Don’t Miss The Gift

I’m learning to live by two rules.

And in their fundamentalism, I believe that they hold the key to solving most, if not all, of my problems and sins and heart-breaks. And perhaps yours, too.

You see, God and I have this thing going lately, and up front I really hated the arrangement. I despise when I find myself alone in the middle of the day, finishing up lunch and wandering campus to find motivation to do anything that will occupy my time in an intelligent manner. Often I just wander, weighing the pros and cons of where to go and what to do, and I’ll make it across half the campus and realize that I didn’t look up from my shoes and thoughts the entire time.

You know when you’re driving home from work or from work to you’re favorite coffee shop, and when you get there you realize that you don’t remember a single moment of the entire drive? That you must have used your turn signal and stopped at red lights and turned on your windshield wipers, but you truly cannot recall a single one of those instances? Because, to you, it didn’t matter how you got there or what happened along the way, as long as eventually you arrived where you were planning to go.

That’s me, most every day for the past two years, as I have walked through life. All I find myself thinking about is where I’m going, and all is lost about where I am. I’m sure there were newborn babies in mother’s arms at the table next to mine, and bees eating pollen out of flowers and perfect, crisp breezes blowing fiery red leaves across my path, but did I ever stop to allow life to be all it is to me?

No. Not nearly enough, at least. Which is ironic, since surely, whenever I get to wherever I’m going, I will only be thinking about what is to come.

And where does that put life? Forever in my rearview mirror.

Missed.

Unappreciated.

Never enough.

I’ve blamed this behavior on a list of things. What can justify such a blatant lack of gratitude for the greatest gift given to man? My favorite excuse is my past. Is just too hard, too dark, too dirty. How can I move on? I’ve measured this world, and I’ve decided. It’s not good. How can it be? 

How can what has hurt me so bad be “good”? I don’t feel grateful.

And so I’m not.

And that leaves me the kind of person that can’t find the goodness of the world when it’s staring me right in the face. Because it is, always, staring me right in the face. But I miss it, far too much, for I’m too busy complaining to God about all of the terrible things that have happened to me.

 

But it’s in these moments, when I wander campus alone, that the LORD leads me to quiet corners and empty classrooms. And it’s there, in the midst of my screaming discontentment, He speaks. I’ve learned to recognize these moments as growing pains, the ache of Christianity in which God makes me holy, as He is holy. And sometimes, it hurts. Bad.

And today, I need some Heavenly-Ibuprofen.

But it’s in these moments that the LORD has taught me these two rules, showed me that my mind runs far too fast for the simplicity of His grace in my life. That the reason I find myself so anxious and overwhelmed so much of the time is because I’m taking on far too many burdens I was never meant to carry.

For God’s handbook, written to me, I am realizing can be paraphrases in 11 words.

  1. This life is the greatest gift.
  2. Life like you believe it.

You see, my stumbling block has been that I thought it was my job to measure whether or not this world was good, whether or not my life was good. And when I tried to make this daunting decision, I was always overwhelmed by all of the incredibly difficult blows this world makes. And day after day, I would come to the decision that it wasn’t. It wasn’t good.

And my heart would break and I would walk down perfectly good streets and find every single crack in the asphalt.

But God whispers to me. Take that burden off of yourself. It’s not your decision whether or not this world is good. It is good. I have declared it so. 

Do you believe that? 

I am not God, and the brunt of my anxiety stems from when I try to play Him. My problems are not in the difficulties of this life, but from the fiery, rampant discontentment growing in my heart. The rotting moss of my fearful heart grows from a life lived without gratitude for the gift of life that has been given to me.

How dare I walk through life with such an entitled mind? Like this world is mine to define, like my life is mine to control? How dare I walk through my days wishing I was anywhere else, doing anything else, when Jesus came to this Earth and died to give me this life? This very moment, this breathing in and out?

This life is not my own, for I was bought with a price.

Therefore I must glorify God with my body.

For when I don’t, I am telling God that it is not good. When I don’t, I am relying on my own fallen mind to determine the state of the world and my life.

When I don’t I am looking straight at my Savior dying on the cross and telling Him not to bother. I won’t appreciate the gift anyway.

The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy, but I have come that you may have life, and have it abundantly.

John 10:10

This gift. Abundant life.

Bought with a price.

