Thursday, April 30, 2015

The Big Picture

Have you ever wanted something so bad that you were angry with God when it didn't happen?  I know I'm guilty of this.  I started to believe that the plan I had in my head for my life was what was best instead of asking God to guide me and show me his plan for my life.  I want what He wants, but I don't always show it.  Like a child throwing a tantrum, I have been angry before that something I wanted so badly didn't work out and I questioned God because of it.  I know we all do it, but how ridiculous is it that we question God and try to tell Him what the plan is for our lives?

A couple weeks ago at our church's high school youth group, we talked about doubt and questioning God.  Several of the kids were explaining different situations that caused them to doubt, and many of them talked about circumstances where they wanted something and prayed for something and it didn't happen.  This situation is all too real for me, but I've also learned a few things over the past few years that have taught me important lessons about God's plan for my life.  So this is for the youth group kids.  This is for anyone struggling with an unanswered prayer or a "missed opportunity."  I have been there.

You know how people refer to the "big picture"?  This is what I think of when it comes to God.  We can only see what's right in front of us in the here and now, but he has the whole map of our lives in view, past and present. 

During my senior year of college at Indiana University South Bend, I took the GRE and started applying to grad school.  I had a good GPA, I was about to graduate with honors, and I had been involved with lots of extracurricular activities.  I thought getting into grad school was going to be a breeze.

I thought wrong.

I started getting my application materials together and asking professors to write recommendation letters for me.  In my mind, there was only one school I wanted to go to, and that was Notre Dame.  I was already living in South Bend, so I wouldn't have to move.  My relationship with Justin was starting to get serious, so I could stay in the same town as him.  And then there's the prestige that comes with getting a degree from Notre Dame.  I loved the campus.  It was my dream to go there.  It was my plan, and I was confident that I would get in.

Several of my professors suggested that I apply to other schools as a back-up, so I sent in applications to a few other schools as a technicality.  I applied to the University of Michigan, Purdue University, Indiana University Bloomington, Wayne State, and IU South Bend, the school where I was about to graduate from.  Most of the programs I applied to were MFA programs (Master of Fine Arts) in creative writing rather than an MA program (Master of Arts) in English and several of the schools offered full scholarships to MFA students.  I wanted to get into an MFA program and to get a scholarship and Notre Dame offered both.  

As I waited to hear back from these schools, I started receiving rejection letters.  The first came from the University of Michigan, then from Wayne State, then from Purdue, then from IU Bloomington.  I realized just how competitive grad school is, but I still had my heart set on Notre Dame.  I prayed and prayed and prayed about it.  I thought for sure God would follow through with my plan.

And then the rejection letter came.  As I sat in the computer lab in the community building by my dorm, I was in shock.  What had happened to my plan?  What about all those prayers?  What about what I wanted?

I was devastated.  I could hardly talk to anyone about it because I had convinced myself that going to Notre Dame was the best plan for my life.  I had convinced myself that what I wanted was more important than what God had in store for me.

After a few weeks of dealing with the rejection and questioning God in the process, I received a letter from IU South Bend.  I had been accepted into their program.  It was an MA program instead of an MFA program and I didn't get the scholarship I had applied for.  I had gone there for my undergrad and I needed a change of pace.  It was the last choice on my list.  I was unhappy, but I still wanted to go to grad school.  So I accepted.  After graduation, Cohen and I moved out of student housing and got an apartment together near the school and she worked on finishing up her last year of her undergrad and I started grad school.  It wasn't my plan at all.  

But my two years as a grad student there were wonderful.

We had a small class in the English graduate program at IU South Bend and we became like a family.  We spent time with each other, bonded, shared meals together, worked together, studied together, and genuinely cared about each other.  We came from so many different stages of life and backgrounds, but we all loved each other and cheered each other on as some of us graduated, got married, got new jobs, went on to school at other places, and more.  We knew each others' spouses and families.  We could share accomplishments or rant about professors and classes or get new insight on a paper or assignment.

My grad school group last summer.  This was our "last supper" together as Justin and I moved to Ohio, Hannah moved to New Mexico, Katie moved to California, and Amy moved to Michigan. 
My studies at IU South Bend led me to get a teaching assistantship as a second-year grad student, which ultimately gave me great experience, helped me decide what career I wanted to pursue, and helped me get into the PhD program at Bowling Green.  I got to share an office with and teach alongside my fellow graduate classmates.  The English department also hired me on even after I graduated, so I had a guaranteed job after graduation.  Even though I was in an MA program, I got to take multiple creative writing workshops in poetry and fiction and non-fiction (from published authors) and my thesis director even let me do a narrative collage project.  I won several writing awards and got to meet many great authors as the school hosted poetry readings and published books through their very own 42 Miles Press.  I got to concentrate in creative writing and participate in several poetry readings hosted by the English department.  And, as I found out later after applying for jobs, having an MA makes you more marketable versus having an MFA.  My supervisor at Indiana Tech told me she wouldn't have hired me to teach there if I had gotten an MFA. 

So the program I applied to just for a back-up ended up being God's plan.  It ended up being a wonderful experience.  Justin and I were able to stay close together and we got engaged and got married during my last year of grad school.  I got to be close to my best friend, Cohen, and spend time with her before she got sick.  I was still close enough to family to make a day trip to see them.

Notre Dame was never God's plan for my life.  I could only see what was right in front of me, but God could see the big picture.

So next time a prayer goes unanswered or you don't get that job or a situation doesn't work out the way you want it to, remember that it's just God's way of saying that He's got something better in store for you.  I have learned this lesson well. 

Husband and wife, October 2012.  Our wedding was during my second-to-last semester of grad school.
May 2013.  God's perfect plan.

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