Inexpressible Joy at 1:00 AM

Rain falls outside the window of my new bedroom, complementing the silence of the night. I am restless, I can’t sleep. But this is a good kind of restless. Though my body can’t fall asleep, my soul is so perfectly at peace. I’ve been praying and have been absolutely IN AWE of how beautiful God is. These past few days have been so joy-filled, and the LORD has really blessed me in so many ways, that looking back on this past weekend and today, I am amazed at this God that I serve and that I get to call my Father. I am so overwhelmed by His goodness, and I must recount some of the many, many things He has shown me and that He has done or given me these past few days:

  • A new home in a new town. It’s quieter. It’s safer. It’s more peaceful. I go to sleep and hear crickets, not people yelling at each other. I wake up and hear birds twittering peacefully, as I look out the window and see the golden glow of the morning sunlight. After years of not feeling very safe, I now can rest.
  • Friendship, fellowship, and community. The other day I was able to hang out with a dear friend of mine. We bought art supplies at a craft store and then painted together, while listening to worship music and talking about what God has been doing in our lives. The next day I got to attend my small group for the first time in forever (I had been out of town over the summer) and spend time in prayer with the people in my group, and then discuss Revelation 1 and what it says about Christ. Then yesterday I was able to meet a friend in person who I had met online, and spend some time with her and her family after church. Fellowship and community are such beautiful things. I am so, so blessed.
  • I have seen the power and reality of the gospel more clearly these past few days. That though there is so much darkness in this world, Christ is stronger. So much stronger. That since I am in Christ, no weapon formed against me shall prosper. That persistence in faith in the promises of God makes the enemy flee. That Jesus is victorious and that all authority has been given to Him. I have seen struggles with fear and with sin, I have seen heavy battles over the course of my life, and I have seen God’s grace in giving me firm faith and His peace even in the midst of those battles, and persistence to keep on looking to Christ… until at last satan gives up even trying to discourage me and all I know is God’s peace. I have also seen other people’s lives completely changed—I have seen one girl, who had once been in spiritual bondage and recently was set free, get baptized yesterday. I was weeping tears of joy—people, the gospel changes lives! Jesus Christ changes lives, and the powers of hell cannot stand a chance against Him! The reality of the gospel has been so real to me these past couple days—Christ has conquered my sin, the fullness of it, and I bear it no more! In Him I am a child of God, free from condemnation and counted righteous, although I had deserved the complete opposite. Friends, trust in Jesus Christ! In Him is real, lasting Peace (the peace I feel so much right now); in Him is inexpressible and overflowing Joy! In Him is fulfillment and satisfaction and contentment! He is everything I need!
  • It’s so good to be back at my home church again. Today my former youth pastor visited our church and preached, and it was one of the best sermons I have heard.
  • And then right now, as I was lying here in bed, I was just thinking about God’s goodness to me, about all that He has done for me, and of what Jesus went through for me, because He loves me, and was overcome by the fact that He is very real (which I always have known and believed, but now I could really feel it), and that He loves me… and, more than I ever have probably felt before, I longed to just be in heaven with Him—worshiping Him, learning from Him, seeing the wounds in His hands with my own eyes—the wounds that He took for MY sake—I cannot wait for that day when I will be with Him forever.

The LORD is so good.

 

One thing have I asked of the LORD,

that will I seek after:

that I may dwell in the house of the LORD

all the days of my life,

to gaze upon the beauty of the LORD

and to inquire in his temple.

Psalm 27:4, ESV

 

Untitled Novel—Chapter 1

(From the story I am working on)

______________________________________________________________________________

ONE — A Party

“God… I just can’t do this anymore.  Help.  Please.”

I lifted my tear-stained face from my dampened pillow. I must have laid on my bed for hours; through the closed curtains I could tell that the light outside was now just beginning to fade, and that it would soon be night. And that evening I and my three roommates would be hosting a party, and I knew I needed to get up and start getting the house ready for the guests. But I lacked the slightest speck of motivation to get up. I didn’t feel like getting the house ready. I didn’t feel like hosting a multitude.  I didn’t feel like being among a whole bunch of people. I felt exhausted, confused and overwhelmed with grief.

Let me explain why.

A lot was going on in my life. For the past few years, I had been dealing with a sort of depression. That depression climaxed when my sister Monica, who had been battling cancer for two years, died a few months back. Thankfully back then I was home from school for the summer, and could be with her the day she left us. Monica and I had been the best of friends growing up; we were only two years apart. And although I knew that Monica was with the Lord and happier than ever before, I missed her terribly. I wanted her back. Her illness and then death had caused a lot of stress among our family—we still loved one another, and there was still peace among us, but for so long we had felt such an absence of joy in our home. So much so that I, in a way, was happy when summer break was over, and I could leave my home and go back to college, where I had hoped the environment would be just a little bit more joyful. While it was a little more joyful at school, the stress of school on top of family situations and my sister’s death was overwhelming. My grades were not doing well at all, and this was a constant source of much agony. Last but not least, I was sick and tired of my perfectionistic conscience. The bar was set at an unattainable height; everything I did, and thought, and desired, had to be just right. I wanted to glorify God in everything I did. But I am human. I tended to set standards for myself that were not realistic. I was forgetting to give myself grace, and to put my hope in God for help to overcome my sins. I was forgetting about His mercy and grace; I was forgetting to go to Him for help and trying to overcome these sins on my own strength. And, oh, the sin I was struggling with—fear of man, which often caused me not to do what I felt I should do, or to say what I should say—overwhelmed me. I knew I needed to look to Christ and trust that in Him I was forgiven; I knew that God’s word is truth and I needed to believe it… and I was trying. But why were the doubts so hard to shake off? And why did I still struggle with guilt?

Back onto the pillow my head rested. I lay there, gazing absent-mindedly at the crack in the wall, as I mulled over these unsettling thoughts for what seemed like the millionth time. “Lord,” I whispered between quiet sobs, “I just don’t feel at peace. Everything’s just too much. And I’m trying to hold onto You, but I’m so weak. Just help me not to let go. And don’t let ME go. I need You, God. I need You.”

