Posted in Anxiety, authenticity, discipline, grace, margin, sin, spiritual growth, transformation by truth, trusting God

It all started with a “little” project

It all started with a closet project.  Little did I know that it would turn into so much more.  

Our home has more than ample storage, but the problem is we have dumped stuff there.  The stuff that is falling out of the closets and the basement means there is stuff everywhere in our house, as well.  Storage is of no value if you do not use it well. 

That brings me to our downstairs guest room’s closet.  It has looked like this for 3 ½ years. 

I would tidy the middle part of it when things were falling out, but I never took the time to tackle the big job.  It seemed overwhelming and time consuming, and nobody has time for that with 2 active boys, no headspace and a side of tired.  It wasn’t urgent, so it kept getting stuffed around what was urgent.    

This week has afforded a few days where there was no agenda.  It has been a wearying season where there has not been room to unpack my mind and heart let alone a closet that carries baggage that I have to sort through.  I found myself thinking of the closet, and it wasn’t a “should” but a “this would be healthy to do.”

What was in the closet? Letters, pictures, albums (nostalgic girl here), boxes that had not been unpacked since our move 3 ½ years ago, storage bins of art materials, boxes and storage bins filled with random objects where I had to “hide stuff” from company, random throw pillows, important business documents, etc.

I knew it would not be a fast job, and I knew I needed to be mentally and physically prepared to tackle it. 

So, I began taking stuff out which made a bigger overwhelming mess.

There were times I didn’t know what in the world to do next.  I thought—“what have I done? I could be watching Christmas movies, building a puzzle or taking a nap.”  (All my go-to escapes). I toyed with closing the door, and not using the room again.

However, it was time.    It took me a day and a half—going through every box, every paint bottle, every random notebook.  

Thoughtful examination was required to see what should be kept and purposefully used, what should be discarded, and what was worthy to give away.  I examined things that were unfinished projects and asked the hard question—“Am I holding on to this because I ‘should’ or is it a worthy thing to follow through with in this season?” I add, in this season, because that’s where I get myself bogged down.  I see the possibilities in all things, but I end up going nowhere.

Then, I began placing things that I found purposeful back into the closet with a rhyme and a reason.  They are accessible now.  I know what’s there—it is not a mystery.  There is room there to put other things that fit into certain categories.  There is room for a guest to hang clothes and put a suitcase (aka I could actually be hospitable to welcome others).

There was a lot of unusable space in there that can be used now for my art stuff!

As I was walking through the process, I thought, this would be an awesome blog post—there are so many life parallels.  Then, the Lord awakened me at 2 am in the morning and started really dealing with my heart, gulp. 

He asked me to look without background noise or distraction, without the sounds of the day at what I was storing in my life.  Jen, What is superfluous and crowding out what is truly life giving?  What do you think is a harmless habit that literally is stealing room in your soul to have margin and peace?  Where is the baggage that you just keep stuffing (like your closet and basement) that is literally encroaching on every area of your life?  Jen, do you feel peace and purpose or just a lot of noise?  It is time to look and to deal and to see what you want to expel from your heart and your head and what you want to pass on and what you want to keep in an orderly fashion. 

It is scary—actually terrifying—to ponder what is really in our hearts, huh?  It takes time, courage, grit, humility.  The real beauty though, is that the One who created, sustains and redeems us, will guide us in GRACE.  If we will take the time to truthfully and bravely tackle our stuff, He will meet us in the middle of all the piles that seem completely impossible and overwhelming.  He will teach us what to hold on to, what to let go of permanently and temporarily, and what to literally destroy in the trash.  God is not a God of confusion or disorder, but I will tell you, it takes time to sort through the things we have experienced and stuffed trying to handle it on our own. 

We think our fear is telling us the truth, but fear is a liar.  Fear tells us to throw it in there and ignore it—stuff it.  Fear tells us, “He really doesn’t know what He is doing—this is a much better plan to numb yourself or to take control on your terms.”  Fear says, “did He really say or mean this?”   Once we make a habit of listening to that fear, we become weary of substance.  We run out of space in our closets and basements and our junk pours forth into the public areas of life.  We cannot hide our stuff.  There is no margin to deal with it. 

When we walk (however TERRIFIED we are) with The Lord, He who calls you is FAITHFUL to walk with us and transform us.  It’s gonna look messy as we continually bring piles before Him, but it is going to be freeing in all the ways.  He calls us to draw near to Him to sort what is good and purposeful and life-giving and honoring in our lives.  There is space and margin and ROOM when we take COURAGE to go there with Him. 

