Monday, August 18, 2014

two years later: life lessons from my first weeks in gcbi


So, two years ago I had just moved into this sort of smelly, very hot 1920s hotel building in downtown Sebring, Florida. There, I would spend ten months studying the Bible from Genesis 1 to Revelation 22—but the things I learned definitely didn’t relate solely to theology and ministry, especially in my first few weeks! A lot of these things I have shared with few people in detail, but I dedicate them to my sister Hannah, who will Lord willing go to GCBI someday and hopefully make fewer mistakes than I did.


i. the world is a lonely place.

Adventuring solo across the United States is all well and good in novels… but in all honesty there is nothing glamorous about being completely alone in a crowd of people. There were horrible goodbyes, long waits in the security lines, the hassle of getting luggage to the right place with no one to help me, sitting airborne in a tight space with a stranger at either shoulder and a lump in my throat that no one around me would understand. It’s just no fun.


ii. any excitement you had about leaving home for the first time will dissolve into tears at some point—maybe for days or weeks.

I’m sure there are some people who can leave home and be unaffected by it (in fact I think my roommate was one of them), but not me. I cried when I said goodbye to my brothers and sisters, I cried when I said goodbye to Sam, and I cried again when I said it to Mom and Dad at the airport. I cried when I watched Mount Hood fade away over our northward wing. I cried while I sat on the plane writing in my journal, asking questions like “What do I think I’m doing?” When I finally arrived in Orlando, I thought I was done crying, but once I’d gotten through baggage claim and found Kirsten and Sara and gotten in the backseat of the Prius with a load of toilet paper headed toward Sebring, I could think again and therefore I could cry again. I cried when I called Mom and Dad to tell them I was alive. I cried when I was standing in my new dorm room alone to unpack. I think I made it through Gabe’s spaghetti dinner without crying, but as soon as the GCBI building went dark and I was alone in bed, I cried like I’m pretty sure I’ve never cried before.

Then—for the next several weeks—I got through every day by knowing I could call Mom any time, and boy did I. And cried every time.


iii. don’t set too much store by appearances.

Disclaimer: Some of my first impressions of my fellow classmates did turn out pretty accurate, I think. At least I don’t remember being surprised by the way they ended up. Except in the case of my roommate.

It started with some innocent Facebook creeping. By going through her pictures, I decided that Hannah was probably a tiny bit on the snobby side and wouldn’t deign to be friends with me. Then, when I actually met her (having just found that she was MOVING INTO MY ROOM), she brought in so. many. clothes. and I was like, Oh great, she’s going to be completely preppy and unbearable.

Needless to say—I was completely wrong. And after a couple of sarcastic exchanges (sarcasm is her getting-to-know-you language) we became inseparable friends. To this day, she’s the only classmate I regularly keep in touch with and visit in Pennsylvania as often as I can.

(To be fair—she also had a pretty bad first impression of me. It just so happened that I hadn’t brought NEARLY enough pairs of shorts with me to survive the Florida heat, so I was wearing a denim knee-length skirt the day she arrived. She immediately classified me as a “weird antisocial homeschooler.” Considering that I am an incredibly quiet person upon a first introduction, I guess her impression was somewhat justified.)


iv. not everyone will like you.

Having spent eighteen and a half years of my life roaming one very small social circle, I was under the impression that I was an extremely likable person. I had never met anyone, that I was aware of, who didn’t like me. Nobody ever had a bone to pick with me. I was always just the easygoing type.

But pride goeth before a fall, and within a month or two of moving to Florida I came to the shocking realization that I could be the most easygoing person in the world and some personalities still wouldn’t mesh with mine. I have to be honest, this was one of the hardest lessons I’ve ever learned, and I was willing to go to nearly any length of compromise—even to the point of accepting responsibility for things I had no part in—to keep the peace. But once I figured out that other people’s attitudes weren’t my job to fix, life got a lot better. Be kind, but “peace at any cost” is a really flawed motto.


v. also, don’t waste too much effort trying to make people like you.

I’m pretty sure most of my classmates liked me well enough, but all the same I felt inadequate. I had never been in such close quarters with eleven people so completely different in personality and upbringing than myself, and I felt like I had to try to adhere to the traits of each one of them. Some of it was unconscious—for example, after ten months of sharing a room with my louder and more confident counterpart, Hannah, I definitely grew louder and more confident. But sometimes I knew that I was making a conscious effort to change myself to fit other people’s molds. I wanted to be sillier, be funnier, be blunter, be stronger, be colder. When describing me, the most creative adjective most people came up with was “nice”—and I wanted to be more interesting than that.

