Dogs, Crumbs and the Cringe-Worthy Ways of Jesus

I’m going to be honest here, there are parts of scripture that, when I read them, I cringe a little.  Or a lot.  I say this as an unashamed bible thumping, bible teaching, bible believing Jesus freak.  But, it’s true.  So I might as well be honest about it.

A few of those cringy bits are from the Old Testament – there are just some really hard things to make sense of!

A few others have come from the easily misinterpreted apostle Paul.  Poor guy, I used to hate reading the New Testament because he seemed like a bit of a jerky know-it-all. (So sorry about that Paul, I love you!)

But there is one instance that comes from Jesus himself.  This is hard for me to admit because although he did have some challenging words they are usually reserved for the religious elite who, lets be honest, sort of deserved it.  But in general when dealing with outcasts and women he has such a gentle way of offering freedom, power, healing and acceptance.

But then I read Matthew 15 about the Canaanite woman…and the cringing happens.

Jesus left that place and went away to the district of Tyre and Sidon. Just then a Canaanite woman from that region came out and started shouting, “Have mercy on me, Lord, Son of David; my daughter is tormented by a demon.” But he did not answer her at all. And his disciples came and urged him, saying, “Send her away, for she keeps shouting after us.” He answered, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” But she came and knelt before him, saying, “Lord, help me.” He answered, “It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.” 

So wait a sec, did Jesus just call her a dog?  Is that a racial slur?

Um…

Honestly, I don’t know which is worse, the name calling or the way he initially ignores her.

It hurts my heart and confuses me.  Where is the man from Nazareth I know and love and follow?  Ignoring and insulting a needy woman?  What is going on here???!!

I could certainly speculate quite a bit here.  Was he hungry and tired and irritable and these words just slipped out?

hangry

He is human, after all, and I for one can certainly relate to responding poorly in those situations when I am underfed and moody.  But, I just don’t think so.  The Jesus I read about in the gospels is intentional with every single word, every single step, every single prayer and every single meal.  Even at his most haggard, his most desperate, he has compassion on others.

So I just have to dig a little deeper.   A critical and enlightening step I always need to take when trying to understand a few verses of scripture is to look at the parts surrounding it. What comes right before?  What comes after?  What is the overall context?

Well, the first thing I notice are the two stories that Matthew uses as bookends to this interaction with the Canaanite woman.

Immediately before this conversation, Jesus rebukes and teaches both the Pharisees and his disciples about what defiles a person; that which is in their heart, not any food they eat.  Washing rituals and dietary restrictions were a couple of ways that the Jews were set apart from the Gentiles and so Jesus sort of turns this on it’s head by saying it is actually what is already inside of you that defiles you, not your food or hand cleanliness.

I wonder if when Jesus uses the term ‘dogs’ he is simply saying out loud what the disciples already had in their hearts.  Maybe this helped them remember with conviction their Teacher’s words about what actually defiles a person.   

Immediately after this conversation, Jesus continues through gentile territory to heal thousands and does another miraculous feeding of 4,000.  While there were some Jewish people in this region, the majority would have been Gentiles just like the Canaanite woman.   He ministers freely and compassionately with no mention of crumbs or dogs.

So in between these two passages is sandwiched this odd, yet seemingly offensive interaction.

Matthew was intentional with this, what was he trying to show his Jewish audience?  What was Jesus trying to show his disciples and what was he trying to show this woman?  

I’m going to look once again at how Jesus responds to her:

“I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.  It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.” 

It’s true, Jesus came first for the Jew, to the lost sheep of Israel, and did most of his ministering in Jewish territory.

Before that, God chose this people for his own to bless and guide and reveal himself to.

And it wasn’t the Gentiles.  

And this is where I see that underneath the harsh words of Jesus lies an even harsher truth: God works in ways that can feel strait up sucky to us.  

God works in ways that feel narrow. God works in ways that feel exclusionary.  God works in ways that are confusing. God works in ways that appear to go against what we thought was His character.

Do you ever feel that?

God works in ways that appear absolutely ANTITHETICAL to us…and to him!

I see this over and over again in scripture, one example comes later in Matthew when Jesus tells his disciples he will suffer and die.  Peter, full of faith one moment, comes against this idea, assuring Jesus this will never happen, not on his watch!

But Jesus bring some harsh words yet again, this time for Peter:

Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; for you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things

Ok, so first he calls the lady a dog and then his best friend Satan?  Real nice, Jesus!

But once again, underneath these harsh words is an even harsher truth for the disciples to grapple with:   God is going to bring His kingdom through through death on a cross. This seems positively antithetical to any hope for victory for either Jesus or his disciples.  We see this same attitude reflected in the disciples’ dismissal of the Canaanite woman – a female gentile isn’t really going to advance the agenda.  So better just ignore her.  

Peter, who I think by this time was grasping what the Kingdom of God was like and who it was for, was still having a difficult time understanding and accepting the how.  The “How” in this case – the Messiah dying – seemed to run directly against any kind of kingdom victory, actually the very OPPOSITE of what one would do if they were trying to secure power and influence!

God’s ways, especially when you can only see the tree and not the whole forest, are hard to understand and even harder to appreciate.

I think it would be natural for the Canaanite woman, who had been excluded, to feel wronged and to be frustrated and even to come against Jesus like Peter does.

But, unlike Peter, she doesn’t seem to have a bone to pick with the ‘how“.

In the midst of the all implications that come with not being an Israelite, she acknowledges and also affirms Jesus as being both a Son of David and Lord.

Have mercy on me, Lord, Son of David

Even though the God of David hasn’t appeared to be for her or for her people, she still says these words.

Have mercy on me, Lord, Son of David

I really struggle with pride, so I don’t think I could be so gracious or humble!   But this woman takes it a step further, and goes on to submit to this religion and it’s ways.

Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.

How much humility is required of a person to say Yep!  I am a dog!  That’s me!

Where is the scorn?  Where is the offense?

It’s so easy, too easy sometimes, to praise, worship, submit and celebrate when it appears that God is on your side (on the side of your race, your gender, your culture, your political party, your class, your way of life…).

For this woman to acknowledge that her and her people were not chosen by God, yet still seek Jesus as someone good and to bow before his authority, power and even his Jewish identity feels out of this world crazy to me.

I contrast that with Pharisees from the verses just before this, what a striking difference!

In the midst of a system and a people group and a religion that is ANTITHETICAL to her very existence and identity, she seeks Jesus.  She seeks the “who” and she leaves the “how” up to Him.

She surrenders her story, her history, her people.

She surrenders her dignity and her pride.

She surrenders it all to Jesus, because He is Jesus.

And that is the faith that the Son of David desires.

Woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish.” And her daughter was healed instantly

Jesus praises her faith,  but I don’ think it was just her faith in him as a healer that helped her daughter, I really don’t.  By this point everyone knew he could perform miracles, even the Pharisees.  I believe she was demonstrating a faith that proclaimed that this God created her, loved her, and chose her, regardless of her identity as a Gentile woman. She shows her faith not in just what he could do for her, but in his very character and being.    

Somehow she has faith that the God that chose the Hebrew family and not the Canaanites, is still for her.

And she is right.

Even though God made a people for himself through Israel, his original heart, purpose and intent was never just for Israel, it was for all of humanity, all of the nations.

Yaweh chose a people, to demonstrate his love for all people.

God created a family in order to eventually create one family.

Christ is sent to Israel for gentiles.

