30 days of thanksgiving, volume 6 (the final edition)

See post #1,  post #2post #3post #4 and post #5 (the book edition). Fields-2

I would say that all good things must come to end, but as a follower of Jesus, I simply do not believe that to be true.

Quite the contrary, actually. I hold hope in my heart, instead, that every glimpse of light and grace in this crazy world is a shadow of something that will be fully restored one day. This earth will one day be our heaven. Creation will stop its groaning. And every bit of evil, every nasty thing that tries our souls, will one day give way to a gracious ruler and King. 

Even now, glimpses of heaven breaking through on earth happen daily. We pray "Your Kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven." And then we leave our homes and, through the power of Jesus in us, we build the Kingdom now, right here, wherever we are planted. We are bearers of light, reflections of hope. This is my surest reason for gratitude: this is where God is present in all of this. The broken relationships, tattered dreams, losses and monotony. There is a Redeemer, and even now he is in the process of renewing all things. The old can be made new; the Resurrection of a Jewish carpenter-God-man showed us it is true.

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

  • First Thanksgivings. This year, a few of our new friends from Brazil, students at a local university, joined us for their first Thanksgiving. They were introduced to pumpkin for the first time, they pulled up chairs at the family table, they found home while they are experiencing homesickness. And whatever blessing they received by joining in with the Burden clan, we received back in being a part of their first U.S. Thanksgiving. David and I are blessed over and over again each time we meet up, laughing about the absurdities of the English language. This is part of the family God makes, and we are grateful.

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  • Thankful friends. Your comments on this series have cheered my heart and renewed my hope that together sharing our gratitude makes a tremendous difference. Here is just a sampling:

It doesn't get easier to wait as we naturally hope for quick and easy answers; but it helps to know God is totally involved in the waiting and has a plan that encompasses the inevitable, complex realities. -Laurna

Inspired by what many celebrate on Nov. 1, I am thankful for the great number of "saints", those canonized and those unknown to anyone today, those powerful and those humble, who have preceded us in serving God's mission in the world. -Scott

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. -Heather

I am so grateful for my family. I love them so much more than words could ever describe. I am also grateful that through all of my life's choices, God has always been there waiting patiently for me. -Connie

Thankful for: my husband's health ( he just had an appendectomy), cooler weather, the ocean breeze, a quiet morning with my bible, podcasts by wise Christian women, a bursting avocado tree, spilled milk, women in my writing community like YOU, Thomas the Train, friendly neighbors who have embraced us with open arms. I could go on and on and on. There is so much to be thankful for!  -Lesley

I'm grateful for the fact that second chances are always before us, wide-open doors we can walk through with just a tiny bit of intention. What a grace in this world of grief! -Heather

I'm grateful for Edith...a high school Sunday school teacher who taught me that the face of joy sometimes wears black lace-up shoes. I'm grateful for a God whose love does not expect our perfection but instead has covered every sin, every shortcoming, every failing with his sufficiency on our behalf, and brings good things out of even the most devastating losses of this world. -Shelly

Your final chance: for what are you most grateful for 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 5 (the book edition)

See post #1,  post #2post #3 and post #4. Fields

In case you haven't already noticed, I am a bibliophile. A lover of books of all kinds.

Man with Book Sitting in Chair

As I mentioned in a previous post, I  relate to the writing of Lauren Winner in her memoir, Still: Notes on a Mid-Faith Crisis, where she said that every book is a self-help book.

I say this because in my life books challenge, ignite passion, entertain and edify, scold and challenge, reenvision and reframe, educate and spur growth, and most importantly: they have given me the quiet joy of consolation and comfort amidst the storms of life. They have mentored me, held me, and shaped me.

And for this, I am exceedingly thankful. Where would I be without my books? (Well, in a library of course, using someone else's books.) But I digress.

This week's giving of thanks will highlight seven quotes from books that have impacted me or the lives of a few of my friends at the Redbud Writer's Guild. Enjoy. And share the gratitude and happiness by sharing your favorite quotes or books in the comments below. Pull your chair up to the table—this is a book lover's feast.

  • And now, we give thanks for good books and powerful words:

#22: -Mark Twain. "Keep away from people who try to belittle your ambitions. Small people always do that, but the really great make you feel that you, too, can become great." (Nominated by Shelly Wildman at shellywildman.net)

#23: -Paul David Tripp. "The provisions of your Heavenly Father are not limited by the size of or your awareness of your need." (Nominated by Johannah Reardon at johannahreardon.com)

#24: Sheldon Van Auken. "There might be no certainty that Christ was God—but, by God, there was no certainty that He was not. If I were to accept, I might and probably would face the thought throughout the years: 'Perhaps, after all, it's a lie; I've been had!' But if I were to reject, I would certainly face the haunting, terrible thought: 'Perhaps it's true—and I have rejected my God!

