Justified

Do not be alarmed.

This is not a drill.

I’m actually writing again.

I have admittedly continued putting off writing in here because I simply haven’t been able to trust myself to talk about the topics that have come to mind without being snarky, offensive, and basically unhelpful in any way (except in starting bicker-fights… and I’m really good at that.  Like… deserve a bicker-fight gold medal…. I’ve had some pretty stellar moments on Facebook lately.  Not actually very proud of them at this point….)

And I came to a realization the other day… the reason I haven’t been able to trust myself on the topics that have come to mind is because those topics simply haven’t been worth writing about.

“Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable.  Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise.” – Philippians 4:8

If I’m being completely honest, the things I’ve let my mind focus on as of late have been more about being right rather than what is right (and there is such a difference.)  I’ve been very good at the “true”, snarky, witty, and sometimes cutting comment.  I’ve even been factually or morally “right” when making them.

But I pause when I ask myself if they were also honorable… pure… lovely… and admirable.

Well, I’ve effectively made myself uncomfortable now.  Good.  Glad to be a part of it.

Looking back on it, I completely understand why I’ve been focused on these things. Naturally, it’s a much deeper issue than I initially wanted to believe.  However, I don’t think I’m alone struggling with this issue, so I think this might actually be something honorable, pure, lovely, admirable, and yes… even true and right to talk about.

Have you ever tried to justify something you’ve done?  Maybe you acted a certain way, said something you regretted, or just plain blew up.  I think we’ve all done that.  I don’t know about any of you, but my natural instinct is to immediately try and explain why I acted, said, blew up, etc.  I try to justify it.

My dad has a lovely saying.  “Excuses are not reasons (and reasons are not excuses).”  If I had a quarter for every time I heard it growing up, I wouldn’t have student loan debt now (ba dum CHING!)

If we’re being completely transparent and truthful, most justifications we offer for bad behavior are just excuses, not reasons.  We were angry.  We were hurt.  We were right.  Too many Christians use being “right” as an excuse to further wound the wounded… to the point that it’s sadly what American Christians have become known for.  Our justification?  “But we’re right.”

Maybe so.  But are our methods honorable, pure, lovely, and admirable?

There’s a deeper level to justification though, one that we rarely take a good look at.  But it’s the root of every other justification we offer.

“God saved you by His grace when you believed.  And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God.  Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it.” – Ephesians 2:8-9

I was considering finding a cute way to get around to this, but I’m just going to be straightforward about it.

Too many of us are filling our minds with thoughts of trying to justify our own lives.

“What?” you may be asking your computer/phone/electronic device screen right now.  “Justify my life?  What does that even mean?”

Fair enough.  Here’s what I mean.  I think in the core of all of us there is the deeply rooted question of “What makes me worthwhile? Why do I exist?”  We spend our entire lives trying to justify our own existence.  We pour ourselves into different things that we feel make us worthwhile.

“I’m a good spouse.”

“I’m a good parent.”

“I’m a good *insert job title here*.”

“I’m a good *insert political party here*.”

“I’m a good American.”

“I’m a good Christian.”

Are any of those things inherently bad?  Of course not!  We should try to be good spouses, parents, etc.  It’s not the things themselves, but the elevation of them out of their rightful place that turns them from virtue to vice.

When we dedicate our entire existences to being those things because we think we’re somehow earning our lives, we have put those things above God.  That’s a little thing we like to call idolatry.

Look back at Ephesians 2.  We can’t earn it.

If you are a Christian, then your entire justification rests in Jesus Christ and what He did on the cross, not anything you can do or be.  Anything else we try to use to justify ourselves has been put in His place.  And we know that, of course.  We’ll preach it all day every day.

But do you know how to find out if you’re justifying yourself some other way?  Let that thing get blown up or threatened… and watch what happens.  Make no mistake, anything you can possibly use to justify yourself will get threatened and eventually blown up in some way.

Man… I have had so many self-justifications just absolutely self-destruct in my face.  I never realized I was placing so much stock in being those things until I witnessed my own reactions to them being stripped away or damaged.

Let’s see.

I’ve justified myself as a good wife.
Divorced.

I’ve justified myself as a good mom.
Ask any mom how long that lasts before you feel like the worst mom ever.

I’ve justified myself as the “good girl”.
Then tried desperately to hide the bad things I’ve done because it might hurt that image.

I’ve justified myself as the “cool, laid back chick.”
I can flip out just as awesomely as the grandest diva.

I’ve justified myself as the tough, independent woman.
And come home every night to self-inflicted and maintained exhaustion and despair.

More recently, I let my job start to sneak up on me.  I’m in my eleventh year of teaching now, and I’ve worked hard over the years to build an atmosphere where kids can feel safe, accepted, and free to be themselves.  Not a thing in the world wrong with that, right?  Except that it’s become a point of pride.  I began to justify myself as the wise, accepting teacher the kids could always come to if they needed anything.

Then over the past ten months, I’ve had multiple incidents absolutely demolish this perfect little justification I had started to build in my head.  And all of a sudden, I began to despair.  I began to flail.  I began to get angry.  I began desperately searching for something else to justify myself with.

I found my snark, wit, and cutting remarks… all in the name of others being stupid and me being right.  Because hey… if my justification has fallen apart, I might as well share the joy with others, right?

It’s a path to bitterness, and I’ve taken too many steps down it.

I’m not confessing this now to have anyone try to talk me out of it or comfort me.  I’m not trying to elevate myself as enlightened or whatever.  I’m not even trying to clear my conscience.  I’m actually starting to feel a lot more at peace with it now.

Because even my pitiful attempts at self-justification can’t remove God’s justification of me.

I am justified through grace.  I am made whole by a gift.  It has nothing to do with anything I can or will ever do.  And doesn’t the pride in me just hate that?

want to earn it.  Because when I earn it, I have control over it.  For good or for ill, if I’m justified by my own actions then at least it’s in my hands.

