College Romantics

Photo by Rebecca Long Photography

Photo by Rebecca Long Photography

It’s easy to romanticize college. I think I forget the hard parts because so much of my experience has been cloaked in light.

I pulled all nighters studying for finals and talked to friends suffering from depression and made promises I couldn’t keep. I hurt people and people hurt me. I flunked Calculus II and changed my major. I learned not to trust everyone the hard way. For all of the holy and beautiful, there were equal parts evil and heartache.

But it’s the holy and beautiful that stand out.

Although I knew God before, I had been running away from Him, like a treasure-seeker ignoring the pot of gold right in front of her. I always came running back, or rather He came after me. He called me His beloved and gently loved me through the peaks and troughs. He still does. But it was in college when I stopped trying to run away.

I ran toward heaven at full speed, no sign of braking and every sign of crashing into the waves of His grace and mercy. It is painful and perfect-- that quiet beauty that draws you to the cross. I stood at the edge of Ireland, looked out over the cliffs, and felt sheer awe at the creativity of God. I walked the halls of the Louvre in Paris and clapped along to Irish folk music in Dublin and stood in crowded tubes in London, and I saw God everywhere. I hiked in the Cotswalds and walked the halls of castles and took communion in a small Irish church. He was there—in the Cotswalds and castles and communion.

I started waking early because I so craved His words to wash over me. I had this black, circular chair in my room with an old quilt draped across it. I sat there each morning and drank crappy coffee and fell more in love with Jesus. I felt the weight of my ugly sin and I sighed relief when I allowed Him to remove the burden. I did this again and again, approaching the throne of grace with a humility and brokenness. I locked myself in my dorm room and cried, hard and long, over my own regrets and the death of my Savior and the depravity of man.

I told others how much I was in love with Jesus, and they rolled their eyes and laughed and called me cute. I read Keats and the gospel of John, went to church and college parties, loved on Jesus followers and Jesus rebellers. I saw the light of glory everywhere.

We sat in circles in my classes and discussed 18th century British Literature and the history of philosophy and the spread of postmodernism. We read Hemingway and Austen and Hawthorne, studied rhetoric and media and MLK. I fell in love with literature over and over again, found a new appreciation for words and the way they intersect, and learned to write while breaking grammar rules.

I spoke with a little bit more of a twang in my voice and walked with a more confident gait. I didn’t think too much about the future; it seemed so far away. But I thought about heaven.

I fell in love with the art of photography and sipping coffee slowly and a boy. He was loud and overly friendly and wore a backwards hat. He talked about football and Dave Matthews and The Office and it didn’t take us long to fall for each other. He held my hand and brought me sunflowers and we took turns asking questions, wanting to know everything there was to know about the other. We didn’t know then that four years later we would make vows in the middle of an apple orchard in rural Alabama. We didn’t know how much we would grow or laugh or cry together. We didn’t know that meeting one another on the first day of college would change our lives forever, in the best possible way.

During those four years, I was so filled up with love, and so encouraged by believers that I needed to pour some of myself out to others. I went on mission trips where we played soccer on asphalt and sang praise songs in Spanish and shared the gospel to everyone we came across. We ate traditional Guatemalan meals and hiked a volcano and listened to our new friends cry over their disbelief in God. We would listen to their stories and cry with them.

Over spring break we went to a small beach town and knocked on door after door in the houses across the railroad tracks. Sometimes they invited us in, to talk about this Jesus that we loved. And sometimes they didn’t. But we cared for them and we played games with their kids and we would repair their damaged houses. By the end of the trip, everyone in the neighborhood would come to our block party and we would laugh with them over silly things the kids would do and say.

When I came back to campus after these trips, I was a little different. All of us were.  I think when I saw Jesus move mountains, mountains started to shift inside of me, too. Prayers became urgent and conversations intentional and thoughts radical. Sometimes I still see their faces—the people I passionately shared the gospel with and all of the ones I didn’t.

It’s funny, really. How college changes everything.

It was in the cow college in South Alabama where I learned that the gospel is for the broken and the beautiful, for the lowly and the lifted up, for the desperate and the deacons, for the rebels and the righteous. I felt such community in that little town, with the old oaks and the white churches and some of the best people I will ever meet. Jesus met me in that town, over and over again. It was where the tears came while singing Amazing Grace off-key and where my husband got down on one knee and where my voice grew hoarse from cheering too loudly at football games. It was where I got one too many parking tickets and where I stayed up all night memorizing rush songs. It was where I learned how magnificently faithful my God is.

It was where I stopped being little Lucy, lost in the back of a wardrobe, because I heard Aslan calling me home.

But like I said before, it’s easy to romanticize college.