Tag Archives: people

how to navigate transition

I just fell down the stairs. I was walking downstairs to make a cup of coffee, my drug of choice for writing a month’s worth of Sunday School lessons, and I slipped. It’s been awhile since that happened and I forgot just how terrible it is. I slid my way down half the staircase until finally running into the closed door at the bottom. It was loud, it was ungraceful, my cloth pants only added to the speed at which I was tumbling, and more than anything it hurt.

Because drawing an analogy may give some meaning to the pain I’m currently experiencing . . .

. . . sometimes transition feels like suddenly slipping down half a flight of stairs.

You think it’s all going okay until a few steps down and suddenly you’ve spontaneously lost your footing. Once you start slipping, panic and frustration set in, as you find yourself seemingly unable to stop the fall. So you brace yourself for the crash.

Part of why I hate falling down the stairs, aside from the obvious things like throbbing pain and sacrificing my dignity, is that I know it doesn’t have to be that way. I’ve done staircases enough to know they can be done with grace and poise. More than that, I’ve seen enough movies to know there’s nothing better than the feeling of walking down a spiral staircase in a ballgown and having the whole room freeze and turn to watch you descend. I may not have had that experience yet, but I’m convinced it exists and that I need a staircase for it. Not only does walking down stairs not have to be a bad experience, it can actually be a great one.

elevator-suitcaseTransitions don’t have to feel like falling down a flight of stairs. It doesn’t have to be such that you feel yourself bracing for the impact of all that is new, overwhelming, and intimidating. Transitions don’t have to be bad and rough; they can even be wonderful, if you’re watching your footing before you step.

That doesn’t necessarily mean all transitions are going to be flawless. Sometimes you slip on the stairs even when you’re paying attention. We would have much fewer funny videos if people never fell down the stairs. Sometimes a hard transition leads to the kinds of funny, transformative, growing stories that change our lives or lives later on.

Here are three principles that give my life a sense of meaning and stability. I, as a 22-year old with limited life experiences have found these things helpful, and hopefully they can help you or give words to things you should pursue in walking through your next or current life transition:

  • My relationship with the Lord and a sense of His nearness in my life is foundational and going to change.

The one thing that has provided the most stability and peace in any transition is my relationship with the Lord and sense of His nearness. When my life is oriented towards His glory, no matter what is going on, there’s a bigger sense of purpose. In that, there are two reasons that I’ve noticed my relationship with God changes during transition, regardless of how big or small the transition actually is.

One of them is harder to articulate because it’s inherently unseen. The Spirit of God often feels different in different places. That’s not to say that God is changing or that His relationship to us is different, but there are spiritual realities present in lives and places that we can’t see. Verses like 1 Peter 5:8 and Ephesians 6:12 give us a sense of these unseen realities. My relationship with God felt different in Georgia than it does in Illinois, which is different than it was at Wheaton College, which is different than it felt when I visited India, which is different than it felt in Costa Rica. The Spirit of God isn’t changing but the spiritual realities of these places changed my emotional and sensory experience of my spirituality. It’s hard to explain because so much of what’s going on we won’t know this side of Eternity, but even just knowing that my relationship with God is going to feel different in different places gives me a peace and an elasticity in being okay with those changes. He may feel closer or farther away in certain places; that doesn’t necessarily mean His proximity has changed or that I’m doing anything wrong. It means it’s okay if it feels or looks different.

The other reason my relationship with God changes in transition is more concrete: often during transition, my routine changes. A new job may mean that mornings with the Lord aren’t as viable as they used to be, or that a 6am quiet time may feel harder than an 8am one. Sharing a room with someone may mean that late night worship sessions aren’t exactly respectful or hospitable. Moving away from friends may mean that spontaneous Bible study conversations aren’t as readily available. When the places that I engage with the Lord change, my experience of Him innately changes. While we may not be able to change the spiritual realities with anything other than prayer and a pursuit of discernment, we have direct control over the patterns, practices, and rhythms of our lives. Knowing the things that consistently bring you life and revitalize your relationship with Jesus are critical in transitioning into new schedules and routines. It may look different – the time, location, and structure may change – but if you know what your soul needs, you’ll be better able to build it in during transition and keep the foundation that’ll help with your footing.

