You’re Not Gonna Get What You Want.

You’re Not Gonna Get What You Want.

I’m at a wedding this weekend.

My oldest brother is getting married to the sweetest, most genuine southern beauty, and my whole family is in the wedding party. There are a million things to get done, of course. Weeks ago things started popping up around the house: chalkboard signs and table arrangements and taupe colored bridesmaid dresses.

Essentially, throwing a wedding is like throwing an incredible huge party, and it’s kind of the best. Granted, there’s a ton to get done, but the reason for it all is arguably the most beautiful ceremony that can occur under the sun.

And so, in a way, I’m engrossed by the most beautiful thing on planet earth right now.

Something strikes me every time I’m a part of something inherently and exponentially beautiful, though. It’s funny, but it’s like all of my problems in life are amplified in a way. Watching others happiness reminds me of my own unhappiness. Meals with family make me think of the moments I am completely alone. It feels like I’m cheating on the more realistic, down to earth sides of my life, like I’m not honoring them in the way they deserve.

This weekend has nothing to do with me. I didn’t choose the color scheme or pick out the dress I’m going to wear. If all goes well, I will go completely unnoticed, entirely overshadowed by the bride and groom. That would be right, that would be good.

And then I will go home, and although a thousand things just changed for the better in their life, everything in mine will stay the same. I will still be recently graduated, unemployed, proud resident of the average sized bedroom in my parent’s upstairs. I don’t need reminding that my life starkly juxtaposes that of the happy couple.

It could be so easy for me to let bitterness win. Because that’s all we want as humans, isn’t it: to get everything we want.

There are a million things the Lord has not handed me as I wished Him to. Or, to put it another way, if I could write my life, I would possess so many things I don’t currently have.

Life, for instance, a plan for my future. A ring on my finger. A straighter nose. A spotless past. An unbreakable heart.

A party, just for me. A husband who vows that he will never leave me. Always be mine.

It’s not hard to think of what I don’t have, especially on weekends like this.

It’s funny, but I thought that the hardest thing about being single would be the loneliness, the forced-independence, the unmet desires, the tumultuous world of dating. I never imagined that the hardest part would be none of those things, but would lie in the party itself.

That the hardest part is rejoicing with those who have what you want.

Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep.

Romans 12:15

Oh, how hard it can be. The Lord asks us to throw our selfish hearts out the window and be more, to harness the Peace of the Spirit in a way we never have before.

Because, you see, the Lord may be one who takes away, but He is also a God of giving, and one who gives abundantly, more than we can ever ask for.

He has withheld so many things I want, and yet has given a million things I never even thought to ask for:

the ability to walk someone through a panic attack

an internship working with underprivileged kids

an incredible, humongous, loving family

sister in laws

a vibrant, living, consistent group of girls to live with during college

a story, one that is more broken than I wanted

and an ability to weep with those who weep, though I still have work to do with the other half of the verse.

 

Because our God might take away what we think we wanted, but He will surely give us what we need. More than that, what we never could have imagined needing.

But He knows.

And this weekend, there is no room for wishing, for if only I would open my eyes I would see, that I have never been in want. Not truly.

Not ever.

 

So I can go downstairs and play card games with my family, and I can laugh, and I can let it be all that it is supposed to be for me. Because it’s a gift, all of it. And if I let the blessings grow to size, there won’t be any room for anything else.

And that’s right. That’s true. That’s today, exactly as it’s meant to be.

 

God Isn’t Who You Think He Is.

God Isn’t Who You Think He Is.

I never considered myself a theologian.

I mean, those people are like probably really smart and have long beards and write books that end up stocked in the “Religion” section of Barnes N Noble. And I was… well, a white, middle-class, 16 year old girl who donned a cheerleading skirt on the weekends and drove a Jetta to her public high school every weekday.

So I never thought I formed much of an opinion about God. I mean, God is God. Right? He’s just… God. The Untouchable one, the Creator of the world. Being raised a pastor’s kid, I knew every adjective under the sky for the Big Man Upstairs, and I had been raised speaking fluent Christianese. I knew what to wear to church, what to say at church, what to do at church, that I should GO to church.

