Saturday, August 27, 2011

12/29/2009 Reading Plan

I am a book whore.* 

I believe that if a book is worth reading, then it's worth owning.  And I believe that if I own it, I should read it, and re-read it, and make notes in it, and quote it randomly.  I cannot walk out of a bookstore without a book, and it's only grown worse since I became a mom, since I happen to LOVE kids' books.  I own over 800 books at last count (about 4 years ago).

The problem is that I acquire books faster than I read them, so I have decided that, in 2010, I am going to read a book a month.  While I'm not generally good with "New Year's Resolutions" - I am completely undisciplined and could never stick to a specific plan - I am a fast reader and am confident I can make it through a few hundred pages every 30 days or so. 
My rules for my 12 books are as follows:
  1. I must currently own the book!  No purchasing new books to get my book lust aroused and try to motivate my reading.
  2. For every new (previously unread) book I select, I must also choose 2 familiar books.  (an author I like suggested this habit so that I can truly enjoy and remember meaningful books) 
  3. I must have a few novels in the mix.  I tend to dislike fiction and gravitate wholly towards biographies, history, and subjects related to my family or ministry.  But I'm determined to give novels a chance this year (you'll notice from my picks, below, that I chose rather safely in this category).
And here are the 'chosen' for 2010:
  • The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (previously unread)
  • the Odyssey (previously unread)
  • Pride and Prejudice (read and didn't like the first time)
  • Cry the Beloved Country (read)
  • Evidence Not Seen (read)
  • My Dearest Friend - Letters of Abigail & John Adams (previously unread)
     Faith and Family
  • A Woman After God's Own Heart (previously unread)
  • Freedom of Simplicity (read)
  • Mere Christianity (read)
  • Future Grace (read)
I have 2 open slots for books I've previously read, which I will choose whenever I want next year (I don't like boxing myself in so much so that I couldn't even pick all 12 books ahead of time!).  And I'm not going to plan which book I'll read in which month, since I don't yet know what I'll be in the mood for.  But I am generally looking forward to reading 4 new books in my massive collection and revisiting 8 old friends.

If you have a 2010 reading plan, I'd love to hear it.  Then I can keep a list of all the books I'll get to buy myself at the end of the year!

* As far as I am aware, I coined the expression "book whore."  It was originally derived in the fall of 2003, when a friend spontaneously produced a small bottle of some Aveda product and asked me if I knew its purpose.  My snappy reply was "I'm not an Aveda-whore!", upon which I began adding the suffix "-whore" to objects in order to create an adjective describing a person who obsessively researched, collected, and/or used those particular items. 

12/08/2009 Spirit of Christmas

Like most things Jesus-related, our U.S. culture has toned down the true meaning of Christmas into a one-size-fits-all present that anyone can accept. I'm not just referring to the hyper-materialistic pageantry of the shopping spree. I mean the fluffy Hallmark-esque mantras that people politely repeat to each other.

"Christmas is about giving, not getting."
"We all just want peace on earth."

"Why don't we just spread kindness and understanding this Christmas?"

The problem with these superficial statements is that they refer to truth but don't actually support it. I agree that this season is about giving, about peace, and about kindness, but not in the ways that these flippant comments infer.

Christmas is literally "Christ's Mass", the celebration of the Christ (Messiah, Anointed One, Deliverer). Why do we celebrate the Christ? To understand the true meaning of Christmas, we have to be able to answer this! And answering means that first, we must acknowledge that we need a Messiah. We, the human race, are in a mess. We're leading a rebellion against God yet wanting the benefits he promised us back in paradise, like true happiness, satisfaction, and the good life that lasts forever. The problem is that we can't enjoy those gifts in the absence of God, and we aren't able to repair the rift between us.

So, God decided that he would give us a solution. Christmas is God's gift. The gift of a deliverer for us. And not just any deliverer, but GOD HIMSELF. GOD, the God who created the entire universe, who formed and then placed a star a trillion miles away from this planet, who knows every type of creature crawling on the bottom of the ocean, who designed the amazing intricacies of the human body - that GOD planned to deliver this crazy human race by placing his infinite, omnipotent, omnipresent self into the limited confines of human flesh. As a helpless, poor, unknown baby.

When I say that Christmas is about giving, not getting, I mean that Christmas is about a God who gave everything he could so that he could get me back, a God who keeps giving. He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?
Christmas signifies the ultimate peace offering - we have peace with God because of what Jesus Christ has done for us.

But instead of celebrating this deliverer who promises peace, we show contempt for the riches of his kindness, not realizing that God's kindness is intended to turn us back to him.

If we want to truly celebrate Christ's Mass, then, I think we need to -
  • express our thanks for the gift of a deliverer!
  • accept this gift so that we can rest in God's peace
  • respond to God's kindness by turning to him
Oh, let's be glad in the presence of God! Festival joy!
The joy of a great celebration, sharing rich gifts and warm greetings.
For a child has been born—for us!
the gift of a son—for us!
He'll take over the running of the world.
His names will be: Amazing Counselor, Strong God,
Eternal Father, Prince of Peace.

11/14/2009 For Maren

I carried you
41 weeks and 5 days in nearly perfect
peaceful wonder
my body, stretched to cradle and protect, nourished and sustained you
in awe we waited
with my undeserved power
to call you into being and your
tranquil form easing into shape.
at last you came, both of us striving, pushing, and dancing together in our first great work of mother-daughter struggle to result in joy
(oh, may every labor between us produce such delight)

now we learn each other face to face as you
steal my toothbrush rearrange my closet cling to my neck while
I cook and sing and tickle and surprise
you surprise me, too.

my body still stretches to surround you comfort you keep you close
even as you step away
come crawling back
dive into my arms
and I carry you, remembering
your wide-eyed entrance, with bluish-purple skin, silently
beginning together, the reverent prayers
whispering through our exhausted bodies as
mama and baby

Maren in her first diaper, soon after birth

Maren and Mama, one year later

11/09/2009 An Anniversary of Death

Seven years ago today, my father died.  That Saturday, he was making breakfast for my siblings in our kitchen when he fell over dead of a heart attack.  He had just celebrated his 52nd birthday. 

I never know what to do on this anniversary.  My family's attitude about most troubling or difficult circumstances is: buck up and move on.  Even in the few days following his death, I felt like no one wanted to really deal with it, to truly mourn or allow a depth of pain to set in.  The unspoken mantra was: "it was his time, but we're still here so just keep going."  We don't have any traditions in my family for happy memories, so we never started a tradition for this sad one.

But now that I 'own' a part of the blogosphere, I can at least pay some tribute to my dad.

I wasn't very close to him.  He wasn't very good at bonding with any of us kids but he was a loyal dad.  He came to most of our stuff, which isn't easy with 5 kids going in different directions.  I don't think he understood me but he was proud of me.  Because I'm the smartest kid, and he was smart.  I knew he boasted about my academic achievements to other people, even if he never mentioned it to me.  He had high expectations for me, and he was willing to take the time to help me succeed.  He thought it was ridiculous when other people didn't notice or reward me for my talents. 

When he died, the absolute first thought that ran through my head was that he never got the chance to be a Grandpa, and my dad would have been a great Grandpa.  Later, I was sad that he never had the opportunity to get to know my husband.  We had only been married 2 years when my dad died and had spent only a handful of holidays together.  My family was still working to accept Michael, much less love him for the amazing man he is. 

And ultimately, the hardest part about my father's death is believing that he died disappointed in me.  I will never forget the look on his face and the anger in his voice when I told him that I loved Jesus, I loved Michael, and I was getting married.  He was undoubtedly shocked and sincerely disappointed.  He thought I was giving up all the things he appreciated about me - my intelligence, my independence, my career.  I understand where he was coming from.  I had hoped to have had the time to show him my perspective.

That chance was lost, but other doors have opened since my father's death.  My family has been able to see my husband love me, support me, and engage with them in ways they didn't expect.  Our marriage is stronger and healthier than my parents' was, which I hope is inspiring.  Two of my siblings have since decided that they want to know Jesus and have begun their own faith journeys.  I hope that our stories are still far from over, and that as my family continues to grow and change and learn and love, we remember my dad with fondness and learn from his mistakes.  Our time is still here.  I don't want to waste it.      

10/24/2009 One of the Boys

In grade school, I did everything I could to prove that I was just as strong and smart as the boys in my class.  I didn't have to work too hard at trumping most males in the intelligence department (he he he) but I did break a sweat more than once in gym class.  Remember all those physical fitness tests?  I would push myself to do as many pull-ups as every boy; I would hang with my chin over that stupid bar for as long as it took to beat just one of them.  I would force myself to run, sit-up, and climb ropes faster than as many boys as possible.  I would even play basketball at recess just so I could push over those pompous lugs.   

The irony is that I'm not a competitive or an athletic person.  I didn't care about bringing home the physical fitness award.  But I cared - ALOT - about being viewed as an equally capable human being.  Because somewhere along the line, even as young as 4th grade, I realized that boys treated girls differently.  And that "differently" didn't make me feel as smart or as strong or as important as those boys.

In one way or another, I carried on this underground fight well into college.  I never held back my opinion; I demanded that my voice be heard.  I took charge of nearly every situation I could and never let a male stand in my way for anything.  I think I probably intimidated most people, male and female.

