Comparison, The Very Good News

Dear 18-year-old self…

It’s the season of graduation, of beginnings and endings.  For many of us, several years have passed since we were the ones to walk across that stage, taking hold of our future.

Yesterday I had the lovely opportunity to share my own thoughts regarding this time in my life on The River’s blog.  Click on over there and give it a peek.  Blessings, my readers!

https://www.therivercc.com/daily/2018/5/22/18yearold

Marriage, Relationships

6 Minutes to Sandwich

“Woman, make me a sandwich!” said my husband, Jordan as he looked at me with a wry grin on his face.  He knew he’d get a reaction with the way he framed his request.  I turned and gave him a withering look.

Then I laughed, throwing my head back, because I couldn’t succeed in pretending to be angry for very long.  In a sweet and slightly snarky tone, I said with a smile, “Now, you’ll have to ask a little more nicely if you want me to do THAT for you.”

I’m so glad that we can joke about these things after 19 years of marriage, but I couldn’t deny that deep down his request rankled just a bit.  It was not a dissimilar feeling to having a few grains of sand stuck inside the bottom of my sandal.  Irritating, but not greatly so.

But WHY should this simple request bother me at all?  Was I being hypersensitive?

Well, for one, I hate making sandwiches.  It’s the fact that I have to drag out (what feels like) half the contents of my fridge.  Then there are the crumbs all over my counter and a mess in my sink with the discarded parts of lettuce, tomato, etc…  Maybe I’m a little OCD, but it’s just a hassle.

It’s also that I’m gluten free, so I rarely make a sandwich for myself.  I’m not hyper-allergic, so I don’t have problems from just touching bread.  And, yes, I know there’s gluten-free bread and all, but most of it tastes like cardboard or worse, and 2 slices of bread (even if it’s gluten free) are just too many carbs for me to regularly consume in one sitting.  So, yes, there’s probably a little resentment there, too.

Most of all, though, I think it is the assumption that I’m the one in the relationship who should make his sandwich, which is what he eats for lunch almost every day during his busy season at work.  I would never ask him to make my lunch for me, so why should I have to make his sandwich for him?

Now, I know I may have stirred up some strong feelings in you, my reader.  Before you flip out and spout women’s rights all over me, you should know that my husband loves and respects me, and he isn’t some male chauvinist pig.

Or maybe you’re on the opposite side of the field, and you think I should be more understanding and appreciative of my man and just make him a sandwich already.  You might tell me to read The Proper Care and Feeding of Husbands, which, by the way, I have.

Honestly, his whole sandwich-request thing is not unreasonable.  There is an unofficial sharing of duties in our household in the mornings.  He takes our eldest to school, and I clean up the kitchen after breakfast and make his sandwich.  This all sounds quite logical.  So what’s my problem?

I could wax poetic here about needing to be a better servant in my household, having the mind of Christ and/or about being a true wifely helpmate.  Or I could just as easily talk about how women need to be liberated from these old-fashioned gender roles.  Or maybe how we need to be liberated from feeling like we need to be liberated…. But nope, I’m going to stop right there.

Over the period of a few months I continued to loosely and randomly ponder these sandwich thoughts.  I was making him sandwiches a few times per week, albeit with some lingering irritation and resentment.

Then last week I got a text message.

I was trying to squeeze in some much-needed exercise early on a weekday morning by walking the hills in our neighborhood with our puppy.  It was beautiful outside, and I was about 2/3 done when a text from Jordan buzzed my phone.  I looked down and saw, “6 minutes to sandwich.”

Now, there was absolutely no need to take instant offense at this text.  My husband was telling me that he would have to leave for work in 6 minutes and would need his sandwich.

Yet, despite my logical, mental understanding of this, I had an immediate emotional flare of anger and an onslaught of different thoughts.  Oh goodness, I should have made that stupid sandwich earlierI’m not sure I’ll make it back in timeWell, he can just make his own d— sandwich.  He can make his own d— sandwiches from now until eternity.  What the heck is HIS problem?  Stupid sandwiches….  He can just starve.  Sheesh.  What the heck is MY problem?

I knew that my thoughts needed help of a supernatural kind.  Did I want the peace of my entire day to die in an angry battle on the mole hill I was getting ready to escalate into a mountain?  NO.

So, in my spirit, I cried out to the Lord for help.  Lord, help me! Help me to see this differently.  I can choose in this moment how I feel.  I can choose to be thankful.  I can choose to be thankful I have a husband who needs a sandwich because he goes to work.  He goes to work to provide for our family.  He is an excellent provider, and really, it’s not a big deal that he needs a sandwich.  Thank you Lord that I get to make his sandwiches.  I will make his sandwiches with thankfulness and joy.  I am thankful that I GET to make his sandwiches.

In that moment, as I prayed, my heart condition changed.  I can’t explain it, but the anger just melted away, the irritation fled, and I truly was thankful.  My entire perspective had changed.

