Psalm 44 With a Side of Frustration

Psalm 44 With a Side of Frustration

I read Psalm 44 from my Bible Chair this morning.

When I moved into my 3rd floor apartment last July, I knew that I needed a chair. And not just any chair. I needed the chair, the one that I would sit in for all of my greatest thinking and reading in the year to come. So, naturally, I hit up my local Goodwill Outlet. (In case you didn’t know, Goodwill actually has an outlet where all of the Goodwill rejects go. No joke. It is easily my favorite store. You wheel garbage bins around and buy everything for $1.39 a pound. It’s fabulous.)

During one of my routine visits last summer, I found it. Sitting right there. My Bible Chair. I just knew it. It emanated a sharp odor of cat pee, had upholstery from the 90’s, and was covered in animal hair. It was perfect.

20 dollars later, I was lugging my newfound treasure up three flights of stairs and setting it down in the middle of my empty living room, next to an office chair, which was my only other item of furniture. After a quick visit to Walmart, with odor and stain remover in hand, I spent the better part of the afternoon washing and cutting and vacuuming the thing to death. It was honestly the most fun I had had in a while.

(In case you were wondering, I have also bought two end tables from the Goodwill Outlet for 2 dollars a piece. I’m telling you, it’s a magical place.)

Now, as you know, it’s March. I have spent all year working in elementary school fundraising, which mainly means my life is one big hectic dance party, which some days I love and some days I’d rather stay in bed. As I have precariously balanced my introverted/extroverted self from day to day, coddling myself when I can’t stand to see another person or have another conversation, my chair has become a haven.

My Bible Chair is, of course, the chair in which I read my Bible. Although, honestly, it’s the chair where I eat my dinner, watch my K-dramas, work on my spanish on Duolingo, and call my mom. Or, in other words, it’s the chair in which I recharge. It may be the introvert in me, but sitting there, in my robe, with a cup of coffee on my $2 end table and Bible in my lap, I feel like I can take on the world.

But, as I read and journal and take moments to unwind, sometimes my chair is also the place where I feel the deepest emotions. It’s where I get rid of distractions and I ask myself what’s really going on. And, consequently, it can be the place where I feel the most abandoned by God because I allow myself to ask Him the most important questions and pray the most important prayers. And as I reflect on where He has brought me in these past few years, sometimes I just want to look at Him and be like “Where the heck did you go??”

I thought of this as I read Psalm 44 this morning, because that’s exactly what the psalmist is asking, too. (Maybe he also had a Bible Chair.)

O God, we have heard with our ears,

our fathers have told us,

what deeds you performed in their days,

in the days of old…

He was always told of how God delivered His people and how He went with them.

In God we have boasted continually,

and we will give thanks to your name forever.

He has stood by the name of God. He has even boasted to those in his life about how God is for him and has stood by him.

But you have rejected us and disgraced us

and have not gone out with our armies…

You have made us like sheep for slaughter

and have scattered us among the nations.

Whoa. What a bold statement. God, of course, has not actually sent His people off to be sheep in a slaughter, but the writer obviously feels like He has. And I get that.

Our heart has not turned back,

nor have our steps departed from your way;

you you have broken us in the place of jackals

and covered us with the shadow of death.

As I read this psalm this morning, I cannot help but understand. I get where the psalmist is coming from. Have you ever felt like God has just completely abandoned you? Or that He sent you somewhere only to watch you be devoured?

I definitely felt that way during my first year in South Carolina. When I was 16, I would sing along with everyone else:

“Spirit lead me where my trust is without borders,

let me walk upon the waters wherever you have called me.”

And when I graduated college, it became my moment to go out in faith and trust God with my future. And when I did, life began to grab hold of me like I was the punching bag. (Or, at least, it felt that way.) I was wrecked. I couldn’t stop crying. I was doing a fellowship program through a church, but I had never felt further away from God. I was depressed. I had to get back on my anti-depressant. I was sobbing in coffee shops. And I felt just like the psalmist felt:

But you have rejected us and disgraced us

and have not gone out with our armies.

The psalmist ends with a statement:

Awake! Why are you sleeping, O Lord?

Rouse yourself! Do not reject us forever!

It reminds me so much of the story of Jesus calming the sea. There was a tremendous storm and Jesus and His best buds were on a boat. Naturally, the disciples were freaking out, but Jesus was sleeping. He was just taking a nap while the boat was about to capsize. And I love that.

