We are the women of the Holy Week

The LilypadMary Magdalene, the one released from seven demons, lingers in the garden weeping, her tears watering the soil.  She is known as the "apostle to the apostles" in Church history, and for most of us, she appears to be the female headliner in the story of Holy Week. We witness her tears of deep sorrow, her unawareness that she kneels moments away from her commissioning as the first evangelist to spread the news that He is Risen, just as he said.

Our hearts will jump as her heart leaps for joy!

From Reclaiming Eve:

"It wasn't the empty tomb that gave Mary Magdalene hope again; it was the voice of the very much alive Jesus that made her physically jump for joy. And the fact that he appeared first to her signaled a dramatic departure from relationships as usual. For as a women in her culture, Mary Magdalene held few rights. She would never hold up as an official eyewitness to anything in court. She was likely aware that the pious male Jews thanked God regularly that they were not born as women. She knew her place, and her place would always be second.

Apparently Jesus did not get the memo. After what historians point to as the pivotal events in all of human history—Christ's death and Resurrection—Jesus chose to appear not to his circle of male disciples, but to a female disciple who loved and served him faithfully. And he told her to immediately tell the 12 male disciples. What is so terribly ironic in all of this is that none of them believed her (Mark 16:11). Yet Mary would go down in history as the "apostle to the apostles"—the one chosen by Jesus to spread the good news" (p. 112).

But why, Lord, we ask? Why appear to a woman whose word would not immediately be trusted?

All of the women of Holy Week, Mary the mother of Jesus, Mary Magdalene, Salome, Joanna, the ones last at the cross and first to the tomb, remind me of something about all of the daughters of Eve.

They brought the very thing we women are afraid to show—our neediness—to the feet of the humble rabbi. Demons were released. Insecurities erased. Religious foundations shaken and reset by the inbreaking Kingdom of Jesus.

These women sat at his feet. They felt his touch, simple and pure. Scandalous though it may have been, they dined with him—some of them supplying his food out of their funds—receiving back immeasurably more than they gave. Freedom from sin, release from shame—the teaching he offered them, filled with life, when they became his disciples.

At the cross their hearts broke in two, but the Life-giver, the Grave-robber, was already knitting them back together again. They came broken, needy, desperate. They left amazed, restored, and capable of doing exactly what Jesus asked of them. Released to lead in loving God and neighbor. Lifted up to resist injustice and free the oppressed. Taught so winsomely to teach others to become his disciples.

And don't you see, we are the women of the Holy Week. We need demons rebuked. We suffer from insecurity and inferiority and shame. What we need is a Savior, a lifter of our heads. The abused ones, and the disregarded and marginalized ones, and the seemingly healthy ones, too, the young and the aging, the vibrant and the dying. Like the women of the Holy Week, we come needy and walk away whole, no matter our circumstance. And we women know, this is too much freedom to keep to ourselves. It is Holy Week, and Sunday's coming, and we must go and tell.

Mary Magdalene, the one released from seven demons, lingers in the garden weeping, her tears watering the soil. 

Our hearts will jump as her heart leaps for joy.

Watch a video short of Mary Magdalene's story here. How do the women of Holy Week point you to freedom and wholeness in Christ?

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.

REMIX: A video discussion of the book Mary for Evangelicals: who was the mother of Jesus?

Mary for EvangelicalsI'll just say it: evangelicals in general seem to be oddly afraid of Mary the Mother of Jesus. Last December, I walked through an enlightening book that sharpened my perspective on Mary—and I'm thrilled to share the discussion again with you this year. This three-part series will open our eyes, challenge our assumptions and hopefully, lead us into a deeper appreciation of how in many ways Mary shattered the mold for women in her culture. Come back Friday, December 19, and Tuesday, December 23, for parts two and three.

The book Mary for Evangelicals: Toward an Understanding of the Mother of Our Lord by Tim Perry shakes us up, moves past our fears, and brings us Mary in all her beauty and complexity. I highly recommend you give it a read, as I only scratch the surface on some of its themes here. 

