Like any choice, my decision to come to Southern Adventist University was a bag of scrambled motives. But I distinctly remember one line of thought pulsating as I contacted the school hoping to enroll. My girlfriend is going there. You can get the degree in theology, graduate, get hired by the church, and then get married. Easy life. Things will define themselves, and it will be easy.
Four years later, as I approach my graduation date this Sunday, I wish I could say I accomplished all my objectives and that God has given me a clearly marked door to walk through.
But I cannot.
I torpedoed the relationship I was in when I came to Southern rather quickly—bedazzled by the 3-to-1 female to male student ratio and compromised by mood swings and porn addictions.
I have tried to quit on my major every semester while here at Southern. Sometimes for dramatic reasons, but mostly because I feel like maybe I am just not cut out to be a church pastor.
And yet, I cannot complain. Even though I will accomplish only one of my three initial objectives, and even though last time I checked, a 33% success rate is not great—I believe my time here has been successful.
For starters, it is a miracle that I was able to come and finish out a degree at Southern Adventist University.
From getting in touch with just-the-right-patient-person to help a teenager enroll last minute for class, to connecting with friends who have carried me through painful experiences and given me something to smile about even as my brain works against me, right down to the financial support my house-cleaning mother and transmission-fixing father have given me—every step of the way has been a miracle.
A journey I could not have done on my own.
So I am exiting this university with a particular tension: my time here was rich with blessing; I have dozens of wonderful memories, and despite the turmoil, I know the hand of God brought me and sustained me here.
At the same time, some of my initial hopes never materialized. I lost an important person; I have gained a healthier relationship, but that dream of marrying the girl I came here with is gone for good. I do not have a nice conference pastor position lined up. Life is not completely sorted out; in fact, right now, life feels like when Google Maps goes gray in LTE-less territory, and I think I am on course, but fear a wrong turn will throw me off course.
I came to Southern believing that the right person, school, and job would sort me out, but the reality is that no school, no person, and no job will help make sense of me.
Only God can make sense of me, and only God can define this multiyear experience that I know I had to go through, even if I am unable to pinpoint an economically-measurable and socially-recognizable why.
The other day I was having a conversation with Star Stevens, the office secretary of the School of Religion at Southern. Something you must know about Star is that she keeps the School of Religion running and might be the most important personality in that department.
She had asked me what I was doing after graduation. Normally, I would have been grumpy about this question, but I had just finished my last assignment so I was unusually positive. Plus we had not had a conversation in a long time. We used to talk so much my first few years.
I told her I did not know, but that I was finally okay with that.
“You know, I always tell people that you never know when God is going to close a door so He can open a window. Once you get to the window, things are great, but the hallway—that hallway you have to walk through can sometimes feel like a personal hell.”
She bursts out laughing, and I laugh with her too.
I am amused by the fact she said hell.
But isn’t that the truth? God is there with us—guiding us through dimly lit hallways into windows and doors. It will be a thrill and it will be daunting; it will meet every dream and challenge personal agendas, but remember that although God is only sometimes nice, He is always good.