So even though it appeared, to both Jew and Gentile, that God was only for Isreal, the truth is that was simply the way our Father was choosing to work through history in order to reach an entire world and so through the family of Abraham came our Messiah, first to the lost sheep of Israel and then to the very ends of the earth.

There is the mystery of God.   His ways can seem antithetical.  This woman had faith in a paradoxical God and through that faith she received what He wanted to give all along.

However, I don’t necessarily think she had an amazing theological framework, I think there was just something about Jesus that sang to her.  After all, the Pharisees had a FANTASTIC theological framework, yet their hearts missed his song.

So she surrendered the “how” for the “who” and she received not only the ‘who’ in Jesus Christ, but then also the fullness of the “how” as God’s plan for the Gentiles unfolded before her very eyes.

What appears at first glance as a narrow, exclusive Way is actually broad and wide and overflowing – she submitted to the former and she received the latter.  

This should be a picture of hope for me for when I just can’t understand why God is working in certain ways.

Oh what I would give to see the Canaanite woman on the day of Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit of the Jewish God wads poured out on her!  

Oh what I would give to see her empowered by that Spirit in the priesthood of believers, maybe to heal the sick and cast out demons, so that she may give to others what the Messiah gave to her and her daughter!

Oh what I would give to see the look on her face when the apostle Paul proclaimed that among the people of Jesus Christ, she, a Canaanite woman, was to have the full rights in the Kingdom of God as a Jewish firstborn son.  To hear Paul say that in Christ there is neither Slave nor Free, Jew nor Greek, nor is their Male or Female  (And no dogs)!

Oh what I would give to see her claim her seat at the table, next to her Jewish and Gentile brothers and sisters, taking the bread and the wine together and remembering their Lord’s death.

Oh what I would give to see myself living in this fullness, yet I agonize and wring my hands at the ‘how’.

Needless to say, I no longer cringe at this passage because all I can see is God drawing out from all of our hearts that which defiles, while honoring this foreigner and paving the way to bring His Kingdom.

I do, however, cringe thinking of the times in my life I have lacked the faith of this woman. I do cringe at times that I have held the same attitudes as the Pharisees.  I cringe at times that I have actually thought insulting things about others.

I pray that I would have the faith of the Canaanite woman.

It means I may not have position, power or privilege, but I get Jesus, and He is my prize.

To have the faith of the Canaanite woman means that when the “how” of God is frustrating, confusing and even offensive to me – Jesus will be enough, all day every day.

It means I believe and proclaim that His purposes, His Character and His Love are good even when the circumstances of my life would have me shaking my fist at God.

The faith of the Canaanite woman means I have faith even when there is a big tree blocking my view  – whether that tree looks like a scary diagnosis, a muddled path in the middle of my journey, a theology I can’t wrap my mind around, confusion over how God is working, or an invitation to take up my cross.  With her faith, I hope to remember that the forest is expansive and beautiful and breathtaking and I will get to enjoy it all as I humbly cry out to my Lord for mercy and as he makes my defiled heart clean.

Lord, Son of David, help me to trust your ways when they feel upside down and hard to swallow – because I have heard your song, and it is good.  

Walking on Water in the Desert

We were hosting some friends for lunch a couple of days ago who are in the throws of planting an international English speaking African church and community center to serve the second and third generations of Congolese refugees living here in Tucson.   I mean, come on, what a vision, right?!*

As they were excitedly sharing from across my kitchen table the many ways in which full dependence on God was their only avenue forward, I began to understand that this is what walking on water looks like in the middle of southern Arizona.   I could almost see salt water spray on their faces as they were talking.

Each little step of faith is exhilarating and miraculous and life-giving and unbelievable. No sea required.

Sadly – but not surprisingly – When Jesus is walking on water in the Gospel of Matthew, the first reaction from the disciples is not exhilaration nor awe, it is fear.

But when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were terrified, and said, “It is a ghost!” and they cried out in fear.

Jesus tells them “take heart”, and then proclaims the most repeated command in the Bible:

Do not be afraid

This seems to calm them enough, and so once the fear subsided, Peter – in true Peter fashion -was ALL IN BABY.  But I wonder if he was hesitant to come out and say it directly to Jesus or something,  at least that’s how I interpret this weird request…

“Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.”

Jesus invites him in, and what comes next is one of my all time favorite verses in the entire bible, found right in Matthew 14:29

So Peter got out of the boat…

Peter got out of the boat, you guys!  He did it!  He walked on water towards Jesus!  Go Peter Go!

Peter said YES to faith in Jesus and NO to a dry, safe boat.

All the crazy times I have said “YES” to Jesus flood my mind when I read this story.

I see myself getting out of the boat in a mirage of people and places and moments and prayers:  my children and husband, college students and our school choice for the kids.   I see trips to China when 6 months pregnant, broken down cars and where is the money going to come from and unknown next steps in life and risks in relationships and asking big things of myself and asking big things of others.  I see all those times I raised my hand and stood up when I could have kept my head down and LOTS and LOTS of trying to explain myself.

I see my friends and family getting out of that boat, too! (we’re all having a party on top of the water!)  Church plants for refugees and sacrificial giving and sacrificial love and moves across the world and foster children filling up homes and pushing off retirement and showing up day after day after day to the ‘stuff’ of life.  All by faith.  

When we proclaim Yes, Lord!  It is nothing short of a life of walking upon the water – even here in dry, dusty Tucson.  Hallelujah!  Peter got out of the boat and so do we.

Sadly, in Peter’s story, and all too often in mine, there is a but..

But…when he saw the wind, he was afraid, and beginning to sink he cried out…

There is that word again.

Afraid.

Fear does a funny thing to our brains and the science-y people tell me I will respond in one of three ways:

FIGHT

or

FLIGHT

or

FREEZE

(Maybe we should add “SINK” to that list…).

Now this fight or flight stuff makes sense from a survival standpoint, or maybe from an evolutionary standpoint.  But not being a biologist or an anthropologist or any other kind of -ologist – just a devoted follower of Jesus, a student of scripture, and wannabe theologian – I have my own perspective on all this.

As a woman made in the image of God, I was created to rule.  He has set man and woman apart from the rest of creation to reflect Him uniquely and part of that is to rule in a way the lizards and kitty cats and dolphins don’t and can’t.

God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground.”

However, when fear strikes and my brain’s reaction is FIGHT or FLIGHT or FREEZE, in some ways it is like I am forfeiting part of my Imago Dei.

Perhaps “FEAR NOT” is the most common command in scripture because it is out of fear that I surrender my place of ruling to a point where I am not so better off than the beasts of the field and the birds of the air.  Because it is out of fear that I muddle the reflection of God and miss out on his best gifts.

If I am being ruled by fear I cannot fully enter into Jesus’ invitation and calling.

I cannot mother from a place of fear.

I cannot minister from a place of fear.

Well, I can, but the results are pretty ugly.

When I see those mighty, mighty waves I will sink 10 out of 10 times.

I don’t fear for my life regularly.  There are no literal ocean waves in my life, just a lot of sand and cactus.

BUT… I fear rejection.  I fear being excluded and what that says about me as a person.  I fear making the wrong choice.  I am afraid for my kids’ futures.  I worry and fret over my value to others.  I am afraid of not having enough.  I fear risks and discomfort and loneliness and failure and being exposed and cancer diagnosis and freak accidents.

These fears look different then Peter’s but the results are the same:

FIGHT – I yell at my kids.  I cling to self protection and pride in relationships.  I let the passive aggressive comments slip out.  I put myself first for fear that no one else will.  I look out for number one, I craft the perfect argument, I damage and break and claw away.

