Peace Without Understanding

Peace Without Understanding

If you are going to be used by God,

He will take you through a multitude of experiences

that are not meant for you at all,

they are meant to make you useful in His hands.

Oswald Chambers

I’m not a good runner, never have been.

In middle school, I joined the cross country team for a season. I can’t to this day tell you why other than the fact that I seemed to have a self-inflicted desire to try every sport I was terrible at that year, basketball and track included. (I made the B-team in basketball, but only because the amount of 8th grade girls interested made up two teams.)

I was just about the slowest runner on our team. Slow, but committed. We would show up to practice after school, be told to run 2 1/2 miles around the town, given the route, and set off. I would watch all of the skinny legged girls, keeping in shape during the off season of soccer, fly away, and I can truly tell you that no fiber in my body believed I could do what they did.

I told you: I’m not a good runner.

But, even in my small, 14 year old mind, I knew that there was value in finishing, slow and well. In keeping pace and not stopping, no matter how slow that pace was. And so I did: I would choose a ridiculously slow tempo and begin my jog, and I would finish without stopping, dead last.

I distinctly remember one time my coach, during our post-practice huddle (80% of the kids already dried off and cooled down), pointing my sweaty self out and using me as an example of determination and strength, in how I never stopped running, now matter how slow I went.

In other words, she was saying, “She’s terrible, but hey, at least she’s committed.”

Which, in reality, summed it up pretty well.

Over the years, running has meant different things to me. In high school, I would make my way around the neighborhood to stay sprightly during dry weeks of cheerleading. (Never exceeding a mile and a half, of course. Distance running, to my body, was like asking a toy poodle to push a shopping cart.) I’ll admit there were many times I laced up just to shed a few calories, fit into the size-2 standards of our age. It worked pretty well until my body realized that it was going to bear children one day and size 2 quickly became size 8: a body not meant to be thin but strong.

But I truly believe, more than anything else, what has kept me on the streets, pumping music through my ears and pavement under my feet, is what happens after the run is over. When I take the headphones out and feel the sweat sticking to me in places it really never should. That has always been the greatest time for me to think.

I’m a thinker (and an over-thinker). I crave to understand why and when and how. I’m that person you see walking down the street talking, out loud, to no one. And over the years I have discovered that when the endorphins kick in, my brain does its best work. I begin to be able to see my life in a new light, fitting pieces together and putting them where they belong, tetris-style in their designated boxes.

And by the time I got home, everything was where it belonged and I found rest in my understanding of it all.

 

My theory worked great until my life began to be invaded by things that didn’t fit.

I believe our minds have boxes. (And this may be my inner psychology-major coming to the surface.) We have certain ideas of the way things are supposed to go and the boxes they are supposed to fit in. And when we are small, or untouched by trauma, things fit pretty well into our small amount of bins.

Family.

Friends.

School.

Check. Check. Check.

Things fit. Things make sense.

Then you grow up. New boxes: Romance. College. Marriage. Kids. Health.

If things fit, then we have peace. Things are the way they are “supposed to be”. (In our human minds, at least.)

 

Yet what happens when something touches our lives that doesn’t fit? Cancer. Depression. Death of a loved one. Chronic pain. A break up. What then happens to the peace when things begin swirling around in our heads and hearts, finding no place to rest in our pre-made boxes?

Is there no hope for peace?

Last month this was brought to mind during (haha) a run on the treadmill. I couldn’t find peace, hadn’t been able to for months and months because I couldn’t fit things into their boxes. Being 22 and all of the craziness that comes with it, the scars that developed during my time at college, the hurts that don’t make sense.

But God spoke to my fast-beating heart:

Making it fit is not the answer. The answer is accepting that it doesn’t.

I realized that we won’t always understand why things happen to us, and that’s ok. That is one thing that makes us so different from God: He knows. We don’t.

And that’s ok.

I can find peace in His promises, not in my circumstances. Joy in His certainties, not in my emotions. He asks us to trust Him. Why? Because He knows that we won’t always get it.

So I have a new fight, one of trust. A new resignation: that I may not know why until I stand before Him.

And a new song, one of peace without understanding. Praise you, God.

To The One Happy to Kiss 2017 Behind

To The One Happy to Kiss 2017 Behind

“You’re not alone”, she says to me, warming me with her presence and comforting words as I sit in front of her in tears.

It’s the week before my senior year of college, and my Resident Director and I sit in the corner of a room to pray for the year ahead of us. As a Resident’s Assistant, I arrived early on campus to undergo a week of training, and to say it left me weary would be an understatement. Hours of training and little amounts of sleep will do that to you, but for me it had been more.

I came into the week weary.

So when my RD asked me how she could pray for me, the tears cascaded from my eyes, uninhibited, urged on by the amount of pressure built up in my head.

