overseas.

I let the papers slide from my hand into the recycling bin and climbed onto my bed. Across the room I could still see the corner of the support letter papers I’d printed out, mocking me from the trash can. Pictures from previous trips lined the bottom of blank pages where I’d planned on writing heartfelt pleas for summer funding. If you didn’t want me overseas this summer, Lord, why not start with that? Why lead me to meeting after meeting, sorting through a dozen different opportunities and organizations, to find one that I was sure I sensed You moving in, only to have it all fall through?

I’ll spare you the details of my angered, and often one-sided, spats with the Lord and suffice it to say that those pleas of winter break 2015 led into what would become the transformative summer of 2016 – all without leaving Wheaton, Illinois.

You make me laugh, Jesus.

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A year ago, I couldn’t force my way overseas; I know because I tried. It was like trying to fit a square peg into a round hole – nothing fit, felt right, or worked out in the end. In typical, omniscient God fashion, He knew better. Little did I know that I needed both the refinement and redemption that would come from a summer working at World Relief in Wheaton. So, with initial begrudging, I let the Lord do what He wanted to do. I should’ve expected this, but as it turned out, the last year has been so clearly the Lord; way better than any plan I had tried to concoct for myself.

I could take you through the successive, crazy, it-has-to-be-the-Lord-because-otherwise-it-doesn’t-make-sense chain of events that has followed since the summer (but let’s be real, He’s been moving in those kinds of themes for a lot longer than the winter of 2015). I struggle to find a starting place and would you even believe me if I tried? Maybe later I’ll start writing down some of those individual stories. They aren’t necessarily grand or exciting, just lots of little moments and random connections that the Lord likes to break through in.

I’m looking at my calendar and three trips overseas sit in front of me – trips that I didn’t plan or go looking for. Trips that scream the name of Jesus and the continual call to simply trust what He’s doing. A trip to Europe with friends, better friends than my lonely and scared freshman year self could’ve dreamt up, exploring the countries where a missions organization that I’m considering works. A trip to the British Isles with family, an unexpected blessing that has opened the door to potentially meet missionaries working with refugees in a context that I’ve been praying about for awhile. And a vision trip, to a country in the Middle East, where I’ll get to experience what the Lord is doing in refugee camps up close, and tangibly discern further what He’s leading me into long term.

I say all of this for two reasons:

  1. because I would love your prayer as I go on these trips and take the next eight months to really press in, pray, and discern not only what the Lord is doing in the moment, but what He may be leading me into long term. It’s all the normal prayers for direction that anyone with an impending graduation date (although mine is a little extended because of a master’s program) needs, with a little extra tacked on because if He’s asking me to raise support and move halfway around the world, that can feel just a little daunting. (If you want a prayer card to tuck in your bible or stick on your fridge, let me know!)
  2. because every story, be it stories of the details or the overarching narrative of the past year, points directly back to the trustworthiness and faithfulness of Christ! I don’t know where you are at in terms of believing the Lord or what you need Him to do; I don’t know what He’s doing in your life or what situations of dependance He’s put you in (or perhaps you are running from). But I know this – He is more gracious, powerful, and wise than we often give Him credit for.

meeting Jesus in the quiet

I’ve become hesitant to talk so frequently about having “quiet time,” “devo time,” or “time with the Lord.” Not because I don’t think it’s one of the most important ways we can spend our time, but because it’s not the most important. In our individualistic, western view of Christianity, it’s easy to adapt a solely personal and isolated view of our faith and relationship with Jesus. We can lose a value for cooperate worship, fellowship, prayer, giving, and service when it becomes, albeit subconsciously, a me-centered emphasis. There’s a fine line, which isn’t to say that spending time alone with God isn’t imperative or universally commanded (Jesus Himself makes it clear that He needs time in solitude and seclusion with just the Father).

After all, my time alone with Jesus leads to some of the most necessary, precious, and life-giving moments of my day.

