A Time to Rest

img_4385

Grace, leaping off the dock. So proud of my sweet girl for conquering her fears and leaping.

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

We just went on a big family vacation with my parents, my brother and his family, and my sister and her boyfriend to Lake Martin, a beautiful lake in Alabama. It was a week at a beautiful place, with my favorite people in the world, and everything in me needed to disconnect and refresh and relax. Since we moved to Houston seven months ago, and even the months leading up to the move, we have been sprinting. Our world, and our children’s worlds, were turned upside down (in the best possible ways), and we haven’t had time to really catch our breath. So we go on vacation knowing we need it, that God has ordained rest for us, and that we are ready to receive that rest and renewal and enjoy one another. I, in particular, had several goals in mind as we left Houston:

1. A rest from being me-centered. Fifty one weeks a year our girls have to comply with our schedule, getting up at a certain time, following certain rules, being places sometimes for hours on end while Justin and I work and serve our church. Although they are not deprived (#firstworldproblems), and they love COF and get our mission here, we also know they deserve a week off to relax and enjoy us. So we try, for these times on vacation, to turn our normal paradigm on its head. They can wake up and go swimming at 7:40 in the morning. They can have ice cream sandwiches at 8:30 pm. We bought fireworks for them to shoot off the bow of the boat. If I had just sat down for the first time that day, but they needed something, I tried to not sigh and make it a big deal, but to get up with joy and let them see that they were more important to me than my rest. I don’t believe in a kid-centered home, and I don’t believe in making our children happy at the expense of making them holy, but for this one week, this fantastic week, I determined to do everything in my power to give them magical childhood memories and make it all about them.

img_4513

The cousins.

2. A rest from fears. I am a creative mind, and one of the manifestations of that is that I imagine every possible horrific scenario that can occur at any given time, so I can somehow prepare for it. I do this more when I am stressed or tired or feeling out of control, so I went on vacation at an eleven in the freakout category, to be really honest with you. I was having visions of car accidents, drowning, secondary drowning, heat stroke, boating accidents, critters, brain eating amoebas, furniture falling on children, all of it. So this week I asked the Lord for a rest from that nonsense.  I decided to not give those voices an audience in my mind, to pray when I felt fear, and to not be that mom keeping my kids from having fun because of a Facebook posting of a crazy scenario that is designed to perpetuate fear-based news cycles, that could keep a mother and her children curled up in the fetal position forever. So we swam in lakes, let the kids shoot off fireworks, went tubing, let the kids run around with freedom. And guess what? No nightmare scenarios happened, even without my watchful worrying guard.

The three girls were going to hold hands and jump, and Bekah just couldn't do it. It was so funny watching her let go and just stand there.

The three girls were going to hold hands and jump, and Bekah just couldn’t do it. It was so funny watching her let go and just stand there.

3. A rest from ingratitude. Vacationing with kids is hard, as a mom, and a few times I let myself slip into a pity mentality where I felt tired and wanted a break, but I was continually countering that state of mind with the truth that I am blessed, and that this trip was evidence of how blessed I am. I asked the Lord over and over for the gift of gratitude. One morning I was on a kayak in the middle of the quiet cove where our lake house sat, looking back on the dock where our kids were swimming and laughing, with tears in my eyes. This was my dream for our kids, this idyllic childhood moment, and I was not going to miss the chance to be grateful for it. To be grateful to serve at a place where we have not only the vacation time, but the extra funds to pull off a week like this with our kids. To be grateful for a family who loves us and who wants to travel with us. To be grateful for a mom who conquered her fear of lakes to swim with my kids everyday, and a dad who is the best grandfather I could ever have wished for. To be grateful for the relationships with my siblings that are healthy and affirming, full of life and peace. To be grateful for all the Lord has done in our family’s lives this past year, and how He has carried us. Something about my heart needs beauty and quiet to give God the due He always deserves, and in that moment, on that lake, all I could do was cry with gratitude for where we are in life, all by His design.

It was a great vacation, and was the rest my spirit needed. I met God there, in the squeal of my daughter as she jumped off the dock, and the quiet moments alone, and the love of my sister-in-law as she made a meal for our kids, and the laughter of my family. I am grateful for every moment of it.

I will lie down and sleep in peace, for you alone, O LORD, make me dwell in safety. Psalm 4:8

The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not be in want.  He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters,  he restores my soul. Psalm 23:1

Take a rest, my friends, sometime this summer, doing what your soul needs. You deserve it, and the Lord will use it.
2014-07-24 19.38.062014-07-24 15.37.59

 

On Being Winsome

I adore Jimmy Fallon.

