How to Survive College

For lack of a better opening, here’s a Twitter-sized anecdote.

Mom, to teenage brother: “You know, you should ask Hannah for ideas about college. She’s been doing it for awhile now.”

Me: sherlock success anderson emma makes things sherlock spoilers GIF

But I guess, after accidentally doing college in cuttime and surviving, I really do know something about how it works.

Let’s be honest. College is an amazing opportunity (thanks for the blessing, God) that’s also terrifying and awful and will probably suck the life out of you (thanks for the sanctification, God). We do it, because we know that higher education can actually benefit us later in life provided we do it right and survive to graduation. But how? How to survive college?

Glad you asked, because it just so happens I have a list. (Mycroft has a file.) To cut to the chase, this post is about basic hacks that will help you survive college. These are just things that I’ve found useful, and maybe they’ll work for you too. And the best part is, you can start using some of them right now.

Step 1: Begin before the semester.

After all, a villain must always be one step ahead.

  • Ask advice from other people who go to college- preferably, your college. Find out about the hardest courses and how to ace them, and look for little life hacks from other students. (Hint: You’re already doing that!)
  • Do everything ahead of time. Don’t procrastinate. Figure out what courses you’re taking, get them all set up, and fill out all the forms well before the semester starts. This leaves you extra time in case you miss something.
  • When you’re not in school, practice writing essays. If you’re still in high school or are taking a summer break, now is the ideal time to practice writing a generic five-paragraph essay. Find some prompts, set a timer for 40 minutes, and see what you can crank out.
  • Update: Learn to speed-read. I neglected to mention this before (facepalm) but if you do it right, speed-reading can help you study effectively by teaching you different types of reading. Try this article for starters.

Step 2: Go in with a plan.

 planning GIF

Don’t get beaten by a cat.

  • Read the syllabus. Just… read the syllabus.
  • Download everything: all assignment instructions, rubrics, source articles, and anything else you might find useful. It may seem ridiculous, but it’s so much easier than desperately hunting for that old article a day before your paper is due.
  • Organize your files using your computer’s file explorer, Google Drive, or Microsoft Office Suite. Downloading stuff is no good if you can’t find it later.
  • While you’re at it, organize your tasks by day. I use Google Calendar and Tasks, which lets me assign daily tasks to myself and check them off as I go. Other people use planner apps which basically do the same thing.
  • Keep track of your textbooks. When you’re buying and renting multiple books (see below) for a whole semester, it’s really easy to forget which ones belong to you and when to return the ones that don’t. Ergo, write it down.

Step 3: Get the right resources.

Image result for sonic screwdriver gif

I watched one episode, so I’m allowed to use this gif, right?

  • Rent your books instead of buying them. Chegg Study and Amazon.com are great resources for this.
  • If you can, earn credit in other ways. CLEP and DSST exams give you credit for subjects you already know, and ALEKS courses give you a fast-paced review until you’re getting good grades. P.S. ACE Credit can store your credit on a transcript until you’re ready to send it to a college.
  • There are also some great study sites. Free Clep Prep is technically for CLEP and DSST, but the site has all kinds of resources for pretty much every intro-level course and subject.
  • InstantCert is great test-prep, designed for CLEP exams.
  • Quizlet is also good. Personally I hate studying with flash cards, but if they help you, Quizlet is the way to go.

Step 4: Work.

 nike shia labeouf just do it by thismightbeaaron im funny dammit GIF

Don’t let your dreams be dreams.

  • College is basically a job, so treat it like one. Work hard and take it seriously.
  • Do your school from nine to five. School starts promptly at 9am and ends right before dinner (with good breaks in between), and then you can watch Netflix. This way, you probably won’t have to pull any all-nighters.
  • Get over yourself. The truth is college often makes you work hard at things you don’t even like- for example, recording videos of yourself talking. Just do it anyway. Chances are you’re a lot better at school than you think.
  • Sleep at night. I shouldn’t have to say this to you adults (and almost-adults), but put your phone away and go to sleep before 11pm.

Step 5: Make it fun.

Image result for gif sherlock just happy to be alive

Life can be fun.

