Archive for the ‘Spiritual Journey’ Category

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January 5th, 2014

Thoughts on Turning 30

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Yesterday, was my birthday. I turned 30.

30. That’s a big one for me. Once, it felt like a curse. Now, it feels like a new beginning.

My 20s were full of struggle. I was often dissatisfied, fighting against the things that were, always longing for something else. But I also learned who I am, who God is, and what life is about. I discovered how deeply I feel things, and that such strong emotion can be good for myself and others. I discovered how strongly I love, and how important it is that I be in intentional relationships. I discovered the darkness of my own heart, but also the great light of God’s grace. I know now that my life isn’t about me, that my job is to love God and love others, not myself.

I’ve realized that I am responsible for myself. I often have no control over my circumstances, I’m not meant to; the only thing I have some control over is myself. I am responsible for the state of my heart. I can choose to believe the truth or live from a lie. I can choose to rejoice with others or curse their blessings. I can choose to blame others for what I lack, for the way I am, or I can release the hurts and mistakes, and trust God to redeem, complete and heal the places that are empty and broken.

I would never have planned for my life to look like it does today, but now that I’m here, I wouldn’t trade it. It is all too good, too valuable. As I’ve let go of what I thought my life should be, I’ve been able to glimpse the goodness of what is, the hope of what could be because of what is. The past year has been about recognizing the many gifts I’ve been given, and choosing to be grateful and satisfied, instead of demanding different gifts. I’ve realized that my life is not empty and barren; it if full of love and life. I have an amazing husband, a loving family, heart-friends, and so many beloved students that it overwhelms me. Over the past year, I learned to rejoice in the things I have, rather than gazing at the things I don’t have. In all the things I lost, I gained Christ, who is more valuable than any thing or person I could ever have.

30 feels like a brand new chapter. Not a new book, but the continuation of a beautiful journey. Who knows what the next decade holds? I am the least afraid I have ever been. I am the most excited, the most expectant. I am excited to live in what I know to be true, no longer content with half-truths and false comforts. I am excited to know myself better, and to make myself, faults and all, available to God. 30 once looked tarnished by all of the things I didn’t have, but it now looks bright with promise. God is with me. He is very near. He will never leave me, no matter where I go. He is the most valuable thing. I see that now.

“The Lord is my chosen portion and my cup; you hold my lot. The lines have fallen for me in pleasant places; indeed, I have a beautiful inheritance. […] You make me know the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.”
Pslam 16:5-6; 16

I’m glad to be entering my 30s from this place.

August 27th, 2013

Hello Senior Year

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We’re about to begin our Senior year in Germany. This is not to say that it’s our final year, but our fourth year. When we came to Black Forest Academy, this year’s Seniors were freshman. We’re also Senior Sponsors, so we get to join the Seniors in all of their final year festivities. My how we’ve grown.

In mid-June, we said tearful goodbyes to the Seniors and a few other beloved students who won’t be returning. Dani graduated six girls she met with on a regular basis. Goodbyes are hard here. There are many more than we’d prefer, and some are unexpected.

A few days after Grad, we flew to Oklahoma for the Inner Healing and Freedom Conference. Dani spoke twice, about shame and the value of suffering. We were delighted to have two BFA students attend the conference. It was a small gathering of about 50 people, but God moved powerfully. We spent two more weeks with our family before flying back to Germany. The past few months have provided some much-needed rest.

From Dani

School starts in a week, and for the first time, I don’t know if I’m ready. Last week, I cried over the events of the past school year. I cried for my students’ pain, suffering and sin. I cried for the brokenness of the world. In some ways, I think it’s taken me these two summer months to relax enough to be able to cry.

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February 6th, 2013

Joy and Peace

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Joy and Peace

Joy and peace.
Those are the words that chose me this year.

Joy and peace.
They have been lacking in my life for a long time now. I am weary of being weary.

New Year’s Day marked the five-year anniversary of Israel and I trying to start a family. I cried a lot this holiday season. I felt heavy again with grief. No one really knew but Israel. I didn’t really want anyone to know. I think I’m ashamed of this extended sadness, tired of confessing it to others. Infertility is such a private grief. Perhaps all grief is private?

It was a sad holiday season. We passed half a decade on this leg of our journey. I can’t believe it’s been so long. Christmas always reminds me of the children who live in my heart, but not in my home, of the family and friends who are far away, separated by miles or by brokenness.

I celebrated my 29th birthday. I am almost 30, and my life is not what I thought it would be. There is a quote, from a book I haven’t read, which says, “So this is my life. And I want you to know that I am both happy and sad and I’m still trying to figure out how that could be.” Yes, that sums up my birthday quite well.

