Finding Peace

Love Note

I had just settled into the driver’s seat and was pulling the seat belt across my shoulder when my phone buzzed.  Before backing out of my garage, I glanced down at the screen.  It showed a text from a friend who lived in a different city.  We didn’t talk that often, so I was immediately intrigued.

The message said “God put you on my heart this morning and led me to pray….”  I smiled but stopped there thinking I would read the rest later.  My youngest daughter and I were hurrying to an appointment, and my focus was consumed with arriving on time.

It’s certainly nice that she’s praying.  She has no idea what is going on today with me, but I’m feeling pretty good right now.  I can’t wait to get this over with.  I wonder, do I need extra prayer right now?  Does she know something I don’t know?

Then I quickly shoved it all to the back of my mind for future contemplation.

You see, we were on our way to a local elementary school for a comprehensive assessment and evaluation by the school’s psychologist.  This is something that my husband and I had known was coming for the last several months.  We had delayed it once, trying to give our daughter time undergo and recover from a minor surgery.  Then it had been delayed a 2nd time due to an unexpected school closing (due to illness) a few weeks ago.

The time for this event had FINALLY arrived.  And our youngest daughter was ready to be evaluated… I hoped.  Certainly, I was ready to know what issues we might be dealing with concerning her apparent learning delays and struggles.

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Fast forward to a little over an hour later, and I found myself feeling rather differently.  I had just completed a verbal questionnaire with what seemed like a gazillion questions that seemed to clarify the fact that my daughter was truly struggling in some areas.

These same feelings of grief, sorrow, and complete vulnerability had hit me at her annual speech/language IEP meeting back in the fall of last year.

It’s really hard to describe the intensity of this environment.  The rawest of maternal emotions are triggered when you are asked numerous, exhaustive questions by almost-strangers concerning the areas of your child’s weaknesses.

When you answer these questions OUT LOUD, the difficulties become concrete.  Declaring with your mouth has an imitable effect.  It takes the knowledge from your mind and brings it into the deepest places of your heart and being.

The professionals who conduct these meetings aren’t mean or cruel.  They are polite, kind, even sympathetic, and thank goodness they are thorough.  The process itself is just brutal.

So as I sat in that swivel chair waiting for my daughter’s portion to finish, I felt wrung out.  In an effort to quiet my swirling emotions and stifle the tears that threatened to spill over, I dug my phone out of my purse.  I began to sort through my unread texts when I saw the one from my friend.  I clicked to open the whole message.  It said:

“God put you on my heart this morning and led me to pray Matthew 11:25-30.  Be childlike and in rest dear friend.”

Childlike.  It instantly struck a chord within me.

During that evaluation, I had let the weight of my youngest daughter’s future press down on me.  I had been analyzing and thinking about all the things I could have and should have been doing differently.  I didn’t even have the evaluation results or a diagnosis, yet I was immediately jumping to the worst case scenarios and trying to mentally work out my next 5 action steps.

Instead of Simple, Innocent, Trusting and Uncomplicated, I had defaulted to Anxious, Pessimistic, Doubting, and Worried.

I opened the bible app on my phone to the verses she mentioned.  They were not new to me.  I had read and studied them many times over.

At that time Jesus prayed this prayer: “O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, thank you for hiding these things from those who think themselves wise and clever, and for revealing them to the childlike. Yes, Father, it pleased you to do it this way!

“My Father has entrusted everything to me. No one truly knows the Son except the Father, and no one truly knows the Father except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.”

Then Jesus said, “Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you. Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle at heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy to bear, and the burden I give you is light.”

Despite the familiarity of the passage, its words connected with me instantly.  I felt like I was reading a love note from my Heavenly Father.  It was so timely, so personal, and  precisely what I needed.

How could my friend have known this?  She didn’t.  She couldn’t have.  But God knew, and she listened to Him.   

My mental gymnastics halted.  I began relaxing into God’s gentle care of my youngest daughter.  I let Him lift the burdens from my heart and mind.  I placed this entire situation back into His hands, and I immediately felt secure, cared for, loved, and protected.

I read the verses again.  I noticed that He was also reminding me that our human powers of intellect could be detrimental to success in God’s kingdom.  The Father reveals things to those who are childlike- meaning trusting, enthusiastic, unsophisticated, uncomplicated.  It was like He was saying to me:

Jennifer, your daughter can and will be effective in MY kingdom.  It’s the one that really matters and will never pass away.  Isn’t that what is important to you, after all? 