By the time I got back to the house, just a few minutes later, I was happy as could be.  I quickly made that sandwich for him and sent him off to work with a smile.  The irritation never came back.

I’ve made more sandwiches since then with no more issues.

I don’t share this story so that you can say, boy, she’s a really great (or crappy) wife.  Instead, I share it because I’m desperately flawed.  We all are, but as believers in Jesus Christ we have a confident expectation of something better.

Whether it’s at work or at home, we each have our own individual hot-button issues of ongoing irritation and complaint.  We can choose to nit-pick these issues to death, trying to politicize and justify our irritation/anger/resentment.  Or we can realize that the responses generated from an ongoing place of anger/bitterness will eventually damage one or more of our treasured relationships.

While your hot-button thing may not be making sandwiches for your husband, we serve a God who is big enough and powerful enough and personally-involved enough to radically free us from that thing (whatever it is) and give us a brand new perspective.  This new perspective can bring inexplicable joy and peace in place of ongoing anger.

We may be desperately flawed, but we serve a God who is bigger than our issues.  And as believers, we have the source of that power living on the inside of us in the form of the Holy Spirit.

My prayer for you, my reader, is that you will tap into that supernatural source of help today.  May your days be full of peace, no matter the sort of text messages you receive.  May you be filled with joy as you invite the Holy Spirit to change your perspective, trusting God to accomplish His work in you.  Blessings!

Finding Peace

Permission Needed

Coffee cup in hand, I sat down on our leather sofa with a loud sigh of relief.  An unfolded mound of clean laundry was piled up beside me.  A dozen tasks were pressing down on me, their urgency increased by the impending arrival of guests for tonight’s dinner.  I needed to be moving, doing, prepping, accomplishing, but, instead, my soul desperately needed a respite.

I took this moment to lean my head back and breathe deeply, trying to relax into a rare interlude of silence purchased by husband’s willingness to allow our daughters to accompany him on an errand.  With less than 2 hours before our guests’ arrival, I knew a variety of tasks would remain undone, but as I weighed the cost of my stolen moments, I realized that none of them would result in my guests’ discomfort.

These “pressing” tasks were more about my comfort, my need to appear to have a perfectly presentable household.  As the tension in my mind and body loosened a little, I realized the true need of my soul in this moment was just to BE still.

It is astonishing to me that this very act of doing nothing actually requires my own consent.  But it does. 

You see, I’ve become aware of this constant mental measuring of my own usefulness.  I’m not actually keeping a written score by physically grading each day or event, yet there IS a tally being calculated just below the surface of my consciousness.

This subconscious scorekeeper can be my worst enemy.  Sadly, for many years, I mistook this inner analyst for the voice of the Holy Spirit.  (More about that in a future post.)

But in this moment, I gave myself permission to rest despite all the demands (both legitimate and otherwise).  I embraced a stillness in body AND soul.

Be still, and know that I am God!  

Psalm 46:10a

You know, sometimes, it’s okay just to BE.

I recently made this statement to a group of adults.  I could see the immense emotion of this simple statement reflected in the eyes of several women.  We, especially as women, can have such a difficult time with this.

Who told us that we must DO… in order to be of value?  in order to be worthy of love? in order to be useful?

I know we all have responsibilities, and I’m not endorsing laziness or neglect of our families.  However, I’m asking the Lord to give us His wisdom about what we can let go of (big or small) in order to embrace His rest.

This will look different for each of us, but let’s drop that measuring stick and throw away the mental score card.  Let’s stop using it on ourselves and on each other.  Let’s acknowledge that sometimes it’s okay just to BE.  BE you.  BE still.  Just BE.

What would it look like to give yourself permission to embrace a season of stillness?

Whether it is a few stolen moments on a weekend afternoon, a whole day or week, or an entire season of embracing this state of BEING rather than doing, I pray that you will find true refreshment from the ONE and ONLY who can provide that to us, Jesus Christ.

…Don’t be afraid. 

Just stand still and watch the Lord rescue you today. 

Exodus 14:13a

On a funny note, I was so relaxed after just BE-ing, that I completely forgot to fold that laundry and put it away before my guests arrived.  In fact, I didn’t realize that I had forgotten about it until after everyone had gone home.

Now, before you get all judge-y on me, you should know that the adults spent most of the evening in the dining room and kitchen.  It wasn’t like we were chatting while sitting next to my husband’s undies.

But still, I can’t even believe I forgot this.

I’m so thankful for my grace-giving friends and for my grace-giving God.  Most of all, I’m thankful for this journey that is enabling me to take hold of grace for myself.  I’m marking this down (laundry pile included) as a major accomplishment in my journey toward vibrant living.

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New Life, The Very Good News

What does Easter mean to me?

Many in the Christian community have taken to calling it Resurrection Day.  This re-branding is fine with me, as it places the focus for this holiday exactly where it should be: on the risen Jesus Christ.

