Friday, February 27, 2015

Your Plan, Not Mine

One Summer afternoon I decided to pick blackberries in our backyard for a cobbler. Many small blackberries in the front of the patch were so easy to reach. Unfortunately the big ones in the front had been picked over earlier in the summer, but hundreds of plush, plump blackberries remained on the branches in the far back. After years of overgrowth, reaching these beautiful berries was virtually impossible. Thorn-covered dense branches were everywhere. Getting to these desired berries would mean painful scratches and possible tick bites—neither of which I was willing to encounter to reach them.  

But I wanted those berries. My mind raced for outside-the-box ways in which I could get to them, but it seemed hopeless. I just couldn’t do it. I stood there frustrated and whining. It was then--in that moment--that I heard a still, small voice in my mind. Those aren’t what I have for you. Look to your right.  

As I looked to my right, I discovered a bunch of new ripe berries that I hadn’t noticed before. Quickly I turned back to the berries I wanted—the inaccessible ones. Somehow they looked bigger and better than the ones right in front of me. But God, I don’t want those berries. I want the other ones. But this is what I have for you and it is good.  

Convicted by my discontentment, I immediately began to cry and was flooded by a profound sense of peace. I realized this wasn’t about blackberries. You see I am so much like the Israelites. God provides daily in BIG and AMAZING ways, yet I continue to grumble and complain. I disliked living in Germany. I was convinced this assignment had just been one huge mistake and that everything would be okay if we could just get back to Texas…ASAP!!!  

Today I needed to write about this powerful memory. Because in all honesty I still struggle with living in Germany and, yes, we’re still living here. Thankfully I am reminded of God’s promises. He will NEVER leave us or FORSAKE us.  His ways really are so much bigger and better. That gives me so much peace and hope.

Lord, in this moment, right now, before you I confess the sin of discontentment and disbelief.  Please change my heart, my attitude and my perspective.  Please help me to see your plan rather than my own. 

Monday, March 11, 2013

But God, I Don't Want to Move

"My plans aren't your plans, 
nor are my ways your ways, says the Lord.
Just as the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways higher than your ways,
and my plans than your plans."
Isaiah 55: 8, 9 (CEB)

Last week we received the long-awaited news. We're moving. My mind is flooded with countless reasons why this PCS* will be such a huge bummer. But despite my seemingly logical reasons why a move isn't ideal, I am thankful that God has other plans. His ways are always so much bigger and better.

I'm praying moment by moment for His perspective rather than my limited understanding. (Proverbs 3: 5, 6) The thought of leaving Texas, a place that has been our home for almost a decade, is heartbreaking. We've grown to love so much about this place. As these thoughts inundate my mind, I am praying for a God-centered perspective, rather than a Jen-centered perspective. As I pray, peace floods into my soul.

There's an amazing comfort that comes when I remember that God, like a good shepherd, gives us His best. (Psalm 23: 1, 2) And even when His best isn't always the easiest or the most convenient, we can cling to the promise that He never leaves us or forsakes us. (Joshua 1:5)

God has amazing things in store for all of us through every unexpected twist and turn. And even though I'm really sad, I am excited too. New places and new adventures are coming with a God who continues to wow and amaze me through his faithfulness.

Okay, moving may not be that horrible after all. Bring on the boxes!

*That's military speak for "permanent change of station."






Sunday, February 10, 2013

Tearing Off Our Boards

"Don't talk out of both sides of your mouth,
avoid careless banter, white lies and gossip."
Proverbs 4:24

"It takes wisdom to build a house,
and understanding to set it on a firm foundation."
Proverbs 24:3

I caught our six and eight-year old boys in a lie this week. It was tempting to let the creative and amusing fib go by the wayside, but it had to be addressed. There was no getting around it. It was a lie. When my husband came home for lunch, the four of us had a talk together, and the boys understood why they needed to be punished.

"Mom, lying tears boards off my house," said our six-year-old. He remembered a book we read about a little boy who faced the consequences of lying. Here's what the wise father tells his son in the story.