 

My prayer was interrupted by a knock on her door. “Come in,” I said, attempting to steady my voice.

The door opened, and in walked my roommate, Lucy. “Willow?”

I had closed my eyes, trying to give the impression that I had been napping.

“I’m sorry, did I wake you up?” apologized Lucy.

“No, you’re fine,” I answered quietly.

“Were you sleeping?”

“No…”

Lucy looked a little concerned, and sat down on the edge of my bed. “Are you doing alright? Have you been just laying on your bed in this dark room this whole time?”

I sat up and wiped my eyes with the sleeve of my sweater. “It’s just unexplainably hard right now. School is just too much. And I miss my sister. And I’m constantly plagued by doubts. I’m trying to hang onto the truth, but–” I could not say a word more…and I didn’t have to. Lucy was well familiar with what I had been going through.

Lucy put both arms around me and hugged me tightly, and I hugged her back. We sat there for a good while, saying nothing.

At last Lucy spoke. “I’m really, really sorry, Willow. Truly. And I don’t know what to say or how to comfort you. I wish I knew how to make you feel better. But I don’t. But God does. So don’t give up crying out to Him. He will help you.”

I nodded in agreement. This was only a season; things would get better eventually.

Lucy stopped hugging me, stood up, and looked at me sympathetically. “Love you, girl.”

I smiled a little. “Love you too. Thanks.”

Lucy smiled back. “I think what you need right now is some fellowship. And there’s a fix for that, as people are coming in an hour and a half. Are you able to help us get ready?”

I nodded and got up.

 

We made our way into the kitchen.

“I need to check on my banana bread,” said Lucy, opening the oven, then slamming it shut. “Nope. 20 more minutes,” she said, adjusting the oven timer.

“What needs to be done?” I asked, trying to cheer up.

“Do you want to get those cookies out and put them on a plate? And then while I make lemonade, do you want to make sure the back porch looks presentable? Maybe turn on the Christmas lights?”

“Sure.” I took a spatula and removed the freshly-baked, just-cooled sugar cookies from the two pans on the counter, and neatly arranged them on a plate.

“Alrighty, these just go on the table then?”

“Yes. Wow, that’s quite the artsy arrangement there!” said Lucy, evidently impressed by the neat little mountain of cookies I had made. I, however, thought nothing of it. “Well, thanks!” I laughed, placing my cookie-tower on the table, then went to see that the back porch looked worthy of company.

 

“Anything else?” I asked, as I returned to the kitchen.

“Not that I can think of,” said Lucy. “I think we got everything we need to do done… Sarah and Lindsey are coming home in a few minutes, and they offered to make popcorn and a couple other snacks.”

“Sweet,” I said. “I’m going to go change and get ready.”

 

I walked into my room, which was now much darker than it had been when I was in it last. I turned on the light and looked in my closet through my dresses. I took out a red one, put it on, and looked in the mirror.

“Am I feeling this?” I wondered to myself. “Is it even long enough? Nah… not really. I think I need to retire this one.” I flipped through all my other options, and found my grayish-blue dress, with thin, vertical stripes and buttons down the front. I put it on and looked at myself again. “Hmm.. yes, much better. Yup, I’m going with this one.” My gaze went up from my dress to my head, and noticed that my hair was a mess. I grabbed her hairbrush, brushed it, and twisted it into a top knot. Then I put on my oxfords, and spritzed a little perfume on myself to finish it off. I then stepped back and looked at my reflection once more, to make sure everything looked just right. It did. I was satisfied with how I looked… I looked good. I hoped it wasn’t too vain to think that about myself. Then my heart, having momentarily forgotten its sorrow, sank again as I gazed into my own eyes and sighed. My outward appearance portrayed the exact opposite of what was going on inside my head. From the outside, I looked confident and cheerful; as if I had it all together. However, I didn’t have it all together; everything seemed to be falling apart. “I can’t be with people tonight”, I thought. “I’m a wreck. I don’t want to fake being happy. I want to actually be happy.” A tear rolled down my cheek, and I turned away from the mirror. “No. Stop,” I told myself. “Why am I so gloomy all the time? Life is hard, but God is still good, and I have a choice to choose joy right now. So, tonight I am going to be happy, and enjoy myself tonight. At least I will try my best. I will set my mind on pleasant, happy things. I will trust God with my failures and my sadness, and forget them for a while, and enjoy Him through some fellowship with other people.” I felt better after this self-exhortation. “Help me with this, God,” I prayed as I left my room. “Now what grace do you have for me tonight? Help me to have eyes to see it.”

 

“Wow, you look cute, Willow!” said Lucy, when I came back. “Is that a new dress?”

“It is,” I said.

“Really cute.”

I nervously laughed a little. “Thanks.”

 

Just then, the door had opened, and Sarah and Lindsey walked in with a few grocery bags.

“Welcome home!” said Lucy.

“Thanks!” said Sarah, as she and Lindsey set their grocery bags on the counter.

“What did you get?” I asked.

“I got some candy, some nuts, some crackers, some fancy cheese, and this huge summer sausage,” Sarah said.

After washing her hands of any grocery store germs, Sarah went to knife drawer and pulled out a knife, got a cutting board, and started slicing the cheese and sausage, and arranging it on a plate, along with the crackers. Then she set it on the table along with the rest of the snacks.

“Okay, so, we’ve got candy, nuts, a cheese-and-cracker plate, cookies, lemonade, water… and the banana bread is coming…” Lucy said. “That’s good, right? Are we missing anything?”

“I don’t think so,” said Lindsey.

“Okay, awesome.”

Everything was ready, and it was only a matter of waiting until the guests came.

 

About half an hour later, the doorbell started to ring every five minutes, and the house started filling up with people.

“Willow, would you mind getting that?”  Lucy asked, as the doorbell rang just as she was taking her just-cooled banana bread out of the pans.

“Absolutely,” I said, as I hurried to the front door.

I opened it, and saw that it was my good friend Nathan.

