Everyone loves surface things. It’s easy to show what is on the top, the growing, beautiful things. We love to see what is blooming. We put it out there into the world, not necessarily in a bad way, but it’s out there. We see it. Stuff. Achievements. Happy moments. Beautiful adventures. Snapshots and stories of what we can see and quantify. All the things that are beautiful. Our world is obsessed with what grows above the surface. Stay on social media long and you’ll see things like “how to grow your platform” or ads saying “you need this” or carefully curated ways to get more likes and acceptance in this world. And it’s all based on what you can see. Happiness is found in enrichment, enjoyable things, abundance, leisure, travel, a cute house, a cute family, a cute wardrobe, cool friends and just the right balance between killing it and exploring the world. (Among other things of course.) These things are the measure of success. Do what makes you happy and show everyone your wonderful life, with just a touch of real thrown in so we know it’s legit.
And yet God’s way to better well-being is the absolute antithesis of what we see. God’s way is upside-down. With God surface things don’t matter. He sees what lies below in the dirt. He doesn’t measure our blooms, fruit or growth above ground. He evaluates the roots. He is interested in the soil. Growth that matters to God lies upside-down from how the world measures success. My world has been turned upside-down in many ways this past year, though not by choice. It hasn’t been bad things. In fact the reasons for these shifts have been good things, but even good things can be hard. My ground in my little garden has been overturned and tilled up. God wanted to deepen my understanding of the immense importance of the things unseen by taking away all the beautiful things I could see and measure. Fruit isn’t bad – it’s good! There is nothing wrong with outward things…not at all! But it’s not where we find the true “blessedness” of God’s kingdom.
I’m not going to lie. I’ve always found the Beatitudes found in Matthew 5 to be a bit hard to swallow. What exactly does it mean when Jesus said blessed are those who mourn? Most of the time I skimmed over it. Nothing about that passage seemed pleasant or appealing. A few times I prayed to understand it better, but it has only been in the last few years I have sought to grapple with the truths there. Jesus describes a life that is 100% upside-down from what we think a happy, blessed life looks like in this life. I’ll just lay a few of them out here:
The poor in spirit – humility, the opposite of self-sufficiency, empty
The mourning – weeping, over sin, over brokenness
The meek – humility, not weakness but gentleness, self-controll empowered by the Holy Spirit
Those who hunger and thirst for righteousness – above all other wants they want God, not trying to “make it” on their own merits
The merciful – not giving out what is due and deserved
The pure in heart – not tainted by lust for other things, spotless, clean in thoughts, will and emotions
The peacemakers – not stirring things up, loving enemies, sincere good-will towards everyone, giving up your rights
The persecuted – reviled, falsely accused, made fun of, enduring evil from others
This is the blessed life? This is the ultimate well-being? Really? Poor, weeping, giving when I shouldn’t have to, separated from other “wants”, giving up my “rights” and being persecuted…that doesn’t sound like what is beautiful. And yet Jesus promises that these people will have the Kingdom of heaven, eternal reward, mercy…they will be called Sons of God…they will be satisfied, filled…they will SEE GOD. That does sound amazing. Why can’t that come apart from all the other precursors right? And yet this is what Jesus says. To top it all of, this is the life HE MODELED. Philippians chapter 2 puts it so beautifully, “He emptied Himself by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” Christ, the King, God in flesh lived these truths. His way was upside-down. He went lower, lower and lower. He died and was buried. THEN He was raised to life. And it is the same for us. He calls us to the unseen, to what lies in the dirt, to the low, humble things. THIS, He says, it what matters. He makes new life rise up from roots deep in Him.
No one will see our roots, not really. They won’t know the times we choose faithfulness over selfishness. No one will see the hard work done in the deep, in the dark and in the mess. But God does. And He who sees in secret will reward you. It might not (read, probably not) look like the reward the world says is good. Nope. If anything, I’ve learned it looks nothing like the world’s way of happiness. But it is BETTER. You might not have anything to show, to point to or to post and say “this is good!” But it is the deep, soul well-being that Christ promised. In the secret, in the unseen, in the upside-down God sees and rewards. In that place He reveals Himself. I can’t say my heart really wants to be poor in spirt, to mourn to hunger and thirst. Even so, I have found that allowing God to make me barren, bereft of quantifiable growth, to pull up my outwardly blooms and plant more of Himself in the deepest parts of my soul has made me rich beyond imagining. I might never see the blooms from this digging in the dirt. But then, I remember that my life will last far beyond the here and now. If I have nothing to show the world in this life apart from my tear-stained face and emptiness apart from God, it will be worth it. I’ll take the upside-down of God’s ways. (And continue to preach this to my soul on the days I’m tempted to believe otherwise.)