FLIGHT – I disengage.  I isolate myself.  I hide away in my introvert cave and distract from the pains of life.  I walk away from people and places and conversations.  I throw my hands up in defeat.  I keep others at a distance.  I build bubbles and I build walls.

FREEZE – I watch life pass me by.  I can’t run away but I can’t take a step forward, either.  I settle for status quo and the path of least resistance.  I show up only to go through the motions.

And then…

SINK – The enemy wins.  He got his way.  I just couldn’t do it.

Peter sees the waves and his fight or flight animal brain is activated and he surrenders, even if just for a moment, that Imago Dei.  

If I am ruled by fear, I simply cannot fully rule as God intends.  And that is a pity.

My God-given capacity for impact and intimacy will be hindered, broken, and ultimately forfeited over and over again.

Every time FIGHT or FLIGHT or FREEZE are my responses to fear – I’m not so different from the animals.  I miss out on the chance to love, serve, mother, preach, write, sacrifice and yes even walk on water in full authority, security and joy.   My Father created me for those things, they are mine to do and oh how tragic it is when they sink with me into the water!

 

Well, it would be a pretty depressing story if it ended here. But what comes next is still a little bitter but a whole lot of sweet.

Jesus immediately reached out and grabbed him, saying, “You man of weak faith! Why did you begin to have doubts?”

Or I like how The Message version has it:

 Jesus didn’t hesitate. He reached down and grabbed his hand.Then he said, “Faint-heart, what got into you?

 

It is bitter and and sort of tragic because Peter didn’t get to finish his stroll on top of the water. He missed out.  Bummer.  My own weakness and lack of faith have cost me greatly, I haven’t been able to receive some AWESOME things that Jesus has wanted to give me.

This is just plain sad, no two ways around it.

But… with the bitter comes the sweet and that sweet is Jesus himself.   The most breathtaking and miraculous part of this whole passage in my humble opinion is not Jesus walking on water, or Peter walking on water, it’s the first part of that verse:

Jesus didn’t hesitate. He reached down and grabbed his hand.

Jesus does not leave us to sink.

Spoiler alert:  Fear will strike.   Sometimes, sadly, fear will win the moment and steal the joy.    But without hesitating,  the scripture says, he reaches down and pulls us up.  That is good news to me.

I sincerely hope that as I mature and grow up as a follower of Jesus my FIGHT  -FLIGHT – FREEZE responses to fear will decrease.  Help me, Spirit.   But if I don’t, and I miss out on something AMAZING that Jesus has for me and my flesh fails me because I am afraid, I don’t need to be afraid of losing Jesus because he won’t lose me.  I will not sink.

The story of scripture tells of a God that does not hesitate to reach down and grab us. Indeed, the story of my life tells of a God that does not hesitate to reach down and grab me.

And when they got into the boat, the wind ceased.  And those in the boat worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.”

*if you would like to help support this church plant, get in touch with me!

The Storm Inside

For the sea grew more and more tempestuous

As Jonah flees the presence of the Lord, and sails in the opposite direction of Ninevah, God sends a great storm after him.

The tempest is unrelenting and causes terror to all the guys on board so finally Jonah tells them it’s all his fault and they better just toss him into the sea to save themselves.

Pick me up and hurl me into the sea; then the sea will quiet down for you, for I know it is because of me that this great tempest has come upon you.

Image result for I volunteer as tribute.

A big fish comes and swallows him up and for three days and three nights Jonah sits there in the belly before he is eventually spit back out on to dry land.  Finally he goes to tell those wicked Ninevites to repent of their awful ways. They do, and their lives are spared.

The end?

Like all bible stories, we can make this one so neat and tidy and sanitized.

But last week as I spent every morning reading and praying through this odd little story in the middle of the minor prophets, I was struck by how untidy it actually is and I was overwhelmed with pity for Jonah.

The story is pretty linear, but through it all Jonah is ONE. HOT. MESS.  not to mention an emotional roller coaster (finally, a biblical character I can relate to!!!)

Early on in the narrative we see relief when the storm stops after Jonah gets thrown in the water…

So they picked up Jonah and hurled him into the sea, and the sea ceased from its raging

 

…but if you read all the way to the end we find Jonah out of the city, overlooking Ninevah and SEETHING with anger that the Lord would relent and not punish such an evil city. He quite literally cannot handle God’s compassion toward an undeserving people.  It was in the moments reading this part of the story and identifying a little too much with how pissed off he was, that I realized that the storm had not actually ceased.

Not only had it not ceased, but in fact the storm was never out there over the sea.  Not really.

The storm, the real storm in this story, is raging inside Jonah’s heart.

At the beginning he is fleeing the very presence of Yaweh.  That’s nothing new, we see Adam and Eve do the same thing after their disobedience.  But regardless of whether it is from sin and shame, fear, or anger – a soul fleeing the presence of the Lord is an unsettled, tempestuous, and raging storm.  

In the belly of the fish and in Jonah’s prayer, even amidst his praising and thanksgiving, we see evidence of great despair.

For the sea grew more and more tempestuous.

Jonah’s storm keeps growing and growing and growing, even after he is obedient to God’s instructions.

Lord, is not this what I said when I was yet in my country? That is why I made haste to flee to Tarshish; for I knew that you are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, and relenting from disaster.  Therefore now, O Lord, please take my life from me, for it is better for me to die than to live.

So God asks him this question that has pierced my own heart…

Do you do well to be angry?

Well, I guess Jonah thought he did do well to be angry, because he plops down with a view of the city so that he could sit in judgement of Ninevah since God obviously wasn’t going to do it.

I swear I can almost hear him muttering under his breath and feel his anger – his heart pounding and mind racing and teeth clenching.

I can hear those mutterings and feel those things because I have had the same storm in my heart.

However, because our great God cares just as much about  Jonah’s heart as he does about the whole city of Ninevah, He keeps pursuing.  He provides, and then immediately takes away, a shade plant to help demonstrate both His almighty authority and His tender mercy.

Now the Lord God appointed a plant[b]and made it come up over Jonah, that it might be a shade over his head, to save him from his discomfort. So Jonah was exceedingly glad because of the plant.  But when dawn came up the next day, God appointed a worm that attacked the plant, so that it withered. When the sun rose, God appointed a scorching east wind, and the sun beat down on the head of Jonah so that he was faint

But once again, Jonah is just not having it, and becomes livid when his shade tree shrivels up.

So, again God says these words to him:

Do you do well to be angry?

Jonah plays no games with his response,

Yes, I do well to be angry, ANGRY ENOUGH TO DIE!

For the sea grew more and more tempestuous

I am really (I mean REALLY) good at identifying the storms around me.  I can pick out sinful Ninevites from a mile away, I can have laser beam focus on disaster around me and pinpoint precisely who is at fault.

But really, just like the billowing waves garner all the attention of Jonah’s story – all these exterior storms can draw my attention away from the real problems God wants to address.

Those outside storms are easier, in someways, to tackle.  I mean, I’m sure it took some guts, but at least Jonah knew exactly what to do to get the storm to stop on the boat. Just throw me in and the storm will stop! The wind and the waves inside, however, are insidious and confusing and stronger than any hurricane.

In the Gospels when there is a great storm for Jesus to calm, it is paralleled with the confusion, hardness of heart, and lack of faith in the disciples.   Jesus can easily calm the sea, but what about their hearts?  What about the storms inside?

These storms grow from wounds and fear and shame and disbelief and have deep, deep roots and a strong grip on all of us.

