Challenging the silence

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There are times when silence is a gift. Noises and distractions are gone, and it’s you and your own breath.

There are times when silence is dangerous. Atrocities are permitted, boundaries are crossed, and yet nothing is said.

There are times when a voice is silenced by something or someone — fear, doubt, discrimination, shame, loneliness, uncaring and selfish people.

There are times when we silence ourselves — and that’s what scares me. I can be the one to prevent my voice from being heard. It can be all too easy for me to convince myself that I have nothing to say and that nobody would listen to it anyway.

Full disclosure: I started to believe that lie.

And this is what God told me in response: “Don’t quench the words you need to speak. Don’t sit back and let someone else speak different words.”

God has given each of us a voice and He has placed each of us in a position where our voices can be the most powerful. So, use your voice. Use your talents. Use your gifts. Use them to make a difference in your small corner of the world. Because there are a lot of messed up things in the world, and your voice can help bring some good back into it.

At times, it might seem convenient to be silent — and, certainly, there are times when silence is necessary. The danger comes, however, when silence is our answer to issues that require a clear voice for the right choice.

Don’t let silence be your answer.

In Revelation 2:15-16, Jesus is speaking to one of the churches, and He mentions how the people are neither hot nor cold. They are lukewarm. They are non-committed, dispassionate, tepid.

His response to those lukewarm people in verse 16 is this: “I wish that you were one or the other. But since you are lukewarm water, neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth.”

We are most effective and potent when we clearly stand for something. If you’re passionate about something, it should be evident in your words, actions and lifestyle. People will notice. People will hear.

Too many people in the world would love to silence your voice. Don’t be the one to do it yourself. Your voice has more power than you realize.

Getting real about “Impostor Syndrome”

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Hi. My name is Jen and I’m an impostor. Or, at least, I sometimes feel like I am.

Some of you might be thinking, Ah-ha! I knew there was something fishy about her. But, really, what I’m talking about here is impostor syndrome.

For those of you who haven’t heard the term before, here’s Wikipedia’s definition of impostor syndrome:

“A psychological pattern in which an individual doubts their accomplishments, and has a persistent internalized fear of being exposed as a ‘fraud’.”

People demonstrate impostor syndrome and deal with it in different ways. For me, it shows up in the form of overachieving and striving for perfection in what I do and how I come across to others — all to avoid the fear of failure.

How’s that for being real?

I struggled with low self-confidence for years. I constantly compared myself to others, judging every little thing I knew about myself against what I could see in others. When, in my eyes, I fell short in comparison, I’d get upset at myself. And let me tell you, it’s all too easy to say harsh, demeaning words to and about yourself.

To cope with all that, I did my best to make sure people liked me. This resulted in the formation of my coping mechanism — make ’em laugh. If you get them laughing with you, then they’re less likely to laugh at or about you.


When I began writing this post and started pondering the idea of impostor syndrome, I realized we’re really dealing with the issue of identity, with who we are at the core. Because if we don’t know who we are, it’s hard to fulfill our purpose.

But that’s the thing with impostor syndrome: We’re the ones who know ourselves too well. We know what no one else knows about us. That sometimes we don’t know what we’re doing. That sometimes we’re crippled with doubt. That sometimes we fake it ’til we make it.

And we’re scared to death that somebody will see through our mask and discover the real us. They’ll see us as impostors.

But really, we’re the ones seeing ourselves as impostors, so we become conflicted about our true identity.


Who are you?

I ask this question, hoping you’ll answer it honestly. Because for me, I realized who I was — and my self-worth — only when I answered that question. But more than just answering it, I had to believe the answer and act on it.

Who am I?

I am a child of God.

He created me, knowing — and forming — my talents and my faults. He knew from the beginning how the good and bad parts of me would be used. He took my coping mechanism and turned it into an intrinsic part of who I am, for the good. Because He knew how much I would love making people laugh — not to make myself feel better or to avoid being laughed at, but because “a merry heart does good like a medicine.”

God wasn’t surprised by the various phases — the dips, surges and plateaus — of my life. Instead, He loved me for who I was, even though I didn’t deserve it. And He chose to die for me so I could become who I was meant to be — His daughter.

“But to all who believed Him and accepted Him, He gave the right to become children of God.” – John 1:12

Showing up for the battle

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You know those moments when you really don’t want to be somewhere, but you need to be, so you go anyway?

I want to talk about that.

