Take Me Deeper: The Truth About Sophomore Year

Friday, December 26, 2014

I've heard about all the college cliches and dreaded them for so long.  The freshman fifteen.  The sophomore slump.  The senior scramble.  (It looks like the junior year skipped the list of maxims.)

The main thing I faced during freshman year was dealing with the Midwestern weather.  But sophomore year has been different for me.

The illusion of perfection dies away.  The novelty and the compelling mystery of the new experiences are no longer the driving force behind the "romance" with the school.  Instead of being welcomed in by every committee and making hundreds of new friends, sophomores are now faced with the challenge of going deeper and sustaining relationships in the midst of the personal stress of making significant life decisions regarding majors and careers.

The irony in my life is that everything I've experienced this year really had nothing to do with the fact that I am now a sophomore.  It had everything to do with experiences that have challenged me, hurt me, encouraged me and changed me.  And I'm learning more and more that the secret to depth in relationships and honesty as a writer can be summed up in one word: vulnerability.  So, friends, I'm going to tell you about my sophomore year.

On The Flip Side

When I first got back to campus, I jumped right in as a volunteer leader for orientation week to welcome in the freshman and lead a group for the community service day in downtown Chicago.  My floor then participated in the annual parade where we rally around dorm spirit and bring the new students into our little world.  Through this, however, there were mixed feelings. About a week before I left home to return to Wheaton, we received news that my grandmother had been diagnosed with stage 4 liver cancer.  You can read about my experiences with grieving while being away from my family in my article It Is Well With My Soul. I had a difficult time feeling content with where I was when all I wanted was to be home with my family. Even still, I tried to do my part by writing boatloads of letters and making phone calls as often as I could in between classes and clubs.

In the midst of these highs and lows, I was blessed with three roommates who quickly became my dearest friends and created such a loving environment in our super suite (where we have two rooms combined).

I was also able to spend time with our dear family friends the Barlows from Barlow Girl.  They were incredibly helpful and supportive — and they offered such wisdom and perspective during a time when I needed support.

Spreading Myself Thin

One of my ways of coping with the split life I was feeling more and more was throwing myself into my work.  I truly loved all my extracurriculars — but I was more busy than ever before in my life and hardly had time to breathe.  I took up two jobs this semester, one as a TA in the English department and the other as a weekly private English instructor for middle and high school students. In addition, I was working as the events and marketing coordinator for Wheaton Swing Club and volunteering to run PR for the Wheaton debate team.

I was overwhelmed.  This often led to stress and frustration when jobs weren't completed the way I had expected and, to be honest, my perfectionism was getting in the way of things.  I was hard on myself more than anyone, but it was driving me crazy.

I'm not quite sure why this trend happens to me when difficult things arise in my life.  Perhaps it's that I gain a false sense of control.  I am in charge of my schedule and my many activities serve to distract me from the pain that I can't bear alone.

Needless to say, fall break came at a time when I desperately needed a breather.

Fall Break in South Dakota

I had the great joy of spending break with two of my dearest college friends, one of whom lives in South Dakota.  We all road tripped to Sioux Falls and this little writer even went on a pheasant hunting trip and learned how to shoot a gun!  It was exhilarating and so refreshing to be away from the hurried lifestyle at Wheaton.  There were no deadlines, no schedules, no meetings.  It was a reminder that life exists outside of the calendar.  I had fun!  It had been so long since I'd had a day with no homework and my weary spirit was restored.

But this sense of joy didn't last long.  It ended as abruptly as it had come.

On the last day of our South Dakota trip, the phone call came from my mother saying that my grandmother had passed.  Everything struck me hard — not only was I away from home, but also away from Wheaton, my second home, and the sisters I'd found in my roommates.  It was late at night and my friend drove us to an open alfalfa field where we star gazed and I grieved and prayed.  It was incredibly therapeutic.

As soon as we got back, I flew home to be with family and be part of the funeral, where each of the grandchildren spoke.  By the time I got back to campus, I was emotionally drained.

What happened next in my little life took me off guard the most.  Out of protection for those involved, I can't go into detail.  But in short, as is probably evident for those of you who read my "Writing As..." series, incredibly hurtful things were said to me only days after I returned from grieving with my family.  I was already at a low point and now couldn't fathom how everything had unraveled so quickly.  I blamed myself, I blamed others, I felt angry and hurt and offended and, most of all, confused.

How could these things happen in my carefully put together life?  How and when had I lost control of it all?

