TURN to that Echo

Lately, God’s been trying to get my attention. He may have been trying for more than a while, but it’s now hard to ignore. Because it’s so obvious and blatant.

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My experience with God has mostly been gentle, subtle nudges. As I write that, I am surprised. Because of late, I may not have described God using those words. Gentle.  Subtle.  That’s not been my opinion of Him in recent months.

Stopping to think about it, I may have been hasty. I projected my feelings onto God instead of trusting who He is.  Who I know He is.  Anne Graham Lotz in her book, Wounded By God’s People, warns about not being fooled by thinking people’s behaviour is an indicator of God’s.  It’s not.  Neither should we trust our feelings.  If we are irritated, angry or hurt, we sometimes let our feelings colour how we view Him. How He deals with us. She’s right.   I know I do that. So I’m a little surprised that I wrote that; gentle and kind.  But it is truth. He has been that and so much more even though I’ve been anything but. Stubborn and hostile would be better adjectives to describe myself.  Thankfully God doesn’t stoop to our petty levels.

Even now, it’s not a head bashing he’s given me to get my attention. It’s still a gentle nudge with a little force behind it. Sounds like an oxymoron but it’s not. If you’ve had  personal interaction with God and been a little strong-willed at all, I’m guessing you know what I’m referring to.

The other thing that’s different this time is it’s relentless. That echo.

Margaret Feinberg calls it The Sacred Echo and she wrote a wonderful book about it. The Sacred Echo is when the same message keeps coming back to you. It may be through a song, a book, scripture or even a meme. (It happens, yes even through FB.) Ir can be anything.

The message stays the same even though the messenger may change. Or the message and the messenger can all stay the same.  It’s unique to you.  Because that’s how He made us.

These “Sacred Echoes” are all around us if we choose to listen to them. To open our eyes to them. That is what Feinberg shows us through her book.

For me, personally, it is one of the primary ways God communicates with me. I think because I’m stubborn and strong-willed the echo works for me, because it takes me a couple of times to see it and then it may take a few more echoes to actually get me moving. Or believing. Or stopping. Or TURNING.

TURNING towards those echoes is always the best way to go. You know that too. Although we don’t always do it. Or want to do it. But when we do, it always leads to blessing, fulfilment and contentment. When I write and say those words, I’m not talking about an easy life or material gain. Sometimes that’s a bonus if God desires it for us.

Instead, it’s an inner peace. A knowledge that we are in the exact spot where He wants us. It might be a hard spot but we aren’t alone.  That our relationship is good. A feeling of delight that we are in His Will. Of being unshakable in an eternal sense.

TURNING towards that echo, opens the door to all kinds of spiritual blessings, victories and journeys that honestly, I don’t think we are capable of understanding in this earthly realm. It would blow our minds.

So today, if you hear something and then hear it again, maybe you should stop and TURN towards it and listen. It may be a message to go. It may be a directive to do. It may be an I LOVE YOU, YOU AREN’T ALONE hug. Whatever it is, it’s important enough, that He is willing to keep sending it until you TURN.

TURN: To Being Intentional

It’s been a while.  Vacation brings a new chaos and a new normal which isn’t always conducive to writing.  I think my brain took a vacation too but today I felt like writing.  I hope you enjoy.  You’ll also notice that we’ve been changing things up here.  We are still under construction so to speak and I am excited for new things.  Hope you are having a great summer and this little blurb speaks to you today.  Jen

Summer vacation. For the past eight years, we’ve gone north to a cottage. Our haven.
It’s quiet this morning. Mark and the boys have left for various activities. I’ve stayed behind.

I finished washing up the breakfast dishes and sat down with a second cup of java, out on the screened-in porch. A small SUV drives slowly past our driveway. He’s looking at something. I wonder if I know them. He stops just around the corner. I watch him get out and walk up the drive of our neighbour. I see him through the trees. What’s he doing?
He stops. His movement is deliberate. He’s got a camera and he’s photographing something. The way he’s moving, the camera, make me think there is a deer. I can’t see it. Deer come by the cottage quite regularly. I continue to observe the scene. He moves in closer. Slowly.

Suddenly I hear a car. This guy’s deer time is over, I think. However it’s just the opposite. Deer time for me has just begun. The deer come out into the open where I can now see them. A mama and her fawn. All gangly legs and soft caramel. They don’t run. Just wander closer to the edge of the property. The guy is still. I am too. 
More cars pass by. The deer stops at the road. Once it’s clear, the two run across. It was an awesome encounter. That guy had a beautiful meeting with the two deer. Because I stopped too, I was drawn into an encounter I had already missed once.

