It's that time of year: admissions decisions are being finalized, scholarship applications are due, and students are trying to decide where they’ll attend college in the fall. They get lots of advice: sound counsel that really does help and trivial platitudes that don’t do anyone any good.
Here are a few of the most common statements I've heard.
Unfortunately, students also hear things that are more myth than truth and are neither exceptionally helpful nor entirely true. Here are just a few of those.
1. HOPEFULLY FALSE: “This will be the best four years of your life.”
Really? It wasn’t the best four years of my life and I had a great collegiate experience. But best years of my life? Not even close. Frankly, there’s not much that compares to my childhood summers: homemade ice cream under the carport; watermelon seed spitting contests; roller skating, bike riding, playing in my playhouse. Those were some great years. But then, the last four years have been good too. And the four before that. Life is full of great years, so at the very least, you’re overstating.
But there’s a bigger problem with this statement. Expectation. Expectation can just flat slaughter reality. See, no matter how good college is for you, I promise you it won’t be perfect. You’ll have some life-changing experiences, but some of those you would just as soon have lived without. College can be wonderful. It can be difficult. It can be wonderfully difficult and difficultly wonderful. But don’t set students up to approach the next four years as the highlight of life. That’s just not true. And if it is, that’s sad.
2. SOMEWHAT FALSE: “You’ll meet the best friends of your life while you’re in college.”
For me, this is somewhat true, but I’ve also developed friends since graduating college who are more like family than friends to me. Before Facebook, I’d kept in touch with three or four of my closest friends from college. Now I’ve reconnected with many I’d lost contact with and I’m grateful for that. But I’m also in touch with childhood friends and friends I’ve made since the late 80’s. You can make friends whenever and wherever you are. My brother-in-law’s closest friends are high school buddies. My sister’s besties are co-teachers. So yes, hopefully college students will meet and keep new friends. But I for one am grateful that I didn’t stop making friends when I left college.
3. POSSIBLY FALSE: "You’ll be fine."
This may be one of the most dangerous things we say to students. Here’s the deal: way too many college students are anything but fine. Depression and anxiety spike during these stressful years. Suicide on the college campus is consistently on the rise. If students go into college thinking everyone else is fine and they are the only one struggling, they can feel isolated and resist mental health resources because of the fear of being different from the masses. A lot of college students find these years difficult and confusing and lonely. So adults, instead of “You’ll be fine,” how about we say, “I’ll always be here for you,” and mean it. And students: it’s okay if you aren’t okay. I promise you are not the only one. Reach out to people you trust and look into collegiate mental health services. Sometimes, we all need a little help to be "fine."
4. FALSE: “It doesn’t matter where you go.”
First of all, this is flippant and dismissive. If you are trying to make a decision that affects your future, it is not helpful for someone to say the equivalent of “Stop whining and get on with it! Your concerns are invalid.”
Secondly, it does matter, but perhaps not for the reasons you think. It’s not because of the college's reputation or status; the quality of the school and its majors are important, but the truth is you can find quality at just about in college or university. There are exceptions, but mostly academic experience is shaped by personal investment.
But it does matter where you go to college. It matters because of the connections you will make both personally and professionally. How many people do you know who are married to someone they met in college? A lot, right? And that best friend thing—most college graduates have made dear friends along the way, friends who have shaped their lives in profound ways.
That’s not all though. During the next four years and beyond, your professors and advisors will share more than academic knowledge with you. They will also pass along information about job openings and career opportunities; they will be your references for graduate school or employment. It matters that you choose a college where the faculty appeals to you.
Indeed, it doesn’t necessarily matter where you go in terms of national ranking; but it totally matters that you choose a college that feels right to you.
So good luck students! And no matter what other advice you get, remember this:
Choosing a college matters; YOU matter more.
This post was first published March 9, 2016.
On August 2, we celebrated our mother's 80th birthday. At her party, I read this tribute. Of course, there are lots of personal references here, but I thought you might appreciate it anyway. First, though, you should know that Mother's grandkids call her Gangi pronounced "gan-gee" with two hard G's as in "Gloria" or "Grace." Also, my grandfather, her dad, was a math whiz who could do complex mathematics faster than a calculator. More explanations below. Enjoy!
