A God Who Meets Me Here

A God Who Meets Me Here

“Jesus answered, ‘If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink’, you would have asked Him, and He would have given you living water.'”

John 4:10

One of my favorite things about Jesus is that He constantly did things that no one expected.

When John and the other guys first left their fishing boats to follow this guy named Jesus, I’m sure they expected Him to be a normal teacher. In fact, it’s pretty clear that they expected Him to be normal, because the Bible says over and over that they are baffled by what He does. Jaws on the floor. “Who is this guy??”

This story today is one of my absolute favorites, because the main character is a woman with a past she wants to hide.

(…can anyone relate?)

Jesus and John and the guys were having a travel day, making their way from Judea to Galilee (both regions in ancient Israel), when it was noon and they were tired. Jesus was exhausted, and so He sat down at a well that was there. Now, I don’t know much about the culture back then, but I do know that no one in their right mind went to draw water in the middle of the day because it was hot. Everyone would go in the morning, I’m sure, before the sun came out in full force. The women would grab their water jugs in the morning and head over, chatting about the day and the gossip of the town.

But no one would go midday.

And yet, there was one other person at the well when Jesus arrived, and it was a woman. We don’t know much about her, but the very fact that she was drawing water at noon tells us that she didn’t belong. The scorching heat of the day was the perfect cover to make certain that no one else would be there and she could get her water in peace.

And yet Jesus was there.

“Give me a drink.” Jesus walked up her and sat down.

The woman was baffled, not only because men never spoke to women like this back then, but also because Jesus was a Jew and she was a Samaritan, and there was bad blood. Jews never spoke to Samaritans. And a Jewish man specifically would never, ever talk to a Samaritan woman. Ever.

But Jesus loved breaking every social rule, and so He struck up a conversation.

“If you knew the gift of God, and who I am, then you would ask me for living water and I would give it to you.”

“Sir, you didn’t bring anything to draw water with,” she said, observing His belongings, “how do you get living water?”

Jesus, possibly looking into the well or gesturing to her water jug, replied, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks of the water that I will give them will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give them will become a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”

The woman was probably thrown off, as I would be, but she implored, “Sir, give me this water, so that I will not be thirsty or have to come here to draw water anymore.”

And this is my favorite part, because Jesus wasn’t there to talk about drawing water from a well. He knew this woman – He knew her past, the hidden parts she tried to keep secret, her regrets and fears. He knew that she had gone through 5 husbands, and that she was currently living with a guy who wasn’t her husband. He knew that she drew water at noon out of shame. He knew.

“Go, call your husband, and come back.”

She looked down, diverted her eyes, mumbled, “I have no husband.”

“I know you have no husband.” Jesus replied. “I know that you have had five husbands, and that the man you’re living with is not your husband.”

I’m sure her head snapped up and that she searched the face of this guy who met her at the well. How could he know that? The most shameful parts of her life, probably the reason she was a social outcast, the very thing the intended to hide from everybody she met was just thrown into the open. And she sat there, exposed, in front of this man she had never met.

The story goes on to say how Jesus told her that He was God, the Savior of the world. His disciples came back, confused that He was talking to a woman. And the woman left her water jar at the well, ran into the town, and told everyone about this guy she had met at the well, how He knew everything about her. Could this be God Himself?

She believed in Jesus that day, and a lot of other people did too. The people of that town begged Jesus to stay with them, and John tells us that they stayed there for two days.

 

There are so many things I love about this story. I love that Jesus, God Himself, could have spent His days on earth rounding up as many people as possible and performing the flashiest of miracles. He could have been loud and boisterous and in-your-face. But He didn’t.

I love the fact that He spent an entire afternoon talking with one social outcast woman at a well. I love that Jesus knew her, not for the Instagram-worthy version of herself she gave everyone else, but for the real her. He knew every shameful part of her life, and yet He met her there. And He didn’t run away. He just offered her living water, speaking of her failed marriages as simply something in her life, not something that defined her life.

And that’s the love of God. It’s the kind of love that will cross every social barrier to meet you where you are and offer you living water. It will look into the dirtiest parts of your life and cover them up. Jesus, in how He lived His life, showed us just how much God loves us.

