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Birthdays with Jesus

Jennifer Napier

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December 7th has always been a very special day in my family. It’s the day we get our Christmas tree and is my sister Libby’s birthday.

While I was growing up, every year on her birthday we’d bundle up, get in the car, and drive to some remote lot to retrieve our valuable pine tree. Sometimes my dad would cut down an evergreen tree and wrap it in cotton batting. Some years there was hot chocolate and frequently there was Christmas music, but on December 7th there was always a tree and a special birthday dinner with cake and presents.

Libby was my best friend. Even as I grew older I knew that for ever and always on December 7th I would be getting a Christmas tree and carry on the tradition with my own family.

I remember the first year I was married. Sure enough, on the 7th we got a Christmas tree. I remember my sister round with child coming over with her husband for a Christmas party. I’d be pregnant myself in a matter of weeks. It was a wonderful memory that year. I didn’t know at the time that would be my last Christmas with her. The next December 7th I would get my tree but wouldn’t have my sister. She died in March in a car accident.

Later when we found out we were having a girl, we decided to name our daughter after her aunt. Nine months after giving birth to Libby, we discovered I was pregnant again. This time with a boy. Our son, Samuel, was born premature and we had to spend many weeks in the hospital with him. When he came home he was on oxygen and an apnea monitor. We then moved when Samuel was nine months old from our home in Virginia, where we had spent almost our whole lives, to Pennsylvania so that my husband could attend seminary.

Since my sister’s death, December and March have been two particularly difficult months for me. When December draws close, I tend to cry thinking of how old my sister would’ve been. I’ve often imagined what a joy it would’ve been for our kids to grow up together. And I miss the conversations we would have had. There are some things I know that only she would understand.

Last year, in an effort to remember and celebrate my sister’s life, I had a type of party for her. My daughter and I made her a cake and I spent the day thinking of how blessed I was to have her in my life. This year, her fourth birthday with Jesus, I wanted to do the same thing.

I was full of hopes and desires of how I was going to spend the day. Doing the things she loved. Watching a sad movie and crying. Maybe even working on the scrapbook I had made with pictures of her.

I woke up that morning to the sound of my son’s wheezing and I instantly knew he needed to go to the doctor. Being pregnant again, my husband had planned on taking me to my appointment to see a perinatologist to have an ultrasound. Instead he dropped me off for my appointment and took Samuel to the doctor’s.

Before he dropped me off, we had a conversation that went something like this:

Mike: "Jenn, are you OK?"

Me: "I feel like God is flicking me off."

Mike: "He’s not. He loves you."

Me: "Then why does this happen on days like this? Our son is sick. You’re missing your final exams. We just moved. We have no money. You’re not even going to be with me at the appointment."

I was frustrated and angry. Our life had been challenging and as of late it was more so than ever. We had just moved out of a three bedroom townhouse into a small two bedroom apartment so we could save some money. Even so, the bills were stacking up and there was no money to pay them.

Our children had been sick with the croup all week and Samuel’s asthma was beginning to flare. I had an upper respiratory infection. Mike had finals.

Even though I was a high-risk pregnancy, I wasn’t able to see an OBGYN until I was almost 14 weeks. And I was worried about this pregnancy. What if something was wrong? What if the baby was dead? What if I went into pre-term labor again?

Top it all off with the grief that was suffocating me. I missed my sister so badly I thought my heart might explode. Having a sister as a best friend is one of the most wonderful things to have and one of the most horrible things to lose.

The way this day was going just seemed to make it worse.

December 7th was a special day; an almost sacred day in my book. It was also one of the two days where I felt like it was OK to grieve. That it was OK to be sad and cry. People understood. It was as if I had a pass for grace on this day. It didn’t last till December 8th, but I had that one day, the 7th.

Did God really love me? At times I felt like He must be a big monster simply smirking at me. I knew it wasn’t true, but why would He let me have so much pain, loss, and hardship? Why did my life sound more like a soap opera or some crazy tragic movie than a song of victory? And then there was today. Could I let go of the day I had planned and let it be the day that God wanted to give me?

I got out of the car at the doctor’s office. I kissed my husband goodbye and said a prayer for my son. I waited nearly two hours to be seen. Before I even saw the doctor, Mike was already finished with Samuel’s appointment and told me that we needed to take him to the children’s hospital. I groaned inside. I knew he was going to be admitted.

I talked with the ultrasound technician, telling her I was in a rush because I needed to get my son to the hospital. She was kind and sympathetic, asking why I needed the ultrasound. I told her my doctor wanted to check viability and to rule out that I was having twins because, you know, it runs in my family.

I had always wanted to have twins but assumed if it didn’t happen the first pregnancy, it wasn’t going to happen. My grandmother’s a fraternal twin and my cousin is pregnant with twins. But I knew I couldn’t be pregnant with twins. It was just me wanting it.

