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: Loss Is A Good Thing

30 Days of Celebration: Loss Is A Good Thing

Loneliness is funny, because it has absolutely nothing to do with the amount of people around you.

It’s such a weird feeling, moving to a new town, in a new stage of life. I have met so many people these past 3 months- wonderful people, who care for me and bring me into their homes and feed me. And I am so thankful for them, and I know that time will grow and foster deep relationships of knowing and being known by these new faces, but it’s so not cut and dry.

For every new friend I am reminded of an old one, ripped from my days by time and distance and the will of God, and not by choice. Loving them is celebrating their new adventures, as well as mine, but they take the knowing of me with them.

My new faces don’t know the way I celebrated my 21st birthday, or what table I sat at every day for lunch in 7th grade. They don’t know the parts of me that grew during my 4 years of college- the ups and downs of singleness, the gatherings on futons full of laughter, that one time I played in the snow right outside my dorm window as my roommate judged me (lovingly, of course).

And they will know me, these new faces, but they will know me differently. They will never know the version of me my old faces did, and I can’t anticipate what version of me they will make the acquaintance of. She will be bold and gutsy and overly-vulnerable, I’m sure, but she won’t be the same.

And I mourn that, in a way.

But I also celebrate it.

I am learning that the Christian life is all about change. The Bible repeatedly speaks of change, and how meeting Christ means you should not and will not be the same. And I realize with increasing measure that I am better off for it.

I love books. I really think there is nothing better than being in the middle of an incredible novel, one that keeps you up at night and convinces you that sleep is optional. I have been thinking lately how utterly ridiculous it would be to get to the really good part, the part that has you on the edge of your seat, and then to just sit on that same page forever. Not turning it, not moving forward.

That’s not how really great stories work. The great stories move forward, with twists and turns and trial and laughter. They have long nights and heartbreaks. They have weddings and parties. They have it all, and God doesn’t write my story any differently.

He moves me forward.

Knowing how much it will hurt, knowing how much the change will feel like a scalpel to my soul. But He wrote a good story for me, and He refuses to not see it through. He refuses to sit on that same page.

I think the most painful aspect of my current page turn is one of losing all that knew me, and feeling like I lost a part of myself in the process. But today I celebrate it for a change, because there are surely so many parts of myself I can afford to lose. I fear loss, as does most everybody I’m sure, and it can paralyze me if I let it.

But Jesus spoke of loss as a good thing. He said that if we lose our lives we will find them. If we lose our minds we will be given a new one. If we lose all we own we will have treasures in Heaven. I can hear Him cheering me on as I lose the life-stage of college I miss so dearly, knowing that loss is a good thing.

Knowing that it’s all designed to create in me a new Maddie, the one I’m supposed to be now.

 

The Lord Is Near To The Brokenhearted

The Lord Is Near To The Brokenhearted

I really wanted to have my life together by now.

Like, really really.

I had all these dreams and expectations about graduating college and taking on my next season by storm, because I really like taking things by storm. I mean, it’s way more fun that way.

But guys, I need to be candid with you right now, because we’re all humans and we all feel pain and I really want to give you some words that might help heal the broken pieces inside of you. Because there are broken pieces inside of me.

I’ve been a mess since graduation. I wasn’t expecting to nurse a broken heart this summer, but we never choose for our heart to hurt. I thought I may have avoided heartbreak in college due to my lack of dating, but in the middle of all my singleness I fell in love. I fell in love with the girls in my hallway, with my place at that school, with who I was there. With the sandwich line in the cafeteria, and the uncomfortable futon in my dorm room.

I started to realize my heart was breaking as I said goodbye to my friends, my mentors, my classrooms. I couldn’t stop crying. I knew I was going to miss it more than I’ve ever missed anything in my life.

And yet, even then, I wasn’t ready for how painful it was going to be, how my heart actually physically hurts. How loss does that to us as people – as sheep, as the Bible calls us. I had no idea how to tend to an aching heart.

And so I didn’t, for a solid month or more.

I’m an athlete, so I’m no stranger to pain, but nursing sore legs is not the same as nursing a sore soul. Your legs need physical water, but your soul needs Living Water, and if you deprive it of the Lord and the Word of God, it will continue to bleed.

