My Grownup Christmas List & Coveting

She must have known. The tears begin to fall softly and I’m grateful. Let them come, because I know the power of liquid prayers. As I sift through the emotions and glance at the time. I know I should be sleeping and bear-hugging a pillow instead of staring at my husbands dated laptop. I smile, it’s the best of both worlds: the dated laptop and my iMac in the room where he sleeps peacefully. The state of gratitude that I feel and the war of frustration I feel when I think about want verses need. I don’t want to get it, because she raised me better than that.

Sometimes Mother really does know best.

I can honestly say I don’t know what it’s like to be truly hungry, but I know for certain that in my childhood we had less, although dirt-poor could not be an accurate description. I didn’t walk uphill in the snow both ways to school. I had nice things and clothes; clean long hair while my sister sported the girl mullet. (It was the 80’s and apparently that was in.) Honestly, if we flipped through some old family photographs my sisters horribly wrong hair cut would be the only indicator that we were “poor.”

I had nice things because I had a mother that sacrificed so much. What she couldn’t give me in material things, she taught me by telling me the classic one-liner. Money doesn’t grown on trees. Heaven help me, I’ll probably say the same thing to my daughters as I teach them not to covet and do my best to instill the fine art of being thankful for what they have.

I’m trying to make my grown-up Christmas list and I’m wrecked. This once impulsive buyer looks at things through different eyes and it clicks.

She knew.

God was faithful to speak to my mother’s heart and whisper words that would help her let go of a little girl who was called to a different life. Mom told me when I was in Junior High that she knew I was called into ministry. I was ironing; I hate ironing. I was frustrated, trying to communicate what she already knew…that I was different. Somehow I hoped that my future wouldn’t include a domestic, tied to the kitchen life. I was trying to explain to her that I didn’t want a normal life; I wanted to be in ministry full-time. No one enters ministry thinking that they are going to be rich, unless they are crazy. So, thanks Mom. Somehow I don’t think either of us imaged the call of God would look quite like this.

What I didn’t know then was that the call of God looks like so many things. It looks like a stay-at-home mom. It looks like a working single mom trying to juggle life and kids, wants verses need. It looks like a missionary in the heart of Africa with battle scars and a love that makes him release his grip on comforts for souls and empty eyes that light up when they hear the good news. The call of God takes on many shapes, chiseled by different seasons of life. We do the same things with callings, titles, and positions of authority. We covet, looking down our noses at the role that God has blessed us with, counting talents, burying them, wasting them.

Want verses need. Gratitude verses covetousness. My grownup Christmas list? I might give you a few hints later, maybe a teaser, but brace yourself…it’s not normal.

Much love,

Jennifer

We Don’t Need Jesus

A few weeks ago I was listening to an interview of a woman who was living the American dream. She had it all. Good paying job, loving husband, adoring kids, nice house in a nice neighborhood with a white picket fence.

And she gave it all up.

Everything.

Quit the job. Sold the house. Packed up her family and moved to Africa to rescue kids who were being trafficked into sex slavery.

It’s an incredible story of faith and a radical following of Jesus. In the midst of Kimberly’s story she said something that has haunted me ever since.

“Satan comes to steal, kill and destroy and in

America he does it with a white picket fence.”

 

Over the weekend I finished reading a book by a girl in her early twenties who had the perfect life. Homecoming queen, wealthy family, adoring boyfriend, opportunity to attend the college of her choice, cute sports car. She too was living the American dream.

And she gave it all up.

Everything.

Passed on college. Broke up with the boyfriend. And bought a one way ticket to Uganda to become the mother of 13 abandoned girls and start a ministry where she now feeds and educates thousands of kids.

She came back to America for a few months and said she missed the poverty of Africa. Why? Because she realized that:

“in America we don’t need Jesus.”

