Teach Me to Number My Days

In Psalm 90, in the middle of a chapter about the passage of time, the inconsequence of our lives, and the judgment of God there is a plea; “So teach us to number our days, that we may get a heart of wisdom.” When I read it today, it stood out. I’ve read it before and heard it in sermons, but today it felt like a message for me. Sometimes I am tempted to look things up, searching commentaries to find out what something means to the “professional” theologians. But today I felt like I should just sit with it a bit, give it time to process in my heart and in my spirit.

Teach us to number our days, that we may get a heart of wisdom.

There are two things I notice – first is the emphasis on measurementNumber our days. I don’t think I am good at this. In fact, let me amend that – I know I am not. Not only am I forgetful, but I am forward-facing. I am goal-oriented, a striver; a first-born with a massive bent toward people-pleasing, an Enneagram 9 peacemaker who bears the weight of the world. Injustice weighs on me, a lack of truth weighs on me, a lack of harmony in any relationship of which I am aware will keep me up at night. I not only know what is lacking in this fallen world, I feel it.

whack-a-mole

Whack-a-mole

And I’m pretty convinced I can do something about it. I am a problem-solver, smart and efficient, good at seeing all sides of any problem. So when I do my thing and harmony is achieved, I feel accomplished and I move on to my next superwoman mission of peacemaking. I live in a perpetual state of whack-a-mole; squash a problem, move on, squash a problem, move on.

But this verse tells me to number my days, that I may get a heart of wisdom. I know in my heart as I read the verse that this is a spiritual discipline, a way to get the knot in my chest to loosen, to get the tears pressing behind my eyes to recede.

Because this world is messed up. Blatant injustice, economic and racial inequality, a Church (at large) who seems at times to be asleep to it all, famine and war. Just today images fill my timeline of children sleeping who are not sleeping, but who apparently are the tiny innocent targets of a chemical attack in their own country from the air. And that is just today’s horror. Yesterday there was another, tomorrow there will be more. Jesus help us. There is so much to fix in this world.

And those are just the macro issues. Our family is facing some hard realities in our everyday life; needs that press in and things outside of my control that I want so badly to fix, wounds I want to forgive that persistently intrude on my days. And we have friends who face challenging kids and big life decisions and personal battles and I just want to help ease the pain they bear. There is much to do in this dark world of ours.

Teach us to number our days, that we may get a heart of wisdom.

So today, I am trying the spiritual discipline of measuring God’s faithfulness, numbering my days. I am remembering and listing the passages of Scripture God has given me as promises, over decades; revisiting hard times and remembering the faithfulness of God, re-reading prayer requests in old journals to note the answered prayers and the fulfilled promises. I am not looking ahead, I am looking back, writing it down, a monument to God’s faithfulness and to problems solved just as the Israelites stacked stones to remember.

Second is the emphasis on time. Numbering my days. I am also determined in the spiritual practice of only focusing on today. Not on our long term needs, the long term problems, the challenges I know we will face next month or in a future season. Today. I am thanking God for the daily bread for today. The friends who are faithful, the financial provision, the strives my daughters have made, the jobs Justin and I have that provide, the health of our family. I am taking this life that feels so long to me, but that is but a breathe to the Lord (back to Psalm 90), and I am handing every part of it over to the God who made me, focusing my grateful heart on today.

I was talking to a couple of friends yesterday, women full of grace and truth. I was asking for prayer for persistent needs and struggles that weigh on me. And they reminded me, as faithful friends do, of the truth of my situation, and the truth of theirs. We can become overwhelmed with the one next thing we need, we can take on that weight (because we are get-it-done women), and that weight can crush us. Whether it is our children or our home or our companies or our finances, the weight of what God has given us can be too much to bear. Because we weren’t meant to carry the weight of any of it on our own. We have to remind each other that it isn’t ours to carry. Yesterday all day I repeated that as a mantra to remind my frazzled sole. One friend kept repeating “You are safe. Your Father loves you.” Another constantly reminds me of gifts that are “daily bread.” We have to help each other remember these things. I really think God is teaching me we are part of each other’s “great cloud of witnesses” (Hebrew 12), encouraging each other on to righteousness.

Daily bread. Teach us to number our days.

Part of the solution to that control-freak nature so many of us share, that tendency we have to forget the ways God has come through for us in the past, is to learn to count our days.

One last thing I noticed. I love that it is a prayer. Even this isn’t on us. Again, tears behind my eyes. God knows us so well, He knows even this we can’t do well on our own. Here’s the verse in context:

“So teach us to number our days, that we may get a heart of wisdom.”

Jesus teach us.