And just like He met the woman at the well, He wants to meet you.

(scripture taken from John chapter 4)

For God So Loved The World

For God So Loved The World

“For God so loved the world, that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.”

John 3:16

John tells the story of a man named Nicodemus.

The Bible says he was a ruler of the Jews, which means he was the kind of guy that was always in church. In fact, he wasn’t just in church, he was the head honcho of the church. Very religious. Always reading the Bible.

And yet, the irony of Jesus’ life is that it was the church-goers that didn’t feel a need to know Him at all. Jesus once said that He didn’t come to call the healthy, but the sick. He didn’t come to hang out with the self-righteous church goers, but the messy street people. And that’s exactly what He did.

And yet Nicodemus was curious. John tells us that he approached Jesus by night. He was too embarrassed to admit his desire to know Jesus in front of all of his church buddies, and so he tracked Him down after the sun had set.

“Teacher, we know that you come from God, for no one can do these signs that you do unless God is with him.” Nicodemus said, surely recounting the conversations his church friends had had in the tabernacle earlier that day or week, pondering who this guy Jesus was and how He was turning water into wine.

I don’t know what Nicodemus was expecting Jesus to say, but like always Jesus blows him away by the words that come out of his mouth:

“Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the Kingdom of God… For God so loved the world, that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.”

 

John doesn’t tell us how Nicodemus reacted, but there is no doubt that he was surprised. He had to have been. He was a religious man, and his whole life he had studied the Law – what he should or shouldn’t do, and yet Jesus says nothing of the sort. He doesn’t meet Nicodemus with a list of rules or a pep talk to “do better”.

Instead, Jesus talks about rebirth. And sacrificial love. And life.

And that’s the gospel. It’s the fact that when each and every one of us approaches Jesus in our secret heart, in the comfort of the night, hidden from everyone waiting to judge us, we aren’t given condemnation. John doesn’t tell us that Jesus told Nicodemus off for hiding from his friends, or not knowing what to say. It only tells us that Jesus told him the extent of His love, and that he can be born again. He can start anew.

Because we need to know that. Each and every one of us. God loves us so much that He would send His Son on a rescue mission to find us in our darkest nights.

And later we will learn that Jesus, God’s very Son, would die to prove His love. He would die to take our death, so that we would never doubt how much God loves us.

(scripture taken from John chapter 3)

The Beginning of Belief

The Beginning of Belief

“So we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us.”

1 John 4:16

One of the very first stories John writes about Jesus takes place at a wedding.

We know from yesterday that this man named Jesus started walking around and asking people to follow Him, and that John was a fisherman when he himself was called. I don’t know about you, but if some random person I had never met came by my office one day and told me to drop everything and follow him… well, I wouldn’t.

And yet John did. And the Bible tells us that 11 other guys were also chosen and called by Jesus. I can imagine them all meeting each other for the first time, having no idea what they were getting themselves into. I can only assume that they perceived that it was something great.

John says that the next day they were all invited to a wedding, along with Jesus’ mother, Mary. I don’t know exactly what weddings looked like back then, but I can imagine these 12 guys mingling, getting to know each other, taking a seat at a table adjacent to Jesus and His mom.

And then the party ran out of wine. I can see John watching it all unfold, as Mary walked right up to Jesus and said, “They have no wine.”

“What does this have to do with me? My hour has not yet come.” Jesus said.

And yet Mary walked over to the master of the feast and told him to do whatever Jesus said. And John watched as Jesus complied, walked over to the servants and told them to fill the stone water jars they had with water, all of the way to the brim.

After they had done this, Jesus said, “Now draw some out and take it to the master of the feast.”

And when the master of the feast drank the “water” from the jars, it was wine. He called the (surely baffled) bridegroom and gushed about how great the wine was.

And the 12 disciples, these guys that had just met each other, that had just embarked on this new adventure, probably looked at each other and marveled. Who was this guy? Did he just turn water into wine? John recounts that they believed in Jesus that day. They began to believe that Jesus was more than just a normal man, that He was something magnificent.

 

At the end of his gospel, John describes Jesus as doing so many incredible acts that “were every one of them to be written, the world itself could not contain the books” (John 21:25).