Katie went on to say that in America if we are hungry we go to the pantry, or the local grocery store. We don’t ask God for daily bread. If we are sick we go to the doctor. We don’t ask God for healing. If we need comfort we call, text, or Facebook any of a dozen friends. We don’t beg God for His presence.

Katie said that in America she missed Jesus. Because in America she didn’t need Jesus. She could live life on her own.

These two women’s stories won’t let go of me. I confess; I’ve been tempted to pack it all up and join them in Africa. But I don’t think that’s the point God is trying to make to me. I think what I’m realizing is that somewhere along the journey I’ve bought into the lie that the American dream is God’s dream. That safety and comfort and security is the goal. When in actuality that couldn’t be further from the truth.

“The civilized view of Jesus is that He always comes through for us.

Like Superman, He always shows up just in time to protect us and save us from disaster.

His purpose is to ensure our safety, our convenience, and our comfort….

but God would never choose for us safety at the cost of significance.”

Erwin McManus

 

The thing about Kimberly and Katie’s lives that so captivates me isn’t their comfort. It’s the danger. It’s the front line, perilous adventure of following and trusting Jesus. These women are living lives of significance. They are boldly marching into the darkness and letting their light shine.

I spend my days frantically trying to build a sanctuary to put my light in so that nothing can blow it out. I spend my days guarding my light. They spend their days shining theirs.

I spend my days begging God to let hardship and trials pass me by. They spend their days thanking God for walking with them through every hardship and trial.

And I am jealous.

I want to see God like they see God. In every minute of every day. As their source and faithful supply.

It’s hard. Here, in the first world, where even in our difficult seasons we are still so blessed. It’s hard to need Jesus here. It’s hard to realize our total depravity when we are surrounded by abundance. It is hard to realize our absolute need for mercy (help for the afflicted and wretched) when we are surrounded by grace (good will, loving-kindness, favour).

I’ve so bought into the American dream that I feel punished when hardships or trials enter my life. I feel deserving of blessing. And therefore I despise seasons of lack. When things go wrong my first inclination is that God is punishing me, not that He is blessing me. My first thought is not that God chose this for me so that I would draw closer to Him.

I want to learn the secret.

The secret that Kimberly and Katie and Paul learned.

“I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation,

whether well fed or hungry,

whether living in plenty or in want.

I can do everything through him who gives me strength.”

Phil. 4:12-13

 

I want to learn the secret of contentment. I want to learn the secret of living in God’s strength, not my own.

I have learned to be content with the American dream, behind my white picket fence, surrounded by comfort and health and security. But I want more. I want contentment when all else fades.

When nothing is left but Jesus… Can I find contentment there?

Surrendered Soul, Abundant Harvest

For days my thoughts have turned to the farmer in Africa, here in the states, and abroad sowing seeds while his family suffers from hunger, sobbing from the nothingness that fills their bellies. They have nothing and so they cry.

I think of the single mom who measures out her children’s portions giving herself less so that they can have more. They have next to nothing and she feels the weight of it, crying herself to sleep at night.

I cannot understand or wrap my mind around suffering, yet I know their tears are not wasted and unnoticed. For God is there, with the broken and contrite heart as the tears run down their faces. He is the same Jesus moved in his gut with compassion while the widow grieves the passing of her only son.

He is moved deep within, churning with action as He raises her only hope for provision, the one she used to cradle and comfort. It seems so delayed, but it’s not. Not for one second is our God not thinking of His loved children.

A spirit of brokenness while sowing seeds brings about a harvest of results leaving them with joy uncontainable- but not for the present, no, it’s the gift and the promise of tomorrow. Today you will cry, fearful that you cannot provide. But your harvest is coming so you throw out what you would rather cling to. There is not another choice.

They wept and planted, in their diligence they pressed on longing to remember the taste of joy. Brokenness within personal famine leads us to a breakthrough like none other. Delayed gratification that lingers with empty ache while the Lord sees, deeming their diligence as pleasing.

