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Why am I Doing What I’m Doing?

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At the beginning of the summer, I had a reflection do on Henri Nouwen’s book In the Name of Jesus, in preparation for my summer internship (stop reading this and go buy that book right now!). A lack of awareness about the deadline and an overwhelming amount of other work on my plate, I almost tried to write the reflection without having read the book. I read an online review of the main points, gathered the gist that a Christian Ed major would need to fake their way through a reflection, and started writing – ignoring the conviction gnawing at the back of my heart. The reason I knew I could write the reflection in my own words and with seemingly insightful thoughts was because, humiliating and humbling as it is to admit, I’ve done it before. I’ve had four years of Christian highschool and three years as a Wheaton College CE major. I know how talk the Jesus talk. You just use words like “journey,” “convicting,” “brokenness,” and “deepening my love for Jesus.”All without actually letting anything penetrate the callouses on my heart.

A couple sentences into my reflection paper I stopped my typing short. I was overcome. It was bigger than conviction – this was a holy, terrifying fear. What was I doing? And did I realize how dangerous this was, not for my grade or even my integrity, but for my soul?

I’m afraid – and I should be afraid – of going through the motions and then coming up with something “profound” for the sake of sharing my experience and having poetic language about “what the Lord did in my heart.” This isn’t a new fear or temptation for my heart. I suspect I’m not the only Christian to ever face it. It’s part of what motivates short term missions, “savior” complexes, and being more concerned with posting about our Bible studies than actually praying into them.

I remember writing in a journal years ago, “I think I’m afraid of getting to heaven someday and not having stories of Your work in my life.” I know that it’s not about the big moments because I know what it feels like to see Jesus in a mom putting her child in a stroller, a country music song, or even the way you flush a toilet – it’s amazing, it’s life-giving, it’s mindfulness in living, and it allows you to feel the nearness of the Holy Spirit. The challenge is not looking for those kinds of moments to boost my sense of spirituality and self-worth.

I didn’t get fifteen pages into Nouwen’s book (after purchasing a copy and asking my gracious professor for an extension) without being convicted of this very point. Nouwen writes, “the more willing I was to look honestly at what I was thinking and saying and doing now, the more easily I would come into touch with the movement of God’s Spirit in me, leading me to the future” (13). It’s not about what looks good or even feels good – it’s about where the Holy Spirit is moving and where I stand in step with that. It’s always been more about simply loving than stories of loving grandeur and profundity.

When I’m living with a dangerous emphasis on “sharing my spirituality,” every quiet time, every coffee date, every encouraging note, everything becomes fodder for my next reflection. I struggle to live in the present because I’m thinking about how I’m going to articulate what I’m feeling or learning later on. Or I don’t see anything in the moment that feels worth remembering. The Enemy even uses reflection and contemplation, two very good and very beautiful things, to distract me from seeing what Jesus is actually doing in the moment. Or to dampen His glory in it.

It’s not about living to then have something to share in small group, on my blog, or in my next CE assignment, but living to simply see Him move and captivate every piece of my heart. For no other reason than simply because it’s Him. The point of the world is not to give me “material” for my next mentoring meeting or piece of writing. That’s not the point of my internship. That’s not the point of my relationship with Jesus. Yet, how easily can we fall into that subtle scheme?

If I chose to hear it, Jesus is gently, graciously, and convictingly asking me to evaluate my heart everyday – why am I doing what I’m doing? And who am I ultimately doing it unto?

Ever Just Have Those Weeks?

Not necessarily a bad week. Just one of those weeks? Where even the things think you are doing right somehow end up wrong or frustrating or humiliating?

Now, I’m a glass half full kind of person. I live a rather ridiculous life anyways and I’m almost always doing something stupid, so I usually choose joy when I do things like drop my ID in the toilet or tell someone I live east of Chicago (which, if you aren’t up to date on your geography, would mean I live on Lake Michigan). But every so often those kind of days pile up. Where more life things happen than I can handle with laughter. I’ve had a couple of days like that.

Days where I try to be kind and get my dad’s car washed, only to have it rain an hour later.

Or when I try to deep clean my own car and misread the bottles, only to realize I am scrubbing the carpets with bleach and wiping the windows down with clorox.

The kind of days where I buy new running shoes that I’ve been ridiculously obsessed with, only to have them inspire me so much that I sprint for the first five minutes of my 5K. Needless to say, I never quite recovered.

The days where I’ve diligently tracked my food with a new confidence, only to have the scale move in the wrong direction.

Days where even my bank account laughs at me by sending me a notice that I’ve dropped below my checking account minimum.

The days when I have to multiple life conversations in a row. The kind that you have to have when you are an adult and need to talk about paying for college, buying a car, or getting an internship.

When silly thing after silly thing happens and they all start to seem less silly. . .

Like when I stand outside too long and end up with 53983 mosquito bites.

Or I paint my nails and think they are dry, only to smudge them while emptying the dishwasher.

