What is Wholeness?

Before we begin delving into the four big questions, I think it’s a good idea to consider what I mean by the word “wholeness.” It may be a new word when we think about discipleship. What does wholeness look like? How do we experience wholeness?

Wholeness comes from the word “whole.” By identifying a single unit, as in “he ate the whole thing," means the all of something. It means undamaged or unbroken, as in a broken vase is no longer whole; it is broken in several pieces.  

To experience wholeness is to no longer be broken.

It's to be healthy and whole in every aspect of life. 

God made us whole beings. 

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He gave us emotions. Though perceived through animation, the movie Inside Out characterizes the reality of our emotions. The control center of our brain transmits certain emotions as we relate in life, and to life. Joy, Fear, Anger, Disgust, and Sadness all play a part in expressing our feelings. We wouldn’t be human without them.

He gave us an intellect. We have the capacity to reason, to gain knowledge and understanding through study and life experience.

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 He gave us a physical body - both inner (what you don’t see) and outer (what you do see) that functions with such a dependency on every part in order for us to live, breath, and move.

 He gave us a spirit, ultimately desiring that we would connect with him - spirit to Spirit. The enemy stole the spiritual connection that Adam and Eve had with God in the Garden of Eden when sin entered into the heart of man. That decision was affected by the pull of emotions, the reason of intellect, and the motivation of physical desires. We can be like God. Why can't we eat from that tree? That fruit sure does look good! Did God really say...  They chose sin over connection with God. That choice impacted all mankind thereafter. It is only through Jesus that we can become spiritually alive, connecting with the One who created us and desires us whole. 

And the Lord--who is the Spirit--makes us more and more like him as we are changed into his glorious image. –1 John 4:13

 

It's a life-time journey, but one that God empowers and enables so that we might be more like him. Wholeness in Christ will impact your attitude, your behavior, your thoughts, your relationships, your desires, and your heart. 

My next blog post will focus on the first Big Question: Where is God leading me to change? 

 

The Heart Cry of Discipleship

What if grace was God responding to us because he sees us whole and wants us to experience that wholeness? 

My friend posed this question to me in the middle of a conversation while we were considering what it was to have Christ formed in us. 

Oh, my dear children! I feel as if I'm going through labor pains for you again, and they will continue until Christ is fully developed in your lives. The apostle Paul wrote these words to the believers in Galatia. (Galatians 4:19) This is the heart cry of discipleship. 

 Oh, the joy of new babes! But they don't stay babies, they grow and develop, just like new believers in Christ. 

Oh, the joy of new babes! But they don't stay babies, they grow and develop, just like new believers in Christ. 

Christ formed in me is to have Christ formed in ALL of me. 

When Jesus took his last breath, the temple curtain tore in two, opening up a whole new way to God. It was God's way of demonstrating that a high priest was no longer necessary to go behind the temple curtain to intervene on our behalf for the forgiveness of sins. Jesus did that for us on the cross. It wasn't about religious rules and regulations anymore. It was about a relationship with the resurrected Jesus, given once and for all, for all mankind, for all time. 

Jesus died so we could be whole. 

We are not only spiritual beings, but emotional, physical, and intellectual beings. Discipleship includes all of this. Christ formed in us means that it effects every aspect of life. Attitude. Will. Desires. Longings. Goals. Plans. Decisions. Past. Present. Future. 

Over the next four blog posts we will be taking a look at what I call the four big questions to experiencing wholeness. 

Join me as we explore the four essential elements of discipleship. The spiritual practices are one of those elements, but discipleship is so much more. 

Defining You!

Not everybody gets into assessments and test when it comes to self-discovery. I, on the other hand, find it intriguing.

I remember discovering my unique personality in my 20’s. It was in the day of books like Personality Plus by Florence Littauer and Transformed Temperaments by Tim LaHaye. Using animal names was one way to describe your personality: Lion, Beaver, Golden Retriever, or Otter. I’m half beaver and half golden retriever. My husband calls me a Beaver Triever. I'm loyal and enjoy relationship, but there are times when I’m on a mission when in beaver mode. Let me finish my work and then I’ll have time to sit and have coffee with you. Most of the time, though, I’m a Triever, and a golden one, at that.

