Posted in authenticity, discipline, humility, infertility, prayer, spiritual growth, trusting God, Uncategorized

Nothing…really

       I have had an epiphany as of late.  I am completely clueless and powerless to run my life–marriage, ministry, fertility, relationships, leadership, etc.  You may be saying, “duh!”  However, do not all of us have this false sense of control from time to time?  We think we have it covered…oh yeah, I have done this thousands of times, and then–pow, right between the eyes we are humbled with the truth. 

          I spend my days walking with and leading young women to grow in fellowship with Christ.  You may think–“oh, hard job…what do you drink coffee and talk about relationships woes?”  Yes, but that is not the point of our time together.  My goal is to teach and shepherd and equip them with the word of Christ and the tools to grow in Him and surrender to Him and glorify Him in all things.  That is not advice or a system–it is a lifestyle and it involves the heart.  Religion says “clean this up, do this and you are good.”  The heart changed by the gospel of Christ is surrendered and examining and searching and repenting.  It is so much easier to talk religion and advice–but it is like rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic–pointless. 

         This summer, I have taken a month and a half off from one on one meetings with young women.  Greg “encouraged” me to do it, and he was right.  The emotional toll that intense relational discipleship takes is hard to measure.  This has been good for me.  However, as I look toward the fall, I see that the work to be done and the growth to be cultivated is bigger than conversations and Bible study and memorizing scripture.  With each young woman, there are things screaming in opposition to her affections for Christ.  The enemy is subtle to us and we are blind–and that is dangerous.  I look toward this next season of output on my part and see that discipline and faithfulness to prayer and dependence are imperative.  I can only plant and fertilize and be faithful in loving each young woman, but I have to wait on God to water and grow.  The Spirit has to reveal sin to the person’s heart and call for repentance.  Sure, I speak the truth in love and grace, but all the while, I depend.  Apart from Him, I can do nothing.

        This makes me think of marriage.  We have NO control over our partners.  I have had several conversations in the last few weeks about other’s marital woes that feel impossible.  I have been there myself at times.  You know the “why try, it is pointless” feeling?  God then reminds me that He awakened my dead heart to love and know Him.  He is about doing the impossible.  So, I am on my knees for my friends and myself.  Apart from Him I can do nothing.

         This makes me think of children–the inability so far for me to conceive and even more so, the complete heartbrokenness of friends over their own children’s choices and hard heartedness.  The feeling that those children’s ears are closed to truth–that  there is an impossible situation–why not just give up?  And, I remember God who brought forth life out of Sarah’s womb .  She was as good as dead–just as some of the children I know–just as we all are without God’s grace.  I am on my knees for myself that God would open my dead womb.  I am especially on my knees for friends that God would break those children and bring those to repentance who are unwilling and hardhearted to wisdom and truth.  I am crying out for the hearts of those parents.  Apart from Him, we can do nothing. 

          The more I live, the more I see religion and rules and a checklist are bogus–powerless–pointless.  We are people in need of heart change–heart transplants.  We are blind to our own sin–and the Spirit who is placed within us, gives us eyes.  I cannot give another their eyes or heart, but I can be obedient to love and share truth and grace again and again ALL in dependence upon the One who brings the change.    When we look too far beyong today, it can get overwhelming.  We need our manna from Him today to love and share and depend and praise Him today. 

          All this to say–boy do I need Him.  Pray for me to be entrenched in His word and dependent upon His Spirit as I love Greg and love and shepherd my girls and encourage my firends who have pains and struggles and needs.  Apart from Him, we can do nothing.

Posted in Anxiety, discernment, discipline, God's sovereignty and goodness, God's will, trusting God

