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.

A Simple Advent

We began today, though it doesn’t “officially” start until December first.  But I know me, and I know us.  Life happens, schedules get tight, and we struggle to finish what we start whether it be a devotional, project, or “school” book.

I’ve purchased many advent devotionals over the years, bought every “memorable” ornament, tree, and wreath there is to make this season count.  This year, though, I’m going back to basics.  Like so many things in my too-busy life I’m paring us down, starting at the beginning and revisiting an old favorite that brings back beautiful memories of the days when all five of my babies gathered ’round the warmth of a winter fire and listened with wonder to the stories that just happen to be true.

We read the first few pages of “The Jesus Storybook Bible” by Sally Lloyd-Jones this morning over hot coffee and before a crackling fire.  I’m down to three kids in our morning time, the oldest two having grown and moved on to other things, so I savor these hours and pray they will last longer with these three.  I opened the book, now worn and with binding beginning to fray, to “The Story and the Song” and read the words slowly, carefully, wishing I had the author’s lovely British accent and determing to make the reading beautiful for my children.  The familiar words felt like home on my tongue and I slowed down as I came to page 17…

It takes the whole Bible to tell this Story.  And at the center of the Story, there is a baby. Every Story in the Bible whispers his name.  He is like the missing piece in a puzzle-the piece that makes all the other pieces fit together, and suddenly you can see a beautiful picture.

My voice broke over these words, tears spilling from my eyes and my heart bursting with gratitude for fresh understanding…revelation, even…of the Christ.  That Jesus would become a baby.  That He would give countless clues all through History that we had not been left to wallow in our sin, but were so very loved that the Son of God had already planned to descend here before we even knew we needed Him…I could barely speak.

“Are you ok, Mom?”  My son’s soft voice broke my concentration.

How do I even answer that question?  I am more than ok, I am free.  I am saved, gloriously and forever seated with Christ in the heavenly places!  I am forgiven and beloved and, oh my sweet ones, how I long for you to realize this is true about you as well!

He came.  Jesus came and lived the life I could not live, died the death I deserved to die. He is the center of my story, and of yours.

“…So in Heaven and earth and below, every knee would bow in worship and every tongue would proclaim that Jesus, He reigns with the angels. Son of God, Son of man.

Hallelujah!”

From the song, Gather ‘Round, Ye Children, Come by Andrew Peterson

We too easily complicate things in an effort to make Christmas beautiful. We too often forget the simplicity of the Gospel of Christ.  But, today, I was reminded of why I am who I am and why I do what I do.

For the sake of Christ and the Glory of God.

Keep it simple, my friends.  Remember and celebrate the Advent of Christ with all of your heart, and without all of the fluff.

The stories are true.

Gather ‘Round, Ye Children, Come.  Listen to the old, old story…

 

The (G)race of Community

Together, we are a coat of many colors gracing the broad shoulders of Jesus.

Today I have the incredible privilege of writing over at The Rabbit Room!  It is truly an honor to be allowed to share this message with such a large audience of artists, musicians, poets and storytellers whom I deeply admire.

I submitted this piece after weeks of mulling it over, writing and rewriting the message God had laid on my heart.  It’s a big topic, one that goes against what the culture is screaming at us but is everything God wants for His Bride, the Church.  Please hop on over there (PUN INTENDED!) and read “The (G)race of Community.”  

Blessings to you, my friends!  May our good God use this offering of words to encourage His people!

Of Autumn and Rest

I took a short drive this morning.  The speed limit is 23 here in our neighborhood.  Not one mile higher.  The teenagers find it binding, I find it delightful.

I love being forced to slow.

Rounding the wide curve, with the pasture to my right, I spotted a neighbor.  Woolen hat pulled low to his eyebrows and two dogs fighting for position as he walked, a bounce in his step on this blustery Autumn day.  He waved and smiled, his cheeks revealing lines created by years of practice.  Such a genuine joy in his face that I couldn’t help but return it.

I was on my way to the gym where I would push and pull and sweat and, strangely, love every minute of it.  But the drive leading up to my session was devoid of stress, beautifully lined with orange-bedecked trees showing off just a little longer.  The horses huddled, two-by-two as the wild wind blew their manes and tails, creating dramatic poses from what would have been simple still-lifes.  The tan one lifted his handsome head and watched me pass by.  I wished I had a few carrots with which to treat him.

