Rocking Out to the Limbo-Land Jukebox

As our winding story nears yet another “bend,” our necks are craned, but we can’t (YET) see which direction the river flows from here.

Within a week, we are scheduled to hear back from the “committee” whose decision will either send our boat down one leg of the river:

  • running a family business each summer in Colorado

or down another:

  • what we’re calling “plan B.” (details TBD)

One funny truth about following Jesus is that whatever LOOKED LIKE “plan B” to you was actually, always, sovereignly, “Plan A.” You just didn’t know it, and so because you focused so much on what you perceived to be “plan A”– it looks like the back-up, the unexpected, the not-as-ideal.

So here we are, waiting, again. Wondering if what we think of as “plan A” will be God’s actual plan for us.

I’m finding that the “faith muscles” that helped me endure through old trials “back there” are the same ones my body is using now. Like a jukebox, my brain is playing old familiar tunes, and the lines include:

  • “God is all 3: good, wise, and sovereign.”
  • “We can trust Him, either way.”
  • “He’s going to do what is best, according to His plans”.
  • “His sovereign plan is not just for me/us, but includes our children. He’s working out His plans for them! I don’t have to be afraid!”
  • “What is beyond OUR control is not beyond His control.”
  • “He will abundantly provide all that we need.”
“one last hike, all together”
“one last date, just the two of us”

In the last 3 months, we (1) launched our oldest son into adult life (he’s thriving at bootcamp), (2) moved out of our home (due to lay off), and (3) took a 2- month road trip around the southeast United States.

{ON OUR ROADTRIP, we visited TX, LA, AL, MS, NC, VA, SC, GA, FL, & AR–
I’m releasing vlogs about that- check them out here.}

Looking over the Virginia highlands, from Whitetop Mountain’s Buzzard Rock

But now, as I sit here, while we wait for the committee to decide about our loan package, there’s nothing for me to *DO*.

While we traveled, my jobs were myriad: pack, clean, consult with Doug about upcoming plans & make the executive decisions, move the laundry along, scan travel sites for recently-discounted last-minute lodging, grocery shop for the next week-(ish)-worth of meals, locate the closest USPS drop box to send off the most recent letter to our Marine recruit, find good hikes, keep the little boys’ naps going, keep the campfire going.

But we’re not traveling anymore.

Oh, yes, there are kids to feed and videos to edit and friends to see while we can. But stopping in one place has brought the stress of waiting up to the forefront.

Yesterday I yelled at the kids. That old enemy (my lack of self-control) reared its ugly head again.

One time, epochs ago, I met a real-life missionary. He was a dad with 4 or 5 kids, and I asked:

“how do you do it– jet lag, irregular nap times, weird meals, moves?!”

I was wanting a formula– the way to get through unscathed. But his answer reeked of flesh and blood. The way our humanity — our need for sleep, food, normalcy– impacts us. The bloody wreckage that happens when we are weak, tired, and grumpy, and then bump up against one another.

His answer to my question, “how do you do it?” surprised me then. It chastens me now.

“We apologize and ask forgiveness. A LOT. Even more so in times of stress and change.”

Our human inability to “get it together” & the carnage of our interactions with one another all highlight the deep need we have for the flesh and blood of Jesus.

I still see glimpses of that hoping-for-a-formula desire in my own heart. I want to find the person who has the answers and then pattern my life after them. I want to find the way through so that there’s less pain all around, and no more need for apologies.

It’s not a wrong desire. It’s a heavenly desire. But it’s ultimately a desire to find some way of salvation other than the Gospel.

Humans– even humans who follow Jesus… even MISSIONARY humans who follow Jesus– are never going to be perfect. But we depend on the one who IS.

And even when we’re stuck in limbo-land, He’s here.

Providing everything we need for today.

Preserving and advancing the faith He built in years past.

Giving us grace to wait.

Giving us grace to forgive.

Giving us people around us who tell us the truth.

Giving us grace to seek forgiveness when we’ve yelled.

Right here in the stale room of limbo-land, that old jukebox plays: He’s good, wise, and sovereign. He sees. He’s providing. He’s working out His plans for us.

God is WITH us.

I Can’t See Downriver

One of the last things our son wanted to do as a family, before leaving for bootcamp, was watch Master and Commander. I’m not generally a fan of Russell Crowe, but that movie is phenomenal. Many times over, it’s clear: it’s not human cunning, nor the battle plan, but providence, that guides one’s path along the waters. 

So he headed off 8 days ago. 8 days of quarantine down. 6 more to go. Then his bootcamp adventure will begin.

Last photo of the 11 of us, before he left, January 2021

And the very next day, we moved into nearly-full-time packing mode. Packing up kids’ books (a-GAIN). Sorting and discarding unnecessary possessions (a-GAIN). Making final decisions before we move (a-GAIN).

This move has had me thinking- I must become smaller.

But that’s hard to do when there’s 11 people in the family. You can downsize to a degree, but there’s no real option of Marie-Kondo-ing your whole life when you have a massive amount of people and not a massive amount of money.

This has come to mind:

“He must become greater and I must become less.”

John 3:30

And by that, I mean everything needs to become less. My physical footprint. My digital/social media footprint. My “influence” footprint. At this juncture in life, I am not interested in “platform” and “reach” and “followers.” That stuff skeeves me out. It’s all I can do to just follow the Lord for me, myself, and I.

So as I’ve been packing up our home, I’ve been contemplating, how, and what to cut.

The decisions feel surgical. How much can be cut away? How much must be cut away? If I cut too much, I can’t easily replace it, and maybe never can replace it. But nonetheless… it’s been a brain refrain:

My footprint must be smaller.

You see, we have a change ahead. And for those of you who know us, that probably won’t be surprising to you. 

Except it has surprised me. I keep wishing I could slow down. I keep wanting the changes to stop, and yet they don’t.

