‘Twas the Night Before the Decision Deadline

The biggest thing I’ve learned this summer is that some of the most amazing things in this life are out of my comfort zone. If you know me personally, you know that I have a hard time making any sort of decision. Whether it’s a choice related to food or the future, I like for other people to make it for me. Rewind to about 15  months ago, I was sitting with some of my best friends from choir on the Chuy’s patio attempting to decide on a college before my decision was due the next day. Today, I’m faced with same scenario, except I’m not with friends, and I’m not at home in Nashville. I have learned, over the past 2 months, that this indecisiveness is a BAD thing. It can be paralyzing; however, it can also serve as the platform for incredible spiritual and personal growth.

After posting “Dream a Little Dream With Me,” I was overwhelmed with the outpour of love and support I’ve received from family, friends, my co-workers at my internship, past and present teachers and complete strangers. Through meaningful conversations and heart-to-hearts, I’ve been given a ton of advice and information to consider that I will continue to think about even after this decision has been made, so THANK YOU ALL. Your support means more to me than I could ever express.

I received an extension from NYU last week, which gave me more time to contemplate transferring to Tisch. With the final decision due to admissions tomorrow, I am still unsure about what that decision will be. New York City is out of my comfort zone. The path my life would take if I choose to go there would be drastically different than the way my life would look if I stay and bloom where I’m planted. I’ve looked at so many numbers and amounts, considered all of my dreams, thought about all possible outcomes, and then I hear this voice that says “be still, I’m God.” You see, in the midst of the constant thinking, it becomes harder to hear any sort of answer I wanted the Lord to just give me. I had a great conversation with my show choir director from high school regarding waiting and listening after a man came up to me and said, “guess you’re ready for New York, kid.” I had taken this as a divine sign in making my decision. I was ready to hit “accept” and not examine the effect. At the end of our conversation, she reminded me of the great hymn “His Eye is on the Sparrow.” The lyrics say: I sing because I’m happy / I sing because I’m free / His eye is on the sparrow and I know He watches me.

The same God that created the universe, who created me in His image, knew I would be facing this decision. This alone brings peace. He didn’t want it to be a burden…it’s a blessing.

Today, after leaving church, I met with a professor who will be coming to my current school in the fall. She suggested I evaluate every aspect of my life…what I wanted, what my goals are, the environment my personality (go ENFJs!) does best in, my life experiences up to this point in my life, and she encouraged me that even if I decide one thing and change my mind, God will work everything out. I took her advice and began to look back over the past 19 years I’ve had on this earth. I can see God’s incredible orchestration through relationships, networking, opportunities, etc. I have no doubt that the Lord will continue to lead me and guide me through this journey, and I’m sure I’ll look back on tomorrow, July 18th, 2016, as a pivotal day in my life.

As for tonight, I’m surrendering, trusting and having faith…

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 “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” -Jeremiah 29:11

