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This is Not Even Me: Bela Lemon

with Bela Lemon | January 26, 2024
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Don't have it all figured out at the beginning of college? That's okay. Sometimes students go through the first few weeks or months of college and then say to themselves, "This is not even me." Listen to college student Bela Lemon share about the choices she made her freshman year that left her empty—and craving new kind of community.

  • Show Notes

  • About the Host

  • About the Guest

  • Shelby Abbott

    Shelby Abbott is an author, campus minister, and conference speaker on staff with the ministry of Cru. His passion for university students has led him to speak at college campuses all over the United States. Abbott is the author of Jacked and I Am a Tool (To Help with Your Dating Life), Pressure Points: A Guide to Navigating Student Stress and DoubtLess: Because Faith is Hard. He and his wife, Rachael, have two daughters and live in Downingtown, Pennsylvania.

Don’t have it all figured out? That’s okay. Bela Lemon shares about the choices she made that left her empty—and craving new kind of community.

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This is Not Even Me: Bela Lemon

With Bela Lemon
January 26, 2024
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Season 2, Episode 73: I Gotta Get Some New Friends

Guest: Isabela Lemon
Air Date: January 26, 2024

Shelby: I want to start really super serious. Who was your childhood celebrity crush?

Bela: Oh, that's easy. Dylan O'Brien.

Shelby: Okay.

Bela: I was obsessed with the Maze Runner series, so when the movies came out. And even like before then, I always thought he was really attractive, and so when the movies came out, I was like, oh my, yes, it just solidified that for me.

Shelby: Did it? I don't really know much else that he's been in, what has he actually been in?

Bela: I don't actually know. I just, it was just the Maze Runner series that like did it for me.

Shelby: It was a fleeting thing for you after that?

Bela: Yes, pretty much. I found the next thing. [Laughter]

Shelby: Somewhat anxious. Always authentic. This is Real Life Loading...

I'm Shelby Abbott and I'm here with Bela Lemon. The coolest last name ever.

Bela: I agree. I think it is so fun. Yes.

Shelby: Yes. You're a junior at George Mason University in Northern Virginia/ Washington D. C. area.

Bela: Yes.

Shelby: So Bela, as you kind of take inventory of your time over the first few years of college, because you're a junior now, what stands out to you as being the best about your college experience so far?
Bela: The best thing about my college experience has honestly been Cru®. It's the ministry on campus that we have. George Mason is so spiritually dark, and so those communities on campus feel like family. When I found them, my college experience has just been, I mean, it's been up and down, but they have been so solid and have provided me with some of like the best memories of my life. I'm so grateful for that community. That's definitely been. The highlight of my college experience.

Shelby: When did you find Cru?

Bela: I found Cru, fall of 2022. So a little over a year ago now.

Shelby: Okay. And you're pretty involved now. Someone told me that you emceed the large group meeting or you emceed something recently. Is that right, or no?

Bela: Yes. I emceed at our fall retreat.

Shelby: At your fall retreat?

Bela: Yes. It was. It's the most fun I think I've had in the longest time. I got to play Barbie the whole weekend, and it was amazing. It was so fun.

Shelby: Wait, you were like a character? You played a character?

Bela: So, when you emcee, they want you to put on skits, so me and my friend Toby, we decided that we wanted to like play—

Shelby: --do Barbie and Ken?

Bela: Yes, do Barbie and Ken. Okay. So, whenever anyone would see us at the retreat, it would be like, “Hey Barbie,” or like, “Hey Ken.” It was so, it was so fun.

Shelby: Nobody knew your real name?

Bela: No, they didn't care to ask, because it was just Barbie and Ken the whole weekend. It was so much fun.

Shelby: So, skits, did you do several of them, was there a favorite that you had?

Bela: Okay, so, we did, I think, three or four separate skits. And I think my favorite one that we did, which was my idea, so it makes it even better to me.

Shelby: Yes of course.

Bela: I don't know if you've seen the Barbie movie.

Shelby: I have yes. I saw it.

Bela: Okay So there's that part where she gets freaked out about like having flat feet.
So as part of our morning exercise We played a skit where I saw Toby's feet and they were completely flat. I like freaked out and then I got the whole audience to stand up and we did calf raises, foot exercises so that their feet would be more arched. And then they would talk to me throughout the whole day and be like, I am so sore from the workout this morning. It was so much fun.

Shelby: So I don't know if you knew this, I emceed like for 20 years in the Campus Ministry. I would do Winter Conference and the Spring Break Trip. I emceed all of those things. So I love having that connection and the jokes that you tell, the things that you do, the sketches that you perform, the songs that you do, everybody's in on it. I love that kind of family feel.

