Category Archives: church

Loving Jesus Doesn’t Have To Be So Complicated…

 

So, I was lying in bed last night thinking about so many things. Feeling confused. Inadequate. That’s when I felt the love of Jesus come over me like I haven’t in a while….this sweet, unconditionally loving presence in my heart, that kind, still small voice in my spirit that says, “stop doing this to yourself Jen. I never asked you to do any of that stuff you think you have to do in order to be a “good Christian”. I never asked you to be something or someone you aren’t or to give something you don’t have. I just want you to be with me, let’s just be together right now, let me hold you. I’ve missed you and it’s completely ok because I know you missed me too and I know you are doing the best you can. It doesn’t have to be so hard. You don’t have to try, try, try. Just be still and know that I am God. Receive me. Let me hold you at night after the crazy day is done. Quit guilt-tripping yourself and comparing yourself to others. We don’t even have to spend the mornings together ok? You don’t have to read anything. What if you just lie down and let me give you peace at the end of the day? Let’s get back to spending time together.” My body, mind, and spirit finally calmed and accepted the peace He was offering me without hesitation, without asking me to repent or apologize for not doing a “good enough job”at being a Christian. He knows how I beat myself up for not being “good enough” in any way that I possibly can. He knows I just need to stop, to be held.

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So, that is what I will try harder to do. Nothing else. No other goals for this year. I will bring Jesus whatever I have in my heart and let him hold me. My time with Jesus doesn’t have to look like anyone else’s. I don’t have to have “quiet time” at 5am every morning. I think Jesus knows “morning person” is not in my DNA. It can be at midnight when I’m lying there unable to sleep. It can be in the car when I bite my lip because I’m twisted up with anxiety after checking the bank account and tallying up all my bills. It can be when I go in the bathroom at work for some peace because I can’t take all of the demands and sadness of the stories I hear as a counselor. It can be anytime. ANYTIME. It can involve reading my Bible or just being still and knowing Him.

Because, if I wait to spend time with Jesus until I feel like I can do it like a “good Christian” or I wait until I have large chunks of time to sit and sip coffee leisurely while reading my Bible and pondering a devotional for an hour somewhere with a beautiful view….then I will miss out on being held, in the here and now, in my real life, my messy life, my exhausting life, my life that isn’t picturesque most of the time. It is this life that I need Him in so badly. Real life. I don’t want to miss out on time with my best friend just because I can’t do it “like I should.”

It makes me think of my friend out in Texas. If I waited until she came back to Georgia and we could have a spa day together to spend time with her at all, we would likely grow very far apart. But, just by talking on the phone for 20 minutes here and there when we can and sharing our messy real lives, we have a great friendship. I know I can count on her support and she knows she can count on mine. I want to have a close friendship with Jesus too. I don’t just want to call him up when something catastrophic happens.

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I have to get back to the basics. 1) Love God 2) Love one another. There is no 3) Feel guilty for not serving within the church constantly. It really doesn’t have to be that complicated. Spend time loving God and love people. Loving people doesn’t even have to be so complicated. It doesn’t have to involve all kinds of volunteerism or going to a foreign country or serving at the church during this season of life where I have plenty of opportunities to love on the women and children survivors of abuse I work with, to model care and compassion for the mentally ill to my students, and to love on my own kids, husband, and extended family members. What if I just stop feeling guilty and focus on treating the people in my day to day life, the ones I’m CLEARLY called to love, with love and kindness? That can be challenging enough. What if everyone loved their families, clients/students, and co-workers well?

One day, in a different season of life, I will serve within the church more, I will have more to give, I might get to read my Bible for an hour or more sitting by the lake digging into each scripture. But, right here? Right now? Loving Jesus doesn’t have to be so complicated. I just need to be still and know Him. Right here. Right now.

 

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Just Say “NO”: Underwhelming Our Family Schedule

“Jen, don’t feel like you have to be on all the committees for the PTO and all the other junk people will pressure you into when you have kids. The best thing you will ever learn as a mom is how to just say NO.

I remember my Mama giving me this nugget of wisdom when I was just a little girl and she was slaving away baking all this stuff for some PTO bake sale she had somehow gotten stuck baking the majority of the treats for after working all day at her job. I tucked away that little nugget of wisdom and thankfully remembered it when I had my own children and all kinds of requests coming at me to “get involved” “make a difference” “sign up!”

