30 Days of Celebration: Good Books and Great Authors

30 Days of Celebration: Good Books and Great Authors

Is there really anything better than a good novel?

I mean, really.

I just, love stories. I love stupid stories, I love sappy stories, I love sad stories. When I was in middle school, I would read at least a book a week, always caught up in a story. Granted, they were all about vampires and 12 year-olds falling in love, but all the best books are, right?

For some reason, in the season, I stopped reading. I didn’t mean to. I guess I figured I didn’t have time for it. And, to be fair, when you spend 98% of your day worrying and freaking out about the future, you don’t have time for ridiculous things like having fun or doing something you love.

But when I was home for Thanksgiving, I picked up a book, and it kind of felt like coming home. Books have so often been my home, and my closest friend. There was a time when I wouldn’t leave home without my novel, and I was never not in one. Ever. I felt naked without having a story to fantasize about and characters to root for. And every chance I got, I would jump back into the story, nose in the book, completely oblivious to the things around me.

I like thinking about how God wrote the story of my life, like the very best novel. And I like to think about how He reads it from Heaven, every day, and He smiles because He knows the good parts and the ending and He’s not afraid of it the way I am. Hard seasons seem pointless until I remember that any author worth their salt writes conflict into the story. No one would read a book where nothing ever changes, and no character development ever happens. And God’s worth His salt. So He writes those things into my story.

What makes it hard is that we can’t flip the the last page. We can only live the one we’re on, and we simply have to trust the One who knows things that we don’t. But, really, all we have to trust is that our Author wrote a good story. One made especially for you and for me. I think celebration, in its essence, is just realizing that. It’s being thankful to be in the story.

Just like the characters in your favorite novel. You read on because you want to see what happens next. Why don’t we live our stories with that same eager expectation? I really think it’s because we don’t trust that anyone good is writing it.

But the Bible says that every day of our lives were written in God’s book before one of them happened. Man, if I could actually grasp that in my heart. Would’t that be something. Wouldn’t that change the way I saw everything?

 

 

 

30 Days of Celebration: The Unappreciated Gift

30 Days of Celebration: The Unappreciated Gift

Sometimes it hits me how very little I deserve all that I have.

My very life is a gift, for starters. It was given to me. I am not my own, I was bought with a price, in every way.

But even more than that, I have been very overwhelmed these days by how undeserving I am of my day-to-day. The house I’m living in, the job I have, the friends I’m surrounded with. They are all gifts, none of them earned. I think, in the past, I have convinced myself that I “deserve” the things in my life. But I don’t.

Sometimes I don’t know what to do with all of these gifts. How can I receive them, if I have nothing to pay in return? Why do I have them all in the first place? And I will spend all of my time questioning all that I have and not celebrating it.

God has lately been urging me to think of it all as Christmas morning. It is as if He is giving me gifts, wrapped in beautiful bows, and instead of tearing apart the paper and delighting in what’s inside, I stare at the box. And I ask Him why He gave it to me. I question His motives. And I tell Him I don’t deserve it.

And so the present sits there, untouched, unopened, unappreciated.

And God, the Giver, the one who put intricate detail into it, the one who thought it all out especially for me, is sad. I can imagine, at least. I can imagine the feeling of giving such an incredible gift and to watch it go unappreciated.

And that’s what my life is: an incredible gift. I want to appreciate it. I don’t want to stare at it, I don’t want to question it, I don’t want to neglect it. I want to tear the paper open, rip into the box, behold the wonder of it all, and jump around the living room with a smile across my face because I have been given something amazing.

Something worth celebrating.

 

Losing the Illusion of Control

Losing the Illusion of Control

I used to think that life with God was like sharing the wheel of a semi truck.

You know. Sometimes you feel Him driving, and you’re sitting right there, watching out the front window with Him. He’s commentating on what’s going on, pointing out the places He’s bringing you, and training you up for what’s next.