Bela: I do too. It was my favorite, because I've served on like Social Media Team, Welcome Team, Small Group Leading. And that was my favorite, because I felt so connected to the audience and it was so cool to see people react to your jokes, recognize you, and then you build that relationship with them that way. I had so much fun.

Shelby: Yes, I love it I love that you did that. You mentioned this being a good thing and your favorite thing being Cru. Can you as you think about your college experience? Can you think about you mentioned ups and downs? What's been maybe the worst part of your college experience so far?

Bela: Worst part of my college experience, I would say, is just the worldly influences that can get in the way of just life. So just friendships that would kind of go in and out, relationships that were not godly that kind of, you know, force your affection on anything other than Christ. That was really hard for me to go off.

Shelby: Guys, you mean?

Bela: Yes. Yes. But also, also - yes and friendships. [Laughter]

Shelby: Yes, you are hinting at something very specific. And I was like, we're talking about dudes, right? We're talking about guys.

Bela: Yes. It's like 50 50. I had a friend group, like first year at Mason that, you know, started off like as a Christian group and then they kind of like entered the party scene.
And I was definitely influenced by that for a little bit. I went to like two or three, and I was like, I can't do this. I called my mom after a while, and I was like, “Mom, don't hate me, but I need to come home for a few days and just like recoup.”

Shelby: Did you call her, like fresh from a party, were you drunk? [Laughter]
Bela: I did. I was like coming out of it and I was like mom I hate this feeling I'd never been drunk in my life. I was like, this is terrible. I feel so empty inside and I feel so like unloved by these people that I thought were my friends.

Shelby: Yes.

Bela: Then that was a huge turning point for me in college, because after that is when I found the best friends that I've ever had. It was the Lord really reminding me that He never takes away without you know supplying you with something better.

These friends that I have now like have just been with me through the good the bad the ugly. I feel like I can tell them anything and they just pour such like biblical wisdom into me. So that's been awesome. But that's definitely like the ups and downs my first semester at college. And then after that, it's just been completely plugged in and surrendered to Cru and like the ministry there. So, yes.

Shelby: How did your mom, I'm curious how your mom reacted when that phone call came. Do you mind sharing what she said?

Bela: See, my parents were so patient and so great. They were never angry, never mad. They were just kind of like, you know, sometimes in our stubbornness, we feel like we know the right way and what's going to like, be fun.

Shelby: Make us happy.

Bela: Yes, exactly. And they, you know, loved on me. They kept me for a few days and prayed with me and just really got me like helped get me back on the right track. My mom is definitely someone that I go to for such spiritual wisdom and guidance. I feel like she gets me and we're very similar and our stories are pretty similar.

She's like, I've been there. Like don't beat yourself up. But there are some changes that need to be made. And it was really hard to, because at that time I was living on my own for the first time so that also like played a little bit of a part into it. I definitely, I owe them a lot for just kind of, you know, disciplining me with love and grace, but also pushing me towards, you know, remember why the Lord has you on campus. And it's to be a light, not to succumb to the darkness and that stuck with me. I was like, okay, I want my joy back. I want my peace with the Lord back. That was a huge turning point in my faith. That’s definitely got me to where I am now.

Shelby: Thanks for sharing that because I think that's super relatable to almost anybody who shows up to a college campus. They're away from their family for the very first time. They have or maybe they're not away for the first time, but they have freedom like they've never had before. The college environment is, can be - not always, but it can be very, very, I don't know, peer pressure, even though it's like something that we kind of look at back at high school and kind of roll our eyes and be like, that was stupid. But it still exists on a college campus.

Like everybody's going out. Everybody's doing something. Am I going to stay home, like in the dorm and watch a movie by myself or am I going to go and hang out with my friends? So like I get it. I understand.

Bela: Yes. It was probably like for like a two month period that I was involved with that friend group and--

Shelby: --the partying scene kind of group. And you said they kind of fell off.

Bela: Yes. I distanced myself from them and was like I have to love you guys from like a distance and do what's best for me and get my back on track.

It honestly, it wasn't as dramatic as probably I'm making it sound. Because it was literally like the part I hated the most about it is seeing all of these college students come to these like frat houses and parties. And that's what they live for. I could just feel, like, the brokenness of their state. Then I asked myself, I'm like, “Why am I here?”

Shelby: You were: “Why am I participating in this?”

Bela: Yes, and that was the night that I called my mom and I was like, “I'm so sorry. You guys raised me for more than this.”

But it was definitely hard because I didn't have any other friends besides those ones. And you know, misery kind of wants company. So, where I was at the time was just kind of broken off of like an unhealthy relationship and getting my life back on track with the Lord. I was like really ready to get on campus and make some great Christian friends. Then I got involved with that group and I was like, “I am not as strong as I thought I was.”

