Sometimes, I Can’t.

Sometimes, I Can’t.

I grew up believing that I could do anything.

Anything! I had a confidence that seemed unshakeable. It was exciting. I took grown-ups at their word when they told me that I had an army inside of me just ready to change the world. I sat with my family in our usual pew Sunday after Sunday and I pictured God and I taking on the world. No matter what came our way, we would fling it to the side and together we would laugh in the face of danger and fear. We would end each night with celebration and start each morning with renewal.

Now, I have come to realize that I was a bigger dreamer than most, but I do believe that in everyone’s heart is a similar desire.

Right?

 

So, last year I grabbed God’s hand and we stood together at a precipice. Do I move to South Carolina? Do I leave behind everything I know for everything unknown? Do I take the chance?

I remember exactly where I was when I was offered the opportunity that gave me a chance down South. I was sitting on my parent’s front porch. I had just finished a phone interview, and I knew that the door was open to me if I wanted it to be. My back rested against the porch pillar, the faint smell of dog pee crept up and I smiled a little because I know my dog wasn’t supposed to pee near the porch. This was home.

And yet, it wasn’t my nest anymore. Although my parents would have lovingly given me a bed and food during this post-college season, I knew I had to go. For some, that’s the right move. For me, it wasn’t. I knew it, my parents knew it.

And so I thought about God that day, and the promise we made each other to always go on adventures together. I was 10 years old again. How could I sit this one out?

Four days later, I was in my Volkswagon Passat making my way down South.

 

I want to tell you that I faced my life here with complete honesty and raw faith and with a confidence in the God who led me here. I really do. My Instagram might tell you that (and I apologize if it does). If you called me up today and asked me how my first year has been, I might tell you that. But it wouldn’t be completely true.

I bought a journal today, from a stand at a farmers market. I bought it because my head keeps spinning these days and I don’t know how to make it stop. I was handed an interesting deck of cards the day I moved here, and playing them all has made me dizzy.

I wanted to be put together and healthy by this point of adulthood, but instead I’m tired. I’m so tired. These past 13 months have held three different jobs, three different addresses, three different cars, (one car accident), two drained bank accounts, one break up, one new prescription for anti-depressants, and only one me.

That strong and determined Maddie became lonely Maddie, sad Maddie, confused Maddie, busy Maddie. And then I felt like I wasn’t Maddie at all. Where do you put it all? What do you do when you feel so many things all at once and those emotions simply have nowhere to go because you have a church event to get to?

Because the fact of the matter is, I became beat up. My first night here, I will never forget sitting down, after the hustle and bustle finally died down and I realized that I really did move here. By myself. And that my future was going to take a lot out of me. I haven’t forgotten how I felt in that moment. I have never been more scared, but instead of the ice cold panic I usually feel in those moments, all I felt was a low hum. I had no time for panic. I either put on a brave face and moved forward, or I admitted defeat and moved home.

And 10 year old Maddie would never allow me to move home. That’s not what I did.

And so I fought. I made it to work, day after day. I sat with myself through a season of depression. I learned how to tell the truth. I screamed into pillows. I was honest with God for the first time in my life. I cried because I didn’t want to break a boy’s heart but I knew I was going to. I mourned when my friends got engaged because they live thousands of miles away.

And, I learned, I can’t do it all. I just can’t.

No matter how hard I try, I cannot be any version of myself that I choose. That’s not up to me. My emotions and exhaustion demand to be recognized, and believe me they will always find a way. And I have tried so hard, day after day after day to stop them. But why?

I have come to learn that I had the wrong picture of a warrior in my mind. When I was little, I imagined strength in the form of happiness and optimism in the face of whatever life would throw at me. But I was wrong. Strength isn’t happiness. Strength is honesty. Strength is grief. Strength is driving to Publix to pick up your antidepressant when you swore to yourself you would never take it again. But in that moment, strength was admitting that I can’t do it on my own.

