Courage Is Not The Absence Of Fear

Courage Is Not The Absence Of Fear

Ever since I was little, I’ve wanted to do big things.

I was that kid who would watch American Idol with my family on a Tuesday night, and then quickly steal upstairs and practice singing in front of my full length mirror until mom came to tuck me in. I would practice introducing myself to the judges (Randy, J-Lo and Steven Tyler at the time), and I would pace back and forth, singing and using up the space, putting on a real show to my 10-year old self in the mirror.

I would do this partly because I liked to sing, of course, but mainly because it was a big thing, American Idol, and I wanted a part of it.

I’ve always wanted to be a part of big things.

My mom would get me snuggled in bed, and by the glow of the dim lamp I would dream about what my life would be. And I would think that I would do just about anything and go just about anywhere. I would audition for crazy singing shows and fly all around the world and write best-selling books. (Don’t even get me started on all the rough-drafts I had going of achingly-bad teen novels…)

My head was full of big dreams, because I wanted to be a part of big things.

As I grew up, those big desires began to change a little. Not entirely, and not overnight, but I did realize that there were bigger things than trying out for reality TV shows. I would fantasize filling up my passport and playing my oboe so well that thousands would come and see.

I would dream so big, and I wouldn’t feel any fear. Partly because I hadn’t actually done any of these things, but also because the world was consistently good at patting me on the back. I was cheer captain, principle chair in band, worship team leader in youth group. I had a loving family, a comfortable home, an exciting life. I had friends that had stuck by me for 10 years, and I was looking towards an excellent college education at the school of my choice. I had never experienced real pain, physical, mental, or emotional. I had never had my heart broken, never been hospitalized for more than a day, never tasted bitter panic.

I didn’t view myself as plagued by anything that would stop me from filling my life up with everything that would make me happy. As I write it now, I recognize how ridiculously skewed this way of thinking was, and also how painfully naive.

I took mission trips in high school, to Mexico, Burkina Faso, Mali, China… I prided myself on my ability to go on trips that I wanted to go on, saw myself as so brave to jump on a plane, selfishly see the world, give what didn’t hurt, and then come home. (Now, I don’t want to make myself sound too awful in high school, but if I’m honest -and I try to be- my heart was a selfish muscle. I was in it for me, and I passed it off for Christ-like.)

I thought courage was the desire to do big things and the ability to carry them out un-fazed, happy. I saw the courageous people as those who made big moves, and the scared, lazy people as those who lived normal lives.

I was sickeningly wrong.

 

I got lost in the Shanghai airport the last time I flew home from China. The story is long, and though I like to tell it to anyone who will listen, I will spare you the details here. All you need to know is I got lost, I got freaked, and then I finally found my family just in time to jump on a metal tube that was about to take me over the Pacific Ocean for 17 hours.

Something weird happened in me that day. Something cracked. I was scared. Suddenly, it was all too much for me, and I felt that I would never jump on another plane again. I practically kissed the ground when we touched base in Seattle.

My little ghost began to follow me around. I was a sophomore in college at the time, and suddenly I was afraid of things that I knew shouldn’t scare me. Dark clouds began to find me on perfectly normal days, and I couldn’t see past them. I began to doubt everything – my faith in God, my ability to make it through the day breathing normally. My chest was tight. I couldn’t make it through a work shift without reading scripture or taking bathroom breaks to breathe.

I had my first panic attack about 6 months after the incident in Shanghai. I gripped the chair, didn’t tell a soul, and couldn’t believe there would ever come a day I wasn’t afraid. My fear was irrational, most of it, and yet it was so real. It became my closest companion – it wouldn’t leave me alone.

Those big crazy dreams of mine were put somewhere deeper than I could see them. Nothing mattered but getting through the day. And besides, I couldn’t imagine boarding a plane, let alone doing something worth mentioning on the other side. Suddenly courage meant something new to me – seeing past the fear and finding life somewhere else.

 

I write this today because I spent my whole day packing, anticipating the first big trip since the incident in China, since the fear began, 3 years later. I am coming off an intensely fearful season of my life, and I am no longer the happy-go-lucky high school girl I was as I stare down this adventure. She has been replaced by reality, by a girl who knows hurt, and joy, more than she thought she would.

Yet she has never been so courageous. I have never been so courageous.

Courage is not the absence of fear, but the knowledge that there is Something bigger than it. Someone bigger than it. In fact, I believe no one is truly courageous unless they are utterly afraid. Courage is acting in faith when the task at hand terrifies you, knowing that God has ordained these steps and will provide a way through them.