Gloria Mitchell, Happy birthday to you!
80 years old? That just can’t be true!
(But if her daddy were here he would write an equation
And tell us for sure, “It’s time for celebration!”)
It was 1938 when she came into the world:
The youngest of five, a sweet daddy’s girl.
A giggly youngster, an award-winning speaker,
A signing teenager for her Sunday School Teacher. (1)
She turned 18 and headed to college.
Mercer provided all kinds of knowledge.
Papa spied her on campus, and thought she was cute.
So he took her sign class, and began his pursuit.
Harold had in his hand a Heinz pickle pin; (2)
And when Gloria accepted, it sure tickled him.
In 1960, they went and got married.
Then headed up north to get seminaried.
Dawn and Aileen, and their baby brother
Made Papa a daddy and Gangi a mother.
They ministered together, preacher and wife,
Dealing with deacons, and other church strife.
Gangi handled it all, and managed the stresses;
But she wore pants to church, forget fancy dresses. (3)
In each of their churches, each town where they roamed,
Gangi converted each house to a home.
Wherever we were, she worked her home magic . . .
Even at Crescent, where Hal’s lizards went spastic. (4)
She held lots of jobs, she filed lots of folders; (5)
But best job of all? A Romanian head-holder. (6)
Actually, the job she does as our parent?
That is the one where she is truly inerrant.
Our birthday parties were best of the best.
And our Easter Egg hunts? They topped all the rest.
She handmade our clothes, on her Singer machine,
Like the best cowboy suit that you’ve ever seen.
She made Easter dresses with purses to match them,
And suits for her pastor to go to work in.
Plus, that isn’t all, our friends also choose her
(Until they play games and end up the losers)!
Once we were five, then each said I do:
Jay, Mike, and Kim, and soon grandkids too.
We were up to 16 by 2004,
And just this year, we added one more.
“You text us all daily, with Bitmoji flair
And we know every morning you lift us in prayer.
So, despite how it looks to everyone here,
It truly is your 80th year.
We try (but we can’t) to name all the lessons;
We cannot even start to count all the blessings . . .
Of having you as mother, aunt, friend, and wife.
We celebrate you and your wonderful life.”
We surprised our parents with a combined 80th birthday/anniversary gift. (They were married on August 14, 1960.) They've dreamed of taking a train trip through the Canadian Rockies. We set up this fundraiser to help them make that dream a reality. While private donations have essentially doubled the amount you see online, we still have a ways to go. Would you like to help us make their dream come true? Every amount counts--single digit donations add up fast! Here's the link: https://goo.gl/ESDQ5A.
My workouts this summer have not been nonexistent; however, they haven’t been what you would call regular either. So, when I got to the gym this morning, I was feeling pretty proud of myself. I started my work-out on a cardio machine, listening to an Audible book while I was at it.
I picked a machine with the TVs behind it because I didn’t want to be distracted by the news. For some reason, I just don’t seem to have an emotional epidermis; things get to me that apparently don’t bother others. Maybe that is why I am so highly attuned to angry voices—something in my brain picks up the tension before the person even looks or sounds very upset to anyone else.
So, anyway, I was happy to find a cardio machine with its back to the incessant media input of the gym’s wide screen TVs. I had just gotten started when I began to sense hostility nearby. I looked over my shoulder and noticed a staff member (let’s call her Carla) about to assist a patron (we’ll call him Josef). Carla, a gym favorite, is legally blind and brings her guide dog along with her to work. She’s worked there four or five years. I thought initially that I had misread things and that Josef was just making an attempt at sarcastic humor.
Within a couple of minutes, it was clear that this was not a good-humored exchange. Josef said things like, “How are you supposed to help me? You can’t even see!” and “Go away and find me someone who isn’t blind.”
Fun fact: Josef is completely blind himself. Carla has been helping him since he joined the gym a short time ago. Previously, he had said she made him feel more comfortable there because of how adept she is at maneuvering around the machines and so on. (Qualification: no doubt something else major was going on with him today for him to act so ugly. Relevant? Sure. A valid excuse for verbally abusing someone? Not in the least.)
