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 “Why faith?” I heard some of my classmates ask towards the end of class. “Why not focus more on learning instead?”

I sat quietly in the corner of the room listening to the conversation between my classmates, and realized I had never really thought much about it before. Waynesburg University and faith had always gone hand-in-hand for me. It’s one of the many reasons I chose this school. But what is it that makes faith such an important element to a Christian campus like Waynesburg? That’s what my classmates wanted to know, and that was the question that kept drumming through my head for the rest of the day.

As my classmates began packing their things, quickly transitioning into various other conversations, I remained silent, thinking. Even as I exited the room, my thumbs hooked through the straps of my book bag, the question kept presenting itself to me. Why faith?

When I reflect back on my college career I remember weekly Chapel services, Sunday night student-led worship services, heart-to-hearts with professors—all things that have influenced my experience at Waynesburg. Everything I have learned throughout my four years here has somehow referenced back to my faith, causing me to grow in ways I never imagined I could.

So, why is faith so important? In my own words, this is what I came up with:

  • Faith is the foundation, not only to Waynesburg University, but also in many of our lives—it’s where things began. When we look back at our history, not only as a University, but also as a country, faith was the driving force that got us on our feet, something we proudly fought for and defended. With that foundation, even when the walls shake and crumble, there is always hope for restoration.
  • Faith is a source of joy, hope and love. I know how hard it is not to fall into the selfish, materialistic ways of society. What’s in it for me seems to be the mantra of the world today. Through my experience, this constant push to be perfect only leads to self-destruction, but when we focus our lives on faith instead, we realize just how perfect we are in God’s eyes. It’s not about what we wear, what we look like or how much money we have; it’s about finding ourselves lost in the beautiful, boundless love of Christ. Through faith, we can experience a joyful, hopeful, loving way of life, free of charge.
  • Faith pushes our boundaries. One of the things I have loved and hated most about my faith is that it challenges me to think beyond my reasoning and pushes me out of my comfort zone. Faith is not about being comfortable and it’s certainly not easy, but when we find ourselves wrapped up in it, the end result is nothing short of rewarding. When I find myself questioning anything, including my faith, I find myself learning. This is what makes the pairing of faith and learning together so endearing to me. A well-developed faith often comes through trial and error, much like learning a skill in the classroom. Sometimes we get it, sometimes we don’t, but just because we don’t understand doesn’t mean the answer isn’t out there. Often times it takes patience and a willingness to accept things through a fresh set of eyes.
  • Faith gives us something to look forward to both today and in the future to come. When everything else seems to fall apart, faith is the crutch we are given to help us stand. God wants us to come to Him with our problems. He wants us to know that through Him all things are possible. With Him, nothing can tear us a part. Through our faith, we know God has promised us a future, even as we step into the unknown. This gives me the strength to get out of bed each morning despite my racing anxieties of what the future holds. For, I am a child of God.

 

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Just as March quickly faded into April like the swatches on a color wheel, graduation has become less of a dream and more of a reality. Going to Waynesburg and earning my undergraduate degree has been my life for the last four years—a life I have looked forward to and a life that has shown me I can handle more than I thought. Change is on the horizon and the more I think about it, the more nervous I become.

“What’s next?” people ask.

“I’m not sure,” I respond in honesty. 

It’s no secret to those who know me that I am not someone who embraces change easily. I have the same morning routine no matter the day of the week; I’ve gone to the same church my entire life and lived in the same town; I’ve always done what’s comfortable.

I hear my classmates talk about their plans to go on to graduate school and then get their doctorates. I’m proud of them. Their plans sound so crisp and attractive, but are those same plans for me? 

I’ve sat in my classes trying to absorb everything I can, grasping at each and every word as if they are the last remnants of some sort of ancient colony. I’ve collected those words, organized them and placed them inside a clear glass case in hopes that, one day, I can help future generations learn from and admire them as I did. Even as I go back through everything I have stored in my memory bank, my mind wildly races: am I really ready for this?

Of course you are, God answers. Have I not gotten you this far?

My faith is a constant reminder to me of what’s in store for my future, even when I have no idea where my life is going. There is no question I’m entering a time of change. My life is going to be flipped inside out, washed, pressed and hung to dry, but one thing will always remain the same: the love my Savior has for me.

"For I know the plans I have for you," declares the LORD, "plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.." Jeremiah 29: 11

This very verse has gotten me through my entire undergraduate career and is sure to get me through even more as I enter the new stages of my life. Even when the prospects of college, jobs, marriage, kids and a mortgage seemed like distant fairytales, God was preparing my heart for them, watching me transform into the person He wants me to be.