And God never promised me anything else. He knew our adventure would look just as it has, and He still assured me that it was a good idea. He saw my lonely nights, saw my stress, saw my seasons of mental-unhealthiness, saw my tears, and He still took my hand that day on my parent’s front porch and said, “Let’s do this”.

And He was right.

Maybe, He just wanted me to learn that sometimes I can’t, and He knew He couldn’t get it through my thick skull any other way.

 

 

 

379 Days Into Adulthood

379 Days Into Adulthood

379 days ago I decided to move to the South.

Well, decided is a generous word. Maybe, more specifically, ran away to the South.

I would never have decided to leave the stage of life I was in. I know that might make me sound like one of those people always living in the “good ole’ days of college”, but it’s true. I was happy there – on my little campus, in the cornfields of Ohio, in close proximity to almost everybody I really cared about on this planet. I was nuzzled up, as with a warm blanket on a snowy day. The cultural references made sense to me, the pace of life worked well for me, the people knew me. I loved being a student – loved getting out of class at noon and walking to my favorite coffee shop to tune the world out, listen to music, and get some homework done.

It suited me.

And, given the choice, I would not have left. But I wasn’t given a choice, really.

And that’s why I ran away to the South.

I’ve decided that moving across the country, as a single gal, to start life as a young adult is a lot like being a toddler again, lost in Walmart. You’re ridiculously small compared to all of the people around you. Everything is overwhelming. You’re lost, unsure what to do, paralyzed, and the only things in the world that could give you comfort are the arms of your mom, wrapping around you in relief.

That’s me. Except for I’m not a toddler, I’m lost somewhere much larger than Walmart, and mommy ain’t comin.

Adulthood, yeah?

It doesn’t matter how many times I feed my debit card into a cash only machine, or total my car, or break down on the side of the road, I can’t do a single thing to nuzzle back onto that fluffy couch called college. I can’t force all of my best friends to travel to South Carolina to give me a hug. I can’t not pay my traffic ticket. I can’t teleport back to my college cafeteria and eat several servings of hard scoop ice cream in one meal.

I ran away to the South, but now there’s nowhere to go.

Is my life terrible? No. But it’s not the same, and that’s the real heartbreak. I’m learning that 379 days in a new town is nothing, and that it will take several hundred more to feel at home here. I’ll wait it out, and it will happen. I’ll find my people here. It will become somewhere special to me. I’m beginning to realize that the real battle is letting it happen.

I spoke to one of my best friends on the phone recently. We reminisced about friends we had and memories we made, and I began to blurt out my feelings on this subject. How do I move on? She is a strong, solid woman of God so I know she’ll be okay, but I almost felt myself apologizing to her, saying, “You know how much it breaks my heart to live so far away. But I do. We do. So I have to make friends here. I have to create a life here. That’s okay, right? You’ll understand, right?”

And I know she will. I know she does. Because she loves me, and it’s what we all have to do.

And yet, that rational way of thinking didn’t keep me from curling up like an infant on the couch this past week, sobbing over friends of past, knowing that my affection towards them can’t make them move to the same apartment building as me. I prayed that they knew I didn’t leave them on purpose, and that I never would have chosen to. And that I still love them, even if I don’t call them very often because it’s almost more painful to hear their fuzzy phone voice than to not hear them at all.

I read in 1 John today about the love of God. I know it’s been a long time since I believed that God still has my back, and so I have to repeat it over and over in the early light of morning in order for it to effect me at all. It becomes starkly obvious to me these days, when I finally do crack open my Bible, how cold I have become to my first Love. It didn’t happen overnight, but somewhere in these past 379 days, I simply stopped believing that I’m still His girl, and that He’s still watching over me.

But He is, isn’t He? “We love because He first loved us.” He sees my numbness of heart, my clouded mind as I train in my new job, my childlike sobbing on the love-seat in my 3rd floor apartment, the 2008 Mazda I tote around town. He knows where I’m at, and loves how I obsessively bargain hunt to decorate my apartment, how I re-read Nicholas Sparks novels while simultaneously complaining that there are no good books out there, how I fumble around my kitchen trying to cook.

