I was going to drop out of college. Then God stopped me.
I can still remember the sound of my dad's truck rolling up to the house as he came home from work. He came home every day at the same time. His job was hard; he worked at the airport, loading and unloading planes, in a city that stayed very hot year round. His skin was a permanent red, died by the sun beating down on him day after day, and his hands were hard. He didn't like his job, but he wanted me to have a better life, and so he stayed there.
"I don't care what you do, but it should be good…"
There were a lot of things I didn't understand about my parents — why they tried to protect me so, why they seemed afraid to give me much freedom, why they were so tight with any money they came across — but I did understand that they wanted me to go to college. I felt that to not go would be shameful, and so I applied without really knowing what I wanted to do with my life. I wanted to please my dad and mom, and I didn't want to feel the shame of not going. I got into an engineering school, and started classes, thinking I would make them proud.
Two years later, I almost quit. I can still remember the feeling, my parents asking over and over what kind of grades I had gotten when it came time. I felt that they were so disappointed. I was ashamed of myself, and I had no idea what I was going to do with my life. I felt that my life was falling apart.
"How are you doing?"
My friend at college invited me to join him and a group of friends who got together once a week and talked about God and Christian Scripture together. That was quite an experience, especially at first. I had been to church — baptized, confirmed, took communion, went to the catechism classes, Christian school, and all that stuff. So when I said I would come, it was more out of hopelessness than anything else. My life couldn't get any worse, I thought, so it couldn't hurt me to try that.
"How are you doing?" Someone asked.
"Good." I said.
"Well, what do you mean?" They interjected.
"Well, how are you actually doing? You always just say 'good'." They said.
I didn't know how to react. I think I just tried to brush them off. But it was actually the first time someone had greeted me and actually wanted to know what was going on in my life. Quickly I began to meet more and more people connected to this community, and they were all interested in me, for some reason. I couldn't figure it out.
I went to a retreat with them, up in the mountains. The combination of friendship and fresh air began to help me feel that life once again had a purpose. There was more to life than just avoiding shame. Somehow, God had a purpose for me, and he had placed me in college at a certain moment, for a reason. There were specific things that I was meant to do, and people that I was meant to influence, and that were meant to influence me.
A change of direction
Around that time, I changed my field of study to Economics. I figured that I had always enjoyed social sciences, and perhaps there was a purpose in that. Instead of trying to fulfill some unknown purpose by doing what appeared to be the acceptable thing, I would go forward trying to do something that God had already given me a desire to do.
There was another element to the story, though. Gradually, over those few months, I gave my life over to God. As I took stock of my life and how far I felt that I had fallen, I realized that if there was going to be any meaning in my life, it was going to come from him, and from nowhere else. It couldn't come from my parents, or from my college — it had to come from God and the way that God had made me.
My new community of friends showed me this, gradually, through many events and interactions. We were there for each other, and we all pushed each other forward toward God and toward personal victory. We helped each other through hard times, and we prayed for each other when we needed prayer. If we knew anything, it was that we weren't alone.
Over time, I began to succeed in school. Month by month, class by class, I did better and better. One semester, I made the Dean's List. I got a job in one of the school office, and my boss really valued my help. I was slowly fulfilling a purpose that God had marked out for me, I felt. And that feeling grew as I continued to succeed in school, and as I continued to invest in this community of friends.
I can still remember, two years later, walking across the stage to receive my diploma. For the first time in my life, I had undertaken a huge task, and succeeded. I was finished. I had graduated, with a Bachelor of Science degree.
As I stepped down from that stage, I knew that this was not the end, but the beginning of my story. I was now going forward into the world, finally finished with a very important period in my life, but now ready to begin the rest of my life. And I could not deny, I was not the same person I was before.
I could not go back to my old way of life. The God who had brought me through college, who had brought to a point of decision, and had brought all these loving people into my life — that same God was still worthy of my devotion and allegience. And I knew that I owed everything to him.
Just as I had been influenced to trust him with my life, I felt that he was asking me to dedicate my life to influencing others for good. And so I signed up to go and do mission work overseas immediately after college. I knew it wouldn't be incredibly lucrative work, but I knew that it would be undeniably purposeful.
I told my parents about my decision, and they didn't quite understand my motives. This would not take me in the direction that they had imagined I would go. But for me, it was the direction I needed to go, and it was the direction for which God had made me.