Dream A Little Dream With Me

I never thought I would be in this position. Going to Tisch for Musical Theatre has long been one of my dreams. I remember being in middle school doing college planning curriculum and putting NYU as my top choice. I had always planned to audition regardless of whether or not I thought I was “good enough” to get in. Senior year came faster than expected and I didn’t audition. Something held me back. Looking back now the only possible thing it could have been was fear of rejection. I have experienced my share of rejection in my craft. Actually, most of the time growing up, I didn’t get the part. From 3rd grade to Senior year of high school, I was only cast as a lead three times. That didn’t change the fact that I loved what I was doing and dreamed of doing it my whole life, but I did let it do something to me I shouldn’t have: I let the rejection destroy my confidence in my performing ability. That confidence slowly began to redevelop my Senior year when I had a series of high points (college acceptances into well-known programs, bookings through my agent, a top vocalist award at a festival, and two really good parts in shows). This past year at Sewanee was a continuation of that confidence boost; I was poured into by professors and really genuinely caring people. I guess I had acquired enough “oomph” back in me to consider all of my options. In January I decided to apply to Tisch. I filled out the application with a “what do I have to lose” attitude and scheduled my audition for April.  I almost didn’t go. I was really stressed at school with finals, a show and a long list of to-dos. I called my mom and asked her to cancel my flight. She said something I didn’t expect her to say…”no.” She said, “Karissa, you have wanted this your whole life. You’re going. If I have to come up that mountain and pack your things for you, you’re going. I know you can do this. You don’t know you can’t unless you at least try. You also won’t know you can if you don’t try.” So I packed my things, turned in a paper, took a test in advance and left. When we got to New York, I had no nerves whatsoever. I ate pizza the night before the big day, which I normally never ever do within 24 hours of an audition. I prayed a simple prayer: “Lord I pray You will open the doors You want open, and close the ones You don’t want open. Please help me to be the best I can be at this audition. If I get in and if I don’t it’s for Your glory.” Mom added in probably the most important part, “…and please give her favor.”

The morning of the audition it was 55 degrees. Mom and I left the hotel almost 2 hours early to find people walking outside in coats. I was wearing flip flops, a sleeveless yellow dress and had my hair in a high, high, high ponytail. On our way to the campus it started pouring rain. We only had one umbrella that she insisted I take to cover my resumes and headshots and to prevent my Ariana Grande hair from getting wet. 5 minutes into our walk, the umbrella broke, I tried to hail a cab which turned out to be a Stanley Steamer Carpet Cleaner car, and all we could do was laugh. I was about to go into possibly the most important audition I had ever been to… soaking wet and with muddy legs. My outward appearance was faaaaaarrrrrrr from audition ready, but my heart was full of joy. We got to the corner of a street and finally hailed a taxi. The lady driver ran up on the sidewalk as she attempted to pull over to pick us up and had a cow when I tried to get in with my hot tea and honey, a pre-audition ritual. Again all Mom and I could do was laugh. She dropped us off two blocks from the Kimmel Center, where the audition was taking place, because the road was blocked off. We ran in at the NYU Law School to get directions, and finally, finally arrived at the building. I rushed into theIMG_3198 restroom to wipe the mud off of my legs and change into my bright pink heels that have become a staple for me on audition days. Mom took my dance call clothes and situated them as I went to sign in. Upon stapling my headshot, resumes and audition form, I realized I had a few minor setbacks… Problem #1: I had a Shakespeare monologue, they wanted a contemporary one. I panicked a bit, Mom calmed me and reminded me I had a huge monologue from my Fall semester’s play. Problem #2:  I needed a refresher, so I posted in the GroupMe from the show asking if anyone had a script near them. Problem #3: I was starting off in monologues so I needed it ASAP. One of many lessons I learned on this particular audition was that with every problem, there is always a solution. One of my castmates forwarded me the script and I reviewed it for a good 3 minutes before going into the audition room. After monologues, I sang, and then I changed for the dance call in a restroom where no one else was, I went out and none of the other people auditioning were there. I ran up and down the halls, took the elevator throughout the next few floors, and finally found my way to the dance studio. About 10 minutes later the group showed up, I did a few pirouettes, a combo and as simple as that, it was all over. There was no 8 hour wait time, an overwhelming amount of people, or stress. It was the craziest day, and I had a ball during every minute of it. I have come to realize that every time my Mom says she has a strong feeling I need to do something, I should do it (Mom: this is me saying you’re always right).

The decision I am facing right now is a big one. I am looking at leaving a place I have grown to love and people whom I truly care about to possibly follow a dream I’ve had for years. Among many other factors, money will play a part. NYU is notorious for not giving aid; however, through this whole process I’m even more confident in saying you can never ever limit the power of God. I was very skeptical that I would get in at Tisch period, but for Musical Theatre, I would never have believed it.

