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.

30 Days of Celebration: Riding the Waves

30 Days of Celebration: Riding the Waves

It’s not easy to change basically everything about your life, but it’s also not all bad.

It’s interesting, I’ve seen in myself, what happens when outer change gives permission for inner change. Sometimes, when you’re always in the same place with the same people, your heart and mind desire changes but you stay the same because everything around you stays the same. Maybe you don’t feel like you have permission to change, that the people who have known you forever won’t understand. And so, you fight the change inside of you because you don’t know how to become a new person walking the same old streets.

But when your circumstances change, and the faces you see every day change, suddenly you change. You don’t even mean to, it just happens naturally, probably because your heart has been begging for reforms for so long but you just didn’t let it.

But last night, I sat around a small table in a Mexican restaurant downtown in my new city with three new friends, beautiful ladies with hearts of gold. And I thought about how crazy it was that these girls didn’t know me from Adam three months ago, and I didn’t know them. We all have vastly different stories, and only by God’s perfect plan are we even in each other’s lives, did we end up eating tacos together on a Wednesday night in November.

And I found myself saying things that I never thought I would be allowed to say, like a prisoner finally set free. Saying things about my doubts and my fears and my vast imperfections that have always been there but been afraid to show their faces. But I said these things because I knew that I was allowed to, and I marveled because I was loved in the eyes of those around me.

I was accepted, not for who I’ve always pretended to be, but for who I actually am. This move did something to me, and I no longer could put on a face. I literally have not had the energy. The first month I was here, I just cried. All. The. Time. And I desperately wanted these new people in my life to understand me, to know the “real” me, to see who I was in college.

But now I see that they know the most real version of me, and what I usually give people is a fake. I don’t actually have my life together, I can’t actually find humor in everything. Some things just break my heart, and make me doubt a good God, and send me reeling, lost. Sometimes I forget my own name and lack confidence in every single way. I doubt my worth, and my value, and believe lies.

But I have a good Shepherd, and this sheep leans into that and follows His voice among the darkness and confusion. And some days, that’s all I have.

 

So today I celebrate the change, and the person it is making me. It’s terrifying. Overwhelming. But I know it’s good.

I read once that change is kind of like waves in the ocean, that if you try to stand up to them, you’ll be knocked down in an instant. But if you ride them, if you go with the flow, you’ll be OK. In fact, it’s kind of fun. But it takes trust. I have to trust that there really is a good God who really does have the best in store for me. I have to trust that the faith I had when I moved to South Carolina three months ago still applies today, that this really is where I’m supposed to be.

That these changes really are for my good. That these waves really will bring me to the right place.

30 Days of Celebration: Coffee Creamer

30 Days of Celebration: Coffee Creamer

It’s not a properly lived morning if I don’t smell the coffee creamer.

I’m a 23 year old white girl, so coffee creamer in my world comes in all different scents. Vanilla (the classic), hazelnut, pumpkin spice (what what), peppermint mocha. This morning it was creme brulee. (I know, I know. Cringe.)

But I have to admit, it’s one of my simple joys. Before I pour it into my mug, I just have to take a whiff. My vanilla creamer always smelling like Lucky Charms marshmallows, and if that’s not a good start to my morning, I don’t know what is.

Smelling coffee creamer is kind of life taking a huge, tasty stretch the moment you wake up, or wearing your favorite pair of jeans, or doing cartwheels. It’s just an inherently wonderful thing, at least if you ask me. (I know cartwheels aren’t for everyone.) I love inherently wonderful things.

Long runs, freshly painted nails, a brand new book, a really old book, yellow leaves, hugs from friends, honest conversations, pasta, Christmas music, presents, laughter, a new pen, baby feet.

Golden hour, stupid YouTube videos, soft blankets, picture books, straightened hair, conversations around the dinner table, dancing, more dancing, playing the piano, campfires, board games with family.

These are my simple joys. Some of them. And today, I celebrate them.

30 Days of Celebration: Good Books and Great Authors

30 Days of Celebration: Good Books and Great Authors

Is there really anything better than a good novel?

I mean, really.

I just, love stories. I love stupid stories, I love sappy stories, I love sad stories. When I was in middle school, I would read at least a book a week, always caught up in a story. Granted, they were all about vampires and 12 year-olds falling in love, but all the best books are, right?

For some reason, in the season, I stopped reading. I didn’t mean to. I guess I figured I didn’t have time for it. And, to be fair, when you spend 98% of your day worrying and freaking out about the future, you don’t have time for ridiculous things like having fun or doing something you love.

But when I was home for Thanksgiving, I picked up a book, and it kind of felt like coming home. Books have so often been my home, and my closest friend. There was a time when I wouldn’t leave home without my novel, and I was never not in one. Ever. I felt naked without having a story to fantasize about and characters to root for. And every chance I got, I would jump back into the story, nose in the book, completely oblivious to the things around me.

I like thinking about how God wrote the story of my life, like the very best novel. And I like to think about how He reads it from Heaven, every day, and He smiles because He knows the good parts and the ending and He’s not afraid of it the way I am. Hard seasons seem pointless until I remember that any author worth their salt writes conflict into the story. No one would read a book where nothing ever changes, and no character development ever happens. And God’s worth His salt. So He writes those things into my story.

What makes it hard is that we can’t flip the the last page. We can only live the one we’re on, and we simply have to trust the One who knows things that we don’t. But, really, all we have to trust is that our Author wrote a good story. One made especially for you and for me. I think celebration, in its essence, is just realizing that. It’s being thankful to be in the story.

Just like the characters in your favorite novel. You read on because you want to see what happens next. Why don’t we live our stories with that same eager expectation? I really think it’s because we don’t trust that anyone good is writing it.

But the Bible says that every day of our lives were written in God’s book before one of them happened. Man, if I could actually grasp that in my heart. Would’t that be something. Wouldn’t that change the way I saw everything?