Chosen: The call only YOU can answer

Dirt Road with Maple Trees in Winter at Sunrise, Fluffy Clouds

Chosen.

The very word breathes purpose and security.

How different from the please-let-the-earth-swallow-me feeling we knew in elementary school when we were snubbed by the cool kids, in college when the cute guy asked our roommate out, or yesterday when the woman who has it all together got the position we secretly wanted.

How many days do we live defeated? Like unlucky leftovers. Like we could never compare to “them,” to “her,” to the chosen ones.

But that’s not reality. It’s a lie.

The truth is, you are chosen. I am chosen.

We’re chosen to be daughters of the King. Will we accept the invitation to be in relationship with Him?

And then, will we accept the calling for which we’ve been chosen?

“You have not chosen me, but I chose you, and appointed you, that you would go and bear fruit, and that your fruit would remain…” John 15:16

I wonder… do we forget that we’re each chosen for a position that only we can fill?

“For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” Ephesians 2:10

I think of sisters in Christ embracing unique, bittersweet paths…

  • One is chosen to serve across the world. Called to live the cross-cultural life that twists, confuses, wearies, and yet overflows.
  • Another is chosen to be the faithful wife of a difficult husband, finding grace in the cracks of the brokenness.
  • One is chosen to endure chronic pain, cancer, and sleepless nights where Jesus shows up like most of us have never known.
  • Yet another is chosen to open her hands and heart as baby after baby miscarries and sees Jesus before seeing Mommy.

Sometimes our callings fill us with wonder, like Mary when she understood she carried the Son of God inside her. We spill over with joy for the privilege of being chosen.

And then the days come when our role is the last thing on earth we want. Mary knew about those days of darkness and earthquakes and death too.

For what have you been chosen?

Do you realize it’s a calling, not a curse?

You and only you are entrusted with this burden, this dream, this joy, this pain. Jesus knows it’s the only calling to adequately show you His sufficiency. It aligns perfectly with your strengths and weaknesses.

The hurt and the beauty are both necessary to create the passion that only you will have.

Embrace it. Every part of it. None of it is for nothing.

The One who created you, formed you in your mother’s womb, was crucified and rose again to redeem you, who empowers you each and every moment… He knows what He’s doing.

And He called you to walk this path. This broken road that leads to Heaven.

He knows you, He loves you, and He chooses you.

Where are you right now? Embracing the call God chose for you? Fighting it? Doubting it? Let me know below… I’d love to pray for you.

Blessings,

Jennifer

From Hider to Reveler

SONY DSC“You take His breath away.” Years later, those words still echo around in my head. It was my Fall Retreat and I was a college freshman with CRU. I remember that at that moment I was intently studying the wood grain on the dusty, camp floor so as not to cry. The speaker was teaching from the book of Romans… and his words started me on a journey that has changed everything.

“You take His breath away.” It was a concept that had never occurred to me before. Never once had it crossed my mind that Almighty God might delight in me. That because I was clothed in Christ, He looked upon me with adoration. Wow. It was unreal to me. Too good to be true.

Up to that point, mine was a life of scrambling, people pleasing, earning favor, hiding my messes, and hoping that what I might have to offer would be good enough. I had my resume of achievements and my sorority and my good girl status and all of that. For pity’s sake, I was a college student who tithed. Certainly that was pretty impressive, wasn’t it?

Oh yes, I had been working hard to impress God…. (Well, except for that brief lapse in high school of course. But, in typical Shannon-fashion, I had pretty much swept that whole thing under the rug as soon as I could. Hidden it away in the place where I kept my failures.)

That’s what I had learned to do. My early church days were laced with instructions about how to live: “do this” and “don’t do that”, “listen to this music, not that music”, “God will be happy if you do this” and all of that. To be honest, that was fine with me because it suited my oldest child personality. I could do achievement. I was comfortable with it. Don’t get me wrong, that’s not all that was happening. I knew that Jesus was truly changing my family. I was 10-years-old when my parents decided to follow Him. I saw the transformation. Sensed it in the very fiber of our home where I would find my Dad’s Bible beside his arm chair nearly every morning. Experienced it in the way my Mom tried to shepherd my tween heart. There was no question He was changing us. I gave my own life to Him shortly after they did and am sure it was a genuine fledgling faith.