Weighing with Discernment

No, this post is not about the scale in my bathroom. I have discerningly stayed off that scale for the last few months:).
Decisions, decisions, decisions. Just when we get settled in a pattern, another decision is thrown at us. This year has provided me myriad opportunities to speak with women about God’s will. Each of us lives with an idea of God’s will–some more stringent than others. (Weirdly enough, I have found that the more one clings to the Sovereignty of God, the less anxious one is about “missing” God’s will. Maybe I should do an informal study.)
I spend the majority of my time with young adult women at a time in their life where lots of decisions are being made. What to study? Where to apply for jobs? What to do with my life? Where’s the man I thought would be here? Should I settle for an okay guy that makes me feel wanted or should I hold out for someone with greater spiritual maturity and integrity? Is there a guy out there with spiritual maturity and integrity? What city should I live in? Is it okay to do something I like or is that not what God wants me to do? Should I buy this house, this car, or should I stay with my parents?
Do you know a theme I have discerned? People are more concerned about the right and lefts of taking a job or moving than they are with the everyday decisions to pursue God by pursuing holiness. God’s word tells us of people who were called out of their lands to do crazy things (aka Abram, Jonah, Moses–etc). People fixate on this thought. God’s word, more than anything, tells us to love Him with all our heart, mind, soul, strength and to grow in His character by the power of the Spirit in the gospel’s truth. Let’s face it–it is just more “sexy” and exciting to talk about big decisions than the daily decisions to pursue Him. It takes less committment on our parts to think about the “big” stuff than to think daily about surrender and where our affections turn. I hear so much fear in making a mistake and missing where God “wants” me in the big stuff (like marriage and moving etc), but I do not hear a fear about the everyday. Is it not our everyday decisions that make us who we are? In parenting, everyday consistency and love means more than that Disney vacation–right? So, what about making decisions daily for purity in our hearts? Dawson Troutman says “you are what you are now becoming.” Hmm.
1 Thessalonians 4:3 says the will of God is our sanctification. Romans 12:1-2 says to present ourselves as living sacrifices holy and acceptable–renewing our minds daily in Him instead of the world so that we can discern the will of God. Somewhere along the way, people are being taught more about a God of “fate” or a “genie” God more than one you follow with all your heart in order to worship Him and treasure Him in every decision (how to react to my toddler, what to watch on tv, how to spend my money at Target).
From my growth over the years, I see that God is more concerned with our heart’s devotion than righting or lefting us to Minneapolis, Podunkville, Tennessee, or China. There has been ONE time where I knew for certain WHERE I was to be–that was a call to the University of Tennessee at Knoxville. That was my Abram out of Ur moment. Funny, I do not know all of God’s purposes, but I do know that as an 18 year old, I would never have guessed that He was calling me there to suffer and die to myself and see my sin. In my limited vision, I could have gone to a Christian school that I decided on my own and grown more in self-confidence, leadership, and selfishness. I know, sounds opposite, huh? But, He had me go to a place where I was shunned because of my stand for Him. I learned humility, dependence, need–and that I was sinful and He was graceful. He could have done that anywhere because He is God, but He purposed it at UTK. What did He purpose? Not a husband, not lifelong reunions with girlfriends, not a ministry–He purposed my sanctification.
As I said, my ONE time, in 35 years that I “heard” an exact location and call from God. ONE–not even in the who do I marry category did I get that one. In starting a ministry and leaving the world of consistent paychecks, I did not get a distinct “word” from God. In infertility, there are a lot of decisions to make–IUIs, hormones, IVFs, embryo adoptions, international adoptions, domestic adoptions, childlessness forever. I have not gotten a firm read on any of it. Has God abandoned me? By no means! Has He grown me in countless ways in all different places in the country and in my heart? Yes!
Well, I got another shock to the “what is God’s will” system the other day in a phone call. I was offered the opportunity, yet again, to apply for my “dream” job. (At least my dream job from a couple of years ago). I would have to turn from full time ministry to take it. Financially–wow, would it help. I want to pray about it–and I am. As I look, I see there could be many ways I could grow the kingdom there. There is no “wrong” in this situation. There might be a best–but a best in different categories. “Best” financially would be applying for the job–can we say downing lots of future debt and prepping for retirement, possible adoption costs, etc–those things are not ungodly. “Best” in the way I have been growing and maturing and walking deeply with people would be staying where I am–continuing to grow and invest in WDC. The last few months have afforded me so many opportunities to see fruit in the lives of people I have been investing in. I have seen fruit in my life–fruit that does not come from one day–but many years of surrender. I have been content in what God is doing. Growth as a leader, artist, shepherd, disciple has come.
Do I still wonder–Does God want me to take this job? Yes. I have a bit of the “right” and “left” leadership of God still in me from my teenage years. Do I want to continue growing where I am? Yes. Am I seeking God in the middle? Yes. One of my favorite songs ever–“Hold it up to the Light”–says “I am mourning the loss of the choices I’d lose.” (It’s a song about faith and decisions by David Wilcox.) I reflect yet again on that line. Sometimes I think I (and we) can make decisions and opportunities as idols. We have this sense that the decision itself will crush our lives if we do not do it right. (For example, if I do not apply for the job, a chain of events leading to my demise will occur where I will never have a child and my marriage will go to pot and I will miss leading myriad people to Christ.) Does that give God power and glory or the decision the power and glory? God wants us to trust and worship Him in the midst of all of life. In moments like these, I take a deep breath and know that day after day I have been in His word and have been surrendering to His leadership. I ask, trusting Him and His presence that is there day after day, “what do I desire to do?” I desire to continue serving with WDC and pouring out full time into young women and women of all ages. Does a new job sound exciting, sexy and full of economic promise? Yes. Would there be benefits to taking it? Yes. Would God work there, too? Yes. I choose to stay and offer God what I do here.