“I had… a hard year,” I began, urged on by her understanding look, comforted by the fact that she knew my story, “and I allowed it to build up in me false beliefs about myself, lies that are so far from the truth,” breathe,” but they follow me like a dark… cloud…” Wiping from underneath my eyes, choking back a sob. “And it’s exhausting…”

It’s exhausting. It’s exhausting to forget what God says about me. It’s exhausting to make Him small.

It’s exhausting to try and make everything in my life fit into my little box of “OK”, even when it doesn’t.

That moment was one of many, cherry-topping the season of confusion and doubt and humiliation I had lived.

This past year has been hard for me, the hardest of my life. I’m not afraid to say that. I allowed Satan to grab hold of my vulnerabilities, I allowed him to make me scared. And anxious. And that anxiety led me to doctors and anti-depressants and prescriptions and suddenly sadness was depression and depression was sadness and I couldn’t figure out which was which and what was up and what was down.

And I began to take everything anyone said about me, anything that happened to me, and put it on my own shoulders, let it fill in the dotted line under “identity”.

I’ve learned something about things that happen to us. They tempt us. They tempt us to believe things about ourselves that simply aren’t true. And those beliefs grow into thoughts and those thoughts grow into patterns and suddenly the only voice we hear is the one that brings us down.

This December, the year is unfolding before me more than ever before.

2017.

The year I turned 22. The year I started my senior year of college. The year I ran a 10k. The year I laughed my eyes out and finally put a futon in my dorm room. And the year I cried more than ever before, doubted more than ever before, felt deep sadness more than ever before.

Which will win?

It baffles me that sometimes I want the sadness to win. Or, maybe “want” is not the right word here. Allow, maybe? One thing I have learned: it is so much easier to let Satan steal the show. It’s natural, isn’t it? To follow the sin nature and darkness that is in our own hearts?

It is a rebellious act to follow Jesus Christ with your life. Rebellious and gutsy. It takes courage to wake up day after day and say “Yes, Jesus, I will fight the sin inside of me.” Or, more accurately, live in the victory that is already ours. The addiction or the anger or the deception and lies that our tender hearts believe.

Author Shauna Niequist once said, “Bittersweet is the idea that in all things there is both something broken and something beautiful”.

Bittersweet. In all things there is shattered glass and a rainbow of light reflected colors.

Nothing describes my year better than that. I sit here, nearing the end of it, and I am baffled to know that I wouldn’t change a single moment. In all of its hardships and tears and acne and pounds gained and tests barely passed. Because I am learning that life is so much more than Instagram-worthy years and bullet-points on my resume.

This past week, I attended my grandmother’s 95th birthday party. Let me say right now, nothing will give your 22 year old heart a reality check like hearing the tear-felt prayers of a woman who has left the years of youth behind her, and who holds the secret to what is real and true in this life. My family, her children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren, sat in a circle around her. And we watched her eyes well up and listened as she named each one of us, in turn, and simply said that she prayed for each of us everyday.

And there was nothing small about it. She knew: it is what matters most.

I realized more than ever that I don’t want to be indoctrinated by this world. It tells me so many things: I must be successful, physically fit, married, happy (always happy). It puts no value on the quiet strength of the heart and still voice of prayer. It sees no point in hours spent on knees. And sometimes, I don’t either.

But as 2018 comes closer, I realize that my heart has a lot more growing to do. And, in a twisted and crazy way, I ask for a year as dynamic as this one. Because I want to know my Lord, and I won’t see Him in the comfortable version of Christianity I have created for myself.

I hope that I can begin to see, more and more, that the bittersweet is just as much bliss as it is pain. And what would life be without the pinch?

Who would I be without the pain?

I urge you, fellow wish-away-er, to think. Who would you be without it all? What matters most to you, and should it?

To you women, what do you want a man to see in you? An ignorantly “happy” person who knows God as the flannel-graph version of himself from your 3rd grade Sunday school? Or do you want to know the Lord, your Lord and Savior, from grit and sweat and life? Do you want your “adorning to be the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit”? (1 Peter 3:4)

I propose that wrinkled faces and bruised knees are more beautiful than we have been taught.

I mourn the prosperity gospel of this age, for it makes us think there is something wrong when hardships come. May we all have more 2017’s. May we, the bruised and beaten, celebrate it all. May we rush out of our “prisons”, dancing and celebrating, as the apostles did, overjoyed to be counted worthy to suffer for the sake of Christ, who gave it all for us.

May my heart be so molded as to rejoice in it all. And may yours, too.

May we embrace 2018 and all that it will bring. May we pray more than we ever have before, and may we cultivate beauty in ourselves that is undefiled and imperishable, precious in the sight of God.

 

 

 

 

 

Don’t Miss The Gift

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

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 Light We Choose Not To See

The Light We Choose Not To See

This summer, I find myself always writing from the same place. I sit on my queen sized, 4 poster bed, blinds up on my oversized window, beams of fresh light across my grey bedspread. My toes are a tad cold, as usual, make-up worn out from the day, and (if I’m lucky), my 11 year old Shih-Tzu naps near my feet. And I sip french vanilla iced coffee because somewhere along the road it became my favorite thing in the world, and I ain’t mad.

