Friday, March 24, 2017

A Good Dog

To know him was to unconditionally fall in love with him. I did. From the moment I saw his crooked white markings down the middle of his perfect face on the breeder website, I knew he was my puppy.

He'd get so excited when he saw you that he peed just a little. He was terrified of balloons, and with a soccer ball, he made Air Bud look like an amateur. Squeaky toys were forever his addiction. He could always jump higher than anyone expected, and food on any ledge was always his one vice and challenge.

He was obedient, loyal, loving, and patient. He never ran away from home even when he had the chance. He was smarter than your average dog, intuitive, submissive, and kind. I loved that he never needed us, but wanted us instead. He chose to be our dog.

These last golden years here on the Golden Coast were the glory days for him. He went for long romps on the beach, never needing his leash, always close on my heels. He loved to chase seagulls, and even waded a few tide pools!

In all of my loneliest days and hours in the past 12 years, he was my constant companion. Always within eye shot, I never left a room without him close behind. I always knew where he was, and vice versa.

He was a constant source of comfort, unconditional acceptance, and presence. He was my first baby before I had my real babies. He loved me more than anyone else. (Everyone knew it. We even tested him on several occasions. I always won.) I was his protector, and he kept Joey's side of the bed warm on the nights Joey was gone.

To say he was a good dog is an understatement. To say he was the best dog ever doesn't even come close to truth. He was one of many small gifts from the Lord in my life, and I pray he never felt neglected or unappreciated.

Rest in peace, my pup. I pray you actually get to catch all the rabbits you want in heaven.

Samson 2/2005-3/23/2017

Sunday, December 25, 2016

Christmas Letter 2016

Dear Family & Friends,     

We love California. Living here is a gift from the Lord. One we never even knew we needed.  There’s not a day that goes by that I don’t breathe in the blue skies, sunshine, and 70degree temps and thank the good Lord that this is my home for this season of life. This year especially, I’m grateful for this daily blessing of beauty and serenity because a more truthful confession is this has been one of the hardest AND one of the best years of my life all in one. I’ve lived out both sides of the coin, moment by moment on some days. Some days and moments were heads up, and many days and moments were tails up, head buried. So when you read this letter, I pray you hear an honest voice and see an honest glimpse into the life of a family that at the end of the day, the end of the year, just loves Jesus and wants you to love Him too because His presence has taught me how to persevere with joy this year.

Perseverance. He gave this word to me in January in the middle of the study of Revelation in Bible Study Fellowship (BSF).  At the time, I figured it was just the word I needed in order to finish strong the study (not an easy book to study!), a word that reflected what was required of God’s people throughout the book of Revelation. Ah, but it has represented so much more. Through the comingling of joy and struggle, God is teaching me the unsurpassed beauty and treasure of perseverance.

Perseverance, endurance, stick-to-it-ness, steadfastness. Words our present culture respects from a distance, but no one gets too close, and most people try to pass them by. Those words have teeth. They hint at something hard and negative, sounds like work. Those words require a way of living that isn’t fast-paced, constantly changing, full of options and instantly microwavable results. No, these words produce a character quality in someone that makes them resilient and rooted and strong and beautiful.

Savannah got her first set of braces in January, and I watched her persevere all year with an amazing attitude and acceptance. The braces came off in November and her teeth are beautiful. I’ve watched her persevere in swimming, tennis, and gymnastics this year, along with developing her skills in the arts and her academics. (Learning Latin is not for the faint of heart! She is taking 3rd grade by storm!) My girl has more energy and more gumption for life than any child I’ve ever known. But the best news of all came in February when she openly prayed during our family devotion on the first day of Lent to receive Christ as her Savior. She chose to be baptized in my mom’s pool in July, surrounded by our GA family and friends, and I have watched Savannah persevere in her growth as a child of God ever since. She is nine years of joy!


I’ve watched Weston persevere in his walk with the Lord as well. He’s my cautious, intuitive thinker, and it’s been a joy to watch him grow in courage and determination this year, willing to commit and take more chances. Turning 7 in August, he was more than ready to begin first grade and has excelled. But watching him begin to fall in love with the game of soccer this fall was maybe my favorite thing. He works so hard! He doesn’t give up, and he takes correction, honestly always trying to improve. He scaled wall after wall of rock climbing courses at a gym at Thanksgiving, like a pro. We jokingly called him “Rock-boy,” to which he replied, “Call me Peter. His name means Rock.” We laughed, but my heart swelled because Weston’s name means Steadfast. He is more like Peter the apostle than he even knows. Watching my son persevere to overcome fears this year has been a gift.


