All the Way, My Savior Leads Me

Ten years ago I left my first job & first career in order to pursue my second. I had spent two amazing (and difficult) years in the Yup’ik village of Tununak, Alaska teaching 2nd & 3rd grade. I’m sure I learned much more than I was able to impart to my students, but that’s another story.

I knew I wasn’t really cut out to be a teacher. I couldn’t do as good of a job as I wanted to; so I thought about what I could possibly do next. I had wanted to be a teacher since the time I was asked what I wanted to be when I grew up (except that one time I said I wanted to be a ballerina…). I then remembered that when I was in elementary school I once thought that being a librarian would be an amazing job. I also remembered a time while I was in college when I was telling my fellow soon-to-be teachers about all of the books in the Scholastic book order and what I loved about them. So that’s what I settled on, I would be a librarian.

Close to this time, ten years ago, I started grad school. Nine years ago I graduated with my Master of Library Science degree. Sounds super cool, right? Eight and a half years ago I was offered a job in a place I had never been; a place I had never even thought of. Cape May County, New Jersey. I, of course, accepted it.

I could tell story upon story of all the things that happen in my typical day to day at the library: parents telling their kids they need to leave or they will get locked in and the library monster will get them; getting Storm Troopers to come to a Star Wars program we hosted; moms being surprised that I remembered their child’s name 3 or 4 years after they started going to school and stopped coming to storytime; eating bugs because kids read over 7,000 books one summer. Maybe one day I’ll write about all of those and more. But not today.

What I want to share, and try to process through for myself, is how amazing God has been through all of this.

I came to this strange place called New Jersey knowing only one person in the area. I soon connected with a family that welcomed me with open arms. God used them greatly to guide me, teach me, grow me, comfort me, and support me through these years filled with many ups and downs (and I don’t think He’s done with them yet). Through them I got connect to a church that also welcomed me with open arms. The people there became my family, as mine was so many miles away. They, too, have been used by God to help me grow in my faith, encourage me, love me, and speak truth to me.

The past eight and a half years, as I delighted in my career, as I gained loving, godly relationships, God grew me immensely. I’m not sure I would recognize the 27-year-old who came to a place she had never been all those years ago. For that I am oh so grateful. Words cannot fully describe just how much.

In a few short months, I will be moving on again. But this time I won’t be on my own. And this won’t be a big move where I know few to no people. My husband and I have bought a house and are moving closer to where he works. This has always been the plan and we are both excited for it. Excited to be living near our church family & community. Excited to have a place of our very own, to paint and decorate as we please (I may be more excited about the decorating part than he is). Excited to be close enough to friends to have them drop by just because. Excited to be more active in our community.

But this time, I will have no official job title. We will be moving outside o the county so I will no long be able to work there. I am not searching for a new job as a librarian. It has been our hope to start a family. I have been looking forward to the end of my job title as “Head Children’s Librarian” in the hopes that I could replace it with one I desire even more “Mother”. That is not the case…yet. And even in this, especially in this, God is growing me.

Why do we constantly look to titles, people and other things to fill that place that only God can? Above all else, I struggle with this. I don’t know how many times I’ve talked with others about where our true identity lies. Or even how many times I’ve written about it. Do you know why that is? Because it’s the one thing I most need to be reminded of.

In the midst of this world, I get stuck.

I get stuck thinking that my career is the most precious thing.

I get stuck thinking that if I find out one more friend is pregnant I’m going to lose it.

I get stuck thinking that if I can’t have what I want the world is going to end.

Lies. Plain and simple. Lies.

Truth:

My career has been an amazing blessing. I’ve met so many precious souls and got to work in a place & with people I thoroughly enjoyed.

I rejoice with all of my friends expecting children. They, too, are a great blessing. I preemptively ask forgiveness if I ever act strange/rude/distant around you. Some days are just harder than others.

Who is here who knows what’s best better than the Creator of it all? Don’t I remember the times when I wanted something so badly (marriage) and God said, “Not yet. He’s not who I have for you.”? Don’t I remember all of the amazing things He’s done in the past? How do I forget those so easily? Why do I get so wrapped up in this world and forget about my God?

