As He Envisioned

Hi, I’m Janelle, and I don’t want to do this.

That’s only partly true. I do want to write. I’ve missed writing in this context, and I love just letting words weave together like a garment stitched with care. The truth is, I don’t want to do what I know I should.

(Welcome to life, Janelle.)

I am tired.

It’s part of me to be this way. Some people are born with the get-up-and-go, motivated and driven, but I am not always like that. I need to be reminded that whatever is happening is worth happening and not a response to anything I lack or what I’m worth.

As the days, months, and years pass, I’m growing more and more aware of how important it is to be who I am and be God’s girl. I get to do a lot, and I get to be more than I dreamed, yet it’s never all about me. That feels like a tug of war between my soul and my gut, and I can’t always swing past it without needing a break or two.

I know I’m at war with the perception I want other people to have and the reality of what God has called me to.

Heads up: Jesus tells us this isn’t an easy ride. This is not a free pass to heaven where we are cheered on every step of the way. Some of the most remarkable women I admire have endured a lot of crap flung in their face, and if I could hide from anything, it would be that.

Faith is not a box. It is not a tidy gift. It cannot be bound by our standards, and man, if that doesn’t screw with everyone’s Americanized beliefs then I don’t know what will. A thought has been reverberating through my brain over the year, and it’s this: Jesus is everything. And if He isn’t? It will show. In more ways than one. It will show in the words that come out of my mouth, the motivation behind my social media posts, the way I defend myself before others, the way I interact in discourse, the way I love my neighbor, the way I see the world, and the way my heart responds to a continually loving God.

When He isn’t everything, we’ll have multiple thrones in our midst filled with menial things and unsatisfying embellishments. We’ll be an embarrassing shadow of the love of Christ, and you best believe the world will know it.

I think they already do.

It’s no wonder I quit writing. It’s no wonder I stopped being a loud voice. All the voices I kept hearing were saying things that sounded a lot less like love and a lot more like condemnation.

But God.

Man if I could count the times I’ve thought it and said it. But God! I am a quitter, and He is not! It’s like being on a team where the coach keeps saying, “Try again! Get back up! Don’t you quit! You’ve got it in you!” He believes in me more than I do, and I thank Him for it.

I don’t want to, but here we go. One day at a time, as we mold and grow like clay in the potter’s hand, we become exactly as He envisioned. As He envisioned. I couldn’t imagine this for a moment. Yet, He already did.

Walking in the Fields

Feet on the ground.

My feet are on the ground, and it’s a moment where I wish they weren’t. The perspective from right here sucks. I see you all plowing, planting, and fertilizing the soil under your own feet, and I don’t know what kind of fruit you’re looking to produce.

I don’t even know what kind of fruit I want to produce, either.

I’m not a gardener. I basically buy plants I like and plant them, most often hoping for the best. The literal planting and fertilizing is easy. The waiting is annoying, but I also have other things to do, so I don’t sit around waiting for a plant to grow and bloom. The figurative planting and fertilizing in our spiritual lives is similar yet miles apart from the literal. It takes a lot more than good fortune and a nice plant from the store.

We all have feet on the ground, soil under our feet, and seeds in our hands. But oh my dear friends, we’re really bad at planting good plants and bearing good fruit.

We’ve got feet on the ground, and we’re tearing through other people’s fields. We think we know everything, don’t we? I mean, I think I know a lot. But I’m not old enough to know the half of it. I’m not wise enough to discern what’s right and wrong every time. I’m not even guaranteed that my thoughts align with anything the Bible says.

Feet on the ground means we all have work to do.

And isn’t it like us to look at each other’s work and pout? Isn’t it like us to see the fruit of others and wonder why ours looks nothing like that? Isn’t it like us to forget we’ve got our dang feet on the ground when the ground we’re standing on is not the soil we wanted?

I wonder what’s in us that thinks we know best. I wonder who told us or me or you that whatever opinion or value we adhere to is worth demolishing another’s field for the sake of being right.

I mean, your feet are on the ground, aren’t they? Or are they wandering into other fields where they simply don’t belong?

I often think to myself, “Head down, eyes up.” Head down, Janelle. They’ve got a work, and you’ve got a work. They’ve got an opinion, you’ve got an opinion. Remind yourself Who your focus is on. Is the work in their field made up of your soil? Is the work under their feet under your feet, too? Is the trip to stand your ground on their ground anything righteous at all?

Eyes up. Don’t look down. Don’t miss it. There’s an entire world in front of you, and you’ve got a Spirit of love in your soul. See it. Give it away like air because it’s plentiful. Remember to keep looking up, keep remembering Who loved you first. Work the field you’ve got and praise a good God that you get to be here to do it.

