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 discipleship, God's word, grace, self-absorption, sin, spiritual growth, the gospel, transformation by truth, trusting God

Forget Me Not

When you feel remembered–when someone acknowledges and leans in, it is so powerful. You feel seen and heard and chosen. There’s nothing more deflating than having to introduce yourself to a person for the 49th time, and they have no clue who you are. It feels empty. That’s why I love to connect with people–we need to know that we are valued. It changes how we interact with and invest in others. It reminds us that we are not alone and that we are a unique person in the middle of the masses.

A random gift I have is remembering people–what they do, where they are from, what motivates them, their name, etc. Because of 43 years of involvement in school, ministry, interests, there have been a lot of experiences and a lot of people, and my files are pretty full. So, I am getting more confused from time to time because it’s different to remember layers of connections from a combination of places, times, seasons. It makes me sad when, because of that, I forget someone.

The last few days, I have been studying in the Psalms again. There are several repeated phrases throughout the 150 chapters. ‘Remember. Do not forget.’ In fact, Psalm 106 traces the history of the Hebrew people in a series of God remembering them, taking care of them and them forgetting and ignoring Him.

The Hebrew people did not remember:

  • Did not consider His wondrous works (have you heard the one about parting the sea????)
  • Did not remember the abundance of His steadfast love but rebelled at the sea
  • They soon forgot His works and did not wait for His counsel
  • They forgot God, their Savior, who had done great things in Egypt
  • They exchanged the glory of God for something they could touch and see
  • they served their idols which became a snare to them
  • They sacrificed their sons and their daughters to the demons whom they sacrificed to the idols of Canaan (sound familiar?)
  • Psalm 28 speaks of evil men not regarding the works of the LORD of the work of His hand

But, notice what God remembered and the reason why.

  • YET He saved them for His NAME’s SAKE that He might make known His mighty power
  • On their behalf, he rebuked the sea and made it dry, He led them through the desert, saved them from the enemy, redeemed them
  • He showed His anger at their rebellion and said He would destroy them and Moses stood in the gap for them, He gave consequences for their unfaithfulness as they were taken over, His anger was kindled against His people and He abhorred His heritage
  • Many times He delivered them (though they were unfaithful)
  • for their sake He REMEMBERED HIS COVENANT (promise) and relented according to His steadfast love

The root of our actions comes out of the fact that we live as though God is not there. We forget His words. We live oblivious to His works and His movement. We fashion for ourselves idols of pragmatism (what works for us for our goals), romanticism (what feels best to us and what seems fulfilling), consumerism (striving and ingesting and going after more) instead of regarding His name and His glory. We do not listen long enough, make a practice of remembering His faithfulness, or bother even knowing Him to know that He is much more fulfilling and brings peace to our hearts in ways the things we fashion can never do. (Check out 1 John 2:15-17) So, we come up with a plan of our own.

The phrase that is haunting my heart–‘But they soon forgot His works and they did not wait for His counsel.’ and ‘There is no fear of God before their eyes.’

I do not want to forget who God is…or be found to have fashioned a god in my own image. That seems to be our M.O. these days–one of these two things. The only way I REMEMBER Him and KNOW Him is to hear from His word by the power of His Spirit. When we use our own circumstances, our own desires, our own wisdom to figure out what He is for and what He is against, etc. we have made it about us. We are missing out on the gift of knowing Him and seeing the worth of His name. We, in effect, put words in His mouth–and He will not be mocked.

So, I encourage me and you to REMEMBER who God actually Is and to NOT FORGET His works and purposes. May we not devalue His infinite value, holiness, righteousness, justice, steadfast love by brushing over who He is like a chance introduction at a party. Let’s lean in. Let’s dig deep into His character poured out in His word and throughout the thread of our lives. He says and warns…’Forget Me not.’

Posted in authenticity, comparison, discernment, eternal things, God's word, idols, infertility, self-absorption, transformation by truth, trusting God, Uncategorized

Where does my hope come from?