That’s both the struggle and the beauty of Christianity.  We both can’t and don’t have to earn it.  It’s both a frustration and a relief at the same time.

I encourage you to take a hard look at your life.  What things are untouchable?  And if they do get touched, what happens?  What things have you made idolatrous justifications for your own existence on this lovely little Earth?  Righteousness?  Patriotism?  Career?  Political ideals (yep, going there even during election time)?  Parenthood?  Prestige?  Being right?

Back to that first verse.  When it comes down to it… what can we possibly think about all the time that is true, honorable, right, pure, lovely, and admirable?  I can think of pretty much one thing:

You can think about God and what He chose to do to bring you back to Him.
You can think about the justification we have been given through Christ.

Let that sink in… and watch the pressure of every other justification fade away.  Focus daily on who you are in Christ, and watch how the other good things become just a part of your life instead of who you are.

And then watch how much healthier and happier they settle into your heart.

“Therefore, since we have been made right in God’s sight by faith, we have peace with God because of what Jesus Christ our Lord has done for us.  Because of our faith, Christ has brought us into this place of undeserved privilege where we now stand, and we confidently and joyfully look forward to sharing God’s glory.

We can rejoice, too, when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they help us develop endurance.  And endurance develops strength of character, and character strengthens our confident hope of salvation.” – Romans 5:1-4

It’s time to stop justifying our justifications (Are you tired of that word yet?  Too bad!  … okay… maybe the snark isn’t all gone yet…. Work in progress.)  It’s time to accept that it’s out of our hands.  Instead, let’s rest our identity in what Christ did for us.

Maybe that’s when we really see ourselves begin to become like Him.

❤ ,
J

 

 

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A Confession

Hello, faithful readers who probably think I’ve abandoned this little venture.

Please accept my sincerest apologies for the *goes to look, winces, returns* six month long silence on my end here.  I fully intended for this blog to be a weekly thing (at least), and then some completely unexpected things happened.  And now I must confess something to everyone….

I started “just making it” again.

Don’t get me wrong, there were a lot of legitimate reasons for me to slip.  I could list them all for you now, but I’m not going to.  Those who know me, know exactly what this school year has been like.  (I’m a teacher, my year runs from August to May with a blissful two month interlude.)

But at the end of all those reasons, it all came to one sad failing.


So let’s not get tired of doing what is good.”  Galatians 6:9

To put it mildly, I had gotten tired of doing what was good.

There were tons of very legit reasons.  There were things that would have brought me to my knees if not for God’s provision.  But instead of letting God pull me up in those moments, I hunkered down.  I reached a point of just bracing for the next impact instead of pushing forward until I found myself getting pushed further and further back.

I stopped writing for a good while because everything I wrote sounded so angry.  It sounded that way because I felt that way.  But I didn’t want to project that, so I just stopped writing.

It took several good friends and mentors to encourage me out of my little hidey-hole (sometimes by poking me with a few sharp sticks, but sometimes you need that as much as gentle encouragement), and the conclusion I found myself in was that I had begun to rely on myself and my own strengths to pull me through again.

At the root of all of it was pride.

“Wait, what?” you may be asking.  “How does pride cause being weary and tired?”

Let me show you.  It’s a sneaky little thing, I’ll tell you that much.  Here’s how it looks for me a lot of times (let me know if you hear something familiar).

“I deserve a break.  I’ve been doing ____, ____ and _____ and no one appreciates it!”
Translation:  I’m not getting what I consider to be appropriate praise/attention for my efforts.
Solution:  “Work willingly at whatever you do, as though you were working for the Lord rather than for people.”  Colossians 3:23

“I have a right to be upset/sad right now.”
Translation:  I want to wallow, dadgumit it.
Solution:  “Be thankful in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you who belong to Christ Jesus.”  1 Thessalonians 5:18

“No one understands or cares how difficult this is right now.”
Translation:  I need other people to affirm that I have a right to wallow right now.
Solution:  “Give all your worries and cares to God, for he cares about you.”  1 Peter 5:7

“I don’t see how I’m accomplishing anything good in all of this.  I don’t know why I bother.”
Translation:  I need to see immediate results to feel better about doing the right thing.
Solution:  “So let’s not get tired of doing what is good. At just the right time we will reap a harvest of blessing if we don’t give up.”  Galatians 6:9

*Insert any variety of frustrated statements about people being dumb about any number of subjects*
Translation:  My view/intellect/understanding is superior to everyone else’s.  (Maybe this is just me who struggles with this, but I’m betting not!)
Solution:  “If someone says, “I love God,” but hates a Christian brother or sister, that person is a liar; for if we don’t love people we can see, how can we love God, whom we cannot see?” 1 John 4:20

Pride, simply put, is when we begin to value and rely on our own ideas, strengths, and will above God.  It warps our sight, making us focus on what our flesh wants us to focus on: the I-must-have-it-immediately-right-now world view.

To step away from pride, we have to make a deliberate decision to put God’s eternal view above our own limited sight.  We have to be able to say in all truth, “Not my will, but Yours”, even if it means we suffer in the short term.

Are your struggles real?  Absolutely!  Mine were.  Like I said, those reasons I had were legitimate.

The issue is not whether or not your struggles exist (they do).  The issue is not whether or not life is hard (it will be), if you’re unappreciated (you will be), or even if people are stupid (they will be).

“I have told you all this so that you may have peace in me. Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world.”  John 16:33

The issue is who we put our trust in, and who we hide our heart in.

Humility gives it to God.  Prides takes it back on our own shoulders.

So, my dear friends, I’m confessing to you that I gave in and caved to my pride.  I confess that I’m still struggling with it.  Even this morning I was throwing myself a lovely little pride-pity-fest over my current circumstances.  Maybe that’s why I felt a pull to write this: a gentle correction of my own mindset today.

