Friday, June 19, 2015

I offer my heart... #livefreeThursday

Have you ever had a crazy idea? A crazy idea that would involve something that would push you to your limits... be it physically, spiritually, or emotionally? Something you know in your heart of hearts is what you long for, but something your brain just can't comprehend?

Well, I sure have! Especially in the last five-ish years of my young adult life. And every single time, God has proved my brain thinking "Nah, I can't do that" oh so very wrong.

Lately, my crazy idea has involved something I've thought about for a while. As some of you know, when I went to Grad school I finally truly started taking care of myself and my health and got super into "fake jogging," as I refer to it... somewhere between a walk and a run. :) Well, as I started getting better at it, and doing it more often - craving that exercise and time to spend with the Lord (I'm an avid listener to worship music as I fake jog... it's one of the most incredible ways I can just "be" with God) - I started to think that I might like to do some of these races that I see my friends doing. The first hurdle was to sign up for a 2-mile race with my bff, Shaina. Then two weeks later, my first 5K. Another two weeks after that, another 5K w/Shaina (what an amazing friend to let me talk her into these things!). 

I was seemingly obsessed with how I FELT after fake jogging. I felt restored, recharged, rejuvenated, and reconnected to my Father. I started "dreaming big" and thinking about a 10K or a half marathon... and then immediately decided that THAT was a crazy idea. I could never do that! 

Or could I? 

I had come so far already... I was already much HEALTHIER than I'd been in a long, long time. I felt AMAZING. Could I do more? In my heart I knew I could if I worked my tail off and relied on His strength, but everything around me was screaming "NO way... are you crazy? You can't "run" that much! Better stick to the label of "fake jog" because large girls like you can't ever do something like that." 

And I believed those lies. I let them take root in my heart, and become toxic. And when life got seemingly INSANE this last school year, between the stress, physical and emotional exhaustion, and workload that was far beyond what any one person should be able to handle... I gave up on myself. I was too tired to workout, too tired to eat well because I didn't have enough energy to do so, and it was ok, right? My clothes would fit again soon... my heart would find contentment where I was and be OK with the fact that sometimes life is HARD and clinging to Jesus is just as hard, especially when you are overwhelmed with the lies of the Enemy. After all, everything that was going on in my life was making it excusable that I wasn't taking care of myself, right? 

Then one day I realized I had given up. I stopped fighting. I let the Enemy win, and instead of clinging to Jesus, I was clinging to my excuses and exhaustion. I had stopped giving God my heart, and was selfishly locking it up for fear I'd have to take a look in the mirror, a step on the scale, and therefore a real, very sobering look at my own heart.

This was a major wake-up call from God. Was I giving Him my heart? Of course not! So, for a few weeks I battled with this ever-present need for Him and a major CHANGE on my part.

Over the last week, since school's let out, I've been striving to seek Him more in my healthy endeavors... remembering that I AM beautiful, worthy, and loved regardless, but that doesn't give me an excuse to not take care of myself. I started eating better, working out again, and have been getting involved with ItWorks Global! to take back my health! 

I've even started fake jogging again, and that's when I got this incredibly crazy idea.
I wanted to sign up for a half marathon.

Now, I know. For those of you that have known me my entire life and watched me throughout my "healthy lifestyle" journey I know you think this idea is literally insane. After all, I'm still considered obese even though I've lost as much weight as I have. After this year, I've gained back 25 pounds and still feel sick over that. I'm not a "runner" by any classification, but fake jogging is something I utterly enjoy regardless.

A HALF MARATHON? Yup, I'm crazy.

A few months ago, when I was really struggling with my eating and exercising habits, feeling utterly defeated and worthless, I came across this... 

Now, where I was at that point was in NO WAY, shape, or form to sign up for such an event. But as I looked through the site, and became familiar with the race itself it SCREAMED my name. I mean come on, look at the medal will you? And I get to wear a tutu? And have a personalized bib that says "DIVA-JESSA" ???? AND! When I'm about to cross the finish line, I get to put on a tiara and a boa?

HECK. YES. #diva

But I couldn't DREAM of fake jogging THIRTEEN MILES. There's no way this still obese large child could do anything of the sort. So I gave up looking at it and went back to my stressed out and quite selfish unhealthy lifestyle dreaming of the day my pants would fit again.

This last week, as I have been getting back into a routine, treating myself better, exercising, fake jogging, and inviting God to take the lead again instead of my bad habits, I've thought again about this race. 

And I decided to register for it.

Yup, you heard it. Jessica is going to do a half marathon.

I'm still battling my head saying I can't possibly do this, because my heart is longing to do it. I'm longing to give God my heart, and in doing so believe that by His strength, I CAN do this. It's an act of obedience, of worship, of giving Him my heart. 

I'm giving God my heart... and training for a half marathon as a result of it. Heaven help me!

He calls us to the most mysterious and sometimes unbelievable things, which may seem like foolishness to others if we aren't qualified for whatever He is calling us to do. But that's okay, because HE is the one who qualifies us to take on that which the world says we can't!

What has He prepared for you? Are you willing to give Him your heart and your trust, as uncomfortable as it may be? Even if the world, your friends, even your family is screaming "No" at you, laughing at your expense for what He's calling you to do? Do you trust Him enough to break those chains and LIVE FREE? 

I believe we can make His heart happy just by offering ours... in the everyday ordinary and mundane, and in our big breathtaking wildest dreams. 

Will you offer Him your heart today?

