A Shameless Plug For Counseling

A Shameless Plug For Counseling

I’ll be honest – this post is mainly just a shameless plug for counseling. But I don’t care.

It took me 16 months to decide to find a counselor post-college. I wish it had taken me 2 months, but alas here we are. It’s funny how stubborn I get whenever I need help in life, especially mentally or emotionally. Or spiritually. I will truly convince myself that I’m fine for, well, 16 months before doing anything about it.

But a month ago I finally broke down and googled enough and found a name of a counselor that I prayed would listen to my story and see through my craziness and love me. And yesterday was our second time meeting together.

I hate driving to a counseling appointment because I spent all week closing up and trying to convince people I was fine about certain things, but I know that it would be a waste of my time and money to do that in front of Sarah (not my real counselor’s name, but that’s what I’ll call her). I remember that I have to let down walls, and I’m always pretty sure I’m gonna cry and I’m usually not in the mood to be emotional about the sad stuff I’ve been trying to shut out.

Counseling is hard work but it’s worth it.

This was actually a huge week for me. A really exciting opportunity came my way and it has been a week of celebrating that and being with those that I love. But this great opportunity will also mean a lot of change in my life, and deep down that has gnawed at me.

So when I sat down yesterday at 3 p.m. on the grey plushy couch in her office and Sarah asked me what my week was like, I truly couldn’t think of a single thing to say. Instead, I hugged a throw pillow to my chest and stared at the blinds on the windows behind her and mumbled some stuff about it being fine. And then it hit me and I was like, “Oh my gosh, wait how did I forget this happened?” And I began to tell her about this new opportunity in my life and how it was so exciting.

But I didn’t look excited or sound excited. In fact, I felt like I had become a piece of cardboard – flat and brown and dry. Emotionless, even in the face of huge exciting news in my life.

The great thing about counselors is that they don’t let you get away with that kind of stuff. So Sarah dug in and started asking me what was up. This was a great thing in my life – why am I talking about it like someone died? What’s really going on?

It took me about 45 minutes to answer that question because I didn’t really know. Or, at least, the answer was so complicated that it took that long to reach any sort of explanation. I started to realize that, although this new opportunity was something I had been dreaming of for years, now that it’s here the change it will bring into my life scares me. And, I began to realize through tears, it scares me because the last huge change I went through in my life was harder than I ever let on to anyone else.

I want to share with you my journal entry from this morning because I thought maybe it was just honest enough and maybe you need that in your life today. It talks a lot about the post-college fellowship program I did last year and the internship I had at a ministry at the time.

I cried at counseling yesterday, and then sobbed in the Chipotle parking lot afterwards.

Sarah asked me about my week. At first, I forget about what even happened this week which was crazy because I actually got some super exciting news. But counseling, in all it’s glory, brought emotion out of me where there was only numbness. In my heart and mind, I know I have always downplayed just how hard my fellows year was for me. I was so depressed for some of it. I was in really bad shape. But while it was happening and even now, I just block it out and downplay it. Out of survival, I think. While I was in the fellows program, I just wanted to survive it. Failing the fellows meant moving back home and admitting that I couldn’t make it.

I know that I struggled with honesty all those 9 months. From the first day, I struggled being honest. Through meeting all the new people to starting my internship to going to classes, I was smiling (sometimes) on the outside, but truly dying on the inside.

I’ll never forget one day at my internship, about a month into the program and my life-after-college. I had spent the last month smiling and being brave and learning street names and deciding to be strong through it all, and that morning at my desk at work I finally quieted down and realized I had never been so numb in my life. I wrote my name on an email and it scared me to realize I hardly even recognized my own name. I had spent so much time putting on a face for everyone in this town that when it finally settled down a bit I realized I had absolutely no idea how to talk to myself. I hadn’t been honest with myself in months. I didn’t even recognize the sound of my own voice or my own name or my own face in the mirror.

That’s a core memory, me sitting in that office feeling that way. And it began the rocky relationship I’ve had with myself and God ever since. I knew I had a choice that day. Do I break down and show honesty about how I really felt living in a new city and doing this fellowship program? Which probably would have included calling a sick day and going to my car and dialing my mom and breaking down in sobs because of how deeply overwhelmed I was. Or, the other option, which I took, do I just suck it up and move forward?

