The Lord Is Near To The Brokenhearted

The Lord Is Near To The Brokenhearted

I really wanted to have my life together by now.

Like, really really.

I had all these dreams and expectations about graduating college and taking on my next season by storm, because I really like taking things by storm. I mean, it’s way more fun that way.

But guys, I need to be candid with you right now, because we’re all humans and we all feel pain and I really want to give you some words that might help heal the broken pieces inside of you. Because there are broken pieces inside of me.

I’ve been a mess since graduation. I wasn’t expecting to nurse a broken heart this summer, but we never choose for our heart to hurt. I thought I may have avoided heartbreak in college due to my lack of dating, but in the middle of all my singleness I fell in love. I fell in love with the girls in my hallway, with my place at that school, with who I was there. With the sandwich line in the cafeteria, and the uncomfortable futon in my dorm room.

I started to realize my heart was breaking as I said goodbye to my friends, my mentors, my classrooms. I couldn’t stop crying. I knew I was going to miss it more than I’ve ever missed anything in my life.

And yet, even then, I wasn’t ready for how painful it was going to be, how my heart actually physically hurts. How loss does that to us as people – as sheep, as the Bible calls us. I had no idea how to tend to an aching heart.

And so I didn’t, for a solid month or more.

I’m an athlete, so I’m no stranger to pain, but nursing sore legs is not the same as nursing a sore soul. Your legs need physical water, but your soul needs Living Water, and if you deprive it of the Lord and the Word of God, it will continue to bleed.

I’ve had a few setbacks this summer, and at times it almost seems cruel, and the only reason I know it isn’t cruel is because I know that God isn’t. The loss of an internship possibility, the trip of a lifetime to the mountainsides of Italy, only to be ripped from that, too. Attending two weddings of people I love dearly, and sitting alone, achingly aware that the happiness they feel isn’t mine right now.

And here I stand, 2 1/2 months after graduation, no solid plans, no obvious doors, realizing that I know very little about being a Christian after all.

 

This post isn’t ultimately about my problems, though. I just wanted you to know about them because there’s hardly anything worse than reading some inspirational post about hardship from somebody who pretends they don’t face it.

This post is about trusting God. And if I’m honest, I’m writing this for myself just as much as I’m writing it for you. Or, possibly, selfishly, a little bit more.

Because my heart hurts tonight, and I need these words.

I thought I knew how to trust God. I thought I had trust in God. But I am learning that trusting in God to smooth out the bumpy edges of your plan is nothing like trusting God to build your life again from square one. To give you Living Water in an emotional desert.

To heal the broken pieces inside of you.

And I’m not talking about the slightly dented pieces. I’m talking about the bleeding, gut-wrenching, all-encompassing brokenness that you think you will never shake. When the devil shouts accusations at you, and you realize that your soul is at war, as the Bible reminds us that it will be. “Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil.” (Ephesians 6:11)

Satan tells me that the world is not good. He feeds on my idol of Comfort, and he aims to kill my soul, as he killed Eve’s. He wants to fill me with fear and shame so that I don’t approach God or anyone else because my dirtiness is unforgivable. The battle starts in my chest, and then my throat, and it finishes in cold sweat as I forget every goodness the Lord has brought to me.

And I don’t trust God to fight that battle. I don’t trust Him to soothe my soul. I don’t trust Him to defeat the Deceiver. I forget that the world is good, and I crumble in tears and doubt.

And today, Jesus gently scolded me, “Trust me! Do you not believe that I will heal every broken corner of your heart as I said I would?” And I knelt on the ground, and I realized that true trust is only built when we reach an obstacle we absolutely cannot defeat on our own. I will never on my own defeat the way satan tracks me down, meets me in the grocery store or coffee shop and fills me with despair. That is a God-sized battle.

And I knelt beside my bed, and realized that I didn’t know if I trusted God to fight that battle. And my hands started to sweat. When we are not faced with deep hurt and trial, we are not faced with that question, and we go on, relying on our own strength.

But we must all answer that question. Eventually.

For we do not want you to be unaware, brothers,” Paul writes in 2 Corinthians, “of the affliction we experienced in Asia. For we were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself. Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death. But that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead.  He delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us. On him we have set our hope that he will deliver us again.

Don’t skim through that. Paul faced a trial so big that his only comfort was that God raises the dead. Think of the pain, the agony, he must have felt. If he was sitting in front of you right now, listening to your story, he would have full permission to say, “I get it.”

