Saturday, August 5, 2017

Week 39 (The Work of Waiting)

I'm waiting. Waiting for a tick, a twinge, a sign that says things are moving forward. Week 39 for an expectant momma is the longest week in the history of all the weeks of the entire world. Her wait is the longest wait. Her wait is longer than Tom Hanks' wait in Castaway. She laughs in his waiting face as he's talking to Wilson. Her belly is her own Wilson.

This time next week I will be holding my baby boy, James.

To you 7 days might not seem so very long. And you're exactly right. But something happens during Week 39 and time starts to tick for Momma in a different way.

My nursery has been ready for weeks. My hospital bag is ready to go. I finished, weeks ago, all I could do at work at both school and the studio.

And now, I'm just waiting.

Last week I talked to Vicki about the waiting. My dear friend who with two babies of her own understands completely the week that is 39. And she reminded me of something simple: use your time. Do something. Don't wait. Work.

Don't wait. Work.

Smart, huh?

And so for the past several days I have devoted myself to creating. I've used my days to create approximately 25 original prints and a slew of handmade cards for the studio. I ordered new inventory for our boutique section. I sat with the blogger of Love Gaston and she interviewed me about the studio. I lettered on a wooden cut out for Vicki. I completed the write-up for our Created to Create event in the fall. I took my boys for cheeseburgers. I TOOK THEM TO THE LEGO STORE AND THE DISNEY STORE. After typing this, I will build a robot with my boys for Bible School.

I've also binge-watched four seasons of Call the Midwife. (Does this count?)

Don't wait. Work.

And you know, what? The work has made the wait all the more bearable. In fact, the work makes the wait completely bearable.

I'm so busy working that I forget about the waiting.

There's a verse we Christians love. We say it at graduations and as encouragement to each other. A simple verse that conveys hope and inspiration to persevere.

But we use it completely out of context. And I want to tell you why.

"For I know the plans I have for you," declares the LORD,
"plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future."
Jeremiah 29:11

Oh, how true this verse is. God speaking directly to His beloved people. And every word he breathes is true. For those he has made righteous and called according to his purpose (That's you!) he has great plans and a beautiful future. Oh, what a sweet, good, and true promise!

The same goes for the people he was speaking directly to that day: the people of Israel who were being forcibly removed from their homes and about to be taken into exile, as prisoners, to Babylon.

Well, that doesn't sound so good, does it? The words forcibly, prisoner, and exile do not sound like words filled with hope nor do they sound like words that describe a non-harmful situation.

But God would use this time in Babylon to prosper his people. 

If we jump back to verse 7 it explains the Exiles should work hard for the prosperity of Babylon. In fact, they should embrace the time spent there. How much time? God tells them they will spend 70 years of waiting in Babylon before returning to Israel. 

So what do they do during 70 years of waiting in exile? They work. They live. They build houses and plant gardens. They have sons and daughters. 

And when the time of waiting is over, they will call out to God and he will hear them. They will look for him with all their hearts and he will be found. He will restore them and send them home to good things.

So the waiting and the work are worth it.

Here's what I want you to know today: waiting is hard, work makes it easier. The rewards are worth it.

I don't know what your wait is. I don't know how long you've been waiting. But I do know that being consumed by the wait isn't healthy nor is it productive. Work in your wait. And remember that God is watching the clock of your wait just ask much as you are, if not more. Jeremiah 29:11 says he is the one with the plans. He's the one that knows your future. We wait-ers are to be the workers. We wait-ers aren't the planners. That's God's job.

I know God has the perfect birthdate for my sweet baby James. I know his birthdate has been appointed from the beginning of time, that it is significant and purposeful. I don't want my James to be born on a misbegotten date of my choosing. I'm willing to wait for the perfect day God has planned for him. 

Are you willing to wait for God's perfect plan for you? I know you are. 

So use your wait and work. Build your house, plant your garden. Make your mark.

I'll be over here cheering you on from my Week 39. I hope you'll do the same for me. 

