The day my mother told me she wanted to take my brother and me to Irvine for the Higher Things Twelve conference, my heart began its journey from my ribcage to my throat. Conference? That meant people—lots of them! Group work? Ugh, don’t even bring it up! And my worst fear was that I would be bored out of my mind! Placing a socially intimidated girl like me in the midst of a gathering like that spelled trouble. Gently, my mother reassured me that I would be on a college campus and that it would give me a taste of what my upcoming freshman year would be like. Plus, this was our last family vacation before I started college. How could I refuse?
Finally, the day came when we started our voyage from the valley of the sun and I braced myself for my challenge that was to come.
We checked in smoothly. Mom introduced us to her co-workers and friends, and we began to get settled into our dorm rooms. I had a day to relax before the mass of teenagers arrived to check in. Cleaning up my space, I prepared a homey environment for whatever roommate I would have, for I wanted her to be extremely comfortable. Sadly, I found out that no roommate was assigned to me. However, my silence was interrupted by a buzz at my door, and that was when I welcomed in my suite mates—more like sweet mates—who went out of their way to introduce themselves to me.
And with that, we all headed to the first item on the schedule: Divine Service. One of the best elements of Higher Things Twelve was definitely the worship. For the first time, I experienced pure enthusiasm without the aid of a rock band, which is what many of my non-Lutheran peers experience. Because we sang so loudly at each worship time, it was quite the adjustment returning to our more reserved group at my home church. Singing my favorite hymns beside fellow Lutherans was rather powerful, often bringing tears to my eyes.
Okay, so at this point, I had to admit that my time at Twelve was going well. I relished the freedom of attending the breakaway sessions. After services and lessons on theology, my nights were filled with mini-adventures, consisting of a trip to a beach beneath the moonless sky, running for my life amidst a water-balloon battle, giggling over chalk-drawn troll faces, creating memes in class with Matt, and even winning second place in a karaoke contest.
My best memory was made the day before the conference ended. When the light rain stopped, I decided to take a walk through the campus. In my hand was a snail (yes, the snail is important) and he kept me company in the dark. Suddenly, my foot slipped on a puddle and I flew forward, losing my grip on the snail, and launched it into the air. A group of three behind me quickly expressed their concern for me, yet I was more worried about my snail (he was okay). Christina, the youngest of the group, remarked about Jacob’s “wishful abomination” of snails. Liz, the leader, laughed with her, and Jacob, the middle, was quite indignant. This group of three had no planned destination, and since I did not either, they let me join them. As we passed the Dippin’ Dots machine, I remarked I had yet to try them, which elicited a response from my newfound friends, “YOU’VE NEVER HAD DIPPIN’ DOTS?!” Thus, my new friends bought me ice cream. The night concluded with a game of Taboo hours past curfew (my apologies, Higher Things staff). During breakfast and lunch the next day, I felt included as if I had been part of their group for ages. Honestly, I have never felt so welcomed by just a few people in such a short period of time.
So the reality is my first Higher Things conference was not the culture shock I expected. Never ever was I awkwardly standing in a corner with nothing to do, I wasn’t bored, and I felt comfortable interacting with kids my age. In fact, I was constantly on my toes, I discovered more about my Lord and Savior, delved deep within the community of Christ, and burrowed myself within a niche of fellow Lutherans. “Twelve” was a very preferable way to get a taste of college life. As I start my college career, I am seriously considering the temporary vocation of CCV (College Conference Volunteer) for a conference next summer. Higher Things has given me the opportunity to “Dare To Be Lutheran.”
Caitlyn Baker is embarking on her freshman year at Arizona State University in Tempe, Arizona. She is a member of Risen Savior Lutheran Church in Chandler. Feel free to drop her a line at firstname.lastname@example.org.