  • Make yourself have fun. Let’s face it, college isn’t always fun, so you have to find little ways to enjoy it. It’s as simple as talking yourself into being excited or choosing essay topics that sound interesting and don’t stress you out.
  • Listen to music that makes you happy and helps you study. Try Spotify or Pandora, or just plain old YouTube if you can resist the cat videos. (I’ve heard video games soundtracks can help people focus on tasks.)
  • Reward yourself with snacks. After thirty solid minutes of writing that dull essay, give yourself a snack. A healthy snack. Maybe a little chocolate if it’s a really dull essay.
  • Find fun ways of studying. Do you like to sit and read outside? Can you make up a song to memorize the rulers of England? Do you learn better mind palace-style? Try it and see.

Step 6: Think twice before making a dumb decision.

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See, Cap said so. Better listen to Cap.

  • Keep at it. Everyone feels awful in the heat of the semester: some people are tempted to cheat, others just want to give up trying. Both of those are wrong. College really is a huge opportunity, regardless of how you feel now. Don’t waste it.
  • Talk about your problems. Ask your mom for advice when you’re stressed out, or have your friend group ask you every week how you are doing. It does wonders for accountability.
  • Don’t be stupid. Cheating is always a wrong decision, and it almost never improves your grades even if you’re not caught. (For example.) Remember, school is for learning, not proving what you already know.
  • Get the help you need. Try Chegg Study or check out the resources in your university’s library. Think about it: for 30 bucks, would you rather buy two crappy essays or actually learn how to put your thoughts on paper?

Step 7: Live a life outside of school.

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Sorry. This gif is too much to resist.

  • Start a project outside of school. Volunteer, learn to make bread, or get a part-time job. This gives you balance and lets you invest in something besides three months of papers.
  • Don’t let college kill you. Drink water so you don’t die. Find some kind of exercise that you like (or, at least, you don’t hate); if you live close enough to your campus, try walking to school instead of driving.
  • Talk to other humans. Don’t just be grumpy about how misrepresented the Puritans are; go rant to a friend about it. It helps you process and understand the facts better, and in the meantime you’ll actually be talking to people.
  • Give your brain a break. Try watching a movie on repeat (like, ahem, Doctor Strange) or re-read your old favorite book. Just find something to help your brain relax.
  • If you need to, quit during the summer. Most people take a summer break. College is brain work, and sometimes you just need to rest.

And here we are. This list is not a lifesaving device, but hopefully something on it will make your life at college a little bit better. At the very least, you should be able to survive.

Enjoy the rest of your summer. *evil cackling*

Are You a Legalist??

willywonkalegalistHave you ever met an anti-legalist? They’re like the legalistic sort of church folk, only they take things to the opposite extreme. The legalists like Christian movies? Great, let’s hate Christian movies! Legalists don’t read Twilight? Read all the vampire stories!

If you by some miracle haven’t encountered an anti-legalist, go read some random Christian blogs that rant about the dangers of purity rings, or find an online support group for kids whose parents didn’t let them watch PG-13 movies. That should give you the general idea.

So here’s my thesis: Legalism and anti-legalism are twin forms of idolatry. Why is that? Because both lifestyles are based on people’s opinions and our own desire to leave an impression, rather than on God’s will for us. And why is that? Well, that’s what the post is about.

We need to start by defining the terms. What are legalism and anti-legalism, and what’s wrong with each one?

The problem with legalism is that it is contrary to the Gospel. No one can (or should) question that. In essence, legalism takes good and beautiful choices, and uses them to become standards that all Christians should follow. It assumes that we and our perfect homeschool families and flawless courtships (complete with a first-kiss-wedding) can and must earn the approval of God. Anyone who doesn’t do worship services and potlucks exactly the way we do just isn’t as awesome as we are. Our way is the right way, and theirs is the wrong one. God forbid we should ever be associated with those people!

But guess what? Anti-legalism is also contrary to the Gospel. It operates under the premise that moral standards that are not specifically commanded in scripture are a threat to our freedom in Christ. It assumes that Josh Harris and God’s Not Dead 2 must be spurned and ridiculed; Harry Potter is the only way to prove that we are truly free in Christ. Anyone who even tolerates the idea that kids shouldn’t date until age 18 just isn’t as awesome as we are. We must fight legalism and the judgmental attitudes of others! Our way is the right way, and theirs is the wrong one. God forbid we should ever be associated with those people!

