Rebuilding and Reclaiming: A New Generation of Ruth & Naomi’s

Elise & Mom

My prince

My pint-size, just passing through, prince

I was thirty-one and recovering from a hysterectomy that I didn’t want to have and my husband was in Africa just two weeks after my surgery. (Sorry, this is a blog for women. I have no problem talking about mammograms and the fact that I don’t have a uterus.)

The reoccurring nightmares that I had been having finally stopped, the ones with a faceless man standing in the doorway leading into my room trying to hurt me.

I stopped fighting in my dreams. I stopped writing and hiding behind fiction because I was too afraid of the faceless man. I started the brave act of telling my truth and writing about the jacked-up, messy side of healing from years of emotional baggage and dragging deadweight from yesterday.

I was ready for whatever. But I had no idea what that would look like.

I was on my knees crying in surrender, terrified of the unknown and what was next for us as a family. I just knew in my heart that my husband would come home and that we would be on the mission-field next with my miracle babies, ages three and one. I would be in a tiny hut with no Wi-Fi trying to speak Francais Afrique and have to bake my own bread. And let me just add that my accent is strong and southern…and I would need language school for years just to help me change my bad habit of chewing on words and adding extra syllables that are unnecessary. Sometimes I talk like Reba McEntire sings and I don’t think it’s cute when it comes out of my mouth. But, she’s cuter, smarter, and can pull it off and make a lot of money from it.

My overactive imagination was playing tricks on me. I was a hot-mess trying to surrender to the unknown while on pain meds and trying to figure out which part of my surrender was Jesus…or maybe I was just high.

I felt like crying and reading my Bible would be the sane thing to do, so I turned to this passage and God whispered words to my mending heart.

“Pure and undefiled religion before God and the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their trouble, and to keep oneself unspotted from the world.” (James 1:27 NKJV)

My husband was building an orphanage in Africa while God was rebuilding my heart.

When we are in recovery, both physically and spiritually, the ugly rises to the surface of our hearts and it looks a lot like fear and trying to control the unknown. Which is not possible, in case you haven’t figured that out.

In that moment it wasn’t about finding ways to control my life, it was about finding a way to lose it. It was about the laying down of my selfishness to find a life worth writing about and living. It was about the crucifying of this flesh and learning what dreams were worth entertaining and which ones that were selfish pursuits and vanity-induced ambition.

I cried and asked God, “What does this scripture really mean?

And answered, “…Of course my answer is yes to whatever you are asking of me. Even if it scares me silly and is messy.”

In my heart I felt like God was saying this…

“If you take care of and tend to the orphans and widows…and all those in between, I will take care of you.”

So, you want me to take care of the messy middle girls?

God did not spell out my next step. At all. He just told me to leave the light on at the door of my heart and make room for the wounded wanderer and all those who might come to me for a little while. And so I did. I focused on the widow and opened my home and my heart for a little pint-size prince that I didn’t get to keep.

And late at night I would write for my messy middle girls and found my tribe and my un-muted voice. I allowed my heart to gravitate to the strong women in leadership, kicking against transition, and I knew my job was to hold her hand and let her know that she was my kind of crazy and that eventually, she would be okay too. I knew that if she could be brave enough to surrender to living life upside down, counter cultural, and set apart…she would be free and happy and fulfilled for the first time in her life.

I am the Ruth to a bunch of Naomi’s wrestling with bitterness and finding the courage to go back home changed and softer, not just used up and mangled on the inside.

I was the woman with her hand outstretched reaching for the hem of His garment; reaching so hard I knew that in time I would have it some kind of healing.

Days unfold and we feel ourselves at the stretching place where we wait and hope in things unseen. We want to become better at the waiting and allow room for hope in the unseen. And then think we are crazy for actually thinking that it will rise from the dusty ashes of having what we thought we wanted taken from us. We are a little spoiled and a little too calculated. And we are definitely way too comfortable, we sit on padded pews and we never have to wonder where we will sleep or if we will have three square meals and all the snacks in between.

We want safe and easy. A, B, and then C.

We want plan A and stomp our foot telling God what plan B should look like.

