The grass is greener……..when there’s no snow on it

People say that the gorgeous summer in Northern New York makes up for the long, harsh winter.  To which I say, it’s not THAT pretty!  But, the beauty of a North Country summer day in Sacket’s Harbor, NY is gorgeous.  Each summer, the free concert series on the waterfront provides an opportunity to savor the pleasant temps and the views of Lake Ontario.  Two of my children and I attended a concert there earlier this week.  We arrived late and had missed about 20 minutes of the concert and had definitely missed the opportunity for anywhere to park or prime seating.  I hurriedly found a street-side spot and we were off to enjoy sun, music, and the panorama.

Upon returning to my vehicle, we were approached by a man who was just fuming.  He informed me that I was illegally parked (which I was not) and that I had parked on his grass…which I did, by just a few inches.  When he had finished his tirade of how he’s desperately trying to grow grass, I started to apologize and he cut me off and angrily said, “Well, thanks a lot!” and stomped off as my children looked on in shock.

I thought about that guy a lot the rest of the day.  I am such a rule follower and I hate that feeling of not getting it right…..well, let’s just call it what it is – of not people pleasing.  I’m so thankful that God is the only one I need to please and He is the easiest one to please!

As I sat the next day praying and studying my Bible, I felt God impress upon me to return to Sacket’s Harbor, with a goodwill gesture, and apologize to the man.  My kids objected, “Mom!  He should be apologizing to you!”  Perhaps.  But, it’s the kindness of God that leads to repentance.  (Romans 2:4) The very nature of the Gospel is to give up one’s rights and extend kindness and love to those who do not deserve it so that they may understand how Christ showed us kindness and love when we so desperately did not deserve it.

Yeah, SAYING it is way easier than doing it!

So, I decided to bake some bread and maybe get some grass seed to take to him.  Ok, so I BRIEFLY thought about putting the grass seed IN the bread!  There’s that ugly flesh raising its head again!  With my heart pounding like mad, God birthed obedience in me and I was able to actually follow through.  The encounter went fine – he was cheerful and apologetic and admitted that I had caught the brunt of weeks of frustration of tourists parking on his grass and also admitted that the parking/no parking signage there is ambiguous at best. He also said he had caught a lot of flak from his wife for yelling at me.  Tee hee.  I probably enjoyed that tidbit more than I should.

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I treated myself to some solace and time in God’s wonderful presence in this gorgeous spot before heading back to my brood.  As I sat there, the absurdity of the whole thing sank in fully.  This man has put so much energy and probably time and money into growing grass there.  He lives on Main Street in a popular tourist attraction of a town, right in the hub of the restaurants and hoopla.  He also lives right next to a state historic site, Sacket’s Harbor Battlefield State Park and right by the sought-after waterfront.  Frankly, his street-side grass debacle is futile.  But the thing that really struck me is that very soon the snow here will begin to fall and fall and fall some more and his precious grass will20150813_160603 be covered by five feet of snow for five months!  Snow plows will cut into it and he’ll have to start all over again next summer fighting off the tourists.

 

Futile.

Fleeting.

 

And also familiar and frequently what we ALL do.  It is s10923499_10205348986905549_4691267104822223617_no easy to criticize the grass Nazi while all the while we spend time, energy, and emotional angst on things that are just as futile.  It could be fancy cars and houses, the latest décor for said houses, or a zillion other material things.  It could be too many games on our iphone, television shows, or <gasp> time spent on Facebook.  Or, it COULD be the things we flip out over with our families and hurt the relationship when that issue will fade just as quickly and be just as meaningless as that snow-covered grass.  Ouch.  That last one stung.

So, all the while, as I baked the grass-free bread and drove all the way to Sacket’s thinking how God might use my obedience in an angry man’s life; once again it was all about MY heart needing to look more like His.

Isaiah 40:8  The grass withereth, the flower fadeth: but the word of our God shall stand for ever.

 

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Taste and See

 

Me on cruise with Cherry Coke Zero

 

I am a soda addict.  I am specifically a Cherry Coke Zero addict.  I actually won’t drink any regular soda with the full calories.  I don’t drink many of the other diet sodas, but this one is a problem.  This is what we SHOULD have done for my daughter’s science fair project, “Does Cherry Coke Zero in fact contain crack?”Cherry Coke Zero

Seriously though, I do often worry about the health effects of it and yet I keep drinking it.  Sometimes I beat myself up about it, but then I come back to remembrance – that “beat you up” tactic is from the enemy.  Is drinking soda God’s best for me?  Probably not, but if He really wanted to deal with it, it would be a correction in context of relationship, not a condemnation.  It would be restorative.  So, I figure that God has “bigger fish to fry” in my life…..there are plenty of other things in my life that need healing and changing and I leave it at that.  I may retract this post when I turn up with stomach cancer.

That said, I know someone who did not want their children to drink soda.  So much so, she mixed a nasty concoction of who knows what – pickle juice, coffee, and other assundries and put it in a soda can and allowed her children a sip of Mommy’s drink.  Problem solved (at least until they taste someone else’s soda from a legitimate can).  Aside from the whole “lying” to my kids thing, I wish I would have thought of this!

Psalm 34:8 says, “Taste and see that the Lord is good.  Blessed is the one who takes refuge in Him.”

I know a lot of folks who have tasted “the Lord” and thought He wasn’t so good.  I’ve been there myself actually.  Perhaps He is deemed bad because of the evil He allows in the world.  Or maybe it is because His Word and my lifestyle and preferences don’t match up so I don’t like Him.  Maybe people who claimed to know Him have treated us like the red headed step child and we assumed that He feels the same.  Whatever it is, it’s a perception.  It is my belief of God based on how He has been presented to me.  Those poor pickle soda-drinking kids have a perception of soda based on how it was presented to them.