I found myself losing desire to work through each day, even though it was typically my work that kept me in a phase of distraction.  But even that was not solace enough.  I would get upset at random moments, regardless of where I was, sometimes in church, other times in chapel.  And I had to learn what it meant to actively live out a relentless love even when it hurt me.

During this time, there was a poem that was incredibly instrumental in my life. I read it over and over, sometimes more than once a day, because it's words brought peace to my pain.

"Our Father knows what's best for us, so why should we complain? 
We always want the sunshine, but He knows there must be rain. 
We love the sound of laughter and the merriment of cheer, 
But our hearts would lose their tenderness if we never shed a tear.
God never hurts us needlessly, and He never wastes our pain,
For every loss He sends to us is followed by rich gain.
And when we count the blessings that God so freely sent,
We'll find no cause for murmuring, and no time to lament.
For our Father loves His children, and to Him all things are plain,
So He never sends us pleasure when the soul's deep need is pain.
So whenever we are troubled, and when everything goes wrong,
We know God's working in our hearts, to make our spirits strong."

My year was far from perfect, just as my life is so very far from perfect.  I am the most wretched of sinners and there are days when I am just overwhelmed by the fact that God sees anything in me worth saving.  I don't deserve His forgiveness and yet He gave it freely.  And if He forgave me, how could I not forgive others?

Through this experience, I learned a very important life lesson. 

Hurting people only hurt back.  Forgiven people forgive.

Our lives are knit together by the good times and the bad.  But the dark strands are just as crucial as the bright ones.  In fact, it's the difficult experiences that really challenge us and make us deep.  My philosophy professor, Dr. Talbot at Wheaton College, encourages his students to try our best to remember the bad things that happen in detail. That's how we will learn from it.  That's how it will make us deeper people.

Just because someone is a Christian doesn't mean they will always flourish.  It isn't that facing difficulty is valorous.  God gives us the adversity we need to be deep.

I have grown a great deal this year through everything.  I've known great joy, such as hitting my clay pigeon in the prairie or hosting a successful swing dance for Wheaton's campus.  But I've also known great sadness.  And I trust that God uses both experiences for good in the framework of His master plan.

My life song this year is one that perhaps many of you know: Oceans by Hillsong.  I sing it on the mountaintop and I sing it in the valley.  It is an anthem to which many can relate.

Take me deeper than my feet could ever wander
And my faith will be made stronger
In the presence of my Savior

Did I face a sophomore slump?  Maybe.  But if so, it really had nothing to do with being a sophomore.  It had everything to do with being human.  And I am so much stronger now because of the things that have happened, both the good and the bad.

May you be made deeper through whatever it is you're facing.  Know that you are not alone.  Remember that you are loved by God — that is the truest thing about you.  Before anything else can be said about you, that must be said.  It doesn't matter if you feel like a success or failure, He loves you.  It doesn't matter if you feel all alone or surrounded by people who care, He loves you.

May you rest in this fact always and never forget it.



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  1. You gotta love this girl. Rock it Ciera, you're one of a kind.

    1. Thank you for reading and commenting!

  2. Thank you from sharing from your heart. It challenging when a person moves out from the comfort and security of familiar surroundings into the new phases in life that challenge existing skills and beliefs. I am so glad that Jesus is guiding your steps.

    1. Thank you so much for reading and sharing! I truly appreciate it! God bless!

  3. This is incredibly powerful and moving, Ciera. It made me reflect on my own times at college, particularly my very first semester (fall of my freshman year). On top of adjusting to living on campus and spending time around people who were very different from me, I also lost my weekend job (though I found a new one within a few weeks) and dealt with my grandfather's first bout with lung cancer. I won't say a whole lot more, since it's a long story in itself, but I couldn't have imagined a tougher first semester of college, and I'm glad I came out stronger and willing to keep going at the end.

    I think a lot of us (if not all of us) go through times like this as we grow up, when a lot of good and bad things seem to happen all at once and we have to find a way through the fog and rain. It sounds like you went through one of those periods. I'm glad to hear you've gotten through it and learned something from it. I hope the new year brings you and your family an abundance of peace, warmth, and happiness. :)

    Btw, you're not alone in feeling loss of some kind this year. My grandmother passed away in June from ovarian cancer, so I understand your pain.

    1. Thank you so much for your touching comment. I truly appreciate it. I know it's helpful for me to write it all out in order to be reflective - thank you for sharing about your experiences in college, too. I wish you and your family every blessing as we go into the new year.