Making Grace Circles Around The Ones We Love

unsplash boat

Some memories warm me and so I let them. Like when the sunlight would dance on the water when I was a kid. Those summers were my happiest, feeling the heat on my skin and the fast wind in my hair matted from lake water. My legs would be so tired from water skiing and somehow I loved the ache that made me know I had nothing but wild fun that day.

I was good at it because Daddy taught me how. It was a process, but I’m such a determined person that I knew if I just held on tight enough and did what he said, eventually I would be gliding across the water. Holding on until my skinny legs couldn’t take it anymore and my arms felt like jelly, I would let go and put my hands in the air as high as they could go and melt into the sweet summertime kicking off my skis.

The first time I fell I hit hard, choking on lake water and wondering where my skis went. I never worried about the distance between the boat and me because he was watching, someone was always watching, and the flag would go up to let the other boaters know I was in the water. And then he would circle the boat around to get me.

 

Fall after fall, it happened like clockwork and it didn’t matter how much it hurt, help was on the way. He would circle that boat around and pull me back in every time. And this feisty girl always wanted to try again.

Over the years things would get harder, life would change, his daughters would marry and move away, babies were lost, babies were born. Life happened changing hair shades of silver and he would cover it up until he grew into his grey. I liked his hair that way. In many ways we were still circling our boat around to pick each other up. Every time. Through rights and wrongs and fights and making up, love made circles of grace around us never leaving us stranded in water that was too deep.

 

We never stopped making circles around each other, not ever. This was unchangeable, love doesn’t walk away it just swings back by to make sure you have a big rope pulling you back in. And sometimes the rope isn’t long enough, but you keep extending it anyway. Grace and mercy come without expiration dates; in many ways grace is one vast circle without a beginning or ending.

I have so many memories and I’m thankful for being loved that much.

I’m glad that Daddy taught me a few self-defense moves when I was young just in case those grade school boys kept messing with me. And even to this day, I think that I could give that fool a big enough bruise to make him regret he had ever messed with me. Somehow he made me feel strong enough to pummel a kid twice my size.

 

The circling has stopped and saying goodbye looks much like a large body of water that I’m not quite sure if I’m supposed to glide across it or sink into it. Perhaps both. When it gets hard, and it does, I remember my Abba who loved his circling wanderers who wasted forty years in a desert complaining. I pray and ask God to help me circle the right things and the right path.

I’m certain that God is circling around to rescue me in my sinking and sadness while dealing with the loss of my father. His grace makes wide circles and each part of my frail heart is surrounded by a love that doesn’t stop.

Maybe I’ll write more about this, maybe I won’t because there are certain pieces of me that are too sacred to end up on a page. But, every piece of me is whole and free because love made big circles around me all of my life.

I couldn’t fix the broken things inside of him, no one could, but we circled our boats around him and loved him. And in the end, that is enough because that’s what love does. It doesn’t leave you stranded.

I thought I had more time, but I was wrong.

His body is at rest now, no more pain from a worn-out heart and body. He looked like peace when I said goodbye and as hard as it was to leave that room where he rested, nothing was left undone.

 

One last time I said, “Goodbye, Daddy.”

 

Circle the ones you love in prayer and use all your best words, swallow your worst ones. Say, “I love you,” every time you think it and just once more to make sure they didn’t forget. Circle with arms that embrace and grace that covers what time can’t erase, love even when it’s work and keep making those big, wide circles.

This is what loves does, it circles because love never leaves you stranded.

 

I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. (John 14:8)

Much love,

Jennifer

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From Broken To Beautiful, Guest Post

cracked glass votive

Typically, things are considered ugly when they are broken, mainly because they no longer fulfill their purpose. Who wants a car with no brakes, a chair on three legs, or a fan with no blades? There’s no fun in a roller coaster that won’t roll, a leaky pool with no water, or a bike with bent wheels.

This is what we mean when we say we are “broken.” We have been knocked down one too many times. We have suffered – of our own fault or at another’s hands – and we simply don’t “work” any more. We know we should seek God and have joy and praise, but all the emotions we feel are negative. Besides, we have nothing more to offer. This makes sense to us, because when something is broken, we don’t expect it to magically start working again.

Fortunately, for those of us who know the Lord, He is with us and is for us (Romans 8:31). But what does that mean if we are broken?

