Creativity helps the spirit

This has been quite a year, right? That is an understatement.

As my world has gotten a lot smaller, my feelings have gotten bigger. Do you identify?

Creating collages of cities near and dear to me has become cathartic. I love that it is blessing others, as well. It’s really fun to see people gift ornaments and prints to others to pass on memories and to mark special times in life that are connected to certain cities.

One day, after getting some prints made at F32 photo, I walk in and my friend, April, presented me with a fun ornament of my Knoxville block piece. That ornament sparked all of these. Thank you, April. I hope you all enjoy them on your tree and smile for years to come!

Who is the Hero?

If you watch enough movies and read enough books and peruse Instagram a few times, you begin to feel this expectation. You begin to question what your purpose is, what your story is supposed to say to the world. There’s even a space for you to play your story all day long. You may question if you are interesting enough, have done enough, crusade for the righteous cause enough. People may poke you a bit about it, too….”why are you not using your platform for XYZ?”

As I was praying this morning, I sniffed out the lie I was believing. When I pondered it and realized it was untrue, I took a really deep soul cleansing breath. See, I had begun to walk around with this expectation that I was to be the hero of the story. Now, I am not the hero, however, when you have an underlying expectation that you should be that brings shame and narcissism and a LOT of thought and examination about what I should be doing that I am not.

That’s not my place and that’s not my job. None of us are made to be the hero of the story, and we often spend copious amounts of time dreaming and thinking we are meant to be.

The ironic thing about people who are part of a solution that become “iconic” heroes is that they were probably not thinking of themselves and how the optics of the situation were going to play out in history. We spend an awful lot of time thinking about optics these days with social media and the news cycle. In fact, our lives can be an empty cavern of optics if we do not take care of our souls.

So, back to the whole hero revelation… it sounds so base because it is. What that is in me is sin. I put myself in the place of the real Hero, the One who is made for unending Glory. It’s kind of like the chiropractor popped my soul back into alignment seeing my self-focus be replaced with a focus on the True Eternal Hero that has infinite wisdom, knowledge, glory, kindness, justice, patience, purpose, grace, love, mercy, righteousness. Those are His shoes to fill, and He does it quite beautifully.

The reality that He has entrusted me in this time and space with certain gifts and skills to steward as part of His big story is humbling. There is a cadence to following Him even in the world of shifting sand right now. What a freedom to remember that I am not the author or the orchestrator.

In fact, it’s foolish that I have believed that yet again it was up to me to say the right thing and forge the right path and get attention for my “work.” So, today, I remember the One who is “the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by Him, all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities–all things were created THROUGH Him and FOR Him. And He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together. And He is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning and the firstborn from the dead, that in everything He might be preeminent. For in Him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through Him to reconcile to Himself all things whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of His cross. And you (jen), who were once alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, He has now reconciled in His body of flesh by His death, in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before Him, if indeed you continue in the faith, stable and steadfast, not shifting from the hope of the gospel you have heard…” Colossians 1:15-23

ponder anew

We can easily list all the things “taken” from us in 2020.

Some of those are devastating–loss of life, loss of provision through job or a business, loss or separation from family, loss of a spouse through divorce or death, loss of support for our special needs children.

Some of those things are frustrating–lost trips, lost markers of celebrations for occasions we have planned years for, lost deals, lost educational experiences, lost mental health.

Some of them are annoying–in the day in and day out. I think we could all make a list here whether it’s hating the inconveniences that COVID life brings through every gathering of people looking different, wearing masks, keeping distance, etc.

What in my life looks the same as it did one year ago? I live in the same house with the same family. In reality, though, none of my family is the same as we were when we galloped carefree through Disney World in February. In fact, every single person on earth has had an adjustment–some more distinct than others. When can we say that about anything else in our lives? That’s a sobering thought.

Everything else has “flipped-turned upside down” from the way we eat, to lack of travel, to the reevaluation of physical touch, to the lack of a social calendar, to the way education looks, to the way we worship, to the lack of people we interact with daily, to the way we work, to the awareness of others.

What happens when our lives flip upside down?

There is definitely grief. Grief is simply the natural reaction to loss. We all deal with it. Some deal more head on and in healthier ways than others. If you have experienced sadness, frustration, angst, explosive anger, irritability, a wrestling in your spirit…those are a few ways that grief trickles out. We all have different ways of processing it, and I bet you have found yourself needing grace from others because of the clumsiness of your grief in the midst. For some, this is more pronounced. For some, this has brought a fight to resume the “normal” and to fight against governing authorities. For some, this has brought despair. For some, this has brought fissures in family and relationships.

Contrary to what I have written so far, I am going to be examining what opportunities I have gained in this “unprecedented time.” It’s a choice that I have had to make, albeit while kicking and screaming in the beginning.

Synonyms for opportunity include chance, opening, time, turn, moment, possibility, occasion… This is not an “opportunity” any of us sought. Most people never seek out loss and pain and suffering. However, if we reflect on the most impactful times of our lives, there’s usually a hardship–loss, struggle, frustration, anger, and wrestling. How we choose to deal with it is what transforms us in the midst.

