Wednesday, February 15, 2017

How's Your Heart

Hi everyone!

It’s that time of year – bears, candy, cards, and flowers appeared before the Christmas ornaments were put away to get people in the mood for romance, love, and Valentine’s Day.  And for some the excitement of waiting for the candy that goes on sale February 15th.  I’m more of a “hand written note,” Lowe’s gift card kind of lady, but to each his or her own.  My kids will tell you I am the queen of the Hallmark channel, but what can I say?  Yes, I am guilty as charged.  I just don’t think we should let the times when we have been unlucky in love put a damper on our childlike faith and enthusiasm in the possibility of happily ever after, but I will not go off on my Cinderella tangent. 

For me personally, this time of year when we are surrounded by hearts means so much more.  As I have written before, when I put in my writing cottage I discovered during the process that the one word that best represents me is LOVE.  I smile as I look around while I am writing this because in my little corner of the world I seem to have hearts everywhere.  They are a wonderful reminder to me that hearts, just like people, come in all kinds of beautiful colors, shapes, sizes, and textures.  Different people show love in different ways, some sparkle like Bohemian crystal, some are rustic and their beauty is in their patina, and some may be broken, but the beauty that surrounds them makes them too precious to part with. 

While a lot of people think technology is a means to help us accomplish more, I find and research supports the fact that the fast pace has also resulted in the sad realization that people have a tough time slowing down enough to really do any soul searching so they can truly discover their heart’s desire.  In their quest to make money and to have a comfortable life they often find that they fall into relationships out of convenience or more like a business venture rather than a partnership through a lifelong adventure.  Their compatibility, happiness, love, and passion were not considered in the process, because in the fast past of the world around them, it never even seemed an option.  So in all actuality I would not consider myself unlucky in love, but rather I was unwilling to settle because I know, that I know, that I know that true love, not lust, but true love is comprised of compatibility, love, passion, and respect and does exist – it’s just a matter of not settling until God decides to surprise me with this precious gift for my heart.  However, I also feel that before we can find this with another person we must first have to find these elements within ourselves. 

As I have been leaning into life, I also find that it is sad that some people do not take the time to see what is inside the hearts of those around them.  This is especially true if the people they come in contact with have an outward appearance that they do not deem is worthy of love.  The beauty of watching for God winks and not being afraid to share with the world the incredible things that the God has done in my life is that the following verse is etched in my soul.    

But the LORD said to Samuel, "Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The LORD does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart."
- 1 Samuel 16:7

I have not been placed on this earth to please man, but to look around me and see those who may need a hug or encouragement or one of my “Jen sized surprises.”  Coming to peace with this has brought tremendous freedom in my life and allowed my soul to find its wings. 

The shallow side of love is not a new phenomenon and cannot be blamed on technology, but in a world that is so quick to take life’s images to Photoshop so that the outer appearance seems picture perfect, it seems to have gotten a bit worse.  Even children at an early age seem to equate their outward appearance as a barometer to determine if they are worthy of love.  On the other hand, some people that we might think look like super models can also feel at times like the people in their lives do not see their hearts, but merely their physical appearance or the perceived balance in their checkbook.  In both cases, the beauty that lies within the heart of the child and the super model have been over looked. 

If I have learned nothing else in this journey called life it is this, love comes in all shapes and sizes.  If someone has an ugly attitude or disposition toward others and has a heart that does not know how to show compassion, then all of the money in the world cannot dress that up to look like a box of Russell Stover’s chocolates.  Loving and caring for others, and having compassion, this is not something that can be bought off of a shelf in your local department store.  Love, real love, is cultivated over time by experiencing hurt and heartache, life and death, joy and sorrow. 

Those of us who are veterans of the trenches of life can truly help others due to the fact that we have encountered some of the same life experiences that they may be going through.  We have survived, when at times we questioned if that was possible and we have the war wounds of life tucked away like long lost Girl Scout badges.  However, the beauty of it all lies in the fact that this is what enables us to reach out and offer a helping hand to those that are trying to follow the yellow brick road in hopes of finding their way back to Kansas.  Yes, I lived in Kansas.  No, I never saw the yellow brick road, but I have experienced all of the good and bad that life has to offer and in the process it has helped me cultivate the heart that I have today.  My travels around the world, the amazing people in my life who have been with me through the good and bad times, my love for creating and music and writing and surprising others, allows me to wake up each morning with a song on the heart and an outlook that sees each day as an adventure.  In a lot of ways I guess all of the hearts in my little home could be looked at as mile markers in my life journey.   