Joey has persevered in his work and in his growth as a husband and father. I’ve watched him approach every change that came his way at work with grace, always acting with integrity in each situation, giving nothing but his best. I’ve watched him seek the Lord this year in a new way. I’ve seen him grow closer and stronger in his role as our family’s leader. After fifteen years of marriage, he is still persevering with me in marriage and seeking to pursue me, know me, see me. We began the year on the tails up side of the coin, but through the power and provision of our relationship with Jesus and our love and commitment to one another, we’ve been living the heads up side for most of the year. Joey’s perseverance in choosing Jesus, choosing us, every day, has been my greatest gift and highest high of this year.


The heads up moments have been simply amazing, dreams realized—God’s provision in completely taking care of buying back our not-well-made RV, traveling to San Francisco, driving the Pacific Coast Highway for Spring Break taking in the breathtaking majesty of mountains dropping into the vastness of the ocean, camping in Joshua Tree National Park in the middle of 20mph winds (so many stories!), visiting dear friends in Brazil over the summer, getting to see Iguaçu Falls while we were there (one of the New Seven Natural Wonders of the World!) which were simply mesmerizing, a last minute trip to Hawaii before school started back full of snorkeling with sea turtles and ogling over the uniqueness of our Creator’s design, co-leading a table of multi-generational women through the women’s ministry at our church, deepening my relationship with my now-sophomore girls in high school ministry, developing so many new friendships, lots of paddle surfing, and spending almost every weekend boogie boarding and watching sunsets by a fire on a beach with our dearest CA friends. These are some of my favorite memories ever, in my entire lifetime. So many amazing blessings. I have loved the heads up side of the coin this year.

The tails up moments have been learning to persevere in the mundane, the ordinary, and the seemingly insignificant routines of this stage of my life. The never-ending laundering, child-shuttling, grocery-shopping, meal-planning, homework completing, errand-running, need fulfilling stage of life where my identity seems to disappear into the titles of “mom” and “wife.” I love these titles. I’m blessed to have them. But they become only titles and not blessings when my life is not fully connected to my heavenly Father who breathes life and purpose into the mundane. Who has asked me this year to stay the course and live out everything I’ve ever proclaimed I believed in the ordinariness of my life, placing one foot in front of the other, one day at a time, being present, and daring me to find joy in it. He’s challenged me to be content being a nobody (in the eyes of the world) for Him. To live a faith filled, righteous life for the sole purpose of being noticed and praised and seen only by Him. This has been hard, but it has also produced an abiding joy I am still learning to define.

In the middle of these highs and lows, my dearest CA friends lost their eight-year-old son in a tragic accident. Savannah and Weston lost a playmate and friend, and the world lost a beautiful soul. Grief has colored the last six months of this year for me because I have come to love these friends and their family like my own. Choosing and desiring and loving being a part of their daily lives through the pain of this journey has taught me what perseverance means more than any other experience in my life.

Perseverance is not something you set out to accomplish or obtain. It is a natural byproduct of loving well. I love my friends deeply, so despite the pain from their lives that naturally ebbs into mine, I will persevere in that friendship. I love my children deeply, so despite the irritations and hurt we may cause each other, I will persevere in my role as their parent. I love my husband with all my heart, so despite the inevitable hardships our growing and changing lives will encounter, I will persevere in learning to be the helpmate God created me to be for him. I love my Jesus with all that I am, with my whole life, so despite the pain or discomfort that crashes into my life from tension with this world, I will persevere in my relationship with Him.

Perseverance is the natural byproduct of loving well. What a treasure!

So this Christmas season I challenge you also to persevere. Look around you and love well everyone and anyone the Lord has placed in your path. Follow Jesus’ example in Hebrews 12:1-3:

1Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us (you are NOT alone), let US also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us RUN with perseverance the race that is set before us, 2fixing our eyes ON JESUS, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the JOY set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.
3For consider Him who has endured such hostility by sinners against Himself, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart. (emphasis added mine)

Some of you need to believe you are not alone, some need to throw off weights and/or sin entangling your stride, some need to give yourself credit for loving well and fixing your eyes on Jesus, some need to despise shame and endure the cross God has given you to bear out of love for Jesus because Jesus doesn’t ask you to persevere through anything in life that He hasn’t already persevered and claimed victory over Himself! Learn to love well like Jesus. Recognize that somewhere in the middle of the process of enduring, there is JOY! The more years that pass, the more I believe that true joy cannot be experienced without deep struggle. So persevere because true joy is the reward, the prize, the gift.

