Friday, June 1, 2012

for the graduate: it will be okay.

Dear Ashley,

The week before my high school graduation, I didn't know where I was going to college.

It was humiliating, I thought, to be at the top of my class but have undecided written beside my name. I wanted to choose before others could laugh or judge or ridicule. (Turns out, of course, those things happen even after the choice is made.)

Before I became a senior, people told me frequently how fun it was going to be, how it would be one of the best years of my life, something that I found rather depressing and not at all encouraging. Expectations were high for that year, and you know what? Most of them weren't met. Sure, I went to banquets and hung out with my friends and had lunches off campus. I served as president and editor and secretary of all kinds of clubs and societies. I spent half my day in high school and half my day in college at TCC's campus. It was fun, but it was also exhausting.

What grown-ups forget is how many big decisions you have to make when really, you're still pretty little. Yes, you've survived 18 years on the planet, but why people think that grants us enough experience to warrant major life-altering decision-making capabilities is beyond me.

I shed many a tear that year, and I know you have too.

There were scholarships I never won, applications I never quite finished, and unending decisions that never seemed to get made.

By spring semester, I was a mess, praying for some kind of revelation from God that would help me decide where to go away to school.

I kept a prayer journal that year, and if I could find it, I know what my words would say: "Lord, if You give me this score on the ACT, I'll know I was meant to go to Faulkner. I'll know that's Your desire for me. Please help me!"

I prayed that prayer many a night leading up to my third and final attempt to receive a score on my ACT that would grant me free tuition from Faulkner. It would, I thought, be the answer to my prayer.

All of my growing-up years, I had thought Lipscomb would be the place for me. It ranked at the top of my pro and con lists, looked like the college campuses I'd seen on movies and TV, and seemed big enough that people would no longer tease me for choosing a Christian education. But Faulkner had crawled up in my imaginary rankings as graduation loomed closer, and I thought if God really wanted it to finally pull ahead in the running, He'd give me that extra point I needed to go to school for free.

He didn't.

I was devastated, hurt, and confused. I hadn't wanted to bargain with God; I just wanted confirmation that I was doing the right thing. That's something I still struggle with today, by the way. I still second guess myself and question whether something is the will of the Father.

Here is what I've learned, what I want you to learn now, before the pain of adult decision making really hits: It all turns out in the end.

I believe the God we serve earnestly cares for us. I believe He wants to grant us the deepest desires of our hearts. I believe He wants you to receive a good education in a Christ-honoring environment.

I also believe that could look so different, for so many different people.

When I was 18, I thought there was a wrong choice.

I want you to know: There's not.

There is not a wrong choice.

While I'd wrestle with one decision after the next, Mom and Dad would tell me something I'm going to tell you: You're too young to make mistakes.

Remember when Chet picked Harding, and he hated it? He came back four weeks later, and even though that was hard and painful, he survived. He may not agree with me, but I believe that "mistake" was part of the plan. God used it anyway. That painful decision led Chet to choosing FSU with his whole heart. He loved it there, and now he's using the degree he earned there to further his education. That "mistake" may have caused a little extra money, a little extra time, but guess what? It all worked out in the end.

I thought I was going to Lipscomb. It had a beautiful campus, a diverse environment; I thought it was the school for me.

Then, one hot day in late May, right before my graduation, I puled a Rory Gilmore. I changed my mind, and I chose Faulkner.

I know God would have blessed me if I had picked Lipscomb. I'm confident He would have used me even if I stayed right here in Tallahassee. He's amazing like that.

But I chose Faulkner, and, wouldn't you kow it, it didn't always feel like the right choice. I got teased and belittled for it -- turns out there are a lot of jokes to be made about a tiny Christian school in the middle of Alabama -- and the first two weeks, I cried myself to sleep many a night -- a difficult feat with a roommate -- thinking I'd made the wrong decision.

Soon, though, the tides turned. I looked back at that prayer journal I'd kept all throughout my senior year, and my eyes were opened to the way God had shaped my life, even while I'd been too busy making pro/con lists to pay very much attention.

I chose Faulkner, and I'm so very glad I did.

But I wanted you to know, I could have chosen somewhere else. I could have gone somewhere else, and my story might look differently, but I'd still be writing you this letter, still be coming to your graduation, still be living a life of happiness and contentment because that's how life works.

Our choices shape and mold us, but they do not entirely define us.

I want you to know, as you struggle to decide where to go in August, there is no wrong answer. You will be okay. You will grow and you will strengthen and you will thrive no matter where you are.

I know there a lot of elements that factor into the college decision. I truly remember how hard it was to make sense of it all. I know you've got a lot of voices you're trying to decipher, and sometimes, I know that voice has been mine. (What can I say? I'd love to have a fellow Eagle in the family.) But I have been in your shoes; I know how frustrating all of those voices can be.

So let me just say, for once and for all, no matter where you go to school, no matter how or where or when you earn your degree, no matter what you do for a living, it will all be okay. I don't say that lightly, and I don't say it to belittle the bigness of the college decision and the "real life" that follows it. I say it to assure you that this decision that feels so very hard and big and stressful right now? It will work out. No matter what, it will work out, and you will be okay.

Learn that lesson now, fuzzin. Know that the decisions we make and the prayers we say matter. But also know, more often than not, it all works out just fine in the end, despite the mess we might make of it at first.

1 comment:

kendra.kelly said...

I love that you're doing this for your cousin. I wish I had had the opportunity to hear this kind of hindsight when I was her age! I know all too well what it is like to make fresh-out-of-highschool-decisions and have second thoughts. My freshman year of college was a rough one-I too, cried myself to sleep for several weeks, perhaps months. But if God hadn't given me the grace to stick out the decision I had made and finish the year out- I wouldn't have met and gotten to know and love the incredible people that I came into contact with that year. And if I hadn't transferred the following year to a school closer to home- I wouldn't have met and fallen in love with my best friend and husband. I would tell Ashley: God knows what He's doing. When we think we've totally missed Him or made the "wrong" decision- He shows up and uses it in a way we would have never imagined! Thanks for sharing your story- I'm new here and I so enjoy reading your genuine thoughts about life. :)