And knowing that He knows, and that He sees me, gives me courage. I can make it. More than that – I can live through these years, not simply survive. I used to view this season as a marathon, but that just left me exhausted. Maybe it’s more like a stroll through town, if I relax enough to view it that way. I can take breaks to breathe and read and write and run. I can be me, even if I’m not always sure who that is.

My life changed in every way when I moved here. I’ve been miserable, but I’ve also been better than ever. Somehow, they mix. And somehow, after it all, I still believe there’s good to come.

 

Like A Child

Like A Child

“But to all who did receive Him, who believed in His name, He gave the right to become children of God.”

John 1:12

I’m an adult now, apparently.

I mean, I didn’t intend for it to happen. It just did. I was just walking along, minding my own business, when BAM! time to be an adult. I don’t know – I graduated from college, and then moved to South Carolina, and suddenly I’m supposed to know how to do a billion things I’ve never done before.

And so I act like I have some semblance of understanding, but let’s be real. In reality I have absolutely no idea what I’m doing. And in the season of life where I thought I would be all confident and self-assured, kicking down doors and changing lives, I feel a lot more like I’m a little kid afraid of the monster under my bed. I feel like a little baby tadpole in a humongous pond. I feel like my skin is touching air for the first time.

And I realize, I’m a lot like a kid again. Or, more specifically, I never grew out of it, and I don’t think any of us really do. We go to college and then graduate and then do the next thing, but really we’re just kids. We pretend like we have it all together, but inside we’re terrified.

So why pretend? I believe it’s because we think that if we don’t take care of ourselves, no one will.

I’ve been thinking a lot about how I was as a little kid. I was blessed with two loving parents, and so even though the world was big and scary, I was at peace. In my mind, as long as daddy was anywhere in proximity to me, I was safe. And so I didn’t spend my time worrying or thinking of “adult things” – I just spent all of my time being a kid. Playing at recess, reading books, laughing, crying, running into my parents’ arms when I was scared.

And knowing Jesus is a lot like being a kid again. The Bible talks a lot about freedom, and lifting heavy burdens, and not worrying. But then us adults look at the world and see everything wrong and think “how is that possible?? how could I not worry? don’t you see this, and that, and that…??” 

For me, following Jesus means I get to handle worry like I did as a kid – with open hands, knowing I can’t do anything about it, and knowing it’s not my job. I’ve spent a lot of time lately taking on jobs that aren’t mine, and it’s a lot like a 5 year old trying to cook dinner, do the dishes, and drive the family car to the beach. I’m overwhelmed and scared stiff because 5 year old’s weren’t meant to do any of that stuff.

One time, someone asked Jesus who the greatest in Heaven was, and Jesus brought a child to Him and said “Truly I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the Kingdom of Heaven”. I don’t believe this was said like a threat. Instead, it’s Jesus saying that the entire basis of a relationship with Him is one of Father/Daughter. It’s about trust, and humility, and knowing you need Him.

And you can trust Him. Because He loves you. You can let go of all that worry and fear and cynicism not because there aren’t things to fear or worry about but because you know that your Dad has it all figured out, and that He loves you more than you could every comprehend. It’s His job, and He’s extremely good at it. And that is the only way I find rest in this tumultuous season.

“The Lord your God is in your midst,

a mighty one who will save;

He will rejoice over you with gladness;

He will quiet you by His love.”

Zephaniah 3:17

“And Jesus said, ‘Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me – watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.'”

Matthew 11:28-30 (The Message)

 

 

Never Too Far Gone

Never Too Far Gone

“For as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, so also the Son gives life to whom He will.”

John 5:21

I moved to South Carolina 5 months ago.

My move wasn’t calculated or planned. In fact, it was probably the most impromptu thing I have ever done (which is saying something). I needed somewhere to move after college, I was handed an opportunity, and I just went with it.

