One of my favorite places in all of Kansas City is the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art. As a preschooler in the ’80s I walked those gray marble halls to my first art class in the museum’s lower level and still, to this day, wonder whether that waxy security guard just might be real. A trip to the museum isn’t complete until I stand face to canvas before my favorite painting, Claude Monet’s Boulevard des Capucines (1873-74). It depicts a city view of wintry Paris…(continue reading HERE)
Nearly a year and a half ago in April of 2015 I couldn’t sleep, so I sat up in bed, grabbed my laptop and wrote with only the glow of the screen lighting my dark bedroom. What I wrote then was a belief, an image in my mind of a journey and the faith it takes to step into the unknown. Fast forward to July 2016 where I stood waiting my turn to cross this bridge dangling hundreds of feet above a rainforest floor 2000 miles away from home and all things familiar. I had no idea the fiction piece I wrote back in 2015 for an audience of amazing women would be my factual life today. Truth? I’m mid-bridge. It’s swaying. My knuckles are white from holding on for dear life, but I’m moving forward one faith step at a time and I’m constantly praying, ‘Lord, help me run.’ (Read the original post below)
WEDNESDAY, APRIL 29, 2015
One more step and I’d be on the bridge. Am I ready? Glancing over my shoulder at the well-worn dirt path behind me I notice for the first time how wide and sure it was. Back on that smooth terrain I even ran for a time feeling swift and empowered. I saw God’s glory in the sunsets and budding daisies. I heard His creation cries in the dove’s song and sensed his presence in the cool breeze. Not long ago, a friendly traveler handed me a trail map just to make my travels easier. He’d mentioned not wanting me to have to think too much, and pointed out an easier path, but it seemed to go in circles and it proved to always take me where I didn’t want to go so I threw it aside. Today the path began to wind higher and higher as I sensed God calling me forward with every uphill stride. I couldn’t run anymore and my legs grew weary from the climb, but when I reached the top of the mountain and looked across the expanse I knew there is so much more to this journey than I had ever dared to dream. The only way to get there was by crossing the bridge. Dare I admit I don’t like heights? There, just within sight at the far end of the bridge was an illuminated path. It was narrower than the one I’d previously traveled, but its beauty was indescribably inviting. Somehow I knew it was meant for me, and I was meant to have faith in its unseen destination. I just had to cross the bridge to get there.
Taken in with the inviting splendor of this newfound journey I step forward and hear the creaking of aged wood under my feet. Noticing for the first time how high the bridge suspends over the valley and how feeble the planks are sitting on the age-old ropes, I quickly retreat back onto solid ground. The pounding of my heart quieting as I glance behind me at the old familiar comforts of the known path. I was happy enough back there, for a time. Should I just turn around and walk back down the mountain? Familiarity entices and soothes my fears. God blessed me on that journey once, I’m sure he’ll do it again. Right? My heart knew the answer before I even turned to face the bridge again. My goal isn’t to be the lifelong recipient of good gifts. Somewhere along that path my heart tasted freedom and now it wants more…more than what meets the eye. The unknown depth of my soul’s longing is to experience this journey fully surrendered to God’s wild frontier. To stop clinging to my perceived control and get on the bridge.
So I step forward, trembling inch by inch. The bridge sways in the wind and sounds of falling boards ricochet and crack in the blackened valley below. Fear calls from the depths of my soul urging me to retreat to safety. Should I go back? The answer explodes from a newly awakened space in my heart and mind. Never. I grip the rail as tight as I can and run, tripping on loose boards, hands burning from holding on so tightly, fear warning me to stop, but running…and all the way laughing for the joy of finally living.
Following Jesus is a journey. At unexpected moments, He calls us out farther and deeper than we ever imagined going, but with Him all things are possible to him who believes (Mark 9:23). Believing He is with us, his peace guarding our hearts and minds (Philippians 4:13) as we surrender every moment, even our most paralyzing fears, to Him who pours out his love for us (Romans 5:5) is our greatest adventure.
Where do you see yourself on your journey? Where do you see God? What fears lie beneath your bridge keeping you from experiencing the freedom of fully surrendering to Jesus? Where has God’s love been so evident to you along the way?