This was not to be borne. I could not reject Jesus. There was only one thing to do, once I had seen the gap behind me. I turned away from it and flung myself over the gap towards Jesus." (A Severe Mercy)

Books I've read, skimmed, or would like to read one fine day.

#25: CS Lewis on Aslan. "Ooh!" said Susan. I'd thought he was a man. Is he—quite safe? I shall feel rather nervous about meeting a lion."

"That you will, dearie, and no mistake, said Mrs. Beaver, "if there's anyone who can appear before Aslan without their knees knocking, they're either braver than most or else just silly."

"Then he isn't safe?" said Lucy.

"Safe?" said Mr. Beaver. "Don't you hear what Mrs. Beaver tells you? Who said anything about safe? 'Course he isn't safe. But he's good. He's the King, I tell you." (The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe)

#26: -Flannery O'Connor. "When a book leaves your hands, it belongs to God. He may use it to save a few souls or to try a few others, but I think that for the writer to worry is to take over God's business." (dedicated to my writer friends)

#27: Annie Dillard. "If the landscape reveals one certainty, it is that the extravagant gesture is the very stuff of creation. After the one extravagant gesture of creation in the first place, the universe has continued to deal exclusively in extravagances, flinging intricacies and colossi down aeons of emptiness, heaping profusions on profligacies with ever-fresh vigor. The whole show has been on fire from the word go. I come down to the water to cool my eyes. But everywhere I look I see fire; that which isn’t flint is tinder, and the whole world sparks and flames." (Pilgrim at Tinker Creek)

#28: -Jesus. “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.” (Matthew 11:28-30, The Message)

*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 29-30 on the gratitude list, and please know you are invited to add your own giving of thanks.

Your turn: For what book or quotation are you most grateful for 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.

Reclaiming Eve: Heather Caliri's story

heatherHeather Caliri is a writer from San Diego. She started saying yes to joy in her faith two years ago and was surprised to find that joy led straight to Jesus. Find out about her upcoming ebook, Unquiet Time: A devotional for the rest of us, here

***

The slogan caught my eye as I turned a corner inside the Humanities building: “Well-Behaved Women Seldom Make History.”

Later, I’d discover that Laurel Thatcher Ulrich, the writer who penned the phrase, had done so almost off-hand, in an obscure work about Puritan funeral services. I’d learn that it became a feminist catchphrase without her help, and was often used out of context. I would find that Ulrich, a practicing Mormon, wasn’t trying to denigrate the histories of ordinary, domestic women, but instead, illuminate them.

But at the time, I assumed the phrase was attacking me: a well-behaved, white, upper-middle class Christian housewife. I felt a flare of anger and shame and ducked my head. I tried to pretend the slogan wasn’t there.

The building, which was shaped like a squared-off figure eight, was easy to get lost in. You went around corners so often that you lost all sense of direction; the decrepit state of repair and the bleak décor only added to the disorientation. 

I found the staircase I’d been hunting for and went up another floor to the English department.

As I ascended the staircase, I turned the phrase over in my head. Well-behaved. Make history. Women.

I wondered why I’d have to behave badly to make history. I wondered if that was something I’d want. If that was something God would want for me.

What I didn’t wonder was this: Well-behaved by the standards of whom?

It was my first semester in the Creative Writing Master’s degree program at San Diego State University. I was pleased and excited to be writing so much.

But it also wasn’t what I’d expected.

My first fiction professor, Hal, was a writer of very experimental political pieces, with titles like “Terror-Dot-Gov.” In class, he told us writing should be political, should address issues in the world, should engage in social justice.

Also, he said “dialectical” about every other sentence.

During Hal’s political rants, I’d look down at my stories, full of white, upper-middle-class family problems, and feel my stomach twist.

I rounded a few more corners as I made my way to the MFA copy room, mentally arguing with the whoever had posted the slogan.

Was there something wrong with just being a nice Christian girl? Was I not enough? Does every woman have to burn her bras to be significant?

I hated feeling judged.

But even as I fumed, I knew my anger was mostly aimed at myself. I felt shame. I was not significant. I wasn’t brave. I would never raise my voice.

What makes me ache about remembering this moment is how much I sold myself—and my womanhood—short. I could not yet see my own bravery, how I’d keep writing in the face of post-partum depression, pushback from loved ones, and deep, unrelenting fear. I didn’t see that my shame about not being “political” underscored how I longed to address issues of injustice, but assumed I had nothing to contribute.

I didn’t know that when I became a mother two years later, something would break in my heart. I realized then that it bothered me that my femininity didn’t seem represented in my faith.