May your love for Jesus produce perseverance in your life that brings glory to God and blessings uncountable to you and yours this coming year. Never give up on your pursuit of Christ because He will never give up His pursuit of you. He even came as far as heaven is to earth to humbly love us so unconditionally as to become One among us. Immanuel. God with us. Merry Christmas!

Grateful to be called His children,

Joey, Jennifer, Savannah, & Weston




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Monday, November 21, 2016

Paddle Back Out

I watched my daughter paddle surf for the first time the other day.



Yes, you read that correctly. My almost-nine-year old hopped on mom's 9'6" board with a paddle just her size and paddled straight out into the ocean, into the waves. All by herself.


Kinda. I helped her carry the board, pulling it in and out of the water as she needed. I paddled out with her in the beginning. Watching, waiting, coaching here and there. I was gauging her fear, her ability, her confidence, and her openness to correction. It was low tide. She was in three feet of water at its deepest. She's a strong swimmer. The waves were rolling soft, no more than a foot or two at their max, but they were strong enough for a 90lb independent little girl to surf.


And surf she did! And I'm not talking a little ways off shore. I'm talking she paddled 100-200+ yards off shore. After a few bursts of advice here and there (and fully understanding the dangers she might face), I left her to explore, to try, to experiment. To learn. To adventure.


I love the water. I love everything about it. I want to be in it, on it, by it for the rest of my life, but I also realize that my loves in life may never be hers. So I've watched her since she was a baby, never pushing more than was necessary, but never allowing her to fear the water either.


And when we moved to California, water safety became paramount. You don't kayak, paddle board, swim, boogie board, or snorkel without being wise and safe and prepared, both physically and mentally. So both my children are required to take swim lessons. I would hope they can both repeat what I believe is the number one rule on the water: Never panic.


We bought them wet suits, so they could swim year round. Boogie boards so they could learn and feel the power of the waves, how they move and push and pull. Kayaks so they could build muscle, feel comfortable on a large mass of water, understand how you can glide across the surface. Snorkeling gear so they could learn what's underneath them, a whole other world of life. All the while, educating and dispelling fears.


Maybe more importantly, she's watched me paddle surf for a year now. She's seen me paddle out into waves and fall, crash, smash, duck and dive in the surf. She's seen me climb back on that same board and try again and again and again. She's heard me talk about how scared I was at times, but it didn't stop me. She's seen the exhilaration on my face and in my voice when I catch one, the triumph, the victory, the sheer joy.


She road with me once on the front of my board. I was nervous because I didn't want to scare her. I didn't want us both to get thrown off the board, and I'd be the reason she never got back on. By God's grace we caught a wave and rode it all the way into shore, literally. I actually had to make her bail off at the last moment because in my nervousness I forgot how to make us stop before crashing into shore. So I told her to jump, and she did, and she was shaken, but the thrill of the ride had left its imprint.


Now three months later, the conditions being perfect, she asked to take my board out. And she took it, and paddled, and actually caught waves! The thrill on her face when she realized she could stop paddling and the wave would continue to carry her was priceless. She'd raise her paddle over her head with both hands high and look for me, to make sure I was watching from shore, and I'd raise my hands in celebration with her. Then she'd turn, and she'd paddle out again and again and again.


And as I sat on the shore watching her, I saw her fall. Many times. I held my breath, bit my lip, and stilled myself to burst into the water after her should she show signs of distress. But each time, she climbed back up on that board. She never gave up. She wisely came in for short breaks when she was tired, but then she'd go right back out. I watched the waves wash over her. Watched her lose her balance. Watched her face sets of waves as they rolled unrelenting at times.


And I've never been more proud of my little girl in her almost nine years of life than when she'd fall, pop out of the water smiling, climb back on that board, and paddle right back out into the waves. She never let her failures keep her from trying again and again.


And for as much as I enjoyed celebrating her success, part of me more deeply enjoyed watching her persevere in the face of her failure.


And I wondered if God doesn't feel the very same way about me, about you, as His child, His children.


I look back at the circumstances and events of my life, and I can see how the water in my life has gotten deeper. The waves I face higher and faster and more fierce. But God has been gracious to me. He didn't throw me in the deep water first. He's been preparing me since I was a child. Small waves in shallow water. Small failures and small successes. He being ever present, guiding, coaching, watching.



As I sat there on the shore intently watching my own daughter, I could see my heavenly Father in my mind's eye watching me as well. Ever present. Ever on the edge of His seat to snatch me from danger. Celebrating with me, but maybe more importantly allowing me to fail, so I could learn and grow stronger, and try again, and persevere.



I feel my Father's favor and know His pride when I choose to persevere and never give up. On Him or on myself. Perseverance, gumption, endurance, stick-to-it-ness--these are the hallmarks of the faithful--the Hebrews 11 crowd.



