A Prayer for the Battle Weary

 

Lord, Your people are hurting. The fight is exhausting. We try to stand for you, yet continually find ourselves getting knocked down.

Standing in the light of Your love makes for an illuminated target. 

The enemy is relentless in his pursuit-a fact that makes our hearts soar with anticipation of what you must have in store, while at the same time trembling in fear of what lies around the bend. He has bruised us. We ache. We find it hard to lift our heads.

The armor you promise us is on, but Lord, today it feels so heavy. Our shields of faith drag the ground-the weight, at times, too much to bear.

Father, your people are tired. Just getting out of bed some mornings is all we can manage. Fears assail us from under the covers: can I do this? Is this the right thing? What will this day bring? The “what-ifs” taunt us: What if I fail? What if I succeed?  What if I’m not enough?

Sickness, grief, uncertainty, darkness abound. Draining us of our energy. The news plays in the the background: floods, war, hatred, protests, murder, abuse, terror. God, when will it ever stop?

Jesus, your people are wounded. This life hurts, yet sadly-tragically-some hurts are caused by those who bear Your Name. And those wounds seem to hurt more. We cry out to You in pain, in fear, in frustration. We cry out to you in anger and desperation.

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Jesus we need to see You, to feel You, to hear You. All we can see right now is pain, brokenness and darkness. We are weary from battle and we need You. Now.

I AM here.

Our hearts hear the whisper of Your voice. A glimmer of hope lifts our heads.

I AM with you.

We rise from our bed of worry and doubt.

I AM for you.

We stand up.

I AM your strength.

You take your place in front and behind us. You hem us in. You place Your shield of faith in our weary arms. Although, they no longer feel quite as weary. Remarkably, they have been infused with strength. Your strength. We are able to hold firm Your shield of faith. We look to our right, to our left. Others are standing up holding shields like ours. All linked together, forming an impenetrable wall.

I AM enough. 

We take a shaky step forward. Then another. And another. We are once again walking. Walking in the light of the goodness of God. Walking in Love and in truth. We are once an an illuminated target, but we are filled with Power and Strength.
An arrow flies and then another, but we do not fear for we are Yours and You are in us.

We walk, we run, we fight, we speak, we write, we drive, we go. We go in Your Name. We go in Your strength. We go in Your power.

Lord, your people need You. The battles get hard-You know that better than anyone. Yet, even when You were weary and hungry, broken and bleeding, You fought. You spoke truth. You loved perfectly. You sacrificed. You gave freely. And You defeated the enemy once and for all.

With but a bow of Your head You trampled sin and death. With an empty tomb and a pre-dawn greeting You broke every chain.

And one day. One glorious day, You will speak but a Word and silence hell once and for all.

We are battle weary, but the battle is not ours nor will it last forever. Help us today to remember that truth. It is Your battle and you call us to fight in Your strength.

We are weak today. Remind us that we have access to the full measure of true Power.

We are tired. Call us to find rest in the arms of Love.

We trust You and depend on You. We stand in Your presence. Filled with Your strength. We stand wrapped in Your love. Help us today precious Father. Help us shine Your light and love into this world. Trusting that You who are in us is greater than he who is in the world.

We love You Lord.

In the powerful and eternal Name of Jesus we pray, amen.

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For Bailey

My sweet Bailey,

I have written about you so many times on this blog: your antics, your unconditional love, and your precious neediness.

I have rubbed your head so many times as I wrote on this blog, on my book, and just anytime you came over for a head scratch.

I have snuggled with you on countless occasions. When the world felt too mean, my dreams felt too big, or my abilities felt too small.

I have hugged you more times than I can count. Your strong and steady presence like balm to my soul.

But now….

But now you are gone. My sweet Bay. You are gone. And the world just doesn’t feel right. I am writing about you, but you are not here to rub, or to snuggle or to hug.

You always came when I cried. Always. You were like an emotional savant. You just knew the moment my tears started to fall and you came running; ready to be hugged. But you are not here. And I miss you so much.

It’s not fair. You were the happiest, sweetest girl. You did not deserve to die because of something weird you ate that got lodged in your stomach.

I am so sorry that we didn’t realized it sooner. We all (even 3 vets) thought you had a stomach bug, an intestinal infection. Not a deadly obstruction.

You came through surgery so well. You were such a fighter. We were all so hopeful.

But then…..

Infection started raging and your body couldn’t fight anymore. And we had to say goodbye.

