The Plan

A couple weeks ago I had just completed my final undergraduate assignment–reading my paper about Flannery O’Connor for faculty and friends–and I was waiting for the next day’s graduation.

So then I graduated. It was the perfect day: I smiled and cried and spent the afternoon with a few people, quietly celebrating four lovely years. I love celebrating things in a certain way–with people who understand that joy doesn’t always have to be raucous (although belly laughter is one of the best feelings in the world). Often, I find a certain kind of joy that’s real and glad and good, but that’s a little bit solemn–or maybe I mean serious. I have been seriously happy these weeks, just being with my family.

I’ve unpacked and cleaned and painted and written notes and gone to a piano recital and to the lake. I’ve mowed and picked apples and had a tea party on the floor with my niece and nephew. We jumped on the trampoline and my niece taught me how to feed her baby heifer Isabel, who had a very slimy nose. I’ve had time to read, and I’ve played Chopin and Amy Beach purely for pleasure. I’ve had coffee with my mom, which is what I wanted just about most of all. It’s been idyllic, mainly.

But then a week had gone by and I didn’t know what I was doing. I was half afraid someone from school would come knock on my door and say, “Now, Jo, what is your plan, now that you’ve graduated?” I doubted whether any of what I just listed would satisfy a future employer or potential grad school. And I didn’t feel any closer to knowing what it is I want to do with my life, as far as job titles go. Can writer please count?

If you’ll notice, I didn’t list “writing” as one of the things I did that first week–this blog post is my first attempt at sorting things out, and I’m terrified that writing is just one of the things I would tell people to try to get them to stop asking about the plan–rather than something I really mean to put effort toward.

The truth was I didn’t have a plan, and I was realizing how audacious (read, stupid) of me that was. I joked with my family that after college, I was going to be a bum for a year. Except now I kinda felt like a bum, and it had only been a week.

Every now and then, in the middle of walking through my house–I would be quite happy, then suddenly the thought would come, almost audible: what are you doing, Jo? How dare you not be planning for the future? You can’t bum off your parents forever and living on your own is going to require money. You aren’t being a productive member of society if you aren’t at least sending out your resume to work or continuing with grad school.

If you haven’t noticed, friend, this is shaping up to be a blog post about what almost all my blog posts are about, which is the struggle between working and worrying; between striving and trusting. It’s about fretting and constantly wondering if I’ve done the right thing or if the other decision would have been better. And Oh, God, I don’t know if I’ll ever learn the lesson.

But we do keep trying.

A dear friend sent the following to me, and at the time I didn’t think I needed it–I just thanked my friend and went on unpacking (or whatever I was doing at the time):

Don’t forget to find your self-worth in Christ’s righteousness, instead of whether or not you have a stereotypical job.

I don’t understand how the Holy Spirit does that–prompts people to send words of encouragement that, even if they don’t seem relevant at the time, at some point will be effective in another person’s life.

What I mean to do is make a sort-of plan for this year, a plan that’s still not quite up-to-par with anything someone aspiring to be CEO of a company would have in mind after college. It’s a plan for what I want to learn and do and accomplish, and write. I’ll be putting some updates on here, probably, as I go, and as I descend into various existential crises and, by God’s grace, come back out.

I’m starting off by reading all the books that have accumulated in the packing crates I used for bookshelves in the dorm room:

If You Can Keep It and Amazing Grace: William Wilberforce and the Heroic Campaign to End Slavery, both by Eric Metaxas. Small is Beautiful by E. F. Schumacher, The Mind of the Maker by Dorothy Sayers and Orthodoxy by G.K. Chesterton (both of which I have been reading for years now and haven’t finished yet!). The Abolition of Man by C.S. Lewis.

There are others, and when I’m done with mine, my father has bookshelf upon bookshelf of things he’s promised I may read. To keep myself accountable, I’ll try to write a quick thought or two about what I learned, so that if you’ve read the same book, we can compare notes and learn something together.

