Category Archives: College Life

Top Eight Lessons from the Past Four Years

When I started this crazy college journey, I wrote a post with my top ten lessons from the first two weeks. In it, I share, with the honesty of an eighteen-year-old, some of the things that I hadn’t realized would be so prevalent in my transition away from home and into autonomy. Some of them are particularly nuanced to my specific move into a Christian, higher education space, but some of them are universally applicable when it comes to general transitions. The fact that relationships take time, small talk is necessary, and it’s important to be real with people are things that feel and have felt important beyond my first couple weeks in a freshman dorm.

Some transitions are more daunting than others. Going away to college is a big one, especially as teenagers stand on the precipice of the “emerging adulthood” life stage. It is an incredible experience, in every sense of the word. Incredibly hard. Incredibly rewarding. Incredibly formative. Going away to a Christian college is a sort of experience in and of itself – full of its own trials, quirks, and blessings. You may not wake up to someone’s 3am hangover vomit in the elevator (a frequent experience for my sister at a secular school); it’s more likely that you’ll awkwardly pass an affectionately termed “lobby couple” breaking up or making out as you go back and forth to get your laundry. Or will find yourself most silenced when a guy throws a poor exegesis of 1 Timothy 2:12 in your face and says you probably shouldn’t go into ministry. Or when spirituality gets mixed with hormones and you don’t know how to proceed with a crush when you’re trying to simultaneously “step out in boldness” and “trust God’s timing”  (the sort of things I was thinking about when I wrote posts like 5 Truths I Learn when I have a Crush) – because let’s face it, there’s nothing sexier than when the intelligent guy in class, who also plays on your intramural sports team, happens to walk into the prayer chapel with his guitar. Those are the kinds of strange things you wrestle with when you transition into a Christian college.

I’m graduating from Wheaton college with my undergraduate degree in three weeks. Even though I have another year to finish my masters at the graduate school, I’ve come to acknowledge that Wheaton won’t look or feel the same next year. I’m entering into a period of transition, not just over the next few weeks but into the upcoming year. The past four years in this place have shaped and formed me in more ways that I can express. If someone had asked me to picture my life in 2017, way back in the fall of 2013, it would not have looked like this, by any stretch of the imagination. There are places where the Lord has done above and beyond what I could have anticipated and places where I’m face to face with my own failure, disappointment, or unanswered prayers. That’s the tension of transition. With that, it felt fitting to bookend this time with more lessons that I’ve learned over the past four years in the special, broken, amazing, crazy place that is Wheaton College. . .

IMG_0659

IMG_0699

1. Remember that wherever you are maintains a level of imperfection, full of imperfect people and imperfect circumstances.

I came into school with a level of expectation – most of which I hadn’t realized. Some of it came out of season of boldness in prayer, believing the Lord and expecting certain things of Him. Some of it is just the nature of entering into a new space. We hold dreams, desires, and visions of what a place will be, of who the people we’re in relationship with will be. The hopes are important in driving us to particular things and in giving us a sense of expectation for the Lord’s movement. The problem becomes when we weigh everything against our sense of expectation, when we’re unable to cope when things fail us. Because they inevitably will. There will be rejection, hurt, and things that we thought would or would not happen that did (or didn’t). We need to learn to acknowledge unmet expectation and grieve the loss of our dreams in a way that doesn’t hold those things as offenses against God or others.

2. Don’t forget to give yourself grace; failure isn’t a bad thing because it leads to humility.

With that, it’s also important to remember that you’ll face a level of personal failure. I don’t know that there’s been anything more formative in my pursuit of humility than the ways I’ve failed at Wheaton. There were relationships that I royally screwed up, classes that were a weekly struggle to get through (shoutout to calculus), times where I was wholly dependent on others, opportunities where the door was slammed in my face (which happened as recently as this morning), places that I dropped the ball, hurt others, and altogether missed the mark. In a world where it often feels like I’m balancing spinning plates, I’ve broken my fair share and often had to watch as they crashed to the floor. It’s easy to question your worth, the Lord’s desire to use you, and your general sense of competency. It’s easy to compare and to feel behind. These are the places that either become debilitating moments of paralyzing inadequacy or springboards for humility. Because when we ask the Lord to make us more humble, for “His power to be made perfect in our weakness,” that means we have to step into those places of weakness. Where we can’t do it, where we face rejection, inability, and inadequacy. In these places, we have to choose whether to make it about us or dwell in the grace He lavishes on us and rest in the trustworthiness of His glory.

