November 25, 2019
I hope this finds you well. I’m sorry it has been so long since my last letter. From the letter you sent me in October, it sounds like you are thriving – even flourishing.
Your new Campus Ministry House looks amazing. From the pictures that you sent me, I have some deep envy. I’ve got a little office – just me – and a part time assistant. It can be a little lonely. I can only imagine as I write this with Thanksgiving on the horizon, this is something you are giving particular gratitude to God for. It looks like a space you would have designed – the dark woods, the fireplace, the nooks for sitting and studying or simply enjoying a sip of conversation. I can’t wait to see it in person!
In your letter I can hear your excitement – dare I say – enthusiasm. It sounds like a new beginning and I can tell you feel like it’s a fresh start for Hope. I’m praying that will be the case.
I love this time of year. Believe it or not, I actually love the weather. We are in what I call the “gloom” of November. We don’t get a lot of sun, just grey cloud cover and rain – lots and lots of rain. The ground is saturated so that when you walk it can sound like a suction cups. November is a transition month – an in between season – it’s like a spraring match between winter and fall. It’s warm one day and it’s cold the next. But if history has any precedence, winter will soon deliver a knock-out punch. As they say in Game of Thrones, “Winter is coming!”
Out of my window at Revelation Memorial Chapel, I can see our Physical Plant crew
cleaning up and preparing for the winter. Leaves are gathered and vacuumed up with a lawn mower, and pressurized air is being blown through the sprinkler system to chase out the remnant water in the pipes, so they don’t freeze, and it comes out of the sprinkler heads spraying a fog-like mystery shrouded in mist.
With the leaves and sprinklers, it’s also the time of the year for preparation for the end of the academic year. I also love this time of the year, because you can begin to see the light at the end of the semester’s tunnel. I don’t know about Hope, but with the late Thanksgiving recess, we have only a short turn around till we have finals.
In the past few days, I can see this reality is starting to sink in! I can see it on the faces. Stress. Anxiety. Finals week is around the corner. And with it, I’m getting more requests to pray! It’s as if students looked down at the syllabus (which they have had all semester!) and realized, as if the first time, that they have six papers due at the end of the year – which is less than two weeks away! Their faces that were once playful and at ease, now have turned flint with focus – like an NFL player about to take the field at the Superbowl.
This is the time of the year where I offer generously the wisdom of my Grandfather, who would often say to me when I was stressed, “Karis…take a deep breath…Everything that needs to get done gets done.” I have found that to be true. What needs to get done gets done! So take a deep breath, I say. Do the next thing in front of you. Do it well. Make a list. Cross it off. Crossing off lists is satisfying. Then move on to the next thing. Give yourself wholeheartedly to the work. Put away the phone. Turn off social media. Cancel Netflix. Dig in. Do the work. When you do…it will get done. Whatever it is! With attention, focus, time, hard work, it is AMAZING what you can accomplish in a day!
I think what I love about this time of year is the intensity. I like intense energy. I’m drawn to intense complexity in all its forms – whether in books, faith, music, love, even weather. It’s probably why we are such good friends! I’m always after the “deep narrative” in all experiences – the sub-text underneath the words – the story beneath the story – whether secular or sacred. I find in the governing dynamics of reality there is always a “basso profound” – a deep bass — that gives our breath-filled lives a sense of meaning and structure in this world of many gifts.
I’ve been thinking about that deep narrative as I’ve been approaching this Thanksgiving break. Beyond the obvious of giving thanks – what is the deep narrative of thanksgiving on a college campus? At Despondent U we don’t really have thanksgiving traditions – other than going home. Which makes me wonder…maybe that is the deeper narrative – the journey – the going – home. Home is the deep bass. Are we all not trying to get home? If I was to pick what kind of animal I am I’d be a salmon because the salmon is always trying to get home!
Home, when you are in college, is an interesting thing isn’t it? Holiday breaks in college is a series of packing up, and visiting home, and leaving again. It’s an interesting experience – visiting home. Home is usually permanent. But not now. It makes me think that being a college student is a lot like the month of November, it’s an existence caught between seasons – between one’s past home – and the future home – yet to be determined.
In college home is the place that knows you – but, at the same time, sometimes it doesn’t. Students are part here and part there. To go home is both familiar and at the same time foreign! Home has changed in some ways because they have changed.
I was thinking of this in a conversation I had yesterday with a student named Molly. We were meeting up at Life’s Hard Café, where the motto is, “Life’s hard, have a cup of coffee.” I got there early. I like to get there early to people-watch and to overhear conversations. It’s amazing what you can learn – free information! – by eavesdropping. I got a cup of black coffee made in a stainless steel French Press, listening to the music of Sleeping at Last coming through the speakers.
