A Shameless Plug For Counseling

A Shameless Plug For Counseling

I’ll be honest – this post is mainly just a shameless plug for counseling. But I don’t care.

It took me 16 months to decide to find a counselor post-college. I wish it had taken me 2 months, but alas here we are. It’s funny how stubborn I get whenever I need help in life, especially mentally or emotionally. Or spiritually. I will truly convince myself that I’m fine for, well, 16 months before doing anything about it.

But a month ago I finally broke down and googled enough and found a name of a counselor that I prayed would listen to my story and see through my craziness and love me. And yesterday was our second time meeting together.

I hate driving to a counseling appointment because I spent all week closing up and trying to convince people I was fine about certain things, but I know that it would be a waste of my time and money to do that in front of Sarah (not my real counselor’s name, but that’s what I’ll call her). I remember that I have to let down walls, and I’m always pretty sure I’m gonna cry and I’m usually not in the mood to be emotional about the sad stuff I’ve been trying to shut out.

Counseling is hard work but it’s worth it.

This was actually a huge week for me. A really exciting opportunity came my way and it has been a week of celebrating that and being with those that I love. But this great opportunity will also mean a lot of change in my life, and deep down that has gnawed at me.

So when I sat down yesterday at 3 p.m. on the grey plushy couch in her office and Sarah asked me what my week was like, I truly couldn’t think of a single thing to say. Instead, I hugged a throw pillow to my chest and stared at the blinds on the windows behind her and mumbled some stuff about it being fine. And then it hit me and I was like, “Oh my gosh, wait how did I forget this happened?” And I began to tell her about this new opportunity in my life and how it was so exciting.

But I didn’t look excited or sound excited. In fact, I felt like I had become a piece of cardboard – flat and brown and dry. Emotionless, even in the face of huge exciting news in my life.

The great thing about counselors is that they don’t let you get away with that kind of stuff. So Sarah dug in and started asking me what was up. This was a great thing in my life – why am I talking about it like someone died? What’s really going on?

It took me about 45 minutes to answer that question because I didn’t really know. Or, at least, the answer was so complicated that it took that long to reach any sort of explanation. I started to realize that, although this new opportunity was something I had been dreaming of for years, now that it’s here the change it will bring into my life scares me. And, I began to realize through tears, it scares me because the last huge change I went through in my life was harder than I ever let on to anyone else.

I want to share with you my journal entry from this morning because I thought maybe it was just honest enough and maybe you need that in your life today. It talks a lot about the post-college fellowship program I did last year and the internship I had at a ministry at the time.

I cried at counseling yesterday, and then sobbed in the Chipotle parking lot afterwards.

Sarah asked me about my week. At first, I forget about what even happened this week which was crazy because I actually got some super exciting news. But counseling, in all it’s glory, brought emotion out of me where there was only numbness. In my heart and mind, I know I have always downplayed just how hard my fellows year was for me. I was so depressed for some of it. I was in really bad shape. But while it was happening and even now, I just block it out and downplay it. Out of survival, I think. While I was in the fellows program, I just wanted to survive it. Failing the fellows meant moving back home and admitting that I couldn’t make it.

I know that I struggled with honesty all those 9 months. From the first day, I struggled being honest. Through meeting all the new people to starting my internship to going to classes, I was smiling (sometimes) on the outside, but truly dying on the inside.

I’ll never forget one day at my internship, about a month into the program and my life-after-college. I had spent the last month smiling and being brave and learning street names and deciding to be strong through it all, and that morning at my desk at work I finally quieted down and realized I had never been so numb in my life. I wrote my name on an email and it scared me to realize I hardly even recognized my own name. I had spent so much time putting on a face for everyone in this town that when it finally settled down a bit I realized I had absolutely no idea how to talk to myself. I hadn’t been honest with myself in months. I didn’t even recognize the sound of my own voice or my own name or my own face in the mirror.

That’s a core memory, me sitting in that office feeling that way. And it began the rocky relationship I’ve had with myself and God ever since. I knew I had a choice that day. Do I break down and show honesty about how I really felt living in a new city and doing this fellowship program? Which probably would have included calling a sick day and going to my car and dialing my mom and breaking down in sobs because of how deeply overwhelmed I was. Or, the other option, which I took, do I just suck it up and move forward?

I wish I had called in sick and scheduled a counselor and not numbed myself out during that first year in South Carolina. But I know why I didn’t. It’s because that is so hard to do. It is so much “easier” to numb out and move forward. You feel stronger and braver and more capable to do the overwhelming task in front of you.

And so that’s why that day at work I wasn’t honest. Honesty was the scariest option I had. But because I wasn’t honest, I created a core memory that is ambiguous and lonely and numb. And now, 15 months later, I’m trying to breathe life into it.

Maybe you’re not like me and you read that and think I’m the most dramatic person on the planet. That’s fine, because I know that everyone has different levels of emotions hardwired into them.

But maybe you are like me, and maybe you also have the kind of emotions that demand to be felt. I have learned that I was simply made that way, and it means I need to tend to those emotions because I become sick when I don’t. I would encourage you to practice raw honesty and lean into the pain when it’s real and happening right in front of you, like I’m trying to do now.

