Everyone expects me to have a plan. And it’s not just me — everyone expects every 22-year-old graduating from college to have a plan. To have some sort of dream of where you want to be in ten or twenty or thirty years and then to have a road map of how you plan to get there. To have a plan of how your first job will equip you for your future. To have your career path mapped out, from entry-level job to retirement.
Because of this the questions seem never to end — “What are you doing next year?” “Do you think you’ll ever go to law school?” “Is graduate school in your future?” “Do you think you’ll ever move back to Mississippi?” “What are your long-term career goals?” The questions are overwhelmingly stressful even when you have an idea of the answers or what they will be.
But that’s not me.
I don’t know exactly what I want to do this year or next year or in five years or in ten years. I don’t even know what I want to do tomorrow — how can you expect me to have my life planned out.
Last semester in one of my classes, we read The Protestant Ethic. Having read that, I do kind of understand this incredible American obsession with career. Your career, according to The Protestant Ethic, is not merely a way of making money; it is your calling, your main purpose on this earth. And doing well in your career is a direct sign of your salvation.
I hope I don’t have to argue that a successful career doesn’t mean you’re a good Christian. I think we as modern Christians have pretty much rejected that part of The Protestant Ethic. But I really do believe we all still see your job as your calling, as your main purpose on earth.
When we ask children ‘What do you want to be when you grow up?’, we expect them to respond ‘doctor’ or ‘lawyer’ or ‘teacher’ or ‘fireman’. What they want to be ought to be a career.
But is that what’s most important? Is being a doctor or a lawyer or a teacher or a fireman what the child will be in the deepest sense of the word?
I hope not.
I hope instead children will grow to be many other things before their career. I hope they will be generous and kind and honest and just and joyful and humble and patient and loving and a million other Christ-like things. All of those things are so much more important than your career, but somehow we’ve lost that. How sad!
Focusing on my character goals rather than my occupational goals makes all those questions people ask me seem unimportant. I may not know what I want to do as a job after graduation or where I see myself in five or ten years, but I do know what sort of person I want to become. And I may not know what path will take me to a fulfilling job or whether I’ll move back to Mississippi one day, but I do know how to wake up each day trying to be more Christ-like than the day before.
One of my favorite choruses has the following lyrics:
You and I were made to worship. You and I were called to love. You and I are forgiven and free. When you and I embrace surrender, when you and I choose to believe, you and I will see what we were meant to be.
What a beautiful truth! Our “calling” in life is not our career. We were not made to be doctors or lawyers or teachers or firemen. We were made to give glory to God, and our calling is to love His people.
God’s plan for your life might involve you becoming a doctor, a lawyer, a teacher, or a fireman, but that’s not his purpose for your life. His purpose for you is to make known His glory and His love.
And I don’t want to forget that. I can’t forget that. Even in the hustle of trying to find a job and figure out my “ten-year plan”.
And, somehow, resting in that knowledge makes the job-search anxiety I feel fade away.
So next time someone asks me what I want to be, I might just respond with generous or loving or kind or helpful or patient or any of the countless other qualities that are more important than occupation. Next time someone asks me what I want to do next year, I might just respond that I want to love others or be kind to strangers or give generously or help those in need or any of the other countless actions more important than whatever job I’ll be doing after graduation.
What do you want to be?
When I was growing up, from as early as I can remember, my daddy would read to me every night before I went to sleep. And I don’t mean just when I was little and was learning to read. No — my daddy read to me every night well into middle school. And not just children’s books. Yes, he read me all the classics of children’s literature like Peter Rabbit and Chronicles of Narnia, but he also read me many of the classics of English literature like Wuthering Heights and Pride and Prejudice. I have no doubt that my love for learning and for reading comes from my father’s dedication to read to me night after night year after year.
While I’m incredibly grateful now, I wasn’t always so grateful when I was in middle school. When he read me The Hobbit and the three books of the Lord of the Rings trilogy, I remember complaining about the books’ being “boring boy books”; all the battle scenes and encounters with evil creatures bored me to death.
But then the other day, my daddy sent me an article about Tolkien and Christianity. That article — one of the most beautiful things I have ever read — made me consider that maybe the Lord of the Rings books aren’t just “boring boy books”, maybe there’s more to them than just battles and disgusting evil creatures. Having read that article, I want to re-read the Lord of the Rings — I think that there must be more to the books than I recognized as a middle-schooler.
