The Sister on the Other Side of the Screen

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Being a cynical person has its perks. Bogus “miracle” products don’t fool me. Fads or re-hashed trends don’t sway me with their hip pressure tactics. I didn’t fall for mom jeans in the ’80s, and I’m not falling for them now.

Persistent doubt has spared me from crushed expectations and helped me view the world accurately in its fallen, fractured condition. But while I’d like to chalk it up as godly discernment, I’m learning that cynicism isn’t the most Christ-like outlook on life.

God has been showing me recently how unchecked hyper-criticism harms me, mistreats others, and, worst of all, offends Him. To expose this sin, he chose an unexpected tool, one that routinely tempts, tries, and vexes me: social media.

I’ve written before about my tension with social media, especially Insta-sham, er, gram. Even though I recognize that content is curated – that people are trying to tell a story or display their art or “find beauty in the mundane” – it’s still jarring to me. I want to know real people sharing real information about themselves, or who are teaching actual truth from Scripture.

Over time, my approach to social media degenerated from skepticism to spite, particularly toward other female Christian bloggers, writers, and speakers. I’d scroll through my feed and feel contempt rise in my throat like some vile aftertaste. As my fingers flicked the screen, my head screamed at each post: “Fake! Fake! Fake!” I judged the content they chose to share and assigned them horrible motives: “She’s just trying to drum up followers,” and “Her posts tickle ears to get more likes.”

Pretty nasty stuff. That’s what happens when you accuse others of the same temptations and sins that challenge you.

In the throes of pessimism, I forgot that people using social media are real people – with flaws and failings and masks they try to use to obscure their junk. But that’s true of anyone. Who among us can cast a stone against deception? We’re all guilty of faking goodness, whether on social media or in “real” life. But we’re also invaluable human beings made in the image of God. Those who know him are continually being refined, just as I am, and are tripping along the same path of obedience, just like I do.

Bad attitudes like this are hard to break. When you’re wired for criticism, your judgment reflex is as snappy as they come.

Honestly, I’m still trying to figure out how to consume social media as a realist, and as a Christian. Scripture urges us to “test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world” (1 John 4:1). God gave us brains and his Word; we should use them to pierce the inspirational façade sheltering bad theology.

But attributing impure motives to Christian writers or influencers goes beyond discernment to the point of projecting logs in others’ eyes. Assuming the worst about people doesn’t make me a better Christian; it makes me a more hypocritical one.

If you’re cynical like me, you might struggle with similar hang-ups over social media. You suspect others’ words are disingenuous, and perceive their photos as staged. The showy nature of visual platforms simultaneously intrigues and repels you, drawing you in with aesthetic appeal, yet frustrating you with lack of credibility. Or maybe I’m the only Negative Nancy in the room.

The problem before us naysayers is a matter of weight. How can we tread nimbly along the true/false tightrope of social media, steadied by equal parts wisdom and grace?

For perfect balance, we know where to turn our eyes.

Jesus knew the extent of human depravity, yet he treated others with dignity and compassion. He healed a chronically ill woman deemed unclean because of her blood. He called the most loathed member of society, a tax collector, and invited him to eat together. He held a private nighttime rendezvous with a critical, questioning Pharisee. He spoke gently and directly with a woman who had sinned, repeatedly, and remained unfaithful and restless, never quenched in her thirst for love.

Christ’s attitude toward others wasn’t glass half-empty or half-full. He was fully aware of the darkness, fully surrendered to the Lord, fully given to save lost souls and grant them abundant life through union with Him. His commission to us, as his followers, leaves no room for doubt: “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you” (John 15:12).

Sin is a given for everyone using social media. We don’t need to highlight it, and certainly don’t need to invent and ascribe it to others. Only God knows the true intentions behind what anyone posts. We can trust him to convict his children as he sees fit, not according to our assumptions.

I thank him for reminding me that the Christian woman on the other side of the screen isn’t merely a persona; she’s my sister in Christ. She hasn’t “arrived,” and neither have I. We’re both redeemed, yet still struggling; saved for eternity, yet stuck in the flesh.

For those of us who need to swap our dour shades for freshly cleaned lenses, we can learn from and apply Ephesians 4:29 as a filter for social media output and intake: “Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.”

May we see what is good, excellent, and praiseworthy about our sisters and brothers online and give grace to those who post.

[Photo courtesy Becca Tapert on Unsplash]

Pro-lifers, Don’t Forget to Speak Life Online

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On January 22, my social media feed blew up with sonograms, pregnant bellies, and cherub-like baby faces. When I read the accompanying posts, I was disturbed by the incongruity of such sweet images paired with words conveying fury, spite and vitriol.

The passage of New York’s Reproductive Health Act on the anniversary of Roe v. Wade this year lit a tinderbox of moral outrage online. Pro-life supporters listened in horror as legislators in the New York State Senate applauded the expansion of abortion rights, including the allowance for abortions after 24 weeks of gestation. We were appalled a week later when Virginia Delegate Kathy Tran acknowledged that a bill she was sponsoring would’ve allowed a woman who was in labor to have an abortion.

