Living Lent: 22 years of gratitude and counting…

Wow!  Starting a blog series right before midterms week was poor timing on my apart.  I apologize for taking so long to start writing again!  I am not going to publicly admit how many days last week I napped in the Student Center rather than getting a proper night’s sleep.  This was one of my most overwhelming midterm weeks ever, especially considering that I had no midterms in St Andrews…

Speaking of St Andrews: I was in Paris, France, a year ago today! My, how the time has flown.  I miss so much about Europe and am looking forward to visiting again some day.

But on to my post for today.  A week ago I turned 22 (which feels sort of old when you live in a dorm full of 18- and 19-year-olds…) and despite my hectic and stressful week, so many little things along the way reminded me just how blessed I am.  Lent is a time of reflection, preparation, and gratitude, so today’s post is 22 things for which I am grateful.

1. Faith
I am grateful for my Faith in God, in His love and mercy.  I have faith and hope for forgiveness and salvation.  My faith has strengthened me and saved me in my darkest moments.  I have faith in people, in love, in goodness, in the future.  Faith is all-encompassing in life and the anchor for my soul.

One of my all-time favorite photos of the 3 of us! Me, Luke, and Aimee; photo taken by my other sister, Nicole

One of my all-time favorite photos of the 3 of us! Me, Luke, and Aimée; photo taken by my other sister, Nicole

family photo from Nicole's & Jeremy's wedding, June 2012

family photo from Nicole’s & Jeremy’s wedding, June 2012 (photo ©Marni Rothschild Pictures, LLC)

2. Family
We are by no means perfect, but my parents and siblings are my biggest support and encouragement.  I am so blessed to call my mom one of my best friends.  I appreciate [though I do not say it nearly enough] that I can sit and talk to my parents for hours about literally anything.  I am so grateful to have a little brother with Down syndrome.  Growing up with a special needs sibling has taught me countless valuable life lessons and given me a completely different outlook on life.  I know no one who embodies unconditional love the way that Luke does.

3. Erskine
Though originally I had no intention of going to Erskine (who wants to attend college where her sister goes?!), I am so glad that God led me here.  I have learned so much, been challenged in ways I never expected. made amazing friends, travelled so many fun places, gained valuable life lessons and mentors, and become more certain of the path which God desires me to follow.

4. St Andrews
St Andrews CastleJust as Erskine has shaped me and changed me for the better, my study abroad experience is probably the single experience of my life that has most helped me to realize who I am and gain confidence in myself.  I left last January knowing not a single person, and left 1 June with scores of great friends and countless life-changing experiences.  I have a stronger faith and a different perspective of the world from studying in Scotland and travelling around Europe.  Of course, I now have what feels like an insatiable desire for travel and adventure…I am so excited to see what my next opportunity will be!

5. Singing
I by no means have the best voice in the world, but I truly love singing and that voice that God DID give me has allowed me the opportunity to be involved in so many different choral ensembles, from my church choir to high school chorus and show choir to several groups at Erskine.  I am a veteran member of the Erskine Choraleers and have also sang with Bella Voce and the Chamber Singers.  I am grateful for the ministry that music provides in my personal life as well as the opportunity to use music as my ministry in church.

the finale pose from my sister's senior music project, "All That Jazz." (photo by Whitney Adkins)

the finale pose from my sister’s senior music project, “All That Jazz.” (photo by Whitney Adkins)

6. Dance

some of my SwingSoc family from St Andrews--such talented dancers from all across the UK & Europe! (photo by Henry Legg)

some of my SwingSoc family from St Andrews–such talented dancers from all across the UK & Europe! (photo by Henry Legg)

From the time I knew what one was, I wanted to be a ballerina.  When we played dress up as kids, 9 times out of 10 I wore the tutu.  When I was 6 or so years old, we hosted a French exchange student who taught me how to do a pirouette and I practiced until I was too dizzy to walk.  My family moved to SC when I was 8 years old, and within a year I started taking ballet lessons.  I continued for 6 or 7 years, even progressing to learning pointe (yes, dancing on your toes. yes, OUCH).  High school afforded me the opportunity to branch out and learn some different dance forms, as well as the art of singing AND dancing–a.k.a. show choir.  Since I’ve been in college, and especially since studying abroad, I have fallen in love with all things swing dance related: traditional, Charleston, lindy hop, blues…[Speaking of which, if you have never seen the I Charleston St Andrews that we in the St Andrews Swing Dance Society made last year, you should definitely watch it!]
Dance is a part of my heart, a part of who I am and how I relate to the world.  I am grateful for any and every opportunity to practice and share my love.