“It never gets dark here,” I overheard her say talking to her long distance friend on the phone and from her seven-year-old perspective she was right. We draw curtains and close blinds to block out the city lights here at night. By contrast, the home we left back on the suburban prairie is blanketed in star-studded darkness every night. She’s seven and doesn’t differentiate between artificial and natural light sometimes. It all brightens her night. It all allows her to see through the dark.
Here in this place I’m learning to differentiate artificial light from real light. What I’m discovering is that I’ve grown used to living in well lit places. No life is without challenge and difficulty (and I (we) had them) but there’s something about being surrounded by familiar and reliable people and places that prevented me from having to reach too far. When life grew dark, flip- I’d reach for a switch and flip on a comforting light. The light switches I’d turn on weren’t artificial or fake, they’re just reflections of a greater Light. God is love and heaven if real, so reflections of those things aren’t artificial but we do need to know their Source. We need to know their source of “goodness” because they’re not guaranteed, but their Source is.
It doesn’t take long to grow used to convenient light switches. My eyes adjusted to
comfortable living in reflected light with neighbors who love us well, dropping kids off at schools where I could predicted their challenges with pretty good accuracy, grocery stores with full-size parking spots, affordable housing options, coaches and teams who knew my kids by name and skill, culture underlined with faith and family, a collection of Anthropologie and Starbucks mugs filling designated cabinets to remind of us generous friends and memorable travels, almost every major highway leaving our city led us to family a short drive away, and a church we called home because it felt like it; all good, rich, wonderful parts of a beautiful life.
Uncertainty of our timeline and next ‘home’ looks dark today and unfamiliarity in a crowded city grows dark day after day. Starting school from our apartment table without a community and back-to-school photos looks dark this month. Since light switches are fewer and far between right now (and I’m thankful for each and every one), God is adjusting my vision to see Him as my unchanging source of light in a fresh way. I’m relying on His Word to guide my heart. Cliché’ faith-isms are dropping off by the day as I read words like these in Psalm 71: 14-15, “But I will hope continually and will praise you yet more and more. My mouth will tell of your righteous acts, of your deeds of salvation all the day” and these in Romans 5:3-5, “We can rejoice, too, when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they help us develop endurance. And endurance develops strength of character, and character strengthens our confident hope of salvation. And this hope will not lead to disappointment.”
Here’s Light and Truth for today: everything I’ve preached, written, parented, taught, and believed about God is not less true in dark circumstances, it’s more true. His Word, His presence, His Grace…it’s brighter than ever before. In our unraveling, grace is like a light flooding the darkness. And those light switches…yah, I reach for the ones I still have and are thankful they’re there…FaceTime with loved ones, good health, a rewarding career for hubs that gives us opportunities like this one, gorgeous weather in BC, a house on the suburban prairie 2000 miles away waiting for us, a hobby/job I can do from anywhere, and 3 amazing kids who have ROLLED through these uncertainties like rock stars, but I’m seeing them for what they are and God for who He is.
Our circumstances aren’t well lit right now. Our future location and whereabouts is dim, at best, but it’s bright here in a way I can’t always explain. Hope is like that, we can’t always define it but it gives us vision for seeing through the dark when fix our eyes on it.
Thank you for your texts, FB and IG messages, phone calls, FaceTimes, and most of all prayers. You have no idea (unless I’ve told you) how timely they all have been an what an answer to prayer you are in our lives! Go flip a switch and give thanks for its Source!
The combination of living out of 500 square feet and adventuring around a new city with my three daughters means our quantity and quality family hours logged are off the charts. Are you reading between the lines? There should be awards for this level of family-ing. We’re unavoidably facing each other’s shortcomings and longcomings (whatever those are. I’m sure we’ve dealt with them this week). Feel free to not quote me on these mom-isms…
“You can get mad but then you just have to be mad right here with us.” (daydreaming of our 3 level house in these moments)
“You’ll know when we’re there when we get there.”
“If you verbally beat down your sisters then you’ll be dealing with verbally beat down sisters.”
