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]

Hope of the New Year

As I grew up ringing in the New Year with my family, I wondered, but never asked, why January 1st is considered a holiday. When your parents let you stay up and watch TV way past bedtime, you keep your mouth shut and let the good times roll.

Now that I’m an adult and have children of my own pleading their case for late-night privileges, the tradition of celebrating the flip of the calendar has piqued my curiosity once again. Seeing commercials for New Year’s programs and store end caps already stocked with fireworks and noisemakers reminds me of my long-held questions: What’s so special about the start of another year? Why do people around the world hail its arrival with feasts and proposals, kissing and crooning a Scots poem? Besides providing an excuse to party, why do we celebrate the New Year?

A quick search at history.com reveals its origins, dating back four millennia to the ancient Babylonians who observed the first new moon after the vernal equinox (a day in late March when the amount of sunlight and darkness is equal) as the beginning of a new year. The date kicked off an epic eleven-day religious celebration called Akitu, which involved feasts and rituals celebrating the Babylonian sky god Marduk’s victory over the evil sea goddess, Tiamat. Later, Emperor Julius Caesar introduced the Julian calendar, similar to the modern Gregorian calendar used by most countries around the world today. Caesar at that time declared January 1 as the first day of the year in honor of Janus, the Roman god of beginnings, who had two faces allowing him to look back on the past and forward to the future.

One common thread runs throughout the history of New Year celebrations, from the time of the Babylonians and Romans celebrating and making sacrifices to their gods to our modern rituals of making resolutions and watching a giant bright ball drop at midnight. These New Year traditions we observe and pass on to future generations glorify hope. Though we can’t know what circumstances the next year holds, we rejoice in the possibility of good things to come. The potential for blessings flutters a blank sheet before us, tempting us with irresistible freshness. We grasp for it, convinced that this unknown unraveling of time will be better than what’s already transpired, and what’s ahead will finally make us happy.

Read full article at Morning by Morning.

Better than Batman

My house doubles as a functional living space and a superhero lair. Come over and you’ll find Batman, Spider-Man and any one of the Avengers battling foes on the stairs, under the kitchen table or wherever my sons last deserted them.

Superhero fascination isn’t restricted to elementary school boys. A genre that was once the domain of comic book geeks has risen to massive popularity in the entertainment and retail industries. Last year alone, the six live-action superhero films released raked in more than $4 billion in worldwide box office. From the movies we watch to the clothes we wear, the realm of superheroes has expanded to become a marketing cash cow and a culture unto itself.

Our captivation with powerful, otherworldly characters reveals a deeper spiritual truth about our basic human desire to be rescued. As objects of our admiration and fandom, superheroes promise us deliverance from trouble and supply inspiration for a better future. The line between fantasy and reality blurs into irrelevance as we latch onto these symbols of hope amidst adversity.

Read full article at Intersect Project

When We Steal the Spotlight from God

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When I was entering junior high, my mom bought me a book I found irrelevant and a little rude. Although I don’t remember the title, it would be hard to forget such a cheesy cover illustration—a smug-looking teen girl with a cartoon planet Earth orbiting her head. The point of the book—and the message my mom wished to convey—came across clearly: Don’t think and act like the world revolves around you.

Although younger generations often are accused of self-centeredness, we’re all guilty at any age. An adult who talks incessantly about his or her achievements or problems is just as absorbed in their own affairs as a tyrannical toddler who calls everything “mine.”

As with my mother, the sins I see in my children—wanting to get their way all the time, and expecting others to cater to their demands—are a proximate illustration of my own egotism. In matters such as parenting, or even minor inconveniences like hitting all red lights when I’m in a hurry, I expect my will to be done and throw a grown-up temper tantrum when it’s not.

When I think and act according to my pleasure instead of God’s glory, I elevate myself above my creator. It’s both sinful and absurd, like a clay pot trying to commandeer the potter’s ceramic studio.

Read full article at Gospel-Centered Discipleship.

[Photo courtesy Alexander Dummer on Unsplash]

Surrendering ‘Supposed to’

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Guest post by Christy Britton

Through this past year of writing more and contributing to different websites, God has given me an unforeseen blessing of forming friendships with other writers. (Yes, as surprising as it seems, it’s possible to develop genuine relationships through social media channels pervaded by fake or misleading content.) One of my dearest friends is Christy Britton, whom I consider a faith and writing mentor. She is also a boy mom to four biological sons and shares my love for adoption, a passion which led her to pursue adopting a young girl in Uganda.

Her story breaks my heart. Things didn’t go as she’d hoped. The plan that was supposed to bring another child into the family never came to fruition. Yet even in deep pain and loss, she kept loving her daughter and her heavenly father who had brought them together as a family. She continues to grieve with open arms, submitting her shattered expectations to our good and holy God.

It’s a tremendous honor to share her story through her own words, and to honor the life of her daughter, Gracious. I pray this will accomplish what I know is her desire: to uplift others who are hurting, and encourage us all to turn our sorrows over to our Savior.

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“It wasn’t supposed to be this way.”