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Then, there are the colors: blue like the ocean, green like the grass, yellow like the sunshine, and red like . . . well, I can’t remember! It might be fire. One day, years ago, when I was a young mom, I sat my four kids down around the kitchen table and shared which color depicted their personality and why. After a few minutes of explanation, our oldest, 12 years at the time, with a red personality said, “Mom, are we done yet?” In other words, keep it short and sweet mom, I have other things to do. Our youngest daughter, five years old, with her pondering eyes, in blue mode said, “Mom, I love you.” The kid’s personality colors were coming out in the moment. It was amazing to see their response according to their color coordinate. The oldest daughter was asking questions (green), and the middle daughter was proclaiming how fun it was (yellow).

It was in my 40’s when the book, Now, Discover Your Strengths, came out with an accompanying StrengthFinders online assessment. I don’t know if it was my age or what, but the conclusions to my assessment were so defining for my life. Maybe I had lived life long enough or been set free from condemning thoughts that I was able to embrace who I was. I listed out my top five strengths with short descriptions and tacked it to my bookshelf where it became a everyday reminder. I found that my strengths overlapped with my spiritual gifts of faith, discernment, and teaching. This assessment has been one of the most defining elements of my life. If you’re curious to know, you can find my top five strengths with short descriptions here at a now retired blog.

The enneagram is fast becoming a popular self-discovery resource, at least in my part of the world. Though Richard Rohr and Andreas Ebert wrote a book on the Christian perspective of the Enneagram in 2001, The Road Back to You is the one I’m hearing about lately. I have yet to read it.

I created a Life Rhythm assessment in hopes that it will be a factor in discovering your unique rhythm. Just to be clear, Life Rhythms may overlap with your personality, but it does not peg personality characteristics as much as it demonstrates your way of doing life. As a seasonal/yearly person, I am prone to changing things up according to seasons whether I’m a beaver/triever or not. The three categories of Life Rhythms is a fairly new concept, one that may need some additional research for how it might relate to personality.

Determining your life rhythm as described by the chapters in the book is possible, but perhaps an assessment will narrow it down even more. I don’t know about you, but when I see it on paper, it makes it more official. You’ll find the assessment on the menu under “book,” a free download for yourself or as a resource in counseling/coaching others.

Let me know how it works for you. Did the assessment turn out how you thought it might or was it completely different than you might have guessed? Any questions?

Self-discovery and self-awareness is a wonderful thing. It’s not about being selfish, but having a curiosity as to how God made you and knowing that you are wonderfully made for the good works that he prepared in advance for you to do. Discovering your life rhythm will help you relate to how you go about doing those good works. 

You're Too Forgiving

The summons came in the mail last fall. Jury duty. I wasn't thrilled. 

Almost 40 years ago I received my first and only other summons, but I was expecting our first child and it was too close to the due date, so I was released from my obligation. 

This time, I couldn't make the dates assigned to me again, not because of a due date:), but because I was going to be out of the country. So I requested another week when I knew I was going to be in town. That week came after the new year.

The first morning of jury duty, I drove to a city parking garage, parked the car, and walked on snowy sidewalks in frigid temperatures to the County Building several blocks away. I came in step with a middle-aged lady gingerly tracking through the snow. 

Jury duty? she asked. It must have been obvious.

Yes. I'm not really sure what to expect. First time. 

During our conversation I discovered she has been working for the county for over two decades. She was gracious to give me a mental map of getting myself to the right place in the building, and to assure me there was nothing to be nervous about. 

We entered the building together, but soon angled in different directions, her going to the employee entrance, me standing in line for security. After going through the security screening (where I lost my small nail clippers with a file that's an inch long), I headed to the elevator to make my way to the large assembly hall where all potential jurors were to show up by 8am. A feat for this non-morning person. 

About 70 people showed up awaiting instructions, half the number summoned, we were told by a kind and understanding lady introducing us to the jury process. Apologizing that we had to come out on a bitter-cold day, for the difficult downtown parking, and the cold room in which we sat (nobody took off their coats), she explained what to expect for the day. 

We watched a 15-minute video on the process of choosing jurors, then filled out a two-sided form asking various questions that would give the prosecutor and defendant's lawyer some background information on each of us. Then we waited.

