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the slow turn

Where we choose to turn our heart slowly makes us what we are…

This was what I wrote on Facebook February 8, 2011. What a precursor to the life that was coming like a freight train. At almost 36, I was six months pregnant with my first LONG awaited child. In the next 8 months, I would birth a child, go through the craziest day of my life when we husband was accidentally drugged on the day we came home from the hospital, crawl through the darkest days of depression and feeling of hopelessness with postpartum, try with a legalistic fervor to feed my child correctly breastfeeding and have to deal with the shame of failure in that, and would prepare our house to go on the market and to move. Those are just the highlights.

Where we choose to turn our heart slowly makes us what we are…

Adulthood has been systematic disarmament of my charms, my armor for coping, and my plans. I have mountains of journals that document the wrestling of my nature to turn my heart toward myself and other comforts of what I can do and control and His nature that tells me, come to me all who are weary and heavy laden and I will give you rest. It is not my natural bent to trust Him and to examine my heart for false loves. It is my natural bent to pick the false loves and props, though. I want to be admired. I want things to be easy. I love to numb away reality, and that satisfies for a moment until the emptiness of it crashes down and I see the fruit of what my choices have produced.

I turn only when things stop working for me. That sounds impressive, huh? I bet you identify.

When my job at an urban school (that I loved) ate me alive because I had no boundaries and tried to over perform, I burnt out. I had nothing left. Where did I choose to turn my heart?

When I didn’t know how to communicate and connect in marriage after a few newlywed years when things got real, I floundered. Where did I choose to turn my heart?

When My Daddy was struggling with Parkinson’s and I literally did not recognize the man he was becoming or know how to deal with the needs he had. Where did I choose to turn my heart?

When the last two weeks of my Dad’s life surprised us and he was taken to eternal healing, where did I choose to turn my heart?

When months turned into years of trying to have a baby with no results, I began the deepest journey of turning to Him to His word, His character, His plans, His ways and not mine. This was when the narrative switched in my life from an underlying performance to the hope of the Gospel every day. Slowly over years of time letting His word inform me, seeing the big picture, studying, praying, teaching it, my character was changed. My hope was trained to look beyond circumstantial to eternal. That serves me to this day–in parenting, in business, in changes, in conflict, in tragedy.

I would never have chosen this on my own. That is the sad truth. I am fickle–I love a new adventure–I want a new high. Life really worked for me for a long time. My journey in college began to show that all was not shiny underneath. Jennifer Cox did not have all the answers or the performance or the “goods” to make it in this life with a gold star. I did not know what to do with the weariness or low-grade depression that came. I did not know what to do when I royally messed up relationships and disappointed others and I couldn’t charm my way out of it. It got messy–I got messy. And, frankly, I did not love what came out. I did not recognize the person I was. All my constructs fell.

At the beginning of my Senior year in college, I wrestled with the picture of the depravity in my heart. I remember camping in Romans 1and 3, Ephesians 1. The way I viewed God had always been about me in some way. How could this verse help me? What was God leading ME to do? What guy was for me? It was the first time that I was challenged to look at it being about Him. Where we choose to turn our heart, slowly makes us what we are…

Each of these situations, struggles, needs, informs me of where my heart naturally turns and where to turn it for True Life and Hope. Where we choose to turn our heart, slowly makes us what we are… In a couple of months, I will turn 44, and I can look back at the slow turns in my life–maturity directed by HIM, informed by HIM, found in HIM with a long long long way to go. A long obedience in the same direction…Today I remember the truth that where I choose to turn my heart in the small slowly makes me what I am. What will I choose today? What will you choose?

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Your personal state of the union

Nope–not gonna get political, however, I am going to get personal.

There are an amazing amount of moving parts in our lives. Mixed with an inordinate amount of information coming our way, and the more we know, the more we can be paralyzed in the execution. We can feel like we “should” be doing more or getting better results ALL THE LIVE LONG DAY!

As I hear stories and see patterns in my life and the lives of others, my heart and mind turn to the word Simplify.  This is not in reference to minimalism but to paring down and being aware of what is going on in our hearts and how we are executing leadership and life.

Simplify: to make it easier to understand; to remove the things which make it complex

As women, we tend to have lots of plates spinning at once…and part of that is a necessity.  The problem comes when we do not consider what adding plates will do to our hearts and effectiveness–we complicate things. 