Because I have had practice and lots of stumbling and a good good gracious loving and kind Father in God, I remember the drill. I am here to encourage you to remember or embrace it, too. Opportunities are often not taken. Let’s encourage one another along the way.

Opportunities presented during COVID 19:

We have the opportunity to see what we were depending on for comfort. Most of our life distractions and entertainments have disappeared or, at the least, have become stale. (streaming services and reality TV don’t have the same shine as they did seven months ago, huh?) It’s not as easy to whip up plans to decompress from a hard week.

We have the opportunity to see where busyness was a toxic part of our lives. We have had the opportunity to experience boredom in comparison to busyness. We have the opportunity to see where we might forsake parts of our schedule in the future once we examine a slower life.

We have the opportunity to see where we have created noise to avoid as well as the opportunity to examine why we have been avoiding things.

We have had the opportunity to see that virtual life has some value but there is no substitute for an in person connection to others.

We have had the opportunity to look around, to embrace things like walks, bike rides, quiet nights outside, parks, stars, board games, art, puzzles…you know, the old fashioned stuff.

I, along with some others, have had the opportunity to feel the squeeze of having a family member who is high risk to COVID. This has affected literally every interaction, every schedule, every decision, every thought of the “future” in our lives. When I say EVERY, I mean EVERY.

As I ponder all the things that have changed, I have to ponder my heart and my outlook. This has been a season of being turned inside out, of dying to self, of lots of sighing, of treasuring simplicity. I think we all lived mornings in the Spring and early Summer where we thought we were on a hamster wheel and did not know one day from the next.

This has been a season of dependence on the Lord. Now, it took me awhile to get there. Describing my season of “crisis schooling” in the Spring goes a little something like this: “if there was literally anywhere to go or to run away to, I would have sprinted.” Air Bnb–nope. Hotel–nope. Mother’s house–nope. Beach–nope. Anywhere away from noise and assignments–nope. Go to a restaurant–nope. New tv shows–nope.

There was a moment where I looked myself in the mirror and in the heart with the Lord and knew that the whining and the thrashing was over. I knew life was not going to morph quickly. My husband needed me. My kids needed me. They needed all of me. The all of me that struggles with depression and anxiety, that feels perfectionistic tendencies, that loses her temper, that loves to have fun, that is not the typical “got-it-all-together momma.”

I had to find a way to “show up” in the day to day because the day to day was what we had. I wanted to nap through the hard, but the hard wasn’t leaving. So, I started choosing to get dressed. I put on lipstick if nothing else. I didn’t get a new personality, but, through the Lord, I got a new perspective day by day.

AN ASIDE: Now…as you are reading this and rolling your eyes, I need you to know that this season has literally transformed my hair to gray and my attitude to constant sighing. We have gotten hard diagnoses, bad news, blistering criticisms, been isolated, etc–it’s easy to type those–it’s weighty to live them. So, I am not blowing smoke or trying to present an Instagram version of life.

And now, I am, gulp, homeschooling my children and am actually all in. This requires me to prioritize things that were not even on my radar 12 months ago. A lesson of great worth: My life is not my own. I am never away from my children. I got to taste the freedom of having two kids in school for 3/4 of the year last year, and now, it’s reversal of fortune. I would have told you last year that this would be impossible for me–that I am not made to roll that way. And yet, the Lord stretches and toughens me and actually transforms my heart in trust. It is because of HIM that I have hope and that my interest in and love and like for my children has grown. (are we allowed to say that?) This is an opportunity.

Let me be clear—this is an opportunity I would NOT have chosen without COVID-19. However, even when it’s hard and I feel like I am literally “sucking” at the job, I tuck my boys in with great thanks and wonder. It is a privilege. I am delighting in learning and praying that they do, as well. My perspective is changing every day. I am not perfect. I am not “made for this.” I am not doing as well as the pictures on social media express. However, it is a beautiful opportunity I would have missed without COVID-19.

Another opportunity I have gained–a chance to view the world and people’s perspectives a little differently. My husband is at high risk therefore all of us live at high risk. Our every move is thought of cautiously. I am beginning to experience things as I never have before. Greg often says I bebop throughout life thinking the consequences are little. It’s really true. I have this “it’s all going to work out” mentality. However, I am seeing the gravity of this situation. It is not going to, nor has it, all worked out for people. There is a real threat that has caused real death and real complications to people. We cannot gage who it will be no big deal for. Even small as a percentage, people are dying. Some of those people where high risk and some were not. I have heard sad stories from friends who have lost family members from COVID and have walked out extra grief in the midst because they could not “be with” them and the burial was so hard and different. So, a positive attitude and some sunshine do not color our circumstances differently. There are REAL CONSEQUENCES for my often flippant decisions. One careless mistake could forever shadow our lives. As the “Lower percentage of people” of risk in the COVID times, I have begun to experience life and to listen in a different way. I have felt the “yeah but only a certain percentage are at risk” dismissal. And then, you add in people actively working against protocols–good people who believe fiercely that this is a hoax or being used as a political ploy. It is really hard to have a loving and kind attitude in the midst, but I keep praying when anger bubbles and I have unfollowed the noise to protect my heart and mind to be able to shepherd my children well.

