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Breathing Expectation

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Undone

I’m simply undone. The church I attend semi-regularly has a first Sunday of the month evening worship service that I say I really love but haven’t made a priority in several months. Tonight I pulled myself together 20 minutes before the start and headed out.

I asked God for an answer to a specific prayer on the 5-minute drive. It’s a prayer I’ve been asking off and on (more off than on) for the past 5+ years. I haven’t really been serious about receiving a response from Him because to get one requires something of me. And I’ve been really reluctant to know the outcome of this one. Anyway, question asked on the drive and kind of forgotten as I took my seat.

Sunday night typically has really good worship music. Tonight was no exception, but none of the music was really impacting me. In fact, I had to mentally remind myself several times about where my focus belongs. At some point during the service, I mentioned to God that if He were looking to get a hold of me tonight, the music was going to have to be something really meaningful to me. And I suggested in my heart that it should be something I really like and probably as moving as The Agnus Dei.

The night proceeded. I was touched by the readings, the prayers, the fellowship, and by the music (a little). At the close, the attendees were reminded this was the last Sunday evening service ever. And the worship team closed. With . . . The Agnus Dei.

Total heart silence on my part. Barely able to sing the words. And then I realized God was answering my 5+ year prayer. With the last song. Likely chosen by the worship team days before. On a night when I didn’t even anticipate going to church. Bam. That’s just how God is. I am not random. You are not random. We are forever in His thoughts and He loves us through words and songs and every individual way imaginable.

The answer He shared with me tonight is not one I am thrilled with. In fact, I wrestled with Him a little on the way home, lightly arguing that I meant I wanted better music and that part really wasn’t about answering my prayer. I gave up pretty quickly though. It’s not remotely arguable. He reached out and touched me without a doubt.

What’s next? A whole lot of trust. Because this step isn’t going down without my leaning on him for every footfall. It requires mental, physical, and spiritual commitment of more than I can put forth on my own. Good thing He’s God and I belong to Him. He told me so on a quiet Sunday night in a small town church during their last Sunday evening service.

https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=zTgUVugjcWI

 

 

The P Word (and its evil twin)

Perfectionism. I am not a fan. The first 7 letters are enough to cause me instant angst. Perfect. Nobody has managed that in over 2,000 years. And yet, we strive and reach and make ourselves crazy. I have a friend who is very pleased to call herself a perfectionist. I’m quite worried about her actually. You can’t possibly be a perfectionist and enjoy the little things in life at the same time. So as I ponder how to share with her that I think her attitude is akin to walking the plank, I’m jolted by a realization of my own.

I may not welcome perfectionism into my heart, but I am surely well-acquainted with her sister, “Performance-based Worth.” Ah. The dagger strikes. I can feel as smug as I like over disdaining perfectionism, but my performance meter is drumming up a party beat.

It’s been an extensive battle. And battle is really the only word to describe it. For the first four decades of my life, I felt like a failure unless I was the very best at whatever was the flavor of the day. Academics, athletics, best friending, work, etc. The problem with this, of course, is that no one can be the best at absolutely everything. So I felt pretty rotten a lot of the time.

In my forties, I started to realize I had really wasted a ton of time measuring myself not only by what I was doing but also by how well I was doing it. Safe to say God had been trying to get my attention for a really long time but I was just too deep into weighing, measuring, and groaning to expand my view to match His. As I began to open myself to the thought that I maybe had some personal thought processes messed up, God showed me quite clearly that nobody thinks about me nearly as much as I think about myself and certainly no one else is assessing my every move to figure out if I’m worthy of their time and attention. This concept was freeing.

 A couple of years ago, I lost track of God’s wise teaching  and ended up not really liking much of anything and finding every day really hard to get through. Life was good all around in general, but I was only counting the failures. God clearly spoke to me that it was time for a serious change. No more worth based on performance.

What is a girl to do when the framework she has spent nearly 50 years developing needs dismantling? Get on her knees, that’s what. And as always, God came through. Wholely and completely. He led me to His own words over and over again of how much He loves me and finds me worthy simply because I Am His. So simple; so amazing and awesome.

I wouldn’t say I’m 100% cured, but I surely am aware of when I find myself trying to earn, rather than accept, my place. And I know to let go and surrender the “I can do everything myself” attitude before it gets entirely out of hand.