That’s exactly what counseling is for. I’m sure I’ll write more about my time in Sarah’s office because right now it’s the tool that God is using to bring health back into my mental, emotional and spiritual life.

When You Can’t Read Your Bible

When You Can’t Read Your Bible

I hardly read my Bible lately.

And it wasn’t a conscious choice. I didn’t wake up one day and decide to put it on the shelf next to all the other books I don’t read. I just kinda stopped. Day by day, I would let myself sleep in that extra hour instead of getting up and reading Philippians next to my cup of coffee.

For years, that hour at the beginning of the day was sacred to me. In high school, sometimes it would only lat 15 minutes because I had a 6:15 a.m. cheer practice to get to, but many semesters of college I didn’t have classes until 10 a.m. And so my mornings became slow and easy and full of time to fill with scripture. My ESV journaling bible became wrecked with notes, pages crumpled, and the cover stained with coffee, highlighters, and balsamic vinegar. (Yes, that actually happened.)

But when I graduated college my life became disrupted. Being in the “real world” is nothing like going to a small private bible college. Moving to South Carolina felt a million miles away from Ohio. And for an entire year or more, I just couldn’t find a rhythm.

For about 6 months, my Bible felt toxic. I just couldn’t seem to touch it. It felt scary and unnecessary and completely irrelevant to my life of internships and anti-depressants. How could the thought of a big God comfort me in any way if that God allowed my life to be so hard?

But as time went on, I just slowly drifted away from the intimate moments I used to have with God. Almost like slowly losing a friend, you convince yourself that it’s going to be okay, and it happens so gradually that you hardly notice the difference. Until one day you realize that a part of your heart has grown cold and you desperately want to zap it in the microwave to give it life again.

I know it’s why I haven’t written. I mean, my blog is called “This Life I Learn“. But when I don’t talk to God, how can I learn? That special part of my heart reserved for intimacy with Him becomes numb and stale.

I finally, finally feel like post-graduate life is starting to settle in. I’m finding my stroke. Normal, quiet Saturday mornings actually exist. And in these moments, with my bath-robe so warm around my neck and the noon daylight shining onto my kitchen table, I miss my old friend desperately. I want to talk to Him. I want to tell Him about my day and how much it hurts to think about boys and how confused I am about what my future career path should be.

And so I did what I used to do in moments like these: I started to read the New Testament. The epistles, mainly, because I love the thought of Paul writing letters to his friends and, in a way, to me.

Ephesians 1:16 begins by saying:

I do not cease to give thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers, that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of Him, having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which He has called you, what are the riches of His glorious inheritance in the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of His power toward us who believe, according to the working of His great might that He worked in Christ when He raised Him from the dead and seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly places..

Having the eyes of your hearts enlightened…

If my heart has eyes, then they have been sealed shut lately. My head has been bent low, my eyes shut, as I’ve tried to get through the day in front of me. Forget the posture of wonder I used to have when I was younger. Lately, life has felt like something to survive, not live.

But that’s the gift of God. He wants me to live. His Holy Spirit has power and He desires that I take on the world with it! And that’s the difference between life without God and life with Him. Life without God means breathing and doing, but life with God means living. It means having the eyes of my heart opened and vulnerable and brave. I’ve missed that kind of life.

This fall I’ve been leading a small group at church of 9th grade girls, and this passage makes me think of them. Isn’t that my prayer? That the eyes of their hearts would be opened up? I pray that all of us would start to understand that God has so much more for us than we can even imagine.

And that life begins in silence, with the Bible and a pen. It has to start there.

 

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.

 

 

 

379 Days Into Adulthood

379 Days Into Adulthood

379 days ago I decided to move to the South.

Well, decided is a generous word. Maybe, more specifically, ran away to the South.

I would never have decided to leave the stage of life I was in. I know that might make me sound like one of those people always living in the “good ole’ days of college”, but it’s true. I was happy there – on my little campus, in the cornfields of Ohio, in close proximity to almost everybody I really cared about on this planet. I was nuzzled up, as with a warm blanket on a snowy day. The cultural references made sense to me, the pace of life worked well for me, the people knew me. I loved being a student – loved getting out of class at noon and walking to my favorite coffee shop to tune the world out, listen to music, and get some homework done.

It suited me.

And, given the choice, I would not have left. But I wasn’t given a choice, really.

And that’s why I ran away to the South.

I’ve decided that moving across the country, as a single gal, to start life as a young adult is a lot like being a toddler again, lost in Walmart. You’re ridiculously small compared to all of the people around you. Everything is overwhelming. You’re lost, unsure what to do, paralyzed, and the only things in the world that could give you comfort are the arms of your mom, wrapping around you in relief.

That’s me. Except for I’m not a toddler, I’m lost somewhere much larger than Walmart, and mommy ain’t comin.

Adulthood, yeah?

