoulders. It came to a head on Thursday night. If I was still self-harming, Thursday would have been one of those nights, without a doubt.

Instead, I wrote.

There were a billion and a half thoughts running through my head, but the only thing I managed to get out was “I’ll be ok.”

I’ll be ok.

I’ll be ok.

I’ll be ok.

I wrote that phrase 150 times, falling asleep half-way through the 151st time: I’ll be.

I’ll be (fill in the blank).

Amazing.

Strong.

Happy.

A world-changer.

But most importantly, I’ll be a writer. That’s what I am meant to be.

And it terrifies me.

I’ve started writing the same book three or four times. And every single time, I get freaked out and stop. But in the past few weeks, more and more people have told me that I need to keep writing. Some of these people have followed my journey from the beginning. Some of these people I don’t even know.

Somebody came up to me on Friday, told me that she read my blog because her friend showed it to her. She then told me, “Thank you for being my voice.”

Thank you for being my voice.

For a long time, I couldn’t find my voice. I lost in the midst of my fear and doubt.

But now I’ve found it, and I have so many stories to tell. Some funny; some sad. Some good; some bad.

And I’m terrified. But that’s ok because I’ve come to realize that fear is a powerful motivator. I’ve come to realize that words have power. Words can change the world.

My words have been my way of making sense of my struggles, and in the process, I’ve become the voice for so many who don’t know how to express what they feel.

And that terrifies me. I want to do myself and others justice. I want to express where I’ve been without losing sight of the future.

And the future terrifies me. My dreams terrify me. But if your goals and aspirations don’t terrify you, they’re not big enough.

I think fear is just your minds way of trying to protect you.

I’ve come to learn that no matter what happens, I’ll be ok.

I’ll be ok.

I’ll be ok.

I’ll be ok.

Entropy, Empathy, Engineering, and English*

*alternately titled, “Why I’m an English Engineer”

When I tell people I’m an English major, the first question out of their mouth is more often than not, “So, you want to be a teacher?” I don’t know how to tell them that, no, I don’t want to be a teacher; I want to be a writer, an Engineer of words if you will. That was my plan originally, anyway. I went through all of High School planning on being an Engineer: I loaded up on Science, Math, and Tech classes. I took Physics, Calculus, Electricity and Electronics, trying to achieve a strong base of knowledge for college. It wasn’t until I applied, and was accepted into, the 3-2 engineering program that I realized I did not want to be an Engineer. It seemed Engineering and I would not play well together as we got closer: we’d be like the couple who get married after knowing each other for six months; who, as they find out more about each other, decide they are no longer compatible; and who get a divorce shortly after being married, but still remain friends.

Divorces are costly (so I’m told); college is costly, too. I didn’t want to graduate college in debt, with a degree I don’t like even though jobs are available. Now I’m graduating college in debt, with a degree I love even though fewer jobs are waiting (or so those who don’t know better tell me).

And that’s ok. Science and I may have broken up, but we’re still friends. In fact, in a lot of my writing, I use scientific terms and concepts to help explain what I’m trying to say. One of my favorite ideas to use is entropy.

Three-quarters of the way through my Senior Year of High School, when I told my parents I no longer wanted to be an Engineer, they were surprised. In their minds, I had spent my whole life preparing to be one: I was constantly taking things apart and putting them back together—pens, cameras, computers, pens, pens, pens, anything I could get my hands on; I was always coming up with ideas on ways to improve products consumers buy, especially washers and dryers; for my 6th grade science fair project, I built a radio out of a Quaker Oatmeal can and some wires. My parents saw an Engineer; I did not.

Some people have famous last words:

John Adams, when dying, muttered: “Thomas Jefferson…still survives.” Jefferson had died a few hours earlier.

Louisa May Alcott said, “Is it not meningitis?” …. It wasn’t.

Jane Austen, when asked by her sister if she wanted anything, replied: “I want nothing but death.”

