Category Archives: Journaling

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.

When I Trust from the Stroller

It was the appropriately coined “solo day” on Wheaton Passage, the transition retreat for incoming Wheaton freshmen. This was our final stop after a day of fasting, prayer, and silence. Another park, this one a little less beautiful than the one before.

As I sat there on the patchy grass, trying to keep my thoughts off my rumbling stomach and lack of new thoughts to journal about, I rested my back against a less-than-comfortable tree. My wandering eyes roamed around the open Bible and journal on my lap and eventually fixed upon a woman with her son a few feet in front of me. I couldn’t help but smile as I watch the young boy chase a squirrel in circles around the tree, his mom resting her arms against the back of the stroller.

And as I sat, content to watch the young boy’s joy and delight in the simple things of life, drawing parallels for my own need for delight in life, the moment was interrupted. Just as my my heart was settling into the sweetness of the moment, the mom came behind the boy, scooped him up, and proceed to strap him into the stroller. He began to kick and scream, protesting the abrupt end to his playtime. I watched as he pulled his shoes off, his patient mother picking them up and pushing the stroller away.

Flashbacks of babysitting flooded my mind. The boy has had his fun and now it’s time to go home. It’s what’s best for him. It’s about dinner time anyways. He’s probably hungry, although he was probably too distracted to realize it. In the young boys mind, nothing could be more wonderful than chasing the squirrel in the park. But he doesn’t know what’s best for him. He doesn’t see that the constraints of the stroller are bringing him to deeper places of care and necessity. He can’t see past his own little boy vision of what he wants and what he’s not getting.

And as I reflected on this reality, I began to write. . .

“Is that really how it is, God? I wander around this world, sometimes it leads me to discover something new about your world and sometimes it leads me to be a little too far away from You. I cry when you put me back in my spiritual stroller. I pitch a fit when I don’t get what I think I want. I feel hurt. I feel frustrated. I throw a temper tantrum at the God of heaven because you let me. But deep down I know it’s for my own good. I just don’t see what you are doing. Your delight is in watching me laugh and explore the world you are showing me. You love it when I delight in You. You correct me – always seeming to me, in the moment, harsher than it actually is. I don’t appreciate how much you love me. I don’t value that all you have is your glory and my good in view. I’m sorry. Increase my view of grace. Teach me what it means to trust you, in the things that make sense and in the things that don’t. Jesus, renew a steadfast spirit in me.” Friday, August 16, 2013

And two years later, I’m as convicted by this truth as I was sitting by the tree that day.

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A Prayer Journal Entry

Brace yourselves. I’m about to get real, real over here.

When I was praying the other night, I had to have some Maddie and Jesus honesty time. And while normally Maddie and Jesus talks stay between Maddie and Jesus, I felt like I needed to share these. First, I want to let you know where I’ve been spiritually. I should only be sharing highlights if I’m not afraid to be real about the less than ideal stuff too. Second, I want to let you know if you have been in/are in/will ever be in a weird, confused, and kind of upset but also still in love with Jesus place that doesn’t totally make sense, you aren’t alone. I’m pretty sure it’s just part of the journey. And finally, I wanted to let you read how I write when I pray, since I’ve found writing things down often helps me sort through what I’m thinking or what I feel like the Holy Spirit is speaking. I love learning how other people connect with Jesus or use their journals, so maybe you care about that kind of thing too.

This is a genuine, recent entry out of my prayer journal (excluding some personal details). Welcome to the heart of a girl whose life isn’t always on-my-knees-first-thing-in-the-morning and praying-for-the-cashier-because-the-Holy-Spirit-said-to kind of love for Jesus. Sometimes my love for Jesus, in a very non-glamourous way, means I have to tell Him I’ve had some expectations that He hasn’t met. And we have to deal with that. So this entry actually has a lot of uncomfortable vulnerability and bad theology. Yeah, I know. Don’t say I didn’t (…say I didn’t) warn you.

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Where’s my first love, Lord?

Where’s the love and zeal I used to have for you?

It’s not that I stopped loving You. Or stopped pursuing You. Or stopped believing in You. But I’m lying to myself if I say that we are okay. That everything is like it used to be.