Regardless, I’m fighting my way back, but not in my own strength.  Everything I have, even my greatest strengths, are absolute weakness next to my God.  I’m giving all of it to God and saying “Your will, not mine” and praying that His strength and glory will be shown through my weakness.

“My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness.” 2 Corinthians 12:8

Stay weak, my friends.  But most of all, keep your eyes above those waves and focused on the One who is Lord over them.  That’s where our trust and hope belong.

❤ J

“You Keep Using That Word” Series – Part 1: Worship

One of my favorite movies of all time is “The Princess Bride”.  It’s just an all around fun movie.

Throughout one portion of the film, we’re introduced to a criminal character named Vizzini.  Without getting into much of the plot here, he is on the run from a man trying to stop the kidnapping of a princess.

At every turn, the man chasing them seems to defy all odds to keep up with them.  And at every turn, Vizzini realizes he’s still there and shouts, “Inconceivable!”

Finally, one of the men working under Vizzini looks at him thoughtfully and says, “You keep using that word… I do not think it means what you think it means.”

Ladies and Gentlemen… welcome to my “You Keep Using That Word” series.  A “study” (why not, people throw that word around nowadays anyways) on words we use that don’t mean what we seem to think they mean.

Today, let’s look at the word “Worship.”

I’m going to be completely honest, I’ve had this topic in mind since long before I actually started this blog, which naturally made it a beast to get out.  This particular topic is one that I am extremely passionate about, and as you know, those topics can be tricky to discuss without getting too fired up or coming off snarky.

But it’s time to get into it.  In the American Christian church, I’ve been watching this “fight” happen for most of my life.  The great worship debate.  What is the right way to worship?  Bring up the word “worship” in mixed company and you very well may accidentally start a small, polite fight right there.

In one corner, you have “traditional worship.”  Hymnals and organs and liturgy and tradition (hence the name).  Those in this corner believe strongly that worship is about rich theological depth to the songs they sing and liturgical significance to all they do.  Many decry contemporary worship as mere “entertainment” for the congregation, the music unsingable and wholly lacking sound doctrine of any kind.

In the other corner, you have “contemporary worship.”  Modern songs with a praise band that do not shy away from engaging the emotions.  Those in this corner believe strongly that worship should be free to move forward with the times and that it is about reaching out to God through means the hymns no longer accomplish.  Many sigh heavily at traditional worship as snobbery, boring, and lacking realness of any kind.

This is, of course, a very broad definition for both.  There are a ton of nuances and deviations on either side of the issue.  And for the sake of total disclosure, I am currently the worship leader of a contemporary worship style church, and I am also a high school choral director who has been in traditional worship services for a good portion of my life.

So, with that in mind….

Both of these corners have it wrong.

What? That’s not what I’m supposed to say!  Right now I’m supposed to either defend tradition or talk about singing a new song to the Lord!  I’m supposed to grumble about the dadgum guitar solos or shake my head at phrases like “let Thy goodness like a fetter” not meaning anything to anyone anymore.  I’m supposed to take a side!

I have.  And I take God’s side.  Because, and hear me on this folks, worship is not about your musical preferences.

I’m just going to brush aside the fact that this entire inane argument reeks of an imperialistic mindset.  Would you go on a mission trip and tell a group of people worshiping in their cultural style that they need to start singing hymns or contemporary worship songs that make no sense to them musically or in the cultural things they reference?  If you would… please do not go on a mission trip.

Okay, so maybe not completely brushing that aside… now I am. Moving on.

Ahem.  Brushing that aside, the whole argument of which style is better is utterly ridiculous because neither of them address the actual topic of what worship is.  We keep using that word….

That being said, it now begs the question:

What is worship?

So glad you asked!  🙂  The actual definition of worship is “to render religious reverence and homage to; to feel an adoring reverence or regard for someone or something.”

Reverence.  Homage.  Adoring.

Please tell me how you can quantify those by watching someone sing.

Sure, you can look at the person singing the hymn with eyes closed and a reverent expression.  Of course, they could be pondering what they want to eat for lunch while mindlessly singing the words of a hymn they know by heart.

Sure, you can look at the person with hands outstretched singing their heart out as the band hits the big chorus.  Of course, they could just really like that particular song and be getting an emotional rush out of it.

But the Lord said to Samuel, “Don’t judge by his appearance or height, for I have rejected him.  The Lord doesn’t see things the way you see them.  People judge by outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” 1 Samuel 16:7

Worship is about where your heart is.  Worship is about an individual turning their heart as well as their life toward God.  Period.  End of statement.

Worship is not about instruments.  It doesn’t matter if someone is playing a pipe organ or an electric guitar, they can be doing it for their own personal satisfaction and the attention it gets them or they can be doing it as an offering of love, devotion, and honor to God.

Worship is not about the group singing.  It doesn’t matter if someone is standing alone with a microphone or sitting in a robe amidst a large choir.  They can be singing for their own personal pride or they can be singing to God.

Worship is not about the songs you sing.  Hear me, now.  Yes, it’s important that a song doesn’t go crazy and start saying things about God that aren’t true.  It’s not honoring to someone to lie about them. However, we are super quick to snap that something isn’t honoring to God. (If you ever use the phrase “Jesus is my boyfriend song” around me, expect me to ask you how you feel about being the bride of Christ… just sayin’.)

God is love.  God is truth.  To focus on only one aspect of God and ignore others is to dishonor the whole of who He is.

In high school, my father was moved to pastor a small traditional church.  At this point, I had grown up on contemporary worship… and I loved it.  I thought traditional worship and hymns were the most boring thing I’d ever heard.  You couldn’t worship with that!  Talk about a chip on my shoulder….

Every Sunday, after the offering, we would always sing the Doxology.

Praise God from Whom all blessings flow.
Praise Him all creatures here below.
Praise Him above ye heavenly hosts.
Praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.
A—–men.

