final China update

Here it is…the post that you all knew was coming, and the one that I have honestly been putting off for a while.

I’m not going to China.

I still don’t have the words to explain why or what changed in my heart, but something changed.  It was taking forever to get an invitation from the government, and I saw the potential time I would be spending there slowly dwindling.  I didn’t like that.  I wasn’t a fan of the fact that my 5 months in China was going down to 4 and eventually only 3.  Sure, any length of time in China would be an experience of a lifetime, but I was putting my entire life here on hold and it was unhealthy.

I was afraid to build friendships and relationships in my hometown.  I was afraid to go back to my college town and hang out with my friends because I knew I would be leaving them soon.  It felt pointless to get a part-time job when I had no clue how long I’d be available to work there.  Everything was in limbo, and while I was doing my best to trust God’s plan for the situation, I was emotionally overloaded and highly stressed.  That’s when it occurred to me that God’s plans for this trip perhaps changed.  I can’t explain it, but I felt and still feel like I need to stay here for now.

It was terribly difficult to decide not to pursue a dream that I had been planning for so long, but after the decision was made I felt relieved.  Life is not always about making the right or wrong choices; it’s about making wise choices that you can live with.  That’s exactly what I elected to do in this situation.  Would I still like to be going to China? Sure!  But do I regret the decision I made not to go? No, I don’t.  Later down the road if I find myself saying, “Man, I wish I had gone to China,” then hopefully I will be in a position to plan a trip at that time.

ItIsWellWithMySoul

And that’s how I feel about that.

P.S.   I know this blog started as a way to document my path to China and my journey while I was there, but obviously that has changed. I definitely plan on updating the blog regularly with info about my life, relationships, and graduate school.  However, I’m still trying to figure out a clear direction and plan for the blog, so bear with me while I work to bring the best to the table here.

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limbo is real…

…I know because I’m stuck here now…in limbo, I mean.

Truthfully, that’s why I haven’t stopped by to write in a little while.  Everything seems to be in limbo right now, and I was trying to wait for some things to fall into place before I wrote about them.  Anyhow, things seem to be moving at a turtle’s pace in most areas, and I’m still playing the waiting game.  So, I decided to just go ahead and post an update of everything that is going on.  After all, this blog is supposed to be reflection of all of the paths in my life, not just the ones where everything is moving just as I would like.  So here we go…

China
I still have not received my official invitation to come and work in China.  I cannot apply for my visa until I have that, so I’m still in limbo until we get the letter.  We did however contact the program to see if I would still be eligible for the monthly stipend now that I will not be there for 5 months.  Good news on that is that I WILL be eligible to receive the same monthly stipend.  Praise for all of that working out.  However, I’m still undecided as to whether I will be going or not.  I guess it really depends on how long I will be able to go.  I know that any amount of time would be a life-changing experience, but I’m really starting to wonder if now is the right time.  Don’t get me wrong, I would still love to go.  The situation has just changed, and I think the wisest thing to do right now is to re-evaluate all of my options to determine if there is a more suitable choice for the time being.

Graduate School
I have been hesitant to post about my graduate school application process (even though I’ve already shared some with you), mostly because I have this fear of public failure.  To post about the schools I applied to and got interviews with would invariably be followed by a post about the schools that I did and did not get into.  BUT! I’ve decided that I’m getting over that fear, and I’m going to be very real about this whole process.
I’ve applied to Baylor, received an invitation to interview, had a Skype interview, and now I am waiting to hear back, hopefully next week.
Appalachian State wants me to come and interview on March 22nd.  Obviously I’ve been in limbo about this interview because I have been in limbo about China.  If I go to China, I’m not sure what happens with the interview, but if I don’t go to China, then I will head up there for the interview and see what’s up.
I also got an email from Georgia Southern saying that I was accepted into their program.  So, no matter what happens I will be going to grad school!  That’s exciting!
I am excited to hear from all of these grad schools.  This process has certainly been an adventure, but I am glad that it will be coming to a close soon.  It feels good to be much closer to completing this process at this point.  I know that actually attending graduate school is going to be another time of growth and learning more about myself, but for right now I am thankful that the growth that comes through the application process is almost done.  It really has been an intense process, but I’ve gained a lot of confidence as well as humility, and I am very thankful for that.
Also, I can’t help but wonder what my professors said in their recommendation letters.  Whatever it was, though, I am very thankful.  I know that I wouldn’t have made it this far without their support and encouragement.  It really means a lot to me.

