12.11.2015

From the other side of the chrysalis

I've had a few weeks to process the dissolution of our weekly Milkweed Momdays. This past Monday was the first without the Bible study written on my calendar. (To be more accurate, it was written on the calendar, but I crossed it off.)

Through reflections both in solitude and in the safe exploration afforded by the presence of gentle and wise friends, my perspective is widening beyond the sacrifice of my "baby" on that mountain. I'm still grieving the loss of the group, but I've begun to see it more as a change, an apotheosis as opposed to a death.

Here's what I've realized. The Shepherd had been leading me and the members of Milkweed along still waters, instructing us to rest and receive in the cool, plush grass. Many of us were in need of healing, a regrouping in loving, Christ-centered community. One mama told me that she came because, in her words, "I had to." Others agreed with that sentiment, driving incredible distances because they too felt compelled to plunge into the Word and open their souls to one another so as to root down deep into good soil. And we grew up fortified, as Milkweed should be, and we nourished one another and were nourished by our Source.

But that place of respite was not where the Shepherd wanted to leave us. He, who is also the Gardener, wanted to prune us so we could mature and spread. 

Had our loving Daddy not nudged me to surrender the group to Him on that pre-Thanksgiving day, it may have stayed as a place of receiving. But Milkweed has always been His project, and He wanted it - wanted us - to stop taking in and start giving out. Now we had the foundation of relationships, accountability, prayer, and study of His Word, which is what disciple-makers need to follow the Great Commission in Matthew 28:18-20. The Spirit kept bringing this passage back to my mind:

~No prolonged infancies among us, please. We’ll not tolerate babes in the woods, small children who are an easy mark for impostors. God wants us to grow up, to know the whole truth and tell it in love—like Christ in everything. We take our lead from Christ, who is the source of everything we do. He keeps us in step with each other. His very breath and blood flow through us, nourishing us so that we will grow up healthy in God, robust in love.~
Ephesians 4:14-16 (MSG)

Here's what is so exciting to me: Since we ended the weekly in-person meeting times, many members have reported they have had opportunities to start meeting with other women, sharing their faith, discipling them, encouraging them in their walks with Jesus. The Shepherd is leading us onward, into the dark valleys, to bring Jesus' light out of the 2-year-olds' room at First Christian Church and into the hearts of the lost and the hurting. YAY GOD!

My dear friends, if you know people who have wandered off from God’s truth, don’t write them off. Go after them. Get them back and you will have rescued precious lives from destruction and prevented an epidemic of wandering away from God. 
James 5:19-20 (MSG)

I still don't understand all of this, but I am in awe of what Daddy has revealed thus far. And I am riddled with delicious anxiety for what He is going to do next. 

Thank you all for being part of this adventure! The best is yet to come...

~This resurrection life you received from God is not a timid, grave-tending life. It’s adventurously expectant, greeting God with a childlike “What’s next, Papa?” God’s Spirit touches our spirits and confirms who we really are. We know who he is, and we know who we are: Father and children. And we know we are going to get what’s coming to us—an unbelievable inheritance! We go through exactly what Christ goes through. If we go through the hard times with him, then we’re certainly going to go through the good times with him!~
Romans 8:15-17 (MSG) 

12.03.2015

Unsent

Dear Shawn,
It has been exactly 10 years since we met. If you hadn't left this earth that day in July, I wouldn't have realized this. I also wouldn't find myself tearing up at thoughts of eating toast at a family restaurant, or searching intensely through my CD collection for that scratched-up disc with "Trudy" scrawled on it which we found in a parking lot, deciding I absolutely must keep it.

You had been burned by a coworker; I had been burned by a workplace. We were partners on the job and cautious to engage personally. I discovered you had advocated for me to get the position, even though you hadn't known me. Screw the boundaries - that endeared you to me forever.

Advocating is what you did, who you were. You were a social worker in every cell of your body.

We worked with kids, but neither of us had any; neither of us wanted any. You succeeded in that goal. I'm deliriously happy with my failure there.

I'm going to miss you, even though we haven't seen each other in over five years. I had invited you to my birthday party when my parents still lived in Michigan; you couldn't make it because you were studying for your social work exam. Always so dedicated. I was proud of you, regardless of the outcome of that standardized test.

We talked on the phone, through the Internet and, our shared favorite, by written correspondence. I came across one in a pile the other day - a card you had written me after I had become a mother. In your characteristic fashion, you ran out of room and took your expansive, blooming printed letters onto a small stack of notes piled within it. That handwriting encapsulated my mental depiction of you: welcoming, flowing, not concerned about limits or minutiae.

You once handed me a CD by the band Keane. You'd bought it thinking it was Kanye (West) and were disappointed by the purchase. You weren't embarrassed by the mistake; you moved forward with transparency and laughter, then gave the  album to someone you thought might appreciate the music.

