Bikes, stitches and Aloe vera plants

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Gotta give cred to my former roommate who had cool stuff for me to take still life photos of.

Ever feel like you’re getting hit on the head with the same heavy hammer over and over and over again?

Yeah, that happened to me today. The same message kept popping up unexpectedly throughout this lovely crisp November Monday.

First, it sprouted as an idea while I was reading my Bible this morning. Then, it blossomed into a vine of connected thoughts while I was walking around my work building during lunch. Then, it branched out from another post over at the Beauty Beyond Bones blog. And finally, it snaked itself around my mind in the form of a song that randomly played on some stranger’s YouTube playlist.

And finally, I was like, OK, I get the picture. I’ll write about this.

So here it is: If your father truly loves you, he’ll want what’s best for you, right?

I remember when I fell off my bike when I was seven years old. I flew over the handlebars and skidded chin-first across the gravel driveway. Bawling, I proceeded to scamper up our super long, steep driveway to my dad who would know how to fix it. He cleaned my battle wounds and off we went to the hospital.

I turned eight a few days later, sporting a nice set of stitches on my chin and elbow.

A couple weeks later, I was scheduled to have my stitches taken out. Let’s just say one of those stitches was really embedded in my chin and it took a lot of tugging to get it out. Afterward, my dad led me out to the parking lot and took care of me as I heaved in the bushes by the car.

He then drove to a store and bought me a little Aloe vera plant. Most eight-year-olds wouldn’t be too impressed with an Aloe plant as a gift, and I can’t say I was at first either. But my dad told me to smear the Aloe’s goo on my chin and elbow injuries every day and it would help the scars heal. So I did.

I used that gift countless times throughout my life.

And that Aloe plant grew over the years, becoming Master of the Windowsill, spawning other little Aloe plants and still going strong when I moved out of my parent’s house years later.

My dad wanted what’s best for me, so he gave me a gift that was helpful, considerate and a blessing in the future, as well.

So let me ask you: If our dads here on earth care so much for us and want to give us the best Aloe plant gifts, then how much more will our Father in Heaven give good gifts to those who ask Him? (That’s a Jen version of Matthew 7:11, in case you were wondering.)

My dad’s great. I know he loves me fiercely, would do anything to protect me and wants the best for me. But even he doesn’t love me as much as Jesus loves me.

God has the best intentions for us. He isn’t holding out on us or baiting us with a gift, only to move it away before we can receive it.

Sometimes, yes, we need to wait for His gifts. Sometimes, yes, that waiting is really hard. But He really does know what’s best for us, at the best time.

God has a plan and purpose for us greater than we can even imagine. He has a gift for each one of us.

But it’s up to us to receive that gift.

I could have refused to use the Aloe’s gel on my scars. It was smelly and sticky and sometimes those pointy ends stabbed me as I tried to glean the gooey innards from the plant. This was a gift?

But I accepted my dad’s gift to me and it helped heal me. If you looked at my chin now, you would barely see the scars where those stitches were.

Sometimes all it takes is trusting that your Father knows best. Because God’s gifts for His children are good. Hope, joy, peace, love, freedom and so much more. Not only do these gifts from God increase along with us, but they also heal and mend — just like that trusty Aloe vera plant.

 

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God’s plan for you and me

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You know what? I love God.

Every morning, I start off my day with reading my Bible. Recently, I’ve been reading through the book of Jeremiah, and this morning I came to chapter 29.

I’m sure you’re all like, “Yeah, yeah, Jen, you’re going to go to verse 11.”

Yes — but only for some of it.

I read Jeremiah 29:11, “‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ says the Lord. ‘They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope.'”

Now, if you don’t mind, I’d just like to insert what I wrote down this morning after reading that:

So often, we read and quote Jeremiah 29:11 by itself — and for good reason, because it’s an amazing promise from God and a source of hope. But I know I failed to see it in context before. After reading through Jeremiah, the promise and hope found in verse 11 means so much more.

God had allowed the Israelites to be captured by the Babylonians because they had openly rebelled against Him. He offered them chance after chance to turn back to Him, but they refused and continued to disobey.

So, the Babylonians captured the Israelites and took them away from their city as captives.

But God still offered them hope.

Jeremiah 29:10, “This is what the Lord says: ‘You will be in Babylon for seventy years. But then I will come and do for you all the good things I have promised, and I will bring you home again.'”

He gave them the promise that they would be freed in 70 years. And not only that, He then told them (in verse 11) that He knew them and wanted to give them a good future. That’s beautiful.

