Crowned with love

It’s really true: I’m not a little girl anymore. Turning 26 yesterday pretty much sealed the deal on that one, if there were doubts in anyone’s mind (my own included…)! And what a full day it was – full of love, full of people and espresso and most of my favorite regulars, and full of the reality that like it or not, I am growing up (although I must say, not a single person believed me when I confessed my age, which was amusing on the first few and slightly irksome by the 20th…)

I think I was on cloud nine most of the day, because I woke up to balloons hanging outside my bedroom door, a big sign downstairs in the kitchen, and every time I went on a break at work there were seven more texts on my phone and a couple dozen new Facebook posts.

Our kitchen on my birthday!

To top it all off, I had dinner with my sister. It was splendid. Fondue and Pinot Noir and a melt-in-your-mouth reuben… but mostly, one-on-one time with my bestie, which had left me giddy with anticipation all day. We talked about everything, just like always, sitting across the table in a crowded, noisy McMenamins, laughing at how fortunate it is we have such loud voices.

And then we walked out to our cars, her to hers, me to mine, gift and take-out box under my arm. Off she drove, home to her hubby; off I drove, home to amazing housemates and Rachel’s mouth-watering cupcakes. In the car I listened to a couple voicemails. Grandma, singing “Happy birthday dear Jill”… oh gosh, I wasn’t gonna talk about how I cried in this blog. You all must thing I am a perpetual mess! But I’m crying as I write this, so I might as well just pull the mask and let you all the way in…

Life is weird. Growing up is hard. I have come to the conclusion that it is the most traumatic event any human ever goes through, and yet, nobody tells you how hard it will be. Nobody tells you how strange it will feel to say goodnight to the sister you grew up, shared a room with, were inseparable from… and drive separate ways on the rainy street on your birthday. Nobody tells you how it leaves a hollow confusion when in one year, two sisters get married, a beloved grandfather passes away, and life just keeps moving on and expects you to move right along with it. Nobody tells you how to transition from being a little dependent daughter to being a grown woman and peer to the two people who once were perfect in your eyes, who were always strong in every way. Nobody tells you how it feels to be 26 and wonder when Prince Charming is supposed to arrive and fight the urge to deny the desire cuz “I really don’t wanna be another one of those silly girls…” Nobody tells you about that paradox that says you’ve gotta be strong and independent and put together… when I’m really not, and deep down inside I still feel like a little girl whose wondering how in the world I got to 26 and what it means and what makes me a woman now.

At the end of the day, I laugh and cry in the Lord’s arms. He’s the One that never changes. What a stunning reality – EVERYTHING ELSE changes. Everything! But He is the same. And I have a promise for this new year that I am embarking upon… Because truth be told, I had already shed a couple tears before I even made it into that McMenamins for dinner with my sis. Not tears of sadness, not tears from the hollow, but tears from the full. Tears of awe at the love with which my Daddy has filled my life to overflowing. I couldn’t understand how so many people, from so many places and random intersections on this road of my life, could love me so much. How I could be worthy of SO. MUCH. LOVE. Unfathomable!

It is all because of this:

Psalm 103:4-5 “He redeems me from death and crowns me with love and tender mercies. He fills my life with good things. My youth is renewed like the eagle’s!”

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World Race friends in town for my birthday!

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Heaven is so close

It’s always a phone call. Always unexpected, like a hard slam to left field that leaves the pitcher reeling.

Suddenly the world looks completely different than it did a moment before.

I had just clocked off, rolled up my green apron, and then stopped outside to chat with my coworker and watch some goofy You Tube video on his phone.  Anne had texted, “Call me when you get off work”, so I hit speed dial as I hopped in my car and pulled out of the parking lot, sipping my Americano.

“Jilbo?” my sister quipped in response to my cheery greeting. Her voice sounded flat, hollow.

“This is really hard,” she said, and paused to breathe deep. My heart thudded.

“Grandpa passed away this morning.”

I felt a dead numbness fall over me. Swerved my car into an empty parking spot and shut it off. Sat in disbelieving silence.

What?

Slowly, ever so slowly, it sank in. I waited for tears, but they didn’t come until I had hung up and started driving to meet my sister. A thousand thoughts intersected my brain waves, coming one upon another like cross-breakers on the beach. Grandpa: the quiet, gentle patriarch of our family, the one who prayed my mom’s heart to Jesus so many years ago, the one who quoted scriptures as easily as breath. The one who held my hand so tight and smiled deep, that twinkle in his ocean blue eyes whenever he saw me. The one whose face lit at the mention of the name of His Savior or the familiar melodies from the green hymnal.

