Humility Comes Before Honor

When I was a little kid, I remember joy. One summer, we rode bikes as a family everywhere. The library, our friend Mark and Maryanne’s pool, the store (mom’s bike had a basket the perfect size for a couple of gallons of milk). We rode bikes to the snow cone stand almost every day in the hot summer sun, laughing and racing and enjoying each other.

In my memory it was magical. The summer of bikes – like something out of a Mark Twain novel.  

As an adult, I was surprised to find there was another side to our summer-of-bikes story. The truth was that my parents were in a very difficult financial situation, and they could not afford for mom to have a car. So it was more need than creative parenting that caused my magical summer.

But knowing the truth only makes me admire my parents more. I was an intuitive kid (note the nice way of saying “nosy”) and the fact that I did not pick up on the need behind the story means my mom and dad had an attitude of gratitude despite their financial difficulty. Our home was full of grace, not discontent. My mom could have stayed home, pouting. Or she could have taken every opportunity to complain and grumble about the situation in front of her. But she didn’t. She jumped on her bike and made it an adventure.

You have to understand, this is totally my mom. She turns everything into an adventure. Her faith is precious to witness because she chooses joy, even when things are truly dark. She has no idea the impact that has had on me and on my parenting. This week I read this verse and I thought of my parents.

The fear of the Lord teaches a man wisdom, and humility comes before honor. Proverbs 15:33

My parents have had many seasons in their life of humility. Many times they have faced (and overcome) trials that could appear, to the outside world, like the most humbling difficult thing in the world. But they have feared the Lord and remained faithful despite the trials, choosing not to grumble but to trust.

And because of that,we honor them.

My brother, sister, and I honor my parents. We admire them, look up to them, respect them, and want to be like them. And this week I realized that the humbling times in their lives, and their handling of those times, is a huge part of why I honor them. Even when their world was shaking, they made sure that ours was not. And that love for us, and sacrifice on our behalf, makes me honor them all the more.

Humility comes before honor.

Thank you God for that truth. It makes humility easier to face, right? Because let’s be honest, times of humbling are not fun. They can really stink, in fact. But to know, to KNOW, that there is purpose in these times, and that honor is coming, doesn’t that make it more palatable? I’m so grateful I have seen this picture lived out in my parents.

Here’s the truth: Justin and I have faced some humbling things this past few years, and even now we are making some decisions that are pretty humbling. But I am standing today on the truth of Scripture and believing that honor will someday follow. That maybe, by God’s grace, in the future when my children hear of the struggles we faced in their childhood, they will be shocked to even learn we faced difficulty, because we faced the challenges with joy and trust that God is bigger, and that His plans are perfect.

Jesus, thank you for this truth and for each situation in our world that humbles us. Please shed light on the times that I grumble, and the times that I let our challenges distract me from being a loving fun mom. Please help me to choose joy and choose faith, knowing that all of this serves a purpose in my life. Thank you for mom and dad and their example. Please bless them, Lord. You are good, Jesus, and I thank you that you don’t waste any moment in our lives, especially the hard ones.

Jen the (Very Worst) Minister’s Wife

So it’s official. I am married to a minister.

Last week, Southlake Baptist licensed Justin as a minister of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. I can’t tell you what the past year has meant to me as I’ve seen my husband valued by this church. I’ve prayed since we were engaged that men, especially, would believe in him and mentor him and that prayer has definitely been answered.

They love him. I mean, love him. They trust him, they recognize his brilliance and wise heart, they think he is hilarious, and they encourage him everyday. I have watched him bloom (I wish I could think of a more manly way to say that, but it’s true and that’s all I can come up with. So he’s bloomed, but in the most masculine way possible like a cactus or a pine tree). He is more himself than I’ve ever seen him be. Even the technical aspects of his job have improved. He’s more comfortable on stage – more real. His leading perfectly fits who this church is and where they want to go. And people respond to that – they connect with and worship the Lord under his leadership. It has been really fun to experience.