Marie Antoinette, after stepping on the foot of her executioner, muttered: “Pardonnez-moi, monsieur. Je ne l’ai pas fait exprès. “(Pardon me, Sir. I did not do it on purpose.)

I don’t know what my last words will be, but I know what my (rumored) first words were. My parents tell me I looked underneath my car seat while playing on the floor, and they swear they heard me say, “How’s it work?” I’ve spent all 20 years of my life answering that question. All of the jobs I’ve wanted to have for as long as I can remember have had something to do with answering that question. Engineers take things apart, figure out the processes of the inner mechanics, and put them back together. Before an engineer, I wanted to be a doctor. Doctors do the same thing, except they use the human body. And now I want to be a writer, an editor, a publisher. It’s taken me a while to find the connection to the Great Question of my life: “How’s it work?” Hint: It has to do with stories.

I wrote my first story when I was in 1st grade. It was a short horror story that got passed around to all the teachers in my elementary school. They all told me I would be a famous writer someday. I didn’t believe them; I still don’t. That first story, which gave me the confidence to write, has been misplaced, and is sitting, waiting to be rediscovered, somewhere among all the notebooks and loose papers in my room. I started my first novel when I was 8. It was going to be the diary of an 8 year old orphan girl who lost her parents to the influenza epidemic. I never finished, nor did I get past the 4th diary entry. Since then, I’ve written numerous poems, journal entries, blog posts, sentences and paragraphs I hope one day to use somewhere. I guess we’ll have to see where life takes me.

What I’m getting at, I think, is how does my life question of “How’s it work?” connect to stories? I write to figure things out, to deal with my struggles in a healthy way. As someone who has been living with depression for as long as I can remember, every day is a battle. I’ve never been very good at communicating my feelings out loud, but on paper, it all seems to click; my life makes sense: the chaos in my mind becomes ordered. At its base, entropy is a theory of chaos and disorder. The only way to produce order out of chaos is by increasing entropy: order becomes chaos by expanding and producing energy. My chaotic mind becomes ordered when I put in the effort and energy to sort it all out.

Our minds are microcosms of the universe; each person’s mind contains a universe, and we’re all struggling to make sense of this chaotic world. A mind, at its core, is just the universe trying to understand itself, and I don’t think we’re doing a good job of understanding, connecting, and feeling. That’s why I read and write: to try to understand what I don’t know. I only have this one life and only get to experience what I live. By reading, though, I can imagine what it’s like to be a child soldier, and maybe, then, I can try to understand what they feel, how their experiences shape the way they view the world. I don’t know what it’s like to be Anne Frank or Maya Angelou, but I can read their words, put myself in their shoes, empathize with and understand their plight. The experiences we face shape our worldview. In order to understand what others feel, we must walk a mile in their shoes.

That’s all life is: entropy and empathy.

Being a reader has helped me understand the world better. I can see the big picture, but I don’t lose sight of each individual pixel. I’m less quick to judge. I understand what I believe, and I know what my neighbor believes, and we don’t always understand each other, nor do we always agree, but arguing won’t get us anywhere. We won’t accomplish change by making our opinions louder (or in this social media age, more visible) than other people’s. Change will happen when we actively listen, and try to understand, what our opponent is saying. We listen with our ears, but we hear with our hearts.

We all want to be heard. That’s why I’m a writer. I want to give a voice to those who do not have one, or don’t know how to use it. We all have a story. Every culture since the dawn of time has told stories. Stories are the best way I can think of to connect to other people. So tell me your story, because hardly any issue in this world is black or white, and I know where I stand and why I stand there, and if you don’t stand with me, I want to know why. This world is chaos and I want to empathize.

I’m 20 years old, and I don’t know much, comparatively in the grand scheme of things. But I do know we don’t have all the answers, none of us do. We’re all people doing our best to make order out of chaos. So, “How does it work?” I have no idea, but as an English major, I know how to dissect a text, find the main idea, put it back together in my own words, and learn something from what I’ve read. I know how to take what I’m feeling and put it into words so others can understand what I’m feeling, too. I want to understand where you come from also. Because this world is entropy and empathy, and I don’t know how it works.

