Honest Thoughts from a Recent College Grad

Honest Thoughts from a Recent College Grad

I’ve been told that as a writer it’s my job to tell the truth.

Which, of course, I rarely do because it’s terrifying. I can only hope I’m not alone in that. Because I can’t write what somebody else finds true. I can’t transcribe thoughts out of somebody else’s mind. And with every word I type I become more naked in front of you because you know that there is only one way for me to draw emotion on a page. It’s because I’ve felt it, because I’ve been there.

I haven’t written a lot this fall and that’s why. If emotions were an animal then mine would be those bulls that they ride for 8 seconds and then get bucked off. Most days I hardly recognize my own name so how could I possibly fashion 900 words into something comprehensible enough to post on the internet? I’m the young adult who, until a few weeks ago, left her spare car key in her car. And who spent an ungodly amount of money on Tropical Smoothie Cafe in the month of October. And who read an entire Captain Underpants book the other day because my brain can’t seem to handle anything heftier.

But alas, here we are. And you’re reading what I’m writing, so I’m going to try to be honest.

I am terrified of being an adult. Like, can’t see straight most of the time kind of terrified. I was just figuring out how to be a child and next thing I know I’m at my old college buddy’s house and we’re discussing budgeting. Budgeting. Also, I have “old college buddies”. Because I’m done with college.

It seems like a cruel joke sometimes. All our lives, we’re in school. And when we finish at one school, we go to another school. 5th grade to 6th grade. 8th to 9th. Then we’re in college. Freshman, Sophomore, Junior, Senior. And then you’re done. And then next thing you know you’re sitting on your friend’s couch talking about budgeting and you have this powerful urge to either curl up into a ball and cry or run into the front yard and do cartwheels and pretend that none of this “growing up” nonsense exists.

And yet, despite all efforts, two days later you find yourself googling budgeting websites because you really do have to buy a car. And save up for rent on the apartment you’re getting soon. And you sit on your couch, wearing a bath robe and drinking a smoothie, typing numbers and pretending like you have any hint of an idea what you’re doing.

 

A month ago I was in one of my best friend’s wedding. It was beautiful. She was beautiful. And it gathered together all of my favorite people at my favorite place, in my old college town.

The entire gig was over by 2:00. Reception and all. The new bride and her husband ran out the door and drove off and the day was still young for us un-married folk. Me and two of my best girl-friends ended up across the street from the church, warming seats in one of our favorite old coffee shops.

We had been there a million times. Doing homework on a Sunday afternoon. Grabbing cinnamon rolls with our hallways. That one time I sang at an open mic night freshman year. Just being anywhere near that coffee shop makes me feel like I’m home and that everything really is going to be ok. And in that moment, I was so glad to be back in Ohio, if only for a weekend.

My friends and I currently occupy three different states, but for an hour or so we simply occupied the same table. Together again. These faces that filled my college years. Every day, for 1,000 days, eating dinner together, walking the sidewalks of campus and filling each other in on what boy we liked that week. Treating each other’s rooms like our own.

Until, of course, we graduated and were sent off to budget.

But for an hour, we were together again. And I wish I could tell you we laughed and reminisced and tucked our good ole’ college days into convenient pockets of memory in the plushiest parts of our brain. I wish I could say we all confidently left that day in pursuit of our new endeavors, excited and ready to tread our new paths and kick down some doors.

But instead, we cried.

“I don’t mean to be dramatic. But honestly, you guys, these have been the hardest 6 months of my life.”

They were the first words to come out of my friend’s mouth as we grabbed our seats. And I felt myself lean into them. Finally, some honesty. I thought, maybe all this time, I was the only one who had no idea how to do this whole post-college thing. That maybe I was the only one who cried for two months when I started off in my big-new-city because I have never tackled something like this before.

That maybe I was the only one who missed my college friends so much it hurts like a cruel joke that should be over right about now.

But I realized that day. I’m not the only one. We didn’t have any answers for each other. We still have absolutely no flippin’ clue what we’re doing. But we’re not the only ones who have no flippin’ clue what we’re doing. And, in a powerful way, that changes things.

