When You’re in the Middle of it All and You Just Have to Dance

Abby & Jennifer hiking

There’s a project I’m working on, and I’m excited to tell you about it soon. But that’s not why I’m writing here. That’s not what I’m eager to tell you right now.

You see, in the middle of my typing, in the middle of working on the project, a song played through my computer speakers–music that made my fingers freeze over the keys.

It happens to be a song written a couple of years ago to play in the credits of a movie about, well, vampires.

Teenager vampires.

In love.

But vampires or not, this song is just romantic, just beautiful, and I have to keep it on repeat now, because this is what happens sometimes, when music grabs my heart and I have to pause.

(I know this happens to you, too.)

Now, I’ve told you about this before. I’ve told you before how I sometimes just need to stop what I’m doing–even if I’m in the middle of something that feels kind of important–and dance with Jesus.

I’ve also told you before this important fact: I’m not a dancer. Well, at least, I’m not the one at parties who feels comfortable being the center of attention. So, you know, at weddings, when everyone gathers in the middle and celebrates on the tiny dance floor? I do it . . . but I have to almost close my eyes to have fun.

So I do that, too, with Jesus. I close my eyes, and, in my head, I’m dancing. It’s just the two of us, in the garden. (I’m trying to get comfortable in calling this place my garden, or, better yet, our garden, as it’s where Jesus and I are almost always together.)

No matter what adventure Jesus is calling us to with Him–wherever you are with Him is the place of freedom, the place of movement, the place of beauty, the place where your heart knows where and who she is.

So, what else can you do?

You just have to dance.

And you are going to do it differently than anyone–anyone–else.

And you’re going to be amazing at it.

And that’s why I had to pause that thing I was working on . . . the thing I get to tell you about in a month or so . . . and tell you how good it is, how necessary it is to stop whatever you’re doing sometimes and listen to that music He wants you to hear. (And it might not be the music playing through any computer speakers, or even, music heard audibly at all.) The music that is most important to hear–the music to heed above all other noise going around you, is that music He’s playing, right now, to your heart.

Jesus is music within you, my sister. He is playing it in you and for you. He is orchestrating the whole darn thing, and He is reaching out His hands, His arms stretched out wide. For you. Oh, wow, because He loves you. He loves you so much.

You’ve just got to listen to that music.

It’s just for you, you know.

YOU HAVE TO DANCE PIN

And when you do . . . when you stop and you ask Him to play the music for you . . .and you close your eyes and you see yourself dance with Jesus. . . where are you? Wouldn’t it be fun if we shared with one another what the place looks like, or how we feel, or what we are doing, when we dance? You can read more about my heart for dancing–and Jesus’ invitation to you to dance with Him–here.

And one more thing: do you know that I love to invite sisters to come alongside me and listen for Jesus together? Do you know I’d come to you, come into your house or some other place where we can get cozy and be quiet and share together, and facilitate a retreat with you and your friends? You can find more about that here.

Wouldn’t it be amazing and wonderful to see each other, in person? (I’d so love that.)

Until then, get on with that dancing.

Love to you, my beautiful dancing, sisters,

Jennifersignaturescript

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Red Scuffed Boots and Holding Hands

Red scuffed boots

The walk to school isn’t long, just two blocks. Three houses down the sidewalk to the left. Then a turn towards the house with the dog that barks through the gate and next to the oleanders with the pink and white blooms floating like fairies down to the dirt.
Her red suede boots are scuffed at the toes, and when we cross the first street, her blue backpack, the one handed down from her big brother—the one that still has his initials monogrammed in white on the front pocket–bumps over the pavement. She still lets me hold her hand.

It’s one more block before we meet the crosswalk, and the street is sardined with cars. Drivers attempt patience as kids and parents and bikes and backpacks stream across the crosswalk to the school. We make a left turn, where the street turns into sidewalk, and then a right at the metal fence. I have walked this route, twice a day, almost every school day, with my three kids, for eight years.

She is quiet during the walk; her usual chatter distilled to abbreviated answers—responses to my questions about what she thinks this day will hold.

