Jennifer Camp

Woman Unafraid

I wish I could tell you how I feel now. With the breeze on my neck through open window. Blackbird singing out toward sunset. Candle burning low.

I have been hunkered down. My heart a bit reticent to communicate although I have been diligent about listening to it. For the first time in my life, I now work to do something contrary to my personality: giving myself space to do nothing, produce nothing. And yet things—from my heart and head—are still pulled up from tilled ground. The soil watered and the beds cleaned. I have no patience for weeds twisted and roots tangled. This life strains for sun and song and air.

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I just work more empty-handed now. Each day I want only Jesus to place in my hands the tools I need. I am less attracted to the striving that comes from forging my own tools, clearing my own path.

One of the results of open-handedness is that writing feels different for me—once a habit, a ritual, an attractive act of cleansing and plunging deep into icy water. Even while I sit here, the house miraculously still save a motorcycle rumbling in the distance, and a gentle hum of suburban traffic less than a mile away, I imagine the rush of ocean waves cresting cliffs near sandy shore. And I am in them, a woman who used to believe life amounted to saving oneself from drowning just before lungs expelled their last gulp of air.

I used to believe life amounted to saving oneself from drowning just before lungs expelled their last gulp of air.

I can sit here—imagine, a friend sitting across from you now—and have my heart connected still—still—to an entirely different place.

Oh, the breeze is cooling my fingers. Sing blackbird, sing.

You see, with writing, I can be here and not here too. It is a rhythm I am reapproaching as a discipline, a necessary exploration of the connection between heart and gut and head. It hasn’t been a regular habit for a few months now, and by writing, I am being kind to myself—attending to the deepest parts of me that long to awake, speak.

If anything this past year, over hours of Zoom calls with Father Chi as he guided me through the St. Ignatian Exercises, I have learned something most dear and precious: how to let Jesus hold my hand, feel his shoulder against mine, and believe my brokenness, once redeemed, is not weakness but strength, strength, strength.

Weakness and strength unite as beautiful when Jesus defines what is strong.

And I am getting better at confession, too—not just because my friend and I practice it together most weeks, sharing the bitter, raw bites of shame and contrition that we hold out together with shaking, open hands—two grown women-girls sharing stories and letting our knees get covered in life’s trials of trying and failing and getting up again. But I am also better at confession because of this: brokenness just isn’t that scary anymore. At least not when I confess, whatever it is, right out to Jesus too.

What I want to say is, I am less afraid of admitting my hard-heartedness, my anger, my envy, my pride. And to admit it with specificity. I am more apt to name the particular action, the exact brokenness and be unafraid that Jesus will love me less. Now, I let Jesus hold my hand through the day—and, when my heart is still, He helps me watch Him talking and praying and playing and crying and eating and laughing and sleeping and suffering and loving and dying and living. And I just want to be with Him all the time.

You see, when you are woman-girl who is loved and unafraid—unafraid, to take a good hard look at who she is without God—then she can be small, small, small. And that’s when there is love. In brokenness. And mess. I love Jesus there. I want more of that.

And shame is something with which I have so little patience anymore. It used to be invisible, a hulking terror enticing me to hide, keep silent, and do anything, anything, to prove that I was not wretched, but whole.

I am trusting a bit more that I am truly loved. And I am confessing the raw, hard stuff, the things I used to keep unspoken.

And I wonder if you will join me. Listening, looking, shoes off as we run barefooted and arm-swing wildly through land new and wild and good. It is a place undiscovered, yet recognizable. For these eyes and hearts of ours are made to experience freedom, with a God we have always known.

Tell me . . . what is your experience with shame? How is God healing you? How can I can pray for you regarding shame?

This post appeared originally at jenniferjcamp.com


carrying my cross: rejecting self-help to embrace self-sacrifice

I am in the midst of carrying my cross, and I am embarrassed about it. I want my eyes fixed on Jesus’ feet: His toes caked with dirt, leather straps stretched across his insteps, blood dripping from his head and down his face and hitting the crusted ground. And I am not doing my part, I’ve decided. For I am on Jesus’ back, underneath my cross, which is on top of Jesus’ back. And he takes one labored, tortured step and then another. Stumbling and holding the cross–His cross and my own–and getting up again, always moving forward, forward, forward.