But then sometimes it feels like He just lets go of the wheel and tells you to start steering. And you know He’s still there, but you also know that you’re gonna crash the truck if it ‘s all up to you to get it where it needs to go safely. So you clench your shoulders and grit your teeth and just try to survive because you think that He gave you the wheel and it’s your job to drive.

That’s how I’ve felt since graduating college. I spent 4 years with my driver’s permit, walking with Jesus and learning from Him about how to spend my days well, about how to love Him and others. And then I graduated, and I started to believe that it was suddenly my job to drive. I felt all eyes on me, the pressure of doing something with my degree, the world huge and the highway wide, and I felt my muscles start to tense.

Not helped by the fact that it became increasingly evident that I didn’t have any control of my life anyways. I felt like the wheel was supposed to be in my hands, and yet it consistently stayed out of reach.

I had my eyes set on an internship I was hoping to do this year. I didn’t get it. So I set my mind on a year abroad. The pieces didn’t come together. So I thought I might go back to college and do a year of grad school. But the wheel was always out of my hands. I was reminded consistently that I wasn’t the one driving. And what do you do with that?

If I’m not driving, who is?

 

I used to think that life with God was like sharing the wheel of a semi truck. But now I know that life with God is actually like sitting in the back seat of His minivan.

You see, after all my striving and begging for the keys, Jesus brought me exactly where I was supposed to be. A Fellowship program with a church in South Carolina had a spot reserved for me without anybody but God knowing it, and I never would have found it if it was up to me. I didn’t even know it existed.

But I didn’t have to! I’m just sitting in the back seat of my dad’s minivan. I’m only anxious when I forget that.

I’ve learned that Jesus doesn’t ask us to be in control of our lives. I’ve spent substantial time being upset with Him about my lack of control, but He has been faithful in easing my heart down. He reminded me of family road trips as a kid. My family would take one every summer- pack all the kids in a minivan, drive days on end, pitch a tent in the national park of your choice. It was awesome.

One trip in particular sticks out to me, and that was the year we went to Zion National Park in Utah. I was probably 9th or 10th grade, and I’m sure there were a million details that went into making that trip a success. Hotel bookings, budgeting for gas, renting a camp site, checking the weather. But I couldn’t tell you a single one, because I didn’t spend a single moment trying to do my dad’s job. You see, that was always up to him. He was the details guy who figured that all out. I trusted him to get me where I needed to go, and there was no anxiety in me as I jumped in the back seat of our family minivan that summer.

Why don’t I view God’s plans for me the same way? He’s the details guy. I’ve spent a lot of time not believing that, but I am learning that it’s true. It feels so wrong and pointless sometimes to kick back and read my favorite novel, but from the backseat of a minivan, what else is there to do but enjoy the ride?

That is, if you trust the driver.

It took me landing in the middle of a state I was not planning on living in, in a program I didn’t know existed, living with a host family I had never met, to realize that I was never driving the car. Never. But what a gift that is, because the world’s best driver is.

I’m not going to understand where He takes me, how He does it, and why I’m here. Not all the time. Very rarely. But it’s not my job to understand. It’s my job to enjoy the ride.

And my favorite parts are the pitstops. The times when He stops the car, and takes my rested up, content self and points out a person that needs to be loved. Or a flower that needs to be smelled. Or a really, really good book that needs to be read. And we do it together. Father and daughter.

Sometimes the pitstops are really painful. He teaches me about suffering or walks me through illness or humiliation. Sometimes it straight up feels like He dips me in hot tar or takes a scalpel to my soul. But He’s still driving the car. He’s still in control. His plans for me are still good, those stops merely necessary moments in the story He is writing.

And every day, it comes down to trust. Trust, trust. Always trust. Like a little child.

And every day is a choice to lean into it or not.

The heart of man plans his way,
    but the Lord establishes his steps.

Proverbs 16:9

 

It’s Time To See The Good

It’s Time To See The Good

I have a confession. This isn’t what I was going to post. I already had something else written, spell checked, tagged and ready to go, but I woke up this morning and realized I couldn’t post it.

