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

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.

 

It Was Never Meant To Be A Game

Every day, it seems, I am having a conversation about singleness and the mind-rattling frustration it brings countless beautiful girls who just can’t figure out what they’re “doing wrong”.

Sometimes these conversations happen over coffee, or in the middle of watching Netflix, or, well… too often with myself as I stare in the mirror in the morning. “What’s the point of curling my hair if no boys ever seem to take a second glance?” Of course, thinking like that is instrumentally detrimental and just down-right unhealthy, but sometimes I can’t help myself.

Singleness can be a weary reality indeed.

These thoughts and frustrations from myself and others have made me search for wisdom like hidden treasure. My mom always told me that choosing who I will marry will be the second most important decision in my life, second only to choosing to follow Jesus.

So you’d better believe I want to make that decision correctly, and I can’t help but know that it all begins in my single days.

In my Wisdom Search, I ran across a book full of articles by a woman named Elisabeth Elliot (many of you may know of her. I have taken to calling her my “new best friend” because her words tend to my heart in a way few have ever been able to.) She wrote one particular article on the topic of singleness- but more than that, prolonged singleness. Like me, she had had countless conversations with many jaw-dropping, loving girls who felt utterly trapped in a life of singleness.

She speaks of women who prayed for 20 years for a husband who never came. Of women with feelings that have no outlet. Of women who have given everything to following Jesus, trusting Him with every aspect of their lives, yet finding themselves humanly alone even though their hearts long to share their lives with someone.

 

Am I doing something wrong?

Should I go to more “singles barbeques”?

Should I just ask him out already? I’m allowed to do that, right? Right?

Why does this all feel like a big game?

 

A game. What a way to describe it.

Last night I stayed up late talking through life with a dear friend. Our conversation traveled from faith to family to… well, boys. (Hey, we’re 21. It happens.) We’re both single, but both all-too aware of the plethora of attractive and God-fearing men on our college campus. (Last time my parents visited campus, my mom remarked, “Maddie, there are so many cute guys on this campus!” Yes, mom. I know.)

Once we had covered the basics (who we like. how many encounters we had had with him in the past week), we let our laughter fade and fell silent. Why? Because, at the end of the day, we both have no idea what to do about these feelings we can’t seem to shoo away. We don’t know how to play the game. 

“Nobody does” remarks Elisabeth, “It’s chaos, frustration, confusion, and emotional devastation. It was never meant to be a game, so don’t try to play it. Leave it all in the Hands that were wounded for you.”

There have been times in my life where I have been tempted to stop praying for my future husband. Often, conversations with other single girls end with “I’ve stopped praying for a husband because God doesn’t guarantee one. It will just end in frustration.” But then what do I do about verses like Philippians 4:6 that tell me to “not be anxious about anything, but in everything- by prayer and petition- present my requests to God”?

Now, if your singleness isn’t making you anxious, then maybe God isn’t stirring your heart in that direction right now. But, if you’re like me and your current relationship status has a tendency to keep you up at night, tossing and turning and making you want to cry out in frustration, “Oh, can’t I just ask HIM out??” then I urge you- PRAY ABOUT IT.

Elisabeth tells you to leave it all in the Hands that were wounded for you. Let me ask you a question: Do you trust God with your love story? Do you really truly believe the Bible when it promises that “in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose”?

When did we take earthly love out of the category of “all good things”?

God didn’t create romance to be a game. He created marriage to reflect His love for the church. He created it to be something His children thoughtfully trusted Him with.

It’s not meant to be a game, and thank goodness because I don’t know how to play it.

So instead, I will pray. I will cast my anxieties on the LORD and trust that He sees my heart and truly knows me. I will focus on being His Bride and prayerfully wait to see if He designed me to be anybody else’s.

“It was never meant to be a game, so don’t try to play it. Leave it all in the Hands that were wounded for you.”

“And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.”

Romans 8:28

Lend Me Your Hope

I ran across a poem the other day that stopped me in my tracks.

Lend me your hope for a while,
I seem to have mislaid mine.
Lost and hopeless feelings accompany me daily,
pain and confusion are my companions.

I know not where to turn.
Looking ahead to future times
does not bring forth images of renewed hope.
I see troubled times,
pain-filled days,
and more tragedy.

