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.

Youth Director?

I walk into the mustard yellow-walled youth room. Minutes before they’d called my name out after worship: “make sure that later you meet our new youth director, Maddie!” Everyone had turned to face me, sitting in a back row by myself. I waved, sheepishly. The whole process of arriving at this position has been so clearly the Lord, but even as I thought back to His evident hand throughout the process, the butterflies in my stomach wouldn’t go away.

Flicking on the lights, a trail of students behind me, I find that I’m clutching the lesson plans in my hand. I know these are good, I remind myself. I’ve had three years of training to write youth group lessons like this; my professors would be proud. What’s more, it’s clear that I’m not doing this in my own strength. For as competent and prepared as my lessons feel, humility overwhelms my heart. It’s all you Jesus, I sigh, as I set my things down on the table. How is it possible to feel simultaneously so equipped and yet so inadequate? I just want these kids to like me. No, no. I want this kids to love Jesus! My heart wars with itself.

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I ask my well-crafted reflective questions, only to be met with the sound of uncomfortable, judgmental silence. Pulling back on my approach, I start delicately probing into the lives of these junior high students, grasping for any indication of who they are and what they need from me. I bring up the memory verse and find that they’ve already memorized it. Who are these kids?, I ask internally, although I’m sure my face is communicating that question. I’m met with more bored stares and side conversations. Jesus, where are you? And what am I even doing?

The seventh grader sitting next to me thinks he’s being sneaky, but I hear his whispers loud and clear, echoing the very words I’m fighting in my head: “she has no idea what she’s doing.” My heart sinks.

Oh, if you only knew, little twelve-year-old.

The fact that I keep pausing or stumbling over my words, or that I’m not asking questions in a way that anyone wants to respond to, may make it seem like I don’t know what I’m doing. But you have no idea that I spent hours writing this lesson, pulling out old curriculum building resources, incorporating educational materials that I know are valuable for spiritual formation.

The short prayer I offer up at the end of the lesson may give you the impression that I’m disinterested in your personal relationships with Jesus. What you don’t see are the hours that I’ve already spent in prayer for each of you, asking Jesus to give me His heart for you, praying that you would find yourself more in love with Him at the end of this year. That’d you’d encounter the living God in a new way through this class.

My inability to get any of you to share anything more than what instrument you play may make you think that I’m just going to give up on getting to know you. However, you don’t know that I already love each of you because I’ve seen glimpses of how much the Lord loves you. I already think you are amazing, that you are so complex, creative, and fun and all I want to do is get to know you. You don’t know that it’s breaking my heart to realize just how long it’s going to take to build these relationships.

If you only knew how many tears have already been shed over this new title, both in gratitude and anxiety. How much the Lord has already spoken about it and about you, youth group student, or how much the Enemy has been active in fighting back. How much I feel ready for this kind of job and how much I feel like I should still be the one sitting on the couch, rolling my eyes at the poor youth pastor who’s trying to get us to talk. If only you knew that’s what it feels like when Jesus calls you out of the boat and into something new.

If only you knew, that the two simple words of “youth director” carry a weight these days that I hadn’t quite imagined feeling this way.

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… Read more. . .

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. . .