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.

Relationships are “Shady”

Life is complicated, huh?  Our rhythms may look mundane and repetitive, but the journey of our hearts and minds in the middle tell a much more convoluted story. 

This week, I have found myself watching Hallmark movies and throw back Disney Movies that give a less complicated version of life that remind me of my outlook in childhood.  The couple gets into their twin beds and cackles at the antics of their neighbors.  The small town glitters in the snow and Christmas lights where the whole community comes together to share good will and to learn a lesson.  The “bad guys” are bumbling.  The “good guys” have a hidden heart of gold. 

I know these are not real, but they are surely comforting in a world that blurs all the lines.  Sometimes you just want things to be cut and dry with bright bold colors coloring inside the lines of a coloring book instead of a grayish tint on every side. As I have been painting more lately, I am very aware of all the hues of one color—gray brown, gray green, mid gray, light gray, dark gray.  I have to pay attention to the setting and the environment that the shadows are in to blend the right shading.  I might use 4 different tones of green in one corner to capture different shadows and light.  This is so true of working with people, as well.  Instead of color, I have to be aware of tone, personality, how people receive things…one shade/tone off, and I make a mess.  Perception is not truth, but it is how people enter into relationships.  It’s an intuitive dance that can be exhausting and risky, and one bad experience tempts us to forget the shade and move to our safe Technicolor coloring inside the lines.

The truth is, I cannot avoid making a mess in relationships.  It inevitably occurs because of my fallibility. When I try to color in the lines perfectly, I often miss real relationships.  Real relationships are risky, and my grays will bleed out. Social media is one of those places that shows in bold colors.  Black or white, one dimensional, red, yellow, flashy, striking pronouncements, not a lot of grace.  Conversations and relationships off line require lots of shading and nuance and intuitive dancing, but those are the ones that are real and true and that shape us. 

In the last few months, I have awakened to the fact that there have been a lot of places where I have colored in the lines in relationships over the last 10 years.  Having children, being a ministry family, running a business, dealing with chronic illness and sensory processing in our family, and experiencing trauma has created natural boundary lines.  But, our hearts were made to blend with others—often times messily.  Most of us don’t wake up one day and say “I don’t want to deal with real relationships with people!”  It is the day in and day out “survival mode” in seasons that often create the lines of isolation.  We fall asleep to the bigger picture of life while we are dealing with the mundane.  You have to fight for real relationships within your home, marriage, extended families, friends.  You have to be willing to get “shady” and blend.  You have to be willing to make mistakes. 

As we enter into the Holiday season, we have a choice to make.  How will we enter?  Will we give grace to the nuances of color and tone in others?  Will we remember the grace extended to our grays by Jesus?  Will we throw away the lines of bold colored performance and bring humility to the table?  In a season that celebrates God with us condescending to be in human form to enter into our shades and tones and messes, I encourage us to breathe, to be aware, to listen, to seek Him and how He would have your story intersect with others.

Self-sufficiency or Humility?

We all have unique perspectives on life because of our individual experiences. My unique perspective in childhood included being the daughter of a Minister of Music in a small town baptist church. It was a normal occurrence in our house to hear Christmas Cantatas in the Summer in the tape deck of the Ford Crown Victoria.

It was part of my life for everyone to be looking in at every behavior. The kind of car you would drive was up for discussion. The way we spent money, the way I acted and dressed, etc. I did not have another life to compare it to, but now I realize the performance mentality was built in. That was a small microcosm set in the context of a small community.

As I read the Parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector this morning, I realized that I often approached life with my self-righteousness at that time to prove performance standards. I knew what to say in every situation and how to come out smelling like a rose, but my heart was oftentimes not humble. As I read the portion of scripture where the tax collector beats his breast and says “God be merciful to me, a sinner,” I gave a knowing nod.

