The biggest thing I learned last year

Last year was a whopper. I get tired thinking about it.

Last year’s winter was so awful it was laughable. The company I work for went through what I now call “the dark days.” I officially began what is going to be the most important relationship of my life. My family went through a period of medical scares. I learned how to run. My community in Iowa began to grow, slowly but surely. I crocheted a lot. I got engaged. Lots of babies were born (not mine). And I spent my first holiday season with two different families – my own, and the one I will be married into.

The biggest thing I learned last year was the meaning of the word hard. Or to be more exact, I learned that hard doesn’t always mean “complicated” or “technically difficult.” It just means hard.

Here are some things that are complicated or technically difficult: learning a new crochet stitch; playing Bb major on guitar; trying a new hairstyle you found on Pinterest; singing a song to a patient that you’re unfamiliar with while observing their reaction along with those of other people in the room, while simultaneously coming up with what you’re going to say next and what direction you’re going to take the session.

Here are some things that are just hard. Getting off your butt to go run. Motivating yourself to make dinner when you live alone. Leaving your lovable, engaging family 2 hours away to return to an empty apartment. People not giving you a chance because of their misconceptions about music therapy. EVERYTHING about being in a long distance relationship (or more specifically: having only talking, and having to talk at the end of the day when we’re both tired, not being able to hug each other, missing out on shared experiences, saying goodbye at the end of a trip together.)

I learned this truth one day when I was thinking about how everyone says marriage is hard. After talking to a lot of people about marriage and listening to all they had to say, I realized this: marriage isn’t complicated or technically difficult. Well, it can be complicated, and I suppose things like coordinating schedules would make it technically difficult. But “marriage is hard” refers to the day-in and day-out. The mindless tasks, monotonous decisions of everyday life. I’ve read about decision fatigue – about how each little daily thing all of a sudden becomes a decision because you’re trying to figure out how to live with another person.

Simple things can be hard. That’s what I learned. So the question is, am I willing to do the hard work? What does that lead to? Easier? No.

Better.

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Our Engagement Story

On September 30, 2014, the love of my life asked me to marry him. Here’s the story!

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A bit of backstory: Bobby and I met in 2011 through church and became acquaintances and Facebook friends. After a series of events, each of them followed by me moving far away it seemed, Bobby decided to start pursuing me. After a few months of texting and a few visits to see each other, we decided it wasn’t going to work. But it didn’t take more than 24 hours to realize that, while long distance would be really hard, we couldn’t be satisfied with just staying friends. We became an official couple on January 27, 2014. I had recently moved to Iowa for a new job and he was (is) still in Maryland. We have visited each other twice since becoming a couple. He flew here once and I flew there once. After a lot of discussion (and nagging on my part), Bobby planned a trip to drive out here for a few days in late September.

Okay, now for the engagement story. Bobby arrived at my apartment on a Monday night. He had driven all day that day and most of the day before. His pit stop on the way to see me was at my brother’s house. What I didn’t know was he also made a pit stop to my father’s house to ask permission to marry me.

The first night of a reunited long distance couple is always wonderful. We just hung out, talked, cuddled, all the normal couple stuff we don’t ever get to do. Bobby was exhausted so we weren’t up late. The next morning I reluctantly got ready for work and kissed him good-bye.

When I came home for lunch, Bobby was stressing out about his drive home. He said that’s why he wasn’t hungry. This stood out to me because Bobby will always eat. He also mentioned that he was going to Wal-Mart that afternoon to get his snacks for the drive home. I remember thinking how odd it was that he was so focused on this, especially considering he had just gotten here and wasn’t leaving until Friday.

I went back to work thinking about all these things and started wondering if he was going to propose. I even thought of texting him at the end of the day just to let him know I was coming home so I could give him a warning in case he was planning something. About an hour later I got a text from Bobby saying, “Hey can you do me a favor and let me know when you’re on your way home?”

That’s when the butterflies started.

I nervously finished my work and texted Bobby as promised. I pulled into my apartment complex and looked up at my apartment but didn’t see anything out of the ordinary. I got my mail and walked up the steps, lugging my purse, work bag, and a grocery bag with dirty dishes from work. I put my key in the knob and opened the door.

The first thing I saw was a row of candles lit on my dining room table. The lights were off and there was soft music playing. Oh my gosh I was right! As I was processing what was happening, I gingerly and quietly unloaded all my bags and mail, took off my work badge, took off my shoes, and started walking towards the living room. I immediately saw my coffee table had candles on it that spelled “WILL YOU” and I think it was at that moment I put my hands up to my face (it’s so cliche but it was totally involuntary!) I peaked around the corner…

IMG_2265And there was Bobby, on his knee, holding out the ring. There was no speech, he simply asked, “Will you marry me?” I think my eyes were as big as saucers. I just looked at him and the ring for a few seconds and then said, “Yes!” in a tone as if saying, “of course!” He stood up and put the ring on my finger (we were both shaking) and then we hugged so tight! And kissed. A few times… And then we prayed.

