Pieces of me

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sprinkled or Power-Washed?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What story are you writing?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Whatcha carrying?

Here I am, 44 years old, dressed like it’s 1996. Overalls–check. t-shirt–check. Backpack filled to the brim–check. No shower–check. No makeup–check. However, unlike 1996, the load I am carrying is much heavier.

My wise counselor once told me that if you feel a heavy weight that that is not indicative of God’s presence and the freedom He brings. So, I sit down this morning in heaviness and start examining what’s in my backpack (or pack-back as my youngest calls it).

I start unpacking the contents. There is an overall anxiety within the month of May. I have to call it for what it is with field trips, field day, JURY DUTY the last two weeks of school, teacher gifts, special recognitions, prepping for summer plans, leadership duties, art projects, business specials and product launches and the overall grumpy fatigue of our family. So, there’s that. I remind myself that I choose today what I move toward and what I worry over. Some things are going to be much less than stellar, and I am going to choose to embrace my fallibility and strive for FIRST things. Those first things involve our values as a family–presence and enjoyment with my family, aiming to encourage my family in the chaos, pointing to God and his goodness by practicing gratitude, and not dwelling on the shortcomings of yesterday.

The next thing I uncover is an overall sense of shame. It’s a lingering sadness with a critical voice inside that points out every single area where I am falling short. So, I start tackling what’s really present there.

Shame: a painful emotion caused by consciousness of guilt, shortcoming or impropriety; self-reproach; an uncomfortable feeling of guilt or of being ashamed of your own OR SOMEONE ELSE’S bad behavior.

There are a few things I unpack that have shame involved: my parenting fatigue and lack of intentionality for the month, the fact that my house looks like the rubble after a war, the fact that I have not had a lot of energy in business to lead others well, the fact that there is not enough of me to go around to do things well. These all contribute to me drowning in a feeling of sad and heavy on the inside. Instead of continuing the cycle of yuck, I have stepped in to what I can do to move against my regret–taking my child to the park instead of getting work done, cooking a healthy dinner, sitting down to take my thoughts captive.

There are also some heavy things that have been brought to my attention in the last few weeks which do not have to do with me, per se, but I have picked them up and put them in my backpack of complicated emotions. I have made the narrative that someone else has written to be mine.

I have this intuitive dance I do in life. It goes like this… Someone shares something with me, I read something, etc, and I have something in common with it–ex. someone has a problem with how they have been treated by Christians, someone has a bad taste in their mouth about a business partner or business practices with MLM. I find myself guarding against being those ways that I begin to diminish my presence in those areas or I fill myself with anxiety and thought and take the shame of someone else upon myself. It’s the equivalent of getting wronged and you being the one who says “I am sorry!” Healthy, huh?

I see this happen in our culture today. I feel like the rules and the vocabulary have changed so distinctly, and it is all about the perceived wrongs of others and who is responsible. That leads to fear and accusation. Have you watched the news?? Do you have Social Media? Have conversations with teenagers and College students? Then, you have seen it explode. Here’s the deal, if we live afraid or carry the shame of everyone who has anything in common with us (whether it be race, gender, religion, politics, decent, socio-economic status, family name) we miss out on making a real impact in the world. We miss out on the most beautiful part of bearing God’s image, however dimly (this is all people) and being transformed and being part of the transformation of His children (this is those who have been adopted through faith in the work of Christ).

I have been up in “my feelings,” and some really screwed up thoughts have led to their inception. It is time to tackle them with what is really true, what I really need to own, and what I need to do in response to move forward and be present.

Here are the truths I speak to myself, and I encourage you to take a hold of what is true as you unpack your backpack:

These regard the practices of those who are involved or have been involved in MLM businesses vs my involvement:

1) I strive to run my business with integrity, care for others, and a view to help people and to meet them where they are. My “why” in life is true in all hats I wear–“helping others come alive.” 2) Like all professional people in different vocations, I do this with a view to help my family by providing and being present with them. 3) Some people might have experienced being used in poor business practices and poor integrity, and I cringe at this. (Whether you are talking Doctor, Lawyer, Teacher, Pastor, Nurse, Salesperson, Marketer, Politician, Judge, etc) However, I aim to care for people and their well-being and value them whether they are a customer, competitor, critic or not. I control my actions, and I choose to make an impact for God’s glory.

