Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Candles and Cast Iron

My kitchen is full of objects that tell the story from whence I came.

A black cast iron skillet that stays on the stove top once held permanent residence in the kitchen of my grandmother. Southern comfort food was served from that skillet for years on the farm my father was raised.

 I run hot water, squirt dish soap, and wipe a rag over white dishes rimmed in blue flowers; it is a ritual that the hands of my mother's mother performed who knows how many times on these same thin plates.

*****************************

I sometimes wonder about how I see scripture. Literally - how I see it - how certain words pop off the pages I've read countless times and how some of them seem to blur into the black text on the thin white pages, unremarkable.

My field of vision is illuminated by candlelight.  Small flickering flames only lighting part of the page.

One candle for each life experience. One candle that is that memory verse I learned as a child about Jesus being the light of the world.  There is also the candle I earned when life taught me about regret and betrayal and remorse.  That light flickers over words that tell of smoldering wicks that will not be quenched.  Another candle, one that smells of hyssop, joins the crowd. And then there is the group of three, powerful in their communal strength, one candle for each time I prayed for that thorn to be removed and they shine light on the words about pain and anguish. One more standing stronger still near them -this one all about lighting up grace.


*******************************

I didn't know my grandmothers well.

One was 15 hours away. The other six. The one further away made the journey to visit us about once a year. We returned the favor about the same, with waning frequency the older my brothers and I got. The closer one was afforded a few more visits. I have a few more memories of farm life and her mannerisms than I do the other. But, I didn't know my grandmothers.

Yet, it is important to me, significant, to use their kitchen ware. It is important to me to feel connected to this part of my past in some tangible way. To remember the lives of women who each had their victories and struggles. Somehow it reminds me that I am not an independent being sprung from nothingness. My immediate family did not poof into existence. There is history and blood and legacy - for good and bad. My life is enriched in the remembrance of such.

********************************

The most beautiful thing is: I'm not the only one with candles. I did not spring into faith from nothingness. There are countless women and men who have held their bundle of candles through the centuries. From pillars of fire in the dessert to the flames that consumed the bodies of saints of old, the legacy of this faith has passed from generation to generation. It has been refined and explained. Abused and muddled. It is a long legacy and all of these people have left their lights, shining on the pages of scripture, shining on my life. They are a chandelier: thousands upon thousands of flames, a great cloud of lights above me.

And if I take the time to look, I will see them teach me, "Here is how we light the candle - how we've done it for centuries."


My cluster of candles do provide more light than only a single one, but it's nothing compared to the disorienting, but ultimately brilliant glow of the gathered candles of all the saints. 






Sunday, December 2, 2012

magazine covers

I'm checking out at the grocery store this morning and glance at the magazines. I see all the standard covers, and then smile a bit when I see Melissa McCarthy on the cover of one. Hearts and flowers and love for Body Diversity acceptance!  I was all prepared to deconstruct why "why she's so confident" is a cover story in our culture - but was mostly happy about it. Then I glanced at the rest of the cover features and the hearts and flowers went "poof!" to be replaced by that little red face with steam coming out of its ears.  


I thought, "Surely there are various people who have to approve these things? Did none of them catch the awful irony?  Or maybe they did and didn't care..because body acceptance is just a nice feel-good story, not something that sells advertising dollars.  I don't know which scenario makes me sadder."

Friday, November 30, 2012

What I'm Into (November)

A number of blogs I read do this, and I thought it would be fun for this month. No promises on it's prolonged presence.

Books: 

For School:  I read a LOT for school - but one I'm really enjoying is Womanist Ethics and the Cultural Production of Evil by Emilie Townes.  Here's a random passage I underlined:


All that we really achieve with many postmodern categories is the production of constructs such as "center" and "periphery" that reveal our vexing fixation on making a complex world simplistic and on the messiness of diversity neat and pristine when it is really a mash pit of realities. Hence, we remain the same people who want to do justice but demand safety; who want to be prophetic but fret over status and postion; who search for truth but grasp at nettling shadows. (31)
Not for School:  In the Kingdom of Men by Kim Barnes (novel).  Set in the 1960s and following the story of an American woman who moves to the Middle East with her husband to work for an oil company. Very interesting! 

TV: Parenhood has totally made me tear up a few times this season. 

Food:  I've been trying to incorporate less animal / animal-product into my diet. (But I'm pretty sure I'll settle into flexitarian rather than a vegatarian/vegan)

Here's a couple of vegan (or almost vegan) recipes that I've made and loved during this past month. 



In the name of using stuff I already had: I used butternut squash, the green lentils rather than black, and regular raisins rather than golden, and it was still good. I microwaved one half the next day and it reheated quite well!  There is mayo in the dressing - but if you swap that out/omit, you've got a yummy vegan main course!




Completely Vegan. This was SO GOOD.  I roasted on a silicone baking mat rather than on parchment paper. Browned/caramelized splendidly!


On my Blog:

Starting my orphan-advocacy! Meet Martin

And, something I'm really enjoying for a variety of reasons: Short Stories

Excited for December: 

Finishing my first semester of grad school! Time off from grad school and my job to visit family and friends in the home-town.  




Linking Up!
What I'm Into at HopefulLeigh

Monday, November 12, 2012

Beauty Visible (a short story)



I'm very much enjoying crafting these little bits. I hope you enjoy them too.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Oh, Victory

Tonight I had the chance to participate in an election day communion.  Of the people I knew in the room I counted at least seven different Christian denominations.

A prayer opened in a language that was not mine - I could pick out a few words here and there - and I reminded myself of what it meant to be one in spirit.

There was liturgy - a concept I love but still mostly unknown for me. I called back the prescribed words with the rest of the congregation. Loving the one voice.

There was the bread. And the cup. And the murmured "his body, broken for you" spoken from a woman in robes as I tore of a chunk and dunked it into a goblet and heard, "his blood, shed for you." And all of those various people from various traditions did the same.  One body, one blood. One Body.

And we closed with a familiar song to me. For it was the song that we closed almost every service with in the church in which I grew up. I sang loud - Oh, Victory in Jesus! My Savior forever and lifted my hands. As a child the whole sanctuary would grab hands on "oh!" and by "Victory" there was a chain of arms lifted high into the air - creating together a sea of "Vs" with our arms.

Tonight and every night, there is indeed Victory in Jesus - our Savior forever.


That time I ran a presidential campaign

in 1996 Bob Dole ran against Bill Clinton for the presidential election and I was a young 8th grade student whose social studies teacher was organizing a school-wide mock election. Our class was split into campaign committees to run the show for Clinton, Dole, and a few of the third party candidates. 

The first thing I remember from this experience is that I learned how to spell "committee" after I had to go around the entire school adding the extra m and t to all of our campaign signs. 

But aside from spelling education, as I reflect back on that time of my life something else stands out to me:

When I told my parents about my school project and whose campaign I was responsible for, I remember a somewhat shocked look on their face but not much else. The thing that stands out to me looking back is how I had no clue about my parents political affiliations before that point. I had waited with them in line at polling stations and seen them pour over sample ballots. I had heard them talk about issues and what they liked and didn't like, but whatever they said was not enough to make me know if they were Republican or Democrat or who they were voting for.