We might want God to turn back the clock and make us exactly like we were before…before the mistakes, the injuries, the tragedies, the pain. Or we might expect God to make us new again, like He did when we were first saved. But God’s will and grace far exceed our own, and His plan is greater than we could ever hope or imagine. For if He did this, if He changed us back or made us new again, what would have been the purpose of it all? What would we have gained through our difficult experience?

I saw a beautiful illustration the other day on Pinterest. It was a pretty candle holder made from a simple Mason jar. What made it unique was that a “cracked” design had been added to it by covering it with scraps of material before spray painting it. After the material was removed, and the candle lit, a unique pattern emerged as the light shined through the “cracks.” The rustic look gave the glass jar character, a style often referred to as shabby chic.

Instead of leaving us broken, God does something only He can do: He heals our hearts and binds our broken pieces back together in such a way that we are made better than we were before. Instead of fusing the broken pieces completely, He leaves a little crack. Like the candle holder, these cracks allow God’s light to shine through us in a new way. We still carry the same light of God as before, but the way we display it is more beautiful than ever.

This unique design that God makes out of our brokenness is, in fact, our testimony. When we are no longer ashamed of it, when we gladly tell others about what God has done for us, we allow Him to work through us in a new way. In this way, our brokenness is healed, becomes our testimony, and then glorifies God – like only we can do.

We are no longer broken – we are healed! We are etched with a testimony of His love and mercy. People will notice this difference in us and ask us what happened – how did we get that unique design on our lives? It is our job, then, to tell them that we were broken, but God made us better, made us whole. We are now…beautiful.

Ezekiel 34:16 “I will seek the lost, bring back the scattered, bind up the broken, and strengthen the sick…” (The Lord speaking through Ezekiel)

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Ashley Jones is a business professional by day and freelance writer by night. She uses her Masters in Biblical Studies to show others how God and His Word can be applicable in their lives. Ashley also draws upon her own personal experiences with brokenness – from tattered relationships to prolonged illnesses – and shares them as her testimony of God’s healing and redemption in her life. In her spare time, Ashley works with her husband Robby on updating their home, which was built in 1939. She is also a volunteer at her alma mater, the Tallahassee Christian College and Training Center. Ashley and Robby have one fur baby, a cat named Sue.

Ashley is working on various books at this time as well as her new blog. www.bigsisterknows.com.

HOT MESS but blessed

hot mess but blessed

I notice her with her walls up, trapped in a moment where she felt like she needed to pretend. She stood upright, but everything about her revealed to me that she was crumbling on the inside. With each fake, plastic smile she became more exhausted with the fine art of hiding behind a façade.

I placed my hands on her shoulders, “You don’t have to be okay right now. You don’t. Maybe if you give yourself a little space to fall apart, you might feel more together. A little more free.”

She wrestled; fighting inwardly and then the tears start to stream down her darling face. She melts into me and I hug her as tight as I can. I whisper, “I know what it’s like to go through the motions, just pretended to be okay when I really wasn’t.”

I know what it’s like to be a faker. Don’t we all?

As if one more coat of mascara is going to make our eyes sparkle again. Like the perfect under eye concealer is going to make us look like we actually rested instead tossing and turning, the replaying of events, the things we should have said. The things we shouldn’t have.

It’s possible to be surrounded by people and feel more alone than ever.

It’s possible to say I love you” every time you feel it and still feel unloved. It’s possible to have a smile splash across your face and not feel an ounce of happiness within.

It is possible to feel everything and nothing…and wonder what the heck is wrong with you. But, I know the power of walls coming down in the acknowledgment that I am a needy girl with a God who is big enough to handle it. I know the power of watching words set a heart free. Say them, love them with your words.

It’s okay.

You don’t have to be okay when you’re not.

You don’t have to hide or fake it. You can simply come wrecked and torn, just as you are and know that is enough.

Coming to church admitting that we are needy has become ridiculously taboo.  My last post, Female Kryptonite: The Shaming Chase for Perfection stirred up a group of women ready for healing. If you missed it…you should read it and share it! You can read it here.  

The rain comes, it always does, and we feel it soaking through the façade until we let go of this little thing called perfect. It happened to me in a tiny choir loft, running a fever and losing my first baby to early miscarriage. As a lady looked over at me, fully knowing what I was going through, she asked me how I was doing. I felt like she was asking me to smile and nod just like everyone else and I couldn’t. I had lost the will to fake it. True words came rolling out, my pain unmasked.