Today as I sit overwhelmed by God’s goodness, I submit to you this, “Taste and see that the Lord IS GOOD!”  A God-arranged encounter this morning left me in awe of Him.  His rescue in my life over and over again and His lifting me up in ways I never thought possible.  He is good.

If you have tasted and He has not been good, then you drank the wrong kool-aid.  He was presented in the wrong can, the illegitimate can that contained a false concoction that was not the real deal.  It was probably not intentional like the soda-Nazi mom, but you were deceived every bit as much as the kids who got the nasty soda substitute.  All is not lost.  Take a soda straight from the manufacturer and taste the difference.  Cut out the middle man that spiked the punch and seek Him alone.  “….If you seek Him, He will be found by you…..”  1 Chronicles 28:9  Seek Him with a genuine, honest heart’s desire to know the truth.  The same verse says, “Acknowledge the God of your father, and serve him with wholehearted devotion and with a willing mind, for the Lord searches every heart and understands every desire and every thought…”  He knows the heart and the intent and will gladly quench an honest search.  So as Coca-Cola once said, “Quench your thirst!”  Taste and see that the Lord is good.

 

You’re a CAR FLAB!

KittenLionDo you ever wish that you could see yourself the way that others see you?  ….Or at least the way that SOME others see you!  There have been several things said to me this past week that just blessed my socks off and I couldn’t quite believe that someone saw that, in me.   I felt like, “I wish I could hear more from them!” J

Unfortunately, the way that others see us can have the opposite effect as well.  A few weeks ago, I was also struck by a comment from someone that revealed that they must think of me as a mindless fool who can only form thoughts if someone else tells me what to think.

Indeed, our words have the power of life and death – Proverbs 18:21.  A couple of ideas found in the Hebrew root word for ‘life’ are ‘renewal’ or ‘reviving’.  A like term for death is ‘slay’.   The kind words that were spoken about me surprised me and caused me to do a double take, but they revived me and gave me fresh life to continue on, even when I don’t FEEL like I am doing so well at anything.  The negative words had the potential to ruin my mood, my day, and my purpose depending on how I choose to filter them.

And sometimes, we are just left wondering what someone thinks or how they feel about us.  “I want to spend time with this person, I wonder if they feel the same or if they are just being polite and putting up with me.”  Or, “I think I have something valuable to say, but do they just think I am bothersome or foolish?”

I can care more or care less what someone thinks depending on how much I value them in my life, how much relationship we’ve shared or depending on their character and reputation.  Are they known for recognizing and telling the truth.  Can they be trusted, would I consider them an authority?

THAT is one thing that I LOVE about God’s word!  We have an absolute authority, His Word is our filter to weigh both the “life” and the “death” from another’s tongue.  God has not left us wondering what He thinks or feels about us and His is not opinion, it is fact because it comes from the One who cannot lie, who IS love, who doesn’t change His mind based on mood, fatigue, or His own wounding, and who made us and knows better than anyone what special gifts and treasures He placed within.

The places in Scripture where God tells us how He feels about us are too numerous to even attempt to capture.  It is important to note that some things He says apply ONLY to those who have believed on Him, but He offers them to all who would be willing to receive Him.  He says we are precious, that He fights for us, He intends good for us and not harm, He will take care of us, He will never abandon us, we are the apple of His eye, and on and on.  But, my focus will be on Ephesians 1.  In Beth Moore’s Believing God study, as she develops the point, “I am who God says I am” she points 20150203_152015to this passage that tells us we are:

Chosen (v. 4)
Adopted (v. 5)
Redeemed (v. 7)
Forgiven (v. 7)
Loved (v. 4,6)
Accepted (v. 6)
Blessed (v. 3)

She gave a memory tool but somehow me and my “girls”, who I studied with, had to come up with our own acronym – CAR FLAB.  There was another version if you prefer, FAR CABL – which reminded me of “Far Capable” which is what we are in Christ, but for most of us CAR FLAB was the one that stuck.

Maybe you are challenged right now because someone is treating you differently than God’s Word says that you are. Maybe someone spoke words that slayed and crushed what you thought God was doing in you. Or maybe we are treating ourselves differently, than God’s Word says we are.  If there is a discrepancy, just know that God is right.  We are CAR FLAB.  If we believe Him, everything changes. I can start to glimpse inside of myself what someone else saw when their words made me think, “Wow! Someone sees me like that!?  Someone sees something inside of me?!” GOD sees something inside of me and you, because He put it there!  And when we speak it to each other and let one another know that we see it too – it is so validating.  “You know, I think God has given you a great gift for teaching.”  Or, “God is going to use you in this area.”  Life.  Renewing.  Reviving.

In her book, Unglued, Lysa TerKeurst speaks of going to see the great sculpture David by Michelangelo.  20150203_151947As Michelangelo looked at the large marble block, he is reported to have said, “I saw the angel in the marble and carved until I set him free….It is easy. You just chip away the stone that doesn’t look like David.”  There’s a beauty in each of us, a masterpiece.  Sometimes some chiseling is required to set it free.  Often, the stone exterior that hides the beauty was hardened there by the very words that spoke death.  But, what doesn’t look like you has to be chipped away.  If it doesn’t look like the you that God is telling you are, then it has to be chipped away.  Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.  He came to set us free.

Words stick.  Words penetrate our hearts and our belief systems. There have been things said to me that I will never, ever forget.  Some of them, years later, still cause pain.  Some, years later, still bring a smile and encourage me.  But know this, whether anyone else is speaking life or death, whether or not they glimpse the angel inside, You and I are a masterpiece.  You and I are CAR FLAB.  God says so.