Consider what you are spinning in your life—are you a spouse?  Are you a parent?  Are you caring for a parent?  Are you dealing with a chronic illness?  Are your kids in a lot of activities?  Are you working?  Are you chasing success?  Are you pursuing friendships?  Are you moving?  Are you volunteering?  Are you (GULP) building a house?  Are you looking for a new job?  Are you dealing with intense conflict?  Are you in charge of the chores at your house?  Are you meal planning and cooking?  Are you attending to your spiritual growth? Are you in charge of something(s)? Are you involved in activities at your church?  Are your kids in travel ball?  Are you in school?  Who is depending on you? how are you treating money?

Breathe and come down from the ledge. 

Some of these things are part of the choices in life that we have pursued…and some are chosen for us. The biggest choice is how we react to these.  Do we see them as opportunities to steward?  Do we have a cohesive heart and mind in how we choose what to add and what to say “no thank you” to?  What are we choosing to make more complex in this season? And where are we hurting ourselves and our families in the midst?

I could tell story after story of that one GOOD thing I added to my plates since being a mother that put us all over the edge. Usually, it involved me leading a Bible Study or a child participating in one more thing or getting out of balance with boundaries–GOOD things, but it spread me too thin and affected all my people in the worst of ways.

Cohesive: consists of parts that fit together well and form a UNITED WHOLE (integrated)

Oftentimes, we do not sit down to examine OUR SEASON and OUR HEARTS and THE NEEDS OF OUR FAMILY and how they fit together. Our lives look like a mosaic of different activities that we think we “should” do or that we “have to do to be a good parent or person” or “that’s just the way life is.”

The sum total of our lives are bearing fruit…and the question is “what is blooming?” Is there a stench or a fragrant offering? Does it offer life or death? Light or dark? Non-GMO organic apples or rotten apples? Healthy relationships or toxic relationships? Is there godliness (more of his character) or selfishness growing there?

Beward of false teachers…”you will recognize them by their fruits…Every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit. A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a diseased tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. THUS YOU WILL RECOGNIZE THEM BY THEIR FRUITS.” Matthew 7:15-20

So, it is so important for all of us to examine the State of our Hearts, our families, our patterns of life. They get easily complicated and disintegrate in purpose and direction. That is where our flesh and this world points us. “Our hearts are deceitful above all things”(Jeremiah 17:9). They are idol factories. We begin to see good things as the ultimate thing–our success, our parenting, our marriage, our status, our leadership…all can get way “out of whack.” God says “have no other gods before me,” Exodus 20:3, and we are experts in how to fashion gods. And, most often, they are made up of admirable things and that complicates our examination. He calls us to “examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Or do you not realize that this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you. “ 2 Corinthians 13:5

I come to you with hope. God simplifies this process in us by the power, life, death and resurrection of Jesus–when we come before Him with the reality of our complex lives that are not cohesive in loving Him fully (which is the greatest commandment). We have to recognize and admit the state of our union/heart…If we do not realize there is a problem, we are calling Him a liar. He is Truth–there is no darkness in Him. When, we go to Him, turn away from our other “loves,” we are given the gift of forgiveness and a new heart and a new life. We still struggle with making other idols/loves, and, even still, He NEVER forsakes us if we are truly in Him. This is why He says to REMAIN in Him everyday–He helps us simplify our motives, our plates and helps to bring cohesiveness to our patterns of life–what we put in, what we take out. He helps us understand–in this oft-times confusing life.

My prayer for me and for all who know Him: That we recognize today where our hearts are wandering and trusting other things and where our lives are bearing bad fruit. And, in that, that we may draw near to Him and the power of the GOSPEL that “by grace we have been saved through faith and this is not our own doing–accepting God’s gift–not a result of works, so that NO ONE may boast. I pray we remember that we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.” Ephesians 2:8-10 May we remember that “there is no condemnation FOR THOSE WHO ARE IN CHRIST JESUS.” Romans 8:1

My prayer for those who do not know the beauty of knowing God: I pray that you graciously open their eyes, Dear One. I pray that you awaken their hearts to Your worth. Lord, I pray that you cause examination that they consider their fruit–and their hearts. May they experience the freedom of being adopted as your Child…

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.’