I’ve doubted Your power. I’ve questioned Your love. I’ve believed that You aren’t wholly trustworthy. I’ve relied on my own strength. I’ve dismissed the ways You’ve moved and spoken in my past. I’ve ignored Your voice. I’ve accepted some easy, powerless rhythm with You as normal and comfortable. I’ve stopped clinging to the truth that You are as good as You say You are. Because, why?

I used to run to You. To prayer. To listening. To community. To worship. To deep places and deep things. To just being with You. 

It’s like my Spirit was all dried up by questions and confusion and unmet expectations. 

I think I’m angrier with you than I want to believe. I’ve followed you so wholeheartedly. My family has followed you so wholeheartedly. I could go down the list Lord. I just don’t understand. . .

And I know. I know what You’ll say. Maybe that’s why I’ve let the fire fade, or something. Because I don’t want to hear, “You aren’t supposed to understand. You have to just trust me.” Again. 

I can hear the bad theology reverberating in my head. I know what lies sound like. But I can’t help but feel like You’ve broken promises to me. I feel like You’ve let me down.

I hate that because I know it’s not true. I hate that because my life isn’t dramatically or catastrophically falling apart. And maybe, even more, I hate that because I don’t know how to fix it. I don’t know how to get back to the old us.

It’s not that I don’t love You. It’s not that I don’t want to love You. I want to want You again. I want my first love. I want pictures and discernment and just being with You. I want to believe in the power of prayer and the weight and glory of everything You can do. I want hours in your presence that feel like just a few minutes. I want You to the be the first and last thing I think about everyday. I want to pray for people and encourage people and see Your heart for people again. I want to remember what it’s like to be overwhelmed with all the finite love I’m capable of for You. I want to be overwhelmed by Your infinite love for me. I want to be reminded. I need You to remind me.

Wanting it is enough, right? It has to be enough. I feel like it’s all I have.

I don’t know when my Spirit dried up or died down. I don’t know when one of our wheels slipped off the track. I don’t know when I started building up cynicism or anger or hurt towards You. But I need you to teach me how to seek Your face again. Because I really do love You.

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Some Letters to Myself

As I started post draft after post draft, unable to complete a thought about things that the Lord is teaching me, I stumbled upon something in one of my old journals.

I wrote these letters to myself a few years ago after reflecting on the past few years. I looked back on the different seasons of my life, how I viewed them and reacted in the moment, and with that 20/20 hindsight vision, gave my younger self some advice.

It may be theoretical or pointless because I can’t go back and tell my 9, 13, or 16 year old self anything, but what’s amazing is how many of the things I still need to hear today. That despite 5 or 10 more years of story after story of the Lord’s faithfulness, I still let my heart get overwhelmed, I still worry about circumstances, or have to preach His trustworthiness to my heart. So here’s a glimpse into my younger heart (and, let’s be real, some of my heart today):

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 Dear 9 year old Maddie,

You are dealing with stuff in school. One day it’s great and you and your friends have a secret handshake, and the next you don’t feel cool or pretty enough. I know you think some of the girls are prettier than you. I know you wonder why some people are best friends with the other girls and not you. I know you are secretly jealous of the friendship the other girls have and the way the teacher prefers them. I also know that when the “pretty” girls include you, you let it cover your insecurity. I know how you make fun of one of the girls because you think she’s a little more awkward (and you secretly feel left out and awkward). But I know that she hurt your feelings when she didn’t like the book you gave her at the book swap. I also know that it kind of hurts when she gets all the attention, even if it’s because people are joking about her and the boy you think is cute. I know how you are trying to figure boys out (you’ll never be able to, just so ya know). I know you feel crazy when you go back and forth, thinking they are cute, but still annoying. I also know how you feel when they pay attention to you. And you don’t know what to do with that in terms of your relationship with Jesus. CALM DOWN. Things like someone not liking the book you brought to a book swap is really not a big deal, although I know it really feels like it in the moment. It’s good that you want to be people’s friends and you want to love them – never lose that to cynicism (you will for a period). But Mads, always make sure you are someone friend or not someone’s friend for the right reasons. See everyone through the eyes of Christ, not what they can do for your identity and insecurity. You won’t stay close to a lot of these people from elementary school anyways. So learn to love them in the moment and don’t be afraid for the Lord to only keep them in your life for a season. Find your worth in Him alone. He’s the only one that can completely fill your desires to be loved and pursued. Your life is going to change and things will get better, but you won’t always see it in the moment. Don’t forget to cling to the Lord and keep things in perspective.