As if we know better.

We wrestle with people instead of wrestling to be an un-muted voice for those waiting for us to get our crap together and realize that life was never meant to be all about us.

We ask for red flags and warning signs and sometimes we see them waving and know that God calls us to a messy kind of love that hurts and costs us something, if only our need for control.

What God does not need is another controlling woman. He needs a Spirit-controlled woman with an untamed fire inside of her that spurs her to action and getting her hands dirty.

Our bodies fail us, our minds find less space for trivial things like where you put that long list you needed to make to help you stay on track and the even larger task of being all things to all the people becomes less important. Your “people group” becomes smaller even if the number of people that you have been called to serve enlarges.

If we can’t remove some distractions from our life…He will love us enough to remove them for us. And sometimes breaking up with our former life is exactly what we need to usher in change that sets us all the way free.

Lately I have been wrapped up in this passage in Isaiah 61: 3-7 (NKJV) for weeks and these words are impacting me:

He has sent Me:

“To console those who mourn in Zion, to give them beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness; that they may be called trees of righteousness, the planting of the Lord, that He may be glorified. And they shall rebuild the old ruins, they shall raise up the former desolations, and they shall rebuild ruined cities…instead of your shame you shall have double honor, and instead of confusion they shall rejoice in their portion. Therefore in their land they shall possess double; everlasting joy shall be theirs.”

Maybe all you see in your life is ruins and ruined cities…but God is rebuilding something inside of all of us right now. We trade up with God every time. Instead of shame, double the honor. Instead of confusion we find ourselves rejoicing. Everlasting joy is ours because He wins and we win with Him. Don’t go by what you see, God is in the rebuilding business. Stop fighting with people and start fighting for them. Be the Ruth. Go find the next Ruth. Be the Naomi who refuses to have her named changed to “Bitter”…and give birth to sometime new from what you thought was dried up and in ruins.

Much love to you.

Jennifer

Photo cred: Chelsea Rustad, my incredibly gifted friend with a heart for adooption.

Will you pray for our Ruth and her family waiting for her to come home? Click on the link to find out more about Ruth’s unfolding story. She has a Mom, Dad, and siblings that ache for her to be home. It’s been a long wait and they need you to bombard heaven for them. Let’s fight for our girls.

 

What To Do While You Wait

Gift, woman in the sunlight

Tucked away deep within are the desires and longings of my heart and yours. Tucked away and unseen by others yet God sees them as we wait for them to take on a glorious shape of their own and come out of hiding. Sometimes our desires come to fruition in a way that can only mean that God himself etched them on our hearts. So what do you do while you wait on God-dreams and desires? You seek first the kingdom and have faith that the things added to you will come straight from the hand of God in His perfect timing, not yours.

“Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” (Heb 11:1 KJV)

It’s the things unseen that I long to watch unfold before me. So I release the things tucked away in my heart and give them over to a God who orders my steps. I know that the waiting is the sweetest gift and beautiful things happen in my heart when I seek His face first and ask Him to rearrange my priorities.

It’s the whispered prayer and the tears you cry wrapped in loneliness. It’s the bended knee in surrender and the hands unclenched releasing hope up to God in prayer as runny mascara makes a path down your face. It’s the hope in things unseen and somehow God gives us little glimpses of the things unseen and joy knowing that the pursuit of seeking His face first will unleash hope in us that will go the distance as we wait. And wait. And then wait some more.

I seek Him first and then whatever He chooses to add is a welcomed addition. A blessing follows when I forfeit my will and agenda to become more. Nothing is greater than seeking God’s face knowing that His will is to bless His children.

Tucked away and sometimes dormant are the desires deep within, they are not forgotten, nor dead. They are simply waiting to take glorious shape into more than you could have ever hoped for. It’s not lost so don’t give up. When God breathes life into something the miraculous happens.

Today I want to seek His face first.

Today I want to love deeper and not expect anything return.

Today I want to pursue peace with wild abandon and trust God with all my heart.

Today I want to let God divinely interrupt my list of things to do and rest in Him. 