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For a long time, I thought I had depression or anxiety. Turns out, I didn’t. I just had an overwhelmed schedule that was underwhelming my spirit. I felt dead inside and constantly “on high alert” scrambling, trying to be on time, to get everything on my list done, to achieve at work, at home, and anywhere else I could. Then, I started having migraines and feeling like I had no motivation. I burnt out. I got to the point where I threw my hands up and just said “NO! Living like this is not really living!” and I quit one of my three part-time jobs, stopped feeling like I had to bake cupcakes for the class party (those Publix cupcakes are really pretty decent) or had to go with my kids as a volunteer on every single class field trip , realized my 4-year-old would survive and thrive without the team sports I signed him up for even though he didn’t ask me to, and I didn’t have to sign up for everything there is in terms of church service or volunteer stuff in the community, etc.  I basically just quit.

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I quit everything other than my job, my family, and the things I actually enjoyed. I zoomed out and realized that first things first really is a good philosophy. I have to take care of me first, my family second, and if there is anything left over, then sure I’ll let that overflow and help out somewhere. But, right now there isn’t any overflow. Or very little. I do lead a women’s group on Sunday mornings, but that is because meeting with other women and talking about Jesus is something that I love doing, not something I have to grit my teeth through. I am tired of gritting my teeth through life. Instead, I vow to enjoy life and let my children see me doing it.

My Mama’s wise advice has become my mantra. It helps me feel less guilty about having no desire to “get involved” and “sign up!” due to the fact that I feel like most days I can barely keep my head above water trying to raise two young children (one with special needs), work 2 jobs, make some half-hearted attempt to cook and keep my house semi-clean, and spend some romantic time with my husband at the end of the day trying to keep our marriage from falling into complacency or roommate status. Ain’t nobody got time for nothin’ else! At least not this mama!

I think we all owe it to ourselves and our kids to make a life that we actually enjoy living rather than being “Yes girls” who are so pressured into service (either through our own internal chatter or other people’s requests) we feel like the life is being sucked out of us and there is no time in our schedule to breathe or actually enjoy mothering and living. 

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I love my kids. They bring so much joy to my heart. I love playing outside with them in the sweet bliss of knowing I have NOTHING on my schedule. No school, sports, church, or extended family events on my calendar that day. My kids have expressed zero desire to sign up for sports, thank you Jesus! They would rather play with each other out in the yard than get together with a big group of kids or a team. I certainly don’t want to sit around watching them practice and ferrying them around in Mom’s taxi service from one activity to another. I am thankful that my boys love free play and free time outside as much as I do. We are a spontaneous and unscheduled family because I refuse to do things just because we “should” do them.  One day if they really, really, really want to play sports, I will allow it and figure out some kind of carpool co-op, but today I relish the fact that my kids are so much like me and I will not push them to “fit in” and do team sports or anything else that doesn’t bring them joy. We would rather go swim, run around the yard, go find a cool place to hike, or go paint some pottery together at INK. That’s just us. I love us.

We love our church family and I am so thankful they have made my son feel welcome even with the challenges that go with his special needs. Our whole family looks forward to going every Sunday morning and worshiping, learning more about Jesus, etc. But I’m just gonna go ahead and say. Wednesday church isn’t for our family. We love ya’ll, no hard feelings, but it just isn’t for us.  1) It’s too much for me because I run my butt off all day at work for 8 hours helping women and kids in crisis at a shelter and I have to go back and do it all again Thursday nights. Call me selfish, but I want to sit down and chill with MY kids when I get home on Wednesdays. I miss my kids and my husband. I want to sit around my dinner table and talk with them in an unrushed manner. I want to go hike down to the lake and talk to my kids about their days. I want to sit my butt down and breathe. I need a slower pace after a hectic day. I just don’t have anything left in my heart to give. I can dig deep and fill in in the nursery if there is an emergency and I’m really, really needed because there will be 20 kids unattended if I don’t. But I really just want to be home. Maybe that’s bad. But it’s me. It’s honest. 2) My kids feel the exact same way. They are tired and just want to go home after going to school and being babysat by Grandma until I finally get off work at 5:30. Yes, I could rush them through Taco Bell drive-thru and tell them to cram it down their throats because we HAVE to go to Wednesday church and then listen to them be grumpy and irritated because they really just want to go home and rest. But, instead, I would rather just go home and take my time making healthy food while they play outside or just sit down and play in a relaxed state because they are home where they want to be.

