The Monday After Graduation

So I officially graduated this past weekend.

I’ve been done with school for a year–save a left over class this past fall–so it felt a little weird. Throughout the weekend I was asked by friends “Can you believe this is really happening?” and I wasn’t really sure how to respond. It didn’t feel like my graduation. It felt like I was there to support my friends and I had to wear are really weird hat as I did so.

Don’t get me wrong, it was nice to get some closure and walk with the people I started school with. As the provost announced “I present to you the class of spring 2014” I could only feel a little saddened because that wasn’t me. It was odd and detached, but still emotional and I really haven’t processed through that if you can tell from my rambling…

But as I was thinking yesterday afternoon, I realized that there are now hundreds of people in that class who now don’t know what’s next. They reached the point of the map I did last year and realized they have to chart the rest of the journey.

That all said, this is a open letter to those who woke up this morning realizing that they have no idea what to do with the rest of their lives.

Hi, friend.

This post is going live at noon. I’m not sure if you were up before then… probably not. Good for you.

Now you probably aren’t sure what to do now that you’re at your parents house. With no job. No money. No idea. I hope this doesn’t bring on too much panic. If so, go get a paper bag. Breathe into it.

Alright. You good? Good.

Know that even though you don’t know what’s next, God does. This season is going to require a LOT of trust. And trust is hard. It means you’re not in control anymore. It means that you recognize that your way is not the best way, but that the will of someone else is greater. It means you’ll probably walk down some hard roads, take some rough spills, have to look around and wonder where on earth you are in life.

There will be plenty of rejection letters and interviews that lead no where. Plenty of bills coming and not a lot of cash. Plenty of pressure felt but the question of ‘What are you doing now that you’re done with college?’ I hate that question. I think it’s safe for you to hate it to.

Know that it will take time to get your feet under you and get established. Know that it’s okay that you’re not using your degree as you act as a barista, a sales person, a factory worker, a whatever-you-need-to-be-to-pay-back-the-loans.

Also find a way to do what you love. Spend your nights doing that thing. Pay the bills and live with passion. Don’t waste this season because despite the confusion, the sense of being lost, there can be great beauty. Find community, talk with a mentor, be known. Learn who you are and spend time in the word.

Live big, feel small, and keep your hands open for what God may bring your way.

This is a hard place to be, but you can thrive here. I know it.

Praying for you, friend.

Congratulations on your accomplishment! Here’s to the hope of your next one.

–Lex

A Year Ago Today

The bus dropped us off in an alley outside the bus station.  I was hardly conscious, my back was tense from my backpack and the winter air was cold. But we were there.

In Belfast.

To be honest, I was a little jumpy. I think research on a place your are going to visit is important before arrival. Sadly, my research on Belfast was not all pretty. Most anything I could find was about bombings, knee-cappings, street shootings, and blood baths. Woohoo! That combined with the near twenty-four hours of travel and, well, the baggage–not my luggage.

We flew out on the one year anniversary of the death of my mentor. It was a long day in the airport where I was left with little but my thoughts. Upon arrival, I felt like just a bunch of weary skin. Weary, weepy skin trying its best to hold together and hope that this trip would be something wonderful.
They say it takes about a year to grieve.

I was dropped off in that alley with the study abroad group on January 4th. It was the first day of a new year. The first day of moving forward with the heaviness beside me, hopefully no longer in me. The first day of hope. Yet as I leaned against the raised handle of my suitcase, all I now remember feeling was timidity. I had come with practically strangers. People I had had one class with, a couple girls I had lived across the hall from, but no one I was really close with. At least not at that point. This ‘hope’ was not exactly what I had bargained for.

So we stood in the entryway of the bus station, our ride to the manor late. I could only smell cigarettes of smokers past and take in the average urban grime–not exactly the Ireland you read about. Little did I know what lie around the corner.

Down the block and around the corner was the pub where I drank my first beer. Across from the most bombed Hotel in Europe. About a mile away from city center, two blocks from the bookstore called The Bookstore, all watched over by Belfast Castle. It was all there and in the two weeks we were there, it wheedled its way into my heart.

My heart broke in West Belfast, hearing the stories and surveying the heartbreak of the Shankhill road, walking beside the peace wall. My breath was taken by Carrick-A-Rede, the north shore, the rolling hills. My sense of adventure was stirred by wonderful poetry, and a regular flow of tea, conversations with locals in St. George’s Market, and live music in idyllic pubs. Around every corner was history and architecture, and music, and beauty. And the company. There were about ten of us, mostly girls. So many wonderful people that I would not want to have been on that trip without.

So many things of those two weeks I cannot even express if I tried. But here I am, trying. I was there a year ago today. My heart longs to go back. Earning my masters at Queen’s University has become a dream–pipe dream or not, only time will tell. Northern Ireland holds a small piece of my heart now. It’s hard to fall in love with a place. Especially one you know only briefly.

It’s like falling in love with the flirty barista. You give them your order, they give you coffee, you may see them the next time you get coffee, you may not. It’s a small beautiful moment that may or may not be relived. [And yes, now I’m rambling, but my blog, my world, remember?] That was Ireland–a beautiful spark of life that I hope to revisit someday. I’ve started praying for West Belfast when the longing becomes heavy. If I cannot be there in person, at least I can ask for true peace, or the steps towards it.

So that was last year: two days into my time in Belfast. Who knows what my adventures will be this year. Hopefully something international, but we’ll just see.

What were you doing a year ago?

Happy travels!

xo,
        –Lex

Dear Freshman: The Three Things I Learned My First Semester of College

Many college classes are starting up again. I know many freshmen who are preparing to leave home for their first semester and I wanted to share some thoughts on the journey ahead of you. 