So, I encourage each of us to look intently into His word and His purposes and lay our lives next to them.  Let us be brave, reach out to others when we want to hide and when we feel that our closet’s contents will literally suffocate us.  The truth is…they will, apart from Him. In the midst of our piles, the truth of the Gospel allows us to draw near to Him with confidence because Jesus has paid our debts with His life and death and resurrection.  He says “remain in me, and you will bear much fruit. Apart from me, you can do nothing.”  

Posted in advent, God's word, Hymns, spiritual growth

Prepare Him Room?

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Let every heart prepare Him room…

 

There was no room at the inn.

There was no room at the inn for the Creator of all universes to be born into the world.

There was no room at the inn for the Sustainer of life to break into our darkness in order to rescue us from ourselves.

There was no room at the inn for the King of Kings that had been promised and YEARNED and GROANED for since the garden.

 

I am going to guess that we could find ourselves on both ends of this story in this season.

THE INNKEEPER

Stretched to capacity, no margin to contemplate preparation for one more thing, we are the innkeeper shutting down our hearts.  “Nope—no room, go away—maybe another day,” we say.  Actually, we might be to the point that we just stick the sign on the door so we don’t even have to interact.

Our hearts, laden with sadness, with crushed expectations, with unrealistic expectations, with the weight of lost hope, shut down to perform our duties to “produce” a holiday for those around us.  In essence, we say “there’s no room for me to unpack what I am really feeling, what is really going on—no one wants to hear that in this season.”

We let the flood of information and the flood of our heavy schedules drown the needs of our hearts and truthfully…the hearts of those around us.   We may even have the best of intentions to “prepare room for Him” in our hearts, and then, the flood wipes away our resolve.

THE DESPERATE COUPLE

Or, we could be quite aware of the urgency of our need.  We could be knocking, looking, asking all while “no vacancy” signs are thrown up in our faces from those in whom we are seeking to find some room to process or get a need met.  It’s a helpless feeling to be falling apart and not know where to turn.  So, we find ourselves in a cave (the stable)—a forgotten place.  It’s not sterile, it’s cold and uncomfortable and it echoes with the pain of our need.

It’s the place Jesus was given to be born—not in fanfare or the perfect setting (by human standards).   The One who had come to save His people from their sins was not esteemed by mankind to have the royal treatment.  He was a man of sorrows—well acquainted with grief.   He, who condescended from Heaven and from beautiful community with the Father and the Spirit, actually felt what we feel in our bodies, in our emotions, in our longings.  He knew perfection—He created it.  Yet, He had to live in the muck of the consequences of the sins of the world physically and relationally.  What does it even tell us that to rescue us from this darkness that He would have to die under the weight of that darkness of humanity—undeserved and cast aside with the weight of all wrath upon Him for our darkness?  It tells us…the He is amazing, beautiful, worthy of all honor and glory.  It tells us that if there is One we can find room in, it is Him.

 

Wherever you find yourself today…it is not too late to prepare Him room.  It will be a messy room filled with piles in the corners.  Piles of shoulds, need tos, what do I do with thats and boxed up pain are there.  The thing about preparing Him room—it doesn’t mean that you clean out all the junk to be presentable.  He is the One who shines Light into our darkness so we can even understand what is really there.  He is the One who has already faced the punishment and consequences of the hidden and not so hidden things in the closet of your room.  He simply says—invite Me in, trust Me.  He says turn from your ways of being that have denied Me room and walk with Me every step of the way and experience My Joy and Beauty.

The irony is that our rooms have more in common with the cave than we can see.  We dress them up, but the same reality is there—deep need and deep loneliness.  Whether you find yourself filled up in the Inn or wandering to find your cave, reach to Him in the midst.  May the words of “Joy to the World” be your anthem this Christmas.

 

Joy to the World, the Lord is come!

Let (your name) receive her King;

Let every heart prepare Him room and heaven and nature sing.

 

No more let sins and sorrows grow,

Nor thorns infest the ground;

He comes to make His blessings flow far as the curse is found.

 

He rules the world with truth and grace,

And makes the nations prove

The glories of His righteousness and wonders of His love.

Posted in authenticity, comparison, gifts and talents, insecurity, spiritual growth, The body of Christ, transformation by truth, Uncategorized

Encouragement to my fellow women

(These are notes from my last session this weekend…an open letter to my sisters in Christ.)

