Thursday, October 25, 2012

7 tips from 13 years of married life

Yesterday was my 13th wedding anniversary.  Because the Officer had to work, we’re celebrating today.  The man I met at new student orientation for the University of New Mexico [and then again on frat row, which is another story entirely] is now treating me to an overnight escape at a swanky hotel in downtown Denver and a VIP showing of the DAM’s “Becoming Van Gogh” exhibit.  Art isn’t exactly his thing, nor is sleeping in a bed that is a mere thirty minutes from his, but he’ll do just about anything to make me smile.  He’s a keeper. 

And yes, “escape” is just the right word for our celebration.  I’ll be quite honest, dear reader, this year was hard.  Phenomenally, unexpectedly, lingeringly hard.  And no, neither of us has come out of it unscathed.  There were internal struggles, but mostly there were external forces at work that tested the very fabric of our marriage.  But God…broke through everything we were going through and helped us focus on what really mattered: Him first [always] and each other.  The rest of it, well, it’s going to burn away, to wither and rot.  My prayer, as we put this year behind us, is that our marriage will be a testament of God’s grace in a world full of fallen people who are just like us and need nothing but to be loved.  
There were those who knew us way back when who wagered among themselves as to whether or not we’d last six months.  Apparently, most of our close friends and even some family felt that our union was the Seabiscuit of marriages.  I’d smirk now, except that I can take none of the credit.  I have often said that on that crisp night under the desert stars, I made a covenant with a God I didn’t know, to love in a way that I couldn’t understand a man I had, really, only just met.  Thirteen years, three states, and two children later, we are still learning what it means to honor that covenant.  What has amazed me most is that God has held me to my word, even as He held up His end of the deal; in spite of the fact that I was just a starry-eyed girl swathed in white, giddy with the prospect of being in swooning-love for the rest of forever, and who had no idea what that commitment would require of her.

[And here’s where I get to sound like an old, married lady:] Because today I can say without hesitation that marriage takes work.  That swooning-breathless love is possible to keep, but it requires lots and lots and lots of arduous effort to maintain; or to recover, if ever it becomes lost.  While we’re still figuring this whole two-people-becoming-one thing,  I have found the following seven points to be the ones to which we return time and again:

1.        Share each other’s interests: The boy [for really, at that point we were hardly grown-up] who took swimming and Hitchcockian film classes just to be with me is the same Officer who enjoys our Christmas tradition of the Nutcracker ballet and surprises me with art museum tours for date night.  He’s the one for whom I actually read the sports section during football season, so I might be able engage in a decent conversation about the Broncos [until Elway shirked on his word to let Tebow start and put the-reason-we’ll-be-looking-for-a-new-quarterback-in-two-years-at-best on the roster, but I digress...].  And he’s the reason I am going for a concealed carry permit; and the only person with whom I enjoy pumping iron, or summiting 14ners after tenting in the woods, or watching movies that involve centurions or Spartans or Black Hawks.  And he is absolutely the only man with whom I grapple…unless I’m attacked by a scary man in some dark alley, at which point I’ll be glad of his training me thus.  Remember that you did things that were outside of your comfort zone before you married, and you probably enjoyed them for the simple reason that you did them with your then-future spouse.  Why should that stop after the vows have been said?       

2.        Figure out each other’s weaknesses and fill in the gaps with your strengths: The Officer’s the one I call when I’m scared.  He’s talked me down from pulling our kids out of school or shadowing their every breath, he’s the level head for medical emergencies [though his deft and expert maneuvering of the car at speeds exceeding legal parameters belie his quiet concern], and the one I wake when I can’t move but know that we have to pray in the darkest watches of the night.  He is patient when I’m all out; he keeps going when I want to quit.  He can schedule the heck out of a week-long hiking trip.  And I’m the one who buys random pets [ferrets, puppies, chinchillas, and chicks], moves furniture around monthly because I can’t stand monotony, and hosts mud-pit carnivals in our backyard.  I’m also the one who edits those 20 page term papers while he teaches the 9 year old math.  He carries all the water and lets me hold little hands, pick flowers, and turn over rocks.  He takes the pictures and lets me post them on Facebook.  Face life as a team; cover each other’s blind spots and back one another up.  It will bring you closer if you can appreciate the uniqueness in your spouse and live out of yours as well. 

3.        Care for each other: The Officer’s the one who babies me:  when I’m sick, when I’m tired, when I’m both.  I’m the one who, though not great at nurturing, will cajole him into taking a nap when he can’t keep his eyes open.  When he was in school [and I wasn’t], I’d bring him snacks to help him make it through his lessons.  When I was in school [and he was, too], he’d handle dinner and the kids so that I could make it through my papers.  Sometimes he does the dishes; sometimes I take out the trash.  It’s a phone call to see if he needs anything from the store, or if I need him to start dinner.  It is simply finding little ways to show one another that s/he, and his/her time, is important to you.       

