God Amidst The Chaos: A Memoir To Thin Places

God Amidst The Chaos: A Memoir To Thin Places

When we find a thin place, anytime, anywhere, we should live differently in the face of it, because if we don’t, we miss some of the best moments that life with God has to offer us.

Shauna Niequist

I’ve learned how easy it is to hate any moment of darkness, any difficult season in our lives.

When we are walking through the fire, there is an image in the front of our minds of the moment we walk out of the “furnace”, isn’t there? The time when it ends. When we escape the tortious moments we’ve lived. We all have them, I’m sure.

Don’t we?

We imagine ourselves out of the hospital, clear-headed, at peace. We’re skinny and healed, our bones in place, our mind at rest.

Nine months ago, I was home from school, battling what the doctors like to call depression. I like to call it sin nature. Or the effects of a fallen world on my earthly mind. Either way, I was sick. I will never forget those days, no matter how desperately I wish I could sometimes. I will never forget the night I first got home, how I laid sideways on the couch, head on my mother’s knee.

She stroked my hair. Something played on the TV. Dishes clacked in the kitchen. But I was somewhere else, fighting a battle in my brain that I never imagined I ever would.

No one ever told me how distant reason can be in a fighting mind. Or how your eyes can be every bit open but it’s as if they have forgotten how to register light. I tried to wave my hand in front, but the fidgeting of my fingers was lost amongst the midst of my pain.

That’s the way I describe those days. Painful. And terrifying.

I couldn’t hold the tears in that first night home. I had left my friends at school, my notebooks, my sense of purpose, and a waning stream of my dignity.

They streamed past my face.

“I can’t do it, mom.” I whispered. The floodgates of my raging emotions finally let loose as I let myself feel the slow fall of the past months.

She looked at me.

“I don’t know how to do it.”

 

It. This. Life.

Fighting a battle that is beyond myself. I have always been confident and purposeful, long strides and head high. But that night, for the first time in my life, it was more than me. It was swallowing me. It: the doctor’s diagnosis, my present circumstances, the sadness, the singleness, the disappointments, and every small moment of my story that had lead up to that night.

It is a terrible and frightening lesson to learn, the one that we are human. We are fragile. We are weak. And there are days, many days, where we run to the end of our own chain.

 

I learned this week about thin places.

It’s an old Irish tradition. Thin places are the spaces on earth, or the moments in time, where the sacred meets the secular, the holy kisses the ordinary. They’re places where God is close by. Where you can see Him, more than you could before. That something lined up, and two moments met, and something special crashed together in order to allow you to have even the smallest glimpse of the Most Holy.

That month I was home last year? That was a thin place.

I see it now. At the time, all I wanted was out. I hated the diagnosis, hated being called depressed, hated the pain and confusion and darkness. I hated being viewed as less than whole. I hated leaving the doctor’s office with a small orange bottle in my hand.

But every morning, out of the burning desperation in my heart to find light out of anything, I would rake the Bible, demolishing pages at the hand of highlighters and ballpoint pens and tears. My decaf coffee would cool as I could do nothing but cry out to my God. I learned how to cry that month. And there are a million other stories I could tell about that time, a million lessons learned, but today I want to speak of only one.

My thin place.

I found God in those days. The tan sectional in the living room of our Pennsylvania house transformed from my prison to my homecoming. I could be nothing there but myself. I wasn’t a student. I wasn’t a peer. I wasn’t a resident’s assistant or intern. I was hardly a friend, as I had left them in Ohio.

But I was God’s. And He was mine, in that thin place.

It was the most painful time of my life, that standing in the Holiest of Holies. Being nothing but Forgiven, not a fragment more than Grace.

 

I still find my thin places from time to time.

I couldn’t make it through class today. Sometimes, in the midst of moving forward, out of that season of last year, I am catapulted back to the girl on the couch. Sometimes it is the emotions of others or the minor chords of a song, or the conversation that the professor chooses to dwell on during class.

Sometimes I’m brought back. And I have to move. I have to do something.

