Running the Race: the Barn-K for Joy

Some of the things that I appreciate most about Erskine are the ministry opportunities that occur throughout the year. During this past year, students, faculty, and non-Erskinites alike all played parts in benefiting the community, whether by raising money for the American Cancer Society through the Miss Erskine Pageant, by volunteering at an Eagle Scout’s project, or by participating in any other numerous ministry events. For me, the most memorable ministry opportunity of my freshman year will always be the RUF-hosted Barn-K For Joy. The Barn-K for Joy raises money to send a young man to Camp Joy, a camp that is specially designed for people with special needs, through a 3.6 mile race from the Due West sign in Erskine to the barn where RUF meets on Sundays. Paul Patrick, the campus minister at Erskine, finds sponsors who will donate a certain amount of money depending on the number of participants in the race. RUF has been able to send a special young man named Warren Sullivan to Camp Joy for many years, and I think that is one of the most special things about the ministry and about Erskine.

Now, not all people are created equally in the aspect of physical fitness. Take me, for example. I enjoy going on “runs” (much walking occurs), but I am definitely not a “runner.” After I passed the first mile marker on the road, a part of my heart sank because I was so tired and still had more tan two miles left. Other [crazy] people are super fit and love to run, so they leave people (like me) in the dust. Some people hate running with a passion and enjoy a leisurely stroll instead. No matter what category a person falls into, he/she is guaranteed to really enjoy the Barn-K because it’s designed to accommodate to all types of people. Plus, everyone gets rewarded at the end of the race with a buffet of water, fruit, pizza, and snow cones, a super cool t shirt, and an amazing lesson by Paul Patrick!

After telling you about my wimpiness and how tired I was from the race, I would like to say that passing the finish line was the best feeling that I felt that day, but despite a grand feeling of relief and accomplishment, I experienced an even better feeling later on. Warren Sullivan got to come to RUF with some of his friends and caretakers on the day of the race. Warren’s uncontainable excitement was almost tangible as it filled the entire barn. I remember sitting on the hay bale and feeling more joy and thankfulness than I had felt in a long time. This time, my joy did not come from the blessings that God had given me, but from the blessing that God gave to Warren, through us. I was completely overwhelmed because I could almost see Christ lovingly watching Warren, his blessed and beautiful child. The Barn-K for Joy was so aptly named, not just for the camp, but because everyone experienced inexplicable joy as we watched Warren’s reactions to Christ in his life.

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Love Never Fails

Humans are endowed with an innate desire to have all the right answers. This desire can be seen in the first sin, when Eve ate from the tree of good and evil because she desired to be like God, knowing good and evil. However, I think that knowledge is dangerous and hurtful when it is used solely by itself. I, like many other Christians, have often crossed the line between standing up for what we believe and judgmentally pushing what we believe down other people’s throats. Although my intentions are to be God’s minister, I end up being His scourge. I lose sight of Jesus’s fundamental commands: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength. The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself. There is no commandment greater than these.” (Mark 12:30-31)

It is easy to look past our own sins and to judge the sins of others. It is easy to get angry with those who don’t agree with our opinions. It is easy to lash out at people who seem to be shoving their opinions down our throats. It is easy to forget that our beliefs are tainted with the sin of our human nature and are thus imperfect.

God does not call His children to win arguments with their neighbors in the name of Jesus. He calls us to love our neighbors, whether they are friends, enemies, or anything in between. Paul reminds us in 1st Corinthians that if we “can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge” or “have a faith that can move mountains,” but lack love, then we have nothing. That statement is pretty humbling for me because I easily forget to be patient and kind. I tend to envy other people’s talents while still boasting in my own. I put others down in order to build myself up. I refuse to forgive and forget. I give in to the temporary satisfaction of evil, and I cover up the truth. I fail at loving God and loving others on an every day basis. I can see the significance of love from the effects of my imperfect love and the effects of God’s unconditional love. That’s what makes me so thankful for and dependent on God’s love.

Love is super hard, but God promises that it never fails. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, and always perseveres. I strongly believe that if we humble ourselves and love others, despite their different beliefs, opinions, and preferences, then we will flourish. I am proud to be an Erskine student. I am thankful that I attend a Christian school that holds to Christian standards while desiring to “show hospitality and respect to all members of its community,” and to “treat all persons justly with grace, dignity, and compassion in the Spirit of Christ.”