This was the most beautiful part of the article — at the end when the author gives us Tolkien’s riff on what it means to “fight the long defeat” as Galadrial, the Lady of Light, claimed that folks had been doing “together through the ages of the world”.
“I am a Christian, and indeed a Roman Catholic,” [Tolkien] writes in one of his letters, “so that I do not expect ‘history’ to be anything but a ‘long defeat’—though it contains . . . some samples or glimpses of final victory.”
Despite the years of faithful work, J.R.R. and Edith Tolkien have their names on two tombstones, side by side. But one can’t help but wonder that the moments they shared together in life, their wedding day and their first child, their mercy to others, or maybe simply the daily comfort of tea, were glimpses of that final victory. That when Jesus comes to usher in the next age and New Jerusalem descends to earth, we will find them both there, together, faithful to the last, experiencing the fruit of the one hope that was always guaranteed: God’s reign on earth.
We fight the long defeat because results are not as important as our Father’s delight. We fight the long defeat because we are not the authorities over “success.”
We fight the long defeat because the final victory is coming.
Isn’t that last line breathtakingly beautiful? “We fight the long defeat because the final victory is coming.” I honestly tear up every time I read that line.
And the thing about life being full of “some samples or glimpses of the final victory” — that’s great stuff, too.
All too often, I think we focus on the big picture — on the long defeat — so much so that we don’t even notice the glimpses of final victory that surround us every day.
The beauty of a newborn baby
The glory of a sunrise
The sound of birds tweeting in the early morning
The laughter of friends enjoying each other’s company
The simple joy of talking to your parents on the phone
The smile on your grandmother’s face when you come to visit
All these things are samples or glimpses of the final victory. But I fear all too often we get caught up in the bad things in our life that we ignore these beautiful, wonderful glimpses of our final victory and of God’s glory.
All this reminds me of a card I bought at the Yale Bookstore one day last year. The card, a simple white card with black writing, said simply, “Don’t overlook life’s small joys while searching for the big ones.”
Senior year is so full of trying to figure out what our “big joys” are and how to find them. In many ways, senior year — as great as it is to spend a few last months with your college friends — seems like a “long defeat” kind of time. How freeing to be reminded that “we fight the long defeat because we are not the authorities over “success”!
In the midst of this big-joy-searching, long-defeat-facing senior year, I want to resolve constantly to look for life’s small joys, for those glimpses of final victory that are present in the mundanity of everyday life but which I so often overlook.
My daddy once told me he wants “Certa bonum certamen” written on his gravestone. I used to think he was kind of silly, but now I really think he’s onto something.
Certa bonum certamen — That’s the Latin version of the first four words of 1 Timothy 6:12 — “Fight the good fight”.
But that’s not where the verse ends. It goes on like this: “Fight the good fight of faith. Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called.”
Sounds really similar to “fight the long defeat because the final victory is coming”, huh?
Senior year really is both the best of times and the worst of times. It is the worst of times because of the stress of the job hunt and the fear of the future — of the unknown that awaits you after graduation and beyond the gates of Yale. But it is also the best of times. You know how to handle your classes, most of your extra-curricular responsibilities are over, and most of your hardest classes are out of the way.
But the things that make it truly the best of times have nothing to do with classes or student clubs. Instead, it is the friendships you’ve built over the past three years that make senior year the best of times. It’s living with all of your friends so close by. It’s seeing your friends every day and going through everything together. It’s, as a student wrote in a poignant Yale Daily News opinion piece last year, “the opposite of loneliness”.
But that very feeling is also what makes it the worst of times. The scariest thing about being a senior is not leaving Yale or leaving college in general or having to find a job or worrying about how you’ll pay your rent next year. No, not all. The scariest thing about senior year is the knowledge that you and all of your friends will never again live in the same city or even in the same state. You’ll never again see each other every day and live life in sync. You’ll never again know the same opposite of loneliness you’ve known in college.
Lots of people think that the uncertainty of the future is what makes senior year scary. They’re totally wrong. What makes senior year so terrifying is not the unknown but rather the known — the certain future in which you and all your friends will be spread across the country (or perhaps across the planet) never to be reunited in the same way ever again. But that’s also what makes your last year with them the sweetest.
This semester has brought the first set of lasts for me and for all my fellow seniors. And while the cloud of fear of the end certainly hangs over our heads, the happiness of experiencing these milestones together for the last time makes us forget the future and enjoy the present — if only for a little while.