But, in all those years in that little church on the edge of town I never once remember hearing that God delighted in me. Maybe I just wasn’t listening or maybe they never told me. I’m not sure. But I know I had no concept for it. No sense that  my worth and significance were all wrapped up in what Jesus had ALREADY done for me. That nothing I did added to or subtracted from my status as HIS. His daughter. Period. And He wanted it that way.

Could it really be that He didn’t just love me through gritted teeth… as One secretly disappointed in His choice to adopt me? Really? He actually delighted in me?

I still can’t get over this reality. This grace that pursues me and loves me – not because I deserve it but exactly because I don’t. He is relentless about it too. It has opened a floodgate of emotion and tenderness in me that I can’t shut down. And pushed me into a kind of vulnerability that still terrifies me. Left to my own tendancies, I’d much rather hide and scheme. I totally “get” Jacob (the Poser) of ancient Israel.

It’s been more than 20 years since that Fall Retreat. During my college years I couldn’t get enough of it… devouring books of the Bible and soaking in Galatians, Ephesians and Colossians.

But, I’ll be honest, I still wrestle in the deepest places of my heart with the concept. The people-pleasing, scrambling Hider still fights for her place in my life. Some days it exhausts me. Some days she’ll come out and spew condemnation to my kids. Or heap stress on my shoulders, affecting the whole tone of our home.

So, please don’t stop telling me about how I’m wrapped up in Jesus. And how that makes me so beautiful that it takes God’s breath away.

It seems downright risky to preach grace like that. To push people toward freedom instead of controlling them with law. But, it’s what I have devoted myself to. It’s the reason I ministered on the college campus for 15 years. It’s what I most want my children to catch. And, it’s the reason I blog, teach women’s Bible studies and am willing to drive hours away to teach at a retreat on the weekend. It’s the reason God is not a compartment in my life but the be-all and end-all and everything in between. Because being lavished with grace upon grace will do that to you.

Most days, I feel like a kid caught in a downpour. The kind of torrent that makes it hard to catch your breath. I want to revel in that overwhelming torrent of grace.

Little by little I do go there – transformed from Hider to Reveler. And, THAT, takes His breath away.

Grace and peace,

@In a Mirror Dimly

10 Ways to Grow a Friendship

Friendship

 

Deep friendships are something that most of us long for…
But they take work and time and energy and effort.

As moms, it often becomes more difficult to develop friendships because of the needs of our families, but if I ever find myself longing for closer friendships, this is a list of suggestions that I go back to…

Praying they will be an encouragement to you as well–

10 (and many more ways) to grow a friendship:

1.)  Be a friend.

If you find yourself feeling lonely, desiring deeper-realer-solider-friendships…
(Because we all know how that feels).
The best thing you can do is be that friend– deep and real and solid.
Don’t wait for friendship to pursue.
Be a pursue-er of friendship.
Make a call. Plan a dinner. Talk a walk. Write a note. Invite for coffee.
Be the friend you are looking for.

2.) Pray and look and listen.

Ask God to give you friends.
Pour out your heart and ask Him to fill that space and longing.
Look for those already on the path with you.
Look for someone who needs a friend.
Listen for those who love Him like you do.
Watch for where you could give the gift of friendship.

kidsinchurch

3.) Don’t just think about it. Actually follow through.

Call or write or text or email.
Tape the note on a car windshield because God nudged you to do it.
Drop off the Popsicles when her children have a stomach bug and you know the night was long.
Send the text that asks how a doctor’s appointment went.
Offer to share the car ride when you know her week is hectic.
Email a quick hello when there’s been a bit of quiet.
Stop and pray a prayer when God brings her to mind.

4.) Find a way to regularly connect.

Set up weekly-morning-walks or phone-call-Thursdays during naptime.
Plan monthly potluck dinners or go to the cemetery for memorials.
Share weekly Costco baskets or treasure trading in the spring.
Commit to yearly camping, birthday coffees, nerf gun wars, or Sunday basketball in the church gym.
Because it’s those Bands of brothers and Star-light-parades that weave friendships into–
Family.

nerf wars

5.) Love your friends’ children.

