On Grad School, Grace, & Growing Up

My three most recent blog posts are all saved as drafts, ne'er to be published. The last couple of months have been particularly trying. I've attempted to articulate my thoughts in writing, but the results have not exactly been blog friendly. I finished — nay, survived — graduate school. I literally want to burst into the Doxology every time I think of this. It's the only response I can muster.

Portions of the unpublished posts I'd written were about grad school — about the stress of the final stretch and the idol that I'd let a master's degree become and the lessons the Lord is teaching me about grace and more grace and more grace.

And portions of the posts were about the future. (Insert that Beethoven intro here: DUN DUN DUN DUNNNN.) I don't know what I'm doing, where I'm living, where I'm going. Missouri and Kentucky are playing tug of war with my heart. And for the first time in my life, I don't have a plan.

People keep asking me what I'm doing next. I field this question every day in text messages, in emails, in face-to-face conversation, over Skype. When other people aren't asking me, I'm asking myself. The answer is: I don't know. The best I can do is tell you what I'm thinking, so here are my thoughts, distilled and itemized in a somewhat logical order:

1. Now that grad school is over...

I need to exhale for a minute — to recuperate. I just want to run until I've sweat out the stress of the last two years. I want to spend way too long walking around Target. I'm enjoying things like vacuuming my carpet and washing my dishes and cooking actual meals from recipes. Those were the things that grad school always prevented from happening. I'm done. I'm done. I just want that to sink in. I just want to cry tears of exhaustion and gratitude.

2. Kentucky vs. Missouri...

I might stay in Missouri. I might return to Kentucky. Missouri has my church. Kentucky has my family. Both states have my heart. Let it be known that neither option seems easier than the other. Leaving Missouri would break my heart. Not returning to Kentucky would break my heart. It's a win-win and a lose-lose.

3. The immediate future...

My plan — the only plan I have, I suppose — has been to apply for jobs in both states and walk through doors as the Lord opens them. I have not yet dived headfirst into this process. See item one.

I will be going home to Kentucky in the next week or so to attend a series of weddings. I've been so homesick lately, and I can't wait to see mah family and mah Kentucky people. I don't think it will fully hit that grad school is over until I get to go home. I'm not sure, at this point, how much of my stuff to take with me.

4. Looking back...

Part of the reason I want to stay in Missouri is the fact that, over the past two years, I have had such a strong sense that I was where I supposed to be. The road that takes me to campus and church and work and MC is called Providence. Providence. How fitting! I often marvel over the street signs en route to my various places. I have been led to where I am. I have no doubt about that. I thought I was coming to Columbia for the J-School, but God has shown me so many other reasons why he brought me to this place.

When I look back at my time here, I am amazed by the Lord. AMAZED. He has blessed me over and over and over and over again. He is faithful even when I am not. During grad school, I learned a lot about research and strategy and brand development, but I also learned a lot about my own sinfulness and inadequacy and the Lord's goodness and grace and faithfulness. The Lord has been so evident to me in this city.

5. The future future (TMI alert)...

Part of the reason I want to move back to Kentucky is that I MISS MY FAMILY and I hope to settle near them in the long run. This, in my opinion, deserves sub points:

  • My family members are literally my favorite people on the planet. I cannot adequately convey my love for them, and people make fun of me when I try, so I'm going to stop trying. I just think they are the best.
  • Wanting to settle near home sometimes seems strange to people used to the American ideal of individualism, but in almost every other country, settling near family is normal. It is not a sign of weakness or dependence or lack of ambition. It is a sign of collectivism, a form of valuing community.
  • I grew up 12 hours from one pair of grandparents and 15 hours from the other pair. For most of my childhood, I saw my extended family once a year. I have always hoped my future kids will get to be raised near my parents, and the longer I live far from home, the slimmer the chances are that I'll ever move back, right?
  • Let it be known — because this point is oft raised when I talk about wanting to raise my kids near my family — that I hold these hopes with open hands. I understand that the Lord may have other plans for whomever I marry and, thereby, for me.
  • It is difficult to find the happy medium between considering my hopes for the future too much and considering them not enough.
  • Let it also be known — because this point is oft raised as well — that I'm not afraid I will disappoint my parents if I stay in Missouri. My parents may be the only two people in my life whom I never worry I will disappoint.