Yes, Abba Daddy, you’re right.  You’re so right.

A few silent tears rolled down my cheeks, not from grief and sorrow, but instead from thankfulness and joy.

My perspective had done a 180-degree turn in just a few short minutes.  I sent my friend a text saying how much I appreciated her prayers.  I thanked her for listening to the Holy Spirit and sending me that message.  What a blessing she had been in that moment!

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So let me ask you, what situation are you facing today that could be entrusted to our loving Heavenly Father?  Could you benefit from releasing your worries, fears, and doubts?  Would you be willing to take those steps of trust necessary to find rest for your soul?

My prayer for you, dear reader, is that you would make that trade: Your heavy junk in exchange for His light and easy.  May God grant you the grace to entrust Him with the hard things.  Release that anxiety and receive His exquisite peace that saturates the deepest recesses of your mind and emotions.

It’s a good trade.

Comparison, Friendship

Feeling Like a Failure

Have you ever felt like a failure?

Recently this emotion swept over me with the unexpected force of an ocean wave that suddenly knocks you into the sand, tumbling you end over end.

We had been invited over to a friend’s home, and I was running behind that morning.  My mind was still whirring from the rush as my 5-year old daughter and I walked into this friend’s house for the first time.

I removed my shoes and my sock-clad feet sank into her plush carpet.  Walking through her living spaces, I noticed a quiet and pristine ambience.  Unlike my own home, there were no clutter spots and no piles of papers.  There was no unruly, barking puppy and no laundry thrown onto the sofa for later folding.  None of the surfaces had dust or fingerprints, and she had attractive storage bins stacked in all the right places for optimal organization.  It was only 10 o’clock in the morning, but she mentioned that she had just placed a meatloaf in the oven to bake.

My friend had invited us over in order to give me some tips for helping my obstinate 5-year old learn her letters.  This was something that I had been trying to teach her unsuccessfully for over 2 years.  It became clear that my gentle and unhurried friend knew all the right techniques and had this incredible finesse that would charm the socks right off an angry gorilla.

This skillful poise for instructing preschoolers completely escapes me.  I just don’t have it.  On a scale of 1 to 10, I’m a negative 5.  Seriously.  Just ask the preschool director at my church.  She will laughingly and lovingly confirm this.

So I’m sitting there at my sweet friend’s table in her spotless home listening to her brilliant teaching techniques, and I suddenly wanted to cry.  Cry with the frustration of how I must be failing as a homemaker and as a mother.  Ugly cry with the exasperation of how I will never be amazing like she is with teaching my 5-year old.  Why couldn’t I be more resourceful?  More organized.  More motivated.  More self-disciplined.  More child-savvy.  More patient.  More… More…

Let me be clear.  This sweet friend of mine said and did absolutely NOTHING unkind or condemning.  In fact, she was incredibly kind, thoughtful, and hospitable.  There was NOT an iota of superiority about her.

Thankfully I held it together and our visit came to an end.  As I drove away from her house, the rising tide of negative emotion continued to break over me like the huge and violent waves on a red-flag day at the beach.   I’m a failure at homemaking.  I’m a failure at mothering my 5-year old. I’m a failure.  What’s wrong with me?  Why can’t I do this right?  I’ll never be any good at this.  I should try harder.  I should…  I should….

But in the midst of this mental barrage, I had a sudden insight.  All these crazy feelings (and yes, crazy, as in completely ridiculous, lacking logic and not based in reality) I was having in this moment were a result of noticing my friend’s incredible strengths.

I had been brought face to face with someone who was really amazing in the very same places I felt incredibly lacking.  And a few years ago, this could have ruined my day and cast a shadow on how I felt about myself for many months to come.

BUT NOT NOW.  NOT TODAY.

BECAUSE IN THAT MOMENT, I chose to stop and confess the negative thoughts and listen for what the VOICE of TRUTH was saying to me.

I suddenly had this impression of my strengths (both old and recently discovered) and the things to which God has called me.  It was like He was saying to me, Jennifer, you have important things to do.  I’ve created you for these tasks.  Do you really want to jump out of these and into someone else’s?

And then I smiled to myself, because I’ve never really enjoyed working with preschool age children nor staying by myself at home all day to clean and cook and organize.  So why in the world would I want to be super excellent at those things so I could spend MORE time doing them?  It was truly laughable.

