Two Years

Alyssa and JudyTwo years ago this month, I received the call. My mom’s previously-contained cancer was found in her lungs. Although it was treatable, it was incurable. She was looking at six to nine months to live.

Two years ago this month, I sat down to a thanksgiving meal, thankful to have my mom beside me, yet clouded with sadness. I fully expected it to be my last with her.

Two years ago, Mom and I went Christmas shopping. I savored every minute, thinking this was the last Christmas shopping trip we would enjoy together.

Two years ago next month, I solemnly hung Christmas ornaments on the tree, reminded of the many Christmas memories over the years. My mom loves Christmas. I hung ornaments she had hand-selected for Drew and Alyssa each year, thinking this would be the last year for her to add to their collection.

I stared at the lighted mantle wondering how Christmas would have any joy next year. I opened each gift from her, mourning not getting Christmas gifts from my mom next year. It wasn’t about the gifts. It was about how she knows me better than anyone else. Each gift was selected with joy and love.

Two years ago I watched as a childhood friend grieved the loss of her mom to cancer and I sobbed as I read her status updates feeling that I was reading my future. My husband, having lost his dad to cancer three years prior, had no words. He couldn’t think of anything to help my pain.

Each holiday, each get-together, and each milestone carried the thought that, “this would be my last….” By the six-to-nine-month calendar, I might have her on Mother’s Day but I would likely not have her on my next birthday.

Last fall, my mom had exceeded the nine month mark, though the treatments had weakened her. I watched her labor to walk to the field to watch Drew’s final soccer game of the season. She had just had a chemo treatment and was extremely weak. But she was grateful to be able to watch him play. I pushed the thought aside that it might be the last game she’d see him play.

I struggled to enjoy the days I had with her because in a way I was mourning what I thought was coming. Like a slow pull on a Band-Aid, I figured if I pulled it off slowly it wouldn’t hurt so much. Much of my joy of being with her was robbed that first year.

One year after her diagnosis, her prognosis hadn’t changed, but my heart began to lift.

One year ago this month, I rejoiced that I got to have another Thanksgiving with my mom. I wasn’t solemn like I was the year before. I was grateful! I got to have my mom for another Thanksgiving.

One year ago next month, I hung Christmas ornaments more happily. I got to have my mom for another Christmas! We enjoyed each moment, from the Ladies Banquet at church to the Christmas Eve candlelight ceremony.

With each holiday, “this might be my last with Mom” wasn’t even a thought. It was, “I get ONE MORE with Mom!”

Here I am, two years later, simply grateful. Mom’s cancer is still there but it hasn’t spread thus far. She’s weak from two years of treatments but she’s the strongest woman I know and only the astute eye can detect how much her body has endured. She serves in the church faithfully when others would have taken a break. She’s an inspiration.

Drew and Alyssa were 6 and 2 when she was diagnosed. Now they are 8 and 4. They have had two years of extra memories. That’s a lot in kid years. She was able to see Drew’s first-ever baseball season and Saturday will mark another fall soccer season of Drew’s that she was able to enjoy.

Yes, at times I get scared. Really scared. And yes, I prayed just last night that God would allow this new treatment that her oncologist recommended to be covered by insurance and for it to cure her.

But mostly I pray that God will sustain her. Healing would be a miracle for sure, but from where I sit, two years has been a miracle. And unless something unexpected occurs, I’m looking at another set of “extra” holidays that two years ago I never dreamt I’d have with Mom.

I am praying that God would sustain her for another couple of decades. I am still praying that she will live to see both of her grandchildren to come to know Jesus Christ as Savior. But no matter how long God chooses to sustain her body here, I know he will sustain me.

Two years later, I’ve seen enough of God in Mom’s life to know that he is with us. And two years later, anticipating yet another Thanksgiving with Mom, I am grateful.

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Crying Over Hot Dogs

3623757386_d7a9e4172d_zMy poor friend Heather. She probably wasn’t expecting her statement of, “I’m not sure if he has bought hot dogs yet” to bring me to tears. But she’s a counselor for a living. I was pretty sure she could handle it.