However, sometimes I believe a lie about my time alone with the Lord. I’ve been fed this idea, through a variety of often hidden means, that every time I sit down before Jesus and force myself to be aware of His Spirit, usually with Scripture open, that I should expect something profound. I’m sitting before the God of the universe and I’m told to approach with a sense of expectation. If I don’t walk away with some incredible spiritual revelation about my life or someone else, what was the point? What am I supposed to tell people about my “quiet time” when they ask?

The point of our time with the Lord isn’t anything more than our being. Stop. Period. It begins and ends with our willingness to simply show up and be. To still our hearts and minds, as best we can, and listen to Him, as best we can, because we not only affirm that He’s worth it but we prove it by our actions. We genuinely and wholeheartedly believe that He is worth our time, our attention, our hearts, our minds, and our response.

It’s less about what I walk away with and more about who I’m slowly becoming.

Ten minutes of alone time with Jesus doesn’t necessarily guarantee my spiritual rejuvenation.

What it does is remind my soul, whether I feel it or not, that I’m the Beloved. It reminds my spirit what His voice sounds like, whether or not I feel like I’m hearing it in the moment. It sensitizes my soul to His nearness. So that when His whispers and nudges come in the midst of the noise of my daily life, I’m more able to recognize it.

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books you should read in 2017

You know the child with the semi-boyish haircut, pink dress, and princess slippers, curled up in some corner of the first-grade classroom with a book several levels above her reading level scrunched up against her face? That was me. On more than one occasion, I was grounded from a book series because it was causing me to “disengage and ignore the family.” Books have always been friends to the introvert in me and partners to challenge and shape my ideas. I’m always looking for new ones – inspiring, convicting, challenging, fantastical, and well told stories of someone or someplace else that changes the way I view life now.

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I don’t really recommend things unless I really really like them. I’m not always keen on taking other people’s recommendations because I’ve been told one too many times that something was amazing and it ended up not being my cup of tea. The books that I mention below I’m not just recommending, I’m highly recommending. They may not be for everyone, but they should be for most because they are just that good. This is my it-was-way-past-my-bedtime-and-I-was-still-reading collection. If you’re looking for some 2017 recommendations, here were some of my 2016 favorites:

Denise Ackernmann is a female, Anglican theologian who writes six letters on themes of liberation, feminism, racism, the power of naming, and suffering. Her writing includes experiences growing up during apartheid in South Africa and wrestles with what it means to truly walk like Jesus.

screen-shot-2017-01-01-at-2-04-32-pmNew favorite genre: missionary autobiographies. I’ve made my through a fair share of missionary
biographies and they’re often as inspiring as a biography can get. But, like with any biography, they run the risk of idealizing and romanticizing the tension and mundanity of ordinary people’s lives. To read Helen Roseveare’s stories of being a medical missionary in the Congo, as told by Helen herself, through the lens of Deuteronomy 6:5 and sacrifice, is something altogether profound. You can be sure I’ll be not only re-reading this book in 2017, but exploring her other writings as well.

If you aren’t big into reading or if you want to introduce children to the refugee crisis and what it’s like to be a resettling refugee, this is a beautiful, simple, powerful telling of that story. It’s the story of Kek, a Sudanese refugee who gets resettled in Minnesota. The first person narrative and poetic-styled prose is accessible and pertinent in light of current global issues.

Another missionary story book for you, this one about a catholic priest who worked among the Masai people in east Africa. Amazing stories are in and of themselves worthwhile, but the questions they raise about evangelism, eucharist, ministry, and the overall nature of the church are incredibly presented and imperative for inspiring, personal, and theological wrestling.

This is less of a read-through kind of book and more of a wonderful resource for praying through the countries. It includes petition and praise points for each countries, updated in 2015 and submitted by natives and missionaries of those countries. If you’re committing to more intercessory prayer in 2017, this is worthwhile book to have on your nightstand – the cultural facts will help orient your prayers and the format of the book will help you stay focused (instead of, say, googling the country).

