Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Mess to Masterpiece

I've got a guest blogger this morning: my daughter, Jessie.  She's the artist working on the sketch in the photo I'm using for this post.  She's quiet most of the time, but those still waters run deep.  Sometimes I get a glimpse into her inner thoughts and it just amazes me.  Today was one of those mornings. I woke up and saw the words she'd written below in my facebook feed.  There's nothing I can add to her thoughts on this Christmas Eve morning....

"Even the most haphazard sketch can turn into a masterpiece, a few strokes of paint into a glorious painting, a lump of clay into a fine piece of pottery, a lump of coal into a sparkling diamond. The world around us tears us apart, and yet there is still beauty among us, thanks to the power of transformation. A forest burned by fire grows back greener than before, a broken bone, stronger. There is but one we can thank for that. Who else could change a shepherd into a king, a boy into a warrior, a guy with a stutter into a leader? And He let His own son become a man and die for us so that our sins may be washed white as snow, the ultimate transformation. Do not forget that God is never finished with you. When you look at yourself and those around you, you may see a mess, but He sees a masterpiece in progress. For God can make make a whole universe out of nothing. Trust Him, hand Him the brush, and see what He paints you into. You might just be amazed. Just remember along the way, we are all works in progress."


Sunday, November 23, 2014

A Cry for Help - Take Two

I recently wrote how I'd discovered years ago in Psalm 50 that God considers a cry for help as praise:  "Calling for help is part of the banquet of praise - the banquet of praise that He longs for, the banquet of praise that makes the "acts of worship" complete. A simple cry for help completes the shout of praise. A simple cry for help that demonstrates our faith, our trust, our dependence...." (See full blog at

I thought I got it.  I mean, I wrote it, right?  But oh don't you love it when your own words come back at you....  

Not long after I wrote those words I discovered that a friend whom I had stood by in times of struggle had been facing those same struggles again... but this time without telling me.  Alone, without support, struggling had turned to falling.  As I looked at the surrounding devastation, I could only wonder why my friend hadn't confided in me.  Why go it alone when help and support were available?  I would have supported... loved...  helped in any way possible.  I had proven all that before, so why wasn't I trusted this time?  Why didn't my friend come to me? Why didn't my friend trust me enough to believe I would be there to help and not condemn?  The lack of confidence and trust stung.  It even triggered some anger within me.  Just what did I have to do to prove I would be there for my friend?  And then... it hit me:  Psalm 50. 

When I try to pull myself up by my own bootstraps and handle life on my own...  I'm doing the same thing to God that my friend did to me.  I'm shutting Him out when He's proven over and over again that He's there for me. And as much as it stung to discover my friend's choice to go it alone... how much more must my tendency to go it alone break my Father's heart?  Ouch.   

A few days later, though, I discovered God wasn't quite through using my own blog against me.... LOL.

Truth is... I hide.  And... I try to handle life on my own.  Not just with God. I can do it with those around me as well.  It doesn't even have to be "big" stuff.  For example:

When my husband has to work late and I find myself jealous for his time, I tend to try to handle it on my own.  I talk myself out of the hurt, telling myself that he's being a good provider (he is!); that he has no choice (he doesn't); that I should be glad he has a job (I am).  I tell myself that it's not fair of me to feel the way I do, and he doesn't need any more stress, so I need to "handle" it on my own (by pretending everything is fine and swallowing the hurt).  But, as my psychologist pointed out to me this week with something else, hiding isn't really handling.  So... (thinking on my own now)... what if... instead of "handling" it on my own... I admitted to my husband how much I missed him?  Not accusing; not angry; just simply admitting that I am struggling?  What would that say to him?  Wow.  I usually look at it from my own perspective of "I know I shouldn't be feeling this way.  My feelings are just wrong." and so I try to talk myself out of it... keep it hidden.  Let me just admit right here and now that I hate to be wrong in any way, especially in front of people -- thus my tendency to hide and handle it on my own.  Looking at it from my husband's perspective, though... if I stopped hiding... if I were open with him about my struggle...  It would not only communicate the desire I have for him (which has to feel good to any guy!)... but it would also show that I trust him with my feelings even when I know they aren't fair.  I trust him enough to share the "ugly" parts of me... to let him in to the areas where I know I'm wrong.  I trust him enough to let him help me.  And when I let my husband in to be the knight-in-shining-armor that every guy longs to be... that has to feel a lot like praise.  And when I don't?  Sigh....  

