Never Too Far Gone

Never Too Far Gone

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

John 5:21

I moved to South Carolina 5 months ago.

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

Until he met Jesus.

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

“Do you want to be healed?”

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

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

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

“Get up, take up your bed, and walk.”

And he did.

 

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

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

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

“Do you want to be healed?”

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

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

(scripture taken from John chapter 5)

30 Days of Celebration: Under-thinking

30 Days of Celebration: Under-thinking

I’m an over-thinker.

Or, perhaps a better way to put it, I’m a person who over-thinks. It’s not my identity, but for whatever reason it’s a thing I do.

The mind is a funny thing. It races and flies way faster than my legs can, and way too often I can’t make it stop. And so it thinks, and thinks, and over-thinks. And, like a runner at the end of a race, it falls exhausted sometimes, crashing and burning.

I think often about the words that Jesus spoke, ones I desperately cling to.

Come to me, all who are weary and heavy burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.

Matthew 11:28-30

I know Jesus watches me trying to figure out things I will never understand, or running and re-running harsh words over in my mind, or worrying about everything under the sun, and just wishes I wouldn’t.

Do you know what those verses say to me? They tell me that I have full permission to under-think.

I think back to an earlier post I wrote, and I celebrate that it’s not my job to understand the details of it all. Life is not a gift meant to be over-analyzed, but lived.

 

So I live, in this moment. I’m sitting in a cute corner shop in a town that I love, Bibles open with a new friend. My mustard-colored journal sits on my right, full of musings and prayers. My half-drunk cup of water stares me down, begging me to hydrate to dominate.

I think of the run I’ll take later, 6 miles if I can. I think of the brother who lives down the road and opens up his house to me simply because he loves me. I think of his new dog. I think of the show I’ve recently gotten into and anticipate the plot twists that will surely send me reeling.

I think about the nap I’ll probably take later.

I find it strange that I let myself sleep every night, don’t think twice about sitting down to rest my weary muscles, but feel no freedom to rest my mind, even for a moment. Surely, there is something I need to worry about. Surely, there is something to fear.

But the freedom of faith is that I really don’t have to fear. I really can rest. I really don’t have to overthink. I have full freedom to sit down on the side of the road and let things be, rest my legs and mind that have run so hard and fast for so long.

The thing about this life-transition is that it is kind of scary. I really don’t know what I’m doing. I really am in a new place, with new people, and new daily routines. And, apart from faith, there really is a lot to worry about. Where will I be 7 months from now? Where will I live? Where will I work?

But then I remember my story. How God has provided everything I need, always. How today I live in a home provided by God, have a job provided by God, surrounded by people provided by God. So I’m going to under-think and trust instead, because that faith has never let me down before.

Today I celebrate the freedom to think 1,000 less thoughts, and letting the faith and rest make its way through my weary mind.

 

30 Days of Celebration: From The Inside of a Cloud

30 Days of Celebration: From The Inside of a Cloud

I went hiking with my sister-in-law yesterday, up into the mountainsides of North Carolina.

We set out just after noon and began to drive, expecting a clear day with good views. But as we got higher and higher, suddenly a deep fog began to cover the road. And that fog quickly turned into complete cloud cover, to the point that we could hardly see the road in front of us. We were totally submerged in a cloud.

One of her favorite overlooks was just up the road, so we decided to stop, to take some time and let the cloud move past. We got out of the car and walked to the overlook, and it was something I have never experienced before. At the railing, where you should have seen a view, you could see absolutely nothing. It was just cloud. A wall of clouds. It was surreal, really.

Hardly anyone was there, because the views were hidden, so it was like a special little haven, a moment in time that seemed to be reserved just for us. And it was beautiful.

I think what I loved most about it is that since the view was hidden, suddenly you found yourself noticing things you never would have noticed normally. The tree we were standing under, the dew on the leaves, the color of the rocks. Suddenly the things near me were in stark color, because I wasn’t distracted by the “better” view. The cloud was actually serving to give me better vision, not worse.