I have, however, softened over the years since I've been married - and been with Jesus.  I realized that even though I got "my way" most of the time or that I stood up to some invisible test of strength, I wasn't actually accomplishing anything of benefit.  I have learned that being forceful is not the same as being persuasive; that gentleness is stronger than toughness; that wisdom only speaks when something of value is to be shared.  No one wants to be around a domineering, uncompromising, long-winded man -- why would I ever believe I could attain equality by acting as such? 

With that said, I do believe that our society is incredibly off-base when it comes to teaching about gender.  I will post more about this later but, as I look back on my childhood, I can clearly connect how my father and mother interacted to my opinion about men and women.  I can remember how boys I knew talked about girls.  And I wonder, if even one of those circumstances had been different - more honorable, more filled with kindness - how I, too, would have changed. 

10/18/2009 For What Purpose?

My husband and I started a church just over 3 years ago now, and I have recently realized that since then, I've been struggling to feel purposeful.  Three years is a long time to wander around without much intention.  Disappointing, if you ask me. 

To be clear - I'm not having an identity crisis where I'm questioning my worth as a person or my reason for existence.  My security in Jesus is totally solid.  My infinite value as a life-partner and helper to Michael is undoubted.  And I am happily focused on being a mother.  But as I read my journals and reflect on conversations with my coach, I have to acknowledge that my soul has felt restless these last three years, that there has been an absence of clarity regarding my overall life direction or immediate purpose in action.

To be fair, this has been true since I first started following Jesus.  I learned very quickly that it was useless to make plans because I'm not actually in control of making any of those plans come to fruition.  Besides, it is much easier to enjoy the ride of faith when you're not trying to unbuckle your seatbelt and jump out at improper moments (and then have to be forced back into the moving car).  The last ten years have been absolutely unbelievably exciting, amazing, challenging, life-changing, and AWESOME.  Ten good God years. 

But something significant shifted when we started this church.  For the first time in our marriage, my husband was in a position of public leadership, and I wasn't.  We started with another couple, so Michael and Chris were working out how to co-pastor, and I had to step out of the way so that their relationship could develop healthily and equally.  Not only did I (willingly) leave the place of leadership I had comfortably enjoyed in our prior church, but I also lost some of my partnership with Michael.  I knew how we worked as a team; but now he had to figure out how to be a team with someone else.  A team I couldn't join.  So instead, I've been doing 'other' things in our church.  I volunteer with a few ministries, I'm in charge of some stuff, but heart doesn't get excited over those responsibilities the way I would expect it to if I believed they were part of my life's purpose. 

I'm not bitter or sad about the changes that happened in starting Hiawatha Church.  In fact, this has been a grace-filled three years in which my husband has grown and changed in beautiful ways.  I love our church family.  I'm just not sure what purpose I serve with them.

So I've been talking to Jesus about this, and I'm feeling pretty hopeful.  For my determined purpose is that I may know him, that I may progressively become more deeply and intimately acquainted with him, perceiving and recognizing and understanding the wonders of his person more strongly and more clearly* - and that's more than enough purpose for a lifetime!  

*the Amplified Bible's translation of Paul's letter to the church at Philippi, chapter 3 verse 10

9/28/2009 In Government We (Don't) Trust

I have a huge post in mind re: politics but I thought I'd start simple and make some comments on government in general.  Short and sweet, right?
I spent over an hour last night trying to get the link from an earlier post to show up nicely here, but I'm obviously not tech-smart enough to do it.  So I'll just mention that in an earlier post, I explained what I see as the "problem with people."  And because of that problem, I inherently do not trust governments or expect them to do much good.  I believe that the primary purpose of government is to protect its citizens. 

The tension is, of course, that the meaning of "protect", and the methods used to enforce that protection can be quite subjective.  For example, is it the government's responsibility to 'protect' the institution of marriage?  One could argue that the traditional family unit is the bedrock of a stable community and to disrupt the accepted definition of marriage between a man and a woman is to threaten our very foundation.  But if we are so concerned with the sanctity of marriage, why do we allow divorce?  Why don't we require couples to undergo rigorous pre-marital counseling and connect them with mentors in their marriage in order to ensure that their relationship is a success?  Isn't the astounding number of failed marriages also a threat to our security as a society?

How far should the government go to protect our wellness?  Why do we expect our government to protect our health insurance coverage but not our health?  In other words, why can the government require a company to insure me but can't require me to take care of my body by avoiding fried food and tobacco? 

At what point is an unborn baby considered a citizen whose life is worthy of protection?  If we really care about protecting children, why aren't we doing more to prevent unwanted pregnancies from happening rather than terminating the innocent life that's been created? 

Can the government protect our hearts?  I mean, I support freedom of expression but I personally believe we would feel a little better about ourselves if words like n*gger, f*got and the like were permanently banned from spoken language.

These questions are partly why I expect the government to fail.  Not only is it comprised of inherently selfish people who ultimately serve their own purposes (even if those purposes affect the greater community for good), but it also is completely useless in solving the primary problem of our humanity.  (I think that may be a circular argument)  I believe that unless a person's heart can be changed from a propensity towards evil to an effort for generous, sacrificial, selfless living, then the mess of our society can't really improve.  Not for all the legislation in the world.  And no federal law, no government program, can change hearts. 

So I don't put my trust in the government.  I respect it as a member of this society.  I voice my opinions as a responsible citizen.  But my hope doesn't rest in Washington, D.C.        

9/13/2009 Liar Liar Pants on Fire

The Lord detests lying lips, but he delights in those who tell the truth.
 - Proverb 12:22

I am really good at lying.  Not because I am an actress but because I only lie about 'small' things.  For example, if something cost me $20, I might say it was only $15, because I think $15 sounds like a better deal.  Or maybe I spent a little too long surfing the internet so I didn't get to a chore that I intended to do, and rather than own up to my waste of time, I say my errands took longer than expected.

I call these lies 'small', but really, they are stupid.  A difference of $5 is a worthless amount to bother lying about.  And, unless I was engaged in some illicit video watching, is it really so bad that I caught up on blog-reading instead of cleaned the kitchen?

The problem is, little lies are easy to tell.  They seem harmless, even meaningless.  But being willing to lie, at all, demonstrates something much bigger about my character.  First, it proves that I do actually care what people think of me.  I lie because I want to appear better than I really am.  I lie to others because I have believed the lie that my true self is not good enough to be shared and instead, must be masked by some false 'better' image.  Lying demonstrates that I fear not being accepted for who I am.

Second, when I lie, I intentionally deceive another person.  I choose, for what I think will be to my personal advantage, to convince others to believe something that is untrue,  This makes me selfish and untrustworthy.  That is a big deal.

Most importantly, when I lie repeatedly about small things, I begin to persuade myself that I'm not doing anything wrong.  This makes it easier to lie about bigger things until, eventually, I don't realize the error of those lies either.  And then I open myself up to any kind of deception, any potential choice to hide truth and live a duplicitous lifestyle.  That is frightening.

Most people do not wake up one morning and decide to enter into a sexual affair.  It takes many daily small decisions, many daily small moral concessions, many daily small lies, to inch oneself closer to that one big bad action.  Most of those daily 'small' choices are invisible but they build a foundation that makes it easy to cross over the visibility line.  This is why it is ridiculous to ask someone who's had an affair, "what were you thinking?"  Because the truth is, she needed to be asked that question 100 days earlier, when she received a flirtatious text message and responded in 'harmless' jest.  By the time the 'innocent' conversations reached the point of physical consummation, the person isn't thinking like a rational moral being because she's long since convinced herself that she's not doing anything wrong.

This is what the author of the letter to the Hebrew church means when he writes, "You must warn each other every day, while it is still “today,” so that none of you will be deceived by sin and hardened against God."  When I lie, I not only deceive others, but I deceive myself.  And that is the most dangerous deception of all because without a right perception of my self, without a true knowledge of the ethics of my choices, how can I be a responsible, reliable, rational and worthy wife?  mother?  friend?  leader?  How long will it take me, in my deceived state, to reject even God?     

So I need to fight the lies.  I need to reject the lie that I have to present something other than the truth about myself.  I need to tell people that I struggle in this area so that they will warn me against it and call me out on it.  I need to pray HARD that I will remember that telling a lie about $5 is a small step away from having an affair.

Consider this your invitation, at any time, to ask me if I am telling you the absolute truth.  Demand nothing less of me.  It may save our friendship, my marriage, my parenting, my ministry -- my life.           

9/6/2009 No Shop Zone

My entire life, I have hated to shop.  My husband used to doubt me on this but once, he found my diary from 4th grade (and read it, of course).  I had written an entire entry about how my mom made me go to the mall and how much I absolutely hated it.  Fourth grade!  So, I really mean it when I say I have always hated shopping.

My shopping experiences rarely start out so negatively.  I somehow convince myself that I'd like to take a little trip to <Target, the grocery store, the mall>.  When I arrive, I calmly walk through the aisles, casually gazing at the many items available for purchase.  But soon, the panic sets in.  I wonder if I should buy something.  But if I'm going to spend money, I have to get the best deal for my dollar.  So I start comparing.  Then I start questioning if I really need whatever product I'm considering.  I mean, I was perfectly happy with my material possessions before I walked into that stupid store - why am I suddenly convincing myself that I have to have more?  What would Michael think if he were here with me?  (I have since learned that Michael would say, "it's a little thing, honey, just get it if you want it.")  So now I'm persuading myself that Michael would persuade me to buy it, which must make it ok, and I like it, right?  And it's not like I'm blowing alot of money here or something (we're talking less than $20). 