“I wonder where you’re going to sit this year—where your desk will be?”
“How do you feel about your brothers not being on the same campus with you for the first time?”

blue backpack

We pass the school office and recognize one of her best friends standing near the office wall, her formerly long hair newly cut into a bob and purple sunglasses from the dentist with the plastic lens pushed out, perched jauntily onto her little nose.

“Hi, Abby!”

Oh, those sparkling eyes and that fast-waving hand at my girl. This day is excitement for these kids. And for the parents? How do we claim the roller coaster of emotion we are feeling, from one second to the next?

Abby grins and waves back, her hand still holding fast to mine. She follows me, as I lead, heading into the main hallway between classrooms where parents–and kids in cute, new first-day-of-school outfits–are going every direction. It’s a sea of energy and anxiety, excitement and joy and fear. We find Abby’s third grade classroom through the hallway, on the other side of the school.

This girl of mine, eyes bright, stiffens next to me when she sees her classmates—as well as another best friend who is in her class again this year. Just as quickly as she took my hand as we began our walk to the school, she drops it and gets in line with her class. I stand at the pavement, my husband next to me. We stand elbow to elbow, watching our girl. Another year beginning. Each day practice in letting go.

Her head bends a bit to the right as the line begins to move. She glances back as she moves up the ramp into the new classroom, her eyes finding ours for just a moment, her lips pursed together into a tiny grin. And then there’s the back of her head, the hair I brushed from its tangles as she stood in the kitchen. Another five seconds and the red scuffed boots turn the corner into the classroom. She’s in.

I’ll keep letting go, Father. She’s yours. I know.

I’ll keep letting go, only to hold ever more tightly onto you.


You women here? You sisters who gather here, so beautifully? Whether you have children or not, whether you are married or not, you each know the discomfort of letting go–in so many ways. I am praying for you now, in your place of letting go. You are seen. You are loved. You are not forgotten.

Red scuffed boots pin

Father, help us hold fast to your hand. Show us the new thing you are doing, right now.

How can I pray for you, His girls, this weekend?

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Because You Need to Be Free

photo (89)

I circle the track, trying to get in shape for a December marathon relay with my sister, brother, and brother-in-law. Running is not as easy as it used to be–when high school and college races were what I lived and breathed–and it’s so tempting, instead, to just jump on the bike machine near my desk in the writing studio. (Reading a book while I sit on a machine and pedal to nowhere without having to leave the house? That takes a lot less motivation.)

Running, for me, can be hard. And inconvenient. And–when I’m not yet in shape–painful. But I feel like myself when I do it–like the girl in her dad’s orchard, running between the almond trees, like the woman who wants to listen for God’s voice and have it propel each move she makes.

What we choose to do with our time reveals to us more than just what we love and what we hate to do. What we choose to do with our moments, our days, indicates our response to God’s blueprint when He made us–our living out who we are, who God made us to be. When we say yes to do the things we are made to do, things we do that bring us joy and help us feel the joy of God, in us, we are making the choice to be ourselves.

Why do we spend so much of our days, our weeks, our years, desiring to be anything–or anyone–different?

I’ve been thinking about that a lot lately: what it might mean to more intentionally seek being only myself. How do I choose to do only things that make me feel the most myself? How do I say no to the temptation to strive to be anything or anyone else? 

I run in circles around the track and consider the question God has been whispering to my heart: how can I be more myself–just myself, perfectly myself–in every choice I make, in each decision that comes, in how I use my time?

What do you do to feel most like yourself?

I realize how tired I am trying to be someone other than whom I’ve been created to be: envy and insecurity sneaks in like gray fog curling quietly around my heart. There are so many moments I have trouble seeing, I have trouble feeling free. When Paul urges the Galatians to stand up for the freedom they have already been given, in Christ, I realize how often I let myself feel just the opposite of free.

Christ has set us free to live a free life. So take your stand! Never again let anyone put a harness of slavery on you (Galatians 5:1, MSG).

