I Have Known Many Dead Waiting To Die

I Have Known Many Dead Waiting To Die

My bedroom walls are light blue, the color of the sky as I see it through my window.

I sit this morning on my bed, window open, oversized coffee cup in hand. Bibles and journals strewed around me, half filled, pen stained. Mornings are for wisdom-seeking, God-chasing. Trying to be quiet.

I painted my walls the sky for that reason. Four days ago, pumping music loud, paintbrush in hand, I stayed up late so that they would be just the right color when the sun came up. I wanted to wake up each morning to light, to sun, to sky. So I walked up to the paint man in the paint store and told him I wanted the sky on my walls.

I’ve been searching hard these days. I want to find it more than buried treasure, more than my dreams, wealth, grades. I want it the moment I wake up and as I do laundry and write papers and laugh with friends.

Joy.

Unquenchable, ever present, with me. Joy.

As a child, I celebrated joy in the light. I knew nothing but my mother’s love and freshly mowed grass and TV after school and so I thought nothing of it but somehow regarded it as mine in someway. I was happy so I had joy. I went to church so I had joy. I was regarded highly so I had joy.

But life is not always in the light.

My greatest love for my God is how He views my brokenness. My dirt. Mud. Life in shards, as it sometimes is. Those moments that you look back on your last few days, months, years, and see yourself slowly falling into nothing, forgetting any sense of who you are.

And you lie there one day, blinking into reality, and realize that you are a pile of broken pieces, scared. At a loss.

“I have known many dead waiting to die”, Ann Voskamp says. And I know, it is only for Jesus that I am not one of them. I have known death – not physical, but real. Death inside of me, the kind that forgets hope, feeling the darkness shroud me from anything that once beat blood into my heart. Burn out, real and present, sucking the life from me.

But I was struck, hard, as I sat in Truth for a moment. Jesus. That is why He came, isn’t it? I have known many dead waiting to die. “But I have come that you may have life, and have it to the full”.

Life.

Five months ago I sat in a mid-sized doctor’s room and was handed my first bottle of anti-depressants. How did I get here? Mouth clenched, living in a bubble of anxiety, trapped. And so I took that bottle like it was my Living Water, prayed for strength as I awaited the three weeks for the meds to kick in.

I think back to a year before, dark theatre and panic coursing through me. Unknown to me at the time, that was only the first wave in a year of storms. Thrashing, trying to toss water overboard, I clutched the theatre seat and saw only waves, vaguely having the mind to remember another’s description of a panic attack. “Jesus!”, closing my eyes I cried upward, “do you not care that I am perishing??”

Thinking He was miles away, forgetting that He was simply below the boat napping. Ever with me, all knowing.

And yet I fought, for a year, as if an army was chasing me. Panic. Anxiety coursing through my veins, becoming my blood. Every day, waking to a dimmer world. Afraid. Any concept of trust in my Lord vanquished, gone. I was led by my fear, driven by shadows. I ate of distrust. I was alone with the darkness I prescribed to me.

I have known many dead waiting to die. My mind was dead waiting to die.

“… but Jesus…”

But Jesus.

I am in love with His eyes. Tear stricken, as I sat in this Truth yesterday. Any pride I once had gone, I know my real place. I know my zombie-identity, my inability to find light, save myself. I was in the ship, going down. Scooping frantically to throw water overboard, feeling the fatigue set in.

The diagnoses came. Generalized Anxiety Disorder. Depression.

How did I get here?

 

The greatest paradox of all time. Aside from salvation, the more you fall into darkness the more you are lost.

But with Jesus, Sweet Jesus, the farther and farther you fall, the more and more He can use you. The more broken, more humiliated. When you are at the end of yourself. That, my friends, is when you are exactly where He wants you to be.

Incredible.

Four months ago, I lay on my couch, head in mom’s lap. Tears. Depression clouded my vision, panic pulsated through my heart down to my toes. I cried and tried to apologize because I didn’t understand, didn’t know how I got there.

Forehead stroked by mom, nose running, I knew. I needed one thing and only one thing. To get back to school, to find rest for my mind, to see past the dark cloud, for independence from the pills. This is a fight, and I needed only one thing.

Hope.

For I have known many dead waiting to die, and I wasn’t going to be one of them.

I am not one of them.

Because Jesus saw me then, and day by day I began to hear His whisper.

You are still in My plan. In fact, now, in your brokenness, you are closer to it than you have ever been before. Trust. Daughter. Trust.

 

And so I painted my walls sky blue because I can. Today I am saved, from lies, from mind-death. I want a blue sky on a rainy day because I have learned to seek beauty.