What I Expect From Erskine

Well, I am now in my second semester at Erskine so I must have a pretty good grip on college life, right? I make decent grades. I know how, when, and where to study. I have that stable friend group. I can handle anything that Erskine throws at me. HA. That’s laughable. In the past seven months that I’ve been at Erskine, I may have learned how to thoroughly analyze Brownings’ “My Last Duchess,” participate in a handbell choir, and even carry a decent conversation in Spanish, but I still don’t know squat. Honestly, the more I learn about something, the more I realize how little I actually know. The only reasons that my ignorance doesn’t totally frustrate me are the reality that I don’t need to know everything and the faith that I have in Erskine’s ability to prepare me for entering “the real world” by the time I graduate.

After I graduate, I want to head off to graduate school and pursue an M.S. in genetic counseling. For those of you who aren’t familiar with the term, genetic counseling is the practice of giving advice to families who are worried about the nature, risks, consequences, or treatment of a genetic disorder. My passion for genetic counseling was sparked when I visited a genetic center in Greenwood. During that visit, I toured through various labs and talked to several employees, but was uninterested in any subjects until I talked to the genetic counselor.

Genetic counseling may sound like the most boring job on earth to you, but several aspects of the job appeal to me. As a Christian, I love the counseling part of the job. God has endowed me with a desire to get to know people and to bring out the best in them that I can. I love listening to people’s stories and learning their interests, fears, and opinions. I have always wanted a job that centers itself on helping others. A part of me loves working with people because I want to fix them, which is a desire that can be taken too far if God is shoved out of the picture.  While I know that I cannot cure people’s hearts, minds, or bodies, I am secure in the knowledge that God will use me to serve Him in amazing ways. As a science-lover, I really enjoy learning about genetics and how someone became the person that they currently are. I am a short, squinty, asthmatic Asian and that’s all due to genes (thanks, Mom and Dad..).

I am the kind of person who needs to have a plan if I want to be able to move forward. Becoming a genetic counselor may not be in God’s plan for me and I am open to change, but right now in my life, I have a goal to work towards. Part of the reason that I came to Erskine is because I expect to graduate from Erskine feeling ready to take on whatever challenges come before me. I fully believe that Erskine will supply me with the knowledge that I will need to succeed in graduate school, the faith that I will need endure trials in the world, and other important life skills.

What do you expect from a college?

Day One as a Choraleer: the almost end of my academic journey

One of my favorite scenes in The Holiday is when Jack Black’s character, Miles, says to Iris, played by Kate Winslet,

“Iris, if you were a melody…(insert a beautiful, soothing melody here) I used only the good notes.”

That’s how I had always viewed music, the good notes that live and breathe and play to describe people’s lives and situations. It was something easy, soothing, soul thrilling, and life-inspiring. All that was ever required of me was to hear a song, listen to it, fall in love with it, and then sing it. Nothing more and definitely nothing less. Until I walked into Erskine Choraleers, Fall of 2010, unawares and unarmed-who knew you needed a pencil for music?

A seat was assigned, a pack of music was handed to me, and in walked a man who would forever change not only my life but the way I viewed and interpreted music. The memory, though present, is slightly blurred. He held a pencil in hand and commanded us to stand. “Open your pack and pull out….” all I heard was Bach. That sounded familiar. Glancing to my right I watched to see which piece of music my fellow alto selected and did the same. Then I made the terrible mistake of opening the piece to reveal a sheet of paper on which an enormous ant hill had exploded. I’m sad to inform there were no survivors.

“Alright then…shall we sing?”

WAIT….WHAT?

Where was the music? You know, the part where I get to hear what I’m singing before I’m forced to sing it? Lost, disoriented, freaked out…are just a few words deemed worthy of describing how I felt.

“And if you will please in measure — that is a carry over, thank you.”

Carry over? Leaning over and whispering barely above a breath, I asked the alto to my right, “What’s a carry over?” I will never forget her reaction for it was the disbelief in her jaw drop, the roll of her eyes, and the sad truth in her voice that made me feel inadequate and unworthy.

“You don’t know what a carry over is?”

She made it sound so simple, so easy. My ignorance of sight reading could be overlooked, but not having the capability to understand a carry over was unacceptable! I was unfit to be in the same room as the rest of them; I did not deserve the title of Choraleer.

Rehearsal ended and I found myself sitting on one of the many swings afforded to us on campus, calling my mother, crying and admitting the following:

I’m just going to pack up and come home, Mama. I can’t read music…I didn’t even know what a CARRY OVER is! 

And, my mother in her wisdom asked me one simple question, “Why did you go to Erskine?”

Amid sobs, To learn music.

“And what did you learn today?”

Amid sobs with a smile, What a Carry Over is. *chuckle*

“And what will you learn tomorrow?”

