True Religion in Action

“Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.” James 1:27

This verse has never been as alive to me as it has been since my husband died. To be honest, I’d forgotten it was even in there until my sweet cousin, Sarah, reminded me of it the week he died. She wanted to offer assurances that I was going to be ok. My kids where going to be provided for because God had instructed his people to take care of me.

I wept and then watched in amazement as the people of God did just that. People across denominational lines moved to help us in ways that still bring me to tears. I received blessing like the widow’s oil in 2 Kings 4:1-7 that just kept flowing. God performed a miracle to provide for that widowed mom and he keeps moving to provide for me, again and again.

One of my coworkers summed it up when he said, “I love to see it when God’s people get it right.”

Today I am reminded of this verse as I can’t seem to stop crying tears of gratitude. My kitchen sink broke last night. A seal at the base of the faucet snapped in half and popped out. Water sprays sideways when you turn it on. No leak is threatening to flood my house so I was thankful for that. But you need water in a kitchen.

I texted a pic to a handyman friend and he said the whole thing needed to be replaced. Sigh. There goes the money I had set aside for the kids’ clothes this week, I thought.

In the morning I posted on Facebook a call to see if any handy friends had time to install a new one for me. I’d looked up how to do it myself on YouTube. Nope. That’s not going to happen. I was hit again with how handy Kraig had been and grief made doing it myself seem impossible. No one replied and I thought of how busy my friend’s husbands are with their own home repair lists. I decided after my morning meetings I’d start calling handymen to get a quote.

Halfway through my meeting with the high school guidance counselor, my sweet friend and pastor’s wife, Katy, texted me. “Would it work for two guys to come fix the faucet at 4 p.m. today? They’ll bring a faucet.” Tears clouded my vision and I had to fight to return my focus to the meeting. I shared with the counselor why I was distracted and she teared up too. She said, “That’s amazing!” Jesus was glorified in her office today.

I love my church. Fountain Springs Community Church in Rapid City, South Dakota is growing by leaps and bounds, I believe, because they have determined in their core to show people who Jesus is—with words AND deeds. When Pastor David mentioned in a sermon last fall that this verse from James had convicted his heart, I sat up straighter. When he said he was adding a line item to the budget to help widows in need so this ministry would be part of who we are as a church, I cried.

To those who are Fountain Springers who regularly give to support the work of this amazing ministry, thank you! You helped our church be Jesus today to this widow and her four kids. You provided for this by your faithful tithes and offerings. You may not be one of the great guys coming to do the work, but you are partners in the ministry being done in my little house here in town.

I hadn’t even thought to call the church and ask. But God knew to make sure my post on Facebook caught Katy’s attention.

So today at 4:00 I will have everything ready for two great guys to come be the hands and feet of Jesus to this widow. Today I will again thank God for his provision when I didn’t even think to ask. And today I will encourage others to reach out to the widow and the orphan in practical, tangible ways because you often have no idea what a huge blessing you can be.

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Guess It’s Time to Run

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us….” 

Hebrews 12:1 NIV

I hate running. Seriously I have never been so happy as when a doctor told me I wasn’t allowed to run or jog at all. I have bad knees. I do other forms of exercise but running has never been something I enjoy. However this week I’ve gained a new appreciation for this verse.

As January dawned this year, I struggled with a bleak outlook. That’s why I haven’t posted a blog in so long—I wasn’t sure I had any words worth sharing. Before me stretched 12 empty months with no huge plans or goals to fill them. Last year January represented stepping into a new year as a widowed mom. It represented surviving. But I survived the First Year of Grief. No, I did better than that. By the amazing provision of God I thrived.

But now what? That question seemed to mock me. So I did something wise—I told my Heavenly Father just how empty I was feeling. I gave Him the coming year and asked for His direction. And then I waited.

God did not send divine direction all at once. There was no audible voice or angel in my room telling me THIS was what God had planned for me this year. I think He saves those kinds of directions for rare moments. Instead, He started to show me my cloud of witnesses.

I used to think this verse only referred to the saints who had gone before us, cheering us on from heaven. But over the past few weeks, I have seen encouragement from amazing women of faith cheering me on through Facebook and the internet.

I have been following amazing authors such as Christine Caine, Lysa Terkeurst, Jen Hatmaker, Emily Freeman, and Kathi Lipp. Over the past weeks some of the encouragement they’ve posted has seemed to shine a spotlight onto my “what’s next.” These women of faith have posted things that God has used to prompt my heart to keep moving forward, one step at a time, towards what He directed me to do last year—write. Write for His glory, using the talents and experiences He has given me.

