On the Other Side of Jeremiah 29:11

You see it everywhere- graduation announcements, t-shirts, monogramed stationary, coffee mugs, home decor; basically anywhere you might also find a Pinterest user drinking a Pumpkin Spiced Latte.  The verse.  Jeremiah 29:11.  “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord,”plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”  Any proper southern belle has had it stitched or printed at least once, and many of us cherry pick it quite often when we are feeling anxious about the uncertainty of upcoming plans.

All of that sounds a little cynical, though, doesn’t it?  I don’t mean for it to.  The words in that verse are a timeless masterpiece inspired by our creator.  But what if we’ve been using that verse all wrong.

Sitting with my sons in church on Sunday morning, I heard the preacher ask the congregation to turn in their bibles to Jeremiah 29 (before he announced the rest, I had mentally recalled verse 11 to my head and dismissed the sermon as unimpressively ordinary). Then, a record scratch.  He asked us to turn to verses 1-9.  I decided to let him momentarily recapture my attention.  I listened as the preacher explained that Jeremiah was writing this letter to the Jews, who had been captured by the Babylonians, to explain to them that they were not going to return home any time soon, as some of their false prophets had been telling them.  But it was somewhere around verse five where it all began to resonate with me.  “5 Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce.  6 Marry and have sons and daughters; find wives for your sons and give your daughters in marriage, so that they too may have sons and daughters.  Increase in number there; do not decrease.  7 Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile.  Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.”

Huh.  Well that sounded just like the exact opposite of what I thought Jeremiah 29:11 referred to.  I mean, isn’t Jeremiah 29:11 supposed to be saying, “Go, spread your wings and fly!  Find out what life is all about!  Trust me on the way and I will guide your steps!?”  Nope, that’s not at all what it’s saying.  Right there in black in white it says to build a house, plant a garden, have children, and become involved in the community.  Stay.  There is a place for finding inspiration to  ‘spread your wings’ in the bible (Proverbs 3:5-6).  However; after reading the verses just prior to Jeremiah 29:11, I knew that this was not the place and that I had been grossly misinterpreting one of my favorite verses for probably the last 30-ish years.  Dang.

At that point, I decided I would at least look up this preacher’s name.  Austin.  We had only been to this church twice, but this guy is causing me to have some kind of existential crisis, so I felt I should at least find out his name.  Austin began explaining wanderlust- a strong desire to travel or to find the next adventure.  I knew the feeling well.  Adventure, travel, voyages…so romantic, right?  That’s probably what persuaded me to spend time as an exchange student in Costa Rica.  But not only did I want to go different places, I began constantly search for the next big thing.  The American way, right?  As I reminisced about rain forests, beaches, and touted myself for still remembering how to speak some Spanish, Austin further explained that the problem with wanderlust wasn’t the desire for adventure, but the inability to find God in the ordinary.  Ouch.

The problem was not that I couldn’t dream big enough.  The problem was that I couldn’t dream small enough.  This unrest, this uneasiness, this… wanderlust.

As if he had read my mind, Austin then said,”If you can’t make your peace with the simple, ordinary thing that life fundamentally is; if you can’t find God in the normal and the boring, then you will spend your entire life on an understandable, but ultimately childish, quest for significance, adventure, and heroism.”  Wow.  It all made so much sense.  Everything that I had needed to hear was just on the other side of Jermiah 29:11.

After hearing his message, I have been able to laugh with my kids, play with my dog, stare at a sunset, and miss my husband.  I allowed myself to sit in my emotions.  Easy enough, so why did I need the permission of a preacher I barely knew in order to do that?

Beside the fact that we, as Americans, are encouraged to never be satisfied…life had just gotten messy.  The kind of messy where you just want to pick up and move from the land of exile.  The kind of messy where it is easier to turn emotions off than it is to feel them.  And that messy feeling left me with wounds that I began to try to mend by seeking things which had not been promised to me.  While that feeble attempt at control continually left me feeling helpless,  I can now hear my Jesus telling me to stay, build a house, plant a garden, have my children, and better my community while I begin to heal those messy wounds.  Because I’m here for a while.  I’m not going home anytime soon, so I might as well get comfortable.  After all, the adventure is not in escaping an ordinary  life, but embracing the life you can find just on the other side of Jeremiah 29:11.

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It Was All Really Necessary

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It was about the time I was 8 years old- Brooke would have been 6, Andrew would have been 4, and Justin would have been a baby. I can remember mom asking me to hold Justin while she took care of something and thinking to myself, “Is this really necessary?! I didn’t choose to have this kid! Why am I having to do this? I mean really, if they had stopped having kids after Brooke, we would have a whole lot more money. And mom would have more time for me.” (Sorry boys- my brain was still working out that ego/id and pre-frontal cortex stuff).