So what does Resurrection Day mean to me?  Honestly, I have struggled at times to have fresh eyes for this nearly two-thousand-year-old event.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m not downplaying its importance.  I know that it is essential to my entire faith.  If not for the Resurrection, Jesus would have been one of the numerous other good teachers with a following who lived and then died, end of story.  No power. No glory. No hope.  My faith would be dead and powerless.

So, I’m not overlooking the fact that this event is integral to my faith.  But after 39 years of celebrating this day, 33 of those years as a believer, sometimes you just need a fresh perspective and a newness of joy.  I want to experience this holiday, as if for the first time.  Is anyone with me on this?

I don’t want to simply go through the motions of this day, its significance lost in the rote-ness of the familiar.

So I got up early this morning, not to iron my daughters’ Easter dresses or to make from-scratch cinnamon rolls.  Instead, I spent my quiet early-morning coffee moment asking the Father for a fresh view and a personal encounter of the Resurrection’s relevance for me TODAY.

What He gave me is worth sharing.  May it encourage you, like it did me, to walk in freshness, rather than familiarity.  May you experience vibrance, rather than boredom.

It’s brief, so I promise that you’ve got time for it on this day (or any day) overflowing and bustling with activity.

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Jesus Christ, my Lord and Savior, wasn’t the only one raised from the dead that day.

Romans 6:4b says, “…Just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glorious power of the Father, now we also may live new lives.

You see, this is our Resurrection day too.  We, too, are being called forth from our tombs.

A tomb is where we put dead things.

Do you have any dead areas in your life?  Any departed dreams?  Lifeless relationships?  Messed-up messes?  Worn-out approaches?  Unresponsive situations?  Hopeless circumstances?  Exhausted emotions?

I’ve got news for you.  You are NOT dead, and your circumstances are NOT beyond the reach of the glorious power of the Father.

You are being called forth into the newness of life.  Are there any areas in your life that need refreshing?  Or re-making?  Or resurrecting?  Or maybe, like me, you’ve got an area where you’d like to see a complete do-over.

The VOICE translation says it this way, “…just as God the Father, in all His glory, resurrected the Anointed One, we, too, might walk confidently out of the grave into new life.”

So my friend, where can you walk confidently out of the grave into new life?

I feel like our Heavenly Father is saying to us:

 Give me your weary, worn out, tired, hopelessly dead places.  Toss away those grave clothes.  Confidently walk out of that tomb.  Break forth into newness of life and embrace MY Glorious Life for you.

May you let Him resurrect you today and everyday.  May you let His glorious power and light enable you to break forth from what holds you back.

And as a bonus, here’s a little song that goes right along with my musings.  It came to my mind as I was singing in the shower this morning.  Blessings!

Trusting God

Letting Go

It was an earnest moment of decision for my preschool-aged daughter.  You could see the deliberation on her sweet little face as she tightly gripped the Andes Mints, one in each hand.

If you will give ONE of your chocolates to Pa, I will give you another one.

I knew this might be a struggle for her and was watching with anticipation to see what decision she would make.

She loves chocolate candy so much, and this particular kind was only available to her once per week when we would meet my dad (her grandad) for lunch at our favorite local Mexican restaurant.

I could see she was internally wrestling with the process of physically letting go of what was in her hand.  Did she believe me?  Would she trust me?

I repeated it again:  If you will give one to Pa, I will give you another one to replace the one that you give to him.

It was a promise.  But it required her action to activate it.  You see, she had to let go of the piece of chocolate in one of her hands, before I could give her another one.

This was a practical request.  There was no way her little hands could hold 3 pieces of candy, navigate a pass off, open the wrappers and avoid dropping one onto the floor.  With the crowd of people in front of the cashier’s desk, the candy could easily be stepped on and smashed.

After a few more seconds of consideration, she handed a piece to my dad, saying, “Here, Pa, this is for you.” I smiled, knowing that this had been an important step for her.

Before the smile faded from my face, I felt the Holy Spirit impress a feeling of even greater significance upon my heart.  I knew I needed to remember this exchange, and I wrote it down in my journal, trusting the Lord would eventually show me.

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A few weeks passed, and I had just learned of yet another major change coming my way.  The grief, anxiety and sorrow welled up in me anew.

Over the last 18 months, almost all the things in which I had found purpose, comfort and stability (with the exception of my husband and children) had been ended, altered, or shifted in some way.  A career.  A ministry role.  A few friendships.  Educational plans for my youngest daughter.  And on and on.

Honestly, I was so sick of change and felt like I really couldn’t take any more.  I was just done.  Over it.  Finished.  Seriously kaput.

Lord, seriously?  I was just getting into the groove.  I thought we had a plan.  Lord, what ARE you doing in this situation?   What does this mean for me?  I hate this.  Really, I hate this.  Can’t you just keep things the way they are, at least for a little while?