But what about those little children dying in Africa?  How can I waste $4 on a box of cookies and $8 on a skirt at Goodwill when that $12 could buy a medicine kit for those selfless doctors working in 3rd-world countries?  So now I'm faced with the choice of saving a sick child or enjoying a box of cookies.  I start sweating in the store and looking around frantically as if my fairy godmother is going to appear and tell me what to do.  My daughter looks at me in confusion, as if to say, "why did you bring me here if you're not going to buy me something?"  I suddenly feel rushed, anxious, frustrated, selfish, and angry.  I wildly grab for the nearest product, head to what inevitably is the longest checkout line possible, during which I seriously debate dropping the item and running out of the store, complete my unnecessary transaction, then cry while I drive myself home, filled with utter remorse.

This happens to me all the time.  And it's not just about me spending money.  I felt this way in 4th grade, when my mom was the one making the purchase.  I feel this way when I visit my mother-in-law (a store manager at Sears) and she offers to buy me some new 'whatever' that's on sale.  I walk into stores, and I just feel completely overwhelmed with the material 'stuff' that's there.  I feel sick to my stomach when I consider taking more for myself, knowing that so many people in this world just want to have enough to eat today.  And the irony is that I'm not even a compassionate person! 

I know this is weird, and I want to find a balance.  Ultimately, I think I just want to know that I'm living deliberately.  That I'm not taking more than I need or keeping more than I should, but rather, that I'm being a good steward of what I have and giving generously where I can.  Aristotle wrote on virtues, that a virtue is only proven when put to the test.  In other words, I cannot be called brave until I have been put in a situation where I am tempted to run in fear.

So here is my test of courage: go boldly into those shopping malls, be intentional about my purchases, be confident about my life.    

8.29.2009 Know Thyself!

I'm a personal-assessment junkie.  I just love barreling through a series of questions about myself and then listening to someone's interpretation of what my answers mean about me.  I like the variety of self-knowledge you can gain: from the old standard MBTI personality indicator, the Gallup Strengths Finder, quizzes about leadership styles and communication styles, relationship descriptors, what-would-you-do-in-a-crisis studies, temperament tests, those that compare you to animals or to name it, I'd like to take it.

I know that many people hate these kinds of 'tests'; or, more accurately, they hate the outcome, hate the idea of being "put in a box" or have some label stuck to them as a result of some test.  I honestly think that these people simply don't know or don't want to know or don't want anyone else to know their true nature.

I used to teach a class that helped people clarify their purpose and passion in life, so I spent many years researching (and enjoying) the myriad assessments available.  And I found, in taking so many different quizzes, that one actually has to know quite a bit about herself in order to have an accurate result.  It's rather ironic - in order to 'discover' my personality, I have to 'know' my personality.  What I mean by this is that these questionnaires are simply that - questions about me.  It's not a test, where there is a right or wrong answer.  But you have to really and truly know who you are in order to answer the questions posed to you in a truthful manner.  And the problem is that many, many people do not really know themselves. 

Whenever I would discuss assessment results with people in my class, there would inevitably be discrepancies between the descriptive outcome and the person's perception of himself.  People would always claim that the 'test' was 'wrong,'  But they answered the questions!  So either the response they gave was inaccurate or they aren't really who they think they are.  In either case, this can shake a person up quite a bit. 

These assessments, I believe, rather than narrow us into a little box, are instead meant to free us from the box of who everyone else thinks or expects us to be.  They allow us to claim that "this" is truly who I am.  Many people take these assessments and answer questions based on the expectations that their family, or their social situation, or their current employer, have.  But when they look at the big picture - because every specific question, though it assesses one part of a person, fits into a greater whole that describes how the person is in a holistic context - that picture often doesn't fit with a person's experience of himself. 

For example, for most of my life, any assessment I took indicated that I was a planner.  I thought I was this incredibly responsible, well-planned and organized person.  But once I started teaching this class and thinking more deeply about myself, I realized that I answered questions about planning/organization in the positive because I have always been a leader.  I have always been in positions where people expected me to be well-thought out, to have things in order.  And I CAN do that.  But in my heart of hearts, I absolutely HATE doing that!  In my truest self, I love spontaneity, I love to solve problems on the fly, and I can't be bothered to organize my files or notes or desk (or life).  I'm a risk taker!  And as I reflected on my past leadership, I could see that I actually did lead that way, it's just that to everyone else, it appeared that I was this pre-meditated, neat little planner.  

The freedom of recognizing, of knowing, myself works in two wonderful directions: first, it helps me not put myself in positions where I am forced to work in opposition to my nature.  Instead, I seek out opportunities and teams and supervisors who understand me and allow me to thrive in my way.  What a joy!  But second, it helps explain (NOT EXCUSE) situations where I feel stress or tension - especially in relationships!  I cannot use any of these assessments as an excuse for failure, irresponsibility, hurtfulness, or any other unkind response to those around me; but I can understand what is going on inside me that causes the problem.  I can understand that my personality tends towards arrogance and, therefore, take great care to listen twice as much as I speak, and if I really must open my mouth, to do it with gentleness.  To learn humility.  What a lesson!   

I love knowing myself because it gives me the best chance to become the best person I was made to be.  And I love knowing others just as well so that I can encourage them to become the best version of themselves.  I'm sure Socrates didn't have the MBTI in mind when he urged his students to look within but I figure it can't hurt.     

8.18.2009 In Praise Of (Redeemed) Hierarchy

I have recently been discussing the idea - with various friends - that men and women can be equal in value but designed to fulfill different roles, specifically, within the church.  At the heart of this question is the belief that hierarchy and equality are mutually exclusive of each other; in other words, if hierarchy exists, in any form, then the members of that society must not truly be 'equal.'

The paradox is understandable, given that for most of history - and, unfortunately, in many nations still today - those who are in power have abused that responsibility, have lorded it over their subjects and have treated those beneath them as anything but valuable.  But this is what makes the kingdom of Jesus so glorious, that instead of abolishing hierarchical relationships, he redeems them.

His early disciples didn't quite understand this.  We can't really blame them, because they thought Jesus was going to set up this great earthly kingdom where he'd overthrow the oppressive Romans, and the Jews would finally be the ruling class.  So we see why James and John approached Jesus one time and asked to sit at his right and left hands when he finally took the throne.  They wanted to secure the highest places in his kingdom.  But Jesus turns their request on its head by explaining two things -
  • first, that to even share in his glory in the first place, they had to be willing to suffer.  ALOT.  Jesus taught his disciples that following him meant enduring suffering, shame, rejection, and persecution, even unto death.  The glory part comes later.  
  • but second, and more importantly, Jesus tells his disciples, "You know that the rulers in this world lord it over their people, and officials flaunt their authority over those under them, and when people get a little power how quickly it goes to their headsBut among you it will be different.  Instead, whoever wants to be a leader among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first among you must be the slave of everyone elseFor even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve others and to give his life as a ransom for many."
Did you catch that?  Jesus didn't say, "the rulers of this world abuse their authority, therefore, in our kingdom, there will be no leaders."  Instead, he tells them HOW to be leaders - by serving the people they lead.  Jesus didn't tell his disciples it was wrong to desire to sit at his right and left hands - he tells them how to do it! 
So, this is my very brief argument for hierarchy in the church.  Because it shouldn't look anything like what the world considers hierarchy.  Because if someone in the church is in authority over me, and he is using that authority to SERVE me, then how can I feel any less than valuable, precious, and imminently worthy (equal)? 
This is, in fact, the very model that Jesus gave us with his life.  Jesus - the KING, the one with the MOST authority, the one with ALL the power, the one most deserving of all accolades and respect - this Jesus used his position to touch (and heal) lepers, to teach women, to love prostitutes, to submit himself to human authorities for torture and deathThe king willingly went to his death for the good of his people.  Yet, in all these things, he was still the king.

To give a modern example - the President of the USA enjoys a great many benefits that the lowly citizen like myself does not.  In our system of government, he is MUCH higher on the totem pole than I.  If we were in any public setting together, he would be treated with the greatest deference and honor while I'd pretty much be ignored.  But the President and I are equal citizens under the laws of this great country.  Barack Obama and I are 100% equal as human beings.  Obama does not enjoy his privileges because of who he is, but because of the role that he fulfills, a role that I am subject to as a member of this society. 

So, too, in the church.  Every Christian is equal in the sight of God - equally sinful and equally made righteous in Jesus.  No difference.  And because of this great equality, we can have 'hierarchical' positions of authority in the church.  And those who fill those roles are to serve, to be the slaves not the lords of the members of the church.  I can praise that kind of hierarchy because it reflects the great humility of the one I am ultimately submitted to - Jesus.       

8.6.2009 Not Good Enough

Some days, I just really don't like myself.  Considering that I normally have a very healthy ego, it's good for me to indulge in a little self-loathing once in awhile.  The problem is, I apparently don't feel strongly enough about my weaknesses to actually do something about it - as in, change.

I'm lazy, selfish, unmotivated, and don't put forth any more effort than I need to.  This is perpetuated by the fact that my meager, "just good enough" efforts tend to produce better-than-average results so most people don't notice how little I try, and I have no incentive to try harder.  I'm not a people-pleaser so I don't even have the fear of disappointing someone to spur me into greatness.  This is pathetic.