Because it was 1,000 words about what was wrong with my life, what was wrong with the church, what is wrong about what is happening around me right now. And I’m tired of focusing on everything that doesn’t fit where I want it to.

You see, I’m the problem. I have blamed a million things for my negative attitude, but nothing is to blame but the brain between my ears and the crooked heart in my chest. And it’s oddly liberating to know this, because for so long I couldn’t understand how the world we live in could be so paradoxical. It had my head spinning, for it would seem so dark to me, as I awoke on an aimless Saturday morning, or wrote another paper, or gazed at the unknown days ahead. The world seemed menacing and dark to me, and yet I would go for an evening run to Walmart, and as I drove past an open lot the ground would glitter with lightening bugs and the sky would be seven shades of red and I couldn’t understand how a world so beautiful could seem so dark to me.

And now I know: the lightning bugs have it right. They are beautiful because they can’t help it – they were programmed and designed to spread glitter across green landscape. They were simply created beautifully and so was I, and any day I refuse to believe that is a sad waste of precious time.

I’m only 22, but I have lost entire seasons of my life worrying myself to panic or, worse, sleep. I couldn’t figure out how I could be so tired by 11 am until I realized that I had created an exhausting world in my own head. I was torturing myself with my negative thoughts, and it wore me out. I was literally making myself sick with worry. And it was all my fault, in the best of ways.

I’m glad it was my fault, because I don’t want to blame the world or God or anyone else.

Sometimes, when I am sick and in my mind, I just step outside and allow this world to be all that it is to me. And the sun’s heat, the mismatched clouds, the sounds of lawns being mowed, they heal me. I recently spent two weeks beneath Italian mountains, and the way they rose from the forest blanket, staring at the sky and daring to be grander than anything else around them… I was small in the best way. I really am allowed to let go and give my worries to the mountains and the God who fashioned them perfectly.

I can lean into friendships. The people who make me laugh without trying. The eyes I can stare straight into without fearing what they see. The people who validate my fears, cry through memories of boys I shouldn’t have liked, and still view me as a whole, capable woman through it all. The people who instill confidence in me, who build me up, who let me dare to be more than who I am today. Who told me I could be more in the first place.

And Jesus. Jesus. My shepherd who died to give me life I don’t appreciate, days I worry out of existence. Why do I think so small when I have a Father who made everything?

So today I choose. As one who chooses to lose weight from their body, I choose to lose weight from my mind and soul. It doesn’t happen all at once, but change begins with a choice. For me, it’s a pledge to gratitude. It’s a decision to fight the stress headaches and negative perception by Truth and new foundations. It’s a promise to have fun. To think of nothing sometimes. To dream again. A new way of living that I used to be good at, until I thought I had to play God in my life.

And that’s why I couldn’t publish that other post. It can’t be me anymore. I don’t need to tell you what’s wrong in this world, and I surely don’t have to tell myself.

But I do need a reminder of what is beautiful and worth my musings. I need to remember who God is in this world and who God is in mine.

And maybe you need that reminder, too.

Courage Is Not The Absence Of Fear

Courage Is Not The Absence Of Fear

Ever since I was little, I’ve wanted to do big things.

I was that kid who would watch American Idol with my family on a Tuesday night, and then quickly steal upstairs and practice singing in front of my full length mirror until mom came to tuck me in. I would practice introducing myself to the judges (Randy, J-Lo and Steven Tyler at the time), and I would pace back and forth, singing and using up the space, putting on a real show to my 10-year old self in the mirror.

I would do this partly because I liked to sing, of course, but mainly because it was a big thing, American Idol, and I wanted a part of it.

I’ve always wanted to be a part of big things.

My mom would get me snuggled in bed, and by the glow of the dim lamp I would dream about what my life would be. And I would think that I would do just about anything and go just about anywhere. I would audition for crazy singing shows and fly all around the world and write best-selling books. (Don’t even get me started on all the rough-drafts I had going of achingly-bad teen novels…)

My head was full of big dreams, because I wanted to be a part of big things.