He’s a minister. He always has been one , really – but now we get the awesome tax benefits.

And I am a minister’s wife. That part, truthfully, kind of freaks me out. I sometimes fear that by being myself I might screw this whole thing up for him.

I’m far from perfect. I mean – really far. I often wish I could sleep in on Sunday, I have my doubts about some of the more confusing aspects of our faith, I am strongly opinionated about  the role of women in the church, I can be proud and stubborn about almost anything (even stupid things), I really dislike most contemporary Christian music and Christian subculture, I have recently discovered a love for wine, and I think a well-placed curse word can be absolutely hilarious.

Sometimes I feel like being a minister’s wife means I have to change who I am. But I’m 35 years-old and I’ve lived most of my life uncomfortable in my own skin, and by God’s grace I’ve finally gotten to a place where I feel at home being Jen.

I don’t want to pretend anymore. I like who God made me to be. I think I’m finally getting pretty good at it.

I love authenticity. I like confessing my sins to others and seeing how God redeems and deepens community after confession. I love messy relationships and complex conversations. I love having a drink with a searching person and seeing them open up to discuss the Lord from an unexpected angle. I see God in art and music even when the people creating it probably don’t know they are reflecting the Creator of all. I believe that God can redeem anything – and I believe being in the world but not of it means just that.

So here I am – a newly licensed minister’s wife. And I have a choice to make. Be myself and trust, or hide who I am out of fear of retribution. I choose to trust. I think that just as Justin has trusted the staff and elders of SBC with every aspect of his being and personality, I need to do the same. We’ve come to know them well and we know that they believe in redemption, not perfection. They have treated us with nothing but grace and love, and they seek the heart of the Lord. I choose to trust and be myself.

I will never be a perfect minister’s wife, mostly because I am a sinner saved by grace. But I have a God who is sanctifying me and smoothing over my rough edges and who chooses to use me despite my failings. And for that I am so incredibly grateful.

So here I am, quite possibly the very worst minister’s wife ever*, but excited to see what God does with this stage of our life. We are grateful for you, people and staff of Southlake Baptist, and for Christ in you. Thank you for trusting Justin and honoring his commitment to the Lord. You have been used by God to encourage our family in more ways than you can know.

(*Bekah adds “ever” to the end of every sentence when she is mad. It’s hilarious. For example, “Grace, I will eat my sandwich and you won’t get a bite, EVER!” To see that little person so passionate makes me laugh every stinking time. So in her honor, I threw an “ever” in there for emphasis.)

‘Schooled’ on Fear

The LORD is my light and my salvation– whom shall I fear? The LORD is the stronghold of my life– of whom shall I be afraid? Psalm 27:11

Have you ever been around one of those people, those “light” people? The people who radiate peace and joy, grace and wisdom, and when you leave, you are changed? My brother Joe and sister-in-law Lori have a friend named Hillery who is one of those people. For months, my brother told me about her and her husband and how encouraging they were as friends. When I visited this past summer, spending time with Hillery was definitely on the agenda. I love being around “light” people. They don’t hammer you with rules or truth, but somehow they just seem to “get it” in an extraordinary way. They challenge me and excite me and I absolutely love being around them because they’re mirroring Jesus as they walk through the world, reflecting His light.

So I meet Hillery, who has no idea that I’m watching every move she makes like she’s a creature in a fishbowl (I try to contain myself and demonstrate some semblance of normalcy around these people. I do, after all, need to appear somewhat cool). We were talking about school and about the options available to us as our kids enter Kindergarten this year – a simple conversation that should not have been memorable. But I’ve found that when I am around “light” people, they can casually drop wisdom into even the most mundane conversations. I was talking about my struggle as I considered options for Grace’s school and I mentioned the battle I was having against fear as I looked at sending my little girl into different environments I couldn’t control. I was babbling away, explaining the battle going on in my head, when Hillery spoke up.