And today that meant standing up, out of my squeaky desk chair, and taking a walk. I needed Jesus. I can tell because I get that same feeling I had as I curled up next to my mom.

The ache of sadness, the heaviness of life.

And today it found me crouched down near a wall, phone in hand, Bible app opened, reading aloud amidst the cavernous staircase of the academic building.

2 Corinthians 12:9 – “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Voice echoing off of the cinder block walls, tears coming to the front of my eyes. The unstoppable, undeniable Truth of my precious Savior began to do its work, transforming every part of me and comforting the restless, childish soul that I own.

And I realized. A thin place. There, in my least favorite building on campus. Breathing the same air that desperation blew out only minutes ago.

But that is exactly where God loves to find us, isn’t it? When we’re finally quiet enough to hear Him? Finally blind enough to see Him? It makes me rethink. What is good? And what will be made good, building up into one of the greatest blessings we could ever ask for?

A glimpse of the Most Holy, the Prince of Peace, my Savior and friend. Jesus.

 

 

I Have Known Many Dead Waiting To Die

I Have Known Many Dead Waiting To Die

My bedroom walls are light blue, the color of the sky as I see it through my window.

I sit this morning on my bed, window open, oversized coffee cup in hand. Bibles and journals strewed around me, half filled, pen stained. Mornings are for wisdom-seeking, God-chasing. Trying to be quiet.

I painted my walls the sky for that reason. Four days ago, pumping music loud, paintbrush in hand, I stayed up late so that they would be just the right color when the sun came up. I wanted to wake up each morning to light, to sun, to sky. So I walked up to the paint man in the paint store and told him I wanted the sky on my walls.

I’ve been searching hard these days. I want to find it more than buried treasure, more than my dreams, wealth, grades. I want it the moment I wake up and as I do laundry and write papers and laugh with friends.

Joy.

Unquenchable, ever present, with me. Joy.

As a child, I celebrated joy in the light. I knew nothing but my mother’s love and freshly mowed grass and TV after school and so I thought nothing of it but somehow regarded it as mine in someway. I was happy so I had joy. I went to church so I had joy. I was regarded highly so I had joy.

But life is not always in the light.

My greatest love for my God is how He views my brokenness. My dirt. Mud. Life in shards, as it sometimes is. Those moments that you look back on your last few days, months, years, and see yourself slowly falling into nothing, forgetting any sense of who you are.

And you lie there one day, blinking into reality, and realize that you are a pile of broken pieces, scared. At a loss.

“I have known many dead waiting to die”, Ann Voskamp says. And I know, it is only for Jesus that I am not one of them. I have known death – not physical, but real. Death inside of me, the kind that forgets hope, feeling the darkness shroud me from anything that once beat blood into my heart. Burn out, real and present, sucking the life from me.

But I was struck, hard, as I sat in Truth for a moment. Jesus. That is why He came, isn’t it? I have known many dead waiting to die. “But I have come that you may have life, and have it to the full”.

Life.

Five months ago I sat in a mid-sized doctor’s room and was handed my first bottle of anti-depressants. How did I get here? Mouth clenched, living in a bubble of anxiety, trapped. And so I took that bottle like it was my Living Water, prayed for strength as I awaited the three weeks for the meds to kick in.

I think back to a year before, dark theatre and panic coursing through me. Unknown to me at the time, that was only the first wave in a year of storms. Thrashing, trying to toss water overboard, I clutched the theatre seat and saw only waves, vaguely having the mind to remember another’s description of a panic attack. “Jesus!”, closing my eyes I cried upward, “do you not care that I am perishing??”

Thinking He was miles away, forgetting that He was simply below the boat napping. Ever with me, all knowing.

And yet I fought, for a year, as if an army was chasing me. Panic. Anxiety coursing through my veins, becoming my blood. Every day, waking to a dimmer world. Afraid. Any concept of trust in my Lord vanquished, gone. I was led by my fear, driven by shadows. I ate of distrust. I was alone with the darkness I prescribed to me.