The almost exclusively masculine imagery for God I’d learned made me feel excluded. Did a God described in masculine terms mean that I was left out or less-than?

I winced when I read the rapes and sexual violence written, without comment, into the Scriptures.

I couldn’t bear to face the parts of church history that diminished or demonized women.

But when I started digging, I noticed all the women in the Bible who weren’t exactly well-behaved in their patriarchal cultures: Deborah, Ruth, Mary with her hierarchy-shaking Magnificat. I noticed God described as a midwife, a mother hen, and Eve described by the Hebrew word ezer, the same strong word used to describe God’s rescuing help for his people. I noticed Jesus treating women with respect.

As Suzanne wrote in Reclaiming Eve, “I never would have guessed how highly God thinks of his daughters. I hadn’t understood how invaluable we are to his kingdom.”

After I saw my worth through God’s eyes, his incredible power transformed me.

I started caring less about whether I was nice, and instead wondered if I was loving and just.

I started seeing my words were significant, and that I wanted to use them.

I noticed that I could speak up about injustice in my own way, for my own reasons, at my own pace. Not because a professor told me to, but because I felt called.

Instead of feeling like I needed to become someone I wasn’t in order to please Hal, or Laurel Thatcher Ulrich, or other Christians, I started worrying about pleasing God instead.

Doing that made me come alive.

I assumed, walking down that hallway, that Ulrich was trying to shame me into becoming someone else. Someone unChristian, offensive, and impossibly brave. I assumed I could never feel empowered, and I assumed that God agreed.

I didn’t know that like Ulrich, I could have my own ideas about what “well-behaved” and “world-changing” looked like. I didn’t know I was significant, just as God made me. I didn’t know He was cheering me on.

As I remember trying to find my way in that impossibly mixed-up building, I cheer my old self on too. I had no idea what was waiting for me, just around the next corner.

 Your Turn: What emotions do you feel when reading the quote "Well-behaved women seldom make history"? In what ways is God empowering you to greater things?

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 fall studies! Order here.

I Am the Other: on acknowledging my disability

1Read more entries from the "We are the other" synchroblog at SheLovesMagazine.com. "Is this permanent?" the clerk at the BMV asked.

I said something like, "Yes, yes, it's chronic, I've had it since birth. It's permanent."

No one asked why it had taken me over 41 years to get the parking permit. Nor did I want them to.

She handed over the little blue hanger without even a blink. No money was exchanged. Only my pride was handed over, my reluctance to admit I could use the help this little piece of plastic provides. God help me, why was I here again?

Over the next week or two, I faced my own demons when I pulled out the blue hanger a few times, catching it on the rearview mirror.

Was I admitting I was handicapped?

The little girl who wriggled into the world on a September day, born with a swollen right foot. I was still that girl.

And so the internal conversations ensued: You are doing this because you have had swelling in your foot since birth, and as much as you take great care of yourself physically, there are days when extra walking takes its toll, and it is OK to have help on those days. To whip out the blue plastic on those days. To care enough for yourself that you are gentle with your weaknesses. 41 years of invincibility is enough; let yourself care for yourself. Show a little compassion for the One that Jesus loves.

I was joining the ranks of the "other," and I had my reasons for not wanting to be here. Self-sufficiency, mainly. I had already joined the ranks of the infertile and childless, of the seminary-trained female who has yet to find a permanent church to serve in, and I was already one of those who dealt with a physical challenge every day of my life.

I did not need a blue hanger to remind me.

Or perhaps I did.

Maybe I needed the blue hanger finally because I was allowing myself to be the unique me that has a rare condition that most people don't know about.

Maybe Abba-daddy's love for me was winning out, rather than me giving in to my physical challenge. Maybe I could truthfully be the "other" with the handicap parking sign, and somehow in doing so, I am identifying with all of the weak ones of this world. I am reminded that I need God's strength in this weakness and that my legs, though broken a bit, are serving the beautiful purpose of getting me where I need to go. And that I need other people around me to survive. That all of us are worthy of consideration and respect and tender care, and that each piece of our story matters.

Oddly enough, this whole experience led from a feeling of being the other to feelings of deep solidarity with others. For if there is one thing I know, it is this: we are all handicapped. The most physically resilient people in the world can hold an aching, bleeding heart; millions have been abused around the world; each of us has an area of deep pain that presents unique challenges. No one is exempt.

The little blue hanger simply reminds me that God is writing his story through my weakness. But best of all, that he is loving me through it.

Take care of the One I love, he says. Be gentle and winsome with yourself. Those who admit their weakness find that I inexplicably give them strength....so take the silly blue hanger, child. It is just one of my gifts to you.

