Sunday, November 7, 2010

Battling Bitterness

Hebrews 12: 14-15 Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord. 15See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God; that no "root of bitterness" springs up and causes trouble, and by it many become defiled;

As I sat sipping a cup of coffee with a good friend this morning, I knew the question was coming. It always does because she is a loving friend who cares about my marriage.

“How are you and Phil doing?”

Before I gave much careful thought to my answer, out slipped a “meh...” with a quick cock of my head and shrug of my shoulder.

“That good, huh? I have come to realize that when I am feeling that way about my husband, I have let bitterness creep into my heart somewhere.”

Yuck. There it was - the ugly truth - lying on the table between us. The eyes of my heart had been enlightened. She was exactly right. Like an insidious noxious poison, undetectable to the eye, I had let bitterness erode at foundation of my marriage.

Lest your mind wander at this point into the land of What If’s? and I Wonder What He Did’s? - let me set the record straight. There has not been any one thing - no major sin issue or gross misdemeanor committed. It has simply been the pile up of busy days, complicated schedules and an occasional lack of thoughtfulness of both of our parts. We have not prioritized intentional, regular heart connection. But that is exactly the point. Bitterness flourishes where apathy abounds. If we are not both vigilantly attending to the proverbial garden of our marriage, sin roots and springs up and causes trouble.

I promptly came home and found Phil sitting on the couch. I remembered the brief interaction we had last night when I was awoken by his late arrival from work. My heart leapt as I saw his face, his warm smile after a long day apart. God was gracious to reignite that spark of joy, that deep gratitude and heart of service for my husband that melts bitterness. I asked forgiveness for my carelessness that had sprung into bitterness and he obliged. He reminded me that despite our marital drought, he adored me. And the bitterness thawed into a puddle of tears as God, in His grace, enables us to love each other out of His abundance.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Reason for Absence: Mars Hill Blogging and Jr. High Boys

For the faithful few that pop in here occasionally to see if I've written, thank you.  I have been crazy busy this fall with homeschooling as my 2 boys are now both junior high age and well, you know.  Jr. High boys have a certain charm about them that is hard to pull yourself away from - that and they require much devoted time and attention to nurture their stumble and fumble into manhood.  I love my boys and will say that I get many an opportunity to apply the gospel to their hearts and mine as we are laid bare time before the cross, reminded of our need for Jesus in the midst of algebra, research for writing and science experiments.  Prayers are appreciated. 

I've also included a link to some writing I have done for mt church's blog:  Mars Hill.  Some of it is tweaked or repeated from here - some new.  Thanks for checking in.  I have many posts brewing in my head so Pray I put butt to chair and fingers to keyboard as the Holy Spirit prompts and swquirrely young men allow.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Hello 41...

Having a birthday always brings the nostalgic, year-in-review persona to the surface for me.  Last year, when I turned 40, God gave me 3 words as a vision for what He desired from me.  I've had to ask myself lately if I have seen any fruit borne in these areas of my life.  Right now seems a difficult time to assess accurately as I have been in a desolate desert of spiritual dryness.  What never ceases to amaze me is when I lift my tear-smudged, grubby-self-absorbed face to the heavens - even an inch - God floods me with the light of His grace and reminds me He has been close all along. I need only crack the door of my heart in soft submission to Him an inch.  Charles Spurgeon wrote to me personally yesterday morning - how sweet of him, right?  I'll share what he said to me on the pages of his devotional Morning and Evening:

“Looking unto Jesus.”

Hebrews 12:2

It is ever the Holy Spirit’s work to turn our eyes away from self to Jesus; but Satan’s work is just the opposite of this, for he is constantly trying to make us regard ourselves instead of Christ. He insinuates, “Your sins are too great for pardon; you have no faith; you do not repent enough; you will never be able to continue to the end; you have not the joy of his children; you have such a wavering hold of Jesus.” All these are thoughts about self, and we shall never find comfort or assurance by looking within. But the Holy Spirit turns our eyes entirely away from self: he tells us that we are nothing, but that “Christ is all in all.” Remember, therefore, it is not thy hold of Christ that saves thee—it is Christ; it is not thy joy in Christ that saves thee—it is Christ; it is not even faith in Christ, though that be the instrument—it is Christ’s blood and merits; therefore, look not so much to thy hand with which thou art grasping Christ, as to Christ; look not to thy hope, but to Jesus, the source of thy hope; look not to thy faith, but to Jesus, the author and finisher of thy faith. We shall never find happiness by looking at our prayers, our doings, or our feelings; it is what Jesus is, not what we are, that gives rest to the soul. If we would at once overcome Satan and have peace with God, it must be by “looking unto Jesus.” Keep thine eye simply on him; let his death, his sufferings, his merits, his glories, his intercession, be fresh upon thy mind; when thou wakest in the morning look to him; when thou liest down at night look to him. Oh! let not thy hopes or fears come between thee and Jesus; follow hard after him, and he will never fail thee.
“My hope is built on nothing less
Than Jesus’ blood and righteousness:
I dare not trust the sweetest frame,
But wholly lean on Jesus’ name.”