I’m somewhat ashamed to say that I went on autopilot every time we sang that song.  Mindlessly sang the words… maybe tried to find a new harmony… ultimately just plodding through.

There was a woman in that church who is, to this day, one of the godliest women I’ve ever met in my life.  Her heart and soul belong 100% to God.  She sat next to me in the choir loft, and one day during the Doxology I just happened to glance over at her.

Her eyes were closed, her head was lifted, but what captured me in that moment was the absolute love that poured off of her.  She was not just singing those words, she was worshiping with them.  With the Doxology, she understood more about the worship of the Almighty Living God than I (with my big ol’ worship chip) could possibly imagine.

I learned more about true worship in that moment than from any conference or event I’ve been to since.

True worship can happen with a praise band and crazy lights.  True worship can happen in a cathedral with a full choir and pipe organ.  True worship can happen in your living room by yourself with a piano.  True worship can happen in a dadgum drum circle if the people have their hearts centered on God.

Are you allowed your preference?  Of course!  We are created unique by God, and therefore different styles of music will help different people enter into worship easier.  Be careful when you say you can’t worship with a certain style though.  I fell into that trap for years.  You’re essentially telling God that He is less important than your preferences. Careful….

Whatever style you prefer, I implore you now to really study your heart.  Even more, ask God to search your heart.

Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. Point out anything in me that offends you, and lead me along the path of everlasting life. – Psalm 139:23-24

We do not worship liturgy.  We do not worship a feeling.  I think I can say with good confidence that worshiping anything except God, even while trying to give the appearance of worshiping Him, is idolatry.  Allow God to point out the things in your worship that are not pleasing to Him.

If you are saying to yourself right now that there’s nothing displeasing… then I say you’re not listening.  None of us are perfect.  None of us are there.  Set aside your pride and let God change your heart.

In the end, a true worship encounter with God can be a little scary and a lot overwhelming.  Maybe all these rules and debates are just our way of covering up the fact that we don’t want to have an encounter like that.  You can’t encounter God in true worship and not change.  It may be a big, sudden change… or it may be slowly molding you over time.  But worship produces change every time.  Pride is so much easier a path to take.

I know this may not change a thing in the grand scale.  I do.  This crazy “battle” will continue until God changes the hearts of those involved or Jesus comes back.  But if just one person reads this and says “whoa…” then it’s worth it.

I have so much more to say on the subject of worship, but that’s all for this particular aspect.  Instead, I’ll leave you with words Jesus once said to a woman at a well… who had actually just asked him a question about what was the “right” way to worship.

“But the time is coming – indeed it’s here now – when true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and in truth.  The Father is looking for those who will worship Him that way.  For God is Spirit, so those who worship Him must worship in spirit and in truth.” – John 4:23-24

Worship.  Let’s start using it right.

And Many More

A short one for y’all today!  🙂

It’s my birthday.

Anyone else notice that some birthdays, for unnamed reasons, just feel huge?  Like you’re suddenly immensely older even though you’re really not?

That’s me at thirty-five today.

“J,” I hear you saying right now.  “Thirty-five is not old!”

I know, I know.  I hear your words.  I get your point.  But for whatever reason, this birthday just feels significant.

One of the things that I’ve struggled with in recent years is a recurring thought at every birthday.  A thought sometimes laced with anxiety, sometimes with concern, and lately with a healthy dose of reflection.

“This is not where I thought I’d be.”

It started at my 31st birthday.  I was separated, divorce papers filed, and living at my parents’ house with my one year old little Kiddo.  My life as I had known it for years was basically over, and I was starting over again with less than nothing.  That was most definitely not where I’d ever thought I’d be.

Every year since then the thought has come back on this day.  It’s gotten a little less dazed and a lot more hopeful over the past four years.  Now I’m sitting here reflecting on it once again.

I should explain.  In order to say I’m not where I thought I’d be, I should probably tell you where I thought I’d be.

I am and always have been the girl with the plan.  For every occasion and major life event, I had (okay… have) some sort of game plan for how to handle it.  This is just how I’m built, I think.  I can handle a crisis (by coming up with a quick plan… ha!) but I much prefer having my plan prepared.

So by the time I was approaching the end of high school, I had my whole life mapped out in my mind.  I even wrote a paper about it for a scholarship.  I was going to go to college, earn my bachelor of music education and meet “the one”.  We’d get married and start a family as I took on a small band program and built it up to be solid.  I’d volunteer at my church in some capacity, probably music.  Life would go on in a constant cycle of birthdays, band competitions, anniversaries, and milestones.  Nice, neat, and tidy… at least as much as life could be.

It was not in the plan for me to graduate college without being married yet.

It was not in the plan for me to go to grad school immediately because I couldn’t get a job when I graduated halfway through the school year.

It was not in the plan for me to work a year at a music retailer because I couldn’t find a band directing job after I graduated with a master degree in music.

It was not in the plan for me to accept an offer to be a percussion instructor AND choir director at a brand new school.

It was not in the plan for me to have fertility and pregnancy issues.

It was not in the plan for me to abandon band directing altogether in favor of being a high school choir director.

It was not in the plan for my marriage to struggle and eventually fail.

It was not in the plan for The Kiddo to be on the Autistic spectrum.

It was not even in the plan for me to be the worship leader at my church.

None of this was in my plan.

Funny how God is not all that concerned with those, huh?

One of my mom’s favorite quotes is “Life is what happens when you’re busy making other plans.”  But I think I could take that a step further.  When you’re trying to follow God, He is what happens when you’re busy making other plans.

Look at every person used in a major way by God in the Bible.  Do you think any of them planned on their lives turning out the way they did?

Was the Ark in Noah’s plan?

Was leaving home to follow a vague promise in Abraham’s plan?

Was leading his people out of Egypt and through the wilderness in Moses’s plan?

Was being king in David’s plan?

Was standing up to her husband king in Esther’s plan?