I never knew my need for God until I walked through a season afraid. I have never loved Him more.

Now, I view no one more courageous than the quiet soul who dispels fear with scripture, who wakes up daily and says, “God, what’s next?” Because that’s hard to do. It takes real faith.

It takes a heart of bravery. Of courage, in its purest form.

So I’ll jump on a plane this Friday a little afraid, and a lot excited because I get to be brave.

I never had the chance before.

 

 

 

You Will Change, And It Will Scare You.

You Will Change, And It Will Scare You.

18 months ago, my horse hit a wall.

A metaphorical wall, of course, and the horse: also a metaphor. This is one of those “metaphorical posts”, and if you hate metaphors, feel free to back out now. But I just completed a bachelor’s degree in psychology, emphasis in counseling.

Home girl loves metaphors.

 

This is about the day I realized I was changed for good.

 

18 months ago, the same month my precious horse met her doom, I sat in a downtown, upper level office building turned counseling office. Feeling crazed and substantially lopsided, as going to counseling often makes one feel, I tread a skinny stairwell, shed my mom in the lobby, and took a seat on a ridiculously comfortable couch. (Note to the reader: counselors own REALLY comfortable couches. Seriously. Go set up an appointment JUST to sit on the couch.)

Although, to be fair, I don’t remember sparing much thought on the furniture the first day I visited that office. I was grieving, hard.

My horse…

I couldn’t believe she was gone. For 21 years… 21 years of her companionship, of her steady walk, the way her leg muscles leaned and stretched into bumps along the way, keeping me upright. I felt naked.

If I’m honest, I was there to bring her back. She hit a wall but she wasn’t gone. Surely. She was just hurt, ready to be repaired, ready to be mine again.

I needed her to be mine again. 

My crazed eyes glanced up to sound. The counselor walked into the office. 5’8″, salt and pepper, with a kind face. Greetings, then he took a seat across from me, yellow legal pad in hand.

“So, Maddie.” Crows feet aside gentle eyes met me, telling me it’s ok. “What’s going on?”

My eyes met my hands, gripping each other, hot tears stretching forward. Ugh, not yet. Why can’t I get through the story in one piece? Where was I supposed to begin? The first day I felt the cold fear? The hospital visit, so fresh I could still smell the stale sheets?

Really, though, I knew it began long ago, and must begin there again. Blonde curly hair, hand in mom’s, the day I first met her, the day I first rode her.

My horse…

I began to talk, rambling about childhood, about what I believed, about what was mine. About what was lost. Trying to put into words what is invisible but so, so real. In my heart, I knew that she was seen only by me, and my words pleaded with him to understand that it didn’t make her any less real.

His eyes coaxed me on. He was beginning to see her too.

I cried under that gaze, allowed myself to feel what had been chained, scared to exist.

Finally, from between swollen eye lids, I saw him lean back into his counselor-chair, eyes on me. Letting me be a little crazy. I couldn’t believe how good it felt.

“What was her name?”

A clock ticked somewhere, counted down the money filled seconds, time to put my life back together even a little bit.

“What?”

“Your horse. What was her name?”

Her name. How could I never have given her a name? He stood up, began writing on a board. My eyes searched the room for some answer. It was like trying to recognize yourself in a picture, but you can’t.

Her name… 

I didn’t know.

My head raised as he stepped away from the word he had penned.

Control”. I stared at it. Inky black on the once white canvas. It seemed foreign. I didn’t understand.

He took my silence as reason to explain. “I think that’s her name. Control.” He sat back down, shifted his legs. “That is your loss. That is what died. A sense of control.”

I stared at him.

“You rode her for 21 years.” He went on. “She was like a horse, a steady one. Every time the road got rough, she was there. You may have suffered losses here and there, yet still you rode on, holding tightly to Control.”

My eyes itched from dried, salty tears. The road seemed so long.

“And now, you have watched her die.” I glance at the word on the board, distinctly aware of his words. “She finally broke, she finally fell. And this… well, this is the first mountain you have to climb without her.”

the first mountain you have to climb without her…

 

I didn’t lose control of my life that day, not really, for now I know that all I lost was an illusion. Sometimes we live under those, though. And one day bandaids are torn off and skin is exposed – scared, vulnerable skin that has never breathed.

My invisible horse was a worldview, a way of thinking, a trust. The story can come later, how I was thrown off, how that worldview hit a boulder and never got back up.