You’ve probably heard the phrase, “Stay in your own lane and run your own race.”  That’s the gist of what I was hearing.

Secondly, I had the impression that God himself had brought my friend and me together so that we could be a mutual blessing to each other.  It was like He was saying, IF you would stop trying to be like her, you could relax and enjoy letting her help you.  I designed the two of you to complement and support each other in each of your races.

Her skillfulness didn’t lessen me.  I could rest in knowing that I am great, even amazing in some areas.  And I don’t need to feel threatened, hurt, or condemned because of her strengths.

I suddenly had this picture of the colorful keys on a kid-sized xylophone fitting together perfectly and being used to make a beautiful harmony.  And in that moment I was able to praise the Lord for my friend’s gifts and abilities.  I thanked Him for creating her with strengths in the very areas I lacked.

But goodness, this situation could have turned out quite differently.  If I hadn’t let the VOICE of TRUTH speak to my mind and heart, I would have been left in a spiritually and emotionally unhealthy condition.  My feelings toward this friend could have been tainted.  Even the filter through which I interpreted her future words and actions could have been muddied with the gunk of my own insecurity.  I believe this tragedy happens far too often in our friendships.

So let’s ask ourselves some pointed questions:  Do we let feelings of failure or self-doubt cause rifts in friendships?  Do we develop a critical spirit, pointing out all the negative things about the people whose strengths and abilities threaten our own sense of self?  Do we turn the criticism inward, wallowing in feelings of self-pity or making unending excuses for why we’ll never be as good as someone else?  Do we have friends and acquaintances whom we secretly resent because of our own insecurities?

The next time we feel like a failure, we have this incredible opportunity to identify and cut off those negative thoughts.  Let’s take our raw feelings to our Heavenly Father and ask Him for His fresh perspective on them.

Then listen to the VOICE of TRUTH.  The truth of God’s Word says you are wonderfully and marvelously made.  It says you are a masterpiece created for the good works that God has planned for you long ago.  It says that you have been given an unique race to run.  Truth also says we can cheer each other on without losing ground in our own race.  [Psalms 139:14, Ephesians 2:10, Hebrews 12:1]

So grab your noisemakers, your pompoms and your megaphone.  Let’s protect and preserve our friendships and cheer each other on toward greatness!

 

End Note:  Has my story left you wondering what your own strengths might be?  Maybe you think you know them already but are unsure how to put them to use for God’s kingdom purposes. 

Would you be interested in discovering, embracing, and utilizing your own God-given gifts, heart passions, abilities, personality type, and life experiences?  If you live in or around Cookeville, Tennessee, consider joining me for the next SHAPE class at the River Community Church.  Our 6-week journey starts Wednesday, March 28.  Email or Facebook message me from my Contact Page for more information.

Waiting

Skip the Wait?

Have I mentioned that I struggle with patience?  Waiting quietly with a happy heart is NOT something that comes naturally or easily to me.  So, as you can imagine, I was not particularly overjoyed to find myself facing a rather long wait earlier this week at my local drivers’ services center.

I’d already signed in at the “welcome” kiosk and been there a while when I noticed an advertisement over a different set kiosks that said, Skip the Wait, Renew Here.  My own heart skipped a beat with excitement, but then I remembered.  The letter I’d received from the Department of Safety said that I had to get a new picture taken, and that wasn’t something that could be done at those special kiosks. Ugh.

After I’d passed time by reading emails and catching up on my social media apps, I again checked the giant computer monitor that listed the service numbers and order, carefully noting my number and its place.  Tapping my foot rhythmically on the floor, I finally glanced around me in the nearly full room, noticing, for the first time, the varied responses to this long wait.

Most people were buried in their mobile phones or tablets, some were chatting with a companion, others were sitting quietly staring blankly at the ceiling or wall, and few were grumbling.  One or two in the crowd looked like they might, at any minute, storm impatiently out of the place.

At that point I decided to leave too. Ha – I’m just kidding, of course, but I did stand up and walk back out to my car to retrieve a book. I have this extreme aversion to wasting time, and I was absolutely determined to do something productive.

After returning with my book, the time began to pass quickly as I read about one of my favorite heroes of the Old Testament, King David.  I find his story so fascinating – filled with highs and lows, victories and defeats, friendship and betrayal, all intermingled with a beautiful love for God and David’s epic gift for writing the most exquisite poetry.