These regard what is mine and what is not mine to carry, in general:

4) I cannot control the expectations and perceptions of others especially when they are not checking themselves against truth. I have no business running my heart and life on assumptions. 5) I carry the load of the things I do wrong, but I am not charged to carry the weight of perceived wrongs of every person that has had a bad experience with things or institutions that I may have a common trait with.

These regard my identity and my story and voice:

6) Not all feelings are true, and it is my responsibility to stop and bring what is true to bear. I am not a victim to circumstance or the emotions of others. 7) Culture does not write my narrative. My Creator, Redeemer and Sustainer does. 8) I choose what I let in and how I let it in. I choose how I process, and I always have a choice to take my thoughts captive and to throw off imagined shame. 9) When I do offend, wrong, and hurt others and most importantly God, I have a call to repent, to confess and to remember that forgiveness is offered in Christ. Because of my identity in Him, there is no condemnation for those in Christ. However, there are consequences in the everyday, and I have to be mature to walk those out in relationships. If I have hurt you, please come to me.

What did I expect?

It all started with a little conversation with a woman who embraces life with gusto. We found out our birthdays are one day and 11 years apart. She asked me what I had planned for my birthday. She had 3 separate parties planned. I said, “Wow! We don’t really have high expectations for birthdays.”

Then, I thought back to my 35th birthday when I took it upon myself to grab life by my rules. I was embracing the fact that we were at the end of our quest for fertility, and I said, “I am throwing myself a dinner party and will choose to celebrate!” After the prior conversation, I made a decision a few weeks ago that I would take charge of making something happen on my birthday this year instead of being passive. Life is what you make it, right?

Well, I tried to make it. I decided we would go out with some friends of ours for a birthday dinner. I sought out babysitters. One by one, no one was available. And then, I began writing this script in my head. (Spoiler alert: this is why you do NOT practice having unexpressed expectations .)

Expect: to consider probable or certain; to anticipate or look forward to the coming or occurrence of; preparing/envisioning for—Hope; anticipate, await

I said…”well, we can work on a girl’s night.” However, guess what I had envisioned in my head? It went a little something like this: Greg had really scheduled one of these babysitters “who couldn’t make it,” and we were going to go as planned but it would be a surprise for me. Y’all. We don’t really do surprises in our family. We don’t do manipulation (I learned this at 23 the first time I stormed out of a room and was not followed). We try to say what we mean. Why in the world, did I think the rules had changed?

I dared to expect, but I told no one. I tried to put it together, and I expected a different outcome when things did not go as I planned. Instead of dealing in reality, I kept basing my hopes on a script I had made up. As I was recounting this story later, my friend, Beth, said–“you normally do not do this!” Yep–but I did it with abandon this time.

Because we had planned to go to dinner earlier in the week, I told Greg to go to buy tickets for the Avengers movie on the morning of my birthday while I was with the boys. In an attempt to seize the day with my boys, I thought we could go downtown. I reached out to several people to see if they were up for tagging along, and no one was available. Most people I know plan ahead, so I could not fault them for my lack of foresight. Our plans were amended, and we went to Chick-fil-a for the boys to play outside, and then, Greg met us to take them home while I had some “me” time. Usually I am elated to have some alone time that is unscheduled. However, because I had set my expectation on the hope that my birthday would somehow be filled with people, I came up lonely and disappointed.

Y’all, I kept digging the hole deeper and deeper with the false narrative. “It’s okay because tonight…” I came home “in my feelings” realizing that I had set myself up. So, like any good 7 on the Enneagram, I took up a paint brush and painted a wall and changed around a room. I cannot control the other stuff, so, I chose what I could control. I was mad, lonely, frustrated, and it was no one’s fault but my own. I ruined my own birthday with my attitude.

As I was cooking dinner that night, I began to fight to take back the narrative. I began telling myself what is really true instead of my feelings. My feelings, based on a false narrative, had hijacked my joy. I had been riding a rollercoaster of self-imposed self-pity.