You gave. Without thought or pretense, you just handed things to me to keep. Many became treasures. (Keane did not.) I admired how pragmatic you were, all the while housing a sensitive heart that could tap into others' needs and address them. 

I have the ornate clock you gave for our wedding. Not on our registry, nothing I would have thought to seek out, but it's one of my favorite presents because it was gilded with careful thoughtfulness. It hasn't had batteries in it in years, but it has always held a place of prominence in our home, a beautiful reminder of the joy of unexpected gifts.

I'm endlessly grateful God brought us together for our season. You helped me recognize my caffeine dependency, I gave you a copy of 'Jesus Calling'. I'll never forget your allegation that the author, Sarah Young, was stalking you based on how timely her insights were per devotion.

We talked about life beyond small talk and clich├ęd philosophies. We talked experience, perception, theory, hope, and you regularly challenged me without a verbal confrontation. You were not made squeamish by the underbelly of humanity, didn't shy away from the darkness of living; it was all part of the story. All part of the richness of the discussion.

You told me about the illness while we were walking on treadmills. It was our only shared workout, but had I not moved out of state I'm certain we would have had many more. Your dad had been diagnosed, and it appeared your sister would be, too. It was troubling, but you could cope because that's what you knew how to do.

A few years later, you told me you were diagnosed. I didn't know what that meant until your communications became more disorganized, your planning less long-range. We talked on the phone, and you were approaching the final stages of grief - I had missed the first three, although you probably continued to bounce in and out of them.

It became harder to know how you were. We didn't share a friend group, so when you wouldn't return messages I didn't know what to think. I'd just pray and wait.

You were going through so much loss in your life, and I kept a distance so as not to add the stress of updating your absent friend. You chided me for that. I saved that voicemail. As long as my iPhone allows it, I'll keep it.

Your mom was the one who took over communique after you could no longer text. She was gracious and kind, despite grieving the loss of her partner and the impending loss of a daughter, both to the same black hole. She reminded me of the ladybug outfit you two picked out for my daughter when she was a newborn. It resides in a "keep-me" box, its color faded from frequent wearings.

I cried when she said you were in a coma. My kids didn't know what to make of my tears. The boys were still infants, but I sat my daughter down with the 24-piece puzzle you'd given her and explained who you were and that you would be seeing Jesus soon.

You went home to Him later that week. My daughter put the puzzle together for the first time after the news came from your mom. It was the best tribute I could imagine.

It's the holidays, when we think of those we love, and even more so those we have lost. I am approaching my birthday again, remembering the one you had to miss. I'm not sure why I'm sitting in this memory in particular, but it is an honor to have it to wrap around me because it reminds me that I wanted you there and you wanted to be there and we existed in one another's hearts. And, in the end, isn't that what true friendship is?

Thank you, Shawn, for journeying with me, sharing with me, and coaxing me out to play. Thank you for being consistently you.

By His grace & in His time,
--j

11.22.2015

Cocoons

On November 1 of this year, I wrote in my journal, "I feel like something is about to turn."

The next day, we met for our weekly Milkweed Momday and launched one of our own monarch butterflies, a mama named Jamie, out of our milkweed and into her new adventure.

"How exciting," I mused to my Shepherd. "Now, what's next?"

I felt Him inviting me up a mountain. It looked like a beautiful hike. "Make sure you bring your baby," He told me.

And as I climbed, I realized the baby was none of my three biological kiddos. No, it was the Milkweed group. I was praying over the members, checking in with them, prepping for our time together each Momday, posting to them in our online forum in between groups - what had been His creation had certainly become one of my precious children.

It was then that I realized He was getting ready to do a dramatic reenactment of Abraham and Isaac in Genesis 22, asking me to sacrifice that which I loved so dearly. No worries, I thought, there will certainly be a ram caught in the bushes up ahead.

I invited my prayer pals into the journey, sisters in Christ who have stood with me, holding up my arms and carrying hope through dark seasons, and who have also leapt with me during joyful celebrations. They listened, prayed, counseled, and encouraged me, and I was again reminded of the beauty of authentic, mutual community.

This past weekend, I arrived at the altar. I got ready to surrender Milkweed to Him, then looked around for the ram. There was none. The Shepherd just stood there, arms open, asking if He could have the group. And, with tears in my eyes, I handed it over.

I don't know what is next. What I do know is the peace that I have accomplished what He called me to do in the Bible study/prayer group/play group so many of us have enjoyed. We ladies have entered in pain, confusion, crisis, loneliness; we have abided, cocooned, and most have flown off with their beautiful wings fashioned by the Creator.

And it has been wonderful

I have peace I can confidently say with Paul:
~I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.~
2 Timothy 4:7

The online Milkweed group will continue, and we'll see what our loving Daddy has in store as we continue to do community virtually!