4.       Talk, talk, talk, talk.  And then talk some more: Tell each other your dreams, no matter how wild they are.  If you want to live in Paris for a year, talk about it.  Pull out maps of the city, pick places you’d live or work or eat.  Share your ideas; if you want to redecorate, show your spouse pictures; conversely, if your spouse wants to redecorate, look at his/her pictures.  If you want to write a book, start a blog, paint, teach, rebuild a car…tell your spouse.  And if your spouse wants to do those things, read their manuscript [without criticism], follow their blog, buy them a canvas, go to junk yards, or encourage them to enroll in classes.  Be his/her biggest cheerleader.  And watch as s/he believes you and begins to live out what you already knew was true about them.  Talk about what you’re learning, what you want to learn, what your day was like, what you remember about the past, what you hope for in the future.  Share who you are; learn who they are.  Communicate.  And then get up the next day and do it again.  This is absolutely vital to every marriage. 

5.        Fight.  But don’t go to bed angry: Not a single one of us is perfect.  We are going to disagree; we’re going to have times when we don’t like the other person very much.  And when two fallen people are making their way to becoming one, there are going to be fights along the way.  That doesn’t mean you throw in the towel and cut your losses; it means that you remember the promise you made, you do your very best to see your spouse through loving eyes, and be ready to sacrifice parts of your sinful and selfish self for the greater good of US.  Don’t stuff your feelings, but don’t be ruled by them either.  Do respectfully tell your spouse what hurts you; and listen to him/her as s/he tells you what hurts him/her.  But know that these problems aren’t going to be solved in a 22 minute session, complete with commercial breaks, and that the last thing on our minds before we sleep is what sticks for the day.  If it’s angry words and tearful stone-walling, then that’s what tomorrow will feel like.  If it’s apologies and finding common ground, then that’s what tomorrow will be colored with as well.  And if you see the dawn before you come to a resolution, ask yourself, is my marriage worth the lost sleep?  Is the person across from me valuable enough to sacrifice my comfort for?  And know that the answer is always, “yes.”       

6.       Get naked together.  A lot.  Yep, I purposefully followed fighting with sex, because that’s how it should work in marriage, too. Touch is one of the most powerful tools for building, or restoring, any relationship; the marriage relationship is no different.  The spectacular thing about marriage is that because it is the closest relationship, couples have been given the most beautiful, mind-blowing expression of tender intimacy.  I won’t be graphic here [my Mom reads this blog], but neither will I pretend that God didn’t intend sex for the edification and enjoyment of two married people as they express their love for one another.  Read Song of Solomon [together, ideally] and remember that God created your spouse with you in mind.  And this is the one person with whom you can be completely open and, honestly, enjoy in a way that no other person ever can.  And you can be enjoyed in such a way by your spouse as well.  Don’t ever look to outside sources for the definition of beauty; find it in your spouse.  Don’t let the world tell you what you should or shouldn’t be doing, how you should or shouldn’t be doing it, or when or where you should.  Do what you both enjoy.  And do it often.  Seriously.  Remember that I-can’t-not-touch-this-person feeling; and if you have to, hire a sitter and book a hotel room, and spend some serious time reminding one another why sex is so intoxicatingly amazing.            

7.        Be Grace-full:  The Officer is a remarkable, heroic, can’t-believe-I-get-to-be-married-to-him guy, but he still leaves his clothes beside the bed most mornings.  And I would rather do anything than fold laundry, or put it away.  Anything.  Thus he is guaranteed a mountain of clean laundry stashed somewhere in our home at any given time.  I’m sure there are a million little things that we do that have the potential to drive the other person out of their mind.  This is what happens when two lives are smashed together and are meant to blend into one.  I’m an interrupter; it’s chronic.  And yes, I know how irritating and flat out rude it is.  I hate that I do it, maybe even more than the Officer hates being interrupted.  Maybe.  But when I do, he practices grace with me.  He doesn’t lecture, he doesn’t glare; he simply waits because he knows that this tendency in me is one that requires his grace.  He can give me this grace because he fills himself upon the Grace that is freely given through the Love and Word of God; so that when the Officer is with me, he can overflow this into our marriage.  And every marriage, every life, is always in need of more grace.  Thus we encourage one another to be in God’s Word daily, we ask how the other is doing spiritually, and we pray together.  Not every day, because we’re not perfect.  But we do pray for one another daily, and seek to pray together as often as we can.  I have to encourage you to do the same; even if it’s awkward or embarrassing at first, it’s worth it.  Far more than I have time to explain here.  But always remember that you have to get Grace before you can give it; and of anyone on the planet, your spouse needs your grace most of all.           