Sunday, July 9, 2017

If He Calls, He Equips

I have a clear picture in my mind of my husband watching a softball game this past spring. He's standing on a hill just beside right field, away from the crowd so he could monitor our sons in the nearby playground. Ball cap, jeans, sneakers, he holds nothing in his hands, but they are lifted up to his shoulders as he grabs onto the straps of a black backpack. If you looked inside the backpack you'd find camera equipment, nothing else.

Most people who looked his way would have just seen a dad, watching a game.

But I saw more. Because there's so much more there to see.

My husband is a pastor. I don't know if you know any pastors in a non-pastor way. A family member, an old friend, a co-worker. Pastors are just regular guys. But their calling is hard.

People are hard. We are loyal and fun and smart and genuine and loving. But we are also messy. And my sweet husband does the work of helping people sort out their messes.

He does a good job. A hard job.

So when I look at him, standing on that hill, I see a man asked to a high calling. Taking care of Jesus' people. And in that backpack isn't camera equipment, but he is equipped.

Callings scare us. When we're asked to be bold for Jesus a dozen questions come to mind:

Who? Me?
I haven't been to seminary.
I don't know the answers.
I'm scared of what they will say.
I'm not smart enough.
I don't love enough.
I don't have enough faith.
That's too hard.
Fill in your blank here.

I don't know what you've been called to do, what situation God has asked you to step into. But I do know this, if Jesus has called you, He will equip you.

Now may the God of peace, who through the blood of the eternal covenant brought back from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great Shepherd of the sheep, equip you with everything good for doing his will, and may he work in us what is pleasing to him, though Jesus Christ...
Hebrews 13:20-21

I own an art studio. And if you've known me longer than five years, you've probably asked yourself, "Was Jennifer an artist and I just never knew it?"

This question makes me laugh because it is such a good one to ask. I was not an artist growing up. But God asked me to open an art studio. He equipped me with artistic gifts in my mid-30s. Gifts I didn't even ask for. They just appeared. He was equipping me with the talents I needed to open His studio. It still marvels me today when I paint, draw, or letter on a project. I praise Him because it's all His equipping. 

Listen to me when I tell you none of us is special. We are all apart of that big conglomerate of messy people I mentioned before. None of us is perfect, none of us better than the rest.

But there is one thing that sets some apart and that is the word, "Yes." 

Because when we say yes to the call from God, great spiritual work is done in us. Vast doors are flung open from the Holy Spirit and we receive knowledge, peace, and abilities that are not our own doing. 

I think of Acts 2 when the disciples began to preach the Gospel in languages they had never spoken before:

And they were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them that ability. 

God will not equip me for a task I will not say yes to.

I see my husband on that hill, holding on to that backpack. I see him leading a church, teaching and loving people. I see him leading our family. And I see him standing alone doing it. The weight of it hit me deeply. But then I saw the backpack. And the still, small voice says:

I've called him, so I've equipped him. I've equipped him with wisdom and peace and my very own presence.

And the same goes for you, dear friend. And for me. 

God will ask us to do big things and small things in His name. For our good and for His glory. And we may think that we're just not enough. 

I'd like to tell you that's a lie, but it's not. We're not enough. Our talents and brains aren't enough to accomplish the high callings of heaven. But if we step up to our calling and say the yes, we get the equipment. 

"But my God shall abundantly supply all your needs according to the riches of his glory in Christ Jesus," says Philippians 4:19. 

The riches of Jesus are pretty vast. If I were to dip into His supplies for my calling, I feel certain I would be properly empowered. 

So what's holding you back? Time? Education? Energy?

Or is it fear? 

Why don't you say yes? And watch that empty pack on your back be filled with all you need to succeed. 

Friday, June 16, 2017

A Father to the Fatherless

Hello, my friend. It's Father's Day. And I want to talk to you. Just to you. Not to all of our sweet friends who have present and faithful and good daddies. This Father's Day post is just for you. So lean in, I have things to tell you.

I'm not sure what your story is. Your Father Story. Did he leave when you were a baby? Or when you were a teenager? Is he sometimes there when it's convenient for him? Or has he just never been there? Did he walk you down the aisle? Or did someone else stand in his stead? Did he make some rotten, no-good mistakes that shook your world to the core? And you've found forgiveness, but the connection is just gone?

