My Ritual: On Saying No to Say Yes (Cara Meredith's blog)

Hey friends: I'm in the middle of a new website rollout. And in the middle of all those digital details, I had the pleasure of posting on my friend Cara Meredith's blog. She's a fellow Redbud Writer, and she's been featuring a lovely little series on rituals, the grooves that give our lives meaning. Hope you'll catch the rest of the post over on her blog—and let us know what you're discovering about the importance of saying no. Cheers, Suzanne

***

“Moving on from ___________” read the subject line in my email.

You can do this, I assure myself.

Historically, I don’t like to quit things.

I am an INFJ on the Myers-Briggs personality scale—and let me tell you, we can get things done. Consider it a function of our sheer stick-to-itiveness when we feel passionate about something.

(Read: we can’t always let opportunities, things, jobs, or people go when the timing is right.)

(And also: it could be that rituals just might help us say no more effectively.)

So I sent the email. After several years, a recent statement on the organization’s values and beliefs helped me to realize our philosophies were no longer the same. I had become “not the best fit,” and I needed to move on. I mentioned how thankful I was for the opportunity.

Coincidentally, this morning a coauthor and I dropped—as in, ceased—a publishing project I’ve been working on for a year and a half. We ourselves received a lot of “nos” and then a “we’d like to change it to this” that just didn’t work. I cannot even count the hours and emotion that went into what appears to be a failure, but at the moment, is a clear redirection. It may resurrect itself in a different season, but for now, I am being called to put the lid on all that effort. I do so with a mixture of relief, sadness and anticipation.

Read more on Cara's blog

What Lent looks like from here

What Lent-5It is late Sunday afternoon, and I intended to be Sabbathing, but my intentions have been interrupted. (God says rest this one day—I've got this, but I had to do a "live-chat" ordering thing TODAY and I am third in the queue, and so I stopped for a minute to think about this season while waiting for the real live computer chat person on the other end of the line.)

This is me keeping it real.

I am not the one to go-to if you're looking for tidy Lent plans, fixed-firmly daily patterns, or fasts. My life is chaotic in ways I can't explain to most these days, but that is all the more reason for reflection and prayer. And as my word for the year is "Present," I keep telling God I'll keep showing up, you show me the way. And I am stopping, stopping, slowing, pausing, searching for his voice above the clamor. 

The husband gave up Facebook during this season, and I thought that sounded lovely and hope-filled and quieting, but it wouldn't work for me in this season of speaking and writing and Reclaiming Eve Bible studies, and so I had to come up with something else.

The result is quite simple:

This morning, David and I began the ritual, minus the journaling, and Mike Mason nailed it, as he usually does, and it led to a bit of recentering and spontaneous prayer and rejoicing in the Lord, and I wanted that you should hear it, too.

While talking about how the Beatitudes in Matthew lead to an "upside-down view," where "the greatest joy issues from the greatest worldly trouble,"—the paradox of the Jesus way, to be sure—he ended with this gem:

"Pursue joy for its own sake, and anything that seems to go wrong comes as a grievous blow. But resolve to rejoice always and only in the Lord, and everything that goes right comes as a blessing."

And I thought about how serious everything seems sometimes. And how tightly I hold it. And I asked our Abba to help me release it, to release it tomorrow, too, to keep on releasing it. I asked that he would keep me focused on his surprising goodness and provision, his love for all. That he would keep me rejoicing.

In this season of reflection, and waiting, and brokenness, I pray that you would also find a quiet place of rejoicing, not just when Easter dawns, but in the middle of the mundane mess right now, no matter the grievous blows surrounding you. Resurrection and joy are already ours, and this year I am finding them in the quietness.

Your turn: What are you discovering in this Lenten season?

On #ReclaimingEve: “I recommend this resource for every daughter of Eve!” — Nancy Beach, leadership coach, speaker; author, Gifted to Lead: The Art of Leading as a Woman in the Church

Reclaiming Eve Small Group DVD sample here. Includes print Bible study piece; great for group studies! Order here.

30 days of thanksgiving, volume 4

See post #1,  post #2 and post #3. Fields

I am sitting on my blue couch, even now, and watching little bits of snow fly.

