to believe in

My mom laid out the wrapped gifts under the tree while I sat frozen to the couch. My boyfriend was still there and wouldn’t leave. He didn’t have a place to go home to, and I didn’t know how to ask him to go.  It was 11 pm, too late for him to still be here, and now my mom was bringing out gifts from the bedroom, one by one, laying them out.

I  had been to the counselor already, just the day before. The plan was set to return after Christmas and get the thing done. But I was sixteen, and more of a child than I knew then. And while I knew there wasn’t a Santa at this point, or anything else left to believe in, after lying to my parents and the whole world already about who I was, I still wanted to believe in things I didn’t have a right to believe in. Magic and surprises and presents under the tree that weren’t there the night before.

I had been keeping a secret from my parents and my friends about who I was and the price, only now, seemed too great. My mom bending down to place presents underneath the tree when I should have been in bed. I couldn’t bear to ask her if I could help her. I wasn’t supposed to be there. I wasn’t supposed to be pregnant at sixteen and awake when I watched my mom play Santa Claus and she didn’t know who I really was.

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It feels so much easier sometimes to believe in a God who is distant. Believing we are loved based on our behavior, our merits, leaves us with a feeling of control, of self-righteousness. I was used to earning, working hard for attention and love. Somewhere early on, I had decided the praise I received from doing the right thing meant who I was was good, too. I wasn’t yet ready to believe I was loved without deserving it. I knew I wasn’t really good, wasn’t really pure and noble and kind. Sixteen years old and I was finally getting glimpses of the death that comes in trying to earn love, a gift that can never be earned.

A baby boy was born to save my life and the baby growing inside of me died because I thought that was the only way I might live.

There is no way to breath now. There is no way to live with excitement and hope, a grown woman now, excited for magic and beauty and the wonder of opening presents under the tree. . . without letting in love I don’t deserve, without realizing I am incapable of loving unless I know I am unworthy of it and my Savior died for me because He loved me anyway. Knowing we are loved, still, despite our sin, frees us to love and not strive towards anything not ours to give.

My two oldest children just woke up, and then the third, stumbling cheerfully into the family room where I am under the white fluffy blanket by our heater. They don’t know yet what they are capable of–all the beauty God sees in them, how they are built to love and be desperate in their surrender to a King who arrived the most beautiful in His humbleness, in His knowing He was chosen, He was free, He was loved. We are asked to love like a child, with eyes open to wonder, full of faith and acceptance for things we don’t yet understand. When childhood is stolen, through sin, the Father who loves to be with us, sing to us love songs throughout our day, asks us if we’d like the innocence back.

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Shall we stay here together, a little longer? Shall we wait together, your shoulder folded into my chest. Shall we rest? May I give you rest? It is time to slow now. It is time to stay close to Me. There is so much to do, I know. But is there? Do you trust your list of what needs to get done more than Me? It will not all get done. There will never be that perfect day to spend with Me. But this moment, this moment right here.

When I tell my children what I know about the God who sits under trees next to daughters who strive and strive to be loved, I don’t have to tell them the details of why I know what I know. I can show them in stories of trying to be loved when I was loved already, and in stories of love with arms wrapped around weary shoulders and whispers of love to rest tired heads.

Come close, my daughter. I miss the slowing. I miss the gentle rhythm of moving, my step, then yours, my leaning, then yours. Let this be the season of slowing, of sitting with me. Come, with anticipation. Come, with expectation. Come, with excitement. Come, with time to spend with Me. Come, with desire. Come, with surrender. Come, with longing. Come, with a seeking heart.

Come to Me, and I will sit down too. And we will sit together, side by side, and we will enjoy this day together. You will be so close you will hear the sound of my breathing. You will watch the movement of my lips when I speak. You will know the color of my eyes. And you will know the feel of my skin as I hold your hand in my own.

Can we sit together now, my dear?

I’m not going to miss my King this Christmas, this baby who lived looking to the One who knew who held him. There is too much life, this day, to stay the sad girl, up too late at night, in front of the Christmas tree, wishing she were someone different than who she is.

Does Christmas feel heavy for you this year? How are you doing at slowing and letting Him care for you? How can I pray?

Also, Kay B. won the Sarah Ha pendant giveaway! So happy to get that shipped off to you yesterday, Kay! Merry Christmas!

{The words in italics, above, were excerpted from Loop, “I’ve Written You a Love Song”. Have you subscribed yet? You can, here.}

how do we open the door?

Six years old, on the long bus rides to school, the Color People were my friends. I’d stare hard at the metal seatback in front of me until my eyes saw circular blotches of rainbow swirling on smoothed-bumped silver. They knew what I was thinking, what I was feeling. I would come to them and they would come to me. They knew what I needed, and all I had to do was show up. They required nothing from me. They simply loved–at least the version of love that comes from dots of color produced in the imagination of  a little girl’s mind on her way to school on the right side of the school bus.