Those same feelings/questions I felt as I discovered my friend's silent struggle?  I send to my husband and my God every time I'm not honest about what I'm feeling or what I'm struggling with.  That's why a cry for help completes the banquet of praise... that's why my God (and my husband) long for me to quit hiding; to quit trying to handle it on my own; and to just trust them enough to let them in to help.  That's why... every time I don't... I break my Father's heart.

Guess I've got some work to do....


Tuesday, November 4, 2014

A Cry for Help

I originally wrote the following over a decade ago.  Yesterday, listening to Amy Grant's song, "Better than a Hallelujah" brought it back to mind.  As I remembered how I'd discovered the truth of that song in the words of Psalm 50, I realized I wanted to share it here, as it was written then:

It was one of those nights where I realized just how long it'd been.... It wasn't guilt. No, it was an even more powerful emotion that drove me to my knees: the realization of just how much I missed Him. I missed having Him close enough that I could hear Him constantly direct my paths - to the point of avoiding traffic jams I didn't even know where there! I missed having Him close enough that I would talk to Him without a moment's thought. I remembered those times as so sweet... I just... missed Him. And I knew who had moved... but I had no idea how I'd moved so far. So I knelt on the floor, my eyes traveling over the stacks of books I'd made as I'd worked on cleaning up the bedroom earlier in the day. My eyes wandered to the Message version of the prophets - the one I'd been working my way through before I somehow let my life get to the point that the quiet times entirely disappeared. I wasn't even sure where I was in that book anymore. It just didn't "feel right" for tonight anyway. I glanced at the New Testament, then at the new copy of the Message version of the Books of Moses that I hadn't even opened yet. Finally I picked up the most ragged one there - the Old Testament Wisdom books. And, doing something I don't often do, I trusted God to direct me and just opened the book. Somewhere in the midst of those pages were the words I needed to hear, and He was going to have to guide me to them. It opened to Psalm 50....

The Psalm begins to paint a picture of a powerful God, blazing into view with fireworks announcing his arrival. But my heart longs for more than just acknowledgement of an all-powerful, magnificent God....

"He summons heaven and earth as a jury, 
he's taking his people to court."

Sigh. I wanted closeness, not an account of what all Israel did wrong.... I wanted arms wrapped around me, drawing me in, not a judgment....

"Are you listening, dear people? I'm getting ready to speak; 
Israel, I'm about ready to bring you to trial."

Okay. I know I deserve this. I've left Him behind, not entirely unlike Israel. But reading the account of how I messed up just really wasn't what I had in mind for tonight....

"I don't find fault with your acts of worship,
the frequent burnt sacrifices you offer."

Well, that's nice to know. Glad to know I haven't messed up everything. Actually, I'm surprised by the words. I seem to remember judgment against Israel's worship and we're talking trial here.... So somehow I sense a huge "but" coming... I turn the page....

"But why should I want your blue-ribbon bull, 
or more and more goats from your herds?"

Uh huh. I knew it.

"...If I get hungry, do you think I'd tell you? 
All creation and its bounty are mine." 

Sigh. Yeah, I know... but somehow I keep losing track of that. And as I read through this passage I'm reminded again of just how much effort I've put into doing the "stuff" for God while totally ignoring Him in the process. All the effort, the works, the "acts of worship..." doing so much for Him, and so little with Him. I know it's not that the things I'm doing are wrong ("I don't find fault with your acts of worship") but I've let an important part of it disappear. He doesn't need my "acts," He desires my presence. My eyes are blurred with the beginning of tears as I move on to the next section....

"Spread for me a banquet of praise, 
serve High God with a feast of kept promises,"

Sigh. The gathered tears now start to spill as I acknowledge that piece that's been missing. Personal Praise. It doesn't matter what I do for Him if I'm not doing it with Him. If I'm not taking that time for personal praise and to develop my relationship with Him then the "acts of worship" are incomplete. But it's been so long... I... sigh....

