Dear Friend, You’re Not Alone… {The first 3 things I want to tell you after 10 months of blog silence}

Dear Friend, You’re Not Alone… {The first 3 things I want to tell you after 10 months of blog silence}

Dear Friend,

It’s been so very long. The better part of a year, believe it or not.

Much has happened. In my life, and I know in yours too.

Today I felt alone. And I longed to indulge in self-pity. I may have actually done so for a little while. But then I found that my own pitiful self was poor, uninspiring company, so I begged my already-present Savior to be with me in my aloneness.

And, of course, He was.

For months now, I’ve mostly avoided posting on social media, especially blogging. There has just been too much to think through. Too much to live through and pray through. I’ve let go of creating, marketing, and even updating. Life boiled down to the essentials. Me and God.

This past week I’ve been reminded of the reality that in no way do I have anything of worth to offer anyone. I am nothing of myself, can do nothing of myself, and have nothing of myself. I am so very empty. And the longer I live and the more fallenness I experience, the more I see and feel that.

And if you are on the same path of struggle, you know exactly how depressing that can be. Especially in this world where being, doing, and having is celebrated.

So, I’ve steered clear of saying much. Partly out of sheer emptiness, partly out of obedience to just be still.

But today, as I leaned again on Jesus in my ache, I was stirred to speak out.

Because you can’t read my mind. And I know you experience aloneness and discouragement too. And we all need to be reminded that we’re not the only one. We’re so not the only one. But our enemy would have us feel we are. That everyone else is fine, better off, included, managing, thriving. Being. Doing. Having.

close up face

But even the Perfect One, the One who knew exactly how to trust His Father fully, obey completely, be an unfailing Friend, speak truth with love, and serve selflessly was misunderstood, alone, heartbroken, rejected, and abandoned by all those closest to Him in His hour of greatest need. Not to mention experiencing ultimate aloneness on the cross as He bore our sin. And Jesus did all this for you and me. To make sure we would never have to be truly alone. To fill our emptiness with His completeness.

You and I have nothing. We are nothing. We can do nothing. But God…!

But God came to earth and reconciled our miserable sinful selves to Himself. He bought us back from the devil to whom we were enslaved.

So now we have everything we need for life and godliness. We are children of the Most High. We can do all things through Him who gives us strength.

It’s hard to live in the world of the unseen. What I see tells me that I’ll never be able to make ends meet. I don’t know how to raise, let alone educate and prepare five children for life in this world. What I see leads me to fear that I may never have the health and energy I want or that anything I do will make a difference on this earth.

But what is unseen is the truth. My God will supply all my needs. He will fulfill His purposes for my children. He will give me strength to equal my days. He uses jars of clay like me to prove that this all-surpassing power is from Him, not me.

My dear friend. You are made of flesh and blood like me. And your soul is made in the image of God, as is mine. Therefore I know your struggles are of the same nature as mine.

You wonder about the future. And are tempted to shrink back in fear.

You worry about your health. Your kids. Your marriage or lack thereof. Your finances. Your inability to measure up, do it all, earn approval, win love.

So often I’m kinder to my friends than myself. Maybe I see things more clearly in others than in myself. Maybe we all do. So I’ll tell this to you and listen in…

Jesus loves you.

He loves you. So completely. In spite of your wickedness. Your traitorous, adulterous heart. He has forgiven everything you have done, everything you will do against Him. When you put your faith in His work of salvation at the cross and in His resurrection, you and your sin die (DIE!) and you are raised in newness of life. Let His forgiveness and love wash over you. Rest in His love.

Jesus wants to give you more of Him.

No, He doesn’t give you a map of the rest of your life. He doesn’t promise to solve every issue you’re facing to your exact specifications. If I had it my way, and if you had it your way, that’s what we’d ask for. And we are so sure that would be better. But somehow, we would find ourselves worshipping the map, the answers, the gifts. And somehow, we would still be unhappy. Because we would be trying to make gods of things that can never be God. Jesus is giving you and me more of Himself. And He is the source of everything good. That’s a tough one to live out and believe to the very core of our beings. But it’s true.

Also, God isn’t done yet.

