Every high school junior/senior (and these days, freshman/sophomore) can tell you what the first question out of a new acquaintance's mouth is:
So, what are you going to do after you graduate?
I faithfully answered that question in detail for the first three years of high school (I want to be a nurse, probably labor/delivery, and I would really like to go to Cedarville, but I might think about UNC too...). Once I hit the promised land of senior year, though, I began to dread that question. Not because I didn't have my mind made up (and oh, it was made up, baby), but because it happened so often. I see y'all nodding your heads over there...
Now, when I talk to friends that age, I spare them of (half) the misery and preface the million dollar question with "I know you get asked this all the time, but..."
I know. Much better, right?
The thing is, I had no way of realizing that my answer to that question for all those years was wrong. Oh, not morally wrong. Just wrong because now I'm preparing to take a class called "Teaching/Learning/Technology". You see, that is definitely not part of a pre-nursing program. And what I'm getting around to is this:
It's hard to know what God wants you to do. It's hard to make that decision (for a lot of people). It's hard to change your mind after you've staked your dreams on one path for five years.
I always wondered (and sometimes still do), "How do you know?" Like, this is a big decision, people. What if I pick the wrong major and am three-and-a-half years/105 credits in and realize that this really sucks? What if I waste four years of my life (and who knows how much money) on something that "turns out to be the wrong thing"? (It is slightly amusing to look back at these thoughts and realize how huge some things seem at fifteen, right?) What decision do I make???!!!
Thankfully, I had guidance from some of the best. My parents, for twenty years now, have taught us the story of the men with their talents, the concept of serving the church, the truth that God has gifted each and every one of us with a unique talent with which to bless others. My mom told me, "Look at what you can do, what you're good at. Start there and see how you can use those gifts." She also reminded me that sometimes there are very practical and concrete signposts - if you can't stand raw meat, maybe you don't want to go to culinary school. If you don't get accepted into nursing school, maybe God wants you to look for something else. If you can't sit still for long periods of time, don't become a pilot. And, while I was at TFY, a theological "training camp" put on by our church, Dr. Jerry O'Neill gave our group a wonderful talk on knowing what God wants you to do. This talk gave me peace in the questions that were still swirling.
And then, I ran into a bit of a brick wall. Five days before I walked across the stage and took my diploma, my college and "career" plans made a sudden one hundred and eighty-degree turn. Wham.
My plan was to take CNA courses the summer in between graduation and starting college since I would need that accreditation further along in my studies, and I could gain experience while working as a CNA. Here's where I admit something about me that is a bit embarrassing - I struggle with being on time. This trait has given me grief more times than I care to remember, but this particular instance probably tops them all. On this day, right before I graduated, I had a CNA orientation session that began at 9 a.m. The registrar was very specific when I signed up a week earlier - the doors close at 9. Period. No one is allowed in after 9:00:00. You probably can guess the next step - I made it up the stairs and down the hall to the classroom at about 9:02. To be fair, I didn't know exactly where I was going, so I probably would have made it with about thirty seconds to spare if I had known my way around. Still, you don't cut it that close, and I knew that. The end result of that part of the morning? No CNA class for the whole summer.
The next nail in the coffin was driven about thirty minutes later, when I continued on to the appointment with the Allied health advisor at the same community college, and learned that their Associates in Nursing program was nothing like I had thought it would be, and would probably take longer than two years to complete due to class scheduling. Well, that was a lovely surprise, weren't it, mate?
Fast forward another half an hour, and I was sobbing to my mother on the phone. A door had just been shut - literally and figuratively. I was so upset. What was I supposed to do now? At that time, the idea of taking a year or even a semester off was unthinkable, and I couldn't see any other way around my nice, new, pretty roadblock. However, God knew what He was doing (yes, I know) and that two-hour phone conversation got me on a new path. We discussed other degree options (education, political science) and my sweet mama calmed me down (and gently told me that she didn't think nursing was where I was meant to be, anyway). Long story short, I was frantically emailing my principal that night and asking if I could change part of my yearbook entry. He kindly gave me a few more hours to fix my "plans", such as they were.
