Shifting Gears

Courtesy NY Daily News

Still taking a break from Facebook, mostly because I want to still love everyone I know once the election is over.  I have gotten back on Twitter, because without cable, it’s my news source. But even that I’m taking in small doses.

I have shifted modes, though. The damage on the eastern seaboard and the storms plaguing 20% of the American population are heavy on my mind. It has forced a perspective shift. So I am no longer praying for the election or worrying about the outcome. I prayed for months before I voted about who to vote for, and I know that the Lord is in control.

No man in the White House has the power to save us or condemn us, and no matter who wins, our country has survived worse.

I am praying for the people in our land, and in the lands around us also hit by the storms. For those who have lost loved ones, for the thousands displaced from their homes and their businesses, for the millions of people without power on this cold night and the cold nights coming with the next storm hitting in days. For the relief workers, local government leaders, and first responders who are exhausted. For the millions of people processing the events of the past week – for their PTSD-affected minds and hearts. Jesus be near and give peace. We need the voice that said “Peace, be still” to the waves, and the waves obeyed, to speak in might and power and shift this newest storm away from these hurting people.

I am also praying for our country after the election. For peace in our land. For the side that loses to respect and honor the leader the Lord has allowed to be at the head of our country. For protection for our next president. For whoever wins to lead with honor and wisdom. For the voices of division and hatred to be silenced. For the next president to humble himself in the sight of the Lord, so that He may lift them up. I believe that neither of them is too far gone for the Lord to draw to Himself, and that is what I am praying for, in faith. The weight of a nation is too big for any man – and I am praying whoever wins would take that weight to the one Power strong enough to carry it.

I’m shifting gears. I’m praying hard. I’m believing for good. And I hope you’ll join me.

Then they cried out to the Lord in their trouble,
    and he brought them out of their distress.
He stilled the storm to a whisper;
    the waves of the sea were hushed.
They were glad when it grew calm,
    and he guided them to their desired haven.
Let them give thanks to the Lord for his unfailing love
    and his wonderful deeds for mankind. Psalm 107:28-31

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”

Mercy for Today

I have talked to a bunch of moms this week and this seems to be the theme.

“I’m having a tough time with my kids.”

“My kids seem to be throwing a ton of fits right now.”

“This is just hard right now.”

“I have lost my cool this week and I feel so guilty.”

I have heard these things over and over, and every woman shared it with me carefully, afraid I would think less of her.

Can I just say, moms, that I don’t think less of you? That we are all with you? Summer is tough, for all of us. Routines are interrupted, kids are home more than usual, it’s too hot to be outside like they normally are. Tempers can flare and chaos can creep in.

Don’t let yourself be discouraged. Don’t let the enemy isolate you. Don’t be bogged down with guilt. If you have lost your cool, talk to your kids. Apologize, pray together, ask the Lord to help you both do better. Even if they are little, it’ll teach them how to be humble and show them how to correct when they sin.

ImageAnd give yourself grace. None of us were parented by perfect parents, but by God’s grace we’re here, (relatively) normal. 🙂 Go to the Lord, ask Him for more patience and love and ask Him to grant peace to your home. Curl up in your bed and imagine yourself curled up next to him. Know that He looks at you with love – not condemnation. He is pleased with you.

We are all – kids and adults – working out our salvation with fear and trembling. We are all in need of mercy. And we all have a God who specializes in saving and in pouring mercy on us.

If this week has been tough – you are not alone. And you are not a bad mom. What God calls us to do (motherhood), he equips us to accomplish. In you, because of Christ, is all you need to do well as a mom to your kids.

Breathe. Relax. Feel His grace. His mercies are new every day – and there is mercy for you today no matter what yesterday looked like. He loves you.

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.

The Lord is Pleased with You

I am loving all of the gratitude posts on Facebook. It is beautifully complementing the things I am reading in One Thousand Gifts and it made me think of something that happened to me earlier this year.