Today I want nothing more than to please God instead of people. 

Today I will seek God first and whatever He wants to add is exactly what I need.

Praying for you today as you wait,

Jennifer

“Delight yourself in the LORD and he will give you the desires of your heart. Commit your way to the LORD; trust in him and he will do this: He will make your righteousness shine like the dawn, the justice of your cause like the noonday sun. Be still before the LORD and wait patiently for him…” (Ps 37:4-7a)

 

The Messy Middle, When Life is Not Beautiful

shears

I’m reading in Ecclesiastes today because I’m desperate. How’s that for transparency? The writing life is not just about what ends up on paper, but all the things that I dare not type. It’s the sacred thread of a woman’s heart leaning wholeheartedly on God to do what I cannot. Fix things and hearts. My intense desire to nurture springs into play and I just want to kiss the hurts away and make things easier for the ones I love. But, that’s not what God is asking me to do. He leads us to cast our cares on Him, and it’s hard to cast something that we are so afraid to release. But, an unclenched hand is a sign of a surrendered heart and it’s dead weight to us if we try to carry it longer that we should.

The deep roots I have taken to find myself in Christ have only made me stronger, not weaker, because it hasn’t been easy. I had to work hard and learn the benefits from a little blood, sweat, and tears. In this place where I feel certain that I’m in transition and our ministry is in transition, I have to trust that when everything seems unwoven and uncertain…His purpose in all of this is for our good.

I turn to chapter 3 and I relax into the knowledge of timing for every purpose.

A time to plant, and a time to pluck what is planted. 

It seems like the planting is much safer and more hopeful than the plucking of something that you hoped would grow, but it has to be done. Dirtiness happens in the uprooting of something that is not doing what it was designed to do. We do our planting and sowing until God asks us to pluck and uproot something in our hearts and lives that are not producing the kind of fruit He desires. How much time have we wasted watering something that died a long time ago?

A time to break down, and a time to build up…

It seems so tragic when all we see is a wrecking ball and the chaos that comes from the things we’ve spent a lot of time building being ruined in a heartbeat. We restore broken homes and broken dreams and sometimes we just need a clean slate and a restart. We are better at the clean slate than we are when everything is scattered and out of place. So we brace ourselves for the breakdown and catch our breath when we see the master builder rolling out a new design with a stronger foundation that will last and walls that are unshakeable.

He has made everything beautiful in its time. Also He has put eternity in their hearts, except that no one can find out the work that God does from beginning to end. I know that nothing is better for them than to rejoice, and to do good in their lives, and also that every man should eat and drink and enjoy the good of all his labor-it is the gift of God. (vs. 11-13)

God has made everything beautiful in its time and if it’s not beautiful…then maybe it’s not time. It’s the season of plucking and breaking down. It’s the season to refrain from embracing when all you want is to be held. But we can’t embrace when we are carrying things that stand in the way of true intimacy. And so we watch the things we love tare knowing that the mending and sewing that is coming will be with divine thread that doesn’t fray so easily. We weep and we mourn and then we laugh and we dance because life is such a sweet gift and we have so many things to rejoice about.

Life might not be beautiful right now, but it will be. Don’t be mad about the uprooting and the temporary breakage, God is so good to remove things in our life that are not fruitful and toxic in order to make way for the miraculous moments that are dance-worthy and joyful. We don’t know the beginning to the end, so we hang on with hope in the messy middle because He who has called us is faithful.

The one who calls you is faithful, and he will do it. (1 Thes 5:24 NIV)

Much love & prayers in this messy middle season.

Jennifer

undone & Unleashed…a book giveaway!!

220cups20of20coffee

Keri and I have been writing like madwomen on a mission. I can’t tell you how excited I am about our individual projects and the Bible study that she and I will be writing together after we finish our projects without turning to emotional eating and insane amounts of caffeine. Oh, who am I kidding?! Lots of prayers, scattered tears, and delirious conversations over chips and salsa are going on regular basis. But most of all, it’s pure excitement about what God is unleashing in our hearts.

This is where we are living right now…I hope you will join us.