I was shocked by my meltdown. After trying to gracefully hang up the phone as quickly as possible, I began to examine what in the world caused my reaction. It seemed to be caused by quite a few little things that had added up:

1. I called our local garden supply store for the third times in 2 weeks to find out if their seed garlic was in, after being told it would be any day. Then they told me they weren’t getting any after all.

2. I went to my ENT checkup, which was supposed to be mainly for a hearing test to determine if I had progressive hearing loss, and the audiologist wasn’t even there. So I’d have to reschedule.

2. Though my ears looked great, my sinuses still look horrible, despite few complications, so a CT scan would be scheduled. Something else to add to my calendar.

3. Afterward, while at Kroger, I discovered that the candy that was supposed to be on sale (for which I clipped a dozen coupons to stock up for class parties) were not in fact on sale for my Kroger. Coupons clipped for nothing. No candy to last the rest of the year.

4. After checking out at Kroger, the Catalina coupons for Zip Loc containers – that I wouldn’t have bought without the Catalina – didn’t print out.

5. Once I got to my car, I got the text from Heather that another person from our Life Group was going to buy hot dogs for our next meeting. I had just bought 25 hot dogs hoping no one had claimed them, trying to avoid another Kroger trip that week. She asked to get buns instead. Except I didn’t buy buns. I bought hot dogs.

But the rational Jill understood that although these were irritating things, none of them would have normally produced this reaction. So what was the deal?

I was hurting. Back pain was so bad that another trip into Kroger felt like the straw that might break, well, you know. I had been suffering from a different kind of pain (possible sciatica) for months. I decided I needed to exercise and get in better shape, thinking that was the problem. After two weeks of exercising, the pain seemed to be easing, except somehow I ended up injuring my back, causing pain far worse than my original problem.

My constant misery was affecting everything I did. It amplified normal inconveniences that wouldn’t be that big for my ordinarily healthy self.

As I reflected on that day, I started thinking, how many people around us live in pain of one type or another that we don’t know about? We see exaggerated reactions and make judgments on what we observe at the surface without stopping to consider that there may be more underneath that isn’t obvious.

Thankfully my friend Heather not only could understand that by her experience in her profession, but she also was able to see that because she understood me.  From the time she and I met last fall, she has made effort after effort to get to know me. She has invited me for lunch, she has texted, and she has emailed. She has been there. And I knew that no matter how embarrassed I felt on the phone that day, she would know that something else was going on.

I want to be a friend like that. One who seeks to really see a person. One who looks beneath the surface. One who loves unconditionally. One who knows when a friend isn’t just crying over hot dogs.

 

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The Time I Shared Jesus and Blew It

The time had come. She and I were the only ones in the office. I sent a quick email asking for prayer from a prayer partner and walked over to her desk, sat beside her, and asked her a question.

I was prepared. At church I was learning a new evangelism strategy that I thought was ground-breaking. It seemed to surpass every other strategy I’d ever been taught over the years – and I had gone through a LOT of them. Like this one. Do you recognize it? It got a major design upgrade since 1994. 🙂

But this one was unlike any I had ever known. It was based on Jesus’ ministry. It was a common-sense approach. I consumed my training, and I was ready.

However, the conversation didn’t go quite as planned. For one, she answered a question in a way that wasn’t in the script. I was so concentrated on going from step to step that I had to completely recalibrate on what would otherwise have been simple for me to handle. Half-trying to get back to my training and half trying to wing it, I could see I wasn’t going anywhere with her. She was friendly, but uninterested.

I tried to convince myself that I had done my part. It was my job to share. It was the Spirit’s job to do the rest. But still, all I could feel after the experience was one emotion.

Failure.

It seemed so simple on the video I had watched. So clear. What went wrong?

It took me a few years to understand the answer to that question. It wasn’t in what I said or what I did.

It was what I didn’t do.

I was spending probably 20 hours per week in an office with this girl and I never sought to get to know her. Really know her. Sure, she shared general details of her life and we talked about surface subjects. But at any point, did she ever feel loved by me? Did she ever feel that I really cared?

Was my conversation with her taken as an act of loving her enough to show her freedom in Christ from the sin that held her hostage? The same chains I would be enslaved by if it hadn’t been for Christ?

