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.

30 Days of Celebration: Tree Farms and Traditions

30 Days of Celebration: Tree Farms and Traditions

I come from a live Christmas tree kind of family.

This means that every year, usually the day after Thanksgiving, we load up the mini van and head out to the Christmas tree farm. And we walk around all the trees and choose the best of the best of all the Douglas Firs. And we load it up, on the roof of our car, bring it home, and listen to the Steven Curtis Chapman Christmas album as we hang our extremely home-made ornaments complete with macaroni hot-glued onto pictures of us in 3rd grade.

Today is no exception. And the traditions remind me of the great story written for me, the one I don’t deserve, but one that begs for celebration.

And today, after a bumpy season of transition in so many ways, the tradition is especially powerful to my heart. And though I’m tempted to question it and wonder why I was given so much when so many have so little, I am reminded over and over that it’s ok to just take it for what it is. It’s ok to laugh with my siblings, to take pictures with my sister, to enjoy the day given to me.

And so today, I drink hot chocolate and watch Elf with the people that mean the most to me, and I draw the line at anything short of celebration. It’s not my job to understand. It’s my job to celebrate.

Sometimes, I get really caught up in everything I can’t control or change, and therefore wonderful realities and gifts are overlooked because I’m so caught up by my lack of control. But I’m learning, my lack of control is a gift, because I can’t bear the load. It’s not my job to control things, but to appreciate the way God does.

I asked a mentor of mine recently for one sentence of advice. If she could give me one nugget of wisdom in this season, what would it be? She told me that where I am, whatever season of life and whatever situation I find myself in, to trust the One who brought me there. To trust that He knows what He’s doing, that He really has the best for me.

And that’s what I remember this tree-cutting day. I remember that I’m a part of something bigger than me, and that the Great Author is writing the story. And I rest into that, no matter how impossible it seems at times.

30 Days of Celebration: Rest is Okay

30 Days of Celebration: Rest is Okay

I’m thankful today, on Thanksgiving, after 6 months of absolute insanity in my life, that I don’t have to be anything I’m not.

My mind has literally not been able to keep up with it all, but I’m learning that that’s ok. I didn’t realize, growing up, how much pressure I put on myself all of the time to be a certain version of myself, one that’s capable and goal-driven and gets things done on the daily. These days, I just can’t. It takes all of my energy to transition my entire life to South Carolina, and in the moments of rest I’m just tired. 

But of course I’m tired! I slave-drive myself into thinking that tiring things shouldn’t make me tired, but they do, and that’s ok.

And today I’m thankful that’s it’s ok. It’s ok to need to rest, and it’s ok to rest.

It’s a bit of an act of humility, I’m learning. The world will keep spinning if I take a day to read a novel for fun. Why do I think I can’t?

 

So today I celebrate because I don’t have to take myself too seriously. God just doesn’t require from me what I require from myself. So I can rest, and breathe, and be thankful for the woman I am today, even if she’s not always the person I would choose to be

But he’s already made it plain how to live, what to do,
    what God is looking for in men and women.
It’s quite simple: Do what is fair and just to your neighbor,
    be compassionate and loyal in your love,
And don’t take yourself too seriously—
    take God seriously.

Micah 6:8

30 Days of Celebration: Home

30 Days of Celebration: Home

Home. Today I celebrate home.

After 3 months in South Carolina, the car rolled back into my Pennsylvanian driveway last night. It’s a weird feeling, to come back to your family’s home when you’re making your “own” somewhere else. This in-between time can be so overwhelming at times (ok, pretty much all the time), but now I’m home. And I pray that I can take it all for what it is, not what I expect it to be.

But today, I guess I celebrate the things that don’t change. Same house on the same street in the same town in Pennsylvania. Same grumpy old dog. Same floor lamps and bar stools and bed that I’ve slept in since I was 8. Same crazy family with the same inside jokes, and the same way they always have a way of reminding me of my story, just being near them.

New is good, but old is home. New will become home, over time, but I’m learning that it’s ok that it isn’t yet. It will take time to make my South Carolina town home. More than 3 months, and that’s ok.

But old is familiar, and it helps me breathe and think and laugh in a way that the new can’t all of the time. It helps me figure out how I feel, what parts of my heart are still broken over all the change. What parts of me are changed for the better.