Have you ever said these words? Thought them? I suspect I’m not the only one. We all experience circumstances not of our choosing, situations that don’t go the way we want or expect.

Our supposed to’s may seem harmless, but they can easily become idols. If we’re clinging to our supposed to’s, we’re not clinging to Christ. When we prefer our own plans, we reject his. When we think we know better, we deny his wisdom and authority. We’re back to the garden. Like Eve, we think God is withholding something good from us, and we doubt his goodness.

There is tension between our wills and what our good father wills for us. There are gaps between our desires and his. In this tension is a sweet invitation to trust God. In each gap is an opportunity to release our grip on what we want and reach for what he offers.

I’m learning to let go of my own supposed to. Honestly, it’s a work in progress with much work to be done. I had a plan for my life. A good one that would have brought glory to God. I thought it was what God wanted for me, too. I was mistaken.

A trade-off
As an orphan advocate with 127 Worldwide, a nonprofit that partners with local leaders around the world caring for orphans and widows, I get to travel to Africa. Three years ago, I met Gracious, a little girl living in Uganda,  and immediately fell in love with her. My husband and I began to care for her as best we could from afar. We visited her, prayed for her, and made sure all her physical needs were met. After much prayer and wise counsel, we felt God stirring us to pursue her adoption.

While the adoption process was difficult and costly, we made our best effort to bring our girl home. After 18 months of paperwork, we were preparing to relocate to Uganda for the required one-year residency to complete her adoption. However, right before our scheduled flight, we received the news that our daughter had passed away.

She wasn’t supposed to die. She was supposed to be a Britton.

I’m supposed to be in Uganda right now. I’m supposed to be caring for my daughter.

These are my supposed to’s.

I wake up each morning with the temptation to give into the bitterness that comes from not getting my way. I wake up each morning to the reality that the plans I had will never come to fruition. Each morning begins with a dull pain that reminds me of what was supposed to be.

But do you know what else each morning begins with? New mercies (Lamentations 3:23). God is with me in each of these starts to my day offering fresh mercy. He holds his hand out to me.

Taking his hand forces me to release my grip on my supposed to’s. Holding onto him means letting go of the comfort and familiarity of my plans. God gives me himself, on his terms. He invites me to trade my supposed to’s for him.  

As beloved as I’ve built up my supposed to’s in my mind, he is better still. As good and holy as my plans are, his plans are better still.

Better vision
What about you? Do you live with the tension between what you think should be and what is? What “supposed to” do you need to release?

Maybe you, too, are missing the child you were supposed to raise. Perhaps you’re not in the job you’re supposed to have. Maybe you don’t look the way you’re supposed to look. You weren’t supposed to be sick; your best friend wasn’t supposed to move away; your marriage wasn’t supposed to be this hard.

These supposed to’s we hold onto must be let go in favor of something better – God’s will for our lives. He wholly offers himself to us, but wholly on his terms. He gives us a vision of himself, so we will turn our eyes away from lesser things.

Our father is not careless in what he withholds; he is purposeful. We may not understand the why, but we can trust the who.

Our God is for us (Romans 8:31). He is with us (Matthew 28:20). His plans are for our good (Jeremiah 29:11). He promises that we will share in his glory when we share in his sufferings. He offers life through his Son when we die to ourselves. Death is painful, and we should not expect to die to our wills without hurting.

What we can expect is that our temporary affliction is preparing for us eternal glory beyond all comparison (2 Corinthians 4:17). My affliction exists in the form of grief, in an unfulfilled longing. My day can easily get derailed at the sight of the empty chair at the dinner table. But I cling to the promise that afflictions don’t last forever. In heaven, all my longings will be satisfied in my Savior.

Take his hand
I want to want God more than I want anything else, including my supposed to’s. I look to Christ for motivation. His prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane before his crucifixion demonstrates the tension between what he wanted and what his father wanted.

“Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me. Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done” (Luke 22:42).

Love caused him to release his own desires and submit to his father’s. Love for us. We were supposed to suffer God’s wrath. We were supposed to pay the penalty for our sins. But Christ died on the cross in our place. He paid the debt for our supposed to’s.

Jesus surrendered his will to the father so that we could be adopted into his family. As his children, will we not surrender our own wills to him? Will we refuse to let go of our precious plans? Our father who gave up his own beloved Son to secure our redemption can surely be trusted with the way our lives are supposed to go.

I don’t know what your supposed to’s are. But I do know that you can release and entrust them to a good father.

When you wake up and feel crushed under the weight of unfulfilled longings, reach for Christ. Take his hand and accept the new mercies he holds out to you. Live in this mercy. Ask him to transform your desires into longings for him. Allow your earthly disappointments to lead you to your father who always satisfies.

This is how your life is supposed to be lived.

ChristiandGraciousmeet

Christy Britton is a wife and homeschool mom of four biological sons. She is an orphan advocate for 127 Worldwide. She and her husband are covenant members at Imago Dei Church in Raleigh, NC. She loves reading, discipleship, Cajun food, spending time in Africa, hospitality, and LSU football. She writes for several blogs, including her own, www.beneedywell.com.