Now, I’m not going to insult you, dear reader, by pretending that there aren’t hurts and struggles that are so much bigger than this pithy list can conquer.  And I won’t ever insinuate that by doing more or just trying harder you can, all by yourself, mend what’s wrong in a marriage.  Because marriage is two sinners trying to get their poop in a group and live life together; it requires two willing parties.  This is merely a few things I’ve found important in my own marriage; and believe me, mine has not been without struggles or dark times.  But I will tell you that in spite of the dark times, and maybe even because of them, my marriage is stronger today than it was thirteen years ago.  Or even six months ago.  Marriage is a work in progress, an organic and fluid endeavor by two sinful souls making their way through a fallen world.  But because it can be the most glorious and brightest relationship outside of one with Jesus, it is worth every ounce of effort and attention you can afford. 

May you be blessed in your marriage, may you have happiness and lasting joy, and may your marriage outlast even your own expectations!    



Tuesday, October 23, 2012


Declaration 10: The new creation that I am is Grace-full, extending this beauty to those around me, both dear and unknown; and also to myself.  For Grace is the tangible realization of Love, the highest calling of the soul, the deepest yearning of creation.  It holds the entirety of the gospel, the glory of the history of the universe, the overwhelming power of God, and the depth of His Love; all caged in five little letters: ca.ris

          It is by Grace…

Four words that give the sum of this mortal coil: it is by Grace.  What exists or occurs, what good, what beauty, what joy, what love happens apart from grace?  A mere cluster of words that encompass the entire gospel, the purpose of the passion, the victory of the resurrection, the parent-heart of God.  Grace.

 But grace didn’t come into existence on the cross, for Christ breathed grace into a world crazy-desperate for it.  Neither was its inception at the incarnation, the humble and eternity-altering entrance of Immanuel into willful humanity.  No, Grace pre-existed those for whom it was intended.  For if God is omniscient then He had to know that creating beings with an individual will meant that they could intentionally choose wrong.  What then, when these beings have turned their backs on the Creator that designed them?  The answer: Love, housed in Grace, as Divinity was housed in flesh.  Grace is the palpable expression of this Love; something to which I, and you, beloved, can point as my experience of God’s unfathomable, incomprehensible, unchangeable Love.     

Thus, if I am changed by this Grace [and how could I not be if I have actually experienced it, this trading of my wrongs for the innocence of God’s only Son?] I will exude it.  It will literally ooze out of my pores, embody my breath.  For if Heaven can’t contain it, how can I?  Yet this can only happen if I am daily found at the fount of Grace, that it might pour, like a rushing river, over my rough edges into a world of people just like me---who are in desperate need of it. 

First, I must know my place: I am a redeemed daughter of the King of Kings, adopted into His family, rejoiced over, delighted in, and loved beyond all understanding.  Regardless of how I am performing or behaving  at the time.  Also, I must know who I am: a sinner, a fallen and defeated warrior who has a bent toward darkness, selfishness, and pride; but for Christ.  Therefore, I can empathized with other lost and wandering sinners: those who have never found the light; and those like me, who have been found and should consequently know better, but who like Paul, can’t seem to help themselves.  And at the same time, the exact same time, I am the woman whom God took great joy in creating, for this time and this place and this life.  A woman who is called by His purposed to be whom He created her to; a woman who, through the sacrifice of Jesus and the power of the Holy Spirit, can be.

Second, I must feast on God’s Love that I might be full of His Grace.  For me, this looks like spending time in His Word, every day.  And talking with Him all the time.  And asking the Holy Spirit to pinch me when I’m stepping out of line, and poke me when I should be offering what I’ve been freely given.  I even have to ask for help obeying.  And I must bend my will to His, turn my life over to this molten love that it will melt away what is undesirable and purify what is good.  Even this will not happen absent of the Spirit’s work in me, for I am too prone to return to debauchery and rebellion and the altar of me.       

Finally, I must see all these weary souls around me as God does: precious, beloved, lost vagrants scraping out a hollow life in a destitute land.  This includes my children, who, as their mother does, willfully flout parental laws.  This includes the Officer, who, as his wife does, fails to live up to the perfection of Love.  This includes my friends and family, who like their sister/daughter/niece/comrade, disappoint in flawless relationships.  And it includes people who are vapors in my life, the ones I see and don’t because my flurried and selfish eyes don’t have time to register them. 
Grace requires the knowledge that I am flawed and broken, and so is everyone else.  It demands that I live out of this truth with every person with whom I interact.  That this way of loving others become the rhythm of my days.  And in my daily stumbling I should be able recall the need to be Grace-full to each person, even myself.  For if God can love them and me when we are weak and full of failures, how can I not do the same? 





Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Identified by Grace

A Precursor to Declaration 10.

[Spoiler alerts/trigger warnings:  my full testimony, which is in the works, involves abortion.  Read with appropriate care.]