Hmmmm. This invites a whole new discussion. I am a white, Christian upper middle class female in the southern United States. I have not ever felt a huge push back of being EXTREMELY different. But, this is the first time I have felt my family dismissed. It intersects with people who have felt dismissed for their whole lives (I have not experienced that–just a TINY drop of a taste.) So, I think you can see where this is going. I have begun to listen in a different way to families and people who have been dismissed by the majority.

It is easy to look at utilitarian policy instead of looking at people. Truthfully, we all automatically operate out of our experience and what we need for life to work for us. That is inherent to human nature, and every single one of us does it. It is when we experience something different or we engage with those who have experienced a different story that we realize that things may not be as simple as we have defined. So, thanks to this season, I am beginning to take the opportunity to listen differently instead of preparing my talking points. I am reminded that each person has a story and hurts and obstacles and needs. Most people in this world do not live in my experience and it matters that I stop, recognize that, ask questions, listen, pray, and engage as God leads.

“Be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to anger…” (James 1:19)

When that verse was inspired by the Spirit, He knew that social media would come. He knew about 2020 and all the other years of history that would turn people upside down (because this is not a new occurrence in the human experience.) This season has been an opportunity to practice thoughtfulness, self-control and prayerfulness when we are operating at a deficit of patience…

But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect. 1 Peter 3:15

Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone. Colossians 4:6

Instead of living in a world of talking points, we are invited into an opportunity of building relationship, of engagement, of wrestling within our hearts. There is Truth found in the very words of God…truth that transforms. However, we all need to examine the manner in which we dispense it… gentle, respectful, graceful (with favor the person does not deserve), seasoned. There is a HOPE and GOOD NEWS that stands, and we are placed where we live and in this time for a reason…

And He has made from one blood every nation of men to dwell on the face of the earth, and has determined their pre-appointed times and boundaries of their dwellings, so that they should seek the Lord, in the hope that they might grope for Him and find Him…for in Him we live and move and have our being… Acts 17:26-28

So, the next 2 weeks-21 months is going to present new opportunities. We each have our own story, things that are important to us, needs and people in our lives that are very very difficult to navigate. Each of those people is operating at a deficit–probably at their worst.

We do not know the future, but we do know it is not going to be filled with simple answers or bring peace (a civil war is here and growing). The person that brings burning anger within you the most, needs grace and truth. The more polarized we become, the more tempting it is to write people off and not treat them as real people with real needs and emotions. We do not have to drink up their social media posts or herald their cause, but we need to humble ourselves and not look at people as objects even though they might treat you in that fashion.

Some opportunities we might take for our own soul:

*We might choose to redefine our social media lives and not feed our hearts there. *We might choose not to carry out conversations on posts but rather engage one on one with others. *We might guard our hearts against “research” on the internet for our “side” and choose to immerse ourselves in Bible Study from the source instead of about the source. *We might look for opportunities to serve others and look beyond our own despair. *We might choose 5 people who are different from us to pray for daily—not for them to become like us but for them to encounter growth in God. *We might find ways to guard our hearts by limiting time online, moving our bodies, taking care of our souls, getting good nutrition, being in the Word in order to live and to speak and to move in Grace, gentleness, truth, and respect. *We might find ways to recognize how we are feeding the problems within ourselves and with others…humility is an important place to start. *We might take time to choose gratitude daily and to share an encouraging word with people daily.

This is hard work, and it is not letting up. We need each other in the midst. Let the end of 2020 and the year of 2021 be filled with opportunities taken individually and collectively.

Golly Bum, Come Soon 2021!

History has fascinated me since childhood. I love to learn from the stories of real lives in biographies, autobiographies and memoirs.

As an elementary student, I sat on the edge of my seat listening to my principals, Prof Powers and Mr. Buchanan, tell us of their experiences in World War II and the Korean War in our classroom. Prof also told us about fighting in the Battle of Athens in my hometown. I sat wide eyed as they told of the draft and how it affected people. The enemy of the U.S. at the time was the U.S.S.R. (Russia) as we were knee deep in the Cold War. AIDS was the viral enemy that was exploding.

I was always blessed to have teachers that made history come alive. Their love of it was contagious, and it was best passed on through stories. I beat my parents down with questions about their history personally and the history of the world they experienced and lived in that was so much different than mine. They were born in 1934 and 1936, and I wanted to know all they remembered about World War II as a child. I also wanted to know how they met, what they were like, etc. I wanted to know about segregation. I wanted to know what it was like to live life in black and white–cause life only got color in the 60s right? I know I am not the only one who thought this as a kid.

War was a thing of the past. It was not a part of my childhood. In fact, I didn’t even know that politics could be contentious–it wasn’t a subject at our dinner table.

Then, 1991 happened. As a sophomore in high school, I remember leaving the Wednesday night youth group meeting and hearing the news that we were at war bombing Iraq. My whole foundation felt frail thinking that the U.S. was a part of a war. That was supposed to be history never to be lived again. I went home and watched CNN as Wolf Blitzer narrated bombings. Was this real life? Six weeks later we had a feeling of peace again as the conflict was “done.” As 16 year olds do, I got my license and focused on my friends and I didn’t think about it much after that.