The things within that cause me to flee the Lord,  to despair, and to seethe with self-righteous anger are not easily calmed.  There is rarely a quick fix, especially when I am convinced the storm is out there somewhere, not in my own heart and mind.

My only hope is the tender, steadfast and ongoing work of the Holy Spirit who will not rest until my hearts is His.   God has no desire for a robotic, Stepford prophet to do his bidding. Rather, our intimate and compassionate Creator desires a prophet whose heart is whole and worshipful and soft and loved.

While this is indeed a story of God’s mercy and prerogative to save a sinful city, it is also a story of God’s compassion and prerogative to save a a sinful man as He pursues with storms and whales and scorching east winds so that Jonah can truly see and know and love the God whom he serves.

I pray all the time for the storms out there – for God to intervene and save and change! Amen!  But God is faithful to minister both tenderly and expertly to me.  And sometimes that looks like sending a storm out there for me, so that I can more clearly see the one within.

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My afternoon art:  Jonah’s Perspective

Lord, let me be a Martha

With the exception of the Woman of Valor described in Proverbs 31, I don’t think there is a female in all of scripture that Christian women use to beat themselves up more than poor old Martha.

You remember Martha, right?  Yes, yes.  Mary’s sister.  The nagging one.

“Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!

I mean, can’t you just hear the whine in her voice?!

Martha gets it wrong.  

Her sister Mary, on the other hand, is to be admired.  We imagine her so calm and doe-eyed, staring up at Jesus in full adoration.  This is a woman who doesn’t overload her schedule and has time for a morning devotion (and probably doesn’t yell at her kids either!)

She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said.

“Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, but few things are needed—or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.”

Mary gets it right.

It’s practically a rite of passage in female Christendom to utter the phrase “I just want to be more of a Mary!”.

I feel in my clamoring to be this “Mary” figure, I close myself off from learning what scripture has to teach me about discipleship from Martha.

It is far too easy to take our preconceived assumptions of people in scripture and allow them to not only taint how we see their role in God’s story, but also causes us to miss some important things.

Take for example Euodia and Syntyche that Paul mentions in the close of his letter to the churches of Philippi.  He urges them to be of one mind and I immediately imagine a cat fight between two girls who just can’t get along.  Probably over something dumb, too.

Image result for euodia and syntyche
This is the first picture that pops up in a google search for Euodia and Syntyche.

 

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This is the second.
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You get the picture…

Christian commentaries, blogs and sermons declare everything from gossip to the ‘overly sensitive feminine nature’ to jealousy for this alleged spat between Euodia and Syntyche.

But as I was studying this passage last year one of the women in my group pointed out how there isn’t actually any indication that they were fighting, let alone in some petulant spat.  

In painting them -whether in my own imagination or from the pulpit or in a commentary – as little women who are petty and problematic –  I miss that Paul was simply speaking to two of his co-workers, probably prominent women in the church, and the importance of reminding us to strive for unity in the faith when facing mounting persecution.  What I actually see when I take a unbiased look is a plea for these two women to be encouraged and supported by the church members as they participate in the work of the gospel.  Maybe there were differences or maybe this was just an exhortation to keep running the race.

I urge Euodia and I urge Syntyche to be of the same
mind in the Lord. Yes, and I ask you also, my loyal
companion, help these women, for they have struggled
beside me in the work of the gospel, together with
Clement and the rest of my co-workers, whose names
are in the book of life

Even if they were disagreeing, I miss so much when I allow them to become caricatures in my head and especially when those caricatures serve to perpetuate silly stereotypes.

Going back to Mary and Martha – another pair of women always presented in the context of a petty female spat.  They have almost become two dimensional and unless I go back with fresh eyes to look at scripture, I just keep veering further and further off course in my perspective.

Mary and Martha. One right, one wrong.  And I have to pick which one to be.  I have to condemn one and strive for the other.  That is how it gets set up.

I wish I wasn’t such a Martha!

I want to be more of a Mary!

Who says we have to choose?

Who says we even should choose?

I am not a Mary or a Martha, I’m a Kirsten (okay, I’m also a ‘Kristin’ a lot too 😂)

I love Mary for her devotion to Jesus and her audacity in learning as a disciple.  But actually, just because Jesus doesn’t give in to Martha’s request, doesn’t mean she isn’t also audacious and devoted.

In chapter 11 of John’s gospel, we get a glimpse of the tender love that Jesus has for these two sisters as well as their brother Lazarus.  After Lazarus dies Jesus comes to Bethany,  just look at what Martha does:

 When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went out to meet him, but Mary stayed at home.

 “Lord,” Martha said to Jesus, “if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But I know that even now God will give you whatever you ask.”

Martha’s faith is astounding.

Martha’s faith is active.

Martha appears to be a woman SO secure in her standing with Jesus and His authority that she can confidently declare these things to her Rabbi.  She is not afraid, she is emboldened.

 Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.”

 Martha answered, “I know he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day.”

Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die;  and whoever lives by believing in me will never die. Do you believe this?”

“Yes, Lord,” she replied, “I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, who is to come into the world.”

Martha is not only theologically astute but this knowledge has transformed her mind and her heart and she believes.  This is a far cry from the image I have in my head of the woman too busy to sit at the feet of Jesus.

Even when we return back to that story from Luke, when I re-read it with fresh eyes and no previous caricatures in mind, I no longer see a frazzled, nagging, nit-picking sister who is missing Jesus – that is simply the narrative I have chosen to accept all these years.

What I see is that same active faith as when she confronted Him about Lazarus.

But Martha was distracted by her many tasks; so she came to him and asked, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to do all the work by myself? Tell her then to help me.

The word used to describe what Martha is doing is simply the greek diakonian – the general word used for serving and ministering, where we get the word “deacon”. It is at the very heart and soul of Jesus’ ministry on Earth to be a diakanos (minister/servant) or to engage in ‘diakonian’ (ministry/service). Anyone who serves – whether as a housewife or a nurse or a teacher or a pastor or a social worker – knows the concerns and distractions that come with such work.  It’s overwhelming the amount of people to care for in this world.  Martha is well aware of the importance of this serving ministry to Jesus.

There is absolutely NO indication in this passage that Martha is stressing over some Pinterest perfect dinner party and has just over scheduled herself and can’t sit and have a quiet time with her Lord.

She is a diakanos.  A servant.  She is someone who is intimately acquainted with Jesus and his ministry and his friendship.  It is true that he does not give into her request, corrects her thinking, and honors what Mary is doing, but that doesn’t mean we have to paint them in such a black and white fashion and pit them against one another.

Mary and Martha were both honored by Jesus, just as I believe Euodia and Syntyche were both honored by Paul.  Let us not fall into the dangerous trap of reading scripture without a sense of nuance.

It’s true we don’t have all the details, but why do I have to believe the two dimensional, shallow version of Martha rather than believing that she is a woman of depth, service, theological understanding and strong faith?

She is a woman on her own unique journey with Jesus.

So even though I love Mary and what we get from his words about her in this passage, I also seek to be like Martha.

Jesus give me a Martha spirit.  May I be SO intimately acquainted that I can make bold claims of you because I have bold faith in you.

Jesus give me a Martha spirit. May I be one who serves and ministers the least of these.

Jesus give me a Martha spirit. So that I too will be a woman who is quick to run to you first – even if you have to correct me a million times on the way because I miss the bigger picture.

Jesus give me a Martha spirit. May I be as much a devoted and audacious disciple as her!

Most of all Jesus, help me to read scripture with fresh eyes, to set aside my assumptions and caricatures to more clearly see the depth of what it means to follow you.