For me, grace lives in a certain living room and on a particular mountain top.  I have seen its lithe and willowy arms softly curl about shoulders hung low with grief and bondage and failure; watched as it drew ethereal thumb across wounded visage, wiping away the tears of too much hurt and too much darkness.  And I have seen grace weep, too.  I have fought for this grace on behalf of so many beautiful prisoners; been injured and exhausted, with dented shield and bloodied sword, that they might have the victory given me.  I have heard the thunderous roar of armies of angels give standing ovation when this grace is believed and accepted.  And I have been afforded the honor of witnessing countenances grow luminous as the breath of freedom finally pierces their lungs. I have had the distinct privilege to watch these once shackled souls take their place in the kingdom; not as wretches scurrying about furtively as though they don’t belong, but as beloved and doted upon children of the King, who have a purpose as His emissaries, His image, His very presence to a broken and mutilated world. 

I can tell you, without hesitation or doubt, that Grace is the most beautiful thing in all the world.  It is the very bent of Faith, the climax of Hope, the truest expression of Love.  
It is to this living room, and this mountain, that my thoughts always turn when I look hard after Grace.  [Followed closely with a certain pew in a Baptist church tucked in to ice and berms on the last frontier, where I finally trusted just enough to have the entirety of my sins removed from my shoulders; a burden physically lifted from me.]  I think of these places because that is where Grace was most evident, most palpable, most visible. 

But Grace is all around.  All the time.
Before I can really address Grace, I have to know who I am in Christ.  Because for a very, very long time I held onto an identity that was not true to the Grace which had come at such a high cost.  One that told me that I had to be good enough to deserve God’s love, because of my past; for I was without doubt far worse than any other sinner planted on the pews around me.  And then, even after God used His word and His ministers to remove that lie from my life, I found myself floundering in another.  The lie that Grace saw me through a lens of redemption, a filter dependent on my past that it might define my present and future.  I was Jenni, the post-abortive woman whom Jesus saved.  And while this title is true, I am post-abortive and Jesus did forgive, save, redeem, and restore me.  Neither He, nor God the Father, nor the Holy Spirit have ever called me Jenni-the-post-abortive-woman-who-has-now-been-redeemed-and-set-free.  Not before my abortion, not during, not after when I walked ceaselessly into the darkness that followed, and not even after I allowed His Grace to wash over this pain and to ultimately remove it and make me clean and whole once again. 

The Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit have always called me:
          Jenni, My beloved.

Once I traded my sin for Christ's righteouness, there has been no sin attached to my name in the eyes of Jesus.  Though there has been in the eyes of His followers.  And for a time, I allowed myself to be defined by it.  I wore my scarlet A for the glory of His kingdom: surely, my purpose was to show others that even someone like me could be saved.  And I believed that the only calling someone like me could have would be as a post-abortive women who ministers to other post-abortive women.  Because that was who I am. 

And yet, in the scriptures we see that God sent the most zealous of the Jews to bring the truth of Jesus to the Gentiles.  We find that a five-times scorned foreign woman was the first missionary of the gospel.  A prince of Egypt delivered the Hebrews, a woman Judge lead Israel against their foes, an unwed teenager gave birth to the Messiah, and the man who denied Christ three times led the church in Rome.  God doesn’t appear to be in the habit of pigeon-holing people into the roles for which they are most logically suited.

So must it be with me.  And with you, dear one.  Because the only identity I want to claim is the one by which Grace has always known me: Jenni, beloved.  Yes, God can, has, and I have to assume will use my testimony of His Grace to build His kingdom.  But I also trust that He will do it as it suits Him; not as it suits me or anyone else around me.  If I am to minister to women or girls or couples who have experienced abortions, then it will be by His summoning and authority alone; not by the suggestion of humanity.  Or if I am to share this story of beautiful and wild grace with those who have no knowledge or experience with abortion, then it will be by God’s calling and power, for I will be quite out of my league. 
Yet, I know that the call of Grace is meant for every heart.  And it is winsome and overwhelming.  And it is the most beautiful thing in all the world.       

Jason Gray: "Remind Me Who I Am"

If you have experienced an abortion in your past, please know that there is hope and healing through the grace of the cross, beloved.  Christ’s sacrifice is sufficient; and His love is greater than our darkest moments and His mercy pierces our longest night.  If you have questions, concerns, or just to need to talk, I am always available.  Visit my ministry website at and click on the “Contact” button at the top of the page.  This will send a confidential e-mail to my private, personal account.  And I will respond in the same manner: confidentially and privately.  But know that no matter what your past, present, or future struggle, you are greatly delighted in.  And you are loved more than the weight of the universe.  And there is always hope for those who look to Jesus.        

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Exquisite Beauty

Declaration 9:  The new creation that I am loves her body as an exquisite gift from her Heavenly Father, to be treated as the vessel for her greatest adventures, her grandest experiences, and her most resplendent worship.  She will care for her body, the temple for the Holy Spirit, as an expression of thankfulness for this gift. 

For beauty is defined by the Author,

and His creation is inherently beautiful.

