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
across invisible waves

a professor, a poet,
commented on the power
of my voice -
the literary,
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
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
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
When You Return: Faith Refined

Sunday, July 22, 2012


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
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
Meeting Together
When You Return: Faith Refined

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Scripture in my childhood

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

The memories are piled in my mind like a box of old photographs.

The picture on top of the pile is little brown haired me with awkward bangs leaning close against my mother. It is Sunday morning and we are two pews from the front of the church. "Backrow Baptist" was a foreign concept to my family. I loved to sit next to my mom and flip through the pages of her Bible as the preacher talked. There was an intricate system of colors and symbols filling the pages of her Bible. The page would be covered with triangles and circles, clouds and underlines. Highlighter marks of varying hues made the page a colorful piece of art. Notes and dates in the margins gave testament to the years of growth and learning.

Flipping through the pile of photographs in my head and here's another fond memory. My brothers, my father, and I are seated around a large kitchen table that fills the small eat-in kitchen of our home. Our breakfast plates are pushed away, school lunches sit packed on the counter, and the sun is just peeking through the window of the back door. We each have a Bible opened before us. Dad would lead my brothers and I in reading chapters of the Bible verse-by-verse, each of us taking a turn to read. Our mouths grew confident in pronouncing the King James wording and we'd occasionally have discussions on the verses, but mostly I seem to remember we just read and the words moved from our mouths to our head and our hearts.

And this memory with that same kitchen table - I'm perched with my knees in a chair and elbows on the table peeking at my parents' notebooks full of diagrams of the statue in the dream in the book of Daniel, the tabernacle, or a chart depicting the Kings of Israel. They memorized verses for Master Life and talked about Experiencing God. I feel as I have always known that the statue had clay feet and that the priest entered the tabernacle with a rope tied to them so they could be pulled out in case the presence of the Lord simply overwhelmed their life.

I shuffle through the pictures in my head . . .

I catch a glimpse of my brothers and I singing along to a kids' music video, Beloved, let us love one another . . .he who loveth not (clap! clap! Clap!) knoweth not God for God is love. Beloved, let us love one another. First John four seven and eight!

In this one we are in position for our little family Bible Drill. Palms flat against the covers of our Bibles, poised to race to the exact location my father calls out.

Here, a photo of Strong's Concordance and I fondly remember that time third grade me asked my Dad, "Is such and such ok?" and he pulled that heavy book off the shelf, taught me how to use a concordance, about Hebrew and Greek, and we flipped back and forth between definitions and passages and studied that topic.

The words of God were ever present in my childhood. Bibles lay close by and were often opened. The words became audible as my parents spoke them, often seamlessly, into conversations about daily life.

They laid up the words of God in their heart and in their soul. They taught them to their children, talking of them when we sat in our house, and when were walking, and at night and in the morning. The words of God were written on our walls. (Deut 11:18-20)

This first stone of remembrance is for the blessing of a childhood with parents that sought the word of God and made knowing and understanding that Word a priority.

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

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Nailed It Down

I am a "cradle Christian" as they say. I toddled around church nurseries and have filled a pew most Sundays for almost thirty years. My mother tells the story of my three year old self stopping mid-activity, proclaiming matter-of-factly that I was going to be a missionary, and then continuing on with my day. I asserted my little evangelical self as young as third grade when I marched myself to the library in protest of the magic show my elementary school treated us to (but not before telling my brother's first grade teacher that he was coming with me because We Did Not Celebrate Magic). I don't recall her arguing with me.

I had badges on my Girls-in-Action sash that I earned for completing mission related activities each year. I wrote letters to someone named Mrs. Chocolate who was a missionary (though I can't recall where). I took sermon notes filled with colorful illustrative drawings and was Babbie Mason's biggest elementary school fan-girl. (To this day "Carry On" will pop into my head occassionally and I can sing every single word.)

When I got to the youth group, my friends and I petitioned them to allow 8th graders to go on the mission trip so we could go. I went. That year and every year after.