Since my kids and I are on the same wavelength, we are just going to do what is right for us and hope no one judges.  Busy mamas, if even God Himself rested on the 7th day, shouldn’t we get some rest as well? Is all this stuff we do really necessary? Thank you Lysa TerKeurst for this wisdom (read “The Best Yes” if you want to go deeper on this issue). My heart soars when it doesn’t feel constricted with external demands and pressures.

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Maybe you are a “go, go, go” family. That’s ok. I don’t judge. Maybe that works for you and your kids. All I ask is that you understand and don’t judge my decision to underwhelm my schedule so that our family of introverts who need peace and quiet can enjoy our lives. It is not due to laziness or lack of ____________. It is what we truly need in this season.

Maybe you are where I once was and feel like your schedule is so overwhelming you can’t breathe. I assure you, saying “no” doesn’t mean you don’t love your kids, it doesn’t mean you aren’t a devoted mama, it doesn’t mean you are selfish. It just means you are human, you can’t do it all, this isn’t the right season for tons of service (other than to your young kids and family) and maybe you want some time to spend with your kids that doesn’t involve the words “Hurry up! We are gonna be late!” Remember, saying “no” makes way for you to say “yes” to the good things, the things God whispers in your heart for you to do. Things like walking leisurely to the lake talking about Jesus with my kids.

We all just have to pray and listen and intentionally underwhelm our schedules in ways that work for us so that God can overwhelm our hearts with His loving presence and we can feel Him nudging us towards our “best yes” assignments, the things that we are passionate about and do bring us joy.

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We mamas (and daddys) are all just winging it through parenthood, juggling so many balls. Sometimes its ok to just intentionally drop the ones that don’t bring us joy, that don’t bring our kids joy so that we can juggle the ones that really matter with a confident smile on our face knowing “we got this” rather than a look of terror that all of the balls may drop at any moment. Can I get an amen? 🙂

Writing My Story

I was asked to tell my story…in front of the group of women I fear the most. Church women. Why do I fear this particular group of women so much? After all, my church isn’t even like most. They are the most grace-focused, loving, authentic group of ladies I’ve ever met. They have welcomed me with open arms. I have grown to love them and enjoy our life-giving friendships. I have been in women’s growth groups overjoyed in finding out that we have the same fears and frustrations and “unglued moments.” I have found that my quiet, yet lingering, fear that “they” have it all together and I’m just a warty toad of a mess is dissipating the more I actually take the time to get to know them. And yet…I wonder if they would judge me for things like the fact that my favorite song about Jesus is “Heart Like Mine” by Miranda Lambert…

You see, I am not a straight-laced, quiet soul even now. I’m saved and baptized and you know what? I am still loud and stubborn and rebellious. God knows who I am. He made me. He made me willful and wild and big-hearted. He knit me together in my mother’s womb to be who I am with the strengths and weaknesses that are uniquely me. It’s just that ever since I started seeking Jesus and really inviting Him into my heart and my life, I try my best to channel those personality traits in a very different way, in a way that isn’t self-destructive. I champion the causes of the disadvantaged, the rejected, the disabled. I rebel against becoming a “Martha.” Check out the story of Mary and Martha here. I am learning how to use my natural personality to serve rather than trying to change my personality to fit someone else’s idea of service. Guess what? I’m still human. I still have temptations and imperfections, but I am no longer bound up in the chains that once wrapped around me. Jesus broke those chains, made a way for me, and He holds my hand every day leading me, refining me. I am in awe of that. I thank God for that. I was once so lost I didn’t know if I would ever be found.