There is one other area that also feels like it’s in limbo right now…but in a good way.  I won’t say much about that, but I will leave you with these photos:

sunflower

cupcake

where is your faith

prayerCSlewisYesterday my family lost a great man, a man who was married to my Nana and fathered my mother.  I’ve struggled for the past 24 hours trying to decide how to process this loss, and honestly I have been unsure about sharing it on this blog.  However, I decided that my grandfather deserves a tribute from me in the best way I know how, and I’m sure my family would like to know how much I cared.  I’m not always great at expressing myself face to face, and I certainly deal with death differently on some levels.  So even though this blog is a public forum, I hope my family and friends who read this will understand that this is my way of coping.

For the past several years I have watched my grandfather struggle with dementia and the inability to fully take care of himself, so it’s hard for me to not feel joy knowing that he is beginning a new life, fully healed and whole.  Of course I am sad for myself; I am sad that my family has to suffer such a great loss.  Yet, I couldn’t be more happy for my Papa Sr.  I know that’s not the typical outlook, and I’m not entirely sure what that says about me.  I hope though, that it says I believe in a God who keeps his word, and that I’m confident that He is in control.  I believe that He grants eternal life to those who have believed in Him.  I believe that even though death is hard on the living, God draws near to the brokenhearted and brings peace to those who draw near to him.  The psych major in me knows that these beliefs do not significantly alter the grieving process.  I know that grief is very real, and honestly I’m still waiting on that part to sink in.  For right now it seems that the best thing I can do is to be there for my family, knowing that they and God will be there when my grief begins to set in.

psalm347Anyway, my grandfather was 81, and passed away from a heart attack  and general health complications.  He served his country as a Marine for 20 years in Korea and then Vietnam, twice.  He was the kind of guy who wanted to pay for my schooling and a brand new car and a new house, but he would complain about a twenty-dollar steak or a forty-dollar shirt for himself.  Even if he was having a terrible day, he always seemed happy to see me.  He maintained his sense of humor and quick wit, which was always very entertaining.  No doubt there were struggles, and though he didn’t always express it well, I am certain that he loved my grandmother and my family very much.  He will certainly be missed.

On a distantly related note, I am very thankful that my trip to China has been delayed for an undetermined amount of time at this point.  God definitely knows what He is doing because there is absolutely no way that I could have gotten on a plane tomorrow afternoon for Beijing.    I believe the earliest I will hear something is around the 24th of February, but I fear that too much of a delay will prevent me from going at all.  (Going for 5 months allows me to receive a monthly stipend for working there, but a delay would mean working less time, which could mean losing the stipend.  I would be unable to stay there for a few months without the extra income.)

I trust that God knows what  He’s doing though.  I mean he kept me  here to support my family in this time of need, which I am very grateful for.  So we will see what happens in terms of the China trip, but I think I can honestly say that while I would still love to go, I believe that God would use me to do equally great things here if I was unable to go.  I know that His plan is greater than any I can imagine, and I have already seen so many personal transformations just through preparing for this trip.  The lessons God uses to prepare your heart for the things to come don’t disappear if the future changes.  The lessons and the transformations remain, which I am thankful for.

hope deferred

hopedeferred

I got a new email from the human resources department in Beijing today.  Here’s what it had to say:

Although we submitted your applications to SAFEA well over a month ago, they did not start to apply until just a couple of weeks ago. We have to negotiate with them because you are recent graduates and do not have 2 years of work experience. Since our president has had to talk with them about this before, we do not expect it to take as long as last time. We are hopeful to get you here before our March session begins on March 9th, however we cannot guarantee it.

