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.

 

Sorrowful, Yet Always Rejoicing

Sorrowful, Yet Always Rejoicing

“Now we’re talking about celebration. Celebration when you think you’re calling the shots? Easy. Celebration when your plan is working? Anyone can do that. But when you realize that the story of your life could be told a thousand different ways, that you could tell it over and over as a tragedy, but you choose to call it an epic, that’s when you start to learn what celebration is. When what you see in front of you is so far outside of what you dreamed, but you have the belief, the boldness, the courage to call it beautiful instead of calling it wrong, that’s celebration.”

Shauna Niequist

Whenever I give God a timeline, He ignores it.

Rude, really.

A timeline for a relationship to start, or for clarity for the future to come upon me, or, more recently, a timeline for the sorrow to stop.

It’s crazy, but as I think through my four years of college, I realize that, essentially, I have been sad for most of them. Not flung on my bed, can’t face the day, cry at the drop of a coin sad. (Although, sometimes, that has definitely been me). Instead, more of a dull ache kind of sad, the kind that takes residency below your belly button and can be ignored most of the time, until the night was short or the test was long or my feelings were hurt in one way or another.

And in those moments, I realize just how prone to sadness I have been.

My freshman year, I was nothing close to that. Wildly energetic, blindly optimistic. Frankly, annoying, I’m sure. Life was my closest ally, my dearest friend. It had my back, and hadn’t let me down. I came into college off of a very unique and favorable high school experience. I loved my days in high school and flourished off of my naturally effervescent personality. No, I didn’t have everything I wanted, but I had happiness, and I didn’t realize at the time how futile it was.

I came into my college years thinking I had everything figured out, that the person I was as I moved into my dorm room as an 18 year old was the person I would be for the rest of my life. Happy, carefree.

Immature.

Shallow.

I loved God, but I didn’t really listen to Him. My faith consisted of me giving God timelines and thanking Him for all the good in my life. I never thought I would ever be a sufferer, never imagined I would care much for the verses that spoke about God lifting us out the darkness and being our very strength.

And yet as time went on, things started to not come together for me. My little freshman heart had been hurt pretty badly, I didn’t make it onto teams that mattered to me. I accepted a position that isolated me from my friends, living with girls I didn’t know yet. And about halfway through my sophomore year, I began to feel this strange thing:

sadness.

Not that I had never been sad before, but I had never been that sad. I began to walk through a season (that, honestly, has lasted 2 1/2 years) of anxiety and deep doubts in the God and world that I trusted to keep me happy at all times.

I didn’t understand what was happening to me. I would cry randomly, and want to be left alone. There were days I had no ambition to get out of bed. Times where I would have to swallow panic in order to make it through a conversation.

I didn’t realize how much of my identity I put into my personality. Happy, crazy Maddie. Fun Maddie. Energetic Maddie. There have been many times during college I have been none of those things.

So many days where I have been sad Maddie. Nervous Maddie. Emotional Maddie. Deep Maddie. Lonely Maddie.

Can I be her, too?

 

I gave God a timeline when I began senior year. I told Him, I’m tired of being sad. It’s really not for me, after all, is it? I don’t wear it well. It’s not flattering. 

I don’t like it, God. Take it back. 

I decided that it was time for God to begin handing me all the things He has held back.

Alright God, I’ve lived your plan in college. At least, pretty well. Now it’s time for my dream job. 

And dream boy. 

And please, this next stage of life… don’t make it a sad one. 

 

It has taken me a long time to realize that sadness is a blessing. It’s an emotion, like any other, and it needs to be in our lives. It is exactly our sorrow that brings us to the Lord. It is in our sadness that we get to learn true Joy.

As I read through 2 Corinthians yesterday, I stumbled upon a verse.

We are treated as imposters, and yet are true; as unknown, and yet well known; as dying, and behold, we live; as punished, and yet not killed; as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, yet possessing everything.

2 Corinthians 6:9-10

As sorrowful, yet always rejoicing.

That’s what I want, I realized.

I was so deeply under the lie that sadness was opposed to godliness, or that being sad made me unstable, undesirable, unusable by God. I though that in order to have Joy in this life I had to first become happy again, clothe myself once again in that skin from long ago.

