My chest constricts
in a tell-tale sign that I am processing
and it’s difficult to label
which emotion it is
because I find myself immersed
in a world that exudes
both joy and loss
I see the uplifting stories
where humanity draws together
in support of the greater good
only to be followed by
the onslaught of
negative, overwhelming news
that comes at me nonstop
with no clear certainties
I am rooting for humanity
and all the good we can accomplish
yet I feel such frustration
at those who sow discord and fear
with no willingness to listen to others
We talk about the new normal
but nothing will be normal again
and maybe that’s okay
The lessons we have learned
about resiliency and compassion
sorrow and grit
responsibility and weariness
are anything but usual or expected
and perhaps they were lessons
we didn’t want to learn
But we have a choice now
to give into anxiety and hopelessness
or to focus on the good
to listen and develop
to cherish what we once took for granted
to look forward to what is to come
with hope and expectation
knowing we have something greater ahead
This story starts with a bump. While it could be categorized as a metaphorical bump in the road, this bump is real — small, but real. And it is located in my right breast.
I found the bump on my own and visited my doctor. She believed it was benign, but suggested an ultrasound to be sure. Eventually, I was scheduled for a biopsy.
Facing the possibility of cancer was almost too far-fetched for me to believe. Oddly enough, cancer wasn’t what I was most concerned about. It was the more tangible concept of the upcoming needle biopsy, because I hate needles.
My mind raced with realistic and unrealistic thoughts and scenarios, even in my dreams. Above all, I tried my hardest to push away the sneaking fear and anxiety that threatened to seep into my thoughts. Like my dad said, I had done what was in my control, and worrying wouldn’t change anything.
And he was right. I trusted God, and I knew that He wouldn’t be surprised by the outcome of the biopsy. I might sound naive to some people, but I knew that whatever the diagnosis was, it would be part of my story and I would use it to glorify God.
The day of my biopsy came. My mom and sister drove me to the facility and sat with me in the outer waiting room, supporting me with their presence and prayers. My wonderful biopsy buddies meant more to me than they will ever know.
But they couldn’t go with me into the dimly lit room where I would be having the biopsy. I was on my own.
But I wasn’t alone. Yes, the doctor and nurse were there, and they were both so kind and supportive. More than that, I knew Jesus was with me, in the same beautiful way I had experienced during my ACL surgery years before.
As I lay down on the medical bed, I stared up at a skylight picture they had over one of the ceiling lights. Some might have deemed the image cheesy. To me, it was beautiful. It showed a bright blue sky with vibrant pink cherry blossom branches. And as I looked up at those blossoms, I felt God say to me, “Just like I’ve clothed those flowers, and just as I’ve taken care of the birds that live in the branches, I’ll take care of you.”
I already told you I hate needles. This was a big needle. The doctor walked me through each step as he injected the local anesthesia in three different places, and proceeded to extract four samples of my breast tissue, each extraction punctuated with a loud, forceful clicking sound of the needle. And I was completely at peace the entire time. It wasn’t false bravado. It was the peace of God that passes all understanding.
“And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:7)
A few days after the procedure, I received a phone call at work. “I have good news, if you can tell me your birth date.” Oh, I can do that. “It’s completely benign.”
I sighed, laughed and cried with relief, all at the same time, the fears I had repressed evaporating with the news.
I could joke around and say, if anything, this process helped me get over my fear of needles. But, in reality, it accomplished so much more than that. When I’m worried, afraid, doubtful or scared, I remember the moment when I stared at those pink cherry blossoms and felt saturated in God’s peaceful presence.
I am incredibly blessed and grateful, because I know not all stories end up like mine. It can be easy to minimize my situation because the bump turned out to be benign. But that doesn’t devalue the process I went through. It doesn’t negate the very real emotions I experienced. And it doesn’t take away the peace I had in those unsettling moments of waiting in the unknown, in the unspoken what if.
Regardless of what you’re going through, you can rest assured that God is with you. You might feel like your situation is inconsequential to what others are going through, or it might feel immensely overwhelming. Whatever you’re facing, know that you don’t have to be afraid, hopeless or anxious. You can be at peace.
“Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.” (Isaiah 41:10)
The verb “to see” has an assortment of meanings. We can perceive something with our eyes. We can grasp something mentally and understand it. We can have an experience. We can watch, examine or notice something. We can visit or accompany somebody. All of these Merriam-Webster definitions refer back to the first verb — to see.
But what does it mean to see someone?
To truly see someone is to see who they are. To understand what makes that person the way they are. To understand what they enjoy, what they dislike, what makes them laugh. To see their pain and to see their joy. To know their hopes and aspirations. To know their fears and doubts.
