Yesterday morning, I woke up to new students moving into the apartment complex.
Yesterday morning, I wasn’t one of them.
I’m not sure if I remember the last time I wasn’t in a constant state of motion where college was concerned. I went from one college out of state to living back home with my parents within one semester, fresh out of high school and wounded by the fact my first pick for a college was a complete disaster.
And then I commuted from home for a semester, to an entirely new college. I had to accept the fact that by spring semester, the rest of my friends had settled in their schools, and I was back home living with my parents.
It felt like I’d taken ten steps backwards.
Fast-forward to fall last year. I picked the new college I wanted to transfer to, and this weekend last year I once again packed all of my things into my car and drove to another new town.
Maybe this time, this would be it.
And yesterday morning, while the rest of the students and their families unloaded their cars and carried their things up the stairs, I woke up and went to brunch with my friend, all of my things still in my room from that day last year. Unchanging. Unmoving.
. . .
“I feel like I’m never not going to be in this state of in-between,” She said, coffee and omelets separating us. We don’t brunch often – we’re the true definition of living paycheck-to-paycheck college students – but there was something calming about having coffee mugs and breakfast food in between us, celebrating and anticipating the next few days as the new semester begins. It tied our souls closer. I’ve found that, for whatever reason, breakfast food is a beautiful invitation for honesty to take the floor.
“I’m in between being a student and a teacher, my friendships are changing left and right, and I’m so ready to live on my own. But it’s stayed this way for so long; I don’t know how to keep going on from here. When does it get better?”
I knew exactly how she felt.
“It’s not that I don’t want to believe things will change, I know they will. I know everything changes eventually. But I don’t know man, I’m just ready to be 30, you know? I’m ready to have more of my life together and figured stuff out. I’ve hated my 20s.”
I busted out laughing. This, this was why we were friends. “Em, you’re not even 21 yet,” I said. “You’ve barely even scratched the surface.”
“Yeah I know, I’m a grandma,” She laughed. “I’m barely 20 and already hate it.”
I think there’s a strange beauty to that, though. That we’re so uncomfortable with ourselves and where we’re going, and we’re so fearful and so hopeful, all at once. We want to get it right. We don’t want to feel stuck. We want to do it better than the people we’ve seen go before us. We want to love what we do and love the right people and we just really, really want to live a good life.
We’re unsettled and uncertain, and we hate it.
Oh what we would give to know that there’s more to be certain of besides two inescapable thoughts :: that in this moment we all exist, and at some point we all will die.
. . .
I’m not typically vocal about my relationship with God on my blog for reasons to be discussed at a different time. I’ve taken a lot of steps forwards and backwards and forwards again with Him. But recently I read Jeremiah 29, specifically the verses leading up to verse 11 (for any of you who don’t know what that is, it’s the “For I know I have the plans for you” verse).
Growing up in church as a kid, I don’t remember hearing these other verses. I only remember hearing verse 11 on repeat. Reading the verses before that one, though, was a game changer.
“This is the message from God, to all the exiles I’ve taken from Jerusalem to Babylon: Build houses and make yourselves at home. Plant gardens and eat what grows in that country. Marry and have children. Encourage your children to marry and have children so that you’ll thrive in that country and not waste away. Make yourselves at home there and work for the country’s welfare. Pray for Babylon’s well-being. If things go well for Babylon, things will go well for you.”
Jeremiah 29:4-7 MSG
For context, Jeremiah was writing about the Israelites’ exile into Babylon, an exile that lasted seventy years.
Seventy freaking years.
“As soon as Babylon’s seventy years are up and not a day before, I’ll show up and take care of you as I promised and bring you back home. I know what I’m doing. I have it all planned out – plans to take care of you, not to abandon you, plans to give you the future you hope for. When you call on me, when you come and pray to me, I’ll listen. When you come looking for me, you’ll find me. Yes, when you get serious about finding me and want it more than anything else, I’ll make sure you won’t be disappointed. I’ll turn things around for you. I’ll bring you back from all the countries into which I drove you, bring you home to the place which I sent you off into exile. You can count on it.”
I want to preface something before I continue, and it’s that it is completely okay if you do or you do not believe in God, or if you’re still figuring things out, wherever you’re at. I get it. I know things about God and the Bible, religion, all of that, can be really touchy. I think that’s why I’ve avoided writing about it for so long. It’s awkward and uncomfortable, and maybe a little weird to some people.
But I wanted to write about what this did to me, especially in light of this summer.
You’re reading words from someone who, three months ago, had a nonexistent relationship with God. You’re reading someone who, though grew up in church her entire life, had walked away from God almost two years ago and still wrestles with questions and uncertainty.
Just opening a Bible alone is a massive step.
But reading this, it didn’t just feel like a bunch of platitudes you’re taught in Sunday school. It felt like real life, felt like I could completely relate to it.
Because when I read those verses, I saw the great in-between. I saw how long the period was between their exile and their freedom.
I saw myself and what I had to do through the entirety of this summer. I even saw every single college experience I’ve had so far.
What they’re told to do in that period of obscurity and exile is what’s monumental for me.