Grace Grace Grace

I have realized something about myself lately, a thread that the Lord is connecting. I love getting to talk to women during the fun or scary transitions of life; it always feels like a weighty encounter, and I have realized that I tell them all, basically, variations on the exact same message. I feel called to it. I run to the opportunity, sometimes texting someone I haven’t talked to in ages, just so I can share this one little encouraging word from God – my spirit reminding her spirit. Getting married? I have one piece of advice I’d love to give. Having a baby? Please let me tell you the one secret that kept me sane. Lost a job? I’d love to tell you how I got through our job losses without losing it. Lost a sweet baby? Oh I love you so much, and can I share with you the one thing that enabled me to breathe?

I truly think it is my mission in life to remind the people I love of this one thing, because for some reason we so quickly forget.

Give yourself grace. It is normal and okay to feel what you feel. 

I was texting a beautiful friend, recently engaged, just tonight. She’s one of the most incredible people I have the privilege to know, but I know her and know she has always been hard on herself. I loved giving her my advice; So many things are about to change, sweet girl. Give yourself grace when you feel overwhelmed by it. When you feel doubt, when you feel fear, it is normal. Give yourself grace. God is bigger than your momentary doubts in yourself.

I love to tell new moms, or moms of special needs kids, or moms on the 4th snow day in a row; Give yourself grace when this feels hard, because it is. Whatever you feel, whether it is fear or doubt or panic or anger toward this child that you love, it is normal and we all feel it at times. Don’t live in shame. Give yourself grace. Run to God with those feelings; don’t hide them. He will help you get through this.

When friends are facing financial burdens or sudden job losses, I just want to cry out; Sweet friends, give yourself grace. It is okay to feel panic and fear, completely normal. Let me pray with you. I’m praying you can breathe out that fear, that panic, and breathe in the grace that is yours. God sees you, He knows your situation. He loves you and is mighty to save. He alone is able to change this situation you cannot change and at His feet you will find rest. 

When friends want a baby so much they ache, or they just lost another baby; I love you so much and I ache with you. Please give yourself grace to mourn this, to grieve it however you need to. Grief isn’t linear – you won’t go through stages in any way that makes sense. Give yourself grace. You are not crazy when your emotions are everywhere. This is a crazy-making challenge you are facing; it is normal to feel this way. I’m praying for you and love you and wish I could change it for you. Please just breathe in the grace that is yours in this moment.

grace

Our oldest daughter, Grace.

If I were going to get a tattoo at my *advanced* age, it would say grace. I named my first daughter Grace. I need it and sometimes forget it is mine for the taking despite the fact that I’m swimming in it. And because I forget, I remind others, sometimes to also remind myself. We all are too hard on ourselves, too quick to equate weakness with sin, fear with sin, doubt with sin, failure with sin, our human emotions with sin. So we pile on shame and try to wrangle our emotions in an attempt to somehow prove we are good enough to approach our Father. Meanwhile he is our Father. Not the perpetually disappointed Father, or the impossibly high expectations Father, or the stern unapproachable Father. He’s the one who loves us unconditionally, who wants us to cast all our cares on Him, who created us and knows our every thought, who walked on this earth and died for us, who said in Exodus “My presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.”

There are three traps to watch out for when we are going through something hard:

Trying to stop our emotions. We want to wrangle them or manage them or just stop feeling, but they swirl around and interrupt our sleep and steal our joy. What do we do when we feel out of control?  I’m learning to lean into the emotions, to study them like a scientist instead of fleeing from them. To stop fighting, breathe deeply and name them, telling God about each one of them.  For me, speaking them starts to take away their power, and I start to feel that knot in my chest loosen. I feel fear, and I hate it. I feel anger toward this person, because they really hurt me. I feel panic, even though I know I am not alone. Please help me. If we can just speak what we feel to the One who made us, no matter how messy it is, maybe we can rest again in His plans for us.

The shame cycle. Sometimes we are so busy apologizing for what we feel and feeling bad about it that we get stuck in this tornado of shame about our feelings. My therapists through the years have helped me so much with this one by simply giving me permission to have emotions and to feel what I feel. I don’t know where I picked up this idea that my feelings were shameful, maybe church or home or just first-born perfectionist nonsense. But it is pointless to feel shame for what we feel. Our feelings are just signals that there is something we need to work through. Shame and condemnation are not from God, so I think we take those voices to Him too. There is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, remember? God I don’t feel lovable, but I know you love me. I feel alone, but I know you are with me. I feel weak, but I know you are mighty to save. I don’t believe any of this truth right now, but I trust you to turn my feelings around in Your timing. I feel a lot of shame, even about this, but I trust You to release me from that because I know that is not of You. I’m a mess, but I’m Your mess, and I know You love me. 

