05-16-2017

What It’s Like Helping a Refugee Family Resettle in America

The Saturday morning Trump signed his executive order banning refuges I spent countless hours wracking up an irritating headache as my eyes were glued to this too small smartphone. My eyes were wrecked, my brain was in upheaval, and my heart felt ripped apart.

Just ten days prior, I helped welcome a Congolese refugee family to these American soils.

Laughed with a fellow volunteer as hours before they arrived we pondered whether we should show up to the airport with shoes. Because clearly it is proper shoes…
Not food consumption, boarding planes to the unknown, or the chance of being turned around only to be told: No Entry…
that must be the biggest concern for our refugee mama after flying halfway around the world for 17 hours straight.

So that Saturday, January 28th – I couldn’t understand how one man could wield such power to turn away people clinging to threads of hope.

The last four months few words have been written on this computer, but many have been the words in my head.

Today we attempt a trek to Wal-Mart – only a few miles away but hours away when using public transportation.

Six lanes of cars flash by as I slow my steps to the gait of a woman used to carrying loads of laundry on her head.

We squat on a cracked sidewalk waiting an hour for the bus to appear.

Growing uncomfortable with the deafening silence between us, I whip out my speak & translate app – attempting to converse with a language so foreign from my own.

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The fastest way to transform your life is to serve a soul that looks, acts, or believes different than your own.

Helping a refugee family re-settle has opened my eyes to my preconceived notions and judgmental thoughts. Lifted the veil on the hardships those relying on public transportation face. Made me wonder if the ways of life I consider essential are really necessary.

It’s easy to roll up our car windows and blast the radio when we see the homeless man on the street corner, turn a blind eye to the latest Israeli/Palestine killing reports on the television, or drown out the noise of social injustice by making our schedules busier & busier so we have a convenient excuse of no time to spend with those who need us most.

Put a name with that homeless man, give a story to the 12 year old Palestine boy, and it becomes impossible to ignore social injustice.

As a wise refugee volunteer leader shared, “having a personal connection, a name & face, changes the lens of how you view the world around you.”

Six months ago, if I’d driven by a mom and a toddler sitting on the sidewalk of a busy road waiting for the bus – I’m not sure sympathy would have been my gut reaction. I had little compassion for public transport riders until our 4 mile trek took us 4 hours to complete, tried to explain landpoints to a non speaking English person because tickers don’t exist and route maps don’t show needed stops.

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Unless we consciously choose different, how we view the world is how we were taught to view the world.

Unless we consciously choose different, how we LOVE, how we LIVE, what we BELIEVE, is what we were taught as kids.

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What the refugees and the homeless and the boy down the street need is not more shoes.
More stuff we want to discard from our overstuffed homes.
Instead what they need, what we all need from each other, is simply our time.

Reach out today and spend time with someone who believes different than you, looks different than you, lives life different than you.

It’s rarely convenient. There is a good chance it requires a drive across a bridge to the other side of town. That other side of town.

Or it might be as simple as walking across your backyard and inviting the lonely widow to a meal at your house, you know – the grouchy lady who hates it when your kids’ baseball gets in her yard.

Perhaps it is as grandiose as stopping on the side of the road to help immigrant Mexican’s with their stranded car, you with your sniffling nose and tired eyes from lack of sleep.

It can be as easy as encouraging your children to befriend the kid whose skin doesn’t match their own.

Loving others who believe different, look different, live life different –
in the end, you are the one with a transformed life.

jessica

 

02-10-2017

Fifty Shades Darker: Abuse at its heart

Because Fifty Shades Darker opens this weekend. Because abuse is the opposite of love. Because this is near & dear to my heart.

{A repost from when Fifty Shades of Gray movie opened in theaters.}

For two weeks now, as I watch ad after ad of 50 Shades trailers, I have been in a mood of outrage at our society.

How can we be outraged when Rihanna takes Chris Brown back and we watch a Super Bowl ad and say “oh, yes…domestic abuse is an atrocity.”

But then we turn a blind eye to a movie that at its heart embraces abuse, condones misuse of power, and degrades a woman’s self worth.

