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Beauty Defined ?

I heard on a local radio station that a woman’s most beautiful age is 29. REALLY?  Who did they poll? Wait! Don’t answer that. It’s beside the point of this post. But–again–REALLY?

I’m not knocking any 29-year-olds out there, but for the babes in the woods, your beauty is just beginning.

At middle age plus, my friends range in every decade from teens to nineties. And let me tell you, precious people become more beautiful as they grow in wisdom, love, and life experience.

Show me a 29-year-old without saggy skin and I’ll show you a 40-year-old mother of teenagers whose beauty comes in the form of weary nights worn on her face and scar tissue in her heart.

Or the 60-year-old grandmother raising her grandchildren because she is the only one who can. And the 50-year-old daughter who is managing well on her own until life steps in and her plans scatter as she rearranges life to care for aging parents.

Age does equal beauty. Because servanthood equals beauty. And as we age we become more patient, kinder, more generous and open-minded.

We care less about ourselves, what others think of us, and genuinely applaud the celebrations and successes of others.

Beauty is also about authenticity. Twenty-nine is great but most of us are still trying to define ourselves at that point. We become more “who we are meant to be” with each passing decade and therefore we become more real. (And probably more likeable.)

Occasionally I wish I could go back to 20-something, but the wish is really a fleeting thought and not a wish at all. I like the shaping of mind and heart the last 30 years has grown in me. Watching the same shaping happen to the women around me is seeing beauty unveiled.

You with the crow’s feet! You are beautiful. And you with the age spots. And you over there with thinning hair and jiggly arm flesh. You’re beautiful too.

If you’re still 29, don’t be too sad. You’re day is coming!

“…our inner nature is being renewed every day.” 2 Corinthians 4:16

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Freefall

Six weeks ago my blog post described the unexpected emotional state I found myself in following my dad’s death.

I’m still not “myself,” but I also realize I’m not entirely the same self. And that’s okay, probably good in fact.

One issue I wrestle with constantly is control. I want to know what is happening so I can shape the outcome. It’s exhausting, unhealthy, and–quite frankly–a detriment to my faith testimony. I am not called to “take care of everything at all times so that all will be well.” In fact, I can’t. I’m limited by my humanity.

And I’ve been crying again. A lot these last two days. So I sat down with God tonight to sort out what to do with my feelings and it’s pretty clear my wanting to control my small slice of the universe is going to be a life block for me until I give it up. It’s daunting, but necessary. I wrote a poem (?) to put some context to it:

I am at the precipice

I dread the free fall

God says, “Let go” and I brace myself.

He says, “Let go” again

And I cry because I am afraid

Afraid to lose control.

The free fall is terrifying and a threat to my attempts to hold everything

And trying to hold control is like folding glass

A broken mess and I’m deeply cut.

God whispers, “Let go”

“I want to,” I say, “but I’m still afraid”

I take a step closer to the edge.

He waits, smiles, nods encouragement

I cry a little more as I loosen my grip on the pieces of glass–they aren’t whole anymore anyway

I close my eyes, stretch my arms, and leap.

The glass turns to stars and I fly.

Collected Tears

When I was a little girl, our family had a book about another little girl who cried so much her bed floated out of the house and down the street. While I loved the story, I could not identify with the main character. I rarely cried. In great part because I didn’t want to give anyone the satisfaction of knowing they’d hurt me.

Fast forward almost 50 years. I have grown up to be the girl on the bed wet with tears, floating down the street on a river of her own making.

It started with the death of my dad, my saddest life moment. I only cried a little the first few days, then not at all until about 2 weeks after the funeral when the floodgates literally burst.

I’m sure this is part of the natural mourning process. What I’m not certain about is the ongoing torrent of tears. My eyes rain heartrending tears with regularity, yet unpredictability.

Missing my dad, feeling that gaping loss, is at the root of course. I’ve come to believe that loss has become the catalyst that is finally allowing me to release a lifetime of emotion. At middle age plus, let me tell you–that takes a lot of tears!

My husband and boys have been keeping a wider berth than usual. I’m pretty sure they don’t know what to do with me. And I don’t know what to do with myself either except: Let. the. tears. come.

I am weeping for what is lost, what will never be, and for the things I wish were different. It hurts. A lot. But the salty water that streams down my cheeks is also very deeply healing.

The day after my dad died, I found myself wondering what advice he would give now that he’s experienced life from the eternal perspective of heaven. I think he would tell me how the things that often consume me really don’t matter so much, that I’m on the right track of trying to love Jesus well, and to really and truly love other people.

And that stellar advice just doesn’t always align with who I am. So I cry about that too.

It’s all serving a good purpose. Growth and healing are taking place. And I have God’s reassurance that there is plenty of room in his kingdom for tears, even when I cry a river:

You keep track of all my sorrows.

You have collected all my tears in your bottle.

You have recorded each one in your book. Psalm 56:8

Don’t Get Burned

When you walk through the fire, you shall not be burned and the flame shall not consume you. Isaiah 43:2

Haven’t we all walked through fire and smelled the singe of our skin?

Or felt the hits and the hurts that pile up on us?