“Jesus?” I queried, His name rolling like habit off my lips in the stillness of my car. When there is nothing else to say, I often have to speak His name if only to acknowledge His presence. But this time it brought a rush of tears as a stunning reality hit me. “Jesus!! Grandpa is with You right now! And I’m talking to You! He’s so close.” Tears poured down like a torrent of Oregon rain.

Heaven is so close.

I could hardly feel sorrow then, thinking of the joy my Grandpa must feel. How could I mourn that his greatest wish and desire had been fulfilled? That he was in the presence of His beloved Savior, safely home at last?

Anne and I spent all afternoon with my Grandma, talking, crying, singing, laughing, praying. For whatever reason, tears were elusive to me. At one moment, though, I felt them hot in the back of my eyes like I had in the car with Jesus. It was in the moment that another realization hit me, and I told Grandma in wonder, “Grandpa is running and jumping right now!” For so many months I had seen him with his walker, shaky and stooped. To imagine him like a little boy again, in a body unhindered by any ailment or weakness, was almost unfathomable.

Toward the end of his life, it was harder and harder to talk to Grandpa. His voice was quieter, his mind halting. Always he had a ready smile and firm handshake, but I could no longer hear the depths of his heart and the stories of his life like I used to.

In the strangest way, I almost feel closer to him now than I did when he was still here. Heaven isn’t so far away, after all. At my grandpa’s service on Sunday, one of my cousins-in-law quoted from the song “Find us Faithful” (Steve Green). The words turned to liquid in my stinging eyes as he spoke.

“Surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses / let us run the race not only for the prize/ but as those who’ve gone before us / let us leave to those behind us / the heritage of faithfulness passed on through godly lives.”

I picture Grandpa in that cloud of witnesses, celebrating at the sound of the words, “Well done, good and faithful servant.” I see him rejoicing to see the legacy of his life, the “heritage of faithfulness” that he has passed on. He carried the baton unfaltering, and now cheers for us who come behind. And when I think of that, I feel so close to him, as if he might be watching me at any given moment, cheering from the heavenly realm, “Run hard, Jill! Run hard after Jesus. It is so worth it!

“So worth it.

Grandpa (at Anne’s wedding) just a month before he went to be with Jesus

I hear the echo of another cousin’s voice as he read a scripture that had often fallen from Grandpa’s own lips:

“According to my earnest expectation and my hope, that in nothing I shall be ashamed, but that with all boldness, as always, so now also Christ shall be magnified in my body, whether it be by life, or by death.

For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.”

(Phil. 1:20-21 KJV)

Dreams come true

Dreams really do come true.

Promises don’t fail.

Visions survive the darkest night.

This is the world and the reality that we live in, yet it’s a constant battle to believe it.

And then there are moments when the evidence is irrefutable.

Saturday evening, my family caravanned out to Hillsboro, cars full to the brim with food, water bottles, disposable chinaware, dresses and tuxes, curling irons and hair straighteners and the whole gamut. A breathtaking scene awaited us. Countryside spread out as far as the eye could see, beckoning the wistful soul to go running across those fields like a wild and carefree child. Warm rich wooden walls enclosing the perfect lodge, inviting retreat and exuding peace. Vineyards and sunlight, stone fountain and lush lawn.

That night we ate… in reality, we feasted. There weren’t words to wrap around the evening. At the end of the meal, after toasting with bubbly champagne, trailed by raspberry and hot fudge brownies, a slideshow drew the guests’ attention. I watched picture after picture recapture my sister’s journey from birth to womanhood, and couldn’t help but notice that I seemed to be in every single one, right there, always next to her, always best buds.

Anne reached over and took my hand as we watched, squeezed it tight, and tears welled up. I kicked myself, then stopped and let myself feel it all – didn’t I know this would come eventually? Of course! I knew it would pinch my throat when it came down to it, the release of a best friend into a new best friendship with a man I would call brother.

And yet, all week God had been stirring in my heart, revealing the loss in a different light. The loss of a piece of my identity – that identity of being someone’s forever best friend. Yet the loss was a losing of something small into something bigger, letting go in order to grab ahold. In the midst of the release, He was telling me, “I want this piece of your identity, too, to become lost in Me. Another part of yourself, your independently-obtained security and identity and confidence, becoming dependent on Me, the true Identity-giver, the Father.

“You have been Anne’s best friend all these years. Now let go, and know that you are My beloved, My child.”

In the dusk after dinner, we all splashed into the crystal clear swimming pool, gasping at the evening chill and the water’s cool embrace. The night seemed like a dream. Laughter and fun, dashing away the effects of nerves and new faces.