Friends, I want to surf the waves of life regardless of how hard I fall or fast I fly. I want to surf. Not duck and cover, not bob aimless in the swells. I may rightfully fear the wall of circumstances that rise up from the deep of life, but I pray it's a cold day in Hades when I give up and settle for a seat on the shoreline.



Which means I must choose to take up my paddle, climb back on that board, and paddle back out. The last wave might have taken me out, washed me clear off my board, broken my paddle, and left me with a bruised body from the fall, and maybe the next wave will do the same. But maybe, maybe I'll make some adjustments, shift my feet, lower my stance, and catch the next one. And fly.



One thing I know for sure--my Daddy will be watching. He sees me. He knows exactly where I am in the ocean of life, and when I look to Him, His eyes are always on me. When I raise my hands in victory and praise, He raises His hands in glorious acceptance and joy. When I fall and look to see if He's there, I see Him poised and ready--sometimes with a helping hand, sometimes with an encouraging thumbs up, and sometimes with a knowing stare that silently conveys, 'You can do this. Get up.'



"Therefore, I won't throw away my confidence, which has a great reward. 36 But I have need of endurance, so that when I have done the will of God, I may receive what is promised. 
37 For yet in a very little while, Jesus is coming, and will not delay38 But you (Jennifer), shall live by faith;And if you shrink back, Jesus has no pleasure with you.
39 But I am NOT one of those who shrinks back to destruction, but I am one of those who WILL have faith to the [l]preserving of my soul." 
(Hebrews 10:35-39 Jennifer standard version)

This has been my life verse since high school, my motto in life, the driving voice I hear in the back of my mind when the waves of enemy voices come crashing with their lies, threatening to drown my will, my belief, my faith. I've been floundering here lately. Closer to the edge of retiring my board than I like to admit, but my daughter needs to see me keep trying, and my Father is still there, always there willing me to get back on the board and surf.



It's really for my own good and enjoyment that I do so. He knows I will only be miserable and slowly rot in my own self-pity, fears, and anxieties if I don't paddle back out.



So I think I will.



What have you been on the verge of giving up? your faith? your family? a relationship? a calling? a mission? a goal? Have you been benched for a season, and waiting is too hard, so you're thinking about throwing in the towel all together? Stick with it! Endure! Persevere! You may have unbeknownst little eyes watching you, but more importantly, your Heavenly Father's eyes are most definitely watching you. Paddle back out with confidence, knowing you are watched and seen by the undistractable gaze of the Risen King, Commander of Sky and Sea, and He's proud of you whether you fall or surf. Maybe the most proud when you fall and refuse to give up.



So take a deep breath and paddle confident. Paddle seen and known. Paddle like you are fully loved and life abundant depends on that. Because the truth is--in Christ--you ARE. Confident, always seen, intimately known, and fully loved every second of every minute of every day for all eternity simply because you are His child and for no other reason.


So get up. Go. Have faith. Persevere. Paddle back out.






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Thursday, October 13, 2016

Jesus Still Shows Up

I've had a full on panic attack once in my life for sure. It drove me into the fetal position in the middle of the floor of my kitchen in tears after I had left messages with everyone at my husband's work that he needed to call me as soon as he landed. It was terrifying. I couldn't breathe. I couldn't stop my mind from racing. I couldn't think rationally. I was utterly out of control of my emotions. I never wanted to feel like that again.

So when I left a friend's house the other day, I was shocked when I could feel it happening again. This time it was the beginning of an anxiety attack, and I was driving down the highway. I needed to get a grip on life...and fast.

But the waves of thoughts streamed through my mind, one after the other. Relentless. Unstoppable...

Do you really think you're special? You're a terrible friend. That was totally awkward. Why would she want to spend time with you again? Look at you. All frazzled and second-guessing your every conversation. Of course no one's going to respond to your emails! Why would they? Some room mom you are. No one takes you seriously. You're on your own. And what about Joey? I mean what kind of wife are you? Always forgetting to send him those texts and notes he's asked for repeatedly. He probably feels completely unappreciated, and he should. Some wife you are. And your kids? Have you even taken time to see them? To enjoy them? So encompassing is your grief you can barely think of what to talk to them about. Forget parenting. That's a joke. Your kids are basically raising themselves at this point....

And the lies just.kept.coming. One after the other. Sucker punches taking my breath away. I could feel the tears well behind my eyes once more. My throat felt tight. My breathing had become fast. I was panicking. In that moment, I wanted to crawl into a dark hole. I wanted to do whatever it took to escape the voices. I couldn't escape the voices! The guilt! The condemnation.