"But Moses said to the Lord, “Oh, my Lord, I am not eloquent, either in the past or since you have spoken to your servant, but I am slow of speech and of tongue.” Then the Lord said to him, “Who has made man's mouth? Who makes him mute, or deaf, or seeing, or blind? Is it not I, the Lord? Now therefore go, and I will be with your mouth and teach you what you shall speak.”  Exodus 4:10-12

"Now may the God of peace who brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, the great shepherd of the sheep, by the blood of the eternal covenant, equip you with everything good that you may do His will, working in us that which is pleasing in His sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen." - Hebrews 13:20-21

"Because of the sacrifice of the Messiah, His blood poured out on the altar of the Cross, we’re a free people—free of penalties and punishments chalked up by all our misdeeds. And not just barely free, either. Abundantly free! He thought of everything, provided for everything we could possibly need, letting us in on the plans He took such delight in making. He set it all out before us in Christ, a long-range plan in which everything would be brought together and summed up in Him, everything in deepest heaven, everything on planet earth. It’s in Christ that we find out who we are and what we are living for. Long before we first heard of Christ and got our hopes up, He had his eye on us, had designs on us for glorious living, part of the overall purpose He is working out in everything and everyone." - Ephesians 7-11 (MSG)

Thursday, May 2, 2013

The season of singing has come...

Holy. Macaroni. My GRADUATE voice recital is in three days. THREE DAYS! Wowza! When did that happen???? So much has been going on that I haven't even really had time to rest, sufficiently finish my work, exercise, or even some days brush my hair... let alone update you with my silly ramblings! So here we are. The calendar has turned over to the month I graduate with my MASTERS degree. Wait, whaaaaaaaaaaat?!

I was looking at the list of everything I had to do when I last updated this silly blog. And everything flew by without a second glance -- all happening so well! Orals: Passed with honors. Various exams and papers: Check. Performances: Check. Auditions: Check. Last week of classes: Check.

I just can't wrap my mind around it... I am going to graduate!

When everything felt like it was spiraling out of control, and I would never in a million years live through this degree, here I am. Standing on the other side of the giant mountain. About to open my arms and receive the goodness of the grace of the Lord, who lavishes me with His extravagant love and riches -- in ways that I never imagined possible.

Last night was my dress rehearsal for my graduate recital! There were things that went so beautifully, things that were not so eloquent, and memorizations I know aren't quite as solid as I thought they were... but to be able to stand up and sing, to say what I have to say, to share my talent and my passion and the beautiful progress I have made only because of my inspiring and amazing teacher and mentor is a feat in and of itself for me -- the girl who has been sick more than most of my graduate class combined over our time here. I am in awe of the moment itself ... and can't believe it is happening for real!

I guess the season of singing for me has really come to fruition. I have no idea what happens next, what jobs I'll be applying for, where I'll be living, the lot of it! But! I do have a pretty exciting summer planned, which is why I share with you now that the time of singing truly has come for me. So! Without further ado, let me share with you the amazing plans the Lord has brought to me for my upcoming summer...

1. I graduate May 17, turn around and come home the following day, and then immediately fly out of Pittsburgh to Houston, Texas, to participate in the intensive young artist program Le Chiavi di Bel Canto.

2. Come July, I will be flying to London then hopping over to Oxford to participate in the Westminster Choral Institute at Oxford University in a unique partnership with St Stephen's House, one of the Halls of Oxford University. As a member of Williamson Voices under the direction of Dr. James Jordan, I will be singing in the choir for participants and workshops and master classes and the like. It is an incredible opportunity!

After that, I will spend a few days perusing London with some of the most beautiful people I know, and long-lost friends it seems!, who live there! Enjoying my first time in Europe to the fullest :)

3. THEN! I am so excited to share with you that I will be travelling to Hungary this summer to participate in the Crescendo Summer Institute of the Arts! CSI offers one of the most complete and competitive summer voice programs in Europe. I have personally been invited to cover the role of “Donna Anna” in their production of Mozart’s Don Giovanni. The unique opportunity that I will have at CSI this summer is that I will not only be covering a major role that could later serve to become the pinnacle of my vocal career, should the Lord lead me on that path, but I will also be in the position to share the love of Jesus with others. Everything I love. All in one. AHHHHH!!!! :)

I have to get back to resting/finishing my program/sleeping and the like in preparation for this weekend. I just can't even believe it. The season of singing for this girl has certainly come... and I don't know what to expect or where to even start, but all I know is that the Lord has totally got this. He be in control --- cause I'm surely not! Where You lead, I will follow! <3

The flowers appear on the earth,
the time of singing has come,
and the voice of the turtledove
is heard in our land.
- Song of Solomon 2:12

Sunday, March 3, 2013

In the face of one giant mountain...

My Father wants me to leap into His arms with joy... 

My Father loves me.

... My Father WANTS me.


I'm completely overwhelmed by this. Tonight's message was one of the most overwhelming, yet beautiful and so incredibly hard to get through messages I've ever heard. You know, just yesterday I was making my invitations for my recital... and by sheer coincidence (or not...) happened to come across my invitation list for such life events, not even sure I had it here with me in NJ. Then I was going down the list and came across Grandma's name. And man, I just cried like a baby. I didn't realize how much I missed her, or how much my heart still hurts from the loss of her last year. I can hardly type that without breaking down in tears - whew. And to think about the emotional roller-coaster that the past two years have been, but in particular last spring and everything that had to do with Grandma Flo. Holy moley, talk about rough. 

And then, after having been thinking about Grandma and all of the mess that lies in that, I go to church tonight and there's a "Daddy" message? So NOT prepared for that. Seriously, Lord? I mean... You could have thought about that better... 

Oh, wait. You did.

It's always astounding to me just how much He really wants to get this through my thick skull - how He is my Father, He will never leave me, He loves me - unconditionally... I mean, the list goes on and on. I find it sad that in my mere fleshly - my severely selfish ways, that I eventually always wind up distrusting my heavenly Father - confusing His characteristics with the characteristics of my earthly father. I know better. But it's as if it's my default button. Men = bad. Fathers = worse. My father = the worst. That's the subconscious train of thought that I seem to follow, unbeknownst to me until that moment ... moments like tonight ... where the Lord slaps me to wake me up and bring me back to Him. 

Tonight, the sermon talked about living as an orphan versus living as a son/daughter of the Father. While I know how to be a daughter, because I have the most incredible mother in the entire world - one who isn't just my mom, but my dad ... two for the price of one! (not to mention my best friend) - I realize that I have absolutely no idea how to be a daughter who lets her dad have her unending love, trust, and compassion. One who turns her life and her heart and herself over to her father, just as she does with her mother. And every time I think I'm truly doing so with my Father, I really am only on the surface level. And tonight, He broke down my walls and tugged on my heartstrings.