With the Color People, I was not expected to behave a certain way or asked to do a certain thing to be accepted. I was accepted for who I was, no matter what I was thinking or feeling.

When friendships get hard now–real life friendships, the kind where two people come together and say real words aloud and move into each other’s real lives–is when acceptance of one another feels conditional. Love isn’t love–friendship isn’t friendship–if it exists only when things are easy. And I think it is tough for us to be real and open with one another when life is hard, when the finances are tight, when our heart is aching for a loved one suffering, when our family is difficult to talk to, when we feel we are alone and no one could truly understand.

We struggle to reach out for help and believe we can be loved when we are most desperate for help, when we are most wanting of love.

I think two things I struggle with in friendships are asking for help–and surrendering my desire to “fix” a situation when a friend of mine is hurting. I am reluctant to let people in often, because (1) I don’t want to be a burden and (2) I don’t like to admit I don’t have it all together. Can you see how I struggle with pride?

Not sharing my true self, my true mess, my true heart with a friend is so hurtful, both to ourselves and to the relationship. We can’t dig in deep and be real with one another unless we trust God is in the center of the friendship and He is big enough to take care of our mess.  He is our friend first. Unless I believe and trust Jesus as my friend, I can’t surrender pride, I can’t love and trust another, I can’t be a friend or let my friends attempt to love me well.

“Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and will dine with him, and he with Me” (Revelation 3:20).

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I am the friend who asks to be invited in. I am the friend in the quiet, the quiet within you, the guest outside the door knocking, waiting. I am here, not far away. And I don’t tell you I am waiting to be invited in because I want you to feel guilty or sad or discouraged. I am not telling you I stand, outside, waiting, for the purpose of making you feel you need to work harder, listen better, be a kinder daughter to Me.

I am your friend, and I love you. And I desire friends who love, who nurture, who pour kindness into one other. You can hear Me. You can be that friend, with Me.

I want you to know I am the friend who will not disappoint. I am the friend who will be strong when you need Me to be. I am the friend who will give you words of hope when you feel sad or disappointed. I am the friend who knows what you mean when you say “I am dying inside” or “I am so alone” and you are lost and afraid of the quiet.

I am the friend who can be heard, even amidst noise. Your heart can be tuned to Me, in any situation. But in the quiet, it can be easiest to hear Me. You can be busy and bustling around. But remember I am the friend who equips you to love others. And without you letting Me in, into your relationships, into your work, into your moments of doing and going and trying, you will feel hollow inside. You will feel alone.

I am the friend who knows everything about you and knows you can, indeed, hear Me.

Listen.

Shall I come in?

The words above are excerpted from Loop, “My Friend”, which went out to subscribers on Monday. What sentence did  you most need to hear? What kind of friend do you need right now? How do you struggle in trusting in that kind of relationship–what Jesus calls, “friend”?

Make sure you check the upcoming post about the special giveaway coming up here. . . 

Leaning in with you,

Jennifersignaturescript

how to be fiercely vulnerable and beautifully brave

For a school assignment, she has to write about her name. So she sits on the floor of the kitchen, back pressed against smudged yellow wall, knees pressed into her chest. White notebook paper clipped to purple plastic clipboard, her big brother’s special mechanical pencil clutched in determined hand. She writes with confidence, the funny story I thought I might never tell her but had to, the way her daddy and I heard her name on Telegraph Avenue, at nightfall, holding hands at the edge of campus. We weren’t yet married, but we knew she was coming someday. The name a song sung out through dark, the call of a homeless man to his dog.

Abigail.

(You see why we hesitated, just for a bit, in telling her the story?)

A man we never met called out her name on the pock-marked streets of Berkeley, the city where my dad told me I should never go to school. Much too dangerous. Too crazy. Too weird. And then he said something else, the message clear although the words never said out loud: it’s not safe for you. He wanted his eldest daughter to stay safe, protected and shielded from this turbulent world he had come to know. After all, life is unpredictable, hard. You don’t know what’s around the corner, so you need to be prudent, cautious, reserved.

But then he said, “I trust you”. And I went and stayed, just one year, and Justin came to visit and we heard the name, Abigail, called out in the night–the name much more than a name . . . a possibility, a promise, a dream. She was a story begun in our hearts, the girl we wanted and waited eleven years to meet. The girl with bright blue eyes, sparkling the way sun radiates cresting waves as they kiss the edge of sea.

Abigail means “Father’s joy.”

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Pregnant with her, our third child after having two boys, I struggled to believe she was really coming. This girl of mine would be born, growing in my womb. The joy was too great, the dream too close. I wanted her too much.

Abigail. Father’s joy. Delight of my heart. . . We call her Golden Light.

