I have Lyme Disease and a new Vlog

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There's no easy way to announce that the physical problems that have been slowly leading me to a place of non-functioning have finally been diagnosed as chronic late-stage Lyme disease. The diagnosis came in April 2017, and the journey has been life-threatening and harrowing to say the least.

I don't write much or do much of so many things right now, but I have found an outlet in sharing my hope and concern about Lyme disease and how we are going about finding hope in the midst of this hard place. Please join me on the Chronic Hope Facebook Vlog, or simply subscribe to the Chronic Hope Youtube Channel.

 

I would love to communicate with you in these forums. In the meantime, may God bless you and keep you, as his face is turned toward each one of us, extended in love.

Winners of Everbloom, the book!

Two happy readers just won copies of Everbloom: Stories of Living Deeply Rooted and Transformed Lives from the women of Redbud Writer's Guild.

And the winners, chosen by random. org and the random number generator, are:

  • Michelle Harris
  • Stacy Clegg

If you didn't win, check out samples of some of the essays, including mine, on Dorothy Greco's blog. Or order the book for yourself or for a Mother's Day, birthday, or just because gift for someone you love. Everbloom helps you to write your own redemption story, in your journal or otherwise, with prayers and prompts at the end of each essay.

You can buy a copy now at amazon.com, barnesandnoble.com, or christianbook.com.

Check out the video our exchange student and I made to promote my essay, "Bittersweet," the story of our adoption loss and the  joy found when we welcomed Isak into our home.

And if you live in the Fort Wayne area, watch for a free workshop I'm participating in titled "Writing Your Redemption" coming in June 2017. I'll post more information later!

Enter to Win #EverbloomBook by 4/28/17

If there is a time for everything, this is the time to tell you about our little story #Bittersweet, and how it is being launched into the world on Tuesday, April 25, 2017, through the book Everbloom: Stories of Deeply Rooted and Transformed Lives from the women of Redbud Writers Guild and the good people of Paraclete Press.

As you will see in the following video, we are plenty excited—and that excitement reaches from Indiana, USA, to 4,000 miles away in France:

Our stories matter. And when the hard stories are honestly told, we hope they gleam and shimmer with hints of redemption, and newness, and hope. Enter to win below or ask for Everbloom wherever books are sold. Available to order now at amazon.com, barnesandnoble.com, and christianbook.com.

Now here's the fun part: I am giving away two copies of this book to two happy individuals. All you have to do to enter to win is submit a comment below telling me how the word "bittersweet" applies to a season or event in your life. The two winners will then be chosen by a random number generator, based on the number of entries. Ends midnight, Friday, April 28, 2017. You must be in the continental U.S. or Canada to qualify. Come back Saturday to find out who won!

And lastly, two things I learned from the story we talk about above:

  1. Be a participant in your story. Choose love; take a risk; step out in faith.
  2. Write your redemption. Whether it's in your journal, on your blog, in a book, speaking to an audience or over a cup of coffee with a friend—your story, honestly told, matters to the world. And God wants to use it.

Sermon Audio: "Freedom in Community" by Suzanne Burden

Listen to more sermons at 3rivers.church.

My whole life I've been asking the question: What if freedom begins in my areas of greatest brokenness? (Neither of us knew it when we were five or even 10 years old, but I think you've been asking the question, too.)

Along the way, our culture and communities have been moving toward isolation for over 50 years now. But Jesus created us for MORE. The very place I've been hurt the most (the Church) is the very place Jesus has ushered me into unimaginable healing (the Church!)

Hear Paul's words to the church in Galatia, and find yourself in God's big story of reconciliation: just as the vertical beam of the cross reminds us that we are reconciled to God through Jesus, the horizontal beam reminds us Jesus intends to make all things new, including our relationships in community.

Your turn: How does community scare you? Inspire you? Challenge you? Would love to hear from you.

Suzanne Burden is a pastor, writer, and friend. But  most importantly, the Beloved of God. She speaks on a variety of topics, including: Women of the Bible, Allied: God's Intentions for Men and Women, Being Apprenticed to Jesus, and Run Hard, Rest Well: Restoring our Souls through Four Biblical Rhythms of Rest. Contact her here.

