God at Work Blog

Melancholy and Hope – Reflections of a 2020 College Graduate by Cassie Appleton

If the narrative of this year had been what I thought it would be, I would have walked across the stage in Centennial Chapel at Olivet Nazarene University last month to receive my diploma. I had played this season in my head over and over all year—how incredible and sentimental senior week would be, the teary-eyed yet joy-filled photos with friends and family post- ceremony, and how I would somehow say my final goodbyes to the people and place that captured my heart four years ago.

It’s no secret that the narrative I once imagined has changed drastically, and as I write this, I find it difficult to visualize what “normal” would have felt like—what graduation day would have been like if all were well. Instead of getting dressed up to walk across a stage, take photos in front of my freshman dorm, or venture on a final wistful walk through campus, I sat on my living room couch with a few family members to watch a video address to the class of 2020, thoughtfully prepared by my college president.

I am grateful. The Lord has provided abundantly for me over the past weeks, walking with me through every hill and valley. I have grieved the loss of my senior year and the proximity of my people and have pursued purpose and rhythm in Christ in this unexpected season. The Lord has established in my soul an anchored peace and confidence in a kingdom that cannot be shaken. I have no good thing apart from Christ—and my time at Olivet was a wonderful gift indeed.

These words are my nostalgic attempt at acknowledging the tension between the melancholy and hope I am experiencing. Maybe they represent yet another piece of the puzzle in finding closure—a pursuit that has felt evasive and fragmentary at times.

Many have told me that my years spent at university would be the best four years of my life—and as I reach the conclusion of my own set of four years, I suppose I should feel a bit underwhelmed.

This probably isn’t what I’m supposed to say as I celebrate graduation. In fairness, it wouldn’t be altogether dishonest for me to don my rose-colored glasses and sing of the highlights; there were indeed aspects of my time as a student which I loved dearly and will always recall with fondness and gratitude.

The reality is, college was not always a dream. I walked through some of the loneliest seasons of my life while at ONU. I felt the hold of darkness, anxiety, depression, and helplessness. I was pushed to my limits emotionally, physically, and relationally. There were times I felt like I was drowning in heartache, and times I struggled to believe I would someday find light—or that the Light would find me.

The fact is, these four years broke me.

Another fact is, brokenness is essential to becoming.

God used my four years at Olivet not to give me everything I thought I wanted, but to form me—to refine me.

A few months ago, I embarked on a solo walk through my campus. It was dark and cold, and I embraced melancholy as I made my way along those familiar pathways. As I went, I realized that although everything around me looked the same as it had just a few years earlier when I first set foot on Olivet’s campus, the person now walking those sidewalks was completely changed.  

I am reminded of an analogy often employed by the late Corrie Ten Boom, a holocaust survivor and Christian author. In presentations to audiences, she would hold up the backside of an embroidered tapestry—a mess of tangled threads, with no apparent connection. Her listeners would wonder if she had made a mistake. She would then present the other side of the tapestry, which revealed a beautifully intricate image of a crown—representing our crown of eternal life. “One day we shall see the embroidery from His side and thank Him for every answered and unanswered prayer”, she explained. 

The girl who recently received her degree while sitting on her couch last month has indeed been transformed from the high school senior sitting in the Centennial Chapel balcony during an Olivet visit day in 2016. The profound sense of peace I felt in that moment is akin to the peace I embrace today, as I reflect on the faithfulness and abundance of Jesus during my time at Olivet.

In the moments when I experienced joy, community, and beauty, my Father was walking with me.

In the times where all I could see was a jumble of shapeless thread, my Shepherd was walking with me.

Corrie Ten Boom often quoted this poem entitled “The Tapestry” by an unknown author. I pray it ministers to you as it has to myself.

My life is but a weaving
Between my God and me;
I cannot choose the colors
He worketh steadily.

Oft’ times He weaveth sorrow
And I, in foolish pride,
Forget He sees the upper,
And I the underside.
Not till the loom is silent
    And the shuttles cease to fly,
Shall God unroll the canvas
And explain the reason why.
The dark threads are as needful
In the Weaver's skillful hand,
As the threads of gold and silver
In the pattern He has planned.
He knows, He loves, He cares,
Nothing this truth can dim.
He gives His very best to those
Who leave the choice with Him.

