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Maddie’s Top Ten Lessons from the First Two Weeks

So I’ve been in Chicago for 18 days, at Wheaton for 6. Today, I start classes.

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Everyone has been asking about how I’ve been, how things are going. In short, everything is good. Hard, challenging, fun, overwhelming, yes – but altogether good. I’m working on a post recapping Wheaton Passage and another with how I’ve grown, but since I have to be at Chapel in an hour I thought I’d do a quick update on some of the random but important things these past 2 weeks have taught me. I received some incredible advice before beginning this new adventure, a lot of it I didn’t quite understand until I got here. I’ve learned a couple lessons about beginning a new chapter in a new place, surrounded by strangers.

So whether you are starting a new chapter, want a snapshot of how I am, or just want to reminisce about your college days, here is my top ten list of things I’ve learned since being away from home. In no particular order…

1. Learn the art of small talk…and be ok with it.

If I’ve asked “what’s your name/major? where are you from? how did you come to Wheaton? what classes are you taking? do you have siblings? what do you want to do after Wheaton?” a million times, I’ve also answered them a million times. As someone who craves deep, meaningful relationships this was one of the hardest things for me to accept. Actually, I’m still working on accepting it. It can be hard for me to value this seemingly meaningless conversation. But it is necessary. It is part of embracing being a freshman; half of the freshman experience is just getting to know people and letting the Lord mediate relationships beyond and within the small talk.

2. Relationships take time. And that’s ok too.

I don’t think I was expecting to have best friends within the first week of class. I don’t really know what I expected. Whatever I anticipated, I did not fully realize how it feels to desire depth and friendship and know there is nothing you can do to make it happen faster. There was one day I looked over at a girl I had gotten to know and saw that she was feeling a little homesick. I was too. And I realized, in that moment, there was nothing we could do for each other. I wanted someone who knew me, she needed someone who knew her. And that deep, intimate knowledge couldn’t happen right then. And that is ok. Relationships have to be embraced for what they are, in each stage or season.

3. Nothing will bond you to someone you barely know faster than being in a situation where you know everyone else less.

When the 40 students from Urban Passage (who had only known each other for a week) got to HoneyRock where there were 200 other Passage students, nothing felt more at home than seeing someone else from Urban. I didn’t think I had really formed any friendships until I got to HoneyRock and lit up every time I saw someone I “knew.” Nothing makes you feel like you “know” someone faster than being around being you don’t know at all.

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4. Homesickness doesn’t necessarily mean you want to be home.

I didn’t think I would miss being home. I haven’t. But I’ve been homesick. It was the strangest, most paralyzing feeling. It happened around day 3 of Passage, we were walking through Chicago and by the time we were back at the apartment I realized I didn’t want to be there. But I didn’t want to be home either. But I really did want to be there. It wasn’t that I was doubting whether or not the Lord wanted me at Wheaton, it wasn’t even that I was unhappy. I was overcome with the idea that I was utterly alone in community, exhausted at the idea of building relationships, frustrated that I didn’t want to be back at the only home I’ve ever known. Every once in awhile, like when I’m walking alone across campus, I feel it again. It’s a hard feeling to put into words because it’s like nothing I’ve ever felt before. You don’t want to be here, but at the same time you really do want to be here, and you most certainly don’t want to be home…but you kind of do. If you’ve felt it, you know what I mean.

5. You don’t have to participate in everything (and fyi, freshmen like athletic things).

I learned part of this because the orientation weekend they put together for us was jam-packed with activities. It was all fun and exciting, but it’s not all necessary. Whether or not you go to the freshman rec/activities day does not determine whether or not you will make friends your four years at Wheaton. Part of college is learning to be independent and part of independence is making decisions for yourself. It’s ok to choose one thing and opt out of another. It’s also ok to go to things alone. But that doesn’t necessarily make it any easier.

6. Guarding your heart looks different in college (get ready for the dating scene!)

I don’t know if it is just Wheaton or college in general, but the dating scene is now a breeding ground for marriage-talk. It’s not that guarding my heart has necessarily been harder in college, it’s just different. Although apparently, I’m oblivious to most of the relationship stuff that has been happening anyway (like, apparently people started dating while we were at Passage. No idea…). Guarding my heart here includes refusing to let the marriage-talk distract me from viewing guys as only my brothers-in-Christ and friends. It has given me new focus on the way the Lord is faithful to my heart. He is the only one who is worthy of it; He is the only one who can satisfy it. Other people may be in college to find a spouse. I’m here to find, love, and glorify Christ. I’m here to explore the gifts and passions He’s given me (which right now might include the exciting idea of doing art therapy as missions). I’m here to develop life-long friendships, not find a husband.

