My first year of college was transformational, weird, and wonderful.
I had moved 12 hours away from my family to attend a college where I knew 2 people, in a state I had been to twice. It was terrifying yet thrilling.
But one of the most frightening things was walking into a dining hall as a freshman.
I asked a few college freshmen earlier this week if they knew what I was talking about… they didn’t. So this very-well could just be me.
I would walk into a dining hall for lunch or dinner those first few months of college and become absolutely terrified. After surveying all the options, circling the dining hall a few times, then deciding exactly what I wanted, I would more often than not get my food to-go and eat it back in my dorm while watching America’s Next Top Model. Dining halls were scary. They were filled with lines, and so many choices, and more intimidatingly, people I didn’t know… who didn’t know me, but seemed to know each other very, very well.
My first couple of months of college were filled with lonely meals. Not because I didn’t have friends yet or because I was anti-social, but because I didn’t know where my family was.
You see, I had spent the first 18 years of my life coming home from school and having dinner with my family. That’s just how things worked in my house. Meals were connect times with people who loved me and wanted to hear about my life. And college was seeming to be a place where I’d have to go without them.
But there’s a shift that happens that no one tells you about towards the middle of your freshmen year. You realize that you can still have your family. It’s just going to look a little different now.
You have to allow your friends to become your family.
This wasn’t an overnight thing for my friend group. It was a gradual thing that came after we had all subconsciously made some choices. And even now, as a young adult, I’m finding we still have to make these choices in order to keep having family. But as a young adult, these decisions must be way more intentional.
Looking back, I realize there were a few key decisions we all had made, un-voiced in our hearts.
- We decided to eat together. It sounds simple, but there is something about having a meal together that bonds people. Shauna Niequist says it best: “When we stop everything else to gather around the table and eat a meal…, we honor our bodies and the God who created them… And in that moment we acknowledge that even though life is fast and frantic, we’re not machines and we do require nourishment, physically and otherwise.” You must make an effort to eat meals with your friends. Cook for them. Let them cook for you. Sit at a table with them and enjoy every bit of the meal and company that is placed in front of you.
- We decided to be honest with each other. Enough with the word “fine.” When someone asks you how your day is, believe that they actually want to know. They don’t want to hear that your day was “fine.” “Fine” is the most generic and superficial answer we can give. But when we choose to believe someone cares about our day, walls are brought down and family is formed. It allows bonds to be made that proclaim “I know the season you’re in. I get it. I’m with you in it.”
- We decided to run errands together. My friend, Jeff, is a prime example of this. We became friends our first week of college, but he quickly became family. I’m pretty sure I ran more errands with him than any of my other friends… possibly even my real family; trips to WalMart, HEB, the mall, Jimmy John’s, wherever. He became my brother because we were together and doing the boring, mundane stuff of life together. You get to know people really well after you take a trip to Target with them. And then I started thinking how different college would’ve been if I had run those errands alone. Don’t run errands alone, friends. Drag someone along. Chances are, they need toilet paper too.
- We decided to become texters. If you aren’t a texter now, start becoming one. Some people are anti-group-text but I am ALL about them. It’s an amazing thing to have a piece of communication where plans can be organized and everyone can be in on it. Yes, your group-texts will sometimes go off into rabbit-trails about the latest Iron Man movie or why creamy peanut butter is way better than crunchy. Just let it happen. While we’re talking about this, let me add – you should respond to texts! Send people “How’s your day going?” texts. Be intentional. And yes, you have time for this. It takes about 15 seconds to send a text.
- We decided to show up. It didn’t matter who was initiating the hang out… it didn’t matter if I knew 2 or 20 people there… it didn’t matter if I had no interest in the movie we were watching or the restaurant we were going to… if I was available, I showed up. As a “family”, we became committed to celebration – the big and little things. We chose to mourn with each other when things were hard. We came to performances, dinners with parents, birthday parties, prayer times. We decided to be there… when it was most difficult, when life was crazy, when we were tired. We chose to be there.
- We decided not to run away when things got hard. And things DID get hard. Disagreements were had. Breakups happened. Awkward conversations were braved. But we chose to press in when things got uncomfortable. We didn’t stop showing up because things were awkward. We didn’t stop showing up because we were offended. We had the hard, necessary, clarifying conversations. We tried our hardest to accept correction with humility and not pride. We stayed vulnerable. We forgave. We extended grace to each other in our messiness and mistakes. We learned how to do life together, not alone.
The key was pressing in.. being present.. acknowledging the now moments and living fully awake in them. It was being free from comparison by celebrating the accomplishments of another “family” member. It was realizing that each person, despite their own weaknesses, had something entirely unique that the “family” needed. It was loving the imperfections, walking through the mess, and allowing your friends to become one of closest families you’ve know.