As I type these words, I weep with you and the dad-shaped hole he has left. Because I won't tell you a lie. Daddies are important. Research shows that fathers who are present in their children's lives create adults who are empathetic and more joyful.

We are our best selves when loved by a dad who gives his best.

But there are some who just don't get the gift of a good dad. And guess what?

It's not your fault.

I have several dear friends who have Rock Star Status Fathers. And, in their adult lives, you see the fruits of love-seeds their dads sowed in their lives: security, joy, self-assuredness.

I also have several dear friends who feel an intense lack of belonging on Father's Day. Their day left to wonder what could have been, what should have been if their fathers had done their job.

Dear friend, your dad had a job to do. Given to him by a holy and good Creator. And that job was to love you, shelter you, and lead you to Jesus. If your dad failed at these things I am sorry. And I have three truths to tell you today:

Forgive him.

Find a better Father.

And embrace Him.

See, fathers are humans. And just like us they are made of flesh. And that flesh comes with baggage. Things like their own upbringing, bad experiences and bad choices, holes of sin they cannot climb out of. We need to find a place in our grown-up hearts to forgive the wrong they've done us and to move on to better things.

Better things like a better Father.

Listen to Psalm 68:

Sing to God, sing praises to his name;
lift up a song to him who rides through
the deserts;
his name is the LORD;
exult before him!
Father of the fatherless and protector of
is God in his holy habitation.

Let go of the things your earthly father can't be, or won't be. And cling to the things your heavenly Father can be and will be and ALREADY IS.

Our Father God comes and finds us in solitary, deserted, lonely places. He will love you with the intense love that only a Perfect Father can muster.

This perfect Father is also the Father of your earthly Dad. Let this perfect love that is completely yours transform your heart. Let go of the anger, the hurt, the emptiness, the loneliness, the trying-to-fill-the-dad-shaped-hole-with-whatever-thing-that-seems-to-work.

Use your heavenly Father's love to overcome to lack of your earthly father. Use your heavenly Father's love to forgive your earthly father. Use your heavenly Father's love to move on and reclaim your Daddy happiness.

I don't know why God chose you to walk this fatherless path. But I do know if God chose it for you, then it is good. Instead of clinging to a vision of what you missed, cling to the firm knowledge of what you have: shelter, security, and love from the One who will never hurt you or leave you.

It's funny, but somehow I think the fatherless are actually the fortunate. You see, it's you alone who understand the importance of a father and you alone who find all you need from our Heavenly Father. You know the completeness of being filled by Him above and no other. His love alone is perfect. No father, even a present one, can accomplish this.

"Every good gift  and every perfect gift  is from above," says James 1:17, "coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change."

This Father's Day, rejoice and celebrate. Be free and be full. Because you clearly have a Father. And beloved, He is the very best Daddy you could ever have.

Sunday, May 21, 2017

He's the One Parting the Water

Then Moses stretched out his hand over the sea, and all that night the LORD drove the sea back with a strong east wind and turned it into dry land. The waters were divided...
Exodus 14:21

I want to tell you a story. It's about my oldest son, Wyatt, who spits out wisdom from his little seven year old heart faster than I do at thirty-six. This is not one of those precious, precocious stories that I love to share about my boys. This story is so full of good and real and it changed my life a little today.

I hope it will do the same for you.

Three weeks ago Wyatt received his first real Bible. He is quite the pint-sized theologian spouting out intense biblical knowledge like, "The Old Testament just had Numbers. The New Testament has 2 Timothy."

Word, son. Word.

This morning he was sharing his biblical prowess with his little brother, four year old Morgan. 

"Morgy, do you know about Moses parting the Red Sea? Mom, where is the Red Sea?"

"Egypt." (This sounds right. Maybe? Where is the Red Sea? Eh, Egypt sounds good. He's seven. He won't know if I'm wrong. This, folks, is parenting at its finest.)

"Morgy, Moses took his staff and pounded it down and the sea parted right down the middle so the people could walk through."

This is where Morgan, who is surprisingly listening to the story, questions, "Where was Jesus?"

And this is where my Momma heart is so pleased that he asks such a question. I wait for brother's reply, expecting something like: "He's not born yet" or "He's not in this story."