There is more than one reward to living this way. Peace. The supernatural kind that only Christ can give to any of us who stop flailing around long enough to receive it. I have a new P word in my life and it’s the best reward I’ve experienced yet.

Victory and (Momentary) Defeat

I’ve spent the last several weeks in Joshua and Judges, courtesy of the fanastic first5 ministry. Today was the video wrap up of both chapters from the historic old testament.

 

Joshua is a book bursting with the 12 tribes of Israel claiming victory after victory against the immoral people who occupied the land God had promised to his chosen people. Again and again, Joshua leads the Israeli soldiers as they slay armies and capture cities. Inheriting the promised land is less about sitting down to receive a gift promised and more about downright bloody work.

Unfortunately, God’s people make the poor choice of not entirely cleaning up the land. They allow some of their enemies to live counter to God’s directive. It isn’t long before Israel begins to engage in the corrupt practices of the people who held the land before them. Many of them turn their backs on God entirely, ultimately serving false gods they have created with their own hands.

While God opens His own hands again and again for us, many times without us having to do anything, the stories of Israel’s conquests portrayed in Joshua is a reminder that obedience toward God leads us into claiming and living in his promises. Not long after, Judges reminds us that disobedience can lead to disaster.

Krista Williams themed this weekend’s first5 message on being a woman of conquest rather than a woman of compromise. I too desire conquest over compromise and can see the relevance of Israel’s victorious conquering of nations and then sliding into complacency and compromise as a parallel to my own life.

Following God means being fully obedient and when I am not, understanding there are consequences. That doesn’t mean God isn’t still good and, in particular, good to me–just that I have some unpleasantness to live through based on my own deliberate poor choices. I am unfortunately in a season of repercussion at this moment and feeling the pain of the people of Israel who sat on their laurels a little too long after victory.

The good news for me is the Word of God clearly shows the hope that exists for me, not just in the future but also today, this very moment, as a believer and follower of Jesus Christ. God sees my restored heart, rather than the messy outside visible to the rest of the world.  And He clearly shows me through Joshua and Judges when it is necessary for me to pick up my sword and when I need to be still.

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Where I’ve Been

Where I’ve been is as important as where I stand today. And key to where I am going. This is a fairly new truth for me. I’ve mostly considered the past over and done and am ready to see where life leads next. Except when life doesn’t move fast enough, leaving me shuffling my feet and unsure what to do with myself.

I just finished a study on Deuteronomy (Thanks, First 5!). Yep, the OT as in Old Testament, not overtime. As a result, I have a new appreciation for “what has been.”

Deuteronomy (in my unscholarly biblical opinion) is basically a recap of Exodus–the great story of Moses leading the Israelites out of Egypt into the wilderness where they were led and shaped by God for 40 years. Initially it seemed slightly unnecessary to have another biblical book (and a really long one!) retell the events. I have come away, however, with a new perspective.

The retelling of Israel’s deliverance from Egypt and wandering in the desert for 4 decades is an opportunity to remind those living then and all who have followed since of the faithfulness of God. By the retelling of these mighty deeds, God’s people were reminded again and again He would not let them down. Because He was faithful in the past, He would continue to be faithful in leading them into conquering and claiming their promised land. And He did. Just as He does for me.

I thought long on my own past today. I am so grateful for the example of two godly grandmas who taught me to persevere in faith no matter what. I was not thankful as a child for being taken to Sunday School, although those foundational teachings have served me well my entire life. As an adult, I also have an appreciation for having learned commitment by attending regularly. I now go/do/serve even when I don’t feel like it. (Thank you, Mom and Dad.)

Life is hard. I am learning that having my own stories of God’s continued faithfulness to recount to myself and my family make it easier to go forward, especially when the storms of life roll over us. We are not lost but rather learning to trim our sails and trust the one who makes the rain.

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The Choice – Death OR Life and Peace

I had a day! Well, actually, not just one day. The last few days, perhaps even weeks, have been tough. Mostly of my own ridiculous making by taking on too much, overthinking, and expecting myself to perform mostly perfectly.