Lend me your hope for a while,
I seem to have mislaid mine.
Hold my hand and hug me;
listen to all my ramblings,
recovery seems so far distant.
The road to healing
seems like a long and lonely one.

Lend me your hope for a while,
I seem to have mislaid mine.
Stand by me,
offer me your presence,
your heart and your love.
Acknowledge my pain,
it is so real and ever present.
I am overwhelmed
with sad and conflicting thoughts.

Lend me your hope for a while.
A time will come when I will heal,
and I will share my renewal,
hope and love with others.

Do those words resonate in your soul? They do mine.

We live in a broken world, one full of depression and death and blinding suffering. One of the greatest issues I have known and observed that accompanies times of suffering is the question, “Where do I go from here?” In the throws of the storm it seems impossible to function at any level of normalcy, and conversations with those hurting often land somewhere around the tearful wondering:

How?

How can I keep up with the life I once knew?

How do I even pretend to function like I once did?

How do I get out of bed?

How do I go to work, or school, or even church?

How do I live surrounded by people that appear to have it all together when my life is literally falling apart at the seams?

 

And those conversations usually end with a tear-stained face and puffy eyes, emotions overwhelming the sufferer to the point of collapse. Oh, how the wars Satan wages can rock us off of our feet! Whether it was a gradual collapse or an overnight crumbling, many of us at some point in our lives find ourselves weeping and running to the bottom of the rocking ship to wake Jesus and scream “Where have you been? Can’t you see I’m drowning??”

Many of us have, at some point, had a deficit of hope in our hearts. Maybe we know in our minds that light and hope has come into the world, but in the pits of the despair we are currently sinking into we cannot see anything but darkness.

This post is not really about the healing that comes through Jesus Christ, though I need to say that healing exists and is very, very real in His hands. Instead, however, this post is for those of us that need to know how to function today. Suffering is real, and many of us right now are waking up and staring at our bedroom ceiling thinking, “How am I going to get through today?”

The poem starts with “lend me your hope for a while, for I seem to have mislaid mine”. Oh, what an accurate description of what it feels like to be in the throws of a trial! Many of us wake up one day and realize that our hope somehow left without our permission, leaving us desperate for its return. This poem is a cry to those around us, the people in our lives that have perhaps been asking what they can do to help us through this difficult time. In my sufferings, I have grown accustomed to saying:

“Just lend me your hope.”

I don’t know about you, but there are mornings where I rely on the hope of those around me to get me moving. The concept of borrowing hope is, quite honestly, a hopeful one.

But that wasn’t even the line that stopped me in my tracks when I first this poem.

This past month, as I rode out a painful trial, my parents longed to know how to best help me, and my answer surprised me. I’m not an incredibly touchy person, but I realized that what I needed most in the days to come is somebody to hug me and hold my hand and be with me through what was undeniably going to be a torturous season of life.

Hold my hand and hug me;
listen to all my ramblings,
recovery seems so far distant.
The road to healing
seems like a long and lonely one.

Hold my hand and hug me. Listen to all of my ramblings. Lend me your hope in the form of your presence, for the road out of suffering can be long and lonely and I need to know that I am not alone.

If you are reading this as someone striving to help a loved one through a trial, remember that what sufferers need most is companionship. They need to know that they are not alone. They don’t need you to solve their problems, they simply need you to hold their hand and let them cry for as many days as it takes. They need you to listen to their ramblings and love them through it all. Tell them that you love them and tell them that you are going to be by their side until the storm has passed.

And if you, dear friend, are the one in the midst of the storm, please please please remember that Jesus is not absent. In fact, he allows storms to happen so that we are able to see Him calm the waves that rock us. If you are suffering, remember that you are in the exact right place for your faith to be transformed. 1 Peter reminds us that “Pure gold put in the fire comes out of it proved pure; genuine faith put through this suffering comes out proved genuine.”

Genuine faith. That’s your prize after all of this is said and done. Don’t lose heart!

If you are blinded by darkness, know without a shadow of a doubt that the True Light has come into the world and, if you have allowed Him, into even your heart.

For one day, perhaps not too far down the road, you will be able to lend your hope to someone else. “Lend me your hope for a while. A time will come when I will heal,
and I will share my renewal, hope and love with others.” What a day that will be!

But today, friend, give yourself grace. Pray. Cry. Sleep. Find beauty. Go for a walk. Cry again. Read and paint and run. Do what fills your heart and balms your soul. And remember: Jesus is the Great Physician and He begins healing you the moment you ask Him to.

