Posted in authenticity, doctrine, eternal things, God's sovereignty and goodness, God's word, spiritual growth, transformation by truth

a pivotal moment

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posted in art work, authenticity, encouraging women, healing, identity, isolation, spiritual growth

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. 

Posted in Anxiety, authenticity, grace, loving God with your mind, parenting, transformation by truth, trusting God

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.

Posted in authenticity, discipline, encouraging women, expectations, grace, isolation, loving God with your mind, spiritual growth, thankfulness, transformation by truth, trusting God

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…

Posted in authenticity, encouraging women, grace, thankfulness, the reason for coming alive

I see you…

I see you finding your way in the world. I see you weaving through thoughts, doubts, experiences to find your voice.

I see you bounding through a park with energy, spunk, empathy, and imagination. I see a freedom of owning who you are with no regard for what others think. I see you unaware of what you look like on the outside by living from the inside.

I see you awakening to the thoughts of others. I see you beginning to shrink back for fear that people will point out what is different in you. I see you losing inner confidence in a world of glossy pictures. I see your shoulders slump to protect your heart. I see you defining yourself by what amounts to smoke and mirrors.

I see you performing, learning, practicing, and growing. I see you gaining competence. I see you flexing your strengthening muscles. I see you looking to the needs of others to serve and to encourage because you know what it is to struggle.

I see you stepping into the new to lead, to stretch, to protect, to inspire, to create, to administrate, to nurture, and to empower others. I see you more and less confident with each new step. I see your wings flopping and popping from the cocoon. I see you proud and hiding all at the same time.

I see you believing you have significance. I see you embracing change. I see you embarking on a life long adventure.

I see you dying to yourself to serve another. I see you learning sacrifice and mourning and embracing the loss of freedom. I see you intentionally stepping into love. I see you toughening from the inside out. I see you strong, soft, vulnerable, gritty.

I see you spinning all the plates. I see you calling the plays. I see you learning what to let go and what to embrace. I see you leaning in.

I see you feeling invisible everywhere while you keep life going. I see you tripping while trying to be all things to all people. I see you answering to what feels like everyone everywhere.

I see you letting go and embracing what is reasonable. I see you learning to set boundaries. I see you mourning the loss of who you were and trying to figure out who you are. I see you needing a minute to catch your breath.

I see you renegotiating your life. I see you feeling lost and yet hopeful. I see you embracing yourself like never before. I see you laughing in the midst.

I see you trying new things with spunk, empathy and imagination. I see you shaking off the expectations of others. I see you finding your voice in a more authentic way. I see you shrinking back from being small and choosing to spread your wings.

I see you when you feel invisible to a world that falsely values youth. I see that you are strong, purposed, wise. I see your beauty that is from the inside out. I see you use your voice to embolden others to use their voice, to impact the world, and to live for what matters.

From girl to Woman, I see you.

Posted in authenticity, comparison, discernment, grace

Do I have food in my teeth?

I have big teeth, and I cannot lie. This is a fact. They attract green leafy food. I could try to defend against it by not showing my teeth–painfully keeping my mouth closed while at dinner with friends or in the company of strangers. There’s a problem, though. My mouth was made to smile, to talk, to laugh, to inquire of others, and my gummy smile is part of that. The experience of that joy is worth more to me than my worry about a broccoli branch sticking out of my canines.

This has taken a long time to embrace. In fact, I wanted to fall into the floor when Greg told me I had something in my teeth on our first “date.” I was 23, but I felt all the insecurities of 8th grade burst into my being.

Why did this uncomfortable moment serve as a gift to me? 1) I knew he was not afraid to tell me the truth. He was not worried about impressing me but helping me. Flattery and charm help you feel good for the moment, but they leave you empty and hurting in the end. 2) We got uncomfortable out of the way. That is risky. He still pursued me knowing I had a propensity for wearing my meal in my grill. To this day, he tells me. I laugh and ask for direction, and we move on.

There are things about each of us (much deeper than food in the teeth) that are flawed, that carry wounds, that, in shame, we try to hide or manufacture a facade to cover. Some of those things are very clear to others and not to us (as food in the teeth). Some we push deep down hoping to never face or reveal. And, in doing so, we minimize our gifts, our hearts, and our joys that are meant to be shared with others. We also miss out on the joy of relationships and community–where unconditional love has a place to grow.

