It was a Tuesday night, in that late summer haze of endless space mixed with the upcoming arrival of responsibility. The previous weekend had been a flurry of excited hellos, stepping back into familiar spaces, running through inflatable corn mazes, dancing too much, magical new beginnings, an overwhelming sense of weight as this is the final year, and lugging too many things up three flights of stairs back to the hall affectionately known as Babe Cave, my home.
The past and future and present collided as I visited old camp friends, hugged college friends from all years, and got caught up in the electric atmosphere of energy that comes at the start inevitably.
But underneath that, I came in shouldering the weight of a summer that was nothing I expected and everything I couldn’t handle.
While healing had begun, it still felt like everything was one step forward one hundred steps back. I had grown up in a hurry, adjusting to a million little new responsibilities and figuring out where to turn since my primary counselor, advice giver, and encourager was no longer an option. I wrestled with old struggles and patterns I thought long since dead, unresolved issues and tensions I never thought would see the light of day. But as my professor so wisely told me last semester, that’s how grief works. Things come out of the background of your mind and victories you thought were won will seem to overcome you again.
I was also extremely aware of how the previous semester had played out: the feeling of drowning that came from grief, the completely shattered + unconnected pieces everything crumbled into, the exhaustion + questioning + doubts that haunted every pacing step across the campus, the way each class was a war inside to stay in survival mode and make it through, how I cried in every single space and in front of every friend and suddenly transformed from an introvert hiding out to a person who always tried to surround herself with people.
And so I consequently felt the weight of being not enough, of not having pulled enough together to feel semi-whole, of not being able to make it through anything or come back and meet invisible expectations of progress.
That last one is what nearly did me in. As a senior in a major in which I work with people through lots of complex situations, I was worried I would not be all there. I knew the standards were high, and I was afraid of falling short because I thrived under the label of being a good student. Additionally in that category, I had put in one of my worst performances in a class, barely able to keep it together enough to stay on top of that.
Personally, how was I ever going to reach beyond that and listen to other’s stories, enter into community and experience the joys and sorrows of life together sincerely? How would I listen to other’s hurt when I was hurting still. I thrived under the connection with others and my value as someone who can be there for others, but would it be possible.
Practically, the structure of an everyday routine, of having to force my body into rising with the sun, of handling all the decisions + emotions + sentimentality + relationship + milestones + unknowns of senior year without my mom’s wise advice and presence seemed impossible. And I let the invisible expectations of all this take hold.
So on that late August Tuesday night, it all nearly collapsed within me. Up to that point, I’d tried to enjoy the atmosphere of being back with everyone, that sweet time where it feels like summer camp, no classes begun. I’d tried to just keep doing the next thing, to explore the lessons of the summer. But an increasingly urgent mentality of : “I can’t handle this” took over my brain.
Being back on the campus that reminds me of last semester, my mom, and the aftermath. Being expected to carry on as normal (again, those invisible expectations I THOUGHT people had, but were all in my head). Being in chapels that reminded me how far I was from God even after all I was learning about depending on Jesus and that revealed how deeply flawed I was still.
At the breaking point, I wandered into a friend’s room, promptly broke down into tears, and stated the most seriously I ever had, on the night before classes began, that I thought I should drop out. It’s one thing to joke about it when things get hard, but this was a different level all together.
Minutes later we headed into the night session of chapel. My mind was a conflicted mess of contradictions and upside down ideas. I sat detached in my seat, the speaker’s words barely reaching my ears. Then, all of sudden, with one sentence, I was on the edge of my seat, eyes blurring from the profound nature of its impact.
DON’T STOP FIGHTING.
I’ll never forget that moment. Where it hit with full clarity and resonated within my soul.
This was exactly what I was doing. I was ready to give in. To let the brokenness, the darkness, the mess of my own sin to win. To forget and actively deny that God is able to do immeasurably more in and through me. To hide from all that this season could bring and all the healing I needed to not just keep to myself. To let myself not be changed by being in community, by being honest about the broken pieces.
Unable to move, heavy with expectations and all I was unpacking internally, I stayed in my seat as others responded to the words. But I cried like I had the previous semester, like I had after worship night where I saw it all unraveling but still sang out about the sovereignty of God even though I didn’t feel it, and like I did when the funeral day arrived and they carried my mom out for the last time. And I sat there until well past when the chapel mostly emptied out.
I won’t say that everything magically was resolved, and I felt any more capable to handle it. Yet, there was an underlying peace and recognition that God had been faithful in placing me in so many specific places and moments up until this point. Allowing me to end up at college by home so I could have quality memories and weekend trips home to treasure in what would be the last years with my mom. Placing me in a major where hurts are understood on a different level and where I could process all that was happening in the ways I most needed to. Working healing through the hardest summer and directing me back to school.
That phrase revealed to my confused heart one thing: I was meant to stay. God was not finished writing this story yet, including this chapter at college. That first day of school still arrived with an accompanying set of emotions and took a lot to get through. But I made the decision that night: don’t stop fighting. And it has pushed me forward into the current of life.
Each day still brings challenges, sometimes it’s harder to wrestle through the light and heavy and face it all, and sometimes it takes all the energy I have to navigate the smallest of tasks and survive the sudden waves of grief.
But I am not alone in this. God is at work, working in and through me in ways I could never imagine. It has been by grace alone, and that grace coming out in the actions of others, that I have made it so far. And I am increasingly aware of how He’s using this spilling out all over, total mess of a story of mine. Bringing me to a greater dependence on Him and starting to change all the areas of improvement He revealed. Giving me a more enduring hope, more opportunities to reach into others stories, a refined perspective on living and living well.
He has brought some of the best moments of my college years yet. Some of the most intentional and life-giving conversations, some of the best chances to love on others and show up for them, some of the craziest adventures and most joy-filled times of doing life, dancing into the night, running to donut shops, singing out His praises, diving into the truth, and fully embracing every opportunity. There is heartache and defeat still, but much joy in choosing to fight, in resting in His strength.
So I can say I almost (kind of, sort of, seriously considered) dropped out of school right before my last first day of school in college. And someday I’ll laugh in amusement at it all and tell my kids with a knowing smile of God’s faithfulness – which is already being displayed in crazy ways. But for today, I need to remember that the decision tumbling around in my brain was real, the emotions connected to it were real, the community that was around me was there, and the words don’t stop fighting point to a great God who works abundantly through our weaknesses and broken places.
Friends, whatever it is in your life that you’re tempted to just surrender but know deep down in your heart that you should keep at, don’t do it. Don’t let doubt win. Don’t allow possibilities and death and misplaced dreams tear you away from hope that is a reality, from the immeasurably more that He is always working in your life.
Don’t stop fighting,