Thankfully, He always finds away to draw me back. Sometimes it’s a sermon that sends me running to His open arms. Sometimes it’s a verse that causes me to cry out to Him. Sometimes it’s a song that reminds me of things so easily forgotten.

“All the way, my Savior leads me,
What have I to ask beside?
Can I doubt His faithful mercies?
Who through life has been my guide
Heavenly peace, divinest comfort
Ere by faith in Him to dwell
For I know whate’er befall me
Jesus doeth all things well”

Forgive my winding trail this time around; one idea lead to the next. I’m sure you know how that goes. If not, you’ve just got an insight to my thought process 🙂

What I hope to convey to you (and to remind myself) is that if you find yourself struggling in this world; stuck in the mire and weighed down by worries, turn to the one Whose yoke is easy and burden is light. Let Him direct your path. Delight in where He leads you.

Love & Blessings,

KJ

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In Which I am Undone…and Put Back Together

There is a reason my Bible falls open to a certain page. The spine is broken from pouring over the same words time and time again. Words that lift my heart. Words that give me hope. Words that led me on to Christ some 13 years ago.

O Lord, you have searched me and you know me.                                                                                                               You know when I sit and when I rise; you perceive my thoughts from afar.                                                                       You discern my going out and my lying down; you are familiar with all my ways.                                                             Before a word is on my tongue you know it completely, O Lord.                                                                                         You hem me in – behind and before; you have laid your hand upon me.                                                                               Such knowledge is too wonderful for me, too lofty for me to attain.                                                                                     Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence?                                                                             If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.                                                     If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea,                                                                               even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast.                                                                                 If I say, “Surely the darkness will hide me and the light become night around me,”                                                           even the darkness will not be dark to you; the night will shine like the day, for darkness is as light to you.              For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb.                                                                 I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;                                                                                                    your works are wonderful, I know that full well. ~Psalm 139: 1-14

Not only have some events of today pulled me down, but also battles within myself. Battles that I want to ignore or explain away. Ones that, more often than not, find me glued to a screen or my nose in a book in attempts to escape. Because facing them head-on would be hard. Facing them could hurt. Acknowledging they exist would mean…my being aware that they exist. And that makes them rather hard to ignore.

I lost one such battle this afternoon and yet…

I came to a place when I knew I had to turn to my Father. Much too often I try to do these things on my own. I let it all out, no holds in telling Him the things I desire most. Things I’ve spoken of too many times to count. At first, He does not answer, but the author of lies does. “Really? What makes you think you are worthy of such things? Why would any man spend the rest of his days with you?”

Tears fall once again as I attempt to retreat within myself, somewhere no one can find me. But then there is the still small voice. The nudge that tells me I know just what I should do, just where I should turn to find His answer. So I take the worn book off the shelf. Pages are falling out. Tears have soaked through many pages. Yet it still gives me what I need to hear as it falls open to the place where the spine is broken. Open to what I know I need to read. What I know I need to remember. What He knows needs to be refreshed within my heart. “O Lord, you have searched me…”

He knows all I do before I do it, even before I think of it. He knows what is to come. If anyone is to know that, I’m certainly glad it’s Him. He’s got a plan, one He created way before I was born; I can rest & trust in that. He will hold me through it all.  I may have lost this battle, but the Lord is victorious in the end; and as I’m on His side, what have I to fear?

There is no place of escape that is too far away from Him who loves you. There is no place so dark or dire where He cannot reach. There is no act too horrid that cannot be forgiven by the One who stretched His arms out wide to save the entire world. His works are wonderful. As He is the Creator, and we, the creation; so what does that make us? Sometimes it just takes a reminder, maybe a word from a friend or a Bible opening to where the spine is broken, to let us know that we are loved. More than we could ever fathom.

In days ahead that might leave you broken, I pray you’ll look to the One who completes us all, Jesus Christ, the Author and Perfecter of our faith.

Love & Blessings,

KJ

True Beauty

Ever have one of those days when you’re just not happy with the person staring back at you out of the mirror? Those days where you change outfits at least 6 times and finally settle on something only because you’re going to be really late for work? I’ve done those things more often than I care to admit…but less and less as of late and for a very good reason.