My adult life has constantly been in the process of that humbling. God so graciously has turned me inside out to show me that my self-sufficiency is empty and powerless. The journey began when I was not a somebody that everyone watched. I went to the University of Tennessee knowing a couple of people from my graduating class, but we never saw one another. I was not Mr. Cox’s daughter…I was just a girl who wasn’t as confident in this new world.

I took a deep nose dive in self-sufficiency my Junior year at UT. I failed at performance. I was leading this freshmen group ministry, trying to manage my “rep,” and I let myself and a lot of others down. My humanity was out on display, and I could not spin it. I made a mess. I had not grasped the humility of clinging to God’s sufficiency and grace over my performance. In fact, with what I have experienced now, it would be a humbling privilege to go back and apologize face to face. Wearing a mask is exhausting.

Somewhere along the way, I have learned that I do not have to perform. In fact, I get in deep trouble when I go into those old modes that worked for me in childhood. I cut people off and do not see them. I cut myself off from real connection. Most importantly, I miss out on deep fellowship with the Lord.

I always say jokes on me that I am a Pastor’s wife because that is what I said I would NEVER do. However, because of the Lord’s mercy and faithfulness to me, He is constantly putting me in a different posture of heart. There are many more people now looking in on my life and our family’s life since we are at a much larger scale church. I forget at times that people look at us as different because we are on the exact same journey as everyone else–raising kids while trying to keep our sanity, dealing with passivity and exhaustion and comparison, but some people define us as “other.” Especially neighbors or random people we meet. They distance themselves for fear that we will judge them. Little do they know they could pull a chair right up to judge us!

Greg is also unique with his teaching gift–I call him like a D list celebrity in the days of podcasted sermons and social media. One of the things that I so respect about him is that he is not self-promoting or flashy. That is a service to our family. But, we really really try to just be us…and the Lord has humbled me in all the ways showing me that freedom is in authenticity.

I have a little theory, people are not meant to be famous. They cannot handle the awe that is to be reserved for God. In a culture of celebrity, we look around and see how people are literally eaten alive and crushed by the weight of money and fame. We joke and say “I’d bear that burden for the day.” But, if we really knew, we would run from it. Think about Justin Beiber crushed by the weight of “glory” in his formative years, and he is attempting to walk out from those ashes. Elvis, Michael Jackson–they had completely screwed up lives. Think of the Kanye stuff now…scrutiny at every turn. On a smaller scale, we often elevate celebrity pastors and singers and now, influencers. In a world of “branding,” we follow personas of what people say that they are. It’s a dicey place to live. Every moment of our lives now can be a sound bite.

No wonder these pastors and christian celebrities are falling through the pressures and the isolation. They have to own where they have put themselves buying into the hype. They have to own the damage done to others by their choices. But, what if, instead of performance and likes and the speech of the Pharisee they took the posture of the tax collector from the beginning? God does not need any of us to accomplish His purposes, and when we start thinking that He does and that we are “other,” we live in a pompous place and actually mar His beauty reflected in the world.

See, we all have the choice to trust in our self-sufficiency and performance or to humbly know and depend on the Lord. Whatever the path in our career or our families, the state of our hearts is cultivated everyday. So, it’s easy to point fingers and call people hypocrites and roll our eyes at “those people.” However, we each are making decisions everyday in our spear of influence that is affecting others.

So, today…in your unique corner of the world, what is the posture of your heart? Are you proclaiming yourself or His mercy?

Kindling

I remember the moment last December. I looked up at each person passing in front of me. Some were faces that I had known up close and from afar.

Seated near the front of the congregation, I got the distinct privilege of witnessing the holy moment. Person and after person with real stories and struggles took the bread and the cup and were reminded of the exchange of their hearts. Heaviness traded for joy–what a defining moment.

That moment sealed my love for our congregation all over again. Being in a large church, It is impossible to know everyone or even the majority. However, I am reminded that we are all part of the family that was once far off and that have been reconciled. We are a mess together.