Realistically, however, there are few people who truly see us for who we are — both the good parts and the bad. We might even sometimes feel that nobody can really understand what we’re going through because nobody sees us, nobody knows us. But God knows, and He sees us.
Hagar probably experienced similar feelings in Genesis 16. She was running away, scared and abused, and she eventually finds herself in the desert, thirsty and alone. And that’s when God hears her cry of distress and meets her.
“The angel of the Lord found Hagar beside a spring of water in the wilderness, along the road to Shur. The angel said to her, ‘Hagar, Sarai’s servant, where have you come from, and where are you going?'”
God knew perfectly well where Hagar had been and what she was running away from. He knew details of her own life that she herself couldn’t fully understand. He knew her past, and He knew her future. But He met her in the present, and He revealed just how much He saw and knew about her and about her future son, Ishmael.
“Thereafter, Hagar used another name to refer to the Lord, who had spoken to her. She said, ‘You are the God who sees me.'”
El-roi — The God who sees me.
He sees me. He sees my struggles. He sees my desires, my hopes, my joys. He sees me on my good days. He sees me on my bad days. And yet, His love toward me never fails and never wavers. He knows what makes me tick, and He created me to work a certain way.
God created us as unique individuals, each with certain talents and gifts. He saw us and knew us before we were even born.
“You watched me as I was being formed in utter seclusion, as I was woven together in the dark of the womb. You saw me before I was born. Every day of my life was recorded in your book. Every moment was laid out before a single day had passed. How precious are your thoughts about me, O God. They cannot be numbered.” — Psalm 139:15-17
He sees us. But it’s more than God seeing us.
After God spoke to Hagar, she referred to Him as El-roi, as the God who saw her. But she continued to speak. “She also said, ‘Have I truly seen the One who sees me?'”
Hagar’s encounter with God wasn’t like one of those two-way mirrors you might find in an interrogation room, where one side can watch someone on the other side without being seen.
God revealed Himself to Hagar. He allowed Himself to be seen by her. She caught a glimpse of who He was — of His knowledge, power, love and mercy — and that affected her perspective of God. Her experience of being seen by God — and of seeing Him, in turn — changed her life.
God sees us. He knows us. But more than that, He allows us the chance to see Him. Now, God as a spirit is invisible, and no man has seen God (1 John 4:12). But we can know Him. We can can live day-by-day in His presence. We can experience Him. We can see His blessings. And we can know that He won’t stop loving us, regardless of what He sees in us.
All it takes is a single moment. A thought, a word, a musical note — something draws you in. It feels almost magnetic because, somehow, it understands you. It seems to be expressing the very emotions and thoughts you yourself have experienced and felt. It pulls at this deep cavern within the pit of your stomach, your heart, your soul, your mind. It radiates in soft tingling pulses, spreading like a warm rush throughout your being.
Here, in this moment, someone has reached through time — ignoring its restraints and rebelling against its limitations upon the world — in an attempt to be understood and to understand. Someone else has traversed to the same feeling, thought or emotion, and emerged from it bearing a proof of this experience — a proof similar, yet distinct, from the one you carry.
In an almost exclusive call to those fellow travelers, this individual creates a conduit between their soul and your soul. Others might hear the call, but only those that have felt this same feeling, lived a comparable experience or existed with similar hope can truly respond to the call.
The call with which this individual reaches out takes many forms and morphs among the variants of beings and experiences. But the call echoes through words penned in a book, through music transcribed and performed, through movements designed to evoke a remembrance.
What can you do but respond? So you, too, create a bridge that extends from your soul and reaches out. Perhaps soon, perhaps in years to come, another being will feel the draw of that moment and construct a response of their own — a conduit that belongs to them and reflects their own being, yet was influenced by yours.
But yours was influenced by the being before you, and theirs by the being before them. This conduit of influence and experience has passed through time and has connected beings throughout history. On and on it goes until, at last, it reaches the original Source of inspiration.
And there — unseen, yet real and resilient — exists a network of individual beings linked together in a single moment that defies time.
Insanity. Insanity. Insanity. Insanity.
I can type the letters I-N-S-A-N-I-T-Y in that exact order as many times as I want to, hoping each time that a new word will emerge, but the result will always be the same word: Insanity.
The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, while expecting a different result. So, allow me to ask a question — you can choose if it will be a rhetorical one.
Are you insane?
Perhaps I should rephrase and redirect the question: Am I insane?
To answer the question, let me propose a hypothetical situation. Imagine I’m following a road. La dee da, there I go, ambling along the road before me. Suddenly, as I’m walking, I run into a huge brick wall that just happens to be blocking the entire road in front of me.
I persistently continue walking, but each time, I walk into this brick wall. Again and again, I try to keep walking on this road. Again and again, I run into that wall.