Do you see what’s so tragically laughable here? Legalism and anti-legalism are, at their root, exactly the same concept taken to two different extremes. In both cases, decisions are based less on what God is asking me to do, and more on how I see myself and how others will perceive me. It’s just like boys and girls throwing mud pies at each other on the playground because the opposite gender hypothetically has cooties- never mind the actual mud on your own clothes.

Now, to be clear: calling your relationship “courting” instead of “dating” does not make you a legalist, and reading a book by Suzanne Collins does not make you an anti-legalist. The problem is not the action itself, but the motivation behind the action. Both forms of legalism happen when we take the focus off of God and put ourselves and our works in the spotlight. The mindset in both cases is one of “people need to see what I’m doing for God, not what God is doing in me.” Legalism and anti-legalism are both idolatry because the ultimate standard is how I appear to others.

I have to look perfect at church. 

I dare not look too perfect at church. 

I have to save my children from a life of sin.

I have to save my parents from a life of judging lest they be judged. 

People, it’s time to wake up! We simply have to stop putting that pressure on ourselves. God didn’t assign us the responsibility of being perfect; who are we to assign it to ourselves? If gaining the approval of man through my own behavior is my motivation, then there’s no room for God. And a life without God is the most dangerous life I can live.

So what’s the point? Well, here’s a quote. I don’t care if you like Doctor Strange or not (based on what I’ve seen, you probably don’t), but the Ancient One aptly summed up the truth everyone is missing:

It’s not about you.

God is the center. People are not God, and we never will be. It’s not our job to live perfect lives in front of others, nor to prove to others that we have the truth about living perfect lives. If that was really the case, we of all people should be most pitied. It would mean that Jesus’ death doesn’t really matter after all, and God has forsaken us. It would mean that it’s up to humanity to save itself. That sounds blasphemous, yet it’s exactly what we proclaim when we live to create an impression on others. And we can do that just as easily when we’re reading Harry Potter as when we’re listening exclusively to Christian music.

Sure, it’s okay to hate Christian movies, just as it’s okay to skip the Divergent trilogy. But what’s your reason for disliking either? So often, we make decisions based on how we appear to others. If I refuse to spend money at Starbucks, will people think I’m legalistic? If I wear this, will people think I’m making myself cheap? Sure, we should have a care about how we treat others, but here’s the thing: people are always going to judge us. Remember the farmer, his son, and their donkey. If we build our lives based on other people’s perceptions, we will end up dissatisfied and depressed. It’s impossible to create the perfect impression forever, and God didn’t make us to live like that anyway.

The thing we need to change is our motivation. We should really be making our decisions based on what God asks us to do. That’s the life He created us to live. Where does God want me to spend my hard-earned money? Does my clothing reflect the honor that God has given me as His son or daughter? And yes, people will still judge us or think ill of us, and sometimes that will hurt, but it doesn’t matter as much when we know we’re doing what God would have us do. It’s truly amazing how the earth grows strangely dim in the light of God’s glory and grace.

It’s all about God, anyway. What right have we to add to His commandments?

To Christians With “Overprotective” Parents

overprotectiveparents

Here are two things you should know.

1: This post is a letter written to Christian kids under age eighteen. If you’re not a Christian and/or child and you want to read this post, take it for what it is: not written for you.

2: This is an insanely-super-long post, so if you don’t have a lot of time and/or are highly distractable, don’t read this post right now. Bookmark it and come back later after you’ve taken care of your important to-do things.

What to do about overprotective parents?

Full confession: I’m eighteen now and make my own decisions. Before I turned eighteen, though, my parents were what they jokingly call “overprotective.” Meaning, I didn’t read Harry Potter until one year ago, the kids in our family couldn’t watch the Disney movies with ghosts until we were too old to appreciate the slapstick humor, and most of my siblings still don’t have Facebook. Basically, I’m saying I know what it’s like to have parents who say no.

Maybe you’ve said/heard people say things like this:

Dad shouldn’t try to control me so much!

I may not know everything, but neither do my parents, and I know myself a heck of a lot better than they do.

Harry Potter isn’t going to damage me; it actually teaches some really good lessons.

