Don’t Miss The Gift

I’m learning to live by two rules.

And in their fundamentalism, I believe that they hold the key to solving most, if not all, of my problems and sins and heart-breaks. And perhaps yours, too.

You see, God and I have this thing going lately, and up front I really hated the arrangement. I despise when I find myself alone in the middle of the day, finishing up lunch and wandering campus to find motivation to do anything that will occupy my time in an intelligent manner. Often I just wander, weighing the pros and cons of where to go and what to do, and I’ll make it across half the campus and realize that I didn’t look up from my shoes and thoughts the entire time.

You know when you’re driving home from work or from work to you’re favorite coffee shop, and when you get there you realize that you don’t remember a single moment of the entire drive? That you must have used your turn signal and stopped at red lights and turned on your windshield wipers, but you truly cannot recall a single one of those instances? Because, to you, it didn’t matter how you got there or what happened along the way, as long as eventually you arrived where you were planning to go.

That’s me, most every day for the past two years, as I have walked through life. All I find myself thinking about is where I’m going, and all is lost about where I am. I’m sure there were newborn babies in mother’s arms at the table next to mine, and bees eating pollen out of flowers and perfect, crisp breezes blowing fiery red leaves across my path, but did I ever stop to allow life to be all it is to me?

No. Not nearly enough, at least. Which is ironic, since surely, whenever I get to wherever I’m going, I will only be thinking about what is to come.

And where does that put life? Forever in my rearview mirror.

Missed.

Unappreciated.

Never enough.

I’ve blamed this behavior on a list of things. What can justify such a blatant lack of gratitude for the greatest gift given to man? My favorite excuse is my past. Is just too hard, too dark, too dirty. How can I move on? I’ve measured this world, and I’ve decided. It’s not good. How can it be? 

How can what has hurt me so bad be “good”? I don’t feel grateful.

And so I’m not.

And that leaves me the kind of person that can’t find the goodness of the world when it’s staring me right in the face. Because it is, always, staring me right in the face. But I miss it, far too much, for I’m too busy complaining to God about all of the terrible things that have happened to me.

 

But it’s in these moments, when I wander campus alone, that the LORD leads me to quiet corners and empty classrooms. And it’s there, in the midst of my screaming discontentment, He speaks. I’ve learned to recognize these moments as growing pains, the ache of Christianity in which God makes me holy, as He is holy. And sometimes, it hurts. Bad.

And today, I need some Heavenly-Ibuprofen.

But it’s in these moments that the LORD has taught me these two rules, showed me that my mind runs far too fast for the simplicity of His grace in my life. That the reason I find myself so anxious and overwhelmed so much of the time is because I’m taking on far too many burdens I was never meant to carry.

For God’s handbook, written to me, I am realizing can be paraphrases in 11 words.

  1. This life is the greatest gift.
  2. Life like you believe it.

You see, my stumbling block has been that I thought it was my job to measure whether or not this world was good, whether or not my life was good. And when I tried to make this daunting decision, I was always overwhelmed by all of the incredibly difficult blows this world makes. And day after day, I would come to the decision that it wasn’t. It wasn’t good.

And my heart would break and I would walk down perfectly good streets and find every single crack in the asphalt.

But God whispers to me. Take that burden off of yourself. It’s not your decision whether or not this world is good. It is good. I have declared it so. 

Do you believe that? 

I am not God, and the brunt of my anxiety stems from when I try to play Him. My problems are not in the difficulties of this life, but from the fiery, rampant discontentment growing in my heart. The rotting moss of my fearful heart grows from a life lived without gratitude for the gift of life that has been given to me.

How dare I walk through life with such an entitled mind? Like this world is mine to define, like my life is mine to control? How dare I walk through my days wishing I was anywhere else, doing anything else, when Jesus came to this Earth and died to give me this life? This very moment, this breathing in and out?

This life is not my own, for I was bought with a price.

Therefore I must glorify God with my body.

For when I don’t, I am telling God that it is not good. When I don’t, I am relying on my own fallen mind to determine the state of the world and my life.

When I don’t I am looking straight at my Savior dying on the cross and telling Him not to bother. I won’t appreciate the gift anyway.

The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy, but I have come that you may have life, and have it abundantly.

John 10:10

This gift. Abundant life.

Bought with a price.

And this life is found not in pages of a planner and dreams of days to come. But it is found now, in this moment, as I wander the streets of campus on a Thursday afternoon.

And it is a gift.

Thank you, Lord. May I live like it.