And, hello there's another slap from the Lord. Ever so gently of course, through the beautiful Holy Spirit. But - really. I need slapped for that! 

It's no wonder I feel like the hot mess I am. One of the characteristics of living as an orphan, with a self mindset, is this feeling of inadequacy. And this may come as a surprise to some of you... not... but I absolutely just feel like the most inadequate human being on the face of the planet. When I was younger, I used to feel this inadequacy with the weight as heavy as a ton of bricks in relation to my dad - I wasn't pretty enough, I wasn't skinny enough, I wasn't perfect enough, I wasn't good enough, I wasn't smart enough, I wasn't kind enough, fill-in-the-blank enough... for him to love me enough to stay. I battled with that idea for all too long - and it bled over into every area of my life, causing me to form a really skewed and messed up image of myself in light of all of it. One where I honestly couldn't believe GOD would even want to take time out of His obviously busy schedule, taking care of EVERYONE, to want anything to do with me.

Holy moley. And you mean to tell me that He is chasing after me? He loves me so much He sent HIS Son to take my place? He wants me to jump into His arms with joy? To run to Him... always? 


And that I am good enough, smart enough, pretty enough, and the like to be His daughter? But wait, there's no qualifications? I don't have to fill out an application? He loves me no matter what? 

... no matter WHAT?

That completely changed my entire life, when I realized that. And not just that HE wants me, that HE loves me, and that HE wants me to run to Him... but that He's not just this far away God in Heaven? He's HERE? He's by my side? I can have a relationship with Him? That He DELIGHTS in me... always? Now? Tomorrow? Twenty years from now? 

Again. Mind. Blown.

HOW can I not taste and see that He is good? That His Word is true, and He will keep His promises for all of time? 

Lord, I am overwhelmed by You.

And by Your love for me.

I'm so silly. I get myself so wound up, so distressed, so discouraged because I feel so INADEQUATE ... but those are just lies that the enemy is filling my head with. And it's influencing me to act like an orphan instead of the loved daughter of God that I am. Instead of leaning on Him, breaking free of these chains and this discouragement... this fear and anxiety... I let it run rampant. 

Well buddy, no more.

From here on out life continues to be ridiculously insane until I, Lord-willing, graduate in May. I must buckle in and hunker down for the most incredibly difficult three months of my young life thus far. Everything is game on now, and there is no turning back. Here's a tiny checklist... My GIANT mountain...

3/7: Whole Opshop scene memorized

3/13: Sing in Perf class... better get to memorizing my recital music
3/14: French Mélodie exam
3/15: Another audition
4/something: Williamson concert
4/23: OpShop performance

... And that's not even including trying to fit work, homework assignments, reading, and GROCERY shopping in there. OH and laundry and cleaning. You laugh, but I've been so busy I haven't been to the grocery store for a month! I just can't handle any of this... AND HELLO MY ORALS ARE THIS MONTH AND I FEEL SO ILL-EQUIPPED. 

I'm so incredibly overwhelmed - with school, with life, with what comes next (hello - I have no idea where I will go after May... that's another fear in and of itself) and the list could go on and on... I wrote this plea on my facebook the other day "So incredibly overwhelmed... Lord, please help me use these moments to turn being overwhelmed by circumstances, workloads, and the like over to instead being overwhelmed with You - Your love, grace, and mercy that will continue to carry me through all the aforementioned worries and stresses. I am literally only going to make it through these next few months due to the strength I receive from You." 

The Lord has seen me through every single step of the way thus far. I have no reason to believe He won't carry me through this semester also. I mean, honestly - if it weren't for Him I wouldn't even be here. Every single step of this degree has been a testimony to His unending grace and mercy. He does have a purpose for me. I just need to literally cling to Him as if I am His little girl, which I am... trusting He will never, ever leave my side.

So tonight, I really needed that major slap in the face. So that I will finally stop treating my heavenly Father like my deadbeat earthly father who doesn't know how to love me. Because my heavenly Father knows how to lavish me with His perfect love. I just have to open my arms and receive it. 

I have to boldly declare that in the name of Jesus, I am a beautiful, marvelous, princess and daughter of the King. I am fearfully and wonderfully made. God made me just how He wanted me to be - and He knows just how to walk with me through this scary, uncertain, difficult, and stressful time. Because on the other side of this craziness is more beauty than I can ever imagine.

Lately, I've been so bad at reserving my heart for the Lord. On a completely unrelated note, and random really, I see everyone around me in relationships - getting engaged, getting married, happy with someone else that they've entrusted their heart, their love, and themselves to. I'm twenty-four years old, and in this culture it seems "wrong" to not be in a relationship, to not be preparing for the next step, to be alone. I'm constantly trying to find someone to give my heart to - trying to do my hair, do my makeup, look as skinny and "pretty" (whatever that is) as I can, so that I won't miss my chance... because sometimes I'm truly afraid I've missed finding my husband. And if you're a girl in particular, I KNOW you know what I'm talking about! hahaha! Instead of guarding my heart, giving it solely to the Lord, I'm trying so hard to "do all the right things" so someday soon I won't have to pay someone to marry me.

"... Uhm, Jessica - that's about the most ridiculous thing I've ever heard." I know that's just what the Lord is thinking right now. And He's stifling back laughter at me, at my poor pathetic antics to try to convince someone I'm WORTHY to be loved.

Which all goes back to the crux of it all - and of where the message from church tonight took me ... I am worthy. I am so worthy of love, that Christ died to bring me a love I can never fully understand. And instead of trying to give my heart away to the next man that comes walking around the corner, I need to give it to God, and Him alone. 

All I need is You, Lord. 

If I learn nothing else in this life, and if I have nothing left to share, it all comes back to this - all I need is Him... that's what matters. He makes us whole. He holds our hands every step of the way, He carries us when we can't stand on our own two feet. He desperately wants us to come to Him, to pick up our burdens for us, and to steadfastly shower us with His forgiveness, love, mercy, and grace. 

