A year or so ago, I was invited to sit down with a whole bunch of college students at my church in College Station, Texas. Even though speaking to groups that large makes me want to rock in a corner somewhere, I did it happily because I LOVE THESE KIDS. I’ve written about Aggies on several occasions. Like here, here, and here! I feel all hopeful and giddy about the world again every time I’m with them.
I’m going back through interview materials right now because I’m preparing for another presentation and I found the questions the Aggies asked and my responses. I thought, for fun, I’d share them. They’re rough and full of incomplete sentences and thoughts because I wanted to get my most heartfelt responses out quickly.
In case some of you are headed to college or graduating soon and wondering about what life looked like for me at that time, I’m sharing. Know that if there is a way I can help you as you wonder (and wander), write me. I promise I’ll respond.
Where did you grow up, go to school (HS & college)?
I grew up in a little town in southeastern Oklahoma called Durant. It’s the home of the world’s largest peanut, so maybe you’ve heard of it. It was a great place to grow up because it was small and kind of off on its own. But it was also frustrating, in the same sense, because we literally had nothing to do. No theater, no mall, no . . . anything. We were left to our own devices and that was often really, really weird.
I had about three actual dates in high school. One of them went like this—the guy told me to wear grimy clothes and look dirty and kind of like a runaway and he’d do the same and we’d drive to the nearest truck stop and act sketchy to see whether the truck drivers ignored us or were curious. It was very romantic. This is my romantic history.
I graduated at 17 and kicked the Oklahoma dust off on my way to Texas. I was the only one I knew going to Abilene Christian University. I graduated from there with English and History degrees and then came to Texas A&M for a graduate degree in literature.
Tell us about falling in love, marriage and your family.
So I fell in love on an elevator when I was 23. It was not like the Aerosmith song at all. And that’s my love story.
His name is Alan Kurk and I still get butterflies when he walks in the room. We’ve been married almost 18 years and have two ginger-headed ragamuffins. Amelia is thirteen and Anderson is nine.
And marriage is a real shelter, I’d say. It’s not what I thought of as a girl. It’s better. It’s more. It’s really safe and it gives us both a lot of confidence and strength. It blows my mind just knowing there’s someone who would die for me if necessary. And for us, we’ve always been so respectful of one another that there’s never been pettiness. It’s just easy. I fell in love with his heart and his mind and those things never change. And he has always loved my heart and the way my brain works and so I think we have a relationship built on respect and admiration and trust. It’s really, I think, God’s best gift to us. And it’s what I pray my kids will find and that all of you will find one day.
How did you become interested in writing? Did you always know that is what you wanted to do?
I was always this really subterranean kind of girl. Everything was so buried with me. I lived in my own head and didn’t know how to be anything except introspective. I wrote constantly as a girl and sometimes my older brother would find things I’d written and give me a hard time. So, I started wrapping my writings up in plastic and duct tape and tying them with string to branches next to the creek that ran through our property and I’d submerge my little packets in the water. I figured he’d have to really search to find them.
Writing for me has always been a release and a way to figure the world out. I’ve always been fascinated by the way people talk to each other. I can remember sitting quietly as a kid watching the give and take between strangers. The pauses, the way their faces looked when they accepted information or thought of something new to say. The emotions. That’s what has always drawn me and I could reproduce these things I was hearing and seeing on paper and it was a thrill.
Tell us about Glass Girl.
Glass Girl is a story straight out of my heart. It’s about a sixteen-year-old girl named Meg who shares a lot of my sensitivities and quirks. Meg loses her older brother in a tragic way and she and her family were not believers at the time. Mom falls into bed and succumbs to depression and Dad gives himself to work. They move across the country to a small town in Wyoming in an attempt to survive and what happens is Meg meets a guy who changes everything for her. He’s a rancher’s kid and he sees the hole in Meg’s life and tries to help. And in the end, Meg figures out that she’s not made of glass and that life is about so much more than this earth and its sorrows.
What’s your daily grind like?
The daily grind is real. I mean there’s the getting up and getting the family ready to face their giants and all the little details of life that will eat you alive if you let them. And they’ll suck creativity right out of you. So, the daily grind for me is ignoring distractions and keeping my hands on the keyboard even when I don’t feel much like writing. What it really takes is the ability to pour your soul into everything you write and when your soul is thin, that’s difficult. So I have to look for ways to fill my own soul, and for me, that’s hanging around with people that I look up to, stalking musicians and artists and other writers, and getting to know some of the people in this room who are crazy talented and faithful.
