When Quiet Won

It was so quiet that I could hear the fluttering of the birds’ wings. Newly filled feeders had invited them near and in droves they came, red-winged blackbirds, nut-hatches, cardinals and sparrows all vying for position and dominance over the provisions that had been carefully hung from hooks and branches.

The sun shone in all it’s glory, framed by a baby blue sky and not a single cloud. The distant pond’s surface rippled gently, a deep and dark blue disguising the teeming life swimming beneath.

I almost missed it. I almost stayed inside, turning on the TV because spring is wreaking havoc on my allergies. Sniffles and nosebleeds and coughs, oh my! I almost let a sinus headache win, but I didn’t and I’m grateful, for what is more healing than the sun?

What better antidote to a cold or the blues than bright skies gently beckoning our eyes upward and onward?

What is more lovely than the scent of hyacinths breaking through the most clogged of noses as they open green arms wide and declare the glory of God in the deepest of perfumed purple hues?

“In quietness and trust shall be your strength.” (Isaiah 30:15)

I have a hard time with the “quiet” part of that verse. My days are filled with bustle and noise and when it all dies down my mind struggles to find a spot to sit. It runs in circles and tries to fill the silence with whatever is close and convenient.

But today the quiet won and as I sit on my porch, the colorful garden flag fluttering in the gentle breeze and the turquoise windmill that my daughter insisted we snag at Lowe’s spinning in delight, I hear Him whisper.

In the beauty of creation he reminds me that I am his beloved.

In the stillness He smiles upon me and fills the long pause with the laughter of a child in the distance, wafting across the pasture with last season’s tall grasses waving their golden stalks and the little horse shelter awaiting the summer wildflowers that will surely come.

A distant dog barks a friendly warning as a bumblebee whizzes by and there it is again…the laughter of a child.

Unbridled joy.

Goals: How to be used by God

One of the biggest fears I battle as a writer is of “being found out.”

You see, I have no credentials, really. No degree to vouch for my knowledge, no wealth of experience in the marketplace to give me a portfolio that I can offer for your inspection.

I’m just a wife and mom. I’m a middle-aged, homeschooling southern girl who has loved to put words together since the sixth grade. And I am a believer in Jesus.

But I’m also a student. Always seeking and learning, I peruse the Bible almost daily, comparing translations, exploring apologetics, reading and gleaning from the research and knowledge of those who do have the credentials and portfolios.

Most importantly, I have the Holy Spirit…my teacher and yours if you have surrendered your life to the risen Christ.

Today I was reading in Acts 18 and I felt a kinship with Apollos:

A Jew named Apollos, a native Alexandrian, an eloquent man who was powerful in the use of the Scriptures, arrived in Ephesus. This man had been instructed in the way of the Lord; and being fervent in spirit, he spoke and taught the things about Jesus accurately, although he knew only John’s baptism. He began to speak boldly in the synagogue. After Priscilla and Aquila heard him, they took him home and explained the way of God to him more accurately. When he wanted to cross over to Achaia, the brothers wrote to the disciples urging them to welcome him. After he arrived, he greatly helped those who had believed through grace. For he vigorously refuted the Jews in public, demonstrating through the Scriptures that Jesus is the Messiah. 

Acts 18:24-28 HCSB

Apollos reminds me a lot of myself.  He was passionate, good with words, and intent on sharing what the Lord had taught him with the world around him, but he lacked an important credential in the eyes of many believers:

He had not been baptized in the Holy Spirit.  Matthew Henry says this:

“Though he had not the miraculous gifts of the Spirit, as the apostles, he made use of the gifts he had…He was a lively, affectionate preacher; fervent in spirit.  He was full of zeal for the glory of God and the salvation of precious souls. Here was a complete man of God, thoroughly furnished for his work.” (emphasis mine)

What a relief! Apollos did not let what some might consider lack to stop him.  He didn’t know it all, most likely did not have perfect theology, but he knew Jesus is the son of God who had died and been raised to life. Apollos taught what he knew!

How many times have I held back out of fear that someone would challenge my words, asking questions that I might not be able to answer? How often have I compared myself to other writers who have accomplished great literary achievements while I was blogging between teaching my kids about Christopher Columbus and trying to get them to stop eating their boogers?

But those years of waiting, those seasons of introspection and teaching of the simplest things, were God’s training ground for what I am doing now. He taught me to find my voice, little by little, breaking down the wall of fear and coaxing me ever forward.  He showed me a greater purpose for this gift, one that may not win awards but it just might win souls.

