Tag Archives: 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. . .

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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.

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

If You Give a Maddie a Cookie

I’m sure you know the children’s book, If You Give a Mouse a Cookie. It tells the story of a sweet little mouse who is hopelessly trapped in a circular tale of desire. He gets the cookie and realizes he wants milk. The milk makes him need napkin. The napkin reminds him that he wants to color. Coloring reminds him that he’s hungry. And so it goes…

A couple of months ago, I re-read this book inside Minneapolis’ Wild Rumpus Bookstore for Children. As a chicken ran around my feet and a cat nuzzled my leg, I was struck by this bedtime story’s similarity to my twenty-something life. Then again, isn’t that often how it goes with things that were meant for little ones?

Because, for as far as I’d like to imagine that I’ve come, I’m really no better than the mouse. Except we’ve swapped cookies and coloring for larger circumstances, life-related answers, and more adult-sized longings:

If the Lord gives Maddie a cookie, she’ll probably wonder where she’s going to eat the cookie.

When the Lord tells her where she can eat the cookie, she’ll probably wonder who she can share the cookie with.

When the Lord tells her that the people she will share the cookie with aren’t here yet, she’ll probably wonder when they will show up.

In waiting for them to show up, she’ll probably realize she wants some milk to go along with the cookie. So she’ll start praying for milk.

When the Lord gives her a glass of milk, she’ll drink it (probably forgetting to say “thank you”) and then ask for a napkin to wipe her face with.

Waiting for the napkin will remind her that she was also waiting on people to share her cookie with, which was the point of the milk in the first place.

One answer leads to the next, except the answers always seems to perpetuate more questions, more desires, more expectations about what’s next. Questions about today lead into questions about my future which remind me that I have questions about timing and purpose and desire and expectations, and next thing I know I’m searching for more answers than I am enjoying the cookie in front of me.

As much as I want to believe that I don’t fall into patterns like the little mouse, if I’m honest, it’s easier than I’d like to fall into this “giving a mouse her cookie” spirituality. I tell the Lord that if He’ll be clear about this one thing that I’ll be able to fully rest in trusting Him. If only I knew what internship or job to take, where I’m going to live after graduation, what my future community will look like, if I’ll get the scholarship, if I’ll ever end up overseas, who He’s asking me to serve with, etc. then I wouldn’t be so crazy, obsessive, or confused. I say that I’m not looking for answers to everything, just this one thing. Except it’s never just this one thing. As soon as the Lord gives me clarity on step 2, I’ve already begun searching for steps 3 and 4. The next thing I know, my trust in the Lord has gone out the window and I’ve convinced myself that I’ll be satisfied after the next step, but the next step never comes. The hamster wheel never flattens out and so we just keep running and spinning…fretting about what’s next, searching for the next answered prayer, all while missing what’s in the moment and being grateful for what’s passed.

The first step is realizing when we’ve fallen into patterns of running on the wheel and the second step is jumping off. Smelling the flowers. Enjoying our cookie. Sharing with the people around us. Expecting the napkin to come, sure, because God is a God who delights in providing and calls us to depend. But not worrying about the crumbs that are falling while we wait.

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You’re Gonna Miss This

Remember when I wrote about crying in a coffee shop? Well, the other day I was sitting in the basement of my campus library, misty-eyed and sensing Jesus. I was literally in the middle of writing a paper about the natural sciences, minding my own business and looking at pictures of rocks. I don’t know why Jesus chooses meet me in some of the most unexpected moments in my life, but He does.

I was just sitting on the hard wooden chair, shivering and typing my paper, trying to figure out how to cite an unpublished Theories of Origins textbook. While unashamedly listening to my Sam Hunt pandora station (my favorite homework motivation music), You’re Gonna Miss This by Trace Adkins started playing in my headphones. I wasn’t even listening to worship music, y’all. Jesus chose to meet me in a country song. Just sayin’.

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The thing is, I’ve heard this song before. It wasn’t one of those “oh-my-word-this-is-a-new-song-and-the-lyrics-are-just-speaking-to-exactly-where-I’m-at” kind of moments. I’m not even the biggest Trace Adkins fan. Yet as the southern drawl enunciated lyric after lyric, I found that my typing slowed and my spirit stirred. . .

She was staring out the window of that SUV
Complaining, saying “I can’t wait to turn eighteen”
She said “I’ll make my own money, and I’ll make my own rules”
Momma put the car in park out there in front of the school
She kissed her head and said “I was just like you”

Before she knows it she’s a brand new bride
In her one-bedroom apartment, and her daddy stops by
He tells her “It’s a nice place”
She says “It’ll do for now”
Starts talking about babies and buying a house
Daddy shakes his head and says “Baby, just slow down”

Five years later there’s a plumber workin’ on the water heater
Dog’s barkin’, phone’s ringin’
One kid’s cryin’, one kid’s screamin’
She keeps apologizin’
He says “They don’t bother me
I’ve got two babies of my own
One’s 36, one’s 23
It’s hard to believe

The chorus goes like this:

You’re gonna miss this
You’re gonna want this back
You’re gonna wish these days hadn’t gone by so fast
These are some good times
So take a good look around
You may not know it now
But you’re gonna miss this

They may not be the most profound lyrics in the world. Maybe you hate country music and don’t even think they are that good. Regardless, they met me in the library with a glorious weight of conviction.