“When, the Lord brought back the captivity of Zion, we were like those who dream.” (Ps 126:1)

The picture of Zion is symbolic of safety. Our sweetest dreams are best entertained when we feel certain of our provision, not with barren soul and soil. The dream drains out, salty tears and scattered seed on rocky soil. But, when freedom from captivity comes, freeing us from what holds us back, it releases chained humanity bringing with it our joy. The dream that refuses to die…the little girl who dreams loud as she twirls filling up her now grownup shoes as she gathers up her abundance, carrying in the sheaves. God never wastes our pain.

“He who continually goes forth weeping, bearing seed for sowing, shall doubtless come again with rejoicing, bringing his sheaves with him.” (Ps 127:6)

We sow seeds of surrender by releasing what we hold dear. We wait and watch as God waters the soil with our tears and when the tears no longer spill out, we feel the sunlight again. Bursting forth, our harvest comes in abundance.

We will never taste anything sweeter than the fruit of surrender.

Perhaps you are holding onto the seeds, something of value- a relationship, a friendship that you want to work out, a job, your children. Afraid to scatter in surrender, you hold it tight-fisted and red faced.

You feel like you are about to be swallowed up by your situation, but a seed cannot grow in a cupped hand.

Plant with the hope of an abundant harvest, surrendered souls; you will not taste anything sweeter than the fruit of surrender. Doubtless, your joy will return releasing something far greater than a scattered heart. Safety and surety awaits you, giving way to that dormant dream that God hasn’t forgotten.

Storms

When I was a little girl I was terrified of storms. When I say terrified I don’t mean that I felt a little uneasy when I heard the distant roll of thunder. What I mean when I say that I was terrified is that I was TERR-I-FIED! And growing up in tornado alley didn’t help matters much. Needless to say from early spring to the onset of fall I was a nervous wreck. (maybe that’s why fall is my favorite season)

One spring my daddy decided it was finally time for me to overcome my fear. That spring and summer we spent many afternoons and evenings sitting on our porch watching storms roll in. I hated it. I felt so exposed, so vulnerable. I have to confess, I was really mad at my dad for weeks.

Every time a storm would start brewing he would come find me and drag me outside and sit me in his lap. I would shake and cry and beg to go back inside, but he never let me. He would simply hold me and talk to me about the storm.

Slowly my tears dried up and I moved from his lap to the chair beside him. When a loud clap of thunder would take me by surprise I would look to my dad. He always had the same expression of confidence on his face, he never looked afraid.

I started learning about storms. About lightning and thunder and how they are tied together. About the subtle colors of the sky and what they meant (green means run y’all, in case you were wondering).  About the formation of clouds and what they would produce.

Never once do I remember sitting in front of the T.V. listening to the weather man talk about the many colors splashed across his maps. No, we sat under an expanse of open sky and watched the storms form in real time.

Dad taught me that storms are predictably unpredictable. That God can do what He wants, when He wants with the weather. That we need to be alert, but not afraid.

I remember two incidences specifically. The first was in early spring, a storm rolled in very quickly. It took me by surprise. Dad and I ran out in the backyard to see what the sky was up to when suddenly the clouds began to rotate. It was my biggest fear. I started running for the storm cellar when dad told me to stop and come back to him. Fearfully, I obeyed.  He told me the funnel cloud wouldn’t touch down and that it wouldn’t come near our home. He was right. We stood there for about 15 minutes and watched that funnel cloud hover above the tree line to the west of us. It was amazing.

Later that month I was doing my homework when dad came in, calm but firm he said, “It’s time to go to the storm shelter.” My heart raced as we gathered flashlights (and my teddy bear) and went outside to the shelter. I hated the storm shelter, it was dark, and smelled weird and was home to lots of spiders. But as we left the house and began making our way across the yard I looked to the sky, it was green and low and still. Eerily still. I knew then that spiders were the least of my concern.

