Ethel's Umbrella

Over the past month, we have been out one car. Our Prius' fancy feet tripped over themselves. So like many car sagas past, it sits in our garage waiting for it's kinsmen redeemer.

That redeemer would be Tim Vincent. Tim is the handiest of guys, and he's just been a little busy finishing his thesis, or else it would've been fixed ages ago. So for the past month or so, we've been dependent on the kindness of the body of Christ. 

The first week we borrowed Becky and Aaron's vehicle, "Ethel." Becky reached out to me after hearing about our unique situation and asked if we would like to use it, no charge, no time limit. Her only request was that if it rained, we were to take the umbrella purposefully placed in Ethel's front seat and give it to someone who needs it. 

You know I can't for the life of me remember the car's make or model or even what color it is, but I will always remember that umbrella.

Not only were they providing for us when we were in need, they were providing something for us to provide for someone else in need. They were giving us two gifts in one, a gift for us and a gift to give away. So in this way, they had premeditated two gifts to give, without knowing the details of who or when or why. They told us they've been blessed in this way before, with God always providing for them from the body.

They had been given some umbrellas in their lifetime. Now they were our umbrella. And now they were giving us the ability to be the umbrella for someone else. 

Becky and Aaron's family has grown to a family of six as they've adopted twice in the past few years, and recently they've been waiting for God to provide a buyer for their home. In them, I see the trust that God will provide just the resources they need when they need it from whom they need it. And they display the trust to be able to give to others while they are still waiting on God to provide for them. They've seen him do it time and time again, so it there really wasn't a second thought. 

They've been so well loved, they can love others well. And teach those they love to love others well too. Their love reaches beyond themselves, and even beyond the first ripple of those they choose to love. 

God's love is far reaching through Becky and Aaron. 

And what gets me about these two is how joyfully expectant they are that God would show His love through them. 

God's love is not a one and done deal. It is so abundant we could never keep it to ourselves.

It is all too much.

Becky and Aaron are too much. Their kids are too much. Their hearts are too much. The car and the umbrella, it is too much. 

When God has given you "too much," you can't really help it. You've got to be too much and show others how to be too much. 

This is what it means when God said He came to give us life and life to the full

To my great disappointment, I never did get to give Ethel's umbrella away. It was a very dry September week. But since that week, I've been looking for ways that people purposefully set aside what they've been given to be generous to others. The lady with an extra quarter at Aldi. The person who writes in their schedule "time to serve" every Friday afternoon, not knowing how God will have them serve during those hours, but joyfully expectant He would fill the time every week. The sister who makes an extra freezer meal for the person who will need it. The church that sets aside funds because they know well this fallen world will catch someone by surprise this year. The person who buys an extra pack of diapers for the Women's Center. 

But still, I've never seen quite the gift of giving twice that Becky and Aaron have so nonchalantly exemplified. They are truly gifted in giving.

We don't have to know the details of when or who or why, but in joyful expectancy, we can set aside the too much of God's love for us to give away to someone else who can then, in turn, give it away too. 

Like pay it forward? But Jesus already paid it all, and then gave us a cup that overfloweth. He gave us some Ethels and Ethel umbrellas and sweet people like Becky and Aaron to show you the simple no nonsense, no strings attached fact of Christ's love for us.

Since that week, we've been using our best friends and neighbors Nick and Natalie's car. They are the usual suspects of this lesson in my life. And I'm still a little embarrassed to be on the receiving end even though they would roll their eyes to hear it.

But I don't have to wait to be the giver. This kind of giving? It's quite contagious. 

So I am asking God, what can I set aside? What can I decide ahead of time? How can I give your love away, and then some? I want to be a Becky, Aaron, Nick, and Natalie. I want an Ethel and an Ethel's umbrella of my own.

God's love made manifest in us, through us, beyond us. Let us love not just with words, but with actions and in truth, joyfully expectant that your love will show up and reach beyond our wildest dreams.

Phlebotomy and The Secret Places

What do you do when you get a shot or blood work done? Do you look away and sing Beyonce and play candy crush and pretend you are ANYWHERE else but in that Phlebotomist's chair?

In my pregnancies, I got SO MANY labs. It never got easier for me. I would force small talk on the poor blood drawer because I was DESPERATE to avoid in my head what my body needed. And you bet I never looked. Suddenly the screensaver on the computer became the most fascinating thing my eyes ever beheld. And you bet I got a Panera Mango Smoothie after that because lollipops are old school. I know, I'm such a wimp. I can only imagine how my friends with diabetes do it. Ya'll are seriously my heroes. 

I can't stand to look many places where blood is being drawn, even if that pain is causing great Gospel things to happen in my life. These blood draws, these trials, these tests. Tests of my faith. Tests for my good, to give evidence to the truth that my blood is really now covered in Jesus' blood. I am redeemed! I am free! And now? I am changing.

But the point is this, we have to look. What area of your life are you avoiding? What area is off the table for God to change because you are too afraid to go there? There is a point where it is unavoidable, where we have to look. God just has to lead us there, because we would never go on our own accord. He often focuses our attention by taking away all the other places our eyes could wander. 

He gave me a viser and binoculars when I was far away and a microscope when I was close up. God pointed me to my own own heart. He lovingly guided me to take a look at my secret places.

Over the past several weeks, I've lost many things, things that buffer me from the worst parts myself. These are common first world reliances: wallet, phone, car, health. When I have my wallet, I can rely on my money to buy me the comforts of groceries and coffee and babysitting. When I have my car, I can drive to the places that keep my kids entertained for a few hours. When I have my health, I can rely on my abnormally high charisma, my zest for life. When I have my phone, I can escape to all the people doing all the things all the time.

You see at first, when I recognized what was going on, I thought, Oh fantastic! Now God is for sure working on my marriage and motherhood, as that is what is still left when all the other factors are taken away. And certainly He did, in fantastic ways. There is a peace about my home that has been lacking for a little while.

But really it is deeper.

It is the mouse poop and graham cracker infestations in my heart that He wants to work. The crumbs still lingering on our inward storage systems. You see, the Gospel is power. The saving work of Jesus Christ? It is a one and done deal for our redemption, yes. But our sanctification? The gospel of Jesus Christ is for me NOW. It is working to change me NOW. My heart is God's. And He will have it for His glory. So He will change me. And that will be hard. Because I'm going to have to look. 

And look again. And look harder. 

I will have to ask God to show me my sin in the secret places. 

And I will find abundant evidence to the power of Jesus Christ over those same places. 

And I will find the resources I need to change by the power of the Holy Spirit. 

The Bible calls this the circumcision of the heart. God will change us, everywhere, starting on the inside and working His way out. It will be tender and personal. And this cutting away in the secret, this refining, allows us to love the Lord with reckless abandon. Nothing will stand between us and our beloved. 

And the Lord you God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your offspring, so that you will love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, that you may live.
— Deuteronomy 30:6

I'm so thankful for the past several months of spiritual blood tests. I'm grateful to have seen my heart's sinful condition, and the power of the Jesus Christ to not only declare me righteous past, present, and future, but change my heart as well. He has taken away my heart's barriers and distractions and reclaimed my heart for Himself. He is helping me to love Him with everything in me, and with a love that is beyond me. 

He is causing me to live. 

So I say, Amen Lord! Leave no table unturned. Thank you for helping me to look, and to find your simultaneous covering and changing love. And help me to look at my sin when it is easier to look elsewhere. Because I know now, I am a new creation! The old has passed and the new has come, starting in the most secret place, and what I pray will be also my most holy place.

The Dishwasher: Resilience in the Life of a Believer

When I was in sixth grade, I had a bedtime ritual that included two keys. One unlocked my American Girl Diary and one cranked my palate expander. Have you heard of these torture contraptions they call "orthodonture?" Expanders actually break your jaw and reshape it to correct its improper proportions. They cause your front teeth to separate and then you get braces to bring your wayward teeth back to the promise land.