Yet…I often wonder if who He made me is acceptable to the church ladies…I wonder what they really think of me. Do they think I am selfish or ambitious or loud or unladylike? Does my desire to be more like Mary than Martha rub them the wrong way? I marvel at how MUCH truly awesome and needed service some of them are able to do when I feel like I can barely work my 2 jobs (one of which feels very much like a spiritual calling and mission field working with abused women and children), take care of my 2 kids who attend public school, lead a Sunday morning Bible study, and serve in the nursery once a month. I have to remind myself often that God made us different for a reason. Because the Body of Christ doesn’t need all hearts and no hands…or all eyes and no ears. We all have a role to play. I hope they are reminding themselves of that too…I really want to believe they are. “It takes all kinds of kinds,” as Miranda Lambert reminds us (I promise I do listen to Christian radio too).

One day I was driving down the road asking God this stuff, and got this surge of energy and had a lightbulb moment. I resolved through this epiphany  that regardless of what any lady at that church might think of me, my stubborn self is claiming my place at His table by golly! “Jesus paid much too high a price for us to pick and choose who should come”, Casting Crowns sang one day as I was driving down the road. Ya-uh! That’s my kind of rebellion and challenging the status quo right there. Everyone’s in baby, whether the more judgmental peeps like it or not. Claim your seat at God’s table. We ALL get an invitation. Don’t let anyone take that invitation away from you. Open it, read it, its a love letter. God loves you, no matter who told you that you can’t sit at the table because of _____.

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I refuse to let fear of judgment and rejection cause me to go sit in a dark corner, isolated away from all that is good about church again. You see, that’s what I did in high school. I was rejected by the “Christian” crowd (which at my school also just happened to be the popular and privileged crowd) and I thought I’d show them by going to sit with the “freaks and drug addicts” at their table in the back corner of the lunchroom. I was rejected, so I reacted by putting on a facade that their rejection didn’t hurt me and I didn’t want to waste my time with their boring, small minds, or their God anyway. I let them drive me away from my place at God’s table, from my place in the Body of Christ which is the church. Oh, how I wish I would have looked at that rejection as an opportunity to go love on “the least of these” and brought God’s love to that misfit table I sat at for 3 years of my life instead of bringing my hardened, angry heart.

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Anyway, now that you know why I fear sharing, I’ll also tell you why I am convicted to share. I don’t want my story to be about making sure you stick to the straight and narrow for fear of the consequences. I want my story to be honest about how He saved me from myself. If I had always been perfect, a “good girl”, if I had always walked the straight and narrow….would I have needed saving? Would I truly “get” things like grace and mercy so deeply that I ugly cry every time I hear “Amazing Grace”? There is such mystery about why and how God weaves each of our stories so uniquely, using EVERYTHING for good according to His plan.

A friend of mine who has lived her life in a much more righteous (meaning right choice that glorifies God) way once told me that she thought at one point she didn’t need grace and mercy. Then God showed her she did. Not through wild, wrong choices like I made, but through depression and anxiety. Wow, God is such a creative teacher, I thought to myself. Maybe all of us are broken at some point, either through our choices or our circumstances, and it doesn’t really matter how we came to that point of brokenness. What matters is that we acknowledge this human brokenness as something as universal as God’s unconditional love and our need for that love. 

We all have different sins or weaknesses, whatever you prefer to call it. Some of us are wild and rebellious. Some are judgmental and prideful up on a high horse. Some are overly materialistic and flirt with idolatry and envy making sure our lives look picture perfect from the outside. Some of us are gluttons and find joy in food rather than God. Some are addicts. Some are vain. Some have let lust burn down lives like a forest fire. Some actually think we can achieve perfection in various areas of life. Some have control issues and don’t want to give our burdens to God. We all have issues, they are just different issues. I can’t look down on you for your sin du jour just because its different from mine. I hope you don’t look at me like I’m a 3-headed toad because mine is different from yours. All sin is dangerous. Its even more dangerous when we start to think some sins are harmless because they come wrapped up in nice looking, even enviable, packages the world applauds. No one wants to be a sex addict or strung out on drugs, but many covet or define themselves by that nice big house on the lake or that nice car.  We have to be careful not to fall into traps of socially acceptable sin. “Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect.” Romans 12:2