A few days before Christmas, Israel’s sister told us she was pregnant. This will be the first grandchild. I’m staring at the screen, trying to put into words the jumble of emotions this brings—hard-fought joy and expectation for this new life, deep sadness and confusion.

My heart has long been a dark and barren place. I have walked what seems an endless storm of sorrow and grief. I am so very different from who I was when we started down this path. I am so changed.

Joy. Peace.

These words have sprouted up from the cracked ground of my heart.

I am tired of dwelling in the darkness. I am tired of living in this fog of confusion. I am weary of this thing that has controlled my life for so long.

I desperately want joy.
I desperately want peace.

I would not trade these five years. I would not trade the years of trying, and failing, to conceive. I would not trade the two barely-there babies. I would not trade the tears, the confusion, the despair, even my darkest days.

I would not trade these things, for from them I have seen the goodness of God. I trust God now. I believe this time, these losses, this darkness, have been gifts. Gifts for my sanctification. Gifts for our marriage. Gifts for the good of others. Gifts that not everyone receives.

My heart is roomy now. I have welcomed in many beautiful souls. I am willing to love. I know better now what it means to love. I am comfortable with others’ hurt. I am able to sit with them in their heartbreak, to simply hold them through the confusion and tears. I am comfortable with the conundrum now, with the whys of our loss.

These are graces of God.

But I am ready to leave behind my mourning and turmoil.

I still have no answers. I still have no idea what the future holds, where our path will lead, but I do not need to know.

Joy and peace.

Right where I am
here
today
in this place
with these people
with this heart
and these losses
and these uncertainties.

God is good. God is sovereign.
Joy.               Peace.

This is the year I fight for them.

 

January 4th, 2013

Welcome to the New Year 2013

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Welcome new year. The Mayans were wrong. The soothsayers were all mistaken. The world didn’t end. Photobombing made it to the online Oxford dictionary. A university decided YOLO should be banned. And 3D printing is a real thing; insert Yoda.

Anyways…

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November 27th, 2012

From a Grateful Heart

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This is the American month for thankfulness, and tonight I am abundantly thankful. God has poured innumerable gifts into our lives. The past weeks have been filled with many wonderful things—conferences to hone our counseling and media skills, treasured time with old friends, moments of holy brokenness in ourself and our students, times of rejoicing with those in the BFA community. Our life here is rich and vibrant, but tonight, I am struck not with the events, but with the people, the themes, the underlying and overarching goodness of our God.

I wish I could squeeze my heart into these words, so you could feel the deep pleasure and gratitude that lives there. Through ever-present pain, longing, and hurt, runs a bright fuchsia cord of earnest satisfaction. Even in the moments of acute ache, my soul still whispers to the great God above, “Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.”

Thank you for my husband.

He is the most patient man I know. He is the stability of my turbulent heart. He is the greatest picture of you I’ve seen on this earth. I have no fear that he will ever walk away from me. Thank you for giving me such an undeserved love.

Thank you for this place.

It is a rare gem, to which I fear all others will seem flawed in comparison. These students amaze me with their vibrant creativity, fierce sense of justice, abundant compassion, and beyond-their-years wisdom. These families are flawed, but I’ve never had more opportunity to stand in awe at the sacrifice, patience and wisdom of parental love. This staff is composed of fallen humans, but they genuinely want to please you, they genuinely love those they’ve sacrificed so much to serve. Thank you for creating such a beautiful community.

Thank you for your body.

We do not deserve their love, prayers, and financial support, but you have lavished it upon us. Our families believe in the call you placed upon our lives, a gift that not all receive. Our friends delight in the work you have called us to, so much so that they happily provide for our needs. Our brothers and sisters remember us before you, lifting us up with heartfelt petitions for fruit, for growth, for blessing. Thank you for these people we are honored to know.

Thank you for your redemption.

I cannot believe that you take my shame and make it beautiful. I cannot believe that you take what has meant only death to me, and bring forth life. I cannot believe that you bless even my tarnished desires to serve you, for your glory and your kingdom. You overwhelm me with your goodness. My heart aches at the holy glory you display through my brokenness. Thank you for being my Redeemer.

Thank you for making me a mother.

Though I have not touched a child of our flesh and blood, you have given us children on this earth. You have filled our days with beautiful souls to protect, to delight in, and to love. Some days, my heart nearly bursts from this beautiful sorrow, this abundance that you have poured upon us through our brokenness. You have taken our barrenness, and given us children. A students once said to me, “Even if you don’t have kids, you have kids,” and it is this that makes me stand in awe of you, a God who would give us children of the heart. Thank you for being a giver of good gifts.

Thank you for promises like these.

Can a woman forget her nursing child,

that she should have no compassion on the son of her womb?

Even these may forget,

yet I will not forget you.

Behold, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands…

Sing, O barren one, who did not bear;

break forth into singing and cry aloud,

you who have not been in labor!

