Finding Contentment in State College, PA

Duck #94

“Jayna, you’re not able to go to VCU anymore. It looks like you’ll be at Penn State.” These are the words that my campus minister at App told me after large group one night in the middle of February 2015. These are the words that derailed the picture perfect vision of what I thought my life was going to be like after graduation. These are the words that I didn’t want to hear, but ended up needing more than I could’ve known.

I didn’t want to move to State College, but I couldn’t be more thankful that I did. You see, State College is a place that begs you to be apart of it. Whether you’re a student, a faculty member, or someone that owns a shop downtown, it’s kind of impossible not to…notice where you are and be a part of the town’s rhythm. Upon moving, I didn’t like this. I thought to myself, okay, Jayna. Two years and you’re out. Do what you’ve gotta do, but keep yourself at arms length. This town is weird and there’s no point in getting attached. Suffice it so say, I moved with the wrong attitude, but slowly (reluctantly) began to find myself changing.

I loved leaving both high school and college feeling like I was on top of the world. I am a small fish in a big pond in State College; it’s humbling. I love knowing people well and having them know me. It was not until about 2 months ago that I really felt like the relationships I’d built in State College had fully settled; I’ve had to be patient. I enjoy being in control and understanding what I’m doing without asking for too much help. I’ve gotten lost, said the wrong things on the job, and been blindsided by life too many times to count in the past year and a half; I’ve had to give myself grace.

I am where I am and life is happening the way that it is. In this, I have two choices: cling to dissatisfaction, or find contentment. Psalm 34:10 says, “the young lion suffers want and hunger, but those who seek the Lord lack no good thing.” Seeking the Lord in State College doesn’t mean that I am promised everything that I could have had while in Richmond on VCU’s campus. Seeking the Lord in State College means that I won’t lack any good thing. Period. What I’ve found in State College–humility, patience, grace–has helped me to be content with where I am because what I’ve found is what I needed. No, I don’t have what I wanted originally, but what I have now is good. So, so good. The Lord has used this quirky little town to teach me what it looks like to be present where I am and to seek Him regardless of circumstances. I’ve fallen in love with what I have in State College and I’m continually grateful for how Christ has met me there; I’m home.

Working & Star Gazing

Post Grad Duck #26

The sun as reappeared this week. I’ve been posting a lot on social media–things about sunshine and summer. I’m ready for both to come and stay for a spell. I do well in the sunshine. I think most people do, but after so many gray days, I’ve just felt…better under the sun.

Anyway, I don’t really want to talk about the weather. Honestly, I just needed a way to begin this post. I couldn’t think of a way to start talking about my actual thoughts without sounding to abrupt, so I went with the weather. It’s always a safe topic, ya know?

Okay, here we go. Enough babbling.

I’ve been a little down recently. I think the majority of what I’m feeling is just general work lethargy. If this is (anything like) what “real”adults feel like when they say “I need a vacation” after weeks of work, I get it. You don’t really think clearly when you’re tired and in need of a break, I’ve noticed. At least, I don’t. Even when you’re aware that a break is coming, sometimes it’s hard to do what you need to do and remain present where you are. All you can think about is the beach breeze, the salt air, sand on your toes, sun on you’re skin…  It’s hard to remain focused. It’s hard to put in the energy necessary to produce the work results you need. Even more so, it’s hard to cultivate the skills and gifts you have (or are trying to discover) to help you to work well.

It’s hard to cultivate. This word, cultivate, has popped up a lot in the past 36 hours (or so) of my life. As I was journaling yesterday, I wrote this

…you have to put in the work. There are certain things you can’t do a thing to earn and other things that you have to put in work for; that’s just how it goes. The trick, the key to life is figuring out what lies within each category and being okay with it. But here’s a little secret, this is skill that has to be cultivated, charged, nuanced. It’s not an overnight process, and that’s the hard part…

This is taken slightly out of context, but what I think my subconscious was trying to communicate to me is that there is a certain amount of effort that has to be put in to produce a good work ethic. There’s encouragement in this because it means that I can afford to be patient with myself as I develop these skills. Even though I’m tired, and weary, and lethargic, I can take my time.