But in the meantime, borrow hope. Borrow it from friends, family, and from the Hope of the world Himself. For there is unquenchable Hope in this world, and it is yours for the taking.

 

Can God Use Me If I’m Not “Feeling It”?

Joy.

Joy. The one word I feel has been lacking from my spirit these past couple of weeks.

Do you ever have those days, or weeks, or months, where you can’t seem to find the joy in your life? As if someone stole it right from under your nose and hid it? And then, before you know it,  life begins to exist through tinted glasses and fast-forwarded days and you live and sleep and live and sleep and… You wake up and do it again.

That’s been me.

What is joy? The Bible never describes it as an emotion, as we too often do. (Even notice how I conveniently used the word “feel” at the beginning of this post…) Nor is it a situation or an environment.

So what is it?

The Bible says to “consider it pure joy whenever you face trials of many kinds” (James 1:2), and to also “eat your food with gladness, and drink your wine with a joyful heart, for God has already approved what you do”. (Ecclesiastes 9:7) Peter says that  “though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy“. (1 Peter 1:8)

Therefore joy is present in the good and the bad. It is abundant in our trust and belief that Jesus is Who He says that He is.

It’s… unwavering.

So why have I felt this way? Why, if I have always believed that joy is constant in the life of somebody following Jesus… why has it appeared so distant?

 

I was given an incredible gift today.

You see, it’s my birthday. I’m 21 today… 21 years of exchanging oxygen and stories with the other souls in my life.

Birthdays are funny. Your birthday is the day that is always supposed to go right. Presents are supposed to be given (and returned…?), cake is supposed to be eaten, friends are supposed to be hugged, Mountain Dew is supposed to be drunk (drank? drinken? sp?).

And yet, often they can be the most disappointing day of the year. (Am I right?) That most-wonderful-boy-in-the-entire-world-who-is-your-future-husband-but-doesn’t-know-it-yet fails to wish you a happy day, you’re away from your family (college…), and you don’t quiiiite get the gift you were betting on.

Well, today I was given the most incredible gift, one that left me in tears in a dorm stairwell at midnight.

You see, these wonderful people in my life, my friends, gave me the gift of words. I received a book full of letters- letters from the people that mean the most. I was given the gift today, in the wee hours of my birthday, to read through my tears the encouragement that I didn’t realize I was so desperate for.

But the most incredible gift of all was one from Jesus, from the One who pursues me and chooses me and sweeps me off of my feet every time I fall. You see, He knows- even when no one else does- my heart. The depths of my heart. He knows when my cells scream to explode from happiness, and He knows when my soul shrivels and cries alone, “God… why am I here? Why am on this campus? What good can I accomplish? I can’t even conquer these sins of pride and idolatry… how can you even use me?”

He sees me through even that.

And today He saw me. How do I know?

Because do you know what word I read over and over and over in those letters?

Joy.

Repeatedly, over and over again, I read myself on the page being described as a vessel of joy in the lives of those around me- lives that needed it. I sat there amazed and awed and completely overwhelmed by the intense beauty of the moment. Me- the sponge who feels squeezed-clean of it- was in some way, somehow, a fountain of joy to the people around me.

 

Why do I tell you this?

Believe me, it’s not to brag about all of the “great things everyone’s saying about Maddie”. It’s not to extinguish your last excuse of not “knowing it’s my birthday”. (PS I like cards and dark chocolate ;))

I tell you this to bring up a very specific and intrinsically beautiful point.

Jesus doesn’t need me to feel joyful in order to bring joy into the world.

Let me say that again: Jesus doesn’t need me to feel joyful in order to bring joy into the world.

9 times out of 10 I allow my emotions to dictate truth in my life, and it needs to stop. You see, emotions do nothing to the promises of God. Joy is a gift given- a filling in which we are merely willing vessels.

It is not something I try to do, not some trait I attempt to accomplish.

 

Tonight, sitting in a deserted stairwell, I was reminded that being used by Jesus to change lives is not something that do. As I held my oily, end-of-the-day face in my hands and sobbed tears of complete joy, I was held in the comfort that I don’t need to be or do because everything has already been done. And because Jesus is. 

He is joy, not me. I am merely the birthday girl that gets to unwrap it.