Proposed infanticide was the straw that broke the back of any lingering passivity within the pro-life ranks. Silence wasn’t an option; pro-life advocates reacted using the quickest means possible – by unleashing their wrath on social media.

As I scrolled through the litany of rants, feeling my emotions seethe with righteous indignation, it occurred to me that something was missing. In the midst of these impassioned social media declarations, I saw few messages conveying compassion toward women and encouraging them to carry their babies to term.

Post after post condemned abortion and reprimanded anyone for considering it. Where were the posts praising the value of choosing life?

Read full article at Intersect Project.

[Photo courtesy Christin Hume on Unsplash]

What Are We Waiting For?

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“Is it snack time yet?”

My five-year-old hounds me with this question throughout the day, in between the times he’s asking about lunch or dinner. It gets old quickly, and I wind up losing my temper almost as frequently as he pulls on my shirt, begging for nourishment.

Just as my son doesn’t always understand or care about the reasons why he must wait for a snack, I don’t always understand or appreciate the reasons why I must wait for things in life – waiting for test results from the doctor trying to diagnose my stomach problems; waiting for my kids to stop whining because they’re too hot, tired, or hungry; waiting for God to bring me children in the first place after many years of infertility.

Most of us dislike waiting. It’s uncomfortable, inconvenient, and usually doesn’t work with our schedules. We desire what we want, when we want it, regardless of any good reasons that might exist for not getting it right away. We assume that instant gratification feels better than prolonged fulfillment – especially if the time in between involves any amount of hardship.

This preference for expediency conflicts with how God works. For one thing, time doesn’t apply to Him. The Alpha and Omega created the world with a structured beginning and ending, and yet, being un-created and infinite, He transcends those constraints.

“Before the mountains were brought forth, or ever you had formed the earth and the world, from everlasting to everlasting you are God” (Psalm 90:2 ESV).

Because He is eternal, God doesn’t need to hurry or wait. He is unbound by time, yet He works within it to accomplish His purposes. His plan for salvation unfolded over hundreds of years, a redemptive thread running from Old to New Testament, propelling all of humanity toward the appointed times of Christ’s birth, death, resurrection, and coming return.

Read full article at Women Encouraged.

[Photo courtesy Eutah Mizushima on Unsplash]

Nevertheless, She Persisted in Christ: Aging with Grace

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Certain family heirlooms draw instant mental images of my grandma: an ornate handheld mirror depicting a Victorian woman twirling in a resplendent red dress; a lamb-shaped refrigerator magnet declaring, “Ewe’s Not Fat; Ewe’s Just Fluffy”; an antique anniversary clock that managed to survive four generations without sustaining injury to its delicate glass dome.

The clock is an elegant, Old World relic. It draws power from a torsion pendulum, a mechanism comprising four chrome balls that oscillate clockwise and counterclockwise, powering the clock’s gears in mesmerizing fashion. I spent many cherished moments nestled in my grandma’s lap, staring transfixed at that clock resting beside her fading plush recliner, not knowing that it could run an entire year on a single winding. I didn’t realize how it represented the perseverance of a devoted daughter of Christ.

Read full article at Morning by Morning.

New Year Goal Crushing

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I turn 40 this year. For some reason, that didn’t hit me until now, in late January, rather than on my 39th birthday in early December. On that day, I simply felt grateful. Thankful for my family and friends and the various ways God has blessed me throughout my life. Content with doing a small celebration at home, chowing down the best Jenn Diet-friendly chocolate cake my husband could whip up.

Normally, I don’t like birthdays. They make me feel old and unaccomplished. Even when I was a kid, I’d get a little glum when my “special day” rolled around. Something about staring down a spreading wildfire of candles bothered me. I didn’t welcome the prospect of aging, or the simmering doubts about not making the most of my time up to this point in life. So when I turned 39 and felt fine, that should’ve been a red flag. I should’ve known the birthday blues would be delayed.

Once our family emerged from the lazy, disheveled days of Christmas break, I took a moment to catch my breath, sit down, and launch an undertaking I haven’t attempted in years: I created goals. Specifically, writing goals. It was a project some friends in my writing group were tackling, and I thought, naively, it’d be a good assignment for me to do, too.

Setting goals is a good practice. It prioritizes tasks, focuses your concentration, and provides a framework for implementing disciplinary tactics to help you avoid distraction and reach your desired outcome.

I used to set goals for various activities – school, swimming, work, family, even spiritual life. I hit those early versions of read-the-Bible-in-a-year plans pretty hard. The process of establishing goals fit nicely with my overall zeal for planning. Color-coding, outlining, inserting tabs – all of it gave me an organizational rush.

To be sure, my planning fanaticism needed to be dialed down. But instead of a slow easing off the gas, God chose a different way to reorient this mindset, which at its core, was rooted in sin. He decided to crash the whole dang bus.

Loss of my sister-in-law. Loss of my emotional stability. Loss of my fertility. Loss of my emotional stability again. Loss of my ability to manage (manipulate) my kids. So many facets of life twisted sideways, spinning out of control. My illusion of autonomy shattered. It needed to so I could more clearly see the goodness of God’s will.