 

I’m back in my South Carolina town for the spring. Pretty much everything about that sentence terrifies me. But, I’m realizing, it terrifies me less than it did in the fall. And that’s pretty cool, I’d say.

It’s not a straight line, this stage of life. It’s a roller coaster, a zig-zag, a house of mirrors, a wrestling match. It’s figuring out a million things about yourself. It’s deciding to read your Bible not because somebody told you to but because you realize you don’t actually get along that well without it. Even though you have a billion questions. It’s about asking those questions and then putting them to bed. It’s about looking yourself in the mirror and not being sure what you see, and just letting that be what it is. You’ll know, in time.

At least, that’s my prayer. For myself. Because these days I’m not always so sure.

But for now, college-grad, just know you’re not alone. Whatever you’re feeling, be sure that I’m feeling it too from my basement bedroom in my new South Carolina town. And I guess that’s the most honest thing I can say right now.

 

 

30 Days of Celebration: Old Friends

30 Days of Celebration: Old Friends

Today I’m thankful for old friends.

In a season of new friendships, there is so much power in seeing an old one. This morning, I drove 30 minutes through the freezing rain to meet an old friend. We met on the stoop of a storefront, shivering against the cold, to find our chosen cafe closed. So we did what you do when you don’t know where to go – we went to Starbucks. We turned two armchairs so that they faced each other, and as the bitter wind hit us every time the door opened, we sat knee to knee and talked about our lives.

3 hours passed like it was 20 minutes, and I bathed in the reality that this person knew me before this stage of life and she knows me now. She was able to shed light on my tendencies, on my struggles, on why my mind reacts to these changes that way it does.

And we talked about her, and the college she still attends, the one I’ve left behind. I told her what I wished I had known as a sophomore, and we reveled in the fact that we’re learning the same life lessons at the same time.

So many “you too?” moments. And that’s what friendships are for. It’s realizing you’re not actually as crazy as you think you are, and sharing laughs over our misfortunes, accepting the reality together that life hasn’t turned out the way we thought it would. It’s a place to admit that you have a broken heart, and to say it plain, the way it has been begging to be said.

And new friends can be good for that, but there’s nothing quite like old friends (like Ben Rector would say). Tomorrow I go back to my new friends, and I’m thankful for them, but I’m also thankful that it’s okay to revisit where I’ve been.

I think I’ve been viewing this transition out of college as a thick black line, where college was on one side and my new life in South Carolina is on the other side, and they can’t touch, and I must leave the past behind. But I’m learning that it doesn’t need to be that cut and dry. Instead, this change can be like various shades of grey, and it can take time. I can give my heart time to move on.

And today, it was ok to meet with an old friend. I’m really glad I did.

There’s nothing quite like it.

 

30 Days of Celebration: Heart Medicine

30 Days of Celebration: Heart Medicine

It’s not even a little bit hard to celebrate today.

My heart still sings as I think back to the last couple of days. I visited my favorite little town in Ohio, and my heart was filled to the brim just being there.

It’s odd, visiting your alma mater just months after graduating, feeling like you’ve been gone for ages and yet everything seems exactly the same. But I needed it.

I needed the late night boy talks in the dorm, laughing hysterically on the air mattress splayed across the floor. I needed the Christmas decorations in the student center. I needed the hugs (ALL the hugs), and to be reminded how precious it is to invest in the lives of others. I needed the familiarity of it all, and I breathed it in like it was medicine.

I love that campus. I love the cafeteria – the cereal dispensers, the soggy breadsticks, the chocolate milk nozzle. I love the stiff furniture in the dorm lounges. I love the lake, and the walks around the lake and the reflection of the sunset in the lake. I love the classrooms where I learned about myself and God and random things about biology and stuff that I’ll surely forget.

I love the fact that suddenly I can think, and breathe, and laugh in a way I haven’t been able to for a while.

But more than anything I love the people. I love the people who I would see in the cafeteria, the conversations had over chocolate milk and sub-par Italian. I love the laughter shared atop uncomfortable couches. I love laps and laps and laps around the lake during long talks about boys and faith and boys and classes and boys.

I love it, and therefore I celebrate it. And this weekend, even though my status as a student is in the past, I was reminded that the people aren’t. I was assured that the relationships are alive and pick up right where they were left off, and that the lessons I’m learning in South Carolina my lovely friends are still learning in the cornfields of Ohio.