Freedom. Mind clear, pills simply a formality. I have found healing that can only come from the Messiah.

But I am humbled, because I know. Without my God, my Light, my Life, I don’t know where I would be. I feel I would still be in my mother’s lap, crying into the darkness.

And somehow, I know that is the point. I am nothing without my Jesus, empty without His Water, dark without His Light.

I have known many dead waiting to die.

 

 

What Would You Do If I Told You Somebody Died For You?

What Would You Do If I Told You Somebody Died For You?

I’ve celebrated Christmas 21 times in my life.

21 mornings of cranberry bread and red-wrapped packages and the Steven Curtis Chapman Christmas album. 21 times I have run down the stairs with my 5 siblings to see what Santa left for us while we were sleeping. (Yes, Santa still brings the Bowsers presents. Yes, 75% of us are adults.)

And we eat monkey bread and tear into presents (one by one, of course) and we laugh and gawk over what was waiting for us under the tree. And by the time we’re all on our 3rd cup of coffee, we pop a Christmas movie in and settle down in our new Christmas pj’s and we cuddle with our dog under the lights of the decorated tree.

And that’s Christmas. At least, on the outside, that’s Christmas.

But if I’m honest with myself, friends, for so many years my inside has looked pretty much the same. Sure, as I grew older, I would pay a little more attention to the story in Luke about the brave teenage mother and the long journey she took to give birth in a cave. Yeah, I knew that her son was Jesus, and I knew that Jesus was good because He came to save the world from its darkness. And of course, I knew that Christmas was the day we celebrated that.

And so as I unwrapped presents and drank orange juice and laughed with my family I would think about that sometimes.

But Christmas, if I’m honest, has often been all about me.

 

This morning is different. This morning, all I can think about is a garden from 2,000 years ago.

It was late, and a man was there, and he was hunched over, in agony. With his hands pressed up against his eyes, sweat like blood dripped down over his wrists and he cried out,

“Father… if it’s possible, let this cup pass from me…”

He paused, glanced at the trees and wiped the sweat from his forehead, his face scrunched and his vision blurry. Rubbing his hands on his knees, he buried his face in the spotty grass and moaned,

“….nevertheless…” looking up to the sky, tasting his own blood, “not my will, but your will be done…”

And within minutes, soldiers came into the very garden, and he rose to meet them, wiping dirt from his knees and tears from his eyes. And this very man, who minutes before had begged to be pardoned, willingly gave himself into the hands of the soldiers.

He didn’t even fight it.

And the next day they beat him, and tore his clothes, and they killed him. They took nails and they dug them into his wrists, and they hung him by those nails, on a tree. And he suffocated as his body weight dragged him down, his bloodied wrists the only force attempting to pull him up.

And so he died, slowly, in front of a mass of people who spat at him and cheered as he breathed his last.

This Christmas morning, that’s what comes to mind.

 

You see, that really happened.

2,000 years ago, if you had gone to a place called the Garden of Gethsemane in Jerusalem, you would have found a man with blood on his face. You would have seen him crying, heard him praying, begging for something. You would have seen him walk up to guards and give himself to them, no longer saying a word. You would have seen him being dragged to the officials, sentenced to death, and killed.

And you would have noticed that he never said a word, never put up a fight.

That’s what I think about this Christmas morning.

 

How would you feel if I told you that the reason we have a holiday called Christmas is because somebody died for you?

You were alone on a crowed highway, a semi-truck heading full force your way.

Standing on thin ice, watching it crack beneath your feet.

In your bedroom alone, trying to think of a reason, any reason, to live.

You were done, fresh out of hope, fresh out of reason. You couldn’t explain why, but you knew that unless somehow somebody did something, you were done.

Maybe that’s you this morning. Maybe you’ve run out of strength, scraped dry your reserves.

 

What if I told you that the reason Christmas exists is because Jesus came to this world in order to die for you? He came to be born as a baby, humbly. He came to die, painfully, on a cross. He came so that you and I today can have hope. 

Hope. Hope that this world isn’t it. Hope that despite everything, we have been saved from the darkness around us.

 

2,000 years ago Jesus lay in a garden and sweated blood as he took on himself our burdens. He voluntarily came into this world, this dark world, to be its light. He is God, but he became human. The Bible says that he came to serve, not to be served, and to give his life in order to save ours.

He gave his life in order that our darkness would be pardoned.

 

This Christmas morning, I cannot help but think about that. I cannot help but sit in awe of the God who takes away my darkness. I cannot help but give him my life because he has given me his. Without Jesus, without the man in the garden, I am hopeless.