For the children of the desolate one will be more

than the children of her who is married,” says the Lord.

Fear not, for you will not be ashamed;

be not confounded, for you will not be disgraced;

for you will forget the shame of your youth,

and the reproach of your widowhood you will remember no more.

For the mountains may depart

and the hills be removed,

but my steadfast love shall not depart from you,

and my covenant of peace shall not be removed,”

says the Lord, who has compassion on you.

August 9th, 2012

An Active Perseverance

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Last week was exceptionally encouraging in our support raising. In one week, God provided over $500 in new support. This week has been particularly discouraging. A few days ago, we discovered that we needed to raise about $350 more than we’d originally thought. This brought our support from 84% to 77%, which means we’re back to needing $1,200.

Last week, it seemed like new supporters were pouring in. This week, it seems like the world’s gone on vacation. Last week, we were encouraged, motivated and excited. This week we are exhausted, discouraged and just ready to be done.

When we raised support in 2010, there came a point when we’d run out of people to contact. We were stuck at 50% and didn’t know where to find more supporters. We were discouraged, tired, and running out of hope. Then, God brought us a major financial supporter who enabled us to go to Germany. It was unexpected. It was miraculous. It was shocking.

This feels like a very similar place. We’ve been working, working, working all summer to raise new support. We’ve been emailing, calling, meeting, speaking, praying, and God’s brought $1,600 in new support. It’s incredible. But our energy is gone. Our time is short. Black Forest Academy feels all of its 4,924 miles away.

Yet despite the similar situations, I stand on a much more stable foundation. Now, I know that God is in control. I know that He is working on our behalf to bring new supporters. I fully believe that we will get back to Germany, and I am hopeful that we will return in time to prepare for school.

Yet I still feel discouraged; I’m just ready to be done. I want to throw up my hands and say, “God, I’ve done my part. Now it’s your job. I don’t want to do this anymore. I’m done.” Part of me wants to throw a temper tantrum and refuse to budge. I don’t want to!

I’ve always thought of perseverance as gritting your teeth and bearing the wind and rain until the storm passes by. My perseverance has been passive. God is challenging me to make my perseverance active. He is not asking me to merely sit through this uncertainty. He is asking me to work through this uncertainty. I cannot lay in bed while he brings support. I must keep working, calling, asking, praying, hoping, and believing. This perseverance is the perseverance of a long-distance runner. I must put one foot in front of the other, until I arrive at the destination.

Prayers Please

We would greatly appreciate your prayers. Pray that God would speedily bring in our remaining support so that we can leave sometime next week. There are also many other BFA staff who are still lacking support. Pray that we would persevere through our weariness. Pray that we would be protected from the attacks and distractions of Satan. Above all, we want to know God better, please him, and glorify him.

May 2nd, 2012

Of Ripped Canvas and Thankfulness

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About a year ago, I finally painted a long-bare canvas. I inscribed on it a poem I’d written. This art piece was in memory of our heaven-dwelling babies. I’ve had this canvas in my office at school all year. It’s precariously balanced on an electrical outlet, waiting to be more securely attached to the wall.

Today, that canvas fell, not for the first time, but this time, it met the corner of my desk, resulting in a gash. I was meeting with a student at the time. At first I was bewildered, then angry, then deaf to all that Beka was saying. And then I started crying. I don’t think poor Beka quite knew what to do. I wanted to show my broken canvas to Mari Ellen—she’d appreciated this piece of memorial lament—but she wasn’t there to sorrow with me.

That canvas is the most personally significant memorial I have of my kids. Seeing it abruptly torn, jerked to the surface my hibernating sorrow. For the rest of the day, I was exhausted and slow-moving. It’s funny how such a small thing can summon the heavy, familiar weight of grief. I didn’t expect this small incident to cause such a strong reaction.

Tomorrow, I’ll be participating in the Senior Transition Seminar. It’s a time for Seniors to process saying goodbye to BFA and transitioning to college life. I’ll be talking to the girls about relationships in college. Tonight, while thinking over what to say, my thoughts turned to all of the girls who I’ll be interacting with.

I like these 30 girls. A lot.

I have one month left with them. One more month to enjoy their smiles. One more month to hear their thoughts. One more month to laugh until I cry at their quirky humor. One more month to hug them. One more month share their lives while I can touch and see and smell and hold them. And then they’ll be gone. Off to places all across the world. I may never see them again. And that makes me so very sad. I don’t want BFA sans them.

I was thinking, just before writing this post, about that torn canvas and how sad it made me, how it affected my day. And I rather surprised myself by saying, “Thank you God that I’m sad about that canvas.” I had to consider why I was thankful.

