A Letter to a College Freshman (and anybody else who has ever felt insecure, inadequate, or unimportant)

Dear College Freshmen,

Do yourself a favor. Put down your monthly planner for five minutes. Don’t think about tonight’s social or tomorrow’s exam or your ongoing roommate conflict. Close out of that Buzzfeed article. Step away from the research paper. Surely you’ve noticed by now that #CollegeNoParents is a ridiculously busy time of life. And in the midst of welcome back mixers and test anxiety, it’s easy to lose sight of what you’re really getting into.

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You’re three weeks into the most important year of your life. Is that too bold of a claim? I don’t mean to exaggerate. This is the year that you are going to answer the questions that matter. You aren’t going figure out the specifics—what you want to do with your life, where you want to settle down, or whom you’ll marry—but you’ll answer the big questions, the ones that quite literally shape the rest of your life—Who am I? Why am I here? What type of a person am I going to be?

But there are other questions that seem to come before the big ones—the questions we ask ourselves every single day, questions that that run around in our brain before every first date or paper deadline or rush event—Do I belong? Am I good/cool/attractive/funny/spiritual enough?  Am I loved?

Two years ago, I showed up on Baylor’s campus—an insecure 18-year-old with something to prove.  During my freshman year, I couldn’t go to the gym or the dining hall or even Church without feeling the need to be funny, be known, be successful, and be liked. I was constantly trying to prove to others that I mattered and I belonged. And here’s what happened—a lot of times it worked. My efforts to be something I wasn’t paid off. The guys laughed at my jokes, the girl texted back, and the paper came back with an A at the top.

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I lived for the approval of others, for people saying “hey you’re smart” or “hey you’re cool” or even “Hey you really love Jesus.” I looked to people around me and let them determine my value and my worth. But here was the problem. No matter what they said or how much I succeeded in winning their approval,  there was always somebody else to impress and there was always another task to prove myself with. Trying to find my identity in girls or groups or grades left me exhausted, empty, and unfulfilled. Finally I quit. I quit asking people around me if I was good enough or successful enough or even loved enough. I quit asking the people around me and started asking somebody else.

I took those questions to God, and here’s what He said back:

Vince, you live life behind a mask, trying to put forth a plastic image of perfection that people will like.

But you and I both know that image is a lie. Vince, you’re messy and sinful and broken. Worse than that, you spend your days trying to hide that from everyone around you.But here’s what I want you to know.

My Son took care of it. He came to Earth, lived the perfect life you never could, hung on a cross for your sins, and rose again. You don’t have what it takes, not even close. But He did.

And I want you. I want your heart. I want you to find your identity in me. His sacrifice cover your sins. His sacrifice cleaned up your messes. His sacrifice filled in your holes. Now come follow me. Come live in me. Come love like me.

God told me through friends who loved me enough to point me to Jesus when I would try to find my identity in them. He told me this through an incredible church that brought me back to the Gospel each and every week. And He told me through the Bible, His immaculate love letter to His people that have done nothing to deserve his love.

Here’s the point of the letter. If you’ve been skim-reading to this point, tune in for these last couple paragraphs and hear this message loud and clear. What Jesus has done on the cross changes EVERYTHING about those questions (Do I belong? Do I matter? Am I loved?) that are rattling around in your head.

So if you get one thing from this post, get this. You matter. You belong. You are loved. Not because you’re successful or funny or attractive or even kind, but because the God who made you says so. He’s made a way to be His through the sacrifice of His Son. What does that look like? It’s simple: Admit your shortcomings and sins, Believe that Jesus paid your bill on the cross and rose again, and then Choose to follow Him—striving to live and love like your Savior.

But wait a minute, what does this have to do with college? What does Jesus have to do with sorority functions and midterms and late night pillow talk with the roomies? Everything. When you stop looking to others to answers those pesky questions of insecurity that rattle around in your head, when you stop letting other people determine your worth, then these four years of life start to look way different.

Finding your desire to be successful, your sense of belonging, and your need to be loved in Jesus changes everything. Rather than walking around your campus looking for approval, affirmation, and acceptance, you start looking for ways to dish out all the love that’s been shown to you by your Creator.

Your ideas of success, the way you keep score, the way you view the people around you, all of it starts to shift when you’re rooted in the love of Jesus. Everybody you bump into—the people across the hall who play the music too loud, your rival fraternity, your roommate who hits the snooze button six times every morning—becomes an opportunity to show the love and grace that has been shown to you. Jesus transforms #CollegeNoParents from a period of insecurity and self-absorption to an incredible period of your life full of opportunities—opportunities every day to show the love of Jesus to every single person you come in contact with.

Whether you’re a freshmen or a fifth-year senior, here’s my hope for you and me:

Let your roots grow down into Him(Jesus), and let your lives be built on Him. Then your faith will grow strong in the truth you were taught, and you will overflow with thankfulness. Colossians 2:7

Let it happen. Cast off the questions and the doubts and the insecurities, and plant your roots deep in the person of Jesus. Fill up your glass with His love, grace, and truth, and watch those things overflow on your campus.

Sincerely,

Vince Greenwald

The Maastricht Family

During one of my last weekends in Europe, I went to London with my buddy Caleb to meet up with our friend Collin who was doing a London study abroad program. We ate pies and pasties, saw Wicked on West End, watched the changing of the guard at Buckingham Palace, and ambled through the Kensington gardens at sunset. After the perfect London weekend, we settled down in an authentic British pub. The conversation quickly turned to our different study-abroad programs. Collin asked Caleb and I what the group dynamics had been like in Maastricht. We paused for a long while, searching our brains for a less cliché version of what we knew we were going to have to say.