This has been my harness for much of my life: I look at what I don’t have rather than what I have. I look at what I am bad at rather than what I am good at and what I love to do. When we wish we were more organized, more creative, more productive, more talented, more intelligent (and on and on), we’re blind to who we really are. We’re blind to what Christ wants to show us; we’re deaf to God’s whispers to our hearts.

The biggest problem with feeling insecure about ourselves is the very focus on ourselves and our own deficiencies. (What a waste of time! What a waste of a life! What a waste of freedom!) The point of our lives isn’t to focus on how we need to improve. The point of our life is to love Jesus with our whole heart–and to love others, too.

And because we have Jesus right here, we have nothing in the way of living the free life of being ourselves, with Jesus, right now. Can I believe this? Can I choose to focus on who I am in Christ rather than the lies of what I am not?

Nothing between us and God, our faces shining with the brightness of his face. And so we are transfigured much like the Messiah, our lives gradually becoming brighter and more beautiful as God enters our lives and we become like him (2 Corinthians 3:18, MSG).

Christ’s freedom, in our lives, is wasted, when we don’t live, fully, as the person God created us to be.

We are only free, we are only experiencing Christ’s freedom, when we love Christ and the Holy Spirit in us is the voice we listen to above all other voices. The voice telling us we should feel anxious, afraid, nervous, envious, greedy, lustful, impatient, critical, judgmental, unkind is the voice that needs to be silenced in our lives. Only Jesus–only choosing to love Him and let Him show us who we are in Him–will take our eyes off the imperfections in ourselves and focus on the perfection of Him. And His perfection and goodness will inspire us to live the freedom that is always there for us to experience and live.

I think I’m going to keep thinking about this–but do more than just think about it, too. But first, I want to think about my God and how He loves me. I know He is going to help me, with everything I am, to love Him back. He tells me I have what it takes. And then freedom, I bet, is going to be pretty amazing.

You have what it takes, too. So do something today that makes you feel like yourself–no one else. ‘Cause there’s freedom and joy and a whole lot of good stuff coming our way–that’s right here. Sister, let’s not miss miss it.

Because you need to be free

What is one thing that makes you feel like you? What is that one thing you can do today?

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When You Hear the Cries and You Go Forward

photo (88)It’s not too late–we hear the whisper. It’s not too late to dig in, do the hard work. Let that heart of yours go and relax and believe.

We read the news and watch the reports. The photos our eyes and heart scarcely comprehend. The information stirs us up, incredulous. Are we shocked, perhaps, into waking? Do we raise up these heads and lift up these hands and refuse to give in–give in to lack of hope?

We are each called to stand. We are each called to love. We are each called to do the work of serving, with our Savior’s hand clasped in our own. We are each called to be who we are made to be. And that looks different for each of us.

Loving neighbors, widows, orphans, sisters, brothers, looks different for you. It looks different for me.

But, no matter how we are called to love, oh, girl, let’s do anything but sit down.

I trudged through beauty the last two weeks. It was the kind of beauty where light sparkles on snow in summer sun and children laugh because they can; because they are free. They know it. They know freedom, and they live it. And I am free, and I forget it.

photo (84)

photo (85)

I forget to live in the abundance of wild heart dancing under blue, cloud-fluffed skies. I forget to live even though I am lonely. I forget to live in the freedom for which my Savior died.

There are children dying, being killed, and I trudge through beauty and I wonder if I see. There are sisters and brothers and children martyred for their faith, and I forget I am free.

Sister, we are  rescued so we can rescue. We are rescued, so let us not be overwhelmed; let us not forget why He came. Let us not be completely overwhelmed by the darkness of this world. Let us not simply weep or resign ourselves to mourning. We are living freedom. 

Does it look like it?

We are daughters who wear a crown and who wear His shield of protection as we fight, as we go forward, as we refuse to be resigned and we do the things we can never do on our own. But first, my sisters, we pray.

We pray for what feels impossible, because, in all things, God is possible. We pray for hope and healing and hearts of evil turned completely inside out. God, we want heaven on earth.

We want your reign to come. We want your daughters and sons to cry freedom and go forward and ask you what it is you ask them to do as your children suffer, as your children cry and despair and die. Father, we want a world turned upside down, in your name.

