30 Days of Celebration: Tree Farms and Traditions

30 Days of Celebration: Tree Farms and Traditions

I come from a live Christmas tree kind of family.

This means that every year, usually the day after Thanksgiving, we load up the mini van and head out to the Christmas tree farm. And we walk around all the trees and choose the best of the best of all the Douglas Firs. And we load it up, on the roof of our car, bring it home, and listen to the Steven Curtis Chapman Christmas album as we hang our extremely home-made ornaments complete with macaroni hot-glued onto pictures of us in 3rd grade.

Today is no exception. And the traditions remind me of the great story written for me, the one I don’t deserve, but one that begs for celebration.

And today, after a bumpy season of transition in so many ways, the tradition is especially powerful to my heart. And though I’m tempted to question it and wonder why I was given so much when so many have so little, I am reminded over and over that it’s ok to just take it for what it is. It’s ok to laugh with my siblings, to take pictures with my sister, to enjoy the day given to me.

And so today, I drink hot chocolate and watch Elf with the people that mean the most to me, and I draw the line at anything short of celebration. It’s not my job to understand. It’s my job to celebrate.

Sometimes, I get really caught up in everything I can’t control or change, and therefore wonderful realities and gifts are overlooked because I’m so caught up by my lack of control. But I’m learning, my lack of control is a gift, because I can’t bear the load. It’s not my job to control things, but to appreciate the way God does.

I asked a mentor of mine recently for one sentence of advice. If she could give me one nugget of wisdom in this season, what would it be? She told me that where I am, whatever season of life and whatever situation I find myself in, to trust the One who brought me there. To trust that He knows what He’s doing, that He really has the best for me.

And that’s what I remember this tree-cutting day. I remember that I’m a part of something bigger than me, and that the Great Author is writing the story. And I rest into that, no matter how impossible it seems at times.

30 Days of Celebration: Rest is Okay

30 Days of Celebration: Rest is Okay

I’m thankful today, on Thanksgiving, after 6 months of absolute insanity in my life, that I don’t have to be anything I’m not.

My mind has literally not been able to keep up with it all, but I’m learning that that’s ok. I didn’t realize, growing up, how much pressure I put on myself all of the time to be a certain version of myself, one that’s capable and goal-driven and gets things done on the daily. These days, I just can’t. It takes all of my energy to transition my entire life to South Carolina, and in the moments of rest I’m just tired. 

But of course I’m tired! I slave-drive myself into thinking that tiring things shouldn’t make me tired, but they do, and that’s ok.

And today I’m thankful that’s it’s ok. It’s ok to need to rest, and it’s ok to rest.

It’s a bit of an act of humility, I’m learning. The world will keep spinning if I take a day to read a novel for fun. Why do I think I can’t?

 

So today I celebrate because I don’t have to take myself too seriously. God just doesn’t require from me what I require from myself. So I can rest, and breathe, and be thankful for the woman I am today, even if she’s not always the person I would choose to be

But he’s already made it plain how to live, what to do,
    what God is looking for in men and women.
It’s quite simple: Do what is fair and just to your neighbor,
    be compassionate and loyal in your love,
And don’t take yourself too seriously—
    take God seriously.

Micah 6:8

30 Days of Celebration: Home

30 Days of Celebration: Home

Home. Today I celebrate home.

After 3 months in South Carolina, the car rolled back into my Pennsylvanian driveway last night. It’s a weird feeling, to come back to your family’s home when you’re making your “own” somewhere else. This in-between time can be so overwhelming at times (ok, pretty much all the time), but now I’m home. And I pray that I can take it all for what it is, not what I expect it to be.

But today, I guess I celebrate the things that don’t change. Same house on the same street in the same town in Pennsylvania. Same grumpy old dog. Same floor lamps and bar stools and bed that I’ve slept in since I was 8. Same crazy family with the same inside jokes, and the same way they always have a way of reminding me of my story, just being near them.

