About two years ago, I was failing out of university and in deep despair. My GPA did not even meet the minimum requirements to get in my major, and my parents would not pay for anything other than an economics degree.
So I shuffled in the office of a local community college. I already had been a student there, and I declared to the receptionist that I no longer wanted to be at my university, but I wanted to enroll in community college for their nursing program. She did not look surprised. That day, I received a packet containing curriculum information and requirements for nursing.
I thought that I had the best plan for my future. I would convince my parents that they wasted two years of tuition, and now they only had to pay a couple of thousand dollars for me to finish an associate’s in nursing (which was, after all, a nice career!) Three years later, I could walk out with a degree and stable job in hand. Perfect.
Fortunately, my parents did not buy my idea – and told me that they would not pay anything for community college.
They forced me to repeat Microeconomics. The idea of re-learning utility curves and taking micro tests felt like eating a live porcupine. It was terrifying, but in spite of my fear, I ended up passing the class with flying colors.
God’s plans were bigger than mine.
A semester later, with a freshly declared economics major, I had got a bad grade again in econometrics, commonly known as “organic chemistry” of econ. In spite of all the times I went to office hours and watched Khan Academy, in spite of the fact that I had done well on my final – I could not neglect the fact that I failed my midterm, which was worth a quarter of my grade.
My parents were furious. Were you running around hanging out with friends? Were you spending too much time at church? Yes, yes.
How could you squander all the money we put in your education?
That was it, they said. We are not going to pay for you to be at college to socialize.
So I envisioned working as a barista for the next few years and saving up my money from my barista earnings to finish my degree. It seemed near impossible.
Maybe it was all my fault.
Maybe I didn’t deserve to go to college. Truly, I had no idea what I was doing with my life, and maybe it was time for me to take a gap year, work, and grow up.
But God provided a way for me that semester to stay at UVA. After many tears and many bitter arguments, they agreed to pay for my tuition a few days before the enrollment deadline, on the condition that I would not go to church for that semester.
I don’t think that I could have ever anticipated how difficult college could be. For me to go from being in the top 2% of my high school class to feeling like dropping out was a big transition. For me to dream of “living my life, making my choices” in college to actually living as a commuter student in my parents’ house was a big shock. I felt like that undergraduate years were wasted in despair and sorrow.
But God did not waste my time or my tears.
I am reminded of the story of Ruth. Naomi had lost husband, and she recently lost her two sons. For a woman to lose both her husband and sons in that culture was unimaginable grief. “Don’t call me Naomi” she told them [her daughters in law]. “Call me Mara, because the Almighty has made my life very bitter” (Ruth 1:20)
Yet God saw Naomi in her lament – He did not forget her sorrow. He gave Ruth to Naomi, as a companion, as Naomi walked back to her homeland. He made Boaz, a rich man, attracted to Ruth, a lowly foreigner. Ruth and Boaz married – and gave a birth to a son.
Could Naomi have foresaw what God had in store for her in that moment? Could she have foresaw that Ruth, her daughter-in-law and Moabite woman, would fiercely walk by her side? Could she have foresaw that God would restore a son to her through Ruth?
God was fully present in Naomi’s suffering, even as she questioned His goodness. He worked quietly and powerfully.
Like Naomi, I felt at times that my name was “bitter”. Holding the registration form to enroll in PVCC two years ago, I did not foresee what God had in store for my life. I did not foresee that I would be graduating from UVA with an economics degree. I did not foresee that friendships I would have. But most of all, I did not foresee that my life would be radically changed by the truth of gospel. To know that my identity is in Christ and Christ alone is the greatest gift that UVA has given me.
To know that I have felt despair intimately so many times, and for me to look back and laugh about it shows me the face of God. God is merciful and mighty, and delivers us from the bleakest of situations.
Peter, a disciple of Jesus, writes:
“In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the end result of your faith, the salvation of your souls” (1 Peter 1:6-9)
This May, I will be walking the Lawn, with an economics degree in hand. But more than that, I will graduate with the ability to analyze abstract problems and inquire broadly about the world. I will graduate having experienced many deeply enriching friendships. Most of all, I will graduate with the assurance that God’s provision is fully manifest in the good and bad, and His plans are good for me.