What is it you ask us to do?

Love you with all our heart, mind, soul, and strength. Love others as much as we love ourselves.

The landscape of wild Alaska took me away from the news, from the twitter feeds and status updates. I went away for awhile and I stood upon glaciers and climbed mountains and bushwhacked paths through forest and got nervous when we were close to the bears. My children hiked and explored from morning to night.  We talked with our friends and stayed up too late and slept peacefully in still mountain night. I realize how my heart was resting. And how I don’t deserve rest. And I don’t deserve life. And I don’t deserve this peace and freedom and hope. I don’t deserve laughter and joy and contentment and even this questioning, wandering heart.

photo (86)

photo (87)

But I am loved. God loves me so.

And because of His love–which makes whether or not we deserve anything the furthest from the  point–I can rescue.

You are loved. So you can awake. You are loved, so you can go forward, asking who you are made to be, how, specifically, this day, you are called to love, how you are called to fight, how you are made to stand tall for freedom.

Because we are loved, we have freedom. Because we are loved, we trust His good more than ourselves. Because we are loved, we awake. Because we are loved, we step forward. We rescue.

We rescue in His name.

The cries are heard far and wide. Father, we are here. Help us join you–and rescue.

How might God be asking you to clasp tight to His hand right now, on behalf of the cries He wants you to hear?

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blank page

Blank page yamg post

Here is the blank page, Father, where I need You to come and write on me.

Let there be  no boundaries here, for the love You want to show me, wrapping me up like the girl I am, transcribing the Word of Life on my heart, holding me in Your words, the Life of the words that makes me sing.

Let me let go of all expectation today, let me hang loose, feeling no weight on me.  You carried my cross–I can hardly believe it-and forgive me when I think, in my pride, my vanity, that I can come close to shouldering any of the weight–or that what You did, to begin with, wasn’t enough.

Here I am, Father, palms up, ears open, asking You to cleanse me again.  Slow me down to see You–trusting You more than me, Your heart more than mine.  I surrender me.  Let me do nothing out of vain conceit but be filled with You, loving as You loved. Lay me down, Lord.  Forgive me for any focus on myself.

I am that girl who You see in Your painting, Your vision more beautiful than I can ever see.  Let me shed these scales that blind me to Your glory, Your humility, Your walk through the streets as the people spat on You and called You names.  Lord of the Most High, forgive me for my self-centeredness.  You have forgiven me for my darkness.  Let me walk with You, carrying my cross.  Take me out of the crowd.

You remind me to stay here, bring Your beauty here–with You in me–into the swarms of darkness, like You did, when You did not turn.  My God, Your tears ran down when the agony of my sin tore You from Your Father–all to bring me back, deliver me to Him, in Your arms.  You bore me, rescued me, delivered me to the hands of the One who made me.  I am Yours.

And so I trust You, help me to trust You more, surrendering to the joy of  loving with a heart that is not my own  Take me fully, this blank page, and continue to work out the plan for me as You see me–holy, treasured, a delight, formed from the tree You’ve planted,  grounded, Your fullness in me.

Write.

blank page yamg post Pin

How are you open to being a blank page, for God? (I’m up in the wild country with my family the next two weeks. Have you joined me over at Gather Ministries on Facebook by liking our page? That’s where I’ll be posting updates. Hope to see you there!)

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saying goodbye

saying goodbye She’s leaving, moving a few states over, and it’s for real this time. I’ve shared here about how we met.  And now, after months of praying and waiting, she’s moving back home.

It’s really happening. God is leading, and they are going. I’m excited for her–knowing she goes where her King is leading her. But I will miss my friend.

Saying goodbye and trusting God is both so good and so hard. It’s one of the most difficult things, to say goodbye.

Over the last four years, many of you have written me, sharing your experiences with goodbyes. Goodbye to a spouse, a boyfriend, a friend, a child. You have shared glimpses of the ache of change, and the ache of sadness and the ache that comes when hoping, day after day, becomes weary and difficult to do.

I don’t pretend to understand how difficult it has been for you to say goodbye.