I'm going to end this difficult goodbye to our Milkweed Momdays with one of my favorite quotes from Pastor Erwin McManus of Mosaic:

~I don't know if you know this about butterflies, but there's a transitional period when they're still in the cocoon, and they don't know they're a butterfly. They think they're a caterpillar. And in that moment it must be incredibly disturbing to realize that you no longer fit in your home. See, a cocoon is a perfect home for a caterpillar, but it's not the right kind of home for a butterfly. And there has to be a moment when that butterfly realizes that it has new appendages that are called wings, and it begins to break out of its cocoon, destroying what once gave it safety and security, that place called "home", so that it could fly and experience life in a way it had never known and would never know as a caterpillar.~

See you on the other side of the cocoon, my friends.

11.08.2015

Holes in Wood

There is a popular anecdote about a kid with anger issues. Here's a version of it:

"'There once was a little boy who had a bad temper. His father gave him a bag of nails and told him that every time he lost his temper, he must hammer a nail into the back of the fence. 

The first day the boy had  driven 37 nails into the fence. Over the next few weeks, as he learned to control his anger, the number of nails hammered daily gradually dwindled down. He discovered it was easier to hold his temper than to drive those nails into the fence. 

Finally the day came when the boy didn't lose his temper at all. He told his father about it and the father suggested that the boy now pull out one nail for each day that he was able to hold his temper. The days passed and the young boy was finally able to tell his father that all the nails were gone. 

The father took his son by the hand and led him to the fence He said, 'You have done well, my son, but look at the holes in the fence. The fence will never be the same. When you say things in anger, they leave a scar just like this one. You can put a knife in a man and draw it out. It won't matter how many times you say I'm sorry, the wound is still there.'

The little boy then understood how powerful his words were. He looked up at his father and said 'I hope you can forgive me father for the holes I put in you.'
 
'Of course I can,' said the father."

Often, the point drawn from this story is that words hurt. But I want to focus on something else: The power of the wood left behind. Let me explain.

One of my friends in high school was a cutter. I was fascinated by his scars - not because I was macabre (although I was), but because he had stopped self-injuring and become a Christian. Those scars were now part of his redemption story. He was embarrassed by them, hid them with long sleeves, but to me they were beautiful banners of God's transformation and healing.

I love those visual reminders of our journeys.
I love that we have proof that we haven't always been where we are today.
I love that these "holes in wood" keep us humble, keep us permanent students.

My daughter became a permanent student at 9 months of age. She has a scar on her forehead from being too headstrong in a porcelain bathtub. Hilarious symbolism aside, it will be a great opportunity for us to teach her as she gets older that she's already reaped lifelong consequences of disregarding wise counsel.

And learning continues in our home. I have a scar on my arm from hurrying too much while cooking, receiving a long kiss one evening from the oven rack. You better believe that I've slowed down considerably in the kitchen!

See, we all have holes in wood from bad habits, signature sins, our pasts. Some of us hide them, denying them and, consequently, their power from our testimony. But wouldn't it be great if we embraced them as our loving Daddy has, weaving them into our connected stories so others can learn from them, be encouraged by them, praise God for how he has brought us to our current place of being? Maybe a little something like the letters found at Verses 3 to 5...

I hope the dad in the story decided to keep the fence as it was. That way, the son will always be reminded of his temper, but also grace and redemption.

11.05.2015

Trajectory

The videos I store in my head seem to be cataloged into three categories:
1. Life-changing moments
2. Non-life-changing moments that still made an impact for some reason
3. Things that pop up from time to time which I've forgotten about until God has some reason to remind me of them

On my anniversary, I'm playing the memory of standing on that playground in October 2007, shivering with friends and family from the damp coolness as my fiance slides a ring onto my finger.

As I'm hanging ornaments, I'm remembering that weird commercial for a Santa hotline my brothers and I laughed at during our preteen years, singing the jingle ad nauseum for our parents and creating obscure parodies for our own enjoyment.

Today, I had a Category 3 visit. Every time this memory leaps onto my mental landscape, I'm amazed it hasn't taken up permanent residence in Category 1. But I'm grateful it hasn't because it's maintained its potency each time the Spirit has brought it back. Here's the story.

When I was dating a guy I probably shouldn't have ever dated, I was invited to be in a wedding. I had never been in a wedding, and I didn't know what I was getting into, and I'm going to skip that story because I think it has passed its point of being useful for any kind of edification. The end of it was that I was no longer going to the wedding, and I suddenly had my Memorial Day weekend free.

That Sunday, I was at church, responding to a gentle but persistent nudging at my heart. "I surrender," I told God. "Take my life, and do what You want with it."

The next day, I was en route with my paramour and some friends to an amusement park. We had to take a few expressways to get there, and, not being the driver, I had brought along a book to read in the backseat for the two-hour trip.