I’ve tried to stay pretty relaxed despite the fact that things are not falling into place quite like I would like them to, but it is becoming more difficult to sit and wait.  I’d be lying at this point if I said I wasn’t frustrated with the fact that the Chinese government is moving slower than I wish they would.  That there is now a potential that I may not be going to China makes me reflect on a lot of things.  I have been thinking a lot about why I wanted to go in the first place and how I would feel about not getting to go at this point.  A lot of hard work and preparation has gone into making this dream a reality and not just on my part.  There are a lot of people who have put in hard work and loads of encouragement to make this trip happen, and I would hate to feel like I am letting them down by not going.  I know that it wouldn’t be my fault and that nothing is set in stone yet.  I’m just doing a lot of thinking, and it would be a huge disappointment on the whole to miss out on this opportunity.

notrightnow

Over the past couple of years I have come to realize that timing plays a huge factor in how things pan out.  As a result, victory typically goes to the patient ones.  I am not a patient one.  Think about it though.  How often have things fallen through because of the excuse that the timing was off?  It seems there is a fine line between being patient and knowing when to move on.  If the China thing does not pan out by the beginning of March, then I’m afraid that I will have to move on.  Hopefully the timing will work out, but if it doesn’t, then maybe teaching overseas will still be a possibility in the future.

I know I have said that all I can do is pray, so that’s what I’m still trying to focus on.  This is a reminder that the purpose of everything in life is to glorify God and not to satisfy my own desires.  I don’t believe He would have placed this desire on my heart in the first place if something glorifying would not come out of it.  I know that God will continue to do His work over in China regardless of whether I am there or not.  I also know that He will continue to do work in my no matter where I am.  That has also been evident in my life.  So let’s just keep praying for His will to be done and for His name to be glorified above all names.

adreamdeferredhughes

Oh, my Nana said I could use the money she saved for my trip to get me a puppy if the trip plans fell through.  So that’s the silver lining.  Here’s a picture of the puppy for smiles:

China to-do list

I have about 10 to-do lists floating around of things I need to accomplish before I leave for China, so I thought I’d take the time to organize them into one list on the blog.

Technology
Organize & backup laptop
Organize & purge email inboxes and folders
Purge Facebook (sorry ‘friends’)
Organize & purchase music (accepting mix CDs for my trip!)
Sync music with iPHONE and iPAD
Update & sync apps
FIND HEADPHONES
Organize chargers/cords/accessories
Find operating CDs for laptop
Cancel Hulu & Netflix subscriptions (sorry moocher ‘friends’)
Get camera cleaned

Travel Documents
Make passport copies
Get notarized diploma copies
Get official transcript copies

Organize a travel folder

Shopping
Mac adaptor cord for projector
Wool socks
Long underwear
Razors
Face cleanser

Moisturizer
Makeup?
Sunscreen
Contacts
First aid kit (I plan to take enough medicine to run a pharmacy)
Prescription medicines for 6 months
EASY MAC (& I hope to get care packages with this in them!)

Small gifts for students
20 magazines for students

Organize
Clothes
Phone #s & addresses
Skype friends
Language flash cards
Add mom to bank accounts
Notify bank accounts of travel dates
Pick 2 Bibles to take & devotional materials
Photos of family & friends

Oh gosh, this list is longer than I anticipated, and I have a feeling that I’m still forgetting things.  Updates to come.

update on China trip

Everyone keeps asking me LOADS of questions about China.  My pending trip to China has practically become my identity.  It’s like, “Hey Jessica, how are you? When do you leave for China?”  So I’m going to type everyone’s questions along with all of my answers just so they will be on file somewhere.