Over the next decade, the Middle East and Terrorism grew in popularity on the national news after the “wall” had come down, but it was always a conflict not on our soil. I had this idea that Wars were fought other places and in other times. I was lulled by the privilege of being American.

Then September 11, 2001… I was in my school counseling office when my brand new husband called me to tell me to turn on the tv at 8:45 that morning. The principals and school resource officers and teachers sat with me in complete shock and terror as we saw the second plane crash into the World Trade Center…and then the whole thing fell…and then the Pentagon and the flight in Pennsylvania. The world really did stop. Our lives were on hold as we tuned into the 24 hour news cycle and heard story after story of lives lost and lives given and lives forever affected.

I can easily say that the week after the 11th might have been the last time I FELT our country was unified as a community of people. People began to have stark reactions to the war in Afghanistan and then in Iraq. There was no social media to bolster the arguments and polarize, but there was still rhetoric and fear. What was “over there,” now became personal. We saw people’s lives affected deeply. We held our breath to see where and when the next attack would come. We did not have a six week war as in 1991, we were entrenched in places for long long periods with no clean boundaries.

Back when Bill Clinton was running for office, I sat at a lunch table as a senior in high school uncomfortable with political debate, but I did not know how civil it was! Then, we switch parties in the white house and people hated on George W. during his presidency. I thought that was stinging. Then, the hate and distrust on the other side went to Obama. It was a lauding as a savior or hating like they were the anti-christ depending upon which side of the aisle you claimed. Like a tennis match back and forth, but the crowd got rowdier with each cycle of presidency. The polarization grew more and more and the ability to have civil conversations with people grew less and less–thank you Twitter and Facebook and smart phones.

And then, 2016. That election cycle made me want to quit life on social media AND tv.

2016 is when we went full on throw-the-civility-respect-logic-out-the-window civil war mode in our country. It’s like people scream at each other with their ears plugged. Polarization–far right ALT Right and far left ANTIFA and different levels of polarization in between. It is like people have to up the stakes and say you are not progressive or conservative “enough.” Living in the middle is hard,and it feels downright impossible at times. Things have become so politicized that we literally get nowhere except more inflamed in battle with one another.

Then, 2020. Let’s take a minute for a moment of silence and prayer. Hold onto your seats, put on your breathing apparatus (God forbid not a mask:)) and tend to your youngin’s. The election is not the top headline this year, but politics is certainly at the forefront. “Golly bum, come soon 2021” (that’s my campaign slogan that I would use).

Kanye West is running for president and that is the least far fetched thing I can share about our reality for 2020. Remembering back to my childhood when I was blissfully unaware of politics compared to everything I do or say being categorized politically by others in 2020. Walk into a store with a mask on (well, before a week ago), and people on my side of town looked at me like I was an idiot. It’s the first time ever that I have been given the liberal moniker. All I am trying to do is to do the best for my family and their health (especially my husband), and I am trying to love and respect others on their individual journeys knowing that EVERYONE is struggling and not their best selves. No matter WHERE you step, you get blown up or step on someone else’s toes.

Whether we individually chose it or not, the war is here. The biggest war we are facing as a country is on our soil with our neighbors. There are powers that be and news cycles and rhetoric and people doing evil things–this is not new to the human condition.

The truth? We all have evil in our own hearts. We naturally look to our needs first. We want to be the center of the world and for all things to work for our good. We want to be right. Our hearts and our feelings deceive us. If we do not examine the war within, we will destroy ourselves and others around us. Pointing fingers is getting us amazing results, huh?

Whether you are crusading for a socialist nation to help and to protect others or crusading for the free markets to help others and to protect our freedoms, you have issues in your heart that are not solved by politics or government. Until we realize that we deceive ourselves, we will not be able to connect with respect with others. Realizing this brings a humility as we look at others. It brings us to see that others are struggling just as we are, and it allows us to treat others with grace and mercy. We begin to demonize others less. We begin to listen instead of seeking to feed confirmation bias over and over and over.

An election or a government does not solve racism or classism or bring peace and prosperity. Now, can chosen leadership through election make some of those things worse? absolutely.

I am a citizen of the United States of America, and I am afforded freedoms that I do not deserve and that I did not fight for. I am afforded an opportunity to vote for leaders instead of being in a dictatorship. However, my hope is not in earthly leaders.

I think we can all say that these last few months are a picture to us that we have LIMITED understanding and scope on our own. Every leader in the world and in organizations all over the world does not have the answers or the wisdom to make the perfect decision. We happen to be in a very unprecedented modern time. How many “unprecedented times” have we cycled through in the world? Um, a lot. History shows us human frailty. History shows us struggle and evil and wars. Each of us has a battle within us, and NONE of us is without hypocrisy. We see leaders of our country who did important things yet owned slaves, great theologians that clarified gospel truths had racist thoughts and rants, politicians who were swayed by power plays, ministers who led well who struggled with sexual sin… every single one of us has blind spots. If we demonize one, we should also be willing to demonize ourselves.