I’ve had a few setbacks this summer, and at times it almost seems cruel, and the only reason I know it isn’t cruel is because I know that God isn’t. The loss of an internship possibility, the trip of a lifetime to the mountainsides of Italy, only to be ripped from that, too. Attending two weddings of people I love dearly, and sitting alone, achingly aware that the happiness they feel isn’t mine right now.

And here I stand, 2 1/2 months after graduation, no solid plans, no obvious doors, realizing that I know very little about being a Christian after all.

 

This post isn’t ultimately about my problems, though. I just wanted you to know about them because there’s hardly anything worse than reading some inspirational post about hardship from somebody who pretends they don’t face it.

This post is about trusting God. And if I’m honest, I’m writing this for myself just as much as I’m writing it for you. Or, possibly, selfishly, a little bit more.

Because my heart hurts tonight, and I need these words.

I thought I knew how to trust God. I thought I had trust in God. But I am learning that trusting in God to smooth out the bumpy edges of your plan is nothing like trusting God to build your life again from square one. To give you Living Water in an emotional desert.

To heal the broken pieces inside of you.

And I’m not talking about the slightly dented pieces. I’m talking about the bleeding, gut-wrenching, all-encompassing brokenness that you think you will never shake. When the devil shouts accusations at you, and you realize that your soul is at war, as the Bible reminds us that it will be. “Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil.” (Ephesians 6:11)

Satan tells me that the world is not good. He feeds on my idol of Comfort, and he aims to kill my soul, as he killed Eve’s. He wants to fill me with fear and shame so that I don’t approach God or anyone else because my dirtiness is unforgivable. The battle starts in my chest, and then my throat, and it finishes in cold sweat as I forget every goodness the Lord has brought to me.

And I don’t trust God to fight that battle. I don’t trust Him to soothe my soul. I don’t trust Him to defeat the Deceiver. I forget that the world is good, and I crumble in tears and doubt.

And today, Jesus gently scolded me, “Trust me! Do you not believe that I will heal every broken corner of your heart as I said I would?” And I knelt on the ground, and I realized that true trust is only built when we reach an obstacle we absolutely cannot defeat on our own. I will never on my own defeat the way satan tracks me down, meets me in the grocery store or coffee shop and fills me with despair. That is a God-sized battle.

And I knelt beside my bed, and realized that I didn’t know if I trusted God to fight that battle. And my hands started to sweat. When we are not faced with deep hurt and trial, we are not faced with that question, and we go on, relying on our own strength.

But we must all answer that question. Eventually.

For we do not want you to be unaware, brothers,” Paul writes in 2 Corinthians, “of the affliction we experienced in Asia. For we were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself. Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death. But that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead.  He delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us. On him we have set our hope that he will deliver us again.

Don’t skim through that. Paul faced a trial so big that his only comfort was that God raises the dead. Think of the pain, the agony, he must have felt. If he was sitting in front of you right now, listening to your story, he would have full permission to say, “I get it.”

And he learned that God is trustworthy. Isn’t that what he says, the conclusion of his journey?  “He delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us.” 

But we have to trust that those words are true.

When we are faced with God-sized battles, we must jump on His back and say, “Ok. Here we go.” It’s not easy! But I’m sick of calling myself a believer and not believing.

 

Psalm 34 says that the “LORD is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit”. What a comfort to me, a brokenhearted girl. Jesus is never nearer than when that ache begins again. And I can trust Him to fight the battles I can’t. It’s terrifying, but the Lord is bigger than the schemes of the devil. I know it to be true, and I will see it to be true. Maybe not today, but I will.

On Him I have set my hope that He will deliver me again.

 

 

 

Courage Is Not The Absence Of Fear

Courage Is Not The Absence Of Fear

Ever since I was little, I’ve wanted to do big things.

I was that kid who would watch American Idol with my family on a Tuesday night, and then quickly steal upstairs and practice singing in front of my full length mirror until mom came to tuck me in. I would practice introducing myself to the judges (Randy, J-Lo and Steven Tyler at the time), and I would pace back and forth, singing and using up the space, putting on a real show to my 10-year old self in the mirror.

I would do this partly because I liked to sing, of course, but mainly because it was a big thing, American Idol, and I wanted a part of it.

I’ve always wanted to be a part of big things.