And it hit me, because I often feel like my mind is in a cloud. I can’t see what’s next, I can’t see the whole picture, and it’s all just a little too foggy for comfort. But God reminded me yesterday: clouds are a good thing.

Sure, you don’t see what you came to see, maybe. But you see new things, things you never knew needed noticing. Sometimes I think I get so swept up in the big picture, the “lookout”, the views, and I miss what is right in front of me.

I think sometimes God is merciful to put a cloud around us, because He knows we can’t handle the views quite yet. He doesn’t want us to worry, and so He plants a beautiful cloud right where it’s supposed to be so that we simply live in the moment.

And you know what? That cloud was one of the most beautiful things I have ever seen. It was special, and different, and it created a moment just for us. And so today I celebrate the cloud over my life, the one that makes me feel like I’m blind to what’s next. I choose today to celebrate it, to thank God that I don’t have to know what’s next, that the “clouded over” version of me is a beautiful one.

And I choose to see what I never would have seen normally, if I was so preoccupied with the view.

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 Will Change, And It Will Scare You.

You Will Change, And It Will Scare You.

18 months ago, my horse hit a wall.

A metaphorical wall, of course, and the horse: also a metaphor. This is one of those “metaphorical posts”, and if you hate metaphors, feel free to back out now. But I just completed a bachelor’s degree in psychology, emphasis in counseling.

Home girl loves metaphors.

 

This is about the day I realized I was changed for good.

 

18 months ago, the same month my precious horse met her doom, I sat in a downtown, upper level office building turned counseling office. Feeling crazed and substantially lopsided, as going to counseling often makes one feel, I tread a skinny stairwell, shed my mom in the lobby, and took a seat on a ridiculously comfortable couch. (Note to the reader: counselors own REALLY comfortable couches. Seriously. Go set up an appointment JUST to sit on the couch.)

Although, to be fair, I don’t remember sparing much thought on the furniture the first day I visited that office. I was grieving, hard.

My horse…

I couldn’t believe she was gone. For 21 years… 21 years of her companionship, of her steady walk, the way her leg muscles leaned and stretched into bumps along the way, keeping me upright. I felt naked.

If I’m honest, I was there to bring her back. She hit a wall but she wasn’t gone. Surely. She was just hurt, ready to be repaired, ready to be mine again.

I needed her to be mine again. 

My crazed eyes glanced up to sound. The counselor walked into the office. 5’8″, salt and pepper, with a kind face. Greetings, then he took a seat across from me, yellow legal pad in hand.

“So, Maddie.” Crows feet aside gentle eyes met me, telling me it’s ok. “What’s going on?”

My eyes met my hands, gripping each other, hot tears stretching forward. Ugh, not yet. Why can’t I get through the story in one piece? Where was I supposed to begin? The first day I felt the cold fear? The hospital visit, so fresh I could still smell the stale sheets?

Really, though, I knew it began long ago, and must begin there again. Blonde curly hair, hand in mom’s, the day I first met her, the day I first rode her.

My horse…

I began to talk, rambling about childhood, about what I believed, about what was mine. About what was lost. Trying to put into words what is invisible but so, so real. In my heart, I knew that she was seen only by me, and my words pleaded with him to understand that it didn’t make her any less real.

His eyes coaxed me on. He was beginning to see her too.

I cried under that gaze, allowed myself to feel what had been chained, scared to exist.

Finally, from between swollen eye lids, I saw him lean back into his counselor-chair, eyes on me. Letting me be a little crazy. I couldn’t believe how good it felt.

“What was her name?”

A clock ticked somewhere, counted down the money filled seconds, time to put my life back together even a little bit.

“What?”

“Your horse. What was her name?”

Her name. How could I never have given her a name? He stood up, began writing on a board. My eyes searched the room for some answer. It was like trying to recognize yourself in a picture, but you can’t.

Her name… 

I didn’t know.