7. Theatre

with Tillary Blackman ('13) in Arsenic and Old Lace: possibly my favorite scene I've ever acted. (photo by Katie Putnam)

with Tillary Blackman (’13) in Arsenic and Old Lace: possibly my favorite scene I’ve ever acted. (photo by Katie Putnam)

No, I am not going to list every art form that I can possibly think of (though I am definitely grateful for all of them!).  Singing, dancing, and acting, though, are all art forms which I especially love.  I truly enjoy acting on stage, doing tech work or working back stage, and watching performances.  I love the challenge of learning a new character and bringing her/him/it to life, the challenge of improvisation, the chaos of tech week and opening night, the feeling of pride earned by a successful performance.  Long rehearsals test patience, energy, and relationships but ultimately strengthen all of these.  I know that my participation in theatre will only help me in my life.

8. Freedom
Sounds cheesy, or cliché, I know.  But how many countries actively persecute Christians? How many countries severely limit the rights of women?  Yes, we can sit here and debate the meaning and context of the word “freedom,” but I am grateful for the opportunities that growing up in the United States has afforded me.

9. Sleep
If college has taught me anything, it is the value of sleep.  I think back now to when I hated going to bed as a child, or when I used to wake up at 4AM and go to the basement to read or play by myself while everyone else slept.  The 22-year-old me wants to ask the 6-year-old me, “WHY?!”  It is so easy to make other things a higher priority than sleep, but it really is essential to proper functioning and good moods.  I truly am grateful for the times that I get a good/full night’s sleep.  Nap time, anyone…?

10. Food
Along the same lines, who doesn’t like food?  It’s delicious.  It’s satisfying.  It’s strengthening.  It makes you feel happy, body and soul.  Nothing says home and love like Mom’s home-cooked dinner.  Food is a common denominator of our social gatherings.  Food encompasses culture, tradition, seasons, memories, creativity (yeah, that art thing again…), nature, and love.  Though I cannot say that I love every food I have ever tried, food is definitely one of the ways I know for a fact that God loves us.

11. Social Media
“Aha! Another Facebook addict!”  I know you’re thinking it. Yes, you.  And perhaps I am slightly guilty as charged, though I’m working on it.  While realizing the importance of maintaining a healthy balance, I do believe that most of these platforms can be very useful.  My primary use for Facebook is staying in contact with all of my friends from abroad and all over the United States.  We are using Pinterest as a common space to plan my sister’s bridal shower, and I use it to collect articles and information relevant to psychology and therapy.  I get the majority of my world news from Twitter.  Everything in moderation, but I really am grateful for these connections.

Odd place to stop for the day, but I’m halfway and this is quite a long post.  So…stay tuned tomorrow for part II! [I seem to like multi-part posts.]  Until then, I’d love some feedback!  Do you agree with some of the points that I made? Do you disagree with any? What are you most grateful for today?  What am I forgetting? How cute is my little brother? [Correct answer: the cutest!]

In Christ,

Erskine blessings

Merry Christmas everyone!  Today is born our Savior!  I pray that the holiday season finds you and your family healthy, happy, and enjoying the many blessings God has bestowed upon you.  I know that, personally, I am so grateful for surviving the last month of school, including a rather stressful exam week.

In honor of the Christmas season, I wanted to resume my blog posts by writing about some of the greatest blessings that God has given me through Erskine.  I do apologise in advance: I have no photos to do this post justice, so my ramblings will have to suffice.  I will make up for it in future posts.  So…(in no particular order) here we go!