Sermon Audio: "Mary: Surprised by Hope to Carry the Gospel" by Suzanne Burden

Listen to more sermons at 3rivers.church.

The secret is out: I love preaching on women of the Bible. Preparing to tell their stories feels like a great excavation project, where I am uncovering pieces of their stories that are often untold. And, woven throughout their narratives is the beautiful picture God is weaving, of women and men joined as allies, side-by-side, to advance his Kingdom.

Nowhere is this more true than in the story of Mary, the mother of Jesus, as told through the gospel of Luke. Listen in as we explore Mary's story through Luke—most likely told to him by Mary herself, as she marvels at how God could use such a simple girl for such an amazing task as carrying the Messiah. Filled with hope and a challenge for each of us to make room for the Gospel ourselves.

And watch a one-minute video clip of Mary in "The Nativity Story" here.

Your turn: How does Mary's story inspire you to make room to carry the gospel? What insights have you gained from her example?

Suzanne Burden is a pastor, writer, and friend. But  most importantly, the Beloved of God. She speaks on a variety of topics, including: Women of the Bible, Allied: God's Intentions for Men and Women, Apprenticed to Jesus, and Run Hard, Rest Well: Restoring our Souls through Four Biblical Rhythms of Rest. Contact her here.

Book Look: Incisive Q&A with author Leslie Leyland Fields #CrossingtheWaters

Book Look: Incisive Q&A with author Leslie Leyland Fields #CrossingtheWaters

Don't miss this incisive Q&A with author and fisherwoman Leslie Leyland Fields, as she talks about discipleship, this crazy election cycle, and what frees her to write hard truths in the Kingdom of God. #CrossingtheWaters

Read More

For evangelical women who are discouraged (and the men who care)

"They have largely succeeded in keeping us from leadership," she said.  "And you must run into it on a regular basis. Why do you think it is bothering you now?"

My mentor's question came on the heels of me attending a church leadership event that was geared for white males. This event happened the day after the recent weekend the "Trump tape" hit the news media. I was still physically sick to my stomach over the degradation of women and others made in God's image that Trump espouses.

But I was soon to realize our first speaker at the church conference came from a tradition that does not allow women to be pastors.* I am a part-time female pastor, and our church was the only one with women in attendance. We have our lead pastor to thank for including us. There were five of us women, and about 60 or 70 males.

This, combined with the overt endorsement by many white male evangelical leaders of Donald Trump, even in the face of the radical devaluing of women, people of color, immigrants, and others, made something inside of me die.

In hindsight, something deep inside of me died while something else was set on fire.

As a female pastor and a person who deeply believes that so many of us are entrenched in this political season in a search for power—a thirst for power that Jesus warned us against—I am fighting an internal battle for sanity, hope, and the courage to face another day.

Pastor Abigail Gaines described her struggle and mine so well on The Junia Project blog this week: 

And is this not what a pastor does?
To sit in the tension between the dark moments of the human existence, while holding steadfastly to the wondrous light of resurrection? To wade in the pool of death while keeping hands firmly gripped onto the life-filled hope and joy of Christ? Is it not to say, I will be present there because God is present there? . . . The pastor is willing to die in the places where God comes alive as her cry becomes, “If death is what is necessary for resurrection, take me with you Jesus!”

I am also fighting another battle. Because I believe the message of the Kingdom of Jesus is good news for girls and women as we wrote in our book Reclaiming Eve, I can no longer stand by and participate in a script that is exclusive and privileged, white and male. 

Gaines' blog post went on to quote a woman in seminary who echoes my state of mind these days. When given clarity of what was pleasing to God through her journey and studies, "she was unable to return to former scripts and patterns not in alignment with the heart of God for her."

My mentor's question still haunts me: "Why do you think it is bothering you now?"

That was hard for me to say. Probably because I keep silent far too much. This woman who is mentoring me did me a great service in naming one of my most constant struggles. Where do I belong in this church Jesus came to build? And if I often wrestle with where I might belong, how can I winsomely make the case that other girls and women belong here, too? 

And now you know what Jesus and I wrestle with in our conversations; you have been given a window to my soul's cry. 

