Seeking His Face

I’m not a big socialite. But when I do venture out into the masses, I usually don’t go just for something to do. I go with a purpose. I am seeking someone or something.

If I go to a party or a gathering, there is one person I will seek out. I scan the crowd looking for the face I am seeking. I listen for their laugh and the timbre of their voice. I may be searching for my husband, my sons or a friend.

When we seek, we look until we find, don’t we? We are purposefully looking for someone or something in particular.  Children seek out Easter eggs on Easter morning.  They eagerly look until they find the brightly coloured sweet treats.

Today’s verse of the day from biblegateway.com was from Hebrews 11:6, The Voice. Without faith no one can please God because the one coming to God must believe He exists, and He rewards those who come seeking. (emphasis mine).

It was the last part of the verse that caught my attention. He rewards those who come seeking.

It struck me that all I have to do is come seeking Him. I don’t have to be anything else. We think we have to have cleaned up our mess first before we seek Him out.  We believe we need to at least try to have it together before we go to God. We tell ourselves we need to have solved our problems before we seek His face.

We have to be perfect.

But it doesn’t say anywhere in that verse or in the bible, that we have to have it altogether to come to God. To look for Him. To seek Him out.  The ill and infirm sought Jesus out.  Those who had blown it and those who were socially unacceptable came looking for Him. Those who had doubts came to Him.  He welcomed them all.  He didn’t turn them away.  He could handle it all.

We just have to come. Seek and you shall find him. (Mat 7:7)

If we had solved our problems or cleaned ourselves up, we wouldn’t need Jesus right? We’d be patting ourselves on the back.  We would be thinking we did it ourselves.  Our pride would tell us that we can handle it. No need to bother the Almighty. We got this.

It’s a big lie that we believe. Satan likes to keep us feeling like we are not good enough so we don’t seek God.  If we do manage to make some small progress bettering ourselves, then we believe we don’t need Him. It’s a vicious cycle.

However the verse from Hebrews is simple, Believe He exists and seek Him out. And he’ll reward you.

There may be other rewards but the main reward is Him. I AM, present in our lives.  His presence trumps everything else; the unsolvable problem, the explosive mess, the unredeemable relationship, the life that looks unsalvageable. His presence turns it all upside down and makes it workable. So the impossible is possible with God.  (Luke 1:37 The Voice)

All we have to do is seek His Face and He does the rest.

The Whole Story

Do you have a childhood dream that still sits in your heart and mind? That you go back to when you daydream?  Since I can remember, I have wanted to tell stories. Then it morphed into writing and then into writing articles and books.

I fulfilled part of that dream recently. I wrote a book and it’s being published next month. I wrote it with pastors’ wives in mind but it’s for anyone who ever felt they didn’t fit the role they were in. Pastor’s wife, ministry leader, mother…

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I set out to write a guide because I felt so lost as to what it was I was supposed to be doing as the spouse of a pastor. (Seriously, seminaries need to offer courses for the spouses! But I digress.) The book did not turn out to be a guide.  I never really figured out what I was doing so how could I instruct others?! Instead, it’s about how God can use each one of us, even when we think He’s made a mistake in choosing us because….you fill in the blank.

It took over ten years to write it. I began the project when my boys were teeny tiny. On Mark’s day off, I would head to his office for a couple of hours to write. On the way, I’d grab a Tim’s (that’s Canada speak for coffee), a bagel and cream cheese (those were the days I could eat cream cheese). Then I’d sit, savouring the food, the coffee and the quiet. Then I’d get to work.

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I didn’t own a laptop so I’d write old school or I’d borrow Mark’s laptop and then email my document to myself. I lost a whole chapter once. It wasn’t always easy or convenient but it was important that I carve out that time.

Many of those years were tumultuous and the writing was a cathartic exercise. It provided a way to put a voice on the last few years of ministry, marriage and motherhood. It provided me an outlet to vent my frustrations, anger and sadness. It opened a door to look for God in it all. It maintained my sanity.

I have a gem of a husband who not only encouraged me to go on his day off but insisted on it if I tried to get out of it. He knew I was a better mom and wife when I had time to myself, to do the things I loved. I realize that not everyone has this. I am so grateful.

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I tried to walk away from this book, this message, so many times. I didn’t always want to be the messenger.

I finished most of the writing a couple of years ago. I tried unsuccessfully to pitch the book with publishers but they felt it was too much of a niche book.

Last spring I heard about a Canada wide contest for non-fiction faith manuscripts by women. I decided to enter.

I didn’t win but I placed as one of the four finalists. It opened the door to publishing. And here I am. Scared out of my wits and crazy excited at the same time.

