Part One: “It’s dangerous business walking out your front door.”

So, this is the first post in my ‘Getting Through University with Christ’ series. I encourage you to take what I have written and relate it to your situation. Also keep in mind that this is still relevant whether or not you move away from home. University is scary either way.

The loch with the Wallace Monument in the background.

Driving along the A9 to the far end of Bridge of Allan, a quaint yet cosmopolitan little village on the edge of Stirling, Scotland, you come to a gap in the trees and, right before your eyes, are Stirling Castle, the Wallace Monument, and the Ochil Hills, standing proudly in a line. At the start of my first year I was a bit terrified by this; Stirling was big and intimidating, it had once been a capital city where battles were fought, but most of all it was new. However, on every journey back in the three years after this, I would get excited as we drove along the road, making sure I was wide awake for this scene to once again stand right before my eyes. The city of Stirling had well and truly become home, and I would shed a few happy tears before realising I had to spend the next week unpacking and then, once again, go back to lectures and seminars and generally get bogged down in all the boring things that university brings. But I’ve never gotten over the true beauty of that place. The campus is gorgeous: right at its centre is a loch (man made but still stunning, nonetheless) full of swans and ducks, there’s little rabbits all over campus and once, in my final year, I even spotted a weasel and a few deer. You think that nothing beats Stirling in autumn, when the whole campus glows an orangey, gold colour, until you see it in spring when everything starts to grow again and all the bluebells and daffodils come out, and everywhere you go you see baby rabbits scampering around, and the loch brings delights such as nesting swans and ducklings.

Little cygnets beside the loch in Spring.

Stirling is a story. It’s a story of running away from Jesus and then turning right around again and running straight to Him. It’s a story full of “goodies” and “baddies”, of dark valleys and sunlit paths. It has a joyful beginning, a climactic middle and – I won’t spoil the ending just yet. Most of all Stirling is my story. One person chasing after Jesus and getting a bit lost but always finding their way back. I hope that my story can encourage you in your own story, and that you can fall in love with the people you meet and the places you end up in as a student. I was truly blessed to be led to Stirling and I thank God for that a lot these days, for the true and perfect love He has shown me just by telling me to follow Him to that city. You know how sometimes you have a few choices in life, and you know that God will use whatever you choose, but sometimes there are things that He sets right in front of you, and He won’t rest until you’ve accepted it? Stirling was one of those things for me. I’m a big fan of The OC (please, don’t judge me) and I’m currently watching season three again. In an episode I watched a few days ago the loveable Seth was talking about how he had always wanted to leave Newport but now that it was actually happening, now that he was actually going to be moving to the east coast for university, he didn’t want to do it; that’s exactly how I felt when it came to finally leaving Northern Ireland. Coming from such a small country (the whole population could fit into London about four times) the thought of really leaving, of really going somewhere that had more than four train lines, was terrifying. But I knew I had to do it, and I kept saying to myself, “If you don’t dive in at the deep end now you’ll never go.” So I dived.

Sunset behind the trees at the loch.

The only explanation I have for this courage is Jesus. Simply Jesus. I’d spent my whole life up until that point like a deer in the headlights, afraid of anything and everything that might be even a little bit tough, but at that very point I decided I needed to go. I needed to get out of the bubble and find out who I was, who I really wanted to be. Home would’ve been easy because it was comfortable; it was a place I knew. I could have learnt to drive, I could have saved a lot of money, I could have had home cooked meals every weekend, I could have taken my laundry home, I could have done a lot of really nice things, but I wouldn’t of grown up half as much as I have had I stayed in my lovely little comfort zone. However, as mentioned above, I now know that I probably would never have actually ended up staying at home because God wanted me in Stirling so badly. I think at one point my Dad was almost angry (which I now see, with hindsight, was a good thing) that I wanted to stay in Northern Ireland. I was cutting off all the opportunities that moving to the mainland would bring me. He said something great the first day I arrived in Stirling: “If you leave you can always come home, but if you never leave it’s not that easy to go if you never have before.” At eighteen years old it’s hard to realise this, it’s hard to see that home isn’t always going to be the best place in the world, at eighteen you don’t realise that there might be a credit crunch half way through your university career, causing half the jobs in the tiny country that you’re from to be cut. But do you know the best part about being a Christian? God does know all this stuff.

Sometimes I feel as if people have over-referenced the wonderful Bible verse that is Jeremiah 29:11 (“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”), but in this case I think it’s an interesting verse to dwell upon for a while. It’s nice to look back over the past four years with this verse in mind, to consider the pain I went through that God never wasted, to consider all the blessings, all the amazing times with friends, all the unexpected good grades. God has well and truly given me a hope and a future and it will most definitely come to fruition.

I hope that this series can inspire and encourage those of you in universities across the world. Your time at university will affect and change you in ways that you never could have imagined and, while this post seems very specific to my own experiences, I think you’ll find that a lot of people go through similar things while living the student life and, come graduation day, you might realise that you were’t as alone as you may have thought you were.

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