Just over two hours later, 14 names were called to come forward. My name wasn't one of them. Phew! The 14 were instructed to line up to follow the bailiff to the courtroom, and the rest of us were ask to follow suit behind them. 

I had never been in a courtroom. Everything was in CSI order. The potential jurors took their seats in the juror box. Those of us not chosen took our seats in the spectator area behind the main gallery. I had never been this close to our judicial system, and I found it to be an interesting and fascinating experience. The judge, a man who looked to be in his 40's, raised the gavel, giving it a firm pound on the desk to start the proceedings. He was cordial, and I pictured him having a family that he goes home to after a day's trial for a new reality in his own world. He began by expressing his appreciation to all those who responded to jury duty. In fact, everyone in the courtroom stood when we entered the room. It was an honored role. 

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He continued to address the potential jurors, refreshing our high school memories on the constitution and the privilege that was ours to be a part of a country where fellow citizens and peers participated in the administration of justice. I had not considered this so deeply before, but sitting in the courtroom that day, watching the process of jury selection take place, I felt patriotism rise up within me. Yes, there are places in the world where there is no trial or a dictator lashes out the verdict with vengeance. I thought the defendant tuned into every word the judge said must have been thankful, too, even in spite of his circumstances. 

Then, it was time to start proceedings. The judge gave the prosecutor permission to question the potential jurors for 20 minutes. Questions were aimed at individuals or the group as a whole–questions that would weed out those who couldn't be impartial in this criminal case, those who had conflicts of interest or a background that would not lend itself to the case. As random as the first step of summoning a potential juror (the mailing notice), the process thereafter is very deliberate. The lawyer of the defendant asked her own questions for 20 minutes. Once the questioning was done, both approached the judge with their choice of jurors. 

They returned to their seats and the judge stood to announce those released from jury duty. Four exited the room. The remaining individuals were informed they are now jurors for the case, and were asked to step out to a room reserved for jurors where they would wait for further instructions. 

The judge rose calling 12 more potential jurors to come forward from the spectator seating. Gwen Marie Jackson. I let out a quiet sigh, made eye contact with a lady I had gotten to know while waiting in the large assembly hall, made my way to the juror's box, and took my seat. Once again, the prosecutor rose to question. This time he had 12 minutes.

About three questions in, he looked at me. Mrs. Jackson, you are an ordained minister.

Yes, that's correct, I replied confidently (and proudly).  

He looked me straight in the eye from where he stood. We tend to shy away from ministers. Raising his right index finger to his chin, with a tilt of his head, he asked, Why do you think that is?

My mind was filing through all the reasons that might be the case. A bit hesitant, I began to answer, We believe in right and wrong. We have values and principles we live... 

Abruptly, he interrupted my thoughts, Because you're too forgiving! His tone of voice was strong and felt almost accusing, though I accepted it as a compliment.  

Yes, that too, I said with a half-hearted giggle, triggered by both his answer and my nervousness now that all eyes were on me. 

Mrs. Jackson, how do you feel about making a judgment call on an individual?

Thinking through my answer while starting to respond, so as not to hold up the questioning, I began my brief response. He wasn’t looking for long explanations. God is the sole judge of a man’s heart. As a juror I would judge evidence and facts in this case to determine the outcome, along with my fellow jurors. Though I believe in redemption, there are consequences to a person’s actions and behavior.

You’re changing my perspective, the prosecutor responded with a slight smile. Then he moved on for further questioning of individuals.

The lawyer of the defendant took her 12 minutes for questioning, and then the judge was approached with their choices.

The judge stood and called out eight names to be released from jury duty.

Gwen Marie Jackson.

I exited the courtroom thankful for an experience that exposed me to the judicial system in a way that I had never encountered before. But, most of all, I was thankful to be called out as one who is too forgiving

Would people say Jesus was "too forgiving" to the criminal hanging next to him on the cross, certainly serving justice for his actions? I doubt that Jesus would have made jury duty. either. For all the words Christians are accused of, "too forgiving" is one that I will take. 

In this crazy and broken world, we need more people who are too forgiving.