She said something like this, “I don’t believe in making choices based on fear. Ever. If God isn’t the author of fear, then when I listen to my fears I know I’m not listening to the voice of God.”

It was simple. Grace-filled. Not harsh or corrective or instructive. Just right.

I don’t believe in making choices based on fear. Ever.

She can’t know how many times I’ve played that sentence in my head this past year. How I’ve grasped at that idea as it slips in and out of my hands, wanting to make it my personal philosophy as well but struggling to change a lifetime habit of doing the opposite.

I don’t believe in making choices based on fear. Ever.

My confession is this: I do listen to fear. I think I always have. I’m pretty sure sometimes I give it an equal voice with the Holy Spirit who should have the loudest voice in my spirit – leading me in the way I should go. Now I don’t call it fear. I’m way too smart for that. I call it “discernment” or “wisdom” or I say I have a “check.” I can ‘church it up’ in the most expert ways.

But I know – in my heart – that it’s fear. 

So take the choice of Grace’s school. Fear says oh-so-much on this subject. Fear of influences. Fear of bad educational practices. Fear of failure. Fear of finances. Fear of isolation. Fear of making a terrible mistake. When I listen to fear, there is one tiny right decision and a million-and-a-half wrong decisions that can cause damage. That is the fear-based perception.

But something else speaks loudly on this subject. Perfect love. Grace has a Father who loves her with a perfect love (Jer. 31:3). He is mighty to save (Zeph 3:17). He is her help and her shield (Ps 115:11). He will never leave her or forsake her (Deut 31:6). I could go on and on about the promises available to my sweet little girl because of her loving Father.

So a fear-free attitude says something very different. It says my daughter is in the hands of the One who made her and that no decision is outside of His control. It says it doesn’t truly matter, in the end, the location where Grace goes to school. God’s love and protection can reach into even the darkest environment and the most bleak situation and give light and life. The fear-free perspective reminds me that I can’t make a decision that can 100% insulate her against the struggles of this world. I don’t have that power. There is no “perfect” decision that can cast out all of my fears.

Only one thing has the power to defeat my fears. Perfect love has victory over my fears (1 John 4:18). My perfect Savior demonstrated that when He died for me and then defeated death and rose to live forever. I can’t even justify fearing death as a follower of Christ, because He has even that under His control. For you did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear, but you received the Spirit of sonship. And by him we cry, “”Abba,” Father.” Romans 8:15

It’s all about the power of the One who lives inside of us. That’s the “remedy” to fear.

He is the way to be free of this voice of fear in my life.

I am re-reading Grace-Based Parenting (for the 5th or 6th time). I love this book. I cannot recommend it enough – it’s my favorite parenting book. This same idea resonated with me this week as I read it. Take a look at what Dr. Kimmel wrote about fear-based or legalistic parenting vs. grace-based parenting.

The difference with grace-based families is that they don’t bother spending much time putting fences up because they know full well that sin is already present and accounted for inside their family. To these types of parents, sin is not an action or an object that penetrates their defenses; it is a preexisting condition that permeates their being. The graceless home requires kids to be good and gets angry and punishes them when they are bad. The grace-based home assumes kids will struggle with sin and helps them learn how to tap into God’s power to help them get stronger.

It’s not that grace-based homes don’t take their children’s sin seriously. Nor is it that grace-based homes circumvent consequences. It isn’t even that grace-based homes do nothing to protect their children from attacks and temptations that threaten them from the outside. They do all these things, but not for the same reasons. Grace-based homes aren’t trusting in the moral safety of their home or the spiritual environment they’ve created to empower their children to resist sin. . . . They assume that sin is an ongoing dilemma that their children must constantly contend with.

[Children in a grace-based family] are accepted as sinners who desire to become more like Christ rather than be seen as nice Christian kids trying to maintain a good moral code. Grace is committed to bringing children up from their sin; legalism puts them on a high standard and works overtime to keep them from falling down.