If you happen to see me on the side of the road with a “will work for food” sign, you know that I got this all wrong and should have been looking for a sign to go right or left!

Posted in discipline, God's sovereignty and goodness, infertility, learning boundaries, thankfulness

A blur

This past week has brought a lot of surprises. Our friends, Jacob and Beth Winn, went to the hospital last Monday, had to have an emergency C-section, and had their twins 11 weeks early. It was a scary time for them, and it was a joy to be with them and pray and support. Lilly Claire and Davis are both in the NICU and have wonderful care there. Beth and Jacob are already showing the beauty of Christ through their parenting (however excrutiatingly far they may feel from the sweet ones). Knowing their journey of infertility and now preemies, I know God is doing something bigger than just the circumstance. But, in all of their stress, they need prayer from all of us.
It was not an accident that my last blog post talked about my morning with God last Monday. Only an hour after spending intense time in the word and prayer for my eyes to look beyond myself to his purposes and to serving others, I got the call from Greg that Jacob and Beth were headed to the hospital. Then, soon after, we were there awaiting the twins’ arrival. God certainly provided me an opportunity for the love and care of his people last week. I am thankful that the verses of rejoice always, pray continually and give thanks in all circumstances stuck to my heart that day. If I stayed in the land of me, I would have missed the joy and the pain of others in the day. I would have missed the opportunity to walk in the good works that God had prepared for me.
I now sit in a cloud of thoughts. I have had a hard week emotionally on hormones for infertility (I believe this is the fourth month in a row that I have been on them–and a month before that I was on them). It takes double work to rest in his truth when my mind is in a cloud of thoughts that drag me down. I long to trust Him. I have made a decision to take a month off of hormones next month. I am weary and need a break–a break to simply rest in Him and not count days, take tests and have to deal with the intense mood swings and hot flashes and depressive thoughts. I want to live life today….rejoice, pray continually and give thanks in all circumstances. My body and mind need a rest from the hormones to regroup and be refreshed in him. It is hard not to be defined by something such as infertility when the meds you have to take from it so throw a huge challenge to your thinking and emotions. I ask for prayer for my thoughts and my attitudes, etc as I walk out the effect of the rest of this month.
So, I look to this week. I long to trust Him each day taking steps to keep up with life, appointments, cleaning, shopping. I need to clean my tub, do laundry, write letters for WDC, serve my friends, love my husband well, meet with my girls. Life goes on, and God is good and faithful and an ever present help in time of trouble.

Posted in discipline, fasting, learning boundaries

A rest from technology

This is a challenging article about our lives and various forms of technology that we live “in.” I began last year at some point to try to take a break from the computer over the weekends. That has moved more into just on Sundays, now. But, I cannot tell you how freeing it is. Our hearts are so crowded with useless mess that creates anxiety that we do not know the joy of simply being with others and God. This is an area that I want to grow in so much. Our hearts were not created to live in this vacuum that technology brings, and we are the only ones that make the decision as to how we spend our time and energies. Think about it.

Posted in discipline, scripture memory, Uncategorized

A memorization tip…

     Greg and I are memorizing verses together in 2009.  I am very excited about this, but he pulled out the important but intimidating Romans 3:21-26 for our first verses (for those of you who listen to Greg ever, you will not be surprised by this choice!).  It is wordy and challenging and in my mind I know a mix match of the NIV and ESV.   We are memorizing the ESV.

    I am excited I got the whole thing perfected while cooking vegetable beef soup yesterday.  As I cut vegetables, I repeated the phrases and meditated and memorized.  I am going to start redeeming the time that seems mundane (cooking, cleaning, etc) by thinking on scripture.  What a blessing that time was.  Instead of worrying about something pointless, my mind was turned toward the gospel!  I usually write scripture over and over to memorize it, but I held onto this passage while doing something else.

   So, try it, and let me know what happens!

Posted in discipline, spiritual growth, thankfulness, the gospel, trusting God

The practice of thanksgiving

       Here we are again, Thanksgiving week.  And, here I am again, a little bitter that the consumerism of Christmas is overshadowing the reflection work that is needed in our hearts as we learn to practice thankfulness.  

       My dream this year?  To sit with those I love and reflect out loud on myriad things in which we are thankful.  To talk about the things of the heart and the things of life that really matter.  

