Out of the Woods

Last week I sat in the back of Bonnie’s Toyota Corolla, my right side squished against the plastic of the rear door, my left side pressed against Hannah. It’s Friday, and after a long week of work and school and little sleep, the night is brimming with potential and the car is bursting with the people I love. We weave through Azusa towards our favorite sushi restaurant, dancing as much as the back seat will allow us to the tune of Taylor Swift.

Are we out of the woods?

In just under two months, I will walk across a stage, shake Jon Wallace’s hand, throw my cap in the air, and life as I’ve come to know it will change forever.

The last four years have held a lot. My life slowly transitioned over state lines, from Arizona to California. I bought a car. I studied abroad in South Africa. I worked multiple jobs. People I loved broke my heart, and I broke theirs too. I went on road trips with my roommates and I drove to LA at midnight and I jumped in the ocean with my clothes on at sunset. I lost pieces of my faith only to fall in love with Jesus all over again. I perfected the art of procrastination, and I found how fulfilling it is to discover work so meaningful that you can’t procrastinate on it. I learned what it looks like to fail, and I experienced the freedom that comes in asking for help.

I made the best of friends.

My ride or dies. My 2am-rs. My hometeam.

They are the ones who danced with me freshman year till 2am in the laundry room even though we had finals in the morning.

They are the ones who wept with me sophomore year when I couldn’t even provide an explanation for the sadness seeping from my eyes.

They are the ones who flew with me to the tip of Africa and back, picking up the pieces of who we wanted to be along the way.

They are the ones who have continued to choose me and fight for me even when all the odds were stacked against us.

And they are the ones that I am now stuffed in a sedan with – screaming an anthem that describes our time together well.

Are we out of the woods?

There have been seasons of such sweetness over the last four years. Semesters of adventure and joy and becoming that are continuing to grow roots in my heart. When our zeal for life burned like a wildfire and our dreams stretched towards the stars. When we ran unhindered through fields and scrambled up mountains with vigor. When we thought we could never be broken and our friendships could never be challenged.

And there have been many seasons over the past four years when we have cried and wrestled and struggled together, thinking we would never emerge from the thick of the woods. When we stared at each other over meals or over laptops or over coffee and said, “This. It’s never been as hard as this.”

When the canopy was so thick that the sun couldn’t find its way through the leaves to light our path. When the brambles were so dense that we couldn’t claw our way forward. When the thorns were so sharp that they ripped our skin and pierced our hearts. When the night felt so long and the howls were so loud that we thought for sure this was the last we would see of the world as we knew it.

When the truth turned out to be more elusive that we thought.

When our hearts proved to be darker than we knew.

When the weight of the world became something we couldn’t bear on our own.

Are we out of the woods?

I’ve been waiting. Waiting to break free of the foliage for some time now. Waiting for a meadow to appear though the brambles. Waiting for the night to end and the dawn to break.

Are we out of the woods?

No. No my friends we are not.

Come May 7th the future is extremely unknown, the path is wildly unkempt. The rhythm of all-nighters and midterms and syllabi will cease and an era of blazers and pencil skirts will begin. We will trade our backpacks for briefcases and our dorm rooms for leases. We will pop the APU bubble we crotchety seniors have learned to gripe about and let new air fill our lungs. We will charge into the thick of the woods with very big hopes and very small bank accounts.

Are we out of the woods?

No – we are not quite out of the woods, and I’m not sure if we will ever be. This woodland may end. The dawn may break and the storm may cease and the wildflowers may bloom. But another forest lies ahead. Another trial is just beyond the horizon.

We are not out of the woods. We are not in the clear, but we sure have learned how to traverse the wilderness well. Even in the dark of the night I know I can call Kyle’s name and he won’t be but two steps behind me. I may not be able to see where I am going, but I can feel the divots in the path where Katie has gone before. When I reach a river that seems uncrossable, I know that Leslie and Ryan, Hannah and Max, Kyle and Kristen, Sarah and Mer are cheering from the other side. When I grow weary, I can look to the sky and know Who lights the stars that twinkle in the universe beyond, even when I can’t see them through the canopy.

Are we out of the woods?

No, but we go together.

I don’t know what the future holds. I don’t know where I will work or where I will live or how I will keep filling my tank up with gas and my veins up with coffee. But I know who my people are.

They say friends don’t look quite the same after college, and I know they are right. I know that we will spread across the country and across the world. I know we will dive into new jobs and we will find new communities. I know we may come to forks in the path that lead us toward a new woodland, further apart than we can bear to think of now.

But I will always wear the scars of our time with pride. I will always have the callouses on my feet and the strength in my bones and the memories in my heart. I will know how to navigate the next wilderness because of the grace and the grit they taught me. I will always make the phone call and buy the plane ticket and take the time off work to enter the woods with them. From Portland to LA, Austin to DC, Chicago to Phoenix and beyond.

We have two months. Two months of the woods as we know it, and I’m determined to press forward with all the youth we have in us. I am set on driving to LA at midnight and jumping into the ocean at sunset and dancing to Taylor Swift through finals week.

Are we out of the woods yet? 

Are we out of the woods yet?

Are we out of the woods yet? 

Are we out of the woods?

Are we in the clear yet?

Are we in the clear yet?

Are we in the clear yet?

In the clear yet?

No – but this life, these woods, these friends are oh so good.

 

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