I rocked babies in the nursery and herded four year olds during Vacation Bible School. I joined the Student Leadership Team.

I wasn't faking anything or checking off boxes or going through the motions. I was sincere and honest about my faith. I truly did believe. I tried to live it out in my heart, in my private life, and in my public life.

Despite all that, sometimes, late at night while I was trying to fall asleep I wondered if I was really a Christian. I was fearful that I missed a step.

I remembered sitting on my bed in my childhood bedroom talking to my mom about becoming a Christian. I remember talking with the pastor before my baptism and answering all his questions correctly and getting dunked and coming out of the water with dripping hair. Yet, the fear that I was not a Christian plagued me. I sat through every single invitation, in which the pastor asked those who would like to become a Christian to come forward, with a rapid heartbeat and sweaty palms.

One summer on the first night of camp when I was 16 years old it became too much. I got up and talked with a friend from the youth group and she read me a few verses while my mind frantically tried to figure out what I was feeling and thinking. Eventually I said something like, "I need to surrender my life to Jesus," and she said, "You know what to do." I fumbled through a prayer that included the words to the praise song that was being played in the auditorium. The day was July 18, 1999. Thirteen years ago today.

Looking back, I no longer say that is the day I became a Christian. I believe I was one all those years before when I was "afraid I missed a step." God in his mercy allowed that night to be one that brought me peace. It was a moment that was supernatural with the literal relief I felt filling my body and easing my nerves. Maybe I just needed to say it aloud and to someone else. Maybe I needed to understand something about the anxiety. Whatever the reason, it's part of my story and remains a significant day in my life. As such, I like to take the time each year to honor it and remember it in some way.

I don't want to get into the theology of a salvation timeline here, but I use "cradle Christian" for a reason. I am one of the blessed people in this world who was introduced to Christ as a young child. My faith grew and was nurtured as I grew. I don't know if I have a "day of salvation" when I was suddenly safe when I wasn't before. If I did, it was well before that day in 99. Maybe it was the day when I sat talking to my mom as a child. Maybe it was some day now lost to memory when my young soul knew the truth in a way that children know it. Suffice to say, Christ dwells in my heart through faith. I am rooted and grounded in love and I pray for the strength to comprehend with all the saints the breadth and length and height and depth of that love. I know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge and I am filled with the fullness of God. (Ephesians 3:17-19)

Over the next week I'll be posting some "stones of remembrance" pertaining to my spiritual life. Moments that are prominent in my memory for the way they shaped my life. The idea for these "stones" comes from the book of Joshua where the people of Israel are crossing the Jordan River. The waters of the Jordan River were stopped as men stood with the Ark of the Covenant of the Lord in the middle of the river bed and the Israelites passed through. Afterwards, God commands that twelve stones be taken from the midst of the river and set up as a memorial. When the children ask what the stones mean, they are to tell the story of the crossing of the Jordan "so that all the peoples of the earth may know that the hand of the Lord is mighty, that you may fear the Lord your God forever." (Joshua 4:24)

So, I will tell the stories of stones of remembrance in hopes that "all peoples of the earth may know that the hand of the Lord is mighty" and so that I can remember God's hand in my life.

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

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Heavy and Full: a love letter to my body

Linking up with a synchroblog at She Loves.

Dear Body,

Your fifth grade classmate pointed out that you were the first to look like a woman. It was not a compliment. You turned your face down in shame. But chin up, dear one. You have always been heavy and full, defying fashion's cute little insistence that a halter top is not actually a neck-breaking torture device. Bursting the seams of life with your wideness and waves that defy the stringent rules of straight lines.

Body, this I promise you: I will not squeeze you, strain you, or compress you to meet an unattainable ideal. I will not wish for another body simply because the world has not yet learned how to embrace your greatness sufficiently.

You have been knit together. Strong and Sturdy. Delicate and Fragile. You will break and heal. You have scars and beauty marks.

