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 comparison, encouraging women, God's word, loving God with your mind, self-absorption, spiritual growth, transformation by truth

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…

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.