I love that, as I scream at the sky and demand God to do something, He is undeterred. God has not been absent in my trials in life. He has been right beside me. He has simply known that He was going to bring me through them. In fact, I believe that He knew He shouldn’t save me from them because they are all in my life for a reason.

And now I have a million stories and a million lessons that I have been given through my hardest trials. As I sit in my Bible Chair, I cannot help but feel them all circle me in an embrace full of depth and wisdom and adventure, and for that I am thankful.

Sometimes, I Can’t.

Sometimes, I Can’t.

I grew up believing that I could do anything.

Anything! I had a confidence that seemed unshakeable. It was exciting. I took grown-ups at their word when they told me that I had an army inside of me just ready to change the world. I sat with my family in our usual pew Sunday after Sunday and I pictured God and I taking on the world. No matter what came our way, we would fling it to the side and together we would laugh in the face of danger and fear. We would end each night with celebration and start each morning with renewal.

Now, I have come to realize that I was a bigger dreamer than most, but I do believe that in everyone’s heart is a similar desire.

Right?

 

So, last year I grabbed God’s hand and we stood together at a precipice. Do I move to South Carolina? Do I leave behind everything I know for everything unknown? Do I take the chance?

I remember exactly where I was when I was offered the opportunity that gave me a chance down South. I was sitting on my parent’s front porch. I had just finished a phone interview, and I knew that the door was open to me if I wanted it to be. My back rested against the porch pillar, the faint smell of dog pee crept up and I smiled a little because I know my dog wasn’t supposed to pee near the porch. This was home.

And yet, it wasn’t my nest anymore. Although my parents would have lovingly given me a bed and food during this post-college season, I knew I had to go. For some, that’s the right move. For me, it wasn’t. I knew it, my parents knew it.

And so I thought about God that day, and the promise we made each other to always go on adventures together. I was 10 years old again. How could I sit this one out?

Four days later, I was in my Volkswagon Passat making my way down South.

 

I want to tell you that I faced my life here with complete honesty and raw faith and with a confidence in the God who led me here. I really do. My Instagram might tell you that (and I apologize if it does). If you called me up today and asked me how my first year has been, I might tell you that. But it wouldn’t be completely true.

I bought a journal today, from a stand at a farmers market. I bought it because my head keeps spinning these days and I don’t know how to make it stop. I was handed an interesting deck of cards the day I moved here, and playing them all has made me dizzy.

I wanted to be put together and healthy by this point of adulthood, but instead I’m tired. I’m so tired. These past 13 months have held three different jobs, three different addresses, three different cars, (one car accident), two drained bank accounts, one break up, one new prescription for anti-depressants, and only one me.

That strong and determined Maddie became lonely Maddie, sad Maddie, confused Maddie, busy Maddie. And then I felt like I wasn’t Maddie at all. Where do you put it all? What do you do when you feel so many things all at once and those emotions simply have nowhere to go because you have a church event to get to?

Because the fact of the matter is, I became beat up. My first night here, I will never forget sitting down, after the hustle and bustle finally died down and I realized that I really did move here. By myself. And that my future was going to take a lot out of me. I haven’t forgotten how I felt in that moment. I have never been more scared, but instead of the ice cold panic I usually feel in those moments, all I felt was a low hum. I had no time for panic. I either put on a brave face and moved forward, or I admitted defeat and moved home.

And 10 year old Maddie would never allow me to move home. That’s not what I did.

And so I fought. I made it to work, day after day. I sat with myself through a season of depression. I learned how to tell the truth. I screamed into pillows. I was honest with God for the first time in my life. I cried because I didn’t want to break a boy’s heart but I knew I was going to. I mourned when my friends got engaged because they live thousands of miles away.

And, I learned, I can’t do it all. I just can’t.

No matter how hard I try, I cannot be any version of myself that I choose. That’s not up to me. My emotions and exhaustion demand to be recognized, and believe me they will always find a way. And I have tried so hard, day after day after day to stop them. But why?

I have come to learn that I had the wrong picture of a warrior in my mind. When I was little, I imagined strength in the form of happiness and optimism in the face of whatever life would throw at me. But I was wrong. Strength isn’t happiness. Strength is honesty. Strength is grief. Strength is driving to Publix to pick up your antidepressant when you swore to yourself you would never take it again. But in that moment, strength was admitting that I can’t do it on my own.