And that’s an important thing for you guys to learn. At your age, you’re always looking forward to when life is going to begin. You’ll have a great job and money and new marriages and that’s when life begins you think. But you need to remember that life is life. You’re always going to be busy. You’re always going to be surrounded with distractions. They’ll change as you flow through different phases of YOU but the distractions of this world are overwhelming. You’re living right now. So live. Make a difference right now. It’ll never be any easier for you to develop the right priorities than it is right now.
There are so many parts of life that are just unbelievably good. Marriage and babies rank up there. But so does this time right now. Man, this is a good time. You’re unencumbered and you’re learning and growing and experiencing new things and forming opinions. Enjoy this time.
What do you wish you had known about life when you were in college?
I wish I had known that no one feels like they belong. We all feel like we’re on the outside looking in. Some of us are really good at faking it and in fact at times we all feel like insiders. But mostly, we’re outsiders. If I had realized that, things would have been easier.
I wish I had known that very few things in life have truly high stakes. These things that make us lose our minds with worry are really not big deals in five years. You’re either going to win. Or you’re going to lose. You’re either going to get it done. Or you’re not. And either way life will go on.
I wish I had known earlier that I could define myself. That I didn’t have to let other people define me and tell me what I could or couldn’t do. That I could unleash myself creatively and be brave about that earlier in life.
I wish I had known that sometimes you have to hurt someone else in order to be on the path God put you on.
Let me explain that. I grew up being taught that I always had to be a good girl. And that meant never hurting someone else’s feelings, never saying anything unkind, and basically being a servant at all times. These aren’t bad things…but the problem comes when you’re in a relationship that is bad for you and you know it and yet the good girl in you won’t let you break it off for fear of hurting someone else.
I dated a guy in college, starting my sophomore year, and I knew from the first or second date that he wasn’t for me. But I was too timid to hurt his feelings and it snowballed and suddenly he was the boyfriend that I didn’t want. And then when you’re a couple, your friends expect you to be a couple. It’s easy to just go with it. I didn’t know how to stand up for myself or protect myself.
I look back on that and I am so sure now that one of the major life lessons I want to teach my kids is that it is OKAY to break up with someone. That it is UNFAIR to yourself and him not to break up. That everyone else will just have to get over it. If you’re dating the wrong guy, the right guy can’t ask you out. If you’re dating the wrong girl, you are blocking God’s will for your life.
Don’t stay in a relationship that you know is not for you just because it’s familiar and comfortable and easy. It’s a waste of your time and his or her time.
I think, knowing some of you in here, that you’re all braver and stronger than I was. And kudos to you. But if there’s anyone in here that would like to talk about this particular issue, or any issue, please call me. I’ve had experience with this. I know how hard it can be. You don’t want to hurt someone and yet sometimes you have to.
Don’t hang your future on someone’s heart if it’s not a good heart.
Be with someone that makes you feel like time stops. You’re counting the minutes until you see him again. You trust her to hold your heart in her hand.
You’ve got to be able to separate the fiction from fact and these days it’s getting harder and harder. Social media is terrifying in that way. So be careful.
What choices did you make in college, good or bad, that still have an impact on your life and relationships today?
Every one of them. Every choice I made then still has an impact. I laugh now because at the time it felt like my decisions were whims and I’d outlive them, good or bad. But now I see that you don’t outlive your decisions . . . you live them.
One good decision I made, I think, was to pursue a graduate degree in another place—which turned out to be A&M. The good part of the decision wasn’t even the continuing education part of it. That was good. But the good part for me was learning to be alone, to be responsible for completely supporting myself, to figure out that I was capable of standing on my own two feet and making a go of something big. It gave me a ton of confidence – I know I can take care of things and get the job done.
A bad decision would definitely be allowing my faith to be stagnant as a college student. Again, it wasn’t even that I was a bad kid, although some of the things I did weren’t the brightest or best. It’s that I wasn’t growing. I wasn’t connected to other believers in a life-changing way. It was like I was suspended, feeling safe because I was young and God would wait on me.
What happens when you behave like that is that you get out of the habit of faithfulness. You lose your step and when you try to come back, it’s really difficult and you feel like everyone is so far ahead of you. Don’t do that. Don’t waste these years because you can’t get them back.
What are some things God has taught you about life and walking by faith? Where have your biggest faith challenges come from?
My biggest faith challenge is fear. I’m a naturally fearful person. It backs in and parks itself in my head and heart and I have a really hard time putting one foot in front of the other. So, I guess, learning that God doesn’t want me to be afraid has been my biggest challenge. I’ve found myself blocked by fear so often and it has really physical manifestations in our lives. Paralysis, anger, frustration, it can tire us, nauseate us, make us shake all the time. I wrote once that what I’m most looking forward to about Heaven is the absence of fear. That’s it for me.