But his answer, friend, makes me want to weep. Not as a proud Mommy, but as a fellow sojourner in this Christian walk. 

My fellow Believer, Wyatt, says, "He's there. Not like really there, but He's the One parting the water."

He's the One parting the water.

Do you hear it? Does it sink into your heart with Holy Spirit power and clarity? 

How many times have I whispered Jesus, I can't see you. Jesus, I can't feel you. Jesus I can't hear you.

And He's there. He's the One parting the water. 

I look ahead, out over the vast sea. Not being able to see a sliver of land on the other side. And I cry out, Oh the enemy is so close behind! He will overtake me. There is no escape. I can't see a way around or through. 

I am hopeless. 

But why don't we see it? Opening up in front of us? The way ahead is as clear as day.

My friend, I want us to understand this truth today.

You can't see Him. But He's there. 

Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy...
I Peter 1:8

Oh, how I promise you. He's there. And your believing in Him, Him who is holy and good will bring you holy and good things.

He turned the sea into dry land, they passed through the waters on foot-- come, 
let us rejoice in him.
Psalm 66:6

Let's listen to our sweet Christian brother, Wyatt (who I just yelled at through gritted teeth for having caused intense amounts of chaos for the entirety of our Sunday afternoon. Perfection will not be obtained on this side of glory, friends...even for master theologian, Wyatt Smith).

When the enemy taunts and the waves seem rough and there is no land in sight, fix your eyes on Him who is unseen, but who is really seen in everything. 

Because He's there-

He's the One parting the water. 

Saturday, April 29, 2017

Oh, the Thinks I Think

Oh, the thinks you can think! 
Do you remember this rhyme?
It's a Seuss poem that 
Celebrates the wonders of your mind!

I've thought quite a bit about thinking this week. I'm not sure whether it was the heavy amounts of rain or the change in seasons or the stage of my pregnancy, but my mind has been a whirling dervish of thoughts lately.

I can't seem to shut them off. I think about everything. A list for your amusement (and maybe even your commiseration):

  • did I feed the cats?
  • is the garage going to flood?
  • we need to spray the yard for bugs.
  • I don't read enough to my four-year-old
  • I wonder if I need a better quality pre-natal vitamin?
  • should I change my Facebook privacy settings?
  • I need to plant a garden!
  • does this mole look funny?
  • my house is too cluttered...
  • I must immediately rid my family of half of our possessions!
  • we need to have a cook out for the twentysomethings in our church.
  • how long do lemons keep?
  • let's paint the house white!
  • I hope so-and-so doesn't think I'm mad at them.
  • I can't remember the last time I cleaned my Keurig...
  • Is my Keurig slowly killing me?

You get the gist. A whirling dervish. A tornado of constant thought and activity leaving trails of debris and cluttering my mind.

Indeed, I may have the entire cast of Seussical: the Musical performing a litany of worrisome songs up in my brain:

Clean the coffee maker
You silly oomph!
Germs are slowly growing
and killing you, to boot!

I'm fairly certain this is not the freedom my Jesus wants me to live in. In fact, He has commanded me to not worry. To not ask these silly questions, but to seek after God and His Kingdom. 

"Just chill," says Jesus Christ, Savior of the World.

How do I do this? Chilling is hard for me, Lord. You have made my incredible brain. You know how it is wired. You know it so well, in fact, that you knew to tell me while you were walking on the earth  to stop worrying and to settle down.

Like I said, I've been thinking about thinking. And I think I have found a way to help us calm the storms of our mind. Lean in now, you don't want to miss this.

Colossians 3:2 says, "Set your mind on things above, not on earthy things."

Scripture is giving a clear command of what "thinks" should be taking up space in our brains, things above. Before we get into what these things are, let's focus on the second part of that verse. Earthly things

I bet you can help me add to this list of what is considered an earthly thing. In no particular order: wealth, power, success, fame, ALL THE THINGS I COULD BUY, impressing people, pleasing people...

I could go on. Maybe some of these things don't seem sinful...and you'd be right. For example, Disney World is my jam. I would go to Disney World twice a year if I could. It is truly the most magical place on earth. I see the gates with Mickey welcoming me and my heart starts to sing a little bit. 