But because Jesus was born in a little town 2,000 years ago, I can have life. Because he was born, because he made the choice to die for me, I can have hope. 

 

That’s Christmas. This December 25th, I really hope you know that.

You are loved- loved so much that God Himself, Jesus, jumped in front of that train for you. In the midst of packages and popcorn and playlists, I beg you to remember.

You have been handed hope. What are you going to do about it?

Can God Use Me If I’m Not “Feeling It”?

Can God Use Me If I’m Not “Feeling It”?

Joy.

Joy. The one word I feel has been lacking from my spirit these past couple of weeks.

Do you ever have those days, or weeks, or months, where you can’t seem to find the joy in your life? As if someone stole it right from under your nose and hid it? And then, before you know it,  life begins to exist through tinted glasses and fast-forwarded days and you live and sleep and live and sleep and… You wake up and do it again.

That’s been me.

What is joy? The Bible never describes it as an emotion, as we too often do. (Even notice how I conveniently used the word “feel” at the beginning of this post…) Nor is it a situation or an environment.

So what is it?

The Bible says to “consider it pure joy whenever you face trials of many kinds” (James 1:2), and to also “eat your food with gladness, and drink your wine with a joyful heart, for God has already approved what you do”. (Ecclesiastes 9:7) Peter says that  “though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy“. (1 Peter 1:8)

Therefore joy is present in the good and the bad. It is abundant in our trust and belief that Jesus is Who He says that He is.

It’s… unwavering.

So why have I felt this way? Why, if I have always believed that joy is constant in the life of somebody following Jesus… why has it appeared so distant?

 

I was given an incredible gift today.

You see, it’s my birthday. I’m 21 today… 21 years of exchanging oxygen and stories with the other souls in my life.

Birthdays are funny. Your birthday is the day that is always supposed to go right. Presents are supposed to be given (and returned…?), cake is supposed to be eaten, friends are supposed to be hugged, Mountain Dew is supposed to be drunk (drank? drinken? sp?).

And yet, often they can be the most disappointing day of the year. (Am I right?) That most-wonderful-boy-in-the-entire-world-who-is-your-future-husband-but-doesn’t-know-it-yet fails to wish you a happy day, you’re away from your family (college…), and you don’t quiiiite get the gift you were betting on.

Well, today I was given the most incredible gift, one that left me in tears in a dorm stairwell at midnight.

You see, these wonderful people in my life, my friends, gave me the gift of words. I received a book full of letters- letters from the people that mean the most. I was given the gift today, in the wee hours of my birthday, to read through my tears the encouragement that I didn’t realize I was so desperate for.

But the most incredible gift of all was one from Jesus, from the One who pursues me and chooses me and sweeps me off of my feet every time I fall. You see, He knows- even when no one else does- my heart. The depths of my heart. He knows when my cells scream to explode from happiness, and He knows when my soul shrivels and cries alone, “God… why am I here? Why am on this campus? What good can I accomplish? I can’t even conquer these sins of pride and idolatry… how can you even use me?”

He sees me through even that.

And today He saw me. How do I know?

Because do you know what word I read over and over and over in those letters?

Joy.

Repeatedly, over and over again, I read myself on the page being described as a vessel of joy in the lives of those around me- lives that needed it. I sat there amazed and awed and completely overwhelmed by the intense beauty of the moment. Me- the sponge who feels squeezed-clean of it- was in some way, somehow, a fountain of joy to the people around me.

 

Why do I tell you this?

Believe me, it’s not to brag about all of the “great things everyone’s saying about Maddie”. It’s not to extinguish your last excuse of not “knowing it’s my birthday”. (PS I like cards and dark chocolate ;))

I tell you this to bring up a very specific and intrinsically beautiful point.

Jesus doesn’t need me to feel joyful in order to bring joy into the world.

Let me say that again: Jesus doesn’t need me to feel joyful in order to bring joy into the world.

9 times out of 10 I allow my emotions to dictate truth in my life, and it needs to stop. You see, emotions do nothing to the promises of God. Joy is a gift given- a filling in which we are merely willing vessels.

It is not something I try to do, not some trait I attempt to accomplish.

 

Tonight, sitting in a deserted stairwell, I was reminded that being used by Jesus to change lives is not something that do. As I held my oily, end-of-the-day face in my hands and sobbed tears of complete joy, I was held in the comfort that I don’t need to be or do because everything has already been done. And because Jesus is. 

He is joy, not me. I am merely the birthday girl that gets to unwrap it.