New is good, but old is home. New will become home, over time, but I’m learning that it’s ok that it isn’t yet. It will take time to make my South Carolina town home. More than 3 months, and that’s ok.

But old is familiar, and it helps me breathe and think and laugh in a way that the new can’t all of the time. It helps me figure out how I feel, what parts of my heart are still broken over all the change. What parts of me are changed for the better.

It helps me be honest with God, to cry out as the disciples did in the boat – “Do you not see? Do you not care that we are perishing?” Do you see my broken heart in a new state? And I know He does. Home reminds me of that. Home helps me remember.

 

30 Days of Celebration: Grace for the Exhausted

30 Days of Celebration: Grace for the Exhausted

It’s the day before I head home for Thanksgiving and I am exhausted. 

Actually, I’m not sure that exhausted even covers it. I feel like I “wake up” but a very heavy sheet of rock has covered me and actually I can’t move and it seems all but impossible to get out of bed.

These last three months have been many things. Exciting, new, memorable, challenging. Overwhelming, scary, stretching. But restful has not been one of them.

Rest for my body, sure. But more than anything, rest for my mind. It took me several months to realize just how badly I allowed anxiety and worry to rule my mind, and when they are on the throne there is just no rest. There can’t be. There’s always something to freak out about, to be uneasy about, to work through over and over until it feels like poison and stings to the touch.

Possibly the most interesting discovery of this season has been how critical I am of myself, how I won’t let myself be who I have to be. It took me a while to realize that the constant criticism about how I was adjusting and feeling was coming from no one but me. I became a slave driver with myself, never satisfied by my rate of adjustment.

But today I’m thankful that God doesn’t treat me that way.

The Bible describes me as a sheep, which for a while I took offense to. But on my most sheep-worthy days (AKA, every day lately), I find rest in it. I’m not expected to be anything more than a sheep. Sheep are like the dumbest and least productive animals ever, so if I’m nothing but dumb and unproductive, I’m actually right on track. Which kind of rocks, actually.

Without the faith in a loving God, being a sheep means you’re eaten alive. In a “survival of the fittest” world, being a sheep is deadly. So you have to be a slave driver, you have to strive, you have to somehow be more than you know that you are.

But I woke up this morning, and I literally sat on my bedroom floor with a blanket wrapped around me absolutely certain I could be nothing more than a ridiculously exhausted version of myself. But I’m a sheep, remember? What do you expect?

And I am thankful beyond measure that I have a good Shepherd, one who lays down His life for me, who will fight off the bears and save me. One who came so that I could have life abundantly, so that I can go in and come out and find pasture.

I’ve always loved John 10, but it has taken on an entirely new meaning these days, when my sheep-iness is blindingly obvious. Thank you, Jesus, for being the good Shepherd. I know I need one.

 So Jesus again said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, I am the door of the sheep. All who came before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not listen to them. I am the door. If anyone enters by me, he will be saved and will go in and out and find pasture. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly. I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. He who is a hired hand and not a shepherd, who does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees, and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. He flees because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep. I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep. 

John 10

30 Days of Celebration: Heart Medicine

30 Days of Celebration: Heart Medicine

It’s not even a little bit hard to celebrate today.

My heart still sings as I think back to the last couple of days. I visited my favorite little town in Ohio, and my heart was filled to the brim just being there.

It’s odd, visiting your alma mater just months after graduating, feeling like you’ve been gone for ages and yet everything seems exactly the same. But I needed it.

I needed the late night boy talks in the dorm, laughing hysterically on the air mattress splayed across the floor. I needed the Christmas decorations in the student center. I needed the hugs (ALL the hugs), and to be reminded how precious it is to invest in the lives of others. I needed the familiarity of it all, and I breathed it in like it was medicine.

I love that campus. I love the cafeteria – the cereal dispensers, the soggy breadsticks, the chocolate milk nozzle. I love the stiff furniture in the dorm lounges. I love the lake, and the walks around the lake and the reflection of the sunset in the lake. I love the classrooms where I learned about myself and God and random things about biology and stuff that I’ll surely forget.

