5 Years: I’ve Come So Far

*This entry is the first in a collaboration project I am doing with several other writers and artists this fall. Please be sure to comment and leave feedback on these posts. We will certainly appreciate it!*

A lot of things can occur in just a 5 year time period. You
can also accumulate a lot of ‘things.’ Especially when you move out of the
house and away to a college nearly 900 miles away. Of all of the items I have
bought and sold over the years, both valuable and worthless, one thing stands
out above all of the others: my royal blue umbrella. It might sound silly to
write a story about an umbrella but to me, it’s much more than umbrella. No, it
doesn’t have super powers nor is it made of gold. (That would be pretty heavy
to carry around if it was. ha) When I use it or look at it, it’s not the
umbrella I see. It’s the memories of the last 5 years that I see. Granted, they
have not always been good ones but they are my memories nonetheless. I’m going
to do my best in the next few paragraphs to take you on short journey through
the last 5 years for me: from college freshman to college graduate.

One rainy day in the beginning of September in 2007, I was dealing with day
three of a tropical depression hitting Jacksonville. It was my first tropical
experience. I had never seen so much rain in my life and was under the
impression that it would never stop. I had had a flimsy umbrella that I had
brought with me from home but it wasn’t holding up too well. I was pretty
spoiled at home because first off, we never got THIS much rain and secondly, I
could just use one of my parents golf umbrellas most times when I went outside. That’s not exactly something I could lug with me to college, though. 

When I realized that the rain would last all throughout that first week, I
decided that I needed an umbrella of my own. So, I went to CVS Pharmacy (the
place I would later run to for many, many other needs in the future) across
from my university to buy one. It was the middle of the Hurricane Season in
Florida so of course they had a bin of umbrellas positioned right by the door.
It was perfect for me because I just wanted to make a quick trip in and out of
the store. After all, I had homework to do! haha I saw many different colors
but decided on blue instead of purple because Lord knows I have too many things
that are of the color purple. I only spent $10 on it but it has been one of the
best $10 I have spent in my life. During my freshman year, that umbrella was
with me with all of the weather changes as I adjusted to the downpours of
Florida and of life. Some days I didn’t remember it and had to wait storms out
in various buildings on campus, but I was usually able to find something to do
and someone to talk to while I waited. Not because of that reason, but I was
actually the girl who was “always around campus” thanks to some advice I
received from a good friend back home. And more often than not, my RA, Ashley
and I would cross paths in the hallway when I would leave or come in after a
storm. She was the best RA that I have ever had and made my freshman experience
so wonderful especially during the first two weeks when I was homesick. Yes, there
were several factors that made me stay at JU for all four years but that was
one of the most important ones.

In the Spring of 2008, I took my first short-term college mission trip to
Miami, Florida and got an even closer look at Florida’s diversity as I observed
its geography, demographics and culture there. I grew during that trip too and
started friendships with some people that I am still friends with today. I
think it rained one day that we were there so I didn’t have a very wet tropical
experience with rain, but with humidity instead. A short while later I went
home for the summer.  I had to leave the
subtropical climate and all of my new friends behind only to experience both
flooding and droughts in Ohio and Nebraska. Though, the drought came in the
form of no summer job that year, there was enough rain to last my area for the
rest of the year. I had never seen it rain so much in the month of May in all
the 19 years I had lived in Ohio. Our basement and many other homes flooded. It
was a disaster but we survived. I almost swore that Ohio and Seattle, WA had
switched climates and I lived in Washington State for a month. It was actually
raining THAT much. I took some walks in the rain to keep myself sane. The
umbrella may have protected me from the rain, but God protected and provided for
me even when my income was almost non-existent. It was one of the best summers
in Ohio weather-wise because after the month of rain, we had the perfect
summer. A summer that I’m sure many people in Michigan experience but one only
Floridians fantasize about. The temperatures did not rise above 85 degrees and
there was hardly any humidity in the air. Simply perfect. 🙂  Shortly after that
summer ended, though, I was back off to school. As my dad and I drove into
Jacksonville the following day, we were greeted by a pretty ominous new friend
in town – someone I like to call Fay. Yes, we didn’t get there before Fay hit
but instead were a part of the thousands of others who welcomed her into the
city for a few days, much to our dismay. Nothing like waiting in a car for two
hours, running out for five minutes to check in and get the keys to my new
room, and then waiting another hour before I could start to move stuff into it.
Lots of time to bond and sleep in the car with my dad, though. haha Another
year, another tropical disturbance for me and the umbrella. Even after the
beating it took from Fay, it was still kicking!