"A man's character is like his house. If he tears boards off his house and burns them to keep himself warm and comfortable, his house soon becomes a ruin. If he tells lies to be able to do the things he shouldn't do but wants to, his character will soon become a ruin."*

Like the Bible, this wise father is so clear. When we lie, we not only hurt others, but we destroy ourselves. Later that day I reflected on how us big girls can get sucked into lying just like our kids.

A big girl lies when she shows kindness to others while criticizing them behind their back. A big girl lies to her husband when she entertains thoughts about being with another man. A big girl lies when she wears a mask, allowing everyone to think her life is perfect in every way. A big girl lies to herself when she judges others and is unwilling to see her own mistakes.

So how can us big girls keep the boards on our house? I love the practical biblical advice found in the following passages.
  • Pray for your enemies–those people you find difficult to be around. (Matthew 5:44)
  • Before spending time with others specifically pray that your words would be seasoned with grace. (Colossians 4:6)
  • Be real and tell other Christians about your struggles. (James 5:16)
  • Avoid spending time with women who criticize their husband and gossip. (Proverbs 20:19)
Allow the practical truths of God's word to penetrate your life. Only then can us big girls protect our boards and build a house of noble character.
*Little Britches, by Ralph Moody, 1950.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Watching Our Words

"A man who lacks judgment derides his neighbor, 
but a man of understanding holds his tongue."
Proverbs 11:12


"May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart 
be pleasing in your sight, O Lord, my Rock and my Redeemer."
Psalm 19:14

Months ago one of my boys pulled on a necklace and scattered tiny beads in a thousand different directions. For weeks I was finding beads when cleaning. It would take a lot of hard, painstaking work to repair it. In my house that means the necklace will never be in one piece again.

Our broken beads
This morning when I found yet another bead it reminded me of our our words. Whether spoken with malicious intent or carelessly, once it's said, it's out. Sometimes the damage caused by words seems incredibly difficult, almost impossible, to restore–just like a broken necklace.

Living in a small community has given me ample opportunity to strengthen my spiritually weak muscles regarding my tongue. Years ago a wise friend challenged me to simply stop talking during a conversation when our words become hurtful, damaging or unnecessary. Even pray during a conversation to keep a check on your words, she added.

I remember asking her, "You mean just stop talking in the middle of a sentence and pray?"

"Yes, why not?" she answered. "Isn't that better than saying something you'd regret later?"

Weeks later a seemingly innocent, yet totally unnecessary remark, started to come out of my mouth during a conversation with some neighbors. As I started to made a cute, yet biting, remark about another neighbor's loud dog, I was convicted and remembered my friend's advice. I literally stopped talking midstream and stammered. One of my neighbors was confused for a moment.

"Don't need to go there," I continued.

Neither neighbor seemed too concerned or interested and the conversation continued in another direction. I was so thankful for my mentor's wise, practical advice that afternoon. At first it seemed awkward to be so measured and deliberate during conversations. And even though I still struggle in this area at times, I'm thankful that God continues to refine me.

Next time you find yourself in a conversation that's going in the wrong direction, stop talking and start praying. It works!

For further study, see James 3.


Saturday, January 12, 2013

The Impossible Made Possible

"For nothing is impossible with God."
Luke 1:37

"I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith."
2 Timothy 4:7

Fully geared in lazy mode one afternoon, I sprawled on the couch poking around on our new lap top. I contemplated the flexibility of homeschooling and wondered if we really had to start school back up on Monday after an extended holiday break. An email popped up for a homeschool school seminar the next morning. Free. Encouragement for homeschool moms. Fifteen minutes away. I needed to be there.

Our bins of homeschooling books.
Can we really do this?
The next morning I was at the workshop. My friend, neighbor and fellow homeschooling mom was there too. She didn't want to start school back up on Monday either. Thankfully I'm not alone.

The veteran homeschool mom and speaker* was transparent and real. Homeschooling is tough. In fact, it is so tough it's impossible, she admitted. But with God the impossible becomes possible. Noah, Abraham, Sarah, Moses, Joshua, Gideon, Zechariah, Elizabeth, David, Mary, Paul and so many others experienced huge impossibilities. Their faith in and obedience to God opened possibilities through the seemingly impossible.