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Let the Son Shine In

This past summer, we moved from Ft. Bragg, NC to Ft. Drum in Northern New York.  Yes, we do this moving thing all the time, but not all moves are equal. For me, this was one of the hardest ones that we’ve made, for many reasons. I am so grateful to know I am not alone in that, as a friend shared how she grieved for about 6 months over a particular duty station they’d left. But, God has been faithful to do kind, special things to shore up my heart through it and I have to share and give Him honor.For Blog

In NC, I had a screen room. It popped up in our back yard and it was a place for me to take a break from 3 special and LOUD mini-me’s who live with me. It was a place where I could finish a complete thought. I love to think. It was a place where I could sit with the Lord without twelve knocks on the door to ask things like, “Which Barbie dress looks prettier?” And something about being in God’s creation just brings peace. It was my mini-retreat.

Soon, my retreat space though, was transformed from a dispensable bonus to a crucial necessity. I believe that’s why God provided that space for me ahead of time because that is just how kind He is. If He has to allow something painful in my life to get me to something better, He is going to permit as little wound as necessary and then comfort and heal 100 times over. The Lord allowed a sifting season and was gracious to show me very early on, that it was such. Truly He IS near to the broken hearted and He spoke loudly and often…though I didn’t feel like He did sometimes then.   I was grieving and confused, I was depressed, I was even a tad suicidal. My daily routine became to push through what I needed to with my family and the kids’ schooling, etc. and then retreat to my own personal Urgent Care.

I could not have made it through ONE day without that time with God, let alone the many duplicate days that followed.   I needed His voice, His Word that never changes and is always relevant, and is a healing balm. Even though I was mad at Him and I blamed Him and I accused Him of wrongdoing, yet I turned to Him. Not because I didn’t let go of Him, but because HE never let go of me. We may kick and scream and fight the surgery that He is doing, but He cradles us and cuts away anyway, knowing it will give us life, life to the full.

So, day after day I’d pour out my heart and my pain, fears…and day after day His Word and His voice would pick me up. He spoke uplifting words about which I said, “There’s no way that is true, I think I just made that up in my mind or that is what I WISH was true, but that couldn’t have been Him.” But He patiently would repeat it and press it into my heart over and over.   I voraciously read during that time. What I heard that morning would often be repeated in my read during an evening bubble bath, or through a song on Christian radio, or through a sermon at chapel, or a word from a friend. He twice took me to a Women of Faith events where it made no sense for me to be there, but He again voiced the same themes that He has been weaving for nearly 2 years now. (Yeah, some of us are slower to catch on than others and it takes us a while 😉 After 6 months of my daily outdoor Urgent Care lifestyle, my husband suggested that I go talk to someone. We and others thought that I should be over it by now, and I figured I must just be crazy. I went to a Christian counselor, we talked and we tried EMDR therapy, but God again used her encouraging words to confirm that I was not “messed up” or crazy, and I WAS hearing from God and I was going to be ok….eventually.

And so, it’s hard not to fall deeper in love with someone whispering such sweet somethings, and I did fall so hard for our amazing God who has never once wronged me. And in the process, that beautiful and precious place where I met with Him also became coupled with my heart. My screen room was damaged beyond repair once – I left it up and it snowed 😦 – and I drove an hour away to get one to replace it because I couldn’t stand to be without it or wait for shipping. One of my dear friends said, “Jenn, only YOU would drive an hour away to get a screen room!” ❤

In that screen room, God took a broken, insecure, Christian caught in unbelief when she didn’t even know it, and He poured on some Miracle Gro. Beth Moore says that a sifting season is characterized by “before” and “after”. I couldn’t say it more accurately. There was a “before Jenn” and an “after Jenn”. My thoughts are different, my belief is different. He simultaneously changed the way I process all of life throughout marriage, parenting, friendships, my gifting, my purpose and most of all my relationship with Him.

We began to prep for a move north. I knew that I wouldn’t be able to use my screen room very much of the year and that was hard on my heart. I have since found that I can’t even really use it in the summer due to heavy winds here, so it hasn’t been set up since we left NC and I still miss it. Several months before our move, I began asking the Lord to give me a special place to meet with Him at our new home. Of course, it couldn’t be outside, but I was hoping for something close to outside or at least with sun. I love the sunshine and feeling its warmth, it just does something for my heart…like soul rest.

When we arrived at Ft. Drum, we stayed a few weeks in 2 different temporary cabins – some of them had screened in porches and wouldn’t you know that both of the ones we were put in DID! And it was summer so there was sun, AND they both had a porch swing – God and Cody and I also have a thing about porch swings. Man, He is good.

When we got our home, I didn’t see any place that seemed to answer my prayers. I tried our side porch, but I found there was too much neighborly activity out there for that space to scratch the itch. I often spread a blanket in the sun in the backyard, but I knew that would be short lived. Ok, that was fine. I was going to meet with Him anyway….somewhere. That was not negotiable. And by this point I trusted that He had a good reason for whatever He did or did not give to me.

As the temperatures cooled, I once again discovered the beautiful heart of our Lord if we will only be willing to see His huge blessings and not only credit Him with harsh blows. Forced inside, I still needed somewhere I could concentrate and it needed to be away from the main living space, so I settled in across our bed, right by the window. It wasn’t long before I realized that the sunshine pours through that window right at the time of day when I usually sit with the Lord. My exercise had been moved indoors as well and I had already discovered that the sun pours in the window by the treadmill at the exact time of day that I usually exercise. I had walked that morning and enjoyed basking in it and thanking Him for doing that. But wait! It gets better! Laying across the bed for any length of time, and especially incorporating writing and studying, is hard on the neck and shoulders very quickly so I began to search for a writing and studying space. There is a little nook right outside of our closet and right by a window that I thought would be just perfect for a small table and chair. I asked my husband if we could get a pub height table and chair so I’d be up high enough to see out the window and into the woods while I am thinking, praying, writing……and a Christmas idea was born.

