When We’re Afraid What Will Happen When We’re Alone with God

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Father,  you called me to quiet recently, and I don’t want to ignore it. I can’t hide that part of me that wants to achieve and to produce. I can’t hide that part of me that likes to run hard and loud and fast.

I trip a lot then. And I tire. Again and again I try to run a race all on my own, and you love me so much you let me do it.

So I am here, telling you I am tired of running a race alone. I am tired of trying, so much. I want to run hard this race you’ve given me to run, but I only want to do it with you.

Loneliness comes from shutting you out, from not opening the door, from seeking for the lost piece of me that is only found in you.

I want to love well, God.

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And I want to be quiet with you.

I am yoked with you, and I want you to set the pace.

My friends, here, these girls of yours who gather close and desire you to gather them even closer, are longing for quiet, too. They want to be with you and hear your voice and stay, as long as they can bear it, in the quiet with you. But it’s hard, sometimes.

I want to be married. In the quiet, will you ask me to lay that down?

I am scared of what will happen in the quiet, God. My heart is too heavy, my head is too full. I am afraid to quiet, because the noise inside me feels too loud.

My daughter is hurting, Father. Can I stay here, in the quiet, with You? She is suffering. It is so hard to bear.

I have allowed the busyness of this age get to me so much lately . . . my soul is aching to sit with You.

What do you have to say, God? In the quiet with you I haven’t been speaking. I have been watching you, these pictures of you and me, often as a little girl–sitting in tall grass, yellow wisps of stalks bending near my cheek. Or we have been running, your hand tight around mine. And the hill below is so beautiful and vast and there is water down below and we head to it, and you are laughing. So often, you are laughing.

But, Jesus, I know you cry, too. And I know you ache, too. And I know you draw us close to you with this love of yours that is sometimes too much for us to accept. But we want to see you. And we want to hear you. And we want to know you.

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What do you have to say to these girls of yours, Jesus, who want to sit with you, in the stillness, and be reassured by the presence of the only One who brings hope and light and calm?

My darlings, there is no right or wrong here. (And there is no way you can outrun me, my love.) There is no way you can sit with me and do it wrong.

Yes,the quiet can feel like noise, sometimes. Everything feels amplified when you are trying hard to not be distracted. Or, the noise is welcomed distraction, when you are afraid to sit with me. Don’t be afraid to be with me.

There is not one word I can say now that will convince you to sit with me. There is not one word or story I can share–or encouragement I can offer–when your heart doesn’t want to hear it.

You know I want to be with you. You know I delight in having made you. You know I rescue you. You know I have plans for you that are better than anything you could ever dream up on your own.

But to hear me? To really hear me? That is to simply be with me. You can’t hear me unless you want to be with me. You can’t see me unless you want to see me. You can’t feel me unless you believe I am here. I am here.

I want to be with you, and I am with you. But you have to let go and trust me more than yourself. Let your mind go. Let your emotions open up. Let your heart guide you to deeper places with me.

There are no rules where I am, with you. I take you to deeper places where you are known and you are free. Time with me stirs you to know yourself more.  You see glimpses of who you are, how I see you. No words can convey that. No words can convince you you are mine and you are loved; only time with me will. Only time with me can bring your heart to me. Only time choosing me–time choosing me above anything else–can rescue you, can let me rescue you.

And I want to show you how I rescue you and how I love you and how you are safe here, with me. So take a risk–something new and exactly perfect: Be with me. It is who you are. It is what you are made to do. Be with me. We will stay and we will go and I will awaken in you parts of yourself that have been dead and asleep.

Wake up now, child. Wake up and see the light. It is on you. It is with you. I am here. Sit still with me and we will go places you have always needed to go.

I can’t wait.

LET'S NOT BE AFRAID to be alone with God

Sisters, let’s keep staying in the stillness with Him–a little each day? How amazing to do it together. It may be quiet, but there’s a lot of action here we don’t want to miss out on. What do you think?

Three Things I Didn’t Know About Being Still With God

photo (58)Being still before God these last four days has made me realize a few things.

Number One: Being still before God doesn’t need to be complicated.

Number Two: I can still be in God’s presence even though He feels completely far away.

Being still before God requires no perfect chair, no perfect time of day, no perfect moment. It requires no perfect frame of mind, no perfect attitude, no perfect night’s sleep. It requires no perfect outfit, no perfect set of ears or praying experience or wisdom.

It requires one thing. You.

It requires you showing up.

It requires you being alert.

It requires you wanting to see God.

A few days ago I shared with you how I wanted to do an experiment–spend a few set minutes every day, for a week, being still before God. I wanted to discover what it would be like to experience a week intentionally sitting still for 15 minutes before God, without doing a thing (no writing, no listening to music, no talking to Him, no even trying to actively listen to what He might be saying).

I wanted to just be with Him. I wanted to sit next to Him. I wanted to be near Him, at His feet, curled up so my shoulder tucked up against His chest. I wanted to close my eyes and focus on Him, His goodness, His completeness, His wholeness, His safety, His hugeness (yes, such a sophisticated word, I know).

And I asked if you wanted to do it with me. And see what happens. And a lot of  you said you were ‘in’. (You are so beautiful.)

So I decided to jump in here and share with you how it has been going for me so far–especially as there is a bunch of you who are doing this experiment with me. (Do you know how awesome that is?–that we, together, as sisters, are sitting together, with God?) I really hope, in a comment, you share with me how you’re doing with this so far.

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For me, my experiences on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday were pretty fun. This is what I did: when no one was around me and the house was quiet–because the other family members were at school or at work or, in the early mornings, sleeping–I set the timer on my phone and crawled up on the couch in my writing studio or into the chair in our family room and closed my eyes. That’s it. I just got in a quiet place and closed my eyes and desired to sit still with God.

Rather than speaking to Him–and rather than listening for His voice–rather than listening to music about Him–and rather than reading scripture–I simply sat down, with eyes closed, and thought about God. I attempted to not communicate to Him. No desires. No worries. No fears. No confession. Rather, I tried to sit with Him, sit in the same space with Him, wherever He wanted me to be. I wanted to simply be aware of His love–both His love for me, which, of course is amazing to think about–but also, His love, in general.

Amazing.

In the stillness with Him, I waited for Him. And I thought about Him. My desire to turn my every thought to God’s love kept me more present with God.

Be still before the LORD and wait patiently for him (Psalm 37:7).