3. Lean into the discomfort of identity (re)formation.

Not knowing who you are, where you’re going, or what you have to offer is a terrible feeling. When you’re stripped of all confidence and the things that used to make you “you,” it’s easy to feel like all the lights have been turned off. It can feel like you’re groping around in the dark for what once felt secure regarding your sense of identity. In my experience, transition seems to catapult this experience faster than most other things; once minute, you feel confident, comfortable, secure, and rooted, and the next you’ve been put in the middle of something unfamiliar and unstable. Who you are feels different because the setting is different; more than that, who you’ll be at the end of an experience will be different too, if you allow yourself to engage in the often uncomfortable process of growth. It’s important to establish a sense of core identity – who you are at the foundation of your being. The sort of things that are true even when you look back on home videos from your childhood; the pieces of your heart, personality, and strengths that go with you in every situation and relationship. And then with the rest of it? Be okay watching it shift and change in often uncomfortable ways. It’s like when a kid gets braces put on – it’s the gradual and often painful mechanism that is shifting the position of the teeth. We have the constant potential to change and shift, even more so when we put ourselves in new situations and relationships, putting on a new pair of metaphorical braces, and allowing it all to change us.

4. Don’t be afraid to let your worldview, ideologies, and opinions change.

If there’s one thing that’s changed in the past four years it is my views on things. I think that’s how it should be when you are encountering new people, settings, and experiences that should put your previous opinions in disequilibrium. My view on things surrounding sexuality, LGBTQ+, and gender have changed as I became friends with new people, wrestled with people through their questions, and engaged in Biblical exegesis from a different lens. I have different opinions on how we should respond to the refugee crisis and immigration because of my work with a resettlement agency and interactions with Muslims and our local Islamic center. I don’t read the Bible the same way I did four years ago. My thoughts about abortion, alcohol, and “calling” are more nuanced and complex than they were in 2013. I don’t view ministry, economics, or people who live in suburbia the same way. My views on feminism, gender roles, race, cultural appropriation, and the history of the church is different than it was back when I graduated highschool. For as many questions as the past four years have answers, they’ve caused me to ask a million more. There’s a humility involved in acknowledging that you may have it wrong. But that’s the tension we’re called to walk – holding positions with conviction and being able to argue for them with sound reasoning, good Biblical exegesis, and deep roots of wisdom, but also, holding them loosely. That’s not to say that we’re relativists or don’t stand on truth – it means that we know what is absolutely core and we’re able to dialogue with humility, civility and open-mindedness about everything else. There are things that four years ago that I would have stood by as unshakeable truth but I’m so glad there was a level at which I was willing (or, if not willing, able) to engage with an open mind. New perspectives, experiences, and relationships have shaped me and my worldview for the better and into a more holistic (albeit still flawed) picture of the Kingdom of God.

5. Comparison really is the thief of joy (and comparison gets a lot easier when you’re around a bunch of really talented, beautiful, spiritual people who have things that you want).

People gave me advice before I came to Wheaton, cautioning me to be aware of the particular tendencies towards comparison at a Christian institution. Everyone was valedictorian of their graduating class, everyone has a heart for the marginalized, everyone runs marathons on the weekends. Everyone is the best, the smartest, the prettiest, the most athletic, and the most passionate. Everyone is also “the most spiritual.” When your identity formation becomes a measurement against the people around you, you’re wading into dangerous waters. The problem is this often happens subconsciously. Half of the time, you don’t even realize you’re waist deep in the waters of comparison because it’s so subtle – it’s the passing thoughts about someone else’s looks, the quick jab in your mind about their intelligent answer, or the eye roll when you find out so-and-so is in a relationship. Then when you find yourself drowning in questions of what makes you worth loving, special, and valuable, it’s harder to fight for truth because the lies have snuck their way into daily thought patterns. It’s hard to fight for joy when you’re feeling less than everyone else. Not as caring, pretty, intelligent, attentive, deep, or funny. . .which is probably why you don’t have the job, the boyfriend/girlfriend, bank account, relationship with God, or instagram-worthy life. Those are the kind of thoughts that take up heart space and kill confidence, joy, and any sort of real movement forward in what the Lord is doing in your life.