There are so many perks to doing something like that. I once told someone my story and they responded with, “Well, if you pick up a cat by it’s tail, you’re gonna learn things you just can’t learn any other way.” And it’s true. I have learned so many things, and experienced so many things, that I just couldn’t experience any other way. My life is a constant surprise, with twists and turns and a story I cannot wait to tell people.

And yet, it’s also a lot like drinking out a fire hose and running a marathon and throwing yourself onto a never-ending merry-go-round all at once. To move states, graduate college, start a new job, join a new church, meet 245 new faces, and do it all at the same time is no joke. Especially when you decided so last minute to undertake it in the first place!

So most mornings I wake up a bit paralyzed. And blind. And lame. And I think – is there redemption? I hardly even remember digging myself into a hole, and yet here I am, and I can’t seem to get on my feet. 

 

John chapter 5 tells us of a man who Jesus met who had been an invalid for 38 years.

That means that for 38 years this man couldn’t walk. And he was an outcast. Every day he lay near a pool with no one to help him in or out. Lonely, lost, no future.

Until he met Jesus.

John recounts Jesus seeing this man, and he says that Jesus knew he had been laying there for a long time. He wasn’t just a social outcast to Jesus – Jesus knew him. He knew his needs, knew his story, knew his name. And so he walked right up to him and asked him one question:

“Do you want to be healed?”

Chances are no one ever talked to this man. In fact, we know that no one ever talked to him because his response to Jesus was, “Sir, I have no one to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up, and while I am under another steps down before me.”

In other words, he had no one. And no way to help himself. And he couldn’t walk or get work – in society’s terms, he was worthless.

And yet Jesus just looks at him, and says the simplest words that changed his life forever:

“Get up, take up your bed, and walk.”

And he did.

 

Sometimes I believe that I am beyond the healing powers of Jesus, that I’m too far gone. Lately, I feel that a lot. I am a vision driven person, and I love to know what I’m doing and where I’m going. I love to walk with confidence and purpose.

But since coming to South Carolina, I feel like I don’t know how to walk. At best, I crawl around all day and back into bed at night. And I begin to worry, thinking: how am I supposed to find my feet again? And even if I do, where am I supposed to go?

But this story doesn’t tell us that we need to find a way to heal ourselves. It doesn’t tell us to try harder or slave-drive ourselves into a “better version” of the person we are. This story tells us that Jesus sees us as we lay on the street, and He knows how long we’ve been laying there, and He walks straight up to us and asks,

“Do you want to be healed?”

Every day, it is my job to give Jesus my paralysis and blindness and lameness. Because I’m no different from those invalids Jesus walked up to that day, and I need Jesus’ healing words just as much as they did.

But out of His love for me, I believe that He walks right up to me every day and offers me new life.

(scripture taken from John chapter 5)

A God Who Meets Me Here

A God Who Meets Me Here

“Jesus answered, ‘If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink’, you would have asked Him, and He would have given you living water.'”

John 4:10

One of my favorite things about Jesus is that He constantly did things that no one expected.

When John and the other guys first left their fishing boats to follow this guy named Jesus, I’m sure they expected Him to be a normal teacher. In fact, it’s pretty clear that they expected Him to be normal, because the Bible says over and over that they are baffled by what He does. Jaws on the floor. “Who is this guy??”

This story today is one of my absolute favorites, because the main character is a woman with a past she wants to hide.

(…can anyone relate?)

Jesus and John and the guys were having a travel day, making their way from Judea to Galilee (both regions in ancient Israel), when it was noon and they were tired. Jesus was exhausted, and so He sat down at a well that was there. Now, I don’t know much about the culture back then, but I do know that no one in their right mind went to draw water in the middle of the day because it was hot. Everyone would go in the morning, I’m sure, before the sun came out in full force. The women would grab their water jugs in the morning and head over, chatting about the day and the gossip of the town.

But no one would go midday.