And this life is found not in pages of a planner and dreams of days to come. But it is found now, in this moment, as I wander the streets of campus on a Thursday afternoon.

And it is a gift.

Thank you, Lord. May I live like it.

What Would You Do If I Told You Somebody Died For You?

I’ve celebrated Christmas 21 times in my life.

21 mornings of cranberry bread and red-wrapped packages and the Steven Curtis Chapman Christmas album. 21 times I have run down the stairs with my 5 siblings to see what Santa left for us while we were sleeping. (Yes, Santa still brings the Bowsers presents. Yes, 75% of us are adults.)

And we eat monkey bread and tear into presents (one by one, of course) and we laugh and gawk over what was waiting for us under the tree. And by the time we’re all on our 3rd cup of coffee, we pop a Christmas movie in and settle down in our new Christmas pj’s and we cuddle with our dog under the lights of the decorated tree.

And that’s Christmas. At least, on the outside, that’s Christmas.

But if I’m honest with myself, friends, for so many years my inside has looked pretty much the same. Sure, as I grew older, I would pay a little more attention to the story in Luke about the brave teenage mother and the long journey she took to give birth in a cave. Yeah, I knew that her son was Jesus, and I knew that Jesus was good because He came to save the world from its darkness. And of course, I knew that Christmas was the day we celebrated that.

And so as I unwrapped presents and drank orange juice and laughed with my family I would think about that sometimes.

But Christmas, if I’m honest, has often been all about me.

 

This morning is different. This morning, all I can think about is a garden from 2,000 years ago.

It was late, and a man was there, and he was hunched over, in agony. With his hands pressed up against his eyes, sweat like blood dripped down over his wrists and he cried out,

“Father… if it’s possible, let this cup pass from me…”

He paused, glanced at the trees and wiped the sweat from his forehead, his face scrunched and his vision blurry. Rubbing his hands on his knees, he buried his face in the spotty grass and moaned,

“….nevertheless…” looking up to the sky, tasting his own blood, “not my will, but your will be done…”

And within minutes, soldiers came into the very garden, and he rose to meet them, wiping dirt from his knees and tears from his eyes. And this very man, who minutes before had begged to be pardoned, willingly gave himself into the hands of the soldiers.

He didn’t even fight it.

And the next day they beat him, and tore his clothes, and they killed him. They took nails and they dug them into his wrists, and they hung him by those nails, on a tree. And he suffocated as his body weight dragged him down, his bloodied wrists the only force attempting to pull him up.

And so he died, slowly, in front of a mass of people who spat at him and cheered as he breathed his last.

This Christmas morning, that’s what comes to mind.

 

You see, that really happened.

2,000 years ago, if you had gone to a place called the Garden of Gethsemane in Jerusalem, you would have found a man with blood on his face. You would have seen him crying, heard him praying, begging for something. You would have seen him walk up to guards and give himself to them, no longer saying a word. You would have seen him being dragged to the officials, sentenced to death, and killed.

And you would have noticed that he never said a word, never put up a fight.

That’s what I think about this Christmas morning.

 

How would you feel if I told you that the reason we have a holiday called Christmas is because somebody died for you?

You were alone on a crowed highway, a semi-truck heading full force your way.

Standing on thin ice, watching it crack beneath your feet.

In your bedroom alone, trying to think of a reason, any reason, to live.

You were done, fresh out of hope, fresh out of reason. You couldn’t explain why, but you knew that unless somehow somebody did something, you were done.

Maybe that’s you this morning. Maybe you’ve run out of strength, scraped dry your reserves.

 

What if I told you that the reason Christmas exists is because Jesus came to this world in order to die for you? He came to be born as a baby, humbly. He came to die, painfully, on a cross. He came so that you and I today can have hope. 

Hope. Hope that this world isn’t it. Hope that despite everything, we have been saved from the darkness around us.

 

2,000 years ago Jesus lay in a garden and sweated blood as he took on himself our burdens. He voluntarily came into this world, this dark world, to be its light. He is God, but he became human. The Bible says that he came to serve, not to be served, and to give his life in order to save ours.

He gave his life in order that our darkness would be pardoned.

 

This Christmas morning, I cannot help but think about that. I cannot help but sit in awe of the God who takes away my darkness. I cannot help but give him my life because he has given me his. Without Jesus, without the man in the garden, I am hopeless.

