letters to my college self- year one + two

year one:

dear (college) freshman julia,

you have eighteen days until you move in to college. finally. you have spent this summer equal parts wishing it away and trying to hold onto the fleeting moments.

as you begin college, I hope you remember that this summer has taught you that it’s important to live in this moment, no matter what it hands you. you have the tendency to reach for tomorrow, forgetting that today is right in front of you, but please learn to hold onto today—it will be gone before you know it. please promise that you won’t miss a thing.

you are bent toward anxiety and it most likely will become prevalent in college as well. when anxiety comes, know that you rest in the hand of a God who cares for the sparrows, who calms the seas, who knows every detail of you. He says “Be still and know that I am God.” Be still. God has spoken and his voice is more powerful than any anxiety that you fear may overtake you.

in an old journal, I once wrote “I want to swim in the depths of God and find him overwhelming” and that’s my hope for you. i pray that this year, more than ever before, you are overwhelmed by God, instead of overwhelmed by anxiety. I pray that you learn to listen to Him and to listen to the voices of those leading you toward Him. I pray that you become a voice that leads others toward Him.

freshman Julia, if I could have only one wish for you this year, it would be this:
I hope your voice becomes stronger. I hope you learn how to listen to God so intently that you know how to lead people toward him. know that you will inevitably stumble in your endeavors to listen to and know God, but that he will give you buckets and buckets of grace.

gratefully accept the grace that God hands you but please, please try not to abuse it—it does not give you the license to sin, but it provides you the privilege to extend grace to others. I hope you give yourself and those around you all the grace that you are capable of doling out; know that one of the best ways you are capable of mirroring Christ is to offer grace to others. college is a time of constant community and you will be tossed the best and worst of people and confront the best and worst in yourself. You are in the process of becoming everything that you are meant to be and so are the people around you. fight to speak in kindness instead of frustration and to respond with infinite grace, because if God can give you grace, who are you to withhold it from another?

take a deep breath, girl. you’ve been waiting for this all of your life and it’s finally time for you to live it, so live it well.

love,

julia, three(ish) weeks from moving in

year two:

dear sophomore julia,

Last year at this time you were facing the daunting prospect of starting college for the very first time. You were so excited but so nervous as you stood in the face of the unknown. This year is still unknown in many ways but it is different. At college, you have found places you belong, people you love, and things you’re passionate about. This second year, you get to return to that.

In the always moving, always busy college world, I pray you find balance and peace but never stop learning to push yourself. Your introverted soul was not created to constantly be around people but it was also not created to constantly be alone. Spend time with people— love them and be loved by them. You are part of a community here and are building a second family in this space. This year, consciously choose to be with people and learn the love of Christ through them.

Know that in these upcoming months, both bad days and good days will come. When the bad days press into you and make you want to forget the light, know you do not need to find the strength within yourself. Reach for God and reach for others with both hands; welcome the love and comfort other hearts are equipped to offer you. When the good days come, do not be too distracted to see them; hold the good moments and the people within them tightly to you. Treasure goodness, for there will be days it feels hard to see. And remember the hard days too, for they remind you of your dependence on God. Both the good and bad have purpose, but you will often not see it in the moment; this is okay, but keep your faith. God is always good and your bad days do not negate his goodness.

College is a time of learning but so many of your lessons won’t come from classes— they’ll come from the situations God nudges you into and the people God draws into your life. This year, try to keep your eyes wide open for what He’s teaching you instead of keeping your eyes on yourself or your frustrations. Pray continually for God’s help to see yourself, those around you, and your path more clearly.

Sophomore year is ahead of you and though it isn’t freshman year, it feels daunting too. Balance all you have learned in your first year with the knowledge that this year will likely be different in so many ways. In the knowns and the unknowns, know you are capable, loved, and valued. As life hands you situations you don’t understand or know how to handle, reach for the hands of others, the grace of God, and the strength you’ve cultivated within yourself. As always, you are a work in progress and God is moving every single day. Be present this year and try your best to not miss a thing.

love,
Julia— five days from sophomore year

Advertisements

in this uncertain world…there is God

The summer months have sped by without my consent; there’s only one week of summer left but I feel like June just began. Time has passed by quickly and in a few days, I’ll be moving back in to my little dorm room. Though I’m excited to return, so much of college still feels like a question mark. Even though I’ve been there before, this school year will still begin with me walking into so many new things. When I arrive on campus, I will return to a new roommate, new leadership roles, and new classes. Though I am more established in college than I was when I first arrived as a freshman last year, this does not mean my place there feels certain; college is not a blank slate but it is one that has hardly been written on. 

