Whatever Comes Next

Friday afternoon pushing through the front door, I toss my keys on the dining table, stepping over the welcoming heap of shoes, onto the well-loved green carpet beyond.

In the living room, the mother leans back from her seat on the couch, her inquisitive face sliding into my line of vision.

It’s nearing 4pm, nearing the hour of dance and errands and work and dinner, and she asks about schedule and plans and I stand there, hands on the back of a chair, suddenly realizing the length, the breadth, the depth, of my to-do list.

I think the past 12 hours were a bit of a respite, I tell her after a moment. A respite that I will have again when I’m back here on Wednesday, when I’m done.

And I was right.

Friday evening brought errands, twenty minutes at the middle sister’s dance Observation Day, before work lead to an inhaled dinner, a downtown drive, and back to back study meetings that only ended when the student center closed at 12am.

Saturday morning brought the Angel Tree Party, an event I await with eager anticipation, and relish with joy, every year. Pizza lunch dissolved into an afternoon in the same rolling seats outside the coffee shop, and it’s Sunday night now and I’ve spent so long sitting here, I might as well sleep here tonight.

At least we’ll finish knowing that we worked hard, I told Jesssica not three hours ago, as we trooped through Moody’s underground tunnels to the dorms, for a half-hour dinner break that ended in another hour of conversation, while the evidence of our final project work sat temporarily ignored all around us.

And tomorrow is Monday, the first day of finals week- my last finals week at Moody- and I have a list of things, important things, and the hours will come, and with every passing round of the clock, I’ll choose what to do next. And I hope now, I hope so very much, that I choose the right thing.

I’ve worried before, and maybe I’ve even written here, that I won’t make the right choice. That I’ll get distracted, I’ll stumble, I’ll choose wrong, and the time I might well have used to bless, to encourage, will be thrown to the wind of misplaced priorities and things that hold no real meaning.

But last Monday afternoon, sitting in the warm glow of large-bulb Christmas lights, I said trust myself and she nodded her affirmation. My eyes wandered once more over those eleven dried leaves stuck to the wall behind her as I leaned back and considered what trusting myself might look like, how I might do so when the moments move so fast, the list grows so long.

But today, right now, I don’t worry. Maybe it’s the three and a half years I’ve already spent running, working, living in this downtown space. I can look back, see how it’s all gotten done, it’s all come together in all the long months behind me, and I can know, now, that the choices I’ve made have unfolded into good. There’s trust there, I know. Trusting myself, yes, but also trusting grace and sovereignty, and that the time I’ve been here- and the ticking hours of time I have left here- has not, will not, go to waste.

And with that confidence, with that hope held tightly in my hands, in my heart, I take one step, then another, towards work, play, study- and whatever it is, whatever I am doing, there is joy and there is adventure. Because I’m trusting myself and I’m trusting Him, and whatever comes next? Well, it’ll be just what was meant to come next.

~Natalia

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Life Right Now {#61}

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It was a Christmas decorating weekend at home,

Along with so many other things.

And the countdown shortens every night,

To when I’ll be home again with them.

But that just means I’ve less and less days

To relish here at school;

To finish strong and well and proud,

And allow my heart to rest, to thrill, in the blessing of being here

All these wonderful college years.

~Natalia

She Won’t

Na-ta-lia!

I hear her trill before I see her, and I catch her eye, mirror her wide grin, as she hurries toward our front row chapel seats.

She collapses into the seat next to me, tiny tendrils of hair next to her ears blowing in the breeze she’s created with her quick movement, her sudden descent to the red velvet seat besides my own.

I didn’t realize you were leaving so soon! She exclaims, dark eyes shining in earnest emotion. These are your last two weeks! And I nod, eyebrows raised in disbelieving agreement.

I want to spend time with you before you leave! She exclaims, and I nod, smile. That can be arranged, I assure her.

What advice would you give to me as you leave? What would you say to an underclassman? She asks, then, unwillingly to wait to hear what I have to say, what I’m thinking about as my time left at Moody dwindles to mere days.

I have to think for just a moment, my eyes wandering almost unseeing over the shoes of the tens of students who filter into, across, the scuffed chapel floor.

Then…

I’m telling her about Systematic Theology; last year’s fall semester spent dragging myself out of bed at 7am four mornings a week, sitting under instruction of heart and of mind, instruction that I have come to believe saved my faith, in many ways.

Relish that class, I tell her. Relish that opportunity to learn about our God, about the inner workings, the heart and soul, of our faith.