Learn her children. Know them. Love them.
Even if it means…
Extra kindergarten graduations or preschool Christmas programs,
Or researching diseases because they are part of her life.
Even if it means…
Buying a purple cowgirl hat for her daughter who will love it or capturing a bug because she has a boy-who-just-loves-bugs.

camping

6.) Be in it for the long-haul.

Expect that there will be hurt and disagreement and frustration and misunderstanding.
We are all just sinners-saved-by-grace.
Give her the grace you give yourself.
Trust that God can heal wounds inflicted,
That He can forge golden-strength friendship,
Friendship that withstands the fire, curing under the pressure,
Because friendships are a mess worth making.

7.) Rejoice with. Weep with.

Through the promotions and raises and adoptions and good grades and soccer-victories.
Through the depression and diagnosis and death and disabilities and near-divorces.
Be willing to dig-into-the-messy.
Not fixing, but walking through it all together.

“The Bible assumes that relationships this side of eternity will be messy and (will) require a lot of work. Every painful thing we experience in relationships is meant to remind us of our need for God. You can’t take the gospel seriously and not take your relationships seriously. Conflict with others is one of God’s mysterious, counterintuitive ways of rescuing us from ourselves. The problem with relationships is that they all take place right smack-dab in the middle of something, and that something is the story of redemption.” ~Tripp/Lane

8.) Enjoy the just-for-fun.

There is often great purpose, in those times that don’t feel purposeful.
Relationships forged over garage sales and duck eggs hatching.
Over silly movies meant for middle-schoolers.
Over 80′s Proms and white elephant gifts, girl-weekends-at-the-coast,
And left-overs.

ducks

9.) Love God together.

Through songs, and hymns and spiritual songs.
Through morning prayers while walking circles around the block.
Through little children in long-church-bench-lines.
Through service, sacrifice, sanctuary and rejoicing in shared–
Salvation.

10.) Remember your Ultimate Friend.

Our example, our constant.
The one who lived-out putting others before self (Phil 2:4).
The one who laid down His life for ours (1 John 3:16).
The one who promises to fill the void when there is a hole.
The one who will never leave you, nor forsake you (Hebrews 13:5).
The one who shows us how to be a true friend.

Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.
~John 15:3

 

*In August, I will be following up with a post on how we can help our children grow friendships…

Blessings,

Kara @TheChuppies

How to Love Your Neighbors (yes, the ones next door)

neighbors

A few weeks ago, my husband and I attended a Sunday school class on outreach called “And Who Is My Neighbor?”

I’ll be honest. It was one of those I-want-to-go-but-I’m-scared-of-what-he’ll-say situations. I know of young families who are ministering to the homeless downtown, and packing everyone up to visit the Compassion child in the Dominican, and snapping in car seats for weekly treks to the nursing home.

We are not one of those families.

In this season of my life, I often feel (right or wrong) that my main job is to feed the babies, to keep everyone alive, ensure everyone has clean underwear, and somehow have enough food in the house for three square meals (and snacks. Oh, the snacks!).

I do feel guilty about this apparent selfishness. The needy, and lonely, and homeless folks aren’t going away. And it’s my job (right? everyone’s job?) to help. But it’s a just fact that “organized outreach” is not happening right now in this season of raising little ones.

So, back to the Sunday school class.

I was pleasantly surprised (and relieved – loads and loads of relief) when the teacher identified our “neighbors” as… wait for it…our neighbors. The people actually next door, and across the street, and at the pool.

I don’t mean I felt relief because loving your neighbors is easy. In some ways it can be harder: it can be messier, feel more awkward, and it surely doesn’t end when you hop on a flight back home. It never ends, as long as you live there!

But if you’re a mom of littles, like me, who spends a considerable amount of time in the same square two-yards of shade under the big oak tree in the yard, and it feels like you’re always home, ministry to the neighbors sounds almost…possible.

Because we are home. A lot.

We see whose husband works late. We know which kids are lonely and parent-less. We notice whose trash can has been out for a few days. We have all sorts of good excuses to interact with and get to know our neighbors – lost kittens, and broken garage-doors, and please-do-you-have-an-extra-egg (along with other pressing mom-questions).

In short, we have an ideal opportunity for ministry.

Now I’m not saying that you shouldn’t take your family to a local shelter or Peruvian orphanage. If you are doing that, I applaud you.

