Kicking and Screaming

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I froze for a second, then quickly decided to “go check on something” in the car.

More than a decade ago, Shawn and Noah were not seeing eye to eye, and seemingly everyone at the snowtubing park was watching it play out. I was trying to find my way out of there. Noah was convinced he couldn’t do it, that something terrible was going to happen if he made it to the top and set off down the snowy hill. His father was convinced that he would be missing out on the greatest fun if he didn’t.

I am wired with many decent qualities, but my overabundance of fear and caution isn’t one of them. Noah has inherited it from me. He didn’t see any way the possibility of pleasure was worth the probability of a disaster. His dad knew if he would just try it, Noah would see that he had worried for nothing. He would probably even enjoy it.

So, kicking and screaming, my husband dragged our son to the top of the hill to give it a go, when all our son wanted was to go home.

They made it to the top, and crying all the way down the hill, my son slid past me. Just above his boots and snow pants, I could see his head peeking out of the innertube and noticed a smile across his face. “I want to do it again.”

He had been so sure it was going to end badly, and he was so wrong. I couldn’t count the times he went back to the top and slid down the hill. Let’s just say we got our money’s worth.

I feel certain God often must look at me like we looked at Noah. He knows what is best for me, but my fear spirals out of control, and God either lets me sit it out, and miss out on the thing He had planned for me, or He drags me kicking and screaming to obedience.

“I can’t do it, God. I’m too nervous. I must be hearing You wrong. I’m not qualified or capable for this sort of thing. This is never going to work.”

But I don’t want to miss out on a single great thing that my Father has planned for me, and certainly not because I am too scared. Scripture says, “And those who know your name put their trust in you, for you, O Lord, have not forsaken those who seek you.” Psalm 9:10 (ESV)

I do know His name and I trust Him, because I know He doesn’t forsake us. He won’t leave us to go it alone. He is with us, always. And when I start to wonder if that’s true, I have to remind myself of all the ways He has been faithful to me and my people. That usually strengthens my grip enough to hold on to the hope. And again and again, when I follow through with what God is directing me toward, 100 percent of the time, it is worth it.

If you, like me, are going kicking and screaming or if you’re going with a heart full of peace, always follow Him. He knows what is best.

Trashy Jennifer

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(How cute is this Oscar the Grouch pin?! Available on Etsy by clicking on the picture…)

He is one of my favorite first-graders at church. Jayceon is smart, enthusiastic and completely endearing. For a glimpse of him, I’ll share his prayer last week over the snack: “Thank you for this food right in front of my face and thank you for our bodies.” He is precious.

Then this week, I was walking our small group to their snack time and he said something about Miss Jennifer. He can’t seem to ever remember which teacher is which, so I said, “Jacyeon, *I* am Miss Jennifer.” Then he said, “No, I mean *Doctor* Jennifer. You are Trashy Jennifer.” And then he kept walking.

I stood there in freezeframe, no doubt with my mouth hanging open.

Trashy Jennifer? It didn’t exactly sound like a compliment.

I then burst out laughing because I hadn’t expected that.

I’m reading my Bible from the beginning to end for the first time in all my decades of loving Jesus. It has taken more than a few years for me to do it, occasionally slacking off, occasionally skipping around. But the next day after learning my new title – Trashy Jennifer – I opened my Bible to the next chapter I was supposed to read in 1st Corinthians and smiled when I got toward the end of chapter 4. “To this very hour we go hungry and thirsty, we are in rags, we are brutally treated, we are homeless. We work hard with our own hands. When we are cursed, we bless; when we are persecuted, we endure it; when we are slandered, we answer kindly. Up to this moment we have become the scum of the earth, the refuse of the world.” (v. 11-13)

Refuse: noun, matter thrown away or rejected as worthless; trash. (Google Dictionary)

Paul was basically Trashy Paul.

And he wasn’t one bit sorry for it. He was writing to the church in Corinth, and a couple of verses before this he was letting them know that while things were looking pretty good for them, being a follower of Jesus sometimes means we have hard days. Paul and others participating in the ministry were working so hard to share Jesus and to encourage and mentor the churches, things were difficult, but they continued to show the love of Jesus regardless of how they are being treated. Some of their difficulties were from their efforts in serving, and others were because of people not taking it well. Satan undoubtedly had his hand in some of it too. But Paul knew that his “present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.” (Romans 8:18)

Our comfort in this life is not our goal. I should get this tattooed somewhere as a reminder. I tend to go for comfort when possible. But instead of comfort, our goal should be sharing Jesus and living our lives in a way that best points to Him. Sometimes that means situations that aren’t easy.

Sometimes people, perhaps with good intentions, see prosperity as a benefit of serving Jesus, but Paul was a living example to the Corinthians that this is not how it always works. 