As I watch the days quickly slip away and the semester grow closer, I wrestle with excitement and nervousness, feeling that one should win out over the other.  However, though I would feel more comfortable feeling nothing but excitement over the upcoming year, I realize both should exist. But still, I fight to reconcile the unknowns of college with the knowns of being home. I still sometimes feel uncomfortable in the face of so much change and uncertainty. 

These conflicting feelings are not purposeless, however; through them, I am catching a glimpse into the heart of God. He’s gently coaxing me to see that He is steady and loving. If I keep my eyes open for Him, I will see Him more clearly than ever even in a life that feels unclear. 

God has given us a deeply uncertain world but has not left us without steadiness within it. Though He does not promise certainty in our days or lifetimes, He gives us Himself, relationships, and routines as constants. But as for life itself, as we fight to make it feel more certain, it feels more uncertain. The more we reach for control, the more we realize just how little is within our control. 

I’m in the beginning stages of accepting this fact. It would be stretching the truth to claim I am thrilled with life’s uncertainty, but truthfully, I am learning how unimportant it is to have control. Though we have relationships and routines that will stay steady throughout the years, nothing is truly static– including us.  As I feel both nervous and excited about the upcoming semester, I feel both nervous and excited about the rest of my life; life is thrilling and terrifying because it is constantly changing. Excitement and faith are found in the truth that life’s uncertain nature is designed to point us to Christ. 

He is a good God and He does not leave us in the dark; when life is foggy, uncertain, and filled with changes as it often is, He gives us enough light to see the way. Our “lights”– those people, routines, and places that are certain along the way– those are our clarity and steadiness. 

So this year as I pack up my home again and move it hours away, I’m reminding myself that this life is not marked by permanence. The majority of the change that has occurred and that is to come is largely out of my control but wholly within God’s control. He has his plans for my life and instead of structuring my prayers like a request to read His roadmap, I am learning to pray for faith. 

He is deepening my definition of faith, showing me that an ever-changing, often uncertain life is just as worthy of my love as a life I feel I can control. As I go through my everyday life, everything has a purpose in His plan; if it feels mundane, it is preparing me for later experiences, if it feels exciting and hopeful, He’s giving me a glimpse of the good He has planned for me.

God never promises to make His purpose and plan for us completely clear, He just promises He has a plan. He will give us light and steadiness along the way. 

Maybe learning to trust Him will be a lifetime endeavor but I’m trying to start learning today. So…see you soon, sophomore year– I have no clue what’s in store but I’m nervous and excited. 

the idol of certainty

My first semester of college, I took a Biblical Literature class on the entire Old Testament. Though I’ve been a Christian my whole life, this class was my first experience truly interacting with the Old Testament. Prior to this, I always classified these chapters as too irrelevant to my life to be worthy of reading.

While the Old Testament books do contain aspects that seem irrelevant at first glance, I don’t think the point of reading these books today is to be able to relate to the exact situations presented in them. Instead, I think the point of reading the Old Testament today is to realize what it means to be truly human.

In the Old Testament books, humans are painted in their most unflattering, most sinful state. They are often faltering and unfaithful with an with an unshakeable tendency to make idols out of anything they can see.

They are transfixed on the tangible things before them, trying to force God out of the picture so lesser things, but things that seem more certain, can take His place.

While I may not be able to relate to the blood sacrifices or covenants of the Old Testament, I can see myself clearly in this human tendency to create idols.

It’s easy for me to proclaim God is good, but it’s hard to center my life around Him instead of something that seems more tangible.

The most intoxicating idol to replace God with is the knowns of life; the things that seem certain, unshakable, and visible are appealing to a heart like mine who becomes anxious at uncertainty.