I know my parents are well-meaning, but they don’t understand me.

It just hurts that Mom doesn’t trust me with something as harmless as a children’s book series.

But are we looking at this all wrong? I’d posit that we might be, that maybe overprotective parents are not a curse, but rather a blessing. I thank God and my parents for most, if not all, of the decisions they made, even though I disagreed with them at the time.

To explain why, I need to start from square one:

Everyone is overprotective sometimes- and thank God that we are.

When people say “overprotective,” what do they really mean? No one knows the future, obviously, so there is no way to be just the right amount of “protective.” People have to be either under- or over-protective, and most folks like to err on the side of caution.

Let’s just take the most basic example: a seatbelt. Every time you get into your car and put on a seatbelt, you are necessarily being overprotective. Gee whiz, you’re probably not going to wreck every single time you’re in a motor vehicle. What’s the big deal? In fact, while we’re at it, we could probably do away with those giant concrete barriers in the middle of the highway and just use one yellow line instead of two. It would definitely save the government some money. Buckling up is a time waster.

Yet, if you’re smart, you buckle up. You know that if you don’t have a seatbelt on, you could get hurt– just like my friend. Last month, driving back from vacation, a distracted driver rear-ended her car at high speed, totaled the vehicle, and gave her whole family whiplash. If my friend hadn’t been wearing her seatbelt, she would have flown through the windshield and probably died. This is why the law requires people to buckle up.

If you don’t crash, a seatbelt is an inconvenience that wastes maybe five seconds on every drive; if you’re in a bad wreck, it’s that fine line between life and death. Next time you pull into the driveway safely after a road trip, thank God that He made people to be overprotective.

Of course, overprotection can be a good or bad thing. Where do overprotective parents fit in? Well, let’s get to the next point:

The keyword is not “overprotective.” It is “parent.”

Let’s say you’re a mom or dad who just brought home your first child. Congratulations, balloons, meal trains. Now what do you need to do? More than you think. Contrary to popular belief, your job as a parent is not just to clothe and feed that hypothetical child and make sure he/she doesn’t do bad stuff at parties until age eighteen; you as a parent are now responsible for an actual soul. When God creates a child, He doesn’t just make a body with a brain that sometimes functions with ample caffeine. He creates a person with a soul that will live forever. (C.S. Lewis wrote a good explanation.) God gives children to you, the parent, with the responsibility to make sure that you take care of their little souls, lead them to seek out and obey His plan, and teach them diligently in the hope that they will come to a saving relationship with Christ.

This is why we have Mother’s and Father’s Days. Because, all things considered, your parents are doing a pretty freaking awesome job.

I don’t know about you, but when I step back and realize the overwhelming responsibility of my parents to care for my soul, I find it really hard to be mad about not reading TwilightIn fact, I even have a little bit of gratitude that Mom and Dad made the best decision they could for my benefit. They probably didn’t enjoy some of those decisions any more than I did. (It can be hard to say no to people you love, especially if it makes them sad.) Some of those safeguards were probably unnecessary, but my parents didn’t put them there because they were monsters. They put them there because they cared.

If you understand all this, yet you still fundamentally disagree with your parents’ Hunger Games policiesthen here’s another bit of truth that might help:

You probably aren’t missing out on much.

If you really miss out on something good, you can catch up on it later. I don’t think it takes that long to read The Hunger GamesIn fact, you’ll probably enjoy it more if you take your parents’ advice and wait.

Now if your parents are starving you, then by all means argue, disobey, and do whatever it takes to eat and survive. That’s not overprotection; that’s abuse. (Metabolism is one of the four biological criteria for life.) If they aren’t letting you encounter opposing worldviews and you’re in your teens, maybe have a talk about that one- or else college is gonna be tough for you. But if your parents tell you not to do something you want but don’t need… then don’t do it. Face it, you don’t need Harry Potter in your life. Queen Victoria never read Harry Potter, and she ruled the British Empire for over sixty years. Tell yourself you’re being like Victoria. It will do wonders for your attitude.

And if you think that you should be able to make your own decisions because you know best, think again. Many times, when my parents told me not to do something, I later realized they were right. For example, a few years ago when I was probably fifteen, maybe younger, I wanted to watch Sherlock. Dad said no because it had a lot of swearing, it could be scary, and it would probably do me no good. I disagreed with him on that last bit quite strongly; but I decided to do the right thing and obey.