On those three days the time flew by. I set my timer for 15 minutes and I was present with Him, in the moment. My soul was quiet and awake. It was open space, uncrowded by distraction or unwelcome thoughts. I centered my mind, my soul, my presence on being with God, being in the presence of Jesus. And for those three days, I was.

And it was amazing.

And then Sunday morning happened.

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It was early, the house completely quiet–the dog passed out on the floor, and those 15 minutes were not at all the same experience as the previous three days. My mind could not stay in one place. I could not rein in my crazy thoughts; one annoying thought led to another. And these thoughts weren’t at all about God, but about seemingly random stuff that I really didn’t want to be thinking about so early on a Sunday morning. That wasn’t the plan!

I listened to Bill Johnson say once how one’s thoughts during times with God are perhaps not so random. A thought that occurs to us during our time with God–about a situation or a person–might be God actually whispering to our heart about something good He wants us to know or take care of. A thought about a person might be because that is someone whom the Father actually wants us to be thinking about, loving, caring for. Sometimes, these thoughts during times in prayer are God’s whispers, and an opportunity for us to respond. But, not always. And that wasn’t what I think was going on with me on Sunday. At all.

I think I was distracted and tired. I think I didn’t feel God close, even though my head told me He was. I think I was wanting the same awesome, beautiful, intense experiences I had had the other days with Him. I wanted to think about His hand touching my cheek. I wanted to think about His smile, His tenderness, His compassion, His all-consuming love that I can barely begin to comprehend. But I didn’t. Not even close.

Which brings us back to my realization Number Two:

We can still be in God’s presence even though He feels completely far away.

And I think that’s okay. But I also know this: I know that sometimes, when we are hurt and when we are scared and when we feel totally alone, God’s apparent absence doesn’t feel at all okay.

Not one bit. I know.

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But on Sunday, when I felt just empty space and the frustration of experiencing random streams of thought rather than the peace and joy and fulfillment of God’s presence, I remembered two words that God whispered to me on Friday: “Please stay.”

So here is realization Number Three:

When your heart has trouble feeling God close, your head can help you remember He truly is.

The Lord your God is in your midst,
    a mighty one who will save;
he will rejoice over you with gladness;
    he will quiet you by his love;
he will exult over you with loud singing (Zephaniah 3:17).

Sister, I pray you know God loves you and delights in you being with Him.

Isn’t His love simply, the most amazing thing?

So, this being still and quiet before the Lord? Let’s keep doing it.

Tell me how it’s going. Let’s encourage each other on.

STILL

What have been your realizations or experiences so far? We need to hear what you have to say.

I Want to Stay in the Stillness with You

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It’s silent. I hear only my own breathing. And then Michelle’s puppy presses his paw against my bare foot–cute, clumsy paws gently brushing the thick carpet.

I’m not sure what I’m listening for. The right prayer? A whisper from God to my heart? I think, actually, I’m relishing the invitation to not think any thoughts. I think, perhaps, I’m enjoying not listening, not searching for what to say, what to do.

A few minutes prior, we read scripture; we layered praise together to our God; and then, in silence–here now, in the silence–we confess our sins. I love this part, this sitting together, in this circle of sisters, not saying a word. It surprises me how much I love it.

Silent confession? Fun? Is it the confessing I love? Is it being in the presence of these dear friends who know my heart so well? Is it the almost tangible silence I find mesmerizing? What part of this is so inviting?

I think it’s all three.

Dolly, who, for almost seven years now, has led our little group through the experience of praying together for our children, guides us deeper into the silence. She loves to sit with her God. She loves to stay.

She helps me, here, by her example, with my sisters, to stay.

When we confess, privately, what is on our hearts, to our God, we stay there for minutes that stretch longer than time. We close our eyes and we sit and, well, I don’t know what goes on in the heads of my friends. But I love this confession time because it’s in this stillness, this quiet, that I breathe: My confessions to God are the act of emptying myself to be present to Him.

I spend a moment giving Him all the burdens of my heart, the ways I’ve messed up, the things I’ve tried to carry on my own. Through the act of confession my spirit is quieted. In the presence of my God I am quieted. The stillness is sacred space; this space with my sisters is holy. We are attentive to this presence of our Father.

Oh, I am thirsty for Him–although I struggle to seek God lately. I struggle to stay here, in the quiet, seeking the presence of the only One who can bring me exactly what I need.

Even with the kids in school now during the days, I jump into housework and errands and writing and work as soon as the house quiets down. Or, I’ll take the dog for a walk or I’ll talk to a friend on the phone or I’ll exercise–and in these moments I am listening to a podcast, to my friend’s voice, to music.

I am not quiet. I am not still. I am not inviting the emptying my spirit needs to be present to the Holy Spirit who makes me whole.

I work hard filling myself up with things–information, thoughts, media. It’s my own pride that chooses activity over being still–I keep going and moving and working, believing productivity will bring joy and contentment and fullness, not my soul quieted while in the presence of God.

I am missing something.

Are you, by chance, missing it, too?

I am wondering if you might want to join me, your sister, sitting in the quiet together each day. How about we try it, say, for a week? This is what I propose we do: how about, for fifteen (or ten or five or two!) minutes a day we just sit. In silence. With God.

How about we don’t have a pen or a journal handy. How about we don’t listen to music. How about we don’t read anything, not even scripture. How about we just find some place of relative stillness and stay in it.

That’s it.

LET'S SIT TOGETHER IN SILENCE PIN

How about we try it today? And then tomorrow, and then the five days after that? I’ll check in on Facebook after I’ve done it each day, and that would be great if you wanted to check in, too.  I might post about it again–well, yeah, I probably will. And if you could leave a comment here, on this post (subscribers, click here to go on over to the blog to leave a comment), to let me know you are here, sitting with me, in the quiet, well, that would pretty much make my day.

This is an experiment, for sure. But I think it’s going to be pretty cool. I don’t know what to expect, and I’m not going to get all freaked out if I struggle to slow and settle into the quiet, at first.

But I am going to expect Him. I am going to know He is with me. I am going to sit with Him and be quiet with Him. If He wants to speak, He will. If He wants me to speak back, I will. But I think there isn’t going to be a lot of talking.

Let’s quiet, knowing we don’t, for a few minutes, need to do a thing. Let’s remember, in the silence, He is the only one who makes us full.

The Astounding Effect of a Single Yes

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I believe we are all called to do something, just not everything. Focusing on our one thing and doing it well to His glory is both liberating and life changing.

Kristen Welch, Rhinestone Jesus

Kristen Welch, author or Rhinestone Jesus, has me over at her place today. In my post I share a glimpse of the seed that started Gather. It is amazing how one yes to God can lead to another, and then another.

