Thursday, October 31, 2013

My Journey to College - From Smarts to Genius

While I was in my second semester as a freshman at Northwest University, a Christian college in Kirkland, Washington, I was still getting accustomed to my first taste of a number of new experiences: selecting and registering for courses, juggling a heavy workload, communicating with my professors outside of classes, putting the new names to the new faces of my peers, and the like. Up to that point, I had heard a handful of individual stories about what brought several of my peers to the university, but I had to take a closer look at my own story, to reflect on the intellectual, emotional, and spiritual journey that led me to college, in order to better determine how I could make the most of my collegiate experience. The core of what I learned then, and what I am continuing to learn, carries the very essence of what the Spirit of God is saying to His scholars of various kinds in the earth realm today.Considering my past struggles in school, it is actually a miracle that I have even made it to college. During my years in elementary school, my parents were always willing to help me and my siblings with our homework, making sure that we completed our assignments, keeping close tabs on the grades we were earning. Therefore, it was a matter of course that I listened in class and turned in all of my work, but I did not start paying careful attention to my grades for myself until I entered the sixth grade. Seeing the trend of high marks that regularly showed up on my assignments and report cards, I found that I rather liked earning excellent grades. My classmates deemed me to be a smart girl, which I liked as well, but I also felt stigmatized by the edge and the tone that accompanied many of their assessments of me.
I was not thought to be particularly "cool" or pretty. I was shy, I wore glasses, and I did not dress in the trendiest styles of clothing, all of which added to the developing stigma that I felt, along with the fact that I was very slim, physically. I had perfect class attendance and never got in any trouble at school, but it was not considered exactly cool to be well-behaved, which contributed to the stigma even further. So, in a nutshell, my peers dubbed me as a smart, shy, four-eyed, skinny, goodie-two-shoes. In a word, they said I was a "nerd."I carried the "nerd" label with me into my middle school years. I continued to earn very good grades, managing to finish much of my homework before I left school for the day, so I usually had a lot of free time when I got home. As I was still shy and did not have friends outside of school, I spent a vast majority of my free time reading books and watching television. On any given afternoon and into the evening, I could either read for about six straight hours, or watch television for about six straight hours, as both activities gave me a sort of escape: if I was lost in a book or lost in television, absorbed in my imagination, I did not have to think about the fact that other kids said I was a nerd.By the time I reached high school, the pressure of the stigma subtly changed. I was no longer called a nerd; I was just "smart." To many of my peers, I was basically "that one smart girl with the glasses." Academically, I always ranked within the top ten students in my class, sometimes even within the top three or four, because I was "smart." I started taking Advanced Placement courses and tests, since I was "smart." I would never be the most popular or well-liked person on campus, but I sure was "smart." I was too shy to join any groups or clubs in school, or to try out for any sports or talent shows, but I was still "smart." I did not go to school dances or anything of the kind; surely those events were not for "smart" people. Even though I was growing stronger in my Christian walk and had become quite involved in the large youth group at my church, that was where my involvement stopped--at church. At school, being "smart" was all I had, and so I became like a robot, handling my studies rather religiously, even while I slowly, and almost unconsciously, began to resent what had become my religion of scholastics.Harboring the fear that I would never make it in the adult world if I did not go straight to college after high school, I took my SATs and starting filling out college applications my senior year: robotically, religiously, and resentfully going with the academic flow. After all, I inwardly, automatically felt that if I was not "smart," I was not anything; and if I was not anything, the unknown world after high school would swallow me up, leaving me unsuccessful, penniless, and alone. So, it did not at all make sense to me when, during my senior year, I felt the Holy Spirit urging me to put down the college brochures and to stop sending for applications. The Spirit essentially blocked me from doing what the all of the other seniors with good grades seemed to be doing, and so while my peers began to receive acceptance letters from different colleges and universities, I became more fearful of a future that I could not see or control, and therefore sunk deeper into my resentment.I wanted to drop out of school. At home, I sometimes raged or sobbed over my homework assignments before I went back to school to turn them in and to bitterly collect my customary high scores. I would receive academic recognition and certificates at school award assemblies, and would then come home and throw those awards in the garbage. Towards the end of the school year, I was invited to a special luncheon for being one of the top ten academic seniors; instead of going to the luncheon, I went home. Instead of going to my high school graduation, I stayed home. A few days after the graduation, I went up to the school's main office, had the secretary give me my diploma, and I went back home.Not long after this, I confided my resentful feelings to my mother, and I then felt freer to do whatever the Holy Spirit led me to do. Over the next few years, I spent a great deal of time praying, fasting, and studying the Word of God. It was during one of my fasting times that the Spirit pointed something important out to me: I had never thanked God for bringing me through thirteen years of school (including kindergarten.) It was actually God's mercy that had kept me from becoming a high school dropout, His grace that had allowed me to stick it out until I received my diploma, with good grades to back it up. So, I repented, thanking God for the years