But what’s wrong with being nice? What’s wrong with being the compassionate one, the quiet one, the thoughtful one? What’s wrong with having different traits and interests? I wish I had known better.


vi. when you agree to commit time out of your life to really study the Word of God, you will become excruciatingly aware of your failings.

I wasn’t expecting this at all, but it started within weeks of beginning classes. Every day felt like a new realization of how I was lacking in my walk with God. Every day I was challenged by some new area of my life that I had thought was “fine.” Some of these I dealt with quickly and easily, but others I looked at with a stubborn heart—and these brought me to crisis points in which my only choice was to finally submit my will to God’s.

For example: When I started GCBI, I was running pretty regularly every day. I enjoyed running and I knew it was good for me. But then I started feeling like running wasn’t enough. I started realizing that I was eating less healthy than at home (which I had little choice in, but it alarmed me). I noticed that I had gained weight. And I freaked out.

What followed, I can only describe as an eating/exercise disorder. Every day I ate less, and every day I worked out harder. Monday—run. Tuesday—video workout on the bathroom floor at 5:15am. Wednesday—run. Thursday—run the stairs for an hour. Friday—video workout on the bathroom floor. Saturday—run. Only on (some) Sundays did I rest.

Of course, anyone with a basic knowledge of the human body knows that it cannot work properly when it isn’t fed properly. But I felt I had gone insane. Basic science like that didn’t get through to me. All the stress and the lack of control I felt at being 3,000 miles away from home got transferred to the one thing I thought I could control: my body. God gave me a lot of wise counsel that I didn’t heed and grace time that I didn’t use to figure out my sin issue on my own, but finally—justifiably—He had to step in and get my attention.

One day I was working out as hard as ever, the next I couldn’t walk. The ligaments in my ankle were temporarily out of service completely, and oh did it hurt. I was crestfallen, angry, inconvenienced—but also somehow relieved. I was set free of my self-imposed ball and chain.

Moral of the story: the discipline of God can (and usually does) hurt. But if you learn the lesson He’s teaching you (and you will know what it is), you will find yourself drawn closer to Him than ever, and in the end you wouldn’t have it any other way.


vii. don’t be afraid to ask for help or guidance.

This is one of my hugest regrets, and I know there are many GCBI alumni who would concur. Don’t ever say you’ll seek out guidance “later.” The time to be discipled is not “later,” it’s now. Your teachers, your dorm parents, your adoptive families—they’re there FOR YOU. They have a wealth of knowledge you wouldn’t believe. Ask for it. Ask a million questions. Go on coffee dates and lunch dates and walks to the pier. I completely screwed this up when I was in GCBI. I blame my quietness—stepping out and initiating friendships and mentorships is NOT my realm of expertise—but I wish I had sucked it up and done it anyway. I did finally seek out the guidance of Pastor Aaron and Sara Michaud toward the very end of my GCBI year, and while out of that have still come a friendship and blessing for which I am very grateful, I do wish it had all started a heck of a lot sooner.


viii. and finally (because ending on a seven would be weird), love every single minute and forget nothing.

This is the only point on which I actually think I did okay (memories, pictures, journals—these are all huge parts of my life!). Remember: you will do this only one time in your life. Never again will you live in a dorm with a dozen other people for the sole purpose of studying the Word of God. These are relationships that will be completely unique to any others—nothing else will bind you to a group of other people like going through this challenge together will.

Take pictures. Write a journal. Blog often. Stay up late in the common room sometimes. Make every day count. As Dave Nickisch will be happy to remind you, they are numbered.

And when it’s all over and you’ve got your certificate and you’re just back from Israel and your whole life is goodbyes again, remember the first few weeks and everything God has brought you through since then. Remember how you thought you would hate it all and not be able to survive away from home for so long, and realize that God blessed your obedience beyond your imagining—and He will continue to do so wherever He takes you.


  1. Thank you, my friend. It made me cry. Already,haha. But I hope I can go....

  2. Hi Hallie Jo, I just started following your blog recently, I love your photography-- and your words! This post was full to the brim of good sounds like you had a really awesome experience.



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