My discouragement that afternoon was rooted in focusing on the impossible. Through the wise words of this veteran homeschooler, I was reminded of why we decided to homeschool. God led us to to do it. And even though I feel like we're in the trenches of crazy homeschool insanity some days, I already see the blessings of the journey.

God doesn't call us to do tough stuff and then leave us. (Philippians 4:19) God steps in and equips us to face the impossible. The reality is that homeschooling hasn't just changed our kids. It's refining me. God is weeding out my selfishness and impatience and filling me with His grace and understanding.

I left the workshop that morning with new confidence. I was reminded that my job is to remain faithful. Suddenly Monday morning didn't seem so scary anymore.

*See her blog at whatevermylord.blogspot.com.





Sunday, December 16, 2012

Broken Christmas Cookies


Finding Truth, Hope in the Ordinary

I really tried to drop holiday activities and resisted the urge to take on additional fun stuff (like writing this blog), but the Friday before Christmas day I found myself falling into my typical holiday pace--a fast-moving, speeding train.

When I intentionally paused that morning to read a short devotional and pray, as always, I enjoyed it. But soon the quiet moment ended and my day was filled with cooking, baking and prepping for the holiday weekend. With rain pounding outside, our four children decided to join me in the kitchen--to help of course. Chaos quickly ensued. Gabe started to squeeze drops of food coloring directly on the unfrosted cookies. Extremely proud of his new decorating strategy, the baking adventure continued. Later the result was four happy, creative children, a pile of decorated and largely broken cookies, and a huge mess.  

My husband took a quick peek at the kitchen and offered to take the kids to a movie so I could clean up. Thanks, I think? In the quiet moments of clean up God met me in that messy kitchen of smeared frosting and sugar sprinkles. As I studied the pile of broken cookies they became a metaphor for my broken, imperfect life. It's only through Christ's birth, life and ultimately his death and resurrection that my broken life is made whole.

"But he was pierced for our transgressions,
     he was crushed for our iniquities;
the punishment that brought us peace was upon him,
     and by his wounds we are healed."
                           --Isaiah 53:5 (NIV)

As women our lives are truly a juggling act. God is so faithful. He met me in a real and powerful way that morning in my messy kitchen. He gave me peace and joy in the middle of my imperfect, messy, busy life. Here's to making a connection with God by discovering the reality of His power--even in the ordinary.

blogger's note: This blog was originally posted in January 2012.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

The Better Choice

"Martha, Martha," the Lord answered. "you are worried and upset about many things, but only one thing is needed. Mary has chosen what is better, 
and it will not be taken away from her."
Luke 10: 41, 42

Source: Google Images

One Fall I made Thanksgiving wreaths from a craft project in a family magazine with my children. The boys eagerly gathered up sticks. As the project started to take shape, I realized how neat and Martha Stewart-like the first wreath was becoming. Suddenly, it was now my craft project. As my possessive control grew, the kids lost interest and soon disappeared. I proceeded to spend hours with the glue gun. If the kids interrupted, I snapped at them. As I continued to painstakingly glue gun the wreaths my back began to ache. But in the name of the amazing creations it was worth the pain I reasoned. Neighbors admired the finished project asking me if I would consider making wreaths for them. The wreaths looked so amazing on our front porch.

Looking back now I realize that I missed an opportunity to do a craft with my kids, and even worse yet I sent a message to them that a craft project was more important than they were. My relationship with my kids is eternal. And like all material things, after years of intense damage from the Texas sun, my fall wreaths ended up in the trash last week. I didn't make the better choice.

The holidays are a time when my Martha spirit can go into hyper-drive if left unchecked. Just ask my husband about the year I decided to make handcrafted jar mixes for about 50 of our closest friends as Christmas gifts. Throughout the past several years, however, I have grown increasingly intentional about how holiday activities impact our level of craziness. This Christmas I am praying more than ever for God to direct our choices. I am dropping my agenda based on what I typically think is a must do. Instead I'm asking God to help me to make the better choice. Will this activity glorify God, impact eternity, encourage others or foster community?

Unlike so many other harried Christmas seasons of the past, it's my heart's desire to let go of my Martha can do/need to/must do spirit this holiday season. I want to soak up Jesus this Christmas, like Mary, at His feet.