On Graduate School, Dancing, and the Holy Spirit

First of all, don’t mistake this post for a rekindled commitment to blogging; it is simply the product of many thoughts running through my head, procrastination from writing the final chapter of my thesis, and my search for peace about postgrad decisions. Enjoy it while it lasts!

Last weekend I enjoyed the wonderful opportunity to lead the University Catholic Center’s semesterly Awakening retreat, which I co-coordinated with my friend Justin.  One of our amazing speakers gave an absolutely beautiful talk about the role of the Holy Spirit in discernment, a topic which is near and dear to my heart.

She characterized our life on earth as a dance with God, who leads us in difficult, yet ultimately intricate and beautiful, dance steps according to His plan for us. He knows our limits, but He expects greatness from us: if 10 turns in a row would be too much, He leads us in 9. And it is the Holy Spirit that, in His infinite wisdom, gives us the tools we need to stay in step. It was a great talk, and as a constant planner, thinker, and worrier, it definitely resonated with me.

Some of you reading this (actually, probably all of you, considering my very limited readership at this point) may know about my ongoing graduate school adventures.  I applied to a number of programs of various types, and by now I have heard from all of them. I got into two. Perhaps fewer than I had expected, but the pressure of waiting is off and now is the time for me to consider my choices and make a decision.

Lots of things will factor into this decision.  The differences between programs, my future plans in the distant beyond after my formal education, tuition costs, housing concerns, and et cetera, ad nauseam. As a chronic over-thinker, the past few weeks have been a little bit packed and a lot bit stressful.

I visited one of the schools last weekend, a blitz visit of about 48 hours during which I learned a lot. I met many of my potential classmates–mostly engineers–, talked to the wonderful faculty, walked around the beautiful campus… and ran into the first of a few obstacles standing between me and my perfectly crafted future plans.

Commence an afternoon of anxious meetings with professors, hushed hallway conversations with fellow students, and a good deal of worrying. I had some of my questions answered by the time I had to rush to the airport to catch my flight, but not with enough certainty to quiet my mind or give me any peace about the matter.

To quell my semi-panic attack in the middle of Ames Hall, and maybe to temporarily appease my worries, “what if’s,” and general despair that I would miss out on the perfect future, I stood in line for some last-minute ice cream, courtesy of the department.  I had to catch a cab to the airport, but surely some sugar would do me good.  Making small talk with some fellow prospective students and a few current students who had been part of a Q&A panel, I mentioned my 6:30 flight. One of the grad students commutes home every day, and the airport is right along his route––would I like a ride? Why sure, I would!

He kindly drove me right to the airport, giving me advice for my decision and future graduate studies. He dropped me off, and I rushed to security. Glancing at the list of departures, I noticed that my flight was delayed by an hour–which would put me in a bad spot for my connection in Cleveland.

Great, just what I need. I’m tired, stressed, freaked out, and I just want to sleep in my own bed.

I fired off a quick frustrated text to my mom to see if she could fix it, and angrily proceeded through security.  As I walked to Gate D14 to wait for the damned late flight, though, a heavenly voice sounded from the BWI Intercom system:

“This is the final boarding call for flight 687 with service to Houston. Flight 687 passengers, please report to Gate D11.”

A direct flight to Houston? Leaving an hour earlier than I had anticipated departing? Could it really be true? I didn’t want to miss this chance––I booked it to Gate D11, which had just come into sight, and was probably barely intelligible when I asked the woman at the gate if there was room on the flight, and could she please transfer my ticket?

When she handed me my new boarding pass, I could barely believe my luck. What a coincidence that I hadn’t had to take public transit to the airport, so I could get here just in time to make this serendipitous flight change, so I could get home 3 hours early and maybe stop worrying about my future! What a stroke of good fortune!

That’s when I remembered Danielle’s talk. No way was this a coincidence––this was the Holy Spirit beckoning me back into God’s arms.  It has seemed in the past week that my future is cloudy at best. That the “right” decision might not exist. That I might not be smart enough. That the next few years are sure to be wrought with financial woes and long-distance relationship distress. But that’s because I lost sight of who is leading me. The perfect lead… if I would only follow Him, I could do something truly beautiful.

Can I trust God to get me home safely from Baltimore? Yes. Good.

So can I trust Him to open my eyes to the right decision for my future, as He has so many times before? Maybe I can. Maybe the future doesn’t have to be terrifying.