And yet, there was one other person at the well when Jesus arrived, and it was a woman. We don’t know much about her, but the very fact that she was drawing water at noon tells us that she didn’t belong. The scorching heat of the day was the perfect cover to make certain that no one else would be there and she could get her water in peace.

And yet Jesus was there.

“Give me a drink.” Jesus walked up her and sat down.

The woman was baffled, not only because men never spoke to women like this back then, but also because Jesus was a Jew and she was a Samaritan, and there was bad blood. Jews never spoke to Samaritans. And a Jewish man specifically would never, ever talk to a Samaritan woman. Ever.

But Jesus loved breaking every social rule, and so He struck up a conversation.

“If you knew the gift of God, and who I am, then you would ask me for living water and I would give it to you.”

“Sir, you didn’t bring anything to draw water with,” she said, observing His belongings, “how do you get living water?”

Jesus, possibly looking into the well or gesturing to her water jug, replied, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks of the water that I will give them will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give them will become a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”

The woman was probably thrown off, as I would be, but she implored, “Sir, give me this water, so that I will not be thirsty or have to come here to draw water anymore.”

And this is my favorite part, because Jesus wasn’t there to talk about drawing water from a well. He knew this woman – He knew her past, the hidden parts she tried to keep secret, her regrets and fears. He knew that she had gone through 5 husbands, and that she was currently living with a guy who wasn’t her husband. He knew that she drew water at noon out of shame. He knew.

“Go, call your husband, and come back.”

She looked down, diverted her eyes, mumbled, “I have no husband.”

“I know you have no husband.” Jesus replied. “I know that you have had five husbands, and that the man you’re living with is not your husband.”

I’m sure her head snapped up and that she searched the face of this guy who met her at the well. How could he know that? The most shameful parts of her life, probably the reason she was a social outcast, the very thing the intended to hide from everybody she met was just thrown into the open. And she sat there, exposed, in front of this man she had never met.

The story goes on to say how Jesus told her that He was God, the Savior of the world. His disciples came back, confused that He was talking to a woman. And the woman left her water jar at the well, ran into the town, and told everyone about this guy she had met at the well, how He knew everything about her. Could this be God Himself?

She believed in Jesus that day, and a lot of other people did too. The people of that town begged Jesus to stay with them, and John tells us that they stayed there for two days.

 

There are so many things I love about this story. I love that Jesus, God Himself, could have spent His days on earth rounding up as many people as possible and performing the flashiest of miracles. He could have been loud and boisterous and in-your-face. But He didn’t.

I love the fact that He spent an entire afternoon talking with one social outcast woman at a well. I love that Jesus knew her, not for the Instagram-worthy version of herself she gave everyone else, but for the real her. He knew every shameful part of her life, and yet He met her there. And He didn’t run away. He just offered her living water, speaking of her failed marriages as simply something in her life, not something that defined her life.

And that’s the love of God. It’s the kind of love that will cross every social barrier to meet you where you are and offer you living water. It will look into the dirtiest parts of your life and cover them up. Jesus, in how He lived His life, showed us just how much God loves us.

And just like He met the woman at the well, He wants to meet you.

(scripture taken from John chapter 4)

For God So Loved The World

For God So Loved The World

“For God so loved the world, that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.”

John 3:16

John tells the story of a man named Nicodemus.

The Bible says he was a ruler of the Jews, which means he was the kind of guy that was always in church. In fact, he wasn’t just in church, he was the head honcho of the church. Very religious. Always reading the Bible.

And yet, the irony of Jesus’ life is that it was the church-goers that didn’t feel a need to know Him at all. Jesus once said that He didn’t come to call the healthy, but the sick. He didn’t come to hang out with the self-righteous church goers, but the messy street people. And that’s exactly what He did.

And yet Nicodemus was curious. John tells us that he approached Jesus by night. He was too embarrassed to admit his desire to know Jesus in front of all of his church buddies, and so he tracked Him down after the sun had set.

“Teacher, we know that you come from God, for no one can do these signs that you do unless God is with him.” Nicodemus said, surely recounting the conversations his church friends had had in the tabernacle earlier that day or week, pondering who this guy Jesus was and how He was turning water into wine.

