Brace yourself friends summer is approaching. The season of bikinis, tanning, beach days, road trips and barbecues. The sun is always shining, children are out of school and everywhere you look there’s a block party. There is no group of people who get more excited about the summer than college students. After ten long months of quizzes, papers, exams, and sleep deprivation we get three months to sit back, relax and do absolutely nothing. Lo and behold I have three full months to myself and all I can think about is “What on earth am I going to be doing this summer?”.
I started applying to research programs in January and I continued all the way into March. It got to a point where I constantly had at least seven tabs open with ongoing REU applications. I received email after email thanking me for my interest in their program, and I quickly got tired of hearing how they loved learning about my experiences and how they appreciated how much time I had put into my application. If you liked it so much why not just hire me am I right? Every rejection came with a blow to my ego… why was I even going into research if no one wanted me to work for them? How would I ever get into medical school without a research background? I was stressed, to say the least.
Then out of nowhere, I got an email with “Congratulations” in the subject line. I couldn’t believe my eyes. I was over the moon and it seemed like every rejection I had received was building up to that moment. I spent a whole week preparing for that interview, my friends held mock interviews for me, my professors gave me tips on how to showcase my interests and talents and I prayed endlessly. The day finally came and I was sitting at my computer waiting for the Skype call but nothing happened. I waited ten more minutes and still nothing… I was on the brink of tears but something told me to look at my phone. I saw a missed call from an unknown number. It turned out my interviewers Skype wasn’t working so we had to have a phone interview. I hadn’t prepared for this at all but I dove right in praying for a good outcome. By the end of my interview, I felt such a strong pull to work for that company. I got along extremely well with my interviewer and she was really interested in my background and passion for their work. A few days later I was notified that I made it to the final round of interviews!
I cannot describe my joy when I read that email. If I thought I was excited at the
start of the process then I grossly underestimated what excitement really felt like. Finally, everything was falling into place. I was literally a step away from landing a very competitive position researching malaria elimination strategies. I spent every waking moment thinking about my final interview, my professors grilled me even harder, my friends were more excited than I was and my parents were finally turning around to the idea of me spending the summer thousands of miles away from my family. The day of the interview came and I felt very good about it. I made sure to maintain eye contact and exude confidence, I asked every relevant question I could think of and I conveyed all of my passion for the research topic to her. I stepped out of that interview feeling like a million bucks and now everything was out of my hands. I was confident though, I had found my calling and in a week it would be confirmed.
That was the most stressful week of my life! I checked my email ten times a day, I told everyone that would listen about that amazing opportunity. It felt like all of my dreams were coming true. Thursday morning rolled around and still nothing, I checked my email at noon that day and my heart dropped. The same three sentences I had read so many times over the past few months were in front of me again but I didn’t want to believe it. This fellowship was exactly what I was supposed to be doing so why on earth was I getting yet another rejection email?! I was devastated, I walked back to my room and cried for an hour. However, life goes on so I washed my face, went to my lab with my eyes all puffy but I was determined to not share the news until I had wrapped my head around it myself. Remember when I was telling everyone my tentative summer plans… I somehow forgot and when a classmate asked if I had heard back it was all I could do to not break down again. I texted my friends after lab telling them the bad news and just as I was about to get on my bed and continue crying I got a phone call. My friends were outside my dorm. I was shocked, I didn’t expect them to walk all the way across campus just because I didn’t get a job I wanted but there they were.
As they sat with me and prayed for me while I cried, I couldn’t help but think that maybe this was the silver lining people always talk about. Here they were, two people who had no direct connection to a position I had failed to get yet they were by my side mourning my loss with me. The same thing happened with my professors, each of them was truly shocked when I told them the news. In true Marie fashion, tears would fill my eyes as I tried to be nonchalant about it but as they told me how over-qualified/ perfect I was for the position my heart was full and joy would push my sadness away.
Here I was thinking I had lost everything I worked towards. I didn’t believe my mum when she told me God had something better in store for me because I thought what on earth could be better than conducting research all summer ??? It turns out my good tidings were right in front of my face, I had just been so wrapped up in myself that I couldn’t see it. I had amazing friends that felt my grief as deeply as I did, professors that believed in me, a brother that used humor to distract me from myself and parents that prayed over me as I sat in every interview.
I still have dreams to change the world but tasting failure showed me that no matter how long it takes me to get there, I will always have people ready to pick me up during the toughest times. In Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians, he says, “We are persecuted, but God does not leave us. We are hurt sometimes, but we are not destroyed” (2 Corinthians 4:9). I allowed worldly things to define my worth and when they fell through (as they often do) I was almost destroyed. I laid on my bed, crying, asking God why He had forsaken me over and over again. All I had asked for was proof that I was on the right path but like water under a bridge, my short-lived affirmation drifted away. It took my friends asking if they could pray for me, for me to realize that I had put my life in the Lord’s hands and it was clearly not His will for me to hold that position. All I needed was the grace to accept that.
Psalm 40:2-3 He drew me up from the pit of destruction, out of the miry bog, and set my feet upon a rock, making my steps secure. He put a new song in my mouth, a song of praise to our God. Many will see and fear, and put their trust in the Lord.
I still question if I am on the right path every day (don’t we all) but I am comforted by the fact that no matter how far I stray from where I am supposed to be, my Lord will guide me back home. And no matter how many times I fall I have a community behind me, ready to push me back up again. For these things, I am eternally grateful and I will never let another rejection knock me down so easily. I have a renewed purpose; to live each day towards my vocation, trusting that the Lord will direct my steps in true “Let go and let God” fashion. It matters not how many times I stumble and fall, I will be where I need to be in the end.
I can look forward to Summer 2k17 without dread even though I’m not rubbing elbows with people who could one day cure malaria. I’m going to focus on everything I love about the summer, so catch me on the beach… how bout tha?