The past three days have yielded time to think. I’ve come to these conclusions:

  1. Whether I go to Tisch or not, getting in was a huge confidence boost.
  2. I wish I could’ve told myself 2 1/2 years ago that I would have been offered a spot in the New Studio on Broadway, because that would’ve guaranteed I wouldn’t have hit the lows I hit when I experienced rejection.
  3. Rejection, in anything, should be fuel to keep working towards a goal. Keep dancing, keep acting, keep singing, keep dreaming.
  4. It’s ok to dream big.

Today I was thinking about how good of a Father I have. Psalms 37:4 says, “Take delight in the LORD, and he will give you the desires of your heart.” Being accepted at Tisch for musical theatre was one of those desires. He gave that to me. Regardless of if I end up migrating North, or staying in Tennessee, I know that I will be happy, simply because He knows best. His plan is far greater than mine. I have been overwhelmed with the support and encouragement I’ve received from everyone. Thanks to you all for dreaming a little dream with me!

And now I continue to wait…

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I Have of Late…

“The two most important days in your life are the day you are born and the day you find out why.”-Mark Twain

The first speech I had to memorize and perform this past year in “Performing Shakespeare” was Hamlet’s enormous speech in Act II. It wasn’t enormous to me because of its length, but rather because of its topic. For those of you who are avid fans of the Bard, scholars of literature or Shakespearean actors, you know the one I’m referring to:

“…I have of late—but wherefore I know not—lost all my mirth, forgone all custom of exercises, and indeed it goes so heavily with my disposition that this goodly frame, the earth, seems to me a sterile promontory…”

My Senior year of high school I wrote an exposition essay on this same speech. I couldn’t quite comprehend how a person could lose all of their joy (or mirth, if you will) in life. While I hopefully will never be able to comprehend the extent of Hamlet’s emotions, I have come to realize over the past two weeks that the eventual question Hamlet poses in this speech, “What is this quintessence of dust?” or “What are we but dust? What is my purpose? What is life? Why am I here? What’s the point?” has transformative power when contemplated upon.

I was always told a) I had a purpose in my life and b) to live every day with purpose.IMG_3085 Yes, I knew what both of these phrases meant. I thought I completely understood them. BUT BOY, was I wrong. Two weeks ago I moved to a new city…by myself…I wanted to challenge myself to be self-sufficient, self-dependent and self-assured. I have always been driven and goal-oriented. When I set out to finish something, I don’t just finish it, I finish it strong. Stepping on to my plane, I had an overpowering urge to turn around, run back into the airport and stay; stay at home, in comfort, in circumstance and in… to call it like it was…fear. I kept telling myself over and over again, “Get ahold of yourself, Karissa, you are completely able to do this. You are stronger than you think you are. You aren’t given anything you can’t handle.” I started praying for peace and more confidence than I had ever needed before, and as soon as I set down in my seat, I was at peace and had mustered confidence.

Fast forward to last week as I began reading Me Before You, only because there was a very appealing movie trailer to go along with it. That. Book. As of this afternoon, I’m on chapter 18, but already I am thinking differently about life and the essence of living. If you are among the minority of people who have not/ are not presently reading Jojo Moyes’s work, the story follows a girl named Louisa who is comfortable living within a 5-mile radius of her house until she meets a paralyzed Will Traynor. Will teaches Louisa to want more out of life than to watch television all day in the same place she’s always been. “You only get one life. It’s actually your duty to live it as fully as possible,” he tells her. For Will, though he is alive physically, he is not able to actually live because of his wheelchair confinement. Perhaps my favorite quote from the book is: “Push yourself. Don’t Settle. Just live well. Just LIVE.” This has become my motto for this summer.