Life On An Anti-Depressant: The Lies We Cannot Believe

Negative thoughts and beliefs are just that: thoughts and beliefs. They are not facts, and they do not need to be true.

Tricia Lott Williford

As humans, we do this thing. When someone tells us something about ourselves, we tend to believe them. We take their opinions upon ourselves and stamp labels on our chests.

We’re undesirable. Stupid. Ignorant. Unstable. Incapable. Unworthy. Sick. Lost. Why? Because somebody, at some point, in some way…

said we were.

Those thoughts have power. Power like I never could have imagined. Power you may understand way too well.

For me, those lies have come in the form of doctor’s prescriptions and sticky paper-plastered beds.

I never knew the power a doctor with a bottle of pills could have until I sat on the rumpled up paper of a doctor room bed and was handed a little orange bottle. Reading the label: Escitalopram. Lexipro. Antidepressants.

And in that moment, I wasn’t just Maddie, someone who has been sad lately. I was Maddie: doomed.

Maddie: unstable.

Maddie: incapable.

Maddie: sick. Forever sick.

Was I any of these things? No. Did I feel like I was? Yes, I really did.

It was like the depression I had been feeling was not only an imbalance of chemicals in my body, but it was an impenetrable diagnosis, one that consumed all of me and made me feel ashamed and humiliated.

And let me make one thing clear: depression is nothing to be ashamed of, nor is it a sin. It is a real thing – me of all people should know that. But it is also not an identity – never make it your identity.

You are not depressed. You may have dealt with what we call “depression”, but it is not who you are.

Because mental health does that to us, doesn’t it? It makes us hide. It uses shame in uncanny ways to make us think that we’re less than who God made us to be. It is the fertile soil for lies to grow into sprawling trees in our minds.

And we hold it in our secret places. We give it all the power to scrape us hollow from the inside out.

And so came the crushing blow as I did nothing to stop those lies from sinking deep into my pores, not knowing the earth-shaking power they had. It had nothing to do with what was happening in my body – I’m sure the pills actually helped – but it had everything to do with the way I began viewing myself. From that moment, those lies planted seeds deep into my mind and heart. I didn’t know how desperately I needed to uproot them.

I didn’t know what to do with them at all.

As I drove away from that doctor’s office, I let another’s opinion of me consume me. And when I say consume, I mean drop me to the ground, curl me into a ball, shatter all that I believed about my self consume me. Should I have felt unbearable shame at the thought of being on antidepressants? No. Did I? Oh dear, yes. I felt stamped, categorized, labeled, doomed.

Unstable. For the first time in my life, truly unstable.

I have learned a lot about negative thinking in the past 20 months of my life. It’s powerful. And when I say negative thinking, I am not referring to the sit-cross-legged-on-the-floor, think of birds and trees and clear your mind from all “negative thinking”.

No, I mean the kind of negative thinking that steers you on the track of ignoring or denying every Truth that has been spoken of you. I mean negative thinking that alters the way you live, implants lies deep into your mind, makes you believe you are far, far less than the capable, beautiful, upheld Child of God that you are.

Because you are, my friend, capable, beautiful, and upheld by the hand of the Lord. You are.

It’s a fact.

No questions asked.

No jury necessary.

I lived in fear for a long time. I thought I had to. I thought that as long as I took my daily “I’m-Weak-And-Doomed pill” (which I still do, by the way), that fear was a simple side effect. Because… doesn’t that mean I’m that girl now… the one who is depressed. “Oh, be careful with Maddie! She struggles with depression.”

So what? I’m not perfect. You’re not perfect. Isn’t it time we accepted that fact?

Why should we be ashamed of being the “sick” that Jesus came to save?

It took me a long time to realize that I was the only one who had decided that my life had dissolved into a million pieces. Shame kept me locked up inside my own head for too long, but once I finally spoke, finally uttered those “horrific” lies I had come to believe, I realized that I was the only one that believed I was anything but brave.

“Why are you giving so much power to that doctor, Maddie?” My mom. “Take it back. It’s not his to have. You know who you are, now start living like it.”

You know who you are, now start living like it.

Start living like it. 

There comes moments in our lives that we have to choose who we’re going to believe. The first thing my dad said to me last year when I was at my worst: “I think it’s an identity problem.”

Identity problem? Come on dad, it’s a depression problem. It’s an anxiety problem. I can’t help the way I am. I’m sick. I’m trapped. I’m the victim. 

And God just shakes His head.

“Why do you live like you are less, daughter?”

Why do you live like you are less?