Thank you, God, that I loved, and love, my children. Thank you, God, that I remember them through art. Thank you that these things are meaningful to me because these people are meaningful to me. Thank you that my life is filled with people I love. Thank you, God, that I care about these senior girls, who will soon be moving on to bigger and better things. Thank you that I will miss them. Thank you, God, that my hurt comes from deep love. Thank you for filling my life with things so good, people so good, that I miss them when they’re gone.

April 16th, 2012

Invisible Things

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This morning I found myself dazed while attending an all-staff meeting. I sat. I stared. I payed no attention to the conversations going on around me. At one point, I thought how familiar this felt. I felt this way all of last year.

Grief is like pea soup. It’s thick, it’s heavy, and, Israel would say, it tastes like dirt.

A little over a week ago, a friend and BFA colleague passed away unexpectedly. Mari Ellen Reeser had worked at BFA for over 20 years. Most recently, she was BFA’s sole counselor.

Mari Ellen was my friend. We lived in her house last year, and I was terrified of her. That year was incredibly difficult, and I felt so very guilty about the state of our home. It wasn’t clean, and we’d managed to break more things in those few months than I had in my entire life. But Mari Ellen was gracious. She wrote in an email, “PEOPLE are always more important than THINGS!! It’s the invisible things (like souls!) which are eternal. The visible is passing away!!”

When Israel and I finally met Mari Ellen in a local cafe, I was shocked by how very loud she was and by how often she laughed—loudly.

Over the past year, Mari Ellen has been my safe place, my sanity. I’ve had a lot of conversations with girls about things I was required to report. I hate reporting. It feels like a betrayal. But I can’t think of a better person to report to than Mari Ellen. She was ever gracious. She was always loving. She was always patient. She did was what necessary, and she did what was best.

Most of the “reported” girls didn’t like Mari Ellen. They felt threatened by her. She was the bad guy. Apart from their one or two required meetings with Mari Ellen, they usually chose to see me exclusively. But Mari Ellen didn’t seem to mind. She was never jealous, or petty, or unkind. She wanted to work through the avenues that God was using, whether that was me, her, or someone else.

Mari Ellen was the only person I could talk with openly about my girls. With her, I didn’t have to disguise identities, talk around an issue, or be vague. I could express my confusion, and hurt, and heartache about the pain and suffering these girls experienced. She always offered advice on how to proceed. She always encouraged me in the ways that God was working in and through me. She always prayed for me and for our students.

I’ve only really felt the loss of Mari Ellen once so far. It stills seems unreal that she’s not here. I expect that it will begin to seem very real tomorrow, while attending her memorial service. And the next day, when I meet with the students she cared for. And in a few weeks, when someone tells me something I’m required to report.

I am sad that Mari Ellen is no longer here. I am sad that she’s no longer here to care for our students. I’m sad that she’s left a hole in so many of my friends’ lives. I’m sad that she’s no longer just a few steps away, when it seems like all of my questions have meshed into one great knot that I’d like her to help untie.

But I’m not sad for her. She is dancing with the Holy Trinity now (an idea she once told me passionately about). She is holding my Blueberry and Beatrice until I can. She knows the complete healing and wholeness of eternity. As she referenced all those months ago, her visibleness has passed away, but her soul is eternal.


I wrote this poem over Christmas Break. Now seems like a good time to share it. Unfortunately, I couldn’t copy the formatting without hours of work, so you’ll have to read it as is.

 

A Boxing Day Reflection
By Dani Jernigan

There are moments
and days
and years
that are shot through
with such exquisite sadness
that they must be strings to somewhere else.

They must be threads
that tie the shattered and murky
to the solid and clear,
where there are answers to the
why? and
how long? and
how come?

Where every heartache
and teardrop
and bloody heart-spasm
is perfectly reflected as a glorious groan
that sings forth
honor
glory
redemption
love.

For when we are huddled
in masses on the ground,
alone and aching and raw,
there must be a holy reflection on the other side,
that shows someone beside us,
whispering words of comfort,
weeping tears of heartache,
giving embraces that don’t let go
until we awake
to see the arms that have been holding us
all along.

Surely,
each empty seat
twinkling light
hug from father to daughter
and belly swollen with promise
that makes my brittle heart creak
connects me to a pool
of longing
and hope
and expectation
that is millennia old
where ancient souls come
to remember their sadness
and rejoice
at their joy realized.

Surely,
each empty womb
branded cheek
bruised body
and whimpering child
flies to a bottomless pool of compassion
that forever hides in our Father’s heart,
where he comes
to remember his children
and their great cares,
where he weeps tears of
compassion
brokenness
love
that mingle with our own
to form a sadness so rich
it can only be holy
and precious
and meant for a place
where we are loved
and never alone
and always wanted.

May the balm of that place reach us even here.

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