Watch my discoveries about Mary and how the marginalized are not marginal in God's Kingdom:

Video discussion with Suzanne Burden on Mary for Evangelicals by Tim Perry: part 1 from Suzanne Burden on Vimeo.

Thanks for watching. Let's continue the conversation.

What did you always believe about Mary growing up? What new discovery about Mary's story is challenging and inspiring you?

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 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.

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.

How one woman struggles with traditional church

IMG_1819So here's a post I never thought I would write. For some time now, I have been searching for a way to integrate the faith God has shaped and is shaping in me into a particular context. I have longed to be a part of a local Church Body, to be shepherded, to be accountable, to be faithful, to serve. And all along the way, underneath these longings, is an honest longing to pursue the calling on my heart.

I want to use my seminary degree.

I want to use my pastoral gifts.

I want to partner with others to teach and share the gospel through both words and actions.

All of this seems perfectly reasonable. I still, in fact, don't dislike the idea.  It is just that I grow more and more uncomfortable at the thought of doing church per usual, and I'm becoming more and more one of those people who wants to go out and be The Church.

Some go to church on Sunday morning hoping to hear their favorite worship song, or if they're lucky, two or three of them. I go to church looking for the lonely and hoping to love them—and frankly speaking, to be loved out of my own loneliness. Truth be told, I am lonely each time I enter a church building, and I don't always leave feeling any less so.

I am often asked to sign up for another video Bible study that is delivered by a dynamic woman with great hair. She is a powerful teacher who is fond of fill-in-the-blank workbooks. But I want to see the Church train both men and women to study the Bible for themselves and then teach others how to do so. I want to see the priesthood of all believers, every last one, given the nudge and the opportunity to learn how to study the Bible and how to passionately follow Jesus with joy and through sacrifice and spiritual disciplines—and I want to see that replicated. I want to see disciples actually making disciples.

I want to see justice and love and racial and gender reconciliation roll down in your midst, mingled together, dripping off your members like the shower a dog shakes on to the carpet after a cool bath. Honestly, it sometimes seems this is more likely to happen outside of the church walls.

My husband and I were invited to an upscale restaurant after church (the one you say you go to every Sunday), and it made me a little sick and a little sad. I'm not against good food or some great table fellowship, but Jesus is ruining me and making me want to hang out with the most broken people of all where no one bothers to put on a nice face and his light shines brightly into the most barren of places. This is not an indictment against you, but a sign of where Jesus is taking me.

Someone told me they don't go to that side of town because it's too dangerous, but you don't know that my friend lives right there in the middle of it all. You can smell drugs and alcohol in her apartment building, along with a variety of other things. I go there alone, (yes, without my husband), because my friend needs my help each and every week. It's the least I can do. Would you do any differently if your friend didn't have enough food? Or needed shoes? Or simply needed to be reminded that there is always hope?

Several who have found out that I led a Bible study for women in residential chemical addiction recovery have been surprised. At one point, I would have been, too. And they exclaim: "Wow! I could never do that." I want to say: You could if Jesus asked you to. In fact, that is where I have felt his presence the most. I have never experienced the sweet presence of Jesus more intensely than I did in that circle of broken hearts and laid-bare souls. Most of Jesus' time was spent serving the under-resourced, the uneducated, the lame and the scandalous. He spent time speaking truth to power, too, but when he did, it was often to expose their hypocrisy and to uphold the cause of the weak. How is a church loving the marginalized? This is one of the first questions I ask when I enter the door.

Sometimes good, churchgoing folk find out that I have a seminary degree and that I am a writer and a chaplain and a teacher and that I have no children, and I often feel I am viewed like I am a unicorn. We have never encountered one of these before, what do you do with these strange creatures, we have no affinity group in which to place one of these.

