• Shanley McConnell

A Semester-Review: Through The Sunshine Days.

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Are you weary? Worn-out? Burned out? Come to me and rest. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won't lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you'll learn to live freely and light.

-- Matthew 11:28-30 (MSG)


We can be confident before God, coming into holiness. Jesus has cleared the way with the blood of his sacrifice, acting as our advocate before his Father. Therefore, my friends, let us be see how inventive we can be in loving, in worship and in finding ways to be brave.

--- Hebrews 10: 19-22


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The sun shines through the park, wrapping itself in the shadows; its light rests on the green-------the grass, the pine, the shrubs. Warm and comforting. Today is the first afternoon I have spent outside in its heat.


After a morning at the library, I repacked my bag: computer, three new books, a water-bottle, the few, crumpled tea-bags, an old sweater. I walked to the circular park set in the middle of a roundabout-way. There were quite a number of students scattered upon the grass in groups of twos, threes, and seven. One or two might have come over during a lunch-break to fall asleep in the shade.


There's a young mother with a precious daughter who digs deep in the dirt. I can hear her laughter, near as the chatter of a couple stomached to the roots off the tallest fir.


If you lay down here, you must close your eyes; the sun is so bright, and I can do nothing else, but rest. For a little while, I try to read a Murakami short, but even then, the words on the page become slivers of a shimmer for squinting eyes.


I like the idea of the sun. It can be healing and bright. But I miss the cold weather with its clouds and soft sky. I miss the little light that slips beneath the drapes in my bedroom and sweetens their pink to the walls, the carpet, the half-finished canvas on the wall. Now, when the sun wakes, the blinds red the room in a heavy, harsh heat. Even the fan cannot compete.


I cannot sleep, but the sun makes me sleepy in the wake of its morning.


In this moment, however, I feel peace in its light, and find the exhaustion lifted. Even if but for a moment, this is enough to promise more peace to come.


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This semester has been wonder-full. I am working on a collection I feel so passionate about. It is near-completed, and many afternoons have been spent submitting some of my favorites to summer competitions (It is interesting, and completely understandable really, how the turn-around/response time for many of this competitions could last up to nine months forward). I have also been working on a critical dissertation-essay. While new challenges have arisen with this in terms of accessing US/UK texts, I feel confident in the coherency of the project.


I love my church. It is full of worshipers who really seek to embody the missional, out-reaching heart of Christ.


I have also been attending a number of Global Leadership Initiative meetings to discuss intentionality as a strategy for sensitive leading.


I still play my violin a little, and, although I haven't committed to an orchestra this term, I so look forward to scheduling a consistent practice routine this summer and joining a few musical groups in the upcoming term. Due to the heat of my building, it has been a challenge to practice, but I have been listening to a lot of classical music, trying to envision the score in my head and strengthen my sight-reading. Soon, I hope to begin a new collection that connects sheet music and poetry.


One of the greatest challenges of this semester was 'the flat-search.' After reviewing around sixteen flats, I felt quite overwhelmed. I wonder about the laws for landlords and renters. Many of the places my friends and I viewed left me near-tears; they were so dreary, and moulded. I am sure that there are good landlords and accountable agents here in Oxford, however, the experience my friends and I shared as we searched for a place to live for the upcoming year continued to leave us despairing. Another hardship that arose from the search was the limited number of rooms in certain flat-shares. The amount of us looking to live together continued to evolve, and soon we were left with the struggle of trying to figure out 1) how to find a place that would either fit everyone, or 2) how to decide between us who would settle where. I think this was perhaps one of the most difficult challenges of the early-term, and I am so grateful to tell you that I have found a beautiful flat-share with two of my close friends. It was still challenging because I care so much about everyone involved.


Let me tell you a miracle for me? The move-in date for my new home is on the same day that both my critical dissertation and creative writing project are due. And the rental on my current living situation expires only days after. It is a treasure of an apartment, with a room that faces away from the rising sun, a living space, garden and clean bedrooms. I'm also looking forward to the kitchen; I'll be so happy to be able to cook for/with my friends.


I finished working in a fragrance shop towards the middle of the term, and I do feel as though I have a wider knowledge of perfume/colognes. This was an experience for me, and I'm grateful for all the help of everyone who supported me at the store.


At the moment, I have taken a bit of time away from work to focus on my studies and health. Two weeks ago, after months of extreme exhaustion, I came down with a serious flu/fever and was bedridden for about a week and a half. Even after this, I found it difficult to last a full day out, and would often return home early for rest. It is difficult though. I have learned that it is often harder to sleep when you are ill (and desperately need to) than when you feel awake. And if I am being honest with you, I have also realized that physical health can deeply affect one's mental strength. Being alone for so long left me feeling lonely, and, although I didn't realize this at the time, I now know that it took a toll of my confidence. I am so thankful for all the wonderful friends who reached out to me during those two weeks.


I also found out that I have a murmur in my heart, and, although I'm not entirely certain what will happen next as I'm still awaiting blood-test results, I am grateful for the start to a clear diagnosis.


One of the highlights of my semester (and for this, I do hope to write a review in a follow-up post) was attending The Bartered Bride at the Garsington Opera. Written by Czech composer Bedřich Smetana, The Bartered Bride is a lively comic-opera composed in three acts. The opera its poignant in its setting characterization, and focuses on themes of commitment, family, ambition, love and marriage. The whole experience was so idyllic. Stationed along the Wormsley Estate walkway from the car-park to the opera house, picnic tents were pitched. Everyone was dressed in Downtown Abbey dress-----black tie and champagne. Between courses, the opera company and orchestra performed brilliantly. Attending this event was particularly special to me because I had been invited by dear friends of my family, and it was comforting to spend the evening with them.


Although the semester isn't finished yet, I wanted to write-up a little pre semester-in-review post, and ask that you keep me in your prayers as I continue to recover from health issues. It also brings me peace to reflect on all of the wonderful things I have focused on throughout the season.


This semester has been a learning to find peace in moments-------in the cycle through the city-centre, in walking a mile for a gyro picnic with a close friend, macaroni & cheese laughs with course mates in town, worship-afternoons, gym sessions, new recipes, late-night library readings, finding new café favorites, waking early, sleeping in, let my list continue.




As always, I'm thinking of you friends, and I would love to hear about your semesters. If there's anything you'd like to share, any reflections you've written, prayer-requests you may have, or any highlights you'll relive, I'd so look forward to reading them all. Feel free to direct email me through the about-page or comment below on any of the posts. Kindest regards!

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