By Madison Garrett
It’s the kind of night that I knew, nearly instantly, that I would look back on it with fierce fondness.
My ears still ring with the thrill of it.
I remember Will’s arm suddenly around my shoulders, so I put mine around Alex’s who put his around Hayes, and suddenly we were all connected, jumping up and down, raving, roaring the lyrics to Mr. Brightside with Becca trapped, crying with laughter, in the very middle.
It was the quintessential moment. It was only a kiss, how did it end up like this? The ending senior formal deserved. It was a night for feasting on fancy Italian food that none of us could pronounce, a night of waiting on bread and literally eating wild boar and discussing our go-to fun facts. Jealousy, turning saints into the sea. The night I ruined Tinkerbell for everyone in the Uber and heard about our driver’s eyebrow-raising past, the night we all shrieked and clung to each other after a sudden stop at an intersection.
That night, the silent disco glowed with red and blue headphones, each color pulsing with a different tune, each person jiving to their own soundtrack. It was the strangest phenomenon- how right it all felt when I was sure that I should be overly emotional and nostalgic, caught up in the reverie of the ending of things. But instead, I laced flowers into my hair and hid my heels and danced barefoot in a stranger’s spilled beer. I ran away from the lead singer who was trying to pull me on stage and later jumped down to dance with me. It was a night of hobbling in heels out of breath across the parking lot of Gamma Phi to get the roses to the girl who deserved them, and missing her by five minutes but still hugging her neck because that’s what I needed to do.
It was the night our entire pledge class joined together and celebrated being together by walls of lions and forests and really loud music, but we sat and savored and had intentional conversations as the craziness roared on around us. I was exhausted- we all were exhausted- but we kept going. We were rewriting freshmen year, as if to say “that doesn’t matter anymore. What matters is that we are here now, together now, and knowing each other better now than ever before.”
Indeed, here we all are, together, wrapped up in arms and sweat and headphones and love, and we are all shouting Mr. Brightside, and we are all so alive that our hearts are beating just a little bit faster than normal and we know- we just know- that this is a moment that matters. This is one to be lived and savored and recognized as important.
And so we sing and we rage against the dying light and we laugh and we live, doing life together for as long as we have left to do so.
Open up my eager eyes cuz I’m Mr. Brightside.
I don’t like to write endings. Conclusions are always the weakest parts of my papers, usually thrown together in a desperate attempt to be DONE, with little attention given to making them good or meaningful. I get angry at the ending of TV shows and movies (Read: How I Met Your Mother) and often finish books completely unsatisfied by the way the author ended the story. These days, I firmly and actively push against endings, repeatedly praying that “the story is not over” when it comes to friendships and job searches and a certain cancer diagnosis.
But the door is about to shut firmly on my days at UGA. I will walk across the stage at Park Hall and turn my tassel in Samford, and all of the sudden, my days of riding Orbit buses and reading T. S. Eliot on North Campus and gathering at Tate at 8 for Wesley will be gone. It’s been routine for four years- and then, suddenly, it’s over. It is an unavoidable ending, one in which goodbye’s are weird and constant and gradual and full of dot dot dots, as uncertainty fills our voices because we truly aren’t sure where or when or who we will be when we meet again.
This is a beautiful and a hard ending, like the final rapid when white water rafting: thrilling, terrifying, exhilarating, uncertain, glorious, and then, over. It’s been four years of FULLNESS, of abundance, of growth and newness and transformation; my heart cannot seem to wrap around the idea that all of the sudden, by this time next week, the traditions I have built for four years will be obsolete, now just fond memories as I walk toward my unknown future. Such finality hurts my heart, rubbed raw by the gradual suddenness of it all, and how everything is changing and slipping away from me.