Q: When do you leave for China?
A: It depends on what the cheapest flight ends up being.  I am due in China on February 21st, so I will have to leave on the 20th at the very latest.  It’s likely that I will leave sometime between the 17th and the 19th and have a layover in Europe somewhere.

Q: How long will you be there?
A: From February 21st to July 31st. OR 5 full months. OR 23 weeks.

Q: What will you be doing?
A: Teaching English at the University of Beijing through this program.

Q: Do you speak Chinese?  Are you going to learn it?
A: No, I don’t speak Chinese; the only requirement for teaching English is speaking English, and the students are only allowed to speak English. (They are mostly adult students with varying levels of knowledge of the English language.)  I’m going to learn whatever I pick up while I’m there, but I’m not going to take classes or anything.  I want to learn whatever I learn by experience.

Q: Where will you stay?
A: I will live at the university with the other teachers and students in the city of Beijing.  The program will cover my housing and provide a monthly stipend.

Q: Do you plan to travel?
A: I doubt I’ll live in China for 5 months and not visit a single tourist spot…Okay that was a little sassy, but yes, I’m going to travel as much as possible.  Plus I believe the program will provide us with some travel experiences as well.  I have a huge travel bucket list, plus the Forbidden City and the Great Wall are in Beijing.  I can’t miss those.

Q: What are you doing after China?
A: I have currently applied to 4 graduate school programs for School Psychology.  They are all 3 year Ed. S. programs, and I hope to enroll in one in August, 2013.

Q: Do you get Facebook/Google/the internet over there?
A: From what I understand, there are ways around the firewalls.  I know people who have been in Beijing since July and they have uploaded photos to Facebook, updated blogs, and Skyped family and friends.  The letters VPN have been floating around, but I haven’t done my research.  Go here if you need to know more.

Q: Take lots of pictures!
A: Is that even a question? I can’t promise that I’ll be in a lot of them, but I will take thousands, probably within the first week.  Fret not, there will be photos.

Those are all the questions I can remember right now, but if you have more, ask them here.  I’ll update if I remember more.  Leaving in a month! Woo!

it’s my choice

pastlikeananchor

As my final semester comes to a close, I have been thinking over the inevitable question, “what’s next?”  Obviously I have pretty solid plans in place for China and graduate school, so I’m not spending a whole lot of time thinking about actual plans for the future.  Instead I’ve been pondering something much less concrete.  Lot’s of questions.  What’s next for me, personally? Who am I going to become? Will I change as much in the next four years as I have in the past four? Will they be changes for the better?

The only thing that is certain is that things will change; I will change.  I think that I’m becoming okay with that.  And as far as the quote above goes, I’m not so sure that I agree anymore.  I see the past more as a foundation for the future; right now, it’s the only thing solid underneath my feet.  Of course, that doesn’t mean that I’m about to sit down right now and cling tight to the past.  But I do think that the past contributes to our future more than we want to give it credit for.  We can either let it hold us back (like an anchor) or propel us forward.  I think it’s easy to think that we have to completely let our past go or bury it in order to move forward, but that’s just not how it works.

For me, this process of moving forward has been about embracing the things I love about my past and tweaking the things that need a little work.  Sure, there are some things that we can let go of, but to completely let go of the past would mean letting go of who you were.  I guess that’s the point that the quote makes, but I don’t think it’s right.  Who you are now and who you will be is based off of who you were in the past, and I just can’t let that go.  I can change certain things I don’t like and build upon certain things that I do like, but I can’t just let go of or ignore any of who I was in the past.  The past itself is not an anchor–it’s all in how we handle it.  We can hold ourselves back by living in the past, or we can embrace it and move forward.  Ultimately, it’s my choice, and I like the sound of that.

why am i running

keeprunning

For those of you who don’t know, I’m preparing to go to Beijing, China in February and stay through July.  It’s becoming more real to me, as I had a ton of paperwork to gather and email today.  It’s kinda funny how reality sets in only once the stress rears its ugly head.  Yes, paperwork is kinda stressful for me, especially when I don’t have the forms to fill out in the first place.