Unsurprising, Molly showed up right on time. She is a sophomore, with long brown hair, and alert eyes. She has a vivacious and infectious smile, that she wears as to shield away any and all energy vampires. Molly is a great listener. You have the feeling when you are in a conversation with Molly that you’re the only one in the room. Over the last year I’ve gotten to know her, talk with her, as she has made decisions to pursue her faith intentionally in Christ. Molly embodies 2 Corinthians 5:17 – “Therefore if anyone is in Christ, they are a new creation. The old has gone and the new has come.” Molly is new. She is different. Her faith in Christ has changed her whole world! She has a new confidence rooted in a new identity.
But her new faith has not always been easy. Old friends have not understood her new convictions. She can at times struggle to know how to share with them her new-found joy, identity, and purpose without coming across as somehow judgmental or misunderstood.
Molly sat down, sipping some Earl Grey tea in her green Yeti mug with a Young Life sticker slapped on the front. We small-talked for a while: her classes, binging The Crown and Jack Ryan. We talked about her last date – or lack thereof (apparently at Despondent U there is a lack of young men willing to step up and ask a girl out? It’s an issue we need to talk about in a future letter I think!) I asked her about her Thanksgiving plans. “Will you go home?” I asked, “What is going home like for you?”
“Yes. I’m going home. But I’m nervous.” She confessed. “It’s strange,” said Molly. “Home feels different. I feel different. I mean, I am different. I’ve changed. And I don’t know how to enter back into my family system and expectations the same way.” Then she asked an interesting question, “How do I bring a new me into a home that only knows the old me?”
It’s a great question. I imagine Molly is not the only one asking what it’s like to go home when home is no longer the same, because you’re no longer the same?
Home is important, necessary. Home is a declaration that our humanness cannot be found in escape, detachment, absence of commitment, and undefined freedom. Home is particular. But home also changes – which is OK, because we change.
What happens when you leave home, and you change, and have to come back home different? How do you bring your new self home?
I said to Molly, “Give yourself some grace. Be patient with yourself– and be patient with your family and friends. They are adjusting to you coming home just as you are adjusting to going home.” Meaning, don’t be quick to find fault if they can’t recognize the change in you right away. But at the same time, don’t be afraid to show them the change!
“How do I do that,” asks Molly? How can I show my family – my friends – I’ve changed. I don’t want to fall into the same old patterns anymore.
I said, “First, breathe. And then trust God. You don’t have to have all the answers for them. You don’t have to have it all figured out. Trust that God will use the little things to show others a difference in yourself. Second, be willing to risk – and share what God has been doing in your life. Don’t be put off or frustrated if they don’t understand or get it. Tell them specifics about your new life. The hard stuff and the good stuff. Your family wants to know you. They want to hear what’s going on – in you – in your heart – the good and the bad parts. But you have to share it. Meaning, you have to risk vulnerability – especially with your parents – so that they can catch up with you. Molly, consider that they are maybe a little nervous to see you! You have changed – but so have they! Your relationship with them is transitioning from being a kid to being an adult – they are learning with you what that means when you visit home. Just remember home is really about the relationships – and it may take a little time to find each other. Give yourself permission to re-enter an old world with new eyes. Third, I’d start with asking questions. Questions that invite conversations. Be curious about them. Ask your Mom and Dad what it was like for them at your age – what going home was like? Ask them how they dealt with changes in their life. You’ll be surprised, I bet, what you learn. Remember, your parents are just grown up kids, doing the best they can, and who want to know you – the new you, all of you – because they love you.
She nodded. “I want them to know me,” Molly said. “I want them to see me. I want them to see my faith.”
“The best way is to show not tell.” I said. “Show them your true self by the way you are with them. And just remember Molly, we are a pilgrim people. We are always on the way. We never home until we are home with God. So when you go home – go with the Spirit, go with the Son, go with the Father – and when you are with the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, you are always at home.
That is what I hope for you my friend. I hope you are at home – with your family and with God. I hope the real you is seen and known and understood. I hope you will give yourself some patience and grace. I hope you enjoy the intensity of the season – even the weather – no matter what it is.
That’s all the news from Despondent U! Write me soon! Tell me a story of hope.
Happy Thanksgiving. Give Kristen and the kids a hug from Aunt Karis – and remember to always love your place, love your people, and love the Word!
Grace & Peace,