The beginning of the end

The year was 2016. Everything in my life was changing, and not in a good way. My Dad was engaged and about to marry a raging alcoholic. I was still grieving the recent loss of my mother and there were few things that felt solid in my life: my marriage and my therapist were the top two. Kung Fu helped me vent, as well. But all through everything else falling apart, I felt like I could count on my husband and my therapist.

Even when my husband was frustrated over my grieving and stress about my Dad, I still felt like we were solid. Even when he spent more and more time away from home, I just wrote it off as his way of dealing with things. I felt like my stress may have been overflowing onto him, so tried my best to give him everything he needed, including many “massages” and other activities where he didn’t invite me to. It felt like I had blinders on until he blew up at me. What seemed like overnight, he started sleeping on the couch and stopped talking to me. All the love and warmth was sucked out of the room when we were home. My world was officially falling apart, not just everywhere else but also at home.

And the only solid thing I could cling onto was my therapist. And God. I started praying daily from the first day I felt a rift in my marriage, which was about two months before my husband left the house. I prayed for someone to go to church with me, since it was pretty clear my husband wasn’t going to go anymore. I prayed not just for someone to invite me but for me to find a community where I belonged. And God answered my prayers.

My co-worker Elizabeth who I didn’t know very well invited me to her church. I could tell she was nervous to ask me, but I couldn’t say no. Especially since it was exactly what I needed, at the right time. I started attending Free Church right after my husband left the house. Right around that time, I finally realized just how many lies my husband had told me. It spiraled out of control and I ended up in the middle of a panic attack late at night. It felt like the entire house was spinning all around me and my life was falling apart. I started hyperventilating and felt dizzy. I considered driving myself to the ER or calling 911 if I didn’t move in the next few moments.

As tears started rolling down my face, I started talking to God. I couldn’t say anything other than I’m sorry. I apologized, over and over again, because here I was losing my shit over a person. A human being. A shitty, awful one but at the end of the day just a creature. And in the midst of all my tears and apologies, I heard God tell me “It’s ok, I have someone better for you.” And all of a sudden, I’m calm. My tears dry up, and I feel a sense of warmth and relief. And I fall asleep.

That was the beginning of the end of my marriage. But that was also the year I learned that just because one thing ends doesn’t mean that everything is over. Actually, it usually means a new, different opportunity will present itself. And in the end, as long as you trust in God, he will take you where you’re supposed to go.

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Princess warriors

Last Friday was an amazing night! It was Sheer One Night event at Free Church. Over a hundred women gathered to mingle, eat, and grow together. Pastor Urshanna was needed elsewhere, so Pastor Katrina spoke in her place. And she brought down the house!

Katrina opened the night with this visual from Ephesians 3:1-8: Paul became a servant of the gospel by the gift of God’s grace given to him through the working of his power. Although Paul was less than the least of all the Lord’s people, this grace was given to him: to preach to the Gentiles the boundless riches of Christ. What does this mean? Even the least of us, even the worst of the worst, are given God’s grace when we follow Him.

Comfort

When you need comfort, Jesus wraps His arms around you. Don’t be anxious about anything, but in every situation present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:6-7)

Correction

If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. (1 John 1:9) If you’re not disciplined then you are not legitimate, not true sons and daughters at all. (Hebrews 12:8)

Compass

I will instruct you and teach you the way you should go; I will counsel you with my loving eye on you. (Psalm 32:8)

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We stay connected to the bride…

  • On Sunday Mornings: Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts. (Colossians 3:16)
  • In small groups: And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds,  not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching. (Hebrews 10:24-25)
  • Through serving: You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love. (Galatians 5:13)

We discover Jesus as our constant savior

We need rescue from…

Others

He reached down from on high and took hold of me; he drew me out of deep waters. He rescued me from my powerful enemy, from my foes, who were too strong for me. They confronted me in the day of my disaster, but the Lord was my support. He brought me out into a spacious place; he rescued me because he delighted in me. (Psalm 18:16-19) We are princesses of God but we are not damsels in distress!