The trap of isolation. We cannot brave it alone; we need grace-filled friends who will join us in prayer. I had lunch with a friend a few weeks ago and just speaking some of my thoughts took away their power, and she spoke peace to me as well as truth I needed to hear. Her perspective helped me see things, and myself, in a new way. She didn’t coddle me, but she did remind me to give myself grace. Many people who love me and love Jesus have given me grace in this season. I got a message tonight from someone I haven’t talked to in person in almost a decade, offering grace, community and understanding for the struggles we are facing. So encouraging! She used social media, which we all know is challenging these days, to show me love. What beautiful redemption of that medium, to use it to show solidarity and community to people in our circles. A great reminder that we need each other. We were made to face this big stuff together.

Give yourself grace. I’m going to keep reminding the people I love until the end, because we all need reminders of the grace greater than our sin. Our Father loves us so much, if only we could glimpse a fraction of his love.

Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light. Matthew 11:28-30

Learning a New Way of Grace

This season seems to be about un-learning, detangling, undoing what I have done for so long that it no longer seemed optional. I’m questioning everything – relationships, beliefs, career choices, patterns of behavior. I keep being surprised by grace. Asking questions I was afraid to ask, even to God, and finding lightning didn’t strike, and God is still good, on the other side of the questioning.

I was talking to a friend this week. I’d been afraid to call him, because I was calling to say no to an offer he had made me and I’m a decades long people-pleaser intent on causing no disappointment to people who love me. With a shaky breath, I told him I couldn’t commit, that I didn’t know what was wrong with me, but that I had no energy or excitement for what I knew would require both. With kindness he said “You’re hurt, Jen. I completely understand and love you – we are family anyway.” He told me he had pastored long enough to know that God’s timing was better than our forced timing and that he trusted what God is doing in me now. He offered me grace, and I gratefully and shakily accepted it. Grace. Even now telling the story I have tears in my eyes.

I feel like, for years maybe, I had slipped into a way of living that focused more on performing and pleasing and forgot about grace, and oh how I missed it.

This morning I was reading the book God sent me for this season, Present Over Perfect by Shauna Niequist. I’ve underlined about 3/4 of the book, which has utterly confused my youngest daughter (“Mommy – you shouldn’t color in your books”).

You don’t have to sacrifice your spirit, your joy, your soul, your family, your marriage on the altar of ministry. Just because you have the capacity to do something doesn’t mean you have to do it… You must ask yourself not only what fruit they bring to the world, but what fruit they yield on the inside of your life and your heart.

I didn’t want to admit it, but I was surprised to find a holdout of that old, terrible doctrine: if it hurts just awful, it must be God’s will for you. And the other side of that same coin: if it produces fruit, it must be God’s will for you.

Later in that same chapter:

7131869-small-stream-running-over-moss-covered-stones-stock-photo“I’m reveling in the smallness of my capacity. This is it. This is who I am. This is all I have to give you. It is not a fire hose, unending gallons of water, knocking you over with force. It’s a stream: tiny, clear, cool. That’s what I have to give, and that small stream is mine to nurture, to tend, to offer first to the people I love most, my first honor and responsibility. 

The twin undercurrents of being a woman and being a Christian is sort of a set-up for getting off track with this stuff – women are raised to give and give and give, to pour themselves out indiscriminately and tirelessly. And Christians, or some anyway, are raised to ignore their own bodies, their own pain, their own screaming souls, on behalf of the other, the kingdom, the church.”

Can I confess something to you? I’m visual and I see things in my mind sometimes that I don’t understand until later. For years I have had this image of myself that I have seen over and over in my head in times of exhaustion. I’ve seen myself step outside my house, seemingly calm but with an upright back and clenched fists, and I will walk outside and scream to the sky, with no sound coming out. I never understood it, I always knew it was bad, but I didn’t understand why I was screaming, why I was silent, why I kept seeing it, why it felt like it was all I could do in those moments. When I read this it didn’t become all clear, but part of it clicked. I’m not sure I ever thought I had the authority over myself, over my circumstances, over my life, to scream or even to stop. What she wrote about “ignoring our own bodies, our own pain, our own screaming souls on behalf of the other, the kingdom, the church” rings so true to my life over the past decade (and in the lives of so many people I’ve served with in that time).

And now I have stopped. People keep asking me what I’m doing next, what is the plan now that I don’t work at a church anymore. I simply don’t know, which as a first-born planning-obsessed person, is a hard answer for me to give. I’m still untangling all of this. But I have found quiet, and stillness, and gratitude, and my family, and God and GRACE in this place of stopping. And I will stay here as long as it takes to heal and find my way again. I am a tiny stream, and I’m learning to even be that well.