As I grew up, those big desires began to change a little. Not entirely, and not overnight, but I did realize that there were bigger things than trying out for reality TV shows. I would fantasize filling up my passport and playing my oboe so well that thousands would come and see.

I would dream so big, and I wouldn’t feel any fear. Partly because I hadn’t actually done any of these things, but also because the world was consistently good at patting me on the back. I was cheer captain, principle chair in band, worship team leader in youth group. I had a loving family, a comfortable home, an exciting life. I had friends that had stuck by me for 10 years, and I was looking towards an excellent college education at the school of my choice. I had never experienced real pain, physical, mental, or emotional. I had never had my heart broken, never been hospitalized for more than a day, never tasted bitter panic.

I didn’t view myself as plagued by anything that would stop me from filling my life up with everything that would make me happy. As I write it now, I recognize how ridiculously skewed this way of thinking was, and also how painfully naive.

I took mission trips in high school, to Mexico, Burkina Faso, Mali, China… I prided myself on my ability to go on trips that I wanted to go on, saw myself as so brave to jump on a plane, selfishly see the world, give what didn’t hurt, and then come home. (Now, I don’t want to make myself sound too awful in high school, but if I’m honest -and I try to be- my heart was a selfish muscle. I was in it for me, and I passed it off for Christ-like.)

I thought courage was the desire to do big things and the ability to carry them out un-fazed, happy. I saw the courageous people as those who made big moves, and the scared, lazy people as those who lived normal lives.

I was sickeningly wrong.

 

I got lost in the Shanghai airport the last time I flew home from China. The story is long, and though I like to tell it to anyone who will listen, I will spare you the details here. All you need to know is I got lost, I got freaked, and then I finally found my family just in time to jump on a metal tube that was about to take me over the Pacific Ocean for 17 hours.

Something weird happened in me that day. Something cracked. I was scared. Suddenly, it was all too much for me, and I felt that I would never jump on another plane again. I practically kissed the ground when we touched base in Seattle.

My little ghost began to follow me around. I was a sophomore in college at the time, and suddenly I was afraid of things that I knew shouldn’t scare me. Dark clouds began to find me on perfectly normal days, and I couldn’t see past them. I began to doubt everything – my faith in God, my ability to make it through the day breathing normally. My chest was tight. I couldn’t make it through a work shift without reading scripture or taking bathroom breaks to breathe.

I had my first panic attack about 6 months after the incident in Shanghai. I gripped the chair, didn’t tell a soul, and couldn’t believe there would ever come a day I wasn’t afraid. My fear was irrational, most of it, and yet it was so real. It became my closest companion – it wouldn’t leave me alone.

Those big crazy dreams of mine were put somewhere deeper than I could see them. Nothing mattered but getting through the day. And besides, I couldn’t imagine boarding a plane, let alone doing something worth mentioning on the other side. Suddenly courage meant something new to me – seeing past the fear and finding life somewhere else.

 

I write this today because I spent my whole day packing, anticipating the first big trip since the incident in China, since the fear began, 3 years later. I am coming off an intensely fearful season of my life, and I am no longer the happy-go-lucky high school girl I was as I stare down this adventure. She has been replaced by reality, by a girl who knows hurt, and joy, more than she thought she would.

Yet she has never been so courageous. I have never been so courageous.

Courage is not the absence of fear, but the knowledge that there is Something bigger than it. Someone bigger than it. In fact, I believe no one is truly courageous unless they are utterly afraid. Courage is acting in faith when the task at hand terrifies you, knowing that God has ordained these steps and will provide a way through them.

I never knew my need for God until I walked through a season afraid. I have never loved Him more.

Now, I view no one more courageous than the quiet soul who dispels fear with scripture, who wakes up daily and says, “God, what’s next?” Because that’s hard to do. It takes real faith.

It takes a heart of bravery. Of courage, in its purest form.

So I’ll jump on a plane this Friday a little afraid, and a lot excited because I get to be brave.

I never had the chance before.

 

 

 

You’re Not Gonna Get What You Want.

