Author Archives: jenni

Plodding is Underrated

Almost a month ago, my pastor preached a message called “Don’t Waste Your Life.”

It wound up being a pivotal message for our church… and for me.

Pastor Nathan talked about William Carey, a missionary famous for saying “I can plod. I can persevere in any definite pursuit. To this I owe everything.”

Plodding… isn’t fun. It isn’t glamorous. But that’s where I’ve been for a while now: long stretches of plodding, occasionally punctuated by glimmers of passion and moments of encouragement. Because plodding isn’t fun, I think it gets a bad wrap sometimes. You can make great progress just by putting one foot in front of the other even when you don’t particularly feel like moving forward.

Ah yes, one of those other “F” words. “Feel.”

Plodding can have a negative connotation to it, a sense that if you’re plodding, you’re just going through the motions mechanically, mindlessly. As if all action is invalid if not accompanied by heartfelt passion.

But I don’t buy that.

Plodding is a decision. It’s pressing on towards the goal, even without any immediate emotional gratification. It is going through the motions – but not mindlessly; it requires you to be mindful of the pursuit. It’s trusting in the purpose even when the passion isn’t there.

Plodding is underrated. Anyone can give up when things get tough. And anyone can stay the course when it’s easy. So I’m proud to be a plodder!

kcpo-bluecci

Happy New Year

It’s January 1st, and I could’t let the day pass without posting something.

My track record with New Year’s Resolutions is not stellar… and I cringe to review the seemingly reasonable goals that I dutifully set — then unceremoniously failed to achieve — last year at this time. So no resolutions for me this year.

But one thing I am doing that I will share is this: I’ve joined with many others at my church to read a simple daily devotional this year.

I don’t know if I’ll share my responses here on the blog every day, but thought I’d start out by sharing some thoughts from the first day’s reading: Genesis 1:1. It’s just one verse, and a very familiar short one at that, but it’s loaded!

On the one hand, it is encouraging to me to start the year with that reminder that God is the originator of it all. There is comfort in that, in knowing that there is a plan and a purpose to all things.

But it’s also a reminder to me that from the very first verse of the very first chapter, we are living at odds with the world. To stand upon that statement is to stand at odds with much of the scientific community – to embrace something that a significant portion of the modern world considers mythology.

And finally, this verse affirms that God is the original “creative.” And He’s the only perfect creative. I can’t be the creative person I’m called to be apart from Him.

To be honest… I’m not feeling especially creative right now. I want to be excited and full of anticipation for the year ahead… but right now, I’m just tired. I’m coming off of a busy year with a lot of great successes and amazing projects. More than anything else right now, I just want to have some down time… but then I wind up feeling guilty for wanting a rest when there’s so much to be done. So even though it isn’t included in the reading today, Gen 1:1 also reminds me of the rest of the creation story… and the REST that is IN the creation story.

In graphic design, we talk about “negative space.” Negative space is the “white space” in and around a design. The idea is that the “emptiness” can convey just as much as the content. In a world that is go-go-go all the time, “rest” can feel like empty space. But we need it. I need it. And I need to make it a more regular part of my new year. And that’s about as close as I’ll get to making a resolution this year!

So Happy 2015 everyone!

The Night After Runoffs

Twas the night after runoffs
And all through the town
Not a single campaign ad
On TV was found

No more calls from pollsters
No pleas for my vote
No ads on my facebook
Or emails they wrote

My mailbox now spared
From political flyers
Sent out by faux “PACs”
Created by liars

It will not last long tho
I realize with dread
A major election
Is looming ahead

So enjoy while you can
This time in between
It will surely be worse
Come 2016!

“Jesus Loves Me*”

Chris Tomlin has a new song called “Jesus Loves Me.” It’s not the children’s song- but the message is the same. It’s been on the radio a lot recently, and honestly, it didn’t really stand out to me at first. I thought it was “nice,” but it took a long ride home after a few very demanding weeks for the song to really sink in for me.

Here’s an acoustic version of the song:

It happened on road trip to Dallas to attend (and volunteer at) a conference. I was already worn out from an intense month with several big (at least, for us) events, the largest of which had just taken place in the days leading up to the conference. I arrived early and served as scheduled for the first day. I was thrilled when some of the staff & other volunteers remembered me by name! And I was floored when some of the attendees even remembered me from the year before. That first day went well, despite the busy-ness and little hiccups you encounter along the way, and I couldn’t help but feel good about it all afterwards. It was an encouraging start to what promised to be a wonderful few days.

Except for one thing. As the evening progressed, I realized that I wasn’t feeling good. I was coming down with a pretty nasty cold. I started to lose my voice. I was coughing and congested.

I was sick. But that was quickly becoming an understatement. I was miserable 🙁

I was miserable enough that the next morning I decided to leave early. I hate letting folks down, and I felt bad for backing out of my commitment. I even still felt that twinge of guilt for not being healed. I had also been looking forward to sitting in on some of the sessions and hearing certain speakers, and I was disappointed that I’d be missing out. Feeling a bit defeated, I turned on the radio and began the 5 hour drive back to Pineville.

