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.

Life On An Anti-Depressant: The Lies We Cannot Believe

Negative thoughts and beliefs are just that: thoughts and beliefs. They are not facts, and they do not need to be true.

Tricia Lott Williford

As humans, we do this thing. When someone tells us something about ourselves, we tend to believe them. We take their opinions upon ourselves and stamp labels on our chests.

We’re undesirable. Stupid. Ignorant. Unstable. Incapable. Unworthy. Sick. Lost. Why? Because somebody, at some point, in some way…

said we were.

Those thoughts have power. Power like I never could have imagined. Power you may understand way too well.

For me, those lies have come in the form of doctor’s prescriptions and sticky paper-plastered beds.

I never knew the power a doctor with a bottle of pills could have until I sat on the rumpled up paper of a doctor room bed and was handed a little orange bottle. Reading the label: Escitalopram. Lexipro. Antidepressants.

And in that moment, I wasn’t just Maddie, someone who has been sad lately. I was Maddie: doomed.

Maddie: unstable.

Maddie: incapable.

Maddie: sick. Forever sick.

Was I any of these things? No. Did I feel like I was? Yes, I really did.

It was like the depression I had been feeling was not only an imbalance of chemicals in my body, but it was an impenetrable diagnosis, one that consumed all of me and made me feel ashamed and humiliated.

And let me make one thing clear: depression is nothing to be ashamed of, nor is it a sin. It is a real thing – me of all people should know that. But it is also not an identity – never make it your identity.

You are not depressed. You may have dealt with what we call “depression”, but it is not who you are.

Because mental health does that to us, doesn’t it? It makes us hide. It uses shame in uncanny ways to make us think that we’re less than who God made us to be. It is the fertile soil for lies to grow into sprawling trees in our minds.

And we hold it in our secret places. We give it all the power to scrape us hollow from the inside out.

And so came the crushing blow as I did nothing to stop those lies from sinking deep into my pores, not knowing the earth-shaking power they had. It had nothing to do with what was happening in my body – I’m sure the pills actually helped – but it had everything to do with the way I began viewing myself. From that moment, those lies planted seeds deep into my mind and heart. I didn’t know how desperately I needed to uproot them.

I didn’t know what to do with them at all.

As I drove away from that doctor’s office, I let another’s opinion of me consume me. And when I say consume, I mean drop me to the ground, curl me into a ball, shatter all that I believed about my self consume me. Should I have felt unbearable shame at the thought of being on antidepressants? No. Did I? Oh dear, yes. I felt stamped, categorized, labeled, doomed.

Unstable. For the first time in my life, truly unstable.

I have learned a lot about negative thinking in the past 20 months of my life. It’s powerful. And when I say negative thinking, I am not referring to the sit-cross-legged-on-the-floor, think of birds and trees and clear your mind from all “negative thinking”.

No, I mean the kind of negative thinking that steers you on the track of ignoring or denying every Truth that has been spoken of you. I mean negative thinking that alters the way you live, implants lies deep into your mind, makes you believe you are far, far less than the capable, beautiful, upheld Child of God that you are.

Because you are, my friend, capable, beautiful, and upheld by the hand of the Lord. You are.

It’s a fact.

No questions asked.

No jury necessary.

I lived in fear for a long time. I thought I had to. I thought that as long as I took my daily “I’m-Weak-And-Doomed pill” (which I still do, by the way), that fear was a simple side effect. Because… doesn’t that mean I’m that girl now… the one who is depressed. “Oh, be careful with Maddie! She struggles with depression.”

So what? I’m not perfect. You’re not perfect. Isn’t it time we accepted that fact?

Why should we be ashamed of being the “sick” that Jesus came to save?

It took me a long time to realize that I was the only one who had decided that my life had dissolved into a million pieces. Shame kept me locked up inside my own head for too long, but once I finally spoke, finally uttered those “horrific” lies I had come to believe, I realized that I was the only one that believed I was anything but brave.

“Why are you giving so much power to that doctor, Maddie?” My mom. “Take it back. It’s not his to have. You know who you are, now start living like it.”

You know who you are, now start living like it.

Start living like it. 

There comes moments in our lives that we have to choose who we’re going to believe. The first thing my dad said to me last year when I was at my worst: “I think it’s an identity problem.”

Identity problem? Come on dad, it’s a depression problem. It’s an anxiety problem. I can’t help the way I am. I’m sick. I’m trapped. I’m the victim. 

And God just shakes His head.

“Why do you live like you are less, daughter?”

Why do you live like you are less?

 

Life on an anti-depressant is just that: Life. You are not your medication. You are not your diagnosis. Those things are beautiful parts of your story, for the Lord redeems and uses all to build up our character and increase our hope.

But they are not our identities. They never will be.

Take the power back.

 

 

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.

 

 

Goodness And Romance And The Lies In-between

Too often I separate romance from holiness.