I will remind you of what exactly the design of the Creator God has made you heavy and full of. You are full of promise, passion, forgivness, intelligence, and stubbornness. You are heavy with possibility, strength, humanity, courage, love, and, yes, even (especially) beauty.

Embrace the momentum of the passionate Creator and find your heaviness to be a force.


P.S. And there is nothing, not even a little part, of you that is empty because you have not grown life inside of you and given it birth and nourishment.

Friday, July 13, 2012

There and free to speak

I was flipping through the gospels, scanning the pages for a "she" or "her" and looking for a topic for this week.

My eyes stopped on two verses in Luke 11:

"As he said these things, a woman in the crowd raised her voice and said to him, 'Blessed is the womb that bore you, and the breasts an which you nursed!' But he said, 'Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and keep it!" (27-28)

As this series is focused on women and not on teachings, I'm not going to elaborate on what the beatitude means/doesn't mean here, but I will say that based on other scriptures, we can safely say that Jesus was not "dissin' his mama" here. It is simply an instruction that true blessedness comes not through biological relationship, but through obedience to the word of God. (And, of course, Mary was indeed obedient)

Since the passage started with "as he said these things" I flipped back to get some context.

The end of Chapter 1 has Jesus at the house of Mary and Martha. Chapter 11 begins with Jesus "praying in a certain place" where the disciples come to him and ask to be taught how to pray. That transitions us into The Lord's Prayer. After that lesson for the disciples, there is a rather abrupt transition to Jesus casting out demons and the people watching had reactions ranging from marvel to being certain he worked in the power of Satan, to being curious but skeptical. Jesus addresses these concerns to them. He goes on to explain more.

He's drawing a crowd with his talk, the people are interested. Some doubt and are looking for signs. A pharisee will invite him to dinner at the end of the chapter and Jesus will accept.

But in the middle, there is a woman, who shouts above the crowd and lets her voice be heard.

I want to point out a couple of things.

First, she is there. In this crowd of people made up of disciples, pharisees, lawyers, and the demon-possessed there is at least one (and most likely more) woman in their midst. For whatever reason, she is there.

Perhaps she stopped in the midst of her daily errands. Perhaps she followed Jesus there. She is a part of this story, she has recorded text. She spoke directly to Jesus and he answered her.

Second, she spoke, and loudly. I so often hear the command for women to be quiet, sit down, stop making a scene. I know those words and general thought exist in this same set of scripture. And yet this lady exists too. This lady whose "outburst" was affirmed by a response by Jesus himself.

Her shout seems to be authentic praise. It is a woman speaking from a knowing-heart about what a blessing it would be to raise a man like this. What a blessing to call him son. What a blessing to know that your womb, your breast, nourished this man.

It is perhaps, also a longing. For a culture in which the fate of women were subject to the prosperity of their husbands and sons - perhaps our woman-in-the-crowd imagined what her life could be if she had a son who could do such miraculous things. Perhaps she wondered what it would be like to be the mother of a man who drew crowds and performed miracles.

And Jesus, his response, opens the door to her. "Blessed are those who hear the word of God and keep it." An invitation to all to join in the blessedness. An invitation to her.

You, woman who dares to raise her voice in a crowd of men, you too can be blessed.

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

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Girl Meets Life

Or, God writes more than love stories.

Dear 18 year old self,

I am writing this letter to you from a few months shy of your 30th birthday. I know you were so anxious to actually be an adult and not just feel like one, so that age doesn't scare you at all. However, you're going to need to brace yourself for this next part because almost-30 looks absolutely nothing like you imagined it would.

I send this letter to find you on the eve of the beginning of your undergraduate life. You are so scared. You chose a school close to home so you could commute and avoid the uncertainty of dorm life filled with unknown people and tales of communal bathrooms where someone might glimpse your imperfect body.

You chose the option where you could live at home, and yet you are still filled with anxiety. This was not your dream. You didn't want to go to school. All you wanted out of life was a family. You would've been perfectly happy to be married at 18 with babies soon on the way. Had that happened, I'm sure you would've been great at it. But, it didn't happen. It still hasn't happened.

