Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Grateful for Everyday Gifts

We moved into a new home (to us) two years ago and I just remembered a neat Christmas activity I planned for our family that I plan to resurrect this year.  We were facing a slimmer Christmas due to moving and remodeling costs and I was feeling a bit sorry for ourselves.  God quickly reminded me of the MANY new blessings that had come my way in the past couple months - new appliances, furniture, faucets, fixtures...yeah, I really had nothing to feel deprived over.  I wanted to wake us all up to the fact that even though we may not be shredding rolls of paper off mountains of gifts, we had gifts all over our home that were daily blessings to each of us.

I purchased a bag of those sticky bows and divided them up into 5 plastic bags.  On Christmas Eve, I gave each family member a bag and unleashed them on the house to stick bows on the "gifts" that we use everyday but may simply treat as necessities.  After 20 minutes or so, everyone reconvened in the living room with stories to tell about why they chose the items they did.  Our home was covered with bows from top to bottom - they were stuck on kitchen cabinets by my daughter who was thankful for dishes to eat on, on our comfy couch by a son who loves to cozy up on it to read, on our TV by a grateful sports-loving boy and on our garage door by a husband who has never owned a home with a dry place to park his car on these rainy Seattle nights.  My biggest bow was proudly stuck on the lid of my washer and dryer that I thank God for daily when I think of that old washtub method used by my predecessors.

What a great reminder of how God generously and lavishly blesses us with both needs and luxuries every day that we easily overlook.  I'm heading out for a big bag of sticky bows tonight!

Sunday, December 20, 2009

I Wanna Be More Like Mary Bailey

Proverbs 31:10  An excellent wife who can find?  She is far more precious than jewels.

We just finished our annual tradition of watching It's A Wonderful Life and I am reminded again at what an inspiration Mary Bailey is to me.  She is such a beautiful woman inside and out - a wonderful combination of grace and strength.  When I grow up, I want to be just like her!

Here is a quick list of the qualities I see in Mary that make her a wife worth emulating:

1.  She has a genuine, beautiful smile and she is not afraid to flash it!  At George, at her children, at the people of Bedford Falls, in joyous times and in struggle.  Her countenance is cheerful and pleasant.  She is truly lovely because her smile radiates from within.

2.  She is so dang creative and resourceful!  She is a dreamer and makes beauty out of the ordinary.  From the sweet sketch of George lassoing the moon to the home she creates out of the old dumpy mansion, Mary shows us what creative ideas and good old-fashioned elbow grease can accomplish.

3.  She makes the best of hard situations.  When faced with the thought of losing George, when the Building and Loan is going to close, when her honeymoon is cancelled - Mary finds a way to be a good helper to George at great personal cost.

4.  She tells her children to pray for her husband.  What a brilliant woman.  When her husband is down and out, harsh with the family because he feels like a failure - Mary doesn't berate him but calls the family to pray.

5.  Then, she calls for help.  In the proper order, she first asks for God's help and then she asks for the help of friends and family.  Mary goes out looking for George in his state of despair and mobilizes the whole town to give back to George the love and support he has given over the years (albeit begrudgingly at times!)  Mary helps her husband when he can't help himself.

6.  She suggests celebrating all the events of the evening with wine!  What a fun lady!

George Bailey is INDEED the richest man in town, living a Wonderful Life.  In large part, due to the love and support of an excellent wife.  Not a perfect woman but certainly an inspiring example.  May I be a little more like Mary Bailey each year!

Friday, December 11, 2009

Fulfilled in Christ

This is without a doubt my favorite time of year. I love everything about it: glowing lights, fragrant trees, cheerful carols and cherished memories. One special Christmas memory and a song lyric add a depth of worship and gratitude that I will treasure in my heart forever.

Thirteen years ago, when I gave birth to my firstborn son - the staggering reality of what exactly Jesus offered to us in the gift of Himself became most tangible. As I held my newborn baby boy in the Christmas candlelight, tears flowed as I tried to comprehend that my Great and Glorious God took on this frail, infantile form for me. Never before had I truly understood the magnitude and humility of His incarnation. As if occupying a small, utterly dependent body of flesh wasn't enough, He ordained that His first place of rest be in a dirty feed trough. Why there? God could have chosen anywhere to rest His tiny head...and then the song playing on the stereo pierced my heart with a moment of clarity: That dirty manger is my heart too...

Jeremiah 17:9 says, "the heart is deceitful above all things and desperately sick; who can understand it?"

Jesus can.

God chose to have His Son enter the world in a stable and be laid in a filthy slop trough so we could know that our sinful hearts are not too lowly of a place for Him to occupy. He understands so much that He was willing to be lain in that rough and smelly receptacle so we could begin to understand His love for us. Understand that He desires to indwell our dirty hearts and make them pure and clean.

As His chosen children, we are given the gift of Jesus - we are now IN HIM.

Galatians 2:20 it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me

Ephesians 2:13 But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ.

Celebrate! Party! Worship and Adore Him during this Christmas season. We have been brought near and the trough of our soul has been cleansed and filled with the most precious of gifts - the Righteousness of that Baby boy born in Bethlehem.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009


Ephesians 6:24 Grace be with all who love our Lord Jesus Christ with love incorruptible.

Corrupt: 1. Tainted 2. To lose purity or goodness.

I know a whole lot about corrupt love.

It was awoken in me as a 3 year old girl who had a God-given desire to be held and loved and protected. Sweet little Jenny had no understanding of the scars that were seared upon her soul in those early years of life. Such heavy burdens for a little heart to bear. I did hear of the loving God-man Jesus and wanted so badly to believe He could be for real - let alone love a dirty little girl like me. Sadly, the only definition of love and feelings of being special I knew had been stained throught the sin of another.

As a confused teen, the act of familiar "love" was coerced from me by selfish boys. The burning burden of shame that I carried eventually numbed my heart to the pain of my secrets. I lived out life in a detached and thoughtless fog of poor decisions and compromising positions. I knew I was grieving God but I felt trapped and at this point, I believed that love was destined to be dirty and wrong.

By my 20's, I was a hurting young woman who clothed my pain in a cloak of flirtacious, assertive moves toward men. I would "name and claim" a man and was rarely rebuffed. I erroneously believed that I was now in control of when and with whom I offered love. I would NOT let a man hurt me again. I felt powerful and powerless all at once. I met my would-be husband during this time and hoped that marrying a godly Christian man would purge the filth I felt associated with love. Could this finally be what I'd been looking for?

On August 14, 1993, Phil and I pledged our love before God and man. We really did love each other but the love we offered early on was tainted too. We were looking for the other to make us feel complete and loved unconditionally. We heaped onto each other expectations of selfless love while selfishly hoping for something more. Over time, God confronted both of us with the real and healing love of the Cross. We were both professing Christians with a Christian marriage but God had so much more for us to know about the height and depth and width of His love - we had barely scratched the surface. It was finally time to share with Phil the gut wrenching and heart breaking stories that had corrupted my understanding of Love and the Gospel. Jesus began redeeming love in my heart and my marriage.

The love that I had received and given was love based on selfish desires and lies, fleeting emotion and could be "fallen out of" as quickly as it had been pledged. True biblical love is unlike worldly love in every way. It is selfless, considering the object of its affections over itself. It is grounded in Truth, based on action and carried out despite how it feels. It is steadfast in every season and withstands every storm.

The Love that Jesus offers to His children is Incorruptible - not able to be defiled. It is pure, good and lovely. He doesn't just offer us love to ease our pain - He offers us Himself. A perfect, sinless life offered up to replace our imperfect, sin-filled lives. He is the source of Love Incorruptible. He is the reason for Love Incorruptible. He IS Love Incorruptible. We will receive His grace as we look to Him and love like Him - with love incorruptible.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Thanks for Giving

Psalm 28:7

The LORD is my strength and my shield;
in him my heart trusts, and I am helped;
my heart exults,
and with my song I give thanks to him.

During this holiday season, even the most cantankerous, grumbling folk can muster up a few words of gratitude for obvious ways that they are blessed. Even in these difficult times, most of us have at least one thing we can thank God for.

I, as an American-born citizen, resident of a trendy city, member of an influential church, occupant of a comfortable home, wife of a godly man, mother to 3 great kids, have much for which to be thankful. Those things are obvious - I'd be a fool not to recognize the lavish earthly blessings God has bestowed on me.