Lord help me to look beyond the black and white easy answers of who is right and who is wrong, who nails it and who fails. Help me extend more grace to the men and women  I see on the pages of scripture and in my day to day life.

Lord remind me that I don’t have to pit one person against another in order to be affirmed in my choices.  Lord help me to not perpetuate harmful stereotypes based on race or gender or theological affiliation.

I am both the pharisee and the sinner, the wounded and the healer, the leader and the follower, the Mary and the Martha.   There is room at Your table for all I bring with me.

The Rock and The House

As a family we love to adventure and hike and watch America Ninja Warrior and as a result my kids are often climbing rocks and trees and anything that will stand still including the walls of our house.  Inevitably there will arise a moment of panic when one of them can’t find a safe place to put their foot on the whatever they are climbing.  My husband will assure them calmly that they just need to feel around for the next safe step, but when you are in a precarious position above the ground and everywhere you move your foot is too small or not right or loose or cracked – even the steady voice of daddy loses it’s power and authority.

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And so it goes when we try to claim the promises of God when we are in precarious positions ourselves.

In the opening of A Grief Observed we glimpse these thoughts of C.S. Lewis:

But go to Him (God) when your need is desperate, when all other help is vain, and what do you find?  A door slammed in your face, and a sound of bolting and double bolting on the inside.  After that, silence

In those torturous moments of sorrow and anxiety and fear, the promises, presence and peace of God all seem to elude us and taunt us.  My children in their tree climbing adventures, and C.S. Lewis in his grief, find themselves in good company with Jesus Christ as he cried out on the cross

My God My God, why have you forsaken me?

In some moments of pain recently I felt as if I were pounding on that door that Lewis describes, begging for God to speak something – anything!-  to me.

Help me make sense of this!  

I am falling – why do your promises feel hollow?  

I can’t feel you, or see you – shouldn’t you be more present right now?!

It’s great to memorize scripture and know the promises, but when you can’t access them in your hour of need, when they don’t feel meaningful, we have words like those of C.S. Lewis and some similar ones from my journal pages.  All the promises and assurances of God kept whizzing past me. I couldn’t grab a hold of them!  Occasionally I would catch one, or so I thought, only to find that what I assumed was a solid mass was was suddenly a liquid and slipping  between my fingers.

Bolting and double bolting.

After that, silence.

There was no comfort, no peace, no presence, no promise that would minister to my soul in the way I needed, in the way I demanded!   When I first began writing ten years ago, it was to process this exact same thing.  Back then it was because I had suffered two miscarriages and the most painful part of the experience was wondering why I couldn’t feel God, wondering if He had abandoned me in my neediest hour.  But God did eventually break through during that season and in the months before becoming pregnant with Evangeline I have such precious memories of being comforted by Jesus, and He has been faithful to me once again.

A few nights ago a friend called me and prayed for me over the phone and the Lord gave her these words

“Everybody who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise builder who built a house on bedrock. 25  The rain fell, the floods came, and the wind blew and beat against that house. It didn’t fall because it was firmly set on bedrock”

It felt sort of funny in the moment for both of us because we had just finished teaching Vacation Bible School and this was one of the messages we had our kids memorize.

To be honest when I think of this verse I just see the children’s pictures of cartoon looking people building houses and that silly, silly song, it doesn’t feel very adult. Too much giggling when the house on the sand goes SPLAT!  Too simplistic and too formulaic.

But in that moment as she prayed, it was real.

Just as real as the wind beating against my house and the relentless rain, and the rising floodwaters.

The truth clung to me in the way I needed, – not just as knowledge in my head or words on a page.  It landed right in the secret place where it could take root and grow and flourish.

I have built my house upon Jesus.

Proclaiming that just feels so good to me right now!

I have built my house upon Jesus.

His teachings.  His ways.  His heart.  His death.  His resurrection.  His Grace.  His Church.

Yeah, it’s a house with lots of imperfections and failings and crooked parts.   So many that I am justified in wondering how it could ever stand up to a storm and certainly don’t always feel like the wise person described in the passage.  But as shoddy as my handiwork has been, the One upon whom I have built it is firm and I not only “could” trust him (you know, theoretically), I do trust him.

I believed I would be okay.  There will be storm damage to repair, but I would be okay.  

Until I am in those moments of hopelessness when the assurances are zooming PAST ME and OVER ME and AROUND ME but never INTO ME to grab a hold of, not until then can I fully appreciate both what a miracle belief is and how mysterious the ways of God are.  

The Promise that I would not be defeated through the storm because of my foundation in Christ created fertile ground for all the other promises that had been evading my spirit to come take root.

Assurances of a Savior and a Friend who doesn’t give up on me or changes His mind about who I am.

Of a Father who is steadfast, faithful, passionate, creative and interested.

Of a Spirit that is a flowing river that will make a way.

And It poured some much needed lighter fluid onto a flickering torch.

It has been a slow learning curve for me to invite others into the ‘process’ with me.  I am one of those people that prefers to share my problems after I have them all solved and tidy.  So I can just mention the events of my life casually without anyone seeing ‘how the sausage is made’, so to speak.   It is so worth the risk when friends respond to that invitation with gusto, compassion and faithfulness so that they can call me on a troubled Sunday night, and be used by God to tell me that the door is not bolted after all.

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Here I am standing on the top of a rock, Mt. Bigelow to be exact.  And I think I am shouting “I am Moana!” so that my son and daughter would be severely embarrassed by me.

This parable of building homes on the Rock and the Sand comes as the closing word after the Sermon on the Mount, during which Jesus quickly makes it clear that our own righteousness is a facade and that we will find God not so much when we are getting it ‘right’ but rather when we are mourning, desperate for God, thirsty for righteousness, meek, humble, persecuted, hopeless, helpless and sorry.

I don’t understand the silences of God when the nights are the darkest, or maybe I just can’t see how my own emotions and trauma need to settle before I can hear Him clearly.

But as I look closely at the varied strata of Bedrock underneath the life I have built, I can see that each layer is Jesus’ grace in a moment, a year, a day, a tear, a prayer, a leap, a confession, a slow crawl or a quiet yes  – all to the One who has first been faithful to me.

Whenever I feel my foot slipping,
    your faithful love steadies me, Lord.
When my anxieties multiply,
    your comforting calms me down.  Psalm 94

The Ministry of Oreo Cookies

Last week my baby boy somehow, miraculously, turned 6 years old.  He is big and strong and tender and generous and asks curious, philosophical questions about life.   To celebrate we invited some family and school friends over and I sent my husband to the store to get some chips and cookies.  He came back with Doritos and Oreos and so I ripped them open and there they sat in the kitchen.  The kids ran like wild, feral animals around the house, in and out.. and in and out…and in and out…through the patio door, but returning over and over again to my Formica counter until their fingers were caked in orange and their lips and teeth were spotted with chocolate crumbs.

We really hadn’t gotten to know the families from Zachary’s kindergarten class very well yet, so I felt nervous inviting them into my home, nervous about making small talk, wondering if we would hit it off and if they would like me (it’s ALWAYS 7th grade in my head!).

I am under no such illusion that I could locate any actual food listed on the ingredient list of these prepackaged snacks if I were to look, but for some reason it felt so good to offer them up, like they were the perfect items to bring people together, both kids and adults.

So incredibly unceremonious.

So very cheap and humble, I hoped everyone would feel welcome and that is hard to accomplish when I am trying to impress.

Chips and cookies: a familiar, common denominator for people of different backgrounds getting to know one another.  I could have offered something homemade.  I could have upgraded to something without fake cheese and artificial cream filling.  I could have made something Pinterest worthy.