It’s been a lesson in perseverance. We want what we want right now. We are impatient. I am one of the worst. I am surprised that God stuck with me because honestly, I’ve been a bit of a brat over the years. But then, that’s grace, right? We are given what we don’t deserve. That’s love. That’s God, I Am.

If you have a dream, a vision, something laid upon your heart and you think there’s an expiry date, stop. As long as you breathe, there is no expiry date on your dream. Keep taking the next step.

The end result is worth it, but it’s the journey there, that gives it value. It’s in the journey that the message on your heart gets it’s first student. (You.) It’s the path there, that teaches the lessons, sustains growth and prunes the rot. In the end, you reach your destination (book, dream, etc.) which is totally awesome, but really, you are the prize.

Because along the journey, you have matured, deepened your relationship with God and are that much closer to being who you were created to be.

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It’s an awesome experience to see a dream fulfilled. It is humbling to put something you created out there for people to read, dissect and judge. They may love it or they may hate it. I have freaked out at both aspects. It’s taking me way out of my comfort zone.

In the bigger picture, beyond my comfort,  I am excited to see what God is going to do. This is not my book. It’s not my message. It’s His and I’m anxious to see where He’s going with it. I want to see Him do what He does best.  Work the impossible.

I’m going to enjoy this gift while it lasts, but I’m also looking to Him for the future, for the next adventure.

Day 1

Ministry. Marriage. Motherhood. There have been times I wasn’t sure I’d survive them. Sometimes they come together in a tsunami of life and I think I’m going to go right under.

Not a positive way to start the new year is it? Especially if it’s one filled with promise. Or maybe it’s already started on the negative and that kind of thought isn’t going to make it get any better.

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January 1 always comes wrapped up shiny and bright, luring us to raise our expectations, hope for better things to come and generally feel good. Until the first major crisis. For some of us, it didn’t take very long for that to happen.

That’s just it. Life happens. None of us can go through all 365 days and not have the stuff that makes up life thrown at us. It’s impossible.

So as we spit out the confetti and deal with loved ones, sickness, impossible situations, I think it’s important to realize that the whole facade of New Years is exactly that. A facade. Because any day can be a fresh start. Day 1. Any day can bring about rebirth. Rejuvenation. On any given day, we can choose to start over. Begin.

We put all our excitement into New Years’s only to be frustrated and disappointed when we stumble or fall. We think because we broke our resolutions, we failed. Why bother now?

Because that’s not what it’s about. Yes, we can decide that any day is Day 1 but the fact is we will probably have about twenty Day 1’s in a given year. Because we will stumble. We will fall. We will give in to temptation. It’s not about being perfect from Day 1 on. It’s about learning to get up when we fall after Day 1. It’s about growth and learning from mistakes. We move on when we learn from our messes. We don’t need to go back to Day 1 because we’ve already grown and so we can move into Day 2 or whatever day it is.

A new day or year cannot bring change. It’s only a starting point. So is our attitude. They both open the door to change. There is only one person that can bring about transformation.

It’s not us.

Our church’s mission statement is this: “Our vision at Bethany is to lead people into a transforming relationship with Jesus Christ.”

Romans 12:2 Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect. (NLT)

We can hope to change all we like. We can work our tails off to change and we might succeed for a little while but we’ll end up disillusioned and exhausted. I know this all too well. I have to believe real change can only come through a relationship with Jesus because I’ve tried it the other ways. It doesn’t work.

A relationship can make a difference in a person’t life.  Think about teens and their friends. Good or bad influences can alter decisions our kids’ make and how they live their lives.  Think of the Holy Spirit as the ultimate good influence.  Giving His Spirit access to our minds, hearts, attitudes and bodies makes us different. He’s not transforming us into better versions of ourselves, although that’s a bonus.  He is making us more like Christ.  That is the only way transformation can happen.

And it can happen on Day 1 or Day 101.

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The Swing Set

There are things disappearing from our lives. Over the last thirteen years they’ve moved in and made themselves at home. Now some are MIA. Gone. They were there, I blinked, they were only a memory.

Pieces of my boys’ childhood are fading and then are gone entirely. Can things change so much in one year? Apparently, yes they can.

Our backyard is empty for the first time in a very long time. We sold the swing set. It really wasn’t used for swinging. Instead it had become an apparatus for boys-who-think they-are-invincible-and-can’t-get-hurt tricks. Before someone broke their neck, the swing set needed to go.