Imagine facing an enemy that greatly outnumbers you. Your side has no chance of winning, and you don’t exactly have a warm, fuzzy feeling about this. Nah, we can probably assume worry, fear and anxiety greatly outweigh every ounce of hope and courage you once possessed.

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In Chronicles 20, King Jehoshaphat of Judah (don’t you wish you had that name) was in a similar position. A huge army wanted to destroy his people and was gathering to battle him the next day.

Naturally, as most of us tend to do when things start to look bad, the king cried out to God for help. And God answered with these words:

“Do not be afraid. Don’t be discouraged by this mighty army, for the battle is not yours, but God’s. Tomorrow, march out against them.” II Chronicles 20:15b-16a

In verse 17, God continued by saying, “But you won’t even need to fight. Take your positions; then stand still and watch the Lord’s victory… Go out against them tomorrow, for the Lord is with you.”

So, King Jehoshaphat obeyed. He went to meet his enemy in battle. He showed up and took his position. And God showed up, too.

Jehoshaphat’s side won the victory that day. And you know how they did it? They literally just showed up to the designated battle area and praised God for His faithful and enduring love. When the enemy heard King Jehoshaphat and his army thanking God, it fell into chaos and defeated itself.

Now, the average person reading this probably — and thankfully — doesn’t have to face a physical enemy in battle. But we each face our own enemy — be it depression, anger, disappointment, fear, anxiety, addiction or whatever. And when we face that enemy in battle, it seems impossible that we can ever win. It’s overwhelming, debilitating and there’s seemingly no way to defeat it.

That’s when we need to remember that sometimes all it takes is showing up and taking our positions.

Don’t be afraid.

Don’t be discouraged.

Just show up to the battle.

Because showing up proves that we’re ready to fight. It proves to ourselves and others that we still care. It proves to the enemy that we still have the guts to face this battle. It proves to God that we trust Him enough to show up, too.

Just show up. And then show up tomorrow. And the next tomorrow. Because the Lord is with you and He’ll help you fight the battle against whatever enemy you’re facing.

Staying in tune with God

It can be easy to base our value or success in terms of numbers.

You know how it is: “I have this many followers” or “I make this much money”.

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I mean, even in the old days, families were ranked on the number of children — specifically, sons — they had.

I’ve been reading through 1 Chronicles, and if any of you have done so, you know it can get a tad dense. For instance, “So-and-so had five sons: Son 1, Son 2, Son 3, Son 4 and Son 5. Son 1 had two sons…” And on and on it goes.

Well, eventually, I reached chapter 12 where it describes how many warriors from each Israelite tribe joined David’s cause to become king. Most of the tribes offered thousands of men to support his claim. Seriously, one tribe had 50,000 skilled warriors all ready to support David.

Then I came to 1 Chronicles 12:32.

“From the tribe of Issachar, there were 200 leaders of the tribe with their relatives. All these men understood the signs of the times and knew the best course for Israel to take.”

Two hundred men. Not 50,000. Not brave warriors or skilled soldiers. But 200 leaders who recognized David should be king. They were aware of the situations happening around them. They were alert, and they didn’t hesitate once they knew what they needed to do.

We need to be like that in our walk with God. We need to understand what’s going on in the world around us, so we can make sure we’re supporting the right cause and following the correct course for our lives.

We should focus on making sure we’re in tune with God. Take time to be still and listen for His voice. Then, when we hear His voice, we need to possess the courage and the strength to act on it and follow through.

We don’t always need to have the largest number or reach a certain number to determine our value. Issachar offered the fewest amount of men — by a long shot — to David’s cause, but the Bible describes them as leaders with wisdom who understood the signs of the times.

So, take a lesson from the good ‘ole tribe of Issachar. And, while you’re at it, Paul has some good supporting advice in 1 Corinthians 16:13-14:

“Be on guard. Stand firm in the faith. Be courageous. Be strong. And do everything in love.”

A parable of the bread

You know those renovation shows that take fixer upper houses and completely redo them to make beautiful houses?

Well, if I’ve learned anything from them, it’s that renovations normally take longer than expected and they can be difficult.

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Yep, renovations can reveal ugly things underneath the floorboards, unstable supports and poor wiring. Rarely do you see a beautiful new house undergoing renovation.

Now, I know we’d all like to think we’re the beautiful mansion that doesn’t need any additional work, but I doubt that’s the case. Because most of us — like King David, who wrote the Psalm below — mess up and realize we need some help.

“Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me.” — Psalm 51:10

I heard something the other day that completely stuck with me: Renew = Renovate.

Sometimes, we need to undergo some renovations — in the way we think, the way we act, the way we speak.

Because maybe while we’ve been busy living our lives, some mold has starting growing in the rafters of our minds and has contaminated our dreams and desires. Maybe some carpenter ants have been chewing away at our hearts and weakening our discretion and resolve. And so, it becomes time for a renewing, a renovation.

“And don’t be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind…” — Romans 12:2a

As we know from most fixer upper renovations, that transformation and renovation process — and the waiting for the renovation to be done — can be painful.

But let me tell you a story.

On Tuesday, I made bread. Yep, homemade bread. I had to prove the yeast, which meant pouring it in warm water and waiting for it to become active. I had to knead, pound, press and mold the dough, constantly flipping it and disturbing it — all to prepare and develop the gluten.

After kneading the dough and placing it in a bowl, I had to wait for it to rise. An hour later, it was time for… more kneading! Punch. Press. Flip. Repeat.

Then, more waiting. Until finally! it was time to bake.

But baking, of course, requires extreme heat. Thirty-five minutes of sitting on a metal rack, waiting in uncomfortable, almost unbearable, heat.

Why did this loaf of bread endure all of that?

Well, without going through that entire process, the loaf of bread would still be individual ingredients, waiting to fulfill their purpose. It took the process of transformation in the creator’s hands to become something more.
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The same applies to us when we submit to God’s will for us.

Yes, it can be uncomfortable. It might not go according to our plans. We might still be waiting for something. And every now and then, it feels like we’re getting punched in the gut, only to be thrown into scorching fire.

But Romans 12:2 doesn’t just speak of transformation and renewing without any purpose. No, it speaks of promise.

“And don’t be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you might prove what is the good, acceptable and perfect will of God.” — Romans 12:2

Just like I had to prove the yeast for it to become active, the waiting and change that comes with renovation will ultimately prove and activate God’s will for us.

And so, I’ll leave you with this reminder that has been a pretty good reminder for me: “Commit everything you do to the Lord. Trust Him, and He will help you.” — Psalm 37:5

Why I write

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Sometimes it honestly seems like there’s nothing more intimidating than a blank white piece of paper — or, more realistically, the blank white screen depicting the piece of paper humans have traditionally written upon.

Upon that blank page, you’re supposed to spill out your thoughts, your aspirations, your secrets, your mind, your being.

And the paper or screen absorbs those words.

Then what?

Other minds might happen upon the words, read them and take them in. Maybe they’ll remember the words. Or maybe those words will be fleeting black characters that are briefly processed, but which never fully take root within the perusing minds.

And yet, we still write. Perhaps because we think we have something to say. Quite often, because there’s a persistent need that thumps within one’s inner being and begs to be relayed to the external world. The need grows until, at last, it drives the physical body to put itself to work and interpret the metaphysical by actually transferring those messages onto that blank sheet.

And, honestly, it’s easy to ask, after exposing part of your innermost self to the world, “To what end? What’s the use?”

The answer: Who can really tell?

I think it all hinges upon passion and purpose. If I truly believe in something, then wouldn’t I want to show that to others? Wouldn’t I need to?

So, we continue to write, to speak, to relay, because we need to. Because part of our innate human nature is a desire to communicate with and to be heard by others.

But you know what? Other humans will probably let us down in our endeavor to be heard and understood.

And that’s where I insert the source of what drives me to write on those blank screens.

I write because of my love for Jesus.

More importantly, I write because of His love for me.

His ear is always extended to us. He is always there to talk to, to communicate with. He is always there to listen, even if what I have to say feels measly and insignificant or monstrous and looming. And He doesn’t hear only to forget what I said later. He hears, He knows and He cares. And He extends a hand to hold onto.

That’s why I write.

The voices we choose to listen to

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Words have tremendous power. They can build up and encourage; they can tear down and wound.

To relay and comprehend words — even when reading — we use a voice. Each person’s voice is unique, be it the cadence and rhythm of their speaking voice or the personality and style of their written thoughts.

But what voices are we choosing to listen to?

The world contains millions and millions of voices, and so many of those voices are vying for our attention. Maybe it’s the latest must-see TV show or movie that uses the voices of actors to convey the voices of a director, producer and writer. Maybe it’s a company’s commercial for a “must-have” product that uses its voice to seep into your mind, thereby triggering your own voice that says you need to make a change to become better.

