Tuesday, April 28, 2020

College and Quarantine: A Candid Conversation

It's almost here.  You know, the moment you've dreamed about since freshman year.  You've climbed out of bed before daylight to make it to early classes, and stayed up long past midnight putting the finishing touches on projects and research papers. You've worked hard to pay your tuition. You've built relationships with professors, classmates and dorm buddies.  You've made mistakes, and you've learned from them.  And it's almost here: the moment your family and friends converge on your campus to watch you turn the tassel.

But there is an interruption that no one saw coming.  Just as you were preparing to savor your final moments as a college student, you received a notice that residence halls were closing, classes would become virtual, and the events of your spring semester would likely be canceled.  Suddenly, all your idealistic hopes and plans crumbled into a heap of confusion, and you are left wondering why.

Thousands just like you are experiencing a similar chapter in their story, and recently we had the opportunity to talk to four young women about how they are affected by the current national crisis.

Let's take a moment to meet them before they share their thoughts:
Katrina Cooley is from Pennsylvania and is a senior at Penn View Bible Institute.
Rebecca Flowers resides in Michigan and is a sophomore at Hobe Sound Bible College. 

Ashley Quesenberry lives in Indiana and is a senior at The Christ College of Nursing and Health Sciences.  While studying at Christ, she resides on the campus of God's Bible School and College.

Laura Sprenkel is from Pennsylvania and is a sophomore at Hobe Sound Bible College.

WOW: Thank you for spending time with us and sharing your hearts during this crazy time.  All four of you lived on a college campus and have unexpectedly moved back home for the remainder of the semester.  How are online classes going?  

Katrina:  It is a learning curve for everyone.  It has made some things more challenging, however, I think is commendable that our school is committed to keeping the standard of excellence through this time.
Rebecca: I'm enjoying seeing my classmates and teachers via video chat.  We have classes at the same time we would if we were on campus.  This is helpful because it gives me a schedule and something to do every day, even if I'm not leaving the house.
Ashley:  It's certainly not preferred or ideal, but through this process of transition, I've been amazed at the dedication of educators across the country.  My own professors have been incredible in providing meaningful content for our classes and have been creative in finding ways for us to still meet the course outcomes.  It is nice for me to be able to log into my class sessions and to hear and sometimes even see my professors and/or my classmates.  I can't say that it's always been easy, especially when I struggle to keep the days straight at times.  I've been late to a class session because I got the times confused.  Thankfully, the professor was very understanding.  We're all just making the best out of the situation at hand.  Perspective influences a lot in this matter.
Laura: Since our school has an online department, the transition to online delivery for class has been, all things considered, relatively smooth.  Having class in my house is reminding me of the time that I was homeschooled!  I miss the classroom setting, but online methods have still allowed for "easy" communication with professors and classmates.

WOW: What are some events that you were looking forward to that are now canceled or threatened, and have you felt a sense of grief over those losses?

Katrina: Since I'm a senior, there would be a lot of "lasts" for me as a student.  I really enjoy Missions Convention and our Jr/Sr banquet, and both of those are canceled.  At this time, we're unsure about graduation, and that is the milestone we all look forward to, especially as seniors. I do struggle with the fact that my senior year won't be normal and I won't get to do all the events one last time, as a senior.  I also think about the unsaid goodbyes.  I never relished the last moments in the classroom with my friends and professors, or in the dorm with my dorm family.
Rebecca: I am so sad that we will miss spring choir tour and IHC, as well as our education department's scheduled trip to Savannah, GA. I'm grieving the lost time with friends, the loss of experiences that would produce growth and change for good, and the loss of time ministering to the kids I work with on the bus route.
Ashley: I am saddened at the cancellation of Easter services, as well as  IHC in Dayton. I've dreamed of graduation day since I started nursing school four years ago.  Now, my formal ceremony is being replaced with a drive-in ceremony, and I'm not even sure I'll get to have an actual pinning ceremony.  Reading those emails was hard.  I admit that I cried tears over the fact that the last half of my senior semester is ending so differently than anticipated.  There's much uncertainty in our lives now, and I think that not being able to know a date for when everything will return to "normal" makes the disappointments harder.  Grief is a normal human response to loss.  In order to accept and move past the hurt, the losses must be grieved in some way.
Laura: At a small Bible college, choir tour is a highlight of the year.  We had been looking forward to this tour since the beginning of fall semester, and had spent many hours in practice and preparation.  It was canceled.  The weekend after I returned home, I attended a friend's wedding.  Instead of one hundred fifty planned wedding guests, there were forty. The wedding date had to be changed so the newlyweds could get to their home state in case the state borders closed.  A family trip to celebrate my sister's graduation has been canceled, and we are unsure if she or my boyfriend will have a graduation.  I tend to get homesick easily, but the day we were told to move out of our dorm rooms , I found myself standing with a group of girls on our hall crying because this was not in our plans.  We all understood that the decision to close the doors for the semester was necessary, but the reality of that decision has been difficult.

WOW: How has God been near to you during this time, and what strategies have you used to remain joyful?

