Category: grace

August 12th 2014 / 16 comments

Dear Heartbroken World-

We are going to make it, you and I.

Our hearts grieve the death of our beloved Robin Williams, the helpless and terrified Yazidi people, the senseless death of our young black brothers, the cure-less disease showing no mercy in parts of Africa, the children of Gaza and Israel, the bloodshed in Ukraine, the children on our own borders- without parents, without advocates-

the pain of our own broken pieces of earth.

It all seems a bit cruel right now, doesn’t it?

Roger Cohen for the New York Times recently surmised the seemingly hopeless future of the Israeli/Gaza crisis with this, “Shed a tear, shed a thousand, it makes no difference.”

Although he did not write those words in the context I am applying them to, I can’t help but think they are the sentiment most easily adopted by anyone who has watched the news this week.

Shed a tear. Shed a thousand. It makes no difference.

It feels heavy. Out of control. Frantic, spoiled, hopeless, despairing and fatalistic.

In his brilliant book on the chronic depression of President Abraham Lincoln, Joshua Shenk says, “Hopelessness, in an extreme form, leads people to think that only one thing can break the cycle, and that is suicide.” He goes on to quote Edwin Shneidman, the creator of the field of suicide studies, “The single most dangerous word in all of suicidology, is the four-letter word only.”

Only one way out. Only one option left. Only going to get worse. Only way to find relief.

Shed a tear. Shed a thousand. It makes no difference…

Says the fatalistic heart who sees only death, destruction and heart-ache with no hope for beauty, redemption or joy.

But I say a tear matters. A thousand tears matter. And you and I? We are going to make it here in this beautiful, tragic world because our tears do make a difference.

Empathy matters. Our voices, raised in unison and whispered in prayer, matter. Our love for one another- the child on the border, the teenager walking the streets, the elderly in our nursing homes, the Yazidi cornered into a mountain, the driver in front of you, the person bagging your groceries, taking out your trash, the officers selflessly protecting our communities, our own babies, neighbors, spouses, friends, grandparents- our love, mercy, attention and kindness to each of these matters. Volunteering matters. I don’t care if you save a whale or a chicken! If you are reading to our children, cleaning up the side of the highway, teaching vocational skills in a prison or playing Bunko at the nursing home… it matters.

It matters that you and I show up. It matters that our tears of pain, anger, injustice and sadness pool together; that our empathy- our humanity- is not lost in the current tidal wave of destruction.

It has been said that without vision the people perish.
I would say that without hope, the people perish.

A hopeless society is far more deadly than any war, atrocity or dictatorship. When the bleak, despairing voices of fatalism and defeatism threaten to overwhelm a society- bold advocates of resilient hope, faith, optimism and joy must fight all the more to be known.

Though we are hard pressed on every side, we are not broken.
Though we are perplexed, we are not driven to despair.
Through suffering, our bodies continue to share in the death of Jesus so that the life of Jesus may also be seen.
(2 Corinthians 4:10)

And what of the life of Jesus?

“The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.” (John 10:10)

Jesus in us does not look like hopelessness, death, defeatism or fatalism.
Jesus in us- even in our current collective suffering- looks like life. Abundant.

Joy in the sorrow.
Hope in the broken spaces.
Peace in the midst of chaos.
Beauty overshadowing, prevailing, over every dark dirty day.

We are going to make it, you and I. We are going to do so with love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. We are going to do so as bold bearers of hope. We are going to do so through our tears.

With a firm, holy indignation I refuse to believe that our showing up makes no difference in each others lives. Indeed, our willingness to show up for one another in big and small ways, is the balm that soothes broken hearts and makes pathways out of the chaos and confusion.

Shed a tear, shed a thousand?  Yes, PLEASE.

Because the only commodity you and I can offer a hurting world is our tears.
Tears shed by people who continue to SHOW UP with brave voices of HOPE in the midst of  heartache.

Fight the good fight, friends. Don’t give up. Now more than ever, it matters.

much love, jenny

August 4th 2014 / One comment

“Mom the problem is—- there are just too many good days,” she said while curled up on my lap like a cat as we watched a lightning storm dance its way over the ocean.

She rattled off the list as fast as she could, “Cupcakes, new friends, the beach, seeing dolphins, our very own house with three porches that look over the ocean and now God’s fireworks flashing through the puffy clouds in the sky—-

“It’s the best day of my whole entire life!!! But not better than Disney World. It’s just…Uggghhh,” she sighed, visibly conflicted, “I just don’t know how to pick. Mom the problem is—- there are just too many good days.”