I can only add that this is my impression, and I realize that my impression of how I am perceived may not always be accurate. But here is the heartbreaking truth: it is obvious that I don't fit into MOPS or DivorceCare or Young Adults or the ladies' fill-in-the-blank Bible studies or the nursery (because we're still healing from infertility and failed adoptions). It's also true that male-tailored paths to leadership don't have an easy on-ramp for people like me. I have the gifts, education and experience to serve—but speaking frankly, I don't have the opportunity. Getting the opportunity would mean men (who hold most of the power) would have to fight for me to step into a position that isn't always available to women. I'm so grateful for the brothers who have done so and continue to do so, but I haven't found traditional church to be an easy place to plug in.

It's the ministries on the margins that seem to most value females serving in their midst. And here is the bottom line: Jesus can call my husband and me to any church he pleases and we will follow. I am willing for that to be a traditional church or a home church; a missional gathering at a coffee shop, a basement or a gymnasium, even a foul-smelling apartment building.

But at 41 years of age, I realize suddenly that I want the next 40 years to be invested wisely. I want them to reek with Jesus-love and healing and using all of the things he has planted and gifted in me; I want them to be sacrificial and holy. I want loving community to become ordinary, and the fruits of that community-investment to be extraordinary for the Kingdom's sake.

I want to be a living, breathing, stretching, growing part of the Body of Christ; I want to say yes and not no to all of the things Jesus is stirring in me; I want church to count for something. This is why I sometimes struggle with traditional church.

Do you struggle with traditional church—and how? What does church look like for you?

"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.

***

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In the immortal words of the Jedi-master: "Don't try. Do."

starwars.wikia.com Reams of paper line my office floor, information that needs to be transformed into a book.

A hopeful life change that looked promising is not happening.

I'm still hoping to find a regular spot to serve in ministry.

We are still in the same house we've been in since we married six years ago, though we've always said we would move.

And instead of filling the house with children, we've filled it with books. (Which kind of are my children, but that's for another post.) 

I can no longer say that we're in transition and believe myself because—you guys—we are still in this same space. Physically, mentally, spiritually, emotionally, it feels like we're staring at the same four walls. And so these emotions just spilled out the other day as my husband and I were talking. "I get so tired of trying sometimes," I said, in a moment of brutal honesty. To which he quipped: "In the words of Yoda: Don't try. Do!" 

Seriously?!? It was at this point that I wished I had watched Star Wars with my nephew.

I am so glad that God didn't create us to be successful, however you might define the word. He created me to be a reflection of him, to represent his interests of love and justice, to spread the news that Jesus is King and that he has love enough for all of us, every one. And his definition of success doesn't involve large-scale numbers and a bigger house; it doesn't require me to have children (even if I do desire them); it doesn't at all depend on whether I am leading or teaching publicly, using my gifts in a way that is noticed by others.

It hinges only on faithfulness. Showing up. Not trying, but actually doing something.

Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me. -Matthew 25:34-36

As I look back over disappointments even in the last few weeks, the times that shine brightest are these:

  • Moving a friend experiencing homelessness into an apartment and witnessing her gratitude for shelter, bologna in the fridge, and a pillow and a blanket so she might sleep on the floor. Hearing that she slept soundly because she finally felt safe. And even more joy: I get to bring an old television with DVD player to her tonight and let her borrow some movies.
  • My husband and I visiting someone in the hospital, sharing, caring, and praying over him, for God's help and blessing in his life.
  • Sharing an in-depth conversation with a Brazilian student with whom we are trying to teach English. Answering his questions from a place of honesty and generosity, talking with him about the reality of racism and that I long to experience and model reconciliation.

In each and every situation, it felt like we were just showing up. Offering grace. Listening. Being present. Bearing witness to the love of Jesus in us and for us. It is likely the days will come when I will be ministering, writing, speaking and teaching in different ways. But just for today, I'm called to show up where I can and start doing something, anything I can, to inhabit this space. I want to swap trying for trusting and start doing.

Do you feel the same? What would it look like if you stopped trying and started doing something for the Kingdom today? (And...what is your favorite Yoda quote?)