The gifts that make a difference

Today’s post is written by my student, Jordan Fryman, who wrote this essay in response to the question, “What are three gifts you’ve received in 2013, and why are they significant to you?”

gift-givingGrowing up I have received several gifts, both tangible and  intangible, but the older I get I have realized that the gifts I cannot physically hold are the ones that make the most difference in my life. This year has been full of many gifts that have changed my life in huge and very important ways, and I am extremely thankful for them. The gifts that I have been most thankful for this year are having more independence and freedom from my parents, the privilege of starting a college education, and my new Ford F-150 truck.

Since turning eighteen this year and having graduated from high school, my parents have started to give me a lot more freedom to make my own choices and do the things that I want. I have always been more of an independent kind of person and like to make my own decisions, so this is a gift that I really appreciate. I can now go out and spend time with my friends and do as I please because my parents trust that I will still be responsible. My parents have always been the more strict type of parents and like to know what I’m doing at all times, so to know that they believe I’ll do what’s right without them making me means a lot to me. They still continue to put more and more trust in me today, and that is something that I am very grateful for.

Graduating from high school was a great achievement that I was very proud of, but I knew I wanted to achieve more to reach my future goals and get a higher education at a four year school. I had plans of moving off to another town like Jonesboro or Conway as soon as the fall started, but the only thing that kept me from that was not having the financial requirements to go. I had received quite a bit of money from financial aid and scholarships that I had applied for, but it wasn’t half of the amount I needed to go to a four year school right away. My parents left me completely responsible for paying for college on my own, so after I realized I wasn’t able to afford moving off I decided to stay here in Batesville and go to UACCB. Here, my financial aid was enough to pay for all of my classes and books with money even left over for me to use each semester. I am extremely thankful for UACCB providing me with the financial aid I needed and the help of my classes and giving me the privilege of a college education.

The first type of truck I ever bought was a 1996 Dodge Dakota, and it was definitely not the best looking vehicle in the high school student parking lot. It cost me a little over a thousand dollars, but it was the only kind of vehicle I could afford at the time. My friends and my brother especially would always kindly pick on me about the truck and how it would always cause me problems. While driving, the headlights would sometimes go out and come back on again by themselves which was a problem no one could fix, and sometimes even got me pulled over. Also the truck was pretty old; it still had a tape player in it, but there was a tape that was jammed into it that we could never get out. Any time I got tired of the radio and switched it to the tape player, it would play the song “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” which is still stuck in my head to this day.

After dealing with this truck for so long, I was ready for a new one and determined to get one by the time I started college. I worked as many hours as I could during the summer and saved up all the money I made until I had nearly five thousand dollars. I looked all through newspaper ads and went to several car lots until I finally found an extremely nice truck for a price that I could afford. It was a 2001 Ford F-150 that looked brand new, and it was for only four thousand dollars. I bought it and sold my old one that day. My new truck causes me no problems like my first one did, and I really enjoy driving it. I am still very thankful for it to this day because of all the hard work and saving I put in to be able to get it as a gift for myself

Whether the gifts are physical or not they still bring joy to my life and help to make me a happier person. These gifts have really changed my life in good ways, and I am extremely grateful to the people who have provided them for me and helped me to get them.

The gift of a second chance

*Over the next few days, I’ll be posting essays by my amazing students who wrote in response to the question, “What are three gifts–proverbial or literal–that you’ve been given in 2013, and why are they significant to you?” Their responses made me laugh, cry, and most of all, thank God for the opportunity to invest in their lives. Today’s post is by a student who wishes to remain anonymous but wants to share her story. Names and locations have been changed.*

giftThis year, 2013, has been filled with  many life-changing events and blessings. Out of everything I have received this year, there are three special gifts that have made 2013 one of the happiest periods of my life.

The first gift I received this year was meeting my boyfriend John. We met this April on an online dating website, and we’ve been in love ever since. After a painful break-up with my ex-boyfriend in March, I was determined to find someone who would make me happy and treat me well. On a whim, I created a profile on a popular dating website and waited to see what would happen. It wasn’t long before I received a message from John, and I felt a connection right away.

At that time, I was living with my sister in Jonesboro, while he was living in Batesville. We spoke on the phone for hours every day, and we eventually decided to meet in person. My family and friends were concerned for my safety because meeting people off of the internet can be dangerous, but I was confident that everything would be fine. We met in Batesville for sushi and a movie at his place, and it was one of the best dates of my life.

After that,  we became inseparable. Even though our work schedules and distance apart made dating difficult, we were able to maintain a good relationship and quickly fell in love. Not long after our first date, John  offered to let me to move in with him in Batesville, and I was apprehensive at first. I had made many impulsive decisions in my dating life, and I didn’t want our relationship to end badly. After a lot of thought, I decided to go ahead and move in with him. Even though it was a struggle adjusting to a new town, John made the transition a little easier for me, and I am happier in our relationship than I could ever imagine. John has given me a love that I’ve always wanted, and I am very thankful to have him in my life.