2009 brought a variety of different storms into my life, both meteorological
and metaphorical. It was there to help get me through a busy spring season of
Crew as sometimes it would rain before and after practice. I wasn’t always
lucky enough to have it, though; especially since one time on the water we
rowed right into a rainstorm…and had to keep rowing through it! haha But most
importantly, it was strong and sturdy enough to get me through the worst
weekend in March of that year. A close high school friend of mine was killed in
a car accident and I went home for the services. The Friday and Saturday of
that weekend it rained off and on in Atlanta and Dayton. I missed my connecting
flight and the rain in Atlanta delayed the next flight not once, but twice. And
the baggage attendants, upon loading carry-on bags (all that I had brought,
mind you) did not put a tarp over the carts to keep them dry. Thus, not only
was I late in arriving to my house, but my clothes were wet, too! It had not
yet begun to feel like spring in Ohio, even in late March so needless to say I
was a little chilly that night – the night of the Visitation. It was the worst
week and weekend of my life to date but I had all of the necessary things to
get through it: God, family, friends, church families, wise counsel and of
course, the umbrella.

I spent half the summer in Jacksonville taking a couple of classes and that was
also good for me. I was taking a couple rough business courses just to get them
out of the way but I was blessed to have a good, new found friend, Amanada, by
my side the whole time. This time it was Jacksonville’s turn for a
rainier-than-normal May and it sure rained A LOT. I had never seen so much rain
in two weeks and when I finally was able to be outside for more than one hour
at a time, I went to sit by the river – go figure. It was a challenging yet
fruitful summer as I was a bit better off financially and had been able to
develop deeper friendships with those around me – friendships I know that will
stand the test of time. The following fall semester brought memorable times as
well as I lived with friends for the first time in my college experience in an
on-campus apartment. I remember lots of good times with those girls and quite a
few rainstorms we battled both together and separately. Though, 2009 brought
challenges in my life that I could have never ever foreseen, it also surprised
me with some opportunities to make special memories.  I will always be grateful for those
experiences. Little did I know that that was just the beginning of an
incredible journey I was about to take the following year. At the end of 2009,
I packed up all of my things in my apartment, half in the rain, half not, and
set home for a long 5 week Christmas break. It wasn’t long enough because my
new journey started sooner than I thought was possible.

In the winter and spring of 2010, I was fortunate enough to
spend an entire semester in beautiful Sevilla, Spain. I know it probably seems
like I can’t and won’t ever stop talking about it. It’s true that I blab,
recount and relate countless stories to present experiences and discussions. If
you interact with me on a daily or weekly basis, you have probably heard quite
a few of those stories. I don’t mean to come off as a cultural snob, but I just
probably will never be able to fully describe how much of a life changing experience
it was for me. Anyone else who studies abroad—regardless of the length of time—I’m
sure can relate. No matter where you go, whether it’s to a college in-state,
out-of-state or halfway across the world, it will change you forever.  Though I only lived in Spain for four months,
I was challenged and stretched beyond my limits socially, spiritually,
linguistically, emotionally, physically and mentally. The two stories I want to
share from that time was when I was stretched both physically and mentally.

Some students I studied with there were told not to take an umbrella with them
to Southern Spain because they wouldn’t need it. “It doesn’t rain there!” they
said. Famous last words. I didn’t know what the weather would be like all of
the time so I took my umbrella with me just in case. It was still in good
working condition so why not? It’s a good thing I didn’t have anyone in my life
telling me that I didn’t need one because guess what? It rained the most it had
ever rained in Andalucia in 50 years! For five straight weeks, I remember
stepping off the escalator from the metro stop in my neighborhood and seeing the
pouring rain. Every time I got home in the evening from my afternoon classes,
it was raining in the city without fail. A couple times I forgot my umbrella. I
was fortunate enough to surprisingly not get soaked, though. I think wearing my
winter coat and hiding my books underneath it helped me out in that area! haha

One other memory is forever etched into my mind is the story of when Santiago
(my ‘intercambio’ –conversation partner) and I went shopping for my Carnaval
costume. It was a day in February that we went out and rain was expected later
that afternoon. It surprised us, though, and started pouring while we were in
one of the stores. I had brought my umbrella with me and so did Santi. The
moment played out almost in slow motion as I pulled out and opened my bright royal
blue umbrella and he opened his bright orange umbrella! Any Florida fans out
there see the connection? From that day on, for some reason that I still cannot
figure out, I continued to see the blue and orange combination throughout all
of Spain and even Portugal! At the time I had my eye on someone back in Florida
so I thought it was a sign that I might end up with him, but that did not work
out. To this day, I’m still not sure what seeing those colors meant. Maybe I
won’t connect the dots until another 5 years down the road. Regardless, that is
how I became a supposed Gator fan and will always cherish those colors.