I lived in a suburban area in Georgia. Dole took the popular vote in the actual election by about 30K votes and GA was a solid red. 

I remember that there was a clamor in the classroom to be the group who got Dole, that I didn't understand why at the time.  In the end, my group had Bill Clinton. We dove into endorsing our candidate with gusto. We researched his platform and campaigned hard. 

I have no idea who won our little mock election. I want to say Clinton, but that could very well be my selective memory. 

What is most striking to me in this hindsight is the freedom I felt as a teenager to evaluate a candidate and endorse him without worries about warring against family or cultural political sides. As I've seen numerous elections since then and watched the ever-present mud-slinging and what seems to be increasing polarization  I find myself grateful for the memory of that innocent engagement in politics and for parents who didn't root a political affiliation into my psyche. 

In a few hours I'll be participating in an election day communion. I'm excited about it and the chance for Christians to remember where our unity is found and to recognize that one is not saved by political parties. 

Blessings to you today: 

Let nothing disturb you,
Let nothing frighten you,
All things pass away:
God never changes.
Patience obtains all things.
He who has God
Finds he lacks nothing;
God alone suffices.

-St. Teresa of Avila






Friday, October 26, 2012

Zipporah comes to save the day!

from the movie Prince of Egypt
Zipporah got her "knight in shining armor" moment with Moses. He was fleeing from Egypt and sees some men pestering girls at a well and Moses chases them away. As a reward, Jethro gives Moses his daughter Zipporah in marriage. (Ok, so being given away may is not so fairy-tale-ish. We don't get told what Zipporah thought of this marriage.) They stay in Midian for a while. All was the expected story until I got to chapter four, verse 24. Then I had a major "wait. WHAT?" moment.

Moses and Zipporah and their children are leaving Midian heading back to Egypt. Post burning-bush, pre-plagues. Along the way, this happens:

24 At a lodging place on the way the Lord met him and sought to put him to death. 25 Then Zipporah took a flint and cut off her son's foreskin and touched Moses'[c] feet with it and said, “Surely you are a bridegroom of blood to me!”26 So he let him alone. It was then that she said, “A bridegroom of blood,” because of the circumcision. (ESV)

Well, there's a story that didn't get flannelgraph characters. (Thought it did get a lego Bible scene.) That's the entirety of the story in the scripture. Then Moses and Aaron meet up and head to Pharoah. We know from chapter 18 that Zipporah and her sons travel back to Midian at some point as Moses and his wife and children (and father-in-law) are reunited in 18:2 in the wilderness.


Benefit of being in seminary: I have access to countless theological journals.  While reading through some of articles on this passage I had two primary thoughts initially:

1) I totally recognize these terms and scholar names from my Pentateuch class!
2) Apparently, I'm not the only one completely confused by this passage.


Here are a few interesting things I read:

from "Zipporah to the Rescue" by Bernard P Robinson   (VĂȘtus Testamentum, 4, 1986)

One of the earliest interpretations, from before 200 B.C.E. has the figure fighting with Moses to be the angel of death - - that same (type of) angel that comes during the Passover in Egypt that kills the firstborn. In Egypt is the blood of the lamb that saves the first born. Here, it is the blood of the firstborn that saves Moses. This article also points out that Jewish tradition often relates the blood of circumcision to the blood of the Lamb. (page 453, paraphrase)


from "The Circumcision Performed by Zipporah" by Fred Blumenthal (Jewish Bible Quarterly 35, 2007)

Blumenthal highlight the symbolism of this act. Moses: born an Israelite but raised an Egyptian. Then he fled to Midian where he lived for many years as a Midianite. Blumenthal suggest that perhaps this journey that Moses thinks he's going on is a "goodwill," justice mission. Perhaps he plans to return to the land of his wife's people after setting his people free.

 Zipporah, his wife, who stands as the symbol for his link to Midian, is the one who can and does terminate whatever lingering connection Moses may still harbor. The allegoric story of the circumcision, carried out by her, terminates her and her sons' symbolic status as a connecting link to Midian. When she performs the only ritual which at that time connects the descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob to their God she expunges whatever loyalty to his immediate past Moses may still have carried. (356-257)

and:

The transformation of Zipporah from a symbol of Midianite religion to a companion on their way ahead is the essence of the story told in these three short sentences. Moses becomes her "bridegroom," her newly-acquired husband, because they both were culturally new persons. The expression hatan damim [bridegroom of blood] refers to the blood of circumcision which erases any preceding affiliation and allegorically seals the appointment of Moses to the leadership of his people(259)


Scholars seem to argue over who was in danger of death in this passage (Moses, the son, someone else?)   Who was touched with the blood (Moses, the Lord/the angel) and where exactly the blood and the foreskin was placed on whoever was touched (feet, leg, genitals).


I love the symbolism reading from Blumenthal - but I just love symbolism. A number of scholars agree that much of the story was probably lost to time - or perhaps it was a story that the original people would've been able to make more sense of.


At the end of the day, confusing pronouns and strange, abbreviated, stories aside: here's what we know:


Zipporah, the daughter of a Pagan priest, performed the action of a covenant that satisfied the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. 


Since I have started this series, I have been floored by the monumental things women of the Bible have done that are largely unknown to the Christian population.

Moses in particular owes his life to numerous women: Shiphrah and Puah,  his mother, Miriam, the daughter of Pharoah. And, here, his wife Zipporah.

Women are there in this ancient text. They are influential and smart. Selfish and wise. They are sinful and righteous. They encompass the same breadth of character and devotion as their male counterparts and their stories are largely unknown. Some of their names populate the ancestors of Christ - a mosaic of peoples and skin tones and languages.

Yes, Israel is the chosen people of God - but from the very beginning - He has grafted in and used an entire world to save and bless his people, all the peoples of the earth. If Zipporah had not rushed to perform the circumcision - what would have happened to Moses? What would have happened to the Israelites?





This is part of an ongoing series on Women and Female Imagery in the Bible. Click the "FeminineFridays" tag for more!













Friday, October 19, 2012

Abigail


Today I am honored to have my talented friend Cynthia writing for me. Cynthia blogs at The Hippie Housewife about faith, parenting, and intentional living.  She writes beautifully and full of grace and easily ranks on my list of "favorite people ever."  I hope you'll enjoy what she shares here today!



My name is Abigail, and I fear for my life.

My husband, stubborn and foolish man that he is, has insulted David and his men. These men have shown us nothing but kindness and protection, and yet he refused to give them even the barest of provisions in return! Now there are four hundred men coming this way to kill us. If not for the warning of one of our servants, I would have known nothing of this until the men were already upon us.

But, praise be to the LORD, the young man did tell me, and now it us upon me to save our home and our lives.

* * *

Two hundred loaves. Two skins of wine. Five prepared sheep. Five seahs of parched grain. One hundred clusters of raisins. Two hundred cakes of figs. All of this I have had laid on donkeys, and now I follow the donkeys down the mountain to meet this man who is coming to seek his revenge.

