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Learning How to Fail

Trey Parker considered his first year of college a rite of passage, but he had to handle many changes that most freshman never have to think about:

I remember my first night of college. Not because it was full of whimsy and hopeful thoughts about the future. No. I remember it because a good friend of mine had to help me get undressed and ready for bed. He had agreed to be an attendant for me, and I am so grateful not just for him, but the other three who stepped forward to help me this first year. However, that doesn’t make the first night any less awkward.

Howdy! My name is Edmund Maland Parker III (which is quite a mouthful, I know), but most people know me as Trey. I was born into a Christian family and raised as a member of Trietsch, and I’ve just finished the biggest failure of my life.

Recently, (if you count a year ago as recent) I departed on the greatest adventure of any young person’s life: college. More specifically, I was going to Texas A&M. I wasn’t too worried about my first semester of college. I was a wonderful student and a National Merit Finalist. How bad could college be?

What I failed to consider was that I wasn’t just a first semester freshman at Texas A&M. I was a first semester freshman at Texas A&M with a physical disability. I wasn’t just showing up to my first classes and learning how to be a college student. No, I was doing that while also learning how to manage four people who I needed to help me take care of my basic needs that I can’t take care of on my own.

At the same time, I’m not just managing these people, but I’m also setting weekly schedules and planning ahead to make sure that neither of us end up in a bad situation (where I need their help when they aren’t able to help me). Oh, and I have to submit timesheets for my attendants twice a month or they won’t get paid. And on top of ALL of that, I’m trying to meet new people and make friends in a college with over 50,000 students. Oh, I forgot to mention sleep. I had to sleep for a reasonable amount of time, too.

Piece of cake, right? Wrong. When I thought of college before I went, I always viewed it like this:

Now, add another corner (“Attendants”) and you have what I was going through my first semester.

I remember when my parents drove 3 hours (bless them for all the support they’ve given me this past year) to College Station to help me fill out four 80-page forms for my attendants so they could get paid. At the same time, I was trying to cram for a Physics test I had that Tuesday. Talk about stress! I ended up getting a 21 on that test. That was the first time that semester that I didn’t just fail a test, but I also failed to even come close to meeting the expectations I had set for myself.

I made some great friends, and I got along with my attendants (who were getting paid, hooray!). However, I got a 2.4 GPA and was averaging about 5 hours of sleep. Also, at some point in the semester my faith life began slipping. I stopped going to church rather early, as it was difficult to find a ride. Then, I stopped reading the Bible. Finally, I stopped doing nightly prayers because I was mentally asleep by the time my head hit the pillow.

Something was wrong in my life at the end of my first semester. I had let the two most important parts of my life (God and grades) slip me by. Now, I wish I could say that I turned my life around in the second semester. I wish I could tell you I went to church every week and also got a 4.0, but I didn’t. I got a 3.0, which is definitely an improvement over where I was at, and I occasionally went to church, but it wasn’t what I wanted from myself.

The first year of college is a learning experience for anyone. What my first year taught me is that I need to learn how to grow. Before this year, it had been a while since I had been challenged spiritually or academically, and so when the struggles came I didn’t know how to handle them. My second semester I had certainly grown, but I learned then that I won’t ever stop needing to grow. For every step forward I took, I saw two more I needed to take.

I learned firsthand that I didn’t know God’s plan as well as I thought I did, and I’m still not quite sure where I should major. I also learned how to live more meaningfully in His name, and for the first time in my life I spoke about God purposefully to friends I had who weren’t believers.

I may not have failed literally (I technically passed all of my classes), but I certainly didn’t meet the expectations I had for myself. However, I do believe that trying and failing is better than not trying at all. I know in the past I let the fear of failure keep me immobilized in life. I didn’t want to challenge myself, or seek out challenges, and for the first time in a long time I went in search of an experience that would make me stretch.

Sure, I fell flat on my face, but isn’t that what the first year of college is all about? It’s a time to learn how to fail, and it’s a time to learn that not all mistakes are fixable. I certainly know that mine aren’t. However, I am more certain now in both my spiritual foundation as a Christian and my understanding of who I am than I ever could have hoped for before this year, and for that I am truly grateful.

"Lead me by your truth and teach me, for you are the God who saves me. All day long I put my hope in you." Psalm 25:5

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