Part of the reason I want to move back to Kentucky is also that I miss my friends there, but I'm unsure how much to hope or expect that the few who are still there will stay if I return. They keep peacing out for "more important" things like "marriage" and "mission trips." (Just kidding, girls. You know I think what y'all are doing is amazing.)

6. Nice problems...

My mom often reminds me that most of my problems are nice problems. (She taught me that my problems were nice long before #firstworldproblems became a meme.) A nice problem is the pain from braces or the stress of college or the difficulty of choosing which dress to buy when you've found two pretty ones. A nice problem is a problem that results from blessings.

The pain I'm experiencing now as I look at my church in Missouri and my family in Kentucky and know that I can't have both nearby is the epitome of a nice problem. I am so blessed to have so many people whom I love and so many people who love me.

7. Things to remember...

I've been doing a lot o' praying, a lot o' Bible reading, a lot o' wisdom seeking, and a lot o' sermon listening (and a lot o' crying) as I try to discern where the Lord is leading me. In lieu of a clear "You should ____, Kate," I keep getting the same reminders, which also deserve bullets:

What amazing reassurances! Sometimes I think the whole reason this "decision" has been dragged out so long is that the Lord likes it when I cling to him more closely.

8. Reality check...

When I was growing up, our family car was this 1983 Volvo two-door sedan. This car was so old that it didn't have an airbag on the passenger side, which meant I got to ride shotgun even as a little kid. I loved riding with my dad because he would let me man the stick shift.

As my dad drove, he would say "Put it in first" or "Put it in second," and I would do accordingly. He did all the real driving and navigating, but somehow I felt I was helping us get places.

I remember getting the stick shift stuck in the wrong gear on occasion and hearing the engine complain. When that happened, my dad would just reach over and calmly right it. He was in control even over my own tiny task.

This afternoon while waxing nostalgic to my roommate about my stick-shifting days (I can't drive a stick now for the life of me), I realized that it was an apt analogy for my current state in life.

As I try to figure out where I'm supposed to go, it's easy to forget that I'm not the one navigating or even holding the steering wheel. I'm basically just doing my little part from the passenger seat, trusting in my heavenly father's plans and power and love for me. I try to follow his directions when I recognize them, but even then, he is in control. I cannot screw up his plans.

It is a great reassurance to know that I can't accidentally — or even deliberately — step outside the Lord's plans. There is no wrong decision or wrong state that will render me untouched by his sovereignty. He is so good to me.

(You guys didn't think you were going to get through this whole super long post without some sort of illustration, did you? C'mon.)

9. Avoiding adultescence...

The difficulty of my current state is compounded by (a) the general uncertainties that come with growing up, (b) my newfound fear of becoming independent — financially and otherwise, and (c) the fact that I never really pictured myself going it alone in my mid-twenties (TMI alert). I may be tripping clumsily towards adulthood, but at least I'm attempting to get there, right? I'd like to imagine that, somehow, somewhere, Judy Blume is applauding me for making it this far.

10. A taste of heaven...

In a strange way, everything I'm experiencing right now has reminded me that I get to look forward to a time without goodbyes and separations and heartbreak. Shane & Shane's new CD finally came out today, and (a) it is amazing, and (b) I can't get over the chorus from their song "In a Little While":

I see a city, a new Jerusalem, coming down from heaven / Every tear that's falling will be picked up again, and we will live as one

I look forward to the day when my Missouri people and my Kentucky people and my Asbury people and my Georgia people and my Pennsylvania people and now my Texas and New York and Tennessee and Ohio and North Carolina and South Carolina and Indiana and Wisconsin and Illinois and Virginia and Alabama and Africa and Asia and everywhere people live as one — with Jesus and a whole bunch of other people I haven't even gotten to meet yet!