I have known many dead waiting to die. My mind was dead waiting to die.

“… but Jesus…”

But Jesus.

I am in love with His eyes. Tear stricken, as I sat in this Truth yesterday. Any pride I once had gone, I know my real place. I know my zombie-identity, my inability to find light, save myself. I was in the ship, going down. Scooping frantically to throw water overboard, feeling the fatigue set in.

The diagnoses came. Generalized Anxiety Disorder. Depression.

How did I get here?

 

The greatest paradox of all time. Aside from salvation, the more you fall into darkness the more you are lost.

But with Jesus, Sweet Jesus, the farther and farther you fall, the more and more He can use you. The more broken, more humiliated. When you are at the end of yourself. That, my friends, is when you are exactly where He wants you to be.

Incredible.

Four months ago, I lay on my couch, head in mom’s lap. Tears. Depression clouded my vision, panic pulsated through my heart down to my toes. I cried and tried to apologize because I didn’t understand, didn’t know how I got there.

Forehead stroked by mom, nose running, I knew. I needed one thing and only one thing. To get back to school, to find rest for my mind, to see past the dark cloud, for independence from the pills. This is a fight, and I needed only one thing.

Hope.

For I have known many dead waiting to die, and I wasn’t going to be one of them.

I am not one of them.

Because Jesus saw me then, and day by day I began to hear His whisper.

You are still in My plan. In fact, now, in your brokenness, you are closer to it than you have ever been before. Trust. Daughter. Trust.

 

And so I painted my walls sky blue because I can. Today I am saved, from lies, from mind-death. I want a blue sky on a rainy day because I have learned to seek beauty.

Freedom. Mind clear, pills simply a formality. I have found healing that can only come from the Messiah.

But I am humbled, because I know. Without my God, my Light, my Life, I don’t know where I would be. I feel I would still be in my mother’s lap, crying into the darkness.

And somehow, I know that is the point. I am nothing without my Jesus, empty without His Water, dark without His Light.

I have known many dead waiting to die.

 

 

It Was Never Meant To Be A Game

It Was Never Meant To Be A Game

Every day, it seems, I am having a conversation about singleness and the mind-rattling frustration it brings countless beautiful girls who just can’t figure out what they’re “doing wrong”.

Sometimes these conversations happen over coffee, or in the middle of watching Netflix, or, well… too often with myself as I stare in the mirror in the morning. “What’s the point of curling my hair if no boys ever seem to take a second glance?” Of course, thinking like that is instrumentally detrimental and just down-right unhealthy, but sometimes I can’t help myself.

Singleness can be a weary reality indeed.

These thoughts and frustrations from myself and others have made me search for wisdom like hidden treasure. My mom always told me that choosing who I will marry will be the second most important decision in my life, second only to choosing to follow Jesus.

So you’d better believe I want to make that decision correctly, and I can’t help but know that it all begins in my single days.

In my Wisdom Search, I ran across a book full of articles by a woman named Elisabeth Elliot (many of you may know of her. I have taken to calling her my “new best friend” because her words tend to my heart in a way few have ever been able to.) She wrote one particular article on the topic of singleness- but more than that, prolonged singleness. Like me, she had had countless conversations with many jaw-dropping, loving girls who felt utterly trapped in a life of singleness.

She speaks of women who prayed for 20 years for a husband who never came. Of women with feelings that have no outlet. Of women who have given everything to following Jesus, trusting Him with every aspect of their lives, yet finding themselves humanly alone even though their hearts long to share their lives with someone.

 

Am I doing something wrong?

Should I go to more “singles barbeques”?

Should I just ask him out already? I’m allowed to do that, right? Right?

Why does this all feel like a big game?

 

A game. What a way to describe it.

Last night I stayed up late talking through life with a dear friend. Our conversation traveled from faith to family to… well, boys. (Hey, we’re 21. It happens.) We’re both single, but both all-too aware of the plethora of attractive and God-fearing men on our college campus. (Last time my parents visited campus, my mom remarked, “Maddie, there are so many cute guys on this campus!” Yes, mom. I know.)

