He’s Always At Work

Blog Pic 1I have a confession to make. I don’t like hard things. For someone who has long been an avid reader of the Harris twins’ blog The Rebelution and book Do Hard Things, the necessity of such an admission is both humbling and sobering. First, let me say that, as I enjoy a final semester at Erskine and look back on my wonderful years here, it is imminently clear to me how very richly the Lord has blessed me. As a sinful human being, however, I quickly forget my first love, and so, when a painful trial makes an entrance, I often discover just how unsanctified I actually am.

If there’s anything that tends to turn our eyes toward eternity, it is experiencing some sort of acute discomfort or suffering here on this earth. Whether our trial is emotional, physical, spiritual, or relational, a situation that causes us to—at least for a short time—feel that earthly happiness is simply unattainable is an incredibly effective tool that the Lord often uses to cause us to long for heaven. With regard to this truth, Colossians 3:1-4 is a verse I’ve been meditating on lately: “Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you will also appear with him in glory.”

For the believer experiencing a trial of some sort, such verses provide both comfort and great hope. When I find myself responding to hard things with bitterness, asking the Lord, “Why, why?” I know both that He is big enough for me to ask the honest, emotionally raw questions and that such a response, though natural enough, does not honor Him if it’s where I remain. It’s easy to become comfortable and complacent when our lives seem to be going just as we’d planned and we feel fairly in control of our circumstances. Such a state of apathy and illusory self-sufficiency, however, is not one with which the Christian ought ever to be content. We are called to something higher, greater, and richer, by the grace of the One who is faithful never to leave us where we are.

I love this quote of Elisabeth Elliot’s: “Our vision is so limited we can hardly imagine a love that does not show itself in protection from suffering. The love of God is of a different nature altogether. It does not hate tragedy. It never denies reality. It stands in the very teeth of suffering. The love of God did not protect His own Son. The was the proof of His love – that He gave that Son, that He let Him go to Calvary’s cross, though ‘legions of angels’ might have rescued Him. He will not necessarily protect us—not from anything it takes to make us like His Son. A lot of hammering and chiseling and purifying by fire will have to go into the process.” How I resonate with her words! I recognize in myself that limited vision of which she speaks, but I am also inexpressibly thankful for the God of comfort who is loving and compassionate, even as He molds and shapes us (II Corinthians 1:3-5).

If It’s That Kind of Day…

Erskine professors are really wonderful. Not only are they excellent teachers and academics, but they also care deeply about Erskine students as individuals. At the risk of sounding like an emotional basket case, let me share two examples from my own experience.

Once last semester, and once this semester, I have—to my dismay, mind you—found myself in tears upon answering a professor who kindly asked how I was doing. Certainly, the usual response when asked, “How are you,” is to smile cheerily and say, “Quite well, thank you!” regardless of how exactly one’s day is going. When, however, a variety of factors and struggles combine to make a person (in this case, me) particularly emotional, a profoundly sincere, “How are you doing?” may be all it takes to unleash the floodgates. Case in point being the two aforementioned conversations, which were not entirely dry-eyed on my part.

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Rachel enjoying some pleasure reading before French class begins.

What I so appreciate about my Erskine professors, though, is that, confronted with the admittedly awkward experience of having a student begin to cry while talking to them, they responded with great grace and compassion. I was left without a doubt that, rather than being anxious to extricate themselves from a conversation turned suddenly more serious than they’d anticipated, the professors to whom I was talking truly cared about my well-being as they listened to my sniffled explanation with genuine concern. I love being part of a learning community in which it is safe to have such a meltdown, not only in front of a fellow student, but also in front of a professor. It’s just one of the things that makes Erskine special.

Exam Time

The cake Admissions got for me…yum!

Whew—what a whirlwind the weeks leading up to midterms were! By about this time in the semester, everyone starts spending less time socializing at meals and rushes off to finish reviewing for that next big test that’s looming. One often sees students walking around with a book or flashcards, or people off in corners intently reciting history facts or Spanish vocabulary. I, for one, ended up regaling friends with History of the English Language notes while we waited in the lunch line. (Guess who’s going to avoid me the next time they see me coming with a notepad in hand?)

Another notable event of the week—at least in my grandmother’s eyes—was my twenty-second birthday. Unfortunately, I spent most of the day in frenetic study, and when friends asked me what I was doing to celebrate, a sort of garbled, “Please don’t throw me a party or anything that might take time away from studying” escaped my lips…but the day was special, in spite of all the homework, because of all the sweet notes, phone calls, and happy birthday wishes. One friend also made me sugar cookies, and another gave me a pair of earrings. The Admissions Office even got me a delicious cookie cake—I was so impressed that they remembered my birthday! ‘Twas a special day because of the wonderful people God has put in my life.

Hannah and Amanda enjoying a night of cookies and fellowship in Robinson kitchen a couple weekends ago.