I prayed this year for Autumn, that it would be long and not too hot, not too cold.  I selfishly believe God made it perfect just for me.  It is, truly, the most beautiful and bright Autumn I have seen since moving to Tennessee and that is saying a lot.  Tennessee Autumns are generally lovely, but often too short.  Not this year, though.  Autumn came gently and has stayed a nice, long while.  She doesn’t need to hurry on my account, I assure you.

The cooler temperatures energize me.  Daylight savings has come and gone and now the sun sets early, just after 4:30 in the afternoon.  It makes the evenings feel  long and lures me here or to my notebook to write.  I start putting words to page and find myself editing, reshaping the stories and searching for just the right words, knowing they are out there somewhere.

The wind is howling and rain beats against the windows and I give thanks that, despite the stresses and strains of my day, a storm is blowing in and washing everything clean.  Both outside and within me.

And that is a much-needed gift.

Why am I rambling like this?  Well, I have some advice…I hope you will take it:

Step outside today.  Look up, letting your eyes focus as far away as possible.  Notice the clouds, the stars, the way the birds dance before they settle on the highest limb.  Listen to the wind, the train in the distance and the leaves bouncing along the sidewalk.  Let your senses rest and be still.  Wave and smile at your neighbor, then call your friend just to see what she is doing.  No agenda, just easy conversation.  Spend time counting blessings and maybe even write them down.  You’ll need them later, when the blessings are harder to list.  Talk to God about silly things, small things, because He cares about even those things.  Isn’t that incredible?  Breathe and sip tea while unsorted socks wait patiently in the laundry basket.  They aren’t going any where, I promise.  Then walk into the next thing, the awaiting tasks, refreshed and more able to focus because you took that Sabbath moment and gave your Creator a chance to do what He does best…Make all things new.

Hearthfire and Frost: Finding Joy in the Gifts of Autumn

It did this mama’s heart so good. All seven of us, together in the same room as Daddy lit the first hearthfire of the season and we marked it with a feast, a liturgy and laughter.

Chicken pot pie was the main dish, an easy dinner that brought everyone to the kitchen. Green beans were served alongside chopped salad with hot bacon and the grease drizzled all over the lettuce before the ranch dressing even had a chance. Crusty bread cleaned our plates and then, with mugs of hot chocolate and marshmallows, we gathered. Us, who have been too often fragmented. Seven people leading seven busy lives, four of whom are often in different counties during the day or any given evening.  But this night, we were all seven piled into our living room with only five seats and that made it cozy. And sweet. One squeezed in close beside her sister in the rocking armchair that squeaks. Another stretched out on the rug, warmed by the first Autumn fire.

Together, we read the prayer. Eyerolls were, miraculously, few and far between. The leather-bound book of liturgies, a new-ish family treasure, was passed hand-to-hand as each person read a paragraph then placed a log on the fire. After more than a few giggles and a couple of quickly-dampened arguments, not to mention younger ones fearing the hot ash that leapt from beneath the flaming logs as the new ones fell into place, the first hearthfire of the season was beautifully ablaze and no one was in a hurry to leave.

We sat, talking and gesturing, then belly-laughing as our oldest told a wild story and it hit me hard that this is likely his last Autumn at home. Next year he will be in college. Come next Fall, he may just be visiting and everything will be different. He will be different. We will all be different.

I willed myself not to allow tears to form and almost succeeded. I looked upon my family, my whole family, with deep joy and gave thanks to Jesus who makes all things new.

We went to bed at peace with the day, the smell of smoldering coals filling the house for the first time this season and anticipating the first frost in the morning.

Sure enough, I was awakened by a blaze of pink illuminating my bed. I parted the sheer curtains and gasped as the sky exploded in beauty, mist rising from the still-warm pond and dancing in the barely frozen air. The grass was gray with frost and sparkled in the first light of dawn.

My soul delighted in this gift and, again, I whispered a prayer of thanks to my God who knows how much I love a golden sunrise. In moments like this, I’m sure I’m his favorite.