It's pretty common to hear people talk about their college years as life-changing experiences. College is a time when people go out on their own for the first time and take big steps in figuring out who they are. That was the case for me.
When I graduated from Missouri's Hannibal-LaGrange College, I was a very different person from who I was when I first stepped foot on campus. Most of the major changes in my life are because of the specific opportunities I found at a Christian college.
There were many differences between the pre-college Tara and the post-college Tara. Here are three of them:
Understanding the Word
When I started college, I was a "baby Christian." My Bible knowledge was very limited. I'd tried to read the Bible but I just didn't get it. I thought the Old Testament was especially confusing. I didn't understand all those laws, rituals and sacrifices. I didn't see how any of it applied to me.
Because I didn't get the Bible, I had no interest in even trying. However, Old Testament was a required general education course at Hannibal-LaGrange. I never would have taken this class on my own, but it opened my eyes. I began to see that God instituted the laws and rituals to show people his holiness.
Other courses made God's Word come alive in ways I never would have discovered on my own. As an upperclassman, I took classes in analytical Bible studies and used tools like Bible dictionaries and commentaries. My professors challenged me to go beyond the surface and look for the deeper meaning of a passage. And the amazing thing: I learned how!
The post-college Tara enjoyed reading God's Wordand God gave me a hunger to read more. Now, when I experience trials or need direction from God, I know where to look for guidance and how to view Scripture's meaning. I understand how the Bible connects with my daily life. It's not an old book of hard-to-understand ideasit's a living light.
A Bigger Worldview
The pre-college Tara was pretty sheltered. I grew up in a rural Illinois farming community where I didn't interact with people of different backgrounds, worldviews, ethnicities or beliefs. Everybody was pretty similar and I was comfortable in this "bubble." That all changed the day I started college.
Never before had I been surrounded by people from so many different backgrounds. I studied algebra with a student from Zimbabwe. In literature class, one of my friends was from Panama. I met other students from the Caribbean, Canada and almost every state in the U.S. We had different experiences, different views of the world and, yes, different accents.
I could have experienced this diversity at a public university, but at a Christian school there was a difference: These people shared my faith. This realization was awesome, but it also challenged me. I had to let go of any preconceived notions or misunderstandings about cultures. I had to understand that not all Christians have the same political views or the same interpretation of Scripture and doctrine. For the first time, I really understood 1 Corinthians 12:12-13: "The body is a unit, though it is made up of many parts; and though all its parts are many, they form one body. So it is with Christ. For we were all baptized by one Spirit into one bodywhether Jews or Greeks, slave or freeand we were all given the one Spirit to drink" (NIV).
The post-college Tara had a betterand widerunderstanding of the world. After just four years, my view of the world was a little broader and my understanding of Christianity a whole lot bigger.
Before college, I had faith in Christ, but I didn't live it. I didn't make my decisions based on what God wanted. My music and TV programs didn't honor God. People wouldn't know I was a Christian by the words coming out of my mouth. And my attitude toward friends or teachers was rarely Christlike. The pre-college Tara didn't understand that God wanted every part of my lifeall the time.
When I got to college, I noticed something different about my classmates. They weren't perfect, but they lived out their faith in ways I didn't. My roommate spent time with God every day and talked about giving her daily life over to God. I didn't get it. But she invited me to a weekly Bible study that changed everything. By studying and sharing with the other girls in the group, I made a real commitment to let God have control of every area of my lifewhat I watched and listened to, my words, and my overall attitude.
This experience taught me that God created us for community. Before arriving on campus, I had no idea that Christian fellowship and support was important. In high school, I went to my parents' church but I could never call it home. I didn't have many Christian friends. But at Hannibal-LaGrange, I found the value of friends who could encourage me and push me to read my Bible or get up early for church. It was exciting to be able to share with friends in the dorm or in class about the new truths I was learning.
My Bible study helped mature my faith. Soon, though, I discovered I was hungry for the preaching of God's Word, too. My new friends and I visited different churches until we found one we felt God calling us to. During my four years in collegeand attending that churchGod helped me see the need to live for him everyday, gave me strong models of how to do it, and surrounded me with people who'd keep me accountable.
Those four years set a pattern for how I try to honor God everyday. Now, I understand God is calling me to give him every part of my life. No, I am not perfect. But, I can say I didn't leave Hannibal-LaGrange College the same as when I started. God used the school, its professors and students to help me become a whole new Taraone who is more like him.