2010 was knock-out year for me which meant 2011 truly had to bring its A game! For
the first half of the year it did. Though I had two tough semesters to deal
with, I was fortunate enough to go on two memorable trips to two ‘new’ places:
New York City and New Orleans, Louisiana. Though, the umbrella went with me to
both places, I only needed it in NYC. I had been to NYC before (during a long
layover the previous year when I flew to Madrid) but only for a total of 5
hours! Santi told me a few weeks before the trip, that he was going to New
York! It would be his first visit to America 
– a place in which I had told him countless stories about and a place he
had dreamed of going to for all of his life. I had a friend from JU living in
the city at the time (she still does actually) so I tried my luck and asked if
I could I stay with her if were to come visit. She said yes, I found an
incredible deal on plane tickets, so I went! In 2010, I thought that the next
time I went to NYC it would be with native English speaking friends or family.
It’s funny how life doesn’t turn out how we think it will but instead turns out
better than we even imagined! I had the best second time in New York with my
friend, Santi and his college friend from Spain. I was a proud American citizen
showing two foreigners around one of the greatest cities in the world, but for
most of that weekend, I acted like a foreign tourist! I spoke more Spanish than
I did English and I must admit – it was really fun!  Even when it rained on the last day I was
there during our tour downtown and through a small part of Brooklyn, it didn’t
dampen my spirits. And low and behold, it was just another opportunity to get
some really creative shots with my umbrella in almost every picture! Such a
memorable , fun time. 🙂

The rest of 2011 proved to be challenging as I spent my first full summer in
Jacksonville and the Florida heat was in full force. I had doubts that I would
even make it, but by some miracle (and no AC in my apartment) I made it and
managed to stay cool while I was at it. During those three months, I sometimes
used the umbrella not to shield myself from the rain-which there almost was
none-but instead from the sun! Never in my wildest dreams did I think that I
would need to use it for sun! haha It worked. It resumed its normal role,
though, when I started my last fall semester. I lived across the street from
the campus but I walked and/or road my bike over pretty much every time I had a
class or went to an event. One time I got stuck in a rainstorm on the way to an
evening class. I had no idea it was coming because I didn’t have internet or a
TV at my apartment to check the forecast. The streets and sidewalks at JU flooded
so badly. I almost thought the umbrella wouldn’t hold up, but it did amazingly.
I had to take a quiz that night but it was good thing I left early enough to
weather through that storm and still be on time. There were a few days like
that throughout that semester but I charged on through them, knowing what lied
ahead for me at the finish line. And when I did reach graduation and crossed
that finish line that day, some rain showed up later on but I had my trusty umbrella
on tap. I also had a newfound sense of accomplishment and achievement. I had finally
reached the culmination of all of that hard work, when I was protected from the
“rain” and when I was not; I had done it! Little did I know what was to come as
I began my search for a job, though.

I spent a wonderful Christmas break with both my immediate family and extended
family but reality sunk in soon after that. I had my apartment back in Florida,
an academic conference and a job search waiting for me. These were not terrible
things to look forward to, but they were responsibilities nonetheless and those
are not always the things that people want to deal with – myself included.
However, again I was provided with the resources to get through those tough
times and come out on the other side – employed and happy! I had my good days
and bad but overall I kept a positive outlook on my near future and everything
worked out well, and is still unfolding even as I type this. Some days, when I
would forget my umbrella and need it the most, I swear it would laugh at me. I
think that’s happened about a dozen times during these past nine months. I have
quite the arsenal of hilarious stories now when it comes to that umbrella.
Stories I couldn’t even begin to tell you in this entry.

An umbrella, just like a person, can only take
so much wear and tear. About a couple months ago, I noticed that one
time when I opened up my umbrella in the rain, that one
of the little metal claw-like rods that fits right into the matching cloth
pocket came off. But that’s not all. The clasps that hold the rods at the top
of the umbrella together are starting to break and it is slowly starting to fall
apart before my very eyes each time I open it now. I still have faith that it
will get me through this new season and will at least last until November, but
I have my doubts. While I absolutely love this umbrella, I do realize that material
things cannot last forever. One day I will stop functioning, too. Nevertheless,
even if this umbrella does not last until the end of the year, my memories with
it will last a lifetime. And I am quite convinced that, though it is breaking
now, that does not mean that I am breaking too. I feel weak and feeble-minded
some days but overall I know that I am getting stronger with each passing day.
I make and repeat mistakes often, but I take the hard lessons to heart and grow
stronger from them.

I initially was unsure of what to write about to start this collaboration
project off. However, I found inspiration in an unlikely place when I simply
just quieted my mind and God brought the umbrella to my attention. I think the
greater thing He wanted me to see and share through these stories was a
different kind of umbrella – his divine umbrella of protection, His will.
Though I have experienced joys, sorrows, accomplishments, failures, growth and
discipline in the last 5 years, those experiences have all been in His will for
my life. Even when this physical umbrella finally becomes unusable, His divine
umbrella will continue to protect and cover me during the storms of life for
the next 5 years and beyond.  Oh, and to
answer your question: Yes. Yes, I will buy a new umbrella when the time comes. I do live in Florida after all. 😉

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