That sounds like heaven to me.

All the love and encouragement I've received in the midst of this has also been a taste of heaven. I'm going through a tough transition, but there's a sweetness to it because it has reminded me how loved I am and how good God is. I'm so looking forward to heaven with the Lord and you crazy wonderful people.

Images via WeHeartIt and lyrics via this cover that I can't quitttt.

The Sound of Sanity

This week has felt like neither spring nor break. It has been comforting to be home and see family, but my days have been devoted to research, not relaxation. I'm experiencing a new level of anxiety as I try to wrap up my research project and my professional project this semester.

I thought I'd share the Spotify playlist that's helping me maintain some semblance of sanity. It's a mixture of the old faves that got me through college and the new faves that I've played on repeat during the most wearying weeks of grad school.

It's 40+ songs that remind me that grad school is not that important, that I will live, that God is in control. Robbie Seay Band, Jimmy Needham, Audrey Assad, Needtobreathe, Shane & Shane, etc. This list is ever growing, so feel free to share other songs that belong on here!

Be Not Dismayed

Yesterday I printed this verse and slid it into the plastic sleeve on the front of my research binder. Then I saved it as my desktop wallpaper. I need to be forced to look at it every time I stick my head in my research.

I should rephrase that last sentence. It makes it sound as if there are times when my head is not in my research. In actuality, the back of my brain is chewing on my research even when I'm not conducting or transcribing or coding or comparing interviews.

I've finished five interviews at this point, and I have four to go. I need to nail some of those down this week.

I recently read a BuzzFeed post about the differences between undergrad and grad school. No point resonated with me more than this: "In college, your main job is to consume knowledge. In grad school, you're supposed to the one PRODUCING the knowledge."

That so accurately captured what I'm wrestling with right now. I know how to absorb knowledge, to distill knowledge, to summarize and synopsize and synthesize knowledge. But this whole producing knowledge thing? Yeah, not so sure how to do that.

But that's the whole point of this research project. At the end of it, I'm supposed to come up with a theory. A theory, people.

When I'm not worrying about the theory that I haven't yet developed, I'm actually pretty fascinated by my research. I think that's how I'm supposed to feel. I'm interviewing brand managers from nonprofits, and I'm basically just getting to pick their brains. I ask about their experiences and challenges and successes in developing and articulating their brands. The same issues come up in every conversation: How do we tell the stories of the people we have helped? How do we articulate to the public what it is that we do? How do we justify using donors' dollars on marketing? How do we ensure consistency? How do we help staff members and volunteers recognize that they are stewards of the brand?

These are not just the questions I'm asking. These are the questions that the interviewees themselves seem to be dealing with. It's a competitive charitable market, and everyone who's doing this for a living is, to some extent, just trying to figure it out.

Is this fascinating to anyone besides me?

I'm supposed to develop the theory by noting relationships among concepts. So I print each interview and go line by line, making a note for each concept that comes up. I have like three pages of concepts already. Brand voice, differentiation among audiences, confusion among nonprofits, reasons for financial support, etc. etc. etc.

Am I really going to end up being able to piece these concepts back together into a theory? I don't know yet.

I wish my final report could just be a list of things that I still don't know. "Well, I conducted nine interviews. I pored over the transcripts. I mulled over the concepts. I mentally stuck them together and pulled them apart like a 2-year-old with a new box of Legos. And what I discovered is that I have a thousand more questions."

It's amazing how my feelings about whether I'll be able to get this project done change regardless of my actual progress. I can shift from a sense of competence to one of utter fear and dismay in the course of a few hours. Let's not even talk about the way I feel about my research when I wake up in the middle of the night. It's like SHEER TERROR.