My parents did a fantastic job of accepting each of their 5 children for who we are and not expecting us to imitate one another.  So, for example, when my siblings studied hard to achieve average GPAs, my parents encouraged them that they "did their best."  I, on the other hand, never had to work to be a straight-A student (except for that D i got in Advanced Calculus....which I actually did have to work for).  Shouldn't there have been some kind of "you're-not-living-up-to-your-potential"
consequence for me?  Just because I received "A+" grades didn't mean I was achieving what I could, and I wonder if I would be a different person if my laziness had produced a more negative outcome.

I have wondered this about everything I've done my entire life.  I don't feel like I've worked hard at anything, and yet, I've been blessed with so many talents and achievements in spite of myself.  If my lack of discipline were more obvious - if I was irresponsible with tasks entrusted to me, if projects I completed were less successful, if things simply didn't get done when assigned to me - then, I assume, all sorts of people would be exhorting me to get it together.  Do I need that admonishment any less just because I'm able to exert so much less energy to achieve what's asked of me? 

I believe, as a Christ-follower, that I'm called to "discipline myself for the purpose of godliness."  I believe that I need to "make the most of my time, for the days are evil."  I need to fight every temptation to be lazy about life!  And on top of this, I have to fight my perpetual state of boredom.  I crave change so much that it is difficult to be satisfied in each moment.


I mean that in a good, soul-searching kind of way.  Am I letting my gifts go to waste because I can and no one knows otherwise?  Am I unmotivated to work hard because I appear to be accomplishing so much?  Most importantly, am I missing out on greatness because I'm satisfied with being 'good enough'?  

Pray for me!  And give me a swift kick in the pants.  PLEASE.    

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

7.31.2009 Waiting Race

I've been in the blogosphere long enough now that I thought it necessary to explain my chosen name.  It's actually a play on words: Waiting Race or wait-in-grace, both of which are meaningful to me. 

I decided to follow Jesus in the summer of '99, and every fall since then, something life-changing has happened.  {I've listed those events at the bottom of this post because it's good to remember and great to share}  I'm going to expound on the events of 2002 because that is when I feel like this "waiting race", this call in my Christian life to wait-in-grace, really began.

In June of '02, my husband and I experienced a painful decision in our church family.  We were confused, hurt, disappointed, discouraged, and felt very alone.  Michael escaped for a bit by visiting his father in CA over Fathers' Day, and while he was gone, the Holy Spirit led me to the lamentations of the prophet Jeremiah:

This I recall to my mind,therefore I have hope.
    The LORD'S lovingkindnesses indeed never cease,
     for His compassions never fail.
    They are new every morning;
    Great is Your faithfulness.
    "The LORD is my portion," says my soul,
         "Therefore I have hope in Him."
    The LORD is good to those who wait for Him,
         To the person who seeks Him.
    It is good that he waits silently
         For the salvation of the LORD.
Who is there who speaks and it comes to pass,
         Unless the Lord has commanded it?
   Is it not from the mouth of the Most High
         That both good and ill go forth?  

This truth rocked my world.  God knew what he was doing, and he wanted me to wait in hope for his goodness.

That summer, we were able to wait, still in pain, in Norway.  Then in September, Michael went to visit his best friend in Alaska for 3 days.  But he got stuck.  He literally could not get home for 2 weeks.  God reminded me that I was still waiting (for what?  I kept asking).  When MIchael finally returned, he lost his job.  Then we were let go from our caretaking position (which had given us free rent).  We had to move.  A week after we moved, my dad suddenly died.  All this time, God kept whispering, "wait".

In January 2003, I spent a week teaching an inductive study on the gospel account of Mark.  When I returned to work, I clearly and distinctly felt God telling me to quit my job.  My stomach dropped.  Michael was in seminary, and my income was our only financial source.  I waited for over a week before I told Michael.  We agreed to pray about it, and in March, we both felt confirmed that I was indeed to leave full-time work (in August) to take an unpaid internship at our church (yes, the one that had hurt us just 10 months prior) that fall.

That internship was the most exciting year of our marriage thus far.  And the ride hasn't stopped.  Every spring, I find myself beginning to wonder and to anxiously await what surprise God is going to bring in the fall.  I have learned to wait in grace, to wait in hope, to wait in faith, to eagerly expect good things from an amazing God.  Ultimately, I am waiting for heaven to come to earth but until then, the LORD is my portion. 

Autumn Surprises from Jesus
1999 - I meet him!
2000 - marriage (Sept 22)
2001 - Michael starts seminary
2002 - my dad dies
2003 - I leave the corporate world, we live in faith as I enjoy an internship at Hope Community Church
2004 - I come on staff at Hope; we prayer walk in France with Chris & Aletha
2005 - we buy a house
2006 - we start Hiawatha Church with Chris & Aletha
2007 - I leave 'formal' ministry, spend a month training with PUSH Physical Theatre in upstate NY, and begin acting in Mpls
2008 - I give birth to Maren
2009 - ???

7.20.2009 What If?

I’m a remarkably decisive person.  No second guessing or turning back once my mind is made up.  I’ll make my bed and gladly lie in it. 

But during the process of decision making, I like to play the “what if?” game, also known as “what’s the worst that could happen?”  If any of my decisions yield poor results, I simply stop moving in that direction and try something else.  But the idea of the best possible outcome is so exhilarating that it far outweighs the risks of failure. 

The what if? game isn’t just a tangential method of decision making.  It’s not just about imagining the potential outcomes; it also requires me to take action based on those possibilities.  And those actions speak volumes to my character, to my values – to my life. 

Today, I considered the account of Noah and the ark.  You know it, right?  God tells Noah to build this massive boat because a flood is coming to destroy the earth.  It’s kind of a big deal.  It takes Noah quite a while to build this thing, and it’s not like he could hide it in his back yard.  I mean, everyone saw him build it.  I’m sure they asked questions.  He couldn’t have been quiet about the impending doom – he must have warned the people that they would need to enter the ark to be saved. 

Noah appeared to be an absolute fool.  But…what if he wasn’t?  What if just a few more people had asked themselves…what if Noah is right

If Noah is wrong, then he calls out, “hey, the flood is coming, get in the ark”, everyone boards, they wait, nothing happens, then they all get out.  He becomes the village joke for generations, the ark is declared an historic monument, and he is ridiculed endlessly.  I admit, that’s not exactly the memory you want to leave with your family forever. 

But consider the alternative – what if Noah is right?  He declares the flood is coming, everyone takes shelter in the ark, it actually rains, and no one dies.  The entire human race is no longer completely obliterated.

As I reflected on this today, it saddened me.  The people – the ones who were destroyed in the flood – had no excuse.  The ark was right in front of them, the warning clearly given.  But they ignored it.  Or, they were too afraid to believe it because the potential risk of Noah being wrong, of the shame that might become theirs, was too much.  No one wanted to risk that Noah might have been right, and it cost them their lives.   

Blaise Pascal, famous for his groundbreaking mathematical concepts, also made an important theological realization.  He reasoned that it was better to wager that God actually existed because so living has everything to gain and nothing to lose. In other words, what if Jesus really is the savior of the world?  

This is actually why I decided to follow Jesus.  I had run out of arguments against him, even though I didn’t want to believe he was true.  But I figured that seeking him couldn’t make me a worse person, so I’d try it and see what happened.  And the fact is, if I’m wrong, I spent my life for a lie.  Which would be sad.  But if I’m right, then the glorious payoff that’s coming is unimaginable.  And the terrible destruction…well, that’s what saddens me today. 

A skeptic might ask, how can a good God execute vengeance at all? 

Do we question the goodness of a parent who, in the face of a disobedient child, cautions that punishment is coming and then effects that punishment when the child ignores the warning?  Friends, the ark is still being built, the warning is still being issued…and the message is still being ignored. 

Wager on God.  It’s a much safer bet.      

7.14.2009 Three Decades

I am 30 years old today - and I feel FABULOUS! 

We don't make a big deal out of holidays or birthdays in our home, but last year, when I was pregnant, I asked Michael to plan something special for my birthday.  He, in turn, gave me a 29-hour birthday extravaganza, which was phenomenal and could not be topped for my 30th.  So this year, I told him that all I wanted was an uninterrupted night of sleep and to sleep in on my birthday. 

He then took it upon himself to check me into the Radisson Plaza Hotel in downtown Minneapolis last night!  He and Maren stopped by the hotel while I was at rehearsal and left me a little love note on the bathroom mirror (complete with Maren's handprint), along with an assortment of Godiva chocolates, a blueberry muffin and tea bag for breakfast, a talking birthday card, and the most A-MAZING aromatherapy lavendar chamomile bubble bath that put me right to sleep.  In my luxurious king-size Sleep Number bed, with Maren's teddy bear on my pillow.  Ah.  Sleep, beautiful sleep.

As I celebrate three decades of life, I wanted to share a statement that I wrote for myself in Sept '03.  It is a great reminder of what I am working towards! 