He and his parents went together and got it for me, we researched and measured and shopped and finally got it this week! And wouldn’t you know that even though this window is on a completely different side of the house, the sun pours in this window too (on the days that we are blessed with the sun’s presence up here). NY Screen roomThe house is positioned in such a way that the sun hits sort of the corner and floods over the bed and my new writing space simultaneously. It’s like He gave me 3 special places – one where I pray and WALK with Him (literally :)), one when I just want to snuggle safe in His arms, and one for when there’s work to be done. Generally, when tears flow, something has touched one’s heart and mine are sure flowing now just telling this story. Boy, does God know how to touch our hearts all the way to the soul with such ecstasy that cannot even be put into words. Certainly I have not put it into words well, but even if you don’t understand what the screen room meant to my heart or how I hope the new space will become just as cherished, I hope you walk away knowing that we have such a kind Lord who knows us better than we know ourselves and wants personal time with us so He can give us personal gifts to our heart.  And we are ALWAYS blessed with this Son’s presence. Let the SON shine in.

Let Me Be Willing

It’s been a long hiatus.  Partly because our family made a major move this year, but partly because every time I start a draft I am hindered.  Sometimes I’m dying to share a work that God is doing in me, but I can’t because it will hurt or offend someone who might read it.  I don’t mean in the good way that God’s truth can be offensive, I mean that as I share what their words or actions did to my heart (and how God is healing and using it), they will completely disagree that they did anything to hurt me and it will further hurt the relationship.  Some things are just between me and the Lord I guess….at least for now.  Other times, I get a blog post half-way written and then I second guess whether God prompted it or not and whether I should post it or not and what my motives are.  I refuse to write a blog just because it’s been a week or a month and I feel inadequate for not keeping up or having a structure.  I refuse to write because I want a platform for my own selfish narcissism.  I believe God asked me to start blogging and I long for HIM to finish it.

That being said, I feel He’s been speaking to me saying, “Why do you make things harder and more involved than they need to be?”  And I do.  Just one example, if I need to do History lessons with my kids today, but I feel overwhelmed and I know we don’t have enough time to look at the map and the timeline and read the lesson, I often scrap it all together and try again the next day.  He’s showing me that I COULD spend just 5 minutes even and it would still make a difference.  The same with this blog.  I have wanted to only write when I have a major breakthrough, an epiphany of sorts, with the Lord…a huge enlightenment.  Those “WOW moments” are awesome; however, God has been reminding me that He most often speaks in a still small voice, more subtle.  1 Kings 19:11b-12 tells us, “And behold, the LORD passed by, and a great and strong wind tore the mountains and broke in pieces the rocks before the LORD, but the LORD was not in the wind. And after the wind an earthquake, but the LORD was not in the earthquake.  And after the earthquake a fire, but the LORD was not in the fire. And after the fire the sound of a low whisper.   God was in the whisper.  God was the whisper.

So today He whispered to me to take PWOC (Protestant Women Of the Chapel) cards with me on my run as I run right at the time all the moms are socializing at the bus stop and I pass hordes of them each day.  I really try to obey the Lord even when I don’t want to so I stuck some cards in my pocket.  I was a little later getting out the door today so I was hoping the Moms had all gone inside.  Nope.  The kids and the bus were gone, but the moms were there.  So as I circled the block toward them, I reminded myself….”I do not care what these ladies think of me!  I do not even know them!  I have people who love me and more importantly, I have a God who loves me and I am secure.”  There were 4 ladies in the first little group.  Two of them could not even be bothered to stop talking and acknowledge my “Good Morning” and follow on speech.  One politely said, “No Thank You” as I offered the card.  But one smiled and listened and said, “Thank you so much, great idea to run and advertise at the same time.”  On to the next little group right beside them.  Two ladies were Catholic and said they’d prefer to go to CWOC (Catholic Women of the Chapel).  Good.  Understandable.  One strategically turned and walked away into her home before I got there.  Nice.  Love having that affect on people.  But one really stuck with me.  She was hard as rock.  I barely got to the words “Bible study” and she flatly and sharply said, “No, I don’t want one.”

As I turned back on my Couch to 5K app and plugged my ear buds back in I wondered,  “Who hurt her?  And were they a Christian?  Was it the church?”  Sad.  I spent much of the rest of my jaunt praying for her.  When I came back around to that area, she had walked from the bus stop back to her home and was in the yard and I knew God would have me pull my ear bud again and give her a loving greeting and I did, but now I know where she lives.  New prayer stop on my route.

I came upon 2 more ladies also out exercising and spoke to them and one never said a word, but the other enthusiastically interrupted me before I even finished my sentence and said, “I’ve been looking for something like this! I am so glad I ran into you today!”  Well, good thing I stopped hitting snooze and stopped saying, “I don’t want to exercise today.”  LOL!

The variety of responses reminded me very much of the parable in Matthew 13 where some of the seed falls on  rocky soil, some are choked by weeds, but some falls on good soil and takes root.  It also reminded me of another verse that God has been using in my life lately.  Matthew 23:37 says that God longed to gather His children as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but they were not willing.  That verse struck my heart and I have begun asking Him, “Lord, show me where I am not willing. Help me be willing.”  Of course the context is about Jerusalem and the children of Israel.  But, a hen gathers her chicks to provide for them, to protect them, to nurture and God offers us those comforts if we will be willing and not hard and closed off.  In a broader sense, He spoke to my heart through that verse in that there are things He wants to do in my life, my family, my marriage, my surroundings but He doesn’t force and so He may not be able to do them if I am not willing, if I refuse to see my blind spots.  If I refuse to see with His eyes.  If I refuse to be willing.  Lord, let me be willing.