Well, tomorrow and every day after that I learned that music is more than a melody we love and cherish. It is a full time commitment to a level of excellence that only a few get to experience much less achieve. Sometimes music isn’t only about “the good notes.” Sometimes they are sad, minor, dreadful moments of dissonance that collide, crash, and magically resolve. Sometimes music must first make us feel lost before we can be found.

Time hop to a small yet adequate Chorus Room at Newberry High. A young man walks in, a new student! He is joining my 8B and is looking forward to making music. Then I hand him a copy of the piece we are working on. He was lost, disoriented, and reminded me a lot of day one almost five years ago. “So,(student name), tell me, how lost and inadequate do you feel?” He replied, “Very.” I smiled, “Good!” Confused, he asked, “Good?” Opening the sheet music I replied, “Yes…Good. Because the lost can always be found. Now…this is known as a staff and these are clefs.The treble clef….”

Life lessons learned at Erskine that have managed to find their way into the new steps my life has taken. Day one as a Chorus Teacher felt very much like day one as a Choraleer: the almost end of my journey….almost.

“I hope you have a lovely day”

The bell had rung. The students, more than eager to leave, trampled over each other and chairs racing head-long to  the bus pick-up line which had suddenly become the universal symbol of freedom. As they and their tumultuous selves faded from view and (thankfully) ear shot, the following scene was born:

I have seen him only once before. Today he slipped past the mob and myself, heading straight for the piano. Fingers touching keys ever so lightly, he played a rag time. The echo from our rather old instrument filled the room with luscious tones and brought with it a sense of hope. Granted, my students are obnoxious and loud, unruly creatures of the day but that does not alter what Music is and has been in my life and the lives of so many, this young man being a prime example. Within seconds of unadulterated bliss, the melody ceased-its sounds a lingering memory-and the young man excused himself with the following phrase:

“I hope you have a lovely day.”

And I will, my friends. I will.

If ever a moment could be bottled away for a rainy day, I would that it be the moment this blonde haired, blue-eyed wonder of a human chose to share with me a piece of his happiness. Music, as I often find myself expressing to my students, should not be based solely on how it appeals to us or how it entertains, rather pleases our senses. Those are all wonderful aspects of Music which allow us to enjoy its many gifts. But there is a rather complicated and yet beautiful mystery to what Music does both in us and for us when used as a means to lift the fallen; or in my case, a rag time to revive a worn out teacher.

Prior to dismissal, my students posed a query concerning the many trophies that line a row of storage units in the far corner of the room. The most recent prize is dated at 2009 for their Gospel Choir and 2007 for their High School Chorus, more than 6 to 8 years ago. The students (being Freshmen) were alarmed to learn that other than a plaque for excellence from a Choral Festival, the remaining members of our Chorus did not have much of a legacy to leave behind. It swept silently and swiftly across their faces: this would be their fate.

And a moment was born.

“But that is their story, not yours. Music will give in return only what you are willing to invest. Next year, you will be sophomores and our Freshmen will look to you as the standard they should strive to meet; the legacy they should fight to uphold.” Pointing to the trophies, I stated, “But these will only be a shadow of what was achieved through the tireless efforts of many. Greatness did not come from winning a trophy; greatness was achieved first in this room and then acknowledged by many at those events. That is their story. What will be yours?”

So, what will be your story? Will you be the random, musical genius who tickles the ivories with some rag time treasures? Will you be the teacher looking for moments to birth? Or perhaps you are the soul dreaming of a legacy you think is out of reach?

Whatever it is, in the words of the Great yet famously unknown, “I hope you have a lovely day.”

“We pray that our lives might be Songs.”

Hello,

It’s me, again. My name is Hannah Collins, an Erskine Grad (class of 2014) and a Chorus Teacher in the making.

Recently, Gospel Choir held a concert during which the newest member of our Erskine family, El Presidente, was asked to bless the concert with a closing prayer. In the midst of his prayer the following statement was made, “We pray our lives might be songs.” Mind blown! There is so much truth to his personal conviction and I am determined to carry it with me both outside and inside my classroom and wherever my feet may take me. Our words spoken or sung impact the world around us. Our views projected or performed paint a powerful picture for those tuned in to our station.

My challenge to you, dear Reader, is to pause your playlist and contemplate the song you are singing to the world around you. Is it one of comfort and joy? Or complacency? Do you share your blessings or do you complain about your troubles? No, we can’t all be Positive Polly’s but at some point in our life we must realize that someone is listening. Our audience may not consist of the roaring crowds that welcomed the Beatles to America (er..United States of), but there is an audience and they are fine tuned to your station.

What you have been given today you will learn to cherish tomorrow only after yesterday has made them inaccessible.