And it was all good, and I wouldn’t have it any other way, but I have begun to realize that it all created an identity for God in my mind that has nothing to do with God at all.

I believe that one of the biggest influencers of our relationship with God is our relationship with the world. This shouldn’t come as a shock to you, of course. How many times have people been turned off from God because of pain in their life? Losing a loved one? Seeing how people treat each other? We correlate how the world treats us with how God must be treating us because, after all, He controls all things, doesn’t He?

Growing up, the world was one of my best friends. I know that may sound weird, but it worked with me. It held me up, gave me what I thought I needed. I had a clean bill of health, a living and well family, dinner on the table, a prominent position in my social groups, friends… I began to trust that this world would keep it up. I honestly remember thinking that other people suffer, but I never would. Surely if I made it to 18 without anything, I’m good to go, right?

And the theologian in me began to tell God who He was. He was the God that would make all of it happen for me, who would walk me through life without a scratch. He was my “buddy”, my patron saint, the one who would make things good for me in this life.

And oh, how I wish I could tell myself, all those years ago, that God was nothing like I imagined.

Because none of it came true. Life in college did not go by easily, I was not given everything I wanted, I did not come out without a scratch. So many dreams shriveled up and died right in front of me, and I had to learn how to grieve them. So many desires went ridiculously unmet, and I had to learn how to soothe them. The world seemed so against me all of a sudden.

The worst of all were the ghosts. The world didn’t have a lot of leverage on me growing up, but now it did. Memories that wouldn’t go away, lies that I believed for too long, beliefs that would pop up and follow me around. Things people said and did that hurt me more than I thought I could be hurt, and I can forget it when days are good, but once the pain hits they all come haunting back.

And you know what? It made me mad, really mad. Because to some, being hurt by the world is a given, and they learn that early on. The world is a messed up place.

But to me, it seemed a personal betrayal. I had trusted this world, believed that it wouldn’t hurt me, and it did.

The world hurt me… and in my mind God did too.

You see, I never saw myself as a theologian, but I have always been one. My whole life, I have formed opinions about God and decided who He was as regards to who He had been to me. He was good to me, therefore He was good.

But now I know that it doesn’t work that way, and if I could go back and tell myself one thing, this would be it.

God is good, always. This world is fallen, this world will hurt me, but God is good.

God is love, and His love stretches far beyond giving me everything I want. He loves me enough to take it all away, like a forest fire through the trees, clearing it out in a painful blaze so that something new can grow.

God is just, and I deserve His wrath. Every day, that ridiculous pride I’ve carried around is thrown off a bit more and I begin to see, clearer and clearer, Jesus in front of me, taking that wrath in my place. And I am standing, only in the shadow of His pain.

I have learned that sometimes God leads us through fire so that somewhere down the road some fire-scorched human being can take solace in our experiences. I have learned that He did not call us to ease, but to cross-bearing. To suffering. And our sufferings aren’t even for us all of the time, but they are for other people, tools that make us useful in loving those people.

And that my theologian’s mind may try and define the God who made it all, but even my most off-base definition can’t change Him. He is God, and I am not.

He is to be worshiped, and I am not.

He will never change, no matter how much I do.

And He is love – no matter how much this world hurts me, He never will.

I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear,

but now my eye sees you.

Therefore I despise myself,

and repent in dust and ashes.

Job 42:5-6

 

 

 

 

Dealing With Mind-Fatigue

Dealing With Mind-Fatigue

My mind does this thing when I’m overwhelmed: it shuts off.

I’m not brain dead, of course. I can still brush my teeth and make a pb&j. But it becomes numb, in light of the stress and anxiety, to the point where I walk through my day and don’t remember much of it when I lay my head down at night.

It’s a coping mechanism, really. Have you been there? When the fear and anxiety are just too much and so you opt to shut your mind and emotions off instead of feeling them. I didn’t realize I was doing it until it had become a habit in my life, and by that point the mind fatigue and emptiness were almost as painful as the anxiety itself.

I don’t have much wisdom on this topic, to be honest. But I do have thoughts. Thoughts on my fellow over-thinkers and feelers, and maybe a few tips on how to live within a mind that works overtime for no pay.