Or was it taken as what it was: my eagerness to share the gospel minus the love that brought the world the good news in the first place.

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Photo by Jennifer

I would venture most people would not have a story like this in which to relate. If you grew up in church and learned evangelism strategies like I did, you probably only used them at youth events or church outreaches or mission trips with people you may or may not see again. Rarely did they make their way into normal conversations in everyday life. I know that with few exceptions (the story above being one of them), that describes me as well.

Which is probably why we don’t share the gospel. Let’s be honest here. We cringe at sermons on evangelism. We wait out the outreach emphases in our churches until something more palatable comes up. We know we need to be reaching the world, but we have no idea how. So we throw our money in the plate and “pay” someone else to do it and feel we’ve done our part.

Here’s the deal. I was sharing Jesus with my coworker primarily because I knew the Great Commission with my mind and heart. I knew as a follower of Jesus, this was what I was supposed to do. I also could see in her life longings for God that she was trying to fulfill by the world’s promises. Her heart’s cry was evident to me. I had compassion for her.

But I didn’t love her.

In all my nervous eagerness to share the gospel I had forgotten what compelled God to send Jesus in the first place. For God so LOVED the world.

Do you want to see lost and broken come to find the freedom and wholeness that Christ offers? Do you feel completely ill-equipped to do so?

Pray for love. Ask God to help you see those around you the way He sees them. Pray the bold prayer of asking him to fill you with His love for them. When we love someone with the love of Christ so much that it hurts, then, we’ll be in the right frame of mind and state of heart to share Jesus as the Spirit leads us.

And seeing that love from us might just open their hearts to see the love of the God who relentlessly pursues them.

photo by Benson Kua

photo by Benson Kua

If I had it to do over again, what would I have done? I would have listened more. I would have asked more questions. I would have prayed for her every day. I would have asked God to give me His love for her. I would ask the Spirit to show me when to speak and when to be silent. I may have used the evangelism strategy I had learned. Or I may not have used it at all.

Please don’t get me wrong. Gospel tracts and evangelism strategies are helpful tools. And sharing Jesus with someone we hardly know IS biblical. We see example after example of this in Acts when the church grew at an explosive rate.

But for those of us who spend most of our days at work or raising our children or caring for loved ones, we need not check ourselves out of the evangelism equation. Look around you. Who do you need to get to know a little better? Who needs a listening ear? Who can you share the love of Christ with by first exemplifying the love of Christ?

Many times those opportunities are closer than we think.

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A Little Girl in a Stormy Night

4587839319_378ab98e12_zMy eyes flitter open at the sound of rumbling. Flashes of light dance through darkness. Soon the quiet gives way to the steady sound of rain. I turn over and readjust under the covers and thank God for the thunder, lightning, and rain. Peace envelops me.

But not everyone in the home feels the same way about thunderstorms. Soon the high-pitched voice pierces my peaceful moment. “Mommy, I’m scared of the storm. Can you come lay with me?”

I walk into Alyssa’s room and lie down on one side of the twin bed. She turns to face me, puts one arm under my neck, the other over my neck, and presses her cheek against mine. I don’t have to say a word to her; my embrace is all the comfort she needs.  I breathe in the scent of her freshly-washed hair and get lost in the moment.

About a half hour later, I kiss her on the forehead and begin to get up.

“Mommy, are the storms over?”

“Yes, sweetie, they’re over. Good night.”

She turns over to face the wall and I walk back to my bed. I drift to sleep at the sound of the gentle rain.

In the morning, she walks out of her room, bleary-eyed, long red curls falling around her face. I pick her up and sway her back and forth like I when did she was a baby. Instead of her normal morning request – “mommy, I want a pop tart” – her first words are, “Cuddling with you in a thunderstorm is my very favorite thing.”

I would have expected Alyssa’s first thoughts to be, that thunderstorm was scary. But instead, fear wasn’t on her mind. It had melted away in my embrace, and the comfort she felt was her memory.

Before Alyssa awoke that morning, I had been reading in Psalm 7:

“Lord my God, I seek refuge in You; save me from all my pursuers and rescue me, or they will tear me like a lion, ripping me apart, with no one to rescue me” (Psalm 7:1-2 HCSB).