The technician asked me how I’d feel if I was pregnant with twins.

"Well," I said. "I have two small children. The oldest just turned three. I think my hands would be very full. My husband is in seminary right now . . . and well, twins . . . that would just be a bit wild."

She turned on the screen and began the procedure. I strained to see the screen. Nothing looked abnormal to me so I just relaxed and closed my eyes. One baby. I knew it. What else could I have been thinking?

I opened my eyes. She smiled and looked at me.

"You’re having twins."

I asked if she was serious. She said yes. I burst into tears. Wow. How amazing! I told her it was my sister’s birthday and explained that she was with Jesus.

It felt like a gift from my sister and from God on that day. It was His way of showing me that He does love me. He does have a plan for me. My life isn’t a mistake. I felt a small taste of His kindness and goodness.

I called my husband who was waiting patiently in the car. "Honey, I’m hurrying. We’re also having twins."

The appointment quickly wrapped up and I raced downstairs. I gave my husband a huge squeeze and told him we needed to hurry to the hospital.

Samuel was admitted and we spent the rest of the weekend in the hospital. In between caring for him and praying for his health, I was left marveling.

I didn’t get to do anything I planned on my sister’s birthday. We didn’t buy a tree. I didn’t eat ice-cream for breakfast (one of her die-hard habits). But I did get a taste of God’s goodness and I did worship Him with a grateful heart. My sister would have definitely approved. In the end, I guess I did do something she did, I loved God. I worshiped Him. I surrendered myself and my life to Him again.

Psalm 27:13 says, "I would have despaired unless I had believed that I would see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living." I used to think that I would see God’s goodness only when I was in Heaven. I came upon this verse shortly after my sister died but was struck anew by it this year on the 7th. Surely I had seen the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living, the here and now. God in His mercy gave me a small taste of His goodness here on earth.

And although I know it was my sister’s birthday that day, I think it was I, who was given a gift.

JennifernapierbioJennifer is a full-time home and life manager (cook, dish-washer, diaper changer, personal assistant, launderer, maid, amateur medical professional, pharmacist, taxi driver, gardener, planner and organizer, nanny, boo-boo kisser, baker, barista, and home decorator). Her passion is Jesus Christ: knowing Him and making Him known. Married to her best friend, Mike, they live in Virginia with their four children, ages four and under. In her spare time she enjoys freelance writing, posting on her blog, Musings by Jennifer and embraces life through photography, writing, reading, knitting and mommying.
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Jennifer Napier is a new resident of Norfolk, VA where she and her husband are part of growing a new church. Her recent decision to throw all caution to the wind and jump into home schooling all five of her precocious but precious children has left many alternately applauding her bravery and questioning her sanity. She is an avid reader and writer and enjoys long soaks in the tub and sweet iced tea. She can often be found with her children at the zoo, a thrift store or in a doctors office as she manages the special needs of her kids. Though a Christian since she was five Jennifer has continued to grow in a deeper understanding of God’s grace and love. She continues to proclaim God’s faithfulness in the midst of many years of trial, suffering, loss and grief. Her primary goal in life is to know God and make Him known. You can follow her adventures and thoughts on God, life, and motherhood at her blog, Musings by Jennifer

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When Doing Justly, Loving Mercy, and Walking Humbly Stand at Odds

If your compassion far exceeds your capacity, here’s one way you can be sure to do justly, love mercy, and walk humbly.

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One of my life verses is Micah 6:8, “He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?”

It is one of my favorite verses because my heart has been so moved by the love Jesus has for me and the sacrifice He made for me that I am grateful to have a way to express my gratitude through acts of justice and mercy while walking humbly with God.

I have found at times, however, the call to do justice and love mercy come in conflict with the call to walk humbly with God. For me, one of the ways to walk humbly with God is to recognize my limitations. I have to put skin to the fact that I am not God which means saying, “no” to ministry requests. It means going to sleep when I could be spending time advocating for the harrowed and helpless in the world. It means limited seats at my table, limited funds in my bank account, and limited energy in my body cannot be ignored but respected and adhered to.

This is hard for me at times, especially when I scroll my Facebook feed and see friends who are caring for their really sick children, spouse, or other family member all while millions of refugees flee war torn countries and babies are slaughtered by the hundreds each day in our country through the abortion industry.

As I scroll, I receive texts about one family member’s surgery gone wrong and another family member announcing a new baby is on the way. I have in mind my neighbor who has inpatient surgery scheduled this week and another neighbor who is trying to hold down a full-time job, care for twins all while battling profound “morning” sickness.

Folks at church are fighting for their lives in physical and spiritual ways, and strangers who pass me on the road are clearly battling something as demonstrated by their impatient honking because I won’t take a right turn on red. I want to meet the needs of all; I want to do justice and love mercy, but I’m daily confronted by the fact that I am so limited.