She reads her story aloud to me as I place plates out for dinner. The story of her naming, the story of her daddy and I holding hands, long before she was born, dreaming of her, wanting her to come into our lives, wanting to hold her so much. And I tell her to keep going, keep writing, that there is so much more she has to say.

Write about what your name sounds like when you hear it. Is it music? Is it a song? I ask her about her nicknames, Coconut Bird, B, Goldilicious, Golden Light. I point her to the names He told us about the truth of her, what He sees in her when He thinks of her, the names He gave us when we prayed and had written on canvas over her bed and she has memorized and loves to recite aloud:

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When I leave for the airport this morning, her arms wrap around me with the fierce vulnerablility that makes her beautiful and makes her strong. Oh, I want to be more like her–holding nothing back and letting emotions pour out even though I’d rather hide, even though it hurts.

I bend low and tell her it is okay to be sad, but she also needs to be strong. I tell her she is Eowyn, in Lord of the Rings, a princess who loves with fierceness and with bravery and is willing to stand up for what she believes and go into battle on behalf of the people to whom her king has given her to fight. She can be sad, but she need not cower. She can be mad but she must trust the strength within her, the strength her King gives her, to be brave.

And I fasten around her neck, underneath her braids still wet from her bath, the necklace she wears when she misses me and I can’t be with her. On the silver disc are three simple words, “child of God”. I tell her to remember who she is and who has made her and then. .  . I tell her she doesn’t have to try to pretend to be anything different and be anyone different than who He has made.

She is made. She is made. And she is loved. And there is not one thing I would ever change, and I will miss her and wear my necklace with her name around my neck, too, while I am gone. For two days.

When I get back we will sit side by side at the football game, cheering on her daddy’s and my favorite college team, and we will listen some more about her name. And we will look back at the canvas, and revisit the stories about her, the dream of her, and the beauty that she is that I could never have imagined, on my own.

And here, I will lift up the words He continues to sing into our hearts about these daughters, these sisters, these girls of His who are not small and meek but mighty and beautiful and made. And only because they are His. And only because they are loved. And only because they are made.

And you, His girl . . .continue to write your name. The name He gives you. The name that is His and yours and His again. Because you are His. Because you, girl, are made.

I pray for each of us, as we continue to press in and listen and surrender and believe, even more, that we are loved and delighted in and chosen and wanted. Yes, you are wanted. You are no mistake. So let’s be fiercely vulnerable together, fighting for the truth of our names, the sound of it when He says it aloud: Daughter. You are the one I made. You are her.

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your very own lullaby {made: day 4}

I love to think about You. How You are the center. The center of me. The center of this place of so much beauty and striving and pain. There is an ache here, You know. The ache of missing You, wondering where You are. The forgetful part of us that digs around looking for something we think we need. Something more. Something bigger and more significant than what You’ve already given.

What You’ve already given.

How can I look farther and further and deeper and wider? How can I push my wants down and lift my hands up and use my eyes and my ears and my voice and my hands for good, to spread your love around and make this ache, this chronic sickness go away?

Chronic sickness doesn’t go away.

Oh, Father, keep staying close, like You do. Keep holding us up and hanging tight to this world You love and adore and sing lullabies to, even when we sleep.lullaby.png

Especially when we sleep.

Let us sleep and wake us up. Sing your sweet song, the one You did and continue to sing, and help us to hear it. Help us to know it. Help us to choose it. Let the world You’ve made sing back the lullaby You sing when You hold us in your hands and look down and rock us, rock us the way You do because You love us so and You just can’t let us go.

We are made and we sing. We are made and we hide.

Let us come out now.

Come out now, girls.

He wakes us up and you hear the song and you know who sings it and you know how to respond.

You are the song.

Oh, girl.

Listen.

You are the song.

He sings it, the one you know and the Son grabs hold and you know you’ve got it. You’ve got it within you, the song the Son sang and the one the Father sung over Him and you get to go on and sing it now. You’ve got the voice and you’ve got the words and you’ve got the strength and you’ve got the plan.

Keep on going now. One step in front of the other. There is cure coming. You know it. It’s grabbed your heart and you know the song and you sing it so the cure can come and the song can keep on singing.

It spreads, you know. The song. The hope. The cure that keeps us waiting and waking and we can’t sleep any more and He keeps rocking and we know the song so we start singing it, too.

It is in us. The way we were made. Each part of us constructed precisely to respond to and sing back the song. Our love song. Our lullaby.

Your turn now, beautiful one.

You know how. And you know this most of all:

These notes just can’t stop playing.

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condition of the heart

Are the consequences of our mistakes punishment by God?

If we believe we’ve heard the voice of God speak to us, and we ignore it, do we think the consequences of our ignoring His words to us, His whisper of the Holy Spirit to our hearts, is the reason bad things happen to us in our lives?