Jimmy Fallon (Credit: AP/Lloyd Bishop)

Jimmy Fallon (Credit: AP/Lloyd Bishop)

Like in the “I want my family to be best friends with him and his wife and his beautiful baby girl and hang out on weekends” kind of way. I think he is brilliant, hilarious, creative, and most of all, winsome.

win·some

adjective \ˈwin(t)-səm\

generally pleasing and engaging often because of a childlike charm and innocence (source)

If you watch Late Night, one thing you will quickly notice is that Jimmy Fallon isn’t polished or cool – in fact he’s hilariously awkward at times. He is a genuine fan and encourager of the people who come on his show, and they are put immediately at ease because he shows a love for their art. His show isn’t about him and his ego and his sense of humor. It is about them, and having fun, and enjoying life, and it works.

It’s lovely.

So often, when I think of Jimmy Fallon, I think, “That’s the kind of Christian I want to be.” I want to be winsome. I  think as a culture we’ve lost that art. Look at the comment section of any article and you’ll see just how far we have fallen from speaking to one another with respect, joy, and encouragement. (I mean really, who are these people who comment such vile things?) Even as Christians, so often we aren’t concerned with being winsome as much as we are concerned with being right. And yes – truth is important. But truth delivered without love and humility isn’t received by the hearer.

I think by doing this one little thing, by communicating to the world around us with love and with almost childlike enthusiasm and charm, we can demonstrate a radical difference from the culture at large. And maybe then they’ll be interested in what makes us different.

Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear. Eph 4:29

Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person. Col. 4:6

Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins. Show hospitality to one another without grumbling. As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace: 1 Peter 4:8

I’m working on being winsome. I think it is an easy way to love the world well. I want to draw people in and make them feel at ease, like my future best friend Jimmy Fallon does.

Thanks, Jimmy!

My favorite Late Night Moments:

“SexyBack” the Barbershop Quartet Version

Brian Williams Raps

“Call Me Maybe” with Classroom Instruments

John Krasinski Lip Synch Off

History of Rap One, Two, and Three

Lucy

Forgive me for being a little late writing this – the new baby haze is no joke. But we would like to introduce you to our new little girl, Lucy Taylor.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

We named Lucy after one of my favorite characters in literature, Lucy Pevensie, the little girl who walked through the wardrobe into Narnia and eventually became Queen Lucy the Valiant in C.S. Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia series. Lucy was the first to recognize Aslan and faithfully follow his lead, and the person who most fervently believed in the good in people around her. It is our prayer that our Lucy will follow after Christ with that kind of sensitivity, passion, and devotion. Her name means light – and already this little girl has lit up our world.

“Aslan” said Lucy “you’re bigger”.
“That is because you are older, little one” answered he.
“Not because you are?”
“I am not. But every year you grow, you will find me bigger”.” ― C.S. Lewis, Prince Caspian: The Return to Narnia

We are very blessed, and very happy, to introduce her. Thank you for your prayers and your love, especially the last few weeks of my pregnancy when I was sick. We have been showered in every way – with prayers, gifts, meals, encouraging messages and visits. We are so grateful for the family and friends the Lord has given us who show us community and love.

Lucy is the easiest baby – she has a calm sweet demeanor, rarely cries, and doesn’t seem phased by the three-ring circus that is life at the Wells house. She fits in so well! The girls (and even the dog) adore her and race each other to meet her every need – and Justin and I are absolutely captivated. We basically sit around all day holding her and telling each other how beautiful she is and how much we love her – and we don’t plan to stop anytime soon.

Lucy is, like Grace and Rebekah, tangible evidence of God’s grace to us and we are so thankful for her.

For this child I prayed, and the LORD has granted me my petition that I made to him. 1 Samuel 1:27

Gasoline or Water?

A Pastor I once worked for taught me a brilliant lesson about dealing with people, and it has revolutionized the way I see misunderstandings, conflicts, and flare-ups in relationship. It is even helping change the way I parent my kids and relate to my husband.

My Pastor used to say that we all carry around with us a bucket of gasoline and a bucket of water, and wisdom is knowing which bucket to throw on the “spark” of a given situation*.