* * *

I can see him now. Leaving my donkey, I run to him and fall at his feet. I plead with him to hear my words as I ask him to disregard my husband's foolishness - foolish by name, foolish by nature! - and accept instead the gifts I have brought. I remind him that is the LORD who takes away life and the LORD who saves, hoping against all hope that he will restrain himself from vengeful bloodshed. May his enemies be to him as my foolish husband! For he is fighting the battles of the LORD, and his life shall be bundled in the care of the LORD. I ask that when the LORD has fulfilled His promise and appointed this man to be ruler over Israel, he will remember me and the way I protected his conscience from the guilt of having taken the LORD's work into his own hands.

I fall silent and await his answer.

"Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel, who sent you this day to meet me!"

I let out the breath I didn't realize I was holding. He continues.

"Blessed be your discretion, and blessed be you, who have kept me this day from bloodguilt and from working salvation with my own hand! For as surely as the LORD lives, not one male would have been left alive had you not hurried to come and meet me. I accept your gift. Now go in peace to your house. I have heard your request and I will obey it."



Retold from 1 Samuel 25

_____________________

Courage and intelligence. Discernment and initiative. Humility and wisdom. These were the qualities that saved Abigail, Nabal, and their household from death at the hand of David and his men.

With discernment, she did what needed to be done.

In wisdom, she concealed her plan from Nabal.

In courage, she traveled to meet David.

With humble grace and tact, she appealed to him to stay his hand.

In faith, she took his mercy for granted and asked that he remember her when he became ruler over Israel.

All of this Abigail did despite a difficult life married to a drunken fool who was known for being stubborn and harsh. Rather than allow her circumstances to get the best of her, she remained wise, humble, and faithful to God. She was honest about her lot in life, acknowledging her husband's foolishness before David, but she did not allow it to destroy her nature by becoming bitter and vengeful. She lived with integrity in the situation she had been placed in.

In the end, her wisdom and courage won the heart of David, who took her as his wife after Nabal's death.

Had she become an angry and bitter person, she would have been ineffectual and unable to follow God's leading. Had she become vengeful, she would have allowed David to carry through with his intentions instead of saving him from the guilt his actions would have brought upon him. Had she used her station in life as an excuse for inaction, not one man in her household would have been left alive.

But instead Abigail remained near to God, open to His leading and ready to do His work. Crediting Him for having sent her to stay David's vengeful hand, Abigail brought glory to God through her decisive action.

Abigail's life was marked by wisdom and usefulness. May it be so with us as well.




This is part of an ongoing series of posts on women and female imagery in the Bible. Click the "FeminineFridays" tab for more!

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Just Writing: Coffee Creamer

There is cream and milk, pure maple syrup and vanilla waiting in the kitchen. It'll soon be simmered together and stored in a glass jar in the fridge and I'll have homemade coffee creamer that I like to think is better for me than the store bought stuff. I'm not so sure it's a win for the body, but it's a win for the mind.

There's something about pouring that homemade concoction of four simple ingredients into my mug and watching the dark black turn soft brown that settles me each morning. The creamer takes a few moments of intentional time to make and I stand at the stove and stir the milk and maple in slow figure-eights and listen to the now familiar morning sounds of my life - children playing on a playground at one nearby church, bells ringing from another.

Living here, feet from centuries of national history, is the second big move of my life. The first time it was more like everything of my dreams: an exciting new place, new discoveries around every corner. This time it's quite different. Pennsylvania and I are not instant soul mates. I'm trying to find things about her that I love (zooming down narrow tree lined roads, the bustling farmers market), but it is not love at first sight. I am having to choose to love Pennsylvania. The reason I came here is still great - I'm very much enjoying grad school - the classes and professors and classmates. I'm loving the non-profit where I'm serving as part of a scholarship. But outside of those moments I am still learning to be me here.

The creamer is not really a cost-saver on my grad school budget (pure maple syrup is expensive). It's not an old ritual for my life (in fact, PA is the first place I've made it.). I don't rush to make it whenever we run low (more like I'm settling for the last few drops of milk in my coffee even though the ingredients for the creamer are ready to go).

Maple syrup and heavy cream keep me grounded. They are the first things that have made me feel at home here.


Friday, October 12, 2012

Feminine Fridays: The woman, the blood, and the garment

I told a friend a few weeks ago that by October I would hopefully be back in the swing of writing here. Here, it is October and I am trying to write once more.

Today I want to look at a familiar story. It's found in Matthew 9, Mark 5, and Luke 8. The Mark version has the most details, so we'll go with that one.


25 Now a certain woman had a flow of blood for twelve years, 26 and had suffered many things from many physicians. She had spent all that she had and was no better, but rather grew worse. 27 When she heard about Jesus, she came behind Him in the crowd and touched His garment. 28 For she said, “If only I may touch His clothes, I shall be made well.”

29 Immediately the fountain of her blood was dried up, and she felt in her body that she was healed of the affliction. 30 And Jesus, immediately knowing in Himself that power had gone out of Him, turned around in the crowd and said, “Who touched My clothes?”

31 But His disciples said to Him, “You see the multitude thronging You, and You say, ‘Who touched Me?’”

32 And He looked around to see her who had done this thing. 33 But the woman, fearing and trembling, knowing what had happened to her, came and fell down before Him and told Him the whole truth. 34 And He said to her, “Daughter, your faith has made you well. Go in peace, and be healed of your affliction.”

Mark 5:25-34


I have most often heard this story from the context of imagining the physical pain and suffering the woman must have been going through as she suffered with the "flow of blood for twelve years." That is surely monumental, but I want to focus on today is the social stigma and the isolation she would have faced under the Mosaic law. 

In Leviticus we see the rules for when a woman is unclean because of blood. There are rules for the standard menstrual cycle which render her unclean for seven days. However, 


25 ‘If a woman has a discharge of blood for many days, other than at the time of her customary impurity, or if it runs beyond her usual time of impurity, all the days of her unclean discharge shall be as the days of her customary impurity. She shall be unclean. 26 Every bed on which she lies all the days of her discharge shall be to her as the bed of her impurity; and whatever she sits on shall be unclean, as the uncleanness of her impurity. 27 Whoever touches those things shall be unclean; he shall wash his clothes and bathe in water, and be unclean until evening.28 ‘But if she is cleansed of her discharge, then she shall count for herself seven days, and after that she shall be clean. 29 And on the eighth day she shall take for herself two turtledoves or two young pigeons, and bring them to the priest, to the door of the tabernacle of meeting. 30 Then the priest shall offer the one as a sin offering and the other asa burnt offering, and the priest shall make atonement for her before the Lord for the discharge of her uncleanness.
Leviticus 15:25-30

This woman we see in the gospels has been unclean for twelve years. Continuously. For twelve years she has been vigilant about where she slept and where she sat. She has not been allowed to touch anyone without making that person unclean for the day.  

Twelve Years. I can't even fathom that. 

Twelve years ago it was the year 2000. I don't know how many chairs I've sat on, beds I've slept on, or people I've touched in those years. This woman knew. She could likely count on one hand the number of people who she had (accidentally?) touched. She knew right where the chairs and the beds were that were hers alone. Did anyone else ever willingly let themselves be unclean for just a day in order that she might feel the comfort of a hand on hers or even a hug? Did anyone speak to her?

This woman, desperate for touch, desperate for a life that didn't involve not only the physically draining illness but a life that was free from the religious and social stigma.She sought medical help - she spent all she had until not only was she sick and ostracized, but she was destitute and impoverished. 