Whether I lived in China, India, Pakistan, Venezuela, Sweden, Canada or the U.S.A., my outward realities and freedoms might look different, but the reality of my heart and my identity is a daughter of the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. I am a citizen of a Kingdom where hope and peace and love and justice and truth and beauty reign. On my own, I can only see my own needs and perspective. Made new in Jesus, I can rest that I do not have to prove myself. I can learn of my frailties and have hope for change In HIm. I also can look with Him at my blind spots–sometimes those are pointed out by others. Because of Grace, I do not have to have a defensive stance (though sometimes that comes out as I wrestle with the truth). Because of His great love, I can listen to someone who is very different from me and see where I have hurt them or where I am wrong or where I have simply been living unaware of the needs of others.

Speaking to Christians: When we simply live the political party line (whichever side you are on), we are missing a lot of people in the Kingdom. We are missing opportunities for the Gospel to welcome others into a Kingdom with an inheritance that will never perish, spoil or fade. May we come together in humility and with much grace.

It started with being done…

Done. That’s the only word I have in my bones and spirit at the end of this week/months.

I have not written since COVID-19 landed and upended our patterns of living. I feel like going to Disney was eons ago. Going from a world of people and experiences to a shut down of society is quite an abrupt change. We are knocking on the door of 3 months of this new life.

Here are things that I am grateful for in the midst not necessarily in order of importance:

time with my boys at a very crucial and enjoyable age

porches–I have three places to land at my house

media/internet access to do what we need to do from home (a double edged sword, but a luxury all the same)

The gospel and work of Jesus in me that brings no condemnation toward me, that brings hope in the midst of the messes I make, that changes me and has changed me, that gives me purpose and hope beyond myself and my feelings and what I experience in the moment, that is communal and way beyond individual definitions

purpose through Christ that permeates every situation in order to reconcile the world with Him giving LIFE and HOPE

art/creativity/expression to bring beauty and to work out complicated thoughts

a continuing virtual business

a church that is thoughtful and prayerful and looks to the needs of others

my sweet husband and his presence and patience

grass and lakes and places to enjoy outside

friends–who bear with

a school who seeks to educate and pivot and love and listen

family far and wide

laughter amidst tears

food (including meat), toilet paper, access to masks, access to resources

different perspectives and those who share and bear with Grace

growing peppers and tomatoes and cucumbers on my back porch

a country that allows for expressing opinions in many different ways however stark to our opinion and bent

A lack of rushing (individually AND collectively)

bunnies, squirrels, birds of all different kinds, chipmunks, and, gulp, snakes that play in our yard

God’s word and His Spirit to guide–my emotions and thoughts have been everywhere and He continues to center me back to the truth of who He is

Music, memory

Podcasts funny and informative and escaping

Tiger King’s first few episodes (that seems like so long ago) and “Friends” and things that take me away from the heavy aka–all the streaming platforms

Imagination and ingenuity of my children and of adults as they tackle solving problems in unprecedented ways


I started this blog to talk about how DONE I was with everything.

Then, this list began, and it can continue. This is why I NEED to write, journal, pray. My perspective changes, and I am given strength for a new day. My perspective changes when I look to HIM…and when I stop trying to solve and argue and make it happen. When I stop the scroll and take my thoughts captive unto obedience to Christ.

When He calls us to remain in Him, to draw near to Him, to trust in Him–it’s purposeful. When He calls us to give thanks in all circumstances–yep, it’s purposeful and it helps us hold fast and persevere.

I am reminded that I do not trust in myself, in a political system, in a country, in my resources: I trust in the name and the power and the character of the LORD, my hope. He takes hearts of stone and replaces them with hearts of flesh that may share in his character. All that brings is humility, thanks and rest.


Oftentimes, life is lived in the trenches. The Trenches do not give vista views. The Trenches are sweaty, musty, dirty, close-quartered and tend to lend to a near-sighted mindset. In The Trenches, we forget the big picture.

I have been feeling the Trench life in my bones. When a chronic illness inhabits your home and when chronic hards and challenges are not going away, it is easy to just look at the muddy walls in front of you. Your vision and your soul gets skewed. We fall into lifeless patterns so easily. We forget to do soul work. We aimlessly look for the next distraction to pretend the trench is prettier than it is or we fall into despair.

All the while, there is a greater Hope singing over us if we would train our hearts to listen. One of the biggest ways to teach our hearts is remembering and recalling the Story of God in our lives and in the overarching narrative of History.

Memory is such an amazing thing. Music evokes it. Smells evoke it. A picture or a story transports us back emotionally. What a gift we have been given to remember. Even an Alzheimer’s or dementia patient can recall memories from long ago that have been imprinted deep within.

This past Fall and Spring, I have been painting homes that house memories and significance for families. I see it as a privilege that goes beyond what can be captured on a page. It is a vehicle to memories of experiences, of feelings, of security and of love. Homes are markers of our stories. It is the place that formation occurred within our character. It is very personal.

Memories are communal, as well. Those memories are so strong and impactful and they thread and bind us together. This past week I have been asking those from my hometown to recall places and markers within our history in order to put together a collage painting. Such warm and comforting feelings and lots of laughter have occurred. I am reminded at how much of a gift that memory is to our souls. In our Trench lives, we desperately need it.

