Weeds and Wildflowers

Hiya folks!  It’s the end of my third-to-last year of education possibly ever and as the academic calendar draws to a close, I thought I would take a little time to give you an update on my year and hopefully do a little reflection just for myself as well.  I can’t guarantee it’ll be organized or come to any conclusion, but I do hope you can get something out of it.  So here goes.

I came into this year riding so many successes and joys of the last.  My first experience coming back to campus was getting to bond with my amazing RA team and get so stinking excited to serve the school I have come to love so much with people that I love so much in a way that I could show so much love to strangers who would become my beloved residents and even friends.

Then I got to actually meet my residents and I was overwhelmed by the blessing that they were from the very first impression.  And trust me, the blessings didn’t stop there.  God gave me a building full of wonderful, scintillating, unique, caring, beautiful girls who have done and grown so much over the course of a mere nine months.  They have taught me about life, how to care deeply, and things I never expected about myself.  They gave me free food, trust, their heartfelt cares and worries, and a place in their lives, which was a luxury I didn’t realize would happen in the way it did.  But I’m thankful for it all the same.

I got to sing with the audition choir this year, which cultivated a new appreciation for music and a dedication to my voice.  There is a heavenly quality about sitting in a room with seventy other people and placing your voices on top of each other and interweaving them together.  And it definitely boosts your confidence to just let your vocal chords do their thing and be unapologetic about it.

I returned to my incomparably fantastic friends and continued to build those relationships as well as create some new, equally stellar friendships.  I got to invest in people and see just how much they invest in me.

But in so many ways, this felt like a year where the resounding word I received over and over again was “no.”

No you don’t get to be an RA for more than a year.

No you don’t get to be on stage in a Shakespeare production in the fall.

No you don’t get perfect residents who don’t struggle with the really deep problems.

No you don’t get to be in a relationship right now.

No you don’t get to be in a senior show.

No you don’t get easily good grades like you used to.

No you don’t have the motivation to invest in your residents and other friendships the way you would like to all the time.

No you don’t get magically better after a break from classes.

No you don’t get to be on stage for the final show of the year.

No you don’t get to make it all the way through the semester with all your classes.

No you still don’t get to be in a relationship.

No you don’t get an anxiety-free semester.

No you don’t get to sing in a specialty group next fall.

No you don’t get to leave the year with confidence and closure.

Just a whole bunch of no.

It was a messy year for sure.  I remember several times in my RA meetings throughout the year, the entire team sat in a weary, forlorn circle keenly aware of the warfare Satan was wreaking on the entire building.  It seemed like every week there was something new thrown at us.

Of course, we were so grateful to be there to help.  That is the sort of stuff we signed up to do because we wanted to be able to make a difference.  But, like parents with their kids, all we wanted for our residents was to see them grow and succeed.  To celebrate with them in their joys and come to know how wonderful they each are.  Relationships are more than the good things though, and that meant we had the privilege and responsibility of being there when life wasn’t so grand.

Beyond my residents, I confess I didn’t have the greatest year either.  Satan weaseled his way into sensitive spaces for everyone on the RA team and left us worn and tattered in our own rights, feeling helpless at times.  I struggled with that tricky word no all year long.  Don’t get me wrong, being an RA was one of the greatest blessings of my college career so far, but there were times when I couldn’t see the blessings through all of the things I didn’t have.

When I knew the fall play was going to be a Shakespeare, I thought for sure I’d be on stage, no problem.  Shakespeare makes sense to me.  I can understand it, I have experience performing it, and I enjoy it.  All admirable traits, to be sure, but when it came down to it I was overconfident and not as prepared as perhaps I should have been with my audition.  So when the audition results went up, I heard a big fat no.

But that isn’t the end of the story.  I was given a role, not on stage but as head student costumer.  I worked closely with our professional costumer and got to make some decisions about how the characters should look and even help assemble costumes.  We built the entire show ourselves and it turned out gorgeous.  Apparently some other people thought so too, because we were selected to showcase our costumes at the regional Kennedy Center American College Theatre festival in January, which was a huge honor.

Had I been on stage, I would not have gotten to dive in to that incredible process and be such a visible part of the show, even though I wasn’t on stage.  In keeping me offstage, I got to engage with a whole different side of theatre and build my confidence with creating a new aspect of the show.

This year, I really felt like I was ready to be dating someone.  I felt ready to invest in a specific individual and grow together.  One of my largest life goals is to be a good wife and mom and I am well aware of how young I am still, but I was disheartened by the fact that I am nowhere near that stage of my life yet.

But when I looked back at the year, I realized that I would never have been able to balance being a student, an RA, a friend, and a relationship.  All of those areas of my life would falter because I would not have been able to keep up with any of them.  Instead, God gave me a primary focus this year: time to be an RA.  I got to invest in my girls because they got to be a priority.

Cheesy metaphor time:  We pick which plants we decide to put in our gardens.  Anything that shows up there that we do not want is called a weed.  Usually weeds are resilient and unruly and not particularly easy to get rid of.

But some of the things we call weeds can exist in a different setting that is not in our way and we call those wildflowers.  We admire their tenacity and ability to spring up in the middle of absolutely nowhere.  They are sparks of spontaneous joy in places that are otherwise unremarkable.

Yet when they show up in places we have already deemed beautiful, we uproot them without hesitation.  I know, in practical gardening terms, that makes sense to keep the plants you want to grow on track, but for the sake of the metaphor, maybe it wouldn’t be so bad to notice the wildflowers amid our cultivated garden and admire them as blessings.  Wildflowers instead of weeds.

I didn’t get to be at rehearsal very often this year because I didn’t get to act in any shows, but I did get to spend those evenings in the lounge watching a movie or doing homework or chatting about life instead of stressing about lines.  I also got a whole heap of experience learning how to audition and learned to be proud of the work I had done, even if it wasn’t what I needed to land a part on stage.

I felt guilty and ashamed that I had to drop a class and have a light class load second semester because I was relearning how to cope with stress, but it was an exercise in giving myself grace and acknowledging my limits.  I even took my own advice and talked with the campus counselor and learned a new perspective on how I was treating myself and those around me, which helped me to make some positive changes.

It was a year that forced me, most of all, to rely on God.  Weed or wildflower, I would have wilted if I didn’t have my saving foundation.

The year before this one was the strongest my faith has ever been.  I figured I would start right back where I was at the end of my freshman year with my faith and continue to grow just as easily as I did that year.  It turns out that relationship with Christ doesn’t grow unless you actively remember that it is only by his grace that you are here at all.  I am hopeless without God, but with him there is rest, peace, understanding, and grace.  Even if I feel lost and confused and more than a little bit helpless, my capabilities are irrelevant because I have the unfailing love and protection of my savior.

I won’t always understand why things happen the way they do.  I still can’t say I understand a lot of the heartache of this past year, but already I have seen God working through it and I know he will be faithful.  Sometimes he will send the clear-cut blessings that look like roses and other times they will be the purple flowers springing up on the side of the highway but they are blessings nonetheless.