Trusting God with Unexpected Delays

I don’t know about you, but recently I feel like things in my life have not happened according to my desired plan. For four years I have intended on going to the mission field but due to financial responsibilities, these intentions have been delayed. Despite this, I always relied on the hope that once my student loans were low enough, I could move overseas with few obstacles. When January of this year, 2020, came around I officially began support raising. And things were going well; my timeline looked great! I started preparing myself for the legitimate possibility of departing by early fall. I thought to myself, “my prayers are finally being answered! God is allowing me to leave for Spain at long last!!” Then, COVID-19 hit. All of a sudden, my deep desire to be able to head to the field soon, which I thought was finally within my grasp, was being pushed indefinitely.

No one had any answers for me. There was plenty of encouragement from my missionary organization, my family, church, and friends. But, when it boiled down to it, I was in uncharted waters. This was something that no one could have prepared me for. “What in the world are you doing God?” has been echoing in my mind since quarantine began.

A couple weeks ago I read Mark 2 and the story of Jesus healing the paralytic (verses 1-12) really stuck out to me in a way that it never had before. While reading I put myself into the mindset of the paralytic and, oh boy, did it hit me hard! I saw several parallels between what he was going through then, what I am going through now, and I am sure what many of you are also experiencing.

So, let’s walk through the story of Mark 2:1-12 together.

It starts out by telling how a paralyzed man wants to be healed by Jesus, but he cannot get close enough due to the room being too crowded. But this does not deter the paralytic. He wants so desperately to be healed that he and his friends build a contraption so that he can be lowered through the ceiling. I suspect that this was not an easy task and it probably took some hard work and inventive thinking. Regardless, the paralytic is finally lowered into the presence of Jesus. How excited he must have felt! He was on the cusp of receiving what he came for, the use of his legs! But, instead, Jesus turns to him and says “’Son, your sins are forgiven’” (vs. 5). Pause. Wait, what? That is not what the paralytic wanted! He did not come all this way, have his friends work so hard and lower him from the ceiling to have his sins forgiven. He wanted to be healed, to be able to walk! What gives Jesus?

Well, after Jesus forgives the paralytic’s sins, there are questions from some of the scribes in the room. “’Why does this man [Jesus] speak like that? He is blaspheming! Who can forgive sins but God alone?’” (vs. 7). Jesus then uses this opportunity to teach, as he often did. But all the while, the paralytic is lying there, I can imagine, confused and probably displeased that he did not actually receive what he came for.

I definitely see parallels here for my current situation. I deeply desire to be overseas in Spain and I have waited years to officially pursue it. And when I finally was able to start support raising, when I felt like Spain was within my grasp, all of a sudden due to the coronavirus, things have changed. I seemingly am not getting what I want; what I asked for.

What might be the parallel for you right now?

Here is the encouraging part!

Thankfully, the story does not stop there. Jesus turns around and, as a way to show that He is, indeed, the “Son of Man [that] has authority on earth to forgive sins,” (vs.10) He heals the paralyzed man. He tells him to “rise, pick up [his] bed, and go home” (vs.11). The paralytic then does exactly that and as a result “they were ALL amazed and glorified God” (vs. 12).

The paralytic came to Jesus with the help of his friends wanting to be healed. He had faith that it would happen, and the text says that Jesus saw that faith! (vs. 5). The paralytic trusted that Jesus could provide what he desired most. It just did not come in the timing that he expected. Jesus used the delay in delivering the answer to his request in order to reveal more of himself to the others in the room that did not have faith. And as a result, more people came to “glorify God.” Jesus did not abandon the paralytic. He still honored the deep desire of his heart and the hard work that the paralytic and his friends had put in to get to that point. He just delayed it a little for the purpose of reaching the lost. I hope that the same can be true of my story and of yours too, brother or sister!

I know that many of us are facing uncertain and unexpected circumstances right now. But that does not mean that we have been deserted or forgotten. God’s got you! Jesus has got you! Your hard work is seen. Your faith is not unnoticed. God wants to bless you for these things, but it just might not be in the immediate or exact way that you were planning for. But I know that, for me, if my struggles and the delays of my plans can proclaim more of who God is to those that otherwise would not hear it, then God’s will be done and Amen! This is my hope. May it be yours too!

This is not wasted time. God is working so that He can use our stories to impact others and glorify Him! And, ultimately, isn’t that what it means to be a Christian? We serve a loving God and can know that regardless of whatever delays or obstacles come our way, it is for the purpose of more coming to know Him and that, in the midst of it, He does see the pain and the frustrations. But in love, He asks us to be patient.

I pray all of this for you friend. May you, in the midst of your uncertainties, grievances, and unanswered questions have faith like the paralytic. Turn to God and say “I trust you Father. That you will provide for my needs even if it be in ways that I cannot see because you love me. And that through my experiences, your name would be exalted even greater. Your will be done!”

Blessings to you sisters and brothers. Persevere, knowing that God is working!