Or, what if we’ve never recognized His voice? What if we don’t yet know Him–or don’t realize we do–and we live far away from Him, independent, alone? Does God stand back, wait for us to turn? Do the repercussions of our behavior ripple from generation to generation, never ceasing, so that the sin is felt and responded to, without ending, through relationships, through countless family ties?

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I am in a room of women, and the sharing of story, the detailing of lives and choices and regrets and wounds, make the space both holy and beautiful and desperate and sad. I am filled with questions, with the way one sister’s story can feel both so similar and different than another’s.

My mind is spinning, and I think about what I know . . . and how I know the things I know about God: the Father of mine who relentlessly pushes me, with gentleness and firmness, into seeing how sin, separation from Him, brings only pain.

Yes, sin has consequences. We make choices towards relationship with God, and we make choices away from Him. We recognize pieces of His love for us, and we also reject it, turn our back on Him, believing we are the only god in our lives that we need.

I think of the God of Eve, who created her to walk with Him, beside Him, with nothing to hide. (Oh, to walk with the Father, in a garden of beauty, by His side!) And then how she questioned Him, how she thought maybe her ideas of things were better than His.

Sin is what separates us from the Father, although that was never His intention. That was never His plan. He does everything to let us choose Him and find our way back to Him.

Are we finding our way back?

Our God is a Father of unity, not separation. Our God is a Father of joy and hope, not bitterness and pain. It is sin that causes disunity from God, nothing else.

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I listen to the stories of sisters and think about how no matter our life experiences, each moment is an opportunity of choice–love God or not. And when something gets in the way of our loving God, it is the sin that has caused the separation. And God is bigger than any sin or any mistake or any regret. Yes, there may be consequences of sin–and it is our bearing of these consequences that lets the old self die so that Christ in us can live anew.

“In reference to your former manner of life, you lay aside the old self, which is being corrupted in accordance with the lusts of deceit, and that you be renewed in the spirit of your mind, and put on the new self, which in the likeness of God has been created in righteousness and holiness of the truth” (Ephesians 4: 22-24).

I know first hand the death of old self, again and again. Yes, I want to die–each piece of me separate from Him–to be made new. And why? Perhaps here, a few glimpses . . .

I know the God I know, the One who had me by the hand, as a child, before I realized He was there. The One with whom I felt safe but didn’t know well, but whom I prayed to night after night, the only hope for one of my family members, whom I feared would die and get sick, because of smoking.

I know the God I know, the One who tickled my face with gentle wind as I ran through rows of almonds, barefoot, with both dogs and cats chasing with me, and the squish of the wet mud between my toes, and the crunch of gravel as rain water rushed through with might, down the creek.

I know the God I know, the One who stood underneath the wall clock, in the kitchen, reaching out His arms for me as tension escalated. In the middle of chaos, He showed me there was a way to be whole, in His arms, and dance.

I know the God I know, who cried, underneath a leafless almond tree, as I believed I was more important than anyone, anything. Two decades later I am tired of running, and, finally, He shows me–knowing I am ready now–to see pieces of the effects of sin upon a life, the torn shreds collected, and mended and stronger now, by Him.

I know the God I know, love who rescues and takes me back to moments in my past where I have believed lies, situations where my perception of myself and the girl-woman I was made to be–and my view of God–had been twisted. I know the God who replays the scene of my memory with a new lens. He wants to show me where He was present, whether or not I ever realized it, the whole time.

I know the God I know, a God who gives second chances, who gives us a new way to see the world, I know a God who presses in and encourages us to die, to all the twisted, broken, damaged habits and beliefs that separate us from Him. I know a God who lets us feel pain and feel the results of living life without Him, if we want. And I know a God who never stops pursuing, never stops loving, never stops caring.

I know the God I know, who aches for this world, for the ways His children are desperate to die and be born again.

Yes, there are consequences for sin, but Jesus doesn’t need to die again to give you life again, in Him. Just once, friend. Just once. The pain of sin, the pain of our past, the pain of our present is where He comes, where He is present, where He refuses to ignore and turn away.

This life is hard, and it is filled with hope. This life is painful, and is filled with healing. This life is brutal, and it is filled with beauty.

I don’t have answers, only questions. But that’s okay. I know what I know. And I will surrender the lies that come telling me my God cannot be trusted. For this isn’t head knowledge I’m talking about. It’s a condition of the heart.

How do you wrestle with these questions, girls? What does your heart know about God?

Linking up with Jennifer and other story tellers.

what it may look like to begin

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Some days we need to do the thing we don’t feel like doing . . . simply because He told us it is for us to do.

Some days we need to listen closely to the One who knows us, who beckons us close . . . because He knows better than we do how to spend these moments of days.

Some days we need to heed our little-girl-heart; we need to quiet to hear the whisper again:

I love you. I delight in you.

Some days, when we’re quiet, we need to notice His singing is lullaby, a melody of love song, a flute played on mountain top, the highest note resounding sweet.