The real problem is that I obviously can’t measure up to my own expectations and this generally results in, well, my not making the best life choices in a variety of areas. Enter today. Which actually started last night. I was angry by some perceived slights and the physical state in which I found my home after working all day. There is no doubt everyone in the household, including the dog, understood quickly this was not a good day for me. They all went their own ways and I attacked the kitchen and living room with fervor. Thank goodness! Cleaning is my best choice for exorcising dangerous thoughts. Unfortunately, I didn’t actually ever deal with the feelings. Which again brought me to this morning.

I don’t like to face myself when I’m not willing to admit I’m in a bad spot and completely resistant to making good choices. So I generally don’t. Instead, I put on my selfish cloak and dive in deeply with whatever I want in that moment with little regard to anyone or anything around me. I pulled that cloak tight today and unleashed an onslaught of selfishness that resulted in some very unfortunate results. Every time I do this and finish my “less than best choices,” I’m left with an empty, angry, emotional hangover. Which is where I was sitting this afternoon while feeling a tiny bit sorry for myself. Sometimes remorse comes quickly, other times it takes me awhile to confront myself and get to the “I’m sorry” that is so necessary for the relationships that mean so much to me.

I had kinda decided I wasn’t going to feel that bad about my behavior (which you’ll notice I did not describe for you) and I sat down and turned on some music. Funny what lyrics can do to a person. In this case, it was Jars of Clay singing Show You Love. I have never been really attached to that song, but some the words completely undid me today:

Speak

And say the words that no one else will ever say

Love

Love like the world is over in a day . . .

I’m gonna speak with words that have no form

I’m gonna give you what you never had before . . .

And you’re beautiful.

Bam! Just like that, Jesus reminds me that he loves me. As I am. In this moment. My selfish, sinful, not very sorry self. It took me 35 years to really believe and accept this. I have always operated under the thought process of “Jesus only loves me when I’m good.” Fortunately, a few different people have helped teach me to annihilate this thought and accept that God loves me the same today, yesterday, and forever. As he does you!

Which is great, great news! But what I want is to get over myself. To stop putting expectations on myself that are completely unrealistic and result in my getting angry with myself and everyone in my path when things don’t turn out the way I want them too. I also want the following pattern of poor choices and icky attitude to go away. What to do? In some reading this week, I came across the following verses:

Those who live according to the flesh have their minds set on what the flesh desires, but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires. The mind governed by the flesh is death, but the mind governed by the Spirit is life and peace. (Romans 8:5 and 6)

The answer to my selfish problem is really simple. Get out of the flesh. In other words, stop competing with everybody else in the world to get what I want, stop being angry when I’m not getting my way, and focus my eyes, heart and attitude always on the One who loves me enough to speak with words that have no form and tells me I’m beautiful.

Forget death. I’ll take a big helping of life and peace.

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Why I Breathe

Breathing Expectation. Three years ago this month, I began and christened my blog using this title. The name was then and is now a reminder to myself to live in expectation of good things to come.

2013 was a truly difficult year for me and our family as a whole. The birthing of this blog was a result of that pain. Posting my writing became a tangible way for me to sustain myself through the hurt and confusion.

Writing those first words and (gasp) putting them out for public consumption is one of the greatest leaps of faith I have ever taken. I was terrified. But I had no other options really. In the midst of the emotional beating we were experiencing, I had to decide whether or not I was going to live my faith out loud. In a small step of spiritual obedience, I wrote my very first public blog And we Know, using Romans 8:28 as my anchor:

And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, who are called according to His purpose.

That verse became more than my anchor. It became my saving grace for navigating the remainder of 2013 and every day since. The transformation in the lives of our family–physical, spiritual, financial, emotional–is nothing short of miraculous. Where others intended to hurt, confuse, and destroy, God made peace, clarity, safety, and hope.

And He did it one step at a time. By showing us a little light every day. And–believe me–some days that light was hard to see. After all, you have to get down on your knees to see where the crack of light under the doorway leads. God faithfully showed us that we could not focus on the chaos around us; rather, we needed to keep our eyes on Him. To praise him, to thank (yes thank) Him, to trust Him. It is unquestionably the hardest thing we ever did. It is also unquestionably the best thing we ever did.

It still twists me up to think back to the 2+ years of hurt and uncertainty. But God often shows us where we are going by where we have been. He remained faithful through everything. That is not only what He does but Who He Is. The same yesterday, today, and forever. So much so that I intend to breathe expectation for the rest of my days.

