Making the Word Come Alive

“Remain in Me…let My words remain in you…”

I can trace my life each week–my feelings, my behaviors, my thoughts–simply by the time I spend in God’s word and in His presence.

More tired, snippy, impatient? Yep, I skimped on time with Him. Sorry to people who dealt with me last week!

Quick to assume and to judge and angry? Yep, I did not take time to quiet my soul and listen to Him and instead started with my to-do list.

More anxious and critical and less grounded? It tells the story of being disconnected from the Father and overly connected to the noise outside of me.

The more I am aware of my tendencies and the way I work, the more my excuses don’t have validity. My thoughts (what I am feeding them to focus on) lead to my feelings (how I see and experience the world and myself) which leads to my behavior (how I chose to act and interact).

The Holy Creator-Redeemer-Shepherd-Sustainer knows this quite well. In fact, He lived it on this Earth. Yes, Even God-Man himself, Jesus, pulled away to pray, to be renewed, to commune with His Father. People were CLAMORING for Him…literally following Him around the countryside NEEDING him. He had 12 guys who left everything they knew to FOLLOW Him, and He would go MIA. His disciples were dumbfounded…how could He when this _________ was needed?

Jesus, perfect Jesus, knew that His thoughts affected His feelings which affected His behaviors. He was tempted. He was tired. He felt the weight of humanity around Him in His human body. He gave us a template for living life in the battle. We are to commune with the Father just as He did. And…let us all be reminded that NOTHING on our to-do list was as important as what was on His.

This is countercultural to a mentality to busy things up…to take care of business…to produce, produce, produce. In fact, just like Jesus, if we follow this template, we are going to tick some people off. They will not like or understand the boundary. They might criticize and shame you and question your commitment. However, I am here to tell you…following your own wisdom and the pace that this world sets for you WILL devour your soul. You will be rendered ineffective. You “don’t got this.” You are one who needs refreshment from the Father, reminders of Hope, renewal in the Spirit, a clothing of His character. He is God, and you are not.

So, if you wonder how in the world do I even do this? I will give you snippets over the coming weeks. One way that is huge for me is to meditate on scripture–by posting it, singing it, praying it. Sometimes it even comes into my art….

Who Do You Think You Are?

The question that stared back at me from my devotional…”who do you think you are?”

Seriously…I sat down and started writing. I encourage you to, as well.

before the world got a hold of me

At 18 I was the most sure of who I was, and I am not that girl anymore. That is healthy and good, and that is NOT my work inside of me. My ideas and plans about life encumber (impedes/hampers the function or activity of) my identity. God gradually shepherds me to freedom by dismantling my efforts and thoughts. Truly.

This has been a season of stripping me of my coping mechanisms and thoughts. There are pieces of me that I cannot put together. It feels unnerving and right all at the same time.

So, back to “who do I think I am?”

I’m Jen, a girl who is held and rescued by God.

I’m fickle at heart, but He continues to gently shepherd me to be more like Him.

I cannot charm or succeed on my own. I used to think I could, but I do not want to now.

I have glimpses of my Father’s creativity and, at my best, glimpses of His relational presence.

I have had and have different roles in my life–leader, wife, friend, daughter, sister, aunt, school counselor, pastor’s daughter, pastor’s wife, momma to two boys, business owner, struggler with fertility, starter of a non-profit, disciple-maker, serial dater, avoider of conflict. These are not who I am, but they help shape me by dismantling my own agenda.

I am a new creation with a softened heart of flesh that is learning and yearning everyday.

Because of Jesus’ work on the Cross, I am holy, beloved, righteous. I am not my own, and that is sooooo good.

I struggle and don’t have pure desires. I seek my own way, but that does not define me. He does.

I have freedom in Jesus to look at the areas where I completely seek my own way–not trusting Him. I can be honest, repentant, and broken, and forsake those places with the Holy Spirit’s power.

I have hope of new mercies (not getting what I deserve) every morning.