I read an article by Glennon Doyle Melton this weekend and the following quote really spoke to me.  “The Warrior knows that her heartbreak is her map.  It will lead her toward her purpose, her tribe.”  I think her article resonated in my soul because with respect to my own life, my heartbreak has laid out a beautiful map before me.  In fact, I am in the process of planning out my journey because my purpose, what makes my heart sing, was born out of heartache.  Is that any real surprise though?  Think about it, my three beautiful children were all born out of the pain of labor.  They have come to know the Lord because they have watched my own walk through pain, but have also seen that I have never doubted for a second the Lord’s love for me.  In fact, this is THE most important thing that I try to leave with everyone that comes into my life.  If they never remember anything else, I want my legacy to be that she loved with all her being, she never let go of her mustard seed, and she never doubted that God liked to wink at her. 

Until we meet again…         

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Be Still and Know

Hi everyone,

This post has been several weeks in the making.  On the 26th of January, I found that my morning quiet time left me in awe.  I have the devotional book Jesus Calling and as I was getting ready to leave for work I felt this gentle nudge to take it with me.  Over the years I have learned to listen when these types of things happen.  When I sat down at my freshly cleared desk, I decided, before the rush of the day set in, to stop and have some quiet time.  You would think that after all these years that I wouldn't be surprised any more, but on this particular morning, it was like opening a window on a sunny day and being greeted by a cool, brisk breeze - the kind of experience where you know its cool outside, and yet when you experience it, you still feel surprised and exhilarated.


Let me digress for a moment.  In November I just felt like this new year for me was supposed to be about focus, and slowly but surely, that is how it is evolving.  I have an incredible group of friends who have been helping me on this journey, but when I sat down to read the devotion for the 26th - WOW, did I ever feel the breeze of change.  For the past several months I have felt more drawn to my quiet time and the need to create things.  The things I have been creating aren't random, they are actually things that I have felt led to create for family, friends, and sometimes complete strangers.  The beauty of the devotion in Jesus Calling was that is was so affirming and such a beautiful God wink that so clearly told me, "You're on the right path."

The world would say that I need to transform my outward appearance first in order for me to change my life, but the Bible tells me just the opposite.  While I am also working on a physical transformation, it is important that my transformation, my life, and my journey be centered around what He is doing on the inside first.

Some people may not get this idea or understand this, but my job is not to please other people, it is to learn to take the gifts and talents God has given me and to use them for His glory.  It's about holding on to my mustard seed and the promise that He will take every life experience that I have had and will allow me to use them, the good and the not so good, to help others.

I'm going through a change, an incredible change - one in which I am finally comfortable with myself and my life - one in which I am comfortable hearing His voice and not concerned about the voices of those in the world.

"Enjoy the tempo of a God-breathed life by letting Me set the pace."

This so eloquently accompanies every tiny detail of what I am experiencing in my life.  As I wrote in September, I am taking voice lessons and on the day of this beautiful devotion it was my first day back in the new year.  Learning to relax and use my body the way God designed it so speaks to this devotion.

"Hold my hand in childlike trust, and the way before you will open up step by step."

Those closest to me know that my faith and trust in God is child like in nature.  If I feel something in my heart, I will hold on to it like a child with a security blanket.  In fact, I was just telling a friend last night that sometimes I feel like I need to step back into my quiet time and pay attention to what I believe with child like faith.

Isn't it funny how sometimes we can see things happen in our lives over and over again, but then we can turn around and let doubt creep in.  That is why it is so very important to make time each day to stop and Be Still and listen.

We all tend to look for the "perfect" time to do things or to make changes in our lives.  It is not uncommon for us to fall into the trap of telling ourselves, once this or that happens we can breath and life will be okay, but maybe by doing this we are really missing out.  Maybe instead of fighting against the waves of uncertainty that life can bring our way we just need to decide to break out a surf board and ride the waves of chaos and uncertainty.  Instead of waiting to live until the storms pass, why don't we just put on our boots and dance in the rain and the mud.  No one is going to have a problem free life.  How we handle the waves of life is our testimony.  I would like for my loved ones to remember me one day as a woman who, "swam with the sharks, but she used them like water skis."

Don't get me wrong, I will be the first one to tell you that it would be nice to not have quite so many adventures in my life at times, but what I have learned to do during those times, when the seas of life seem to get to be too much, when the sharks are circling and I'm getting tired of swimming - I stop.  I stop for a minute, not to see how far away the shore is, but I stop to look up.  It's kind of a MacGyver experience.  For anyone that ever watched the television series, you know that he always found his way out of every trial and situation with the most basics of things.  We are really no different.  Sure, we may not be on television, but God gives us the things we need at just the right time and not a moment too soon, so that we can avoid the jaws of the sharks and live to see another day.

It's in these times of chaos and uncertainty, when we stop, look up, and seek Him that we grow the most as individuals.  This is where we gain the life lessons so that we can eventually be someone else's light house when they find themselves lost at sea; trying to make it to shore; trying to survive and fend off the sharks; trying to find a star in the darkness as they drift at sea.

Learning to lean into the trials allows us to strengthen out spiritual muscles so that we can look danger, fear, and uncertainty in the face and tell them "NOT TODAY!  NOT TODAY!"