“Stop touching ALL the food.” (hotel breakfast day 11)
“Nope, I’m not ready to go yet.” (1 bathroom)
“Fruit Loops don’t actually count as a fruit….or breakfast” (trying not to be ‘that mom’ but totally being ‘that mom’)
Reality is our days can get derailed faster than the Vancouver SkyTrain by poor attitudes (mine included), shortsighted perspectives (mostly mine) and careless words (sometimes mine too). When it happens we have to work together to turn things back around or we’re all miserable. Together. It’s not unique to our current life stage. Wrecked plans and hurt feelings happened back at home too, but here I’m facing them with fewer distractions, a wide open calendar, new clarity and necessity for quick resolution and restoration. Here’s 3.5 ways to get your day and attitudes back on track…
1. The 20 Second Hug. Don’t underestimate the importance of the full 20 seconds. Try it. Melting begins around second 12. If you give up after 18 seconds you’ll never realize the power (props for this tactic go to my bro and sis-n-law).
2. Read aloud. It’s magical. Read aloud for good times and bad. Don’t leave home without your book because it works on the road too. Win-win (three pages for complaining before anyone exits the car). Someone’s going to email me and suggest I may be ruining reading for my kids. There’s no way to ruin ‘Love, Ruby Lavender’, promise.
3. Last but not at all least, apologize, forgive and move on. Quickly. Move on, Mom. Get over yourself (pardon me while I preach to myself).
Nothing magical, but just a few lessons learned-ing. No matter where we go, there we are, and a change of scenery doesn’t change our hearts. God does. I’m thankful He’s handed me this magnifying glass on our hearts for this season. We’re dealing and He’s healing.
Wait. Where’s the 1/2 to my 3 1/2? It was the God part. It’s only a 1/2 because I don’t know how to make it an exponent on the keyboard 😉 God changes hearts. Talk to Him in the unraveling moments and ask Him to deal with the unseen brokenness like only He can do, and be willing to follow His abounding grace.
We’re seizing an opportunity to head up to Vancouver, British Columbia for a season (If you’re not brushed up on your Canadian geography, it’s on the far west coast). It’s 1,982 miles from our door step here in Kansas City to our place in Vancouver, if you’re wondering. We have more unanswered questions than answered ones. We don’t know how long our stay will be (2 months or years). Doubts and fears lurk around every unknown when you’re uprooting three kids from their predictable, comfortable routines, but we’re confident in one thing; life is a voyage and God is steering this ship.
There’s a song by Hillsong United that sums up willingness to step away from a full life we love called “Captain”. Here’s a portion of the lyrics below but click HERE to hear the entire song.
Through waters uncharted my soul will embark
I’ll follow Your voice straight into the dark
And if from the course You intend I depart
Speak to the sails of my wandering heart
Like the wind
Clear the skies before me
And I’ll glide this open sea
Like the stars
Will align my voyage
And remind me where I’ve been
And where I am going
Beautiful, right? Well, turns out it’s not only beautiful but true. Our voyage is aligned by God’s eternally lit vision even when we can’t see through the dark. Our wandering hearts aren’t left to drift without purpose or plan, but are called to new places and new people for a reason even if only for a season. I know where I’ve been and I know ultimately where I’m headed. I trust our Captain to carry us through uncharted waters whether that’s in run down house off Paseo Blvd, an upstairs apartment in the middle of Missouri, a newly finished house on wide open prairie, a quaint townhouse blocks from Lake Ontario, a suburban Kansas City cul-de-sac with neighbors we love, or a place we’ve yet to lay eyes on in Vancouver, British Columbia. We do not have to leave home in order to live a life of adventure, but you do have to be willing.
In January I wrote about my word for 2016, ‘willing’. I prayerfully choose a word each year and this year ‘willing’ is definitely a theme of my life. Am I willing to tell my story to whoever God places before me? Am I willing to align my plans to God’s? Am I willing to home school for a season (hello, geometry with my 8th grader?!) so we can travel as a family? Am I willing to trust when fear pounds on my heart? Am I willing to say ‘see you later’ to people I LOVE and a life I am so comfortable in to see what God has for us elsewhere? Yes…here I am, send me.
