Now What?

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My, oh, my! This gal just graduated from college on Saturday and it's such a surreal feeling so far. I've spent the past four years making my semesters increasingly harder and filled with more responsibilities and activities (some sort of self-sabotage move on my part).

So to finally be free of the additional stress of completing two majors is fantastic. Don't misunderstand me, I love school and always have! I'll miss the collegiate atmosphere, the expectation of learning something new in every classroom, etc. However, I find myself more excited about stepping off the platform and expectantly waiting for the next train to pull into the station, so to speak. 

Everyone has their own "college story". It's a time of major change, independence, tough decisions, and life lessons. I love mine: it has nothing to do with me and everything to do with Jesus. 

The University of Alabama was not my first choice (for you SEC fans, I'm an Ole Miss Rebel by heart and soul).

I found myself pleasantly surprised and soon enough I was moving into my freshman dorm, meeting my convivial new roommates who would become my sorority sisters, and embarking on a tumultuous relationship I had no business being in. 

Uh oh, too personal?

There's more. In typical freshman form, believing my judgement to be sound and my decisions to be adult, I continued pursuing this relationship that seemed to grow more and more toxic by the day. In retrospect, my relationship with God was dwindling to a faintly flickering ember hardly emerging from a deadened fire pit. I dismissed the idea of finding a church to plug into and quite literally turned my back on Jesus with the excuse that I needed all my strength and determination to keep my facade of a relationship going and surviving. Because it was hardly doing either. Ultimately, the relationship left me feeling dirty, ashamed, and looking quite different from the girl I recognized only a few months earlier. 

Freshman year brought unimaginable heart break. Not the kind that tugs on your heart strings; the kind that leaves you doubled over, gasping for breath, and searching in all the wrong places. It's funny how when we try and live our lives on our own terms, the rug is constantly ripped out from under us and the piano we're carrying on our own shoulders grows heavier and heavier. We plan, prod, and poke our way through the thicket, confident in our ability to navigate this world on our own, hardly realizing we're acquiring quite the number of scrapes and thorns in our side along the way.

So, that's pretty dreary. When is the good part coming?

I truly believe God allows us to go through the thicket (as tumultuous and painful as it may be) so that in hindsight we can see that He was right there, two inches from our side, guiding us all along. How do I know this?

Someone who experienced the emotional abuse and emptiness that I did would be quick to counter that God left me in my time of need. God wouldn't let me get involved with the wrong person, make the horrible decisions I did, and fall into a pattern of depression and isolation if He really loved me. Does that God even care? Didn't that God see my pain and confusion?

Yes. 

Here's how I know:

That toxic relationship? God had sent me every warning sign known to man that year. He set up roadblocks, sent the crashing thunder, and nudged me to the brink of the cliff over and over again in an effort to grab my attention. He was literally standing in the road, waving His arms up and down begging for me to stop as I blindly insisted on careening past him into the brick wall ahead. 

Until finally, He physically removed him from the same state as me in the form of an athletic transfer. What seemed like the end of the world and yet another challenge in our relationship was really the beginning of the journey--my journey. It was the stilling of the waters, and the breaking of the sun through the clouds. 

It was where I became reacquainted with my Savior. 

After a drawn out, painful break up that continued to rear its ugly head from time to time, I attended a few church services at my current church home. I was skeptical, refusing the love of my Jesus under the precepts that I was too tainted with guilt, shame, and sin to come and receive his grace and love. 

It's the number one thing that keeps people from a relationship with our wonderful, loving God. 

It's the lie that we aren't good enough. We aren't worthy to receive unconditional love like that.

It was one November Sunday morning that I rededicated my life to Jesus and felt the full effect of His mercy on my life. The pain, guilt, and shame that I carried around with me to every conversation, every restless night's sleep was washed away by the knowledge and understanding that Jesus knows me. He sees me for who I can be in His name, not for who I ever was. Jesus makes all of us new again with His grace through His death on that cross thousands of years ago. It's a humbling thought, knowing that Jesus lovingly thought of me and my personal grief and shame when He took on the weight of the world's sin. Like, it's crazy. 

So what does this have to do with graduating college, Olivia? Get to the point.....

Well, it has everything to do with everything. God knew well before I stepped onto this campus that I would experience the heartache and pain that I did. He knew I would shut Him out and not talk to Him anymore. He knew I would make decisions in the dark that I felt I couldn't bring to the light. He knew I would feel lost, empty, and alone and eventually reach the depths of my pit during this pivotal transition in my life.

Because He also knew in that pit He would lift me up and set my focus and dependence on Him--not any one man. 

He guided my steps and planned each encounter with Him, carefully sewing back together my brokenness and revealing His everlasting love for me in so many small ways so that one day, it would be like stepping back from a masterpiece painted in sections at a time and gazing at the end result...

Ending my journey on this campus means more to me than just closing an educational chapter. I give all the glory to God for placing me on this path to find freedom through Christ, find the eventual love of my life in a bookstore one August Saturday, and find my purpose for being on this planet at all: to tell everyone what Jesus has done in my life, and that He can and will do it in your life too. 

Wherever post-grad life takes me, I've never been more confident that God is carefully guiding my steps to lead me in the right direction. It may not look like the straight-line I want; in fact, it will probably contain more zig-zags and u-turns and winding narrow roads!

But isn't it so awesome that along the way, I serve a Jesus who loves me on a level I can't even fathom. God is so good, y'all. It takes a lot to trust what He's doing behind the curtain, especially when we're hurting, confused and seemingly lost. But isn't that the wonder? When we finally step out of the shadows and stand in His forgiving, loving, merciful, and peaceful presence, it all becomes clear: nothing we do can separate us from the love of God. He's always there, smiling with outstretched arms, welcoming us back home. 

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Obviously,

Olive