Thursday, September 26, 2013

What to Do with Weariness

Sometimes I grow weary. 

Ministry is messy. Life is hard. People are complicated. And I am sadly self-absorbed. 


(It doesn't help that I'm fighting seasonal allergies. And the dog has fleas [again]! And I burned not one, but TWO meals yesterday. And I broke my glasses. And I have a new mystery-rash on my hand... This is where you say, "Hey Jenn, would you like some cheese with your WHINE?" Yes, I would, thankyouverymuch!)


Anyway...sometimes I grow weary. Not just weary with myself and my own petty problems, though those can suck the life out of me if I let them. No, I may rattle off my worries, but I rarely wallow in them. The thing that makes me really weary is doing good. I get weary of trying to love others as much as I love myself. I get weary of bearing burdens. I get weary of washing feet. I get weary of hoping and believing and then being disappointed.

Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. Galatians 6:9


But I am learning to take the long view. I love the harvest metaphor that the apostle Paul uses in his letter to the Galatians. I used to have an enormous vegetable garden, and I would work diligently all summer long--watering, weeding, fertilizing, pruning--for the hope of the harvest. Its harder to toil when the crop is people, but its also more rewarding. It sometimes feels like the harvest will never come as setbacks and missteps delay the bearing of fruit. I watch the faithful stumble, I see the seeker wander off in the wrong direction, I hear the afflicted cry for help, and I question my capacity to do good for any of them.

Indifference would be easier.

But you, brothers and sisters, do not grow weary in doing what is right. 2 Thessalonians 3:13


Yet over and over the apostle Paul calls to the church, to the body of Christ, saying, "Do not grow weary in doing good!"

I've come to realize this: Jesus did not save me so that I could become a self-satisfied person. He saved me so that I could be used for his eternal purposes, so that I could do good--his good--in the world. The point of salvation and redemption is not so that I can live my best life now (my apologies to Joel Osteen). The point of salvation and redemption is so that I can be used (read: exhausted, sold-out, given-over) for God's glory. I persevere in doing good because that IS my purpose. There is no other.

Think of him who endured such opposition against himself by sinners, so that you may not grow weary in your souls and give up. Hebrews 12:3


My Jesus showed me how to do it. He stayed on the cross when he could have gotten down. He did not grow weary in doing good.


Paul's exhortation to "not grow weary" tells me two things: 1.) Doing good is tiring. It costs me something. It's hard work. and 2.) With the Spirit's help, I CAN keep going. I don't have to give up.

So I take his words to heart. I take courage from his charge. I preach this truth to my own weary soul. And after a few moments of refuge with the Lord (and a hot cup of tea) I go back into the fields, ready to work.


Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Two Unconventional Conversations

While walking on the beach in Ireland last month, Graham informed me that I needed to take special care of the sweater that he was wearing because he wanted to include it in his post-apocalyptic wardrobe. I didn't know my son was planning for the apocalypse, but I'm glad he's considering his clothing options. I mean, who doesn't want to look good for the end of the world?

Our family has this conversation about once a week:
me: "Last night while I was sleeping I was thinking..."
boys: "Wait a minute, which was it, sleeping or thinking? You can't do both at the same time!"
me: "But I did. I was sleeping, and while I was sleeping I was thinking."
boys: "Then you weren't really sleeping. You were just thinking with your eyes closed."
me: "No, I know what 'not sleeping' is like. I do it all the time. Last night I was definitely sleeping while I was thinking."
In the end, I never get to tell them what I was thinking about because they can't believe that their mom can sleep and think at the same time. But I can.



Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Eating the Elephant

Ahhh September. With the freshness of a new school-year comes crispy leaves, new soup recipes, and a torrential onslaught of new commitments and activities. I'm either going to drown or learn to surf! How do I determine the best use of my time? Balancing ministry and family can be such a tricky thing!

As I wrestle with my day-planner, struggling to find more hours in the week, I come across this verse:

But the Pharisees and experts in the law (read: Religious Professionals) rejected God's purpose for themselves....Luke 7:30 (parenthetical comment mine)

Which makes me ask, "Can I reject God's purposes?" After all, I believe in the absolute sovereignty of God. But according to this verse, it seems that God, in his sovereignty, allows people to reject his purposes. Religious people rejected his purposes. In the words of the French, "Aie aie aie !"