I know this journey is far from over, but with the things I have learned as a student at Waynesburg and in prayer, I also know I have the ability to harness my nerves so God can lead me to the place I’m meant to be.

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b2ap3_thumbnail_P10405671.jpgThis week I did something I've never done before, something that I, and I'm sure many people out there, have wanted to do, even if just to cross it off their bucket list: I climbed a mountain. Not just any mountain, either, but Slieve Donard, the highest mountain not only in Northern Ireland's Mourne Mountain range, but in the country all together. I wasn't originally going to; my friends and I just wanted to go into the Mournes, because they're pretty and I know songs about them. The woman at the visitor center pointed it out, though, and informed us of its status, and we thought, "why not?" 

Well, there are a good many reasons "why not." It's exhausting and takes forever, and just when you think you're almost there, you round a bend and see a whole other portion you couldn't before, and you can almost hear the stupid mountain mocking your pain. Then you get to the top and have to hang on tight because you feel like you're going to be blown clear off the other side. I don't know if I'd ever had quite so clear a demonstration of the "fear of God," before, but the peak of that mountain painted a pretty spectacular analogy for me. By the time I was done I was spent. I had blisters, my feet were no longer positive they knew how to function properly, my legs felt like jelly and I was starving. 

And it was incredible. 

I think anyone who has ever done something like this can liken it to a life lesson or something philosophical. There are certainly enough songs out there to prove it (ex. "Climb Every Mountain," "The Climb," etc.). Most people have "mountains" in their lives and it's nice to hear songs that encourage you through them.  However, actually pounding the pavement, so to speak, definitely gives you a fresh perspective, (as well as a good deal more respect for the characters in Lord of the Rings). 

Standing on the top of Slieve Donard, I felt a lot of things. I wasn't kidding when I said I was afraid I was going to be blown away, because I was legitimately terrified; the wind was quite literally pushing me around. At one point it actually knocked me over. I wasn't kidding about the "fear of God" comment either. As petrified as I was of it, I was in complete awe of the gusts' power, and really, genuinely grateful for it the last few feet up the slope, because I wasn't positive I'd make it if not for that push.

 I also felt wonder; I don't think you can look down at the world from that high and not experience a sense of wonder. This earth is truly a beautiful creation, and this island is a chilly little paradise as far as I'm concerned. One of the biggest things I felt, though, was a crazy sense of “Wow." Wow, look at this; wow, I'm on top of a mountain; wow, wow, wow, I did it, I made it. On top of all of that, too, I knew I couldn't have done it without a little help; I kept sending silent wee prayers up periodically, and I couldn't help but send up one of thanks when that strong wind forced me up that last stretch. I hate to sound cliché, but it felt like one of those life lessons to me. I didn't think I could make it, and with His help, I did. I think that says a lot. 

So yes, it was hard; yes, it was grueling; yes, I was genuinely afraid I was going to die. There were points I wanted to stop and go no further, but I am forever going to be grateful that I kept going. Because, at the end of it all, it was amazing, and so, so worth the trouble. 

 

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First semester freshman year, I anxiously sat waiting for my second class of the day to begin. My Survey of Music course had just let out and as I trekked across campus, gasping for air as I climbed the hill to Buhl Hall, I wondered what else was in store for me.

High school was over. College was a new animal.

I took a seat in the front near the door, not wanting to draw attention to myself, but still wanting to get as much as I could from the lecture. As students filed through the door, I pulled out my fresh notebook, a mechanical pencil and my agenda, making sure everything was labeled properly (some things wouldn’t change) and that I had what I needed.

When I finally looked up, a man shuffled into the room whistling as he closed the door behind him. He set his things on the desk in the front of the room and then turned around to write his name on the board.

“My name is Dr. Bob Randolph,” he said over his shoulder as he wrote. “But you can call me Dr. Bob.”

When I enrolled at Waynesburg, I wasn’t sure exactly what I wanted to do with my life, so I declared my major as “exploring.” During freshman orientation, I met with my given advisor. As we sat across from each other she showed me my schedule for the semester, which had been put together based on my interests and general requirements. Her red pen pointed at each line, creating a small dot at the beginning of each course name.

·Survey of Music

·College Composition I

·Environmental Biology

·Fiat Lux

When her pen settled on a line that read “Introduction to Creative Writing” a sudden surge of excitement took over. I was going to write.