"And call for help when you're in trouble- 
I'll help you, and you'll honor me."

I sit in stunned surprise. As many times as I've read through the Psalms it's never hit me before. These two thoughts, "spread for me a banquet of praise" and "call for help," are NOT two thoughts. There is an "and" there, not a period! They are part of one sentence, one thought. Calling for help is part of the banquet of praise - the banquet of praise that He longs for, the banquet of praise that makes the "acts of worship" complete. A simple cry for help completes the shout of praise. A simple cry for help that demonstrates our faith, our trust, our dependence....

And I wonder at the love of a God whom in the midst of rejection by His people cries out "I don't need you to do anything for me. I just want you. Your call for help is my praise. That is the worship I desire."

And so, in awe of a God of so much love, my own (stubbornly independent) heart forms the simple prayer, "Help me to see when I'm in trouble, Father."

And I fall asleep in His arms.


Friday, September 5, 2014

Changed... by Story

I've tried to consider what to write about The Story Workshop I attended in Seattle: four days that I just can't really put into words. There was good teaching by Dan Allender in our large group setting. A psychologist and a theologian, he has the ability to really make you think. I loved sitting under his teaching (as I love reading his books). But where the work was really done was in our small groups... and confidentiality for those women keeps me from saying much about what happened there.

It's amazing that we walked into that first group not knowing each other at all and walked out probably knowing each other better than our best friends at home. The intimacy we shared was significant. We shared our stories... sometimes stories that had never been shared as they were there and sometimes stories that had never been shared at all. We helped each other discover our stories; see them more clearly. After journeying together the way we did, it seemed really strange to just walk away from each other at the end of those four days with just a hug and a blessing – most likely never to see or hear from one another ever again. Just a blessing? So much more. The blessings those women spoke over me have changed me. I hope mine have changed them as well.

I can't say that I walked away with an earth-shattering revelation or direction. And yet... I did walk away changed. I did discover some things about myself and my story that I hadn't seen before. And I think I walked away with a new sense of confidence. I still don't know quite what to do with that, but it's there.

So... what happened? Not what I expected. The problems I'd discovered on my own in the weeks before the workshop (e.g. perfectionism as my idol) never really came up. Instead, what came up was my own attitude towards that 6 year old girl who was abused. I had written my story from the perspective of an 8 year old and described what I felt when I discovered what had really been done to me: "Humiliation overwhelmed me as I realized I wasn't special to him, he didn't love me... I was just a dumb kid who didn't know any better... and he knew it." Through that and other statements that had described feeling foolish and stupid, my facilitator pointed out the hatred I had for that little girl. I argued the point, saying I was just describing how that little girl had felt, not what I now believed. Yet... over the next couple of group sessions, and an individual session, I began to realize that by "protecting" her and continuing to do everything in my power to make sure I was never caught unaware again, I was in fact still speaking disparagement to that little girl. Facing that was huge. I now realized I had to reach out to that little girl inside me and stop telling her she was stupid and foolish.

I was still grappling with that a couple of hours later when I walked into the next small group session... where I came face to face with another unexpected truth. Our facilitator had given me a compliment of sorts and as soon as I'd muttered my thanks, I realized I'd entirely forgotten what had just happened (what was I even being complimented on?). When I admitted it, our facilitator pointed out that I'd just left them... where did I go? I hadn't even seen it, but she did. And when she confronted me on it, I knew the truth of it... and the truth hit me with a searing pain. I didn't know where I had gone, but I knew why... I ran from being enjoyed.... and as we explored why I had that reaction, I suddenly knew... "because when I find out it's not true, it hurts too much."

I did a lot of thinking and writing that night....