I looked up just as the driver jerked the car to the right, causing us to fly off the road and into the downhill embankment. We careened through wet ditches and weeds, until the SUV came to a full stop with its nose pointing upward toward the highway and its rear wheels locked in mud.

"What happened?" we all exclaimed in unison. The driver pointed back at the road, at a car parked in the right lane of traffic. No one was in it, but as we scanned toward the waist-high weeds we had just blown past, we saw a figure emerging and tugging at his pants zipper.

Yes. This individual had parked his car in the road to pee. And we should have all been dead.

By God's grace and that alone, our driver had made a knee-jerk maneuver as soon as the car in front of him swiped to the left because of the parked car. Had our driver gone left, we would have been in an accident. Instead, we went right, and the area where we landed was safe enough to "drive" on. We were in a 4x4 vehicle that had not flipped over despite its trajectory, and no one was injured.

A few days later, my beau and I broke up. It wasn't until quite some time after that I put it together that my cry to God on Sunday had brought on this about-face, making us all reevaluate the trajectory of our own lives. I had not been injured in the accident or the relationship, but my loving Daddy had something bigger and better for me, and He needed me to let go of what was holding me back.

Definitely a Category 1 memory.
And after I'm done praising Him for this, I'll go back to forgetting it until He wants to remind me again of His power, His plans, and His faithfulness.

11.01.2015

Toeing the line

I don't know many people who are great at hearing the word, "No."
 
In fact, as I typed that statement, I attempted to tally up everyone in my mental Rolodex who could graciously accept a negative response, and no one popped up. There has to be at least one person I know who is gifted in that area; I just don't have them on speed-dial for it.

And as I typed that last paragraph, I realized there is a large portion of the population who would not know what I was talking about when I referenced "Rolodex" and "speed-dial". But now I'm just growing tangential.

So "no" is not a welcome word for most of us. Lately, my 3-year-old daughter has been exemplifying for me what I do when I hear it.

Moxie: Can I stand on this chair?
Me: No. Climb down from it.
Moxie: Can I sit on it?
Me: Yes, you can sit on it.
Moxie: Can I kneel on it?
Me: Yes, you can kneel on it.
Moxie: Can I squat on it?
Me: Yes- Wait! Now you're standing on it again!

She hears the no, but then wants to know how close she can get to the line without crossing it. Actually, in her case, she doesn't care if she crosses it; in fact, she believes I may not notice her crossing it and all will be well.

And then I think about all the times I've done that with God.
He says, "Tithe," and I ask if it's okay if I hold back when it doesn't look like I can buy all our groceries that week.
He says, "Don't lie," and I ask if omitting information is okay.
He says, "Don't have any gods before me," and I ask if I can just have this one habit that He doesn't get to have say over. Just one. And it will be little. He'll hardly even notice it's there.

And that line, no matter what it is, is always so tempting. And once we have it in our mind as something to stay away from, it is now ironically luring us toward it.

~...but each person is tempted when they are dragged away by their own evil desire and enticed. Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death.~
James 1:14-15 (NIV) 

One of my friends did a sermon in high school - our youth group took over the church once a year and pretended we were the pastors for a Sunday - and he hit the nail on the head for a solution. I can't recall the context of this point, so pardon me as I just barge in with the gist of it:
Instead of asking how close can we get to the line, how about we look at what else we can be doing? How about we simply strive to stay away from the line?

For high-schoolers, of course this was referring to sex and all that leads up to it. And that's a discussion for a different day (Synopsis: We need to stop telling teens that premarital sex ruins their lives, and instead help them make good, informed decisions out of a personal passionate love for Jesus).

But even today I find myself asking those questions. When I'm tempted to worry, and I'm thinking, "Well, I could always just make a few plans, get some ducks in a row to help God out..." I need to take a breath and turn away from that delicious, gorgeous, magnetic line.

The Holy Spirit is helping me become more sensitive to my tendency to toe the line, praise God, and I'm usually catching myself before I get totally dragged away.
It also helps that I have a live-in little girl who reminds me how silly I look.

10.28.2015

Fits and starts

I am no stranger to inconsistency. I know how to start a project with passion and drive...and never finish it. I have a spotty history of coming and going in friendships and commitments. And, as a native Detroiter, I have weathered the vacillating reputations of the Pistons and the Tigers (although the Lions have been fairly consistent through the years).

And then something happened.
Namely, The Message version of Ephesians 4:2:
~And mark that you do this with humility and discipline—not in fits and starts, but steadily, pouring yourselves out for each other in acts of love...~

"Fits and starts..." Oh man, I did not need to finish reading that passage. The phrase had me pegged, and it felt awful. No matter how well I'd tried to hide it - no matter how successful I'd been at doing so - I knew I was living inconsistently. And my consistent, unchanging God longed to get me on track and in rhythm.