Proverbs 10:24-25 (ESV) says, “What the wicked dreads will come upon him, but the desire of the righteous will be granted. When the tempest passes, the wicked is no more, but the righteous is established forever.”

We spend so much time dreading and worrying, fearing the worst. But when the storms pass, God’s people will find that their desires will all be fulfilled. We’ll be established, not destroyed. That’s how it will end. I want to see that here on earth, of course, but this isn’t where the story ends.

And your aloneness, discouragement, pain… my struggles, frustrations, and setbacks are constant reminders. God isn’t done yet. He will finish what He started. He wins. Satan doesn’t. And any of us who is willing to lose his life for Christ’s sake will actually find it.

lady in field black and white edited

 

I know it’s hard to press on with good courage.

But “let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up.” (Galatians 6:9 ESV)

Praying God’s strength, presence, and blessings in your life,

Jennifer

 

***

And in case you’re wondering… 

I’ll share more detailed happenings of the past year in time, but here’s a quick rundown of what the past months held.

January 2016 – God stirred our hearts to consider leaving South Florida for life and ministry in Southern California.

Spring 2016 – After a trip to CA, Jarod received God’s confirmation to pursue that calling.

June 2016 – Our family of 7 made a ridiculously eventful cross-country move to Lancaster, CA, 70 miles north of Los Angeles. Jarod accepted the position of Athletic Director at Desert Christian High School.

August – December 2016 – I was extremely sick (much of it bedridden), fighting bacterial and parasitical infections and adrenal fatigue. Brendan (our youngest, who is homeschooled) and I spent 2 months in Kansas with my mother to receive treatment and care while Jarod and the other 4 kids fought to maintain sanity at their new job/school.

Christmas – Present – Brendan and I rejoined the family in CA. My health is improving. In many regards, I’ve come from “death” to life (praise God!!!). I still have ups and downs and am limiting my daily activity to a fraction of what it used to be. 

I would deeply appreciate prayers for continued recovery. And for those of you who have been in touch, offering encouragement, inquiries, and for those of you who have prayed us through the past difficult months, I offer a heartfelt THANK YOU!

Also, I would love to hear from you. Please feel free to leave a comment or send an email (jenebenhack at gmail.com) with your own update and prayer requests. I would be honored to lift you up in prayer.

Jen 🙂

A BIG Announcement! {And Hope for your Weary Soul}

A BIG Announcement! {And Hope for your Weary Soul}

Hey dear friend!

You’re going a little bit crazy right now, aren’t you?

There are some really great things about school starting up again, right? But oh my, the energy it takes to make it happen!

And if I’m not mistaken, school is not the only thing going on in your life. Chances are, you’ve got a heavy load… quite a bit of stress, more responsibilities than you think you can handle, and a lot of questions for God about how it’s all going to work out.

That’s where I am too. And I want to pass on two things that are shining hope into my soul right now!

First, God’s Word. It is so relevant and powerful.

Here’s a taste of what God is feeding me these days:

I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. —John 15:5

He gives power to the faint, and to him who has no might he increases strength. Even youths shall faint and be weary, and young men shall fall exhausted; but they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint. —Isaiah 40:29-31

Secondly, I’m finding hope by looking back. As I remember the strength God supplied in the past, I know He’ll be faithful today and tomorrow.

Which leads me to a big announcement!

In a Sun-Scorched Land: A memoir of adoption, faith, and the moving of Haiti’s mountains is coming out this fall!

As in REALLY soon!

Sunscorched book cover

 

Writing and editing this memoir has been God’s gift to me—a way to constantly be reminded of his faithfulness through some insane experiences. (Corruption, break-ins, a shooting, a never-gonna-happen adoption process, child falling off the roof, earthquake… Remember some of these stories?!)

I’ll share the details soon. You’ll be the first to know when it’s available for pre-order. But for now, I just wanted to say that it’s coming. And that it’s a testimony to me that God is going to see me and you through anything the year ahead of us may hold.

The Lord will guide you always;

he will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land and will strengthen your frame.

You will be like a well-watered garden, like a spring whose waters never fail.