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What occurs in this movie is much more than just BDSM. What happens between the two characters is emotional manipulation, controlling another person’s thoughts, words, and deeds, threatening another person’s safety, and the list goes on and on.

At numerous many points in this book {just to name a few…the stalking, the threats, the inequality of power & control} I want to say “The worst thing about these books is…”

But perhaps, the worst part is the underlying effect when abuse embeds itself into one’s psyche.

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…the Grey Shade of Shame
while hiding black & blue bruises on our backs, afraid to undress at the gym for fear of being found out.

…the Grey Shade of Torture
while hearing “If you had done what I told you to, I wouldn’t need to whip you with this belt.”

…the Grey Shade of Fear
while hearing your abuser threaten to rape you.

When caustic comments are repeated day after day, situation after situation, year after year, they get under your skin, degrade your worth, and eventually they tear a woman down. They make her feel she deserves those beatings, she deserves being talked to as if she is a filthy human being.

Whether verbal,physical, or sexual…abuse is psychological.

It gets underneath your skin and affects how you view right & wrong.
It skews your beliefs until you don’t know what to be confident of anymore.

You take a controlling man who preys on a woman and batters her down
until nothing is left
but a stubble of who she used to be.

His actions make her not just FEEL but THINK that she wasn’t worthy of decent love from the beginning.

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Or, perhaps it is this that is the worst part…

For many supporters of this trilogy, they see the plot as being redemptive. For by the end of book 3, Ana has changed Christian to be a better man. Because of her, he is now a loving husband, a doting father.

Women, hear me loud and clear.
No woman has ever changed a man.
NEVER, EVER, EVER.

You love him for who he is. And if he happens to become better over time, that’s great. But at the end of the day…

You only have the power to change yourself.

So what message are we sending young ladies, teenagers, college bound girls….that they will be able to change a man? That their self esteem, their self worth doesn’t matter?

Young women…hear this…

There are awesome and wonderful men in this world who will cherish you, treasure you, and respect you and your wishes more than you ever thought possible. Trust your heart and your body to a man like that.

A man who gets his pleasure from hurting you, from controlling you, from knowing where you are every single second of the day…avoid those men like the plague. The man who makes you second guess yourself, makes you question what his true motives are…those are the ones to leave behind in the dust.

If someone can’t respect you for who you are, if someone has to undermine your value in order to make themselves feel more important – move on to bigger & brighter futures.

Because, you, you are worth SO MUCH MORE than being the object of someone’s issues with their own past.

Let them get help on their own. Let them figure out how to release the demons of their past. But you don’t need to stick around for them to do that.

Instead, find your worth in who you are…a beautiful, brilliant, talented, witty, funny, caring, loveable creation of God.

jessica

p.s…if this post has been touching to you, please forward to the young women in your life. Abuse happens more often that we realize, everywhere around us, even to men by women.

And if you are in an abusive relationship, there are people that want to help you. www.thehotline.org or 800.799.7233

01-23-2017

The #1 Lie Christians Say: God Doesn’t Give You More Than You Can Handle

I’m not a theologian. Never been to seminary. Just a girl who wants to have a deeper understanding of scripture.

When faced with grief, hard times, and just plain life – there’s one phrase shared in the Christian community that I detest.

“God won’t ever give you more than you can handle.”

I’m sure people mean well – not sure what to say when a friend is in the throes of seemingly insurmountable hardships.

But that phrase is actually not in scripture.

Yes, I Corinthians 10:13 does say God won’t let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. However, it doesn’t say hardship. It says temptation. And in my opinion, the word temptation means temptation to sin.

Without ill intent, we alter scripture to make it seem like God doesn’t allow hardship we can’t endure.

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Bible stories resound with God letting people experience tragedy, deprivation, poverty…the list goes on & on. Story after story it is HE who prevails them through the storms of life. Biblical stories actually don’t end well when people choose their own devices to make it through the hardships.

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If God didn’t give you more than you could handle on your own, why would you ever need Him?

We realize our dependence on Him when we have nothing left of our own resources to make it through the next moment.

It is not of my own striving, my own accord, my own will that has helped me through the mountains of life.
When I realize my brain, my body, my heart cannot adequately meet the need in front of me is when I turn to Christ the most.