Girls piled into the massive suite upstairs, dripping and running low on energy as the adrenaline wore off at last. My sisters and I collapsed into the king-sized bed and it seemed only minutes and heavy breathing, and my eyes opened…

A golden globe was burning through the white linen curtains.

“Jilbo!” Anders whispered, “Will you come watch the sunrise with me?”

“Of course!” I grabbed my glasses off the nightstand and we slipped out the creaky door, onto the smooth wood of the deck. Far-stretching farmland bathed in mist and sunbeams waited in the still of morning. Anne stood at the railing, staring out, her shoulders heaving a bit. Her wedding morning.

Perfect.

I watched a long-awaited dream coming true. I sat there in silence and marveled at all the years of praying, imagining, wondering, and hoping that had led to this moment in my sister’s life. Letters to a future husband. Prayers upon prayers for him. Questions and curiosity and intrigue waiting for the substance to emerge…

And now, this! The assurance of things hoped for. The conviction of things not seen.

The materializing of a dream… into a man. A man with passionate love in his eyes and a heart for Jesus. A man who would hold her and walk with her and cheer her on. A man who would laugh with her and cry with her… and now, after years of praying for him, the unknown and mysterious, would pray for her, the bride in his arms.

When she finally turned and we spoke, she whispered, “I’m getting married today! But I wasn’t even thinking about Daniel – I’m just so in love with Jesus!

“He’s so good to me.”

The Lover of my soul. Something deeper and more intimate than a best friend, even a husband. Someone whose love can paint the sky pink and gold and breathe mist across the countryside. Someone whose promise remains, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.”

Later that day, my sister walked on rose petals and kissed her groom before a crowd of witnesses. Somewhere in between, she read him the words, “You are my best friend”, and my heart didn’t hurt. Instead, it swelled with joy. The same One who had romanced my sister that morning with the sunrise and mist was romancing me. I was held.

My hands gripped tighter to the flower stems wrapped in lace, lost in wonder at the One who makes dreams come true.

Little but mighty

 

 

 

Hey guys! I know I’ve been MIA for a while now… and tonight after getting off work, I’ve decided it’s time to poke my face back into the world of blogging. There’s really just one reason – because I’ve been reminded of how good God is, and I need a forum to explode my enthusiasm and gratitude into!

There’s a story behind the season of silence… The last few months have been hard to swallow. Not hard in the sense of tragedy or gut-wrenching despair. This “hard” is the slow, soul-killing mundanity that creeps into our lives, numbs us to joy and pain alike, and whispers distrust and frustration in a God who seems absent.

That is where I’ve been.

Every time I have to answer that question, “So what are you up to now, Jill?” I feel the expectation behind it, the unspoken words that my mind adds on, “You just traveled the world and served God on the mission field for a year! Surely He’s been telling you all kinds of things about His plans for your life. Surely you’re serving the homeless in downtown Portland, and leading Bible studies, and getting ready to move to Africa for the next decade…”

I reply, with an attempt at enthusiasm that instead sounds deflated and apologetic, “Well, I’m working as a barista at Starbucks!”

And then I can’t think of much else to say. Because much as I want to believe I’m making a difference, much as I’d like to echo the enthusiasm of friends who tell me that I’m “bringing kingdom to Starbucks!”, I feel like it’s going out on a precarious limb to venture such a claim. After all, I’m just little old me… kinda shy towards strangers, embarrassingly clueless about most of pop culture, and slightly OCD when it comes to completing tasks.

Somehow it just doesn’t seem like THAT is going to rock Starbucks and preclude a mass revival in Oregon City!

 

My laptop has “post-it notes” plastered all over the background, with inspiring little morsels of truth which, at one point, struck my fancy. I found this one in a newsletter from InterVarsity a few weeks ago: “Much of the secular culture dismisses thundering pronouncements of faith, but consistent God-centered actions are harder to ignore.” (Check out the article here).

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I wanted so bad to understand those words, to slam that truth into my thick skull and flighty heart. I wanted to believe that my “consistent God-centered actions” at work are truly “hard to ignore.” At times, when I’m talking to myself instead of to the Mover of mountains, those words have seemed like quite a long-shot. It’s always been the BIG things – the revelatory moments, the mountain top experiences, the incredible conversations that end in tears and hugs and breakthrough – that I seek and build my theology around. I recognize God in those moments. I recognize God when I feel something powerful and intense and beautiful that blows me off my feet. But I fail to recognize Him in every LITTLE conversation, every little experience, and every little moment.

Yet He is SO present.

