Posted in doctrine, God's word, loving God with your mind, spiritual growth, transformation by truth

Sprinkled or Power-Washed?

The last few days, I have been one with the pressure washer. The space on our deck seemed to triple in that time. I had LOTS of time to think, to pray, to ponder, and to learn.

Pressure washing is oddly satisfying. You can see results in the stripping of dirt and grime. There is power there. Used effectively, it transforms.

Funny how dirt works. It builds over time, and it is subtle. We are the same way. We are affected and changed by the day in and day out grime that builds up. Often we do not even recognize the change in our hearts and lives until we tank. That whole caveat that we become who we are around…it’s true. We have become like the world in so many ways. Our hearts become hardened and our ears gunky so as to not be able to discern falsehood. Our mouths tend to be loose and prone to criticize and to complain. Our minds become cloudy with anxiety and questions and thoughts of self-preservation and self-worship.

The power washer to us? God’s character and word by His Spirit. The problem? Most of us use His word like the trickle of a hose. It might feel refreshing to our felt need of the day, but it does not transform. A little devotion here, a little worship there, check out this therapeutic book, say some prayers for your business, your kids, your attitude… We come in contact with the water, but we do not understand and feel it’s power. We want the benefits of Him without knowing Him.

I have had many different relationships with the Bible in my life. Earlier on, it was facts to memorize, words to sing, and prayers to pray. As life marched on, it became truth to wrestle with. A little further in, water for my parched and disoriented soul. Deeper in, the invitation to die to my definitions of fulfillment and to live in His definitions.

There are times that I feel the sting of that power washer digging into the build up of my comfort and pride and the very ways that I define myself. It is painful, but it is necessary to bring greater growth and health and life. I know it is out of love from the Spirit. See, I can age and weather and get build up and look like everyone else, and at times, that feels very comfortable. But, then the rot comes. The fungi gets in the cracks and creates rot, and it spreads like a cancer. When Jesus commanded us to remain and abide in Him, His words, His love, that was not a suggestion for a trickle of water. He calls us to depend, to be transformed, and to be renewed.

I see the rot happening all too often in my own life and in that of others when we are choose not to be equipped to deeply dive into the Word of God and to be transformed. Time and time again, I see the drift. I see people falling for the “Did God really say?” (Genesis 3) When we are not versed in who God really is and what He is about (which is found in the letter from Him to us in His word), we tend to choose what sounds the best and makes the most sense within the culture. We have the build up and we have lost the sensitivity for what is really true.

There are some things (well, a lot) that completely do not make sense to my natural heart and thoughts in the Bible. I want to get along, love everybody, make them feel good about themselves and have them feel good about me. Those are the basics of Jen. But, as I have come to know Him more–in the light of His character displayed in His word–I know that my desires are often contrary to good. I may think I am doing good to someone, but I am actually contributing to my rot and to their rot. See, I can paint a deck with the best of them. I can pick a really cute color and scheme and make it look good for the moment. However, the inside of those pieces of wood and the stability of the decking will show. The winds will come and the rain will come down, and it will crash.

In learning to study His word, I throw out the foundation of sand which looks appealing to the outside. I begin to be grounded and have a sure foundation on the rock. The pressure washer stings when it hits my pride, my bitterness, my arrogance, my longing to please others, my anxieties, my self-worship, my disregard for others in need… However, I am then free from those things and free to see, to hear, and to commune with the Father. My soul finds rest in following Him. I walk healthier and with more of a regard for others and their truest needs. The grime builds up everyday, and everyday I need the transforming power and words of the gospel which frees me from myself.

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

Whatcha carrying?

Here I am, 44 years old, dressed like it’s 1996. Overalls–check. t-shirt–check. Backpack filled to the brim–check. No shower–check. No makeup–check. However, unlike 1996, the load I am carrying is much heavier.

My wise counselor once told me that if you feel a heavy weight that that is not indicative of God’s presence and the freedom He brings. So, I sit down this morning in heaviness and start examining what’s in my backpack (or pack-back as my youngest calls it).

I start unpacking the contents. There is an overall anxiety within the month of May. I have to call it for what it is with field trips, field day, JURY DUTY the last two weeks of school, teacher gifts, special recognitions, prepping for summer plans, leadership duties, art projects, business specials and product launches and the overall grumpy fatigue of our family. So, there’s that. I remind myself that I choose today what I move toward and what I worry over. Some things are going to be much less than stellar, and I am going to choose to embrace my fallibility and strive for FIRST things. Those first things involve our values as a family–presence and enjoyment with my family, aiming to encourage my family in the chaos, pointing to God and his goodness by practicing gratitude, and not dwelling on the shortcomings of yesterday.

The next thing I uncover is an overall sense of shame. It’s a lingering sadness with a critical voice inside that points out every single area where I am falling short. So, I start tackling what’s really present there.