Every Sunday that we have Communion, which is the first Sunday of the month at our church, the kindling of love is stoked again. First, in my heart toward the Lord and then in my heart toward His people. It is a corporate moment that is also very intimate. The privilege of praying for them–for those hidden struggles in the heart, the places of unbelief–undoes the walls of protection that I have built. It simplifies the heart of the matter.

It is a more common practice today to not be a part of a local congregation. Sometimes it’s because of hurt and mistrust that occurred through a wounding experience(s), and sometimes it is convenience with a “spiritual sounding” wording. What I can tell you is that when gathering together and being reminded of our hearts, the Truth, His kindness that leads us to repentance, and His beauty that one cannot walk away the same. Church is not meant to be a place to perform–oh no. It is meant to be a place to be reminded of who we are in the light of who He is. It is meant to be a place to spur one another on toward a life lived with Him as the center. It’s messy and beautiful and frustrating and liberating, and it is His purpose as we walk with Him on this Earth. We learn to love in a way that is not easy or convenient, but it is a beautiful reflection of His heart and His power.

Yesterday was another day that I participated in awe of God and in prayer for the lives that walked in front of me, and I thank Him for the privilege.

Endurance

How many times this week have you wanted to throw in the towel?

It may be a relationship with a spouse, a parent, a child, a co-worker. It may be a job that you just can’t figure out or seem to fit with. It may be a sin that you are weary of fighting. It may be your sobriety. It may be your faith. Sometimes you just feel done, huh?

I have only lived 44 years, but I see the pattern. It is hard to go the distance. I have seen people totally dismantle their lives for the sake of not going in the same hard direction. It seems that it is an abrupt about-face from the outside. You see someone ditch their faith or their marriage or both. You see someone who used to have a steady rhythm begin to thrive on jazz. You sit in disbelief, but are you really surprised? Did it all happen in one fell swoop?

Those who endure…they are few and far between. No one wants to be a quitter, but everyone thinks about it.

Endure: the ability to withstand hardship or adversity; the ability to sustain a prolonged stressful effort or activity     syn: ceaselessness, continuance, durability, persistence

Persevere: to persist in a state/enterprise in spite of counter-influences, opposition, or discouragement. To carry on, persist. To continue trying even after rejected. Synonyms: endure, hold fast, press on, proceed, stand firm, be resolved, be determined, see it through, stay the course

It seems that to endure and to persevere you need a real purpose. Life is hard–“you can do hard things” is a mantra I say a lot around my house. Do I do hard things for the challenge? Nope (I know some of you do) A good challenge is not worth that to me. Do I encourage my boys and myself to do hard things to build stamina for the “graduate” level hard that is to come in life? Yes. If I cannot do the little things to build my strength, I am in trouble when the earthquake comes that shakes my very core. What we choose day in and day out either builds our stamina toward perseverance or weakens our muscles of commitment. We feed ourselves with messages and reminders and statements of what is most important. For example, how are you building your core worldview? Is your life about what it makes you feel, what you experience/enjoy, what’s fun? You might be depositing into a life of decisions built to avoid pain. You may think you don’t deserve it and any situation feeding into that that you should escape.  Is life about pleasure or something more? 

We are getting deep.

Antonyms of persevere:  cease, discontinue, give up, stop, leave, quit

A few mornings ago, I was reading a passage of Scripture from 2nd Timothy, and one part of a sentence screamed at me.  “For Demas, in love with this present world, has deserted me and gone to Thessolonica.” 

Demas is mentioned briefly in 2nd Timothy 4:10(64-65ish AD), but I can read in-between the lines.  He has a story.  So, I cross-referenced him.  He was mentioned two other times in Paul’s letters to Philemon (written around 61 AD) and to the Colossian church (62 AD) as a fellow laborer sending greetings. To give some perspective on 2nd Timothy, Paul was imprisoned in Rome and would be put to death soon.   It was a very personal letter written to Timothy to encourage him to continue on in faithfulness and endurance amidst suffering and persecution as Paul would not be there to encourage him on.  In the setting of the letter, it is no mistake that Demas was mentioned.  He had chosen not to endure for the sake of the Gospel.  Paul, imprisoned, was abandoned by Demas and Luke alone was with him while he faced death but kept doing the work of the Gospel. 

