The Word for 2019

Every year, as December draws to a close, I ask God to give me a word for the coming year. It’s a little leap of faith, an exercise in expectation as I press in to hear His voice and fight to suppress my own.

I look for it everywhere, in songs, books and conversations. I listen for a consistent word bubbling to the surface through the swirling buzz of the world around me. I intentionally seek quiet and try to patiently trust Him to grant me this small thing.

But is it ever really a small thing when the Creator of the entire universe speaks to one of his children?

Last week it came softly. I wasn’t sure what to do with it, or if I was even really hearing God, so I sat on it an waited for more confirmation. There was another word running through my thoughts, as well, so I wanted to be certain before sitting down here to type them out. Over and over the word came, with the second one whispering just behind it, until today.

It hit me like a freight train as one of our pastors gave a much-needed but ouch-you-are-meddling-in-my-life sermon. As he spoke, the words I had been pondering came together as one thought, making sense as to what God is calling me to do and how He wants me to approach this next year.

As I reflect on 2018 I am so grateful. God asked me to seek Him, which I did. (You can read that post here) He blessed me with moments of clarity and joy in the midst of some of the hardest days of my life. He brought me to the end of myself and held me tight as I wept. He also gave me laughter and celebration and a reason to believe He is at work as much as ever, that I can trust Him even when I don’t understand what He is doing and that I can rest assured the ones I love the most on earth are safe in the palm of His hand, regardless of their choices in this world. I sought Him and He allowed me to find Him. That is a good, good year.

My writing has continued each week, as you know, with my focus always being on finding joy in the simple things and living forward into who we will be (because who we are in Christ is who we really ARE). That will not change, but I pray there will be more to it.

You see, I have read too many books and blogs that left me empty and wanting this year, and I do not want to be just another writer encouraging women. (You’ve got encouragement coming out your ears these days, friends.) I want to be a writer who challenges you to think deeply, to love Jesus when everyone else around you has turned their backs, and to pursue the heart of God because, sisters, THAT is where joy will only, truly, be found.

All of nature points to Jesus.  Every creature’s unique and often hilarious design points to Jesus.  The warmth of a child’s embrace points to Jesus. Doubt and suffering also point to Jesus.

As has been spoken to me in three different settings of late, “It is time to pursue the deep things of God.” If what I write makes you feel good but your SELF is still on the throne of your life then I have failed.  

If you walk away from the computer feeling happy and saying, “Jeanine is a really good writer,” well, that is nice but that is not why I am writing.

If what I write does not drive you to seek a more intimate relationship with the Lover of your Soul and turn away from anything that hinders that process, I am just another voice among many feel-good voices telling you to seek self-care when you feel stressed.

To put it bluntly, we don’t need self-care as much as we need an encounter with the Holy Spirit. We need to be fully given to the power of God. Treating the symptoms without getting to the root of the issue will not result in lasting joy. But seeking the deep things of Christ? Really committing to learn the ways of God and live a life of holiness? Training our spirit in the disciplines that will carry us when the storms of life threaten to tear apart everything we have worked so hard to build? THAT is deep and lasting satisfaction. THAT is joy. THAT is what I want to help you do.

So, here we go, 2019. The word for this year is LIGHT, accompanied by the word deep. The Scripture is Matthew 10:27 where Jesus prepares the apostles for the task He has set before them.

And you should proclaim in the bright light of day everything that I have whispered to you in the dark. Whatever whispers you hear‚ÄĒshout them from the rooftops of houses.  

Matthew 10:27 (The Voice Translation)

In the verses leading up to this one, Jesus lets them know, up front, that they will be persecuted for speaking the truth. They are surely going to face the darkest days of their lives. They are going to be driven to their knees in desperation for the strength of God to carry them through the darkness. But, as I have learned this year, God speaks to us in those dark days. We are forced to listen for His voice when we are left with nothing else. In the dark night of the soul, when we cry out for mercy and hope, our faithful Father draws near to us and teaches us the deep things of God. THIS is what He is calling me to this year…to proclaim in the light what I have heard in the darkness. And, friends, I can’t say it any better than what I heard Pastor Mike ask us to say out loud on Sunday morning:

“It’s not about me.”

Friends, it’s about Jesus. All of it. Every experience of my life is meant to bring me closer to the heart of God. He has me here on this earth for one reason and one reason alone…to proclaim to this world that there is only one way to the Father, and that is through His Son, Jesus Christ who lived the life we could not live and died the death we should have died, then rose FROM THE DEAD in victory so that you and I can live forever with Him. Jesus is the LIGHT of the world, sweet friends. Not your favorite blogger or podcaster, not your mama, and not even your pastor. You will never find eternal joy and purpose apart from knowing Jesus. No massage, pedicure or “encouraging” Christian book will ever fulfill you or bring true and lasting satisfaction. Anything that encourages you to put your “self” first is a lie. We are to seek Jesus first. Period.