And God never promised me anything else. He knew our adventure would look just as it has, and He still assured me that it was a good idea. He saw my lonely nights, saw my stress, saw my seasons of mental-unhealthiness, saw my tears, and He still took my hand that day on my parent’s front porch and said, “Let’s do this”.

And He was right.

Maybe, He just wanted me to learn that sometimes I can’t, and He knew He couldn’t get it through my thick skull any other way.

 

 

 

It’s Time To See The Good

It’s Time To See The Good

I have a confession. This isn’t what I was going to post. I already had something else written, spell checked, tagged and ready to go, but I woke up this morning and realized I couldn’t post it.

Because it was 1,000 words about what was wrong with my life, what was wrong with the church, what is wrong about what is happening around me right now. And I’m tired of focusing on everything that doesn’t fit where I want it to.

You see, I’m the problem. I have blamed a million things for my negative attitude, but nothing is to blame but the brain between my ears and the crooked heart in my chest. And it’s oddly liberating to know this, because for so long I couldn’t understand how the world we live in could be so paradoxical. It had my head spinning, for it would seem so dark to me, as I awoke on an aimless Saturday morning, or wrote another paper, or gazed at the unknown days ahead. The world seemed menacing and dark to me, and yet I would go for an evening run to Walmart, and as I drove past an open lot the ground would glitter with lightening bugs and the sky would be seven shades of red and I couldn’t understand how a world so beautiful could seem so dark to me.

And now I know: the lightning bugs have it right. They are beautiful because they can’t help it – they were programmed and designed to spread glitter across green landscape. They were simply created beautifully and so was I, and any day I refuse to believe that is a sad waste of precious time.

I’m only 22, but I have lost entire seasons of my life worrying myself to panic or, worse, sleep. I couldn’t figure out how I could be so tired by 11 am until I realized that I had created an exhausting world in my own head. I was torturing myself with my negative thoughts, and it wore me out. I was literally making myself sick with worry. And it was all my fault, in the best of ways.

I’m glad it was my fault, because I don’t want to blame the world or God or anyone else.

Sometimes, when I am sick and in my mind, I just step outside and allow this world to be all that it is to me. And the sun’s heat, the mismatched clouds, the sounds of lawns being mowed, they heal me. I recently spent two weeks beneath Italian mountains, and the way they rose from the forest blanket, staring at the sky and daring to be grander than anything else around them… I was small in the best way. I really am allowed to let go and give my worries to the mountains and the God who fashioned them perfectly.

I can lean into friendships. The people who make me laugh without trying. The eyes I can stare straight into without fearing what they see. The people who validate my fears, cry through memories of boys I shouldn’t have liked, and still view me as a whole, capable woman through it all. The people who instill confidence in me, who build me up, who let me dare to be more than who I am today. Who told me I could be more in the first place.

And Jesus. Jesus. My shepherd who died to give me life I don’t appreciate, days I worry out of existence. Why do I think so small when I have a Father who made everything?

So today I choose. As one who chooses to lose weight from their body, I choose to lose weight from my mind and soul. It doesn’t happen all at once, but change begins with a choice. For me, it’s a pledge to gratitude. It’s a decision to fight the stress headaches and negative perception by Truth and new foundations. It’s a promise to have fun. To think of nothing sometimes. To dream again. A new way of living that I used to be good at, until I thought I had to play God in my life.

And that’s why I couldn’t publish that other post. It can’t be me anymore. I don’t need to tell you what’s wrong in this world, and I surely don’t have to tell myself.

But I do need a reminder of what is beautiful and worth my musings. I need to remember who God is in this world and who God is in mine.

And maybe you need that reminder, too.

The Day After College Graduation

The Day After College Graduation

You get a strange feeling when you’re about to leave a place. Like you’ll not only miss the people you love but you’ll miss the person you are now at this time and this place, because you’ll never be this way again.

Ayar Nafisi

I never once thought about the day after college graduation.

It’s a season of celebration, to be sure. Family comes together and gifts are laid at your diploma-holding feet. You wear an oversized bathrobe and walk across the stage, shaking the hands of older people who have done this before you, feeling decrepit yourself.

And then it’s done. 6 seconds. Your name is called. You grab your diploma. And that’s it.

4 years. Over.