Now, I won’t lie, my first semester of college was one of the most challenging times of my life. But here’s the good news: Your first semester is always the hardest.

Here you are, living in a completely new place. You just packed up your belongings and moved into a room the size of your closet… with at least one other person. A stranger. Most of your friends are scattered all over the state, if not the whole country, and you know no one. Well, maybe a few people, but not everyone you have relied on for the last four years of your life… if not your whole life. You are living with strangers. You are sharing a bathroom with them… if not the rest of your hall… and you have never had as much homework in your entire life. It’s scary. Suddenly, you feel small. And you don’t really want to admit it, but you also feel lonely.

My church had warned us all–as it does all their graduating seniors–that in the next stage of life, we were going to experience LOAD. It was an acronym standing for Loneliness, Over-indulgence, Arrogance, and Depression. I figured I’d probably struggle with at least one of them, but not all… that was the arrogance talking. All three were at my doorstep everyday. It was hard. And it all came on so suddenly.

So here are the three things that got me through:

1.) Patience
Not a virtue as much as it is a necessity. 

The small Christian college I went to had a freshman orientation week… which heavily resembled my elementary school summer camp experience. We were placed in random groups (Free friends!) and forced to do trust exercises and team-building games. It wasn’t terrible. They took us to a ball game and to the beach. It was just… well, I didn’t connect with my group right away.There were also many bonding activities in the dorm during that week. I didn’t feel like I connected with any of the girls in my hall either.  I just wanted to find the sweet bookish girls who could dish out some snark and appreciate Frank Sinatra! There were plenty of people who were nice that I could eat meals with or sit next to in class, but they just… they weren’t like the close friends I had left behind.

But here’s the biz: I had had four years to build those relationships–some of them, much more than that. There was not an instant connection with many of those girls right away. We had to get to know each other and invest in those friendships to get them where they were.

About a month into school, I began to make deeper friendships. I found girls in my hall that liked many of the same things I did. People I could talk with about our shared struggles. Even in my sophomore year, the girls who had been in my assigned group that first week had become some of my closest friends.

It took time and I had to be intentional, but God provided so many wonderful relationships with people I cannot imagine my life with out. It didn’t happen that first week. I didn’t even meet two of my closest friends until the second semester of my sophomore year. 

Your tribe is out there. Just be willing to wait and don’t be afraid to just start talking with people. You never know what they may become to you in the future.

2.) Don’t be afraid to ask for help
I had two roommates my freshman year. One of them continued to be my roommate all through college and is one of my most favorite people ever. She is one of my closest friends and my polar-opposite in life, but living together just worked. The other roommate was a different story.

We came from very different backgrounds and did not see eye-to-eye on much. In the first month of living together, I was very stressed and overwhelmed, mainly because I had not had to deal with someone so difficult, so closely. 

I didn’t know what to do. The R.A. could not really step in, she could only mediate… and that wasn’t really getting us anywhere.

So I called my dad. I didn’t need him to step in. I was a big girl, I wanted to handle this as an adult. But I just needed his thoughts. His encouragement too. He was able to give me some wisdom and pray with me over the phone. (I also went to a school close enough from home that we were able to go to coffee during that time as well. Not many people have that blessing, but it was something I am very grateful for.)

Professors are a great source of help as well. Don’t be afraid to speak up when you don’t understand something. They are paid to teach students so take advantage of that. Don’t be afraid to make meetings or even just stop by their offices. Professors are great people to have in your corner. And they want to be in your corner. If they do not want to help out their students, then they are not very good at their jobs. Even if your school is very large, I think it is important to form a relationship with at least one of your professors in your time at school.

3.) Pray
I know, right? So predictable. But really. Pray for your roommate. They are struggling through this new stage and are probably lonely as well. Pray for the people you are meeting, as they are in the same boat too. Pray for the friends that you will make. Ask for deeper relationships, opportunities to serve people where they are. And don’t just pray, but invest in those relationships as well.

During my first month of school when the loneliness was at its heaviest, I remember I got our of class early and I went back to my room. I was just so dang alone that I began to break down. Rather than go to my next class, red-eyed and puffy-faced, I decided to spend some time with God. I began to pray that he would bring me a friend–even if it was just one. Someone who I could have a deep and wonderful relationship with. Someone I could hang out with when I wasn’t in class. Just someone who I could feel comfortable being myself with and they with me.

A couple weeks later, I decided to go to a dorm event, even though I only knew my roommates. And then I met her. My soul sister. Like seriously, we had tons in common, it was pretty ridiculous. There she was. That random girl I had been praying for, bookish and sweet and snarky, just like I had asked for. And she loved Frank Sinatra even more than I did. 

This is that fateful night! These girls are some
of the dearest people I met at school.

In fact, that night, I met most of the girls I would grow very close with over the following years. My prayer was meant plenty of times over with the many women I now call friend. I have never laughed so hard, cried with, or made so many memories as with the girls I met in college. God gives good gifts and he gives them in droves.

Just ask, seek, and knock, kid! He tells you to!

Again, the first semester is the hardest. It is also the one in which I learned the most. (And not in the classroom, because my classes were pretty brainless… I mean, it didn’t feel that way at the time, but what I wouldn’t give to have the homework load of my first semester!) It was hard. I cried a lot. I wanted to give up and go home where things were safe and easy. But there comes a time in your second semester that no one can really put their finger on when things become enjoyable. You have your people and a place on campus. You know who you can go to when things get rough and you understand how things work in your new home. You become thankful you didn’t throw in the towel because you are having fun and growing and it is so worth all of the hardship.

Best of luck to you friend! Don’t forget to write!

xo,
             –Lex