Also, if I’m being honest, a corollary to this would be that overthinking is often a nicer word used to justify comparison. Just saying.

6. Prioritize well.

Sort out what your priorities are before everything starts competing to be one. Writing out priorities at every level of life – overall life priorities, priorities in this season, priority of relationships – can be helpful in offering a continual litmus test for where your time, attention, and heart space is oriented towards. We talk about this all the time in teaching ESL: every course, unit, and individual lesson needs objectives and those objectives need to be measurable. Give yourself a list of goals, intentions, and priorities when you transition into something new. Vague priorities will be helpful in giving you a general sense of where the track is (i.e. saying that you’re prioritizing academics can mean any number of things but is clearly measurable if you’re failing classes). Specific priorities are helpful in giving you tangible markers and tasks that you’re committed to executing. Realistic goal setting. Personally, I’ve found it helpful to establish both. Asking myself what my objectives are, who do I want to be or have accomplished at the end of a season, gives me a better sense of specific things that I can prioritize, engage with, or pursue to achieve those specific ends. What are you doing, why are you doing it, and what are you ultimately oriented towards?

7. Loving well means being listening actively and attentively, asking hard questions, and caring without pretense.

I’ve spent four years in close, intense community. I’ve learned how to confront conflict, bring up minor grievances, and speak honestly about how I’m doing. As someone who used to tend towards passive aggressive confrontation, I’ve learned that loving doesn’t mean shying away from things that feel tense or difficult. Asking hard questions and not being afraid to challenge others, in ways that are humble and appropriate, is a profound way of expressing love. I’ve also learned that there’s nothing better than feeling known, especially when it’s in a context something like sitting around a table laughing uncontrollably. We’re called to care deeply for others and to engage in committed, intimate relationships where others feel known and loved. That doesn’t come from sweeping things under the rug or pretending that life is always rosy. Listening to others in a way that makes them feel heard doesn’t mean that you’re just a person with working ears; attentive listening means creating a space that allows people the time and safety involved in sharing what feels most helpful to them. It means valuing stories as the most precious thing we carry with us – things that are deeply personal and emotional. Knowing whether someone needs space to cry, verbally process, or just watch a movie in silence takes listening, discernment, and a selflessness that prefers someone else’s needs.

8. Caring for people doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t create emotional boundaries.

I used to think that caring for others meant that I needed to be fully emotionally available. That I could carry any and all problems that they would throw at me – feeling the full emotional weight of them in prayer, thought, and interactions. I assumed that having deeply empathetic sensitive meant that I was being called into emotional and empathetic engagement with everyone, at all times. It didn’t take long for me to realize that I was emotionally exhausted and oftentimes feeling things at a level that the person themselves might not even be feeling. I assumed this meant that I was loving well, doing real and hard ministry; so much of it was just that I had refused to set up emotional boundaries and rhythms of personal soul care. Carrying things for people is important and heavy and a part of engaging in deep relationships with others, but it doesn’t mean that people should be allowed to put everything on you. There’s a difference between being the person that someone could call at 2am if they need you and being the person that someone is calling at 2am every night. Setting boundaries, in terms of personal time, physical space, and emotional weight, ultimately helps you better care for others and lead them into caring for themselves.

For example, a year ago I had a conversation with a friend where I confessed to her that it was getting hard for me to hear her verbal processing about her dating relationship; there was this sense of anytime something happened, she’d text, call, or tell me. It was becoming a daily thing I was being asked to carry, in the midst of my own emotional prayers about singleness and submission of personal desires for marriage, companionship, and dreams of mutual ministry with a husband. I’d hesitated having the conversation, afraid she’d stop talking to me about her personal life altogether – it wasn’t that I didn’t want to hear about her life or her relationship, it was just the frequency and intensity was becoming too much and too one-sided. She needed to know where I was at. It proved to be one of the most mutually beneficial conversations. Not only did it give her the chance to love me well, it also convicted her in the level at which she was depending on me over the Lord. We’ve been able to carry each other’s emotional burdens better and in mutually healthy ways since then. Establishing emotional boundaries walks a fine line, but it’s worth wrestling with, since it’s impact on relationships pays dividends.