Anyway, what I really wanted to address about China is that, on more than one occasion people have asked me what I’m running from or why I’m running away.  Usually it’s people who know what my struggle with depression has been like.  I’ve heard things like, “You can run, but you can’t run from yourself,” or “Don’t you think the depression will follow you to China?”  And yes, I have heard statements like this from adults, professionals, doctors.  Maybe you’re reading this now and you totally agree with them.  You’re thinking, “Yeah Jess, why are you running?”  Thanks for your concern, and here’s why…

Here’s the truth: I’m not running.  Yes, I am leaving school, my family, and  my friends.  I am taking a small hiatus from my life here.  But why does that mean that I’m running?  Just because I’ve been suffering with depression doesn’t mean that I make all of my life choices based on that.  While depression may affect aspects of my life, it doesn’t control my life, and it’s not who I am; it does not define  me as a person.  I know that people care, and I really do appreciate that; please don’t think that I’m just complaining.

But the truth of the matter is that I’m going to China because I believe it will help with the depression.  I believe that it will provide me with the opportunity to be the person that I really want to be.  For the past three and a half years that I’ve spent at Mercer, I have made some wonderful memories and I have enjoyed learning new things.  However, my  heart wasn’t always in it.  I had to constantly remind myself to be present and minister where I was in this time of my life.  Yet, I’ve always looked forward to things like travel, service, having a family, etc.  I MADE IT!  I’m here on the precipice of something big, and NO I’m not running away.  I’m finally running towards something that I will hopefully be doing for the rest of my life: travel & service.  I’m not running away from myself, rather I am embarking on a journey to find myself.  Yes, I get nervous at times, and I do realize that I will still have to manage the depression, but for the most part I am excited and eager.  Those are feelings that I haven’t felt this intensely in a while.  I mean this is CHINA.

So, why am I running?  I’m running to explore China, to discover new things about myself, to meet new people, to serve others, and to go on the journey of a lifetime!  How can you not be on board with something like that?  It’s all about the journey and running down a new path, and I can’t wait.  Stay tuned, because I think it’s going to be tremendous!

keepmovingforward

graduation announcement

This graduation announcement is one of the many drafts I went through before I finally created one that I absolutely loved.  (The final draft is going out in the mail this week!)  I have used most of my free time the past couple of days playing around with graduation announcements in Photoshop, and now that I am done I am realizing that creating and mailing graduation announcements means that graduation is SO SOON.  It seems strange that there are only 10 class days left and a week of finals.  I’m not so sure that I really understand what it will mean to be a college graduate, yet.  I don’t think it will feel real until January rolls around and everyone is moving back in without me.  I already have days where I get pretty emotional, so I cannot imagine what move-in day is going to feel like when I’m packing for China instead.  Don’t get me wrong–I am stoked about China.  To actually print, “Jessica plans to teach English in Beijing, China…” is thrilling and terrifying all at once.  It makes this a reality.  I am starting down a new path, and I can barely see the road ahead.

For the longest time, I was afraid that not being able to see down the path in front of me was a bad thing.  I have wrongly assumed that having uncertainties in my future meant that I had chosen the wrong path. I know that I’m going to China, but I have no idea what to expect.  I know that I’m applying to grad school, but I have no clue what will happen after that.  Surely that’s a sign that these are the wrong choices for my life, a lack of confirmation from God.  Well, I don’t believe that one bit.  In the past several months, I have learned a lot about Christian liberty, and that has been, well, liberating.  I have come to realize that I have the liberty to make choices in life that lead me down paths that I believe to be beneficial and enjoyable, as long as I seek to glorify the One who has made these paths for me.  When morality and the law do not prohibit an action, God grants us liberty to make life decisions using the wisdom that He has given us.  Even if I chose the RUF Internship or Teach for America, God would still use me.  Knowing that makes it less tempting to question my decisions and ask, ‘what if?’

