God Among the Bullet Points

planner and pensEvery birthday and New Year, I’m forced to take stock. Have I lived the past year well? Am I moving forward in faith? Can I reasonably recover from all my mess ups and mishaps and perhaps behave differently the next time around? Unfortunately, I fail much more often than I’d care to admit, but despite my mess-ups, mishaps, and downright failings, one thing remains certain and unwavering, as my guest today discovered while doing a little life-check of her own.

God among the bullet-points

By Jessica Brodie

Ever try to sum up your life in a bullet-list? It’s a weird, sometimes painful, sometimes hilarious exercise in self-absorption (if I’m generous, self-healing) that I tried one lonely New Year’s Day 13 years ago.

It went something like this:

  • Born January 19, North Miami, Florida
  • Lived with parents in small house near grandparents
  • Earliest memories: books, brown shag carpet
  • Age two, moved to better house
  • Favorites: banana trees, stripy sneakers, books, spiky grass, swing set, Mom’s typewriter
  • Afraid of everyone and everything

I should mention I was a full-fledged grownup when I did this, well into my career, married…old enough to have achieved some maturity. And at the end, I had a neatly printed six-page document filled with all the dysfunctions and quirks that had comprised my life. Right there, in black and white, I could see exactly how far I’d come.

Take that, Mean Girls of the Sixth Grade. Harrumpf.

Sure, I’d had my share of embarrassing failures and broken hearts, but a few lines later there was the college scholarship, the promotion, the kiss. Life went on. Ups, downs—they littered the page without discernible pattern.

“That’s just life,” I’d concluded—random, messy, beautiful, full of chance and happenstance, with me in the starring role. I saw how time and again I’d navigated a difficult circumstance with a solid, moral decision or confronted a tough issue by standing strong, staying true. I congratulated myself on my perseverance and gumption.

Ah, younger me.

I knew nothing.

See, all that time I thought I was steering myself through the tough times. But it wasn’t. It was God. Now I see the light.

Thirteen years later, I’ve had two children and gained two stepchildren. I’ve become a daily reader of Scripture rather than a casual Bible-thumber. I’ve experienced loss, single-momhood, near-poverty, and wealth. I’ve been to Africa and walked with lions, seen miracles happen before my eyes and within my body.

I’ve lived. And in living, I’ve come to understand how little any of it has to do with me or the choices I made. I’ve also come to see how lucky I am God has allowed me to experience this grand, majestic ride.

Recently, I tried that bullet-list exercise again—but this time, instead of chance and happenstance, I was struck by the master pattern I saw: God’s hand on everything. Every. Thing.

Why had I ever thought my life was random? It was a magical, God-orchestrated symphony. In every moment, big and small, God was there—guiding, maneuvering, until whatever He’d planned had been fulfilled … then leading me onto the next step.

That infertility struggle that seemed to last forever? Now I saw it so clearly pointing me toward humility and submission to God’s will.

That tough job where I felt so utterly alone? God was helping me rely on my internal chops—and Him—to be a better leader.

Today I look at my list and don’t regret any of the mistakes and painful moments I see. My only regret is all the time I wasted from worry.

And I see what I should have been doing all along: resting securely in the knowledge that God has our roadmap already printed out for us in the form of the Holy Bible.

“For I know the plans I have for you,” He tells us, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future” (Jeremiah 29:11, NIV).*

Try the bullet-list for yourself and see if you, too, can tell all that God has done and is doing in your life.

*Bible verse taken from Biblehub.com

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Author Jessica Brodie's headshotJessica Brodie is a Christian author, journalist, editor, blogger, and writing coach. She is the editor of the South Carolina United Methodist Advocate, the oldest continuously published newspaper in Methodism. Learn more about her fiction and read her blog at http://jessicabrodie.com/.

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Let’s talk about this! In her book, Victim of Grace, author Robin Jones Gunn talks about taking an annual “Selah” where she hits the pause button and sort of takes stock of her previous year and what God might want to do in the year ahead. This really struck me because I have a tendency to stay so busy doing, I can miss observing all God has done or might want to do. Jessica’s post today encouraged me to hit the pause button this week, to take some time to prayerfully look over past journal entries, to meditate on Scripture, to contemplate all God has done.

What about you? Do you normally take time to remember and contemplate? If so, when and how? If not, how might doing so increase your sense of peace and awe for God? Share your thoughts with us in the comments below, because we can all learn from and encourage one another!

Before you go, I wanted to invite you to join me and my Wholly Loved sisters each Wednesday for our new video devotions–short, transformative nuggets designed to help you center yourself in Christ and His truth. You can watch our first two HERE and HERE, then return to the Wholly Loved site each Wednesday for another inspirational message. And if you haven’t done so, make sure to sign up for my free quarterly newsletter to receive inspirational content, recipes, short stories, and more sent directly to your inbox. As an added bonus, subscribers cover image for study based on 1 Timothyreceive a free 36-lesson study based on 1 Timothy (sent separately). You can sign up HERE.

For those in the Omaha/LaVista/Lincoln area, join us for one of our upcoming conferences. You can find out more HERE.