See, conflicts don’t just explode out of nowhere. There is a spark. Most of the time that spark is small and commonplace – a miscommunication or an unmet expectation, a tone or even a look. And we have a choice in how we deal with that spark. Do we escalate, react, “take it to the next level”? Do we bring the gasoline and burn that thing up? Or do we walk away for a minute, process, deal calmly, ask questions, speak kindly. Is water what we employ to deal with the spark?

It sounds simple, but don’t forget it is a spark. Sparks lead to fire, and we have all been burned. So reaction is actually the normal, default mindset. Your adrenaline gets going. Your fear kicks in. Your instinct to protect and defend flares up. The “us” versus “them” sin-nature we all possess shifts into high gear.

  • You get an email that seems to attack you, and other people are copied on it. Gasoline or water?
  • You have a child throwing the fourth fit in 20 minutes. Gasoline or water?
  • You have worked hard all day, and immediately upon arriving home, your spouse starts in. Gasoline or water?

I think gasoline is easier, at least in the moment. It is quick, definitive. You feel strongly that bringing the gasoline is justified. But most of the time, after it is over, all you are left with is a charred mess.

Ashes.

Whereas water, well, water is harder. You have to stop. Slow down. Pray. Breathe. You have to try to warp your mind to see things from the other person’s perspective. You have to speak kindly, even when you are being spoken to in a harsh or disrespectful way. Water doesn’t come naturally – it’s entirely supernatural and only really possible when we get our eyes off ourself. But when we work at it, we see things differently. We can suddenly see that an angry reaction to an email will only provoke more angry emails, and a child who is exhausted cannot reason, and a tired overwhelmed spouse sometimes just needs to vent a second. Sometimes our relationships are worth humbling ourselves and choosing the water, because it restores what is broken.

Gasoline or water?

This is a gasoline world. Sound-bites flying, reactions spouted-off, rage and offense the default reaction to any perceived slight.

But we serve a water Jesus. He did get angry and bring the gasoline twice that we know of from Scripture, but it was rare and incredibly justified. Most of the time, peace, mercy, grace, and love flowed from him like a never-ending stream of water. He died refusing to fight. He had enough gasoline at his fingertips to torch the earth, and yet he held it back.

And when he breathed his last, the earth grew dark. And I have to wonder, do you think it rained?

 

If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Romans 12:18

Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God. James 1:19-20

Love is patient, love is kind, it does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud, it is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. 1 Corinthians 13:4-5

*I believe my Pastor got this illustration from John Maxwell’s book “Go For Gold”

I’ve Realized Something…

I don’t do well with sadness.

I had a brilliant therapist once who told me that self-awareness is a choice, and few choose it. I thought I was pretty self-aware, but this grieving thing has shown me that I am not.

At all.

We adopted a dog on Saturday. For most of you – that’s not a big piece of news. But for people who know me well, they just went “WHAT?!?” and laughed out loud. I am not a pet person. I am a bubble-girl to a highly-unusual degree and literally I can’t sit in grass or touch animals because I swell up. And I am really sensitive to smells. So the combination of these two things makes pet ownership difficult.

And yet, suddenly, last week, all of my previous arguments against getting a dog melted away and I found myself on adoptapet.org searching out the perfect dog for our family. It was like I unlearned everything that 36 years had taught me and suddenly I NEEDED A DOG. I found one, emailed about it, and we went and adopted it.

Really.

Henry Wells

We brought him home, changed his name from Snuggles (a boy named Snuggles? No.) to Henry. Henry is adorable. He looks like my parents’ dog, which is the only dog I’ve ever really gotten close to. It seemed perfect. But soon after getting him home, Henry began to be very dog-like. In fact, he was very puppy-like. Peeing on my carpet and rugs, jumping on all of us, whining and crying all night long – he was the trifecta, a perfect embodiment of every argument I’ve ever given myself and others against a pet.

And I started crying (another thing I don’t do that often). And I didn’t just shed a tear – I sobbed. Poor Justin has a dripping, heaving, impossible-to-understand woman on his hands, and he has no idea what is happening.

I was crying because it hit me. I didn’t really want a dog. I was sad, and I was hurting, so I did something drastic that just happened to look like a cute little dog named Henry. I wanted to take things into my own hands – unstick what was stuck. And looking back I realized this pattern. In times of past sadness, I’ve done some pretty radical things. I’ve cut my hair or sold my car or taken up painting, or countless other rebellions that weren’t as visible but were my own little war against the way things were. This time I got a dog. And it didn’t take a therapist to see what I was really doing. I was sad about the baby, and since I couldn’t change that and I couldn’t give my girls the sibling I wanted to give them in the timeframe I wanted, I gave them a dog. It was obvious, except to me.

