The summer after high school is a weird time. It’s like part of your body is still here and the other part is floating in your next chapter. The part of my body still here was consumed with soaking up all the lasts: the last drive to the mall with my best friends, the last pool hang, the last movie nights, the last birthday I would celebrate with my high school friends.
The part of my body ready for college became consumed with questions about the future. Did I choose the right college? Should I have gone to college out of state?
Did it make sense to be an English major? Would I like Austin? Would I like my roommates? That summer is probably one of the first times I felt anxiety stealing joy from my present moments. At night, the “what if?” questions swirled at warp speed, pulling me away from sleep. Maybe, the anxiety came because up until then, my life had been predictable. I would wake up, go to school, learn something, laugh with my friends at lunch, walk to my mom’s elementary school when school let out, and then come home. Rinse and repeat.
There was a monotony to it that I liked. No big surprises. No big questions. Moving 2.5 hours away from home wasn’t what caused me anxiety. I chose Austin for that very reason. It was close enough to not feel isolated, but far away enough to grow into myself. Instead, the anxiety stemmed from other big questions that couldn’t be answered immediately. Would I become a journalist? What would life be like after college?
The bottom line: How can I guarantee that my life will be good?
After my summer of questioning, I arrived at St. Edward’s still a little bit afraid. In my first semester, I saw many firsts: my first college parties, first time living with three women, first time going out to a club on Sixth Street, and the list goes on and on. In those moments, I couldn’t help but be present. They sucked me in, calling for me to not worry about the next day, sometimes not even in the next hour. I wanted to live.
Still, there was another side that craved certainty and answers. I can still remember one of the first moments God met me quietly. I was sitting in my dorm room, leafing through a daily devotional book my church gave me during a graduation ceremony for the seniors. God to me was still a distant figure. I didn’t talk to Him regularly. Our conversations were usually saved for emergencies. Help me. I’m scared. I promise I’ll be better this time. In my devotional book, I discovered a scripture in Proverbs that would later become a resounding truth in my life: Trust in the Lord with all your heart; and lean not on your own understanding; In all your ways, acknowledge Him and He shall direct your paths.
The words stuck with me. For the past few months, I had twisted myself into knots trying to figure out if my life would be good. I was trying to control something I couldn’t. I was treating my life like a game of chess. I’m going to put every piece down perfectly, so I can make sure I have a good life.
Earlier this January, I sat in my living room and logged into my first Zoom class. Somehow, thirteen summers later, I’m teaching a magazine writing class at my alma mater. Before my students joined virtually, I felt those same feelings of nervousness that plagued me before I went off to college. What would be waiting for me on the other side of the screen? Could I be the best professor for them?
As you can see, thirteen years later, the craving for certainty hasn’t left me. I want a good outcome. A good life. Don’t we all? But, in that moment I logged on for my class, there was something else I thought about too. I thought about the 18-year-old who had so many restless nights the summer before college. In my restless nights, I never saw myself becoming a professor. But God did.
These moments make me understand what C.S. Lewis says here in his book Mere Christianity, “Because God is forcing him on, or up, to a higher level: putting him in situations where he will have to be very much braver, or more patient, or more loving, than he ever dreamed of being before. It seems to us all unnecessary: but that is because we have not yet had the slightest notion of the tremendous thing He means to make of us.”
And that should tie up everything in a nice little bow, right? I was a nervous 18-year-old who became a magazine writing professor at my alma mater? Good for me. No, the thing with faith is that it’s not a nice little bow. It’s a messy knot that all of us will continue to untangle for the rest of our lives. God’s ways are mysterious and confusing. They don’t always wrap up in a way that we understand.
Our world is broken and messy. The last thirteen summers have been met with triumphant moments: graduating from college, getting a master’s degree, getting a job at my hometown paper, writing a book, getting a literary agent, and the list goes on and on. Blessings that yes, took dedication and hard work on my end, but were met with the unmerited favor and grace of God getting me into places I could’ve never been able to reach myself.
But it’s also been met with unanswered questions and broken moments: a mom dealing with a disease that has no cure, loss of loved ones, and worries about the future.
I’ve seen that striving for a “good life” is pointless. Putting the chess pieces all in the right place won’t get me anywhere. What God has done in my life is far bigger than anything I could’ve dreamt up on a chess board. Instead, it takes partnership. I do what I need to do on my end and then surrender and trust that God will continue to fulfill His purpose for my life.
So now, instead of asking, how can my life be good? I ask myself how can I honor today?