Was living as an early leader of a new religion and eventually dying as a martyr in ANY of the apostles’ plans?

You get my point, I think.

God is what happens when we’re busy making other plans.  As we follow Him, He guides our paths in directions we never would have imagined and maybe would not have necessarily chosen.

Then one day… we look around… and we say “This is not where I thought I’d be.”  There’s a bit of shock at the thought at first.  But then we begin to look around… to look back.  We see the winding path of our lives and how God has used us along the way.  We see where we are, even when that particular place may be uncomfortable at the time.

And suddenly the path ahead seems a lot more exciting and interesting.

I’m not where I thought I’d be.  I would never have chosen this as a young kid getting ready to head out into the “real world”.  But the thought of everything I would have missed makes my heart ache. And for every single thing that was “not in the plan”, I see how God either used or is still using it for His glory.

I could easily go back and second guess my decisions…  things I chose to do while earnestly trying to follow God that might have been mistakes.  But I just have to have faith that my God is still God over my mistakes.  And His plan over me will not be thwarted by my failings when I’m genuinely seeking Him day after day.

I told you one of my mom’s favorite sayings… now I’m going to tell you mine.  It perfectly sums up the answer to my annual musings on where I thought I’d be.

“I may not have gone where I intended to go…
but I think I’ve ended up where I needed to be.”

Here’s to His path.  May it ever be winding and full of surprises.

❤ J

Lady in Waiting

Public Service Announcement
Just in case you’re new to me or this blog, everything written here is done through the lens of Christianity.  Not because God is a part of my life, but because God permeates every part of my life, so the things I talk about here are inevitably going to come back to Him.

Also, I do not in any way pretend to have any of this stuff completely figured out or even handled.  The things I write about are things I’m still struggling with at times, but sometimes writing about them helps me to solidify those principles.  And hey… we can all figure this stuff out together.  

Lastly!  If there’s anything you’d like to hear my two cents on, please let me know in the comments.  I may not be able to follow up on everything, but I can try!   Okay… PSA over.

I am an exceptionally patient person.

Unless I’m running late.
Or I’m hungry.
Or someone is driving 10 miles under the speed limit in the passing lane (seriously, folks… this is a problem).
Or someone hasn’t texted me back within five minutes.
Or one minute if I know they got that message.
Or I know something I’m looking forward to is on the horizon.

Yeah, okay… maybe that should have read “I am not an exceptionally patient person.”

I truly stink at it.  I’ve joked before that some people can be told by God what’s coming, and they’re completely cool with saying “Awesome. Can’t wait to get there” and then just let it happen as God intends.  But if you tell me that stuff?  HA!  My reaction is the total opposite.

Go look up “Chester and Spike” on YouTube.  The Looney Tunes cartoon.  Yeah…  I’m Chester.  “You wanna go do that thing NOW, God? Huh?  We gonna go do the thing you told me about that looks awesome?  Yeah? Now?  How about now, God?”

So, in the past, God has generally not done the “let’s tell J what’s coming” thing.  He’s always taken more of the “hold my hand and walk with me” approach.  Wise. (which… ya know… is to be expected since He’s God and all…)

Except… He’s started changing that approach.  He’s started giving me glimpses.  He’s started making me wait.  I’m pretty sure it has something to do with helping me grow up… and I’m equally sure it sucks.

We all have to face this at some point.  Something we know God wants us to do or has promised… and that (for reasons unbeknownst to us) we are having to wait on.

Patience.  Uuuuuuuuuuuuuugh….  (That’s a very technical literary term.  Or it is in my book now.)

RSC (Random Subject Change): You know, it’s funny that we can easily recognize blessings in our lives when we’re experiencing them or when things are rolling along well.  We can even look back and see how God protected us or provided for us in the bad times.  But then we get some distance… and things get rough again… and suddenly all of that provision, that protection, and that unending faithfulness?  We forget about it completely.

We’re far from the first to experience faithfulness amnesia.  The book of Exodus is pretty much a study on the subject!  There’s just something about our human nature that throws away everything we know about who God is the second things get rough.

I am ridiculous about this.  I know I am.  I can recognize it easily right now because I’m not currently feeling like everything is falling apart!  But less than a week ago, I had a tearful conversation with a close friend that returned back to a lingering doubt that always tries to resurface when I’m feeling low.

Does God really care about me?

This friend is one of those good friends who will tell me straight up how things are and when I’m being ridiculous.  If you don’t have one of those people that can hold you accountable, by the way, I highly recommend it.  It’s awful and annoying at times but very necessary to grow.

So this friend began listing all the ways God has provided for me and blessed me, basically reminding me of all the reasons for me to have hope.  All the reasons for me to trust.

Because, you see, my little meltdown was because I’m having to wait on a few things… and my argument was “If God cares, why am I having to wait?”  My little meltdown (aka tantrum, if we’re honest) was because of patience.  And my lack of patience all ties back to a failing of my trust.  And that failing comes from my faithfulness amnesia.

If I’m in the middle of a stressful time of waiting (because let’s be honest… hardly anyone actually enjoys waiting), I can walk through it with confidence if I remember Who is walking with me.  I can move forward with hope because my hope isn’t in the end result, it’s in the God who gave me the glimpse in the first place.

I have always wanted to be a mother.

I kid you not… my mom kept one of those “School Days” books.  Those lovely little things that have a spot for your school pictures, places to record fun little facts and answer questions about what you want to do in the future, who your friends are… all that.  (Side note… fourth grade was a very unfortunate hair year for me.  Never perm just your bangs….  Ever.)

Anyways, from the very beginning, in the spot that says “What I Want to Be When I Grow Up” I always said “Mother”.  There was usually something else with it like actress, teacher, etc. but being a mom was always a constant.

Fast forward to my twenties.  I was married, and that desire was stronger than ever.  I had always gotten along well with babies and little kids.  I just couldn’t wait to have one of my own.  Then we got a lovely surprise… I was pregnant!