The more we KNOW him, the more we understand ourselves and who He created us to be.

I love to hear people’s stories. We think we know someone, but we do not understand them well until we know how they grew up, what adversity they faced, what their family is like.

When I start the discipleship process with people, I ask them to tell me their story. It opens my eyes to see where they are coming from, why they struggle with certain things and what truth we need to tackle with their hearts in order to grow. Divorces, abandonment, losing parents, eating issues and disorders, sexuality struggles, alcoholism, promiscuity, materialism. WE ARE ALL MESSED UP. WE ARE ALL IN NEED OF BEING STILL AND KNOWING THE GOD OF THE UNIVERSES. WE ALL HAVE BROKEN HEARTS BECAUSE OF SIN—OURS AND OTHERS.

Do You know what the common denominator with these women is? Their need for Jesus—the way the gospel has captivated their lives—changed them everyday, given them hope, given them love, given them worth. Do they still struggle? Yes, but the more they take time to be still and to know, the more in Love with the Lord they are, the more hope they have to journey on.

No one is from an ideal family. No one is issue-less. We all have struggles. If we take the time to look around, we might see the reality of the lives of those around us. We see the outside that we are jealous of or that we judge, but there is a deeper story and struggle there. God does not promise a pain free life. In fact, if we had a pain free life, would we even think about Him? Would we see the need to examine ourselves?

I cannot promise what will happen in the next day or 10 years. There will be heartache and joy. There will be things that rock our worlds to the point where we do not know what direction is up. There will be things that we choose to do and find ourselves involved in that will make us question who we really are in the first place. I cannot promise pain free. Here’s what I can promise. If we trust—if we keep stopping and seeking Him…He will never change. He will become bigger to us while these other things become smaller. We will find His promises to be true. We will find that He is our sure thing—not our family, or a relationship, or a husband, or a career, or children, or our talent, or our money or our status. HE IS THE SURE FOUNDATION. Build life upon Him. Seek His word. Seek His character. Savor His beauty. He will build deeper hope and love within us as we sort through our disappointment and pain.

“I am the Vine, you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in Him, he will bear much fruit. Apart from me, you can do nothing.” John 15:5

See, the world has pain too. Pain is to point us to God, but Pain without His hand of guidance and without knowing Him is pointless. People strive to find a place of belonging—to be accepted, to arrive, to feel worthy.

We feel like to be worthy we have to be well known or recognized or look a certain way or be respected in a certain way. I pray that there are women that are captivated by Christ and learn who they are in Him. I pray that each of us learn our personalities and learn to accept who God made us to be—not our sin but our extrovert, introvert, organized, creative, thinking feeling. I pray that we would realize we cannot be everything. I pray that we would learn to live as God created us to be instead of trying to fit into someone else’s mold and end up being frustrated and defeated. Some of us are more inward and have a few friends that we will encourage deeply—do that. We do not have to be the center of attention to mean something. Some of us have mad organization skills—friends may make fun of us, but use that organization for God’s glory. Help others. Trust the Lord and draw near to Him with confidence, abide and remain in Him and let Him shape us and bring about our transformation to be more and more like Him. We do not have to perform to be this super Christian—ABIDE and OBEY that way. Love will begin to grow as we die to ourselves and live to God.

In my 30s, I have learned my giftings and have developed them more. I have become more comfortable in my own skin. I know I am never going to have a spotless house or a continually organized closet or be an accountant, but I have friends that do! I paint pictures and listen to people and encourage and flounder for last minute plans. What if we, as women, walked in confidence in who God made us to be? What if instead of always asking “why don’t people see me this way? Why can’t I do that?” Or even putting people down because we are jealous, we rejoiced in others’ gifts and cried with others in their pain? How would we treat each other differently? We need those people who are different from us. I need Greg. We get on each others nerves because we are so different, but we fit nicely together because we work together instead of in competition. We are all different in the Body of Christ, but we all need one another. Greg—master teacher, me an encourager/shepherd merciful person. One of my best friends from high school and beyond was also the hardest for me when we were around each other all the time because we are a lot alike. We competed and struggled. And after a lot of hard work, we know how to celebrate and cheer on the other…after 24 years. We have learned our personalities are similar but our giftings are different. There were some frustrating times, but with maturity in Him, we have learned to champion one another. When we practice being still and knowing Him, we will be changed. We will love with His love.

