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 Anxiety, authenticity, discipline, grace, margin, sin, spiritual growth, transformation by truth, trusting God

It all started with a “little” project

It all started with a closet project.  Little did I know that it would turn into so much more.  

Our home has more than ample storage, but the problem is we have dumped stuff there.  The stuff that is falling out of the closets and the basement means there is stuff everywhere in our house, as well.  Storage is of no value if you do not use it well. 

That brings me to our downstairs guest room’s closet.  It has looked like this for 3 ½ years. 

I would tidy the middle part of it when things were falling out, but I never took the time to tackle the big job.  It seemed overwhelming and time consuming, and nobody has time for that with 2 active boys, no headspace and a side of tired.  It wasn’t urgent, so it kept getting stuffed around what was urgent.    

This week has afforded a few days where there was no agenda.  It has been a wearying season where there has not been room to unpack my mind and heart let alone a closet that carries baggage that I have to sort through.  I found myself thinking of the closet, and it wasn’t a “should” but a “this would be healthy to do.”

What was in the closet? Letters, pictures, albums (nostalgic girl here), boxes that had not been unpacked since our move 3 ½ years ago, storage bins of art materials, boxes and storage bins filled with random objects where I had to “hide stuff” from company, random throw pillows, important business documents, etc.

I knew it would not be a fast job, and I knew I needed to be mentally and physically prepared to tackle it. 

So, I began taking stuff out which made a bigger overwhelming mess.

There were times I didn’t know what in the world to do next.  I thought—“what have I done? I could be watching Christmas movies, building a puzzle or taking a nap.”  (All my go-to escapes). I toyed with closing the door, and not using the room again.

However, it was time.    It took me a day and a half—going through every box, every paint bottle, every random notebook.  

Thoughtful examination was required to see what should be kept and purposefully used, what should be discarded, and what was worthy to give away.  I examined things that were unfinished projects and asked the hard question—“Am I holding on to this because I ‘should’ or is it a worthy thing to follow through with in this season?” I add, in this season, because that’s where I get myself bogged down.  I see the possibilities in all things, but I end up going nowhere.

Then, I began placing things that I found purposeful back into the closet with a rhyme and a reason.  They are accessible now.  I know what’s there—it is not a mystery.  There is room there to put other things that fit into certain categories.  There is room for a guest to hang clothes and put a suitcase (aka I could actually be hospitable to welcome others).

There was a lot of unusable space in there that can be used now for my art stuff!

As I was walking through the process, I thought, this would be an awesome blog post—there are so many life parallels.  Then, the Lord awakened me at 2 am in the morning and started really dealing with my heart, gulp. 

He asked me to look without background noise or distraction, without the sounds of the day at what I was storing in my life.  Jen, What is superfluous and crowding out what is truly life giving?  What do you think is a harmless habit that literally is stealing room in your soul to have margin and peace?  Where is the baggage that you just keep stuffing (like your closet and basement) that is literally encroaching on every area of your life?  Jen, do you feel peace and purpose or just a lot of noise?  It is time to look and to deal and to see what you want to expel from your heart and your head and what you want to pass on and what you want to keep in an orderly fashion. 

It is scary—actually terrifying—to ponder what is really in our hearts, huh?  It takes time, courage, grit, humility.  The real beauty though, is that the One who created, sustains and redeems us, will guide us in GRACE.  If we will take the time to truthfully and bravely tackle our stuff, He will meet us in the middle of all the piles that seem completely impossible and overwhelming.  He will teach us what to hold on to, what to let go of permanently and temporarily, and what to literally destroy in the trash.  God is not a God of confusion or disorder, but I will tell you, it takes time to sort through the things we have experienced and stuffed trying to handle it on our own. 

We think our fear is telling us the truth, but fear is a liar.  Fear tells us to throw it in there and ignore it—stuff it.  Fear tells us, “He really doesn’t know what He is doing—this is a much better plan to numb yourself or to take control on your terms.”  Fear says, “did He really say or mean this?”   Once we make a habit of listening to that fear, we become weary of substance.  We run out of space in our closets and basements and our junk pours forth into the public areas of life.  We cannot hide our stuff.  There is no margin to deal with it. 

When we walk (however TERRIFIED we are) with The Lord, He who calls you is FAITHFUL to walk with us and transform us.  It’s gonna look messy as we continually bring piles before Him, but it is going to be freeing in all the ways.  He calls us to draw near to Him to sort what is good and purposeful and life-giving and honoring in our lives.  There is space and margin and ROOM when we take COURAGE to go there with Him. 