Jack turned one a few Sundays ago.  My heart was full with thanks, memories, relief that that first month was not to be relived:).  What a beautiful, fun-loving, joyful, strong, funny, determined little one we are blessed with.  In the time of postpartum depression, I could never have imagined the beauty of his life and liveliness.

Sleepless nights, deferred goals, multiplied chores, inconvenient days…all of those are included in parenthood.  I stand today thankful.  I am thankful for this opportunity and humbled by it.  It is so easy to become overwhelmed and forget the miracle and not stop to experience the joy of moments that are racing by.  The giggles, the new milestones and funny tricks, the little mumbles and squeals…all can be easily missed.

You know what I hate, though?  These nagging thoughts that pull on my joy.  I am still trying to figure out balance–time in the word, time to keep house, time to cook, time to minister, time to do business, time to invest in my relationship with Greg, time to teach Jack, time to play with Jack, time to invest in family, time to invest in friendships, time to exercise.  I seriously do not know how to do it.  The thoughts that play in my head include the word “fail” a lot.

We all choose ways to try to make life work.   I have found myself struggling with two things…seeking peace where it is not to be found and comparing my family situation with others.  Everyone needs breaks to regroup.  The Lord has convicted me that I think that breaks and a vacation and date night and quiet times is where I will find my peace…where I will finally rest.  The only problem is I have not been getting any of these regularly or at all.  So, as with every expectation that is blocked, I get frustrated.  I think “if I could just…if they would just…I need more of…”  Until the last two weeks, I have not been diving into the Word consistently.  I have been expecting little breaks and laziness to be my solace.

This backward thinking has been designed in the sinfulness of my heart.  I have been seeking my idols of comfort and ease.  See, I have always sought after them before God.  He has been teaching me for a long time about this, and I always forget and forsake Him to try to be comfortable again.  I then begin to prop up my idols by comparing (coveting) my situation with other parents who are leaving their kids with grandparents a lot or going on vacations alone or even with their family.  See, I have not been joyful for them…I have just been thinking that they have it made…poor old me.

The Lord woke me up to the grossness of my thoughts.  He reminded me that peace is only found in Him.  No vacation or quiet or pampering or girl’s night or date night will give me the peace that passes understanding…only Him.  I have found solace and true joy in His Truth again.  He has allowed me to see where I have allowed these thoughts to take control–the more I have spent time in Him, the more I see the battle for these thoughts of covetousness.

Weirdly enough, I have entertained them much more as a mom than as a woman who struggled with infertility.  In infertility, I spent a lot of time in the word and in trying to guard my heart against sin. I spent a lot of time then reminding myself that the purpose of life on earth is not to be fulfilled with marriage and children and vacations and stuff.  I remembered daily that my hope is found in Christ and in eternity where we will see fully and experience fully His joy.   Since I have less extended time to spend in the word and I have not guarded my heart against sin in this area, it has been covetouspalooza in my mind and heart.  I have experienced amnesia of where my hope is to come from.

I am so thankful that the Lord has graciously awakened me to this sin pattern and the truth of His grace and hope in the midst of this season of my life. I do not come to you today with seven steps to get “cured,” but I come reminded of His grace in the Gospel, the power and efficiency of His Word, the joy that is experienced in Him.  Instead of having a free for all of jealous thoughts, I have been working toward remembering truth, rejoicing with those who rejoice and choosing to be thankful for so many blessings in my life.  It is still a struggle but one that I see the lie in now.

I want to be faithful…I want Greg and Jack to be spurred on in that…to see the richness of Christ.  That is more important that any momentary comfort on this earth.  I also remember that there is an eternity to travel and rest on the new earth.  Following Christ I lack nothing.