But that’s not enough to say.

I’m just coming to realize, I tell her, what a gift this school is.

There are hundreds of other schools, wonderful schools where people learn engineering, business, art. They learn what to do and what to say, and they learn their trade well. But here? Here at this school? We are learning truths that stretch beyond time, about the God who created time. We are given the tools, we are equipped, to make connections across materials and across classes, and the integration of what we are learning creates a grid of knowledge that reaches to the heart and changes the lives of learners. The things we learn at this school are practical and theological, and unlike any other school.

That. That is what I would say. And she nods, almost reverent, as the last chapel late comers stride swiftly across the open floor before us.

Don’t undervalue all of that, I tell her.

And somehow, I know she won’t.

~Natalia

And It Was Good

There’s nothing magical about five, of course; it could just as well be six, or four, really. But it’s not. I walked through my morning with an odd heaviness on my shoulders, a vague cloud of distraction drifting across the back of my mind; there are five more weeks of school, counting this week that’s just begun, and suddenly, the end seems much more real, much more immanent.

I’ve five more weeks, plus a couple days of finals, and then I’ll be packing up this dorm room home, watching the threads of consistency that have bound the last three years together stretch, and maybe even break, as I drive away from this school.

Of course, I’ll be back. Graduating in May, walking down that Moody Church aisle, cap on my head, gown swinging, is fairly high on my summer to-do list. I don’t doubt that I’ll be back here for visits and meetings, check-ins and nostalgic revisits.

But those will just be visits, and this has been my life, what I’m accustomed to. And life moves and stories always have a next chapter and I’d never trade anything for this opportunity to be moving, to take the next step.

But I’m not missing, I’m not oblivious, to the treasure, the importance, of these last five weeks. I want to savor them. I want to allow these final days to pass over my open hands, the hours running by, flying by, as my fingers lie open, ready to catch each memory, each moment, each snapshot of what has been my normal for these past three years, before my normal becomes something else entirely.

I thought this morning, as I sat in class, shifting my shoulders under the invisible weight of a clock ticking five weeks down to zero, about how I might live, move, choose, breathe intentionally in these coming weeks.

Sitting at lunch with a sweet blessing who happens to be one of my closest friends, another friend approached, tossing his full plate haphazardly onto the table. I tell him I’m thinking about my last weeks, and choices I want to make and investments in people, the most precious kind of investment, that I still want to make.

Ah, he chuckles, nodding towards my friend, this one needs a lot of investing. And we laugh, because he understands my thoughts, and because it was a joke. But then, when silence has settled softly over our lunch spread of popcorn chicken and vegetables, she’s worth the investment, I tell him.

And she is, and so many are, and in these five weeks, I want to be wise with what I have. With the time, the words, the thoughts that I have. Even as I’ve already mentally drafted a to-do list that spans the next eight days, and includes as foremost reading a book due on Wednesday, whose cover I have yet to crack open. Even then, I want to live well, invest well, bless and be blessed, in these days before I move out.

And I wondered, sitting there in Romans this morning, what decisions I might make, what guidelines, what resolutions I might develop, that will help me do these weeks well. How might I live, balanced as I am on the fine, wavering line between what is and what comes next?

I want to do well. Yes, I want to look back at these weeks in a month, six months, two years, and see the work that I put in that I might finish classes well. I want to give an effort in every class that I will be proud of. Of course.

But more than that, I want to turn around, in a month, a year, even longer, and I want to look at my time at Moody, and I want to be able to say that I finished well. I relished, I lived, I thrived and encouraged and invested in those around me, those that I love, during my last weeks.

And so I will get up tomorrow morning, less than six hours from now, and I will hop (literally) out of this tall bed. And I will take the next step, live the next moment, with eyes open, heart soft, hands spread wide, that what God gives me won’t fly by, won’t slip by, won’t be trampled in the torrent of What Else I Need to Do.

But rather, that in each day of these coming weeks, I might say that I went, I did, I followed where He lead, and it was good.

~Natalia

This Gift

I wrote a cover letter last night. A fake one, a mock one, for a pre-graduation, prep-you-for-the-real-world class.

I chose a school (actually where I’ll be student teaching next semester), created a heading, found a cover letter model online to follow, and I began to write.

By the time I finished the brief letter, typing my name professionally at the bottom, I has convinced myself that I was made for a job at that school.

Of course, only God knows (literally) where He’ll take me after graduation, but I found the ease with which I wrote about the school rather comforting; maybe I can do professional things like write cover letters and apply for jobs, after all.