We had already had the marriage discussion, so the mood was more giddy and exciting than take-your-breath-away shock and awe. The moment had finally come. And Bobby did it his own way, which I loved. It was so him.

The ring is a sapphire set in white gold. It’s exactly what I wanted!

Ever since then it’s been a whirlwind of talking to family, keeping up with social media, planning the wedding, and continuing to grow in our relationship together. Bobby had to leave that Friday to go back to the real world Maryland, but we did get to spend some really great quality time together while he was here.

Just goes to show – long distance is really hard, but it’s doable. If we can do it, anybody can do it!

I love you so much Bobby! You are my moon and my love forever!

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Finding Faith in the Seasons of Mundanity

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I’m reading in Genesis right now, smack dab in the middle of the story of Joseph. What a crazy life. Born a favorite, naively arrogant to his brothers, betrayed and sold, escalated to the highest serving position in every single circumstance he found himself in, ran Egypt, and eventually forgave his brothers and reunited with his father.

Pretty exciting events in there. But what struck me was the amount of time Joseph spent in each season. It’s not absolutely clear in the Bible, but let’s assume Joseph was 17 when his brothers sold him to the Ishmaelites. He was 30 years old when he interpreted Pharaoh’s dream. 13 years in between. Think about 13 years ago for you. I was a freshman in college. 9/11 happened. Think of all that’s happened to you since then.

We know Joseph was in prison for 2 years, so we can assume he served Potiphar for 11 years. How in the world did Joseph get through those long stretches of time?

Everyone has a plan for their life. What was Joseph’s? Did he try to figure out a way to escape Potiphar and get back to Canaan in the early years and then finally succumb to his lot and accept being a servant? Did he try to find the positive aspects of the situation and serve joyfully? Did he ever get to the point of despair while in prison? How did he keep his faith in God through those times?

It’s easy to praise God in the really exciting happy moments – the birth of a child, the marriage of two people, the achievement of a degree or passing a test, reaching a long, sought after goal. And it’s easy to cling to God in the dark moments – the death of a loved one, loss of a relationship, job, or identity. But what about the other 99% of life? The day after day after day after day after day? Sometimes I feel like I’m trudging.

My answer is I don’t know. Or maybe it’s one of those things that is simple and hard at the same time. The truth is, it’s not glamorous. It’s getting up 15 minutes early to read a passage of scripture you don’t understand half the time. It’s trying to keep your thoughts from distraction during silent prayer. It’s saying, “Oh Lord” every morning when you get in your car to go to work. It’s extending grace and forgiveness time and time again to those around you – and yourself. It’s serving at your church every other week, making dessert for this or that event, tucking in your kids every night with “Jesus Loves Me.”

Strong faith comes from incremental decisions. Disciplined effort. Non Instagram-worthy moments. Obviously, there are amazing times of clarity or insight, and of course it’s all worth it. There is an end goal. Reading scripture in the morning will set your priorities for the day and detox your soul. Prayer will keep the world in perspective and God in control. You just may not see it everyday.

Whether you are exactly where you want to be in life, or feel like you’ll never get there, continue to seek God in the mundanity, wherever you are. After all, loving you is never mundane to God.

Freedom Run

I know I’ve plastered stuff all over social media about finishing my Couch to 5K program, but I’m not ashamed to write a post about it! It was SO HARD and I am proud of myself for completing it. I kept myself accountable by choosing to link the app to my Twitter account. I tried to have fun with those tweets… (keep reading after the pics)

Picture 1Picture 2Picture 3Picture 4It did not escape me that I finished the workout plan on the 4th of July. I was thinking about how lucky I am to have this freedom. Meaning – I acknowledge the fact that I:

  1. Have a good paying 40 hour a week job, backed by labor laws, in which I can have a day off
  2. Can run outside alone on safe, well-paved road without the fear of being kidnapped, killed, or harassed (except for a few harmless catcalls)
  3. Have the independence of a single woman to do as I please and not have to live under governmental or cultural male dominance
  4. Can afford really nice workout clothes, socks, and shoes and ways to pull back my hair
  5. Can afford sunglasses, nice headphones, an iPhone with ways to charge it and plenty of music to download to accompany my run
  6. Have unlimited access to CLEAN WATER
  7. Have unlimited access to hospitals, doctors, therapists, trainers, medicine, and medical supplies, if needed
  8. Can afford food to replenish my calories

That’s a lot to be thankful for. While I was struggling to run for 30 minutes straight, other women my age are working in hard labor, or are being trafficked for sex, or are living in poverty with children to feed.