FullSizeRenderAnd I am praying, dear God, help me not to complain about snow. Not to put too fine a point on it, but as you can tell, we survived the polar vortex from last year, we had enough food and more to eat all winter, we had clothing and shelter, we were neither in danger nor surrounded by those in danger. Dear God, raise my vision higher, take my focus off of me and put it on the things that matter to you.

The souls that matter to you.

The hurting and hungry and broken that matter to you.

The injustice that matters to you.

O, Abba, please, let me be a bearer of your light.

  • And now, to practice the discipline of the giving of thanks:

#15: Repurposing. Remember this from last week? The repurposed door that was sitting on sawhorses in our garage, covered in two coats of chalk paint, just waiting for us to distress and wax it. We have been waiting for a rebirth, too; and the door reminded us that seasons of casting off, of pain and challenge and dying, make way for re-creation, for resurrection, for a fresh start. And voila, this week the door was made new, but with the distressed look, reminding us that our scars can be beautiful, that we are being repurposed with greater depth and character. I feel the repurposing happen, see it even, and joy is breaking through.

collage #16: Women are being healed. One of the hardest things I've ever done is see the book #ReclaimingEve through the publishing process, along with my coauthors. It took 4 1/2 years, went through many delays and reschedules and times when I thought it would never happen. I do believe there were spiritual forces at work that made it such a trial to bring this news of freedom and wholeness for the world's women. But now I have eyes to see and ears to hear: I hear women share stories of feelings of deep inferiority and inadequacy who are being set free and strengthened to stand up as the ezers or strong powers (Genesis 2:18) God created them to be.

I walk into safe spaces and I hear these women tell their stories or I read their emails, and I think God is raising up a new generation of women, restoring one heart at a time. The lies of "I am easily deceived, dangerous, and inferior" are being replaced with the powerful truth that "I bear God's image and am his representative, I have the agency to share his love with the world, and I am equipped for his good work." And women are Reclaiming Eve by passing this redeemed narrative on to their daughters and their sisters, their mothers and their friends.  I believe that every story matters, and that as we are set free to live out our calling we will set other men and women, boys and girls, free as well. For this I thank God, over and over again.

#17: Church. Do you remember my post awhile back about struggling with traditional church? Oh, the pain that coursed through the comments and the emails I received. Well, God is doing a new thing with us and church, my friends. The last few Sundays we've been at a church that is gloriously messy. They are not big, they are not a "production," they are showing up with a new pastor and seeking to find ways to go out into the community to serve. They are as friendly and warm as the day is long, and amidst the chaos we feel the Holy Spirit moving in their midst, we feel love and gratitude hanging out, we feel seen and valued and appreciated in all of two Sundays. I can't wait to go back!

#18: Health. This past week, a family member had a health scare, and I found myself at the hospital, looking for answers, hoping for the best. I am thankful for good medical care and for healing and for hope. I am thankful that no matter what comes, Jesus will shepherd us through it, our Great Physician, our always-present Friend.

#19: The Divine Hours. Each morning my heart needs a reorientation, a resetting, a recalibration. And so I pray from the Divine Hours, like I did just this morning, "…you have brought me in safety to this new day: Preserve me with your mighty power, that I may not fall into sin, nor be overcome by adversity; and in all I do direct me to the fulfilling of your purpose; through Jesus Christ my Lord. Amen." And the anchor holds.

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#20: Good neighbors. We have some really wonderful neighbors, the kind who will give you food out of their garden and put your stuff in their garage sale and help you move something with their truck and bring you something they thought you'd like to try. It makes me want to be a good neighbor, too, so I invited a couple over to celebrate his upcoming retirement. He doesn't do celebrations, so he asked if we could just call it "Friday," and this just makes me smile every time I think about it.

#21: Book Club. We have a menagerie of friends who coalesced around reading challenging books together and now just get together to hang out and share life, so I suppose we should call it the "Life Club." The wonderful thing about them is that they are safe people, unique and welcoming souls, and though it's hard to get all of us together, we never give up. That is how I ended up sitting at one of their tables last Saturday drinking ginger beer and eating Chicken Enchiladas and African Ground Nut Stew. And the conversations, oh, they are the best of all. From ice cream to immigration reform, social justice to church mission, book discussions to relationship sharing and advice.

