He closed the book and I could look at nothing but the paper in front of me. Eyes fixated on the pen in my hand, I didn’t want to acknowledge the moment but it begged for attention. The muttered “okay,” the shuffling of the notes that were already in order. Just like the end of every class, he folded his hands and began to wrap up the lesson. But it wasn’t about prophets or theology or anything to write down in my notebook. I couldn’t color-code this moment.
It was time to acknowledge the end of an era, a moment to recognize the great work of four incredibly tough years, a minute to celebrate the accomplishments and a brief pause to impart one last piece of wisdom. He closed his book, we closed ours, “you did it.” We did.
And that was it. Blink.
Bittersweet. Whooping and hollering and shouting “We’re done!!!” with hands up in the air. And we captured it. Because 8 semesters later, 8am will find us all in very different places spread around the world. In a classroom, at a desk, in India. All for the Kingdom, all so different.
If it’s about the journey and not the destination, well… what a ride it’s been.
They say that college is the time when you figure out who you really are. And that’s true. But mainly, I think I already knew. College put my thoughts to the test, challenged my beliefs, and forced me to come to terms with the girl staring back in the mirror.
Over the course of four years, I learned why I believe what I believe. I unearthed questions and learned to sit with them. I saw the wisdom in doubting my doubts. I heard points of view that I had previously merely waved off in my head, and I listened. I saw the other side and stopped to understand.
During those four years, I was forced to confront whether or not “what had always been” would continue to be. The ‘big stuff’ like alcohol and evolution and God. And the ‘little stuff’ that is very much not little, like choosing relationships over results and listening to listen instead of to respond.
I learned about grace and I learned about letting someone else have the final word. I learned self control and practiced only eating desserts on the weekends. I discovered I had been breaking the Sabbath and I gave up homework on Sundays – not to follow a rule, but because my heart was in the wrong place.
I entered those gates hating coffee and yet the amount of money I spent on that heavenly substance is absurd. I saw snow for the first time. I discovered community is more than a buzzword.
Four years ago I didn’t know the power of story. I moved hours away from home to a place where no one knew my name, my face, or my background. I could be anyone I wanted; the canvas was blank.
The greatest story is that I chose to live my own.
I’m terrific at being emotional until it makes logical sense for me to be emotional. And then, well, I’m perfectly fine. In high school I cried every year at the May church service when the seniors were recognized. I was sad to see them go, but I cried because I thought each year “…that’s going to be me. So soon. That’s going to be me.”
When it was my turn? Not a tear. And then in my eighth semester, my friends and I joked back and forth – would I be a brick wall or a basket case? Just like I expected, logic won over emotion. I found myself pressing deeply into relationships and working hard to get everything ready for post-grad life. But I was fine. A tear or two here or there, but otherwise – nada.
I picked up the cap and gown and laughed because “this can’t be right, how can we already be here?” I loaded boxes into the car and took the artwork off the walls. I wrote letters, climbed the chapel, made goodbye speeches, and hugged friends as they prepared to drive home for the summer.
The last night in the dorm I sat in the silence, barely recognizing the room around me. My best friend lay sleeping across the room as I stared up at the ceiling trying to wrap my mind around what the following day would hold. A stage, a rolled up piece of paper, a million smiling pictures.
And then, after months of being just perfectly fine, it hit.
It’s the place where I grew up. Behind the gates are buildings and classrooms that, for four years, held the people who would teach me, empower me, shape me, challenge me, and encourage me. I came in certain that love doesn’t exist apart from Jesus and I left a flat-out mess because although I didn’t see it at the time, I was becoming the Velveteen Rabbit.
Home. It was home.
On May 16th I packed the last box into my car, told my family I would meet them at my apartment, and drove toward the gates. It wasn’t the last time and I knew I could come back whenever I needed to return. But as much as I knew Samford would always be there and would always be home, I also knew that nothing would be quite the same.
I told my arms to turn the wheel to the right but the car went left. Suddenly I was looking at the statue that has seen thousands of students and high school tours and snow fights and yeah, he’s been my date for nearly every function.
I sat there with the flowers blooming and I sobbed. Because sometimes for a new story to begin, another has to end. And in so many ways it was goodbye. Not for good, but to this chapter, the one that molded me into the girl sitting in the parked car praying over and over in broken words “please go with me. please go with me. please… go with me.”
The radio was playing and in between my jumbled thoughts I heard the words. They were for me. I don’t know how He does it, but they were for me. He would go with me. So I wiped the tears and put the car in drive because heck, He’s never been anything but faithful. He would go with me.
I have won and I have lost
I got it right sometimes
But sometimes I did not
Life’s been a journey
I’ve seen joy, I’ve seen regret
Oh and You have been my God
Through all of it
And this is who You are
More constant than the stars up in the sky
All these years of our lives
I, I look back and I see You
Right now I still do
And I’m always going to
I drove outside the gates like a million times before. I left home. I went home.
He has gone with me.
I haven’t been back. I realized this past Sunday as I drove home from church that I’ve unintentionally avoided Lakeshore Drive. I’m just far enough away that I have to purposely “swing by” but I’ve stayed away. Maybe to give space, maybe to make it easier to be fully in the next chapter, and maybe because I wasn’t sure what would come to the surface if I went back just yet.
It’s June 16th. These are the first words I’ve written about graduation, the first time I’ve attempted to put words to a day that is merely a day, but one that was full of endings and new beginnings. They are messy, this I know. I write to best know what I think… I’m only beginning to figure out what I think.
The process of processing has only just begun. Change does not come naturally or easily to me, but the page has turned. The new chapter has begun. It is time to live in the in between.
It isn’t easy. But oh, it is good.