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.

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.

discipleship, discipline, doctrine, eternal things, God's sovereignty and goodness, God's word, infertility, spiritual growth, transformation by truth, trusting God

Feelings, Whoa, Whoa, Whoa, Feelings…

In the last few days I have had several conversations that remind me that our feelings can be tricky.  We have feelings for a reason.  They help us express joy and enjoy life.  They can be exhilirating.  They often can alert us to something big going on in our heart and relationships.  Feelings are not bad in themselves.  The danger comes when we elevate feelings and experience to god status.

Think about relationships…in the beginning the feeling is like flying.  Studies even find that chemicals are released in the brain that are euphoric at the beginning of relationships.  So fun.  But then, what happens when they go away?  Some panic thinking their love is not true.  Some try to recreate that same feeling and when it fails they are despondent.  Some move on to the next relationship to capture that feeling again.  Some get married and fight a new battle of feelings.  Those who push through and learn see that love deepens and matures over time.  They may not experience euphoria, but they enjoy the person and trust is built and friendship is deepened and they are fully known, scars and all.  There is a peace and reward to that kind of commitment.

A marriage, over time, has peaks and valleys, but with the goal in mind, much growth can occur.  Endurance through those highs and lows and commitment and focus bring maturity and intimacy.  This can be likened to our relationship with God.

At first, when our hearts are made new, it is so exhilirating.  We are new creatures learning a new life and so full of love.  We see God so many places.  We want others to know Him.  We hear Him.  Like a child, we grow quickly because there is so much to learn.  We long for more…and then something happens and we may lose that “feeling.”

I remember as a teenager and a newer Christian looking at adults and thinking they didn’t get it.  Mind you, some of them really did not know Jesus, but some did and did not have the same “passionate” response as me.  I made a judgement on them.  I discounted their faith.  Now, I am on the other side of that (twice the age I was then).  I understand a little more.

Think about adulthood.  Once you hit a certain age, your growth changes from outward to inward (at least we hope).  The early and mid twenties are about finding out who you are and asserting that relationally in the world.  I work with young women everyday who have hit the wall of adulthood and say “is this what all this is about?”  They easily get depressed.  It is hard.  They feel lost.  I remember those exact feelings.  There’s the F word–feelings.

Part of my purpose is to point them to truth and to bring them to bring their feelings underneath the truth.  As a person, if you do not learn to do this, you will continually be seeking the next thing that will create good feelings within you.  This could be a new spouse or relationship, a new job, a new city, another kid, new friends, walking away from faith, walking to a new faith, self-help, drugs, status, material things, vacations.  I could go on and on.

In our relationship with God, He wants us to know Him despite our circumstances, in and even despite of our feelings.  Many think when they lose that first feeling and passion of the early days in their walk with God that they have lost Him.  He may be teaching us not to trust or rely on feeling but Him.  He may want us to seek Him and find that He is true even in sadness.  We all have seen people who are so driven by experience that they are always chasing the next new thing in Christianity because that’s where people are really “knowing” God.  A lot of times that can be mysticism without God at all.  We can make our religious or spiritual experiences an idol.  He will not stand for that.

God is so much wiser than we make Him to be.  His word says that those who endure to the end will be saved.  This life is not a sprint but a marathon.  Ask runners if the whole marathon is a high–they will tell you there are definite highs but there are moments that they want to quit and do not think they can make it.

God, in His word, calls us to trust in Him and not our own understanding (feelings), and He will direct our path.  He calls us to mature in Him, to grow in intimacy just like a marriage.  As we mature, change comes in long and often painful periods of trust.  To become more like Him, it involves the shedding of and dying to our sin.  This does not feel good because we have come to trust it (sin) and treasure it more than Him.  If we cannot process our feelings and bring them under His truth and choose to trust His truth even when we do not feel it, we will run away to try to get a better feeling somewhere else (in marriage, we call this adultery).  We will miss some of the richest parts of knowing who He really is–not what we’ve made Him to be.