To be sure, I won’t ever forget the joy in my heart as it was my turn to be honored, even if only for a few seconds. A lot of work went into this piece of paper: 4 years of classes, tests, living in a college dorm room, eating in a cafeteria, walking in sub-zero temperatures. I cried a lot here, stress-slept a lot here. Underwent a season of mono, a season of anxiety, a season of depression. 4 years of reminding myself it’s ok to be single, that an un-held hand is still an important one. Day after day of crying in the stairwell, crying on my futon, crying in my bed, crying in the cafeteria.

This diploma. Yes, I deserve it.

But no one ever warned me about the day after.

Anomaly. a deviation from the common rule. I feel like one. Because in a season of intense celebration, I mourn.

This place was my home, these people my family. For 4 years. And I tried, tried hard to understand the joy of some and incorporate it into my own heart, but it didn’t work.

Some may see white cinderblock walls of a sub-par dorm room. I see the best of times. The books that were read. Movie nights with the roommate. That one Sunday night of bible study where we ended up just laughing and taking it outdoors for star-tipping: (ministry in its purest form, if you ask me.)

The times I would overcome panic only by the Truths found in the Word of God.

Walking in on my roommate fighting her own battle. Her walking in on me, puffy eyes, John 10 opened in my worn Bible. Hugs. Acceptance.

Boy talk in towels. Community around a Whale Pale of Cookies & Cream. Cardio dance videos.

Talking. About what should have been, what wasn’t right. What needs to be.

I loved it, every juvenile second. A bunch of big kids trying to figure out why we’re here, pretending to understand things we never will.

And saying goodbye. Why do some pretend that it is easy? Maybe for them it is.

For me, it was unearthing a tree planted without giving it time to grow. It was ripping a child from its mother’s arms. It hurt. Deeply, badly.

Four days ago I stood in my empty dorm room, the only memory of my footprint in the black stain I accidentally left on the wall. A hundred girls have lived here before, and a hundred girls after. I’m not ready to say goodbye: I want it to be mine forever. I don’t want to be forgotten, don’t want anyone else to claim the room that saw me in my worst. I don’t want to graduate, to become someone who “used to”, while a bunch of 18 year olds become what “is”.

All this time, I thought the Lord had kept me from falling in love on this campus. As I looked around my empty dorm room, I knew I was wrong.

Mom is on the other side of the door and she hugs me. I thought I was out of tears, thought I had rung myself dry.

“It’s time for new adventures.”

And I turn my back, because there is nothing else to do.

 

I never once thought about the day after college graduation. The week after.

It needs honored, I feel. Nothing hurts more than anecdotes from well meaning people that refer to college as what used to be, but has faded for them, so far away. For me, it’s my now. It’s real, my hands still clutching letters written from life-long friends.

And yet I pity those who don’t miss it, who dreamed for the day they would be gone. What is a season of life if it is not embraced fully, despite the pain after?

I fell in love with my campus, with the girls on my hallway, with the greasy cafeteria food. I fell in love, and now it hurts, and yet I do not regret it.

It needed to be loved. I needed to love it, to be changed by it. To feel the pain of leaving it.

It’s life, a painful one full of love lost. A real one.

And it’s mine, whatever that means today.

 

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.

Sorrowful, Yet Always Rejoicing

Sorrowful, Yet Always Rejoicing

“Now we’re talking about celebration. Celebration when you think you’re calling the shots? Easy. Celebration when your plan is working? Anyone can do that. But when you realize that the story of your life could be told a thousand different ways, that you could tell it over and over as a tragedy, but you choose to call it an epic, that’s when you start to learn what celebration is. When what you see in front of you is so far outside of what you dreamed, but you have the belief, the boldness, the courage to call it beautiful instead of calling it wrong, that’s celebration.”

Shauna Niequist

Whenever I give God a timeline, He ignores it.

Rude, really.

A timeline for a relationship to start, or for clarity for the future to come upon me, or, more recently, a timeline for the sorrow to stop.

It’s crazy, but as I think through my four years of college, I realize that, essentially, I have been sad for most of them. Not flung on my bed, can’t face the day, cry at the drop of a coin sad. (Although, sometimes, that has definitely been me). Instead, more of a dull ache kind of sad, the kind that takes residency below your belly button and can be ignored most of the time, until the night was short or the test was long or my feelings were hurt in one way or another.

And in those moments, I realize just how prone to sadness I have been.

My freshman year, I was nothing close to that. Wildly energetic, blindly optimistic. Frankly, annoying, I’m sure. Life was my closest ally, my dearest friend. It had my back, and hadn’t let me down. I came into college off of a very unique and favorable high school experience. I loved my days in high school and flourished off of my naturally effervescent personality. No, I didn’t have everything I wanted, but I had happiness, and I didn’t realize at the time how futile it was.

