I ramble with a purpose

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.

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 like cool blog titles. Here are a few of my favorites: Everyday Epiphanies, Still Point in a Turning World, Logic and Imagination, A Place of Abundance, Writing from the Margins, The Middle: Encouragement for the Journey Through, A Holy Experience

(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.

A lot!

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.

His.

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.

Be the Dough

Emily is becoming our master cake maker! This is the angry bird cake she made for Patrick's sixth birthday (1/17/12). She made cake pops for the birds and pigs, colored almond bark to coat them, and then made a marshmallow fondant ("It tastes better than regular fondant," she told me.) for the details like eyes, noses, and beaks! It turned out so, so well.

Proof the yeast, add the flour, mix and knead, knead some more, let it rise, punch it down, shape the dough, let it rise…
And,
Finally,
Bake.
It’s a long process, a restful process.
Or a frustrating one.
It all depends on the perspective.
For most of the high school sophomores in the Bread of Life class I taught the first two weeks of January, frustration won over rest.
“Why does the yeast need to proof? And what does that mean?”
“Have I kneaded enough? No? Really? How much longer?”
“It’s still not ready?”
“It has to rise again?”
“When will it be done?”
We made yeast bread six times during the course, and some of them were still asking the same questions on day six.
I ask the same questions of God.
How long? When will this be over? Haven’t I been in this situation long enough? Isn’t there anything I can DO? Just WAIT?
Breadmaking is a complicated process–and a little magical, too. The yeast—captured as a living organism and then dehydrated (“put to sleep” in a sense)—is “waked up” by the warm liquid. It bubbles and pops on the surface, letting you know, “Yes, I’m alive! I will work.” You add flour (and a few other things) and begin to knead. As you shove at the dough, hit it, smack it, even toss it back and forth (if you have a couple people), the protein in the four (called “gluten”) begins to stretch; it becomes elastic and flexible.
Then you let it rest. While it rests, it rises, and you wait, peeking every so often to see it fill up the bowl. Finally (this is a long rise period), you punch it down, knock all the extra air out. It deflates when you do this, like a balloon gently popped. You form it then, into loaves or rolls or whatever shape you fancy, and it rises again, smoothing out the surface, becoming beautiful. Another wait, another rest.
And, finally, it bakes. And it rises a little more with the extreme heat that would have killed the yeast at any time prior in the process.
It’s a lot like spiritual growth. “Magic” is involved: the Living Water brings to life what was dead within us; the Holy Spirit allows us to stretch and grow beyond our natural limits. A Master Baker (like the Potter) knows the complicated process: how long we need (sorry, unintentional play on words) trials and troubles; when waiting periods will help us grow; the right time to knock us down a little, to let failure reveal sin areas in our lives; what shape is the perfect one for us and most useful for the Baker’s grand plan.
I know so little of the recipe and the plan for me. But God says, “I know the thoughts and plans that I have for you… thoughts and plans for welfare and peace and not for evil, to give you hope in your final outcome” (Jeremiah 29:11, Amplified version).
I don’t know why it’s so hard to remember that I don’t know what I’m doing, but it seems I have to tell myself again and again to “be the dough,” to let go of the desire to control.
And let God, my Master Baker, work.

Spade Work

We spent Thanksgiving with my side of the family at my sister's place in North Carolina. Here's Seth (my sister Lynda's fourth child) throwing our PJ up in the air. What an awesome image of trust!

At this morning’s first church service, I read the Scripture passage for the Advent: “John 10: 10-18, ‘The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy.’” Man, I have a good reading voice. “’I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.’” I wonder if anyone out there is thinking, “What a nice reading voice she has?”

Seriously, it happened. Maybe a bit more subtly than the way I wrote it above, but it happened. Darts of pride and self-awareness were shooting at me—and not from outside—from within! I had suddenly become the enemy.

I used to watch middle-aged-and-up women (and oh-my-word, I’m one of them now) in church and think: They have it! By it, I meant that they had “arrived,” that they had conquered sin habits and lived in a state of constant peace and faithfulness.