Focused, Fruitful and Faithful will only be woven into the fabric of my life as I look to Jesus with gaze and affections unwavering - that is my prayer for 41...

A Woman Who Fears the Lord

“Charm is deceptive and beauty is fleeting but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised” (Prov. 31:30).
As I think back to the woman I was in college, this verse painfully yet accurately describes me. Operating on wit and outward appearances, I managed to convince myself and others I had it all together. But I was deceived. I was drowning in my sin with no idea what my lack of fearing the Lord had to do with my desolate heart.

Fear of the Lord is one of those Bible phrases that we throw around with very little grounding in the substance of our daily lives. It is defined as reverent awe or deep respect. Sounds great, but what does that look like day in and day out? If a woman deeply respects God, how does she live her daily life?

•First and foremost, she has a correct understanding of the character of God.
•She has searched the Scriptures for God’s definition of God and believes it.
•She has studied what God has revealed about Himself and relies upon this Truth rather than her experience of God.
•She accepts His holiness and His justice as completely good.
•She trusts in His mercy, grace, and compassion to deal with her sin and redeem her.
•She believes that His kindness is what leads her to repentance and as such, would never presume upon the riches of His grace by taking her sin lightly (Romans 2).

OUCH. There it is–the reason I blatantly and boldly lived a life of self-indulgence and sin despite the fact that I called myself a “Christian.” I pridefully and foolishly took advantage of the cross by saying to God, “thanks for your sacrifice, but I got it from here. Love that forgiveness thing! When I’m done having fun, I’ll be back with my long list of sins that I’ll need you to take care of.” In short, I was not a woman who feared the Lord.

But God has helped me become a woman who fears Him–a repentant woman who is deeply grateful for and moved by the cross of Christ. This does not mean being afraid to go near our Awesome and Mighty God:

•It means being terrified to be far from Him.
•It means resting in the safety and peace of His loving arms and not straying from that place of protection.
•It means running from the temptation to satisfy our needy hearts with someone or something other than Him.
•It means He alone is the influence in our lives, giving us wisdom to navigate each day (Proverbs 3:7, Prov 9:10).
•It means valuing what He values in a woman: a submissive heart, a gentle and quiet spirit, and a posture of worship.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Isaiah 30 version Jen 1.0

What God says to me today as I return to His loving arms and rest in His personalizations in red...

15For thus said the Lord GOD, the Holy One of Israel to Jen
"In returning and rest you shall be saved;

in quietness and in trust shall be your strength."
But you were unwilling,
16and you said,"No! I will flee to my bed..."
therefore I hid away;
and believed the quiet whispers, "You are alone in your suffering.."
17 A thousand shall flee at the threat of one;
at the threat of five you shall flee,
till you are left
like a flagstaff on the top of a mountain,
like a signal on a hill.

18Therefore the LORD waits to be gracious to you,
and therefore he exalts himself to show mercy to you.
For the LORD is a God of justice;
blessed are all those who wait for him.
19For a woman shall dwell in Lynnwood; you shall weep no more. He will surely be gracious to you at the sound of your cry. As soon as he hears it, he answers you.
20And though the Lord give you the adversity of physical pain and the water of affliction, yet your Teacher will not hide himself anymore, but your eyes shall see your Teacher.
21 And your ears shall hear a word behind you, saying, "This is the way, walk in it," when you turn to the right or when you turn to the left.
22Then you will defile your plush, cozy idols overlaid with Egyptian-cotton sheets, fluffy duvets and your self-pitying, self-absorbed images. You will scatter them as unclean things. You will say to them, "Be gone!"