I don’t have to hide or pretend. I am not perfect, but I am His. He is faithful to complete the work in me throughout my lifetime.

I have gifts to add to the world–humor, creativity, global ideas, encouragement…and gifts that I need from others to flourish. I am not made to do this alone.

I used to think that having it all together, looking strong, and impressing others was the key to life. That is just not true. See, we are created to need others–and that includes God. Even if we were perfect, we would need others. What God brings year after year to my life is humility that “I don’t got this.” And, little by little, I am learning to embrace that. There is freedom, life, and joy there.

I encourage you today to take stock of who you are. That may feel like a scary thought…and actually it is. But, do we run from scary thoughts or do we face them in courage? I want to know who you are becoming. Will you share with me?

Starting a new project means…

My youngest started kindergarten 3 full weeks ago. It’s the longest time I have been away from my children since they were born.
The first two days I felt like I had been dumped on a deserted island. I didn’t know where to start or what to feel. I felt an appendage had been taken away.
I have tackled several projects that I had not had space to do like painting my kids’ rooms, changing them around, and painting their doors.
The second weekend brought a gnawing feeling to the surface…a sadness, an ache. It hit me…a season of parenting was done. Goodbye to the little years of early childhood, goodbye to squishy faces. I suddenly realized what the women in the line at the grocery store felt as they told me to treasure the years. They knew the gift that is hard to treasure in the midst of the toil of diapers and tantrums and sleepless nights. I finally understood that they knew exactly how I felt and what I would feel. And…they know the grief that accompanies transitioning through each stage.
So, I began this week with the realization of a new grief, and I knew I needed to embrace new adventures in the midst. So, I took myself downtown and just walked around taking pics of buildings to do a little watercolor painting. There was no distinct plan–just the first room to give myself some space to embrace the new. When I am sad or not sure how to process something, I find somethign to fill my time and my creativity.

Gay street favorites–Babalu and Maple Hall
Market Square: The Tomato Head

So, here we go…here are my first stabs at my little project. I could name it “my kids are in middle childhood and I am trying to figure out how I feel about it” project.

The beautiful Tennessee Theater
Market Square: The Oliver, Oliver Royale and Tupelo Honey

a pivotal moment

The floor felt like it opened up to swallow me.  Thoughts and words and ideas and foundations were challenged as I sipped a frozen coffee and listened.    

At 21 years old and a senior in college, I assumed I would be a bit more stable.  In the prior year, I had seen my foundations fracture due to my own choices.  What started as hairline fractures burst into chasms in which I could not charm my way out of.   I hurt others.  I chose my own comfort for the moment.  I began to see that my self-righteousness was a front for the sin that lay beneath.  What stung the most for this people pleaser was that others called me out on my mess.  In 2019 terms, I was having a “brand crisis.”     

Looking in the mirror, the person I thought I was faded, and I did not know who this young woman had become.  One might be thinking I had gotten into a scandal of epic size, but it was not.  A poorly handled breakup and a poorly handled rebound where I hurt others started the snowball down the hill.  I kept trying to spin my choices in the eyes of others, and I found myself further in a hole.  I had lost fellowship with God as I walked my day to day life, and it became about my own wisdom.  Spoiler alert:  I had an overinflated picture of my own wisdom and resources. 

I could recognize and feel the grossness and inconsistencies within me for the first time.  Up until then, I really thought I had it together.  I know—yuck.  I had depended upon God, but I did not have a truthful view of myself and Him. 

So, as I sat looking at God’s word in a totally different way, I was greatly sobered.  Before, I had cherry picked verses that were encouraging or convicting.  Never had I studied through a book of the Bible or listened to teaching in that way.  I did not know how.  Never had I let God’s word inform me of what God was like.  I took what people told me and the wisdom that I had and formulated my faith. 

Ephesians 1 was before me…had I ever read it before?  It was plain, and it shook me. When I allowed the Bible coupled with the Spirit to speak…I was confronted that I was not the center of my story.  Though humbling, it was so freeing.  This freedom and joy only came after a war waged within.