Paradoxically, over the past few years, God has given me a perspective on the darkness in my life for which I, too, can truly offer praise and gratitude. The very experiences that others would look upon as suffering and trials are the very events that I hold most precious. They are the things for which I thank Him for most fervently this Thanksgiving because they are the vehicles through which I have gained more of Christ. Deeper intimacy with Him and true worship of Him are the result of receiving into our lives both the obvious blessings and the "obscured for the moment" blessings.

Dear Father, Thanks for giving me a dad who didn't always protect me from harm so I could discover true comfort and protection in the arms of my Heavenly Father.

Thanks for giving me an uncertain prognosis for bearing children because of my past sin. The 3 children born out of your Grace and Redemption are tangible gifts of your love for me daily.

Thanks for giving me a husband that didn't lead me well early in our marriage so my sin of control and usurping authority would be exposed. The joy we experience today in our marriage as we live out the gospel to each other is nothing short of miraculous.

I offer you my submitted, grateful heart as an act of worship because you are worthy to receive my gratitude in all circumstances. Amen.

This Thanksgiving, let us humbly and freely thank God for the obvious blessings - the blatant outpouring of His Grace upon all of our lives. Let us also be grateful for the subtle, even difficult, blessings in disguise - they are gifts of sanctification that endear our Savior to us all the more.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Idolatry Springs from Ingratitude

Romans 1:21 For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or GIVE THANKS TO HIM

I get it.  I feel like my eyes have been opened to a deep Truth that was always there (of course, there is nothing new under the sun...) but that I never saw.  We hear often of idols in current teaching at church and Redemption Group.  The idea is not new but today it lives in me as a disturbing, convicting realization of where my heart has been.  The reason I turn from God, the Worthy Object of my Worship, to a pathetic yet deeply desired substitute is because of my ungrateful heart.  An ungrateful heart paves the road to idolatry. 

I am saying to God, "No thanks, what you are offering me is not quick enough, pleasurable enough, tangible enough, powerful enough to satisfy and soothe my needy heart.  I am unhappy and discontent with You and Your Promises - I'll use food, drugs, sex, money, numbing, tears, depression to make me feel better.  After all, that is all I want right now.  Right.  Now.  I want to feel better."  Skillet sings a song with those lyrics and it has been on a continual loop in my head.

This morning, another song began wriggling its way into my heart - the words of the beloved carol..."For He alone is Worthy, Christ the Lord..."  He ALONE is worthy of my worship.  I have worshipped at the alter of the known god for too many weeks now:  the alter of Jen.  The sacrifices I  brought have come at a high price to many I know and love. 

The highest price has already been paid and I have been ungrateful for the Ransom.  I am humbled and made grateful today for His plentiful redemption in my life.  I am reminded of the starting point of my journey in this blog:  Recognizing Jesus.  Lord, may I see you more quickly, worship you more purely, give thanks to you continually.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

So Lost Without You...

James 4:8  Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you.

I've resorted to humming Air Supply songs to pass the time til my husband gets home.  He is the captain of our ship, the lighthouse in our storms, the ground wire in the electric current of our home. Our household is simply not the same without him.  In an effort to redeem the time I have wasted away in his absence, I want to record the many ways in which Phil's presence is desperately needed in our home.

1.  He provides COVERING.  Something about knowing he is coming home at night gives the kids and I a sense of protection - we are dependent on him.  The longing in our tears speaks to the power of his influence in our lives.

2.  He offers DIRECTION.  Phil sets a tone that gives each of us a sense of purpose and clarity to our mission for the day. 

3.  He speaks WISDOM.  His words of Truth and grace that speak to each of our souls have been greatly missed.  I have overheard the boys asking each other multiple times, "What would Dad say about this?"

4.  He embodies INTEGRITY.  Phil is one of those men that is not a mystery.  He is consistent inside and outside of our home.  His integrity follows him - instilling a sense of trust in his family and those he

5.  He offers STABILITY.  The kids and I can get off course and wound up over the peripheral things in life and Phil is able to graciously remind and redirect to the items of primary importance.

Like JESUS.  He is whom I have neglected in my husband's absence.  My True Husband - the one who ultimately is the Rock and Redeemer of my soul.  Phil pointed this out to me in an e-mail response to my misguided thinking:

"You are not a lousy person when I’m not near because your righteousness does not depend on my proximity. "

He is so right - my righteousness and ability to endure while he is home or away depends on my proximity to Christ.  I am comforted and reminded to draw near to Christ even with my husband in the same room or on the opposite coast.

Can't wait to have you home, babe!

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Funeral Reflections

Surreal day.  I attended a funeral of a distant relative with my mom and my sister.  I didn't know Great Aunt Millie personally but she was a special lady to my mom and my mom is a special lady to me - so I went.  The eerie calm of the chapel as we entered was punctuated by the open casket looming at the front of the room.  I wasn't really prepared for how confronting a cold corpse that once held life could be.  I sat quietly pondering the strange reality that death is an inevitable and certain event for all humans.  But, unless forced to come face-to-face with it, I rarely consider its implications. 

Today, avoid I could not. 

I had many moments to dwell on mortality - mine and others.  I paused my life long enough to realize that it's not death I am fearful of - IT'S LIFE.

I am a daughter of God, chosen by Him before the beginning of time.  I KNOW where I am going when my time is up.  My heavenly Father will be waiting for me with open arms because of the sacrifice of His Son.

What I DON'T KNOW is what is going to happen until then - in the gap between today and the termination of my days on this earth.  My fears - big and little - consume my thoughts like hungry funeral reception attendees:  Will we raise godly children?  Will my Mom and Dad get to keep their house?  Will family conflicts be resolved?  Will my health give out soon?

The finality of death pushed me to the edge of my fears today - am I really living TODAY in a manner worthy of the calling of Christ?  Do my fears of the unknowns of tomorrow or my faith in the One who has made Himself Known prevail?

Lord, may the confidence I have in my eternal destiny permeate my heart as I live out my days fully entrusting them to your Promises and Provision.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Nothin' Worse than a 40 year old Throwin' a Tantrum

Matthew 7:11  If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!

I return to my blog with head held low, humbled but not ashamed - more aware of my sin than ever. 

It all started with a good desire - to honor and bless my son with a really cool 13th birthday experience.  I wanted to go all out with a fancy dinner and hotel stay downtown followed by a vision-casting stroll through the UW and SPU campuses, whetting his appetite for the academic endeavors that await him.  What started out as a good idea slowly grew into a soul-enslaving demand as my fingers grasp more tightly on MY plan.  Foolishly, I hadn't tallied the dollars this would cost our cash-strapped family.  I also wasn't willing to admit that I was committing one of the cardinal sins of short-sighted, instant gratification parenting - swapping the big, glorious event for the mundane moments.

I am so accustomed to this M.O. of mine that I didn't recognize it until it was too late.  I unleashed a Veruca Salt-worthy tantrum on Phil complete with sobs and stomping foot (even more ghastly is that I resembled VS in my early years...) delaring that I wanted a night out, I wanted a fancy experience - honoring Jake was out the window as I spewed my true intentions - I WANTED WHAT I WANTED. 

Throw into the mix that God has been pricking me with the reality that my relationship with my son isn't where I want it to be.  I have been free with criticism and stingy with encouragement.  I have not been building him up as I ought and I awoke to the fact that I was pinning my hopes on "fixing" this problem by applying a fancy-night-in-a-hotel bandaid.  I was less interested in repenting and walking the long, hard road of perseverance to pour into my kids on a daily, hourly basis.  I wanted 24 hours of glitz to tie the relational strings that I hadn't been careful to tie in the past few months.

After more shed tears (this time, softly flowing from a contrite heart), I did what I should have done to begin with - I prayed.  God used a friend's kind but firm words (it was actually she that coined my sin a spoiled brat tantrum!) to stir an idea that is so much richer and deep than even a penthouse splurge.  I spent the next few hours pouring over my old journals, copying words I had written to him over the course of his life.  I remembered God's faithfulness to my son and to his forgetful mother.  I reminisced about wonderful times of joy we have had.  I reveled in the young man that I see God growing.  I was reminded of the power of the Holy Spirit that resides in both Jacob and I to reveal sin and redeem our lives.  I can't wait to give him his gift - I am thankful to the Giver of ALL Good gifts for this lesson and for my son.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Ala Carte or Smorgasbord?

My sister-in-law came up with a great education analogy that I have her permission to share.  I think it is a good way to think about how and why we educate our children the way we do.