What did I remember was true? I have a beautiful family with boys that awakened me with flowers and a card (that their Daddy provided for them) as my birthday began. I have a husband that is real and true and faithful that doesn’t play games that joyfully gave me time to myself. He is a rock for me. I had a day of sunshine and warmth and flowers and the hope of Spring that I chose to ignore. I have a Mother-in-Law that thoughtfully sent a beautiful arrangement of flowers. I had the privilege of affording Chick-fil-a and watching my boys have fun and care for others as they played. I have hope in Jesus because of His work on the cross and life He lived. I have a home that I can be creative in. I could go on and on.

The last thing that was true? I had the privilege of leading a women’s growth series the next morning where we would discuss relationships, vulnerability, authenticity, and gulp, expectations. “I get it, Lord.” My life had been a lab for what we were going to talk about. My heart was tender, and I was reminded of this fight we have in relationships. We can allow our desires and our expectations to run rampant and to leave us in a constant state of disappointment, resentment, loneliness–poor me. We can write an impossible script that we are hoping will come true that is completely unrealistic and false. In doing so, we keep ourselves stuck, and we miss out on the true joys and the true growth. We can become a victim of our false thinking. Let me assure you of this, the control we have in life is in how we think and respond to things. With the truth of God’s word, the Spirit and the hope in Christ, we can live with a lens of adventure and expectancy that do not have our limited desires and narrative as the end all, be all.

Was I still tender and sad the next day? Yes. Did I have hope in something beyond circumstances? Yes. Did I get together with a few friends that Sunday night to pull away and celebrate time together? Yes. And, I appreciated the simple joy of doing so…

That friend that drops truth bombs…

We all have that friend that is not afraid to say what they think. When you want to know the truth, you call them. When you ask “how do I look or how does this communicate,” you are ready for the real answer that does not tip toe around feelings. If they are healthy, they can be a great gift in helping you grow. If they are not healthy, they can be a dangerous grenade thrower. If you don’t have a healthy friend like this, find one and know that they are not against you.

We might also be able to identify friends who do not want you to tell them the truth. They do not say this out loud, but you know from experience that they want to hear what confirms what they think and feel. In fact, life often seems to work for these people because they get their way because people do not want to deal with the consequences of shaking up the person’s reality. You just learn to avoid or go with what the person says to “get along.” The person has no desire to change because things are “working for them” in this unhealthy structure.

I would dare say that we have a culture of people who have their hands over their ears, and more and more, we are encouraged to tip toe around each other. We are not practicing healthy truth telling. Because of our own fear of reactions and cost, we say nothing or we say empty, nebulous things to make people feel better about their lives. Sometimes we call this love and kindness, but is it really?

People pleasing is my natural talent, and what worked for me in childhood does not serve me well now. It is empty lacking in reality, substance, meaning or value, and it’s about my comfort. So, I have been on a journey in adulthood to practice true kindness and love which means I do not always tell someone what they want to hear. I have realized, through study of God’s word, that people pleasing is actually deceit.

Deceit–The act of causing someone to accept as true or valid what is false or invalid; fraud: the action or practice of deceiving someone by concealing or misrepresenting the truth, cunning, craftiness; behavior that is deliberately intended to make people believe something which is not true

In a quest to not offend (which is getting harder and harder to do), we say nothing or say something so fluffy that it dissolves like cotton candy in our mouths. Let’s all get along….hmmm…what is the real substance and point of that besides our comfort for a moment? When we put our energy there, we are not focusing on things that are true and life-giving. We are rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic while some really evil and costly and devastating things are going down in our lives and the lives of those around us.

The more I am in God’s word, the more I am aware of the pitfalls of evil that I have adopted as “good living” in our culture. I need the truth told to me, and His word is truth, grace, hope, love, righteousness. I am transformed by His grace and teaching so that I may take courage to bring that kindness to others. His word reminds me that we are in a Titanic situation and that we are so blinded by our sin and desires that are actually devouring and destroying us instead of bringing true freedom and life. We are deceived. In fact, The Enemy, Satan, has a nickname–The Deceiver, The Father of Lies. We gobble lies up because they feed the desires that are within us. “The heart is deceitful above all things and desperately sick; who can understand it?” (Jeremiah 17:9)