 

Runaway Jenn

Runaway BrideMost of you have probably seen the 1999 movie “Runaway Bride”……but I’ll recap.  Maggie has been engaged multiple times but always ends up leaving her groom at the altar.  She starts down the aisle and then runs the other direction.  Ike, the reporter, comes into town to investigate this runaway bride.  He interviews each of her would-be mates asks, “How does she like her eggs?” and they each give a different answer.  Ike and Maggie end up falling in love…he is her 5th betrothed and sure enough, she runs, and leaves him standing at the altar as well.   Maggie runs because she doesn’t know who she is and it terrifies her to think of spending her life pretending. She’s been camouflaging herself.  She doesn’t know how SHE likes her eggs, she just has them however her groom-of-the-month likes his.  Maggie goes it alone a while and “finds herself” and she and Ike have a climactic reunion and she proclaims, “Benedict. I love Eggs Benedict, I hate every other kind. I hate big weddings with everybody staring. I’d like to get married on a weekday while everybody’s at work. And when I ride off into the sunset, I want my own horse.”

Maggie started being who she was made to be.

God wants us to be who we were made to be.  That’s my process right now – you know the thing that God tells you and He repeats over and over in a sermon, then a book, then a song until He gets your attention.   It’s scary. Someone might actually see ME….and then run the other direction.

I read John Eldredge’s “Waking the Dead” this past spring.  God prompted me to read it, I didn’t know why, but it was more like I devoured it.  Now I know why.  Cliff notes for you:  God has placed a glory within each of us (Hebrews 2:7).  Satan is scared to death that we will live from that glory – fully alive, fully awake, as who we were made to be.  So, Satan aims arrows at the deepest places in our heart, precisely aimed at the very places that would give way to our glory (Christ’s glory).  He skillfully confirms our deepest fears of who we are so that we will just KNOCK IT OFF!  Close the heart, close up shop, play it safe, walk away, hide the glory.  Then for him it’s mission accomplished.  Christ’s love flows through our hearts….except if we’re too afraid to really let anyone close to our hearts or we’re so wounded that we don’t love very well.  We’re fully alive and we show His glory when we live as who we are made to be….but not if we don’t.

Through a long sifting process that began with that book and still doesn’t quite feel completed, God has shown me that I’ve been running…or camouflaging, hiding, pretending..…you know, different circumstances call for different measures!   But, I haven’t been fully living as who I was made to be. He’s shown me that it’s because I’ve been believing a lie.  One lie, that’s affected nearly every facet of life; and I’ve believed it to the deepest places of my heart, right where it was aimed.  Unbeknownst to me, Satan (Let’s just say satan – he doesn’t even deserve a capital letter) convinced me long ago that there was something inherently and desperately wrong with me. Like, if you and I disagree on something, I am wrong.  It’s just a given.  That’s how I thought.  So then I convince myself I don’t disagree with whoever is in front of me so I can be safe and sometimes later, alone, realize that I didn’t think what I thought I thought.  Blah.  If my relationship with someone is messed up, of course it was my fault.  I did something to cause it.  There was something wrong with my personality too…I wasn’t enjoyable enough or witty enough or whatever for anyone to choose to spend time with me.  I mean, they would if they had to like if their mom said they had to invite the whole class or if God told them to because I was a student in their class or their choir or whatever and it was their job to teach me something.

satan used MANY people, circumstances, and comments to confirm this.  (Not going to get sidetracked on the theology of that – but God’s Word says that satan roams as a roaring lion seeking whom He may devour – He IS out to devour those made in the image of Christ.)  So, it was confirmed over and over by my Dad, by Christian school teachers, by several youth leaders, by friends who decided to no longer be friends…..

It was confirmed in many circumstances, like when I couldn’t sing my solo but everyone else could.  Or when I didn’t have enough personality and quick wit to join in the “fun” with improve style games so I ran and hid….literally…in the bathroom.  Or when I was never asked to dance at the school dances and never asked to the prom.  Don’t even get me started on my damaging college years – another blog for another day, but confirmed, confirmed, confirmed.   So, the places where it was confirmed, especially if confirmed through a traumatic broken heart, became places I stayed away from.

It wasn’t confirmed much in academics or employment – I excelled there – so those became safe places that I ran to and they seem to provide shelter and safety from the areas where my presumed hideousness would be exposed and rejected.

In my marriage, when we’d struggle or fight about something, it would confirm it to me again because if I should be able to meet his needs and keep him happy.  And who sees you more closely than your husband?  “Oh no, he’s frustrated with me because I can’t handle what every other normal wife seems to be able to handle just fine.  He’s seen ME and my flaw…..he knows something is wrong with me and is bound to reject me.”  Now I feel rejected so I’m going to act out of that and……it just goes downhill from there folks.

With my kids – more confirmation.  Each argument that I felt too wrong to handle correctly made my anxiety peak and I felt like a deer in the headlights.  Each complaint or whine became an indictment that I was flawed and didn’t measure up in yet another area.

I think I hear the Lord tell me something and then I think I’m wrong and crazy…because you know there is something wrong with me and I mess up things.  God’s definitely saying that one has to go and is giving me lots of opportunities to practice.  I hear, I ask for clarity, He won’t give me much and presses me to be confident in hearing Him and moving on it.  “Believe me Jenn!”

So, with God’s help, I’m becoming more me.  I don’t know yet what that looks like completely…..maybe not as visible to people on the outside as to me who knows what’s going on inside but it’s happening.  Maybe I’m not as reserved as I thought or as shy or as whatever.  I’m starting to figure out what it means to be me and who that is and how in the world do I like my eggs?  Maybe one day I’ll actually like improv games…probably not! 🙂 I said to the Lord the other day, “I want to be funny, can I be funny?”  We’ll see.  But I’m sure my personality is exactly suited to whatever He has for me to do and whoever He wants to put in my life.

God wants me to delight in my husband. satan succeeded in squashing that….for a while!  God wants me to enjoy my kids and not just do what I gotta do and get through it.  Another arrow that hit it’s mark….temporarily.  God made me to sing and has a plan for that….satan sent a traumatic arrow there to get me to just knock it off!  But, God is saying “Move….this is what you were made to do.” And when satan’s fingerprints are wiped off, it feels glorious – fully alive.  I love to play my guitar and sing and write… like I was made to.  “Wow, God, I GET to do this?!  This is how I “have” to obey You?!  Awesome!  And feel soul satisfaction in the process?!    And You will use it for good and show people your glory in ME?! Wow!”