 

I’ve always been a feeler. I cry during movie trailers and get sucked into hilarious YouTube videos because I’m laughing like a maniac. It’s up or down for me. Not a lot of grey.

So my ups are great, but my downs… they can be pretty painful. My thoughts and emotions can be so difficult to deal with that, without realizing it, my mind goes into survival mode and learns how to feel nothing at all. Which, in the midst of crippling anxiety, is reasonable, but what about when the anxiety is over? Where is life when your mind is numb?

Maybe you’re like me, and you’re ready for something else. Mind fatigue is a pain, but it is not unbeatable. I’ve learned a few tips and tricks along my journey that help me be present, in the moment, and clear-headed.

  1. Give yourself grace. This one’s important. If you are dealing with mind-fatigue, it is because your mind is fatigued. It’s tired. It’s had a long go. Whatever it is for you, your journey put your mind under a lot of strain and it had to fight hard in the moment, and now it’s simply pooped. Allow yourself to be human and give yourself some grace. It’s ok. What your mind is doing is simply its own way to get you through your current season.
  2. Prioritize. Prioritize. Prioritize. After my season of deep anxiety, I was so frustrated that I couldn’t just use my mind the way I used to. It would zone out if I tried to read too much or do too many things. The more busy my planner was, the more “out of it” my mind was. So I have learned: skinny down your schedule. What is most important to you? Do it. Then add one more thing to your schedule (to keep life interesting), and be done. Don’t try to do everything you used to do before your mind was so tired. You won’t be able to, and it will only frustrate you. Prioritize what is most important, and do only that.
  3. Focus on physical health. It is incredible what exercise can do for a tired mind. It brings it back to life, breathes vibrancy into it. If you’re not an exerciser, I challenge you to learn to get a sweat on during this time. Exercising releases endorphins, which literally gives your mind and emotions a little “happy kick”. Even if you don’t have much time, and have to sit down and write a paper, do jumping jacks for a minute first or hold a wall-handstand for as long as you can. Just that little amount of exercise can go a long way in clearing your head. And to go along with exercise, eating well can do wonders to your mind. You feel good, and real food gives your mind the ability to work better.
  4. Schedule it out. Something that really helped me rest my mind was writing out a detailed schedule of my day, focusing on what has to get done first, and then actually writing in rest times, or “free-time”, so that I am guaranteed some rest for my mind, which is such a crucial element to overcoming mind-fog. It may sound a little silly, and you won’t have to keep the schedule forever, but for a short amount of time it is great because you don’t have to waste your precious mind-juice on figuring out what you’re going to do next. You can just focus on what you’re doing, in the moment.
  5. Let yourself rest. This one is so crucial. Your mind is tired, so give it the rest it needs. Don’t feel like a failure for shutting your eyes and allowing your mind to get some much needed R&R. This doesn’t have to include sleeping, but instead can be “mind-naps”. I have learned to love audio-books because I am able to lay down and close my eyes and listen to a story without the strain of reading it, which usually makes my brain pretty tired. Another great “mind-nap” is yoga, which gets a good stretch and allows you to be quiet. Mind-naps are a time to simply purposefully give your mind less stimuli to deal with and let it heal up a bit.

 

If you are dealing with mind fatigue, remember that it is ok. Your mind is just telling you that you’re doing too much and telling it to do too much. Slim down your schedule. Get some rest. Think a little bit less. Exercise more.

And be patient with yourself. Over time, it will heal.

Not Just Another Singleness Post

Not Just Another Singleness Post

I was tempted to celebrate Singleness Awareness Day with some sort of witty post like,

“The Top 10 Reasons Why Singleness Is A Blessing”

or

“Don’t Wish Away These Years”

or something along the lines of “DON’T YOU DARE BE SAD TODAY”.

But I don’t feel like it. Partly because I woke up this morning and completely forgot it was Valentine’s Day, and partly because there is something that matters so, so much more than romance. Yes, even today.

Everyday.

Do you know what I woke up this morning thinking? “God, please help me have a clear head today. Give me good time in your word, and give me peace in your promises.”

I have been suffering through stress headaches like crazy. After four years of college, I allowed myself to overload my schedule like a mad-woman and it took a serious toll on my brain. Suddenly, senior year hit and I couldn’t handle it all anymore. The whole “fight the good fight of business” thing just didn’t make any sense to me anymore.