See, it’s like I’m headed downriver in a kayak. But in years past, when I saw a dicey part of the river coming up around the bend, I could (in my strength and with great zeal!) paddle to one side for a smidgey bit and take time to assess— 

  • how am I gonna ride this one out?
  • which part looks the most passable? 
  • how can we do this? 

But now, as I bob down the river, my kayak looks unimpressive. And there’s no paddle in my hand. Somehow I lost it a few rapids ago. I’m tired and older, and I lack strength. What used to feel adventurous now just feels… tiring.

And from my current spot, I can’t yet see what’s around the bend. I mean, we think we got a glimpse, but there’s no certainty. We have an opportunity to buy a business, and have been pursuing it for a few months now.

What we didn’t fully foresee was my husband’s lay-off due to Covid. In a way, it confirmed our path, but in a different way, it has put us (yet again) in a position of not being able to KNOW FOR CERTAIN what’s coming, before we are forced to go on and stick out our feet and take a step forward into the great unknown. 

I don’t get it, why we have to stay on this path of Trusting God through Unknown Situations, and I don’t particularly like it. As I float closer and closer to the coming rapids, I’ve realized that it’s like I’m holding my breath waiting… for what? rescue? clarity? certainty? 

But nothing comes. 

And my kayak is getting older by the day.

And I still don’t have a paddle.

The only thing I know is that I know the Maker of the River. 

  • I don’t know that we won’t wash up on a shore we didn’t expect.
  • I don’t know that we won’t drown, or nearly drown, along the way.
  • I haven’t floated this river before, and I am not promised that there’s not a waterfall that’ll crash my boat to splinters.
  • I am not promised to be able to run this boat aground on the beach that I think we’re headed for.

And I have all these little passengers in my boat, too. I didn’t mention them yet, but they’re here with me and the thing is, I know that the Maker of the River sees them and loves them. Yet I also have gone far enough downriver to know that I can’t bubble wrap them and keep them from experiencing the rapids of life.

I don’t know what His plans are but I know His plans for them are GOOD. Even if that plan includes many rapids.

Frozen In Our Tracks

So then, boy howdy, a few days into our pack-o-rama journey, here comes this Texas freeze. It’s a Texas freeze the likes of which us native-Texans who have lived more than half our lives in Texas have NEVER seen. No one we know has experienced a Texas freeze like this. It’s exposing all the cracks in our infrastructure, energy grid, habits, and skills– Texas isn’t built for this. Good gravy, it’s COLD. 

It’s stopped us in our tracks.

  • The water pump froze, so we don’t have showers, laundry, dish water, any of it.
  • The electricity is on and off in cycles of anywhere from 12-30 minutes.
  • Suddenly all our energy has gone to things like, hauling and chopping wood. Thinking up meals that don’t require appliances or consistent heat.
  • The dishes pile is giving the laundry pile a run for its money, and it just might win in the end.
  • And it seems like everything outside– snow, dirt, moss, splinters, and COLD– is all on the inside of my house. 🙂

So here we are, at this juncture of the river. Knowing there are rapids coming, but not really able to tell anyone what those rapids for sure look like.

I got Facebook messages asking, but the truth is, I can’t answer your question about, “where we’re moving” because I don’t really know for certain where this humble kayak will wash up next.

What we THINK is…

  • we are buying a business in Colorado, and as long as everything goes forward (which it is right now)… then the finances would close in April, and we’d be moving there in May and running it over the summer.
  • and then hopefully… we’d be renting or buying a home in Texas in the fall, to spend our fall/winter/spring near family and friends, and spending each summer in the mountains of Colorado.

Lord willing, this is what we are stepping toward.

But we are not assured of this yet.

I’m just a girl without a paddle, and I think I know where the kayak is pointed but I’m honestly not 100% sure. And I won’t be until it runs aground.

That’s an uncomfortable truth to write. I wish I could write with more certainty. I wish I could give a respectable answer that makes sense to everyone– one that gets head-nods all around.

But that isn’t what I’ve got.

The only thing I know for sure is I know the Maker of the River.

And even when He lets us go paddle-less downriver, He’s GOOD. He really, really is.

For now, though, I need to get some things done because the power is back on.

The Constancy of Change in Motherhood

“No man ever steps in the same river twice,
for it’s not the same river and he’s not the same man.” 

— Heraclitus of Ephesus

Year by year, changes come.

And not merely in fashion, home decor, vehicle design, or celebrity culture.

The very common fact of change touches the most simple and central things about us. As the years (and decades) pass:

  • children grow: the awkward preteen becomes a full-fledged man and your heart can hardly bear the pride and sorrow and delight of it.
  • hobbies change: Early in motherhood, your skills and capacity expand. But then at some point, (at least for me this has been the case!) these contract. The hat you knitted or ornament you embroidered is so lovely, and you can neither remember how you made it, nor fathom how you had the time.
  • finances ebb and flow: that which was once impossible now becomes a consideration, or that which was normal now feels out of reach.
  • our bodies are not what they were: allergies, pregnancy, aches and ailments, new limitations, and diagnoses.

Even the strongest among us bend under the weight of it.

NOW, for those who have followed our zig-zags, you may say–

Jess, you guys have had a very UNUSUALLY full-of-change journey of life!

And that is true.

You might then internally accuse (as I have done to myself!)–

Not everyone experiences as much change as you guys have– and much of y’all’s change has been self-chosen.

And that also is true. We have moved many times. I’ve been pregnant twelve times and have given birth nine times. We have explored the world. We’ve inhabited many different types of careers.

You’d be justified to think I’ve got a grip on change.

But that’s not true.

The idea of change has been knocking me flat lately.

“Change is the law of life.”

John F. Kennedy

Whether I embrace it, or not, it comes. When I hide from it, it comes anyhow. When I think I spot it from afar, it doesn’t come that way. It sneaks around a corner and pulls out the rug I’m standing on. When I try to prevent it, or hedge against it, nevertheless, here it comes.

