It’s Okay to Feel Unnerved.

It’s Okay to Feel Unnerved.

My counselor and I have been working on me being more honest.

It’s not like I’m a pathological liar. Not really. It’s not like I’m scheming up lies to tell people all the time. But to myself… I’m hardly ever honest. I live behind masks and goals and distractions because I have a hard time telling myself the truth.

Conversations in my head 90% of the time:

Me: “Hey how you feelin’ Maddie?’

Me: “good.”

Me: “How are you handling work?”

Me: “well.”

Me: “Aren’t you mad about that conversation?”

Me: “nah.”

Me: “How you feelin’ about dropping $200 on that windshield replacement?”

Me: “fine.”

Me: “You cool that you only have $42 in your bank account?”

Me: “yah.”

 

And, lately…

Me: “How you taking in this whole corona thing?”

Me: “eh not too worried. good.”

 

I mean, sometimes I am good, but let’s be real: sometimes I’m really not.

I went on a walk today, risking the outside world, because it’s just too sunny not to. I have a secret pathway behind my closed-in apartment complex that I’m convinced only I know about (and plan on keeping it that way). I’m probably the only person to walk there because it’s not paved and forces me to walk across a busy intersection and down into an un-mowed and hole-filled walkway, but that’s beside the point.

So as I braved Maddie’s Secret Overgrown Forest Path, I played a game of mine I like to call “Honesty Hour”. It’s when I take my masks off and I ask myself, in the comfort of my own company, what’s really happening in my brain.

It’s liberating and completely terrifying. I kinda hate it.

And yet I do it because I lose myself under all the lies. I lose the real, authentic, bleeding, laughing girl under all of the “fines” and “goods”. Life isn’t always find and good. Life is raw and emotional and high and low and brutal and pleasurable.

And right now, life is way crazy. Isn’t it?

 

I know there are a million blog posts these days about this little thing called a worldwide pandemic, but maybe this is the only one that reached you. All I want to say is: it’s okay to be effected by it. It’s so unknown, and that can be so unnerving.

It doesn’t do me any good to pretend I’m a robot, and I don’t believe it will help you either.

I believe one of the most beautiful parts of being a Christian is that we don’t have to shy away from the harsh realities of life. On my Secret Pathway today, God reminded me of a verse in John where Jesus straight up says “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33) God is so not surprised by this virus, just as He is not surprised by anything that happens.

Does this truth keep me from being scared? Usually, no, because fear is just a reaction to the things that happen in our lives. It’s normal to feel scared when every public place is being shut down and we’re all being told to stay in our houses. But knowing that God is in control can always keep us from being a slave to anxiety.

I encourage you to be honest to God through this process. I really am trying my best.

Honestly, God? I am unnerved about the corona virus. I am concerned that the fear and panic won’t subside from our country. I am afraid that myself or my loved ones will become sick. I am anxious about the financial and social effect this will have on America. I am restless because I don’t know what my role needs to be in all of this. I feel guilty for thinking so selfishly in this time. I don’t know what my job is supposed to be, and I don’t want to fall into fear. 

But. 

“The fruit of the spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.” (Galatians 5:22-23)

“Rejoice in the Lord always! Again, I will say rejoice! Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:4-7)

“Therefore lift your drooping hands and strengthen your weak knees, and make straight paths for your feet… for you have not come to what may be touched. Therefore, let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken.” (Hebrews 12:12, 18, 28)

“Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time He may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on Him, because He cares for you.” (1 Peter: 5:6-7)

“For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the spirit set their minds on things of the spirit. For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the spirit is life and peace.” (Romans 8:5-6)

 

Friends, no illness or virus could ever touch our souls, and so we have absolutely nothing to fear. Trust in God, set your minds on the spirit, and LIFE and PEACE will be yours. Sounds nice, yeah?

It’s okay to feel unnerved, but we do not need to be shaken. 

When You Can’t Read Your Bible

When You Can’t Read Your Bible

I hardly read my Bible lately.

And it wasn’t a conscious choice. I didn’t wake up one day and decide to put it on the shelf next to all the other books I don’t read. I just kinda stopped. Day by day, I would let myself sleep in that extra hour instead of getting up and reading Philippians next to my cup of coffee.

For years, that hour at the beginning of the day was sacred to me. In high school, sometimes it would only lat 15 minutes because I had a 6:15 a.m. cheer practice to get to, but many semesters of college I didn’t have classes until 10 a.m. And so my mornings became slow and easy and full of time to fill with scripture. My ESV journaling bible became wrecked with notes, pages crumpled, and the cover stained with coffee, highlighters, and balsamic vinegar. (Yes, that actually happened.)

But when I graduated college my life became disrupted. Being in the “real world” is nothing like going to a small private bible college. Moving to South Carolina felt a million miles away from Ohio. And for an entire year or more, I just couldn’t find a rhythm.

For about 6 months, my Bible felt toxic. I just couldn’t seem to touch it. It felt scary and unnecessary and completely irrelevant to my life of internships and anti-depressants. How could the thought of a big God comfort me in any way if that God allowed my life to be so hard?

But as time went on, I just slowly drifted away from the intimate moments I used to have with God. Almost like slowly losing a friend, you convince yourself that it’s going to be okay, and it happens so gradually that you hardly notice the difference. Until one day you realize that a part of your heart has grown cold and you desperately want to zap it in the microwave to give it life again.

I know it’s why I haven’t written. I mean, my blog is called “This Life I Learn“. But when I don’t talk to God, how can I learn? That special part of my heart reserved for intimacy with Him becomes numb and stale.

I finally, finally feel like post-graduate life is starting to settle in. I’m finding my stroke. Normal, quiet Saturday mornings actually exist. And in these moments, with my bath-robe so warm around my neck and the noon daylight shining onto my kitchen table, I miss my old friend desperately. I want to talk to Him. I want to tell Him about my day and how much it hurts to think about boys and how confused I am about what my future career path should be.

