New beginnings

Katie Keller, Staff

Second semester.

At the very least, there’s two feelings one can have toward second semester. On one hand, there’s excitement. Schedules have been rearranged, so you’ll get to see new faces in your classes and maybe you’ll have new teachers. The gradebook has been reset, so Mom’s probably off your back about how your grades stink.

On the other hand, there’s a sinking feeling of dread growing in your stomach. Your grades last semester weren’t the best and you know that the second semester is going to be worse than the first. Your friends’ schedules all got goofed up, so now you have no one to talk to in your classes and to top it all off, your mortal enemy is in half of your classes.

Okay, I’m exaggerating. But at the base of both of these scenarios, there’s the idea of a new start. Second semester for the 2020-21 school year will be a fresh start for the ages.

Elementary schools have been back in-person for a while now. Junior highs will be starting in-person in the very near future. For this year’s seventh graders, it’ll be the first time they actually get to walk the halls of their junior high schools as seventh graders.

But there’s always something that’s irritated me about the idea of fresh starts. For those two or three weeks as the gradebook gets it together, you see your first semester classes and your second semester classes and navigating your courses page on Schoology is a nightmare. Then the first semester courses disappear and you see only the second semester.

It’s not just Schoology that does this. Sometimes when we start over, we pretend that what happened before never existed at all. Sometimes, this is a good thing.

When I was in eighth grade, I gave my bedroom a facelift. I repainted the walls, replaced the flooring, got new bedding and replaced most of the furniture. The reason I did all this is pretty simple: I did it on a whim. I had this crazy idea one day and before I’d really given any thought to the idea, I asked my mom if I could redecorate my room. She said yes and I was off. I started by clearing out all the old furniture. The walls that were purple and sage green, I repainted into shades of blue so it’d look like the ocean. My mom helped me rip out the disgusting carpet and we installed new flooring. We went shopping at secondhand stores for new furniture to complete my under-the-sea shipwreck bedroom.

My life hasn’t been easy. For the longest time before I redecorated my room, I only went in there to sleep and when I was feeling especially bad. That room is one I always associated with negativity. Redecorating was the reset button. In my new room, I never once felt bad about myself. Nothing bad had ever happened to me in this room. I was free from all the pain that had afflicted me in my old room.

That feeling didn’t last long. Even though I felt happier and more confident in my new room, a part of me still felt empty and worthless. As much as I tried to push away the pain from the past, it never went away. It stayed and it kept nagging at me. 

That summer, I was lucky enough to win a free trip to YoungLife camp. There needs to be a new word for how awesome that was. But the best part wasn’t the food or the air-conditioned cabins or even the water park that we were free to use.

After every meal, we had club time. At club time, we’d sing a few songs, play a few games and then listen to the speaker. I don’t remember who the speaker for Creekside 2018 WyldLife camp was, only what he said. 

Two nights from that trip were significant to me. The first one is about a story. The second one is about multiple stories.

The whole week, we’d been focusing on one of my favorite Bible stories, the Prodigal Son. The story’s about a man who had two sons. The younger son took his inheritance and squandered it. Eventually, he went home to his father, full of shame. His father welcomed him home with open arms and threw a party to celebrate his son’s return. In scripture, that story was told as an analogy for God’s love; that no matter what we do or how much we turn away, His love is always there.

That night had me thinking. So I pulled the speaker aside after everybody had left and I said to him, “if God’s love is that powerful, then why does He put us through bad things?”

“You’re right. It does feel like He doesn’t really love us when he puts us through the bad things,” the speaker said. “But think about it like this: bad things are inevitable. When God puts us through the tough times, it’s His way of reminding us how strong we are. Even when He puts us through bad things, He brings us through it.”

He said this and I thanked him before going back to my cabin. I laid awake half the night thinking about what he said. I didn’t want to believe him at the time, but I knew he was right. I came out of the bad things that happened to me stronger than when I came in. Did I take that lesson to heart? Not entirely.

The other night of significance was the last night. I didn’t get any sleep because I was thinking about what the speaker had said to me. But the last night of camp, he wasn’t the one onstage. Instead, it was the Work Crew, who are basically the camp staff. I don’t know exactly how many of them there were, but there were a lot. 

That night, the Work Crew shared their cardboard testimonials. They’d all taken a piece of cardboard. On one side, they wrote what their lives were like before their relationships with God. I remember seeing kids mention drugs, alcohol, eating disorders and a slew of other things. On the other side, they wrote how they are now. It was the exact opposite of what the first side of the cardboard said. And it made me think.

That night was the first time in years I’d truly thought about my own past. I welcomed the memories, the emotions, all of it. I found the courage to tell my cabinmates about what had happened to me. I could barely talk, but I told them everything. And then I felt everybody’s hands on me, on my arms, my shoulders, my knees, my back. It felt like I was sitting in this protective bubble of warmth that kept the pain at bay, a warmth created by the girls around me. My head counselor took my hands and she said a prayer for me. 

I learned something that night. I learned that while a fresh start can be a good thing, that the past can’t just be erased. It happened. As I tried to push it away for all those years, I didn’t make it better, I made it worse. When I opened myself to the emotions from my past and I let them speak, I finally had something that I hadn’t had in years: I had solace. 

We don’t like being put through tough times. Sometimes, a fresh start is exactly what we need. Less assignments to get caught up on means less stress about late work. A new bedroom can be a new chapter. Just because the past is the past doesn’t mean it should have to stay there. Even if I don’t like it, my past helped shape me into who I am. That doesn’t mean I should focus on the past. But that doesn’t mean I should ignore it entirely. 

Starting over without learning from your mistakes is a choice. Without the past, there’s no future. 

A fresh start can be good.

You just have to make it worth it.