The Painful In-Between

The Painful In-Between

It’s funny being a writer, because I so often find myself thinking in terms of blog posts. Something happens or I have a bad day or a really good day and suddenly my mind is filled with a title and a thesis and a hook. And I think “man I should write about that.”

But then I don’t. Most of the time. Because I begin to think, and overthink, and overthink some more and by the time I turned it around in my head enough times what once looked like a well-organized and thought provoking 900 words suddenly looks more like an overly emotional pile of greenish-brown mush and I figure that no one would want to read that anyway.

But the thing about being a writer is that if you don’t write, you feel it. Something’s off. There is simply too much in your head to not put anywhere, and so you walk around kind of lopsided, turning in circles like a dog settling in for a nap.

So today, I’m just going to write.

There are a million aspects to moving to South Carolina that I did not expect. I didn’t even know how to expect them nor do I think I would have. You know when people try to tell you about things you might struggle with or hardships that come with certain life choices but you brush them off because surely that would never happen to you?

I’ve recently been reading Steven Curtis Chapman’s autobiography, and he starts it off by comparing life to riding roller coasters. When he was little, he rode the “Wild Mouse”, one of those baby roller coasters with two “hills” and cars that aren’t even attached to one another. But to him, it was a real life roller coaster, and when he stepped off of it for the first time, he felt like he had conquered something tremendous.

And when he was a little older, his brother convinced him to try the “Screamin’ Eagle”, a much bigger ride with many more twists and turns and hills. And since he had already ridden the Wild Mouse, and he was a “roller coaster kind of guy”, he jumped on. He had enough guts to try scary rides before, why not now?

He reflects on his experiences by saying:

Before my Screamin’ Eagle experience, I thought I had been on a roller coaster, but this was a whole different journey. Yeah, I’d been on a roller coaster – I’d been on the Wild Mouse. Life is like that… I know mine certainly has been. You live through “wild ride” experiences with some tremendous highs, some horrible lows, some hand-raising moments of exultation, and some gut-wrenching twists and turns… the cheers and the tears, like the experiences, are very real and valid. But then things or something happens that takes you far higher and much deeper than you could’ve ever imagined. And you realize that your Wild Mouse journey has suddenly jumped the tracks onto the Screamin’ Eagle.

And you realize your Wild Mouse journey has suddenly jumped the tracks onto the Screamin’ Eagle.

Moving to South Carolina was a lot like jumping the tracks onto the Screamin’ Eagle.

The only reason I did it is because I had ridden the Wild Mouse before. When I went to college, four years ago, I didn’t just go to the community college down the road or the in-state university. I moved 36 hours away from home! I completely started over- new people, new state, new way of life. And I have never, not once, regretted that decision. I was nervous to try, but once I was riding the Wild Mouse I was so thankful that I went for it.

And so when I graduated, and I was staring down the opportunity to ride the Screamin’ Eagle, I thought heck yes. Now that I’ve ridden the Wild Mouse, I couldn’t possibly go back to the antique cars or the merry-go-round! And so what was surely an act of furious curiosity, pent-up energy, and a flaming desire to prove myself, I moved.

And MAN. Let me tell you.

I never could have expected the highs and lows. Never. Technically, this transition shares some similarities to going to college: I moved several states away, I surrounded myself with a brand new batch of people… but in reality, it’s nothing like it.

Starting my freshman year at a Christian college was kind of like going to summer camp that lasted for 9 months. Starting adulthood in a brand new city all by myself is more like having your house picked up by a tornado, and while everything’s spinning and being pinned to the walls and the family dog is being sucked out of the window, you look up and realize that your house if full of guests and they’re there because you threw your sister a surprise birthday party and they’re staring at you because it’s time to serve the cake.

And so you serve the cake, and you go on with life like everything’s fine, and you just can’t quite figure out how everyone seems to be acting so normal when there’s a flippin tornado and the house is spinning through the air.

 

There are a lot of things you learn through a season like this. Lessons about trust, faith, value, identity. Hard work. Sorrow. Joy. How it is completely and entirely possible to be overflowing with gratitude and overwhelmingly sad at the same time.

