When I was 17, I packed up my clothes, a stereo, a caboodle full of makeup, a diffuser, and enough Paul Mitchell mousse to keep my hair looking authentically Texan, and my parents drove me to Springfield, Missouri to attend Baptist Bible College. I did not own a car, and I had not even applied to the college that I was going to be attending. No joke. College application seemed like a unnecessary formality, and in this case, it was. I showed up on campus and was allowed to move in immediately. My application for admission was approved after I had been attending classes for three solid months. See? Just a formality.
I settled right into college life. I did all of the things that I was supposed to do. I slept through class, stayed up too late, subsisted on Mountain Dew and pizza, failed exactly one class for not completing every assignment. Yep. I was a full-blown college student. I tried out for cheerleading and was amazed that I made it. I happily went to practice every day and loved every second of cheering on the Baptist Bible College Patriots. Other than the one failed class, which I repeated and aced, I was a decent student. I rarely studied and I always used my maximum number of allowed absences, but I made good enough grades to keep my scholarship and to keep my parents from bringing me back home and grounding me forever. I got written up. A lot. For practicing cheerleading jumps past curfew and wearing my "shorts" too long (they were actually palazzo pants, and I knew I was pushing the "no pants on girls" rule when I wore them) and listening to James Taylor "How Sweet it is to Be Loved By You". I probably paid more in fines than I did in tuition. And I dated. Oh, how I dated. I had never seen so many Christian boys all in one place. And I was a
My junior year, I was hanging out with a girlfriend, and I could tell something was on her mind. Then she shared an incredibly unkind name that she had overheard someone calling me. And apparently, the name had spread. She had heard it from several different people. I can't tell you how I cried. I am not sure how I reacted to her, but I distinctly remember being curled up in my JCPenney quilt on my bed in my dorm room and bawling my eyes out over it. As much as I thought I didn't care what people thought, I absolutely did. I traced back the name's origin to two different guys, neither of whom knew me at all. I will probably never know where it came from. And it really doesn't matter. It was never true, the name. But it did cause me to think. There were plenty of real live mistakes. There were lots of unkind things said about others, plenty of wrong relationships, and more than my share of bad decisions. There was a huge pool of giant mistakes that the name callers could have chosen from and been more accurate. Justified, even.
This past Sunday night I saw one of my favorite Bible college friends. I met him my freshman year, and our friendship continues to this day, some seventeen years later. Makes me feel old to say that. We talked a little bit about our college days, and some of the dumb dating mistakes that we made. We laughed about our ex's and the ones that got away. And I walked away smiling about my four years spent in Springfield, Missouri. Despite my mistakes, I made some wonderful friends. There are people that I barely knew then that I have reconnected with (and now adore) because of the genius that is Facebook. I had four years of living and learning and ministering alongside some of the coolest people ever. Some have grown into writers and musicians and missionaries and mommies, and I love keeping track of them.
Today I am thankful for those college memories but also time and for change and for grace. I am thankful that God is wise enough to put us through hard things to shape us. I am thankful that he redeems our mistakes and makes our story a tool to minister to others. So to those who knew me then, to those that I may have ignored or hurt or gossiped about, those of who you witnessed my mistakes firsthand, I am sorry. To those who have given me a second chance at friendship, either in real life or through sharing your struggles with me on Facebook or this blog, thanks for understanding that I am a work in progress.