Bailey, this house is so quiet without you. You were like the heartbeat of this house. You were always here. Always loving. Always ready to please. And oh how you pleased us. No dog has ever brought a family more joy.

You fiercely loved the kids. You endured dress-up sessions, dance parties, hugs, being tucked into bed with covers and all, outdoor baths, stray cats being welcomed into your backyard, and questionable homemade dog treats. You had your moments with Andrew…nipping at his butt to get him to play, trying to steal his blanket every chance you had, and stealing his socks. You treated him like your true sibling-and he loved it!

Thank you for loving my son.

Thank you for being my daughter’s protector. She felt so safe with you in the house. She knew you would never let anything happen to her.

Thank you for being such a good friend to my husband. You were his outside buddy. He loved being outdoors with you, as well as laying on the sofa petting your upturned belly. You knew when he needed you to be playful and when he needed you to be quiet with him. You really were that man’s best friend.

And thank you for being my constant companion these last 6 and a half years. We spent every day together. You knew I hate to be alone in the house. And so you stayed close all day. You made sure I could see you. You barked at any perceived trouble (even if that trouble was in the form of a deer outside) You made sure I took writing breaks, that I exercised, that I laughed.

But now….

You are gone and it hurts. You are gone and my heart is broken. You are gone and I don’t understand why. You are gone and I miss you. My kids are heartbroken. They are confused and hurting. They miss their Poochie and they cry for you-they cry for themselves.

We miss you sweet girl and right now it feels hard to breathe. The pain feels too intense, the house too quiet-our grief too loud.

But then……

I remember the day you brought me this:

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And I determine to pray. Granted, I yell a little in my prayer, and I cry a lot. But I pray.

I remember the time you plopped your head on my Bible during my quiet time:

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And I find myself running to God’s Word and laying my head on its pages, pleading with God to fill the void with His truth and comfort.

I remember the day you befriended Foxy the cat:

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And I go snuggle her (so not the same) but I am reminded of you and somehow feel closer to you.

I remember the day you sat at this closed door for an hour, not realizing the one next to it was open…

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and I ask God to lead me through the next open door. I cry at the door that has been closed, but trust another one will one day open.

I remember the day you had to wear the cone of shame:

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And how you felt like your world had ended. Then the joy you experienced when the cone came off.
I realize that the cone of grief is blinding me to hope, and it feels like I will wear this burden forever, but one day the grief will lessen and the cone will come off.

I remember the day you laid down in my lap exhausted and just needing to know I was there:

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And I ask God to let me lay in His lap and reassure me that He is still there.

Bailey, how is it possible to have learned so much from a dog? You were one of the greatest teachers I have ever known. Thank you for preparing me for the day you would leave this earth. Thank you for loving me unconditionally. Thank you for being with me every day for the past 6 and 1/2 years. Thank you for being my best friend, my writing buddy, and my furry tissue when I cried. I wish I could hug you right now sweet girl.

I miss seeing you just outside the door as I write (which is probably why I’m not in my office)

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(you had no problem sleeping while I worked!)

You will never be forgotten Bay. The kids have created a memorial by your food bowl. It will stay for awhile. They need to feel close to you in some way, and this is how they’ve chosen to do it. (I hope you have an infinite supply of tennis balls in heaven!)

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Thank you Bailey Rose Bleakley for being our furry child and best friend. You were one in a million and while our hearts are broken, we rejoice at having loved and been loved by you!

Until we snuggle again……
Your eternally grateful family

And just to help me smile I like to remember these moments too:

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When You Don’t Feel Very Lovable

Feeling loved and being loved. Two very different things.

The first is an illusion at best, a taunt at worst. The second is reality—a fact. It is what it is.

When we feel loved the world seems right. A smile lifts our face and a song fills our heart. Yet, when we don’t feel loved our face is downcast; despair easily slithers into our heart.

I will be honest and say that most times I feel loved. I feel lovable. Those times are lovely! Worshipping is easy to do. Bible study is a joy. Claiming the promises of God, like the one in Romans 8:35, is as natural as breathing. Showing love to others is effortless.

But then……

(Don’t you hate “but then…”)

But then, something shifts. I oftentimes don’t even know what. But suddenly I feel anything but lovable. And I certainly don’t feel lovely. My heart no longer feels tenderly held. Instead it feels squeezed and pressed. My soul aches. My body retreats to a place of solitude. I want to be alone, but aloneness just reinforces my whispered fear that I am not worthy to be loved.

These times weigh me down. Everything seems harder. Sleep beckons me. Expectations frustrate me. Responsibilities sneer at me.