"Dear Jesus what do I do?!?!"

And in the same moment I was contemplating pulling my car over and losing all composure on the side of the highway, the next thing I know my mind was cleared. Completely calmed. Hushed. At peace. My body physically relaxed, and my thoughts stilled.

My Jesus, who'd been there the whole time, raised His hands in the middle of my storm, and He made it stop. He calmed the sea. (Mark 4:39)

And in my spirit, I heard Him speak, "Lies. Why do you listen to the lies? That's enough. Be calm. Be still. Believe Me. I Am here. No one else matters. Just Me and you. You will never be enough, but I will always be Enough. Peace."

And I felt like I imagine the demon-possessed man felt upon being healed, clear of mind and able to discern truth. My shoulders straightened a bit. I took a deep breath of grace, and I immediately thought of the verse card that's been staring at me from my kitchen sink.

"No temptation has overtaken you but such as is common to man; and God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will provide the way of escape also, so that you will be able to endure it." 1 Corinthians 10:13

I must have reached my limit. The temptation to give in and let the lies engulf me had become too great. In my weakness, my failure to stand strong and claim truth, my Jesus kept His Word. (2 Corinthians 12:10) He kept His promises to me, and in a split second of time, an inward battle that had been raging for months was ended. Just like that.

I wish I could tell you the war was over, but I'm still breathing, so I know that's not true. But His peace has lingered with me, guarding my mind even in the midst of my doubting Thomas outlook on life these days. (Philippians 4:7) So I am deeply grateful. Broken and weak, but grateful.

I had just wept the other morning, begging for Him to show up, to make Himself known, to prove once again He really was who He says He is. And then this incident happens.

Jesus still works miracles, my friends. He still calms the storms and casts out the demons. Just maybe not quite in the literal way we want or expect. He hears our honest prayers, and He still shows up.

How can I not be devoted and eternally endeared to a God who fights for me even when I'm fighting Him?!?!

Life happens. People hurt and grieve, and most of us will never know or understand the depth of the battle that rages inside each one of us. All I can do is tell my stories--the good, the bad, and the ugly--and let it be known that my God shows up. My Jesus calms the storms and keeps His promises. He casts out the demons and mends the broken-hearted. He carries the overwhelmed and challenges the underwhelmed. He speaks peace and life into torment and lies. Even the demons believe there is one God and shudder at His name (James 2:19); they beg His mercy (Mark 5:12). How much more will He willingly show mercy and kindness and goodness to me, His child, in my time of need? (Matthew 7:11)

Moving forward from this point, from this reset, it is imperative I keep my eyes on Christ. Not on anyone else but Him.
He will always be Enough for me. He can be Enough for you too.
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Tuesday, October 4, 2016

A Good, Good Father

Oh, I've heard a thousand stories
Of what they think You're like
But I've heard the tender whisper
Of love in the dead of night
And You tell me that You're pleased
And that I'm never alone

They played this song at Xander's funeral. Just four months ago, this 8 year old boy's father raised his shaking hands in praise to our Heavenly Father--willing these words to be true.

You're a good good Father
It's who You are, it's who You are, it's who You are
And I'm loved by you
It's who I am, it's who I am, it's who I am

I've sat by his mother's side in services since then and watched her sing these words, tears pouring.

Every time I hear this song now, I cry.

Oh, and I've seen many searching
For answers far and wide
But I know we're all searching
For answers only You provide
‘Cause You know just what we need
Before we say a word

I cry for my friends and the deep pain they must bare. For the rest of their lives. 
I cry because how can they choose that song for their 8 year old son's funeral? What faith! What trust.
I cry because in my soul I have screamed at God, and I know there are still days I do not possess that faith and trust. Days I don't believe God to be good.

You're a good good Father
It's who You are, it's who you are, it's who you are
And I'm loved by you
It's who I am, it's who I am, it's who I am

I cry because even after all my temper tantrums on their behalf and my own, I still end up right back at my Daddy's feet, letting Him speak over me and into me.

Cause You are perfect in all of your ways
You are perfect in all of your ways
You are perfect in all of your ways to us

I cry because there's no better place to find Refuge and Comfort and Peace.

You are perfect in all of your ways
Oh, You are perfect in all of your ways
You are perfect in all of your ways to us

I cry because when the emotional cycle completes itself, I inevitably find myself with hands raised, singing the truth of this song. Believing it's truth once again.

Oh, it's love so undeniable
I, I can hardly speak
Peace so unexplainable
I, I can hardly think
As You call me deeper still
As You call me deeper still
As You call me deeper still
Into love, love, love

I can't explain completely in words how God always brings me back to this place, to this juncture, where I just know that I know that I know...my.God.is.Good.