So here are the beautiful first lasts I experienced this semester:
Last Camp Yale
The time in late August between when dorms open and when shopping period ends is known as Camp Yale. Freshmen have just arrived and are having all sorts of meetings, while also exploring Yale for the first time, and classwork has not started yet. That combination makes for lots of fun during the first couple weeks of first semester. Like its name suggests, Camp Yale is like summer camp — lots of fun without the burdens of schoolwork or extracurricular responsibilities that come once school really starts back.
(First and) Last Calhoun September Soirée
This year, Calhoun College Council student activities committee (of which I am no longer the chair, thank goodness) planned a September Soirée, described as a wedding reception in the Calhoun courtyard but without the wedding. It was a wonderful event — lights were hung across the courtyard, a dance floor was put out, and Dr. J even hosted a wonderful seniors-only reception before the event began. So while this may have been the first Calhoun September Soirée, it was also my last — which is a beautiful way to end things if you ask me.
Last Semester of Football Tailgates
Football tailgates at Yale are definitely not like football tailgates in Mississippi. But they are their own kind of wonderful all the same. No other time do Yale students get out of bed before 8 o’clock except on tailgate weekends. I honestly think tailgate season is one of the things I’ll miss most about Yale next year.
Last Tory Party Patrick Henry Dinner
Tradition at Yale is strong, and it gives current students a way to connect to the generations of Yalies who have come before. My first experience with this sort of tradition was during my freshman year at the Tory Party’s Patrick Henry dinner. Held at Mory’s, I was literally surrounded by Yale history in the form of plaques, pictures, and tokens that adorn the walls at Mory’s. Add to that participation in the old Yale tradition of toasting at Mory’s, and you can see how the Tory Party and I found love at first sight. This was my last Patrick Henry dinner, and it was the loveliest yet. It is so gratifying to see the Party grow as it has during my time at Yale, and seeing the Party’s new freshmen reveling in the traditions of Yale at PHD — just as I did three years ago–is a beautiful thing.
Last Buckley Program Conference and Gala
The Buckley Program’s establishment during my time at Yale has definitely made being a conservative at Yale more intellectually engaging and fun! In addition to many events throughout the year, the Buckley Program holds an annual conference and celebratory gala. This year’s conference focused on the future of conservatism and featured a wonderful program. But the highlight is always the gala dinner at the Omni Hotel, which follows the conference.
Last Halloween at Yale
One of the most fun weeks at Yale is the week of Halloween. Don’t imagine that one costume will do. Au contraire, Halloween stretches on almost a week at Yale. The first night of Halloween, I dressed as what I referred to as “the girl Luke Bryan sings about”. Others thought I was dressed as a redneck or an NRA member (thanks to my NRA hat I got at a Capitol Hill event this summer) but that just shows their lack of information and imagination. I was definitely 100% dressed as the girl Luke Bryan sings about. That night the girls who live in the Pi Phi house and I went to the Halloween dance party at Toad’s Place. The second night, I dressed as Elle Woods from Legally Blonde. After a really fun mixer with my senior society and a boys’ senior society at Black Bear, a group of us headed to the Russian Lady before I finished out at SAE’s Halloween Party with my friends Aaminah and Cathy. Friday night, I dressed as Tinkerbell and went to SigEp’s Spook’d Halloween party, and on Saturday night, I dressed as the government shutdown and went to a friend’s birthday party and then Box 63. It was definitely a week for the books — and a perfect last Halloween at Yale.
Last Fall at Yale
As I wrote earlier this semester, fall at Yale is one of the most beautiful times/places anywhere on earth. And I have just experienced my last fall at Yale, which is quite heartbreaking. See this post for pictures and more thoughts.
Last Harvard-Yale Game
The Harvard-Yale football game is the oldest college football rivalry in the country, having been played since 1875. Yale has the winning record in the game’s history, though Harvard has unfortunately won the last seven games in a row. But that doesn’t matter much. The Game is much more fun when it’s at Yale (because Harvard sucks obviously), so it was great to have it at home for my senior year. This is only my last Harvard-Yale game as a student, though. I fully intend to return to as many games as possible — got to hold out hope that I will one day see my Bulldogs defeat the Crimson foe.
Last Christmas Party at Dr. J’s House (Not just for me! EVER!)
