Category Archives: Relationships

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.

Because I’m With You

During my time in Asia, I visited this place called the Home of Hope. The name is kind of a misnomer, however, since the atmosphere seemed to suck every breath of hope out of my lungs. I remember my eyes stinging, whether from the equatorial sun radiating off the concrete slab beneath my dusty flip flops or from the literal stench of death, I’m not sure. Either way, I’m not sure anything could have prepared me for the holistic, embodied suffering I was about to come face to face with.

I shuffled my eighteen year old body across the cemented field, fighting back tears as I smiled at the very bodies of dehumanization. Women literally left to lay out in the sun, crapping in their pants, and scratching the lice in their hair until they die. If there was anything that was going to strip any “savior mentality” view of service and missions away, this was it. Lotion bottle in hand, I was here to just love these women; there was literally nothing effective or practical that I was equipped to do. That sounded more romantic than it felt as I sat down next to a woman whose sun-leathered body looked older than her eyes told me she was.

I motioned that I could rub lotion on her hands, if she wanted. Without hesitating, she pulled down a piece of fabric that could barely be considered basic clothing and patted her arms. Looking into her desperate eyes, I began rubbing lotion on her arms and chest, smiling awkwardly and fighting the urge to find a corner that I could lose it in. Suddenly and without warning, she reached out and grabbed my hand, beginning to babble in a language I couldn’t understand. Hindi, Telugu, Tagalong, Kannada – it didn’t matter, because regardless, I couldn’t understand her. As I listened to syllables that held no meaning, looking with eyes that communicated care and slight confusion. Nodding occasionally, I made my silent inquiry of God:

“Lord, I don’t know what I’m doing. I just want to let this woman know how deeply You love her and, literally, all I can do is sit here, listening to her talk with words I don’t understand. I believe in Your power, so I know that you could open my ears to understand her. But is that what will bring You the most glory here? Where are you, Jesus?”

Inaudibly, He spoke tenderly: Maddie, just be with her. Listen to her, not for the sake of responding or fixing anything, but for the sake of letting her know she’s heard. My glory is here because you are choosing to see her, to listen to her, to sit with her in the midst of her suffering, simply because it’s where she is. And it’s where I am too.

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I was reminded of this story tonight at dinner with a friend. As he asked about recent hurts and weights upon my heart, our conversation became an illumination of something that my soul craves but my self-absorption often hinders me from living into well.

We need to learn how to be fully with people in their mess, in their suffering, in their hard things, in their pain, and in their experiences. Especially when we don’t understand, it takes an extra measure of intentionality remain steadfast and attentive to the daily sloughing of a tired wanderer. It’s the kind of solidarity that chooses to fight the temptation to view life only from our individualistic, comfortable lens and engage in the hard things of another’s journey for the sake of letting them know they are not alone.

We think that suffering necessitates action, and it does, but it’s the kind of action associated with lament, not trying to fix something. It’s the action that embodies the statement: “I am with you.

The specific action changes depending on the situation, however a general principle seems to be that simply being present, with an attention to the way other’s are feeling, hurting, or struggling in a way that validates it all, is a good place to start.

The thing is, this kind of embodied solidarity, this ministry of presence, is exactly the kind of thing that I see the Lord modeling in His incarnation. When Jesus goes to Mary and Martha after Lazarus is dies, He sits and weeps with them. He laments with them. If anyone could go with problem solving blazing, it was the Christ who knew he was about to raise the man from the dead. I think we miss something profound about the ministry of Jesus because we are so uncomfortable with engaging deeply with people in the places of their hurt. We have meaningful conversations that remind people we care and then we forget as soon as the candles are blown out. We forget what is hurtful, what feels isolating, and what remains hard for someone other than ourselves.

When the weight of waiting feels hard, I don’t want someone to offer me a quick fix or even tell me that the Lord is going to be faithful, that I just need to hold out for the blessing around the corner. When an LGBTQ student or someone of a racial minority opens up about feeling marginalized and alone, they aren’t looking for some problem solving, pat answer. The couple struggling with infertility doesn’t want you to tell them it’ll be okay or that you’re sorry for their pain, as the child on your lap snuggles against you. They want to know you acknowledge that it’s hard, that it sucks, and that it’s painful. It’s not about “getting it” or “fixing it” but about not letting their experiences go unnoticed. They want to know that not only are you viscerally aware of their hurt, even if you don’t get it, but that you are with them in it, whatever that means (making sure they aren’t alone, crying with them, leaving situations that are painful, letting them get angry, continually asking how they’re doing and being vulnerable yourself, etc).

