30 Days of Celebration: Riding the Waves

30 Days of Celebration: Riding the Waves

It’s not easy to change basically everything about your life, but it’s also not all bad.

It’s interesting, I’ve seen in myself, what happens when outer change gives permission for inner change. Sometimes, when you’re always in the same place with the same people, your heart and mind desire changes but you stay the same because everything around you stays the same. Maybe you don’t feel like you have permission to change, that the people who have known you forever won’t understand. And so, you fight the change inside of you because you don’t know how to become a new person walking the same old streets.

But when your circumstances change, and the faces you see every day change, suddenly you change. You don’t even mean to, it just happens naturally, probably because your heart has been begging for reforms for so long but you just didn’t let it.

But last night, I sat around a small table in a Mexican restaurant downtown in my new city with three new friends, beautiful ladies with hearts of gold. And I thought about how crazy it was that these girls didn’t know me from Adam three months ago, and I didn’t know them. We all have vastly different stories, and only by God’s perfect plan are we even in each other’s lives, did we end up eating tacos together on a Wednesday night in November.

And I found myself saying things that I never thought I would be allowed to say, like a prisoner finally set free. Saying things about my doubts and my fears and my vast imperfections that have always been there but been afraid to show their faces. But I said these things because I knew that I was allowed to, and I marveled because I was loved in the eyes of those around me.

I was accepted, not for who I’ve always pretended to be, but for who I actually am. This move did something to me, and I no longer could put on a face. I literally have not had the energy. The first month I was here, I just cried. All. The. Time. And I desperately wanted these new people in my life to understand me, to know the “real” me, to see who I was in college.

But now I see that they know the most real version of me, and what I usually give people is a fake. I don’t actually have my life together, I can’t actually find humor in everything. Some things just break my heart, and make me doubt a good God, and send me reeling, lost. Sometimes I forget my own name and lack confidence in every single way. I doubt my worth, and my value, and believe lies.

But I have a good Shepherd, and this sheep leans into that and follows His voice among the darkness and confusion. And some days, that’s all I have.

 

So today I celebrate the change, and the person it is making me. It’s terrifying. Overwhelming. But I know it’s good.

I read once that change is kind of like waves in the ocean, that if you try to stand up to them, you’ll be knocked down in an instant. But if you ride them, if you go with the flow, you’ll be OK. In fact, it’s kind of fun. But it takes trust. I have to trust that there really is a good God who really does have the best in store for me. I have to trust that the faith I had when I moved to South Carolina three months ago still applies today, that this really is where I’m supposed to be.

That these changes really are for my good. That these waves really will bring me to the right place.

30 Days of Celebration: Old Friends

30 Days of Celebration: Old Friends

Today I’m thankful for old friends.

In a season of new friendships, there is so much power in seeing an old one. This morning, I drove 30 minutes through the freezing rain to meet an old friend. We met on the stoop of a storefront, shivering against the cold, to find our chosen cafe closed. So we did what you do when you don’t know where to go – we went to Starbucks. We turned two armchairs so that they faced each other, and as the bitter wind hit us every time the door opened, we sat knee to knee and talked about our lives.

3 hours passed like it was 20 minutes, and I bathed in the reality that this person knew me before this stage of life and she knows me now. She was able to shed light on my tendencies, on my struggles, on why my mind reacts to these changes that way it does.

And we talked about her, and the college she still attends, the one I’ve left behind. I told her what I wished I had known as a sophomore, and we reveled in the fact that we’re learning the same life lessons at the same time.

So many “you too?” moments. And that’s what friendships are for. It’s realizing you’re not actually as crazy as you think you are, and sharing laughs over our misfortunes, accepting the reality together that life hasn’t turned out the way we thought it would. It’s a place to admit that you have a broken heart, and to say it plain, the way it has been begging to be said.

And new friends can be good for that, but there’s nothing quite like old friends (like Ben Rector would say). Tomorrow I go back to my new friends, and I’m thankful for them, but I’m also thankful that it’s okay to revisit where I’ve been.

I think I’ve been viewing this transition out of college as a thick black line, where college was on one side and my new life in South Carolina is on the other side, and they can’t touch, and I must leave the past behind. But I’m learning that it doesn’t need to be that cut and dry. Instead, this change can be like various shades of grey, and it can take time. I can give my heart time to move on.

And today, it was ok to meet with an old friend. I’m really glad I did.

There’s nothing quite like it.

 

30 Days of Celebration: Where I Never Thought I’d Be

30 Days of Celebration: Where I Never Thought I’d Be

3:45 on Wednesdays is an interesting time for me.

