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Tree Lined Rural RoadI felt none of the triumphant exultation one normally feels this year when I finished my last final and, with the turning in of a blue-book, my Junior year of college ended. There was no party thrown. No ready arms waiting to hold me. No shout of triumph. Instead I felt enormous and overwhelming exhaustion. If I could have sunk to the earth there in the middle of my campus quad and cried–I would have.

My victory, I know, was a bitter one. It was the battle won through scars–through emotional pain–through the mud and muck of months. “I did it“–bitten through the teeth.

Who could have told me when I graduated high-school–an optimistic eighteen-year old–that three years later would show me three broken relationships, that one day I’d be able to scan a room and feel within my aching heart that / “Everyone I’ve loved seems like a stranger in the night” /. That three years would show me two spent in state school–trying to rise from the mire around me, feeling my innocence fall away day by day. That I would know loneliness I would never have dreamed one so loved and privileged could experience. That three years would show me disappointments and depression. That the sacrifices I made to be financially wise would, as a price, ask of me semesters with enormous academic loads. That three years would teach me that life is full of suffering–that three years can be one after another of pain.

Yet as I write tonight I smile to think of the beautiful things God has taught me MP900202226from this gauntlet-way. I have discovered that my young heart did not break when tried–but has only learned how to love more Truly. For love is not love if it can die–indeed, to kill Love one would  have to kill something in oneself–but as true love desires the other person’s highest good, so I have had to practice loving as Christ would have me love–with no hope of gain.

I have learned that friendship is precious. That it takes time–and that I far too easily overlook it. There are people who care tremendously about me–and I in my pride far too often choose to carry my burdens alone.

I have learned more of the misery that comes when one isn’t true to oneself. I don’t mean this in a Hollywood sort of way–following wild passions or idiotic dreams–but in this: That we are each unique creations, and our God has fashioned us for specific purposes–and when we aren’t true to our design we are miserable.

SeedlingIn my latest dating relationship I had the misfortune (through no particular fault of my boyfriend’s) to have the greatest erosion to my sense of identity I’ve ever experienced. Out of a desire to be what was preferred–wanted–or simply needed–I let go from myself any and every part of me that didn’t fit. I stopped writing. I stopped laughing. I didn’t sing so much. Or dance.

I still–these months later–catch a look in my eyes or my own smile in the mirror so long unseen I’d forgotten it. Not known I’d missed it.

And when I sit down to write… I feel the pathetic moan of an inner spirit so, so long suppressed… / Can you forget so easily who you are? /

To summarize–I guess I can say that I am learning the particularness of my Father’s love. He is a jealous God. And I see more and more the minute and intimate ways He shows His love–by keeping me from things that would have been bad for me–by blessing me with true, good friends–giving me this summer of solace back within the loving bounds of my wonderful family. He gives me gentle pushes sometimes–I started writing again this semester (slow, but sure, the words still falter when they come at all)–and rewarded my baby steps with two newspaper publications. He sends me the perfect verses when I need them–like when in the psalms He promises that despite our wandering, bitterness–He holds “my right hand” (my favorite hand–I love it when someone holds my hand–and God holds mine).

MP900178940And at the end of this long academic struggle–today I saw my grades and I just sat there and cried. The class I’d hated and struggled with and worried over all semester–the one I thought would be my worst grade–was an unaccountable “A”. Praise His Glorious Name? Thank you, Jesus.

In a way–it was all worth it then. Because I know that while I felt alone those long days I spent in a deserted corner studying–God was carving my way. And in the end He blessed me with closer, more precious friendships with some fantastic girls–the dearer for the struggle.

And in the comfort of my home–as I blast my music from my Dad’s speakers–drink in the nourishing goodness which is my Mom’s cooking–or take a long walk with my little sister to the pond down the road (where we read Anne of Green Gables and eat Girl-Scout Thin-Mints)–I see reflected in my bedroom window a face I know is Loved and Redeemed by an Incredible God. I see a face that knows more and more its own pitiful strength–and which has learned a smile wrought from the joy that Christ brings in the wake of His Love.

I am Free. 

Sunlight Shining Through ForestCan you feel it? Do you know this freedom? This joy that comes with the morning–after the nights of sea-floundering are over and you wake and realize that if Christ is for you–no one can be against you? I’m learning that He loves my smile. He loves it when I write. He loves it when I trust Him enough to be vulnerable–and when I rest in Him enough to spread His joy flowing through me to other people. He loves it when I know Who I am in Christ so well that I am Christ to those around me. He loves it when I remember that in His presence is fullness of joy. And that when I loose my life–I will find it again in Him.

I hung my head, for the last time 
In surrender and despair 
Before I’m dead, I’ll take the last climb 
Up the mountain, face my fears…

Though they may surround me like lions 
And crush me on all sides 
I may fall, but I will rise 
Not by my might, or my power, or by the strength of swords 
Only through, your love, my Lord 
All we’ve lost will be restored.

-Josh Garrels, Rise