It’s as small as realizing I can’t go a day without yelling at my kids without the Holy Spirit giving me self-control of my mouth.

It’s as big as realizing I can’t forgive heart wounds from trauma without the supernatural gift of forgiveness from Christ.

Part of Christianity is accepting the limitations of my own self. Of being willing to say I wasn’t meant to walk life’s journey alone.

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It is when I lean most heavily on Him that I thrive.
I’m not talking about thriving in the material sense of the word.
I’m talking about thriving in joy, peace, self control, contentedness.

As we are reminded in II Corinthians 12:9 –

My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.

In my translation…

Christ’s grace is sufficient for you, for His power is made perfect in your weakness. 

When friends are facing hard times, instead of saying “God won’t give you more than you can handle”, we could instead encourage them that Christ will be the provider of what gets them through the journey.

jessica

 

 

12-05-2016

Give Yourself Permission to Nix the Christmas Card (and other trappings)

December 5, 2016

Only 20 more days until wide eyed kids tiptoe down halls in unabated excitement.
Only 21 more days until stressed eyed parents pack it all away in unabashed exaltation.

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Contrary to what you are thinking right about now, I am not a scrooge!

But sometimes the trappings of Christmas seem to do, just that – Trap us.

Trap us into believing every one of those trappings has to be done, every single year. And not only checked off the list, but completed in perfection.

Christmas Lights  Advent Calendars   Locally Sourced Gifts   Christmas Cards   Homemade Desserts   Wreaths on the Door  Christmas Caroling   Kid Made Ornaments   Trees   House Decor   Christmas Parties

The list is never ending and there is a pressure you feel that if you even just dip your toe into a certain area the result has to be Pinterest perfect.

For those around me, Christmas cards seem to be the biggest hold up. You spend a fortune on a professional photographer or try to find the just perfect candid photo of kids having a sweet moment. It all ends as you begrudgingly hand write more addresses than you thought possible.

Why is it that family photo shoots make root canal dentist visits seem more enjoyable?
Bribes and Lollipops just don’t cut it and temper tantrums erupt when your 8 year old is asked nicely forced into a collared shirt.

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So this year, instead of giving yourself a guilt trip over all you haven’t done this Christmas season..
Cuddle up in front of the fire with your kids.
Give a hug to your elderly neighbor.
Read the Christmas story from the Bible.
Nix the cards and Just Be Still. {This is what I’m doing this year!}
Don’t fill up every second of your time. The world will not end if you don’t send out cards.
Invite your brilliant sister to town and let her make elephant toothpaste for your kids

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Most of all, repeat this mantra… trappings are NOT what make the Christmas season.

Christmas is a time to remember God’s love for YOU and share that love with all mankind.
His love isn’t found bundled up in a card, present, or tree.
It’s found in the quiet and in the simple… giving a hug, bestowing a smile, or laughing together.

Christmas is found in the every day minutia of the relationships we share with those around us.

Merry Christmas!
jessica

 

 

 

10-27-2016

Finding Your Way Through the Brokenness in Your Life

The busyness of October has taken me by surprise.
It’s been a blur of days flung my way with not enough hands to grasp it all.

All the fun plans and unexpected adventures filled me with excitement but when all said & done has left me gasping for air.

I had grand plans for this month. Plans to blog every.single.weekday. You can see how successfully that turned out. When I feel like this, it’s easy to concentrate on all I didn’t accomplish instead of focusing on what I did get done.

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My kids got to see their first college football game in real life. The fact a hurricane was hunkering down on us made it all the more fun. Who cares if they only saw 2 plays before we couldn’t take any more of the 53mph wind and driving rain?

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My faith has been blown away as I see the Holy Spirit’s power & presence shows up week after week in a Bible study. Read National Geographic and watch Frontline documentaries on ISIS and it’s enough to make you question where God is inside the boundary lines of third world poverty and war. But I’m not overseas. I’m here in the continental U.S. And it’s God changing women’s lives right in my path that makes me confident in his reality.