*I still believe that gratitude makes room for the gift of his presence, and that it reminds us we are all needy, every one. And that being carried by a generous and gentle Shepherd might actually make our brokenness a gateway to the next gift. Will you join me?*

Come back next Monday for #s 22-28 on the gratitude list—a list of some great book quotations, and please know you are invited to add your own giving of thanks.

Your turn: For what are you most grateful on this day?

On #ReclaimingEve: “I recommend this resource for every daughter of Eve!”
— Nancy Beach, leadership coach, speaker; author, Gifted to Lead: The Art of Leading as a Woman in the Church
Reclaiming Eve Small Group DVD sample here. Includes print Bible study piece. Order here.

30 days of thanksgiving, volume 3

Fields See post #1 and post #2.

Years ago when at one of my lowest points, I did the least likely thing: I began filling the pages of a notebook with things I was thankful for.

It was a dark time, and my counselor suggested that regular journaling of thanks would help. Of course, I couldn't see how at the time. But I literally forced myself to sit down and to come up with something. (Incidentally, I'd love to find that old journal now.)

Remarkably, as I put pen to paper, the list grew quickly, filling many pages. Family, friends, flannel pajamas, help in times of trouble, promises of God, the fact that there's always reason to hope, no matter what…sometimes the hardest part about the giving of thanks is just beginning, just starting when you don't feel like it. Then watching the gratitude grow.

In that spirit, will you join me by adding your thanks in the comments below? Perhaps your simple list will be just the beginning, and your journal will beckon. In my book, that would be the best possible outcome: to free up the gratitude you didn't know was there, welling up and overflowing, to the Giver of all good gifts.

  • And now, to practice the discipline of the giving of thanks:

#8: Repurposing. My husband had a great idea to find an old wooden door and repurpose it as a headboard for our king-sized bed. It sounded good in theory; but where would we find one? Enter a musty shop filled with castoff doors, old—and sometimes odd— light fixtures and time-past treasures. The door is now sitting on sawhorses in our garage, covered in two coats of chalk paint, just waiting for us to distress and wax it. The shop owner said it came from "The Alamo," an old city business of some sort, torn down and just waiting for a rebirth. We are waiting for a rebirth, too; and the door reminds us that seasons of casting off, of pain and challenge and dying, make way for re-creation, for resurrection, for a fresh start.

IMG_0109#9: The word "magnanimous." I've heard it's definition described this way: "large-hearted." Here's another way of putting it from dictionary.com: "generous in forgiving an insult or injury; free from petty resentfulness or vindictiveness." Yes, this, Lord! I pray. Make me a giver, considerate, kind, not easily swayed by praise or spite, but filled with goodness, generous and open, filled with the fruit of the Spirit.

#10: Hearing God's voice. My friend Heather commented on the last thanksgiving post: "Grateful that God redeems what we believe to be lost, gifts us with what we do not deserve, and graciously right-sizes us time and time again." And I thought about right-sizing, about seeing ourselves and God correctly, and it reminded me of the many times I have sat on my blue couch and prayed: Lord, what do you think of when you think of me? And the gentle Shepherd speaks to me, and upholds me, tucks me in, and finally, raises me up.

#11: Time. I have a natural tendency to regret what my heart views as wasted time or wasted years, years in which looking back, I could have taken a different course. But I am asking God to give me a different view of the time he's given me: to help me see years of infertility and childlessness somehow as tenderizing time, time when all is stripped bare and I am left only with what I can know for sure. To know for sure that my heavenly Father doesn't waste my time; that he is redeeming and loving and somehow giving good gifts that I cannot see. I pray for new grace to begin again to anticipate the future with hope, rather than dwelling in the past.