But because Jesus was born in a little town 2,000 years ago, I can have life. Because he was born, because he made the choice to die for me, I can have hope. 

 

That’s Christmas. This December 25th, I really hope you know that.

You are loved- loved so much that God Himself, Jesus, jumped in front of that train for you. In the midst of packages and popcorn and playlists, I beg you to remember.

You have been handed hope. What are you going to do about it?

I Have The Gift Of Singleness

This week has been absolutely nuts, friends.

In more ways than one, I have been an emotional wreck. From napping every day, to snoozing my alarm for an hour, to eating nothing but homemade cafeteria pizza (yes, it’s a real thing), let’s just say I haven’t exactly been on “top of my game”. So much so, that I didn’t even post this week on Sunday, as usual.

I just… I didn’t know what to say.

Sometimes, I feel as if I have nothing good to say at all.

But today… today I realized what I want to say to you all. You are my friends, you wonderful people who read what I write week after week. I feel so much comfort in knowing I can share my life with you all, and I am so encouraged when I hear from you, about how your life mirrors mine in some way. And through this journey together, I feel as if it’s most beneficial to us all if I’m just honest with you guys. And so, in the midst of my “hot mess-ery”, I want to share with you my heart.

This is to all the single girls out there. (Or guys.)

Today I grabbed lunch with a dear friend of mine. We eat together every Monday at noon, and I have found through our Mondays that it is so rewarding to walk through life with someone on such a regular basis. While we’re talking, (and I’m, of course, eating pizza), we get on the topic of dating and update each other briefly on our personal dating lives. (Because, let’s be real, it’s a dang good juicy topic.)

My portion lasted maybe 27 seconds, if that. (Translation: it’s nonexistent.) And so I asked her about hers. As if on cue, a smile lit up her face and she proceeded to pour out her previous week and the incredible experiences she had. Within the last 7 days, an incredible guy sought her out and treated her well and made it clear that he wants the relationship between them to go somewhere. He’s tall, mature, witty… you fill in the blank. Oh, and he loves Jesus. Like a lot.

In other words, as I downed my pizza, I sat there and listened to everything I’ve “ever wanted” happen to somebody else. Somebody I love dearly and want only the best for.

And yet.. as you can imagine, that was hard. Really hard.

I’m going to be 21 in a month, never dated, never experienced what it’s like to be cherished in a way that is only present in a romantic relationship. In my natural, fallen state, it is so easy for me to feel bitter towards those who are handed the life that I so desperately want- even my closest friends.

And so, as we finished our lunch, I headed back to my room and tearfully began to pray.

And what I felt God whisper to me was not what I was expecting.

As I curled into my bed, closed my eyes, and allowed quiet tears to trickle past my nose, wise words spoken by my friend came back to me:

“Maddie, there is so much blessing in being single. I wish I could tell every girl that, including myself.”

Blessing. Alright, real original, God. Singleness is a blessing. I’ve heard that before. But He wouldn’t let it go. As I lay there, cuddling my teddy bear, I rolled over and begged God for a different answer. But none came. God didn’t remind me to pray for my future husband, and He didn’t say Just wait… you don’t know what waits around the corner!” 

Instead, He emphasized over and over in my heart that I have been handed a gift. For the first time, He began to open my eyes to the endless possibilities of being a single girl on a college campus. And, even more so, He began to challenge me to accept the fact that I may not meet my future husband during my college years. (Of course, I can’t be the one to tell you how my life is going to go. But it was important for me to give that possibility over to God.)

And so, after much wrestling and whining, and through many tears, I allowed God to begin a work on my heart that I had been holding back from Him since I stepped foot at college.

How often do I value my single years as a gift? If I’m completely honest with myself, I have viewed singleness as a waiting room for over 2 years now. A valley. Somewhere I have to be for a time, but not somewhere anybody wants to stay for very long.

And yet, God tells me to rejoice daily. To find joy in any and every circumstance. To cherish my days here on Earth, because they are few. And so I began to pray, but not for circumstance or opportunities or even contentment.

I began to pray for happiness.

Happiness in being single. An oxymoron according to my past vocabulary, and yet the only truly good way to live these days in front of me, in recognizing the gift I have been given.

Because I am loved by the one true God. Loved, pursued, and promised. And therefore I am not in want, not today or in any day to come.

She is clothed with strength and dignity;
    she can laugh at the days to come.

Proverbs 31:25