Our forefathers did not have Facebook memories to remind them, but they told and retold stories on front porches and at Sunday dinners. In an age of isolated connection, we need to lean in to learn from the past.

The Bible recalls the histories and stories to remind us. We see the reality of the children of Israel living breathtaking miracles and forgetting in the next days as they felt the Trench Life. They were commanded “do not forget! remember!” We are commanded in the same way because human nature involves looking at what is immediately felt in front of us.

REMEMBER: to bring to mind or think of again (Webster’s dictionary) Remembering: The process of recalling the past, especially the presence and activity of God in the history of his people. Past memories can lead to praise and rejoicing and to hope for the future. God himself remembers (Dictionary of Bible Themes)

This act of remembering can be recalling the moments in the day in which you have gratitude. A thankful remembering of a kind word or the feel of a breeze or a moment that you saw something good can change your perspective for the day. This is something you have to choose to do. In our world, it does NOT come naturally.

As we live in the Trenches often, our souls need to be reminded of the Big Picture. Recalling God stories and growth is a tool in which we are reminded of purpose, of hope, of resilience. They remind us that there has been movement. They remind us who to trust and how to fight.

Lamentations 3:21(22-24) is our teacher in this. The author is lamenting of seriously hard times, and comes to this “But this I CALL TO MIND, and therefore I have hope: The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. ‘The LORD is my portion,’ says my soul, ‘therefore I will hope in him.'”

Remembering and Recalling are forms of worship that bring our hearts to a different place than the Trench. This morning in my prayer journal, I simply began recalling…”Remember when You…” to the Lord. Memories poured out of Trench situations that felt suffocating in the moment and were hopeless with just my strength and reasoning. These are places I cried to the LORD in, and in HIS timing and purpose, He moved and answered and changed me and brought redemption in situations.

Oftentimes, we want Him to fill the Trench–that’s our demand. “Hey God, if you really care for and love me, fill this Trench up and make it disappear! Pronto, k?” “Stop this warfare. Make it easy!!!”

Fox-hole: a hole in the ground used by troops as a shelter against enemy fire or as a firing point

Filled trenches have not formed me into who I am. Foxholes that I have worn in with the Father have brought fortitude, grit, courage, and hope that I may join others in their holes and point them to Hope. In the Foxholes with Him, I have seen His beauty and His character and His power. I have come to value Him above all and to see His ways are better. That has happened over time, and remembering those times helps me see Him and His hand in the Trench right now.

This morning, I have recalled ways that God has rescued lives around me, how He has protected and cared for us, how He brought life to my womb, how He has shepherded His people, how He has illumined dark situations. None of these were immediate answers, and many of them did not turn out as I demanded in my wisdom. All of them were for my good to know Him so much more intimately and to value Him more deeply. All of them have been used to help others in pain—ALL OF THEM. Remembering helps us see a bigger picture of redemption and beauty.

So, I share this with a better perspective than I started the day with, but I am still in the Trenches just like you are. We need one another. We need reminders. We need to call reality like it is and not try to portray a life of pixie dust and perfection. That is not helpful to you or to others around you. That does not portray hope because it’s a lie.

If you feel lost today and do not know where to start, turn to Psalm 105-107 and recall the work of God in the wandering people of Israel. Think about markers in your life and write them down. Get out of the trench of today so that you may remember God’s hand in the past to have hope for his hand in the future.

A little Disney Magic

I drank the kool-aid. Our family had a special time together at Disney last week.

I love being all in in an adventure. Being “with” my family, laughing, eating, and exploring was life-giving to me.

The first day I decided that I would paint a collage of all of our experiences there–each restaurant, ride, snack, etc. Then, I thought, this could be a one of a kind marker for our family’s trip. Sometimes I get ideas rolling around in my mind that cannot wait to fall out on the page. I started thinking about the city paintings I have begun to do and how that could translate to Disney memorabilia for families that invest so much time and energy into making a special trip.

So, If you are looking for a special way to document your family’s trip, I am open to helping you!

These commissions are personalized to YOUR family’s favorites in watercolor on 140 lb fine art paper. The size is 11×14, and the price is $200. Email me for ideas and lead times!

show up

Sometimes I forget the big picture. It takes me a few seasons to remember and to learn my patterns and the patterns of others.

This has been the pattern around here lately: rain, warm, rain, cold, flood, sickness, rain, a little snow, warm, cold, rain, sick and repeat. That’s what’s up on this end. Er’body is struggling to bring their best selves, and we are all like porcupines in a box “loving” on each other.

When I remember the big picture that a lot of people are affected by the weather whether that means Seasonal Affective Disorder, Autoimmune disease, inflammation, or over all crotchitiness (the word counts, alright), then I can live with a bit more grace toward others and understanding toward my attitudes. We have not seen the big fire in the sky for awhile, and our vitamin D is suffering which affects how we process life. Our defenses are down and we are more sensitive. We can easily want to quit all the things right now and hole up and/or lash out like a bear, but that is not wise.