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#12: Books. Once when reading one of Lauren Winner's memoirs, I read that every book is a self-help book. And it made me smile, because books are some of my best friends of all, and they push and shape and challenge and console and expand me in ways that have shaped me into the woman I am today. Lately, it's been books like Resurrection Year by Sheridan Voysey, Beautiful Disaster by Marlena Graves, Teach Us to Want by Jen Pollock Michel, and Slow Church by Chris Smith and John Pattison. Finally, I'm making a deep dive into Falling Upward by Richard Rohr.

#13: Writing. My writing tends to sift my motives, to give a pulse-check on where I'm at with my Savior, to clarify the path and clear away the brush. And then sometimes it cracks my heart open, expanding and enlarging. Two of those posts this last month have brought unexpected healing; and for this, I give thanks to the God who created us to create. (See A Woman Fully Alive on SheLovesMagazine.com and I Am the Other: On Acknowledging My Disability)

#14: Community. I belong to a writing community called Redbud Writers Guild, and these ladies are  a beautiful tribe of helpers, of women who generously give to each other, mentoring along the way. Those who bear witness and encourage and help you to sharpen and strengthen, to fearlessly expand the feminine voice in the culture and the Church. Much of what I've done the last few years would not have been possible without this band of sisters.

*I still believe that gratitude makes room for the gift of his presence, and that it reminds us we are all needy, every one. And that being carried by a generous and gentle Shepherd might actually make our brokenness a gateway to the next gift. Will you join me?*

Come back next Monday for #s 15-21 on the gratitude list, and please know you are invited to add your own giving of thanks.

Your turn: For what are you most grateful on this day?

On #ReclaimingEve: “I recommend this resource for every daughter of Eve!”
— Nancy Beach, leadership coach, speaker; author, Gifted to Lead: The Art of Leading as a Woman in the Church
Reclaiming Eve Small Group DVD sample here. Includes print Bible study piece. Order here.

30 days of thanksgiving, volume 2

Fields-2EXCERPT  from post #1: "Part of me wishes I could say life got easier after that, and that I eventually drew another picture of Jesus and I hand in hand, walking chummily through life. But, alas, no: Jesus is still carrying me. I'm still unclear on the future as far as permanent ministry is concerned; I watched another birth mother pass us over for adoption of her baby in July; I heard a few weeks ago that our book publisher—the one we worked so long and hard to get our book published through—is closing their doors on December 1, just 9 months after our book was finally published. (The process took us 4 1/2 years total.)

So I think it's fair to say I'm no longer the girl in search of "clarity" on her spiritual journey, whatever that means. I am searching for sustenance and the words of God that declare me his Beloved and for the next open door, but I have realized that God hasn't promised us clarity. I am seeking, instead, what it might look like for him to be present in all of this."

  • And now, to practice the discipline of the giving of thanks:

#1: Autumn heals. It is not just the beauty of the leaves or the chilled air, the apple cider or the apple brown betty my husband bakes inside a pie pumpkin. It is the transition of it all. Something will be born of transition, I feel God saying, something good will be birthed here, don't be in such a hurry to move on to the new season. 

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#2: Friendships grow. People come and go from our lives, but there are a few that stick around, too. And those friends have carried some burdens over a dinner table these last few months, their cards have made for a pleasant sight when the mailbox opens, their understanding leads me to see and taste that the Lord is good. I believe as psychologists Cloud and Townsend have written, "God uses people as his uniforms."

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#3: Scripture enriches. Psalm 27:13 says, "I am still confident of this: I will see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living." Did you know that the times when you can't trace God's hand are the times he begins to prove his goodness? Not the shallow, Jesus-please-give-me-a-nice-life goodness, but the goodness of sharing in his heart so that your heart is broken right alongside his, that you might share his compassion with the world. And his Word becomes manna, daily bread: click on this post from from friend Leslie Leyland Fields as she digests Ephesians 2, and scroll down to watch her reciting it on video in the Alaskan wilderness.

#4: Music soothes. I am that girl that plays the same album and same songs over and over again ad nauseum, the Brokenness Aside album from All Sons & Daughters sliding into the cracks in my heart, renewing, reviving, recreating. "This is a word to all the ones that feel forgotten, that you are not…", "Alive," Brokenness Aside EP.