I’m also working on projects around my parents’ house, many of which involve learning handy skills, such as scraping, painting, plumbing, and things they generally don’t teach you in college. I’ll be figuring out how to save and spend money wisely (hopefully), and when to take a rest and when to keep working.

I suppose I want to figure out what is worth doing–and then I want to learn to do those things really well. It’s not that impressive of a plan, but thank you for reading:)

Music and Graduation

Waiting to graduate is like waiting for a train to actually come into the station, when it’s still a mile out and creeping along. You can see the bright light, you can hear it whistling, and the bar at the railroad crossing has just lowered and is flashing and dinging like mad. Exciting times–but hard not to rush these last few weeks. Motivation has made herself pretty scarce these days.

I wrote that a month ago as the beginning of some unfinished blog post. I think I’ll leave it unfinished. It certainly felt true at the time, but today the graduation train is closer to the station and I don’t feel so impatient. I feel downright sentimental about that train. And while I’m still glad to be finishing college, I don’t feel as much like getting the heck out of Dodge as I did a month ago.

It’s kind of like how, when I was a kid living in the country, I wanted to live in a neighborhood, with a cute, normal house instead of a crazy in-construction mobile home. But when we moved to said cute, normal house, I yearned more than anything for the freedom and space of the country. I’m not exactly digging in my heels to stay in college forever, but I feel really glad for every second I’ve spent here.

Tonight I went to a choir concert, the 200th or so of all the concerts I’ve been required to attend as a music major. Just a few days ago, I tossed that figure out as a complaint–“ugh, look at all the music stuff I’ve had to go to since they wouldn’t let me quit music!” But oh goodness, tonight I looked up at all the lovely faces of new friends and old friends and started bawling like a baby.

Not literally bawling. My eyes just started leaking, and I tried to shield my face from my friend sitting next to me, even though we’ve known each other since the first day of freshman year. Every song was more beautiful than the last, and I praised God for the wonderful, gorgeous gift of music. I was smiling, too, but mostly through these crazy tears because I am so thankful I had to go to those 200 concerts, if only so that I’d be there tonight.

Most of the things I complain about are precious gifts that I’m failing to recognize as such. Having to go listen to music as homework is one of those, I guess.

Last night I played in a concert–an extremely loud, raucous, steel drum concert–where I got to play an African drum, a Snapple bottle, and a chicken waterer, among other things. Oh, the fun I’ve had in that group! Looking back, it was a big factor in reminding me why I liked music in the first place. It brought some of the fun back into it. Sharing music with others to bring them joy is a lovely privilege that I’ve enjoyed for four whole years.

Tomorrow is my last piano lesson–maybe ever. That’s a hard thing to think about. My parents have ensured that music lessons have been available to me almost every week of my life since third grade. I’ve had a rocky relationship with some of my teachers–and especially with the reality of practicing–but dear God, thank You for the lessons.

Thank You for teachers who encouraged me to play well in order to make music, not in order to live up to their personal expectations of what I ought to be.

That last part sounds bitter, but it’s not. I learned a great deal from all my teachers, but I guess I’m especially grateful for those who recognized that music is best when it’s enjoyed, both by the listener and the performer. I know that excellence ought to be striven for in everything, but I think that the joy people derive from music is the most precious thing about it, even if we’re talking about a two-year-old banging on a cooking pot with a wooden spoon.

If I could learn how to present music–my study of it, my listening of it, all of it–to the Lord in recognition that He’s the one who made it, how much more value it would have! I was listening to a sermon earlier about how it’s often the “good and precious gifts” we’re given that we’re also tempted to make into idols–into things that we treat as more valuable than God. It’s the same everywhere–those wild surges of joy we feel when we experience something we really love; those tears I shed when I was moved by the music; the delight we see in seeing someone smile–all of these we’re tempted to think of as being the best it can be.

But these are only glimpses.

I hope that the glimpses of joy you see will remind you of the coming Joy that’s in Christ.

Thanks for reading:)