The next morning I was struggling through my quiet time trying to read through a chapter in one of the Minor Prophets of the Old Testament, Hosea.  I was finding it a bit dry, which was also how my soul felt in that moment.  This is what I wrote in my journal that morning:

“Father God, help me have a God-attitude about the news I received yesterday.  I’m struggling and so sad, but most of all, I feel thrown out into The Wilderness, again.  God help me, help me to find joy and hope overflowing in this.  Release your blessings on my life… Make a way for me in the desert.  Bring me to a land of flowing streams, lush landscapes, soft hills, and babbling brooks.”

Later that day, I was still wrestling through what all of this meant and feeling gloomy.  While driving in my car, I heard these lyrics from a song in the general playlist of music on my phone.

I am counting every blessing, counting every blessing
Letting go and trusting when I cannot see
I am counting every blessing, counting every blessing
Surely every season you are good to me.[i]

These words that I’d heard so many times before struck me with such significance.  Letting go.  To let go, you have to open your hand.  It was like the Spirit was saying this:

Jennifer, if you’ll open your hand again, you’ll see that I’m good to you in every season.  Let go of what you cannot keep.  Give it freely, so that I can give you the next blessing. 

Oh wow.  The wisdom in this.

It was a promise.  And just like with the Andes Mint moment, it required my action to activate it.  You see, I would have to emotionally release what was in my hand.  I would need to give it to my Abba Daddy, and with faith and trust, believe He would fill my hand again with something good.  I had to believe that He would fill it with something that was valuable and cherished, with something I would relish and enjoy.

Jim Elliot penned this now famous phrase, “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.”

Maybe, like me, you are facing another period of transition.  Do you feel the stirrings of change?  Is the Lord asking you to relinquish something?  Is He asking you to hand over something that’s of high value in your life?  An opportunity that may not come again?  A ministry position or job you really love? The future you thought you would have?  The way you spend your free time?

Even when we try to keep that tight grip of control on the things we value, we can’t hold on to them forever.  Change will happen, and wouldn’t it be much better if we relinquish our valued things to the Lord before they get dropped or smashed into the floor?

Beloved reader, open that hand and give the Lord its contents.  He knows what He’s asking.  Trust Him.  He wants to fill it again with something just as sweet.

This is what the Lord says—your Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel: …  For I am about to do something new.  See, I have already begun! Do you not see it?  I will make a pathway through the wilderness.  I will create rivers in the dry wasteland.[ii]

May His streams of Living Water flow freely through you, bringing refreshment and lush beauty to the barren places in your life.

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[i] “Counting Every Blessing” by Rend Collective, 2018 Capitol Christian Records

[ii] Isaiah 43:14a, 19 (NLT)

Finding Peace

Love Note

I had just settled into the driver’s seat and was pulling the seat belt across my shoulder when my phone buzzed.  Before backing out of my garage, I glanced down at the screen.  It showed a text from a friend who lived in a different city.  We didn’t talk that often, so I was immediately intrigued.

The message said “God put you on my heart this morning and led me to pray….”  I smiled but stopped there thinking I would read the rest later.  My youngest daughter and I were hurrying to an appointment, and my focus was consumed with arriving on time.

It’s certainly nice that she’s praying.  She has no idea what is going on today with me, but I’m feeling pretty good right now.  I can’t wait to get this over with.  I wonder, do I need extra prayer right now?  Does she know something I don’t know?

Then I quickly shoved it all to the back of my mind for future contemplation.

You see, we were on our way to a local elementary school for a comprehensive assessment and evaluation by the school’s psychologist.  This is something that my husband and I had known was coming for the last several months.  We had delayed it once, trying to give our daughter time undergo and recover from a minor surgery.  Then it had been delayed a 2nd time due to an unexpected school closing (due to illness) a few weeks ago.

The time for this event had FINALLY arrived.  And our youngest daughter was ready to be evaluated… I hoped.  Certainly, I was ready to know what issues we might be dealing with concerning her apparent learning delays and struggles.

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Fast forward to a little over an hour later, and I found myself feeling rather differently.  I had just completed a verbal questionnaire with what seemed like a gazillion questions that seemed to clarify the fact that my daughter was truly struggling in some areas.

These same feelings of grief, sorrow, and complete vulnerability had hit me at her annual speech/language IEP meeting back in the fall of last year.

It’s really hard to describe the intensity of this environment.  The rawest of maternal emotions are triggered when you are asked numerous, exhaustive questions by almost-strangers concerning the areas of your child’s weaknesses.

When you answer these questions OUT LOUD, the difficulties become concrete.  Declaring with your mouth has an imitable effect.  It takes the knowledge from your mind and brings it into the deepest places of your heart and being.

The professionals who conduct these meetings aren’t mean or cruel.  They are polite, kind, even sympathetic, and thank goodness they are thorough.  The process itself is just brutal.