I quietly laughed. Oh the anguish of being a five-year-old in the age of abundance!

I assured her she did not have to pick a favorite, in the same way she doesn’t have to have just one best friend or one favorite meal; there is plenty of room for too many good days.

She’s right of course.

Life is hard. But it is also laced with too many good days.

Some of those good days are a bit more grand than others. Weddings, babies, graduations, promotions, performances, dream vacations. But other good days are so sweet, simple and surprising that if you blink you might miss them. Bubbles on the porch, dominoes with Grandpa (oh, to waste one more night playing Mexican Train around the table with my grandpa), quiet Saturdays spent reading to one another, catching a glimpse of something beautiful during the nightly walk, an enjoyable time with family- no eggshells, WWIII, guilt trips or tantrums- just a nice dinner and a sense of peace, joy even, a long talk on the phone with your momma as you run errands and catch green lights.

A day full of green lights—-

Life is hard and it’s laced with too many good days.

Today, Ryan and I sign the papers and close on our first house in over 12 years of marriage. I’ve lived in apartments and condos since 1999 but in a few short weeks I will have my very own driveway and a backyard; the word mortgage has never sounded so beautiful! This time last week I stood by my grandpas casket and said goodbye to him and it was harder than I ever imagined; tears keep finding me. And yet four days after that, two states, two time zones, a suitcase change and a plane ride I found myself on a vacation that was gifted to me. A free beach house fully stocked with wine, cupcakes and gifts for my daughter upon arrival. Incredible time with friends and a boat ride where a momma and baby dolphin decided to follow us and ride our boats’ waves. Annie and I squealed out loud with unhindered awe and joy.

On Wednesday she starts Kindergarten. Can you believe it? She is not excited and I have already told Ryan that he will need to treat it as a National Day of Mourning for me. “Do the things husbands are supposed to do when their wives are mourning,” I have carefully instructed him, because it’s gonna be a doozie. I have made sure he understands this in advance. He understands I will need flowers, alone time, probably a massage, definitely Mexican food and permission to be cranky because I am HANDING MY BABY GIRL OVER and I already miss her.

In a matter of ten days I will have experienced: A funeral and grieving heart, a dream vacation, closing on a house and baby girl going to Kindergarten. And those are just the big moments on my timeline. There are other not-so-monumental hurts, fears, problems, joys, delights, privileges, hopes…

All happening in one concurrent gamut, bumping up against each other, co-existing in the same heart- the same life.

It is not just mountaintops or valleys. As if you can reach the top of a mountain and not get ant bites or dehydration. As if you can languish in a valley and not look up to catch glimpses of sun peeking through clouds and rain falling to keep you alive. There is no such thing as a pain-free mountaintop experience. And for the person of faith that believes Jesus is living water, there is no such thing as a valley depleted of sustenance.

Our journeys look more like mountaintops and valleys and a thousand pathways in between, all happening at once. To our great benefit, life is rarely exclusive in its scope.

Life is water in wastelands and dehydration on mountaintops and too many ordinary, plain, sacred, holy, simple good days in between.

And I am all the more rich for it.

July 25th 2014 / 13 comments

Little by little I have been turning my manuscript over.

Over to an editor and a copy editor. Over to a designer and a printer. Over to my family who lets me share their story in order that I might more fully share mine. Over to friends whose grace, humor and compassion ebb through the stories that fill the pages. I turn it over.

I have been in the public arena for long enough that I know what comes next. Scrutiny, opinions, criticism, praise and litmus tests by those in the industry who want to predict whether I have created a product that is commercially viable or not. It’s not personal, it’s business. And if I had any business acumen I am quite sure I would run a company the same way. In any case, I have learned over the years that I cannot let the praise or criticism sway me. I must continue to be who I am and do what I am compelled to do. That’s the best gift I can offer.

So when an industry person recently commented to their colleagues that in their opinion, my manuscript felt like, “Wow, my life is really hard,” there were no hard feelings. It is their opinion and they are completely entitled to it. Not having spoken to the person personally- or even knowing them for that matter- I can’t say for certain why that is the only thing they walked away with. But I do know that the conversation that followed prompted that particular group of people to reach out to me and ask if I would consider revising the end of my story to make it a little more palatable by giving my story more “resolution” and giving the reader a few more “benefits” “take away points” or “inspiration.”

They said their intention wasn’t to coerce a watered down, trite or cheesy ending.  Just less of the Wow- life is really hard business and more of the Wow-God’s gonna fix it!  business.  A little less tension. A little less reality. A little more inspiration.