Thank you Lord for continuing to pursue and love me.  The idols I run after always break my heart and multiply my sorrow...You never do.  I love you.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

How ReTrain Changed my Husband

On Thursday, I will celebrate with my husband a wonderful milestone that he has achieved by God's grace. He will graduate from ReTrain - the yearlong Missional Leader program at Mars Hill Church. In many ways, our whole family has sacrificed for this accomplishment - giving up family time, days off and large chunks of Phil's brain that have been preoccupied with reading, writing and studying. It is a minuscule price to pay in comparison to the richness of redemption I have experienced in my husband as a man, pastor and father.

Phil's passion for the gospel has exploded. Sitting under the teaching of amazing pastors like Piper, Storms and Ware, I have seen admiration for the Father, affection for Christ and acknowledgement of the Holy Spirit's power multiply exponentially. Many a night, Phil would share with me what he was gleaning from the most recent book. Spurgeon's biography remains my favorite as I have memories of Phil tearing up as he spoke of the deep, passionate prayer life that Spurgeon inspired him with.

Phil has always been a man whose adherence to truth stands firm. His life is marked by integrity. I saw that commitment to truth be coupled with a tenderness and compassion as he was charged by one teacher with this exhortation: Sometimes the sheep need to be corrected but sometimes they just need to be loved and inspired. God used those words to continue to work gentleness and compassion for the people into my husband's pastoral heart.

I have witnessed Phil's pastoral calling be sharpened and strengthened through this process. Receiving encouragement, perspective and challenge from his fellow cohort members has given him clarity and confidence to continue in obedience to God's call on his life. The life of a pastor is often marked with loneliness. I watched my husband enjoy the brotherhood of shared mission with other godly men.

My heart is filled with gratitude and joy as we celebrate the close of ReTrain. God has faithfully sustained our family through a difficult season while he honed my husband towards greater passion and influence for His glory. What more can a wife ask for?

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Who God Is Determines Who I Am

“…by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain” (1 Corinthians 15:10).
As far back as I can remember, I struggled to answer the question, “Who am I?” I loved Jesus at an early age but I also experienced sexual abuse that left me feeling dirty and ashamed. Was I a purified, precious daughter of the King or was I a worthless piece of trash?

My college years were fraught with identity crisis after identity crisis. Rocked by emotional turmoil, consumed by thoughts of the opposite sex and floundering in attempts at independence, I ended up looking more juvenile than mature, foolish than sophisticated. I defined myself by the people I hung out with, the classes I excelled in or the clothing that got me noticed. My identity was all about me.

That wounded, self-absorbed young woman married a young man who had identity issues of his own. Proud of his squeaky clean, nice guy reputation, my husband was sure he could tame the wild woman in me. Neither one of us was living out of a heart that was defined by the finished work of Christ on the cross.

After much conviction of sin and a loving confrontation, we repented before God and each other by enduring hours of brutally honest and painful conversation about my past and our future. God was breaking strongholds of identity in both of us. I was emerging from the very dark (yet somehow comfortable) identity of shame that held me captive for years, and my husband was shedding the moralistic, self-righteous mask to become the strong, compassionate shepherd that he is today. We were seeing ourselves and each other in light of the cross.

God did some serious renovation of our hearts and identity. For as much as the world tells us our identity is all about us, the Bible turns that definition on its head and makes it all about God. Our identity flows out of our theology. The more clearly and rightly and intimately we know God, the better understanding we will have of our lives and purpose on earth.

Even as I write, this struggle continues. When I listen carefully to myself, I quickly realize that most of what I say is all about me.

I am a moody wife. Am I letting my feelings rule over me?
I am a homeschool mom. Am I ruining my kids?
I am an abuse survivor. Am I really loved?
I am worried about my health. Am I going to die?

Constantly bombarded with soul-numbing means of identifying myself outside of God, I grasp at any and everything that makes me feel mighty and important. I want to be god.

As I really begin to consider the implications of these (and many more) statements, God shows me the weakness of my faith and belief and leads me on a journey of identity redemption.

Through much godly grief and repentance, God has led me to proper worship of His glory and not my own. Understanding and defining myself in light of the cross has had a profound impact on the way I live my life.

I am a wife…but I am a slave to righteousness, not to my emotions.
I am a mom…but Christ is my kids’ Savior–not my mothering.
I am an abuse survivor…but God loved–and still loves–that precious little girl.
I am weak in body and spirit…but Christ is my Strength, my Shield.

The Bible jars us into reality as God’s chosen people. Our identity is based solely on His.

He is Creator. We are the utterly helpless creation.
He is Redeemer. We desperately need change.
He is Savior. We must be rescued.
He is Lord. We need His rule over our lives.