Back in April, on a random Wednesday, I received a text message from my friend Stephanie. It simply said, “The Lord is so pleased with you, Jennifer Wells.” When I got it, tears rushed to my eyes and I sat for a moment rereading it over and over.

The Lord is so pleased with you.

I think it was probably one the most grace-filled moments of my adult life. Stephanie doesn’t know it, but she taught me a lot about the Father that day.

We so often focus on the ways we fail our precious Father, but on that day, I was reminded that I also please Him. I write often about our challenges with our children, mostly to lighten the tension of life with tiny people and relate to other moms. But even during all my moments of frustration, vulnerability, and confusion about being a mom I can tell you this, I am pleased with my girls. In fact, I am delighted by them. They captivate me. I could sit down with you for DAYS and tell you their wonderful, beautiful, unique, and most-special-in-all-the-world characteristics.

If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him! Matthew 7:11

Think about this: we are flawed, evil, kinda crazy people who really can’t even love unselfishly, and yet we can be pleased with and captivated by our children. How much more then can our Father, who is perfect and loves perfectly, be pleased with us?

I have loved you with an everlasting love; therefore I have continued my faithfulness to you. Jeremiah 31:3

Since getting that precious text from my friend, I will look around at my friends and family who are quietly choosing faithfulness in a world that is unfaithful, and I will think, “The Lord is pleased with you.”

  • My dad, fighting to change lifetime patterns, pursuing righteousness and right relationships with others. The Lord is pleased with you.
  • My husband, faithful and righteous, leading his family and his church to worship the one true King, even after facing some seriously challenging circumstances the past few years. The Lord is pleased with you.
  • My mom, adjusting boundaries and opening her heart to trust good people in relationship for the first time in her life. The Lord is pleased with you.
  • My daughters, learning to obey and consider others when every instinct in their bodies wants to fight for their own way. The Lord is pleased with you.
  • My brother, who fights to press into Christ and lead his family in wisdom and righteousness in a world desperate to corrupt. The Lord is pleased with you.
  • My sister, who came off the mountaintop to face life in the valley, and still chooses to trust the one who met with her face-to-face, even though she may not feel Him like she once did. The Lord is pleased with you.
  • My sister-in-law, who fights for the souls of children every single day with her compassionate and wise heart. The Lord is pleased with you.
  • My friend who just lost the relationship with the man she thought she would marry, and yet she trusts in the Lord who loves her. The Lord is pleased with you.
  • My friend who works in an incredibly difficult environment that breaks most people, and yet she goes in faithfully and works as unto the Lord even when it seems impossible. The Lord is pleased with you.
  • My friend who has experienced more loss this past two years than anyone should have to face, and yet they choose joy and trust in the God who is near to the brokenhearted. The Lord is pleased with you.
  • My friend who faithfully picks up and moves across the country in grace and acceptance and jumps in to friendships to be a light in the lives of others. The Lord is pleased with you.
  • My friend who trusted the Lord to leave a career and stay at home with her child(ren), despite the changes that would bring to their lifestyle. The Lord is pleased with you.
  • My friend who lives in a world of uncertainty and challenge and yet is a light to those around her as she chooses to trust in the God who holds the world in His hands. The Lord is pleased with you.
  • My friend who is waiting for the referral of the child(ren) who will change her life and her home forever – choosing to live out James 1:27. The Lord is pleased with you.
  • My friend who has opened her home to a broken and hurting child, who has faced trials that demonstrate just how real the enemy who seeks to destroy actually is, and who is everyday seeing victory as the Lord fights for the heart of her child. The Lord is pleased with you.
  • My friend who everyday chooses grace as she navigates challenging relationships within her family and continued financial pressure that would overwhelm most people. The Lord is pleased with you.
  • My friend who trusted the Lord with his family and his career and gave praise to the God who is faithful in good times and bad. The Lord is pleased with you.
  • My friend who is creative and brilliant and each time I am around them, I want to be more free in who Christ made me to be. The Lord is pleased with you.
  • My friend who is single years after when their plan had them married, and yet they are faithful and trusting in the Lord to work it all out for good. The Lord is pleased with you.
  • My friend who quietly pleads with the Lord to heal and fix the broken places inside, trusting that He is all-powerful and faithful to finish what He started. The Lord is pleased with you.
  • My friend who lived through the terrible thing that threatened to break her heart and spirit, and instead of becoming bitter became a person drenched in grace for the hurting. The Lord is pleased with you.