Once we had covered the basics (who we like. how many encounters we had had with him in the past week), we let our laughter fade and fell silent. Why? Because, at the end of the day, we both have no idea what to do about these feelings we can’t seem to shoo away. We don’t know how to play the game. 

“Nobody does” remarks Elisabeth, “It’s chaos, frustration, confusion, and emotional devastation. It was never meant to be a game, so don’t try to play it. Leave it all in the Hands that were wounded for you.”

There have been times in my life where I have been tempted to stop praying for my future husband. Often, conversations with other single girls end with “I’ve stopped praying for a husband because God doesn’t guarantee one. It will just end in frustration.” But then what do I do about verses like Philippians 4:6 that tell me to “not be anxious about anything, but in everything- by prayer and petition- present my requests to God”?

Now, if your singleness isn’t making you anxious, then maybe God isn’t stirring your heart in that direction right now. But, if you’re like me and your current relationship status has a tendency to keep you up at night, tossing and turning and making you want to cry out in frustration, “Oh, can’t I just ask HIM out??” then I urge you- PRAY ABOUT IT.

Elisabeth tells you to leave it all in the Hands that were wounded for you. Let me ask you a question: Do you trust God with your love story? Do you really truly believe the Bible when it promises that “in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose”?

When did we take earthly love out of the category of “all good things”?

God didn’t create romance to be a game. He created marriage to reflect His love for the church. He created it to be something His children thoughtfully trusted Him with.

It’s not meant to be a game, and thank goodness because I don’t know how to play it.

So instead, I will pray. I will cast my anxieties on the LORD and trust that He sees my heart and truly knows me. I will focus on being His Bride and prayerfully wait to see if He designed me to be anybody else’s.

“It was never meant to be a game, so don’t try to play it. Leave it all in the Hands that were wounded for you.”

“And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.”

Romans 8:28

Lend Me Your Hope

Lend Me Your Hope

I ran across a poem the other day that stopped me in my tracks.

Lend me your hope for a while,
I seem to have mislaid mine.
Lost and hopeless feelings accompany me daily,
pain and confusion are my companions.

I know not where to turn.
Looking ahead to future times
does not bring forth images of renewed hope.
I see troubled times,
pain-filled days,
and more tragedy.

Lend me your hope for a while,
I seem to have mislaid mine.
Hold my hand and hug me;
listen to all my ramblings,
recovery seems so far distant.
The road to healing
seems like a long and lonely one.

Lend me your hope for a while,
I seem to have mislaid mine.
Stand by me,
offer me your presence,
your heart and your love.
Acknowledge my pain,
it is so real and ever present.
I am overwhelmed
with sad and conflicting thoughts.

Lend me your hope for a while.
A time will come when I will heal,
and I will share my renewal,
hope and love with others.

Do those words resonate in your soul? They do mine.

We live in a broken world, one full of depression and death and blinding suffering. One of the greatest issues I have known and observed that accompanies times of suffering is the question, “Where do I go from here?” In the throws of the storm it seems impossible to function at any level of normalcy, and conversations with those hurting often land somewhere around the tearful wondering:

How?

How can I keep up with the life I once knew?

How do I even pretend to function like I once did?

How do I get out of bed?

How do I go to work, or school, or even church?

How do I live surrounded by people that appear to have it all together when my life is literally falling apart at the seams?

 

And those conversations usually end with a tear-stained face and puffy eyes, emotions overwhelming the sufferer to the point of collapse. Oh, how the wars Satan wages can rock us off of our feet! Whether it was a gradual collapse or an overnight crumbling, many of us at some point in our lives find ourselves weeping and running to the bottom of the rocking ship to wake Jesus and scream “Where have you been? Can’t you see I’m drowning??”

Many of us have, at some point, had a deficit of hope in our hearts. Maybe we know in our minds that light and hope has come into the world, but in the pits of the despair we are currently sinking into we cannot see anything but darkness.