 

When in a Seasonal Slump, Declare a Rallying Cry

October, November, and December were full months for me. Not so much because of the holidays, but for all the other things that were going on in my life. 

Here's what made up that season:

  • this website was launched (big learning curve)
  • preorders began for Unforced Rhythms
  • spoke at a women's retreat
  • podcast interviews (another big learning curve)
  • book released November 1
  • preorders shipped out, followed by more orders (and another big learning curve)
  • spoke at a conference
  • book signing at a local coffee shop
  • Nov trip to Egypt, Azerbaijan, and Hungary
  • celebrated a very important birthday
  • family Christmas (for kids/grands nearby) during 5-day turnaround
  • packages to CA kids/grands before we left on next trip
  • Dec trip to South Africa, Singapore, and New Zealand
  • NZ Christmas with more kids and grands
  • plus "just life" in between - the usual stuff like laundry, finances, household chores, and catching up with local kids/grands, and the not-so-usual stuff, like dealing with an insurance company for a totaled car (I was rear-ended in Oct and just now bringing closure to that)

I returned from NZ ready to go into hibernation, especially with the bitter-cold temperatures we were/are having in the mid-west. BUT, life doesn't allow for a dormant state. For one thing, I have a half-marathon to get ready for come May.

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Three years ago...

In May I'll be running with three out of four of my grown children. They're all hoping for a PR. I just told them to cheer me on as I cross the finish line. 

Let's do this!!

After a highly productive season, a seasonal slump can often follow. So, I'm declaring a rallying cry for February, March, and April, to change things up, to motivate. 

A rallying cry is just the sort of thing seasonal/yearly people would love. It has a start and a finish. I always think of the phrase "rally the troops" when it comes to a rallying cry, but instead of rounding up troops or forces to fight a battle, it's about focusing on a theme that inspires, revives, and motivates one to action. It could be a house project you've been wanting to get to, or a personal goal towards better health, or a focused study. 

If you've read Patrick Lencioni's book, The Three Big Questions for a Frantic Family, you'll know what I mean by a rallying cry. I posted about this book back in 2009 on a blog I had at the time. Lencioni suggests a 2–6 month rallying cry. I usually make mine three or four.  You'll find posts on each of the three big questions here, here, and here. Dennis and I are empty-nesters, so I can't say we have a frantic family, but we do manage a considerable amount of travel. That calls for a way of life that is made up of packing, unpacking, time differences, weather differences, night flights, crowded jets, long flights, lots of people connections, jet lag, regrouping once home, catching up on life, and recovering from the toll of travel. 

So, today I joined the YMCA. I needed motivation, plus the cold temps and snow make running hazardous. My theme is staying healthy, which means only rewarding myself once a week with a pastry (maybe twice), and cross-training for the half. This all begins in February, so still enjoying a more than once-a-week apple fritter or sticky bun or persian pecan from a local bakery. I know, it's my downfall! I can walk through a candy store, no problem, but a donut shop. . . 

This morning it felt so good to put on my running clothes. I ran consistently in 2017, but took a 3-month break because of the above list (and my seasonal mode). I went as my daughter's guest (who joined the Y two days ago), but left as a member. I can't tell you how good it felt to run on the indoor track. And then, the weight machines to work on my upper body strength. The Y was just the motivation I needed.

 My cheering team 

My cheering team 

I'm also planning a 5-day getaway where the sun always shines for writing inspiration and spiritual renewal. A long retreat of sorts that will energize and refresh this seasonal person. 

It will be a different season than the past three months, but that's the way us seasonal people roll. We need to change things up to keep motivated and inspired. Forget a new year's resolution. Here's to a new season!

If you're rhythm is seasonal/yearly, what's your current season look like? 

Beyond Ourselves

Perhaps a painting that isn't about Christmas is more about Christmas than we realize. Rembrandt's painting, Return of the Prodigal, shows the attitude of both sons, but more importantly, the heart of the father. 

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Like the prodigal, left to ourselves, we spiral quickly. 

Left to ourselves, we are a people of hatred, envy, greed, lust, and power.

Left to ourselves, we control, manipulate, slander, abuse, and judge.

Left to ourselves, we create a world of war, racism, slavery, injustice, and oppression. 

Left to ourselves.