  • The people in my life and my interactions with others give my life inherent meaning, regardless of whether they’re deep or momentary.

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I used to think that is was only the closest and deepest relationship that actually mattered and meant something to me, but as I’ve navigated transition, I’ve realized that it’s often whoever is standing in front of me that gives my life meaning. Things like doing work in a coffee shop so that I can interact with the barista, spreading out trips to the grocery store to talk to the clerk, working out in a popular gym, making small talk with people in the office, or listening to middle school student tell a joke make my life feel significant. These interactions don’t have to be profound; they often aren’t. They just have to be present. There’s something about standing face-to-face with another human being that gives life a sort of significance. Actively putting yourself in places where there are people naturally increases a sense of meaning, especially if you make the time and expend the energy to engage with them.

With that, taking the time to invest in deeper relationships is vital in navigating transition. Relationships take time, so take off the pressure and expectation that this needs to happen immediately. Beginning to develop meaningful relationships beyond a small talk conversation in the check-out line also gives life meaning. If this can happen before the throws and heat of the actual transition, it makes the process that much smoother. In that, don’t be afraid to let previous relationships change and shift. That doesn’t mean those relationships have to die – life-long friendships are an incredible blessing – but holding tightly to the relationships and connections of a previous season often hinders people from living into the new ones. Comparing the people of a new season to those of an old one only increases the challenge of stepping fully into what is new. Delve into new relationships with the understanding that they are not going to be the same as the people of your past, but they are critical in providing a sense of meaning and seeing what the Lord is doing in these new places.

  • An others-oriented perspective, direction, or projects shifts the focus off self and offers a sense of something bigger than just you.

Just because my relationship with God feels solid and I’m engaging with people doesn’t necessarily guarantee that a transition is going to feel smooth; both of those things can still be oriented towards me. In my experience, nothing offers a sense of meaning more holistically than focusing on others. It doesn’t have to be big and can literally be anything that orients you towards others. It can be something as simple as giving money towards something that you’re actively engaging the stories of – give towards a cause and then watch documentaries, videos, and talk with people about it. It can also look like volunteering or opening your home. Make it personal; let it be something that matters and something you enjoy. There’s lots of talk about doing things with a “savior” mentality or out of a sense of privilege, so guard yourself against that. But getting outside yourself and doing something that diverts your attention to someone or something other than you can return dividends in living with a sense of joy and purpose. Even just being aware of your co-workers, bringing them coffee because you noticed they had a hard day, or stopping to buy the homeless man on the corner a burger can offer a sense of life beyond your needs, wants, and hardships.

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One more analogy for you. It’s too simplistic of a picture, since seasons, experiences, and relationships often overlap and affect one another, but it can be helpful in navigating transition: our lives are like a row of shelves and we get boxes for each season. Putting things in a new box is difficult when you haven’t completed the former one, capped it, and placed it on the shelf. If you keep looking through the old box or refusing to put it on the shelf, it only makes starting a new box that much harder. Begin a transition by giving yourself permission to sort through, celebrate, and lament that which is ending. Organize the box, label it, throw away that which doesn’t matter, and keep that which does – give yourself space to acknowledge what the Lord did beyond your expectations and that which went unfulfilled. It’ll make it easier to snap on the lid and focus your attention on what the Lord is giving you to put in the new box, whether the previous season was one of pain or blessing. Pulling out a new and empty box on the foundation of your relationship with Christ, knowing that it all may look and feel different, pressing into your interactions with people, and focusing on others and causes outside of yourself, will hopefully make it easier to begin filling and celebrating the new box and the work of the Lord in the new season.

Happy transitioning.

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.

How Gratitude is Changing My Heart

Confession time: I can be a real cynical and prideful sinner.