So as I sat in that swivel chair waiting for my daughter’s portion to finish, I felt wrung out.  In an effort to quiet my swirling emotions and stifle the tears that threatened to spill over, I dug my phone out of my purse.  I began to sort through my unread texts when I saw the one from my friend.  I clicked to open the whole message.  It said:

“God put you on my heart this morning and led me to pray Matthew 11:25-30.  Be childlike and in rest dear friend.”

Childlike.  It instantly struck a chord within me.

During that evaluation, I had let the weight of my youngest daughter’s future press down on me.  I had been analyzing and thinking about all the things I could have and should have been doing differently.  I didn’t even have the evaluation results or a diagnosis, yet I was immediately jumping to the worst case scenarios and trying to mentally work out my next 5 action steps.

Instead of Simple, Innocent, Trusting and Uncomplicated, I had defaulted to Anxious, Pessimistic, Doubting, and Worried.

I opened the bible app on my phone to the verses she mentioned.  They were not new to me.  I had read and studied them many times over.

At that time Jesus prayed this prayer: “O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, thank you for hiding these things from those who think themselves wise and clever, and for revealing them to the childlike. Yes, Father, it pleased you to do it this way!

“My Father has entrusted everything to me. No one truly knows the Son except the Father, and no one truly knows the Father except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.”

Then Jesus said, “Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you. Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle at heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy to bear, and the burden I give you is light.”

Despite the familiarity of the passage, its words connected with me instantly.  I felt like I was reading a love note from my Heavenly Father.  It was so timely, so personal, and  precisely what I needed.

How could my friend have known this?  She didn’t.  She couldn’t have.  But God knew, and she listened to Him.   

My mental gymnastics halted.  I began relaxing into God’s gentle care of my youngest daughter.  I let Him lift the burdens from my heart and mind.  I placed this entire situation back into His hands, and I immediately felt secure, cared for, loved, and protected.

I read the verses again.  I noticed that He was also reminding me that our human powers of intellect could be detrimental to success in God’s kingdom.  The Father reveals things to those who are childlike- meaning trusting, enthusiastic, unsophisticated, uncomplicated.  It was like He was saying to me:

Jennifer, your daughter can and will be effective in MY kingdom.  It’s the one that really matters and will never pass away.  Isn’t that what is important to you, after all? 

Yes, Abba Daddy, you’re right.  You’re so right.

A few silent tears rolled down my cheeks, not from grief and sorrow, but instead from thankfulness and joy.

My perspective had done a 180-degree turn in just a few short minutes.  I sent my friend a text saying how much I appreciated her prayers.  I thanked her for listening to the Holy Spirit and sending me that message.  What a blessing she had been in that moment!

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So let me ask you, what situation are you facing today that could be entrusted to our loving Heavenly Father?  Could you benefit from releasing your worries, fears, and doubts?  Would you be willing to take those steps of trust necessary to find rest for your soul?

My prayer for you, dear reader, is that you would make that trade: Your heavy junk in exchange for His light and easy.  May God grant you the grace to entrust Him with the hard things.  Release that anxiety and receive His exquisite peace that saturates the deepest recesses of your mind and emotions.

It’s a good trade.

Comparison, Friendship

Feeling Like a Failure

Have you ever felt like a failure?

Recently this emotion swept over me with the unexpected force of an ocean wave that suddenly knocks you into the sand, tumbling you end over end.

We had been invited over to a friend’s home, and I was running behind that morning.  My mind was still whirring from the rush as my 5-year old daughter and I walked into this friend’s house for the first time.

I removed my shoes and my sock-clad feet sank into her plush carpet.  Walking through her living spaces, I noticed a quiet and pristine ambience.  Unlike my own home, there were no clutter spots and no piles of papers.  There was no unruly, barking puppy and no laundry thrown onto the sofa for later folding.  None of the surfaces had dust or fingerprints, and she had attractive storage bins stacked in all the right places for optimal organization.  It was only 10 o’clock in the morning, but she mentioned that she had just placed a meatloaf in the oven to bake.

My friend had invited us over in order to give me some tips for helping my obstinate 5-year old learn her letters.  This was something that I had been trying to teach her unsuccessfully for over 2 years.  It became clear that my gentle and unhurried friend knew all the right techniques and had this incredible finesse that would charm the socks right off an angry gorilla.

This skillful poise for instructing preschoolers completely escapes me.  I just don’t have it.  On a scale of 1 to 10, I’m a negative 5.  Seriously.  Just ask the preschool director at my church.  She will laughingly and lovingly confirm this.

So I’m sitting there at my sweet friend’s table in her spotless home listening to her brilliant teaching techniques, and I suddenly wanted to cry.  Cry with the frustration of how I must be failing as a homemaker and as a mother.  Ugly cry with the exasperation of how I will never be amazing like she is with teaching my 5-year old.  Why couldn’t I be more resourceful?  More organized.  More motivated.  More self-disciplined.  More child-savvy.  More patient.  More… More…

Let me be clear.  This sweet friend of mine said and did absolutely NOTHING unkind or condemning.  In fact, she was incredibly kind, thoughtful, and hospitable.  There was NOT an iota of superiority about her.