However, My word for 2017 is going to be ‘lottery winner’ –choose your words wisely, is all I’m saying 😉
Here’s my invitation for you: journey with us! I’ll be writing about our travels and what it looks like to find a “new normal” away from home. I’ll do my best to share the hard and best parts of our adventures. I’ll try and take photos that stir your heart at home and give you glimpses into our craziness (join me over on Instagram, @jena_unravelgrace). Our phones and emails will remain the same or feel free to comment below and I’ll be sure to get back with you.
Until then, I leave you with a couple of Kansas City proud ‘see you later’ gifts from some amazing friends. They know me well, and I cannot wait to see you all again soon.
My feet fell in a steady rhythm as I pushed the sidewalk behind me on another sunset run. Cool evening air and long shadows make me a fair weather runner this time of year. My feet were light, but my heart was unusually heavy, so I pounded on hoping to outrun my thoughts.
I came around the curve on the sidewalk where tall trees give way to wild prairie flowers and I stopped. Truthfully, my heart and thoughts paused long before my feet when I saw the scene stretching out before me. Instantly, I realized why my heart felt heavy. The weeds in my life- the messiness, the unknown, the what-if, the worry- had grown into a forest of giants right before my distracted eyes.
I needed a fresh perspective. I know to fix my eyes back on the One that puts all other things into their rightful place, but I needed to stop running and do it. So I bent low and tilted my lens to capture this moment of unraveling life and abounding grace.
Then I stood up and pointed my lens behind me to see the shadows of what was compared to the Source of Life right in front of me. The weeds went from light blocking giants to light covered paths in my hindsight. Even my shadow covered their blooms. We say God is good, but it can feel shallow and trite. We say God is in control, but we worry and fret our words and emotions. What if we don’t like His plan? What if it hurts? What if we have to watch those we love the most suffer? Is God and His plans still good?
It depends on our perspective. It’s not what if, but why. Why do I trust during uncertainty? Because God knows and sees. Why can peace be my constitution when fear threatens? Because the deepest, truest part of me is more than a conqueror. When mole hills begin to look like mountains we can stand up on a Rock that doesn’t move, and see from a higher perspective. We can fix our eyes to what’s right under our feet and let weeds look like giants, or we can tilt our perspective up and out to see a bigger, eternal picture. Our hearts can’t beat for eternity just yet and our eyes cannot envision it today, but hope knows it and faith perceives it, even when our earthly senses cannot.
Let’s run our races to strengthen and nurture our faith senses; the eyes to see and ears to hear God both in and above the weeds. There’s no place to low or too high where we can outrun God’s love. He sees it all with eyes fully lit of eternity, and offers it to us grace-by-grace, one eternal perspective moment at a time.
“So we don’t look at the troubles we can see now; rather, we fix our gaze on things that cannot be seen. For the things we see now will soon be gone, but the things we cannot see will last forever”. 2 Cor 4:18 NLT
When He has the choice and freedom to leave?
“…let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” Hebrews 1b-2
“for the joy of the Lord is your strength.” Nehemiah 8:10
Does my definition of joy contain the verb strengthening? Jesus’ does. Nehemiah’s did.
How can I redefine joy in my life? If joy is my strength, does it make following Jesus while carrying my own cross any easier, perhaps lighter? or does it just make it all worth it? Jesus lived the latter and spoke against the former.
“If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me.” Matthew 16:24
Easter reminds me that I have a lot of quit in me. When times get tough I start looking for the exit. Satan tempted Jesus with the exit and Jesus slammed the door in his face. This Easter I want Jesus’ joy to be the defining factor of my strength.
The joy on the other side of the grave was irresistible to our Heavenly Father’s heart. His kids’ eternity was on the line. The joy on the other side of the cross was irrefutable to our Holy King’s perfect justice. His Kingdom swayed in its balance.
It is finished. Case closed. Joy unleashed, for you.
Is it too late to say Happy New Year? January needs all the happiness it can get, in my opinion. I love new beginnings: unsharpened pencils, that first sip of a steamy chai latte, new journals, blank canvases, new years, new seasons, and new opportunities…
Today’s word of the year is yesterday’s resolution. I love the spirit behind it that we all want to make the most of our days. We want to live with intention and integrity, so we boil down our heart’s cry and choose one word. One word to rule them all…for 12 brief months.