The biggest places God has refined me to know Him despite and even in my feelings are marriage and the struggle with infertility.  In His grace, He continually called me to make a decision to study and meditate on His word.  Was this easy? No.  I wanted to run…and at times I did run to get a “high” somewhere else.  However, in His grace and love, I submitted to His truth and chose to trust His sovereignty.  Oh what a deeper joy…even such that I am thankful for the time of infertility for I would never have known Him in such a way.  Faith is submission even when we are sad or angry or all over the place with our feelings.  Faith is the submission and believing in His truth when we do not feel Him.  We make this decision everyday.  I pray that you not give up or run to something that seems easier or makes you “feel” better for the moment.  Intimacy and maturity in Him do not rely on the circumstance of the moment but continually meditating on His truth and who He is and choosing to place your trust there for the long haul.  I would not trade the long marriage for the false beginning high, and I pray that I continue to remember that.

community, discipleship, rest, spiritual growth, The body of Christ

Layers

         It seems that everytime I post something I am learning or convicted with, the week following gives another chance to learn even more.  The last post was about need–and I have been driven to even more need this week.  Physically I have been in need from the way I feel on hormones.  Emotionally I have been in need as I see friends and family members grieving over loss.  Spiritually I have been in deep need as I pray for discernment in leadership with WDC.    The physical, emotional and spiritual needs have drained me mentally. 

        All of this to say, there are always deeper layers to our need.  We understand we are in need, and we feel that we then have that concept under control.  The Lord continues to show us that our need is eternal for Him. 

        We are made to need, and it is so good for us to need Him.  He is our source.  I do not think we grasp the beauty of Him being our source–that we never get to the bottom of Him.  When we need, we are always looking for the end.  For example, “when this is over…when I feel normal again…when the pain ends…when I have control again.”  He says, ” I Am–I am the it, Jennifer.  I am the answer–I am all you need.”  My flesh tells me what I need is resolution.  He tells me all I need is Him. 

         He even ordered our week and commanded our time to see this need and be refreshed in Him.  The Sabbath is time to be with Him, enjoy Him, rest in Him, be filled in Him.  The Sabbath need is continual–not something we get through to go on with our lives. 

        He tells us in His word that we need others who are filled in Him.  The picture we are given of a body that is one and connected yet each part serving different functions is a picture of our need for one another with Christ as the Head. 

       I get SO frustrated with the thought from others that they can do the Christian walk alone.  IT.  IS.  NOT.  POSSIBLE.  We were not created in that way.  We cannot function in that way.  We kill ourselves in trying to live that way. 

       For those of you who know me, you know I spend my time pouring into young women in disciple-making relationships.  I know this is an important aspect of their growth.  Do you know what is blaringly obvious to me?  If they do not have deep friendships with those who are in Christ calling out the places in them to follow Him deeper, it is practically pointless for them to be in relationship with me.  Why?  Because we NEED the body–we are fickle and weak and adulterous–and we need to be spurred on continually to truth and love and good deeds.  That doesn’t happen when those all around us are “conforming to the pattern of this world.”  We need others to spur us on to “renew our minds” in His presence and truth.  We need to be integrally  involved in a church that lifts the truth that we need Him.  We need to serve others and learn to be served as we carry one anothers burdens.  We cannot do marriage or family or singleness or business or pleasure alone.  We need Him and we need those who are in Him in order to make His name known and spread His love in the world. 

       What would I have done in the past several years without dear friends in Christ lifting me up in prayer, sharing scripture with me, calling out places in me?  I would not have survived and thrived in growth.  God gives those beautiful gifts of others to show a fuller picture to me of His love.  He uses me in the same way to show His love–not for my glory, but for His. 