The storm raged that evening. But we were safe, sheltered from the storm. My dad’s booming voice filled the shelter as we talked about the powerful winds and rain. And there, with the storm bearing down on us, I wasn’t afraid. My dad had protected me once again from the terror of the storm.

This morning I was talking to God about the storms that are raging in my heart and He reminded me of that summer with my dad learning about the predictably unpredictable nature of storms, and the loving protection that a good daddy brings to a frightened little girl.

Life is a lot like spring in Arkansas. It’s pretty much a guarantee that storms will come. And a lot of time I find myself reacting to life much like I used to react to storms before I learned that while storms can’t always be trusted, my dad can.

In this season in my life I’m learning that lesson all over again. That my Father God can be trusted. Even in the worst of storms. That I need to be alert, but not afraid. And isn’t that the point after all? Not to survive the storm, but to learn that our Father can be trusted in the storm.

I love storms now. Nothing is as exciting as a good summer lightning show. I love watching the clouds build and swirl. I love watching the skies change color, the wind whip through the trees, the sound of rain falling. Love it!

And I’m learning to love watching life unfold. Even the stormy parts.

Because He is with me.

And that makes it all OK.

“Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze. For I am the LORD, your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior” Isa 43:1-3

A Place Where They Cried

Tomorrow Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art opens. I happen to have the privilege of living less than 5 miles from the new museum. Earlier this week I was walking the art trail talking to God about some things in my life that aren’t going as planned. At the end of the trail is an instillation by Pat Musick and Jerry Carr entitled “A Place Where They Cried”.

It commemorates the hardships endured by the American Indians forced to migrate across northern Arkansas to present day Oklahoma.

The sculpture suggests human figures traversing the stream, a metaphoric evocation of American Indians on the Trail of Tears.

While addressing historical events and human tragedy, the artists’ stone figures, flanking the gently flowing stream, can also be viewed as witness to endurance and survival.

As I stood beside the stream in the midst of these standing stones I couldn’t help but think about other stones of remembrance. Of when Samuel and the children of Israel gathered together to bring a sacrifice of repentance to God when suddenly they found themselves surrounded by the Philistine army. The people were terrified and begged Samuel “Do not stop crying out to the Lord our God for us, that He may rescue us.” And God was faithful. Without the Israelites having to raise a hand God confused the Philistines and defeated them.

“Then Samuel took a stone and set it up between Mizpah and Shen. He named it Ebenezer, saying, ‘Thus far has the Lord helped us.’” 1 Sam. 7:12

A stone of remembrance in a place where they cried.

Standing here I wondered about those Indian mothers. Did they put on a brave face for their children? Did they cry into the hard ground after everyone had fallen asleep? Did they ever just want to give up? Quit? Lie down and die?

And what of the women who followed them? The pioneer women, living in a one room cabin, trying to fight off the winter’s icy blast. Did they rock sick, hungry babies with tears on their cheeks? Did they rise early to kneel and pray begging God for comfort?

Or the woman living in the farm house watching her only son go off to war? Did she water his grave with her weeping? Hands clinging to the stone engraved with her only son’s name?

Stones of remembrance in a place where they cried.

My own tears streamed down my face and fell into the soil at my feet. Tears of sorrow. Tears of frustration. Tears of questioning. Just as countless women before me, my overwhelmed heart rose to the surface and hot salty tears erupted.

And then I remembered…  that He remembers.

“You keep track of all my sorrows. You have collected all my tears in Your bottle. You have recorded each one in Your book.” Psalm 56:8

The Master Artist erects His own stone of remembrance in the place where we cry. He does not ignore our tears. He is not uncomfortable with our tears. He is not irritated by our tears. He collects our tears.

He sees, He listens, He cares and He collects as He waits for the day when He will wipe away all of our tears.