Jesus made a lot of incredible claims when He walked the earth. He claimed that He was the light of the world, that He was the way and truth and life, that God loved the world so much that He sent His very son to die so that we don’t have to. And John heard Him make every claim. He was walking beside Jesus, listening to what He had to say.

But anyone can claim things about themselves. Jesus knew people wouldn’t believe that He really was God unless He proved His legitimacy in front of them. And so He did things in front of everyone who crossed His path, things that were miraculous, things we will talk about more later.

But this was His first sign, His first miracle. And the disciples had no idea at the time how much Jesus would do, and how turning water into wine would pale in comparison to everything they would see.

But John recounts this story, this first time He recognized Jesus as something special, the first time he believed that there was something miraculous in his midst.

The loving God Himself.

(scripture taken from John chapter 2)

 

 

That One Guy Named John

That One Guy Named John

So we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us.

1 John 4:16

Sometimes when I read the Bible my mind likes to pretend that it was written by a ghost or a robot or, I don’t know, some disconnected monk somewhere. And I forget that it was written by normal people, just talking about everything they experienced, and how they met God in a way they never planned.

This verse was written by a guy named John, and talks about how somewhere, somehow, he came to know and believe the love that God had for him. I find this intriguing because, well, want to come to know and believe that God loves me. I want to sit down with John and look him in the eye and ask him the entire story, because surely he was just like me. Surely he doubted his lovability, surely he faced hardships, surely the world around him absolutely screamed the opposite claim – that love is earned, not given. That love is conditional. That there is fear in love.

But that’s not what John says. A few sentences after this claim, he then goes on to say that “there is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear”. Ok, scoop that up on a plate and serve me dinner please, because I want that. (Whoops… is it showing that I live in the South now…?)

What in John’s life convinced him so thoroughly that it’s true?

 

I don’t know much about John, and Biblical scholars surely know way more than me, but the Bible tells us that he was a fisherman. And one day, he was sitting in his fishing boat with his brother, James, and their dad. They were mending their nets, as I’m sure they did often, when a man named Jesus walked by and he told them,

“Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.”

Which, honestly, is kind of a weird statement. But the Bible says that John and James left their father immediately to follow Jesus. They vacated their fishing boat and profession and started a brand new life. Just like that.

What was it about Jesus that made them do that?

It must have been the same “thing” about Jesus that caused John, years and years later, to write about how convinced he was that God loved him. The things he experienced while following Jesus changed him forever, and what I believe he experienced above all else is love. He became convinced of the love Jesus had for him, and consequently, the love God had for him because Jesus is God.

And so I believe that the only way to understand how loved we are by God is to understand who Jesus was. Not who our minds make Him out to be, because our minds often lie. But who was Jesus really? What did John see Him do and hear Him say that convinced him of His love? Maybe you’ve read the gospels before, and you assume you know who Jesus is, but I know I need a closer look.

So this month I am going to use John’s gospel as a tool to finding God’s love. Every day, together, we will crack open the stories John tells and look at them from new angles. Not as people sitting in our living rooms reading about them, but as the people who were really there.

And I pray that, by the end of the month, you and I can both come to know and believe the love that God has for us.

You Are Loved

You Are Loved

This February, I need to remember how much Jesus loves me.

 

I first realized my need to understand the depth of God’s love for me early on in this endeavor to move to a new state and do a new thing. I moved to South Carolina last September, and it didn’t take long for me to have a really hard time looking myself in the mirror, the level of self-loathing growing exponentially by the day. Because when you do something really hard, you start to realize all of the really bad things about yourself, and you are absolutely drowning in your inadequacies.

And that bar you set for yourself at some point looms over you, and you fall short. every. day.

The world tells you to practice some self love at this point. You know, do a few sit-ups to make yourself feel better or eat a banana or get a manicure or journal some more. And while these aren’t bad things, the question stood unanswered for me. Am I worth loving? All of this effort to make myself feel better… for what? The journey of my next year loomed dauntingly ahead of me, and I wondered if I could ever get that voice out of my head, the one that reminded me over and over that I never measured up.

