Editors’ Note:  Mariah Proctor has just returned from four months of study abroad at the BYU Jerusalem Center for Near Eastern Studies.

The first day of your second year at university – specifically Brigham Young University – has got to be the greatest thing since Velcro, sliced bread, and Neosporin + pain relief. You’re still new enough to the whole experience to be excited about it, but all of the unpleasantness of feeling lost and overwhelmed (and also peon-ish thanks to your freshman status) is a thing of the past.  The next thing on the docket for the day is the rest of your life.

The best part of the whole second, first-day experience is that you already have a network of friends on campus so you don’t wander around wishing you had someone to talk to; you go around knowing you have lots of someones to hug.

I remember once, when I was a high school freshman, there was some occasion for excessive hugging.  When I hugged a particular lady in our ward, she pulled back and said, “You know, your dad is a hug guy, but I guess you’re not really that way.”  What I gleaned from this off-hand comment has never left me.  I realized that I’ve always loved to be hugged, but I was a terrible initiator of hugs so I just didn’t. If the other person didn’t just scoop me right up, it didn’t happen.

It was only after this day full of joyful squeals and tight squeezes that I can truly say I’ve become a hug person.

Hard knock by hard knock, life is teaching me that if I don’t just swallow my pride and throw my arms around some people (even if it means an awkward side hug now and then) I’ll miss out on a lot of loving I’d just as soon have.

It’s feeling good to get back in the swing of things although I still haven’t really hit my stride with my new schedule. It’s odd, though, each day I find myself doing things that I seem contrary to what I would like to have done. I thought I had grown out of making childish choices, but I guess in a way this environment and the friends I have that are exclusive to Provo come with a muscle memory of the way that I was last time I was around them.  I drop into old habits that I thought Jerusalem got out of me.

I don’t want to spend any more moments griping about where I am not, but I’ve got to acknowledge the contradictory philosophies that are dancing around together in my head compliments of my Jerusalem transformation and my Provo muscle memory. I got closer to being like the premortal Mariah than I’ve ever been in Jerusalem, and with that came a kind of confidence and happiness that I haven’t had in a long time.  Call me crazy, but I kinda thought the feeling might stick around for a while.

But now I’m back in Provo, and my ridiculous freshman social instinct has kicked in and I’m acting the contradictarian. I’m back to that whole impulsively calculated, disorganized girl who is too scared to talk to the people she cares most about even if it means losing them via neglect.

I’ve realized (last night when I was desperately trying to read The Screwtape Letters in their entirety for a class) that life is full of undulation (see letter#8); it’s a constant pattern of peaks and troughs, and this last peak was so tall and broad that I forgot that the troughs existed. I’m not resigning myself to this semester being declaredly a trough, but it’s a comfort to remember that the Lord relies on troughs even more than peaks to make us like he is (which is ultimately the goal).

The inconsistencies in my progress seem compounded by the fact that my environment doesn’t naturally lend itself to the kind of constant spiritual presence that my other environment brought to me, but “[God] wants me to learn to walk … and if only the will to walk is really there He is pleased even with [my] stumbles.”