Let me preface these thoughts by saying I have never been a die-hard, "homeschool or you're going to hell" sorta woman.  In fact, God called me to homeschool my kids much to my dismay initially.  I was really looking forward to some ME time.  But, He had other plans for my days.  He wanted me to die to myself and my plans and plunge headlong into the sometimes thrilling, sometimes painful world of schooling my children at home.  Even "Homeschooling" is a misnomer because I am often not home.  On any given day, my children and I can be found perusing shelves at the library, visiting at a friend's house or scouring for a deal at Goodwill.  By labeling myself as a "Homeschooler" - I simply mean that Phil and I are the primary decision makers about and implementers of an education plan that we have chosen for our kids uniquely.

Homeschooling is a bit like dining at an Ala Carte restaurant.  We compose the menu of our children's education from the thousands of resources available - focusing on specials, recommended items and eating more of one course than another.  We look at and decide upon each course based on our families priorities, each child's strengths and weaknesses and sometimes, what is available to us in the convenient, drive-thru version.

Schooling outside the home (be it public or private) is a bit more of a Smorgasbord - Old Country Buffetish, if you will.  In one place, a child gets what is available to consume - all of the courses chosen by the assigned teacher or group of professionals designing the curriculum.  Often, the options are pre-determined but varied and more easily accessible than going Ala Carte - a definite plus for many families. 

There is no one right way to get your child's belly full of food when it rumbles and no one right way to fill your child's appetite for learning.  I would simply pose to you: 

If you grew up eating at only one restaurant, have you considered branching out? 
What menu is God asking your family to dine from? 
Is their hunger for knowledge being satisfied with nourishing meals?

Thursday, October 8, 2009

My Son, My Church Become Teenagers

This month marks 2 major milestones in my life that cause me to pause and reflect, stirring my heart to gratitude and deeper levels of trust in God. Mars Hill Church and my son both turn 13. Ahhh, the Teen Years. Many of us remember that awkward, glorious coming-of-age season of life with mixed emotions. What will they hold for these two creations of God that I hold so dear?

I remember it well - the fall of 1996 brought many exciting changes to our lives. Phil and I were entering parenthood for the first time as MH was officially launching itself as a "Gen X Church called to the city of Seattle". I had no idea what was in store in either realm - motherhood and membership in a fledgling church palnt. Over the years, I have witnessed God grow, prune, redeem and shower His grace upon my son and His Church so many times that it simply brings me to my knees in worship.

As I look back, I recognize that both have grown in humility, maturity and influence. My son is becoming a young man who understands that being a godly man involves service, sacrifice and strength. My church is becoming a body of believers that understands the cost and joy of truly being a disciple of Christ.

As I look into the future, my hopes and prayers for my son and my church are similar.

1. Keep making it all about Jesus. You have both been given much and much will be expected as you carry out the call that Christ has laid before you.
2. Keep entrusting yourselves to the One who does not change. The teen years are filled with identity crises - change is inevitable. As you look to Jesus, the Author and Perfector of your faith - you will remember who you are and what you are about amidst the clamor.
3. Keep believing that He will redeem. The next few years will hold both the utter thrill of enjoying God's grace and the exhausting trial that living in this broken, fallen world undoubtedly brings. God's promise to you both is that He will conform you to the image of Christ in all circumstances.

I have no doubt that God has brought each of you to where you are today - the exact place and time chosen by Him for His good purposes before Creation. That I get to be a mother and member fills me with great joy and a profound sense of responsibilty.

Happy Birthday Jacob and Mars Hill Church!! I daily thank God that I have been blessed with each of you in my life.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Giving Birth to Sin

James 1:14-16  But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death.  Do not be deceived, my beloved brothers.

In the Smidt household, we have been talking about evil desires that give birth to sin and the trouble that results from feeding that sin.  James uses interesting imagery by pairing our sin with giving birth.  Phil harkened back to the creepy abdomen baby of Total Recall but for the chidlren's sake, I toned down the object lesson. The change we see happen in Jack Jack from the Incredibles will have to suffice.

We cannot be deceived - we must be vigilant.  This is a call to FIGHT!  The seemingly harmless, somewhat fleeting thoughts that enter our minds each day that tempt us to sin are not sinful.  We are all tempted - Jesus was tempted.  The problem is when the adorable, innocent enough looking "baby temptation" is taken into our care to be coddled, fed and burped.  We believe ourselves strong enough and smart enough to know our limits but we are playing with fire.  Before we know it, we've been lulled into caring for and protecting a sinful desire that is now eating us out of heart and home.  We have nurtured and elevated the desire to a ruling passion in our lives.  If we do not turn from it and worship our Lord, we will be consumed by the fire much like our cute little Jack Jack friend turns molten.

Do you have sin swaddled, fed and tucked into the cradle of your heart?  Do not be deceived - if you are a Christian - YOU ARE DEAD TO SIN - live like it!  If you are not, I urge you to trust Christ right now - it is a matter of Life and Death.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Kindness Kills

Romans 2:4b ....God's kindness leads you toward repentance

I know, it sounds strange - totally paradoxical - how does kindness kill?  Before I answer my own question (which may be your question), let me describe the certain death that harshness delivers to its recipient.

Harsh words and tone of voice are well-worn weapons in my arsenal of relating to others.  When I am feeling insecure, annoyed or displeased, the contempt in my demeanor spews at the victim like a spurting artery.  I am quick to speak, slow listen and adept at diminishing my perceived enemy to a stunned and silenced soul.  Yes, I am aware that that response is completely the opposite of what we are taught in James.  It leaps out of my heart before my lips can close.  When correcting my 3 year old daughter with that unpleasant tone and reminding her we don't speak harshly, she looked me squarely in the eyes and said, "What about your harsh heart?"  Nailed it.

Harsh words kill intimacy.  They murder trust and bury warmth in relationship under a pile of fear, anger and sadness.  I can see the pain and confusion spill from my family's eyes when they receive my wrath.  Herein lies the paradox.

Kindness also kills.  First and foremost, God's kindness towards us killed His Son.  He lovingly offered His Son on the cross to cover for the atrocities of our sin - harsh words and deeds alike.  Kindness also kills harshness.  My husband tells me that nothing disarms him and leads him to humility and godly sorrow more than a kind word or gesture from in the midst of an argument.  I'm sorry to say he is probably a bit Pavlovian in his response to me during conflict after years of harsh responses.  He is prepping for the onslaught and I am seeing some glimmers of hope - I am not unkind every time.  Hmmm...that same kindness that God shows me TIME and TIME again when I sin is being extended to my husband and my kids.  My kindness kills defensiveness and offers grace.  It rescuciates relationship with gentleness.  It leads me and those I love to the foot of the cross where God's kindness pours out like a fountain and we can all repent.

WOW - what a concept. 

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

A View from the Sideline

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

Ugh.  Why is it that when God teaches you some profound and exciting new glimpse of Truth, He always allows for an opportunity to have that nugget of gold refined of its impurities? 

I was flying high yesterday, starting quarterback in the championship game of life (I've got to get away from these sports analogies - can you tell I have 4 brothers?)  I had Skillet's new song Awake and Alive cranked on my cassette player in my mini-van (the epitome of cool mom right there!) and I literally had goosebumps at the feeling of joy and alertness that I had for God and His goodness.  I had a wonderfully worshipful time at church, taught a class alongside my husband and grilled yummy quesadillas for my grateful kids.  Life was good and I was fully engaged.

I spent the rest of the evening with a friend who has experienced great trial and tragedy in her life over the last couple months.  Almost more than one person can rightly handle.  As she asked me HARD questions about God's character, my words felt hollow and inadequate.  I didn't know what to say to her to make the pain go away.  I flipped through my Bible and every word seemed trite and simplistic in the face of her suffering.  I left feeling heavy.

Phil came home late and I shared my burden with him.  He proceeded to tell me of an indiscretion that I had committed and explained there may be backlash from my careless words.  On top of feeling the weight of pain with my friend, I now had to battle the feelings of dread and shame over my sin.  Like the cartoon character that falls in the snow and rolls down the hill gathering speed and girth, I was careening out of control.  My firm grasp on God's glory from earlier in the day was slipping through my fingers.

After a brief and fitful night's sleep, I awoke with a sense of urgency.  I am out of the game - sidelined by my own swirling mass of fear, unbelief and doubt.  I went back to the only place I knew to turn - my Bible. 

How do I fight Lord? 
What do I do? 