"We know this is not the way of Jesus," my mentor said.

And I sighed as I remembered this truth, as I remembered the truth of the Kingdom and how far away from it we wander.

In the past, I have sometimes been dismissed casually when I mention that I believe our treatment of—and subjection of—women in our churches contributes to the devaluation and abuse of women in homes, churches, and society. 

This is a biblical interpretation issue on which well-meaning people disagree, I'm often told. It's a secondary issue to the gospel

But not from where I sit. From where I sit, from the Bible I read, from the Kingdom I witness through the pronouncement of Jesus in which the oppressed are to be set free and the blind made to see, this is the gospel. This is part of the good news!

I was raised in a culture that designated women to a role and rules that would keep them secondary. For this reason, I am the first to believe there is room for growth and discovery, for a  new understanding befitting the ways of Jesus. I believe we are placed in male and female bodies for a reason, and that it can be a delight to discover how we can minister and live together, complementing each other in a mutuality only Jesus could have designed. 

And I know that change is still happening in white male evangelicalism, though it may be rare: my former pastor, one of my father's best friends, just changed his 50-year position on women in the home and in ministry, and you can hear his sermon here.

In a season when many evangelical women have been turned upside-down and inside-out by political candidates who have a stained record when it comes to the value and abuse of women, and when "good Christians" endorse and stand by them, I am not always sure how much longer women currently in the church pews will stay there.

"For our struggle is not against flesh and blood," Paul wrote, "But against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms" (Ephesians 6:12 NIV)

I have never been more sure that we are engaged in a spiritual battle, and that what is at stake is not only the dignity of women but the effectiveness of the Kingdom when over half of its workers are crushed, sidelined, or dismissed.

One of the things I see happening when a woman's agency is stripped from her, that quality that is to define an image-bearer representative of the living God—is that she will struggle to give voice to the injustice she witnesses in a meaningful way. (Evangelical women are pushing past this barrier, thanks be to God, due to their voices being amplified via the Internet, as Beth Moore recently proved, and this HuffPost article reviews.)

But restore a girl's or a woman's voice, give her a platform to witness to God's power to set the oppressed free, and truth will ring out that will bring revival to our churches and homes, to our schools and our businesses.

Yes, give us a platform and we will prophesy: 

Girls and women are not objects for men's lust, but created to do good, representing God and his interests. We are created as "strong powers" or "ezers" as mentioned in Genesis 2:18. We are coworkers with our brothers in the Kingdom of righteousness and justice Jesus announced, sustains, and will bring to completion. We will stand against the sexual harassment, assault, and diminishment of all females in the name of Jesus. And in his name, we can pursue mutual leadership and relationship with our brothers that leads to healing, hope, and life not only for the U.S., but for the nations. 

May it be so!

* Clarification: I checked on the conference presenter and confirmed that on the pastoral staff of his megachurch there are no female pastors. They do not, however, have a formal statement about female pastors on their site, and so I apologize for not simply stating that they have no female pastors. My discouragement was with their practice and not any formal statement. Although not identified, I believe this church is doing some great work. I am hopeful for the day when both men and women will be working side-by-side on pastoral teams at this church and others. And I am blessed to be at a church where men and women faithfully partner together in leadership for the Kingdom's sake.

For further reflection:
Post and Podcast: "Locker Room Talk, the Power of Words, and the Hope of Revival, Theology on Mission
Word by Word: Creating and Destroying the World by Leslie Leyland Fields
"Reclaiming Eve" talk by Suzanne Burden at Taylor University

Your turn: Are you discouraged and why? How might the gospel of the Kingdom of Jesus restore your hope?
Divisive political comments will be deleted. Kind engagement encouraged.

 

Come to me, all who suffer burnout

I am surrounded by the broken, the bedraggled, the burned out.

Aren't you?

We are all just a step or two away from exhaustion. Some are closer to collapse than others; those who seem to have it all together are often the ones who are disintegrating slowly on the inside.

But enough of all this good news, right? Every day or two someone shares their story of weariness and I look for the presence of Jesus in their pain. Sometimes I just listen. Other times I am the one sharing about my slow recovery from a health crisis, about this or that struggle that threatens to consume my light and my peace, of my longing for spiritual rest.