Every week at that time I find myself driving down the backroads of town, off the beaten path, parking alongside an old church. I get out of my car and gather my things and make my way to the front door, overwhelmed every week. I push my way inside and am ushered into a back, back, back room of this church in the back woods of my new town.

I grab my Bible, and I gather my thoughts, and soon 15 children join me, settling themselves into old red pews that line the room.

It’s my job, these 9 months, to teach these kids about the love of Jesus.

The church is musty, and it takes me 7 tries to pronounce the kids’ names correctly. They’re rambunctious, disobedient, loud, and no matter how many times I ask them to stay seated and listen to the Bible lesson, they don’t.

And I love them. So much.

We wrestle through an hour together. Nothing goes as planned. They talk through my teaching half the time, and can’t sit still. They’re overly occupied with my treasure box of goodies. Sometimes I think I lost one of them, only to find out they’re laying under a pew in the back of the room. It’s chaos.

Most of the time.

But then there are moments that I’m teaching and I see one little pair of eyes staring intently back, listening. And one of the little girls loves the hand motions we do with the songs. And one little boy alwaybrings his worksheet back, handing it to me with pride. And one little girl snuggles up to me, big brown eyes, asking if she can sit next to me even though I’m the one up front teaching.

And yesterday, as I left, as I wheeled my cart of supplies back to my little car, they came running out of the church: the boys. The older, “macho” little ones, and they hugged me around the waist. And I felt like those hugs ran warmth all the way through my nose, them not realizing I needed it as much as they.

I never thought I would meet these kids. There is no equation that puts me into their lives. It is only God who could lead me to such a place. But these kids, like I, are like sheep, and I get to share my shepherd with them for one hour every Wednesday.

And I greatly anticipate what God is up to in all of this.

30 Days of Celebration: Time is a Thief?

30 Days of Celebration: Time is a Thief?

I wasn’t ready to graduate college.

I know that some of my classmates that day were practically tearing the doors down to get out of there. They couldn’t wait to graduate. They highly anticipated whatever was next, so excited to be done with dorm bathrooms and cafeteria food.

And I’m happy for them, I really am. But I wasn’t ready to leave.

My friends describe me as a wholehearted person. Whatever I do, I do with all of me. The “one foot in, one out” concept is pretty foreign, because if I’m doing something I’m going to have both feet in, getting mud on my hands, scraping moments out of minutes. I’m going to invest in the people there and the places there. I’m going to scrapbook my adventures. I’m going to fall in love. It’s what I do, it’s the way I was made.

So leaving college, after 4 wonderful years of tears, laughter, adventures, late nights, relationships… it felt to me like being left at the alter. “Really, college? After all this time we spent together? Nothing?”

Left, high and dry. May 5th came and went, and there was nothing I could do about it. I celebrated a little, and I cried a lot, because college was never about the degree for me. I wasn’t there to get it over with. I was there to be there, and I wasn’t ready to stop being there.

But Time had its own say.

Graduation day came whether I wanted it to or not. It came and went. And it’s taken me some time to realize how much I began to resent Time because of it. It’s like the final slap in my lack of control. I can’t stop Time.

I can’t slow it down, can’t control it. It will pass, and with it is change, whether good or bad.

I’m beginning to realize that it is exactly the things we can’t change that we need to celebrate the most, because they were not made in our design. The older I get the more I realize that I didn’t make this world, and I don’t rule it. But I was made to live in it, and loving the Creator means loving the Creation.

And today that means loving Time.

 

Time is a gift. In the beginning, God made 7 days to be in a week. He gave us rhythm, and rest. He designed our bodies to thrive within the constraints of Time.

Time brings long, wonderful nights of sleep.

Time brings the change of seasons, both in nature and in my life. It makes the leaves change and the snow to come and the spring to reign.

Time has a front row seat as people meet and fall in love, as broken pasts are healed, and I see God viewing time as an adventure. It’s like the turning of a book page in a really great novel. Why would you stay on the same page forever? To turn the page is to usher in what’s next, the adventure waiting for the character.

And why would God not turn that page in my life? I want Time to stop because I fear change, but God doesn’t. My favorite verse in the Bible lately is Psalm 139:16 –

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

What a shame it would be to not see those pages lived out! Thank you, Time!

 

Today I choose to live my life like I really am seen and known by a God who loves me. I choose to believe that He really does have good plans for me, that He really does see me. And I know it to be true, because He made me. He who made my life will see it through.