We have to recognize that there is an enemy within and on the outside. The one on the outside knows how to entice us in all the right places. All the letters to the churches in the New Testament warn about the people being deceived by false teaching. “For such men are false apostles, deceitful workmen, disguising themselves as apostles of Christ. And no wonder, for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. So it is no surprise if his servants also disguise themselves as servants of righteousness.” (2 Corinthians 11:13-15) So, think Elizabeth Holmes style fraud–it looks great, seems great, seems legit, but it’s all a lie. We are warned to be active in guarding our minds and hearts against it. “Let no one deceive you with empty words…” (Ephesians 5:6) And…surprise, surprise, our culture and human nature were called out long ago with this warning “For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but have itching ears (to hear what they want to hear) they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths.” (2 Timothy 4:3-4)

I have been wrestling with how to enter in and use the voice God has given me. Seriously, I am filled with fear and want er’body to get along. I am selfish and don’t want to deal with push back or conflict. How’s that for honesty? How’s that for my straight-up sin? When I get perspective from the Spirit teaching me from God’s word, I can see the world and myself with a truthful lens. It is then that I see the hearts of friends and family and strangers and myself being deceived into thinking evil is good and good is evil. It is then that I get my desperate need for grace (favor that I did not earn). It is then that I can love others in a way that is courageous and thinks of their needs above my own need for comfort and being liked. It is then that I know that I want people to taste real freedom and real redemption, and I want to love the Lord with all my heart, soul, mind, strength….and words. So, I pray I can be one of those kind and courageous truth-tellers that you can trust. I will struggle and forget, but He is faithful to remind me to guard the trust He has deposited within me.

How much does it cost?

How many times a day do we ask the question “how much does it cost?” Usually we mean a monetary amount. In fact, I daresay that we rarely examine how much a decision will require of us to invest in all areas of life.

Cost: the outlay or expenditure (as of effort or sacrifice) made to achieve an object; Loss or penalty incurred especially to gain something

Nothing is free. Everything we choose to do is at the cost (expenditure) of something else. We make decisions everyday that cost us time, energy, focus, presence, and those decisions, add up to the sum of our lives. What we choose to walk toward and embrace in those decisions make up the essence of who we are. We want something good to be without cost, and we cannot wish that into existence. Give me that donut and a size 2—yes!

We do not like natural consequences because we do not want there to be a cost for our actions. In fact, we like to pretend there are not. (Hello spending more than we make and incurring debt or living as a victim to circumstances instead of taking control of our response). Even in parenting, it is harder on us to let natural consequences fall because we want to shield our children and ourselves from pain. How many times has a natural consequence punishment been incurred on my sons where it cost my comfort? All. the. time. Is it worth it to follow through? Absolutely. What might cost my comfort, convenience and lifestyle freedom at the moment equips my children for adulthood where they cannot shirk the cost. When I give into my call for comfort in the moment, I cost my children an opportunity to mature and to grow, and it costs me the habit of perseverance.

This morning, I was reading from the book of John focusing on the the week before Jesus was killed. I was haunted by these words: “Whoever loves his life loses it and whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life.” Jesus said in John 12:25 “Nevertheless, many even of the authorities believed in Him, but for fear of the Pharisees, they did not confess it, so that they would not be put out of the synagogue; for they loved the glory that comes from man more than the glory that comes from God.” John 12: 42-43

They were afraid of the cost to their standing, to their comforts, to their lives. See, if we take Jesus words to heart, we have to consider the cost of following Him.

Now great crowds accompanied him, and he turned and said to them, “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple. Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciples. For which of you, desiring to build a tower, does not first sit down and count the cost, whether he has enough to complete it? Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it begin to mock him, saying, ‘This man began to build and was not able to finish.’ Or what king, going out to encounter another king in war, will not sit down first and deliberate whether he is able with ten thousand to meet him who comes against him with twenty thousand? And if not while the other is yet a great way off, he sends a delegation and asks for terms of peace. So therefore, any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple.”

Sobering words not really given at the altar call, huh? There are several streams of “christianity” in our culture that tend to center on man’s felt needs rather than God. One stream says God will give you what you want, fill you up, make you the best version of yourself, and give you your best life now. How does that fit with the scriptures above?