I don’t want to fearfully shut myself in my apartment because of the “what-ifs,” afraid to get out and live the life the Lord has given to me, to find the purpose He has for my life. I hope this post serves as a reminder that every day of our lives is such a blessing. We must be ready to let our faith outweigh our fears. Looking back on the Saturday two weeks ago on that plane when I was telling myself encouraging things…they were all true. I am capable through the Lord. I am stronger through Him. I can do all things through Him. I have peace and confidence through Him. Unlike Hamlet, I have my happiness through Him. This summer I am striving to live with purpose, make a difference in every person’s life I come into contact with, be bold, and live the life God has destined for me to live.

The most wonderful thing about my whole journey this summer is that I can see His orchestration in it all “for such a time as this.” I don’t have to be completely self-sufficient, self-dependent and self-assured because God is right by my side in everything I do, wherever I go (even if it is the North).

“Who knows? Maybe you were made queen for just such a time as this.”-Esther 4:14

“I’m no longer a slave to fear. I am a child of God.”

If I’m Honest

Freshman Year. Wow.

I learned some acting techniques (heyyyy Strasberg, Adler and Stanislavski). I learned how to function by myself. I almost mastered enjoying that time alone. I fell in love with Shakespeare all over again. I filmed a mobile banking app project. I tapped. I “gym-ed” 3-5 times a week. I ate lots of ice cream. I worked on personal growth. I filmed a Christian Christmas movie. I sang the high E in “Think of Me.” I prayed. I let go. I feared. I surrendered. I trusted.

My mom and I dubbed this year our “transitional year,” and boy, did it live up to its name. I hate change. I hate transitions. I like staying comfortable in a routine that I have planned to the second. Call it a Type A personality or control freak, it’s just the way I’m wired. Change, no matter how small, is inevitable. This year, I began the Fall semester doing a show based off of Ovid’s Metamorphoses. It was a modern adaptation, but covered the great changes (plural) in the characters… physical, emotional and mental changes. “How fitting,” I thought, “I’m in a metamorphosis, myself.” This show was a basis for my year; I made friends, made conversation and most importantly, made a family who helped me through the changes Freshman year brought. Regardless of the great relationships I made and the success I saw, I began to pick-up on a heaviness on top of me.

This Francesca Battestelli song sums it up:

…I locked up my heart and I put on a show / I let the busyness of life be a wall so nobody gets close / Well I got a lot done, yeah, I’m so type A / But I’m finding arm’s length is a safe but lonely place / So I’m gonna choose to reach out /Choose to lay down / All of the fear that I’ve been hiding / Choose to be brave / Though my heart’s afraid / To be a part of / Your Kingdom rising, oh God, I’m done running from / The reason that You sent Your Son  / So I will choose to love / Well it’s always a risk and it’s always a dare /  But it’s a far more dangerous thing to listen to fear  / But it’s a beautiful thing to know and be known / Yeah, there’s a whole lot of life outside of my comfort zone…

After finals, packing and returning to Nashville, I went back to the hallowed halls of my high school; anyone who knows me, knows how much I love my high school, and the huge impact it had on my life.  I was having a conversation with one of my mentors and favorite teachers explaining my summer plans and talking about the future, but every time I would say an aspiration or hope, I’d quickly follow it up with a concern.

Example A: I’d like to move to New York, but the City is just as scary as it is exciting. Example B: I’m super nervous for this job because I’m going to be alone, in a strange place.

It was like the Enemy had built up this massive wall of fear. “Wow,” I told myself, “the heaviness I kept feeling was fear.” Because of the busyness of my life and all of the changes happening at once, I had given the go ahead to the construction of the wall without even being aware of it. While I still fight the enemy daily on this, I do know a few things for sure:

God is bigger than our biggest fears.

Fear is not of the Lord; Satan uses anxiety and fear to stop us in our tracks, and deter us from the life and destiny the Lord has for us.

Fear is not an extreme of cautiousness; we can be cautious of people, situations, places, etc. without being fearful of them and letting it stop us from experiencing those new relationships and things.

Fear is crippling. But we don’t have to give in to it.

