Today, we are privileged to introduce Jennifer Dukes Lee to you. Many of you may already be familiar with or even be a part of her #TellHisStory community and have read, been challenged, inspired and encouraged in your own faith walk by her book, Love Idol: Letting go of your need for approval – and seeing yourself through God’s eyes, as I was two years ago. As a launch team member, I can also greatly recommend her new book The Happiness Dare as a life-altering read.
An award-winning former news journalist, she is also an (in)courage writer and a blogger and speaker. Jennifer and her husband live on the Lee family farm in northwest Iowa with their two daughters, where they spend at least five minutes every day in the pursuit of happiness. Visit her online at www.JenniferDukesLee.com.
To find out more about The Happiness Dare, visit www.TheHappinessDare.com. While you’re there, be sure to take the Happiness Style Assessment. In just five minutes, you can discover what truly makes you happy. You can also find Jennifer on Twitter and Facebook.
Jennifer: Thomas is my soul brother. When I get to Heaven, I want a lunch date with that man! I struggled with years upon years of deep doubt, having such a hard time believing the truth of a resurrection. I guess you could call me a “reluctant atheist.” I wanted to believe, but I couldn’t wrap my heart around the gospel story. It felt like a fairy tale. So I remember feeling such a kinship with Thomas when I first read these words: “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe” (John 20:25).
But even more, I remember feeling such relief at the tenderness with which Jesus treated Thomas. “Peace be with you!” Jesus says. Then he turns to Thomas and said, “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.” (As told in John 20:26-27).
What a beautiful picture of grace! I have felt Jesus hold my doubts gently in His hands, while guiding me straight to the cross, where I found a deep faith in Him.
Even when I didn’t believe in Jesus, He still believed in me. And He never once gave up on me. People ask me often if I believe in miracles. I tell them, “Of course I do! I am one.”
Anna: Oh how your words here resonate. Thank you for reminding us that God sees and loves us just as we are, pursuing our hearts with such compassion.
What is one of your favorite Scriptures and why does it mean so much to you?
Jennifer: I love the whole passage at the end of Luke, when the travelers are heading back to Emmaus. They are really downtrodden after the crucifixion of Jesus, and they don’t realize yet that He has risen from the grave. Then, some guy joins them on the journey and he begins to share the Scriptures for them. The two travelers don’t realize until the man breaks bread in their home, that they have encountered the Risen Christ! That’s when they look to each other and say, “Did not our hearts burn within us while he talked to us on the road, while he opened to us the Scriptures?” (Luke 24:32).
When I first came to know Jesus, I felt that kind of heartburn. He had been walking with me a long time, and I didn’t even realize it was Him! Then, my eyes were opened, and I my heart was on fire. I call it Holy Heartburn. Even today, I pray for a chronic case of THAT kind of heartburn!
Anna: What a wonderful thing to pray for. May we all be filled with a chronic case of such heartburn!
What events, circumstances or struggles in your life have been and/or continue to be your deepest valleys?
Jennifer: Like your readers, I have walked through a number of valleys – death of loved ones, feelings of betrayal, a car accident that rattled me to the core, doubting God’s goodness, uncertainty about whether I could handle what God has called me to do in ministry. Most recently, we have struggled with a chronic illness with our youngest daughter. Life is just plain hard. Can I get a witness? I share a lot of those struggles on a regular basis on my blog, and in my newest book, The Happiness Dare, as well as my first book, Love Idol. My prayer is that God would continue to redeem the yucky parts of my story by using that pain to bring others to a place of hope.
Anna: Such a beautiful prayer, Jennifer. It must be so very hard walking alongside your daughter through chronic illness. I’m so thankful you both have God sustaining you through this hard journey.
God has answered your beautiful prayer in my own life. I will never ever forget how powerfully my eyes were opened by your first book. Until then I was living a life crippled by the fear of others’ love and approval. But since reading your book, God has been tilling my heart to turn from idol worship to worship of Him as the One True and Loving God. Your book was the God-gifted catalyst for the start of an amazingly freeing journey, something I will always be so very thankful for.
In what ways have you experienced God’s nearness in these valleys?
Jennifer: I have seen again and again how God is faithful. Sometimes, his nearness is seen best through the rear-view mirror. I love to look back on my life – even the hard parts – and see how God was intersecting my story, even when I couldn’t sense him at the time. This I know for sure: Even when I can’t see God’s hand, I can still trust His heart.