       Last week I got the opportunity to share holiday memories and traditions with our women’s ministry.  I reflected and shared about worshipping as a family on Christmas Eve.  Christmas music and times with family always bring me back to missing my dad and celebrating the many rich memories we had together.  So, of course, in true Jen fashion, I cried from the beginning.  Never fails–add a big group of people and sharing, and I lose it.  

      I took pleasure in hearing the other pastor’s wives and ministry leaders share their traditions and memories.  In fact, there were several that I would like to put into practice in our family–many of which had to do with the act of thanksgiving.  Many shared that they sat around the table and shared what they were thankful for from the past year.  I have made place cards in the past telling those there what I appreciate and am thankful for about them.  The idea that stuck with me was a thanksgiving jar.  This family has a jar in their home where they place sentences of thankfulness throughout the year.  As God works, they write it down.  They, then, dump the jar on the table after their Thanksgiving meal and one by one read what God has done and praise him for it.  We are all so quick to forget his faithfulness.  I loved this idea.  What I also loved about this is that it is about sharing the heart, but it may be less intimidating for an introverted person to read out a slip of paper than have pressure to share from their memory or something “profound.”

     We are commanded in scripture to give thanks in all circumstances–to rejoice and be thankful.  This is a conscious decision and practice.  Thankfulness breeds joy and encouragement.  It forces our eyes upward to God instead of on ourselves in self-worship (even if that self-worship involves negativity and feeling overcome with circumstances).  So, I choose to share what I am thankful for in this year, and I invited you to share as well…Not necessarily in order.

  • First and foremost, I am thankful that God has taught me so much about beholding and living in the truth of the Gospel daily–That I am declared righteous in Christ because of his perfectly obedient life and death that bore the wrath for my sins…That I am set free from the bondage of sin to walk with him and in him and that I can obey him…That God has no more wrath for me–only the love and direction of a Father.
  • I am thankful for His grace toward me daily. I do not live in religion and a set of rules but in his gracious work and character! ( and a reminder so faithfully to share that with others)
  • The gift of my husband, Greg…that God is making us more like Christ in the pleasurable times together and in the hard.  That we can laugh together and be silly.
  • Family and friends that are in relationship with Christ spurring me on toward love and good deeds and showing me the grace of Christ when I fall flat on my face.
  • Dear old friends that knew me when and know me now and ask the hard questions…Cindy and Amber.  The fact that we semi-regularly get together and regularly chat on the phone.
  • My “mentor” friend, Beth, who listens and helps from recycling to issues of infertility.  God is so gracious to put people in our lives who understand the heart and function of things at just the right time.  I am thankful that she is there now and has been there.
  • I am thankful that God has stretched me and is stretching me to “do hard things” like form a non-profit, Women’s Discipleship Concepts,  providing a board, and people who are praying and giving, and new friends to minister with and to.  Hard work and faith and hard work and trust–he is faithful.
  • I am thankful for the small group that God had us in for 7 1/2 years…and the friendships that have come out of that even when though the group has ended.
  • I am thankful for the opportunity to minister and be ministered to as a small group leader for 5 years to a group of young women whom I miss meeting with weekly.  I thank God that he is faithful in their lives and is growing them.
  • I am thankful for my dog, Bailey, whose presence teaches me to care beyond myself and whose warm snuggles are a joy.  I am thankful that her presence is there even when she makes my backyard look like a nuclear bomb has gone off…Even more special, we got her on my dad’s birthday 2 years ago.  I know he would have gotten a lot of joy from playing with her.
  • I am thankful for Melba, my mentor, who ministers such love, grace, truth and encouragement to me.  I am thankful that she faithfully points me to God’s word.
  • I am thankful for a warm bed to sleep in and a warm home to open to share with others.  I am ashamed when I compare to others and think I have less–because we are richly provided with all we need.
  • I am immensely thankful for our church body, Fellowship Church.  I am thankful for the heart of the elders and pastors and the body which seek to honor Christ and hold tightly to his gospel and nothing else!  I am thankful that my husband has a boss there that ministers to him and encourages him.  
  • I am thankful for deep questions to ask of myself and others—and I am thankful for dry answers from myself and others which continue to teach me that I need Christ every moment!
  • I am thankful for the opportunity to work with college students and young adults–the life and energy and challenge they provide.
  • I am thankful for all my nieces and nephews and how different and uniquely special they all are–in order of Age-youngest to oldest…Kale, Hunter, Joel, Sarah, Stephen, Andrew and Brittany.  (From 3 months to 22 years!)  I cannot wait to meet little Kale at Christmas.  I could not imagine at 11 years old, when Brittany was born, how much these precious ones would be a part of my life.  
  • I am thankful that I get to stand with Brittany and have the honor of being her Matron of Honor next May as she marries Ben.
  • I am thankful for God’s provision of timing and a doctor to help diagnose and treat Greg this year as this is the beginning of our battle with Rheumatoid Arthritis.  God has been faithful to provide from doctor to medicine to energy…to joy in the midst of hardship.
  • I am thankful for a mother who has wisdom to support in very special ways and not put pressure–I think about dating and marriage and now looking toward children.  She never pushes or puts pressure in those areas.  I only hope I can be wise in those things with others.
  • I am thankful that God is the one in charge of bringing life into our family…I echo my trust in him.
  • I am thankful for new friends this year…
  • I am thankful for music.
  • I am thankful for the opportunity to exercise.
  • I am thankful for the talent of painting and art and creativity.  It is a way to enjoy life fully.
  • I am thankful for times of quiet–at my sister’s lakehouse, in the hammock, in the bathtub, driving in silence, hiking, at my aunt’s beach house…
  • I am thankful for the diversity of all our family.
  • I am thankful that God is Sovereign…a beautiful comfort for a worrier like me.  I am thankful he is teaching me to rest in his sovereignty in all things…salvation, finances, marriage, children, future, friendships, etc.
  • I am thankful for the things that are yet to come in this year as we celebrate together Thursday and beyond.
Posted in discipleship, discipline, God's word, spiritual growth, transformation by truth