Note: Fifteen years ago, I heard of a laser therapy used on my condition, lymphedema, that I felt would make a difference in the swelling and fibrotic tissue in my foot and ankle, which has been notoriously difficult to treat. Though used in Europe and Australia, it took years for the therapy to arrive in the States. And now 15 years later, after a bit of a row with the insurance company and a minor miracle occurring a few months ago, I will be receiving this treatment January 12-30, 2015. I would appreciate your prayers, and I hope you'll come back to hear more about my healing journey.

Your turn: What's your handicap or weakness? And how might acknowledging it be a step toward setting you free?

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 small group studies! Order here.

At SheLovesMagazine today: "A Woman Fully Alive"

Thrilled to join the chorus of voices at SheLovesMagazine today, as we talk about what it means to experience life as "the other." “A female pastor. How wonderful!” she said. “And I got to see it before I died.”

She approached me after a funeral service, her beautiful scarf framing her face, a woman who looked to be in her 70s. I was rendered completely speechless. And I confess her words mark my memory with a sadness I have a hard time articulating.

You see, I live in a world where gender both qualifies and disqualifies you. Where “othering” is often the language of the day and I regularly observe all-male elder boards or male-led denominations attempting to dictate who they want me to be, how I should use my gifts, and what they will allow me to do.

Read more at SheLovesMagazine.com

Reclaiming Eve: Robin Lake's story

R LakeRobin Lake is a pastor, worship leader and writer from New Hampshire. She also works full time as an executive administrator, runs a healing discipleship ministry and is studying to become a Spiritual Director. She is fiercely devoted to seeing the marginalized find the hope and healing she has found in Jesus. She loves her family, friends, the church, photography and football. Laughter is imperative, books are necessary and beauty compels her. Find her blog at muddybride.wordpress.com. “We are called to be MEN of God!”

The young preaching student bellowed those words throughout his sermon. They reverberated off the walls of the seminary classroom and blasted into my soul, dropping deep into the chasm of self-doubt and hatred I’d spent years trying to climb out of. 

A second year student at a conservative seminary, I chose this particular course, Expository Preaching, partly as an act of rebellion. My truer motivation was the fact that I love to break open and teach God’s word, a passion I have known since I was a child.

A child raised to believe in God, to believe in Jesus, but also to believe that within the church, women could only teach music, children and other women, or be a missionary (if there were no men to go). A child who had suffered years of sexual abuse and confusion. A child who, safely tucked within a grown woman, wondered if she ever could be who she felt compelled to be.

Signing up for this class felt scandalous. There were only three women in the entire class of over fifty students. I wondered what the other two were thinking. Did they even notice the call to “be men?”

The time came for us to critique our fellow student. I listened as various men in the class gave good, constructive input, their words accepted with nods of quiet affirmation. The orator thanked them. I found myself concerned for this gifted student beginning in ministry not knowing he would offend. As I raised my hand, decades of my own silence mocked me, luring me back into the safety of my not-yet-healed, but familiar, broken sexuality. The professor acknowledged my trembling limb as I took the plunge.

“I know this may seem a small thing. Your sermon was well delivered and scripturally solid. Yet, I wonder if you’re aware that your words discount more than half of any given congregation? When you call me, a woman, to be a man of God, I disconnect a little. A part of me shuts down and I cannot hear what God might say through you.”

There was immediate murmuring around the room as the student stated that he meant nothing personal. I was about to reply when my professor spoke up.

“Robin is right. What if she preached the same sermon, but called everyone to be women of God? How would you feel? I know some of you take issue with women in the pulpit. I don’t. My wife is an ordained minister. She would feel exactly the same way. Robin, thank you for taking the risk to share your thoughts.”

A small trickle of water began to pour into the chasm of my soul. I felt like I could breathe for the first time in a very long time, perhaps for the first time ever. Maybe it was OK to be me, full of words, full of God, full of teaching. When my turn came to preach, five male students purposefully chose not to attend.

I believe God allowed this painful memory to surface as I was reading the book Reclaiming Eve to remind me of my purpose. He was reassuring me that inherent within my created being was a desire to be a strong helper and power for the men I walked beside.

“The full force of the original meaning of this verse [Gen. 2:18] might come out something like this: to end the loneliness of the single human, I will make another strong power, corresponding to it, facing it, equal to it. And the humans will be both male and female.” (p. 29)

This desire to be a strong helper had always been there, even when I was at my most confused and broken. I feel that my heavenly Father was reinforcing what the authors of Reclaiming Eve came to understand: “So when women don’t show up—when they can’t or won’t show up—everyone loses.” (p. 37)

Twenty years ago, I remember being met with anger, fear and dismissal—but the professor’s response began a shift inside of me. Now, as an associate pastor who preaches a third of the sermons for my church, I am ever-grateful for his words.