This was the beginning of my journey of looking at God, His word and my faith in a different way.  See, I totally would be a different person today had this change not occurred. Every year and in every pain, He leads me deeper and deeper into His truth.  Sadly, I see where I could have been apart from His grace to show me the treasure of His word and who He is.  From my background, I assume I would still be in church.  I would still be a people helper.  However, knowing myself, I think the authenticity and vulnerability would not be there.  The richness of relationships would not be there.  I think my view of God would have shifted to be more culturally acceptable. I would not have had the anchor of God’s sure character within pain.  In infertility, in death and loss and grief, in ministry…I literally would be unrecognizable if I still thought I was the center of the story.  I would have missed the beauty of who He is.

If I can encourage people of anything in this life, it is to examine His word and to ask Him for wisdom and grace in learning from it.  For, from it, He shows Himself and in turn, one sees the reality of who they are. 

See, if God is the center and the praise of His glory is the point, I have found and am finding that there is meaning and worship and hope and eternal purpose in all things—even the most crushing of blows.  I can go to His truth preserved and find my identity and meaning there—even when I don’t understand and don’t like what I read.  He does not shift or change as everything around us does.  His purposes are true and eternal and good.   So, wrestle friends. It is worth it.

Pieces of me

I remember the exhilarating feeling of the Summer after graduating high school.  I was 18, seemingly confident, and full of wonder for the future.  I can feel that ghost of a girl as I fondly look back.  Her identity would take some hits in the coming years.

I remember the trepidation and excitement as I spent the first night in my dorm room at the University of Tennessee alone. The lonely moved in that night, and a foreign reality set in.  The familiarities of life in a small town with the rhythms of predictable and warm people was traded for an upside down perspective where no one knew me or valued me. 

I remember getting a call from Delta Airlines offering me a job after graduating from UTK.  After training, I would be living in New York City with many people in an apartment.  Adventure called, and it sounded good but made me nauseated with fear.  My heart failed me, and due to health issues amidst training, I landed back at home with my parents unable to drive for 2 ½ months.  Talk about a pride crushing anti-climax. 

As I reflect, there have been a lot of times where I have been in a season with no plan, a timid voice and a questioning of my abilities. 

Transitional seasons in life have brought me right back to that scared, excited, lonely girl in that dorm room who mistakenly thought she knew herself.

Adult life can feel predictable, but the truth is, we are all being flipped on our heads all of the time with change, grief and conflict.  So, why don’t we talk about it? We isolate our inner turmoil and find ways to turn it’s noise down instead of sharing our fears with others.  Then, instead of exploring it, we self-destruct making asinine decisions that might destroy our families and our friendships in the process.

It’s funny.  In the last year, I have experienced high confidence in who I am and how I am growing in the aftermath of a really tough season.    Yet, Right now, I am plunged into a place where I feel my shortcomings, my selfishness, my lack of focus and how that affects the lives around me greater than I ever have before.  Who in the heck am I? As a kid, I had no idea adults were walking around feeling this way!

The Lord keeps giving me this picture of my life as pieces of paper ripped and piled up, unable to be made sense of by me. Since thinking and problem solving are my go-to activities, I have been frustrated.  I have this need to work it out and find a reason for things to be happening and how to solve them or spin them for a purposed good. And yet, He continues to remind me, “Show up right now, Jen.  You are not to figure it all out.  Don’t hide in your mind or your activities. Show up, and rely on Me.”    He is the One making the collage.  He knows the vision.  It is not my job to have the plan and piece the pile together. My purpose is to lean in, to know Him, and to trust Him.  It is there that peace is found.    

Empathy is one of my gifts but grieving is not.  So, I emote for others but I struggle to sit with and identify my emotions myself.  It feels too unpredictable.  It feels wrong.  I want to run from it, yet God does not let me.  Without the moments in my life where I am floundering and lack my sea legs to find a place and an identity (like all the situations mentioned above), I trust in myself and my abilities.    I stay on the surface. 