I came into my college years thinking I had everything figured out, that the person I was as I moved into my dorm room as an 18 year old was the person I would be for the rest of my life. Happy, carefree.

Immature.

Shallow.

I loved God, but I didn’t really listen to Him. My faith consisted of me giving God timelines and thanking Him for all the good in my life. I never thought I would ever be a sufferer, never imagined I would care much for the verses that spoke about God lifting us out the darkness and being our very strength.

And yet as time went on, things started to not come together for me. My little freshman heart had been hurt pretty badly, I didn’t make it onto teams that mattered to me. I accepted a position that isolated me from my friends, living with girls I didn’t know yet. And about halfway through my sophomore year, I began to feel this strange thing:

sadness.

Not that I had never been sad before, but I had never been that sad. I began to walk through a season (that, honestly, has lasted 2 1/2 years) of anxiety and deep doubts in the God and world that I trusted to keep me happy at all times.

I didn’t understand what was happening to me. I would cry randomly, and want to be left alone. There were days I had no ambition to get out of bed. Times where I would have to swallow panic in order to make it through a conversation.

I didn’t realize how much of my identity I put into my personality. Happy, crazy Maddie. Fun Maddie. Energetic Maddie. There have been many times during college I have been none of those things.

So many days where I have been sad Maddie. Nervous Maddie. Emotional Maddie. Deep Maddie. Lonely Maddie.

Can I be her, too?

 

I gave God a timeline when I began senior year. I told Him, I’m tired of being sad. It’s really not for me, after all, is it? I don’t wear it well. It’s not flattering. 

I don’t like it, God. Take it back. 

I decided that it was time for God to begin handing me all the things He has held back.

Alright God, I’ve lived your plan in college. At least, pretty well. Now it’s time for my dream job. 

And dream boy. 

And please, this next stage of life… don’t make it a sad one. 

 

It has taken me a long time to realize that sadness is a blessing. It’s an emotion, like any other, and it needs to be in our lives. It is exactly our sorrow that brings us to the Lord. It is in our sadness that we get to learn true Joy.

As I read through 2 Corinthians yesterday, I stumbled upon a verse.

We are treated as imposters, and yet are true; as unknown, and yet well known; as dying, and behold, we live; as punished, and yet not killed; as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, yet possessing everything.

2 Corinthians 6:9-10

As sorrowful, yet always rejoicing.

That’s what I want, I realized.

I was so deeply under the lie that sadness was opposed to godliness, or that being sad made me unstable, undesirable, unusable by God. I though that in order to have Joy in this life I had to first become happy again, clothe myself once again in that skin from long ago.

And it’s just not true.

Though I am not sad at all times, I am learning it is beautiful to be sad at the right times. It is in that sorrow that I approach God in a new way. I am finding that our emotions matter so much less than I gave them credit for.

It is one thing to have joy when you’re happy, but a completely new, beautiful, earth-shaking reality to have Joy when sorrow fills your life.

But that’s the gift of grace, and I am ridiculously thankful for it.

Who knows what post-college life will look like for me? There may be a million things that begin to go my way, and if so, I will praise God for His gifts. But maybe not. I may have a few more years of sorrow ahead of me, more crying and “Why God?”-ing. More raw prayers and vulnerable conversations with those closest to me. More seeing God in brand new ways.

And you know what? That really doesn’t sound too bad.

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.

 

 

 

 

 

The Moments We Would Change

The Moments We Would Change

Things happen to us in our lives here on Earth.

Things that don’t make sense, things that hurt us in the deepest and most real ways. Things that unravel us and scream at us, telling us we’re something that we’re not. And we find ourselves one day, partaking in a conversation about life and fate with blue haired ladies at church or in the burrito line in our college cafeteria and the question is pondered,

What would you change?

“Nothing,” you hear someone say, “nothing at all.” And in some way, somewhere deep down, you admire their apparent acceptance of this turbulent life, but in another, very real way, your stomach drops

deep

down

into your gut as you think, in full assurance,

“I know exactly what I would change.”

I know the very moment.

And you see it. That moment. Those words. That accident or accusation or mistake. And the hurt poisons you as you stand in that line in the very same way it saturated your veins all of those days or months or years ago.

Yes. That is exactly what I would change.