So, I encourage each of us to look intently into His word and His purposes and lay our lives next to them.  Let us be brave, reach out to others when we want to hide and when we feel that our closet’s contents will literally suffocate us.  The truth is…they will, apart from Him. In the midst of our piles, the truth of the Gospel allows us to draw near to Him with confidence because Jesus has paid our debts with His life and death and resurrection.  He says “remain in me, and you will bear much fruit. Apart from me, you can do nothing.”  

Posted in discipline, God's word, loving God with your mind, margin, Uncategorized

Mindless?

Do you ever have those days or weeks where there is so much in your head that is not cohesive that you have a hard time forming a sentence?  Yeah, me too.  Like right now, me too.  I wrote about margin a month ago.  I have really slimmed the things down in my life, but sometimes life has extras that you have to do in the day in day out survival.  That is where I am.  That is where a lot of you are, as well.  You long to stop–to breathe–to clear the traffic jam in your head.  Sometimes the circumstances do not allow for that.

Our church has a garage sale every spring for missions.  Throughout the year, I will pack boxes to store for that sale.  This month, I have a goal to take at least one box a week the month before the sale.  The more I clean out, the more I see there is left to clean.  Stuff…so much stuff.  There have been carloads each week.  It is freeing to simplify, but it is hard work.  It takes intentionality–over and over and over again.  When you are intentional with what you have, you know where it is and you may actually use it instead of treating your house like a storage facility.

Our minds work in the same way.  God made us to have a beautiful capacity to think and to reason and to love Him with our minds.  Rarely do we use our minds in the way that they are created to be used.  We store useless stuff there instead of being intentional and engaging our thoughts and capacities.  You tube videos, status updates, random pop culture facts, storylines from tv shows, feelings of shame and memories left over from decades, romantic notions of life that we wish we had, scenarios that are not real life, lusts, jealousies, envy, strife, anger, bitter thoughts, sports facts, fiction, random facts, all jumbled in the rooms of our minds.  My heart and mind are feeling that.  I scroll through news feeds reading headlines and they will not penetrate my mind because there is not room for an intelligible thought.  I see people who need help and need to be engaged and I literally feel helpless because I cannot process one more thing.    Mindless things fill my day–its like I need to run the kitchen disposal of my mind to clear way for real pondering, for purposeful living, for loving God and loving others.

We need margin in our schedules–some seasons need a lot more–i.e. with little ones (and some of you with aging parents).  Let us not neglect the margin we need in our minds.  Our brains are meant to deal with complex thoughts–to process truth, to see error, to engage the world in a healthy way.  We cannot do this without cleaning out our minds just like we clean out our closets.

One and a half years ago I deactivated my facebook account for about 6 months in order to engage life in the here and now more purposefully.  What a freeing thing!  I think I was able to engage so much more in my mind then and also parent more purposefully.  Right now, I think….do I need to get rid of my smart phone?  So much mindless searching for news, trolling on facebook (and for what purpose–to find out who is pregnant or who is ticked or what character the person is from a tv show?), scrolling through instagram photos.  This takes up precious time, but it also takes up precious space in my thinking and produces nothing lasting.  The true things that I do read do not have room to penetrate.  I nod in agreement and they bounce off into information space (like pong for you people who were born in the 70s and before:)).

We have so much information at our fingertips, and we are all the dumber for it.

  • Is there room in our minds to meditate on what is true, noble, right, pure, excellent, praiseworthy (Phil 4:8)?
  • Is there room and energy in our minds to take every thought captive to obey Christ and to recognize and take down the opinions that are raised against the knowledge of God (2 Corinthians 10:5)?
  • Do we even leave room to contemplate and treasure the knowledge of Christ?
  • Can we process complex information in order to engage people who are in need of the Lord and to ask them questions to enter their lives?
  • Is there space to be transformed in life by the renewing of our minds in order to understand the will of God (Romans 12:2)?  Is there room in our minds to set them on the things that are above or are they filled to overflowing with earthly things (Colossians 3:2)?
  • Is there room to hide His word in our minds which will penetrate our hearts and actions that we may guard ourselves from sinning against God (Psalm 119:11)?
  • Do we remember that we have the mind of Christ if we are His (1 Corinthians 2:16)?  That means the Spirit helps us discern who the Lord is and what He wants–it is a beautiful gift of understanding and the ability to love God with our mind.

Let us wake up.  Let us take the time to clean out the recesses and the excesses and the ringing thoughts of our minds that we might love Him completely.  None of us have excuse–none.  If we are in Christ, we have freedom from these chains, but we have to wake up to the realities of our thoughts and the realities of what we are storing there.  We can renew our minds with truth.  We do not have to go on in a stupor.  This world and your neighborhood and your family will be a different place because of it.  If we cannot take the time to love the Lord with our minds, we certainly cannot love our neighbor as ourselves.  Our thoughts and our hearts are intertwined.  So, today, I ask what do I need to simplify?  What do you need to simplify?  We are not created to be half-hearted or half-minded creatures.  Let us fully use what the Lord has bestowed.