“Oh, hi, Nathan!” I said. “Welcome!”

“Thank you!” said Nathan. “How are you doing?”

“Ehhh… better than I deserve… how about you?”

“I’m doing alright myself.” said Nathan. “That paper, though, has been a real pain in the neck. I don’t know what my thesis is yet.”

“Oh, I’m sorry,” I said, sympathizing with him, but not quite knowing how best to reply.

“If you don’t mind my asking,” said Nathan, “So you’re better than you deserve? That’s quite true (for everyone), but what did you mean by that? …Unless you’d rather not say–”

At that moment, the doorbell rang again. I hurried again to the door, and as I unlocked it, I looked back and said, “We’ll talk.”

“Sounds good.”

I opened the door. “Hey, Quinn, Nick, Justin! Welcome.”

The three guys walked in, and I closed the door and locked it after them.

 

The the guys, along with Nathan, went to the living room and found a seat, as did I. “How are your papers coming along?” I said, trying to start a conversation.

“Quite swimmingly…” said Nathan sarcastically.

“And how about the rest of you?”

“Ehhh…” was all Justin said.

I and the others chuckled.

“I take it that it’s not going too well?” said Nathan.

“Not really.” replied Justin.

“I’ve got one page so far,” said Nick, “and no thesis.”

“Not bad,” I said. “How about you, Quinn?”

“Two pages of word-vomit.”

“Hey, that’s better than I have!” I said. “I’ve got only a couple of paragraphs. I think I have a thesis, but I hope it will work.”

 

Pretty soon, everyone had come—about 24 people in all, all of them students from my school. The house had become rather noisy, and the noise exhausted me. Don’t get me wrong, I love people and I love having them over, but 24… that is a large group of people. After a couple hours of being in the presence of a large multitude, I can become very tired and want to retreat to the solitude of my room. That, however, was not an option, as I was one of the hostesses of this party. I would have to persevere until the end.

 

I was in the kitchen, making more lemonade. The guests had finished the pitcher that was on the table, and I had heard some disappointed laments of “The lemonade’s all gone!”, and figured that I should make more. Anything to have a few precious moments of time away from the crowd.

Nathan suddenly poked his head in the doorway, like a gopher suddenly popping up from his burrow. It made me laugh.

“Hey!” he said, “Anything I can help with?”

“Well… is anything on the table running out?”

“Let me check,” he said, his head disappearing from sight as quickly as it had appeared.

He came back with a nearly empty plate of cookies. “Do you have any more cookies, or was that it?”

“Oh, we’ve got more. Do you want to put some more on the plate for me?”

“Sure!” said Nathan.

I continued squeezing lemons, as he replenished the cookies, piling them rather haphazardly on the plate, not really caring about aesthetics.

“So was the conversation boring out there?” I asked.

“No, it wasn’t,” he said. “I just thought you might need some help.”

“Well, thanks.” I said. “That’s nice of you.”

“…Also, I’m dying to finish our conversation.” he added.

“Oh.” Right now?

“So…” he said, “Let me ask again, that is, if you don’t mind my asking… how are you doing?” It wasn’t creepy of him to ask; we were good friends, and talked about all sorts of things together. I was okay with being somewhat honest with him.

“Well…” I sighed. “It’s been rather difficult lately.”

His face grew serious, and showed a hint of concern. “How so?”

“Oh, I don’t know,” I said, “School’s been going a bit roughly for me, and then on top of that, I miss my sister—you know, the one who died—I told you about her, right?”

“No, actually not,” he said. “I didn’t know your sister died. Wow, that’s really hard.”

“I know.” I said. “I miss her a lot.” I fought back the tears. I did not want to start crying in front of him.  That would be embarrassing.

“When did this happen?” he wondered.

“Oh, it was a while ago. Two years,” I said. “But she was my best friend growing up.” Despite my endeavors to hold tears back, they did come. I was silent as they came—no awkward sobbing—but in order to successfully avoid awkwardly sobbing, I was unable to speak for a good minute or so.

At last I was able to speak. “Anyway,” I continued, when I could steady my voice, “That, and school, and struggling with doubts about assurance of salvation, and just not feeling at peace. Yeah.” I nervously laughed, wiping my eyes again. “A lot’s going on.”

“Wow,” said Nathan. “That is a lot… I had no idea… I’m really sorry.” I could tell he felt sorry for me, but didn’t know how to properly express it.

“It’s okay…” I said, even I thought in my heart I felt the exact opposite. No. Everything was not okay. But I had given him an idea of what I was going through, and would stop there, even if I hadn’t even scratched the surface. He didn’t need to know everything.

“I wish there was something I could say,” he said after a moment’s silence, “but at least I’ll definitely be praying for you, that God would comfort you and give you peace.”

“Thanks,” I said, a little comforted.

“What are friends for?” he smiled.

Nathan by then had finished with the cookies, but stayed and kept me company as I finished making the lemonade. I changed the subject, asking him how many siblings he had, and he told me he had 10 siblings—six sisters, four brothers—and that he was the youngest of them all. Then he proceeded to tell me stories about some of the ridiculous things he and his siblings had done growing up. I laughed until I could hardly breathe. It wasn’t so much the events that took place in the stories that made them so funny, but rather the animated way in which he told them. At last I had finished the lemonade, and he and I brought it and the cookies to the table.

 

Eventually, the party wrapped up as people gradually looked at the time and realized that it would be good to go home, and left.  Soon the only guests remaining were Nathan, Justin, and Bella, another one of my good friends. We were reminiscing about our freshman year, and all the fun things we did, and lamented over how things were so much different now than they had been then.

During an awkward silence, Nathan casually checked his phone. “Oh, wow, is it really one in the morning?”

We all were a bit surprised. Time does seem short when one is having a good time.

“I should probably go…” he said, putting his phone back into his pocket.

Bella and Justin both agreed, and, as much as I love my friends, I agreed as well. I longed for the coziness of my bed. Hosting and being with people all evening had worn me out.

Lucy, Sarah, Lindsey and I followed our guests to the door. They thanked us, and left. As soon as we had the house to ourselves, I got myself to bed right away.