And so I did what I used to do in moments like these: I started to read the New Testament. The epistles, mainly, because I love the thought of Paul writing letters to his friends and, in a way, to me.

Ephesians 1:16 begins by saying:

I do not cease to give thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers, that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of Him, having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which He has called you, what are the riches of His glorious inheritance in the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of His power toward us who believe, according to the working of His great might that He worked in Christ when He raised Him from the dead and seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly places..

Having the eyes of your hearts enlightened…

If my heart has eyes, then they have been sealed shut lately. My head has been bent low, my eyes shut, as I’ve tried to get through the day in front of me. Forget the posture of wonder I used to have when I was younger. Lately, life has felt like something to survive, not live.

But that’s the gift of God. He wants me to live. His Holy Spirit has power and He desires that I take on the world with it! And that’s the difference between life without God and life with Him. Life without God means breathing and doing, but life with God means living. It means having the eyes of my heart opened and vulnerable and brave. I’ve missed that kind of life.

This fall I’ve been leading a small group at church of 9th grade girls, and this passage makes me think of them. Isn’t that my prayer? That the eyes of their hearts would be opened up? I pray that all of us would start to understand that God has so much more for us than we can even imagine.

And that life begins in silence, with the Bible and a pen. It has to start there.

 

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)

 

 

You Are Loved

You Are Loved

This February, I need to remember how much Jesus loves me.

 

I first realized my need to understand the depth of God’s love for me early on in this endeavor to move to a new state and do a new thing. I moved to South Carolina last September, and it didn’t take long for me to have a really hard time looking myself in the mirror, the level of self-loathing growing exponentially by the day. Because when you do something really hard, you start to realize all of the really bad things about yourself, and you are absolutely drowning in your inadequacies.

And that bar you set for yourself at some point looms over you, and you fall short. every. day.

The world tells you to practice some self love at this point. You know, do a few sit-ups to make yourself feel better or eat a banana or get a manicure or journal some more. And while these aren’t bad things, the question stood unanswered for me. Am I worth loving? All of this effort to make myself feel better… for what? The journey of my next year loomed dauntingly ahead of me, and I wondered if I could ever get that voice out of my head, the one that reminded me over and over that I never measured up.

 

This series is not about practicing self love. It is not about some self-improvement program that will make you feel better about yourself. And it’s not about being the caliber of person that makes someone want to love you, or being the “kind of person the person you want to marry wants to marry”.

This is about unconditional love. This series is a chance to join me as I learn about how much Jesus loves me. Because at the core of it all, I realized that all I really ever want is to know I’m loved not for what I do, but simply for waking up in the morning and being me, whatever that means today.

And honestly? I haven’t been reading my Bible a lot lately. I think there’s a part of me that fears the kind of Jesus that’s in there, like maybe He’s not as great as everyone says He is. But I want to find out.

So this month of love, this February, I’m going to ask the Bible what it says about a loving God who died for me, and I hope you join me. Because I know Jesus loves me, but I so easily forget, and I start to live like I’m not loved at all.

My prayer is that we would all leave this month with settled hearts and clear minds, not because we took more vitamins or plucked our eyebrows to perfection, but because we realize how loved we are by the One who will never let us down.

30 Days of Celebration: Highs and Lows

30 Days of Celebration: Highs and Lows

Day 30. Wow.

Sometimes, it’s hard for me to see the growth I’ve made in certain seasons. Especially one like this, where I feel like a teenage boy going through a growth spurt. So much happens, so many emotions, and sometimes I feel like I’m just going to burst.

Today one of my new friends looked me in the eye and told me straight up, “Maddie, you are so hard on yourself. It literally makes me anxious watching you work through things. You do not have to process all of this right now.” And she was right. I am so hard on myself.

When the reality is, I did it! I made it through my first 3 months in my new city! It’s had moments of goodness, but mostly it was just really hard. But I’m learning that that’s ok. Life is full of highs and lows, and I don’t have to make it what it’s not.

I remember where I was sitting when I first began this series, and I remember how I felt. I feel like I’m drowning these days, but I look back and I was drowning way more back then. Just 30 days ago. And so today I celebrate the fact that I’m drowning a little less then I was back then. I’m learning that it’s ok to celebrate even the smallest things like that. And I’m also learning that it’s ok to feel like I’m drowning a little right now.

It’s ok.

I celebrate what I’ve learned about the highs and lows. I’ve learned that the highs kind of celebrate themselves, but the lows need to be recognized. That’s what I’ve found myself doing during this series. I’ve picked the lows to celebrate because I need to celebrate them. I need to know they’re not all bad. They’re hard, but they’re not always bad.

When I began this series I was sitting at a barstool on a rushed Thursday morning, deciding to start this crazy endeavor mostly because I needed some celebration in my life. I needed it so badly. And so I desperately typed out some words and sprinkled them on me before I ran out the door.

But today, I sit on the couch under the light of the Christmas tree I just put up in my little temporary home. My new friends are coming over in 15 minutes. And I don’t write quite so desperately. I don’t hold on quite so tightly to the way I thought my life was supposed to be. I’m learning to let go. Of expectations, sure. But mostly of understanding.

I don’t need to understand today.

I’ve learned to be my own best friend. To encourage myself. To build myself up. To remind myself that I’m a safe place. Isn’t it crazy how hard it is to be broken, even in front of ourselves?

I’m realizing that I don’t need to process the hectic craziness of the last 3 months. I just don’t need to. I can let go. It’ll process itself on its own time. And tonight, I can have a Christmas party with my new friends. And just be thankful.

Praise God. He is good, all the time.