Then she heard of Jesus. She heard of his miracles and his message. She heard enough about this Rabbi, this Jewish teacher, to know that he would not recoil when a woman who could make him impure would touch him. Her faith was evident to Jesus. His power flowed from him to her. He could have simply kept walking and it would've been a secret healing - only he and this woman knowing of her joy and peace. But he turned around in the crowd and  pointed her out in front of his disciples and the others. 

This woman who was most likely shunned and avoided for her impurity was center stage for this moment. Jesus said to her "you are healed" and the message to the crowds was "I make things new, and pure, and clean. I release you from the bondage of the law." 

I wonder at the week after this for the woman. She had to wait seven days to offer the sacrifice before she could officially be considered clean. Did she wake each morning and check to be sure that she was still healed? Did she grow anxious on day six? Her promise so close and yet the twelve years of isolation closer still.  Or, was the absence of her disease enough to keep that faith strong, eagerly waiting for that seventh day when she would finally be free of the law. Eager to fully claim the freedom of Jesus Christ. 

What a blessing it is to not have a seven day waiting period in between believing in the power of Jesus Christ and fully living in his freedom. 


This is part of an ongoing series on Women and Female Imagery in the Bible. Click the "FeminineFridays" tag for more!


Monday, October 1, 2012

Hello, October

Life has flown by this past month. My days are full - mostly of open books and highlighters and fingers typing away as black text fills a white screen.

There was that beautiful Saturday where a few of us traveled to a local park and explored some history. Then we found the other side of a tiny little hill and spread our blankets on the grass. The books and the highlighters were with us, but the sky was blue, the sun was warm, and the breeze was refreshing.

There was the through-the-night drive to stand by my friend as she wed. I was oh-so-tired, but the drive back was filled with the sounds of their wedding CD, smiles on our faces, and toenails painted royal purple.

There have been the customers at my new part time job - the ones who come in often and wander the aisles full of things that no one really needs. I battle with my participation in this blatant materialism, but then, as I am unpacking fall plates and Christmas (yes, already) ornaments a customer stops and tells me about their life. Most of these have faces full of wrinkles and they tell me of friends long gone and childhood memories of their pets and families. They talk and talk and talk. I smile, respond occasionally, excuse myself here and there to ring up another customer. I am learning about listening and find myself thankful for the opportunity.

There are few few sidewalks and even fewer pedestrians. The familiar rhythm of footsteps and bicycle wheels that I so loved in Chicago is foreign here in my new suburban town. My walk to work consists of cutting through a large parking lot and then walking two "blocks" on the wide shoulder of a road before I find sidewalk.

There is the new community that is slowly taking shape. Neighbors who deliver cookies. Shared half-price appetizers after class. Generous, glad-hearted, and self-sacrificial offers to help out each other.

There has been church-hunting. Less-than-enthusiastic at times. There has been the ache of missing what I know is possible in The Bride of Christ. There is hope for what is yet to be discovered.



And all of this does not even mention the classes. The ones that still remind me I am not driftwood. This does not mention how blessed I feel to be able to participate with others who are working for justice and understanding what Jesus meant when he said to love your enemies and turn the other cheek. This month was great. I am looking forward still to the coming couple of years.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

on My First Week of Seminary

It is an odd feeling, this feeling where what feel to be your fragmented selves seem to gather at last.

Theses selves are not lining up, there is no order or neatness to it, but they are for certain gathering. Bits and pieces of memories of thoughts and words throughout my adolescence and young adulthood come back to me. They have walked back into this space of my thoughts and my hopes and my questions and they have sat down at the table, looked me in the eye, and said, "This is not new for you. This is who you've always been. It's time now to talk with us."

I have long had this quiet, aching fear in the pit of my stomach that says, "You are a piece of driftwood, easily tossed to and fro. You are carried about by the winds and waves. You have no foundation." Even when I would have called myself a grounded, stable, conservative Christian who voted Republican, loved the "poor others," and shunned alcohol, recklessness, and bad words - even then I saw in myself the propensity to entertain the views of others and shift my views. I squashed it down and told myself to hold fast to the Truth, to place my feet on the solid rock, and to be unmoved by the emotional pleas of other views that swayed my heart and head towards another answer, but I always wondered if I was driftwood.

The girl who squirmed when her denomination-of-origin only ever referred to themselves when referring to "God's Work" is sitting with a different restlessness at this table.

That teenager who asked, with no irony, if it were really possible to legislate morality, is here in this space.

The young adult who read and read and read from glowing screens into the wee hours of the morning with dictionary.com open on one window and articles and arguments in the other and wondering at these people who loved Jesus and believed differently than she. That girl is here too.

And more recently the woman who wondered of her place. For if no babies, no husband, then where should she sit? Or should she stand? Is she allowed to stand? Who decides these allowances? And what of these women she has loved and sat knee-to-knee with over open Bibles and cups of coffee. And what of the women in those pages who stood and sat, who raised cries to the sky and who knelt and dropped tears on the feet of The Savior? These questions meet such loudness and clamor and it feels like, is, war.

And all these girls and women of my self who have gathered here together to sit at this table are comforting to me. I see them through these past three decades, with their questions and their uncertainties and their fears of driftwood and I can say to them:

No. You are not driftwood. You are a vine, curling and sprawling up the side of a trellis. You are grafted in to and weaving around a concert of vines in an ancient vineyard. You produce fragrant flowers and bountiful fruit. You have branches and leaves die, wither to brown and grow heavy with their dead weight before they are pruned in a painful, but ultimately satisfying, cut. You have always twisted and blossomed here. You, with your strong ancient roots and your tender new shoots are alive and growing. You are not dead wood.





Sunday, August 5, 2012

Small Spaces


A blog I have recently started reading, Crimson to Wool, hosts a weekly link up on "small spaces" in our homes that remind us of the blessings of God. I love the idea. So, I plan to participate often. This space is no longer constructed in myhomee as everything I own is in either a suitcase or box, but for the last few years it was a moment in my room I loved.







This little space is full of memories!


The small wooden box is myrtle wood and I purchased it in Oregon when I spent a summer there. That summer was a blessing in that I learned a lot about the church that summer.


The bird is from an arrangement that was at the funeral home when my granddaddy died. My grandfather died when I was young and his playfulness, patience, love of nature, and kindness are brought to mind when I see that bird.

The top book is an old English grammar book that belonged to my grandmother - another memory of my heritage.

And, the jar. There are very few things I collect, but clear wire-hinged ball jars are one of them. They are easily found online, but I love the hunt of finding them tucked away in an antique store, noticing the mark/year, and imagining what it's held And who has held it in it's long life. They're useful too - craft supplies, office supplies, coins, cotton balls, clean it out and use it for food. Simple joys and beauty!


See other small spaces and share your own at Crimson to Wool!

Friday, August 3, 2012

Guest Post: Waiting to Taste the Miracle

I am in the midst of a busy month and I've asked some friends to share with you their thoughts on some women in the Bible. Today my dear friend Natasha Metzler shares with us about the prophetess Anna



It will soon be five years since I said my vows. Years that flutter away with the spinning of time. Years that I pray are simply the beginning of a lifetime.