Though I’m only in chapter 7 of my Psalm Bible reading plan, the word refuge has been a common theme so far. I think God is trying to drive home a point. He is our refuge.

I saw that in a tangible way with Alyssa. I was her refuge. Once she was in my arms her fears melted away. All she knew was that she was safe and she could trust me. God wants me to run to him and experience such depths of peace and trust in his embrace as well.

Verse 2 above shows – rather graphically – what the alternative is. Without God as my refuge, I will be torn apart.

It’s easy to dismiss this verse if we’re living in physical safety, but I think about lots of things that could potentially tear us apart in a metaphoric sense:

  • Fear of the unknown
  • Anxiety
  • Insecurity
  • Subtle or not-so-subtle verbal “attacks” from others
  • Depression
  • Feeling like we’re not good enough

Whether from without or from within, many of us face attacks that threaten to tear us apart. Many times we’re tempted to seek out counterfeit refuge in the form of comfort food, alcohol, drugs, relationships, entertainment, or other places that will never truly protect us or rescue us.

Our only refuge is our Father.

Alyssa didn’t ask for her stuffed animals in the storm. She didn’t ask for a snack. She didn’t even ask for the light to be turned on. All she wanted was my presence.

Do you feel like you’re on the verge of being torn apart? Run to the Lord your God and he will be your unfailing refuge.

*David made a point in Psalm 77:1 to address God as Lord MY God. In order for us to run to God as our refuge, we must know him as the Lord MY God. Jesus, God’s Son, said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6). How do we know God? “If you confess with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved” (Romans 10:9). If you don’t know God through a relationship with Jesus Christ, He is waiting today to save you and to be your refuge.

photo credit

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That part of your personality you hate? Look again. It might just be beautiful.

DSC_0016Sometimes I feel like I’m a walking contradiction. Just today I felt overwhelmed with housework and to-do’s. I was relieved when my mom came to get Alyssa so I could catch up, but a few hours later I began missing the kids and the noise. I had longed for some quiet, yet the quiet became deafening.

Here’s another example of my contradictory nature. I can get so excited about things in life. My energy abounds. But then sometimes – mostly in the stillness of the before-bed hours – I start feeling clouded with darkness and fears begin to assault my mind.

And then there’s my personal vice that seems to oppose the very essence of my calling. Few things give me more satisfaction than when I’m doing what God made me to do. Yet those very things many times open me up to the things that have the power to paralyze my soul – my fear of criticism and my need of approval.

I was talking to my friend Tiffany about this several weeks ago. We’ve been friends for over 16 years so she knows me quite well. I was lamenting about a recent conflict that had taken place. Although the conflict had been resolved, in the midst of it I was tortured by it. It consumed my thoughts and I was miserable. I asked Tiffany to help me learn how to not get so upset when someone questions me or criticizes me or doesn’t like me (real or perceived).

She responded in a way I didn’t expect.

She said that she didn’t think I’d ever be able to let things “not” get to me. She said I could learn to handle it better, but my deep thinking and sensitivity were part of who God created me to be. If I lost this part of myself, I’d lose part of myself.

If I lost this part of myself, I’d lose part of myself.

I didn’t want to hear that. I wanted her to get her magic best-friend wand out and grant me a tougher heart. Instead, I found myself looking at this part of me in a different way. I needed to:

  1. Embrace it. God made me a deeply sensitive and passionate person for a reason.
  2. Guard my heart. Even good things can become idols and replace God in our hearts. When I find myself changing who I am or what I do to gain approval so people will like me, I am bowing to the idol of acceptance.  Or if I find myself avoiding situations that make me feel vulnerable, I’m limiting God’s work through this area he created in me.
  3. Run to God. When God remains on the throne of my life, I don’t need approval from anyone else because I’m already approved in Christ. But, he will show me how to use this sensitivity to be open to correction and putting others’ needs first in order to serve them, not to seek approval.

As much as I’d like God to change this part of my heart, it’s there for a purpose. It will never go away. Left unchecked, it will paralyze me. It will hinder me from doing what I’ve been made to do. But submitted to the God who loves me and has a purpose for me, it has the potential to be used for God’s glory in ways I can’t fathom.