I am grateful that, as a Christian college, Erskine brings us all together through our shared faith in so many ways: college chapel services; prayer before classes, meetings, and performances; various organizations and clubs; small-groups and Bible studies; impromptu gatherings in the residence halls; and so many others.

I am grateful for being able to live in Carnegie Hall for 3 of my 4 years at Erskine.  As a freshman, Ms Ruth and my SLAs were always supportive and helpful no matter the emergency (of both the small and large varieties).  I met so many great girls my first year that I still study, laugh, and cry with.  As an upperclassmen, I’ve had the ability to serve as a Student Life Assistant for 3 years (this is my second in Carnegie).  I have an even greater appreciation for my awesome freshman year now that I understand more fully what goes on behind the scenes, and I love being able to watch out for and get to know my girls.  And, lets’ be honest: Carnegie is probably the prettiest building on Erskine’s campus. Who wouldn’t love living in a beautiful hundred-year-old hall?

I am grateful for Ms Ruth, the RD in Carnegie for the past 20 years.  This woman wears a whole lot of hats, most of which she wears quietly.  She has the best stories, knows absolutely everything about Erskine, and has lived a terribly exciting life.  I have learned so much from her and she truly has the best advice.  As an added bonus, Ms Ruth makes sure that the halls of Carnegie are truly decked with boughs of holly, lights, trees, and bows.

I am grateful for every professor I have had the opportunity to learn from.  They challenge me academically and personally–often intertwining–and have truly helped me become a better, stronger, more well-rounded individual.  I am confident that they have prepared me fully for graduate school and beyond.  I know my professors not just as teachers, but as individuals.  I know their backgrounds, their families, and their hobbies.  I cannot think of another college where you would form this type of relationship with one professor, let alone most or all of them.  Erskine often talks about “thriving,” and my professors are the reason I thrive here.

I am grateful that Erskine gave me the opportunity to study abroad at the University of St Andrews.  All of my scholarships transferred, making it very affordable for me to spend this past spring there.  I was more than ready to get there and heartbroken to return home.  St Andrews was so much fun and a priceless experience that I will never forget.  It is hard to be so far away from all of the friends I made there; but on the plus side, I have friends to visit all over the world now!

I am grateful for the psychology department.  At many colleges and universities, psychology can be the “easy” major.  Not here.  I have definitely worked hard for my As and I am amazed sometimes at both the number of pages I have read over the past 3.5 years and how much I have learned.  I know that learning is the point of college, but we as students (and by “we,” I definitely refer at least to myself) tend to get caught up in grades and GPA.  Dr Elsner, for example, always laughs when we come to his office stressing about grades.  As he and the other professors have gradually gotten us to accept, it’s most important to focus on the work and the learning; the grades are secondary.  As a psychology major, I have gotten to write countless papers, learn statistics software,  conduct and present original research, collaborate with other students, participate in a summer research internship, be accepted to intern at a mental hospital this spring, and become the psychology lab manager.  Graduate school? Bring it on.

I am grateful for the music department.  Despite not majoring or minoring in music, I have a music scholarship and get to take voice lessons and sing with the Choraleers.  I’ve also been a member of the Chamber Choir and Bella Voce and performed in opera workshops and various other performances over the past several years.  It is definitely a blessing to practice and perform with such talented individuals, and the faculty … talented doesn’t even begin to describe it.  Some of my favorite college memories relate to Choraleers retreats and tours.  I have grown as a musician and as a Christian and I know my experiences with the department will serve me well in future ministry and life in general.

Continuing with the arts, I am grateful to be an active member of Erskine’s theatre department.  Actually, we technically aren’t even a department, but that certainly does not stop us from acting up a storm!  As a member of Alpha Psi Omega, I get to help make the magic happen both on the stage and behind the scenes.  I had to take a break from the improv this group this past semester, but I hope to finish out my time at Erskine as an active member again this spring.  My fellow Thespians are, quite frankly, talented. And did I mention funny?  They are definitely both.  In sum, if you have never seen any music or theatre performances at Erskine, you are missing out.  We’d love to see you in the audience!

