Tag Archives: college

So It Begins Again

It’s so good to see people in the dining hall. To bump into people between classes. To have familiar voices filling our apartment stairwell. To listen to my friend’s stories. To give big, lingering hugs to people I’ve come to know as family.

The boxes have been unpacked. The textbooks have been purchased. The dekes have been trained. I’m sitting in the library, avoiding a paper that’s due tomorrow, dwelling on the blessing of great conversation at lunch and pending dinner plans with a friend before night class. It’s raining, Audrey Assad is playing on my Pandora, and my heart is incredibly full. Junior year has officially begun.

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It’s a strange place to be. Wheaton has officially become my home; the people here are my family. And yet, I feel like I’m watching this season of my life rapidly come to a close. I’m over halfway done with my undergraduate studies. And praise God I’m not who I was freshman year. . .but I also wonder how much closer I actually feel to the woman I desire to be.

At the start of my freshman year I wrote about the top ten lessons I learned in my first two weeks at Wheaton. Most of them had to do with adjusting to people and learning to give myself grace in the midst of surfacing insecurities. Freshman year was a little rough around the edges, y’all. Then, at the start of my sophomore year, I gave an update on the things Jesus was teaching me about how to see people like He does. I wrote about how I was doing, where words like overwhelmed, distracted, and grateful came to mind. Remember the line I wrote at the beginning of sophomore year: “I forget to dwell on truth and then I wonder why I’m going crazy” – yeah, we are still working on that. 

It’s amazing to look back on the frustrating small talk and growth of freshman year or the mental over-processing and deep friendships of sophomore year. And now I feel like I’m standing on the bow of a ship that’s just left the dock into the vast unknown that is Junior year. I see so much excitement and potential for this year. It’s already been some of the most blessed, life-giving weeks of my life. And while it is all so good, Junior year also terrifies me. It scares me because I have a tendency to overthink things and have always felt a little too uncomfortable with the unknown. It scares me because everything feels a little different. Most of the differences are amazing because I see so much growth in them. The year feels different because I feel different. More free. More whole. Closer to Jesus.

And yet, for all the beauty that Jesus has led me into over the past two years and even in the past two weeks, I can’t forget to give myself grace in other places that feel different. Relationships that feel different. Hopes and dreams that feel different. Desires that are different. Decisions that are different, and, let’s be real, so much bigger than they’ve ever been.

This year, I want to say yes to more things than I say no to, even if they put me outside my comfort zone. I want to say and do things in confidence, without overthinking all the possible outcomes. I want to love others without limits, while learning to balance my emotional investment with the need for emotional boundaries. I want my love for Jesus and people to be reflected in my actions; I want to do the things I think about. I want to live a life of whimsy, laughter, and joy from the Lord and I want junior year to be where I really begin to live that out.

I want this to be a year of seeking. Seeking more of Jesus. Seeking out His people. Seeking first His Kingdom. Seeking opportunities to love and serve others. Seeking His will. Seeking what is true, not what I want to be true. And in all of my seeking, to always find Him as my good Father, knowing that being loved by Him is the most important thing about me. And the most important thing about everyone else I get the privilege of loving.

It’s going to be a great year, filled with things I couldn’t even imagine or predict if I tried, and it’s all because He is a great God. His love for us is so incomprehensibly deep. His plans for us are so unimaginably greater and higher than anything we dream. And that’s the reality we step into every time a new year rolls around.

So here’s to Junior year, Wheaton College.

Letting Him Lead

My freshman year of college I learned to swing dance.

I’ll never forget when one of my friends pulled me out into the middle of the gym floor after I had learned the basic East Coast Swing step. We began moving our feet in sync, but the tension in my arms indicated my trepidation as I hesitantly responded to his movements. My eyes were glued to our feet, as I tried to predict the next step we would take. One failed spin too many, I finally got a laughing, “Mads, stop. You have to let me lead.”

I’ve since learned a lot about swing dancing from my irregular attendance to the lessons and dances over the past two years. I’ve learned the wrong flats will give you terrible blisters. I’ve learned how  spandex shorts under dresses are a girl’s best friend. I’ve learned I’m not actually a bad follow; I just need to be dancing with a lead that I trust. Even when I trust my lead, I have to keep my eyes off our feet if I want to stop trying to predict the next move and actually enjoy the dance.

I love empowering women but for swing dancing to work you have to have a lead and a follow. It’s just how the dance works. Partner dancing where two people are trying to call the shots is always a mess. He initiates the spin and I respond by spinning. He catches my back and I lean into the dip. While my time at the Wheaton swing dances wasn’t spent drawing parallels to my spiritual life, the passage my pastor read on Sunday, from Luke 9, reminded me of the eternal dance I’m in with the Lord. The Message phrases verse 23 this way:

Anyone who intends to come with me has to let me lead. You’re not in the driver’s seat—I am.” 

