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. 

30 Days of Celebration: The Unappreciated Gift

30 Days of Celebration: The Unappreciated Gift

Sometimes it hits me how very little I deserve all that I have.

My very life is a gift, for starters. It was given to me. I am not my own, I was bought with a price, in every way.

But even more than that, I have been very overwhelmed these days by how undeserving I am of my day-to-day. The house I’m living in, the job I have, the friends I’m surrounded with. They are all gifts, none of them earned. I think, in the past, I have convinced myself that I “deserve” the things in my life. But I don’t.

Sometimes I don’t know what to do with all of these gifts. How can I receive them, if I have nothing to pay in return? Why do I have them all in the first place? And I will spend all of my time questioning all that I have and not celebrating it.

God has lately been urging me to think of it all as Christmas morning. It is as if He is giving me gifts, wrapped in beautiful bows, and instead of tearing apart the paper and delighting in what’s inside, I stare at the box. And I ask Him why He gave it to me. I question His motives. And I tell Him I don’t deserve it.

And so the present sits there, untouched, unopened, unappreciated.

And God, the Giver, the one who put intricate detail into it, the one who thought it all out especially for me, is sad. I can imagine, at least. I can imagine the feeling of giving such an incredible gift and to watch it go unappreciated.

And that’s what my life is: an incredible gift. I want to appreciate it. I don’t want to stare at it, I don’t want to question it, I don’t want to neglect it. I want to tear the paper open, rip into the box, behold the wonder of it all, and jump around the living room with a smile across my face because I have been given something amazing.

Something worth celebrating.

 

30 Days of Celebration: Where I Never Thought I’d Be

30 Days of Celebration: Where I Never Thought I’d Be

3:45 on Wednesdays is an interesting time for me.

Every week at that time I find myself driving down the backroads of town, off the beaten path, parking alongside an old church. I get out of my car and gather my things and make my way to the front door, overwhelmed every week. I push my way inside and am ushered into a back, back, back room of this church in the back woods of my new town.

I grab my Bible, and I gather my thoughts, and soon 15 children join me, settling themselves into old red pews that line the room.

It’s my job, these 9 months, to teach these kids about the love of Jesus.

The church is musty, and it takes me 7 tries to pronounce the kids’ names correctly. They’re rambunctious, disobedient, loud, and no matter how many times I ask them to stay seated and listen to the Bible lesson, they don’t.

And I love them. So much.

We wrestle through an hour together. Nothing goes as planned. They talk through my teaching half the time, and can’t sit still. They’re overly occupied with my treasure box of goodies. Sometimes I think I lost one of them, only to find out they’re laying under a pew in the back of the room. It’s chaos.

Most of the time.

But then there are moments that I’m teaching and I see one little pair of eyes staring intently back, listening. And one of the little girls loves the hand motions we do with the songs. And one little boy alwaybrings his worksheet back, handing it to me with pride. And one little girl snuggles up to me, big brown eyes, asking if she can sit next to me even though I’m the one up front teaching.

And yesterday, as I left, as I wheeled my cart of supplies back to my little car, they came running out of the church: the boys. The older, “macho” little ones, and they hugged me around the waist. And I felt like those hugs ran warmth all the way through my nose, them not realizing I needed it as much as they.

I never thought I would meet these kids. There is no equation that puts me into their lives. It is only God who could lead me to such a place. But these kids, like I, are like sheep, and I get to share my shepherd with them for one hour every Wednesday.

And I greatly anticipate what God is up to in all of this.

30 Days of Celebration: The Discomfort Zone

30 Days of Celebration: The Discomfort Zone

I like my comfort zones, which is exactly why God rips me from them, I’m sure.

I used to live in my comfort zone. It was full of people, familiarity, knowing my place, feeding off of the opinions of others. I would look to people to know who I was, what I was doing, why I should be at peace.

I would say, on a good day, my comfort zone is 90% people and 10% time with myself. I’m an extrovert, to the max. So now, when my days are more lopsided than they have ever been, and I have way more alone time than I’ve ever had, I am having to learn to adjust. I am having to live in my discomfort zone, at least for a season, and it is painful but good.

I have to learn how to love myself, how to talk to myself, how to be with myself as I drive down the road or journal the day in my room. I know it’s good for an introvert to learn how to be with people, and for an extrovert to learn how to be alone. They’re both good.

What I’m doing today, though, is celebrating this change. It is good, and I will treat is as such. I know I am learning a powerful skill, and that time will make it easier. If I treat this season as the enemy, it will seem to me as such, but if I welcome it with open arms, for exactly what it is, I know I will learn so much.

Sometimes I get scared and I need to pray for God to open me up to the world around me, and to embrace it for exactly what it is. I’m not at college anymore, I’m not in the world I used to live in. I’m in a new one, but I’m still me. And I can be here, just as I could be there. It’s an adventure, and I’m determined to embrace it.

 

 

30 Days of Celebration: The Peace of Christ

30 Days of Celebration: The Peace of Christ

I don’t know about you, but I need peace spoon-fed to me about every 7 seconds these days.

All too often, it becomes all too much. The new job, the exuberant amounts of alone time I’m not used to, the new town, new streets, new house, new people.