Serving Christ sometimes means hard things, sacrifices and the testing of our character. But it also means we are never alone, that we have the power of the Holy Spirit to get us through anything and that we have the contentment that comes with following the One who knows the way.

In light of this, and though I for sure am not worthy of it, I would be honored for someone one day to see me as Trashy Jennifer.

Let Them See Love

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I have a new favorite pastime – estate sale shopping.

I’ve always been too intimidated to go. I imagined going inside someone’s home, looking around and being unsure of what is actually for sale and no prices anywhere. Figuring it would be a lot of, “Is this for sale?” and “How much is this?” and pretending I’m still thinking about it while I determine I have held it long enough to not seem rude, when I really want to look at them and say, “Are you kidding me? $25 for a warped pot?” I don’t even like yard sales when things aren’t clearly priced.

But I tried it. My sister convinced me to go with her to one and I have been hooked since. I’m getting so comfortable estate sale shopping now that I’m a little worried I’m going to be at one of your homes and just start going through your cabinets out of habit.

We spent four hours Saturday pilfering through the belongings of three different strangers and I came home with a picture frame, 3 cooking magazines, a cake stand, a pitcher, an ironing board and a serving dish. We also learned some things about a fellow shopper. While in the spare bedroom, we saw she is a huge NASCAR  fan, a quality she shared with the recently departed. In the family room, we found out she is a mom to three boys, a grandmother to seven, and a great-grandmother to four, with one of them recently adopted and there is a hope for the younger sister of this one to soon be welcomed to their family. She was thrilled to tell her story – almost as thrilled as she was when she stumbled onto the racing jackets.

But another story I learn as I’m shopping is the story of the one who has passed one. You can’t help but put together a picture of the person’s life. Books are always where I spend the longest at these sales, and I think you can tell much about a person by what they are reading.

Classics? Paperbacks with a woman draped with a sheet that is blowing in the wind? Books about God and Christianity? A variety of religions represented? Well-worn Bibles? Love stories? Or maybe just a few untouched odds and ends books that I figure were purchased as gifts? I can imagine the coziest room in the house and picture him or her with a blanket on a chilly day getting lost in the words of whatever it is that seemed to interest them.

At one sale there was tons of fabric and sewing supplies, along with multiple patterns pinned to cut-out fabric pieces, and I could imagine this lady getting enjoyment from creating something beautiful for her or someone else right up until her last days.                                                                   

It got me thinking (and not just me – I heard other shoppers echo this thought) about what people might say about me and all my stuff. But even more than just based on my stuff, what about those who know me – either knowing me well, or just as an acquaintance – what would their take on me be when it’s all over?

And now, while I’m still here, a more important question is, What do I want them to say about me?

All the choices I make, and boy have I made some bad ones, help to determine what people will say. I want the choices I make today to show love and compassion. Kindness and joy. And all the rest of the Fruit of the Spirit while I’m at it. I want my life to point to Jesus.

Jesus laid it out pretty simply in John chapter 13 saying, “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (34,35)

My life will point to Jesus if I love.

When I talk to my friends and family, my tone and words and meaning should be drenched with love. My coworkers – love. My neighbors – love.  People on Route 60 – love. Someone who hurt me – love.

Some of those are easy, some seemingly impossible. But thankfully we aren’t doing it alone. The Holy Spirit guides us to choose love.

As people one day will be fumbling through my closet of clothes in 6 different sizes, my tote of newspapers, and my pile of scarves, I hope that there will be hints of Jesus. And I hope that the people who know me best will be able to say with confidence that I loved Jesus and showed that love to others. I hope they can say it about all of us.

Stop Second-Guessing Your Spanish Shoebox

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Stop Second-Guessing Your Spanish Shoebox

I spent hours with a shoebox and crayons creating a spectacular bullfighting diorama to represent Spain, complete with an arena full of spectators for my 3rd grade “nations parade.” In the center of the box, I had a representation of a bull, played by our Little People cow, and of a fighter represented by a doll that was likely a hand-me-down with bright pink hair, sunglasses, and zebra-striped tights. Scaled to size, the pink-haired, trailblazing matadora would have been just shy of 10 feet tall.

This box was going to be secured to my 18” stubby Alf skateboard, which I would pull proudly through the halls with some random string/shoelace attached near the wheels.

Pictures from Google to help you see what went into the Spanish shoebox diorama 🙂

But sometime between finishing up the night before and displaying it for all my classmates the next morning, I started doubting.

Maybe I saw another student’s box and felt insecure about my own work, or perhaps someone said something I can’t remember all these decades later, but I do remember the confidence draining.

So when the teacher gave out the opportunity for students who weren’t finished to continue working on their projects during recess, I jumped at the chance like someone had just offered me one of Willy Wonka’s golden tickets.