It helps me be honest with God, to cry out as the disciples did in the boat – “Do you not see? Do you not care that we are perishing?” Do you see my broken heart in a new state? And I know He does. Home reminds me of that. Home helps me remember.

 

30 Days of Celebration: The Peace of Christ

30 Days of Celebration: The Peace of Christ

I don’t know about you, but I need peace spoon-fed to me about every 7 seconds these days.

All too often, it becomes all too much. The new job, the exuberant amounts of alone time I’m not used to, the new town, new streets, new house, new people.

I read on a plaque somewhere that the will of God will not take you where the grace of God will not protect you. I agree, but I would rewrite it: the will of God will not take you where the peace of God will not hold you. The will of God brought me to South Carolina, and the peace of God has held me through it all, if I’ve let it.

Sometimes I disregard His peace, deciding that I have to do His job. This morning I read Colossians, in which it reads:

Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace…”

We must let the peace of Christ rule in our hearts, for it is our calling. I don’t know about you, but I get very caught up in my sense of calling. Where am I supposed to go, what am I supposed to do? I imagine calling from the Lord to be adventurous and gutsy, something that results in muddy hands and calloused feet.

But Paul says that we were called to peace. That is our calling, as Christians. To be people of peace. Peace, surely, with others, but also with ourselves. The peace that can withhold life’s biggest transitions, the peace that results in rest.

It is peace that holds me together these days. Peace and trust. If I really believe and trust in a God who began my life, hemming me in, molding me, then I believe that that same God will hold my life and keep my life all my days. And that results in peace.

I need peace in sanctification. It is an unsettling feeling, to be changed from the inside out, to have desires and motives and passions transformed to conform more to the will of God. It’s unnerving at times, and scary when I let it be. But it is good, and the peace of Christ covers it all.

Today I celebrate my right to peace. I don’t push myself too hard, don’t speak harsh words in my own mind. I meet myself right where I am, because I can’t be anywhere else, and because that’s exactly what Christ does. He meets me with peace and love, no matter what battered up version of Maddie I happen to be at the moment.

That’s the peace of Christ. And that is cause for celebration.

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: What Is

30 Days of Celebration: What Is

I don’t know about you, but I’m constantly complaining about what I don’t have. Or, the way my life doesn’t look.

If I’m spending exuberant amounts of time with people, I complain that I don’t have enough alone time. If all I have is alone time, I complain I don’t have more time with people. When I lived in a dorm, I wished I had more room. Now that I have more room, I wish desperately to be back in a dorm. When I don’t have a job, all I want under this blue sky is a job. Then when I have a job, I dread it. I don’t want to go and I find everything wrong with it to complain to my friends.

So, today, I’m just going to celebrate what is.

Like I mentioned earlier, I’m a part of a really great faith and leadership development program through a church in South Carolina. Through the program I’m given a host home, a job, classes I get to take, friends that are doing the program with me.

And it has struck me lately that I have been finding every opportunity to complain about just how “hard” it is. And it is that, certainly. Moving across the country on a week’s notice and changing everything about your surroundings is no joke, nor is a major life stage transition. Never let anyone “should” you about how that makes you feel.

But I make the problem so often of equating hard with bad. Hard’s not bad. It’s just hard. In fact, difficult things are often the greatest things that can ever happen to you and me. So today I celebrate the difficulties. I celebrate learning how to cope with a major transition, learning how to stand on my own two feet and know who I am without all the familiarity. I celebrate the growth in my faith as I put trusting in God to an actual test.

Instead of all the newness being bad, I choose to see it as good. I already have a million memories from this time, and I will surely have more. Dinners around long tables, boat trips, movie nights, laughter with my host sisters, runs around the block.

Part of my job is going out to an after school program every Wednesday and holding a bible club for the kids there. I can already tell it will be the most difficult thing I do every week, and easily the most rewarding. The kids are vibrant and energetic, and I can tell we’re going to have an incredible amount of fun. It will be unpolished and hectic most of the time, I’m sure, and I think the best time spent always is.