But guess what? The House of Mouse is totally an earthly thing. So what do all these earthly things have in common?

They don't matter. Hear me when I say this....They. Don't. Matter. 

This is why Paul tells us in Colossians to not put our focus on these fleeting, momentary fillers that don't make one bit of difference in the Kingdom of Heaven.

So if these are the things I shouldn't be focusing on, what are these things above that should garner all my attention?

Heavenly things, darling. Eternal things. The things that actually do make bits of difference in the Kingdom of Heaven. Things like loving others, the solid rock truth of Jesus, praise and thankfulness to a living God, the spreading of the gospel of Jesus, generosity, faithfulness, perseverance, and hope. Wonder that such a great and mighty God cares about the thoughts in my head.

Heavenly things sound, well, heavenly, don't they?

Your beautiful brain was made to think about wonderful things, good things, eternal things. 

Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. 
Philippians 4:8

I hope you'll join me in this new way of thinking. I hope that when the tornado of worrisome activities start to circulate in your mind you'll stop and give several minutes of focused attention on the things that actually matter. 

Oh, the thinks I was made to think:
Bright things! New things!
Good things! True things!
I shall turn my worries into praise
I won't waste my thoughts,
Not for one single day!

The next time our brains are eager to clutter themselves with earthly things, will you join me in saying no? Let's make an effort to not waste time with things that just don't matter. Let's set our minds on things that do.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

I Think a Change Will Do You Good

I used to love reading celebrity gossip. I mean, it was my jam. I knew who dated whom and when, where they lived, where they went on dates. I could tell you who had won the Oscar and who had designed their dress. The Golden Globes were my Super Bowl. Dusty knew this evening was sacrosanct to me and I was NOT to be disturbed. I frequented a celebrity gossip website...daily. One of my favorite websites was a "blind" gossip website where they would share horrible stories of celebrity misbehavior and we mortals would guess who it was. Now, I never participated in these conversations. I was above that....

Geez. Even writing this makes me cringe with sadness. It's okay if at some point in reading the previous paragraph you judged me a little. I mean, I'm reading it about my own self and going....Oh, gosh. Such loser behavior.

So why do I share the shame of my past as a celebrity stalker? Because I want to prove something to you:

People change.

A few years ago, I looked at Dusty and said, "Did you know it's been almost a year since I've bought an Us Weekly?"

To which he admitted he had completely noticed. See, my sweet husband always called me out on my bad habit. God had been knocking on the door of my heart about this gossip habit, too (yes, talking about famous people you've never met is gossip), but I swept it under the rug. Pretending it wasn't that big of deal.

I never made a conscious decision to lay down the magazines and the gossip, it just sort of happened. One day, I just didn't care all that much anymore.

And, coincidentally (or was it?), it happened around the time I began Bible study. Don't get me wrong, I wasn't spending all my time studying the Word. I still had free time, still had hobbies. But this gossip thing no longer had a hold of my heart, and honestly, I forgot about it.

This ugly habit went away when I started filling my heart with God's wonderful Word...and I didn't even notice.

I realize you may think indulging in celebrity gossip isn't a "big deal" kind of sin. But it is. Gossip in any form and partaking in salacious stories are not God's best for me, filling my brain with details of lust and cheating and selfishness.

So I tell you all this in order to tell you this: God's Word will change your heart. In little bits and pieces and in great chunks. Sometimes noticeably, but most of time in quiet whispers and in a soft remolding of your heart.

Romans 12:2 tells us, "Do not be conformed to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind."

So how do I renew my mind?

By coming to Him and His Word. Ephesians 4:23 discusses putting off our old selves and doing what Jesus taught. Jesus taught us that the ways of this world lead to sin and death.

For crying out loud, how we need to put these things away. These sins that drive us farther and farther from the perfect peace God intended we have. We need to renew our minds by leaning in to His Word which renews both our mind and our heart. We learn to think and feel in new ways. 

Sometimes this new thinking is loud and thunderous and instantaneously life changing. But most of the time it's still and small and blink-and-you'll-miss-it. One day you'll wake up and say, "Hey, I don't do that anymore..."

And it's Jesus.

Let me encourage you today if you're desperate to change in some way and you're in God's Word, but it's just not happening:

It is happening.