I only get one life, and I’m trying not to screw it up. I want to leave the world more beautiful than it was when I arrived. And I’m doing my best, one story at a time, but it’s a big world, and compared to the universe, we’re all rather small. But we all contain universes inside of us. We all can make order out of chaos and empathize.

“How’s it work?”

I imagine it works best together.

I’m Convinced

This weekend was Conference Finals for Bible Quizzing (for those of us in the Genesis Conference, anyway). Our theme for the weekend was: I’m Convinced. . . that Jesus Christ is the Son of the Living God. 

Throughout the weekend, we discussed ways we are convinced, or ways we doubt, that Jesus Christ is the Son of the Living God at the Campfire Testimony Service, which is the best part of the weekend, in my opinion, because it is so great to hear what God is doing in the lives of the Bible Quizzers. 

And even though I’m no longer a Bible Quizzer, I still felt God telling me to stand up and tell the group what was on my heart. So, I did, but I fear it was a mess, because I am much better at writing than speaking. I have decided, therefore, to write out and share again what I said this weekend, because I hope it will make a difference in someone’s life.

My name is Kaleigh, and I’m not a Bible Quizzer. But, I was for a long time, so I think that should count for something. I’m sharing tonight, because I feel as though God has placed these words in my heart to share with you tonight, and I’ve learned it is best not to ignore God.

I have suffered with Depression for so long, I cannot remember what it’s like to not feel a sense of inadequacy all the time. I have been through many things in my life: I was sexually assaulted, I struggled with an eating disorder and with self-harm, and I’ve struggled with the idea of an all-loving God.

If God loves me, why has He allowed me to experience hurt?

Is God real?

Does He care?

Doubt is easy; faith is hard: It’s easier to doubt in the existence of something than it is to believe fully and completely in something. And I wanted easy. I was so tired of getting up in the morning and trying to fight my way through life. I had little faith, and it was all used up by the time I placed both feet on the floor. I had faith that the floor would not collapse under my feet, but I couldn’t have faith in God to carry me when I needed Him most.

Doubt is easy; faith is hard.

I can see the floor, but I didn’t think I could see God.

And then I went to Guatemala this past August.

And it changed my life, but I almost didn’t go.

You see, I’m not a big fan of crowds of people I don’t know. So, when God told me that I was going to Guatemala, I laughed. There was no way I was going to board a plane with 20-some-odd people I barely knew, fly to a country that spoke a different language, and show the love of a God I didn’t think cared to people.

It was like Jonah all over again: God said, “Go.” Jonah said, “No.” I was Jonah in this situation (I didn’t get swallowed by a whale, thank goodness).

Ignoring God doesn’t get you anywhere, and neither does arguing. So, I went.

And a transformation began to occur within me. I began to become convinced of the power and love of God. I shared my Testimony with a group of Junior Highers in a mountain village in the middle of nowhere, Santa Cruz, Guatemala. What happened next reminded me that God has a plan for everybody.

One of the Junior High Girls came up to me in the afternoon and asked if we could talk: “Podamos hablar?”

I said, “Por supuesto,” which means “of course.”

She asked me how I found the strength to get up in the morning. And I told her I had God. I opened up my Spanish-English Bible to some verses I remembered studying while I was in Quizzing.

And then I read her Philippians 4:13: “Todo lo puedo en Cristo que me fortalece.”

“I can do everything through him who gives me strength.”

I helped this Junior High Girl accept Christ, and at that moment, everything began to fit together. I realized everything I’ve been through has a reason. Had I not gone through my trials and my hardships, I wouldn’t have been able to help this girl find God.

God has a plan for my life, and I don’t know what it is, yet. But God’s timing is perfect, and it will be revealed soon.

God has a plan for your life, too.

So, I don’t know what your struggling with right now. But, we’re all struggling with something. I don’t know what you’ve been through. I don’t what God has in store for your life. But I know it’s great. He has great plans for all of us.