If you saw me attempt this feat, I hope you’d say something like, “You know, I don’t think that’s the best road to follow. Maybe you should go around the wall or take a different road.” But you’d probably snicker and be more like, Okay, this girl has some issues.
Yes, I’m being slightly facetious since I doubt the majority of us will ever actually encounter a scenario like this.
But what about those of us who keep facing the same struggles in our lives and keep failing to overcome them? Because if you’re anything like any other human in the world, it’s highly likely that you’re facing — or have faced — some obstacles in your life.
I don’t want to waste my life running into the same roadblocks. But to overcome those roadblocks, that means changing something. And it seems odd, but change often correlates with humility.
Snap. Did I just say that?
Yep, I did.
Now, don’t get me wrong. Perseverance and determination are also essential for change and for overcoming challenges. But I think the first step just might be humility.
If you’ve used Google Maps, Waze or any GPS app, chances are you’ve heard the word, “Recalculating.”
There are an assortment of reasons that could prompt the word. Maybe there’s road construction or an accident along the way. Maybe there’s a mass exodus of drivers to the grocery stores in lieu of an impending winter storm, causing an insane amount of traffic. Maybe you made the wrong turn.
But all of those reasons boil down to the fact that the route you were originally following wasn’t the optimal choice. It wasn’t perfect.
So, you have to adjust. And that can be hard to do because that means maybe, just maybe, you aren’t perfect. And, let’s be honest, who likes admitting that?
But I don’t want to refuse to adjust my path because I’m too proud, afraid, lethargic or stubborn.
At some point then, don’t we need to rethink something? Don’t we need to recalculate and adjust? Don’t we need to admit that something needs to change?
Maybe you’re not content with the progress — or the lack of progress — you’re making. Maybe you wish you were on a different path, but you’re too afraid of change. Maybe you’re just comfortable with the same old routine you’ve been performing for years now. Maybe you think you deserve the bruises that brick wall keeps giving you.
But I challenge you — just like I challenge myself — to look at the road you’re on right now and assess both your progress and the destination you’re pressing toward. Are you getting where you want to be? Or are you stuck in a gif-like loop of walking into the same brick wall?
Ever feel like you’re getting hit on the head with the same heavy hammer over and over and over again?
Yeah, that happened to me today. The same message kept popping up unexpectedly throughout this lovely crisp November Monday.
First, it sprouted as an idea while I was reading my Bible this morning. Then, it blossomed into a vine of connected thoughts while I was walking around my work building during lunch. Then, it branched out from another post over at the Beauty Beyond Bones blog. And finally, it snaked itself around my mind in the form of a song that randomly played on some stranger’s YouTube playlist.
And finally, I was like, OK, I get the picture. I’ll write about this.
So here it is: If your father truly loves you, he’ll want what’s best for you, right?
I remember when I fell off my bike when I was seven years old. I flew over the handlebars and skidded chin-first across the gravel driveway. Bawling, I proceeded to scamper up our super long, steep driveway to my dad who would know how to fix it. He cleaned my battle wounds and off we went to the hospital.
I turned eight a few days later, sporting a nice set of stitches on my chin and elbow.
A couple weeks later, I was scheduled to have my stitches taken out. Let’s just say one of those stitches was really embedded in my chin and it took a lot of tugging to get it out. Afterward, my dad led me out to the parking lot and took care of me as I heaved in the bushes by the car.
He then drove to a store and bought me a little Aloe vera plant. Most eight-year-olds wouldn’t be too impressed with an Aloe plant as a gift, and I can’t say I was at first either. But my dad told me to smear the Aloe’s goo on my chin and elbow injuries every day and it would help the scars heal. So I did.
I used that gift countless times throughout my life.
And that Aloe plant grew over the years, becoming Master of the Windowsill, spawning other little Aloe plants and still going strong when I moved out of my parent’s house years later.
My dad wanted what’s best for me, so he gave me a gift that was helpful, considerate and a blessing in the future, as well.
So let me ask you: If our dads here on earth care so much for us and want to give us the best Aloe plant gifts, then how much more will our Father in Heaven give good gifts to those who ask Him? (That’s a Jen version of Matthew 7:11, in case you were wondering.)
My dad’s great. I know he loves me fiercely, would do anything to protect me and wants the best for me. But even he doesn’t love me as much as Jesus loves me.
God has the best intentions for us. He isn’t holding out on us or baiting us with a gift, only to move it away before we can receive it.
Sometimes, yes, we need to wait for His gifts. Sometimes, yes, that waiting is really hard. But He really does know what’s best for us, at the best time.
God has a plan and purpose for us greater than we can even imagine. He has a gift for each one of us.
But it’s up to us to receive that gift.
I could have refused to use the Aloe’s gel on my scars. It was smelly and sticky and sometimes those pointy ends stabbed me as I tried to glean the gooey innards from the plant. This was a gift?