I'm hoping that seeing that Bible verse a hundred times every day will help. I am not alone in this. My feelings and my fears do not represent reality. It's not all up to me. Or, rather, it's not up to me at all.

I don't know how to wrap this post up tidily. Fortunately, blog posts — unlike research projects — are not about producing knowledge. I can end them with a big, fat I don't know if I want to. I haven't gotten it all figured out yet, and that's okay.

Here and There

"I bet that in two years you won't wanna leave." Those were my dad's parting words as I said a tearful goodbye to him and my mom in a parking lot 19 months ago. They were heading back home to Kentucky, and I was staying in Missouri alone. Nothing had ever felt so unnatural to me. But he was right. He knew my heart. I fall hard for people and places. I love and don't want to let go. And here I am, three months from graduation, feeling like I haven't gotten enough time in this city, enough time with these people.

Last semester was rough. I was exhausted. I hated my classes. I missed my family. This semester I'm realizing that the finish line is in sight. This week in particular I have started to notice that the trees are budding, the birds are chirping, the days are getting longer. Spring is just around the corner, which means graduation is just around the corner. And I'm not ready for the imminent goodbyes.

Didn't I just go through that?

When I left Asbury, I left with 300 other people. If I had stayed, I would've stayed alone. It broke my heart to leave, but even if I'd had the option to stay, there would've been no reason for me to be there any more.

If I leave Columbia, I leave alone, and my community stays. I will take the memories that I made, and I will preserve them alone.

I've got a Ben Rector lyric stuck in my head: "And I find I am divided between here and there and you and them and me." Oh, that is how I feel. My family is in Kentucky. My home is in Kentucky. Most of my high school friends have scattered, but when they go home, they all go home to Kentucky. Most of my college friends have scattered, too, but we'll always have the Asbury campus — and Kentucky weddings, for the next few years — drawing us back.

But how can I leave Missouri knowing that life will go on here without me? If I leave Missouri, I most likely leave it for good. If I stay in Missouri and find a job, it won't be as it has been because I won't get four months each year to go back to Kentucky and reconnect and soak up home.

Oh, I wish God would just tell me what to do. I don't want to be the person who's paralyzed in fear, unwilling to do anything until God directs it. But I also have the sense that I don't even know what I want. I want both things. I want to be here, and I want to be there. I want to stop joining communities and then leaving them. I want to stop making memories that I alone will keep.

I could just stay for a while longer — a year maybe, or two if Jane comes to Mizzou. But is it worth it to prolong the inevitable? Would it be easier to rip the Band-Aid off now?

Silly Me

I have a phone interview in approximately 35 minutes, and I am inordinately nervous about it. I'm not even the one being interviewed. I am the one conducting the interview.

I have 40 questions already written out — which, by the way, is way too many for a 60-minute interview. But I have a tendency to overprepare.

This interview is the first of nine that I'll be conducting with brand managers at nonprofits for my master's research project, which is called, unsurprisingly, A Look at the Brand-Building Efforts of Nonprofit Organizations.

I think my nervousness stems from my sense that I don't know what I'm talking about. I have this expectation that I'll be halfway through my interviews, and my interviewees will realize that I know nothing and that they can provide no more information to someone whose frame of reference for this sort of thing is so very small.

Never mind that I have literally spent months doing background research. Never mind that the whole purpose of research is to learn more about something that you don't know enough about. I am lacking in experience, and WHAT IF THEY CAN TELL? Or what if I don't glean any useful information? What if none of my interviews can be tied to each other in logical ways? WHAT IF NO PATTERNS EMERGE? What if I interview and transcribe and code and categorize and compare and can't come up with anything!? WHAT IF NOBODY ELSE COMMITS TO AN INTERVIEW AND I DON'T GET ENOUGH DATA!?

These are the thoughts in my brain — now 12 minutes out from my interview.

I can be really silly sometimes.