 

This series is not about practicing self love. It is not about some self-improvement program that will make you feel better about yourself. And it’s not about being the caliber of person that makes someone want to love you, or being the “kind of person the person you want to marry wants to marry”.

This is about unconditional love. This series is a chance to join me as I learn about how much Jesus loves me. Because at the core of it all, I realized that all I really ever want is to know I’m loved not for what I do, but simply for waking up in the morning and being me, whatever that means today.

And honestly? I haven’t been reading my Bible a lot lately. I think there’s a part of me that fears the kind of Jesus that’s in there, like maybe He’s not as great as everyone says He is. But I want to find out.

So this month of love, this February, I’m going to ask the Bible what it says about a loving God who died for me, and I hope you join me. Because I know Jesus loves me, but I so easily forget, and I start to live like I’m not loved at all.

My prayer is that we would all leave this month with settled hearts and clear minds, not because we took more vitamins or plucked our eyebrows to perfection, but because we realize how loved we are by the One who will never let us down.

Honest Thoughts from a Recent College Grad

Honest Thoughts from a Recent College Grad

I’ve been told that as a writer it’s my job to tell the truth.

Which, of course, I rarely do because it’s terrifying. I can only hope I’m not alone in that. Because I can’t write what somebody else finds true. I can’t transcribe thoughts out of somebody else’s mind. And with every word I type I become more naked in front of you because you know that there is only one way for me to draw emotion on a page. It’s because I’ve felt it, because I’ve been there.

I haven’t written a lot this fall and that’s why. If emotions were an animal then mine would be those bulls that they ride for 8 seconds and then get bucked off. Most days I hardly recognize my own name so how could I possibly fashion 900 words into something comprehensible enough to post on the internet? I’m the young adult who, until a few weeks ago, left her spare car key in her car. And who spent an ungodly amount of money on Tropical Smoothie Cafe in the month of October. And who read an entire Captain Underpants book the other day because my brain can’t seem to handle anything heftier.

But alas, here we are. And you’re reading what I’m writing, so I’m going to try to be honest.

I am terrified of being an adult. Like, can’t see straight most of the time kind of terrified. I was just figuring out how to be a child and next thing I know I’m at my old college buddy’s house and we’re discussing budgeting. Budgeting. Also, I have “old college buddies”. Because I’m done with college.

It seems like a cruel joke sometimes. All our lives, we’re in school. And when we finish at one school, we go to another school. 5th grade to 6th grade. 8th to 9th. Then we’re in college. Freshman, Sophomore, Junior, Senior. And then you’re done. And then next thing you know you’re sitting on your friend’s couch talking about budgeting and you have this powerful urge to either curl up into a ball and cry or run into the front yard and do cartwheels and pretend that none of this “growing up” nonsense exists.

And yet, despite all efforts, two days later you find yourself googling budgeting websites because you really do have to buy a car. And save up for rent on the apartment you’re getting soon. And you sit on your couch, wearing a bath robe and drinking a smoothie, typing numbers and pretending like you have any hint of an idea what you’re doing.

 

A month ago I was in one of my best friend’s wedding. It was beautiful. She was beautiful. And it gathered together all of my favorite people at my favorite place, in my old college town.

The entire gig was over by 2:00. Reception and all. The new bride and her husband ran out the door and drove off and the day was still young for us un-married folk. Me and two of my best girl-friends ended up across the street from the church, warming seats in one of our favorite old coffee shops.

We had been there a million times. Doing homework on a Sunday afternoon. Grabbing cinnamon rolls with our hallways. That one time I sang at an open mic night freshman year. Just being anywhere near that coffee shop makes me feel like I’m home and that everything really is going to be ok. And in that moment, I was so glad to be back in Ohio, if only for a weekend.

My friends and I currently occupy three different states, but for an hour or so we simply occupied the same table. Together again. These faces that filled my college years. Every day, for 1,000 days, eating dinner together, walking the sidewalks of campus and filling each other in on what boy we liked that week. Treating each other’s rooms like our own.

Until, of course, we graduated and were sent off to budget.

But for an hour, we were together again. And I wish I could tell you we laughed and reminisced and tucked our good ole’ college days into convenient pockets of memory in the plushiest parts of our brain. I wish I could say we all confidently left that day in pursuit of our new endeavors, excited and ready to tread our new paths and kick down some doors.

