No Short Cuts

Do you ever find yourself counseling God? I often catch myself telling God the best way to handle a situation in my life. Of course I disguise my wise counsel as “prayer”, but when I stop and listen to myself I realize I am telling God what I need him to do for me, and how he should do it. For example, “Dear Heavenly Father, please help me in my marriage. Please draw Tom nearer to you and speak to him in a way that he hears you. Please help him to see what I need from him and how awesome I am and how lucky he really is to have me as his wife. In Jesus’ name, Amen“.

Don’t even pretend you have never prayed something similar to that at some point in your life. Well maybe not quite that obnoxious, but we have all “counseled” God in the best way to get things done from time to time. It’s especially tempting when we feel like we have been waiting forever for an answer to prayer- especially when we can see the answer so plainly!

Throughout the Old Testament we are introduced to people that experienced the same frustration. The “Hello God- you said this was going to happen yet here I am in the same situation and nothing has changed” frustration. Like our friend Abraham. He believed God when he promised Abraham that he was going to be the father of many nations, and for many years he lived happily expectant of this promise. And then one day he was like “enough of this waiting, I am going to take matters into my own hands” and he took a short cut to Gods plan for his life.

Abraham found out real quick that there are no short cuts to God’s plans for our lives. He found out that our genius ideas not only fail to fulfill the promise, but often delay it, and at minimum cause strife, grief, and even more frustration than the frustration of waiting causes.

God does not delay his promises because he enjoys watching us suffer. As author and speaker Susie Larson so eloquently puts it “He is making me wait because he is making me ready“. We think we can handle the dreams in our hearts but the truth is we do not know the full picture. We do not know what is happening behind the scenes and what the pressures will be when we get there.

It says in Exodus 13:17 When Pharaoh finally let the people go, god did not lead them along the main road that runs through Philistine territory, even though that was the shortest route to the Promised Land. God said “If the people are faced with a battle, they might change their minds and return to Egypt”.

We learn two things from this verse. First of all, God is well aware of the quickest route to get there. In other words He does not need our wise counsel. He knows how to read a map. More importantly we learn that one of the reasons we have to take the “long way” is because we are not ready for the battles that we will face on the road to our dreams.

There will be many battles along the way. We have to fight our own fleshly struggles with pride, fear, insecurity, and all that fun stuff. We will also face spiritual battles as the enemy of our faith hates nothing more than a Christian fulfilling the call God has on their life. He will fight us every step of the way. The Good News is we will come through victoriously, but only when we are ready. And only God truly knows what we will face and when we will be ready to face it.

If you feel like you have been put on the sidelines watching opportunity pass you by, do not get discouraged. God is preparing you. He is making a way for you. He is strengthening you in ways you don’t even know you need. Keep your eyes on God and remember that the only One that wants you to fulfill your dreams more than you is God himself!

Dear Heavenly Father, thank you for the promises you have for me. Thank you for protecting and preparing me. Thank you for doing your perfect work in me. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Love, Grace, and the Long and Perfect Way For Us All,

Jen

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Promise Keeper

Last year was a struggle for me. I felt stuck in a rut. I was way too busy and overcommitted yet I didn’t see what I could walk away from. I had little time or energy to do the things I needed to do for my own well-being, which left me miserable. I often found myself withdrawn, agitated, and anxious. I probably grumbled and complained more in the last year than I did during our really tough years.

It’s not that things weren’t going well. In many ways I had a great year. It just wasn’t the way I thought it should be. I struggled to understand how I am in the job that I am in (even though it is a perfect job fit for me). I kept feeling as though I should be doing something different. Something more significant. Something more purposeful. I had bought the lie that if you are not working full time in some sort of ministry capacity you are not really doing anything “important”.

Feeling as though I had been put on Plan B for my life, I lost faith in the dreams that I was once so confident and excited about. Every Monday as I drove to work my doubt and disbelief grew. I tried to make myself happy in my new norm and put all thoughts of writing aside. If anyone ever asked me about my writing I would tell them I was too busy and I was taking the school year off. It’s true, I was too busy, but the bigger truth was I was out of hope more than I was out of time.