So my heart is full. And I take it with me back to the land I was called to, and I anticipate what the Lord has up His sleeve in the next chapter.

And I shed a few tears on the plane, smiling at pictures taken and memories made while I was there.

 

30 Days of Celebration: Time is a Thief?

30 Days of Celebration: Time is a Thief?

I wasn’t ready to graduate college.

I know that some of my classmates that day were practically tearing the doors down to get out of there. They couldn’t wait to graduate. They highly anticipated whatever was next, so excited to be done with dorm bathrooms and cafeteria food.

And I’m happy for them, I really am. But I wasn’t ready to leave.

My friends describe me as a wholehearted person. Whatever I do, I do with all of me. The “one foot in, one out” concept is pretty foreign, because if I’m doing something I’m going to have both feet in, getting mud on my hands, scraping moments out of minutes. I’m going to invest in the people there and the places there. I’m going to scrapbook my adventures. I’m going to fall in love. It’s what I do, it’s the way I was made.

So leaving college, after 4 wonderful years of tears, laughter, adventures, late nights, relationships… it felt to me like being left at the alter. “Really, college? After all this time we spent together? Nothing?”

Left, high and dry. May 5th came and went, and there was nothing I could do about it. I celebrated a little, and I cried a lot, because college was never about the degree for me. I wasn’t there to get it over with. I was there to be there, and I wasn’t ready to stop being there.

But Time had its own say.

Graduation day came whether I wanted it to or not. It came and went. And it’s taken me some time to realize how much I began to resent Time because of it. It’s like the final slap in my lack of control. I can’t stop Time.

I can’t slow it down, can’t control it. It will pass, and with it is change, whether good or bad.

I’m beginning to realize that it is exactly the things we can’t change that we need to celebrate the most, because they were not made in our design. The older I get the more I realize that I didn’t make this world, and I don’t rule it. But I was made to live in it, and loving the Creator means loving the Creation.

And today that means loving Time.

 

Time is a gift. In the beginning, God made 7 days to be in a week. He gave us rhythm, and rest. He designed our bodies to thrive within the constraints of Time.

Time brings long, wonderful nights of sleep.

Time brings the change of seasons, both in nature and in my life. It makes the leaves change and the snow to come and the spring to reign.

Time has a front row seat as people meet and fall in love, as broken pasts are healed, and I see God viewing time as an adventure. It’s like the turning of a book page in a really great novel. Why would you stay on the same page forever? To turn the page is to usher in what’s next, the adventure waiting for the character.

And why would God not turn that page in my life? I want Time to stop because I fear change, but God doesn’t. My favorite verse in the Bible lately is Psalm 139:16 –

all the days ordained for me were written in your book
before one of them came to be.

What a shame it would be to not see those pages lived out! Thank you, Time!

 

Today I choose to live my life like I really am seen and known by a God who loves me. I choose to believe that He really does have good plans for me, that He really does see me. And I know it to be true, because He made me. He who made my life will see it through.

And Time will pass, but that’s ok. It’s good, because with it brings growth and love and change, all things hard but beautiful.

You Gave Your Life To God. Don’t Expect It Back.

You Gave Your Life To God. Don’t Expect It Back.

I never got a boyfriend in college. Or high school.

And I don’t say that to evoke some sort of pity from you. Really. It’s more of a fact, and one that I’ve found peace for.

But I do say it to be real, because even though I’ve never met the right guy, hardly a day goes by that I wish I will. You know… you turn a corner one day and see him and suddenly everything changes. (Maybe I’ve read too many pre-teen novels for my own good..)

Overly fantasized or not, the reality is that so many people find that person, and their lives are changed forever, and they get to live the rest of their lives with their very best friend. And for many people, this adventure happens in college, and I would be lying to say I didn’t hope it would also happen for me.

But it didn’t.

Not that I didn’t try, of course, and my close friends could tell you story after story of ridiculous things I did to try and make Boy A or Boy B notice me. (Don’t even ask about the unicorn onesie incident…) But after the first boy I liked married my roommate, and the second boy stuck me straight in the friend zone and asked me for advice on the girl he actually did like… things started to get a little discouraging.