There were announcements made, doctor appointments scheduled, and preliminary discussions on baby names.  I was on cloud nine.  At last!  What I had waited for!

Then the second doctor’s appointment came… and the baby had stopped growing.  No heartbeat.  They tried to give some sliver of hope, but I knew.  It was over… we had lost the baby.

Devastated.  That’s a pretty accurate word.  I never expected something like that to happen to me.  We recovered.  We tried to heal.  Several months later, we were much more tentatively excited to find out that we were pregnant again.

Then several weeks later, the same devastation happened again.

The year that followed was one of confusion and pain for me.  It began to look like a child of my own was just not something that would be able to happen.  And I did not understand.

God had given me what a friend once described as “an overactive maternal instinct”.  He had given me the deep desire to love and raise a child of my own.  Why?  Why had He given it to me if He was never going to let that desire come to fruition?

I questioned everything.  Questioned whether I had done something wrong.  Questioned what was wrong with me.  I even questioned if God really cared at all.  The waiting stretched out from months to over a year.  And there was no hope in my waiting… just a growing sense of disappointment and despair.

I am incredibly blessed to have parents who are not just my mentors, but they are also now my friends.  My mom saw me walking through this time, and she saw my heart breaking more and more every day.  At last, she gave me a verse that her mom had once given to her… one I had never heard before.

“I would have despaired unless I had believed that I would see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living.  Wait for the Lord.  Be strong and let your heart take courage.  Yes, wait for the Lord.” – Psalm 27:13-14

Sometimes someone gives you a verse like that… and it’s exactly what you needed in that moment.  It’s a way that God speaks to us, and this was absolutely one of those times.  It bolstered me, and even though I was still confused and sad… despair could not keep its hold on me while I was standing in the light of waiting on the Lord. 

It was only a few months later that I was pregnant with The Kiddo.

He is perfect, and motherhood is hard as anything… but definitely worth it.  As I look back, I can see the hand of God during those years and those hard times.  I can see the support and love He placed around me.  I can see how He’s used my own experiences to help others.

And then I forgot all of it less than a week ago.

I think there’s a reason that Psalm says “Let your heart take courage”.  Just be honest.  There are some days when we want to be sad.  We don’t want to hope, because hope takes work.  We just want to feel bad and wallow in our feeling-badness, dadgumit.  We refuse to let our hearts take courage.

Because when I take the time to really remember what God has done in my past… my heart has no choice but to either reject the truth or take courage.

Courage breeds hope.
Hope gives us patient endurance.
Patience gives us joy in the midst of waiting.
A joyful heart in Him is a powerful testimony.

And isn’t that the whole point?

So, be strong, friends.  And let your heart take courage as we wait on the Lord.

❤ J

Thoughts on “the one”

I’ve started this blog about five times now, and every time I do it has the complete and total wrong tone.  I keep trying to be cute and funny, but it just ends up sounding bitter and grumpy (or as a lovely former student of mine said: “salty”).  So I’m just going to give up on being cute and just be real.

So… singleness.

That’s a thing.

It’s a thing I never understood when I was younger, to be perfectly honest.  I was born a hopeless romantic.  I think from the time I was able to play make-believe, I was a princess.  Not a damsel in distress, mind you… no, no.  This princess could fight and run and save the prince (might have made a difference that my earliest play memory is of pretending to be Princess Leia in Star Wars… but I digress).

But there was always a hero alongside me.  There was always someone fighting with me.  Someone who I sometimes had to save.  Someone who sometimes had to save me.  Someone who loved me.

Fast forward to high school, and I really didn’t fit in.  I’m a geeky gal, and I was still struggling in many ways to find who I was and where I fit.  I didn’t date much as a result, and it got me down sometimes.  Still, I told myself, “just wait until college.”  I just knew that when I got to college, I’d find my people… and I’d find “him”.

Fast forward to college, and I definitely found my people.  Friends I made in college have endured to this very day as some of the strongest of my life.  I’m more grateful for that than words can express.  Something that I look back on regret, however, is that I learned how to not be okay with being single.

I started dating early on in college… and I don’t think I was single for more than a month or two at a time from that point until I was married five years later.  I dated several great guys (and a few that I might should have passed on) and ended up marrying one of my best friends.  I thought I’d found it.  That elusive “one” that would enable me to be truly happy once and for all.

Happily ever after, right?

If there’s one concept that has thoroughly permeated our society now, it is that of finding “the one” as a means of happiness and fulfillment.  Everything from princesses singing “one day my prince will come” to romantic comedies ending with the plucky girl and goofy guy finally getting together to dramatic movies about star-crossed lovers either finally finding each other or tragically being pulled apart.  The common factor in all of them, however, seems to be “find ‘the one’ and you’ll be happy.”

Man, I wish it were that simple.  In a way, it actually is… but I’ll get back to that.

Through seven years of marriage, I learned a lot about being “not single”… and one of the things I tell my girls constantly now is something they will probably never believe until (God forbid) they have to experience it for themselves….

“There are worse things than being single.”

They don’t believe me.  I know they don’t.  I wouldn’t have believed me either.  Because, c’mon… how could anything be worse than being single?  Life doesn’t begin until you have that special person at your side.  The soulmate.  The quest to find that person who makes us complete consumes so much of our subconscious and conscious minds.

I had this idea in my head that still fights to claim dominance again some days.  Good Christian girls go find good Christian guys (I’m writing this from a girl’s perspective, so feel free to switch that around if you’re a guy reading this) and they have good Christian marriages with good Christian children and an overall good Christian life.  They don’t end up divorced single mothers wondering how life went so completely wrong….

Except when they do.

So after seven years I found myself divorced and quite suddenly single again.  And you know what I almost did?  I almost dove right back into the mindset… I almost began that desperate search yet again for “the one”.  I dated a little bit… and then God intervened.  God said “stop”.  God said “slow down, beloved… and think.”