I close my eyes. This is a nightmare. But it isn’t. It is absolutely real. I am on my back, weak and immobile, and unable to help in any way. My clothes are ragged and torn. My hair is matted in clumps. My face is streaked with dirt and tears. And I am ashamed of my embarrassment–for I am confused now. Am I embarrassed because I want, truly, to be carrying my own cross? Or am I embarrassed because I can’t and people will see my weakness? 

Oh, there you are again, Strength. And Pride. You want to save yourself, Jennifer, don’t you? You want to be your own Savior, yes? You say you love Jesus but yet you detest that He is the one doing the saving? You want to be the one to get glory and fame? 

But this isn’t true, I decide. These are thoughts of self-contempt, and I give them to Jesus, asking him to decipher my confusion for me. I can’t manage it alone. For I am bewildered by this scene. What is happening? How are You carrying me? And why do I not want to be carried? What is this tension I feel within?

And then I am off His back, struggling next to Him, attempting to budge my own cross that is stuck in the dirt near His feet. My knees threaten to buckle beneath me, the weight too great. But then I stumble forward and don’t fall; I manage to take a step. I am confused until, with astonishment, I realize what is happening: my cross is angled so it rests on top of Jesus’ cross. 

I walk forward because He carries my own cross too.

Every few moments Jesus pauses, the burden pressing heavily on his shoulders, his head, his back. And in the middle of one of these pauses, He looks at me, eyes so deep and kind, and tells me to lift my head. What?!

Somehow, I manage to look around me, behind me. It is like the camera has pulled back and I have a bird’s eye view of the whole scene: the streets of Jerusalem and hundreds, no, thousands–no, countless people (angels?) glowing white, carrying crosses. There are people filling the streets of Jerusalem, each trudging upward. 

The camera pulls back some more.

The people are walking not just through Jerusalem. They are walking through towns and through cities, through walkways and through corridors of homes. Here, everywhere, steadfast and determined, people are walking. Onward, onward, and up up, to their own Golgatha, the place where they will plunge their own crosses into the ground.

How many times did Jesus tell the disciples to take up their crosses? To give up the things of this world that hold them back from the complete surrender of mind, body, and heart to the worshipping of God? 

What are you showing me, Jesus? What does this mean?

And he said to all, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it.

Luke 9: 23-24,ESV

Then Jesus went to work on his disciples. “Anyone who intends to come with me has to let me lead. You’re not in the driver’s seat; I am. Don’t run from suffering; embrace it. Follow me and I’ll show you how. Self-help is no help at all. Self-sacrifice is the way, my way, to finding yourself, your true self. What kind of deal is it to get everything you want but lose yourself? What could you ever trade your soul for?

Matthew 16:24-26, MSG

What Jesus shows me is beautiful. And He is beautiful. And together, the saints join together, having picked up their crosses. 

And there will be a day–and it may not be long now–that we are the ones in glowing white–our clothes no longer ragged and torn, our skin no longer dirty and scraped–when we revel in worship for the King who carried his own cross and who leads us the way to surrender–all the while making it possible for us to carry our own crosses too.

Let us reject self-help. Let us embrace self-sacrifice. Let us surrender to love. Let us be blessed by Your leading, Jesus. 

Friend, what do you see in this scene? Are you letting Jesus carry you? What does it mean for you to let yourself be crucified? What needs to be taken to the cross? Pride? Self-worship? Envy? Bitterness? Malice? Distrust? Hard-heartedness? What is He asking to help you with? What does He have to show you as He walks with you, your burden His own?

Will you spend a few minutes imagining this scene? Sanctify your imagination to Him now. 

And, if you feel like He is leading you to process your experience, will you write out your thoughts? Will you consider sharing them with us, in the safe community of Loop Poetry Project, as a poem? Join us right here.

I look forward to hearing from you.