I convinced myself to hire me, but more than that, as I wrote those short paragraphs, I was able to articulate something that’s been sitting in my heart, looming in my head for some time.

The gift that Moody Bible Institute is.

Maybe I’ve known it all along, but this semester, sitting in classes on Romans, Apologetics, and a myriad of education classes, I’ve become yet more assured, more aware of the blessings I’ve been given.

This school is unique, a biblical, theological, practical education like none other. It took me two tries to get accepted, but to be here is to learn and grow in an environment that few others are blessed to have.

I’m being poured into, nurtured, instructed.

And it’s all so that I might turn right around and pour into someone else.

Bless someone else.

Teach someone else.

To keep what I’ve been given would be to squander it, waste it, misuse it.

So I learn now, and I study hard, and I pour my heart and life into what is before me. Because soon, the cover letter will be real, and the application will be accepted, and the job will begin, and then it’ll be my turn to pour and nurture, teach and disciple, and I want to be ready.

~ Natalia

A Little Less Denial

I’ve returned to my room at school, my miniature home, after six days away.

We’re in the back half of the semester now.

All around me, there are hints of next semester;

enrollment, housing intention surveys, plans.

I’ll be here for none of that,

but I’m here now

and I think, in the weeks and the days to come,

I’ll allow myself- force myself- to sink a little deeper into the future that’s coming so very soon.

Maybe I’ll live a little less in denial

that my time at Moody is ending, my days in this school will be up in the blink of an eye.

And a part of recognizing this time is living in this time-

living days like I mean it,

(because I do)

pouring into relationships like they still matter,

(because they do)

and walking, enjoying, savoring, the time I have,

all the while waiting, preparing, dreaming,

about what comes next.

~Natalia

Unexpected

And what would you say you’re learning, thinking about, now? She asks, her voice the gentle, bright lilt I’ve grown accustomed to in the weeks since school began. We’re gathered, there in the lounge. Fifteen girls strong, and I’ve just finished telling the story of my life, tracking movements of the world, of my days, of God’s grace and sovereignty, through the events that string together to form my life.

I’ve finished now, and she’s sitting there on the couch next to me, and she asks and I smile, nod; it’s one thing to tell the past, but it’s another to learn from the present, and I had a feeling she would ask.

I pause, just for a moment. My eyes settle on the apple cider- now cold- that swirls in the cup in my hands, and I catch the gaze of the girls sitting around this warm circle as I look up at her once more.

Unexpected, I tell her. Then, as if reminding myself, agreeing with my own statement, I say it again, feeling myself nod, ever so slightly.

It’s been a semester of the unexpected, I say.

I didn’t expect for my classes to be so very time consuming, didn’t expect weekends of budgeting time by the hour, and daily checklists, and the all-too-familiar breath-holding rush of finishing an assignment twelve minutes before it’s due.

I didn’t expect late nights sitting in the hallway, typing study questions, class notes, essays, to the soundtrack of a squeaky bathroom door, under the glow of a too-white overhead light that never turns off.

There’s something unexpected about my friendships, too; something awe-striking, wonderful about the hearts I live with, eat with, study with, talk with. I’ve wanted, worked for, enjoyed, relished friendships this semester like I never have before. The God who created my heart also holds my heart, my life moving in the direction He leads, and I’ve watched, marveling at His hand, as friendships both old and new have grown on this downtown campus. It’s a privilege, a blessing, I say, to be able to grow with, laugh with, share life with the souls I’m surrounded by, here at this school.

Unexpected challenges, unsolicited blessings. And every time I pause in awe at a wonderful relationship I didn’t ask for; or stop to reflect upon the ways I have grown, been stretched, pulled outside of myself and my desires and my worries and my weakness; or step into my room after a long day of classes and studying and conversations and learning; every time I take a moment to sit, to be still, to recount the unexpected ways of this semester, I’m so thankful.

Thankful and awed, because in every new thing, and in every old thing made new, in every challenge and blessing and gift and lesson, God is working to weave threads that I did not know existed into a brilliant tapestry. He brings the moments that are small and the conversations that are short and the challenges that are many, and together, they make a whole: one account of my life, just as I told those sweet girls. But it is not just my life; this is the story of His plan and His wonder and His grace.

And the unexpecteds in my life are the certainties in His plan, and so I trust and I follow, and many days, I savor these unexpected wonders.

~Natalia

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