Who He is gives meaning and definition to every moment of our lives—every breath of our souls. By His grace alone, I am what I am. Lord, help me to live my life in submission to you, giving you glory in everything. Your Grace to me will not be in vain.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Pain Reveals My Heart

Psalm 119:23,24 Search me, O God, and know my heart!  Try me and know my thoughts!
And see if there be any grievous way in me,
and lead me in the way everlasting!

I'm resurfacing here like a bloated, beached dying whale that needs to come up for air.  As I think back on my relatively short blogging career, I see a pattern emerge.  I have written about bladder bagssurgery, and   chest pain.  My complete medical record would need to be carted into a doctor's office in a wheelbarrow.  15 major surgeries rolls off my tongue as if that is an common occurence for a 40 year old woman.  I have suffered greatly in my physical body.  God is revealing to me my heart all the while.

Nothing like 5 months of constant, nagging pain to belie the depths of my wicked, unbelieving heart.  Pain wears me down.  I want to carry its weight with dignity and grace; most days it is with weariness and irritability.  At least in the past, there has been a surgery date, a recovery period - an end in sight. 

Lost in the midst of unrelenting pain, God allowed me to recognize Jesus yesterday for the first time in a week.  I didn't see Him because relief had come but because a reminder settled in my heart.  God is not absent when I hurt.  He has compassion for His daughter.  He is here. 

Pain creates an eery, isolating silence is my heart.  It strips my heart back to reveal what comforts it desires, what ease it demands.  My pain is so noisy that I hear nothing else - not even the voice of my Savior who knows the depths of suffering that I cannot fathom.  Amidst the turmoil, God speaks to me calmly and quietly.  He will not silence noise that I have chosen to drown Him out with.

I am here.  Do you love me enough to trust me? 
I am strong.  Are you willing to be weak so I can show you my heart for you?
I am searching your heart.  Will you let me show you your grievous ways?
I will lead you in the way everlasting...

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

What's in your Cup Today?

I have found myself swamped with life lately and have not been making time to blog.  The sweet part of it is that I have been making more time for my Bible and truly loving it.  God is deeply moving me as I see the dependance of Jesus in His earthly life upon the Father and I have to ask myself,


Days can go by before I humbly and purposely stop myself to see what God wants from me or my day.  Jesus - yeah, that guy, the DIVINE ONE - never allowed Himself to be defined outside the Father and yet, I go off half-cocked with my plans, ideas, joys and fears thinking I'm somehow in charge of it all.

So, in an effort to stay connected to the Father and His Word and challenge myself to think deeply of Him (and also post here more than once a month!), I am going to turn my bible reading into a simple question that I ponder throughout my day.  Please join me in this exercise - answering my question or better yet, coming up with one of your own from your reading and share in comments.

Todays question comes from John - which is where I have been reading lately and have been overwhelmed and thrilled to see the complete and utter submission and dependance of Jesus to His Father's will.
Chapter 18, verse 11 - right after Jesus has been betrayed by Judas and handed over to the Pharisees - He asks Peter,   "Shall I not drink from the cup that the Father has given me?"

I ask myself:  Am I willing to drink the cup that the Father has given me today?

Granted, it is not filled with bloody beatings that end in crucifixion as Jesus' was - praise Him for that!  But, today, my cup is filled with algebra help, countless listenings to piano practice, preparing 3 square meals and tackling mountains of laundry.  It is filled with caring for 7 children (love my nieces and nephews!) while participating in a household Wii fast - am I crazy?

Or - am I humbly willing to let Jesus empower me to depend upon the Father to drink the cup placed before me on this day? 

What's in your cup?

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Jesus is Praying for Us

I got up this morning to spend some time in the Word and in prayer. It was not a dutiful, reluctant throwing off of the warm blankets to roll out of bed and meet Jesus. Something of a peaceful drive has settled in my soul when it comes to prayer and Bible reading as of late. I can be a get-er-done gal and I have spent far too many years in that place when it comes to the spiritual disciples. They have felt like an obligation and there has not been much life or joy in the doing. Without being able to pinpoint the date, God has graciously placed in me a deep understanding that I cannot live without constant submission to Him through prayer and Bible time. Being submitted makes the doing a joy.

Constant? you may think, questioning my accuracy as to the frequency. Yes, constantly - I exaggerate not.