I wish I had called in sick and scheduled a counselor and not numbed myself out during that first year in South Carolina. But I know why I didn’t. It’s because that is so hard to do. It is so much “easier” to numb out and move forward. You feel stronger and braver and more capable to do the overwhelming task in front of you.

And so that’s why that day at work I wasn’t honest. Honesty was the scariest option I had. But because I wasn’t honest, I created a core memory that is ambiguous and lonely and numb. And now, 15 months later, I’m trying to breathe life into it.

Maybe you’re not like me and you read that and think I’m the most dramatic person on the planet. That’s fine, because I know that everyone has different levels of emotions hardwired into them.

But maybe you are like me, and maybe you also have the kind of emotions that demand to be felt. I have learned that I was simply made that way, and it means I need to tend to those emotions because I become sick when I don’t. I would encourage you to practice raw honesty and lean into the pain when it’s real and happening right in front of you, like I’m trying to do now.

That’s exactly what counseling is for. I’m sure I’ll write more about my time in Sarah’s office because right now it’s the tool that God is using to bring health back into my mental, emotional and spiritual life.

When You Can’t Read Your Bible

When You Can’t Read Your Bible

I hardly read my Bible lately.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ephesians 1:16 begins by saying:

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

Having the eyes of your hearts enlightened…

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

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

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

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

 

Sometimes, I Can’t.

Sometimes, I Can’t.

I grew up believing that I could do anything.

Anything! I had a confidence that seemed unshakeable. It was exciting. I took grown-ups at their word when they told me that I had an army inside of me just ready to change the world. I sat with my family in our usual pew Sunday after Sunday and I pictured God and I taking on the world. No matter what came our way, we would fling it to the side and together we would laugh in the face of danger and fear. We would end each night with celebration and start each morning with renewal.

Now, I have come to realize that I was a bigger dreamer than most, but I do believe that in everyone’s heart is a similar desire.

Right?

 

So, last year I grabbed God’s hand and we stood together at a precipice. Do I move to South Carolina? Do I leave behind everything I know for everything unknown? Do I take the chance?

I remember exactly where I was when I was offered the opportunity that gave me a chance down South. I was sitting on my parent’s front porch. I had just finished a phone interview, and I knew that the door was open to me if I wanted it to be. My back rested against the porch pillar, the faint smell of dog pee crept up and I smiled a little because I know my dog wasn’t supposed to pee near the porch. This was home.

And yet, it wasn’t my nest anymore. Although my parents would have lovingly given me a bed and food during this post-college season, I knew I had to go. For some, that’s the right move. For me, it wasn’t. I knew it, my parents knew it.

And so I thought about God that day, and the promise we made each other to always go on adventures together. I was 10 years old again. How could I sit this one out?

Four days later, I was in my Volkswagon Passat making my way down South.

 

I want to tell you that I faced my life here with complete honesty and raw faith and with a confidence in the God who led me here. I really do. My Instagram might tell you that (and I apologize if it does). If you called me up today and asked me how my first year has been, I might tell you that. But it wouldn’t be completely true.

I bought a journal today, from a stand at a farmers market. I bought it because my head keeps spinning these days and I don’t know how to make it stop. I was handed an interesting deck of cards the day I moved here, and playing them all has made me dizzy.

I wanted to be put together and healthy by this point of adulthood, but instead I’m tired. I’m so tired. These past 13 months have held three different jobs, three different addresses, three different cars, (one car accident), two drained bank accounts, one break up, one new prescription for anti-depressants, and only one me.

That strong and determined Maddie became lonely Maddie, sad Maddie, confused Maddie, busy Maddie. And then I felt like I wasn’t Maddie at all. Where do you put it all? What do you do when you feel so many things all at once and those emotions simply have nowhere to go because you have a church event to get to?

Because the fact of the matter is, I became beat up. My first night here, I will never forget sitting down, after the hustle and bustle finally died down and I realized that I really did move here. By myself. And that my future was going to take a lot out of me. I haven’t forgotten how I felt in that moment. I have never been more scared, but instead of the ice cold panic I usually feel in those moments, all I felt was a low hum. I had no time for panic. I either put on a brave face and moved forward, or I admitted defeat and moved home.

And 10 year old Maddie would never allow me to move home. That’s not what I did.

And so I fought. I made it to work, day after day. I sat with myself through a season of depression. I learned how to tell the truth. I screamed into pillows. I was honest with God for the first time in my life. I cried because I didn’t want to break a boy’s heart but I knew I was going to. I mourned when my friends got engaged because they live thousands of miles away.