       I am learning that in our need, it takes effort to follow Him.  It takes effort to create friendships and be vulnerable.  It takes effort to study His word and set aside time for prayer.  It takes effort to serve others in order that they might know Him more.  That effort is not in vain–the fruit of it is exponentially multiplied by the Spirit in the growth that occurs.  There is a sense of living in Him as we were created to live–functioning as a body as we were created to be.  It is good, but it is not easy.  We are not promised ease, but we are promised rest in Him.

authenticity, discipline, humility, infertility, prayer, spiritual growth, trusting God, Uncategorized

Nothing…really

       I have had an epiphany as of late.  I am completely clueless and powerless to run my life–marriage, ministry, fertility, relationships, leadership, etc.  You may be saying, “duh!”  However, do not all of us have this false sense of control from time to time?  We think we have it covered…oh yeah, I have done this thousands of times, and then–pow, right between the eyes we are humbled with the truth. 

          I spend my days walking with and leading young women to grow in fellowship with Christ.  You may think–“oh, hard job…what do you drink coffee and talk about relationships woes?”  Yes, but that is not the point of our time together.  My goal is to teach and shepherd and equip them with the word of Christ and the tools to grow in Him and surrender to Him and glorify Him in all things.  That is not advice or a system–it is a lifestyle and it involves the heart.  Religion says “clean this up, do this and you are good.”  The heart changed by the gospel of Christ is surrendered and examining and searching and repenting.  It is so much easier to talk religion and advice–but it is like rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic–pointless. 

         This summer, I have taken a month and a half off from one on one meetings with young women.  Greg “encouraged” me to do it, and he was right.  The emotional toll that intense relational discipleship takes is hard to measure.  This has been good for me.  However, as I look toward the fall, I see that the work to be done and the growth to be cultivated is bigger than conversations and Bible study and memorizing scripture.  With each young woman, there are things screaming in opposition to her affections for Christ.  The enemy is subtle to us and we are blind–and that is dangerous.  I look toward this next season of output on my part and see that discipline and faithfulness to prayer and dependence are imperative.  I can only plant and fertilize and be faithful in loving each young woman, but I have to wait on God to water and grow.  The Spirit has to reveal sin to the person’s heart and call for repentance.  Sure, I speak the truth in love and grace, but all the while, I depend.  Apart from Him, I can do nothing.

        This makes me think of marriage.  We have NO control over our partners.  I have had several conversations in the last few weeks about other’s marital woes that feel impossible.  I have been there myself at times.  You know the “why try, it is pointless” feeling?  God then reminds me that He awakened my dead heart to love and know Him.  He is about doing the impossible.  So, I am on my knees for my friends and myself.  Apart from Him I can do nothing.

         This makes me think of children–the inability so far for me to conceive and even more so, the complete heartbrokenness of friends over their own children’s choices and hard heartedness.  The feeling that those children’s ears are closed to truth–that  there is an impossible situation–why not just give up?  And, I remember God who brought forth life out of Sarah’s womb .  She was as good as dead–just as some of the children I know–just as we all are without God’s grace.  I am on my knees for myself that God would open my dead womb.  I am especially on my knees for friends that God would break those children and bring those to repentance who are unwilling and hardhearted to wisdom and truth.  I am crying out for the hearts of those parents.  Apart from Him, we can do nothing. 

          The more I live, the more I see religion and rules and a checklist are bogus–powerless–pointless.  We are people in need of heart change–heart transplants.  We are blind to our own sin–and the Spirit who is placed within us, gives us eyes.  I cannot give another their eyes or heart, but I can be obedient to love and share truth and grace again and again ALL in dependence upon the One who brings the change.    When we look too far beyong today, it can get overwhelming.  We need our manna from Him today to love and share and depend and praise Him today. 

          All this to say–boy do I need Him.  Pray for me to be entrenched in His word and dependent upon His Spirit as I love Greg and love and shepherd my girls and encourage my firends who have pains and struggles and needs.  Apart from Him, we can do nothing.

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!