There’s a reason for your struggles. Everything has a purpose (even if right now, in this moment, the struggles you’re going through seem like more than you can bear). God has a plan for you, and I promise you, one day, your life and experiences will start to make sense.

I’m going to leave you with two thoughts:

The great philosopher Winnie the Pooh, once said, “You’re braver than you believe, stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think.”

1 Corinthians 10:13 states, “No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to man. 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 that you can stand up under it.”

I am convinced God exists because of what He has brought me through.

I hope one day you are convinced, too. Because doubt is easy and faith is hard, but life is so much more wonderful when you have faith.

God has great plans for your life, and when your suffering seems like too much for you to handle, God is strong enough to carry it.

Expect the Unexpected (Apology)

“Learn to forgive without expecting an apology.”- Kaleigh Distaffen, me.

In February, I wrote a blog post about forgiveness:

“Always forgive your enemies-nothing annoys them so much.”- Oscar Wilde

Forgiveness sucks. (By sucks I don’t mean it sucks in the figurative sense. I mean forgiveness is hard. It’s difficult, unpleasant, easier said than done, troublesome. But it’s absolutely necessary if you ever want to get anywhere with your life.)

I’ve grown up learning the importance of forgiveness. I’ve learned Bible verses and parables and all sorts of biblical knowledge about what forgiveness is and how to forgive. And to be honest, I’m still learning what it means to forgive.

I’ve always associated forgiveness with an apology. I’m sorry. I forgive you. But realistically, that’s not the way the world works. Apologies and forgiveness are not mutually exclusive.

APOLOGIES AND FORGIVENESS ARE NOT MUTUALLY EXCLUSIVE. Often times in life, you won’t get an apology (at least not a sincere one).

This is a concept I haven’t understood until recently. I’m extremely stubborn and maybe sometimes a bit prideful, so I never understood how I could be expected to forgive someone if they didn’t admit they were wrong.

I understand now.

You see, after I was sexually assaulted, I was extremely bitter. And then one day I wrote a blog post in which I “forgave them.” I thought that was it. I could finally let go of my past. I could finally be free. That tells you how much I know (which when compared to everything there is to know, is approximately nothing). And then I started to feel less bitter. I was still depressed, I still had random mental breakdowns, still freaked out anytime I was reminded or saw any of my attackers.

That is until two weeks ago. Two weeks ago, I saw one of them in Target. I didn’t freak out. I didn’t go into the bathroom and cry. I just kept walking. And that’s when I realized I never actually forgave them.

I said that I forgave them, but it was arbitrary and meaningless. I did it out of obligation and not necessitation. I didn’t need to forgive them, just like  I thought I didn’t need God.

Forgiveness is an active thing. There’s no such thing as passively forgiving somebody. Until you actually forgive with your heart, it’s void, empty.

So yesterday, I facebook messagd the guy I saw in Target two weeks ago, who by the way, was the one that caused my sexual assault. I sent only three words, I forgive you.

I doubt I’ll ever get an apology. An apology isn’t needed. I just need him to know he’s forgiven, because I don’t know where he is in his life, but maybe being forgiven will impact him in a way that hasn’t happened before.

And if it doesn’t, that’s ok. Because truly forgiven has impacted my life. Being truly forgiven by somebody who is truly perfect has impacted my life.

I don’t always deserve forgiveness. I’ve sinned. I’ve messed up. I have no idea what I’m doing half the time. God loves me anyway. God forgives me anyway.

So, yes, I forgave this guy, because I want to be more like Jesus. I also forgave myself. Because one time I tried to kill myself. I forgive myself for the scars I purposefully put on my skin. I forgive myself for all the hurt I caused myself. God tells us to love our enemies, and sometimes we are our own worst enemy.

I know I am.

I’ve forgiven. I’m finding healing. And I’ll always be living with Depression, but that’s ok. God loves me anyway. I’m forgiven anyway.

Our Father which art in Heaven.

Hallowed be thy name.

Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done

on Earth as it is in Heaven.

