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

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.

 

 

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?

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?

Why God Wants Me To Almost Get What I Want.

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

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

And so you start salivating like a dog.

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

It’s that JOB.

Or that BOY.

Or that POSITION.

Or that POPULARITY.

Or that COMFORT.

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

need it.

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

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

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

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

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

But then you blink. And… it’s gone.

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

Have you ever…been there?

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

So… Job pretty much had it going on.

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

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

Why?

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

worshiped.

He worshiped.

The Bible says that he worship God and he said

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

Let that sink in for a minute.

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

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

What then?

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

but also because He had taken away.

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

The taste of true worship.

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

Yeah, me too.

Somehow, I think that’s the whole point.

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

Joy.

Joy. The one word I feel has been lacking from my spirit these past couple of weeks.

Do you ever have those days, or weeks, or months, where you can’t seem to find the joy in your life? As if someone stole it right from under your nose and hid it? And then, before you know it,  life begins to exist through tinted glasses and fast-forwarded days and you live and sleep and live and sleep and… You wake up and do it again.

That’s been me.

What is joy? The Bible never describes it as an emotion, as we too often do. (Even notice how I conveniently used the word “feel” at the beginning of this post…) Nor is it a situation or an environment.

So what is it?

The Bible says to “consider it pure joy whenever you face trials of many kinds” (James 1:2), and to also “eat your food with gladness, and drink your wine with a joyful heart, for God has already approved what you do”. (Ecclesiastes 9:7) Peter says that  “though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy“. (1 Peter 1:8)

Therefore joy is present in the good and the bad. It is abundant in our trust and belief that Jesus is Who He says that He is.

It’s… unwavering.

So why have I felt this way? Why, if I have always believed that joy is constant in the life of somebody following Jesus… why has it appeared so distant?

 

I was given an incredible gift today.

You see, it’s my birthday. I’m 21 today… 21 years of exchanging oxygen and stories with the other souls in my life.

Birthdays are funny. Your birthday is the day that is always supposed to go right. Presents are supposed to be given (and returned…?), cake is supposed to be eaten, friends are supposed to be hugged, Mountain Dew is supposed to be drunk (drank? drinken? sp?).

And yet, often they can be the most disappointing day of the year. (Am I right?) That most-wonderful-boy-in-the-entire-world-who-is-your-future-husband-but-doesn’t-know-it-yet fails to wish you a happy day, you’re away from your family (college…), and you don’t quiiiite get the gift you were betting on.

Well, today I was given the most incredible gift, one that left me in tears in a dorm stairwell at midnight.

You see, these wonderful people in my life, my friends, gave me the gift of words. I received a book full of letters- letters from the people that mean the most. I was given the gift today, in the wee hours of my birthday, to read through my tears the encouragement that I didn’t realize I was so desperate for.

But the most incredible gift of all was one from Jesus, from the One who pursues me and chooses me and sweeps me off of my feet every time I fall. You see, He knows- even when no one else does- my heart. The depths of my heart. He knows when my cells scream to explode from happiness, and He knows when my soul shrivels and cries alone, “God… why am I here? Why am on this campus? What good can I accomplish? I can’t even conquer these sins of pride and idolatry… how can you even use me?”

He sees me through even that.

And today He saw me. How do I know?

Because do you know what word I read over and over and over in those letters?

Joy.

Repeatedly, over and over again, I read myself on the page being described as a vessel of joy in the lives of those around me- lives that needed it. I sat there amazed and awed and completely overwhelmed by the intense beauty of the moment. Me- the sponge who feels squeezed-clean of it- was in some way, somehow, a fountain of joy to the people around me.

 

Why do I tell you this?

Believe me, it’s not to brag about all of the “great things everyone’s saying about Maddie”. It’s not to extinguish your last excuse of not “knowing it’s my birthday”. (PS I like cards and dark chocolate ;))

I tell you this to bring up a very specific and intrinsically beautiful point.

Jesus doesn’t need me to feel joyful in order to bring joy into the world.

Let me say that again: Jesus doesn’t need me to feel joyful in order to bring joy into the world.

9 times out of 10 I allow my emotions to dictate truth in my life, and it needs to stop. You see, emotions do nothing to the promises of God. Joy is a gift given- a filling in which we are merely willing vessels.

It is not something I try to do, not some trait I attempt to accomplish.

 

Tonight, sitting in a deserted stairwell, I was reminded that being used by Jesus to change lives is not something that do. As I held my oily, end-of-the-day face in my hands and sobbed tears of complete joy, I was held in the comfort that I don’t need to be or do because everything has already been done. And because Jesus is. 

He is joy, not me. I am merely the birthday girl that gets to unwrap it.

I 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