7. Without a schedule, you will eat desert everyday.

It doesn’t help that Wheaton’s cafeteria (or Saga) is ranked #1 in college campus food. And there is new, homemade desert everyday. It helps to have a plan of attack when my will-power gets weak. Walking everywhere and going to the gym also help. Just be prepared. If you just tell yourself you won’t eat desert everyday of the week you will end up eating desert everyday of the week. Also, if you just tell yourself you will workout sometime this week, you never will. Or at least, that’s what it is for me. I need some accountability for myself. Writing it down helps.

8. Be real.

You have to ask for help. You have to be transparent. The Lord is magnified in Your weakness. Going to counseling is ok. Stop pretending. I need people. I need help. I need to cry. And that is all good, because it also means I need the Gospel. College campuses, specifically Christian college campuses, need more real people. And that can be really hard when everyone seems perfect.

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9. Identity crisis will probably happen.

I’ve worked through a lot of identity issues, most recently some big ones when I went to India in April. Of course, there were still more that came up. When you meet people for the first time, whatever your fears or insecurities you have will surface. The things you value about yourself won’t always be evident to people at first. For example, I thought I’d worked through a lot of my identity being rooted in my spiritual depth. And I had. But there is still more, more that came up when I met people for the first time and they had no way of knowing (and probably still don’t) my spiritual life. What makes me valuable to them? Not being seen as spiritually discerning and wise, coupled with body image (what people could see) led to some identity crisis. Praise God for His faithfulness in it and for dealing with some of the issues prior to my time at Wheaton. When the Lord starts uprooting your identity, go with it. It hurts, but it’s so necessary and liberating. And you’ll never arrive.

10. Give people grace – this is hard for them too.

Don’t forget the grace you’ve been given by Christ. Cling to His grace that sustains you. And give others so much grace. When they talk too loud. When their own relationships and insecurities cause them to exclude you. When they devalue your opinion and participation. Know you are covered by the righteousness of Christ, you are seen as His Bride, and everyone else is doing the best they can. Something that has helped me in life is to embrace and evaluate my feelings instead of either dismissing or acting on them. For example, if I am frustrated in a group where everyone’s loudness is not letting me get a word in, I give myself grace in the frustration and take it to the Lord. Why I am frustrated? Is it because I feel like I am being perceived as anti-social when I can’t talk – my own identity issues? Is it because we just don’t have compatible personalities – am I struggling to extend grace; do I not realize my own need for it? Is it because I’m tired or homesick – physical or emotional response? If I can get to the root of the problem, I can best address my part of the situation and be a part of the solution.

It’s now 10am and time for Chapel.

I am so excited for this new journey. I am so blessed to be here. I am so grateful for the faithfulness of the Lord. He is so good. He is so worthy, holy. He is God Almighty and yet He chooses to see me, sitting in my college dorm, in little Wheaton, IL.

Have a beautiful Wednesday, friends.

Packing, Leaving, Writing…and a Little Crying

My flight leaves in 4 hours.

I don’t even think I’ve processed that statement yet.

I’m writing this, or attempting to write this since the words won’t seem to come, with a three-fold purpose:

1. For everyone who doesn’t check Facebook: I won’t have a phone or internet for the next 10 days or so. Not just that I won’t be checking them, I literally will not have them. So if you want to get in touch with me, try my parents or just wait until the 23rd. I’ll share everything when I get back. Maybe not everything but you know. Speaking of sharing. . .

2. For everyone who wants to know all about life at Wheaton and how I’m doing: I plan on keeping up this blog instead of sending mass emails or calling every person who asks. Key word being, of course, planning. I hope that I can share encouraging but my real life to everyone who is earnestly loving and praying for me. The email subscription thing on the sidebar is a great way to do that, since I won’t post every entry to Facebook. It is my desire to improve my connectedness and loyalty in college with frequent calls, texts, emails, and blog updates, but we’ll see. . .