In a culture so caught up in image, in false beauty, in narrower-than-the-gates-of-Heaven fitness ideals, this declaration smacks of vanity.  Either scope of the pendulous I-want-to-look-good-naked-a-la-fashion-magazine to i-hate-my-body-because-of-what-I-see-in-the-mirror is a form of vanity.  And each mocks a Designer who is perfect in both plan and execution. 
 I’ve had women friends tell me that going a day without makeup is torturous; and others who say being photographed without it resembles a boudoir session.   Men who spend hours lifting weights, others who run as though if they stop their demons will catch them.  I’ve heard little girls lament the hue of their skin, little boys undone over the color of their hair.  And I wonder, how must this grieve the Holy Spirit?  What must the Creator think when His creation bewails the beauty intrinsic in His creation, in His palette, His angles or lines, His slopes or curves?  Is He frustrated with our incessant striving for such a fictitious ideal, when He wove individuality and uniqueness into every space of creation?  Particularly when the God who oversaw every detail, each resplendent jewel, of the Temple in which His Spirit would be present, chooses to indwell our frames with His presence.  If Solomon’s temple was the most grand thing humans could build, how much more so must the body of each believer be in the eyes of the Lord if His Holy Spirit takes up residence therein?
Thus, my body, regardless of how I think of it [or how I have treated it] must be more beautiful than the Temple.  More dazzling than the arc of the presence.  More amazing than the holy of holies, because the Spirit of the Lord resides within me; and I am His creation for thus, even more exacting than the human-hewn temple.  And I shall treat it as such.  In its current state: without reaching my ideals, without countless months at the gym, without rigid nutritional makeovers.  Right now.  As I am.  As you are, beloved.
Yes, I should fuel my body with the nutrients that were designed for this purpose, not with what’s most convenient.  Yes, I should engage in physical activities that maintain my overall health and mobility.  And yes, I should encourage others to do the same.  But conversely, heeding the colloquialism “everything in moderation” is [mostly] permissible as well.[1]  So a life of rigid abstinence and disciplined striving towards physical perfection is not the most honoring course of action for a believer.  Because they can lead to stringent reliance and blind focus on self; which, because it removes focus from God the Creator, is sinful.

Therefore, in order to honor my maker, I will honor His creation.  Me.  My body.  Not the body gracing the Victoria’s Secret catalogue.  Not the body of my Pilates instructor.  No body that is not mine is something after which I will chase any more.  I will revel in the feats of which it has rendered me capable: bringing two amazing children into the world, and the inevitable changes that came with motherhood; still skiing and summiting five 14ers, in spite of an inherited bum knee; being able to preform, though still hesitant, wrist breaks, because one did and I’ve lost some range of motion because of it.  And I will continue to reach for new ones; but I will not allow any ideal from anywhere to displace my delight in my physical form.  And I beg you not to either.      

As you might know, I was recently involved in an auto accident [seatbelts and booster seats, people!]; and while everyone’s fine, there were a few days there when I didn’t feel fine.  I was chained to my bed or sofa with headaches, hobbled with pain, unable to sleep or move for all the bruises.  My loved ones were forced to give me a wide berth because even their gentlest touches hurt.  I couldn’t go to the gym, couldn’t play with my kids, couldn’t even walk through the grocery store at a normal pace.  It was pretty miserable and lonely.  Not because the people who care about me abandoned me, but because I felt unable to participate in life. 

This isn’t an exercise in self-pity; it was actually revelatory for me.  There are so many people who experience pain or limited mobility or have an illness that prevents them from living the life they expected.  And as cranky as I was after a week, I have the utmost respect for those who endure this battle every day.  My prayers this week are for the people who struggle with pain, with limitations in this physical body, with unseen disabilities, with illness that steals their physical state.  Whether it was self-inflicted; or whether it was inexplicable.  Join me in being mindful and praying for those for whom their physical body feels more like a prison than a gift.  For the Lord is the rescuer of prisoners and the redeemer of the physical, either here or in the time to come.      


Visit one of my favorite blogs and activists on this topic: Beauty Redefined to take back the definition of what’s truly beautiful. 

[1] See Ecclesiastes.  And note that while “everything is permissible, not everything is beneficial” (1 Corinthians 10:23).  And that there remain certain appetites that are outside the boundary of scripture and should therefore be avoided all together. 

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

The Silence of Calvary

Declaration 8:  The new creation that I am uses her voice for encouragement, edification, Love, and Truth.  Strength can be exhibited in the quiet; and a calm response can change an outcome.   