I learned that day that I never actually had control of my life. I thought I did, but I didn’t. Sometimes things happen to us that change us completely, irreversibly, and we find our selves sinking into counseling office couches trying to figure it all out.

 

16 months later, I sat in a different chair. Not as plush, but just as welcoming, and just as important.

A mentor of mine sat across a large desk, papers pushed to the side, letting me invade an hour of her busy day. My tears reminded me of that day in that downtown office, and in a way my grief was the same.

I had come a long way since I first hit the gravel. I painstakingly buried that horse, though it took much longer than I had hoped. Things in my life began to take a ground-up attitude, broken to whole, and I had learned to walk on my own, without Control leading me.

Or, without needing it tucked under me.

I know now that God has always had control, and I never have, and I don’t need it to drive me as long as the reigns are in the right hands.

But it was finally time to buy a new horse.

And I want to leave you with the words that were spoken to me that day, because they were good ones:

“Stop reaching back for her, Maddie. Stop reaching back to the girl you were on that horse. You’re not her anymore. You’re someone else, and that’s ok.”

Yeah, it is.

 

 

 

 

 

You’re Not Gonna Get What You Want.

You’re Not Gonna Get What You Want.

I’m at a wedding this weekend.

My oldest brother is getting married to the sweetest, most genuine southern beauty, and my whole family is in the wedding party. There are a million things to get done, of course. Weeks ago things started popping up around the house: chalkboard signs and table arrangements and taupe colored bridesmaid dresses.

Essentially, throwing a wedding is like throwing an incredible huge party, and it’s kind of the best. Granted, there’s a ton to get done, but the reason for it all is arguably the most beautiful ceremony that can occur under the sun.

And so, in a way, I’m engrossed by the most beautiful thing on planet earth right now.

Something strikes me every time I’m a part of something inherently and exponentially beautiful, though. It’s funny, but it’s like all of my problems in life are amplified in a way. Watching others happiness reminds me of my own unhappiness. Meals with family make me think of the moments I am completely alone. It feels like I’m cheating on the more realistic, down to earth sides of my life, like I’m not honoring them in the way they deserve.

This weekend has nothing to do with me. I didn’t choose the color scheme or pick out the dress I’m going to wear. If all goes well, I will go completely unnoticed, entirely overshadowed by the bride and groom. That would be right, that would be good.

And then I will go home, and although a thousand things just changed for the better in their life, everything in mine will stay the same. I will still be recently graduated, unemployed, proud resident of the average sized bedroom in my parent’s upstairs. I don’t need reminding that my life starkly juxtaposes that of the happy couple.

It could be so easy for me to let bitterness win. Because that’s all we want as humans, isn’t it: to get everything we want.

There are a million things the Lord has not handed me as I wished Him to. Or, to put it another way, if I could write my life, I would possess so many things I don’t currently have.

Life, for instance, a plan for my future. A ring on my finger. A straighter nose. A spotless past. An unbreakable heart.

A party, just for me. A husband who vows that he will never leave me. Always be mine.

It’s not hard to think of what I don’t have, especially on weekends like this.

It’s funny, but I thought that the hardest thing about being single would be the loneliness, the forced-independence, the unmet desires, the tumultuous world of dating. I never imagined that the hardest part would be none of those things, but would lie in the party itself.

That the hardest part is rejoicing with those who have what you want.

Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep.

Romans 12:15

Oh, how hard it can be. The Lord asks us to throw our selfish hearts out the window and be more, to harness the Peace of the Spirit in a way we never have before.

Because, you see, the Lord may be one who takes away, but He is also a God of giving, and one who gives abundantly, more than we can ever ask for.

He has withheld so many things I want, and yet has given a million things I never even thought to ask for:

the ability to walk someone through a panic attack

an internship working with underprivileged kids

an incredible, humongous, loving family

sister in laws

a vibrant, living, consistent group of girls to live with during college

a story, one that is more broken than I wanted

and an ability to weep with those who weep, though I still have work to do with the other half of the verse.

 

Because our God might take away what we think we wanted, but He will surely give us what we need. More than that, what we never could have imagined needing.

But He knows.

And this weekend, there is no room for wishing, for if only I would open my eyes I would see, that I have never been in want. Not truly.

Not ever.

 

So I can go downstairs and play card games with my family, and I can laugh, and I can let it be all that it is supposed to be for me. Because it’s a gift, all of it. And if I let the blessings grow to size, there won’t be any room for anything else.

And that’s right. That’s true. That’s today, exactly as it’s meant to be.

 

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.

 

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.