Shelby: Yes, yes, yes. That's good. That's a great little lesson for people to learn, too, because you think, you know, I went into the college scene and I was like, I know exactly what college is about. I know exactly what it's about. Apart from education, it's about drinking. It's about hooking up with people. And it's about, and I don't want to be, I don't want to be part of that scene. So I was like, I am not going to do that. So I didn't do that.

But what I ended up doing, I made friends with guys in the dorm, like the next door neighbors. I ended up compromising in ways that like, I asked myself a couple of months in, is this the person that I want to be? Do I want to be like mocking everything? And we would go on campus and do stuff that was like, I would never do this normally. Like sneak into areas where you're not supposed to go on campus. Like I would go there with them, but I'd be terrified the entire time that I was going to get caught. And I was like, I wasn't like sleeping around or partying. I wasn't drinking and getting wasted, but I was doing stuff that was not me.

About a couple months into it I was like I can't do this. I was going to a Bible study with Cru at the same time. I was like I'm leading like a double life here and I don't want to do that anymore. So it's good the kind of cautionary tale to think - if you think, “Oh, it's not going to be a big deal, it's not going to be that hard, I'm going to just go after it and, uh, like, not be tempted by stuff.” Prepare for battle! It's important to prepare spiritually for battle, so that you don't, like, fall victim to the things that you think you're above or beyond.

Bela: Definitely. I definitely thought it was like a, I think it was a little bit of a pride thing for me, where I was like, “I'm going to go in there, and I'm just going to like, love all these people, and show them Christ's love.” Then before I knew it, it was them starting to slowly influence me. Then, thankfully, I was, you know, through the cautions of some friends I had from back home and just from my family. That was like, “Hey, like, I've noticed a little bit of change and just kind of, like, your joy and, and your peace. And I, like, I just wanted to check in.”

Shelby: Your friends said that to you?

Bela: I had one friend.

Shelby: You had one friend?

Bela: One friend, yes. She's actually at Mason now. Her name's Rebecca. But we've been friends for like four and a half years.

Shelby: But she was like, observant enough to look at you and go, “Hey, this is different, and I don't like what I see.”

Bela: Yes, yes. She's like, “You've just kind of like, lost your spark, and your light.
I wonder just, how are you doing?”

I was like, you know what actually, “I'm not doing great.” Because if you think those things won't happen to you, they will - because it's in our human nature just to be weak and to want to like fit in even if your intentions are good.

Shelby: People please and stuff.

Bela: Yes, exactly. I definitely felt the Lord tugging on my heart throughout that month and a half, two months that I was like hanging out with that group. Like you said, slowly starting to compromise on like little things, like my language was getting a little bit worse.

Shelby: Yes, that's what happened to me too. I was like, what am I saying right now?

Bela: Exactly. This doesn't even sound like me.

Shelby: It's not like me at all.

Bela: Yes. And just the way they were kind of gossiping and just partaking in things that I don't even enjoy. I didn't even have a good time. I wasn't even having fun, but I just wanted to have community at college. Honestly, I'm grateful for that time, because It definitely grew me as a person. And I definitely like had to like have grace for myself and be like Bela like you're human It's okay. You're going to have setbacks, but don't let that allow you to stay where you're at.

Shelby: Yes. It was, it's definitely very mature of you. That's awesome.

Because, you know, I think about, maybe going into college and my bet now is if you tried to plug back in with a friend group like that, because you have time under your belt of growing in the Lord and you have a community of believers who are going to keep you accountable stuff for stuff. You could go back into that group and not be compromised. You could, you could go and be a light now.

Bela: Not at all. Absolutely.

Shelby: And so, yes, it's, that's what happened with me too. I got a job my junior year after I'd been walking with Jesus for two years. I was like, I'm going to use this as an opportunity to share the gospel with people. I hung out with my coworkers. We worked on campus at Chick-fi-A®.

I would get together with them afterward and I would go to their parties, and I would be a designated driver and I would bring my guitar and play songs while they were all wasted. I would like lead these singing things and they would love me, because I'd be life of the party, but I would not be drinking. Then they would inevitably ask me, “Why weren't you drinking?”

I was like, “Because I love Jesus.” And so, I had these opportunities then to do what I maybe initially wanted to do when I first came to college, which is really funny and bizarre. But we need that time of growth, and we need that community of people to help you with stuff.

Bela: So absolutely.

Shelby: Yes that's awesome.

Well, I guess maybe my next question is like knowing what you know now in the wisdom of being a junior and having that time under your belt. What would you say to your eighteen year old freshman self or you came, you took a gap year, but maybe nineteen year old Bela, what would you say to her if you had an hour to sit down and have lunch with her?

Bela: Oh man, that would be a great conversation.

Shelby: It'd be fun, wouldn't it?