I’m pretty sure those deer were in the backyard and I didn’t see them. Just like all the cars racing by missed them. The kitchen sink overlooks the backyard. I stood there for five minutes at least. And never looked out the window. I was focused on dishes. What I had to do next. Random thoughts. I missed the wonder of the deer family.

But the guy driving the SUV not only SAW them, he chose to spend some time with them. He was intentional about his encounter with deer.

What did it cost him? The inconvenience of pulling to the side of the road, picking up his camera and getting out. He walked up the drive of someone else’s cottage. Thankfully no one was home. He stood, watched, and enjoyed a part of nature that he probably doesn’t see every day.

I think about the cars passing by, oblivious. That’s us so often isn’t it? We miss so much.

To be intentional requires slowing down. Stopping whatever we are doing. Spending that outrageously expensive commodity, time. Our kids call for the millionth time in about a minute. Do we stop and be intentional with them? The meal has been fixed with care and love. Do we stop and chew? Smell and savour each bite? When people are intentional with me, I know it. It’s a gift they are giving me. Do I give it back to those around me? Not often enough.

What do we get if we TURN to being intentional?

Beauty. The graceful movement of the deer was breathtakingly beautiful. A natural ballet. The interaction between the mama and the fawn, heartwarming. She made sure that her baby was on her way safely and then followed. Love done right, is gorgeous.

Peace. Other than the cars, the scene unfolded in quiet and awe. It was a moment plucked out of the day that will stay with me. And I only caught half of it. But I’m so glad I did.

It was a beautiful nudge that I haven’t been intentional lately. I haven’t wanted to be. I didn’t want to stop and think. Filling my time with stuff is a good way to numb the senses and keep God at a distance. Keep a lot of things at an arm’s length.

Turning to intentionality means focusing; on the moment. The thought. The people. It is active. The guy had to stop his vehicle. Get out and watch.

By being intentional, turning towards that one thing calling you out, you can have an encounter. With someone. Something. Maybe God.

Because having a random meeting with a deer and a guy who knew enough to slow down, wasn’t just an encounter with them. It was a meeting up with God. Pausing long enough to have eyes to see, ears to hear and a heart open to the gift it’s being offered.

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Heart-shaped Perfectionism

As I walked along the beach, I kept my eyes open for heart-shaped stones. I was looking for a perfect one. Well actually, I was waiting for God to give me a perfect one. It’s our thing.

I had spoken the weekend before about the prodigal daughter. How that prodigal is the Beloved. Even after giving that message, which was not my message for those women but God’s, I wanted a sign. For myself. Silly, isn’t it?  But still….Hence the search for a perfect heart on the beach.

 

There were a lot of imperfect heart stones, there in the sand. Not a single perfect one. On the last day I found an almost perfect one. Although the rounded tops looked more like cat ears. Even as I write this, it sounds pathetic. Why would I spend a week looking for heart shaped stones? Why would I even expect to find one?

 

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I was looking for His approval. I wanted some validation. That’s why I looked.

The pat response is He’s already given it. I don’t need a sign. I don’t need to look. I know that. But sometimes you just need a sign. Or a heart shaped stone.

On the last day, I walked the beach. Seeing many odd shaped kinda heart shaped stones. I asked God why He couldn’t give me this. A perfect heart shaped stone. This time I listened for His response.

The words were in my head. “Just because it’s not perfect doesn’t mean it’s not a heart. Doesn’t mean I don’t love you.”

After I had thought about it for a bit….

“Still putting me in a box. A perfect shaped heart box. If you want to take me out of the box, take me out of the box.

So I’ve thought about this off and on. Perfectionism is a box too. How can this be? Isn’t God perfect? Yes He is. I am not disputing that. But our world’s view of perfect, I am beginning to understand, is much different than God’s. I’m not even sure I can explain it except that “Just because it’s not perfect doesn’t mean it’s not a heart.”

There was a beach of scattered stones with heart-like shapes. Wasn’t that in fact, God telling me over and over that He loved me? That He was proud? Why was I looking for perfect? As I saw the imperfect stones, I was still reminded of love. It was still a heart.