But instead, we cried.

“I don’t mean to be dramatic. But honestly, you guys, these have been the hardest 6 months of my life.”

They were the first words to come out of my friend’s mouth as we grabbed our seats. And I felt myself lean into them. Finally, some honesty. I thought, maybe all this time, I was the only one who had no idea how to do this whole post-college thing. That maybe I was the only one who cried for two months when I started off in my big-new-city because I have never tackled something like this before.

That maybe I was the only one who missed my college friends so much it hurts like a cruel joke that should be over right about now.

But I realized that day. I’m not the only one. We didn’t have any answers for each other. We still have absolutely no flippin’ clue what we’re doing. But we’re not the only ones who have no flippin’ clue what we’re doing. And, in a powerful way, that changes things.

 

I’m back in my South Carolina town for the spring. Pretty much everything about that sentence terrifies me. But, I’m realizing, it terrifies me less than it did in the fall. And that’s pretty cool, I’d say.

It’s not a straight line, this stage of life. It’s a roller coaster, a zig-zag, a house of mirrors, a wrestling match. It’s figuring out a million things about yourself. It’s deciding to read your Bible not because somebody told you to but because you realize you don’t actually get along that well without it. Even though you have a billion questions. It’s about asking those questions and then putting them to bed. It’s about looking yourself in the mirror and not being sure what you see, and just letting that be what it is. You’ll know, in time.

At least, that’s my prayer. For myself. Because these days I’m not always so sure.

But for now, college-grad, just know you’re not alone. Whatever you’re feeling, be sure that I’m feeling it too from my basement bedroom in my new South Carolina town. And I guess that’s the most honest thing I can say right now.

 

 

30 Days of Celebration: Highs and Lows

30 Days of Celebration: Highs and Lows

Day 30. Wow.

Sometimes, it’s hard for me to see the growth I’ve made in certain seasons. Especially one like this, where I feel like a teenage boy going through a growth spurt. So much happens, so many emotions, and sometimes I feel like I’m just going to burst.

Today one of my new friends looked me in the eye and told me straight up, “Maddie, you are so hard on yourself. It literally makes me anxious watching you work through things. You do not have to process all of this right now.” And she was right. I am so hard on myself.

When the reality is, I did it! I made it through my first 3 months in my new city! It’s had moments of goodness, but mostly it was just really hard. But I’m learning that that’s ok. Life is full of highs and lows, and I don’t have to make it what it’s not.

I remember where I was sitting when I first began this series, and I remember how I felt. I feel like I’m drowning these days, but I look back and I was drowning way more back then. Just 30 days ago. And so today I celebrate the fact that I’m drowning a little less then I was back then. I’m learning that it’s ok to celebrate even the smallest things like that. And I’m also learning that it’s ok to feel like I’m drowning a little right now.

It’s ok.

I celebrate what I’ve learned about the highs and lows. I’ve learned that the highs kind of celebrate themselves, but the lows need to be recognized. That’s what I’ve found myself doing during this series. I’ve picked the lows to celebrate because I need to celebrate them. I need to know they’re not all bad. They’re hard, but they’re not always bad.

When I began this series I was sitting at a barstool on a rushed Thursday morning, deciding to start this crazy endeavor mostly because I needed some celebration in my life. I needed it so badly. And so I desperately typed out some words and sprinkled them on me before I ran out the door.

But today, I sit on the couch under the light of the Christmas tree I just put up in my little temporary home. My new friends are coming over in 15 minutes. And I don’t write quite so desperately. I don’t hold on quite so tightly to the way I thought my life was supposed to be. I’m learning to let go. Of expectations, sure. But mostly of understanding.

I don’t need to understand today.

I’ve learned to be my own best friend. To encourage myself. To build myself up. To remind myself that I’m a safe place. Isn’t it crazy how hard it is to be broken, even in front of ourselves?

I’m realizing that I don’t need to process the hectic craziness of the last 3 months. I just don’t need to. I can let go. It’ll process itself on its own time. And tonight, I can have a Christmas party with my new friends. And just be thankful.

Praise God. He is good, all the time.