But that day I allowed the ministry of Doritos and Oreos to reign as kids ran amok through my home and parents lingered around the dining room table.

And it was good.

A couple days later, after having walked through a couple of the complex places that life has me right now,  I found myself with tears streaming from my eyes and a deep, deep ache in my heart.   I sat down by myself to think and to feel and, as Sarah Bessey says, to ‘obey the sadness‘.

I told God how I was feeling.  I sat silently.  And then I got up from my chair, walked to the kitchen and took out three Oreo cookies.  I poured myself a small glass of milk and then returned to my seat, dunking each Oreo into the cold milk and then allowing that old familiar flavor to minister once again.

Eating my emotions is never the wise choice, I am well acquainted with this truth. Trust me.

But this wasn’t emotional eating in the same sense.   I mean, yes, I was emotional.  I was sitting in some very real heart ache that has been a constant companion for some time and I just sensed that God wanted to sit beside me, like a mommy whose child has come home from a hard day at school.  He passes a plate of cookies to me and whole milk straight from the fridge, and just sits in the sadness with me.  Listening, nodding along with empathy and compassion.

Not to numb myself from the pain, or solve the pain, or turn to chocolate instead of to Him.  But because He created me to taste, to chew, to crave, to eat.  He created me to feel comfort and nostalgia and to eat and drink and savor and enjoy.  He made food for me, he didn’t make me for food.  So I took the food that was on hand, some left over Oreo cookies, and ate them one by one.  Enjoying the crunch, the cream, the sweetness as a ministry from the Holy Spirit.

Through the Gospels so many of the miracles and stories of Jesus center around mealtimes.  A banquet, a wedding, a Passover feast, fish and loaves on the hillside, at the dining room tables of Pharisees and sinners alike.

And my favorite, when Jesus prepares a breakfast of fresh fish on the shore of the Sea of Galilee for some disciples who have just experienced grief, sorrow, regret and confusion.

I am among them.  

The Lord ministers through food, around food, with food. Salty, smokey fresh fish over an open fire.  Or prepackaged cookies from a supermarket.  As our tongues taste and bellies are filled and senses aroused our Jesus meets us.  He doesn’t shun food or forbid food or ask us to forsake food, he uses food.  This is, after all, the man who said He is Bread and He is wine.  Not to numb our pain or eat or emotions, but because God ministers through the things of the Earth He created, the things I can taste and smell and touch and see.   That which ministers to my body somehow ministers to my Spirit.

“There, there now” He says to me.  “Take and eat and remember me.  I am here with you and have not left your side.  Have another cookie and tell me all about it.” 

We are the women of holy week

I remember Mary the mother of Jesus.  During communion every Sunday and on Good Friday.  The bread and wine- body and blood – I remember Jesus but also in my mind is the first woman in Jesus’ life, Mary.  Mary, who actually and literally and intimately carried this flesh and this blood within her for 9 months and then years later grieved at the cross as she witnessed that flesh and blood slowly and painfully dying.   Her very flesh and blood.  Once part of her, now broken for her.  Once within her, now poured out for her.

When I take communion myself, and when I serve it to brothers and sisters at my side.  When I carry it, consume it, allow it to pierce my heart.  When I surrender and give thanks and even when I fail to understand.  When the bread and wine, body and blood are held in my hands, I remember the death of Jesus, and in some ways I am Mary the mama of my Lord.  

I remember Mary of Bethany.  Practically a sister to Jesus.  She took on the priestly role of anointing Jesus for his burial.  Was she the only one who actually got it?  Was she the only disciple who understood?  Did her cheeks flush and heart pound and eyes burn with tears as she marched through the cluster of men towards Jesus’ feet to prepare him, and perhaps prepare herself, for his death?

When my cheeks flush and my heart pounds and my eyes burn with tears to march forward the only way I know to be right I remember the death of Jesus, and in some ways, I am Mary of Bethany.  

I remember the women at Golgatha.  Many of the other disciples had fled and denied and even betrayed, I remember the women who remained.  Did they console each other?  Were they crying or stoic?   What memories flooded their minds?  What did the gruesome sight before them do to their hearts, to their faith?  In the midst of these questions, they persisted until the end.   They hadn’t left Jesus before, and they didn’t intend to now.

When I want to turn away.  When Jesus asks too much of me.  When his sacrifice disturbs me.  When the temptation to hide and flee and even deny threaten to overwhelm me yet I stay and bear witness with faith smaller than a mustard seed, I remember the death of Jesus, and in some ways, I am the women at the crucifixion.  

I remember Mary Magdalene at the tomb.  Friend of Jesus, redeemed and healed and set free and devoted for life to this Son of Man.  She thinks she is showing up to do the necessary duty of caring for a dead body, but Jesus meets her.  She thinks she is along the path of grief, but the resurrection puts her on a path of hope.  She thinks she is getting a second chance to cling to her savior and rabbi, but Jesus sends her to use her voice in a “man’s world”.  She moved in mere moments from the numbness of tragedy to the delirium of hope to the charge of being the apostle to the apostles.  Thousands of years and thousands of lives would be built upon her preaching, her witness, her faithfulness.  A woman who had been radically transformed and radically faithful from the beginning.

When my devotion to Jesus looks foolish to outsiders, when Jesus moves me from tragedy to hope to mission.  When I want to cling and stay safe, but Jesus sends me out to preach and give witness in the power of new life.  When it’s so easy to believe that I am the wrong person for the job, I remember the good news of the resurrection of Jesus and in some ways, I am Mary Magdalene.  

It is during Holy Week that I often feel closest to Jesus as a woman.  Perhaps it is as Rachel Held Evans describes

 I suspect she knew instinctively, the way that women know these things, that a man who dines at a leper’s house, who allows a woman to touch him with her hair, who rebukes Pharisees and befriends prostitutes, would not survive for long in the world in which she lived.

Surely a woman in this society would understand this better than a man.

Perhaps this is why the women stayed by Jesus’ side after so many of the Twelve betrayed him, denied him, and fled from him in fear. This was the course of things, the women knew

I enter into this story as each of these women, and as myself.   All around there is chaos, death, pride, confusion, arguing, religious pomp and circumstance, facades, betrayal, oppression and lies – as much during that first holy week in Jerusalem as this one in 2017.

But if I can clear away those cobwebs I can see that at the end of the day in the middle of it all there sits my Jesus, and a place for me at his feet.  Just as there was a woman called to carry his body and his blood, just as there was a woman called out to anoint him, just as there was a woman compelled to witness the crucifixion, just as there was a woman chosen to first preach the resurrection.

Just as there were women before me, so I am today, and so there will be women who come after me.

We are the women of Holy Week.  We have chosen what is good.  

Solitude and Silence and Facebook

I recently asked my team (a.k.a. my family) to help hold me accountable to being off my phone more.  My 7 year old  (who is basically ready to run the world) did not disappoint and took this task very seriously and drew 7 identical signs to post around the house (that all have an owl mascot on them), and cut out 20 ‘tickets’ to give me when I messed up.

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This girl loves rules, loves keeping the rules, and loves ‘helping’ others keep the rules.  Where I am weak with accountability and follow through, she excels.  What a blessing that we are on the same team, we balance each other out a bit.  And OH MY GOODNESS has she has stuck to it.  If after picking up my phone to check the recipe on Pinterest, I linger a bit to check twitter – she is RIGHT THERE, looking up at me sternly.