Fear is defeated. The same God that closed the mouths of lions for Daniel, the same God that gave Esther favor, the same God that delivered Moses and the Israelites, and the same God that made wine out of water is my Protector.

I will no longer be afraid of alone time, of the darkness, of the silence. I will be renewed by it.

There are 365 days in a year, and 365 “Fear nots” in the Bible. That’s definitely not a coincidence.

In everything new this year brought, in all of the anxiousness of the future and fear, these were the two verses that gave me so much comfort and hope:

“So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.” -Isaiah 41:10

“Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.”-Joshua 1:9

If I’m honest, I fully acknowledge I did let fear into my life. I also admit that this year it did have an influence on the act of living, enjoying life. This summer and in all of my years to come, I choose to lay down that fear…

Surrender…

Trust…

Live and fully enjoy all of the life outside of my comfort zone.

Reach Out

My mom was the one who taught me to pray. I would hear her when I was a little girl pouring her heart out to the Lord, sometimes through singing old hymns and other times by simply talking to God. I’m not certain she knew how much of an impact this would have on me, especially as I became more independent and responsible for my own relationship with the Lord, but the recollection of these memories are the ones that serve as a strong anchor for my faith. Last year, she was speaking at a women’s conference on the woman who touched the hem of Jesus’s garment. I had accompanied her to help her lead worship and serve as technological support (even though I’m a Millennial who is not fabulous with technology). In the midst of learning the songs, most of which were hymns I didn’t know, I wasn’t very focused on the message. She spoke, we sang, and then we left. Fast forward to yesterday, while on Spring Break from college with two friends at a lake, the main hymn we sang came flooding back to my memory. The lyrics were very clear in my mind and began flowing out of my mouth without hesitation:

 

“Reach out and touch the Lord

As He goes by

You will find He’s not too busy

To Hear Your hearts cry

He’s passing by this moment

Your needs He will supply

Reach out and touch the Lord as He goes by”

 

I immediately went to the story of the woman with the issue of blood. She had been bleeding for 12 years. According to the Jewish tradition, because she was bleeding, she was “unclean.” As Jesus is often my only hope for seemingly impossible situations, He was hers: “She thought if I just touch His clothes, I will be healed” Mark 5:28. She paired her incredible faith with a physical action; she stepped out in faith, made her way to where He was, and touched the hem of His garment. Immediately she was healed: Jesus replied “Daughter, your faith has healed you.” Mark 5:34

So many times, I take “little” issues to the Lord, be it grades or friends; I also take “big” things, like my hopes, dreams, and future. I have complete confidence that He cares just as much about my Shakespeare II grade as He does about who I will marry. The woman with the issue of blood took a huge issue to the Lord. Because she showed her faith in Him, she was healed. The past two days I have been reflecting, praying, and searching; these two things keep coming back to me 1) He cares…no matter what it is, big or small, and He will always listen 2) Faith yields action; this is why it’s important to speak and take steps in faith.

SO don’t be afraid to “reach out and touch the Lord as He goes by.” He cares.

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Love is…

Love. It’s the strongest force on earth. It can drown out fear and doubt, cross every barrier imaginable and ultimately triumph over evil. In every fairy tale EVER that’s exactly what happens:

Regular girl + Love + Prince + Villain – Love + Battles/Pleading + (occasional) Fairy Godmother – Villain + Love + Prince and (now) Princess = HAPPILY EVER AFTER

As a little girl, I chose to believe in fairy tales; princess (2)I found hope in the future through them. As I began to grow up, I realized that real life wasn’t quite as simple. Break-ups happen. Divorce happens. Jealousy happens (especially if you’re wired like “Othello”). Death happens. Life happens. Grace happens. Redemption happens. Trust is built, faith is established, and sometimes love (whether it be Philia or Eros) blossoms. When I began contemplating it, I concluded the journey to finding “true love” was very similar to the road people walk as Christians. He pursues us and He wants to be pursued; there’s commitment and extensions of grace and mercy. John 3:16, perhaps the best known Bible verse, says: “For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life.” This Agape love is powerful, passionate, exciting, pure, and fulfilling.