I am really not so great at getting to these on time with little G. I do try little one! Ha! But a few days really don’t hurt anyway. With Elle I think I tried to hold back a little with how much I was obsessed with her. This time there is no hope for me. I look at them constantly and wonder how I am so blessed with such incredible, beautiful babies. I feel so undeserving. I’m not feeling guilty one bit about how much I’m immeshed in all things baby these days. What a joy and privilege. I pray I don’t take one second for granted as I try to savor each moment in this season. It goes by much too quickly.
Weight: Genevieve was at 11 lbs at her 2 month appointment, and 68% on height and weight. She’s probably up to 12 or 13 lbs by now. I do love how many rolls she has these days.
Clothes: We are really chunking up here, because some 0-3 clothes are getting a bit small. I think we still have some wear in them, but I can definitely put her in some 3-6 without them swallowing her. I LOVE seeing little Evie in her sister’s baby things. I pulled out one of my sailor dresses I wore as a baby and I can’t wait to put her in that too.
Sleep: Genevieve is still an amazing sleeper! We are so thankful. I hope I don’t ruin things by saying this, but she hasn’t woken in the night crying since last month! She might wake, but goes right back to sleep on her own. She barely even cries in the morning. Seriously, she’s an angel. Naps are a bit harder during the day. We still haven’t gotten on a great schedule. She seems to be great on the go but won’t go more than 45 minutes in her crib at a time. I’m not supper worried about it though. Our schedule changes too much for me to be overly concerned about it. She’s happy, so I’m happy.
Eating: We’re still doing feedings every 3-3 1/2 hours. She loves to eat. She really likes to use me as a paci at night and is cranky around 7 until I feed her again and put her to bed. Little lady likes her sleep!
Mood: Little Evie is seriously the sweetest baby! We are so in love with her. I took her up to north Alabama when Irma was coming through, and she just smiled and cooed at everyone. She has her moments of course, but I have never seen such a happy baby. She is pretty quiet, but will start trying to talk if you get her one-on-one. I could look at her deep blue happy eyes and gummy smile all day long.
Loves/Doesn’t love: She still loves being near mommy. She is very, very fond of being held. Ev will happily stay in the Baby Bjorn carrier all day if I let her. She LOVES the car. In fact she slept for FOUR hours, or at least was awake and calm, on our way up to Fort Payne! I was shocked. I’m so thankful the girls are good little travelers. She doesn’t like pooping. It seems to hurt her poor little tummy. She likes the paci a lot more now too.
Things I want to remember: Her hair is starting to curl up these days. I love it. She also started really loving to look at her surroundings. She takes in faces and will study you for a long time. I think she could recognize our house a little bit when we got home because she was so happy as she looked around. She started playing on her playmate this month too, and kicks up a storm – although, she would rather look up at me and Elle than her toys.
Life has seasons, just like nature. It has been so helpful for me to view my life through the lens of seasons. They don’t last forever, and whether enjoyable or not they do pass. Around the time we got married 7 years ago, I had a year-long season of stillness. It was a humbling time when our dreams seemed like they’d never work out and God said “no” to so many things. It was also an incredible time of growth in my life, and God’s nearness was palpable. When we got married, we thought our plan was for Jonathan to finish school and then head off to seminary. We’d both get our Masters of Divinity and then head out to serve God in some big, beautiful way. After a few months of marriage, regular jobs and real life, God took away that desire entirely and we knew it wasn’t what He had for us…but what did He have instead? We didn’t know. We longed to get of what we felt like was not much of a mission field, if I’m honest – Dothan. It’s natural really. We wanted to do something BIG for God and smack dab in the middle of the Bible belt didn’t seem like the most obvious place. I don’t think it ever crossed my mind that God might call us to stay.
And there we were, still in Dothan, quite opposite of all our plans and dreams. No seminary. Normal jobs. Small places. No big, grand adventure. No laying our lives down in foreign places where our service could be seen and known. No, just stillness.
God taught me in the still season that quiet places have a purpose, and that sometimes dreams need breaking and reshaping. He taught me joy in the still, quiet place and surrender to HIS ways, not my idea of His ways. He is so gentle in how He leads. He is the Shepherd that makes us lie down, leads us by still waters and restores our soul before His ways lead through the valley. And then, on the other side of the valley of the shadow is the table He has prepared and the cup that overflows. The quiet place – His blessing. Leading on His paths for HIS name – His blessing. The trial – His blessing. The fruitful place of overflowing – His blessing. Seasons. In each one He is my Shepherd. I shall not want. I have seen this cycle in my life time, and time again. Through each one my assurance is knowing that His mercy and goodness follow me through it all and that I WILL dwell in His house forever. He is the reward. He is there in the stillness, there as the path forges ahead into unknown, there in the dark place, there in the discipline, there at the feast, there as my cup overflows. In every season His mercy and goodness is with me, so undeserved, and I shall not want.