As I flipped again through the pages, I noticed a recurring theme as I skimmed Psalms and Isaiah.  WAIT ON THE LORD.  What more can I offer my dear devastated sister?   What more can I do in a situation that may require repenting and reconciliation in the future?  The peace of God settled upon me and I once again entered His rest - I was back in the game - hoping in Him, believing in Him, waiting on Him to be our faithful Redeemer.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

How are YOU Taken out of the Game?

2 Peter 1:8  For if these qualities (faith, virtue, knowledge, self-control, steadfastness, godliness, love) are yours and are increasing, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.

A friend recently asked me a very provocative question: 

If you were your worst enemy, how would you take yourself out?

WOW.  I was stunned and had to gather my thoughts to even answer.  And then, a terrifyingly clear picture of the slow decline towards stagnation came to mind as the all too familiar scene plays out...

It's been a long day of teaching the kids and keeping the house running smoothly but I realize I slept in this morning and didn't read my Bible.  I really should crack it open but a quick check of my e-mail inbox lures me.  Ellie walks in and says she needs my help and instead of laying aside Hotmail, I lay aside an opportunity to pour into my daughter.  "You deserve a little time to yourself" I hear whispered in my ear and my weary heart drinks in the justified respite.  Dinner rolls around and the slide towards checking out of fruitful engagement in my family's life gains momentum as I pour myself a glass of wine.  Just one, I reason, no big deal... (AND IT ISN'T a big deal if my heart is in a place of worshipping Christ and not on the slippery slope towards worshipping my comfort - my desire to check out this evening)  I go to bed early, figuring I can start fresh in the morning but knowing somewhere deep inside that I am far from Jesus.  For an evening, I've taken myself out of the game.  I'm not playing offense, I'm not playing defense - I'm sitting in the locker room with a towel over my head.

I do have an Enemy that is bent on my destruction and desires to sideline me.  He is crafty and cunning but he is not all powerful.  He is already defeated.  The truth is - I AM my own worst enemy.  By buying in to my smooth self-talk that is loaded with excuses and justifications,  I am rendered ineffective and unfruitful for the Gospel.  My husband likes to point out to me that regardless of the means by which I find myself stuck - Satan or Self - it is my responsibility to fight my way out.  If Satan has launched a full-scale assault of lies and accusation on my soul - I must cling to Truth and grasp the Sword to engage the battle.  If my own sin and folly, I must repent and turn my face towards Jesus.  Either way, I am not off the hook.  I must continue entrusting myself to the One who will save me, redeem me and restore me to a place of fruitful, effective knowledge of Jesus' sufficiency.

How are YOU taken out of the Game?

Monday, September 21, 2009

Wake Up, O Sleeper

Ephesians 5:13But everything exposed by the light becomes visible, 14for it is light that makes everything visible. This is why it is said:
"Wake up, O sleeper, rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you."

I feel like I am emerging from a sleepy fog. We sang a worship song yesterday at church that had this verse in it and I felt God speaking to my heart, "Good morning Sleepyhead - it's about time you woke up!"

The truth is that because He has called me to Himself and saved me, I AM AWAKE! I have been risen from the ranks of the spiritually dead and Christ's radiance IS shining on me. I could never be more awake and alert than I am right now - He has roused me from the coma of sin and death, granting me bright-eyed, bushy-tailed life in Him.

The problem is , I often choose to draw the curtains, snuggle down into bed and ask Jesus to turn down the wattage a bit because He is disturbing my slumber.

"Please, just one more hour, Jesus?" I beg.
"I'm not ready to get up".

I don't want to have to get out of bed, letting the light expose my heart. I don't want to have to love my husband and kids and neighbor in the selfless, sacrificial way that you call me to. I don't want to have to persevere through the mundane moments of life - can't I just sleep it off?

As the Glory of Christ continues to flood my self-absorbed heart, it warms to His presence and the idea that He is inviting me to a life far more glorious than I could even DREAM of. He invites me to let His light shine on me and through me, serving and loving others in a way that is completely foreign to me. He lures me out of bed with the promise that while initially life may feel less cozy and warm than my cocoon spun of temporal safety and comfort, it is far more abundant. It is awake and alive with the promise that He is near and He will never sleep so I AM FREE to sleep when I am weary but don't HAVE TO sleep to shut out the pain and sorrow of the world.

Time to wake up, Sleepyhead, a Life awaits with plenty of Light for the dark roads.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Homemade Cinnamon Rolls and the Glory of God

Matthew 17:20 He replied, "Because you have so little faith. I tell you the truth, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, 'Move from here to there' and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you."

I can hardly believe it happened but as my olfactory system is still overwhelmed with the aroma of cinnamon - it must be. I baked cinnamon rolls from scratch this morning. On top of that, I didn't go to bed last night til almost 1. You may not know this about me, but this chain of events is amazing on 2 fronts:

1. I am not a baker - never have been, never really want to be

2. I love sleep even more than the gooey goodness of sticky buns

So, what led me to stay up WAY past my bedtime and get up WAY too early? This is where the glory of God comes in. Despite having more on my plate and in my heart than ever, I have a peace about me that can only be described as a gift from above. God has placed before me the tasks of being His devoted daughter, a godly wife, homeschooling 3 children, helping teach in the Pre-Marrieds ministry, writing on several projects and finding time to nurture relationships with family and friends. I believe He has put me under the pile to make it ridiculously clear that I can do nothing without His favor and grace. Any one of those tasks is insurmountable on my own; all combined are simply impossible but for His empowering grace.

I stayed up late thinking and praying about opportunities that would seemingly compete with my first and obvious priorities - God, husband, children. I got carried away with the dreamy possiblities of how God may choose to use me as an instrument in others lives. And yet, my heart was filled with an overwhelming desire to serve my kids by baking them a special meal. It was as if God said to me, "Jen, anything I call you to do for My name will only confirm and deepen your love for Me and your family not draw you away from Me or them."

And that is how I found myself experiencing the Glory of God - wooed by the idea that God may allow me to influence others on a large scale and realizing the profound importance of wooing my children's hearts on a small scale - with dough and frosting.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Who's It Gonna Be: Him or Me?

Romans 1:25 they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen.

As I sit on the cusp of another week, I am reminded of the Truth that God showed me recently. The words are simple; the execution difficult: Who are you going to worship? Every day is a series of seemingly small decisions that reveal my heart each time. I make a choice FOR Jesus or FOR myself from the very first moments of the day when my alarm shrieks in my ear. Hitting snooze and neglecting the quiet moments at the start of the day to orient my heart towards worship of Christ reveals what I truly worship.

As the day progresses and it seems like hours that I've given up for my kids (it HAS been hours...), my heart begins to crave satisfaction in the worship of stuff and not God. Maybe it's a candy bar, a trip to Starbucks or 20 minutes on Facebook - I am seeking comfort and pleasure in something other than God. Each of those items are not inherently evil on their own. It is what they become to me as I sink my claws of entitlement and demand deeper into them. Am I even giving God an opportunity to meet me right then and there? No, He's not sweet enough, fast enough, interesting enough in that moment. I fall for the age-old lie and make a terrible trade: Him for me.

God has been so faithful and gracious to me to give me a glimpse of what true worship of Him does for my heart and soul. It fills me, encourages and completes unlike anything else. Humbling myself to magnify Him naturally brings me to a place of brokenness and repentance. How can I but want to confess my sin and close the distance I've created when I look deeply into my Savior's eyes and receive grace, forgiveness and acceptance - EVERY SINGLE TIME.

Tomorrow morning, bright and early, I will awake to this song on my lips:
Psalm 99:5 Exalt the LORD our God; worship at his footstool! Holy is he!
And begin another day asking myself: Who's it gonna be?

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Cheerleader or Linebacker?

My husband Phil is talented in so many ways. One of his gifts is being able to create analogies and describe people or situations with vivid word pictures. He came up with one to describe me this morning that was painfully accurate and a bit humorous, if not convicting. I have been a bit intense recently. As I was once again responding to him with a completely over-the-top retort to a simple question asked, he informed me that he wants to see me be more of a cheerleader and less of a linebacker in our home.

He remembered this commercial to illustrate his point:

I had to laugh. I wanted to cry. He is so right - I have been a linebacker. I have overreacted, freaked out and bowled over anyone that gets in my way.

I don't know much about football but I do know that a linebacker is a big, beefy guy whose sole purpose is to smear the guy across the line from him. He is not interested in gentle, polite persuasion. He makes his point with a shoulder pad to the groin.