And, let me tell you, being a writer is made of fear. It’s a double-edged sword because good writing comes from a vulnerable place so you want to keep that vulnerability but you also want to be brave enough to put your words out there and let people judge them. It’s terrifying, really. But as much as failure scares me, regret scares me even more.
And I think one thing God is trying to teach me is to let go. To say, what’s the worst that could happen and look at how he would handle it. In all situations, I need to come to terms with being okay with outcomes. I’m not in control. He’s teaching me that every day. And it’s uncomfortable and prickly and it hurts. And I want to hang onto control and fear because it’s what I’ve always known but I’m learning that I can’t.
What amazes me right now, in this moment, about God, is that he took this timid girl and said, I can use you anyway. And he gave me eyes that see the world clearly and the ability to string words together and I get to reach readers and open conversations in a way that feels very comfortable for me.
And I know there are people in this room that are like me in that way. Feeling stymied or insecure or inferior to some of you who are able to be leaders and to go and make things happen. Some of us are introverts and we have to find ways to make a difference that are comfortable.
To that, I say, our country celebrates extroverts. We do. We celebrate the leaders, the people who can speak off the cuff and sound perfect, the people who don’t sweat social situations. But the fact is, the introverts among us are incredibly valuable. They’re being still and quiet and inventing and creating and changing the world. They’re a supremely faithful lot. They’re the ones you want as your friends, I promise. They’re thinkers. They’re tender. They’re loyal. They’re creative.
And I just want to challenge my fellow wall-flowers to hang in there and find your own beat. Don’t compare yourselves to the speech makers and the life of the partiers. We’re not them. But, here’s a secret, they could never do what we do, either. And I’m good with that.
Do you have any other advice for us?
Spend a set amount of time every day alone and quiet. Cultivate your spirit. Think your own thoughts during that time. You need to cultivate your own worldview and you can’t do that effectively if you’re always with large, social groups.
Ask a lot of questions. Be interested in others. What they do and think. Quit dominating conversations with your opinions. Be still and quiet enough to hear what others are saying. You don’t need to prove yourself with everyone you meet. Just. relax.
Let go of things that you can’t change. Always apologize when you need to. Laugh. A lot. Fall in love with people and activities that feed your soul.
Whew! That was long. Did you read it all? Yeah, right.
And I’m not talking about his amazing talent as quarterback for the Aggies. He’s fun to watch and can make a big play on any given down. He’s smart and has the respect of his team. But that’s not luck, and it’s not the discussion for the day.
No…I’m talking about the smart, gorgeous girl wearing his engagement ring. I think Ryan would be the first to agree that God had a hand in bringing Lauren Ufer into his world. And, apparently, she rocked it.
I had the opportunity to speak to Lauren recently about the things closest to her heart. Given this couple’s talents, I’m sure Lauren’s life with Ryan will have its fair share of public attention and I wanted her to have an opportunity to tell us who she is and what moves her before life gets more complicated.
Thanks for talking with us, Lauren. Most of my readers are high school and college young adults, and I remember sitting where they sit and wondering what kind of girl gets to date the quarterback. I think, though, that after they get to know you, they’ll wonder what kind of guy gets to date Lauren Ufer.
Give us some background, please:
Well, I was born in Atlanta, Georgia. We moved a lot—I lived in six towns before I graduated from high school. Houston, Corpus Christi, High Point (North Carolina), Fayetteville (Arkansas), and College Station (Texas).
I was in the middle of my junior year when we moved to College Station. So I graduated from A&M Consolidated High School the next year still feeling really new to town.
Tell me about your siblings:
I have two brothers. One is almost 21 and one is almost 16. I adore them. In fact, my brothers will stand by my side at our wedding instead of bridesmaids. Ryan’s brothers will stand by his side.
That’s really cool to let your brothers be a part of the ceremony like that—much better than the usual usher role.
I know you’ve already graduated from Texas A&M. What was your major?
I majored in Communications with a minor in Psychology. I chose this major because I love people and I’m drawn to finding ways to connect and help.
But now, you’ve switched gears a little. You’re working for a Cardiologist and your career goal is no longer in communications, right?
That’s right. I figured out my junior year at A&M that I want to pursue a career in medicine. I think it fits well with my love for connecting with people. My goal now is to become a nurse, for two reasons: I want to be a caretaker, and I’m fascinated with the science involved in medicine and healing. Our bodies are miraculous and there’s so much to learn and new cures and innovations happening so rapidly now in the field. I’m excited to know exactly what I want to do now.
I can tell from talking to you that nursing is a perfect fit.