Through these women I have been reminded that God gifts and God guides. He uses those with willing hearts more than those with talented abilities. I have been encouraged to hone my craft and submit my steps to Him. I was reminded that He will open doors I could never dream of when I have taken the time to submit to His will. My cloud of witnesses was cheering me on and pointing me back to the truths I knew deep in my soul. God has a plan for me, for all of us, which is more breathtaking than anything we could ask or even imagine!breathtaking meme

So I took a leap of faith and contacted one of those authors I respect and enjoy. I asked if she’d be willing to read my book and possibly endorse it. She said yes. I was shocked. Oh me of little faith. This propelled me to get back to working on the thing I felt God directing me to so many months ago.

Then God sent me one of my new friends willing to read what I’ve got so far and give me honest feedback. Amanda loves nonfiction writing and would be a good person to view what I’ve got from the outside. She’s only known me for about a year.

And then I took another leap of faith. I contacted a book agent I’d casually met in the hall at last year’s She Speaks. I asked if she’d be willing to read my proposal and consider representing me. This weekend I got her reply. She said yes. She said she was swamped with work right now but if I contacted her mid-March, she’d let me know if she’d caught up enough to have time. I wept. That was perfect timing to get Amanda’s feedback and to polish my proposal that isn’t quite perfect yet.

God has a plan for each of us. I have shared that with others time and again. Sometimes I can forget this truth applies to me too. Let me encourage you today that God has plans for you! He will direct your steps so that you can run the race He has set out for you.

He’s not showing me the whole picture of what He has planned for me but the next steps. That’s all I really need. I guess I’d better get on those running shoes and get back to my race.

The Finish Line

Can it be 31 days ago I set out to challenge myself and blog every day? Can October be coming to a close this fast? Can I really have made this much progress in a month on making my house a home? The answer to all of that is yes. Wow.

Not all of my blogs have been Pulitzer material. (Yeah, I’m stretching it to think even one, but a girl can dream, right?) But I was faithful to the task I committed to—blogging daily and sharing the journey of making a house a home after moving as a widow with four kids. And that was a challenge.

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Today I got to finish on an incredibly high note for me. I got to finally unpack nine boxes of China and serving plates and precious creations by the little hands in my home over the years. I got to fill up my China hutch and proudly display the treasures that live there. Bonus—there’s now more cleared space in my garage. It not only made my home feel more like MINE, it got me a few steps closer to being able to park in my garage before the white stuff starts to fly around here.

This month I’ve not unpacked or decorated every day. But that was part of sharing this journey. Had I employed the household staff of Downton Abby, I might have gotten it all done. But my theme was Bringing Balance Amongst the Boxes. I had to balance exercise and housework; kids’ schedules and my part-time job; unpacking and paying bills; overwhelming grief and the fantastic normalcy of the mundane. It is a balancing act.

This month I also continued to watch God’s faithfulness in action. He loves me so much. Did you know He loves you too? My son bought a shirt that says, “Jesus Loves You. But I’m his favorite.” It made him laugh. My sister said she heard a sermon that stated we should all understand we are God’s favorites. He values us beyond what we can understand.

I have watched as He’s provided the right people to help me at the right times—both with little and big projects. I’ve watched in awe of His financial provision. I will forever speak of the glorious things He has done in my life. He is amazing.

I’ll probably take a breather from blogging for a few days at least. I need to take Sophia, Hermione, the “Gate Guy with the cool keys from Lord of the Rings,” and Eddie Kruger—Freddy’s CPA brother who gives you nightmares about being audited—Trick or Treating tonight. (Seriously, that last one was all his creation and I’m still chucking about the creativity.) Plus I’ve got company coming and more projects to work on.

Thanks for joining me in this journey. Please feel free to share links to any of my blog posts and take time to click “Follow +” button on the bottom corner.

Redemption of a Bad Day

This has been a tough week. It started last weekend, seemed to improve a bit on Monday and then was a roller coaster of stress and sadness and exhaustion. But God helped me make it through. Seriously, it was an act of The Almighty.

And then this morning I discovered my child had lice. I know. Not that popular of a thing to admit online. But just FYI – lice like clean hair and little kids pass them around like the sniffles when they start going through an elementary school. That’s what started my bad weekend last week. We thought we took care of it. Now another kid has it. Argh. Time to disinfect and treat and do 8 zillion loads of laundry…again.

But you know what? I decided not to let this define our day. I decided that God had helped me make it through a terrible week so He would help me tackle this again.