A cheerleader, on the other hand, is an encourager. "Go, Team, Go!" she shouts enthusiastically from the sidelines. Her identity is grounded in being a beacon of hope yelling shouts of praise and acclamation despite the score on the board.

I realize this little sports analogy breaks down quickly and certainly isn't a blueprint for life but it did give me some good perspective on myself. I desire to influence with hope not intimidation, encouragement not brute force.

My prayer tonight: Psalm 19:14 Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O LORD, my rock and my redeemer.

The ponderings of my heart will burst forth from my mouth. Lord, continue to change me so I am more and more the cheerleader and less the linebacker. May others RECOGNIZE You in me.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Tears and Fears for the First Day of School

Tomorrow, for many of us mothers, marks a day wrought with mixed emotions. For those of you sending kids back to school, I can only imagine a swirling tornado of sadness over the lazy days of summer come and gone mixed with a bit of glee at the prospect of settling back into a routine where the kids won't be under foot all day. (I could be totally wrong on that one and I'm willing to hear about it. I daydream about that mixture of emotions for you and project what I imagine I would be feeling.)

For me, as a homeschool mom, it is a day that stirs up and exposes some of my most raw emotions. I have already spent a good part of today feeling overwhelmed with the daunting task of being my children's mother, teacher, discipler and friend. I want to be planning with great joy and expectancy all of the valuable lessons we'll learn together this year - both from the books and in our hearts - but I am paralyzed with fear and dread. I simultaneously battle wanting to treasure these special days at home fully engaged with my children and wanting to drop them off at the curb of the local elementary school. I love homeschooling and I hate homeschooling. I love it when I am worshipping Jesus and peacefully submitting to the call He has placed on my life for this season. I hate it when I am worshipping myself and do not want to bear the responsibility of being the constant source of influence, education and inspiration for my kids. It is beautiful and ugly, exhausting and exhilirating - it is a picture of redemption in our family. God working in each one of us His plan to make us more like Him. For reasons unknown to me at times, God has marked out this path for me on the way to Christlikeness. Every moment of every day of homeschooling becomes an opportunity to model to my children what I tell them constantly - they need Jesus and so do I.

As I spewed tears and fears at my husband, he calmly asked the children to leave the room. He proceeded to listen to my scewed and irrational thinking and gently corrected me. He pointed me toward Truth and the ultimate source of my homeschooling success and assuaged fears - JESUS. As I was allowing his words to soak in, I heard some giggling and whispering upstairs. My 3 sweet students has changed clothes into their Sunday best and marched down the stairs in a single-file line - not unlike the Von Trapp family. They all proceeded to ask for my forgiveness for moments of disobedience and chaos that helped contribute to my place of utter desperation. They each in turn shared from their hearts about what great parents we were and how much they loved us. And then, they prayed. They thanked our Lord for this family and my 8 year old daughter asked God to help me always look to Him first.

And that, I remembered through tears of brokenness, gratitude and joy is what worship is all about - every moment of my life, looking to Jesus and recognizing His tender loving grace.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Marriage Lessons Learned on the Dance Floor

Phil and I took a swing dance class a couple years ago with some friends. After 1 lesson, I was amazed at the parallels that emerged between my role as a dance partner and my role as a wife.

1. THE WOMAN CAN'T LEAD - In smooth and successful swing dancing, there is a clearly identified leader that knows the tempo of the music, the order of the steps and what is coming up next. If the partner is always struggling for control, the steps are clumsy and there is no rhythm. We were never able to establish a fluid motion of dance when I was vying with Phil for his role. I certainly needed to be paying close attention and know the steps for myself - I could not be a passive, uninvolved partner. But, I did need to wait for the gentle pressure that Phil would exert on my hand or shoulder, sending me off in the right direction. In the same way, I cannot lead in our marriage. God gave that job to Phil and our life is much more beautiful and smooth when I let him fulfill that calling.

2. DON'T TELL YOUR PARTNER WHAT TO DO - Our instructor had to correct me for this several times as I was regularly "reminding" Phil of his steps. Problem was, I didn't really know Phil's steps. I had an idea of what was required of him but I truly had no clue. He was standing opposite me, using different feet for each unique move. He knew his prescribed set of steps and I didn't need to know what each was. I simply needed to trust him to do his leading and I could then easily concentrate on what I was to be doing. Similarly, I do not have the entire picture of what God has called Phil to be and do as leader of our home. I need to trust that he is seeking God for his calling which frees me up to focus on mine.

3. CREATIVE FLAIR ADDED AT THE RIGHT TIME - I came to discover that my favorite part of dancing was the extra shoulder shimmy I was free to slip in when I was headed in the right direction. As a wife, there is so much creativity and flair that I can add to my marriage when I am under Phil's leadership and protection. The overall effect is a delightful and unique version of this dance called life - Phil and Jen style.

4. STEPPING ON TOES IS PAINFUL - It's gonna happen, especially when we are just learning or trying something new. We must humble ourselves enough to ask forgiveness for the toe smashing - no matter how painful or whether it was intentional. It makes for restored closeness for the rest of the dance.

5. DON'T COMPARE TO THE COUPLE DANCING NEXT TO YOU - Phil has a very calm, cool, understated manner about him in life and on the dance floor. He is not the guy with the flashy moves and crazy stunts but I do know what I can expect from him - he is consistent. Our teacher complimented him on his smoothness and I would miss it if I'm looking around to see how good we look compared to the next couple. God has called us to our particular rhythm, tempo and moves for OUR marriage - we don't get to dance to someone else's song!

6. REMEMBER THE BASICS - Sharon, our instructor, always reminded us that if we got lost in the dance sequence, we could always come back to Step 1 and get re-synced. We both knew what came next when we remembered where we came from. In our marriage, there are times when one (or both) of us has forgotten the way - lost sight of what we are about. When we re-orient ourselves on the basics, we find our way again. Our marriage is about reflecting Jesus to each other and the world around us. Our marriage is about WORSHIP - enjoying God's presence together. When we get spun out of control and focused on the wrong dance, we must always go back to the basics: We love because He first loved us - I John 4:9.

7. KEEP GOING! This last lesson is one of the hardest for me: PERSEVERANCE. It is required on the dance floor and it is required in life. We are going to make mistakes, be off tempo and out of sync but we must keep going. There are no do-overs in life - only do differently. We must have our eyes firmly fixed on Christ - the author and perfector (and choreographer) of our faith. As we continue the dance, we will RECOGNIZE Him more and more in ourselves and each other.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Awe Came Upon My Soul

Phil and I were blessed with a wonderful gift of rest and refreshment last week at a retreat in the mountains. It was a relaxing time of fun with friends and teaching from the Word. I came away with several profound Truths that God clarified and solidified for me. In response to the teaching from Acts on the Holy Spirit and the experience of powerful worship, more than a few questions arose in my heart as we left that place of rest. I am easily inspired to feel very strongly and passionately about things and often, condemnation and doubt are quickly on the heels. I realized I needed more than my "retreat high" to navigate this experience for me.

In acts 17, the Bereans heard a stirring presentation of the gospel from Paul and they "recieved the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so." Eager to make sense of my exciting week, I cracked open Acts to read for myself in a Berean-esque manner.

Here are several verses that spoke to me:

1. Acts2:43 awe came upon every soul

I certainly can't speak for everyone in attendance, but I do know that personally, I felt a depth of freedom to worship my God like I have not felt in times past. For the most part, I was completely unconcerned with what others were doing around me. The awe of the simultaneous immenseness OF God and the intimacy WITH God filled my soul to overflowing.

2. Acts 3:19 Repent, therefore, and turn again, that your sins may be blotted out, that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord

I was taught a very important distinction in my heart that comes when I enter God's presence with a heart full of worship for Him instead of a heart full of shame for my sin. When I preface my repentance with worship, my time with God begins and ends with the focus on Him. If I praise Him for His character and His magnificent works and ways, then naturally I will come to a place of brokenness as I want to turn again to behold His holiness and perfection. I am refreshed when I behold Perfection, repent of my imperfections and rest in His presence and love for me.

3. Acts 4:33...great grace was upon them all.

A simple and yet, deeply profound Truth that I often forget. On my best day and certainly on my worst, I am drowning in the Great Grace of my Savior to sustain me.