Love, Me.

Dear 13 year old Maddie,

You are letting everything overwhelm you. Take a deep breath, babe. It’s all ok. It is all going to be ok. What you are so concerned about doesn’t really matter in the long run. In fact, you are going to read back over these journal entries some day and laugh at how big and important some of the smallest things seemed. But the fact that you are putting and pouring your heart out before the Lord is amazing. Don’t lose that. Don’t get so caught up in everything else that you forget that He is everything in the first place. You are about to face the loneliest time in your teenage life. A lot of friends are going to leave your life, church stuff is about to get messy, and you are going to feel like the new friends you are making aren’t happening fast enough. Go wholly to God in this. Your relationship will grow leaps and bounds during this time with Him. Don’t forget to forgive people in the middle of this. They are doing the best they can and the Lord is going to use it all for His glory, even though it may hurt pretty bad in the moment. You are going to hit a lot of emotional highs and lows in the next few years. You aren’t crazy and it won’t last forever. Rest in the unchanging nature of God and let it all play it. I promise, it’s going to be okay. Combat the anger and cynicism that bubbles up. Let the Lord refine you in this desert and appreciate the blessing when He sends it. When you don’t see the blessing? Appreciate Him and realize His infinite love for you.

Love, Me.

Dear 16 year old Maddie,

Welcome to a very maturing year for you. You are going to have some of the deepest moments with the Lord, and also some pretty shallow relational and academic failures. You are going to wrestle with praise and hypocrisy and fitting in. You are going have some wonderful insight and write things to and about the Lord in this time. Never forget to be grateful for what the Lord brought you out of and spared you from. Embrace church and the people in it – they aren’t perfect and there will be times of confusion, but the Lord is going to be so in it. You just have to search for Him. Don’t let your overthinking interfere with the spiritual depths the Lord wants to bring you to. Stop worrying about your friendships, especially with guys. It’s really all okay. Stop worrying about your future. I know you probably won’t believe me, because I know how overwhelming it feels to your young heart, but the Lord really is going to work everything out in some pretty amazing ways. Cling tightly to the One who has never and will never change or leave. He loves you more than anyone else ever will. His plans for you far supersede your plans for yourself. Trust Him.

Love, Me.

You may not be a 9, 13, or 16 year old reading this. In fact, you may be significantly past 20. And you could probably write me a letter with the incredible wisdom you’ve accumulated that’s more impactful than any of these. And maybe it’s not even the content of these letters that means anything to you. Maybe it’s the fact of looking back and hypothetically writing to yourself after seeing the big picture. Because we know the Lord sees it all. He sees us in the past, He sees us now, and He sees us in the future.

And in that future, what do you think you’d be saying to your heart now? It’s probably a lot of the same things Jesus may be saying to your heart that you have tuned out (guilty as charged over here). Are you trusting in the ability of the Lord to carry your burdens? Are the “mountains” in your life as big of a deal as you think they are? And if they are, are you seeing them in light of the love and sovereignty and redemption of the Lord, even if it doesn’t make sense in the moment?

Because here’s the deal, life’s going to keep going on until we reach the shores of eternity. And then we’ll get to look back on our whole lives and see all the places the Lord was moving when we couldn’t see it. I know there are things that I’m going to look back on 10 years from now and say, “oh Mads, if only you knew. . .”

But the less of those there are, the better. Because Jesus is good and faithful here and now. And I don’t want to miss it. Let’s pursue His unconstrained, timeless wisdom together, choosing to speak the truth of the future and the past over what we may or may not be feeling in the present.

Have a wonderful Monday. Remember, it’s all okay. He’s got you.