Anna, daughter of Phanuel of the tribe of Asher (i.e. a Jewish woman in the New Testament) was married for seven short years before laying her husband to rest. During a time-period when the average marrying age was fifteen, she would have become a widow about the age when I began my married life.

Translators are a bit undecided if Scripture says that she was then a widow until 84 years old or a widow for the next 84 years. (Luke 2:37 text and footnotes) Either way, she was a widow a very long time.

I’ve been writing about my personal journey lately. Inscribing the story of how God has taken my pain and redeemed it and how I believe that He will continue to redeem the broken pieces that are left.

It may simply be that my mind is wrapped up in this concept but when I read the few short verses about Anna—I am reminded again of the way that God redeems pain.

Scripture says that Anna never left the temple but worshiped night and day, fasting and praying. She had buried a husband while {probably} in her twenties and then spent dozens of years alone. I think I would have crumbled but Anna became a prophetess instead.

And God gave her the most wondrous of gifts. A taste of redemption so vivid, so breathtaking, that it makes me want to dance in joy for her. To this woman who bore her pain to the throne room of God—He gave the chance to see the ultimate redemption in flesh. Jesus. Born to save the world.

And she knew. It says that she “gave thanks to God and spoke about the child to all who were looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem.” (Luke 2:38) She knew who it was. And the years of standing in the temple, worshiping and praying, were redeemed in a single moment.

Now my mind won’t let it go—the echo that her life leaves in the pages of my Bible. God hears every single cry. He is not ignorant of our pain and the miracle of His redemption is coming. I want to be faithful. I want to hold firm to Him. I want to know His voice like Anna knew His voice.

And even if it takes eighty-four years, I want to wait and taste the miracle.



***********************

I have known Natasha for about ten years. She is a constant source of encouragement to me and her writing beautifully captures the beauty of redemption. Read more from Natasha at her blog.


This is part of an ongoing series on Women and Female Imagery in the Bible. Click the "FeminineFridays" tag for more!

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

10 Things I Have Used for a Long Time

1. Umbrella. Current one is in need of a replacement. I've had it since 2003.

2. Wallet. I bought a wallet in 1999 and used it until 2008 when I bought a new one. I still use the 2008 wallet. I often look for a replacement because it's fallen apart and been put back together numerous times, but I am quite picky about my wallets.

3. That one night-gown that I've had since approximately 1994. It's more of a night-shirt now.

4. Not the same bottle of course, but me and Dove Body Wash have been enjoying showers together for at least fifteen years. They need a "loyalty points" program.

5. A metal ring thing that provides ponytail holder storage. It's been in my "hair accessory" bag since 2002.

6. That purple coffee mug that a high school friend gave me as a "we're graduating!" present in 2001.

7. My Stapler. Also received as a high school graduation present. It has travelled through college and two careers. Off to grad-school we go! (Actually - I got two staplers as HS grad gifts - a regular one and a mini-one. Both are still with me.)

8. 1995 navy blue with a brown suede bottom Jansport bookbag. Mama didn't buy a lifetime warranty for nothing.

9. TI-83 Graphing Calculator circa 1998. I have absolutely no recollection of how to use the trig and calc and various other advanced functions anymore, but it's quite handy on bill paying days.

10. The same pair of Cover Girl gold rimmed glasses from 1999 in a pale blue case. I wear contacts during the day, but these are my night/morning vision wear. They seem to work better than the new glasses I bought last year.

What about you? What's stuck around your life for a seemingly long amount of time?

Sunday, July 29, 2012

My Voice Has Always Been Strong

standing on shaky legs
my childish
voice spoke
into the microphone,
words echoing
through the auditorium.

my voice
was clear,
I was told -
though sometimes hurried,
the criticism goes.

I should be on radio
to speak my clear
understandable
voice
across invisible waves

a professor, a poet,
commented on the power
of my voice -
the literary,
self-embodied,
written Voice.
a compliment buried
in notes about needing
to elaborate,
dig deeper,
unpack meaning.

my voice has always been strong

and yet I feel the words catch
at the back of my throat,
lack the power to push through
my lips or find their ways
out of my fingers
when it is
anger
fear
or passion.


rhythmic strength
and control
have no rules
for these reckless things

Friday, July 27, 2012

Out of Her Poverty

In Mark 12 we find Jesus sitting in the temple, watching people put money into an offering box. The rich people are dropping in large sums. And then a widow comes up and drops in two small copper coins. If I am doing the math right, that's about the equivalent of pay for eight minutes of work. We're talking about a dollar or less in our modern equivalent, but it is all she had. It is the end of her rope, the last two coins, the entirety of her financial security.

Jesus recognizes and honors this offering. He calls the disciples over and makes sure they notice. He tells them, "this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the offering box. For they all contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on."

I sometimes get frustrated at the lack of details in the Biblical stories. Why was that all she had left? Who was not taking care of her? What were her plans after she left the temple? One great thing about not having the details is that we don't get to judge her feelings and thoughts. Surely Jesus knew her heart, but it is not for us to know. She could have tossed in the coins in defeat. Why not give it all when all she had mattered so little? It could've been with a hopeful prayer, "All for you, God, I trust your provision." We do not know the state of her heart, all we know are her actions, and those Jesus respected. I have certainly seen God remind me of his truth in my most cynical moments as well as fill me with peace in my moments of hope. One emotion or another does not grant us God's favor.


There are so many other accounts of widows in the scripture. One of the stories that stands out in my memory from my childhood Sunday School days is the story of Elijah and the widow who made him bread. Whoever taught me the stories of Elijah as a child must have been creative, because I can clearly recall acting out the scenes with my fellow sunday-school mates. Ravens by a brook. Fire lapping up the water on an altar. And, a widow, pouring out her last drop of oil to find an unending stream. (1 Kings 17-18)


For those of you who lacked such a creative teacher with a passion for 1 Kings, let me remind you of the details.


The prophet Elijah predicts a drought. He is hiding from Ahab and Jezebel who seek to kill him and camps out by a stream for a while, drinking the fresh water and feasting on the bread and meat that ravens bring him. Eventually, the brook dries up.


God tells Elijah to go to Zarephath. God says, "I have commanded a widow there to feed you." So, Elijah heads to Zarephath. When he gets there, he sees a widow gathering sticks. He asks for water and as she is getting it, he asks her for bread.

She tells him that she has no bread baked, just a small amount of flour and oil. She is here, gathering the sticks, so that she may go inside, bake the last of her supplies into bread that she and her son may eat it, and then die. It is their last meal. It is all she has left. It is not even a day's worth of food. It is too little to even provide a real meal.


The widow was willing to gather water for Elijah from the well. Her initial refusal to give him bread is not defiance nor is she being inhospitable. It is simply that she has so little that it would not do much for Elijah, but it is one last meal she can provide her son.

Elijah encourages her on, telling her that if she makes the bread, "the jar of flour shall not be spent, and the jug of oil shall not be empty until the day the Lord sends rain upon the earth."

And she did it. We don't know if she poured out the drop of oil with a faithful, expectant heart. Or, if it was with resignation that the supplies would not matter much to she and her son anyway so she might as well give it away. But she did as Elijah said and it was true. She had an unending supply of flour and oil.

Her last bit of sufficiency became great, it became enough.