And my instinct is very much like that of third graders in the Cold War era: to get down under the desk, duck my head, and cover my own neck. I keep trying to use my puny arms to try to STOP the nuclear attack of change that perpetually threatens to blow up my whole entire life.

THEY WARN US, BUT WE DON’T FULLY UNDERSTAND

Though older folks warn us of the changes that will come with aging, and heaviness of it all, we don’t really know it until we ourselves feel it.

It wasn’t that long ago, was it, that her feet fit into in the smallest toddler size of pink Converse? And now her Converse are bigger than mine? How can this be?!

I remember cutting Ethan’s towhead curls for the first time, as he watched Blues Clues in his high chair, and now I’m cutting his hair for the last time before boot camp?! How can this be possible?

How do mothers bear the losses? The fears? The hopes? The sorrows?

How are we to bear up under the weight of such very real and valid emotions?

HOW CAN WE BEAR IT?

“We”–

  • who give our hearts to these delightful, chubby, needy, suckling infants
  • who devote ourselves to their schooling, their discipleship, their skills-development, their character formation
  • who are moved to panic and sorrow and prayer and fear as we see their sins up close
  • who will always always always love them no matter what
  • who stay in this place over here while they go to that place over there to live out the things they were made for

How can “we” bear up under the weight of it?

Well on our own, the short answer is: we turn into a bucket of tears.

I mean, I have, just writing this.

Yes, even though I’m a mom of 9, I am not immune. I still feel this loss they’ve warned us about – and the “empty nest” emotions are hitting me square between the eyes. Today, specifically, I am bulldozed by this: the expected “ship off” date for my oldest to head to Marines boot camp is just one month away.

We have had our last haircut, last date, last vacation, and next week’s calendar plans include what will be the Last Christmas of our family looking like, well, our family.

Just writing these things brings out all of my brokenness and emotions. My face is soaked with tears.

Amidst all the changes of life, where can we deposit our hopes, and what should be the substance of those hopes?

THE TEMPTATION TO HOPE IN OUR CHILDREN

By this juncture of empty nest, hopefully, we mothers get to the point of realizing that we should not be hoping in our kids. However, I have seen a great many women who hope there, and I have watched as it came crashing down.

In the homeschooling circles I’ve travelled in, it can happen through:

  • kids who live under pressure to “keep up appearances”
  • kids who seem to do things right
  • kids who make the choices their parents would have wanted
  • kids who mature very quickly and don’t seem to go through a rough patch

And I do not want to act as if those things are always necessarily negative. They are not. If a child grows up and does not go through a crisis of faith, make a decision his/her parents dislike, or falter in their steps, I will not rain on that parade.

And yet, that scenario does seem to set the parent up for hoping in their parenting, or hoping in their children– hoping for XYZ result. In fact, those parents may need to work even harder not to unintentionally begin to place their hope in each subsequent child’s performance, or in their own ability to sanctify their children through their own parenting decisions.

Over the last few years, the Good Lord has seen fit– through a variety of means– to expose in my heart the shifting sand of hoping in my kids. Through observing the lives of others, through my kids and their decisions, through conversations we’ve had with our kids, and experiences we’ve had in life, and through showing me more of the weakness residing in me, God has shaken the grip of that hope from my heart… and I am very grateful.

I see the temptation of it, and praise God that, for now at least, I am not gripped by the temptation to place my hope in my kids.

THE TEMPTATION TO HOPE IN OUR SELVES

This will let down, or perhaps strike fear in the hearts of, women who are used to the rah-rah bootstrap-pulling messages that are often found in best-selling books targeted to Christian women, but here’s the other temptation I’ve turned away from:

I CAN NOT COUNT ON ME.

Girl, I can not just wash my face. Girl, I am not enough. Girl, I am, very often, (especially right now!) just a sad-sack bundle of emotions.

There are times in life when I have appeared “strong” and “impressive”– but these days, often, my mind is racing, my relationships are disappointing, my responses are ungodly, my anxieties are high, my consistency is non-existent, and my self-counsel is very weak.

Through a long “dark night of the soul,” God has taught me MUCH about my own weakness. The way I’m not very dependable. The way I say one thing, and then do another. The way I don’t even live up to my own ideals, much less anyone else’s.

Here’s what I’ve concluded:

if I hoped in me, good gravy, I’d have no hope at all!

God has– through a period of sorrows and afflictions– exposed the shifting sand of hoping in my self. He has shown me, unequivocally, that I am not a trustworthy safe deposit box for my own hope. He has taught me that if I deposit my hope in my self and my good choices and my awesome ways, that will all be lost because I am just a human– with all of the disappointing “jar of clay” weakness that implies.

AMIDST CHANGE, THERE IS ONLY ONE CONSTANT

I warn you in advance:

this is going to sound “churchy” — and lately, amidst the very raw emotions of life, I have grown wary of churchified answers. I dislike them:

  • in part because of how often they are spoken as conversation-ending solutions,
  • in part because of how often they are spoken by people who have not actually found comfort in whatever answer they are speaking,
  • and in part because of how often they are used to silence uncomfortable questions that come from the real landslides of life in a fallen world.

Nevertheless, it’s the only place I can stand and so I’m going to press on to say it, even running the risk that it will sound too heavenly-minded to be of any earthly good:

There is a Great One named Jesus.

He stands in contrast to “we” humans, in many ways.

Here is the truth about Him that, today, brings me great comfort:

Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.

Hebrews 13:8

Do you see why that would give me great hope today?