If Jesus came to seek and save that which was lost (Luke 19:10, paraphrase), then maybe this day wasn’t lost. Maybe I can put on a smile and tackle all that we need to do without feeling like a leper.

So we cleaned the house and did our chores. I treated the vermin with a shudder and a prayer this will finally do the trick.

SAM_0992I unpacked two more boxes and hung pictures! The walls are screaming at me in their emptiness. Even if I move them later, they are up for now and it made the kids smile.

We went to buy pumpkins from a couple of boys who grow them themselves. They sell them and use good stewardship to save some, spend some, and donate some of the profits. Yay for supporting kids working for their money!

SAM_0991I baked pumpkin zucchini bread and took Lucy to the eye doctor. We discovered she needs glasses at least for the next year. Her growing eyes aren’t making the adjustment from reading up close to reading the board far away. He thinks she might outgrow it. She was excited to get something pink.

Today was not defined by the bad. It was defined by my choice to choose joy. It was redeemed by my choice to keep moving forward no matter what glitches arise. There was redemption in choosing to keep my focus on Jesus and not on pestilence and glasses and more laundry at the end of an exhausting week.

I’m thankful God helps redeem even my worst days. It’s just another example of His gracious love.

Because God….

(This is almost part 2 from yesterday’s post “Because I Must.”)

I write this late in my evening from a place of utter exhaustion. It was another long day. It was a better day than yesterday. No boxes got cleared out of my house. I did buy a tiny sign that will go nicely on the picture wall when I finally get it up. That counts as working toward making a house a home, right?

Yesterday I was completely overwhelmed by the weight of mothering alone my four amazing kids. Their stress added to mine. The seemingly endless list of things I need to accomplish and places I needed to be brought me literally to tears and stopped me in my tracks. This widowhood thing is hard. I wrote from an honest place of feeling completely inadequate to the task.

But God answered.

I grabbed a book to read in the car while waiting for my kids to get out of school. It was Lysa TerKeurst’s The Best Yes. I wasn’t feeling like ever saying yes to anything again but it was the book I was halfway through and it is really good. And at the bottom of the second page I read, words of encouragement whispered to my heart.

“For the eyes of the Lord range throughout the earth to strengthen those whose hearts are fully committed to him.” (2 Chron. 16:9)

I know that Jesus promises to lift our burdens and God promises rest to the weary. But sometimes finding a fresh reminder from His word shouts it louder to my soul. Because God strengthens.

And then a text came in from a sweet friend. She doesn’t text me often. She wanted to say she cared about me and that God had placed me on her heart all day. She hoped it had been a great one.

I told her honestly it hadn’t. I thanked her for her prayers as the burden lifted a little more. God had moved on her heart to pray for me in a dark time. Because God knows.

As fellow writers in my 31 Day Challenge started to read my post, words of encouragement from fellow sisters in Christ flowed in. These women didn’t know me personally, but they knew I was hurting. They wanted to encourage. Some commented with prayers. One writer named Liz, posted this:

Jennifer, I can’t begin to fathom what you are experiencing, what level of worn you are facing. But I am praying for you. Praying that you find refuge in God and help through his cloud of witnesses. Praying that you catch yourself doing things right and noting all the love and stability and resilience you are giving your kids. Praying that you know you are enough, and then some.

She grasped that the reason I must keep going was so that my kids had stability and love. They have lost so much. I want so desperately for their childhood to continue to be a childhood. I want for everything else in their universe to go on because they have already felt deep tragedy and I don’t want it to define them! Because God understands, He spoke understanding through this woman.

So tonight I’m still worn. As I type this, my son is finishing the last half of his last football game in the marching band. He’s not sure he’ll do it next year. I had to leave after the half-time show to run home and make sure the others were tucked in bed. They weren’t. Now I type as I wait for the call to come back and pick him up.

Today was better than yesterday. Today I worked out and bought a piece of home décor and enough groceries to feed my growing minions. Today I enjoyed lunch with girlfriends and watched my son perform in the marching band. And today was better because God helped me tackle another one. And tomorrow I will trust Him to help me do it all again. Because His eyes are seeking out those fully committed to Him to send them strength. That includes me.

Score!

Today’s blog could have been called “Hooray for clearance finds and it pays to know the employees at Hobby Lobby really well” but that’s a little long. Sometimes I need to work on brevity anyway.

I used to sew a lot. I had an Etsy site. Think I still do. But since Kraig died, sewing hasn’t been therapy to me. It’s been a burden. So I pared down the craft shows I do to one and that one is in two weeks. Gulp.