 Paul’s personal message to Timothy passed to us…“But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.  All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.” 2 Timothy 3:14-17

 “For a time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to truth and wander off into myths.” 2 Timothy 4:2-3

Ever asked around for advice until you got the kind you wanted that fit with your desires?  Like a child looking for the weak parent to say yes, we search out someone who is going to make us feel good about what we want or what we don’t want (the hard). All of us do it, and the further away from the grounding of Truth, the easier it is to swallow down and to justify ourselves and for it to seem not just okay—but good.  It seems that Demas decided to pursue his wants in the world, and he did not persevere in the hard or in the Truth.   He had the gift of God’s word to understand and to be equipped, but he was feeding his desires in the other direction.

So, it seems clear that your relationship to The Scripture through the Lord and endurance go hand in hand in your spiritual endurance.  Your decision to press in comes every day.  Just like Demas, you choose what you gaze on and build love toward.   Are you building more of a love for the things of the world or the things of God? Scripture is the place that God has revealed His character, heart and ways. Are you in it? Are you submitting your feelings, thoughts and behaviors to His truth and to His ways and being transformed in Him or are you seeking what feels right and good to your desires at the moment?  

And… in other areas like marriage, parenting, work, what desires are you feeding in those areas? You will find people out there to feed into what you want to throw in the towel on, but that is not necessarily the wisest decision. Nothing worth it is easy. So, seek the scriptures, seek wise counsel that is willing to ask you hard questions, and be aware of your tendencies in the midst. I encourage you to count the cost of endurance because there is great reward.

Definitions trip us up

My young adult years were filled with a bit of wandering and confusion about vocation. I felt this pressure to find the “thing” that fit all of the definitions. It had to be this magical path in my mind.

I was 22. I felt a “call” as they say in the Baptist Church. I went down front in tears and clueless about the path I would be walking. The definition I was grappling with: Ministry.

The next week, I walked into the office of a mentor of mine that had lived the life of a woman in ministry. She listened to my wrestling and questions, and then she spoke beautiful wisdom to me. “Jen, do not make this about a cause of being a woman or a title to your name.” (this is paraphrased as it has been 22 years since this conversation) I nodded. Over the next years, it became an understanding in my heart.

My definition thought…you get the “call” from God, go to seminary and get a job in a church. But, the truth? I had no idea what I was doing and what my “giftings” were. If I had chosen that “path,” it would have been contrived.

Hilariously, my pride was taken down many notches because as I was waiting on this “plan” from God, I waited tables, worked as a nanny, worked as a receptionist, worked at a Summer camp, got kicked out of flight attendant training with Delta (because of heart issues/fainting), and many more.

I lived in 4 different cities during that time, and there was ONE thing that was consistent. I started discipleship groups for girls–middle school, high school, etc. I had not a clue what I was doing, but I knew there was a need.

I moved back to Knoxville 20 years ago to go to grad school in School Counseling. It made sense, and it seemed to blend with how God had made me. It wasn’t seminary, but somehow I knew I had not “failed.”

During this period of grad school, I led a high school group of girls for several years. I also went to lots of camps and retreats with Greg while we were dating and newlyweds and did informal ministry there as I connected with kids and college students.

As I reflect this morning, I understand that I was called to a way of life. It’s not about the cause or a title. It’s actually about living in less of me and more of Him. It’s about serving others (which is messy). It’s about “seeing” people by being an ambassador for El Roi, The God Who Sees.

While I worked in my first School Counseling job, I saw it as a ministry within the walls of that school for students and teachers. I also began leading a group of College Aged women that I journeyed and grew up with for the next five years week in and week out. They really taught me about what it was to love, to bear with others and to lead through messy spaces.