Katrina: God has helped me to learn that He knew this was going to happen.  I need to trust that He has me here and living in this moment, as it is, for some specific reason.  I realize that this is time that I can spend with my family: doing projects, playing games, and just being together.  We have played family games almost every night, and eaten dinner together, as well.
Rebecca: God has been near to me through Scripture.  As I reread well known passages, I am reminded again of how faithful He is to me.  God has also been near to me through songs, and I'm thankful for the gift of music.  I really am glad to be home, and am trying to use this time to invest in my relationships with family.  That, as well as staying connected with friends, has helped to be joyful.
Ashley: At the beginning of 2020, I knew that this was going to be my year to learn much about trust, as I have several big changes coming in my life.  The matter of trust keeps popping up in seemingly every area of life these days.  God has used wise people in my life to remind me of trust.  None of this has taken God by surprise.  While the process of learning trust is not comfortable or enjoyable, it's a good and lifelong process.  His ways are always perfect.  He can be trusted.  I've endeavored to be very intentional about using technology to remain in contact with friends, my mentor, my classmates, etc.  Seeing and hearing other human beings outside of my family members is sometimes needed, and always good for the soul. I've been careful to keep my perspective as positive as possible, filtering through what I choose to read.  My sister, Autumn, started a list of thankfulness and posted it on the refrigerator.  Our family has been adding to it each day as we go about our tasks.  It's a good reminder that we all are truly so blessed.
Laura: When your schedule goes from completely full to almost empty in a matter of hours, things begin to come more clearly into focus.  The "empty space" that used to be full is the time that God becomes so much closer to me.  I have time to focus.  This time has allowed me to search and know God more.  I've been digging into what it looks like to pray boldly.  There's no better time to pray bold prayers that when the world feels like it is falling apart around me.  To remain joyful, I'm looking at the positive aspects of this situation.  I have extra time to spend with my family, friends, boyfriend, and my cat (all of which I miss when I'm on campus).  The HSBC girls have started a group chat where we share encouragement and random things that are happening in our quarantined lives.  It's affectionately called "The Smile Chat," and it manages to bring a smile even though my phone is always blowing up with notifications!

WOW:  Do you feel like this experience has changed you, and what would you like to share with others who are in your circumstance who may be struggling?

Katrina: It has changed me.  I realize thing things that I take for granted.  I see that I go through a lot of motions, but wander how much of it reaches my heart.  Do I appreciate the moments while I'm in them instead of always looking back wishing I had?  Do I take the time to tell people what they mean to me and let them know they are appreciated? This quarantine has given a lot of time to think and reflect on what things should be the most important things in our lives.  I'd like to encourage others to cherish the moments you have together with your family.  These are times that everyone will remember.  Make it a time that you won't regret.  Feeling sorry for yourself steals your joy, makes you miserable, and wastes precious time.  Look for the good, and if you can't find anything...start something good.  Pray and see what God would have you do.
Rebecca: This experience has made me rethink my priorities.  I realize how many times I was so preoccupied with unimportant things instead of focusing on the people there in the moment, loving them like a good friend, and enjoying life then and there. If you're struggling, I would encourage you that it's okay to be upset.  Sadness and grief is not a sin.  God is not scared of your feelings (John 11:35).  But don't live in sadness and grief.  Take it to Jesus and ask Him to carry the load with you.  Realize that joy will come in the morning and that this season will end (Psalms 30:5).  We are all in this together.  Don't feel like you are alone.  Remember Jeremiah 29:11.  We have a hope and a future.
Ashley: This experience has changed me.  I realize now the small things that I have before taken for granted.  Things such as a hug from a friend, the luxury of going for a random shopping trip to TJ Maxx, or the relaxation of sitting in an adorable coffee shop.  Even things like attending church and worshiping with other Christ-followers has been taken for granted.  There are countless blessings that I now see more clearly: family time, relationships, my faith, the beauty of nature, and rest.  In my nearly twenty-five years, I have learned that great disappointments often breed much growth if we allow it to happen.  We can either own the disappointments, setbacks, and losses and come through them stronger, or we can allow ourselves to become a victim of them and wallow in our self-pity.  During this time, God has given us all opportunities to learn something, to grow closer to Him.  Lean into the disappointments and the growing process.  The result of what He wants to do in each of us is more beautiful that you or I could possibly imagine.
Laura: How could anyone live through an experience like this without being changed?! I live more in the day to day than I did before.  I feel motivated.  Motivated to accomplish things that I have placed on the back burner because of busyness.  Motivated to embrace where I am no matter the circumstances.  Motivated to achieve academically along the journey to accomplishing my goals.  Motivated to embrace normalcy.  I have newfound appreciation for campus life and the college experience because the temporariness of this time in my life is now vividly real.  My advice to you?  Embrace this time.  I know that sounds like the worst advice anyone could share at a time like this, but embrace it.  Embrace the fact that for perhaps the first time in your life, you can't make your own plans.  Embrace the fact that you get to try something that is maybe completely new.  Embrace the opportunity for God to fill the "empty spaces" on your previously full calendar.  Embrace the opportunity to connect with people, even via technology.  Embrace the feeling that you don't have your life completely figured out, because you don't, and that's okay.  Embrace the abnormalcy that you are currently experiencing because, before you know it, it will be gone and our world will fall into a new normal.  Embrace this rare moment in your life because it's happening for a reason.

WOW:  Katrina, Rebecca, Ashley, and Laura, thank you so much for sharing with us!  We appreciate your time, your vulnerability, and your honesty.  These are unprecedented moments that will soon be history, and we know that God is using these days to draw us closer to Himself.  We wish you all the best in the remainder of this semester and in the days ahead!  

To our readers who find yourselves in similar circumstances, we trust you have found encouragement through the words of your peers.  We pray that God will make Himself fully known to you during this time of extreme change in our world.  We challenge you to stay focused, committed, and more determined than ever to be a light in a culture of darkness.  Lots of things may be different, but God's plan for you hasn't changed!

-Stephanie Burley


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