God knew the truth about us. He knew that we would not be happy without the freedom to make our own choices. Choices that would bring consequences. Choices that carried shame, sorrow, and pain. He knew that sin–missing the mark of what His Kingdom looks like–would bring destruction. But to do otherwise would not be love, even knowing a freewill meant his own rejection.

This love that gave mankind a freewill, a love that refused to control, provides the means by which we can be rescued from ourselves. Being the omniscient God that he is, he had a plan. It was a plan from the beginning of time, because he knew what would happen. Left to ourselves. 

In his book, The Return of the Prodigal Son, Henry Nouwen reflecting on Rembrandt's painting, writes a challenging portrayal of this story from Luke 15. The rebellious son chose to leave home and family with his early inheritance, carelessly spending it until there was nothing left. Left to himself, he ended up tending to pigs, sharing the same food he fed them. Only then did he recognize the destruction of his choices and turned his heart toward home. 

Nouwen challenges us to take a closer look at the elder son who stayed home. Truth be told, a judgmental and disgruntled attitude may describe more of us than outright rebellion (much like the Pharisees of Jesus' time and to whom he is telling the story). 

Yet, there is an element to this story that we often miss. The character of the father. This, Nouwen insists, is the crux of the story. He vividly portrays the heart of the father, who waits patiently in hope, graciously extends forgiveness, and generously bestows honor. 

What a different world it would be if we became more like the father – traits that move us beyond ourselves. 

Beyond ourselves. 

Beyond ourselves, we are a people of love, trust, generosity, kindness, and goodwill. 

Beyond ourselves, we are gracious, empathetic, compassionate, trustworthy, and respectful. 

Beyond ourselves, we create a world that is peace-loving, just, benevolent, impartial, and good-hearted.

This is why we celebrate Christmas. Jesus came to rescue us. From ourselves. From sin. From the enemy of our souls. Jesus came to set us free! 

The compelling factor that enables us to live beyond ourselves is a love founded in God through the gift of his Son, Jesus. 

A gift who gave himself "for everyone so that those who receive his new life will no longer live for themselves. Instead, they will live for Christ, who died and was raised for them. - 2 Corinthians 5:15

Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift!

My Greatest Joy

In the short time Unforced Rhythms has been released, I am encouraged by the responses from those who have read it. The highest compliment is to know that those who read the book sense my heart to relate and understand. My greatest joy is to know that others are finding freedom in God's grace.  And, the ultimate fruitfulness is to know Jesus is making himself more at home in people's hearts. 

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Here's a taste of what people are saying: 

While the idea of questioning daily devotions seemed outlandish to me, I also have struggled for my 32 years of faith to follow a daily devotional schedule. As an artist, a writer, and a creative individual, I believe that I might trend toward a more seasonal, yearly rotation, as Jackson highlights in her book. I will spend hours, days, and even weeks in a state of prayer, scripture study, or worship, and come out renewed, strengthened and restored. – M.M.

The spirit of your book so clearly reflects who you are. It may be of no surprise to you that I am a daily person, however, I love what I am reading and agree with you so much about how we often make burdensome rules for one another to carry while defining it as spiritual maturity. Thanks for taking the time to write your book and for your deep loving care for so many. – L.W. 

Great truths - practical and your vulnerability sets people free to do the same. It has much to contribute to the spiritual formation landscape! – J.L.

I am just getting into reading your book. So far, I don’t want to put it down! I, too, wrestle with the guilt of having daily quiet times. I’m excited to see how the Lord uses your words in my life. – T.R. 

Finally, someone has spoken out loud what I have been thinking/struggling with for years; I don’t do “devotions” everyday and have spent much of my life feeling like I don’t measure up. As a pastor that is an obvious wrestling match. It’s not that my relationship with Christ isn’t daily, it just doesn’t always consist of reading my Bible and spending an hour in prayer everyday. – D.B.

I would imagine any author appreciates feedback on a book they have written. I am grateful beyond measure for those who have written to express the impact of the book on their life!

My prayer for those who find freedom in the pages of Unforced Rhythms comes from Galatians 5:1 – So Christ has truly set us free. Now make sure that you stay free, and don't get tied up again in slavery to the law.