Thankfully I held it together and our visit came to an end.  As I drove away from her house, the rising tide of negative emotion continued to break over me like the huge and violent waves on a red-flag day at the beach.   I’m a failure at homemaking.  I’m a failure at mothering my 5-year old. I’m a failure.  What’s wrong with me?  Why can’t I do this right?  I’ll never be any good at this.  I should try harder.  I should…  I should….

But in the midst of this mental barrage, I had a sudden insight.  All these crazy feelings (and yes, crazy, as in completely ridiculous, lacking logic and not based in reality) I was having in this moment were a result of noticing my friend’s incredible strengths.

I had been brought face to face with someone who was really amazing in the very same places I felt incredibly lacking.  And a few years ago, this could have ruined my day and cast a shadow on how I felt about myself for many months to come.

BUT NOT NOW.  NOT TODAY.

BECAUSE IN THAT MOMENT, I chose to stop and confess the negative thoughts and listen for what the VOICE of TRUTH was saying to me.

I suddenly had this impression of my strengths (both old and recently discovered) and the things to which God has called me.  It was like He was saying to me, Jennifer, you have important things to do.  I’ve created you for these tasks.  Do you really want to jump out of these and into someone else’s?

And then I smiled to myself, because I’ve never really enjoyed working with preschool age children nor staying by myself at home all day to clean and cook and organize.  So why in the world would I want to be super excellent at those things so I could spend MORE time doing them?  It was truly laughable.

You’ve probably heard the phrase, “Stay in your own lane and run your own race.”  That’s the gist of what I was hearing.

Secondly, I had the impression that God himself had brought my friend and me together so that we could be a mutual blessing to each other.  It was like He was saying, IF you would stop trying to be like her, you could relax and enjoy letting her help you.  I designed the two of you to complement and support each other in each of your races.

Her skillfulness didn’t lessen me.  I could rest in knowing that I am great, even amazing in some areas.  And I don’t need to feel threatened, hurt, or condemned because of her strengths.

I suddenly had this picture of the colorful keys on a kid-sized xylophone fitting together perfectly and being used to make a beautiful harmony.  And in that moment I was able to praise the Lord for my friend’s gifts and abilities.  I thanked Him for creating her with strengths in the very areas I lacked.

But goodness, this situation could have turned out quite differently.  If I hadn’t let the VOICE of TRUTH speak to my mind and heart, I would have been left in a spiritually and emotionally unhealthy condition.  My feelings toward this friend could have been tainted.  Even the filter through which I interpreted her future words and actions could have been muddied with the gunk of my own insecurity.  I believe this tragedy happens far too often in our friendships.

So let’s ask ourselves some pointed questions:  Do we let feelings of failure or self-doubt cause rifts in friendships?  Do we develop a critical spirit, pointing out all the negative things about the people whose strengths and abilities threaten our own sense of self?  Do we turn the criticism inward, wallowing in feelings of self-pity or making unending excuses for why we’ll never be as good as someone else?  Do we have friends and acquaintances whom we secretly resent because of our own insecurities?

The next time we feel like a failure, we have this incredible opportunity to identify and cut off those negative thoughts.  Let’s take our raw feelings to our Heavenly Father and ask Him for His fresh perspective on them.

Then listen to the VOICE of TRUTH.  The truth of God’s Word says you are wonderfully and marvelously made.  It says you are a masterpiece created for the good works that God has planned for you long ago.  It says that you have been given an unique race to run.  Truth also says we can cheer each other on without losing ground in our own race.  [Psalms 139:14, Ephesians 2:10, Hebrews 12:1]

So grab your noisemakers, your pompoms and your megaphone.  Let’s protect and preserve our friendships and cheer each other on toward greatness!

 

End Note:  Has my story left you wondering what your own strengths might be?  Maybe you think you know them already but are unsure how to put them to use for God’s kingdom purposes. 

Would you be interested in discovering, embracing, and utilizing your own God-given gifts, heart passions, abilities, personality type, and life experiences?  If you live in or around Cookeville, Tennessee, consider joining me for the next SHAPE class at the River Community Church.  Our 6-week journey starts Wednesday, March 28.  Email or Facebook message me from my Contact Page for more information.

Waiting

Skip the Wait?

Have I mentioned that I struggle with patience?  Waiting quietly with a happy heart is NOT something that comes naturally or easily to me.  So, as you can imagine, I was not particularly overjoyed to find myself facing a rather long wait earlier this week at my local drivers’ services center.