“Hey buddy,” I said when I’d gotten off the machine, “Settle down there.”
“Who are you?”
“Well, I’m a patron who pays my monthly fee just like you and you have gotten so loud that you disturbed my workout.”
“I have told her to go away and get me someone who can see and she’s still standing there.”
Me, to Carla: “Let’s walk over here.” She was trembling by this time, visibly upset. “I’m sorry there are people who behave like that,” I said to her. I walked with her to the wellness center desk as she tried to figure out how to handle the situation. She filled me in about Josef (I’d not noticed his visual impairment) and their relationship to this point. She told me, by the way, that recently, these kinds of things have been happening more frequently. (I cannot even . . . I truly cannot . . .)
At some point, I went to retrieve my things. I turned back to Josef and said, “Dude, that was rough. You just ruined my workout and messed up Carla’s whole day.”
“Screw you! I don’t care about your workout. It’s all about me. Go away!”
So, I did--go away, that is. (Incidentally, the whole time this altercation was unfolding, I was saying to myself, Be a non-anxious presence. Be a non-anxious presence. Be a non-anxious presence. #pastoralcare101)
I submitted a comment card detailing the incident and told Carla I would go ask others to do the same. At the time of Josef’s verbal assault, all the cardio machines around him were occupied. I knew others had to have heard it.
Well, maybe they did, but didn’t want to get involved; or maybe they were all so internally focused that they truly did not notice what was going on around them. In either case, not one of them was willing to complete a comment card.
Carla thanked me repeatedly, I gave her my contact information, and I went on my way.
Oh, one more thing. I haven’t been to that branch of my gym in more than a year. I only went today on a whim. Or so I thought.
On my last Sunday at FBC Weaverville, I read this little ditty at the reception following worship. It is set mostly in the context of this congregation, with lots of personal references. But for what it's worth, here's my Seussian farewell to FBCW.
“It’s a really good church,” my friend said to me.
“You know Jim McCoy, the pastor?" said he.
“Yes, I think so, he sings (did you say?)
In the pizza place on Main Street with Kirk McKay?"
So five years ago, with a smile on my face
I came here to join you at this very place.
To minister here with you and with Joy
And also of course with the singing McCoys.
Our students in college, we had five of them,
Molly and Marley, the twins and Dylan.
Plus Alex, and Chelsea, and Jennifer Sell
Came over each week from U of Mars Hill
Now they’re all grads, and Jordan is too
And Shelby’s a senior at NCSU
So much has happened, we’ve had lots of fun
Remember the Sunday of Benjamin’s run?
And when Corbin said “Actually I have found
That I’d rather hear music with ambient sound.”
Aiden, the red head, who told us his brother
“Cannot settle down, he’s really a bother.”
We cleaned up the church and spruced up the yard
I told you some stories and you gave me your heart.
Baptisms, weddings, and funerals (so many)
We worshipped, we laughed, and we shed tears a plenty.
Thank you dear friends, for how you’ve loved me
With God as our parent, we’re all family.
Today was my last Sunday as Children and Youth Pastor at First Baptist Church of Weaverville, NC. I will begin my new role as pastor at Ecclesia Baptist on August 12. I wrote the letter below for the August 2018 FBCW newsletter that came out today.
For five years, I’ve been a part of the FBCW family as member and as minister. Reflecting on my time here, I’m struck by how much life we have shared since I joined you. Back when I started, Garrett Spivey was in the 7th grade and—much to his frustration—was barely 5’0 tall. David Stone was on crutches and Christin, pregnant with Jonathan, was on bedrest. Dave Miller still drove the golf cart for the fair ministry, Dawn and Irene Edwards sang in the choir every Sunday, Mary Porter crafted handmade cards for the CARE Ministry, and Juanita Mantel was making delicious magic in our kitchen.
Indeed, our church family has experienced the fullness of life during these past five years. Now as we transition from what has been to what will be, I am reminded of lessons I have learned from my own family over the years.
As a preacher’s daughter, I left churches several times throughout my childhood. In my grief over leaving beloved church family, I would cry out to my mother that I wished I had not made any friends at all in that place because leaving them was just too hard. My mother consoled me saying, “It is always right to love with your whole heart. Fearing the pain of loss is never a good enough reason to withhold your love.” Thank you, FBCW for loving me well. My prayers is that you will love your next ministers with as much devotion as you have loved me.