So, does satan have his fingerprints all over something in your life that is cheating you of good delights God intended for you to have? Is there something that causes you to run when God wants you to be able to stand at the altar and confidently say, “I will”.  Let’s not be His runaway bride.

My Beautiful Green God

We’re living in an age where it is good to be green. Everything from billboards to Facebook ads urge us to leave less of a footprint and to turn our garbage into compost. Often when science, medicine, archaeology or some other field comes up with a new discovery or a better way of doing things, we can look in God’s Word and see that God had already told us that if we had only listened. When people discovered that they would get sick from touching what is dead…guess what? I think there was an Old Testament rule about that because God wanted to protect His people. Up until World War I, more soldiers died from disease than war because they did not isolate human waste. But in Deuteronomy 23:12-13, some 3,500 years ago God commanded His people to have a place outside the camp where they could relieve themselves. They were to each carry a shovel so that they could dig a hole (latrine) and cover their waste. There are countless examples.

God also started recycling long ago before it was popular or mainstream.

It used to be that if I felt hurt, angry, bitter, depressed, etc. that then I also felt guilt. I felt stuck in those feelings, unable to get rid of them, unable to keep them from coming back; and that if I were a “good Christian” then I would be able to trust God and live in joy. After all the Bible says to give thanks in all circumstances, to choose joy, to love even when you don’t feel like it. Sermons and devotionals tell us that if we are depressed then we need to get our eyes off of ourselves. Nothing like adding some guilt to your hurt, anger, and depression to help it get better!

I’m not saying those sermons are wrong or definitely not that Scripture is wrong….that’s just how it sat with me, in conjunction with my story, my perceptions, my stuff.

This summer though, I had a faith crisis. You know, when you say to God (or think it of Him), “If you are good, all powerful, and trustworthy, then how could you….?!” I’ve also heard many sermons that say to be honest with God no matter what. He is big enough to handle our anger, our hurt, our questions. Besides, where else did I have to turn? I was gut honest with God and it was not pretty. I was angry at Him. I did not trust Him to give me good things. I felt confused, scared, worthless because I didn’t have faith….you name it and I probably felt it and said it. I’d let loose and then I’d say, “Lord, please have mercy on me, I am so sorry that I feel this way.” Because, you see, the Holy Spirit lives within me and He will never release His grip and so when I felt I had absolutely no faith and no belief, He still caused me to turn to the One source for help and to remember that He IS God.

And He did have mercy. Oh, does He have mercy! Beth Moore says we have to pour out, empty it out, so He can fill up. He began to fill up. Pretty soon I became comfortable sitting with Him in the midst of my messy feelings and just giving them to Him. “I don’t like feeling this way God, but it’s how I feel and here I am. Can I be with You?” “Yes, my child, I love you even when you are feeling these things. You are not bad for feeling these things, but let me show you what to do with them. Give them to me.”

“Lord” I sobbed. “I need You so much.” And I heard Him say, “And you’ve got me.” There’s the beautiful part. There is nothing more beautiful than to hear the God of the Universe speak to my own little messy, hurt heart. Wow.

He began to bring beauty into situations where I’d been helpless and stuck. He is not always going to fix things how we want or when we want. (The Bible actually says He’ll do MORE, BETTER than we can ask or imagine). But as He comforted I learned to say, “I just need to be here with You even if You don’t fix this or fix it my way” because that is how I felt. To be with Him is to be at peace.

And so it’s become my way. I still hate feeling depressed, angry, hurt, bitter. It feels awful, doesn’t it?! But, now as soon as I feel that icky muck setting in, I know what to do with it. So, as it sat it’s heaviness on me yesterday, I said, “God, will you take this and will you make it into something beautiful?” and that is when it struck me…God recycles! We bring filthy rags and He gives righteousness. We bring an old de-authorized Army uniform and He makes a new purse. We bring hurt and He makes it into healing.

purse pic

Purse that my mother-in-law made for me from my husband’s old junked uniform

What an incredibly GOOD God to take our uselessness and make it useful, our brokenness and make it whole, our junk and upcycle it!

I did a quick google search and found these sites http://www.hongkiat.com/blog/recycled-art-masterpiece-made-from-junks/ and http://www.pinterest.com/smcmurtrie/recycled-materials-into-beautiful-things/.  If we who are only made in His image can turn garbage into beauty and junk into something useful then how much more can a perfect, loving, awesome, personal God?  Life here is only a shadow of what He has for us.  Beyond our capacity.  You and I are beautiful and useful because God makes us that way.

The poet Emma Lazarus wrote this, now engraved on the Statue of Liberty,

“Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

It’s the idea of bringing something that’s struggling, in disrepair, with the promise of being given hope, newness, beauty. God can do that.
We all have a glory He put within us – something we were made to do and we feel alive when we do it. It’s one of God’s many delights that He gives….when it is not weighed down under hurt, anger, and guilt. He’s been giving me confidence, faith, and making me alive where I brought hurt, anger, and depression. He’s been raising me up to be who I was made to be and calling me to do what I was made to do. Don’t you just want to feel alive?! Not muted or held back?

When we compost, we take waste and turn it into a rich, fertile ground where new life can grow. So does He. It doesn’t matter how old it is or how messy. His list of acceptable items is much longer than your local recycling station. Sometimes the brightest promise comes from the oldest, messiest pieces.

One difference though, when we recycle we seek to leave less of a footprint. As God recycles, He leaves more of a footprint. There will be evidence that He has been there.

