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.