We are all of us, every last one, looking for a resting place. A place of shalom—the Hebrew concept in the Old Testament that conveys a a meaning of being "complete or whole," of "being sound." We are talking about a wholeness of life or body, as well as a rightness of relationship, a prosperity or flourishing. When used as an adjective, it describes a warm feeling of peace and safety (biblestudytools.com).

I have yet to mean a human being of any age, stage, place, or mindset who isn't ultimately craving shalom, this place of peace. For no matter our disposition and the details of our life, every day is a search for wholeness leading into all manner of trial and error: workaholism, addictive behaviors, isolation, looking for payoff without pain, control and manipulation.

When Jesus said "Come to me all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest," I know he said this because he knew that this was our need. Our soul's cry. A reminder of the cry of a baby longing to be held, to be assured that they are OK and well and whole and complete. This longing answered by a gentle touch, gentle words, a soothing connection of presence and protection.

But if I had to ask Jesus to make one thing concise and clear-as-mud for all of us who are somewhat deaf from the chaos of our worlds, I would ask him to say it this way exactly:

"Come to me all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you PATHWAYS to peace."

Before you accuse me of revising Scripture, hear me out. When Jesus says to take his way of life and learning on us, he is inviting us to actually do something. The Message Bible paraphrases his conclusion this way: Come to me...[and] learn the unforced rhythms of grace.

Jesus is inviting us to come to him and to do what he did, to employ the spiritual practices that caused him to abide in, stay connected to, his Abba-Father who loved him. To pray. To practice 24-hour Sabbath rest one day a week or as many hours as we can to start. To go away in silence, stillness and solitude. To study and meditate on the Scripture. To practice love of God and neighbor while he changes our heart to resemble his own more each day.

To reflect on and internalize his love until the voice of love and shalom, and the very realness of it, becomes louder than our shame, our busyness, our self-obsessiveness. Until we realize that all is well in Christ, that we are held.

Here is where shalom rustles in, quietly, almost imperceptibly, yet tangibly. These are the pathways to peace we so desperately need. But they mean making the hardest of choices. Saying no all the time to less than the best. Saying yes to the voice of Christ and inviting conversation and communion with him in stillness.

Come to me, all who suffer burnout, and I will give you rest, he says, with a smile in his eyes. Choose these unforced rhythms of grace. We are invited to actually do something, to be coworkers with God in pursuing a life of wholeness and peace.

For excellent resources on this topic, I recommend two resources that are impacting me these days:
Hearing God through the Year: a 365-day Devotional by Dallas Willard
• The Emotionally Health Leader: How Transforming Your Inner Life Will Deeply Transform Your Church, Team, and the World by Peter Scazzero

Your turn: Are you burned out? Recovering? Pursuing a pathway of peace? Share your story here and encourage someone else.

The singular power of my spiritual intention

This is the truth as I know it: we are so loved.

There isn't a day that I don't testify to the love of Christ for the ones he has created. I realize pastors are supposed to do this, but I also believe people who have received the love of Jesus are supposed to do it. I know from experience that Jesus can give us Spirit-directed eyes to see his love for the crustiest of folks. 

But here is my truth: I don't always believe Jesus loves me without reservation. 

It is so much easier for me to have relationship with others and to visibly be moved by Jesus' love for them than to believe that he is crazy about me. I realize this indicates something is broken in me, that healing is needed, and I so I have plunged into the deep end this summer. I have begun to receive spiritual direction.

Right from the beginning, my spiritual director asked me to consider writing a spiritual intention on an index card. This was so helpful for this first-born people pleaser and doer, because it was an action I could take. I wrote out this little mantra, stuck it in my journal or on my bedside table, a little intention filled with all I know about God's furious love for me. 

It contains Scriptural truth, reasoning, experience, and is informed by everything I have ever witnessed about our Jesus and his heart toward us. Behind the words there have been years of struggle, depression, physical disability and brokenness, faulty ideas about God, and the rubble of dashed dreams mixed in with the glorious hope of the resurrection.