I read on a plaque somewhere that the will of God will not take you where the grace of God will not protect you. I agree, but I would rewrite it: the will of God will not take you where the peace of God will not hold you. The will of God brought me to South Carolina, and the peace of God has held me through it all, if I’ve let it.

Sometimes I disregard His peace, deciding that I have to do His job. This morning I read Colossians, in which it reads:

Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace…”

We must let the peace of Christ rule in our hearts, for it is our calling. I don’t know about you, but I get very caught up in my sense of calling. Where am I supposed to go, what am I supposed to do? I imagine calling from the Lord to be adventurous and gutsy, something that results in muddy hands and calloused feet.

But Paul says that we were called to peace. That is our calling, as Christians. To be people of peace. Peace, surely, with others, but also with ourselves. The peace that can withhold life’s biggest transitions, the peace that results in rest.

It is peace that holds me together these days. Peace and trust. If I really believe and trust in a God who began my life, hemming me in, molding me, then I believe that that same God will hold my life and keep my life all my days. And that results in peace.

I need peace in sanctification. It is an unsettling feeling, to be changed from the inside out, to have desires and motives and passions transformed to conform more to the will of God. It’s unnerving at times, and scary when I let it be. But it is good, and the peace of Christ covers it all.

Today I celebrate my right to peace. I don’t push myself too hard, don’t speak harsh words in my own mind. I meet myself right where I am, because I can’t be anywhere else, and because that’s exactly what Christ does. He meets me with peace and love, no matter what battered up version of Maddie I happen to be at the moment.

That’s the peace of Christ. And that is cause for celebration.

30 Days of Celebration: How I’m Made

30 Days of Celebration: How I’m Made

I’m a ridiculously sentimental person.

I cry a lot.

If there’s a field nearby, I will want to frolic in it.

I enjoy stupidity.

I crave adventure, even though my heart is so tender sometimes I can’t handle it.

I think too hard.

I take myself too seriously.

I set ridiculous goals.

And sometimes I’m afraid to celebrate these things. Sometimes my own intensity freaks me out. Sometimes I think I was surely made wrong.

But it’s just how I was made. I was made to be the one that cries so others know it’s ok. I was made to feel deeply, collect my thoughts, and put them on paper. I was made to get things done, to see visions of what things can be but aren’t yet. I was made to be childish and tender hearted, to think way too highly of the world. I was made to be whole-hearted (in every way, in every season). I was made to crave community.

I was made to love people so intensely that my heart breaks when we draw apart. Made to love stories. Made to love music with all that I am.

And I love it. I love how I was made. Hemmed in, behind and before, different from anyone else.

 

30 Days of Celebration: Loss Is A Good Thing

30 Days of Celebration: Loss Is A Good Thing

Loneliness is funny, because it has absolutely nothing to do with the amount of people around you.

It’s such a weird feeling, moving to a new town, in a new stage of life. I have met so many people these past 3 months- wonderful people, who care for me and bring me into their homes and feed me. And I am so thankful for them, and I know that time will grow and foster deep relationships of knowing and being known by these new faces, but it’s so not cut and dry.

For every new friend I am reminded of an old one, ripped from my days by time and distance and the will of God, and not by choice. Loving them is celebrating their new adventures, as well as mine, but they take the knowing of me with them.

My new faces don’t know the way I celebrated my 21st birthday, or what table I sat at every day for lunch in 7th grade. They don’t know the parts of me that grew during my 4 years of college- the ups and downs of singleness, the gatherings on futons full of laughter, that one time I played in the snow right outside my dorm window as my roommate judged me (lovingly, of course).

And they will know me, these new faces, but they will know me differently. They will never know the version of me my old faces did, and I can’t anticipate what version of me they will make the acquaintance of. She will be bold and gutsy and overly-vulnerable, I’m sure, but she won’t be the same.

And I mourn that, in a way.

But I also celebrate it.

I am learning that the Christian life is all about change. The Bible repeatedly speaks of change, and how meeting Christ means you should not and will not be the same. And I realize with increasing measure that I am better off for it.

I love books. I really think there is nothing better than being in the middle of an incredible novel, one that keeps you up at night and convinces you that sleep is optional. I have been thinking lately how utterly ridiculous it would be to get to the really good part, the part that has you on the edge of your seat, and then to just sit on that same page forever. Not turning it, not moving forward.

That’s not how really great stories work. The great stories move forward, with twists and turns and trial and laughter. They have long nights and heartbreaks. They have weddings and parties. They have it all, and God doesn’t write my story any differently.

He moves me forward.

Knowing how much it will hurt, knowing how much the change will feel like a scalpel to my soul. But He wrote a good story for me, and He refuses to not see it through. He refuses to sit on that same page.

I think the most painful aspect of my current page turn is one of losing all that knew me, and feeling like I lost a part of myself in the process. But today I celebrate it for a change, because there are surely so many parts of myself I can afford to lose. I fear loss, as does most everybody I’m sure, and it can paralyze me if I let it.

But Jesus spoke of loss as a good thing. He said that if we lose our lives we will find them. If we lose our minds we will be given a new one. If we lose all we own we will have treasures in Heaven. I can hear Him cheering me on as I lose the life-stage of college I miss so dearly, knowing that loss is a good thing.

Knowing that it’s all designed to create in me a new Maddie, the one I’m supposed to be now.