And as we got older…that question would resurface from time to time: When we were the family tumbling into a packed chinese food restaurant on Mother’s Day. When we attended dang near EVERY Wildcat football game for fifteen years while dad was coaching. When we had to pack half of our house in the minivan to travel anywhere. When my parents wouldn’t allow us to play select sports because that would mean missing church on Sunday. The question persisted…is this really necessary?

But, one year at Christmas, I looked around and thought,”this is my favorite time of year-being able to be with everyone.” And just about the time I was coming to realize that our large family presented far more blessings than challenges (I know it sounds terrible…it took awhile for the igo/id/prefrontal cortex thing to work itself out)…both of my little brothers joined the marines. We began hearing about recruiting, bootcamp, OCS, MOS, ABCDEFG, PQRST, and all the other acronyms I can’t remember. And there that question was again, but this time it had a different tone: is this really necessary?

But as I sit here tonight on the evening my little brother departs on his first deployment, it dawns on me: it was all really necessary. All the hand-me-down clothes, every night we had to share bedrooms with our siblings, all of the heated discussions we had around the dinner table about religion and politics…even the one happy meal we shared with four straws. All necessary- to make us who we are today.

Being a big sister was necessary to make Brooke so defiantly independent, yet nurturing and entertaining while seamlessly balancing three kids, two jobs, and a husband. Being the baby was necessary to make Justin eagle-eye observant, and smart, and able to be a silent leader who can change the course of a group with a single spoken thought. And most importantly for tonight, having the unceasing perseverance of a middle child was necessary to make Andrew brave enough to hop on a ship and sail around the world with the nation’s most elite military force and be willing to fight an enemy that, we as Americans, can sit our nice quiet homes and pretend doesn’t exist except for the occasional rhetorical banter.

And tonight when I handed my baby to my oldest son and asked for help, I saw the same look in his 9-year-old eyes that was in mine twenty-something years ago and asking the same question I did,”is this really necessary?” And I was able to answer him,” Yes baby, it is all necessary.” And my prayer is that someday he will see that it was all necessary. His prefrontal cortex just needs a few more years.

Disclaimer: I know nothing about the pre-frontal cortex. I’m a high school math teacher. But I seem to remember hearing that term in reference to the brain in some anatomy class somewhere. Google it and let me know 🙂

How Kylie Jo Taught me about Jesus

So I’ve claimed to be a Christian my whole life. Even baptized before I could read and write. And I’m sure at some point, I had the child-like faith God describes in the bible. But, as I came into my teenage years, I lost Him. Not that I ever fell from grace, or that I would have ever described myself as a non-believer, but I just couldn’t find Him. Not that I looked that hard, but there wasn’t any proof. So I began to question if there was a God…and that question hung in the air for a good ten to fifteen years- all the while continuing to profess His name.

But then suddenly, the weirdest thing happened. I wanted to listen to Christian radio. And I hated Christian music. Not because of the message, but because of the music itself. I am a hardcore Texas country fan. And Christian music just didn’t do it for me, until now.

And my kids started asking me to sing songs about Jesus to them. So, I started singing all the little “Jesus loves me” and “amazing grace” songs I could think of…and sang them in the same order my momma used to sing them- because I think that was about the last time I had payed attention to Christian music.

Also, I started seeing my kids as miracles. Not in the everyday-miracle-kind of way, but in the awestruck, in fathomable, how-did-this-child-come-from-me, kind of way.

And, I could go to work as a teacher and feel compassion for my students, which had totally been lost in the 6 or 7 years I had spent in education. I prayed that God would give their eyes- and sure enough he did. But there were times I wanted him to take them back. I began loving my job- not because it was easy, but because I could use my classroom and show Jesus’ love to kids who might not get it anywhere else.

My perspective was changing. And for no good reason. I wasn’t going to counseling, I didn’t have any new inspiring friends, … I wasn’t even attending a bible study. So I really have no explanation for it, other than God’s mercy that allowed me to see through the anger, the hurt, and the evil in this old world. It was at this point I began thinking to myself that I thought there might actually be a God.

Now y’all- I had gone to Sunday morning and Wednesday night church every week of my LiFE, fell in love with a good man, witnessed the birth of two children, and turned 28 years old. And I was just now coming to conclusion. WOW!

Last summer I lost a student to a car accident. And I struggled with it. Hard. I’m still new to the community, but spent everyday for a year with Shane, so it was really hard to grieve by myself since I didn’t really know any of the adults in his life. I honestly couldn’t make any sense of his death. One night I was watching tv and randomly started crying- and I swear to you- as soon as I am standing here now- that I heard the voice of God tell me that it was ok to stop being sad. Not audibly, but i guess in my head. So I did. And now, I’m ok with remembering him with a smile instead of a tear.

So I would say at that point my faith was firmly developed. I knew there was a God. It took me 30 years to come around full circle to it, but I guess late is better than never. But, of someone had asked me, I would never have been able to explain to them how I knew there was a God. Until last Saturday.