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When I was a little girl and I would mess up, I would beat myself up verbally and mentally about it. My Dad would always say in his most gentle voice, “you know Jen, there’s only one perfect person and that’s Jesus. You might as well stop trying to be perfect because no one is.” So I stopped trying to be perfect and instead started trying to just be “good enough”. Good enough to fit in. Good enough not to be rejected. Good enough to get a quality man. Good enough to get a full scholarship. Good enough to get a good job. Good enough to look down on the people who rejected me. Good enough. But all along, it was the voice of the world that was telling me I had to try SO HARD to be good enough. God’s Word is clear that He created me and that I am much more than “good enough.” Right now, I have to challenge my self-sabotaging thoughts that tell me, “why would YOU think you are good enough to tell your story at a CHURCH of all places?” How do I challenge them? With the Sword of Truth:

I am a new creation. (2 Corinthians 5:17)

I have been healed. (Isaiah 53:5)

I am the salt of the earth. (Matthew 5:13)

I am the light of the world. (Matthew 5:14)

I am a child of God. (John 1:12)

I have eternal life. (John 10:27)

I have been given peace. (John 14:27)

I am part of the true vine, a channel of Christ’s life. (John 15:1,5)

I am clean. (John 15:3)

I am Christ’s friend. (John 15:15)

I am chosen and appointed by Christ to bear His fruit. (John 15:16)

I have been given glory. (John 17:22)

I have been justified…completely forgiven and made righteous. (Romans 5:1)

I died with Christ and died to the power of sin’s rule over my life. (Romans 6:1-6)

I am free forever from condemnation. (Romans 8:1)

I am more than a conqueror through Christ, who loves me. (Romans 8:37)

I have faith. (Romans 12:3)

I have been sanctified and called to holiness. (1 Corinthians 1:2)

I have been given grace in Christ Jesus. (1Corinthians 1:4)

I have been placed into Christ, by God’s doing. (1 Corinthians 1:30)

I have received the Spirit of God into my life that I might know the things feely given to me by God. (1 Corinthians 2:12)

I have been given the mind of Christ. (1 Corinthians 2:16)

I am a temple…a dwelling place…of God. His Spirit and His life dwell in me. (1 Corinthians 3:16; 6:19)

I am bought with a price; I am not my own; I belong to God. (1 Corinthians 6:19,20; 7:23)

I am called. (1 Corinthians 7:17)

I am a member of Christ’s Body. (1 Corinthians 12:27; Ephesians 5:30)

I am victorious through Jesus Christ. (1 Corinthians 15:57)

I have been established, anointed and sealed by God in Christ, and I have been given to the Holy Spirit as a pledge guaranteeing my inheritance to come. (2 Corinthians 1:21; Ephesians 1:13,14)

I am being changed into the likeness of Christ. (2 Corinthians 3:18)

I am reconciled to God and am a minister of reconciliation. (2 Corinthians 5:18,19)

I am given strength in exchange for weakness. (2 Corinthians 12:10)

I have been crucified with Christ and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me. The life I am now living is Christ’s life. (Galatians 2:20)

I have been blessed with every spiritual blessing. (Ephesians 1:3)

I am a fellow citizen with the rest of God’s family. (Ephesians 2:19)

I may approach God with boldness, freedom, and confidence. (Eph. 3:12)

I am capable. (Philippians 4:13)

I have been redeemed and forgiven of all my sins. The debt against me has been cancelled. (Colossians 1:14)

The voice of the world tells me a much different story, but that is why I have to meditate not on reality TV and celebrity news or obsess with my appearance, but fix my eyes on Jesus and serving the hurting. Loving God with all my heart and loving one another as He has loved me should be my goal. Philippians 4:8 advises us to be intentional and mindful about what we allow to marinate in our minds and hearts. “Therefore, my brethren, those things that are true, those that are honorable, those that are righteous, those things that are pure, those things that are precious, those things that are praiseworthy, deeds of glory and of praise, meditate on these things.”

As I write my story this week, I will meditate on these things. I will focus on how God has loved me unconditionally, saved me, healed me, never let me go, taught me how to love, forgive, understand, serve and of the miracles I have seen unfold in my life. I will focus on giving Him the glory. I chose to cut through every thought of “not good enough” or “you don’t belong here” with the Sword of Truth, bit by bit, little by little. Letting God Chisel. Because, in the end, I’m just a girl who loves Jesus…winging it through this crazy world…taking my place at the table…trying to fly on home….