                For Love was silent on Calvary…

Suggested reading: Proverbs 15:1, Matthew 27, Mark 15, James 1:19-21

Some of you may recall that during the past Lenten season, I gave up talking on Mondays.  It was a particularly challenging time for me, both as one who relishes words, and as someone whose home was undergoing a remodel [due to a flood] and was therefore the opposite of a silent respite.  Naturally, I failed; but along with my imperfect attempts came some wonderful growth.   One lesson that came out of my fast was how much of my non-silent time was spent nagging or scolding or rebuking.  And how grating my voice was when it broke the silence thus. 
I have been tasked with raising two beautiful and imperfect [they get that from me] children; as well as walking alongside and sharing life with a magnificent man.  And I can tell you that in these most important of relationships, kind words are received much more quickly than harsh ones.  I know that encouraging my children in good behavior is more enjoyable for all than rebuking them for the bad.  When talking over the difficult things of this world with friends, a tender response [which is sometimes just silence anyway] outstrips a haughty one any day. 

But what I speak has to be a mirror of truth.  I gain nothing and I help no one if I placate them with niceties instead of speaking the truth.  Encouragement, by its definition cannot be rooted in untruthfulness.  Edification cannot happen apart from honesty.  Love has to be true in order to be genuine love.  Jesus, the Word of God, was never false.  He was the embodiment of Truth.  He was also the Love in the flesh.  The two cannot be divorced from each other: Love is Truth, and Truth is Love.  Thus, whatever I say should first and foremost be true; and its delivery should always seek to lift up the person with whom I am relating.  Regardless of to whom I speak: my children or husband, a non-believer or an esteemed theologian, a friend or foe, each is worthy of love and each deserves truth.  

In light of today’s fast approaching election, I write this knowing that the climate of insulting rhetoric is as thick as it has ever been.  Colleagues demean one another, insolent youths threaten riot, and families are divided across party lines.  Yet, we cannot use our idealistic differences as permission to inflict harm upon one another.  For no matter how brutally we are attacked, or how vehemently we disagree with those who oppose our political bent, we must be truthful in love. 
And sometimes, when we are not being directly called upon to defend our faith, silence is the most loving course of action.  When we are sure that no further word from us will change the mind of the person standing against us; when we have exhausted respectful discourse, when they are completely unwilling to even consider our point of view.  For on the way up to Calvary, Jesus did not utter a word.  According to Matthew and Mark, once He answered Pilate, to make this mortal aware that the power to give Himself up was His alone, Jesus said nothing. 

Nothing during the scorging.  Nothing during the crowning.  Nothing during the long walk up Golgotha.  Nothing when He stumbled.  Nothing to His assigned helper.  Nothing as the nails pierced His skin.  Nothing until He hung upon the cross for every sin in all of human history, in the instead of every person who would be accept this sacrifice.  And then, He did not curse those who hung Him there, nor those who cried out for His punishment, nor those whom He loved but had abandoned Him, nor any person before or since for whose sins He was killed.  Jesus was silent, in spite of the insults and accusations hurled at Him.  He knew the Truth; He is the Truth, and yet in the time of such upheaval, when humanity refused to listen, He said nothing. 

So I have to ask myself, what weight do my words carry?  Are they worth breaking the beautiful silence for?  Am I just speaking to hear my own voice; or is what I’m saying important enough, true enough, encouraging enough, loving enough to spend the breath that Heaven has given me?  Am I using my words to answer for my faith, to preach the gospel, to encourage, to lift up, to love?  Am I doing the work of the Kingdom with my voice, or am I just making noise in an already too-noisy world? 
What if, in the face of those who persecute or mock or taunt or anger us we were respectful, but silent?  What if, in the middle of being called to give an answer for what we believe, we answered truthfully and peacefully.  What if, instead of engaging in and therefore encouraging debased insult-slinging that masquerade as political debates, we calmly and encouragingly offer our position, instead of becoming heated and argumentative ourselves?  What if, in the interest of genuine love, we listened carefully and thoughtfully to what our opponents say; rather than always having our stock defense ready, before answering thoughtfully and gracefully?

What if, against all the angry, cruel, and spiteful rhetoric, we offered no insults, no demeaning tones, no haughty response.  What if we offered our opponents Truth, encouragement, and Love?
For surely, if Christ can still His righteous tongue through to the crucifixion, I can ignore the baiting on facebook; I can listen to the opinions of my fellows and not have to answer their rants.  I can realize that without face-to-face interaction, I am unlikely to affect anyone’s encounter of Truth.  And if I try to do so without love, then I have no right to in the first place.             


Thursday, October 4, 2012

Through a glass clearly

Declaration 7 [part II]:  The new creation that I am will inhabit her identity.  She will not long for the adventure or husks of others.  She will give others the freedom to do the same: to be whom they were created to be. 

For the Designer is the Greatest Poet, and we are His poetry.

Tuesday was fairly straightforward, and if you’ve read much of this blog, you’re aware that it’s a personal refrain of mine:

Be the you God created you to be. 