The same Jesus that:

  • heard my prayers while I was a drug-using teen,
  • provided for every need when we lived on the opposite side of the world,
  • rescued us from a spiritual desert,
  • was there at the foundation of the world,
  • willingly set his face toward Jerusalem even though it would mean his own death on the cross

He’s gonna be the same:

  • the moment my son disappears from my view into quarantine and military life under a Commander-in-Chief I didn’t vote for,
  • when the details and circumstances of our lives are not what they are right now
  • as each child careens into adulthood, making decisions that change my life
  • when I look back at today’s strength, youth, and health, wishing I could have it back,
  • and even:
  • when the momentary stresses and strains of today are long forgotten in the shiny glory of eternity.

Jesus will be the same.

Though I — like the river in the quote at the top– have been and will be different in each of those circumstances,

Jesus will be the same.

Amidst change, and loss, and fear, and uncertainty, the beautiful sameness of Jesus Christ is the only place my hope can rest.

And it’s a GOOD place. A hopeful place.

Jesus really is GOOD, y’all.

Grace & Peace,
Jess Connell – December 2020

I’m Currently “Writing” By Vlogging

Readers, I want to invite you to come check out my YouTube channel. Right now, I’m releasing 4 episodes a week.

Here’s today’s video, ONE DAY IN THE LIFE OF A LARGE FAMILY MOM (from start to finish):

And last week, a vlog about a decision our oldest son is making:

These videos chronicle life from my perspective, allow me to verbally process life, and provide me with a place to grow in video editing. At this point in my life, I’m not as free to sit down for long stretches and hammer out, in written form, a linear article about one topic.

But I am trying to catch life, as it happens, and share along the way.

Editing and releasing videos is a different format from writing, yes, but I’m still sharing my life and thoughts in a similar way- open and in a way that hopefully encourages, instructs, and spurs you on toward joy and perseverance.

Some are topical, some are vlog style/ sharing family life, and I’ll be releasing my first Q&A soon. If you have questions, leave them in the comments below, or on any YouTube video. I’ll see them and compile to answer in the following Q&A.

For now, come share life with me there. If you need encouragement, or just want to see the day-to-day life of a mom whose family isn’t perfect and yet still hopes in God, I hope you’ll join me.

SUBSCRIBE on YouTube today, so you don’t miss an episode.

FIVE VLOG Episodes: Check ‘Em Out!

So, if you haven’t heard yet, I’ve started a new vlog.

We got kunekune piglets, and then had baby chicks, and we’ve got toddlers-preteens-roosters-chores-birthdays-almostadultkids… and more. And I want to get better at video editing, so I decided to dive right into this whole vlogging thing.

Here are the first FIVE episodes:

EPISODE ONE:

An intro to our mini-farm: you get to meet our new piglets, see the 2-day-old baby chicks, and get a view of our lives.

And what happens when I find out the piglets are lost?

EPISODE TWO:

I am so not a morning person… but I’m learning to love morning chores. Here’s why (hint: it has to do with having older kids):

EPISODE THREE:

Because we have a free-ranging flock, we’ve opted to keep roosters as protection for our girls.

Here’s how I tame them so that we actually ENJOY our roosters:

EPISODE FOUR:

Parenting young adults is a totally different ballgame from young kids. Here’s something my counselor shared with me that is helping me process and transition into parenting adult children.

Also, Silas shows off his new garden:

EPISODE FIVE:

***CUTE EPISODE ALERT!!!****

My mom might be the cutest person on the planet. She came for a visit and met her “grand-pigs”– and I reflect on some of the meaningful things I’ve learned from my parents and their interactions with me as an “adult child.”


I’m making these videos for my learning (about video editing/storytelling/timing/etc.), but obviously also so others can enjoy and learn alongside me as I process through life.

So please,

WATCH

SHARE

And SUBSCRIBE NOW, so you won’t miss an episode!

Grace & Peace,
Jess

I Started VLOGGING!! // Quick Update

 

Hey everyone,

Life has been crazy.

We moved into a different house here on the camp where my husband works, AND we have two hens that went broody & one of them has hatched eggs, AND we bought 4 kunekune (small, grass-eating, friendly) pigs. 

But amidst the crazy-wonderful-craziness, I realized that I have this little window of an opportunity — with cute content and personal motivation– to invest in something I’ve wanted to learn about for a long time: video editing.

I lost all my email contacts (for the old email newsletter I used to send out), and Facebook algorithms show almost no content to anyone. 

SO.

Here’s the info: I started a vlog. It’s called Provisions, with Jess Connell. 

 

CLICK HERE AND WATCH:


That’s Episode 1, where we lost the kunekunes on day 2 of having them. Full of animals… it’s a great episode to watch with kids. They won’t all be like this. It’s my vlog- so some will talk about mom stuff, some will highlight things we’re learning/doing, and some will be topic-focused. I have no way to advertise, etc., so please subscribe and share with friends. I’d love your feedback, comments, and interaction!

 

Grace & Peace,

Jess Connell 

Build Now or Regret it Later: A Letter to Mothers of Young Children

“The mother who takes pains to endow her children with good habits secures for herself smooth and easy days; while she who lets their habits take care of themselves has a weary life of endless friction with the children.”  

~Charlotte Mason

Dear Mom of young children,

Do you realize the incredible power you have in your possession?

Well first, let’s get some things out of the way– there are certainly powers you DON’T have. You didn’t get to choose your child’s eye color, gender, or height. You can’t choose whether or not they’ll have a natural ear for music or a pitcher’s arm. You can’t decide what diseases they’ll get, or how long their life will be.

And, regarding eternal things: though you can pray and preach and plead, you can not control whether your child will follow Christ or not.

Please know: I am not advocating for a control-based, anxiety-riddled motherhood. 

Nor am I preaching a message of formulaic motherhood, where you input ABC and can be assured to get out XYZ.

But as a mother, you CAN affect real change in a great many things in your child’s life. (Some of these may not be true, or may be more difficult if you have a child with physical or mental challenges, but these are all generally within reach for almost all children.) 