However, though these things I want to idolize seem promising, they will crumble under the weight of my expectations. Humans and human-made things will not sustainably stand up under the weight of what is only meant for God.

Balance can only be found when I center my life on God, who is unshakeable.

The Old Testament is proof that He has been coaxing His people close for generations. Thousands of years ago, God’s people turned to idols, craving the certainty they brought; today, we do the same.

Our idols look different now, but our hearts are the same. Just like those who worshipped golden statues, we crave something certain and unshakeable to center our lives around.

What was true for the Israelites of the Old Testament is true for us today: God is the only unshakeable center for our lives.

Hear me, friends– this life will always be uncertain. We could spend each day reaching for something tangible to center our lives around, but God has always been the only solution to idolatry.

He’s coaxing us close, inviting us to let go of the idols we’ve created to take His place.  As we reach for Him, we can know that He is certain and steady; our expectations will never be too heavy of a weight for Him to bear.

the journey of becoming

It’s March 2, 2019 and this year has existed for long enough for many New Year’s resolutions to fade away and for the glamour of a new year to disappear. Spring break is approaching but there’s still a few weeks until it arrives; it’s the easiest time of the year to fall into weariness and frustration.

It’s a hard season. Everything feels achingly routine and stagnant. So many weeks after January 1st, it no longer feels beautiful to be a work in progress. Lately, I find myself waking up frustrated that New Year’s resolutions haven’t come fully to fruition; I’m frustrated by my ongoing status as a work in progress.

The reality is that though I like to talk about how I’m on a journey, I don’t like actually being on a journey. I like journeys at the beginning when I’m holding a check-list of all the ways I can improve myself and my life. They’re beautiful when I expect them to have a deadline– when I expected to wake up within a certain amount of time and be able to check a characteristic of growth off of a list.

In these times, I like to think that life isn’t messy. I like to convince myself that journeys are linear, straightforward, and happen within my time schedule. Within a few months of setting a goal or identifying a change I want to take place, I should be able to neatly cross it off of my list and move on to the next thing.

I’m learning that it doesn’t work like that.

These journeys we’re on often look a lot more like a sprint forward only to stumble back a few steps. They look like taking a step forward, clutching God’s hand, and then stumbling back two steps trying to prevail without Him. And so the cycle goes– forward, backward, forward, and then backward again.

And in this, I find myself frustrated. My college season looks more like becoming than arriving. I didn’t expect this; I expected to arrive in this time.

College was the period of life I was waiting for. I spent my highschool years in the throes of becoming, accepting that this was a stage of waiting and growth. As I sat in waiting throughout high school, I picked my college and pinpointed it as the place where I would arrive. For awhile, I would be done with a stage of learning and continually trekking toward further growth.

Though college is one of the best parts of life that I’ve experienced, it’s the easiest place to convince myself that I should be further by now. The season I expected to be filled with arriving looks far more like finding new lessons to learn and new goals to walk toward.

The “becoming” seasons have dominated my life for so many years that it’s often hard for me to find them beautiful.  So I sigh in the face of the reality that I’m in a time of growth more than ever; despite my best efforts, I have engaged in another phase of being a work in progress.

But lately, I’ve found myself reminded that there is beauty in this process of waiting and becoming.

Before I came to college, I preemptively wrote a letter to my college freshman self. Near the end of the letter, I wrote the phrase, “you are in the process of becoming everything you are meant to be and so are the people around you.” Everyday I’m confronted with the reality of this. I have so much I’m waiting to become.

I’m prone to focus on everything I’m not yet, but this realization isn’t a reason for sadness, disappointment, or disillusionment. I don’t need to sit in my dorm room and bemoan all the things I have not yet become.

I have my whole life to trek toward arrival. Every second of my life will be spent on a journey closer to Christ, closer to the truest version of myself, and closer to the people I love. I don’t want to waste the moments I could be living, experiencing, and loving hating myself for the things that I haven’t become quite yet.

Instead, I’m counting all the little victories and all the things I have become.

I have become better friends with the people around me. I have grown into love, kindness, and compassion. I have grown closer to Christ. I have grown into greater health.