You're a good good Father
It's who you are, it's who you are, it's who You are
And I'm loved by You
It's who I am, it's who I am, it's who I am

Despite all the compelling evidence that appears to prove otherwise in certain circumstances, I have a certainty in my spirit, as a child of God, that my Daddy knows what He's doing so much greater and better and more so than I can even imagine.

Cause You are perfect in all of your ways
You are perfect in all of your ways
You are perfect in all of your ways to us

If you're not a child of God, you think I'm talking crazy at this point. How does a "good" God allow evil, sin, death, war? There are many long answers to those questions. For me, what I keep coming back to is does a handful of terrible, nightmarish circumstances negate all the blessings of His Comfort, His Presence, His Help, His Encouragement over my entire lifetime? Once you've experienced, not simply tasted, what Jesus has to offer, how does anyone have a palette for any other option, god, or religion? It's like choosing to go with fast food when a Micheline 5-star chef is cooking dinner in your home every night for every meal.

You're a good good Father
So the Lord and I might continue to wrestle over this grief, these questions--and maybe you wrestle with Him too--but I was sealed by the Holy Spirit many years ago, marked for Christ when I made a choice to answer His call, take up His cross and follow. Follow hard at His heels. Follow without always understanding His ways. 

You are perfect in all of Your ways

And to choose to follow anyone or anything else always takes me down a dead end street where I sit lost until He comes and finds me again. 

Because, you see, I'm a child of THE King. I can question Him all I like. He may or may not answer--at all or in a way I like, but that does not change the fact that at the end of the day my place, my heart, my hope, my home is in His Presence, by His side, following hard.

So maybe you sit here grieving something of your own today. Because Lord knows, we grieve so. many. things. in this life. You're screaming at God. You're wrestling with Him. You're asking Him to answer you, to show Himself to you. You're crying in moments when you least expect it, and you're heart is heavy and hurting.

All I have to offer you is Jesus. Because that's all I can offer myself. Somehow, in some mysterious way, a relationship with Jesus is the only real answer--the paradox of finding complete comfort in the One you also place complete blame and responsibility. And it's statements like that that make Christ-followers sound completely crazy. I get it. I do.

But meditating on His promises, buried in His Word, singing praises to His name in the car, in my brain, praying for His tangible presence, needing Him to show up in small moments--that's where I am. And my friends, He shows up every. single. time.

You are perfect in all of Your ways

How? A text or phone call from a friend or family member at just the right moment. A song on the radio with just the right message. A time of prayer with the Lord where He just whispers back encouragement and assurance. Moments of mediation on scripture where I am filled with unexplainable peace, and I'm able to just breath deep His presence. I hear Him in the roar of the ocean, and see Him in the way a sunset plays across the mountains as it sinks. I see him in the caring words and hands of others, sometimes complete strangers. I see Him in all the GOOD.

Because the bottom line, He said it Himself, is that only God IS Good (Matthew 19:16-17). On top of Him actually being the manifestation of good itself, "every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows (James 1:17)." He is the definition and embodiment of Goodness, the Giver of all that is Good. Yet any worldly circumstances that cause us to grieve never feel good. I will spend the rest of my life trying to explain the conflicting emotions and ideas that I feel as a human with flesh and spirit, satan's worldly realm and God's spiritual Kingdom at war in my life! 

But my experiential truth is that God is good, and God always wins. Even in the terrible things that cause us grief, God wins--somehow, someway He always wins in His perfect time. But only for those of us that choose to follow hard at His heels, that make time for being rocked in God's rocking chair, that beg and weep for Him to answer. For those of us who persevere despite the set backs in our faith. For those who choose Jesus.

God is God. He knows what He's doing ALL the time. I only think I know what I'm doing SOME of the time. There are days I still think I'd rather do it my own way, that God doesn't understand or "get" me, that this hard act of Christ-following just isn't worth it anymore. But I never get very far down that path before I'm faced with a decision, an emotion, a circumstance that sends me running right back into the Arms of the One who I KNOW has held me before, safe and steadfast through the storm, the scary, and the hard. 

My life is a living testimony to the Lord. I can't even argue with myself when I want to choose differently, decide differently, or believe differently. He's just proven Himself too many times before.

You are perfect in all of Your ways (Good, Good Father, lyrics written by Chris Tomlin.)

I still persevere in a hard place these days. I still question in rebellious pride. I get it wrong and end up in bad mental places--A LOT. Maybe you do too. But eventually, I always come home to my Daddy, my Bridegroom, my Friend, my King because I can honestly say He's my truest, reliably safe place. He's where I belong.