I’d love for you to come on over and read the rest . . .

Can you hear the invitation to say yes? (Sometimes we don’t know what we’re saying yes to yet, and that’s okay.) What is your invitation?

 

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,

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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.

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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?

Because You Need to Be Free

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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?

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.

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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?

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?

we look a little bit like him

It’s the last week of school for my three kids. Or, in the life of a mom, it’s the week of crazy. The last month has been packed with end-of-the-year musical concerts, open house events, and family graduations. We are in transition mode: enjoying/surviving the end-of-school responsibilities and anticipating the launching of summer vacation. And if you were reading here a few years ago, you might remember I can be a wee bit sensitive about the transition from school days to summer vacation.

I have been known to . . . well . . . flip out . . . a bit.

But I don’t think I am like that as much, anymore. I hope.

summertime.jpg

That was the old me, I tell myself, the me who didn’t know life without striving, the me who didn’t know how to believe she was loved, the me who didn’t know how to breathe.

I can still struggle with that sometimes. But I think I am different now, too.

I have a friend who is a big part of my family’s life because her son is one of my son’s best friends. She is so full of love and kindness I think of Jesus every time I am with her. I see her at school pickup and on the playground and at our kids’ sports events. We’ve logged hours in conversation on porches and football fields, on school blacktops and on the phone as we arrange for our boys to be together. She’s a single mom, working tremendously hard for the sake of her family. And over the years, she has commented more than a handful of times that when she sees me I am often so calm, so peaceful.

Each time she’s said this to me I’ve just laughed out loud.

But I wonder.

I wonder if it is true He is changing me. I wonder if it is true He is working in me. I wonder if it is true He has good plans for me; He is with me; He wants other people to experience His goodness, too. Yes, of course. Yes. To all of it.

I can look back at who I was when I was sixteen, the girl under the almond tree who cared more about what people thought of her than about the baby struggling to grow inside her womb. I can look back at who I was when I was twenty-four, and married, and couldn’t imagine sex with my husband being a place of freedom and trust because I was so full of shame from my sin-filled past. I can look back at when I was twenty-seven, and teaching high school, and not telling the counselor one of my students was cutting herself because I wanted the student to like me and trust me, even though loving her meant reaching out, on her behalf, for help.

I can remember being thirty-five, with three little kids, and being overwhelmed and frustrated when I believed their behavior was a direct reflection of my worth, as a parent, as a person. I can remember the second day of summer vacation, five years ago, and I finally surrendered to God, behind a bedroom door, on my knees. I can look back and remember realizing I have never had it all together–and rather than trying to make myself better, and try to prove my worth–I can just figure out who God has made me to be and be okay with that. I can look back and remember the pain and relief of letting myself be quiet before God rather than working to silence Him by doing and proving and striving.

I can look back at who I was and love her, this past self of me, this girl and her heart–because then, despite all her mess-ups, I am able to love myself a little more now, and let God show me how He loves me–then and now–despite not deserving one thing. I can look back and see myself more clearly–and appreciate that the work He is doing in me is real. He is transforming me, and it is good.

My husband shared with me a line that Graham Cooke said once–that when people ask him what Jesus looks like, He tells them this: “Well, He actually looks a little bit like me.” And, if you think about it, this is exactly what each of us should be saying, too.

If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him  (John 14:23).

And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit (2 Corinthians 3:18).

I want to look back at the bad choices I’ve made in my past and let His grace and mercy cover all those mistakes. I want to look back and accept that when God looks at me He sees the beauty He has made. I want to look back and accept that, because of God, despite my bad choices, I am turning out okay. 

Yes, I regret so many choices. But, one thing I can’t help but see now is this: despite my messed up journey, I am loved, and I am changing, and God’s love has held me fast to Jesus’ hand.

I can still struggle with remembering I am part of a bigger story, much bigger than my own. I can still struggle with remembering God’s plan for me, this moment, let alone this summer, is rich with potential beauty and delight. Yes, His plan for me is always going to be good, and I want to not spend precious energy worrying about the things that just don’t matter one bit.

So, right now, I’m going to surrender my crazy-striving-Jennifer-dream that surfaces each last week of school, before summer vacation hits: The dream that my kids are going to have the most perfect summer, filled with long-creatively-packed beautiful days where they all get alone with each other and I am present with them each moment and delight in them every hour and no one ever fights and I don’t mind how messy our house gets when we’re all home all the time and the kids never, ever say once, “I’m bored.” The dream that the dog doesn’t continue to stalk me in my own house and the kids get excited about their chores and we ride bikes to town and read books under trees and make lemonade from scratch and play long from the hose in the backyard.

He has a good plan . . .for this summer . . .for these two months ahead.

Yes, He has a good plan.

After all, as I look at my past, in all its ups and down. . . I see that He always has.

So this is what I cling to: My God loves me right now, the me that messed up and the me that continues to sin. Despite my struggles, I am not the person I once was. I listen to the voice of my friend who has yet to know Jesus but yet recognizes glimpses of His heart. And I am going to claim it. I am going to claim this gift, the bit of recognition of who I am: my inheritance, my lineage, my choice to look a little bit like my Father, my acceptance that yes, of course I look like Him a little bit. After all, I am His, an adopted daughter of God.

For in Christ Jesus you are all [daughters] of God, through faith (Galatians 3:26).

What are your dreams or concerns or prayers for this summer? How can I pray for you?

And here is the winner (decided by random.org) of the giveaway of Bonnie Gray’s book, Finding Spiritual Whitespace: SimpleSaidMom.Congratulations!

He has a good plan.jpg

 

the waiting and listening and going

Last week was the first week in three years I didn’t post once. I have had questions filter gently into my inbox: “Is You Are My Girls finished?” Oh, my heart.

You remember the post I wrote last month about the fear we feel when we are faced with a new venture, a new opportunity to step out, into the unknown. I began processing those fears in April, here. And then the next week I visited a post I wrote about walking in the Promised Land, now, heaven-on-earth, when we step, even with trepidation, into the adventure He is offering us, this day.

It has been quiet around here, as I try to look my Lord right in the eyes, feel His arms around me close, and say yes. Oh, girls, my friends here, I have been trying to say yes.

waiting listening going So, I want to say, in my quiet, in the open space here of You Are My Girls, good things are happening. Please stay close here. Please don’t go far. I have something to share with you oh, so soon.