I’d already signed in at the “welcome” kiosk and been there a while when I noticed an advertisement over a different set kiosks that said, Skip the Wait, Renew Here.  My own heart skipped a beat with excitement, but then I remembered.  The letter I’d received from the Department of Safety said that I had to get a new picture taken, and that wasn’t something that could be done at those special kiosks. Ugh.

After I’d passed time by reading emails and catching up on my social media apps, I again checked the giant computer monitor that listed the service numbers and order, carefully noting my number and its place.  Tapping my foot rhythmically on the floor, I finally glanced around me in the nearly full room, noticing, for the first time, the varied responses to this long wait.

Most people were buried in their mobile phones or tablets, some were chatting with a companion, others were sitting quietly staring blankly at the ceiling or wall, and few were grumbling.  One or two in the crowd looked like they might, at any minute, storm impatiently out of the place.

At that point I decided to leave too. Ha – I’m just kidding, of course, but I did stand up and walk back out to my car to retrieve a book. I have this extreme aversion to wasting time, and I was absolutely determined to do something productive.

After returning with my book, the time began to pass quickly as I read about one of my favorite heroes of the Old Testament, King David.  I find his story so fascinating – filled with highs and lows, victories and defeats, friendship and betrayal, all intermingled with a beautiful love for God and David’s epic gift for writing the most exquisite poetry.

Lately, the most relevant thing to me about David’s early life is the amount of waiting he experienced.  For example, did you know that it was around 15 years after being anointed as king by the Prophet Samuel before David was actually crowned as king of Judah?  For much of that 15 years, David was on the run as a fugitive for his life, hiding in caves, and hanging out with vagabonds and social rejects.  And then, even though he had been crowned king of Judah, it would be another 7 years before he was crowned as king over all of Israel.

When I read about the turmoil in King David’s early life, my impatient side wants to ask questions like: Did God act too early when he told the prophet Samuel to discover and anoint this shepherd boy buried in obscurity in Bethlehem? Or was it Saul, that nasty, jealous, and emotionally unstable king who really messed up God’s timing and plan for David?  Or maybe David himself caused all this mess?  I mean, if David had been less bold and confident, the Hebrew women wouldn’t have sung that song that made King Saul get so angry and jealous of him, right?

Shouldn’t have things gone more smoothly for this man after God’s own heart who would be a part of the lineage of Christ?  Surely God’s plan wouldn’t have included all these detours and delays?!?

But I stop there, because I know otherwise.  Yes, there were those around him who had some very evil intentions, and David, himself, wasn’t perfect. But we can see that he was being prepped for something much greater than he could have imagined.  And there is a beauty, even if seemingly painful at moments, to what the Lord was accomplishing in him and through him during this time of waiting.  No class, no training program, no apprenticeship, and no seminar could have been better preparation for his God-sized destiny than this period of waiting and all the many dramatic events it entailed.

David was learning to rely on God, completely.  He was learning compassion and hope in the midst of hopeless circumstances.  He was learning extreme leadership skills and military prowess.  He was developing a following and an inner circle, some of whom would be part of his royal court and future army command.

Those delays and detours must have at times seemed like the death of David’s dreams, but instead, they were vital to his future success.  These delays and detours helped him to walk in the fullness of God’s plan.  They WERE God’s best plan for him.

So like me, are you in a season of waiting?

Maybe you’ve been waiting on an answer to a prayer you’ve been praying for days, months or years?  For a loved one to be healed or for a treasured relationship to be restored?  Or for a new job, the one you’ve always wanted?  Or for justice to be administered in a court case?  Or for a child to be conceived and/or adopted? Or maybe you don’t have anything specific, but rather just a vague sense of waiting for your life to be what you’ve always dreamed?

I’ve become convinced that our periods of waiting aren’t something that we need to balk at, and just like those people around me in the waiting room at my local drivers’ service center, we have choices about how we react to periods of waiting.

We can distract ourselves.  We can stare blankly at the ceiling and lose our vivacity.  We can grumble and complain.  We can look at others whose numbers are called and get jealous or angry.  We can strive and stress and storm right out of the center of God’s will for our lives.

OR we can use the waiting period to connect with those the Lord brings to our waiting room.  We can use the waiting times wisely, squeezing every last ounce of purpose from them.  We can radiate peace and trust and joy.

Recently, I awoke with this verse* on my lips:  “The Lord is not slow to fulfill His promise as some count slowness.”  It was such a gentle and sweet reminder to me that My Abba Daddy had heard my prayers about my specific situation, and he was reassuring me of His faithful care of my desires and urging me to trust in His timing.

You see, God is working while we’re waiting.  He’s working for us and in us.  And sometimes, He’s working in others, too.  So the next time I’m tempted to ask God if I can “Skip the Wait,” I’m going to remember that these detours and delays aren’t the death of my dreams.

The waiting is NEVER wasted.  Instead, God is doing something amazing in us and for us.  And this is His best plan.