Salvation and Sea Monkeys

We, along with most of the world, recently began a new school year. We didn’t finish our science curriculum from last year which at one time would have driven me mad with guilt and defeat that I am not adequate to educate my children, but it’s all good….we just picked it up again this year. My kids are hopefully learning to love Jesus and if that is all I teach them, it is infinitely more important than all the curriculum, field trips, and extracurriculars that we often can’t squeeze into life.

So, we picked up our science curriculum from last year which is Swimming Creatures from Apologia. We also skipped a lot of the experiments and hands on stuff last year. No guilt. After about the first 5 chapters, it became too much, it overwhelmed me just thinking about getting all the supplies together, trying to bring order to 2 high energy kids who want to touch everything and start everything without instruction and one really type A kid, like her Mom, and she wants to control and organize the 2 other kids and Mom just wants to figure out what I am supposed to do with the cheerios, water, and hairdryer! It was kind of the same overload that hits me when someone wants to do paint, glitter, etc. It just doesn’t work well for a really organized, task oriented, control freak. So, the second half of our school year we’d read the material and do the review questions and notebook work and we were good.

After a summer off, I decided I was ready to tackle those experiments and projects from last years’ chapters before we start the new chapters. So I marched my 3 kids off to Petsmart to look for aquatic frog tadpoles, which they don’t have, but we came home with 3 goldfish that fit another chapter. All 3 goldfish died before I even read the instructions and got the supplies set up for the experiment. No lie. Did not last 12 hours in my care. Not giving up, we pulled out our Triop eggs and the sea monkey eggs and began again. (These are creatures that are basically dormant until you add water and they come to life.) We put more than 20 Triop eggs in and only a few hatched but we were stoked. Then the sea monkeys hatched and we had at least 10 little white, feathery looking things swimming all over the place. I was like, “Yes! I am conquering the dreaded hands on, ‘fun’ stuff! I am a good teacher mom!” Then all the Triops died. Did I mention that I kill plants too? We did Botany the year before. Almost nothing came from my garden, I’m horrible with flowers and it’s a wonder that my children are alive. I promptly went to my To Do List and crossed off “Order tadpoles”. We are skipping that one.

We went away for 2 nights and I fed the sea monkeys before we left and tried to put them in a place where they’d stay the right temperature and thought sure they’d be fine when we got back. Nope. All but one died. A few days later, we had another unexpected trip – another 2 nights and I was thrilled to see our one sea monkey survived the abandonment. I fed him when I got back last night and several times over the past week, I have suctioned out the muckety muck in the bottom of the tank, which probably consisted of dead sea monkeys, eggs that didn’t hatch, leftover food, algae… and I added fresh water. He had doubled in size!

So, in the midst of all this science and everything else we do, I’ve also been sitting with Jesus. He is good. He is the best part of my day. He has been teaching me so much and changing me so much and helping me to overcome so many things that I thought I’d never overcome and I wouldn’t have – it’d be impossible without Him. As I keep blogging more, you are going to hear more about all that, as it is way too much to capture in one post, but He has set me free from food addiction, marriage issues, extremely painful heart breaks and so much more. He has been lifting me up to walk in strength rather than insecurity and I’m just like, “Woah! Where did that come from? That was NOT me!” I can hardly wait to write more about each and every thing He’s done! But, you know that still has to fit in around raising kids and raising sea monkeys.

So I got home last night from the trip, where He had just worked more amazing wonders, and I suctioned out yucky water and muckety muck again and put in fresh water for the sea monkey. This morning I looked in on the little guy and I could not believe what I saw. Two tiny miracle babies! And I did a double take and I thought, “There is absolutely NO way that those eggs could have survived and hatched! It’s been weeks and I keep cleaning out all the solids and changing the water and….” And then God whispered to me, “I bring dead to life.” And I just started to cry (which I do a lot now that He is moving a lot of things from my head to my heart). He brings dead to life.

I often wondered why things didn’t move me more, like when I think of Him giving us salvation rather than hell or when I think about His mercy to us over and over and how much He loves us. Or when my husband or children do something that should touch my heart and it hasn’t. It’s because much of my heart was still dead or closed off and sometimes I didn’t even know it. But there’s been a shift lately…. He has used pain to cause me to seek Him harder, to realize that I need Him more and then He showed up and showed off. He is amazing, He is sweet, He is indescribable. That pain, even though I begged Him to fix it and thought I wouldn’t survive it at times, was worth it for deeper, intimate relationship with Him. It’s not just something people say, it’s real. I don’t understand why it sometimes has to come through pain, I’ve studied it some, may write about it later, but for whatever reason, it is true. And it is the most gracious thing He can do for us – to cause us to realize that there is more that He wants to give us but He’ll not force it on us. We share in His sufferings and then are given life, just as He died and then raised to new life. Beauty from ashes. Sorrow for the night and joy comes in the morning. All true. And now I know it not only in my head, but in my heart.

Like that sea monkey, I feel like my heart has doubled in size. As if saving me from my sin wasn’t enough, He saves me over and over again. He clears out the muckety muck that suffocates us like it would suffocate the sea monkeys. Ah, it feels so good to be able to breathe. Just like those dormant creatures, we come to life when He adds living water. He brings dead to life…even sea monkeys.

God Plays Guitar

I love music.  I LOVE to sing.  I guess I always have.  As a child, I sang at home, I sang in the school choir, the church choir, in Christian school competitions, I sang in youth choir and we even got to go on tour twice and make a CD…well, ok…it was a cassette tape – it was a looong time ago.  We teens sang every time we were in a church van going anywhere.  As an adult, I still sing on the praise team, and while doing chores, while driving, and whenever I get the chance.  I’ve dabbled at learning the piano and the guitar in hopes that I’ll always be able to thrill to music even if there’s no one around to play it for me.  Something about it fills up my soul and satisfies.  It’s like it is what I was made for – it’s a God-given delight.