Nevermind my school picture happened at the exact time the space between my front teeth was the widest. I'll never forget how traumatizing eating a simple cheeseburger became. The slurping, the sucking, and the struggle.

And the lisp. Let's just not talk about that part.

I just want to hug that girl.

When I was nineteen years old, I was sitting at my fiction creative writing workshop in college. Workshops are palate expanders for writers. It is painful, and you have to willingly crank it every day, knowing it will turn your once awkward teenage words into crisp manuscripts. You absolutely hate to need the feedback, but there is no way around the power of sitting at that table. If you can swallow it, listen, and come out the other side, you might just be an author. Or at least a humbler human being. And the latter is definitely the greater gift.

And then someday you might be able to sit across from someone else and be the person giving the feedback. Wiping the cheeseburger drool caused by their unfortunate orthodontic apparatus. 

You see, I had written a work about a dishwasher.

No, I lie.

I wrote a story from the perspective of a dishwasher. And I don't mean a person washing dishes. 

I wrote a story from the perspective of a common household kitchen appliance.

Yeah. Bad. Very, very bad.

I can laugh about it now. And no doubt my writing prof is still laughing about it.

That day in workshop was brutal. 

I wish I could tell you that I got over it right away, but I never did finish my creative writing minor. I can tell you that I just didn't have time to make all the work happen in the two years I rushed through college, but now I wish I would have fought for it, even if it meant admitting I was an average writer at best.

Even if I am one now, I understand the power of being evaluated, being found wanting, and coming back to the table anyway. 

Because the work you do is absolutely bigger than your failures. And it is always, ALWAYS, better because of them. And when you realize, like I am, that your works are never who you are, what can save you, that all is faith, all is grace, then you absolutely have nothing to lose because you have nothing to stand on in the first place. Romans 1-3 has a way of killing your ego and freeing you from it all at the same time.

Next week I will be presenting my ideas for the Dayton Women in the Word podcast and blog to our team at our vision casting meeting for 2018. And it has me thinking about that dishwasher. It has me thinking about that workshop table. I'm never going to willingly crank the expander, or bring my imperfect ideas and unfinished work to the table. 

But this is the best place right? When being faithful to what Christ has done and will do is more important than you.  When you ask God to crucify your ego so that YOU are not a barrier to what He wants to accomplish through your life.

When you fully trust that your ashes, past, present or future, are not your enemy because God is a beauty from ashes kind of God. And it is all beyond you anyway.

When I was 21 year old newlywed, I stabbed myself in the hand pitting an avocado while trying to set two of my friends up. Both endeavors were complete failures. But that is a story for another day, another post.

Embarrassed is not a strong enough word. For the expander. For the dishwasher. For the 11 stitches in my hand and the husband unbuttoning my jeans when I had to pee.

I won't ever forget what my granddaddy told me after the avocado tragedy of 2010. "The only people who never hurt themselves in the kitchen are those who never learn to cook."

So now when I look at my scar, I think of him saying that. And I think of all the guacamole that could have been lost these past 7 years on the altar of my ego.

And I think of how many compliments I receive about my smile, the smile that was crafted ages ago by palate expander cranked. And all my BFFS I had who were struggling in their own angsty sixth grade ways, but playing Polly Pockets with me anyway.

And I also think of how Tim kisses that scar and how he washed the dishes for us when I couldn't use my hand any more when I so badly wanted to impress him with my all my newlywed mad wife skills. And how many times I have said to him over the years, "Oh well, at least you love me." Because he has seen all the worst parts of me by now in the past seven years of marriage, and yet. He has shown me through his steadfast love that the love of Christ surpasses the worst thing I could ever do to the people who love and sacrifice for me the most.

Knowing and receiving the love of Christ makes me resilient.

I think resilience comes when we have "just kill me now" moments and realize we are still valued and valuable. We still belong at the table. We can still smile for the camera. And my goodness gracious, we can still make a heck of a guacamole. 

And in fact, how could we not? Are these not gifts given to us to reflect the Best, capital B, Best Author, the author of our faith, Jesus Christ? 

Bottom line, when we rejected our Savior, He died for us anyway. We all have failed in the most epic way possible. All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. We are all in the same boat. We all come to God naked, unrefined, withno hope of a second chance at the table.

But Jesus handled it. He died on the cross. He took the shame of the exposure with him, too. He took that shame, and it died when He did. Because for no reason I can understand, He says we belong with him. 

That is it. We belong with God.

This a much deeper need than the needs to create, or to behold beauty, or to receive affirmation. We were created by Him, for Him. And we need to belong to Him who sees us fully, yet who loves us enough to take our sin upon Himself. And now, because of what Christ has done, He sees complete righteousness. Past. Present. And Future. Not only that, He gives us opportunities to grow closer to the vision of who He intended us to be.

And He uses all the elements of a good story to do it. And to my great humility, He uses storytellers like me to tell it. 

But you bet, however I do it, I won't be telling it from the perspective of a dishwasher. 

To start, I'm just going to sum up that for the Christ-follower, we are declared right and at the same time, He is changing us to be right. 

So. We don't have to worry about getting it all right.

And, we can release others from the pressure to get it all right, too.

Especially as we invite others to the table, let's remind ourselves, we belong to Him. 

 

When Babies Become Toddlers

I'm calling it.

This thing I've been doing? Not cutting it.

When your babies grew to become toddlers, did you feel it? The switch? The change?

What was required of me when Titus was born and what is required of me now is completely different. And the switch was so subtle and gradual that I didn't notice it until I had several days where we kind of lived in time out and when I kind of wanted an out. Have you ever felt more like a monster than a mother? Yeah, me too. Even though I know that is not the truth, that there is grace, I need something to change. And God is showing me that something is me.

Almost everything about mothering babies is physical. They need your womb. They need to nurse. They need rocked and soothed and burped and changed and five onesies a day until you give up and let them go naked because you under no circumstances are going to let your scary basement laundry become your new place of residence!

You learn how to take your fitbit off at night so that you don't have to face the reality of how little sleep you got last night. Your new best friend becomes dry shampoo and the once exorbitant everyday shower habit becomes easily an every 3, maybe even every 4 day situation. You have a love hate relationship with granola bars because you need them but just wish you could sit down and eat a full meal with something in the genus of vegetable from start to finish. You call a chiropractor for the first time in your life because you carry carry carry all the people and all the things and fall down the stairs into the baby gate that is supposed to protect your babies but that you can't stop running into.

Yes, early motherhood is the most physically challenging sport I've ever played! 

And it's crazy, but my baby grew. But then I had another one. 

And suddenly my big baby needs something different from me than my little baby. And maybe I have to admit that my big baby is really now my little boy.

And although he loves to crawl in my lap and sing songs at the end of the night and read all the books he can get away with, I realize he needs less of my physical self these days. 

He needs my soul. 

And not just a little bit of my soul, that he had long ago. In fact, I thought he had it all already, every little part! Until he put his plastic car tires down the toilet and I realized he didn't have as much of it as I thought. Truth is, he needs more than I have been willing to give him. 

And I used to think giving my babies my body was so tough, but now I see it was just a warm up. This is way harder. And I gulp to think about the years to come.

When I think about Jesus, I think about how He gave us everything, his whole life. I think about him pulling children close when others shooed them away. I think of him getting low with the least of these and asking God to forgive us because we don't know what we are doing when we reject him. 

THAT is what Titus needs from me right now. And I don't think I will be able to give it to him unless I fully, daily, see my need for this same thing from Jesus and accept it, accept HIM, myself. 

Titus needs me accepting Jesus, believing Him to do big things in my own heart, and then showing him that myself. I need to see Titus how God sees me, how God sees him! 