Bela: That'd be a very interesting conversation. I think I would like just grab her shoulders and shake her a little bit and say--

Shelby: Say, “Knock it off!” [Laughter]

Bela: Like you're not as like hot stuff as you think you are. You don't have it all figured out and that's okay.

I definitely had a clear picture of what I thought my life would look like first coming into Mason. I think I definitely had some pride issues of just thinking that I was going to create this awesome change and influence these people that were broken, and I just had the completely wrong view of it.

It was about a little bit more about me rather than about being like my Savior. I think I would tell myself now because I've always been super hard on myself and a little bit of a perfectionist. It's like, “Oh man, Bela, like why couldn't you have gotten it right the first time?” Yes, but I think I would just tell her that it's okay to be human. We all make mistakes.

The Lord does not expect from you as much as you expect from yourself. There is so much grace for you and the Lord just wants to give you the right tools to continue to grow into the woman He wants you to be.

So, I think I would just have a lot of compassion for her, because she was definitely struggling with some stuff and kind of making my faith my own at the time. So just a lot of grace and compassion for sure, because she definitely needed it.

Shelby: Yes. Now, a little bit of that, what you're talking about, kind of, I got this, it's going to be no big deal, I had that as well. But I felt like, and maybe this is a guy thing too, but I felt like being needy was a horrible thing. A horrible, horrible thing.

Bela: Oh my gosh, yes.

Shelby: Do you ever feel like that?

Bela: I have felt like that a lot of times throughout my life, and I think a lot of it too is just kind of the environment in which I grew up in. I have five siblings and we were all homeschooled. And My family has definitely had a history of just some pain and some suffering and some family issues. I think a lot of that I felt like I had to be strong and tough and I feel like I couldn't turn to anybody because I had like had a little sister.

Shelby: Yes, you had to be the person.

Bela: Yes. I felt like I had to be the person to kind of keep it together. I felt like vulnerability and weakness was just cowardly and very weak. I had this idea that to be this like strong, independent woman of god. I couldn't need anybody.

Knowing that now, that cannot be farther from the truth. Because I’m texting my friends and like every day, “Hey guys, I need prayer. I'm feeling anxious right now. Like I need a hug or something like that.” But even like two years ago, I wouldn't have done that because I've definitely grown up. Sometimes feeling like I couldn't turn to anybody, and I had to be strong. I had to fight some battles alone because people were unreliable and not dependable.

Shelby: Yes. Where are you in the order of the six kids?

Bela: I am the second youngest. So, I'm number five out of six. But my little sister has always been like, I've always felt like she's like my baby, she's like my child. So, I get very protective. over people that I feel like are looking up to me or that I feel are relying on me in some way.

Shelby: Your people, yes.

Bela: Yes, I get very motherly instincts. Even with the small group that I lead, I feel so protective of them. I'm like, I don't want you guys to feel pain. I don't want you guys to like get hurt, because I know what it's like to feel that way and I don't want them to feel that way.

But I've definitely learned that when people are looking to you, it's okay to also, you need that pouring into as well. You can't give from an empty cup and that's definitely something I've had to learn the hard way, because I found myself at the end of my rope and I'm like, I can't do this anymore. Like, I can't keep, you know, building my walls up and acting like I'm okay like when I'm not.

Shelby: Yes, that's really good, Bela. I think it's really important to recognize your limitations.

Bela: Mm hmm.

Shelby: I think it's really important too, you mentioned weakness earlier and how we're scared to feel weak whether it be we want to impress other people or whether it's like our own thing of arrogance or, or that kind of thing.

But if God's power is made perfect in our weakness, which is biblical, wouldn't that not then mean that like we should pursue our areas of weakness look to them in order to find God's power?

Bela: Right.

Shelby: But that's like the opposite of everything that we're taught in our culture.

What are maybe some areas of weakness in your life that God might want you to pursue? That's a very personal question, but feel free to ignore me if you want.

Bela: No, no. I need to think on that because honestly, that's something the Lord has really been working on my heart, not to like, trauma dump or anything, but I just got dumped from like a six month relationship like a week and a half ago.

Shelby: Oh, Ella, I'm sorry. Hey, you know, we can laugh, we can laugh at that, but like, it is, it's really hard.

Bela: It sucks. Heartbreak, I think, is one of the hardest things.

Shelby: It is. [Laughter]

Bela: Yes. Feelings are gross, disgusting. I'm like, “Why am I so upset over a man?”

Shelby: Well, that was a good question, but you're going to have to wait until next time to find out the answer. Bela is coming back on the next episode. When she does come back, we're going to dive into the topic of romantic relationships, yes, breakups, and how she handled her struggle with an eating disorder, which I know is something a lot of people actually wrestle with. So we'll dive into that next time.

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