It's amazing, isn't it? That we can be so messed up in our own little ways, but when it comes back to the Lord, all that is pushed aside and out of mind. 

Are you willing enough to step out of your "identity" box... to put aside who you say you are, and to accept rather who GOD says you are?

I won't make it through this looming giant mountain of finishing school on my own. It's literally impossible. But with Christ on my side, by my side, holding me up when I can't do it on my own, before I know it all the troubles will be over. And I will be celebrating the culmination of two years' worth of stepping out in faith and watching the Lord never cease to amaze me, never cease to take care of me, and never cease to bring me over, around, and through my mountains. 

I don't really know where this whole post started, or if I've kind of even coherently summed up one thought, but this is just a montage of everything that's been rolling around in my heart the last week... and that ran down my cheeks in tears tonight during church. Jesus is alive. And His heart aches for you more than you will ever know. It's astounding. It's amazing. It's quite literally unbelievable. And yet, if you let Him, He will saturate your life and every fiber of your being with Himself - and you will come to wonder how you could ever be so silly as to question Him, His presence, His truth, or His love for even a shadow of a second.

If you got nothing else from these random ramblings, know this:
God is good... all of the time.

"Open your mouth and taste, open your eyes and see— how good God is.
Blessed are you who run to Him." 
- Psalm 34:8, The Message

Oh yes, you shaped me first inside, then out;
    you formed me in my mother’s womb.
I thank you, High God—you’re breathtaking!
    Body and soul, I am marvelously made!
    I worship in adoration—what a creation!
You know me inside and out,
    you know every bone in my body;
You know exactly how I was made, bit by bit,
    how I was sculpted from nothing into something.
Like an open book, you watched me grow from conception to birth;
    all the stages of my life were spread out before you,
The days of my life all prepared
    before I’d even lived one day.
- Psalm 139:13-16, The Message

*If you, like I, struggle with forgiveness - of self, of others, in any capacity - I highly suggest you take the $10-$15 and get this book, read this book, and soak in the honest to goodness truth of the healing power and unending love of our Savior, our Maker, our Lord. It changed my life, re-ignited my relationship with the Lord, and inspired and encouraged me to earnestly and honestly bring my struggles with forgiveness to Him, to my Father who loves me and who wants to take away the hurt and replace it with joy. Suzie is an incredible woman who is such a treasure, who knows the Lord and who seeks to share His wonderful love with us all, women and men alike. I am so grateful to have had the opportunity to read this book firsthand last year, as she was working to finalize this beautiful project, and I cannot tell you enough how much it brought me back to the Lord every moment of every day. Do yourself a favor, and unburden your heart. The Unburdened Heart, Suzie Eller

And I will call upon Your name
And keep my eyes above the waves
When oceans rise
My soul will rest in Your embrace
For I am Yours and You are mine

Your grace abounds in deepest waters
Your sovereign hand
Will be my guide
Where feet may fail and fear surrounds me
You've never failed and You won't start now

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Who am I?

Welp. 3 semesters down. 1 final one to go.


I literally cannot wrap my head around this scary, exciting, surreal, and unbelievable fact. Wowza! Every time I think about going back, I can't even believe that a) break has flown by or that b) it is my last semester of grad school. Where did the time go?

Last semester seemed to zoom by, yet drag on, all at the same time! So much happened - a lot of good, some not so good, and some gosh darn fabulous! I was so busy I'm not sure how I managed to get everything done that was required of me. Said busyness is evidenced in the fact that I barely kept this silly blog up to date!

Over the past couple weeks of break, I've been thinking a lot about this question: "Who am I?" There are so many ways to answer such a question... at this precise moment, I am a very sick girl curled up in bed in her Glee pj pants with her Mr. Pug and Steelers bear, named "Heath," laying next to her. Another answer is that I am LuAnne Hann's daughter! Whoo! Or I could say I am a graduate student at Westminster Choir College. I am a daughter of the King. I am a voice student of the always fabulous Nova Thomas. I am a proud alumnus of IUP! I am an exercise junkie. I am a great big nerd. I am sincerely obsessed with the Steelers. I am a baby opera singer. I am entirely thoroughly confused about what happens after graduation. I am ... I am ... I am ...

...the list could go on and on. But when it comes down to it, who am I really? In the world we live in, I feel like it is improper, unheard of, unbelievable if you are as I, 24 years old, and unsure of who you are... who you will become... or what it is you desire to do. Which I find absolutely ridiculous, but I digress. I have been in school my entire life. The real answer to the question "Who am I?" is that I am a professional student. And I love being a student! But I am so ready to be finished... I have been in college for SEVEN years! Five years at undergrad, and two for grad... that is a whole lot of school. What in the world am I going to do with 3 degrees? (For those of you keeping count and wondering where I got 3, I was a dual major at IUP - BS in Music Ed + BFA in Voice Performance = 2 degrees + MM in Voice Performance/Pedagogy, Pedagogy emphasis from Westminster Choir College hopefully coming this May = 3 potential degrees)

I mean seriously, who needs to be this stinking educated? And the half of it is that the more education I receive, the more stupid I feel. #truth

 This is such an interesting place to be, at this time, for I have never, ever in my entire life not known what I wanted to do and not had a plan. It bothers me more than it should, because when it all comes down to it I know that the Lord has incredible plans for me, plans that He will reveal at precisely the right moment and not a second sooner. And if you know me, not having a color-coded bullet list of my life plan drives me up the wall.

At the moment however, it is driving me closer and closer to the Lord, which is precisely where I need to be at such a confusing and uncertain time! It almost makes me laugh, because most days I find myself perusing facebook and seeing so many of my friends "growing up" ... getting engaged, getting married, starting families, and the like and here am I... still. in. school. And so me, being the emotional girl I am, find myself desperately wondering when I will get to be that girl - getting engaged, getting married, starting a family... I wind up green with envy! When instead of drooling over getting married, I need to be drooling over what in the world I'm going to do when I graduate! Rather, what in the world I'm going to do with all of these degrees! lol!