Rev 21: 1 Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth passed away, and there is no longer any sea. 2 And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, made ready as a bride adorned for her husband. 3 And I heard a loud voice from the throne, saying, “Behold, the tabernacle of God is among men, and He will dwell among them, and they shall be His people, and God Himself will be among them, 4 and He will wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there will no longer be any death ; there will no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain; the first things have passed away.” 5 And He who sits on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” And He said, “Write, for these words are faithful and true.” 6 Then He said to me, “It is done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. I will give to the one who thirsts from the spring of the water of life without cost. 7 “He who overcomes will inherit these things, and I will be his God and he will be My son. 8 “But for the cowardly and unbelieving and abominable and murderers and immoral persons and sorcerers and idolaters and all liars, their part will be in the lake that burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death.” 9 Then one of the seven angels who had the seven bowls full of the seven last plagues came and spoke with me, saying, “Come here, I will show you the bride, the wife of the Lamb.” 

Everything

I was thrown a curveball recently. One of those unexpected moments that leaves you reeling, wondering what to do and where to go from here. So, I did what every good Christian should do. Called a few friends to ask for advice as a drove to my local Christian book store where I proceeded to ask the person working to load me up with books on the topic of my current crisis. I downloaded podcasts, scoured the internet for articles, and read numerous blogs from people who had experienced the same crisis.

I was desperate to have all of my questions answered.

This week I was reading in Mark chapter 4. It’s a familiar passage to me where Jesus begins teaching the people in parables. It said that whenever He taught He used parables “But when He was alone with His disciples, He explained everything”. (Mark 4:34)

I’ve often wondered about this. Why not explain everything to the crowds? Why only the disciples? Is it because He desires intimacy more than information? Because He cares more about our hearts than our minds?

The Pharisees and the crowds often questioned Jesus, but He very rarely answered them. Instead He questioned them in return, or spoke in a parable, or changed the subject entirely.  Mathew 13:15 says it’s because their hearts were calloused.They didn’t really want to hear what Jesus had to say. Some wanted signs or wonders. Some were looking to trap or trick Jesus. Some were looking to justify their own decisions. But then there was another group; a group of men who had left their nets and walked away from their boats. Men who left family, and jobs and security to follow Jesus. Men who walked dusty roads with Him, ate every meal with Him, and slept on the hard ground beside Him. These men had many questions for Jesus as well. But their questions were answered. Plainly, directly. Every question that a disciple asked Jesus He answered.

Many people wanted to be around Jesus. “The crowds” they are referred to. They liked the excitement, the spectacle, and the miracles that surrounded Jesus. But only a few followed Him, only a few were changed by being around Him. And aren’t we the same way? We love church. We get all excited about a Beth Moore conference or a Chris Tomlin concert. We love reading and discussing the new book or podcast. We like gathering in coffee shops and talking about the goodness of God.

But we don’t want to get in the boat with Jesus.

We don’t want to follow Him into the lonely places and sit beside the fire with Him. We don’t want to chase and pursue and hold on, forsaking comfort and approval and security to be among those whose questions are answered.

We’d rather be with the crowd than with the Savior.

And yet, Jesus calls us to come away with Him. Invites us into His very presence to sit as His feet and listen to the words of life. Calls to us still, even after we’ve gone looking for answers elsewhere. Even when we’ve love the world more than His word. Even when we’ve ignored Him. Still He calls.

“But when He was alone with His disciples, He explained everything to them.” Mark 4:34

Everything.

He waits to answer our questions. He waits to give us direction. He waits to explain everything to His disciples.

I don’t want to be “the crowd”. I want to be His disciple. I want to come away, and sit and listen. I want to be like Peter, that even when things get hard, I choose Jesus. He is all the answer I will ever need.

“From this time many of His disciples turned back and no longer followed Him. ‘You do not want to leave too, do you?’ Jesus asked the Twelve. Simon Peter answered Him, ‘Lord, to whom shall we go? You alone have the words of eternal life.” John 6:66-68

~Keri