 

 

Ourselves

For I know that good itself does not dwell in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing. (Romans 7:18-19

We have a great capacity for mistakes.

Some additional passages that are great to read:

Philippians 4:8
1 Peter 3:3-4
Proverbs 31:25-26
Psalm 100:5

Thoughts and Prayers

You know the standard saying, “My thoughts and prayers are with you during this difficult time.” It’s one of those nice things you say to someone who’s lost a loved one, maybe a parent or a family pet. It provides a little tiny bit of comfort in the midst of sadness. When I lost my mom, many said this in their own words. So many different combinations of the same saying. Some people offered their help, but I wasn’t sure how or what they could do to bring my mom back, or to alleviate even an ounce of the pain.

But losing my mom to cancer seems to be a drop in a bucket compared to the oceans we’re experiencing with these recent mass shootings. When will the turmoil of killing innocent people end? Thoughts and prayers are just a starting point, but what we need to see is action and change. Without these things, nothing will change other than the location and number of deaths. This past weekend, it was a church and 26 dead. Next week, who knows where and how many will lose their life prematurely.

More than words..

We are quick to talk. We are quick to pray to God, especially during these difficult times. We think if we have a list of prayer requests and pray daily that we’re good. Like God loves us and we did our part. But I think we’re missing the major point of prayer. It’s not a one-sided conversation where we blab our problems (and sometimes praises) to God and hope that He fixes everything. Actually, even more importantly, prayer is meant to open our ears, mind, and heart. This way we can listen and hear God when He tells us what to do. The answer is rarely “sit and wait,” although it may be in certain situations. But when it comes to something so epic and life-altering like 307 mass shootings in the USA this year so far, I feel like more than nothing is needed.

The irony

thoughts and prayersYesterday, as I was sitting in a church not very different than the First Baptist church of Sutherland Springs, Pastor Chuck was speaking on evil, the devil, and the fallen world. The Fallen Worlds consists of the evil within us, the evil around us, and the evil above us. There are four tactics of the evil one that leads to him winning in this fallen world. He uses doubt, temptation, deception, and accusation to get inside our heads and make us feel like we’re the evil ones.

But know that with God we can conquer anything. With the right tools, we can stand our ground and say “Not today Satan.” With the Belt of Truth, the Breastplate of Righteousness, the Shoes of the Gospel, the Helmet of Salvation, the Shield of Faith, and the Sword of the Spirit we rise above evil and are protected from the Devil himself. Unfortunately, this past Sunday, for one man he succumbed to evil and chose to take the lives of as many church members as he could, and then his own life.

No panacea?

universal-health-care-1095124_1920.pngIs there a cure to this madness? Can we stop these mass shootings from happening? Is it the guns or the mental illnesses? Or is it terrorism? Whatever you may think the cause is, it all roots back to evil. And without God, there is no hope. But on the same token, we can’t just think and pray away this. We must act. Pray, think, be quiet, listen, then do. God calls us as Christians to go above and beyond for our fellow man. We can’t just sit by the sidelines and hope for a miracle. We have to be the miracle.

If you enjoy my writings and would like to see more, please leave a comment below, subscribe to my newsletter HERE, and consider donating HERE for the holiday season. Thank you to all of my readers, I love all of you.

 

Marvelous Halloween Weekend

Halloween at church

yTBhfbDThis past Sunday was a blast! Captain America, Black Widow, Antman, and Dr. Strange all made an appearance at my church (Free Church)! And almost every kid was dressed up either as their favorite superhero or their favorite character. Historically, church and holidays like Halloween have been kept separated. Many traditional churches don’t even acknowledge Halloween, or they say it’s evil and try to encourage their members to not participate in the holiday.

While I grew up attending very traditional Catholic churches and schools, my parents always let me dress up as who (or what) I wanted to be (other than when I was a toddler and they dressed me as a strawberry). I actually trick or treated through high school, well beyond the normal age limit for trick or treating. But I never saw the holiday as an evil tradition. If anything, it was one of my favorite days of the year since I got to dress up as someone else and I got to collect candy.