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Expecting God to work in ways we think of as perfect is putting him in an impossibly small box. I need to take him out of that box of Him-doing-things-as-I-think-He-should. Perfect in the world’s view. He doesn’t really work that way. Just ask anyone who has a child not considered “perfect” or “normal” by the world’s standard. Ask anyone who has lost a loved one or a dream. Ask anyone who is sick. Ask anyone who is struggling with anything. These are the people, the things, the circumstances that God uses many times, to refine us. To teach us. To bless us. To love us.

It doesn’t mean it’s not hard. It usually is an incredibly difficult path. But it’s on these gut-wrenching, soul-searching journeys that we learn about God. We learn that we can trust Him. That He loves us more than we can comprehend. That He works in wonderfully, sometimes weird ways.  Ways we don’t always understand.  He uses an odd assortment of people, circumstances and things to bring about his plan to further His Kingdom through us. We have to let go of our visions and definitions of perfect.  Because His are so much more magnificent.

“Just because it’s not perfect doesn’t mean it’s not a heart. It doesn’t mean I don’t love you. If you want to take me out of the box, then take me out of the box!”
But celebrate this: God selected the world’s foolish to bring shame upon those who think they are wise; likewise, He selected the world’s weak to bring disgrace upon those who think they are strong. 1 Corinthians 1:27 The Voice

What about that Book?

We are a house of readers. Three of us read voraciously. The fourth likes to read but it’s hit and miss. He loves to start a book or series, it’s another thing to finish it. On occasion, he’ll find a book that once he starts reading he just can’t put down.

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This is what happened this past weekend. A friend loaned him book one of a series. The boy read it in less than twenty-four hours. However book two was not to be found. He knew it was in the school library but he didn’t want to wait until Monday to get it. We tried online. We tried the public library. Then we went to the bookstore. No luck. The shelves were empty.

I suggested he try the church library when we were at church the next day. I thought I had seen it there before. Regardless, he was in a holding pattern until he could get that book.

Sunday dawned, and as I waited at the car for the boys after service, my son came blazing through the parking lot. In his hand, was the the holy grail. Book Two. The library had it! He was just about jumping out of his skin.

I was so happy for him. Not just because he got to read the second book right away but because it was a solid demonstration of how much God loves him. That the God who created us, loves us and cares about the little details of our ordinary lives. It was a building block of faith that frankly, we both needed.

Probably some are thinking that this is a very trifling thing. That the book being there in the library had nothing to do with God. Or it is too petty for God to care about. I would have to say I disagree. At one time, I would have been in that camp of thinking. I’ve changed my mind and I believe it has everything to do with God. That His handprints are all over this book.

I recently read a novel that had one of the key characters, an inventor, saying over and over again, “Little first, big next.” (The Dark Unwinding, by Sharon Cameron) Little things turn into big things. It’s true in life and it’s true with God. At times it’s the smallest incident or line read, or sung, a person met or chatted with, that in turn opens the door to something much larger. That sets the mind to thinking, analyzing and dreaming. Little things turn into big things.

It’s important to God that a boy needs a book. Why? Little seeds of faith planted can turn into big seeds of faith. It’s not about the book so much as it is about the Giver. Hopefully my son will remember this, at a time when he has to trust God. Not because the outcome is guaranteed but because the One he’s asking is trustworthy to do the right thing for Him because He loves him.

We all need to have a few small (or big) series of Yeses to be able to deal with a large No or series of No. I’ve learned through other parents and a course, Road to Hope, that if all a child hears is no, then the child is not going to expect much. They’ll stop asking eventually. Do you think the child will have a great relationship with the person saying no all the time? What about self-esteem?

I’m not talking about gaining stuff, feeding our greed, our narcissism. It’s about relationship. Getting to know God and who He is. Is He trustworthy? What does His love look like to me? We have to learn that. A much desired book in a library is a building block in the relationship. God knows what we need all the time. He acts accordingly.

We focus a lot on learning to accept the no’s. With grace. With humility. With anger. Etc.

We forget that we need the Yes too. Sometimes I just pray, “God we need a win here in this situation.” I may or may not get it, but I’ve learned that God will do what’s best because in my own relationship, there have been some “much desired books” show up that have built up that knowledge. He has shown himself true and trustworthy through those wins and losses. God knows we just need the win on occasion and he graciously gives it to us. I’m so grateful for those times. Life is hard. A wise and well placed win can turn small things into big things.