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To My Oldest Son

What a ride we’ve had so far. Your recent high school graduation prompts me to look back on what we’ve shared so far and it can only be called amazing. You have taught me far more than you know and it is my turn to say thank you.

You won’t remember the winter and spring of 1997 when I had the first ultrasound of my pregnancy with you and a black spot on your brain was discovered. You won’t remember the tissue test the two of us underwent and the doctor’s resulting recommendation to abort you. I’ver never told you that I regret that test every day of my life. Your dad and I are convinced something we were told was so simple and necessary was actually invasive and traumatizing to both of us. And completely unnecessary.

You do know, of course, that thankfully and prayerfully we ignored that doctor’s advice. As a result, you stand before us today a man of health and integrity and your body houses the largest heart that anyone could ever imagine.

Early years with you were tough. You rarely slept. And I mean that literally. The first 3 1/2 years of your life, while precious, are somewhat of a fog to all of us. And you struggled with some health issues that I again can’t help but wonder if they tied into that damned tissue test! (Seriously, I’m getting over that . . . )

I remember the first day you went to “Moose School.” You stood in the living room with your backpack strapped to your back on your 4th birthday, watching the planes fly into the World Trade Center. You were devastated by what was unfolding on TV but so excited about your first day of school and celebrating your birthday. You have lived every day of your life since that fateful day in the same way–caring beyond measure what is happening to others while looking forward to what every day brings.

You had some struggles in school, academically and socially. And I worried. A little. Until your wise fifth grade teacher told me how much you were liked by everyone and that the heart you show every day makes you “golden.” She was right then and she is right now. And as I learned to let go of you (and you are the hardest one for me to release my grip), you began to flourish, to find your own way, and eventually to establish close friendships with people I couldn’t be happier to call your best friends.

You’re ready to take your next steps. College. And we’ve had lots of talks about what you are most comfortable with and what makes the most sense. Just remember, life doesn’t always make sense. The hard, early days you spent in the womb and adjusting to life after birth and the health issues you experienced off and on in your first decade of life were not a foreshadowing of your future. Rather they provided with you with development of strength, resilience, and love to grow into the man you are today.

And I could not be more proud of you. You love like no one else I know. You give of your time, talents, and money like no other. Your thoughtfulness and compassion are rare commodities in this “me first” world. You, son, are my treasure.

 

Connor Prom 2016

Blogging, An Unexpected Spiritual Art

I started blogging in August of 2013 as a response to a difficult life situation. The point was not to dwell or get lost in the difficulty but rather to remember to be grateful for life and all the marvelous things that still held true.

I blogged almost every day for the remainder of that year, using my words to count my blessings. Counting blessings sounds so cliche, yet is so true when one considers the many things for which to be thankful and so important to a truly healthy life and perspective.

The tough season and the catharsis of public writing changed me in ways I did not foresee. In some ways, I am quieter, more thoughtful, and definitely more careful. Not bad qualities. Just different. And sometimes they don’t feel like they fit my skin. But skin adapts to the shape of the body eventually and I am more comfortable with myself today.

The greatest good of that season and today is the spiritual shaping that is taking place. Some days the change happens through a gentle rub. Other days have felt like a chisel against hard clay. But the beauty that comes forth is worth the touch, no matter the depth of the pressure applied.

The truth is, Christ has changed me. Graciously and mercifully he has changed me into someone who looks for the good. Some days I don’t feel like looking. Other days it’s harder to find things for which to give thanks. Those are often the best days because they require some extra effort. And that is the difference. I am making the effort.

Some of you shake your head about what I believe or my words make you uncomfortable. Or you misunderstand what I’ve written and I have to work through my own discomfort of sorting out what I could have said better or wondering if writing is worth my time, even when I know it is.

As I close out 2015, what I know for sure is that I am meant to write. Whether my blog gets forty or zero views in a day. Whether anybody believes in what I have to say. Whether or not you find yourself nodding along quietly. My words have been my stepping stone from darkness to light and a reminder to trust in Jesus every single day.

May you find your hope in 2016-Cindy

  
PS: To all of you out there who have continually encouraged me – Thank you!

2015 in review

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2015 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

A San Francisco cable car holds 60 people. This blog was viewed about 310 times in 2015. If it were a cable car, it would take about 5 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.

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