If you are in Jesus, even if you're dealing with the same old issues, you are being made new. You may fight the same sins, but I guarantee you they are not the same in frequency, intensity, or the length of time between temptation. The struggle of the sin fight you are in is evidence itself of a great work God is doing in your heart.

My friend, please don't give up in the fight, believe that He is accomplishing an amazing work in you.

And then one day, you'll be scrolling through a legitimate news website and see a tiny vignette concerning, ahem, a Kardashian, and you'll think hmmm...wonder what that's about? You'll go to click the link, but then, your hand will stop. You just don't click because you just don't care.

And you'll sit in your kitchen and think, huh...this Bible thing really does work.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

What I Gave Up for Lent (And It's Not What You Think)

Jesus has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before him...
Colossians 1:22

The beginning of a new school year was approaching and I had just been informed of the very challenging student whose name was on my roster. This kid's problems ran the physical and emotional and academic gamut and I was certainly not up to the task of fixing it. 

So I prayed. I walked to their desk and sat in their chair. And I prayed that God would heal it all.

By the year's end I would return to the same spot, and instead of prayers of supplication for this student's healing, I only offered prayers of thanks. Because God did it. 

God healed that child. 

Wide-eyed and in disbelief, I said aloud to the cement walls and florescent lights, "He did it." And then to God, You actually did this thing. That was BIG. An out-right miracle. Why did you do it?

And then came the answer, so simple and so clear:

Because you asked Me to, beloved.

Because I had asked Him to.

Why do I so easily forget that The God of Angel Armies is on my side? Why do I so easily forget His great love for me and His willingness to fight on my behalf?

It's because, even after all these years of this Jesus-Walk of mine, I still listen to the lies. The lies that make me feel less than and not good enough. The lies that Satan whispers in my ear:

You're not good enough for Him.

You don't do things well enough for Him.

You're not worthy to approach Him.

(Never doubt for a second I don't appreciate the irony of God's enemy saying such things about Him to me.)

I realize, even with all of my grace talk for others, I'm still trying to be good enough for God. I'm still striving for perfection and beating myself up for when (surprise!) I don't achieve it.

So with these thoughts in mind, I gave something up for Lent this year:

I'm giving up not being good enough. I'm giving up seeing God as Someone who is angry with me when I fail at perfection. 

31 What shall we say about such wonderful things as these? If God is for us, who can ever be against us? 32 Since he did not spare even his own Son but gave him up for us all, won’t he also give us everything else? 33 Who dares accuse us whom God has chosen for his own? No one—for God himself has given us right standing with himself. 34 Who then will condemn us? No one—for Christ Jesus died for us and was raised to life for us, and he is sitting in the place of honor at God’s right hand, pleading for us.
Romans 8:31-34
Maybe you need this reminder, too. The reminder that your perfection isn't needed. That God isn't mad at you. That God has chosen you for His own. Romans 8:33 declares that no one can accuse us. In fact, it says who would dare accuse us? Do we realize this includes our own selves? 
I'm so tired of accusing myself before my Father. Because when I accuse myself I'm saying that I believe the blood price Jesus paid on the cross isn't good enough. 
Instead, when I approach His throne, I will stand on Colossians 1:22. I will remind myself that Jesus paid for my imperfections and that when I stand before my Father He sees me as holy and blameless. Holy and blameless, y'all. Not no-good and not-good-enough. To Him, cloaked in the righteousness of Jesus, I am worthy. 
We would do well to remember who we are, dear ones. We are the beloved daughters of God, who hears us and keeps us and adores us. Listen to me as I claim these truths over you:
Dear One, God is for you, not against you. He didn't spare His own Son's life for you, so He will not spare any other good thing when it comes to you. No one can accuse you before God because He has made you His own. You have right standing with Him. No one can condemn you. Because Jesus Christ died for you and was raised back to life for you. In this very moment He sits at God's right hand, a place of high honor, and speaks to God on your behalf. 
If that doesn't make you worthy, well, by golly, I don't know what does. 
This Lent, let's practice self-denial. Let's deny ourselves the the feelings of shame and guilt. And instead let's body approach our Father, like the holy and blameless children we are.