If you want more adult telling of refugee stories, this is a haunting and compellingly told book of nine stories from the world’s largest refugee camp. They can be read individually, which makes this long book more attainable, although the stories themselves may make it hard for you to pull away.

There’s a long compilation of books that I’m hoping to read at some point this year, so if you need more than what I’ve given you above, here’s an abridged version of that list:

Silence by Shuasako Endo

In the Land of Blue Burqas by Kate McCord

Spiritual Friendship by Wesley Hill

Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson

Terrapin by Wendell Berry

Life of the Beloved by Henri Nouwen

Jesus Through Middle Eastern Eyes by Kenneth Bailey

An Altar in the World by Barbara Taylor

Great Need Over the Water by Stina Katchadourian

The Land of Stories by Chris Colfer

Alexander Hamilton by Ron Chernow

Happy reading and may you find yourself lost in new worlds, captivating ideas, and fantastic stories this year!

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known and loved.

I have this theory about life, which I’ve likely borrowed from any number of books or lectures I’ve heard over the past 21 years, and here it is:

our deepest longing as people is to be known and loved.

We live busy, rushed lives where these things often get pushed to the wayside. Meaningful connections and moments are replaced by a hurried pace and self-absorbed actions. Our deepest desires manifest themselves in other ways as we seek to be known by others – through what we post on social media, through the way we talk about ourselves, through self-promotion of the things that give us confidence. All of that stems out of a longing to be unconditionally loved; when we don’t feel that kind of love, we question whether or not all of us is worth loving, and we engage in subsequent image management. If we control what people know then by a strange association we can control their love. Thus, we continually seek approval, relationships (whether emotionally or physically intimate), and anything else that enables our desire to either run away from engaging in deep knowing/loving of others or to pursue it in ways where we still maintain control.

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So tonight, I find myself curled up in my Clemson blanket, next to a candle that I’m not technically supposed to have lit, in the sunroom, writing out a tentative plan for highschool small group tomorrow. I’m drawing from Bonhoeffer’s God is in the Manger for themes of waiting, hearing, and the season of Advent in general. I’m intentionally leaving space at the end of the time for the girls to reflect and develop a personal awareness to the movement of the Holy Spirit in the space we’ve allotted for that kind of thing. The tentativeness of the plan comes from a desire to the let these girls, on the precipice of adulthood, have some level of say in what their small group looks like. If they want to talk about something else for two hours, that’s fine. I’m flexible.

As I’m hitting a sweet spot in terms of typing out potential questions and spaces for their engagement, I realize there’s a foundational principle that I want to keep in mind, both in my planning and in the way I lead the time tomorrow. So, I scroll back to the top of my note and type: “remember, the goal is that these girls would leave knowing that they are both loved and known, not only by me but infinitely more so by the incarnate God of the universe.” It’s a principle that I want guiding not only this youth ministry but every action of my life. To do whatever I can in making people feel known and loved, whether thats intimate relationships or passing interactions, for the sake of reflecting but a shadow of the love and knowledge that our Creator has for us. He’s El Roi, the God who sees us. How can I choose to see others so that they might feel His presence?

Yet as I sat in the sunroom tonight, typing out that simple reminder, it was like a tidal wave of grace overcame me:

“you know that’s true for you too Maddie”

I can’t adequately explain when Jesus speaks in these kind of moments; I just know that I’m never the same. Because when He says things like this, it touches on the deepest parts of who I am. Everything else slips away as I sit in the presence of my incarnate Savior, the One who indwells my faithless, sinful, fragile being. And yet, it’s that being, every intricate part of it, that He knows more intimately than I can imagine and loves more deeply than I will ever understand.

Because when we spend our days focused on making others feel known and loved, it’s easy for our souls to forget just how deeply we are known and loved ourselves. While He demonstrates that love in a myriad of ways, not the least of which is lavishing love upon us in community, there is something fundamentally central and profound about the depth at which He, El Roi Himself, knows and loves us.

I don’t know about you, but that truth feels overwhelmingly enough for my soul. Now, for the grace to walk in it.