See, It wasn’t about a title or a platform. I think this world of platforms, followings and book deals today often precludes people from “seeing” others and their needs. Real ministry is done in the small conversations, the weary moments of recognizing a need. Real ministry is done by people who are in the process of being transformed by Him.

I began this journey looking for the “what,” but He was calling me to the “who.” It is not so much the “how to” for others as it is the surrendering of my heart to Him daily and over time for His renown and not mine. It is not about a “cause” of who gets to be in ministry or what title is given. It is about sharing the Hope of Jesus in the midst of brokenness–my own and others.

Ironically, it was 10 years from my formal call that I formed a non-profit ministry for women’s discipleship. It was just an extension of what I was doing anyway. And, when my sweet boys arrived on the scene with more needs than I could handle while “running” the ministry, I shut it down. In the old definitions in my head, that could have been disobedience or failure. However, in my business now, I am exposed to many people to “see” and to connect with the Hope of the Gospel. They are different outer definitions same inner call.

There are plenty, plenty, plenty of women who are broken and in need. Some look like they lack for nothing and yet they are empty and searching and shredded on the inside. Some look worn and are worn because they don’t have the means to “pretty it up.” They need someone to see them. The more I have grown, the more I realize that I am a mess of need with a Beautifully Gracious Savior. My life is about pointing to Him.

The very places that I have experienced brokenness give me eyes to see that in others and to offer a cup of water to them. You have those places, too. However, you may have been operating from skewed definitions of what ministry means. There are plenty of people with the title or a cause that are not living ministry to others. On the flip side, there are people who are equipped to serve but are hung up that they don’t have the title or the platform that they want. We have got to shake out those definitions because the world, your neighborhood, your family needs to see real Hope in action.

Scandalous

I am beginning to lose count of the number of times the Lord has urged me to share.  It might be an inkling of something going on with someone.  It might be a part of their story they revealed.  It might be the look of desperation and a pattern I see in their behavior. 

It is always, always, always used for the good to point to His sufficiency, to comfort, and to encourage toward the next step of help.  It is likened to offering someone a cup of cool refreshing water—Living Water.

Trauma happens oft times quickly, but it’s thorns and roots can grow deep and stick for a long time.  One experience may precipitate a lifetime of experiences that build into greater confusion unless that pain and brain activity is dealt with at the core.  Trauma changes the atmosphere of a life by changing the inner workings of the brain. 

Atmosphere:  a surrounding influence or environment

However, the beauty of the way God engineered the brain means that there is hope.  Hope 24 hours after or 36 years after.  We cannot push something down and expect it to not affect us.  It begins to form figurative cancer or gangrene in our lives by shaping patterns of choice and beliefs.

Our very nature tells us to hide.  It tells us “this would be too much for others.”  It tells us “people would reject you.”  It tells us “you are screwed up and done for.” 

We craft a life of hiding, numbing and of covering to make it through in order to hold us together.  Then, one day, because we are mere mortals, everything begins to fall apart, splitting open and we sit in a deep well of darkness.  We don’t recognize where we are.  We don’t even know how to ask for help because we are confused as to why we are there.  We feel that there is no way out…only deeper down into darkness.  There’s a choice…make sense of life with our own thoughts and behaviors…chase our desires or…

But God.  Six letters that change the atmosphere.  Six letters that change the core of who we are and how we can face the day.  Six letters that literally split the curtain of hostility in two.  Six letters that light a match filling that dark cavern and that lead the way out by showing us what is really there and illuminating true hope.  Six letters that shatter the power of our experiences. 

I have learned time and time again that we desperately need to be reminded of this.  We cannot be reminded if we have not shared…if no one knows.  When we keep it to ourselves, we are literally chained with heavier and heavier chains.  When we tell others to keep it to themselves, we chain that shame to them as well.  Isolation is the Devil’s playground, and he delights in our spinning thoughts in cavernous isolation. 

Jesus came to set us free, to lighten us, to bring abundant life.  These are NOT flippant words that mean we have a big smile on our face and say #blessed all the time.  It means we have hope through tears, through darkness, through pain.  It means that we have a Beautiful Savior and Defender to lean into.  It means we can offer the cup of water to others and not be afraid of their struggle or pain. 