I did some quick research with an Encyclopedia Britannica and found that Spain is known for some impressive architecture, so with construction paper, a tissue box and 20 minutes, I fashioned some kind of building, relieving the cow and the doll of their duties, and covering up all the spectators with Scotch tape and sheets of green and yellow.

To this day I can remember the disappointment on my teacher’s face when I asked to change it up. She knew the box I started with represented a lot of effort and watching me doubt it and haphazardly change things out of fear certainly left her disheartened for me. I received a good grade, but deep down we both knew the first plan was better.

Sadly, that’s not the last time I have wimped out because of doubts and fear and uncertainty. When I am convinced I have a purpose or a calling or an assignment to do, I can start out full force. I am excited and feel passionate about it. Then something happens. I start to question if I have what it takes or whether it’s really something that’s needed. I wonder if it’s something other people will support. I start seeing myself falling flat on my face.

Priscilla Shirer, in Discerning the Voice of God, says “You will know God’s voice because it will bring encouragement along with conviction.” God speaks with conviction, while the enemy speaks with condemnation, she says. “When (God) speaks to you, His words will carry the continued hope of intimacy, friendship, and reconciled relationship.”

Those thoughts I have, mentioned toward the end of the paragraph before last, certainly don’t fall under the category of intimacy, friendship, or relationship. They are harsh and damaging and meant to tear me down.

So, when I am hearing the Holy Spirit guide my heart toward a new purpose or passion or calling and destructive thoughts come my way, I have three jobs to do:

1.       Pray – I need to ask the Holy Spirit to renew the excitement I had when He first led me to this new thing and ask Him to make it so very clear if it is not a thing from Him.

2.       Remember – the power/talent/resources I need to do the thing He is asking me to do are from Him and He will make sure I am equipped with them. He doesn’t leave us empty handed.

3.       Get on with it – I must ask God for the first step of my assignment and do it with enthusiasm and delight, then listen for the next step.

So, join me. Put away the construction paper and let’s walk that parade with confidence. If He has asked us to do it, we are as equipped and prepared as we need to be.

“Seek his will in all you do, and he will show you which path to take.” Proverbs 3:6 (NLT)

Short Assignments

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Short Assignments
Someone else’s great picture of July 4 fireworks at Camden Park

Camden Park was always the highlight of July 4th. My parents, sister and I would hop into the car and head to Westmoreland to watch the fireworks. We would park the car, walk down the street and find a good spot to settle in and wait for the show.

*Fun memory – once we were driving in a super long kind of car like all cars were then in a terrible shade of pea green and as unflattering as that sounds, we were apparently not the only ones. We climbed back into the car and started to shut the doors when we realized that the clothes in the backseat were not ours. It wasn’t our car. We jumped out as fast as we could and kept walking. This was in the ‘80s when locking your car in Huntington wasn’t as big of a deal.*

The whistle of the explosives spiraling to the sky and waiting to see which color it would be, and sometimes a couple at a time – it was so beautiful. Then the occasional noise that sounded like a canon but produced no visual show. I’m sure there are people who love those too. Then the end, the grand finale – fireworks all popping up together, one after another, lighting up the night sky, leaving everyone watching enchanted.  The whole thing probably lasted only 20 minutes or less, but it is something I remember now, more than 30 years later.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about my life’s purpose and wondering what is next in my life, and I think I have misunderstood what a life’s purpose is. I’ve always thought it was a profession – someone’s purpose would be to be a pastor or a missionary or a teacher or something.  While that can play a big part of it, the longer I’ve been following Jesus, I see that there is so much more to it. Our purpose includes whatever He is asking us to do right now.

Sometimes these things He is asking are more long-term – teaching a Sunday School class for years and years or fostering a kid who desperately needs to know love.

Sometimes it’s a very short assignment – in fact, we always have short assignments. There are always people to whom we can show kindness.  We have neighbors to compliment. We have office-mates we can do something special for when they are having a bad day. We have the poor we can help, the lonely we can visit. Friends that need our prayers.

And we don’t always need a direct command sent from God straight to us to do these short-term actions. He has already given them to us in His Word. Love your neighbor as yourself (Mark 12:31); Whoever gives to the poor will not want (Proverbs 28:27); Be kind to one another (Ephesians 4:32)… There are dozens more. And just like there are some things  we  expect from our children without them needing to be told –  like brushing  their teeth or playing nice – there are things God has already listed for us in Scripture that we know to do.

These seemingly small acts may appear minuscule in the grand scheme of life, but their effects can last a long time. Just like the fireworks, the show was short-lived, but the effect has lasted more than 30 years.

If you don’t feel like you have a long-term kind of purpose yet, don’t worry about that. God will let you know what you need to know when you need to know it. But I promise you that you already have a short-term purpose you can fulfill this very day.  Keep your eyes open.

