The world tells you to go to school. Learn your letters and numbers. Write essays. Discover history. Then graduate and go do more school. In America, students are required to attend school from kindergarten through eighth grade. And then the world pushes them to do more school whether that's four years of college, a master/doctorate (even more years) at college, a simple associates degree, or trade school. It can be exhausting and sometimes the pressure can be too much.
Thankfully, I never got to that point.
After high school, I honestly wasn't convinced I wanted to attend college. I was confused about what I wanted. A year or so before, I had made the decision not to pursue a career in writing. I wanted to be a published writer, for sure, but I didn't think I needed to go to college for it. I was convinced I could learn all I needed by continuing to write and by reading fiction. I believed if I studied writing, I would grow bored with writing and it would no longer be my passion.
I was wrong.
Beginning April/May of 2019, I volunteered for the Junior High team at my church. I continued to throw myself into my volunteer work meaning I was helping out as much as possible in my last summer of senior high, looked to grow my expertise in junior high, and eventually became a communications department volunteer as well. I loved it all and when I was reaching the end of 2019 (after taking community college classes) and had to decide where to go next, I decided I wanted to work in the church, specifically with youth ministry.
But there were two things holding me back:
Most often, women struggle to get jobs in youth ministry. The one thing that can make a female stand out for a youth ministry job is some kind of biblical degree.
I was terrified to go to college (even a Christian college). I wasn't ready to be away from my support system. My medical challenges would make college on a college campus difficult and I didn't think I could handle it.
Somewhere along the line, I began searching for online degrees I could get from accredited universities with a biblical background. It took a lot of searching and I was never sure about the colleges I was looking at. But then...I came across BIOLA (the biblical institute of LA). I loved the sound of the school, and it had the degree I wanted at a price I could afford, but most of all, it felt right. I applied to get a Biblical Ministries degree from the college starting in January 2020 and was studying online through the school before and during the pandemic.
On Saturday, the 7th of May, 2022, I graduated from BIOLA with a degree in Biblical Ministries. Thanks to my wonderful parents, I was able to attend the ceremony. My parents and I drove to Sacramento, flew to LA, and I walked across the stage at BIOLA to accept my degree. It was the second time I had been on the campus and yet, I felt like I belonged there. I was so grateful to the school, to my parents and family, and to myself that I was able to complete college and do so with no debt.
The graduation process was beautiful. We arrived in LA on the 6th so we had all morning on the 7th to chill. I was placed in charge of choosing something to do since the trip was for my graduation. I searched the internet for an hour+ trying to find something to do in the LA area which excited me. I didn't feel like visiting the beach or strolling down the star path in Hollywood. Finally, I stumbled across a berry farm. Manassero Farms was the absolute best choice I could have made for how to spend our morning. The place was stunning. They had flowers and herbs and fruit everywhere. Inside the buildings, home decor in every shape and size was displayed. There were old accents (old jugs, hand mixers, and other "antique" items) that weren't for sale but which contributed to the store's beauty. I would have bought half the store if I had money to do so and my mother might have bought the other half. As it was, we took home only a punnet of strawberries which we picked, and a spoon holder with the words "Mason Cash" on it. My family has still not found a home for our Pennsylvania move and the Mason Cash spoon holder felt prophetic. The experience of picking the strawberries was also amazing. The punnet cost about $9 and it was $2.50 for each person not carrying a punnet. But the rice was worth it. We ate some strawberries while looking for the ones to add to our box and every single berry was stunningly red and juicy. We had strawberries with ice cream that night and more strawberries with yogurt the following morning.
We shopped a little in a marketplace nearby before moving on to BIOLA to pick up my graduation gear (which cost $95 dollars!!). I also chose a new BIOLA sweatshirt. We ate in the cafeteria which was cool since I had never had the chance to do so before.
Once back at the hotel, I got to work. Before traveling to LA, I put together some decorations for my graduation cap. I had heard of people decorating their caps but I hadn't been allowed to do so at my high school graduation. I wanted to do so now. When we were all dressed and ready for graduation, we headed out.
At the campus, I was able to meet my friend Catherine who was graduating as well. We had taken most of our courses together and she had quickly become a friend to me during my time at BIOLA. However, we were both online students and had never met in person! It was wonderful to be able to graduate with her and celebrate the moment of graduation together.
You can watch the BIOLA live stream of the ceremony on their Facebook page (click the link to be directed there). It was a beautiful ceremony with great speeches and wonderful music. It was all planned and put together well with thought to each detail.
What am I going to do with my degree? In the past few months, I have been asked this many times. The short answer: nothing. But there is more to it than that.
In the Summer of 2021, I completed my internship course which required me to intern at the church with the Junior High team. Before I started this internship, I was beginning to feel something shift in me. I was getting much closer to my graduation and, at the same time, needed to find a job now that I was coming out of quarantine. I began to ask myself, "where do I go from here?" and "what do I want to be doing?"
The answer was scary. I didn't know where I wanted to go and something in me was stirring. Over the course of the internship, I realized I didn't want to work for a church. Something in my soul (God, probably) was telling me that the job I had been seeking my whole time at BIOLA was wrong for me. On the surface, nothing had changed. I still enjoyed youth ministry. There were no sudden revelations that it would be too hard. I wasn't learning anything new. But I did recognize it was the wrong direction for me. The problem was, I didn't know what the right direction was.
Worse, I felt distant from God. I begged Him to guide me. I cried out to Him for help while I doubted everything I'd ever done. He felt distant and I felt as though there were no answers. There were a few verses in my Bible I had been reading over and over. One was Romans 5:3-5 which made its appearance in class assignments, my own sermon, other people's sermons, and the summer camp theme.
Romans 5:3-5 "Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; 4 perseverance, character; and character, hope. 5 And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us."
I sought strength through verses like these, encouraged that God grows us in times of suffering. I cried out for Him to use me and grow me but I couldn't put my finger on how.
Then, at summer camp as a counselor, I felt the stirrings moving again. I re-read verses I had been focusing on for weeks and, though the words weren't there, it seemed as though the verses were telling me "follow your dream, return to writing, open a bookstore."
Though I fought it, I quickly came to realize that I had chosen a Biblical Ministries degree out of fear. I didn't want to be a youth pastor. I wanted to write, I wanted to read, and I wanted to open the bookstore I'd dreamed of since I was young. I began writing again as well as investigating the journey to open a bookstore.
This is where I am today. My novel The Criminal has been re-written and re-edited and is currently in the hands of agents. I have a job at a book and toy store waiting for me on the East Coast. I plan to continue writing and working towards my own bookstore someday.
I do believe I chose the wrong degree and aimed for the wrong career but that doesn't mean I'm not proud of the degree I have, the school I attended or the places I am going now. I will use the degree. I haven't lost my desire to impact youth and create safe communities for them. You can check out my plans for teaching students about Christ in my career as a writer and bookstore owner on the My Ministry page.