A Letter To My Freshman Self

A Letter To My Freshman Self

Dear Freshman Self,

 

I’ve been thinking about you a lot these days. Every time I walk past a group of freshman girls laughing and discovering this new place, I cannot help but see you. I remember so clearly what it was like to be you. Fresh out of high school, this whole college thing is both terrifying and intriguing- like standing on the edge of a bridge with a bungee cord tied around your legs. You know that you will be ok, and the cord will catch you. You know you will bounce back and be better for it.

But making the plunge, well… it’s scary.

And yet you did it.

You did it and you’re making friends and you’re starting to call this campus home.

And oh, there is so much I wish I could tell you.

I’m a junior now. I’ve lived 2 years in this town, 2 years on this campus. I have made friends and lost friends, made some good decisions and a lot of poor ones. I’ve regretted a few things. I’ve laughed more than ever before and cried enough to last a lifetime.

And I just… I really wish that I could write to you. I wish I could tell you all that I know now. I wish I could give you the advice that I so desperately needed as I began my college years. 

I wish I could convince you that your girlfriends are going to be some of the most precious gifts of your college life.

I wish I could warn you that you are going to struggle with idolatry… warn you that you are going to fall into the sin of putting boys before your Jesus. That it is going to take years of prayer for you to give God your future- night after night of tears about desiring a relationship and a marriage. You are so naive right now, friend, as you assume this whole “college dating” thing will be easy.

It is so, so hard.

You are going to be single much longer than you are planning, and it is going to be impossibly hard to have patience. Now, as you are living your first weeks in college, you feel as if you’re swimming in a “sea of boys”. You are about to become oh so distracted, and I really wish that I could save you from all of it.

Because we are ordered to put all idols at the foot of the cross. And you… well you are going to hold onto your idols for far too long, and I wish in all my power that you wouldn’t.

I wish that you would decide right now that Jesus is enough for you.

I wish that you would trust Him starting today. You don’t know this now, but you are about to go through some unbearably hard times in the years to come. God is going to ask more of you than you can even imagine, and you are going to struggle trusting Him. Listen to me… He is worth trusting. There are going to be days that it’s all you can do to get out of bed, days that the darkness seems like it is going to overwhelm you.

In those times, take heart! Jesus promises us that in this world we will have trouble, but that He has overcome the world.

Never, ever forget that. Cling to that promise every day.

I wish that forgiveness would be your first response, and that you would take God at His word. I wish that you would seek Heavenly things and not things of this Earth. I wish that starting today you would walk this campus with a heart of love and a mission from Heaven.

But… well, I know that you won’t.

Sure, you’ll have your moments, and you do love Jesus. But you have so much to learn.

The reality is, you will spend too many days without talking to your Savior, and you will hold grudges too long. You will obsess too much over that boy and too little about being a good friend. You will doubt God and will allow anxiety to be your guide. You will cry out selfish prayers and hold this Earth closer than gold.

You will do all of these things, and you will learn, and someday you will be me… writing a letter to yourself after it is all said and done.

And the more you’ll think about it, the more you’ll realize that maybe that’s the way it is supposed to be. You will make so many mistakes, but they will all shape you into who God wants you to be.

Every dark night will be your chance to see Jesus as your only light. Every grudge will only magnify the incredible forgiveness offered by your Savior. Every tear shed will only bring you closer to the God that counts them as they fall. Every day of singleness will be a new day for you to learn firsthand that Jesus is all that you need. These next 2 years for you will be hard and you will be broken too many times to count, but they are all for good.

So, Freshman Self, at the end of the day I won’t talk to you about boys or classes or roommates. I won’t give you advice on which professors to take or what girls to befriend. Those are all beautiful mysteries for you to live and learn.

Really, I only have one thing to say to you: Live your life with Heaven in mind, and never ever forget the sacrifice that Jesus made for you.

Because, really, it all comes back to Jesus. It all comes back to what He did for you on that cross. There will be times that you are tempted to forget that.

Don’t.

I’ll see you in 2 years.

Maddie

 

On Singleness and Self-Pity

On Singleness and Self-Pity

I need to be real with you: I have been a really pathetic single girl this week.

You see, some weeks I’m like a Single-Girl Superhero, conquering every bit of insecurity and self-doubt with my super-single-girl-superpowers. Those are the best weeks- the weeks I am so thankful for the path that God has laid out for me. The weeks that I feel so incredibly blessed- even to the point of tears- to be living a life devoid of the heartbreak and distraction that dating can bring.