I distinctly remember thinking that there was absolutely no way I would get through four years of a christian college without at least one guy falling in love with me. Right? I expected the world to at least give me that. (And maybe it did. But if so, I was painfully unaware.)

I would speak to juniors and seniors and learn that they were still single, and I would gawk at the romantic black hole I had walked in to. How were those people still single?! They were beautiful and wise and dedicated to the Lord. Who wouldn’t want that?

But I have learned that I put way too much stock into romance and dating and sappy Instagram posts. It embarrasses me to even think about it now, but I was indoctrinated by the culture that surrounded me. Even at a christian college, and a good one, far too much time and energy was spent on who liked who, and way too little time on the God who made us all.

 

It’s a little unsettling how much my mindset has changed since graduation a month ago. I think I was changing for years during college, but it’s like I never actually had a chance to see what it all meant for me. I was stuck – in a good way, at the time – in a decision I made as a 17 year old to attend the school I did. And I loved it, don’t get me wrong, but part of me now thinks I may have loved it too much.

Let me explain.

I was comfortable there. I cared about getting a boyfriend far more than bearing my cross. Following Jesus was a hobby for most of my college career – something I would do when I had free time but nothing worth giving my life up for. I would come for Him when I had something to gain, like comfort or proof for my beliefs.

And how sick is that? He died for me. A bloody, humiliating event. God turned away and He took it all.

I think, my whole life, I have been indirectly taught that you can have Jesus and everything else too. But can you? This post feels jumbled, but maybe that’s because I am. I feel like I just stepped off the Tilt-A-Whirl at the fair, like my head hurts and what I thought was gravity just dropped out from under me.

The reality is, I gave my life to Christ when I was 5 years old. And I had absolutely no way of knowing what that would mean for me, but God did. He took my little heart, and He began to mold it and form it and I will never forget the Saturday night my 7th grade year when I realized I wanted to live for God. I knew that night that my heart burned for Jesus, but I will admit I thought nothing of sacrifice.

I thought I could have it all and Jesus too.

And now I’m trying to figure out how I justified it all.

The rich young ruler came to Jesus and asked for life, for a place in His kingdom. And Jesus didn’t tell him to go to a comfortable christian school, marry a christian woman, have cute little christian kids and find a comfortable job to support it all. He tells him to “go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come follow me”.

I want to be careful here. I am not, in any way, insulting those who met their spouse at a christian college, had kids, and now work to support the family they have built. That is incredible and beautiful. What I am questioning, however, is the word comfortable.

And I’m questioning it because I see it in myself. I never dreamed of sacrifice, and consequently didn’t partake in it much. I don’t spend my life loving orphans and widows, as scripture clearly commands. I can’t even remember the last time I told somebody about Jesus who had never heard. I am sickened, sickened by what I have considered important.

Why did I never consider that I didn’t find somebody to be with at college because Jesus didn’t plan for me to find someone there? I gave my life to Jesus long ago, why do I keep expecting it back? “What does it profit a man to gain the whole world, yet lose his soul?” (Mark 8:36).

I think back to all the heartache of the past year. I think it was me losing my soul. Vain desires were rotting me. Jesus took away – withheld – so that I would face sacrifice with a hungry knowledge that this world ain’t gonna cut it. Sacrifice is the only obvious choice if I am to gain Christ.

And I must gain Christ. My soul needs Him. I don’t want to gain this world, for I die a little every time I do.

Jesus is so different than I imagined. He expects me to give it all up, everything He has given me. And yet I know – I know – that if I do, life will be there. He kept me from falling in love because He has love waiting for me – buckets and buckets of love.

But I must follow Him to find it.

 

 

You Will Change, And It Will Scare You.

You Will Change, And It Will Scare You.

18 months ago, my horse hit a wall.

A metaphorical wall, of course, and the horse: also a metaphor. This is one of those “metaphorical posts”, and if you hate metaphors, feel free to back out now. But I just completed a bachelor’s degree in psychology, emphasis in counseling.

Home girl loves metaphors.

 

This is about the day I realized I was changed for good.