Because these things happen, don’t they? We may not believe it, the power a moment can have, until it becomes a part of our story. I never knew until I found myself in a hospital room, identified as broken by the doctor with the fancy pen, back chilled by the unfortunate architecture of those gowns they make you wear. “Self-harm” thrown around like it was something that actually pertained to me. And yet I was there. I can still smell it.

Ask me, and I’ll say nothing makes you feel more broken than a hospital room. Nothing makes you feel more misunderstood than a diagnosis, especially a false one. And. Well, nothing makes you more vulnerable than allowing those moments to redefine who you are.

Forget the buckets of resiliency I possessed for the first 20 years of my life. When I left that day, I was weak. I was broken. Forever broken, if you asked me.

I gave the power to someone who didn’t deserve it, to someone who didn’t know me at all. To someone who called the ambulance in the blink of an eye, led me to it, and believed he was saving me from myself.

And I forgot, I completely forgot, who I was. I began to walk in fear, forsaking opportunities for adventure. I slept in on Saturdays so I didn’t have to get out of bed and face whatever terrifying thing existed in the world. I would walk by the array of fall colors on the trees and find some way to deny who they were.

Because after all, who was I?

I was broken, remember? I was weak.

Because he said I was weak. He said I was a quitter. And above his head, that fancy certificate proving that

he was right.

Right?

 

I’m done giving the power to liars – to The Liar. There are things that happen to us, friends, and they give us a choice.

Will we believe them?

My fingers shake as I write, fighting the good fight. Choosing to not believe them.

There are innumerable voices in this world. I used to think I was immune to the heart-stopping, life-altering affect they have in the lives of people. But we all are formed and altered by the voices we choose to believe.

I chose to believe that I was broken, doomed to that hospital bed, ruled by the woman that lay there. I believed that that was who I was, and that changed everything about every moment of my day since. I put fear on the throne of my mind and he took charge and I became exponentially less than who I am in every way.

I came back to school, convinced the people around me that I was “fine”. But the hardest person to convince was myself. Those people weren’t there, after all. They didn’t feel the utter panic of that moment, the one that painted my past with darkness. They didn’t stare blankly at the white hospital room walls. They didn’t wear the one-size-fits-all socks.

But it’s not them I have to convince. It’s me. I’m the one who decided that everything from that moment on was downhill. I’m the one that, for the past 10 months, has made residency in the false-claim of that day.

 

Because the truth?

The truth is that that day has made me more of who I am than I have ever been before. Forget flimsy pats on backs. I know what it is like to be wheeled in a gurney, treated not for a wound in my body, but for what they saw as a wound in my mind.

Was I hurting? Yes.

Should I have been there that day, marked as “unstable”, greeted by the friendly neighborhood crisis worker, and handed the red envelope on the way out?

Does it matter?

The truth is that it happened, and for better or for worse it is a part of my story. I can choose to dwell forever on who I was marked to be, or I can remember who I am. I can allow the trauma to swallow me whole (as it tempts to do), or I can remember that I have been given eyes I never believed I would possess.

This isn’t the time to go into the mental health system in our country. That may be for another post, at another time.

But I have learned, and choose to live, that no little orange bottle, no opinion of another, no doctor’s diagnosis, no trauma.

No thoughts.

Not even actions.

Nothing in this life can steal my identity away from me. I am a child of the King, a Christian, one who has chosen to follow the Lord of my Heart, the Savior who came and died so that I may have life abundant.

I am brave for He makes me brave.

I am strong for He makes me strong.

I am who He says I am, full of purpose and abounding in joy.

 

So what would I change?

Nothing. For I am more today than I ever imagined I would be.

 

Goodness And Romance And The Lies In-between

Goodness And Romance And The Lies In-between

Too often I separate romance from holiness.

That when I set out to “be holy, for [He] is holy”, that striving for holiness does not cover the categories of feelings for guys and the very womanly desire to know and be known. Fully, entirely, by a guy – an actual guy, one with eyes and feet and a nose and such.

And I’m not embarrassed to say it. That I desire that. Because I do.

Yet I’m learning how little I truly understand about it all. That romance can be one of the purest and most true forms of holiness – of being set apart for the Kingdom of God.

But it’s not the only form of holiness.

I feel as if I sat down with my freshman self today, if I were able to go back in time and watch as I began my college years, or even the 15 year-old version of me, with the concepts and ideas of what being 21 would be like, I feel like I would blow my own mind. Because, back then, I held tightly to my handwritten theology of how God views my love life. My own ideas of what He considers “good” in the romance department.