Until we meet again...

Thursday, January 19, 2017

SEO for Mom

Hi everyone!

It has been a while since I have written, but with the New Year comes new opportunities.  This post has been on my heart for a while, but it just seemed like this was the right time to share it with you.

Usually when people think of the acronym SEO, Search Engine Optimization comes to mind.  In fact, being a computer science professor, you would think that is what I would think of first as well.  However, I am not your normal computer science professor and as such, for me SEO has a different meaning.  For several months now when I have thought of SEO Soul Enhancement & Optimization have come to mind.  Puzzled a bit?  Well let me explain. 
Yes, search engine optimization has helped us in terms of how we travel throughout the Internet, but as a mom I also want to optimize how I travel through life.  It isn’t easy being a mom in today’s fast paced world and a single mom at that.  So as I prepare to teach my own students about the Internet in the next couple of weeks, this idea of Soul Enhancement & Optimization just keeps coming to mind.
Webster defines the soul as follows. 

The spiritual part of a person that is believed to give life to the body and in many religions is believed to live forever; a person’s deeply felt moral and emotional state; the ability of a person to feel kindness and sympathy for others, to appreciate beauty and art, etc.

To enhance something is to “increase or improve,” while optimization is “an act, process, or methodology of making something as fully perfect, functional or effective as possible.”  For the record, this mom knows she can never be “fully perfect” on this side of eternity, so that part of the definition I did not factor in. 

Though as a single mom and a computer science professor with a strong relationship with the Lord, the researcher within wants to dive in and investigate this concept that has been on my mind for a couple of months a bit further.  How, as a mom can I experience “Soul Enhancement & Optimization?”  With my background firmly rooted in academia at a Christian institution, I had to start with the definitions and as a student of life, acronyms always seem fitting.

Anyone who knows me knows how deeply and emotionally I feel about things in my life.  As a creative person, beauty and art are things that I observe in places that quite often others do not see.  But is this just something that I was gifted with or do some people miss out on art and the beauty that surrounds them because of life’s circumstances.  Let’s face it, there is not a single mom out there that hasn’t been so overwhelmed with life at some point that they didn’t want to just tell me, “Girl, observe beauty???  I have forgotten what that even means in the midst of bills, homework and life.”  Even in the midst of my own life it would be so easy to throw in the towel and block beauty out. Sometimes as moms, not just single moms but ALL moms, we get so busy trying to take care of everyone and everything around us to the point that we don’t know which way is up and if we do look up we often aren’t praying to Jesus, but merely expressing “Help me Jesus!” just trying to survive.  We remember what a soul was, but we have forgotten what it truly meant to feel something from the depth of our souls.  But how can we find our way back?  How can we ENHANCE the seeds that were planted within our souls before life became too much.        

As a mom, how can I improve my life so that I am using the gifts that God has blessed me with in such a way that it enhance my kids’ lives and the lives of those around me?

Let’s revisit the definition of optimization once more. It is “an act, process, or methodology of making something as fully perfect, functional or effective as possible.” 

So wait a minute here, if we can figure out how to take what we once valued so dear within our souls and enhance it, could it be that in turn, through the very act of doing this that we could become more functional and effective as moms?  Would this work for all moms?  Is there an age limit? 

Well let me share my own experience with you and then you can pick and choose what may or may not work for you. 

The week before my new semester began last fall I came down with the shingles.  For those of you who may not know what that is, it is the same virus as chicken pox, but very, very painful.  I am normally one who is moving through life so fast my best friend often tells me that it’s like my hair is on fire.  Sometimes not so good things in life happen, not because we have done anything wrong, but merely so the Lord can slow us down and get out attention.  For our souls to truly experience an enhancement and thus optimization we have to lean in to the trials of life so that we can find the beauty in the midst of the chaos. 

Sometimes, in the midst of dealing with pain and uncertainty we are able to hear the gentle whispers that He sends to our souls and in turn we are enhancing our lives and watching every second of our day optimized, but not just for our sake.  It is through this process that He is allowing us to be a light for others in the midst of their own personal trial.  It also allows us to be examples for our kids. 

The beauty of this all - when we are truly leaning into life through prayer, the study of His word, giving & doing for others when He leads us, participating in worship, and reading books by other Christian authors who have done the same, we do see that are souls have gone through an enhancement and optimization.  This doesn’t mean that it makes the pain of the trials any less, but what it does allow us to do, moms and dads alike, is take a deep breath and know that NO MATTER what comes our way, He will allow us to use it in a way to glorify Him.   

So my 2017 is dedicated to leaning in to my own SEO experience and as new doors open and new opportunities appear I want to make sure that God gets all of the credit for the incredible things He has done and continues to do in my life.  As we watch this first month in the New Year quickly fly by it reminds us once again to make every second count.  Until next time…


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