I see it happening every night, as my son thanks God for these books and for providing them for him to read. (Without my prompting!) It’s seem like nothing, but to a young boy just on the brink of starting a real relationship with God, it’s monumental. “Little first, big next!”

The book series was Andrew Klavan‘s The Homelanders Series in case you were wondering.  Four books read in less than a week!  Because all he’s wanted to do is TO READ!!!

Love Scared

I am continually amazed at what deep themes lie waiting to be discovered in young adult fiction.  (Now if you aren’t a fan of YA fiction, don’t leave just yet because there’s more here than you realize.)  I recently read Katie Parker Productions, a series of books, by Jenny B. Jones. There were four books in this inspirational series for teen girls. At a glance, it seems like lite lit or chick lit and it is but it’s still fun to read. And it’s not, because under the lightness, there are some pretty deep themes running through the storyline.

One that got me thinking was this; we can love scared. Because that was what Katie was challenged to do. She’d had a drug addict Mom that had abandoned her multiple times and she ended up in a home for girls (basically an orphanage) and then into foster care. Her foster home ended up saving her. She had, for the first time, parents who cared about her. But those wounds of abandonment and feeling unloved are deep and Katie, as she got older, didn’t trust anyone to love her. She was afraid to love too. She was still the tossed aside girl, not worth anything, in her mind. She kept running away from the love that was extended to her.

In the last book, someone challenged her to love, even though she was scared. To quit running.

Isn’t that the challenge for a lot of us? To love is to risk. To love a spouse or a child is to bet against the odds.

To love in sickness is gut-wrenching. Loving a parent through old age and all that comes with that is worrisome. To love friends takes time and commitment. To love a community takes bravery. To love the church, takes the supernatural. To love strangers takes a divine intervention. To love, to commit to that love and to act it out, it is all alarming. It feels like we are on the edge of a cliff with no safety net of any kind. To love for many of us, is to love frightened out of your wits.

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Knowing that doesn’t make it any easier. Or harder. It doesn’t sway my choice either way. Because that’s what it comes down too. A choice. To love. Katie had to make a choice. Run or love even though she was so scared. Flee or trust in the person offering that love. Turn away or turn to.

I believe we have been given a great capacity for love because we’ve been created in the image of One who knows no limits on love.

The ability to learn to love is there in all of us. Even those of us who feel like we have no heart. We are tin-men. I see it in even the most begrudging of relationships. We actually like hearing those stories because they are hopeful. The grumpy old man learning to love the mischievous neighbour boy. The baby opening up the hearts of the angry grandparents. Enemies who realize they are fighting for the same thing. The old mangy stray being taken in by the widow. The guy and girl who fight all the time but you know there’s more to it. That fine line between love and hate. Sometimes I think the hate is more about the fear.

Loving scared means taking on the risk. To love and be loved. For some of us, accepting love is so foreign that we feel like we can’t navigate that language.

To love and maybe have that love thrown back in our faces. It’s so painful. And humbling. And wounding.

To love and have it go away. Not necessarily on purpose. But still it happens. Death. Sickness. Loss of any kind.

To love and know that there is no payoff. To know it is the endgame. That takes courage and humility.

None of this is new to me or to you, I’m pretty sure. It mirrors the love story that the bible is.

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Jesus explains it in the story of the son who ran away from his loving dad. (Luke 15)  He took his money and lived how he wanted, on his terms and didn’t risk anything. He loved only himself. When the money ran out, he was alone. Of course he was alone. He had served one master. Himself. All those that loved him were back home. He had a couple of options. Choose love and his father (even if that meant becoming a servant) or stay in his rut. He risked rejection from his father and returned home to love. I’m sure he was scared with every step he took. But he chose to love scared rather than not love at all or be loved.

We never get to know what happened in the years after the son returns. I’m curious if the older brother ever came around. We know the father loved extravagantly and I’m pretty sure that never changed. The son though? He had to live every day with the knowledge of his choices. He had to learn to trust his family. They had to trust him, that he wouldn’t run off again. For all involved, it meant loving each other, scared, hurt.

The story of the prodigal was told for our benefit. But there is a huge difference to the love of God. God does not love scared. He loves perfectly, something none of us can do in this lifetime. And the cool thing? The irony of it all? Perfect love casts out all fear.