“I’m just here.”

That’s when I stopped pushing myself so hard while my body tried to keep up with the fast pace of pretending to be perfect. Pretending that I was stronger than the grief I was feeling inside. The walls came down and it was the most freeing and purposeful pain. I felt so small and it was okay. I asked those hard questions and even the useless one of “why.”

I let myself be small and frail. I let my mom hold me like she used when I was little. I found God in that broken space of loss and found myself at the same time. The one with angry poetry underneath my worn out Bible, the girl who knew that faith and questions could linger together in my sadness giving way to deeper, unshakeable roots in Christ. By admitting that I wasn’t okay I found room for real healing, the kind that takes time and can’t be rushed.

Whether your heartache has been recent or decades ago, I wish I could sit with you and hold your hand to let you know that it’s okay that you are not okay right now.

One day you will be.

You will be strong and steady, someone that others lean on. One day you might be holding chubby babies, or climbing the corporate ladder and finding joy in your “right now” moments.

I pray joy will return and God’s peace will surround you.

Much love and prayers, Jennifer Renee

“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” (Romans 15:3)

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I’m Still Learning That ‘No’ Is Not a Swear Word

Girl Looking Out

I’m the girl who will stand on my soapbox and hold your hand while you cry tears of exhaustion to tell you that you are enough and that what you have to offer is enough. I wholeheartedly believe this. But, I’m tired and so are you. Am I right? While I was stress-walking this morning, my to-do list unfolded and instantly became longer. All my roles, projects, and my people that need me in the most needy of ways, seemed to be at war with each other.

I’m a tough girl, always have been, but one of the toughest things I do is remain softhearted. That. Is. Work. And work requires energy, physically and emotionally.

Truth bomb: I cannot be enough for all of these people and have enough sanity left over. And I don’t have to be. In the past I have been the girl saying yes to everyone thinking that would please God. I am by nature a people pleaser, so making everyone happy would have to make me happy. Right? I wasn’t even remotely in a two-mile radius of happy. I was stressed, depleted, and terribly unhappy, but no one knew it.

I was sacrificing my health in the name of being good at everything, even the things I hated doing.  

Something had to change. I had these gifts that God entrusted me with and I was trying to add all these things to those few gifts hoping that somehow I could be enough. Do enough. Minister in the place of enough. Mother in the place of enough. Love in a world where what I brought to the table was enough. Be the kind of wife who knew, even on my most sucky of days, that I was enough.

But, I am not enough.

When I pray and ask God to be more than enough in me; that’s when my messiness ushers in a real, gritty faith that is more useful to God. Because I’m meant to need Him, not be the girl faking my way through the lie that real, godly women are supposed to have it together, all the time. (If you do have it all together, all the time, I need you to adopt me and spend time with me.) 

The struggle is what makes us great. Saying, “I have no idea how I’m going to get all of this done,” is what makes us great because in our desperation we know who holds our world, and fragile pieces, in place.

We were meant to be needy of God, not needy of the approval of others. We mix those things up sometimes. God didn’t promise us that He wouldn’t put more on us than we could handle, whoever made that up needs to be spanked.

The Word tells us this: I have told you all this so that you may have peace in me. Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33 NLT)

Our peace comes from God, not on how awesome we are. He overcame the world so we would have a fighting chance.

If the enemy can’t get us to leave the faith and do all the big sins we think are worse than our little sins, he will distract us with the spinning wheels of “I am not enough”.  

We do not need to be enough to all of these people and look to them as the keeper of our worth. When I need to know that I can do all things through Christ, I have a really fat study Bible I flip through and I find a little soul nourishment that reminds me what my main things are. And you know what, having it all together isn’t one of them. I mean, read the Psalms, David was a hot-mess and his emotions were all over the place. David prayed the Imprecatory Psalms and then asked God to search his heart. So, it’s possible for a really flawed person to have a heart after God. This is good news for us.

I don’t have to be enough. I just have to be obedient. I don’t have to do all the little things that someone else thinks that I should be doing because my heart needs quiet space to listen to the Holy Spirit.

Here’s what I do when everything is flipped upside down and I’m a hot-mess and crying all the time.

I realize that something needs to change. My emotions and my health are screaming at me, “Something is out of balance, fix it”

I look at my list and plan my days with a little more breathing room. I use the word no more often, not because I don’t care. I care enough to be smart about what I can give my best to.