The rollercoaster of the million dollar question wasn't finished yet, however. Oh, no. Two months after I got that long-awaited Class of '14 tassel, I got extremely sick. I plan on writing more about that, so I won't describe it in detail here. The essential facts for this post are that: a) there was no way I was going to college that fall and b) I was all of a sudden reconsidering what I should do with myself again. This was another fun rollercoaster trip. Should I really study education? Should I branch out in a completely different direction and study music? As I type these memories, I am literally thinking "Argh!" to myself almost two years later - it was that confusing. Up, down, up, down, down, up, and back again. There's no rest for the wicked, and the righteous don't need none.
Thankfully - thankfully - God "brought me out into a spacious place" (Psalm 18:19 [NIV]) and "drew me...out of the miry bog, and set my feet upon a rock, making my steps secure." (Psalm 40:2 [ESV]) I got better (such a superficial phrase for such a long journey) and stuck with education. "Stuck with" makes me sound really plucky and tough, but to be frank, it was a simple matter of knowing that I wanted to do this. What clinched it for me? Some of that time is a tad hazy in my memory, but I do know that I was excited (and still am). I wanted to teach. I loved working with kids. I knew I could do it. When I looked back, I could see how I was a "teacher" already - working with my siblings, working with friends, teacher's aiding for multiple instructors at our school. My family agreed that it would be a good fit for me. My aunt, who is like a second mother to me, told me that she had me pegged as a teacher from the age of two. Whoa. (That makes for a nice pithy statement in interviews, doesn't it?)
I still love it. I had the experience of teaching a crew of kindergarteners and first-graders for a few weeks, and had the time of my life. I have random ideas for lesson plans pop into my head and I freak out about how cool it would be to do that!! I have a dedicated board for teaching on Pinterest (and one for teaching jokes - I know, I'm way too organized). I love interacting with kids as they figure out what's in front of them. I love watching other teachers in action and talking with them and my fellow education students. I have occasional moments of wanting to skip the next three years and just get my own classroom right now!
So, all that to say, I guess I have figured it out. So far. Right now, I am getting my degree in Elementary Education, so we'll see where God takes that. There is a very good chance that I will be posting in about 4 years - "Hey everyone, I am now getting my masters in ceramic engineering!" Okay, I'm kidding. It is interesting, though - at the moment, when I think of my plans, I sometimes feel this jolt of "maybe I don't want to do this." To be honest - I don't know why I feel that. I hope it goes away and leaves me alone, to quote any toddler you may know. But, I am going to continue on and trust the Lord. And, of course, remember what I've learned...
- You don't have to know the answer to that million dollar question when you're a junior. Or a senior. Or a graduate. With SAT deadlines and scholarship applications and advisor appointments, it feels like you need to have a gorgeous, true-to-you, perfect game plan hammered out to the nth degree by the time you're buying notepaper for your junior year spring semester. Or, preferably, the summer in between your sophomore and junior year. You will figure it out. I promise. Don't take this and say, "Ok, I guess I'm going to play Xbox for the next 9 months" - but do remember that there is no eleventh commandment that says, "thou shalt have thy college and career figured out while in high school."
- There is nothing wrong with taking a little time off to really consider what you want to do. I tell people that my year away from school did two things: it gave me a chance to really solidify what I wanted and it gave me a chance to earn some money (always a good thing!). If that still worries you, think about British high schoolers - everyone over there takes a "gap year" before they start their freshman year of college. They travel, work, and whatever else. It can also be a great time for you to delve into the Bible - you're not desperately finishing assignment after assignment and surviving on Starbucks.
- Remember what I said about missing my CNA orientation because of my habitual lateness? That is one of the brightest examples in my life of God working all things together for good and bringing beauty out of ashes. If I hadn't been late and participated in that orientation and program, I would've started down a path that probably wouldn't have ended that well, especially when I got sick. He is sovereign and He knew that I needed redirected. When you hit one of those "dead ends", know that He is doing this so you can find what is best for you.
- If nothing else, remember this - God knows. He knows what is the best outlet for your talents (remember, He gave them to you in the first place). He knows where you'll end up (He is going there with you). He will use you to the praise of His glory (He doesn't break His promises). You don't know what you want to do? Where you want to go? He does.
Look at your gifts.
Look at how you can serve the body of Christ.
Remember that you won't see writing on the wall - oh, how I wished for that.
Remember that instead, it may be a zig-zag route, but you will get there.
Remember that God knows.
Because that's worth a million dollars right there.