I remember sitting in the back of my parents’ van that Friday morning with a queasy sick stomach. I had never lived away from home and I was afraid. Of everything.
We arrived at school and my parents helped me load my stuff into the tiny dorm room. The sign on the door said Tracy and Linda; I hadn’t met Tracy yet and was terrified of doing so. The dorm was empty and the overall feel was depressing. We drove around campus so I would know where to go to register and eat and all the important things. My parents were practical like that: you needed to know the location of the bathroom and where to do your laundry.
And then they left. I don’t remember the exact goodbye, but it was definitely casual, that was their style. They were with me for a few hours, maybe half the day. College was only 90 minutes from home, so they had planned to travel down in the morning, stay around to get me settled, and then leave. I’m sure they were anxious to get home in time for their usual Friday night dinner date.
The only person I knew at college was Julie Barton, (not her real name!) Her parents were the youth leaders at church and Julie and her brothers were the cool, popular kids. They exhibited total disdain for our family. I knew that she was not an option as a friendly face for me in this strange new land. But her parents were always very kind, and when I ran into them on Sunday I was surprised. Julie was two years ahead of me and starting her junior year. Why were Mr. & Mrs. Barton still around? They had been there the entire weekend with Julie and wondered where my parents were.
When they asked how I was settling in, I burst into tears! I was horribly embarrassed, and Mrs. Barton gave me a warm hug. Quickly pulling myself together, I chatted about the freshman orientation activities and how I was looking forward to starting classes. But they were not fooled, and I learned later that Mr. Barton scolded my father for not staying longer with me and providing support.
My dad told me this story, and how he defended himself. They didn’t realize their 18-year old daughter would be scared, or lonely, or needing her parents at such a time! Preposterous! How could they be expected to know that? After all, I didn’t ask them to stay nor indicate that I wanted them there.
The next hurdle of college life came at registration day. I was hoping to enroll in the Music Education program with a piano major, but was told it wasn’t possible. I needed prior approval and admittance into the music department which was done months in advance. An in-person audition was the final and critical requirement. I told them I knew nothing of this, but I had come ready to do an audition; I’d been working hard all summer. The admissions office had failed to notify me or make the proper arrangements. So the music faculty was hastily assembled and I was going to meet them that afternoon to see if they would admit me.
I was flustered and embarassed as I sat at the piano. I was the dumb girl who hadn’t even auditioned! I had done it all wrong, and what would I do if I couldn’t major in music? It’s the only thing I’m good at, what other major would even be an option? The distinguished group of faculty seated themselves in a semi-circle behind me. They informed me, again, that they didn’t normally accept students who hadn’t gone through the preliminary audition requirements. But since it wasn’t my fault, they would hear my performance and make a decision. I felt like I was facing an uphill battle and didn’t know if I could make the climb! Fortunately, months of practice and the blessing of muscle memory served me well. I went through my repertoire without a hitch: Bach, Beethoven, Chopin, Debussy, Khachaturian.
At one point, I turned around and saw the look two professors exchanged: it was one of surprise and in a very good way. They were impressed with me! At the end of my performance they officially accepted me into the music department, and I was so relieved! My college piano professor was a wise and warm mentor, and a huge blessing to me over the next few years.
One takeaway from this story is that God was so faithful to me. He was and still is faithful! Attending that school was life-changing in the best way: the lessons I learned and the friends I made set a good course for the rest of my days. During my college years my faith grew by leaps and bounds. I met my wonderful husband Dave. And my terrifying roommate Tracy became a cherished and lifelong friend.
But the temptation, whenever I think about this story, is to feel sorry for myself. My parents were not sensitive, or supportive. I had to figure things out on my own.
And that’s the decision I have to make. Am I going to focus on God’s goodness to me or descend into self-pity? I know from experience which is the right choice,
I just need to decide to make it.
For from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace.John 1:16 (ESV)