Em’s lettering–and Em’s photography (I think she’s amazing!)
My friend B calls it “working through poopy.” I think it’s a very accurate description. I worked through a little bit of my own poopy this morning: some jealousy, the desire to be noticed more/sought out more, some self-pity and fear and insecurity…
I’ll stop there.
After I spilled it all out in my journal, I felt better: ready to pray, ready to confess, ready to be grateful for the oh-so-much that has been gifted to me.
But God had one more step, one more gift.
I got up from the bench in the park where I’d been writing (so Chai [dog] could be outside) and noticed another woman entering the gate. She, too, had a dog. We exchanged pet names and then our own. In the chitchat that followed, we discovered we are both writers and the chitchat became conversation, with the shared language that comes with a shared vocation and shared concerns/frustrations/struggles/fears.
It was time for both of us to go, and as I walked toward the gate, I remembered, again, that we all—not just my fellow writer and I—are working through poopy. We’re all wondering about our purpose. We all want to be seen/known. We all struggle with identity. We all have very deep fears.
The second half of the St. Francis* prayer came to mind (another gift, that St. Francis!): Grant that we may not so much seek to be consoled as to console; to be understood as to understand; to be loved as to love. For it is in giving that we receive; it is in pardoning that we are pardoned; and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.
*Technically this poem is “attributed to St. Francis.” Here is the full text (also seen in the picture above):
“Lord, make us instruments of your peace. Where there is hatred, let us sow love; where there is injury, pardon; where there is discord, union; where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light; where there is sadness, joy. Grant that we may not so much seek to be consoled as to console; to be understood as to understand; to be loved as to love. For it is in giving that we receive; it is in pardoning that we are pardoned; and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.”
At one of Wheaton Academy’s bball games not long ago, the students brought glow-in-the-dark bracelets/necklaces. After the game, PJ gathered as many as he could, and we had a light show/photo shoot that night at home. Here he is twirling a handful of them.
(I think very highly of all these blogs as well as their titles, which is why I provided links).
I used to have a blog title.
But it wasn’t very cool.
Journey to Jen—how’s that for catchy!?
My husband, Dave, hated it, from the very beginning. I won’t tell you what he said it sounded like, but I will tell you I laughed and was also a little horrified. “It wasn’t the title I wanted,” I told him, “but ‘Jen’s Journey’ was already taken.”
I wanted “Jen’s Journey” because that’s all my blog was supposed to be: a reflection of my journey, what I’m learning, how I’m growing. I write to process, and the blog is my outlet.
Plus, I love the word “journey.” I also love the word “pilgrimage,” which is the word that led me to “journey” because, when I suggested “pilgrimage” as my blog title, Dave said that sounded weird.
(And if you don’t know my husband and are thinking right now he seems a little grumpy, he’s really, really not. In fact, he’s my greatest encourager and he makes me laugh.
Anyway, back to my blog title. I finally bought my domain (at the urging of Dave) and simply named it “Jen Underwood.”
As in, “Here’s me—and my journey.”
Come to think of it, “journey” was a bit of a misnomer, unless you think of a journey as a meandering path that sometimes goes in circles and follows rabbit trails and then comes back to another circle, much like one of the previously traveled ones, and at this point you’re all turned around and have no idea which direction you’re facing or, for that matter, where exactly this path is taking you.
That is the kind of “journey” mine seems to be. Every once in awhile I look back at my blog entries of the last few weeks and think, “It’s ramblings! Just ramblings. I’ve been all over the place, thinking about all kinds of things. There’s nothing linear about it at all.”
And sometimes I get discouraged about this, because the erratic nature of my blog is a reflection of the erratic nature of my spiritual growth. I share this with God. “Lord, I have this vague idea of the godly woman I want to become,” I tell Him, “and I have, really, no idea how to get there. In fact, I’m not even sure what this ‘godly woman’ looks like, but every time I try to plan out a ‘point A to point B’ sort of journey that I think might lead me closer to her, You rip up my map!”
“Come to think of it, God,” I tell him. “’Ramblings’ could be a good title for my blog, for my LIFE.”
But when I look further back than just a few weeks ago—when I read blog entries of a year, two years ago, when I pull out one of the notebooks I’ve been writing in for two decades—I see growth. I recognize that true good was formed out of disappointments and “rabbit trails.” I understand that each time I followed a circular path, it was a little bigger and a little deeper. I realize that I may not “look” more godly, but I’ve been drawn into a deeper faith in God.