We have been too easily deceived in our culture as wave after wave of fluffy Christian writing has retrained our thinking and the result is a bunch of women who are all about themselves with a Jesus t-shirt on to make self-love look holy. We use God’s extravagant love for us, his daughters, as an excuse for escaping from the realities of the needs around us because we need “me time” or to recharge. But a spa day cannot fill me with unconditional love for my husband. A girls’ weekend away, pretending that we are single with no kids, will never make me a better and more courageous mother. I can only give out of the overflow of what God does in me. It’s the heart behind what we do that matters. It’s the reason “why” I need to escape that is the issue. What am I escaping from, my calling? My responsibilities? My God?

Taking care of ourselves physically is important, yes. Do not think I am against spa days!  That could not be further from the truth!  (I enjoy them! Really!) In fact, a spa day may not even be your thing. Maybe it’s exercise or reading that is your escape go-to. Maybe it’s a sport or Netflix or a hobby. I’m not against any of those things, but I am against anything that puts a shade over the light that Jesus is trying to shine in and through us. YES he blesses us. YES he wants us to rest. YES we all need a break sometimes.  But I am seeing post after post, book after book, pointing not to Christ as our source of blessing and rest but to self-care and self-love and, well, that is just a pretty, nail-polished form of idolatry with highlights.

We must let Christ shine his light into our hearts. We must choose to pursue the deep things of God first. Lean into Him, pray for Him to expose sin and rip it out of our lives. Be willing to do whatever it takes to walk in the Spirit and share Jesus with a lost and desperate world.

Because, my dear friends and sisters, that is why you and I exist.

I am learning with you on this journey.  It is not easy to keep Jesus the main thing, but I believe, with all that is within me, that it will certainly be worth it. We will stumble and fall, we will inadvertently (maybe even purposefully) dim His light at times, but remember this…

“All things were made through him, and without him was not anything that was made.  In him was life, and the life was the light of men.  The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.”  

John 1:3-5 (English Standard Version)

Jesus is the light.  In him is life!  And never forget…the light (Jesus) shines in the darkness and, no matter how much you or I struggle and fail, the darkness has not, nor will it ever, overcome it!

Speak in the light what you have learned in the darkness.  Shout it loud and clear and remember who you are and WHOSE you are!

Happy New Year, dear ones.  May His light shine bright through us as we pursue the deep things of God in 2019.  He is worthy!

The Love of Advent

Have you ever talked to yourself?

Asking for a friend. ūüėČ

Really, though, I can think of many times throughout my life where self-talk took on the form of a prayer, when I realized I was no longer trying to work out the situation in my own mind but, in fact, crying out to God.

Today’s poem, on this Christmas Day, examines the inner thoughts of Mary, the mother of Jesus, as she walked out those early years with her son and life settled into a sort of normal, the everyday experience of a young mama watching her toddler sleep.

Did she ponder the future? Of course she did. Did she hope her son would not suffer as greatly as the prophet, Isaiah, foretold? What mother would not? Did she long for time to slow down, for her son to stay little and not have to face the brutality of the grown-up world which made survival difficult, at best? This I can certainly believe.

The love of Advent encompasses so much more than we can fully comprehend. A holy God made flesh, a child born to die, a mother obediently walking a road that will surely end in unspeakable pain,

“All because your Abba loves this broken world…”

Merry Christmas my friends. Let’s lean into the story of Christ, allowing God to speak into the deep places we are often tempted to close off from Him. Celebrate, feast and, above all, worship our Savior/King for doing the unthinkable and loving us at our very worst. He is worthy.

LOVE

In the night the angel came and bade us go.

Up and out of Bethlehem

Down, down to Africa

Where my son would be safe for now

He sleeps, now, on his side,

Palms pressed together and cradling the fullness of

His rosy cheeks.

His eyelids flutter as he dreams, then he sighs.

Watching him brings peace to my troubled heart.

How many little ones did Herod slaughter?

Oh my God.

This little boy, is he aware of what he has begun?

This miraculous one who emerged from my virgin womb

Looks at me with eyes clear as a summer day

And when he laughs I am drowned in the love

Of Heaven’s son.

What will come of him,

This child who holds my hand in a crowd?

The prophets foretold much suffering.

Is it wrong that I long to pray for you to change your mind?

Born to die,

My heart knows it’s true.

Oh little one, are you yet aware of what lies ahead,

All because your Abba loves this broken world?