But what fascinates me is that more often than not, these times of feeling unlovable follow times of being very aware of God’s love.

Mountaintop moments can quickly plunge to despairing depths.

Many times after we experience amazing moments with God on the proverbial mountaintop, we feel empty. We have poured so much of ourselves into that moment and when it is over we feel depleted. We are left vulnerable. It is during these times that we desperately need to be filled up with God’s Presence.

Perhaps this is why Jesus retreated to His Father so often following miracles. We read over and over again throughout the Gospels where Jesus would retreat by Himself to pray.

He would retreat from the fervor so that He could commune with the Father.

I tend to anticipate attacks before a mountaintop moment. I expect pushback. I expect difficulties. But so often my guard is lowered once I’m on the mountaintop or just after.

That was the case this weekend. Last week was full of good things. Spiritual things. Two different Bible studies stared, both of which I serve in leadership roles. One of which met at my house. God is stretching me and growing me through both studies. I was ready for pushback. I have been on guard against spiritual attacks. (One of the studies is even on the Armor of God, so I feel even more prepared for recognizing the enemy’s tactics). Last week was also filled with many other things such as kid’s schedules and this little book writing thing I’m working on (see Book). It was a full week and I approached it as such. Lots of prayer. Lots of Bible study. Resting when I could.

But then……

Friday came and went. The Bible studies were amazing and God provided in extraordinary ways!! I felt loved. And I shared love. It was glorious! The women left my house and I breathed out a huge thank you to the Lord before I went to sleep.

Then I woke up to a feeling of defeat. Why? What had changed while I was sleeping???

Have you ever woken up and just felt off? That was me.

I can’t point to one thing, one turning point, but things had turned. The spiritual euphoria of the day before was gone. In it’s place was a feeling of emptiness. And unloveliness.

Just twelve hours before, I had felt like a cherished daughter of the King. Now I felt like a battered servant girl.

I wish I could say that I recognized the enemy’s fingerprints immediately, ran to God’s Word, and once again felt the glow of His love. But that would be a lie.

Truthfully, I still feel a little off. A little empty. A little worn. But I am becoming more purposeful in getting away with God. And I am starting to ask Him to talk to my heart, instead of allowing my mind to listen to my feelings.

When I listen to my feelings this is what I hear: 

I don’t feel loved.
I don’t feel worthy to do ministry.
I feel like I’ve messed up too much.
I don’t feel like I can do it.
I feel so tired.
I feel so afraid.

But when I ask God to talk to me through His Word this is what I hear: 

Nothing can separate me from God’s love. (Romans 8:35)
God will equip me to do what He has called me to do. (Hebrews 13:21)
There is nothing God won’t forgive if I ask (1 John 1:9)
I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength. (Philippians 4:13)
God is my strength and my helper. He holds my hand. (Isaiah 40:31)
God is with me (Psalm 118:4)

So today, instead of listing all that’s wrong, and instead of rehearsing my feelings, I will get away with God and rehearse the facts of the faith He has given me.

I will stand on His Truth and rest in His Word.

I may not feel that lovable today, but I will stand on the promise—the fact—that I am loved by Love Himself.

And I will keep reminding myself that Godly love is not a feeling—it is a fact!

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In Him,
Jen

Four Powerful Words

“Come and see, Lord” John 11:34

What beautiful, amazing, healing words! Words that I had never really paid attention to, but powerful words intended to teach us a valuable lesson about healing.

Mary and Martha were devastated. Their brother was dead. And although they had sent a message to Jesus days earlier, He hadn’t come. “If only He had come,” they lamented, “Lazarus would still be alive.”

But Jesus hadn’t come right away. Instead, He lingered, knowing full well that Lazarus would die.

When Jesus did arrive, it was to town in mourning. Before He had even fully crossed into the city gates He was met by Martha—a grieving, heartbroken Martha. The moment Martha heard Jesus was nearby she ran to Him. Yet we are told that Mary stayed home.

Can’t you just picture the scene? Martha, desperate to do something, runs to the Teacher. Her grief propels her forward. Needing answers. Needing to be heard. Mary however feels swallowed up by her grief. Unable to move. Paralyzed by sorrow.

Martha runs from the house, maybe even calling out to Mary. She understands Mary’s need to stay home, but she herself must go. She must try and understand.

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Martha gets right to the point, “Lord, if you had been here my brother would not have died.”

If you had been here. Can’t you feel the heartbreak in those words?

Jesus why weren’t you here? Jesus why did you allow this to happen?