One problem though – The enemy wants to keep us from anything that fills our soul and satisfies.  Did you ever notice how Satan wants to destroy God-given delights?  Well, that’s another blog for another day, but it’s true.   And he sought to cut me off at the knees.  Dictionary.com defines that cliche as ” to squelch or humiliate (a person) suddenly and thoroughly” and he did.

I was ok as long as I was singing for fun in the church van or if I was in a large group, but the smaller the group, the larger the stage fright.  I’d become a nervous wreck as the time approached, I’d forget the words in the middle of the performance or lose my place on the sheet music, but the one that really crippled me was a school program night when as a congregation of family and friends (and worst of all my peers and teachers) looked to me for my solo, my voice simply didn’t work.  My mouth moved, but nothing came out.  NOTHING.  I felt like a complete fool.   I wasn’t good enough.  All the other kids sang their specials, played their piano pieces, and conquered the stage. I didn’t.  I couldn’t.

Since then, I still sing, but I am limited, restricted, inhibited.  I sing in safety.  When there’s a situation that is not so safe, I stress, I tense, I survive, but never thrive.  God has given me opportunities to sing specials, lead worship, speak, and even to play piano for chapel  and I usually make it through without complete humiliation but I want more.  It’s like Satan shoved me into a tight box and demanded, “Stay there!”  Anytime I’d try to move beyond it, he’d squash me with fears of failure and foolishness, nausea, and the like.  “Stay!”  He’d further hem me in with the guilt, “You’re not Godly enough to just perform for God’s glory and not worry about your performance.  You’ll always worry what people think and be too afraid”

So, when it is safe – at home, or with a few close friends, I enjoy soul-filling, satisfying singing.  And when it’s not I survive….with a tight voice, in a tight box.

Until….God started stirring….God has been working….ok, He is always working, but lately He’s been working overtime and allowing me to be aware of some of it.  He’s been asking me to obey, to believe, to sacrifice, to grow…..now THAT is for many other blogs for many different days.  But, He’s been calling me to more.  He’s been enticing a desire within me for more.  And serious Christ followers know that ‘more’ doesn’t come easy.  Beth Moore talks about ‘more’ in terms of a promised land – a place of abiding in God’s love, a place of great victory over our enemy, a place God prepares for us and longs for us to inhabit and she says if we haven’t made it to our promised land, then we can be sure the enemy is standing on it in defiance.  She says further that our promised lands will always involve conquest.

So, I’ve been in conquest.  And one night as I was particularly weary from a seemingly never-ending conquest, Beth Moore taught that in some battles, God requires our all – 100 percent.  In some battles, He says,  “Just sit back and watch me show up and be awesome.”  I felt like I was in a battle that required my all, and that I had already given it but the battle still wasn’t over or won.  I said to the Lord, “Can you please just give me some of those battles where you just show up and be awesome?”  I felt like He spoke to my heart that He was going to and He was going to do it with singing.  I felt like He said, “I’m setting you free from the stage- fright box.  Go enjoy singing, even when it’s not safe.”

Of course by the next morning I thought, “Was that real?  Was that Him?  I must be crazy.”

All I know is, every time I’ve sang since then it has been different.  Even on the day when I was the only vocalist that could be there on Sunday to lead along with the pianist.  It was fine.  My voice wasn’t shaky, weak, held back, or boxed in.

I kept wondering if there was something to this apparent freedom and was considering coming up with a semi-safe test like a special number with the rest of the praise team.  And then the Lord said this, “I want you to lead worship Sunday with your guitar.”  “Say what Lord?  I don’t think I heard you correctly! Lord, do you remember that I just started to play guitar a couple of months ago and that I couldn’t even play in a safer arena at small group and that I have terrible stage fright?!”  Yep, Moses had nothing on me with all the excuses.  Yikes!  I kept asking for confirmation, but something (or should I say someONE) caused me to tell our worship leader that I would do it.  SomeONE caused me to not take the easy out when not one, but two chances came for an easy out that would have relieved the pressure.   One day I thought, “I’m doing what on Sunday?!  I don’t even know how to play guitar!”  I was truly shocked as if this was news to me!  And I don’t know if I have ever been SO aware of the war going on in the heavenlies as during the days preceding my debut!  Again, another blog for another day or this one will become a chapter book.  Warfare right down to me dropping my pick inside the guitar while I was playing which I never do!  And I thought, “Satan is just messin’ with my mind!”  Ha, like that’s a news flash.

Somewhere during this spiritual tug of war, I came across a blog that was encouraging yet terrifying.  In it, Holley Gerth said, “Sometimes looking like a fool comes with the territory of God-sized dreams….Have you stepped out in faith and wondered why you feel like a fool?….If you’re not willing to look goofy in the eyes of others at some point, you will never make it to your God-sized dream.”    And I wondered even more, “Is God going to show up and be awesome?  Is He warning me that I am going to look like a fool, and that is ok?  Is He going to allow me to look like a fool in order to help me conquer the fear of looking like a fool?  But I don’t wanna!!”

Sunday morning came.  I had my wingmen – so thankful that Aimee and Hoop were handling the vocal part with me!  But, it turns out that God plays guitar.  He carried me through, He moved my fingers to the right chord positions because I could not have done it amidst the nerves, the sweaty hands, feeling like I would throw up, and the pressure.   I laughed today as I tried to play a couple of the same songs as I worshipped at home and I fumbled through them and could not get the chords.  Because, on Sunday GOD played guitar.   And that tight box is not so tight anymore.

“He brought me out into a spacious place; he rescued me because he delighted in me.” Psalm 18:19 NIV

I marvel that I set out to do something for Him and say, “Ok Lord, I’ll obey” when He was really doing something for me. I stand amazed that He would allow me to be the one to receive praise as people said that I did well.  Who me?  I can’t sing safely.  I can’t play guitar.   God plays guitar.     Emilys PA trip 022