Hello sweet friends! My name is Kayleigh Dilworth and I am officially a SMU alum (wow crazy). I grew up in Schertz, Texas and majored in business with minors in Spanish and Law and Legal Reasoning. I want to start off by saying that I miss each of you more and more every day and look forward to a reunion very soon. I sat down to write this letter about five times over the last two months but finding the words to capture what this ministry and the people within it have meant to me is nearly impossible. After a few attempts, this is my story and my advice for each of you regarding this new world we live in, so let’s get started:
The beginning of college and freshman year can be incredibly intimidating, as you leave everything that is comforting and familiar to build a new life filled with people you met about 0.5 seconds ago. Despite not knowing anyone at SMU, I decided to go and embrace the adventure that was to come. My introduction to Wesley came at Night at the Club in August of 2016 when I was a wide-eyed freshman ready to get involved in a few things. At the end of the event, I met Sarah Beard and she invited me to come to church with a group of students the following morning at Highland Park United Methodist Church. I was on the fence until I found out it was the church that President Bush went to/was a five minute walk from my dorm, then I agreed to meet her the next morning. I was anxious going to church by myself for the first time in my entire life, but I remember feeling this overwhelming sense of peace that despite all of the craziness that the next four years would bring (and trust me there was a lot of it) everything was going to work out exactly as God intended. Although I would church date for the first few months of school, I always came back to HPUMC and found a church that would support, grow, and challenge my faith during my time in college. I cannot thank God enough for putting me and Sarah Beard in the right place at the right time to make a decision that would change my faith and life forever.
I decided that going into college I wanted to create a life centered around faith and to learn as much as I possibly could. Little did I know that the Wesley House would completely change my spiritual journey in ways that I never would have expected. Wesley gave me the opportunity to make my faith my own and take ownership of this relationship I am building with God. In college no one forces you to go to church or to read your Bible, but when you choose to do it on your own accord it transforms every aspect of your life. Wesley also forced me out of my comfort zone to share my faith with others even when I didn’t feel qualified. It allowed me to serve on a leadership team, to be in and lead a United Group, to teach a confirmation class (where I learned WAY more than the kids did), and to grow my faith in a community that wanted to only see me become better. I learned that it is life-changing to prioritize your faith over other things, and church is intended to be both educational and entertaining. It is okay to laugh in church and to put your hands up when you are really feeling the song and to take notes to make sure that you truly understand the message. I learned that spending time with God is not something that you should treat as another item on your to do list. There are times when reading the Bible every night (I’m so not a morning person) is easy and times when I just want to crawl into bed after a long day and can’t bring myself to do it. Here’s a secret though: God loves you regardless. Now this is not an excuse for you to slack off and not grow your relationship with God, but how amazing is it to know that you have a God who is going to love you even when you feel like you failed Him. He doesn’t want this relationship to be a burden or something that you aren’t excited about, but rather He wants you to be fully engaged and open to whatever may come your way – expected or not. I also learned that it is okay for your faith to fluctuate at times and for you to question God and his plan for you. It is natural for your faith to have hills where you feel more connected than ever before but also valleys when God seems really far away. I learned that no matter how many times you turn away from God that He will ALWAYS be waiting for you when you’re ready for Him. This is your faith and it is going to look different from everyone else’s and that is okay. God created you to be fearfully and wonderfully made, so stop comparing yourself and your faith to other people. Finally, I learned that you should seek to have a faith that completely transforms your heart and extends past Sunday to live a life that truly reflects Jesus and the way that he loved people. The lessons that you learn and the revelations that you have are meaningless unless you are willing to put them into action to be a light and joy for this world even in the darkest of times.