I have such an incredible amount of freedom to live spontaneously, dream freely, give myself fully to my relationships with friends and family. I have so much time to be involved and work and study. And some weeks, that’s exactly what I want.

And let me tell you, friends… Those are good weeks.

But some weeks… well, some weeks it’s harder. Some weeks I am reminded of my humanity, the one that yearns and hopes and desires. Some weeks, more than others, I want to share. Share my time and meals and favorite bench. Share my thoughts and future and Friday afternoons.

Today I sit outside, enjoying the first pleasant day of the school year. The life-sucking humidity of the last few weeks has disappeared, Friday classes are over. My favorite bench, the one surrounded by ivy-entangled trees, sits open and free for me to occupy for an hour or two. I sit writing, my favorite thing to do, belly full from a wonderful lunch with a friend and a slight smile on my face thinking of the three day weekend ahead of me.

And yet I’m frustrated. Why? Because I sit here, overwhelmed by the fullness of this life I live, and yet desperately feeling at loss.

And complaining to God that I’m single.

It just… feels so wrong to me. It feels so wrong to ask God for anything after He has given me everything, all the way to the point of the cross. To know I have things to do, but to be unable to get the same thoughts out of my mind.

 

Why am I still single?

How come that girl can date guy after guy when I can’t even get one to talk to me?

Why is every good guy taken??
Am I too forward?

Too indifferent?

Do I say the wrong things? Act the wrong way?

Why is it so impossible for me to grab a guy’s attention? Go on a date? Hold a conversation?

See? Pathetic. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

And sometimes the hardest part is knowing that it’s not wrong. It’s not wrong for me to desire a friendship, a relationship, a marriage. I know it’s not wrong, this desire that God has given me. But, honestly, that’s the most difficult part sometimes. I know it’s not wrong, but it’s also not real in my life right now. Sure, I can hope for a relationship all I want, but at the end of the day my life is the way it is.

So, the question stands: what do I do with that?

 

I’ve been stuck in Philippians for days now, my poor Bible underlined and highlighted to the point of becoming un-readable. I used to read my Bible out of obligation, checking my to-do box every day as I read a chapter or two.

But then, well, then life began. As I’ve grown older, I have known times of complete desperation, loneliness, loss. And in those times, the Bible has become vastly more to me than simple religion.

It has become my lifeboat.

More and more, I am finding myself on my knees, staring at this life and this Earth and crying out to God, “Please! Help me believe! I need to believe. I need everything you say to be true! Because if you’re not everything you say you are, God, then… then I am lost.”

If God’s not everything He says He is, if He’s not my Savior, the one who raised Himself from the dead 2,000 years ago after being crucified on a Roman cross. If He’s not everlasting, all creating, all loving, all forgiving, then I am nothing.

If God is not who He says He is, then I am going to live 80 years on this Earth and then die. That’s it. No purpose, no hope. If God’s not who He says He is, then I guess it’s just my job to have fun and let live and let go.

 

And if God’s not who He says He is, then… I guess my love life is pretty urgent because it’s all I have, my only worldly way to “true” happiness. Without God in the picture, I guess I should be sitting here freaking out about whether “he likes me” or not. 

 

And in light of that, I pray we consider another reality, the one where I don’t have to sit on the most beautiful bench on campus and ruin my day by feeling sorry for myself.

If God is who He says He is, what does that mean to me? If every Word in the Bible is true, then what does it mean for me, sitting on a bench in 80 degree weather on a Friday afternoon, wishing I wasn’t single?

Oh, friends, if only I could somehow put into words the incredible importance of this truth.

If God is all that He says He is, then He created the world, carefully designing every animal and tree, every hill and valley. Then He created me, knitting me together and loving every ounce of me, seeing me and planning my days on this Earth.

If He is all that He says He is, then God really became a human and was born in a barn to a teenage mother. He grew up as a carpenter and lived a humble life and made no complaint when He was nailed to a cross for something He didn’t do.

If He is everything He says He is, then He really laid in a grave for 3 days and then rose Himself to life.

If this is all true, then when He says that I am saved from the utter hopelessness of this world, that’s true too.

 

You may be wondering, “Ok, but what does this have to do with being single?”

I don’t know about you, friends, but when I look God in the face and see Him for who He is, it’s just…

Well, it’s impossible to feel at loss.

When I remind myself of who God is, of what He has done for me, it is absolute absurdity to be in want of anything.

The more I think about it, it is less about minimizing my desire for a relationship and more about remembering what is so much more that a relationship could ever be.

 

So, yes, this bench is occupying one person. But this occupant is seen and loved and saved by the one true God, and the only loss here is allowing myself to forget that.