So why a part II for this declaration?  Because after years of toiling under the impression that I have to fit into a particular mold, acting in a certain way, in order to be a good Christian woman and now slowly learning that this is not, in fact, what scripture is teaching us, I have found that there is another perilous side to being who you are meant to be.  It is the dangerous place of striving to be who you’re told you’re going to be.  While we must not only beware of trying too hard to be like other people [or like a list of traits], we must also be wary of being who others want us to be.   
Mentors are wonderful gifts.  They can identify and call out in us traits of which we were unaware.  They can challenge us, encourage us, champion our growth, and even rebuke us when we’ve strayed too far from where we should be going.  They can help us find the path on which we will blossom and bring the greatest glory to the Lord.  And they can help us along this path, employing their wisdom and love to our greatest benefit. 

However, because all mentors, even the paper ones, are human, they are fallible.  Thus, sometimes they can be wrong; and they can lead us astray.  Not with malicious purpose, and not necessarily outside the bounds of God’s plan for us.  But blindly following their lead, believing solely what they’ve spoken into our lives, about who we are, can, in some instances, be detrimental to becoming and being the person who God designed us to be.  For as fallible humans, they can only see God's design through a glass darkly, and cannot fully know the plans of God.
Consider for a moment three men in Acts: Paul, Barnabas, and John Mark.  Barnabas was one of the first Christians in Jerusalem to accept Paul [the formerly murderous Saul], to care for him, to minister to him, to minister with him.  Barnabas and Paul were missionaries together, helming the inclusive movement to incorporate the Gentiles into the Way.[1]  What we find in the pages of Acts is a beautiful friendship and partnership.  These two men toiled long and mightily together, on behalf of the gospel and a people whom most Hebrews thought were never worthy of grace.  We can glean so much from their relationship, even 2,000 years later.  Yet there came a time when these two “had such a sharp disagreement that they parted ways” [Acts 15:39].  And this disagreement was over one man’s desertion of their work.  Eventually, Paul continued his ministry without Barnabas; and Barnabas took John Mark alongside him to do the same. 
Paul, author of almost half of the New Testament; Paul, to whom Christ appeared post-resurrection and to whom God gave an experiential vision of Heaven.  This very Paul found John Mark unfit for service; untrustworthy in matters of the gospel.  And he felt so strongly about John Mark, that he parted company with a man who had no doubt been a great comfort to him and a dear friend.  I won’t waste time projecting what each man might have felt; but I believe that it is likely in each of our lives we have experienced something similar.  Perhaps you were the one who was absolutely certain that a particular individual was utterly unfit for promoting the gospel, based on their past behavior.  Maybe you were Barnabas, the advocate on behalf of a sinner, who had to stand up against unyielding leadership and lost friends and co-laborers in the process.  Or maybe you were the John Mark, someone who made mistakes in your service or your past, that others felt disqualified you from preaching the gospel.  And despite your great desire [and dare I say calling] to do it again, those in positions of leadership told you: NO.

But what we find later in scripture is that Barnabas continued to preach the gospel and that Paul uses his service as an example to other believers [1Corinthians 9:6].  John Mark worked alongside Barnabas and eventually became associated with Peter [1 Peter 5:13].  He was included in Paul’s first imprisonment and “by the end of Paul’s life, he came to admire [John] Mark so much that he requested him to come to be with him during his final days” [2 Timothy 4:11].[2]  Thus, we must conclude that all three men were destined to preach the gospel, to glorify the Lord, to be used by God for His holy and divine purpose. 
We cannot, nor should we, speculate about whether these three should have remained together; nor can we truly posit that it was more beneficial that they parted ways and thus reached more people separately than they might have together.  For who among us can claim to know the mind of God?  What we can say is that God is a God of relationship, not separation; and His purposes will be achieved regardless of human failings.        

Listen, dear one, to what the Holy Spirit is telling you about who you are and what you were made to do.  Yes, seek counsel about this.  Yes, test everything you hear against the scriptures.  Yes, search out a mentor who is willing and able to pour into you their experience and love and who will call out in you traits you didn’t know you possessed and who will encourage you to be exactly who you were made to be.  But don’t ever allow anyone’s opinions or judgments or declarations of “I heard from God” steal from you your purpose or your identity.  Neither should you permit anyone to tell you what you were meant to do, what ministry you are destined for, what call has been placed upon your life. 

Only God, and His Holy Spirit, has that authority.      


[1] The partnership of Paul and Barnabas can be found in Acts 9, 11, 12, 13, 14, and 15.
 [2] Zondervan 1984 NIV Study Bible: notes on Acts 15:39

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Snowflakes and Poems: Who We Are

Declaration 7 [part I]:  The new creation that I am will inhabit her identity.  She will not long for the adventure or husks of others.  She will give others the freedom to do the same: to be whom they were created to be. 

For the Designer is the Greatest Poet, and we are His poetry.