1 Corinthians 12 speaks to the subject of various spiritual gifts that we have as members of the body of Christ. Paul explains that there are varieties of each “but it is the same God that empowers them all in everyone” (v 6). I bring this up because when I’m down and feel as though my work ethic is not the same as those around me, I tend to feel as though I am not the same as those around me–I am worse. This is a lie and I’m working on preaching the gospel to myself to combat these anti truths. Later in the chapter, Paul says, “For the body does not consist of one member but of many…If all were a single member, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, yet one body”(v. 14, 19). I love this passage because it allows for the body of Christ to be diverse, different, unique, not the same, and yet function together to serve our Creator by our Creator. However, there is a difference between knowing that and living it out.

And so, here is an anecdote that, for me, helped me understand what to do with everything aforementioned:
Yesterday, after Large Group, I was walking with one of my students back to my car. We both commented on the dip in the evening temperature, but then admired the how clear the sky was. I said, “Man, tonight would be a great night to go star gazing.” He agreed and said, “Yeah it would!” Pausing for a moment, he spoke again. “What if everyone took 30 minutes each week to look at the stars? How differently do you think they’d live their lives.” His last sentence was phrased as a question, but he spoke it more like a statement.
I thought about what he said and couldn’t help but smile. As someone who loves to sit under the stars and gaze upward, I immediately agreed. “Yes!” I said, “that would be great. I have no doubt that people would live differently.” It’s good for us to feel small sometimes, to be reminded of our insignificance in order to put our daily mess into a better perspective. 

So how does all of this tie together? Well, I think it goes something like this:
1) It’s okay to be tired and to need a break
2) It’s not okay to assume that your lethargy means you’re a worser person
3) It’s important to cultivate your gifts/work ethic
4) It’s okay if it takes time/sometimes you slip
5) It’s necessary to take time during the week to stop and look and do nothing in a way that makes you feel small, that makes you feel like you are a part of something bigger in order to energize you to move forward

[Jesus, I’m not sure if what I’ve just typed as completely threaded together, but I thank you for allowing me to begin to understand better the idea of having patience with myself. Help me to work well, but also to take time to remind myself of how it is You that empowers me to do so.]
❤ Amen

Progress, Patience, and Perseverance: Thoughts on Racial Reconcilliation

Post Grad Duck #21

“For He Himself is our peace, who has made both one, and has broken down the middle wall of division, having abolished in His flesh the enmity, that is, the law of commandments contained in ordinances, so as to create in Himself one new man from the two, thus making peace.” -Ephesians 2:14-15

I’m hesitant to write down my thoughts. If I were to say everything that I’m thinking, I am confident that I would receive backlash and a variety of opinions. However, I am trying to be more confident in myself, and who Jesus is calling me to be, and so as I type, I pray that the Lord’s grace would fill in the gaps where I fall short and ultimately cover my words. Let me also say this, these words are meant for readers that consider themselves to be followers of Christ.

This past Monday was the day our country recognizes as Martin Luther King Jr. Day. It is a day—that I think—first is meant to celebrate and remember Dr. King’s life and work in the Civil Rights Movement, second to celebrate the racial reconciliation that has happened in our country over the past five and a half decades, and third to pursue change in light of what has already been done.

Almost 56 years ago Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. gave one the most memorable speeches in American history. It was on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial that the infamous words “I have a dream…”, associated with equality between blacks and whites, entered the world. As a young, black woman, of course I am both thankful and inspired by Dr. King’s words. His delivery was didactic, his purpose was poignant, and the legacy he left was one marked by love.

Dr. King dreamt of a world where injustice would subside and freedom would ring throughout the country. He dreamt “…that one day this nation [would] rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: “We hold these truths to be self-evident; that all men are created equal.” He dreamt that his “…four little children [would] one day live in a nation where they [would] not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.” It was these words, spoken with such conviction, that landed deep within the hearts of many and continued to spur change in our country during a time that change felt impossible. It was these words, and the perseverance of a passionate, brave, and intelligent black man that gave the Civil Rights Movement a momentum that has led to much of the progress in America today.