Well, if my own journey is anything to gauge it by, that’s not the way it works. I heard a preacher say recently (Rick McKinley at Imago Dei Church in Seattle) that Christians in their twenties haven’t yet discovered how truly sinful they are.

It’s true! In my twenties (and a little beyond) I remember taking stock of my sin problems and thinking it was only a matter of time and maturity before I had them licked—with God’s help, of course! I would add.

That makes me laugh now! With every passing year I discover more darkness within my own heart. The image I get is of roots going deep into the ground. I dig and dig—and find more and more, tiny tendrils (or not so tiny!) shooting out in all directions, growing faster than I can chop them off, going down into depths I can’t even see.

But I’ve made another discovery lately, this one far more hopeful: every sin root I find is an evidence of—and an opportunity for—GRACE!

I am often shocked by my sin. Seriously! I didn’t just think THAT! Maybe Satan planted that idea in my head; maybe I saw something that triggered it. That couldn’t come out of ME!

But it does, and God’s reaction to my sin is very different than my own. He is not surprised by it. He also doesn’t have my false levels of what is ok and what is not. He does NOT say what I sometimes imagine He does: You did what, Jen? That may be the last straw for you. That’s a new low!

No, He’s not shocked. In fact, He knew about it all along and is revealing it to me at just the right time. Last year a good friend told me, “I’ve learned to thank God when I recognize a sinful pattern in myself because it’s an area where He is leading me into growth. I can’t grow if I don’t see anything wrong or lacking.”

He knew about it all along (so it’s evidence of His great grace—loving me even though I’m far worse than I ever thought I was), AND He wants to use this new recognition I have of my sinfulness to help me to grow, i.e. OPPORTUNITY!

I limit and demean God’s grace when I am shocked by my sin AND when I try to deal with it on my own, wielding my trowels, shovels, even pickaxes in self-powered attempts to dig out the new roots I’ve discovered. Contrary to that, there’s great freedom in saying, as God gave me grace to do this morning, “Wow, Lord, You can see what I am wrestling with here. I confess that I’m struggling with some pretty nasty pride. I confess that it comes from me because I’m just as human as anybody else, and this is who I am in my human state. I’m so grateful You’re not blindsided by this, and I admit I need Your help to chop this root out. I know this won’t be accomplished immediately or even quickly—because it goes a lot deeper than I can see—but I ask for Your help in turning to You again and again when it pops up.”

This allows me to keep going (in this morning’s case, to keep reading) because I realize that my guilt-wallowing doesn’t accomplish my sanctification. I’m NOT saying I shouldn’t acknowledge my sin OR that I am not responsible for turning from it. Scripture uses strong language regarding sin in the lives of believers; “Put them to death,” it says”(Col. 3:5-8). But when I wallow in guilt, I resurrect the sins. I do the same when I try to pull the roots in my own power (oh, that awful “I got this” mentality). I choose either guilt or independence because it feels like I’m doing something, but both are counterproductive. I’m actually giving life to those sin roots.

So how do I pull them out/separate them from a power source? Well, God didn’t say to “put them to death” by myself. He wants me to cry out to Him. He WANTS to help me. And I have to acknowledge that I CAN’T to do that.

The battle is really a constant “setting aside” of self-sufficiency, a “putting on” of dependency that involves a deeper and deeper knowledge of who I really am without Christ.

Again, it’s paradoxical. Growth does not necessarily mean I struggle with sin LESS; it means I see more of it and I bring it to Christ again and again. As I do this, I grow more aware of my inability to deal with sin on my own.

And I also understand more deeply how God loves me—just as I am AND with a commitment to my growth.

“6And I am convinced and sure of this very thing, that He Who began a good work in you will continue until the day of Jesus Christ [right up to the time of His return], developing [that good work] and perfecting and bringing it to full completion in you” Philippians 1:6 (Amplified).