This post is not really about the healing that comes through Jesus Christ, though I need to say that healing exists and is very, very real in His hands. Instead, however, this post is for those of us that need to know how to function today. Suffering is real, and many of us right now are waking up and staring at our bedroom ceiling thinking, “How am I going to get through today?”

The poem starts with “lend me your hope for a while, for I seem to have mislaid mine”. Oh, what an accurate description of what it feels like to be in the throws of a trial! Many of us wake up one day and realize that our hope somehow left without our permission, leaving us desperate for its return. This poem is a cry to those around us, the people in our lives that have perhaps been asking what they can do to help us through this difficult time. In my sufferings, I have grown accustomed to saying:

“Just lend me your hope.”

I don’t know about you, but there are mornings where I rely on the hope of those around me to get me moving. The concept of borrowing hope is, quite honestly, a hopeful one.

But that wasn’t even the line that stopped me in my tracks when I first this poem.

This past month, as I rode out a painful trial, my parents longed to know how to best help me, and my answer surprised me. I’m not an incredibly touchy person, but I realized that what I needed most in the days to come is somebody to hug me and hold my hand and be with me through what was undeniably going to be a torturous season of life.

Hold my hand and hug me;
listen to all my ramblings,
recovery seems so far distant.
The road to healing
seems like a long and lonely one.

Hold my hand and hug me. Listen to all of my ramblings. Lend me your hope in the form of your presence, for the road out of suffering can be long and lonely and I need to know that I am not alone.

If you are reading this as someone striving to help a loved one through a trial, remember that what sufferers need most is companionship. They need to know that they are not alone. They don’t need you to solve their problems, they simply need you to hold their hand and let them cry for as many days as it takes. They need you to listen to their ramblings and love them through it all. Tell them that you love them and tell them that you are going to be by their side until the storm has passed.

And if you, dear friend, are the one in the midst of the storm, please please please remember that Jesus is not absent. In fact, he allows storms to happen so that we are able to see Him calm the waves that rock us. If you are suffering, remember that you are in the exact right place for your faith to be transformed. 1 Peter reminds us that “Pure gold put in the fire comes out of it proved pure; genuine faith put through this suffering comes out proved genuine.”

Genuine faith. That’s your prize after all of this is said and done. Don’t lose heart!

If you are blinded by darkness, know without a shadow of a doubt that the True Light has come into the world and, if you have allowed Him, into even your heart.

For one day, perhaps not too far down the road, you will be able to lend your hope to someone else. “Lend me your hope for a while. A time will come when I will heal,
and I will share my renewal, hope and love with others.” What a day that will be!

But today, friend, give yourself grace. Pray. Cry. Sleep. Find beauty. Go for a walk. Cry again. Read and paint and run. Do what fills your heart and balms your soul. And remember: Jesus is the Great Physician and He begins healing you the moment you ask Him to.

But in the meantime, borrow hope. Borrow it from friends, family, and from the Hope of the world Himself. For there is unquenchable Hope in this world, and it is yours for the taking.

 

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

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?

Can God Use Me If I’m Not “Feeling It”?

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 Fell In Love With The Wrong Person

I Fell In Love With The Wrong Person

I fell in love this week.

To be more exact, I’ve slowly been falling in love for the last 21 years, and this week it escalated to something I couldn’t control. My heart, mind, motives, actions, and thoughts were centered around this person- consumed wholeheartedly and completely. I couldn’t stop thinking about this person- all I wanted to do was make them happy. My every waking thought was reserved for them: my thoughts and actions centered around them.

This week, I became blinded by my desire for this person, allowing that desire to shape my life, emotions and motives.

All of my hope was in them. Every ounce of my happiness laid in their hands.

And I lay in bed last night, emotionally stripped and hollow. Why? Because this person… they failed me. I woke this morning with a broken heart, shattered and worn and thirsty for hope. And I knew, without a doubt, that one thing was true…

I fell in love with the wrong person.