With each transition of undoing and being remade, I see the emptiness of life in Jen.  I see a shell of life with no pearl formed.  I see vacuous decisions.  Not that I seek it, but It is through pain, questions, annoyance, arrogance, loss, frustrations, hurts, and conflict that the grit has been rubbing my soul to form a pearl that reflects the glories of Him and not of my plans or my desires.  Good grief, what I would dream and desire would be empty and easy and so far away from the splendor of knowing the Creator of the Universe as my adopted Father.   So, I sit in the pieces, grieving the “not yet” and sitting in the “already” of redemption.  I am learning ever so clumsily. 

Sprinkled or Power-Washed?

The last few days, I have been one with the pressure washer. The space on our deck seemed to triple in that time. I had LOTS of time to think, to pray, to ponder, and to learn.

Pressure washing is oddly satisfying. You can see results in the stripping of dirt and grime. There is power there. Used effectively, it transforms.

Funny how dirt works. It builds over time, and it is subtle. We are the same way. We are affected and changed by the day in and day out grime that builds up. Often we do not even recognize the change in our hearts and lives until we tank. That whole caveat that we become who we are around…it’s true. We have become like the world in so many ways. Our hearts become hardened and our ears gunky so as to not be able to discern falsehood. Our mouths tend to be loose and prone to criticize and to complain. Our minds become cloudy with anxiety and questions and thoughts of self-preservation and self-worship.

The power washer to us? God’s character and word by His Spirit. The problem? Most of us use His word like the trickle of a hose. It might feel refreshing to our felt need of the day, but it does not transform. A little devotion here, a little worship there, check out this therapeutic book, say some prayers for your business, your kids, your attitude… We come in contact with the water, but we do not understand and feel it’s power. We want the benefits of Him without knowing Him.

I have had many different relationships with the Bible in my life. Earlier on, it was facts to memorize, words to sing, and prayers to pray. As life marched on, it became truth to wrestle with. A little further in, water for my parched and disoriented soul. Deeper in, the invitation to die to my definitions of fulfillment and to live in His definitions.

There are times that I feel the sting of that power washer digging into the build up of my comfort and pride and the very ways that I define myself. It is painful, but it is necessary to bring greater growth and health and life. I know it is out of love from the Spirit. See, I can age and weather and get build up and look like everyone else, and at times, that feels very comfortable. But, then the rot comes. The fungi gets in the cracks and creates rot, and it spreads like a cancer. When Jesus commanded us to remain and abide in Him, His words, His love, that was not a suggestion for a trickle of water. He calls us to depend, to be transformed, and to be renewed.

I see the rot happening all too often in my own life and in that of others when we are choose not to be equipped to deeply dive into the Word of God and to be transformed. Time and time again, I see the drift. I see people falling for the “Did God really say?” (Genesis 3) When we are not versed in who God really is and what He is about (which is found in the letter from Him to us in His word), we tend to choose what sounds the best and makes the most sense within the culture. We have the build up and we have lost the sensitivity for what is really true.

There are some things (well, a lot) that completely do not make sense to my natural heart and thoughts in the Bible. I want to get along, love everybody, make them feel good about themselves and have them feel good about me. Those are the basics of Jen. But, as I have come to know Him more–in the light of His character displayed in His word–I know that my desires are often contrary to good. I may think I am doing good to someone, but I am actually contributing to my rot and to their rot. See, I can paint a deck with the best of them. I can pick a really cute color and scheme and make it look good for the moment. However, the inside of those pieces of wood and the stability of the decking will show. The winds will come and the rain will come down, and it will crash.