And it’s just not true.

Though I am not sad at all times, I am learning it is beautiful to be sad at the right times. It is in that sorrow that I approach God in a new way. I am finding that our emotions matter so much less than I gave them credit for.

It is one thing to have joy when you’re happy, but a completely new, beautiful, earth-shaking reality to have Joy when sorrow fills your life.

But that’s the gift of grace, and I am ridiculously thankful for it.

Who knows what post-college life will look like for me? There may be a million things that begin to go my way, and if so, I will praise God for His gifts. But maybe not. I may have a few more years of sorrow ahead of me, more crying and “Why God?”-ing. More raw prayers and vulnerable conversations with those closest to me. More seeing God in brand new ways.

And you know what? That really doesn’t sound too bad.

Don’t Miss The Gift

Don’t Miss The Gift

I’m learning to live by two rules.

And in their fundamentalism, I believe that they hold the key to solving most, if not all, of my problems and sins and heart-breaks. And perhaps yours, too.

You see, God and I have this thing going lately, and up front I really hated the arrangement. I despise when I find myself alone in the middle of the day, finishing up lunch and wandering campus to find motivation to do anything that will occupy my time in an intelligent manner. Often I just wander, weighing the pros and cons of where to go and what to do, and I’ll make it across half the campus and realize that I didn’t look up from my shoes and thoughts the entire time.

You know when you’re driving home from work or from work to you’re favorite coffee shop, and when you get there you realize that you don’t remember a single moment of the entire drive? That you must have used your turn signal and stopped at red lights and turned on your windshield wipers, but you truly cannot recall a single one of those instances? Because, to you, it didn’t matter how you got there or what happened along the way, as long as eventually you arrived where you were planning to go.

That’s me, most every day for the past two years, as I have walked through life. All I find myself thinking about is where I’m going, and all is lost about where I am. I’m sure there were newborn babies in mother’s arms at the table next to mine, and bees eating pollen out of flowers and perfect, crisp breezes blowing fiery red leaves across my path, but did I ever stop to allow life to be all it is to me?

No. Not nearly enough, at least. Which is ironic, since surely, whenever I get to wherever I’m going, I will only be thinking about what is to come.

And where does that put life? Forever in my rearview mirror.

Missed.

Unappreciated.

Never enough.

I’ve blamed this behavior on a list of things. What can justify such a blatant lack of gratitude for the greatest gift given to man? My favorite excuse is my past. Is just too hard, too dark, too dirty. How can I move on? I’ve measured this world, and I’ve decided. It’s not good. How can it be? 

How can what has hurt me so bad be “good”? I don’t feel grateful.

And so I’m not.

And that leaves me the kind of person that can’t find the goodness of the world when it’s staring me right in the face. Because it is, always, staring me right in the face. But I miss it, far too much, for I’m too busy complaining to God about all of the terrible things that have happened to me.

 

But it’s in these moments, when I wander campus alone, that the LORD leads me to quiet corners and empty classrooms. And it’s there, in the midst of my screaming discontentment, He speaks. I’ve learned to recognize these moments as growing pains, the ache of Christianity in which God makes me holy, as He is holy. And sometimes, it hurts. Bad.

And today, I need some Heavenly-Ibuprofen.

But it’s in these moments that the LORD has taught me these two rules, showed me that my mind runs far too fast for the simplicity of His grace in my life. That the reason I find myself so anxious and overwhelmed so much of the time is because I’m taking on far too many burdens I was never meant to carry.

For God’s handbook, written to me, I am realizing can be paraphrases in 11 words.

  1. This life is the greatest gift.
  2. Life like you believe it.

You see, my stumbling block has been that I thought it was my job to measure whether or not this world was good, whether or not my life was good. And when I tried to make this daunting decision, I was always overwhelmed by all of the incredibly difficult blows this world makes. And day after day, I would come to the decision that it wasn’t. It wasn’t good.

And my heart would break and I would walk down perfectly good streets and find every single crack in the asphalt.

But God whispers to me. Take that burden off of yourself. It’s not your decision whether or not this world is good. It is good. I have declared it so. 