#5: Food nourishes. The aforementioned pie pumpkin is sitting on the counter, and it will be scooped out and filled with apples and cinnamon and bread, and baked, coming out of the oven with steam rising and ice cream sliding on the top, melting almost as soon as it hits the pumpkin goodness. It will nourish our tongues and our stomachs, and somehow in doing so, it will touch our souls. Much like the experience where the Brazilian university students gathered around our table several weeks ago and all of us ate Brazilian fish stew, my husband and I for the first time, and we all said what God did when he created: "This is very good." And somehow all of this reminds me that I can literally taste and see of the Lord's goodness; his presence is right here, around the table, delighting when we are delighted.

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#6: Jesus loves. Sometimes I sit with the heartbroken, those in recovery from addiction or loss, and I pray for them. I pray the words for them and for myself and for all of those who Jesus loves. I say, Jesus, help her to know this: You are God's Beloved, you are the one that Jesus loves, and he delights in you. And oh how the broken cry when they hear words of unconditional love that come from a heavenly Father who loves, the One whose Son showed us we are loved. One woman said "I will write this on a mirror. I will write this many places so I cannot forget." The God of the last and the least pursues the broken, and somehow, mysteriously, in his upside-down Kingdom, the very last will be the very first (Matthew 20:16).

#7: Creativity beckons. I am at the beginning of another project, one that requires research and creativity, and it is a slow start. But the joy of piecing together this zany story pushes me on, inviting me, asking me to bear witness to the story of God unfolding through history, and to say, winsomely, "Pay attention to this. Look at the beauty here. These people were fallible but in love with a God who redeems and renews." My creativity is marinating, taking shape, and finally I will sit down and write and pull together and refine, and it will be a spiritual act, tinged with a touch of the holy.

I still believe that gratitude makes room for the gift of his presence, and that it reminds us we are all needy, every one. And that being carried by a generous and gentle Shepherd might actually make our brokenness a gateway to the next gift. Will you join me?

Come back next Monday for #s 8-14 on the gratitude list, and please know you are invited to add your own giving of thanks.

Your turn: For what are you most grateful on this day?

On #ReclaimingEve: “I recommend this resource for every daughter of Eve!”
— Nancy Beach, leadership coach, speaker; author, Gifted to Lead: The Art of Leading as a Woman in the Church
Reclaiming Eve Small Group DVD sample here. Includes print Bible study piece. Order here.

30 days of thanksgiving, volume 1

FieldsOh, Father, I prayed, please remind me of the ways your grace is showing up in our lives. A year or more ago I drew a picture of Jesus and me, while a group of women in addiction recovery around me scribbled their own, each of us trying to express something that is hard to put into words: Where am I at with the one who calls me Beloved? 

I drew the most elementary of stick figures, me leaning back straight, and Jesus—well, Jesus was carrying me. I no longer had strength to stand. I couldn't manage much forward movement on my own. As I would write later, he would have to take it from here. 

Part of me wishes I could say life got easier after that, and that I eventually drew another picture of Jesus and I hand in hand, walking chummily through life. But, alas, no: Jesus is still carrying me. I'm still unclear on the future as far as permanent ministry is concerned; I watched another birth mother pass us over for adoption of her baby in July; I heard a few weeks ago that our book publisher—the one we worked so long and hard to get our book published through—is closing their doors on December 1, just 9 months after our book was finally published. (The process took us 4 1/2 years total.)

So I think it's fair to say I'm no longer the girl in search of "clarity" on her spiritual journey, whatever that means. I am searching for sustenance and the words of God that declare me his Beloved and for the next open door, but I have realized that God hasn't promised us clarity. I am seeking, instead, what it might look like for him to be present in all of this. 

And just as I was sniffling this morning from a cold, I sat on my couch and asked God to bring to mind the ways in which we are graced, blessed, and cared for. And my mind was flooded with images, with gifts of grace:

  • A book club that enters into deep theological discussion and questioning and also cares deeply for each of its members, reflecting back the love of Jesus for fellow-journeyers.
  • A recent Reclaiming Eve retreat in which women of all ages spoke of being set free to be the strong power and image-bearer IMG_0107representative of God they are each created to be.
  • A friend who so feels for us on the journey that she sent me a grace-filled book, right through amazon, and followed up with an email asking how she could pray for us.