 

Life on an anti-depressant is just that: Life. You are not your medication. You are not your diagnosis. Those things are beautiful parts of your story, for the Lord redeems and uses all to build up our character and increase our hope.

But they are not our identities. They never will be.

Take the power back.

 

 

The Moments We Would Change

Things happen to us in our lives here on Earth.

Things that don’t make sense, things that hurt us in the deepest and most real ways. Things that unravel us and scream at us, telling us we’re something that we’re not. And we find ourselves one day, partaking in a conversation about life and fate with blue haired ladies at church or in the burrito line in our college cafeteria and the question is pondered,

What would you change?

“Nothing,” you hear someone say, “nothing at all.” And in some way, somewhere deep down, you admire their apparent acceptance of this turbulent life, but in another, very real way, your stomach drops

deep

down

into your gut as you think, in full assurance,

“I know exactly what I would change.”

I know the very moment.

And you see it. That moment. Those words. That accident or accusation or mistake. And the hurt poisons you as you stand in that line in the very same way it saturated your veins all of those days or months or years ago.

Yes. That is exactly what I would change.

Because these things happen, don’t they? We may not believe it, the power a moment can have, until it becomes a part of our story. I never knew until I found myself in a hospital room, identified as broken by the doctor with the fancy pen, back chilled by the unfortunate architecture of those gowns they make you wear. “Self-harm” thrown around like it was something that actually pertained to me. And yet I was there. I can still smell it.

Ask me, and I’ll say nothing makes you feel more broken than a hospital room. Nothing makes you feel more misunderstood than a diagnosis, especially a false one. And. Well, nothing makes you more vulnerable than allowing those moments to redefine who you are.

Forget the buckets of resiliency I possessed for the first 20 years of my life. When I left that day, I was weak. I was broken. Forever broken, if you asked me.

I gave the power to someone who didn’t deserve it, to someone who didn’t know me at all. To someone who called the ambulance in the blink of an eye, led me to it, and believed he was saving me from myself.

And I forgot, I completely forgot, who I was. I began to walk in fear, forsaking opportunities for adventure. I slept in on Saturdays so I didn’t have to get out of bed and face whatever terrifying thing existed in the world. I would walk by the array of fall colors on the trees and find some way to deny who they were.

Because after all, who was I?

I was broken, remember? I was weak.

Because he said I was weak. He said I was a quitter. And above his head, that fancy certificate proving that

he was right.

Right?

 

I’m done giving the power to liars – to The Liar. There are things that happen to us, friends, and they give us a choice.

Will we believe them?

My fingers shake as I write, fighting the good fight. Choosing to not believe them.

There are innumerable voices in this world. I used to think I was immune to the heart-stopping, life-altering affect they have in the lives of people. But we all are formed and altered by the voices we choose to believe.

I chose to believe that I was broken, doomed to that hospital bed, ruled by the woman that lay there. I believed that that was who I was, and that changed everything about every moment of my day since. I put fear on the throne of my mind and he took charge and I became exponentially less than who I am in every way.

I came back to school, convinced the people around me that I was “fine”. But the hardest person to convince was myself. Those people weren’t there, after all. They didn’t feel the utter panic of that moment, the one that painted my past with darkness. They didn’t stare blankly at the white hospital room walls. They didn’t wear the one-size-fits-all socks.

But it’s not them I have to convince. It’s me. I’m the one who decided that everything from that moment on was downhill. I’m the one that, for the past 10 months, has made residency in the false-claim of that day.

 

Because the truth?

The truth is that that day has made me more of who I am than I have ever been before. Forget flimsy pats on backs. I know what it is like to be wheeled in a gurney, treated not for a wound in my body, but for what they saw as a wound in my mind.

Was I hurting? Yes.

Should I have been there that day, marked as “unstable”, greeted by the friendly neighborhood crisis worker, and handed the red envelope on the way out?

Does it matter?

The truth is that it happened, and for better or for worse it is a part of my story. I can choose to dwell forever on who I was marked to be, or I can remember who I am. I can allow the trauma to swallow me whole (as it tempts to do), or I can remember that I have been given eyes I never believed I would possess.

This isn’t the time to go into the mental health system in our country. That may be for another post, at another time.

But I have learned, and choose to live, that no little orange bottle, no opinion of another, no doctor’s diagnosis, no trauma.

No thoughts.

Not even actions.

Nothing in this life can steal my identity away from me. I am a child of the King, a Christian, one who has chosen to follow the Lord of my Heart, the Savior who came and died so that I may have life abundant.

I am brave for He makes me brave.

I am strong for He makes me strong.