And, I learned, I can’t do it all. I just can’t.

No matter how hard I try, I cannot be any version of myself that I choose. That’s not up to me. My emotions and exhaustion demand to be recognized, and believe me they will always find a way. And I have tried so hard, day after day after day to stop them. But why?

I have come to learn that I had the wrong picture of a warrior in my mind. When I was little, I imagined strength in the form of happiness and optimism in the face of whatever life would throw at me. But I was wrong. Strength isn’t happiness. Strength is honesty. Strength is grief. Strength is driving to Publix to pick up your antidepressant when you swore to yourself you would never take it again. But in that moment, strength was admitting that I can’t do it on my own.

And God never promised me anything else. He knew our adventure would look just as it has, and He still assured me that it was a good idea. He saw my lonely nights, saw my stress, saw my seasons of mental-unhealthiness, saw my tears, and He still took my hand that day on my parent’s front porch and said, “Let’s do this”.

And He was right.

Maybe, He just wanted me to learn that sometimes I can’t, and He knew He couldn’t get it through my thick skull any other way.

 

 

 

379 Days Into Adulthood

379 Days Into Adulthood

379 days ago I decided to move to the South.

Well, decided is a generous word. Maybe, more specifically, ran away to the South.

I would never have decided to leave the stage of life I was in. I know that might make me sound like one of those people always living in the “good ole’ days of college”, but it’s true. I was happy there – on my little campus, in the cornfields of Ohio, in close proximity to almost everybody I really cared about on this planet. I was nuzzled up, as with a warm blanket on a snowy day. The cultural references made sense to me, the pace of life worked well for me, the people knew me. I loved being a student – loved getting out of class at noon and walking to my favorite coffee shop to tune the world out, listen to music, and get some homework done.

It suited me.

And, given the choice, I would not have left. But I wasn’t given a choice, really.

And that’s why I ran away to the South.

I’ve decided that moving across the country, as a single gal, to start life as a young adult is a lot like being a toddler again, lost in Walmart. You’re ridiculously small compared to all of the people around you. Everything is overwhelming. You’re lost, unsure what to do, paralyzed, and the only things in the world that could give you comfort are the arms of your mom, wrapping around you in relief.

That’s me. Except for I’m not a toddler, I’m lost somewhere much larger than Walmart, and mommy ain’t comin.

Adulthood, yeah?

It doesn’t matter how many times I feed my debit card into a cash only machine, or total my car, or break down on the side of the road, I can’t do a single thing to nuzzle back onto that fluffy couch called college. I can’t force all of my best friends to travel to South Carolina to give me a hug. I can’t not pay my traffic ticket. I can’t teleport back to my college cafeteria and eat several servings of hard scoop ice cream in one meal.

I ran away to the South, but now there’s nowhere to go.

Is my life terrible? No. But it’s not the same, and that’s the real heartbreak. I’m learning that 379 days in a new town is nothing, and that it will take several hundred more to feel at home here. I’ll wait it out, and it will happen. I’ll find my people here. It will become somewhere special to me. I’m beginning to realize that the real battle is letting it happen.

I spoke to one of my best friends on the phone recently. We reminisced about friends we had and memories we made, and I began to blurt out my feelings on this subject. How do I move on? She is a strong, solid woman of God so I know she’ll be okay, but I almost felt myself apologizing to her, saying, “You know how much it breaks my heart to live so far away. But I do. We do. So I have to make friends here. I have to create a life here. That’s okay, right? You’ll understand, right?”

And I know she will. I know she does. Because she loves me, and it’s what we all have to do.

And yet, that rational way of thinking didn’t keep me from curling up like an infant on the couch this past week, sobbing over friends of past, knowing that my affection towards them can’t make them move to the same apartment building as me. I prayed that they knew I didn’t leave them on purpose, and that I never would have chosen to. And that I still love them, even if I don’t call them very often because it’s almost more painful to hear their fuzzy phone voice than to not hear them at all.

I read in 1 John today about the love of God. I know it’s been a long time since I believed that God still has my back, and so I have to repeat it over and over in the early light of morning in order for it to effect me at all. It becomes starkly obvious to me these days, when I finally do crack open my Bible, how cold I have become to my first Love. It didn’t happen overnight, but somewhere in these past 379 days, I simply stopped believing that I’m still His girl, and that He’s still watching over me.