I sat outside during my lunch break yesterday and I felt brittle, like I could snap in half if a breeze blew hard enough at the just the right angle. And I wondered why, since on the outside my life is robust and adventurous and full of life and people. But I realized that it is because I’m still in that painful in-between, and more than anything I miss my people. That even for all of the incredible things around me, I would trade them all for one hug or conversation or day spent walking around my favorite streets in Ohio.

And I think that’s okay.

One day, the Screamin’ Eagle won’t be quite so menacing or new, and I will wake up and realize that South Carolina is my home and I wouldn’t trade it for the world. But today is not that day. It doesn’t have to be that day.

It can be the painful in-between. I give it permission. I’ll just let it be.

Like A Child

Like A Child

“But to all who did receive Him, who believed in His name, He gave the right to become children of God.”

John 1:12

I’m an adult now, apparently.

I mean, I didn’t intend for it to happen. It just did. I was just walking along, minding my own business, when BAM! time to be an adult. I don’t know – I graduated from college, and then moved to South Carolina, and suddenly I’m supposed to know how to do a billion things I’ve never done before.

And so I act like I have some semblance of understanding, but let’s be real. In reality I have absolutely no idea what I’m doing. And in the season of life where I thought I would be all confident and self-assured, kicking down doors and changing lives, I feel a lot more like I’m a little kid afraid of the monster under my bed. I feel like a little baby tadpole in a humongous pond. I feel like my skin is touching air for the first time.

And I realize, I’m a lot like a kid again. Or, more specifically, I never grew out of it, and I don’t think any of us really do. We go to college and then graduate and then do the next thing, but really we’re just kids. We pretend like we have it all together, but inside we’re terrified.

So why pretend? I believe it’s because we think that if we don’t take care of ourselves, no one will.

I’ve been thinking a lot about how I was as a little kid. I was blessed with two loving parents, and so even though the world was big and scary, I was at peace. In my mind, as long as daddy was anywhere in proximity to me, I was safe. And so I didn’t spend my time worrying or thinking of “adult things” – I just spent all of my time being a kid. Playing at recess, reading books, laughing, crying, running into my parents’ arms when I was scared.

And knowing Jesus is a lot like being a kid again. The Bible talks a lot about freedom, and lifting heavy burdens, and not worrying. But then us adults look at the world and see everything wrong and think “how is that possible?? how could I not worry? don’t you see this, and that, and that…??” 

For me, following Jesus means I get to handle worry like I did as a kid – with open hands, knowing I can’t do anything about it, and knowing it’s not my job. I’ve spent a lot of time lately taking on jobs that aren’t mine, and it’s a lot like a 5 year old trying to cook dinner, do the dishes, and drive the family car to the beach. I’m overwhelmed and scared stiff because 5 year old’s weren’t meant to do any of that stuff.

One time, someone asked Jesus who the greatest in Heaven was, and Jesus brought a child to Him and said “Truly I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the Kingdom of Heaven”. I don’t believe this was said like a threat. Instead, it’s Jesus saying that the entire basis of a relationship with Him is one of Father/Daughter. It’s about trust, and humility, and knowing you need Him.

And you can trust Him. Because He loves you. You can let go of all that worry and fear and cynicism not because there aren’t things to fear or worry about but because you know that your Dad has it all figured out, and that He loves you more than you could every comprehend. It’s His job, and He’s extremely good at it. And that is the only way I find rest in this tumultuous season.

“The Lord your God is in your midst,

a mighty one who will save;

He will rejoice over you with gladness;

He will quiet you by His love.”

Zephaniah 3:17

“And Jesus said, ‘Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me – watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.'”

Matthew 11:28-30 (The Message)

 

 

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: 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.

Trading Religion for Relationship

Trading Religion for Relationship

I’ve heard it said that noise is the enemy of our generation.

Maybe every generation. Probably. But I know that it’s a prison guard in my life.

As I type this, I sit alone. And it’s quiet. And I have spent the entire day in solitude. And I am extremely,

deeply

uncomfortable.

I don’t know exactly when I lost the art of solitude and silence with God. Maybe I never really had it. All I know is that my relationship with God has always functioned more like athlete-coach than father-daughter. I approach God like a soccer player on the sidelines. My “quiet” times are like drills and pep talks, and then I hit the field as I drive to work and go through my day.