Dr. Bob turned around and gave a reassuring smile to the room full of unsure freshman students, settling on my own nervous face for a moment before continuing. He told us what the class was about and the more he talked, the more drawn in I became. We were going to write fiction, poetry and a small memoir. I could not wait to get started. The first thing we would write would be a flash fiction story—500 words, due the following week.

I became intent on creating a suspense filled award winner. The idea for the story came quickly and I feverishly typed out the plot line. My story was about a young woman whose husband had gone to war and died, or so she thought. She mourned over their pictures together, remembering the day she watched him climb onto the plane. One stormy night she wandered out to their old creaky barn and found a letter from him. He was alive. They weren’t safe. He would send for her.

As funny as it all sounds to me now as I look back on that semester (and that ridiculous story), my freshman self was intrigued—emotionally invested. Full of new ideas and concepts for stories, I had found a passion. By the middle of that semester I was in my advisor’s office proudly declaring my major as English, creative writing.

What I have learned as a creative writing major at Waynesburg is far more than how to write a compelling story. I have learned how to incorporate new ideas into otherwise tedious writing, I have learned how to show emotion in a way that relates to those I am trying to appeal, and I have learned how to write grammatically correct, effective pieces of work.

Story-telling, I have found, is an art form. Through it, we become inspired, we feel and we dream. Creative writing is more than writing poetry, fiction and nonfiction. It is observing and understanding the world and those in it; it’s sharing experiences with people from various demographics; and it’s coming up with new ways to explain the things that affect us all as human beings.

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b2ap3_thumbnail_Kayla_Painting.jpgHow art courses at Waynesburg have changed my life (as a non-major).

1. The first time I picked up a paintbrush was my sophomore year at Waynesburg. It was the fall term and as I scoured the thin book of offered courses, I stumbled upon an acrylics class, open to all majors. Aside from some sketching here and there, I had never put much effort in to becoming an artist; all I wanted to draw were horses. I had spent my childhood drawing horses until I nearly mastered them. They ran, jumped and reared on the page, never accompanied by a scene of any sort, just a ghost on a sheet of printer paper. Simply put, I couldn’t draw anything else. It was difficult for me to envision myself painting, but I had heard the professor graded based on progress not talent (friendly to anyone with a true interest in learning) so I joined. In a few short weeks, I found myself consumed in the technique of putting paint to canvas— the smooth, gentle glide of a brush and the act of finishing my own work-of-art. It was after my first painting that I (reluctantly) called myself an artist.

2. That fall semester my sophomore year proved to be a challenge, yet, when my feet found their way to the art room time stopped. I sat at the long table with my easel, pushing my brush against the canvas sheet, and I felt my mind lift from the haze of upcoming exams and papers. I couldn’t get enough of the freedom I felt when I was covered in paint, leaving fingerprints on the things I touched. When I realized just how therapeutic painting had become for me, I decided to order more supplies and bring the studio to my own kitchen. The sink, table and floor quickly became their own masterpieces, dripping with paint to my mother’s disliking, while I worked on my paintings. I allowed my thoughts to drift off to happier places where the world I envisioned was the world I became a part of, not the one I actually lived in.

3. Art, I have found, is not always realistic or the popular definition of beauty, yet as I stand in front of a sculpture or a painting with its odd limbs and colors, suspended in midair, I find myself lost in it amidst a lack of understanding. I wander toward it, staring, hoping I’ll have that “ah ha” moment where it becomes clear what exactly is in front of me. I never do, but the interest remains. I continue to look, hopelessly. Questions fill my mind, pressing me to think outside of my normal worldviews. Picasso, Warhol, Kandinsky, what dreamlike places did you travel while you transposed your thoughts to paper and paint to canvas? I want to know where you’ve been.

4. There are nights when I look at the blue and orange sky shifting to pinks and purples over tree branched mountain tops and I want to scoop them up and spread them over a fresh, white canvas, letting the colors mold into one another as they kiss the corners of the page. I want to mark that image forever in my mind, hang it on the wall or mount it in a gallery for the world to see the things I have seen in that very moment. Sometimes I grab my camera to keep that image tucked away, somewhere, for a second glance, but what I have found, through my art courses, is nothing can quite capture an image the same as an artist’s eye.

5. When I think about the peculiarity in the nature of a piece of art, I think of God and His own designs. What inspires God to mold, cut, mix and scrape his creations into their final forms? With infinite amounts of color, materials and tools, the possibilities are endless, yet he chose to create me. What greater, peculiar, humbling love could a person ever encounter?

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