Give us this day our daily bread,

and forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.

And lead us not into temptation, bur deliver us from evil.

For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory forever.

Amen.

Yesterday, the unexpected happened. I received a response from the attacker I sent a message of forgiveness when the above was written. It contained 3 words: “Thanks. I’m sorry.”

And I just… I have no words.

God continues to amaze me. He continues to remind me that his timing his perfect. You see, I’ve been having a hard time dealing with life lately, and then the most unexpected thing happens, and I am reminded that God is in control (Which I am truly thankful for, because if I was left to be in control of everything, the world would fall apart).

God knows what He is doing, which is more than I can say for myself 99% of the time.

Yesterday, I was reminded of the power of forgiveness. And yesterday, I learned that forgiveness can yield unexpected results.

Why (My) College is Important

Today, my college broke ground for the new addition to the Science and Nursing building. This is exciting, not because I’m a science or nursing major, but because this new facility has the potential to impact many future students’ lives.

And I just want to say how thankful I am for College, especially for one that’s challenged me as much as mine has: physically (because as a commuting English major, my backpack weighs close to 500 tons), emotionally (because teenage girls experience all the emotions), and spiritually (because I once doubted God, but all the questions I have make my faith stronger). You see, when I came into college, I was broken. I barely passed one of the classes I needed to graduate High School. In fact, I barely made it through High School. About half way through my Sophomore year, I tried to kill myself. I started self-harming. I became anorexia. I was severely depressed.

And I was terrified of college. I was terrified of failing. I was terrified of being the nerdy girl who had no idea how to make friends. I was terrified of choosing the wrong major and not being able to find a job. I was terrified of the future. Basically, I was terrified about everything.

With one year left of College, I’m still terrified about what the future holds, but I know the college I chose has prepared me for everything that will come my way. It’s funny because the one college I vowed I would never attend became the only place I applied, and that’s the way God seems to work in my life.

I decide one thing, and God’s like, “Lol. Nope. Try again.”

I’m glad He does, because it makes me depend on Him more. He keeps my pride in check.

He called me to this campus for a reason, and I’m glad He did, because it’s changed my life.

The faculty here are some of the most caring and the most encouraging people in my life. You need some advice? No problem. You need to talk about some problems you’re having? Sit down. Have a seat. You want to get into some big theological debate? Bring it on.

I remember one time when I knew a certain book on a reading list for one of my Lit classes was going to be difficult to read and discuss. One day, when we were discusssing the rest of the Semester, I made an off-hand comment about it. When my Professor inquired, I told her my story. She immediately made accomodations, and it was wonderful and beautiful.

There are people on this campus who will challenge everything you once thought to be true. Being open-minded about what other people know is the best way to understand the world differently.

The more I talk to people on this campus, the more my faith grows. I don’t know of anyother school where having a mental breakdown in the library will lead to a bunch of students you don’t know to pray for you.

This campus is so full of love, which is why the squirrels here aren’t afraid if anything: perfect love casts out fear.

Because, yes, this campus is all about higher learning. But higher learning doesn’t just include education. It’s about being part of a community. It’s about forming relationships, personally and spiritually, that will continue to bless your life even after you leave. It’s about instilling confidence in each person, because everybody has value. It’s about learning how everybody is connected–everybody has the power to change the world.

This past summer, I went on a Missions Trip to Guatemala with some of the most amazing people I have ever met. (Shoutout to Roberts Enactus!) And this trip changed my life.

My college has changed my life, because it taught me that change starts with one person.

Sometimes I think I’m in the wrong major, because ‘English is just not practical.’ But if there’s one thing my study of literature has taught me, it’s that words are more powerful than you know.

I will change the world with my words one day. And Roberts has given me the confidence to do it.