The second gift I received this year was the ability to further my education at the University of Arkansas Community College in Batesville, or UACCB. In high school, I didn’t have any motivation or desire to perform well. Growing up, I had a lot of things going on at home that affected every aspect of my life and made school very difficult to handle. I ran away from home when I was 17 years old, and because of that, I was court ordered to stay at a hospital’s treatment center until I was 18. I graduated high school on the day of my discharge from the hospital in 2007, and I have kept my stay in the hospital secret for many years.

I felt ashamed because I had graduated from a mental health facility, and thought that I would never be able to perform well in college due to my past.  Many people in my life have encouraged me to go to college, but due to financial reasons, I felt like that wasn’t an option for me. When I moved to Batesville with John, I was finally in a position to attend college. Even though I didn’t necessarily want to apply for classes, I thought I might as well give it a try to keep everyone from bothering me about it. Now, at the end of my first semester, I can say that I am very happy that I decided to go college. I never dreamed that I would become a straight “A” student at 23 years old, and it makes me feel very proud of myself. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed all of my courses and have made a lot of great friends. College has given me the courage to achieve more in life and to believe in myself.

The third gift I received this year was becoming employed at a gas station. Before moving to Batesville, I worked as a Licensed Certified Nursing Assistant at a nursing home and was financially independent. Despite the good pay I received, I was miserable and loathed my job. Once I was living in Batesville, I assumed that I would have no problem finding a job. I quickly realized that wasn’t the case. I spent almost three months unemployed, and every application and job lead that I followed led to disappointment.

Finally, the week before the fall semester of college started, I received a call from the gas station about a job offer, and I gladly accepted. I have prior experience in sales, and I easily adjusted to my new job. All of the employees were very warm and welcoming, and I became fast friends with all of them. I also met my best friend Savannah, who is like a sister to me. My first months in Batesville were very depressing because I had no money and didn’t know anyone besides John. If I wouldn’t have found a job, I was seriously considering moving back home, which would have been a mistake. I have never been financially supported by a boyfriend before, and not being able to take care of myself was a big blow to my self-confidence. Now, I am happily employed and grateful to have a job that I love.

The year 2013 was filled with so many things that have changed my life for the better. I am thankful for all of the gifts I have received and the good people who are now such a big part of my life.

Talking her off the ledge

With my friend Amy, sophomore year of college

With my friend Amy, sophomore year of college

I remember the first semester of my freshman year of college. After a whirlwind week full of orientation activities, including dances, parties, receptions, matriculation, and workshops, I settled into my tiny dorm room with my roommate who had a real love for brewing beer and listening to opera music. I wanted to make friends, do well in my classes, work part-time to pay for necessities, and spend time with my boyfriend. But finding the time to do it all was difficult. Ultimately, I spent most of my first semester holed up in my dorm room or a study room on campus, cramming and memorizing and reading and writing. Having graduated from a less than stellar itsy bitsy high school, I knew I had a learning curve if I planned on maintaining a good GPA at the difficult, private, liberal arts college I’d selected to attend.

I couldn’t find the mean between extremes my first semester. I made all A’s, but I didn’t meet many new people. I didn’t have much time to relax. I don’t even recall going to many events on campus or watching a movie.

Second semester was a different story. The pendulum swung back toward the middle. I hung out with people on the weekends. I danced my heart out. I made friends with new people, sat around doing nothing in the quad but eating apples and watching grass grow, and skipped class a few times. I still kept my grades up, but I stopped obsessing about having a perfect GPA. I just lived my life as a college student and enjoyed it.

This morning I talked to my favorite college freshman. I heard my 18 year-old self in her desperate voice, trying to balance work, campus life, friends, family, and course work. I remembered the overwhelming feeling of having too much to do and never enough time to do it. I remembered the constant stress of feeling that my life could not possibly get busier.

This morning while my 9 month-old baby napped, I shared a little of what I have learned about balance, eating the elephant one bite at a time, making a budget and living below my means, learning to ask for help when it’s needed, prioritizing long-term educational success over short-term employment, lowering expectations, and making new friends.

But I tried to bite my tongue, too.

My experience has taught me that advice is ample. Ultimately, though, the lessons I have learned were learned by doing, not listening or talking. “Show, don’t tell” is not just a great writing tip I procured from Dr. Tebbetts in Advanced Composition. It’s a way of life.

Talking to someone who really listens is good. Praying with someone who loves you and lets you fall helplessly into the arms of a loving God is priceless.

Sometimes talking someone off the ledge doesn’t require many words.

Just outstretched hands.