Taiwan is an island (I am not an island)

After a whirlwind of a week, I have been made aware of many beautiful things

  1. God’s grace sustains us
  2. I come from a family of servant hearts
  3. It is an unspeakable joy and blessing to have “forever friends”
  4. I can make mistakes and still succeed
  5. You can never have too much bread. 🙂

I could probably go on and on about the remarkable blessings I have experienced this week, but I don’t want to bore anybody! I just wanted to write a post to thank those who have supported me, to express my praise to God, and to reflect on more life-changing moments.

The other night I heard a piece from John Donne’s Meditation XVII – No Man Is An Island. [As a poet, Donne holds a special place in my heart. A few years ago, I had poems from his Holy Sonnets memorized and they changed my life and my spirituality at the time. Death, be not proud is a particularly meaningful one to me and I’m still drawing understanding from it.]

No Man Is An Island is written in reference to mankind, but today it speaks to me on a much more personal level.

“No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main. If a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as well as if a manor of thy friend’s or of thine own were: any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind, and therefore never send to know for whom the bells tolls; it tolls for thee.”

I am not my own, I belong to the whole. I belong to God’s family. I belong to the relatives who lift me up and call me loved. I belong to the friends who have been part of my journey, even those whose paths went in a different direction than mine. I belong to musicians, composers, and mentors who guided my steps. And I belong to those whom I serve and encourage and motivate, as they do the same for me. I am not an island.

Although it is easy to get caught up in our own priorities, our own struggles, and our own goals, it is important to remember that we are traveling this road of life together. That none of us should cut ourselves off from the guidance, love, and companionship we give and receive from one another. That the joys and sorrows of others affect us and our lives affect theirs.

I am drawn to Romans 12:15 – “Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn.” It is not always easy to put yourself in another’s shoes, but we are called to do so as followers of Christ and as members of mankind.

I have done my fair share of rejoicing and mourning this week, but I was surrounded by loved ones and surrounded by God’s love through all of it. We held on to each other and held on to Him and made it through the weekend. I could NOT have done it on my own. And I wouldn’t have wanted to.

I thank God for all of the people he has put into my life and I am grateful he created us to be in community with one another (Genesis 2:18Psalm 133:1, Romans 12:4-5, Galatians 6:2). I thank my friends, family, and loved ones for helping me through a weekend I will never forget. And I thank the people who have submitted themselves to the idea that we are to be servants of others, not islands belonging to ourselves.

In a couple of months, I’ll be going to the island of Taiwan. I’ll be in a different country, experiencing a different culture, and I will be a foreigner, but I will still not be alone. I will be supported by prayers from home and surrounded by the love of my team, but I will also be forming new relationships with the people I meet.

At last night’s LST session, we talked about how our English conversations/readings are built around the idea of building one-on-one relationships with the readers. It is not a teacher-student relationship, but one of friendship – full of openness, trust, and sincerity. Opening the doors of communication and having a connection with someone is the only way to reach out in a meaningful way. In other words, I must make a link between myself and another person. I must make myself available to them and meet them where they are at. I must refuse to be an island.

I encourage anyone, no matter his or her situation, to be grateful for the influential people that are found in the everyday – and the extraordinary – moments. Allow them to be a part of your life and reach out to be a part of theirs. Do not see yourself as an island.

I have experienced a lot this week, but I am most grateful for the people who experienced it alongside me.

I am not an island

Thanks to Steddon Sikes for the photo!

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How Can I Keep From Singing?

When I was in high school, our choir sang a version of the Christian hymn How Can I Keep From Singing. At that time in my life, I don’t think I understood the full weight of the lyrics. My life was too neat, too charmed, too whole to know what poetry like this meant:

My life goes on in endless song
Above earth’s lamentations,
I hear the real, though far-off hymn
That hails a new creation.

Through all the tumult and the strife
I hear its music ringing,
It sounds an echo in my soul.
How can I keep from singing?

( If that doesn’t paint a strong enough picture for you, please listen to Enya’s version. Nothing reverberates in the soul quite like Enya 😉 )

Today, though, I feel as though I can understand it better. I have had a very long week…I have experienced many struggles emotionally, mentally, and spiritually. I have felt joy and stress. I have been successful and I have been too tired to think. I have had a few highs and one extremely painful low.

Through it all, however, I have been able (&/or forced) to sing. As a music major, the days in which you can simply stop singing are few and far between. There’s always a choir rehearsal or an after-school ensemble practice or a piece that needs extra work. Or in my case, a dress rehearsal for the recital that is approaching WAY too quickly 🙂 Sometimes it is enough to think, “Can I please stop singing?”

Thankfully, the answer to my selfish question is usually no. Despite my negative thoughts or my tired heart, I cannot stop singing. My life is too blessed and too full to ever see living as a chore. To ever resent the music by which I am surrounded. To ever neglect the gift that God has given. To ever refuse to praise Him. I must sing and I know that The Lord is the reason why. When I open my mouth to cry out, His song flows out instead – transforming me, bandaging my wounds, and soothing my soul.

Tonight I experienced one of those small healing moments. In the midst of an emotional weekend, our LST team had our first music rehearsal to prepare for our trip. We began a song called Indescribable. At a time when I thought my heart was not ready to be seen by God, words such as, “You see the depths of my heart and You love me the same,” changed my mind. As scary as it might be to have someone who knows you inside and out, it is a thousand times scarier to imagine going through this life without the one who created your inmost being. Being seen by God is being loved, and being loved is cause for singing. 

This week I will have many opportunities to sing. Some of those moments will be required – by my major, by commitments, by circumstances. Some of them might be in harmony with my friends and family. One moment will be a culmination of the past four years of my music education. And some of the most important moments will be in celebration of a life lived in service to God – in memory of a beautiful person.

I will have many opportunities to sing and when I do, I hope it is with a heart that is open in praise to God. I pray that I reach the end of this week with one question bursting from my life – “How can I keep from singing?”