I put my every desire and hope in the hands of somebody that didn’t deserve it. I allowed myself to cling to the motives and strengths of somebody that was unworthy an incapable. At the end of every day, I chose to believe that this person had the ability to fulfill every part of me, satisfy my every fiber, make me whole.

And they couldn’t.

They couldn’t make me whole, content, and satisfied. They couldn’t be what I needed them to be. They couldn’t do any of these things, because…

Well, because this person was me. 

I had fallen in love with the wrong person.

 

 

Ever heard of a guy named Paul?

He lived around 2,000 years ago, and he fell in love too. He wrote a lot of letters about his love, encouraging others to know the same kind of love he did.

In one of his letters, he wrote the following to his love:

“Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing you. For your sake I have suffered many things and count them as trash in order that I may have you….”

Paul was in love, entirely and completely. In fact, he considered everything to be equal to trash compared to being with his love. Every ounce of himself was given to this person, and yet… His letters never found him brokenhearted. His hope in this person did not disappoint- not ever.

In another letter, he wrote:

“….and my hope is not put to shame, because your love has been poured into my heart.”

Paul was in love with God. 

Paul put every ounce of his heart, life and soul into the right hands. He fell in love, but that love never put him to shame.

After this week, my heart needs to be reminded where it belongs. I have lived in the sins of idolatry and pride for far too long. If I am honest with myself, I have never been able to repeat Paul’s words with true conviction.

“I consider it all trash that I may gain Christ….”

Consider what “trash”?

Everything.

God doesn’t ask me for part of my life- He asks me for  all of it. He asks me for my hope, for my relationships, for my future plans. He asks me to consider my desires- for marriage, for career, for status- to be seen as disposable in comparison to knowing Him.

Disposable. 

“But God… wanting a boyfriend isn’t bad…”

DESIRE ME MORE THAN THAT.”

But… Doesn’t my happiness matter?”

“DESIRE ME MORE THAN THAT.”

“God… what about my status? What about what people think about me?”

“I NEED TO BE MORE TO YOU THAN EVEN THAT.”

“OK, then.. what about when I fear loneliness? What about when I can’t see you? What if I want a job, or a position, or a person so badly that I can hardly think straight? How can I consider those things trash?”

In Jeremiah 29:13, God says that “You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all of your heart.”

Why have I gone so long without seeing God? Because I have not been seeking Him with all of my heart. Day after day I hold parts of my life from Him, not trusting Him with what I desire most. Not trusting Him with my love.

Friends, I don’t need you to tell me what you need to give to God today. I know what He asks of you- He asks for everything. I plead you to put your heart in the only hands that deserve it.

Don’t fall in love with the wrong person. Don’t love anything or anyone more than you love your God. No reality, no matter how lovely, can surpass the joy of Jesus Christ.

 

“But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. 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.”

Philippians 3:7-8

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I Have The Gift Of Singleness

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

 

 

A Letter To My Freshman Self

A Letter To My Freshman Self

Dear Freshman Self,

 

I’ve been thinking about you a lot these days. Every time I walk past a group of freshman girls laughing and discovering this new place, I cannot help but see you. I remember so clearly what it was like to be you. Fresh out of high school, this whole college thing is both terrifying and intriguing- like standing on the edge of a bridge with a bungee cord tied around your legs. You know that you will be ok, and the cord will catch you. You know you will bounce back and be better for it.

But making the plunge, well… it’s scary.

And yet you did it.

You did it and you’re making friends and you’re starting to call this campus home.

And oh, there is so much I wish I could tell you.

I’m a junior now. I’ve lived 2 years in this town, 2 years on this campus. I have made friends and lost friends, made some good decisions and a lot of poor ones. I’ve regretted a few things. I’ve laughed more than ever before and cried enough to last a lifetime.

And I just… I really wish that I could write to you. I wish I could tell you all that I know now. I wish I could give you the advice that I so desperately needed as I began my college years. 

I wish I could convince you that your girlfriends are going to be some of the most precious gifts of your college life.