I am grateful for my friends.  Late night studying, paper writing, rehearsing, procrastinating, finding amusement in Due West, 2AM excursions to IHOP, cooking together, and so much laughter …  I wouldn’t trade it for anything!

I could probably easily spend another thousand words  writing about how great Erskine is and how God has blessed me in my time there, but my mom is about to take the baked ziti out of the oven and I am too excited to eat a big chunk of it.  I hope your stomach is as happy as mine is about to be.

I pray that your heart may be content and that this season will bring you happiness and peace.  Joy to the world, the Lord is come!

homecoming 2013

Erskine’s Homecoming, the last of my undergraduate career, was 26 October.  I do not think that finality sank in until just now, as I write this.   Does anyone know where the homecoming tradition came from?  I was on Skype with Aaron, my best friend from St Andrews, the morning of homecoming and in the process of telling him about the day’s events, he asked me what homecoming is. 

How do you describe such an American tradition to one who has never experienced it?  Apparently I did a sufficient job, but he still laughed at our odd ways here on the other side of the Pond.  That was an interesting cultural realisation for me: something which I have always sort of innately understood is an alien concept to most of the world.  But I digress.

This year, Erskine combined Homecoming with our Fall Fest–organised and sponsored by the Erskine Entertainment Board–and parent’s day.  Between the families, friends, students, faculty, and alumni present, it was the busiest I have ever seen the campus.  Breaking character for a day, this quiet little academic village was buzzing from dawn well past dusk.  Also a big deal this year: 2014 marks the 175th anniversary of Erskine College, in case you didn’t know.  On the 24th, we were lucky enough to get to hear about life as a member of the centennial class from Mrs. Dot Simpson Wise, Erskine class of 1939, in a special convocation ceremony.  After the interview, Erskine gave us free 175th anniversary t-shirts, which you will see in a few of the photos below.  Anyone who has been to college understands the excitement of a free t-shirt.  I think I could go a month wearing only Erskine shirts.  This is not a complaint.

classic car, classic shoes, classic Erskine. and the free t-shirt. I love my college. (and my mum-she let me borrow her old saddle shoes!)

this year’s homecoming theme was 1950s; classic car, classic shoes, classic Erskine. and a free t-shirt. I love my college. (and my mum–she let me borrow her old saddle shoes!)  [photo by Evan Gursky]

Traditionally, Erskine holds an event called Fleet-o-Rama the night before.  This involves music, food (often including fire for roasting marshmallows! s’mores, anyone?), float decorating, and other activities.  Despite the chilly weather, it was a fantastic time.

The day itself featured the homecoming parade, an auction, performances by the Choraleers and Gospel Choir, an athletic banquet, exhibition games by various athletic teams, the soccer games and homecoming court, and the concert that evening.  If you are anything like me, you get tired just reading that sentence.  I think we all slept well that night!  The concert featured a band called Air Dubai, preceded by Shane Sniteman, the talented son of one of our professors.

I love seeing the school spirit and pride that everyone shows on days like this.  As stressed out as we may get sometimes, and despite the frustrations that inevitably arise sometimes being in such a small community, I really do love this place and the people here.  I cannot think of another college that supports every student the way Erskine does.  Few outside of Due West know what in the world a “Flying Fleet” is, yet we are fiercely proud of it.

I took very few photos over the weekend, but my talented fellow student, Katie Putnam, took many for the school.  I share some of them below.  There are many more on the Erskine Flickr page.  Enjoy!

The Choraleers singing, directed by the wonderful Dr. Nabholz. It's never easy to sing outside but we were wonderful. Not that I am biased or anything. (I am the one on the front row who isn't wearing jeans like everyone else.)

The Choraleers singing, directed by the wonderful Dr. Nabholz. It’s never easy to sing outside but we were wonderful. Not that I am biased or anything. (I am the one on the front row who isn’t wearing jeans like everyone else.)