Even now, we know that we’re going to go through some hard times, but God lets us know that He has ordered our steps. Even though we may not know how long it may take to be freed from the struggles or chains, He has promised us freedom and this good will, if we choose to follow Him.

But don’t stop there — verses 12 and 13 are so good too! Jeremiah 29:12-13 — “In those days when you pray, I will listen. If you look for me wholeheartedly, you will find me.”

Let me just say I had no idea I would absolutely need those words today — and let me tell you, I absolutely needed those words today.

But God knew.

And let me just say: Even if you find yourself in one of the worst storms you’ve faced, God still knows where you are.

More than that, He knows you.

He formed you for a purpose, and He won’t just leave you hanging.

No, if we choose to love Him and follow Him, He promises us a future filled with hope and good plans.

God isn’t the only one involved here, though. We have to make the choice to follow him. We, as humans, can choose to disregard His promises and follow our own paths, like the Israelites did in the verses above.

But know this: God doesn’t break His promises.

Just keep swimming

During my run today, I found myself facing a hill that was more daunting than the rest. It was long and steep, rocky and littered with roots just waiting to trip me up.

Without any prompting, I thought, Just keep swimming.

Just keep swimming

Yes, it’s a quote from Finding Nemo. Yes, it’s a movie for kids.

But for that moment — for this day, when tragedy and hate strike again — those words were so fitting.

Just keep swimming.

On days likes these, it can be hard enough to just keep treading water, let alone swim. But it’s when you stop moving, when you stop treading water, that you find yourself drowning.

And that’s what any enemy wants you to do. To stop trying. To give up. To stop moving forward.

The only way to make it up a hill is to take one more step. And one more. One more.

Sometimes that step is a step of faith. Sometimes that step takes all the willpower we have in us.

Sometimes that step is a step to prove to those haters trying to instill fear in our lives that we will rise above. That we will reach the top of the hill.

That we’ll keep swimming and keep moving forward.

On onions and ACL injuries

IMG_9231I realized today I really wanted to write something on my blog, but had no idea what to write about.

And honestly, at first, onions popped into my head.

My mind eventually turned to where I was around this time three years ago. In September 2014, I hurt my left knee during a flag football intramural game. I drove back home and had my dad assess the already swelling and throbbing injury.

The next couple of days, my knee didn’t get better and I was scheduled for an MRI. The MRI results came back and the doctor confirmed our suspicions that I had torn my ACL. I would need reconstructive surgery if I wanted to be able to play basketball or other sports in the future.

One thing you should know about me: I hate needles and get pretty squeamish at the thought of a scalpel cutting into my flesh. So, surgery was pretty much my worst nightmare come true.

But I wanted to actually be able to play sports again.

In November 2014, I went in for surgery, where the doctor replaced my torn ACL with a portion of my own hamstring muscle combined with muscle from some person I’ll never know (I’ve dubbed him Stefan).

Let’s just say this was a hard time for me. The injury had happened early in my junior year of college, so I was missing that entire year of basketball and other sports. Physical therapy was a long process of re-learning how to walk correctly, trying to reach full extension with my knee and leg strengthening.

I remember searching Google, reading about other people who had torn their ACLs and promised it would get better in time. And I remember having a hard time believing them.

But I did believe something else. I knew God was there with me, throughout the entire process. My injury hadn’t come as a surprise to Him. No, He didn’t prevent it from happening, but He didn’t just abandon me when I was hurting.

I would not have been able to walk into that hospital, have the IV stuck in my arm and lie down on that hospital bed, while the doctor marked my knee with an X, if I hadn’t known God was in control. Trust me, I would have been freaking out. But I prayed for peace, and He gave me a quiet assurance that everything would be fine.

Maybe I will come back to the topic of onions.

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Sometimes we have our lives planned out exactly as we think they should go. But just as Shrek said there are layers to ogres, there are also layers to life.

Often, we see only the outside layer — the immediate circumstances that surround us. And in life, those circumstances sometimes stink.

As we get deeper into life’s layers, however, we realize there’s more than just the immediate. It might be painful as we peel away those outer layers to get to the core of a situation. There might be some crying involved. There might be some chopping and dicing away.

But just as those steps are needed to prepare an onion to fulfill its part in a recipe, sometimes those steps are necessary for us in life — to grow, to mature, to develop into the type of person we choose to be.

What can you learn from these difficult times?