My mom would get me snuggled in bed, and by the glow of the dim lamp I would dream about what my life would be. And I would think that I would do just about anything and go just about anywhere. I would audition for crazy singing shows and fly all around the world and write best-selling books. (Don’t even get me started on all the rough-drafts I had going of achingly-bad teen novels…)

My head was full of big dreams, because I wanted to be a part of big things.

As I grew up, those big desires began to change a little. Not entirely, and not overnight, but I did realize that there were bigger things than trying out for reality TV shows. I would fantasize filling up my passport and playing my oboe so well that thousands would come and see.

I would dream so big, and I wouldn’t feel any fear. Partly because I hadn’t actually done any of these things, but also because the world was consistently good at patting me on the back. I was cheer captain, principle chair in band, worship team leader in youth group. I had a loving family, a comfortable home, an exciting life. I had friends that had stuck by me for 10 years, and I was looking towards an excellent college education at the school of my choice. I had never experienced real pain, physical, mental, or emotional. I had never had my heart broken, never been hospitalized for more than a day, never tasted bitter panic.

I didn’t view myself as plagued by anything that would stop me from filling my life up with everything that would make me happy. As I write it now, I recognize how ridiculously skewed this way of thinking was, and also how painfully naive.

I took mission trips in high school, to Mexico, Burkina Faso, Mali, China… I prided myself on my ability to go on trips that I wanted to go on, saw myself as so brave to jump on a plane, selfishly see the world, give what didn’t hurt, and then come home. (Now, I don’t want to make myself sound too awful in high school, but if I’m honest -and I try to be- my heart was a selfish muscle. I was in it for me, and I passed it off for Christ-like.)

I thought courage was the desire to do big things and the ability to carry them out un-fazed, happy. I saw the courageous people as those who made big moves, and the scared, lazy people as those who lived normal lives.

I was sickeningly wrong.

 

I got lost in the Shanghai airport the last time I flew home from China. The story is long, and though I like to tell it to anyone who will listen, I will spare you the details here. All you need to know is I got lost, I got freaked, and then I finally found my family just in time to jump on a metal tube that was about to take me over the Pacific Ocean for 17 hours.

Something weird happened in me that day. Something cracked. I was scared. Suddenly, it was all too much for me, and I felt that I would never jump on another plane again. I practically kissed the ground when we touched base in Seattle.

My little ghost began to follow me around. I was a sophomore in college at the time, and suddenly I was afraid of things that I knew shouldn’t scare me. Dark clouds began to find me on perfectly normal days, and I couldn’t see past them. I began to doubt everything – my faith in God, my ability to make it through the day breathing normally. My chest was tight. I couldn’t make it through a work shift without reading scripture or taking bathroom breaks to breathe.

I had my first panic attack about 6 months after the incident in Shanghai. I gripped the chair, didn’t tell a soul, and couldn’t believe there would ever come a day I wasn’t afraid. My fear was irrational, most of it, and yet it was so real. It became my closest companion – it wouldn’t leave me alone.

Those big crazy dreams of mine were put somewhere deeper than I could see them. Nothing mattered but getting through the day. And besides, I couldn’t imagine boarding a plane, let alone doing something worth mentioning on the other side. Suddenly courage meant something new to me – seeing past the fear and finding life somewhere else.

 

I write this today because I spent my whole day packing, anticipating the first big trip since the incident in China, since the fear began, 3 years later. I am coming off an intensely fearful season of my life, and I am no longer the happy-go-lucky high school girl I was as I stare down this adventure. She has been replaced by reality, by a girl who knows hurt, and joy, more than she thought she would.

Yet she has never been so courageous. I have never been so courageous.

Courage is not the absence of fear, but the knowledge that there is Something bigger than it. Someone bigger than it. In fact, I believe no one is truly courageous unless they are utterly afraid. Courage is acting in faith when the task at hand terrifies you, knowing that God has ordained these steps and will provide a way through them.

I never knew my need for God until I walked through a season afraid. I have never loved Him more.

Now, I view no one more courageous than the quiet soul who dispels fear with scripture, who wakes up daily and says, “God, what’s next?” Because that’s hard to do. It takes real faith.

It takes a heart of bravery. Of courage, in its purest form.

So I’ll jump on a plane this Friday a little afraid, and a lot excited because I get to be brave.

I never had the chance before.

 

 

 

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.