I don’t know what you’re building or what kind of fruit you want coming from the field. But it’s not going to make a world of difference if you’re growing something only to destroy someone else’s. I’m guilty. I’d challenge you to think again if you think you aren’t.

Love walks the fields and asks questions and asks to help and isn’t going to condemn another for doing what seems different. Love isn’t like that. If it is, I don’t know what kind of love that is.

Feet on the ground. Feet on your ground.

Walk the fields. Work with what you have. Head down, eyes up. Love at every turn.

A Word from the Cement

The pit is where we find Him.

I imagine it’s where He likes to pace, anticipating our fall into depths of pain and ache that find no solace other than the dank cement under our feet. It isn’t that we hit the bottom with a thud. No, it’s that we climb down there to find a way out, and all we find is nothing.

But He is there. That is how our Father is. He crafted us knowing where we’d end up. It seems odd that a loving God would let us choose the pit with the dark, dank cement. What was He thinking when He decided to let me choose, knowing that I am such a screw-up, a failure, and a nobody who would walk into a pit day in and day out thinking it was something new? It never is. It’s always the same, and sometimes it feels like someone throws us in there. It feels like rock bottom is a stop on a tour that we can’t get out of, with a pit waiting just for us.

Maybe we’ve climbed in ourselves. Maybe it’s as though someone tossed us in. Whatever the case, we find ourselves there, and all we do is face the wall. We keep our hands against the cool rock, grasping for a crevice to cling to so we may lift ourselves out. You would think we learn, for we know that it isn’t that easy. Getting out takes two people, and we’re alone. We’re facing the wall, hands against cold rock, grasping for anything that will pull us out of a situation we don’t want to be in. We want hope, and we’ll claw until we find it.

But remember—He’s there. Pacing quietly, maybe even standing patiently. As busy as we are trying to climb, claw, and fight our way out, He is waiting for us to turn around. It takes another Person. It takes Someone else to lift us up. He is our hope, and in this moment of pain and hopelessness, He knows the way.

It takes another person, remember? We need His strength to get us out of our pain. We need His hand to guide us the right way. We need His comforting arms to wrap us up and remind us that we aren’t a disappointment to Him. We need His hope to get us out of whatever pit we’re in because He is the only One there with us through the midst of it all.

Your pain is not unseen. Your frustration is not unheard. Your cry for help is not ignored. He has never left you, not for a moment. What’s more—when we do find ourselves in a pit of some fashion, He anticipated you being there. And He decided to meet you. You just have to turn around. Get away from the cold, unwelcoming wall, and see Him. He isn’t distant. He’s ready whenever you are.

You are someone to the God who made you. He always knows exactly where to find you. Even the pit that you don’t want to be in, He knows the exact moment when your feet hit that cold, wet floor. Every moment in your life is known to Him. He’s seen your pain. He knows the way out. His way doesn’t promise a life without pain. He doesn’t guarantee you won’t see yourself in a pit again anytime soon. But He does promise to be with you, always. Until the end of time.

And when you’ve lived a life walking by His side, seen the depths and experienced the glories of joy, your soul will find eternal joy with Him. He promises us that. A wholeness never seen on this earth, a place where no pit can swallow you whole, and everlasting hope that frees for all eternity. It’s worth every moment. Even the pits we fall in.

He is with you. Always.

Wilted

The flowers have been dead for weeks.

I’ve been telling my husband that we need to dump the flower pots. The mums died months ago, and the flowers that were there before died even longer ago. The plants are wilted over the side, and it’s like death is sitting on our doorstep.

“We need to dump those pots.”

“I know.”

Yet they’re still sitting there, day in and day out. Dumping the pots means getting up and putting my shoes on and lifting the dirty, heavy pots and carrying them to the trash can near the side of our house. Maybe I’ll do it. Maybe I won’t.

The brown flowers fill the pots, and they are nothing interesting. No one cares about them. I don’t even care about them. But I do care about how they look to everyone else. Us with our dead flowers by our front door, a disappointing welcome to a house that is so full of life. We’ll dump them soon. Maybe spruce up the front to match what the heart of our family really looks like.

I like to think the pots don’t represent anything. Truthfully, they don’t. They’re just pots with some dead flowers. If they show you anything, it’s that I have a lot on my mind, and the dead flowers by my front door are most likely at the bottom of my list. It’s a good representation of me. I’m tired. I’m spiritually exhausted, and I’ve felt that way for about a year. It feels like there’s a lot of flower pots in my soul, dead flowers wilting over the sides, just waiting to be dumped or revived. But Lord, I am just tired. I’d rather they stick around, dead or alive.

