A while ago a Facebook memory popped up on my feed, and my heart just melted:
Someone made a comment, “The love shines through…what a wonderful picture.”
In a moment, I was moved to such great appreciation for my father and the role he plays in my life and the lives of our entire family. He spent today–his birthday!–serving us. He spent the day weed-whacking some of my brother’s property, maintaining our own, and even made a rare trip into town to replace our broken washing machine and help my mom get a little caught up on work.
He’s told me in the past that because of a mostly absent father in his own life, he wanted to be the total opposite in the lives of his own kids and grandkids. I think it’s pretty apparent by this photo that he has more than succeeded in that regard! And although he will modestly say that he has made his share of mistakes, I just have to say that I couldn’t be more blessed to have a dad like him. He’s shown up to all the games and all the dance comps, he’s given me the confidence and the support to get through college and beyond, and he’s been everything a dad (and grandpa!) should be.
Where: Windsor, Ontario, on the Detroit-Canadian border, and Point Pelee National Park
When: Late July 2016
Where to Stay:
Since ours was just a day trip, I can’t recommend any places to stay, but I know that there were a few places–hotels, motels, what have you–that you could look into within that general area. And if you’re looking for somewhere long term, maybe take a look near Point Pelee. I don’t know if any of them were for rent, but there was a strip of adorable beach houses just outside the park that would be dreamy to stay in during the summer.
Where to Eat:
Most of the restaurants in the Walkerville area are a little pricey, but check out The Walkerville Tavern for a budget-friendly place. It’s a small sports bar that makes you wonder how great their food will be when you first walk in. However, we had vegetarian and shellfish-averse dietary needs, and they had something for everyone that also tasted awesome. Highly recommend, and the waitress/bartender was amazing and deserved the best service tip.
What to Do:
You’d think the town right across the border would be a cool little tourist town for Americans to explore. You’d be wrong. In the height of summer, Windsor seemed like an empty town with very little to see just over the border. It’s cool to see the Canadian flags everywhere, but where are the Canadian people? Turns out: it’s a college town. And now I get why there’s not a whole lot going on. We arrived Saturday mid-morning to a farmers market just closing down and another small street festival setting up. We found the local tourism building, thankfully, and were pleased to find out there was a small national park, Point Pelee, about an hour away.
Point Pelee was delightful. It is small, but sits on Lake Erie and is home to the most southern point of Canada. It has a lot of opportunity for learning about rare Canadian wildlife, birdwatching, and taking fun beach pictures. It’s primarily marshland and small lakes in which you can take a canoe tour, and also part beach. Additionally, you can stand on the 42nd parallel:
Enjoy Lake Erie, but swimming is highly discouraged since tides can shift quickly and pull you out. But mostly remember to snap a photo on the point.
If you do decide to stay for a bit in Windsor, I’d suggest downtown Walkerville and the Caesar’s hotel and casino. There still weren’t a ton of people around when dinner rolled around, but those places were more lively than the rest. However, I commend the local bookstore for throwing a Harry Potter launch party for the release of the Cursed Child script. I couldn’t attend myself, but I passed a couple on the street who were heading there in full Hogwarts garb. It was obviously gonna be lit.
The sunset that night was amazing. After dinner, we parked ourselves by the riverside. It rained a little, it sunned a little, it breezed a little. This really captures the essence of the evening:
There’s a lot that you take away from studying abroad, but everyone will tell you that. You will make your own experience, but here are a few practical things to note when you’re studying at the University of Essex. I come to you as a graduating senior from Chico State University, California, who studied there for the autumn 2016 term through a Direct Exchange program. Here’s what I learned:
This is not a typical centuries-old university. While some part of me expected to arrive at something akin to Hogwarts, the University of Essex is actually comparatively new in the U.K. university system. The buildings are more modern and the campus is located in a quieter, country setting. (I found campus and the surrounding community remarkably similar to Chico in terms of the pace and general atmosphere.) Adjust your expectations accordingly.
The Essex Abroad office will not do everything for you. They will do the best they can, but often that means that you’ll be in the dark about things that other local students take for granted, like how to take exams or how to enroll in a different class, for example. Pay attention to your emails, and don’t delete any of them. Ask for help. Take initiative. Be an independent adult. You’ll be confused a lot, but that’s ok–it’s just part of the experience, so just go with it.