—Isaiah 58:11

Blessings,

Jennifer

 

“I was the lion” — When God doesn’t show up

“I was the lion” — When God doesn’t show up

If only God would show up…

… when we’re scared to death.
… when sickness hits.
… when our hearts are breaking.
… when ends won’t meet.
… when we’re alone.

… when everything is as wrong as it could possibly be.

DCF 1.0

From The Horse and His Boy by C.S. Lewis:

“I can’t see you at all,” said Shasta, after staring very hard. Then (for an even more terrifying idea had come into his head) he said, almost in a scream, “You’re not – not something dead, are you? Oh please – please do go away. What harm have I ever done you? Oh, I am the unluckiest person in the whole world!”

Once more he felt the warm breath of the Thing on his hand and face.

“There,” it said, “that is not the breath of a ghost. Tell me your sorrows.”

Shasta was a little reassured by the breath: so he told how he had never known his real father or mother and had been brought up sternly by the fisherman. And then he told the story of his escape and how they were chased by lions and forced to swim for their lives; and of all their dangers in Tashbaan and about his night among the tombs and how the beasts howled at him out of the desert. And he told about the heat and thirst of their desert journey and how they were almost at their goal when another lion chased them and wounded Aravis. And also, how very long it was since he had had anything to eat.

“I do not call you unfortunate,” said the Large Voice.

“Don’t you think it was bad luck to meet so many lions?” said Shasta.

“There was only one lion,” said the Voice.

“What on earth do you mean? I’ve just told you there were at least two the first night, and – ”

“There was only one: but he was swift of foot.”

“How do you know?”

“I was the lion.” And as Shasta gaped with open mouth and said nothing, the Voice continued. “I was the lion who forced you to join with Aravis. I was the cat who comforted you among the houses of the dead. I was the lion who drove the jackals from you while you slept. I was the lion who gave the horses the new strength of fear for the last mile so that you should reach King Lune in time. And I was the lion you do not remember who pushed the boat in which you lay, a child near death, so that it came to shore where a man sat, wakeful at midnight, to receive you.”

_____

We are so confident in our judgments. We find it so easy to declare “good” and “bad,” “fortunate” and “unfortunate.” Yet we have no idea the painstaking precision with which our steps are guided.

Though all is dark, though we don’t feel His presence, He is here. He writes every word in the story of our lives — beautifully, sovereignly working good through all that our enemy intends for evil.

Romans828

Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?

Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword?

… No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.

For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation,

will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Romans 8:35, 37-39

What if the “lions” we cower from are all “One Lion”… One who is working for our good?

Will we trust Him?

So do not throw away your confidence; it will be richly rewarded.

You need to persevere so that when you have done the will of God, you will receive what he has promised.

For in just a very little while, “He who is coming will come and will not delay. But my righteous one will live by faith. And if he shrinks back, I will not be pleased with him.”

But we are not of those who shrink back and are destroyed, but of those who believe and are saved.

Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.

Hebrews 10:35-11:1

Though it’s hard to recognize, He is showing up. He is working… for our good.

**In what “unfortunate” events have you seen God work in your life?

There is no easy life… but there is hope.

There is no easy life… but there is hope.

thereishope

Have you — like me — ever found yourself thinking “I don’t believe anyone else has it this hard?”

Some days we know we’re being ridiculous, but other days we really wonder. We see organized moms, happy couples; healthy, beautiful, prosperous people. We feel quite alone with our impossible workload, our debt, our anxiety, our marital struggle.

Today I am honored to guest post at The Better Mom!

Please join me there to read the rest of this post. You’re just a click away:

There is no easy life… but there is hope.

Who am I?

Who am I?

I heard you say, “I’m not sure who I am anymore,” and I understood.

Crises and even natural changes did that to me too. It may happen again.

Sometimes who I am requires very little analysis.

But there are also times when everything seems to hang on the answer.

WhoamIsmall

In my childhood search for self, I took my cues from those around me.

The adults in my life told me I had potential: I was bright. I had talent. I was responsible. For better and for worse, I measured myself by their standards.

Who I was — who I might become — was exciting.

As a wife and mom of five, doing ministry in a sun-scorched land, my duties often swallowed my identity.