4. Acts 5:42...they did not cease teaching and preaching Jesus as the Christ.

This was a powerful reminder to me as Phil and I teach the engaged couples in the Preparing for Marriage class. We often get young, starry-eyed couples asking for tips and tricks and steps to a happy and healthy marriage. This verse reminds me that even in a class on marriage, we must always begin and end with Jesus is the Christ. He is the bedrock, foundation and sustainer of marriage. He alone transforms and gives life - tips and tricks don't fundamentally change anyone.

5. Acts 7:51 "You stiff-necked people, uncircumcised in heart and ears, you always resist the Holy Spirit"

Lord, I know what it feels like for you to stir my heart with your Holy Spirit and I know what it feels like to resist you - may I never talk myself out of the fact that I have heard your voice and must respond.

6. Acts 9:31 And walking in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit, it (the church) multiplied.

This is my prayer for Mars Hill - that as we each live with a proper understanding of God's power and might (fear Him) and boldly believe that God's power is in us (because of the comfort of the Holy Spirit) - our church will multiply. People who don't know Jesus will be drawn to Him because of Him in us.

7. Acts 11:23 he exhorted them all to remain faithful to the Lord with steadfast purpose.

I want this to be said of me - not that I was deeply passionate for a few moments that faded with the sun and the end of a retreat. I want my purpose (to worship God and enjoy His presence) to be steadfast (lived out til the end of my life) as I remain faithful to the Lord (not letting my heart stray to other lovers).

8. Acts 13:10 "will you not stop making crooked the straight paths of the Lord?"

How often do I twist the commands of the Lord, make what He has promised as black and white to be gray and murky? God does not speak in vague, confusing terms. His Truth is simple, His way straight. My wicked heart and my crafty Enemy make the way crooked. Forgive me Lord for distorting your Word.

9. Acts 20:28 Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which He obtained with His own blood.

This is my prayers for the elders of Mars hill Church. One of those men is my husband, one is my little brother and all are men that I respect and trust as godly leaders. Please know that I will be praying for your vigilant watch over your own souls, your families hearts and the health of all those in your care. Jesus paid a much higher price for those souls than you ever will and He loves each of them more than you ever could. He has chosen you to bring them along with you on your journey to the Cross.

10. Acts 21:14 Let the will of the Lord be done.

Ultimately, this is my heart's cry. With some trepidation and uncertainty, we must receive what we were taught and experienced last week as given from God and for God. I do not know what His will is for the future of His church and my life but I trust Him. It is ultimately a test of our maturity and our humility that we seek God for His will in our lives and our church.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Digging and Dung

I was reading this morning in Luke 13:

6And he told this parable: "A man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard, and he came seeking fruit on it and found none. 7And he said to the vinedresser, 'Look, for three years now I have come seeking fruit on this fig tree, and I find none. Cut it down. Why should it use up the ground?' 8And he answered him, 'Sir, let it alone this year also, until I dig around it and put on manure. 9Then if it should bear fruit next year, well and good; but if not, you can cut it down.'"

I am certainly not an expert Bible Expositer but this parable spoke powerfully to me, especially in light of Sunday's sermon on the patience of God. I am the man - looking at the tree that is my life and saying - "It's been a whole 40 years God - why isn't there more fruit?" Or, more recently, "It's been a whole hour of trying to be a good mom, why isn't there more fruit?" This morning it was "God, he's been my husband for 16 years, why doesn't he bear the fruit I think he should?" Seeking fruit on my tree, I find only an occasional raisin. In my despair and frustration, I want to cut down any tree that isn't bearing fruit in my hasty timetable. God is the wise and patient vinedresser whispering to me - "I am bearing fruit in you and your loved ones - wait on Me - give it time...I do promise you, though, if it is fruit you seek - I will have to dig at your heart and it will be painful. Healthy fruit is only borne out of regular pruning. The rotten roots of sin and selfishness must be dug out. Healthy fruit must be nourished by the application of dung. Yes, Jen, what appears to be nothing more than manure heaped on your life is truly the soil that I will use to bear fruit in your life. Do you trust me? Are you willing to wait for it?"

With a weak and trembling heart, I say to Him, "Yes, Lord, I will wait. I RECOGNIZE that it is you doing the careful, gracious digging at my heart because you love me. I trust that you know the right amount of trial needed to refine me to be more like you. It is in the wait that I blossom."

Sunday, July 12, 2009

What would I do differently if I was a new bride today?

I was talking today with a sweet young lady who is to become a wife in 28 ½ days – yes, of course she knows the exact number of hours til she becomes a Mrs. but I’ll just leave it at a vague 28 1/2 days.. I was thinking back to my early years of marriage and pondering the things I would do differently in the early years of my marriage to Phil. Here are a few of the musings I came away with:

1. I would have defined my identity in Christ. Becoming Mrs. Philip Smidt threw me into a bigger identity crisis than I ever imagined it would. I had lived in the life and body of Jennifer Munson for 23 years – for better or worse, I knew what to expect of her. Jennifer Smidt, wife of Phil, caused me to rethink my whole purpose and very existence on this planet. Except, it didn’t need to. I needed to look to my Creator and know Him. Then, I needed to understand what He called me in His Word as His chosen daughter. Then, and only then, would being uniquely called to be Phil’s wife make any sense or have any grounding.
2. I would have prepared myself for some serious exposure – and I’m not just talking in the bedroom… Marriage brings together 2 sinners under a covenant for life where each person’s sin is exposed and revealed in the interactions with their spouse.
3. I would have sought to understand that submitting to my husband ONLY flowed out of a heart submitted to Christ. I was trying to put the cart before the horse (or in this case, the actions before the heart) I kept trying to muster up enough submission to let Phil lead me when what I really needed to do was repent of my independence from God, let Him change me at the heart level and beautifully, submission to Phil would overflow from that new heart.
4. I would have taken full responsibility for my personal relationship with Jesus. As a young bride, I really clung to the whole “spiritual leader” thing and over time, realized that I believed Phil being the spiritual leader meant I was off the hook. He was responsible for the spiritual health of our marriage after all. I didn’t truly experience my wrong thinking until our relationship started fraying at the seams and I blamed Phil entirely.
5. I would have prayed more. About the seemingly little things (Lord, please help me learn how to iron a shirt properly) the medium sized things (Lord, please show me how to prepare a balanced meal for my family) and the huge things (Lord, are you sure you want me to quit my job and stay home??)
6. I would have been asking God for a mother’s heart long before I had children. Next to being a wife, being a mother is the most self-revealing role you will encounter. I would have prayed for more selfless love and patience as a new wife because Lord knows, I need unceasing amounts of both and I would have had a jumpstart on aligning my selfish heart to Jesus’ selfless love that mothering requires.
7. I would have found an older godly woman and stalked her. I would have begged her to let me sit at her feet and show me the ways of godly wifing and mothering.
8. I would have owned an ESV journaling Bible. Yes, I realize they did not exist in the early 1990’s but they do today so for the purpose of this writing – you aren’t off the hook. Study bibles are wonderful tools for digging deeper but each of us as wives must simply sit with the words of God before us and see what it is the Holy Spirit that dwells inside you wants you to know and hear. Removes the temptation to distrust the HS in you and always see what the experts have to say. The HS indwells you – let Him speak to you personally.
9. I would have surrendered to the fact that biblical femininity is radically different than what the academic, supposedly “evolved and advanced” world tells me it is. It is not oppressive, boring and second rate – it is freeing, life-giving and the greatest joy and challenge I have ever grabbed hold of.
10. I would have rested more. I’m not talking about “I’m resting with Oprah and bon-bons chilling in the freezer because I don’t deserve this mundane housewife gig” – I am talking about the true rest that only comes from a quiet heart. Elisabeth Elliot wrote a book entitled Keep a Quiet Heart and the title alone convicts and intrgues me. Rest is found in Christ alone – the noise in our hearts and heads comes from listening to too many voices

After 16 years, I can gratefully look back and see what God has taught me about Himself, myself and marriage. I can RECOGNIZE His fingerprints all over my marriage to Phil. My prayer is - no matter where you are in your journey towards becoming a wife or living as a wife for years and years – that you can recount the growth God has shown you and grasp the redemptive thread of His work in your life.

Redeeming F Words

On June 11, I turned FORTY. I'm told forty is the new thirty. I hope not. I don't want to be thirty again - don't want to relive that decade. It was very happy in so many ways but it was also painful. God did a lot of redemptive restoration in my life and relationships in my thirties and while I am grateful for it, I don't want to go back. I want to face my forties living FREELY out of the redemption He has worked in my life. God gave me 3 more F words as a vision for what He desires from me in the next half of my life...