This is my heart here, a ministry speaking His truth to His girls, the women who, maybe a bit like me, forget who and whose they are in the rushed, calendar packed pace of this world. We can’t afford to forget.

I have been waiting, holding off on writing here, until I could share more about what all this quiet has been about. But I have missed checking in. I have missed the reaching out and asking God and listening and writing to you, His girls, His collected, His daughters whom He loves.

So, I popped in to say you are on my heart–for in the quiet, in the space where He invites us to stay, I keep listening. I love how we’ve been able to listen here, together.

Gratefully,

Jennifersignaturescript

the pace of a day for you for me

It’s in the beautiful space that you are. It’s in the beautiful space that you exist. It’s in the place where time is stretched wide and silence is music and you know you are loved and not at all forgotten.

lock + orchard

It’s in the light falling soft to make shadows, sun bright beaming through tree trunks and filtering rays a canopy underneath where you walk. And this is where you are most yourself, in the choice to see the possibility and hear His voice and feel time going on and not at all pressing in.

No, you don’t have to feel walled in, trapped, overwhelmed. Time is going to keep thundering by, a locomotive rumbling on stiff tracks with no way to turn, or go a different way, without crashing in a heap of mess and destruction.

No, you don’t have to fear being derailed, a train engine out of control. What’s it even mean to stay on the tracks, stay on course, anyhow? We are too often a passenger on board a crazy, going-way-too-fast train. Let’s  jump right off.

We’re going to get off this train and see you, Father.

dandelion stomp

dandelion SP

dandelion girls

We don’t have to feel burdened. We don’t have to feel like we need to keep the pace of this world. Oh, let’s find your rhythm, Father! Let’s find your sweet breath on our cheek and open eyes wide and feel the touch of you on our skin as we go, as we love, as we mourn.

In the relationships breaking right now and in the connections that feed us, Father, we trust you–and we pray for you to mend them.

In the work we love and the work we feel ill-equipped to do, we trust you, and we pray for you to fill us.

In the world who cries out and in the storms and worry and anger and grief, we trust you–and we pray for more faith, and more hope, and more healing. Give us a heart of complete peace and surrender.

We drink deeply of you now. We pause. We pause and breathe you in.

dandelion garden

Sustain us. Revive us. Embolden us.

Even through shadow we walk in your light, our Father. 

Praying for you, His girls,

Jennifersignaturescript

in the pain and the wonder

Two and a half years ago they began documenting the journey towards Home. The cancer prognosis, “treatable, not curable,” and the church saw the family clinging to Jesus. Emotions sinking low, hearts reaching high.

So many trials those years–with other family members leaving, a life ending unexpectedly soon. All while the fight to live continued on.

Oh, God, how we want to live, and how we live to trust you.

how we want to live.jpg

We read the news reports of families searching for strength–claiming the body of a daughter, a brother, a mother, a son from the ocean deep. We continue reading other stories: lives tortured, spirits almost ripped in two–through slavery, through mutilation, through physical, emotional, psychological abuse.

Oh, God, how we need you, and how we need to see you.

From the outskirts of hope, from the periphery of understanding, we cry out or stay silent. We grow angry or we feel nothing. We beg for answers or we hurt too much to care.

And you are so vast, God. You are too great for our small understanding. And we beat against your chest, or we walk away from you, or we stand fast, not needing to know what you know, trusting that not knowing all your ways is okay.

It is okay.

And we remember we are small and we are loved and this heartache, this dying, this suffering is what you feel, too, And maybe we can’t understand it all–all this pain, but let our hearts settle right down into you, hold us as we cry. Remind  us how we are here to love as you loved. Remind us we are here to let these hearts of ours break and break again. Remind us we are here to have our hearts do what yours has done, Father, over and over again . . . 

For the stone has been rolled away.

And while we can’t understand and can hardly bear the ache from people we love suffering so deep, we trust you more than ourselves. We stand in the middle of the grief and we see your face. We stand in the middle of the marriage failing and the children crying and the friend dying and we trust the answer we can never come up with on our own is you.

You begin again.

The stone is rolled away and we begin again. The stone is rolled away and we see that anything we thought was secure, that mighty stone dust in your hands, is only our arrogance, our pride, our desire for control causing grief layered upon grief.

Yes, we will feel the pain; we will bear it.  But take away our pride that makes us want to have you all figured out when things don’t go the way we think they should.

We lay ourselves down. We mourn and we shake our fists and we fall broken on weary knees.

Oh, God, you are our strength. You are our hope. You are the resurrection. You are the life.

So, yes, forgive us for the ways we doubt you.

We lay ourselves down.

what it means to have a good day

This is one of those posts where I type words with eyes closed. It’s the only way I know how to slow down. I want to hear. I want to not be on a tread mill. I want to breathe deep and know freedom is real.

It’s not just a dream is it?

what a wonderful world

We do work, and we do love. We do going and moving fast and it is oh-so-hard, to stop.

I struggle to let soft breezes blow on my face. I struggle to feel sunshine. I struggle to sit down and know I am captured, here. I am chosen, here. I am pursued and wanted, here.

So many words fly by in this internet space. I love it, and I tire of it. It amazes me how information is so readily available to us–how we know the news a second after it occurs. And we fill up our minds with information so we can be educated and informed and with-it and smart. I do this. I want to be filled up and smart.

And I struggle to let Him in. I struggle to let in my God, the one here, right here–but whom I ask (when I remember), to stay close, to keep up. I’ve got a lot to do and I want to do it with Him and the day is going by so fast and the list of things to do is long and the kids are almost home.

Has this been a good day, Father? Can you show me what it means to have a good day?

You closed your eyes last night, telling Me you missed me. You rolled over and you asked Me to tuck you in. So I did.  I pulled the sheet up close around your face, and I leaned in ever-softly and I whispered it so you could hear it: Yes, my daughter, I am here.

You tell Me you miss Me and how you feel the days are flying by. You tell Me you miss Me, and you feel like you’re on a treadmill and is this any way to live?

You tell me you miss Me, and I want to dry your tears and tell you I am here and you are okay.

Really.

You can miss Me. You don’t have to chase Me.

I am right here.

But you need to know something. You love something more than Me.

You know what it is.

You love success more than Me. You love achievement more than Me. You love accomplishment and victory more than Me. You push and pull for the task to get done and you worry if you are smart enough or good enough for the thing to be completed. And that’s what you care about. Because you worship something other than Me: Success. And that is what makes any person weary. That is what makes any person work and work with little feeling of accomplishment.