Posted in discipleship, God's word, grace, humility, New year, pride, self-absorption, the gospel, transformation by truth

A humble entrance

       As I looked toward this new year, I am overwhelmed.  Yes, we are having a baby (still sounds crazy to say), but that is not until June.  I am seemingly overwhelmed by every task and relationship I face even before the new year rolls.

        This Christmas season has been busy.  We traveled for a full week to Texas, and in our time there my heart was burdened for family and friends.  There was not an extended time to focus on Christ–to be in and savor His word.  I came back feeling empty and defeated.  I began thinking through next week and next semester and the things going on in girl’s lives that I disciple.  There is a lot to prepare for for the future child, but there is so much to be faithful in NOW. 

      As I walk with these 20-something young women, I see the battle is so fierce for their affections.  A day without truth poured in breeds so much falsehood, deception–spaces where the gospel truth is robbed and they fall back into self-reliance and/or guilt.       I reflect back on this fall.  I feel like I have failed these girls because of my complete lack of energy and the intense sickness that I had with pregnancy.  I guess the balancing act begins as I see the struggle between caring for a child (whether in my womb or out) and serving others in the body of Christ!  I want  to be purposeful in planning and taking advantage of this time before the little one enters the world.  I long to run well and faithful–pouring out His truth and honoring Him above all.    Pray for me that I prepare now to help these girls as my life transitions and I lead in ministry. 

       The good thing about the way I am feeling now is that it puts me in a posture of complete need as the new year commences.  Is there ever a time where I am not in need?  Is there ever a time that I can do any of this on my own?  No.  However, there is always a time when I think I can.  There are times when I walk in self-reliance, self-preservation, self-righteousness.  Unfortunately, those times come too often, and I forget that He superintends the growth–He is in charge.  I try to give myself honor instead of Him.  Or I tend to think it is all on my shoulders.  So, yet again, I am reminded that my hope is in the Gospel.  Jesus took the punishment for my self-reliance, self-preservation, and self-righteous pride.  It is finished.  I am to repent of my rebellious ways and cling to Him yet again.  There is such peace in that–such release.   And yet, everything within me fights that truth.   If there is anything I want and need to pass on to these girls, to our children, it is this beautiful way that Christ has made–the Gospel.

       If there is anything that this season of life has taught me, it is that my hope is not in circumstance or people.  My hope is in Christ.  In this time of joy and preparation for a child, it is so easy to get side-tracked from that hope.  Having babies has become like having a wedding.  We are tempted to plan for a nursery or ceremony more than a life and marriage.   More than nurseries or diapers, I have been thinking about the overwhelming task of discipling children, of teaching them a God-entranced worldview.  How do I do that from birth?  If there is anything I want to be faithful in, it is that.  He is so faithful to teach me through these girls that I meet with–to trust and  rest in Him, in His word.

      So, with all the swirling thoughts in my head entering this new year, I pray for a continued reliance on the beautiful Gospel of Grace.  The Lord is so good, and I am in such need.  In my feeble ways, I pray that this year, each day, I point others to the beauty of Christ, the truth of His gospel, and remember it myself.

Posted in authenticity, comparison, God's sovereignty and goodness, God's word, infertility, Rheumatoid Arthritis, self-absorption, thankfulness, transformation by truth, Uncategorized, waiting