Posted in authenticity, discipline, God's sovereignty and goodness, infertility, spiritual growth, suffering in joy, thankfulness, transformation by truth, trusting God, Uncategorized

Remember

Life is hard. We forget the good at times. We forget where and how we have grown. We forget friends who were faithful along the way. We can major on our feelings of the crisis or the mundane we are in.
This is the human condition. That is why God reminded the children of Israel over and over and over in his word of their story and His faithfulness in their story.
When I was in the deep throws of infertility the first time(…thinking we would have no children and wrestling with all my emotions of that fact), I took time to write my life story in my journal. I was at the beach in January by myself. For hours I poured through the pages of my mind remembering joy and sorrow and God’s faithfulness. Many times I would say out loud “OH YEAH–I totally forgot that fruit or that growth or that miracle!”
This morning, as I was praying, I remembered that journal. I need to find it and reread it–TODAY. We are forgetful and are often driven by our feelings of pain in the moment.
We each have huge miracles and pictures of grace in our lives that we easily dismiss when the next pain comes along–just like Israel when they got hungry and tired right after God had parted the Red Sea.
Let’s take time to remember so that we may run this race with endurance.

Posted in discipline, eternal things, God's sovereignty and goodness, infertility, prayer, rest, spiritual growth, suffering in joy, thankfulness, transformation by truth, trusting God

Hope In One Thing

We use the word “hope” often.  I hope my child grows to love Jesus.  I hope my husband experiences healing here with his rheumatoid arthritis.  I hope that you have a good day.  I hope you enjoy the holiday season.  I hope that I live fully to glorify Christ.

The only place to put my hope “IN” is God–Jesus–the Holy Spirit.  Where does my help come from?–from the Lord, the Maker of Heaven and earth.  If my husband suffers the rest of this life from RA (and thus, I feel that suffering) and my child rebels and never knows Jesus and I see unspeakable tragedy–My hope is still to be found IN God.  He is the only stabliizer, the only True One.  “The grass withers and the flowers fade but the word of our God stands forever.”

It’s totally okay to hope for things…but our only hope “In” can be found in Christ.  Everything else fails and fades and disappoints.  He IS MY ROCK AND MY HOPE.

Posted in discipleship, discipline, doctrine, eternal things, God's sovereignty and goodness, God's word, infertility, spiritual growth, transformation by truth, trusting God

Feelings, Whoa, Whoa, Whoa, Feelings…

In the last few days I have had several conversations that remind me that our feelings can be tricky.  We have feelings for a reason.  They help us express joy and enjoy life.  They can be exhilirating.  They often can alert us to something big going on in our heart and relationships.  Feelings are not bad in themselves.  The danger comes when we elevate feelings and experience to god status.

Think about relationships…in the beginning the feeling is like flying.  Studies even find that chemicals are released in the brain that are euphoric at the beginning of relationships.  So fun.  But then, what happens when they go away?  Some panic thinking their love is not true.  Some try to recreate that same feeling and when it fails they are despondent.  Some move on to the next relationship to capture that feeling again.  Some get married and fight a new battle of feelings.  Those who push through and learn see that love deepens and matures over time.  They may not experience euphoria, but they enjoy the person and trust is built and friendship is deepened and they are fully known, scars and all.  There is a peace and reward to that kind of commitment.

A marriage, over time, has peaks and valleys, but with the goal in mind, much growth can occur.  Endurance through those highs and lows and commitment and focus bring maturity and intimacy.  This can be likened to our relationship with God.

At first, when our hearts are made new, it is so exhilirating.  We are new creatures learning a new life and so full of love.  We see God so many places.  We want others to know Him.  We hear Him.  Like a child, we grow quickly because there is so much to learn.  We long for more…and then something happens and we may lose that “feeling.”

I remember as a teenager and a newer Christian looking at adults and thinking they didn’t get it.  Mind you, some of them really did not know Jesus, but some did and did not have the same “passionate” response as me.  I made a judgement on them.  I discounted their faith.  Now, I am on the other side of that (twice the age I was then).  I understand a little more.

Think about adulthood.  Once you hit a certain age, your growth changes from outward to inward (at least we hope).  The early and mid twenties are about finding out who you are and asserting that relationally in the world.  I work with young women everyday who have hit the wall of adulthood and say “is this what all this is about?”  They easily get depressed.  It is hard.  They feel lost.  I remember those exact feelings.  There’s the F word–feelings.