A few months ago I had a conversation with a friend about beauty and it really got me thinking. I was used to seeing beauty in many things that God has created; not only in the visible & physical aspects of creation like nature, but in people and relationships that I observed. The perfect fit of a wife’s head on her husband’s shoulder. The joy of a parent seeing their child accomplish something for the first time. I saw His beauty all around, but never when I looked in the mirror. Over the course of this summer, I have begun to see things differently, though. I have begun to see myself differently.

I’m not sure what started this snowball; but something that really got it rolling was when someone told me I was beautiful. I know this is a simple thing to say. I know it can be said by people who do not mean it. To be completely honest, I don’t think I’ve ever had anyone say it to me who wasn’t family or one of my girlfriends (not that when you say it you do not mean it, don’t get me wrong. I just have typically taken it as a “whatever” kind of comment because I never saw it myself). So how was it different this time around? It was said by someone who is blind.

The insistence with which he said it struck me. Who was I to tell him he was wrong? But if he could not physically see me what was it that led him to think such a thing?

For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. Ephesians 2:10

If you are in Christ, not only are you a new creation, but you are God’s workmanship. In a Bible study I went to the teacher said that the word translated to workmanship could also be masterpiece. We are each a masterpiece of God’s. Do you think He could ever create anything ugly? Anything that is not beautiful? Take a moment to let that sink in. After it has, ponder this:

I praise You for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Your works are wonderful, I know that full well. Psalm 139:14

Psalm 139 is what the Holy Spirit first used to draw me to God. It spoke to me in a very broken place and told me of the great love He had for me; so much so that He would be with me wherever I was and would “hem me in, behind and before,” which always gives me this wonderful visual of being safe in God’s pocket 🙂 I go to it often when I need to remember these things, but verse 14 always stood out. I wanted to believe it so badly, but it was just a matter of my heart not believing what my head said was truth. Or that it was true of other people, but not of me. Now, on most days, I know better.

Being a wonderful work of God, you can bet there is beauty within me. My problem before was that I was searching for the beauty of the world. Something that has been distorted by sin and mangled by lies of the devil. That is not beauty.

True beauty is a cross on a hill.
True beauty is Jesus dying to cover a debt I can never repay.
True beauty is an empty tomb.

Just as Christ’s love and grace should be reflected in our lives, so should be the beauty of all He has done for us. It is something that people might not see with their eyes, but it should emanate from us so that they can sense it and know there’s something different about us.

Over this summer I have changed in ways I cannot fully describe. I am often surprised by the girl in the mirror. There’s a hint of radiance in her I don’t remember noticing before. I feel content in where God has me in this life. I have assurance that I am doing what He would have me to do. I have grown; in confidence, in faith, and, yes, in beauty, for I am growing in Christ. My prayer is that you are as well.

Love & Blessings,
KJ

Church as God Meant it to Be: One of His Provisions for Us

To start things off; if you think the church is the building you go into once, maybe twice a week to worship, take a closer look at 1 Corinthians 12: 12-27. In that passage Paul says we (Christians) are all part of one body, the body of Christ, His church. So being, we all have our purpose yet work together for His glory. In the early church believers pooled all of their resources, even if it meant selling all of their land, so that all were taken care of. It’s pretty amazing to think about; that people who are of no blood relation would be so willing to take care of each other with such a sacrificial love. But then, they were called to love one another as Christ loved them. And His love lead Him to give the ultimate sacrifice. This commandment of love was not just for the early church, but for all believers. We know about it, we read about it, but how often to we actually experience it?

There is no coincidence that my pastor preached out of Acts chapter 2 this morning for his sermon, “A Grace Built Church.” A lot of ideas about church today are so very different from when the church first began. We are meant to be doing so much more than just making an appearance every Sunday, saying polite hellos, singing, and listening to a sermon. Perhaps it will be helpful to take a look at how the church conducted business when it was new.