That when I set out to “be holy, for [He] is holy”, that striving for holiness does not cover the categories of feelings for guys and the very womanly desire to know and be known. Fully, entirely, by a guy – an actual guy, one with eyes and feet and a nose and such.

And I’m not embarrassed to say it. That I desire that. Because I do.

Yet I’m learning how little I truly understand about it all. That romance can be one of the purest and most true forms of holiness – of being set apart for the Kingdom of God.

But it’s not the only form of holiness.

I feel as if I sat down with my freshman self today, if I were able to go back in time and watch as I began my college years, or even the 15 year-old version of me, with the concepts and ideas of what being 21 would be like, I feel like I would blow my own mind. Because, back then, I held tightly to my handwritten theology of how God views my love life. My own ideas of what He considers “good” in the romance department.

And how He has changed my heart and mind so completely. Not my emotions, no, but my mind.

There are a million voices that will speak into this topic, this eternal question of God and Romance and How The Heck Are We Supposed To Swim Through The Turbulent Waters Of Hormones And Feelings And Loneliness And What Even Are Standards And Boundaries As I Grow Older And Desires Grow Stronger And Is It Even Worth It To “Wait” For What Is Never Promised To Come In The First Place??

The world tells us romance is physical, purely entertainment. That giving yourself to a man – sexually, emotionally, without commitment and driven by desire is pretty much all we can expect from love. And that is has nothing to do with God.

Conservative circles (yes, even Christians) conveniently don’t talk about romance, like it doesn’t exist or something. Growing up in church, Sex Wednesday came around once a year in youth group, and that was pretty much it. Sex is bad – well, not bad, but not for you cause you’re 16, so sex is bad. And now we’re not gonna talk about it. And we were left to mosey around in our hormonal minds and pretend we never had thoughts we shouldn’t have had – about boys or ourselves.

At a Christian college, we throw the word “Contentment” around like confetti. The conversations are endless and frequent, and what do we mean by it? I am not here to bash contentment, for I believe that we can be kept in perfect peace when our minds are stayed on Christ,  but how often do we use it as a cop-out for our straying minds?

Too often contentment is used synonymously with “life of ease”. As if contentment means the struggle is gone.

Ladies, God did not create emotions to be un-felt. 

Please don’t expect the struggle for purity to fade. It won’t, but God can change us in the midst of the struggle.

And I don’t only mean physical purity. But emotional, mental. Spiritual.

A few weeks ago, I was encouraged by a text from my best friend. In the midst of a hard week, I came to her discouraged that I couldn’t just be happy already. I was tired of being upset about my circumstances, trapped in the lie that happiness equals holiness, that I’m only in God’s will if I feel like I am. She rebuked me in the best way:

“Love, it is always ok to feel the sadness. Don’t let anyone tell you to get over it, regardless of the whys. Learn to live with Sad Maddie. There’s nothing wrong with her. In fact she may have strengths that Confident Maddie doesn’t.”

I think we, as Christian women, try to walk around like we don’t have desires. I think we try to save-face when he doesn’t like us back or our best friend gets engaged and we feel like crying about it is weakness.

I think we think that three or four or five years of singleness will be enough to finally convince ourselves that we don’t need that intimacy anyways. That after so long we have no right to feel the way we do because we should have figured out how to be lonely by now.

I believe one of God’s most mind-blowing creations was love – Eros love – the combining of two people, the intimacy – physically and emotionally. It is why He calls us, the Church, His Bride, for in it lies the concept of being known fully. As we are all meant to be known.

 

And yet.

And yet I sit here single, as perhaps you do too. And I was sad, today, about being single. But I’m learning to not worry about the emotions, the beautiful emotions. The beautiful sadness, and the way that it changes me for the better. I’ll probably cry this week, and that’s ok too.

But there is a very worthy battle to fight. The battle of Truth.

Listen to me. You are not single because you are undesirable. You are not single because God doesn’t see and hear. You are not single because the girls around you are funnier or healthier or have a better nose or sense of style or are more socially competent. Satan will try, every day, to convince you of these things. Don’t let him. Never, ever let him. Take every thought captive for the cause of Christ.

I called my mom last night to vent about it because, honestly, sometimes it just really stinks. And I sat outside and asked her to remind me of the plans God has for me, and how not experiencing romance is a part of them. And when we hung up, I chose to believe it. And as I walked back to my dorm, I chose to uproot any thoughts that discount the blood of Jesus on the Cross, the value He gave me and the plans He wrote for me before time began.

Because they’re still valid. In fact, more so than ever. For every day I feel the singleness, the more God can comfort me. And every day I don’t get the flattery from men, I hear the resounding flattery from God, how He made me abundantly beautiful. And every day I give myself fully to the task in front of me, the more I realize that it’s good. It’s so good. Romance is good, but it’s not the only good. Discipleship is good. Friendship is good. Writing is good. Learning is good.

Being who God has called me to be, today, is good. It’s very good.

Even better than romance. For me today, it is better than romance. For to live in the perfect plan of Christ is the absolute best place that I can be.