Long Story Short: I am

I can’t help but wonder if all of my twenties will be defined by these years containing so much change it’s hard to concept.

If so, I need to take more naps.

It’s the middle of December and yesterday I finished my fourth semester of grad school. I wrote a paper that I’m really proud of and, as I turned it in last night, I found myself giving thanks that I’m in the season that I’m in. Well, I was giving thanks for grad school. Most of this season has been nearly impossible; grad school, surprisingly, has been a bright spot. Who would have thought I would be here? Who would have thought I could love this season so much?

A year ago, I was planning to drop out of school. I hated it. I had good grades and my professors all loved me, but I was miserable. I wasn’t being challenged and I was too bored to be paying thousands of dollars to feel that way. I’d gone to grad school because I loved school, but after a few months at UAB, I hated everything about it. I didn’t know why I was there, and I wanted to leave.

“I think I’m going to drop out of school,” I’d tell my friends, my counselor, people I met at my barista job, anyone. They listened, but I don’t think many of those who actually knew me believed it. I told anyone who would listen because I was trying to convince myself, too. I wanted, so badly, to run away from this hard season God had called me to. I wanted to get a normal job, to stop writing papers and learn what life felt like without homework. I prayed. I prayed and I prayed and I prayed, asking God to give me the freedom to withdraw. I’d go back to school later, in a few years after I really knew what I wanted out of a master’s degree.

But, I felt His spirit tell me to wait. I hadn’t heard from Him in months, had questioned his existence more in that season than I ever had before, but I knew, without a doubt, that He was asking me to wait on Him. He would make Himself clear.

So, I waited. I finished my semester, turned in my final papers, went home for Christmas, and kept praying. I browsed the job market and hoped that, through attaining some dream job, I could will God to show me that I needed to drop out.

That didn’t happen, though.

I thought that Him telling me to wait was a “Wait, I’m going to give you somewhere else to go,” but I was shocked to find out that it was a “Wait, I’m going to remind you why I brought you here,” and it was one of the best things in the world.

In January, I went begrudgingly went back to school, prepared to begin more classes I would hate. I even waited to really invest in my classes because I so desperately hoped that I would leave. I lightly set into a routine. I went to work and class and church. On the outside, it was any other semester. On the inside, my time in Birmingham was a ticking clock.

I kept praying, asking God to show me why He’d called me to grad school and to show me why it was worth it. I needed Him to make it matter to me, to show me that He had a purpose for it beyond my selfish desire to say I had another degree. If He wasn’t going to do that, I so desperately wanted the freedom to drop out. Over the weeks, though, as I waited for my free pass out of this season, I found myself falling in love with it.

I was in a class that was completely devoted to Jane Austen, taught by a woman who I can only hope to be like when I’m older. She made the pages of novels that I’d loved forever come alive and mean so much more than I knew they could be. She was hilarious and brilliant, and quickly became my hero. I’d watch her in class everyday and think things like, “Damn, I wish I had a job I loved as much as she loves hers,” and “She really has the best job in the world. I wish I could do this with the rest of my life,”.

I spoke of that wish to no one but Liz, who enthusiastically said, “Ash, I can totally see you being a badass English professor,” but I really didn’t think anything of it. Until, one day, after class, I talked to the professor of my Jane Austen course, Dr. Jay, and explained to her that I was in grad school but that I wasn’t sure what I was doing. At this point, I at least had accepted that I needed to be there, but I didn’t know why. She looked at me and asked me, “Well, what do you love?” and that’s when everything changed.

That afternoon, I admitted to Dr. Jay that I wanted to be a professor. She explained to me that it was a cut throat world and it would be hard to get a job, but that if I couldn’t imagine myself doing anything else, to go for it.

And, well, long story short: I am.

I waited, and He showed up. I trust that one day, after I finish this degree and the next, that I’m going to get to be the woman at the front of the classroom teaching about things I love. I’m going to get to be the professor helping students find what they love and leading them through these years that contain so much change and feel as long as decades.

Ashton Ray