He tells them to settle down. To plant roots and stay a while. To dig down into relationships and make a home in the space of the uncomfortable. Because seventy years is a long time. And to spend that time infuriated they weren’t where they wanted to be would be a pathetic way to say they lived the rest of their lives.
Those seventy years were the unseen years.
Maybe that’s why God told them to settle down. Not that they were settling for less and accepting that place as their ultimate fate. No, exile was still exile. But they were instructed to trust they wouldn’t always be there. They would have to ease into the endurance of the day to day, until one day they would be set free.
They weren’t told to set up camp and stay there forever.
They were just told to wait.
It was important they learned the beauty of the in-between, the exile, the obscurity, the unseen years. It was important they learned to dig deep and plant some roots, all of that.
They would be okay in the end. Just God saying “I’ll show up and take care of you and bring you home like I promised you” is proof of that.
. . .
I haven’t written much about what happened this summer. I have a few friends who know, but for the most part, I’ve gone pretty silent on what this summer felt like.
In hindsight, I see the shifts. I see the cracks and light breaking through them. But I never wrote about any of it because I was still too focused on making it through another day.
It took a toll on me. Working full-time as a nanny, though rewarding financially and in experience, challenged me mentally and emotionally more than I was expecting.
I wasn’t prepared for how much anxiety and isolation I faced, how easily depression started setting in, how unmotivated I felt outside of work and how completely detached I was from myself.
It’s why I stopped shooting. I stopped photography, art, writing, everything, because I didn’t feel like I knew who I was. I was numb.
And in light of that, it’s ironic this is the summer I picked up running. That somehow, the one thing I’ve never been good at keeping up with — working out — is the one of the few things that stayed constant this summer. I started running at the beginning of May, and overtime was able to build up endurance from running less than a mile to running 3 miles on average.
For someone who’s never been athletic, that’s huge.
But more than that, that I kept showing up to it.
. . .
I have an irrational fear that at some point I’ll lose a passion for running, or one day will just wake up and three months will have gone by and I’ll have stopped working out.
I’ve done it before. I know how easy it is to fall.
I know how easy it is to commit to something and then drop it when it gets really hard, or when I get scared it’s going to abandon me first. The fear of failure does things to your mind. Remember that.
If I’m being honest, that same fear applies to school this semester. I’ve worried about that wall I hit around the same time every semester, when I wind up dropping everything and becoming unmotivated. I know it could easily and possibly will happen this semester.
But even as I write that, I know it would be a great disservice to myself to forget the things that’ve happened this summer.
How every day I showed up to take care of my boys. How several times a week I’d show up at the gym or a park and run a few miles. How I didn’t run from people because I was afraid of what they’d think of me.
I kept showing up.
It was hard. All of it was really hard and you’re getting the “in hindsight” version of this story. It’s one thing to write about it after it’s done and another thing to be in the thick of it. But it was worth it.
And I think it proved to me more than anything that if you keep showing up, light breaks through.
Insert another analogy here about how running is literally the same way. That you start running and it feels great, and then you hit the middle of the run and you’re panting and you ask yourself why you do this. And then you cross the finish line and you can breathe again. A few minutes go by. And something in your mind whispers, “That sucked… Let’s do it again.”
. . .
I know one day I’ll move again. I won’t always live in this apartment, I won’t always live in this town. One day I’ll pack my things into laundry baskets and boxes and drive my car to a new city.
But for this one moment, on this day, it’s so calming knowing I made it to year two.
Literally and figuratively.
That there are areas of my life I’m still walking through the in-between — I’m in between jobs, in between summer holiday and school starting, in between friendships, in between family situations — but that this year this is not one of them.
Maybe it doesn’t ever really go away, this mountain vs. valley experience.
But I’d like to think we’re promised freedom, at some point in that experience, however that winds up looking.
And there’s beauty in resting in the great in-between and making a home for ourselves, no matter how temporary it is.
One day these moments will just be stories, and one day soon we’ll be living in new cities, with new people and new worries.
So very much changes in one year.
Don’t rush it.
If I can say anything, no matter how hard this summer was, is don’t rush through the fight. This entire summer felt like one massive run, with so many ups and downs. I don’t think I’d actually want to live through it again, but in hindsight, I would change none of it. The endurance I’ve gained and the mindset I’ve been learning to practice are too precious to me now.
I know how ready you are to leave. I know it’s been a long time coming. I know you’re hopefully expectant for all that is to come, and there is so much you want to do and see. It’s so beautiful, the fire in your soul to do all that you want to do. I keep saying it, but you’re going to make it. You’re going to make it. We all know you will. Don’t look down at how long you’ve been running just yet, though. Just keep running. One foot in front of the other. Keep your head up and enjoy the sunrise. Keep listening to the voices next to you, in the right now. They’re the ones that’ll get you to the finish line. You’ll be focused less on the pain in your knees and more on the people moving in and out around you. They’re the ones that truly matter. Remember that.
Take heart, you’ll cross the finish line eventually. Right now you have just this one little moment, and it’s so, so short.
My question for you is what are you going to do with this one tiny and precious life of yours?