I was crying because my solution didn’t stop the sadness. My house smelled, chaos reigned, I had a DOG, and I was still hurting.

So carefully and a little fearfully, I leaned into the sadness. I trusted the Lord with my grief. I allowed myself to cry. I revisited everything that happened a month ago that I have been trying not to dwell on. I re-read the verses that sustained me during that terrible time. I grieved. It was cathartic and probably very healthy for me.

As I cried, I cleaned up my house and tried to turn myself into a dog person. Because Henry is cute and the girls love him, and the Lord already used him to allow me to grieve a little. So maybe we can make this work.

I don’t do well with sadness, but I want to. I want to accept with open hands what the Lord gives and allows, even if it isn’t my plan in my timing. I want to trust Him more, and myself less. And I know I need the Lord to help me do all of these things, because they are completely contrary to my instincts and nature.

Lord I don’t want to run after my own impatient solutions to the challenges you have allowed in our life. I want to learn to wait. I want to grow from the lessons You give, to trust You with the timeline, to trust myself with the sadness. I want to feel. I want to be honest. Help me Lord. Forgive me when I fall short. Bring Your blessings in Your time for Your glory. I trust you with how our family will grow. 

Family Talk

I have an amazing friend named Jan, and she truly is one of the women I want to emulate in my life. She brilliantly shines Jesus and grace and beauty and love. Many of you reading this have been impacted by her and love her dearly.

She has this expression she uses often, and I love it. She’ll be sharing something, and right before she shares, she’ll say, “This is family talk.” When I hear it, I feel treasured. I know she considers me family. She trusts me. Also when I hear it, my spirit agrees with her. We are family. We share a purpose and a Father. We can rejoice together in the good and pray together in the hard because we give each other grace.

Family talk.

So the church throughout all Judea and Galilee and Samaria had peace and was being built up. And walking in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit, it multiplied. Acts 9:31

I was talking with Justin and another friend this week about the family of God. We certainly have our moments of frustration and division. We certainly have been through struggles together and sometimes there are hurts that need to be healed. But still we are family. We rejoice when God uses a member of our family to bring Him glory, wherever that may be. We pray when a member of our family is hurting. When someone from the outside of our family criticizes someone inside of our family, we can get a little defensive.

When I joined the family of God, it was at a large precious church that I still adore. Many many people became my family members at that place. I had father-figures and mother-figures and aunts and uncles and brothers and sisters all over the place. We saw God move there. We were used by God to do big things there. It was an amazing time.

Image courtesy of calvaryinglewood.org

A few years later, that place went through some struggles. There was hurt. Many of us scattered all over the place during that time of transition. We were like baby birds pushed out of the safe warm nest. For a while there was some division and confusion and hurt. There were things we all needed to confess and forgive. We needed to let go of the former things (Isaiah 43:18). But if you look around that family, whether people left or stayed, wherever people landed, God continues to use us. He took us from ministering at one church to ministering at that church plus a dozen more. He was faithful. He did not give up on us. We healed. We grew. We were forgiven for our part in the struggle. We forgave others.

We are family – even across the miles and across the hurts. We don’t have to agree on everything because we agree on the important things. We can still rejoice in the good, we can still ache and pray in the difficulty, because we are family.

God is faithful, by whom you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord. I appeal to you, brothers,by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment. 1 Corinthians 1:9-10

We serve in an area with many churches. And it’s easy and human to compare and compete a little. It’s easy to focus on our differences and not on what unites us. But we are not called to live easy and human. We are called to be set apart. We are commanded to rejoice with each other and pray for each other. God is moving in many ways across the world, and every move He makes deserves to be celebrated by us all whether we have a part in it or not. Because we aren’t just an organization, we are parts of an organism. We are family, parts of the same body. We are joined together with Christ, and there is no room for division in this body.

I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call— one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. Ephesians 4:1-6

I am just filled with gratitude today for my family. I want each of you to know I love you and thank my God for you – truly. You have welcomed me into your family, and you have welcomed my brave wonderful husband and my beautiful little girls. You have treated us with grace. You love us, and I am so grateful for you. I love the Lord more because I know you and because you have treated me with love. I am grateful.