At the banquet, six Erskine alumni were inducted into the Athletic Hall of Fame

At the banquet, six Erskine alumni were inducted into the Athletic Hall of Fame

The freshmen court: Kristen Craft, Amanda Strickland, and Anna Raquel Robinson.

The freshmen court: Kristen Craft, Amanda Strickland, and Anna Raquel Robinson.

The sophomore court: Hayley Rogers, Miranda Guthrie, and Elinor Griffin.

The sophomore court: Hayley Rogers, Miranda Guthrie, and Elinor Griffin.

The junior court: Rachel Talbot, Mika Goyette, and Chelsea Ball.

The junior court: Rachel Talbot, Mika Goyette, and Chelsea Ball.

The senior court: Cate Cardinale, Corin Hallman, Leslie McGill, and April Horne.

The senior court: Cate Cardinale, Corin Hallman, Leslie McGill, and April Horne.

Cate Cardinale was crowned the 2013 homecoming queen. To her left and right are student body VP Hannah Collins and student body President Daniel Prohaska.

Cate Cardinale was crowned the 2013 homecoming queen. To her left and right are student body VP Hannah Collins and student body President Daniel Prohaska.

Shane Sniteman opening for Air Dubai

Shane Sniteman opening for Air Dubai

The lead singer of Air Dubai singing his heart out

The lead singer of Air Dubai singing his heart out

missing in action.

Happy…May Day?!?!

Time flies when you’re having fun; there’s no other way I can describe the past month! Several of my friends are on the hall committee, and consequently I’ve been involved in helping with some hall events recently.  I also spent the first three weeks of April rehearsing for a performance with the Gilbert & Sullivan Society, which was an amazing experience.  I met dozens of fun, interesting, and incredibly talented people and got to formally sing for the first time this semester.  Though it was a bit hectic learning over a dozen songs in about 2.5 weeks, every moment was worth it.

The performance itself went so well–I was struck several times on- and off-stage by the energy and joy radiating from everyone in the cast.  I challenged myself musically, as I had previously sung very little G & S.  In addition to being a member of the chorus, I was Marta in “Do Re Mi” from The Sound of Music, Mona (“Lipschitz”) in “Cell Block Tango” from Chicago, and Edith in “Climbing Over Rocky Mountain” from Pirates of Penzance.  My biggest challenge, though, was getting ill a couple of days before dress rehearsal.  I woke up the morning of the performance with a cough and barely any voice; I proceeded to spend the entire day drinking tea, eating spoonfuls of honey, and trying not to talk.  It turned out so, well, though, and the audience was incredibly receptive and engaged.  Owl Eyes, the student magazine of St Andrews, published some photos here:

A few days after the performance, I had a paper due for my Scottish Music module.  The day it was due was one of those gorgeous Scottish summer days that make all of the cold, rainy ones entirely worth it.  Unfortunately, I was stuck inside sick and trying to write a paper.  My academic dad decided that I needed a break from my essay, so he came over after dinner and brought Ben & Jerry’s ice cream and some excellent music.  We went outside and swing danced barefoot in the grass for about an hour, taking a break to enjoy some ice cream.  It was by far the best study break I’ve ever had!

I’m not sure that I’ve explained academic families yet, so let me do so now.  Academic families are a St Andrews tradition; upperclassmen (some starting in 2nd year, others in 3rd or 4th) “adopt” incoming freshers during the first weeks of classes.  JSAs and JYAs (Junior Semester or Year Abroads, aka study abroad students) often get adopted as well.  Some people adopt singly, others choose to adopt with a friend of the opposite sex like my “parents” did.  My mum is my English friend, Laura, who is going into her 2nd year as the president of Swing Dance Society.  She’s so wonderful!  My dad, as I mentioned above, is my Belgian friend, Lawrence, who is treasurer, and now vice president, of Swing Dance Society.  He’s pretty great, too.  I met both of them through dancing, and most of the time when I see them that’s what we’re doing!

Lawrence and Laura, my academic parents, swing dancing outside of the Library

Lawrence and Laura, my academic parents, swing dancing outside of the Library

another angle; we were selling tickets for our '600 Minutes of Swing' Speakeasy.

another angle; we were selling tickets for our ‘600 Minutes of Swing’ Speakeasy.