By the time summer rolled around I had given up completely. I now had plenty of time, but no desire. I wouldn’t even think about it. That part of my life was off limits to think or talk about. Nobody seemed to understand that I had given up though. My friends continued to give me journals and cards with dream encouragements on them. Instead of saying thank you I said “Didn’t you hear? I have given up on my dreams.” My friend simply smiled and said “I haven’t”. Even my teenage kids picked out dream and faith items for my birthday all on their own. I couldn’t hide from anyone. Especially God.

About a month ago I felt led to study out the word promise in the Bible. Did you know that in the New Living Translation there are 364 scriptures that either have the word promise or are referencing a specific promise?! Do you think it is a coincidence that there is a promise verse for almost every day of the year (God must have figured we could get by on Christmas or Easter without one 🙂 If you could use all 364 promises go to biblegateway.com and search the word promise.

I have barely started on my promise word study and already I am so excited to share some of the treasures I have found. The first three things the Lord showed me all relate to reasons why there are delays in reaching our dreams. I am not going to get into them today but I will tell you this; two of the reasons are for our protection and one of them is our fault. I hope you are curious enough to stay with me over the next few days :).

Today I want you to think about some of the dreams and promises you believe God has placed in your heart. Or even take a look at a few of the 364 scriptures that talk about the promises God has spoken to us. Pick out a couple of those promises that you are in need of and then meditate on what it says in Numbers 23:19 God is not a man that He should lie. He is not human, so he does not change his mind. Has he ever spoken and failed to act? Has he ever promised and not carried it through?Stand on the Word that assures us He is a promise keeper and the written and spoken promises He has over your life will be fulfilled.

Dear Heavenly Father, thank you for your promises. Thank you for your written Word that reveals your heart towards us and gives us hope each day. Open my heart to your promises. Renew my faith and restore my hope. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Love, Grace, and A Promise Kept For Us All,

Jen

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Prisoner of Hope

About eight years ago I taught a two part series at a large women’s group. It was only my third time teaching but afterwards I knew as I knew that I had found one of my main speaking themes. The first part was titled Dare to Dream. In it I encouraged the Girls to look beyond their current situations and circumstances and to start spending time with the Lord each day dreaming about the big plans God had for them and their families. Many of us in the group had multiple kids under the age of five so our idea of a big dream was being able to take an uninterrupted shower and to sleep long enough at night to actually have a dream.

The following week I taught part two, I’ve Got Big Dreams…Now What?”In it I spoke about the things that happen between the time we first identify our dream and the actual fulfillment of the dream. As most of us have experienced, dreams, especially God given dreams, do not happen overnight. There is a process. I have often heard it described in terms of a pregnant woman and the stages she goes through until giving birth to the dream. Similar to pregnancy and delivery, though all woman must go through the same stages, no two stories are alike. I wonder if dreamers like to tell their dream delivery story as much as women like to tell their labor and delivery story. Have you ever noticed that? But I digress…

I had so much fun preparing and delivering that two part teaching. It blessed me so much because it truly spoke to the Girls in our group. I give God the glory for that, as there was something special about that teaching. It seemed to flow out of me easily unlike some that I have had to labor and struggle over. Over the following weeks and months I would have someone come up to me and tell me things like “I am going back to Grad school because of your teaching”, or “Your teaching gave me the courage to start my own business.” Again I say, to God be the glory!

I was so excited that God would allow me to be a part of these ladies’ dreams. I thought for sure I was going straight to my dreams as well. I was going to be the Dream Lady. I would travel and speak and encourage women to live life big and pursue their dreams. It was a very exciting time for me. I knew the path I was on and where I was heading, and it was good.

And then life happened. I won’t go into the details now but there was a five year period of struggles, loss, pain, and uncertainty. It was one thing after another. Just when I could muster up enough hope that things were looking up, something would come along and knock the wind right back out of my sails. There was no more dreaming for me. My only dream during that time was to wake up from the nightmare we were living in.