As I read further in the chapter, Ephesians 4:14 (this time, the NIV) nailed me again:
~Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming.~

"Tossed back and forth..." Yep, guilty again. I was an immature threenager who just wanted new new new! I loved me some new trends, new insights, new voices. But this thirst for novelty was causing me to wander away from the solidness of The Truth.

And so I relinquished my fits and starts in favor of the seeming boringness of consistency. It took a lot of practice and some embarrassing accountability, but my loving Daddy finally has me on the right path. I'm still not always great at it - my personality type is not known for its conventionality - but God's grace covers my flaws. 

And Ephesians 4:2, after punching me in the gut, taught me to stay humble as I learn this life of discipline. <3 span="">

10.23.2015

Burnt Out on Burnout

There has been a common underlying theme in several of my conversations recently. I think the title of this post gave it away - maybe I should have been a bit more sneaky and teased the story better. Next time.

As I was contemplating how prevalent burnout is among women who love to serve in ministry, who are sooooo ready to use their gifts, I realized what a marvelous scam it is for the enemy. Get in there when the hard worker is doing her thing for Jesus, make her think she needs to do more and do it more often, and soon she no longer wants to do any of it.

Boom! One more soldier he doesn't have to worry about.

And here's the real kicker: If you don't think you're prone to burnout, you're totally prime for the picking.

~Pride precedes a disaster, and an arrogant attitude precedes a fall.~
Proverbs 16:18 (GW)

So let me, a recovering burnout addict who was always either burnt out or on my way to being there, explain to you the intricacies of it through its own metaphor.

When a candle wick is lit, it's a steady burn. If it doesn't take a break and get blown out from time to time, it will burn away more quickly. The burning does not speed up; it just continues on its course. When the end of the wick is reached, the flame goes out. That's it. No grand finale, no dramatic exit - it just ends. 

In other words, one Sunday you may be worshiping in church next to someone, and the next week she isn't certain she still believes in God. Sound familiar? 

For me, my body would give off signals like pain in my right shoulder or acid reflux or trouble sleeping, but I'd shrug them off as general life stress. I kept telling myself, "People are counting on me! God wants me to be doing this as my ministry to Him!"

Let me be straight with you in a way no one was with me: If you're serving from wick that is about to die, God isn't asking you to keep going. He is asking you to rest, to say no, to back off, to be still. 

~"Be still, and know that I am God
I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth!”~
Psalm 46:10 (ESV) - emphasis mine

He doesn't need you to keep going, and He doesn't want you to make yourself sick. He created your body with amazing warning systems that He intends for you to honor, and He created His body with amazing helpers equipped with giftings to come alongside yours. 

A burnt-out heart is so contrary to what He desires. In its burnt-out state, it is next to worthless in kingdom work. It takes a lot of time and healing for it to even wish to return, and then it may come back guarded or, worse, jaded. 

But if you are burnt out, please hear me on this: His arms are waiting. He can restore you. Let me throw a truth sandwich at you:

Bread
~“Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.”~
Matthew 11:29-30 (MSG)

Middle
~The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.~
Psalm 34:18 (NIV)

Bread
~Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!~
2 Corinthians 5:17 (NIV)

Garnish
~“Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland."~
Isaiah 43:18-19 (NIV)

Got that? He wants you to step away, sit in His loving and grace-filled presence, be made new, and witness the new life He is growing in and around you!

Let's stop listening to the enemy's subtle lies to keep going in our own strength because "this needs to be done." That isn't what Hebrews 12:1-3 is about. When we fix our eyes on Jesus (vs. 2), He will give us His energy and will renew us to soar on wings like eagles.

Oh, and to revisit the metaphor one last time, if there isn't oxygen to keep the flame lit, no matter how much wick is left, the fire will die. So take a breath.


9.30.2015

Digesting with gratitude

Dear patrons of the local Mexican restaurant my family frequents,
Thank you for allowing my husband and me to argue in your midst. Thank you for averting your eyes and not [audibly] questioning our decision to hash it all out in front of our young children. This has been a long journey for us to get to this place in our marriage, where we can be real with each other and show our disagreements instead of forced pleasantries.

Unlike our children, we did not witness many couples who loved each other arguing and then reconciling. Perhaps that is why we do not always fight fair; nonetheless, we are learning, and so are our daughter and two sons.

And thank you, staff, for giving us space so we could have this honest - and heated - discussion. You were attentive but not intrusive. It can be hard to have such tension in your establishment, and I can assure you we plan to return without gloves on. That's what reconciliation looks like, and we do it well because we've had a lot of practice.

Gratefully yours,
A couple still in training

9.22.2015

Of Lemons and Lost Paychecks

Before the onset of children, my husband sold his reliable red 2003 Ford Focus ZX5 so he could get something bigger, more adult-looking, with more trunk space. He wanted to be able to haul our film equipment more easily, and there were only so many Tetris moves he could do to fit it all in the little hatchback.