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Saturday, June 11, 2016

Today We See Jesus

Today we say goodbye.

It's weird. Why does a ceremony seem to hang over our heads as if that's the thing that's going to bring closure? Why does it feel so important? so reverent? so necessary? Why does Ecclesiastes 7:2 say, "It is better to go to a house of mourning than to go to a house of feasting, for death is the destiny of everyone; the living should take this to heart."?

Burying people dates back to the days of Abraham in the Bible when Abraham lovingly bought the first piece of the land God promised to him and his descendants to bury is beloved Sarah.  He buried her in a cave in the side of a mountain, and laid her to rest.  God records many a burial in the Bible, so it must be important.  He must know that it gives us something we need.

So as much as this past week has felt like the calm before the storm for me, as much as crawling out of bed this morning felt like a weight around my body and mind, I know today is needed.

It is good to mourn AND celebrate with the body of Christ.  Other believers.  Other people who loved Xander. It's kinda like the red blood cells of the body of Christ all merging together to cover the wound, clot together, stop the bleeding, and heal the wound.  Of course this started a week ago with text messages, Facebook pictures and condolences, hugs, prayers, and shared tears.  Today's services are kinda like taking the band-aid off, letting the wound breath and begin to harden, so healing can continue underneath the scab, and movement--albeit however stiff--can continue without pain.

And that's what will happen today.  We will all get to breathe not just the air of shared sorrow, but more importantly the air of shared joy.  Xander's joy.  We will celebrate his life together.  His sweet, joy-filled days here on earth.  And we will sing with tears in our eyes knowing that he is experiencing a joy we can only hope to try and understand, but never fully will. All the joys of this life we wonder he's missing out on PALE in comparison to where he is today and what he's enjoying. And there's not one suffering we endure in this lifetime that will ever touch him now.

And when the fresh air of that realization washes over us, the body of Christ, we will feel the weight lift, the wound uncovered.  We will feel a peace as we come together firm to support each other. Underneath in each of our hearts, the wound will still be tender, but healing will continue in time. But for today, as one unit breathing fresh air of a new life in God's Home, realizing that in Christ this is NOT the last time we will see him, praising our God for being good and claiming the truth that He will do right by His people.  Together, we will begin to move forward from this day.

And because we clot together, when we move forward it will be with less pain.  A little stiff maybe. A little tender underneath, but not as painful as the hole ripped open a week ago today.  No.  After today, Jesus will bind us all together in one hope, one joy, and one peace.  Unity in Christ will guard our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, and we will have each other to remind each other that He holds us close that He is our Strength, our Help, our Refuge.

And when we lay Xander in the ground, we will be continuing the process of letting him go. Ceremonies are necessary to help us remember, to help us move on.  How many piles of stones marked significant blessings and words from God in the Old Testament?  How many ceremonies were meticulously described in the books of Moses to help people remember and continue their lives in covenant and celebration?

Today will be a good day.  As much as we may dread all the emotion we are about to experience one more time, today will be a good day.  We will see Jesus in Xander's life.  We will see Jesus in each other.  We will see Jesus in the music.  We will see Jesus in his remembrance.  We will see Jesus in the unity of our love for one another.

Today will be a good day people!  Look around and don't miss it!  Camp out and stay and watch! Today WE WILL SEE JESUS!  If you're looking, even through bleary eyes and weary souls, you will see Him.

And today will be a good day.

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Monday, June 6, 2016

What It Looks Like to Process

It's been two days since his passing.
At this point, three years ago, in a similar situation, I was in a better place. I wrote words that I think I need to read again in about another week or so. If you're not angry still today, I'd recommend clicking on that link instead of reading this post.

Because after 48 hours of crying and inwardly seething, I woke up this morning still angry. Because this time, this death isn't necessarily closer to my heart (because it's equally close to my heart), but it is closer to my day to day life. My friend won't stop being my friend and part of my life because she lost her son.

But after venting with my mother this morning on the phone, she gently called a spade a spade. "Jennifer, is 48 hours enough pain? Do you need another 24? Aren't you glad God gives us that choice? that He doesn't demand us go to Him? Be obedient. Go sit down with God and let the healing begin." She said this in the most gently, most loving way possible. She wasn't giving advice or answers, she was meeting me right in the hard moment where I was treading water. She threw me a life preserver.

So, I went and sat down with God. I journal often. That's how God and I talk. I actually keep a journal written directly to my children, and I don't share excerpts from it often, but if my thought process can help anyone else drowning right now, then Jesus take the glory....