I was down in salado at a playday with the horses, Stacy, the boys, and the jaroseks and the Neuendorffs. The 3 year olds (Kylie joe, jace, and, Travis) had already finished their lead-line events. Chase was going through all of his events and all of the little kids were playing while the adults gathered around the make-shift-tail-gate to watch the Aggies BTHO LaTech. Kylie Joe asked Jen to take her for a ride- and Jen was more than happy to take her. So, they saddled up Dan, Jen threw Kylie up in the saddle, and then walked Dan closer to the tailgate of the truck so she could hop on back and ride double.

When Jen got on Dan’s back, I noticed that he started to shuffle. Strange for him, but nothing out of the ordinary. I was holding Our horse Fancy by the reigns- and Travis had come to stand with me-when I saw the first buck. And I thought- that idiot. Jen is gonna get off and beat his @$$. But then he did it again. And I saw Jens eyes get big, and I knew this was not good. Jen was holding the reigns and somehow simultaneously made a cacoon around kylie. Then there was another buck, and this time dans side hit the side of Stacy’s truck, which was just enough force in an opposite direction that it knocked Jen and Kylie off.

Jen had done her absolute best to protect Kylie- and there is no one in this world that I would rather a child be on an out of control horse with, but when they fell to the ground, the impact of the landing was so forceful that it caused Jens arms to fling open. Jen was somehow able to roll away, but Kylie Joe is a baby, and she just couldn’t.

Watching the whole thing was like living in maple syrup. I couldn’t make myself move fast enough. But I somehow handed off fancy to someone else, then threw Travis by the arm somewhere else, and started pushing Dan. But even as I pushed him, he continued to buck. And with my own eyes, I saw his back legs come up and land on Kylie a minimum of 2, if not 3 times. I felt Ryan run by me and swoop Kylie joe up. He handed her off to Jason. He went and layed her down. All the adults rushed over. I knew Jason and Ryan would know what to do. They determined she needed immediate medical attention, so instead of waiting on an ambulance, niki and Jason loaded her up and rushed to Scott and white.

We were all dumbstruck. No one really knew what to do next. We let chase go ahead and do his last event and then packed up, and headed out.

I sent a text to my family that they should pray for Kylie because she had been in an accident. My mom started asking me questions, many of which I didn’t have the answers to. She asked when I was going to the hospital- which I hadn’t even thought about yet. So, I texted Jen, and we decided to go take put boys home and head back to the hospital.

When we got there, the receptionist at the front said she would go check on the situation. Then, she came back out and said there were too many doctors in the room and we couldn’t go back. Jen and I exchanged a look right then. We knew it was bad.

About 10 minutes later, niki came out. She motioned for us to come to her. When we got there she said “she has a broken neck,” like you might say “she has a pink shirt” or “she has brown eyes.” It was the weirdest thing, in the weirdest tone, I had ever heard anyone say. Niki told us they were probably going to have to do emergency surgery. Jen immediately started crying. I almost threw up. And niki was solid as a rock. They didnt have a lot of other information about her other injuries, but were pretty sure she wasnt paralyzed, but that she probably had a broken hand and leg. We were hugging each other when niki heard her cry out and ran to be with her.

Jen and I walked out of the ER and literally could not form a rational thought between the two of us. We didn’t know whether to go or stay. Jen asked if she had heard niki right. She called Ryan. I called my mom. And my mom called the prayer chain.

I know that there were people all across the state, if not the country, praying for healing of Kylie. I didn’t sleep all night. And would pray everytime my mind wandered to her…which was about every 2 minutes.

The next morning, Jen was too sore from the fall to get up, so Ryan and I went to the hospital to go see her. About an hour before we got there, niki had texted to let us know that they were thinking that her neck was not broken after all. And that was the beginning of the miracle.

When Ryan and I got there, she was out of her neck brace and sitting in Jason’s lap. We had been there about 5 minutes when a doctor came in and told said that they were confident that what they thought was a fracture was actually a deformity in the way Kylie’s bones were made…and that they had not fully fused together. And he said it appeared her only other injuries appeared to be bruises, but as far as they could tell, there were no broken bones.

Now y’all, they an call it a deformity, they can call it incomplete fusion of the bone, or they can call it the man on the moon, but I know the truth. The truth is that God flat out healed that baby. I believe in the power of prayer. And I have for a while. But now I have proof. I saw that 1500 pound horse jump on that baby 3 times with my own eyes. She didn’t stand a chance. But I rest confident in the fact that God healed her body that night- and she was able to walk away with not much more than a swollen hand, bruising, and soreness.

So I guess out of all of that, my point is this- if you were to ask me now if I thought there was a God- my reply would be- how could I have ever thought there wasn’t?

Our God is a mighty God- he knows all, he can do all, and he is all. I know my redeemer lives- and because he lives, i can face tommorrow.

I’m just sorry it took me a large portion of my life to come to that conclusion. 🙂

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