It is so countercultural to slow down, to stop hustling, to pull away and rest. But what God teaches me in the stillness prepares me for the seasons ahead. It’s been a long time since that last season of stillness. Things look very different than I would have imagined 7 years ago. We are still in Dothan, but we know it’s exactly where God wants us. It is very much so our mission field. Ministry looks far different than we imagined, but it is real and deep – not the “public face” of what we could see as young naive babies. And we have adventured, just not in the way we thought. For 5 years God’s path led me to learn to express God’s beauty in others through my own business, and then He asked for it back. We still write “our own” music but instead of writing with dreams, we write just for Him. He’s just about the only one who has heard them and that’s enough.
And here I find myself again, still. Made to rest. Made to lie down. Feeling like the warm coat I have known, something part of me – though not necessary, has been sheared off and taken away. He makes me still so He can restore my soul, as He did the last time. I need to title, no name, nothing to cling to that says “this is who I am” or “this is my ministry” or “this is where God is calling me.” Someone asked me the other day, “So are you a stay-at-home mom?” I was kind of at a loss for words because I don’t even really know. Stay-at-home, work-at-home, homeschool mom, ministry wife, business owner, photographer, song-writer, etc? I have no idea. And really, it doesn’t matter. I shall not want. The LORD is my Shepherd – that is the only descriptor I need. I have Him, therefore I have no lack. I can rest, I can lay all of the passions inside me down, stop striving and just be still because HE is my Shepherd. He made me. He loves me. He delights in me, not for what I do or who others see me as or what name anyone may put on me, but simply because I am HIS. What a blessing it is to be restored back to that place, where nothing matters except that He is there, because He is all I have. There is nothing I hold in my hands now that I can say “this is what I have achieved” or “this is who I am.” Just Jesus. I am with Him, and that is who I am. I am the one His mercy and goodness follow. What a grace far beyond what I deserve.
I’m sure the Jen I was 7 years ago would be shocked to know that not much has changed, and yet everything has changed. The main difference now is that I have two little hearts following my lead. All I know is to imitate my Shepherd, and to point them to Him. Full circle, I have come back to the stillness where there is no plan, nothing to hold to except for Him. And it is more than enough. I shall not want.
It is more than my heart can take to know that He sees me in the small still place, and looks at me – like I look at my daughters – with even more delight and love than I can imagine. In the still season He brings me back to the truth that I don’t need to “do” anything for His approval. He holds me and loves me as His daughter. I can cease all striving, because He holds all things together, not me. I can pull away and be joyful in the stillness, because it doesn’t matter if anyone else sees, HE does. I rest in His love, knowing He wants my heart so much more than anything I could produce. What a gift to be still, quiet and tucked away, coming back to the truth that I need only be who He says I am. In the season of stillness He is very, very good.
It is so counter-cultural to go slow, to be still, to stop and savor. If anything, that is what I learned this Summer. Fast-paced is definitely my tendency. I do it all the time to be sure, but slowing down is something I’ve learned to love. I’m one to want to be busy all the time. I love the feeling of checking off 100 things per day, but God is teaching me to be quiet, to be still…again…I mean as still as you can be with 2 kiddos to take care of. Maybe slow means the t0-do list can wait until after a nice long lunch at the park. Maybe it means taking time to teach my 3 year old to buckle her shoes instead of rushing out the door. Maybe it means letting my heart be quiet instead of filling it with checking my phone. Maybe it’s turning it off entirely for a weekend. Maybe it’s letting the laundry wait so I can soak in God’s presence during the one magic nap time. Or maybe it’s just a posture of the heart in the midst of all the day to day – still, expectant, waiting, content in the quiet. Stillness has a humble posture. It stops striving. To be still before the Lord is to put my trust in Him, saying “YOU do the work. YOU open the door. YOU change me. I will wait before You.” Seasons, like the Summer don’t last forever. I’m learning to soak in the stillness while it lasts…
I said goodbye to the job I have loved for over 5 years now. I shot my last wedding I have on the books this past Saturday, for a while at least. For the sake of laying out there, I still get plenty of inquiries and everything looks amazing – but to every single one God has said no. There is no explanation. Only a closed door. It feels scary to type this out because I still have hopes that I’ll do some here and there. I have LOVED loved LOVED every minute, and feel so overwhelmingly thankful for the privilege God has given me over these years. Never in a million years did I see myself becoming a wedding photographer. It has been such sweet years of growth, learning how to find my feet as a business owner and wife, then minister’s wife, mama, etc…It was just when I felt totally confident in my system, workflow and had been doing it long enough to feel so comfortable with my clients. I enjoyed the knowledge and experience and utilizing it to anticipate their needs. It truly brought me joy to serve however I could on these special, monumental days. Every single wedding has a special place in my heart. Every one was a true joy and honor. I cannot thank God enough for giving me this work, using it to grow my faith, to draw me closer to Him and bring such incredible people into my life. So many sweet friendships have been made and and beautiful places visited. It filled my soul. His gifts are good.