 

18 months ago, the same month my precious horse met her doom, I sat in a downtown, upper level office building turned counseling office. Feeling crazed and substantially lopsided, as going to counseling often makes one feel, I tread a skinny stairwell, shed my mom in the lobby, and took a seat on a ridiculously comfortable couch. (Note to the reader: counselors own REALLY comfortable couches. Seriously. Go set up an appointment JUST to sit on the couch.)

Although, to be fair, I don’t remember sparing much thought on the furniture the first day I visited that office. I was grieving, hard.

My horse…

I couldn’t believe she was gone. For 21 years… 21 years of her companionship, of her steady walk, the way her leg muscles leaned and stretched into bumps along the way, keeping me upright. I felt naked.

If I’m honest, I was there to bring her back. She hit a wall but she wasn’t gone. Surely. She was just hurt, ready to be repaired, ready to be mine again.

I needed her to be mine again. 

My crazed eyes glanced up to sound. The counselor walked into the office. 5’8″, salt and pepper, with a kind face. Greetings, then he took a seat across from me, yellow legal pad in hand.

“So, Maddie.” Crows feet aside gentle eyes met me, telling me it’s ok. “What’s going on?”

My eyes met my hands, gripping each other, hot tears stretching forward. Ugh, not yet. Why can’t I get through the story in one piece? Where was I supposed to begin? The first day I felt the cold fear? The hospital visit, so fresh I could still smell the stale sheets?

Really, though, I knew it began long ago, and must begin there again. Blonde curly hair, hand in mom’s, the day I first met her, the day I first rode her.

My horse…

I began to talk, rambling about childhood, about what I believed, about what was mine. About what was lost. Trying to put into words what is invisible but so, so real. In my heart, I knew that she was seen only by me, and my words pleaded with him to understand that it didn’t make her any less real.

His eyes coaxed me on. He was beginning to see her too.

I cried under that gaze, allowed myself to feel what had been chained, scared to exist.

Finally, from between swollen eye lids, I saw him lean back into his counselor-chair, eyes on me. Letting me be a little crazy. I couldn’t believe how good it felt.

“What was her name?”

A clock ticked somewhere, counted down the money filled seconds, time to put my life back together even a little bit.

“What?”

“Your horse. What was her name?”

Her name. How could I never have given her a name? He stood up, began writing on a board. My eyes searched the room for some answer. It was like trying to recognize yourself in a picture, but you can’t.

Her name… 

I didn’t know.

My head raised as he stepped away from the word he had penned.

Control”. I stared at it. Inky black on the once white canvas. It seemed foreign. I didn’t understand.

He took my silence as reason to explain. “I think that’s her name. Control.” He sat back down, shifted his legs. “That is your loss. That is what died. A sense of control.”

I stared at him.

“You rode her for 21 years.” He went on. “She was like a horse, a steady one. Every time the road got rough, she was there. You may have suffered losses here and there, yet still you rode on, holding tightly to Control.”

My eyes itched from dried, salty tears. The road seemed so long.

“And now, you have watched her die.” I glance at the word on the board, distinctly aware of his words. “She finally broke, she finally fell. And this… well, this is the first mountain you have to climb without her.”

the first mountain you have to climb without her…

 

I didn’t lose control of my life that day, not really, for now I know that all I lost was an illusion. Sometimes we live under those, though. And one day bandaids are torn off and skin is exposed – scared, vulnerable skin that has never breathed.

My invisible horse was a worldview, a way of thinking, a trust. The story can come later, how I was thrown off, how that worldview hit a boulder and never got back up.

I learned that day that I never actually had control of my life. I thought I did, but I didn’t. Sometimes things happen to us that change us completely, irreversibly, and we find our selves sinking into counseling office couches trying to figure it all out.

 

16 months later, I sat in a different chair. Not as plush, but just as welcoming, and just as important.

A mentor of mine sat across a large desk, papers pushed to the side, letting me invade an hour of her busy day. My tears reminded me of that day in that downtown office, and in a way my grief was the same.

I had come a long way since I first hit the gravel. I painstakingly buried that horse, though it took much longer than I had hoped. Things in my life began to take a ground-up attitude, broken to whole, and I had learned to walk on my own, without Control leading me.

Or, without needing it tucked under me.