I can’t say I’m sorry. Not just because of the injury factor, either. We bought it a couple of months after moving here to replace the one we’d left behind at our old house, in another city. I never really liked it. Neither did my youngest son. We both still mourned what we’d left behind and the new swing set only served as a reminder of loss. The fun had on that old swing set. Watching my boy out the kitchen window, swinging fast and high, lost in a world of make-believe. The large yard and the big maple tree that sheltered the swing set and sand box like a big hug, keeping the hot rays of the sun off the kids. I don’t think my son or I will ever get over losing that.

For me, I feel guilty about taking that away from him, way too soon. I know I should get over it but…

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My youngest son looking at the For Sale sign on our old house.  His posture says it all.

So I can’t say I was sorry to see the swing set go. I was happy that a little family was taking it and it is going to be enjoyed so much now.

As my husband and I stood, looking at the empty space in the yard, we thought about the possibilities of what could be. The empty space was rather freeing, I thought. Always a gardener, my husband had a few ideas. I’ll let him go to it.

Although the swing was a reminder of things left behind in another time and space, perhaps the empty space is a way of making room for something new. I thought I could replace the old swing set with a new one but I couldn’t. My son just never adjusted. He didn’t play on it like he did the one in Windsor. It wasn’t the same nor should it have been. Some things are just too priceless to be replaced.

So four years later, perhaps it’s time to let it go and make room for something new. TURN to the possibilities of new dreams, ideas and fun.

Life is like that too, don’t you think? Sometimes we need to let go of the old for the new. TURN to new dreams, people, ideas and experiences. Dare to let go of the old even though they were once and may still be, precious. Mourn them, yes, but realize they had their time but now it’s time to TURN and move on.  (Move on not replace.)

Making room for whatever new thing God has for us. Opening ourselves; our minds and hearts to something new, different and most likely out of our comfort zones. If things stay the same, they get stagnant. We get stagnant. Stiff. Joints rust.

I’m starting to realize that God sends new relationships, opportunities, jobs, dreams, trials to keep us fresh and alive. To keep us in tune with Him. There’s nothing like something new to get our adrenaline pumping and our senses alert. Change, it’s what I’m really talking about, but there’s something about that word I hate, so we’ll keep going with new, is not necessarily bad. We need to keep that in mind.

Maybe you like change. More power to you I say! But for those of us who struggle with it, maybe a little free space where something used to be, can be a reminder that new can be freeing. New can be life-giving, if we give it a chance.

Eternal One: Don’t revel only in the past,
        or spend all your time recounting the victories of days gone by.
    Watch closely: I am preparing something new; it’s happening now, even as I speak,
        and you’re about to see it. I am preparing a way through the desert;
    Waters will flow where there had been none.
    Wild animals in the fields will honor Me;
        the wild dogs and surly birds will join in.
    There will be water enough for My chosen people,
        trickling springs and clear streams running through the desert.
Isaiah 43:18-20 The Voice

TURN to Trust

She knew that the Lord would provide the strength to accomplish His purpose.
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I finally emptied and put away some goodies I had gotten at a conference. I’d looked through it previously but had not done anything with it except separate the books out and then everything got shoved back in the bag to deal with “later.”

I’m pretty proud of myself. That bag could have sat there for a year. I know. I have a problem. I mean what’s the big deal? Empty the darn thing already. I could write several blogs on the issues that surround it but that’s not what I want to address today.

It’s what I found in the bag. Or rather had forgotten about. A sign. In more ways than one.

Because before clearing out the bag and putting everything away, I had been reading a book, Unlikely Rebel by Kelli Gotthardt. Sitting in her counsellor’s office she had been freaking out that she was going to mess up her kids. Her counsellor listens, then wisely says to Kelli, ‘ “This isn’t really about your kids, is it? This is about you learning to trust.” ‘ (p. 78, Unlikely Rebel)  Busted.

Just like Kelli, I have to learn to trust my kids with God. TURN to Him.  TURN to trusting Him to look after them, to love them, to care for them. I have to acknowledge that He can do all this better than I can. He can clean up my mess and mistakes. He can make it all better. Better than before even.

As parents we all have to come to this: to TURN to God and trust or go insane with worry, with control-itis (yes that’s a word!) and a whole host of other unhealthy issues.

Restless after reading, I decided to be productive and empty that bag. Get it up off the floor.

And then I came upon my sign. God was continuing this conversation with me.
Because it’s been an ongoing debate between me, myself and I and also with Him.

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As parents we all make mistakes with our children. It’s impossible not to because none of us are perfect. Even if we were, our children have minds of their own and interpret situations in different ways that we cannot always control. They may read circumstances or intentions wrong and come away with a wound that despite our best intentions, we could not have prevented.

