Lessons Learned from My First Semester of College

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My first semester of college was an exhilarating experience full of challenging assignments, new friends, interesting professors, and yummy food. It was a growing process that presented numerous opportunities for self-improvement. Being a college student has taught me many practical skills, such as networking and going the extra mile. I discovered that college is more about developing a hard work ethic and positive habits than the material learned in class. I have come away with many lessons that I wish I had known before college started and will now strive to implement on the rest of my journey.

Beware of the money suckers

Financial and health dangers lurk on college campuses in the form of food. Fast food restaurants know that college students are perhaps the most susceptible target audience. While I did not buy many full meals because I packed my lunches, the vending machines and convenience stores on campus regularly captured me. I do not have advice on how to avoid this since I have not found the silver bullet yet: I just thought I should warn you.

Schedules are really important

Because I am a commuter, I am only at campus on Tuesdays and Thursdays. On those days, I have to be up by five in the morning. Unfortunately, this past semester I woke up between 7-8 the other days of the week. My main priority this semester is to develop a routine to combat last semester’s erratic sleep patterns. Scheduling school assignments is just as important as sleep schedules. I learned from trial and error that if three papers are all due on the same day, the work should definitely be spread out.

What is my motivation?

I am fiercely independent, sometimes to my own detriment. During college, I was trapped by the pursuit of seeking my own credit. I wanted to be fully responsible for the outcome of my work, and I wanted the credit as a reward for this responsibility. But my self-sufficient attitude blocked me from receiving God’s help. I sought my own credit in my own strength when I was supposed to be seeking God’s glory. Through trial and error, I learned that when I act in God’s strength, He receives the glory instead of me, and that is exactly how it should be. I mistakenly believed that if I asked for help, either from people or God, it would almost be like I cheated. I so badly want to say I did it on my own, which is wrong. It is unbelievably easy to burn out, especially towards the end of the semester. The feeling of exhaustion can be felt around campus as everyone seems to be worn thin. The remedy to burn out is to remember the purpose of school is to glorify God, to do all things unto the Lord, and to depend on His strength.

Show Extra Effort and Avoid Shortcuts

Most of my classmates only attended class to earn participation credit, take notes, and then leave as soon as possible. Students with this attitude will not enjoy the fullness of college. Being fully engaged makes the material more interesting and easier to master. For instance, in sociology I discovered that I enjoyed engaging my mind to think of connections in the real world. Because I interacted in class and asked the instructor questions, I retained more information (and thus avoid extra studying outside of class). Being engaged also helped me to discover that I learn best when I connect the material to an example in my mind. Thus, in class I spend more time making connections that taking notes.

In a culture where Google searches are the most common form of research, it is tempting to constantly take the quickest route possible. After struggling to complete a worksheet with scanty internet information, I finally buckled down and found a documentary on my university’s library. I thoroughly enjoyed the documentary, as opposed to my rather boring Googling. Being thorough and detail oriented is time consuming, but it is well worth it in the end.

Be friendly

Being an extreme extrovert, I went to college with the determination to make connections. I completely lost track of how many people I introduced myself to, especially during the first week. On my first day, I approached the dean of the honors college which was an excellent opportunity and connection. A few weeks later, I struck up a conversation with a fellow student in the library restroom and had the opportunity to tell her about a book that was related to here future goals. Showing interest in people shows that we care about them. As Proverbs 18:24 points out, “A man who has friends must himself be friendly.” College is a training ground for professional networking and future full time work. But more importantly, college is far more enjoyable with friends.

Keep outside interests alive  

College can turn learning into a mundane, uniform process, when learning is actually fascinating and life changing. One day as I was walking around the library, I discovered a book about the Nuremberg trials after World War 2. I thoroughly enjoyed the productive diversion from my normal school tasks. I realized that I had completely pushed aside my own personal research projects in the pursuit of good grades. It is a struggle to find a stopping point as there is always more studying that can be done. At certain times, I had to force myself to take a break. During the school semester, I taught public speaking classes, volunteered at a homeless feeding ministry, and packed Operation Christmas Child boxes. These activities were a brief, refreshing break from schoolwork. They also helped me to stay connected to people outside of my normal school sphere.

During my first semester, I began to learn how to apply the knowledge I gained in class to real life. Thinking critically during college gave me the opportunity to not just memorize and learn, but to understand the world a little better. College is also an excellent opportunity to practice having a good attitude even during poor circumstances. With my second semester starting tomorrow, I am excited to embrace all the new challenges and adventures!