 

“How did you like the party?” Lucy asked, when we were in our room.

“I thought it was fun,” I said. “I’m really exhausted now.”

“Are you doing any better than earlier this evening?”

“Yes, a little.” I said.

“Good,” said Lucy.  “I’m glad.”

The lights went off. She got in her bed. The two of us lay silently in the dark. I stared up at the ceiling, pondering the events of the day. It was good to have some fellowship; it took my mind off of my sorrows and gave me some happiness.  I actually got to enjoy myself for the first time in a long time.

“Goodnight, Willow,” said Lucy.

“Goodnight.”

“I love you.” she said. “So much.”

I smiled, though she couldn’t see it. “I love you too,” I said.

I turned over on my side and closed my eyes. But my endeavors to sleep were temporarily thwarted by the vibration of my phone. I picked it up and saw I had gotten a text, from Nathan.

“Thank you for telling me about what’s been going on in your life. I’m really sorry it’s been so hard. I really hope things get better for you. Trust the LORD. He is for you, no matter what happens. Praying for you.”

I smiled.

“Thank you, Nathan.” I typed in reply. “Goodnight. See you tomorrow.”

I hit “Send”, put my phone down under my bed, and snuggled back under the covers.

Pondering the events of the day, I smiled. I realized that no matter how painful, difficult, and excruciatingly almost-unbearable life can be sometimes, God always provides reasons to smile; reasons to be thankful. Parties. Hilarious stories. Lemonade. Good friends who encourage you and point you to the truth, such as Lucy and Nathan. I sighed with contentment.

“God, You are good.”

©MadelineH. 2016, 2017. Enjoy, and please do not steal. Thanks for your cooperation.

Life. — 07/14

I’ve been wanting to do a life-update post for a long time, but haven’t gotten around to it until now. So, here it is, finally!

Life these days has been good… lots of rest, which my tired body needs to heal. Lots of time outside in the country, away from the city for a while. (I love the city, but sometimes you just need to get away into nature a bit and get a change of pace.) Lots of sun (I’m starting to get a tan.) Lots of time in my hammock. Lots of time alone… sometimes it’s nice, but I’ve recently been seeing the need to be intentional about being with people more—being alone for long periods of time is never a good thing. A couple of walks, during which I would enjoy the trees, the flowers, the grassy plains, the clouds, the butterflies that would leave me when I would try to get near enough to get a picture of them…

Other than all of this, I’ve been doing a cleaning job on the weekends. It’s been a pretty okay job… it’s great when you have music to listen to. Last week I was cleaning a shower, and my arm accidentally bumped the faucet handle, and it sprayed water all over me. Thankfully I had enough time for it to mostly evaporate before people would see me all wet. Haha.

I’ve recently discovered this song, and it’s literally been on repeat until I started to grow tired of it. I think it’s pretty fun:

These days I’ve been feeling rather distracted, as I talked about a couple of posts ago. I want to wholeheartedly seek the LORD, but I so often get sidetracked, trying to find satisfaction in other things. Not that these other things are bad in and of themselves—they are good gifts created by God for us to enjoy—but when I start to put my hope in or base my identity upon these things, that’s idolatry. My constant prayer is that I would love the LORD with my whole heart, soul, and mind, and learn to enjoy His gifts rightly, enjoying Him ultimately. God is the Source of all good, truth and beauty; therefore, I should find my refreshment from the Source, not the stale, stagnant pool to which it leads. (That may be a cliché analogy, but it totally makes sense to me, so I’ll use it.) Ad Fontes! (Latin: “To the fount!”)

This gluten-free, dairy-free, grain-free, egg-free, happiness-free (just kidding… sort of) diet has been good, kind of hard, and very helpful. Although I REALLY miss cheese, yogurt, ice cream and butter, cutting out dairy was one of the best things I’ve ever done. I feel a lot better. I’ve been trying to eat things that don’t ferment very much in the gut (I have this list of foods that do and don’t), so yes, my diet is rather limited. However, I’m doing this so I can heal. Once my gut has healed well enough, I can start re-introducing things like brown rice and sweet potatoes (I am REALLY looking forward to that day).

What have you been up to these days?

-Maddie

Intense Gratitude

My heart is so full right now. God is so good. SO GOOD.

Firstly, I’ve been thinking recently about and marveling at how much God has done in my life these past few weeks, and how much better my life has been. I have no words. Some of you who know me well have heard from me how things have been going for me recently, and those of you who don’t know me but have been reading my posts from this past spring have an idea of how hard things had been. But it’s gotten so much better since then. Praise the LORD. (So to those of you out there who are struggling so hard and don’t see any hope for the future… hang on—it WILL get better, believe me.)

  • Mentally/emotionally, I feel great—so much more joyful and hopeful; so much more at rest—I actually enjoy my life more. I wake up nearly every morning feeling feel so much happier to be alive (not that I ever wasn’t happy to be alive).
  • Faith-wise… you know, it’s always a journey, I’m always learning; I’m a sinner in need of God’s grace. I mess up, I run to Him, He shows me mercy. By His grace, I keep running, learning to hate sin and love righteousness. So things aren’t perfect in the slightest (how could they be, on this side of heaven?), but He’s been teaching me so much, and blessing me and showing Himself to me in so many ways. I’ve experienced so much more joy in Christ, and God has been answering my prayers that I would enjoy Him more (shoutout to Jonathan Edwards’s Personal Narrative for the idea to pray this… Edwards did, and I thought, good idea!).
  • Physically, I feel better. I’m still not a perfect picture of health, but I have seen improvement. A significant example of this is that my hair is growing back. About 3 weeks ago I got it cut short (at about chin-length), and since then the amount of hair I was losing slowed down to a halt. Which is a serious answer to prayer. I am convinced that the reason for hair loss was mainly intense stress, while nutrient-deficiency also was a factor. (I get enough to eat, but my body can’t absorb enough nutrients.)