And he learned that God is trustworthy. Isn’t that what he says, the conclusion of his journey?  “He delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us.” 

But we have to trust that those words are true.

When we are faced with God-sized battles, we must jump on His back and say, “Ok. Here we go.” It’s not easy! But I’m sick of calling myself a believer and not believing.

 

Psalm 34 says that the “LORD is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit”. What a comfort to me, a brokenhearted girl. Jesus is never nearer than when that ache begins again. And I can trust Him to fight the battles I can’t. It’s terrifying, but the Lord is bigger than the schemes of the devil. I know it to be true, and I will see it to be true. Maybe not today, but I will.

On Him I have set my hope that He will deliver me again.

 

 

 

God Isn’t Who You Think He Is.

God Isn’t Who You Think He Is.

I never considered myself a theologian.

I mean, those people are like probably really smart and have long beards and write books that end up stocked in the “Religion” section of Barnes N Noble. And I was… well, a white, middle-class, 16 year old girl who donned a cheerleading skirt on the weekends and drove a Jetta to her public high school every weekday.

So I never thought I formed much of an opinion about God. I mean, God is God. Right? He’s just… God. The Untouchable one, the Creator of the world. Being raised a pastor’s kid, I knew every adjective under the sky for the Big Man Upstairs, and I had been raised speaking fluent Christianese. I knew what to wear to church, what to say at church, what to do at church, that I should GO to church.

And it was all good, and I wouldn’t have it any other way, but I have begun to realize that it all created an identity for God in my mind that has nothing to do with God at all.

I believe that one of the biggest influencers of our relationship with God is our relationship with the world. This shouldn’t come as a shock to you, of course. How many times have people been turned off from God because of pain in their life? Losing a loved one? Seeing how people treat each other? We correlate how the world treats us with how God must be treating us because, after all, He controls all things, doesn’t He?

Growing up, the world was one of my best friends. I know that may sound weird, but it worked with me. It held me up, gave me what I thought I needed. I had a clean bill of health, a living and well family, dinner on the table, a prominent position in my social groups, friends… I began to trust that this world would keep it up. I honestly remember thinking that other people suffer, but I never would. Surely if I made it to 18 without anything, I’m good to go, right?

And the theologian in me began to tell God who He was. He was the God that would make all of it happen for me, who would walk me through life without a scratch. He was my “buddy”, my patron saint, the one who would make things good for me in this life.

And oh, how I wish I could tell myself, all those years ago, that God was nothing like I imagined.

Because none of it came true. Life in college did not go by easily, I was not given everything I wanted, I did not come out without a scratch. So many dreams shriveled up and died right in front of me, and I had to learn how to grieve them. So many desires went ridiculously unmet, and I had to learn how to soothe them. The world seemed so against me all of a sudden.

The worst of all were the ghosts. The world didn’t have a lot of leverage on me growing up, but now it did. Memories that wouldn’t go away, lies that I believed for too long, beliefs that would pop up and follow me around. Things people said and did that hurt me more than I thought I could be hurt, and I can forget it when days are good, but once the pain hits they all come haunting back.

And you know what? It made me mad, really mad. Because to some, being hurt by the world is a given, and they learn that early on. The world is a messed up place.

But to me, it seemed a personal betrayal. I had trusted this world, believed that it wouldn’t hurt me, and it did.

The world hurt me… and in my mind God did too.

You see, I never saw myself as a theologian, but I have always been one. My whole life, I have formed opinions about God and decided who He was as regards to who He had been to me. He was good to me, therefore He was good.

But now I know that it doesn’t work that way, and if I could go back and tell myself one thing, this would be it.

God is good, always. This world is fallen, this world will hurt me, but God is good.

God is love, and His love stretches far beyond giving me everything I want. He loves me enough to take it all away, like a forest fire through the trees, clearing it out in a painful blaze so that something new can grow.

God is just, and I deserve His wrath. Every day, that ridiculous pride I’ve carried around is thrown off a bit more and I begin to see, clearer and clearer, Jesus in front of me, taking that wrath in my place. And I am standing, only in the shadow of His pain.

I have learned that sometimes God leads us through fire so that somewhere down the road some fire-scorched human being can take solace in our experiences. I have learned that He did not call us to ease, but to cross-bearing. To suffering. And our sufferings aren’t even for us all of the time, but they are for other people, tools that make us useful in loving those people.