Once when my father resigned from a church, a number of members told him that if he was leaving, they were going to leave too. He was deeply aggrieved about this which I found surprising.
“Daddy, that should make you feel good! It’s because they love you so much!”
“Oh no, Aileen,” Daddy said. “The church is bigger than any one person, even if that person is their minister.”
I have never forgotten this wisdom. It is painful when someone leaves our church family; that pain is not relieved by breaking the fellowship, but by wholeheartedly honoring our covenant to each other.
My brother was a youth minister for more than two decades. When he would begin a new position, he inevitably faced resistance by those whose loyalty remained with his predecessor. Far too often, when he proposed changes or offered new ideas, he was regaled with nostalgic tales of times of old. It was exhausting for him and it limited his ministry. We have certainly shared some wonderful times together. Store those memories and open your hearts and minds to make new ones with my successor.
We’ve had five golden years together. In the words of Amy Grant, “Let me say once more that I love you...and I love the ways that you love me.”
Grace and peace!
TRIGGER WARNING: childhood cancer, loss of child
It was the day before my birthday and my younger kids and I were visiting with our friends the Chantemerles—Joanna and her two children—in Charlotte, NC. It was hot (it’s always hot in Charlotte in July), so we took our kids to nearby Carowinds to the water park, Carolina Harbor.
It was a beautiful day, but I was not at all in a festive mood. My friend Kim from Oklahoma City was in the hospital due to complications from a recent surgery; her son, Caleb, the same age as my youngest daughter, was at home with the rest of the family. I kept my Nokia flip-phone handy; I did not want to miss her call.
You see, Kim and her family had been suffering through an unimaginably difficult year. March of the previous year, Kim had triumphed over breast cancer. The joy over this victory faded quickly, though, because in April the family learned that Caleb had a rare and deadly form of cancer called DIPG (Diffused Intrinsic Pontine Glioma). By that day at Carowinds, Caleb had lived with DIPG for 15 months.
A month earlier, Kim had gotten more devastating news. She had a new cancer—no connection to the breast cancer—and would have to undergo surgery to have a chance at a full recovery. Around that same time, Caleb’s condition began declining rapidly. Kim had the surgery and returned home to join the family in attending to Caleb’s palliative care. Unbelievably, she soon began experiencing excruciating pain and was rushed back to the hospital for emergency surgery. That was where things stood on that day, July 21, 2009.
Meanwhile, my kids and their friends played in the water park, enjoying new independence at the ages of 11, 13, and 15. Joanna and I pulled a couple of lounge chairs together to serve as headquarters for the day, directed the kids to check in with us hourly, and sent them on their way.
The call came. Kim sounded numb, hollow really.
What do you say to someone who is in the hospital recovering from emergency surgery while her son slips into the hereafter back at home? I don’t know. I couldn’t tell you what I said; I just remember being determined not to lose it emotionally while I was on the phone with her. I held it together for the few minutes we were on the phone, hung up and released the fragile hold I had on my state of mind.
About that time the children stopped by for their check-in and Joanna told them about the call. I was crying, head in hands, but immediately became concerned for my kids who had just heard this devastating news. When I looked up, my youngest was reaching for me. She wrapped the two of us in her towel and drew me close. She looked back at the rest of our group and explained, “She’s sad because this reminds her of when Paxten died.”
She was right. I don’t know if it happens to everyone, but when I lose a loved one, all other losses rush forward into the present. The aunt who passed away when I was six years old, the grandmother who died when I was in college, and yes, my little three-and-a-half-year-old friend, Paxten, who died the previous year, also from cancer. . .those and others crowded into my heart for their share of the sadness, managing to multiply, rather than to divide it.
Yes, my daughter spoke the truth: I did feel a sweeping, all-encompassing grief in the minutes following that phone call. But I also felt a pain piercing past all previous ones, a one-of-a-kind sorrow, instantly and specifically formed by the passing of 11-year-old Caleb Spady.