One says we have no problem within ourselves–listen to your heart and follow it–God accepts and celebrates you as you are. Where do we find that message written in His word? What about repentance and a turning from what was before?

In those streams, there is seemingly no death to self. In reality spoken in scripture and in our hearts, no one seeks God. He comes to find them, to restore them by the death and resurrection of Christ and to transform them into His character with His love and His grace. His Perfectly Righteous and Loving Son came to this Earth suffered and died taking upon himself our sins, being separated from His Father, and defeating death and the ENEMY. This is true abundant life. This is countercultural. This Christ-life pushes the buttons of the culture and is offensive. This Christ-life shakes the core of our natural tendencies and causes us to look beyond ourselves for strength. This Christ-life replaces our heart of stone with a heart of flesh that grows more and more to be like Him surrendered to His beauty and heart. We find ourselves in Him by losing ourselves.

It is very clear in His word that there will be a rub with the world because the world and the culture are not seeking after God. They are caught in a prison seeking after self, their own pleasures, their own gains. It doesn’t seem like a prison, but once eyes and ears are opened to Grace and Life, we are changed fundamentally at the core of who we are. We are faced with a choice daily to seek after the glory of God or the glory of man. The cost in the present in seeking the glory of God is high. It will affect every portion of your life for the glorious good, but it will also alienate you from the praise of mankind. Seeking after the glory of what man thinks of you is easier in the moment, but the cost is great in the end.

So, my question today…for what are you counting the cost…now or later?

For a beautiful picture of the heart of man and the transformation brought by what Jesus did on the cross over 2000 years ago– Read Ephesians 2:1-10

Friday Fives: Surprises in Adult Life

I used to look at adults and think they had it all figured out. It seemed adulthood was rather boring. And then…as all things, I entered into adulthood where there are surprises around every corner if you are watchful. Oh to be a life-long learner.

  1. This past year, I have felt and understood and been overcome with the pursuit of the Love and Grace of God so distinctly. There are times my love can grow cold and rote, and I live forgetful of the awe and majesty and wildness of God. He is not contained in my understanding. I cannot outrun Him. I am His by His decree and by His work, and I am held and matured by His love. His love and goodness endure forever. He continually draws me back to Him–sometimes gently, sometimes fiercely. Always with my good and His glory in mind. Therefore, He is where my soul rests.
  2. I am more broken and weak than I ever thought possible. The point of my life is not to cover that up, but it is to press into Him. It is To share the beauty of favor that I do not earn and cannot spin. I get to share that with others. Growing up, I was striving for perfection in acting a certain way. My brokenness was there, I just did not face it. Grace=Freedom Self Righteousness and armor=Prison of my own making
  3. I am a yeller–gulp. Aka, parenting and shepherding children is dang hard. It strips you down to studs of your foundation to show what’s really there. Thankfully, I have a great partner in which to parent alongside, and we each have a child that tends to lean toward our own brand of personality. It’s an hilarious experiment of madness:). Greg and I always say “our children are not boring!”
  4. The 40s have out trumped the other decades! I think it’s the freedom of getting to the point where I know my limits and I know myself in a truer sense of the word instead of trying to meet the impossible expectations of others. Hopefully, I am moving from roles I play to the person God has created and called me to be. There is great freedom in being me. I am learning that I disappoint people, and that is part of life instead of the gravest sin. (which I realize has always been my unwritten mantra) Maybe God has to drain us of the energy of our 20s and 30s in order to see this reality. There is a lot more laughter needed as time goes on!
  5. RF has been one of the biggest surprises. I have learned that I can learn new things, grow in things outside of my box, have an outlet for fun and relationships outside of my traditional roles, be a provider financially, and lead in my own way. I can do hard things! That’s what we say to our children every week, and God has shown me that over and over again in my business. Truthfully, I examine every year to see if is is where I need to be investing my time. I wrote a list the other day of gains and losses instead of pros and cons. When I speak about the gains, I don’t think of a car (which I am thankful for) or the financial provision (which I do not deserve but is VERY helpful for our family) first. Because, if you know me, I am not driven by money in the long haul. I reflected the other day about the outlet it has been to be me during a season of raising littles where you begin to feel like you are a robot on a treadmill. It has been an outlet for me to travel, to adventure, to remember what it is to laugh and to have fun, to see growth in areas monthly that I cannot trace in other areas of my life, to grow in confidence in speaking and leading, to shepherd women I would never know in my bubbled off world, and to share truth and encouragement. All I thought was I am going to swallow my pride and sell some skincare in order to help my family financially until I could do something more respected to serve others with my giftings. Jokes on me…God can use us anywhere, we just have to keep our eyes and hearts open.