Praying now, as I join you up this hill,

Jennifer

This post appeared originally at jenniferjcamp.com


what happens when we redefine strength

Easter night. Curtains open. The sky so dark I can no longer see out, just my reflection in the glass. It is a beautiful lull from the fun of March Madness. (We are a UCLA family and have had a lot of fun cheering on our underdog basketball team this season.) A few books next to me and one in my lap. This has been a season of listening and exploring–I hope to always seek wisdom and self-awareness. 

So I am leaning into a new movement. Taking a deeper look at how my sins point to strongholds–idols I worship, ideas I hold onto that reveal my heart’s affinity toward so many things other than God. In prayer this morning, using imaginative contemplation to experience the scene of Jesus’ tortuous laboring up to Golgotha–and the three hours of suffering on the cross under dark sky before he breathed his last breath–I think about grace and justice. I am afraid, mournfully, that, even in my depravity, I have lived most of my life expecting mercy. 

Crazy right? And how?

Jesus, the lamb of God, chose to give everything to hold up our side of the covenant–how can I love anything else more than Him? 

But if you look at my life, you’ll see that I have. This wisdom from R. C Sproul makes me squirm: 

“We are not really surprised that God has redeemed us. Somewhere deep inside, in the secret chambers of our hearts we harbor the notion that God owes us his mercy. Heaven would not be quite the same if we were excluded from it. We know that we are sinners, but we are surely not as bad as we could be. There are enough redeeming features to our personalities that if God is really just he will include us in salvation. What amazes us is justice, not grace.”

R. C. Sproul

As I sit with these words, I confess to Jesus my self-righteousness. I am selfish and wretched and yet dearly loved by a God who loves and loves and loves. I confess that I have tolerated my sin more than I have detested it. I confess that when I do this, I minimize the saving power of His grace. 

I ask Jesus to reveal to me the idols I worship. And He begins by pointing out two things I have worshipped my entire life. Strength. And independence.

Strength is something I cling to because it feels like security against failing. I struggle to accept my failures. And certainly not because I don’t fail, but because I struggle with not hating myself a little more when I do.

Failure feels intolerabe. It makes me feel weak–and I don’t like feeling weak: weak mentally or physically or emotionally. 

Jesus guides me deeper. 

I tell Him I think strength is an idol I have been worshipping my whole life. I have believed the lie that strength means security. Strength means power. Strength means being in control. I have ascribed to the world’s definition of strength rather than God’s, which is based on love, humility, kindness, trust, relationship.

The strongholds of strength and independence have had a firm grip on me. I have always worked hard to be strong–and on my own–and I have had little tolerance for weakness in myself. Of course, this affects my closest relationships too (in a not-so-positive way). I have admired strength–and I have wanted it around me–as comfort. I have also felt good about myself when I felt I was strong and I didn’t need to rely on anyone else for help. And I have appreciated people being strong and independent around me because it has motivated me to work harder to be strong and independent too.

What insidious pride. These lies, these strongholds, have got to go.

So this morning I give these idols to Jesus. I give them to Him to destroy. I give them to Him to break. In His name. With His blood. I make a declaration: I no longer worship strength and independence–and I ask Him to help me to embrace failure and relationship and trust and vulnerability and not fear them. (Oh, I have feared them.) I tell Him I have failed because I have worshiped strength and independence rather than God. And this failure humbles me and makes me realize how I am undeserving of grace and yet am desperate for it.

When I fail next, Lord, help me to see it and feel it and not run away from it and be defensive about it. Jesus, come, come, come.


For the Loop Poetry Project project this week, will you join me in considering your definition of strength? Think about a time in your life when you witnessed it, or ascribed to it, or demonstrated it. What was the scene? What was the deeper motive or feeling? What details do you associate with strength? What rises to your heart when you think of that word and what it means to you, personally? Will you write a poem about it and share it below? 

Remember we are not shooting for perfection in our writing here. We are aiming for honesty. For openness. For letting ourselves be the scribes for our hearts. (They have something amazing to say.) 

Or, you can share it in the private group over here.

May God bless you as you let Him define strength for you,

Jennifer

This post appeared originally at jenniferjcamp.com