Losing the Illusion of Control

Losing the Illusion of Control

I used to think that life with God was like sharing the wheel of a semi truck.

You know. Sometimes you feel Him driving, and you’re sitting right there, watching out the front window with Him. He’s commentating on what’s going on, pointing out the places He’s bringing you, and training you up for what’s next.

But then sometimes it feels like He just lets go of the wheel and tells you to start steering. And you know He’s still there, but you also know that you’re gonna crash the truck if it ‘s all up to you to get it where it needs to go safely. So you clench your shoulders and grit your teeth and just try to survive because you think that He gave you the wheel and it’s your job to drive.

That’s how I’ve felt since graduating college. I spent 4 years with my driver’s permit, walking with Jesus and learning from Him about how to spend my days well, about how to love Him and others. And then I graduated, and I started to believe that it was suddenly my job to drive. I felt all eyes on me, the pressure of doing something with my degree, the world huge and the highway wide, and I felt my muscles start to tense.

Not helped by the fact that it became increasingly evident that I didn’t have any control of my life anyways. I felt like the wheel was supposed to be in my hands, and yet it consistently stayed out of reach.

I had my eyes set on an internship I was hoping to do this year. I didn’t get it. So I set my mind on a year abroad. The pieces didn’t come together. So I thought I might go back to college and do a year of grad school. But the wheel was always out of my hands. I was reminded consistently that I wasn’t the one driving. And what do you do with that?

If I’m not driving, who is?

 

I used to think that life with God was like sharing the wheel of a semi truck. But now I know that life with God is actually like sitting in the back seat of His minivan.

You see, after all my striving and begging for the keys, Jesus brought me exactly where I was supposed to be. A Fellowship program with a church in South Carolina had a spot reserved for me without anybody but God knowing it, and I never would have found it if it was up to me. I didn’t even know it existed.

But I didn’t have to! I’m just sitting in the back seat of my dad’s minivan. I’m only anxious when I forget that.

I’ve learned that Jesus doesn’t ask us to be in control of our lives. I’ve spent substantial time being upset with Him about my lack of control, but He has been faithful in easing my heart down. He reminded me of family road trips as a kid. My family would take one every summer- pack all the kids in a minivan, drive days on end, pitch a tent in the national park of your choice. It was awesome.

One trip in particular sticks out to me, and that was the year we went to Zion National Park in Utah. I was probably 9th or 10th grade, and I’m sure there were a million details that went into making that trip a success. Hotel bookings, budgeting for gas, renting a camp site, checking the weather. But I couldn’t tell you a single one, because I didn’t spend a single moment trying to do my dad’s job. You see, that was always up to him. He was the details guy who figured that all out. I trusted him to get me where I needed to go, and there was no anxiety in me as I jumped in the back seat of our family minivan that summer.

Why don’t I view God’s plans for me the same way? He’s the details guy. I’ve spent a lot of time not believing that, but I am learning that it’s true. It feels so wrong and pointless sometimes to kick back and read my favorite novel, but from the backseat of a minivan, what else is there to do but enjoy the ride?

That is, if you trust the driver.

It took me landing in the middle of a state I was not planning on living in, in a program I didn’t know existed, living with a host family I had never met, to realize that I was never driving the car. Never. But what a gift that is, because the world’s best driver is.

I’m not going to understand where He takes me, how He does it, and why I’m here. Not all the time. Very rarely. But it’s not my job to understand. It’s my job to enjoy the ride.

And my favorite parts are the pitstops. The times when He stops the car, and takes my rested up, content self and points out a person that needs to be loved. Or a flower that needs to be smelled. Or a really, really good book that needs to be read. And we do it together. Father and daughter.

Sometimes the pitstops are really painful. He teaches me about suffering or walks me through illness or humiliation. Sometimes it straight up feels like He dips me in hot tar or takes a scalpel to my soul. But He’s still driving the car. He’s still in control. His plans for me are still good, those stops merely necessary moments in the story He is writing.

And every day, it comes down to trust. Trust, trust. Always trust. Like a little child.

And every day is a choice to lean into it or not.

The heart of man plans his way,
    but the Lord establishes his steps.

Proverbs 16:9

 

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.

 

 

You Will Change, And It Will Scare You.

You Will Change, And It Will Scare You.

18 months ago, my horse hit a wall.

A metaphorical wall, of course, and the horse: also a metaphor. This is one of those “metaphorical posts”, and if you hate metaphors, feel free to back out now. But I just completed a bachelor’s degree in psychology, emphasis in counseling.

Home girl loves metaphors.

 

This is about the day I realized I was changed for good.