After spending the entire morning thinking about Apollos, I realized there are four goals I can work toward based on what I read about him in Acts 18.

Goal #1: Be instructed in the way of the Lord.

I must never stop learning about the things of God. After 25 years of walking with Christ (some years better than others!) I am continually amazed at the bombshells He drops into my life when I spend real, quality time studying the Bible. I am convinced we cannot fully grow in the Spirit without the discipline of Bible study.

I’m talking about moving beyond devotionals. I enjoy a good devotional, but we need more. We need to go deep, to explore and dig into the word of God so that it can cut through our facade and get to the heart of who we are and what He wants for us. By the way, I can assure you it will take more than five minutes.

Don’t tell me you don’t have time.

I said that once, then Facebook was invented.

I apparently had plenty of time.

Goal #2: Be fervent in Spirit

Complacency kills. When being a Christian is a “fun fact” about me and not the core of who I am as a woman, God is reverted to being “the man upstairs” and Jesus to a friend who makes me feel good about myself.  But fervency means I am pressing in, letting the fire of the Holy Spirit refine me and correct my path as I walk with God.  It means I say no to things that interfere with the calling God has placed on my life and yes to His calling even when I am quaking in my boots. It means I spend large quantities of time on my knees and seek the heart of my Father through prayer and fasting. (I know what you are going to say…remember my aforementioned point about Facebook, or you can insert Instagram or Snapchat if that’s your jam.) I have to put Him first and recognize that Candy Crush (or whatever time-sucker you choose) probably isn’t going to draw me deeper into fellowship with the Holy Spirit.

Sorry.

Goal #3: Speak and teach accurately the things concerning Jesus.

Have you noticed the trend to redefine Jesus Christ these days? There are myriads of teachers who are off just a hair, leading the masses into error because “most” of what they say is really good and the stuff that is off base is deemed to be no big deal in the big picture of Christianity.

But what if it is a really big deal?

In a recent sermon our pastor gave an illustration that brings the importance of Biblical accuracy to light.  If a pilot flies around the world and is off by only 1 degree, he would miss his landing target by 435 miles. He would not even be close to the landing strip, aiport, city and possibly even STATE where he wanted to land!

Accuracy matters. Appolos taught what he knew until he knew more. Which leads me to my next goal:

Goal #4: Be teachable and willing to learn from fellow Christians who are ahead of me in the game.

I don’t have a theology degree or a degree in apologetics.  I don’t even have a degree in writing!  But, as my kids have learned in music class, perfect practice makes practice perfect.

In order to teach and write well I must seek instruction from those who are solid in their relationship with God, full of the Holy Spirit, strong in theology and intellect and committed to absolute accuracy when teaching the Bible. And I must allow them to correct me when I am wrong, just as Apollos did. Verse 26 says, “When Priscilla and Aquilla heard his teaching, they took him home and explained the way of God more accurately.”

Apollos’ response wasn’t, “Fine, I give up.  I suck at this.  I should never have tried teaching about Jesus!”  Instead, he pressed forward, eager to cross to Achaia to continute what he had been doing but, now, with more knowledge and accuracy! And the Bible says in verse 27 that when Apollos arrived in Achaia he was a great help to those who had believed.

Isn’t that the goal?  Isn’t the whole reason God gives us gifts to bless and grow the Church?

What is a gift you long to develop?  What holds you back?  Pray for God to use it, to use you.  Seek ways to use the gifts you have kept on the backburner.  Trust Him when He says “go” and do it.  It’s ok if you are doing it scared, but you must do it! And when a fellow Christian pulls you aside to correct an error, receive it with grace and gratitude.  The better we are armed, the more effective the fight!

God wants to use you. I guarantee it.

When You are Overwhelmed by the Mess.

I cleaned out a child’s room last week. “Clean” being the understatement of the century. I purged. Extreme, thorough and complete. I washed every article of clothing, not knowing what had been worn or simply tossed in the piles. I scrubbed, sanitized, and sang.

Yes, you read that correctly. I sang.

It was glorious, the transformation. What had been a source of both my frustration and theirs became a haven of peace and light. The sun seemed to stream more brightly through the tall windows. Worship music poured from the little speaker on the nightstand and I gently screwed a bulb into a new lamp because the old one no longer worked. I sang praises for this messy child, prayed for angels to perch in every window and light in every dark corner. I threw away every shred of trash and replaced what was broken, worn-out, or missing. I put every single item this child owned in it’s proper place.