And I thought I did! But every time he punches his brother I can't seem to handle him anymore and I shoo him away from us. And praise God, He never forced me away from him but pursued me with his love, grace, and truth. And yes, even in His consequences! But even, no especially, in His consequences it was his kindness that led me to repentance (Romans 2:4).

My toddler needs more of me. My toddler needs my soul. Because my soul is what has been redeemed. My body will continue to fade. #mombod am I right? BUT! Hallelu! My soul is cared for daily by my Heavenly Father, creating beauty from ashes (Isaiah 61:3).

So we do not lose heart, though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day.
— 2 Corinthians 4:16

This morning I felt stuck in the same patterns again. I felt the out of body experience you feel when you see yourself going down a road you've been before, a discouraging dead end. The baby got us up before 5 and Tim and I took turns with him, but neither of us got back to sleep. Starting the day on low sleep with no time in God's Word, I felt like I had nothing to give. So we went to the play room, and I took my Bible study with me. Titus kept crawling on top of it, crinkling it, ripping it. I threatened time out a few times, and then just looked up and cried out loud, audibly to God for help. I told him I needed him to help me with Titus. 

When I looked back at Titus, he asked me what I was doing. I told him I was praying for God to help me not be mad and to help me to help Titus. 

And nothing seemingly changed, but then actually everything did, because I was able to show Titus my need for a Savior, every minute of every day. 

I think I need to give Titus my soul by giving God mine. And as my baby still needs me in the wee hours, it is going to show just how powerful God's grace is, as I give my children my whole self, body and soul, to show them how Jesus gave us everything. 

Moms, how do you do it?

I suppose we take it a day at a time, on our knees, crying out to God in play rooms, admitting our desperate need for Him in front of our kids, and laughing a minute later when our kid makes us "cake" out of puzzle pieces. This is Gospel parenting, and I guess I'm only just beginning to understand it, and as I do, understand the Gospel anew myself. 

Trusty Trust Falls

As soon as the key fob brings the car to life, the dashboard is yelling obscenities at me. The breaks are out again. Guess I can't drive anywhere today. Never mind I just wrestled two kids, three bags (one separate one for each human being), a lunch, and a stroller in my car. It's okay. I promise. Not gonna cry. We drive it to the dealer only to hear it will take a bajillion dollars to fix so we drive it back to our garage to live in its vegetative coma state. Okay, maybe now I'm crying.

I log online to work on some DWITW podcast show notes. Can't hear the guest on the recording. Swallow my pride and call to ask the guest to rerecord the session, rearrange the babysitter, reserve the library studio, etc. Technological difficulties, oh how I loathe you.

Tim's boss announced to him that his PhD thesis, due in November, he actually wants done RIGHT THIS SECOND. There will be no husband around until this PhD is done for good. All the plans are now canceled or we will shovel out some more cash for a sitter. Womp, womp. 

My kiddo cycles down the same behavior train every single day, no matter how I parent. And the green snot is freely falling out of the kids and myself no matter how many extra Zarbee's Natural Vitamins I've been pumping into them. The snot mocks me. 

Somewhere in there I lost my wallet, and my sanity along with it.

This is OUT OF CONTROL. 

I am OUT OF CONTROL. 

I can control nothing in my life right now. 

Thank God. Finally. 

I love this place.

And. I hate this place.

Really, I hate to need this place. But when I'm here, I'm so stinking relieved. 

You see, God knows me. He knows me more than I know myself. And He for sure knows how I struggle with control, and so, sometimes He likes to shakes things from my grip to remind me who it is that is REALLY the one in control. And he softens my death grip on things that I don't really need. He takes my hands and he places them back in His own. Because it is true, all I need is God himself. And all those things? They distance me from God when they become my god. One by one they create a wedge between us when I worship them instead of worshipping Him! He can sense when I'm starting to  grasp on to lesser loves, when I exchange the truth of God for a lie, when I don't acknowledge or honor Him (Romans 1). 

Yay God! I see what you are doing, and because you have been drawing me near, it has not taken long for me to see it. 

I REJOICE that He is taking away the stability I think I have in working cars and microphones, in perfectly arranged google calendars, in healthy bodies, and any affirmation whatsoever that my parenting is heading in a right direction. I thank God for helping me lay down my need to impress podcast guests and listeners, and confessing the idol called "the girl who has it all together." I praise Him for nailing the prideful sentiment, ahem, okay, painfully frustrated lament that may or may not have been uttered twenty times last week, "WE HAVE THIS MUCH EDUCATION BETWEEN THE TWO OF US AND YET WE CAN NOT NAIL DOWN ONE FUNCTIONING VEHICLE?!?"

Oh, my God, thank you for the growth to recognize what you are doing this time, and stop fighting it. I accept you showing me your rock solid self in this wishy washy world and to my wishy washy heart.

Because now I can lean real close again. 

What is the truth, friends? What is He showing me?

I continue to accept my weaknesses as a way to show His strength. (2 Corinthians 12:9-11) And again, His joy is my own strength. (Neh 8:10) My strength is not my own strength. And yet, I can do all through Him who gives me strength! (Philippians 4:13)

He will supply all my needs. (Philippians 4:19)

I will be anxious for NOTHING and ask Him for everything, trusting in a God whose hand and eye is upon me, in a God who fights for me. (Philippians 4:6-7, Ezra 7, Ezra 5).

And there is GREAT gain in godliness WITH contentment (1 Timothy 6:6).

THAT THOSE WHO SEEK THE LORD LACK NO GOOD THING! (Psalm 34:10b)

I will rejoice in the Lord, ALWAYS (Philippians 4:4), again and again, not just when I feel like it, not just when things are going my way, not just when God grants me good things, but now, today, in times when I am begging for a harness to catch me from the free fall of this life when He has already saved me from the miry pit! He has set me on the solid, abundant ground of his love and truth and redemption. In His presence there is FULLNESS of JOY (Psalm 16:11).

I'm finally reminded of the freedom I already have from my idols of control, schedule, routine, social standards, kid behavior determining my behavior, praise from others, Itunes reviews,  myself, and on and on and on. 

I admit my reliance is in working things over a working God! I admit my hope was in clockwork instead of His work. I admit my tinkering instead of trusting. 

Remember camp? Trust falls? That awful thing when you have to trust a stranger is going to catch you and just teeter over into their arms? I'm that girl with a lot of feelings on mean girl who is about to splat on the ground. I am in one big trust fall, and I don't believe He is going to catch me, when I have already been caught. God is not a stranger, He's my Dad. And he has the whole world in His hands.

And you know what he has given me just because He loves me? We have been given cars to use over these past few weeks. He is giving us access to a studio with better equipment for the podcast and tech workers to help record! He is humbling me before my toddler and supplying rich tissues for the great snot exodus of 2017. 

And I'm so grateful, but not because of these things, details, and people. I'm thankful for God himself. 

Hallelujah! All I have is Christ! Hallelujah! Jesus is my life!

Feeling His harness of freedom, close to me. He is close to me. As I build what He calls me to build, with my sword in one hand and getting plain busy for Jesus with the other. Learning and practicing these truths, laughing at the days ahead when I know He will pull me away yet again from these idols and closer to Him. And eager for Him to do so.

On belay.

The "ONLY JESUS" Grit

Yesterday, we rolled up our sleeves. It is time to get to work. Oh Lord, give us a mind to work.

Our city is not doing so hot. We've been in the news, mostly for the opiate crisis. We are #1 for overdosing. But my hope is that the tide is turning, thanks to the church standing together to do something about it. We are pleading with God for restoration. We hit our knees and said God, you are good and faithful and you went to the depths for us, so you will do it again. You are already doing it.

In the morning at Apex, Tim and I attended a training, the first in a three part series, to become a "recovery house church." It took me back to my psychology training. We learned all about the brain, and addiction from a neuroscience standpoint. Then we learned about how the church has typically been viewed, and what is needed now. Every person addicted to drugs needs holistic care, and that includes spiritual and social care. That is where we come in. I learned not to underestimate the power of our resources. We have much to offer, a relationship with Christ being the primary thing! And from that relationship we can offer LOVE, BELONGING, CONNECTION! When it got to this part of the training, I thought, wow, YES! We have ALL those things! Now you are speaking my language! 