These are the driving values and vision for my life, in my attempt to be found faithful with what has been entrusted to me.
A.  With God the Father, His Son Jesus Christ, and His Holy Spirit
My utmost desire and satisfaction is intimate relationship with my creator, Father, Savior, and Bridegroom.  The more passionate my intimacy with him, the more I will live a Life of Worship.  This Life will be characterized (in part) by persistent prayer, daily feasts from his Word and suffering for his name's sake.  Ultimately, the degree of my passion for God will affect and perfect the levels of my intimacy in all other relationships; likewise, my worship of him will be expressed through these relationships as well. 

B.  With my husband, Michael, and all our future children.
Michael is God's gift to me, and the intimacy we share will reflect the glory of our Lord.  Additionally, our children will be entrusted to us and the only legacy we can leave with meaning.  Therefore, my passion for my family leads me to seek a Life of Humility and Sacrifice, in imitation of how our Lord loves us.

C.  With the Body of Christ
Jesus did not leave his followers in isolation, and, as a member of his body, I have a responsibility to live a Life of Service, through the exercise of my spiritual gifts.  I commit to pursuing ministries which develop these gifts, small group fellowship(s), and mentoring relationships.  Intimacy with the body requires not only my service but my honesty, as I allow others to challenge and change me.

COMPASSIONATE INFLUENCE - Wherever I am, so shall I minister
My life must be worth imitating.  Passionate intimacy in relationships overflows into compassionate influence, specifically with those who don't know Jesus.  I have no desire to limit Christ's love to the circle of Christian family he has given; rather, wherever the Father leads, so shall I freely give grace and truth.

INTENTIONAL DEVELOPMENT - I am a work in progress  
God has provided a lifetime for learning, and I intend to take full advantage of this.  I believe that my passion and compassion can increase with applied knowledge, so I expect to be a perpetual student.  Ultimately, I hope to bear the fruit of the Spirit, be aware of and engaged in current events, an avid reader on varied subjects, and become a wise old woman with godly life experience. 

7.9.2009 Unfading Beauty

I have a vivid memory of being about 11 years old and out in public somewhere with my mother.  A complete stranger (a woman) approached us and remarked to my mom on how beautiful I was.  It was odd to me at the time, and it continued to confuse me as it happened more than once over the next few years.  My friends' parents would regularly make comments to me (or worse, to my friends) about how pretty I was. 

I'd be lying if I said the compliments meant nothing, but honestly, it was more strange than anything.  My parents never drew attention to my physical appearance, and I've never been interested in beauty tips/magazines, make-up or trendy clothes.  I rarely look in a mirror, never step on a scale, nor pay any amount of care to what I wear or how I look.  I have always felt like I was just normal, that I look about the same as everyone else (because everyone appears equally attractive to me, too).

My husband has told me every singe day of our marriage that I am beautiful (or some version of this, as in, "you're hot!"  he he he).  That's over 3,100 times to date.  I don't take lightly the fact that I have a guy who not only notices but also appreciates and (positively) comments on my physical appearance.  I am certain that too many young girls and women are discouraged by what they see in the mirror and what our society - and particularly, the men in their lives - say (or don't say) to them about that image.  And I am thankful that I seem to have some kind of "beauty blindness" that allows me to consider all people generally the same -- on the outside.

Because I firmly believe that the most beautiful people are those with generous hearts.  My husband, who loves me dearly, will be the very first to tell you that no matter how 'gorgeous' I appear, he has seen me be uglier than anyone else could imagine.  UGLY.  And even on my prettiest days, I know that I don't compare to the many beautiful women in my life who are able to love me so much better than I do them.  If I ever feel unattractive, it is when I consider my (many) character flaws.  Who cares about the bags under my eyes, my out-of-style clothes, and my flabby belly when I lose my patience with my daughter, hold bitterness against my husband, or fail to help someone in need?

I want my daughter to have confidence in her physical beauty.  Enough confidence to not feel like she has to dress or make herself up in any particular way to "look better" than her natural self.  But it is her "natural self" that is my chief concern, the self that cannot be concealed and that blesses or curses the company she keeps.  The Hebrew King Lemuel wrote 31 proverbs about an amazing woman (oracles his mother taught him!) and this one is wisest of all:

Charm can be deceiving, and beauty fades away, but a woman who honors the LORD deserves to be praised.     

And the apostle Peter encouraged women in the early church not to be concerned about their "outer appearance—the styling of your hair, the jewelry you wear, the cut of your clothes—but your inner disposition.  Cultivate inner beauty, the gentle, gracious kind that God delights in and that does not fade. The holy women of old were beautiful before God that way." 

I want to be worthy of that kind of praise, to be that kind of beautiful.  

6.27.2009 Make It Count

Sometimes I really envy the single life.

[let me, before continuing, remind my readers that I happen to believe I have one of the best marriages EVER, and that part of this fabulous relationship is the honesty between us, in which my husband is aware that I have occasional bouts of desiring my independence.  I don't, in any way, regret the choices I have made, and, in fact, LOVE LOVE LOVE the married life.  But there is good reason to love singleness, too.]

This thought flitted through my mind the other day as yet another single friend was sharing highlights of a recent vacation.  Now, married people (and families) go on vacation, too.  But it costs more, so it tends not to happen as often.  You don't see or do all the things that you want because other people's wishes are involved.  And, as I indulged my self-pity party over the fact that I have not had a real vacation in...well, I can't even REMEMBER, it's been that long, I realized that fun, expensive vacations are just the metaphor for the perks of being single.

The apostle Paul, probably the most famous single guy other than Jesus and George Clooney, wrote to one of the early churches, urging its people to remain unmarried.  "It is good for a man not to the unmarried and widows I say: it is good for them to stay unmarried...Are you unmarried?  Do not look for a wife...those who marry will face many troubles in this life, and I want to spare you this." 

The "many troubles" of marriage are for many more posts.  Suffice it to say, to be single is much easier on the self - because, when you're unmarried, who points out all your faults?  Who tells you you're wrong?  How many times do you give up what you want so that someone else can get what they want?  It's your time, your money, your energy - and you can spend it however you want.  You can enjoy one, long, fun vacation if you choose to.

And this is my point - it might be easier to only have to look out for yourself, it might be more fun to always do it your way, on your terms and in your time.  But the easy way never built character into anyone.  It never changed the world.  George Clooney might have villas around the world, he might make an exorbitant amount of money and romance any woman he wants (and really, who wouldn't want to live like that?!?) - but in the end, will his life really matter?  Will he have spent his time, his money, his resources only on himself - or will he give them in service to others?
It's a challenge for everyone, single or not, to make the most of our lives.  But, in my opinion, it is especially important for the unmarried - because they have the freedom to do anything.  ANYTHING.  As Paul says, in his same discourse on the virtues of singlehood, "the time is short."  So will you make it count?   

6.21.2009 On Fathers

I didn't write anything special on Mothers Day but I thought this occasion, the first day of summer and the celebration of fathers, might warrant a few encouragements to the men out there.

I hope that it is common knowledge that fathers are absolutely necessary to the stability of the family.  Mothers, sons, daughters, pets - we all want a loving Daddy to protect us, take us on adventures, give us big bear hugs, teach us how to change a spare tire, fix the leaking faucet.  But I believe the absolute best thing a dad can do for his kids is love their mother. 

Let me say that again: I believe that a father's first responsibility is to the mother of his children.  The way a man treats his wife will teach his sons and daughters more about the character of men than anything else he can do.  A little girl may be absolutely certain of her father's love for her, but if she observes his neglect of her mom, she will still doubt the faithfulness of her future husband (and perhaps her own worth as a wife).  A young boy may respect the way his dad can build a fire or fix a car but if he notices his harsh tone towards mom, he will not learn to treat women with kindness.  If we want our children to grow into healthy responsible human beings, we not only need to give them both parental figures but we need those parents to love each other well.

It is all too easy to lavish love on our children and forget our spouses.  But a man who can continue to date his wife through the parenting years, who visibly serves her and encourages his children to do so as well, who honors and praises her, who supports the decisions she makes in the home - this man is modeling the nature of being a gentle-man.  The kind of gentleman that our culture needs, the kind you'd want your daughter to marry and you'd be proud of your son to become.

So, dads, as we celebrate your vital role in our families today, I pray that you don't just give your kids those tender hugs and kisses but generously shower them on their moms as well.  

6.14.2009 30 Days of Prayer

I've joined with over 1,500 other women who have committed to pray for our husbands every day this June, and since I'm about halfway through the month, I thought I should mention it here.  We are actually using a book called "The Power of a Praying Wife" by Stormie Omartian (if I could figure out how to put links in this post, I'd hook you up with

The benefits of such an act are, of course, that I'm taking the time to care about the many aspects of my husband's daily life (his work, health, choices, fears, integrity, trials, etc.), which is both encouraging to him and humbling for me.  And it's pretty powerful to think about the hundreds of other women who are praying 'with' me each day.    

But I've also been reminded that this just isn't how I was made to live my spiritual life. 

Most Christians attempt to have some kind of daily "Quiet Time", which generally lasts 15-30 minutes(?) and includes some reading of the Bible and prayer.  The first 3 years of my marriage (which were also my first few years as a Christian), I had a QT every morning before going to work.   I was religious about getting this "time with God" at the beginning of my day.  But during one of our many arguments during this period of our marriage, my husband not-so-gently made an insightful comment to me.  In one of my less than pretty moments, Michael pointed out that though I prayed and read my Bible more than he did, I was no more graceful, kind, patient, or loving.  He asked me what the point of all that QT was if it had no effect on my character or behavior.

