“I have one question for you,” she said, leaning on the kitchen counter.
Dirty dishes in hand, I stopped loading the dishwasher and looked at my friend.
“Have you said goodbye?”
Her words were gentle yet pulsed with concern.
My eyes slid closed to hold the tears at bay; I bit my lip to quell its quiver.
My sister’s death was eighteen months behind me, but I was still slogging through the muck of grief. I didn’t want to hear this question, much less ponder and act on it. Saying goodbye meant letting go and I was not ready to face the finality it would bring.
Three days later, my friend, Anna, and I attended a getaway with a few friends. Her question had not left me since she released it into the air.
I opened my journal in the quiet hours of the last morning of the trip and started writing. My pencil scratched furiously, unspoken words pouring forth from its tip. Tears dripped down my nose as the things left unsaid made their way from the shadows of my heart to the page bathed in light from the window.
I reached the end of the second page, signed my name, and let the journal fall to the floor. Turning to look at Anna, I said the words at the exact moment I realized what had just happened…
I am utterly delighted to welcome my friend Jennifer Dukes Lee as a guest in this space today as she shares about control and surrender. I had the pleasure of meeting Jennifer on the Epic Book Tour last year. She welcomed Anna and me into her home among the cornfields of rural Iowa with grace and friendship. Today she is delivering her third book baby, It’s All Under Control, into the world. An early copy arrived on my doorstep in May and I have been ruminating on it since. It is simultaneously the most comforting and most challenging book I’ve read this year. I’ll write my own post about it soon, but for now, here’s Jennifer. (Be sure to stick around at the end for a fun giveaway from Tyndale!)
Everything is Under Control (I Thought)
If you asked me five years ago, I naively would have told you that I didn’t struggle with control. I mean, seriously— as long as everything went exactly the way I hoped, I was totally flexible.
It’s not that I wanted to control other people. Mostly, I wanted to control myself. If I ever had high expectations of anyone, it was of me. I wanted to present the self-assured, together version of my whole being. Which means I craved control over my face, my emotions, my body, my food, my words, my house, my schedule, my yard, my future.
My preference was a tidy, predictable, safe life where no one got hurt, where my kids remained in one piece, where there was no pain for anyone ever again, amen. I said I trusted God but had reached the point where I realized I actually didn’t. As a Jesus girl, this shocked me.
An Empty Tank
Clearly, my old systems of coping weren’t working: My desire to obsessively orchestrate my whole life was burning me out.
As a mom, I heard myself snapping at my kids. As a ministry leader, I knew that I was functioning within my call, but I didn’t feel fulfilled. I was tired, even after a regular night’s sleep. And I found myself zoning out during conversations with my husband, because I was mentally making lists of everything I needed to get done.
In short, I ran out of gas.
Maybe the empty tank was God’s way of bringing me to a dead stop, so I would finally pay attention. It worked. God got my attention, and maybe he’s trying to get yours too.
Imagine that it’s you who’s run out of gas. Maybe that doesn’t take much imagining after all, because like me, you’re tired of trying to hold it together. You want to keep it all under control, but things aren’t working out the way you planned.
When you and I began to follow Jesus, we relinquished control over our lives. But because we suffer from the chronic condition known as being human we constantly try to steal that control back.
CEO of Everything
My wake-up call happened when I realized that the battle for my heart was regularly being fought inside the tiny squares of my to-do list.
I began to ask myself this question: “What are the things that, if they were taken away, would shatter the identity I have created?”
Was it my work? My calendar? My efforts to shield my children from pain and suffering? This urge to always say yes?
For me, the answer was: “All of the above.” I was trying to be the CEO of everything.
Jesus delivered a sobering reminder: You will never know if you can trust Me if you don’t give Me the chance to prove it.
I recommitted myself to a life surrendered to Jesus’ plans for my life. But something felt … off … when I considered what surrender truly meant.