After a few moments, the sounds of Carolina Harbor seeped back into my awareness: loud music proclaiming “Summertime’s calling me,” children squealing as they waited for the bucket hanging above to dump cold water on their heads, parents calling out, “Walk!” and “How about a snack?” and “Come dry off!” Just another day at the water park.
And a day I will never forget.
(Today, Kim is in good health. She and her husband Ken live in Oklahoma with their sons Seth and Luke. Their son Jacob and his new wife live not very far away.)
And now, dear brothers and sisters,
we want you to know what will happen to the believers who have died
so you will not grieve like people who have no hope.
For since we believe that Jesus died and was raised to life again,
we also believe that when Jesus returns,
God will bring back with him the believers who have died.
1 Thessalonians 4:13-14 (NLT)
A little over a year ago, I overhauled my blog with the help of WordPress guru, Renee’ Groskreutz. One of the things Renee’ and I tackled was defining a purpose for my blog. Most blogs exist for a particular reason: to showcase regional activities, to encourage new teachers, or perhaps to educate readers on a specific topic. Not so with my blog. I blog because I like to write. I write about parenting, theology, movies, literature, relationships—well, all kinds of things. (The overhaul, by the way, led me to identify three broad categories: friends, family, and faith.) So anyway, I didn’t know how to answer Renee’s question, “What is the purpose of your blog?”
Finally, I came up with this:
I write to encourage, educate, and amuse.
Still pretty broad, I know, but this has helped me to refine my goals here at aileengoeson.com. It’s also helped me to determine what to post on my Facebook page and on Instagram. If you follow my Facebook page, for example, you’ll not find anything remotely controversial. You’ll surely find lots of “aww!” there as well as some “aha!” and a little “haha!” But no “grrrr!” or “ick!” (If those are there, know I’ve been hacked.)
On Instagram, I only follow positive feeds. Every single time I open the app, I’m met with sweet dog pictures and wonderful photography. It’s delightful—so much so that I thought you’d like to learn about some of these lovely Insta-folks.
So, in no particular order, for your viewing pleasure, are my favorite Instagram accounts.
A couple of years ago, I started a Thank You note series. The (lofty and unrealistic for me) goal was that I would write one a week for 50 weeks. Alas, the last one I published in the series came out in September of 2016. I never really quit the series; just got busy writing other things. I'm reviving it for this post--the story of someone whose name topped the list when I started this project.
Have you ever heard the one about how I met my wife? I mean, our union was in no way official because (1) it was illegal back then and (2) we are both happily married to our husbands. But still, she’s the only wife I’ve ever had. This is our story.
It was the first week of November 1998, the end of a very long six months. Jay had started working in Asheville, NC in early May that year; I stayed back in Sanford, NC with our three kids: ages 3 months, 2 years, and not-quite-4 years. The plan was that our Sanford house would sell quickly and we would find an affordable home in Asheville within a month or so. Yep, that was the plan. In reality, it took approximately forever to sell the house; by October, we gave up and rented it so we could close on our house in Asheville.
My memory places our first meeting simultaneous with the moving van’s exit. “I’m Joanna! I live across the street,” she said when I answered the door. “I was so excited when I saw you unloading toys; I think our kids are about the same age!” She was right. As it turns out, her oldest, a girl, is a month younger than my oldest daughter; her son is a month younger than mine.
She was a stay-at-home mom, working part-time, despite having advanced degrees that qualified her for a professional career; same here. There were other similarities—crazy coincidences we learned as we got to know each other. For example, she knew and loved sign language; I’d been raised around deaf children and had communicated with them fluently back in the day. I’d been gleefully addicted to Diet Mountain Dew since its inception; Joanna too. Like me, Joanna graduated from her high school in 1983.
“So where did you go to high school?” I asked her.
“A tiny little private school in Wilmington, NC,” she said. “You wouldn’t have heard of it.”
“It wasn’t Cape Fear Academy was it?” It was the only school I knew of that fit the description.
“Um, YES! How did you guess?”
“Oh my gosh you are kidding! Jay moved to Wilmington in the 11th grade and actually graduated from Cape Fear Academy in 1981!”
