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

Where the heck am I going?

I’ve always had pretty good direction–I see maps in my head. I like to get my bearings and understand where I am in order to navigate where I am going. I get the shakes when I am just following a crowd. My husband will tell you that I am all about backroads and finding the faster way.

“The faster way” has gotten me in trouble a few times. It reminds me of a trip to London when I was 25. Long story short, due to my mom breaking her ankle, I took my parent’s place on a senior adult tour of England, Scotland and Wales (thankfully my good friend Amber also went). There are many stories from this trip including a stalker that I naively picked up, but that one is for another time.

Now, for you, youngins, this was before you could get walking and driving directions by phone. I didn’t even have a phone on this trip. We were trying to get to a show very quickly using the Underground, and I basically was leading the way on directions with a lot with people following. Which lead me to the brilliant shortcut… Picture it, a winding staircase from the Underground that wound up probably 10 flights of stairs (that I thought would be 2 flights)–with twenty 65-80-year-olds behind me. The map did not show topography…it just showed distance. So, my “shortcut’ almost sent 5 adults into cardiac arrest. Not my finest moment.

At twenty-five, I was coming out of a season where I felt directionless in every way. I had landed on a plan and was in grad school for school counseling while in a serious long distance relationship with Greg. I thought that getting a plan for what I was going to do would lead me into understanding who I was. We easily confuse that as humans, huh?

Looking back with what I know now, it makes sense that I was overcome with making a decision with so many choices before me. As an Enneagram 7, I love spontaneity and new adventures and loathe a plan that buckles me in. However, the world, my parents, and all the little ladies from my hometown were continually asking me the question “what are you doing with your life?” I felt the weight of deciding the rest of the path of life right then and there from career to marriage, and I did not have ONE clue which direction of the 3000 ways I could go was right. My heart is beating faster thinking about those weird conversations I had from about twenty-two to twenty-six.

The “right” part was the thought in which I was stuck. I felt I needed a distinct calling into something to do it.

What would the 43-year old Jen tell the 22 or 25 year old Jen?

  1. It is going to be okay…apart from the marriage choice, these decisions on jobs or cities or careers are not going to make or break or DEFINE your life. And, even in the marriage choice, God is gracious with both of you.
  2. Pursue God and be in His word and with authentic people on the same journey. You are going to meet some amazing friends that will struggle with you, encourage you, stretch you.
  3. You are messy. You tend toward depression. You do not have to be the image of that 10-year-old girl that does everything right to be praised. The best growth and beauty will come out as you share your brokenness and lean into your Gracious Father.
  4. Girl, you are going to try lots of new things. You will paint, sing, speak, write. And, don’t throw up in your mouth, but you are going to be a pastor’s wife as one of your roles along the journey. Breathe…you are going to be okay with it.
  5. You are going to learn how to study God’s word deeply. You are going to grasp and dig deep into the power of the gospel, and you will be transformed and taste greater freedom than you can imagine. In fact, instead of drowning in your feelings, start pursuing that now!!
  6. Life is not about your happiness. Happiness is fickle and a shadow in life. You will learn, through much pain that I will not disclose at this time, that the secret to life is being content in the Lord. In plenty and in want, in sickness (which will come) and in health, in laughter and in tears, in gain and in loss…your roots are going to grow deep into Him. It is going to be really good.
  7. It doesn’t matter your job or career, Jen. I know now it seems it does…but you are going to be you and minister to others with God’s love wherever you are. He is in control–breathe. He is going to take you on many adventures, and you will get to experience new challenges in each season. Be open to the new and do the small things of faithfulness in the midst.
  8. Remember this: the people who have a plan and seem to have conquered adulthood are just as lost inside as you are. Their outside “direction” may look together, but on the inside, they might be feeling the burn of walking up 10 flights of stairs looking for a shortcut. We all are in need. We all struggle.

The verse I was meditating on this morning: “May the Lord direct your hearts into the love of God and into the steadfastness of Christ.” 2 Thess 3:5

Wherever you are on the journey, this is my prayer for you.

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 eternal things, God's will, suffering in joy, transformation by truth, trusting God

Just Campin’

Why do we order life, or rather think life should be ordered, for our comfort and ease? We spend time accumulating, building, investing in things that fade like freshly picked flowers.
Lately, I have been challenged by the Spirit and God’s word to think on life in light of eternity. This momentary circumstance (whether infertility, not having your house be what you want, having trouble with your child’s behavior, the loss of a child, an extremely hard marriage, a less than fulfilling job) is about more than just it’s resolution. This life, lasting from 70 to 80 years or more is practice for eternity. It is a training ground…a refining ground, rather. This sin entrenched, hard world is not the end. It is the place and time to learn what it is to know repentance, know Christ and make him known. It is the time where we are made more like him clinging to the fact that that work will be complete in us when we meet him (Philippians 1:6).
It is so easy to make my goal ease and personal comfort thinking “this is the only life I have to live, I deserve…” But, that my friends is the farthest from the truth. Jesus told us that in this world we will have trouble. James encourages us to count it all joy when we face trials of many kinds (James 1) because the testing of our faith produces steadfastness (and steadfast love is a character trait of our Lord). We are tried, and that testing is used in the process of becoming more like him. Our reward is not here…it is in heaven and on the new earth where there will be no more pain for ETERNITY, where we will have been totally transformed, where we have perfect fellowship with one another, where we will enjoy God fully. So, when you are thinking, “my life sucks…”–it might. But, in Christ, our hope is not in the now to fill us.
I was walking on Cherokee Blvd today looking at beautiful houses–immaculate landscape–prime real estate. Those fortresses will crumble, but those are often our goal–to consume now. (not that if you live there you are sinning–just depends on what is in your heart). Then, I thought, those in Christ are aliens here. This is not our home. We are merely camping.
When you go camping, you do not expect lavish comfort or a fulfilling night’s sleep. You know what you are in for and enjoy it–the company, the “roughing” it. You do not expect the tent to be like home. I think we all need to be reminded that we are camping–not looking for our home here, not expecting comfort or ease of situation when it is not promised. And, just like camping, we learn many good skills and take time to invest in relationships along the way preparing us and bringing us joy when we think of our bed at home…the feast that awaits at home. Camping is not the end just as this world is definitely not the end. In the light of eternity, this is a flash. Just as Paul says, these “momentary troubles are not worth mentioning” compared to the glory of knowing him forever. I always need a dose of reminder of his truth instead of building a house and life for “my” comfort and ease and getting highly frustrated when it does not work. So, my prayer is to remember that my reward is in heaven. God give me grace to seek your truth and your ways and your glory above me.

Posted in Books, discernment, God's will, God's word, transformation by truth, Uncategorized

An important read

God’s will…that phrase is thrown around in the Christian subculture, and yet, I think no one grasps the concept. We know less about God’s will from what his word says about it than what we have gathered by the osmosis of people’s opinions. I have come to the conclusion that most have a mystical view of what God’s will is…these stirrings of direction, superstitions, inklings instead of actually learning what he calls us to…holiness.
Couple that thought with the lengthening of adolescence in our culture (I know because I lived it not having a clue who I was or what I was doing when I got out of college), and we have a lost generation of people looking for fulfillment in some direction that is floating in the wind.
There is a new book out by Kevin DeYoung that is a must read for young adults and all adults–“Just Do Something.” It is a concise book about God’s will. He points back to God’s word and really challenges how we have let our culture and generation shape our understanding of God’s will. It is much more, shall we say, sexy to think that God has this “plan” for us to decifer that is not plain. However, he is very plain about what our lives are to be about–Jesus. Pick it up…and let’s discuss.