Which segues into the next thing that I am SO happy about: I had an appointment with my doctor today. I had gotten so many different tests done, and during this appointment we went over the results. And—praise the LORD!—the results came back with very pleasant news. I don’t have the possible conditions that I had been wondering whether I had. There was one test I did for “cross-reactives” (foods that the body reacts to as if they were gluten, even if they are completely gluten-free things, such as dairy, potatoes, etc.), and according to the test results, the only cross-reactive that my body can’t handle is dairy, which is kind of sad. On the bright side, all the other cross-reactives were negative (which means I can have things like potatoes and brown rice again! Praise the LORD.) In short, he concluded that things look very hopeful. I can start introducing those “cross-reactives” back into my diet, and I will still have to keep taking supplements, and continue doing exercises that help stimulate the left-cerebellum and brain stem. Anyway, I am so thankful that God helped me find this doctor, because I have NEVER been helped with my Celiac/Horner’s/Traumatic Brain Injury issues to the extent that he has helped me. Ever. My life makes so much sense—how these three conditions totally build off one another and cause all the various symptoms I’ve been having. I now know why I am this way, and have so much hope and confidence that things will only get better.

Thirdly, I’m just in awe over how God has just really blessed me with the friendships He has given me. I’m in awe over the wonderful sisters that God has placed in my life ever since starting college. I have grown so much because of them, and am so, so thankful for all the ways in which they’ve cared for me, listened well, offered wisdom and encouragement, and pointed me to Christ.  God placed the right people in my life at the right time. I’m also amazed at how God brings people together in suffering, and causes something beautiful to come from something unbearably hard. Or how real friendships will not cave under failures—I know that I have failed to be loving many times, yet by God’s grace, there is forgiveness, and the friendship continues on, stronger. Community is such a beautiful thing.

God is just amazing. I can’t say it enough.

—Maddie

The Beginnings of Summer

My life, since I finished my last final:

Hung out with my classmates. Laughed a lot. Went to Chipotle with some of them. Was tired, so I tried to take a nap in an empty classroom (didn’t work). Did absolutely nothing yesterday morning and afternoon. Went to a swing dance, saw some friends there and danced twice. Hung out with some classmates some more, went for a walk with some of them around the city, going to the top of a parking garage and admiring the view (I didn’t go very close to the edge…heights. Ya know?). Went to bed at midnight. Tried to sleep in, but couldn’t (had this dream—a good one—after which it was impossible to go back to sleep). Journaled. Recounted the previous day’s adventures to my sister.

And my school’s commencement is tonight, so I’m really looking forward to going to that and cheering on some of my friends who are graduating.

It feels so good to finally feel alive again. This past school year was wonderful, and I am so thankful for the memories made, the beautiful souls I’ve gotten to know there, and the lessons I’ve learned, academic and otherwise. But it was hard, sanctifying, exhausting, and very draining. It’s good to have all of that behind me, and to finally be able to relax, recover and have some fun, and not have to worry about the next day’s assignments.

Life. 05/06

These past couple of weeks have been eventful.

In school, we finished reading Crime & Punishment. It was a very interesting book and well-written, and in many ways I enjoyed it immensely, but I’m not gonna lie, that was one of the hardest weeks of my life—it’s such a depressing and dark book! But it ends happily (arguably… due to its ambiguous ending, some of my classmates would disagree with me). We spent four class periods on it, and the classes were so interesting—there are so many themes in this book, it’s mind-blowing! If only I could have half the skill in writing fiction as Dostoyevsky had. After reading it we had to write a paper on some aspect in the book, and I turned in my rough draft just before midnight last night. My LAST rough draft, ever. What an amazing feeling.

While some days have been hard, these past couple of days have been quite joyful, actually. The LORD has been giving me a deeper love for Him and His Word—I’ve actually been motivated to read it these past couple days, and to pray more often and more deeply. And these times in His Word and in prayer have been so sweet and life-giving—it totally affects how joyful I will be that day! Lately I’ve been reading through 1 John, and various Psalms (102, 103, 62, 46 are all wonderful), Romans 12, Isaiah 53, etc.

I’m so glad that spring is finally here in its fullness—the trees have leaves now, the grass is no longer dead but living and green, and there are dandelions everywhere, and the temperatures are getting warmer. Praise the LORD!

I’ve been in a juicing/smoothie-making mood these days. A few of my favorite smoothie recipes have been:

  • banana / spinach / avocado / yogurt / honey
  • banana / clementine / plain kefir
  • banana / frozen wild blueberries / avocado (this one turned out to have a consistency kind of like soft-serve ice cream!)

 

While school has been stressful, nearing the end of the semester (two weeks left!), I’ve been intentional to take breaks when needed for the sake of preserving my health, and this has been so nice. During these breaks I’ve been taking lots of naps (I’m not being lazy… I’m so sleep-deprived that it’s absolutely necessary), journaling or reading my Bible, blogging, and working on my lettering business.

Later!

Maddie

Fragility—a poem

This body is fragile and weak—

This isn’t exactly what I had envisioned.

But I know that it would be wrong

To question the Artist about his decision

To make me the way that I am for some reason,

And give me this life with its trial-strewn seasons.

So help me, when tears fall, and I’m on my knees,

To praise You through sorrowful fragility.

 

Like David, I ask You, “How long?”—

I could have been freed from this when I was younger,

But I’ll never say You were wrong

To give me a thorn that would bring forth such wonder.

But when I feel lost in my questions, alone

In a valley, enveloped by many unknowns,

Please be my light, Father, and help me to see

Your hands at work through this hard fragility.

 

As I recall all that I’ve seen—

All the difficult things that You, LORD, have assigned me—

You faithfully guided me through

Every trial You’d given, in love, to refine me.

For pain leads to growth, and such growth have I tasted.

Those tears and unbearable days were not wasted.

I thank You for giving me this severe mercy:

This difficult, beautiful fragility.

Reasons to rejoice.

Life can be really, really hard.

Excessive stress.

Feeling rather emotionally unstable.

Constant fatigue.

Feeling like nothing that I eat is agreeing with me.

Grief over sin.