I am your strength, my darling. I am your captain, your friend, your Father, your King. I am your hand holder, your path walker, your trail clearer. I am your guide, your hope, your need taker. I am your vision, your desire, your rest, your soft breeze. I am the one whose kiss at night soothes you, whose hand holding yours strengthens you, whose walking next to you emboldens you.

My daughter, breathe deeply now. I am here. Let’s work together; let’s walk together; let’s be together.

Yes, you miss Me, but no more. No more missing.

You are found. When you feel missing because you think I am missing but you are the one missing, remember you are who is found.

So, I am here. And you can feel the breeze on your skin and let the sunshine fall on your face. In every darkness I bring light. In every crowded room I bring fresh air to breathe. It is time for new thoughts, a new way of doing things.

Try Me. Choose Me. Want Me.

I am here.

Do you fall weary into bed most days? Oh, how this makes a lot of things clear for me, about why I do. And now, I’ve got some things to lay down. . . It’s different for each of us, I know–these things that make us miss God. What about you?

as you begin this day

Before the morning, before the messages come, before the words swirl and work to define, we say, I am Yours.

San Francisco window

Before we see ourselves with clouded eyes–just ten years old then, decades older now–and believe there is much to work on, to tweak and work out, to correct and improve, Your eyes behold us in our glory now, in our fullness, telling us,

You are beautiful. You are beautiful. You are lovely to see.

Before the messages come when we were so young, believing that what matters is what people see, what the world believes about us, how we perform, what we do, how each choice only measures up to matter if praise is given, tangible rewards received, You whisper,

I love you now, right now. My love cannot be earned.

San Francisco open door 2

Before the twisting of what is true tears our heart and we make choices that show we don’t believe, You see us unblemished, pure; we fall and You wash us clean.

Before our trying, and failing, to carry this life on our own strength, You remind us how on our own we can do nothing, that You are all we need.  You offer Your breast to lean on and let us listen to Your heart singing,

You are My beauty, My girl, stay, this is your resting place.

San Francisco railing

Before doubts attempt to shadow hope, the stirrings become questions about whether our rising up, in Your name, matters, You whisper truth within us, turn the lies inside out and offer back the voice You always gave.  You show us what cannot be quieted–this voice that will not be silent until You restore, heal, redeem.

Before the darkness falls and the weight feels heavy, You lift us, reminding us there is nothing we bear alone, there is only light in the end, there is only Your arms holding us.  There is only You, in the beginning.

Praying for you, dear friends, as we begin this week together. How can we pray for you today? And how about this song (below), to kick off your week? The whole You Make Me Brave album goes on sale April 24. But if you can’t wait that long (like me), you can find it over here now. (Just sharing it ’cause it’s what I’m listening to this week, thanks so my dear sister and friend who shared “You Make Me Brave” with me on a day when I desperately needed the reminder.)

Jennifersignaturescript

sometimes you just can’t stay

Five of us on spring break in the big city closest to our home. It is the beginning of adventure now, reminding me how much I love a beginning—all possibility in a thing on the cusp of turning. We have no agenda, on purpose. We are curious what will happen if we let things unfold.

I grab hold of my husband’s hand, watching our two sons and daughter race each other up the steep paved walks, and I think about beginnings. I think about what is required for a beginning to be realized, and the relationship beginnings have with endings. For a beginning to occur, we need to welcome whatever, in relation to the beginning, is supposed to end.

There is such a push and pull in the usual, the trying to let things be what they are. But giving up control? To let things begin? Perhaps a certain amount of courage is required to jump into a beginning, a possibility, while trying to not be the one fully in charge.

Is that it? Is it courage? Maybe it feels a bit like that when, in the discomfort of a potential beginning we anticipate the ending that must precede it. This will be all new territory, and we’re not sure about that. In these cases, a part of us whispers it is safer, saner, better, to go back to the ending, the place where we were before the beginning, and stay.

We want to stay.

San Francisco

Even though we know it is not for us to stay. Even though we know adventure—living in faith—only comes when we are willing to let the part of us afraid of new things, afraid of risk, afraid of not depending on our own strength . . . die. ‘Cause, as my 6th grader would put it (even though I hate it when he says this word)—that feeling of letting something go, something so familiar . . . well, it would kind of suck.

Yep, death hurts. It’s tough to look forward to the unavoidable uncomfortableness that comes with an ending.

Even if that’s the only way we can ever live the truth of beginning. And begin adventure. And begin to feel a little bit more free.

My children keep running, my husband and I following them just behind.

I have been dying a bit these past days, putting down something close to my heart for the purpose of something good and new around the corner I can almost—but not quite—feel and hear, taste and see. I friend was telling me the other day about how dying is the only thing that brings about life. And I remember the death of the seed in the ground bringing forth roots and green sprouts in moist soil, stretching tall toward blue, endless sky.

And I think about us here, we women who want to live out stories of beauty, where yes, the sky is blue, and yes, we are the young girl, heart beating fast, breathing free. We want to be stretching our arms out wide and we want to be laughing long through dancing sunlight underneath speckled boughs of green.

And to be that girl, the girl of freedom and beginning and life, we must let our selves die again, trusting our Jesus, trusting His way to life, trusting death and laying ourselves down. In doing so the relinquishing of all control is our choice, our path to life, our only way to live.

From behind them, I breath in my children’s laughter. I watch their arms pump fast and their strong legs charge resolutely. Their voices call loud as they urge each other on.

Yes, keep going. Even though it’s hard. Together, we’re making it to the top of the hill.

when beginning again is scary

I approach you, Father, remembering. For I am scared. I ask you to help me remember where you’ve been. I need to see you. I need to remember who you are. It’s the only way I can have courage to trust you!–to say yes to beginning, to say yes to what you call me to do.

And to be honest, when I think about this new thing (what I will be sharing with you so very soon here, my friends), I am both parts excited and scared. For, sometimes, to begin something, another thing needs to end.

I’m not sure I want to . . . end . . . begin . . .

But you tell me to go back, to see where you were so I can see the beginnings you offer now, the beginnings you offer then.

So, I go back, and I look at words I wrote three and a half years ago, one of the very first posts of this blog. And I share it here again, friends . . . because I love being here with you, with Him. And together, perhaps we can help each other remember . . . and see right where He is, and where we are with Him, right now.

Here I am . . .three and a half years ago. . .  in December, right after Thanksgiving . . . before these almonds blossoms were in full bloom . . .

almond orchard tranquil

Dear Father, I pray Your words in me now, Your heart singing in mine now. I long for words to capture what You have placed on my heart this past week, how You have been coming for me. I love You, Father, Your gentleness, Your beauty that comes in gentle whispers, and in cascades. But always in love.