I was the one who made the meals, wiped up spills, changed the diapers, woke to feed babies. I rode a four-wheeler, I started the generator, I shopped the open market,

I fed hungry people. I nurtured, I loved, I served, sometimes forgetting that I was not the “living water” or “bread of life.”

Who I was exhausted me.

When our Red Sea parted, and God’s dry path led us to the States, I faced a new crisis.

I was no longer a missionary; a server; a giver. Rather, I was broken. I was displaced, disoriented, and fragile. I didn’t recognize myself.

Who I was plunged me into fear and confusion.

Today, I am grateful; still on the journey, sometimes overwhelmed, but trusting and growing.

I am a recipient of unmerited favor. I see God’s work, inside and out. Sometimes my callings seem too big; other times too small.

But the truth is, who I am has never changed.

Ever since I trusted Him thirty-one years ago, who I was… was His child.
From that point on, God has not measured me. He already knows I fall short.

My strivings, my abilities, my reputation, my “goodness” could never be enough; could never define me.

While I forget… while I measure myself by other’s perceptions, my roles, my output, the fact remains — that’s not who I am.

I am found in Him.

whoIam

Who am I?

I am a flower quickly fading,
Here today and gone tomorrow.
A wave tossed in the ocean.
A vapor in the wind.
Still You hear me when I’m calling.
Lord, You catch me when I’m falling.
And You’ve told me who I am.
I am Yours.

from Who Am I by Casting Crowns

Reaching out of our inner circle: 4 things we can do to comfort the hurting in our extended community

Reaching out of our inner circle: 4 things we can do to comfort the hurting in our extended community

allsuffertogether

As I write this, we are all grieving the loss of life brought about by recent tornadoes.

In only a few days or weeks, there will likely be yet another heart-wrenching headline.

Our broken world, our temporary home, is full of tragedy.

We need only glance up from our busy lives for a second to spot someone who is hurting profoundly.

When we are relationally close to the one hurting, we most often find ourselves plunged into the valley along with them.

We may not know exactly what to do or say, but we are forced to face the pain head-on — acknowledge the situation and fumble our way along, trying to be the best friend we possibly can.

But what about the times we’re peripheral to the sorrow?

When we’re acquainted with the hurting individual,

but are unsure how involved they want us to be in their pain?

Or when their sad story is all we know of them so far?

Do we speak of it?

Or do we allow the “white elephant in the room” to swallow any words of encouragement… any words at all?

broken window

I’ve asked six friends to share more of their thoughts with us (as a sequel to “Friendship in the valley: 8 things our hurting friends want us to know).

Their journeys through pain allowed them to experience both the awkwardness and the blessings of suffering in their respective communities.

From them we’ve already gained insights for our inner-circle.

So, what would they say to us as we relate to the hurting in our extended community?

1. Acknowledge the issue.

Even in our pain, we know how uncomfortable the situation is. If we were in your position, we’d be at a loss for words as well.

But even more awkward than saying something is saying nothing.

“I’m so sorry” is music to our ears.

You don’t have to address the issue every time you see us, but the use of this simple phrase in one of our early interactions will put us at ease in your presence in the days ahead.

We don’t expect eloquence or profundity… just a sincere word of kindness.

2. Reach out in some small way.

Practical help will almost never fail to bless us: food, a gift card, or free childcare go a long way.

Notes of encouragement, the words “I’m praying for you,” a hug, or comforting Scriptures impact us more than you can imagine.

We see that you care when you offer to help, take us to coffee, or listen.

    Even if we do not take you up on your offer,

we will always value your gesture.

3. Think carefully before you speak to us or about us.

Be gentle, patient, kind, considerate.

Put yourself in our shoes.

Consider our privacy as you speak to others or use social media.

Be mindful of what we’ve gone through — don’t ask us to deliver a meal to a new mother if we’ve just lost a baby; don’t invite us to a watch a romantic comedy if we’ve just separated from a spouse.

A few moments of careful thought can spare us all a lot of discomfort.

4. Pray for us.

James516

Prayer extends hope like nothing else.

When you sincerely, fervently intercede on our behalf, our trembling faith grows.