God continues to show me more of this beautiful alliance between the ezer and the adam. Recently, after preaching a sermon, I received the following response from a male theologian: “Now THAT was practical theology.” He followed with this email: “Your sermon continues to REVERBERATE with me . . . You hit on some very insightful points that I have continued to ruminate over. That is always a hallmark of good preaching. Thanks for being faithful to your calling.”

As I more deeply accept the truth of who I am as a daughter of God, I defend less and simply try to do what I am gifted to do. And today I own this truth: we are called to be men and women of God. Embracing my responsibility as a full partner in God’s kingdom has enabled me to embrace the men walking next to me. Together, we represent the fullness of God’s intention for his Creation—a beautiful alliance, indeed.

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 fall studies! Order here.

Reclaiming Eve: Dorothy Greco's story

DLGport-Jun-0612-009-©DGreco-224x300 Dorothy Littell Greco has spent the past thirty-three years following Jesus. In addition to trying to become more like the One she loves, Dorothy works as a photographer, writer, and pastor. She and her husband have three sons, and as of August 2014, one daughter-in-law. You can find more of Dorothy’s work on her website or by following her on twitter (@dorothygreco) or on facebook.

If ezer[1], the Hebrew word used to describe Eve, literally means strong rescuer, being a mother and being an ezer have often felt mutually exclusive. Changing diapers, settling sibling arguments, teaching my sons to read are all important but definitely not on par with the adventures of Joan of Arc or Tolkien’s Éowyn. One could argue that the activities which have dominated my days have actually disqualified me for the job description laid out in Genesis. Or have they?

Carolyn Custis James writes in Ruth, “The Bible’s consistent usage of ezer within a military content has led to the conclusion that God created the woman to be a warrior alongside the man in advancing God’s kingdom throughout the earth.” I’ve never fired a gun or drawn a sword but I assure you, I mother like a warrior. 

Our eldest son recently got married at the tender age of twenty. The wedding itself was a glorious celebration of God’s faithfulness and provision. My son’s bride is every bit his match. She is smart, passionate, devoted to God, and fiercely loves our son. At the reception, Anthony stood up and gave the following testimony:

weddingjeffs-Aug-0814-001-©DGreco

“A lot of who I am today is not just because of homeschooling but because of the attention and love that I got on a daily basis. The ways that I can get along with others, the ways that I can perform well academically, the ways that I can love and respect Kate, most of them stem from [my mom’s] parenting and leadership.”

(In case you were wondering, yes, I was crying.)

Anthony is a substantial young man. He is disciplined and missional. He cares about weighty issues such as racism, sexism, and poverty. He hopes to leverage any of his privilege to bring God’s kingdom to the earth. If I take Anthony at his word, I had a hand in this.

This was no accident. My husband and I have made some radical parenting choices, including ten years of homeschooling. Our goal was quite simple: teach our kids to love to learn and incarnate Christianity in our home. How we learned and the level of care, compassion, and love we demonstrated toward one another was significantly more important that what we learned.

We made this choice in part because we had seen one too many Christian families who appeared shiny and perfect on Sunday morning but whose lives failed to reflect Jesus Monday through Saturday. We believed for more. We believed for a faith that would transform us, that would free us from our besetting sins, and allow us to actually become more like Christ. 

With this in mind, the boys’ schooling was not confined to grammar, history, and math. Theology, the works and words of Jesus, how our faith might impact larger social issues were all fair game. One of the specific topics I sensed God wanted me to explore with my three sons was the disparity between how the world valued women and how God valued women. We read and repeatedly returned to the creation story:

So God created human beings in his own image.

In the image of God he created them;

male and female he created them. Genesis 1:27

If men and women were both created in the image of God, then as Reclaiming Eve states, “both men and women have the capacity to reflect God equally.” Despite the patriarchy, the concubines, the generations of misogyny that are portrayed in the Bible—all of which are impossible to skip over—I always assumed that if our goal is to be reconcilers and to bring God’s kingdom to earth, part of my job description is to help us get back to the garden. In this specific case, to teach my sons how to treat women as co-heirs and then expect them to live out that reality.

I remember one particular morning at the local playground. Before he understood how to embody leadership, Anthony was quite bossy. The six-year-old girl he was trying to coerce into playing the game his way was having none of it. She said no emphatically and Anthony did not back down. I pulled him aside and with way too much heat said, “When a girl says no, you stop what you are doing. Immediately. Do you understand?” I was not simply protecting that befuddled girl with the ponytails at the playground. I was looking ahead and contending for his future wife.

In all of this intentional parenting, it never occurred to me that I was “disrupting the created order” by teaching my sons how to honor women. (This charge was leveled at me during a radio interview last year.) I thought I was helping to restore the created order and bring God’s kingdom to earth in the process.