Father, give me Your words now. Not my own. Let me forget myself now. Stir my heart.

Here I go.

Here we go.

I am praying for words now to capture how my Father has been stirring my heart lately. Ups and down with relationships, good and challenging moments with family over the Thanksgiving holiday. Struggles in me surrendering my heart, turning toward Him, and then His joy I find when I do step out in faith. I see the messiness of going, with Him, into situations where I need Him so desperately, as relationships don’t have a control dial on them, a setting that I can adjust with my personal remote control. (Oh, the magic in that!) But I am finding such hope now, in the new struggles (the new struggles sometimes blending in with the old) as I look back at where He has met me before. He has never forsaken me. He has never left me. I am His temple (1 Corinthians 3:16).

He dwells in me.

I am in a place, in my searching for more of Him in me, to have to lay down–surrender–my desire to have things more figured out than I do. My heart longs for more than what is in front of me, more than the concrete, immediate, day-to-day challenges of life here. I want to love the dirt, the grime, the challenges of this life; I want to love people here well. But I have been thinking about Heaven a lot lately. Craving understanding about what it will be like there, having the Father revealed even more to me. Seeing Him face to face.

I struggle with being present with the people in front of me, loving well, with His full heart in me. I can be enjoying a moment with a friend or family member, or serving, and, in the back of my mind, I find part of myself not present, thinking about the next thing. And also wondering, is this it, Lord? Is this what it is supposed to look like? Am I loving well? Do I bring You joy?

I want to soak up each moment He has for me. Despite my questioning, despite my stumbling, I know, without a doubt, there is a greater thing ahead, a better place ahead. In my impatience of wanting more of Him here, longing to feel His touch and see His face now, I momentarily forget the truth: He is here now. He is in me now. He is after each person’s heart now. I can see His face, His footsteps, His heart all around me. There is waiting, and yet there is no waiting.

The King has already come.

A few days ago, the day after Thanksgiving, I went for a run in my parent’s orchard. Running under the canopy of almond boughs, beneath the arching of the branches over the soft, cold ground, I was struck that this orchard, trees like this, but grander, more beautiful, more amazing and breath-taking, will have to be in heaven. The way the beauty of these trees seized my heart then–the memory of that experience that I hold deep in my heart now–capture me in their majesty. I run between them and I get lost. Time is not time. Each moment cannot be recaptured, but I know this moment, under those trees, will last forever. All moments with Him last forever. There is no other place to be. There is no other place I desire. I am called to my Father. I am here, but not here. In these moments my Father grabs my heart and shows me more of Him. He reminds me that in everything I do, in everything I see, He calls me Home.

I saw with His eyes that morning, saw the trees that my dad planted with his own hands, the heavenly canopy above my head, the seemingly infinitesimal amount of dormant buds on a single branch awaiting spring, and I knew that now, not someday, some far-off day, but now, I am in Heaven.

The walk towards Him felt like a wedding, a beginning, but timeless, too–the rejoicing of the angels resounding in everything near and far. The earth reverberates. Heaven celebrates. I want to participate now. I don’t want to wait. What I know is that what He called me to in the orchard was not something I want to hold out for another, more convenient time, to absorb. He is now. He is in me. He beckons me to His beauty to behold. And I want to run there, under the beauty of His branches forever. I have not felt more content. I was present with Him, Him in me. Close to heaven, if not completely in yet, heaven.

almond orchard fade

And then, when I stopped running, walking back, I looked down and noticed the crunch of the leaves under my feet. Jesus walked under these trees. Jesus walks under these trees now. He feels the tread of the ground, the sinking one’s feet feels in the cold, moist dirt. His feet get muddy. He notices the colors of the sky, the leaves changing, the storms coming in, the whisper of His heart, His Father in Him. He was here, on this earth, and His Spirit lives now.

He has not left.

I am my Father’s daughter. I am called to a higher place, not someday, but now. Kim Walker sings a song, saying “Heaven is here now, He is all around us.” I am with my Lord. It is not something I wait for, I long for and cannot attain, something I simply imagine. It is truth. I am called home. The mysterious beauty of the almond trees reminds me of the glory of the giant sequoias of King’s Canyon, a few hours from here. I stood before those trees two weeks ago, speechless and amazed, feeling so small, so grateful to be able to witness their size and beauty. Heaven is beautiful. We see only pieces of it now. Look around. He is not small. He is here, so we are here. More and more will be revealed someday.

That is hard to take in, Lord. I want to devour it all–now. Help me in my impatience for more of You. Turn my face to You, my heart to You. Let me receive You now, all that you have, now. Of course that is more than enough. Someday will be more than I can comprehend. And now, also, is often more than I feel I can even take in. I look up. I walk with You, notice Your sky, Your leaves, Your silent but singing boughs, Your beauty. Let me be captured by You. Let Your heart in me bring You joy. Let it sing for You. Let me love what You love, Jesus. Show me. I don’t want to miss anything.

Right now, I run under your boughs. And I see You. And I can run no longer. No more words then. I stand amazed.

So glad you’re here, friends,

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cartwheels on the sand

When she said she saw herself doing cartwheels on the sand, I knew I’d never get that image out of my head. It is too good, too beautiful, too full of His glory to ever, ever forget.

cartwheels on the sand

I asked sisters what they could imagine . . .

I asked this group of women, all gathered around, what they could imagine if they could let themselves believe, with full hearts, freedom is real: freedom has been given them, freedom has been handed to them, personally.

Because Jesus held their face in His hands, His heart melting from the beauty of His girl, and whispered. . . you were worth it.

(Oh, girl, His suffering, His rising, His choosing you as His bride . . . because you were worth it.)

And I’d do it all again, you know.

I’d do it all again.

For you.

But do you believe it? Do you live out believing–for real–you are free?

And then she said something that made my heart leap: I don’t even know how to do a cartwheel. And when I am with Him, and I am quiet, and I ask Him to help me imagine freedom, He shows me this: I am there with Him, on sandy beach, beauty stretched out far beyond what I can see, blue waves crashing against timeless shore, and I am doing cartwheels. With Jesus. I am doing cartwheels with Jesus on the sand.

Of course you are. Yes, of course, you are doing cartwheels with Jesus on the sand.

In Paul’s words in Galatians, we are reminded how freedom has come through Christ and His sacrifice. Freedom comes through a heart surrendered to Christ, not a mind set on following rules prescribed by this world. And if you love Christ, you are already set free. You are free right now, this moment, my sister.