And although we have spiritual and social needs, we can also help with the other ones. We can be a link to those other resources that cover needs we can't (medical, therapeutic, etc). God has been so generous to us in meeting all of our needs and now it is time to show that generosity to others in need. It reminds me of Nehemiah, when he opened up his table to 150 men every night. My table seats six, 8 if we squeeze. We have a family of four. That means, we most definitely have room at our table. I have been given MUCH love, connection, and belonging through Jesus. And the body of Christ is awesome at that! When we think about helping someone out of addiction, we don't think we have anything to offer. But everything we have is an opportunity to love. Going to the grocery store with love. Sharing a verse with love. Inviting someone to coffee with love. Listening with love. Driving to a doctors appointment with love. We don't realize that love is our biggest resource, and we have it abundantly in Jesus. 

Last night I had the privilege of gathering with many in Courthouse Square in my city, Dayton, Ohio to gather around God's Word. We did some bold things. We read an entire book of the Old Testament together. We lifted high the name of Jesus. All different churches gathered. Many denominations, ages, ethnicities. For all the ways we are different, we are united when we are praising Jesus Christ, lifting His name high, reading His Word. This felt like a slice of heaven itself.

We read through the book of Nehemiah, a narrative that we hope foreshadows what will be the narrative of Dayton. We are hoping that God restores Dayton as He did Jerusalem. We are praying that He would use us workers, equip us and help us to fight the enemy who would attempt to stop us. We want to see Dayton thriving in Jesus' name.

With one caveat. The end of Nehemiah was such a bummer. The people, despite a restored city, turn their backs on God yet again. We pray we will see the other side of the opiate crisis, children reunited with their recovering parents, whole families coming to Jesus because of His undeniable hope, those restored now turning to the work of restoring. But we don't want Him to stop in Dayton or with us, his servants who still struggle with sin. We want Him to return and restore us all in full. We want to see every nation bow down and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, no matter what their crisis, no matter what their city. 

Jesus is already in Dayton. Because He is always the first to volunteer to go to the messiest of places. Now we are just following Him and showcasing Him, shining a light on His grace and mercy and peace that He offers through His salvation. Yesterday, it was all about the body recognizing the hope we've found in Jesus and saying YES to the Lord that we will share it with those most desperate. 

So now, for the joy set before us, harnessing the Lord's joy for our strength, we get our hands dirty. Together, we seek out those who need all that God gave to us. He did not give me these gifts to keep to myself. And I take up my sword, the Word of God, truth, as I know full well how the enemy RAGES against God's work. And we build. And we fight. And we build and we fight together. 

Today, that means calling a few families who are supporting loved ones in the midst of recovery or addiction. Maybe I can love on them today. In the future, my prayer is that it will mean adopting or fostering a child, perhaps replacing a legacy of addiction and beginning a legacy of Jesus. Maybe that will mean coming alongside parents who are already trying to replace that legacy themselves. Who knows? But I do know it will be good. God is doing a new thing. 

What is God calling you to do? How is He calling you to work? Is there grit already in your fingernails? I love this sweaty, hard working, yet grace filled CHURCH that loves to build and renew and restore in such a way that people far away say, "That has got to be Jesus. There is no other way. ONLY JESUS could do something like that." That is who we are church!  We've got that ONLY JESUS grit. Let's get to work.

A God Who Fights For Us

Ezra and Nehemiah have been my chums this summer. God has taught me many things through their accounts in the Old Testament, and I'm not ready to leave this week's lesson. I have to dwell on it a little longer.

Our God fights for us. 

Nehemiah leads God's people to build a wall around Jerusalem, and time and time again they are faced with opposition to their work. To encourage them, Nehemiah tells them "Our God will fight for us!" (Nehemiah 4:20) Then he tells them to equip themselves with swords and keep on keeping on. They continue to build, through taunts and confusion and threats, knowing God is the one really fighting. He's got their back, but they gear up for the battle anyway.

I've been chewing on this paradox all week. Why do we arm ourselves if God fights for us?

Exodus 14:14 "The Lord will fight for you, you need only be still." Other translations write it, "You need only be silent." Many stories echo the same phrasing through Exodus, Deuteronomy, and Joshua, even as they go into battle.

Here is what I'm learning. Stillness does not mean inaction. Stillness and silence mean a heart posture of deep trust in a God who fights, and indeed fought for us, even to death on a cross! I think stillness means trust, courage, faith, BOLDNESS that the battle is won before it is begun, because Jesus said "It is finished."

And He meant it. 

So now, every battle is an opportunity to show the work already done for us on the cross. 

And we do that by clinging to our swords, the Word of God. As God's hand is upon us, our hand is on our sword. We now get the joy of showcasing a battle already won. God gave us our swords for protection against the true enemy of evil, and!!! These swords allow us to build gospel moments under its protection. 

And!!! We build gospel moments boldly, because we know who God is. He is faithful. He is a God who fights for us, and offers us a living hope that does not fade or crumble, long after what God is calling us to build crumbles. We do not hope in fickle outcomes. We hope in Christ, and Christ alone. Our Savior who does not change.

If God loved me enough to send his Son to claim victory over death for me, then all other battles seem so much smaller by comparison. And God strengthens my hands for His work, the only battle that is truly worth fighting.

"The things of earth will grow strangely dim, in the light of His glory and grace."

So, arming myself with the sword and swelling with courage in a God who fights for us, I'm asking God "what next?" Here I am! Send me! 

Another kiddo to love and raise to know your truth? YES. Is it more teaching, more speaking and writing truth to women who desperately need it? YES. Is it leading our house church to come alongside recovering addicts in our city? YES. 

Oh God, what vigor and joy you give me in your salvation! There is nothing sweeter than building for a God who fights for me, to point to a victory long ago won.

The Longest Table

I'm exasperated at the lie I sometimes believe that I, as a stay at home mom, don't have any influence.

THAT IS A BIG FAT LIE. God has disproved it for two years now. There is just absolutely not enough time to do all the things I could do, so I'm asking God constantly how I can specifically use my influence. But my prayer is no longer for God to give me influence. It was there all along. Last night was a reminder that God has put me, my family, and my brothers and sisters in Christ in Dayton for such a time as this.

But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.
— Jeremiah 29:7

Two hours at a table for the good of our city. Two hours of hope, perspective, and purpose. 

Last night I had the unique privilege of attending an event with some members of my house church called "The Longest Table." It rotates locations, but this particular time it was in my neck of the woods, at the Grace United Methodist Church on Salem Avenue. 

You show up, are seated purposefully with complete strangers, people who are different than you in many ways. No fraternizing with people you already know. There was a map of Dayton's neighborhoods and we each circled where we were from and described our neighborhood to one another. We were given conversation prompts like "What do you see as being Dayton's biggest strengths and weaknesses? What do you want Dayton to look like in ten years? etc" We were guided to really listen to one another and to seek to understand our neighbors better.

The concept reminded me a lot of the IF Gathering, that some of the best solutions to our problems can begin when we come together as a community simply to eat some grub around a table. 

When you have more than you need, build a longer table, not a higher fence.

My general perspective was that this is one of the healthiest things I have ever seen our city come together and do. It made my heart swell with pride for Dayton. We met people we otherwise would probably not have opportunity to meet, and really listened to people that don't all think the same way as us.  At my table, for instance, we had an older retired, Caucasian couple that attended the church that hosted, a Muslim, middle aged civil engineer originally from Lebanon who has been in Dayton as long as I've been alive, a Caucasian male Wright State student, an African American, thirty something owner of a nonprofit that helps with several projects to aid our city and his two elementary age kiddos. It was ridiculously refreshing just to break bread with such a diverse group.