A year ago this would have terrified me, and my minds runs back to those days often, whenever a moment is so good and the coffee is so sweet. I think of the days I was afraid of goodness – afraid of quiet and newness and my own shadow if it towered high enough.

And something tells me that I’m not alone. That’s why I write today – any day.

If you read my blog, you know that I’ve had a rough going these past 12 months. Anxiety and depression became extra coats I kept in my closet, thrown on when the tiniest shiver ran through my body. I began to wear distrust like the holes in my jeans and the socks on my feet and I fell, fell, fell into a place I never thought I would be.

Because that’s what happens when you stop trusting God. Suddenly that cross He asked you to bear becomes a menace. For God calls greatly, and demands great trust from us.

I will never forget the moments – innumerable moments – where I felt as if I was trapped. My mind repeatedly ran down roads that should not be taken – roads of hopelessness, panic, disbelief – and every time rationed its way through them.

I was in my last counseling session of the school year a few weeks ago. Essential oils, billowing out of a machine in the corner, coated my nostrils as I took a seat in one of the two plush chairs along the wall. I had grabbed a mini Snickers out of a bowl at the front desk, as usual, and felt the chocolate melt on my tongue as I settled down onto the cushion, pulling the throw pillow tight around my midsection and crossing my legs.

I had gone in every Thursday for the semester, and by the end I began to look back on my time in that office as sections of railroad track – week by week the weight of my mind and life bore down, adding pressure, heat, but week by week they got me farther towards where I wanted to go. They held up. I needed something to hold up.

By this point, we had little to talk about. Four months prior I had walked into that very office eyes hot and mind weary, but as I began to walk the journey of healing, ticking weeks by, I felt that I could stand just a little bit straighter every time. Sometimes I cried. Sometimes I just sat. But that’s counseling, somewhere you can be whoever you need to be.

And this week, this final week, I began to look on the past months as a memory. I had wondered so long how I could fall so hard, how my distrust in God could happen so quickly and so completely. It was a puzzle that was missing a piece, causing me to look under the table and in the couch cushions and with every crick in my neck and scrape on my arm I grew more and more irritated. With every glance at the un-finished puzzle on the metaphorical coffee table, I cried out for some kind of explanation. “How? How? How?

And I sat in that room and it hit me. Finally. That final Thursday it hit me. And moment after moment since it has hit me. And as I sit here today, rain gently cascading the roof, cars drifting by outside, it hits me. And I smile.

Every day I make a choice.

Scratch that. Every moment I make a choice.

Now I know that there is beauty interwoven into the ice in my toes and the scratch on my contact and the ticks in my dog’s back. There is a miracle in every breath and an opportunity after every blink of an eye. But for months I chose to believe otherwise.

Now I know that I choose what glasses I wear, choose what I see and how I see it. Choose to know that “it is good”. What is good? All of it! No, it’s not all easy or enjoyable or smooth, glassy, or soft. But it is good. Because God created it and because He called it good.

For so long I put on darkness like a cloak. I would say it sounds crazy, but something tells me there are hearts reading this that understand. It’s a choice we all make once or twice or a hundred times. We choose to doubt God, choose to give the devil a foothold, choose to see flowers as fading and rain as wet and Tuesdays as stressful.

And for me it took 3 panic attacks, a bottle of Xanax, 4 months of anti-depressants, and half a year of counseling to understand even a sliver of what God has been trying to tell me.

Choose beauty. Choose to see it. I know it’s not easy but choose it anyways. 

Joy. Joy. Joy. 

There is a light, a beauty, that can only be seen through a broken lens. When beauty is handed you, perhaps as a child, you take it for granted and brush it aside, closing your eyes to it because you expect it to be there when you open them again.

But when you lose that light, that beauty, for a time, it becomes the treasure you will traverse miles to find and never let go.

That’s how I feel today. My dog still naps at my side and birds fly by the window and I can smell and feel and hear the lawn mowers outside which means it’s summer and wow if only I could have more senses to feel more and breathe more. Because light after darkness is perhaps the most beautiful thing I have ever seen.

And I choose to see.

It’s not easy. This world is dark, we know that. Loved ones die and minds fall astray and friends choose to leave and countries make bombs and it’s easy to find the darkness. It will not resist you. Instead, it will beckon, enticing you towards itself. Don’t go. Run, fast, and choose the other way.

You have a choice, friends.

It takes courage to find the light. We all have reason not to, reasons to forget our value and pray less and swallow the sun with clouds of worry.

But God calls higher, past the clouds and into His glorious light. “Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw near to God, and He will draw near to you.” (James 4:7-8)

And He will never lose the fight. So many of us will simply never choose to see the victory.