As I spend more time in the Word, praying and praying and praying about this uncertainty, I find myself coming to be more and more at peace with just merely recognizing the fact that it is completely out of my hands anyway. All I have to do is keep on keepin' on, working hard, and continually seeking the Lord, and He will reveal to me where it is He has me in this next chapter of life. I can't imagine - to not be a student? This is going to be so weird... but in a good way! :)

The more I spend my time thinking about it, the more I find myself utterly confused about what it is I actually want to do. Singing was never a reality before, but now it is a possibility? I'm talented enough according to what I've been told from those in my life at school to possibly do something with it? Do I want to?

Honestly? I have no idea.

I love singing. Adore it. Quite a bit. Obviously. But to center my entire identity, my life, my career around it? Whew. That scares me!

I love teaching with a passion - and I absolutely adore those silly high school students. So stinking much! But do I want to teach and not sing? Do I want to sing and teach just lessons?

Man, I could use a guidance counselor about now. And I'll be playing this plethora of questions all semester long, as May creeps closer and closer! It's such a unique place to be. I could give in to the anxiety, the fear, the uncertainty, and just become more of a hot mess than usual LOL... but I'm earnestly hoping and praying that the Lord will use this opportunity to help nudge me into leaning more into Him... to fully rely on Him in every moment of every day - not just in the big things. And to be more receptive to His plan for my life, instead of my own "perfect" plan. After all, He Himself is the perfect counselor! That doesn't mean it's going to be easy, just all happiness and flowers all the time, but it gives me hope... hope to believe that without a shadow of a doubt my Father has me completely taken care of, no matter what I do or how badly I may screw up. Because after all, who am I? I am the daughter of the King of Kings - and my Father will most assuredly take care of His princess, just as He promises to in His Word! And nothing is too difficult for the Lord... even my over-complicated, confusing, uncertain, debt-full, and crazy life. :)

It's going to be an interesting ride this semester, that's for sure. You know, I've been thinking about "How do I know that what God says in His Word is true? Why do I believe in Him? And put my hope and trust in my Savior, Jesus Christ, His Son?" Well, I don't have a beautiful and well-scripted answer. All I know is simply that He is good. His love is all around. Every single place I turn, I see the fingerprints of God. I know that I know that I know that I know that He is who He says He is - and that He exists. Without a shadow of a doubt. I don't just believe aimlessly or naively that God is God, without giving it second thought. I have experienced Him and His perfect, selfless, and incredible love, grace, and mercy. My entire time in grad school - this whole experience - it is woven together seamlessly because of Him. He is everywhere in the past year and a half of this adventure! And it's because of Him that it was even possible in the first place. And that's just a short two years of my entire life, where if you put the chapters together, you literally see Him jump off the page! Just because you can't see Him as a tangible, living being doesn't mean that He isn't - because oh man is He ever alive! It's not about just believing, it's about wholeheartedly and passionately trusting that the Lord will follow through on His promises. It goes from 'Whoo! God's got this, I'm off the hook,' to 'Wow, I am completely humbled by the way that He so perfectly takes care of me... how can I serve Him? What can I do while I wait on Him?' ... the answers aren't simple, and even though I know who I am in Christ and what is promised to me as a result of that identity, I can't just sit back and wait twiddling my thumbs. It's quite a position... because on one hand yes, it is as simple as believing and saying "Okay God, You've got this," but it's not nearly that simple on the other hand because one can't just sit back and passively lounge around expecting God to put all the puzzle pieces in place.

I feel like I'm talking in circles now... And I'm finally starting to wind down from the craziness of the day - and I'm praying for some incredible sleep tonight to help ward off this illness. So I'll stop with my late night soapbox. :) It's just quite incredible to me, to look at just what the Lord has accomplished in my life over the past year and a half, nearly two years... where He's taken me, what He's done in my life, how He's interceded for me, how He's challenged me and helped me grow in Him, etc. He is everywhere. I love Him. And I am so thankful that He has given me such an opportunity and a position to serve Him even more, and especially while I wait - while I wait to grow up and get married, and while I wait to grow up and figure out what it is He's calling me to do with this life He's so graciously given me. Wow! I am just overwhelmed with how blessed I truly am. Thank You, Lord! <3

Who am I? I'm just a young lady - trying to finally finish school, figure out what this world has to offer me, follow the Lord in all I do, and serve Him with every fiber of my being while I wait for Him to fulfill all of my hopes and dreams. Because He will. He's just that marvelous!

Taste and see that the LORD is good. Oh, the joys of those who take refuge in him! 
- Psalm 34:8
Is anything too hard for the Lord? - Genesis 18:14
 Your Father knows exactly what you need, even before you ask Him. 
- Matthew 6:8

Monday, November 12, 2012

Life as a 2nd year grad...

Well! Here we are... into the second week of November. Talk about crazy! Also, crazy? Life as a 2nd year grad. I thought life was insane last year, and that wasn't just because of the crazy "life" things that were attacking me, but also just because of the rigorous academics required to be pursuing a masters degree at one of the most ridiculous and prestigious really schools in my line of work ever. But nope, it gets even more ridiculous as a 2nd year grad!

I've had moments, particularly all weekend long this weekend, where I have thought to myself "Man, Jess, you could be home - subbing, working another job, paying off debt instead of accruing more, maybe you would have even snagged a job for this year if you had looked..." instead of being here, stressed to the max, confused as ever, and just doing what I can to "get by."