Is there a part of your personality that you despise? If you could wish it away, would you? If so, perhaps you should look at it through a different lens. Embrace it. Guard your heart against allowing it to control you in an unhealthy way, and run to God and allow Him to show you how, submitted to Him, it is beautiful.

Healing after Brokenness

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Drew darted back and forth, trying to maneuver the blue and yellow ball at his feet. Sweat beads lined his freckled forehead.

A few days later, as he held the black bat in his hands, I reminded him of the proper batting stance. He’d have to practice to get accustomed to a new sport that others his age had been playing for years. Anxiously, I could see the determination in his eyes, looking forward to his first real opportunity to run to first.

Normal kid stuff. Boys were created to run and to play, and most parents don’t think a thing about it. I know I didn’t before February 15, 2014.

But when your healthy 7-year-old boy breaks his femur in half, you don’t look at normal boy activities the same anymore.

With the hard pounding of legs running on grass, with every quick dart in a different direction, with a mindless step from an open to a closed stance, a little bit of my soul rejoices. My mind can’t help but flash back to the time when I couldn’t get Drew’s pants down for him to use the restroom without him screaming in pain. When I had to use every bit of strength I had to help him in the shower while holding his broken leg taut so no pressure would cause agony. When I had to force him to do exercises if he wanted to walk without a limp.

I’ll never look at my healthy son the same again.

Health doesn’t feel quite as sweet unless you’ve experienced healing after brokenness.

Watching Drew made me think of how true that statement is in a much broader scope.

Brokenness can come in many forms. I was broken when I first had Drew. God has broken me to identify pockets of pride in my life. I pray my friend is broken over her sin. I think most of us can identify this in our own lives by asking ourselves, “When have I felt the most broken?”

The next question becomes, “Am I healed?”

Have you come to God, helpless in your brokenness, and allowed him to do the sometimes painful act of healing?

Drew’s first step in healing was one of the most heart-wrenching experiences I’ve had in my life. In the Arkansas Children’s Hospital ER, the medical staff had to pull his leg so his bone would go from two parallel lines to one solid line. His little, normally shy-around-strangers voice screamed through tears, “Please stop pulling my leg off!” What he didn’t know was that this pain was the essential first step, preparing his leg for surgery which ultimately ushered his healing.

Sometimes healing hurts. Letting God into those places you’d rather not admit to, or places you can’t even bear to go back to yourself, can be excruciating.

But what if you don’t?

Many times my mind considered what would have become of Drew had we not had access to medical care. Perhaps someone could have set the bone. At best, he would have probably had a limp for the rest of his life. He may not have ever fully regained the ability to walk. Life-threatening infection could have set in.

Such is the one who avoids the hard task of healing from brokenness. Never fully healed. Never running the race he was meant to run. Limping through life at best. Dying defeated at worst.

But one who is healed!! He runs with vigor! He smiles at life! He has a view of health that few others can see! He lives his life in gratitude of the one who healed him completely!

My mind can’t help but reflect on Jesus’ response to the Pharisees after they condemned Jesus for putting up with this sinful woman who wept repentantly at his feet. “Therefore I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven; that’s why she loved much. But the one who is forgiven little, loves little” (Luke 7:47 HCSB – Read the full beautiful story in Luke 7:36-50).

Oh broken one, do you see your potential for great things in the Kingdom of God?

Have you been fully healed, restored? Healing doesn’t mean no evidence remains of brokenness. Drew has two 2-inch long scars on his knees that reminds us every day of his prior state of brokenness. But instead of focusing on the scars, I focus on what they remind me of. That healing came.

Have you, healed one, come to truly understand your worth? Instead of feeling shame, trying to forget that season of brokenness in whatever form it took,  have you let God take your healing and use it for good?

Only a good God can make beauty from ashes. Embrace the beauty that is yours. The beauty of rejoicing in healing. The beauty of understanding another’s pain. The beauty of endurance that came at great cost.

Tonight Drew begins 5 straight days of soccer or baseball. (What was I thinking?) But it is beautiful. I may be frazzled to the core come Sunday but it’s all worth it. Seeing him run and kick and throw and swing will never look sweeter.