I’m not saying that I know how to do this kind of embodied solidarity well; the fact that my best friend, whose dad passed away over the summer, cried the other night telling me that people are forgetting her grief indicates that I’ve got a long way to go in learning how to be fully, wholly, and truly with people in their pain. Even when I’m crying out for people to do the same for me. What’s amazing to me is that even in learning to do lament well, the process itself refines us to become more like Christ and pursue discernment. After all, we can’t do it well, in and of ourselves, because we don’t know what people need or how to engage well in their suffering. So, we keeping asking Him who loves individuals more than we ever could.

All of that to say (and apparently I had a lot to say), I think we are called to do more sitting, more weeping, and more simply being than we often do. Like Christ, we are asked to be with others, whether or not we understand their experiences or hardships, for the sake of letting them know that they are deeply known, deeply loved, and will never be alone.

5 Truths I Learn When I Have a Crush

I’ve been thinking about this for awhile. Basically the past ten years. I went through middle school immersed in the “true love waits/kiss dating goodbye” Christian culture, so I spent a lot of my younger years thinking that crushing on a boy was inherently wrong. In my little twelve year old mind, I often equated crushing on a boy with sin.

Now, don’t misread me.  I’ve seen the ways the Lord used a lot of what I learned back in my younger years to teach me about His love and increase my value in the discipline of waiting. I don’t know that I would have the relationship I have with Jesus if it hadn’t been for the past ten years of pursuing Him and, way more than that, watching Him pursue me. The value of learning to fight for an undistracted love for the Lord spans beyond words.

However, I’ve since realized that there’s a difference between having an uncontested, unrivaled love for the Lord and running from things that He could potentially use to draw me to Himself (or draw others to Himself). There’s a difference between my obedience and pursuit of Christ’s righteousness, and the way I can hold myself to some standard of holiness that is more legalistic and harmful than it is Biblical. There’s a difference between being consumed, obsessed, or finding identity in a boy and having a crush.

Sometimes the Lord puts people on our hearts to pray for them. Sometimes the Lord opens our eyes to things He is doing in other people’s lives. Sometimes people just catch our eye. It can get a little confusing when all of those things revolve around a guy and you aren’t sure what you are feeling. It can be difficult for me to discern what is Jesus and what is my own desire. But here’s the conclusion I’ve come to: Jesus uses it all for His glory. The thing is, I’m an almost 21 year old woman. Boys occupy a signifiant portion of my thoughts. It doesn’t mean I’m not confident, independent, or content in Jesus; it just means I’m a normal young woman with a lot of hormones (can I get an amen?). Instead of running away when a crush finds its uninvited (and usually untimely) way into my heart, I’ve started running it to Jesus. Asking Him what He’s teaching me in the middle of it. Laughing with Him when it’s funny (’cause it always is). Crying with Him when it’s frustrating. Praying for others when they come to mind. Learning to embrace the story He’s writing, with however many hilarious or confusing twists and turns He chooses to throw in along the way.

Because, strange as it may sound, I’ve realized recently that having a crush often leads me closer to Jesus. I learn Biblical truths every time some guy catches my attention and makes my heart beat a little faster. So, I thought I’d share some of them with you:

1.) Little things should lead us to gratitude and worship.

The other day, the guy I have a crush on said hey to me. It was literally smallest, most insignificant thing that could’ve happened. And maybe I’m just crazy, but it made me smile. It wasn’t a big deal in the grand scheme of life or even in my day. I didn’t overthink his hello or take it to mean he’s interested in becoming better friends. I simply received it as a small gift of the Lord to brighten my day. As I walked like a giddy child to the cafeteria, Jesus reminded me that He tucks other blessings into my days that often go unnoticed. Flowers that are still in bloom. Coffee creamer that hasn’t expired yet. Friends that give me random hugs and send encouraging texts. Snapchats from siblings that make me laugh. How many things does the Lord use to show us He loves us that we ignore because of the fast pace of our lives? How much more of His joy could we tap into if we let small blessings lead us to gratitude and the worship of the One who provides them? We can’t have a pinhole sized view of what God is doing; if we expanded our vision for His work and practiced the discipline of noticing, what would change in our hearts and lives?

