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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.