I don’t know what Nicodemus was expecting Jesus to say, but like always Jesus blows him away by the words that come out of his mouth:

“Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the Kingdom of God… For God so loved the world, that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.”

 

John doesn’t tell us how Nicodemus reacted, but there is no doubt that he was surprised. He had to have been. He was a religious man, and his whole life he had studied the Law – what he should or shouldn’t do, and yet Jesus says nothing of the sort. He doesn’t meet Nicodemus with a list of rules or a pep talk to “do better”.

Instead, Jesus talks about rebirth. And sacrificial love. And life.

And that’s the gospel. It’s the fact that when each and every one of us approaches Jesus in our secret heart, in the comfort of the night, hidden from everyone waiting to judge us, we aren’t given condemnation. John doesn’t tell us that Jesus told Nicodemus off for hiding from his friends, or not knowing what to say. It only tells us that Jesus told him the extent of His love, and that he can be born again. He can start anew.

Because we need to know that. Each and every one of us. God loves us so much that He would send His Son on a rescue mission to find us in our darkest nights.

And later we will learn that Jesus, God’s very Son, would die to prove His love. He would die to take our death, so that we would never doubt how much God loves us.

(scripture taken from John chapter 3)

The Beginning of Belief

The Beginning of Belief

“So we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us.”

1 John 4:16

One of the very first stories John writes about Jesus takes place at a wedding.

We know from yesterday that this man named Jesus started walking around and asking people to follow Him, and that John was a fisherman when he himself was called. I don’t know about you, but if some random person I had never met came by my office one day and told me to drop everything and follow him… well, I wouldn’t.

And yet John did. And the Bible tells us that 11 other guys were also chosen and called by Jesus. I can imagine them all meeting each other for the first time, having no idea what they were getting themselves into. I can only assume that they perceived that it was something great.

John says that the next day they were all invited to a wedding, along with Jesus’ mother, Mary. I don’t know exactly what weddings looked like back then, but I can imagine these 12 guys mingling, getting to know each other, taking a seat at a table adjacent to Jesus and His mom.

And then the party ran out of wine. I can see John watching it all unfold, as Mary walked right up to Jesus and said, “They have no wine.”

“What does this have to do with me? My hour has not yet come.” Jesus said.

And yet Mary walked over to the master of the feast and told him to do whatever Jesus said. And John watched as Jesus complied, walked over to the servants and told them to fill the stone water jars they had with water, all of the way to the brim.

After they had done this, Jesus said, “Now draw some out and take it to the master of the feast.”

And when the master of the feast drank the “water” from the jars, it was wine. He called the (surely baffled) bridegroom and gushed about how great the wine was.

And the 12 disciples, these guys that had just met each other, that had just embarked on this new adventure, probably looked at each other and marveled. Who was this guy? Did he just turn water into wine? John recounts that they believed in Jesus that day. They began to believe that Jesus was more than just a normal man, that He was something magnificent.

 

At the end of his gospel, John describes Jesus as doing so many incredible acts that “were every one of them to be written, the world itself could not contain the books” (John 21:25).

Jesus made a lot of incredible claims when He walked the earth. He claimed that He was the light of the world, that He was the way and truth and life, that God loved the world so much that He sent His very son to die so that we don’t have to. And John heard Him make every claim. He was walking beside Jesus, listening to what He had to say.

But anyone can claim things about themselves. Jesus knew people wouldn’t believe that He really was God unless He proved His legitimacy in front of them. And so He did things in front of everyone who crossed His path, things that were miraculous, things we will talk about more later.

But this was His first sign, His first miracle. And the disciples had no idea at the time how much Jesus would do, and how turning water into wine would pale in comparison to everything they would see.

But John recounts this story, this first time He recognized Jesus as something special, the first time he believed that there was something miraculous in his midst.

The loving God Himself.

(scripture taken from John chapter 2)