I have to accept that. So do you.

At some point I have to trust God to walk my children through their issues. Just as He has been faithful to journey with me through mine. The only thing I can control here is to pray that they see their need for God, His grace and for truth to replace lies.

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She knew that the Lord would provide the strength to accomplish HIS purpose.

And not just with my kids. But with me too. He will finish what he has started. In me. Some days it feels like two steps forward and a hundred back. Other days we aren’t moving. At.All.

At these times I have to remind myself that He will accomplish HIS purpose. In me. In my kids. In my church. In my world. She knew that the Lord….

Some days I just need to know.

Finally as I’m glancing at the other word art I’d received in that bag, He finishes the conversation. It says: My grace is sufficient for you. My power is made perfect in weakness. 2 Cor 12:9

Guess what Jen? My power is made perfect in your weakness. All that stuff you think is weak, is imperfect, is a mess? It’s the stuff I use to make you whole. Show my power in your life, in your boys’ lives, in the church and in the world. I AM so much bigger than your weakness, your mistakes, your mess. My power is made perfect in your weakness. What are you doing wasting time worrying? Trust me, I AM.  Know that I AM. TURN to Me.

Whatever it is we are wrestling with today, whether it be kids, spouses, jobs, dreams, losses, I hope that you and I will know that the Lord… and we will trust Him to complete His purpose, and make his power perfect, in our lives and in the world around us.

I think that’s all I’m going to clean up today…

When the Faith of Your Childhood is Not Enough

Unless you live in a cave, you’ve heard what a deadly week the last seven days have been. I started last week by reading about a singer, with stage four cancer. She’s forty and has a toddler. She’s gone into palliative care.

Then there was the pastor’s wife who was shot in the head and later died. They just announced they were expecting their second child. There’s a toddler at home. She was murdered in her own home, by a burglar. That heinous act has paralyzed me. I haven’t even processed the terrorist attacks on Paris because my heart is still in Indianapolis with that young pastor’s family and the church that he and his wife planted.

Maybe it’s because she’s a pastor’s wife. A sister, so to speak. It hurts even more because I understand how badly that pastor needs his wife as a ministry partner. He actually called her his ministry partner in a statement to the media. This young guy recognizes what a lot of pastor’s don’t, that she’s his helper, not eye candy or an accessory to be shown off. Or worse, his personal ministry slave. She was his partner. These are rare people. Treasures. Now one is gone. In a statement from a family spokesperson, they said, “We have extremely heavy hearts and although we are hurting tremendously, we are still hoping and believing that great things are still yet to come.”

I’m having a hard time swallowing that one. I’m struggling to see anything good here. Where is God in all this?

If I was still relying on the faith of my childhood, I’d be done. Faith made up of cartoon figures and pat sayings. A 2D faith. A faith on paper. We haven’t owned it. We are still riding on the faith coat tails of our parents or family name. Most of it is head knowledge with very little experience attached to it. It has little relevance to us in our everyday lives. 2D faith.

That’s not to say that our 2D faith can’t point us in the right direction of growth and maturity. It most definitely can. But we can’t stay in our 2D faith. It won’t sustain us.

To withstand this kind of evil, our faith needs to have roots, the deeper the better. I’m beginning to understand that faith is complicated. Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see. (Hebrews 11:1 NIV) I can believe in something not seen but to have confidence that hope will arise? Really? That’s stretching my faith to the outer limits.

The thing is, once we believe in the One not seen, it becomes a relationship. Relationships are messy, even the best ones. Just ask any parent. Or spouse.  God is God and there are things we will never understand about Him or his ways while we reside on earth. That complicates matters. Our own skewed perspectives and pain hinders us. So yeah, it’s complicated.

Does that mean we chuck it? Some days I want to if I’m being completely honest. Because I have no good answer for this past week. At. All. I don’t think anyone does.

The only answer I have is to turn back to that complicated relationship. To the Father waiting at the end of the driveway for His child. At some point our faith requires that we put our confidence, hope, in Him, if it is to grow.

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Our faith needs to be alive and organic. It’s always moving. Hopefully growing and bearing fruit. But sometimes it shrinks in these dark days. I think that’s okay too because God didn’t ask us to be perfect. He loved us, sent His Son to die for our sins and then gave us the choice to follow Him. Not as people who parody Him or religious elite but as His children, who are in a relationship with Him.  Following Him some days may be more of a holding on for dear life clutch of His coat, stumbling along behind.  (That would be this week.)  Other days it might be joyful running alongside of Him.