As I brush your cheek with the back of my fingers

Tears flow again.

The burden I bear as your mother is almost unbearable.

Yet I praise Him.

I am honored, my son, my messiah

To bear you through childhood.

Love fills my soul and I magnify the Lord

Who blessed me above all women to raise you.

On Being Followed

Our family spent Fall Break on the beach. (Can I get a hallelujah, Amen?) My oldest son (a legal adult, though I swear he was toddling around my house just a few minutes ago) followed me down so he could have his car to meet up with his buddies.

As we made the 7-hour-plus-many-stops drive to Florida (Helloooo Whataburger!) my son followed close behind. He has never made a cross-country drive alone so this was good practice for him. Except for a few logistical hiccups it was a relatively uneventful and mostly enjoyable drive.

And as we drove something struck me. I was much more aware than usual of my own driving habits. Not only my speed, but also my use of turn signals, passing techniques and courtesy shown to those around me. Because I was being followed.

By my son.

Whom I love more than life.

He has been driving for two years but I know he still has much to learn and I saw this as an opportunity to model good driving and intentional precautions to protect myself and those around me. It was a needed lesson for both of us.

So as I drove the Lord was so kind to reveal a truth to me.

You see, we are always being followed. I have five children watching me, but even if you do not have children I assure you someone is watching how you live, love and navigate this life. Our decisions almost always affect others, for better or for worse.

Jesus modeled the perfect life and, though I am far from perfect, I can examine my own life and ask if I am worthy of being followed.

On good days I can say, “Sure, I’m doing pretty good.” But there are too many days where, if I’m honest, I’m living under the “do as I say and not as I do” umbrella. I’m really adept at telling you what you should do but then going home and not necessarily following though with that advice in my own life. This is why we are counseled by the Lord to examine our hearts, to look ourselves honestly in the mirror and be willing to make the needed changes in order to more closely follow Jesus and more effectively lead others into a life of truth.

The book of James says this:

‚ÄúBut be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror. For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like. But the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing.‚ÄĚ

‭‭James‬ ‭1:22-25‬ ‭ESV‬‬

From this passage I learn two vital lessons…

First, I MUST know the Word of God. I can’t do what I haven’t learned.

Second, I must allow the Word of God to affect the way I see myself, to change my perspective and affect the way I live even when no one is looking.

Lip service is useless. It’s cheap. But a transformed life, a woman who lives and speaks the Truth of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, is worthy of being followed and will lead those looking up to her straight to the Throne of Grace.

How to be True to Yourself

Boy, is this ever a big topic. So many books and blogs claim to have the answer but, when all is said and done, we still end up empty and searching. Advice ranges from getting a manicure to “washing your face.”

(Yeah, I went there.)

I, I, I, me, me, me…we fight for peace and rest and determine to recharge and charge forward, but for what? For “likes?” For fist bumps and “Yeah, girl, that’s right?” Is that what we are reduced to…our social media popularity and comment sections? Recognition from a world who stands against the things of God? Success that is temporal and cannot eternally satisfy our deepest longings?

In Romans 8, starting in verse 5, Paul explains where our focus should lie. Let me give you a hint…it is not on “self.”

At least not in the way today’s popular books would sell it.

Read this section of Scripture carefully …

‚ÄúFor those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot. Those who are in the flesh cannot please God. You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him. But if Christ is in you, although the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness. If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you. So then, brothers, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh. For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God.‚ÄĚ

‭‭Romans‬ ‭8:5-14‬ ‭ESV‬‬

The only real method of self-care has nothing to do with yourself but everything to do with God.

Here are three important steps to truly taking care of yourself:

1. Set your mind on the things of the Spirit.

What dominates your thought life? The Kardashian’s? Sports? Chip and Jo? (Ouch…stepping on my own toes here!)

Do you fill your mind with truth or twaddle?

The answer to that question dictates how you live. What we feed our minds determines the fruit we will display in our everyday lives. Flesh equals death. Spirit equals life and peace. This passage tells us the flesh is actually HOSTILE to God! It does not like to be told what to do or how. (“Who are you to judge me?”) It doesn’t want to, nor is it even able to please God. To profess to be a Christian yet be unable to please God is scary. Very scary.

2. Be sure the Spirit dwells in you.

Paul’s assumption is that he is speaking to believers. But what if you have not surrendered to the Lordship of Jesus? Well, you are basically spinning your wheels. Without faith in Christ you don’t have the Holy Spirit. Without the Spirit, you do not belong to Christ. If you are not certain, please contact me. I would love to help you get that settled once and forever.

