As I sit down to write this, it’s Valentine’s Day 2018. I was scrolling my Facebook notifications and came across this post from February 14, 2009.
We often tease in my family about how little I got in trouble growing up. This is not to say that I was a perfect kid, because I certainly was not, but I was much more scared about getting in trouble than tempted with the enjoyment of doing something wrong. Here was the line. . .and there was Haley, 20 feet behind it! I was the kid who grew up in church. I went to children’s church and Sunday school. I was the one who tried to talk to my friends about Jesus and invite them to youth group. I prayed every night and tried to represent Jesus as best I could. I was the classic “do all the right things and say all the right things” kind of kid.
I had one dream growing up: to attend the University of Florida! Having no connections to the school, I chose it in kindergarten because of a radio station bet my mom was involved with. (This was back in her country radio days.) For my entire academic career, UF was the school I worked toward. Throughout high school, I walked the halls saying things like ,“When I go to Florida. . .” or “When I get in.” Not “if,” but “when.” Not at all arrogant, right?
So February 13, 2009 came. I had applied to UF with an impressive high school transcript and a great SAT score. Everything was looking great, and all I had to do now was wait for their positive reply. I refreshed the computer, and to my disbelief I found a big, ugly, “We regret to inform you…” Devastated doesn’t even begin to describe my emotions that night. I felt like everything I had worked for and wanted my whole life – up to that point – had been taken away. To be very honest, I was mad at God. I remember going through each stage of grief with Him.
“God, you know this was the only thing I’ve ever wanted. Why would you not give this to me?”
“God, please! I’ll do anything if you let my appeal get through!”
These kinds of complaints went on and on and on in my prayers. Eventually, I even came to the point where I said—and I’m cringing as I write this—“You knew how important this was to me and you didn’t give it to me. I don’t want a relationship with you anymore.” We swap pain for anger because it’s easier for a while.
Clearly, part of me saw God as my spiritual Santa Claus.
I realize now that getting into UF was an idol in my life. I felt like I needed to perform academically to be successful, and getting into the toughest school in our state was a way to measure how great I was. As the shy, overweight, insecure teenager I had been, getting into the toughest school in our state was a way for me to feel valued, like I was finally worthy of a great thing.
So, we filed an appeal. My mom and I skipped work and school one day and drove to Gainesville to try to talk to an administrator. My mom, who typically wouldn’t take personal liberties to this degree, even asked her Gainesville listeners if anyone knew of a way in for me. My desperation became my mom’s desperation and she so badly wanted to “fix” it for me. It just made no sense! My academic record was flawless. My test scores were high enough. My community service excelled. None of it helped. Not only did the door stay closed, but I’m pretty sure it was dead-bolted, with a brick wall built in front of it. The answer was very clearly “No.” God was allowing my dreams to be shattered, and in the process, shattering some of my false ideas about Him.
As it turned out (fortunately) God is not who I thought He was. He didn’t reject me, even though I had at my low point rejected Him. He pursued me hard, so that not even a year later I found myself sitting at a Passion conference in January 2010. Over three days, the messages and songs softened and healed my heart. I knew God was pulling me back to Him. And from that moment on, I never looked back.
For the next few years, the days around Valentine’s Day used to be so hard for me. Accepting God’s different plan for my life and seeing His goodness in drawing me back didn’t fully remove the sting. I still felt anger, resentment, embarrassment, rejection—all the things I thought I should be past, but wasn’t. It wasn’t until another Passion conference in 2015 that I felt like God was asking me to fully release it to Him, and by then I was finally ready to be obedient.
Now that I’ve come through this experience and graduated college (not UF – Go Bulls!), the thing I still think about is what I wish I could tell my 18 year old self, the very thing I’m now trying to tell my high school Young Life friends who are dealing with their own similar struggles.
Looking back to the devastated teenage Haley, I wish I could tell her about the God who is planning remarkable things for her life, things better than she could ever dream up herself!
I wish I could tell her that her value and worth is not even remotely based on the college she attends or where she ends up in her class.
I wish I could tell her that God loves her far more than she’ll ever comprehend.
I wish I could tell her that before she even knew what rejection was, she was chosen by God.
I wish I could tell her that God is not about crushing our emotions, dreams and goals. If it is a “no,” … it’s because there is a greater “yes!”
I know that compared to the stories so many people carry, not getting into my first-choice college isn’t a “real” problem. It’s entirely a first world thing. But February 13 came and went this year, and I didn’t even think twice about it. That date doesn’t hang like a weight around my neck anymore. The lessons God taught me and the outpouring of grace and love He showed me, have changed me into a person that sees God for who is He is and loves God because He’s God. He’s my creator. His strength is made perfect in my weakness. His plans truly are good, and better than we can imagine.