The real treasure showed up two weeks ago in the form of this book…

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When it come’s to Ann’s poetic words, I’m a slow reader. I need time to process her words as they take root in my brain and heart. Even though I’m only to Chapter 7, I can already say this..

If your soul is weary, battered & torn from simply living life…

If you’re the lonely, outcast, and marginalized…

If you want to find a sense of purpose in this thing called life…

If you want your life to be more than just the broken that’s happened to you…

Read The Broken Way.

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Ann’s book released this week and you can find it here and here. Even if you don’t feel you are currently broken, this book will encourage you in a very tangible way to live a life of purpose and bring kindness to all those around you.

jessica

 

07-29-2016

Friday’s TidBit

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This quote was shared during a writing workshop I recently attended and I loved how thought provoking it was.

Enjoy your weekend!

jessica

07-15-2016

Nice, Dallas, Minnesota, Louisiana: When will the bloodshed end?

82 in Nice, France

Philando Castile in Falcon Heights, Minnesota

Alton Sterling in Baton Rouge, Louisana

5 officers in Dallas, Texas

Washing away blood stains on the sidewalks of Nice is someone’s job today.
Blood is dripping on the streets of this planet.

Where do we find solace?
How do we make sense out of any of this?

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There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love. We love because he first loved us….And he has given us this command: Whoever loves God must also love his brother. I John 4:18-21

Love is being kind, patient, tolerant, accepting, looking out for
those whose religion or views doesn’t match our own, those with skin a different pigment than our own.

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Fear invades our soul when mass killings are rampant. When we realize it could happen to us, to those we love.

When I am afraid, I will trust in you.
In God, whose word I praise, 
in God I trust, I will not be afraid. 
What can mortal man do to me?   Psalm 56: 3&4

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When the questions arise, because surely they will.
When having faith feels like walking on eggshells.
When our daily companions are Where are you GOD? WHY? When will you intervene? WHY? 

Remember faith is not only a choice but also a gift from God.

When faith can’t be found on our own, we need to ask Him to help us have it.

There is one God, the Father, from whom are all things {even our faith in Him} and for whom we exist, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and through whom we exist. I Corinthians 8:6

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May the hearts of those who grieve today be comforted deeply by the words of Christ.

I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace.
In the world you will have tribulation.
But take heart; I have overcome the world. John 16:33

jessica

02-22-2016

The Downside of Everyday Access to God

To say that I put Ann Voskamp on a pedestal is putting it lightly.

Her words are balm to a battered soul and the poetic words found in One Thousand Gifts drastically altered how I view the good & the bad in my life.

So journey with me into my pretend world of make believe where I am spending tomorrow with author extraordinaire, Ann Voskamp. (Just keep reading – I promise I do have a point!)

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The night prior to my big day with Ann I can barely fall asleep, filled with excitement and elation at what the morrow holds. I’ve spent all day planning my wardrobe – most important, the boots I should wear because I’ve heard Ann loves boots (can you tell I obsess about her just a little?).

Bright and early the alarm rings and I feel the same as my five year old daughter on Christmas morn. The best gift ever is just around the corner and I’m on pins and needles as I wait for her to show up.

What will we talk about? Will we have anything in common? Will she be all that I imagine her to be?

Most of all I am filled with awe and wonder when I think about meeting her.

IMG_7660But when I wake from my pretend daydream I can’t shake the question…

Do I approach God’s throne with that same awe and wonder?

Has this personal relationship with Christ led me to humanize the Lord to where He is equal to common man? Is He simply my life coach and I expect Him to answer my every whim with a YES and then grumble incessantly when prayers aren’t answered the way I desire?

Do I begin the day with songs of praise and worship the grandeur that is His alone? Or do my prayers sound more like “God, if you could just…”.

Having constant {every.single.second of the day} access allows us to dumb down God and make Him far too common to humanity. As a result, I, base my perceptions of God on what He’s doing this personal moment for me instead of perceiving Him with awe & wonder that only the God of the universe is worthy of.

Whether it is a favorite musician, a famous actress, or an incredibly talented and creative chef, we put people on pedestals, viewing them through rose covered glasses. We do this so frequently, yet, we never realize how guilty we are of rarely {if ever} doing that with our God, the one who created the farthermost reaches of the cosmos down to the tiniest of microorganisms.