Good call, honey.  So I stopped.  I stopped putting "time with God" in a narrow box that dictated what time of day and in what manner I would talk to him (and maybe even listen).  I stopped the religious rules with myself and started paying attention to my natural inclinations.  God made me a rule-breaker, a risk-taker, an in-the-moment-conversationalist.  In my nearly 10 years of walking with Jesus, I've never heard his voice when I've sat quietly alone; but I can guarantee that he'll be talking to me when I'm with a crowd of people or while I'm dancing or when I'm listening to an athiest share his story.

God is talking all day long.  The Spirit of God is moving in every corner of my day.  Jesus is listening to the deepest parts of my heart even when I'm not paying attention to myself.  By stopping my Quiet Time, I was starting to LIVE with Jesus.

So, committing to pray for these 30 days has been rather, well, boring for me.  Doing the same thing in the same way every day - it's not very adventurous.  Don't get me wrong - discipline is good, and I need a little of that every now and again.  And I know that God made people, very different from me, who find great fulfillment in a daily routine.

But I also know myself.  I've taken solitary spiritual retreats.  I've had personal days of journaling, reading, and praying.  And, while I believe such alone time is inherently valuable (and necessary), it's not the richest experience of God for me.  God is in the movement of my life, not the stillness.  What great freedom to worship that way!  

6.7.2009 Oh, Sister!

When I first found out that I was having a baby girl, I cried in disappointment.  Naturally, I felt awful about this reaction and examined why such news prompted this response.  What I discovered is that, even after 29 years, I had not come to terms about being a woman myself and was not eager to raise a daughter to love her gender when I clearly did not.

It was one thing to feel this way as a young person.  Growing up, I knew I didn't fit female stereotypes and never tried to.  I assumed that my problem as a girl was that I thought and acted more like a boy.  I certainly respected, admired, and imitated my father far more than my mother.   

As I've grown more into myself, I've been able to recognize the feminine in me as well, and I don't dislike those parts.  I'm glad that, as a woman, I naturally value relationships.  Even though I make decisions based on logic rather than emotion, I understand how I react and communicate with an emotion that is not usually present in male circles.

In fact, I now feel the most comfortable being a woman in my own home.  Within the context of my marriage, my gender is not an issue.  My husband and I are a team, and we complement each other in every way, our male- and female-ness being one piece of the puzzle.  As a wife, I have never felt less [important, valuable, talented, etc.] than my husband (in his eyes -- how others have treated me is a different story).  And now, as a mother, I am confident that I am being exactly who I was designed to be more than any other time in my life.

But there is still a very real part of me - the part that has to engage in life outside of my safe little family - that actually resents being a woman.  This is the part that truly believes, if I were a man, I would be doing bigger and better things with my life.  That people would look at, accept, respect, and appreciate me more.  That some of the desires in the recesses of my heart would be fulfilled simply because it would be easier to go after them as a man.            

I am frustrated with myself for not fully accepting my identity as a woman.  I love God, and I believe him to be a creative, generous, good starter-of-the-universe who designed women as beautiful reflections of the divine nature.  I do, in fact, view myself this way and am thankful for all the parts of God's personality that he put in me, even as I trust him to keep refining all the not-so-fabulous parts.  But if I truly believe that Jesus has made me his glorious and radiant bride, then how can I not enjoy being that girl?  I have to wrestle with that question even more than I do with that nagging part that doesn't like womanhood.  Because I believe that faith must be put into if my heart isn't acting like it believes the goodness of God's creation in me-as-woman, then I haven't quite nailed that truth yet. 

5.31.2009 What A Harlot!

I didn't plan to share some of my personal thoughts on passages in the Bible but I recently read an account of an awesome woman, so how could I resist?  This post is long because I wanted you to be able to reference the text.

One of the Pharisees asked Jesus to have dinner with him, so Jesus went to his home and sat down to eat.  When a certain immoral woman from that city heard he was eating there, she brought a beautiful alabaster jar filled with expensive perfume.  Then she knelt behind him at his feet, weeping. Her tears fell on his feet, and she wiped them off with her hair. Then she kept kissing his feet and putting perfume on them.When the Pharisee who had invited him saw this, he said to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would know what kind of woman is touching him. She’s a sinner!”

Then Jesus answered his thoughts. “Simon,” he said to the Pharisee, “I have something to say to you.”
“Go ahead, Teacher,” Simon replied.
Then Jesus told him this story: “A man loaned money to two people—500 pieces of silver to one and 50 pieces to the other.  But neither of them could repay him, so he kindly forgave them both, canceling their debts. Who do you suppose loved him more after that?”

Simon answered, “I suppose the one for whom he canceled the larger debt.”  “That’s right,” Jesus said.

Then he turned to the woman, but said to Simon, “Look at this woman kneeling here. When I entered your home, you didn’t offer me water to wash the dust from my feet, but she has washed them with her tears and wiped them with her hair.  You didn’t greet me with a kiss, but from the time I first came in, she has not stopped kissing my feet.  You neglected the courtesy of olive oil to anoint my head, but she has anointed my feet with rare perfume.  I tell you, her sins—and they are many—have been forgiven, so she has shown me much love. But a person who is forgiven little shows only little love.”  Then Jesus said to the woman, “Your sins are forgiven.”
The men at the table said among themselves, “Who is this man, that he goes around forgiving sins?”
And Jesus said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.”
                     as recorded by Luke, chapter 7

Let's take a moment to compare the two people Jesus is dealing with here:

Simon - man, namedHarlot - woman, unnamed
Pharisee - position of religious power/authorityReligious/social outcast
perceived by society (and self) as righteousperceived by others (and self) as sinner
didn't offer usual water to clean feetwet feet w/tears & cleaned w/her hair
didn't give customary kiss of greetingdid not cease to kiss his (dirty!) feet
neglected courtesy of anointing head w/olive oilanointed his feet w/rare perfume
questions who Jesus is ("if...a prophet")has faith in Jesus (note that she acts before he speaks)
loves littleloves much
 is saved, forgiven, & gets peace

This woman - a prostitute - broke all social norms to get to Jesus because she believed he could forgive her for the mess of a life she was living.  She crashed a party full of important men!  She let down her hair and kissed the feet of a Rabbi!  She approached him with humility because she knew she was a sinner.  And rather than rejecting her, like the rest of the religious elite had done, Jesus blesses her. 

But Jesus does something else that is so important here.  Simon doesn't actually ask Jesus why he's letting this lady fall all over him - he only thinks it.  Jesus could have ignored Simon's thoughts and simply spoken to the woman - she'd still leave feeling like a new person.  But because he loves Simon, he brings up the question.  He wants Simon to know something, and I think it is this: we are all sinners, like this woman. 

Jesus, in his story, explains that each of them treated him according to what they believed about him.  Because Simon doubts Jesus' identity, he neglects to honor him; but this woman, before Jesus uttered a word to her, shows him great love.  Not only did their actions demonstrate how they viewed Jesus, but it also reflected their opinion of themselves.  Those who think they are righteous before God do not have much reason to express thankfulness for salvation; but those who know their sinful state have great cause to respond with love.

So, in this account,
  1. A lowly uneducated slut shows up a bunch of smart religious men.  She 'gets' who Jesus is.  Awesome.
  2. Jesus commends her faith, assures her of salvation (forgiveness for her sins), and grants her peace.  What a deal.
  3. Jesus desires that EVERYONE act like this harlot - acknowledge your sin, come to Jesus, be saved.  
Whether or not you 'believe' in Jesus, the big idea of this passage is a challenge to you:
How you view Jesus - and how you view yourself - will determine how you respond to him.  So, who do you say he is? 

5.25.2009 Going Strong

I had had three serious relationships before I met my husband.  Three intelligent, generous, kind, men who all loved me very well but all of whom I chose to leave.  Marriage was never a real consideration for me, but I only understood why when I met Michael.

You see, I'm a strong woman.  By strong, I mean much of the textbook definition:
  • (someone who) exerts great force; possesses skills and qualities that create a likelihood of success; powerfully affects the mind, senses, or emotions; shows determination, self-control, and good judgment; able to withstand great pressure; very intense; not soft or muted but clear & prominent; (and, though originally referring to food) distinctive and pungent
It takes a lot to love someone like me.  And I have incredible admiration for the men who boldly attempted it.  But the problem with those previous relationships was that, in loving me, these men always let me have my way.

At first glance, it's natural to wonder, "WHY did you leave these guys?!?"  I think that women, whether they admit it or not, believe that they're right most of the time.  Even if they don't say it out loud, their actions communicate, "if you just did it my way, we wouldn't be having this fight."  And for someone with as passionate a personality as mine, it was easy to think that I needed a partner who would recognize my strength and not suppress it (by telling me I'm wrong or that I needed to change).  I suspect that most women secretly wish that they got their way most of the time in their relationships.

But when the person with whom you hope to have an equal, cooperative, partnership always concedes to your will, it is difficult to respect him.  And a woman who doesn't treat her man with respect damages her relationship as equally as a man who doesn't serve the woman with love.     

My husband has met all my past boyfriends (all of whom I am thankful to now call friends), and he once asked me why I chose him.  I instinctively answered that he was the first man I had respected, the first man that I wanted to follow (as in, the first man I knew had the strength to be a leader even to me).  Michael was the first man (maybe person) to tell me I was wrong and to not back down from his opinion.  He took everything I dished out to him and served it right back to me.  That made for ALOT of fights.  Four solid years of world-record fighting at the start of our marriage, in fact.  But it's one of the things I respect about him - he fights back, and, somehow, still communicates his huge love for me.