Which works fine. Until I’m sick. Or injured. Benched.

And when God the Father wants only for me to come to Him, curl up with Him, I don’t because I see Him as God the Coach. I’ve failed Him. I’m weak.

I think this is why I fear solitude. I see it as myself on the end of the bench, my coach a million miles away, focused on the other players. So solitude is a dreaded time, a punishment, a time for me to focus on how to get back in the game.

A lonely time.

A time when I realize how much of my value I put into being an athlete. Because if God is a Coach, then that’s what I am to Him: an athlete. My injuries symbolize a loss of identity. No space for weakness, no room for rest. No value in stillness. Life becomes a game I can’t keep up with, and God becomes a Coach I don’t talk to. Because I don’t want Him to see me like this.

 

I came to South Carolina 2 months ago injured.

Not with a broken leg necessarily, or an open wound. More like unable to hit the field due to utter exhaustion. My mind was exhausted, my spirit was exhausted. The season after graduation had run me dry because every morning I woke up expecting to be an athlete and every morning I saw a weary face in the mirror. Dreams were dashed, loneliness was real, anxiety was present. The pressure of knowing where to go bore down on me as I got rejected from internships and confused about what to do.

I couldn’t be an athlete. I just didn’t have it in me. So who was I? My whole life I have focused, full of energy, on what I did for my Coach. But I never spent time learning who I was to my Father, off the field, off the bench. Who am I when I’m not accomplishing anything? Who am I when all things familiar are stripped from me, and I find myself forced to learn solitude?

 

I’m a daughter. That’s who I am. I’m a child of God.

Jesus did not call me here to South Carolina to train me up for the field. He called me here to give me Himself. He doesn’t base our relationship off of what I can do for Him. He just loves me for who I am because He made me who I am. Performance anxiety has no place in the Christian life.

Let me say that one more time, if even just for myself.

Performance anxiety has no place in the Christian life.

I have spent my whole life being a stage Christian, and I am weary for it. I am a Pharisee, but I scream for relationship. Religion leads to burnout, but intimacy leads to vibrancy, because there is no performance needed.

Today I did nothing of value. I saw no one, influenced no one. Accomplished nothing. Walked around deeply uncomfortable being only with my Heavenly Father. But what do you expect? I can only be who I am made to be. That is, a daughter. A child.

I don’t want to be religious anymore. I don’t want to come to God as an obligation, and I don’t want to view Him as a drill sergeant. I don’t want to place my identity into what I do or what team I’m on, because those things can be ripped from me in an instant.

I think that is why God is great to show us our weaknesses, to bench us. Because He knows we can’t keep up the athleticism forever. God isn’t the coach who drills us but the Father who scoops us up and takes us home in His minivan, buying us ice cream on the way home because He is so proud of all that we are, even when we fall. Especially when we fall.

And that is why solitude is vital. Because all God wants is to know me, and to know you. But we fill our lives with so much noise. He wants our severe honesty. He wants our love, and has poured out His love by the bucketload. I feel today as if I know very little about being in a relationship with God, but I’m learning.

I’m getting a taste of daughterhood, little by little.

 

The Lord Is Near To The Brokenhearted

The Lord Is Near To The Brokenhearted

I really wanted to have my life together by now.

Like, really really.

I had all these dreams and expectations about graduating college and taking on my next season by storm, because I really like taking things by storm. I mean, it’s way more fun that way.

But guys, I need to be candid with you right now, because we’re all humans and we all feel pain and I really want to give you some words that might help heal the broken pieces inside of you. Because there are broken pieces inside of me.

I’ve been a mess since graduation. I wasn’t expecting to nurse a broken heart this summer, but we never choose for our heart to hurt. I thought I may have avoided heartbreak in college due to my lack of dating, but in the middle of all my singleness I fell in love. I fell in love with the girls in my hallway, with my place at that school, with who I was there. With the sandwich line in the cafeteria, and the uncomfortable futon in my dorm room.

I started to realize my heart was breaking as I said goodbye to my friends, my mentors, my classrooms. I couldn’t stop crying. I knew I was going to miss it more than I’ve ever missed anything in my life.