Skinned Knees & Dreams

angel-and-lucyA couple of weeks ago, our youngest daughter Lucy wanted to walk our dog on our daily walk around a neighborhood lake. Our dog is incredibly sweet and good, so gentle with Lucy and patient with the “intense loving” of a three-year old. So I let Lucy walk Angel, but I told her to hold the leash loosely and let go if she took off, because our dog cannot resist the urge to chase the squirrels who live around the lake, who taunt her then race for the nearest tree. A few minutes into our walk, our dog took off, but Lucy didn’t let go, and Angel pulled her onto the ground and drug her along several feet before we were able to stop her. Both of Lucy’s little knees were skinned really bad, and for weeks we have been caring for her knees, applying bandaids, hearing about it in the constant way that parents of small children understand.

This morning I was getting Lucy dressed for school – and she stopped me in wonder and excitement, “Momma – my knee better! It all healed!” She was so excited, and inspected both of her knees carefully. In that moment, I felt like the Lord said to me “Healing comes in unexpected moments, when you aren’t watching. It isn’t active, it’s passive. You can’t rush it – you just realize one day that it’s over, and you’re healed.”

I drove her to school but kept processing through this idea on the drive. Because these days, I’m hurting. This most recent ministry loss has been a really big one for me. I want to be able to actively do something to get better. Read a great book or passage of Scripture, make a new life plan, walk and pray, get into grad school, pray blessings on people who hurt me, redirect my passions into a new project, watch another episode of The West Wing, anything but wait on the Lord. I want to do something.

And I do, all these things and a hundred more, but it doesn’t help. Just like the skinned knee, all you can do is walk with the pain, treating the symptoms, guarding it against further injury, until one day you look down and it’s finally done. It’s not pretty, it has a scar and a reminder of the wound, but there is no longer danger of infection, and you finally aren’t bleeding all over the place. You’re healed.

The Lord has always given me dreams at key moments in life, and even a few times my dreams have contained insights into a situation. Early in my ministry life I had another big loss, when I left my home church. I became a believer in Christ there, and began my ministry life, and met my husband and the closest friends I’ve ever known. That church was my whole world. But toward the end, I served there during a really difficult season in the life of the church where it split in two, with people I deeply loved divided and hurting on all sides. I tried to stay and help heal the wound and close the gap, but eventually had to leave because that wasn’t my job, and because early in a conflict nobody wants peacemakers, they want people on their side, which is understandable when your world has been shaken. If you haven’t experienced a church split, I hope you never do. Only two entities hurt like that when they break apart, families and churches, both because of the love you have for the people and the intimacy of the relationships.

So this week, I dreamed I visited my home church to help produce a service, and then shortly after I had a job interview there. I talked about all the things I have done since leaving, and I saw in their face that my skills and experience would help them. And I felt that same admiration for the church as they felt for me. As I walked those halls, and attended a staff meeting, I saw the new staff in place and the work they were doing, I realized in my dream (as I have hundreds of times in reality), that the work of the Lord has been enourmous there in my absence. That the church that I love has healed, just as I have healed. It was a dream full of restoration, of the work of the Lord in both me and them in our time apart, a glimpse of the scope of the Kingdom.

I woke up, thoughtful and hopeful, and told Justin about the dream. And this morning, after talking to Lucy and time talking to the Lord, I am putting it all together.

I know the end of this story of healing, because I’ve walked it and because I trust the Author. God is going to do amazing things at the church where we recently served. His favor and power will work for them, and they will grow and expand His Kingdom. And He will lead us as well. We will do things for His Kingdom that are bigger than anything we could do in our own power, and He will open doors we never imagined He would open. I don’t know why He decided that our time there is up, why our gifting no longer matches their need. And right now, in our hurt and uncertainty, there are times we don’t feel like being peacemakers, we want to know people are for us. But that will pass as we heal and as the ground around us feels more steady. Until then we will choose peacemaking even when we don’t feel like it. Because there aren’t sides in this, we are brothers and sisters trying to bring a Kingdom to a dark hurting earth. And brothers and sisters fight, they hurt each other, they need time apart, they need their own passions and spaces and friends and seasons of life. But in the end they are for each other, they will defend each other, they are family.

And together or apart, in time, we all realize we have healed. I keep reading the Sermon on the Mount in The Message, because the language is so foreign to the way I’ve read the Bible in the past, but so familiar to my heart. “You’re blessed when you’re at the end of your rope. With less of you there is more of God and His rule. You’re blessed when you feel you’ve lost what is most dear to you. Only then can you be embraced by the One most dear to you. You’re blessed when you’re content with just who you are – no more, no less. That’s the moment you can find yourselves proud owners of everything that can’t be bought… You’re blessed when you can show people how to cooperate instead of compete or fight. That’s when you discover who you really are, and your place in God’s family.”