But I accepted my dad’s gift to me and it helped heal me. If you looked at my chin now, you would barely see the scars where those stitches were.
Sometimes all it takes is trusting that your Father knows best. Because God’s gifts for His children are good. Hope, joy, peace, love, freedom and so much more. Not only do these gifts from God increase along with us, but they also heal and mend — just like that trusty Aloe vera plant.
I realized today I really wanted to write something on my blog, but had no idea what to write about.
And honestly, at first, onions popped into my head.
My mind eventually turned to where I was around this time three years ago. In September 2014, I hurt my left knee during a flag football intramural game. I drove back home and had my dad assess the already swelling and throbbing injury.
The next couple of days, my knee didn’t get better and I was scheduled for an MRI. The MRI results came back and the doctor confirmed our suspicions that I had torn my ACL. I would need reconstructive surgery if I wanted to be able to play basketball or other sports in the future.
One thing you should know about me: I hate needles and get pretty squeamish at the thought of a scalpel cutting into my flesh. So, surgery was pretty much my worst nightmare come true.
But I wanted to actually be able to play sports again.
In November 2014, I went in for surgery, where the doctor replaced my torn ACL with a portion of my own hamstring muscle combined with muscle from some person I’ll never know (I’ve dubbed him Stefan).
Let’s just say this was a hard time for me. The injury had happened early in my junior year of college, so I was missing that entire year of basketball and other sports. Physical therapy was a long process of re-learning how to walk correctly, trying to reach full extension with my knee and leg strengthening.
I remember searching Google, reading about other people who had torn their ACLs and promised it would get better in time. And I remember having a hard time believing them.
But I did believe something else. I knew God was there with me, throughout the entire process. My injury hadn’t come as a surprise to Him. No, He didn’t prevent it from happening, but He didn’t just abandon me when I was hurting.
I would not have been able to walk into that hospital, have the IV stuck in my arm and lie down on that hospital bed, while the doctor marked my knee with an X, if I hadn’t known God was in control. Trust me, I would have been freaking out. But I prayed for peace, and He gave me a quiet assurance that everything would be fine.
Maybe I will come back to the topic of onions.
Sometimes we have our lives planned out exactly as we think they should go. But just as Shrek said there are layers to ogres, there are also layers to life.
Often, we see only the outside layer — the immediate circumstances that surround us. And in life, those circumstances sometimes stink.
As we get deeper into life’s layers, however, we realize there’s more than just the immediate. It might be painful as we peel away those outer layers to get to the core of a situation. There might be some crying involved. There might be some chopping and dicing away.
But just as those steps are needed to prepare an onion to fulfill its part in a recipe, sometimes those steps are necessary for us in life — to grow, to mature, to develop into the type of person we choose to be.
What can you learn from these difficult times?
I would have never planned to tear my ACL and have surgery. But I can tell you that I now rarely take for granted my ability to run or play basketball. Sometimes that twinge in my knee is a great reminder of the journey it took to get to this point. And it reminds me of how God not only promised to take care of me, but how He followed through on that promise.
And if that was the only lesson learned from that particular moment in my life, I think it’s a pretty solid one.
Besides, now I have that much more in common with Tom Brady, Julian Edelman and Rob Gronkowski. Sorry, not sorry, I’m a diehard Patriots fan.
So often, we look to others to form our value, self-worth, opinions, beliefs and habits. We think, “Well, you know what they say” or “Oh, they say I can’t [insert here], so…”
And that’s that.
How did this phrase evolve to become a common method of asserting wisdom, facts or viewpoints — whether true or false?
* * *
While I’m sure there are numerous studies about this phrase out there, my thoughts turned to when Jesus asked his disciples, “Who do people say that I, the Son of Man, am?”
His disciples basically answered with, “Oh, well, they say you’re John the Baptist. Oh, they say you’re Elijah. Oh, they say you’re one of the prophets.”
And then, (in my paraphrased vernacular), Jesus gets straight to the point: “Yeah, who cares what they say… Who do you say I am?”
Who do you say I am?
* * *
I can speak only for myself and from my personal experiences. I can tell you how delicious this homemade ice cream cake with cookie dough, brownies, crushed Oreos and hot fudge is. But until you taste it for yourself, you’ll only be basing your opinion on what I’ve said about it (and trust me, it’s all good things).
I can tell you from my own experience who Jesus is to me personally, because He has proven Himself to me in various situations over and over again throughout my life.
He’s my provider.
He’s my guide.
He’s my best friend.
He’s my safe haven.
He’s my peace.
He’s my joy.
That’s who I say He is.
And you know what they say: Sometimes you can learn from the experience of others.
* * *
But who do you say He is?
Because they also say you make your own choices in life.