“I’m convinced of this one thing-the life you long to live is not waiting in the future; it is waiting in the inner recesses of your soul. You don’t need to go find faith; you need to unleash it. You don’t need to go find life; you need to unleash it. In fact, everything that is good or beautiful and true that you will spend your entire life searching for is simply waiting to be set free through a life that follows Christ with reckless abandon.” (Unleashed by Erwin McManus)

We are giving away seven copies of our devotional “undone” if you haven’t signed up on our website to receive updates sent directly to your email…please do so and leave a comment on our blog telling us what you are praying to be unleashed in your heart right now! We will be mailing out books this week!

ThumbnailImage

Much love to you all!!

Jennifer & Keri

Fly Baby, Fly

IMG_2529

I love the movie “What About Bob” for many reasons. I love the uptight therapist and the client that drives him crazy. I love the sound of laughter that happens when you watch such craziness and can see yourself in all of the characters.

Growing up I was painfully shy and afraid of my own shadow. As most young children do, I started to outgrow some of the “awkward” phases like not looking people in the eyes while speaking to them and hiding behind my mother and hanging on her legs. I’m thankful I had a mother that helped me and taught me simple things like chewing with my mouth closed and how to make someone feel important by looking at them while they spoke to you. I look back on key moments; ones I often didn’t understand, and realize that she gave me important gifts that have helped me become all that God intended me to be.

I’ve always lived in such a way that it scares my mom a little. The shy awkward girl grew up into someone who learned to live life unafraid. Amazing things happen to a heart and life submitted to God. I’ve always been a dreamer, the girl with my head in the clouds. I’ve become a dream chaser, following hard after God, and stepping out in uncharted places. This past week I went to a ranch in Oklahoma completely alone. I can guarantee you this, almost fifteen years ago when I walked down the aisle; I never thought I would be taking trips alone. Ever. I was too afraid of what could happen. And now I am more afraid of the beautiful life I could miss by staying inside a safe little box.

I had five days without children, which is like a mini holiday for the tired mommy. Five days with my girls at camp trying new things and learning about God, five days of knowing they would be safe even though I wasn’t glued to their side. I knew I could stay home and miss them, or I could chart new territories of my own. Truth be told, I wanted a romantic getaway with my man. But, instead he sent me off with a blessing as he stayed home to be with family and work. I felt released to go, to fly, and to get alone with a stack of books, note cards, my Bible, and my favorite pens; a writer’s dream. Gorgeous places that inspire you to write and think, but most importantly to hear from God. That was what I needed to leave home for. Sometimes we just live such noisy lives. We talk so much, coming up for air, and finding we have nothing left to say. Words lose their power and meaning when our actions erase the things we “meant to say.”

I will always look back at this moment as the week that changed the way I write and live forever. I remember shaking my head and whispering to God, “If I can do this…I can do anything.”

As I unloaded my things at the ranch with spotty cell phone reception, my mom called and asked me what I was doing.

“I’m here and I’m safe and it’s gorgeous.”

And I heard her sweet voice say, “Well, don’t you feel so grown up?”

And I do feel grown up, but it goes much deeper than that. I feel more comfortable now in my grown up skin and it just keeps getting better. Forget Hollywood and what they say about women as they age, get lesser roles, and feel the need to look like plastic. I’ll gladly take these stretch marks that prove my body has given life to my children.

I’ll take the laugh lines that remind me of all the moments when I throw my head back and laugh, a cackle that is distinctly mine. I’ll take it all, even the knowledge that I need to empty my bladder before jumping on the trampoline with my girls. And when those girls laugh at me, I’ll hold my side, out of breath, and say something like, “You were large babies.” And explain it later. I’ll take the wrinkle cream and frown when I need to buy the special face wash for adult acne and mumble how it’s just wrong, you should have to buy one or the other, but not both. I’ll take the changes in life that come knowing I have a choice, hoping my actions speak so much louder than the words I love so much.

I’m thankful for three days and two nights on a ranch that felt like home and much like my parents house with lots of wide-open spaces, and room to breathe…and spotty cell phone reception and no wifi. It wasn’t how I envisioned my week off; it was so much better.