 

18 months ago, the same month my precious horse met her doom, I sat in a downtown, upper level office building turned counseling office. Feeling crazed and substantially lopsided, as going to counseling often makes one feel, I tread a skinny stairwell, shed my mom in the lobby, and took a seat on a ridiculously comfortable couch. (Note to the reader: counselors own REALLY comfortable couches. Seriously. Go set up an appointment JUST to sit on the couch.)

Although, to be fair, I don’t remember sparing much thought on the furniture the first day I visited that office. I was grieving, hard.

My horse…

I couldn’t believe she was gone. For 21 years… 21 years of her companionship, of her steady walk, the way her leg muscles leaned and stretched into bumps along the way, keeping me upright. I felt naked.

If I’m honest, I was there to bring her back. She hit a wall but she wasn’t gone. Surely. She was just hurt, ready to be repaired, ready to be mine again.

I needed her to be mine again. 

My crazed eyes glanced up to sound. The counselor walked into the office. 5’8″, salt and pepper, with a kind face. Greetings, then he took a seat across from me, yellow legal pad in hand.

“So, Maddie.” Crows feet aside gentle eyes met me, telling me it’s ok. “What’s going on?”

My eyes met my hands, gripping each other, hot tears stretching forward. Ugh, not yet. Why can’t I get through the story in one piece? Where was I supposed to begin? The first day I felt the cold fear? The hospital visit, so fresh I could still smell the stale sheets?

Really, though, I knew it began long ago, and must begin there again. Blonde curly hair, hand in mom’s, the day I first met her, the day I first rode her.

My horse…

I began to talk, rambling about childhood, about what I believed, about what was mine. About what was lost. Trying to put into words what is invisible but so, so real. In my heart, I knew that she was seen only by me, and my words pleaded with him to understand that it didn’t make her any less real.

His eyes coaxed me on. He was beginning to see her too.

I cried under that gaze, allowed myself to feel what had been chained, scared to exist.

Finally, from between swollen eye lids, I saw him lean back into his counselor-chair, eyes on me. Letting me be a little crazy. I couldn’t believe how good it felt.

“What was her name?”

A clock ticked somewhere, counted down the money filled seconds, time to put my life back together even a little bit.

“What?”

“Your horse. What was her name?”

Her name. How could I never have given her a name? He stood up, began writing on a board. My eyes searched the room for some answer. It was like trying to recognize yourself in a picture, but you can’t.

Her name… 

I didn’t know.

My head raised as he stepped away from the word he had penned.

Control”. I stared at it. Inky black on the once white canvas. It seemed foreign. I didn’t understand.

He took my silence as reason to explain. “I think that’s her name. Control.” He sat back down, shifted his legs. “That is your loss. That is what died. A sense of control.”

I stared at him.

“You rode her for 21 years.” He went on. “She was like a horse, a steady one. Every time the road got rough, she was there. You may have suffered losses here and there, yet still you rode on, holding tightly to Control.”

My eyes itched from dried, salty tears. The road seemed so long.

“And now, you have watched her die.” I glance at the word on the board, distinctly aware of his words. “She finally broke, she finally fell. And this… well, this is the first mountain you have to climb without her.”

the first mountain you have to climb without her…

 

I didn’t lose control of my life that day, not really, for now I know that all I lost was an illusion. Sometimes we live under those, though. And one day bandaids are torn off and skin is exposed – scared, vulnerable skin that has never breathed.

My invisible horse was a worldview, a way of thinking, a trust. The story can come later, how I was thrown off, how that worldview hit a boulder and never got back up.

I learned that day that I never actually had control of my life. I thought I did, but I didn’t. Sometimes things happen to us that change us completely, irreversibly, and we find our selves sinking into counseling office couches trying to figure it all out.

 

16 months later, I sat in a different chair. Not as plush, but just as welcoming, and just as important.

A mentor of mine sat across a large desk, papers pushed to the side, letting me invade an hour of her busy day. My tears reminded me of that day in that downtown office, and in a way my grief was the same.

I had come a long way since I first hit the gravel. I painstakingly buried that horse, though it took much longer than I had hoped. Things in my life began to take a ground-up attitude, broken to whole, and I had learned to walk on my own, without Control leading me.

Or, without needing it tucked under me.

I know now that God has always had control, and I never have, and I don’t need it to drive me as long as the reigns are in the right hands.

But it was finally time to buy a new horse.

And I want to leave you with the words that were spoken to me that day, because they were good ones:

“Stop reaching back for her, Maddie. Stop reaching back to the girl you were on that horse. You’re not her anymore. You’re someone else, and that’s ok.”

Yeah, it is.

 

 

 

 

 

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.

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.