Shame: a painful emotion caused by consciousness of guilt, shortcoming or impropriety; self-reproach; an uncomfortable feeling of guilt or of being ashamed of your own OR SOMEONE ELSE’S bad behavior.

There are a few things I unpack that have shame involved: my parenting fatigue and lack of intentionality for the month, the fact that my house looks like the rubble after a war, the fact that I have not had a lot of energy in business to lead others well, the fact that there is not enough of me to go around to do things well. These all contribute to me drowning in a feeling of sad and heavy on the inside. Instead of continuing the cycle of yuck, I have stepped in to what I can do to move against my regret–taking my child to the park instead of getting work done, cooking a healthy dinner, sitting down to take my thoughts captive.

There are also some heavy things that have been brought to my attention in the last few weeks which do not have to do with me, per se, but I have picked them up and put them in my backpack of complicated emotions. I have made the narrative that someone else has written to be mine.

I have this intuitive dance I do in life. It goes like this… Someone shares something with me, I read something, etc, and I have something in common with it–ex. someone has a problem with how they have been treated by Christians, someone has a bad taste in their mouth about a business partner or business practices with MLM. I find myself guarding against being those ways that I begin to diminish my presence in those areas or I fill myself with anxiety and thought and take the shame of someone else upon myself. It’s the equivalent of getting wronged and you being the one who says “I am sorry!” Healthy, huh?

I see this happen in our culture today. I feel like the rules and the vocabulary have changed so distinctly, and it is all about the perceived wrongs of others and who is responsible. That leads to fear and accusation. Have you watched the news?? Do you have Social Media? Have conversations with teenagers and College students? Then, you have seen it explode. Here’s the deal, if we live afraid or carry the shame of everyone who has anything in common with us (whether it be race, gender, religion, politics, decent, socio-economic status, family name) we miss out on making a real impact in the world. We miss out on the most beautiful part of bearing God’s image, however dimly (this is all people) and being transformed and being part of the transformation of His children (this is those who have been adopted through faith in the work of Christ).

I have been up in “my feelings,” and some really screwed up thoughts have led to their inception. It is time to tackle them with what is really true, what I really need to own, and what I need to do in response to move forward and be present.

Here are the truths I speak to myself, and I encourage you to take a hold of what is true as you unpack your backpack:

These regard the practices of those who are involved or have been involved in MLM businesses vs my involvement:

1) I strive to run my business with integrity, care for others, and a view to help people and to meet them where they are. My “why” in life is true in all hats I wear–“helping others come alive.” 2) Like all professional people in different vocations, I do this with a view to help my family by providing and being present with them. 3) Some people might have experienced being used in poor business practices and poor integrity, and I cringe at this. (Whether you are talking Doctor, Lawyer, Teacher, Pastor, Nurse, Salesperson, Marketer, Politician, Judge, etc) However, I aim to care for people and their well-being and value them whether they are a customer, competitor, critic or not. I control my actions, and I choose to make an impact for God’s glory.

These regard what is mine and what is not mine to carry, in general:

4) I cannot control the expectations and perceptions of others especially when they are not checking themselves against truth. I have no business running my heart and life on assumptions. 5) I carry the load of the things I do wrong, but I am not charged to carry the weight of perceived wrongs of every person that has had a bad experience with things or institutions that I may have a common trait with.

These regard my identity and my story and voice:

6) Not all feelings are true, and it is my responsibility to stop and bring what is true to bear. I am not a victim to circumstance or the emotions of others. 7) Culture does not write my narrative. My Creator, Redeemer and Sustainer does. 8) I choose what I let in and how I let it in. I choose how I process, and I always have a choice to take my thoughts captive and to throw off imagined shame. 9) When I do offend, wrong, and hurt others and most importantly God, I have a call to repent, to confess and to remember that forgiveness is offered in Christ. Because of my identity in Him, there is no condemnation for those in Christ. However, there are consequences in the everyday, and I have to be mature to walk those out in relationships. If I have hurt you, please come to me.

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

What did I expect?

It all started with a little conversation with a woman who embraces life with gusto. We found out our birthdays are one day and 11 years apart. She asked me what I had planned for my birthday. She had 3 separate parties planned. I said, “Wow! We don’t really have high expectations for birthdays.”

Then, I thought back to my 35th birthday when I took it upon myself to grab life by my rules. I was embracing the fact that we were at the end of our quest for fertility, and I said, “I am throwing myself a dinner party and will choose to celebrate!” After the prior conversation, I made a decision a few weeks ago that I would take charge of making something happen on my birthday this year instead of being passive. Life is what you make it, right?

Well, I tried to make it. I decided we would go out with some friends of ours for a birthday dinner. I sought out babysitters. One by one, no one was available. And then, I began writing this script in my head. (Spoiler alert: this is why you do NOT practice having unexpressed expectations .)