I think it’s cool and important to recognize and celebrate Halloween inside and out of church. One way to think about it, we are celebrating the eve of All Saints Day, which is a day to recognize the saints.

Marvelous Superheroes

marvelous halloween

Not only does Free Church recognize Halloween, it also celebrates it by bringing in the good guys and gals. The Avengers are some of the best superheroes out there! They make great role-models as they fight crime and protect the good guys. Children and adults alike can look up to these superheroes, very similar in many ways to looking up to Jesus and His teachings. I see the similarities between Jesus and superheroes and can honestly say that I admire and look up to both. This is one reason why I love to dress up as a superhero.

Another reason is that feeling when a kid recognizes the superhero you are and wants to be just like you. I love seeing people smile and feel safe around me (or Black Widow). In general, I love to dress up though as any character that I can pull off. (I.E. Wonder Woman or Han Solo)

Who’s your favorite superhero? Do you like to dress up? Who are you being for Halloween?

See more pictures from this event HERE

Have a happy, safe and ghoulish Halloween!

Writings from the other side

I’ve been dealing with a few thoughts lately that have been coming at me from the other side. Bear with me.

“No offense Jen, but I’d never marry someone who’s divorced.”

How I remain unoffended is another story for another time, but what about being divorced makes someone undesirable? Why is it an instant red flag situation? And if this is true, why did I marry a divorced person? Where were you 4 years ago as I was tying the knot with the devil himself?

I guess if I had that mindset, then I would’ve never gotten married in the first place and I would have less baggage. A less red red flag. Or maybe I’d have more. Who knows. A part of me thinks the marriage kept me out of trouble though. And it taught me a lot.

It taught me that just because I know how to love unconditionally and trust someone doesn’t mean everyone knows this. Also, while I saw a glimmer of hope and felt loved by my ex, it was fleeting as once things got hard, he ran away. But only partially. I learned that some people can literally live on lies, and create two separate lives based on these lies. A part of me wonders if there’s an app for that: keep track of all your lies app.

I also learned how to love myself. By being discarded, I found myself and finally see how much I truly am worth. I found not only my legs, but my entire body, mind, and soul all came in sync with each other. Enough to not just run my first marathon, but also to start a whole new life that I never thought I’d have. Finally, I am happy to be on my own. I am getting comfortable in my independence and freedom in this new world.

But there’s that nagging voice inside my head. What about my future husband, if there is one? Another marriage? I mean, if I can find a guy willing to roll the dice on me (since I’m so unwanted). Please note the tone of sarcasm in this last sentence. But for real, if and when I do decide to potentially marry again, what does this mean for me? And for the man I decide to take a chance on?

There will be demons that I will have to fight. I’m actually already fighting them now, way before even considering marrying again.

Am I good enough? Will I be good enough for someone to marry? Will someone love me the way I deserve to be loved? Unconditionally and until death? The way marriage is supposed to be. Will I be able to trust someone enough to take the plunge again, after everything I’ve been through? They say better to have loved and lost than to never have loved. I find comfort in that and I agree with it. Which is really hard to say because I was really hurt, for a very long time. Longer than I’d like to admit. Some days I still hurt a little over it, but everyday is getting better as I find my strength and courage to push forward and move on, one step at a time.

One thing I have learned is that until I am completely over what happened to me, and completely happy with myself, I won’t be ready to even entertain the idea of marriage. I know this time is the time that I need to focus on myself and my relationship with the Lord. My strength and courage come from Him. He has opened so many doors in my life it’s overwhelming. He has answered all of my prayers, and has given me more than I could ever even imagine asking for. One year ago he freed me from the hell I was living in, and he answered my prayer by having my friend invite me to her church, which is now my church. And that was just the beginning.