Chris Tomlin’s “Jesus Loves Me” song was played four times during that drive — on different Christian radio stations as I passed through different cities along the way. The first time, it kinda annoyed me. Yeah, of course I know Jesus loves me. Everyone knows that. How many times do we have to sing that phrase? 

If you asked me if I believed that Jesus loved me, I wouldn’t have hesitated to say “Yes.” But what did that mean, really? In my mind, it was an absolute truth… but in a very generic, impersonal, “God so loved the world” way. It was “Jesus love me*” with an asterisk – a loaded footnote full of qualifications and terms and conditions and legalese fine print.

I believed that He loved me in the sense that he didn’t totally hate me. It wasn’t a warm fuzzy love… it was more of a distant love. He mostly tolerated me, though I imagined just barely at times. And on a day when I was driving home sick, run down, and having failed to fulfill my commitment… did Jesus love that? I didn’t think so.

But by the time I was hearing the song for the third time on that drive, the message was (finally) getting through and I was tearing up.

“Jesus, He loves me…” even when I’m sick, worn out, empty, and have nothing left to give.

“He loves ME…” not just what I can do. He doesn’t just love me when I’m accomplishing stuff or doing things right.

“He is for me…” even when I feel discouraged and alone.

“Jesus, How can it be?…” That was the question. How could it be true? How could He love me in my mess? In my failures?

“He loves me…” in a very personal, close-up, genuine, unconditional way. With no asterisks.

“He is for me…” even more than I could ever possibly comprehend…

Panic

I’ve been fighting what folks around here unaffectionately call “the crud” — a cough / congestion thing that’s making the rounds — for over a week now. Today it didn’t seem quite so bad, so I decided to run to the store to pick up a few things (mistake #1). And instead of going to the huge Walmart that I’m very familiar with, I decided to try a smaller grocery store that I hardly knew (mistake #2).

I hadn’t even been in the store for 5 minutes when it hit without warning: a coughing fit. Not a polite cough. Not even a short burst of typical “sick person” coughing. This was a feel-like-I-just-inhaled-an-entire-bottle-of-cinnamon-with-a-fire-ant-chaser out-of-control register-on-the-Richter-scale coughing. My eyes watered. I could hardly catch my breath. My chest hurt and I was afraid I might pass out or throw up because I was coughing so hard. I couldn’t stop. I tried to find an empty aisle to hide in but it was nearly lunch time and the store was busy. I tried to calm down and stifle the coughs but that only made it worse.

I just wanted to disappear. But a woman coughing up a lung in the middle of an otherwise tranquil grocery store will inevitably attract some attention. Which makes me try even harder (and with even less success) to control the coughing. I could feel my face burning, a result of both the coughing fit and the panic that rising in me from finding myself in a public place involuntarily “making a scene.”

I wound up hastily getting into the checkout line with my last tattered kleenex clamped over my mouth and less than half of my list in the cart. At least I didn’t have to worry about anyone hovering too close to me in the line this time! And I was relieved to finally get through the line and back to my car.

This is the closest I’ve come to having a panic attack in public in a couple of years now. Once I got back in my car the panic subsided, but the coughing fit continued even after I made it back home. So. Not. Fun.

And one of the items I didn’t manage to pick up on this trip? Yeah. Cough drops.

And No, I’m not going back out there.

UPDATE: Not long after I first posted this, there was an unexpected knock at my door. Thank God for local friends who read my blog & have pity on me!

halls

Always Under Construction

It’s been a frustrating day… one of those days when everything seems to take 3 or 4 times as long as it should… when I’m not feeling that great to begin with… and I’m just feeling discouraged.

But I was reminded that the right way isn’t always the easiest way. There can be  roadblocks and delays and difficulties. And that’s OK…

construction

Getting Back To Grace

The other day I had a chance to share a bit of my “how in the world did you end up in Louisiana” story with someone who didn’t really know much about my history. To be honest, I hadn’t really thought about it much myself in a while, and retelling the story stirred up the nostalgia a little bit.

So I went searching for some of my old blog posts yesterday & today — some of my original Recovering Pentecostal posts from 2007. It’s hard to believe that it’s been almost 7 years now since I read a book that led to an eye-opening conversation that radically changed the way I saw God and my relationship with Him.

Re-reading those posts and sifting through many others through the years reminded me of how much had happened since then, and how much I’ve changed. I’ve come a long way… literally and figuratively. That pivotal moment in 2007 was amazing. It was freeing. And I’m so much better because of it. But one thing that I’m realizing from my walk down memory lane is that I’ve gone off course.

