Tag Archives: people

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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The Result of a Pensive Mind. . .on the Church

This summer has provided some much needed reflection and perspective, especially on things I’ve never really considered or questioned. Recently, that’s included the idea of church.

I’ve gone to church my whole life. I was never allowed to open my Easter basket before the sunrise service, and any money I made my senior year of highschool was basically spent on gas, driving to and from the church or the local Starbucks with church people. If there was ever a model church girl, I am pretty much it. I’ve been a part of churches that run the denominational spectrum. I’ve volunteered in every childcare room for every church we’ve ever been a part of. I’ve run lights and sound and slides and small groups. I went to every youth event, even ones where it was just me, my sister, and a leader. I’ve been on mission trips and service days, serving food, cleaning homes, painting walls, or playing with kids. Dinners, sleepovers, discipleship dates, and small groups. . .and the kicker is I don’t resent a single bit of it. None of my church attendance was forced. My parents never coerced me into service and I never begrudgingly followed friends to an event. I was happy to do it; all of it. I have always been a happy church girl. And I keep doing it. I’d do it all over. None of my questions ever convince me to stop, that this “church” is anything but worthy of my time and energy.

One hundred religious persons knit into a unity by careful organization do not constitute a church any more than eleven dead men make a football team. The first requisite is life, always.“ A. W. Tozer

So it’s not from a lack of love that I’ve been questioning what the church is and does; it’s actually from a place of deep care and affection. I truly love “the church,” because I love Jesus and His body with 100% of my being. I feel like there’s a lot of people talking about “the church” as the body of Christ recently, rather than the building everyone migrates to on Sunday mornings, Saturday nights, and Wednesday evenings. I’m so grateful that truth has resurfaced; we don’t go to church, we are the church.

But I wonder, do we actually get that? Does what we do really reflect that truth?

In the David Platt sermon I was listening too while driving to my grandparents house, he said something along the lines of: “We shouldn’t be inviting people to church. Stop asking people to come to church, because you are the church. The church should be going out to the world.” When I read through Acts and 1 Corinthians, I see the radical, communal, selfless, everyday life nature of the body of Christ. And when I look back at the programs and drama and punch-my-Sunday-morning-ticket or I-come-just-to-receive mentality, I wonder how we expect them to align?

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To be painfully honest, I’m struggling with it, this idea of church. And nothing is exempt from my struggle. I’m struggling in the services with the loud, emotional music and dynamic teaching. I know the people and their hearts and I don’t doubt the genuine nature of the experience, but I’m struggling with the idea that people are searching for an individualistic, emotional, satisfying experience, rather than self-denying service and relationships and the powerful (and yes, emotional) Holy Spirit that’s in everyday life. I’m also struggling with the quiet, reserved traditions and routines of church. Was a sparkling chalice and soft wafers, held by a stranger, really what Jesus had in mind when He said “eat my body, drink my blood, and do this in remembrance of me?” I love the diversity of the body and worship. I love how modern technology enables things like podcasts and Christian music and conferences. I don’t doubt the good in them because I’ve been a participant and recipient of that my whole life. I just have to wonder. . .is that really what Jesus wanted to be the head of in Colossians 1:18?

“I lack the fervency, vitality, life, in prayer which I long for. I know that many consider it fanaticism when they hear anything which does not conform to the conventional, sleep-inducing eulogies so often rising from Laodicean lips; but I know too that these same people can acquiescently tolerate sin in their lives and in the church without so much as tilting one hair of their eyebrows.” Jim Eliot

Don’t misunderstand: this isn’t a rant about the church. The last thing I want to do is discourage the good work the church is doing, especially the wonderful specific churches I’ve visited and been blessed to be a part of. I love the church because Jesus loves the church, which, as everyone is saying, is really just the body of believers. And I get it – this is the way things have been done for centuries. I can’t even write this post without using “church talk.” The physical structure of church is necessitated by the numbers and the brokenness and the need for organized systems. This isn’t 1st century Jerusalem; we don’t have to meet in communal, underground house churches anymore. So how do we “devote ourselves to the apostles teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread, and prayer” (Acts 2:42)? How do we “have all things in common and give to anyone who has need” (Acts 2:44)? How are we supposed to “meet together everyday. . .breaking bread in our homes and eating together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God” (Acts 2:45)? I don’t have all the answers, I don’t even have some of the answers.

I have to wonder if I’m wrong for wanting more simple Sunday’s, filled with worship and people and life. I can’t help but wonder if we’ve got it backwards. One of my favorite quotes is this one by CT Studd:

“Some wish to live within the sound of a chapel bell; I wish to run a rescue mission within a yard of hell.” CT Studd

It’s one of my all-time favorites because it’s one of the most stirring and convicting statements I’ve ever read. I want nothing more than to proclaim it boldly with my whole heart. It stirs me because I know it should be the burning desire of my heart, if my heart truly believes the truth of Scripture and the goodness of the Gospel. It convicts me because it causes me to examine how I truly live. Am I more comfortable being in church than I am actually being the church? Do I know what it means to be with and love “church” people, my fellow brothers and sisters in Christ . . . so I wonder, why does it usually center around the busy, stressed, cranky, rushed, forced, awkward, limited encounters I seem to have inside the physical church walls?

The perfect church service,would be one we were almost unaware of. Our attention would have been on God. C.S. Lewis

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I don’t know how a New Testament church is supposed to look in 21st century America. Greater than me have written much more in depth and theologically accurate books on that. I don’t know how a service like C.S. Lewis is talking about could work inside a church building. I’m not advocating for anything specific because I’m still fuzzy on the specifics of what I’m thinking and feeling. I just know that I feel like something’s off. That tears have come to my eyes in a brightly colored stained glass, organ echoing church and a dimly lit, drum pounding church. Standing next to people I don’t know, or people I do know with needs and wounds. People who find something inside these buildings but struggle in their daily life. Where are their hearts? Where is the community, the for-better-or-worse-you’re-stuck-with-us family? Where is the Father, and Jesus, and the power of the Holy Spirit?

I just don’t want us to miss the real Jesus. I don’t want us to miss each other. I don’t want to get to heaven and see how we just didn’t get what it meant to really be the church. And I may not know at 19 what it means to “get it;” I don’t know if I’ll ever fully “get it,” but I know that I can’t stop questioning just because I’m afraid of how the questions may shake the cultural notions I have of what “going to” and “being” the church means.

Just thoughts, just questions. When you let a pensive, happy church girl word vomit on her blog. . .