I would have never planned to tear my ACL and have surgery. But I can tell you that I now rarely take for granted my ability to run or play basketball. Sometimes that twinge in my knee is a great reminder of the journey it took to get to this point. And it reminds me of how God not only promised to take care of me, but how He followed through on that promise.

And if that was the only lesson learned from that particular moment in my life, I think it’s a pretty solid one.

Besides, now I have that much more in common with Tom Brady, Julian Edelman and Rob Gronkowski. Sorry, not sorry, I’m a diehard Patriots fan.

My response to hate: Unfailing love

Love

I think it’s an understatement to say the world is a pretty depressing place right now.

Each day, we’re besieged with news of terrible occurrences seeping with so much hate, pain and death. It’s hard to keep from being weighed down by it all (and I know I have barely the slightest of an inkling of an idea of what some people experience in their day-to-day lives).

Not to get all hippy-dippy on you, but it makes me realize the importance of love. Not just an exclusive love for certain people that we’ve grown to like and accept. Not just a love for people similar to us. Not just a fleeting love for Klondike Bars and Cheetos.

Unfailing love.

For every person.

And let me say I know there is nobody on earth that can have completely unfailing love.

Let me also say I know there is a God that is unfailing love.

Before anybody scoffs at me and exits this tab, please, just read on.

Jesus loves every single person no matter what. It doesn’t matter what family we’ve been born into, what country we originate from, what we look like, what we’ve done in the past or whether we like Star Wars or not.

Jesus still loves us.

But He didn’t just love us from afar. He wanted us to personally experience that unfailing love. So, He made a way for that to happen.

Jesus entered this world only to face the hate, shame, discrimination, rejection and pain of a world that wanted Him dead — the same hate and discrimination that so many people still face today. And you know what? The world got its way and killed Him. It seemed that hate and death would win.

Jesus didn’t stay in that tomb, though. He rose again to live. By living, He defeated death, hate, shame and pain. In their stead, He offered unfailing love and abundant life to each one of us. And, in turn, He gave us hope.

But we can’t just take those gifts of unfailing love and hope and hoard them selfishly for ourselves. We need to extend those gifts to everyone else.

In a world that’s so enveloped in anger and pain, how much of an impact can one welcoming, encouraging and loving act be?

In a world so entrenched in darkness, how much more can one light shine and welcome the people around it?

Even when the world does its best to make us think hate is pulling ahead, let me remind you of something:

Love already won.

And it’s unfailing love.

***

Note: My inspiration for this post was from Psalm 69:13

You know what they say…

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So often, we look to others to form our value, self-worth, opinions, beliefs and habits. We think, “Well, you know what they say” or “Oh, they say I can’t [insert here], so…”

And that’s that.

They say.

How did this phrase evolve to become a common method of asserting wisdom, facts or viewpoints — whether true or false?

* * *

While I’m sure there are numerous studies about this phrase out there, my thoughts turned to when Jesus asked his disciples, “Who do people say that I, the Son of Man, am?”

His disciples basically answered with, “Oh, well, they say you’re John the Baptist. Oh, they say you’re Elijah. Oh, they say you’re one of the prophets.”

And then, (in my paraphrased vernacular), Jesus gets straight to the point: “Yeah, who cares what they say… Who do you say I am?”

Who do you say I am?

* * *

I can speak only for myself and from my personal experiences. I can tell you how delicious this homemade ice cream cake with cookie dough, brownies, crushed Oreos and hot fudge is. But until you taste it for yourself, you’ll only be basing your opinion on what I’ve said about it (and trust me, it’s all good things).

I can tell you from my own experience who Jesus is to me personally, because He has proven Himself to me in various situations over and over again throughout my life.

He’s my provider.

He’s my guide.

He’s my best friend.

He’s my safe haven.

He’s my peace.

He’s my joy.

That’s who I say He is.

And you know what they say: Sometimes you can learn from the experience of others.

* * *

But who do you say He is?

Because they also say you make your own choices in life.

 

 

Leaf, Leaves, Leaving, Left

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honestly, it feels like a leaf blower is scattering my emotions into a tumultuous riot in my stomach heart mind —
there goes a scalding red leaf searing others that get too close
and there — a mottled brown one quietly sighs as it spirals down with gravity’s pull
there whirls a crisp green leaf drunk on the bright light that it stole from the sun
but there — a gang of burnt orange leaves approach the green in an overwhelming swirl
and they clash and collide in a vibrant violent twirl

eventually, they all rest dormant
sedentary, waiting for the next brisk wisp of wind
that will whisk them away and send them into a dizzying tizzy