And so, of course, we ended up with a bright yellow 2003 Mini Cooper. It met every need on the checklist - except for being bigger, more adult-looking, and having more trunk space. But it looked cool. The controls inside were like a space shuttle. It had leather seats and two moonroofs. The October day we took it home from its private seller, we went for a long drive and dreamt aloud of all the adventures we would take in it.

But first we had to do some minor maintenance. Since it was a BMW product, we had to take it to a special BMW shop. Which we didn't know at first, causing a simple oil change at our regular mechanic to result in a leak. We got that fixed, and a few more things, and we were back on the road. Bob bought cute little Mini Cooper accessories from other enthusiasts and enjoyed his new status of being part of this secret club of car owners.

A month later, we were looking at a positive pregnancy test, then over at the miniscule backseat area, trying to figure out if a carseat could possibly reside there. Around this time, we had to take the car back into the BMW shop for some mystery malfunctions, and we were out another paycheck. But, dang, that car was cool! And so we paid the bill and were back on the road, measuring leg room and evaluating seating arrangements. 

And then the Spring came. We had not fully appreciated that two moonroofs with no shades to close  in Phoenix would bake us alive. The air conditioning did little to cool it, and we couldn't use music to distract ourselves from sticking to the leather seats because some of the radio wires weren't working right.

As I grew in size throughout the pregnancy, I dreaded riding/roasting in the car and then climbing up out of it. The fact that the car was in and out of the shop so frequently canceled any plans to take it on those vacations we'd discussed that first night. So when I took it to get emissions testing done and heard grinding as I turned the steering wheel, I was ready to just park the car and leave the keys on the seat as they had done on the stinky car episode of Seinfeld.

Eventually, we had to accept the Apostle Paul's sentiment, "'I have the right to do anything,' you say--but not everything is beneficial" (1 Corinthians 10:23). We put the car up for sale. It took several months, but it eventually sold - almost one year to the date we had bought it.

And so it is with relationships, my dating friends. If it's a lemon from the beginning, don't buy it. If you're already driving it, sell it. No matter how cool it looks, if all it does is drain you, you'll just keep dumping more into it and longing for the road trips you will never take.


9.19.2015

From a mom of 3 under 4 to the incoming grad school student

Below is a letter I posted at my new blog, Verses 3 to 5, where Christian women can post letters to their former selves. God's grace is so good!


Dear 22-year-old Jessy,

First of all, I know how closed you are to advice, especially any that comes from someone who approaches you with an attitude of, "I'm older, so I know." It seems condescending, and I will strive to avoid that here.

You're busy. So very very very busy. And you're going to crash...eventually. If you start now, though, you can build a support system who will surround you and encourage you so you don't break apart upon impact. Yes, that is contrary to your m.o.; you prefer to stay isolated when you're suffering. But that is pride, not wisdom.

Today, you lead a Bible study full of moms of young kiddos, and you divulge embarrassing stuff every week. And it feels good. You've had to ask for their help on several occasions, not the least of these being when you had three little kids and couldn't pull yourself away from the restroom longer than an hour due to a stomach bug that wouldn't quit. These ladies have held you and prayed for you and loved you when you were pregnant with twins, the size of a manatee, wearing your husband's pajamas and no makeup. You want this, but you haven't known what it looks like. Now you do.

So check out your friends. You have a bad feeling about a few of them, but you're not listening to yourself, and you'll regret that. It's not weak or rolling in holy bubble-wrap to have friends who love Jesus, and you don't have to say goodbye to those who don't. But if you take some time to write a mission statement for the next 5 years, align yourself with it, and hold yourself accountable to at least one Jesus-following woman who truly cares about you, you won't end up having to do all the backtracking you'll have to do otherwise. After all, it gets harder to hold it together - "it" includes relationships - the more you alienate people through your intense need for privacy.

Community is a blessing, so get involved with a small group at Genesis now, before you don't have time for it. Get the relationships in place so you can rely on them in the tough spots ahead. This will teach you how to share openly, learn from others, live congruently, prioritize your relationship with Christ, and all kinds of other things you're trying to do on your own. Think about that, Jess: You're trying to be in community by yourself. That's ridiculous.

But you don't have anyone calling you out on it because you're ducking and hiding. Let's call this what it is: Fear. Listen, girl: The God you serve is not one of fear! He is a God of love and grace, and He's bigger than all your bad habits, stupid decisions, and irrationality. There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love. (1 John 4:18) That isn't a condemnation of your lack of progress in the journey - it's a call to be perfected even more! He cherishes you and wants this for you! You are the daughter of the King!