I am who He says I am, full of purpose and abounding in joy.

 

So what would I change?

Nothing. For I am more today than I ever imagined I would be.

 

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.

 

It Was Never Meant To Be A Game

Every day, it seems, I am having a conversation about singleness and the mind-rattling frustration it brings countless beautiful girls who just can’t figure out what they’re “doing wrong”.

Sometimes these conversations happen over coffee, or in the middle of watching Netflix, or, well… too often with myself as I stare in the mirror in the morning. “What’s the point of curling my hair if no boys ever seem to take a second glance?” Of course, thinking like that is instrumentally detrimental and just down-right unhealthy, but sometimes I can’t help myself.

Singleness can be a weary reality indeed.

These thoughts and frustrations from myself and others have made me search for wisdom like hidden treasure. My mom always told me that choosing who I will marry will be the second most important decision in my life, second only to choosing to follow Jesus.

So you’d better believe I want to make that decision correctly, and I can’t help but know that it all begins in my single days.

In my Wisdom Search, I ran across a book full of articles by a woman named Elisabeth Elliot (many of you may know of her. I have taken to calling her my “new best friend” because her words tend to my heart in a way few have ever been able to.) She wrote one particular article on the topic of singleness- but more than that, prolonged singleness. Like me, she had had countless conversations with many jaw-dropping, loving girls who felt utterly trapped in a life of singleness.

She speaks of women who prayed for 20 years for a husband who never came. Of women with feelings that have no outlet. Of women who have given everything to following Jesus, trusting Him with every aspect of their lives, yet finding themselves humanly alone even though their hearts long to share their lives with someone.

 

Am I doing something wrong?

Should I go to more “singles barbeques”?

Should I just ask him out already? I’m allowed to do that, right? Right?

Why does this all feel like a big game?

 

A game. What a way to describe it.

Last night I stayed up late talking through life with a dear friend. Our conversation traveled from faith to family to… well, boys. (Hey, we’re 21. It happens.) We’re both single, but both all-too aware of the plethora of attractive and God-fearing men on our college campus. (Last time my parents visited campus, my mom remarked, “Maddie, there are so many cute guys on this campus!” Yes, mom. I know.)

Once we had covered the basics (who we like. how many encounters we had had with him in the past week), we let our laughter fade and fell silent. Why? Because, at the end of the day, we both have no idea what to do about these feelings we can’t seem to shoo away. We don’t know how to play the game. 

“Nobody does” remarks Elisabeth, “It’s chaos, frustration, confusion, and emotional devastation. It was never meant to be a game, so don’t try to play it. Leave it all in the Hands that were wounded for you.”

There have been times in my life where I have been tempted to stop praying for my future husband. Often, conversations with other single girls end with “I’ve stopped praying for a husband because God doesn’t guarantee one. It will just end in frustration.” But then what do I do about verses like Philippians 4:6 that tell me to “not be anxious about anything, but in everything- by prayer and petition- present my requests to God”?

Now, if your singleness isn’t making you anxious, then maybe God isn’t stirring your heart in that direction right now. But, if you’re like me and your current relationship status has a tendency to keep you up at night, tossing and turning and making you want to cry out in frustration, “Oh, can’t I just ask HIM out??” then I urge you- PRAY ABOUT IT.

Elisabeth tells you to leave it all in the Hands that were wounded for you. Let me ask you a question: Do you trust God with your love story? Do you really truly believe the Bible when it promises that “in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose”?

When did we take earthly love out of the category of “all good things”?

God didn’t create romance to be a game. He created marriage to reflect His love for the church. He created it to be something His children thoughtfully trusted Him with.

It’s not meant to be a game, and thank goodness because I don’t know how to play it.

So instead, I will pray. I will cast my anxieties on the LORD and trust that He sees my heart and truly knows me. I will focus on being His Bride and prayerfully wait to see if He designed me to be anybody else’s.

“It was never meant to be a game, so don’t try to play it. Leave it all in the Hands that were wounded for you.”

“And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.”

Romans 8:28

Lend Me Your Hope

I ran across a poem the other day that stopped me in my tracks.

Lend me your hope for a while,
I seem to have mislaid mine.
Lost and hopeless feelings accompany me daily,
pain and confusion are my companions.

I know not where to turn.
Looking ahead to future times
does not bring forth images of renewed hope.
I see troubled times,
pain-filled days,
and more tragedy.

Lend me your hope for a while,
I seem to have mislaid mine.
Hold my hand and hug me;
listen to all my ramblings,
recovery seems so far distant.
The road to healing
seems like a long and lonely one.