Because healing is worth celebrating.

Two Simple Questions to Take You Deeper in Your Bible Reading (and a peek into my quiet time today)

 

wpid-20140910_142426.jpgPeople are craving the Word like never before. I’m certain of it. You can see it by the sheer number of Bible studies offered everywhere you turn. Just in my limited view I’ve seen offerings just this past week of studying Genesis, Exodus, Nehemiah, Esther, Psalms, and more. (I’m seeing an Old Testament trend this fall?)

I’m also hearing this craving through longings expressed by others. Tidy espresso-for-the-soul devotionals aren’t cutting it anymore. Predictable generic studies are met with yawns. People want MORE. Not more to scratch their itching ears, but rather MORE to draw them into that relationship with God that their soul so desperately desires. They recognize the longing; they thirst for life-giving water that only the Holy Spirit inspired Word of God can offer.

I’m one of those people. Always have been. I’ve said it before and I’ll repeat it as long as I have to. Nothing compares to a fresh touch from God through the Word that no one else gave you except Him. Nothing.

One of my main purposes for writing and blogging is to help others find their stride in the Word. I want to help those who long for more than an cookie-cutter devotional but aren’t sure how to go deeper without a study aid.

So today, I’m going to give you a peek into the new study I’m beginning myself for the fall since fall seems to be a season of new beginnings.

I’m going to be studying the Psalms. I’ve avoided these beloved chapters for multiple reasons. For one, I can slip into fruitless study in the Psalms quickly if I just read them for my morning pick-me-up and not really let them into my heart. But I felt God drawing me to them.

What I have decided to do is read a psalm per day (depending on its length) and journal two points:

  • What does this chapter tell me about God?
  • What does this chapter tell me about myself?

I may also include a prayer based on what I learn. I don’t always journal in my quiet time, but I felt this would be a built-in accountability to thoroughly study each chapter and meditate on it. I’ll share my first day with you:

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Psalm 1

What does this chapter tell me about God?

  • He knows the ways of the righteous.

What does this chapter tell me about me?

  • The instruction of the Lord will be my delight. I am to meditate on it. In doing so, I will be nourished, bear fruit, and prosper.
  • I am not to seek counsel or be influenced by the wicked, sinners, and scoffers. I should be able to discern these people like the contrast between a tree by a stream and chaff that blows in the wind.

Prayer: Thank you that you know my ways. May I always meditate on your instruction so it will guide me. Help me discern the counsel of the godly and trust your work in me as I immerse myself in the waters of your truth.

Are you currently in a Bible study plan? If not, join me in the Psalms! I don’t have any plans to blog regularly about it yet since this is going to be my time with God initially, but you never know!

My purpose for this post is to share two simple questions to take you deeper into any passage you’re studying:

  • What does this chapter tell me about God?
  • What does this chapter tell me about myself?

 

Hopefully those two simple questions will get you to a great start in meditating on the Word like never before.

You also might like:
5 Books of the Bible to Begin your Scripture-Reading Routine
Bored with Bible Reading? One Thing You might be Neglecting

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Overwhelmed? Me, too. Maybe this is why.

MRM_8425_001I’m feeling tired. Overwhelmed. Not enough.

As soon as my endless to-do list appears to be becoming manageable, I walk out to the garden and find black-eyed peas to harvest and shell and can. Or beans or tomatoes or okra.

And then I find I am running low on chicken broth and I bake a chicken and make broth for 3 days and can it. And the bread is low so I have to make more.

And then laundry piles up and dishes aren’t done and the floors need cleaned and PTO meeting minutes need transcribed and items for church need to be prepared and I have to study for the MOMs class I teach on Wednesday.

And THEN my husband’s truck tire that I took in to get fixed last week is low again and I have to take it back in.

And that’s just a picture of my last three days.

This morning, my mom offered to keep Alyssa so I could catch up on housework. But I ended up taking Matt’s truck back in to the dealership and then had coffee with my best friend Tiffany and then chatted with my close friend and mentor Teresa. By the time all that was done, I picked Alyssa up and came home.