 

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Facing Evil

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The true strength of a person’s character is tested when evil descends. Extraordinary faith and hope are required to stand strong while fighting against evil. Ignoring the problem through blissful ignorance is easy. The majority of people take this route. The heroes who charge against evil face consequences and danger in this world, but great rewards in heaven. We can learn about courage and hope from those in history who were faced with gut wrenching circumstances and responded with jaw dropping bravery.

The Choice: Ignore Evil or Confront It

When the Nazis invaded and occupied the Netherlands, the nation’s residents were faced with a choice. Would they submit to the new rules, or would they stand with God and thus stand against the world? At first, sliding under the radar was fairly easy, but as the Nazis became more brutal, tough decisions had to be made. Soon college students were forced to sign a sheet pledging their allegiance to the Nazis to remain in school. If they refused, they would have to go into hiding or risk being captured by the Nazis.

The worst was yet to come. The Nazis began herding up the Jews in the Netherlands and sending them to the death camps. Christians were faced with a tough choice: Would they resist this slaughter of the innocent at their own personal risk?

Sadly, many Christians remained as neutral as possible.  Some Dutch churches were famous for singing louder as the trains with Jews passed in order to drown out the cries of hundreds of innocent people riding to their deaths. They chose to protect their own comfortable existence rather than give heed to the brutality surrounding them.

However, there were people who decided to risk it all for the lives of strangers. They plunged full force into underground resistance operations and began hiding Jews and other endangered people in their homes, at risk of their own lives.

The Christians of World War two did not see an end to the immense darkness pervading their country.  Whenever hopeful news would come over the radio, the rescue would eventually fall through. Even though the situation seemed hopeless, they kept faithfully resisting, and this eventually led to break through and the end of the war.

What will we do?

I sometimes wonder how I would have responded to evil had I lived during one of the most trying times in history, such as during World War II. I desperately hope that I would have taken the correct action when under pressure. What I wouldn’t pay for the opportunity to become acquainted with and learn from the brave members of the underground who knew the meaning of “there is no greater love than this, that a man will lay down his life for his friend”.

However, a trip back in history is not necessary in order to take a stand against evil. And as for learning from history’s courageous heroes, we can become intimately acquainted with their struggles and victories through the written works they have left behind. Right now, we are all faced with the same question that the World War two resistance fighters faced sixty years ago: will we take a stand against evil, or will we turn our heads and ignore the problem. Will we risk our own welfare to fulfill what God wants of us?

May we not be like the Dutch churches that drowned out the sounds of human suffering in order to protect their comfortable, safe lives.

May we have the courage to confront evil full force with the truth and the power of God’s Word.

May we be able to face the consequences, danger, and discomfort of combating evil with selfless bravery.

May we follow in the footsteps of those who have come before us, who risked it all to face evil, and in doing so, protect the life of another.

A Society That Envies Animals

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Advertisements portray a society’s deeper beliefs. One Banfield pet hospital advertisement captured my attention and concerned me because it portrays a deeper worldview which has pervaded our culture. Here is the narration from the video:

“The challenge with being a human animal is we add a whole lot of junk on top of just being an animal who can exist and be happy. We make things more complicated, and when we get to be just at home with our pets . . . it allows us to just get back to the simple, pleasurable things that come with having a small furry animal curled up on your lap . . .  And I think pets really just connect us to who we want to be at our core.”

At first appearance this advertisement seems innocent, but it highlights three lies that our culture has openly accepted. Thankfully, God’s truths are always ready to combat any lie that the world throws our way.

First Lie: “pets really just connect us to who we want to be at our core.”

Truth: Humans and animals were created fundamentally different.   

We are not human animals. We are crafted in the image of God. Genesis 1:27 says to this effect, “So God created man in His own image; in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.” We are crafted by God, for God. We were never designed to descend to a lower, animalistic level. We are to draw closer to God, and drawing closer to God involves moving upwards. God not only originally created us (Psalm 139:13), but for those of us who have accepted Jesus, we are still a work in progress as Philippians 1:6 says, “being confident of this very thing, that He who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ.”

Second Lie: “We make things more complicated, and when we get to be just at home with our pets . . . it allows us to just get back to the simple, pleasurable things”

Truth: We are to cope with stress by casting our burdens on God.