Calhoun is such a special place because of the little things. Every college has a Christmas dinner in their dining hall (and the freshmen have their big Christmas dinner in Commons dining hall), but only Calhoun has the tree-trimming party at our Master’s House following the dinner. Food, hot chocolate, ornaments, Christmas crackers — everything festive is present at this party, as Hounies decorate Dr. J’s tree. This one was not only my last tree-trimming party at Dr. J’s house but also the last one ever, as this is Dr. J’s last year as master of Calhoun. It’s kind of poetically beautiful to me that as we leave Calhoun so does Dr. J. But I understand underclassmen might not agree with that assessment of the situation haha.
Last First Snow of the Winter
If there could be anything more beautiful than Yale in fall, it is Yale covered in the first snow of winter. The weekend before I left Yale for Christmas break, we got about eight inches of snow, which is the perfect amount — just enough to cover everything in a beautiful blanket of white but not enough to make walking around campus perfectly miserable. There is a sort of exhilaration that comes with the first snow, an exhilaration that is palpable on campus. Suddenly, students who have been burrowed in their rooms studying for days exit and look around at the beautiful place where they live with freshman-like wonder. The beauty of the first snow is not only the aesthetic of it but also the way it makes Yale students look with new eyes and renewed gratitude at the place we call home. Here are some of the many beautiful pictures of the first snow of winter this year:
And this is but the beginning. As the train of senior year moves incessantly towards graduation, these little milestones of last experiences will only become more and more common. And as it moves on down the tracks, I want less and less to stop this train. Yes, I would love to stay forever in this place with these people in this wonderfully happy opposite of loneliness but the world beyond this train calls to me more loudly each day. Just as Yale was a grand new adventure, so the world beyond Yale’s gothic gates beckons me onward to yet another grand new adventure. And I can’t wait.
But for one more semester, I’ll savor Yale, the opposite of loneliness that I have known there, and the final semester of lasts I’ll experience.
Southern Belle at Yale
Hi y’all. New Haven has entered the dreariest time of year — fall semester finals period. It is the worst of times, not only because of finals but also because of the frigidly cold weather. Add to that a written exam, an oral exam, and 30 pages worth of writing to do, and it’s enough to drive a girl insane.
But I really enjoyed studying for one of my exams. In studying for my Liberty seminar’s final, I re-read Tocqueville’s Democracy in America, and I just love some of the things he has to say. So here are a few of my favorite lessons from Tocqueville (he was a pretty smart guy, as you can see)
On God’s providence
“It is not necessary that God himself speak in order for us to discover sure signs of his well…I know without the Creator’s raising his voice that the stars follow the arcs in space that his finger has traced.”
“God prepares a firmer and calmer future for [us]; I am ignorant of his designs, but I will not cease to believe in them merely because I cannot penetrate them, and I would rather doubt my enlightenment than his justice.”
On Democracy vs. Aristocracy
“If [in democracy] less brilliance than within an aristocracy, one will find less misery; enjoyments will be less extreme and well-being more genera; sciences less great and ignorance rarer; sentiments less energetic and habits milder; one will note more vices and fewer crimes.” –> I thought about this quotation a lot when I was in Europe two summers ago and visited a lot of grand estates and palaces.
On the modern era
“Has man, as in our [modern] day, always had before his eyes a world where nothign is linked, where virtue is without genius and genius without honor; where love of order is confused with a taste for tyrants and the holy cult of freedom with contempt for laws; where conscience casts only a dubious light on human actions; where nothing seems any longer to be forbidden or permitted, or honest or shameful, or true or false?”
On political parties
“While they [the parties] are occupied with the next day, I wanted to ponder the future.”
On the American South
“To it [the South], the American Revolution owes its greatest men.”
“There is in fact a manly and legitimate passion for equality that incites men to want all to be strong and esteemed. This passion tends to elevate the small to the rank of the great; but one also encounters a depraved taste for equality in the human heart that brings the weak to want to draw the strong to their level and that reduces men to preferring equality in servitude to inequality in freedom.”
“The collective force of citizens will always be more powerful to produce social well-being than the authority of government.”
Y’all, today the weather finally turned cold cold cold (it snowed a bit this morning). The arrival of winter weather basically marks the end of my final fall at Yale.
If you can ever visit Yale, visit in the fall. I’ve visited Versailles in the summer and D.C. when the cherry blossoms are blooming. I’ve seen New York City at Christmastime and the windswept Irish countryside in July. But I’ve never seen anywhere as beautiful as Yale in the fall.
So as fall fades into winter, I wanted to share with you the splendor of Yale in fall. I hope the brilliant colors of this campus brighten your day today just as much as they brighten mine every day.