A Redeemer of Hope

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A Redeemer of Hope
People Walking, by DM Grace

I have a recurring dream where I am in a car and we are driving crazy-fast on dangerous, hilly roads, when we go airborne and I’m always certain this is my final day on earth Then, just before landing, I wake up. The waking up part is one of the best feelings in the world. So terrified, then suddenly such relief.

I remember falling asleep in tears one night, a bunch of years ago, certain I had done so much damage to our marriage that we would be finished. I felt more shame and hopelessness than I ever have felt any other time in my life. And when I woke up the next morning, I was groggily piecing things together in m y mind, hoping that I could tell myself it all had been a dream. But as my story came together in my head, I was crushed to remember it all had been true.

This was real and happening and I was facing a future I didn’t know. The pit in my stomach grew. I had no hope for us.

Being without hope is a lonely, dark place. I hope you haven’t been there, but if you have then you know what I’m talking about.

In Luke 24, two followers of Jesus were walking along a road after Jesus’ crucifixion, feeling an extreme level of hopelessness, when Jesus showed up to talk to them. He didn’t let them realize it was Him, and instead asked them something like, “Whatcha talking about?” They told Him about this Jesus being a prophet who was so powerful, but that the leaders had given Him the death sentence and crucified Him. They went on to say, “but we had hoped that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel.” (v. 21)

But we had hoped.

Hope is such a beautiful word, but “had hoped” is heart-breaking. Once there was hope, but now there is not. We are past that time when we were anticipating a rescue or restoration or healing to a time where we can’t see nay signs of hope anywhere. It was a nice dream.

After spending the evening with these guys talking to them about Scripture and staying at their home and blessing their bread and giving it to them at their table, Luke says, “their eyes were opened.” They suddenly were able to see their Christ, the One they “had hoped” would redeem their people. He was not dead at all but had been with them all day.

Jesus met them where they were to restore their hope.

This is so significant to me for many reasons, but one is that He remained on this earth a mere 40 days after his resurrection. That He chose to spend nearly an entire day with these two to help restore their faith is something that makes me love Him even more, if that’s possible. This is a Savior who cares so much about each one of us that He will go to great lengths to bring back our hope. He loves us so much.

Jesus has restored my hope in Him so many times. And thankfully He also restored my hope for my marriage. He redeemed us, and I still can’t get over it.

Whatever is going on in your life, I don’t want you to lose hope. But I know of Someone who is happy to restore it when you do.

He does it in His own way and in His own time, but He will do it. It may not look a thing like you planned or imagined but trust His ways. There is always hope in Him.

“We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure.”
Hebrews 6:19a

Flashback Episodes

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I love sitcoms, and when you find a really funny one it’s the best. But the worst is when you sit down to watch one and a couple minutes in you know it’s coming. “Dorothy, you remember that time that…?” or “Rose, have you forgotten when…?” And they stare off into the distance as the room screen gets foggy and switches to another scene. Then you know you are in for an episode of 15 tiny clips of shows you have already seen.

Flashback episodes are the worst.

Don’t get me wrong, the clips are always funny, and having seen most of them, I know the context, but it’s just not the same. Its like the writers wanted to take a couple of days off and whipped this up while waiting to board the plane to Fiji.

A couple of mornings ago, I was reading my Bible on my way through Acts when I got to chapter 7.  At the end of chapter 6, Stephen was chosen to be in the group to assist the apostles with their serving people, focusing on providing food. He also did an excellent job of living like Jesus, and God blessed him with the ability to do “wonders and miraculous signs among the people.” (chap. 6 v. 8) Some people didn’t like him and basically were jealous of Stephen and spread some rumors to get him in trouble. It worked, and in the beginning of chapter 7, the high priest asked if what they said was true?

Stephen begins his flashback episode in verse 2.

As much as I dislike them in my favorite television shows, I love a good flashback episode in the Bible. In Acts 7, Stephen goes through the story of Abraham and his obedience to God, and his faith in God giving him a son, Isaac. He goes on to tell about Isaac’s son Joseph, and all the descendants enslaved in Egypt, and then Moses, God choosing him to lead the Israelites.  He then speaks of David. All these leaders in our Bible – Stephen knew all about them and was willing to tell people about it up until his last breath.

Hebrews chapter 11 is another flashback episode, and probably my favorite (Memorizing this chapter before I die is on my bucket list). Person after person is listed, showing how they believed in God and obeyed Him, even when it was hard.

There’s a mini flashback episode in James, and I’m sure there are many others scattered about the Bible. These are so valuable. To be able to look at how other people were obedient or repentant or passionate about what God had called them to do, and to see how faithful God was to them, is so encouraging.

If you ever feel like you doubt God is going to come through with what He has promised, reading His Word reminds us how we have no reason to fear, and we can always trust Him. Take a few minutes to read some of these scriptures and thank God for his faithfulness. Pray about the thing in your own life that has given you doubts and ask Him to help you have the faith you need.

Our God is always faithful.