I accidentally bought into a weird idea that surrendered living meant mostly that I needed to “do less.” Yet that was unrealistic because so much of life clearly couldn’t be opted out of. People depended on me. I had kids to feed. A house to manage. Books to write.
Most people can’t simply fire their lives and move on when it gets too chaotic. We can’t stop managing a household, cancel all our appointments, and spend the rest of our days on a floatie in the middle of a lake.
Here’s what I began to learn: Surrendered living is much more than “doing less.” It’s being more of who God created us to be.
Yes, I totally need more chill in my life, and maybe you do too. But here’s the full truth about surrender:
Surrender doesn’t come with some unrealistic demand that you are suddenly going to stop being the incredibly brave and brilliant woman that you are. Real surrender appreciates God’s remarkable design in you.
We Need Women Like You
Do you know what a wonder you are?
You don’t settle. You are the sort of woman we can count on to meet a work deadline, organize a food drive, take in the neighbors’ kids during an emergency, drive your coworker to chemo, counsel a friend at 3 a.m. by text message, keep track of everyone’s appointments, and make sure we’re all wearing seat belts before you drive us on the three-day adventure that you single-handedly arranged.
We need you. We need take-charge, charitable women like you as doctors and nurses in operating rooms where details like “proper disinfectant” matter. Let me tell it to you straight: If you have an inner control freak, I’m hoping you’ll let her bust loose like nobody’s business if someone I love is on your operating table. We need responsible women like you to control all the bleeding.
We also need you in charge of schools, nonprofits, and Fortune 500 companies. We need rock-star women like you to show us that surrender isn’t “lie down in a pile.” It’s “march forward like a warrior.” Sometimes surrendering to God will require you to do the hardest work you’ve ever done in your life: take in another foster child, fight for your marriage, kick cancer where the sun don’t shine, or refuse to capitulate to the persistent drubbing from Satan.
Girl, listen up. We count on you. You are a woman fervently devoted to God’s calling on your life, not only in your work but also in your relationships.
Of course, as Carrie Underwood will sing to you, Jesus is definitely taking the wheel. But make no mistake: There are times when he’s going to ask you to do some driving.
It’s All Under Control
Don’t think of Jesus as your chauffeur; he is more like your driver’s ed coach. He’s there to teach you His rules of the road. Friend, do not fear the wheel. You have been equipped to drive—and Jesus is beside you when you steer the wrong way. Hopefully He will pull the emergency brake if necessary, and I’ve personally put in a request for roads lined with padded walls.
The windows are rolled down, the music is cranked, the tank is full, and there’s something that looks like freedom on the horizon.
Out on the open road, may you feel the reassuring love of Jesus. On this journey toward surrender, you’ll discover that, at last, it really is all under control: God’s.
Jennifer Dukes Lee is the wife of an Iowa farmer, mom to two girls, and an author. She loves queso and singing too loudly to songs with great harmony. Once upon a time, she didn’t believe in Jesus. Now, He’s her CEO. Jennifer’s newest book, It’s All Under Control, and a companion Bible study, are releasing today! This is a book for every woman who is hanging on tight and trying to get each day right―yet finding that life often feels out of control and chaotic.
Adapted from It’s All under Control: A Journey of Letting Go, Hanging On, and Finding a Peace You Almost Forgot Was Possible by Jennifer Dukes Lee, releasing this fall from Tyndale House Publishers.
I’m so excited to be a part of a huge giveaway to celebrate the release of It’s All Under Control. Jennifer and her publisher, Tyndale, are giving away 50 copies of the book in celebration of its release! Enter below to win. Giveaway ends September 30. Winners will be notified by Tyndale House Publishers. Email subscribers can click here to enter.
My wonderful friend Anna has invited me over to her space today. If you’ve stuck around here very long, you know Anna and I are tight. You also know she wrote a book, The Polygamist’s Daughter, and we went on an Epic Book Tour last year.