We have given credence to and soaked in the condemnation and criticisms aimed at us by others.

There are times life is just so hard. Every breath. Every step. For me those times come as I’m struggling to stay in control when truthfully I was probably never in control.

Life fires burn and the people in our sphere hurt us. Sometimes intentionally. I can’t control that no matter how hard and I try and oh have I tried.

What a relief to read the words of Isaiah 43:2 and know that life “fires” shall neither burn nor consume me. And it’s not up to me to keep the flames at bay.

My piece is keeping my eyes on Jesus and trusting His word. It sounds so simplistic; nevertheless I find myself on many days struggling for solid footing. When I stop to assess why I’m flailing, I generally discover I have been totally immersed in myself and my immediate issues. Turning my gaze outward generally brings a lifting of spirit and some order to the chaos.

Usually the only way I can get outside of my own skin is by staying attuned to my bible. There is no better place to find relief, hope, and reassurance. The written words were relevant to all the messed up people who traipsed their way through the pages way back then and they remain relevant to our lives today.

Not only do I escape being burned and consumed, I am reminded that the giving and receiving of grace makes all the difference in the world. That’s a day changer! Every day. One day at a time. And it doesn’t take long to start breathing and stepping again.

4-Letter Word of the Week

B-U-S-Y

Not what you expected right?

Me neither. Until it smacked me right in the face and shook me up. As a general rule, I don’t like to be smacked or shaken, but this was different. Perhaps awakening is a better description.

I really try not to compare myself to others, but time and again I see all kinds of people around me who just seem to navigate life better than I do.

In celebration of Easter and all that Christ has done for me, I chose to live that day in joy. Every so often, the beauty of spending the day with people I love celebrating The One I love was interrupted by niggling thoughts of what I needed to do. None of those “things” was immediate, yet I could feel the tension rising. Tension about what I had to do and worry that I might forget.

Several times I silently and mentally told myself to stop. For maybe the first time in my life, I minded my own wise advice. I stopped thinking, resumed gratitude for the day and enjoyed my family.

I later pondered this habit of mine to engage in busy thoughts. Truthfully, I am no busier than anyone else and less so overall than many. Yet the angst of busyness dogs me often. And the more I think on it, the further behind I get (at least in my head). As it turns out, a lot of my resulting busyness is simply all-consuming thoughts.

Managing thought process IS controllable. And I very much like to exercise control. So I set out 8 days ago to dismantle the B-U-S-Y in my life.

Day one went well. I wasn’t a slave to others’ expectations. I set a realistic outline of the day for myself and I actually stuck to it. And when I didn’t over perform–gasp–nothing bad happened to me.

I experienced a few struggles throughout the week. After all, everyone’s workplace rightfully has some demands and of course our families and friends have needs and wants to be addressed as well.

It’s unrealistic to expect life will never get busy. The key is managing the busy when it comes and not creating it when it doesn’t. By being mindful of what I can prepare for without repeating to myself every hour just how busy I am, I will eliminate several hours of angst, anger, or anxiety every week. Time I can gratefully use to pursue joy.

R-e-g-r-e-t-s

Regrets. Feel the weight? Just reading this simple 7-letter word feels the same as an elephant sitting on my chest. Worse yet, a talking elephant that chastises me while continuing to press the breath out of my body. I’m flattened and wallowing in shame all at once.

I can avoid that elephant for a time. But eventually she catches up to me. Sometimes I even throw her peanuts. And then, I’m really in trouble. Welcoming regrets is definitely something about which I should have regrets.

One of my wise sisters-in-law (I am blessed with many!) lent me a book last week. Chapter 2 suggests I fast from regrets. I love the concept so I’m doing that. Not fully successfully yet. But making progress. Have you ever tried to make an elephant disappear? It’s a bit of a slow process. But not futile. I’m claiming space, as well as my breath.

The biggest revelation so far is understanding what sinking into regrets has done to me.

Self-flagellation.

An idea so foreign and repulsive to me on the surface, yet turning my regrets over in my mind and entering again into the shame and disappointment of them accomplishes pretty much the same thing. Yuck!

That comparison has been an incredible revelation for me. I’m not interested in physical self harm, so why do I engage in the mental version?

Understanding what spending time and brain power in regrets actually does to me is making it easier to stop, but I have it written on my bathroom mirror in red lipstick just in case.

My lipstick is pretty, but the bible always says it best:

For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death.

2 Corinthians 7:10

Embracing Damage

It’s a season of fixing.

The need to fix, of course, generally means something has been broken. I have a number of things that currently require fixing, such as drywall, tile, and a few clothing items to be mended.

Unfortunately, I also have a few intangible items that need fixing as well. Getting around to these repairs is more difficult to face and follow through on than, say, picking up a wall patch and some paint.

Nevertheless it’s time to get busy fixing. I’ve been pondering a few changes of my own lately and then a conversation last night with Oldest Son veered into a discussion (with a smattering of lecture thrown in) on Living Well. As we chatted, I realized I need to take my own advice and confront the areas where I am not living as well as I know I can.

On facing the necessary fixes, it’s a little daunting but also exciting imagining what the end result might look like. A new coat of paint in the entryway, a kinder/less judgmental view of others as my first, rather than learned, response. Both are extremely appealing and therefore I move forward with anticipation.