I think the biggest lesson that I learned in college has been in the last two months. I learned that all of your plans can change in an instant and your faith and community are going to be what supports you in these moments. As a planner, the idea that the plans and the life I had intended to live were going to change was scary. It was difficult to let go of the vision I had about how the end of college would look and feel and accept this new reality when all I wanted was to have all of my favorite humans in the same place. I didn’t understand why God would have given me these amazing opportunities over the last four years and then take away the chance to celebrate them before moving on. I was bummed to imagine not walking into the house again to hear everyone laughing or not being able to sing worship music at the Table or not spending time with the people who had been such a big part of my life. The people I met in Wesley are the people who were the first to call to celebrate and the first people I called when life seems too crazy to handle. On campus, they were the people I shared my struggles with in bible study, my joys with at the house, my heart with in United Group, my stories with over dinners, and my life with over the last few years. It was sad to not be able to celebrate life and the end of college with my community. However, I was thankful to watch the relationships that I built extend past the four walls of the Wesley House to support me. I cannot tell you how much the random texts, zoom calls, virtual church meetings, and conversations have meant to me (and every other senior). Life is hard and having a community of people who are there to catch you when you fall makes all of the difference. If you don’t have these people yet, then invest in people who fill you with joy and make you want to be a better person. If you do have these people, then never take them for granted. I never expected the people in this ministry would become my people in college, but I thank God every single day that they did.
When I start my new job working for Hewlett Packard Enterprises in two short months, I know that the lessons that I learned in Wesley about faith, friendship, and having fun will stay with me. I look forward to many more dinners, movie nights, coffee dates, and church mornings when I move to Dallas in July. Please never be afraid to reach out because I promise you it will always make my day. While I have no idea what the future will hold for all of us, I hope that you use this time in your life to learn something new and grow your relationship with God and with your community even deeper. Don’t wish this time away but use this opportunity to come out of quarantine better than you were a few months ago. When life speeds back up, I hope you remember what you learned during this time and never take for granted all of the ways that God has blessed your life. If you’ve made it this far, I am very impressed (I never said it would be short) and have a few more tips for Wesley/college life:
- Go on retreat. That’s it. Just go and I promise you that you won’t regret it. It doesn’t matter if it’s your first one or your last one or if you know no one or everyone. Just go.
- Actually get as involved in Wesley as you can – join a United Group, be on leadership team, volunteer and give your heart to this ministry. It will reward you in ways that you cannot begin to imagine.
- College is crazy and will distract you but being busy is not an excuse to not prioritize the things that matter. Don’t allow for meetings or schoolwork or other commitments to overshadow intentional time spent with God and with people who care about you. Your time in college is short and you’ll be so much more grateful for time spent doing things you love than doing things because you feel obligated. There were so many times when I allowed being busy to overtake my life and focused so much on making everything perfect that I forgot to just be present. Be present not perfect.
- My personal favorite: you can sleep when you are old and boring, until then live your best life in college. I used this one on so many people over the years and I just love it. I understand that sleep is valuable, but you will never regret a moment spent growing in faith with yourself and fellowship with other people. Sleep less and live more.
- Take advantage of every opportunity and be selfish. I got this advice from a professor when I was a freshman and remember being shocked. One of the most valuable lessons I learned is that if your cup isn’t full, then there is no way to pour into other people. College is one of the last times that you’ll be able to focus solely on yourself, so make the most of it. But don’t forget to turn back around share what you learned with other people to make their journey easier. Focus on yourself, so you can pour into others.
- You only have one college experience, so make it everything you ever dreamed of and more. You’ll be surprised at all of the amazing things that you can accomplish if you just trust God and his plan for your life even if you can’t see it. Don’t leave college without growing your faith, your friendships, and yourself. Prioritize your faith and self-growth over everything and practice habits that will serve you well in the real world. Find things and people that bring you joy and hold onto them. Make the most of every moment.
I have spent the last four years at the Wesley House rebuilding a faith foundation centered on God and cannot wait to watch it grow and change for the rest of my life. Each and every person in this ministry has impacted my life in some way and I cannot thank you enough for the lessons that you taught me about being good people and (more importantly) reflecting God to everyone that I meet. I hope one day when you are looking back on your four years at SMU and at Wesley that you realize how incredibly blessed you are to have been surrounded by such amazing people who made you better just by knowing them.
I love each of you more than anything and look forward to a reunion very soon!
All my love,