Lend me your hope for a while,
I seem to have mislaid mine.
Stand by me,
offer me your presence,
your heart and your love.
Acknowledge my pain,
it is so real and ever present.
I am overwhelmed
with sad and conflicting thoughts.

Lend me your hope for a while.
A time will come when I will heal,
and I will share my renewal,
hope and love with others.

Do those words resonate in your soul? They do mine.

We live in a broken world, one full of depression and death and blinding suffering. One of the greatest issues I have known and observed that accompanies times of suffering is the question, “Where do I go from here?” In the throws of the storm it seems impossible to function at any level of normalcy, and conversations with those hurting often land somewhere around the tearful wondering:

How?

How can I keep up with the life I once knew?

How do I even pretend to function like I once did?

How do I get out of bed?

How do I go to work, or school, or even church?

How do I live surrounded by people that appear to have it all together when my life is literally falling apart at the seams?

 

And those conversations usually end with a tear-stained face and puffy eyes, emotions overwhelming the sufferer to the point of collapse. Oh, how the wars Satan wages can rock us off of our feet! Whether it was a gradual collapse or an overnight crumbling, many of us at some point in our lives find ourselves weeping and running to the bottom of the rocking ship to wake Jesus and scream “Where have you been? Can’t you see I’m drowning??”

Many of us have, at some point, had a deficit of hope in our hearts. Maybe we know in our minds that light and hope has come into the world, but in the pits of the despair we are currently sinking into we cannot see anything but darkness.

This post is not really about the healing that comes through Jesus Christ, though I need to say that healing exists and is very, very real in His hands. Instead, however, this post is for those of us that need to know how to function today. Suffering is real, and many of us right now are waking up and staring at our bedroom ceiling thinking, “How am I going to get through today?”

The poem starts with “lend me your hope for a while, for I seem to have mislaid mine”. Oh, what an accurate description of what it feels like to be in the throws of a trial! Many of us wake up one day and realize that our hope somehow left without our permission, leaving us desperate for its return. This poem is a cry to those around us, the people in our lives that have perhaps been asking what they can do to help us through this difficult time. In my sufferings, I have grown accustomed to saying:

“Just lend me your hope.”

I don’t know about you, but there are mornings where I rely on the hope of those around me to get me moving. The concept of borrowing hope is, quite honestly, a hopeful one.

But that wasn’t even the line that stopped me in my tracks when I first this poem.

This past month, as I rode out a painful trial, my parents longed to know how to best help me, and my answer surprised me. I’m not an incredibly touchy person, but I realized that what I needed most in the days to come is somebody to hug me and hold my hand and be with me through what was undeniably going to be a torturous season of life.

Hold my hand and hug me;
listen to all my ramblings,
recovery seems so far distant.
The road to healing
seems like a long and lonely one.

Hold my hand and hug me. Listen to all of my ramblings. Lend me your hope in the form of your presence, for the road out of suffering can be long and lonely and I need to know that I am not alone.

If you are reading this as someone striving to help a loved one through a trial, remember that what sufferers need most is companionship. They need to know that they are not alone. They don’t need you to solve their problems, they simply need you to hold their hand and let them cry for as many days as it takes. They need you to listen to their ramblings and love them through it all. Tell them that you love them and tell them that you are going to be by their side until the storm has passed.

And if you, dear friend, are the one in the midst of the storm, please please please remember that Jesus is not absent. In fact, he allows storms to happen so that we are able to see Him calm the waves that rock us. If you are suffering, remember that you are in the exact right place for your faith to be transformed. 1 Peter reminds us that “Pure gold put in the fire comes out of it proved pure; genuine faith put through this suffering comes out proved genuine.”

Genuine faith. That’s your prize after all of this is said and done. Don’t lose heart!

If you are blinded by darkness, know without a shadow of a doubt that the True Light has come into the world and, if you have allowed Him, into even your heart.

For one day, perhaps not too far down the road, you will be able to lend your hope to someone else. “Lend me your hope for a while. A time will come when I will heal,
and I will share my renewal, hope and love with others.” What a day that will be!

But today, friend, give yourself grace. Pray. Cry. Sleep. Find beauty. Go for a walk. Cry again. Read and paint and run. Do what fills your heart and balms your soul. And remember: Jesus is the Great Physician and He begins healing you the moment you ask Him to.

But in the meantime, borrow hope. Borrow it from friends, family, and from the Hope of the world Himself. For there is unquenchable Hope in this world, and it is yours for the taking.

 

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?