It’s a pretty simplistic correlation: the Lord is our lead and we are His follow.

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As I reflected on this simple truth, I’ve realized that it’s not often a lack of trust that causes me to be a hesitant follow. I’ve swing danced (swung, swinged. . .I still haven’t learned how you actually say it) with some of my best guy friends. I’ve danced with guys whose skills I wholeheartedly trusted. It’s not that I didn’t think they could lead well; I was just too busy looking at our feet to notice.

So much of the time I feel like Peter walking towards Jesus on the water. Obviously he trusted Jesus or he wouldn’t have stepped out of the boat in the first place. I don’t think Peter ever really doubted Jesus’ ability to get him across the water; he loses his focus on the trustworthy One when he looks down and begins to analyze his own movements.

Maybe you need to be reminded that Jesus is eternally and infinitely trustworthy. If you are like me you probably keep finding yourself in places where you frustratingly tell yourself: “You really believe He is trustworthy! So why then do you keep trying to control things . . . can’t you let go . . . aren’t you all in?” It’s not that you don’t think you have a trustworthy Lead. It’s not even that you are a bad follow. You just need to get your eyes off the steps and back on the Person you are dancing with. It makes for a much better view anyway.

I wish I could wrap this post up like a well constructed sermon with three take-home points on how to keep your eyes on Jesus. Sometimes my focus shifts back when I stop analyzing the minutia of every step of my life and look at the big picture of what God is doing. Sometimes it requires the opposite,  stopping my futuristic anxieties and simply living in the moment to get my eyes up. Scripture, prayer, worship, and walks in nature are always helpful in snapping my attention back. And sometimes we can become so engrossed in anticipating the steps that our patient and loving Lead Himself has to speak our name, wait for our eyes to meet His again, and whisper the reminder to our hearts: “you have to let me lead.”

For Sophomore Year and the Rest of My Life

If I’ve heard “Mads, lighten up!” one time in my life, I’ve heard it a million times. When I was younger, my dad would get me to chant the word en-thuuu-siastic, hoping to drill the idea of excitement and energy into my brain. When people call me “pensive” or “serious” or “deep,” it’s not because they don’t want to insult me by saying I’m acting standoffish and uninterested. It’s because I am. I process things. Everything in my life is deep and meaningful – which can be both good and bad.  And generally, I’m pretty even about the whole thing. I’ve never been an emotional roller coaster. That’s why sometimes my deep thinking comes across as quiet or reserved; I’m just not going to go round up a group of people to enthusiastically proclaim my newest revelations to. I love people, but I’m an introvert by nature. Welcome to the paradox that is Maddie’s life.

And I forget the Enemy knows these things too.

I feel like I’ve been on a uncertain ship the past few weeks of this semester. I couldn’t seem to get a grip on my life or my thoughts or my emotions. I didn’t understand what I was feeling or thinking, or why. One minute things were great, and the next I wasn’t sure of anything. Excuse me, this isn’t supposed to be how sophomore year goes.

Scared and confused, I ran to what I know best – processing. Crazy emotions mean something is up in my heart, right? So I need to find what that is. So, more time with Jesus? More sleep? More people? Less people? More time alone? More journaling? More worship music? More Scripture? More memorizing Scripture? I need to identify what is going on in my heart, why I’m being so affected by external things, and then I need to fix it. . .with Jesus, of course.

And so, after several weeks of this, you can imagine my exhaustion. I don’t understand what’s wrong, why I can’t get a grip on things and myself. This isn’t me. I think deeply, but when it’s in Christ it leads me to a place of enthusiasm and renewal. There is so much in my mind. What’s up??

Here’s the funny thing about emotions – they aren’t representative of our relationship with Jesus. They aren’t rational. They often don’t line up with the truth we know and believe. And that doesn’t make them any less valid or legitimate. I’m queen of ignoring what I’m really feeling because I don’t want it to conflict with the truth of who Jesus is and what He is doing. The beauty of our security in Christ, is that it is from that place of truth that we can safely bring our emotions. We can admit to Jesus how we are really feeling in the moment because we know He already has the victory. We are free to admit how we are feeling to a Savior who felt them all – but then He takes them and replaces it with His joy. . .if we’ll let Him.

“Why are you down in the dumps, dear soul? Why are you crying the blues? Fix my eyes on God- soon I’ll be praising again. He puts a smile on my face. He’s my God. When my soul is in the dumps, I rehearse everything I know of you.” Psalm 42:5, The Message

The deal with life is that it is up and down. Welcome to a broken world. Someone says something encouraging and I’m refreshed. Lunch plans get cancelled and I’m thrown off. I bomb a test and I feel like a failure. I get a CPO note and I’m encouraged. I laugh with friends at dinner and I’m grateful. I catch an unflattering glimpse of myself in a window and I’m filled with insecurity. Someone ignores me and I’m frustrated. Me. Me. Me. It’s all about me. It’s all affecting me. My life revolves around me. . .and it can happen even when I’m trying to focus on Jesus and process this life with Him.