Another highlight of April: I cooked, by myself, for the first time!  Though I’ve done a good amount of baking in my life, I never did much cooking before I came to St. Andrews.  But we have to fend for ourselves every Saturday and Sunday evening for dinner, so we do a lot of cooking in the hall together.  In the middle of a paper for psychology, I decided that my break would be to challenge myself and cook solo.  A friend picked up some groceries for me while in town and I made myself some chicken fajitas.  I was so surprised–they were delicious!! I wish I had access to more spices here, but I thoroughly enjoyed it (as did a few friends: I made way too much for just myself!).

My first time ever cooking by myself was a success!

My first time ever cooking by myself was a success!

I’m off to go meet with a professor, but I have so many more stories to tell you (like dancing for 10 hours straight)! And don’t worry, I promise I have not forgotten about sharing photos and stories from my Easter holiday travels.  I will write soon; it’s week 1 of revision and I know I will want study breaks!

Sing, Sing, Sing

Out of all the talents God could have given me, I’m so glad He chose singing. As I look back on my life and all the opportunities I’ve had to share my voice through song, I’m thankful but I’m also disappointed.

I’m thankful because each and every opportunity has provided me with a wonderful platform to share my testimony, but I’m disappointed because there have been one too many opportunities that I’ve turned down simply because of fear of rejection or criticism.

It’s hard when you expose yourself to people through a song. The song itself becomes a part of you and you embody the lyrics and the emotions behind it. Then you present it to the audience and after that you just wait for the criticism. Of course, some of it is very constructive so that you can improve and make your craft even better. Some of it is positive which helps give you that extra confidence to keep going. But some of it is negative and it’s hard to get trapped into only focusing on the negative comments.

I say all this because it took me so long to realize that singing isn’t something I just do for fun or even something I do to minister. It’s truly my passion.

I love business. I love journalism. But i truly LOVE singing.

In a way, I don’t even want to imagine myself doing anything else for the rest of my life. Although, I’m not sure how realistic that is. Everyone tries to tell you can’t make it but I say that if that’s what God is preparing me for (through music theory, aural skills, and voice lessons) then so be it. Who am I to doubt God and put Him in a box? If I have a voice and song that needs to be heard, He will surely open the doors for me and allow the people that need to hear it to do just that.

As of late, God has actually opened the door for me at Mt. Zion Baptist Church in Belton, SC. I went to choir practice there last night for the first time and I was immediately greeted by every one of the choir members. They prayed for me. They encouraged me. They ministered to me. It was just practice but I LOVED it and cannot wait to become even more involved with their music ministry.

The  music that goes beyond the ears and eyes and straight to the heart…that’s the kind of music I enjoy, that’s the kind of music that I hope to share with people one day, no matter how big the stage. I have a voice and I know God gave it to me to use for His glory.


I’m in the process of planning the end of the year banquet for the Choraleers and it’s all kinda bittersweet. I realize I only have one more year with this precious group of people. Sure, from time to time we get on each other’s nerves, but at the end of the day, we are a family that sticks together and encourage each other. We share laughs. We share heartaches. We share triumphs. We share failures. But at the end of the day the greatest thing we get to do as a group is minister to people and in turn get ministered to by the very people we’re singing for. I’m actually going to miss people next year. Let’s be real, sometimes people just get on your nerves. But for what it’s worth, I’ve shared a lot of nice moments with the seniors that are going to be leaving next year. Time goes by so fast and at a time like this I feel compelled to make better use of all the time I’ve been given with the people that God’s placed in my life. You can learn something from people if you just take the time to get to know them. You don’t always have to like the person, but we are called to love each other.

The banquet will be this Friday afternoon and I’m looking forward to it. We’ve got some great gifts prepared for our director and accompanist and the fellow officers. We’ve got a slideshow ready for people and are prepared for lots of laughter and reflection on past memories. It’s going to be a great time of fellowship.