... And then I realize the absurdity of those remarks! And stop for just a second realize what it is I'm actually gaining here - other than more massive amounts of debt, I'm gaining invaluable experience, lessons, education, and the list goes on and on! I can't even begin to tell you truly how incredibly blessed I am through this experience. Yes, it's been ridiculously hard on multiple levels, but it's also been so precious. I was listening to a sermon series from Mars Hill Church on the book of Esther this past week while I was working, and Pastor Mark Driscoll reminded me that "Oftentimes, our opportunity for spiritual growth is in the most difficult seasons of life." Talk about a slap in the face! Duh, Jessica. That's why I've been here, going through what I've gone through since the moment I stepped foot in this place called the armpit! :) I can't even begin to describe to you just how much I've grown in the past two years - and most importantly, grown spiritually. This year I feel though like I've been running a race since school began. No time to do much of anything, let alone what I'm supposed to be getting done! And last week, in the stress that was "the week after Sandy," I felt like I was going to snap. I'm sure most of those who read these silly ramblings of mine saw my facebook status from a week ago, but for those who haven't (aka-Grammy!<3) here is what I came to realize:

Last night, I came home from church and sat on my bed working on homework when "Reason to Sing" by All Sons & Daughters came on my Pandora station. It brought me to tears... it's exactly everything that's going through my thoughts lately. I sat in my room begging the Lord to give me a reason to sing - to help calm the storm that's been raging inside. This morning, I bring my computer down to the kitchen and turn on K-Love while making breakfast and getting my lunch together. They were talking with some guests and then out of nowhere "Search My Heart" by Hillsong comes on. I stopped dead in my tracks. That song is my reason to sing - when I was student teaching, about every other day, that song was on K-Love on my way home from school. It's one of my most favorite songs in the world. Not just because it's incredible but it sweetly takes me back to the semester that changed my life, when the Lord grabbed hold of me and became more than just "God," but enveloped me in His arms and let me see who He really is, and in turn who I am. And this morning it filled me with "Holy Spirit Goosebumps" and a plethora of tears. Just when I felt like I was so incredibly far away from the Lord, there He is. Meeting me in my kitchen over pumpkin spice coffee... and reminding me of my reason to sing - Him. ♥

Talk about one of those major crazy "God-cidences" ... as I've come to learn it be called from a sweet girl I met at Christian Fellowship - there's nothing as a "coincidence," there's only a "God-cidence." Last week that was just crazy awesome, totally everything I had felt deprived of so long - I found myself running around so crazy (practically like a chicken with my head cut off) and kept the Lord in a neat little box, and wasn't making the time I needed to for Him! Here I was standing around feeling left behind, kind of lost around here in the good ol'armpit, when in reality He was right here the whole time trying to slap me into focus! In that same sermon I was listening to last week, there was also a time when Pastor Driscoll said "God is not a Father who walks out on His kids - He's ALWAYS there!" Truth. He's been here nudging me the whole time. I, on the other hand, instead of having been obedient have just merely been tolerant. I got comfortable enough, and just kept going through the motions. Blech! I don't ever want to just "go through the motions," and yet somehow that's what I've been allowing myself to do this entire semester. No more, I tell you, no more! I shall stop letting life just happen, and instead live obediently where the Lord has called me. I tell ya - it's in these moments He really could just reach down and slap me, and I wouldn't protest!

I know I'm just a mere 24 years of age, but it's so funny to me how complacent I become - how much I can let myself "live in the past," and let things just "happen." It's hard not to some days, but it would be so much more beneficial to be thankful in the moments we're blessed with each day, rather than think about days gone by! Yes, I will never for the life of me ever be able to replace the most beautiful, marvelous, magical, and life-changing moments and days spent at IUP... and I know, as far as I'm concerned, nothing will compare. However, that season has come and gone! Time to keep my eyes peeled open forward, ahead of me and the race set before me, to remain obedient where the Lord has brought me, and to love this crazy, wonderful, scary, and uncertain life He's blessed me with. 

I'm slowly counting down the days until Thanksgiving break of course [8 days! 8 days!] and I can't wait to go spend the time with my family at home, tucked away in my own bed. But I will remind myself to slap a silly smile on and return to this place where I've been called by the Lord Himself happily, rejoicing that He's blessed me with this life to live for Him. It's hard right now, to not get bogged down in just being tolerant, when every day I'm faced with the fact that we're getting one step closer to bringing this Grad School adventure to a close... and then what? I honestly have no idea. What do I want to do? Move home. Sub. Look for a job. Be comfortable. What do I think the Lord will call me to do? Remain comfortably un-comfortable... stay somewhere near this area, continue to study, and teach lessons in the area. It's the most frightening realization in the world, because I have no idea where I would live, how I would make enough money to sustain the debt I will have to start paying back, let alone enough money to sustain everyday life, etc. It's so frightening, and I let myself get bogged down in that unknown, that fear, that confusion.

However, either way, the Lord has it all worked out. And as long as I continue to be obedient and follow Him wholeheartedly and passionately, instead of halfheartedly and lukewarmly, He will bring to fruition the plan He has known all along. And the one that, when I try to put my bitty hands in the process and think I know best and figure it out, that He just sits back and laughs at me for thinking I "know best." I'm telling you - He's got the best sense of humor. Ever! After all, He made me! :) hehe!

Whew. Life is crazy. But I do love it. And! I survived another hurricane unscathed. That's certainly something to stop and be thankful for! Also, I got to spend Saturday with my FAMILY!!! Mom, Nin, and Kate came to meet me at the Park City Mall in Lancaster, and it was SO MUCH FUN! Literally we were there all day, and yet couldn't even make it through all the mall! It was insane! Huge! Awesome! So much fun! Man. I love those crazy ladies! ;)

Well. I must be getting along here. Lots of lesson plans to make, and lessons to review, and a plethora of work to do thereafter! But we're almost there. Semester 3 is almost over. And then we're into the last one! I never thought last year at this time - literally last November, the month of insanity, where I got so deathly ill, moved out of the crazy house, went to NYC, sang Brahms with the Philadelphia Orchestra, came so close to throwing in the towel - never once did I truly think I was going to make it to this point. As far as I was concerned, it was a fun ride and I was done with grad school. And then the Lord slapped me across the face when He seamlessly made it so that my GPA didn't drop so low that I wouldn't lose my scholarship because I had to take that incomplete, and He sent me right back ready to fight and discover why He brought me here in the first place. Well, I'm still not completely sure of the why, but I know enough in my mere 24 years to close my eyes, thank Him for the life He's given me, and trust Him wholeheartedly without a shadow of a doubt, knowing full well that He will carry me through every single thing the enemy tries to trip me up with as I walk obediently in what the Lord has called me to. Close my eyes, thank Him, and keep on keepin' on.