During the intense couple of weeks leading up to Fall Break, the social life of most people on campus tends to effervesce into the realm of the wished-for-but-currently-nonexistent. Unless, of course, study groups count as socializing. Studying in a group can be extremely helpful—not least when the participants keep from devolving into bouts of hyperventilation (not that I would ever do that). But in all seriousness, especially in the midst of exam season, it’s important for me to step back and ask myself why I’m studying or working hard in the first place.

A lesson I seem to learn again and again is that, if my aim is to bring glory to self and to earn the praise of men, I just won’t be able to continue when my stamina is running low and I’m exhausted by the rigors of academic life. If self-aggrandizement is the goal in view, either failure will lead to despair or success will lead to disillusionment and pride, because nothing apart from Jesus Christ can ultimately satisfy. A challenging round of exams and essays often reminds me of this truth. Consequently, I Corinthians 10:31 is a verse I try to keep in mind continually: “So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.”

Who ate all the cookies?

Though hardly on par with Scripture, a couple of Inklings quotes were also a help to me last week amidst the exam-craziness. Gandalf’s words to Frodo are, I think, quite relevant for the college student juggling massive amounts of reading and writing: “All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.” In The Weight of Glory (an incredible book of essays that is a must-read), Lewis states that “the present is the only time in which any duty can be done or any grace received.” Especially for those believers with perfectionist-tendencies, it’s important to be reminded that all we can do is seek to wisely the time we have, for the glory of the One who has called us. And for those of us who tend to be lazy or lackadaisical in our approach to the work God has placed before us, it’s important to remember that our time is not our own and that we serve a great King. If we really believed that, how would the way we spend our time look different?

The Beauty of Community

In most ways, the first semester of my senior year has thus far been wonderful —it’s been great to be back in the residence hall surrounded by dear friends, and I love my classes. What hasn’t been so great?  Probably all the things that have broken down during the first month of school: first my car, then my printer, and more recently, me (at least, physically, if not so much mentally…though some might beg to differ). It all started several weeks ago with a painfully swollen joint in my toe, followed by a case of asthmatic bronchitis and a sinus infection. Being sick has been difficult—feeling bad isn’t exactly a good study aid—but the Lord has used my extended illness both to teach me compassion and to show me what a caring, loving community surrounds me.

Excited about our new hall decorations on the second floor of Kennedy Residence Hall.

It’s far easier to be impatient with others, or to be annoyed by the person in the back of the room coughing up a lung (for the past few weeks that’s been me), when you haven’t walked in their shoes before. Health is something we tend to take for granted—a sort of right we tend to demand—when the reality is that every day of good health is an immense blessing and God’s grace to us. How quickly I forget that! But God’s mercies also come in other forms, including that of physical weakness. And whether that physical weakness takes the form of a broken bone, a lingering illness, or a chronic disease, God will use those hardships in our lives for our good—to make us more like Christ—if we seek Him in the midst of them. Easier said than done, yes? In addition to giving me a renewed sensitivity to the physical trials of others, God has used my bouts of illness to humble me in ways I wouldn’t have expected.

Over course of last few weeks, friends have cared for me in so many ways—opening doors for me, carrying things for me, giving me cards and chocolate, asking how I am every day for weeks straight. Just in the last two weeks, different friends have given me cherry juice, dried cherries, cough drops, cranberry juice, ibuprofen (when I ran out and wasn’t mobile enough to easily get more), vitamin C tablets, lemons, a vaporizer, and crutches. Two friends have even carried me, and others have offered to do so. Talk about being humbled by the selfless service and sacrifice of others! The experience has been a powerful portrait of what it looks like when others are the hands and feet of Jesus—the body of Christ made manifest in our lives.

Our fabulous SLAs sketched scenes from classic literature and then gave crayons to everyone on the hall…such fun! Here I’m coloring a drawing of Edmund and the White Witch.

God has graciously provided friends to literally and figuratively carried me through these past couple of weeks of physical trial, and at one point after I broke down in tears, my sweet roommate assured me that she was happy to do anything I needed her to do—that it was a joy to serve me, because she loves me. (This after she’d carried my laundry up and down the stairs for me and walked to a nearby store to get me ibuprofen.) More recently, said roommate has had her sleep interrupted nightly for two weeks by my violent, constant coughing attacks—and when I apologize for keeping her awake, she cheerily replies, “Oh it’s all right,” and says with a teasing twinkle in her eye, “I know you aren’t doing it for your own amusement!” What a blessing to be surrounded by friends who love and care for me even when I’m unlovable. Don’t we all need community like that?

Great Conversation: A Gem of Erskine Life

I may have mentioned this before, but at the risk of repeating myself, I’ve just got to say that of all the things I’ve loved about being at Erskine, the community has been one of the most wonderful. Certainly, anywhere you go, it takes time and intentionality to form meaningful, deep, mutually-reciprocal relationships. (I had to remind myself of this during first-semester freshman year when, despite the great people around me, I worried that I wouldn’t ever have close friends in college.)