I want to embrace God's purposes for my life with both arms wide and a big fat kiss. I fear that by not living attentively, I could inadvertently reject them, even as a missionary (read: Religious Professional). How can I be sure to follow the Lord's leading? 

So after a fervent prayer that goes something like this: "Oh dear God, please help me not to blow it!" I set out to make a plan.


Step One: Ask God to reveal my Front Burner Projects
These are the the things that he is bringing to the forefront of my life. The things that weigh heaviest on my heart, or the ministries for which I have the greatest vision, or the opportunities that are time-sensitive. 

Step Two: Ask God to reveal my Back Burner Projects
These are the things that are in my life, but are not at a critical junction. They may require an occasional "stir" or "sprinkle" but they are not top priority. They may be things that will eventually be top priority or that used to be top priority. 

Step Three: Ask God to reveal my Refrigerator Projects
These are things that I need to keep on my radar, things that I believe will one day be on the Front Burner, but things that are not yet critical. They are sometimes longer-term projects, sometimes seasonal projects. They may go in and out of the refrigerator depending on my availability and their urgency.

Once I have a bead on God's priorities for my life, I take it to the practical phase

.
Step Four:  Plan Action Steps
For each Front Burner and Back Burner Project, I assign weekly (or sometimes daily) tasks. If the tasks don't have natural due dates (like a conference), I assign arbitrary ones so that I have a goal to work towards (as I've done with some writing projects). 

Step Five: Evaluate the Plan
I estimate the number of hours per week dedicated to each task. I then add things that are an on-going, regular, essential part of my life, such as quiet times, exercise regime, dates with David, and housekeeping. Is it a balanced plan? Is it realistic? Is it God's purpose on paper?

Step Six: Seek Feedback
First, I ask David to look over my plan. He evaluates it based on everything he knows about me, us, our family, and God. I fine tune based on his feedback. Next I send the list to a ministry partner. My ministry partner also offers helpful feedback and valuable insights. I fine tune again.

Finally, its time to implement. But one step remains...one that is perhaps the most essential.


Step Seven: Hold the Plan in an Open Hand
Proverbs 16:The mind of man plans his way, but the Lord directs his steps. 
Jesus has dominion over my days, and he can change my plans as he sees fit. Some say, "Why bother planning?" but Seeing as Jesus lives in eternity and know the future, he is quite capable to lead me as I make plans. But he doesn't reveal everything. This way, I walk closely by his side, listening for daily direction.

The Open Hand is essential. The day, and I mean THE DAY I completed my plan and entered everything into my daily planner, two of my plans got changed. Discernment helps me to know when to hold to my plans and when to deviate--this is the daily, step by step leading of the Lord that keeps life exciting.

So, what's your plan?

Monday, September 16, 2013

iFear

So, did I mention that David won an iPad mini? And that he gave it to me? And that I named it Victoria? And that I've never in my whole life had an iAnything? And that within about 30 minutes I was in love?

Now before all you apple-addicts start pumping your fists and nodding your heads and whispering your "I told you so"s at the screen, hear this: I love it so much it scares me. With the ease and fun and accessibility of such a hand-held electronic device, I fear that I have much to lose.

Like time to think and ponder without alerts, messages, or notifications demanding a response.

Like uninterrupted conversation with David, the real love of my life.

Like quiet and stillness that help me hear the voice of God.

Like dedicated family time, where the soon-to-fly-the-nest young men who still live under my roof know that they are more important than the buzzing inanimate object in my hands or any message it announces.

So I enter the iWorld with great trepidation, already discovering a need to set boundaries. No iPad in the bedroom. No iPad at mealtimes. No multi-tasking during family activities, even if we are just watching a movie.

But the temptations to grab the iPad are more subtle and deceiving than the obvious aforementioned pitfalls. I find that I reach for it when, say, I am waiting for a pot to boil. I think, "Hey, now would be a great time for a game of Bejeweled Blitz!" And suddenly I'm lost in the mindless shifting of virtual gems.

But what did I do last week, or better, ten years ago, in such instances? What did I do in those fifteen-minute moments of nothingness?

Nothing.

I waited. I thought. I day-dreamed. I prayed. I listened. And I was probably calmer, surer, and more grounded for the many moments of nothingness that peppered my days. I'm taking them back!