Yesterday I walked the halls of Erskine’s Music Department and had my pick of six uprights and three baby grands. Today I choose between two uprights and that based entirely off of which one is less out of whack than the other. Yesterday I was the student blaming the professor for my lack of learning. Today I am the teacher striving for that one student to see their importance and purpose, being blamed for their lack of learning. Yesterday I was the voice complaining about the choral selection. Today I am the Choral Director whose choral selections have undergone much harsh criticism. Yesterday I was a bright-eyed, bushy-tailed freshmen. Today I am a humbled post-grad wishing for yesterday to live it all again but this time make the right choice; sing the right songs.

Allow me to close with the following:

One of my students recently decided to vent some of her feelings and frustrations. She began by saying, “Ms. Collins, I’m just going to be honest with you, and truth hurts!” I prepared myself for a full-on verbal beating. She continued, “I loved (former teacher) more than any other person in this Chorus! And she connected with us. She did.” I waited…any moment now there would be that final blow to crush me. “But…you have done more with us. You taught me that I can learn to sing without following (student) all the time! That I have a voice and that my voice should be heard. You came in here and when I said I couldn’t, you said I could! (Former teacher) never did that.”

That moment exists only because on days when I said I could not there was always a faculty member saying I could. They taught me to be set apart; to be heard above the noise; to think and rethink my purpose. Always take the road less traveled and NEVER settle for the path of least resistance.

“We pray that our lives might be Songs.”

So, what song have you been singing these days?

Reflections On My First Semester

Final exams for the first semester are coming up and I am really excited. Seriously! I’m not being sarcastic at all! Of course, I’m excited for the wrong reasons, but maybe wrong reasons are actually the best/only reasons to be excited for exams. You see, final exams not only symbolize blood, sweat, and tears, but also my survival through my first semester in college. If you’re reading this as an upperclassman or a graduate from college, you’re probably mentally laughing at my excitement because you’ve survived through so much more. Props to you, but surely you felt my excitement when your first semester in college neared to a close!

If you’re a freshman and you don’t understand why finishing this first semester is such a big deal to me, then let me fill you in: When I was in high school, I compared my work to what I expected college work would be like. For example, when I was a junior, I had to write a 15 page paper on Hirschsprung Disease for my Anatomy and Physiology class. While everyone else in my class complained about the workload, I saw the paper as the assurance that if I could write a 15 page paper now, then I’d be able to handle my freshman year at college. Don’t get me wrong, that paper was really tedious and annoying to write, but I felt a pressure to be able to handle writing the paper. I have never felt ready for college. In high school, I didn’t feel smart enough, or organized enough, or mature enough. I was that really annoying teenager who actually wanted to write longer, harder papers in high school because I believed that I needed more preparation so that I wouldn’t crash and burn in college.

Get the picture now?

Now that I’m at college, I feel so silly for worrying about not being ready for college. Yes, the workload is not easy, but it is doable. Granted, a lot of my day is allotted to classes and studying, but that’s just how I work. I don’t even feel as stressed in this last week before exams than I probably should feel. The anxiety and stress will probably kick in on Sunday night, but hey. I’m gonna enjoy the good feelings while they last. 😉 I still get to rock climb, hang out with friends, attend RUF, play pool, exercise, and be a member of SCA, so I’m really content with where I am right now. I may not have partied or gone on late-night Walmart trips as much as other students, but I’ve still had a really fun semester. I’m seriously super thankful for having a smooth transition to Erskine and for the students who have reached out and befriended me even though they definitely didn’t have to.

God has really used this first semester to teach me a lot of things about the relation between life, myself, and Himself. For example, I have a better knowledge of my limitations and faults, and I know what I need to work on so that I can be a better minister to the people around me. In the past, I would get crushed and ashamed when people could see my mistakes and imperfections in my bad grades, my snappy comments, and my disregard for people’s feelings. You see, one of my biggest flaws is that I put so much value in having a good reputation. I constantly struggle with wanting to do good things because I want people to think I’m the most dependable, coolest, and godliest person ever, and because I want to bring glory to God through my actions by being a light in the world. It’s a struggle between being vainglorious and being humble. That’s why I try to cover up any mistakes that I make. This semester, God brought my hurtful words and impulsive judgments out into the public, which both hurt and humbled me. I’m not saying that I’m perfectly selfless or loving now, but I definitely have learned to better love and cherish the people around me. I’ve also better realized how amazing and beautiful God’s presence is, and that when I’m not finding my joy in Him, then I’m not truly happy. According to John Piper, God is most glorified when we are most satisfied in Him. My prayer for this next semester and for semesters to come is that God will teach me and other students to be solely satisfied in Him.