Anxiety. Depression.

Tears. Pain.

Really knowing that I am but a breath that vanishes.

The unknowns—how long will I be this sick? Will I ever get better? How will this affect my future?

Life is really, really hard sometimes. 

But even then, God has been showering so much grace upon me:

 

Sweet time in His Word.

Precious friends with whom I can be absolutely real, not being afraid of being vulnerable; friends who understand me and care about me, who weep with me when things are hard and rejoice with me in times of joy; friends who encourage and pray for me. Friendship is such an amazing gift.

People in my life who are humorous.

Naps. I’ve been taking so many; I need them.

The Psalms. (Psalm 46, especially)

Grace to rest in the truth of the gospel. I’ve got no reason to doubt. God has me.

Songs that are full of gospel truth.

Things in life that are ordinary, but make life fun: music, smoothies, outings with friends, sunny days, rainy days, laughing with my sister over memes, orchids, poetry, etc.

Most of all, knowing that God loves me, that I am His daughter, and that He is for me, working everything—yes, EVERYTHING—for my good and for His glory. Though I may not see it now, I will later, and this will result in more joy in Him.

 

Even in dark times, there are so many reasons to rejoice.

Life. 04/13

This will be a short one, because, well, I should be writing a paper.

Life has been hard. Really hard. In so many ways—health-wise, emotion-wise, faith-wise, life-wise. School is hard. The stress is real. I’m so overtired that I can hardly think straight sometimes. But God is carrying me through. And there is light at the end of the tunnel, I know there is: firstly, I am a child of God. Is there any happier or more comforting news than that? And these hard seasons I am going through are refining me, making me more like Christ. Oh, LORD, continue to make me more like Your Son, no matter what it takes! Secondly, there are only 5 weeks left of school. Thirdly, I’m learning so much about my health issues. I have Horner’s Syndrome, and I am learning so much about it and how it affects certain areas of my brain, as well as my gut—it may even have been the cause of my having Celiac Disease. Anyway, I am seeing a neurologist for Horner’s and for a traumatic brain injury I had had when I was 6. I’m feeling hopeful about finding healing soon. Praise the LORD!

Also, I’ve been marveling these days about how God uses hard situations for good. If things had not gone as difficultly as they had been, I would not be who I am. I would not love the LORD as much as I do. I would not have met the people I have met in those seasons, or would not have grown as close to my friends as I have during those hard days. I would not have as much compassion for people who are hurting. If I haven’t been wounded myself, I would not have known how to care for others who are hurting too. So although those days were dark and horrible, I am thankful that God brought me through them. He used them for my good, and for His glory, and has brought me closer to Himself. Wow. Thank You, God. Thank You Thank You Thank You.

I will post more later soon, if I can, AFTER this 12-page paper is turned in. WHEW!

Happy Holy Week!

Maddie

When Footing is Slippery

These days have been a little rough. Okay, we’ll not sugar-coat it… just “rough”. I think I may have posted enough in previous posts that most of you may get the idea—the struggles against doubt, fear of man, and failure in obedience. I’ve often been feeling like a complete failure and worrying that my faith might one day completely go down the drain; that I’ll give up altogether… and that thought terrifies me. One of my most common prayers these days is “Hold me fast; don’t let me go, don’t let me walk away. Help me to stand firm.” And this far, God has so graciously kept me.
I just got home from Christmas with the family. It felt good to walk in the door of my own home and breathe a sigh of relief—I’m home. I love my family a lot, but it’s good to finally be home. I decided to check the mail to see if my letter that I had sent to my friend had even been taken by the mailman (we have a super deep mailbox, so sometimes I feel like letters might get forgotten down there for a while before they’re discovered). Not only had it been taken, but—oh joy!—I had received one from her.  Awww. At the very end of the card, she had written “Never forget His steadfast love”, and then “Ps 94:18-20”. So I looked it up. The first two verses really blessed me:

When I thought, “My foot slips,” your steadfast love, O LORD, held me up.

When the cares of my heart are many, your consolations cheer my soul.

Psalm 94:18-19, ESV

Just before I had read her letter, I had been praying and I had journaled about my struggles—”The rushing waters are up to my neck, and I am trying so hard not to lose my footing.”—and then boom, she writes me a card with a reference to a verse that had to do with feeling like losing one’s footing. I love how God does things like that. Wow. I was reminded of how every time I felt like this was the end, that I had no hope, God helped me, every time. And he will do it again. Every time I have been in over my head with doubts and fears and guilt, He has picked me up out of the rushing currents and set me on a rock. Every time I have felt that my faith would fail, He has held me fast.

So friends, if any of you are feeling similarly—if you feel like your feet are slipping—cry out to Him. Keep praying. Be persistent. Don’t give up. He will save His children. He will make their footing sure. He will hold them fast.

With you in the fight,

Maddie

Life – 12/18

As of this past thursday afternoon, I have been on Christmas break. It feels so good to have another semester under my belt, and to no longer have to think about I have to do this assignment, and this paper, and oh yeah, I have a quiz on monday… now I can breathe a little bit.

I’ve been working on handlettering a bit, making an order for a client and brainstorming about my soon-to-be Etsy shop. I’m really excited.

 

 

On Friday evening I decided I wanted to make homemade toffee. So I did. I make mine with honey and coconut oil (I’m guessing 1 part coconut oil to 5 parts honey… I didn’t measure), and then whatever I want to flavor it with (slivered almonds, chocolate, cinnamon, ginger… the possibilities are endless. This time I used ground cinnamon). This time, however, I made them differently than usual. Instead of pouring it while it was still liquid into a buttered pan to cool and harden, I waited till it was of a gooey consistency, buttered my fingers and pulled it like taffy (like they do it in Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Farmer Boy… pull it, double it in half, repeat the process multiple times) until the color turned from dark brown to a light golden color. Then I twisted them into little pieces the size of caramels, and sprinkled them with sea salt. Salted toffee! It turned out pretty good, I thought; I brought some to my family and they loved them as well. Cool. Guess I’ll be making those again sometime. It’s hard being allergic to sugar, sometimes I really wish I could have sugary things like most other people (although I’d probably be seriously unhealthy if I were able to), so I’m pretty happy that it is possible to make toffee using honey.

