It is officially my summer break! Exams are behind me, I’m (almost) caught up on sleep, and I am enjoying this little break to think and write. As I reflect on my first year of college, I am overwhelmed by the way my life has changed this year. In the midst of this crazy year, I grew and changed too. My year was full of exciting newfound friends and adventures, but I also faced some difficult transitions. I have put together a list of the most valuable lessons I have learned and the most memorable moments I have experienced this year. There are hundreds of blog posts like this flooding the internet right now, but sometimes it’s beautiful when this vast online space becomes a conversation. Those who are walking through this whirlwind of college with me, I hope these bits of experience feel true to you too. Those whose college years have become cherished memories, I hope these reflections take you back to when you were eighteen, when you saw the world in a brand new way. Those who have yet to begin this college journey, I hope these little lessons make you feel excited and a tiny bit more prepared. So, consider these tidbits my mini memoir of college year #1:
1. Keep yourself rooted in the eternal, not the temporary.
College is one of the most unsettled seasons of life (so far anyway). As a type-A, structured, person, I have struggled with feeling divided between home and my life at school this year. I have spent a lot of time packing and unpacking suitcases. I quickly realized that each time I haul more clothes and books into my dorm room, I am soon loading my car again to go home for a break. More significant, though, my friends, passions, and memories are divided between two states. At first, I didn’t feel emotionally capable of feeling rooted in either place. I discovered that I couldn’t balance my life at home and my life at school on my own. Instead of looking for a balance, I am learning to recognize my own inability. When I rely on God’s strength, He uses me to accomplish His will, whatever state I am in. God calls me to see my life through an eternal perspective. Though my time and heart may be divided between locations, it is all part of God’s unified story for me. My friendships and my relationships with my family are founded on a bond that lies much deeper than location. God’s calling for me is about glorifying him wherever he leads, not feeling comfortable. Life will continue to change, but God is steadfast. (read more of my thoughts about feeling unsettled from this year here and here)
2. Be prepared to question and rediscover your identity.
Leaving for college, I felt confident in who I was. I fought insecurity and searched for identity as a younger teenager, but I reached a season where I felt like I knew who I was. I guess it’s a little ironic considering my blog’s title (Becoming Emma), but I thought the majority of my search for identity was accomplished. Away from home, I realized how much false security I had placed in familiarity. When I arrived at school, nobody knew my name. I had the power to be whoever I wanted to be. That power may sound like freedom, but I faced a lot of fear. I questioned if people would still value me if they didn’t know about the accomplishments I worked hard for in high school. I wondered if my writing would be good enough to succeed at the collegiate level. I worried if I would be able to make true friendships, the type of college friendships that last a lifetime. I was scared of falling short, of making mistakes. Honestly, those doubts surprised me, but they also humbled me. I directly faced my inadequacy, distrust, and fear. Away from the people, places, and roles I could once hide behind, I had to turn to the Lord. It’s a process of humility and discovery. I’ve learned that the process of Becoming Emma is far from complete.
3. Find a new home church to worship with.
Church was a really important part of my life growing up, so I was excited to find a church at school. Since I grew up in a ministry family, it was a valuable experience to see church from a new perspective as I visited churches. However, I became frustrated when I did not feel at peace about picking a home church within a few weeks. I was impatient, but God used that time to let me see church as a place of rest. I prayed desperately for God to place me in a church where I could serve, worship, learn, and grow. After consistently going to a local church, I finally felt peace. One night I was brought to tears as I realized how God had so faithfully answered my prayers. The universality of the Church, Christ’s bride, is beautiful. It can feel intimidating, lonely, and frustrating to find a new church in a new place, but God calls us to meet together in His name. The Church isn’t perfect, but it brings us together to worship a perfect God. When we enter into Christian community, we find our family of faith, even in an unfamiliar city.
4. Don’t underestimate the value of the little things that make you smile.
During second semester, my roommate and I discovered that keeping flowers in our room was a fun treat. For just $3 or $4, we could add extra color to our dorm room. Walking in to that simple pop of beauty after a long day was a sweet reminder of life and joy. I also tried to keep a bar of dark chocolate in my room. A square or two a day was a sweet bite that didn’t ruin healthy eating.
5. Take time to process and pray through change. Recognize emotions and confront them.
One night, I felt stressed and confused by change and my busy schedule, so I went to Starbucks alone to just rest. Until that point, I had felt guilty to decline an invitation for something fun or step away from homework to just have quiet time. However, I realized that I couldn’t do anything well when I didn’t leave time to recognize the emotions and anxiety I felt. College is a big adjustment, but I wanted to have everything under control. I realized that letting myself feel wasn’t weakness, it was freedom. That night at Starbucks, I didn’t try to ignore the things I felt. Instead, I read, prayed, listened to music, and wrote. I left feeling relaxed and better able to manage my schedule. Writing for myself and blogging is something I often neglected when assignments began piling up, but I’m learning that it is necessary to keep me emotionally healthy, creative, and worshipful. I have begun to pay attention to the moments that give me life, the things that force me to focus less on myself and more on God, and to be intentional about leaving time for those things.
6. Seek your passions.
In some of my writing and literature classes, I would stay up late just soaking in the words of assigned reading, even though I knew I could just skim over it to keep a decent grade. Each time I read a poem or story that felt true to me, despite being hundreds of years old, I remembered why I chose my major. I would often leave my writing class so excited about the future and inspired that I wanted to cry happy tears and write a 600 page novel. Maybe I’m just a nerd, but I found joy in the moments that reminded me why I chose to pursue the path of writing. I even found other disciplines that I enjoyed. The art class I dreaded taking became one of my favorite classes. Outside of class, I tried a lot of new things. I went to yoga and Zumba classes. I went to campus ministries, clubs, and lots of fun campus events. In the end, I tried a lot of things, but chose to commit to the things that refreshed me and challenged me. I found creative spaces to bear God’s image as a little Creator, to worship Him. I listened to new music and made lots of Spotify playlists. I read books that I never would have opened a year ago. Sometimes, the things I felt passionate about surprised me.
7. Be humble enough to listen to your body’s need to sleep.
As a night owl, I tend to stay up way too late. I was tempted to drink a little extra coffee and deny being tired. I realized that sleep is a lesson in humility. We physically cannot do everything. I think God uses sleep as a reminder that our own strength is not sufficient.
8. Invite others into your journey. Learn what living in community and doing life together looks like.
As an introvert, it was overwhelming to meet so many new friends within just a couple of weeks, but getting out of my comfort zone established a lot of sweet friendships. All of the freshman events at the beginning of the year seemed silly and exhausting, but I honestly met some of my closest friends during those weeks. One night during the first few weeks of school, some new friends and I went to Cookout. We stayed to share our stories, laugh, and make new memories long after our milkshakes were gone. Since that night, we have shared lots of Cookout and Krispy Kreme trips, tears, late night conversations, and “family dinners” together. It was a bit intimidating to be vulnerable to friends I had only known for a few weeks. It took bravery to be true to myself among new people. Sometimes I felt lonely, even though I was surrounded by people. However, fighting for friendship led me to a beautiful life of community. We pray for one another, go to the grocery together, go on road trips, and stay up too late together. Loneliness and frustration didn’t disappear, but I realized that friendship is realizing that we are all broken inviting one another into the brokenness. I am so thankful for the friends God has surrounded me with this year. (read more about my thoughts about friendship from this year here)
*The fun photo above is courtesy of my sweet friend Rachel! Check out her photography business here-https://www.rachelleighphotos.com