I look at the best example I know of, Jesus. The more the crowds pressed in on Jesus, the more he withdrew himself from the crowds. He took his smallest, inner circle with him. His need of seclusion didn’t exclude those that he trusted. Jesus was selective, he had the twelve, but on mountainsides and dodging the crowd, he had fewer.

My circles become smaller, not larger. I become more focused in knowing who is going to require more than I can give. If it’s work to be around them, I think about that by looking at my social calendar. I can always catch up with them later.

I have my person, that best friend who gets me and can speak truth to me. I listen to her when she offers words of caution. Friendships like this are gold; I hope you have this in your life.

I say the hard things and draw verbal boundary lines with my loved ones when I feel like I’ve been used like a doormat. Which, happens a lot for people who are “pleasers”. Gah.

I pray. I repent. I ask God to show me how to make my list shorter, not longer. I forget about perfection and just think about getting it done.

I stop talking about people to other people and talk to God about those people. I hand them over to God because it’s not my job to keep them in line. It’s my job to love them even when it’s hard work.

I say no without feeling like I’ve earned a ticket to hell. P.S. Today feels like Monday.

Much love,

Jennifer

Haven’t Figured Out Your Resolutions or One Word? Me either.

One Word?-4

I look down at my calendar noticing the white space, I jot down dates and obligations realizing that soon this fresh page will be filled with opportunities for ministry, connecting, and things I really don’t want to do.

It’s just eight days into the New Year, and everyone is making lists. Lists that will make them feel guilty. Lists that might make them feel a little more productive. Lists that will make them feel like this business of producing never, ever stops.

They even have their “one word” picked out for the year like rest or abundance.

I don’t have a list this year, but a charge of sorts for us to refuse the meaningless striving.

Instead of validation, may we seek to be available to God, to others, and whatever that may look like.

That we could look at our circle of influence differently, perhaps even make it smaller. That we could start in our homes, working outward to our jobs, churches, and community. And if by chance we can only manage one of those things in our circle; that we would know that one thing was enough.

That we would not seek the approval of others and waste time on that bottomless pit of people pleasing, but instead seek time to feel the loving, correcting hand of God in our lives.

That we would no longer throw out the words, “I don’t have the time.” And replace them with the knowledge that we make time for whatever is truly important to us.

No more measuring sticks, just measureless grace for others and for us.

No more dreading what may happen, just take it day-by-day, sometimes even minute-by-minute.

No more beating yourself up, or talking bad about people who might sin differently than you. Because we all have our things and we are all painfully aware of what we need to be working on.

No more records of wrongs for others. To quote from the great philosopher, T. Swift, we need to shake it off. Cuz haters are gonna hate.

We can cry, let go, and forgive repeating those steps as often as we need to.

My prayer is that grace will fill our lungs, hope will flood our hearts, and that we persistently trust in the unseen, mighty things of God. And because we never know what’s next for us, we will focus on taking one obedient footstep after the other.

May our focus remain on who we are becoming instead of what we produce.

Much love,

Jennifer

The Gift Our Daughters Really Need

Whitley,Flower child

I wish I could erase this pattern that cripples women, the one that starts as a preteen and follows us through life. This unhealthy space of not liking the way we look. I blink slowly trying to remember when this started, or why it started. Was it the images on television or the porn I found in someone’s house when I was a girl trying to figure out what being a woman was all about?

I remember thinking that day when I realized that people pay money for this trash- So, this is what you think of women?

Don’t you know that I will be one soon?

This is someone’s daughter and you are someone’s dad.

Is this all you think that we are? Painted and displayed and broken.

I felt sorry for her, the girl on the front cover bare.

I am bringing up girls now and I feel the weight of this enormous task that is laid out before me.

God, please help me to do this right.

My daughter asked if it was a good time to talk. When your preteen wants to talk to you, it’s always a good time to talk. This “shut the door, tell me everything you are feeling” stuff is starting to happen. God knows how much I want to be good at it.

I want to have the answers and play it cool when something throws me off guard; I want to have the words to ease her troubled mind.

And it starts.

I feel bad about my body.

I feel bad about my mind, like I’m not smart enough.

I decided to start with the “I wish I could change my body” talk first.