Anna: Often, people apologize to us for these deep valleys: for the loss, the grief or the hard of our journey, wishing they could take it all away. What would you like to say to people whose hearts ache reading of your valley?
Jennifer: Jesus says, “In this world you will have trouble.” But He doesn’t end his remarks there. He goes on to say, “But take heart, for I have overcome the world.” One of the most beautiful parts about being a Christian is knowing that God does not leave us alone in our valleys. That’s been my experience again and again. As for the people whose hearts ache when they reader of others’ valleys, I say, “Thank you.” God gave you a tender and beautiful heart. When you ache for others, you are living the Biblical command to “weep with those who weep.” And that is a beautiful thing.
Anna: What a powerful truth that is: that He has already overcome. And yes, He never leaves us alone, indeed, as we have seen through your beautiful testimony and our other interviewees in this series. Thank you also for acknowledging the ache of those with compassionate hearts.
In what ways have you seen God minister to others through your deep valleys?
Jennifer: Here’s one small example that has had a big impact. Years ago, when I was in a car accident, I ended up with a Y-shaped scar on my leg. Insurance offered to pay for plastic surgery, but I refused the surgery. Why? Because I wanted to keep my scar. It was proof that I’d been healed, and that God had rescued me from a harrowing situation. Furthermore, I always felt that the Y scar was God’s initial written upon my flesh. When I was in the accident, I had been listening to the song, “Yahweh” by Chris Tomlin. To me, the Y on my leg stood for Yahweh. Ever since then, I see Ys everywhere – in sidewalk cracks, branches, clouds, arms raised in praise. I see the initial of Yahweh marking our world. I’ve shared that on my blog many times, and there’s a whole community of people out there who actively look for Ys, who actively look for Yahweh’s mark on the world.
Anna: I love this story of yours. What a wonderful way to remember and remain thankful for God’s goodness.
How have you seen God build community through your deepest valleys?
Jennifer: My blog and my books were born out of personal struggles I’ve faced with identity, self-worth and happiness. God has built some really tremendous online communities as a result of those personal struggles. I’ve seen the power of sharing our stories with one another. Each week, I host a weekly linkup on my blog called #TellHisStory. And each week, dozens of bloggers and storytellers share what God is doing in their lives and in their deepest valleys. I treasure that community.
Anna: And I am thankful for this community too.
What obstacles have stood in the way of the ministry God has called you to through the har
d? And how have you responded to these obstacles?
Jennifer: I am a recovering perfectionist. So one of my biggest obstacles has been my desire to “get it right.” I have feared messing things up in front of a live audience. I’ve turned down ministry opportunities because I was afraid of disappointing someone or not being good enough. That’s the perfectionist’s curse: If we think we can’t do it perfectly, we won’t do it at all. My journey through Love Idol has “cured” me of some of that problem, but it’s a daily process of working through those issues.
Anna: Oh how I empathize with this struggle. I’m so thankful we have a kind and patient Father who keeps pursuing our hearts with His Truth.
What has worked against community from forming or being built up through the hard? How have you and others responded to these obstacles?
Jennifer: One of the biggest obstacles in any community is the fear that “I’m the only one.” I always encourage people to be vulnerable, and to share from their heart, because there’s a 100 percent guarantee that someone else struggles with the same thing you struggle with. It’s like what C.S. Lewis said about friendship: “Oh you too? I thought I was the only one.” When we share in community, we let others know that they are not the only one.
Anna: I so love that C.S. Lewis quote. So true that vulnerability in sharing helps build community.
What one piece of advice or kernel of wisdom would you like to leave with our readers from your journey through your hard thus far?
Jennifer: One of the most important lessons I learned while writing my latest book, The Happiness Dare, was to daily choose happiness – even on the hard days. I have learned that happiness is more than a feeling; it’s also a decision. That doesn’t mean we don’t grieve or cry or have seasons of sadness. But it does mean that I take time every day to ponder on the great and enduring faithfulness of God. It means that I daily give thanks for what He has given me – a sinner who once denied that He even existed. It means that I live in “the now,” rather than mulling over the past or obsessing over the future. It means that I trust in this gracious and loving God.
His grace has brought me safe thus far, and his grace will lead me home.