In two hours, over dinner, I learned SO MUCH from these beautiful people.

We had very safe, open dialogue with one another on a variety of issues. My table talked about our concern for education in our city, particularly the Dayton Public School System. We talked about the Heroin epidemic, recidivism, racial reconciliation, the food desert in West Dayton, our delightfully growing downtown, and the stereotypes often put upon certain parts of our city.  When I debriefed with Tim and some house church friends later, their tables talked about completely different things! 

I was encouraged by our table's conclusion, that there will always be problems in our city (ie we won't eliminate heroin),  but we can identify issues and patterns and create tangible solutions the best we can. From my Christian perspective, I see "there will always be problems" as "there will always be sin until Jesus comes back." But I have great hope that we can be salt and light to this world, and last night I got to proclaim my reasoning, that my God is all about redemption. God wants to redeem Dayton, every nitty gritty part. 

I left with my journal full of scribbled action steps that I can immediately take. Here are a few: sign up for the Gem City Market co-op newsletter, attend a Hope Over Heroin event, become friends with my county commissioners and school board members on social media, attend neighborhood priority board meetings, continue to be seen out and loving my community, and invite my own neighbors over for a meal over my own rather short (but long enough) table.

After our discussion ended, I gave out Dayton Women in the Word cards out like candy to my table members, even my new Muslim friend. I met a couple Tim and I's age, with two boys exactly like Titus and Matthias. They are running for DPS school board this year. It is good to know their hopeful faces. Then I toured the beautiful Grace UMC church that I have passed every day for seven years and have always wanted to step foot inside. It was every bit as stunning as I dreamed it would be.

As I climbed into my Prius to drive two minutes to my little blue house on Malvern, I felt a little closer to heaven, having looked into the faces of my neighbors made in God's image coming together for a common purpose.

Dayton is not my home. Nowhere on this earth really is. But God has called me to live here and love it to my utmost capacity. It is as close to home as I get until God calls me to my real home.

When I lived with my parents, I wasn't the best at taking care of their home, because it wasn't really mine. When I moved to Dayton, everything changed. God gave me ownership, not only in a physical home, but in a conviction of my heart. 

Dayton is closest to home. At least for now. Today, closest to home means that I take care of this place, Dayton, Ohio. That is what stewardship means, yes? Loving Dayton because God loves Dayton.

Where is closest to home for you, neighbor? How are you being the hands and feet of Jesus in your "close to home?" How are you using your influence today? Would you like to come over and have a meal at my table?

Motherhood, Today 2.0

Last year I wrote a little bit about what motherhood for me looked like on a daily basis. You can read that account here. I'm thankful for this blog so that I can look back and see how things have changed, growth in me, or be refreshed by the encouragement I still need right now.

Today is a bit different. I now have two little guys. Titus is two years old and Matthias is six months old. Here is what I want to remember about motherhood today in no particular order.

Brothers!

Brothers!

Motherhood today is up and down and all around all the time. I had a group of gal pals at my house just last night and I literally went up and down the steps forty times replugging Matthias with his pacifier. I started going to the gym again three weeks ago but I'm wondering if that is really necessary. But the hour long mental break immersed in an audiobook while the kids are in childwatch is really what I go to the gym for. Tim and I are going on a getaway this weekend and when I think about what I want to do it is literally sit and sleep. Shower would be a plus. That's really all I want. Maybe also to eat a meal start to finish without any interruption.

Motherhood today is waking up from dreams of my Titus drowning after a scare at the park. He ran toward a river without my knowledge and a stranger brought him back to me. A background mom anxiety about something happening to my children has emerged. I've realized our children our God's. He gives them to us and we release them back into His hands. I can try as hard as I can to lead my children well, but at the end of the day I will fail. But God! He is the Shepherd of this family, and He will never fail us. So i'm trying to release my anxiety back to Him, and entrust that He loves my boys more than I do. 

Motherhood is finding trains and cars everywhere, in my coffee mugs, on the window sills, in the diaper pail. 

Motherhood is drool and spit up and suspected teeth hiding under the gummy surface.

Motherhood is rejoicing over the manager special organic baby food.

Motherhood today is a lot of prayer. Praying to start the day. Hitting my knees at their nap time. Praising God Hallelujah at bed time. Praying for God to help me have patience and gentleness when my son head butts me or pulls my hair. It is asking God for the willingness to serve my little people and for the joy to be abundant and intentional day by day. It is realizing that what I am asking God to instill in my boys is his way of instilling or reinstilling it within me. Everyday I pray for God to make Titus gentle and kind. And as I approach Titus, I hear God saying to me, "Be gentle. Be kind." As I kneel down to talk to Titus and pull him in my arms, I feel God's arms also around me. 

Motherhood today is not showering for three days and being okay with it. Am I talking about showering again? But seriously, a few days ago my day started with my baby throwing up on me and it just wasn't even a big deal. It didn't phase me. A few years ago, I think I would've thought the entire day was doomed.

Me and Titus (2 years, 5 months)

Me and Titus (2 years, 5 months)

Motherhood today is resilience. I don't count the hours I slept or didn't sleep any more because it would drive me crazy. Instead, I try to count the reasons I'm not sleeping as blessings. I have two sons! God has given me these immense gifts. Who am I to receive them, and yes I would lose sleep to keep them well and loved, over and over and over again. They are worth more to me than all the sleep in the world. And yet, how sweet is it that Jesus is teaching me how to Sabbath, even now, with two tiny sleep destroyers?

Motherhood today is owning my motherhood style and celebrating others in theirs. It is also owning my strengths and Tims' strengths as a Dad, and being so grateful my boys have a Dad who covers my parenting weaknesses with his strengths.

Motherhood today is creating simple rituals with my kids like reading library books in Mommy and Daddy's bed before sleeping, eating lunch picnics in our backyard on nice days, making up songs with Titus in my grandmother's old rocking chair every night, pointing out as many "diggers" as we can on any given drive, asking Titus what he learned in church on the ride home, and fancy family breakfasts on Saturday mornings. I love that our family is beginning to have a culture, and we can make it whatever we want it to be!

Motherhood today is becoming a work at home ministry mom. What? Taking on the role of blog and podcast coordinator with Dayton Women in the Word has been one of the most unexpected blessings. I love how God is using my gifts and allowing me so much time with my boys as well. This role and this ministry has made me more joyful in motherhood. Titus loves it, too. Especially on days we have meetings and he gets to hang with all his friends. Matthias continues to be the only male ever present on the podcast. 

Motherhood today is truly caring less about the names of construction equipment but suddenly knowing them all because I love my son. And my son loves construction equipment. Who knew that thing was called an excavator?

Motherhood today is remembering that these boys are my biggest disciples. Titus is beginning to understand. On the ride home from Apex a few Sundays ago, Titus told us, "Jesus died on the cross." In that moment, I realized his heart is ripe for the gospel. He believes everything we tell him. What a joy to lead him to the truth right now! For this reason, and many others, I'm rejoining Bible Study Fellowship next year to go through Romans with my boys. I am expectant that God will continue to foster his heart, and it is a privilege that God has given me the position of mother missionary to my sweet boys.

Motherhood today is recognizing how different my boys are. They look nothing alike. What works for Titus doesn't necessarily work for Matthias and vice versa. They are their own people. Each day I learn something new about how God created them to be! Motherhood is creativity, creatively fostering and calling up their strengths and holding their weaknesses before the Lord. Help me here, Lord! 

Me and Matthias (six months). 

Me and Matthias (six months). 

Motherhood today is prayerfully considering adding to our family through adoption or foster care. It will be hard. It will be messy. I feel like God is just saying, whatever it will look like, be willing.  And so, I've surrendered the need to know the answers, the timeline, and the specifics to him. I'm praying. I'm listening. And in the meantime, He is showing me that loving other adoptive families is significant and important. I can donate breastmilk. I can make meals. I can give clothes, diapers, money. Adoption is the work of all the church, because we are all adopted sons and daughters of Jesus Christ. 