Do you believe that? 

I am not God, and the brunt of my anxiety stems from when I try to play Him. My problems are not in the difficulties of this life, but from the fiery, rampant discontentment growing in my heart. The rotting moss of my fearful heart grows from a life lived without gratitude for the gift of life that has been given to me.

How dare I walk through life with such an entitled mind? Like this world is mine to define, like my life is mine to control? How dare I walk through my days wishing I was anywhere else, doing anything else, when Jesus came to this Earth and died to give me this life? This very moment, this breathing in and out?

This life is not my own, for I was bought with a price.

Therefore I must glorify God with my body.

For when I don’t, I am telling God that it is not good. When I don’t, I am relying on my own fallen mind to determine the state of the world and my life.

When I don’t I am looking straight at my Savior dying on the cross and telling Him not to bother. I won’t appreciate the gift anyway.

The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy, but I have come that you may have life, and have it abundantly.

John 10:10

This gift. Abundant life.

Bought with a price.

And this life is found not in pages of a planner and dreams of days to come. But it is found now, in this moment, as I wander the streets of campus on a Thursday afternoon.

And it is a gift.

Thank you, Lord. May I live like it.

The Light We Choose Not To See

The Light We Choose Not To See

This summer, I find myself always writing from the same place. I sit on my queen sized, 4 poster bed, blinds up on my oversized window, beams of fresh light across my grey bedspread. My toes are a tad cold, as usual, make-up worn out from the day, and (if I’m lucky), my 11 year old Shih-Tzu naps near my feet. And I sip french vanilla iced coffee because somewhere along the road it became my favorite thing in the world, and I ain’t mad.

A year ago this would have terrified me, and my minds runs back to those days often, whenever a moment is so good and the coffee is so sweet. I think of the days I was afraid of goodness – afraid of quiet and newness and my own shadow if it towered high enough.

And something tells me that I’m not alone. That’s why I write today – any day.

If you read my blog, you know that I’ve had a rough going these past 12 months. Anxiety and depression became extra coats I kept in my closet, thrown on when the tiniest shiver ran through my body. I began to wear distrust like the holes in my jeans and the socks on my feet and I fell, fell, fell into a place I never thought I would be.

Because that’s what happens when you stop trusting God. Suddenly that cross He asked you to bear becomes a menace. For God calls greatly, and demands great trust from us.

I will never forget the moments – innumerable moments – where I felt as if I was trapped. My mind repeatedly ran down roads that should not be taken – roads of hopelessness, panic, disbelief – and every time rationed its way through them.

I was in my last counseling session of the school year a few weeks ago. Essential oils, billowing out of a machine in the corner, coated my nostrils as I took a seat in one of the two plush chairs along the wall. I had grabbed a mini Snickers out of a bowl at the front desk, as usual, and felt the chocolate melt on my tongue as I settled down onto the cushion, pulling the throw pillow tight around my midsection and crossing my legs.

I had gone in every Thursday for the semester, and by the end I began to look back on my time in that office as sections of railroad track – week by week the weight of my mind and life bore down, adding pressure, heat, but week by week they got me farther towards where I wanted to go. They held up. I needed something to hold up.

By this point, we had little to talk about. Four months prior I had walked into that very office eyes hot and mind weary, but as I began to walk the journey of healing, ticking weeks by, I felt that I could stand just a little bit straighter every time. Sometimes I cried. Sometimes I just sat. But that’s counseling, somewhere you can be whoever you need to be.

And this week, this final week, I began to look on the past months as a memory. I had wondered so long how I could fall so hard, how my distrust in God could happen so quickly and so completely. It was a puzzle that was missing a piece, causing me to look under the table and in the couch cushions and with every crick in my neck and scrape on my arm I grew more and more irritated. With every glance at the un-finished puzzle on the metaphorical coffee table, I cried out for some kind of explanation. “How? How? How?

And I sat in that room and it hit me. Finally. That final Thursday it hit me. And moment after moment since it has hit me. And as I sit here today, rain gently cascading the roof, cars drifting by outside, it hits me. And I smile.

Every day I make a choice.

Scratch that. Every moment I make a choice.