I think I walked into the next small group session with a little more confidence. It must have been noticeable, because our facilitator finally turned to me towards the end of the session and said, "Okay... I'm curious...?" I ducked the question for a moment asking, "About what?" but when she just grinned and asked again, I pulled out one of the journal entries I'd written the day before and read it to the group: 
I'm shaking inside. As I question why every muscle is tensed, it occurs to me... I have fought hard: fought to maintain control; fought to deny the weakness of my own feelings; fought to portray an image of strength and self-sufficiency... to mask the quaking little girl inside me. 
I thought I was protecting her; shielding her from the world around her. She was too little; too innocent. She needed that protection. And all the while... all the while I was the one whispering to her, "You'll make a fool of yourself if I let you out." My protection condemned her to a life of silence. My protection took her voice... confirmed... confirmed what? I don't know. That she wasn't able to do it herself?
I called her names without even hearing it: Stupid... Dumb... Foolish.... I fought to make sure she would never face the humiliation of not knowing ever again; would never be made the fool of again. And by fighting... I pronounced her guilty of the very thing I wanted to protect her from.
So hear me now, little Jenn... you were the victim of an abuser. You were gloriously innocent. You looked up to his face with the glowing admiration and the unwavering trust of a small child. He abused that trust. It was his sin, his mistake, his responsibility. You weren't foolish. You were trusting. No one had ever given you reason not to trust before. You didn't know because you couldn't know. You gave him the gift of your trust. There is beauty in that. The evil of abuse marked that beauty, but it is beauty.
The problem is, little Jenn, that you've had a hard time with trusting ever since then. You don't trust others... and you don't trust yourself. I haven't trusted you.
So... dear, little Jenn... lift up your sweet, innocent face and look into my tear-filled eyes. Take my hand as we learn to trust... together. Truth is... I'm still scared of looking foolish... but somehow... I think maybe... just maybe... you... can teach me... how to play.

When I finished reading and looked up, tears were streaming down our facilitator's face.

After some discussion and affirmation, someone asked what I needed. I fumbled for a moment, not knowing. Then I realized... I told them I had to risk looking foolish. I needed to share something growing within me... I hesitantly stumbled over the words as I admitted that even before the workshop I'd been considering pursuing the lay counseling certificate... just to take something back to my home church. I was asked why that felt foolish... and I had to answer that I didn't like admitting desires... I'd prefer not to admit them even to myself... and that I didn't feel like I was good enough... that I struggled with having something to say... who was I to think I could help someone else? That's when nearly every member of the group looked me in the eye and spoke to me of the power of my words... of the way the Spirit had used me there in that room. I have a hard time writing that, actually... it feels like patting myself on the back and I hate that. But what was happening in that room was important... was working to tell that little girl inside that she wasn't stupid or foolish... that her voice could make a difference.

One woman looked at me and told me, "Every time I think of my breakthrough, I will see your face." I honestly didn't have a clue what she was talking about... what I'd said... but I couldn't doubt the look in her eyes. Her words to me were a powerful salve. I already knew another woman had shared something she had never shared before simply because I had shared my story. Now someone was telling me that something I had said to her had changed her as well. I walked out of the room a slightly different person than the one who had entered. Slightly more confident... contemplating what it all meant... willing to contemplate what it all meant....

The next day we had our large group celebration service. I sat until almost the very end, trying to deny the still, small voice inside that told me to get up and speak. This wasn't our small group, but the entire large group! I finally gave in, stood up, and spoke into the mic... not sure anyone could even hear my voice over the pounding of my heart. I spoke a few moments and then read the journal entry. I was still shaking when I sat down. One of my small group members leaned over to me and whispered, "You just changed lives." I didn't really believe her, but at least I'd been obedient. A little while later, though, at the conclusion of the celebration, another woman walked up to me from across the room, pressed a card into my hand, and asked me to email her what I'd read – saying it was something she'd needed to hear. I can't really say much beyond that except to say that the emails we've shared back and forth since then have confirmed what my small group member had told me: my obedience, my words... changed at least one life that afternoon.

So... now what? I'm not sure. I've still got my own issues and my own broken spots. And yet... there is such a strong desire to change lives... to just sit with someone in their story... to give them the freedom and the space to tell their stories. But what does that look like in reality? I really don't know. I'm at a loss... and more than a little scared of it... of even admitting it, actually. At a crossroads, too, I think... but more open. Changed... by story.


For More information on The Story Workshop, see

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Whispers on the Water

I sit on a creek bank – an unexpected find. We signed the lease on this week's rental without having any idea that a small creek flowed alongside it. And so now I sit on its banks with a pen in my hand and a journal in my lap... listening to the gentle gurgling as it passes over the small rocks below me. Calming. Relaxing. Peaceful.