I’ve got to get back to grace. It’s been seven years since I first began to understand grace, but somehow I’ve allowed legalism creep back in. It’s an insidious thing! This time, it’s not an overt in the form of rules and regulations that I must obey to remain “in the fold.” It’s not an official, institutional thing. This time, it’s personal. I’ve let expectations (coming from myself and others) become obligations in my mind. And the stress of not being able to live up to those expectations is too much. You can kinda do it, at least for a little while, like plate spinning. But it’s a lot of work to keep all those plates spinning at the same time… and you wind up living in fear that the plates will stop spinning and fall… until you fail.

God never intended for us to live under that kind of pressure. It wasn’t His intention that we maintain our walk of faith by our own power.

“How foolish can you be? After starting your new lives in the Spirit, why are you now trying to become perfect by your own human effort?” (Gal 3:3 NLT)

I started seven years ago in grace. But I’ve wandered back into human effort. Maybe it’s time to start over… again… leaning on the security of grace and letting the plates fall wherever they may.

RSVP – Regrets Only

I wanted the event to be a success.

I even helped promote it.

The event in question was a “Meet and Greet” for friend who is running for local office. It was an opportunity to meet some people, have a wonderful meal, show my support, and maybe do a little networking. It’s the kind of thing most people wouldn’t think twice about.

But I thought about it… more than twice. Maybe 100s of times. And my heart raced. And my palms got sweaty. And by the time the event was due to begin, I had talked myself out of attending.

I won’t know 99% of the people there. What if I’m the only one there by myself? What if someone talks to me and I freeze up and don’t know how to respond? Or I say something stupid? What if they stare at me? What if the seating is too close together? What if it’s crowded? What if I can’t get out without drawing attention to myself? What will people think of me?

It’s just so much easier to stay home, or stay at the office. And it sounds so much better to say that something came up, that I had to take care of it, that things are just crazy, and I’m really sorry that I can’t make it. I’ve been around long enough and seen it happen often enough to realize that like it or not, I live in a culture that judges the book by its cover. If you’re not comfortable enough in a social setting to smile and participate in small-talk, you’re defective. Unworthy.

And alone.

And the fear you already felt (irrational as it may be) is multiplied each time you try to face it and fail again. And it’s magnified even more because you’re going through this horrible thing that you certainly can’t explain to anyone while it’s happening, but what the people around you see is that you’re awkward, not smiling at them, not talking to them, not friendly.

A few years ago I learned that what I was feeling wasn’t unique. I wasn’t alone. There were many others who shared the same silent struggle, and it was called “social anxiety” or “social phobia.” I found out about it from a college professor. Like me, he didn’t struggle with events that had a definite structure to them (like classes or conferences or church services) but he did have a hard time with informal social events like parties, or certain aspects of other gatherings… like the times before and after a formal meeting began.

It was encouraging to meet someone else who could function fine in more scripted settings, but struggle in the unscripted ones. It’s hard for someone who hasn’t experienced it to understand that it really IS possible to have the ability to get up and teach or perform in front of a group, but then freeze up during otherwise normal social interactions. But that’s where I am. Whether it’s a political “Meet and Greet” or a greeting time during a church service… I dread those situations. Actually, dread isn’t even strong enough… they terrify me.

And it’s hard to smile when you’re terrified.

But I’ve checked it in the Bible, and I’ve discovered that failure to smile in public is NOT the unpardonable sin. So I guess I’ll be OK.

I could try to be someone I’m not… but even if I could pull that off,  it’s exhausting, not to mention dishonest. I’m never going to be the social butterfly, and I’m OK with that. I just wish other people could be OK with that too.

So I’ll smile when I have something to smile about. And I’ll work on finding more things to smile about, instead of worrying about the opinions of folks who really don’t care if there’s a reason why I’m smiling or not.

Residual Guilt

A few weeks ago, my foot was hurting so badly that I was to the point of tears. I was at church with our team setting up for the service. My pastor noticed, and asked if he could pray for me. I was grateful.

But at the same time, I felt a twinge of guilt… because I wasn’t healed.

Bad theology leaves scars. Even bad theology taught with sincerity and good intentions.

When you’re taught that doctor-and-medicine-free healing is pretty much guaranteed — as long as you’re living, speaking, and believing correctly — it’s hard to NOT feel guilty when life throws you a curve ball. I was taught that if my faith wasn’t strong enough to “get my healing,” there was probably something wrong with me spiritually: I was living in sin or not spending enough time in the Word or not mature enough or not giving enough financially to the church.

I don’t actually believe that stuff anymore. It’s been years since I’ve been anywhere that taught anything even remotely like that. But even after all that time, that little bit of residual guilt is still there. Not a crippling fear anymore, but just that momentary twinge of feeling like I’m not good enough.

Thank God I don’t have to be good enough. It was never about me in the first place. God’s not dishing out punishments for minor infractions like some petty spoiled child. Life happens. Sometimes it’s not what we wanted or expected. But God is more interested in us fixing our eyes on Him than He is in fixing our circumstances down here.