And that’s just it. There is progress in America today. Hear me when I say that I am not naive enough to believe that racism doesn’t exist anymore. Believe me when I say that I think our country still has much room to grow in terms of racial equality among peoples across the color spectrum. But please, don’t ignore me when I say that I am thankful for where our country is in comparison to where it was. Don’t take lightly the fact that I was able to receive a good, university level education not only as a woman, but as a black woman. Don’t pass by the beauty in my being able to not only sit at the same table as white Americans, but work with, and live with them as well. Where freedom was once beckoning to be rung, it is now in the middle of being heard.

Yes, it is in the middle. I do not believe that freedom has met its full potential, nor do I believe that America has reached capacity when it comes to loving and respecting those that are different, marginalized, oppressed, or forgotten. But Praise the Lord, that the situation at hand 56 years ago is not the same that is at hand today!

I think that we as a people have slightly forgotten what progress looks like. I think we as a people have forgotten what patience feels like. I think we as a people have forgotten what perseverance sounds like. Progress looks like the safety in men and women of different races and nationalities being able to sit in the same room peaceably and discuss a pressing matter. Patience feels like waking up every day waiting on the Lord and asking Him to maintain working in our country and in our own lives as we continue to endure unjust actions or slanderous comments. Perseverance sounds like hope and thanksgiving.

But it’s hard. How can we rejoice in progress when young black boys and men are still being killed in the streets? How can we be patient when we are tired? How can we persevere when it seems like our country feels more divided than unified as of late?

In short, we cannot.  The road to racial reconcilliation is long and hard. I believe Dr. King knew that when he was in the midst of fighting for such a reality, but I also think that he knew arrogance was not a tool of change powerful enough to carry in his arsenal. Arrogance is far too easy. Apart from the grace of Jesus Christ, apart from the narrative of the gospel, true and full racial reconciliation is futile, indeed it is selfish.

I tread these next verbal waters carefully because I realize that some people in the back community may not agree with what I have to say, which is this: I feel like sometimes we are too selfish when we seek after what we are claiming as racial reconciliation. I recently went an event where at least 97% of the people in attendance were black. The purpose of this gathering was to be an evening of celebration in memory of Dr. King. Overall, I enjoyed the event, but I found myself struck with pangs of disappointment at various moments throughout the evening. I sat, waiting in anticipation for an actual celebration to commence. I was disappointed when a performance that I thought should have inspired hope, evoked more feelings of hate—hate for what has happened in our society and for what has yet to happen. I was disappointed when the keynote speaker commented on her lack of forgiveness and several members of the audience began to cheer for her, as if to communicate, “Yes! Good! Harboring bitterness is just fine!” I was disappointed when I felt like time was not taken to honor the man for whom the black community, and America in general, owes so much.

But then this question enters my mind, why would the oppressed educate the oppressor? Is it their obligation, their duty? Maybe not. But as believers do we not serve a King that was oppressed and beaten and despised and mistreated, yet continued to educate and love those who inflicted so much pain on Him? I am well aware that there is much to swallow and even more to digest, but I believe these are things to think about. We must look at where we have come from in order to see where we are going, where we want to go. It does no good to hold on to deep resentment, ridiculous stereotypes, and years of pain in an effort to pursue real and genuine change. We must remember and move forward. remember the bad and learn from it; remember the good and thank God for it; then, we must keep walking, walking in love. Don’t you agree?

We are committed to collectively, lovingly and courageously working vigorously for freedom and justice for Black people and, by extension all people. As we forge our path, we intentionally build and nurture a beloved community that is bonded together through a beautiful struggle that is restorative, not depleting (#BlackLivesMatter on Restorative Justice).

I know this is weighty and that there are several layers to unpack. So, I will end with these words from Dr. King, “I have decided to stick with love. Hate is too great a burden to bear.”

 

[Dear Jesus,
take these words and may You become big and I small.]
❤ Amen