Ready, Set, Go

Setting my heart, setting my hope, setting mind…These have been words and phrases that I have been fighting to dwell on in the last few days. These phrases come from 2 Corinthians 4-6 and 2 Corinthians 1:10 and 1 Timothy 1:7.
These have been some frustrating days for Greg and me. His Rheumatoid Arthritis has been relentless the last few weeks–including bringing a canceled trip to Texas to see his family this last week. I know it has been hard for him as he is exhausted and frustrated with his body. For me, I have felt stuck. With infertility and RA and being at home with little change in any of it–stuck, stuck, stuck.
In the midst of stuck, thinking on truth does not happen naturally. Self-pity happens naturally. Reaching for numb-ers happens naturally. Escapism calls to me.
I realize I am a bit bored. I know that sounds crazy–or maybe it doesn’t. I am tired of people asking me how I am and not having a different response. Saying “fine” is so much easier and makes me feel more spiritual than “stuck.” For people around me, it seems things are always changing–kids growing, adding kids, etc, etc. (I realize they face the mundane, too.) However, it feels to me that Greg and I are in our old age as empty nesters that are seeing the futility of this life. Nothing seems to be changing in our household while everyone else is speeding by.
I know that some of this is truth–because of sin’s effects, there is futility in hoping in this life. I also know that we have been rescued to think on and hope in truth. This is not the end–here or in eternity.
I am learning, however, that it is a viscious fight to think on truth. I have to be disciplined and focused, and at times, I simply feel too tired and want to escape away by buying something or watching something or eating something. However, when I do think on the truth of Christ—what a salve to my soul! My prayers from scripture have been ” help me set my heart on thanks…help me not lose heart as our outer selves are wasting away–help us be renewed in the inner self day by day…may I see these as what they are–“light and momentary troubles”–help me think on “the eternal weight of glory”…may I remember the “unshaken hope” and remember that on Him have we set our hope…training ourselves for godliness in setting our hope and heart and mind on things above. That is life-giving. That is what I fight for…
Also, I was reminded this morning–through a Bible study that I wrote through Colossians–that my suffering and troubles are used for my good but also the good of those in the kingdom. That, my friends, makes it worth it. There is some point to this. I may not grasp it or understand it–but I trust the Father who knows beyond all what the reasons are.
This morning, as I was studying, I was reminded how my heart has been shaped. I now pray differently for others who are going through pain–I pray for spiritual fruit–for them to think on truth…to gain intimacy with the Father…to know Him and seek Him above all else. I even see, gulp, suffering as a good thing to enter our lives. We are walking in the way of Christ. DO NOT READ that I enjoy it! I enjoy Him–when I fight to get past my self-pity and escapism and laziness and complaining.
I have to choose to be thankful. I even wrote the other day in my journal listing people that God has given me an opportunity to unite with and minister to and learn from in the midst of our circumstantial pain. I was amazed at how quickly I forget where He has and is working. So, my friend, wherever you are today, I encourage you to fight to think on the gospel–truth, Him. Please–that is your choice–what you think on…
Greg and I were talking yesterday, and he said–if we get pregnant, you know there will be people who say “God is so faithful–as if pregnancy and children are something we deserve.” That is not true–God is faithful and it has nothing to do with giving us children–he did not promise us that. He is good and faithful and gracious beyond what we can fathom regardless if we are childless forever. He would be blessing us beyond what we deserve if we have children–may I remember that.

Posted in authenticity, comparison, humility, insecurity, pride, random thoughts, self-absorption, sin, spiritual growth, transformation by truth, Uncategorized

Confessions of a Teenage Drama Queen

So, I have a confession. When I became a teenager in the late 80s it was en vogue to carry a photo album in your purse. Insecure 13 and 14 year old that I was, one could not tell. My photo album was filled with pictures of me. Jennifer at a wedding, Jennifer with friends cut out of her picture, Jennifer on her “best” side dawned the pages of my photo album. Lucklily my vanity was not privy to the days of facebook to show to all the world! What one needs to know that has not known me all my life is that I had an intense awkward stage from 2nd to halfway through 9th grades. Buck teeth, huge glasses (I see some teenagers wearing them now–not cool!), bad haircuts and perms, and needless to say, an injured self-esteem. The only person who called me on it jokingly? My youth minister, who still takes jabs to this day…as he should.