Michael's love has taught me that being strong doesn't mean having your way all the time.  He has demonstrated that it takes a stronger person to admit when (s)he's wrong.  His strength invites my opinions because he wants to hear something different from his own and is unafraid to disagree.  We are stronger, together, when we don't hold back anything from each other.  Who knew that what a 'strong' woman like me really needed was a good kick in the pants?      

5.21.2009 From Boys to Men

It seems common knowledge that little boys require an extraordinary amount of physical energy.  They always need a job to do, or, left to their own devices, they most certainly will destroy, dismantle, or otherwise wreak havoc upon their immediate surroundings.  Young boys are always on the move, in search of the next adventure.

As I watched two such (adorable) terrors wrestle each other the other day, I wondered when this gusto for activity and enthusiasm for simply doing disappears.  Because it also seems common understanding that adult men tend towards apathy, they become the quintessential 'couch potato' content to escape into the internet, video games, dumbed down television, and inactivity.

Here is my unprofessional but honestly observed theories on how this happens:
  1. American culture emasculates men.  The feminist movement, while rightfully fighting for suffrage and equal pay, has replaced one oppression for another.  Rather than simply elevating women to the appropriate position of equal and complementary partner in this world, the movement has, instead, forced men to cower in the corner where women used to sit.  It has become dangerous for men to assert themselves too much or to have too loud of an opinion.  It is far easier for them to just stay out of the discussion because, before they even open their mouths, they're wrong. 
  2. As boys reach puberty, moms stop appreciating and start nagging.  Good moms offer an abundance of praise when their young children 'help' around the home.  But as boys age, it's less fun and more of a chore to clean up after themselves.  In their well-intentioned efforts to teach their sons responsibility, moms unintentionally become annoying nags who focus on the work that's not being done and fail to reward with the enthusiastic thanks they once gave.  In some cases, moms eventually give up and do the work for their sons, teaching them that laziness is more effective.
  3. Men's basic needs are ignored.  It really doesn't take much to make a man feel good about himself, and it takes just as little to tear him down.  I believe that men really do desire to provide, serve, and help (society, their families, their organizations) but when they don't feel that their efforts are noticed, appreciated, respected, and praised, they quickly retreat.  Women have a difficult time understanding this because, as many wives have complained, they still cook, clean, and care for their home even without thanks.  "No one tells me I'm doing a good job but I don't stop doing it" is how women see it.  But that's not the proper comparison.  A woman may continue her daily tasks without notice but a woman who goes unnoticed in a relationship retreats from it.  A man wants appreciation for the work that he does but a woman wants appreciation for the person she is.  Because so many women fail to recognize how valuable their respect and praise is to the men they know, these men eventually stop providing, serving, and helping them.

None of my theories excuses men from their tendency towards apathy but if I'm right, then we as a culture can work together against it.  It is equally important to raise young women who value men's contributions as it is to raise young men who honor women. 

5.17.2009 Enter In

Some days I just want to run away from my life. I convince myself that my husband is never going to change [into the impossibly perfect man that I want him to be], that I will never have enough energy to entertain my baby one more day, that I cannot possibly handle one more whine out of the dog, and that given my lack of friendships, I might as well head to the hills without a backward glance.  Being around people - being with people - being available to people - can be exhausting.

And if I gave in to that extremely self-centered notion that I'm suffering in this droning existence, it would take little effort, once my husband walked in the door, to hand him the child and walk out in search of some undefined hope of a better life.  Or I could stay and suffer in silence, letting bitterness and resentment build up without a word, allowing my imagination to multiply the offenses committed against me and transforming my circumstances into the direst of dramas.

Instead, I battle on with(in) myself. 

I have to choose to fight - to fight FOR my marriage by bringing forth my complaints, however unreasonable they may be, releasing my judgments, and being at peace with my spouse.  To fight against my selfishness that desperately wants to claim me a victim in the struggle for joy.  Every day, I have to choose to move towards the people I care about, to press in to the trials I face, to believe that the hard work of relationships and community is worth the effort because the alternative - the idealized vision of an utopian existence isolated from trouble - is a big fat LIE.

I believe that this temporal life is a war for our souls and that the outcome of this fight determines our eternity.  There are so many empty things battling for my energy that I often lose sight of what I really should be fighting for.  So sometimes I lose the battle.  Sometimes I feel tired from working so hard to serve others, to give generously, to be kind and gentle when I just want to stand up and scream "What about me?!?"  Sometimes I feel too weak to keep moving forward in love.

But I know that the final victory will be mine because when I have my head on straight, I rely on a power much greater than my own.  Jesus said "I have told you all this so that you may have peace in me. Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world."

A final word: Be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power.  Put on all of God’s armor so that you will be able to stand firm against all strategies of the devil.  For we are not fighting against flesh-and-blood enemies, but against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against mighty powers in this dark world, and against evil spirits in the heavenly places.
 Therefore, put on every piece of God’s armor so you will be able to resist the enemy in the time of evil. Then after the battle you will still be standing firm.  Stand your ground, putting on the belt of truth and the body armor of God’s righteousness.  For shoes, put on the peace that comes from the good news so that you will be fully prepared. In addition to all of these, hold up the shield of faith to stop the fiery arrows of the devil. Put on salvation as your helmet, and take the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.
Pray in the Spirit at all times and on every occasion. Stay alert and be persistent in your prayers.
                 ~ excerpt from Paul's letter to the church at Ephesus     

5.9.2009 Friendship

Friendship has always been both mysterious and elusive to me.  Mysterious because I feel like I have no idea how one actually becomes 'friends' with another; elusive because I witness friendships all around me and never seem to be part of them. 

For as long as I can remember, I have had mentors in my life - adults ('elders') from whom I sought counsel, asked big questions, and bounced off ideas.  Even in elementary school, I talked to my teachers more regularly and easily than any of my peers.  At the same time, I have also had relationships in which I was the one who listened, advised, prayed for, processed or generally invested in the other person.

But I have very rarely experienced a peer relationship in which I felt we were on equal footing, that each of us was similarly interested and involved with the other's life on a true 'friend' level.  Here's my best guesses why this is the case:

1.)  I am not fun.  Seriously.  I really don't know how to just 'hang out', to make small talk, to be silly and laugh at random things.  On the flip side, when I am with someone I care about, I want to converse on a heart level, to know what's going on in their lives, to ask hard questions, and hear their stories.  But I don't think most people want to do that all the time.  Sometimes people just want to have FUN and friendships are formed in these lighter moments.  Which I don't know how to participate in.  So it's hard to be my friend. 

2.)  I am not good at serving people.  I know some amazing women who always seem to know when someone needs something, and they just give whatever that 'thing' is to the person in need.  People like that offer to take someone's kids when the mom needs a break, they invite friends over for dinner, they help move heavy stuff, they call just to check in - they simply serve.  This is so much harder for me to do.  Not because I don't care but because I rarely feel that I need something done for me; as a result, it is hard for me to think about and realize that others often need 'a little help from their friends'.  It's totally self-centered, I know. 

3.) For much of my life, I have been in a position of leadership.  As such, I have to be careful about my words, my heart, and my life on a level that many of the people around me do not.  I don't mean this in a prideful or guarded way - in fact, I think that one of my strengths is my openness and honesty with people.  But I don't have complete freedom to express every thought, complaint, problem, or struggle I have with my peers.  This is good, on many levels, but I have to believe that it also affects, however slightly, my ability to just be friends with someone. 

[I should note that I believe it is important for EVERYONE to have a safe place/person where absolutely anything can be said without judgment or fear, and this is especially true for leaders, who often close themselves off from those they're leading but do not find an appropriate outlet for such confessions/discussions.  This is one major reason I have always had a mentor - to serve that purpose for me.]

Anyway, I often reflect on my lack of friendships and feel alone.  Not lonely but definitely alone.  Sometimes I mourn this, often I ponder its cause, but I have accepted it.  I know myself well enough to distinguish between something that I should change (a prideful attitude or complaining spirit) and what might give me difficulty but is not necessary to change (being so serious all the time!). 

If you know me, maybe you have some more insight into why you're not my friend?  he he he - please don't take that too seriously :-) 

5.3.2009 Forgiven

Being married, and being in ministry, the issue of forgiveness comes up quite frequently.  Some big questions I wrestle with are -
  • can you truly forgive someone if they have (a) not acknowledged that they have wronged you and/or (b) if they have not asked you to forgive them?
  • what is the difference between forgiveness and reconciliation?  can you have one without the other?
  • can you forgive someone but still expect punishment/retribution/justice for the wrong they have committed? 
As I mentioned in my last post, I find it relatively easy to forgive and forget.  I would like to think that this is because I am a "good Christian" but honestly, it's more selfishly motivated.  Holding a grudge hurts me much more than it affects the one who wronged me, especially if that person isn't aware or hasn't admitted to doing so (which seems to be the case most of the time).  By continually reliving the hurt they've caused me, I am choosing to live in my pain, to wallow in discontentment, and to fester disappointment.  That's the kind of stuff that can kill a marriage, or a friendship, or a partnership, so I'm not wasting my time on it.