Yet, even in her grief we see the depths of Martha’s faith. Her very next words were, “But I know that even now God will give you whatever you ask.”

Martha seems to hint at knowing that Jesus could raise Lazarus from the dead, yet her words and actions that follow this conversation indicate she didn’t fully understand or trust that He actually could. She’s confused, yet trusting. Convinced, yet desperate.

What does Jesus do? Does He try to explain Himself? Does He get defensive? Does He give her a spiritual platitude?

No, He lovingly points her to truth—to Himself. He reveals who He is (“I AM the resurrection and the life..”)

And then He asks her, “Do you believe this?”

Martha believes though she doesn’t fully understand.

We don’t have to fully understand God’s plan. We just have to trust that He does.

Martha runs back to Mary.

Again, can’t you just picture the scene in your mind.

“Mary, Mary! Jesus is here!” I picture Mary laying on her bed, facing away from the door, just staring at the wall. Remembering. Crying. Feeling empty, yet full of pain. She hears Martha and feels somewhat annoyed at the intrusion. Yet her ears tingle and her feet move of their own accord when Martha again speaks, “He is asking for you.”

Suddenly the weight of grief is lifted by the warmth of Love. Mary’s heart engages before her brain has a chance. She flies out the door. A desperate longing to see Jesus overtakes her.

John tells us that Mary fell at Jesus’ feet when she reached Him. She could not hide her pain from the One who knows her—the One who created her—so why even try? She cries out the same words that Martha did just moments before, “Lord, if you had been here my brother would not have died.”

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Jesus looks at Mary. He sees her tear-stained cheeks. He hears her sobs. His own eyes fill with tears and then He asks, “Where have you laid him?”

Jesus knows where they have put Lazarus. He is God after all. He doesn’t need to ask, but He does. Why?

So that Mary (and the others) could invite Jesus into their pain.

Jesus wants us to invite Him into our pain.

“Come and see, Lord.” Mary and the others with her respond.

Come and see our pain.
Come and see our heartbreak.
Come and see our hurt.
Come and see our brokenness.
Come and see our fear.
Come and see…Come and see.

Oh that we would invite Jesus to come and see our hurts! We try to cover up our wounds. We try to numb our pain. We try to disguise our brokenness.

But Jesus stands beside us asking, “Where have you hidden it? Where have you placed it?”

What if we answered with, “Come and see Lord.”

Jesus had lingered those four days so that He could demonstrate God’s awesome power in raising Lazarus from the dead. But He had also lingered so that Mary, Martha, the crowd (and all of us) would learn that the key to healing is in inviting the Healer to come and see.

Jesus performed an amazing miracle that day—He brought a dead man back to life. But He did so much more!

He showed us how to live.

How to invite Him into our pain. Into our tragedies. And into our experiences so that He can speak truth, shine light, bring life, and free us from the shackles of fear and pain.

Is there something you need to invite Jesus to come and see today? Is there a hurt so deep, a pain so buried others might not even know it’s there, yet one that makes it hard to breathe? Jesus knows it’s there, and He waits for you to invite Him in….

“Jesus,” you can whisper, “come and see…”

And He will. And He will weep with you as He walks with you.

Jesus can take it. He’s not afraid of your pain. His light is bigger than your darkness. And His voice has power to bring life from death, freedom from what holds us captive.

Call out to Him. Invite Him to come and see…..and then allow Him to say to you,
“Now you come and see who I AM. Come and see Me.”

That is where true healing will begin.

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Much love,
Jen

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*photos from freebibleimages.com

Armor of God Song

Along with writing a book (see Book), I’ve also been writing preschool curriculum for a weekly Bible study program we have at our church. We will be using Priscilla Shrier’s Armor of God study (which I LOVE and highly recommend!). I have been writing preschool lessons to compliment the grown-up lessons. It has been a fun project and a great chance to absorb some deep spiritual truths in a childlike faith kind of way.

One thing I love doing when writing for little ones is to use rhymes, songs, and chants. Preschoolers learn so much through repetition. And rhyming seems to hold their attention well.

So with that in mind I started to work on a chant, which morphed into a poem, which eventually (with the help of a friend and wonderful guitar teacher) became a song—a song about the spiritual armor God gives to His children.

I had been working on the chant/poem one day when my 9 year old daughter climbed up on the sofa next to me to ask me what I was doing. She then proceeded to help me finish the lyrics and soon after started humming a tune to go with it. I sent our lyrics to a friend (who is also my kids’ guitar teacher). Within about an hour she sent me back some chords—which happened to play the same tune my daughter had been humming!