You’re Not Gonna Get What You Want.

I’m at a wedding this weekend.

My oldest brother is getting married to the sweetest, most genuine southern beauty, and my whole family is in the wedding party. There are a million things to get done, of course. Weeks ago things started popping up around the house: chalkboard signs and table arrangements and taupe colored bridesmaid dresses.

Essentially, throwing a wedding is like throwing an incredible huge party, and it’s kind of the best. Granted, there’s a ton to get done, but the reason for it all is arguably the most beautiful ceremony that can occur under the sun.

And so, in a way, I’m engrossed by the most beautiful thing on planet earth right now.

Something strikes me every time I’m a part of something inherently and exponentially beautiful, though. It’s funny, but it’s like all of my problems in life are amplified in a way. Watching others happiness reminds me of my own unhappiness. Meals with family make me think of the moments I am completely alone. It feels like I’m cheating on the more realistic, down to earth sides of my life, like I’m not honoring them in the way they deserve.

This weekend has nothing to do with me. I didn’t choose the color scheme or pick out the dress I’m going to wear. If all goes well, I will go completely unnoticed, entirely overshadowed by the bride and groom. That would be right, that would be good.

And then I will go home, and although a thousand things just changed for the better in their life, everything in mine will stay the same. I will still be recently graduated, unemployed, proud resident of the average sized bedroom in my parent’s upstairs. I don’t need reminding that my life starkly juxtaposes that of the happy couple.

It could be so easy for me to let bitterness win. Because that’s all we want as humans, isn’t it: to get everything we want.

There are a million things the Lord has not handed me as I wished Him to. Or, to put it another way, if I could write my life, I would possess so many things I don’t currently have.

Life, for instance, a plan for my future. A ring on my finger. A straighter nose. A spotless past. An unbreakable heart.

A party, just for me. A husband who vows that he will never leave me. Always be mine.

It’s not hard to think of what I don’t have, especially on weekends like this.

It’s funny, but I thought that the hardest thing about being single would be the loneliness, the forced-independence, the unmet desires, the tumultuous world of dating. I never imagined that the hardest part would be none of those things, but would lie in the party itself.

That the hardest part is rejoicing with those who have what you want.

Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep.

Romans 12:15

Oh, how hard it can be. The Lord asks us to throw our selfish hearts out the window and be more, to harness the Peace of the Spirit in a way we never have before.

Because, you see, the Lord may be one who takes away, but He is also a God of giving, and one who gives abundantly, more than we can ever ask for.

He has withheld so many things I want, and yet has given a million things I never even thought to ask for:

the ability to walk someone through a panic attack

an internship working with underprivileged kids

an incredible, humongous, loving family

sister in laws

a vibrant, living, consistent group of girls to live with during college

a story, one that is more broken than I wanted

and an ability to weep with those who weep, though I still have work to do with the other half of the verse.

 

Because our God might take away what we think we wanted, but He will surely give us what we need. More than that, what we never could have imagined needing.

But He knows.

And this weekend, there is no room for wishing, for if only I would open my eyes I would see, that I have never been in want. Not truly.

Not ever.

 

So I can go downstairs and play card games with my family, and I can laugh, and I can let it be all that it is supposed to be for me. Because it’s a gift, all of it. And if I let the blessings grow to size, there won’t be any room for anything else.

And that’s right. That’s true. That’s today, exactly as it’s meant to be.

 

Not Just Another Singleness Post

Not Just Another Singleness Post

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

“The Top 10 Reasons Why Singleness Is A Blessing”

or

“Don’t Wish Away These Years”

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

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

Everyday.

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

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

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

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

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

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

And so this morning, I thought of Him.

 

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

I want to talk about God.

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

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

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

I think of Philippians 3:8:

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

Can we just sit here for a minute?

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

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

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

“I HAD IT GOING FOR ME.”

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

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

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

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

Three times I was beaten with rods.

Once I was stoned.

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

And yet, what? 

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

 

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

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

No.

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

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

Happy Valentine’s Day.