Life isn’t like these dead flowers, at least, not today. It’s been unsettling, a description that makes it sound scary or unnatural, but it makes me think of soil that is upturned and toiled. Unsettled. It’s not firm like it’s been packed down or leveled. It has been dug up and pushed over and around. Unsettling it is necessary for new life.

It’s January 2, and I’d like this post to be here for my own recollection. To remind myself of the days when I decided to grab my own face and look myself in my own eyes and told myself it’s fine. It’s okay. Be tired. Let the soil upturn and be pushed around. But don’t, for the love of everything you care for and believe, let the soil stay that way. Don’t be unsettled by anything so much that you never plant another flower.

The flowers have been dead. They’re just flowers; they aren’t meant to live forever. And I know they aren’t coming back to life, even when spring comes. They’re dead as the pot they are planted in. I’ll dump them eventually. I’ll move forward, eventually.

Don’t be discouraged, dear heart. This isn’t a sign of failing. And even if it were, failing is never the end. The difficulty is not the last stop. Dead flowers on doorsteps don’t mean death on the inside. Beauty will be back, ease may return, new growth will take root.

It always gets me–the idea that God cares more for us than He does for the flowers of the field or the birds of the air. And how beautiful both are. Every need met, every care seen. The same goes for me. Even though we may not have easy lives, He will see to it that we are always loved and seen. Dead flowers or alive.

Loved and seen. I am loved and seen. Unsettle the soil around me, if only that all that is new and for more significant glory may bloom for You.

Shadowfeet

It seems unnatural to go dark when everyone, including me, has a platform.

What a weird time in the world, right?

(And let us all note the irony, considering I am here, right now, standing on a platform talking about something.)

I get overwhelmed by American Christianity pretty easily. Actually, it’s the Christianity of women like me, who have blogs like this, bigger followings than mine, and countless books on bookshelves. I’m willing to bow out before I even attempt to join their ranks.

It’s a lot to take in. There’s an abundance of testimonies out there and advice and “preaching to myself” happening that I can’t ingest all of it. And most of it is worthy and good. I’m not knocking the value of it or the women writing it. I’m just wondering what we’re all doing, really, after we’re done preaching.

I noticed it in myself. I would look for valuable, incredible things to share on Instagram and share it like manna from heaven. But that was often it. That was where I began and ended. I was a Christian woman who preached a whole lot but surely wasn’t interested in walking in it outside of my little squares.

When my classes started this fall, I knew I couldn’t use too much energy there. I have only so much energy before I’m worn out, and I didn’t want to use it in a public place. I knew the privacy of my ministry and my home would suffer. I knew that my soul would suffer, and I would become void of passion. So I went dark. I stopped writing on this blog. I quit posting about how God was working. I wanted to keep it private so I wasn’t performing for anyone.

Can I mention to you how freeing it was?

I was driving recently and talking to God about things, and I mentioned to Him how I was overwhelmed by the phenomenon of being a vulnerable Christian woman who has monumental things to say before an audience. I told Him I wasn’t sure I could do that. I wasn’t confident that I could preach. I asked Him what He wanted from me instead.

It’s really too much of a burden to believe we’re responsible for the inspiration and encouragement of others. Our shoulders weren’t made for it. And we aren’t equipped to sustain it on our own.

I told Him I wanted to be faithful, and He told me to get in His shadow.

It made sense. Like a lightbulb illuminated above my head. He said, “You want to make a difference in the world? Draw so close to me that they can’t even see you. Get in my shadow. Disappear so it’s not about you. All they’ll see is Me.”

Manna.

Everything can fall into place when we aren’t the point, you know what I mean? Like I said, it’s too great a burden to bear. It’s too much to be everything and more to a people who don’t really want me anyways. They want God, even if they don’t know it yet.

I have this week off from writing three papers a week, so I might show up here more than normal. But it’s only because I have a little more brain space and energy to spend here. I’m sure I’ll disappear again once things pick back up, and life returns to a busier pace.

Hopefully you won’t see me anyways. Hopefully you’ll see Him instead.

The Gracious Word

Given the right space and time, I’d like to think that I am capable of just about anything. But often, there isn’t enough space, nor enough time to do what I would like to. It’s like the house I live in now–every inch used up, with no excess.

It’s how my mind feels these days, too. Filled to the brim with possibilities and anxieties, a concoction of my plans, dreams, and fears. And it’s in that realization that I step back, take a deep breath and move outward to look at it all from His perspective.