So, before you head into not having a life for more years than you yet realize, get your walk with Jesus straight. Relinquish the crazy control you're grasping for - your husband and kiddos (one of whom is banging his head against a glass cabinet right now) will teach you that you don't really have it anyway! - and relax in the path He's designed for you. It will be long, hard work, but you will enjoy it with the right people by your side.

By His grace & in His time,
--j



9.11.2015

The Inclusive Misfit

This morning, I watched my firstborn swallow her animated boldness to don the ill-tailored costume of a timid wallflower. It was her first tumbling class, and she was the youngest kiddo, the only new student, and therefore did not yet have a self-selected buddy. She hung back as the more experienced students ran, hopped, and jumping-jacked their way around the small dance studio. And I felt every one of her feelings.

I was a misfit as far back as my memory is reliable. There was nothing more incredible than finding that other misfit and finally having someone to stand next to, someone to giggle with, someone who didn't care about fitting in or adhering to others' standards. Because it wasn't that I wanted to be included with the other girls; I recognized our differences enough to respect the cordial boundaries we set at even the earliest of ages. Still, I consistently yearned for someone who "got" me.

And God was gracious to me in that. I met many other girls and boys, gals and guys, who were just "off" enough to get along with the masses but not go along with them. We formed covalent bonds the likes of which only the marginalized know. But that was not where things ended.

See, it would be too easy to form a sort of reverse-discrimination clique, full of snark toward the rest of normalcy. I saw that kind of thing, I tried it out when I was young and angry, and it left a bad taste in my mouth. No, to be more accurate, it sickened me. Why do to others as it has been done to you?

I serve a Savior who broke bread with tax collectors and prostitutes, a God who loves the downtrodden and the orphans. How then could I isolate and then alienate?

So, instead, these misfit friends and I inadvertently attracted other stragglers - ions, I suppose - into our universe. We created adventures and relationships and conversations that engaged other outcasts. We might as well have carried a blazing neon sign that read, "Feeling left out? Join us!"

And this is the lesson I want to share with my kids. I want to grab each one of them every day and sing to them, "It's okay if you don't fit in. Don't try to! Find others who share your values, your interests, your taste for life, and then journey with them. Bring others along - you are no better or worse than anyone else."

The hard part is that this type of lesson often comes through empathy, which means my words won't be enough. They will need to feel lonely and left out. This tears at my mama heart, and I pray that I won't get in the way of the experiences God puts in their paths to give them a greater sense of compassion. Including today's tumbling class.




4.01.2015

Corrosion

As I've spent time in authentic community - something I avoided for years out of fear of being known - I have started to see how the Spirit has re-sensitized me. Or perhaps there is no "re-"; perhaps it's for the first time.

For example, today I experienced a frustration, and I thought through a careful reaction & implemented it. But I still felt lousy about it, despite the tactfulness I was so fastidious to apply. And then I realized why my spirit wasn't at peace: It was because I hadn't gone to the Spirit first to get my feelings in check & my perspective adjusted. I had done it "in the flesh", to borrow an old-school churchy term.

I guess I see my prayers as a battery that has tons of corrosion that has built up on its ends from slow leaks. Some energy still gets through from time to time, but it's more the exception than the rule. The easiest thing is to toss the whole mess out & just say, "Screw it all." But my loving Daddy has given me this new chance to let Him chisel away at the muck, replenishing the juice inside and giving my terminal a polished sheen so all the volts can get through.

And I couldn't do it on my own, because prayer is just a transaction when I'm on the go. When no one is holding me accountable, I tend to just present a list of wants, sorries, and sometimes a thank-you. But being around others who are conversing with God gets me to the relationship part, which is really what prayer is about anyway. I'm sensitized & charged up & ready to connect.

3.30.2015

Eating Hands

My kiddos are adorable, but not brilliant. At least, not yet. When I go to nurse their hungry little 4-month-old mouths, I often find they have preemptively shoved a fist into it. In an effort to sate their appetite, they find something that works in a tactile way but not nutritionally.

If only they knew to wait! That their mama is equipped and happy to provide them with what they need to thrive!

And yet I do this so often with my own loving Daddy. I'm hungry, desiring something that could very well be good for me, but before He meets that hunger I stuff my face (figuratively) with something inadequate, but something I can control.

In time, my boys will learn to keep their hands out of the way when it comes time to eat, just as their older sister eventually did. I pray that I will, too.

~Why spend money on what is not bread, and your labor on what does not satisfy? Listen, listen to me, and eat what is good, and you will delight in the richest of fare.~
Isaiah 55:2

3.19.2015

Should You Stay or Should You Go?

Okay, this one may hurt. Loving Daddy, let any wounds that result be trusted as those of a friend (Proverbs 27:6) & as those of Your truth.