These gifts, though they may not number 1,000, are just the beginning. So it is that I've decided to post a reason for thanks for each of the 30 days in the month of November.

Because I believe gratitude makes room for the gift of his presence, and that it reminds us we are all needy, every one. And that being carried by a generous and gentle Shepherd might actually make our brokenness a gateway to the next gift. Will you join me?

Come back Monday for #1-#7 on the gratitude list, and please know you are invited to add your own giving of thanks.

Your turn: If you drew a picture today representing your relationship with Jesus, what would it look like? And why?

Note: The book Reclaiming Eve is still available on amazon along with the Small Group DVD, and we will keep you updated on future developments.

"When I grow up, I'm going to change the world."

photo Her cardboard sign read something like: How would you feel if you were hungry and had a baby boy?

She may have been all of 18 years old.

My red-headed niece, all of eight years old, leaned forward in the back seat, exclaiming: "Oh, no! We have to help her!"

It all happened so quickly. Approaching the corner the woman stood on while driving my red Ford Escape, I glanced down at the cooler next to me. Two ripe bananas stared back. In a flash, I handed them to my niece, opened her back window, and she held them out to the woman as we paused before turning. 

The woman looked so grateful, thanking us. "God bless you!" I cried, as we turned on to a busy road, reeling from the quick interaction.

"How do you feel?" I nodded to the back seat.

"I feel GREAT!" she said. "But why don't people help her? Why are people so selfish? What will happen to her baby boy?"

I wasn't sure what to say to my niece, so I asked her to pray. I asked her to pray that God would take care of the mom and her little boy, that he would give them everything they need.

So, right then and there, she had it out with God, her voice strong, her heart sure, her childlike faith crying out:

Dear God! Help them not to die. I know this is something I don't usually ask, but there's a baby boy. Could you call some Christians and ask them to help?

I don't remember how the prayer ended, but the burden on my niece's heart hadn't lifted. A few blocks away, over a sandwich, she began to tell me that she wanted to build the woman a house. We talked about ways to help the woman, many ways: like giving her a job so she could earn a living, providing help for her to get into her own home, things like that. We talked about why people are reluctant to give away money just because someone is asking for it, and how we can be the hands and feet of Jesus in creative, sustainable and helpful ways.

And then my niece leaned in and said: "Aunt Suzie, when I grow up, I'm going to change the world."

"Yes, you are!" I said. "But it will start with the small things. It will start with how you treat people around you, how you love them. There are opportunities to bless everywhere. We just have to see them."

The words were as much for my ears as for hers. I found echoes of them in my Bible-reading this morning: "Who is wise and understanding among you? Let him show it by his good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom" (James 3:13 NIV).

I want to do some great things for you, Lord! my heart cries. And he softly whispers back, I don't need you to do those great things. I need you to do a multitude of seemingly-small things with great love, with gratitude, in sincerity and peace, without partiality (James 3:17-18). These are my Kingdom ways. Don't miss them. 

So I take up my cross—some staggering circumstances, some dashed dreams, some lonely moments. Each of us must, for the companionship of Christ is usually found in the wilderness. Yet I also know that those Kingdom-acts Jesus calls me to are never heavy or ill-fitting. The bread and jelly I bought yesterday at the grocery store for someone in need. The furniture we have the pleasure of giving away today, bringing joy to someone else's home while simplifying our own. A response of kindness when I have been wronged. In these small acts, there is life flowing from the Life-giver, our Savior and friend. And in some mysterious way, this really does change the world, just as my niece hoped it would.

***

"In Reclaiming Eve, you’ll find solid biblical thinking to help you shake off false mythology about womanhood and grab hold of much-needed freedom to embrace your destiny as God’s woman. Pick up this book, throw off the ‘old’ and live out your influence!" -Elisa Morgan, Speaker, Author, She Did What She Could and The Beauty of BrokenPublisher, FullFillwww.fullfill.org 

How to use the Reclaiming Eve Bible Study this Fall

*Congratulations, to Julie Ball, who won the copy of the new Reclaiming Eve Small Group DVD and is hoping to use it in her Sunday School class.