Mostly, in these notes to me, you’ve shared the ache of missing. And I anticipate the missing her, the friend who rescued me five years ago when I didn’t know I needed rescuing, the friend who loves with His fearlessness in her and who fights for the hearts of His girls.

Father, how should we think of goodbyes?

I know what it is like to say goodbye. I know change is hard and how it is difficult to imagine there is more ahead, just around the corner. Don’t cling to what you know, child. Cling to what I teach you. Cling to future hope, and today’s goodbye will feel more temporary.

For I am here, and I don’t say goodbye. So all the years and all the memories are not going to fade. Everything will only become brighter and more clear and more beautiful. You can let go because I never let go. For a goodbye is never a goodbye with me.

image

To whom or to what have you had to say goodbye? How can I pray for you?

 

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turning towards God isn’t just about quiet

fighting for quiet

My phone vibrates on the table near my bed, and  I grab it quickly and shut it off. It’s one of those misty California Bay Area summer mornings–gray blanket thrown gently across quiet sky. Everything feels quiet. I picture God tucking me in still, even as I stretch my arms, rising slowly out of bed.

I know every creak in the beams of this old bungalow, nearing 100 years old. So, my steps into the kitchen are careful, ginger. The rest of the house still sleeps. The stillness is tangible–so amazing and beautiful and rare I can hardly believe it. I coax my noisy, excited dog out the back door and sit on the couch in the family room, right off the kitchen. This is sacred.

Oh, God, thank you.

I sit for a while, breathing in the beauty of this space–and then I lay down on the couch. Oh, I want to drink in this stillness. I want to wrap myself up in this quiet. This is no small thing.

For each of us, our time with God looks different–and different situations call for different experiences with Him, too. This moment–in the stillness? It was one I didn’t want to forget. So I grabbed a blank piece of paper in the kitchen cabinet and a pen–and I wrote.

How rare and precious it is, this quiet, this time with you. I love my family around me, and I would be sad to be alone for days. But periods of quiet, of complete silence, when things, even the air around me, feels completely still? I am grateful. And I want to stay.

I have trouble desiring to hear you, Father, in the noise. It is not that I think you can’t speak to me in loud cacophony. But I am so easily distracted by sound around me. I know, this morning–the stillness–drew me to you. You can use anything–and you desire everything to draw me to you. I wonder what atmosphere you like to inhabit most? What is your favorite place to be, Father? You must enjoy it all.Or, are there places or situations you don’t like?

In the margin of the paper, I write a little heart–to remind me, when I read this page again, where I wrote down my words–and what I heard God say back:

I don’t like distraction. I like focus and intentionality. I like rest and play and laughter. I like stillness, too.

I fill every space, child. Look what and where I inhabit. Practice turning, so your mind, so distracted, can fix itself on where I am. And your heart awakes. It knows what it wants and needs.

Within you, seek the quiet space, wherever you are. I love noise and music. I love the joyful calling of voices. I love praise.

You are most yourself and at peace in the inhabitance of praise.

In noise and in quiet, I can be present in all things. But it is the turning towards me, in all situations, which lets your mind be focused on me–so your heart and mind cannot help but praise. And in praise you are not distracted and you are most yourself. And when you are most yourself, you are free; you abide in freedom. And that freedom is my love.

It is no surprise that we crave things that feel scarce. And quiet, for many of us, can be one of those things. For me, with summertime and three kids and our little house and our dog, quiet happens–but rarely. I fight for it sometimes, managing to cajole the kids to join me in our studio in the backyard, where there is a big couch and my writing desk pushed right up against Justin’s. There’s a big windowed door that stretches across to the patio and there are tiny lights strung across the ceiling beams. This converted garage is one of the sanctuaries He’s given us, and we use it as a place of escape from noise–even as it doubles as a mini-gym and occasional video game haven, too, with our exercise equipment near the door.

And sometimes, in the still, still quiet of early morning, I practice listening.

We need to do whatever it takes–and it will be different for each of us–to practice listening to God’s voice in our hearts. And as we listen, we are filled with praise. And when we praise, our hearts are turned to God. And we are most ourselves. And we are free.