And, my, how it heals to put the truth in front of your eyeballs consistently. 

It has been 1 1/2 months now. My heart is growing lighter. There are days when I see good happening around me, movement in people and beauty, and I want to say to people I meet, "Did you know Jesus is making all things new?" But in order for this thing that I know so well to be my truth, I also need to be able to say:

"Did you know Jesus is making me new?"

I imagine myself doing it with a bit of a laugh and a twinkle in my eye.

Neither childlessness nor a real struggle to be a woman in ministry nor church loss nor relational losses nor physical disability can have the last word. The story is not over. Jesus lives. He will do what he said he will do in setting things right again. And wonder of wonders, he is already doing it. In me!

Words on paper are only a singular step in our healing journeys. But they are an important one, I think. So feel free to steal mine to start. Or better yet, let my words inspire you to write on your own little index card. And keep it close. Along the way, I believe you will start believing it, too. 

Your Turn: What are a few things your spiritual intention might say and why?

If Jesus Attended the 2016 Olympics

Would Jesus attend the 2016 Olympics? Or even watch them on television?

I know my TV  has been blaring Rio #Olympics this week . . . but if Jesus had a TV, I am not so sure.

Yet in the sense that I believe Jesus is King and reaches out to each person he has created, Jesus is at the Rio games. It's hard to picture, him, though, being truly excited about the NBC coverage. I am sure he is glad at the sight of each one competing with excellence, these ones that he loves. I am also quite sure his heart is torn up about the conditions in the city and for the poor in Rio, whose future is wholly uncertain. I believe his heart would still be grieving for the 11 workers who were killed while building the Rio structures and projects. (What are all of these lives worth?)

I am not so sure he would be attending every Michael Phelps event as his first choice, either. Rather, I can picture him gravitating toward the events featuring the beautiful team comprised of 10 refugees—a small representation of the 65 million (staggering to even type this number, as 65 million lives and souls are behind it) currently displaced refugees in the world.

As the U.S. television coverage triumphantly hails their best and brightest, gleefully announcing the dominant U.S. medal count every minute or so, I can picture Jesus turning off the television and gathering people from the fringes around him—people of every tribe, nation, and color. I picture him showing up at the events that will never be seen on television or reported on the internet. People who literally have almost no one to cheer for them, whose future holds insecurity because the place and the land they come from faces great insecurity.

I picture him asking inappropriate questions that expose power and privilege. I picture him telling stories called parables that illuminate the hearts of the hearers—that is, if they have ears and hearts to hear. I picture his eyes jumping for joy when someone considered the underdog competes and wins; I picture his eyes filled with tears and acceptance when they lose.

I see him surrounded by female athletes without a hint of self-consciousness as he engages them in substantive conversation. He does not comment on them talking like they are at the mall; he doesn't define them by whether they "swim like a man"; he has no interest even in defining them by their husband or their children. He invites them, instead, into a spiritual family—one that both honors and trumps the physical family. I picture these women whom he created as "strong powers"/ezers (Hebrew word in Genesis 2:18) completely at home in his presence.

Then again, Jesus may never have made it to the female Olympic athletes, because he might have been preoccupied with the injustice of sex slavery on BR-116, known as the "highway of exploitation." At over 100 truck stops, thousands of girls as young as nine sell themselves or are sold by others by report for as little as $4, all to put food on their families' tables. As sure as I am sitting here typing, I picture Jesus overturning some of those trucks in righteous anger and leading these girls to safety in his own name.

As Jesus is not an American God, I picture him disappointing the media and offering joyous news to the broken, the bedraggled, and the lost on the streets of Rio. The Kingdom of heaven is near, he would say, and you are invited into it! The true scandal would be not that he kept seeking out the last and the least, but that his heart beats for every last person he encounters:

Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it! Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly. (The Message Matthew 11:28-30).

Those drawn to him like a moth to a flame, those who are open to exploring their need and the world's need for such a Savior and King, these are the ones for whom he would have come to Rio to invite to his table: to party, to laugh and cry with, to love.

For the Kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these. Even when the world takes no notice.

Your turn: Have you been watching the Olympics? Based on what you know about Jesus, how would he act at the Rio Games?