*1 Peter 3:9a

Finding True Purpose

Living Vibrantly

It’s that time of year when many of us go on diets, begin exercise plans, and set new health goals.  For some of us this new mindset will be the beautiful beginning of a lasting lifestyle, but for others it is rather short-lived.  Or maybe you’re like me, and you haven’t even started that dieting process yet.  Tomorrow is another day, right!?!  I know, I know, there’s no time like the present.  Arghhh.

Anyway, this is my VERY FIRST blog post (insert all the feels here: equal portions of excitement, terror, vulnerability, joy, and anticipation).  My blog title was chosen because I’m passionate about living not just well or healthfully, but VIBRANTLY.  Thank you for stopping by to read it, and I hope you visit again.

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Recently my husband was completing an annual health survey for his medical sharing plan when he encountered this surprising question: “I apply some of my talents and time in the voluntary service of others.”  The survey required him to mark 1 of the 3 multiple choice answers that indicated the extent to which the above statement described him.

You might be asking yourself why a medical sharing plan (which meets the same objectives as health insurance) would be concerned with whether its participants volunteer their time to serve others.  How could serving (or not serving) possibly impact one’s health and wellness?

For that answer let’s turn our attention to two geographical bodies of water in the Middle East:  The Dead Sea and the Sea of Galilee.   Found in the nation of Israel, both the Dead Sea and the Sea of Galilee are really lakes, and surprisingly, they are both fed by the same freshwater source, the Jordan River.  They both are very similar in elevation and have existed for many thousands of years.  They are also both referred to multiple times in the Bible, but that is pretty much where the similarities end.

The Dead Sea is known as a “hyper” saline body of water with percentages of sodium chloride and other salty minerals that far exceed those found in the ocean.  This salinity makes it completely uninhabitable for fish and other animals.  Even the banks of the Dead Sea are completely barren and resemble that of a desert.  There are no trees, grasses, or flowers that grow on the banks or naturally in the immediate areas surrounding it.  It is quite literally dead.

On the other hand, the Sea of Galilee is a freshwater body that absolutely teems with life.  Its various flora and fauna have supported a significant commercial fishery for over two thousand years now.  When you view pictures of the banks of the Galilee, you see an abundance of healthy trees, green grasses, brightly-colored flowers and other various types of plant life.  It’s absolutely gorgeous with splashes of green on its perimeter in stark contrast to the deep blue color of the water.

So, how is it possible that two lakes which are both fed by the same fresh water from the Jordan River could have such a vastly opposite ecology?  This is the difference.  The Jordan River flows into the Sea of Galilee from the north and then flows out the Sea of Galilee southward, continuing on as a river.  This Sea has an outlet of equal measure.  It receives and gives, and it lives.

The Dead Sea, however, has no outlet streams.  Every single drop that flows in from the Jordan River stays put.  Water flows in but not out.  It receives and keeps, and it is dead.

So back to the question on my husband’s health survey.  How can serving (or not serving) impact one’s health and well-being?  The answer is that we, as believers, are very similar to the two seas.  God himself is our source, and he has given us a generous measure of unique gifts, talents, abilities and passions.  When we use what He has given us in the service of others, we find joy, purpose, energy, and excitement, an abundant life.

But when we greedily hoard our God-given gifts, talents, and abilities, telling ourselves that we will wait to use them until we have the perfect set of conditions in our lives and schedules, our days will lack luster, and we will find ourselves consumed with trivial interests that don’t bring true fulfillment.

I remember a season of my life, 9 years ago, in which I was not serving anywhere.  I was in the throes of new motherhood, staying at home for the first time in my adult life with a very demanding infant.  My gifts and abilities had no other outlet, and I was desperately searching for significance.  When my firstborn was a little over a year old, I settled on a new fitness goal, thinking this would bring me the meaning and recognition I craved.  I worked hard, using self-control and gritty determination to reach it.

I keenly remember the short-lived feeling of satisfaction that came when I achieved that goal: running and finishing my very first half marathon.  It was a good goal.  Fitness is important for physical health.  But I also remember the vague and inexplicable feeling of disappointment that came so quickly on the heels of this achievement.  “What next?”, I thought.  The “high” of accomplishment only last a few days, and then I needed something else, bigger and better, to bring me that feeling again.

It would be a few more years before I began to realize that pouring into others is what would bring authentic and lasting fulfillment into my life. Proverbs 11:25 tells us, “The generous will prosper; those who refresh others will themselves be refreshed.”

Have you found true fulfillment in God’s purposes for your life?  Will you allow Him to stretch you to serve beyond your own capacity so that you can be refreshed in a lasting and significant way?  What can you do today to become more like the Sea of Galilee, with Christ’s gifts and blessings flowing in and out, in equal measure?

Pray:  Father God, I want to let you flow through me to serve others.  Please open my eyes to the opportunities around me.  Allow me to be stretched, so that I can be empowered by you to do things beyond my own capacity.

Note:  This post is an expanded version of my daily read, originally published here.