The system is designed to separate professors from the grading system. What I mean by that is if you are a study abroad student, especially one who is only there for the autumn term, your professors will probably not be able to answer questions about how your grades will be received at home, how you should submit an assignment that is due after you’ve returned home, how autumn finals will work, etc. Many professors do not even write their own final exams. Once again, keep checking your emails, go and visit your department office, and ask questions. It’ll get figured out, so don’t stress overmuch.
The cohesiveness of their technology is on point. No system is perfect, but I was really impressed by how easy it was to print, check out books from the library, submit assignments online, and take class attendance electronically. Remember this: ListenAgain is the greatest thing that will ever happen to you, especially if you travel in lieu of attending that Friday lecture. Use it.
Go to class as often as you can. With the above being said, don’t use ListenAgain as an excuse to sleep in all the time. Learn the material while you have the time, because your final is worth the majority of your grade and the more you know ahead of time, the better.
Be realistic about the kind of housing accommodation you need. The Towers accommodate 10-14 people on each floor, is the best for your budget, and is also very social. The Meadows and South Courts accommodate less people per flat, will be a bit pricier, and will be a little quieter. I should have gone with the latter instead of the former, if I’m being honest. I know myself, and the extra cost might have been worth the sleep and peace of mind I would’ve received in return. Don’t get me wrong, I loved my flat mates, and we were incredibly fortunate to have all gotten along as well as we did. But just be honest with yourself about how you envision your home life, and make your choice accordingly.
Girl, bring those fleece-lined tights. Best. Purchase. Ever. That being said, it’s actually drier and a tad warmer in Colchester than most parts of the country. Even this California girl didn’t freeze nearly as much as she thought she would, and in the autumn, blue skies and beautiful weather were quite common. Still, bring the tights.
Speaking of packing: pack waaaaaaay less than you think you need. You will always end up buying clothes and souvenirs there anyway, so you might as well save yourself some trouble on the way over and pack light. Color coordinate your clothes, and bring versatile pieces. Scale down your toiletries, because you can always buy more. Be real with yourself about what you really need–because believe it or not, you can get away without a LOT. Be prepared to leave some things behind, too. I made it here with one suitcase and a carry-on that was good for weekend trips. I packed an extra empty duffle bag for souvenirs for the trip back. It was perfect for my needs for staying a single semester.
Travel, but not too much. Don’t forget to make friends here, and invest the time in them. Your flat will probably be full of international students, which is awesome, and they make excellent travel buddies! Go places with them. But don’t forget to make British friends too! When you are friends with the locals, you feel like a local.
The whole grading system will be confusing. In fact, their entire educational setup completely threw me for a loop, even though I’d researched it beforehand. Giulia, another international student from Arizona who was also here for the fall semester, gives a really detailed account of these differences in her blog here. (Thank you Giulia!) Know how your study abroad program does its grades before you get here. And don’t get upset when you get a 60 on an essay–that’s actually pretty ok…I think.
Campus life will be different, but be sure to get involved. Follow all the Facebook pages you can, and be sure to check https://www.essexstudent.com/colchester/ to keep up with “what’s on.” (This website is actually really important if you want to keep up on the social events! I should have checked it more often, because I missed out on a few things I really would have liked to attend. It’s not all advertised on their Facebook like I expected.) Join a society or two–do something familiar and do something new. Giulia also outlines the different aspects of American vs. U.K. campus life in her blog post, so now you have 2 reasons to check out her post. Bottom line: get involved, even if you can come up with a million reasons not to.
Explore the campus and the town. London is great–really, it became my favorite city–, but don’t neglect your own uni town! There’s lots of places to discover on and off campus in Colchester. There’s a park on campus if you need somewhere peaceful to walk, or there are night clubs on and off campus if you’re looking for more activity. Wivenhoe is a quiet, idyllic English town nearby, and there are plenty of shops, restaurants, and historic sites to explore in Colchester town, including Colchester Castle and the surrounding grounds. Don’t miss out on the place you’re calling home for the next few months!
Apologies if some of these things sound generic. However, they aren’t cliche without reason–they’re quite important! You only have one shot at this experience. Be responsible and represent your university well, and have fun and take charge of your experience. You’ll be surprised what you learn about yourself if you decide to have just enough courage to take the leap.