Don't freak out.

You're totally ok with your life.

(Ok, maybe not "totally" - but you're happy and have a future and a pretty awesome life.)

Look at you! (somewhere around 18, before we stuck pictures of ourselves on the internet all the time.)

Let me highlight a few things that you're going to learn that will make all the difference:

If you look for it, God fulfills your dreams in many ways. You are not yet a "mom" at almost-30, but you've been blessed to hear "Happy Mother's Day!" from children whom you mother. You'll see people who need that mothering instinct and you'll figure out how to use that. What's more, while being a mother will always be your greatest dream, you'll recognize that there are things that happen in your life that couldn't have happened had you started motherhood early and you'll appreciate the bigger picture.

Right now you're still scared of the unknown, but soon, you're going to get a taste of adventure and seeing life from different perspectives and you'll be excited to experience ife in different places. That's gonna happen, and you're going to love it! Eventually, you are going to love the thrill of the unknown. You will thrive on those experiences that promise either great success, or defeat. Really, you will.

You're going to get your heart broken. You'll waver between trying to fix it with anger, trying to fix it with kindness, and trying to fix it with indifference. Eventually, you'll realize it's not going to get "fixed" and you will let yourself feel the hurt and shame of it all. At some point, it will be a fogged-over memory and almost as if it happened to someone else with only the occassional itching of the scar it left behind to remind you that it is part of your story. Mostly, though, you're going to be ok.

That body of yours? It's awesome. It is strong and capable. When you stop hating it, you'll take care of it. You are not what society labels your body type. You will prove them wrong again and again. You will feel beautiful. You will dance. You will let yourself be hugged and held without worrying about if your body is being judged.

Also, you are so creative! I know, I know, you are not the artist in the family. Your painting of Christmas ornaments is horribly childish. Poetry is overly complicated. And, what is with abstract art? You know what though? You totally could have rocked art school (Yeah, I know, that secret little dream of yours that you pursued for about two seconds before you dropped it because you "can't draw.") Eventually you're going to dabble in creative writing (yes, poetry, and it can be pretty fabulous). You're never going to get great at drawing, but you can turn a room into a masterpiece. You can serve dinner with flare. You'll wear bold colors. You will wander museums happily alone, drinking in the beauty of lines and splatters and bold swatches of color. You will one day happen upon classical music during a scan of the radio on a dreary rainy day and you will be hooked. You and art, you're gonna be great together.

This next thing is what I really wanted to tell you though. If I could reach back in time and assure you, here is the picture I would want to give you. At 18, you are scared about college and it's not even something you want. 11 years later though, you'll hardly be able to contain your excitement as you prepare to change your life one more time to begin graduate school. Furtheremore, it's kind of a degree that's attached to politics. I know, it seems crazy, that idea is not anywhere close to your radar! You hate politics. Let me tell you though, you have never been this excited about the future. For that matter, you've never been so uncertain about the future. You have absolutely no concrete idea of what you'll do afterwards. Sure, you have the ideas, the dream jobs, the goals. How it all pans out though is an absolute beautiful mystery. But, remember, you love those leaps of faith now. You love the tension between the unknown and the vast realm of possibilities.

So, dear 18-year-old-self, cry tonight. Get up in the morning and start that undergraduate degree. Learn and grow and embrace life. The next decade is going to be a doozy, but you're gonna come out stronger and better knowing who you are.

I'll see you soon,



P.S. You get to live the city life for a few years. It really really fits you well. :)

Monday, July 9, 2012

dream chaser

On the evenings when I step out of the house as the summer sky darkens to black I hear soulful jazz drift quietly from a neighbor's window.

For those few feet of sidewalk my life has a deep, moving soundtrack and I let myself be drawn up into it. Timing my feet with the rhythm, reflecting on the mood. Though it is a different tune, I find myself sitting with Holly Golightly on a balcony and melancholily singing Moon River.