Blessed is the one who is not offended by Me

So I have a new person I want to be when I grow up – Dr. Karyn Purvis. She’s a precious, lovely, brilliant child-development guru who wrote The Connected Child and spoke at the Empowered to Connect Conference this weekend that Justin and I attended. She has spent the last 15 years of her life helping adoptive parents and adopted children heal and connect and I just fell in love with her heart for children from hard places.

Sometimes I feel like a bit of a poser when it comes to the adoption thing. I love it, know we are called to it, but also know that our time has not yet come. So we go to these conferences and we’re surrounded by people in the trenches who are giving their lives, time, money, energy, and hearts to adopted and foster kids in the room, and there we sit with our two bio kids and a dream. And sometimes I feel a little foolish, frankly. But I also know that there is purpose in waiting, and that our vision for adoption has shifted even in these 3 years we have waited. I know that I am a better mom now than I was even a year ago (partially because of the amazing parenting strategies taught at conferences like the one I attended today). I know that the Lord is realigning my priorities even this week to focus on my family and He continues to shave the rough edges off the crazy woman that is Jen Wells. I know that this past few years, while we’ve waited, I’ve identified pretty unrealistic expectations in my heart of how this will all turn out, and I’ve watched those expectations die. I’ve learned to trust my Father more this past 3 years. I’ve become more of a person my kids can trust. So I can see that this wait has definitely served a purpose.

But still we wait. And we pray. And we read books and blogs. And we attend conferences. And we try desperately to be a light for our friends who have adopted, and be a safe person they can vent to and turn to when they need to take off their capes and be human and frustrated for a second.

He must become greater, I must become less. John 3:30

Now that verse sounds holy, right? But in recent weeks the life of John the Baptist, who made that beautiful statement of faith, has come up time and time again in my personal studies. This guy had spent his life predicting and proclaiming the coming Messiah. And He comes! John gets to baptize Him and hears the voice of God proclaiming that this is His Son. All of this is a huge mountaintop event – John is rare in humankind in that even while he is touching the shoulders of the flesh-bearing manifestation of the Son, He is seeing the Holy Spirit come down from heaven and hearing the voice of God the Father. So in essence – He experienced, with human senses, the Trinity. And that’s pretty amazing.

But then he’s sent to prison. While in prison, He sends Jesus a question – “Are you the one who is to come, or should we expect someone else?” Basically John is suffering, and he wants to make sure he’s got it right. And Jesus sends a message back confirming miracles that have been prophesied about the Messiah – but He leaves one really important part of the prophesy out. He leaves out the part where the Messiah sets the prisoner free. And at the end of His message, He sends a note to John, “Blessed is the one who is not offended by me.”

I’m not an expert on the Bible – but basically if I’m reading this right, Jesus’ message to John says something like this: “I am the Messiah. But I’m not going to free you from prison, my plans for you are different from what you expect. But you’ll be blessed if you still love and trust Me even unto death.”

That is some crazy deep stuff. I’ll be honest, that is hard stuff for me to wrap my mind around. But in so many ways – this idea of living unoffended is the message of people I admire and respect, was the message of this conference, and is the message I think the Lord has been trying to teach me during the last 3 years of my discomfort (it’s hard to call what we’ve experienced a trial after being in the room I was in today with people who have experienced real trials and who are parenting kids who have come from unimaginable trauma). We can choose to not be offended by Jesus in those places of pain and suffering, and because of that choice, we will be blessed. It isn’t natural and it isn’t easy to experience suffering and remain unoffended. It kind of makes you an oddball in this comfort-driven world, actually. But by God’s grace, we can choose to live that way. We can find joy, peace, and grace in the absolute middle of impossibly hard places and we can choose to love Jesus with every pitiful ounce of strength we have left in the midst of trial and pain – and when we do, we are blessed.

Today I sat in a room full of people who have counted the cost, and who have joined widows and orphans in their distress. They get this concept. They live unoffended while they live out James 1:27 “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.” That verse took on new meaning to me this weekend. I think in my mind I saw adoption as rescuing orphans from a world of chaos and bringing them into our world of safety and love. But today I was taught that James 1:27 says we’ll visit them in their distress – so more often it is us entering into their pain, their suffering, and their trauma so that we can walk with them to safety and healing. It’s messy and beautiful and holy.

I don’t really know how to wrap this blog up, as I so often like to do. I just know that I want to love and encourage people who are doing their best to be faithful, even in suffering. Jesus said it, and I believe it – “Blessed is the one who is not offended by Me.” God please help us to live unoffended.