“We’re a family.”

When I signed up for this study abroad trip, I knew practically no one who would be in Maastricht with me this summer. Two and a half months later, I came back with a family. I know, I know, save the sappy stuff for Jon Green novels and Hallmark cards, but I can’t help it.

We were a family. 

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The highlight of these college study abroad trips is supposed to be a destination or an excursion, paragliding in Switzerland or touring the Vatican in Rome. The highlight is supposed to be something unique to the place you went to, something you paid for, a brief opportunity in your life to do something unique or daring or adventurous. But as I look back on a summer in Europe, I realize that the highlight of this trip was so much more than a picture on a postcard. The highlight of this trip was family—the absurd, entertaining, and loving community that happened here amongst a bunch of strangers during eleven short weeks.

If my last post about Europe was about a destination, I’d be doing a disservice to this trip and what it’s really been about. This trip was about a new family, so this post is going to tell you about mine. I could assign a familial role to everybody on this trip and tell you what I love about them, but class starts tomorrow and I don’t have time. Here’s just a sampler of a few members of my Maastricht family— people who mean the world to me.

The Family

Patrickthe angsty younger brother

I don’t know what this trip would have been like without my best buddy Patty Ice on it, but I know it wouldn’t have been nearly as enjoyable or enlightening. Patrick is one of the most fun, genuine and hilarious people I’ve ever met, and rooming with him over here has been unreal. He’s pretty mediocre at doing the dishes, his hipster music hurts my eardrums, and his hip street-wear makes me feel self-conscious, but I love this dude and I wouldn’t trade traveling Europe with him for anything.

Calebthe responsible older brother

Caleb was my closest friend coming into the trip, so I knew we’d have fun together. I didn’t, however, realize that we’d jump into canals and hike up mountains and float down rivers together. Caleb was more clutch than Michael Jordan on this trip. His responsible self kept me from getting on approximately 27 wrong trains. He also was always there with a verse or word of encouragement whenever I was feeling down.

Joythe loud younger sister

Never, ever, in all my life, have I met anyone with a name that so perfectly describes their personality. Joy radiates joy, all the time and everywhere. It bounces off the Teikyo walls and echoes around wherever she is. But that’s not the only thing that echoed. Joy skipped the grade where everybody else learned what an inside voice was, so whether she’s on a table making an impromptu speech or winning a dance-off in a nightclub, you’re gonna hear this girl coming.

Laineythat mom that nobody messes with

Lainey has this story she likes to tell about this neighborhood gang that she told off with a pocket knife at age 6. That story goes a long way in describing Lainey—she’s incredibly caring, she won’t stand for injustice, she’s the most loyal person you’ll ever meet, and she’s a teeny bit crazy. She’s also a double black belt, so don’t mess with her.

Carolinethe older sister you always want to be around 

The routine became pretty scheduled near the end of our time in Maastricht. Ask Caroline if I can do homework in her room, and then sit at the center table together with our laptops accomplishing nothing school-related. Homework was code for excellent conversation, travel plans, and a few cups of mint tea. Caroline never wants the spotlight, but I’m gonna shine it on her for a second just because she deserves it—She radiates Jesus, joy, and compassion really, really well.

Alliethe crazy cousin

Allie is that cousin who you’re always excited to see during the holidays because their life is much more cool than yours is. At any given moment, Allie is doing one of five things—laughing, climbing trees, falling off her bike, or asking deep and really cool questions. She’s also a pioneer. Not only did she start our Maastricht Bible study, but she became, to my knowledge, the first Baylor in Maastricht student to get shocked by an electric fence while over here in Europe(note: if it’s making a buzzing sound, don’t touch it.)

Timcrazy uncle #1

Tim is not your ordinary Baylor student—he’s about 45 years old and he has a gray beard. He fits the crazy uncle label to a T. Every component of the person is there: the rock ‘n roll obsession, the bizarre hobby(he’s studying the history of medieval monasteries), and the occasional comment that makes your parents blush. Tim showed me a lot on this trip about growing up, rock ‘n roll history, and how old churches and old people have a lot they can teach us about the way things are and the way things ought to be.

Connorcrazy uncle #2

Connor Hook is a living legend. Whether he is getting concussed in the Paris subway, offering literary critiques in class using his colorful, questionable vocabulary, or frequenting his favorite Maastricht café nightly, Connor goes for it. He’s a younger, slightly more turnt-up version of crazy uncle #1. Connor made Maastricht more enjoyable and a whole lot more ridiculous.

Hayley—the “chill” cousin 

You know the chaos of the Thanksgiving meal at noon that makes you want to duck under the table like there’s a bombing raid going on above your heads? Hayley is that chill cousin you gravitate towards during those moments because she’s just. so. chill. But what does chill even mean? It means people are at home around you, feel heard by you, and want to be more like you. And that describes Hayley to a T. Except for that time at the nightclub in Prague when ABBA came on. That Hayley was less chill.

Dr. RustDad

We couldn’t have asked for a better program director. Dr. Rust was there for us whenever we needed anything. He gave us a long leash but was firm when he needed to be. More than anything, Dr. Rust wanted us to have an incredible summer in Europe and did whatever it took to make that happen. His midterms might have been cruel, but I don’t know if I’ve ever been around a more caring, loving person who would literally do anything for any of us.

If there’s been one overarching narrative to this summer abroad, it’s been that who you’re with is way more important than where you are. My Maastricht family made my Maastricht trip incredible, and I can’t thank everybody on this trip enough for being so fun, welcoming, and loving during this summer abroad.

This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters.      1 John 3:16