Recently I found the section of my Facebook profile called “Places You’ve Visited,” and briefly browsed it. As I scrolled, each name brought back little flutters of memories, and strong impressions and feelings. The wonderful people I’ve met, the opportunities I’ve been offered…just thinking about it nearly puts me in tears.
I’ve spent the better part of 3 years being “purposefully on-the-go.” When I was about 20-21, the adventurous part of me kicked in and I decided that I wanted to go places. Up until then, I’d been perfectly content staying in my hometown. Even knowing all this, I was struck by the sheer amount of travel I’ve accomplished in such a short time. Within even 8 months, I’ve touched down in more states and countries than I ever imagined I would.
Just after this realization, I was struck even more forcefully by the humility of blessing. God has granted me this period of time to accumulate more experiences than so many ever do in a lifetime, and I am overwhelmed. Why me? What did I do to deserve such a joy? It is more than I could have expected or wished for.
In reality, these past 3 years or so have also been some of the hardest. Behind the smiles and filtered Instagram posts have been some of the most trying personal struggles I’ve experienced yet. Often during these struggles I’ve asked God “why me?” in a very different sense. I have pouted my fair share, reflected on the seemingly hopeless state of the world, and squeezed out all the meaning that I can about the question of human suffering.
Suffering and joy are two sides of the same coin of life, and this is the first time I’ve been truly cognizant of it in my own. It’s so interesting, being in one body but knowing the absolute highs and lows. One wonders how it is possible to ride such a roller coaster and still come out on the other end alive.
But God has been good. Though I have often angrily wondered why I find myself in the lows, I believe I have come out the other end of this ride trusting more fully in my Savior. I praise him for bringing me through deserts and valleys. I praise him for the views from the mountaintops, too. He alone is worthy.
Last year’s birthday was much different than this year’s. Last year’s was full of trials and frustrations, this year’s is full of gratitude despite them. Last year I was looking to Europe; now I’m looking for a home. Last year I was ready for road trips, and this year I am ready to settle down. I think much of my purposeful travel is over, for now at least. I’ll probably move a time or two before my schooling is complete, but I’m ready to put down some roots. 25, I’m ready for you.
Time for the yearly book list. This year I guess I read a lot more sci-fi and fantasy than I intended, but my favorite books didn’t fit that category. I also found a new interest in medical stories (see 16), and I have a few of those on my “To Read” list for the upcoming year. And now, without further ado…
** = High recommendation
X = I’m filled with regret and you shouldn’t waste your time like I did.
The Selection by Kiera Cass X
Red Queen by Victoria Aveyard
The Elite by Kiera Cass X
The One by Kiera Cass X
Snow Like Ashes by Sara Raasch
East of Eden by John Steinbeck**
Mother Daughter Me: A Memoir by Katie Hafner
Invasion of the Tearling by Erika Johansen
Passenger by Alexandra Bracken
Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo
Living Sacrifice by Dr. Helen Rosaveare**
The Golden Compass by Philip Pullman
The Subtle Knife by Philip Pullman
United As One by Pittacas Lore
Pride and Prejudice and Zombies by Jane Austen and Seth Grahame-Smith
Internal Medicine: A Doctor’s Stories by Terrence Holt
An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir
The Lost Gate by Orson Scott Card (audiobook)
The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman (audiobook)
A Torch Against the Night by Sabaa Tahir
Sherlock Holmes: 3 Tales of Intrigue by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (audiobook)
The Gate Thief by Orson Scott Card (audiobook)
Blythewood by Carol Goodman
The Hound of the Baskervilles by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
A Study in Scarlet by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
The Sign of the Four by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
East of Eden by John Steinbeck
Fantastic book, recommended to me by a friend (thanks, Aaron!). Full of Cain and Abel parallels, richly developed characters, and a vivid setting. The plot is complex, so don’t put it down for too long!
Living Sacrifice by Helen Rosaveare
One of many books written by a missionary doctor called to Africa. The way she recounts her experiences written around this theme are absolutely astounding. I definitely gained some perspective shift. Drop everything and read it.