This is my 5th year of choosing a focus word…available, commit, yes, ready, and now 2016 is willing. It’s all my previous years rolled into one humble, surrendered, determined word. If it’s from God then I’m willing. If not then I prayerfully wait or move on. I’m willing to struggle, willing to work hard, willing to fail trying, willing to prioritize, willing to be organized, willing to be joyful, willing to serve, and willing to follow God anywhere.
It’s risky to be willing, but I’m willing to risk for the right things. How do I know what the right things are? Sometimes I just don’t. Living by faith involves a lot of moving forward without all the answers and clarity. Blame it on Abraham. He started it.
With faith leading the charge in my willingness in 2016 I also have three questions I’m filtering life’s decisions through in order to willingly prioritize and organize this year:
1. Have I prayed about it?
2. Is the struggle worth the reward?
3. Do/Would I want my daughters to do it?
I’m willing to ask myself the hard questions and answer honestly. I haven’t always been able to answer all three of those questions sincerely. No is a hard word to hear from ourselves. It’s an even harder word to accept from ourselves.
Do you know what my favorite part about the word willing is? Perfection is not the point. To be willing simply means to be inclined to act. Sometimes we’re active in our waiting and other times we’re running faster than we ever thought possible. I’m willing to do both with joy.
Are you willing to make 2016 be the year you too were willing? What would change if you did?
Someone besides me needs to hear this today…
Anxiety says, “You can’t do this on your own.”
Surrender says, “You were never meant to.”
These words came to mind this morning as I looked ahead into the next few months contemplating goals, deadlines, and desires I have for my family and myself. We’re no strangers to anxiety, are we? We know full well when it arrives taking away our deep breaths and content perspective. It’s a cruel master that robs us of joy and peace while rushing our lives into a blur.Whether you’re 16 or 66, we all need to be reminded that we were never meant to do life on our own. Are you transitioning to a new school and feel alone among the crowds, anxious for a sense of belonging? Maybe this is your first year with all of your kids in school and you’re anxious about your schooling decision in a world where Code Reds and Lockdown Procedures are as real as fire drills. Perhaps you just hung up the phone with an aging parent and feel anxious for their future and what difficult decisions you may have to make with or for them in upcoming months or years.
Anxiety doesn’t require monumental circumstances to imbed itself into our lives. Sometimes it’s just a nagging, unrelenting undercurrent to everything we do and we wake up day in and day out wondering when we’ll feel relief.
Can you relate?
I need something more real than my circumstances to rely on if I’m going to live the abundant life I claim to believe in. I need something stronger than a rapid pulse, tension headache, and shallow breath to guide my emotions. What is able to undercut anxiety’s claim of, “You can’t do this on your own”, because the longer I live the quicker I realize the hard-learned truth of that statement?
We cannot do this on our own. We were never meant to. When we surrender to a God whose presence and purpose is constant, we hand over unhealthy control and the anxiety attached to it. We need a God with impeccable timing to send the right people in the right moment, a God who knows my worst enemy’s worst fear, a God who knows my weaknesses and isn’t limited by them. I surrender to a listening God who invites me to talk to him about my lack of control controlling me.
For years I struggled with how an unseen God could practically help during difficult times. He seemed too big, too distant for my harsh reality. God, you may have created the universe and everything in it, but I just needed someone to get my baby to eat without screaming in pain (reflux, anyone?). God, I love your plan for eternity and all, but waiting for our financial situation to improve is taking forever! God, you split huge bodies of water in two long enough for your people to walk across safely, so can I ask that my sweet children be safe while they learn to read and write in their classrooms?
Philippians 4:7 says, “and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” God’s pathway to peace bypasses our highest IQ’s and EQ’s. His peace begins in our deepest, inner being and changes how we perceive life. There are times He changes circumstances, but more often He changes our hearts. The ready presence of His peace is our most powerful weapon against anxiety in any given situation. Be bold in asking for it and when it comes, don’t be blind to its source. Give thanks and enjoy it. We ask for protection from this temporary life and God guards our hearts and minds for all of eternity. It’s the ultimate upgrade.
“The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 4:5b-7