I love the fact that suddenly I can think, and breathe, and laugh in a way I haven’t been able to for a while.

But more than anything I love the people. I love the people who I would see in the cafeteria, the conversations had over chocolate milk and sub-par Italian. I love the laughter shared atop uncomfortable couches. I love laps and laps and laps around the lake during long talks about boys and faith and boys and classes and boys.

I love it, and therefore I celebrate it. And this weekend, even though my status as a student is in the past, I was reminded that the people aren’t. I was assured that the relationships are alive and pick up right where they were left off, and that the lessons I’m learning in South Carolina my lovely friends are still learning in the cornfields of Ohio.

So my heart is full. And I take it with me back to the land I was called to, and I anticipate what the Lord has up His sleeve in the next chapter.

And I shed a few tears on the plane, smiling at pictures taken and memories made while I was there.

 

30 Days of Celebration: Names

30 Days of Celebration: Names

I attend after school evangelism clubs these days as a part of my new job. Every Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, I am a part of kids lives for just over an hour, kids I had never met a month ago. New kids every week, mostly, but every so often I get to repeat schools and see the same little girls week after week, and it fills my soul, the new familiarity of it all.

I have learned something, something I didn’t fully understand before. There is immense power in being known, in being seen, in hearing your name called and being looked in the eye. I feel as if, before this season, I have always had that in abundance, which is purely a gift from God in every way. But lately, I am beginning to understand our need for it. My need for it, and these kids’ need for it.

I am curious, constantly, about their stories. Valery, the quiet, gentle girl I get to see on Thursdays, with beautiful, long curly hair. Noah, the hilariously adorable kindergarten on Tuesdays. Sweet and disobedient Anthony, who I see on Wednesdays, who wasn’t there last week, who I was told got suspended. They are all people, and they all need to be known. They’re not different from me, nor I from them.

And so I try, in my one hour, to be a person in their lives. A person who sees and loves another person. Not an authority figure, not a teacher, not a “grown up”, but  child of God loving another child of God. I try to see them as God sees them, and I fail horribly every week, I’m sure.

But I’m also learning that it doesn’t take much. None of us really need praise or accolades or things. We just need to know we’re valued, that our lives have worth, that we are known. And if I lose sight of those truths on a daily basis, I am certain these kids do too.

So I catch their eyes, and I call them by name, and an interesting thing happens as they bloom in front of me. The shy ones catch my eye back, I needing their recognition just as much as they need mine. And I feel as if this is the heart of ministry, of being a Christian. It’s not about the programming, it’s not about the eloquence of words. It’s about making every single person you come in contact with known under your gaze.

As I sat in the airport this past week, settling into a chair and waiting to board, a list of names was called over the loud speaker. I’m usually not very tuned into announcements in airports, but this one called my name. Literally. Amongst a list of names read was mine, telling me to come to the front desk (to pick up my boarding pass, I soon learn).

And it struck me, how long it had been since I had heard my whole name. It feels like eternity, at least. But it had power. Names do. I felt known, I had a name. And I am always, I’m learning, craving for it to be spoken.

And yet, I celebrate because I am learning in this season that my name is more than letters on a page. My identity rests in my very bones, in my title as an image bearer of God. And with every breath, even in the middle of a city of strangers, I am known simply because of who I am. Names change, thoughts change, tendencies change, seasons change. But who I am is inherent, in my DNA. I am a child of God, and nothing can ever change that. It requires no recognition, demands no notice. It simply is. I think of how God tells us to be still and to know that He is God. It is as if we are the moon and He is the son and we simply reflect who He is without having to do a thing. We just sit there. We are just still.

And that is something to celebrate, because I cannot muster up identity every day. It takes far too much energy, and I fail pretty much every time, especially in a season of change. But today I rest into the identity I can never lose, and I pray that the kids I come in contact with would know it, too.

