Today at around 9:54, I underlined my thesis of an in-class essay and walked out of my last final of freshman year. I walked outside to an almost empty campus. It’s strange to think that this time, last year, I hadn’t yet walked the streets of UT’s campus or changed in all the ways my first year would mold me. Today, I ran through campus and reflected on the thoughts and moments I’d spent walking those streets. This year was full of living, hours shaped by shadows and concrete. Living in different places: places to think, places to talk, places I’ll hold and remember and want to tell you about. Here are a few of the places that shaped my freshman year.
i. the amphitheater: My first day of college, I woke up feeling remarkable hopeful, swearing I had zero expectations but holding plenty. I picked up my orange journal, and I wrote about the light coming through the window and my Mom at the door, and how I realized one day I’d miss mornings in my room like that. “I never want to forget morning like these, ever,” I wrote. Hours later, I was in my first English class, and walked outside with a few friends to sit in the amphitheater outside the Humanities building. It felt all kinds of exciting, and I was still a bit unsure where I was going at all times (I walked to my next class forty-five minutes early because I didn’t yet know how far it took to get from one place to the other). Now, if I walk on those grassy steps, I always see someone I know. I can barely spend a moment alone there, and that view is one I associate with sweet community I’ve found. My hope was not displaced, this year has been the most wonderful I’ve known, and it’s because of people that have transformed my idea of life, love, and had conversations between classes and over coffee that opened my eyes and heart.
ii. the stairwell behind the art building: I took an art class my freshman year because I knew it was something I’d regret not doing otherwise, or not have the time later. While it took most of my time, I was grateful to be pushed as an artist in ways I normally don’t create. One afternoon, my professor told us to find a spot outside and sketch, so I ventured for a while until I was on the stairs, looking at the shadows on the wall. Sketching and I don’t get along well, so like most days, I ended up writing poetry instead, my fingers covered in granite. That three hour class flew by, as I wrote and enjoyed the peace of not having to rush anywhere as I watched the shadows grow longer in sweet solitude. This past year has made me enjoy the luxury of quiet far more when it’s granted to me in small packages.
iii. the JFG sign: one day, I decided to find the parking lot behind this sign, the opposite view of Knoxville from 11th street. It’s a place I also spent many hours talking, looking out to the city lights. Sometimes I feel like a stranger in my own city, but sometimes I feel like it’s forever home. Sitting under the JFG sign, I find it always the later.
iv. suttree park: My dear friend Emma took me to Suttree park on an evening I particularly cherish where we watched the city lights, and read lists of life loves we’d written in Asheville the weekend before. It was cold, and we were wrapped in quilts from my car. I’ve only spent a couple more evenings there, watching as the sun goes down, how the lights grow longer on the water. The way they sparkle, reminding me of other cities I’ve loved and people and moments I’ve loved inside, is something I never want to forget. Dusk is my favorite time of day, especially when paired with walks and nature overlooking buildings as their windows go on, and streets beneath coming to life.
v. this drive: Traveling has always been my therapy, my happy spot. I love feeling wind I don’t recognize brush my face from an open window, heading somewhere. Sometimes you just got to drive a tiny bit into a nature, another like minded soul by your side listening to folk and smelling that unknown yet so familiar new air. Sometimes fifteen minutes is all you need, and these corners we’ve driven on one particular drive are some of my favorite.
This past year has been full of uncertainty: I didn’t expect to be broken in certain ways, I didn’t expect to lose stability in the way my life was shaping up. Yet, I feel the Lord kindly whispering to me daily, “I’m good to not leave you where you were.” There is safety in what he is asking us to give up, and so often that is comfort. I’ve been learning a lot about loss. When he asks for us, he asks for all of us. When he asks us to forsake this world, that’s more than five star meals and possessions. He asks us to give up success, for circumstances we hold tighter than life, for safety, for our very will, for emotional baggage, for the bliss of all the time in the world with friendships, for time, for our wanting, for cities we’d rather be lost in, for not running after earthly love and answers, for our very selves. Yet, “indeed I count everything as loss”. My soul rests in my taken life.
That’s why I like traveling with destination, or driving to places unknown. That’s why so much of this past year has been full of escapes, as my heart escapes previous notions. It reminds me of the story the Lord is writing for me, and I’m falling in love with such a story unknown and wonderful as that. We’re always going, we never know where.
vi. 11th street parking garage: My favorite place, and there aren’t sufficient words, really. I’ve often found myself on the 9th floor, starring at the city scape full of thoughts. The Lord’s been kind to give me trials I’ve cried through up there, and prayed through sad and confusing hours. There were people I brought up there, ones I didn’t know existed or knew at all when starting college and I then talked to for hours pouring out moments that shaped us. I’ve journaled up there, writing some of my favorite words. The last day of my first semester, I spent an afternoon eating a donut and celebrating. The last day of my second semester was this morning, and I drank cold coffee and peacefully reflected.
One thing college will try to teach you is life is defined by seasons: moving out, joining a certain amount of clubs, you do this at this point, you apply for a job at another point, you make this friend and go to this formal on this day, and so on and so on. But Jesus works differently. I’ve been learning to mark my own seasons, not defined by time or worldly gain but by grace and awareness of the Lord’s hand in my life.
My favorite moments of this past year were probably spent on a parking garage, looking out to the lights and the way they look in other’s eyes. It was on a parking garage, I felt my heart break, had to bear burdens, and felt forever dissatisfied. It was on a parking garage, I cursed and doubted the very vessel the Lord’s granted me. It was on a parking garage, I realized the Lord wants so much of me than I ever dreamed. It was on a parking garage, I realized how lovely hidden places such as towers of concrete were, and how Lord uses even those places to teach us about life – about cracked and shadowed things – and the way his glory is in and of all things. It was on a parking garage, and many other places around downtown and The University, I filled the last pages of an orange journal and began and ended that first year.
That is my own very season, defined by grace. It has been good, and I have such confidence it the Lord is preparing only good for me – good that looks different and is shaped differently in small and wild ways. And I? I get to learn it all, day by day. In the words of a college-aged Elisabeth Elliot: “God can surely give me abundant life. May I never turn aside.”