Big Picture living reminds me that this feeling of drowning in darkness WILL pass. Spring WILL come bringing new life, but what do we do with the life we have right now?

The phrase keeps getting whispered to my spirit is “show up.” Keep in mind, this is not a “show up” and wow people will my rendition of the Super Bowl halftime show in the game of life. No, this is a press into the next thing for the day in order to be present. Oftentimes it is a conscious effort and discussion I have within myself. “jen, everything in you is telling you to run and to hide, but let’s do the next thing. The next thing is pressing into the world of laundry you have in front of you, the appointment you committed to or the phone call you have been avoiding, etc.” I can easily get overwhelmed with all that I am not doing and flailing in, and the invitation to “show up” is simply taking dominion over the next thing.

When looking around my house, I can easily have an ongoing conversation that tells me that I am failing and leads me to despair. A “show up” moment means making a dent in ONE area to press in. We often look with all or nothing eyes, and we then give up. The small things in which we show up remind us that we can keep going and contributing.

Like all good lessons in life, this points to the bigger picture of Now and Eternity. As a believer, I have been rescued from my sin and am forgiven and free in Jesus, but I still feel the affects of sin in my life and in those around me. I know that one day I will be completely free. This is what we call the “already and not yet.” I dare say we can live with amnesia of what is to come because what we see in front of us can look very bleak–sickness, depression, conflict, hatred. We can be tempted to encamp ourselves with like minded and safe people to weather the storm just like the bear hibernating.

However, The Lord makes it quite clear in His letter to us that we are to “show up” even when it looks bleak. We are to “show up” in relationships, in rescuing others, in caring for others, in spurring one another on in love and good deeds. We are to live lives that point to the “already” while feeling the sharp jabs of the “not yet.”

In reality, we have to choose to remember this truth that we are rescued to rescue others. Showing up in this is found in small decisions each day including “showing up” in fellowship with the Lord and asking Him for help and seeking His truth. This involves taking a look into our lives to see what corner of our heart needs to be pushed into as we deal with others. It is remembering the truth of the Gospel toward ourselves–that there is no condemnation for those who are In Christ Jesus. Our time and energy is not to be spent proving anything to Him. He then asks us to love others as He has loved us in grace, and He helps us to do that unnatural thing.

“Showing up” is not about a stage, platform, job or a title. It is being present in the here and now to be responsive to the next thing. That next thing might be wiping a bottom of your child or your parent. That next thing might be conquering the bills to see the reality of your heart with money. That next thing could be calling the person that has hurt you the most to begin to connect again. That next thing could be taking a meal to a forgotten senior adult in your life. That next thing could be taking your blinders off and beginning a hard conversation in your marriage. All I encourage us to do is to press in to ask the question “where do I show up today?”

The more we practice “showing up,” the more alive and brave and gritty we get. In a world that feels like the walking dead, we need more alive, brave and gritty people to walk alongside…

The most destructive F word

The F word that breeds the most destruction…FEAR.  Fear keeps us from pressing into things and relationships that need courage and intentionality, and fear can steer us to actions that seem courageous and purposed but breed destruction.  Fear isolates us.  Fear brings polarization.  Fear clouds truth.  Fear elicits emotional response without thoughtfulness.  Fear shuts us down, and Fear speeds us up.  Fear brings confusion.  Fear is often a driving force that we do not observe in ourselves. 

Fear:  ‘an unpleasant, often strong emotion, caused by anticipation and awareness of danger’

(Jen’s thoughts—the anticipation and awareness of danger come from our perception and are not necessarily true and founded but it affects us all the same)

When left unchecked and in a life without margin to reflect, fear is a barreling freight train that destroys us and our relationships.  Depending upon our makeup, it may breed passivity or aggression or passive aggression to destroy relationships.  All of us lean toward one of these in our natural responses to life and to obstacles.  My bent?  Aggressively filling my life with projects I can control to produce “pleasant feelings” while passively avoiding facing those that are painful and that are not quick fixes. Ugh.

It’s ironic how often I forget simple truths.  There are several repeated phrases throughout the Psalms that I would do good to remember—“Remember…Do Not forget…Do not fear…”  These all have the heart to stop and remember God’s character, His purposes, the way His hand has moved in our lives, His commands, and His heart.  Simply stopping and remembering allows my breathing to slow.  It allows for an eternal perspective instead of a circumstantial drowning in fear.  It reminds me that I am NOT in charge, nor do I want to be.  It reminds me that the emergency news stories of today whether it be in my family or across the world, are a blip on the screen of history.  It calls me to remember that I am more mature than I was at 9 or 18 or 32 and that the work in me is not finished.  It reminds me that life is lived moment by moment and day by day with choices to fear or to trust Him.  It reminds me that He is a Good Good Father who does not fret or worry or wring His hands.  It changes my perspective on the situation. 

When fear is our compass, our perception and emotions are steering the ship.  When fear steers the ship,  our vision is impaired.  The truth?  Fear is steering our ship naturally.  Add in the pace of our lives and the amount of information coming at us without margin to be reminded of Truth, and we get in a pattern of guardedness or aggression that we are terrified to actually face.  So, we journey on in fear actually growing nowhere. 