Now I know that there is beauty interwoven into the ice in my toes and the scratch on my contact and the ticks in my dog’s back. There is a miracle in every breath and an opportunity after every blink of an eye. But for months I chose to believe otherwise.

Now I know that I choose what glasses I wear, choose what I see and how I see it. Choose to know that “it is good”. What is good? All of it! No, it’s not all easy or enjoyable or smooth, glassy, or soft. But it is good. Because God created it and because He called it good.

For so long I put on darkness like a cloak. I would say it sounds crazy, but something tells me there are hearts reading this that understand. It’s a choice we all make once or twice or a hundred times. We choose to doubt God, choose to give the devil a foothold, choose to see flowers as fading and rain as wet and Tuesdays as stressful.

And for me it took 3 panic attacks, a bottle of Xanax, 4 months of anti-depressants, and half a year of counseling to understand even a sliver of what God has been trying to tell me.

Choose beauty. Choose to see it. I know it’s not easy but choose it anyways. 

Joy. Joy. Joy. 

There is a light, a beauty, that can only be seen through a broken lens. When beauty is handed you, perhaps as a child, you take it for granted and brush it aside, closing your eyes to it because you expect it to be there when you open them again.

But when you lose that light, that beauty, for a time, it becomes the treasure you will traverse miles to find and never let go.

That’s how I feel today. My dog still naps at my side and birds fly by the window and I can smell and feel and hear the lawn mowers outside which means it’s summer and wow if only I could have more senses to feel more and breathe more. Because light after darkness is perhaps the most beautiful thing I have ever seen.

And I choose to see.

It’s not easy. This world is dark, we know that. Loved ones die and minds fall astray and friends choose to leave and countries make bombs and it’s easy to find the darkness. It will not resist you. Instead, it will beckon, enticing you towards itself. Don’t go. Run, fast, and choose the other way.

You have a choice, friends.

It takes courage to find the light. We all have reason not to, reasons to forget our value and pray less and swallow the sun with clouds of worry.

But God calls higher, past the clouds and into His glorious light. “Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw near to God, and He will draw near to you.” (James 4:7-8)

And He will never lose the fight. So many of us will simply never choose to see the victory.

 

 

Just Do It

Just Do It

Running.

For years, I always wanted to be a runner. The sweat, the adrenaline, the strength and endurance. Watching real runners in their element is amazing, and for years I sat on the sidelines and just admired. Sure, I made the classic “Girls Who Run” Pinterest board and bought some new Nikes. I downloaded the “Couch to 5K” app and gave it a day or two. But I never became a runner. I never reached any goals or ran any 5K’s.

Why? Why did I, a girl with all of the interest in the world, all of the equipment necessary, and all of the passion needed to be a runner, never become a runner? Through the years I’ve figured out why, and it’s pretty profound.

Are you ready??

It’s hard.

It’s hard to become a runner. It’s hard to train your body to run mile after mile. More times than not, I wouldn’t feel like hurting and aching and sweating and so I just wouldn’t. When the going got hard, I would stop and decide that maybe I wasn’t so interested in running after all. I would decide to ignore the fact that I really wanted to run, and I wouldn’t run. Why? Because it was hard.

How often do we do that?

We know what we dream of doing, we know what it would take to do it, and then we… well, don’t do it. Maybe you dream of becoming a writer, or traveling internationally, or picking up tennis. Maybe you’re sitting in a cafe listening to local artists, and you have a notebook of original songs in your backpack, just waiting to be played. Or you have always wanted to be a teacher, or read through the unabridged version of “Les Miserables”, or audition for a play.

Let me ask you something: If you don’t take the risk and do the difficult, who is going to do it for you? If you don’t write the novel inside of your head, who is going to read it? If you don’t play the songs in your notebook, who is going to hear them? If you never buy the plane ticket, how are you getting to Europe? And if you don’t run, especially when it’s hard, how are you ever going to become a runner?

The equation is child’s play, so why is it that we constantly miscalculate?

This last January, I decided to challenge myself to jog a slow 1/4 mile a couple of days a week. I hated it at first. It hurt, I was bad at it, and it was… hard. My legs, supported by a nice pair of Nikes, would burn and my breathing would be rapid after a couple of laps around the track. But I didn’t stop. Soon I was running half a mile, and then a whole mile, and in April I ran past the finish line in my first 5K.