I resumed my habit of frequent trips to Hobby Lobby to take advantage of sales on materials and try to create new things that will sell. And I was pleased to be greeted by the employees who used to see me all the time like a long lost friend. It was sweet.

One of the assistant managers also knows me from Special Olympics. Our sons used to participate in the same sports. Today I found her stocking shelves as I walked the aisles of the framed art and prints that were 50% off, daydreaming for my new house. I’m always on the lookout for a good deal and inspiration.

As we began to chat, Heather asked what I was looking for. Nothing specific, I told her, though I did say I would love to get one of those huge clocks to go on a wall I have that is above some steps. But, I added, they are usually really expensive. Her face lit up. “Follow me,” she beamed. “Let’s go look in clearance.”

I didn’t know this department had clearance. She said they’d only recently found the space for it. What do you think sat there but a beautiful, oversize clock just like I wanted in a color that fit one idea I had for the area. It was missing a handle on top. But, she pointed out, if it’s going that high on a wall, who’ll know? (Well now my readers do but I don’t care!)

I realized if I got it home and the color bugged me, I could paint it. It was 66% off! I only thought for a few moments before realizing it was a steal. I found a plaque for $3.50 on another shelf that would go with a picture wall I’m planning as well. And then I decided I needed to get out of there before I was too naughty with my budget.

SAM_0989I will have to enlist the help of Rhonda’s husband, Joey, for a ladder he has specifically for steps like those. And to make sure I mount it safely lest it fall one day and flatten my little Lucy. But just seeing it sit there puts a smile on my face today.

Little by little, I’m finding ways to make this house a home. Little by little I’m bringing balance amongst the boxes. Today it was with a blessing in the Hobby Lobby clearance aisle.

This may be Harder, but God is still Good

Today I awoke excited to welcome my new microwave oven at my new house. God had provided for it. I had filled out a customer survey on how I felt my realtors had done. Not good. The owner was mortified. She refunded a fee I had paid her company and offered to pay for the installation of my new microwave. Those two things equaled just $30 under the final cost. Amazing.

I set aside a chunk of my morning and welcomed the installation dude and showed him to the spot over my stove and the exhaust hood it would replace. And that’s when the story got complicated.

The hood wasn’t plugged in. It was wired in. And the microwave required a place to plug in. He wasn’t allowed to do that. I would have to hire an electrician. He recommended a place I could call and my request for a quote was disheartening–$65/hr plus materials and I’d have to wait 10 days for an opening. It was reasonable. But it was a bitter pill when I had already paid $160 for the installation.

Then the installation dude, trying to help, made his suggestion. “You know you could check and see if you knew anyone who could do it. It’s pretty easy. Do you have a handy husband? Boyfriend? Someone in your church?”

Yes. I had a handy husband, I thought. I told him my late-husband could have done it and I had just uncovered a box of electrical supplies in the garage to prove it. “Oh.”

Moving into a new house as a widow is presenting challenges. I’ve never in my life had to hire a handyman. Now things come up that my late-husband made look so effortless. If he didn’t know how to do something, he figured it out. I’m trying to make that my mantra but I do have my limits. Figuring out how to install an electric outlet on YouTube didn’t sound wise to me. (Can I get an “amen” from all my friends who know just how accident prone I am?)

I posted the need to Facebook feeling, again, the hole in my life my husband left when he died.

I remembered a nice man from my former church who was an electrician and gave him a call. He said he might be able to come by later. It shouldn’t take long at all. It made me perk up a bit. I reminded myself that God had provided for anything I had need of since Kraig died in amazing ways. I needed to fix my eyes on Him and not let the weight of grief pull me down.

And then I watched as a few little blessings started to improve my day. Ryan was coming to help with the microwave, though he’d had to reschedule for tomorrow. I remembered I had earned a free salad at Mixed on my frequent shopper’s card. Awesome! My errands went easily and I had a favorite TV show TiVo’d I could watch after my errands.

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The new microwave before electrical hook-up commenced.

My mood started to improve and after school I got another surprise. Another friend’s husband, Jeremy, worked near my house and was waiting out front with all his electrical tools. He’s an electrician too. It wouldn’t take him long at all. He wouldn’t let me pay him any more than a loaf of my pumpkin zucchini bread. I texted Ryan that it was all taken care of and thanked him for being willing.

There will be things that come up that I need to fix, repair, or upgrade. But God has provided for me this far and I will delight in telling anyone who will listen how He is caring for this widow and her children! Today a set-back reminded me of what I had lost. But it also revealed, again, that God had not left me here alone. This may be harder, but God is still good.