May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit. Romans 15:13

I am grateful for the examples of hope, power, grace, peace, joy, and faith lived out by the people around me. You inspire me.

In this season of gratitude, I am grateful for you and for the Lord at work in you.

Beautiful Colorado

So I am a little obsessed with Colorado. Some (my husband) might say I’m extremely obsessed. Growing up, my grandparents loved it and we camped with them in Cripple Creek, and then my parents carried on the tradition and almost every year we spent at least a week up in the Leadville or Breckenridge area riding bikes, hiking, fishing (dad fished – we distracted him and scared the fish away), and loving time together as a family.

Colorado has a smell – a delicious pine-scented, rainy, smoke-from-a-campfire smell that some days I wake up and I just need to inhale (like a wonderful and not-unhealthy-at-all addiction :)). And the 70 degree mornings and sweaters in the evening, even in summer, don’t hurt at all.

When Justin married me, he had no idea what he was in for. Seriously. I love that place. He says it is where I want to go on every vacation, and I have no defense against that truth. When my brother and sister-in-law moved there, the love grew. When they had precious twins, it grew exponentially, and when I had kids who adore time with their kids, it exploded into an unmanageable force.

Bekah loving hour 12 of the road trip

Justin and I had a few catastrophic trips to Colorado early in our marriage (we tend to attract natural disasters when we travel there – did I mention that?) and so he has never seen or experienced the Colorado that I love. He’s experienced blizzard Colorado twice and snowed-in with a stomach virus Colorado one lovely Christmas.

This year – we were determined to remedy that, break the curse, and take a summer family vacation. As the date drew near though – Justin’s work schedule seemed to close in while mine opened up, so I asked my sister to join me and off we went, two children under 5 in tow.

(By the way – Justin not being allowed to go ended up being the grace of God when one of his closest friends very unexpectedly passed away the day we left for the trip. We were so grateful Justin was able to attend our friend’s homecoming celebration and say goodbye to the man who was such a light in his life. Even in things like this – God is faithful and He knows what we need.)

So my sister and I piled into a car with entirely too much luggage, determined to make this a memorable experience for the kids like our trips were when we were young.

And I think we achieved memorable. Exhausting, but memorable.

We hiked a small mountain. We went to the amazing YMCA facility in Estes and it was beautiful.  As you can see from the photo, hiking was more strenuous on some than others.

We camped (me and the girls sharing a futon in a tent, which really deserves an entirely separate blog post for the funny parts, but the sweet parts included me hearing Grace sing “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star” in the dead of night in her sleep and the multiple times I had to get up and move Bekah back onto the Futon because she had scooted off). I was quite busy that night. We quickly realized that camping with kids is SUPER fun… for the kids. For the adults, it’s a ton of hard work and maybe the most strenuous sleep-over ever, where you don’t really sleep at all. This gives me a new appreciation for my parents and grandparents. They made it look so easy!

Sweet Bek off the futon - onto the pillow I placed after the 2nd time I heard a thud.

We swam, and swam, and swam. Joe and Lori live in the plains just East of the mountains so you can see, from their house and the neighborhood pool, an incredible view of the Rocky Mountains. It was amazing. I cannot imagine living with that as my view every day (although it is my most sincere prayer that someday I would discover that reality for myself. Please Lord!) Brody and Annabelle are absolute fish, swimming underwater and bravely learning more everyday. Grace wanders around the pool in her floaty swimwear, meeting friends and swimming/floating by herself, and Bekah terrifies every adult in sight by thinking she can swim by herself when she cannot, in fact, do anything but sink like a rock.

