I’ve gotten myself into a lot of trouble with two unassuming words I use all the time: I’ll never. I never intended to do a lot of things. I never intended to go to UGA. I never intended to fall in love with Jesus. I never intended to even major in what I studied in school. In fact, I said no to all of these things that have ultimately shaped me into the person I am right now. But I’ve since learned to never say never.
I had a tendency to not only shut the door, but also to lock it and then attempt to lose the key.I grew up with a very set, rigid idea of what my life would look like. To stray from the course would risk disaster, and I decided at a very young age that I could not afford any upset. I would have bought insurance for my future if I could have.
My old plan actually makes me laugh out loud now because I have no idea where I conjured it up actually, probably from a “best college rankings” list and whatever was cool in the New York Times in 2006.
My parents gave me a lot of freedom growing up to explore who I wanted to be and what I wanted to do, so I threw myself into studying and saying “no” to all of the things that would lead me astray from a path of academia and sweater vest wearing.
I could see it in the way that poverty littered the outskirts of my county and I could see it even in the way my parents would fight, so I burrowed into a little hole of Tolstoy and Austen afraid of the grime all around me.
In that little den of literature and math homework, I gritted my teeth and hoped and wished for security. I strained and I strained, and although my GPA throughout high school was pretty stellar, I felt alone and isolated and as if the weight of the world sat on my shoulders.
I made plans to attend Emory University in the fall of 2011. My parents even bought “Emory Mom and Dad” bumper stickers for their cars. I had always said, “I’ll never go to UGA.”
But May of my senior year rolled around and I had a very weird change of heart that led me to consider a visit to UGA that then led me to sending in that college deposit to Athens rather than to Atlanta.
That same summer, I told my cousin I would go to the beach with her on a mission trip, an act that prompted my friend to ask me, “Lauren, don’t only religious people go on mission trips?”
I went on that mission trip during the week of the 4th of July. I helped paint a brick house and patched a roof. I ate too many Swedish Fish candies on the floor with my cousin and her friends and sang Katy Perry in the bunk rooms before we went to bed.
At night, we worshiped on the beach, and I became fearful of looking like I didn’t know the songs (because truthfully I didn’t). I committed to learning the melodies because I was shocked that a group of kids my age could really care for Jesus in the way that they did.
I don’t know what my moral code really was. I did know that I had done some terrible things in life, and so the concept of grace that this “guy Jesus” offered (I was still a little skeptical) was attractive to me. So, when I got home from the trip in July, I started reading the new study bible my cousin had given me before the trip.
I would go into my room and lock the door, afraid that someone would find me googling King David or something. I started journaling which was mainly a bunch of “I love you, Jesus. I love you, Jesus. I love you, Jesus.” and “How Lord? How Lord? How Father, could you love someone like me?”
It was what the other kids were doing, and I didn’t know why really, but I needed desperately to know what they knew. I wanted what they had, that peace and light that I hadn’t known existed before.
I showed up to UGA in August with big plans. I thought I’d meet 30,000 new friends. I thought I’d end up as the president of the sorority. I thought I’d study abroad for a semester in Australia. If all of my plans would have been fulfilled, I probably would be planning my wedding right now.
What actually happened that August day I arrived with my twin, extra-large sheet set was the opposite: my roommate did not like me at all. Rush was long and hot and I lost my voice by the third day. I was a smiling mime. My hair got stuck in my best friend’s portable fan, which left me with fresh, new “side bangs.” I would get on the bus and cry to my mom because I thought I would never make it around campus in 15 minutes.
I hated it. I had never felt more alone or broken in my entire life. My life up until last August had been shaped by my own control. Here, I felt like I had that control snatched right from my hand.
What did I do when my roommate put a curtain up under her bed and refused to talk to me? I turned to Jesus and, though my roommate still didn’t want to talk to me, I discovered a still, small voice that encouraged me, stayed with me, and offered me peace and a new perspective.
I learned to pray, and so I prayed hard, desperate prayers. “God, I don’t know what I’m doing, but I need you. I need something. I need something to change and I want you. I’d give it all for you.”
I believed Him and, sure enough, my cards seemed to get shuffled and I got dealt a much more pleasant hand.
I started going to Freshley, the freshman student ministry of the UGA Wesley Foundation, and started walking with the Lord. Seriously. I would walk to class and talk to Him, and in a small group we would talk and pray together. Standing there, crammed into Wesley’s main chapel like a little sardine, I listened to the same songs I had learned on the beach the summer before,
I felt a new beginning and the “I’ll never” that I used to cling to was exchanged for a big “yes” to the unknown, knowing full well that I was following a plan much larger than my own.
I found life at UGA. I found family. I found hope and I found deep, satisfying love that makes the unknown and the filth all beautiful and exciting. Instead of saying “I’ll never,” I’m now saying a big “yes” to whatever door Jesus wants to walk me through. From what I’ve found over the last four years, they are doors that lead to the best, most exciting and fulfilling places.