Motherhood today extends beyond biological children. It is spiritual motherhood, rising up to gently foster a heart for Jesus in and over the women God has given me influence. This does not happen on accident.

Motherhood today is exemplifying to my boys how they treat others, how we love people, because God loves us. It is taking a magnifying glass to my interactions with others because I know my boys are watching me. They may be small, but they know we go to the Victory Project, that we know our neighbors by name, that we embrace our people with gratefulness and that we drop everything to help when someone is in need. 

Motherhood today is encouraging other moms. New moms. Working moms. SAHMs. Moms waiting to get pregnant. Moms who lost a baby. Moms going through postpartum difficulties. I love you sisters. I'm praying for you. Keep the faith. I'm holding your hand and cheering you on. 

Motherhood today is loving our own moms more and more for everything they were and are to us now, realizing the gift of their legacy in Tim and I. 

Motherhood is day by day endurance and dependence on our Savior. Motherhood today is His grace is sufficient and I need thee every hour. Motherhood is a belief in this work for the long haul and a prayer that we will see God's kingdom come in the lives of these littles. 

I am so thankful for motherhood, but more specifically, thankful for Titus and Matthias, my sons. These boys God has given me to mother. I'm so very proud of them and so very humbled for the privilege of being their Mommy.

 

 

 

The Back of my Head

I've been thinking a lot about the back of my head lately. Weird, right? 

I can never quite curl or straighten the back of my hair. Can anybody actually do this? Outside of pinterest world? I always try, but give up and think "eh, it doesn't need to be perfect" and leave it straight or flipped in the opposite direction.  I've come to love the rebellious wisps on the back of my head doing the opposite of what the rest of my hair is obediently not making a fuss about. The back of my head is my "middle child" that you love despite all the fists they shake, maybe more because of them. And even this small quirk about me reminds me of grace upon endless grace.

I have a few friends that are willing to touch the back of my head.

And my mom. Because, hello, that's what moms do. 

They are the ones I call when I need someone to curl or straighten the hair on the back of my head. They make me beautiful in ways I could not have beautified myself. 

These are also the people I have called when I had lice. It's happened twice now in adulthood. I've felt like a leper both times. I have no earthly idea how. No, I don't share hair products. No my kids don't have them. No, I don't hug strangers. My sweet people have not only touched my head, they've picked the darn things out one by one! AND even bought me new hairbrushes and gave me a big hug even against my insistence they stay. FAR. FAR. AWAY.

This morning I read Galatians 6:1-10 with Dayton Women in the Word's Beyond Titus 2 study. It is all about bearing with one another, gently restoring each other when we find each other in sin, and not giving up on doing good, particularly with the body of Christ. 

There will always be places in my life that I could not possibly reach on my own. There will always be licey sin hidden underneath my disguised sandy locks. There will always be one hair going the opposite direction. I absolutely need others to touch the back of my head, the back of my heart, with gentleness, with determination, with love.

I need others to not give up on me.

And. I need to be willing to go there for my sisters. To touch their creepy crawlies. To be the willing hands to curl and straighten. To gently restore. To never give up.

I'm so grateful that I have women in my life who are willing to be my back of the head people. My friend describes this as "she covers my weakness in her strength." I love that. We cover each other.

As God covers us. As God restores us. As God is gentle with us. As God gently created these very hairs on our heads. As God goes there for us. As God bore the cross for us.

No, it doesn't feel good on either end sometimes. I'm typically cranky on the nit picking and the being nit picked side! We would rather our sanctification be a private, personal hygiene affair, behind closed doors, where only we see the rawest parts of our own humanness. We must admit that yet again, for no discernible reason, despite our highest efforts, we can not, on our own, reach what we need to reach. But I think God allows this for our good, because, doesn't He show us that He is never out of reach by doing so? And doesn't He give us others in our lives to show us this? And doesn't He call us to bridge the gap to also show others this hair curling truth?

Can we just all have a good laugh at our own ridiculous shenanigans to try to prove that we can do it on our own? Can we just give up, hold hands, and praise Jesus already?

Bear with me, sister, as I bear with you.

By the way, I love your hair.

 

Stay-at-Home Workaholism

I thought when I quit work, I quit work.

WRONG.

My home, once a respite, is now the hamster wheel.

Anybody relate?

God has really been working on me lately. Telling me to sit down Jillian! For goodness sake.

But this is how that goes:

"If I don't clean it, pick it up, cook it,  make it, read it, organize it, dust it, vacuum it, bleach it, fold it, hang it, (etc etc etc) NO ONE ELSE WILL." And all the "its" get way too heavy and time consuming and some days I feel like all I've done is meaningless things that no one but me really cares about. I feel caged in by my own house. I wonder if I'm making a difference in the world. And over the past two years, I've grown to see such significance in the mundane, the solitude, the small moments. But sometimes I struggle with seeing it for the beauty that it is. 

Now that I work for a nonprofit, I also find the "cracks," the naps and evenings, filled with work, God given, life-giving work to be sure, but still work. 

With both children, I've lost the baby weight quickly. Not because I'm trying. Not because I'm counting calories. In fact, I've been the least intentional about my weight and exercise than I ever have in my entire life and that is a HUGE BLESSING for those who know my story. When other people comment, I usually joke, "Breastfeeding! Crazy, right?" But I know that isn't the whole story.

No, it's because I'm worn thin. Remember in the Lord of the Rings when Sam was talking to Frodo about a thin layer of butter spread over too much bread? That's me! I don't sit down. I forget to eat until I'm dizzy and shaky from the fifth cup of coffee on an empty stomach that I'm drinking because I didn't go to bed when I was tired but when that last load of laundry was folded and put away.

Anybody else there? 

God has been gentle with me in whispering over a period of time, "This is not okay, my daughter." He's been taking my hand and leading me to a peaceful surrender of my striving life. And in writing on the blog, I am recognizing it and calling it out and hoping to encourage some of you readers who find yourself here too. No one is requiring such a hustle from me, from us. Truthfully, if I don't submit my strengths of determination, organization, energy, and good old fashion hard work to the Lord, they become weaknesses, obsessions, sucking life from my body and soul.

My husband, Timothy, and I balance each other out in so many ways, but when we talked about this subject a few weeks ago, we've realized we are not so good at balancing each other here! We are both go-getters, ambitious to a fault. Currently, though not yet 30, he is almost finished with a PhD, which he is working on with two small children and a full-time job. Let me tell you, he is ROCKING it! I'm so proud of him! But can you tell that Tim and I might not be so good for each other in this regard? Some days, we love being a "power couple" and more days than not we wonder, "what did we get ourselves into?'

If you have been following my blog, you have heard these sentiments before, "I am limited, but God is limitless." And. "Unless the Lord builds this house, those who build labor in vain. He gives to his beloved sleep." Today God is reminding me that he "leads me to still waters. He restoreth my soul."

I've been listening. I've been repenting. I've been waving the white flag. I've been changing.

I've attempted to practice Sabbath, follow God's example of resting from work, many times in the past two years. Since I've become a stay at home mom, or now I suppose a work at home mom, I haven't been able to escape the work that is just waiting for me everywhere I look. The dishes, the clothes, the diapers, the toys, the beautiful mess of this beautiful life is ever present. I've been asking God, "How, as a mom, do I rest? I can't take a break from being a mom!" 

I can no longer say, "when the work is done, I will rest." Because the work is never done. It will never be enough. And I think God works in that admission, and in giving us too much sometimes so we recognize it's okay to give him back what He has given us, instead of trying to be God ourselves. My friend Sami likes to remind me often, "God is enough."