Some days we need to tell the person we’ve been neglecting, the one we tell ourselves we love but don’t make any effort to show them. . . we are here now, we are washed clean, we forgive and love as we are loved and forgiven.

Some days we need to put down the load we’ve been carrying for years, the one so familiar we don’t even realize it is separate from who we are. It is not a weight for us to carry.

Girl, give it up again.

Some days we need to take a good look at how our heart may be a bit hard, memories layered up so high the possibility of softness, of change, of hope seems a million miles away. We need to pray for healing and for the walls to eventually. . . maybe even today . . . come down.

Some days we need to tell this Father of ours what we really think, what we really feel. We know He knows but we want to hide it from Him anyway. We need to come out now.

Oh, girl, let that Light shine.

Some days we need to inhale deep–and deeper–and long until there is just no more air left to breathe, and then let it all on out again. We need to let the Giver breathe Spirit into us, birth us again. We need to let old air push out and new freshness fill tired old lungs made new.

Some days we need to stretch our muscles and let our legs walk farther than they feel like walking. We need to pump our arms and take off our shoes and remember the sharpness of rocks under soft feet.

Some days we need to bury our noses in sweet, green grass and let bees buzz around our ears and lay down on hillside, gold sun blanketing our bare legs and arms and watch those cloud fluffs float on by.

Some days we need to imagine the feel of a bird’s wings as the pair stretches out wide. We need to study the feathers as the wind dips the wings low and there is a pivot, a twist, a subtle change of direction. We need to look full on this day, refusing to let beauty blind us. Some day, this day, is as good a day as any, to begin.

What are you being invited to let go of? What are you being invited to pick up? How, girl, are you being invited to begin?

Linking with Jen and sisters.

small

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It’s hits me slow, creeping up in a whisper, a cold hand on the back of neck. Yes, it’s true, the word I don’t want to admit aloud, the truth most difficult to write here, even though I have laid down the decision to keep secrets of the soul long ago. Narcissism. . Yes, I do believe it is the word I want nothing to do with me. It is the opposite of all images I want to portray here, on this blog, the face I want to hide from all my friends, the prayer I don’t want to pray.

“Father, I focus so much on me. . . even when I don’t think I am. . . I make so much about me.”

There was a girl who cared more about herself, more than anything or anyone. And she made a decision that proved it. There was a girl who didn’t want change, couldn’t admit she had done a thing wrong, and continued to hide, finding solace in an arm around her neck on a Saturday night, in the back of a boyfriend’s car.

There was a woman who worked long hours, nervous she wouldn’t do her job well enough unless she stayed up late, night after night, caring more about the opinions of strangers at her new job than the people, loving her, whom she took for granted.

Striving to make myself big because I don’t know I am loved or enough or qualified to do the thing in front of me to do hurts the heart of the King who made Himself small because His love was too big to do anything else.

Yes, I need to be small. I need to bow low to gain this life He promises. Help me lose this life, Father. Keep killing off this old self wanting to come on back and prove it needs to be big to be love.

There is nothing small in the way He loves.

Let me love like You, Lord. Turn me upside down. 

Come on over to Lisa-Jo’s and read the hearts of other writers exploring, for just 5-minutes, “Small”.

Comfort

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I cry, let this be holy ground, when the trees shake like mad and the thunder comes so I burrow my head down low and wait for waters to subside. Her arms wrap round, my knees pressing hard into brown wall to wall. This floor is the cradle where she comes down low, bending over me. The first time and the last time, in twenty years that I am open with her all the way. And then, soon after, I close it up.

I can’t tell you why.

Except that the way we try to be perfect and pride gets in the way, dictating decisions that would have kept me soft instead of hard. Or, maybe I was afraid of hard and so I chose what I thought would be the softer way to fall.

Either way, there was the fall.

And the ground in December, underneath bare almond trees is not the same as a mother’s arm around a teenage girl on her brown bedroom carpet.

There is comfort in telling the truth, even if it is fear that propels the words to tumble out. Whichever way they come, it is truth we need to speak, that needs to pour out, unrehearsed, untaken back.

Let it out, girl. Let the thunder roll and the shoulders shake with the terror of telling it straight out.

It is better to be known, for the real you, and not the fake you all bundled up in a place you only think is soft but is the stark cold ground under which you believe no one hears you cry.

Linking up with beautiful heart sisters, over at Lisa-Jo’s place, for 5-minute Friday. What comes to mind when you think of the word, “comfort”?

How I wasn’t supposed to meet my husband: a love story

I wasn’t supposed to be here, in this TCBY across the country, dolloping sliced fruit and sprinkles on top of frozen cream. My friend at college encouraged me to attend a Christian retreat that summer, not go to Washington D.C. for a morning teaching internship and an afternoon yogurt shop job. I had just confessed my darkest sin, in prayer, at a retreat that spring, and I wanted to start a new life, with Jesus. My friend was nervous about me going—thinking I was too vulnerable to go across the country and live with other students I didn’t know. He told me he felt God wanted me to go to this Christian retreat, with other college students from our Christian college group, and not go to Washington D.C..