Even though we have come through the pain, loss and uncertainty- Praise God- I have found it difficult to build my faith back up in the area of my personal dreams. I have gained momentum here and there but it doesn’t seem to take much to get me off track and giving up. My once feisty and tenacious hope had grown scared and timid. My heart has been fragile and I have been guarding it pretty tight.

As Dr Phil would say “How’s that working for ya?” It isn’t. Not one bit. The pain of running from my dreams finally outweighed the pain of loss, defeat and setbacks. I decided last Saturday that if I had to experience pain regarding my dreams, I may as well chose the pain. I would rather look back on my life and see failures and setbacks than regret. Regret has got to be one of the most painful feelings of all.

So I am back to where I started over eight years ago. I’ve Got Big Dreams….Now What? I don’t know what the end looks like or what the journey entails. What I do know is that I am taking one step a day, no matter how small, towards my dreams. Today’s step is found in Zechariah 9:12 NIV Return to your fortress, you prisoners of hope; even now I announce that I will restore twice as much to you. The New Living Translation reads I promise this very day that I will repay two blessings for each of your troubles.

I am a prisoner of hope. Now matter how hard I tried I could not free myself from the dreams in my heart. I am returning to my fortress of faith and I anxiously anticipate the blessings that are promised to those who have confident expectations in what the Lord has promised. There is plenty of room in the fortress if anyone would like to join me :).

Dear Heavenly Father, thank you for being my refuge and fortress in times of trouble. Thank you for holding me safely as a prisoner of hope. Thank you watching over me, protecting me, and for protecting the dreams in my heart. I let go of all the past pain, loss, and setbacks. I thank you for blessing my work and restoring back to me double for my trouble. In Jesus’ name I pray, Amen.

Love, Grace, and a Return to the Fortress For You All,

Jen

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Declaration of Hope

I am sitting at my writing desk for the first time in eight months. My laptop barely fits here because I have used my desk as a dumping ground for everything from cookbooks to clothing. There are piles everywhere. I guess I was hoping the more I could cover it up, the less I would think about how I was not writing. Silly me…

I am aware just about every second of every day that I am not writing. I try to push the thoughts away. I try to justify the excuses. I try to ignore the fact that each and every day I feel as though a little part of me is slowly dying.

Think I am being dramatic? It says in Proverbs 13:12 Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a dream fulfilled is a tree of life. Notice it says that hope deferred (postponed, delayed) is what makes the heart sick. It’s not the delay of the dream itself. It is the act of losing hope, of giving up, of quitting and failing to believe that the dreams in your heart are real and they will come true.

Hope is not a whimpy “cross your fingers and make a wish” thing. Hope is defined as having a confident expectation of.True hope requires grit, patience and endurance. Hope gets feisty and stands its ground when faced with adversity. Hope says “I don’t care what it looks like right now. I only care what it looks like in the end.”

I am here to declare renewed hope. I will no longer be moved by lies, circumstances, limitations, or any of the other things that have slowly chipped away at my once tenacious hope. No more heartsickness for me. How about you? Are there dreams in your heart you have lost hope in? Would you like to join me in declaring renewed hope for the things you have given up on? I would love to hear from you and pray for you.

We will put substance to our hope declarations over the next few days. We don’t have to make up for the last eight months all at once. I am not going anywhere 🙂

Dear Heavenly Father, I thank you that you are the source of all hope. I thank you for the dreams you have put in my heart. I ask you to give me renewed hope for those dreams. Thank you for believing in me when I no longer believed in myself. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Love, Grace, and Declarations of Hope,

Jen

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Leash Walking

My one year old Mastiff Nana tore her ACL this summer and had to have surgery. During her recovery period she must be brought outside on a leash at all times and is not allowed to run or play. We are four and a half weeks into the eight weeks of recovery. Each day is gets harder and harder for us to control Nana on the leash. She is feeling good and wants to run into the woods. The air is so crisp and fresh and the woods have all kinds of animal activity this time of year. She sees the squirrels collecting acorns and wants to chase them. She hears the turkeys and wants to chase them. She sees the family of deer down by the lake and wants to chase them. It doesn’t matter what it is, she simply wants to run.