  • You can teach him to get healthy sleep.
  • You can teach him to care for his teeth.
  • You can teach him how to get himself dressed and choose season-appropriate clothing.
  • You can teach him how to match clothes, and how to know when clothing is too small, tight, or old.
  • You can teach him how to wisely select portion sizes, and food types.
  • You can teach him how to take initiative and take on a work assignment.
  • You can teach him to enjoy a variety of foods and not be picky or rude about food.
  • You can teach him how to follow recipes and cook the things he likes.
  • You can teach him how to do chores and easy fix-ups around the house.
  • You can teach him to identify and appreciate different kinds and eras of music.
  • You can teach him how to say his letters and numbers.
  • You can teach him how to properly clean his bedroom floor, tidy the house, clean stains, and wash a car.
  • You can teach him what it means to be diligent in his work.
  • You can teach him how to make manual work easier (by occupying his mind while he works, by mentally listing out the benefits of the work he’s doing, by doing it more efficiently, etc.).
  • You can teach him how to memorize verses, and even whole chapters and books of Scripture.
  • You can teach him how to speak up and speak respectfully to adults.
  • You can teach him how to muster up courage and tackle a problem and try to solve it.
  • You can teach him how to soothe a baby, pet a puppy, and interact with an elderly woman.
  • You can teach him how to take an interest in people who have completely different lives.
  • You can teach him what you know about various countries, people groups, and languages.

Or, you can not do these things. Some or all of them can go undone. And none of us hit everything out of the park.

But realize, that by NOT teaching him some or all of these things, you are setting him up in a different way.

Proverbs says that, “the wise woman builds her house.” But many women fail to build their children according to what God calls valuable. Oh, their children are good at an extracurricular, excel at a sport or hobby, and they might have ribbons for first prize this or that… but:

  • What is their character like?
  • Are they respectful?
  • Do they buckle down and work hard when asked to do so by an authority?
  • Do they have a reverence for God?
  • Will they be a net benefit, or a drag, in their future home/family?
  • Are their habits built toward caring for others or caring for self?
  • Do they possess self-control?

Point being, Mama, you have this window of time in which you have maximum influence and minimal barriers to affect change in the way your child approaches the world. There’s a reason why the saying goes,

“The hand that rocks the cradle rules the world.”

Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s mother knew this. Most women of her class had a full-time nanny. Though she was wealthy and could have easily done so, she was reportedly loathe to turn her young son over to anyone else’s care because she so strongly believed in the maternal influence over young children.

She knew that the formation of character that happens in the early years is no small matter.

It is perhaps easiest to see when we meet a friend who has been neglected in childhood. When we see the results of the lack of care… the lack of solid foundation for personhood, the lack of confidence that God is there… there is clear evidence for the importance of love when we see results that come from its absence.

Right now, you have this small window of time that’s been given to you…

  • to imprint the world on your children, and help them see it from your perspective
  • to frame up their vision of it so that they can understand and be discerning as they learn to live in it
  • to live uprightly before them and let them see before their eyes that things like integrity, hard work, self-sacrifice, patience, self-control when angry…. that these things ARE possible.

You have this gift of time you’ve been given with them to show them the way of Christ– to live before them in such a way that you can say, like Paul, “follow me, as I follow Christ.”

HABITS

That is done, initially through things like habits.

  • I say, “pick up your blocks.” You say, “Ok mama.”
  • I ask you to come to me; you come.
  • We get up in the morning and we eat what is put in front of us with a thankful attitude.
  • When we meet someone we look them in the eye and say, “hello,” “yes sir,” and “no sir.”
  • When we visit with Great-Grandma, we listen politely, share a story with her, and don’t jump around or break her things.

EXAMPLE

And much of the work is done through the example we set.

  • How we deal with it when a friend hurts our feelings– what we look like and sound like as we process through those emotions
  • What tone and words we use when we speak to our spouse
  • The affection, attention, and forgiveness we offer to one another in our home
  • How often we talk about or read the Bible, the news, accomplishments, complaints, blessings, and disappointments.
  • The ways we commit to things like church involvement, community clubs, and sporting events.

And later… as they get older…

you’ll realize, whether you took that time to build, or not, that the building phase is over… and you move into more of a coach role… and then perhaps a guide/advisor… and then a pray-er and an opinion-to-yourself-keeper. 😉

But for now, when you have little ones, view this season as a time of building.

  • Build in faith… faith that God may do great things through these humans He’s given us charge of, for a season.
  • Build with a purpose… considering the long-range goals you’re shooting for and working toward it.
  • Build “line by line, precept by precept”— little by little, consistently, over time, is sooooo much better than a huge dose every once in a while. Seek to be faithful over time.
  • Build as unto the Lord… trusting Him with your work. This is not a formula, and we don’t know what the end results will be! We strive for faithfulness because it is right, not because it guarantees an outcome.

Mama of little ones, stave off later regret. Do the work of building– steady, faithful building– right now in this tiring, busy, wonderful season of life God has put on your plate.

And remember– it’s not all on your shoulders– it’s on His. But as you take steps of faith, to be faithful with the influence He’s given you, God will help you. Take heart: He truly can bring eternal good from this weighty, daily work you are doing!

Grace & Peace,
Jess

KNOW YOUR BIBLE: 12 Ways to Improve Your Swordsmanship, part 2

Too often, I wait to FEEL like reading the Bible, rather than doing it wholeheartedly & seeking to grow in my understanding and dependency on God’s Word.

In part 1, I shared 6 ways I’ve grown in “using my sword” (God’s Word). Here’s part 2, with 6 MORE practical ideas for you.

#7- Hand-copy the Word

This is a great way to practice swordsmanship on days when you are exhausted. Scripture writing forces you to slow down, but will also help you notice simple words and phrases that you might miss when you read more quickly.

One quick caution: don’t let this be a merely mechanical experience. Keep your heart engaged with what you’re writing. 