3. Know who you are…and who you are not.

I am many things: wife, mom, writer, sister, teacher, friend. But above and beyond all of these I am a born-again child of God, daughter of the King, and forever alive because of the righteousness of Christ. His Spirit lives in me and gives life to my mortal body because Jesus rose from the dead and promises to do the same for me! This is EVERYTHING. This is the reason I live and breathe and get out of bed at sunrise to meet with Him. The flesh has no right over me because I owe everything to Jesus. If I belong to Him it affects everything I do, every word I speak, even the passive information I allow into my mind while going about my day.

My behavior is greatly affected by the contents of my mind…trash in equals trash out. Beauty and things of the Kingdom in equals peace and joy out.

If I choose obedience to God I choose life. If I follow the patterns and godless ways of the world I will suffer the same negative consequences in my life.

If I truly know who and WHOSE I am the very fabric of my days will change. My tastes and desires will be refined. I will find joy in living fully into who my Creator, who knows me best, says I am!

Here’s the point:

Do I enjoy self-care in the earthly sense? Sure! I don’t know many women who don’t like a good mani-pedi or massage. Being told I did a good job or that you like to read my blog ūüėČ always feels good and encouraging. But I want us to go deeper, to a more permanent solution to the inner battle we all fight each day. I want us to see where our value lies and know that if no one else is cheering us on, if finding time to be pampered is just not happening in this season but we are certain our lives count for the Kingdom of God then we can find joy in knowing we have achieved the highest of rewards and most holy of accolades from the only One whose opinion really matters.

In Heaven my feet won’t hurt, thus nixing the need for pedicures.

In Heaven I’m fairly certain we won’t need Facebook or Instagram.

And in Heaven we will be eternally satisfied to hear “Well done” from the Eternal One, Himself.

Live forward, dear one. You are who you will be! Walk in that knowledge and turn away from twaddle, beginning NOW. Don’t settle. Don’t compromise. Hold a high standard because Jesus regards you highly. He is worthy of our well-lived lives.

Into the Deep

What is the best way to learn to swim in the ocean?

I would venture to say that the toddler pool would not be very helpful.  Even going as far as the adult pool, maybe the 8-12 foot deep end, would not be enough.

Why?  Well, for one thing the ocean is vastly deep and often rough.  Undertow can end the life of the most strong swimmers, not to mention the wildlife swimming below.  A clean, chlorinated community pool is not the same.  Not even close.

To be a strong swimmer in the ocean requires understanding of the behavior of the waters and wildlife, and incredible strength to withstand the pummeling of large waves.

One has to study and and train in order to survive the wild.

Lately I have been pondering this reality.  As I prepare to launch my firstborn into adulthood and strive to educate my younger children I have seen a common thread woven throughout this season of life.

We avoid boredom like the plague. ¬†We don’t know what to do with it. ¬†Stillness makes us unsettled and we rescue ourselves from it with the click of a smartphone.

Just look to your left or right at any intersection.  Most people cannot handle even one minute of boredom, pulling out their phone to fill the empty space until the light turns green.  Dead air on the radio for more that two seconds will prompt us to change the channel.

Even our children, with fresh and creative minds so able to learn and explore, are taught to turn to video games and television because the adults find it easier…less messy…more quiet in the house when the headphones are on and the controller is clicking away.

We have shelves full of books that sit unread.  Art supplies still in their original packaging, purchased with great intentions but rarely used.  Yet we scroll.  We click.

And we die.

We were created for more. ¬†We live in a tumultuous and rocky world. ¬†An ocean of culture and change lies before us but we don’t know how to swim in it. ¬†Our minds numb, becoming accustomed to shallow waters, bright floaties and chaise lounges while our surroundings succumb to the flood.

We can’t even tread water.

But we can change this.  What if we choose excellence?  What if we listen, read and learn and bless our minds with strong tools for survival?  What if we study the dark spiritual waters and learn how to swim in them, to stay afloat and rescue others who are sinking?  The specifics are up to you and me.  Only we know ourselves and where we have neglected good and necessary growth.  But I suggest we begin by seeking God, diving into the Scriptures and letting the outflow of that affect our choices in entertainment, media and education.  We learn to allow ourselves to sit in boredom, to become contemplative in those awkward moments and let it result in growth and creativity.

My goodness, imagine what we might hear from the Lord if we give Him a quiet space in which to speak!

“Be still and know…”

Turn away from foolish things and look to the good, true and beautiful.  Retrain our minds to look inward and evaluate ourselves before looking outward for a quick fix at the stop light.

Let silence ring loud in our ears and listen…

We can hear ourselves breathing.  We might even hear our own hearts beating.