BqmS9HAIIAA9AoB“Pick up this book, throw off the ‘old’ and live out your influence!” — Elisa Morgan, speaker; author, The Beauty of Broken; Publisher, FullFill

“Reclaiming Eve stirs up great food for reflection and discussion.” — Marian V. Liautaud, editor, Today’s Christian Woman; author, The War on Women: The World’s Worst Holocaust

“I recommend this resource for every daughter of Eve!” — Nancy Beach, leadership coach, speaker; author, Gifted to Lead: The Art of Leading as a Woman in the Church

The Reclaiming Eve project started in our church, with a flimsy workbook Jamie, Carla and I had put together. Forty women showed up: and one by one, I watched them as so many were set free.

Women were set free to serve as a strong power/ezer  in their homes, in their workplaces, in the church, wherever God called them. Some of them were in their young 20s, some in their 70s or 80s and everything in between. I remember the buzz that floated above the group during small group discussion times, I remember women sharing things they had written, I remember testimonies like this one: "I was in the middle of the grocery store and everything seemed to be going wrong that day. So I broke out singing, 'I am an ezer, and I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength.'" True that. She said she sang the refrain over and over again, regaining strength for the moment, just enough for the day.

And so it was that as females in our church were set free to serve Christ, we felt compelled to share the message with a wider audience. It took 4 1/2 years to craft our little Bible study into a book you can now read. And we are so thrilled that our publisher, Beacon Hill Press, had the vision to turn the book right back into a Bible study, as Jamie notes in the video for the Introduction. Watch it on youtube.

Now it's as simple as 1-2-3 to bring the 8-session Reclaiming Eve study to your church or group:

1. Have individuals buy the book by ordering it through a local retailer or purchasing it online. Each week, participants should read one section, starting with the Introduction for the first week.

2. Get your group together, open with an icebreaker question or two as provided in the print Bible study guide accompanying the DVD, then watch the week's 10-minute discussion between Jamie, Carla and me.

3. The video discussion will lead you right into a time of deeper Bible study, as laid out in the print piece you'll find inside the DVD cover (pictured here). Keep in mind there are also questions inside the book at the end of each chapter for discussion or reflection. photo-2

The most powerful part of your time together will likely be the spaces where women can share their stories of how they are interacting with the material, how Jesus is setting them free to serve him, and how they are dreaming new dreams about how they might build the Kingdom of God in their everyday lives.

And—don't miss this—come back and share these stories in my comment form, and we will hope to use them to inspire other women to dig into God's Word through the study as well. Finally, I'm giving away five free 20-minute Skype calls to the first discussion groups or Bible study groups to reach me through my contact form. If your group would like to interact with one of the coauthors of the book, this is your chance to ask questions and dig deeper. I'm also taking speaking requests for retreats, conferences, and church services.

For those leading the study this fall, a prayer: Heavenly Father, thank you for places where we can open your Word, read about your intentions for your daughters, and be set free to serve you wherever you have placed us and however you have gifted us and called us. Guide each Bible study leader, giving him or her wisdom, discernment, and an ability to engage people with your truth. You are holy, wise, all-knowing, all-seeing, and you always work for the good of those who love you. Today we seek to make your Kingdom come on earth, in us and through us, as it is in heaven. Show us how to be vessels of your love and use this study to reflect your heart for each of us. In the strong name of Jesus we pray, Amen!

On cigarettes and the kingdom of God

cigarettesMy father died of cancer of the lung at the young age of 61, amidst other kinds of cancer. It may have been all that secondhand smoke.  My grandfather died of leukemia, with a strong case of emphysema mixed in; the cigarette smell hung on his clothing. In my mind, I remember him holding one of his nicotine sticks. I also remember the way my mom, Baptist pastor's wife in a church parsonage, put out an ash tray in the living room the day he came to visit. 

I remember the day I smoked a clove cigarette myself. The truth is the aroma was intoxicating; the tar in my mouth, disgusting. It felt like a coating of pure nastiness. Never again, I vowed. Never again. 