My head raised as he stepped away from the word he had penned.

Control”. I stared at it. Inky black on the once white canvas. It seemed foreign. I didn’t understand.

He took my silence as reason to explain. “I think that’s her name. Control.” He sat back down, shifted his legs. “That is your loss. That is what died. A sense of control.”

I stared at him.

“You rode her for 21 years.” He went on. “She was like a horse, a steady one. Every time the road got rough, she was there. You may have suffered losses here and there, yet still you rode on, holding tightly to Control.”

My eyes itched from dried, salty tears. The road seemed so long.

“And now, you have watched her die.” I glance at the word on the board, distinctly aware of his words. “She finally broke, she finally fell. And this… well, this is the first mountain you have to climb without her.”

the first mountain you have to climb without her…

 

I didn’t lose control of my life that day, not really, for now I know that all I lost was an illusion. Sometimes we live under those, though. And one day bandaids are torn off and skin is exposed – scared, vulnerable skin that has never breathed.

My invisible horse was a worldview, a way of thinking, a trust. The story can come later, how I was thrown off, how that worldview hit a boulder and never got back up.

I learned that day that I never actually had control of my life. I thought I did, but I didn’t. Sometimes things happen to us that change us completely, irreversibly, and we find our selves sinking into counseling office couches trying to figure it all out.

 

16 months later, I sat in a different chair. Not as plush, but just as welcoming, and just as important.

A mentor of mine sat across a large desk, papers pushed to the side, letting me invade an hour of her busy day. My tears reminded me of that day in that downtown office, and in a way my grief was the same.

I had come a long way since I first hit the gravel. I painstakingly buried that horse, though it took much longer than I had hoped. Things in my life began to take a ground-up attitude, broken to whole, and I had learned to walk on my own, without Control leading me.

Or, without needing it tucked under me.

I know now that God has always had control, and I never have, and I don’t need it to drive me as long as the reigns are in the right hands.

But it was finally time to buy a new horse.

And I want to leave you with the words that were spoken to me that day, because they were good ones:

“Stop reaching back for her, Maddie. Stop reaching back to the girl you were on that horse. You’re not her anymore. You’re someone else, and that’s ok.”

Yeah, it is.

 

 

 

 

 

Dealing With Mind-Fatigue

Dealing With Mind-Fatigue

My mind does this thing when I’m overwhelmed: it shuts off.

I’m not brain dead, of course. I can still brush my teeth and make a pb&j. But it becomes numb, in light of the stress and anxiety, to the point where I walk through my day and don’t remember much of it when I lay my head down at night.

It’s a coping mechanism, really. Have you been there? When the fear and anxiety are just too much and so you opt to shut your mind and emotions off instead of feeling them. I didn’t realize I was doing it until it had become a habit in my life, and by that point the mind fatigue and emptiness were almost as painful as the anxiety itself.

I don’t have much wisdom on this topic, to be honest. But I do have thoughts. Thoughts on my fellow over-thinkers and feelers, and maybe a few tips on how to live within a mind that works overtime for no pay.

 

I’ve always been a feeler. I cry during movie trailers and get sucked into hilarious YouTube videos because I’m laughing like a maniac. It’s up or down for me. Not a lot of grey.

So my ups are great, but my downs… they can be pretty painful. My thoughts and emotions can be so difficult to deal with that, without realizing it, my mind goes into survival mode and learns how to feel nothing at all. Which, in the midst of crippling anxiety, is reasonable, but what about when the anxiety is over? Where is life when your mind is numb?

Maybe you’re like me, and you’re ready for something else. Mind fatigue is a pain, but it is not unbeatable. I’ve learned a few tips and tricks along my journey that help me be present, in the moment, and clear-headed.