Based on the next part of their story I tend to think that her baking of the bread was not without doubt or uncertainty.

Her son became sick, and eventually he stopped breathing. She accuses Elijah, "You have come to bring my sin to remembrance and to cause the death of my son!" Elijah asks for her son and he takes him to an upper room, where he prays and stretches out over him and asks God for the child's life back.


It is then, after her son is restored to life, that the woman says to Elijah, "Now I know that you are a man of God, and that the word of the Lord is in your mouth."


A widow gave her lasts drops of oil. It nourished a prophet, saved her son, and showed her the truth of the word of the Lord.

A widow gave her last two coins. It stood out to the Messiah, taught the disciples, and showed the world through scripture what the Lord desires.


This is part of an ongoing series where I look at females and feminine imagery in the Bible. Click the "FeminineFridays" tag for more!






Tuesday, July 24, 2012

When You Return: Faith Refined


This is the last installment of my Stones of Remembrance series. This one is the most personal to me, and therefore the longest. I hope that this brief story of this event in my life encourages and strengthens you.

I have long known that one my spiritual gifts is faith.

I once thought that gift of faith would profit me front row seats to divine miracles. That I could shout from roof-tops the wonder and the splendor of Our King. I thought that down the road I'd see painted sunsets in every sky and that the voice of birds would always be chirping praises to my ears. For after all, I had faith. I believed. Easily believed. Like a Child who believes the impossible.

I thought that this faith would mean that while I would not always get what I wanted, that I would always be at peace (and, yes, I admit, I often viewed peace as happiness though I was quick to claim that I knew it wasn't.) I thought that even if I suffered it would not hurt for I knew that God was in control. I believed that He could deliver out of a furnace, from the mouths of lions, through a sea, and into a Promised Land.

I read through the stories of the faiths of others and thought them amazing. Why it never crossed my mind that one day I would identify with Abraham with a knife in his hand, with Job in his agony, with Habakkuk in his questioning, and with Peter in his doubt I do not know. I thought for sure that I learned the lessons from them rather than the hard way.


Eventually, I learned the hard way.


There is a day in my past when I drove down a long country road with an empty pain and a raging anger. It was all directed at God.

I had spent the past few years of my life in a relationship. I need you to understand just how much I had faith in that relationship. You see, I had spent my entire adolescent and young adult life literally desiring to only date the man I would marry. I prayed about it. I sought wisdom, And one day, a man came into my life. It was during a period of a spiritual high in my life. I had never before or since felt that close to God or lived feeling like I was continually in the presence of God. I prayed about him. I talked to my dad. I prayed some more. Then, I believed. Everything in my life circled around the idea that THIS was it and he was the one.

It started fabulously. My own little fairy-tale. My own fabulous story of how God wrote my love story. I was so excited for the future and the prospect of praising a God who filled the desires of our hearts in His perfect timing. I had waited until I was 20 for my first date, but here he was, and I was sure he would stay.

Looking back, I see all the red-flags. A hundred of them peppering the years of our relationship. I feel snapshots of memories, the hurt, the confusion, the times when I stuffed my feelings, and told myself I was building perseverance for our future. I need you to understand just how invested I was in not only this man, but in the fact that this was the story God was writing for me. I clung to every happy moment and every sweet answer to prayer.

In every sermon, every song, every off-handed inspirational quotation that entered my life I heard one recurring theme: God has the power to do what he promises. God works miracles. God changes people. God fulfills the desires of your heart. You should persevere through hard times. Trials make you stronger. Bear with one another in love, in patience, and in gentleness.

There was one Sunday in particular where a visiting pastor gave an illustration of putting his children on a horse. His two small children sat in the saddle while he lead the horse by the reigns. Then, the horse bucked. The father with his hand on the reigns steadying the horse called to his children to just hold on, it was under control. He, their father, would keep them safe.

These are all teachings that have truth and are applicable to our lives. But in my world, Satan twisted them. They became confirmation that I needed to love more, be more gracious, be patient, and persevere a little longer. Most of all, for goodness sake, listen to the voice of the Father as your world bucks out of control. He put you there and He has the reigns.

That day I mentioned on the long road where I drove with the raging anger, it was a turning point. I caught my boyfriend in a lie, one that I could not rationalize away. One that I could not let slide or make excuses for. I was hurt by his actions, but I was angry at God. How dare God tell me for years to persevere and to hold on when it was all going to end with my heart broken?

I firmly believe that it is only the gift of faith that kept me from walking away from God. For years, I was too scared to believe anything about the future. I had tried that once and it devastated me. I sat in churches on Sunday mornings and gripped my Bible with white knuckles every time the preacher talked about having faith or believing God for big things. Learning how to trust God again felt like a blasphemous thing to say, but I had to do it.

Learning to trust God again required that I reorient myself to who God is and how human my heart and mind are no matter how much I pray or believe.

It required that I acknowledge that all those red flags I ignored were actually red flags, not road bumps on the path to happiness. They were not things that I failed to be Christian enough to fix. A man who regularly cancels plans with you is a red flag. A man who lies to you about where he is is a red flag. A man that doesn't want you to be in the other parts of his compartmentalized life is a red flag.

I always feel the need to offer disclaimers. To acknowledge the good things he did and the bad things I did. There were many of all of those too. Mine is not the worst relationship ever, not even close, but it altered my life completely. In the years since he has apologized and seems to have changed for the better. I don't wish him any ill will, and the fact that this story of my life involves an unflattering light on someone else has kept me quiet about it for a while, but I'm trying to figure out how to navigate that and use what I learned to encourage others.

Today, faith is still there. It is a faith that doesn't see sunsets in every sky, but knows they'll come eventually. A faith that sometimes just hears silence: no birds, no nothing. I understand what it feels like to hold a knife to a promise. I know the heat of the fire turning my flesh red and knowing that He can rescue me, but that even if he doesn't, even if he doesn't, I will still praise Him. I understand, like Peter, the pain and the sorrow of denying the One whom I always trusted and what it meant when Jesus said, "when you return, strengthen your brothers"

This stone of remembrance is for those years of my life that shaped me. Those years that matured my faith through fire. And for the voice at the end of it all saying, "And when you return, strengthen your brothers and sisters."


Other Stones of Remembrance:
Scripture in My Childhood
The Church That Built Me
Ode to the Internet
Friendship
Meeting Together





Monday, July 23, 2012

Meeting Together: Women's Bible Study


This is part of a series on Stones of Remembrance as I remember the hand of God in my life.


As I sat on the scratchy avocado green pews of my church during the fall of 2001 my eyes were continuously drawn to the Sunday morning bulletin. It had been on my mind for days and I could not shake the feeling that I was supposed to be a part of the study advertised there. This all meant that I needed to quit a part-time job. A decision that I knew would not be popular and would be met with some resistance. I did not like to cause tension or to make things uncomfortable for people. I rarely made phone calls because I was always afraid that I would be interrupting someone with the shrill ring of my call. So, deciding to tell my boss that I was quitting a job after only a few weeks made me extremely uncomfortable.

However, God was telling me to quit that job. God was asking me to obey him. To do something “difficult” and to choose what He wanted for my life. He would not let me ignore Him. It was more uncomfortable to knowingly disobey a simple step of obedience that God was asking me to do than to have a small amount of confrontation in my life. Compared to things He would later ask of me – making something inconvenient for the manage of a clothing store seems like nothing at all – but at the time it was a decision that produced great anxiety.