Custis James writes in When Life and Beliefs Collide, “God’s calling for women applies to all of us from the cradle to the grave, whether we are single or married, divorced or widowed, childless or moms, infirm or able bodied. . . . The strong helper isn’t a role a woman puts on like a white veil as she heads down the aisle to the altar. It is a lifetime calling for all of us.”

Rather than disqualify me from fulfilling my role as an ezer, mothering provided me with a sacred opportunity to step into this god-given role—and work toward reclaiming Eve in the process. As my son would attest, this has been a win-win for all of us.

[1] “Ezer is a Hebrew, military word most often used in the Bible to describe God as Israel’s helper.” (Carolyn Custis James, The Gospel of Ruth, p. 211)

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 fall studies! Order here.

Reclaiming Eve: Natasha Sistrunk Robinson's story

Natasha Sistrunk Robinson-Headshot2_2013 Natasha Sistrunk Robinson is an inspirational speaker, freelance writer, and human trafficking advocate. As a graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy and Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary (M.A. Christian Leadership), she has over 15 years of experience in leadership and mentoring. She is currently authoring a book about mentoring women from the perspective of intentional discipleship. Natasha resides in North Carolina with her husband and daughter. Connect with Natasha through her website or blog, on facebook or on twitter.

  “Unfreezing Eve from the story of her sin.” This was the focus of the Reclaiming Eve book review I wrote a few months ago. Now that I’ve read the book three times, other nuggets are sparking my interest and passion. As I sit down tonight, I seem to connect with a very simple sentence tucked away in Chapter 7, Restored: The Serving Woman:

“Read to educate yourself.”

Next to that sentence in the margins, I have scribbled the word, “Yes!” 

I am a leader, which in the Christian context means that I am a serving woman. For the past few years, I have been serving the women at my church as the Founder and co-director of the Women’s Mentoring Ministry. We focus on helping women understand their identity in Christ Jesus. Before they can understand their identity, they must first know God.

The majority of our struggles and insecurities in life are a result of a poor theology concerning God or an inaccurate view of ourselves. If we are confused about the God we serve and are strangers to ourselves, it becomes difficult if not impossible to love others well.

Obtaining an accurate view of God begins with theological reflection. It is important that women learn how to think theologically and that often requires reading and a commitment to study. Completing deep studies and wide readings through large chunks of the Bible informs us about our God who longs to be known. The Bible reminds us of God’s love, his redemptive story, and his kingdom agenda. The Bible also reminds us of our purpose and convicts us of any wrong doing. In addition to the Bible, reading Christian classics are also a good source of learning. Finally, reading books that help us develop a Christian worldview, exposes us to injustices and God’s hand at work in the world, and Christian biographies are also helpful choices for our reading diet.

Besides knowing God and learning about ourselves, reading is an excellent discipline to help us prepare for our Christian calling. Part of my responsibility as a leader and mentor is to train and prepare others to lead and mentor well. One of my most challenging undertakings has been convincing mentees of their need to develop the discipline of study. The writer of Hebrews makes an interesting statement when chastising the hearers of his words:

We have much to say about this, but it is hard to explain because you are slow to learn. In fact, though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you the elementary truths of God’s word all over again. You need milk, not solid food! Anyone who lives on milk, being still an infant, is not acquainted with the teaching about righteousness. But solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil (Heb. 5:11-14 NIV).

Reading increases our learning. Reading also solidifies the understanding of our faith so we are not constantly having to learn the basic elementary truths. Like a baby who grows from drinking milk to eventually eating solid foods, reading matures us and ushers us on to holy and righteous living. Reading also helps us grow in wisdom, knowledge, and understanding. Through the power of the Holy Spirit, it helps us to discern the difference between good and evil.

It is widely accepted that all great leaders read. If we are to equip women for leadership that includes training and encouraging their discipline of study so they grow in spiritual maturity and are able teachers of others.

We don’t need to stay in a place where we are confused about ourselves, about God, and about our struggles and insecurities. We have the opportunity to learn and grow so we might be better leaders and lovers of those God places in our lives. In that spirit, let’s go about Reclaiming Eve by encouraging every woman to eat more and more solid spiritual food. Let’s read!

Here are a few recommended reads to help women think theologically:

How to Think Theologically by Howard W. Stone & James O. Duke Think Like Jesus: Make the Right Decision Every Time by George Barna Discipleship of the Mind: Learning to Love God in the Ways We Think by James W. Sire

Your turn: What is your favorite read on theology, discipleship or mentoring? And why?
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 fall studies! Order here.