And then that child came home.

The shock was palpable, as was the relief.

You see, the task had become overwhelming. This sweet one didn’t know where to start. Pushing things under the bed or into the closet got things out of sight, but not out of mind. Hopelessness had set in and asking for help felt humiliating.

No one likes to admit defeat.

But the hard work was done without them even knowing what was happening while they were away. Now, there is nothing hidden. With my arms around their shoulders and my face in their hair I reminded them that asking for help in the small messes will prevent big ones from piling up and becoming overwhelming again.

Has the cleanup of your life ever felt like an impossible task?

Dear one, do you see what God has done? You trashed your life. You made decisions you regret, did things you swore you would never do. Then, in shame, you attempted to hide them under the bed or in the closet. But they cried out for your blood from the darkness, threatened your very sanity from the hidden places. You believed the lie that said you needed to clean things up yourself. You refused to seek help because it meant facing the piles head-on and sorting through the trash one piece at a time and you certainly didn’t want anyone else seeing what you had stuffed away.

But God…

(Two of my favorite words are, “But God.“)

But God intervened before you even knew He was there. He saw the piles that you thought were well-hidden, and He was not deterred by them in the least! He sent His Son, Jesus Christ, to sweep every inch of your life clean. The trash has been discarded, what was broken has been replaced and shame has been washed away by the blood of the Lamb. You, Beloved, stand pure before the Lover of your soul. Oh, how He loves you.

He no longer sees the clutter, He sees His daughter. He is not deterred by the mess you created. He has dealt with it all before you even realized He was there. He has cleaned out all your messes and, now, He invites you in…

to LIVE.

Will you do it? Will you walk through the door into the spotless, beautiful space He has created for you? Will you surrender and allow Him to make YOU new as well? For that is what He does best…He transforms.

Redeems.

Purifies.

And the maintenance? I certainly won’t say it is easy because even maintenance is not possible in my own strength. I too easily let sin pile up in my life. I must remember the daily task of coming before the Father with my messes, allowing Him to take them and replace them with purpose and vision for my life. It is a constant choosing of Jesus above all others, fixing my eyes on Him and walking in the calm amidst the storms around me. It is a determination, in the power of the Holy Spirit, to flee from sin and push back against the darkness one song, one prayer, one act of obedience at a time.

Jesus makes all things new. Your heart is just the beginning. The work is finished. Now walk through that open door and live.

But you are the ones chosen by God, chosen for the high calling of priestly work, chosen to be a holy people, God’s instruments to do his work and speak out for him, to tell others of the night-and-day difference he made for you—from nothing to something, from rejected to accepted.

1 Peter 2:9 (The Message)

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—shout 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. 😉

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.

The Peace of Advent

Mary’s relationship with her cousin, Elizabeth has been a source of fascination for me as Christmas nears. God provided much-needed community for the mother of Christ in Elizabeth, someone…the only one…who could begin to relate to what Mary had been chosen to walk though. As I tried to imagine their conversations, whispered by firelight after Zechariah was long-asleep, this poem was fashioned:

PEACE.

Who, besides you, would understand?

This holy secret, silent, yet unknown outside of my womb.

The angel spoke your name, Elizabeth.

He told me of your wonder

and of the babe.

Just look at you.

He kicks and your belly writhes and the smile

oh, the smile on your aged face.

Your wrinkles deepen as laugh-light sparks

from your faded eyes.

Renewed, you are.

Made new, fruitful, forever a part of the grand story,

His story,

of redemption.

Hold my hand.

Tell me what I already know

but need to hear afresh.

How God supplies the strength we both will need.

I am not afraid,

yet I am.

The war in my spirit rages

as the flesh across my belly tightens and bulges.

But here you stand before me,

evidence of our God weaving the promise

of atonement within me.

Within us.

These infant sons we bear,

destined for pain.

We walk the first steps with them on a path

rocky with hate and rejection.

Yet I see in you an acceptance

the peace of God that flows through your fingers to mine.

I feel His presence, overshadowed by Him since that night

the Spirit made me His mother.

Who, besides you, would understand?

I find it not a coincidence that you, my cousin, are the bearer

of the messenger.

Two women, forever connected by destiny.

Your companionship eases my heart.

Your trust increases my own.

Your embrace enfolds me in peace

that I may walk with my eyes fixed on this sacred privilege.

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:

“But 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.”

‭‭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.