#8- Use the Word to form your prayers

  • Jesus modeled “the Lord’s Prayer” as a frame for daily prayers.
  • In John 17, He prayed about unity and love in the Body, so that’s a great model of how to pray for your church. John 17. 
  • Psalms is full of heartfelt words. *confession of sin, *sorrow over loss, *thankfulness to God, *fear about terrifying circumstances, *brokenness about hurting relationships. When you want to express your heart to God, walk through a Psalm phrase by phrase, and pray the words as your own.
  • Some of Paul’s letters contain excellent prayers to pray for other people. If you’re looking for things to pray for your husband, children, or others in your life, look to passages like Ephesians 1:16-21, Colossians 1:9-14, Philemon 4-6

So that’s #8- look to God’s Word to help you pray.

#9- Memorize the Word

Psalm 119:11– “I have stored up your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you.”

Years ago, I talked to a missionary kid who had attended a school where they had to memorize one entire book of the Bible each school year. By the time he graduated, he’d memorized James, Romans, Colossians, Philippians, Acts, and the Gospel of Mark. 

The point I’m making is: they made everyone do it. We can all memorize. It’s not a skill thing. It’s a how-bad-you-really-want-to thing.

If you want to become a better memorizer, here are some ideas:

  • Use notecards you can flip through multiple times a day, 
  • Use an app like RememberMe. 
  • Tape up verses on your mirror, closet, light switches. 
  • Repeat each phrase multiple times out loud, 
  • sing it in songs, 
  • write it out, or 
  • just read it over and over again. 

Do it as a family, stay accountable with a friend, or memorize privately. If it helps you, tie it to a reward. But when you memorize God’s Word, you are changing your thinking so that it lines up with the ways of God.

#10- Teach the Word

One of the ways I’ve grown is by taking responsibility for teaching the Bible to others. The summer that I led our ladies’ group through reading through the New Testament epistles, I learned more about the missionary journeys of Apostle Paul, and about the early Church.

Whether it’s just a younger sister, one or two other believers in a discipleship setting, your own children, or teaching a class or study in your local church, being willing to teach is a great way to choose to grow in your understanding of Scripture. 

Consider if there is a way you can encourage others, through teaching God’s Word.

#11- Think about the Word all through the day

In 2 Timothy 2:7, Paul said, “Think over what I say, for the Lord will give you understanding in everything.”

Throughout the day, think about what you have read earlier in the day. Or see if you can recall the most impactful portion of Scripture from Sunday’s sermon. Challenge yourself to call back to mind a particular verse or phrase and set your brain to thinking more deeply about it. Give yourself the challenge of taking that verse, or story, and figuring out where it fits in the big picture of salvation through faith in Christ.

One question the kids and I discuss is, “so how does that fit with the Gospel?” Ask this of yourself. 

Think about Word all day long. And, as you think it over, what Paul said will be true: “the Lord will give you understanding.” 

#12 Write God’s Word on your doorposts.

This comes from Deuteronomy 6. It says: “These words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.”

Display God’s Word in your home. Put up verses– embroider them, write them in chalk, paint them, put them on notecards– verses to encourage, verses to confront sin, verses that remind you and your family of the Gospel and grace of God. 

Make it so that you can not walk through your own home without being confronted by the truths from Scripture that your heart needs to hear. That’s the last thing on the list: Write God’s Word on your doorposts.

I hope you feel encouraged to grow in your swordsmanship. Don’t leave your sword in its sheath! Become a woman of God who knows how to use her sword.  

Can I pray for you?

God, will you strengthen us for the task of becoming skilled in how we use Scripture? Help us to stop living according to feelings and urges and instead, to disciplines ourselves pull this Sword out of its sheath more regularly, practicing using it, so we will be strong in the Lord.  Amen.

Grace and Peace,

Jess

Questions to consider:

  1. Regarding the FREQUENCY of your commitment to God’s Word, with 1 being “I don’t remember the last time I personally read Scripture on my own.” and 10 being “I have a regular routine of being in God’s Word, daily, or nearly daily.”, where would you place yourself on that scale of 1 to 10? 
  2. What mistakes have you made in the past in the way you think about reading and/or studying your Bible?
  3. What is the biggest challenge you face in getting started reading God’s Word on a regular basis? And what are 1-2 specific ways you could work through those difficulties?
  4. From the 12 practical ideas, which 1-2 methods are most appealing to and doable for you right now?
  5. What one thing do you want to try to do differently in how you engage with God’s Word? 

KNOW YOUR BIBLE: 12 Ways to Improve Your Swordsmanship, part 1

Let me something painful but honest. The truth is: 

there are many days when I just don’t desire to read God’s Word.

In fact, over the past few years, there have been weeks at a time where I have had almost no desire to read or study my Bible. 

It’s embarrassing. But maybe you can relate. The plain truth is, I don’t always desire what I know I should desire.

For years, though, I let the FEELINGS of desire for God’s Word drive my personal Bible study. And that seemed to work, when I had plenty of “want to.” But when my “want to” was lacking, I realized I was just sitting around waiting to FEEL like it. 

Like I was waiting for lightning to strike.

More about that in a minute. 

Maybe you’re wondering about the title of the post– The word “swordsmanship” refers to “the skills of a person versed in the art of the sword.” It’s something we now only see in movies– Princess Bride has a scene you may remember: as they traverse the rocky terrain, Westley fights the Spaniard, Inigo Montoya. And all the while, they have this funny conversation, each of them listing– then showing off– some particular skill of swordsmanship. And it’s pretty impressive! 

They were two men who knew how to use their swords.

So this is the picture of our goal– we want to become women who know how to use our sword.

In Ephesians 6, Paul lists out pieces of the armor of God. The last one the listed is

“the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.”

Hebrews 4, starting in verse 12, says–

“the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.” 

A sword that goes to the marrow (that’s the substance inside the bones) is a sword that goes deeper than just slicing the outside stuff everybody can see– and a sword that goes to the joints is a sword that hits your movements and actions. 