I spoke to my friend yesterday… “If the Gospel is true…there is nothing to fear in sharing past, present or future.”

He who had no sin, Jesus, became sin for us that we might have the righteousness of God.  This is not a result of ANYTHING we have done to deserve it; it’s grace.  When we surrender our pride, our wills, our arrogance seeing the beauty of Who God is and our separation from Him, and we trust in the name and work and sufficiency of Jesus, our very hearts change.  The Spirit of God comes to reside in us to love us, to teach us, to guide us, to warn and convict us, to chase us when we wander off.  On this earth, sin is not our ruling master anymore, but it surely still has a place in our thoughts and lives until we die.  And, the reality of that sin hurts us, hurts those in our lives—and the sins of others wounds us.  So, what do we do with that?

The reality of the Gospel in our lives:

“Who shall separate us from the Love of Christ?  Tribulation or distress or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through HIM who LOVED us.  NOTHING, NOTHING, NOTHING (paraphrased) will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Romans 8:35, 37-38

 “There is therefore now NO condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus for the law of the Spirit of life has SET YOU FREE from the law of sin and death.” Romans 8:1-2

All who received Him and believed on His name, He gave power to become children of God. So those in Christ, may draw near to Him.  He has a Father’s heart toward you to comfort, to discipline, to guide, to help you grow and to conform more to His image.  And, that is the most freeing place to be!!!

“Do not fear.  I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine.” Isaiah 43:1

It DOESN’T say…

**for those of you who only struggle with this “socially acceptable” group of sins

**for those who look like they have it together on the outside

**for those who are “good” examples

**for those who are not confused or doubting

**for those who have no deep shame about decisions they have made

**for those who are not broken

**for those who have not experienced sexual trauma

**for those who have not committed __________ sin

It doesn’t say that, but we surely act like it does at times.  We surely give others that message. 

Scandalous graceOffensively, shocking favor you did not earn or deserve

Let’s act in accordance.  He changes who we are, and He calls us to follow Him and be like Him by giving us His Spirit.  It’s not a license to do whatever and call it good (that’s cheap grace).  There is gravity to why Jesus had to be born of a virgin, to die and to be resurrected to conquer sin and death.  It’s not to say “God loves you and go on your way chasing whatever you think is right.”  We are going to struggle.  We are going to make a mess of things in relationships, in parenting, in dealing with our pain.  We are going to get confused at times.  BUT GOD brings us to Himself again and again—and we have the opportunity to know Him more deeply and to value the things He values and become more like Him.  Less of me—more of Him—is what I pray to offer others.  Lean into Him and His people, friend.

My letter to all the Mommas

Dear Momma,

I am going to need you to take a moment to breathe. Deep in through the nose; push out through the mouth. Do that a few times.

Then, I want you to relax your shoulders–I know they are high. Isn’t it crazy that the more that is “on” your shoulders in responsibility that they tighten and move up instead of being weighed down? Let’s admit you feel that weight…some put on by others, some put on by you.

Next, take a moment to identify where you are today. You know that “you are here” sign on a map? Or, possibly the blinking dot on your map app? Right here, right now, what are you feeling? Anger, sadness, anxiety, joy, endorphins? Exhaustion, depression, desperation? Numbness, hopelessness? Write it down.

And now, I want you to take a moment to trace back where that feeling is coming from. What are you thinking or believing that is leading to that emotion? Identify what’s going on in there subconsciously. Were you scrolling and seeing what others had accomplished and believed that you were behind? Is something critical that someone said to you in the back of your head clanging around your every move? Are you thinking on a scripture that is illuminating life? Are you operating on assumptions from past failures?

Here’s what I bet you are thinking…”who has the luxury of time to do this? I have already been interrupted 49 times! and, plus if I do think, I might be in a puddle of tears…Get real, Jen!”