Earlier this year, we were discussing in Milkweed our theme verse/passage for 2015. Mine is justice, specifically as it relates to the "fast" described in Isaiah 58:6-12. As I've been meditating on this, the Spirit has been redefining my perception of oppression & justice: It's not just about slavery, the homeless, minorities, & other headlines in the news, although all of those require us to take action & show love.
In particular, the oppression & justice I am becoming personally aware of is in our relationship with money. One area this is especially evident to us as moms is in our perspective on working for a paycheck.

When I was about to go on maternity leave, my coworkers were certain I would return. As one pointed out to me, "There is no way these days to raise a family on one income." Know what is missing in that statement? Faith. Or, more specifically, our Provider. And yet, so many of us live our lives as though this is an area He somehow lost control over. As soon as things get tight & the checks may start bouncing, we - and I've done this too! - immediately start browsing Indeed.com or checking for gigs on Craigslist.

What few of us do first is be still & ask Daddy what He wants out of this time of scarcity. Is it a chance for complete dependence on Him, an opportunity to see His faithfulness in tangible ways, through the sacrifice of our [false] sense of control? Or does He truly want us to return to the workforce at this time, to contribute financially to our family's bottom line? He has created you & has a plan for you. For some of us, that means working; for others, that means staying at home. But we must not get His long-term plan confused with our short-term circumstances, no matter how anxiety-inducing they may be.

So, how will we know if we're in His plan? If there is Divine peace in our decision. (FYI: He provides for the working mama & the SAHM alike!)

If you're facing this quandary, I don't know the answer for you. I do know you need to be asking God what He wants & listening for His answer. It's easy to try to solve the problem through our own common sense & elbow grease, but if He wants you at home with your kiddo(s) and you're making a paycheck or sitting in a classroom, your role as both mom & His daughter will be impacted...as will your children & your marriage.

The Spirit can set you free to have a fruitful relationship with & healthy perspective on money. What you give your kiddos, your partners, & the Lord will be returned to you & then some - as long as it is given in obedience & faith.

~Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.~
Luke 6:38

2.28.2015

The Power of Relaxing

So I was driving home this evening from taking my 3 sick kiddos & under-the-weather self to see my dad off to his flight back to Hungary, and I heard an interview with DJ Dan Deacon. In honor of the end of this week of rest in Milkweed, read this excerpt & prepare to have your brain shifted a bit!

"I was doing what I thought was relaxing, but was actually just killing time: I was on Facebook. And a friend of mine posted a video from the Toronto Film Festival of Bill Murray talking about his approach to acting — or his philosophy about life, I guess. And it just completely blew me away, because he said, 'Whatever your job is, the more relaxed you are, the better you are.'

And to me this was just like, 'What are you talking about? I forgot that word even existed!' Because I very much was a person who was motivated by stress; I would use a deadline as a motivator. I think a lot of people do that, where they're like, 'I'll just wait until the last minute, and that'll light a fire underneath me and I'll get it done.' And I just kept thinking, 'Well, that's a terrible way to live. Why am I building a house and lighting a fire in the basement just to see if I can finish the roof before it burns down my whole house?'


I started realizing how important it is to truly relax, and in relaxing, to be bored. You have to be bored. If you're not bored, your mind is never gonna wander, and if your mind never wanders, you're never gonna get lost in thought, and you're never gonna find yourself thinking things you wouldn't have otherwise thought."

-Dan Deacon

2.12.2015

The Consequences of Cleansing

God loves object lessons. Just look at the Old Testament prophets & how He had them deliver important messages to kings! So here's what He taught me last night. Does this make me royalty?

Bob & I had a much-needed date night last night (with the boys), so we went to an inexpensive family restaurant with his birthday money & pigged out. I ate portions & food I haven't had in years. And last night, when I attempted to digest it all, my body told me that was a bad idea. I had so well cleansed myself & re-sensitized myself with a recent fast, healthy eating, etc., that this old way of doing things was clogging me up & making me sick. It's going to take a while to get back to stasis!

And as I pondered this, gripping my tummy in bed and wincing, I thought of a movie that is being released this weekend that is jamming up my news feed with controversy. And I thought of how, as we draw closer to our loving Daddy & perfect Master during this time, indulging in entertainment, habits, & activities that once brought us delight could now clog us up because of our increased sensitivity to junk. Granted, Christian movie critics will see this film, and sociologists who love Jesus will buy tickets to evaluate it as a trend in our culture. But this is not Schindler's List - the violence & distastefulness in it doesn't serve a noble purpose, and I have yet to see a compelling reason for many of us to show up to the theaters.

Ultimately, your choice of what to select off the menu is yours. The New Testament tells us the good news about liberty instead of legalism, thanks to Jesus setting us free from the law! But I encourage you, if you don't want to be sick after a time of cleansing, be careful, little eyes, what you see - it will affect you more in your new season than it would at another time. And that is God's gift to you!