IMG_20170923_104230I’m not perfect. I will likely always have doubts and those voices in my head that I must battle. But I know what I deserve, and I strive to be the best person I can be. I know my ability to love, deeply and unconditionally. And I feel that same love from Jesus, so at the end of the day even if I end up being alone (and with 30 cats) I will be just as happy as I would be with someone. I don’t find my worth or happiness in others (if I did then that comment above would affect me way more). Instead, I find my happiness within me and my joy in God. He brings me everything I need and even the things I don’t realize I need. He goes above and beyond to show His love to me. And it’s indescribable.

So to my future husband, if you exist, if you’re reading this then you can see that I’m a work in progress. But aren’t we all? All I ask from you is patience and love. If you choose to love me, I will choose to love you. Everyday. For the rest of our lives.

But until then, I’m going to enjoy the shit out of life with my fur babies, my friends, and my family. I’m going to run marathons, or maybe just half-marathons (they’re much easier!). I’m going to lift weights and practice yoga. I’m going to not only attend but also provide help at my church. I’m going to spend time in God’s word and grow with Him. I’m going to enjoy my alone time as much as my time with others. And I’m going to heal myself. I choose myself everyday, which may seem selfish, but I know it’s necessary during this season in my life.

All I can say is I’m worth it. We’re worth it. And with God anything is possible. Always and forever.

With love.

Jen

What faith means to me

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Some common questions I get from friends, family, and acquaintances:

  • Why are you not more angry over what happened to you?
  • How is it that you’re happy despite everything you’ve been through?
  • How is it you continue to believe in God even after He took away everything you wanted?
  • How do you find your strength and courage?

I’m here to tell you that this journey I’ve been on, the one I call faith, has not been the easiest one. It has had it’s ups and downs, and I fully expect it to for the rest of my life. A quick look at my history within the Christian realm:

I was raised Catholic. For three elementary school years, I attended two different Catholic schools. The three years were miserable, with the third taking the cake. My mom listened and showed me grace by placing me in the local public school starting in 4th grade. But no fear as I continued CCD (Confraternity of Christian Doctrine) through middle school. Basically, continuing education for Catholics. After I graduated high school and went away to college, I decided to officially stop pretending to be Catholic and leave religion for the old ladies with rosaries.

During my first semester in college, I dated a guy who wanted me to “know Jesus” so I dumped him. #byefelicia. By the second semester, I was lost, alone, and sad. Someone invited me to a bible study, and I went mostly to just make friends. Through the small group, I started making some amazing friends. And I discovered Campus Crusade for Christ. While I was a part of the small group, I didn’t really get into Cru until my sophomore year. Through this small group and the amazing things I did with Cru, I accepted Jesus as my savior and chose to have a relationship with Him. The rest is history. But like I said, it hasn’t been an easy journey. At times, I’ve fallen away from my faith, but I’ve always had my belief in God to fall back on. A crutch, if you will. Even when I disobey, I still feel His love.

But I never needed it as much as I’ve needed it over the past two years. Through the death of a parent, a divorce, a life-changing move and now marathon training, I’ve never felt closer to God. And that’s where I am now.

This past week, we celebrated our 5th birthday at my church (Free Church) and this amazing pastor Brett Jones visited us and had an amazing message. And it’s too good to keep inside. So this is my version of it. Welcome to my mind. Make yourself comfortable, today we go deep.

(Genesis 22:1-14)

It’s important for us to know that not every test comes from Satan. The life of a Christian should be expanded and grown upon. For example, one way to know if someone is ready to be passed from one grade to the next is to test them. God doesn’t test you to break you. He tests you to prove you. The difference between temptation and test: Satan tempts you. God tests you. One is to destroy you, the other is to promote you.

A sure way to wreck your life is to think you can take everybody with you. God calls you for your assignment and you alone must go. Some people need to stay with the donkey (Genesis 22:5). Don’t try to take them where they don’t have grace to go. Abraham knew that something was going to happen on that mountain that the young men he was with couldn’t handle. There are some places that only you and your sacrifice can go.

Most of the time there isn’t a crowd when God proves himself to you. God will allow you to prove yourself and He will rewrite the story after your proving ground. If you’ll give God your stuff, He’ll give you His stuff. This story in the Bible introduces one of the greatest themes of the Bible: substitution. Abraham and Isaac met God on a hill outside of Jerusalem. Abraham saw a lamb (substitution), Jesus was the lamb.