Yes, this journey has been punctuated with steps backward. I’ve stumbled instead of walking without faltering…but maybe the journey was never supposed to be about perfection. Maybe this life was never meant to be centered around arriving. Maybe the goal has never to become everything I could possibly want to be. Maybe, instead, it’s about celebrating every step forward, accepting grace on every step back, and pushing toward greater growth.

If the rest of my life looks like becoming, I know I won’t always love it. I know twenty years may pass and I still might find myself wallowing in moments of frustration because I haven’t made it there yet…but there’s something beautiful about there always being better out there. There’s something beautiful about there always being more God on the horizon. There’s something beautiful about there always being more kindness, love, and compassion to cultivate in our hearts.

Somehow never “arriving” can look so beautiful when I remember how much goodness, love, and potential God has given me and has infused this world with.

While there’s something about never quite arriving that seems heartbreaking, the more I see of life and God, the more I realize it can also be beautiful. Perhaps this life is all about the little steps that happen every single day. It’s all about becoming.

So lately, I’m thanking God for this journey. I’m praying that I will be more fixated on Him than whatever destination I’ve tried to fit into my schedule. Frustration with the journey will likely always be present in my heart, but God is doing something greater here than just leading me to cross an objective off of a check-list.

He has doused me with grace, compassion, and love, knowing I need it. He knows we need it as a human race who adore measurable steps, resolutions, and the destination.

So whether you are immersed in the newness of college, standing in a place that feels like waiting, or just trying to understand what you should be doing, I pray that you will find God in this season of becoming. I pray that you will reach toward your goals but know that the journey is far more valuable than any sort of arrival. I pray that God’s closeness will envelop you and that you will be able to stop, be still, and know that He is God. He is reaching for you in this season of learning, growing, and waiting.

And I think in this time, He is more evident than ever. I think maybe He smiles as He watches our steps toward Him and toward everything we’re meant to be.

I don’t want to put words in God’s mouth, but I think as He watches us on our journeys, He’s reaching out for us saying something like, “Come deeper. Come closer to me. It’s okay if you fall– my grace is here to lift you up and sustain you. It is sufficient for you. Just keep going, keep coming closer.”

welcome to the new year

Happy new year! Last night, 2018 officially became a memory and 2019 became the new reality. 2019 took my hand and pulled me into the unknowns of this new year. I don’t know what the year will bring, but something new is here. When the first midnight of 2019 finally made its appearance, the moment was unassuming. My friend and I wished each other a happy new year from across the room. I texted friends— many of whom I hadn’t known the New Years prior to this— and wished them a happy new year. This New Years and this holiday season, so much has been hectic and different, but so much has been good.

After months of eager anticipation of 2019, the new year has come at last. The clock has turned from 11:59 on December 31, 2018 to 12:00 on January 1, 2019. The ball has dropped and people all around the world have ushered in the new year by cheering, kissing their sweethearts, and wishing both old and new friends a happy 2019. The world is buzzing with new year’s resolutions as people take this new year as a time to right all wrongs and transform their imperfect habits into perfect ones. Confetti and resolutions are filling the air as the world collectively deems this time the perfect moment to begin transforming their life into the one they’ve always dreamed of having. If all didn’t seem calm and bright during the Christmas season, it certainly does at the beginning of the new year; anything seems possible. The lights shine a bit brighter and hope and potential pervade reality a little more than they do on an ordinary day.

But there is nothing magical about the clock striking midnight. Nothing in your life instantly changed as the year changed from 2018 to 2019. However, this is not to say that the upcoming year can’t be everything you’ve ever dreamed. Going into this New Year, set practical, attainable goals for yourself. Love where you’re at now, but want better for yourself.

My favorite habits are those that start as small steps in the right direction and eventually shape into a lifestyle. The strongest indicator of spiritual growth and the faithfulness and goodness of God this year was my newfound habit of prayer journaling. As literally anyone close to me could attest to, I have a deep and abiding love for the journal section of TJ Maxx, so I took joy in selecting a beautiful journal for myself and beginning to write honest prayers to God. At first, it felt staged and unnatural, but as the year progressed, it became my favorite way to track my emotions, the things that were most important to me, and the prayer requests that laid most heavily upon my heart. So that’s my first recommendation if the future seems hazy and unclear, if you want a reminder of just how faithful God is, or if you simply have trouble focusing while praying.