But what I am saying is this: if you are like me, and feel stretched in the season of home-bound baby-raising, homeschooling, or child rearing, there is still ministry for you. And it is important ministry.

Neighbor ministry.

Instead of feeling guilty about the organizations you had to quit or the trips you can’t go on, sit down with a cup of coffee on the front porch, and look around.

The fields are ripe for the harvest.

As I’ve embraced our calling to love our neighbors as a real calling, here are a few things I’ve learned.

  • The first step is always the same boring, awkward step. You have to introduce yourself. Totally obvious, but there’s no sense in wondering what spiritual needs are unmet, if you don’t even know someone’s name. The first step is always – go be friendly, and ask their name.

If you’re like me, there are neighbors right now whom you don’t know. Don’t even know their names! Make that a priority. The next time you’re out, and you see them, just saunter over (shirt with spit-up and all) and say something like: “Look, this is so awkward. I’ve lived here for __ years and I’m just now asking your name! But I’m Jessica, and it’s so nice to meet you! These are my kids…”

  • Be there and smile. That’s all? I know, I know. It sounds so ridiculously, insanely simple. But I promise you – just by being outdoors on a sunny day, by being accessible, by being visible, and throwing a smile in someone’s direction…they will come. Kids first. It’s amazing how kids gravitate to a home with a parent present. And eventually the grown-ups, too. You can’t love your neighbor if you don’t know your neighbor. And you can’t know your neighbor if you’re not home. Being out, and being friendly is an important step!
  • Talk if they want to talk. Maybe this is my North Carolina culture speaking. But there are just some cardinal rules of life I think everyone should abide by. You should always clear your plate, and you should always chat if someone wants to chat. Let it go if that outfit you’re wearing is still, actually, your pajamas. Let it go if you were actually about to run an errand. Let it go if it’s not the greatest time. Just be friendly and chat.
  • Ask them for help. Counter-intuitive, right? We think we need to do the helping if we want to minister to someone. But it’s a crazy fact of human nature: people want to be needed. They feel special, important, and invited when they’re needed. Borrow some sugar. Ask them how their grass is so green. Invite them into your family’s life and needs.
  • Be humble. Don’t assume you know where they stand with their faith. Maybe they don’t go to church…because they looked for years and couldn’t find one. Maybe they don’t talk about God…because they’re very private people. You never know people’s hearts. I’ve often made the arrogant mistake of jumping to conclusions about someone, only to find that I really didn’t know the whole story at all. Don’t waste time formulating assumptions; just befriend them, and see where the Lord takes the relationship.

Real impact is made through real relationships. And real relationships don’t happen when one party is secretly thinking they’re better than the other!

  • Pray for your neighbors. This is one thing I love about my mission-minded husband. Whenever we pray, he remembers to pray for our neighbors. I need to be better about that. We can pray over the things we do know about them, pray that the Lord would bless them, bless their families, and make Himself known to them.
  • Pray for the Holy Spirit to give you wisdom, and then act when you feel Him leading. Who knows what He’ll have you do? This spring my son and I made muffins and shared some with the neighbors, and at the last minute I thought, maybe we should put an Easter Bible verse with them? It felt a little weird, but we did it. I think the Lord honors our prayers for wisdom – we just have to listen for his answer.
  • Be ready to sacrifice.  Eventually, all ministry is going to ask you to give something you don’t want to give. It will be uncomfortable. It will hit you where it hurts. For me, it often means releasing my grip on control when parenting one of my children can be really terrifying. Or it might mean sharing your resources…when it’s been a really tough financial time. It might mean watching a child…when you’re so exhausted you can’t think. It might mean opening your home up…when you were hoping for an evening of “family time.” What helps me is to remember all that Jesus gave up for us. And now, He asks us to lay down our lives for our friends.
  • Don’t be ashamed of the truth. I’m sometimes afraid to invite someone to church, or share a Bible verse, or ask them if I can pray for them – because I don’t want to be offensive, and I don’t know if it’s “the right time.”  I don’t know that there is a one-size-fits-all answer for this question, but I do know this: God’s word brings light to darkness, and hope to despair. He is the healer, and we are his hands and feet. May we be as bold as we need to be, kind as we can be, and home when we can be.

I’d love to hear from you. How do you love your real-life, next-door neighbors?

Jessica

“Smartter” Each Day

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