But you know what? I didn’t regret my morning in the least. I realized that being with – and venting to – two women who love me was way more restorative than catching up on my to-do list.

I shared with Teresa how I just haven’t felt right since I took my writing break three weeks ago. My life has been out of kilter. My relationship with God has felt dry.  And while there may be several reasons for that, she pointed out something I hadn’t thought of:

Writing IS my rest.

God has wired me, and though I’m shy to accept this, called me, to minister through writing and teaching. While there may be seasons – like harvest season – that the need arises for me to write less than normal, shutting off that part of myself was like shutting off a part of my soul’s oxygen.

I began thinking… could many of us be running on fumes because we’ve shut off the one thing God has wired us to do? We put it aside completely because the season of life doesn’t seem to allow for it? Or we believe it’s selfish to pursue our calling when so many other responsibilities demand our attention.

Perhaps we need to understand that as believers our callings aren’t about us in the first place anyway. They’re about God, his glory, and his kingdom. They may run on 2 cylinders in some phases of our lives and run at Mach 5 in other phases, but they should still be running. They aren’t lying completely dormant waiting for the perfect time.

In the last 3 weeks, my life got out of alignment, and it’s time to recalibrate, and do what I was made to do.

Your turn: In this post, I talk about “calling.” By that, I mean how we work for the Kingdom of God based on the unique spiritual gifting He has given to each believer. Do you know your calling at this point in your life? Have you identified your spiritual gift(s)?  If not, Ephesians 4:11-16 and 1 Corinthians 12 are great places to start.

Why I’m Having to Take a Writing Break

Do you have any idea what it is like for a writer to have multiple thoughts swimming in the mind, unable to be penned?

Torture, mind you, torture.

I’ve got some good ones that have come out of circumstances of late: spiritual warfare, intercession, Christian unity, the cost of following Jesus, investing in others…. And they’re good. (Admittedly they’re always better in my head than on paper it seems.)

But I have had to take a break because, well, the garden. I should know by now.  With the harvest, canning, freezing, and drying on top of two children’s birthdays, back to school, starting preschool with Alyssa…August should be my writing Sabbath. Not that I’m resting, mind you.

But I thank God every day for a garden that is producing and the physical strength equal to my harvesting and preserving tasks. And I’m thankful for Matt’s new photography hobby so he can capture some of these special memories.

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Above: Breaded okra for freezing, basil pesto for freezing, banana peppers, green beans, okra pickles, black-eyed peas, sweet pickle relish

 

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When God Moves {a reflection on my son’s birthday, and an excerpt from my Isaiah 58 study}

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As I celebrate Drew’s 8th birthday today, I can’t help but think of the dark days I experienced after his birth. The following is an excerpt from the Isaiah 58 study I wrote, which explains how I view those dark days now.

I sat cross-legged in bed, head in my hands, in emotional anguish, trying to make sense of my new life. My son had just been born and life was not what I expected. I was battling what I now see as undiagnosed postpartum depression. I tried to pray but for the life of me, I had no idea where God was. It was like he vanished at the very moment I needed him the most.

You see, when Matt and I didn’t conceive right away, I took to careful study of each barren woman in the Bible who eventually conceived. I wrote out prayers for my child based on Scripture. I had no doubt I would be a mother and this child would live to serve God. One night when I was especially down – after a friend had just told me she was pregnant – I felt God whisper, “Don’t worry, Jill, it will only be a few more months.” This being one of the few times my spirit clearly heard God’s voice verbatim, I did in fact conceive in three months. I went into this motherhood thing knowing God was guiding me. I was going to raise this child to honor and serve him. I was following Jesus in this mommy thing all the way.

But then Drew was born. He was colicky and I was unprepared. The darkness I sunk into enveloped me. Why I felt like God left me at this most vulnerable, sad part of my life I couldn’t understand.

Sometimes it feels like God leaves us. The truth is he never leaves us, but have you ever considered that he might move? Today we’re going to see how sometimes God moves. God never left me in those dark days. But I’m convinced he moved. He moved behind me, protecting me from an unknown enemy – most likely pride. My brokenness after Drew was born enabled my preconceived notions of how I’d do this godly mom thing to shatter. Within that brokenness, in a few months I was able to move forward once the darkness lifted along with my postpartum hormones and Drew’s settled tummy. I was able to follow Jesus in my motherhood down a very imperfect, yet humble path I wouldn’t have treaded had God not moved.