 

At the end of the day, all of life, including transitions, are about being near to the Lord and knowing Him. If I’m not learning how to love Him more, receive His love for me, and love others better, then what am I doing? As I face the impending transition into my future, I’m taking these lessons with me. I’m not who I was four years ago – praise the Lord. There’s been a lot of life lived within the 60187 zip code and I’m overwhelmingly grateful for my faithful, gracious Savior who has moved, loved, and sustained me in this place.

IMG_0660

IMG_0668

IMG_0679
pictures are from my first visit to Wheaton in July of 2013

Crying in a Coffee Shop

The other day one of my roommates and I were sitting at Blackberry Market, our post 2:00 class decision to hang out and pretend to do homework. It’s like the Holy Spirit decided to meet me in the midst of the lemonade I’d been craving all day and a rainy day coffee shop. Why He chooses these moments, I’ll never know. As conversation topics rolled into reading a devotional together, the tears quickly surfaced. What the heck. I promise, I don’t plan on crying as often as I do. It’s not like I plan to have these heart-to-hearts with Jesus and the people in my life, they just kind of happen. Pretty soon we were both crying and laughing and sharing the hot cinnamon roll in front of us.

After our verbal processing session, a quick run to Target, and some literal running on the indoor track of our gym, I went to drive my car back to our apartment only to find that my key wouldn’t unlock the car. The unlock button wouldn’t work and I couldn’t get the key to turn in the door. What the heck. . .again. I found myself on a long walk back to my apartment to get the other set of keys. A long, rainy, cold walk to the apartment and then back to the car. A walk through puddles that I’m pretty sure could be classified as small sized ponds. My sneakers are still wet y’all. Needless to say, the Lord and I had a pretty honest conversation through the rain and my chattering teeth. To give you a glimpse into the state of my heart last night, I may or may not have said out loud: “well maybe Your plan for me is to just get hypothermia from being out here and then I’ll die. At least then I don’t even have to worry about any of this stuff you are asking me to deal with! I wouldn’t have to wrestle with questions of who I am or have to trust you with my future. And I wouldn’t be wet or cold anymore!”

Did I mention that I don’t ever plan for these things to happen to me? They just kind of do, leaving me shaking my head and sometimes my fists but always marveling at the means the Lord uses to draw me back to Himself.

FullSizeRender

These moments didn’t lead to some profound realization. They were just simple, unplanned moments where I met the Lord. Moments where He revealed pieces of my heart that I hadn’t been willing to look at. I realized that old fears had resurfaced. Old identity issues had came back up. There were things I thought that I’d worked through, until the Enemy snuck them back in and I’m reminded yet again of the lifelong battle that we fight.

It’s nothing new. These questions of am I enough? And more than that, is Jesus enough?

Am I enough in the midst of my sins and recurring struggles? The circumstances I can point to where I’ve obviously failed in loving the people around me? The ways I’ve failed to guard my thoughts and submit my desires for sanctification in the Lord? Am I enough for the things He’s calling me to that I feel incredibly unprepared for?

But then again. . .is He enough for the uncomfortable, challenging things He calls me to? Enough for the moments when I feel painfully alone? Enough for the sins that, despite the disciplines and fighting on my part, seem to have no problem resurfacing? Enough for every hope and desire of my heart?

Obviously, I know the answer to every one of those questions. I’m guessing you do too. I know the Scripture that combats every one of the questions. But just because I know doesn’t mean that I won’t forget. It doesn’t mean that I don’t need these moments in a coffee shop or in the rain where the Lord reminds me of who I am and who He is. It doesn’t mean I’m falling apart or that I’ve somehow failed Him again. It means I’m human. It means I’m in need of His grace. It means I’m still living in a broken world where the Enemy can still lie to me. It means there will never be a day where I don’t need to proclaim truth to my heart.

The truth that I am beloved. He is for me. He is near me. He is enough.