And it began to take a toll on me physically. Nothing hit me worse than my sudden inability to be present, in the moment. My head would begin to “short-circuit” when in big crowds or faced with a long reading assignment. I had simply given it far too much to worry about and face for these past 4 years, and it was finally so sick and tired of it all.

And it began, in its own special way, to say to me, “Maddie, stop. Slow down. Rest.”

So that’s what I thought about as I awoke today. And I realized that nothing, not even a dozen red roses, would make me happier than finding rest in the promises of the Lord today. I realized that my prayers lately have had absolutely nothing to do with men and instead have had everything to do with health. My health. My mind and thoughts and utter exhaustion.

And the realization that nothing will give me that rest and healing but intimacy with my Lord.

And so this morning, I thought of Him.

 

This is not just another singleness post because I don’t want to talk about singleness.

I want to talk about God.

You know, we try so hard to convince ourselves that things matter more than Him. Especially on Valentine’s Day.

But I’m here to say, in echo of the Bible, that nothing does. 

I don’t care if the love of your life gets down on his knee tonight and pops out a rock the size of a small boulder, it still doesn’t matter more than knowing God.

I think of Philippians 3:8:

Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For His sake, I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ.

Can we just sit here for a minute?

Don’t fall into the trap of thinking that Paul, in some way, enjoyed the humiliation of himself in light of Jesus. In fact, just verses before, he brags about who he used to be.

If anyone else thinks he has reason for confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless.

Beneath all of those million-dollar christianese words, Paul is basically saying:

“I HAD IT GOING FOR ME.”

He was prideful, the top of his class. The AP student of the Jewish high school he attended.

And then Jesus came into his life, and you know what happened?

In humanly standards, his life completely and utterly fell apart.

Five times I received at the hands of the Jews the forty lashes less one.

Three times I was beaten with rods.

Once I was stoned.

Three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I was adrift at sea; on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from robbers, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers; in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hinger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure.

And yet, what? 

“Indeed I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.”

 

Can I take stab here and point our that Jesus doesn’t owe us anything? We are entitled to absolutely nothing. I don’t care how many years you’ve patiently waited and slowly but surely become “the kind of person that the person you want to marry wants to marry”.

All that we have is because of Grace. Common grace that makes the sky blue and grass green, and saving grace that holds our souls fast and allows us to say “It is well”. Have we done anything to earn it?

No.

Do you know what I hope captivates your heart and mind today, this February 14th? Grace. Whether you are married with 5 kids or single as a Pringle, I hope that you are captivated by Grace.

I hope that you consider all a loss compared to knowing Jesus. I hope that you celebrate your intimacy with the One who loves your soul.

Happy Valentine’s Day.

Fighting for “No”

Fighting for “No”

We are a nation of exhausted people.

Celebrating exhaustion, sympathizing with exhaustion. It’s almost a game: who can fit the most into their day? Ask someone how they’re doing: “Tired.” As a college student, it’s standard for classmates to be asleep at their desk, zombie-ing their way through the day.

It’s a culture.

As I write this, lounging out on my lumpy dorm-room futon, I feel sleep itch the corners of my eyes. Sunday afternoon, time for a nap. Standard. Because I just have so much to do: not only classwork, but fundraising for an upcoming trip, a bible study to lead, a blog post to write (ha). Sleep comes in the wake of all that lies ahead, collapsed on the most convenient plush surface, not in the dead of night, when it is meant to.

It’s backward.

And I’m tired of being tired. I’m tired of identifying myself by what I do, elevating my humanity with every stroke on my planner.

Go, go, go.

It’s what we do, at least in the university realm. The more work you have, the more you talk about it. The more you talk about it, the more you identify with it. Who are you apart from what you accomplish in your studies? Or accomplish on the soccer field? What time could you possibly give to stillness and rest when there is simply so much to do?

It’s a message in priorities. When I began college, I prioritized friendship, involvement, adventure. So I never said no to a social outing, joined as many clubs and activities as I could. As each year went by, something new painted my calendar, weekly meetings and intramural sports and hall bible studies. One on one lunches, hanging out with kids on weeknights at church. Spontaneity died, for I could not afford it. I walked the thin line between juggling and dropping the life I had created for myself.