3. For everyone who has loved me so well: please know how grateful and humbled I am. I can’t wait for the Lord to show each of you in Heaven the specific things you’ve said and done that impacted me. No one knows all the things I hold onto – the times people pray for me, what they say about me, the wise counsel they give me. These past 18 years, more specifically the past 3 1/2 have challenged me and grown me in ways I never could have expected. And beyond learning, I never expected to have as much fun as I have. My life has been a testimony of the love and grace of God, but it has also been a picture of His joy. And if you’ve ever been intentional with me, loved me, prayed for me, encouraged me, you have been invaluable as a conduit for the Lord’s blessing. From the bottom of my heart, thank you.

If you want to know how I’m feeling right now, I feel like a smoothie. It’s like someone took every emotion a person can have and has thrown them all into a blender and sometime between last night and this morning turned the intense mixing on. I am more excited than I’ve ever been about college. I am so confident in the work of the Lord in me and at Wheaton. I know that I know it is where I am supposed to be and Jesus will be faithful in that. I am a little sad about leaving home, a little nervous about meeting new people, a little contemplative about everything people have said to me this past week, very grateful, overwhelmingly blessed, a little anxious about seeing what this new season holds. . .I’m feeling everything.

And you know what? It’s good.

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Thoughts From the 48-Hour Mark

This pre-college journey has been crazy; it is so surreal to think that in a little more than 48-hours I will be boarding a plane to Chicago.

Everyone keeps asking how I am and how I plan on staying in touch. People are making a concerted effort to let me know all that I mean to them. For people that I barely spoke to, it is humbling. We really have no idea who is watching us and how we affect them, or at least I really don’t. For those closest to me, it is flooding me with gratitude. People have been carving out intentional time with me (which is my “love language” anyway, if you’re into that sort of thing). I’m convinced there is nothing like leaving to make you feel so loved. So if you want to know really how I am, here it is:

I am utterly overwhelmed by humility and gratitude. 

And that is just it. I am, of course, running the gamut of emotions regarding leaving home for a place I’ve never been. I am simultaneously excited to see God’s hand at building a community with new people, in new experiences and terrified because I literally don’t know a single person there. I am sad to leave the family that has always included my best friends, but I also am ready to watch how God is going to move because I won’t be around. I am stoked about my classes, but a twinge concerned about my study habits. I’m excited to listen to both others and God, but I’m also wondering who I will be able to confide in and how college will change my relationship with the Lord.

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It’s the idea of transition: my life is no longer in Georgia, it’s at Wheaton. But the only life I’ve ever known, all the people I love and who love me are in Georgia…and this life I have at Wheaton, I have no idea what it looks like or who is a part of it yet. At least, not for another 48 hours.

But even more than all of those crazy emotions, my heart is completely overwhelmed, but by only the best things: humility, gratitude, and love.

I am so humbled that the Lord has provided amazing relationships for me here, despite my doubts that he would and my oftentimes ungratefulness (due to unmet expectations) in the middle of it. I am humbled that people watch me, learn from me, and look up to me. I am so inadequate and undeserving, and yet the grace of the Lord gives my life such purpose. I am moved by the love of my Christian brothers, sisters, parents, and grandparents for me – and how much deeper still is Christ’s love for me. I am grateful beyond words…for my family, for Vintage 242 Church (and all the people there), for Steve and Randel, for AK and Sydney, for Tate and Ashley, for Timothy and Harvest, for David and Elaine, for Lane and Cy, for Veritas, for Emily, Kae, Myles, Annie, Emilyann, Cheryl Ann, for all my teachers (Mr. Etter, Mr. Baker, Dr. Collender, Mrs. Pliego, Mrs. Tochijara)…

I don’t know what to do with myself because I feel like if I do anything, I am going explode love and gratitude and probably tears. I suppose this is truly what overwhelmed feels like. But what is so wonderful is that I’m overwhelmed for all the right reasons. I’m sitting in the love and grace of the Lord, with the understanding that I don’t deserve any of this, and I’m undone.

You might want to know more but I have no more words.

I’m about to spend the next 10 days working in downtown Chicago and reflecting on community, myself, the Lord, and college at Wheaton passage, which really for everyone else just means I won’t have a phone or computer. After, I plan (I hope, that is) on keeping this blog updated with my life at Wheaton, what I’m learning, what the Lord is doing, etc. I also hope to never loose this feeling and understanding of overwhelming humility, love, and gratitude.

There is only one other thing I can think to write: Soli Deo Gloria.