So here are some things that have been practically helping me confront my workaholism and embrace a "work from rest" lifestyle. The ways I'm trying to exemplify in my heart and life that God is truly enough:

1. I've asked for help. I've been talking about this with Tim and with my quad, the ladies that I walk through life with on a more vulnerable level. They've been asking me how things have been going and encouraging me to rest. They tell me to put the oxygen mask on myself first. They've been cheering when I choose to rest and gently reminding me that it is okay to say no. And sometimes I sheepishly ask if somebody would help me clean something, even though I know that is not the real issue, it helps me anyway. 

2. I've been looking at those who do this well and trying to follow their example. My friend Natalie sets her alarm to remind her to go to bed at a certain time. I've done the same thing. Last night I went to be at 9 PM YOU GUYS! 9 PM! And I wasn't asleep but I was in my bed, reading, and dozing. I woke up this morning before 6 AM, ready for the day, joyful for the energy to meet with the Lord first in my day. I got a beautiful hour of quiet with my husband before the kids woke up. I can't even tell you how grateful I am for that unexpected time and for how it set the tone for my day.

3. I've been stopping midday to get on my knees. After I put my kids to bed for naps, I usually make tea and stress eat chocolate. I still do that. But I've added a "stop drop and pray" to my ritual. I check in with the Lord, thank him for his provision so far in the day, and surrender the rest of the day and the works of my hands once again to him. I've been meditating on Isaiah 26:3 with this practice, "You keep him (her) in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you, because he (she) trusts in you. Trust in the Lord forever, for the Lord God is an everlasting rock."

4. I've been releasing my to-do lists, both written and mental, to the Lord. I admit to him that I know it is too much, so I'd like for him to show me what is the real priority for that day. With true joy, I tell him I know that if nothing gets done that day, but my life still glorifies him, that this is all I really need. And then I thank him at the end of the day for what He allowed me to do, instead of stressing over what didn't get done.

5. I've been keeping our bedroom, our place of rest, sacred. No toys allowed. No laundry, either. And no kids if we can help it. I need one place that I can shut the door to the work that is tempting me, and I'm grateful God has given me this haven to protect me, to protect us. Unfortunately, with moving around our boys rooms, we eliminated our office, and our computer has made its way into our bedroom. I'm not happy about it, but I know it's just a season. It doesn't have to undo the good God has done. Computers do turn off!

6. On Sunday, I Sabbath. I do very little housework. I don't work on Dayton Women in the Word. If I have to cook, I always listen to an audiobook. I don't worry about my fitbit steps. I lay on my bed and READ while my kids nap. I drink coffee because I enjoy it, not because I need it. I light a candle. I say no to most social engagements. It is all very indulgent, yes? But this is God's love, his beautiful design. He restoreth my soul!

God isn't done with me here, probably won't be until I'm dead, truthfully. I know He wants me to remember to take my prenatal vitamins. I will always need more sleep and less coffee. I admit that I say yes more times than no. (I just noticed this paragraph has started to become a to-do list for how to rest better. The irony! The hustle is laughable, you guys!)

So here I will end, with gentleness for all of you moms that have trouble turning it off, whether you stay-at-home, work-from-home, or are working outside the home. My prayer for us is that we would really trust God to do all the things and release the work He has given us back to him. I pray for less guilt and more rest, in our bodies and in our souls. I believe truly this is what God wants for us, and maybe for the first time in my life, what He wants for me.

Tears, always, when I write this blog and realize He is tenderly writing to me. 

Loaves and Fishes

I've got ants in my pants. 

That is the kindergarten way of saying I'm discontent. 

Not in the "I want more crap" or "I wish my life was different"  kind of discontent.

A discontent to see things fixed already, and a discontent in the rate and ways He is using my life to get the job done.

I've kind of been arguing with God lately. It goes something like this:

"Okay, God. I hear you. You love the orphan. You love unity. You love the city. You want people to live and die and breathe by your Word. You are about the widow and the marginalized. I hear you telling me that to stay put on these things is actually hurting others. Conviction is telling me to hurry it up and get moving, because my brothers and sisters need me. I've learned that, in fact, the option to stay put is a sign of my power and privilege, gifts you given me to leverage for the neediest in this world. Because you, the God of the freaking universe, discarded your power to die for the likes of a sinner like me. So I'm trying to move, but I feel like I'm getting NOWHERE."

I'm convicted. I'm willing. I'm impatient. I'm frustrated. 

A lot of I'ms. Woof.

This year God has given me the challenge of Matthew 20:28 "Even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many." My prayer is that he would help my heart's posture to be that of a servant. I'm frustrated. Because I'm trying. I finally feel unafraid to do what the Bible tells us plainly to do. Love everybody. Give it all. Use every opportunity for the gospel. Adopt. Take care of the widow.

Then I hear the voice of the Lord saying: Who should I send? Who will go for us? I said: Here I am! Send me!
— Isaiah 6:8

So why is everything going at a snail's pace? Why is the timing all wrong? Why so many "no's" and "let's reschedules?" I think that somehow my sacrifice and willingness means that God is going to show up the way I think He should. Funny how I try to tell God what to do sometimes. What a brazen attitude.

In our house church, we've been learning about prayer. We learned how to pray through the Psalms a few weeks ago and God brought me Psalm 127: "Unless the Lord builds the house, those who build it labor in vain. Unless the Lord watches over the city, the watchman stays awake in vain. It is in vain that you rise up early and go late to rest, eating the bread of anxious toil; for he gives to his beloved sleep. Behold, children are a heritage from the Lord, the fruit of the womb a reward. Like arrows in the hand of a warrior are the children of one's youth. Blessed is the man who fills his quiver with them! He shall not be put to shame when he speaks with his enemies in the gate."

I've been praying this prayer. I've been praying it over my household, my husband and my kids. LORD BUILD THIS HOUSE! I've been praying it over Dayton Women in the Word. LORD BUILD THIS MINISTRY. I've been praying it over Dayton and my church. I've been praying it over adoption and racial reconciliation. I've been praying for it in my community, how I minister to my neighbors and my librarian and my maillady.

Because I've had too many sleepless nights lately trying to be God. Trying to finagle all the problems of this world that only He can fix, that I believe He is fixing. 

When what He wants from me is willingness. When what He wants from me is faithfulness. When what He wants from me is worship. When what He wants from me is rest.

The Lord has to build this house and watch this city. No amount of toil from my ridiculously meager attempts could do what only God can do. 

Something my gal pals like to encourage one another to do is to take small steps of obedience. I'm constantly combating the urge to be an all or nothing kind of person. But the truth is, I think the Lord wants my all. He wants my whole heart, my total devotion. But you know what He also wants all of? My trust. He wants me to trust that He can do it, and worship Him because He already has. He's already won. It is finished. I know the ending.

You keep him in perfect peace who mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in you. Trust in the Lord forever, for the Lord God is an everlasting rock.
— Isaiah 26:3-4

So. I'm apologizing to God for trying to takeover his job. And I've asked Him to help me remove my self-promoted status as house builder and city watcher. I'm trusting He is going to do it and worshipping Him because it is as good as done.

I'm exalting him, because truly He has made very clear the next small steps of obedience. He is saying, "This is the way. Walk in it." Isaiah 30:21.

I'm supposed to read a book on adoption and go to the next adoption group at our church. He's leading me to invite my 93 year old neighbor who still lives on her own to have tea. I think I'm supposed to walk with my neighbor who has two dogs and is going through an awful break-up but I'm not quite sure how my double stroller skills will keep up with her power walk strides. I'm asking the black mama at my library's story time to let me into her world and go to the science museum with our boys next week together. God's telling me to invite someone new, an Asian sister maybe? to learn from on the DWITW podcast next week. He's whispering for me to snuggle with my toddler and sing Jesus loves him one more time. He's there when I'm exhausted and still find the words "How are you?" when my husband comes home from class.