What is a compass?  A compass is a magnetized navigational instrument that reads what true North is.  An instrument in which you get your bearings

Is there a True North in life?  The answer is yes—the Creator, The Everlasting One, the One who calls you to remember that He is Truth.  He calls us to Reverence Him and not to fear Man (Proverbs 29:25) He proclaims that the Fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom—and knowledge of the Holy One, insight. 

 “Trust the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding (perception/fear as compass), in all your ways acknowledge Him and he will direct your paths. (aka He will be your compass).” Proverbs 3:5-6

When we have put our trust in Him, He reminds us that ‘He has not given us a Spirit of fear but of power and of love and of a sound mind.’  2 Timothy 1:7 

We so easily forget when we have not stopped to remember His words and His faithfulness and His heart.  I have done that in parenting this week.  I have looked at behaviors and patterns and obstacles in complete fear and overwhelm which has naturally caused panic on the inside and passivity on the outside.  There are so many complicated emotions.  I cannot stay there with the compass of fear measuring. 

I am reminded that life is a growth process that happens day in and day out.  I am reminded that parenting is not about shielding my children from the world so that they do not experience hardship or pain but it is about showing them who to go to and who to trust when they come against trials.  I am reminded that raising men is what God has called me to do.  My children will (most likely) be men longer than they will ever be boys, and shepherding them now is teaching them to be responsible, to work hard, to humbly deal with their weaknesses and strengths and to Trust God with everything.  I am reminded to invest emotionally in their tender hearts by spending time with them in the good and the bad.  I am reminded that my weaknesses will be met with the Strength and Faithfulness of the Lord when I show up in the details when all I want to do is bury my head in the sand to avoid the pain of the moment. 

With the Lord as the Compass, it allows for me to put things in perspective and live with a greater Hope and with a direction.  I invite myself and You to take account today of where we are allowing fear to be our compass.  It is a very poor substitute for True North. 

When you feel like Christmas is not for you this year…

This time of year has a magical hue, but it can be brutal to one’s inner life. Expectations, build up, performance and the wave of reality crashes… Dreams, hopes, memories, pressure and the boat tips as someone else has a different plan. One can have such hopes and seemingly feel invisible in all the noise.

This morning I am pondering light coming into the darkness. I have experienced deep grief at Christmastime, and in doing so, I have felt “off” during the season–“other.” While everyone scurries and hurries, parties, shops, and bakes, the one struggling can feel isolated and like this season just needs to be over and done with.

Fourteen years ago, we buried my sweet Daddy after a battle with Parkinson’s laced with dementia just 3 weeks before Christmas Day. We were in shock, exhausted and a bit lost. Ten years ago was the loneliest Christmas I had ever experienced as we were at the end of our fertility journey and had nothing to show for it. Children dressed for the holiday highlighted my broken heart. The “magic” of Christmas was lost on us. Last year, we rolled into Christmas depleted in every way and chose to put one foot in front of the other.

I propose that Christmas’ purpose is not for the magic and the happy and the glitz and the perfect family pictures on a card or the most creative tradition that makes you feel warm and fuzzy inside. We have allowed Hallmark (which I watch a good movie with the best of them) and culture and commercialism to roll out an incredibly noisy and false expectation.

Christmas, in it’s essence, is a long-awaited, oft forgotten in the midst of reality, promise of True Hope entering the world. It is El Roi, the “God who sees,” condescending to be Emmanuel, “God with us.” It is not for those who are experiencing “magic” and “happiness.” It is for those who have lost all hope. It is for those whose loneliness is all encompassing. It is for those who feel invisible. It is for those whose loss is reverberating in a cavern of heartache. It is for those who have the devastating diagnosis. It is for those who have given it all they have and are still coming up empty. That is what this Advent season points to.

It screams of a Covenant made by “I Am” that has all but been trampled on by the people but never wavered on by God. It breaks through in a forgotten small town with a teenage girl and scared man bring a baby into the world with no fanfare. It’s not a Rockefeller Center magical tree moment. It is real, dirty, painful–just like the places that are raw in your heart, the darkness you are seeing played out in your family or your job, or your secret struggle. The Angel proclaimed to the shepherds on a hill in the quiet of night. They were not “important,” but God showed us that’s exactly why He came. He came to rescue us as we are–lowly in heart, messed up, uncertain, unpolished, in great need but not even knowing it.

So, one can say “I am not in the Christmas spirit this year–it should just pass me by.” And I say–that is exactly who Christmas is for–a baby come to live the righteous life we could not live, to understand what living in our bodies and relationships is, to feel the weariness of this world, to be forsaken, to die the death under the punishment of our sin so that He might be God dwelling with Us, and to conquer death to provide a way in faith for us to know Him fully. That is good news that shatters through darkness. That is the Light of the World on display.

I encourage us that we have to slow down enough to hear the longings of our heart, to feel our ache for something more, to turn down the noise so that we can see the flicker of the True Light over the glitz of the season’s trappings. Then, we can truly celebrate the miracle, the goodness, the awe-inspiring reality of God with Us.