Grace understands that the only real solution for our children’s sin is the work of Christ on their behalf. . . .  Legalism uses outside forces to help children maintain their moral walk. Their strength is based on the environment they live in. Grace, on the other hand, sees the strength of children by what is inside them—more specifically, Who is inside them.

Isn’t that good? It isn’t about the environment in which my child is schooled, it is about the inhabitant of her heart and His reign in her life.

And for me – it isn’t about my ability to control and protect, it is about the inhabitant of my heart and His reign in my life.

Jesus create in me a clean heart, and renew a right spirit within me.

So as we reach the point where we decide what school we will walk our little girl into, with her backpack as big as she is, may fear have no voice in that decision. May we listen to the voice of the One who loves us and who has a perfect plan for our Grace, a plan to prosper her and not to harm her, to give her a hope and a future. And may I drop her off in peace, knowing that my God is bigger, stronger, and more loving than I can grasp.

When I am afraid, I will trust in you. In God, whose word I praise, in God I trust; I will not be afraid. What can mortal man do to me? Psalm 56:3-4

Love and London

My friend Kate is a full-on Anglophile and it is one of the things I adore about her. She loves London, loves English history, and the more I’ve gotten to know her heart through the years, the more I’ve thought she truly belongs in another time.

This week, thanks to God’s blessing and my wonderful boss, I was able to do my first show in London. It’s been a dream of mine to visit Europe, so to get paid to be here is pretty amazing.

And being here – I understand Kate a little better. She completely fits here.

There is kindness and beauty here. Magic. Stepping off the plane and onto the train I felt transported into another era where life was more thoughtful and graceful.

I absolutely love it.

The diversity of people, the courtesy they demonstrate, the amalgamation of different languages and cultures, the history all around us (directly under my hotel window is a portion of the wall built by the romans in the 2nd century) – every part of it makes me slow down and look around in awe.

Being here this week has been a crazy, sweet, unexpected gift from the Lord. The only way it would be better is if my wonderful family and friends were here with me.

Yesterday afternoon I stood on the line that separates east from west at Greenwich observatory, and I was moved by the kindness of the Lord. I walked down the hill from the observatory praying and thanking the Lord for this chance, asking Him to lead us to raise our kids with a global consciousness and a heart for ministry all over the world.

Being here has demonstrated and strengthened my call to “go into all the world.” I am so grateful for the opportunity and for the reminder. London, I have been blessed by you.

I hope to be back soon and often.

Bloodlines & Adoption

This video speaks to my heart and I adore it. In it, John Piper tells the story of his life growing up in the south and his adoption of his daughter, Talitha. Please watch it – it will touch your heart.

I was, because of God’s grace, raised in a home with a mom who got the importance and beauty of diversity, and taught it, and lived it. I pray my heart for people honors her as I try to live this out. And I am grateful I get to fight for the same cause in my life. I ask Him to allow us to be loving parents of children from all races and nations. Because it’s important and it’s right and it’s beautiful and it’s God honoring.

Here’s my favorite quote:

“God did a remarkable work in us. He taught me this. He said, “Look. If you act consistently with your convictions about interracial marriage and the nobility and beauty of diversity, this choice will commit you to this issue until you are dead. And that swung it for me. Love for my wife, love for this little girl, and love for this cause. The cause of Christ-exalting racial harmony and racial diversity, because if I lock in to my family, the issue, this beautiful little woman created in the image of God and say “You are mine” then I won’t ever be able to run away from this, and I wanted to draw that line in the sand…

When I look at her I’m going to see a human being created in the very image of God, and then secondly, down the line, I’m going to see a particular kind of skin or hair. That’s huge. The Bible brings the image of God to bear on this issue and it is massively important. The second way the Bible brings it to bear is it talks about there being one Father of us all.  All the nations came from one Father according to Acts 17, which means we’re all related. You can’t look with disgust or dismay or dishonoring on another human being as if they’re not in the same family. They’re in your family. You try to demean them, you demean your family.