O Lord, you are my God; I will exalt you; I will praise your name, for you have done wonderful things, plans formed of old, faithful and sure.
— Isaiah 25:1

He IS DOING IT ALL OVER THE PLACE. He is showing me the way. He is letting me be a part of what he is already doing. These are my loaves and fishes of today Lord. I don't have much to give, but Lord, You are in me, and YOU ARE ENOUGH. Your grace is sufficient. It abounds. It multiplies. 

Small. Steps. Of. Obedience.

Willingness. Faithfulness. Worship. Rest.

Loaves and Fishes.

Let's not get ahead of ourselves, readers. He is already behind and before us. He has given us the way today. He has empowered us to do exactly what He has for us today, no more and no less. 

Often before we put the boys to sleep, Tim and I sing, "He's got the whole world in His hands!" And now I believe that although the words are coming out of my mouth, God is singing that to me, to this oatmeal heart.

 

The Gritty Mom Life

This week, I fell down the steps with my three month old baby, knocked my shoulder and heart silly, watched my two year old grab my hot coffee mug and walk away unharmed, held my croupy son in my arms in the emergency room praying that God would help him be able to breathe, laid on the floor next to his crib at three in the morning praying that he would sleep, trying to adjust my exhausted body so my shoulder wouldn't ache against the hard wood floor, and called poison control after he then persisted to spray himself in the face with Febreeze. I stepped on the scale and had lost 5 pounds in about two weeks because I can't even tell you the last time I ate a meal start to finish. All this within the first two weeks of Tim's new semester. I'm spread thin. 

Grace upon glorious grace, we have all made it out alive. 

But today, I took the liberty of phoning a friend. I need a break, my friends.

I planned it during nap time so that no one would have to deal with my sensitive and snotty toddler. It took about an hour to leave my house because my toddler staged a coup. How did he even know?!?

Have you ever felt like this mom life is an absolute battle field? As I'm writing this, one of my besties sent me a picture of her son with the BIGGEST goose egg on his head that he procured while he was AT THE PEDIATRICIAN FOR AN EAR INFECTION! What in the world? The struggle is real!

It's amazing that when I look back at these two weeks of absolute mom boot camp, I've thought I was DONE many times, and then God gave me more to give away.

Today I called it. I sensed God saying "enough is enough," Jillian. Time for a refill. 

Looking back on this week, I watch God protecting us. I see him giving me the strength to climb out of the covers at three in the morning. I see him causing me to fall just so, in such a way my baby wouldn't be hurt. I see him causing the coffee to be cooled enough not to burn Titus. I see him bringing that doctor with the absolute best bed side manner to make Titus smile in that ER bed.  I hear God's voice singing to me as I sing to my babies. 

It may be a little half hazard. It may look a little, okay, a lot gritty, but glory be to God, He provides, every time. He has done it the past two weeks, my friends! And I know He will continue to be there every step of the way. 

See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are!
— 1 John 3:1, NIV

We are his children. Even at my best momming, friends, I need to tap out. But you know what? God never has to. His love never runs dry, never has a limit. It's never resentful, never selfish. This love is LAVISHED, gushing, overflowing. This love died and rose again on my behalf.

Moms, do you ever just wish you could trade places with your kids? Be loved on and served and tucked in just for one day? That's me! Sometimes I honestly just stare at my three month old in his electric swing, going back and forth and back and forth in it's soothing, addictive loop, thinking, "That looks like heaven." If genies were a real thing, I would ask to abdicate two wishes because I only need one: to be a baby again in that baby swing. Sounds a little desperate, I know, but you just have to see this swing you guys.

But you know what? I'm God's child! He is LAVISHING love on me all over the place, and giving me the strength to lavish it upon my children. He is ADVOCATING for us, rooting us on in his calling over our lives, going to battle on our behalf! You are never alone, never without his help, never without his abundant love and grace over your life and the lives you serve every day in your weakest of moments. Mama's you can love your children because you yourself are a child loved. Your love will never run dry because you are filled with a love that does not run dry. You will be able to provide because you are provided for. You will be able to fight for your children because you are fought for. We may not have a mommy sized electronic swing (if you know of one, sign me up!), but we can be sure that he restores our soul (Psalm 23). 

Today I'm thankful to be at a coffee shop for an hour writing this blog post with a latte next to me (next best thing to a swing). And I'm thankful for a complete love so much greater than anything I can ever imagine, yet get to somehow experience every day, and somehow give away every day.

Praying for you mamas, and your precious gritty mom lives. Keep on keeping on. 

Unfinished Business

New guest walks in. Giving them the tour. Explaining all the unfinished parts of my home. Why I would choose a different paint color now. Where the white subway tile backsplash will maybe, someday be. Pointing out the open construction on the cupboards. I'm apologizing for all the ways my house is unfinished, and in some way, why I am too.

In this season of loving my littles, I have a genuine sense of living in unfinished business all the time. When I'm in my home, I can feel caged by all the items left to do, staring face to face at the projects awaiting us for the exact, someday, maybe never, but hopefully soon, open-ended, unscheduled time. 

I wrote a list of these items so I could stop repeating them in my head. They range from writing letters, to printing our family pictures from Matthias' birth, to scrapbooking my Christmas cards, and tiling my kitchen backsplash. When I looked at the list, I laughed a little. Yeah right, that's never going to happen. And then I got mad. You are NOT the boss of me list! Or should I be mad at the tasks that I think I can't finish? I so can do this! And this! And...this? Crap. Then I shut my journal, squeezed my eyes tight, and let it fester for a little while.

Why do I care? Why do I desperately want to finish, all things big and small? Why, when it doesn't even matter to anybody but me in the first place? I'm so...discontent. Disheartened.

God is a finisher, isn't he? He always finishes what he starts. And what a huge relief. What if he hadn't come and died and rose again? What if he hadn't proclaimed that "it is finished?"

He's still finishing all over the place. He's never done with us, is he?

And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.
— Philippians 1:6

I'm so glad He doesn't start and leave the kitchen backsplash in the renovation of my heart. I can't even believe he thinks I'm worth the time to finish. Truth is, I'm not. But through Christ, He is finishing this good work in me. Nothing I've done has merited the finisher to finish. And yet, I can picture Him bringing out his Fat Max toolbox on the daily to restore his handiwork in my life.

But you know what? Not all things in my life are worth finishing. Most of the items on my to do list are so ridiculously trivial. Would it be nice? Absolutely! Essential? No! And some of the items I decided to cross off to "finish" in my brain and heart by calling them not worthy of my time right now.

So what is worthy of my time to finish? Many things come to mind. This blog post, for one, which has been sitting, unfinished, in my draft folder for quite some time. My breakfast and coffee, which usually sits cold until I throw it out halfway through the day. Studying 1 John, with all its love, abide, children of God goodness. The puzzle I started with Titus. The text I was drafting to my husband to check in on halfway through the day four hours ago. This podcast season of DWITW, which has opened my eyes to the upmost importance of discipleship in our lives.

Even more than these "things," I'm praying for a "holy discontent," as John Piper puts it. 2 Peter 1:5-8 says, "For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love. For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ." THAT, my friends, is what my heart longs to be discontent over. The problem is not my discontent, but rather where that discontent is directed. I get so distracted with the undone that impacts nothing and no one that I am blind to the undone that has the real Kingdom power: the undone in my heart.  

I need God to create a deep discontent within me over the state of my heart. 

And I need to realize I can't finish what God started. Only He can. 

So today, I'm asking God to keep working on me. To give me a holy discontent. And when I fail in all the ways, that He would help me realize I can't master any of these virtues without Him. I need him to finish it for me.

And I'm going to stop apologizing for being unfinished. Instead, I'm going to invite people to see where God is working to redeem and restore me, where He is adding the nuts and bolts and finishes for His glory.

Lord, give me grace for today, while I'm living in this unfinished world with this unfinished flesh. And thanks, God, for always finishing what you start.