FOCUS - I am spontaneous and FUN. That is what my orderly, schedule-oriented (read uptight) friends call me. I do not like keeping to a rigid schedule. What if I feel like doing the 3:15 activity at 10:30? Some days I just want a nap to come right after breakfast. But, as I mature, God is changing me and showing me that while spontaneity can be fun at times, it does not produce the righteous life that God desires. If I am going to train my mind and heart and body to glorify God in all I do, I must be focused. I must have a plan. Which leads me to...

FRUITFUL - I am a very busy person. My calendar gets booked weeks in advance and I am not a world-class surgeon...I am a wife and mother. My business does not always equate with fruitfulness though. I can run around all week feeling frazzled and busy with seemingly good things but not the right things - the activities that are bearing fruit in myself and my family. (Note: CJ Mahaney writes a very challenging blog series on this topic at his website...view from the cheap seats) God wants my time to be allotted to those things that will bear fruit for His kingdom - not my kingdom. Which leads me to choice F word #3...

FAITHFUL - God wants my life to be characterized by faithfulness.

Psalm 37:3Trust in the LORD, and do good; dwell in the land and befriend faithfulness.

Be a friend to faithfulness? Huh? Good-time Jenny doesn't really want to have to be a loyal friend to faithfulness...that requires effort and commitment on my part. And that is exactly what God is asking of me. He is asking me to be faithful to His Truth, His saving work on the cross for me and the redemption He has worked in me. For the next 40 years of my life, He is asking for my whole heart - a heart faithfully committed to Him. And I will give it because He is faithful and He will care for me in ways far more glorious than I could imagine.

Sure, Jennifer Garner got to be thirty, flirty and thriving but I'd much rather follow Jesus and RECOGNIZE Him in the vision He gave to me for my forties: Focused, Fruitful and Faithful

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Ukraine, Laos, Lynnwood?

Now, I am no geography whiz, but I do know that these 3 locations on a map have very little in common and even less proximity. I do know that God is working uniquely in each place and last night, I got a beautiful picture of His great plan.

My aunt and uncle have been in Ukraine as missionaries for the past 14 months with a short stay in Laos to teach English and preach the Gospel whenever they were given an opportunity. After sharing dinner together, they showed us pictures of their adventures and talked to us about what life had been like for them in these 2 very different countries.

My uncle described the sweetness of genuine fellowship and faith that the Ukrainian believers had - unencumbered, it seems, with the many comforts and distractions that I encounter on a daily basis. The aftermath of years of Communist rule has left many of these people stripped of the ability or freedom to think for themselves - many still need to hear of the Freedom available in Christ and of the depth of His riches.

The people in Laos are inundated with statues of Buddha everywhere they turn - confusion and blindness abound in this country of monks and Hmong people. Jesus is virtually unknown in this land - our God that cannot be contained or represented in a man-made form longs for the hearts of these people.

So, what does any of this have to do with Lynnwood, you ask? Well, that is where I come in. Lynnwood is the center of my universe and I can get so darn short-sighted and tunnel-visioned as I hole up here in the northern region of the Puget Sound. The fact is, I am a missionary to this unglamorous, strip-mall overrun section of the world just as my aunt and uncle are missionaries to foreign lands. There is a giant shrine just over the freeway from me to the god of materialism - fueling the hearts and passions of many a follower that tithe regularly to it. There are idols in my own home - buried deep inside my heart that God wants destroyed as much as He desires to see Laotians destroy the bronze statues of Buddha.

The big picture that I glimpsed last night is that the world really isn't all that big and we are not really all that different as people. Each of us, created in the image of God, wascreated to worship the Creator. Each of us erects idols of our own making that we worship in the place of the all-satisfying God. Each of us is called to share the transforming power of the Gospel in the place where we are placed - starting with living out the Gospel daily in our own homes and lives. Each of us should have our eyes and eyes open to RECOGNIZE that Jesus is working all around us and that we are invited to join the adventure - He is redeeming lives in Ukraine, Laos - and even Lynnwood.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

My own Psalm 77 questions

I have been in a desert for the past few days - of my own doing primarily - and I really need to get out. I cracked open my Bible this morning which I admit, sheepishly, that I had not done in several days. God led me to Psalm 77 by way of the random question - what shall I read this morning? In God's sovereignty and intimate knowledge of my heart, that really is never a random question because the Scriptures are alive and active and able, at any moment, to speak words of comfort and conviction - addressing the specific needs of my heart. Today was no exception.

The psalmist of 77 .... "made a diligent search:
7 “Will the Lord spurn forever and never again be favorable?
8 Has his steadfast love forever ceased?
Are his promises at an end for all time?
9 Has God forgotten to be gracious?
Has he in anger shut up his compassion?”

In his diligent search of both the character of God through history and his troubled heart, the psalmist lays out 5 questions to God. I so appreciate this view into the doubt and darkness of the psalmist's heart. I have been existing in this doubt and darkness because of my sin of independence from God and His Word these past few days. My questions have been along these lines:

1. Why God am I feeling this way?
2. Do you really know the desires of my heart?
3. Are your promises and your ways really for my best?
4. Why do I look to people instead of you for comfort and definition?
5. Will you forgive me AGAIN for trading your presence for some temporal, small satisfaction?

The psalmist then leads me to a place of remembrance:

10Then I said, "I will appeal to this, to the years of the right hand of the Most High." 11I will remember the deeds of the LORD; yes, I will remember your wonders of old.12I will ponder all your work, and meditate on your mighty deeds.13Your way, O God, is holy. What god is great like our God?14You are the God who works wonders; you have made known your might among the peoples.15You with your arm redeemed your people,

I have forgotten the wonders of His love for me, the depth of His provision and that He is the Keeper of my soul. His ways are HOLY and He has redeemed me but I have stopped fighting to see the Truth. In the darkness, Lord, I appeal to the Light - you alone can illuminate my heart and bring me back to the place of comfort and confidence in you alone. I know that is you in the darkness - I RECOGNIZE the strength of your arm as You break my fall.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Thank you Dad!

I just received word that my dad is headed to the ER with serious pain and unknown diagnosis. I am praying hard that Jesus spare and heal him because I want my dad around for many years to come. There is much more life to be lived for my dad as a husband, father, grandfather, uncle, brother and friend. God has been very gracious to my dad - it was just 2 years ago that He delivered Him from a lifelong battle with alcohol and brought him to a place of brokenness. Out of those ashes, God has worked a story of redemption in my dad that has impacted his marriage, his fathering and his legacy. I wanted to record some of my thoughts of gratitude to my Heavenly Father for my earthly father while they are fresh on my heart:

1. Thank you, Dad, for the many years of passionate support you have given to me as your daughter. You have always encouraged me in any endeavor I have undertaken. True, some of those undertakings were ones I needed to be protected from, but in your absence, I was protected by my Lord. You both demonstrated and allowed for a needed understanding that Jesus alone is my Fortress and my Rock.

2. Thank you, Dad, for allowing me to share with you the deep, dark, painful secrets of my heart and for holding me in my pain. Your tears were a healing wash of love over my heart. True, your willingness to listen and heartbreak over my story came later in my life than I would have desired - but they HAPPENED. I dreamed of that day for years and I am grateful to God that He broke through your sin and mine so that it was a longing fulfilled.

3. Thank you, Dad, for many memories of fun-filled, laughter-soaked moments with you leading the way. You will always be the consummate teaser and joke-teller; able to lighten the mood on the darkest of days. True, your teasing is ill-fitting and excessive at times, but your consistent willingness to state your love for me speaks volumes. You have never withheld words of love and affirmation - I choose to believe, even in the midst of your cajoling, that the depth of your love for your children is vast. Truer still, I have come to know the love of Jesus in deeper ways - His love for His children is infathomable.

4. Thank you, Dad, for loving my mom better each day. It gives me great joy and confidence, even as a grown woman, to know that my mommy is loved and protected and will not be abandoned by you. True, I have many a memory of you and Mom fighting over the years - worrying that the next fight may be the last. Thank you for persevering through the years filled with joy and trial so that God is now glorified through your marriage.

5. Thank you, Dad, for failing me at times so that out of sheer desperation, a deep desire for the arms of a father - I was driven into the arms of my Savior. I have no bitterness, not a shred of anger or unforgiveness in my heart for you. ONLY deep love and gratitude for the Daddy you have been to me over the years. Imperfect yet devoted, absent at times yet very present now - you are a picture of redemption and a tangible reminder of grace in my life. I RECOGNIZE Jesus in you now more than at any point in my life.