What am I to do when doing justly and/or loving mercy seem to come in conflict with walking humbly with my God?

God keeps bringing me to this answer: prayer.

God invites us to cast our cares before Him because He cares for us.
God tells us to be anxious for nothing BUT WITH PRAYER present our requests before Him.
God commands us to pray without ceasing.

And, when I walk humbly with God, I see the immense kindness in His command.
He gives us a way to do justly, love mercy WHILE walking humbly with Him.
It is by praying without ceasing.

I cannot take a meal or give money to every sick person or family I know. I cannot extend kindness to all my neighbors all at the same time they’re in need nor conjure up sustainable solutions for the refugee crisis and contact all the necessary world powers to make it happen.

I cannot heal all, but I know the Healer.

I cannot provide for all the needs, but I know the Provider.

I cannot rescue everyone in need, but I know the Rescuer.

I cannot comfort all the broken, but I know the Comforter.

I cannot speak peace over every situation, but I know the Prince of Peace.

I cannot be all to all, but I can go to the Great I Am through prayer, lay all the people, problems and pleas for help before the Omniscient and Omnipresent God of all Creation.

I can do this through prayer.

Recently, via an Instagram contest of all things, I came upon A–Z prayer cards designed by blogger/author/speaker, Amelia Rhodes. It is a simple concept packed with a powerful prayer punch. It has served me personally in this tension of wanting to do far more than I practically can do. It provides prayer prompts starting with each letter of the alphabet along with a scripture that coincides with the prayer focus. It ranges from Adoption to a creative “Zero Prejudice” for the letter “Z.”

The cards are well thought out, color printed on sturdy cardstock with blank lines for the user to write in the names of people and/or organizations that are personal to them.

If, like me, your compassion far exceeds your capacity, pick up a set of these prayer cards and unload your burdens onto a God whose competence matches His kindness, both boundless.

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Facing Our Fears in Motherhood

Do you have fears tied to motherhood? If so, here’s encouragement for you.

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“Are you scared?”

I was taken aback by his question. Scared? Of what?

“Of anything,” he answered.

I had just shared my due date with a new class of trainees.

“He has three boys,” another new hire volunteered. So fear is to be expected, I reasoned. I’m just about to face the most frightening experience in my life.

Of course I was scared.

I was scared…

  • I’ll lose my temper.
  • I’ll whine about sleepless nights.
  • I’ll breastfeed too often or not often enough.
  • I’ll leave piles of unfolded onesies in the middle of the nursery floor because I’m too tired (or lazy?) to fold teeny-tiny baby clothes for the upteenth time.
  • I’ll go with disposable diapers when the better choice would be cloth.
  • I’ll work too many long hours at the office and miss precious moments with her.
  • I’ll sign her up for too many activities and push her to become Miss Achieve-It-All.
  • I’ll pass on to her my ugly pride, self-righteousness, and perfectionism like a dreadful contagious disease.
  • I’ll miss countless little joys in life while pursuing worthless dreams.

Facing Our Fears in MotherhoodIn short… I was afraid I was going to fail miserably as a parent.

And now, holding my second-born daughter in my arms, thinking back on that brief exchange just a few years ago, I realize those fears were well-founded. I’ve failed many times. I’ve lost my temper. I’ve raised my voice. I’ve worked too much and played too little. I’ve seen my own sinfulness reflected in my daughter.

Yes, I’ve failed, but over and above it all, God’s grace has covered my parenting imperfections and made me run to the cross day after day. The writer of Proverbs puts it this way:

Whoever fears the LORD has a secure fortress, and for their children it will be a refuge.
Proverbs 14:26

When it comes to fears, we have two choices: Will we fear the unknown or will we fear the Lord? Will we allow the uncertain to grip us in its clutch or will we turn to God’s Truth to set us free?

Scared? Oh yeah. There was so much to be scared of that day. And even now, if I’m completely honest, there are still fears nibbling at the edges of my consciousness. Fear that we won’t outgrow the temper tantrums. Fear that the two girls won’t get along. Fear that I’ll mess them up and cause them interminable hours on a psychologist’s couch.

I’m sure you have fears, too.

But rather than allow those fears to consume and paralyze us, we can take them to the Lord, acknowledging His sovereignty over our parenting, pleading His grace over our mistakes, and entrusting His provision over their futures. He is not only able to handle it all — He is far more capable to be trusted with it all.

If I say one thing to that frightened 9-month-pregnant me standing in that room years ago, I would say this: Don’t let fear rob today’s joy with tomorrow’s unknowns. Each day has enough worries of its own (Matthew 6:34).