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God deserves our highest praise. He created a beautiful natural world when He could have chosen to make everything ugly. He condescends himself every day to have a relationship with man; knowing we can never bridge the gap and ascend out of our own efforts.

He comforts, He heals, He restores.

He is God. We are man. And He loves us.

What more reason do you need?

Praise God in his sanctuary; 
praise him in his mighty heavens!

Praise him for his mighty deeds;
praise him according to his excellent greatness!

Let everything that has breath praise the Lord.

jessica

 

11-26-2015

Giving Thanks

When Ann Voskamp wrote One Thousand Gifts | A Dare To Live Fully Right Where You Are, she had no idea how well the timing of that book would intersect with the tragedy I was engulfed in.

Five years ago we lost a family member, a best friend, a brother to suicide.
Nothing could have prepared me for the intense grief that follows losing someone to suicide.
Nothing.

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Mired down in sadness while somehow trying to raise a baby and a toddling two year old, I’ll never forget the day my friend Lindsey suggested I read this new book she’d just finished…”Jessica, I really think this would help you process everything you’re going through.”

I am beyond thankful she gave me that suggestion, because that one book forever altered how I view life.
It altered why I give thanks in the first place.
It altered my relationship with God.

It goes deep, it challenges you.
From the first paragraph, Ann’s words grip you and forces you to question…

Do you only give thanks for the easy?
Do you solely thank God when goodness abounds and life looks perfect?

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I still wrestle with the giving thanks for tragedy. I thank God for the friends that never left our side during that period of our lives. It’s easy to thank God for getting you through a time of tough finances. But thank him for job loss? Thank him a pregnancy ended? Thank him a brother died?

Yeah, not easy, right??

But reading Ann’s prose on how God doesn’t say that every gift is wrapped up magically tight with a beautiful red ribbon..it pushes me to the boundaries of my faith and as a result my relationship with Christ grows to greater depth.

I don’t understand why God answers some prayers
but other prayers I’m left in silence
with only the call of a Whippoorwill to keep me company.

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But I do believe he’s called me to find things, IN EVERY CIRCUMSTANCE, to give him thanks for.

Hence, this morning I journaled #4,163 in my every growing list of things to be thankful for.

Giving thanks, every day, multiple times a day…keeping a list of gratitude…choosing to find the positive instead of getting caught up in the negative….these are the things that change your life…these are the day to day actions that pull you out of the muck & mire…

Giving thanks is a choice you make every. single. moment.
Every. Single. Day.
What will you choose?

jessica

10-30-2015

When I Want to Solve The Worlds Problems but God Wants Me To Pray About Them

This week my heart has been heavy as I’ve been studying the topic of social injustice {for me, it’s the humanitarian crisis of the refugees} and what the Bible says we are to do about it.

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I guess it’s hard because as much as I get that serving those around you {your husband, your kids, your neighbors} is JUST AS IMPORTANT as serving the refugees…

I still have a tug on my heart to serve the refugees. I WANT TO DO SOMETHING.

Not just give money. Not just pray. But do something tangible.

The resounding answer though that keeps coming back time and again is PRAY.

But as a friend recently said, “I don’t want to wait. I don’t want to meditate. I don’t want patience.”

But maybe that praying part is where I am supposed to be right now.
As I study in Nehemiah, he waited. He waited for months before asking the king for help. He pondered things in his heart before attacking the problem at hand. He waited and he prayed.

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Dear God,
Help me be content to meditate and consider the problems at hand. Because as I wait and ponder, I recognize that more powerful contributions are made when problems are tackled with Godly wisdom rather than mere human knowledge. And Lord, I am trusting that one day YOU WILL call me to action. You will show me the path I need to traverse. But for now, I pray that you would help me understand and discern the problem at hand. And I pray that when the time is right, when the opportunity is right in front of me, you would make me be bold to serve.

“For I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me….
As you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.” Matthew 25:36&40

jessica

 

{Day 30 of #write31days. I can’t believe how quickly this month has gone.}