The thing about my brain though–a trait shared by Oldest Son–is that I don’t move forward without looking back. As I assess the fixing required, I also dwell a little on the damage done. Broken pieces of wall, tile, self. Mostly self.

Its not that I don’t trust that Jesus is enough to sweep away the mess, fill the cracks. I do. Most days anyway. But I’m always mournful of the time and resources wasted on the mistakes. I hate making mistakes. And, oh, not being right all the time. I hate that too.

This week, though, I’ve seen the beauty in surrendering, rather than reliving, the damage. God was gracious enough to teach me about kintsugi. I’m not an artist. Nor do I have an inclination to seek out things art-related so it truly is a merciful intervention this information was presented to me.

Kintsugi is the Japanese art of repairing broken pottery or ceramics with lacquer mixed with gold, silver, or platinum. The repair method has been referred to as “embracing the damage.” Words that sweep my heart clean.

The damage was done, yes. But it has been repaired, also yes. And when repaired well, the new look is sometimes more interesting than the original.

While I’m still sorry there is repair work required within me, I can see the damage is not irreparable and is, in fact, transformed into beauty. Jesus again takes my breath away by making all things new.

And He who sits on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” And He said, “Write, for these words are faithful and true.” Revelation‬ ‭21:5‬ ‭NASB‬‬

Pay Attention!

I’m simultaneously watching the Vikings game, a series on Netflix, and reading, as well as keeping an eye on my smartphone for game and social media alerts. Read: I live a distracted life.

Over the last few months I’ve been pondering my attention to and presence in my day-to-day living. More often than not, I find myself trying to manage too much at once. Not necessarily multi-tasking but more multi-focused. Guess what? It doesn’t work so well.

Last night I was sharing with (possibly lecturing) Oldest Son on recent personal decisions. I questioned whether some of his choices were really driven by his personal character makeup or if they had simply become habits. I was really pleased with my momentary parental wisdom until I realized this morning that I need to ask myself the very same question.

So much of what I do is because I’ve gotten into the habit of doing so. Drinking water and exercising routinely are two I feel pretty good about. Living a distracted life by habitually giving limited attention to a number of things at once is not so great.

Over the past 2 months (minus today obviously), I have been forcing myself to try more often to pay attention to the issue of the moment without letting anything else in. It’s been surprisingly difficult. For example, I am a life-long reader. I enjoy everything about books and can’t get enough of them. However, I no longer just read. I read while monitoring my phone and checking one thing leads to another and another until I’ve lost an evening wondering what I even looked at and why. I am most surprised to discover I now have difficulty reading without constant interruption.

Right now I can’t tell you the score of the game, the next suspect in my Netflix drama, or the key moment in my book without “rewinding.” Not a very smart way to go through life.

I’m only making one New Year’s Resolution for 2018 and I am going to start now. I intend to live a focused life attending fully to whatever requires my attention that moment/hour/day. I will hear people when they speak to me and I will respond appropriately (even if that is respectful silence) because I will know what they said and be able to read the emotion on their face.

I suspect I may even lose my coffee cup and phone less frequently simply by paying attention. Cheers to 2018 and getting in better touch with the things and people that matter in life!

Keep your eyes straight ahead; ignore all sideshow distractions. Watch your step and the road will stretch out smooth before you.” Proverbs 4:25-26 (MSG)

Miracle not Merit

Miracles aren’t based on merit.

Everyone has reason to hope.

These words came to me as I was pondering the number of people I know right now who are counting on a miracle. Some for health issues, others for improved finances, and more for a singular difficult life circumstance to be changed.

I am also waiting for something about which I have been praying specifically for a year and a half. I was talking to God about my request again a couple of days ago and shortly after that made a fairly poor life choice. Almost immediately I decided God will never honor my prayer because of my sin.

That’s when he struck my heart with the words above. If a miracle is based on my behavior, it really isn’t much of a miracle. Then life would always be good as long as I am good and I would be controlling everything. And although I really like having control (topic for another day), that would be a ridiculous and exhausting way to live. It also minimizes who God is and the awesomeness of supernatural intervention.

I contemplated those words and as they sunk into my very soul, the very obvious answer that I am not the recipient of a miracle based on my own merit became real to me.

Miracle as defined by dictionary.com is: 1 an effect or extraordinary event in the physical world that surpasses all known human or natural powers and is ascribed to a supernatural cause.

2 such an effect or event manifesting or considered as a work of God.

Supernatural. Meaning I can’t, He can. Also meaning He doesn’t need me to make it happen. I recognize the power of prayer and the important role that so often plays in the result of miracles day after day. I’m simply saying miracles don’t hinge on my own tally of good versus bad behavior.

As with all gifts from God the Father, Christ the Son, and the Holy Spirit, miracles are given by grace alone. As was the greatest gift of all–Christ himself.

Letting that message through to my brain and heart is very freeing. It’s all in God’s hands and there is no better place for a person’s desires to be.

If you are waiting for an answer to prayer or a miraculous intervention, let these words permeate you and live in hopeful expectation.

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