For a very long time, I thought [and was taught] that there is only one way to be a good Christian woman.  I have seen numerous leaders, both national and within the context of my local worship, strive to put forth this ideal.  I have read countless authors, of books and blogs, who aim to provide practical ways to fit our sloppy selves into this mold.   Why?  Because we have this model seemingly preserved for us in Scripture.  She allegedly lurks at the end of Proverbs…or at least, that’s what we’ve been told.  But I am learning that this cookie-cutter image of Christian woman perfection isn’t what we’ve made it.  Lady Wisdom [Sophia, aka: Proverbs 31 woman] is not the sole standard for good Christian girls, nor one for which we should blindly strive.  Instead, she is an inclusion of the feminine in a time when women in cultures outside the nation of Israel were chattel.  God put females in His Word, and thus made their value, their worth to Him, important.  Worth writing down, and preserving for all generations.  So that they might not be ignored or demeaned or seen as less.  Thus, we should not assign to Lady Wisdom a role for which she was not intended: the only way to be an ideal-Christian-woman.    
I’ll confess: I am not a Women’s Ministry kind of gal, for a variety of reasons.  But it was only within the past two years, that I figured out (after two dear and wise mentors told me thus) this is okay.  I hate shopping.  Bores me to tears; except for once or twice a year when the mood strikes.  I’ll take a pedicure, but more often than not my toes are an embarrassment to ideal femininity.  I’d rather hike, snowshoe, ski, camp, dive under the water and get my hair wet than stay prettily coiffed and made-up.  I could spend all day trolling youtube for poets, listening to their lyricism not with my ears, but with the cavity their words carve into my chest.  But I could skip math altogether.  I love to read, would give up days upon days to linger in books; I love the cinema so much that I strove for a year to learn its craft and make it my own.  I write; but you already knew that.  And yes, I'm more than just a little bit of a nerd [to whit, I will now impress you with photos of my homemade Christmas decoration from last year].  

 Get the template here
I could go on and on about who I am; but that is not the purpose.  I don’t need to explore what makes me, me.  I need to be me.  I need to live out loud the poem that God created me to be—not a rerun of one He has already penned.        

God, the Creator of all things, isn’t a one-hit-wonder.  We each are different.  Oh thank God that we are!  And we were created to be thus.  God isn’t a maker of replicates.  He has not been interested in repeating the same creation over and over again since He spoke the myriad of galaxies into existence.  He designs purposefully, with precise intent.  He put you and I right here, for right now.  Not so that we may replay Christian victories of the past, or mimic ages long since gone.  But so that we may be us, in this time, to the glory and delight of our King.    
 And this one here
Consider snowflakes.  Out of the billions that fall from the sky each year, not one—not a solitary one—is identical to another.  If God can take such care in creating a tiny ice sculpture that will melt with the heat of the sun, how much more does He delight in making every person unique from any other?   Each one of us, since time began, is one of His poems.  And as such, not a single one of us is exactly like another.  As the poetry metaphor goes, there are those who are Emerson-esque, or Barrett-Browning, or Coelho, or Bennett, or Shakespeare, or even Cummings.  Some are wild and full of thunderous energy.  Others flow with melody and tenderness.  Still others stumble over the necessity to be known and understood.  And others, stoic and still, can only be appreciated when patiently mined for meaning deep within, by unrelenting love.          
 Finally, this one here
Rejoice in the fact that you are you, and no one else.  That you have your life, not that of another.  In this time, in no other period but this.  You are not called to be anyone other than who you are.  Yes, we are each called into greater Christ-likeness; but that is a Christ-likeness that can only be reflected in you.  You, without whom the world and time would be incomplete.  You, whom God delighted in planning before even the foundations of the world was formed.  You, whom God knows so well that He numbers the hairs on your head and knows what words will spill off your tongue before you speak them.  You, not any other person, alive or dead.  You.    

Though this post appears, at surface, to be aimed only at women, it also has application for Christian men.  We mustn’t assume that there aren’t ideals for men to strive to attain.  What about the chest-thumping leader who is gentle enough to weep at the sight of a newborn while courageous enough to run head-long into fire or war to save those under his care; a man who rises every morning with certainty of what he was called to do, and who tireless provides for his family, even to the detriment of his own well-being.  A man who devoutly captains family devotions as master theologian and prays over his family, out loud and daily, with the finesse of an evangelist.  Lion-slayer, foot-washer, witty apologist, and gentle psalmist, who flays his shield at the onset of danger and every moment of every day delights in the bride of his youth as flowery words pour from his lips lauding her place in his life.  Certainly even this hyperbolic ideal, a case for which could be made using scripture, is not what all men everywhere were designed to be.  And it is a mold into which mortal men will not fit.    

Within the twelve who walked with Jesus, and the women we find attending Him, we are privy to glimpses of separate personalities.  Jesus didn’t laude one over another.  So why do we?

Again, I urge you, be the you God created you to be.  For the glory of His Kingdom, and the delight of His heart.    

*For a practical exercise, check out the fourth paragraph of this article.