But I felt like I was supposed to go. . . 

Do you know how much I love Jennifer’s place–her beautiful heart and the art she creates? Join me over there to read the rest of this post about how I met my husband–the story I share for Jennifer’s beautiful series: Our Love Story Written By God.

shared a love story at studiojru

How we all need, desperately, to be seen

Do you see me?

Father, I see her dancing, her eyes looking for me, her pink lips turned in a smile.

“Are you watching? Do you see me?”

I see you, dear one, your floaty pink twirls and pointed toes. I see how you lean, stretch, then turn and turn–arms overhead, head back, back arched, lemony hair pushed back from your eyes.

She is tender, Father. She takes in my emotions, a subtle sadness, a wave of irritation on my brow. Her sweet eyes look into mine before she declares, “Nobody loves me!”  Eyes so big, watching mine.  Waiting. . .

For the rest of the post, please click here and meet me over at my friend Michele-Lyn’s, at A Life Surrendered, where I am delighted to be guest posting today.

 

Do I call you, ‘friend’?

[I]t seems easier to love people who seem more similar to us than different.  We gravitate towards people who look like us, talk like us, think like us.  And these are the people in our lives whom it is easier for us to quickly call friends.

Do you agree?

I do this, more than I want to admit.

Sure, I smile at people I don’t know at the skateboard park while my kids zoom around, engage in chit-chat with parents of diverse beliefs when handing out meals during school lunch duty, hang out with my 80 year-old widowed neighbor in her cozy, tidy, little house.  But I save what seems to be the truer, deeper heart connection stuff for people whom, for reasons I’ve decided, seem safe.  And I choose to not engage, truly, with almost anyone else.

I decide, based on my set of narrow criteria, without even realizing it most of the time, whether a person is friendship material, or not.   And I miss out on opportunities to grow and trust fully in the Father’s plans for me, when I choose to not even ask Him with whom He calls me to engage  – and love.

Yesterday afternoon, tired and spent, after a long but fun mission trip meeting to prepare for our family’s trip to Tecate, Mexico, with 39 other people this summer, I thought of the beautiful diversity of our team, people I am just beginning to get to know.  From 60 year olds traveling alone, because their family members don’t want to come, to preteens and young families with toddlers, we all have amazingly different stories.  And it takes these meetings, preparing our hearts for being stretched while we are out of our comfort zones and serving far away from home, for me to remember the beauty of the lives all around me.  All the time.

For we sit and listen and share.  We want to learn each other’s stories.  We want to begin to discover pieces that the Father finds in His beloveds, all along.

When we let each other in, take the time to gather and listen and respond, in His name, we are friends, needless of whether we have much in common or not.

We have everything that’s important in common, don’t we?

 You are My friends if you do what I command you. No longer do I call you slaves, for the slave does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all things that I have heard from My Father I have made known to you. You did not choose Me but I chose you, and appointed you that you would go and bear fruit, and that your fruit would remain, so that whatever you ask of the Father in My name He may give to you (John 15: 14-16).

So I pray for the Father’s Spirit in me to move me more in tune with His will.  Let me be open, Father, to whomever You bring into my life.  For it is a lie that I have nothing in common with people I happen to not yet know and to whom I feel a stranger.  We actually each have everything in common — all brothers and sisters.

Some of us {and this is our job, friends} just don’t know it yet.

When he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing.  And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and his neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep which was lost!’  I tell you that in the same way, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance (Luke 15: 5-7).

How are you challenged around the concept of “friendship” with people God brings into your life?

[C]ounting gifts:

  • my daughter’s homemade pink lemonade, the lemon squeezed between sticky hands and strawberry stems cut with a proudly held butter knife

  • skateboard park adventures — the first day of summer vacation

  • my husband working with passion towards the vision the Father gave us to write together, in our own space, behind the house, side by side
  • blue and green ribbon tucked away for surprise birthday gifts, homemade, by little girl hands.
  • the kids of the mission trip team tutored in how to make their own stomp rockets, from paper and painter’s tape, and my friend’s dear and patient husband, who tirelessly helped them
  • dear friends’ support and loving thoughtfulness

  • bicycle rides around the block, again and again, to tire out our dog, the wind in the faces of me and my son
  • my friend taking my kids out for an afternoon while I sit here, typing this, all by myself
  • playing catch-up, but loving the soaking I am doing in reading His word everyday, journeying toward reading each word of His in 90 days, and in community, too
Thank you so much for being here, reading this right now, friend.