This video did capture one human sentiment very well: feeling overwhelmed. We live in a cooker pressure world. We are constantly told to strive more, achieve more, and earn more. We were not designed to handle the stress of this world- no wonder we just want to curl up with Fluffy or Fido and forget our responsibilities! We are designed to cast our burdens on the Lord (1 Peter 5:7) instead of crumbling underneath them. We can be strong even in the face of stress and trials because God is always with us, helping us in every moment.

Third Lie: “The challenge with being a human animal is we add a whole lot junk on top of just being an animal who can exist and be happy.”

Truth: Our purpose is to serve God and others, even when this makes us uncomfortable or unhappy.

Is the purpose of life simply to “exist and be happy”? Or is there something deeper? The fact of the matter is, humans will always serve something, whether that something is God, other people, or even ourselves. Whatever or whoever we place our affections on will determine the course of our lives. When we live self-sacrificially, serving God and those around us before ourselves, we discover a peace and a joy that could never be attained by serving ourselves.  Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “The purpose of life is not to be happy. It is to be useful, to be honorable, to be compassionate, to have it make some difference that you have lived and lived well.”

Our pets do not lead a life that we should envy. Even though being human entails responsibilities, work, and even burdens, it also includes many God given privileges. We have been given the gift of direct connection with God, something our animals will never achieve. While life can seem stressful and chaotic at times, we have an incomparable peace from God that remains constant-regardless of the circumstances.  We have the opportunity to serve God and others, thus finding joy outside of ourselves. God designed human life to be full, wonderful, and purposefully different from the creatures surrounding us.

Halloween-Let Your Light Shine

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Opinions about Halloween rage within the Christian community. Some Christians believe that practicing Halloween is second only to witch craft and tightly lock their doors. Others fully embrace the opportunity to poor fake blood on their costume of choice and automatically label themselves a zombie.

While my family does not embrace the death aspect of Halloween (no fake blood here!), we do see it as an excellent opportunity to be a positive influence in our neighborhood. Rather than curse the darkness, we strive to be the light. We usually dress up in historically themed costumes. My younger sisters troop around the neighborhood, gathering all the candy they can carry. I sit perched on our couch, eagerly awaiting the sounds of excited trick or treaters.

My friend Anna told me that her family buys large candy bars and tapes Bible verses to the back. I thought that was a fantastic idea, so I spent most of Halloween day finding appropriate Bible verses and sticking them to the backs of chocolate bars.

While most of the trick or treaters did not seem to notice the verses, a few were instantly fixated. One boy who appeared to be around eight/nine years old stopped and read the verse out loud on our doorstep!

We had a huge group of teenagers raid our candy supply (some of whom I knew). One girl who I already knew to be a Christian saw the verse and automatically said, “Oh cool, Bible verses!”. One of her friends responded, “You are so weird.” I felt it necessary to jump in, saying, “She’s not weird!” The friend backpedaled then.  That was the most negative reaction we received.

I will most definitely be taping more Bible verse to candy bars next year. I used 1 John 4:18, Psalm 34:8, and 1 Timothy 6:17 for most of the candy bars. I found Psalm 136:9, a verse that mentions the moon and stars, for the Milky Way bars.

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Fickle Friendships

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Over the last few years, several of my friendships have died regardless of my efforts to save them. I was saddened deeply and confused because there was no obvious reason why. There had been no fight – no fallout. I examined myself and honestly asked if there was something I had done to damage our relationship, but nothing appeared. My friendship was drowning and my hands were tied. This forced me to consider what makes a friendship and what my responsibilities are in a relationship. These questions led me to five truths that have helped me through these situations.

A friendship requires two people in cooperation with each other.

While this fact is obvious, we often fail to apply its truth. One person alone cannot keep the relationship alive. There must be cooperation between the two parties. If our friend or acquaintance is resisting connecting with us, we can still remain supportive and friendly, but besides that our options are limited. With all of my friendships that have dissipated, I was desperate to fix them. I wanted to find a problem so there could be resolution. But after careful examination, I realized there was nothing more I could do and backed off. Later, an opportunity might appear to revive the relationship, but forcing your “solutions” now will only make the situation worse.

Friendship entails risk.

There is no such thing as a perfect relationship. Even the most solid relationships leave us vulnerable to disappointment. As C.S. Lewis said in his book The Four Loves, “There is no safe investment. To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything, and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly be broken.” The relationships Jesus had during His time on earth perfectly illustrate this point. He knew his disciples would mess up repeatedly and Judas would even betray Him, but He still poured His all into these twelve men. To not love is to act selfishly.