of school He had helped me to get through.I became even more involved at the church I was attending, and as I had grown close to a group of young people who were also seeking after the Lord, the many enjoyable hours that I spent with them usually led to discussions about the Word or impromptu praise or prayer sessions. It was during these years of growing closer to God and to Godly people that the Spirit began to give me a more accurate view of myself. I was intelligent. I was likable. I was passionate. I was a gifted intercessor. I was a talented writer. I was a number of things that I had never thought or acknowledged that I could ever truly be. The truth be told, I was even attractive--slimness and glasses and all.I gratefully began to see why God had not allowed me to go straight from high school to college. Had I done so, I would have gone as a robot, resentfully carrying out my scholastic religion with little more than a fear of future poverty to keep me going. I would not have taken the time to learn more about who I am in Christ if God had not disrupted my plans to rush off to a university, if He had not drawn me into a closer relationship with Him so that I could better recognize His voice, discover His character, and gain a deeper understanding of His Kingdom.So, six years after I graduated high school, I again applied for college, getting accepted into the only school I applied for, which just happened to be the only school I had any desire to apply for: Northwest University. All through the application, acceptance, and preparation process for school, I could see God's hand at work. However, I must admit that my arrival in college hit me like a slap in the face. After being out of school for six years and having never experienced a college workload, I felt overwhelmed by the amount of reading and research that was required, and began to fall behind in my studies. I was unaccustomed to driving so much, constantly feeling exhausted on my commutes to and from school, sitting in traffic, often spending nearly an hour in the car early in the morning, and another hour in the car late in the afternoon. Sometimes I would get so busy studying that I would forget to eat, the resulting ache in my head serving as my reminder to put something into my stomach. The fact that my body was not getting as much sleep as it had been accustomed to getting over the past few years did nothing to alleviate my headaches. I became so worn out that I felt like abandoning ship that first semester.Yet, I could not, and will not, give up. I know that God has sent me to college to infiltrate the educational arena of the marketplace with the counterculture of His Kingdom, and so I have determined to make the most of this time in my life. I now know that I am likable, so I am careful to make eye contact with and to smile at my peers, pressing past my shyness to begin forming relationships. Although I never had the courage to audition for talent shows in elementary, middle, or high school, I now know how passionate I am, so I participated in the talent show at my university both my freshman and sophomore years, standing alone on stage in front of a jam-packed chapel full of students and faculty, expressing my passion through my original spoken word pieces, and actually winning the talent show my second year. Although I had never joined any school groups or clubs before, I now know that I am a gifted intercessor, so I became a part of the university prayer team. I now know that I am attractive, so I dress nicely for school, wearing heels and makeup every day, walking with my head up and my shoulders back--as much as my heavy backpack will allow. I now know that I am a talented writer, so I work hard on my school papers, finding ways to insert Kingdom principles into my writing. I know that I am intelligent, so I keep at my studies for my classes, so that my grades might properly reflect the intellect that God has graced me with. Even though I had cynically shunned academic recognition my senior year in high school, when I was invited to a reception for making it onto the Dean's list in my first semester in college, I went and took my place at the reception, accepting applause and helping myself to a delicious slice of cheesecake.However, in the midst of my studies, especially during the initial frenzy that hit me like a slap in the face, the temptation has been for me to climb back into the role of just being "smart": to grow resentful over the difficult work and to go through the robotic, religious motions of completing my assignments, with the sole goals of getting good grades and getting everything over with.Yet, on one particular afternoon during my sophomore year, I told the Lord, "I don't want to be a smart girl anymore. You never called me to be smart. You called me to be a genius. I don't want to be the woman who gets good grades. I want to be the woman who works her genius. I want my completed assignments and papers to be masterpieces of genius. I want my ministry on campus to come from the place of my genius. I believe that if I seek first Your Kingdom and Your righteousness by working my genius in order to infiltrate the educational arena of the marketplace with Your culture, then all these other things, like good grades, will simply be added unto me."It was not really me praying this prayer, but the Holy Spirit praying through me, back to God; the Lord was essentially speaking His Word, for His Kingdom scholars on earth, back to Himself. He wants all of His academic Kingdom citizens--from preschool to graduate school, home school to medical school, Sunday school to seminary--to make the most of their studies and their educational experiences by learning to work their genius. Just as the Holy Spirit gave me a more accurate view of who I am in Christ, God wants His people to allow His Spirit, Who leads us into all truth, to show us the truth about ourselves. (John 16:13) He wants to show us the truth about the treasure, the genius, that He has placed in earthen vessels, on the inside of us. (II Corinthians 4:6, 7)Indeed, my journey to college has been quite an intellectual, emotional, and spiritual struggle. Yet, knowing that each day in college is, for me, a miracle telling of the faithfulness, mercy, and grace of God, I can confidently say that I am not a nerd. I am not "smart." I am not a religious, resentful robot. Rather, I am likable. I am passionate. I am an intercessor. I am a writer. I am attractive. I am intelligent.I am a genius.