But He is, isn’t He? “We love because He first loved us.” He sees my numbness of heart, my clouded mind as I train in my new job, my childlike sobbing on the love-seat in my 3rd floor apartment, the 2008 Mazda I tote around town. He knows where I’m at, and loves how I obsessively bargain hunt to decorate my apartment, how I re-read Nicholas Sparks novels while simultaneously complaining that there are no good books out there, how I fumble around my kitchen trying to cook.

And knowing that He knows, and that He sees me, gives me courage. I can make it. More than that – I can live through these years, not simply survive. I used to view this season as a marathon, but that just left me exhausted. Maybe it’s more like a stroll through town, if I relax enough to view it that way. I can take breaks to breathe and read and write and run. I can be me, even if I’m not always sure who that is.

My life changed in every way when I moved here. I’ve been miserable, but I’ve also been better than ever. Somehow, they mix. And somehow, after it all, I still believe there’s good to come.

 

It’s Time To See The Good

It’s Time To See The Good

I have a confession. This isn’t what I was going to post. I already had something else written, spell checked, tagged and ready to go, but I woke up this morning and realized I couldn’t post it.

Because it was 1,000 words about what was wrong with my life, what was wrong with the church, what is wrong about what is happening around me right now. And I’m tired of focusing on everything that doesn’t fit where I want it to.

You see, I’m the problem. I have blamed a million things for my negative attitude, but nothing is to blame but the brain between my ears and the crooked heart in my chest. And it’s oddly liberating to know this, because for so long I couldn’t understand how the world we live in could be so paradoxical. It had my head spinning, for it would seem so dark to me, as I awoke on an aimless Saturday morning, or wrote another paper, or gazed at the unknown days ahead. The world seemed menacing and dark to me, and yet I would go for an evening run to Walmart, and as I drove past an open lot the ground would glitter with lightening bugs and the sky would be seven shades of red and I couldn’t understand how a world so beautiful could seem so dark to me.

And now I know: the lightning bugs have it right. They are beautiful because they can’t help it – they were programmed and designed to spread glitter across green landscape. They were simply created beautifully and so was I, and any day I refuse to believe that is a sad waste of precious time.

I’m only 22, but I have lost entire seasons of my life worrying myself to panic or, worse, sleep. I couldn’t figure out how I could be so tired by 11 am until I realized that I had created an exhausting world in my own head. I was torturing myself with my negative thoughts, and it wore me out. I was literally making myself sick with worry. And it was all my fault, in the best of ways.

I’m glad it was my fault, because I don’t want to blame the world or God or anyone else.

Sometimes, when I am sick and in my mind, I just step outside and allow this world to be all that it is to me. And the sun’s heat, the mismatched clouds, the sounds of lawns being mowed, they heal me. I recently spent two weeks beneath Italian mountains, and the way they rose from the forest blanket, staring at the sky and daring to be grander than anything else around them… I was small in the best way. I really am allowed to let go and give my worries to the mountains and the God who fashioned them perfectly.

I can lean into friendships. The people who make me laugh without trying. The eyes I can stare straight into without fearing what they see. The people who validate my fears, cry through memories of boys I shouldn’t have liked, and still view me as a whole, capable woman through it all. The people who instill confidence in me, who build me up, who let me dare to be more than who I am today. Who told me I could be more in the first place.

And Jesus. Jesus. My shepherd who died to give me life I don’t appreciate, days I worry out of existence. Why do I think so small when I have a Father who made everything?

So today I choose. As one who chooses to lose weight from their body, I choose to lose weight from my mind and soul. It doesn’t happen all at once, but change begins with a choice. For me, it’s a pledge to gratitude. It’s a decision to fight the stress headaches and negative perception by Truth and new foundations. It’s a promise to have fun. To think of nothing sometimes. To dream again. A new way of living that I used to be good at, until I thought I had to play God in my life.

And that’s why I couldn’t publish that other post. It can’t be me anymore. I don’t need to tell you what’s wrong in this world, and I surely don’t have to tell myself.

But I do need a reminder of what is beautiful and worth my musings. I need to remember who God is in this world and who God is in mine.

And maybe you need that reminder, too.

You Gave Your Life To God. Don’t Expect It Back.

You Gave Your Life To God. Don’t Expect It Back.

I never got a boyfriend in college. Or high school.

And I don’t say that to evoke some sort of pity from you. Really. It’s more of a fact, and one that I’ve found peace for.