It’s convicting. I need to do more to help those who are less fortunate. That is Jesus’ whole ministry. Let’s come together and do great things for God’s kingdom. It’s okay to focus on doing good things for yourself, like running to stay in shape. But if that’s all we focus on, then we’re keeping ourselves from doing greater things for the Kingdom.

Let’s go.

Itchy.

a post for myself, but feel free to join me for the ride

I’m in the itchy part of this season. The honeymoon phase of my internship passed a long time ago. It’s going like clockwork now and I’m thankful for that. It’s making me itchy. I’m done. I’m ready to go. I have to keep reminding myself that I haven’t fulfilled my internship requirements yet, I still have a lot to learn, I have a lot left to do, I must live in the present.

I’ve been zooming in and out of the future the past couple weeks, kind of like the new app animation on iOS7, which makes me a little motion sick, by the way. I’ve started applying for jobs. There have been a surprising amount of hospice music therapy job openings. Each application is followed by a thorough investigation into the agency’s website, a search on Google Maps for distance between the location and my parents’ homes, my brother in Nebraska, and the nearest big city, and then perusing for apartments to get a ballpark on cost of living.

And then I have to go back to the internship the next day.

I’m itchy too because I’m tired. I’m just tired. I’ve done the real world thing before. I remember being tired like this then. I think the energy spent thinking about the giant chasm of unknown future contributes to my fatigue. Funny thing is, I should be used to that part. The contents of my future seem to be revealed to me only 6 months at a time. The current interval is quickly coming to its end though…then what?

Why am I doing this again? Why am I putting myself through all this work and stress? I’m so tired.

Have you been there? I was at this place 3 1/2 years ago sitting on the beach next to the Sea of Galilee.

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Right here. This is exactly where I was when I looked at my life as I knew it. At the time I was running around crazy trying to do the adult thing. God had been slowing forming my calling in the empty spaces and nooks and afterthoughts. And it was upon the waters where Jesus told Peter to have faith that I felt God asking me to do the same. To upend my life and step out onto the water.

Since then, and after telling my “story” a bunch of times to different people who said I was “brave” and “courageous” and “faithful,” I would say to them I am “relieved” that I finally know my calling and have figured out why God gave me a brain so full of music nerdiness and a heart so empathetic I can’t see an old man alone at Panera without crying.

I digress. All that to say – yay God and yay callings and yay music therapy. But. Right now?

I’m just so. tired. Sometimes I wonder about it all. Things about my life have been so transient, so un-grounded. When I moved to Winchester from DC I lost stuff – actual stuff (like my favorite underwear, true story) and relational stuff. I gained a lot of debt. When I moved to Ohio for my internship I had to leave my small delicate circle of friends I had carefully invested in while at school, and got even further away from the people I could always count on in DC. And I am so incredibly grateful to my family for being the emotional rock I’ve needed in this season. Even so…

I ache to settle, plant roots, to have a permanent address be permanent for more than 2 years. I long for the day when I can paint my apartment. Have regular stuff, like a regular grocery store, a regular bar, a regular church.

So I’m itchy. Before you counter my complaints with reassurance because you want to fix me, read my last post. Will you marinate with me on this? I have less than 2 months in my internship left. Pray that in that time I can secure a full-time job.

Please know I’ve grown so much in my faith during this. I talk to God all the time, usually giving him my crap (also in my last post) and so that’s why I don’t feel bad about writing a post like this. He can take it. He can take my feeling unsettled right now.

Thanks for listening, friend.

Moving…

I just spent a fabulous weekend in DC, visiting friends, going to museums, and attending a perfect wedding. Here are just a couple pictures from the weekend. This trip though, my final one to DC for a very long time, kind of marked the beginning of the end for this season of my life.

MJ and I eating Potbelly for lunch

MJ and I eating Potbelly for lunch

The newlyweds!

The newlyweds!

Transitions are messy. And I am in one. Again.

I thought I’d give y’all a break from my existentialism and theology and give an update on what I’m doing nowadays!

I’m finishing up my 4th semester (technically 5th if you count last summer’s whirlwind of music theory combined with anatomy & physiology) at Shenandoah University in Winchester, VA, in which I am getting a professional studies degree in music therapy.

To be eligible to take the board exam for music therapy you have to get the proper education and complete an internship (these items being the two parts of the professional studies degree). I was fortunate to find and be accepted to an internship near my hometown. It’s with a Hospice organization and I will be there for six months.

(The reason I’m getting a professional studies degree and not another bachelor’s is because all of the music classes I took for my performance degree transfer to the prof. studies degree. So basically, the prof. studies degree is a fast track bachelor’s that fills in the gaps, but the classes are at graduate level [making it affordable {kind of}].)

