We sat cross-legged, in soft pajamas, hair upswept and faces washed clean, before our hall meeting. I had only been in college for a few weeks.
I glanced at the girls around me, surprised at our fast-deepening friendships. The personalities on our floor were an exquisite blend, and we were getting along famously.
Before our hall meeting kicked off, a few girls had ordered breadsticks from our favorite pizza delivery. We took turns splurging on this delicious treat, complete with warm cheese and Italian tomato-dipping sauce. The cost was dangerously affordable for even the poorest of college students: three dollars including tip.
I had been warned about gaining the freshman fifteen, so I subsisted mainly upon salad and cold cuts and apples, skipping the mystery meat, dutifully drinking plenty of iced water each meal, and jogging five mornings per week. Doing these few things, plus having a healthy teenage metabolism, freed me to enjoy breadsticks, milkshakes, or Dr. Pepper on occasion. I enjoyed my food, and truthfully thought precious little about it.
So our meeting began, and one girl, clad in fuzzy pink slippers, offered the foiled treat to one and all: breadstick with sauce, anyone? There was a lot of feasting going on; those breadsticks were mouth-watering. An added bonus? There were no boys present to tease us about our late-night snacking.
One girl put her hand straight out.
I don’t want any.
I will call her Stacey. She was a transfer student, small with a thin-lipped mouth; an unexpressive face framed with wired-rimmed glasses. Her way-to-big sweatshirt swallowed her wispy frame.
Really, Stacey? There is one left for you! They are yummy…
To entice, the pink-slippered girl wafted the foiled breadstick under Stacey’s nose.
I said, no!
Her voice was so loud that we all stopped chewing. And stared. The silence was awkward. One of the RA’s put her hand softly on Stacey’s arm.
Are you okay?
She nodded, looking down at her lap. I’m just not hungry.
After a few seconds, the meeting began, and I peeked at Stacey, watching us eat, her eyes taking in our bites, our chewing, and our pleasure. There was something beneath the outburst. A longing.
The months rolled along, and then: our floor Christmas party. My roommate and I made rice-crispied treats, decorated with holiday M&M’s pressed firmly on top. We pooled our quarters, depositing them in the vending machine, dropping Little Debbie’s oatmeal cream sandwiches with a flurry. Someone had opened sparkling grape juice. This was fun…a delightful reprieve from our looming final exams.
Stacey had missed a few hall meetings, citing work issues and poor health. She slipped in late to our Christmas festivities, after our RA had already prayed. I think we were all a bit reluctant to offer her food, choosing instead to enlarge our circle and placing a paper plate in front of her; a gentle offering. Our conversations were loud and laughter-laced: we were overtired from studying, excited for the holidays, and as we ate, we spoke of our favorite Christmas cookies, dreaming of home.
I have heard there is a natural lull in conversation every seven minutes. That hush happened, just in time for the loudest stomach growling I have ever heard. Stacey blushed and covered her belly.
Have a cookie, our RA offered.
Stacey downed it in seconds. Then she inhaled a rice-crispied treat, followed by another.
I am so hungry, she groaned, mouth full.
Sweetie, said our RA, quietly. When is the last time you ate?
No one moved. Or spoke. It was now Wednesday night.
Stacey stood up. I need to jog.
No, said our RA. You have not had enough to eat to go running.
Stacey paled: a frantic, wild fright upon her face.
I have to. I just ate so much.
The RA’s led her to a private room. I heard whispers later that Stacey had endured so much parental pressure to perform: grades, sports, clubs, that she subconsciously fought for control of the only thing left to manage: her weight. I was neither mature nor experienced enough to know how to help Stacey. But one thing holds true about that night: I woke up to the hunger all around me.
Circling the pond this week on my usual walk has been different. Our magnificent foliage has once again departed. Vibrant leaves have died, now brown and crunchy under my shoes. The air is colder; I can see through the treetops to surrounding homes. The once burgeoning fullness and color have been eclipsed with stark branches, chilly air, and a stillness. Everything is bare and visible; revealed.
I walked and pondered. With Christmas coming, I mused upon holiday recipes and grew hungry, and then remembered Stacey, all of those years ago. I recalled her panic and longing, all tangled together in a messiness that pulsed.
That frightening hunger is everywhere: stomachs starving for peace and control, pleasure and belonging. A hunger for happy times to remain; an equal tug for hard circumstances and sadness to vanish.
Life is not this way though, and there will always be a continual want for our lasting home. And like the splendor of changing seasons, there are times for everything under heaven (Ecclesiastes 3). Although autumn is my utter favorite, there is beauty to be unearthed in the still and cold barrenness. God uses these times to wrench the hardened soil of our hearts. Control, outside of him, is an illusion. We know nothing, other than his birth, his death, his rising to life, and the certainty that he is coming back to make all things new. That promise tastes of springtime to our weary, hungry souls.
Our daughter is nearly seventeen, and stunning. I watched her from across the dance floor at her brother’s wedding, laughing true and clapping, the edge of her bridesmaid’s dress sweeping those wooden planks, sweeping childhood years away. She was once a ballerina and four years old; blond pigtails and pink leotard, stretching high upon tiptoes. It feels impossible that so many years have faded while I was busy tending to her, her brothers, my husband; our home.
I see the hunger beckoning to her generation: the Instagram posts and stories, bright flashes promising: more! better! thinner! prettier! that will only deceive, promises that distract and steal and then fade; meaningless really. But then I recognize that it is not only her generation tempted. It is all of humanity since the Garden of Eden: chasing fading ways to be known and seen and loved. Ways to control. If only we would embrace that we alone are not enough, and never will be. If we were enough, there would be no need for a Savior. Freedom lands on our doorstep when we acknowledge that God is God, and we are not.
Winter in our souls does not have to be wasted. It may be used as an offering to our Maker: a scooping up of the dead and crunchy leaves; holding them high and then letting them fall to the hard ground. Stand still and watch what our God will do. I speak from experience. Do the hard work of letting go. Remember, control is always a mirage. Only God holds that master key. If you love and trust him, you cannot lose for eternity, no matter how long earth’s winter may last.