Most people I know had to begin their college experience with the repetitive act of sharing a fun fact about themselves. I’ll start this post the same way: When I applied to Samford, my selected major was Music Composition. That changed by the time interviews came along for both my scholarship program and the Division of Music. By that point, it was Music Education, which changed a year later to Music and Worship. I auditioned on both flute and piano because I wasn’t sure which instrument I wanted to be my primary instrument. In my two years as a music major, I ended up with a small taste of each of these academic areas.
In the two years I had in the music department, I was able to do everything I had hoped to do over the course of four years. While I had hoped to spend more time in these areas, “He has made everything beautiful in its time” (Ecclesiastes 3:11a).
What the Lord orchestrated after those two years was absolutely necessary: My time as a music major was a time of finding my identity in my abilities. It was completely necessary for the God who “gives and takes away” (Job 1:21) to exercise His sovereignty over my life by removing my ability to rely on my abilities as the source of my identity.
While I was bitter for a long time, I’m not anymore. Recently I heard a song that reinforced in a particularly relevant way that my identity lies in how God views me:
“I’m not living for applause. / I’m already so adored. / It’s all HIS stage. / He knows my name.”
“He Knows My Name” — Francesca Battistelli
Moving onto the next two-year chunk of my academic career.
I can’t wait to spend the rest of my life processing everything I’ve been exposed to through the Religion Department. I’m so thankful for the resources I’ve been given to help me understand others’ religious orientations and to grow in my understanding of my own faith. Resources I am particularly grateful for include a ten-volume set of biblical commentaries and an online biblical language software program: My nerdy heart is rejoicing.
The award that coincided with the gift of commentaries is by far the most meaningful award I have ever received. As a former professor gave an introduction to this award, he shared that one particular research paper I wrote for his class taught him a lot. It was my paper on the theology of disability.
One specific experience at Samford, which I can still visualize, prompted me to direct my research in this area. This one particular instance of a regular occurrence for Samford students altered the direction of my future career. I simply approached the doors of the University Center.
What made this experience so unique was my inability to open the heavy doors. This event occurred in the spring semester of 2017, which was the period when I spent the entire semester recovering from shoulder surgery. At this point, I still had not gained back enough strength to use that arm to support any weight. About a week leading up to this event, I had injured my other arm….doing laundry. After a partial dislocation, the arm that was supposed to be my “good arm” was conspicuously swollen all the way down my bicep, which–I came to understand–is an essential muscle to doing basically everything. Especially opening doors.
As I approached these heavy doors without a functioning arm, I stopped and just stood there, hoping someone would come out the same door and hold it open for me. No one did. I felt completely helpless. I felt inferior to those who didn’t have to think twice about walking through a door. I felt like I didn’t fit the mold of normal-functioning college students that my university expected me to fit–and I didn’t.
My experience of attempting to function at a less-than-optimal level allowed me to empathize with those who live with more long-term disabilities. My experience of encountering doors that were too heavy to open on my own led me to find open doors elsewhere–one of which, I believe, leads to disability advocacy. I would not have discovered my passion for disability advocacy had I not felt feelings of hopelessness at the weight of the closed and heavy door at Samford.
“Anybody who thinks that closed doors disprove the efficacy of prayer just has not thought about prayer very deeply. Prayer is not an incantation. It is talk with a Person–a very wise Person.” -John Ortberg
This literal closed door and the figuratively closed doors I’ve encountered in my time at Samford has forced me to rely on the One who cares enough for me to open doors and invite me to meet with Him (Revelation 3:20).
I’m leaving Samford a different person than when I first arrived. I’m leaving with scars I didn’t have before. My Samford scars.
I’m leaving with the knowledge that circumstances I once considered random happenstance (i.e. scoliosis + hand pain + foot pain) are, in fact, connected. I’m leaving wth the knowledge that my connective tissue is suspended by a faulty collagen matrix. I’m leaving with the knowledge that this collagen matrix is coded for, like every other protein, in my DNA–the formation of which began my very existence. I’m leaving with the knowledge that no injury I have endured or will endure is by accident. I’m leaving with the knowledge that my Creator knew the extent to which I would and will suffer.
And sometimes this knowledge has been difficult to process. Ecclesiastes 1:18 says, “For in much wisdom is much vexation, and he who increases knowledge increases sorrow.” Increase in knowledge has intensified my need to draw near to the Lord in my confusion. As I mentioned before, I plan on processing what I’ve learned over the past four years for the rest of my life.
I’m utterly and sincerely grateful for my time at Samford, which unexpectedly grew my appreciation for life outside of Samford. I’m grateful for my time spent in “The Bubble,” which made me passionate to form relationships with those outside “The Bubble”–those who don’t look like me, come from a different socioeconomic background than me, and did not have the same educational experience as me. My privilege of spending four years studying in “The Bubble” opened the door for me to work at a local nonprofit that provides resources for adults seeking their GED to improve their chances of obtaining steady jobs. The privilege that I have encountered and benefited from during my time at Samford has made me determined to both serve and build relationships with those who were not offered this same privilege.
During Commencement, I choose not to worship the institution that God used to make me who I am today. Instead, I choose to glorify my gracious God who has worked through selfless people of this university, and the surrounding community, to instruct, guide, and walk beside me over the past four years.
“Scars and struggles on the way
But with joy our hearts can say,
‘Never once did we ever walk alone.’
Carried by Your constant grace,
Held within Your perfect peace,
Never once, no, we never walk alone.”
“Never Once” — Matt Redman
📷: Kyle Thompson Photography