A subtle yet beautiful shift has been happening in my heart as this truth worms its way in deep, past the lies and failure and numbness. A couple friends (girls who also live in the world of baristas) have been fundamental in opening my eyes to see where I am standing. Every single workday, I interact with dozens of folks across a counter. I learn their names, their faces, and their drinks. Days pile on end, and I learn more – I get a glimpse into their lives. The moment each day when they are greeted and presented with that grande soy latte, tall black coffee, or venti iced tea, is a moment that has been anticipated all day long. But some are there for so much more – their thirst is not for a mouthwatering beverage, but for relationship, for human connection, for LOVE.

The homeless are here, in line alongside the 9 to 5 businessman, the intern at a local PT clinic, the stay-at-home mom, and teenage dating couple on summer vacation. There are unusually talkative and unusually quiet people, customers who linger to chat with my coworker about the Blazers, and others who are faithful as the sunrise but never say a word other than “grande dark”.

This is my mission field. It is incredible. I get giddy with excitement sometimes when I go to work… and though we all know that I love coffee, the high I get is not off caffeine. This is a whole ‘nother level – this “people high” of interacting with folks who wear the image of God. It’s the high of getting to see love in action touch someone’s heart and soften the weary scowl into a surprised smile. It’s the high of having someone share about their hectic day and express surprised gratitude when they discover a listening ear. It’s the high of realizing there is no way in the world my heart is big enough to love like this – and then it clicks, and I realize that the presence of Jesus really is invading Starbucks, invading peoples’ day and life even if they don’t recognize it yet.

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And I laugh incredulously, cuz it sure isn’t me. All I do is show up and work my hardest, and somehow this beautiful light is shining through my frail flesh. I see the effects of the warm glow. I see the ice melting in the sunshine. I see hearts reaching out toward that warmth. It isn’t me. I just show up. And without fail, the Light that lives in me shows up too.

It truly is hard to ignore.

Stripped by grace

Stripped.

Yep, that’s how I feel sometimes, especially these days. I think it is the feeling an actor would have if all of the props, the lights and music and supporting thespians, the costumes and make-up and even the plot-line, suddenly vanished. What is left? What am I doing? Why am I here?

When I finished the Race, I sensed that the Lord was bringing me into a season of waiting and preparation. For how long, and what all that entailed, I had no idea whatsoever. But I had tasted leadership and “full-time ministry” (which I still put in quotes because I strongly believe that all of us, as believers, are in full-time ministry wherever we are, whatever our job title). I felt that He had more of that for me, but not yet. I don’t know for sure, but my sense is that there is a depth of maturity and humility that He must bring me to first.

Back in Thailand, I had a conversation with a squad-mate about community. Let me preface this by saying that in the last couple years I have become an adamant advocate for community – I am addicted to it, and despite my introverted personality, I just can’t stand living life without people around me! At the time of this conversation, I was pretty set in my arguments as to why we are always meant to be in community and how the Lord created us to need that. But strangely enough, my friend’s words have stuck with me and haunted me ever since that day.

“Jill, what if God called you to live completely alone on an island for the rest of your life? What if He asked you, ‘Am I enough for you?’ What would you say?”

That question plagues me because I still don’t know the answer. A week or two ago, I tried to convince myself of the truth by journaling it: “My value is not in my job… My value is not in my friends… My value is not in how many invitations I get or how well I perform or how many miles I run…”

But in my heart, do I know that? Do I believe that? Do I live like that is the truth?

In the last week, several open doors have been set before me, inviting me to step back into the adventurous lane of life. Nothing appeals to my heart like this does. If you know me, you’re probably giving that statement a hearty “amen”! New experiences. New places. Discovery. I wanna be there!

But then I stop and remember, “My value is not in my ability to impulsively jump into new situations…” And I sense the Lord saying, “Wait. Stay. Be faithful where I have placed you.” All the while, the antsiness gnaws at me. The desires grow in my heart.

A couple days ago, the lyrics to this song stopped me in my tracks.

“I’m beginning to see, these boundary lines / Were meant for me, so I could find / All of these treasures, hidden inside / A holy God.”

In a moment, the realization hit me.

“Whoa!” I scribbled in my journal. “You want to keep me in a place where I am so desperate for adventure and romance and the thrill of new experiences, that I MUST dive deeper into You, because there is just not enough externally to satisfy those desires!”

It is His grace that lands me in a wilderness season. His grace to remove everything else so that the adventure becomes exploration into the depths of who this holy God really is, and the romance becomes a love relationship beyond any I could imagine in this life.

“Therefore I am now going to allure her; I will lead her into the wilderness and speak kindly to her” (Hosea 2:14).

He knows me, and He knows how easily I am distracted. But He is jealous for my heart. He is jealous for me to experience those depths of Himself that I would never reach from any place other than the place of being stripped and antsy and aching with desire.

