I spend one evening a month with my friend Carrie Schuetz writing brief letters to college students. College Connections, as the group is called, was started several years ago as a way to remind the kids of our church that we still care about them when they’re away at school. It has expanded throughout the years to include students who are loosely affiliated with the church, their names submitted by a loving aunt or friend in the congregation.
As far as ministries go, it is not glamorous. Carrie and I sit at a table in silence, after a few minutes of chatting, filling card after card with messages of encouragement and love. Last night, we wrote a little more than twenty letters to college students in Kentucky, Ohio, California, and even the exotic locale of Fairview Heights, Illinois.
I like to do this because I had a hard time away at college. When I went to college, only an hour away from home, I was not prepared for being away from my family. I was academically on top of things but emotionally very much unprepared.
This threw me into a mental health storm of depression, anxiety, and loneliness. I dropped out in the middle of the year and moved back home. Mom called it a nervous breakdown; the doctor shrugged and called it “just situational,” as if the mundane situation made it somehow less real.
I was relieved to be home, and I spent the spring semester at the community college, often going for days without speaking. When I did have to speak, my voice was little more than a whisper.
My mom had tried everything in her power to keep me at school, often sending me letters covered in stickers, enclosing a five-dollar bill or a cute article torn from a magazine. Once she sent me a Grand Marnier ad from a magazine with vibrant colors, orange branches, playing cards, phases of the moon, and a bottle in the corner labeled “love potion.” It delighted me, so I hung it up on the wall behind my desk. I had to take it down because it promoted alcohol, which was verboten at the college. I went ahead and took everything down.
After dropping out, I remember attending a family gathering. One relative greeted me with, “Hey, I heard you couldn’t hack it.” A female relative approached me more tenderly and said while searching for something deep in the refrigerator, “Your mom asked me to write you at college, but I’m not much of a writer, Em.” I said, “Oh, it’s okay, not a big deal.”
But it was a big deal, apparently, because I’ve replayed that scene so many times, her rummaging in the fridge, me standing stupidly in the light of the Kenmore. Writing comes easily to me, and I couldn’t understand the reasoning of not being much of a writer. But she didn’t know I was drowning.
I haven’t been a college student for many years, but I assume that pressures on young people persist – not to mention all the complexity that comes with social media and pandemic times. I’m guessing it’s hard.
Anyway, God has given me words, and if I can use those words to encourage a student with a letter in the mail, that’s what I’ll do.