It reminds me of the view from a camera lens that sees the whole expanse of a wilderness. Where the trees part, the path is illuminated with sunlight and the shadows of the leaves dance across rocks and dirt. And where the trees are thick and full, there’s nearly nothing to see beneath it. It’s blocked by the giants of the forest, and I imagine the earth beneath it is a little darker, a little unknown. All I see are treetops. They look nice from above, for I know how foreboding it looks below.

Faith is like this and not like this at all. It’s like a wilderness within a wilderness, and beyond that I can’t fully understand. The mysteries of God are such that I will never comprehend, and being content with my inability to see it all like He does is another wilderness on its own.

Today it is not easy to see ahead. Faith feels like work, and the Bible reads like a foreign, backwards tapestry. God is not easy to understand, because He is mysterious and all-knowing, and I am often wondering where in the world the wilderness leads, and if where I’m going He has already been.

The other night, we gathered around the TV to watch videos from the past four years. Bits of our life and our kids and the wonders of how children grow and change. It’s true when they tell you that these people you bring into the world are like your heart outside your chest. It made me ache and long for more memories and more reminders of everything we’ve ever endured.

And as we watched, and my boys laughed at the things they did as babies, toddlers, and just yesterday, I found myself praying that God would be kind to me when I got to heaven. I can never remember every detail of my life this side of eternity, but Lord, I hope you have a way to show me every moment that falls through the cracks that I have forgotten. Just so I can remember for a moment who they were, who I was, and how our life became whatever it became.

The wilderness is so heavy some days, and some days it is so light and easy. At times, the path is illuminated with the sparkling sun and the shadows of the flowers and leaves dance across my path like a triumphant display of His faithfulness. Other times, the path is covered, dark, as though the last person who walked through it has long since passed.

The faithfulness of God and the reminders of His provision for us has not been lost in these days. Going back and remembering is like balm on thirsty skin, and I feel healed and more whole as I gather myself again to start moving forward.

He is good. My Jesus, You are good. You are ever faithful and true, and I’ve never regretted You. I don’t think I ever will. Like dancing shadows and sparkling light, You are joy in wilderness and growth in the dark.

Behind & Before

Starting is the hardest part. The unknown frustrates me. The fear is tempted to spread like wildfire. I’m tempted to run.

If we’ve ever had a lengthy conversation, you’ll know that I am a processor. I never respond without thought. I almost always keep my opinion to myself unless it’s warranted, and I feel safe enough to share it. Writing everything out feels like the safest, most measured way to spill my guts.

I’m nine days out from my first day of classes. I’m not really nervous, but I am anxious. I am excited, but I am also battling doubt. Something so normal as getting a college degree feels like a mountain of epic proportions when you are a full-fledged adult with a mortgage and kids. Like a mountain with a trail I’ve never seen, also one that I’ve admittedly thought to myself in times past, “Why would you do that?”

Yet here we are.

I remember four years ago when we were standing at the foot of a different mountain. The trail was one that I didn’t know at all. It looked like an uphill, difficult climb as we looked up, wondering how we would make it. But we knew it was the way. So we went slowly, one step at a time, fear at our backs, threatening to snake its way between us.

For a long time, I thought that mountain was simply one large climb to the top. My husband became self-employed, and he began building business from the ground up. I would pray often, asking God for the success and relief I longed for so I wouldn’t have to worry. But He wasn’t going to just hand it to us. And He certainly wasn’t going to neglect to teach me.

Eventually I learned more lessons that I was looking for. (Doesn’t God always work that way?) I learned that the mountain was not a singular uphill climb to the peak. We were entering a mountain range. We would scale one, only to find another on the other side. It would be difficult one moment and easier the next. And the more we walked next to Him, the stronger we became. It wasn’t that it got easier or that we had more money or success. It was that we became better equipped with each step, shoulders strong enough to bear the weight of our calling, hands calloused from holding on, able to withstand more and more as time went on.

I’ll admit: I’m tempted to run and quit this before I begin. I want to withdraw from the people who challenge me so I can focus on myself and how hard this might be. I want to put my head down and do this well, and I feel incredibly alone at the thought of it.

He’s always been honest with me, though. And as tempted as I am to go at this alone, put my head down, focus, and even run altogether, He reminds me of who I was four years ago. How she felt alone and didn’t have the right people around to challenge her. How she struggled. How she put her head down and forgot to look up.

Things are different than they used to be. I like to think of this moment in time, as I stand at the base of this ridiculous mountain (I’m going with ridiculous because it feels that way), I don’t feel like I’m going alone. He’s gone before me, and He’s coming up behind. And there’s a crowd of people with me with smiles on their faces that make me feel brave.

This is my measured way to spill my guts.