Before my junior year of college, the longest I had ever been away from home was two weeks. I didn’t make the decision to move four hours away from home lightly. It surprised me, however, just how hard it was to see my parents walk out that door after helping me set up my new apartment. I’m not going to try to sugar coat anything. As soon as the word “goodbye” was uttered, I started to cry. I ran to the balcony to wave as they got into their car. After they drove away, I spent a good half hour curled up on my bed with a roll of toilet paper (a college student’s kleenex) and my laptop.
Halfway through the first Netflix movie I realized that I was alone for the first time. Not “boo hoo” alone, but “this is an introvert’s dream” alone. I always get cranky when I don’t get enough alone time, even when my family is involved. Now I could have all of the alone time that I wanted. So I sat through two or three movies before I got up to unpack another box. I stayed up way too late eating chocolate kisses, and fell asleep while watching more movies.
The next morning, of course, I was feeling down again. It went on and off like this all throughout the summer until the fall semester started. I made it through that semester. Then the next and it got easier to return to Nacogdoches every time I visited home. What got me through that difficult time wasn’t just knowing that my mom was a phone call away. It was also knowing that I had taken part of my family, all of them, with me.
Anyone who visited my little apartment might have thought that I had gathered together a group of mismatched furniture, anything that was available. Then thrown them haphazardly into a moving van. I wasn’t going to turn down anything that I was given. But no one could possibly guess that I had chosen the things that I brought with me with the utmost of care.
Each morning when I woke up, I was greeted by the faces of the ones that I loved hanging by my bed. Against the other wall was the desk and shelves that my father saved from my childhood room and helped me hang up. They reminded me of the shelves that he hung up in the living room of “the family homestead,” and the love of reading that he gave me. The beautifully matching blonde wood bed and dresser were family heirlooms that my mother gave to me. I’ve never known her side of the family, but their story surrounded me.
After picking out an outfit from a closet that was full of hand-me-downs from almost everyone in my family, I would walk past my shelves of knickknacks. They were mostly things given to me by my family members, including a little candle in the shape of a teddy bear that my cousin had brought back from a trip.
Walking into the living room, I would have found more pictures. Collages of favorite memories that my sister put together as a graduation present. The living room really was a collection of odd furniture: a turtle chair that I had stolen from my sister’s old room that I used to read and sign videos in. An old love seat from my step grandmother that had seen better days. My mother’s shelves that we had splatter painted green and brown. The television stand was an oak hope chest. One that had been passed down to me from my father’s side of the family.
Often my last stop before heading out the door was the coffee machine. The small kitchen was half full of things that my step-grandmother and aunt had given me. It was half full of new equipment that my mother had helped me pick out. Thankfully, the coffee maker was the latter. A box of recipes that was filled with recipes from family were sitting on a shelf above the stove, ready for my use. My favorite memory in that apartment was still the first time I baked pumpkin bread. It smelled like my aunt’s house – baking, fun, and love.
Even my deceased relatives did their part in outfitting my apartment. My step grandmother had wanted me to have a piece of my grandmommy when I left. She gave me some of her old coffee mugs. I made sure to drink from one of those cups the first day of every new semester, and I wore my uncle’s high school band jacket – my alma mater, too – to class every first day of finals – also for luck. A plastic Pegasus frisbee that we used to play with when I was young held court next to my bear candle.
My apartment wasn’t just full of antiques and used items. It was full of memories. That’s not to say that I didn’t buy new things, too. I filled the apartment with my own color – a matching yet simple set of dishes, a new comforter and towels, posters and crosses on the walls. It included my favorite books and journals stacked on every shelf and table, and, of course, a mountain of colorful pillows. I filled that apartment with new memories so that every time I took a deep breath, I could feel at once new and independent and surrounded by the ones I loved.
That’s what got me through those first heartbreakingly lonely few months. And that’s why I know that teddy bear candles and frisbees will always be welcome in my house, family pictures will always stare at me from the walls, and my house will smell like pumpkin bread every fall – no matter how far I move away from my family. The love seat and hand-me-down clothes did have to go, though. They really were getting old!
Most importantly, I knew not only my family stayed with me but God as well. My apartment was filled with memories of the people God placed in my life. I also knew that no matter where I was He would be watching over with me. An introvert’s dream may be living alone. But there is a comfort in holding family close and knowing Jesus is quietly there.
Be strong, brave, and fearless. The LORD is with you, wherever you go.
May these words carry you into a new life stage. Praying you feel God’s presence and His might throughout the start or continuation of your college experience. What can you do to feel at home in your college home?
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