Graduation Reflections

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Yesterday I graduated from college with a BA in Psychology. Of course this has left me rather thoughtful as I look back over the past five semesters.

I did not graduate when I planned to, but I think I graduated when I needed to. That is the first thing that sticks out to me. I remember the moment my advisor told me that it was not going to be possible to graduate in May of 2013 unless I was willing to take 18 unit semesters and take courses outside of the University I was attending. I was mortified. I felt like my plans were falling apart and that I had somehow failed to achieve my goals.

In reality the timing worked out better than I had expected because I don’t know what I would have done without this last semester. If it were not for my December graduation date, I would not have gotten the chance to spend a summer living in Southern California. I would not have been able to take a trip to the Grand Canyon, invest in a new church family, or get as connected with my university as I was able to.

It continues to astound me that God’s timing really beats mine every time…and for the better.

I’m grateful that my family let me chase my Southern California dream, and thankful for everyone who encouraged me to leave. I cannot imagine who I would be if I had not packed up my 2001 Buick Century and left for a tiny little private school in the middle of Orange County. The people I have met, the friends I have made, the things I have gotten to do, and the things I have learned have shaped me. Walls were torn down and better, healthier, more functional walls were built up. I made friends and met mentors who will continue to walk with me through this crazy life even when almost the entire state of California is between me and them.

You see, post-graduation I am sad because I am going to be leaving all of these wonderful things, but at the same time I take joy in the fact that I get to leave wonderful things behind.

When I came down to Southern California I was running. I was running from my family, from my past, from the clouds, rain, and cold. I wanted a fresh start, something new, something different, and a place where I could hide from everything that had surrounded me for so many years. Instead of hiding I found a home, and in that home I found people who have taught me that I don’t have to run anymore.

There is nothing I have to try to escape. I’m free.

I am free to live, be joyful, sing, laugh, form new friendships, and continue with old ones. I do not have to separate myself from my Southern California life because it is just as much a part of me as my life in Oregon will be. Slowly but surely I have managed to become an integrated person. My life is no longer a series of separate little boxes, with each one having its own expectations of who I am supposed to be and how I am supposed to act. I am me, a dynamic, living, breathing person who is the same in Southern California as she is in Oregon and will be anywhere else I end up.

I’m just me and I’m okay with that, because somehow God still uses me to do cool things. That last statement, more than anything else, is worth more than my college degree ever will be. 

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The Prodigal Daughter

Over Spring Break I had the chance to do something I’ve never done: Surprise my parents.

I’ve visited home (Oregon) pretty consistently since I moved down to Southern California for school. Nonetheless, I have yet to make it up to see my family over spring break. This past spring break, however, I decided to change this.

The scheme began when I realized I could afford airfare home for spring break. I called up my sister to tell her the news and that is when the plan was hatched: She would front me the money, I’d pay her back with my tax return, and my parents would be none the wiser.

This surprise was made all the sweeter when my mom called me a few weeks before spring break to ask if I would like to fly home. She was even offering to pay! It took all of my self-restraint not to spill the beans and tell her that I already had plans to fly home and see her. I told her that I had agreed to work over Spring Break, just like I had the previous year, and that it was not a good time for me to take off and fly home.

The disappointment in her voice killed me, but I knew it would all be worth it.

A few weeks later and I was on a plane and touching down in Portland, OR. My amazing sister picked me up and took me to her place where I said hello to our dog, played with my niece, and spent a not-so-restful night on a less than comfortable couch. Finally, I woke up on Friday morning ready to put our plan into action. My sister had already arranged for our mother to take the child for the day so that she and her husband could have a day out to themselves without worrying about a toddler.

We had decided that they would take the child in and get settled while I waited a few minutes in the car. Then I would walk up to the door, ring the doorbell, and wait for my mom to open it.

The plan went off without a hitch and the moment my mom realized it was me standing on the porch a look of pure joy took over her face. Her eyes widened and brightened, she smiled, and then she embraced me. We hugged for a couple of minutes as she rambled on about how she had already sent off my Easter basket, and that she had really believed me when I said I couldn’t come up, and she told me how glad she was to have me home.

Now I’ve heard stories like this all through my life and have listened to people tie them in to the story of the prodigal son. It seemed like a tired and worn out comparison…until I experienced it myself. Then I realized why surprising a family, or returning home unexpected after a long journey, is such a significant experience. It gives us as Christians a little taste of what it is like whenever we turn back toward God after we’ve wandered away from home for a while.

If my mother, in her state of imperfect humanity, could show such pure joy over her daughter returning home for spring break from a University only one state down…think about how much joy God has when one of his children who has wandered from the fold finally turns back to him. Turns back home.

So I challenge everyone, myself included, to figure out where we are right now in terms of God. Are we home? Or is there something keeping us away from returning to the one who loves us more than we can ever comprehend? Is there shame, guilt, or fear? The prodigal son probably felt all of those things as he slinked back to his father’s home to beg forgiveness. Yet he went and found that all of that shame, guilt, and fear was for nothing because his father was just glad to have him home.

In the same way, God forgives in a way we can hardly understand and in his presence there is no more shame, guilt, or fear. There is just love, joy, grace, and forgiveness. So go home, whatever that looks like for you.