And how He has changed my heart and mind so completely. Not my emotions, no, but my mind.

There are a million voices that will speak into this topic, this eternal question of God and Romance and How The Heck Are We Supposed To Swim Through The Turbulent Waters Of Hormones And Feelings And Loneliness And What Even Are Standards And Boundaries As I Grow Older And Desires Grow Stronger And Is It Even Worth It To “Wait” For What Is Never Promised To Come In The First Place??

The world tells us romance is physical, purely entertainment. That giving yourself to a man – sexually, emotionally, without commitment and driven by desire is pretty much all we can expect from love. And that is has nothing to do with God.

Conservative circles (yes, even Christians) conveniently don’t talk about romance, like it doesn’t exist or something. Growing up in church, Sex Wednesday came around once a year in youth group, and that was pretty much it. Sex is bad – well, not bad, but not for you cause you’re 16, so sex is bad. And now we’re not gonna talk about it. And we were left to mosey around in our hormonal minds and pretend we never had thoughts we shouldn’t have had – about boys or ourselves.

At a Christian college, we throw the word “Contentment” around like confetti. The conversations are endless and frequent, and what do we mean by it? I am not here to bash contentment, for I believe that we can be kept in perfect peace when our minds are stayed on Christ,  but how often do we use it as a cop-out for our straying minds?

Too often contentment is used synonymously with “life of ease”. As if contentment means the struggle is gone.

Ladies, God did not create emotions to be un-felt. 

Please don’t expect the struggle for purity to fade. It won’t, but God can change us in the midst of the struggle.

And I don’t only mean physical purity. But emotional, mental. Spiritual.

A few weeks ago, I was encouraged by a text from my best friend. In the midst of a hard week, I came to her discouraged that I couldn’t just be happy already. I was tired of being upset about my circumstances, trapped in the lie that happiness equals holiness, that I’m only in God’s will if I feel like I am. She rebuked me in the best way:

“Love, it is always ok to feel the sadness. Don’t let anyone tell you to get over it, regardless of the whys. Learn to live with Sad Maddie. There’s nothing wrong with her. In fact she may have strengths that Confident Maddie doesn’t.”

I think we, as Christian women, try to walk around like we don’t have desires. I think we try to save-face when he doesn’t like us back or our best friend gets engaged and we feel like crying about it is weakness.

I think we think that three or four or five years of singleness will be enough to finally convince ourselves that we don’t need that intimacy anyways. That after so long we have no right to feel the way we do because we should have figured out how to be lonely by now.

I believe one of God’s most mind-blowing creations was love – Eros love – the combining of two people, the intimacy – physically and emotionally. It is why He calls us, the Church, His Bride, for in it lies the concept of being known fully. As we are all meant to be known.

 

And yet.

And yet I sit here single, as perhaps you do too. And I was sad, today, about being single. But I’m learning to not worry about the emotions, the beautiful emotions. The beautiful sadness, and the way that it changes me for the better. I’ll probably cry this week, and that’s ok too.

But there is a very worthy battle to fight. The battle of Truth.

Listen to me. You are not single because you are undesirable. You are not single because God doesn’t see and hear. You are not single because the girls around you are funnier or healthier or have a better nose or sense of style or are more socially competent. Satan will try, every day, to convince you of these things. Don’t let him. Never, ever let him. Take every thought captive for the cause of Christ.

I called my mom last night to vent about it because, honestly, sometimes it just really stinks. And I sat outside and asked her to remind me of the plans God has for me, and how not experiencing romance is a part of them. And when we hung up, I chose to believe it. And as I walked back to my dorm, I chose to uproot any thoughts that discount the blood of Jesus on the Cross, the value He gave me and the plans He wrote for me before time began.

Because they’re still valid. In fact, more so than ever. For every day I feel the singleness, the more God can comfort me. And every day I don’t get the flattery from men, I hear the resounding flattery from God, how He made me abundantly beautiful. And every day I give myself fully to the task in front of me, the more I realize that it’s good. It’s so good. Romance is good, but it’s not the only good. Discipleship is good. Friendship is good. Writing is good. Learning is good.

Being who God has called me to be, today, is good. It’s very good.

Even better than romance. For me today, it is better than romance. For to live in the perfect plan of Christ is the absolute best place that I can be.