There are two things we can do to help us all survive this eight weeks. The first thing is to buy a lot of bones and chew toys. Giving her things to chew on help her focus and channel some energy. The other thing we do each day is sedate her with a prescription from the vert. We give her just enough pills to make her lazy and sleepy, but not so much that she is completely out of it. It sounds horrible and I do hate the thought of having to do it each day, but the day we didn’t do it she ran all over the house and showed signs of re-injury. Sedating her appears to be our only option.

Sometimes I feel like my life is in a recovery period. I feel as though I am not free to run and chase after the things that are in my heart. Though I feel like I am strong and ready to run, I sense the leash is still on telling me “not yet”. It feels frustrating and unfair sometimes, and though I don’t understand I simply have to trust that God is still working in me, and preparing me for the things that are to come.

Similar to Nana’s survival plan, I have found there are two things I can do to survive this leash-walk period of my life. The first thing is to meditate, or chew on God’s word. When I meditate on God’s promises I find it easier to focus my energy towards the day set before me rather than worry about what may or may not happen down the road. The other thing I do is my own form of sedation- prayer. It brings me a peace and calm that settles my anxious heart and brings me back to the present rather than dwelling on the past or looking towards the future.

You know, I just realized something. Unlike with Nana, there will never be a day when God suddenly takes me off the leash and tells me to run ahead of him. He will always be my guide and my leader. Maybe that is what I need to embrace more than anything. Maybe instead of feeling as though I am being “restrained”, I need to realize that I am being “lead”. God is not holding me back from my dreams. We are walking slowly and steadily on the path he has set before me. And the best part is, when it is time to run, he will still be there alongside me every step of the way. I will never again be left on my own.

I hope you all got something out of that because I just preached myself happy! I just went from feeling alone and restrained to feeling loved and cared for by a Father that loves us too much to let us simply wander off on our own. God is good, all the time…

Show me the right path, O LORD; point out the road for me to follow. Lead me by your truth and teach me, for you are the God who saves me. All day long I put my hope in you. Psalm 25:4-5

Love, Grace, and a Leash-Walk Day to You All,

Jen

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Get Back in the Game

I entered a writing contest at the last minute Sunday night. It was due at 10pm and I hit send at 9:59. It was the first contest I have entered in exactly three years. Last time I entered I was so hopeful and had this sure feeling that I was going to win. That feeling turned out to be wishful thinking. It was also the last little bit of wind I had left in my sails after a series of disappointing events. After that I no longer dared to dream in regards to my writing, or pretty much anything for that matter.
As I hit send Sunday night a rush of excitement, anticipation, and energy rushed through me. I thought, “This is it. This is really going to happen this time”. It’s not that my story was even that great. It just, I don’t know, felt like maybe all of my stars were finally aligning and this was going to be the big bang that kicked it off. I can’t really put it into words properly.
I found out on Tuesday night that I did not place in the top three for the contest. I was disappointed, but not crushed. I haven’t had the heart to read the top three winning stories yet, but I will. I just need a little time to celebrate the part that truly matters at his moment, which is the fact that I took myself off the bench and got back in the game.
I have felt like I have been living life from the sidelines for a few years now. Sure, I needed to rest and catch my breath. I had to allow some time for my emotional and spiritual injuries to heal. And I needed to study the playbook a little harder. The problem is, the longer I sat on the bench, the more I believed that maybe the Coach was the one that had taken me out of the game, or traded me for a better player. A player that didn’t make so many mistakes, the same mistakes, over and over again. As much as I wanted to play, I felt like the Brett Favre of Christian writing and speaking.
If you are at all familiar with the Bible, you have most likely heard the story of Sarah and Abraham. Abraham was told by God, before he ever had any children, that he would be the father of many nations. In fact, he changed Abraham’s name from Abram to Abraham because the name Abraham literally translates to “father of many nations” in the Hebrew language. For years when Abraham introduced himself he would be saying “I am the father of many nations”, yet when they would ask to meet his family he would have to respond and say “well technically I don’t have any children yet”. I can only imagine how embarrassing that must have been.
I can also imagine how horrible it must have been for Sarah each month as she realized yet another month had gone by and she was not pregnant. Month after month, year after year, she would feel like a failure. I can picture her looking at Abraham and shaking her head no without saying a word. I can picture Abraham hanging his head down wondering if he had misunderstood what God had promised.
Sarah eventually got tired of feeling like a failure and took herself out of the game. Not only did she take herself out of the game, but she also found her replacement. Sarah sat on the sideline and sent her servant Hagar to sleep with Abraham. Seemed like a great idea. Sarah was too old to play and Hagar was still in her prime. Sure enough Hagar became pregnant and gave birth to a son. It didn’t take long for Sarah to regret her decision as she realized she was not meant to sit on the bench- even if her body told her she was too old to play.
God in his mercy honored his word and later blessed Abraham and Sarah with a son of their own. I can imagine how difficult it was for Sarah to get back in the game. I wonder if she got to a point like I did, where it was more miserable to sit on the bench watching others live her dream, than it was to suffer some disappointments and long periods of patient(okay IMpatient) waiting.
When God puts a dream and desire in our heart, he promises to be our Coach for life. He will never bench us. He will never trade us for a new rookie. He will never ever give up on us. If it seems like we have been sidelined we need to trust that he is simply giving us time to rest and catch our breath. And while we are there we should study the Playbook so when its time we can hit the field running.