In future times when remembering this moment I will sit amazed at how inconsequential it seems to quit a 10 hour a week job. In truth though, it was a turning point in my life. For the first time I was making a decision that I knew was a specific thing God had asked me to do. It required me to disregard the opinions of a superior. As small of a thing it seemed to be, it would be this decision that would start my life on a new path.

Later that week, the gravel crunched under my tires as I steered my car to park in between the trees in front of the church. I had no idea who would be in there. I knew I would most likely be the youngest member of the group by far. I didn’t know what to expect – I just knew God had asked me to obey and I finally said yes without any limitations.

Soon the room was full with about 15 women. There were women who wore jeans and a t-shirt and came armed with stories from days with their children. Women who look polished in their button down shirts, dark skirts, and high heels. There were women whose eyes held the quiet wisdom of a life that gave them soft wrinkles around their smiles. We all found our seat at the table with a cup of coffee and a plate of snacks as the leader got our attention.

Introductions were made, the format explained, and then screen of a TV quickly filled with the opening theme music of Beth Moore’s Jesus The One and Only. We studied together every Thursday night that fall. These women became integral parts of my life for that season. We shared the burdens of our individual lives, of which I did not feel I had many, and the truths God was teaching us, of which I had more than I ever imagined. I fell head-over-heels in love with Jesus over the next few months. Thursday nights became the highlight of my life as I excitedly listened to hear what God was doing in the lives of the other women in my group and shared what he was showing me. I will never forget those mornings of reading through the book of Luke and learning so much about the character and heart of our Lord.

In the little over a decade since that first Women's Bible Study I have participated in dozens more in the various cities and towns in which I have lived. I have been blessed to open my home to them and have felt the joy at women gathered together in my living room with Bibles balanced on their lap and coffee in hand as we discussed the word of God. I have sat waiting for an hour when no one showed up, quietly putting away the food and asking God to give me faith and patience. I have had the blessing of going into the homes of others - sometimes as a participant, sometimes as the facilitator. I have been a part of groups that were energetic and opinionated. Groups that were quiet and thoughtful. I have always been blessed.

As I prepare to transition to a new city once again, I leave behind a group of women who have faithfully opened the word of God with me on Thursday nights for the past year. I am indebted to their honesty and their grace in allowing me to be honest.

I will miss them as I miss the other women who have studied and prayed with me over the last decade, but I know that God will provide the encouragement and fellowship for me once again, and that makes me excited to see what other women will become a part of my story.


This stone of remembrance is for that first act of obedience that lead me to the first study and for all the women in the past eleven years who have encouraged me and taught me the word of God while we shared coffee while sitting in tight circles balancing Bibles and study books on our knees.

Other Stones of Remembrance:
Scripture in My Childhood
The Church That Built Me
Ode to the Internet
Friendship
When You Return: Faith Refined



Sunday, July 22, 2012

Friendship


This is part of a series on Stones of Remembrance as I remember the hand of God in my life.

I have been richly blessed with the gift of friendship in my life.

I am a classic introvert and I was never one to have a large group of friends, but I don't ever recall feeling unwanted and without even one friend to call my own. I realize that not everyone gets that experience and I am thankful for this blessing.


There have been many friends that have been there for times and seasons and then we drifted naturally apart. This is natural. I'm grateful for those early childhood friends or the coworkers and classmates who shared my life for those months or years. Others have persisted though the changes and the miles. I value many many friendships in my life, but today I want to honor the friendship of two women in particular who I have had the pleasure of calling a friend for almost twenty years.

I distinctly remember pushing mattresses down the basement stairs at Michele's house. We had two or three queen sized mattresses that we shoved together between the support beams on the basement floor in front of the television. The top of our super-sized bed was strewn with snacks and magazines and VHS boxes. Michele and Anna and I painted our nails while we talked about the various drama of our early teenage life and our dreams for the future. One of our favorite past times was telling each other the story of how their life would turn out. Elaborate scenarios involving Italian men we met on cruises or our future famous children. So far, no Italian husbands and no children at all for the three of us, but I don't think any of us are unhappy with the life with reality gave us.

These women are the ones I think of when I hear that quote that says, "A friend is someone who knows the song in your heart and can sing it back to you." They know who I am and who I was and who I've always wanted to be. They give me funny looks when I do something out of character while still allowing me to change. They encourage me to chase my dreams. They appreciate my perks and allow me my flaws. The relationship with them has ebbed and flowed and changed over the years, but at the end of the day, I will always make time to see them and they for me and I know that I can count on them to remind me to seek God and to be true to who He created me to be.

My friendship with these women has absolutely gone through some "growing pains." There have been tears and inter-continental arguments. I went thorugh a period where I felt like those friendships were ending. I was in college, away from them, and experiencing a host of different things that we had never talked about. My life fell outside of the context of our childhood friendship and I wasn't sure how to merge the two. I still couldn't tell anyone else how to do it, but I think we were all kind of experiencing some similar thoughts and we bumbled our way through starting awkward conversations about things that were new to our friendship. And, it worked. It grew stronger and deeper and more grace-filled.

I am immensely grateful for this friendship. For what it has taught me about unconditional love, sacrifice, flexibility, grace, forgiveness, and wisdom in when to speak and when to be silent.

This blessing from God is today's stone of remembrance.

Other Stones of Remembrance:
Scripture in My Childhood
The Church That Built Me
Ode to the Internet
Meeting Together
When You Return: Faith Refined


Saturday, July 21, 2012

Ode to the Internet


This is part of a series on Stones of Remembrance as I remember the hand of God in my life.


Around the turn of the century my family finally went "online." We dialed-up our connection through Juno and had a monthly allotment of minutes. I more than used my share of the family's minutes reading and posting and interacting with "strangers" on a small Christian message board I had found by entering "I love Jesus" into dogpile.com or AskJeeves.com during the pre-Google-centric web.

That little piece of the internet was instrumental in my life and the initiation of a greater domino effect. The posts people wrote challenged me to think outside of my own view of the world and of God. It was the first place I discovered people who lived out their love for God in different ways than me. I met people there who became friends (and that doesn't sound near as weird today as it did in the year 2000 when "friends" and "internet" in the same sentence made you sound like a weirdo). There are a few of those people with whom I still regularly interact and I've met some in person. The message board is still there though I haven't posted in years. I'll forever be grateful for that little piece of the internet.

I was introduced to the idea of blogging, or an online journal/diary as it was called then, through a member of this message board.

I started blogs/diaries at a couple of members-only blog sites. This introvert who loves to process things through writing found a way to pour out my thoughts, the boring details of my day, and all the dramas big and small of my life to a surprisingly supportive audience.