Lately, the most relevant thing to me about David’s early life is the amount of waiting he experienced.  For example, did you know that it was around 15 years after being anointed as king by the Prophet Samuel before David was actually crowned as king of Judah?  For much of that 15 years, David was on the run as a fugitive for his life, hiding in caves, and hanging out with vagabonds and social rejects.  And then, even though he had been crowned king of Judah, it would be another 7 years before he was crowned as king over all of Israel.

When I read about the turmoil in King David’s early life, my impatient side wants to ask questions like: Did God act too early when he told the prophet Samuel to discover and anoint this shepherd boy buried in obscurity in Bethlehem? Or was it Saul, that nasty, jealous, and emotionally unstable king who really messed up God’s timing and plan for David?  Or maybe David himself caused all this mess?  I mean, if David had been less bold and confident, the Hebrew women wouldn’t have sung that song that made King Saul get so angry and jealous of him, right?

Shouldn’t have things gone more smoothly for this man after God’s own heart who would be a part of the lineage of Christ?  Surely God’s plan wouldn’t have included all these detours and delays?!?

But I stop there, because I know otherwise.  Yes, there were those around him who had some very evil intentions, and David, himself, wasn’t perfect. But we can see that he was being prepped for something much greater than he could have imagined.  And there is a beauty, even if seemingly painful at moments, to what the Lord was accomplishing in him and through him during this time of waiting.  No class, no training program, no apprenticeship, and no seminar could have been better preparation for his God-sized destiny than this period of waiting and all the many dramatic events it entailed.

David was learning to rely on God, completely.  He was learning compassion and hope in the midst of hopeless circumstances.  He was learning extreme leadership skills and military prowess.  He was developing a following and an inner circle, some of whom would be part of his royal court and future army command.

Those delays and detours must have at times seemed like the death of David’s dreams, but instead, they were vital to his future success.  These delays and detours helped him to walk in the fullness of God’s plan.  They WERE God’s best plan for him.

So like me, are you in a season of waiting?

Maybe you’ve been waiting on an answer to a prayer you’ve been praying for days, months or years?  For a loved one to be healed or for a treasured relationship to be restored?  Or for a new job, the one you’ve always wanted?  Or for justice to be administered in a court case?  Or for a child to be conceived and/or adopted? Or maybe you don’t have anything specific, but rather just a vague sense of waiting for your life to be what you’ve always dreamed?

I’ve become convinced that our periods of waiting aren’t something that we need to balk at, and just like those people around me in the waiting room at my local drivers’ service center, we have choices about how we react to periods of waiting.

We can distract ourselves.  We can stare blankly at the ceiling and lose our vivacity.  We can grumble and complain.  We can look at others whose numbers are called and get jealous or angry.  We can strive and stress and storm right out of the center of God’s will for our lives.

OR we can use the waiting period to connect with those the Lord brings to our waiting room.  We can use the waiting times wisely, squeezing every last ounce of purpose from them.  We can radiate peace and trust and joy.

Recently, I awoke with this verse* on my lips:  “The Lord is not slow to fulfill His promise as some count slowness.”  It was such a gentle and sweet reminder to me that My Abba Daddy had heard my prayers about my specific situation, and he was reassuring me of His faithful care of my desires and urging me to trust in His timing.

You see, God is working while we’re waiting.  He’s working for us and in us.  And sometimes, He’s working in others, too.  So the next time I’m tempted to ask God if I can “Skip the Wait,” I’m going to remember that these detours and delays aren’t the death of my dreams.

The waiting is NEVER wasted.  Instead, God is doing something amazing in us and for us.  And this is His best plan.

*2 Peter 3:9a

Finding True Purpose

Living Vibrantly

It’s that time of year when many of us go on diets, begin exercise plans, and set new health goals.  For some of us this new mindset will be the beautiful beginning of a lasting lifestyle, but for others it is rather short-lived.  Or maybe you’re like me, and you haven’t even started that dieting process yet.  Tomorrow is another day, right!?!  I know, I know, there’s no time like the present.  Arghhh.

Anyway, this is my VERY FIRST blog post (insert all the feels here: equal portions of excitement, terror, vulnerability, joy, and anticipation).  My blog title was chosen because I’m passionate about living not just well or healthfully, but VIBRANTLY.  Thank you for stopping by to read it, and I hope you visit again.