I want to know about Lauren in high school. Who were your people? What groups did you hang with? Who fascinated you?
Yeah, so, Lauren in high school…. I was a cheerleader and I played on the tennis team. I stayed involved with a lot of different types of “groups.” I usually ran around with cheerleading friends because we had classes together and spent so much time with each other. But I wasn’t shy in my classes—I tried to get to know everyone. I tend to want to know the stories behind the people I meet and what makes them who they are. I’m naturally curious about people. I was the same way in college classes. I got to know all kinds of people by being open with them and starting conversations easily.
Did you find it easy or difficult to really live your faith in high school? How did you handle the hard times?
Great question. I was involved in Young Life and church groups but I have to say, I don’t feel like high school was a place where I truly “walked the walk.” I was a good kid, don’t get me wrong. But I don’t think I ever stepped very far outside my comfort zone. Looking back at all of that, I think it’s difficult in high school to really step out because you’re still trying to figure out who you are and what kind of person you want to be. You’re going through so many changes in high school that you just have to hang on. I know, for me, moving so late in high school was really difficult. It shook me up a lot because I wasn’t comfortable. I had to pray every day for strength and really lean on the Lord. I just want girls to see that hanging onto faith and values is completely worth it. And they should pray all the time.
Did you find that living your faith became easier when you started college?
I would say my first year at A&M I wasn’t connected enough.
That’s pretty typical, Lauren. It’s hard to suddenly strike out on your own and make the connections. It can be pretty nerve-wracking.
It was…I did continue going to church and I kept up my quiet times with the Lord through this transition time and that made a huge difference. Once I felt settled in college, I got involved in a Bible study and during my junior and senior years, I led one. Also, friends are so important. Friends who have the same values as you. I can’t overstate that. I met a girl in a class who is now one of my dearest friends and it was a total God thing. We immediately clicked and we put together a wonderful group of girlfriends who supported each other. We even did Beth Moore Bible studies together. BETH MOORE ROCKS! I feel like this group and these studies were what made the difference for me. Just having other girls your age to relate to and pray with and for makes you accountable and comfortable with faith. I also went to Breakaway, which is just incredible. I attended Breakaway and church classes all through college.
It sounds like you kept your guard up, surrounded yourself with faithful friends, and made good decisions. All things I’m praying my kids will do when they leave home. Can you name a couple of pitfalls, though, that make maintaining a relationship with God difficult for a lot of college students?
Oh, yeah…dating relationships and drinking. Two big ones. To the girls reading this, I want to say that if you keep God at the center of your relationships with boyfriends and you put Him first in all things you will handle the big issues beautifully. But, let me tell you, it is a mindset that you have to adopt and stick with. I also believe that if you associate with good people, you’ll have more strength. In college it is so easy to fall into the wrong crowd. There’s always something fun going on where kids get into trouble. My advice is to get involved in Christian organizations so that you’re part of something good with kids who believe like you.
Thanks for that, Lauren. I think you’re right about the way temptation really ramps up in those college years. You’re away from parents and it’s so easy to experiment with things that can make you stumble. I know your parents are proud of your maturity.
Okay, here’s a big one that I get a lot of questions about from readers. What do you think about dating someone seriously in high school? Is that too young? Or is it a great way to learn about relationships?
I had a serious boyfriend in high school but looking back, I think we were too young. I was still figuring out who I was in college so there’s no way I knew what I wanted in high school! I did learn a lot from that relationship, but I think making memories with girlfriends and groups is more fun and much less complicated.
You talk a lot about “figuring yourself out.” What exactly do you mean by this?
I mean girls need to be smart and figure out for themselves what to prioritize and what to set as goals. What personality should you look for in a guy one day? What are your insecurities that might make you look for the wrong thing? What are your strengths? What type of relationship do you want in your life? Before you start experimenting with dating different guys, develop a road map for yourself. You won’t regret it.
Lauren, if you could go back in time and give your high school self one piece of advice, what would it be?
I would tell myself to take a stronger stand for the Lord and to not be scared! I wish I had been more confident and not so worried about being cool or looking pretty. High school is such a time of vulnerability for girls and guys. I wish I had been stronger in my walk with the Lord so I would have had more confidence.
Could you go back and tell my high school self that, too? I think you’re exactly right. I wish I hadn’t lived in fear about so many things that just don’t matter in the grand scheme of things. But that’s part of growing up and maturing.
Thanks, Lauren! We’ll talk more tomorrow! Read the second half of Lauren’s interview now.
Tomorrow, we’ll shift gears and get to the love story we all want to know about. Lauren will return to tell us about falling in love with Ryan Tannehill and what the future holds for this amazing couple.Read More