It was for freedom that Christ set us free;

But we must choose. We must choose His freedom. We must choose to have our heart set on Christ. A heart set on anything else but Christ is not free.

therefore keep standing firm and do not be subject again to a yoke of slavery (Galatians 5:1).

I’ve said this before: I am with you now, but living this life purely, resolutely, does take effort. It takes commitment and focus and resolve to stand fast with Me. It takes a heart stripped away of all burdens, all distractions. Everything in this world attempts to distract you from Me. But I give you what you need so you can do the things I’ve prepared for you to do. But you have to believe Me. And you have to live believing Me, with every action you take.

So I wonder what I am pursuing. I wonder what I am chasing . . . if what I’m chasing isn’t Christ, if what I am chasing isn’t freedom.

Freedom might not look, for you, like cartwheels on the sand. But I promise you this: what He whispers to your heart, about freedom, about being with Him, about surrendering everything–everything–that gets in the way of you being with Him, just Him . . . is going to make everything in you want to leap and cry and sing. All at at the same time.

And that’s a good thing, sister.

And it sounds to me a lot like being in a place of His beauty, doing cartwheels.

Together, let’s pursue His good thing.

Be intentional, my love, about the choices you make. You are designed to make choices alongside Me, with my guidance, so you are never alone. But the times you do feel alone are opportunities to probe your heart, considering what drives it, what consumes it, what drains it. You are meant to have a pure heart, and anything in it distracting you from living purely, with intention and good purpose toward my good plans for you, needs to be laid down. Give Me your heart again, my love. Don’t wrestle with that burden on your own.

So ask for more faith, and I will give it. So ask for more courage, and you will feel Me close. But that isn’t enough. Try it out now, the faith and courage I give you. Try out the presence of Me within you being enough for you, and do the things I’ve created you to do. I will purify your heart. I will keep you and strengthen you and carry you. But you won’t know I’m doing this unless you take some risks, trusting Me more than anything, anything, else. (Excerpt from Loop, “Choices”.)

So grateful for you here,

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Can you imagine His freedom for you? How can I pray? 

 

this post isn’t just about sex:: a giveaway

No Shame in Longings -Moody

It’s been a while since I’ve written about sex here. Although it’s woven into my story, a threaded needle I used as a weapon to hurt boys who should have stayed just friends.  Six years ago, when I  finally began to pursue God with my whole heart, He showed me, bit by bit, how many lies I had been believing about sex. I had used it as control, I had used it as a weapon. I had used it to gain attention. I had used it replace a low self-esteem. The biggest lie I let myself believe was that sex with these boys didn’t mean anything. I didn’t yet know that sex is not just a physical act; it’s a soul connection, too.

God wants our whole heart, and when I had sex outside of marriage, my soul was connected to each person I had sex with. It wasn’t just a physical thing; it was a soul thing, too:

There’s more to sex than mere skin on skin. Sex is as much spiritual mystery as physical fact. As written in Scripture, “The two become one.” Since we want to become spiritually one with the Master, we must not pursue the kind of sex that avoids commitment and intimacy, leaving us more lonely than ever—the kind of sex that can never “become one.” There is a sense in which sexual sins are different from all others. In sexual sin we violate the sacredness of our own bodies, these bodies that were made for God-given and God-modeled love, for “becoming one” with another. Or didn’t you realize that your body is a sacred place, the place of the Holy Spirit? Don’t you see that you can’t live however you please, squandering what God paid such a high price for? The physical part of you is not some piece of property belonging to the spiritual part of you. God owns the whole works. So let people see God in and through your body (1 Corinthians 16-20, MSG).

Just two years ago, more than twenty years after being in sexual relationships before marriage, I prayed and broke the soul ties I had with the boys with whom I’d had sex.  My sexual activity before marriage was affecting the intimacy God was inviting me to share with my husband when we became married. It has been a long road of healing for me around sex: for much of our seventeen years of marriage, sexual desire prompted me to feel shame.

Not Separate- Moody

The thing is, it doesn’t take a past like mine to get women to feel confused and frustrated around the idea of sexual intimacy. It’s difficult to even talk about, face to face. With all the Christian friends I’ve had over the years, there are only a very small handful with whom I’ve opened up, and whom have been open with me–over kitchen counters with mugs of coffee, over walks through trees with muddy shoes slipping on wet trails. The topic of sex is usually a silent one. We reason we don’t like talking about sex, I think, is less that the topic itself is embarrassing, but more because we struggle talking about desire.

101-  The church has majored on playing defense on the topic of sex. In an effort to keep teens chaste, women modest, and men monogamous, the primary message coming out of the church is DON’T: don’t look, don’t touch, don’t think or feel sexually. This has resulted in Christian women who are confused about whether sexual pleasure is really okay (Pulling back the Shades, 101).

We are made to have desires–desires for God, desires to be loved, desires to be fed, physically and spiritually, through sex within marriage. And when we feel shame around sex, or we feel our desire for sex is not being met, women may be tempted to satisfy that desire in other ways. And this is why Dannah Gresh and Dr. Juli Slattery have written a book on this topic–because they found women were turning to erotica to satisfy deeper unmet needs. For books selling to women, erotica is the fastest selling genre. Specifically, the erotic novel series,  50 Shades of Grey, sold 70 million copies in its very first year.

Their new book, Pulling back the Shades, is a reaction to the popularity of 50 Shades of Grey, but it is also much more:

Not only do we want to pull back the shades of Grey for you to see God’s truth about what it and other books like it can do in your life, but we also want to pull back the shades on your own sex life. This book is not meant to be merely a reaction to Fifty Shades of Grey. Ultimately it is about YOU—your longings, your questions, and your wholeness as a spiritual and sexual woman. We hope to offer you something you deeply need (Pulling Back the Shades, 13).

 

And, friends, I think we do need a book like this. We need women coming alongside us, listening to our questions, bringing light to our confusion about sexual desire–our bodies and our hearts. Here are some awesome quotes from the book, to get you thinking:

Erotica strategically and masterfully pulls you in by exploiting what your heart secretly longs for.  Your longing is legitimate. We just believe there are ways to get what you are looking for without compromising God’s standards (Pulling Back the Shades, 18).