I refuse to allow the iStuff to fill every bit of breathing space in my life. No, I like technology, and I'd be lying if I didn't tell you that my new daily planner app leaves Franklin-Covey in the dust. But what good is planning if I'm losing my real life to the virtual world?

So today I did something radical. I ironed in silence. No Nora Jones singing, no movie playing, no e-books reading.

Just silence.

And I liked it. 

Thursday, September 12, 2013

For the first time in four years...

...David flew.


It was just a recreational flight in an Ultra-Light Aircraft.


But it was flying just the same.


And yes, he's still got it!


Sunday, September 8, 2013

Knots

When I say I have the most patient husband in the world, I am NOT exaggerating. Some would call him long-suffering. Here's just one tiny example of David's patience.


Often, when I'm working with yarn, I'm confronted with knots--knots that are probably a result of my own carelessness. Knots that are beyond my capacity to unravel. Knots that threaten to frustrate my work and slow my progress. 

I hate knots.

I yell at knots.

I stomp my feet, grit my teeth, and growl at knots.


Calmly, without saying a word, David stops whatever he is doing and moves to my side. He picks up the tangled skein and quietly sets to work. He doesn't tug and force the yarn (like I do), he slowly and carefully sorts it. And he never, ever scolds me.

The knots aren't his problem. They're not his fault. He doesn't have to come to my rescue. But he does. He always helps me. He has even pulled off the road during long trips, stopped the car, and untangled my yarn. 


He reminds me of Jesus. This morning David read aloud to me this quote from the book Quiet Talks by S.D. Gordon:
With infinite patience and skill and diplomacy and success too He is ever working at the tangled skein of human life....
Just as David untangles my yarn, God is constantly at work untangling my life. He, too, works carefully, gently, intently, and without scolding. Redemption is God's way of unraveling the knots in the human heart so that he can make us into something beautiful and useful.



Friday, September 6, 2013

Thirsty

Red-faced and panting, I stumble through the front door. I want water!

Hot coffee awaits, but I'll have none of it. Breakfast beckons, but it won't suffice. No, only one thing quenches my thirst after a good run: Water.

As I turn on the tap to fill my glass, a verse springs to mind.


As the deer pants for streams of water,

    so my soul pants for you, my God.

My soul thirsts for God, for the living God.
    When can I go and meet with God?


Does my soul truly thirst for God like my body thirsts for water? Will I reject all other offerings until I am satisfied by his love? Do I seek him with urgency? Expectancy? Desperation? Do I drink deeply from his well?

Or do I partake sparingly, with casual interest, just because I know I should?

Father, make me eager to be with you, to learn from you, to know you. Make me aware of my deep need for your living waters, so that I will seek you in earnest. Nothing else can satisfy.

Five Minute Friday
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Wednesday, September 4, 2013

New Creation

It seems to happen every September.

A little dark cloud moves into my world and settles itself over my heart. My mood dips. My attitude falters. My hope diminishes. My joy evaporates. My perspective changes.

I am lost.

And then the accuser comes:

"You wretched thing! How can you be so ungrateful? Didn't you just have a lovely vacation? You should be rested and happy!"

"You lousy missionary! You should be full of the Lord, daily proclaiming his glory! How dare you choose to hide!"

"You pathetic Christian! You claim that Jesus has transformed your life, but you look no different than the rest of the world. Worn. Desperate. Hungry."

I woke up Monday morning to these voices, which seemed to crash down like an anvil on my chest. I couldn't move. I couldn't breath. I couldn't pray.

Then he spoke. Words so gentle, their soft truth relieving the crushing pressure. "You don't have to go there."

He lifted me from my bed, carried me to the church where our tiny community gathers for prayer. After worship and reading the word, I knew, I knew that God was showing me the exit ramp--and it was fast approaching. Would I get off of this highway to depression? Could I really choose NOT to go there? Or would I just fake it?

Freedom from captivity always involves bringing our darkness into the light. There is no other way.

Reluctantly, courageously, I opened my mouth. In a whisper, in French, I confessed my condition. "I'm battling depression. It happens every year, and I want to break the cycle. I believe that God can keep me from falling into the pit, but I need help."

That was my attempt to steer my life toward the exit. It was all I could do.

And they prayed.

Monday the sun broke through the clouds. Tuesday I awoke in my panicked estate once again, but this time I could pray, I could hope, I could believe. The clouds parted. Today I woke rested, calm, trusting. The cloud is no longer there. Glory to God.