Yesterday I went with my fam to the mall to go shopping (I hadn’t really hung out with them this much in a long time, so this was nice). At the end of the day I ended up with a really cute coat (it’s really thick, which will be nice since temperatures around here are way below zero), two plaid flannels from Ab&Fitch, and this cozy maroon sweater from Old Navy. When we were at Old Navy, “Holiday” by Britt Nicole came on, which I find rather hilarious—it’s a really old song; I think ON has been playing it every Christmas for about 10 years now (it was released in 2007), and it’s not even a Christmas song. I also got to smalltalk with one of the workers there as she scanned a tag on my sweater to see what the actual price was, so that was cool. We talked about where we were from, all the snow we’re getting, etc. Do you ever run across certain people when you’re shopping (I’m talking about workers) and you just want to be friends with them? It was one of those scenarios.

Despite all of this, it hasn’t been all sunshine and roses, to use a super cliché phrase. Struggles. Depression. Sin, and remorse over sin. Doubts. Anxiety. Feeling stuck. Crying out to God, and often doubting whether or not He can even hear me. Miserable, right. I won’t go into detail, but there’s been some difficult refining going on in my heart these days. But God is faithful, patient, and abundant in mercy and grace. He uses these moments to show me sin, to help me fight it, and to help me remember how much I need Him. As I once told a friend in a conversation we had a couple weeks ago, I’m sure if these hard times weren’t happening in my life, I would easily forget about Him. Which is a terrifying thought. So I’m thankful that He is using these times to sanctify me and teach me (and sometimes force me) to cling to Him for dear life—because He is the very reason I have life, and my heart is “restless till it rests in [Him]”… only then will I ever have real Joy.

In my devotions I’ve been reading through Hebrews. It’s been cool seeing in what ways Jesus fulfills the Old Covenant and many Old Testament symbolisms—that He is the better Adam; that He is the Great High Priest who made the final sacrifice: Himself, etc.—which is fitting in that we are approaching Christmas. So good. I’ve been also reading Psalms (not in any particular order, but based on what I need to hear that day, I guess). Good ol’ David. Journaling goals right there. When I journal, I’ve been trying to do it kind of like how many Psalms go: starting with the problem but resolving it with truth—This is hard. But God promises ___. So I will trust Him—I’ve found it very helpful. Get it off your chest, but don’t stop there. Preach to yourself.

I’m excited for these next few weeks of break. I’m excited for Christmas, and I’m excited to get some non-academic things done. Such as:

  • Polish studies.
  • Getting through some of the many books I have on my shelf that I haven’t gotten very far into yet. I’m finally reading Run to Win the Prize by Tom Schreiner, and it’s been really good. I want to read something by Louisa May Alcott, and maybe read through Pride and Prejudice again (I probably say that every break…).
  • Writing more. More poetry, more progress on my novel (it may never get published, we’ll see), more blog posts, more journaling.
  • Lettering, and learning from the pros on how to do it better.
  • Opening the Etsy shop.

It’ll be good to get some of these done.

Love,

Maddie

But Wait… It Gets Better

Looking back a couple years ago, I was kind of in a difficult season of life. I am so thankful that things are different now than they were then. Back then I was anxious, I was enslaved to fear, filled with doubt, bombarded with lies about who I was… I just wasn’t very free. I was a Christian back then and knew the Gospel, it was just a very difficult season for me.  And I wondered if it would ever end.

Fast forward two years later, to today. I still struggle with doubts sometimes, but my faith has grown and I have learned, and am still learning, to doubt my doubts and CLING to the hope of the Gospel and to God’s Word, which is true and reliable. My fear is mostly gone. He is working in my heart, causing me to seek Him, causing me to desire Him more.  I’m by no means perfect, but God has been so gracious and such a good Father as to help me out of that season and bring me nearer to Himself. He has been giving me a deeper sense of my need for Him, and proving Himself faithful, meeting that need by satisfying me with Himself. I am NOT the same person I was two years ago.

The moral of the story is, if you are in a difficult spot, and if life is absolutely miserable, and you’ve been crying out to God for the millionth time and you STILL don’t seem to have gotten anywhere, don’t give up hope. Take it from yours truly. In the moment when I was in that dark valley, I thought I would never be able to climb up out of it. I thought I would always be troubled in my mind and worry about things that weren’t even true. I didn’t see any change taking place, any hope for things getting better, and it was discouraging. But over time, things most certainly did get better. Since that time–though so gradually it was hard to see the process take place–God has been restoring me, healing me, setting me free, and constantly reminding me of His love for me and His amazing grace shown through the sacrifice of His Son. Keep seeking Him, and He will be faithful to show up.

-Maddie

I sought the LORD, and he answered me

and delivered me from all my fears.

Those who look to him are radiant,

and their faces shall never be ashamed.

This poor man cried, and the LORD heard him

and saved him out of all his troubles.

(Psalm 34:4-6 ESV)

Life – 08/29

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Notes on our “Confessions” class

Things have been going really well these past few days.  School has been super interesting, and every day I’ve looked forward to the next class.  We are now into our second week of school; we just finished reading and discussing Augustine’s Confessions and just today we discussed Augustine’s understading of the Trinity and of the Will, whether creeds and confessions are an important thing to have in the church (we’re reading part of The Creedal Imperative by Carl Trueman for that), etc.  So many topics in one class period!  It was so interesting though.

To provide context for future posts, I might as well add that hey, so I’m actually not a junior.  I would have been, but last year the stress, the workload, the late nights and minor depression (from all of this) got to me, consequently last year things didn’t go as well as I’d liked, and I didn’t exactly pass.  I had taken my fall sophomore semester, but couldn’t take the spring one until I caught up on some things.  So I focused on my Greek, aced it, enjoyed a lighter workload for a season, and now I’m back as a Sophomore, 2.0.  While this is hard in some ways going from one class to another, it’s been great being a part of this new class.  From the start I immediately felt like I belonged, they were all so welcoming.  Last year I had gotten to know some of these people, and became good friends with them.  Now I get to be in class with them, and hang out with them all the time.  It’s pretty sweet.  Besides the people I already knew, I got to know the people I didn’t know very well.  At this point I know everyone’s names and have talked to nearly every one of them, and they all are super awesome people.  I left a great class, but I entered one that was just as equally great.