As we suffer, we can’t help but wonder if God still sees and cares; but when we know another is also on their knees, we are strengthened.

We are reminded that “…the arm of the Lord is not too short to save, nor his ear too dull to hear.” (Isaiah 59:1)

A final thought…

As I spoke with these women, they (and I) were surprised at the details they remembered;

both the agonizing awkwardness of people who never said a word regarding the darkness they were in — who thought it was “none of their business”…

and then in contrast, the life-giving support of those who promised to pray or offered “a word fitly spoken” (Proverbs 25:11).

As ill-equipped or uneasy as we may feel, we are each capable of blessing the hurting person along our path today.

If we will allow the Holy Spirit to move us out of our comfort zone for moment, there’s no telling how He may choose to bless someone through us.

Reaching out of our inner circle: 4 things we can do to comfort the hurting in our extended community

Reaching out of our inner circle: 4 things we can do to comfort the hurting in our extended community

allsuffertogether

As I write this, we are all grieving the loss of life brought about by recent tornadoes.

In only a few days or weeks, there will likely be yet another heart-wrenching headline.

Our broken world, our temporary home, is full of tragedy.

We need only glance up from our busy lives for a second to spot someone who is hurting profoundly.

When we are relationally close to the one hurting, we most often find ourselves plunged into the valley along with them.

We may not know exactly what to do or say, but we are forced to face the pain head-on — acknowledge the situation and fumble our way along, trying to be the best friend we possibly can.

But what about the times we’re peripheral to the sorrow?

When we’re acquainted with the hurting individual,

but are unsure how involved they want us to be in their pain?

Or when their sad story is all we know of them so far?

Do we speak of it?

Or do we allow the “white elephant in the room” to swallow any words of encouragement… any words at all?

broken window

I’ve asked six friends to share more of their thoughts with us (as a sequel to “Friendship in the valley: 8 things our hurting friends want us to know).

Their journeys through pain allowed them to experience both the awkwardness and the blessings of suffering in their respective communities.

From them we’ve already gained insights for our inner-circle.

So, what would they say to us as we relate to the hurting in our extended community?

1. Acknowledge the issue.

Even in our pain, we know how uncomfortable the situation is. If we were in your position, we’d be at a loss for words as well.

But even more awkward than saying something is saying nothing.

“I’m so sorry” is music to our ears.

You don’t have to address the issue every time you see us, but the use of this simple phrase in one of our early interactions will put us at ease in your presence in the days ahead.

We don’t expect eloquence or profundity… just a sincere word of kindness.

2. Reach out in some small way.

Practical help will almost never fail to bless us: food, a gift card, or free childcare go a long way.

Notes of encouragement, the words “I’m praying for you,” a hug, or comforting Scriptures impact us more than you can imagine.

We see that you care when you offer to help, take us to coffee, or listen.

    Even if we do not take you up on your offer,

we will always value your gesture.

3. Think carefully before you speak to us or about us.

Be gentle, patient, kind, considerate.

Put yourself in our shoes.

Consider our privacy as you speak to others or use social media.

Be mindful of what we’ve gone through — don’t ask us to deliver a meal to a new mother if we’ve just lost a baby; don’t invite us to a watch a romantic comedy if we’ve just separated from a spouse.

A few moments of careful thought can spare us all a lot of discomfort.

4. Pray for us.

James516

Prayer extends hope like nothing else.

When you sincerely, fervently intercede on our behalf, our trembling faith grows.

As we suffer, we can’t help but wonder if God still sees and cares; but when we know another is also on their knees, we are strengthened.

We are reminded that “…the arm of the Lord is not too short to save, nor his ear too dull to hear.” (Isaiah 59:1)

A final thought…

As I spoke with these women, they (and I) were surprised at the details they remembered;

both the agonizing awkwardness of people who never said a word regarding the darkness they were in — who thought it was “none of their business”…

and then in contrast, the life-giving support of those who promised to pray or offered “a word fitly spoken” (Proverbs 25:11).

As ill-equipped or uneasy as we may feel, we are each capable of blessing the hurting person along our path today.

If we will allow the Holy Spirit to move us out of our comfort zone for moment, there’s no telling how He may choose to bless someone through us.