I am also working on a master’s degree, which is a normal graduate degree – advanced practice, thesis, etc. So while the professional studies degree will allow me to take the exam and become an MT-BC, the graduate degree will give me an MM (Master of Music in Music Therapy).  I’ve only been a part-time student this semester, taking two classes, which are both going towards my master’s degree. I’m about halfway done with the master’s, but will take a break from it in the fall since I’ll be doing my internship. The plan/goal/hope/wish is to finish the internship around Thanksgiving, graduate with my professional studies degree, take (and pass) the board exam, get my credentials, and have a job by January. Then I’ll pick up the master’s classes again part-time.

So, I am moving back to Ohio in about 2 and a half weeks. And of course, just when the transition is starting, I’m finally feeling settled in Winchester. I’ve developed some amazing friendships that are now going to be long distance. Isn’t this always the way it works? It’s a catch-22 though, because you lament having to leave your friends but are grateful you have friends to leave!

The biggest win of course is being closer to my family. I’ll be living at home, and will be much much closer to all of my family. Which of course includes my pride and joy – my nieces and nephews. And this group will be growing soon! So I am very excited about being amidst my family instead of being afar.

If I may, I’d love some prayer. Prayer for a good end of the semester, that everything gets taken care of for my internship to start smoothly (paperwork, medical stuff, etc.), that I can transition back to my hometown after not living there (or Ohio for that matter) for about 8 years, and that I look to God as my constant through all of this.

I’d like to turn this back into a blog about music therapy again, so my plan is to focus on the internship here and give you a glimpse of what it’s like to work in Hospice.

I’ll keep you updated as I go along! I feel kinda weird posting my social media handles, but here they are in case you want to follow more closely…
Twitter: @sarahchil
Instagram: chilgirl21

Thanks for reading! Happy Monday 🙂

Your Life’s Work

Have you ever felt bad for an actor or actress who is most frequently asked questions about a role they did, like, 30 years ago, even if they are still working and have had other roles? I have. I do often actually. I understand the “reverence” for roles that are now classic in pop culture, but it has to be annoying to those actors.

I admit, if I ever met Kevin Bacon I would go on and on about Footloose. So I’m a total hypocrite.

Here’s the question though. Is the goal in life to keep trying to achieve your “greatest work”? Would you be content with, say, achieving your life’s work at age 42, but you’d live to be 93? Would it be wrong to be content with that? Would it be right? Would it be healthier? What if you knew that your greatest accomplishment was going to happen in the next 5 years? Would you keep on truckin’ even though you would know it’s all “downhill from here”?

In 2010, at the Vancouver Olympics, Stephen Harper (Prime Minister of Canada) gave a speech during the opening ceremonies. In the speech he said that hosting these Olympic games and preparing for them was his life’s greatest work. He spoke as if he knew he would never get to do anything to surpass this and he was very proud of the accomplishment. I remember being absolutely struck by those words. Just to grasp the idea that someone put so much hard work into something so globally significant, they knew it was going to be the biggest achievement of their life.

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It’s all relative of course. How do you measure achievement? This idea reminds me of a couple of blog posts by Richard Beck from a few weeks ago. (He is becoming one of my favorite writers btw.) The posts are about “being enough.” You can read them here and here.

This whole “life’s work” thought came to me when I was reading a story out of 2 Kings. I’m nearly finished with 1 and 2 Kings as part of my Bible reading plan. As you know, these books – don’t lie – are booooring. And full of strange, sometimes creepy stories. The kind that make you wince or go “blech” or “whaaaaaat”.

Anyway. The passage was 2 Kings 15 and it was the story of Jotham of Judah. It’s not a very long account, as he was not king very long, just 16 years. For some reason he died pretty young, 41 years old. The account put him in the “good in God’s eyes” column but also in the “but he still let the people worship other gods” column. And then there’s a simple sentence: “The construction of the High Gate to The Temple of God was his work” (MSG). If Jotham had lived longer than 41, would he have been satisfied with just being known for building a gate? I don’t know. At first, it’s a seemingly insignificant accomplishment, constructing a gate. But to Jotham, it was his life’s work. To me, that’s God saying you don’t need your life’s work to be some global humanitarian effort. Just work hard and with love where you are, with what you’ve got. 

And I thought, “Wow. If an account of my life were reduced to two paragraphs, who would it say my work was?” Really, I guess that’s your obituary. But it makes you wonder, what do you want to be known for? Do you get to choose? I think you do.

But the bigger question, again, is would you be satisfied if you’ve already achieved your life’s work? Would you be satisfied with being known for only one thing? Is our ambition-driven culture making us strive for something that isn’t feasible or even healthy? Is that why we’re all stressed out all the time? Do we keep on (and on and on and on), striving as if we’re running in the opposite direction of our own mortality? 

I don’t have any answers to these questions. But I have a feeling people ask them a lot. I have no moral of the story or clever last line either. Other than, where do you see yourself in terms of your life’s work?