Health forbid. I was shocked into reality this year when I began to schedule my cries. Every Wednesday, before heading off to be a small group leader at kids church, I would spend my hour break beforehand on my knees, tears parading out of my tired, baggy eyes.

“I don’t understand.” I would say to God. “I love these kids so much, so why is it tearing me apart?” 

I don’t like to admit that I’m human. I don’t like being limited, don’t like saying “No”.

Scratch that, I don’t know how to say “No”.

Why aren’t we taught? Every time we say “Yes” to one thing, we say “No” to another. There is only so much every one of us can do until we work ourselves into an exhaustion-induced coma. Breathing, checking boxes, but where is the life?

I suppose this post is a plea, on your behalf, for the rest you so desperately need. I wish somebody had told me that more, more, more actually meant being so much less than who I actually am. I get so rushed and busy that I stop being the essential parts of myself. I become anxious and spacey and sarcastic, when I know that just beneath the exhaustion there is the real me, the fun and understanding and present me, just trying to find a way out of the life I created.

I’ve begun to practice saying “No”. I’m no expert, but let me say: It’s not as scary as we think. In general, people are actually understanding. People tend to respect a person with priorities.

So what are yours? I was challenged this year to think through mine, and was shocked to realize that they didn’t line up with the life I was living at all. I prioritized intimacy with God, and health, and yet both of those things were being pushed aside for all of the billion things I had to do.

When our priorities are imbalanced, so are we.

The Bible is chalk-full of God pleading with us to just be quiet already. I think my favorite example is one of Elijah in 1 Kings 19. He had just come from a mountain-top experience, praying to God for fire to rain down from Heaven. Challenging the prophets of Baal, living to the full his faith in the God of Israel.

But it was not enough.

Just following this time of extreme faith, Elijah walks out into the desert and lies alone and literally falls into a deep depression, asking God to take him away. He fell asleep, and God sent angels to feed him and let him rest.

Then they fed him again, and then let him rest.

And then finally God began to speak to him, but His words were not in the the wind.

And His words were not in the earthquake.

Nor the fire.

But in the whisper, soft, only heard by those who were listening.

I want to live a life that hears God in the whisper. I want to live a life where, everyday, I can breathe and think and just be. I am learning that just because something is good, and I would like to do it, and I would be good at it, doesn’t mean it should be a part of my life. Our commitments should never steal away our lives.

A friend of mine recently shared her fear that, without all of the things that she does, she will miss out on life. And I told her: those things aren’t where you find it.

Life is found in the quiet morning hours, coffee in hand, fog settling over the ground outside, bible on the kitchen table. It is found when you just go for a walk, with no destination. Found when you sit on your favorite bench and allow yourself to just be a human being, watching others human beings go about their day. It is found when you read a really good book. Or eat dinner with friends and laugh the whole time.

It is found when you let yourself cry. Or laugh really loud. When you eat a mouth-watering meal, or just a perfectly ripe apple.

And that’s what I’m fighting for, one “No” at a time.

Peace Without Understanding

Peace Without Understanding

If you are going to be used by God,

He will take you through a multitude of experiences

that are not meant for you at all,

they are meant to make you useful in His hands.

Oswald Chambers

I’m not a good runner, never have been.

In middle school, I joined the cross country team for a season. I can’t to this day tell you why other than the fact that I seemed to have a self-inflicted desire to try every sport I was terrible at that year, basketball and track included. (I made the B-team in basketball, but only because the amount of 8th grade girls interested made up two teams.)

I was just about the slowest runner on our team. Slow, but committed. We would show up to practice after school, be told to run 2 1/2 miles around the town, given the route, and set off. I would watch all of the skinny legged girls, keeping in shape during the off season of soccer, fly away, and I can truly tell you that no fiber in my body believed I could do what they did.

I told you: I’m not a good runner.

But, even in my small, 14 year old mind, I knew that there was value in finishing, slow and well. In keeping pace and not stopping, no matter how slow that pace was. And so I did: I would choose a ridiculously slow tempo and begin my jog, and I would finish without stopping, dead last.