And hear me: I believe God is a healer and a fixer. He has healed and fixed before and God will heal and fix again. I think you and I are always, ever invited to the table to be made well. But I believe many things aren’t physically restored- the way we hope they will be- this side of heaven. Not because God is withholding healing from us, but because it’s a broken place we live in and for every ounce of beauty we encounter, there is suffering- remnants of evil among us. The hard reality of life is that some things, this side of heaven, remain broken. Still, there are many brave people among us who daily choose to live in the tension of being a person of FAITH and HOPE whether their earthly situations are ever fully restored or not. They live in that hope because they know this isn’t the end of the story; the story already has its ending and it is magnificent.

So I’ve thought a lot about the industry people sitting around their table here in Nashville. Discussing whether my manuscript might be made into a more inspirational book, debating whether readers really want to read a book laced with humor, love, insane life stories and yes, tension in the not-yet-arrived happily-ever-after. Wondering whether they could market a “no solutions” book from a Christian. Wondering whether my story shouldn’t end a little more happily-ever-after versus the way it currently ends, all Isaiah 43ish. But on my best days, Isaiah 43 is all I’ve got.

“But now, this is what the Lord says— he who created you, Jacob, he who formed you, Israel: “Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name; you are mine.When you pass through the waters, I will be with you;
and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned.”

That is all I need from the gospel. Emmanuel is with me. That is enough.

My grandpa passed away last night and gosh did I adore him. I can’t think of a major event in my life that he wasn’t there to witness. He and Grandma made the drive from Mississippi to Texas to be with my sisters and I more times than I can count. I can’t think of a time I said good-bye where he didn’t say, “Okay baby I love you.”  I don’t know what life is like without a loud, funny, brilliant, kind, arguing-with-the-TV Grandpa. He has fought for his life the past six months as his legs slowly became infected, then his blood became infected, then his lungs filled with fluid…then life support, his Priest, last rites and leaving earth for eternity with his daughters holding his hands.

We do a whole lot of living and dying between life and death. This is the tension in our humanity. And the great tension of our faith.

This week alone we celebrated with friends whose baby lived when she was supposed to die and mourned with those whose children did not make it. We told our 5-year-old that she was going to her second funeral in four months. I went to the asthma doctor, the psychiatrist and the dermatologist; places for those of us who are not yet whole. We picked carpet, waited on a house appraisal, had two picnics, went swimming and gathered at the table to cry with a friend who found out devastating family secrets. This week alone planes were shot down, children were herded like animals into filthy holding cells on our American borders and entire people groups continue to bomb and devour each other…

and I haven’t had a chance to respond to the well-meaning, industry people sitting around the table here in Nashville who wonder if I might make my manuscript a little less, “life is so hard, ” but the answer is no.

The answer is no BECAUSE IT IS.

Life is hard. All hard? No. All bad? No. All suffering? No. But hard? Absolutely. And for some people- cruelly hard.

If we acknowledge that life is laced with beauty, joy and celebrations without acknowledging that life is also complicated, confusing and often times painful beyond words,  then we are deceiving ourselves and shortchanging the depths of what it is to be fully human- people of joy and sorrow. We also miss a beautiful connection with God that is most often found in the unknowing, unraveling and unbecoming moments of our journeys.

Truth is- life is short on answers, long on grace. Short on neat bows, long on unraveling. Short on happily-ever-afters, long on God showing up in raging rivers and scorching fires. Short on perfectly curated plans, long on re-dreaming and re-building and re-dreaming and re-building. Short on “Life is perfect!” and long “Life is really hard right now.”

What I am learning along the way is this: My life is short on “God will intervene and fix it” and long on “God will be with me as I walk through it.”

Might you get to the end of my book and think life is hard? I sure hope so. To deny the frailty and pain of our condition as humans is to also deny the beautiful scope of our redemptive existence. Robert Benson says that in heaven there may well be no grace or mercy because all will be well and whole- there will be no need for grace and mercy.*

But here? Now?

We laugh, we celebrate, we dance, we cheer each other on, we gather at the table and we most fully experience God’s rich gifts of companionship, grace, peace, mercy, community, selflessness, bravery, random acts of kindness and deep abiding love for one another because it is hard.

Our stories are the stories of grace and mercy because we are people who live in the tension of earth and eternity.

And to me— that is inspiration enough.



Between the Dreaming and the Coming True: The Road Home to God
(one of the most influential books I have ever read)