I don't have to go there. I am a new creation. Saved. Changed. Liberated.

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here! 2 Corinthians 5:17

Monday, September 2, 2013

Epic Grace Giveaway


If you follow me on Twitter or if you are my Facebook friend, then you have surely noticed the great quotes that I posted throughout the month of August. Those quotes came from the JUST RELEASED book Epic Grace, by Kurt Bubna. Kurt is a pastor in Spokane and his church is one of the churches that supports our ministry here in France. Beyond that, Kurt is an inspiring friend and I consider his wife, Laura a mentor. (God is the hero of Epic Grace, but Laura is His ever-faithful sidekick--a heroine extraordinaire!)

Because I had the privilege of serving on the Pre-Release Team for Epic Grace, I was given an advance copy to read. Here's what I loved about this book:
  • Kurt's Heart. Kurt writes with transparency and conveys a genuine hopefulness for his reader. He shares some pretty candid stories with a desire to 1.) extol God's goodness and 2.) encourage the broken. Since I know him in real life, I can tell you that this guy is the real deal. He means every word, and if he could say it to your face the only thing that would change is that you might get a hug thrown into the mix. Actually, reading the book is kind of like getting a hug from Pastor Kurt.
  • Kurt's Humility. Even though he's super smart, incredibly talented, and just plain cool, Kurt writes like he's an ordinary guy. He tells it like it is. His stories are not sanitized. He doesn't save face. At the same time, there is no sense of failure or defeat. Why? Because God is the ever-capable hero of every episode of Kurt's life. His mistakes are drowned in God's grace, a grace that spills off of every page, and douses the reader. 
  • Kurt's Humor. I giggled without guilt. Kurt has a funny way of failing. It's funny because I can relate. I see myself mirrored in his missteps, and when I laugh at him I'm really laughing at me. There's freedom in finding the humor in our lives, and in that way, Epic Grace is liberating.
So having been blessed by this book, I'd like to share it with you! I am going to give away TWO copies of Epic Grace--one digital and one hard copy. To be a happy recipient, simply reply or leave a comment about GRACE and let me know how you would prefer to read the book (digital? or hard copy?) At the end of the week, I'll choose my 2 favorite comments as winners.

Sunday, September 1, 2013

It was such a lovely trip!

We're on the ferry eating breakfast, about an hour out from our port in France. As we chug back towards the continent, emotions mingle. I feel deep gratitude for this time away as a family and for memories that we all will cherish for the rest of our lives. And while I love my life in France, while I am eager to see friends and get back to work, I am not quite ready for this vacation to be over. Not yet.


Our week in County Sligo was a perfect balance between rest and adventure. The warmth and hospitality of Karen and Eddie (owners of Ballaghboy Lodge) made our time there extra special.


I sipped a Guinness in a thatch roof pub, while locals played traditional Irish music on communal instruments.


We drove through charming villages...


...and frequented cute local caf├ęs.


This is a "drive by shooting" of the oldest pub in Dublin (Est.1193). 



After leaving Sligo, we spent three nights with some friends who live just outside of Dublin. It was great to get to know this fun family better! From their house, we visited Newgrange, a 5000 year-old tomb. Just for a point of reference--that's older than the pyramids.


This rock is found at the entrance to the tomb, and its Neolithic carvings make it the most photographed rock in all of Ireland.


Ireland is as beautiful as I'd always imagined it would be, but the highlight of the trip was time together as a family.



This is a medieval Norman castle located in the town of Trim, which is also close to Dublin. Scenes from Braveheart were filmed here. Since we live in a medieval village with a Keep, it was interesting to compare the two structures.


Trim Castle is being preserved in its ruinous state rather than attempts at restoration. Its an approach to history that I greatly appreciate.


This is the countryside surrounding Trim Castle:

  

This is how Trim Castle looks from the inside:


We had lunch at the Hard Rock Cafe in Dublin.


And we toured the famous Guinness Brewery.


In the evenings we listened to a teaching on Spiritual Warfare that David wanted to share with us. We ate great food. We watched some movies. We laughed and played together. We blessed each other and we drove each other crazy--what family vacation would be complete without some backseat bickering? It was pure delight, and I'm not quite ready for it to end.

Not yet.
 
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