And Time will pass, but that’s ok. It’s good, because with it brings growth and love and change, all things hard but beautiful.

The Day After College Graduation

The Day After College Graduation

You get a strange feeling when you’re about to leave a place. Like you’ll not only miss the people you love but you’ll miss the person you are now at this time and this place, because you’ll never be this way again.

Ayar Nafisi

I never once thought about the day after college graduation.

It’s a season of celebration, to be sure. Family comes together and gifts are laid at your diploma-holding feet. You wear an oversized bathrobe and walk across the stage, shaking the hands of older people who have done this before you, feeling decrepit yourself.

And then it’s done. 6 seconds. Your name is called. You grab your diploma. And that’s it.

4 years. Over.

To be sure, I won’t ever forget the joy in my heart as it was my turn to be honored, even if only for a few seconds. A lot of work went into this piece of paper: 4 years of classes, tests, living in a college dorm room, eating in a cafeteria, walking in sub-zero temperatures. I cried a lot here, stress-slept a lot here. Underwent a season of mono, a season of anxiety, a season of depression. 4 years of reminding myself it’s ok to be single, that an un-held hand is still an important one. Day after day of crying in the stairwell, crying on my futon, crying in my bed, crying in the cafeteria.

This diploma. Yes, I deserve it.

But no one ever warned me about the day after.

Anomaly. a deviation from the common rule. I feel like one. Because in a season of intense celebration, I mourn.

This place was my home, these people my family. For 4 years. And I tried, tried hard to understand the joy of some and incorporate it into my own heart, but it didn’t work.

Some may see white cinderblock walls of a sub-par dorm room. I see the best of times. The books that were read. Movie nights with the roommate. That one Sunday night of bible study where we ended up just laughing and taking it outdoors for star-tipping: (ministry in its purest form, if you ask me.)

The times I would overcome panic only by the Truths found in the Word of God.

Walking in on my roommate fighting her own battle. Her walking in on me, puffy eyes, John 10 opened in my worn Bible. Hugs. Acceptance.

Boy talk in towels. Community around a Whale Pale of Cookies & Cream. Cardio dance videos.

Talking. About what should have been, what wasn’t right. What needs to be.

I loved it, every juvenile second. A bunch of big kids trying to figure out why we’re here, pretending to understand things we never will.

And saying goodbye. Why do some pretend that it is easy? Maybe for them it is.

For me, it was unearthing a tree planted without giving it time to grow. It was ripping a child from its mother’s arms. It hurt. Deeply, badly.

Four days ago I stood in my empty dorm room, the only memory of my footprint in the black stain I accidentally left on the wall. A hundred girls have lived here before, and a hundred girls after. I’m not ready to say goodbye: I want it to be mine forever. I don’t want to be forgotten, don’t want anyone else to claim the room that saw me in my worst. I don’t want to graduate, to become someone who “used to”, while a bunch of 18 year olds become what “is”.

All this time, I thought the Lord had kept me from falling in love on this campus. As I looked around my empty dorm room, I knew I was wrong.

Mom is on the other side of the door and she hugs me. I thought I was out of tears, thought I had rung myself dry.

“It’s time for new adventures.”

And I turn my back, because there is nothing else to do.

 

I never once thought about the day after college graduation. The week after.

It needs honored, I feel. Nothing hurts more than anecdotes from well meaning people that refer to college as what used to be, but has faded for them, so far away. For me, it’s my now. It’s real, my hands still clutching letters written from life-long friends.

And yet I pity those who don’t miss it, who dreamed for the day they would be gone. What is a season of life if it is not embraced fully, despite the pain after?

I fell in love with my campus, with the girls on my hallway, with the greasy cafeteria food. I fell in love, and now it hurts, and yet I do not regret it.

It needed to be loved. I needed to love it, to be changed by it. To feel the pain of leaving it.

It’s life, a painful one full of love lost. A real one.

And it’s mine, whatever that means today.

 

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.

Goodness And Romance And The Lies In-between

Goodness And Romance And The Lies In-between

Too often I separate romance from holiness.

That when I set out to “be holy, for [He] is holy”, that striving for holiness does not cover the categories of feelings for guys and the very womanly desire to know and be known. Fully, entirely, by a guy – an actual guy, one with eyes and feet and a nose and such.

And I’m not embarrassed to say it. That I desire that. Because I do.

Yet I’m learning how little I truly understand about it all. That romance can be one of the purest and most true forms of holiness – of being set apart for the Kingdom of God.

But it’s not the only form of holiness.