Now, as an adult (and Sherlockian), I can see at least two reasons why it was a good idea to skip the show at that age. One, Sherlock is in fact scary, and being my usual empathetic, prone-to-depression self, I would not have handled Moriarty’s psychopathic tendencies very well at all. It would have done me more emotional harm than good. Two, Sherlock has some particular themes in a particular episode (if you don’t know, don’t look it up) which my dad didn’t know about because he never finished the show. If I had stumbled upon that episode a few years ago, I would have been too disgusted to finish the show, and thus I would never have watched “The Sign of Three.”

There was no way for me to know all that at age fifteen. Good thing my parents were overprotective about a show they never finished.

And lastly, if you still disagree, I just have one more thing to tell you:

You should obey anyway.

Even if nothing else in this post has inspired you to obey, this should be enough to convince you. As a Christian, you have a responsibility to obey your parents in everything. Look at Colossians 3:20. In context, “children” means “people under the legal age of adulthood.” That means that if you’re a Christian under age eighteen, you have to obey your parents whether you like it or not. (Even adult Christians are still required to show honor to their parents.) Unless they command you to do something sinful, disobedience to parents is disobedience to God. Obey them, if for no other reason than your desire to obey God.

Ultimately, it helps to know that your parents do actually care about you.

They aren’t always right. Parents can be wrong sometimes; I know my parents make mistakes because I’ve made plenty of mistakes in my few years of life, and they’ve been around a lot longer than I have. But now that Mom and Dad have messed up a few times, they can help us avoid doing those things. They can protect us from things that just might be dangerous. When they say no to something, try asking why- I’m sure they’d love to explain it to you if you just ask them nicely. You can disagree and present your reasons for why they should change their mind; in fact, you may actually get them to agree with you. But in the end, it’s the job of Christian parents to make a wise decision, and it’s the job of a Christian son or daughter to accept it.

And it’s worth mentioning that the sooner you decide to trust your parents, the likelier they are to start trusting you with more of those things you want to do.

A Few Things About Adulting

adultingcoverYes, I’m writing about adulthood today.

Okay, okay. I’ve only been an official adult for eight-ish months now, so I claim no expertise in this realm, but I figured that I have a lot of younger teens reading my blog who will appreciate the tidbits I’ve learned so far. Besides that, I’ve been thinking a lot about what it means to grow up, and I don’t know, but my blog seems like a permissible place to share my thoughts. So take this post for what I hope it’s worth: some casual advice to kids who are (as I was) terrified of the prospect of 18.

Now for some hashtag real talk.

It’s not that much harder, just more complicated.

Let’s face the facts. Most people think adulthood will look like this:

Han Solo is ecstatic!

But in reality, most of the time it actually looks like this:

Here, a reason of many why I will miss Matt terribly. This gesture is perfectly that of the little boy who loses something precious. Sure he’s not a boy, but what I love about Eleven/the Doctor is that there are so many elements of a child in him. After all he’s somewhere around a thousand years old. He’s dealt with so many joys and so many pains. Bound to make you kind of backwards forwards, right? But it’s the actor who totally goes deep inside and recalls being the child …

Yes, adulthood is harder than the other teen years. Just like tenth grade was harder than ninth grade. That doesn’t mean it’s impossible. The truth is, adulting is a combination of regular teenage school and work, a few new tasks thrown in, and paperwork. Lots and lots of paperwork. If you’ve ever self-published, you know what I’m talking about: money plus government always equals paperwork.

Adulthood is no exception. You’ll be doing almost exactly the same things that Mom used to make you help her do, except this time you have to write it down in case you get audited. And how do we survive that? Well, if you’ll pardon a bit of bandwagon: if everyone else can do it, so can you.

Which brings me to the next point…

It’s okay to ask for help.

sherlock

No one is born knowing how to file tax forms. Everyone at some point has asked Mom how to write out a check. Never has anyone become too good to ask one’s truck-loving neighbor about the best brand of antifreeze windshield fluid. They just ask people about things. And do you know the best part? If you ask, people will answer.