Analysis Paralysis

Are you ever just paralyzed?

You know you need to get moving in 10 different directions. You understand that, and yet, the sheer volume of purpose and energy needed bring heaviness to your limbs and a panic response in your brain and heart.

Sometimes we do not know where to start just that we “should.” I “should” do as well as that person who seems to be so on top of “xy and especially z.” 

Our mind and heart are full of noise, full of the misplaced panic of “should,” full of unrest…

How do we move?
*We stop. We get off the thought treadmill. *We still ourselves before the only One that can guide us and bring peace and rest to our heart. *We acknowledge our need, yet again. *We ask Him what He thinks, what He purposes and what lies of “should” we are believing falsely.
*We look at the gifts in front of us, the opportunities to experience joy in the simple when we quiet our mind.
*Instead of running ahead in panic, we choose to take our thoughts captive in the moment thinking “what is true, right, good, lovely, excellent and praiseworthy in this moment?”

Truthfully, I have been sitting at my computer in panic about what I should do to lead my business this week, about what I should feed my family, about what changes need to be made to help my son(s), about where I should start to tackle the mound of stuff all around me. I am pretty dense, at times, because I forgot my starting and ending point and the One who directs everything for my good and His glory.

Peace has moved into my heart simply by practicing what He tells me to practice daily and every moment—“draw near to God and He will draw near to you.” 
“Remain in Me, Jennifer. Apart from Me you can do nothing l(paralysis).” 
“Remain in Me…You will bear much fruit, lasting fruit, if you remain in Me.”

Today, I am thankful for a Savior and King who graciously leads me as my Shepherd that continues to be gentle and protective over a sheep that often forgets, often gets panicked, and often runs away.

NOTE: This was in my facebook memories from last year, and guess what? I sat in the same thoughts as last year yesterday. The same things on my list were pressing and important. The same God calms my heart and whispers His presence. This year, however, I anticipate my triggers more. I know in my mind that things will be okay–nothing is an emergency that feels like it. I know He is teaching and guiding me and caring for me so much better than I can plan. He is gracious (giving me unmerited favor) and merciful (not giving me what I deserve) everyday. I thank Him for the incremental growth–for ways He has grown self-awareness in me, for ways He has brought grit.

5 Words

I have a big pile of different projects, notebooks, skincare products, paints and random McDonald’s toys on my dining room table. Every time I walk past, I shake my head and say “that’s what my brain feels like right now.” So many thoughts that need a day or ten to be sifted through, tidied up, discarded or clarified. Familiar, huh?

I had no idea as a little girl that a woman’s mind was so full and frustrated. I was about imagination, adventure, fun, and caring for others in the moment. There’s a part of me that pines for that simplicity while the other part knows there can be presence in the chaos and purpose in the journey. It involves continuous intentional work to get there, and it goes against the grain.

So, on the cusp of a new season for our family, as my youngest will be going to Kindergarten, I am asking questions and reflecting when I get a hot minute. Words going through my mind…