My mind flows to God's provision. He knows me so well... cares for me so well. To arrange for our rental unit to be the one right by the creek? A small little detail like that? I would have been fine without the creek. To discover it, though... especially after just recently beginning to see the pattern of water in my life? It was like getting a love letter from God.  He whispered His care in the sounds of the creek...  "See, Jenn?  I love you!"

I know not everyone has the same reaction to water. Even my own husband could take or leave lake living.  But
I love how it's somehow constant and changing all at the same time: a living, breathing body of life. It grounds me; centers me; calms me; heals me; restores me... but it doesn't do that for everyone.  Some even fear it.  I... I find comfort in it.

I'm only beginning to see that about myself. I'm also just beginning to see God's wonderful provision of it in my life.  Even when I didn't know myself well enough to see it, God has woven its comforting presence through my life. Sometimes I have sought it out - like choosing vacation accommodations on the shoreline for our trip to Washington. But sometimes, like today, God has woven it in without my seeking – just knowing me well enough to know what I needed... even when I didn't know myself....

Today, it brought reflection.  A sense of how deep and wide and marvelous is the love of God.  A sense of how intimately He knows me... how completely He understands me.... 

Over four decades ago, my parents gave me my name.  They didn't know (and I didn't know until recently) that one meaning of my middle name, Lynn, is a small lake. I believe God whispered that name to my parents. They may have liked the name Jennifer, but I believe God wanted me, some four decades later, to understand how intimately He knew me... how completely He understood that part of me and would provide for it. Lynn. Lake. He spoke quietly; moved mightily; using the intimate knowledge of how I was made to provide the exact refuge I needed.

My parents moved to the lake when I was 2½ years old. I ran and played along its shores with my best friend. I fished its depths with my grandpa. It was the scene of an idyllic childhood – one I've enjoyed watching my children getting to experience for the last few years. It was also my comfort and my refuge when the rest of the world wasn't so idyllic. No matter how bad the day was at school; no matter the teasing, taunting, or humiliation... I was always at home on the lake. I belonged.

When I was in 3rd or 4th grade and the cruelty of the world encroached even on the lake, its water closed over me: hiding; shielding; wrapping me in a cloak of comfort and belonging I desperately needed.  I'd been kicked off the raft we shared with our neighbors. There was no explanation given. I had no idea what I'd done to deserve the rejection. To make matters worse, it happened in front of my visiting family. I was humiliated and confused. I remember feeling the water closing in over me as I slunk off the raft and sank beneath the surface... shielding and hiding me as I swam away in the underwater silence. As I struggled to control my emotions, it washed my tears into its own waters before anyone could see them. It held me... comforted me.  It's an image that still grips me today. When I become upset, I still long to sink below the water and let it surround and comfort me... closing out the world around me.

It's only recently that I've recognized the provision of a creek in my childhood, though. It wasn't as constant as the lake. It was woven into my life for only a few short seasons. My sister and I played along its banks a handful of times. My abuser lived near that creek.  By exploring its banks while my parents visited, I was not only calmed by the water, but spared the discomfort of being inside with him (note: my parents didn't know about the abuse until many years later). God knew me – intimately – and wove the creek into my life when I didn't even recognize the refuge He had provided... or even that I needed it.

As I walked along the banks of another creek a few months ago, though, God brought that forgotten childhood creek to mind and then spoke to me using the words from Psalm 46:
God is our refuge and strength,
A very present help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear....

There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God,
The holy dwelling places of the Most High.
God is in the midst of her, she will not be moved;
God will help her when morning dawns.*

I believe God was telling me He placed that creek there for me – my refuge.  God doesn't dwell inside the city of Jerusalem anymore. He now resides in us... in me.  So... "There is a river whose streams make glad Jenn.... God is in the midst of her, she will not be moved; God will help her when the morning dawns." *

Using Psalm 46, He whispered to me of His provision of that childhood creek – showing me He'd been providing for me; understanding me; giving me refuge all along.  The whisper moved me deeply.  The thought that God would place a family along a creek to provide a refuge for me... to provide a place where I could be glad... where I could play in childhood innocence?  Wow. 