It doesn’t matter how many times I feed my debit card into a cash only machine, or total my car, or break down on the side of the road, I can’t do a single thing to nuzzle back onto that fluffy couch called college. I can’t force all of my best friends to travel to South Carolina to give me a hug. I can’t not pay my traffic ticket. I can’t teleport back to my college cafeteria and eat several servings of hard scoop ice cream in one meal.

I ran away to the South, but now there’s nowhere to go.

Is my life terrible? No. But it’s not the same, and that’s the real heartbreak. I’m learning that 379 days in a new town is nothing, and that it will take several hundred more to feel at home here. I’ll wait it out, and it will happen. I’ll find my people here. It will become somewhere special to me. I’m beginning to realize that the real battle is letting it happen.

I spoke to one of my best friends on the phone recently. We reminisced about friends we had and memories we made, and I began to blurt out my feelings on this subject. How do I move on? She is a strong, solid woman of God so I know she’ll be okay, but I almost felt myself apologizing to her, saying, “You know how much it breaks my heart to live so far away. But I do. We do. So I have to make friends here. I have to create a life here. That’s okay, right? You’ll understand, right?”

And I know she will. I know she does. Because she loves me, and it’s what we all have to do.

And yet, that rational way of thinking didn’t keep me from curling up like an infant on the couch this past week, sobbing over friends of past, knowing that my affection towards them can’t make them move to the same apartment building as me. I prayed that they knew I didn’t leave them on purpose, and that I never would have chosen to. And that I still love them, even if I don’t call them very often because it’s almost more painful to hear their fuzzy phone voice than to not hear them at all.

I read in 1 John today about the love of God. I know it’s been a long time since I believed that God still has my back, and so I have to repeat it over and over in the early light of morning in order for it to effect me at all. It becomes starkly obvious to me these days, when I finally do crack open my Bible, how cold I have become to my first Love. It didn’t happen overnight, but somewhere in these past 379 days, I simply stopped believing that I’m still His girl, and that He’s still watching over me.

But He is, isn’t He? “We love because He first loved us.” He sees my numbness of heart, my clouded mind as I train in my new job, my childlike sobbing on the love-seat in my 3rd floor apartment, the 2008 Mazda I tote around town. He knows where I’m at, and loves how I obsessively bargain hunt to decorate my apartment, how I re-read Nicholas Sparks novels while simultaneously complaining that there are no good books out there, how I fumble around my kitchen trying to cook.

And knowing that He knows, and that He sees me, gives me courage. I can make it. More than that – I can live through these years, not simply survive. I used to view this season as a marathon, but that just left me exhausted. Maybe it’s more like a stroll through town, if I relax enough to view it that way. I can take breaks to breathe and read and write and run. I can be me, even if I’m not always sure who that is.

My life changed in every way when I moved here. I’ve been miserable, but I’ve also been better than ever. Somehow, they mix. And somehow, after it all, I still believe there’s good to come.

 

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)

 

 

That One Guy Named John

That One Guy Named John

So we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us.

1 John 4:16

Sometimes when I read the Bible my mind likes to pretend that it was written by a ghost or a robot or, I don’t know, some disconnected monk somewhere. And I forget that it was written by normal people, just talking about everything they experienced, and how they met God in a way they never planned.

This verse was written by a guy named John, and talks about how somewhere, somehow, he came to know and believe the love that God had for him. I find this intriguing because, well, want to come to know and believe that God loves me. I want to sit down with John and look him in the eye and ask him the entire story, because surely he was just like me. Surely he doubted his lovability, surely he faced hardships, surely the world around him absolutely screamed the opposite claim – that love is earned, not given. That love is conditional. That there is fear in love.

But that’s not what John says. A few sentences after this claim, he then goes on to say that “there is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear”. Ok, scoop that up on a plate and serve me dinner please, because I want that. (Whoops… is it showing that I live in the South now…?)

What in John’s life convinced him so thoroughly that it’s true?

 

I don’t know much about John, and Biblical scholars surely know way more than me, but the Bible tells us that he was a fisherman. And one day, he was sitting in his fishing boat with his brother, James, and their dad. They were mending their nets, as I’m sure they did often, when a man named Jesus walked by and he told them,

“Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.”

Which, honestly, is kind of a weird statement. But the Bible says that John and James left their father immediately to follow Jesus. They vacated their fishing boat and profession and started a brand new life. Just like that.

What was it about Jesus that made them do that?

It must have been the same “thing” about Jesus that caused John, years and years later, to write about how convinced he was that God loved him. The things he experienced while following Jesus changed him forever, and what I believe he experienced above all else is love. He became convinced of the love Jesus had for him, and consequently, the love God had for him because Jesus is God.

And so I believe that the only way to understand how loved we are by God is to understand who Jesus was. Not who our minds make Him out to be, because our minds often lie. But who was Jesus really? What did John see Him do and hear Him say that convinced him of His love? Maybe you’ve read the gospels before, and you assume you know who Jesus is, but I know I need a closer look.

So this month I am going to use John’s gospel as a tool to finding God’s love. Every day, together, we will crack open the stories John tells and look at them from new angles. Not as people sitting in our living rooms reading about them, but as the people who were really there.

And I pray that, by the end of the month, you and I can both come to know and believe the love that God has for us.