And now I say goodbye…
As I drove away from dropping of the girls to go work for what might be the last time, my heart was overcome with incredible peace. This, I know, is also a gift from the Lord. All of my flesh still wants it, still hopes, still wishes to hold on to what I’ve known and loved. But HIS ways are higher. He has so sweetly prepared me for this moment and my heart knows I must let go for whatever the future holds. I am so thankful to still be booking other portrait sessions, commercial, lifestyle and otherwise…but it is not the same as the thrill (or income) of weddings. Yet my heart is confident and my whole being rejoices. I can’t explain this sweet peace or His nearness. I’m saying goodbye to one of the biggest parts of my life, the creative fuel for my artistic heart and what has become part of me I thought I’d never part from. It’s always been His, from the moment He put it in my lap after asking me to quit my full-time job – to now. I know that it’s never been “mine” but after so long of “having it” it was hard to say goodbye.
During labor with Genevieve, God gave me the imagery of a boat being rocked by the waves. Now, I see I was tied to the dock. He had work to do. My ship had to be tied down, stripped and made ready for a new voyage. I was weighed down, but now I’m free of the things that would hold me back from this new journey. I don’t know exactly what He did, but it’s done and He’s beckoning onward. He’s loosing the ropes and now we’re off.
And now I say hello…
I’m not the same person I was a year ago. God has totally changed my heart and life in the last year. I can’t say I enjoyed the year or so of His stripping, pruning and discipline but I am thankful for it. The fog is clearing and He’s just now beginning to give me a vision for what lies ahead. He’s teaching me joy and faithfulness in the very, very small and menial things. Because they are important. He wants 100% of me invested in what is right in front of me every day. Most days, that is my two precious girls. (And what an incredible blessing they are! What an undeserved gift.) I’ve stopped fighting the pull to homeschooling. I’ve started enjoying finding new and innovative ways to make our home efficient and economical. Sometimes it’s good for the artist to stop creating and teach others instead. And maybe that will be more of what this season is about. I really don’t know! It’s half thrilling, half terrifying to have absolutely NO IDEA what God wants of me, other than my every day faithfulness. However, I do know this: GOD HAS BEEN SO FAITHFUL. Tears well up in my eyes every time I think about it. I worried about if I needed to totally shut down or not, but He said “Trust me. Be faithful with TODAY.” When I obey, He provides. Every time! Just when things start to look interesting, I’ll book something or we’ll get an unexpected gift. When I start to crave who I was, but instead look to Him and say “I am who YOU SAY I am.” Then, He gives me a piece of a song, the opportunity to travel or something to experience or create. When I grow tired of the tiny budget for “things” or grow weary of food prep, He ignites my joy and creativity for our home. He knows! He knows. He doesn’t owe any of this to me! He could strip away all the parts of my artistic heart, never make any more art in my life, and it would be so much more than I deserve. And yet He overflows my cup with what only He could give. It is astounding and such a grace that is overwhelming me with such joy and thankfulness. After all my struggle with the many levels (especially finance and identity) of letting this go, He still fills me up. My creator knows me, how He wired me and fills all the gaps He cut out of my life. He always does. He is always good. It’s just easy to doubt when our human eyes see lack. “Blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 5:3)
So hello new season. I’m all in. I’m 100% here, showing up, excited for what is to come. I’m light. I’m free. I’m hopeful! It really makes no sense on paper how or why God has closed off this part of what I’ve known, what I loved and something I knew He was using for His glory. And yet I have never felt more peace in all of my life. He is undoubtably here in this boat with me and up to something beautiful. My hands are totally and completely off the wheel and He has full control. I’m just a willing vessel for His will, wherever that leads from here. Farewell to all I’ve known up until this point. I’m with you God. I gladly greet whatever you have ahead…