I feel as if I sat down with my freshman self today, if I were able to go back in time and watch as I began my college years, or even the 15 year-old version of me, with the concepts and ideas of what being 21 would be like, I feel like I would blow my own mind. Because, back then, I held tightly to my handwritten theology of how God views my love life. My own ideas of what He considers “good” in the romance department.

And how He has changed my heart and mind so completely. Not my emotions, no, but my mind.

There are a million voices that will speak into this topic, this eternal question of God and Romance and How The Heck Are We Supposed To Swim Through The Turbulent Waters Of Hormones And Feelings And Loneliness And What Even Are Standards And Boundaries As I Grow Older And Desires Grow Stronger And Is It Even Worth It To “Wait” For What Is Never Promised To Come In The First Place??

The world tells us romance is physical, purely entertainment. That giving yourself to a man – sexually, emotionally, without commitment and driven by desire is pretty much all we can expect from love. And that is has nothing to do with God.

Conservative circles (yes, even Christians) conveniently don’t talk about romance, like it doesn’t exist or something. Growing up in church, Sex Wednesday came around once a year in youth group, and that was pretty much it. Sex is bad – well, not bad, but not for you cause you’re 16, so sex is bad. And now we’re not gonna talk about it. And we were left to mosey around in our hormonal minds and pretend we never had thoughts we shouldn’t have had – about boys or ourselves.

At a Christian college, we throw the word “Contentment” around like confetti. The conversations are endless and frequent, and what do we mean by it? I am not here to bash contentment, for I believe that we can be kept in perfect peace when our minds are stayed on Christ,  but how often do we use it as a cop-out for our straying minds?

Too often contentment is used synonymously with “life of ease”. As if contentment means the struggle is gone.

Ladies, God did not create emotions to be un-felt. 

Please don’t expect the struggle for purity to fade. It won’t, but God can change us in the midst of the struggle.

And I don’t only mean physical purity. But emotional, mental. Spiritual.

A few weeks ago, I was encouraged by a text from my best friend. In the midst of a hard week, I came to her discouraged that I couldn’t just be happy already. I was tired of being upset about my circumstances, trapped in the lie that happiness equals holiness, that I’m only in God’s will if I feel like I am. She rebuked me in the best way:

“Love, it is always ok to feel the sadness. Don’t let anyone tell you to get over it, regardless of the whys. Learn to live with Sad Maddie. There’s nothing wrong with her. In fact she may have strengths that Confident Maddie doesn’t.”

I think we, as Christian women, try to walk around like we don’t have desires. I think we try to save-face when he doesn’t like us back or our best friend gets engaged and we feel like crying about it is weakness.

I think we think that three or four or five years of singleness will be enough to finally convince ourselves that we don’t need that intimacy anyways. That after so long we have no right to feel the way we do because we should have figured out how to be lonely by now.

I believe one of God’s most mind-blowing creations was love – Eros love – the combining of two people, the intimacy – physically and emotionally. It is why He calls us, the Church, His Bride, for in it lies the concept of being known fully. As we are all meant to be known.

 

And yet.

And yet I sit here single, as perhaps you do too. And I was sad, today, about being single. But I’m learning to not worry about the emotions, the beautiful emotions. The beautiful sadness, and the way that it changes me for the better. I’ll probably cry this week, and that’s ok too.

But there is a very worthy battle to fight. The battle of Truth.

Listen to me. You are not single because you are undesirable. You are not single because God doesn’t see and hear. You are not single because the girls around you are funnier or healthier or have a better nose or sense of style or are more socially competent. Satan will try, every day, to convince you of these things. Don’t let him. Never, ever let him. Take every thought captive for the cause of Christ.

I called my mom last night to vent about it because, honestly, sometimes it just really stinks. And I sat outside and asked her to remind me of the plans God has for me, and how not experiencing romance is a part of them. And when we hung up, I chose to believe it. And as I walked back to my dorm, I chose to uproot any thoughts that discount the blood of Jesus on the Cross, the value He gave me and the plans He wrote for me before time began.

Because they’re still valid. In fact, more so than ever. For every day I feel the singleness, the more God can comfort me. And every day I don’t get the flattery from men, I hear the resounding flattery from God, how He made me abundantly beautiful. And every day I give myself fully to the task in front of me, the more I realize that it’s good. It’s so good. Romance is good, but it’s not the only good. Discipleship is good. Friendship is good. Writing is good. Learning is good.

Being who God has called me to be, today, is good. It’s very good.

Even better than romance. For me today, it is better than romance. For to live in the perfect plan of Christ is the absolute best place that I can be.