People have been telling me for years to keep a gratitude journal. And, in my flesh, my reaction was always something like, “my relationship with Jesus is deeper than just a superficial list of things that I liked during my day.” A little less prideful reaction would be something like, “I just don’t want to ever be more focused on the gifts God is giving me than I am on God Himself. I feel like only writing down things I’m grateful for would orient my heart that way.” Either way, I was convinced keeping a list of things I’m thankful for was too childish for my obviously spiritual mature ways. Ha.

Oh Maddie, when will you learn. . .

A few weeks ago, the Lord convicted me, through His Word, in my quiet time, through chapel speakers, friends, and mentors, that I was not keeping an attitude of thankfulness. The posture of my heart was focused on what I couldn’t control, things I felt like I’d failed at (or other’s had failed at), and the things the Lord was doing that I didn’t understand. I figured it couldn’t hurt to try writing down a few things every night, specific to that day, that I saw the Lord’s blessing in that I was grateful for. At the very least, it was an excuse to buy a new notebook and the worst that could happen is I would waste $2 on said notebook. And if it did turn out to be a source of joy and renewal, well then go Jesus.

Y’all. Gratitude is changing my heart.

I don’t say that lightly. And I know other, more eloquent and wise people have already discovered this, but seriously. It’s changed the way I approach the Lord when I journal about my day. It fights my tendency to overthink – because instead of freaking out over whether or not I should or shouldn’t have said something, I’m focused on the fact that I’m grateful for that friendship and unexpected conversation. When I’m frustrated at something small, I read back over the past few days and realize that my negative emotion is a temporary response to the messy world I live in. And, what’s even more amazing than all of that, is it hasn’t shifted my heart to focusing on the temporal gifts and blessings of the Lord – it’s led me into deeper places of trusting in His goodness and faithfulness. He’s teaching me to be grateful for things I don’t yet understand because I’m focused on His movement in the things I do.

The thing is, life is messy and it’s hard and people are complex and everything is unknown. And even if I’m trusting God, if I choose to focus on the chaos of my world, it gets overwhelming. I’m not even forcing my heart to be grateful – I’m simply letting it recognize what I have to be grateful for, silly or not. And gratitude leads me to joy and joy leads me to laughter. And, like lament, laughter points me back to the heart of Jesus.

I laugh when I do things like dropping my ID card in the toilet or lose it . . . in my room. I laugh when I forget that Chicago is the Windy City and I spend a whole tour holding my dress down. Or I have to give a “date” tour (which is just myself and a guy). I laugh when my heart chooses to feel like a middle school girl with a crush. Or my roommate and I stay up until 1 in the morning dying laughing over what songs were popular on the days we were born. I focus on the blessings, because they lead me back to the one who gives blessing. I let myself sit in the goodness of what the Lord is doing around me – whether it feels good or not.

There’s a lot of heavy things going on this week. On my campus. In people’s lives. In the world. In myself. Emotions have been high, tears have been welling up, and my heart hurts. And while lament is an inseparable part of my walk with Jesus and my life in community, so is laughter. I can’t stay in a place of deep empathy without becoming completely overwhelmed with my own helplessness and grief. And, hard as that is, it is so wonderful when it leads me back to a place of dependance on Jesus and His easy yoke.

I don’t know if any of that means anything to you or not – maybe you are way ahead of me on this race and have been letting gratitude change your heart for years. Wherever you are, let’s celebrate the Lord and His faithfulness together.

Just to give you an idea of how the Lord is moving and blessing this crazy, broken life of mine, here are some pictures of things that I’ve written down recently:

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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 in the highest regard in love because of their work. Live in peace with each other. And we urge you, brothers and sisters, warn those who are idle and disruptive, encourage the disheartened, help the weak, be patient with everyone. Make sure that nobody pays back wrong for wrong, but always strive to do what is good for each other and for everyone else. Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. Do not quench the Spirit. Do not treat prophecies with contempt but test them all; hold on to what is good, reject every kind of evil. May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. The one who calls you is faithful, and he will do it. ” 1 Thessalonians 5:10-23

Some people are natural encouragers. For some people, it take more conscious effort.

Some people gravitate towards encouraging “outside the circle people.” Some people naturally focus on building up those “inside the circle.” We need both.