John 15:9-12 As the father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love. If you keep his commandments, you will abide in my love. These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be full. This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. “

Being Still and knowing God Allows you to obey Him. Obedience breeds obedience. We obey by stopping to be still. We obey studying His word Then we begin to know him more, love his character more, treasure him more He changes us and we respond differently to others . We want to share his character with others and we  love them because ywe are being changed. Then we have to learn to bear with others so we go back to him and seek him again. My fellow women, Seek Him with all your heart and you will find Him. And you will bear much fruit depending on Him and knowing Him. You will become more like Him in his timing and you will learn to love those around you…and help to encourage them to love the LORD.

Posted in authenticity, community, discipleship, God's word, infertility, spiritual growth, suffering in joy, The body of Christ

Why I share vulnerable places…

Many people in the course of these years of blogging in infertility or teaching in the midst have come to me or commented on how my blogs have encouraged them in the weight of their journeys.  Some that I suspected might struggle, some who I had no clue were struggling…

Some of you might say, “I could not put that out there.:  It is not easy–it’s a vulnerable place and when publicized it makes it more vulnerable.  You open yourself to possibly hurtful comments made by others who mean to help but push the dagger farther.  You also open yourself to the gift of others praying for you…countless ones who may not even share it until much later. I totally believe that God brought Jack and this growing baby by the prayers of the saints who found out about our infertility through Greg and I being vulnerable and asking for help.

I have always journaled–since I became a Christian 25 years ago.  It is a tool that  helps me tackle the reality that is going on inside my heart.  It helps me share with God and hear what He shares with me.  It helps me to study His word and mark down what comfort and direction His word brings in the midst of my emotions and life.  So, why did I blog it?

2 Corinthians 1:3-7

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.  For as we share abundantly in Christ’s sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too.  If we are afflicted, it is for your comfort and salvation; and if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which you experience when you patiently endure the same sufferings that we suffer.  Our hope for you is unshaken, for we know that as you share in our sufferings, you will also share in our comfort.

I am not my own.  I have been given a hope and life in Christ that flows over into others.  I spend my time attempting to point others to truth and to help them to grow.  The point of my deepest growth is oftentimes the point of my deepest pain pressing into Christ and his truth.  My suffering was and is met with His comfort, and in sharing that with others, I hopefully can help them lean in to the Lord and be comforted and in turn they hopefully do that with others.

So, why do I blog this?  Because the reason I faced it is for the comfort for the Body of Christ…to share with them the depths and the treasure of Christ.  This is a tool to do that.    I want to treasure Christ more than anything I might have lost or may be losing and help others to do the same.  He is worth it.

I am not special in this…That doesn’t mean you have to blog it.  In the world of blogs where people become celebrities, that is not what the aim is.  The world does not need another mom blogger, but the world needs moms who struggle who are honest with those around them about where their hope is found–Jesus.  People around you are hurting and they need to know how you struggle to your hope–not perfectly, but in the truth of Christ.  If you struggle with perfection or an eating disorder or infidelity or singleness or jealousy or have lost a sibling or a child or a parent or suffer from depression or Pick any thing, God has a way for you to share with someone else.  We are a Body…with all different parts held together by the Head–Christ.  Where would God have you share?  Are you pressing into Him?

Posted in authenticity, discipline, God's sovereignty and goodness, infertility, spiritual growth, suffering in joy, thankfulness, transformation by truth, trusting God, Uncategorized

Remember

Life is hard. We forget the good at times. We forget where and how we have grown. We forget friends who were faithful along the way. We can major on our feelings of the crisis or the mundane we are in.
This is the human condition. That is why God reminded the children of Israel over and over and over in his word of their story and His faithfulness in their story.
When I was in the deep throws of infertility the first time(…thinking we would have no children and wrestling with all my emotions of that fact), I took time to write my life story in my journal. I was at the beach in January by myself. For hours I poured through the pages of my mind remembering joy and sorrow and God’s faithfulness. Many times I would say out loud “OH YEAH–I totally forgot that fruit or that growth or that miracle!”
This morning, as I was praying, I remembered that journal. I need to find it and reread it–TODAY. We are forgetful and are often driven by our feelings of pain in the moment.
We each have huge miracles and pictures of grace in our lives that we easily dismiss when the next pain comes along–just like Israel when they got hungry and tired right after God had parted the Red Sea.
Let’s take time to remember so that we may run this race with endurance.