This wasn’t where I was planning on going when I started typing this, but hey, it’s real.

I know the “joy of the Lord is my strength,” but do I know it? Joy isn’t faking being ok when you aren’t. It isn’t ignoring the crappy emotions. But it’s not living in them either – because living in my emotions, sometimes over-processing my emotions, negates the sovereignty and victory and strength of Jesus for my life. He is consistent when my circumstances aren’t. And if I’m not focused on that, and I’m focused on myself, even myself with Jesus, it’s no wonder that I feel tossed about by the waves of life.

Look, the authors of the Psalms get about as real as you can. Life is hard and it’s messy and external things do affect us. I won’t deny that it bothers me when people use the prayer chapel for things other than the Lord or that I can get a little cynical when I’m tired. It makes me feel good to receive encouraging notes, when my friends make me laugh, or when people intentionally pray over me. But none of those things can be my focus. I can’t focus on how they make me feel; as soon as I do more with it than submit the very real feelings to the Lord, the Enemy has a foothold. My joy is gone and I become contingent on externalities (a term that took on new meaning after I took economics).

Obviously I wouldn’t be writing this if it hasn’t been an issue all semester. I’ve been pressing into circumstances and emotions, trying to fix them and understand them. But we aren’t called to press into things, we are called to press into Jesus. He is where consistent joy and love and peace and hope are found.

So, that’s where I am. Learning to step back and confess and release. And then press into the only One who’ll get my eyes of myself and onto Eternity. Because life is messy, but the joy of the Lord will be our strength. He’s the only one who can put a smile on our face, regardless of the storm or sunshine around us, because He’s the only One who’s above it all. He’s already won, y’all. Our sovereign God is on the throne and He is loves us with a love that is beyond the fraction of our comprehension. Let’s press into that; let’s press into Him.

How am I Doing?

“What’s going on in this wandering heart of mine, Lord? I’m so grateful that You care infinitely more about Your glory and my good and everyone else than I do. Teach me how to abide. Do more than I could ever dream. And open the eyes of my heart to see it.” 

…I’m a little distracted.

…I’m tired.

…I’m exhausted.

…I’m so cold.

…everything’s a little overwhelming.

…I’m so wonderful.

…the Lord is just so faithful!

…it’s good.

Anyone who has asked me how I am in the past week has gotten any one of these answers. EvenIMG_3907 sitting down to type this, I don’t know what to say. I guess I’m good at re-typing the lessons of the Lord. Not so much at being honest with what’s up in my heart.

I think it’s because I have this tension. Obviously I can’t tell people how I am all the time, so I pick the biggest things. And they tend to be the most extreme – good and bad. Amazing and difficult. Struggles and victories. And where do I start with those?

This year isn’t last year. The pace has picked up with new joy in my classes, freedom and confidence from the work that Jesus so graciously did in me over the summer, the blessing of deeper relationships, excitement in new opportunities. I am overwhelmed, yes, by the amount of it all, but in the best possible way. I am overwhelmed with gratitude. I call my parents after class and events just to share the goodness of the Lord. I spend most of my time smiling (that is, when I’m not trying to sneak a nap). Half of my journal space is prayers of thanksgiving.

But the other half. . .

is His refining me. I’m a dirty, yucky sinner. I’m so fickle in my affection for Him. I’m so easily distracted by things that I KNOW don’t matter. I forget to dwell on truth and then I wonder why I’m going crazy. Just the other weekend, the Lord made it very clear that I was doing a pretty crappy job of slowing down and caring for my soul. That I need time with Him and sleep. That my life, my time at Wheaton, my days, THE NEXT HOUR aren’t a sprint. Which is such a gift, because we all know that Maddie doesn’t sprint. She walks, at her own sweet pace, usually with motivational music that she sometimes involuntarily dances to. So why am I trying to rush through everything?

I love to jump in with both feet. I don’t know if it’s because my heart thrives on deep things or if it’s the way my strengths wire me, but when I’m all in, I’m ALL IN. I do it with my major, with my mentors, with church, with my friendships, with my desires. I want it all to go deep and fast and now. And the fast pace of this year has magnified that. In the best and worst ways. The Lord, in His graciousness, reminds me to slow down. To breathe. To abide. . .

But now faith, hope, love, abide these three; but the greatest of these is love.” 1 Corinthians 13:13

So how am I doing? I’m good. I’m really good. I get to spend my days learning how to listen to Jesus and love His people. And it is far from perfect; I get so distracted and tired and unfaithful and frustrated. But I’m doing good because He is good. So that’s how I am. And I hope that’s how, whatever is going on in your life, you are doing too.