As Christians, we are called to show a Philia love to our neighbor; loving them no matter the circumstance, serving them, encouraging them, and most importantly, extending light. We may not like how they act, or what they say; however, loving (through the Lord) does not require liking. Corrie ten Boom puts it best: “Do you know what hurts so very much? It’s love. Love is the strongest force in the world, and when it is blocked that means pain. There are two things we can do when this happens. We can kill that love so that it stops hurting. But then of course part of us dies, too. Or we can ask God to open up another route for that love to travel.” Though Corrie ten Boom went through unspeakable things during World War II, she forgave through the Lord; furthermore, she loved through Him.

My hope for a someday Eros love, like the Song of Solomon so beautifully paints, doesn’t stem from a fairy tale as it did those 11 years ago. Rather today, it comes from the verse that gives the best definition of love: “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.  It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.” 1 Corinthians 13:4-8 gives me peace in His plan for my future and His perfect Agape love. His love (and plans) never, ever fail.

 love is

Happy Valentine’s Day and xoxo!

 “To love another person is to see the face of God.”-Victor Hugo, Les Miserable

“Anything You Can Do…”

Competition: it fuels some people but deters others; it’s a force that can grow so strong inside of you that it can lead to deep destruction personally or in relationships. Where’s the balance in it? Friendly competition versus over competiveness…as the timeless Irving Berlin song says: “Anything you can do I can do better, I can do anything better than you / Anything you can be I can be greater, sooner or later I’m greater than you.”

Most of my life I have been competitive to some extent, whether it be in the classroom, on the stage, in student government races, or some other aspect of my life. While I never wanted to hurt those I was competing against or discourage them from achieving their goals, I wanted to accomplish just as much or more. We all fight the battle, because we are all compared to others whether it be by ourselves, our parents, or some other individual with whom we associate. In college, it’s so easy to look at others’ grades, relationships, appearance, jobs, goals, aspirations, financial resources, families, friend groups, talent etc. and COMPARE them to our own.

My pastor at my home-church (CrossPoint), Pete Wilson, gave his message last Sunday on this very issue. While I couldn’t be there in person, I was able to watch the podcast online last night. Comparing ourselves to others often triggers a CONFORMING mechanism; we feel like we need to do whatever they’re doing, in order to accomplish what they are accomplishing, to have the things they have. The conforming leads to an internal instinct to COMPETE. The compare-conform-compete game has a negative effect mentally, physically, and emotionally. While it’s human nature to want what others have, there are four helpful reminders Pete gave us to reflect while in the struggle:

  1. Don’t use social media as a measuring tool. As a Millennial, I am hardly ever without my cell phone. I check Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter on a daily basis. I see my friends’ latest accomplishments, relationship updates, posts, etc. Rather than compare, conform, and compete, I am reminded to…
  2. Admire over envy. I am by nature an encourager; I want my friends to succeed in all they set out to do. I choose to admire them for reaching their goals and chasing their dreams.
  3. Allow comparison to become celebration.
  4. Get straight who God has made YOU to be.

 

God creates us all with different talents, skills, looks and  personalities. In today’s society it’s easier to conform and be exactly like the person beside us; being different is OK. Our worth is not measured by others. Like Francesca Battistelli’s song says: “I’m not living for applause / I’m already so adored / It’s all His stage / He knows my name.” If the same God who created the universe created us, our value and worth in His eyes is immeasurable.

 Look up to be sure of your value, not around.

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 “You alone created my inner being. You knitted me together inside my mother. I will give thanks to you because I have been so amazingly and miraculously made. Your works are miraculous, and my soul is fully aware of this. My bones were not hidden from you when I was being made in secret, when I was being skillfully woven in an underground workshop.”- Psalm 139:13-15