the path i’m on

It doesn’t seem like it has been four years since this photo was taken.  I honestly remember it like it was yesterday.  I had just completed what I still believe to be the best year of my educational experiences–junior year.  While taking my senior photos I remember thinking about how fast time flies; I couldn’t believe I only had one year of high school left.  Now I am at the point where I have two months left of college, and some days I honestly do not know how I got here.  The path has been mostly rocky these past few years.  It has been overgrown with weeds and thorns that I have cleared.  Countless obstacles to surmount have popped up along the way.  I have come to many a crossroad.  At times I took the fork to the left and kept on walking, and at other times I would turn around to go back and take the path to the right instead.

Out of all of this, I have learned two key things about the paths I have taken in the first quarter of my life.  First, the path has never run out; I have not reached the end yet.  Sure, sometimes it was hard to see the path in front of me, but God has always had a clear direction for my life.  Perhaps that direction has not always been clear to me, but it could not be more perfectly mapped out by my Father.  Second, there is one major obstacle that has always been present on my path.  We all have our own struggles and burdens to bear.  (Thankfully, we have someone who has taken those burdens upon himself.  See Matthew 11:28-30.)  Mine started out small, like when you have a rock in your shoe that you can’t seem to shake out.  Then the obstacle grew larger and larger as I continued down this path of mine.  There have been times where it seemed like a mountain stood before me, and I couldn’t figure out how to go around or up and over it.

Early in life I thought this obstacle sprung from my own personality.  I’m the perfectionist type who likes to get things done as efficiently as possible.  I’m pretty no nonsense about most things, and I say what I need to say, often bluntly.  I would stress and obsess over practically everything that I did, and for the longest time I thought that was normal.  It was normal for me, anyway.  The older I got, however, the harder it was to do everything right and please everyone and still be happy with the path I was walking down.  This obstacle grew out of all of this–self doubt, inadequacy, sadness, anxiety.  The list goes on and on.  We are all very familiar with the label that has become associated with these things: depression.  I hated the idea of ‘being depressed’ because that is not WHO I am; it is just what I am, which in my mind is a very important distinction.  Saying that someone is depressed always sounded so all-encompassing and permanent to me, as if that was all they were and all they would ever be.  I didn’t want that to be me.

The truth of the matter, though, is that I could not run away from it.  I couldn’t just decide to be happy or simply change my attitude.  That’s when I decided at the beginning of this year that I finally had to face it, head on.  The path I’m on now is no longer one where I hide or run from the things I fear.  This new path is one in which I have determined to face these fears and examine myself closely in light of them.  I have decided, on this path, that even though depression doesn’t have to define me, it does have to be dealt with.  Thankfully, I have crossed paths with many people who understand and have helped me through what I believe was the worst of it.  I have had people walk beside me, hold my hand, guide me, and even carry me through this obstacle of depression.  One of the most important things I learned out of all of this is that whatever path we are on, we are never on it alone.

Looking back on the last four years and seeing how far I have come gives me hope for the next four years and beyond that.  I know that no matter where this path of life takes me, I can rest assured that God has prepared the way and made my path straight.

The purpose behind writing this blog is to document the things that happen on the path I’m on now and to see where this path takes me in the future.  I took my blogs name from a Chinese proverb, which seemed appropriate since I will be spending five months in China next year.  It says, “I dreamed a thousand new paths.  I woke and walked my old one.”  That simple proverb seems to sum up the path I have been on lately.  It certainly describes a path overshadowed by depression.  However, from this point forward, I am determined to make my life about exploring ‘a thousand new paths’ instead of walking down this same road I have been on.  I want to live out a life of purpose, which God has called me to.  A few months ago, I was reading a book called Just Do Something, and the author said that we are free to take great risks because God doesn’t.  He knows everything and is in complete control.  With that in mind, I pray that the future presents many opportunities to take risks and explore the paths of my dreams.