And yet, even then, I wasn’t ready for how painful it was going to be, how my heart actually physically hurts. How loss does that to us as people – as sheep, as the Bible calls us. I had no idea how to tend to an aching heart.

And so I didn’t, for a solid month or more.

I’m an athlete, so I’m no stranger to pain, but nursing sore legs is not the same as nursing a sore soul. Your legs need physical water, but your soul needs Living Water, and if you deprive it of the Lord and the Word of God, it will continue to bleed.

I’ve had a few setbacks this summer, and at times it almost seems cruel, and the only reason I know it isn’t cruel is because I know that God isn’t. The loss of an internship possibility, the trip of a lifetime to the mountainsides of Italy, only to be ripped from that, too. Attending two weddings of people I love dearly, and sitting alone, achingly aware that the happiness they feel isn’t mine right now.

And here I stand, 2 1/2 months after graduation, no solid plans, no obvious doors, realizing that I know very little about being a Christian after all.

 

This post isn’t ultimately about my problems, though. I just wanted you to know about them because there’s hardly anything worse than reading some inspirational post about hardship from somebody who pretends they don’t face it.

This post is about trusting God. And if I’m honest, I’m writing this for myself just as much as I’m writing it for you. Or, possibly, selfishly, a little bit more.

Because my heart hurts tonight, and I need these words.

I thought I knew how to trust God. I thought I had trust in God. But I am learning that trusting in God to smooth out the bumpy edges of your plan is nothing like trusting God to build your life again from square one. To give you Living Water in an emotional desert.

To heal the broken pieces inside of you.

And I’m not talking about the slightly dented pieces. I’m talking about the bleeding, gut-wrenching, all-encompassing brokenness that you think you will never shake. When the devil shouts accusations at you, and you realize that your soul is at war, as the Bible reminds us that it will be. “Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil.” (Ephesians 6:11)

Satan tells me that the world is not good. He feeds on my idol of Comfort, and he aims to kill my soul, as he killed Eve’s. He wants to fill me with fear and shame so that I don’t approach God or anyone else because my dirtiness is unforgivable. The battle starts in my chest, and then my throat, and it finishes in cold sweat as I forget every goodness the Lord has brought to me.

And I don’t trust God to fight that battle. I don’t trust Him to soothe my soul. I don’t trust Him to defeat the Deceiver. I forget that the world is good, and I crumble in tears and doubt.

And today, Jesus gently scolded me, “Trust me! Do you not believe that I will heal every broken corner of your heart as I said I would?” And I knelt on the ground, and I realized that true trust is only built when we reach an obstacle we absolutely cannot defeat on our own. I will never on my own defeat the way satan tracks me down, meets me in the grocery store or coffee shop and fills me with despair. That is a God-sized battle.

And I knelt beside my bed, and realized that I didn’t know if I trusted God to fight that battle. And my hands started to sweat. When we are not faced with deep hurt and trial, we are not faced with that question, and we go on, relying on our own strength.

But we must all answer that question. Eventually.

For we do not want you to be unaware, brothers,” Paul writes in 2 Corinthians, “of the affliction we experienced in Asia. For we were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself. Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death. But that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead.  He delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us. On him we have set our hope that he will deliver us again.

Don’t skim through that. Paul faced a trial so big that his only comfort was that God raises the dead. Think of the pain, the agony, he must have felt. If he was sitting in front of you right now, listening to your story, he would have full permission to say, “I get it.”

And he learned that God is trustworthy. Isn’t that what he says, the conclusion of his journey?  “He delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us.” 

But we have to trust that those words are true.

When we are faced with God-sized battles, we must jump on His back and say, “Ok. Here we go.” It’s not easy! But I’m sick of calling myself a believer and not believing.

 

Psalm 34 says that the “LORD is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit”. What a comfort to me, a brokenhearted girl. Jesus is never nearer than when that ache begins again. And I can trust Him to fight the battles I can’t. It’s terrifying, but the Lord is bigger than the schemes of the devil. I know it to be true, and I will see it to be true. Maybe not today, but I will.

On Him I have set my hope that He will deliver me again.