Series of the year: Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
I was captivated by this classic series in the recent months. I have to say, in my imagination, the characters take quite a different appearance in the novels than the movies or TV series, and I like it.
I’ve written and rewritten this a million times because I’m struggling to admit that these past few months have been a bit of a love-hate relationship. Truly, they have been the best and the worst of times. I got on this roller coaster ride not really knowing what it was, but I rode it until the end, for better or for worse.
There’s a lot that went wrong. I didn’t feel really settled in a group of friends for a long time. I didn’t keep a regular sleep schedule. I missed classes. I gambled with the public transportation system–and sometimes I lost. I panicked after I’d traveled at length, only to remember that my finals were 100% of my grade.
I have regrets. I wish I’d joined the tennis team. I wish I’d danced more. I wish I’d traveled just a little less and invested more into my church and friend and flat community. I wish I’d spent less money. 😉
More than anything, though, I am grateful. I was blessed with friends who loved me unconditionally. I laughed, I cried, I explored, I lived another life. I finished my degree. I grew closer to my Savior.
This is my last evening in this little town of Colchester, and it’s possible that I may never return. Knowing that, I am just grateful that Colchester was part of God’s plan for my life, even temporarily. As I surveyed the campus today and reflected upon my time here, I thanked God for each beautiful, special person who came into my life. I have friends in other corners of the world to visit again someday (and who will come to visit me, if I’m especially lucky!).
I always knew that traveling changes you, but here I am again, utterly amazed at the range of experiences I went through and the uniqueness of the people I met. Thank you to each of you. I love you deeply, and I will miss you dearly. And thank you, England. I’m thankful to say that despite our difficulties, we are parting on good terms. A little piece of my heart remains with you.
I want to be married, y’all. If 14-year-old me had her way, I’d have a rock on that finger right now, happily planning the coolest party of my life. It’s a decade later and I, in fact, have not obtained rights to either of those things. While Facebook enthusiastically announces the newest engagement, wedding, or baby, I sometimes sit there wondering why I am not “living the dream” like everyone else seems to be doing. I know that I’m not alone in this sentiment, either (bah dum-tsssss). So why are there so many wonderful, god-loving people out there who yearn for a spouse, but find themselves single as a dolla dolla bill? Why aren’t they married yet?
When Christian singles seek out an answer to these questions from the community around them, they’ll hear many of the same responses. They come from people of all ages and walks of life. But while most of them are well meaning, some are not universally true.
1. “I found my spouse when I stopped looking.”
This also goes hand-in-hand with the ever-popular, “You won’t find a spouse until you’re totally content with singlehood.” The Bible says that we should be content in whatever circumstances, right? Sure, let me just turn off my desire to be married real quick. Maybe if I take a vow of celibacy, I can work some reverse-psychology on God and speed up this whole process.
Look, I can see the reason why some would say this. It’s sort of a nice way to help singles get some perspective and maybe not absolutely obsess over their lack of significant other. That’s solid advice. But some say it as if this is the best-kept secret to instant spousal results. As if you were to just shut your eyes, click your heels three times and chant “There’s no place like in Jesus”, then all your dreams would come true. When you open your eyes, your future spouse would be standing in front of you, dressed for a date (with Toto in hand, of course).
It’s awesome that maybe you, a dating/engaged/married person, experienced a perspective shift. Maybe you went hard after Jesus and stumbled upon the new Mr./Mrs. along the way. Maybe you really did need to learn more about being content in your circumstances. And truly, maybe I do too. That is wonderful. But please, don’t act like there’s a formula.
2. “God could still be preparing you/your future spouse for this relationship.”
I give this statement some credit because we can all agree that God lays an excellent foundation for a lot of things to happen, and in ways we could never expect or even hope for. I will also readily agree to the fact that many people are not mature or healthy enough in any number of ways to enter into a marriage. (I’m not willing to marry a man-child, are you?)
However, the reason I call shenanigans on this statement is simply because: who is actually ever fully ready, ever, for the hugeness of marriage? Is there any married couple out there who will tell you that they were completely prepared for every circumstance that a committed relationship brings? That when facing challenges, their hearts were always in the right place to receive the marital lesson?