I see a very masterful hand at work.
All my ramblings have had purpose! I just didn’t know it!
God knows very specifically how to draw me closer to Him so that I trust Him in and for everything.
Therefore, I am not responsible for planning my spiritual growth, just for following Him into it, one step after another.
And though that is frightening in one way, it is incredibly reassuring and hopeful in another!
I ramble with a purpose.
And His purpose is sure.
VERSES TO PONDER (in the Amplified version today)
Ephesians 2:10 For we are God’s [own] handiwork (His workmanship), [a]recreated in Christ Jesus, [born anew] that we may do those good works which God predestined (planned beforehand) for us [taking paths which He prepared ahead of time], that we should walk in them [living the good life which He prearranged and made ready for us to live].
Psalm 57: 1-2 Be merciful and gracious to me, O God, be merciful and gracious to me, for my soul takes refuge and finds shelter and confidence in You; yes, in the shadow of Your wings will I take refuge and be confident until calamities and destructive storms are passed. 2 I will cry to God Most High, Who performs on my behalf and rewards me [Who brings to pass His purposes for me and surely completes them]!
Exodus 40:37-38 But if the cloud was not taken up, they did not journey on till the day that it was taken up. 38 For throughout all their journeys the cloud of the Lord was upon the tabernacle by day, and fire was in it by night, in the sight of all the house of Israel.
Isaiah 25:1 O Lord, You are my God; I will exalt You, I will praise Your name, for You have done wonderful things, even purposes planned of old [and fulfilled] in faithfulness and truth.
Here are the four beautiful girls Dave and I took to The Nutcracker in downtown Chicago (with the Joliffe Ballet–woohoo!) last Friday. It was a much-anticipated event, and it did not disappoint. Best part for Dave and me: watching the girls’ faces as they watched the ballet! The boys spent the night with friends–which they said was the better deal!
Just past 7 on Christmas morning Jake came into our bedroom—we’d said the digital clock could not have a 6 at the front—to announce that he, Patrick, and Maddie were awake.
As Dave and I sloshed mouthwash, Jake chattered, mostly about presents. Then, in the middle of his ramble, he announced, ““Christmas and Easter are the BEST! They’re God’s plan of redemption.”
Well put and true, though we still laughed at the way he said it.
It is now two days after Christmas, our celebration of the Savior’s birth. We anticipated Christmas through Advent, and then we will expect Good Friday and Easter through Lent. As Jake said: The whole picture of God’s capital-R Redemptive Plan.
Advent means “the arrival of a notable person, thing, or event.” Lent is a “season of penitence and fasting in preparation for Easter.” The only reason we are able to anticipate or prepare is because we know the outcome. We know the full scope of the story. So even our Lent preparation is tinged with hope, with expectancy of joy at the end.
But the Redemption begun at Christmas, finished on Good Friday, confirmed at Easter, still has a final chapter. This final chapter will end all tears, all injustice, all war. It will dethrone evil and establish God as the visible King of Kings and Christ as the Prince of Peace.
It will make us individually and collectively right and unbroken.
But this second Advent, second arrival, has not yet happened.
We still wait for it.
It is a waiting sustained by a sure hope, but this is often hard to remember.
For though the hope is certain, we know very little about the details. How could all that we see in the world around us, in our very lives—how could we ourselves, broken and flawed as we are—be part of this final Redemption?
Paul calls it “seeing through a glass, darkly.”
We are in many ways like the people of Israel during the first Advent, unable to see that the promises of old were about to unfold in tiny little Bethlehem—unable to see that Roman occupation, a travel edict, a young girl, a loving, faithful carpenter—and a slew of other details and people we know nothing of—could be used to usher in the Incarnation.
Perhaps the details of our lives are such that we, too, wonder if we are of any purpose in the Majestic Plan. Perhaps we, too, have tried to silence our soul-whispers of grand desire and settled for “the best we can make of life.” Perhaps we are going through heartache that makes us moan and cry out “Why?”
That is the reality of our earth-life. Uncertain at best, wailing at worst—waiting, waiting—because there must, must be more.
We must cling to the promise that there is. That the Promise Himself will return and shed light on this world so that the purposes of all that went before will be revealed. We will be amazed at how all of our lives, even the smallest details, was being used in God’s Plan.