And so today, along the banks of another unexpected creek... an unexpected gift... I reflect on God's provision throughout my life.  The intimacy of it washes over me like the water over the rocks below me. I sit in awe and give thanks for the water... and for the God who knows me so well; provides for me so well; loves me so well. 

And as I sit listening to the creek... water... Living Water...  washes over me...  "See, Jenn?  I love you!"  Wow.  Just wow. :)


*Dawn is when enemy attacks usually occurred in the Old Testament, so "God will help her when morning dawns" could be read, "God will help her when the battle begins."

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Broken Together

Snuggled up against my husband's chest, wrapped in his arms at the end of a long day, I was feeling especially contented... happy...  blessed.  Sometimes I just can't quite wrap my mind around what God has been doing in our lives and it was one of those evenings.  I was lost in the wonder of it all when I suddenly realized where I had been a year ago.  At the beginning of April last year... our psychologist had helped me uncover something that had shocked me to the core. 

Carl and I had begun counseling not because there was anything earth-shattering going on in our marriage.  It wasn't full of hostility or knock-down, drag-out fights.  There wasn't even the slightest threat of divorce.  At times there was some tension just below the surface – it's easy to get off-balance when you're walking on all that stuff swept under the carpet!  Really, though, it was just that our marriage wasn't what it should be... or what either of us wanted it to be.  We were more business partners than best friends.  Traveling basically the same direction, but on parallel roads – enough distance between us to make for a lonely journey.   By the time that morning in April had rolled around, we'd been in counseling for somewhere around 6 months, making slow progress.

That morning, though, Carl wasn't feeling well... so I went to our session alone.  I started by talking about my own mood issues.  We talked about the fact that I internalize and bury emotions so deeply that a lot of the time even I don't know what's going on inside me.  Our psychologist began trying to help me draw it out by using stem sentences – he would start a sentence like "I feel most sad when..." and I was supposed to complete it.    After a few rounds of stem sentences he stopped and observed, "So you feel sad and alone in your marriage."  I corrected him, "Not sad... but, yeah...  alone."  The next stem sentence took a slightly different turn.  He started, "I feel most happy in my marriage when...."  I stopped cold as I realized there was nothing – the only honest answer I could give was "I don't."  After struggling with that for a few minutes I finally turned to our counselor and quietly gave voice to my realization, telling him it had surprised me.  He nodded his head in understanding and added, "Not a good, surprise, huh?"  It wasn't.  It shook me to the core.

So here I am...  a year later...  snuggled into my husband's chest, overflowing with love and happiness and feeling blessed beyond belief.  What happened?  God happened.  As I snuggled deeper into Carl's chest I reflected aloud, "You know, we've been through some pretty hard things in the last year...  but I wouldn't trade any of it if it meant we couldn't be right where we are today."  He understood exactly what I was saying and agreed completely.  We have been through some rough stuff.  We've been through some things that any sane couple would want to avoid... some things that should have pushed us further apart – especially given our "drifting" status before we even hit them!  Honestly, if God had let me in on what He was going to take us through, I'm not sure I would've agreed to it.  Actually, I am pretty sure I wouldn't have!  Yet... those very things which should have pushed us apart have drawn us together; things which should have destroyed trust, instead nurtured it; things satan meant for harm, God used for good.  And there in the storm, in amazing ways that could only be God... love grew.  

The truth is, we wouldn't be where we are without those hard times... times when we were broken together.   Broken to become healed.  Broken to become stronger.  I've heard it said that broken bones heal to become even stronger than they were before the break.  I don't know if that's true.  I do know that we have.  Our marriage now is much more than either of us could have dared to dream. So, no... I wouldn't trade any of it.  Not even the tough stuff.

And with that thought and a prayer of thanks, I snuggled even deeper into my beloved's chest, feeling his arms tighten around me... contented...  happy... blessed beyond belief... and absolutely amazed at all God has been doing and is continuing to do. 

Maybe you and I were never meant to be complete
Could we just be broken together
If you can bring your shattered dreams and I'll bring mine
Could healing still be spoken and save us
The only way we'll last forever... is broken together
            - Casting Crowns, Broken Together