Actually, it feels embarrassing to admit that I need help from something that shouldn’t be a problem in the first place. It feels like I am not mature enough or discerning enough or can’t use my time wisely enough or be Christian enough to just enjoy social media for what it is and leave the negative bits. Sort of  like how we wonder why an alcoholic can’t just have one glass of wine every now and again.

I like how Sarah Bessey describes this in her recent journey to give up drinking alcohol (read this article it’s amazing)

We begin to sense that this Thing that used to be okay is no longer okay. The Thing that used to mean freedom has become bondage. The Thing that used to signal joy has become a possibility of sorrow. The Thing that used to mean nothing has become something, perhaps everything.  It has happened about other habits or dependencies or sins or stumbles in my life as I’ve followed Jesus.

Awhile ago I started seeing social media as The Thing.  I saw just how much I was really on my phone.  In addition to the shear amount of hours consumed, I also saw my reactions to what other people shared.  I saw my own motivations in what I would share.  And they weren’t pretty.  And I can’t unsee those things.  And try as I might, I can’t wish them away or self-help them into oblivion.

Accountability is good and my daughter’s compassion and determination inspire me, it has legitimately helped me, but if accountability and self discipline are my only courses of action in life then I think I am screwed and honestly a little disappointed.  

Because my accountability partner can’t always be there.

Because I can hide in the bathroom (and I do…)

Because I can lie.

Because I fail.

But most importantly and most powerfully, because my phone still tastes good to me.  Or rather, the things that my phone offers taste good to me.   As long as a thirst is present,  I will keep trying to satiate it even if I am going back to water that is muddy.

Unfortunately, simply placing more rules and guidelines and reminders to stay off my phone will always fail me if I don’t attend to the deep thirst and the need to distract myself which lie within.

You know how a yummy donut is heaven for a few minutes, but jiggly thighs inevitably come down the road if you eat enough of ’em (I have experience with this one, trust me!)?  Or how that delicious, spicy, cheesy chile relleno was quickly devoured but left me with heartburn for an entire day (totally worth it!)?  Well, social media leaves my heart and my soul with things that can’t be remedied by some extra leg squats or popping a couple of Tums. It leaves me missing the life I want.  It leaves an ugly gamut of emotions like envy, desperation for praise, loneliness, self-righteousness, superiority, rejection, outrage, greed, sadness, narcissism, and unrest – all sparked and then fueled in this place that wants to promise connection, authenticity and yes even freedom.  Ironically these are the same ugly emotions that drive me to to social media in the first place.   What an unending cycle it all is.

Why, my soul, are you downcast?

    Why so disturbed within me?

I turn to the internet for water, because I am thirsty, but am always left with gritty sand in my mouth. I know where living water is found.  I know where there is a stream that will quench every thirst I have.  But knowing will only carry me so far.

As the deer pants for streams of water,
    so my soul pants for you, my God.
 My soul thirsts for God, for the living God.
    When can I go and meet with God?

Jesus has never yet wrestled me to the ground and force fed me, so I don’t really expect him to start now.

Solitude and silence await me.

I must go to that lonely place in the quiet- where the Instagram filters and quick wit and right ideology that form my protective layers are stripped away and I am left bare to be seen by the one who made me.

I must go to that lonely place in the early morning hours – where demands and chores and tasks haven’t yet taken over.

I must go to that lonely place in the dark– where even though I search frantically, distractions and momentary highs cannot be found, so I must rest.

Solitude and silence.  Where I am afforded the opportunity to relinquish my relevance, relinquish my image, relinquish my competence.

At the beginning, my mind screams in the quiet.  The noisy racket of anxieties, fears, concerns, stresses get louder and louder, but there is no volume dial, no power switch!   So one by one I release my grip on them and give them to the Lord. I try to be patient with myself.   I center myself around Him.  I breathe deep.  I sip my coffee.  I wait. I wait longer.

Deep calls to deep
    in the roar of your waterfalls;
all your waves and breakers
    have swept over me.

I must go to that lonely place in the quiet – if only to pay attention to my thirsts.

My deepest longings and thirsts are to be seen.  To be favored.  To be celebrated.  To be invited.  To be pursued.  To be valued.  To be valuable.  To have purpose.  To be known.

I must go that lonely place in the quiet – to drink deeply from living water.

My thirsts are quenched as I am seen.  As I am favored.  As I am celebrated. Invited.  Pursued.  Valued.  Known and given purpose.

It is from being filled by the Father’s love for me and my place with Him – not just once but morning by morning in solitude and in silence – that I can look down at my turquoise phone and truly believe that life is not found there, that I don’t need to be distracted, and that there are better things waiting for me elsewhere.   The desire and appetite leave me, slowly.  And less and less I turn to that and more and more I live life apart from it and as Sarah Bessey says “be invited to more shalom, more peace, more hope, more love, more trust, more wholeness”

By day the Lord directs his love,
    at night his song is with me—
    a prayer to the God of my life.

The Great Pumpkin Thief

Yesterday my daughter’s 1st Grade class took a field trip to a Pumpkin Patch.  She had been looking forward to this for weeks, literally counting down the days.  Being 7 is great!  There are such simple pleasures, like getting a day away from the classroom to take a school bus across town with all her friends.

Just look at this girl!

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The experience was everything she had hoped for, she was SO PROUD of and SO PLEASED with the pumpkin she picked out (there was NO green on this one, mama!) and even prouder that she could carry it by herself and got to go on a hayride with it.

Of course her younger brother’s class didn’t get this same field trip so after school we ran to a local pop up style ‘pumpkin patch’ set up down the road where he could pick one, too.

This boy has me wrapped around his finger.  Big time.

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As I set the pumpkins next to each other on our fireplace hearth when we got home, it was clear that Zachary’s was perfectly smooth and blemish-free all around, however Evangeline’s pumpkin had some scratches, dents, and a noticeable gauge on one side.

Unfortunately, I was not the only one who noticed this.

Aaaannnddd so began the tears.

In between sobs I managed to discern some words about how Zachary’s pumpkin was so much better and perfect and hers was…not.  I could practically see in her eyes the contempt she had for that poor scratched-up pumpkin.

This is nothing new in my world.  The kids always seem to be wanting what the other one has (the purple plate, the bigger Lego set, the better stick found outside, and on and on it goes) . Many fights and tears and conversations have taken place around this issue.  It honestly makes me want to tear my hair out.

But this time I was struck in a new way.  My girl had SO MUCH  joy in her pumpkin – and now it was all gone.  And I was not okay with that, I grieved for her and her heart.  Something had been stolen and I wanted to get it back.

So I sat down, pulled her in my lap and told her a story.  A story about how mommy LOVES leading bible studies and teaching God’s word.  It brings me joy, it brings me pleasure, it brings me purpose.  I love the men and women I have gotten to serve through this act and the ways God has ministered to them through it.  But one time (okay more than one time, but I didn’t tell Evie that…) I started noticing another woman – who also was a writer and teacher and leader -who seemed to do everything better than me.  More creatively, more powerfully, more impactfully and in cuter clothes than me.  When glancing down at my own work, all of a sudden what was in my hands appeared dull and hollow and small.  Like dents on a pumpkin.

I painted a picture for my daughter of how comparison, dressed all in black to be an extra sneaky burglar, broke into my heart and stole something from me.  He stole my joy and the love that I had for the work in front of me.   My work hadn’t changed.  I hadn’t changed.  The only thing that had changed was the presence of comparison.  And that changed everything.

Remember how much fun your field trip was, Evangeline?  Remember the hard work of traipsing through a field?  Remember how there were lots to choose from, but you picked just the right one?  Remember how you carried it around with your classmates? Remember how excited you were to show it to me when I picked you up from school?   Girl, that is YOUR pumpkin!