Women love a great romantic escape, but be careful how you escape, because some fiction or online relationships promise to satisfy, but in the end they lead to more dissatisfaction. We have met with women who started reading erotica to awaken their sex lives with their husbands, but it actually caused them to be less satisfied in their marriage bed than ever. Single women have told us they used porn as a “sexual outlet until marriage” but it suffocated their desire to pursue a relationship at all. And we have counseled hearts wounded deeply by online relationships gone bad. What seemed innocent to them ended up being harmful (30).

We’ve got news for you: God is not about just playing defense on the topic of sex. His message doesn’t just include a big, fat NO. He created sex and He is all for it! In fact, God is for great, pleasurable, and frequent sex within the context of marriage. . . God knows you are a sexual being. He made you that way (101-104).

The bottom line is this: sex is sacred and deserves incredible honor. We cannot afford to speak of it in hushed tones, but must walk in full freedom regarding this beautiful gift from God. If we can do that well—as difficult as it may be—we will not only prepare the way for sexual fulfillment, but the world will see the love of God in the mystery of marriage (114).

This book is not ultimately about Fifty Shades of Grey or even about erotica. This book is about the spiritual battle for the hearts and souls of women. Our prayer is not just that you throw out the junk that enslaves you to the world’s thinking but that you join a call for revival among God’s women (147).

Does this book sound like one you’d like to read? I love the site Authentic Intimacy, which has a team of awesome Christian women focusing on these two things: encouraging women in their intimacy in marriage and their intimacy with God.  It’s a safe environment to come forward with your honest questions around intimacy.

Can I be Spiritual & Sexual-

I wanted to let you know about Authentic Intimacy and all the good they are doing there–so go on over there and check it out. And also, let me know if you’d like a free copy of Gresh and Slattery’s amazing book, Pulling Back the Shades. Authentic Intimacy is giving away 5 copies to You are My Girls readers. Just leave a comment before this Friday March 14, at 9pm (PST), and I’ll enter you in the giveaway!

Want to read some more posts I’ve written about marriage and intimacy? Try these:

marriage bed

crumbling sand

when getting intimate is hard to do

Love that you’re here.

Gratefully,

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when you’re waiting on God’s plan for you

We bow our heads in prayer, the eight of us. We are women who’ve known each other for years now. And we’ll tell you we’ve been seeking God a lot longer.

We’ve spent weeks sharing with each other our stories. We’ve bent low, weary, as details from the past are said aloud for the first time. We want to see where He is now, so we look back to where He’s been.

It’s not easy.

God's plans

Even in the looking back it can be hard to see Him. We want to see Him. But our hearts . . . well . . . our hearts struggle going back. To the time when our parents split up and we felt we weren’t wanted. To the time when our dad got sick and we felt we needed to keep it all together. To the time when we made ourselves believe our choices, away from God, lead to condemnation and punishment.

We can read about God, we can talk together about God, we can go to church and listen to worship songs and lift up our hands and not know Him one bit. Not at all. Because knowing God is not about knowing His plan. We complicate things with our desire to have everything figured out, especially the things that are futile to try to know, the things we are never designed to fully understand.

But we can’t help but ask Him anyway: God, what’s the plan? I hear you have a plan for me that will make all this heartache worth it–that will help me decide my next steps? Can I get a peek at it? Can you whisper to me what’s ahead?

Do you ever beg for God’s plan for your life, and it feels like you get no answer?

Maybe we’re asking God the wrong question.

God's plans pin2

It is a false comfort we seek when we believe joy and peace come in having control over the unknowns in our lives. But still we ask, and we make plans ourselves when it feels like He doesn’t say a thing.

It’s the same reason we fear slowing down and listening to God and trusting in His healing. It’s the same reason we want to take matters into our own hands and write our story ourselves, have control of the details. God may have a plan for us, we say, but it feels vague, which makes us uncomfortable. We soon give up on God, give up on listening, and plunge right into making up our own plans, by ourselves.

‘Truly I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child will not enter it at all’ (Luke 18:17).

I tell Justin, my husband, I want to be a person who thinks simply. I want to be fine with not knowing the details of what’s ahead–not knowing the intricacies of God’s plan for my life. If God bent close, his loving eyes looking at me and whispering soft, his hand stretched out, holding a map, saying, “Here you go, here is the plan for your life, here is where I hope you’re going, here is where I hope you’ll be in ten years, in fifteen, in twenty. . .” I think I would hyperventilate from the weight of the responsibility. I don’t want to know. It’s too much for me to know all the details of God’s beautiful plans for me, as He looks at me in my fullness. It’s too much for this simple head of mine to try to carry around the weight of His plans.

For I would try to carry them.

God’s plans for us are too good for us to imagine and comprehend. They are too glorious. . . and I wonder if we would surely twist their goodness and feel pressure to try to not disappoint Him if we knew more than what we are supposed to know. I wonder if we would strive to live up to the plans He has for us rather than rest in knowing He’s got our lives completely under control.

So, shall we try this? Shall we focus on our God rather than worry about all we don’t know? Shall we linger in His presence rather than talking about chasing Him down? Shall we praise Him for not telling us the details rather than worrying out the plans of our lives ourselves? Shall we rejoice that we get to live a life where it is simply about being with Him?

The details of His good plans for us–and all the awesome adventure with Him–will follow.

God's plans 2

‘For My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways My ways,’ declares the Lord. ‘For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways and My thoughts than your thoughts’ (Isaiah 55:8-9).

The heart of man plans his way, but the Lord establishes his steps (Proverbs 16:9).

For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them (Ephesians 2:10).

For I know the plans that I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans for welfare and not for calamity to give you a future and a hope’ (Jeremiah 29:11).

And here is an excerpt from what He said in Loop, “Do You Wonder About the Plan”:

What if I told you the plan I have for you is not for you to worry about? What if I told you there is only a small part you can understand of all the things I know and the things I want you to know and the things you just don’t need to be concerned with?

Here is my plan: I have good for you. It is my desire that you know Me, that you love Me, that you follow Me, that you serve Me. It is my plan, it is my desire, that you want to be with Me, that you want to talk with Me, that you stay here, in this moment with Me, and concern yourself with knowing Me now, this moment, and not considering all the details about the future that I know and you don’t.

What do you want to know? What do you want to know that you think I am holding out on you?

Here is what you need to know: I love you, and I never forget you. Your life is my preoccupation. You are part of my plan for this world, which I love and which I desire to heal and bring to life and have know Me. I don’t want this world to miss out on what I’ve always had for it, as I hold out my hand . . . as I hold out my hand.

 There is more to talk about on this topic for sure. But let’s pause here.  Do you struggle with wanting to know God’s plan for your life? How can I pray?

Much love to you, sister,

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