Instead of drastic new year’s resolutions promising dramatic, immediate change, take the time to slow down and know yourself. Discover the things that make you feel full, satisfied, or content and the things that make you feel empty and anxious. If possible, adjust to capitalize on that which makes you feel like your fullest, best self. Some days, anxiety, fear, and loneliness will remain present, but some days, it is within our power to choose habits that push us toward good instead of fear. Start praying Ephesians 2:14-21 over yourself and everyone you know– train your heart to start wanting good for both yourself and others. Then don’t stop with your heart– train your body in health. Start giving it good things, incorporating even just one day of working out and one healthy snack to your current weekly routine. Find one healthy snack or meal option, such as a salad, fruit, or protein bar that you enjoy and incorporate it into your weekly meals. Observe the way your body feels when you treat it kindly.

New Year’s Eve and the hectic festivities of the new year have passed— now the year is just new and full of possibilities. Through all the newness and the hype of radical new year’s resolutions, treat your heart, body, and soul with the kindness they deserve. This year will be filled with beautiful things and hard things, but God will be near through it all.  I hope you spend your days dwelling on the good rather than being overwhelmed by the bad, but I hope you give yourself grace when the hard times seem so overwhelming that you can’t pull yourself out of the fog. As this year begins, may God give you the grace and peace to love the past for how it has shaped you, but give you the strength to move forward into this new year instead of living in yesterday. You are made for today. Someone needs your heart. Someone needs your strength. God is on your side, so breathe deeply and step into this year with hope and purpose. May He give you just enough light to see the next step and the faith to take that step, even if it’s into the murky unknown. Perhaps the words Mordecai spoke to Esther are yours to carry into this new year; Perhaps you were made for such a time as this.

“The Lord bless you and keep you;

the Lord make His face to shine on you and be gracious to you;

the Lord turn His face toward you and give you peace” (Numbers 6:24-26.)


Uncertainty at Christmas

As I sit in my living room, the Christmas tree is sitting beside me, presents piled under it. December is winding down and Christmas is only four days away. Despite the overwhelming nature of this year and the hectic nature of this season, life feels surprisingly calm in this moment. This is the season in which the God of the universe once sent his son to this world to dwell with men. It’s in His character to love, comfort, and be with his people and there’s no better example of that than the narrative of Mary, Joseph, and the newborn child of God.

The Christmas story can seem stale and boring, especially if you have grown up in the church as I have, hearing it countless times over the years. However, this year I’m trying to look at it differently, dusting off the routine and normalcy that’s accumulated on the tale of the first Christmas.

The first Christmas was hardly ideal for Joseph and his pregnant wife. They spent it in a stable filled to the brim with uncertainty; at this point, nothing about life was going as they expected it to. Mary had to deal with the unplanned, the unexpected, and the uncertain for nine months and it culminated in having her baby in a dirty stable. Joseph, with his plans and his soon to be wife, had to accept an complete change to all he had expected; he had to have faith he hadn’t expected to need as his betrothed had a child who came from God.

As Joseph and his pregnant wife across the country to Bethlehem, discomfort stepped into their reality. When they were told there was no room at the inn, inadequacy and shame must have swept over Joseph as he couldn’t even find a room for his wife. When Mary, scared but faithful, gave birth to Jesus, it was in the middle of a humble, straw-covered, animal filled stable. Mary and Joseph were living in a reality that looked completely different than they expected.

From the moment Mary discovered she would be the one to give birth to Jesus, the son of God, life became completely different than what she and Joseph expected. But even after the initial shock of the angel’s announcement and Mary’s pregnant belly, even this moment of the birth of Jesus was dirtier, messier, and more fear filled than they expected.  It was surrounded by anxieties, inadequacies, and uncertainties, but in the midst of it, Jesus came. In the uncertainty, God was more present than ever.