I know now that God has always had control, and I never have, and I don’t need it to drive me as long as the reigns are in the right hands.

But it was finally time to buy a new horse.

And I want to leave you with the words that were spoken to me that day, because they were good ones:

“Stop reaching back for her, Maddie. Stop reaching back to the girl you were on that horse. You’re not her anymore. You’re someone else, and that’s ok.”

Yeah, it is.

 

 

 

 

 

The Day After College Graduation

The Day After College Graduation

You get a strange feeling when you’re about to leave a place. Like you’ll not only miss the people you love but you’ll miss the person you are now at this time and this place, because you’ll never be this way again.

Ayar Nafisi

I never once thought about the day after college graduation.

It’s a season of celebration, to be sure. Family comes together and gifts are laid at your diploma-holding feet. You wear an oversized bathrobe and walk across the stage, shaking the hands of older people who have done this before you, feeling decrepit yourself.

And then it’s done. 6 seconds. Your name is called. You grab your diploma. And that’s it.

4 years. Over.

To be sure, I won’t ever forget the joy in my heart as it was my turn to be honored, even if only for a few seconds. A lot of work went into this piece of paper: 4 years of classes, tests, living in a college dorm room, eating in a cafeteria, walking in sub-zero temperatures. I cried a lot here, stress-slept a lot here. Underwent a season of mono, a season of anxiety, a season of depression. 4 years of reminding myself it’s ok to be single, that an un-held hand is still an important one. Day after day of crying in the stairwell, crying on my futon, crying in my bed, crying in the cafeteria.

This diploma. Yes, I deserve it.

But no one ever warned me about the day after.

Anomaly. a deviation from the common rule. I feel like one. Because in a season of intense celebration, I mourn.

This place was my home, these people my family. For 4 years. And I tried, tried hard to understand the joy of some and incorporate it into my own heart, but it didn’t work.

Some may see white cinderblock walls of a sub-par dorm room. I see the best of times. The books that were read. Movie nights with the roommate. That one Sunday night of bible study where we ended up just laughing and taking it outdoors for star-tipping: (ministry in its purest form, if you ask me.)

The times I would overcome panic only by the Truths found in the Word of God.

Walking in on my roommate fighting her own battle. Her walking in on me, puffy eyes, John 10 opened in my worn Bible. Hugs. Acceptance.

Boy talk in towels. Community around a Whale Pale of Cookies & Cream. Cardio dance videos.

Talking. About what should have been, what wasn’t right. What needs to be.

I loved it, every juvenile second. A bunch of big kids trying to figure out why we’re here, pretending to understand things we never will.

And saying goodbye. Why do some pretend that it is easy? Maybe for them it is.

For me, it was unearthing a tree planted without giving it time to grow. It was ripping a child from its mother’s arms. It hurt. Deeply, badly.

Four days ago I stood in my empty dorm room, the only memory of my footprint in the black stain I accidentally left on the wall. A hundred girls have lived here before, and a hundred girls after. I’m not ready to say goodbye: I want it to be mine forever. I don’t want to be forgotten, don’t want anyone else to claim the room that saw me in my worst. I don’t want to graduate, to become someone who “used to”, while a bunch of 18 year olds become what “is”.

All this time, I thought the Lord had kept me from falling in love on this campus. As I looked around my empty dorm room, I knew I was wrong.

Mom is on the other side of the door and she hugs me. I thought I was out of tears, thought I had rung myself dry.

“It’s time for new adventures.”

And I turn my back, because there is nothing else to do.

 

I never once thought about the day after college graduation. The week after.

It needs honored, I feel. Nothing hurts more than anecdotes from well meaning people that refer to college as what used to be, but has faded for them, so far away. For me, it’s my now. It’s real, my hands still clutching letters written from life-long friends.

And yet I pity those who don’t miss it, who dreamed for the day they would be gone. What is a season of life if it is not embraced fully, despite the pain after?

I fell in love with my campus, with the girls on my hallway, with the greasy cafeteria food. I fell in love, and now it hurts, and yet I do not regret it.

It needed to be loved. I needed to love it, to be changed by it. To feel the pain of leaving it.

It’s life, a painful one full of love lost. A real one.

And it’s mine, whatever that means today.