Running 3 miles is small to some, but not to me. I did it. And friends, you can too.

As you read this, what’s your dream?

Are you thinking about it yet?

Great! Stop making Pinterest boards about it, and start doing it.

Who knows? Maybe you’re a runner after all.

I Dare You to Believe You’re Beautiful

I Dare You to Believe You’re Beautiful

Ok, I’m frustrated.

Really frustrated.

I sat down this morning with the intent of writing about how beautiful we are as women. I wanted to encourage all of my fellow ladies to look in the mirror and see beauty- because beautiful is what they are. And, possibly due to ignorance, I didn’t think it would be that hard. I mean, when I look at my friends I see the most precious and gorgeous ladies inside and out. But then I did a google search on how beautiful we are to God.

And became immediately discouraged.

I found two separate responses to this search:

  1. Christian women considering themselves “beautiful” because they knew that God looks at the heart.
  2. Overwhelming amount of verses and quotes about inward beauty.

Ok, don’t get me wrong. Inward beauty is of more value and importance than outward beauty. I mean, “charm is deceptive and beauty is fleeting”, right? But that being said, couldn’t find one women celebrating her beauty both inside and out. It was either ladies claiming to be ugly in every way or ladies celebrating their inner beauty and skirting around the subject of how they look.

Let me set this straight: Ladies, you are a sight to be seen

And it’s not just me saying that. If you’re looking for a “professional”‘s opinion, lets ask God, shall we? God made Adam and was pleased but clearly unsettled. When He looked at what He had made, there was something missing. It wasn’t until He created Eve that He declared His creation “very good”. Adam and Eve sauntered around the garden, naked and unashamed. Naked and unashamed. 

Why were they unashamed? Because God had made them beautiful. Eve knew she was beautiful, and you best believe Adam knew she was beautiful. And here’s a news flash, ladies: that very same God made YOU. He made you and declared that you are “fearfully and wonderfully made”. WONDERFULLY made. You are beautiful! But not just on the inside.

One of the saddest comments I found was from a lady that seems to be a Christian, but it is clear she views herself as far from beautiful. She states:

“I’m sorry for being imperfect…I was born this way…there’s nothing I can do about it but it doesn’t matter cause I’m perfect in God’s eyes.”

It’s obvious that she views her body as an “outfit” she’s forced to wear because she has no other choice.

Ladies, be real with me, do you feel this way? When you look into the mirror in the morning do you only see things you want to change? Do you find yourself undesirable, even ugly at times?

This is the point I could start talking about inward beauty and how it doesn’t truly matter how we look when we’re young because we’re gonna get wrinkly one day anyways. But I’m not going to do that. I don’t want you walking away from reading this and try to look inwardly to find your beauty. I want you to know that you are more beautiful and desirable than you could ever imagine! There are many posts out there about inward beauty, and they’re important, but this is not one of those posts.

Ladies, I have a challenge for you. Next time you look in the mirror, remember: God made you in His own image. HIS OWN IMAGE. How dare we look at ourselves, who are made in God’s image, and call ourselves less than desirable?? We are BEAUTIFUL because we are a reflection of God Himself! We are DESIRABLE because God made us so.

Notice I haven’t mentioned guys. Now I’m gonna throw a curveball: Nothing a guy says or does can ever effect your beauty in any way. Let me say that again:

Boys don’t make you beautiful. 

Yes, they appreciate your beauty. (Probably more than you know!) But they don’t, and will never, be the ones that make you beautiful. God has already done that and declared it to be true.

So believe it. 

I dare you beauties to believe that you are drop dead gorgeous. I dare you to remember that you are literally made in the image of God Himself. I dare you to walk around, head held high, unashamed of how you look. Because God made you exactly how He wanted to and, believe me, He has the journey of a lifetime waiting for you and your beautiful self if only you have faith that it’s true.

Do you know who you are?

I do.

“You are altogether beautiful, my darling; there is no flaw in you.” (Song of Solomon 4:7)