That being said, the great thing about college—especially about a school the size of Erskine—is that you very quickly form close bonds with fellow students as you live, eat, and study together on a daily basis. Now, by junior year, it’s impossible for me to count the number of times I’ve just chuckled to myself and thought, wow, this is fun. Studying diligently and growing intellectually are a huge part of college life. But in those moments between hours of studying, conversations begin that are fun and reinvigorating. In a landscape of challenging and often exhausting academic efforts, such exchanges are gems sparkling along the path of daily diligence. Maybe a friendly debate begins at lunch on a topic everyone feels strongly about but on which there are a variety of positions. The wonderful thing about being at a school Erskine’s size is that, almost anywhere you go, you’ll know people and have something to talk about.

Erskine students in “conversation” last night during the hilarious theatre production “A Night at the Asylum”

You might come across friends studying and ask a question about the book you’re reading, engendering animated an animated discussion of everything from politics to religion—topics you’re not supposed to mention at the dinner table, remember?—that lasts almost two hours until you look at your watch and discover it’s almost 2 a.m. The heart-to-heart conversations with girlfriends late at night in the dorm (I’m afraid I can’t speak for the guys, but I’m sure they have similar exchanges) are always fun as well. Wherever and whenever they take place, whether deep and serious or joking banter punctuated by laughter, conversations with friends are always refreshing or invigorating in some way. Indeed, such exchanges often galvanize me to think and study more deeply out of a desire to better learn why I have an opinion or hold a particular conviction with which a friend disagrees. Then there are just those times when my sides ache from laughing and I discover that, interestingly enough, sleep deprivation can act as an extremely effective substitute for laughing gas. Oh, laughter is good for the heart…as is meaningful conversation for the mind and soul.

A Night at the Ball

Rachel and I at the dinner

Last night, Erskine’s Student Government Association held the annual SGA ball on campus. The evening began with an elegant dinner served in the Bowie Arts Center, which was beautifully decorated with diaphanous, light blue hangings wrapped around lights and draped across the high ceilings. Everyone was elegantly appareled in a colorful variety of evening gowns, tea-length dresses, and suits. Shortly after arriving, J.P. Duncan, our student body president, said a prayer for the meal, after which each attendee was served a scrumptious plate of shrimp, beef tenderloin wrapped in bacon, asparagus, bread, and potatoes. Next, the animated dinner-table conversation was topped off by a delicious cheesecake dessert, and soon thereafter, people began heading to the dance floor.

A table of lovely ladies

For the dance, SGA had set up a white tent bedecked with lights in the middle of the Mall (the large grassy square in the middle of campus). Punch and more refreshments—in case you were still hungry after the fabulous meal—were set up on tables near the tent, and everyone began to mill around that area for a bit…until that is, a line-dance song came on, and the entire crowd raced as one to the dance floor. (There’s nothing like a line dance to get everyone involved—especially if, like me, one is singularly lacking in creative, “free-style” abilities.)

Schadell and Hannah, looking stunning as ever

At several points during the evening, swing dance and shag songs came on. That was especially fun for me since my brother offered to swing dance with me and show me some new moves he learned recently. (I’ve got to say, I wasn’t sure what it would be like to have a sibling at school with me…but it’s turned out to be great fun on all counts! And besides, he’s just amazing.) Later, a circle of clapping, dancing friends formed, and different people went (or were encouraged) into the middle to exhibit some dancing skills. One friend even did a flip in the air to thunderous applause. All in all, the evening turned out to be a great success, and my friend Laura Beth and I finished it off in true college fashion by heading off to the library to study a bit before bedtime. But don’t worry—we changed out of our ball gowns first.

A Fun Night of Music

Well, it’s that time of the semester again. Walk up to just about any Erskine student these days, and they’ll tell you, “This week I have two papers to turn in, three projects due, two tests, and a quiz.” Oh, yes, and then finals. During the rush of these last few weeks before summer, these words of Aristotle’s become particularly apt: “The roots of education are bitter, but the fruit is sweet.”

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Christine singing Sondheim's witty piece "Lovely"

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Heather singing "I Remember Sky"--this girl has an incredibly rich, full voice. Gorgeous!

In addition to approaching deadlines, innumerable concerts, events, and theater productions are taking place on the Erskine campus about this time. Balancing the academic and the social, thus, becomes quite the challenge, but I was extremely glad this past Thursday that a friend persuaded me to go to a recital put on by Erskine’s voice studios. I had vast amounts of homework waiting to be done, but I nevertheless took a break long enough to head over to the auditorium for “An Evening with Sondheim”—and I’m so glad I did!

Everyone on the program did a fabulous job, and the repertoire ranged from the stirring strains of “Johanna” and “Not While I’m Around” to more humorous selections like “Lovely” and “Children Will Listen.” It was a lot of fun to hear some extremely talented freshman sing solos for the first time. Christian and Heather sounded especially amazing, but I sadly don’t have any videos of their performances because I was too mesmerized by their singing to have the presence of mind to record it. Will—another freshman, to whom I happen to be related—gave an entertaining rendition of “Giants in the Sky,” acting as Jack from Sondheim’s musical Into the Woods. All in all, it was a fun and delightful evening and worth giving up some precious study time. But now, back to the books!

The cast taking a bow at the end of the show.