However, I want to sit in this tension of being in-between, of being done but not yet finished, and let it matter. I want to challenge the despair and hopelessness that whisper lies in my ears about my worth and my future and the ending of this season. I instead want to write this as a love letter, an ode to everything these past and fast four years have been and everything I have become as a result. I want to write a love letter to the change, to the transition, to the glory behind me and the glory in front of me and all the unknown in-between. I want to speak life and joy into the whole “growing up” and “moving away from my friends and my community” and “not knowing what comes next” thing that I’ve been wrestling with for quite some time now.
Life is most beautiful when lived in the unknown, and I am trying with everything I am to believe that every day, just one more time. I am trying to let go of my white-knuckled pride and the strained grip on my expectations and let God be God, because who He is does not waver. His tangibility, from one night to the next, from one season to the next, is unchanging. Sometimes, all I can celebrate is the fact that I am still seen and still known and still chosen. Sometimes, all I can do is decide to believe and let that belief guide me through the uncombed wildness of a season unexpected.
Sometimes, when I am gripped with an inability to listen to The Head and the Heart’s “Rivers and Roads” and completely unable to imagine spending Monday nights anywhere but Bloomfield, I have to stop and lay my trembling heart and my rebellious will down at the feet of my faithful Father.
Sometimes, it’s enough to look back on my four years and see the pathways and Ebenezers set up to mark where the Lord has been and what He has done in my life. In four years at UGA, the Lord exchanged my timidity for tenacity. My passivity for boldness. Dissatisfaction for joy. Heaviness and heartbreak for freedom. And so much more: courage, vulnerability, compassion, community, and vibrancy have all been instilled in me from the faithfulness of the Lord and the extravagance of His kingdom in Athens.
From every moment, it has been one shade of glory to the next, one degree of newness to the next. From glory to glory to glory.
And I declare the truth of that glory, knowing full well the weight of such a statement. Knowing the other, broken side of glory SO WELL.
In every rejection, every not-so-great grade on a Latin test, every heated class discussion…in the ended relationship and the dream deferred and the way-too-high water bill- there is glory.
In the diagnosis, in the desolation, and in the deliverance, there is glory.
I don’t always know how it will manifest. In fact, I rarely ever do. But I insist with every fiber of my exhausted, heart-worn body, that there. is. glory. in the transition. That this unknown, in-the-middle, in-between place MATTERS.
The Lord does not do anything that does not matter. He will not ever let hopelessness be the posture of His people.
There is glory, I believe, in it all. Even and especially when my human eyes cannot see it.
There is glory every time I get rejected from one of the fifty jobs I have applied to thus far.
There is glory in every NO, even when it brings me to sorrowful tears and when I must pick my heart back up and try to believe in the goodness of God again.
In every heartbreak, in every broken place, there has been more beauty than I can put into words. There has been more faithfulness than I dreamed possible. There has been more favor than I could possibly deserve.
There is so much unknown ahead of me and ahead of us all.
But I am not afraid.
I go out into the world on tiptoe, not in fearful timidity but in resolved tenacity, bursting with eager anticipation and confident expectation, ready for what comes next, gazing joyfully into the unknown landscape and life before me.
And I am not afraid.
Somewhere, He makes a place for me. His beauty eradicates my doubt.
And even in the here and now, when I am listening to a Julie Andrews record on the floor of my apartment living room, after all the furniture has been moved, with only pillows and random piles of decoration everywhere and only command strips on the walls, when the evidence of the end is upon us, there. is. glory.
Even when I face the last Movie Night Monday of the semester and my final papers and my graduation approaching steadily, even when dealing with something that is altogether heartbreaking and perfectly thrilling, I want to declare this love letter to all the change. Because I know who my Father is and I know who He empowers me to be.
I know that the story is not over, that love WILL surround the change, and that my weary world WILL rejoice. I know that here too, He is faithful, that I never fall outside of love, and that even when the seasons of mourning and dancing clash, His banner of favor over me is unchanging.