I accept the craziness of my life right now. I accept the grief-filled moments of college being in the past. I accept my usual inability to grasp what is on my plate for today. I just meet myself here, exactly as I am. I let today be what it is for me, not what I hope it would be.

“All the days ordained for me were written in your book
before one of them came to be.”

Psalm 139:16

Today is one of those days, ordained for me. I’m not gonna skip the page, skim the letters, flip to the back. I’m gonna read it, soak it in, celebrate the characters, anticipate the plot twists, underline the good parts. I know that’s what God does.

So why don’t I?

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.

Trading Religion for Relationship

Trading Religion for Relationship

I’ve heard it said that noise is the enemy of our generation.

Maybe every generation. Probably. But I know that it’s a prison guard in my life.

As I type this, I sit alone. And it’s quiet. And I have spent the entire day in solitude. And I am extremely,

deeply

uncomfortable.

I don’t know exactly when I lost the art of solitude and silence with God. Maybe I never really had it. All I know is that my relationship with God has always functioned more like athlete-coach than father-daughter. I approach God like a soccer player on the sidelines. My “quiet” times are like drills and pep talks, and then I hit the field as I drive to work and go through my day.

Which works fine. Until I’m sick. Or injured. Benched.

And when God the Father wants only for me to come to Him, curl up with Him, I don’t because I see Him as God the Coach. I’ve failed Him. I’m weak.

I think this is why I fear solitude. I see it as myself on the end of the bench, my coach a million miles away, focused on the other players. So solitude is a dreaded time, a punishment, a time for me to focus on how to get back in the game.

A lonely time.

A time when I realize how much of my value I put into being an athlete. Because if God is a Coach, then that’s what I am to Him: an athlete. My injuries symbolize a loss of identity. No space for weakness, no room for rest. No value in stillness. Life becomes a game I can’t keep up with, and God becomes a Coach I don’t talk to. Because I don’t want Him to see me like this.

 

I came to South Carolina 2 months ago injured.

Not with a broken leg necessarily, or an open wound. More like unable to hit the field due to utter exhaustion. My mind was exhausted, my spirit was exhausted. The season after graduation had run me dry because every morning I woke up expecting to be an athlete and every morning I saw a weary face in the mirror. Dreams were dashed, loneliness was real, anxiety was present. The pressure of knowing where to go bore down on me as I got rejected from internships and confused about what to do.

I couldn’t be an athlete. I just didn’t have it in me. So who was I? My whole life I have focused, full of energy, on what I did for my Coach. But I never spent time learning who I was to my Father, off the field, off the bench. Who am I when I’m not accomplishing anything? Who am I when all things familiar are stripped from me, and I find myself forced to learn solitude?

 

I’m a daughter. That’s who I am. I’m a child of God.

Jesus did not call me here to South Carolina to train me up for the field. He called me here to give me Himself. He doesn’t base our relationship off of what I can do for Him. He just loves me for who I am because He made me who I am. Performance anxiety has no place in the Christian life.

Let me say that one more time, if even just for myself.

Performance anxiety has no place in the Christian life.

I have spent my whole life being a stage Christian, and I am weary for it. I am a Pharisee, but I scream for relationship. Religion leads to burnout, but intimacy leads to vibrancy, because there is no performance needed.

Today I did nothing of value. I saw no one, influenced no one. Accomplished nothing. Walked around deeply uncomfortable being only with my Heavenly Father. But what do you expect? I can only be who I am made to be. That is, a daughter. A child.

I don’t want to be religious anymore. I don’t want to come to God as an obligation, and I don’t want to view Him as a drill sergeant. I don’t want to place my identity into what I do or what team I’m on, because those things can be ripped from me in an instant.

I think that is why God is great to show us our weaknesses, to bench us. Because He knows we can’t keep up the athleticism forever. God isn’t the coach who drills us but the Father who scoops us up and takes us home in His minivan, buying us ice cream on the way home because He is so proud of all that we are, even when we fall. Especially when we fall.

And that is why solitude is vital. Because all God wants is to know me, and to know you. But we fill our lives with so much noise. He wants our severe honesty. He wants our love, and has poured out His love by the bucketload. I feel today as if I know very little about being in a relationship with God, but I’m learning.

I’m getting a taste of daughterhood, little by little.

 

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