So It Begins Again

It’s so good to see people in the dining hall. To bump into people between classes. To have familiar voices filling our apartment stairwell. To listen to my friend’s stories. To give big, lingering hugs to people I’ve come to know as family.

The boxes have been unpacked. The textbooks have been purchased. The dekes have been trained. I’m sitting in the library, avoiding a paper that’s due tomorrow, dwelling on the blessing of great conversation at lunch and pending dinner plans with a friend before night class. It’s raining, Audrey Assad is playing on my Pandora, and my heart is incredibly full. Junior year has officially begun.

20768429175_dc7a0667a6_o

20581682099_ab5d871647_o

It’s a strange place to be. Wheaton has officially become my home; the people here are my family. And yet, I feel like I’m watching this season of my life rapidly come to a close. I’m over halfway done with my undergraduate studies. And praise God I’m not who I was freshman year. . .but I also wonder how much closer I actually feel to the woman I desire to be.

At the start of my freshman year I wrote about the top ten lessons I learned in my first two weeks at Wheaton. Most of them had to do with adjusting to people and learning to give myself grace in the midst of surfacing insecurities. Freshman year was a little rough around the edges, y’all. Then, at the start of my sophomore year, I gave an update on the things Jesus was teaching me about how to see people like He does. I wrote about how I was doing, where words like overwhelmed, distracted, and grateful came to mind. Remember the line I wrote at the beginning of sophomore year: “I forget to dwell on truth and then I wonder why I’m going crazy” – yeah, we are still working on that. 

It’s amazing to look back on the frustrating small talk and growth of freshman year or the mental over-processing and deep friendships of sophomore year. And now I feel like I’m standing on the bow of a ship that’s just left the dock into the vast unknown that is Junior year. I see so much excitement and potential for this year. It’s already been some of the most blessed, life-giving weeks of my life. And while it is all so good, Junior year also terrifies me. It scares me because I have a tendency to overthink things and have always felt a little too uncomfortable with the unknown. It scares me because everything feels a little different. Most of the differences are amazing because I see so much growth in them. The year feels different because I feel different. More free. More whole. Closer to Jesus.

And yet, for all the beauty that Jesus has led me into over the past two years and even in the past two weeks, I can’t forget to give myself grace in other places that feel different. Relationships that feel different. Hopes and dreams that feel different. Desires that are different. Decisions that are different, and, let’s be real, so much bigger than they’ve ever been.

This year, I want to say yes to more things than I say no to, even if they put me outside my comfort zone. I want to say and do things in confidence, without overthinking all the possible outcomes. I want to love others without limits, while learning to balance my emotional investment with the need for emotional boundaries. I want my love for Jesus and people to be reflected in my actions; I want to do the things I think about. I want to live a life of whimsy, laughter, and joy from the Lord and I want junior year to be where I really begin to live that out.

I want this to be a year of seeking. Seeking more of Jesus. Seeking out His people. Seeking first His Kingdom. Seeking opportunities to love and serve others. Seeking His will. Seeking what is true, not what I want to be true. And in all of my seeking, to always find Him as my good Father, knowing that being loved by Him is the most important thing about me. And the most important thing about everyone else I get the privilege of loving.

It’s going to be a great year, filled with things I couldn’t even imagine or predict if I tried, and it’s all because He is a great God. His love for us is so incomprehensibly deep. His plans for us are so unimaginably greater and higher than anything we dream. And that’s the reality we step into every time a new year rolls around.

So here’s to Junior year, Wheaton College.

I Live a Messy Life

Here’s a glimpse into some of the things that I call my life:

  • There’s a big difference between the energy I’m exerting when I say I’m “going for a run” and when the METRA train pulls into the College Avenue station and I’m a block away from the platform.
  • The only points I got marked off on my driving test (despite not having actually taken a real driver’s ed course) were for not following directions. Evidently I “left the course” when I was trying to back up next to the parallel parking cones. I didn’t even know that was something you could do.
  • I’m pretty much perpetually cold. So naturally I decided to go to college in Chicago. Two years later and I still never remember to keep an extra pair of gloves in my backpack.
  • Speaking of being cold, I’m currently in one of my dad’s old sweatshirts that I found in the basement. Don’t tell him I’m wearing it. I’m just freezing and despite having carried 140 lbs of clothes home (literally one of my bags was 57 lbs. The lady at the airport made me take some of the clothes out and wear them – no joke, I walked through the airport with 4 shirts on,) I didn’t think to pack long sleeves.
  • I recently ran through the Target parking lot in the pouring rain and without shoes on to pull the car up for my sister and her friend. Except I couldn’t remember where I parked so I ended up running across the whole parking lot. Apparently the crowd of people waiting in the doorway was thoroughly amused.
  • I blasted country music on my way home from babysitting tonight because my siblings don’t let me listen to it when they are in the car. No shame.
  • I’ve learned that with my terrible sense of direction and ability to sing incredibly off key and the way I always seem to end up in the most random situations, that I have to laugh at myself. Life’s too short to take myself to seriously. But I’m constantly reminding myself of that because I think it’s profound but unfortunately it’s incredibly easy for me to slip back into patterns of overthinking and living in a lull of apathetic monotony. . .

“Ride the roaring wave of providence with eager expectation. To search for the stories all around me. To see Christ in every pair of eyes. To write a past I won’t regret. To reach the dregs of the life I’ve been given and then to lick the bottom of my mug. To live hard and die grateful. And to enjoy it.” N.D. Wilson

Maybe you don’t care about those details of my life. They really aren’t anything spectacular. Hopefully they at least made you chuckle. But what I really hope they did is got you thinking about some of the simple moments of your life. Moments you brushed by. Things that seemed insignificant. I want to press pause and just take in this crazy thing we call life.

Life is worth living in light of eternity because I’m not simply living for myself or tomorrow.

I get it. Relationships are strained. People are frustrating. The world is broken. Evil is present. But I think we buy into a lie when we believe that we can’t be fully present and emotionally honest at the same time. Enjoying the abundant life Christ draws us into doesn’t mean that we run from pain or live behind a facade of happiness. It means we are fully embracing every moment, with it’s tears and laughter and heartache and humor.

My life is messy. Sometimes it feels like a hot mess. Sometimes it’s like the mess on my dorm room floor that should be cleaned but I just haven’t gotten around to it, partly because the very fact that it’s messy asserts my independence and partly because no one is bothered by it. Sometimes my life feels like the mess my smoothie has made all over the kitchen when I’ve forgotten to put the lid on the blender, with the emotional tension of “this is hilarious” and “I might break something (or, more likely, break down) in frustration.” Life is messy. But I take comfort in the fact that Jesus didn’t run from the mess but towards it. It’s the very thing he stepped into when He took on flesh. It’s story after story of life that happened in between the parables, teachings, and climactic moments we read about in Scripture.

As my mom likes to say, “this is my circus and these are my monkeys.” Might as well own them and get a good laugh out of it.

journals

So I challenge you to embrace your story today. It’s not the grand, spectacular moments that make up your life. It is every time your Sunday School class makes you laugh. It is every time you get more of a sunburn than you bargained for because you forgot sunscreen, again. It is every time a child looks at you with their big, wondering eyes . . . and then precedes to throw up on your shirt. It is every time your blood gets hot in anger or your eyes get wet in sadness or you have to look at those darn texting ellipses on your phone waiting for someone to respond. It is every time sweat drips from your forehead onto the bicycle machine because it’s the only one that doesn’t completely intimidate you. It is every ache you feel when reading of the unimaginable suffering of our brothers and sisters overseas or the joy that wells up when there’s an answered prayer within the Body of Christ. It is every time your heart beats, slowly when you are lounging on the couch during a Netflix marathon or faster when someone catches your eye. It’s the sound of every prayer on your lips, every echo of silence in your ears calling your heart to listen to Him, and every stroke of the pen on your journal page that almost always runs out of ink as soon as you sit down.

Take a breath. Look over your shoulder and laugh a little at the mess that is your life. See Jesus in it. It doesn’t mean you’ll always feel it. It isn’t permission to stop sitting with our brothers and sisters in grief and pain. But the Lord’s goodness and faithfulness endures from generation to generation. And that is reason to be grateful and living physically, emotionally, mentally, and spiritually present today.

Enjoy your…what even is today…..Wednesday, July 22, 2015. You only get one of them. And the Maker of it has already gone before you.