She remembered, I could see it in her eyes (I love when my parenting talks actually work!)

Zachary’s pumpkin doesn’t change ANY of that, don’t let comparison steal your joy.  

She sprang up from my lap and after heading over to the fireplace she knelt down and draped her arms dramatically around her pumpkin, looking as if she never wanted to be separated from that thing ever again.

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She remembered her first love.  Well, her first pumpkin, anyways.

Whether it is my work, my abilities, my kids, my appearances, my car, my home, my bank account – I am often times perfectly satisfied….that is until my eyes wander over and see an image presented of someone else’s work, ability, kids, appearance, car, home or bank account. I swear I have been tempted to trade in my own personality.   And I begin to feel contempt for what I have and what I have to offer.  So measly and meager my life becomes in just a moment!   I have to remind myself of the same things I reminded my girl.

And I know that for a long time whenever comparison is threatening to rob me blind, I will remember the innocent joy and pride on Evangeline’s face when I picked her up from school yesterday, holding her flawed but beautiful pumpkin.

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I also want to remember the way she repentantly embraced that precious pumpkin on the fireplace, remembering that while what I have may be different from what someone else has, it is mine.  It is what I chose, or what God has chosen on my behalf.  It is mine to use and to treasure and to enjoy.  I too want to hold these things close, draping my arms around them just as dramatically as my daughter, filled with thanksgiving.

Free Woman/Slave Woman

The words sounded so lovely coming from my mouth; so kind and considerate and selfless.

“I don’t have a roommate preference, I’d be happy to stay wherever there is a need.  If someone needs a roommate, just put me with them!”

I was signing up for my church’s women’s retreat, and part of the registration form includes the ‘roommate’ blank to fill in.   And I wanted to ask a friend to room with me but worried about looking needy or loser-ish.  More than that I was worried about putting my request out there and being rejected.  Flashbacks of getting picked last or not getting an invitation to a party flooded my brain and took over.

Never has adulting felt so much like Junior High as when signing up for a lady’s event at church!!!

See, deep within my heart is just a little girl.  That’s all.  A little girl. She wants to be wanted as a roommate, but bigger than that, she just wants to be wanted as a person.  Preferred, chosen, worthy.  Wanted.

But that little girl lives inside a 35 year old woman, and letting my longing be seen and heard – or even worse, to have that longing rejected – felt like TOO MUCH for that particular Sunday.  So I cut it off at the pass.  Rather than living by the Spirit, I hid behind a veneer of righteousness. I didn’t know legalism could look like that.

‘These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. Matthew 15:8

Outwardly one might see a woman so secure and free that she is led to love with amazing flexibility and thoughtfulness.  Wouldn’t that be nice if it were the truth!   Sadly just beneath the surface lies a fear of being seen as needy, not sure of her value to others, and afraid of rejection.  I was RULED by those feelings in that moment, and anyone who is RULED by another is also known as a slave.

Experience has shown me that we will all be slaves to something, we will be ruled.  Slaves to what other people think.  Slaves to money or success.  Slaves to an image or an idea or an idealogy.  Slaves to fear, slaves to shame, ultimately:  we are slaves to our own brokenness.

So when the bible offers all these nice words like Peace and Freedom – but then I see what is actually ruling my own heart in the most trivial moments – I wonder if I am missing something?

When Paul tries to show the Freedom we have in Christ to the churches in Galatia, he allegorically refers to Sarah and Hagar from Genesis.  While most of the time when I read this story, I can’t get past the weird gross factor of Sarah asking her husband to sleep with her slave Hagar so she would get pregnant with a child for Sarah.  (Eww.  Just….eww!)  But truth is this wasn’t out of the ordinary for this time and place in history.  When a culture is completely steeped in patriarchy and passing on land and property, having an heir is extremely important.  So it was quite normal, wise and good even, to have a servant around to ensure an heir.   (Eww.  Just….eww!)

Outwardly, one might see a prudent woman taking matters into her own hand and doing right by her husband to provide a son and even fulfilling the promise God gave them for descendants, yet sadly underneath, her heart would reveal a woman insecure and afraid and anything but free.

Rather than trusting in God’s Promise, His Goodness, His favor, His Character – I think all she saw was year… after year… after year…after year…of a barren womb.

So, she yanked the reigns out of God’s hands.  Cut Him off at the pass, before she could be scorned and shamed and disappointed a second longer.

In the story, Hagar is the servant, but I think on some level Sarah was a slave, too.

Confession:  I don’t always believe God’s promises, either.  So I too will yank the reigns out of God’s hands to accomplish what I fear He won’t.  But you won’t see addiction or substance abuse or dysfunction, you will see prudent. Or smart.  Or selfless.  Or holy.  Or Loving.   Or volunteering to have a random roommate at a women’s retreat.

What Sarah did with Hagar brings out the ‘eww’ factor,  but my own heart when I control, manipulate, strive and people please under the guise of Good Christian Girl – is nothing short of grotesque.  Eww.  Gross.  I don’t want that any more than Sarah really wanted Abraham to have sex with Hagar and have a son by her.

I realize that everything I do, no matter how nice looking on the outside, can be done either from a place of freedom, or from a place of slavery.

That picture I put on social media?

The workout I just did?

The way I just served?

The great Jesus-y decision I just made – is this because I am free in Christ, or am I enslaved to the notion that God doesn’t really like me and so I need to try a bit harder?

Workouts and pictures and serving and Jesus-y decisions are AWESOME!  All of them!!!

But all over the pages of scripture from the Old Testament through the New, I see painted in bright and vivid colors a God that is looking right past my awesome words and deeds, and is peering deep into my heart.  He is not impressed with my sacrifice.  He is not impressed with my shiny happy picture or how my new dress fits me or how high I lift my hands during our worship service (pretty darn high, by the way).  He’s not saying those things are bad, of course, He just has other questions for me.

What is in your heart, Kirsten?  Are you afraid?  Are you ashamed?  Are you lonely?  Are you doubting?  What is ruling you?  

He cares about the What, but more deeply He cares about the Why.  And that is because He cares about me.

John Lynch in his book Truefaced shares how we have two paths as Christians – one  which leads to Pleasing God and one which leads to Trusting God.  One is entered via human effort and leads to a life of striving, standards, and outward conformity, while the Other is entered via humility and leads to a life of authenticity, grace and ultimately inner transformation.  He writes “If my motive is trusting God (as opposed to Pleasing God) then my value will be living out of who God says I am”

Who God says I am.  

I am prone to forget that I already am all those things that my little girl heart longs for.  Preferred. Chosen.  Worthy.  Wanted.

In those moments when I really, I mean really, understand this – I am free indeed.

And in this freedom I can run up to my friend and set my longing right out there in front of her and say “Hey let’s room together at the women’s retreat!”

or, as one who has experienced adoption, healing and acceptance I can declare, not as a slave hiding behind fake holiness, but as a free woman living by the Spirit:

“I don’t have a roommate preference, I’d be happy to stay wherever there is a need.  If someone needs a roommate, just put me with them!”

 “I don’t want your sacrifices—I want your love; I don’t want your offerings—I want you to know me.  Hosea 6:6

For freedom Christ set us free; so stand firm and do not submit again to the yoke of slavery. Galatians 5

Next weekend I am going on a women’s retreat with 70 of my closest church lady friends, all of whom I love and love me back, rooming with a girl I am getting to know a bit better and resting in the Lord’s love and provision in my life.  I can’t wait!