Part of my purpose is to point them to truth and to bring them to bring their feelings underneath the truth.  As a person, if you do not learn to do this, you will continually be seeking the next thing that will create good feelings within you.  This could be a new spouse or relationship, a new job, a new city, another kid, new friends, walking away from faith, walking to a new faith, self-help, drugs, status, material things, vacations.  I could go on and on.

In our relationship with God, He wants us to know Him despite our circumstances, in and even despite of our feelings.  Many think when they lose that first feeling and passion of the early days in their walk with God that they have lost Him.  He may be teaching us not to trust or rely on feeling but Him.  He may want us to seek Him and find that He is true even in sadness.  We all have seen people who are so driven by experience that they are always chasing the next new thing in Christianity because that’s where people are really “knowing” God.  A lot of times that can be mysticism without God at all.  We can make our religious or spiritual experiences an idol.  He will not stand for that.

God is so much wiser than we make Him to be.  His word says that those who endure to the end will be saved.  This life is not a sprint but a marathon.  Ask runners if the whole marathon is a high–they will tell you there are definite highs but there are moments that they want to quit and do not think they can make it.

God, in His word, calls us to trust in Him and not our own understanding (feelings), and He will direct our path.  He calls us to mature in Him, to grow in intimacy just like a marriage.  As we mature, change comes in long and often painful periods of trust.  To become more like Him, it involves the shedding of and dying to our sin.  This does not feel good because we have come to trust it (sin) and treasure it more than Him.  If we cannot process our feelings and bring them under His truth and choose to trust His truth even when we do not feel it, we will run away to try to get a better feeling somewhere else (in marriage, we call this adultery).  We will miss some of the richest parts of knowing who He really is–not what we’ve made Him to be.

The biggest places God has refined me to know Him despite and even in my feelings are marriage and the struggle with infertility.  In His grace, He continually called me to make a decision to study and meditate on His word.  Was this easy? No.  I wanted to run…and at times I did run to get a “high” somewhere else.  However, in His grace and love, I submitted to His truth and chose to trust His sovereignty.  Oh what a deeper joy…even such that I am thankful for the time of infertility for I would never have known Him in such a way.  Faith is submission even when we are sad or angry or all over the place with our feelings.  Faith is the submission and believing in His truth when we do not feel Him.  We make this decision everyday.  I pray that you not give up or run to something that seems easier or makes you “feel” better for the moment.  Intimacy and maturity in Him do not rely on the circumstance of the moment but continually meditating on His truth and who He is and choosing to place your trust there for the long haul.  I would not trade the long marriage for the false beginning high, and I pray that I continue to remember that.

Posted in Diet Coke, discipline, infertility, learning boundaries

I’m on a diet…

     So, I feel at times that I am such a drama queen with angst filled posts.  On a day where I feel particularly weak and melancholy, I am going to post about something not so deep–Diet Coke. 

       I do not remember when my love affair with Diet Coke began.  I, like many of the masses, began my foray into the diet cola world through Diet Dr. Pepper.  I, then, fell down into the hole of “no return” to hard core Diet Coke. 

         I know in my journey of infertility that I have ramped up my habit.  When the stress pours on, I think “I deserve a treat.”   It became more like an IV line.  Let’s just say, I became a junkie.  It is one of those things that you know is happening, but you turn a blind eye to it.  When you have something “wrong” goign on, you begin to think…”awe, what’s one more bad thing to add to my body when it tastes so good?” 

           A few weeks ago, as I was thinking of going toward tward one more fertility treatment, I realized–I got a big problem.  When I went through a 24 pack in record time, it was time to take control.  So, I quit.  When that pack was gone, I did not restock.  In ten days, I have had two diet cokes–I gave in a couple of times.  One for a movie.  The miraculous thing about it–I did not finish either of them.  Another miraculous thing–I have had more energy.  Funny, the thing I drank to give me more energy actually sapped it.  

          My body has not consumed this much water in several years.  There have been moments I have really been jonesing for a DC, as we call them in our house.  I realize that driving more then 30 minutes somewhere makes me think of grabbing a diet coke.  However, on those times, I have withstood the temptation.  And, actually, when I did have them, they were not so delicious. 

           Addiction on any level is quite embarrassing.  I came clean–there you go.  I was, or rather am, an addict.  Funny, after I made my closet decision to quit, my friend, Elisa, shared with me about a book she was reading about artificial coloring and sweetener.  I am really lucky that I did not grow a third arm or eye from all my consumption.

           So, I am on a diet from diet coke.  Will I never have another one again?  I do not make definitive statements–because the moment I do–you will see me chugging straight from the fountain at Weigels.  Let’s just say that moderation is moving into my life.  One diet coke every few weeks beats 4 a day anytime!