Suffice it to say, Anna’s no stranger around here, and I’m delighted to spend some time with her blog readers today.
A few months ago, I asked Anna to teach me her recipe for made-from-scratch refried beans. If you missed our Instastories and Facebook posts as we documented the process in real-time, here’s your chance to catch up.
Groggily, I rolled over in the hotel bed and looked at my phone. 4:00 a.m. Two missed calls, three text messages, and a voicemail from Mom. Tears welled in my eyes and a knot formed in my stomach. “No, no, no,” I whispered as my lungs constricted. I needed to call Mom back, but I already knew.
Trembling, I stumbled toward the bathroom. I grabbed a box of tissues and, fighting nausea, went back into the bedroom. “I have to wake her up. I can’t do this alone.” I thought.
Clutching phone and tissue box in one hand, I carefully pulled back the blanket of the other bed. “Anna,” I whispered as I sat down. Startled, my friend opened her eyes. “Mom called. I don’t want to call her back.” Tears pooled in her eyes. She knew, too.
She put her arm around me as I pressed the button to return Mom’s call…
How did I come to write a review of a book that has ripped open emotion after emotion, a book that landed in my hands quite by accident?
How exciting to welcome my first guest post on my blog–and it be my mom! Meet Sunshine Leister:
Sunshine Leister is a real estate agent, a coordinator for the Society of St. Andrew gleaning network, mom of four mostly-grown children and quite a few “adopted” children, Grandmama to two “adopted” granddaughters, an avid reader, and an accidental member of #the4500launches. She enjoys sharing with her friends on Facebook in a format she calls “Pondering Some Thoughts.”
If you need advice on herbs, essential oils, or want to join a local (Upstate SC) glean to feed the hungry in your community, she’s the one to call…if she can find her phone!
Two months ago, I threw her into #the4500launches Facebook group when she tried to steal away my Advanced Reader Copy of The Sound of Gravel by Ruth Wariner. Here’s what she has to say about the book.
Okay, confession time. I was not one of #the4500. So how did I come to be on this launch team (#the4500launches)? How did I come to write a review of a book that has ripped open emotion after emotion, a book that landed in my hands quite by accident?
Let’s be real. My daughter had been talking nonstop about another author, Anna LeBaron; a group of ‘rejects”called #the4500, and posting heart-rending, thought-provoking tidbits aboutThe Sound of Gravel by Ruth Wariner on Facebook. I saw them. And I read them. And I waited with anticipation for the book’s release. And then an Advanced Reader Copy of Ruth’s book came to my house for Ticcoa—taunting me to break federal law and open her mail!
I was strong…until Ticcoa opened the package and placed the book on the table. As soon as her back was turned, I found myself settling into a chair, book in hand. Soon, I was found out as Ticcoa got ready to go home: “Mom! That’s my book! How far have you read?!”
I was four chapters in.
Prying the book from my hands, she finally agreed to let me finish it after she’d read it—with the condition that I’d post a review. When I got it back (the next day—she read fast!), I cried, laughed, cheered, cursed, encouraged, smacked my head, and lived the life of Ruth Wariner. And yes, my heart leaned toward murder at times, and then catapulted to the abyss of conviction.
So many decisions, beliefs, deceptions mirrored instances in my own life, played out more subtly and unnoticed. A twist here, a darkness there, an enabling act that said “yes, it’s okay to treat me that way because I don’t want you to feel like a bad person,” a pressing down of anger because “we have to be nice girls,” or “a Christian doesn’t act like that.” Then came the realization that when it is a mother holding those beliefs, it is not only her life, emotions, and psyche that are changed and even depressed, but also that of her children.
As I read this book, layer after layer of denial was exposed and, hopefully, peeled away. I’ll be reading The Sound of Gravel again,because it is truly one that begs to be read more than once. Healing takes time and that costs very little.
For more information about Ruth and to read an excerpt from The Sound of Gravel, please visit Ruth’s website.