I wish I could warn you that you are going to struggle with idolatry… warn you that you are going to fall into the sin of putting boys before your Jesus. That it is going to take years of prayer for you to give God your future- night after night of tears about desiring a relationship and a marriage. You are so naive right now, friend, as you assume this whole “college dating” thing will be easy.

It is so, so hard.

You are going to be single much longer than you are planning, and it is going to be impossibly hard to have patience. Now, as you are living your first weeks in college, you feel as if you’re swimming in a “sea of boys”. You are about to become oh so distracted, and I really wish that I could save you from all of it.

Because we are ordered to put all idols at the foot of the cross. And you… well you are going to hold onto your idols for far too long, and I wish in all my power that you wouldn’t.

I wish that you would decide right now that Jesus is enough for you.

I wish that you would trust Him starting today. You don’t know this now, but you are about to go through some unbearably hard times in the years to come. God is going to ask more of you than you can even imagine, and you are going to struggle trusting Him. Listen to me… He is worth trusting. There are going to be days that it’s all you can do to get out of bed, days that the darkness seems like it is going to overwhelm you.

In those times, take heart! Jesus promises us that in this world we will have trouble, but that He has overcome the world.

Never, ever forget that. Cling to that promise every day.

I wish that forgiveness would be your first response, and that you would take God at His word. I wish that you would seek Heavenly things and not things of this Earth. I wish that starting today you would walk this campus with a heart of love and a mission from Heaven.

But… well, I know that you won’t.

Sure, you’ll have your moments, and you do love Jesus. But you have so much to learn.

The reality is, you will spend too many days without talking to your Savior, and you will hold grudges too long. You will obsess too much over that boy and too little about being a good friend. You will doubt God and will allow anxiety to be your guide. You will cry out selfish prayers and hold this Earth closer than gold.

You will do all of these things, and you will learn, and someday you will be me… writing a letter to yourself after it is all said and done.

And the more you’ll think about it, the more you’ll realize that maybe that’s the way it is supposed to be. You will make so many mistakes, but they will all shape you into who God wants you to be.

Every dark night will be your chance to see Jesus as your only light. Every grudge will only magnify the incredible forgiveness offered by your Savior. Every tear shed will only bring you closer to the God that counts them as they fall. Every day of singleness will be a new day for you to learn firsthand that Jesus is all that you need. These next 2 years for you will be hard and you will be broken too many times to count, but they are all for good.

So, Freshman Self, at the end of the day I won’t talk to you about boys or classes or roommates. I won’t give you advice on which professors to take or what girls to befriend. Those are all beautiful mysteries for you to live and learn.

Really, I only have one thing to say to you: Live your life with Heaven in mind, and never ever forget the sacrifice that Jesus made for you.

Because, really, it all comes back to Jesus. It all comes back to what He did for you on that cross. There will be times that you are tempted to forget that.

Don’t.

I’ll see you in 2 years.

Maddie

 

On Singleness and Self-Pity

On Singleness and Self-Pity

I need to be real with you: I have been a really pathetic single girl this week.

You see, some weeks I’m like a Single-Girl Superhero, conquering every bit of insecurity and self-doubt with my super-single-girl-superpowers. Those are the best weeks- the weeks I am so thankful for the path that God has laid out for me. The weeks that I feel so incredibly blessed- even to the point of tears- to be living a life devoid of the heartbreak and distraction that dating can bring.

I have such an incredible amount of freedom to live spontaneously, dream freely, give myself fully to my relationships with friends and family. I have so much time to be involved and work and study. And some weeks, that’s exactly what I want.

And let me tell you, friends… Those are good weeks.

But some weeks… well, some weeks it’s harder. Some weeks I am reminded of my humanity, the one that yearns and hopes and desires. Some weeks, more than others, I want to share. Share my time and meals and favorite bench. Share my thoughts and future and Friday afternoons.