And that my theologian’s mind may try and define the God who made it all, but even my most off-base definition can’t change Him. He is God, and I am not.

He is to be worshiped, and I am not.

He will never change, no matter how much I do.

And He is love – no matter how much this world hurts me, He never will.

I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear,

but now my eye sees you.

Therefore I despise myself,

and repent in dust and ashes.

Job 42:5-6

 

 

 

 

Not Just Another Singleness Post

Not Just Another Singleness Post

I was tempted to celebrate Singleness Awareness Day with some sort of witty post like,

“The Top 10 Reasons Why Singleness Is A Blessing”

or

“Don’t Wish Away These Years”

or something along the lines of “DON’T YOU DARE BE SAD TODAY”.

But I don’t feel like it. Partly because I woke up this morning and completely forgot it was Valentine’s Day, and partly because there is something that matters so, so much more than romance. Yes, even today.

Everyday.

Do you know what I woke up this morning thinking? “God, please help me have a clear head today. Give me good time in your word, and give me peace in your promises.”

I have been suffering through stress headaches like crazy. After four years of college, I allowed myself to overload my schedule like a mad-woman and it took a serious toll on my brain. Suddenly, senior year hit and I couldn’t handle it all anymore. The whole “fight the good fight of business” thing just didn’t make any sense to me anymore.

And it began to take a toll on me physically. Nothing hit me worse than my sudden inability to be present, in the moment. My head would begin to “short-circuit” when in big crowds or faced with a long reading assignment. I had simply given it far too much to worry about and face for these past 4 years, and it was finally so sick and tired of it all.

And it began, in its own special way, to say to me, “Maddie, stop. Slow down. Rest.”

So that’s what I thought about as I awoke today. And I realized that nothing, not even a dozen red roses, would make me happier than finding rest in the promises of the Lord today. I realized that my prayers lately have had absolutely nothing to do with men and instead have had everything to do with health. My health. My mind and thoughts and utter exhaustion.

And the realization that nothing will give me that rest and healing but intimacy with my Lord.

And so this morning, I thought of Him.

 

This is not just another singleness post because I don’t want to talk about singleness.

I want to talk about God.

You know, we try so hard to convince ourselves that things matter more than Him. Especially on Valentine’s Day.

But I’m here to say, in echo of the Bible, that nothing does. 

I don’t care if the love of your life gets down on his knee tonight and pops out a rock the size of a small boulder, it still doesn’t matter more than knowing God.

I think of Philippians 3:8:

Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For His sake, I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ.

Can we just sit here for a minute?

Don’t fall into the trap of thinking that Paul, in some way, enjoyed the humiliation of himself in light of Jesus. In fact, just verses before, he brags about who he used to be.

If anyone else thinks he has reason for confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless.

Beneath all of those million-dollar christianese words, Paul is basically saying:

“I HAD IT GOING FOR ME.”

He was prideful, the top of his class. The AP student of the Jewish high school he attended.

And then Jesus came into his life, and you know what happened?

In humanly standards, his life completely and utterly fell apart.

Five times I received at the hands of the Jews the forty lashes less one.

Three times I was beaten with rods.

Once I was stoned.

Three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I was adrift at sea; on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from robbers, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers; in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hinger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure.

And yet, what? 

“Indeed I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.”

 

Can I take stab here and point our that Jesus doesn’t owe us anything? We are entitled to absolutely nothing. I don’t care how many years you’ve patiently waited and slowly but surely become “the kind of person that the person you want to marry wants to marry”.

All that we have is because of Grace. Common grace that makes the sky blue and grass green, and saving grace that holds our souls fast and allows us to say “It is well”. Have we done anything to earn it?

No.

Do you know what I hope captivates your heart and mind today, this February 14th? Grace. Whether you are married with 5 kids or single as a Pringle, I hope that you are captivated by Grace.

I hope that you consider all a loss compared to knowing Jesus. I hope that you celebrate your intimacy with the One who loves your soul.

Happy Valentine’s Day.

Fighting for “No”

Fighting for “No”

We are a nation of exhausted people.

Celebrating exhaustion, sympathizing with exhaustion. It’s almost a game: who can fit the most into their day? Ask someone how they’re doing: “Tired.” As a college student, it’s standard for classmates to be asleep at their desk, zombie-ing their way through the day.