More and more…

Finally, brothers, we instructed you how to live in order to please God, as in fact you are living.  Now we ask you and urge you in the Lord Jesus to do this more and more.’ 1 Thessalonians 4:1

‘Now about brotherly love, we do not need to write to you for you yourselves have been taught by God to love each other.  And in fact, you do love all the brothers throughout Macedonia.  Yet we urge you, brothers, to do so more and more.’ I Thessalonians 4:9-10

       Yesterday, I had the opportunity of studying and reflecting on 1 Thessalonians 4:1-12 with my mentor, Melba.  I am trying to learn homeletics from her, and we used this passage to practice.  This passage has been very dear to me lately as 1 Thes 4:3 about God’s will being our sanctification has really been an anchor of truth in some circumstantial uncertainties.  

       The whole passage is about following and obeying God’s teaching to grow in purity, holiness and love in our living to glorify Christ to the world.  It serves as an encouragement and command to the people of Thessolonika.  They had been taught what was good, and they were obeying.  A phrase that stuck with us yesterday was to do so ‘more and more.’  In other words…keep seeking him, keep obeying, keep loving, keep following, keep being purified in him ‘more and more.’  

      Spiritual growth is a continuous process in which we never “arrive” on this earth.  When we compare ourselves to others we can pretend we arrive (if we compare ourselves to the right people), but we are not meant to compare ourselves to others.  The goal of our spiritual walk is sanctification–the conformity to Jesus Christ.  God, as our loving and gracious Father, grows us and disciplines us and forms us in our journey here through his word, relationships, circumstances.  Just like an earthly parent, he teaches us to say no to the things in our lives that hurt us and yes to the things in this life which grow us in his character (like a parent teaching manners and work ethic and respect, etc).  He also gives us his Spirit to depend on and rest in and to transform us. 

     Our lives are meant to be lived in relationship with him–in dependence on him.  The process of “more and more” teaches us to be dependent.  When making an honest assessment of life, do we strive for the ‘more and more?’  To live ‘more and more,’ we cannot be lazy–it is a daily interaction, reflection.  It involves daily worship–confession, repentance, study, prayer.  These are not things to check off a list; this is a life of surrender.  It is also a life lived in the truth and the power of the gospel daily.  We do not accomplish the ‘more and more’ by ourselves.

     Yesterday, we spoke of the ‘more and more’ in loving, giving, humbling ourselves, sharing, serving, living in purity.  The list could grow ‘more and more.’  Here are some questions to ask today:

  • Where are you resting in yourself instead of depending upon him more and more?
  • What do you know to be God’s will revealed in his word that you are not growing in more and more?
  • How are you examining yourself daily to grow  more and more?
  • Are you celebrating the gospel more and more in your life?
  • How can you love more and more today?  
  • How can you prioritize life to give more and more resources?
  • How are you growing in purity more and more by what you watch, listen to, think on?
  • What is the state of your heart when you read this?  Frustration? Guilt? Anger? Joy?–Remember the Cross of Christ and who you are in it.