As I leave you with what has been another silly rambling of mine, I will share with you my prayer for the week: Lord, help me to live in a manner in which people would be drawn to You because of how they see me behave and live in the life that You have blessed me with. Not merely making it through, tolerating what I've been given, but obediently living with a passion for You that may never be extinguished, no matter the circumstances that surround me.

Here are some pics of the last few weeks! I know most of you have probably seen them scoured all over facebook, but in case you haven't, enjoy! :) Love you all so much! Thank you for all the prayers, love, and hugs. <3

Chels, Katie, and I with our pumpkins we made when I went home in October! :)

Beautiful friends and ladies! :)

This is how I survived without heat/power during Sandy... and I was STILL cold!!!

Beautiful! Park City Mall!

I love this picture more than anything. <3
Sissy! :) :)

Best friends. Best family. #blessed <3
This is one of the best pictures in the world!
Sissy and I built bears for Christmas! I know, we're twenty-somethings, but hey. You're never too old to build a bear! ;)
Lub my Momma! <3

Blessed be the Lord, my rock,

who trains my hands for war,

and my fingers for battle;

He is my steadfast love and my fortress,

my stronghold and my deliverer,

my shield and he in whom I take refuge,

who subdues peoples under me.
- Psalm 144:1-2 (ESV)

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Pumpkin palooza! :)

Well - I've lived through yet another few weeks of school! Shocking, I know. :) lol! Not much has been going on outside of crazy hectic class schedules and the like. I've been really enjoying teaching voice lessons for Ped 3! It's incredible. Every time I get the chance to teach a lesson I'm just literally smacked by God as He giggles at me and says "Jessica, remember? I've already got this all figured out." It's been really fun just remembering why I'm here in the first place! Though sometimes it does make me a big nostalgic for that home sweet home in Indiana, PA circa 2 years ago... TWO years! Wowza. Time sure does fly.

Singing in Williamson Voices is still such an incredible blessing. Even just in the rehearsals we've had so far. It literally blows me away. I am sharing in a choir with some of the most incredible people, musicians, singers, and artists I will ever meet. Every day I leave a little more in love with it all... Talk about a blessing. In-credible!

I've started playing on Worship team at church on Sunday evenings when they need me! I've been hanging out behind the piano playing (like I know what I'm doing, lol!) and singing. It's so much fun - literally, the best part of my week! I love, love, love, love, love this church. Obviously. But getting to be more and more involved just makes everything so much more special.

I FOUND A GIANT, IN PENNSYLVANIA, 15 MINUTES AWAY! That has been one of the most exciting developments of the past few weeks. LOL! Also, I got green shoe laces now for my birthday tennis shoes. It's the little things in life! :D

This weekend I went to the Fall Festival at Terhune Orchards with my friends! It was such a blast. We went pumpkin picking, drank apple cider, ate cider doughnuts, and then came back to my apartment and watched HALLOWEENTOWN! Gosh. I love that movie. It never, ever gets old. I know I always say this, but I truly am so blessed to have the most incredible friends here to share this grad school journey with. They are incredible people, and amazing friends. I'm so, so blessed!

There's really not much else going on. This week is the Verdi Requiem with the Philadelphia Orchestra that Symphonic Choir is doing. I'm not in Symphonic this year, so I am not sure I'll know what to do with myself this week with most everyone gone for the run-outs! haha! It will be different, for sure. But I wouldn't change being in Williamson in place of Symphonic in my schedule for the world!

I schedule tomorrow morning for my last semester of classes. I'm kind of incredibly frightened by this fact. I've been a student my entire life. Forever. And the question everyone always asks is "Well, what are you doing next year?" ... Uhm, I'll get back to you on that. I have absolutely no idea, and it scares me to death! Tonight in the sermon at church, one of the big points was asking the Lord to open the eyes of our heart - and to allow Him to move in us as He wishes, which is what I took from it. And I guess that's where I need to be right now. I don't have anything figured out, quite honestly. And truth be told, I have no idea what I want to do. I thought I knew, but Jesus is throwing me a curveball right now, and I don't know where to go with it from here. All I know to do is close my eyes and jump - trusting that He will carry me along the way that He has for me! It's not comfortable at all for me, little miss obsessive orderly planner, lol, but I guess what's uncomfortable is how I truly know where God wants me to go for now. Comfortable cannot be my default, and I must push on and lean into Him when I am uncomfortable. He will reveal what He desires as He desires, so, there's not much I can do. And worry doesn't help one bit. It's rather pointless, honestly! So here I go - all or nothing, jumping into the Lord's command! Now would be the time to really not let my praying knees get lazy...

I have my first "big girl" audition this weekend. I'm real nervous, but also real excited at the same time. Also, it means I get to go home for the weekend, and because of the Verdi run-outs, I get to go home on Thursday! Wahoo! I'm pretty stoked, of course. It's a mini break, which I am in desperate need of. I've reached that point in the semester where I need a break. Pronto! So I'm really ecstatic to go home in a few short days to hang out with my Momma, Sissy, and Grammy! <3

It's surreal to me that I'm almost halfway through this first semester of my last year of grad school. Insane.

That is all for now. Off to bed I go! :)
I leave you with photos from the fall festival trip with my friends this weekend! Love to you all! :)

So don’t worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring its own worries. Today’s trouble is enough for today. 
- Matthew 6:34 (NLT)

I was all bundled up to go through the Corn Maze!

The girls! <3


The girls AND Josh! :)

Annie and I got PUMPKINS that we picked from the pumpkin patch! :)

Sunday, September 23, 2012

And we're off...

Wow! I realized this weekend that school has been going on for 3 weeks and I've had not a second to update my blog! Not that anybody's life can't continue without reading my blog... LOL!!