I get that the world, our culture in particular, moves at a “get-to-the-next-thing” kind of pace. We spent highschool dreaming about the day we’ll be in college. College is spent stressing about how we’ll get a job when we graduate. When we get employed after graduation, we wonder when we’ll get married. And when will we have kids? When will we move to a bigger house? How soon until retirement? Grandkids? Great-grandkids? Vacation? We spend our lives looking towards whatever is next. The funny thing is, this futuristic way of thinking often lends itself to idealistic reminiscing. We look back on our lives and wish that we only knew how good we had it back then. We remember tidbits of the past with a fondness that we didn’t feel when we were living it. All while rushing full steam ahead to the next season.

I just wonder why, as Christians, are we okay with living our lives like this? Why do I live like this?We live at the same rushed pace as the rest of the world. Most of the time we do it in the name of “ministry” or for the glory of the Lord. And while Jesus traveled, healed, spoke, and lived out a vibrant, busy ministry, He never did so at a pace that would’ve caused him to miss the moment. Jesus was all about being present where He was at. He found stillness in the midst of pressing crowds. He found joy in the midst of questions. He found purpose, growth, and the Father during times it would’ve been easier to just look ahead to whatever was next.

My internship coordinator has been helping me walk through the process of looking for a summer internship. As I ramble on and on about where I’m going to intern and the frustrations of the application process, he continues to remind me that my internship doesn’t start my first day on the job. My internship started the day I realized I needed to get an internship. It includes every opportunity that has fallen through, every application that I’ve spent hours writing, all the prayers over the places I could go and things I could do. I’m quick to want to get past all of this – the discomfort, the questions, the busywork, the unknowns. I want the internship. Or better yet, I want the potential job after the internship ends. I want the summary paper that I’ll write at the end of the internship class that ties up and makes sense of the whole thing. But that just causes me to miss what’s happening right now. The process. The journey. The ways Jesus is moving, even before things seem to be happening.

It’s fun to dream about what’s next, whether that’s tomorrow or ten years from now. It’s often more fun than focusing on the heartbreak, confusion, schoolwork, diapers, tantrums, questions, drama, and dirty dishes of the moment. But I think Trace Adkins is onto something. Something that I need to be constantly reminded of. It’s not just about moments that we are going to miss someday. It’s about whether or not we are missing Jesus in the moment.

All we’ve been promised is today. This moment. And someday, I’m going to look back on that day in the library and writing this blog post when I should be writing a paper, as a growing, maturing, often overwhelmed Junior in college. It doesn’t always feel good or fun or exciting, but I know that I’m going to look back and miss this. These moments of laughter. Moments of clarity. Moments of tears. I just don’t want to miss them while I’m here. And I really don’t want to look back and say that I missed Jesus in them. Because He’s here, and so are we.

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Hanging with the Stars

One of my friends convinced me to go to this ministry she helps run. It’s called Hanging with a Star. You basically watch and love on adults with special needs, which gives their caregivers a little break. A couple weeks ago we took them to a Wheaton basketball game. Today, we went Christmas shopping at Target and then helped them wrap their gifts.

I love serving and caring for people, but if I’m honest, the reason I initially went was more to love my friend than it was for the Stars. I’ve never had experience working with anyone with special needs, much less adults. I think I just assumed I didn’t have a “heart” for people with disabilities because I haven’t ever really been around them.

I’m so grateful I was wrong. I’m so grateful I do have a heart for these people because Jesus has a heart for them. I’m grateful that in trying to care for the Stars, they turned around to love and encourage me in such meaningful ways. I’m grateful for the ways they make me laugh and smile. They bring out fearless, extraverted, childlike, confident, caring pieces of me that frankly I didn’t know I had. I’m grateful for who they each are and the ways they demonstrate love and community among one another. I’m grateful that they welcome us in every couple weeks. I was grateful that Ric remembered who I was from the basketball game. I’m grateful that I got to walk around Target with him today.

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Here’s a couple things you should know about Ric . . .

  • He’s a speed-walker when it comes to shopping. I’d glance for an extra second at something and when I looked back he would be halfway down the isle. I spent most of the time jogging around Target to keep up with him. For someone who’s got a lot of things trying to weigh him down and hold him back, Ric lives life at a vibrant pace. Kind of like how he threw off his jacket and took off with the cart, he strips off everything that holds him back. He’s not afraid to just go.
  • He can’t really talk. He understands a lot and can make sounds or motions, but it’s hard for him to form words. This makes Ric an amazing listener. Since we finished our shopping twice as fast as everyone else (see previous comment), we ended up having to wait in the Target café area. Besides giving quick answers to my questions and telling me that everyone else was taking too long, all Ric did was listen. He didn’t give his opinion or advice. He didn’t seem uninterested. He simply smiled and listened. To stories about my family and friends, to my recent boy interactions, to things I love about Christmas, to what Jesus has been teaching me.
  • He was very excited to buy Christmas socks for the girls on his list. He picked out ones with penguins and ones with a dog and I wasn’t about to argue with a choice he was so obviously pleased with. Ric found joy in the simplest things. He laughed when I tripped over myself trying to catch up to him. He laughed when I ran around a pole because the isles were crowded. He smiled when a Christmas song came on and he asked me to dance. Ric saw the joy in the seemingly insignificant things and wasn’t afraid to make them the big things that brought him life.
  • Ric was also not afraid to ask for help. I’d mention, mostly to myself, that I didn’t know where something was, and when I turned around, Ric was tapping on someone’s shoulder and motioning me over to ask them where it was. He seemed to understand, better than I do, that things are better when you reach out to others. Shopping for him wasn’t about going it alone but depending on others. Who knew that Target could be a place of such vulnerability? As it turned out, there was only one card matching game in the whole store and we wouldn’t have found it if this lady hadn’t shown us where it was.

Not only did I enjoy my time with my sweet friend Ric, I learned a lot from him today. And I kind of think that’s who we should surround ourselves with.