 

 

See also: Unsolicited Advice to Incoming Freshman and Returning Students

Unsolicited Advice to Incoming Freshman and Returning Students

Students are beginning to move back onto Campus. And even though the most moving I’m doing is the 7 minute commute to school everyday, I am being fed glimpses of the hustle and bustle from my on Campus friends via Facebook and Twitter. I can imagine the heaving of boxes and crates, and the unloading of suitcases and backpacks. I can imagine the unpacking of childhood memories, the storing up of hugs to save for a rainy day when things aren’t going the right way, the parents lingering in the doorway–not quite ready to say goodbye, but wanting to see you spread your wings and fly–the hushed “I love you”s, and the long, drawn out “Goodbyes.”

Freshman, eventually this feeling will become familiar. Right now, the car is unpacked after numerous trips of carrying things one at a time, but eventually the car will be unpacked after two or three trips of stacked up boxes that defy physics and gravity. Right now, you want your parents to help (or maybe you don’t), but eventually you won’t. And it’s not because you don’t want them to stick around; it’s because little-by-little, step-by-step, you grow up. Don’t fight this feeling. Embrace it. Embrace your independence, but also be time conscious. Because, yes, you have all the time in the world to complete that project, but eventually you will realize that all the time in the world is less time than you think.

Just like things in your room will find a niche, you will too. But before you do, you will walk into the Dining Hall the first day of classes and feel overwhelmed with the amount of faces you don’t know, the number of places you don’t fit. When this happens, do not walk out. Do not retreat to the library. Push yourself out of your comfort zone little-by-little by sitting with people you don’t know. Join clubs. Get involved with activities on Campus. Eventually, the places you don’t fit will be outnumbered by the places you do. And eventually your dorm room will become your “home away from home.” You will find comfort in the rearranging of beds, the sound of the person breathing 5 feet from you, the closets that aren’t really closets but they get the job done, and the mattresses that aren’t quite as comfy as yours at home. And maybe you won’t sleep well at night, but that’s what naps are for. Because in college, everywhere is a bed if you try hard enough.

Speaking of bed, you will learn there’s a time and a place for decaf coffee: Never and in the trash. I’m just being serious. No, but for real: caffeine and Ramen noodles will become your best friends. But don’t complain about the food. I know it’s not as good as your Mother’s or whoever’s, but it’s certainly better than going hungry. And speaking of hunger, you will feel this ache in your stomach from missing your home no matter how near or far home is. Call your parents. Call your friends. Call your family. And when the nights are great, and the days are going right, write a letter addressed to you. Mail it to yourself. Walk to your mailbox. Open the box of metal. Pick up that letter, and save it for a day when the nights are longs, and the days are going wrong. And know that present you might not be your friend, but once upon a time, past you was on your side.

And if you’re not into the whole letter writing thing, have your family write you one. Have your family write one about what they’ve been doing with their lives. Because when I went to Guatemala, I knew my family missed me, but they carried on their lives as if they didn’t. Because missing someone is a sign of loving someone, and it’s better to be missed when you’re gone than not to be missed at all. My friend told me once about the best letter she received from her Dad. He was telling her about going to McDonald’s and ordering a large fry, and not having anyone to share it with. And it wasn’t about French Fries and throwing away the excess. It was about being missed in absence.

This journey is about losing yourself and finding yourself. And one day you may wake up, look in the mirror, and not recognize the face staring back. This is ok, because one day you will find yourself again. You will find yourself in the friends you make, the friends you leave behind, the choices you make, the laughs you share, and the hearts you break. And success doesn’t depend on grades, but that doesn’t mean don’t try. Because, I don’t want to sound cliche, but you don’t know what you can do until you try, and sometimes you need to spread your wings and fly.

And life is filled with disappointments, believe me, I know. This journey is hard, but I want you to know people are willing to walk it with you, willing to be a crutch when you fall hard, willing to lend a helping hand or a listening ear, and willing to be a friend.

And don’t be afraid to be vulnerable, because the most rewarding friendships I’ve made are the ones that have sprouted out of my openness. Don’t be afraid to open yourself up, because you are braver than you believe. Some days you may feel small, but you are big enough–big enough to make a difference, big enough to matter, big enough to succeed.