I’ve always had something to prove and that night lying on our apartment floor I was sure I had failed. The lumpy college-student couch, my journal and the book of Isaiah seemed to be the only comfort in my world. The day had been so long, so exhausting. We had experienced two full days of the first new student orientation at William Carey University. They called it “CareyWOW.” Perhaps it did “wow” the freshest freshmen, but the magnitude of my coming failure awed me more than anything.
I had set up 15 service projects in the Hattiesburg area that summer between my sophomore and junior year. Perhaps it was unusual for a student to be charged with setting up a whole two hours worth of the orientation schedule, but I was the new BSU Special Events leader and I was ready for a challenge. I had contacted organizations like Habitat for Humanity and the Fieldhouse homeless shelter. We were to have groups hosting block parties for neighborhoods and groups picking up roadside litter.
Each project had its cooler of water, trash bags or block party games to bring, a volunteer coordinator to meet and a collection of new students to wrangle. That’s at least 75 different possible problems. The volunteer coordinators could forget. Trash bags could be left behind. Coolers could spill. New students could sleep too late. Wrong turns could be made.
I had never created anything so public. Never had my work been so visible to all the faculty and administrators I had tried so hard to impress. Failing was never an option for me, but I was so sure that tomorrow I would fail the trust of an entire university.
I rolled over on my stomach and closed my aching eyes. My stomach felt sick, knowing how I would be humiliated before my entire school the following morning. A whole summer of phone calls, voicemails, detailed meetings and headache-inducing logistics would go up in flames. I had spoken with the other leaders that night. Each was more exhausted than the last as we left the late night chapel service we had attended with the new students. Staggering weariness, bleary eyes, whispers of demon darkness and angry goodnights left me with no hope for the next morning. Certainly everything would fall apart.
I fell asleep late that night after washing off an August day’s worth of sweaty stickiness and the next morning I woke early to go to get ready for the day. Rubbing the sleep from my eyes and breathing deep, I felt dozens of vicious butterflies make a home in my stomach.
The coolers had to be packed with ice. So I hurried to the building with the storage room where they were waiting. At 7 AM on a Saturday it was still locked. I turned around and I saw two students, dear friends and fellow leaders for orientation, walking up.
“How can we help?” Samuel asked. He was a big guy with a bigger heart.
“I need to pack the coolers with water and ice and put the group numbers on them, but they are locked up,” I said. “Could you contact security and have them come unlock while I go find someone with a truck?”
“I have the number in my phone,” Vic said.
I ran to the BSU house and asked our director, Dr. Glaze, if he knew who might have a truck we could use to bring the coolers to the gym where the morning service would be held just before students left for their projects. The door to the building opened and in walked Zac, country singer and a professional country boy. I glanced out the building and saw the great, dented, red truck parked by the sidewalk. The question was out of my mouth on the heels of my “Good morning.” Zac walked out to move the truck closer to the storage room.
Dr. Glaze asked me if I had extra copies of the instructions and maps for everyone’s service projects. College students, even ones in leadership roles are not known for their skills in keeping up with sheets of paper. By the time I had collected all the copies and printed out extras the red truck was loaded down with 15 small Styrofoam coolers each with a number Sharpied on its lid. Samuel and Vic waved at me from the truck bed as Zac turned his truck around and headed for the gym. I breathed a prayer, grabbed my stack of papers and walked out with Dr. Glaze. The butterflies seemed to have settled on some flower.
I walked into the gym full of new students and grabbed a muffin. People surrounded me: faculty, staff and administrators I wanted to impress, the people who would write me gleaming reference letters, if I succeeded. My butterflies swarmed, their moment of flowery comfort shaken. Dr. Glaze leaned toward me and whispered, “You’ll come up with me and announce the groups’ departure.”
With wobbly knees I stood on the bleachers, juggling papers, muffin and keys waiting to speak. The morning worship music rose from the band on the floor and my heart stilled. The world was no longer my concern as the sound of our voices rose to heaven. The butterflies waved good-bye and the moment I stood in a sort of stasis between busy preparation and public beginning was a moment of screaming, worshipful joy. Moments later I held the microphone in one wobbly hand as my voice rose clearly and powerfully. In that moment I knew I wanted my legacy at this place to be my excitement for service.