My heart has been on quite the journey over the last 10 or so months. I can barely put words to down to describe what God has done in me, but I’m going to try for the sake of remembering. It has not been an easy journey, nor is it even close to being over, but I look around and can only say, “The Lord is my Shepherd; I shall not want.”
I know God has been shaping and preparing me for this season for a long time, but for me I see the start last July when I took a month-long sabbatical from work and social media (except for once a week check-ins.) “He makes me lie down in green pastures.” Sheep are stubborn, as am I. Rest is not really in my wheelhouse. If it is not complete and utter exhaustion then surely I can fit something else in. But He made me lie down. I thought I’d come away with so many new ideas and such fresh vision of the road ahead, but instead God broke me down and gave me only more questions – not answers. (As if He’d stick to my expectations, right? Hello Jen – He is God!) He helped me “catch my breath” as the Message puts it and “sent me in the right direction.”
Mmmm, direction. After July God really stripped back a lot of thing in me. I saw how addicted I was to what my job had become for me and how tightly I held onto it without even realizing I was in control. I saw the life that being successful in my work would require and it wasn’t appealing anymore. As much as I love what I do, I wanted more of being useful in building God’s kingdom and not my own. Things that make up our identity can creep in without us really realizing it – my business had certainly been something that had become part of me in both good and bay ways. God took away my drive and all the push I had to further “the art” and taught me a sweet freedom in simply living everyday life. My heart felt a beautiful freedom in being with my girl when I was with her, and being fully invested at work when it was time for work. I chose to do things His way, even if it didn’t make great business sense to dial down the “push.” After all, it was so evident to me that what I wanted to achieve most in life was not running a successful business. My end goal is to bring Him the most glory. To really live that out, I’d have to release the reins. God gave it to me in the first place. It is all His. It’s hard to let go of control, to stop doing “the smart things” but I did and felt I had come to a wide-open place my soul had been so hungry to find.
Then – there is always a then…“Even though I walk through the shadow of the valley of death.” I would love to say that God opened up the heavens and blessings abounded in every area of life, although I was very, very blessed. One of those huge blessings was the news we were expecting our second child! I found out October 12th and I think I cried all day for joy. It was something I had longed for, really since Elle was born and had been waiting and waiting for God’s timing. I don’t know how many kids we are going to be able to have, but I have this vision of a full home – ours, adopted, fostered, whoever God sees fit to bring in. For years now, it’s almost like I can see them here, making us burst at the seams of these four walls. But as with all life, it comes with sacrifice. As this precious new life began, I saw my business start to crumble – at least to me. It was such a tremendous blessing for God to have lifted my drive so that I could deal with the physical strain of growing a new life. I was sick for 4 months with sickness on top of sickness. (Although I’m fully aware my struggles pale in comparison to some.) All life, all beauty originates in dark and quiet places. So there I was, so sick and feeling the reprecussions of “trusting God” with my business, which meant less engagement and less bookings than I’d seen in a while. I’d been in slumps and down seasons before. Honestly, all businesses have them and if you’re smart you can know when and why they usually happen so you can prepare and learn from them. This felt different. It was as if I was an outsider watching the thing I loved slowly die, and felt powerless to do anything about it. I had given God control! I didn’t feel the freedom to go back to the things I knew would work to put fresh wind in the sails and get things moving again.
“I will fear no evil for You are with me; Your rod and your staff, they comfort me.” God is so gracious. In love He hemmed me in with His staff. He pulled me back when I wanted to keep going. Much wiser people have told me that sometimes a shepherd will have to break a stubborn lamb’s leg so that it stops running away. Then he gently mends the limb he broke and carries the lamb until it is fully healed. Then the lamb doesn’t leave the shepherd’s side. That is what God did in me. I am headstrong. I saw Him leading through the shadow of death, into a hard place and I didn’t want to go. But He never gave up, and I submitted to the breaking. He’s had to do it before, stubborn as I am and it is always, always, ALWAYS for my good and His glory. In those months of wondering “what are You doing God?” and “where in the world are we headed?” He helped me to say, “the boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places; indeed I have a beautiful inheritance.” It didn’t matter where it was as long as He was there, and He was – always. His rod both broke and protected me. His staff led and drew me into HIS freedom instead of the freedom I thought I wanted. Through it all I kept wrestling with Him, and in love He wrestled back and never let me go.
