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.

 

 

 

 

 

Why God Wants Me To Almost Get What I Want.

Do you ever feel like your life is a constant stream of near-misses?

Like, from your eyes it seems like God has recently acquired a Heavenly Fishing Pole and His bait is what you want the most: your highest desire. And He sits up in His Heavenly Folding Chair in His Heavenly Galoshes and He throws His bait right in front of your face.

And so you start salivating like a dog.

And you grab for that bate. You grab for it because it is your highest desire. It’s what you’ve waited your whole life for. 

It’s that JOB.

Or that BOY.

Or that POSITION.

Or that POPULARITY.

Or that COMFORT.

And you claw and you grab and it must be yours because it’s right there in front of your eyes and you

need it.

At least, you feel like you need it. Or maybe you feel like you’re entitled to it. And you’ve waited for it, and you’ve hoped for it, and when you can finally see it, smell it, touch it, no part of you is able to resist doing whatever it takes to make it yours.

Because… because you deserve it, right? You’re a nice person. You help people. Maybe you even strive to follow God every day and you selflessly put others first. Maybe you spend your life in prayer and you talk to God all of the time and He seemingly creates these desires in your heart and you begin praying for these things.

For that relationship. Or that promotion. Or that family. Or that health.

And you know it must be on the horizon because God has great plans for you! And He loves you! And He wants what’s best for you! And then suddenly, that greatest-thing-ever is there! Right in front of your eyes!

And you think, “This is it.” Finally. Those prayers are answered and that desires is about to be fulfilled because you can see it. It’s right there.

But then you blink. And… it’s gone.

God grabbed His fishing pole and yanked that bate right back out of reach. And you find yourself empty and disappointed and crying by yourself on a Saturday night because you still don’t have what you think you desperately need. After you had seen and practically touched it, it’s still not yours. You just missed it.

Have you ever…been there?

Do you ever feel like your life is a constant stream of near-misses?

 

I haven’t written in a while. God’s been pretty active with that ole Heavenly Fishing Pole in my life, and it’s left my head pretty clouded and my heart pretty raw.

That very heart lead me to an academic building pretty early the other morning (much to the confusion of my roommate). Before the campus had woken up, I was sitting on a stiff couch and drinking lukewarm coffee and holding my Bible in my hand, feeling farther from God than I had in a while.

Sometimes, all I can do is hold my Bible in white-knuckled fists and pray that God says something. Anything.

And so I did, and I opened it’s pages and they fell to the book of Job. Taking a sip of my vanilla-flavored coffee, I closed my eyes and felt Him speaking to me, almost chuckling to myself at the horrendous irony.

For those of you who aren’t familiar with the book of Job, it is about a man who basically had it all: family, property, wealth, status. And not only did he have everything, he was also well known for what he had. He was recognized. But none of those things kept him from seeing God and devoting his life to Him.

So… Job pretty much had it going on.

But then, the unthinkable happened. In one day, his income, his property, his health, even his family are all taken away from him. Tragedy after tragedy, leaving Job a broken man. The Bible says that he tore his clothes and he fell to the ground. This wasn’t just a near-miss. This was the biggest loss imaginable.

And I sat there, and I stared at the pages of this story, and I felt them seep into me, throwing my recent days into a mirror that stared at me.

Why?

Not because of Job’s loss, but because of what the Bible says he did after falling to the ground. After losing everything he could have possibly put his hope into, he tore his clothes and he fell to the ground and he…

worshiped.

He worshiped.

The Bible says that he worship God and he said

“THE LORD GAVE, AND THE LORD HAS TAKEN AWAY; BLESSED BE THE NAME OF THE LORD.”

Let that sink in for a minute.

“THE LORD GAVE, AND THE LORD HAS TAKEN AWAY; BLESSED BE THE NAME OF THE LORD.”

Oh, how easy it is to worship God when life looks good. But what about when it doesn’t? What about when you’re constantly finding yourself short of what you so desperately want? What about when you’re still single, or still battling that illness, or still unemployed.

What then?

That is what makes the story of Job so miraculous: not that he followed God in his prosperity, but that he worship God in his humility. It’s incredible because he said “blessed by the name of the Lord” not only because God gave,

but also because He had taken away.

There is a special kind of worship that comes in the face of difficulties, one that sees God not as a preference, but as life itself. Sometimes, I feel like God yanks His fishing pole out of our faces not to take from us, but to give us something we didn’t even know we needed.

The taste of true worship.

Do you ever feel like your life is a constant stream of near misses?

Yeah, me too.

Somehow, I think that’s the whole point.

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.

I’m Sorry, I Can’t See You Through That Mask

Sometimes I wonder what we think we’re accomplishing by wearing masks.

I have lived most of my life believing that I must keep myself from a certain level of vulnerability… Lived most of my life believing that part of my human responsibility was to “save face” in the face of opening up to the people around me.

I grew up assuming that I must decide on a mask and don it through any and all of life’s circumstances. I began to view any kind of hypothetical struggle as something to be disdained, scorned, outcasted.

I believed that I couldn’t take my mask off. I couldn’t be weak.

I couldn’t be broken.

 

Sometimes I wonder what we think we’re accomplishing by wearing masks.

 

A funny thing happened when I came to college 2 1/2 years ago. My mask that I had created in high school- the facade of invincibility I had created for myself- suddenly became quite the burden to carry. You see, I’m broken.

I’ll say it again: I’m broken.

I’m not going to “have it all together” any time soon, and I will never be able to live up to the standard that my mask sets for me.

And you too, friend. You will never be able to live up to the standard that your mask sets for you. 

 

So sometimes I wonder what we think we accomplish by wearing them.

 

This past week, I had the opportunity to be vulnerable- I had the opportunity to take off my mask for a hot second and allow people to see me.

What’s my mask, you my ask? 

My mask is the desire to appear invincible. My mask is the lie that I am always happy all of the time. My mask is my attempt to appear that I don’t care what people think about me.

And this week I took it off, if only for a minute. I stood in front of a group of people and I re-entered into one of the darkest parts of my life, walking strangers and friends through a time that left my heart raw and wounded and bloody.

And I’m telling you, it was hard, and uncomfortable, and taxing. It took a lot of prayer and left me wanting to stuff some of it back inside of me, back where it “belongs”.

But that’s when I realized: My life – my story– is raw and wounded and bloody- and not only my story… the story of every single person in the room with me that night.

We’re all broken, and yet we all vainly attempt to fashion masks large enough to somehow hide those parts of us. And, I’m sorry, but it just begs the question…

Why?

 

Why are we, as a human race, so completely and utterly terrified of being seen? Why do we all store parts of ourselves deep within the closets of our mind: locked up and hidden? Why do we constantly persuade ourselves that the people in our lives somehow “have it all together”?

I am here to break it to you: THEY DON’T.

 

 

Friends, I want to encourage you… there is such a beauty in being known. Whatever your mask, whether it be feigned perfection, optimism, or apathy, I ask you to lift up it’s corners and begin to tear it off. Your story is beautiful and whole and worthy of being told.

So tell it. Please, tell it.

Take off your mask and let the fresh air brush over your vulnerable heart. Believe me, you may be surprised by the beauty underneath.

 

 

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