The past four years have been filled with a lot of changes, a lot of excitement, a lot of learning, and a lot of growing. The decision to go to college after high school was a hard one for me. I knew I didn't want to be a career woman. My heart was (and still is) to be a wife, a stay-at-home mom, and to home school my children. The Lord helped me make the decision by providing the blessing of a scholarship to a nearby college. So, in August of 2005, I headed off to Southern Illinois University at Edwardsville, just 25 miles from the house where I had spent the last 18 years of my life. I signed up as a Special Education major, bought all the appropriate gear to be a college student and left the nest.
My freshman year of college was rough. I wasn't excited about college. As I told almost everyone who asked my about my plans after high school, I was just doing this to pass the time until I could meet a man to marry and move on with my life plans. I was determined that college was going to be a bad experience. I went through a rebellious stage and made some poor decisions during those years. I pulled away from a lot of relationships that were vital to me. I became very introverted. I really lost all sense of purpose, direction, and reliance on God. I wasn't sure why He hadn't allowed me to follow through the plans I had created and felt were right. I was lost and really didn't care.
Thanks be to God, He was still in control. I met some wonderful women that year who God used to get me back on track. I was involved in starting a Women's Bible Study on campus. Unintentionally, I had great accountability partners and friends. It wasn't until after that year that I realized how much of an impact these women had on my life. I am continually amazed at the mysterious ways in which God moves. His ways, His plans, and His guiding are often unknown until a culminating event brings them all to light. I can't exactly pinpoint the time when this happened for me, however, my life changed after that first year of college.
The summer between my freshman and sophomore year was interesting. I had this idea that I was to end my time at college. I felt God was calling me to serve Him more wholly. Because I had had a rough year, I had my mind set that there was no way I could serve the Lord to my fullest potential while a college student. My mind changed on this from week to week, and often from day to day. One day I was determined to make the most out of my college experience. I was going to join every student group possible, take challenging classes, and maybe even study abroad! While the next day, college was the last thing I wanted to do. It was a place where I strayed from God, I had no need for a college education, and I wasn't going to enroll for the next semester. I was one confused girl!
After much prayer, much crying, and much discussion with my parents, I decided I would go ahead and enroll in the next semester and see how I felt at Christmas break. This was an acceptable compromise, but I just knew I wouldn't be back after that! Thankfully, the Lord showed me down His path and gave me peace. The fall semester of my sophomore year was a turning point. I spent every day praying for God to reveal His will for me. Meanwhile, I spent a lot of time with my sister-in-Christ, Shelly, who did an amazing job encouraging me. She never judged me or looked down on me when I shared with her my feelings about quiting school. She challenged me to pray about how I could serve Christ in a bigger way as a student. We shared the struggle of giving Him our most while also dedicating time to our studies and trying to battle the diverse temptations that occur while living on a college campus.
Throughout that time, we also started riding bikes with (my now husband) Chris. Shelly was of the thought that this was just something fun to do and get our mind off studying. I, on the other hand, had the agenda of getting to spend more time around Chris without anyone thinking much of it! But that's a whole different story..... Anyway, during these bike rides, I would often talk about my desires to quit school. I would nonchalantly ask Chris his opinion, with a two-fold purpose: 1). I honestly wanted his counsel about it, and 2). I knew I wanted to be his wife and I was trying to figure out if he had any feelings for me. (Because, if he had feelings, then he probably wouldn't want me to finish college, since we would quickly get married and have cute babies, right?) Chris was very good to always encourage me to press on. His counsel was similar to Shelly's: God was calling me to serve Him in a place where His name wasn't boldly proclaimed.
After Christmas break that year, I decided that I was going to finish school. God was going to give me the strength, but I needed to make some changes. Those changes included moving off of campus and back home with my parents. By doing this, I could follow the feeling of needing to be under my parents' protection and authority, while still getting and education that I could use in a way glorifying to the Father. This decision to move home was not met with much approval from my friends, which taught me the importance of being bold about my feelings of God's calling.
The next 2.5 years weren't a walk in the park by any means, but they were easier. During that time God made known to Chris and me that we were to be together. I am incredibly thankful for the Lord's guidance in making His will known in His time. The encouragement that my husband has given me as I finished school is amazing. In the times that I wanted to throw in the towel and give it all up, he encouraged me to keep going. He reminded me that I can make a difference in the lives of children I teach. Even when I was placed in a rough school and I hated going each day, he kindly reminded me that God has called us to be salt and light. He reminded me that God would use me in an amazing way and I needed to glorify His name at all times. There are not words to express my thankfulness to him for these encouraging words and loving reminders.
Now as I sit here, the realization that I am a college graduate has not quite set in completely. I don't feel much different having tossed my tassel from the right to the left. I don't feel much different having heard my name announced, walked across that stage, and holding a fake diploma in my hand. Sure, it's strange to be called "Mrs. Crouse," and actually be looking for a real job. But, the biggest difference is in the lessons I've learned about the faithfulness of God in times when I feel like I'm following a muddy path.
Chris preached a sermon this morning that helped bring this home. In Psalm 139, David writes about the knowledge of God. "O Lord, thou knowest it altogether." He knew that I would make it through that first year and a half of college when I thought it was ridiculous. He knew the impact those women, especially Shelly, would have on my life. He knew the outcome of those bike rides with Chris. He knew the purpose for sending me to classrooms and schools that were beyond my comfort level. And today, He knows the plans for us. He knows if I will be used to make a difference in the lives of students. He knows if my education will be useful in raising and education our own children. He knows. He knows. He knows.
I wouldn't change the past four years for anything. Sure, I made some bad decisions and experienced discouraging times. However, I am thankful for those experiences. I am thankful for each turn of the wheel that helps the Potter mold the clay. I am thankful for His unseen hand when I can't see and when I'm too stubborn to look. I am thankful for the people the Lord uses to help guide my path. I am thankful for His unending mercy.