I distinctly remember one time my coach, during our post-practice huddle (80% of the kids already dried off and cooled down), pointing my sweaty self out and using me as an example of determination and strength, in how I never stopped running, now matter how slow I went.

In other words, she was saying, “She’s terrible, but hey, at least she’s committed.”

Which, in reality, summed it up pretty well.

Over the years, running has meant different things to me. In high school, I would make my way around the neighborhood to stay sprightly during dry weeks of cheerleading. (Never exceeding a mile and a half, of course. Distance running, to my body, was like asking a toy poodle to push a shopping cart.) I’ll admit there were many times I laced up just to shed a few calories, fit into the size-2 standards of our age. It worked pretty well until my body realized that it was going to bear children one day and size 2 quickly became size 8: a body not meant to be thin but strong.

But I truly believe, more than anything else, what has kept me on the streets, pumping music through my ears and pavement under my feet, is what happens after the run is over. When I take the headphones out and feel the sweat sticking to me in places it really never should. That has always been the greatest time for me to think.

I’m a thinker (and an over-thinker). I crave to understand why and when and how. I’m that person you see walking down the street talking, out loud, to no one. And over the years I have discovered that when the endorphins kick in, my brain does its best work. I begin to be able to see my life in a new light, fitting pieces together and putting them where they belong, tetris-style in their designated boxes.

And by the time I got home, everything was where it belonged and I found rest in my understanding of it all.

 

My theory worked great until my life began to be invaded by things that didn’t fit.

I believe our minds have boxes. (And this may be my inner psychology-major coming to the surface.) We have certain ideas of the way things are supposed to go and the boxes they are supposed to fit in. And when we are small, or untouched by trauma, things fit pretty well into our small amount of bins.

Family.

Friends.

School.

Check. Check. Check.

Things fit. Things make sense.

Then you grow up. New boxes: Romance. College. Marriage. Kids. Health.

If things fit, then we have peace. Things are the way they are “supposed to be”. (In our human minds, at least.)

 

Yet what happens when something touches our lives that doesn’t fit? Cancer. Depression. Death of a loved one. Chronic pain. A break up. What then happens to the peace when things begin swirling around in our heads and hearts, finding no place to rest in our pre-made boxes?

Is there no hope for peace?

Last month this was brought to mind during (haha) a run on the treadmill. I couldn’t find peace, hadn’t been able to for months and months because I couldn’t fit things into their boxes. Being 22 and all of the craziness that comes with it, the scars that developed during my time at college, the hurts that don’t make sense.

But God spoke to my fast-beating heart:

Making it fit is not the answer. The answer is accepting that it doesn’t.

I realized that we won’t always understand why things happen to us, and that’s ok. That is one thing that makes us so different from God: He knows. We don’t.

And that’s ok.

I can find peace in His promises, not in my circumstances. Joy in His certainties, not in my emotions. He asks us to trust Him. Why? Because He knows that we won’t always get it.

So I have a new fight, one of trust. A new resignation: that I may not know why until I stand before Him.

And a new song, one of peace without understanding. Praise you, God.

To The One Happy to Kiss 2017 Behind

To The One Happy to Kiss 2017 Behind

“You’re not alone”, she says to me, warming me with her presence and comforting words as I sit in front of her in tears.

It’s the week before my senior year of college, and my Resident Director and I sit in the corner of a room to pray for the year ahead of us. As a Resident’s Assistant, I arrived early on campus to undergo a week of training, and to say it left me weary would be an understatement. Hours of training and little amounts of sleep will do that to you, but for me it had been more.

I came into the week weary.

So when my RD asked me how she could pray for me, the tears cascaded from my eyes, uninhibited, urged on by the amount of pressure built up in my head.

“I had… a hard year,” I began, urged on by her understanding look, comforted by the fact that she knew my story, “and I allowed it to build up in me false beliefs about myself, lies that are so far from the truth,” breathe,” but they follow me like a dark… cloud…” Wiping from underneath my eyes, choking back a sob. “And it’s exhausting…”

It’s exhausting. It’s exhausting to forget what God says about me. It’s exhausting to make Him small.

It’s exhausting to try and make everything in my life fit into my little box of “OK”, even when it doesn’t.