Truly, truly, I say to you, he who does not enter the sheepfold by the door but climbs in by another way, that man is a thief and a robber. But he who enters by the door is the shepherd of the sheep. To him the gatekeeper opens. The sheep hear his voice, and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes before them, and the sheep follow him, for they know his voice.

Truly, truly, I say to you, I am the door of the sheep. All who came before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not listen to them. I am the door. If anyone enters by me, he will be saved and will go in and out and find pasture. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.

I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.

John 10

30 Days of Celebration: Answered Prayers and Airplane Seats

30 Days of Celebration: Answered Prayers and Airplane Seats

I have always dreamed of adventure. I have prayed humongous prayers, increasingly unaware who I was dealing with, that God actually hears them, that He actually answers them. I am realizing now that dealing with God is not like making promises to a kindergartener, and it’s not like asking favors from a friend.

I write this as I sit in seat 22B, parked in Atlanta, Georgia, the plane about to take flight to Columbus. After 3 months of chaotic transition into my new, I am taking a weekend to visit once was, my friends from college. I am a stranger to loneliness and independence, I am learning. I thought I was independent, but I have consistently been recalibrate these days, learning more about myself than I ever thought I would. All I know is sitting in the Atlanta airport, settling into seat 22B, I don’t think I have ever felt quite so alone.

As I was packing my bag for this little excursion, I came across a letter that had fallen on the ground along my bedside table, forgotten. I picked it up and stuck it in my carry-on, remembering its contents, and as I sat in the airport just minutes ago I unwrapped its well-worn ridges and let the familiar scrawl speak words to my heart.

It is a letter I wrote to myself, half a year ago. An assignment from a friend to pen words to our future selves, one I had forgotten I did. But a few months ago, it came in the mail to my new South Carolina address, and the words inside hit me like a hand grenade then just as they did today.

“Dear Maddie,” I wrote, “I was asked to write a letter to myself in 6 months. I want to put to paper not the woman I am now, but the woman I hope to be when I read this.

Today I cried and prayed, kneeling at my futon, as I consider where I will be. Thought I don’t know where that will be, I know what I want. I want to leave comfort. I want to be satisfied by Jesus alone. I want adventure and to do what I’m scared to do. I want to be the foreigner and student of a new culture and land.

Who will I be in 6 months? I hope I’m brave, that I have gone after the calling placed on my heart, no matter how crazy and big. I hope I learn something new every day. I hope my brain keeps healing and I can be more present.

I hope I’m traveling. And singling. And reading a really good book. And crying a lot, because life is about living all.

So much will happen in these next few months. What will these years hold?

My advice: GO.

Begin again, everyday, and never, ever, let fear drive.

From the cornfields of Ohio, Maddie”

I felt the tears leave me, as they so easily do, incomparably overwhelmed that I have done just that. I have followed the calling placed on my heart. I am traveling. I am doing things, daily it seems, that require bravery and faith, more than I have ever had to muster up before. I am a foreigner and student of a new culture and land. And these things are, by far, the hardest things I have ever done.

So many days, I would willingly give this new life up and rejoin the old, the one that’s gone. Days I feel the change will swallow me whole, or at least change me into some unrecognizable version of myself that I’m not ready to meet. Days I feel like a stranger lives in my head, caring about things and thinking of things the old me just wouldn’t think about. And if I’m honest, it kind of freaks me out. Change has a way of doing that.

But I was reminded, as I sat cross-legged at gave A34, that I am walking in answered prayer. I asked for a faith-growing season, and I have been given one. In fact, I have been given more than I could have ever imagined, not in a million years, and surely not 6 months ago as I thought through what these months would bring.

So I have a choice. I can wallow in the loneliness, in the buckets of faith and bravery expected from me daily. Or I can celebrate it all: the change working it’s way through me, the newness, the adventure, the stories. The people I sit next to on the flight, the friends waiting for me in Ohio this weekend.

My story, the one I don’t deserve and yet have been given in abundance.