Perhaps we will look back and see that the sweetest seasons in our lives were the wilderness seasons, when the exhilarating moment of my day and yours was that taste of His kindness, that glimpse of His glory, that whisper of His voice in our hearts.

How I long to go into the depths, search out the hidden places waiting to be discovered, uncover the treasures of my Beloved, my Father, My King. What a glorious adventure! It is the adventure of all adventures, and a treasure worth losing everything else to gain!

And I just can’t resist… 😉

Missionary in a green apron

I’m still a missionary. But there are days I don’t want to admit it… not even to myself.

Titles give us responsibility. Responsibility is scary. It means there is something that I’m supposed to live up to. Something that I desire and hope to live up to.

But what if I fail?

If I don’t admit that I have a desire and hope and dream, then I don’t risk failure.

So there are days when I figure (without ever telling anyone)… Better to just view work as the means to a single end: a paycheck. If that’s the reason I’m there, there’s no chance of failure. Cuz regardless of what happens between now and next Friday, I am going to get paid for the number of hours that I was wearing that green apron and smiling at customers and pulling perfect shots of espresso.

But what if that’s not the real reason I’m there? What if I dare to admit to myself that that’s not the real reason at all? Then I’m accountable for something more.

And on top of that, I’m definitely not normal. Normal people go to work to earn a paycheck. Where does THAT leave me? I think it makes me a bit of a freak.

Oh wait, was I trying to avoid that?

Ummmm…

I hope not!

I’ve been wrestling a lot lately with this concept of living on mission – here in our own neighborhoods, at our own grocery stores, and in our own workplaces. When my title legitimately was “missionary” last year (even Facebook proclaimed it!), it was easy to live up to it. At least, it was easy to live up to what I think a missionary should look like. I was expected to pray a lot, and speak encouraging words a lot, and lead worship a lot. I was expected to love on kids, knock on doors, and talk about Jesus.

So I did.

Sometimes it was from the deepest part of my heart and soul, stirred by compassion and the Spirit of God, empowered with a love that was not of myself. And, in all honesty, sometimes it wasn’t.

My title as a missionary isn’t Facebook official anymore. Yet when I sit before the Lord, I sense every bit as much call and commissioning to be a missionary, here and now, as I did in Tanzania or Honduras. When I chatted with a coworker about life and mistakes and travels and dreams the other day, I walked away thinking to myself, “This is the real thing. I’m not ‘being paid’ to be a missionary. I’m not expected to give an encouraging word or pray for anyone. And yet, the Spirit of God is in me and the fragrance of Christ is on me. Here is the true test. Here I am truly a missionary in the deepest sense and heart behind the word, not because I’m expected to be, but because I choose to be. And because I cannot, for a moment, deny who I am: a daughter and disciple of God, a lover of Jesus, a seeker who longs for His Spirit and presence.”

So I choose, once again, to say that there is indeed something I desire to live up to, a calling in Christ that I want to walk worthy of. There is a title over my life that supersedes “barista”. There is something I hope for, a vision that is bigger than a paycheck. Something I know I will never see accomplished in my own power, through my own understanding. But something I will long for and pray for and risk failure to see realized, that the power of Christ may work through my weakness and that others may encounter the most astounding love this world has ever known.

His voice

There are two different voices I could write with today.

The dominant voice fighting to emerge is one that is real, raw, and honest… but does not see accurately because it comes from a place of defeat, confusion, and frustration. It is a voice that cries, “Unworthy, inadequate, purposeless!”

And then there is another voice. It is the voice of truth, rooted in the decision to look past today and the unanswered questions of tomorrow. It is a voice that is not mine, but has been given to me, whispered deep in my spirit.

It is whispering deep in yours as well.

My beloved, My daughter, My son, My delight.

Old labels dissolve in My presence. Old failures and fresh failures have no grip, no hold, no voice to speak to you. Your adequacy is your love for Me, and My love for you. Don’t you know that that is all I want: your love, your adoration, your attention? Don’t you believe that I can truly satisfy the deepest desires of your heart? Don’t you know that I hold the world in My hand?

Heaven and earth will disappear, but My words will never disappear. My words – My promises to you – are more solid than the ground beneath your feet, more dependable than the rising and setting of the sun in the sky. You cannot believe too much of Me. You cannot ask something too big for Me. You cannot expect greater of Me than what I am able to accomplish. Don’t you realize that even when you reach the max capacity of your comprehension and ability to reason and believe and fathom, you have only begun to discover My greatness and power and ability to act on your behalf?

Believe in Me.

Believe in Me.

Believe in Me.

Word of God, speak!