  1. Give yourself grace. This one’s important. If you are dealing with mind-fatigue, it is because your mind is fatigued. It’s tired. It’s had a long go. Whatever it is for you, your journey put your mind under a lot of strain and it had to fight hard in the moment, and now it’s simply pooped. Allow yourself to be human and give yourself some grace. It’s ok. What your mind is doing is simply its own way to get you through your current season.
  2. Prioritize. Prioritize. Prioritize. After my season of deep anxiety, I was so frustrated that I couldn’t just use my mind the way I used to. It would zone out if I tried to read too much or do too many things. The more busy my planner was, the more “out of it” my mind was. So I have learned: skinny down your schedule. What is most important to you? Do it. Then add one more thing to your schedule (to keep life interesting), and be done. Don’t try to do everything you used to do before your mind was so tired. You won’t be able to, and it will only frustrate you. Prioritize what is most important, and do only that.
  3. Focus on physical health. It is incredible what exercise can do for a tired mind. It brings it back to life, breathes vibrancy into it. If you’re not an exerciser, I challenge you to learn to get a sweat on during this time. Exercising releases endorphins, which literally gives your mind and emotions a little “happy kick”. Even if you don’t have much time, and have to sit down and write a paper, do jumping jacks for a minute first or hold a wall-handstand for as long as you can. Just that little amount of exercise can go a long way in clearing your head. And to go along with exercise, eating well can do wonders to your mind. You feel good, and real food gives your mind the ability to work better.
  4. Schedule it out. Something that really helped me rest my mind was writing out a detailed schedule of my day, focusing on what has to get done first, and then actually writing in rest times, or “free-time”, so that I am guaranteed some rest for my mind, which is such a crucial element to overcoming mind-fog. It may sound a little silly, and you won’t have to keep the schedule forever, but for a short amount of time it is great because you don’t have to waste your precious mind-juice on figuring out what you’re going to do next. You can just focus on what you’re doing, in the moment.
  5. Let yourself rest. This one is so crucial. Your mind is tired, so give it the rest it needs. Don’t feel like a failure for shutting your eyes and allowing your mind to get some much needed R&R. This doesn’t have to include sleeping, but instead can be “mind-naps”. I have learned to love audio-books because I am able to lay down and close my eyes and listen to a story without the strain of reading it, which usually makes my brain pretty tired. Another great “mind-nap” is yoga, which gets a good stretch and allows you to be quiet. Mind-naps are a time to simply purposefully give your mind less stimuli to deal with and let it heal up a bit.

 

If you are dealing with mind fatigue, remember that it is ok. Your mind is just telling you that you’re doing too much and telling it to do too much. Slim down your schedule. Get some rest. Think a little bit less. Exercise more.

And be patient with yourself. Over time, it will heal.

To The One Happy to Kiss 2017 Behind

To The One Happy to Kiss 2017 Behind

“You’re not alone”, she says to me, warming me with her presence and comforting words as I sit in front of her in tears.

It’s the week before my senior year of college, and my Resident Director and I sit in the corner of a room to pray for the year ahead of us. As a Resident’s Assistant, I arrived early on campus to undergo a week of training, and to say it left me weary would be an understatement. Hours of training and little amounts of sleep will do that to you, but for me it had been more.

I came into the week weary.

So when my RD asked me how she could pray for me, the tears cascaded from my eyes, uninhibited, urged on by the amount of pressure built up in my head.

“I had… a hard year,” I began, urged on by her understanding look, comforted by the fact that she knew my story, “and I allowed it to build up in me false beliefs about myself, lies that are so far from the truth,” breathe,” but they follow me like a dark… cloud…” Wiping from underneath my eyes, choking back a sob. “And it’s exhausting…”

It’s exhausting. It’s exhausting to forget what God says about me. It’s exhausting to make Him small.

It’s exhausting to try and make everything in my life fit into my little box of “OK”, even when it doesn’t.

That moment was one of many, cherry-topping the season of confusion and doubt and humiliation I had lived.

This past year has been hard for me, the hardest of my life. I’m not afraid to say that. I allowed Satan to grab hold of my vulnerabilities, I allowed him to make me scared. And anxious. And that anxiety led me to doctors and anti-depressants and prescriptions and suddenly sadness was depression and depression was sadness and I couldn’t figure out which was which and what was up and what was down.