 

2.) We constantly have to be on guard about our preconceived judgement of people.

I feel like this is a lesson that the Lord may have to keep teaching me in every season of my life. For as many times as He’s convicted me in this, it still seems to be a recurring pattern when I meet or think about meeting people. Part of having a crush on someone you don’t really know is making irrational judgements about them. You think they are cute. You notice little things about them that you like (or uncover things in your social media stalking). And while they may meet or exceed all your expectations of who they are, it doesn’t change the fact that you don’t actually know them. I could go down the list of people I am friends with now who I said “oh, there’s no way I’m going to be friends with them” about. People are deep and complex and we are so quick to jump to conclusions about who people are and what our relationship should be with them. What if instead of assuming that boy would make a great husband, that you could never be friends with that girl, or that person over there is too broken to be loved, we simply chose to enter into relationships without expectations or our judgmental attitudes?

 

3.) My insecurities and fears are always going to try and hinder relationships.

Why don’t I talk to the guy I think is cute and have heard is great? Fear. My age-old fears of rejection and insignificance. What if he actually has no idea who I am? What if he thinks I’m weird? What if he doesn’t like me? What if my deep seated fears that I’m really not lovable, good enough, or desirable are confirmed? Well. . .what if? I’m good at playing the what if game and I’m guessing you are to. Humans have been playing it since the beginning of time, basically since Eve asked “what if” in the garden. It’s these questions and fears that, when not submitted to God,  hinder our relationships with others and distance our relationship with Him. My flesh is always looking for ways to protect itself, to protect the image I’ve created, to protect my heart. Dwelling on insecurities or past hurts builds walls in my heart. The kind of walls that ruin vulnerability or stop me from bold obedience to the Lord. These issues and fears are constantly resurfacing, often in different forms or with different language. When the Lord choses to use a crush to reveal them and get me to work through them, it may not be pleasant, but it’s always so good.

 

4.) It’s okay to laugh in the midst of lament (and if you are laughing at yourself, that’s okay too!).

Yes, there are serious parts of life. There’s incredible grief and problems in the world. There is suffering in the lives of the people around me. And yes, we have to fight against sin and lust and distractions without compromise or joking about the ways they seek destruction. But that doesn’t mean that we aren’t allowed to laugh. I live a pretty hilarious life, mostly because I always seem to end up in the most random, awkward, ridiculous situations. A lot of these situations involve my crushes. Like when I run into people because I’m not paying attention to where I’m going. Like when I don’t anticipate my crush showing up somewhere and I trip over myself in panic. Like when I don’t realize I have a crush on someone until I have to talk to them and then I can’t get words out of my mouth. It’s funny stuff, y’all. It makes me laugh. It makes my friends laugh when I burst into our apartment and go “you’ll never guess what happened today!” It makes my mom laugh when I call her and dramatically retell one of my stories from the day. I’m realizing that it’s okay to laugh at myself and my life. It doesn’t mean that I don’t recognize the suffering in my circles or the world. It doesn’t mean that I’m not lamenting or crying out to Jesus for the redemption that seems so far off. It doesn’t mean my heart isn’t breaking. We can choose joy in the midst of pain.

 

5.) I have to trust the God who is in control of my life.

This is perhaps the most significant and transformational thing that I learn every time some guy catches my eye. If you walk away from this post with nothing else, regardless of where you are in life or what your “crush status” is, I pray that you are reminded of this: the Lord is trustworthy and He is for us. Having a crush always challenges my ability to make things happen. It’s amazing the things we will do when we try to get someone’s attention or want to put ourselves in a situation near them. I become the conductor of my own orchestra. But you know what always happens? It’s the times I don’t plan it or force it or try to make things happen when something actually does. It’s when I finally give things over to the Lord that He can actually take them where He’s planned for them to go. This isn’t only true for my relationships. It’s true with my finances. It’s true with my five-year plan. It’s true with my dreams of ministry. It’s true in area single area of my life. God asks us to submit to His Lordship and that means we aren’t in control. We aren’t called to make things happen, we are called to trust Him and walk in obedience. A phrase that I’ve gone back to a lot in my life is “His glory is His prerogative.” Maybe his glory means that you and your crush will get married and it’ll be this amazing testimony to His faithfulness. Or maybe His glory is in what He’s refining in your heart through noticing a boy that you’ll never actually meet. At the end of the day, we have no idea what He is doing. And the freeing part is that it’s not up to us to figure it out. We’ve got to jump into His streams of unending grace and trust that He knows what He is doing. Because He really does.