The LORD kept his word and did for Sarah exactly what he had promised Genesis 21:1

Girls, God loves you just as much as he loved Sarah. Trust the promises he has whispered to your heart. Trust that you will always be his star quarterback and you will never be permanently benched. Stand up, take a deep breath, and get back in the game!

Love, Grace, and a Great Day to Get Back in The Game,

Jen

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You Are Not Lost!

It was too windy to paddle by board or by kayak this morning so I decided to take the kids and Nana (the dog) to a campground about ten miles from the cabin. It is a nice little campground with a few short hiking trails. It’s a great park and in all of the years of going there I think I have seen a total of two people.

As Nana and I were hiking I started thinking about the fact that even though I have hiked this trail over twenty five times, I still have never gone the same way or ended up where I thought I would. It’s strange really. There are only two trailheads and the trail is easy to follow yet I never quite know where I am going or where I will end up. Sometimes I end up back at the trailhead, other times the trail kicks me out way down the road from the campsite and I find myself walking a half mile down the road back to the car.

It used to bother me. I used to get irritated when the trail didn’t seem to take me the way I thought it should or would suddenly kick me out on the main road. All of the other hiking trails I have been on have a clear start and finish to them, or at least have signs along the way telling you which way to go depending on which trail you want to be on. This one however just has a bunch of trails and your hike may take twenty minutes or two hours depending on which twists and turns you take. It really is quite odd.

Today when I realized that the path I was on was not taking me to the top with the cool view but was winding me down towards a place where I would once again get spit out on the road I thought about all of the paths my life has taken over the years. I thought about the times I felt as though I were climbing uphill forever and would never get to a point where I was rewarded with an amazing view. I thought about the times I thought my path was finally leading somewhere only to turn a corner and be spit back out onto the road. I thought about the times when I wasn’t aware of the effort I was putting forth because I was enjoying the journey so much that when I suddenly hit the top and looked around at the view I had no idea really how I got there.

We take many different paths during the course of our lives. Some of them lead to fantastic views, some of them are a lot of work with no reward, and some of them simply spit us back out on the road. I used to drive myself crazy trying to figure out what path I should take or if I am on the right path. To be honest with you, I still often find myself wondering if I am where I am supposed to be when it comes to the desires of my heart and my current job. It doesn’t make sense to me that the path I am currently on will lead to a mountaintop view of the dreams I have.

Regardless of what makes sense I simply continue taking one step at a time on the current path I am on. I meditate on Gods Word that says He will show me which path to take (Proverbs 3:6) and trust that even if I do not know where I am going, He does.