It would be quite easy for me to wage a personal vendetta against tobacco in all its forms. After all, our bodies are the temple of the Holy Spirit and all that (though we could have a lively debate on what this means!). Even more urgently, Christians have this terrible habit of separating body from soul. Some of us should just go ahead and sign up for the local "Gnostics Anonymous" club, we sometimes have this horrible way of saying the body is evil and the soul is good, a belief that cannot be found in Scripture. The same word of God that states that God's plan to renew the earth and the people in it will come to fruition; that in fact, today, in this moment, we are a part of this advancing kingdom, a reflection of his glory. Our physical bodies will be renewed.

All of this I believe to be the truest truth about me and about those who enter the kingdom of God. God, through Jesus, is making all things new.

Hallelujah and pass the nicotine?

No. I don't want anyone I love (and I should love all of those whom Jesus loves) to destroy their body through a nicotine addiction, to spend their money on something that kills, to abuse themselves when they are God's Beloved. This is my first thought, and it rings true.

However, my second thought is this: Jesus is crazy about people who smoke.  He meets them in their nicotine haze, not in the place we would wish for them to be, cleaned up and set free from every compulsion.

Recently a woman pursuing the claims of Jesus and a life of sobriety shared an idea with me. What if we all put our cigarettes under our bed each night? She meant this in terms of a spiritual practice. You see, by bending down to place the Marlboros under the bed, you find yourself on your knees—a perfect position in which to pray to your heavenly Father. The same happy thing happens in the morning when your eyes open. To get up and get out for a smoke, you must once again bend down on your knees, the perfect position in which to pray.

I paused for a moment and replied, "I think that is a wonderful idea!" Because it is, you see. Because when we kneel and we seek the Almighty, he moves. Sometimes he moves slowly, using adversity and challenge and circumstances to cultivate wholeness and holiness. Sometimes he moves quickly. Always, he moves, when a heart is sincere.

I think it's still fair to say that I hate cigarettes. I simply hate what they do to the people I love. But eclipsing this hatred is love. Love for God's Creation, love for anyone trapped in an addiction of any kind, love for the kingdom of God in all its subversiveness.

You see, this kingdom is like a mustard seed, small in its beginnings, a tiny seed that mysteriously grows to become a healthy tree, a resting place (Matthew 13:31-32).

And the kingdom of God is also like yeast, which in the beginning is just . . . yeast. "The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed into about 60 pounds of flour until it worked all through the dough." (NIV Matt. 13:33)

The kingdom is both here, announced through the person of Jesus, and in the not yet, the glorious day when he will renew all things. And in the meantime, it pops up, small but growing, in unexpected places. Sometimes through prayers offered next to a pack of cigarettes.

And here is what I am beginning to believe, to wrap my hands and my heart around: the Kingdom of God can sprout up anywhere, in the most desolate and small and despairing of circumstances. I want to look for it there, while believing it can break through in even greater measure, taking down walls, providing more healing and shoring up souls. And that is all I have to say on cigarettes and the kingdom of God.

How is the kingdom of God showing up in your world, small but subversive? Do tell.

A prayer for your Friday

Prayer from church father Augustine on finding God after a long search:

Saint Augustine in His Study by Sandro Botticelli, 1480, Chiesa di Ognissanti, Florence, Italy, wikipedia.com

Too late have I loved you, O Beauty so ancient, O Beauty so new. Too late have I loved you!  You were within me but I was outside myself, and there I sought you! In my weakness I ran after the beauty of the things you have made. You were with me, and I was not with you. The things you have made kept me from you - the things which would have no being unless they existed in you! You have called, you have cried, and you have pierced my deafness. You have radiated forth, you have shined out brightly, and you have dispelled my blindness. You have sent forth your fragrance, and I have breathed it in, and I long for you. I have tasted you, and I hunger and thirst for you. You have touched me, and I ardently desire your peace.

-Augustine, Confessions, X, 27, 38

Describe a turning point or "aha" moment when you realized you longed for your Creator more than the Created things he made. How did this change things for you?