 

Reclaiming Eve: Cara Meredith's story

DSC04546Cara Meredith is a writer, speaker and musician from in the greater San Francisco area. She is currently tweaking away at her first book when not on the hunt for the world’s greatest chips and guacamole. She loves people, food, reading, the great outdoors and her family. She and her husband, James, try to dance nightly and live life LARGE with their two young sons. Find her online at carameredith.com, on facebook or on twitter @caramac54.

 Maybe you can relate to this: as I grew older, my relationship with Eve grew more and more tangled.

I started out believing there was nothing “funny” about women. The church of my youth held a rather esteemed (and I now realize, exceptional in the evangelical world) view of the role of women, so much so that I wasn’t aware of the argument over women in ministry that marked theological conversations of the 80s and 90s. Females served in every capacity of my church: as preachers and worship leaders, as elders and on the deaconate board, as baby holders and spaghetti sauce-stirrers for Wednesday night dinners. I remember with disdained fondness when one associate pastor (who just-so-happened to carry around an XX chromosome), pulled me aside after delivering her Sunday sermon, and said, “Cara, you know you could do this someday. You should be a pastor.”

I stared back at her, my thirteen-year-old self simultaneously repulsed by the prospective nerdiness I perceived in her role as Professional Christian, while secretly overjoyed that she would see me capable of such an esteemed role.

Nodding politely, I wrinkled my eyebrows in disdain, likely providing her with a dismissive “thanks, but no thanks”of a reply until her words came predictively true fifteen years later. I entered full-time ministry, although church walls didn’t bind my own pastoral role, but instead freed me to work alongside the church, as a director within a Christian outreach organization.

Because the ministry wasn’t connected to any one denomination, it remained free to believe what it wanted to believe about the roles of women. And women, its leadership esteemed, were just as capable and qualified as men to serve in any capacity.

Hallelujah, as it should be.

But proclamations from the pulpit and actual, transpiring events were not always of the same accord.

I remember taking middle school students to camp one summer, to a week we as leaders and staff promised would quite possibly be the best week of their lives. And for many of these friends, it was nothing short of transformative: they were introduced to the God who is for them, to Christ whose death and resurrection proves Love’s worth, and to the Spirit who lives within our hearts, reminding us daily of this power. Lives were changed spiritually and emotionally, physically and mentally.  

On our last morning, the whole camp gathered together in the clubroom, arms hanging loosely around swaying shoulders. We sang one last round of “Lean On Me,” wholeheartedly believing that those who had journeyed with us in the past week would continue to walk with our New Selves.

As a staff person, I knew that the ministry believed women just as qualified as men to deliver the gospel proclamation, to break down walls from the front of the room, to make teenagers laugh and cry and think and feel. But as I looked onto the stage, to the leadership team guiding us in final song, it hit me.

There were two commonalities present in those on the platform: they were all white, and they were all male.

What unspoken message did this communicate to the young women (and, certainly, to the adolescents of color) in that room? You are free to love Jesus—but leading others to love Christ is something best left to the white males among us. Thank you for your time! While this memory remains cynical at best, I am convinced that no matter the differentiating factor, whether gender or ethnicity, cultural or socioeconomic background (to name a few), when leadership fails to correctly guide the flock they serve utilizing the diversity of the church body they represent, we all suffer.

A grave injustice against humanity, in opposition to the very ones Jesus came to set free and reclaim, is instead proclaimed.

And we, as the church body, disgrace and disservice the adam and the ezer meant to serve and to work together, side by side, shoulder by shoulder. Of God, “What he proposed, what pleased him,” writes author Suzanne Burden in Reclaiming Eve, “was to make humans resemble him” (24). So what keeps us humans from executing the Creator’s actual intention?

For me, as I stood surrounded by sweaty, sticky thirteen and fourteen year olds, that morning’s realization changed me.

I began to study Jesus’ response to both men and women, and I poured over those passages I’d previously labeled “tricky,” simply because I didn’t understand the historical context of women in second-temple Jewish culture. I started (and eventually finished) seminary, mind expanding through the words of feminist and black theologians, Latino and Asian Christ-thinkers. And I began to speak up, fighting that the very stages I hadn’t seen filled with women and people of color be staffed next to their equally qualified Caucasian brothers.

Because it matters.

It matters that we right the tangle we’ve made of Eve’s reputation and abilities, for ourselves and for future generations of the church. It matters because to do anything else denies the Creator’s good intentions and purposes for his sons and daughters. And it matters that we live as the reclaimed, restored human beings that we are, because we are to function as one reconciled Body, with and for each other, shining a unified light into a watching world.

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 fall studies! Order here.