Fast forward ahem…some years, and I am on the beach late this afternoon. Two 13 to 14 year old girls were in the surf taking pictures; I suppose to put on facebook. They are in bikini tops, short jean shorts and neon wayfarerers—is this 1989? I offer to take their picture together—they ignore me. Yes, I have reached the age that I am inconsequential to teenagers. (I knew that a few years ago, but I tried to ignore it.) These girls were posing–big time. I thought they might have taken in a playboy shoot or two the way they frolicked. All I could think was “oh, those girls are so insecure.” I remembered quickly what it was to be there–always wondering what others thought of them, holding their breath when boys walked by. It is exhausting, and it still sticks with you–just not to the same magnitude, thank goodness.

Much to my frustration, they were in the way of my view. Like most girls that age (well, let’s say all), they were all about themselves. It made me think of a point in John Piper’s

    Don’t Waste Your Life

where he speaks about the fact that one does not go to the Grand Canyon and think about themselves. One goes and is amazed at God’s glory displayed. (The point being this world is about God’s glory and not us. He goes on to explain that being about ourselves is like setting up a hall of mirrors at the Grand Canyon.) Well, these girls were all about the hall of mirrors.

I was sitting amazed at the beauty of God’s creation and the beauty of His majesty displayed and annoyed at the girl’s self-involvement. Then, like a hammer to my head, I knew it was just like me now. Yes, I am more socially acceptable in serving others and thinking about others, but the kingdom of self gets a lot of attention in my life. There is a huge part of me that is still like that gangly, braced faced, frizzy haired, paranoid teenage girl. Wow, God is so good to adopt me, call me His own, and put His Spirit in me to guide me. There are parts of me that are more like a six year old in freedom of being who I am, but there is this battle with my inner 14 year old everyday.
Were it not for His grace, I would stay 14. He loves me too much to leave me there. So, I could be prideful and say, “wow, those girls have a lot of growing up to do,” or I can face the fact humbly that I have a lot of growing up to do. I ask myself, what are the photo albums of self in my life right now? Please show me, Lord, that I might die to self and live to Christ!

Posted in pride, random thoughts, self-absorption, spiritual growth, thankfulness, transformation by truth

How the corner was turned…

For those of you who have known me for any amount of time, you know that I have never loved Wal-mart. It brought the dread of fingernails on a chalkboard for me to venture there–crowds of families of 10 standing in the middle of aisles, small aisles. It’s like people get stupid when they walk in the doors standing in the middle of aisles, staring at product. I much preferred Target’s wide aisles, cool product, and sense of cleanliness.
In the last couple of years, it has become a necessity to be a part of the Wal-mart adventure because of finances. They really are cheaper. There are very few things that they are more expensive on. So, I would gather my strength and go early on Mondays. I did not like it, but I knew it was wise. It became part of my regular routine.
Over the year, I have come to dread it less. In fact, I do not even complain anymore. I, gulp…, kind of like it now. The main reason is not because of the low prices or convenience. The main reason is because of something that God has done in my heart.
There are so many places in my life right now that people make me feel comfortable, look like me, sound like me, speak my language (literally and figuratively). That can get claustrophobic. That can make you pretty selfish. That is not reality.
When I walk into Wal-mart, God says to my heart, “look around, see those hurting, living life in need, wanting to be noticed.” I see people from all different nationalities, all socioeconomic levels, living in all kinds of drama or boredom. I have had opportunities to smile, interact, pray, share with those alone and in need. Not every time have I taken the opportunity to live outside of myself, but when I prepare my heart to be open, God has blessed me with humility and brokenness over the needs of others.
This is gross, but I think I used to think I was above Wal-mart. Then, again, I am reminded of the Gospel. Christ condescended to us–messy, crowded hearts, full of drama and boredom, haters. He walked into our lives and loved us physically, emotionally, spiritually. He reached out to the least of these calling for us to repent and follow Him. There may be no other place in my life where it is more real to carry the message of the Gospel than to my neighborhood Wal-mart. Pretty amazing what God can teach us in the everyday. Pretty amazing that He shows me that I am exactly like everyone else in there–in need and sometimes clueless to my need. When I left Wal-mart last week, I left with a joy in my heart and thankfulness for His mercy. I did not see that one coming!