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Begin again, and again, and again…

About three months ago, I shared a story about a woman who visited our church. Her son was in his senior year and she desperately wanted a do-over. (You can read the original post here.) Three, maybe four weeks ago, she came again, and sat in the pew behind us. After service, I asked her how she was doing, and more importantly, how were things with her son. She beamed, a smile spreading across her face and launched into a story of sit-down dinners, one-on-one time with her son, and clearly defined boundaries. She’d received her do-over.

Clearly she couldn’t go back and undo the previous seventeen years, but by determining to start fresh, now, she salvaged what was left of her son’s last year at home and paved the way for years to come.

Last night and this morning, I’ve been reading through Ezra. He and the Israelites returned to Jerusalem after seventy years of exile. This wasn’t an easy trip, and many stayed in Babylon. The journey to Jerusalem was costly, long, and dangerous, lasting for months. The people they encountered along the way were hostile, then when they got to Jerusalem, the city was in ruins and many of the people had intermarried with pagans. And yet, despite the arduous journey, the difficult task and the discouraging circumstances, God called them to persevere, and begin anew. They were to rebuild the temple.

“And God stirred the hearts of the priests and Levites and the leaders of the tribes of Judah and Benjamin to go to Jerusalem to rebuild the temple of the Lord. And all the neighbors assisted by giving them articles of silver and gold, supplies for the journey, and livestock. They gave them many valuable gifts in addition to all the voluntary offerings.” Ezra 1:5-6 (NLT)

So the rest was easy, right? God called, God provided, and everything else just fell into place?

Hardly. They experienced opposition and became discouraged. In modern terms, we’d say they hit one closed door after another.

Ha! Couldn’t resist that one.

Does opposition mean a closed door? Will change always come easily?

Like the story of the mother I shared with you, the Israelites were given a chance to start anew, but it wouldn’t be easy. Not only did they face outer opposition, but I’m certain their hearts rebelled at every turn. Fear, anger, bitterness, discouragement churning into a faith-sapping mess. Opposition became so great, the building ceased for an entire year. Can you imagine what this must have felt like? They’d been freed from exile, likely resulting in a mountain top experience, only to be beat down on a long, treacherous journey. Then, when they were about at their end, exhausted and discouraged, they found their land filled with pagans. But wait, God showed up, and that tiny glimmer of hope kindled upon their release fanned into flame…only to be extinguished again. How many more trials could they face? At what point could they wash their hands in defeat?

Change never comes easy, and for me, it’s a constant battle, one that requires diligence, prayer, and a steady dose of accountability. But regardless the opposition, regardless how difficult the journey, God calls us to keep on keeping on. And the beauty of the gospel is that each day, we have been given the opportunity to begin again. You didn’t like how you treated your husband the day before? So start fresh today. Have years of arguing and eye-rolling caused a drift between you and your teen? So begin anew. It is never too late to make an about face.

If you’re like me, you’re rather tired of the whole New Year’s resolution business. Why set resolutions when I know I’m going to break them? Because if I don’t set them, if I don’t approach life with intentionality, purposefully moving forward in continual surrender to my Savior, I’ll slip in the other direction. It’s an entropy thing. Whatever isn’t growing has already begun to die.

Starting in January, I’m going to strengthen the positive habits and behaviors that draw my heart to God and others, trusting Him to reduce those negative behaviors and habits that pull me from Him and lead to isolation.

But first, I’m going to begin with a day or two of prayerful evaluation, asking God to show me those attitudes and behaviors–those negative thought processes–He wants to remove.

The first one–the idea that change will be easy. I’m going to throw that one out, followed by its partner, that I am incapable of change.

All things are possible with God, and as I draw near to Him and meditate on His holy Word, He will mold me into the woman He wants me to be, day by day, mistake by mistake. It won’t be a perfect journey. I’ll likely fall enough times to become permanently bruised, but I know I’ll never fall further than His hand. And each time He catches me, I’ll learn something new about His love and grace. And each time I persevere, I’ll learn something new about myself.

Would you like to join me?

Perhaps you’ve never experienced the ultimate about face that comes from surrendering to Christ as your Lord and Savior. God is our Creator. He created us and He created our world. As Creator, He has the right to set the rules, and the consequences. We have broken His rules, each one of us. The Bible calls that sin, and none of us are without sin. The Bible also tells us that the wages–the consequences–of sin are death. Our sin separates us from God and from others. But the beauty of the gospel is that God has made a way for us to have fellowship–unhindered intimacy–with Him. Jesus, God’s sinless Son, came to earth to cleanse us from all unrighteousness and reconcile us to the Father. Jesus came down to earth in the form of a man, took our sins upon Himself, and died the death you and I deserved. In Jesus, God’s justice was satisfied, and His mercy revealed. Because of Jesus’ death and resurrection, if you confess your sins and turn from them, and trust in Jesus as your Lord and Savior, promising to honor and obey Him to the best of your ability, you will be given new life. You will be granted the ultimate do over!

If you have never experienced this new life and would like to learn more about it, or perhaps would like to pray with someone, feel free to email me and we can arrange a time to talk. (Don’t worry, I’ve got free long distance. grin.) My email address is jenniferaslattery@gmail.com

Loved this video, and their explanation of the gospel. Please don’t misunderstand my post. I am not advocating self-made righteousness. I am encouraging surrendered obedience. They explain it soooooo much better! (And love, love, love the song! You’ve been remade and today is a new day!)