If God Sent Me a Letter

Last week, I wrote about some hard questions for God. If he answered me in a letter, I’m sure it would be much more beautiful than my attempt. Here’s what I imagine and what speaks to my heart.

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Dear Jen,

The time will come for answers, but it’s not here just yet. I can tell you there are big things up ahead for you. I’ve known you before you were YOU, and I know there have been so many times in your life that have been complicated and mysterious. I’ve seen you search and search for answers, but there are some things you aren’t ready to know.

I’ve seen you cry, shoulders heaving, and I cry heavy tears with you. I’ve also seen all the things that make you giggle and fill you with joy–the silly songs you make up when you’re alone, the dark chocolate you leave in the freezer, the way your eyes light up every time you see a beautiful sunset or the way blue sky and mountains seem to take your breath away. I smile when I see you smile, and guess what? The corners of my eyes crinkle up just like yours.

I know you are tired. Don’t wish your days away. Each one is filled with my goodness just waiting for you. It’s okay to rest your mind and let me do my work. I’ll let you know if I need your help. Rest.

I know you look back at carefree times and wish them back. Know the hardest days are not pointless. You are learning to trust me, and I know that is not easy. But, I am the Creator of the Universe. Don’t you think I can handle what hurts and scares and puzzles you most? I created YOU; why would you worry I’d leave you in the middle of it, alone? All I ask is that you trust me. I have your back whether you see it or understand it or even feel it.

Just believe it.

This tough stuff right now, it won’t be like this forever. Just as the seasons change and winter is giving way to spring, the times of your life change, too. Keep moving forward. You’ll see up ahead, just around the corner is a new season for you, too.

When you are afraid, I am here. When you have nothing left to give, I am your strength. You have been through hard things before and will make it through again, this time and the next and the next. There is joy right here, every day, just waiting for you. Look for it. Marvel in it.

I love you. I am so proud of who you are. You are enough.

Love,

God

If God sent YOU a letter right now, what do you think it would say? ~Jen

Night Ravings

Life has turned upside down for me these days. I ran my 5K in January, and it seems it went downhill  medical tests prove there was more than I thought brewing in the background. You see, I went from being ecstatic that I finished (really, that is huge, since I had heel trouble and zero energy for a long time), but I felt as if I ran a marathon and couldn’t quite recover. Symptoms I viewed as separate oddities over a span of eight years or so (and have been treating for a while) have compounded and flared up since then in an autoimmune sort of way. I’ve been to two doctors this week without a diagnosis; I guess that’s why Brian calls me a medical mystery.

The thing is, I am tired of being mysterious.

So, a few nights ago Brian and I were reading in bed, and I felt a wild need to pray about this stuff. Sometimes, as we hold hands under the sheets, our prayers are calmly spoken, and other times require nothing less than a relentless pursuit of answers. I heard my voice match my desperate, frustrated, ALL CAPS words.

My night raving went a little like this:

OKAY GOD,

I AM TIRED OF THIS! EVERYTHING IS UP IN THE AIR, AND I’M TIRED OF HURTING! WHAT IS GOING ON?

THERE ARE THINGS WE WANT TO DO TO OUR HOUSE–UPGRADING THE KITCHEN AND BATHROOM, CUTTING DOWN TREES IN THE BACKYARD, OUR DRYER NEEDS TO BE REPLACED. WE’VE SPENT TONS OF MONEY TO FIGURE OUT WHAT’S WRONG WITH ME OVER THE PAST YEAR, AND THINGS HAVE GOTTEN WORSE! WE HAVE BILLS TO PAY, AND I WANT A VACATION! I WANT TO GO TO FRANCE. WE’RE TRYING TO SELL THIS HOUSE, BUT NOTHING IS HAPPENING!

WILL YOU HELP US?!?

I WANT AN ADVENTURE. I WANT SOMETHING FUN FOR A CHANGE. I WANT TO FEEL BETTER! I WANT TO BE HAPPY WITHOUT THE WEIGHT OF ALL OF THIS.

AND IF MY STRATEGY IS ALL WRONG, FINE. MAYBE I SHOULD STOP DICTATING TO YOU HOW ALL THIS NEEDS TO TURN OUT. I’LL TAKE any VACATION… TO FRANCE, NIGER (peeking through my eyelashes at Brian just to see his expression because that idea does not AT ALL appeal to him), COLORADO, ANYWHERE… EXCEPT IN THE SOUTH BECAUSE THAT WOULDN’T BE A VACATION. WE NEED SOME FUN! SERIOUSLY, JUST TELL US ALREADY! WHAT’S THE DEAL? WHAT’S WRONG WITH ME? AND HOW SHOULD WE SPEND OUR MONEY?

…(after a deep breath and more calmly) And thank you for Brian and the pups and our jobs and friends and family.

Amen.

And after all those words, I looked over at my Lovey, who had a touchingly sweet grin on his face. “That’s the best prayer I’ve ever heard you pray,” he said. 

–Jen

How do you feel about questioning God when things don’t make sense?