It isn't as though I am never to be found without a bible open or a prayer being uttered. But, as a result of time spent in both, I am ever aware of His greatness and my smallness. He continually reminds me of my dependance upon Him when I begin my day placing myself under His loving authority and grace. Prayer has become constant companionship.

I was reminded this morning from John 17 that once again, Jesus has me covered. Even if I hadn't answered the screech of the alarm to begin my day in prayer, Christ is praying for me.

Here are the 6 requests that Christ asks of the Father for believers right before His death:

1.  He prays that we would be One with the Father
2.  He prays to have His joy fulfilled in us
3.  He prays that we would be kept from the evil one
4.  He prays that we would be sanctified in the Truth of His Word
5.  He prays that we would be with Him to see His glory
6.  He prays that God's love would be in us

Amazing! Just when I thought I was doing good to up the ante on my quiet time, God again says to me - I love you dear girl. I am pleased with you because of my Son and His prayer that has come to pass in your life. I love you this bright, early morning as you come to me in prayer and I love you on the mornings when sleep overtakes your tired little body. Come to me always with your hearts desires and doubts. But, most importantly, trust that Jesus is praying for you - even when you don't.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

She's Not Ours

The following is a 259 word entry that I wrote for Mary DeMuth's recent book release.  Check it out.  Mary is a great writer who has inspired me to write about my raw pain while relishing in the redemption that Jesus purchased for me.

No thinner place exists than the intersection where light meets dark, good meets evil, life meets death. The cross of Christ anchors that place. Jesus is the hero there. It is in that very place that I experienced True Freedom - released from the bondage of lies and shame.
From my earliest memory as a little girl, I struggled for answers. A taunting voice would sneer:

“Who are you?”

Paralyzed by confusion, I could not say. Did I truly belong to the loving, heavenly Father that my heart longed for or was I a defiled daughter of darkness lurking about in the dank prison of secrecy?

Years piled up and so did my shame. As my carefully constructed fa├žade of confidence and competence crumbled, I begged for help. My husband and my pastor battled by my side. Equipped with the same power that rose Jesus from the dead, we entered the sacred ground of my hurting heart – with the intention of proclaiming Christ as rightful King.

Praying for Truth to prevail, I heard the same taunting voice relinquish it’s foothold of darkness and lies from my soul.

“She’s not ours!” It cried in defeat.

Glorious Freedom! Sweet Peace washed over my soul. With fresh eyes to see, I was both broken and restored as I saw my Savior and my sin anew. Be it assault from my enemy or rebellion of my flesh, belief in Christ’s power to redeem must be my heart’s response.

The thinnest of places is the window where darkness meets Light and is forever changed.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Scars on my Heart

2 Corinthians 12:9  But he said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness." Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.

I've been away a while with the holidays and new routine of the new year but I experienced a wonderfully redemptive lesson this week that has breathed life into my blogging ambitions once again.

When I was 10 years old, I almost died.  I had a very serious viral infection of my pericardium (the lining around my heart).  Surgery was performed to alleviate the fluid constricting my heart and I was sent home to recover - missing most of my fifth grade school year.  The resulting scar tissue damaged the surface of my heart - leaving it rough and prone to irritation and pain.

When I was an even younger girl, my heart was damaged in a different way.  Early childhood sexual abuse left me scared, alone and ashamed.  The resulting scars left their mark on my heart.  I was prone to irritation and great pain when those emotional scars were seen.

I was given the opportunity to share the story of my past today at a workshop for our church.  I had been thinking about and preparing for it for weeks - excited for the opportunity to share what God has redeemed in my life.

And then, earlier this week, the pain began.  The old familiar heaviness in my chest, the dull throb up my arm and neck, shortness of breath that left me weak and fatigued. 

Lord, why now?
After 15 surgeries and countless bouts of pain and bedrest, I'm tired of this. 
Can't I just go share with these ladies the healing of my invisible wounds without the added burden of physical pain also - is that too much to ask?

I sincerely prayed for relief yet began prepping myself for the inevitable cancel of my talk.  Sickness has always had a way of wielding much power in my life and I've often not put up much of a fight against my opponent.  But this time, I wanted it to be different.  And so did Jesus.

I believe He wanted to teach me that while both my muscular heart that pumps my blood and my unseen heart that is the wellspring of my life have sustained scars - He is the Great Healer.  He has healed my physical body and He has healed my soul.  His power is perfected in my weakness - physical and emotional.  The scar tissue remains but it simply serves as reminders of His sustaining love and powerful redemption in my life.