Build strong spiritual muscles in those moments and swim out into the deep, unafraid when the shore disappears because we have trained and are ready.  Truth is our guide and Jesus is our light piercing the darkness.

We were born for more than a quick fix. ¬† Don’t settle any longer.

A Simple Discipline

It took years for me to find what worked, to develop spiritual disciplines that I could “stick with” and that felt grace-filled instead of burdensome or rote. ¬†I tried the “read-through-Bible-in-a-year” programs, only to get stuck somewhere in Leviticus. ¬†I bought a Bible that had daily readings from the Old and New Testaments along with a Psalm and Proverb for each day but it was too confusing…like reading four different Novels at the same time and trying to keep the stories straight. ¬†Most everything I did caused me to read passages out of context or rush through or simply fall asleep in the middle and have no idea what I had read the next day.

I was practicing religion, not relationship.

I struggled.

After twenty years of being a Christian I simply did not know the Bible like I knew I should. ¬†I wasn’t “in love” with the Word, only treating it like a habit to be kept or a box to be checked.

I sure would hate for my husband to treat me like that.

By the grace of God, I went to a retreat a couple of years ago that changed the way I interact with the Bible forever. ¬†I signed up for a breakout session on “Bible Journaling,” which was all the rage and I thought looked kind of stupid, to be honest. Drawing in your Bible? ¬†Mmmmkay. ¬†But the girl was teaching hand-lettering techniques and ideas for easy sketches and drawings, which appealed to me, so I went.

I’ll never forget her holding up her colorful, stickered Bible and saying with great emotion, “I love this book.”

She had my attention.

In that session I learned to take it slow. ¬†Read heading-to-heading. ¬†Stop. ¬†Ask God to show me what He wants to teach me. ¬†Let the words sink in. ¬†Look them up in different translations to get a broader picture (like The Message or The Passion Translation) and then write, doodle, draw, paint…whatever I want to do but allow the act of slowly and creatively writing what God is showing me to be a tool of meditation, to let the Holy Words take root in my hurried heart.

That means I probably won’t (and haven’t) make it through the Bible in a year. ¬†And that is OK. ¬†I had a friend say recently, “Read until He stops you.” ¬†Yes. ¬†God may have one beautiful sentence he wants me to mull over all day. ¬†It may be an entire chapter. ¬†But the key is to be in communication with the Holy Spirit as I read, not just to “get through it,” but to truly commune with the Lover of My Soul. ¬†Sometimes I write in the margins. ¬†Sometimes I get really creative. ¬†But always,¬†always I walk away knowing I have not been alone. ¬†That is relationship. ¬†That fosters my passion for Jesus and fills my cup so that I can live and love and parent more effectively, out of His strength and not my own.

Now, I do have a few personal boundaries I set for Bible journaling in order to keep it about Him and not about me. ¬†First of all, I never ever write over the text of the Bible. ¬†I believe every last word is Holy Spirit inspired and I also know that countless people have given their lives to own and protect one sacred page of scripture. ¬†I determine that every word should still be easily readable after I am done. ¬†So, out of reverence, I just don’t. ¬†My Bible has plenty of room to write in the margins.

It’s not an art project.

I also don’t post my creations online. ¬†I have allowed a couple of friends to see them but, really, I’m not that good of an artist and it is also not about getting likes or any other kinds of accolades for my “skills.” ¬†What I create is between me and Jesus. ¬†That keeps it real and it prevents me from “performing” as I journal.

I wake up early every morning, before any of my kids are stirring, and head upstairs to my desk. ¬†I light a candle, I pray the day’s reading from “Common Prayer, A Liturgy for Ordinary Radicals” (or any of various books of prayer I have around my house), always taking time to lift up the ones I love who need prayer, then open my Bible and read slowly and purposefully…until He stops me. ¬†This discipline has changed my life, my perspective, and taught me things I would have otherwise missed in my previous rush to “get through it.” ¬†I look forward to this time with God, knowing He will faithfully meet with me and fill me with the knowledge of His presence and peace. ¬†It is a beautiful, blessedly quiet way to begin each day.

 

Finding God

Simply leaving this with you to ponder today:

Nothing is more practical than

finding God, than

falling in Love

in a quite absolute, final way.

What you are in love with,

what seizes your imagination, will affect everything.

It will decide

what will get you out of bed in the morning,

what you do with your evenings,

how you spend your weekends,

what you read, whom you know,

what breaks your heart,

and what amazes you with joy and gratitude.

Fall in Love, stay in love,

and it will decide everything.

Attributed to Fr. Pedro Arrupe, SJ (1907-1991)

From Finding God in All Things: A Marquette Prayer Book © 2009 Marquette University Press.