In learning to study His word, I throw out the foundation of sand which looks appealing to the outside. I begin to be grounded and have a sure foundation on the rock. The pressure washer stings when it hits my pride, my bitterness, my arrogance, my longing to please others, my anxieties, my self-worship, my disregard for others in need… However, I am then free from those things and free to see, to hear, and to commune with the Father. My soul finds rest in following Him. I walk healthier and with more of a regard for others and their truest needs. The grime builds up everyday, and everyday I need the transforming power and words of the gospel which frees me from myself.

What story are you writing?

What story are you writing this morning? Not a writer you say? I disagree. You are telling yourself something about a lot of things.

It may be that you have carefully crafted a story about your acquaintance’s life, her trip, her parenting, her marriage, her financial status. It may be that you have written a story about everyone having good friends but you. You may have written a script with conflict in a friendship in which your friend is unaware. In fact, you might be an anonymous writer that has never shared her work with anyone but yourself. You have created a scripted show in your head and have never checked it against reality. You could be constantly sharing information with yourself that breeds more and more disconnection, deception, and strife.

Gone are the days of just comparing your life with your next door neighbor or your cousin. With the world at our fingertips, we are bombarded with all of the things. We have a virtual world with fancy filters, branding, and crafting of our stories that shows us everyone we have ever worked with, dated, been to school with, known through a friend of a friend, went to summer camp with, or watched on television, etc. Their lives flash before us in the scroll. We do not control what they post as they carefully craft the story they want us to see.

It’s a bit exhausting to compare our lives to each of them. “What do they do for a living? How can they afford that? must be nice to have a spouse who… their teenagers actually seem decent… Must be nice to get to work out all the time… They are doing so much for others while I am over here drowning… Look at how much their parents help…How many times are they going to be away from their kids? How can they go to Disney that much? How can they crusade about that? what are they doing to help others?”

We have these thoughts and write these stories unchecked, and then we awaken to feel the weight of our hearts. We have no idea what the real truth is, but we are living with this alternate truth that we have crafted. We are cut off from relationship because we have assumed and have not conversed and checked in with the actual people.

Whatever we feed grows. When we are feeding a fictional narrative in our head, what does that do for our reality, our relationships, our actual lives?

Our hearts, in the flesh, will deceive us every time. We set ourselves up front and center, and we interpret life from our feelings. This is really dangerous (think looking at life as a 2 and 3 year old demanding our every desire). So, how do we navigate? Where do we fact check and mature and get our tantrums under control?

Did you know that the word of God tells us about this? Those living life apart from God’s transformation through Christ, are “darkened in their understanding alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them due to their hardness of heart….have become callous, given to sensuality, greed, practice impurity, corrupt through deceitful desires…” (Ephesians 1) It also says that those, in Christ, are to put off their old self and to put on the new self created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.

So, it sounds like there is hope and transformation written into our stories, huh? It is very easy to fall back into the old, and we have to step into and put on the new self. This is a battle, but it is a battle in which we are NOT alone.

First, we have to acknowledge “old” and deceitful stories we are telling ourselves. When we begin crafting a story, we need to stop and to examine.

We examine ourselves with the Lord first: Where is our attitude out of alignment with God’s character? Are we remembering the grace of God toward us or are we caught in guilt and shame and bitterness? Where are we holding in to the old ways? Are we humbling ourselves before Him and trusting in His thoughts toward us?

Then, we examine our relationships with others: Are we assuming the best or the worst in others? Are we choosing to rejoice with those who rejoice and to mourn with those who mourn? Do we need to ask forgiveness in a relationship? Where do we need to humble ourselves and to serve others?

In taking our thoughts captive in obedience to Christ, we replace lies with the truth. I always find it so helpful to remember Philippians 4:8 “Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable–if anything is excellent or praiseworthy–think about such things.” Oftentimes, I need to think situation by situation, person by person–what is true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent or praiseworthy in this, them? When practicing this, I am able to turn my thoughts into prayers, into being “for” instead of against, into looking at what will spur them on instead of seeing it as a competition.

We all know that “reality tv” is far from real, and we must always remember that we can be living in our scripts and missing out on true life and growth and relationship. Let’s spur each other on today…