Thursday, September 27, 2012

Giving Blood and Giving Up

If I am given responsibility for a project, it becomes mine.  I have a definite idea of how I want things to go.  There is a picture in my mind of how everything will play out, and when someone tries to erase parts of that picture and scribble in their own drawings, I get mad.  This is not a piece of my personality I am proud of.  I turn into an uptight, controlling, snappy monster whose motto is, “Do it my way or I will use very sharp words to stab at your soft, fleshy underbelly of a limbic system.” 

When it comes to working in a professional environment, this is not an acceptable way to operate.  But it’s hard not to.  The temptation to latch on to the hot fire of anger and go for a thrillingly out-of-control ride is almost too much to keep me rational.  Oddly enough, people do not respond positively to this kind of fiery aggression.  Where I want things to run smoothly, they become rough and jagged.  Other people get angry, and I just feel like a terrible creature, born from hate and darkness.  Lose-lose. 

And so, I have had to learn to let go.  The embarrassingly simple revelation came to me as I lay flat on my back, blood draining from my body: it’s not about me and what I want.  The thing that is actually important is the success of the Blood Drive for which I have taken responsibility.  It is not mine.  I am only the facilitator, and I must give of myself instead of clutching what I want to my chest.  The work I do is about something larger and far more important than my personal satisfaction.  If I can remember that, some good just might be done in spite of me.

Julia Hawkins

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

I Think I'm a Human Doing

I was challenged recently to be a human being. A rather strange challenge, since by all outward appearances, I am just that. (Little did they know.... just kidding. This isn't the place for zombie novels). However, if someone were to observe my life, they might give me the more apt designation of "human doing." I am a typical "good student." I don't say that to be arrogant but to point out that for all my work that others might label good and accomplished, a good and loving Creator might say I've missed the point.

Recently, I've had much more time on my hands than I have had for the past 6 semesters. I purposefully took a lighter class load so that I would have time to apply to graduate school. However, I find my self spending time, not applying for graduate school or studying for the Biology GRE, but sitting around, reading a book, watching a TV show, or going to bed at 10 p.m. And, you know what? I feel amazing. But I also feel the creeping shadow of guilt in the back of my mind. I'm flying in the face of my Asian-mother-instilled work ethic. I'm turning a cold shoulder to the Protestant pillar of good-hard work that I've become all too familiar with. What am I to make of all this?

This creeping feeling of guilt is where the challenge lies. I'm bad at the "being" part of human being. I impose an artificial structure on my time so that no second is left empty. Don't get me wrong, I've been known to procrastinate and sneak in a TV show here or there when I should be finishing my chemistry homework, yet when I find myself with extra time, I feel uncomfortable, as though something active and productive should be filling the void of that empty space. Here I am presented with another challenge, my activity is often propelled by my passion for learning or by a desire to take advantage of every amazing opportunity. Inherently, these motivations are not bad, but this is, again, the challenge of balance.

College is a strange place for people like me because we tend to do well by the school's standards. I have a feeling though, that if I were being graded on my success in fully living into my humanity, I would have less than an A+. Perhaps I and those like me should be reorienting our mark of success, making the goal "live well" rather than "do well."

Now, friends, to preserve our humanity, I think we should all go enjoy a mug of [favorite warm beverage] and curl up with a good novel. :)


Tuesday, September 4, 2012

StreetFest is for Scientists Too

The beginning of the academic year means that, once again, the Service-Learning Center of Calvin College has pulled of another great StreetFest. Over 1000 first-year students ventured into the city of Grand Rapids to service-learn with their peers. I, Anna Casto, was audacious enough to take on the task of coordinating StreetFest 2012. Many great StreetFest Coordinators have gone before me, and I'm sure they too gave up  amazing opportunities to be a part of the particularly amazing opportunity of being StreetFest Coordinator.

I'm a biology and biochemistry major pursing graduate studies in agronomy, so one would expect that I spend my summers in one of Calvin College's many student research positions. I would expect that too. After spending one summer doing research (and loving it), the next summer seemed planned out in advance. Alas, God has an interesting sense of humor. I had my qualms about spending a summer planning a student life event that seemed to have no direct application to my post-graduation goals. In the end, I learned a great deal and I gained many skills that I believe will serve me well in graduate school and beyond.

This post isn't about my feelings about StreetFest, though they are many. The reality of being a StreetFest Coordinator is that the experience teaches a person less about how to do a job and more about how to approach problems, speak with civility, and trust people.

What I learned:

  1. Problem solving - StreetFest comes with a whole package of problems and puzzles. Coordinating over 1000 first-year students, over 100 student leaders, and 70 non-profit organizations is a giant puzzle, and naturally, it takes some time and persistence to fit all the pieces together. Science is the same way. There is a large cloud of information, but to solve a problem, you have to pick the right pieces of knowledge and keep trying.
  2. Professionalism - People aren't always nice or easy to work with. Sometimes people misunderstand you or don't realize how much your job entails. (My favorite conversations this summer often began like this: "Wow, I just realized how many pieces you had to fit together to pull this off!"Those moments of enlightenment were golden.) I learned a great deal about civility this summer because people weren't always happy with our work or the way we were doing it. Misunderstandings happen often when there are so many people to communicate with. Still, we carry on and hopefully forgive each other for our short comings.
  3. Public speaking - Let's just say I never expected to speak to over 1200 people at once. It's thrilling.
  4. Delegate - You would think that having an entire summer to work on StreetFest would mean that one StreetFest Coordinator can accomplish every task by herself. Somehow, though, come the last few weeks of August, I was so happy to see my 11 co-workers and pile the task lists on them. My biggest challenge to overcome was letting go of those tasks and trusting my friends to do them well. (They did.)
How does this all apply to my future? Well, even scientists work in groups, so civility and professionalism is as important in a lab as in the Service-Learning Center. Almost all of science requires critically thinking about a problem. Presenting research is one of the primary ways scientists share their discoveries. The list goes on. Practical skills were a great gain, but I also found some surprising internal gains from coordinating StreetFest. I gained a feeling of confidence in my ability take on something new and different. I also found that no matter what I'm working on, I have a passion for what my fellow Calvin people would call a vocation. We are agents in the work of shalom, and the work we do, whether that be coordinating StreetFest or studying agronomy or teaching or painting, is called to the higher purpose of kingdom building.

So whatever you might be doing, may you see great things. May you ask illuminating questions. May you discover something new. May you be open to new possibilities. And most of all, may you catch a glimpse of the kingdom in the weed-pulling, face-painting, house-building work you do today and every day.