Even though relationships can hurt us, we have to realize their value is worth any pain they may bring.

People change for the better.

People change – sometimes for the better, and sometimes for the worse. For instance, my older cousin (who is more like a long distance big brother) got married three years ago and had a baby girl. During his bachelor days, I would text with him nearly every day, but now our messages are slightly less frequent. We still care deeply about each other, his life priorities have just readjusted – as they should! His little family is the apple of his eye, but that has not pushed me out of the viewer. He just has less time to spend on his phone. Seasons of life change. We should rejoice when a friend or family member reaches a new stage in life, not resent it.

People change for the worse.

On the flip side, sometimes people change for the worse. While we still love these people, we are left powerless when they no longer welcome us into their lives. For instance, I had a friend who began to snub me. She was insecure and trying to portray herself as the “popular girl”. I still care about her, but I backed off from trying to communicate with her. Again, you cannot force a relationship. Not every relationship is meant to be a long term one. I have had other friends who have moved, changed schools, and started engaging in questionable entertainment choices. They no longer made an effort to communicate, and I did not think it was wise to fight for our relationship.  I still care about these people too, but we are no longer a part of each other’s daily lives.

We have one friend who is perfect.

Proverbs 18:24 says, “A man who has friends must himself be friendly. But there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother.” We must be careful not to set unrealistic expectations on our friends and family members. We are all human, thus we will all fail each other in our relationships. However, Jesus is always a steady friend – someone who we know will never fail us in our relationship. No matter how many times we fail Him, He will still stay by our side. When we receive Jesus’ grace, we can more freely give grace to our relations when they fail.

Our friendships brighten our days and add meaning to life. Times of strain can actually make us realize just how much we appreciate the relationships in our lives. Whether a friendship lasts for thirty days or thirty years, whether we communicate daily or once every five years, we can thank God for the people He has given a role in our lives. As we walk with Jesus, we can trust God to help us build stronger, less fickle relationships.

 

Face Your Inadequacy with God’s Strength

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One of my greatest passions in life is writing and researching. However, like all passions, I often discover that my current skill and talent levels are far too inadequate for the tasks I want to accomplish. Recently, I started to work on a writing project that I began last year (and have not touched for months). As I began scanning the document, I felt completely overwhelmed. It was so much more disorganized than I remembered it to be, and I quickly realized that most of the words just repeated my personal opinion over and over again.

Yet, right as I was feeling completely inadequate to the task ahead of me, I remembered the stories of people behind me who were completely unequal to the jobs they were called to. God can use weak people to carry out his work in extraordinary ways. Here are some examples:

1)      Nehemiah-From Cup Bearer to City Leader

Nehemiah was the king’s cup bearer, until God flipped his life upside down. Nehemiah felt called to help Jerusalem rebuild its walls. He obeyed, and the wall rebuilding project was finished in record time. However, he was no master builder.  He did not possess any architectural or project management skills, and his cup bearing skills were obviously useless in this scenario. To make the situation more complicated, enemies intent on stopping the building project were bearing down on all sides, right in the middle of construction! From a natural perspective, Nehemiah was the very worst candidate for this job. Despite his lack of military leadership and construction skills, he still completed the job that God called him to, and it in record time at that.

2)        Mary- An Unlikely Choice

Mary was just a young teenager when the angel appeared to her and told her that she would have a son. Mary was as ordinary as they come, an unlikely candidate to carry and then take care of the son of God. Even worse, she was then unmarried – basically a single mom! In her society, she would have been looked down upon with scorn for becoming pregnant before marriage. In our society, we would see someone like Mary, a young, pregnant teenager, and think her to be completely irresponsible and incapable of raising a child. But God called Mary to do just that, and she succeeded in her God-given mission.

3)      Abraham and Sarah-Facing Impossible Circumstances

Abraham and Sarah were faced with an irreversible obstacle – old age. God had promised them a child, but Sarah was ninety and Abraham was one hundred years old when they actually had their son, Isaac. As time wore on, Abraham and Sarah were forced to either hang on to God’s promise or give up entirely on having a family. After all, it was humanly impossible for them to bring God’s reality to pass on their own. Thankfully, they hung on and God delivered (no pun intended). As God is not intimidated by natural impossibilities, we should face seemingly impossible circumstances knowing that we have a supernatural God on our side!