Let’s not be like the sleepers in Bethlehem. As Christ was born yards from their beds, they slumbered and then woke the next morning with no difference in perspective.
They missed the Miracle.
If we fail to cling to God’s sovereign goodness (such a beautiful mystery—that in God “sovereign” and “goodness” are inseparably linked), we, too, will miss miracles, particularly the everyday ones of relationship and personal growth. We will lose sight of Purpose.
Anna and Simeon waited for years for the first Advent. There must have been times when they felt they waited in vain, when it was lonely and painful and hard.
But at the end of it, the Purpose they held in their arms shed light on the purposes of every one of their past moments.
So in this long period of the second Advent, let us wait and endure with the understanding that God’s Plan incorporates even our heartache, even our daily grind. Though we are in the dark involving the purposes, He is not.
For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known. I Corinthians 13:12, KJV
Just a random picture I took at Macy's downtown. The colors in the ceiling glow!
We live on the wrong side of the tracks in our town. Not figuratively—there’s nothing really different about the two “sides” of West Chicago—but literally. We have to cross two intersecting railroad tracks to get to schools, work, church, friends, grocery store, and library. The only thing on this side of the tracks are Walmart and the shopping mall, both of which I avoid as much as possible.
I have heard that, on average, a train crosses the tracks here in West Chicago eight times an hour. I believe it. In fact, I think that number may be low. I often have days when I wait for a train every single time I cross the tracks. One day two weeks ago, that was eight times.
Early on in our renting of this house, I was sitting at the train crossing, drumming my fingers and looking and listening for the big engine that powers the end of particularly long freight trains like that one, when I realized that, if I was willing, God could use the trains to teach me patience. Since then, I’ve tried to use that time well. I sing, talk with those in the car with me, pray if I’m alone, jot down thoughts in my journal, even knit (that only happens when I’m not the one driving).
A few weeks ago I was waiting at a train with the three youngest kids. We were chatting and goofing off, and they were looking for the rear engine. For no reason at all I began singing the song, “It’s the end of the world as we know it.” I only know about two lines of that song, so I sang those phrases a few times and then slipped into another song I know better. Suddenly one of the kids shouted out, “There’s the engine.”
Sure enough, the heavy rumble announced its approach. As if on cue, the three kids, ranged across the back seat like a chorus, belted out, “It’s the end of the TRAIN as we know it, it’s the end of the TRAIN as we know it, it’s the end of the TRAIN as we know it,
“And we feel fine!” (And then they sang that funny line that sounds like the singer might be saying, “diggy, diggy, diggy, diggy.”)
All together, on key, like they had planned and practiced it (and as far as I know, they never had).
I laughed so hard.
This morning I thought about that story as I crossed the train tracks—without a wait. It made me think of my current favorite song: “This is not the End” by Gungor (if you haven’t heard of them, check them out—thought-provoking music). Here are a few of the lyrics:
“This is not the end of this.
We will open our eyes wide, wider.
This is not our last breath.
We will open our mouths wide, wider.
This is not the end of us.
We will shine like the stars, bright, brighter.”
I feel like crying and laughing at the same time when I sing that song—which I shout out as loud as I can if I’m alone. It’s full of so much hope! THIS, a life that often feels a lot like waiting for a train, is NOT the end of it all. One day it will pass, and that ending will be a huge beginning! I will be able to see with wide-open eyes. I will be able to praise with wide-open lips. I will fulfill that beautiful image of Philippians 2:15: I will shine like a star in my complete revelry in God.
But there is hope for this time, too, this train-waiting time; I can rest in the promise of Philippians 1:6: that until THAT end, God will open my eyes, bit by bit, wider and wider, so I can see less of my frustrations and more of Him. He will open my lips (and my pen/keyboard) so that testimony flows from them rather than selfish, hurtful things. He will turn up, degree by degree, my dimmer switch (or in this case, my brightening switch) so I shine His love brighter into the darkness that surrounds me.
In a few months we will move to the house we’re purchasing on the “right” side of the tracks, and my regular train-waiting times will be over. They’ve become almost enjoyable as necessary stopping points, worthwhile reminders that there is much good in waiting, listening, trusting, reflecting. It’s so easy to forget my true purposes when I’m incessantly running around. Good waiting (both for trains and in life) helps me remember.