Over ten years of online journaling has allowed me to know a small group of women whom I count among my closest friends and wise spiritual council. I hesitate to name them for a I know I won't name them all, but I do want to be a little specific, for you see, this is one of the only communities in my life that has remained relatively constant. There is my immediate family, my closest friends (that I didn't first know online ) and then these women. They know my story and I know their's. We have cried together over broken relationships, lost babies, and parents gone too soon. We have rejoiced at weddings, births, jobs, homes, and goals achieved. Our lives have criss-crossed across continents and oceans. Many of us wrote through our college years and those scary first steps into the real world. Those of who can, see each other in person when the opportunity arises. (I've been blessed to have a few of these women in my home, and wish I could have us all over at the same time for dinner!) We have been brutally honest about our flaws, rejoiced with abandon about our victories, and have let each other be the first to "hear" those precious things that were easier to write rather than say.

People say you can be fake online, and you can, but you can also be achingly authentic. That is a beautiful gift of this pseudo-anonymity that can become community if you let it. These women are a vital part of my encouragement and my spiritual community.

Way-back-when when the Internet was a new thing and scary to many people, I heard a Christian leader say, "If you're on the Internet at 1 a.m. then you're doing something you shouldn't be." My face flushed with embarrassment and shame, I became momentarily sad and questioned the places of community I had found. I soon realized that while the speaker had good intentions warning people away from the potential evil found in the anonymity and secrecy of the world wide web, he had no idea the type of beauty, knowledge, grace, and community that could be found on the screens that connected the world.

This stone of remembrance is for the Internet and its profoundly positive effect on my Christian faith.


Other Stones of Remembrance:
Scripture in My Childhood
The Church That Built Me
Friendship
Meeting Together
When You Return: Faith Refined



Friday, July 20, 2012

The Church That Built Me


(Taking a break from Feminine Fridays this week to share a series on Stones of Remembrance as I remember the hand of God in my life.


While I've grown to have a somewhat progressive theology/political side in comparison to my conservative upbringing, the church in which I spent most of my first 25 years gave me feet and gave me wings. Between normal church things and showing up at the building for everything from helping out the secretaries to hiding from tornadoes during southern storms, I spent more hours in that building than any other building of my life with the exception of my homes.

I can't begin to count the number of positive things that church did for me: from teaching me to love the word of God to giving me opportunities to be a part of the church, a part of a community, in various ways. I could probably spend an entire year giving weekly posts on just how much I was blessed, taught, and grew through the ministries and people of that church. Today, though, I'm just picking two areas that are on my heart.

Children's Choir is my first remembrance of learning about missions and serving others. The choir director took the time to teach us about music and notes as well as about people who served the Lord in different ways. My love for serving others started there as she told us the story of a young girl who longed for blue eyes like her family, but found one day that her brown eyes gave her a valuable tool in ministering to girls sold into slavery in India. To this day, that brown eyed girl - Amy Carmichael - is an influential person in my life.

I never was involved in the theatre department at my schools, but in Children's choir I got to sing and dance around on stage as we performed an annual musical that told the stories of Jonah, Nehemiah, and Josiah. One year it was the story of some kids camping in the woods with Psalty (a big, blue, anthropomorphic songbook!), and still today, twenty years later, when I am anxious and worried I find myself singing, "I cast all of my cares upon you. I lay all of my burdens down at your feet. And anytime I don't know what to do, I cast all of my cares upon you."

In youth choir I gained confidence as we stood in lines down the side of our long, narrow sanctuary and sang into the center. Our voices drifted above the heads of the congregation creating a harmony, but those seated near me heard my voice stand above the rest. Other times, I learned the different harmonies and melodies of a song as I worked together with the other youth and our choir director to master the notes. The directors loved Jesus, knew music, and had standards of excellence. I was part of a group and I remained an individual - learning my part, singing in my spot. The symbolism moved me even then. My voice is thoroughly average, but being a part of the choirs and having the chance to regularly take the stage and lead in worship gave me confidence and an understanding of my part in the body of believers.

Another influential ministry in my life was the youth ministry. My youth pastor and his wife are both wonderful people who love God and loved us. There were many positive things in my life that started in youth group, but I want to focus on one aspect here today - something called "T.E.A.M.S." It stood for "together everyone accomplishes more serving. The youth pastor had a thing for acronyms! The youth broke into different groups and were responsible for a variety of things in the youth group: organizing events, welcoming people, praise band, etc. Not ground-breaking I'm sure, but I got to be involved in my church community! I joined the prayer team and under the guidance of a college age volunteer, a few teenagers met faithfully each week and we prayed. Oh, how we prayed with such earnestness and passion and belief. I remember kneeling in a circle on the floor of the church prayer room praying for long stretches of time as our knees ached under us and we eventually stretched ourselves out with faces to the ground. In the beginning, we took time at the start of our meeting to talk about requests and such. As time went on, we just prayed from the very start of the meeting

When we took youth trips, the prayer team got a copy of the retreat schedule and scheduled in prayer meetings during the free times. We woke up before the trip and met at Waffle House at 5 a.m. to pray before we left. We were not pretentious, we were not chatting and goofing off and gossiping. We prayed consistently and were in tune to the hand of God and able to see how He was moving in our church. It was an awesome experience and a memory I that I cherish and one that convicts me about the state of my prayer life now. I am thankful for the wisdom and the leadership of my youth leaders who saw fit to tell a bunch of teenagers that they needed be a part of their church and that they needed to pray.

The summer before my senior year of high school I went on a mission trip to London. A number of my fellow prayer-team members were on the trip as well. Once we got to London and met up with a number of other teens there for the week, they divided us into teams as well. Not all, but a large portion of the group from my church joined the prayer team. We walked the streets of North London, talking to shop keepers, letting them know we were praying for them and their town, and asking if they had any requests. That week is only snapshots in my mind now, but I remember a boxing gym and the man who owned it, watching another youth kneel down next to a homeless man and offer him his lunch and then a prayer. I remember men with large turbans wrapped around their head selling us fruit from a cart and us trying to heed the instruction of our leader to contain our eager evangelical selves, respect the culture and the work of the resident missionaries, and to just talk and then later, pray. I learned a lot, in those streets of London, about respecting others and trusting God to work in the hearts and lives of people.

In moments of cynicism, my oh-so-evolved adult self finds it easy to dismiss those moments and many like them as sentimentality and naivety. There are some moments that stand out as glaring examples of what not to do. (A weekend that unleashed a couple thousand teenagers armed with the latest in Gospel Presentations Method upon an unsuspecting town being near the top of the list.) However, I know that my heart and passion was pure. I learned how to pray in my youth group. I was blessed to be witness to the hand of God moving because I was taught and given the opportunity to be still and to ask that I might see Him.

Since that time, there have been seasons of prayer and seasons of lack of prayer in my life. No matter which season though, I know that prayer is powerful and I find myself either reveling in the beauty of the still small voice or longing for it. The songs of my childhood come, often without invitation, into my mind and continue to remind me of truths.

There is a country song about your childhood home and how the singer wants to go back to the house that built her, certain that if she can see it and touch the walls then something will click for her. I have similar feelings when I return to my childhood church when I'm in my hometown for holidays or other events. The walls hold memories and many of the faces are still familiar. While there are things I absolutely love about my sort-of-nomadic life and the ability I get to start fresh and new and as a blank slate to a whole new host of people every few years, there is something special about being greeted and hugged by people, by a community, that nurtured me from childhood.

This stone of remembrance is for the church that built me.


Other Stones of Remembrance:
Scripture in My Childhood
Ode to the Internet
Friendship
Meeting Together
When You Return: Faith Refined