Jesus was crucified on the same hill where God tested Abraham, just thousands of years apart. As Abraham climbed that hill, his thoughts centered around the death of his only son. As God climbed that hill, his thoughts centered around how amazing Abraham was and his amazing will to pass the test He was placing on him. His faith led him to where God wanted him. God tied up a lamb to replace Isaac as the sacrifice. And Abraham had no idea this all was in store for him, he just took a step in faith.

Are you living in faith or fear? Do you check everything before taking every step? Do you over-analyze everything going on? God sees the whole picture. He is the author of our story, and He has the ability to rewrite it. Even if you feel like you’re destined to live without God, anything is possible. Even if you feel too evil, or too far from Jesus, He still loves and chooses you. If you’re interested in learning more about what I believe in, reach out to me. This is just a tiny snippet of my story, and my story is still being written.

Lots of love,

Jen

This is 31

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Last year I did an entire This is Thirty series where I looked back at my past and took you through the process of my life pre-marriage and eventually to where I was, or where I thought I was. Looking back over the past year has me seeing double. It’s hard to believe how far I’ve come, and I’m only getting started.

It feels like where I was at 30 is a completely different world and different life than where I am now. The crazy part is I thought I was in control of my life and thought I was mature. Thought my mom passing away and my dad starting a new family helped me grow, but little did I know I had no control and my marriage was already falling apart.

Today, as a single and independent woman, I am no longer in that fake-happy world I was stuck in. I’ve grown up and out of the “American dream” and I’ve found my own dreams. I not only was thoughtful, but also methodological in my choices and actions over the past 9 months. Moving to Oak Park wasn’t the easiest choice, but it was a no-brainer for me for several reasons. Reasons relating to my job, my friends, my sense of community, my safety, and my lifestyle. Above all, though, I feel like God called me here. And I listened.

In the middle of the storm of my previous life, I grew quiet and listened to God. He told me several things that still ring true today. He told me “He’s just a person” “I have someone better for you” and “I have something better for you.” I believe that something better was and is Oak Park, Free Church, and the community I’ve found here. I’ve moved on from the person who tried to control me, and find it surprising when people ask me about that old, long ago time and place.

I’m still growing and I’m still maturing. There won’t be a time where I will say I’m mature and I’ve grown, because there is always room to grow more. I learned that even when you think you’re in control, you never really are. And I’m learning to let go of that need to control and to let God. So far, he’s steered me into this new, wonderful life that I would’ve never imagined on my own. And I’m savoring every moment.

Party in the Park

This past weekend my church threw an amazing party in the park. This is an annual summer party they throw that just keeps getting bigger and bigger every year. It was great to be a part of this event and to be able to hang out with my church community outside of church.

To give you some perspective, Free Church was started in 2012. In five years, it has grown from only a few to about 300 churchgoers. There were well over 100 people at this party yesterday. The growth is amazing to see, and we got our very own building this year (the Hemingway Museum). 🙂

I’ve only been going to Free Church since November of 2016, but I feel myself growing as well. While it’s great to see more and more people at church, it’s even better to feel my faith growing as I learn and dig deeper into this community I call home. I feel safe and cared for in my church community. And I feel strong. There’s about 46 of us training for the Chicago Marathon this year. We’re all running it for Team World Vision which brings clean water to those who need it the most in Africa.

This week is week 6 of training and I already feel myself changing. This past Saturday was the second time I ran with my church group, and it was amazing. We ran 10 miles and we crushed it! Not only do I notice my chub decreasing, I also feel my legs getting stronger. But beyond that, I feel healthier all around. Not just physically, but also mentally. My mind feels more clear and focused. I feel like I can achieve my goals that I have for myself.

If you have the means, please consider helping me bring clean water to the women and children in Africa. This small act will allow them time to do other things, like go to school and study. Thank you!

https://www.teamworldvision.org/participant/jenb