Necessary as it was, the process of destroying a habit 30-plus years in the making wore me out. I began to dislike planning. Although I couldn’t avoid scheduling activities altogether, I stopped making notes about what I hoped to do or see happen. I didn’t want to aim for dreams or anything remotely unfeasible. Fear of disappointment numbed my desire to create goals. Why bother? If you can’t reach ’em, don’t set ’em.

This was my modus operandi the past several years. Then the topic of goals came up in my writing group, and I got to thinking about it again. Maybe I should do this. A little organization might help me stay on track and avoid wasting time.

I took the plunge and immediately regretted it. Trying to establish goals for a new year requires you to look back on the past and assess where you’re at now so you can determine how to move forward. And that’s what burst my bubble before it had time to inflate.

Last year, I decided to stop writing at my own blog in favor of freelance writing for other publications, specifically in the evangelical Christian genre. Since that time, I’ve had several articles published at different sites – all God’s grace; not my effort. But that wasn’t what fixed my attention. Instead, I focused on the failures: I didn’t write as much as I’d wanted to. I didn’t grow a platform by any significant standards (a whole subject that feels gross to me). I didn’t start a book proposal. I did get rejected by multiple publications at least 20 times.

Taking inventory of these shortfalls discouraged me and demonstrated why I don’t like assessment-type exercises in the first place. They don’t merely give feedback on performance and provide measurable ways to improve; rather, they showcase my inadequacy.

Thinking about your failures is bad enough. Thinking about your failures in lieu of your age is worse. The comparison trap opens wide to devour you. You view others’ accomplishments as indictments of your own deficiencies. Look at what all these other writers have achieved before they hit 40. You’re a loser verging on old-timer status.

These thoughts are wrong, obviously. I recognized that right away. But even when you call a lie what it is, it can still harass you.

As usual when these meltdowns happen, much angst and tearful conversations with my husband ensued. He was gracious enough to remind me of the truth and not whap me with it upside the head. It took a few days for God to uproot these areas of pride and misplaced identity and show me the better perspective.

Writing is a wonderful creative outlet for me, as well as a beautiful instrument to convey truth about Christ and encourage others. It isn’t my purpose, though. It can be meaningful, but it doesn’t give my life meaning. My worth is in Jesus. He made me; he saved me; he’s working through me to accomplish his will.

Why in the world do I forget this so often, at nearly 40 years old? Turns out the process of growing more like Christ takes a lifetime to progress.

One verse emerged amid my brooding over this. It served as a beacon, guiding how I viewed myself and how I approached the practice of goal-setting:

So whether we are at home or away, we make it our aim to please him. ~ 2 Corinthians 5:9

I admit to not wanting this goal most of the time. My heart is too darn selfish. But I can remember it, repeat it, meditate on it, talk about it, plaster it on my laptop, fridge, and bathroom mirror – anywhere and everywhere – to provide constant reminders of my ultimate goal in life.

This is how it should be. This is what I live for. This is why I write, or do whatever my hands find to do. To please my Savior.

I went back to the drawing board and drafted new goals. Only for writing, not for every part of life – let’s not get carried away here. I might explain these goals in detail later. For now, I’m simply itemizing my three overriding priorities:

  • Point to Jesus.
  • Lift up others.
  • Connect to trustworthy resources.

To whomever reads what I write and joins me on this journey of transformation, thank you.

Blessed Are the Meek

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Meekness isn’t a virtue we think about often. It doesn’t appear high on society’s list of desirable traits, like power, wealth, strength, and influence. We don’t interact with people and hope they walk away thinking “Wow, she’s really meek.”

Yet meekness is one of the most radical ways we can live like Christ. Instead of lashing back, meekness turns the other cheek. Instead of demanding rights, meekness defers and submits.

Jesus – the only human possessing the divine, authoritative right to insist upon His will – restrained his almighty power to obey His Father’s will.

“He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth; like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent, so he opened not his mouth.” ~ Isaiah 53:7

Read the full devotional at Servants of Grace.

[Photo courtesy  Daniel o’dowd on Unsplash]

The Next to Go

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Fourteen years ago I was on break from work, eating lunch at the park, devouring a mystery novel. I was closing in on solving the case when my husband called, interrupting my investigation.

“She’s gone. Emily is gone.”

That morning, on her way to work, our sister-in-law had been hit by a car and killed. Six months earlier, I’d stood with the wedding party at the front of the church and watched her and my brother-in-law exchange vows.

I’d hugged her goodbye only four months ago, after she’d driven down with us to our new home in Arizona. The four of us had gone on double dates, smack-talked through rounds of Skip-Bo, smiled as we charted out futures that would be so closely intertwined. Twin brothers and their wives pursuing their dreams, championing each other through thick and thin, laughing at and with one another along the way.

Not anymore. I’d lost the sister I’d just gained.

I dropped the book I was reading. The sandwich I ate nearly resurfaced. I couldn’t chew, couldn’t breathe, couldn’t think past that awful moment.

“Jenn, are you there?”

Read full article at Fathom Magazine.

[Photo courtesy OC Gonzalez on Unsplash]