He is still present. This season may be wrapped in tinsel, bright lights, and commercialism, but it is still the season in which a weary young mother once gave birth to the savior of the universe. It is still the season that God’s son once stepped down from heaven to live a humble life with his people and to die a painful so they could have life– so we can life.

So this Christmas, know that wherever you are, God is present. Your reality may look beautiful or it might be dirtier, messier, and more fear filled than you expected or wanted. Christmas can be the hardest season when it seems like everyone else is living out a hallmark movie and your feet are planted firmly on this imperfect earth, but wherever you are, God is there too.

This season,  just show up where you are, whether your days are full of joy and jubilation or full of loneliness, mourning, or frustration. On the hard days and the good days and everywhere in between, just show up. No matter what is in front of you, what this past year tossed you, or what is making this season feel heavy, it’s the season of Immanuel, God with us. He’s with you. Take the air that reality gives you and just breathe, sweet soul. You’re not alone. You’re not forgotten. You’re not abandoned. You’re not stuck in your anxiety, pain, or uncertainty. You’re just in the waiting and God will meet you there.

Wherever you are this Christmas, be present. God will be too.

“‘She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.’ All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: “The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel” (which means “God with us”)” (Matthew 1:21-23)

balance in the new year

It’s nearly 2019 and my word for this upcoming year is balance. I’ve always liked the idea of centering my year around a word, but as is the case with many of my ideas, it captured my attention for a while before I forgot about it entirely. However, this upcoming year is different. It’s different because 2018 was different. Within the span of a few months, I experienced a breakup and complete relational reset as I transitioned out of high school and out of my home life to college a few hours away. 2018 in simple terms was the craziest, busiest, most chaotic year of my life so far.

I cannot boil 2018 down to such simple terms as good or bad, but I can state with absolute certainty that it forced me to reconcile with my balance or, rather, the lack thereof in my life. In my eighteen years of life, I’ve never considered this topic at length. Though I had moments of health and balance, I’ve spent the majority of my years choosing what is easy at the time, but not necessarily what is the healthiest or most balanced for me. From my eating and exercise habits to my relationship tendencies, I haven’t expended the effort to establish steady healthy routines and sustainable good habits.

But this year, when life pushed change into my heart, soul, and body it has had a way of forcing me to reconcile with my lack of balance. It has showed me how some habits I have may be detrimental if I persist in them. I’ve begun to recognize my unhealthy traits and habits and my incorrect views of God. I’ve begun to notice how I’ve treated my body and my diet extremely poorly. So, in light of life changes and realizations, I’ve found myself consciously and unconsciously wrestling with the ideas of health and balance in every aspect of my life– spiritually, relationally, physically, and emotionally. As I survey both the good and the bad of my current habits, my goal is to capitalize on my healthy habits and find a way to make them sustainable long term and to determine my deeply rooted poor habits and replace them with good ones.

In John 10:10, Jesus says, “I have come that they may have life and have it to the full” (NIV.) So what does a full life look like? A life lived to the full is a life that is balanced, centered around the things that truly matter instead of balancing precariously on trivial matters, improper mindsets, and half truths that can’t hold the weight of life. Deuteronomy 6:5 makes it clear that we are commanded to love God holistically– with our whole heart, soul, and strength. Since this is true, it’s clear that we have to center our lives around Christ, that we also need not neglect other aspects of life by over spiritualizing the spiritual. God is the center of our lives, but the more balanced of a life we live, loving God, others, and ourselves deeply, the more full of a life we will lead. Perhaps to neglect ourselves in ways other than spiritual ways is to not allow ourselves to love God as deeply as is possible.

So that’s my goal this year; this is the root of why I’m centering 2019 around leading a balanced life. I’m ready to spend 2019 discovering what it looks like to truly love my God, myself, and the people He’s given me. So welcome to my journey, friends! From this point, I can’t predict what this road will look like. I don’t know if it will be more defined by successes or slip ups, but what I do know is this: God has given me these hands, this heart, and this body to glorify Him as fully as possible. If balancing my life, understanding my soul and emotions, and loving the life He’s given me brings me even a little closer to loving Him the way He deserves to be loved, then I’ll dedicate my whole life to it. This is just the beginning.

Welcome to this little space on the internet. Happy *almost* New Year.