I am home. Good God almighty, I am grateful to say that. With grad school applications and a stupid online driver improvement course (I’m officially a member of the speeding ticket club…) still to be completed, I’m not quite in the clear for winter break relaxation. The weight of a grueling semester has finally lifted off my shoulders, though, and that is satisfying enough.
One Helluva Semester
I just discovered an index card I taped to my bedroom wall this past summer titled “Mentally Prepare: Fall 2014,” listing all the things I was committed to this past semester. How satisfying it is to pull that down and rip it into shreds [done!]. My summer August apprehension was justified; I knew the work load I was taking on this semester was not sustainable, and the semester proved me right.
I kept my smile and stayed positive. I reminded myself of the importance of balance. I tried not to take my assignments (or myself) too seriously. But perpetual busy-ness pretty much sums up the last three and a half months of my life. Fortunately, I don’t believe in perpetual sleep deprivation, so I saved myself from turning into a walking zombie after all but a few late nights. My schedule was packed and moments of relaxation few. Tuesdays were the longest, but every day was almost as demanding:
7:50 Breakfast with Lydia
11:45 Scarf down some lunch
12:30 Change for tennis
1:10 Suck at playing tennis
2:30 5.5-minute shower to mercifully save my classmates from my sweaty self
4:30 Shakespeare film lab
8:00 RA meeting
Every freaking hour scheduled out. Just let me know when I am supposed to do the five hours of reading for Wednesday’s homework. So much for a morning quiet time of prayer, or exercise (tennis does not count. But I’ll get into that momentarily), or…what?! A social life? Is that a thing? It’s stirring blurry memories of a happier time far past. When did I miss the memo that my life was to become just as regimented as it would be at a military academy? Excuse my sarcasm; I joke, I joke. Kind of.
One morning at breakfast, I ran into Samson, who leads the 6:30 am boot camp I dragged my butt to a few times this semester.
Samson is bald and sports a goatee. Though he is a bit squat, waddling a little from past football injuries, his name is still appropriate. He has a commanding presence, and his voice carries the way you’d expect from an ex-marine. “JComp!” he yells as I walk by his table to dispose of my cereal bowl.
I whirl around, caught off-guard. I’m a pretty focused, one-track gal. I always walk like I’m on mission, even to the dishwashing conveyor belt. People used to joke in high school that they would wave at me in the hallways and I would walk right on by because I did not even notice them.
“Haven’t seen you at boot camp lately. You gonna come back around soon?”
“I hope so, Samson.” I shrug. I’m tired. “I’ve got a really heavy course load, though. I’m just trying to get through right now.”
“Don’t ‘just get through,’ JComp. Climb the mountain and stomp on it.”
I smile. “Thanks Samson. That’s good advice.”
And it was. I had to donn my figurative mountaineering gear this semester. I faced a mountain whose climbing grade was perhaps not comparable to the Himalayas, but was far steeper than the Southern Appalachia I’m so fond of. I wrote over 200 pages of papers and reading responses just to summit it. It took a lot more reading, research, and active participation to stomp on it.
Now that I am back in the valley, I think I did. I kicked and jumped and stomped til I had nothing left. Those A’s gave the mountain a beating.
Which brings us to the bane of my academic excellence this past term.
For my mandatory health and wellness class, I enrolled in tennis because I wanted to challenge myself. I could have signed up for backpacking and sailed right through a harbor of calm water. I wanted to learn a new game, though. Tennis, I figured, is something I can play for the rest of my life. I did not figure that I would be terrible at it. Being one’s best is important to me, but I wish I didn’t care about grades quite so much. For an overachiever like me, though, the pressure only builds to make more good grades as the A’s accumulate. And tennis – tennis – was the only class where getting a B was a seriously feasible possibility. As my final grades attest, I made it out with an A-, which I’ll deal with. I just couldn’t “swing” that A.
Go ahead and laugh. Everyone else is.
I gave myself some slack the first half of the course. We were all newbies, and none of us knew what we were doing. But then people started improving, and I did not. As the margin of skill between my classmates and me increased, so, too, did my gut twist just a bit more every time I set foot on the court.
Hand eye coordination is just not my thing. Neither is strategy, or keeping score, or knowing whose turn it was to serve, or what side of the court I was supposed to be on…or generally understanding WHAT THE HECK WAS EVER HAPPENING.
4 points that are not simply 1, 2, 3, 4 – oh no, let’s go by 15s why don’t we, since that’s logical. Every once in a while we’ll switch sides of the court, but if I’m your opponent, I certainly hope you’re keeping track of when that’s supposed to be, because I’m still uncertain. And to win a game, you have to be ahead by 2. If you’re not, we’ll throw in some more confusing terms like deuce and ad-ins or ad-outs. Lots more games to win a set…2 out of 3 sets to win a match. Why is there a sport that is like a mini version of inception???
Tennis reminded me how much I hate being bad at anything. How often, if I’m honest, I only stick to disciplines and hobbies that I know I’ll be good at. I hesitated on starting this blog for a long time out of that same fear. Failure sucks, and I, along with most people, would rather avoid it.
That does not mean we should, though. God did not make us to live in a spirit of fear. He wants us to step out and trust him. Only when we’re stomped to the ground do we realize how very unhelpful we are, how much we need a big God. Against all odds, the Lord has still chosen us. We are not only his handiwork; he has chosen us to do his work, because he loves us and he wants us to be part of kingdom building.
Tennis challenged me in a way that English Seminar never will, rigorous as that class may be. It has been a humble reminder of how not awesome I am. As a Christian, it was a nice allegory of my weaknesses, God’s strength, and his decision to make me go “play tennis” sometimes anyway. As a teacher, it has reinforced the importance of valuing each individual’s talents and respective intelligence. Liberal arts curriculum requirements forced me to take a quarter-credit class that I really struggled in. Some people feel that way about school eight hours a day for twelve years. When I teach, I don’t want to make school even more torturous; I will capitalize on my student’s strengths.
Someday, I really hope I can actually play tennis. In the meantime, I am going to keep telling myself that it can be fun, and I will keep practicing. I even asked for a racket for Christmas!
Crazy as this semester was, I proved to myself that I could do it, and I tried to do it well. Beyond all the lonesome schoolwork, this semester was still good. My residents are incredible, and I really loved serving and mentoring them. I spent a memorable long weekend in Boston with Abby
at the height of New England fall weather. I stayed in regular communication with family and friends. I picked up one heck of a boyfriend who has brought tons of joy to my life, and I began to figure out post-graduation plans. Miraculously enough, I really, really love being back at Roanoke. Despite the initial challenges, low and behold, it actually is the perfect school for me.
But man I am glad to be done. Ridiculous amounts of school work: ciao, arrivederci, never again (!). I can’t wait for one final semester of college to invest in people, share Jesus’ love, and live spontaneously.