......

I'm so angry. I'm so angry for my friend. (I then proceed to list a long list of offenses on her behalf that she probably doesn't need to read right now.
I'm also selfishly, wrongly angry for myself. (I then list a long list of personal things that God and I need to hash out. Yes, I admit to the selfishness of this.

I'm angry at God--for all of this. I'm angry and silently, inwardly seething between clenched teeth, shaking metaphorical fists at God, borderline blasphemous in my thoughts and emotions, knowing the whole time that He sees and knows my heart, so I might as well be saying it all out loud. So here I am writing, because that's how I say all the things I think. I'm angry because I know all (ok, lots of) the truths of the Bible. I know God has His reasons. I know God is good. I know God was with my friend's son and is with him now and will continue to be with his family.

And therein is where the rubber meats the road and the inner war rages because I know God wants me to be right here, obediently coming to Him with my heart and my thoughts and all my feelings, but I. Don't. Want. To.

I want to sit in a corner and refuse to let Him touch me. I'm the strong-willed child or rebellious teen who thinks depriving God of my obedience will somehow hurt Him like He's hurt me. But there's no truth in that statement.

My anger, my desire to make God hurt, the idea that I can even hurt God--those are all wrong, sinful (borderline ridiculous) thoughts. It's ok to feel them, to have them, but eventually you have to call them what they are or you risk living in the middle of a lie to yourself. And as with all sin, I'm only choosing to hurt myself.

The idea that God allowed my friend's son to die to hurt me or even her, specifically, on purpose, is also absurd. I hope. To be brutally honest, I do believe that God does not intend to cause us pain, but I am also aware that because of a sinful and broken world full of pain, when God makes decisions for our lives, sometimes the only natural outcome will be pain.

Am I saying God killed her son? No. Not necessarily, but I do believe it didn't just happen without His knowledge. So that leaves me in a very uncomfortable gray space, and the answer in gray space always comes down to two paths--faith in God or disbelief in God.

God is not crystal clear to us. I don't think I ever want Him to be because then wouldn't He cease to be God? If I understood everything the way He does, wouldn't I be His equal, and therefore also bear the responsibility of the world and all its issues on my shoulders also? I definitely don't want that.

So if I'm okay with God being bigger and greater and mightier and more mysterious than me (which is good, because He is) then by default, I have to come to terms with not understanding how and why He chooses to work inside my life and the lives of those around me.

I have to choose faith or disbelief.

And when I choose faith, this rebellious child must also choose obedience. They kinda walk hand in hand. I must take the hand of my heavenly Father offering me His embrace and Presence and Comfort. I have to stop licking my own wounds and allow Jesus to be the Surgeon, the Painkiller, and the Bandage to my soul--all in one.

And I'm tired of crying and weeping. And part of me still doesn't want to collapse in His arms, giving Him the satisfaction of loving me, but then the truth is He's going to love me anyways, and really, loving Him is what fuels my life at this point, so without throwing an entire lifetime of experiences and relationship proofs out the window by choosing disbelief, I find I have to choose Jesus. Despite my rebellious anger, He is what my heart longs for. He is peace; therefore, He is where I will find my peace.

"Lord, forgive me for raging against You, for silently cursing how You choose to act in my life and the lives of others. Forgive me, Father, for wanting to hurt You, when all you desire is for me to draw near to You so You can minister to me. Father, forgive me for my anger, but thank you You allow me the choice to feel it and express it. Thank you that You are a Safe Harbor of understanding and grace and comfort. 

Lord, may Your Presence be tangible to my friend's family right now. And if they want to punch You too, I'm grateful You wrestle with us Lord. I'm also grateful You always win, but the freedom to process through to that conclusion as You wrestle with us is a gift. I love that you're never a spectator in our lives. I love you, Lord. Love on my friends for me."

.......

And there it is. In writing, a journey from anger to acceptance. I'm no fool. Small parts of me, I think, will still feel angry in moments. This is a heart-work in process, an on-going process. I have no idea where my friend is on this journey right now, and I do not expect everyone who reads this to process in the same way or in the same amount of time. This is only the beginning. Everything changes as each day passes. And Lord knows I'm going to stand by her side and cry and rage and sit silently for as many days, weeks, months, years as it takes. 

But her journey is not mine, and I would be foolish to overlap our two in any way. Hers is much more difficult.

In this moment, right now, I feel calm and tired and at peace for the first time in 48 hours. Her son is still gone. There are still tears to be shed. Life will be altered and forever changed in a new trajectory now, but maybe now, I can focus on truly loving her with God's love and stop imposing my self-righteous love on her. "Lord help, me."

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