Today I sit outside, enjoying the first pleasant day of the school year. The life-sucking humidity of the last few weeks has disappeared, Friday classes are over. My favorite bench, the one surrounded by ivy-entangled trees, sits open and free for me to occupy for an hour or two. I sit writing, my favorite thing to do, belly full from a wonderful lunch with a friend and a slight smile on my face thinking of the three day weekend ahead of me.

And yet I’m frustrated. Why? Because I sit here, overwhelmed by the fullness of this life I live, and yet desperately feeling at loss.

And complaining to God that I’m single.

It just… feels so wrong to me. It feels so wrong to ask God for anything after He has given me everything, all the way to the point of the cross. To know I have things to do, but to be unable to get the same thoughts out of my mind.

 

Why am I still single?

How come that girl can date guy after guy when I can’t even get one to talk to me?

Why is every good guy taken??
Am I too forward?

Too indifferent?

Do I say the wrong things? Act the wrong way?

Why is it so impossible for me to grab a guy’s attention? Go on a date? Hold a conversation?

See? Pathetic. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

And sometimes the hardest part is knowing that it’s not wrong. It’s not wrong for me to desire a friendship, a relationship, a marriage. I know it’s not wrong, this desire that God has given me. But, honestly, that’s the most difficult part sometimes. I know it’s not wrong, but it’s also not real in my life right now. Sure, I can hope for a relationship all I want, but at the end of the day my life is the way it is.

So, the question stands: what do I do with that?

 

I’ve been stuck in Philippians for days now, my poor Bible underlined and highlighted to the point of becoming un-readable. I used to read my Bible out of obligation, checking my to-do box every day as I read a chapter or two.

But then, well, then life began. As I’ve grown older, I have known times of complete desperation, loneliness, loss. And in those times, the Bible has become vastly more to me than simple religion.

It has become my lifeboat.

More and more, I am finding myself on my knees, staring at this life and this Earth and crying out to God, “Please! Help me believe! I need to believe. I need everything you say to be true! Because if you’re not everything you say you are, God, then… then I am lost.”

If God’s not everything He says He is, if He’s not my Savior, the one who raised Himself from the dead 2,000 years ago after being crucified on a Roman cross. If He’s not everlasting, all creating, all loving, all forgiving, then I am nothing.

If God is not who He says He is, then I am going to live 80 years on this Earth and then die. That’s it. No purpose, no hope. If God’s not who He says He is, then I guess it’s just my job to have fun and let live and let go.

 

And if God’s not who He says He is, then… I guess my love life is pretty urgent because it’s all I have, my only worldly way to “true” happiness. Without God in the picture, I guess I should be sitting here freaking out about whether “he likes me” or not. 

 

And in light of that, I pray we consider another reality, the one where I don’t have to sit on the most beautiful bench on campus and ruin my day by feeling sorry for myself.

If God is who He says He is, what does that mean to me? If every Word in the Bible is true, then what does it mean for me, sitting on a bench in 80 degree weather on a Friday afternoon, wishing I wasn’t single?

Oh, friends, if only I could somehow put into words the incredible importance of this truth.

If God is all that He says He is, then He created the world, carefully designing every animal and tree, every hill and valley. Then He created me, knitting me together and loving every ounce of me, seeing me and planning my days on this Earth.

If He is all that He says He is, then God really became a human and was born in a barn to a teenage mother. He grew up as a carpenter and lived a humble life and made no complaint when He was nailed to a cross for something He didn’t do.

If He is everything He says He is, then He really laid in a grave for 3 days and then rose Himself to life.

If this is all true, then when He says that I am saved from the utter hopelessness of this world, that’s true too.

 

You may be wondering, “Ok, but what does this have to do with being single?”

I don’t know about you, friends, but when I look God in the face and see Him for who He is, it’s just…

Well, it’s impossible to feel at loss.

When I remind myself of who God is, of what He has done for me, it is absolute absurdity to be in want of anything.

The more I think about it, it is less about minimizing my desire for a relationship and more about remembering what is so much more that a relationship could ever be.

 

So, yes, this bench is occupying one person. But this occupant is seen and loved and saved by the one true God, and the only loss here is allowing myself to forget that.