Smiling over you {video}

[S]weet girls, I haven’t yet been able to get up a post this week — but I couldn’t help but grab my phone and videotape myself for a minute to tell you what is on my heart. {Subscribers, please click here to come on over to watch/listen.}

The Lord your God is with you,
the Mighty Warrior who saves.
He will take great delight in you;
in his love he will no longer rebuke you,
but will rejoice over you with singing {Zephaniah 3:17).

{P.S.  It’s “Jonathan David Helser”, not . . . what I said. :) }

Praying for you, friends,

Jennifer

 

In the mess

[I] lay in bed, watching light tiptoe soft behind the shade, and search for words, looking for hope, peace, life coming.  Here I am, deciding for myself what beauty is.  And I stop.

Sometimes beauty isn’t all gentle, beautiful quiet, with birds singing and breezes blowing sweet flowers’ breath through a stretched-wide open window.

Sometimes it is just messy.

And it is raw.

Pulling myself up, my usually early-bird mind feeling groggy and slow, my daughter comes in to tell me, worry in her eyes, “The boys are fighting.”

And I pull on my teal shammy robe, the one I’ve had since college, the cloth that has been wrapped around me through years of mornings of both love and strife and hope and confusion.

And there they are, two angry, frustrated bodies all tangled, rolling around on the wool-patched rug.  Almost silent, no words here, just a confused mess of emotions, arms wrapped here, legs bent and pressed in.

Frustration and anger, compounded by lack of sleep {it is difficult for a night owl and an early bird to share a room, sometimes}, result in quiet and fierce energy.  I separate them, my body instinctively placing itself in the middle of the storm.  In a moment the walls come down, and there are tears.

They each blame each other for the beginning of the fight, but words aren’t making much sense.

And I know how, in our frailty, our humanness, these bodies of our just don’t have the strength, the peace within us, by ourselves, to live with love, each moment, without anger welling up and urging us on, to fight.

Fight for what we think we deserve, what we want, what we crave.

I want to fight, too.  I am tired, too.  I am weary, too.

And as I remember the struggle of these two little boys, their bodies exploding with emotion they feel they can’t contain, I want to claim this beauty of needing the Father so clearly.  Light tiptoeing silent behind white morning shades or not.

Beauty isn’t just in light dancing, but in the tangled mess here, on the floor.

Here, in the mess, in the noise and confusion and tangled disorder of our hearts, we need Him.

And He will meet us here, if we let Him.

Beautifully.

But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me (2 Corinthians 12:9).

What mess are you in the middle of?   How might you feel all tangled up, worn out, weary?   How can I pray for you?  

It Isn’t So Complicated

Dear friends, Are you good at making your relationship with Jesus complicated?  Are you good at making yourself believe He is far away?  The Father had some things to tell me about this, and I hope you let your heart be open here, to what He shared.

I am delighted to be guest posting over at Lindsey’s love-filled space, The Little Missionary Girl All Grown Up, for her series on the Father’s Relentless Love.

Won’t you click here and come on over, joining me, and listen to what He has to say?

Gratefully,

Jennifer

Heartache Valentine

[S]ometimes it just wells up, the disbelief, the lie that I know is a lie but I find hard to resist anyway . . .

that I am loved like this. . . that I am wanted like this . . .

I am good at finding an excuse to not have faith.

I am good at saying I want to believe and acting like I don’t.

Everything in me rebels against You, Father, more often than I let myself see.

But You see.

And You love me.

Sometimes I just need Your arms around me, holding me close, telling me again, it’s going to be alright — that when I fall You don’t turn away but rush in, open arms.

You see the choice to fall, the initial turning away from You, and still . . .

You love me.

I wait here, needing to hear Your words, Your breath in my heart wiping away all the sin, cleansing me again.

Tell me again, Whose and who I am.

Tell, us, Father, Your girls.

You love me.

Happy Valentine’s Day, His girls!  I pray His love, His richest blessings, pour out upon you today, drenching you completely.  You are adored, right here, right now. I say ‘yes’ with you, to believe.  

Whose fingerprints do you see?

My friend’s gentle words to me, something written in her journal, wrap love tight, right around.  Breath catches while heart swells.  All resonating, tender true.  Her words press deep, reminding me of the intimate shaping of our hearts, these lives He gives, the finger paint dance-touch of the Father in everything we say and do.

identity truth

Footprints are evidence that someone’s been here.  Fingerprints are further evidence — that someone has not only been here, but has touched things, held things, moved things.  Likewise with God.  His footprints tell us He is with us; His fingerprints on our lives tell us He holds us, touches us, moves us.

And then she sends me a Steven Curtis Chapman song that she had forgotten long ago:

FINGERPRINTS OF GOD

[For Emily]

Psalm 139:14, 15; PHP 1:6

I can see the tears filling your eyes

And I know where they’re coming from

They’re coming from a heart that’s broken in two

By what you don’t see

The person in the mirror

Doesn’t look like the magazine

Oh, but when I look at you it’s clear to me that . . .