Please Father - heal my father so we can continue this beautiful story together.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

What do I want from Jesus?

This sermon http://www.sermonaudio.com/sermoninfo.asp?SID=fpc-031506 is a great challenge to me as both a Christian and a mother. As I desire great things for my children, do I desire for them the blessings the world has to offer or the eternal blessings of the Kingdom that come at great cost? They are breathing in (being influenced by) the true desires of my heart that I breathe out every day - do I RECOGNIZE Jesus in those desires? What do I truly want from Jesus - do I demand it for myself? For my children?

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Love Incorruptible

I stumbled across this phrase a few weeks ago while reading Ephesians. Paul ends this great letter with these words:

Grace be to all who love our Lord Jesus Christ with love incorruptible. (6:24)

The phrase jumped off the page and I immediately began to think about its implications.

  • I can only do this because Jesus embodies LOVE INCORRUPTIBLE
  • He is both the model and the source of it
  • My story is full of examples of love corrupted and defiled
  • When do I let my heart be corrupted by loving something or someone more than Jesus?
  • Do I RECOGNIZE where Jesus redeeming and purifying my corrupt heart?
  • How do I keep my heart loving Him in this way?

So much to consider - I will be thinking on and answering these questions in this blog and for the rest of my lifetime. In the meantime, praise Jesus for His incorruptible love and for the grace to love as He does.

It's all relative.....and real

God has been teaching me much about suffering lately - mine and others. In the past, I didn't have room in my life for both - I have always been very consumed with my own stuff. But this time, as I recover from yet another surgery (#15 to be exact), God has given me eyes to see suffering more how He sees it.

I heard today of a friend who is having very major surgery that will alter the course of his life FOREVER. In light of what I have just been through, I am tempted to be ashamed for considering my own suffering of any consequence. After all, his is much more serious, difficult and extensive than mine. On the other hand, many of my friends would look at my trial of the past few weeks and tend to feel silly at the thoughts of how naughty their children have been or how little time they've had to connect with their busy husbands.

We are creatures of comparison. We look to the right and to the left, above and below, behind and ahead to measure up where we fall in the spectrum of trial and suffering.

"Mine is bad but it is certainly not as bad as his - but, wait, what's she complaining about? How dare she think she's got it rough - try walking in my shoes for even a moment!"
The internal dialogue continues as we measure out the suffering continuum and plot our location from day to day. Our level of suffering may seem relative compared to our fellow man but it certainly is real. Whether it appears monumental or trivial - it is our reality. The question is not, "How much am I suffering compared to the next person?" but "Where do I RECOGNIZE Jesus in my current suffering? Where do my eyes need to be opened to His character, His Truth and His redemption in my life?"
God is grieved at the suffering His children have to endure on this earth. And yet, He promises hope in the midst of it and final triumph over it one day. He sent His Son to suffer incomprehensibly so we would not have to suffer eternally. Compared with His suffering, ours is relatively small and yet, very real. Dump the vain pursuit of comparing and focus on Him who suffered for our ultimate deliverance.

Monday, January 26, 2009


I like to use ALL CAPS when I write. I realize that their use is to be reserved for the occasion of yelling or strongly emphasizing a point. I like to emphasize a lot (gesturing with hands right now)so I use ALL CAPS a lot. So, the significance of ALL CAPS in the title of this post may be lost due to my overuse of the technique. Maybe with the added bonus of 2 exclamation points you'll get it.

I really, truly mean to yell the word as Pastor Mark did for over an hour last Sunday. He is preaching through 1 Peter and getting us fired up about the fact that it isn't just some nice Christianese platitude that claims we should rejoice through trial. It is Truth, it is Possible, it is Necessary. Interesting timing for me - I had to listen to the podcast as I missed the actual Sunday service due to recovering from major surgery. As I lay in my bed, chaffing with bed sores and a catheter tube sticking out of me - I began the sermon with low expectations. Sure, I get the whole concept in theory but certainly it didn't apply to me right now in practice. Little hard to rejoice through the veil of pain and tubing of urine. About half way through - my heart broke. Faithful as ever, God caused me to RECOGNIZE Jesus in my circumstances. Today, He comes disguised as bedrest and a bladder bag reminding me that this world is not my home, this body too will be recreated after a short time on earth and that He is so much bigger than my puny life. I truly can REJOICE!! because of Him alone.

Peek a Boo - I see You

What a silly baby game that is - my kids used to be convinced that once I put the blanket over my head, I was gone. Squeals of laughter and surprised joy would overtake them time and again as I would lower the blanket and much to their amazement - I WAS STILL THERE! Before I pass judgement too quickly on the sheer foolishness of this childish pastime in my children, I must recognize it in myself. It is often how I relate to God.

When the proverbial sunshine is flooding the halls of my life, of course I am convinced of God's goodness and presence and steadfast love. Truth is, I may not even be compelled to consider it too deeply because I don't really need to. I am being blessed by Him - must be smack dab in the center of His will. It's when the blanket goes over His head (stay with me...) that I begin to wonder where He went. My dark circumstances stir up fear, doubt, a desire to control and comfort and I am only convinced that I want Him back.

Where are you God?

Have you gone from me?

If I quiet my heart for a moment, I hear His answer. I AM STILL HERE.

As God allows for trial in my life - designs it actually in keeping with making me more Christlike - I am growing up enough to realize that He is a Constant - He is still under the blanket. Oh the joy that now floods my soul in confident and quiet trust that He is there even when I can't see Him. I RECOGNIZE His form under the folds and creases.

Definition to my Life

As I contemplated what to call this second foray into blogging, I thought back to the first title I chose (yeah, the arrogant one I mentioned in my last post...) and immediately knew it had to go. In the past year, God has painfully been shrinking the size of my life to a much more reasonable and smallish size compared to what I believed it to be in the past. I realize it is a common condition known to all mankind to operate as the center of your universe but I did it very happily and strategically blindled for many years. Happily because I duped myself into believing that the temporal power and enjoyment I received from running my own kingdom were enough for me. Blindled because I felt helpless to do anything about it ("oh that poor, blind girl - she can't help it she was born without eyesight") but STRATEGICALLY because it did have volition involved. Making my world very big made me feel loved - demanding from those around me to be seen and heard.

Enter REDEMPTION: God exposing my heart with all of its filth and loving me enough to show me the error of my ways. As I was reading in Luke 24 recently, I came upon my favorite definition of redemption as defined by the bible itself.

verse 31 ...their eyes were opened and they recognized Him...
I now have a new title for my blog, really, my life. As my eyes are opened to the Truth of who God really is, I am put in my proper place. I no longer care that I am seen or heard - I want Jesus to be seen and heard through me. It is no longer ok for me to spout out my passing thoughts and opinions about the world according to me - what does Jesus have to say about it? My life, my pain, my tears - they are not for nothing and they are not EVERYTHING - they are given to me so I can RECOGNIZE Jesus in the midst of them.

The Journey Begins....(again)

I once again enter the world of blogging - the "once again" phrase ratting me out as to the deep struggle of my heart. I am not an endurer - I am a flash in the pan. I love nothing more than doing something once, being hailed as excellent, wise or brave and then never having to go back to that thing again. This tendency shows up in my relationship with God, my husband, my kids, friends, housework, hobbies and thus, BLOGGING. I started a blog over a year ago. I entitled it, "The World According to Jen" - feeling sure that people cared what I had to say about life and my place in it. I posted twice and then I was over it - the pan flashed and I was done.

I am also a "Corner Cutter". My husband dubbed this not-so-noble title for me as he has witnessed over time my tendency (read: sin) of trying to get the desired result with the least possible effort. I want to be thin but I believe I should lose the extra poundage after one day of eating like a rabbit. That 3 day treadmill/lifting weights frenzy should result in a toned body permanently. Teaching my children should involve only having to tell them ONCE and intimacy with Phil can be built in a night - can't it? That day last month when I cracked open my bible -won't those spiritual fumes keep me sputtering for at least another day?

And so, I feel like a junior high girl recommitting her life back to Jesus for the dozenth time. I will faithfully commit some time and heart energy each week to documenting this journey of my life - RECOGNIZING Jesus in each and every moment because He is there. He is Faithful. He is the beginning and the end - no flash in the pan.