But I do say it to be real, because even though I’ve never met the right guy, hardly a day goes by that I wish I will. You know… you turn a corner one day and see him and suddenly everything changes. (Maybe I’ve read too many pre-teen novels for my own good..)

Overly fantasized or not, the reality is that so many people find that person, and their lives are changed forever, and they get to live the rest of their lives with their very best friend. And for many people, this adventure happens in college, and I would be lying to say I didn’t hope it would also happen for me.

But it didn’t.

Not that I didn’t try, of course, and my close friends could tell you story after story of ridiculous things I did to try and make Boy A or Boy B notice me. (Don’t even ask about the unicorn onesie incident…) But after the first boy I liked married my roommate, and the second boy stuck me straight in the friend zone and asked me for advice on the girl he actually did like… things started to get a little discouraging.

I distinctly remember thinking that there was absolutely no way I would get through four years of a christian college without at least one guy falling in love with me. Right? I expected the world to at least give me that. (And maybe it did. But if so, I was painfully unaware.)

I would speak to juniors and seniors and learn that they were still single, and I would gawk at the romantic black hole I had walked in to. How were those people still single?! They were beautiful and wise and dedicated to the Lord. Who wouldn’t want that?

But I have learned that I put way too much stock into romance and dating and sappy Instagram posts. It embarrasses me to even think about it now, but I was indoctrinated by the culture that surrounded me. Even at a christian college, and a good one, far too much time and energy was spent on who liked who, and way too little time on the God who made us all.

 

It’s a little unsettling how much my mindset has changed since graduation a month ago. I think I was changing for years during college, but it’s like I never actually had a chance to see what it all meant for me. I was stuck – in a good way, at the time – in a decision I made as a 17 year old to attend the school I did. And I loved it, don’t get me wrong, but part of me now thinks I may have loved it too much.

Let me explain.

I was comfortable there. I cared about getting a boyfriend far more than bearing my cross. Following Jesus was a hobby for most of my college career – something I would do when I had free time but nothing worth giving my life up for. I would come for Him when I had something to gain, like comfort or proof for my beliefs.

And how sick is that? He died for me. A bloody, humiliating event. God turned away and He took it all.

I think, my whole life, I have been indirectly taught that you can have Jesus and everything else too. But can you? This post feels jumbled, but maybe that’s because I am. I feel like I just stepped off the Tilt-A-Whirl at the fair, like my head hurts and what I thought was gravity just dropped out from under me.

The reality is, I gave my life to Christ when I was 5 years old. And I had absolutely no way of knowing what that would mean for me, but God did. He took my little heart, and He began to mold it and form it and I will never forget the Saturday night my 7th grade year when I realized I wanted to live for God. I knew that night that my heart burned for Jesus, but I will admit I thought nothing of sacrifice.

I thought I could have it all and Jesus too.

And now I’m trying to figure out how I justified it all.

The rich young ruler came to Jesus and asked for life, for a place in His kingdom. And Jesus didn’t tell him to go to a comfortable christian school, marry a christian woman, have cute little christian kids and find a comfortable job to support it all. He tells him to “go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come follow me”.

I want to be careful here. I am not, in any way, insulting those who met their spouse at a christian college, had kids, and now work to support the family they have built. That is incredible and beautiful. What I am questioning, however, is the word comfortable.

And I’m questioning it because I see it in myself. I never dreamed of sacrifice, and consequently didn’t partake in it much. I don’t spend my life loving orphans and widows, as scripture clearly commands. I can’t even remember the last time I told somebody about Jesus who had never heard. I am sickened, sickened by what I have considered important.

Why did I never consider that I didn’t find somebody to be with at college because Jesus didn’t plan for me to find someone there? I gave my life to Jesus long ago, why do I keep expecting it back? “What does it profit a man to gain the whole world, yet lose his soul?” (Mark 8:36).

I think back to all the heartache of the past year. I think it was me losing my soul. Vain desires were rotting me. Jesus took away – withheld – so that I would face sacrifice with a hungry knowledge that this world ain’t gonna cut it. Sacrifice is the only obvious choice if I am to gain Christ.

And I must gain Christ. My soul needs Him. I don’t want to gain this world, for I die a little every time I do.

Jesus is so different than I imagined. He expects me to give it all up, everything He has given me. And yet I know – I know – that if I do, life will be there. He kept me from falling in love because He has love waiting for me – buckets and buckets of love.

But I must follow Him to find it.

 

 

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.