I tell her about the change that is happening, that right now her mind and her body are trying to catch up. I talked to her about comparison and how she just needs to be the healthy version of herself, that there is no weight limit or jean size that can be her guide for this. The hormones are invading her space and she is growing, developing, and morphing into a young woman right before my eyes.

This stretching out place happens both in our bodies and our mind, but somehow we need to carefully walk our daughters through this. They need to know that their bodies are a gift; that they are a gift.

So, I pulled out this scripture verse knowing that it takes a lifetime to really get this, but I quoted it anyway.

“…For the Lord sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.” (1 Sam 16:7 ESV)

Of course, men and women look at the outward appearance while God looks at our heart. But, all I saw sitting in front of me was a girl who looked just like me; and I wouldn’t change a single thing about her.

Something comes to me, a thought, a way that I could help her. I grab my soft middle, the part that I wish wasn’t there and say, “Is this what you notice when you look at me?”

She shakes her head and says ‘no’ softly.

“I didn’t always have this soft part of me. At times I wish it wasn’t there, but it gave me you.”

Bringing forth life changed my body, but more importantly, it changed my heart. So, I thank God for the stretchy middle and the miracle of giving birth. I thank Him for helping me when I was underweight, stressed to the max, ill, and unable to sustain a healthy pregnancy.

I knew that in moment I needed to give my daughter the gift of seeing her mother love her imperfections and show her what it looks like to honor and respect my body.

I am not measured by my soft middle, or the size of clothes that I wear. I am not my title, or the position I hold. My worth is based on the contents of my heart, that’s all.

If I can teach this to her at eleven and reinforce it over the years. If I can guard carefully the words that come out my mouth about my body image, I can make a lasting impact.  If I can do this and change the way she views womanhood, I could change a generation-the one that she will be leading.

But, I can’t do this without you doing the same thing for your girls.

Maybe if we link arms and allow our strength be larger than Kim Kardashian’s butt displayed all over the internet, we can be the women who not only teach about the power of a woman’s worth- we can be the women who live it loud enough to quiet our daughter’s insecurities.

So, as I sit here wrecked with a list of things I need to buy for my girls for Christmas, I know this is the most important gift I can give them, the gift of championing the worth of women. All the women, those on display and the ones starving and cutting themselves to dull the pain.

But I must start first with the miniature versions living in my house.

Are you with me?

Love you like crazy,

Jennifer Renee

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Give Yourself A Gift This Year

walking with my baby

My nine-year-old crawled in bed with me. Yes, she still does that and I love it. She’s the baby of the family and my little cling on. She wrapped her arms around me as I wrapped her up in my arms.

“Mom, I need you to pray for me.”

“Is something wrong?”

“I am having bad thoughts…like something bad might happen.” She whispers.

I began to pray, asking God to help her to not think those thoughts or worry and then prayed for a hedge of protection around my family. I asked God to help me with my thoughts and that I wouldn’t worry either.

Tears fall softly down my face as my daughter starts praying.

“Jesus, I just want to be the best me that I can be. Help me to do that. I want to be the best me I can be.”

She begins to tell Jesus how she falls short at this with words from a nine-year-old heart. It reminded me of how many women have basically said the same thing with bigger words laced with regret.

How many women feel like the worst version of themselves? Too many.

My tears fall on her as we say ‘amen’ while I search for words to tell her about how God sees her heart and would honor those sweet prayers of her. I find the words and remind her of the worth found deep inside of her and that maybe, just maybe, she’s being too hard on herself.

And my mind drifts to countless conversations and endless words from women I know doing the same thing, being ridiculously harsh and unkind to themselves.

I think that’s what we all want; to be the very best version of ourselves and every day we have a million opportunities to blow it. But, we press on knowing that God sees our hearts and searches all the deepest places within us.

Everyday we give our days like a gift to the God that formed us, and most days we wonder if it’s enough.

Years ago in a moment of mentoring I apologized to someone who became more like a sister and less like mentee. I told her how I wished that I had done more to help prepare her for the road ahead. She looked me in the eyes and said something that I’ll never forget.

“Jennifer, sometimes we learn more from Clark Kent than we do from Superman.”

Her words set me free; I hope they will set you free too.

In all this striving of trying to be the very best version of yourself, perhaps it’s time to look at yourself through the filter of “I am enough” and give yourself a big fat break.

Perhaps that could be your Christmas gift to yourself, to be a little nicer to the woman you look at in the mirror.

Much love,

Jennifer Renee