Whether it comes naturally or not, everyone needs encouraged. We all crave affirmation. Granted, there’s a fine line between needing built up in Christ and your identity actually being dangerously rooted in the approval of others. At the heart, though, Christians should be encouraging one another with the knowledge that we all need to be reminded of the truth of who we are. It’s biblical.

When I was having a bit of an identity crisis, alone on my bed, it was the letters and cards of encouragement from family, friends, and mentors that ministered to my heart. Don’t misunderstand – I’m not talking about sappy, feel-good letters, filled with the kind of comments you’d see between young BFF’s on Instagram. These letters were written by people of love and grace and wisdom. They reminded me where my true identity lies. They reminded me to return to my First Love, the only Love that will ever fully satisfy my heart. They spoke of their love for me – but not because of anything that I’d done or earned or become.

I’d be the first person to admit that I need others. I need community. I need to be encouraged because I need to be reminded of TRUTH. We weren’t meant to do this alone, remember? It’s the same thing God told Moses about Joshua:

“But commission Joshua, and encourageand strengthen him, for he will lead this people across and will cause them to inherit the land that you will see.” Deuteronomy 3:28

Encouragement isn’t easy because it is 0% about us. It is solely focused on the blessing of the Lord in someone else. It means being in tune to what the Holy Spirit is doing in someone else – what’s going on, how they’re gifted, etc. But when we are living under the weight of insecurity ourselves, we become incapable of thinking about others. We are concerned about self: how we feel and how we can improve our self-confidence. No one wants to feel like they aren’t enough or they are a failure, so we naturally focus on digging ourselves out when we fall into that hole of lies.

But the catch is that we all have insecurities because we all have weaknesses. We focus on improving our weaknesses (through Christ, of course), which is a good thing. It’s the process of sanctification. But there’s a danger. We run the risk of missing out how the Holy Spirit is moving in someone else’s life, and getting the humbling privilege of encouraging them in that. And they miss out on the blessing and community that encouragement brings.

I’m reminded of what Paul says about our weaknesses. . .it’s all too familiar:

“Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.” 2 Corinthians 12:9

My insecurities, my weaknesses – I have to remind myself that those are the places Christ is made strong. Those are the areas where I can’t rely on myself. They are places where I am reminded that when you squeeze me in my flesh, nothing good or righteous or holy comes out. I am 100% dependent on Christ and His Spirit in me. So, the places that spur on my personal sanctification should also be promoting my encouragement of others. Because Scripture tells me that my weaknesses are never meant to point back to me; they are meant to point back to the God who has victory over all of them. The holy, holy, holy King who pours out such GRACE upon us.

Insecurity can kill encouragement. Because insecurity keeps us focused on us. But it shouldn’t be that way. Yes, we are weak in our flesh – but that only means that Christ that much stronger! So maybe we should step outside of ourselves and recognize what He’s doing in the people around us. Because everyone, even the most confident and seemingly secure people need to hear Truth.

Write a letter. Send a text. Meet someone for coffee. Pick up the phone.

It doesn’t matter how the encouragement comes. What matters is that it does, and that’s it’s rooted in Christ. Not encouraging others because you are too focused on fixing your own insecurities (or because you are “too busy”) doesn’t build up the Body of Christ. Encouraging superficial things or offering fake compliments doesn’t build up the Body of Christ. Jesus-lovers should be the most encouraging people around because we’ve been saved and encouraged in the most undeserving way. Even if encouraging others is a weakness of yours – whether in the family or outside of it – it’s not a fatal flaw; it’s just another place where Christ can show Himself stronger and more merciful than you could ever imagine.

I’m working on encouraging others. Those closest to me and the strangers in my life. If I’m being honest: the latter is harder for me. I’m working on encouraging people in the Spirit, and not just to boost their ego.

I’ve been so grateful for the encouragement of those around me during one of my hardest summers. Their encouragement has been such a blessing; it’s also convicted me to look at how I’m doing at encouraging others and recognizing where the Spirit is moving in other people’s lives. Needless to say, I need some work. But that’s awesome – because it’s just another place Christ can be glorified in my weakness!

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