. . . off to see the world, there's such a lot of world to see . . .

Saturday, July 7, 2012

a day downtown

Today my Trotter's sandals proved their worth once again. I walked on and off no less than five buses, down more blocks than I could say, and in and around three museums. It is my last month in Chicago and I'm trying to capture her beauty and life as much as I can.

As I rode the bus in between museums I stared out the windows at the ornate architecture of the beautiful, old skyscrapers that line the streets. Intricate carvings, beautiful stone, elegant workmanship evidence in every turn and arch. I learned a bit more about these buildings while visiting The Chicago History Museum, and saw skyscrapers as yet another form of art in an exhibit featuring them at Museum of Contemporary Art.

At the last museum on my agenda I wandered through their gardens first. A man slept, stretched out on one of the benches beneath the trees that surrounded a beautiful fountain. After almost a week of temperature near or topping 100, today was a blissful 77. I'm sure the gentelman taking a nap was appreciative of a cool sleep.

I made my way into the Art Institute of Chicago. It was the first museum of the three that actually had a line. I'd been there many times before, and therefore made a beeline to their current special exhibit on Lichtenstein. I am, of course, familiar with his "comic book" style art, but I really enjoyed his landscapes they had displayed there.

After a quick stop for a meal, I boarded the bus to take me home. It was crowded so I stood in the aisle, clinging to a strap hanging from the ceiling for balance as I stared out the side window as we sped up lakeshore drive. I didn't mind the view. The ride was a microcosm of the city: her people crowded around me shoulder-to-shoulder and nearly silent, the brilliant architecture behind me, and the Lake - glistening blue and dotted with the white triangles of a hundred sailboats - rushed by in front of me as the bus ran express up the shore. I have never felt as "at home" in a place as I do here.

Soon, people were disembarking at every block as we neared the end of the line and there were only five of us left aboard. The bus stopped, which is not odd, and the driver got off, which is very odd. After the very-long bus backed up and a few minutes of questioning we discovered there was something blocking the road.

I was near the back of the bus with one other woman and she sighed and said something about being anxious.

I'm used to smiling and nodding and then ignoring the people around me on public transit. It's the way things go. She kept talking though, and I listened. I don't normally. Blame the delay, but today I did.

She had just had an argument with her teenager daughter. She had asked her daughter to do something, and when she came home found that rather than doing what she was supposed to be doing, her daughter had instead decided to re-arrange their home (which included painting a few things). While part of me finds that situation rather hillarious (and will probably be so to this family one day as well), at that moment there was a stressed out mother sitting across from me. I asked a couple questions but mostly just affirmed that it sounded incredibly frustrating. She said this daughter was the youngest of four kids, and that none of her others acted like this and she didn't know what to do. She sounded so . . defeated and tired.

And then, while this is an instinct I almost always squash for a myriad of reasons, I asked if I could pray for her. Her eyes lit up and she asked, "Are you a Christian, too?" I told her I was, and then crossed the aisle to sit beside her, asked her name, and placed my hand on her shoulder and prayed for her. I prayed that she would both receive and extend the grace of God. That she would be blessed in her mothering. That she would have wisdom and patience and strength of mind.

And the bus was still stuck at a standstill. We moved to the front to get some more info. They eventually moved us to another bus, where this woman and I sat near each other again, and we talked some more - about our churches and our lives. How she tries such and such with her daughter and it doesn't work. I pulled out my "works with teenagers" credentials and offered a few suggestions while trying to assure her that perfection is not a requirement of parenthood.

Eventually we made it to the end of the line and we parted ways. I'm fairly certain I'll never see her again this side of Heaven. I'm thankful for that moment, when my introverted self who is skilled at ignoring the crowd pressed against my shoulders was able to join in with a sister-in-Christ and be some encouragement in the midst of a stressful day for her. I am thankful for that gentle nudging in my heart that persists despite the fact that it is most often ignored.