They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe, and many wonders and miraculous signs were done by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved. ~Acts 2:42-47

I, myself, have been blessed to be on the receiving end of this kind of love & fellowship this past week. On Friday I was in great need of prayer. I was able to contact some of my church family and within minutes I had replies of prayers, encouragements, and even a couple phone calls. This morning I spoke with a Brother about the decision I have to make about going to Michigan as my grandmother is not well. I would typically drive the 12+ hours over 2 days, or sometimes straight through. He offered to get me a plane ticket with miles he and his wife had saved. After a similar conversation a Sister offered to drive with me if I ended up driving. This same afternoon I was also simply handed some money to assist with a need I’ve had. I was struck by these great kindnesses and I felt so blessed to be a part of it all.

As I was driving home I really thought about it. I often feel left out, no, on the sidelines, no that’s not quite right either…perhaps more like I’m missing something, because I am single. But I will also be one of the first to say that that is not true. God has provided for me, in these instances and many, many more, through the amazing church family He led me to. I pray I’m able to pass the blessings along. There are always things we can do better, but I think we have a good part of Acts 2 working within our family, all for the glory of God.

So what is it you could be doing to help your family? Maybe it’s gathering together to help a Sister move. Perhaps God’s leading you to help support a member of your church to go on a mission trip. Spend some time with an elderly Sister or Brother who might be on their own. Invite a new couple to dinner. Be available to the mom who just might need some time on her own. Whatever it is, I encourage you to follow His lead. You probably do not have to go so far as to sell your possessions to help a Brother or Sister out, but would you be willing to? If we are to be known by our love, let’s put those words into action and make them evident. Can you imagine all of those who would be “filled with awe” (insiders and outsiders alike) by witnessing such acts of love?

If you do not know this kind of community I’m writing about because you do not have a church family of your own, I encourage you to start searching for one. It is so hard to be a part of all of this if we are by ourselves. It’s not easy and it’s not always a comfortable experience, but when you’ve found it, you will definitely know.

Love & Blessings,

KJ

One Step at a Time

I was at the store last night, trying to find some goodies for my Secret Santa exchange at work, when I overheard two women having a conversation just down the aisle.

“I’ve been praying for you,” one of them said. “I hope things are getting better.”

“That’s funny; things have been getting harder again & I was going to call and ask for you to pray. It just seems like this is the hardest time to pray. I’m in so deep, I don’t know where to start.”

“That’s when you need to pray the most,” the first woman consoled. “Pray and run to God – He can get you through. Get in His Word and He will sustain you”

The conversation went on as they traveled down the aisle and over to the next. I, very much, wanted to follow them down the next aisle and let them know the blessing their conversation was to me, but I couldn’t get up the courage. I was so amazed at what I had heard. It is not often that I hear talk of God so out in the open (when I’m on my own), but that wasn’t what surprised me the most. What surprised me was the fact that the first woman could have been having that conversation with me and would have gotten the same response.

Something snapped this past Sunday; and in a manner of minutes it felt like the rug was yanked out from under me. So many thoughts were swirling around my head and there was nothing I could do to stop it. It’s scary to be fine one minute and to be sobbing the next. I’m ever so grateful I was at church when it happened as they have become my family here. Enveloped in hugs and prayers I pulled it back together and headed off to work.

Later that night I felt it again. Unable (and somewhat unwilling, I admit) to formulate words of prayer, I texted a friend. “I feel as if I’ve fallen in a hole,” I told her. “And I have no idea how to get out.” She reminded me of what I already knew: I can work these things out when I work through them with God; one little bitty step at a time. Indeed, the ladies’ conversation at the store mirrored the one we had the day before.

It seems to me that whenever I get a good grasp onto something, that is when the Devil comes knocking. He whispers lies, and I, relying on only myself, fall for them. I don’t know if it’s because over the years I have become rather self-sufficient or what, but it is not often enough that I go straight to Jesus when these things happen. It’s so silly, when you really think about it, pretty dumb too. Jesus was tempted in all ways. He faced the Devil directly. And through it all, He remained sinless. I am so far from that, why would I not choose to rely upon Him? It is something I am still trying to figure out, but I do know this: I am relying on Him more than I did a year ago. I am aware of my need for Him, for a Savior, now more than ever. I trust Him with so much; my very life. But as you may have heard, the problem with a living sacrifice is that it keeps getting up off the altar. Often we lay things down at the foot of the cross – worries, troubles, heartaches, bitterness – just to pick them back up, again, and again, and again. All because we, as silly humans, think we can do better than the Creator of us all.