It’s a culture.

As I write this, lounging out on my lumpy dorm-room futon, I feel sleep itch the corners of my eyes. Sunday afternoon, time for a nap. Standard. Because I just have so much to do: not only classwork, but fundraising for an upcoming trip, a bible study to lead, a blog post to write (ha). Sleep comes in the wake of all that lies ahead, collapsed on the most convenient plush surface, not in the dead of night, when it is meant to.

It’s backward.

And I’m tired of being tired. I’m tired of identifying myself by what I do, elevating my humanity with every stroke on my planner.

Go, go, go.

It’s what we do, at least in the university realm. The more work you have, the more you talk about it. The more you talk about it, the more you identify with it. Who are you apart from what you accomplish in your studies? Or accomplish on the soccer field? What time could you possibly give to stillness and rest when there is simply so much to do?

It’s a message in priorities. When I began college, I prioritized friendship, involvement, adventure. So I never said no to a social outing, joined as many clubs and activities as I could. As each year went by, something new painted my calendar, weekly meetings and intramural sports and hall bible studies. One on one lunches, hanging out with kids on weeknights at church. Spontaneity died, for I could not afford it. I walked the thin line between juggling and dropping the life I had created for myself.

Health forbid. I was shocked into reality this year when I began to schedule my cries. Every Wednesday, before heading off to be a small group leader at kids church, I would spend my hour break beforehand on my knees, tears parading out of my tired, baggy eyes.

“I don’t understand.” I would say to God. “I love these kids so much, so why is it tearing me apart?” 

I don’t like to admit that I’m human. I don’t like being limited, don’t like saying “No”.

Scratch that, I don’t know how to say “No”.

Why aren’t we taught? Every time we say “Yes” to one thing, we say “No” to another. There is only so much every one of us can do until we work ourselves into an exhaustion-induced coma. Breathing, checking boxes, but where is the life?

I suppose this post is a plea, on your behalf, for the rest you so desperately need. I wish somebody had told me that more, more, more actually meant being so much less than who I actually am. I get so rushed and busy that I stop being the essential parts of myself. I become anxious and spacey and sarcastic, when I know that just beneath the exhaustion there is the real me, the fun and understanding and present me, just trying to find a way out of the life I created.

I’ve begun to practice saying “No”. I’m no expert, but let me say: It’s not as scary as we think. In general, people are actually understanding. People tend to respect a person with priorities.

So what are yours? I was challenged this year to think through mine, and was shocked to realize that they didn’t line up with the life I was living at all. I prioritized intimacy with God, and health, and yet both of those things were being pushed aside for all of the billion things I had to do.

When our priorities are imbalanced, so are we.

The Bible is chalk-full of God pleading with us to just be quiet already. I think my favorite example is one of Elijah in 1 Kings 19. He had just come from a mountain-top experience, praying to God for fire to rain down from Heaven. Challenging the prophets of Baal, living to the full his faith in the God of Israel.

But it was not enough.

Just following this time of extreme faith, Elijah walks out into the desert and lies alone and literally falls into a deep depression, asking God to take him away. He fell asleep, and God sent angels to feed him and let him rest.

Then they fed him again, and then let him rest.

And then finally God began to speak to him, but His words were not in the the wind.

And His words were not in the earthquake.

Nor the fire.

But in the whisper, soft, only heard by those who were listening.

I want to live a life that hears God in the whisper. I want to live a life where, everyday, I can breathe and think and just be. I am learning that just because something is good, and I would like to do it, and I would be good at it, doesn’t mean it should be a part of my life. Our commitments should never steal away our lives.

A friend of mine recently shared her fear that, without all of the things that she does, she will miss out on life. And I told her: those things aren’t where you find it.

Life is found in the quiet morning hours, coffee in hand, fog settling over the ground outside, bible on the kitchen table. It is found when you just go for a walk, with no destination. Found when you sit on your favorite bench and allow yourself to just be a human being, watching others human beings go about their day. It is found when you read a really good book. Or eat dinner with friends and laugh the whole time.

It is found when you let yourself cry. Or laugh really loud. When you eat a mouth-watering meal, or just a perfectly ripe apple.

And that’s what I’m fighting for, one “No” at a time.

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.

 

 

 

 

 

Don’t Miss The Gift

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.