Our sweet media team at church gave of their time so that we could record a little video. My daughter and son are playing in the video along with our Bible study lead teacher’s daughter and a gaggle of kids I recruited that morning to join us on stage 😉

It was a fun (albeit chaotic) morning, and while we could have used more practice, I think it turned out pretty cute!

It certainly won’t win a grammy, but I hope it helps even just one child learn what it means to wear the armor God has given us.

Much love,
Jen

Lessons from Spandex?

Sometimes God uses His Word to open our eyes to a truth He wants us to see. Other times He may use trials or circumstances to grow and teach us. Occasionally He may use another person to help us understand His will. But did you ever think He could use a spandex undergarment to reveal truth??? (Um…not me! But that is exactly what happened to me today!)

I found myself in need of a beige colored cami (a tank-top with thin straps) to go under some shirts to make them more appropriate to wear in public 😉  So I went into Kohls after dropping my daughter off at dance class. The store had just opened and I was only one of a handful of customers. I went straight back to the “intimates” section where I found not only a basic beige color cami, but also various other underthings which promised everything from tummy taming to hip slimming and silhouette enhancing.

Wow! Why would I buy a basic ol’ cami when I could get the equivalent of a year in the gym from some strategically placed spandex??? I took one of each brand and skipped to the dressing room. I could hardly wait to see my enhanced silhouette smiling back at me. I may never have to work out again!

I took the miracle device off the tiny hanger and began to put it on. It was a little tight. And by tight I mean it was like trying to put a watermelon into a deflated balloon! But I persevered. I mean this was for a good cause right? My silhouette needed this.

Now, somewhere in the back of my brain (the logical, annoying part) came a warning, “If it’s this hard to put on, it’s gonna be hard to get off.”

“But it’s for my silhouette!” I scolded that annoying logical part.

I shimmied. I grunted. I tugged. Success!!! The torture device garment was on!

It was hard to see my silhouette from the lack of oxygen I was able to take in. Was the room spinning a little? Weird….

My vision cleared and I looked in the mirror. Um….hmmm…not quite what I expected. Let’s just say that when you shove body parts into tight material, the excess has to go somewhere and that can get a little awkward. And let’s not forget that I COULDN’T BREATHE!!!

My hopes of an enhanced silhouette were dying, but wait! I still had tummy taming and hip slimming options to go. Maybe this one was just a dud. I’ll just try another one. Good plan.

But wait. How is this rubber band shirt thing going to come off?????

I started to pull it up. It got stuck. I tried rolling it. Made it two inches higher. I got it just below my shoulders. Arms wrapped around my back, hands now trapped under the superglue like fabric. I now have no use of my arms and my head is beat red from having to bend over at a 90 degree angle. This is not good!

Panic starts to set in. How am I going to get this off??? Maybe I can call my husband. Oh wait! My arms are trapped. I can’t dial his number and even if I could, how would I begin to explain this problem? I try to pull free. My shoulder painfully protests. Great, now I’m going to pull my shoulder out of the socket. There’s a 9-1-1 call! “Um, yes, I’m in the ladies dressing room at Kohls. I’m trapped in some spandex and just dislocated my arm. Send help!”

Oh good grief! I briefly entertain calling out for help. But I just can’t go there. I just can’t. Lord only knows who would answer my distress call!!

So, I sit down (still bent over at 90 degrees) and I pray. Yep, I ask Jesus to help me get out of a Spandex torture device, which I am now convinced was made by the devil himself.

I breathe deeply. And then slowly ease my fingers out, then my hands. Then I pray some more and the wretched thing begins to move ever so slightly up. With a war cry, which may or may not have sounded like the last cry in labor, I was free from my chains!!!!

Hair disheveled, face beat red, fingernail marks on my back—it was not the silhouette I was going for, but I was free! I glance at the other choices and decide that the annoying logical part of my brain might just know what she’s talking about.

So where’s the lesson? What could I possibly have learned about God in all of that?

Well….

  1. When you hear that gentle quiet (and yes, sometimes annoying) voice warning you about doing something, for all that is holy….LISTEN!!!! It may be that God is trying to keep you from some serious painful consequences.
  2. God answers prayer—even desperate prayers prayed in dressing rooms while stuck in spandex!
  3. Sometimes the plain ol’ boring way is the better way to go!

And just for the record, my plain ol’ basic beige cami is working just fine 😉

Grateful for the glimpses,

Jen 😉

When God says no