Here’s what I know…it is a necessity to examine your heart and your mind because life is lived out of them. What you think on and believe leads to your feelings about life, children, relationships, and your feelings in the moment lead to your behaviors which affect others around you AND YOU. Those experiences feed back into what you think and feel and do.

You might be thinking, I don’t have time to feel or think!! You are already doing it, sister. And, without awareness, you are not living fully. We are all guilty of living half-lives of numbness, shame, anger. Who does that rub off on? Those in your house, your family, your friends. And…guess what? Where you choose to turn your heart (moment by moment and day by day) slowly makes you what you are.

You were made for more than being a machine that checks off the boxes of getting your kids the “right stuff” or chasing after success or appearing like you have it “together.” You are made in the image of your Creator, but sin has muddied up that image. It can be really confusing to navigate this playing field, and having kids truly shows you that you “do not got this.” It leads to more noise in life to confuse us.

If you do not take time to breathe and to examine yourself and to get to know the One who made you, who can save you, who can give you abundant life in this upside-down world, you are missing the whole point.

“But Jen, when am I supposed to do that? You are just adding another ‘should’ to the list of life! I don’t need that!”

And, I confidently say, from experience, that the list of to-dos does not matter apart from this. The list is forming you and killing you at the same time. There is true LIFE to be lived that is often opposite in rhythm to what the noise out there is telling you to “be.”

After you identify what you are thinking and believing, you need to ask if it is true. What if you are running on assumptions that are simply not true? What would the fruit of that be?

A little hint…all of us are. That is why we need to examine what we are believing and then counter it with what is REALLY true.

Jesus, who knows a bit about what is true since He created the universe (Colossians 1:16, John 1:3), is eternal (John 1:2), holds all things together (Colossians 1:17), is TRUTH and the WAY and the LIFE (John 14:6), and MADE a WAY for us to be set FREE by the TRUTH (Ephesians 2:1-10)…He is the best place to see truth.

God, by the Spirit, revealed truth and preserved truth in His word that we might know HIM, love Him, delight in Him, and be changed in Him. He made a way through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus to bring us into relationship with Himself. When His word (His very character) illumines our way, we walk away differently.

“How can a young man keep his way pure? By guarding it according to your word.” Psalm 119:9

“How sweet are your words to my taste, sweeter than honey to my mouth. Through your precepts I get understanding; therefore I hate every false way. Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.” Psalm 119:103-105

So, dear Momma, today I call you out in the most gentle and gracious of ways to tackle what you are believing with what is really true. Take those shackles off. There are so many things that we tell ourselves and believe that are unconscious. We gotta bring em up. Then, we need to tell them what is really true. First…from God’s word–those are called big T eternal truths and then little T truths about experientially what is important.

For example: I am failing my kids because I don’t do ____________.

Big T truth–God is sovereign. He will never leave me or forsake me. He gently guides those who have young. He told me to come to Him when I am weak and heavy laden and take His yoke upon me. I entrust my children to Him–I cannot control their hearts.

Little t truths– Just because someone else is doing something with their kids, doesn’t mean that it is a necessity for us. We cannot do all the things, and we are taking time to examine what is a priority to our family. What is most important is spending time relationally with my kids–am I investing in that way? My son’s needs at this time do not look like our neighbors. I am being faithful in things that I don’t give myself credit for…I will stop to remember these instead of scrolling and panicking.

Momma…breathe, listen, remember with gratitude, set your mind on truth… If Social Media is killing you, kill it for awhile. If the schedule is eating you alive, see what is truly necessary…It might be killing your kids, too. This time is precious, and your child will most likely be a regular citizen with a family and no professional sports in their career. Don’t regret the time you have now. And, Momma, show up today with truth girding you up. Show up knowing you are weak, but you can take hope in One who gives grace and mercy and has no anger toward you. The greatest gift you can give your children is pointing to your weakness and being satisfied in Him–because that is the hope for your children, as well.

With love and understanding,

Jen

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?