This means, therefore, that I believe it is possible to truly forgive someone even if they have not admitted their misconduct or asked for your forgiveness.  Forgiveness is letting go of your right to stay mad.  Forgiveness squeezes out the venom of bitterness so that the wound can be healed in your heart. 

Because forgiving does not always lead to reconciling, or, more accurately, to restoring.  Sometimes a destructive act makes it impossible to trust again.  Sometimes, the person does not change their behavior or it is dangerous to continue in relationship.  Sometimes, the person who hurt us has died before we could make amends.  In these cases, the situation is left unresolved but the forgiveness can still take place.  However, I firmly believe that whenever the offending party has admitted their wrong, has demonstrated resolve to change, and has sought forgiveness, it is the responsibility of the 'victim' to pursue reconciliation and restoration.  Yes, I really do mean that.

And, even in the best of cases, there are still consequences for our actions.  Trust takes infinitely longer to regain than the moment it took to lose.  I can forgive an injustice but I won't soon give you the authority or opportunity to repeat such a crime.  I can commit to restoring a relationship while living in the aftermath of an affair. 

The important point, to me, is that I don't always (perhaps, ever?) have the ability to enforce justice for what has been done against me.  Of course, I can end a partnership, walk away from my marriage, ignore my friend - but I suffer from that, too.  Retaliation is not a clear response.  And if I truly want to heal, to be at peace, with what has happened, then rather than escape the situation or inflict punishment on my offender, I actually must press into the circumstance, the relationship, the reality, and find forgiveness.

Because, after all, I have done my share of wounding.  It is easy to think that I haven't gone as far or hurt as deep as what has been done to me, but it's a matter of perception.  Pain is real to the one experiencing it, and I cannot judge the spectrum of my hurt compared to that of another.  If I truly knew, day to day, the ways I've disappointed my friends, failed my family, been insensitive to the needy -- if I could only see the extent of the harm I inflict on the world, then I would clearly see my need for forgiveness.

The one who has been forgiven much, loves much.

I have been forgiven.  This, then, is my power, my responsibility, my privilege, to forgive.      

100 Things About Me (4.25.2009)

1. I am the oldest of 5 children but am often told that I am not a ‘typical’ oldest child
  2. I am second generation Greek-American on my father’s side.  My (maiden) name is on Ellis Island.
  3. I hate potatoes in every form
  4. Marriage is the hardest (and longest) job I’ve ever had
  5. My marriage is my greatest accomplishment
  6. If I had the money, I would go skydiving, bungee jumping, hang gliding – any thrilling, potentially dangerous recreational activity
  7. I love bridges
  8. In 6th grade, I was in a beauty pageant.  My memory is very confused about the whole affair.
  9. I find it easy to forgive.  I do not hold grudges.
10. I thrive on change (and often instigate it)
11. I have a strong sense of self and am not easily swayed by peer pressure or outside opinions/expectations
12. “Passionate” is the adjective most consistently used, throughout my life, by others, to describe me
13. I am not afraid to fail
14. I do not like being in the car (or any mode of transportation) for longer than 10 minutes.  I would prefer to teleport from one location to the next. 
15. I am crazy fast at completing just about anything – tests, books, projects, tasks.
16. I am not good at crafty activities that involve working with my hands or attention to detail, e.g., scrap booking, knitting, beading
17. I have a nearly photographic memory
18. I love to read non-fiction, especially auto/biographies
19. Everything I wear was given to me; therefore, I have no consistent (arguably, no existent) sense of style
20. I do not like being in or taking photographs
21. I rarely laughed before I met my husband (now I spend a lot of time laughing with him)
22. In 1st grade, I decided that I did not believe in God
23. I cry at the National Anthem
24. I am a snob about good spelling and proper grammar
25. I am lazy about keeping my house clean
26. When I travel, I prefer to meet the local people and experience their customs rather than visit ‘points of interest’ (e.g., historic buildings, museums, geographic sites)
27. I love hearing people’s stories
28. I love the water, especially the ocean
29. I dream in motion – I am a dancer and experience life as movement
30. My favorite class in high school was Advanced Biology.  I knew I didn’t have the fine motor skills (see #16) and possibly not the brains to become a surgeon, but I really loved opening up the body and learning about how it worked.
31. I am really bad at any sport involving a ball
32. I enjoy eating well-prepared (i.e. not processed or fast-) foods
33. I think I have an intuitive sense of languages
34. I can’t stand the smell of coffee (and hence, have never tasted it)
35. Before I was married, I had never said “I’m sorry”
36. I deplore television and have never owned one.  However, I do watch The Office online.
37. I am a total SISSY when it comes to cold weather – anything less than 75 degrees is too cold for my comfort
38. I have flown first class on an international flight
39. As far as I know, I’m not scared of anything
40. As an actor, I really enjoy the rehearsal process of discovery and experimentation
41. As a dancer, I prefer to learn the piece and move on to performance
42. When I do have to be in the car, I prefer to drive in silence
43. I spent 3 years teaching a class that helped people better understand themselves – what made them tick, their natural strengths and personality temperaments, and their purpose in life.  
44. Even though I’m a talkative, futuristic vision-caster, I find it necessary to observe the discipline of silent reflection
45. I was one of the “last persons” anyone would ever have expected to follow Jesus
46. While I am highly aware of my body in space, I am not so aware of my body in a car in space and often collide with stationary objects.
47. I have two moles on my body: one behind my left ear and one below my belly button
48. In 8th grade, I danced the lead role of Clara in The Nutcracker in a professional ballet company
49. I love forming and working with teams of people with complementary strengths
50. I am addicted to knowing myself and others extremely well; I love any type of personal assessment (e.g., Myers-Briggs, DISC, Strengths Finder)
51. I love warm autumn colors
52. I emote in the extreme – I either LOVE or HATE most things
53. Most people react to me in the extreme – they either LOVE or HATE me :-)
54. I tend to be oblivious to physical appearances
55. My father’s death (6.5 years ago) was the first death in my entire family in the 23 years I had been alive
56. I am a city girl because (a) I love walking to everything I need, and (b) I love that my neighbors are nothing like me
57. I have learned to listen twice as much as I speak (I’m still practicing)
58. My husband and I started a church in South Minneapolis in Sept 2006, the same time I started acting professionally
59. I wish I could afford to see the opera
60. I am really bad at giving gifts to people
61. I love to handwrite letters and cards to tell people how much I value them
62. I have extremely ugly feet – even my husband says so
63. It takes A LOT to offend me or to hurt my feelings
64. I gave birth to my daughter in water in my home.  It was the most empowering, affirming, and pleasurable experience possible.
65. If I had total freedom, I would be an actor only and forever. :-)
66. I have no regrets
67. I am an incredibly light sleeper – it can take me hours to fall asleep, and once I wake up, I’m awake.
68. I have never had to set an alarm for myself – I just tell myself when I want to wake up, and I do. 
69. I have never been hospitalized
70. I have a very high stress tolerance
71. I always think I want junk food but the moment I start to eat it, my stomach turns.
72. After serious investigation, challenging debates, and honest conversations, I put my trust in Jesus the week after I turned 20.  It was totally an intellectual and logical, not an emotional, decision.
73. I hate running
74. I have seen and experienced many miracles
75. I never ever imagined that I could love being a mother so much
76. I hate shopping, of any kind
77. I am a realistic optimist
78. I have no allergies
79. I am in the top 8.33% richest people in the world (  
80. One thing I value from my childhood is having dinner together every night as a family
81. I was voted “Biggest Ego” in my high school class.
82. I still have the confidence of that 17 year old but, by God’s grace, hopefully more humility
83. I have tried 3 times to get a nose ring but it never works out
84. I expect to get a tattoo before I die but I just can’t decide what it will be
85. I played the organ as a kid
86. I have only vomited twice in my life and have a STRONG gag reflex if I hear others vomiting
87. I’m not competitive, to the point that even when a team I am rooting for wins, I feel bad for the losing team
88. I have noticed that I am inconsistent with my use of periods at the end of my statements in this list, yet I do not feel compelled to alter what I’ve done.
89. I do not like sarcasm.  If I am sarcastic, it is because I am uncomfortable; I therefore come across as unnaturally cruel or strangely flirtatious.
90. Although I wasn’t close to my father, I have thought about him every day since his death.
91. I honestly don’t think I’m that talented but I appreciate all the people who have given me chances to perform
92. I spend a lot of time thinking about suffering and death
93. Romantic comedies are my guilty pleasure.  There’s something about watching a poorly acted, totally predictable, cheesy script that lets me escape reality much better than the intelligent artistic films that I also love.
94. I love my 130 lb dumb-as-nails-scared-of-everything-gentl
e-to-a-fault bullmastiff dog
95. I would be happy living in a tent as long as I could take a hot shower every other day
96. I am embarrassingly ignorant about geography. 
97. Once I met Jesus, I never ever doubted his love for me.  I passionately wish that everyone I know could feel as loved as I do.
98. I have always felt destined to do something great.  I suspect it will take a lifetime of faithfulness in the ‘small’ things before I have a fleeting moment to do that one great thing.
99. I know my flaws way too well, and I am grateful for every person who puts up with me.
100. Even though I have many dreams that I know I could accomplish but probably will never have the chance to, I know that at the end of my life, I will be glad that I did not sacrifice a strong, healthy family for the sake of those dreams.