Our faith today, may look like talking to our Dad about how hard life is here some days. Crying on His shoulder and letting Him comfort us. Through His Word. Through the Holy Spirit. Through people, music, nature. However you communicate with God.

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It may look like living to our utmost because we are so grateful that today we are alive.

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Our faith is finding joy in the midst of the rubble because our hope is Him. Because He’s promised he’s not going to leave us or forsake us. Evil and trouble aren’t going to stop but He’s going to walk us through it. We are not alone. That is the hope. It rises about all the evil out there.

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I take comfort in the words of Isaiah 55:8 The Voice
Eternal One: My intentions are not always yours, and I do not go about things as you do.

It’s trusting that our Dad’s got it in His hands.  Then we can get up and walk back into the dark, our lights blazing because it’s attached to the Son. Three dimensional faith.

Back To Basics

Back to basics. It trips off our tongues when life gets crazy.  A little mantra we like to repeat.  But what does it really mean?  It’s a stripping down of sorts to the core of something. The definition of “basic” online came up: “the essential facts or principles of a subject or skill.”

Recently we got our first pet. We’d been talking about a pet for a while. My youngest son loves anything furry. A cat was out as I’m severely allergic. A dog was our first choice but was just not feasible right now.

We decided on a four month old dwarf rabbit. Over the last week, we’ve learned the basics in rabbit care. We don’t really care about all the extra information out there on dwarf rabbits, we just need basic instruction right now until we all feel more comfortable with each other. We want to give the best care possible to this little furry long eared creature.

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The basics have been food, shelter, water and lots of love. My son and husband have had no trouble loving this little fur-ball. I’m coming around. He is awfully cute. His cage is adequate for now but there may be home improvements in the future. The food has been a little bit of learning curve with some trial and error. For now, these are the basics.

Sometimes we have to get back to basics in our lives too. As the overwhelming September schedule hits us full force, we have to remember the basics and sometimes let the other stuff go. For others, we need to get back to basics in our parenting. Love, love and love some more that child that is driving you to the breaking point. Or our work. Or our homes. The clutter, the mess has to go.

I’ve discovered that there are times we have to go back to basics in our faith as well. We find ourselves in a season that has left us with a lot of questions, some doubts and not a whole lot of answers. Sometimes we don’t even have the energy to search for those answers. It’s too overwhelming. There are so many books out there. So many opinions. So many lies.  At this point, we may need to strip down our faith to the essential facts only. This advice has wisely been given to me a couple of times by people I trust. What does it mean to get back to basics in our faith?

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For me, it’s a point where I’ve had to look carefully at all the things I’ve learned my entire life about God and Jesus and take them apart. There’s a lot of stuff out there posing as Christian theology that just isn’t truth. You already know this, don’t you? I’m sure more than a few of you have hit this wall. Who really is Jesus? Who is this Creator of the Universe? Because suddenly there are some holes in what you believed. The foundation is a little shaky.

We get so secure and comfortable in our platitudes and our rules for Christian living. God and Jesus are smugly contained in a box. A very small box. They stay there because that’s where we want them. It’s free will remember.

This containment field is what is the death of faith I think. God doesn’t do because we decide He’s not really gonna be for us. We can do the job so much better. No wonder we start to doubt, to feel disillusioned and disappointed. We’ve switched out God for ourselves or some other person or thing that we’ve put our trust in. People will let you down. We translate that disappointment to God. We’ve believed the lie that God really isn’t going to come through for us. That He’s not really engaged in our lives. He doesn’t care.

We fall prey to these lies so easily because we don’t really know Him. We consumed what’s been preached from the pulpit or from our parents or peers in one bite and didn’t test it for ourselves. We believed it as truth. It may not have been. Unless it comes straight out of the bible, it’s suspect and in need of testing.  If we don’t do it, it’s a recipe for crisis in our faith. After so many years, of chasing, of doing or of striving, we find we are at a point where we are disappointed, angry or ready to quit.

Maybe this is the most honest we’ve been with ourselves in a long time. We are back to basics because everything else has turned out to be…what? You fill in the blank.

We come to the point where the desire to truly know the wildness of God is no longer as scary as it once was. The desire to know all aspects of Him is getting to be a desperation. The love and gentleness are as important as His justice and Holiness and Majesty. We need to know He loves us enough to fight for us and is more than capable of rendering our enemies useless.

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Finally to sit at his throne, ourselves stripped down to basics, raw, before Him is such a relief. No more faking. No more doing, chasing or trying to earn our way before Him. Back to basics. I think this is where the real relationship begins.