I used to worry that I had made too many mistakes or given up too many times for me to ever get back on the path God had planned for me. I believed God had good plans for me, but I also feared I had ruined that plan somewhere along the way. I put more faith in my mistakes than in Gods mercy and grace. I started to believe I had been moved to Plan B for my life. Yes, it was still a good life, but it was not Plan A, which is the plan and the path I want more than anything.

Maybe you feel the way I did. Maybe you feel like you have been down too many paths leading nowhere or have somehow found yourself on the wrong path altogether. Maybe you feel like God has moved you over to Plan B instead of his original Plan A for your life. If you feel this way please meditate on todays verse. Write it down and stick in on your bathroom mirror. Let it sink down into your heart and bring you peace.

The Lord is good and does what is right; he shows the proper path to those that go astray. Psalm 25:8 NLT

Notice it says that the Lord is good and does what is right. It doesn’t say that we are good or that we do what is right. It has nothing to do with us. God has a path for us and it is up to him to make sure we are on that path and make it to the mountaintop. The only thing we need to do is trust and believe him and keep moving one step at a time. If we are off course He will get us to where we need to be!

Love, Grace, and a Mountaintop View to You All,

Jen

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The Day of Small Beginnings…

I have been waiting for this day for a long time- the day I sit back down at my computer and write a blog. A few years ago I wrote Monday through Friday as if it were my job. I had over 600 posts. During that time I thought I was working my way towards being the next Joyce Meyer (or at least a local author and speaker). I believed God put those desires in my heart and I had faith that God would make them happen.

Then life dealt me a series of blows that slowly took the wind out of my sails. It seemed I would just recover from one hurt or loss and another would hit. Sometimes I didn’t even have time to recover from one before the next one occurred. I no longer had the words to write.There were many days that all I could say was “God is good. God is faithful.”, and those words were often spoken in hope more than in faith.

Days turned into months and months turned into years. After struggling so long to keep my faith, I had completely given up on my dreams. I prayed God would take away my desire to write and speak. I refused to get my hopes up anymore.

God didn’t answer my prayer. Instead, He sent people into my life to breath encouragement into me. It was so frustrating! I would get a forwarded email from a friend regarding a writing contest with a message that read, “Saw this and thought of you”. I wanted to respond with “Haven’t you heard? It was all a mistake. I thought God called me to write and speak but I was wrong. I no longer entertain those silly dreams”. I resisted that desire and simply replied “Thank you.”

I cannot tell you how many times people sent me emails about writing contests, self- publishing information, or speaking opportunities. It seemed funny that when I did have faith nobody sent me those things but as soon as I decided to give up then I am flooded with them. Okay, maybe I wasn’t flooded, but even getting something every few months was frustrating. It’s hard to put out even a flicker of faith when God keeps sending people to blow fresh hope and fan the flames!

So here I am, taking a step of faith for the first time in many years. This blog may not contain any of the mind-blowing insights (okay maybe not mind-blowing, but insights nonetheless) I have written in my many journals (gifts that were given to me by my annoyingly encouraging friends ☺), but it does contain the most important part of me. It contains my heart, the one thing I believe God called me to share with others. The one thing I have kept guarded from others and from my dreams for the last few years.

I have decided to believe in my dreams again. I have decided to trust God again. I have decided to listen to the still small voice and the voices of those God put in my life to encourage me, rather than the voices in my head telling me I will never ever be anything more than what I am today.

If you have given up on your dreams, I would like to be a voice of encouragement in your life. Please email me under the Contact or Prayer Request page.

To all of my annoyingly faithful and encouraging friends, I would like to say thank you for having faith in me, especially when I had no faith in myself. I wouldn’t be able to take this first step without all of you!

Do not despise these small beginnings, for the LORD rejoices to see the work begin.-Zechariah 4:10a NLT

Grace, peace, and a day of small beginnings to you all,

Jen

ps I feel the need to tell you that the entire time I was writing I had the Gene Autry song Back in the Saddle Again running through my head. It’s good to know I am still as random as ever 🙂

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