Or I pick up the guitar again, just to realize my sense of rhythm really isn’t improving.

Or I make myself a cup of tea and trip as soon as I go to sit down with it.

Or I’m instructed, criticized, or scolded one too many times about something small.

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It hasn’t been a bad week. Not by a long shot.

And I’m really not looking to throw myself a pity party. I’m actually doing great. There’s a lot of amazing things that the Lord is doing. But I just wanted to let you know that you can be doing well and still be having one of those days. Because it’s all a little overwhelming and you are having to try a little harder than usual to convince myself of truths I already know.

So if you are having one of those days or weeks, know that I feel ya. You’re going to have some hilarious stories on the other side. Keep speaking truth and letting Jesus show you the joy in the midst of it all.

And no one is even going to notice that my hands smell like bleach and my nail polish is smudged. Probably.

What’s He Up to?

“When an answer I did not expect comes to a prayer which I believed I truly meant, I shrink back from it; if the burden my Lord asks me to bear be not the burden of my heart’s choice, and I fret inwardly and do not welcome His will, then I know nothing of Calvary love.” Amy Carmichael

I’ve started 4 different drafts with ideas about what the Lord has been doing in my heart lately. Funny stories from the past few weeks at Wheaton. Pieces from my journals, quotes that I’ve found. Usually when I sit down with my journals and Bible notes from the past few weeks, a blog post flows naturally from the recorded thoughts. They click together; writing it here gives it clarity in my heart. But seriously, none of it is coming together in a blog post. I’ve started and given it a few days to process, and even coming back to it, nothing seems to fit. I don’t know what I want to say because at the root of it, I really don’t know what the Lord is doing.

So that’s what I’m going to write about. That’s what this first semester has been. Pieces, fragments, lessons, moments that don’t always seem to fit together. It’s like my heart and emotions and desires are doing summersaults – and as much as I’ve fought for consistency in them, it hasn’t come. I wake up thinking one thing, and I go to bed excited about another. I go from content to confused, frustrated to satisfied, excited to anxious, and back again.

Don’t get me wrong – it’s been a wonderful semester. But it’s been wonderful within the tension. . .I have been both incredibly challenged and blessed by the nearness of the Lord. I’ve never been more grateful for my family, friends, and Wheaton, while simultaneously being grown in ways I didn’t really choose. I’ve never been more excited and content, but also confused and unsettled about my future.

I just don’t know what He’s up to.

Here’s what I’ve got: seldom do we know the will of the Lord. Sometimes it bothers us and we find ourselves wide eyed and demanding answers, sometimes it doesn’t and we ride the waves of trust. Sometimes the Lord graciously increases our faith and decisions, like coming to Wheaton, ones that just don’t make sense, are filled with incredible peace. And sometimes, it just doesn’t happen that way. Sometimes He asks us to cling to Him in the silence and unrest.

I’ve found myself forced to cling to the daily bread of Jesus, because yesterdays is literally not enough. Because day to day, I really don’t know what He is doing. And it’s not like I ever really know, but lately I’ve been very aware of just how much I don’t know. It brings me to a place of living in the present, and I’m not always entirely comfortable with that. My pride likes to think I could handle knowing His plans for my future. . .but when it comes down to it, I’m not always at a place where I want to hear what the Lord has to say about something. Sometimes it’s because it is too hard or too much and sometimes because it would distract me from what He is doing today. It’s like Amy Carmichael said: He’s molding my heart to look more like His and I’m not always the biggest fan of the process, even though I can’t imagine anything greater.

We only ever see the “tip of the iceberg” (gotta put my new knowledge of Geology somewhere) of what Jesus is doing. So why am I often so obsessed with figuring the rest of it out?

I know that Jesus is sovereign; I trust that. Or at least, I want to. But how does that look practically when He’s being silent on the questions I am bringing to Him? And beyond trusting Jesus with my heart, why is it so hard to trust Him with my family and friend’s? I have to trust that others are walking in step with the Lord – that they are noticing, learning, and responding to His guidance. I have to trust that Jesus is bigger than the surface that I see.

The Love that conquered sin and death on Calvary is infinitely bigger than my circumstances and my wandering heart. The massive, metaphorical “tip of the iceberg” that I’m seeing is unfathomably bigger, and just because I can’t see it now, doesn’t mean it’s not there. It’s seen by the very Creator of real icebergs. And yet, our God chooses to know our hearts intimately. Jesus became man and chose finite understanding. He’s gets it, and He still did it perfectly.

Today, I rest in the fact that not only is He worthy of my trust because He is sovereign and loving and omniscient and good, but because He knows what it’s like to not always know what the Father is up to. He let’s me come wide eyed and searching for answers, drawing me into greater dependance and love when He knows it’s not time for them yet.

I have to choose daily bread. I have to choose trust. In choosing those things, I choose Jesus. And that’s the only thing I really know for sure.

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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.