“You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies. You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.” Come March I was tired, tired of the wrestle and needing to come to a place of surrender and peace. I was finally healed enough to say “whatever You have God, is what I want” and mean it. In all honesty it was hard not to be afraid of what He might say. “What if He does want me to quit my business? Really God? Right before I have a baby? You know that means more expenses right? You know that would make things interesting for us. You know how much I love it right? You know we’d found a good balance. You know it brings my heart joy.” I fought the worry and anxiety. I fought the need to hang onto the gift of this job I loved. I fought the idea of the lack of freedom that would mean if He did ask me to walk away. But God is SO MUCH BIGGER than my fears and even the best I can think to ask of Him. In His vast lovingkindness He set a table for me and gave me a choice: my business back the “way it was” or His way – and whatever that might mean. For me this time, the enemies were inside myself. They were lies. They came as influences from the world and the desire for it’s ways. But I saw a glimpse of the table He was setting and I wanted it with every ounce of my soul. He had readied me to let it all go. Hadn’t He brought me into that quiet pasture in the first place? Hadn’t He been my refreshment? Hadn’t He sustained me until this point and never let me go? So I jumped face first into His six-course dinner of beauty and a cup overflowing with blessing that I cannot describe or name. When I pulled back and saw all of where He had brought me, it wasn’t even a choice at all. How could I want anything less than Him – even if it meant leaving what I had come to know and love behind. I wanted it even though it might mean a more slim, simple, parred down kind of living. He said “I want to give you more freedom, not less. I want you free from the things of the world and it’s pull.”
“Your beauty and love chase after me every day of my life.” (The Message) I feel like a little kid being chased by a loving Father, who I let catch me and hug me and kiss me time after time. It is overwhelming. It’s such a beautiful and free place. He wasn’t kidding about the freedom He wanted for me. I feel this earthly domain lessening it’s grip on me and I am starting to know what it means to “dwell in the house of the LORD forever.” I am starting to get it. I’m headed where He is, getting a glimmer of what He is doing. And it has made the circumstances of everyday life matter so much less. I am here, right now, and I know He will move me when He sits fit. I’m at HIS table, feasting upon HIS goodness and that is not confined to x, y or z – location, status, job, situation or otherwise. In fact, it follows ME! Me? This broken little stubborn lamb. Me. I could care less about my table now.
The intangible table I cannot adequately express, but in practical terms my heart can only say “I shall not want.” He has provided when it looked like things would get…not so pretty. It’s crazy to me that I wanted to hold onto my pride of earning money, doing something I felt was important and being able to be comfortable, travel, etc. Those are wonderful, beautiful things but they PALE in comparison. And you know what? I’m still doing my job – and I love it more. Every client is an incredible gift, and what He allows me to create is an immense joy. The difference is that I don’t worry about how things are going. He gives and He takes away. It comes from His hand and I am the joyful recipient as long as He gives me this work. He has shown me the sweetness of small things, like making my own food and growing a garden. He already moved my heart to be a more contentious consumer and I’d already started learning to sew- so “less” in clothes, home and extras doesn’t feel so hard. He is so good! I could shout it. He made me ready to let go – He is still helping me let go. I’m happy to have a more simple life because it is making room for more of what is truly lasting.
On top of giving me this sweet freedom, He kept confirming that I’m right where I need to be time and time again. Just when I doubt, He gives me a message in some way, saying “don’t give up – this is exactly where I want you.” We recently took a huge trip out to the west coast for 10 days. I can say without a doubt it was 100% God’s gift. He made it happen and it wasn’t due to my work or anything I made happen. I didn’t do a single shoot. I didn’t work. It was just time as a little family. What a lavish gift! I will forever remember it as the incredible GIFT I didn’t deserve, but He gave it anyway. For my heart it was His way of saying, “I know you better than you know yourself. All that you are, all that you love, everything that ignites your passion isn’t over. In fact it’s just beginning. The pangs, stretching and painful moments are like the labor pains of this life growing inside you. It’s part of the birth of something new. It’s a beauty you can’t see yet, but you will.” I’m not a a person who gets overly emotional or cries much at all, but every time I think of what God has done tears well up in my eyes. I have no idea of what the future holds, just like I don’t know what our sweet second babe will look like, BUT I do know it will be beautiful. Are the labor pains over? Not even close. I’m sure the hardest part is yet to come but I am EXPECTANT. My cup overflows with all that He is pouring in my cup – and it has nothing to do with me. I’m being chased by His goodness and mercy. I’m more free than I’ve ever been with more unknown than ever before. It’s crazy. It makes no sense. But it’s so beautiful. The longer I sit at His table, the more I see Him provide at just the right time. It’s not me, it’s Him. I just trust and obey and watch what He does. With all that is within me my soul joyfully proclaims, The LORD is my Shepherd; I shall not want.