Lots of love!
Southern Belle at Yale
No really. Everyone loves Yale. Just read what the Princeton Review has to say:
Listening to Yale students wax rhapsodic about their school, one can be forgiven for wondering whether they aren’t actually describing the platonic form of the university.
Now maybe they do go a tad bit too far. I’ll be the first to admit that Yale isn’t the 100% perfect “platonic form of the university”. But heck — it’s certainly the closest thing we’ve got to it here on earth.
To me, Yale students’ deep and abiding love for our university is what makes it better than its peer schools. Yale students love being at Yale, and Yale students love telling you how much they love being at Yale. It’s contagious.
So, even Princeton Review agrees: Everybody loves Yale. And that’s why I feel so incredibly fortunate to have spent three years there and feel so bittersweet as I look to my last year in New Haven.
But for this year (and for always) — Boola boola, y’all!
Southern Belle at Yale
PS Compare Princeton Review’s Yale summary to what they have to say about Harvard. According to Princeton Review, Harvard is an “amazing irresistible hell” plagued by overwhelming competition where it’s hard to get to know your professors and the administration is out of touch. Pretty clear Yale is far superior, huh?
I love Yale. I really really really do.
I love listening to the bells in Harkness Tower play twice each day. I love the way Old Campus looks as the seasons change: vividly green at the start of the school year, a sea of oranges and reds in fall, snow-covered in winter, and full of students tossing frisbees and tanning come the end of the school year. I love studying in Calhoun library and late-night buffalo chicken burritos at the Calhoun buttery. I love being surrounded with so much beauty and so much history.
And I love being around my fellow students. Yes, we have a lot of fun, but also we engage in learning together–both in and out of the classroom. Without a doubt, I have learned more from my peers at Yale than I have from my professors. And my days are packed with my peers: taking part in class discussions, grabbing lunch, studying together in Bass, debating over dinner in Calhoun, stopping by froyo on the walk down High Street, having three or four extracurricular meetings back to back each night, and then finishing out the day at Viva’s or in Bass or with a box of Insomnia Cookies in the living room of the Pi Phi house.
But it is so tiring. The constant going. The constant schoolwork. The never-ending to do list. The feeling of running on a treadmill–working furiously but not really getting anywhere.
And it’s draining, too. The constantly being surrounded by people who so disagree with me. The constantly having to defend what I think. The professors who make snide comments about folks like me.
I have found, though, that God is faithful to give me time to recharge.
During the school year, He gives me times at home, during which He envelops me with the love of my family and community. He reminds me what I so appreciate about home and the way my parents raised me.
But more than that, the summers are a time when He fills me up with what I need to face another school year.
The summer after freshman year, Camp Desoto was just what I needed. The constant reminder of God’s love, the beautiful innocence of the eleven-year-old girls in my cabin, and the wise words from my fellow counselors encouraged me. Not that it was always easy. Speaking truth in love and patience when correcting the behavior of campers was probably the most difficult thing I’ve ever had to do. But that lesson too was one that I desperately needed.
The summer after sophomore year, I was at home for almost two weeks before going abroad. The extended period at home gave me time to go to several Sundays at First Baptist Jackson and time to see extended family. And then I went to Cambridge, where church after church bore witness to the majesty of God and the devotion of centuries of men.
This summer has been no different. Being at The Heritage Foundation and living in their intern housing has been a great encouragement to me. Hearing about my fellow interns’ experiences on their own campuses has energized me to return to mine and fight the good fight anew.
This summer has not been without its worry. Being in D.C. and working full-time has made the real world seem so much more real. With that has come worry about the future, worry about a job, worry about law school, worry about life after Yale.
But I rest confident in God’s faithfulness. God has always given me immeasurably more than I could ever ask for or imagine. Yale is a great example of that. I could never have imagined that I would attend Yale. I never could have imagined how much I would learn and grow there and how much I would love Yale and the people there.
I work hard and pray without ceasing for my future, but I am filled with peace knowing that God is faithful.
When I was a little girl, my mother would often sing “Amazing Grace” to me at bedtime. One of the sweetest memories in my life is of lying in my little twin bed with my mother as she sang me to sleep. I want to end this blog post with a verse of that song. God has brought me safe thus far. He has been faithful. I rest confident that He will be faithful in leading me in accordance to His plan for my life.
Through many dangers, toils and snares
I have already come;
‘Tis Grace that brought me safe thus far
and Grace will lead me home.