Yes, some cashiers will look at you sideways when you ask, “Do I swipe the card now?” and one or two of them may in fact bite your head off for it. If this happens, smile politely, move on, and make a note of not patronizing Mr Bumble’s establishment again. But in the last seven months of adulting, I’ve learned that most folks are of the regular, decent sort. They are willing, eager in fact, to help a well-meaning young person learn the same things they had to learn twenty plus years ago. Besides, once you’ve found someone who likes to help young people learn how to adult, you’ve probably found a good friend, which is always a plus.

We can be adults at home, too.

This one makes my head spin. As soon as I turned eighteen, I started hearing the inevitable train of questioning. Where am I going to college? When am I going to move out? What the heck- why would I not move out on my own? I can’t make sense of the logic (or lack thereof) behind it: if moving to a different locale changes the nature of one’s entire being, why not just trade rooms with a sibling? Obviously, adulthood has little to do with location. Whether you stay at home or move out is beside the point; money, personal maturity, and environment are much more important factors.

Lookit me! I’m adulting!

But, people say, how can we grow up when we’re dealing with such dysfunctional family members? Surely that is a reason to move out. Okay. Maybe you’re in a situation where you should not under any circumstances stay with your family; there’s just no living with certain people. In that case, go right ahead and God speed ye! But the rest of us have probably just paved our floors with eggshells. Duh, people make mistakes (that’s what people do), and if we have that much trouble living with the ordinary, well-meaning, annoying people who raised us, we’re probably just as bad. Are we really expecting ourselves to function that much better in a dorm with other ordinary, well-meaning, annoying college kids?

Of course it’s not wrong to live in an apartment rather than your parents’ house. In fact, it may make more financial sense to move out, and the change of responsibility might be good for you. (Truth be told, hardly anybody cares where you keep your stuff for the next four years of your life.) But don’t let peer pressure make your decisions for you. Look critically at your options, and whatever you decide, be confident in that choice. Just do your thing and be an adult no matter where you are.

It’s about the attitude change.

When it comes down to it, being an adult means everyone’s attitudes- including yours- need to change. The minor-adult law is kind of arbitrary. On the morning of your eighteenth birthday, are you suddenly endowed with a new spirit that seventeen-year-and-364-day-old you didn’t have? In a fantasy world, maybe, but not here. To summarize a long and boring history lesson: the government realized that kids grew up somewhere between the ages of ten and twenty, and it picked the nice even number of eighteen.

This is both electrifying and unnerving. Suddenly, you have an unrestricted license and can drive wherever and whenever you like. You can buy anything (except alcohol; that has to wait three years) and do anything so long as it’s within the limits of the law. Freedom!

But you’ve watched Spiderman; you now have great responsibility. At age seventeen, if you stole money from a cash register, the cops yelled at your parents, who in turn yelled at you and made you pay back the goods. Now, if you steal at age eighteen, it’s on the record forever, and you’re a thief who has to answer to the law. The government’s attitude changed; society’s attitude changed; they’re expecting your attitude to change, too. And that seems unfair, but hey- welcome to life. You’ll get used to it.

shrugging

My life isn’t over.

Being an adult is actually kind of fun. In Texas, turning eighteen gives one the privilege to drive at any time of the day and with as many friends as one likes. Under normal circumstances, adults can go anywhere in the world they like. And people have finally stopped asking this former homeschooler why I’m not in school.

cartoon high five clap best friend the emperors new groove

Yes, paperwork is annoying and complex; yes, I have to be very careful about my behavior; and yes, I have a lot more random tasks to complete. But whining about it isn’t going to bring me back to childhood- and to be honest, I don’t really want to go back.

Don’t get me wrong, I really enjoyed being a kid. Playing in sandboxes and getting my shoes dirty, eating ice cream not knowing of the existence of calories… all that was nice, but that’s not where I am now. It’s time for me to be an adult. Everyone needs a healthy balance of work and play, and that balance changes as we grow up. That’s how we were made.

When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways. 

1 Corinthians 13:11

When it comes down to it, growing up isn’t really about what you’re capable of doing and how well you perform at doing it. It’s about doing what you think is best, screwing up, admitting the mistake, and doing that much better next time. It’s about getting closer to the person God made you to be, and that isn’t really so scary after all.