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Recently my husband was completing an annual health survey for his medical sharing plan when he encountered this surprising question: “I apply some of my talents and time in the voluntary service of others.”  The survey required him to mark 1 of the 3 multiple choice answers that indicated the extent to which the above statement described him.

You might be asking yourself why a medical sharing plan (which meets the same objectives as health insurance) would be concerned with whether its participants volunteer their time to serve others.  How could serving (or not serving) possibly impact one’s health and wellness?

For that answer let’s turn our attention to two geographical bodies of water in the Middle East:  The Dead Sea and the Sea of Galilee.   Found in the nation of Israel, both the Dead Sea and the Sea of Galilee are really lakes, and surprisingly, they are both fed by the same freshwater source, the Jordan River.  They both are very similar in elevation and have existed for many thousands of years.  They are also both referred to multiple times in the Bible, but that is pretty much where the similarities end.

The Dead Sea is known as a “hyper” saline body of water with percentages of sodium chloride and other salty minerals that far exceed those found in the ocean.  This salinity makes it completely uninhabitable for fish and other animals.  Even the banks of the Dead Sea are completely barren and resemble that of a desert.  There are no trees, grasses, or flowers that grow on the banks or naturally in the immediate areas surrounding it.  It is quite literally dead.

On the other hand, the Sea of Galilee is a freshwater body that absolutely teems with life.  Its various flora and fauna have supported a significant commercial fishery for over two thousand years now.  When you view pictures of the banks of the Galilee, you see an abundance of healthy trees, green grasses, brightly-colored flowers and other various types of plant life.  It’s absolutely gorgeous with splashes of green on its perimeter in stark contrast to the deep blue color of the water.

So, how is it possible that two lakes which are both fed by the same fresh water from the Jordan River could have such a vastly opposite ecology?  This is the difference.  The Jordan River flows into the Sea of Galilee from the north and then flows out the Sea of Galilee southward, continuing on as a river.  This Sea has an outlet of equal measure.  It receives and gives, and it lives.

The Dead Sea, however, has no outlet streams.  Every single drop that flows in from the Jordan River stays put.  Water flows in but not out.  It receives and keeps, and it is dead.

So back to the question on my husband’s health survey.  How can serving (or not serving) impact one’s health and well-being?  The answer is that we, as believers, are very similar to the two seas.  God himself is our source, and he has given us a generous measure of unique gifts, talents, abilities and passions.  When we use what He has given us in the service of others, we find joy, purpose, energy, and excitement, an abundant life.

But when we greedily hoard our God-given gifts, talents, and abilities, telling ourselves that we will wait to use them until we have the perfect set of conditions in our lives and schedules, our days will lack luster, and we will find ourselves consumed with trivial interests that don’t bring true fulfillment.

I remember a season of my life, 9 years ago, in which I was not serving anywhere.  I was in the throes of new motherhood, staying at home for the first time in my adult life with a very demanding infant.  My gifts and abilities had no other outlet, and I was desperately searching for significance.  When my firstborn was a little over a year old, I settled on a new fitness goal, thinking this would bring me the meaning and recognition I craved.  I worked hard, using self-control and gritty determination to reach it.

I keenly remember the short-lived feeling of satisfaction that came when I achieved that goal: running and finishing my very first half marathon.  It was a good goal.  Fitness is important for physical health.  But I also remember the vague and inexplicable feeling of disappointment that came so quickly on the heels of this achievement.  “What next?”, I thought.  The “high” of accomplishment only last a few days, and then I needed something else, bigger and better, to bring me that feeling again.

It would be a few more years before I began to realize that pouring into others is what would bring authentic and lasting fulfillment into my life. Proverbs 11:25 tells us, “The generous will prosper; those who refresh others will themselves be refreshed.”

Have you found true fulfillment in God’s purposes for your life?  Will you allow Him to stretch you to serve beyond your own capacity so that you can be refreshed in a lasting and significant way?  What can you do today to become more like the Sea of Galilee, with Christ’s gifts and blessings flowing in and out, in equal measure?

Pray:  Father God, I want to let you flow through me to serve others.  Please open my eyes to the opportunities around me.  Allow me to be stretched, so that I can be empowered by you to do things beyond my own capacity.

Note:  This post is an expanded version of my daily read, originally published here.