And I began to take everything anyone said about me, anything that happened to me, and put it on my own shoulders, let it fill in the dotted line under “identity”.

I’ve learned something about things that happen to us. They tempt us. They tempt us to believe things about ourselves that simply aren’t true. And those beliefs grow into thoughts and those thoughts grow into patterns and suddenly the only voice we hear is the one that brings us down.

This December, the year is unfolding before me more than ever before.

2017.

The year I turned 22. The year I started my senior year of college. The year I ran a 10k. The year I laughed my eyes out and finally put a futon in my dorm room. And the year I cried more than ever before, doubted more than ever before, felt deep sadness more than ever before.

Which will win?

It baffles me that sometimes I want the sadness to win. Or, maybe “want” is not the right word here. Allow, maybe? One thing I have learned: it is so much easier to let Satan steal the show. It’s natural, isn’t it? To follow the sin nature and darkness that is in our own hearts?

It is a rebellious act to follow Jesus Christ with your life. Rebellious and gutsy. It takes courage to wake up day after day and say “Yes, Jesus, I will fight the sin inside of me.” Or, more accurately, live in the victory that is already ours. The addiction or the anger or the deception and lies that our tender hearts believe.

Author Shauna Niequist once said, “Bittersweet is the idea that in all things there is both something broken and something beautiful”.

Bittersweet. In all things there is shattered glass and a rainbow of light reflected colors.

Nothing describes my year better than that. I sit here, nearing the end of it, and I am baffled to know that I wouldn’t change a single moment. In all of its hardships and tears and acne and pounds gained and tests barely passed. Because I am learning that life is so much more than Instagram-worthy years and bullet-points on my resume.

This past week, I attended my grandmother’s 95th birthday party. Let me say right now, nothing will give your 22 year old heart a reality check like hearing the tear-felt prayers of a woman who has left the years of youth behind her, and who holds the secret to what is real and true in this life. My family, her children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren, sat in a circle around her. And we watched her eyes well up and listened as she named each one of us, in turn, and simply said that she prayed for each of us everyday.

And there was nothing small about it. She knew: it is what matters most.

I realized more than ever that I don’t want to be indoctrinated by this world. It tells me so many things: I must be successful, physically fit, married, happy (always happy). It puts no value on the quiet strength of the heart and still voice of prayer. It sees no point in hours spent on knees. And sometimes, I don’t either.

But as 2018 comes closer, I realize that my heart has a lot more growing to do. And, in a twisted and crazy way, I ask for a year as dynamic as this one. Because I want to know my Lord, and I won’t see Him in the comfortable version of Christianity I have created for myself.

I hope that I can begin to see, more and more, that the bittersweet is just as much bliss as it is pain. And what would life be without the pinch?

Who would I be without the pain?

I urge you, fellow wish-away-er, to think. Who would you be without it all? What matters most to you, and should it?

To you women, what do you want a man to see in you? An ignorantly “happy” person who knows God as the flannel-graph version of himself from your 3rd grade Sunday school? Or do you want to know the Lord, your Lord and Savior, from grit and sweat and life? Do you want your “adorning to be the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit”? (1 Peter 3:4)

I propose that wrinkled faces and bruised knees are more beautiful than we have been taught.

I mourn the prosperity gospel of this age, for it makes us think there is something wrong when hardships come. May we all have more 2017’s. May we, the bruised and beaten, celebrate it all. May we rush out of our “prisons”, dancing and celebrating, as the apostles did, overjoyed to be counted worthy to suffer for the sake of Christ, who gave it all for us.

May my heart be so molded as to rejoice in it all. And may yours, too.

May we embrace 2018 and all that it will bring. May we pray more than we ever have before, and may we cultivate beauty in ourselves that is undefiled and imperishable, precious in the sight of God.