I can’t truly explain to you what happened that day.  But something changed.  And in the almost four years I’ve been single now, God has slowly been showing me what it is to fall in love with Him.

Because you see… the desire of our hearts to find that “one”?  That’s not about a significant other.  That’s about God.  Society, the world, and our basic sinful natures have twisted a holy desire to love and be loved by the One who created us into something that is more often than not just about sex.  Just being blunt here.

We’re searching for fulfillment from beings that were never meant to give it to us.  And not only is it destructive to our hearts… it’s flat out unfair to the ones we’re seeking it from.  They can’t fulfill us.  We can’t fulfill them.  Only God can do that.  Marriage is meant as a partnership.  Two people working together as a beautiful parable of God’s love.  Two people working for His glory on this earth.

And we’ve twisted that sucker all to pieces.

Most people’s reaction to finding out I’m “still” single is anywhere between pity and reassurance (Oh, I’m sorry… you’ll find someone, I know it!) to shock and dismay (How are you still single?!).  While I’m truly flattered (I mean… I’m learning to cook now and everything!), I can easily tell you why.  #1 – God wants me that way for now.  #2 – I’ve got a list of “requirements” so steep that only God is going to be able to usher a man into my life that will meet them.

Because when you start realizing that God is your fulfillment and you’re actually seeking someone to partner with in glorifying God… that changes your priorities.

Recently my BF (best friend, not boyfriend… this is a blog post on singleness, people) was explaining to someone about “the list”.  She named some of the highlights, and the person she was talking to just kinda blinked at her for a moment.  Then she said, “That’s a pretty tall order in this day and age.”

Maybe I should give you the abbreviated version…
1 – Must be an earnestly-seeking-God Christian man.  This is non-negotiable.  We all have weaknesses and faults, but someone who is chasing after God is at least going to be running on the same path as I am.
2 – Must be willing to be a loving stepfather to The Kiddo.  Because we are a package deal.
3 – Must be willing to make the commitment with me to honor God through being chaste until we are married.
4 – Must be a geek.  (Okay this one is a bit more negotiable… but honestly, I’m not sure I could love someone who wouldn’t geek out with me about Marvel movies, Star Wars, and Lord of the Rings style fantasy stuff.)

It gets less ticky after that and more just preferences and hopes.  But the first three are absolutely non-negotiable… and really, they all tie back to the first one.

And that’s considered a pretty tall order nowadays….

I won’t lie and say that’s not discouraging at times.  But that’s okay….  I had to make the statement of faith a long time ago that if God keeps me single for the rest of my life, I am okay with that.  There are some days it’s a total statement of faith, and some days that I actually mean it 100%.  But at the end of the day, if I’m not looking at marriage as a means to honor God… I’m missing the point.

With all that said… I wish I could communicate properly how life-like life can be while single.  I mean… really!  I actually enjoy my life.  Shocking, I know!  I don’t sit about pining away as I stare out the window awaiting my prince.  I’m fairly busy between raising a cutey-patootie little boy, working full time, and operating in the ministries God has placed me in during this season of my life.  There is fulfillment and happiness, but there is also frustration and loneliness.

I’m not going to dress up singleness as “not a sometimes-struggle”.  Unless God has given you the gift of celibacy, singleness is going to be a struggle some days!  (Spoiler alert… I don’t have that gift.)  But it goes back to that “rewriting your responses” thing that I talked about with the Strawberry principle.  I’ve had to start asking myself every time I start longing for “someone” whether I’m still seeking someone to glorify God with… or if I’m just looking for someone to make me feel better.

Because if I’m looking for someone to make me feel better, I’m just going to bounce from guy to guy again… demanding something that they were never designed to give me.

I’ll be completely honest.  This feels so less focused than my other two posts so far in this blog’s short little life… and there’s so much more I feel like I should unpack, but I’m going to save that for another time.

For now, I’m just going to leave this here.  It’s the set of verses most quoted at weddings, and yet I think we miss their ultimate point.  Usually we speak of these verses in relation to the person we love… but we’re told repeatedly in the Bible that God is love.

So… as you read these, instead of thinking of a significant other or someone you wish you had in your life… think of the One who’s already there waiting to give you the fulfillment you yearn to find.

And stop waiting for someone else to give you permission to live a full life.

Love is patient and kind.
Love is not jealous or boastful or proud or rude.
It does not demand its own way.
It is not irritable, and it keeps no record of being wronged.

It does not rejoice about injustice, but rejoices whenever the truth wins out.
Love never gives up, never loses faith,
is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance.
1 Corinthians 13:4-7

❤  J

Strawberry!!!

So, The Kiddo sometimes has trouble communicating what he wants to say.

Emotions are hard for a little boy, and he struggles more than the norm to express them.  I realized a little over a year ago that he was using something I have come to call his “sad phrases.”

Sad phrases are basically his way of trying to say he feels some kind of negative emotion, but apparently I’m one of the few who can actually interpret what he means.  Mommy privilege.  Once it hit me that only I was picking up what he was putting down, I started to realize what it must sound like to the average outsider.

Good gracious….

Here are some examples:
Kiddo when I tell him we have to go inside:  But Mama… we can’t give up!
My interpretation:  He’s disappointed and doesn’t want to stop what he’s doing.
Average Outsider reaction:  Give up on… playing? life? world peace? what?

Kiddo when it’s time to go to bed:  We can’t run out of lives!
My interpretation:  He doesn’t want to go to bed.  Tough.
Average Outsider reaction:  Run out of… does he think sleeping is dying??

Kiddo when he’s feeling any kind of negative emotion:  I’m not awesome….
My interpretation:  He feels mad/ sad/ disappointed/ grumpy/ hungry/ thirsty/ hot/ cold/ like taking over the world/ etc.
Average Outsider reaction:  Bless his poor little soul! Why doesn’t that mama affirm her sweet darling boy more often?! You are always awesome, little one! Let me take you for ice cream!