Our families shared Super Bowl Sundays, birthday parties, trick-or-treating, Easter Egg Hunts, and always snow days. Oh man, snow days were the best. I recall those days in full color, punctuated with squeals and laughter and sweetened by the smell of fresh baked cookies and steaming hot chocolate. The four big kids--Margaret always thought of “Nana” as her personal playmate—raced out to our backyard hill, streaking down then trudging up to do it all over again and again until they were soaking wet or completely exhausted or both.
Our friendship formed over Power Rangers™ and Powerpuff Girls™, Legos™ and Polly Pockets™, PTO meetings and summer vacation. We talked about parenting and marriage, friendship and family, and where to find the best prices on dinosaur egg instant oatmeal. When it was time for our girls to go to kindergarten, we were delighted that they were in the same class. Two years later, our sons started school—together in that very same room.
“It’s like having a wife!” we often said, appreciating the convenience of having someone to pick up a gallon of milk or drop off library books, watch the kids for just a minute or pick them up from school. But Joanna was much more than a partner in the monotony. When three-year-old Margaret, diagnosed with both the flu and pneumonia, was so terrifyingly ill that I could barely see beyond her rising temperature, Joanna was there. When little grade school Baker experienced yet another classmate making fun of his impeded speech, Joanna’s rage matched my own. When Jay and I rushed 8-year-old Trellace to the emergency room late one night, and during all the days after when she was hospitalized for peritonitis following her appendectomy, Joanna seamlessly filled in the gaps.
For a little more than five years, Joanna and her family lived across the street from us. I have to keep recounting that number because I just can’t believe it was only five years. (Of course, that’s just chronological time; it has never been all that reliable in tracking memories.)
So, here’s to Joanna, my across-the-street wife and one of God’s most extravagant gifts to me. I will forever be grateful for this extraordinary, once-in-a-lifetime friendship that has made me a better me.
It was January 13, 2009 and I was on my way to the college when my cell phone rang.
"Where are you?" my GWU friend asked.
"On the way. What's up?"
"Uhhh, nothin', just wanted to see if you wanted to meet Gary and me for coffee."
"You're out of class?" I asked. It was only 8:30 and they had Dr. Cal Robertson. Doc Cal never ends class early. Never. "I thought you had Robertson."
"We do. . . we just . . . well . . . we're at the coffee shop."
"Is something wrong with Robertson? Is he sick?" There was something she wasn't telling me, but she said he was fine. "Robertson is NOT fine if he let you out of class early."
"No, really. Robertson is fine."
I'm slow on the uptake at 8:30 in the morning. I didn't hear the shock in her voice, the utter disbelief. I didn't hurry. When I got to GWU, my friends met me, not at the coffee shop, but in the yard outside the divinity school.
"Aileen. Dr. Goodman died this morning," Donna told me.
"It's true Aileen," Gary said, "He collapsed in the shower. We don't know any more details right now."
"Dr. Goodman?" I couldn't believe what I was hearing. "Are you sure?" (We ask stupid questions like that when we are in shock.) They nodded, while still disbelieving the news themselves.
"We're having chapel today, but they changed the planned service. Now the focus will be Dr. Goodman."
In a few hours, we all went to church. Here's what I wrote about that service.
When I was six years old, my family moved to Wilson, NC where we would soon meet the Daniels family. Mrs. Daniels became one of my mother's closest friends, so our families socialized frequently. I was younger than the Daniels' youngest, so I was more of a tag-a-long than a peer; but still, I remember.
In the attached post, Anna Daniels Anderson recalls her younger sister, Beth. She'll tell you about the struggles Beth faced and the victories she celebrated. I'll leave that to her. But I'll say this: knowing Beth Daniels made me a better me. Because of Beth, I've never been intimidated by wheelchairs or braces, or any other physical difference. Shoot, I remember one time when Beth had some surgery or another and she had to be in this weird contraption for months (at least that's what it seemed like to me). We'd go over to the Daniels' house and Beth managed--even strapped to that bed/board/whatever-it-was--to participate in whatever we were doing. We told jokes, we giggled, we played games, we had fun just being little girls.
Beth never tried to teach me how to treat someone who had physical limitations. I never studied her like some kind of science project. We just shared a childhood. That's all. And that's everything. And I am grateful.
via Remembering Beth