Now that I’ve provided some context, I can talk in the future about themes we’re studying without you all being confused – “didn’t you go through that material already?”

Besides academics, life has been good these past few days – exceptionally good.

  • The LORD has been so full of grace to me, as always, particularly now by giving me joy in him, which I’ve felt somewhat lacking before and had to fight for it.  I feel like these days my prayers have been less self-focused and more gospel-centered, which is good.  Besides that type of joy (which surpasses all others), I’ve been laughing so much these days, haha.  There are a few people in my class who are absolutely HILARIOUS, and they have been a source of much humor in our classes and in the times we hang out together.
  • Some days the weather has been slightly chilly – an indication of fall weather.  You guys, I cannot wait.  The colors.  The smell of dead leaves, and the sound of them crunching under my feet.  Actually having to wear sweaters and wool socks and use blankets.  Being able to drink tea without overheating myself.  Pumpkin, cinnamon, squash… guys.  I bought a butternut squash a few days ago.  YES.
  • I’ve been learning the pleasure of listening to entire albums at once.  I used to not have the patience for that.  But I’ve been realizing that albums sometimes have a big picture, and certain songs sometimes build off others in the album, or a hidden theme develops that I would have missed had I only listened to select songs at random.  Even if not, I’ve found listening to entire albums pleasurable in and of itself.  A few albums I’ve been listening to, start to finish, are
    • Ghost of a King by The Gray Havens
    • Where The Light Gets In by Jason Gray
    • Posters by Strahan

So that’s a bit on how things have been going recently!  I could say so much, but time is limited, and I’ve got to make supper and get to my reading (my reason for blogging was to wake myself up – I kept dozing off mid-sentence while I was reading, and would end up dreaming ends of sentences onto ones I had started while awake!  So strange, haha).

Maddie

 

#myriadsofblessings – 8/13

The “Thankful” post series (in which I list things I am thankful for) now goes by “#myriadsofblessings” to go better with the blog title.  FYI.  Anyway, here are some blessings I am currently grateful for:

  • Deep conversations with good friends.
  • Being home.
  • Frozen berries. (Just eating them out of the bag is one of the best things ever… if you don’t mind your thumb and index finger turning purplish-red in the process.)
  • Windows that open.
  • Forgiveness in Jesus.
  • People I can be completely honest and open with.
  • Spontaneous adventures with friends.
  • Mangoes.
  • Brown rice pasta.
  • Babies.
  • Knowing (and actually believing) that God is in control of all things.
  • The fact that I get to go to my home church tomorrow. YESSS.
  • The sound of crickets at night.
  • Scented candles.
  • God’s Word, in English. What grace.
  • Color.
  • Eyesight.  Yesterday I imagined what it would be like living without sight, and how hard it would be.  So many people do.  I’m thankful that for now, I have working eyes (albeit nearsighted ones that need glasses).

What are you thankful for?

Summer Recap

And just like that… Summer flew right by.  Now I only have a week left until college starts up, and while I’m eager to get back into all the school stuff, I want to enjoy and make the most of this last week of no schedules.

This summer has been a good one.  A quick recap of what happened:

I spent a couple weeks home, hanging out a lot with good friends and making a lot of awesome memories.  Then…

I spent several weeks working in the kitchen at a christian camp.  It was great; I’ve worked there before and know most of the staff there really well.  In the evening, when we weren’t working, the staff played games, or watched the Olympics together, or just hung out some evenings, which was fun.  Some other evenings I just spent in my room having some down time, as I was so tired from that day’s work that I needed to get off my feet or spend a little bit of time alone (I love people, but I’m just a bit introverted and need a little time by myself every so often to recharge), and would read my Bible, or answer emails, journal or do handlettering.   When we were working, we often played music to make things more fun.  We played For King & Country, Rend Collective, and Phil Wickham many times, as well as “Geronimo”, “Baby Baby” (the contemporary version featuring Tori Kelly), “Gone Like A Freight Train” (a classic in the camp kitchen), and “Brother” by NEEDTOBREATHE (one of the best songs ever).  We washed so many dishes.  I burned my fingers repeatedly while stacking hot plates.  I made nearly all of the gluten free baked goods.  Sometimes they turned out well, and sometimes they didn’t, so they didn’t tempt me (a good thing; I can always use fewer carbs and sugars in my life).  One of the best things about this summer was on the weekends, during staff meetings, when we would tell and hear stories of how the week went and how God worked in the lives of the campers that week.  Oh, so good.  In short, it was a good camp season, and I am thankful and blessed to have been a part of it.

Now I’m back home, and it feels nice, although not a ton is going on these days.  I’ve been setting up my new room, which has been fun (I switched rooms, due to old roommates moving out and new ones coming in).  I’ve been putting artwork and handwritten quotes all over the walls, unpacking and such – and sometimes just laying in front of the fan.  We don’t have air conditioning, haha.  I don’t have an actual bed frame yet, so I’m sleeping on a mattress on the floor (which isn’t all that bad, but once it gets cold and I start seeing mice, I’ll want to be off the floor).

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When I haven’t been setting up my room, I’ve been reading for my first class, early.  Or helping my friend address wedding invitations while watching olympics and seeing that 1st place tie happen in men’s swimming.  Or going with a couple friends to “Targhetto” (a Target in the ghetto, pretty self-explanatory) and then to a used bookstore (I found so many classic children’s books that I had read in my childhood, and I wanted to buy them all!  I totally would have if I weren’t a poor college student trying to be frugal, haha).  Or biking to a coffeeshop and then (currently) waiting for the rain to stop so we can go home.

Later!

Maddie