  1. Stewardship :The Careful and responsible management of something entrusted to one’s care Stewardship is one of those words that used to just have the connotation of money in my mind. As I look toward 44 one month from today, I see that time and resources and head space and intention are limited. I see the speed in which my children are growing and learning, and I gulp knowing that I have a finite time to shepherd them. So, this word drives the intention of the next words. Life is to be spent wisely, and I am accountable for that.
  2. Invest: To involve or engage especially emotionally; to make use for future benefits or advantages I have spent the significant portion of my time investing in my little boys lives and in building a business in the last 5-8 years. More so, the attention has been on my boys. It has been a blessing, but naturally it has brought a lack of diversity in my time investments. I want to be thoughtful about how I will invest my time, our resources and my energy and talents. Investments are made to yield growth. Investment choices cost you in other areas, as well. Questions I am pondering before investing: 1) In this pursuit, what is the purpose eternally for others? 2) In this pursuit, what is the purpose for provision for our family? 3) What will this cost me? Where do my strengths and joys come into play in the midst? What’s drawing me to this? Will participating bring enjoyment which then benefits other areas of life? 4) What fruit will this bring? 5) Is this the BEST use of my time? You only have so many resources to invest which brings me to:
  3. Balance: to bring into harmony or proportion Just because I can does not make it right to do it. Sometimes just one more good thing tips the scales to chaos. A huge lesson I have learned while living with a Chronic Illness and Sensory Processing in my family (as well as being a 40-ish mom of littles ) is that energy is limited and nothing expended is free. When I push the margin, everyone pays. So, I have to say “no” more often than “yes” to extras. And, here’s the deal, people will spend you as much as you make yourself available. Often, people will use guilt and shoulds, but you are the one who gives that control or shuts it down. This new season coming up will provide more margin in my headspace and in my schedule, however, it can easily be filled with the busy and unfruitful. My family is still my greatest place of stewardship. If what I am doing for my sake is costing them every week, I need to check myself. There are seasons…and this season is short in the scheme of life. Sometimes it is as holy to say “no” as it is to step out and say “yes.” Are you busy or are you investing purposefully? And…it might not involve saying “no” to everything, but it might be saying “yes” with boundaries to time. then, to what purpose am I seeking this:
  4. Purpose : Something set up as an object or end to be attained Now, I know the ultimate purpose given to me is enjoying God by Glorifying Him. That is a litmus test. However, I can be doing a lot of “good” things that are not done with a heart purpose of bringing the beauty and glory of God to bear. My narrowed down personal purpose; helping others come alive–in Jesus, and in every other way. I have a LOT of opportunities to help others come alive. As a person who leans to the tendencies of a 7 on the Enneagram, I love new ideas and can brainstorm all the possibilities. So, up to the words above, I have to see how this stewards well in life, have to examine the investment and see how it is balanced. I examine the purpose first. Here’s the trick, though. If we don’t dig into the real purpose we are doing something, we can fool ourselves. When I am signing my child up for something, is it about their best interests to come alive and to know God and to develop into an adult or is it about a need of mine to be met? Is this for my convenience or is it for their character? Do I teach them about the all-consuming beauty of the Lord in the investment or is is vacuous? Do I feel pressure because of the choices of friends or is this best for them? When I am deciding something I need to examine if I am making a comfortable decision or a surrendered decision. I have to see if it best fulfills my purpose. And then…I am examining what I am doing and will do to weigh if it’s fruitful:
  5. Fruitful : producing good or helpful results; productive; conducive to an abundant yield Everything produces something good or bad or even pointless. It’s the cause and effect deal. The choices I am making lazily or purposefully today in parenting or business affect tomorrow and the next day. It’s the simple truth. Farming is the perfect example of this. Good soil, tilling, seeds, watering, and pruning will usually bring a good harvest (dependent on God) There can also be rotten produce from bad and unbalanced investments . The question haunting me daily is how the decisions Greg and I are making in raising our children will help grow them into productive adults. That brings a different investment, balance and purpose than just placating their desires. We are entrusted to steward, and thankfully, the grace and power of God are with us because of His faithfulness and love. I also examine how I lead my Rodan + Fields Team–where is this pointing them in character, in heart, in production? What fruit will it bring?

So, here’s some self-disclosure. If you have known me for any amount of time, you know that I am not afraid to make changes. I am laying it all out on the table right now. What fruit is coming from areas of my life? What is out of my purpose? What am I asked to steward? Am I choosing Balance or Busy? Nothing is sacred.

I don’t want to awaken to my life ten years from now without this examination lived out. Because of comparison and assumption and critical opinions (some we ask for and some are unsolicited:)), we can easily question if we are doing what is best in the season we are in. So, In encourage you to not live life on autopilot. Find ways to open up this discussion within your close relationships, take time to examine your heart along with me. Then, we can cheer one another on as we live and steward and give grace on purpose