Your Bible is a sword that is able to get into the nitty-gritty places of your life.

We have access to a sword sharper than any other. This part of the armor of God can pierce into the deepest places, and expose every part of your heart- the things no one else sees. 

And we know this, in our heads…  but all too often, we leave our sword in its sheath. 

We might make excuses:

  • “Afterward, I don’t really remember what I read, so what’s the point?”
  • “It just feels like one more thing to do.” 
  • “I tried a Bible in a year plan, but I ended up one hundred and three chapters behind, and never got back on track.”
  • Maybe you pull your Bible out, with good intentions. But it just sits there beside you while you scroll Facebook.
  • Or, maybe you just had a baby, or have been caring for a family member. Busyness legitimately overwhelms your life for a time, and one day you wake up and you can’t remember the last time you really spent time in God’s Word.
  • Or, maybe you’re regularly having weeks where you close your Bible at the end of Sunday’s sermon, and it stays closed until the following Sunday?

Consider: what happens to a swordsman who regularly leaves his sword in its sheath?

  • He’s not practicing. 
  • His arms get flabby. 
  • He gets slower. 
  • The sword feels heavier to him than it used to. 

His sword is just as sharp as ever, but he has no real ability to use it.

Remember how I was waiting to be struck by desire? That sounds like a passive posture (‘oh it just kind of happened’), but the truth is: not reading my Bible was an active choice. By choosing Facebook, or busying myself with distractions, I was choosing NOT to read my Bible. 

God’s Word is my sword.

When I leave my sword in its sheath, I am choosing to become spiritually flabby.

So, I stopped waiting for desire to strike. That doesn’t mean that I’ve got a perfect Bible routine. But I’m not sitting around waiting to FEEL rightly anymore. 

Instead, I am trying to regularly examine my life and build my schedule in such a way that —whether or not I have an internal desire— I will still regularly be in God’s Word, using ideas like I’m about to share with you. 

My goal is to give you 12 ways YOU can practice using God’s Word more in your everyday life. 

And if you are a beginning swordsman– maybe you’re a new Christian… or a young woman who is just learning how to use your Bible… or maybe you are an old Christian who has never really learned how to use it– the real key is to grab your sword and start getting familiar with it. Start using it. You’ll start building your muscles and learning about your sword, and that’s a very good start. 

You may not do all 12 of these, but listen for 1 or 2 ideas you CAN do in YOUR real schedule– here are 12 Ways to Improve Your Swordsmanship (6 today, and 6 in part 2)–

#1- is READ the Word SILENTLY

God has given us a book, and it is meant to be read

Two ways to do this are:

  • Choose a read-through-the-Bible plan, but don’t worry about the date on the plan. It’s easy to feel overwhelmed if you miss days for sickness or holidays. Instead, ignore the dates. Move through the plan one day at a time, and when you sit down to read, do the next scheduled chapters. 
  • Or, choose one book of the Bible per month. Go deep in one book. Get to know it. Seek to learn a few new things about the author and time period. Read the book through as many times as you’re able in that one month. 

Yes, we need to read, and yes, it’s a good idea to have some sort of plan for WHAT to read… but a crucial part of reading our Bibles is that we learn to seek an accurate understanding

Plenty of people have read the Bible stories, but missed the Gospel message. And they’ve missed being changed by it.

The Bible is not just a book you read. It’s a book that reads YOU. 

The point isn’t to check off a box, but to have your heart be examined and changed by this book. 

So if you would like to know better how to do that — how to read so that you truly understand the message of Scripture, and how to apply it to your life– there are FREE handouts here called “Inductive Bible Study.” It will teach you how to look at a Bible passage and understand it better. 

#2- The second way to grow in swordsmanship is to LISTEN to the Word.

Get an audio Bible, or use YouTube– it’s a great FREE resource! Every book of the Bible, in almost every version, is available on YouTube. 

I typically read from the ESV, but when I listen to audio Bibles, it’s not the only one I listen to. I like choosing faithful translations that are less familiar to me, to engage my brain and challenge me in new ways.

Another way to improve your swordsmanship– and this is

#3– is Read Scripture out loud by yourself.

When you do this, pay attention to how you read it. By that I mean, think about which words you should emphasize and where to pause. Read slowly, and with feeling, so that the words settle down into your heart.

Many times, Jesus told the people He was teaching, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.” You can hear something with your physical ears without actually hearing it in your heart and mind. 

So read out loud. Pause and ponder as you go. Engage your heart with the words your mouth is speaking out loud.

#4 is one that I’d never regularly done until 2017:

Read God’s Word aloud with others.

  • In 1 Timothy 4:13 Paul wrote, “Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to preaching and to teaching.”

When I thought about this verse, I thought… “I don’t know if I’ve ever heard more than a few verses of Scripture read publicly.”

So in the summer of 2017, our ladies group read all 13 of the letters of the Apostle Paul out loud. It took anywhere from 10 to 70 minutes to read one letter, just as the early Church would have done. 

And it was wonderfully uplifting… not only was it unique to hear such a huge portion of the Bible, all at once, but it was also really special to be convicted, and encouraged, by God’s Word being read aloud by the women I know and love. 

Another way we do this is in our homeschool. We read one chapter out loud together, and then we ask two questions: 

  1. What did you notice? (discussing observations directly from the text)
  2. How does this portion of Scripture connect with the overarching message of the Gospel?

Reading Scripture out loud with other women, and with my kids, has been fruitful in my life. If you haven’t ever regularly read Scripture aloud with others, try it.

A fifth way to grow in your swordsmanship is probably more familiar:

#5- Discuss it with others.

  • Sunday School classes
  • Ladies Bible studies
  • Home fellowships or special study groups
  • Or just one-on-one, with friends

Colossians 3:16 says, “let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom.” So the kicker here is to be sure to center the discussion on God’s Word, not just “good advice”, personal experiences, or “what worked for me.”