Reclaiming Eve: Dorcas Cheng-Tozun's story

Dorcas Cheng-Tozun HeadshotDorcas Cheng-Tozun is a writer, blogger, editor, and a regular contributor to Asian American Women on Leadership. Her writing has been published in over a dozen publications, including the recent anthology How Does One Dress to Buy Dragonfruit? True Stories of Expat Women in Asia. She lives in the San Francisco Bay Area with her husband and adorable hapa son. Find her on Twitter @dorcas_ct. In some ways, it felt like the makings of a bad dream. Standing, all alone, under blindingly bright lights, my voice weirdly amplified, as hundreds of people—most of them strangers—looked on without saying a word. At least I was fully clothed.

In reality, I wasn’t in the middle of a nightmare. I was in the middle of a huge risk. I was preaching a sermon in front of my church, my first time doing this—ever.

I am not a pastor. I have never been to seminary. I didn’t study religion in college. I don’t even enjoy public speaking.

But I am a long-time follower of Jesus. I am a lay leader in our church. I am also a writer, so I believe wholeheartedly in the transformative power of words. Most importantly of all, I believe that Jesus meets us whenever we take risks for the sake of his kingdom.

I wasn’t preaching because no one else could do it. Our church has several talented pastors who are excellent teachers, and yet church leaders have publicly stated their pursuit of two values: to give congregation members the opportunity to discover new gifts, and to have more women teaching from the pulpit.

Coming from a culture and a childhood church that were not fully supportive of women in leadership, I’m thankful to attend a church now where women are equal partners with men in every area of ministry. Women are board members and pastors, small group leaders and prayer intercessors, worship leaders and AV whizzes. Just as significant, the men in our church gladly volunteer in the nursery and the children’s classrooms. They serve coffee and bagels as often as they serve communion.

As a result, I’ve been able to witness the great fruit of the blessed alliance between men and women that is painted so beautifully in Reclaiming Eve. When we don’t place any limits on the gifts of our church family, there are more opportunities for all of us to find ministries through which we can bless others—and which nourish our own souls. We each have more opportunities to stretch ourselves and discover new, unexpected roles in the kingdom of God.

Which was how I ended up standing on stage, tiny mic hooked up to my left ear, speaking words that I had spent over forty hours crafting—and trying very hard not to let anxiety overtake me. I was teaching from Isaiah 58, both on God’s call for justice and his exhortation for us to honor the Sabbath. A significant portion of my sermon involved sharing honestly about the severe burnout and depression I had experienced when I spent years avidly pursuing God’s call for justice but had ignored the Sabbath. It was not an easy story to tell, full of pain and weakness and vulnerability—hardly the image of the strong, capable, able-to-do-anything-God-asks woman that I would rather project.

But that’s not who God was asking me to be—and he had provided a community of people to support me through what at times felt like an overwhelming endeavor. Our lead pastor was the one who encouraged me to try preaching, something I never would have considered on my own. He then spent several hours reading manuscript drafts, providing feedback, and encouraging me to speak from my heart. A couple other church staff walked me through a dress rehearsal and provided thoughtful feedback on how I could improve my presentation. Our worship leader (also a woman, I should note) selected a beautiful set of songs to complement my message. Dozens of people in the church, many of whom know about my struggles with perfectionism and people-pleasing, told me they were praying for me—and their assurances helped quell the worst of my anxiety and fear.

So many people had come around me to encourage me in my risk-taking, and that alone almost made it worth it. They were willing to invest time, energy, and care to support the next step in my journey as an ezer—the Hebrew word that means strong power, the one God used for Eve in Genesis 2:18.

My first sermon (which I actually had to give twice because we have two services) went as well as I could have expected. But, in the intervening weeks, the preaching part of the experience has become a bit fuzzy in my memory. Instead, what stand out to me are the stories I have heard since then of people in the congregation—some old friends, some first-time visitors—who were impacted by my sharing. They are finding hope and inspiration from the story of my failures and weaknesses. They are rearranging their lives so they can experience God afresh through their own Sabbaths—and he is responding with abundance.

God had taken my risk, wrapped up in my anxiety and insecurities, and blessed me with a new experience of support from my church family. He had taken my willingness to be vulnerable in front of hundreds of people, and transformed it into strength and encouragement for others.

As Jamie Wright says in one of the final chapters of Reclaiming Eve, “Service in the kingdom brings peace and joy, but it may not be easy” (155). I still don’t know if God has particularly gifted me to teach from the pulpit. My pastor has already asked me to consider preaching again, and, admittedly, I hesitate to say yes because the task still feels far beyond my comfort level. But whether my next risk is to preach again, or to find some other stretching role in the kingdom, I have every confidence that God will meet me there. Whatever I, as an ezer, am willing to offer, he will find a way to transform it into beautiful fruit.

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 fall studies! Order here.