College has been SO GOOD. UGA has been better and more beautiful than I ever imagined that it could be. I was an unwilling Bulldog even to the first day of classes, until I was filled with an overwhelming sense of belonging when I went to the Freshley cookout and walked across North Campus by myself for the first time. I had told the Lord over and over and over again that I didn’t want to go to UGA and that I didn’t want to join a sorority, but my sweet and faithful Father just laughed and did the most preposterous thing: gave me everything I never knew I wanted out of the very thing I prayed against.
The Lord gave me sisters with whom I celebrate my most heartfelt victories and my deepest heartbreaks. They are the ladies who stand by my side at Wesley or sit across from me at Two Story or eat ridiculous amounts of food with me as we watch Nick Viall make terrible decisions. They are the girls who slept ten inches from my face when we lived in the house together, who participated in my every Dairy Queen blizzard run, and who unknowingly affirm my dreams when I am at my most disbelieving.
The Lord gave me UGA Wesley, an organization that transformed my heart so greatly that it is now unrecognizable from what it was before, encouraging me and challenging me and surrounding me with people who love and support me on all sides. He gave me my discipler, who who knows every messy, wayward part of me and still loves me and speaks life and victory over me. He gave me a community of people unlike anything I have ever experienced- people that stay, that engage, that uplift. Here, He gave me LIFE and JOY and PEACE and POWER.
The Lord gave me a major and a department to fall in love with, even amongst the ancient, outdated, and kind-of gross walls of Park Hall, where the way I think is continually expanded, where my creativity flourishes, where my heart swells with wonder and imagination and a determination to know and learn and analyze MORE. He gave me a place where my word-loving heart is matched and edified by those around me.
My senior year has simultaneously been the most heartbreaking and heart-filling of my life. I didn’t know that such a tension could be possible, but I exist in that tension daily-and the Lord sits with me in it, like I know He always will. Even in this new transition, after these four glorious and fully abundant and vibrant years, if I know the Lord, if I know who He is inherently and the preposterous things that He loves to do..
I know that what comes next is even better.
And that feels big and bold and outlandish to say, because I have literally zero idea what is coming or where I will be in a month, let alone a year.
But I’m deciding to believe such a preposterous truth.
I’m deciding to believe in the more.
I’m deciding to believe that He will preserve and champion the friendships He has orchestrated. I’m deciding to believe that He will foster EVEN MORE GROWTH and that His Holy Spirit will never leave my side. I’m deciding to believe that He WANTS me to know more of Him and that He will not cease fighting for my attention, no matter what season or place I find myself in. On the edge of so much unknown, I know full well that He is FAITHFUL. He holds my heart and holds my dreams and gives me more loveliness than I ever thought possible in an ending that should be all hard and no beauty. He introduces me to the sweet knowledge that sometimes (most times) people are more important. That sleep will come later, but the moment you are living is here now. I never want to miss laughing until my face hurts with people who know and love me in a house that has become a home. I will willingly exhaust myself and willingly procrastinate if it means that I get to savor and live in these sweet last moments of Princess Diaries and long talks and cheese dusted popcorn.
This is a love letter to the change, a stance of defiance against the hopelessness that wants so badly to take root in my seasick heart. It is a love letter to the millions of ways that UGA has taught me and stretched me and changed me. It is an ode to every person who has loved me and every person who has changed me by their love. It is a love letter of absolute gratitude, of knowing the depths of my appreciation for the best four years of my life, for the most unexpected beauty, and for the sweetest memories than I could never hope to capture in a single essay.
I don’t know what’s coming, but I know it’s gonna be good. Because I know the Lord. And I know the way He has shown up in abundance the past four years.
If I know the Lord, I know that there is more. And I know that, truly, this is not the end.
If I know the Lord, the story is never over. And that fills me with an irrepressible joy, igniting in me a fervent, thrilling hope, because my life does not cease being beautiful just because I graduate and leave a beautiful season behind.
The Lord does not reserve beauty for one season or another, but instead, lavishes it upon us, throwing it around like glitter, letting it dust over everything, it’s extravagance unwavering in the face of change.
I don’t know what’s coming, but I know it’s gonna be good. It’s going to be like glitter.
And I am not afraid.