I can’t believe I’m in college! was all I could think as I walked around campus shortly after my parents and brothers left to drive back to the Lowcountry of South Carolina.
Saying good-bye to them was hard, but I also felt ready to leave home. I was confident God had brought me to Clemson, so as I stood in front of Littlejohn Coliseum and watched them drive away, I knew I was exactly where God had placed me.
I was thankful my parents felt confident about leaving me too. And really, that’s the way it should be as a teenager matures into adulthood. As a child, my dad and mom clearly established their authority and exercised lots of rules for my good. There were times when I wondered about the restrictions in my life and would sometimes ask, “Why?” They were gracious in explaining the “why” many times especially when there were things they felt I should understand. But other times they simply said, “We are your parents. This is what we feel is best for you. And that is why. You will have to trust us.”
As I matured and demonstrated obedience, my parents allowed more freedom in my life. Instead of clamping down on me as I was approaching adulthood (which can often lead to rebellion), they were able to “let go.”
But even with all the preparation, and even though I was ready, the tears still streamed down my face as I waved good-bye to them. I thought about my mom as their car rounded the bend and I could feel the empty space widening between us. Growing up in a household of all guys, we had a close relationship. I knew tears were freely flowing from her eyes. It was hard to believe this day had come. Home was only four hours away. And yet, four hours seemed like so much more. Everything was changing.
I walked back to my dorm later that afternoon. I had requested a high-rise on the opposite side of campus but had been assigned to Young which was a shoebox dorm. It was a girls’ dorm surrounded by boys’ dorms and a couple of co-ed dorms. I loved that my room was on the top floor. I had a view of the courtyard and could see parts of the sidewalk that ran in front of the building from my desk. In front of Young Hall was a small grassy knoll with a quaint historic white house and study in the backyard. “Fort Hill” was originally the estate of John C. Calhoun, who was both a Legislator and Congressman, and then the house was passed on to Calhoun’s daughter and son-in-law, Thomas Green Clemson. Upon his death, the estate was left for “the betterment of South Carolina education.”
My room was plain to say the least. The dorm was built in the sixties or seventies and lacked any modern interior design. The floors were some sort of concrete. The walls were white painted cinderblocks. Yes, cinderblocks. The back wall of the room was solid windows from waist level up.
The right side of the room was mine. A desk by the window, bed, closet with shelves, and a small sink and mirror. The communal bathroom was across the hall.
I had met my roommate once before my arrival. I was going to put my name in for a random drawing because I didn’t know anyone going to Clemson. Since I was educated at home, the pool of students I knew who were going to the same college was significantly reduced. My best friend at the time, who had attended a private high school, was headed off to another university. Right before I put my name in to be signed up with someone of the university’s choosing, a friend of ours from church told us she had a relative who was going to Clemson and that she was a Christian.
I really wanted a Christian roommate. I didn’t know what the secular environment of college would be like, but I hoped my roommate would be a person I could trust and feel relaxed around.
Lauren was her name. She had arrived on campus a few days before me. Her side of the room was already set up when we got there, which made my side look all the more bare upon my arrival. She was out and about the day my family helped me get my room set up. When she came in the door later on, I knew immediately she would be a whole lot of fun. She had lots of long red hair poking out from a straw cowboy hat, and as she walked in the room her cellphone started going off to “Eye of the Tiger.”
“Phew,” she said as she jumbled to get her phone, “That’s a lot of stairs!” For some reason our dorm didn’t have an elevator that went all the way to the fourth floor.
“Your side of the room looks good, GA!” I’d never had anyone ever call me “GA” before but it soon became a pretty common nickname for me and I’m pretty sure it started with Lauren.
I set up my laptop on my desk and lined up some of my books on the little brown shelf above my desk. Included was a short series of devotional Bible study books that my dad had given me years before. They were about as simple as devotional books come. They contained short questions about the basics of the Christian faith with lots of empty spaces to answer questions and reflect on passages of Scripture. My dad had led our family in devotions with them one year, and I had always really liked them but never finished the whole series.
I really wanted to commit my time in college to the Lord. I really wanted to walk with Him and live for Him. By God’s grace, I had always desired that. But my senior year in high school brought a great trial in my young life which solidified those desires in a very real way.
While I was busy preparing for the SATs, I noticed a strange and small bump on my arm. When it didn’t go away, my mom took me to the doctor. “It’s nothing!” he said, without a doubt in his voice. “But we always send these things off to the lab for testing as a precaution, so we will get back with you.”
Some days later, we were at home when I heard my mom talking to my doctor over the phone. “Cancer?” I heard her say. My heart started pounding. What? Cancer?
Then I heard her say Melanoma. Melanoma?
“GraceAnna,” my mom said very calmly when she got off the phone. “The doctor says the spot on your arm was melanoma. We are going to go in tomorrow and they are going to take a large section of skin out of your arm to make sure it hasn’t spread anywhere in your body. They are pretty confident that your spot was so small that it hasn’t. But they want to be safe.”
I burst into tears. It sounded simple but at the same time, very scary. And why did they have to use the word, cancer?
Isn’t skin cancer for older people or girls who go to tanning beds? I’d never been to a tanning bed in my life.
The days that followed were very hard and yet very faith-forming.
Even as a 17 year old girl, I began to realize that life is very fragile. I imagined the worst case scenario. What if the melanoma had spread and I had to undergo chemotherapy? What if I kept getting melanoma over and over again for the rest of my life?
When I went in for my minor surgery the next day, I quoted Psalm 34 over and over again.
I sought the LORD, and he answered me
and delivered me from all my fears.
Those who look to him are radiant,
and their faces shall never be ashamed.
This poor man cried, and the LORD heard him
and saved him out of all his troubles.
The angel of the LORD encamps
around those who fear him, and delivers them.
After the doctor took a larger portion out of my arm, we had to wait a week to hear any news. My doctor was fairly confident that the melanoma hadn’t spread. But he didn’t want to take any chances and he was very serious when he discussed possible implications.
I could hardly eat that week. I stared into the crackling fire in our fireplace and wondered what my future would hold.
What was God’s will for my life? What if He wanted me to die young?
I told the Lord that no matter what happened, I would live fully for Him. It wasn’t an “If you do this, I will…” sort of thing. It was just a moment of reaffirming in my heart what I’d already told the Lord the night I sat on the front porch with my parents as a young child when I first believed.
For every Christian, there are times when God works in our lives – usually through a trial – and we are never quite the same afterward. Our love and knowledge of Him is deeper. It’s 1 Peter 1:7 at work, “In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.”
I didn’t know what was ahead. But I trusted Him.
The results came back negative. I was so relieved, yet I was not unchanged. I was conscious even as a teen, that life is short. I wanted to live for the things that were lasting. Those days had shaped me in a way that I can’t even explain.
I finished lining up my books and unpacking my desk. My room looked neat and tidy but still rather plain. I climbed under my covers the very first night in my new room. I sighed and I wondered if I would be homesick.
I prayed for a few moments, and then before I could think anymore, exhaustion took over and my first day as a college student officially ended.
to be continued…