The Father’s words encourage me to fight for whatever it is that will help me turn to him. He says, “In noise and in quiet, I can be present in all things”. But it is my choice, as his daughter, to practice turning.

TURNING TO GOD PIN

 I want more of that. How about you? How do you practice turning towards God?

 

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trapped? how about living the life you’ve imagined?

trapped.jpg

We can wake up, these days, and believe, with all our hearts, that this is the most ordinary day. The alarm goes off and everything looks just the same as it did before. Same bed, same room, same situation as the previous day. There can be comfort in the sameness. There be comfort in knowing the routine. It offers some feeling of control, which can feel safe. And safe can feel good.

I wonder if I think I desire safety and routine, but in reality I desire something I will never receive because I have so little faith. Doing the same thing, day after day, hoping that there will be more time to accomplish a certain task, or that my relationship with my family and friends–and my God–will be closer and more meaningful and awesome.

Or maybe I struggle with the hard work change requires. While Justin and I write how new life comes only after resurrection from death–how Jesus modeled new life only after agreeing to die, and with Him, setting us free from sin–I am convinced, again, something in me may just need to die. For I want to abandon, once more, the feeling of being trapped.

Feeling trapped in the life God has given me–in the life Jesus died for, in the life of freedom He offers–doesn’t make much sense. We’re not meant to feel trapped. We’re not meant to feel overwhelmed. But we can feel that way, nevertheless.  So I stand, in my need, with the Corinthians, as Paul speaks God’s words to my heart:

Just think—you don’t need a thing, you’ve got it all! All God’s gifts are right in front of you as you wait expectantly for our Master Jesus to arrive on the scene for the Finale. And not only that, but God himself is right alongside to keep you steady and on track until things are all wrapped up by Jesus. God, who got you started in this spiritual adventure, shares with us the life of his Son and our Master Jesus. He will never give up on you. Never forget that (1 Corinthians 1: 5-9, MSG).

I have not a thing to lose now. My Father has given me everything I need. Trapped? I imagine this is not a favorite word in His vocabulary. He came to save us as we were enslaved in sin, trapped in greed and pride and lack of faith. Trapped.

I used to feel trapped by the guilt I’d feel by not feeling one hundred percent fulfilled by being a mom who stayed home full time with her kids. I believed there was something wrong with me. There was.

I used to feel trapped in relationships when I’ve felt disconnected from someone I cared about, or  misunderstood. I’ve felt trapped when my desires and passions were not claimed–when I ignored how God made me to love certain things, and I wasn’t doing them, or I wasn’t allowing myself time to believe they were real, or for me to do. Something was wrong in me then, too.

do what you love

There is a life Jesus has fought for me to live, a new life that is more than circumstantial. It is a heart change, this reality of freedom. It is a life that requires faith to realize. It is a life that I want to choose.

So, do I just trust you more God? Do I call out to you, pleading “I believe! Help me with my  unbelief!” ? Do I just refuse to believe in ordinary?

There’s a pillow sitting on the little couch in the front room we had made from the crib our babies’ slept in those first years. “Live the life you’ve imagined.” I like it–all the possibility it reminds me is real and true, and, well, possible to experience. This ordinary day.

live the life you've imagined

But I think it comes down to this for me: I need to believe the life I imagine is possible to live, with Christ, is for me–a life of freedom,where He is capable of taking from me every silly thought and every heavy burden.  A new life bought by His ransomed life. I live to die and be resurrected and live, again, with Him.

So, again, I pray God helps me die.

Die to anger and to self-obsession. Die to my plans and to the minutes that don’t go like I thought they should. Die to resentment and to my  critical spirit. Die to selfishness and to greed. Die to believing the lie I’m not good enough to do the things He’s made me to do, or that I shouldn’t even begin to imagine freedom from worry or fear or pride.

And live to imagine He is here. Live to imagine I am made by a God who loves me. Live to imagine I can handle anything, with Him by my side. Live to imagine, no matter what I face, it’s going to be okay.

Sisters, can you imagine being free?

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