What an incredible, scary, upsetting, yet invigorating start to the second year of grad school! It's been like a roller-coaster: with a few of those dang corkscrews thrown in! The most exciting part: I PASSED MY GRADUATE QUALIFYING HEARING!!! Whoo! In grad school here, at the fancy Westminster Choir College, grad students have to do what's called a Graduate Hearing and also a Graduate Qualifying Hearing/Test. At the discretion of the voice teaching, the grad student is able to combine the two into one, and do just one jury if they pass - and that's it! Well, mine was scheduled for the first week of finals in May, but then Grandma Flo passed away and I had to go home for that whole week to be with the family. Therefore, my hearing got pushed back until the second week of school. Which was scary in and of itself because that meant a summer without many opportunities to keep singing and in tip top vocal shape - with my songs rip roarin' and ready to go. Mostly because I was still battling that unknown beast of a health problem all summer long, which left no room to keep my voice in shape - it was just a mess. And so I was so worried about coming back, because it was literally one battle after another with that all this summer, and I was petrified of my jury! Well, after struggling to get my voice back in a decent working shape, and getting my songs back under my belt, and after a week of worrying about whether this was going to go well or not, the Lord carried me through again - and I passed! Unanimously! And all of the comments on the jury sheets were the same things that Professor Thomas and I have been really working on. Oh, what an enormous blessing! Whew! Now it's on to planning my recital and preparing audition repertoire for whatever may come my way!

My classes are pretty awesome this semester - a bunch of ped track classes, German Lieder, voice lessons, the norm you know? But, another big whopping blessing to start this second year off? I WAS CHOSEN TO BE IN WILLIAMSON VOICES!! It's an auditioned choir that is under the direction of Dr. Jordan. THE James Jordan. Yep - every time I leave rehearsal I have to pinch myself! It is absolutely INCREDIBLE. Those of you who know me from prior to choir college... answer me this question: Do I enjoy choir? HA! And now, I can't get enough of it! Oh my goodness. Our concert is going to be incredible. The website says Nov. 17, but it's actually Nov. 10... (hint, hint...)... :) I am blown away by the opportunity to sing with this incredible choir. This will surely be the cherry on top of grad school, that's for sure!

Last week was a rough one - just difficult with a few different things that were going on. And my over-obsessive, ridiculous, stressful, self-critical self has problems letting things be and out of sight out of mind. lol. And instead of standing in the power and authority of Christ to let some of the things that hurt me from last week just roll off my shoulders, I allowed them to let me feel completely defeated and absolutely disrespected. And I allowed myself to live in that shame and regret and misery the rest of the week! What a silly waste of my time! You know, we love the pity parties and the self misery, but it's like eating a whole bag of chips by yourself - it feels good while you're doing it, until all is said and done. Let's at least be honest about that! While at Bible Study this past week, and church tonight, something occurred to me that I'd never thought of before. We dove into Ephesians 1:1-14ish, and it's talking about how God chose us because we please Him! That His heart longs for us! Pastor Tim said tonight that in light of that, we have an influence and impact on the heart of God! What! That made me do a double take. I mean, I knew He loved us, delighted in us, and that He welcomes us freely into His courts - but I have an impact on His heart? What is that? Whew! What a POSITION we have in Christ! One of the songs we sang tonight was "In Christ Alone," and when we came across this part of the song I was filled with what I like to call "Holy Spirit Goosebumps" ...

And as He stands in victory
Sin's curse has lost its grip on me
For I am His and He is mine
Bought with the precious blood of Christ

No guilt in life, no fear in death
This is the power of Christ in me
From a life's first cry to final breath
Jesus commands my destiny

No power of hell, no scheme of man
Could ever pluck me from His hand
Til He returns or calls me home
Here in the power of Christ I stand

Right now. Tomorrow at 8:30 in the morning. Or two weeks from now, at 5:19pm. Any time, any day I can choose to stand in the power of Christ! To say with authority that these things have no power over me, and I am an adopted daughter of the Lord, and that I can have faith and believe the power of Christ that's in me - to open my arms and receive the blessings that the Lord is showering down on me versus standing in disbelief at not only who He says He is, but also who He says I am! Well let me tell you what, I'm done with that foolishness today. I am a strong, beautiful, fearfully and wonderfully made woman of God and I will no longer let these silly things that the enemy tries to hold over me deter me from accepting the authority of the power of Christ in me! See ya later, disbelief - I'm moving on! :)

This is going to be an important year to recognize that power, and trust the Lord more than ever. Everything is kind of up in the air about what happens next: will I get a job teaching high school choir? Will I have any successful auditions and be accepted into any kind of young artist programs? Will I be living at home and subbing, but still somehow singing? It's all a crazy, confusing, and unclear kind of messy bubble. And you know me - that makes me incredibly nervous. lol. But I have to just take a deep breath, grab God's hand, and say "Okay, Dad - lead me where You wish. I trust You. I'll follow, and if I ask any questions help me to remember to ask 'how' and not 'why,' because You know best! You have a perfect plan, with Your perfect provision, and You're just waiting to reveal it to me one step at a time!" So here I go - I'm holding on tight, and I'm ready to jump in the deep end! I surrender to You, Lord.

Until the next time I rattle off about my life on end via this blog, I pray that you experience the abundant riches, and glorious grace that the Lord is waiting to lavish upon you in this season of your life! I can't wait to see what He has waiting for us all... are you willing to join me, and to hold on to His hand tight and jump on in the deep end? To surrender your desires and dreams to the Lord on High, who wants nothing but good for you, His precious child, whom He loves and adores and paid the ultimate price for?

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before Him. In love He predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of His will, to the praise of His glorious grace, with which He has blessed us in the Beloved. In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of His grace, which He lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight making known to us the mystery of His will, according to His purpose, which He set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in Him, things in heaven and things on earth. In Him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of Him who works all things according to the counsel of His will, so that we who were the first to hope in Christ might be to the praise of His glory. In Him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in Him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of His glory. 
- Ephesians 1:3-14 ESV

I surrender it all, Lord... I will hold onto You. Lord, have Your way.

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