Posted in discipline, eternal things, God's sovereignty and goodness, infertility, prayer, rest, spiritual growth, suffering in joy, thankfulness, transformation by truth, trusting God

Hope In One Thing

We use the word “hope” often.  I hope my child grows to love Jesus.  I hope my husband experiences healing here with his rheumatoid arthritis.  I hope that you have a good day.  I hope you enjoy the holiday season.  I hope that I live fully to glorify Christ.

The only place to put my hope “IN” is God–Jesus–the Holy Spirit.  Where does my help come from?–from the Lord, the Maker of Heaven and earth.  If my husband suffers the rest of this life from RA (and thus, I feel that suffering) and my child rebels and never knows Jesus and I see unspeakable tragedy–My hope is still to be found IN God.  He is the only stabliizer, the only True One.  “The grass withers and the flowers fade but the word of our God stands forever.”

It’s totally okay to hope for things…but our only hope “In” can be found in Christ.  Everything else fails and fades and disappoints.  He IS MY ROCK AND MY HOPE.

Posted in authenticity, comparison, God's word, grace, humility, prayer, spiritual growth, transformation by truth, Uncategorized

The Tyranny of Criticism

The last few weeks, I have been working with a couple of the young women I disciple to help them identify where their hearts are in the everyday.  The objective is to stop and identify where they are as they come to God–sharing their heart with God, joys, disappointments and confusion.  This is where prayer begins…with honesty and connection.

I begin honestly this morning with the fact that I am feeling defeated.  Criticism from others and myself has torn me down.  I have taken part in this process because I have listened to and ingested the poisons.  Don’t we all?  We do not live the Christian life in a vacuum from the real world.  We are learning to have hope while IN the real world.

I knew I would die today without the truth and His presence to fill me up again…to counteract the darkness that is swallowing me.  So, I fixed Jack a blanket with all kinds of toys, turned on this kid’s hymn cd my friend, Cindy, gave me and began to talk to God.

First, I identified all the things going through my heart and mind.  These are some of the phrases…defeated and anxious, broken, guarded, pointless as a leader, helpless to affect change, small, not in control.  Just the way we all like to start our day:).

Next, I identified from God’s word what He says about Himself–where and who Jesus is.  I camped in Colossians 1:15-20.  He is the Center, Creator, the Image of the invisible God, Firstborn over all creation, All things made through Him, to Him, for Him.  He is before all things–all things HOLD TOGETHER IN HIM.  He is the Head of the body/The church (in control).  He is preimminent in everything.  My body and spirit began relaxing into Him.

Then, my response to Him.  Thankful, restful–called Him my Refuge, my Hope, my Righteousness.  As I was praying and reading, “This Is My Father’s World” was playing in the background.  Jack pulled up on my stool, and I picked him up to dance and sing.

“This is my Father’s world,

O let me ne’er forget

That though the wrong seems oft so strong

God is the ruler yet.

This is my Father’s world

The battle is not done

Jesus who died shall be satisfied

And earth and heav’n be One.”

Maltie Davenport Babcock

Oh, the beauty of God singing over me as I sang over my child.  Jack smiled with delight, and I smiled with delight thinking of in whom my hope resides.  See, I am broken, pointless, helpless, guarded, defeated without Jesus.  I am no different than anyone else.  I am small and not in control.  However, in Him, there is no condemnation toward me.  I rest in Him.  I delight in Him.  He holds everything together.

Oh Christ, be the center of our lives

Be the place we fix our eyes

Criticism will always be as long as we are on this earth.  As a mother, the stakes have been upped.  I am convicted of all the times I am critical in my heart and with my mouth.  Every parent out there has a way they do things…a lot of things are preferences, some are morally right and wrong.  There is a time to speak up for the welfare of a child, but mostly we need to keep our mouths shut and support one another through prayer (speaking to myself here).

There is a huge gift in the grace of Jesus…we cannot be perfect, He is.  I want to listen to the Spirit’s leading in parenting Jack.  I want Jack to know he cannot be perfect or righteous on his own.  I want him to learn that from me and Greg.  I desire that we parent with humility, with grace, with dependence on Jesus.  All of these desires are in me, but they are complicated in the “real” world when comparisons and expectations arise.

I cannot parent in this way without being parented by my Gracious Father–blanketed in His truth.  So, I come again and again defeated and needy, and again and again He reminds me that in Him all things hold together.  What a beautiful, gracious, loving Lord we serve.