1 John 4:18 (NIV) There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.

TURN to Vulnerability

Vulnerability
1. The state of being vulnerable or exposed. Type of danger
2. Susceptibility to injury or attack. Type of weakness
(according to vocabulary.com)

This week I was doing some research for another writing project, and it had me reviewing notes from a Beth Moore Pastors’ Wives conference I attended back in 2009 in Nashville. I came across these words I had written in a notebook.

What will I do in response (to the first session)? “Be vulnerable before God. Feel.”

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At some point, we had been encouraged to let our true hearts be seen and to allow ourselves to feel. That’s what I’ve got written in my notes. Because as Pastor’s wives, it isn’t always easy to do that in our own churches. I think they wanted us to experience a freedom in worship and teaching that was all our own. No ties to the speaker, so you don’t have to worry how it’s being received. Or how you totally disagree and spend the rest of the sermon, planning how you are going to tell said speaker at home. All.About.it.

Definitely there was a desire to set us wives free!

I do remember wanting to do exactly what I had written down. Be vulnerable to God. Feel. I did try to do that, then I went home and over time, the cave became more comfy. The self-protective walls like a security blanket. Who wants to be vulnerable before anyone, let alone God? I mean, look at the definitions I copied at the beginning. Isn’t being vulnerable setting yourself up for hurt? I don’t really like the words exposed or susceptibility, weakness or injury. None of those things make me want to do this thing. Zero.

It’s not just about people either. If you follow Jesus then you know how much more scarier it would be to open yourself like that before God. Not scary in that He’s scary but more about the fact your heart, mind and attitude is an open book before God. He sees it all. And He can deal with that perfectly fine. The problem is that we don’t want to deal with it. Because really it’s easier to ignore the places deep down that we don’t like. That little bit of jealousy. The real reason we hide behind our masks and busyness. The blackness of our hearts that we dress up in laughter, sarcasm or sniping. We fear being exposed like that because we don’t want to see it. But we lose out if we aren’t vulnerable.

If we can be brave and turn to vulnerability, some cool things can happen. Vulnerability = Exposure = Openness. Allowing ourselves to have an attitude of openness is one of the most freeing experiences ever. Your senses are alive. You are on the alert for whatever it is you are looking for. Openness is expectation. Turning to something is usually a sign that we are expecting good. Turning our backs on something signals we are expecting bad. So turning to vulnerability is really a signal we are hoping for something good.

And so we should. God is good, all the time. That’s the saying. God calls himself good in scripture. His plans for us are for good, says Jeremiah. I have come to realize that good things can be hard things. It may take a while to get them to shine but eventually they will. But first I have to be open to the hard things. To grab hold of them and stare them in the face. Sometimes it’s a fight. Other times it’s surrender. Often both.

I forget the kindness of God. Reading Beautiful Outlaw by John Eldredge reminded my how gentle Jesus was with people. People who turned to Him. The law-breakers. The tax collectors. The sick. The VULNERABLE. He told them truth and showed them the way to it but He was always kind and gentle. Why do we think He’s changed? He hasn’t. He won’t. Still.The.Same.Today.

He’ll be gentle with our exposure and our feelings. It’ll probably be hard and it will hurt. But having to deal with our issues, our feelings with a good and kind Dad is sure a lot easier than not.

That spring weekend in 2009, I turned to vulnerability and emotions. I let God in. And I discovered some things I had buried deep. I acknowledged their presence and I have spent the last few years dealing with them. In some ways, that weekend exposed the lies that I let define my life. If I hadn’t turned to that vulnerability I may have missed out on that particular beginning. A beginning of healing.

Rereading my notes again this week, makes me wonder what would happen if I chose vulnerability again? There are some areas… I need to open up and expose them to God’s truth and healing touch. That’s extremely scary to consider. I like my walls. A lot. Doesn’t make it good for me though. Being reminded of what happened that weekend makes me wonder what I’m missing out on in our Dad’s big grand plan? Maybe my self-protection isn’t just protecting me from the crappy stuff, it could be keeping me from the good stuff too. It could be this blast from the past is actually an invitation from my Abba Father to come out from hiding, to embrace what He wants to do in my life. Do I want to run (again) or do I want to be vulnerable and trust His goodness? Turn to or turn away?

Aramaic Bible in Plain English
Because Lord Jehovah is good and his grace is for eternity and his faithfulness for a generation of generations!
Psalm 100:5

TURN to Trust

She knew that the Lord would provide the strength to accomplish His purpose.
Redlettersigns.com

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…