And there — right there — that’s where we become vulnerable. Because our own voices can be both our allies and our enemies.

I’ll speak for myself here, but I imagine I can’t be the only one when I say: Sometimes the loudest voice telling me I can’t do something is my own.

So often, I end up becoming my own deterrent. Because I listen to that voice. I give up on myself before I’ve even allowed a chance to prove to myself and the rest of the world around me that I can, that I will.

We tell ourselves we’ll fail. We tell ourselves we’re alone in the world. We tell ourselves we’re not good enough. We tell ourselves, “Maybe tomorrow.”

Sometimes the voices are like a mob screaming at us and sometimes they’re quiet whispers that snake through our ears. But each voice has the potential to drag us down in defeat, failure and loneliness. Instead of fighting, we convince ourselves those voices are right. We give up on ourselves before we have the chance to fail or succeed.

We’ll never get anywhere if we live like that.

Instead, use your voice to declare the truth and cut through those lies. Use your voice to speak words that are true, right, uplifting, pure, lovely, excellent and full of life.

And then listen to that voice.

Bikes, stitches and Aloe vera plants

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Gotta give cred to my former roommate who had cool stuff for me to take still life photos of.

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.

 

God’s plan for you and me

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You know what? I love God.

Every morning, I start off my day with reading my Bible. Recently, I’ve been reading through the book of Jeremiah, and this morning I came to chapter 29.

I’m sure you’re all like, “Yeah, yeah, Jen, you’re going to go to verse 11.”

Yes — but only for some of it.

I read Jeremiah 29:11, “‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ says the Lord. ‘They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope.'”

Now, if you don’t mind, I’d just like to insert what I wrote down this morning after reading that:

So often, we read and quote Jeremiah 29:11 by itself — and for good reason, because it’s an amazing promise from God and a source of hope. But I know I failed to see it in context before. After reading through Jeremiah, the promise and hope found in verse 11 means so much more.

God had allowed the Israelites to be captured by the Babylonians because they had openly rebelled against Him. He offered them chance after chance to turn back to Him, but they refused and continued to disobey.

So, the Babylonians captured the Israelites and took them away from their city as captives.

But God still offered them hope.

Jeremiah 29:10, “This is what the Lord says: ‘You will be in Babylon for seventy years. But then I will come and do for you all the good things I have promised, and I will bring you home again.'”

He gave them the promise that they would be freed in 70 years. And not only that, He then told them (in verse 11) that He knew them and wanted to give them a good future. That’s beautiful.

Even now, we know that we’re going to go through some hard times, but God lets us know that He has ordered our steps. Even though we may not know how long it may take to be freed from the struggles or chains, He has promised us freedom and this good will, if we choose to follow Him.

But don’t stop there — verses 12 and 13 are so good too! Jeremiah 29:12-13 — “In those days when you pray, I will listen. If you look for me wholeheartedly, you will find me.”

Let me just say I had no idea I would absolutely need those words today — and let me tell you, I absolutely needed those words today.

But God knew.

And let me just say: Even if you find yourself in one of the worst storms you’ve faced, God still knows where you are.

More than that, He knows you.

He formed you for a purpose, and He won’t just leave you hanging.

No, if we choose to love Him and follow Him, He promises us a future filled with hope and good plans.

God isn’t the only one involved here, though. We have to make the choice to follow him. We, as humans, can choose to disregard His promises and follow our own paths, like the Israelites did in the verses above.

But know this: God doesn’t break His promises.

Just keep swimming

During my run today, I found myself facing a hill that was more daunting than the rest. It was long and steep, rocky and littered with roots just waiting to trip me up.

Without any prompting, I thought, Just keep swimming.

Just keep swimming

Yes, it’s a quote from Finding Nemo. Yes, it’s a movie for kids.

But for that moment — for this day, when tragedy and hate strike again — those words were so fitting.

Just keep swimming.

On days likes these, it can be hard enough to just keep treading water, let alone swim. But it’s when you stop moving, when you stop treading water, that you find yourself drowning.

And that’s what any enemy wants you to do. To stop trying. To give up. To stop moving forward.

The only way to make it up a hill is to take one more step. And one more. One more.

Sometimes that step is a step of faith. Sometimes that step takes all the willpower we have in us.

Sometimes that step is a step to prove to those haters trying to instill fear in our lives that we will rise above. That we will reach the top of the hill.

That we’ll keep swimming and keep moving forward.