4)        Josiah-Overwhelming Responsibility

Josiah was only eight years old when he was made King of Israel. Knowing the typical nature of little kids, I can imagine that this reign was rather chaotic. After all, Josiah was starting out with zero experience, knowledge, wisdom, or maturity! But Josiah turned to wisdom that was greater than himself. In his weakness, God’s word supplied him with direction. Josiah knew that weakness is not a boundary; it’s really just an opportunity to ask God for help!

Just like Nehemiah, Mary, and Josiah, God will call us to complete missions that are outside of our realms. We may consider ourselves as being too old, too young, or not skilled enough, but God doesn’t pay attention to limitations. As the end of 2 Corinthians 12:10 says, “For when I am weak, then I am strong.”

When we are faced with seemingly insurmountable challenges, we can remind ourselves that we are children of the One True God, who turns hopeless situations into miracles.

 

 

Building Strong Relationships

picnic-1208229_1280High-quality relationships never come about by accident.

Strong friendships and families are built intentionally. The best relationships must have a solid foundation in order to survive times of strain and testing. Here are five practical exercises we can apply to strengthen our relationships.

1)  Compliment freely!

Ephesians 4:29 says, “Let no corrupt word proceed out of your mouth, but what is good for necessary edification, that it may impart grace to the hearers.” According to Dictionary.com, the word “corrupt” can be used to define something that is “infected”1 or “tainted”1.

In our society, we are quick to speak words that are “infected” with condemnation or “tainted” with harsh criticism. We don’t think twice about criticizing but are painfully slow with compliments. Some people try to build themselves up by tearing others down, but this approach only damages both parties. Finding the good in someone else is actually a sign of humility because it forces us to acknowledge that we aren’t the only talented individuals on planet earth.

You don’t have to hand out compliments right and left, but when you notice a positive feature about someone, tell them! You will have to give constructive criticism at times, but as a part of that critique you can mention something positive about the person or their actions.

2) Challenge one another in love.

Proverbs 27:17 says, “As iron sharpens iron, so a man sharpens the countenance of his friend.”
Friendships are supposed to help us grow. We can encourage each other in our pursuits, and gently correct when we notice something that is damaging our friend. Relationships not only give us joy, they also make us face our struggles and weak spots. The best kind of friend will not leave us to face our struggles alone, but will rather link arms with us and walk with us.

Just as iron sharpening iron, sparks may fly in our relationships, but that is not always a bad thing. Conflicts resulting from corrections may hurt, but sometimes a little bit of pain forces us to change. In our relationships, we always must remember to correct and challenge with love. In their discussion of Proverbs 27:17, Jason and David Benham wrote, “if these clashes are motivated by love, then we should embrace them, not avoid them.” (Living Among Lions, page 182)

3)  Celebrate one another’s victories.

Did your friend pass their driving test? Or perhaps they baked a batch of cookies that weren’t burnt to a crisp? Maybe they can’t stop smiling because their cousin just had a new baby. Whatever the joyous occasion, partake in the celebration! As Romans 12:15 says, “Rejoice with those who rejoice”!

You may not understand how momentous this occasion is, but to your friend, it could be life changing. Besides, when something exciting happens to you, you will want your friends to be eager to celebrate alongside you.

4)  Stay for the struggle.

The second half of Romans 12:15 says, “weep with those who weep.” Many people stick around for the party but quickly diminish when the going gets tough. This reminds me of the Prodigal Son. His friends stuck around as long as he had money, but once the money was spent—and he was left to starve—the friends vanished into thin air.

Being a friend during good times is easy, the real test comes when harder circumstances hit. Celebrating with our friends is a necessity, but we need to remind ourselves to be there when they are going through a rough time. This includes proactively contacting them as well as offering any support we can.

We regularly need to remind ourselves to be a shoulder to cry on as well as someone to celebrate with.

5)  Be quick to forgive and forget.

Ephesians 4:32 says, “And be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God in Christ forgave you.”

We can only offer God’s kind of forgiveness when we are acting in His strength. On our own, the urge to hold a grudge is simply too strong to overcome. Once we truly forgive, we will soon find ourselves forgetting the instance.

Forgetting a friend’s mistake doesn’t mean that you should immediately trust your friend again, but rather give them an opportunity to earn your trust back without holding their mistake over them.

Although building a strong relationship requires time and conscious effort, the friendships in our lives are well worth it. First, we need to remember to use our words to lift our friends up. Then, out of love, we can challenge and even gently correct our relations. We also must remember to celebrate during the good and comfort in the bad. Finally, we can offer forgiveness when they make a mistake, knowing that we will also need forgiveness in our relationships.