Today we’re going to explore this concept of God moving as we study the phrase “the glory of the Lord shall be your rear guard.”

Isaiah 58:8 – Then shall your light break forth like the dawn, and your healing shall spring up speedily; your righteousness shall go before you; the glory of the Lord shall be your rear guard.

Glory

Glory, used in the Old Testament numerous times to refer to God himself, means “splendor, honor, wealth.” Glory is the essence of God himself. It was the one thing Moses desired to see when he said, “Please show me your glory.” (Ex. 33:18) It was the glory of the Lord that filled the tabernacle in the form of a cloud so the people saw their God’s presence (Ex. 40:34-38).

Rear Guard

This word literally means “to store, gather, harvest.” Most frequently in the Old Testament it is used when people are gathered together. In a battle situation, it means a gathering together at a certain place to present a united defense or attack.

I was having trouble wrapping my mind around this in the context of verse 8. So I decided to look up a critical passage in the life of Israel. This passage gives a little more insight into verse 8.

Look at Israel’s exodus from the Egyptians in Exodus 13:21 – 14:22. After you have read the passage, reread verses 13:21 and 14:19-20.

Picture this scene. The pillar of cloud by day and fire by night leads the Israelites into unknown territory. The Israelites had never been out of Egypt before, and their trust is solely in the guidance of this cloud and fire. The cloud and fire, according to 13:21 is the Lord himself.

After the Lord leads the Israelites to the Red Sea, where it appears they are at a dead end, you see something counterintuitive. In 14:19, the pillar of cloud moves and goes behind them. Here the Israelites are, desperately dependent on the guidance of the cloud and fire, and it moves. Suddenly their visible guidance is gone.

But the Lord didn’t move and leave them without instructions. What does 14:15 say that God had already instructed them to do?

The Israelites already had their instructions: go forward. But how? The Red Sea hadn’t parted yet. Think about that moment:

  • They had their instructions but no way to carry it out
  • Their visible guidance had left them

Exodus 14:19 says that the pillar of cloud moved behind them. If we compare this to Exodus 40:34, we could make the assumption that the cloud represented God’s glory. When the Lord moved behind the Israelites, he became their rear guard. Thus, the glory of the Lord was their rear guard.

Still not quite wrapping my head around this entire rear guard concept, I decided to ask my friend and Army Captain Eric to explain a little more in detail the function of a rear guard in a battle situation:

[The rear guard’s role is] simply to guard the rear flank. Leaders in front usually only check status if the objective is to the front. If the rear is attacked the leaders can adjust the main effort to a support role of the rear guard. [This] then makes the rear guard the main effort, but traditionally it is used to squash surprise attacks on the main effort to ensure the main effort is not taken by surprise or unguarded. [It is] a protection force.

In today’s vernacular, and to borrow the words of a dear friend as we were discussing this passage, when the glory of the Lord is our rear guard, he’s got our back!

Just when the Israelites thought that God had left them, they looked behind them to realize he was protecting them against an attack from behind. He was ensuring that the main effort would go forward without hindrance. When morning came and Moses stretched his hand over the sea and the Lord parted the waters, the Israelites remembered their instructions and marched forward. Though they didn’t have the visible guide that they had previously, they had their instructions.

Has there been a time in your life when you had what you thought were clear instructions from the Lord and then it seemed that he vanished before you were able to carry them out?

Sometimes God moves. He moves to the rear to protect you from an unknown enemy (in my case, it was the pride I felt in myself as a future mother). Sometimes he moves so we will exercise faith to carry out the instructions he laid out for us. As long as our righteousness – Jesus – and his mission are before us, we know we are headed in the right direction. We might have to sit and wait for God to part the waters (and behold his glory in the meantime), but we know our marching orders once he does.

Do you think that God has led you to a place right now and is giving you marching orders? If so, are you prepared should he move and the guidance isn’t as clear as it once was? What will help you remain committed to your instructions?

 

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