Instead, let us keep seeking God, running to Him as our secure fortress and resting in the knowledge that He will care for us and our children one day at a time.

What are you scared of today? Name your fears and bring them to the Lord, allowing Him to replace them with His peace that passes all understanding.

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He Gives Shade To The Weary

If anxiety is a struggle for you right now, remember that He gives shade to the weary.

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Do you ever have those moments of fear because you don’t know what lies ahead? When do those thoughts tend to happen to you?

For me, most of those thoughts happen when I lay my head down to sleep at night. The vulnerability comes forth every time. That’s what happened the other night to me. I shut my eyes and immediately anxiety welled up inside me.

What if we don’t succeed in this new venture? What if we have to move? What if we can’t pay our bills?

I laid there with the covers drawn tight over my head (I still think that I am safer if the covers are over my head), praying scripture over my anxious heart. Assuring myself that God sees me and that He cares.

In the morning, I turned to Isaiah 41, specifically verses 10-20.

“Do not fear, for I am with you; Do not anxiously look about you, for I am your God. I will strengthen you, surely I will help you, Surely I will uphold you with My righteous right hand.” (Isaiah 41:10, NASB)

Yesterday, the “what if’s” piled up as I anxiously looked about me. My daughter needs tutoring, however at this point in life, tutoring feels like a luxury we can’t afford. So I listed some items online to sell hoping to make just enough to cover the tutoring. I’m buying groceries on a Visa reward card. I’m holding my breath until the next paycheck comes. But what did God speak over me: Do not fear. Do not look anxiously about you.

“For I am the Lord your God, who upholds your right hand, Who says to you, ‘Do not fear, I will help you.’ Do not fear, you worm Jacob, you men of Israel; I will help you,” declares the Lord, “and your Redeemer is the Holy One of Israel.” (Isaiah 41:13-14 NASB)

Why shouldn’t I be anxious? Because God will hold me up. God will help me. When I first read the word “worm” as a description, I took it as a slam against Israel. Like, gesh, God. What animal does He relate me to? But through further study, He calls them a worm because worms are helpless. They are viewed as insignificant, despised and weak. God will help me — seemingly insignificant, helpless me — because He is my Redeemer. He is my go’el — my next of kin. The Redeemer is the one who provides for all my needs. Rent. Car payment. Credit card bill. Gas. Food. Clothes. Debt. God will redeem.

He Gives Shade to the Weary

“Behold, I have made you a new, sharp threshing sledge with double edges; You will thresh the mountains and pulverize them, And will make the hills like chaff. You will winnow them, and the wind will carry them away, And the storm will scatter them; But you will rejoice in the Lord, You will glory in the Holy One of Israel.” (Isaiah 41:15-16 NASB).

God is transforming me from a helpless one to a powerful one. The description of that type of threshing sledge is like a modern day earth mover. Powerful. Strong. Immovable.

“The afflicted and needy are seeking water, but there is none, And their tongue is parched with thirst; I, the Lord, will answer them Myself, As the God of Israel I will not forsake them.” (Isaiah 41:17, NASB)

He will come to our rescue. God, Himself, will answer you and me. Can you hear how personal that sounds? Have you ever pleaded with someone important whether your boss, public figure, or even a parent, and they responded to the need themselves? You expected for them to send their assistant, but instead they — the most important one — responded to you.

“I will open rivers on the bare heights And springs in the midst of the valleys; I will make the wilderness a pool of water And the dry land fountains of water. I will put the cedar in the wilderness, The acacia and the myrtle and the olive tree; I will place the juniper in the desert Together with the box tree and the cypress.” (Isaiah 41:18-19, NASB)

This passage describes the wilderness-like times in life. You are barren. You are thirsty. You are hot. You are in need. God will provide what you need. God will quench your thirst. He will provide shade when you are weary. During those times, God can provide in creative, innovative ways. He can provide something out of nothing. Doesn’t that give you great hope? Even when you can’t answer how He will do it, He is creative enough to figure it out even when the odds are stacked against you.

“That they may see and recognize, And consider and gain insight as well, That the hand of the Lord has done this, And the Holy One of Israel has created it.” (Isaiah 41:20 NASB).

God will do all of this so that His glory will be put on display. People — including yourself — will see that He is powerful.

So you can see how after a night of wrestling with fear and anxiety, reading this was like shade and water for my soul. God is a god who sees. And God is a god who acts on your behalf.

What do you need His help with today? What are you fearful about today? What keeps you awake at night? Where do you need some shade?

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Hi, I'm Ashleigh Slater, founder and editor of Ungrind. Here at Ungrind, it’s our goal to churn out biblically-based encouragement for women. We strive to be honest and transparent about our struggles in a way that inspires hope, faith, and perseverance.

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Birthdays with Jesus

by Jennifer Napier time to read: 7 min
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