It is always in times like these that a specific Bible verse or passage is brought to my attention, one way or another, and through it the Holy Spirit gives me comfort, reassurance, and grace to continue on. This morning it was again through today’s entry in Jesus Calling. The entry itself spoke right to my heart as it opens with, “Make Me [Jesus] the focal point of your search for security. In your private thoughts, you are still trying to order your world so that it is predictable and feels safe.” I was blown away as it put into words the exact thing I had been doing. Then it referenced Isaiah 41:10.

So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.

I do believe this is the next verse to go up on the chalkboard in my living room. A constant reminder for when the bottom falls out. Turning to Him sooner, rather than later, I will not sink as deep. But regardless, He finds me in the dark places, for the dark is as light to Him, and He will guide me out; one step at a time.

Love & Blessings,

KJ

Daily Struggles

The past couple weeks have not been easy. They have been filled with struggles; from feeling completely alone with a group of my closest friends to wondering just what God has up His sleeve and couldn’t He please, oh please, just give me a little hint or insight. Through it all though, He has been teaching me, which, of course, is the reason for these struggles to begin with.

Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. James 1:2-4

Some of these lessons I cannot quite verbalize yet, but there are a few that I can.

  1. When God’s Word says “all” that is exactly what it means. Of course, you say, what else could it possibly mean? The truth is, until last week I didn’t really think it applied to me or my circumstances. How many times have you heard “With God all things are possible” (Matthew 19:26b)? Hundreds, probably. In Christian culture it seems to be one of those things that just fits in anywhere and can be said without really thinking. Are you out of work & looking for a job? Is a friend sick and need to be healed? Have you lost your keys and need to get to work? Don’t worry, With God all things are possible. See what I mean? It is something we can automatically say, knowing it was the “right thing” to say. Now, don’t get me wrong, I believe these words to be true, 100%. I just don’t think we always believe them to be when we say them, or we say them not expecting anything to change. Last weekend I heard something on the radio that made me rethink how I perceive those words. To be honest, I don’t remember what the radio host said, or if it was more than those few simple words, but the Holy Spirit used them to flick on a light switch in my head. All means all; it means it is possible for me to meet a man I will one day marry, it means it is possible for me to overcome thoughts of inadequacy, it is even possible for me to run a half-marathon (but not any time soon). But here’s the catch, I can’t do these things on my own. Ok, so technically, maybe I could; honestly, I have no desire to. I cannot see any way I could make it through these struggles, on my own, that would help me become the woman God is molding me to be. While the word all was my focus, my a-ha Erlebnis, if you will, those two words at the beginning; With God, are really the key.
  2. I am not alone. And neither are you if you struggle with similar things. A friend of mine sent me a link to Focus on the Family’s program for today entitled “Navigating Dating and the Single Life.” The only problem I have with it is that it is part one of two, so I have the wait until tomorrow for the other half. Take some time to listen if you have a moment, and if you don’t have a moment, make that time. Lisa Anderson, director of Focus on the Family’s Boundless ministry for young adults, shares her story of singleness while addressing the common questions and myths in today’s dating scene. What I like most about this was that I was wrong about the woman in this program. I (somewhat bitterly) assumed that she was going to talk about singleness and then go on to say how she just found her “Mister Right” and is happily married with a kid on the way. I was wrong. She is 10 years older than me, in her 40s, and single. As I listened to her speak with such open honesty, I heard myself. I cannot say there was one thing she said that I have not experienced. I found out I am not alone in my circumstance; being a woman who wants to be married, who wants to share a lifetime of love with one man and receive the same from him. In a small church where there have been 4 new babies in the past 6 months and the only other single women are widows and teenagers, this was an important thing for me to realize. She also makes a great distinction between being lonely and being alone, a good thing for everyone to realize.

No matter what, He is the God Who is in control of it all. These struggles are taken to Him with Whom all things are possible. He constantly shows me I am not alone. For these reminders, that would not have come without these struggles, I am thankful.

Love & Blessings,

KJ