Okay, so maybe the average outsider doesn’t react that way… but that’s where my head goes some days.

Regardless, the point is that he means one thing, but he can’t seem to express it well.  Therefore, he substitutes different words that make sense to him.  He cares not if the rest of the world is on that little journey with him.

His favorite sad phrase lately has been “I’m not awesome.”  That is the catch all for any and every negative thing The Kiddo is going through.

Got in trouble at school?  “I’m not awesome.”
Feeling hungry?  “I’m not awesome.”
Missing someone and sad about it?  “I’m not awesome.”
Knocked over the dominoes before he meant to?  “I’m not awesome.”

It’s kinda cute, to be honest.  We grown folk smile sweetly and chuckle to each other about how precious he is.  Funny how we miss the ways we do the same thing.

Let me jump to something that’s going to seem completely off topic.  (If you know me, that disclaimer was not needed.)

I mentor a group of high school girls.  They keep me young, and in many ways they keep me more honest than I’d like.

One day I was feeling particularly frumpy.  Ladies, you know what I mean.  My hair didn’t “do right”.  My makeup was inexplicably all but gone.  My pants were fitting tighter than I remembered.  I just felt all-around yuck.

Offhandedly, I mentioned that I looked like a hot mess that day.  Expounding on the point a bit, I pointed out the things I felt like were wrong with my appearance.  I concluded with a definitive, “And I really want to get skinny again” or something like it.

One of my girls immediately piped up.  “But… you are skinny, J.”

My reaction was to laugh a little, point out that I was once a size negative forty-seven in high school, so it was just hard to compare my post-baby and post-30 year old self to that girl.

We went about our business as normal.

I ended my day… picked up The Kiddo (we were “awesome” that day)… and went home.  That conversation never came anywhere near my mind that afternoon and evening.

Have you ever reached that point of “about to go to sleep” at night when suddenly random points of your day just stick out?  Like… “Leave me alone brain, I need the sleeps” but it just won’t stop?

I was about to go to sleep when that conversation came roaring back to me out of the blue.  And in the midst of it, God whispered something to my heart that kept me up another hour that night.

If someone they love and respect can talk that way about herself, why should they do any different?

Whoa, what? I’m sorry.  Did I just get called out for negative talking myself because others look up to me?

Yep.  I kinda did.

It took me a lot of quiet time to unpack that thought.  I suddenly saw that conversation from the other side.  What if one of those girls sat there and thought, “She’s smaller than/the same size as me and says she’s fat… what must she think of me?”

If you’ve ever mentored high school kids before, that thought should stop you cold right now.

I spend so much time telling those girls they are beautiful inside and out, and I mean it.  But how can they believe me when I trash talk myself constantly?  What are my actions teaching them?

And let’s be honest… most of the time when those negative self-talk moments are spoken aloud… aren’t they really just our adult version of sad phrases? (See? It makes sense now!)

“Ugh… my hair looks awful today.”
Please disagree.

“I really need to lose ten pounds.”
Please tell me I look great just like I am.

“I’m an idiot.”
Please say I’m not.

Deep down, if we’re honest, a lot (not all) of our negative self-talk is a cry for someone to convince us that it’s not true.  That’s not to say we never have bad hair days, make awkward social faux paus, or would be healthier if we lost a few pounds.  But there’s a difference between making a decision or mistake and asking for affirmation.

And if we go even deeper than that, the reason we are seeking that outside confirmation is because we have still not accepted that our worth comes from God rather than our appearance, humor, or any other worldly factors.

I challenge you to do a quick interweb search on “What does the Bible say about my worth to God?” and then read those verses.  Read them all.  And don’t just read it and intellectually process it.  Allow yourself to emotionally process it as well.

“Well, J,” you may be saying, “How exactly am I to do that, hmm?”

Great question.  And I’m still working on it.

But I think it begins with letting go of the pride that whispers that I can create my own worth.  Even those negative self-images are born out of pride more often than not.  Reverse pride, but pride all the same.

And I think it begins with disciplining that outward and inward talk.

“Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable.  Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise.” – Philippians 4:8

We usually interpret that as external things to think about… but what if we started applying it to ourselves as well?  I’m not saying to take this blinded approach to our faults, but again… you know there’s a difference between conviction of things we’re doing wrong and just talking down about ourselves before anyone beats us to it.

What if instead of focusing on the things we don’t like about ourselves that day, we instead focus on the things God has given us that are honorable, right, pure, lovely, and admirable?  Don’t tell me there aren’t any.  I’ll come find you and thump your ear.

So, back to my girls.  I came back the next day and apologized to them.  Like… honestly and earnestly apologized.  We discussed talking bad about ourselves and why we do it.  And I made a promise to them.  I promised that I would never speak that way about myself to them again, and if I did, they were to call me out on it immediately.

And then I promised to do the same for them.

A long winding conversation followed and somehow a code word was developed for when someone started bad-mouthing themselves.  Don’t ask me how it came about, because I honestly don’t remember.  The world of conversations in that room is a sometimes confusing and mildly terrifying place.

Anyways… now when someone says something negative about themselves, one girl (or twenty) immediately calls out “STRAWBERRY!”

Yeah, I don’t know.  But it works.  We giggle.  Someone follows it up by affirming that person.  We all leave with smiles on our faces.

It hasn’t changed my thoughts yet, but it’s still early.  I can already tell that it’s changing the patterns I’ve spent years ingraining myself with.  I hope that it’s doing the same for these sweet girls before they get as many years of experience with it as I have.

But you know… it’s never too late to start.

So… “Strawberry!” folks.  Start changing the way you talk about yourself and to yourself.  Start claiming God as your worth instead of trying to make it on your own.  Start changing your thought patterns.

And go be awesome today.

❤ J