Moving to the Edge

Our dog Glory loves riding in the car, but it hasn’t always been this way. When we adopted her, she trembled in the backseat until we got home, even though my friend talked to her gently the whole time. She’s had a lot happen to her; much of it we’ll never know. She came to us with scars on the inside and fears of all kinds. In those days, it was mostly about being abandoned.

Things are different now with two dogs, but there are times when those old fears return. When we went to the dog park, what should have been fun with other dogs seemed scary to Glory. After walking around the fence with us once, we took her off the leash, ready to let her run. Instead, she made her way to the front gate and just sat there. Eyes red and breathing deeply, she did not, would not move, no matter what we said. I guess she connects that kind of freedom with being left without her family. I want to tell her what I know about the dog park: This is fun. Dogs LIKE this place. You are safe, and we’re right here. And I feel sad because she doesn’t understand. Maybe she will one day if we keep trying.

I wonder if God sees us the same way. He leads us to a place that might ultimately bring us more peace than we’ve experienced, but all we know is we don’t like change. Yet, we try it out, tiptoe-ing down that bumpy path and turning back when it gets too hard to navigate the way. After all, we make a cozy bed in our comfortable place, put our feet up and prepare to stay for a long, long time. Things aren’t bad there, right? We become used to okay. I wonder if God feels sad about this because he knows things could be so much better for us.

When I am challenged to move to the edge of what I know, I am like Glory–heart pounding, deep breathing, trembling. My head believes even this has meaning, but all I really want is to burrow into my still-warm bed and hide my head under the weight of the comforter. I don’t know how I will handle feeling lost, and I worry I will be unsettled forever because somehow this is hauntingly familiar. I trust there is goodness on the other side; still I am scared. Why would anyone want to revisit this?

And then comes my reassurance:

Be strong and courageous, for I am with you. Do not fear, for I am with you wherever you go. –Joshua 1:9

It’s when I remember right smack in the middle of my wavering– God is here, too, and has never left–that I start to loosen my grip, one finger at a time. This is a long, slow, seemingly never-ending process because I move forward, push back, take a step, jump back, want to control. I cry and breathe and pray.

Then, I’m shocked because I realize I’m fighting against my own release.

And although my fear makes sense to me, pulling away from what I ultimately need does not. So, I bravely push back the covers and get out of bed. Once again, I’m taking one step at a time further and further into the unknown but closer and closer to the edge of freedom.

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Learning With Paintbrushes, a Canvas and Life

photo 5I recently went to one of those canvas painting classes, where participants get step-by-step instructions in order to end up with beautiful artwork after two hours. I love the creativity! The time with friends! The challenge! And each time, I eye the example piece and nod my head, thinking, You can do THIS!

I’m always excited to get started, but by the end of the night, my gusto dwindles. Although I’ve had fun, I look at my work and know its earned a place in the garage.

This is not natural to me. I’m not an artist.

In the rare case when I draw for my elementary students to explain some kind of concept, I also have to explain exactly what it is I’m trying to show them. “This (rectangle with legs) is a horse,” I say, and they respond with sad, sad, we-can-do-better-than-that looks.

So, instead of wanting to hide my work (it’s a reminder that I fell short), I’d rather reframe this experience because I really do like the everyone-can-paint-idea. We all may not be fantastic at it, but we can enjoy it.

What I’ve learned about making art (with paintbrushes, a canvas and well, in life):

1) When in doubt, ask for help. When painting a forest scene, the details on my trees looked all wrong. After getting some help and changing my technique, things looked more accurate by the time I got to the last tree (sometimes, I’m a slow learner). I also got some profound encouragement along the way.

“You’re looking at the finished product, but you’re not there, yet.” Um, yes. Always, it seems. And then, I pray because I need help.

It's messy.
It’s messy.

2) Sometimes it takes more time. How often do we look at where we are, mad that we aren’t where we think we should be? I look around at others’ progress and want to be where they appear to be– with them. When painting, I second guess myself and work too slowly, so when I get to the part that really counts, I’m slapping on details and running out of time.

3) Which brings me to—> be patient with yourself and your needs. I never have enough painting time and get so behind, I don’t even listen to the instructor anymore. It would be okay to take a break and get back to it later. Maybe I should buy the supplies and try to finish another day. It would feel scary to try it alone, but who knows what might happen?! Same thing with everyday things– forcing it sometimes just makes things worse.

I'm a work in progress.
I’m a work in progress.

4) Lose focus on perfection and have courage to make it your own. When I paint with a certain end in mind, I’m afraid I’m going to mess it up. And everyone will laugh. This time, some of my tree details took the shape of fuzzy caterpillars, so I gave one of them a smile and legs (although it felt wrong and still does, it’s growing on me). It seems like this gets easier later in life. Maybe our older and wiser self begins to care less about what others think.

5) Relax and go with the process.  I had a great time with my friend, but I didn’t relax. I was stressed and ended up with a stiff neck the next day. Putting less pressure on myself and being grateful for the experience means finding more joy in the doing. I’m still learning.

painting8Sometimes what we have in mind at the beginning of a journey takes a different path if we have the courage to let go of our expectations.

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