It is fundamentally a cross issue, a blood issue, a gospel issue that is at play here and what is so amazing is how the Gospel, by faith alone, having our sins forgiven, triumphs over these sins that militate against racial harmony and racial diversity.”

Love it.

Giving Grace

As most of you know, my oldest daughter’s name is Grace. It completely fits her, actually. She has singlehandedly taught me more about grace than anything I’ve ever experienced.

The other day we were listening to Christmas music and she heard the line “He rules the world with truth and grace, and makes the nations prove, the glories of His righteousness and wonders of his love…”

She asked me, quietly, “Mommy, why is my name in this song?”

Suddenly I had to try to explain the concept of grace to a 4 year-old. All the Sunday school answers I’ve ever learned ran through my head – unmerited favor (no), sanctification because of His righteousness, not ours (no).  All true but far too complicated.

I said “Gracie – this is talking about how God rules the world with truth and absolute love.” I think that was a pretty accurate answer – I was grateful the Lord gave it to me.

God rules the world with truth and absolute love.

There has been some serious tension and strife in my extended family this past year. Like the historic kind that divides families and tears each other apart until people miss funerals because of it. It’s bad. It’s been really difficult to experience and hurtful on all sides.

And it’s human nature in strife like this to believe the ABSOLUTE worst about the other person, while believing the best of ourselves. We’ve seen that on all sides of this argument. We stop communicating, stop working towards peace. We start presenting the best version of our side to the people on “our team” while demonizing the other side. Suddenly small differences that were before simply topics to avoid become vast valleys that separate and divide us because grace is gone.

But God rules the world with truth and absolute love.

What I think the Holy Spirit is teaching me is that to live out Christ in me, I have to live in truth and grace. I must love.

When I am offended? Realize as a Believer in Christ who is told to forgive, I don’t have the right to live offended. I must love.

When I am hurt? Realize I am constantly, unknowingly, hurting those around me. I must love.

When I am tempted to demonize? Realize I am but a miserable selfish sinner saved by grace who doesn’t deserve an ounce of the grace given to me by Christ. I must love.

My sweet Grace is aptly named, and again she teaches me about grace just by her very existence.

He rules the world with truth and grace, and makes (ME, a sinner saved by grace) prove, the glories of His righteousness and wonders of his love…

We can show the world, and our families, the glories of His righteousness and wonders of His love when we choose to live as Christ.

The best way I can show my daughter the precious concept that her name represents is to prove His righteousness and his wonderful love as I give grace in my relationships with others. God help me. That’s so hard sometimes!

God forgive me for my part in the disunity in our family. Help me to be better – to prove your glory, righteousness, and love better than I have this year. Please work and move and heal and restore. We need You.

A Very Merry Christmas.

I am seriously loving life right now. I think it’s a combination of learning to live in gratitude, this amazing season celebrating Christ, seeing miracles in the lives of faithful friends around me, success in a tough semester of school for me and Jess, fun holiday traditions with my family, my wonderful husband serving at a church where he is loved, friends who live simple faithful lives, and two sweet daughters who are living each day in wonder and delight and teaching me to live that way as they go.

Add that together – and it’s abundant life. 

I’m grateful.

Two years ago a group of people were Jesus to our family in a truly difficult time. I can’t tell you the blessing that has been this past two years – how many times my girls would wear something we got that night or play with something someone gave us, and I would remember that the Lord sees us. We are loved with an everlasting love.

I can look back today and say about the Lord my favorite verses:

“I know now that You can do all things, no plan of Yours can be thwarted… My ears had heard of You, but now my eyes have seen You.” (Job 42:2,5)

Merry Christmas friends and family. I pray that Jesus would be near and you would live each day in wonder and peace.