Last week, I booked two trips stepping out in faith. I excitedly texted my mothering mentor and got this back…

Fly baby, fly.

And I am. I hope you will do the same…I hope you will fly or sail. Whatever, just move forward and stop looking back.

You can do all things through Christ, not just some things…you can live a life that makes people shake their heads in amazement inspiring them to live more fully. It’s so important to stop talking about all the things you want to do and actually do them. Live and dream and pray and love and forgive, and repeat these steps as needed to live in the fullness of all Christ has for you!

Fly baby.

Much love,

Jennifer

IMG_2551

Chasing Boys, Losing Boys~ My Adoption Story

Flickr, Chasing Boys

Everything about loving him scared me senseless. He was a flight risk and I knew it. I asked God to reveal it to me, to show me and to guide me, and He did. Once again I felt that risky, head-over-heels love that wrecks you. The one that leaves you forever marked, memories swirl around me as I watch a little boy slurping down his chocolate milk with his mom at Starbucks. I stare at the boy three years older than the one I loved. I smile and hurt simultaneously at the same time. I never really understood the mother son relationship before. But, I do now. I only had four months to fall in love hard and walk away without my pint-size prince. I get it now.

They smell different. They love different. They destroy things and leave a trail letting you know exactly where they have been. And when the mess is gone, you miss it. I know it sounds strange, because I like things orderly and in place. But, I miss his mess. But I don’t miss the chaos that came with the strings attached, court dates, and multiple people wanting to infringe on our safe-haven. All I wanted was him. Throw out all the dreams I had and my career finally starting to go somewhere without interruptions, nothing else compares to my deep desire to mother my children. Nothing else matters.

I used to stand him on my legs, his hands in mine and sing, “One Day My Prince will Come.” At only eighteen months he said very little, but he knew the song and would smile and sway as we did our special waltz.

One day my prince will come and he did. And then he left.

We had found out about Taylor a couple weeks prior; his mom was at a crossroads so we met with her to discuss her options, adoption being one of them. His mother getting her life straight and becoming the mother he deserved was the best option but she wasn’t ready to do that. I was in shock when she called on a Sunday afternoon asking us to take him. By Tuesday we were starting the process of adoption. It was unheard of, but the family found us and felt like we were Taylor’s hope for having a different life. He was dropped on my doorstep with almost everything he owned fitting into two laundry baskets. With shaved head, only a shirt, and a diaper he was fourteen months old, beautiful, and broken.

Love fixed him and in the process it changed everything within my heart and my family. We echoed the heartbeat of Christ, fighting for the orphan and the widow. It was selfless, laying down our comforts to welcome a love with so many strings attached. We gave Taylor a voice and a safe harbor. We gave him our hearts, he became like our flesh and blood with no difference between him and the daughters I gave birth to.

My husband fell harder and faster, but I saw the writing on the walls. One of my strongest gifts is discernment and sensitivity to the Spirit’s leading. I ask and I seek and I knock. I listen, even when it’s not what I want to hear. It was only a matter of time until heartbreak would happen. But, four months changes everything and eventually I started believing he might actually end up with us forever. My first month was a hurricane and I can only compare what I felt to post partum depression.

I was never one to fall in love so easily, but sometimes love is like driving a car fast without any brakes. You brace yourself and hold your breath uncertain of the outcome. What once was invigorating and exciting hits the brick wall of change and you emerge different. The hope is that eventually the whiplash will fade to nothingness and your heart will be mended, even if it’s never the same.

Sometimes we chase boys who are worth it and sometimes we catch them and want to throw them back. And sometimes we never want to let go; we never want to stop feeling a love so tangible and real. We never want it to stop for fear of what happens when life fades back to normal.

Loving the way Jesus does is risky, but with all my heart I believe it’s worth it. Jesus walked this earth with every intention of laying down His life for us, even for the ones who rejected and mocked Him. Laying it all down and living a life of putting others first is risky, but I want to love like that. My heart is full of gratitude for a cross, an empty tomb, and a risky, unending love.

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?