That moment was one of many, cherry-topping the season of confusion and doubt and humiliation I had lived.

This past year has been hard for me, the hardest of my life. I’m not afraid to say that. I allowed Satan to grab hold of my vulnerabilities, I allowed him to make me scared. And anxious. And that anxiety led me to doctors and anti-depressants and prescriptions and suddenly sadness was depression and depression was sadness and I couldn’t figure out which was which and what was up and what was down.

And I began to take everything anyone said about me, anything that happened to me, and put it on my own shoulders, let it fill in the dotted line under “identity”.

I’ve learned something about things that happen to us. They tempt us. They tempt us to believe things about ourselves that simply aren’t true. And those beliefs grow into thoughts and those thoughts grow into patterns and suddenly the only voice we hear is the one that brings us down.

This December, the year is unfolding before me more than ever before.

2017.

The year I turned 22. The year I started my senior year of college. The year I ran a 10k. The year I laughed my eyes out and finally put a futon in my dorm room. And the year I cried more than ever before, doubted more than ever before, felt deep sadness more than ever before.

Which will win?

It baffles me that sometimes I want the sadness to win. Or, maybe “want” is not the right word here. Allow, maybe? One thing I have learned: it is so much easier to let Satan steal the show. It’s natural, isn’t it? To follow the sin nature and darkness that is in our own hearts?

It is a rebellious act to follow Jesus Christ with your life. Rebellious and gutsy. It takes courage to wake up day after day and say “Yes, Jesus, I will fight the sin inside of me.” Or, more accurately, live in the victory that is already ours. The addiction or the anger or the deception and lies that our tender hearts believe.

Author Shauna Niequist once said, “Bittersweet is the idea that in all things there is both something broken and something beautiful”.

Bittersweet. In all things there is shattered glass and a rainbow of light reflected colors.

Nothing describes my year better than that. I sit here, nearing the end of it, and I am baffled to know that I wouldn’t change a single moment. In all of its hardships and tears and acne and pounds gained and tests barely passed. Because I am learning that life is so much more than Instagram-worthy years and bullet-points on my resume.

This past week, I attended my grandmother’s 95th birthday party. Let me say right now, nothing will give your 22 year old heart a reality check like hearing the tear-felt prayers of a woman who has left the years of youth behind her, and who holds the secret to what is real and true in this life. My family, her children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren, sat in a circle around her. And we watched her eyes well up and listened as she named each one of us, in turn, and simply said that she prayed for each of us everyday.

And there was nothing small about it. She knew: it is what matters most.

I realized more than ever that I don’t want to be indoctrinated by this world. It tells me so many things: I must be successful, physically fit, married, happy (always happy). It puts no value on the quiet strength of the heart and still voice of prayer. It sees no point in hours spent on knees. And sometimes, I don’t either.

But as 2018 comes closer, I realize that my heart has a lot more growing to do. And, in a twisted and crazy way, I ask for a year as dynamic as this one. Because I want to know my Lord, and I won’t see Him in the comfortable version of Christianity I have created for myself.

I hope that I can begin to see, more and more, that the bittersweet is just as much bliss as it is pain. And what would life be without the pinch?

Who would I be without the pain?

I urge you, fellow wish-away-er, to think. Who would you be without it all? What matters most to you, and should it?

To you women, what do you want a man to see in you? An ignorantly “happy” person who knows God as the flannel-graph version of himself from your 3rd grade Sunday school? Or do you want to know the Lord, your Lord and Savior, from grit and sweat and life? Do you want your “adorning to be the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit”? (1 Peter 3:4)

I propose that wrinkled faces and bruised knees are more beautiful than we have been taught.

I mourn the prosperity gospel of this age, for it makes us think there is something wrong when hardships come. May we all have more 2017’s. May we, the bruised and beaten, celebrate it all. May we rush out of our “prisons”, dancing and celebrating, as the apostles did, overjoyed to be counted worthy to suffer for the sake of Christ, who gave it all for us.

May my heart be so molded as to rejoice in it all. And may yours, too.

May we embrace 2018 and all that it will bring. May we pray more than we ever have before, and may we cultivate beauty in ourselves that is undefiled and imperishable, precious in the sight of God.