I can see the fingerprints of God

When I look at you

I can see the fingerprints of God

And I know it’s true

You’re a masterpiece

That all creation quietly applauds

And you’re covered with the fingerprints of God.

Never has there been and never again

Will there be another you

Fashioned by God’s hand

And perfectly planned

To be just who you are

And what He’s been creating

Since the first beat of your heart

Is a living breathing priceless work or art and ….

Just look at you

You’re a wonder in the making

Oh, and God’s not through, no

In fact, He’s just getting started and ….

And she signs her words to me, to you, sweet friend,

Just wanted to let you know ….

love,

K

Happy Thanksgiving, His girls

I will give thanks to You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
Wonderful are Your works,
And my soul knows it very well (Psalm 139:14).

For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus (Phillipinans 1:6).

Vow

Fifteen years ago I put on my white dress, the ivory cascading down to my toes, and stood nervously on my father’s arm as my sisters and my friend stood in yellow dresses at the fountain in the  garden.  You stood there too, in your gray morning suit, twenty-three years old and too handsome for me to behold.  We had met two years prior and had known in less than a month that this friendship, this laughter, this love and uniting of hearts was good, was different than anything we had ever known.  We could not imagine life without the other.

And before the pastor, who lifted our vows to God and guided us through the sacred vows, we promised to each other I will be the one who loves no matter what, I will be the one who stays and holds and challenges and believes and pursues, despite all circumstances, in the face of whatever God brings.  We pledged, in faith, that we would be the soft place for each other when we were weary, and the rock on which the other person could, with the Father, stand.

You were the one who knew my past within a week of my knowing you, and you loved me still.  In your eyes, before I even let God in to show me, you showed me what hope looks like, forgiveness and new beginnings.  Now I know better and recognize that it was the eyes of our Father that I was looking into then, on that bench, when I told you my deepest pain, all along.

You show me what love looks like, in the sacrifice, in the believing that there is good in store when a life is surrendered, handed over, trusted so that it is no longer your own.  In these years you have shown me this is where life begins, in the I will, the letting the Father’s life be our  life so the pressure to perform, achieve, and be worthy of love ends.

We are worthy because we are loved.  We are connected in the I will – the promise that we will continue to love, continue to serve, continue to sacrifice and be granted His mercy and tenderness to do it well.

And in the failings and victories, the falling and rising, we remember the promise, the commitment to love, in His name, and we learn more how to make the promise last.

I will.

The Story We Tell

Yesterday I was invited to participate as the prince in the “dinner-feast  with the prince and princess”, a play performed to the audience of stuffed horses, unicorns, and puppies.  My daughter, five-years old, dressed me in a crown and asked me to bow to her, the princess, and we danced in the light of late morning, ducking behind the rocking chair in the corner when it was time to exit the stage.

And I enter this world, where magic lives, the hand of a child grasping mine, dropping the other roles that consume me so easily and becoming, instead, the pursuer of the princess, the dancer who joins his beloved at the ball.

Music of the apple-blossom fairy swells and my daughter twirls and knows she is beautiful, my delight.  I know that watching her, seeing her, participating with her, in the dance, when she asks, is how I am most needed now.  The other to-dos, pressing, must wait.   This moment, entering in, slows the hurry of the things less of the heart.  Oh, but, sadly — and this shows the truth of my struggle– it is so hard for me to stay.   The pressure of what I think needs to get done this day makes me flee too soon.   And the music of my heart stops as I let my agenda, not my Father’s, dictate what I do.  Jesus, forgive me:  let me say ‘yes’ to this dance You offer with You.

So many moments I squeeze short, opportunities to stay with Him, heeding His voice, trusting His pace.  My daughter, asking me to stay, to keep dancing, sees my pace and asks me to slow.  Dancing is a response of the body to the heart. “Look, mommy, I am telling a story without talking.”  (Oh, beautiful, I see!)  And I watch and see what she means.

What story do I tell her, in my running from moment to moment, addressing the present in a flurry of activity with the eye of my heart on the next?  I voice whispers, “Stay, heed the music being offered”.  Do I stop often enough to hear the music playing in my heart?  Am I heeding the music He brings?

The music of the heart–the dance He invites me to dance with Him– might be full of twists and turns, fancy footwork, and complicated rhythm.   But maybe not.   Maybe it’s a slow dance, a lullaby, a nursery rhyme, the soft beating of a heart. Whatever music He sings promises a story of beauty and hope, of redemption and joy. Open my heart, Father.  I want to hear it.

My dance of this life tells a story.  I can participate with Him, or away, and my heart with Him, in response to His music in me is the story where I am fulfilled, present, soaking up the words He gives, not critical of the beginning, anxious for the end.   And this is the story I want to present to the Father, the story of the heart that gives His life to others, the story I want my daughter to read.