We live armored lives, and therefore, we encourage others to live that way. We think we are self-protecting, but we are really living 1/2 lives. EVERY SINGLE PERSON has hang-ups, insecurities, places of shame, imperfections, places where we have or are going to royally fail. What we do with those realities defines the life we live and how we empower or enslave others.

Are you risking others seeing the food in your teeth? If not, what are you afraid of happening? Is what you are afraid of worse than what you are missing out on by not being vulnerable?

Embrace with me #getrealwednesday in the simplest of things today. The world is a MUCH scarier place when we hide and cover. It doesn’t have to be your deepest secrets that you let out, but embrace the reality that you DO NOT have it all together. Smile, laugh, talk and floss your teeth!

Posted in authenticity, grace, humility, parenting, spiritual growth, trusting God

Clueless

At dinner the other night, my youngest said “Grown-ups know everything.”

Then, the seven year old chimed with…”No way, they only know about some things.”

I laughed to myself, and I remembered having that unbridled confidence in grown-ups. I think of all the adults I grew up around and that I considered any age of 30 and above as gray-headed and ancient and somebody’s mom, dad or teacher. In my mind as a child and early teenager, I did not consider adults to have struggles or doubts or to be at a loss for direction. They were “adults,” and they had it together. They had quick answers that were always right. (I didn’t have a category for people in prison–my life was small town sheltered.)

Then, I began growing and experiencing “real life.” Everything had structure until graduating from high school. It’s like the ages of 18-24 are a no-man’s land if you need structure and stability. We call it “freedom,” but really there was a lot of confusion in the midst. We are trying on different hats and life choices and don’t even recognize who we are in the mirror. And then, we have a diploma or a job or a ring on and supposedly, we are adults that have answers.

Bahahahahahahahahaha.

Then these words come out of our mouths…. “wait, this is it? This is what I have been preparing for? Can I get a manual? I’m sure there has been a mistake! I’m the only one who is a royal mess inside!”

What we experience is grief that life is not what we hoped or thought or were promised that it would be. Facing that loss that we experience is the first step in maturity. Some of us never make it out of the cycle of grief–looking for what we were owed. We may jump from job to job or relationship to relationship, numb ourselves with what we can buy or consume, or blame everyone for our issues, but that grief is still there lodged and real growth is stunted.

The real maturity of adulthood? Knowing and embracing we don’t have the answers within ourselves. That doesn’t mean we throw our hands up, but we examine ourselves.

A few months ago, Greg and I had our biggest parenting hurdle thus far, and we were at a complete loss as to how to lead a situation with our oldest, and we had to make a fast decision. We were stonewalled. I asked Greg…”what do we do?” He said–“I don’t know any better than you…we are making it up as we go!!!” There was a freedom in hearing him say that because I often go back into “adults should have all the answers” mode. Thank the LORD that we have people who have walked before us on this journey and we also have God’s guidance as we make decisions.

Then, one by one, I began thinking of all those adults that were there when I grew up. I thought of ministers, teachers, moms and dads, doctors, young couples. I wanted to go back and to hug them because I realized all that they were carrying when I just saw them as an adult who had it all together. They were carrying pain, doubts, insecurities, marital troubles, shame… Yet, they loved me and made me feel safe.

Adulthood–man. It has been my favorite time in life and the most terrifying and hard time in life. It has been the time that I have known my need for One beyond me in the greatest of ways. I have seen myself be a mess, and I know that I cannot put the pieces back together. When we don’t have the answers that is actually the greatest gift because it drives us to look for the One who does. And, He greets us with grace and love, and he sets the bones we have broken along the way to grow into Him. He replaces our ways of coping with His spirit and His truth. We can freely admit that we are broken and that He is the healer. And, like the children of Israel in the desert, He give us what we need for TODAY. It is a trust exercise over and over and over. We want a downloaded plan for the next 10 years, but growth and life and trust do not work that way. We have the freedom to admit where our Hope and our Strength and our Wisdom comes from. Beautifully, we can teach our children to look to Jesus because life will not be what they expect or want it to be, but there is a deeper joy in the midst if they walk into the grief instead of running from it.