#6 is Examine (or study) the Word 

  • Ever heard about the man who wanted a special word from God? His daily Bible reading consisted of randomly cracking his Bible open and reading the first verse his finger touched. One morning this was his verse: “And Judas went out and hanged himself.” 
  • He shook his head, and tried again. The second verse his finger found was, “Go and do likewise.”
  • Frustrated, he thought, I’ll give it one more go— and his finger landed on, “What you are going to do, do quickly!”

Well, Acts 17:11 tells us about people very different from this man– they were diligent, daily Bible examiners: “these Jews were more noble than those in Thessalonica; they received the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so.”

Be like the Bereans– NOT like the finger-pointing “Bible reader.” 

The Bereans were being taught by the Apostle Paul. But they went back to the Scriptures to make sure that what he was saying lined up with all of God’s Word. 

I want to encourage you to put in the time to learn how to examine your Bible. When you know how to study, you can go to Scripture to see if people around you are teaching what is true. You’ll know how to uncover the meaning of a verse or a passage, and how to correctly apply it to your life.

Again, please make sure you check out the free handout, called “Inductive Bible Study.” Sister, invest time NOW to grow in your ability to examine the Word.

In part 2, I share 6 MORE ideas for digging into God’s Word.

Grace and Peace,
Jess

Weak, Cracked Pots.

Weak. It’s not what we want to be.

It’s far more glamorous to be strong. Able. Buff. Ripped. Cut. Well-off. Certain. Capable. Adept. Fierce. 

No one enjoys being the needy one. The one asking for things. The one with nothing to contribute. 

There’s ease in being the one with enough margin, enough wisdom, enough financial means, enough wiggle-room in the schedule.

Enough.

The one with enough seems more valuable. More capable. More productive. More concerned. More lovable.

More.

But that’s not what God’s economy says.

In His view, the one who is hungry and thirsty is the one who is full.

The one who is poor is rich. 

The weak vessel — with the disappointing cracks — is the one He picks because He can shine through the cracks.

And pay attention here, because this is the uncomfortable part.

Picture with me a vase. A vase with cracks:

  • Some of the fissures are thin like a hairline, so fine you have to squint to see if it goes all the way through the wall of the vessel.
  • Some are thick and obvious cracks. Anyone looking knows about them right away.
  • In a few spots, the once-brilliant-colored glaze is chipped off.
  • And there’s one part that seems like it was set next to a candle for too many years; the dark residue looks embedded and may never be able to be cleaned off.

We’re each kind of like that vase.

We have broken places that are barely noticeable, some that remain hidden from certain angles, and some that are obvious.

The longer people are around us, the less brilliant everything looks and the more our brokenness is what is noticeable.

It’s especially true when your vase is set up in the Christian community in a spot for many to see. With the appearance of strength (note: no one is actually strong in themselves, but many appear so) comes those who desire to use you for their ends. It’s the ugly truth experienced by many Christian celebrities.

  • People come alongside, and pour whatever they desire into your vase. They want YOUR vase to be a testimony to THEIR “right” way of doing things.
  • Maybe they urge you to set your vase up even higher, on an even more “important” mantle.
  • Or they take photos alongside your vase. They want to associate themselves (the ‘self’ that they know deep down inside is just a weak, cracked pot) alongside your pot because they think your pot is a nice clean, presentable one.

They haven’t yet learned that cracked pots are the only kind.

But always… in unexpected ways and times… God cleans His house.

The tsunami of God’s grace comes ripping through the house. Nothing appears to be where it once was. Vessels get tossed asunder. More cracks appear. Old cracks become more visible.

When your life is tossed around in the waves, other people get a glimpse of what you’re trusting in.

At some point, though… after the rip-roaring waves smash you around… and after you bob on the surface for a while… at some point the weak crack-pot of a vase called “You” comes to rest someplace. The place of His choosing.

And while you’re drying out, assessing the new damage, the Son shines through those cracks.

The life that is in CHRIST, gets the broken pieces highlighted by His brilliant light.

Everything appears hopeless, lifeless, dry… and then BLAM-O, that’s the exact place brightened by His light.

And it’s stunning.

The broken places of fear, loss, pain, slander, weakness– the places of our deep hurts– become the places where His LIGHT gets through.

It’s not really what we’d pick, is it?

If we’re being honest, we want all the nice shiny, “together” parts of our life to be what’s highlighted.

Lord, please turn me around when You set me on the mantle, so that burned-part doesn’t show.

And if you would, Lord, could you please choose some decor around me that gently draws the attention away from the larger cracks?

Uh, and Lord, couldn’t you make it so my cracks are fully repaired, here and now, so that I have it all together rather than constantly leaking?

But the God of Scripture does not line up with self-ward wishes. Its Author bids me come to die. He tells me His STRENGTH is made perfect in this sad-sack vessel of weakness I have to offer.

Which, then, makes it possible for us to thank Him for us being the weak, cracked pots we are.

When we are weak… and we KNOW we’re weak… we get the FREEDOM that comes with no longer trying to do that dance of pretending:

  • Pretending there are no cracks,
  • Pretending that you didn’t really see the cracks you saw,
  • Pretending that every crack has been patched up and there’s “nothing to see here.”

No.

When we know we’re weak, we can admit it. And that’s where the beauty of Christ shows so powerfully.

In my:

  • weakness
  • shame
  • sorrows
  • inabilities
  • ongoing hurts
  • loss

His beauties are on full display:

  • His mercy
  • His provision
  • His good plans
  • His kindness, working through His people
  • His perfection, compared to our imperfection
  • His ability to change our hearts, contrasted with our inability to change our own
  • His Word, and the way it is written for cracked-and-broken hearts.

And even when it comes with great loss… shock… deep sorrow– I praise Him for this very good truth:

He shines His glorious light through the cracks.

Grace & Peace,
Jess