Expect: to consider probable or certain; to anticipate or look forward to the coming or occurrence of; preparing/envisioning for—Hope; anticipate, await

I said…”well, we can work on a girl’s night.” However, guess what I had envisioned in my head? It went a little something like this: Greg had really scheduled one of these babysitters “who couldn’t make it,” and we were going to go as planned but it would be a surprise for me. Y’all. We don’t really do surprises in our family. We don’t do manipulation (I learned this at 23 the first time I stormed out of a room and was not followed). We try to say what we mean. Why in the world, did I think the rules had changed?

I dared to expect, but I told no one. I tried to put it together, and I expected a different outcome when things did not go as I planned. Instead of dealing in reality, I kept basing my hopes on a script I had made up. As I was recounting this story later, my friend, Beth, said–“you normally do not do this!” Yep–but I did it with abandon this time.

Because we had planned to go to dinner earlier in the week, I told Greg to go to buy tickets for the Avengers movie on the morning of my birthday while I was with the boys. In an attempt to seize the day with my boys, I thought we could go downtown. I reached out to several people to see if they were up for tagging along, and no one was available. Most people I know plan ahead, so I could not fault them for my lack of foresight. Our plans were amended, and we went to Chick-fil-a for the boys to play outside, and then, Greg met us to take them home while I had some “me” time. Usually I am elated to have some alone time that is unscheduled. However, because I had set my expectation on the hope that my birthday would somehow be filled with people, I came up lonely and disappointed.

Y’all, I kept digging the hole deeper and deeper with the false narrative. “It’s okay because tonight…” I came home “in my feelings” realizing that I had set myself up. So, like any good 7 on the Enneagram, I took up a paint brush and painted a wall and changed around a room. I cannot control the other stuff, so, I chose what I could control. I was mad, lonely, frustrated, and it was no one’s fault but my own. I ruined my own birthday with my attitude.

As I was cooking dinner that night, I began to fight to take back the narrative. I began telling myself what is really true instead of my feelings. My feelings, based on a false narrative, had hijacked my joy. I had been riding a rollercoaster of self-imposed self-pity.

What did I remember was true? I have a beautiful family with boys that awakened me with flowers and a card (that their Daddy provided for them) as my birthday began. I have a husband that is real and true and faithful that doesn’t play games that joyfully gave me time to myself. He is a rock for me. I had a day of sunshine and warmth and flowers and the hope of Spring that I chose to ignore. I have a Mother-in-Law that thoughtfully sent a beautiful arrangement of flowers. I had the privilege of affording Chick-fil-a and watching my boys have fun and care for others as they played. I have hope in Jesus because of His work on the cross and life He lived. I have a home that I can be creative in. I could go on and on.

The last thing that was true? I had the privilege of leading a women’s growth series the next morning where we would discuss relationships, vulnerability, authenticity, and gulp, expectations. “I get it, Lord.” My life had been a lab for what we were going to talk about. My heart was tender, and I was reminded of this fight we have in relationships. We can allow our desires and our expectations to run rampant and to leave us in a constant state of disappointment, resentment, loneliness–poor me. We can write an impossible script that we are hoping will come true that is completely unrealistic and false. In doing so, we keep ourselves stuck, and we miss out on the true joys and the true growth. We can become a victim of our false thinking. Let me assure you of this, the control we have in life is in how we think and respond to things. With the truth of God’s word, the Spirit and the hope in Christ, we can live with a lens of adventure and expectancy that do not have our limited desires and narrative as the end all, be all.

Was I still tender and sad the next day? Yes. Did I have hope in something beyond circumstances? Yes. Did I get together with a few friends that Sunday night to pull away and celebrate time together? Yes. And, I appreciated the simple joy of doing so…

Posted in Anxiety, grace, loving God with your mind, rest

Turn me off…

Life is unbelievably noisy. We live in a constant state of anxiety and go.

This morning, as my brain and heart raced on the road to nowhere, I declared “I’ve had it.” Done. Ever feel that way? As a mom, wife, business owner, and responsible human being I cannot just declare “done,” but it signals I need a new way of being for the day.

So, I turned everything off.

TV background noise–off

music–off

podcasts–off

Social media scroll–off

I put the laundry away in silence. I started packing for spring break in silence. It felt weird, and then it felt glorious as I began to own my thoughts. They were less abrasive, less urgent, less threatening, and less out of control.

As an Enneagram 7, I am learning that my tendency is the seek the next thing to fill my thoughts and hands to distract me from the pain that bubbles up in my heart. I am realizing the most brave and holy thing is to create the silence, to calm the noise so I can fully respond to God in joy and pain. It feels counterintuitive to my flesh, and I begin the process like a toddler screaming in the middle of Target. However, if I don’t turn it off consistently, I destroy myself and others around me. With quiet, I remember that most things are not urgent, that I am not failing as badly as I think, and that there is great beauty in simplicity. It is here my soul detoxes, and I am reminded that my true source is God.

What about you? What do you to do to turn off the assault of life and information? What do you tend to do with your painful places?

I encourage you today to be brave enough to turn the noise down and listen to what is really there, and share it with a friend.

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.