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Tuesday Night Devotional on Community

One of the blessings (and honestly one of my favorite parts) of being a Christian Education major is the regularity with which we hear and plan class devotionals or lessons. For my Tuesday night Spiritual Theology class, I had to lead closing reflections and prayer this week. These passages from Bonhoeffer had been on my mind recently and as I prayed through them, I realized it was what I should share with the class. Wouldn’t you know, the topic of the class session was the church and Christian community. . .

“In the Christian community thankfulness is just what it is anywhere else in the Christian life. Only he who gives thanks for little things receives the big things. We prevent God from giving us the great spiritual gifts He has in store for us, because we do not give thanks for daily gifts. We think we dare not be satisfied with the small measure of spiritual knowledge, experience, and love that has been given to us, and that we must constantly looking forward eagerly for the highest good. Then we deplore the fact that we lack the deep certainty, the strong faith, and the rich experience that God has given to others, and we consider this lament to be pious. We pray for the big things and forget to give thanks for the ordinary, small (and yet really not small) gifts. How can God entrust great things to one who will not thankfully receive from Him the little things? If we do not give thanks daily for the Christian fellowship in which we have been placed, even where there is no great experience, no discoverable riches, but much weakness, small faith, and difficulty; if on the contrary, we only keep complaining to God that everything is so paltry and petty, so far from what we expected, then we under God from letting our fellowship grow according to the measure and riches which are there for all of us in Jesus Christ.” Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together

I am all about expecting God to do big things. I have a firm belief in the power of prayer and the call of believers to intercede for things that seem impossible. I think we often forget that the one we speak with is He “who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us” (Ephesians 3:20). 

That being said, Bonhoeffer is onto something here that I think is a real danger for Christians, especially those living in Christian community. Honestly, the more prominent and pervasive the community, the easier it can be to fall into. We formulate these expectations of what our community should look like and we are left disappointed and frustrated when it doesn’t happen. Or when we realize the people around us are messy, broken, sinful people that are capable of hurting us and letting us down. We start asking God to move in big ways, peering over to see what He will do like a kid on Christmas morning. But we miss what He’s doing right in front of us. In praying for the Red Seas to part, we miss the ways the Lord is loving us and moving in the midst of our everyday (whether that’s in Egypt or the Promise Land).

The people that the Lord has put around us are a blessing. They are a privilege. Christian community is not something we deserve, have earned, or are good enough for. There are hundreds of thousands of believers around the world who are lacking fellowship with brothers and sisters.

I get it – your community may not look the way you want. You may be living among broken people and in messy situations, situations where you are expecting God to move in mighty ways. God may not be bringing the relationships you want, whether that means He’s not bringing them at all or He’s bringing different ones than you wanted. Or maybe your community is amazing and you are in danger of elevating the people in your life on an unrealistic pedestal.

I’m convicted by Bonhoeffer’s words about receiving both the big and small things from God. The thing is, I often can’t see the small things with my own human vision (how often do I even miss the big things!). Which means that this growth is going to require the Lord’s grace and Spirit to open the eyes of my heart to see all that He is doing.

The good thing is, He loves to do that.

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On Encouragement.

“He died for us so that, whether we are awake or asleep, we may live together with him. Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing. Now we ask you, brothers and sisters, to acknowledge those who work hard among you, who care for you in the Lord and who admonish you. Hold them… Read more. . .

We Weren’t Meant to Do This Alone

And yet, so often I try. I rely on Jesus, sure, but I don’t want to bother other people. I think I wrote a post back before the blog crash of 2013 about why it’s ok to have needs without being needy. I guess this is that same sort of theme. This weekend, there was… Read more. . .