Aunt Jess being soaked (the kids' favorite game in the pool)

We went to an amusement park and rode bumper cars, go-carts and bumper boats, went down a huge slide, played games, collected tickets for awesome prizes, and had a wonderful time.

We ate like kings, thanks to Joe and Lori’s amazing cooking, and laughed until we hurt.

Spidey-Brody and Spidey-Grace rescuing Princess Annabelle

It was a great trip, very much the Colorado I am obsessed with. Family, fresh air, God’s amazing creation, and not taking anything too seriously. It was everything I love about that incredible place and was good for my soul. Again Colorado was the gift to my heart that the Lord knew I needed.

Now we just have to work on getting Justin Wells up there to experience it… sans natural disaster or traumatic illness. Until then, Colorado and the Colorado Sims family, we love you dearly and are grateful for every second we got to enjoy your company. We will see you again soon, I promise…

The four wonderful kids eating ice cream in Estes Park

Streamlining

I have read that when the body has endured trauma, it automatically shuts down organ systems that are unnecessary to survival to conserve energy for the ones that are. Because of the way the Creator formed us – the body instinctively knows that it can’t do it all when it isn’t in optimal condition, so it streamlines – cutting the excess and focusing on the essential until it knows it will survive and can heal.

In small measure, this is the lesson the Lord has taught me the past couple of months. Despite our challenging circumstances, for many months I still tried to do it all. And I was unsuccessful. I became exhausted and depressed. I kept expecting our circumstances to get better overnight and so I was just trying to hold it all together until that happened. But as the months turned into a year, holding it all together became an impossible task.

During this time, the Lord began to teach me that where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. Freedom to say no. Freedom to get help. Freedom to shut down the things in our life that caused unnecessary stress so that we could function better for our kids, for each other, and for the things that Jesus said were truly necessary. Freedom to fail. Freedom to fall apart for a while and then allow the Lord to put me back together while my husband guarded over our family.

It was a tough time – but highly necessary. The Lord was teaching me the lesson of how He created our body. He was teaching me to streamline.

So one day, not so long ago, I let go of trying. I fell apart. I went to a doctor and got some help for depression and for the ulcers that have made me sick for the past 18 months. I turned down a few events and work opportunities that were causing me stress. I made some decisions to streamline our finances. I even streamlined my Facebook friends and Twitter connections, eliminating people or causes that were sources of anxiety.

I wrote down what was vital: Justin, my girls, loving the Lord my God with all my heart, feeding the hungry and caring for the orphan and widow, my friends and family who love us, the work relationships that enhance our lives.

Six things. That’s it.

And everything else I shut down.

I battled with guilt (especially over walking away from relationships), but the Lord confirmed my decision with His Word. My Baptist upbringing conditioned me to see everyone, even the difficult, as a mission field. So to walk away seemed like choosing my good over their eternal destiny. But in this season time and time again the Lord confirmed this idea with His Word. Even Jesus took time to walk away and commune with His father or with the 12 who He loved when facing difficult challenges. So I asked the Lord to take care of those who I couldn’t – and I walked away.

I am living a streamlined life  – hiding in the shadow of my Father’s (and my husband’s) entirely capable wing until I can recover. And frankly, I like this so much, I may hang out under here for far longer than is necessary.

Because the streamlined life is the passionate life. This streamlining has brought me a new boldness for the things that do matter. I now have energy to fight for my six things that are truly important. I believe, for the first time in a while, that the Lord will use me to accomplish the work He has given me to do.

Streamlining. I’m grateful for it. I hope some of you will join me in it. I truly believe it has saved my life.