Even with the best counseling, the best role models, and the purest of intentions, no one is ever fully prepared. God doesn’t keep a “to do” list for your personal development and then reward you with a spouse when everything is checked off. Marriage is constant hard work, it’s vulnerability, it’s sacrifice, it’s honesty and faithfulness and accountability, it’s committing to selflessly putting your spouse before all others for the rest of your life–and this is all a promise that you make before God Himself. Even with the best of preparation (which is a good thing, don’t mistake me), those muscles will only be exercised once you’re in it.
Don’t tell me I’m not ready for marriage. Because although you’re entirely speculating, you’re right–I’m not ready. But that’s not THE reason why I’m single.
3. “I just know he/she is out there!”
No, you don’t, and neither do I. I have been promised nothing. In fact, those who claim that they have been promised something spouse-related are definitely the exceptions, not the rule.
4. “Singleness is a gift!”
Says. The. Married. Person.
And they aren’t really wrong, per se. As every single will tell you, there are some huuuuuuge perks we have. I can go anywhere, pretty much at any time, without consulting with another person. I’m not trying to raise little humans into responsible adults. If I want to stay in bed all day on a Saturday and watch Netflix in my PJs, you bet that’s a great day.
The Bible really does tell us that singleness can be good, and I don’t disagree. In fact, it is indeed “given” to some (Matt. 19:11), although I doubt it was meant to justify Netflix binges. The real problem with this statement is that in the attempt to give a quick word of encouragement, it lacks deeper validation of the difficult parts. (Do married couples just forget what that used to be like? Is there some memory-wiping hormone that circulates upon exchanging I do’s?)
Singleness is not just parties and traveling and spontaneity all the time. It can be loneliness, and struggling with comparison or self-worth, and difficulty finding community in a church filled with–and often designed for–couples. Marriage doesn’t fix any of those things, certainly, but singles don’t “have it better.” Can we all admit that both marriage and singleness have their blessings and their challenges? Can we all read 1 Corinthians 7 together? Singleness can be spiritually beneficial, but not if you don’t use it well (see “never leaving bed on Saturday” above).
Don’t tell us we have the gift of singleness. Marriage is a gift, too.
5. “You’ll find a spouse when you can serve God better within the context of a marriage rather than in singleness.”
This is a feel-good mantra mostly among single Christians that, admittedly, sounds really nice. It has these elements of being content where you are, and knowing that this is God’s will for your life at the moment. And that’s actually probably true. Because after all, if God wanted you to be married, wouldn’t you be? And is not the purpose of our lives to know, love, and glorify Christ in all stages of life?
It’s the “better” part that bothers me. What does that even mean? How is it possible to make a value judgement in this circumstance? Firstly, if I have only lived one life, how can I possibly know that I can serve “better” when married, as opposed to remaining single for the rest of my life? I can’t. My life will either be one or the other. God will direct my life wherever it needs to be, and what I do with that life cannot be compared to “what could have been.” It’s a whole philosophical discussion waiting to happen, but it’s not the main point.
More importantly, let’s refer back to Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians. He notes that singleness is great because you can serve the Lord with a singular interest. He does not rebuke marriage nor devalue it, nor does he say there is no joy it. He simply makes the point that divided interests brought about by marriage makes serving the Lord a little tougher. Not better, not worse. Not more successful, not less successful. And if you get down to what Paul is really talking about, the real prize is this: undivided devotion to the Lord.
To My Coupled Friends
I love you guys. This isn’t meant to criticize you, and your friendship is dear to me. If we talk of love and marriage and singleness, though, then let’s dig in deeper together. Let’s get past the assumptions and the superficial dialogue. Let’s listen to each others’ stories–how God has worked in your marriage and what God’s teaching me in this solo time and what our dreams are for the future. Instead of polarizing each other based on our relationship status, let’s actually spend time together and learn from and uplift each other in whatever stage of life we’re in.
So Why Am I Still Single?
Sorry, kid, but I don’t know. I could tell you if I was married, obviously. 😉 The best I can offer is encouragement to keep trusting, keep digging into the Word, and keep leaning on Jesus, just as we always should. It’s not easy, especially when you’re chomping at the bit to walk down the aisle. But we’re not the first people with this struggle, and neither will we be the last. Each person’s journey looks a little different. As much as I ponder the future, my prayer is to thrive right now in whatever way God would have it. I would be at peace with that.
Image via Reference.com