I made my way home, exhausted and with aching feet from the busy day. Despite the exhaustion, I am thankful for the time to soak in more of this city I love and for the chance to learn a little more about the beautiful, broken and vulnerable, moments of humanity.

Friday, July 6, 2012

Miriam: Prophet and Leader

I stumbled upon a verse from Micah (6:4) a few weeks ago and Miriam has been on my mind ever since.

God is speaking to the people, reminding them of things He has done:

"I brought you up from the land of Egypt and redeemed you from the house of slavery, and I sent before you MOses, Aaron, and Miriam." (ESV)

"For I brought you up from the land of Egypt, I redeemed you from the house of bondage; And I sent before you Moses, Aaron, and Miriam." (NKJV)

"I brought you up out of Egypt
    and redeemed you from the land of slavery.
I sent Moses to lead you,
    also Aaron and Miriam." (NIV)

"Indeed, I brought you up from the land of Egypt
And ransomed you from the house of slavery,
And I sent before you Moses, Aaron and Miriam." (NASB)

With the exception of the NIV which treats Aaron and Miriam as an afterthought - this word of God given to the prophet Micah lists Miriam along with her brothers as the people who lead the Israelites out of Egypt and bondage.

Let's take a look at some other passage that highlight Miriam.

In Exodus 15, right after the crossing of the Red Sea, Moses leads a song and then we see,

"Then Miriam, the prophetess, the sister of Aaron, took a tambourine in her hand, and all the women went out after her with tambourines and dancing. And Miriam sang to them:

Sing to the Lord, for he has triumphed gloriously; the horse and his rider he has thrown into the sea." (Ex 15:20-21)

Two things I love about this passage. One, she is described as a prophetess, not just the sister of Moses and Aaron. Second, as evidence for her leadership position - she did not call the women to come to her and join in the song, but rather it seems they just followed her.

In Numbers 12 during the Israelites wanderings we find a moment that is not Miriam's best.

She criticizing Moses for marrying a Cushite woman. She complains to her brother Aaron along the lines of "Moses isn't the only prophet! God spoke to us too!"

And, I admit, this passage of scripture makes me laugh a little with the sibling rivalry and the "parental" chastisement feel.

The Lord heard Miriam's complaining and says to Moses, Aaron, and Miriam, "Come out, you three, to the tent of meeting!"

The Lord explains himself very clearly here. He says that he makes prophets and he speaks to those prophets in visions and dreams. He doesn't seem to be denying that Aaron and Miriam are prophets, but he gets a little more clear about what the hierarchy is when he says, "Not so with my servant Moses. He is faithful in all my house. With him I speak mouth to mouth, clearly, and not in riddles, and he beholds the form of the Lord. Why then were you not afraid to speak against my servant Moses?"

As consequence for her words against Moses, Miriam is struck with leprosy for seven days in which she must remain outside of the camp as unclean.

My guess is that Miriam's objection to the Cushite wife of Moses was that she was unclean. Miriam obviously thought that Moses had made a big mistake, that he had been fooled by love and that she herself was much wiser in understanding this transgression. It wasn't just envy and jealousy - it was superiority and judgmentalness. God made it extra clear to her that Moses is not lacking in wisdom or personal revelation, and then Miriam who was so concerned with things clean and unclean became herself a (temporary) unclean outcast.

There are a few other passages that mention Miriam - her death is noted in Numbers 20, she is mentioned in a few lists of Israelites, and in Deut 24 her case of leprosy is referenced in the laws regarding that disease. And, of course, it's widely believed that she is the sister of Moses that followed the basket down the river as Moses floated into the house of Pharaoh.

Miriam's status of leader and prophetess seems clear. Her status as leader was confirmed through the prophet Micah. Her influence and leadership among the israelites was prominent enough that when she voiced complaint it literally got her called into a conference with The Lord to nip it in the bud. She sang and danced praises to God and the women of Israel followed her and joined in on the dancing.

She was not perfect, but what person of the Bible do we meet that is? Jesus alone.