Why I play (thoughts on worship and creativity)

piano

It’s been with me since I was five, the antique upright piano.  Its finish is deep ebony, the surface crackled with age, the keys chipped here and there like a well-worn smile.  And when I can’t find the words, I go there and let the contents of my heart flow out in the pure form of music instead.

So I’ve been there a lot lately, sitting on the bench with its worn white and green brocade.

What I can’t find words for flows through my fingers on these different, more familiar keys.  After all, I learned to play them before I learned to type, before I really even learned to write.  It’s like slipping into a first language– the one you rarely get to use but often find yourself dreaming in.  I play the old favorites I learned as a child; Beethoven, Haydn, Chopin, Brahms.  I play new ones, hymns and worship songs and pieces I’ve picked up because I’ve always loved them.  And I play what comes to mind and then through my hands, sometimes in such quick succession that I’m not sure where the music comes from at all…it moves through me and surprises me and makes me laugh, and makes me cry.

Sometimes when no one is watching, I lean against the piano as I play, my cheek against the smooth black surface.  I feel the music, the vibration of many strings against brass soundboard, resonating through old wood and flesh and bone. I feel the hum in my bones and soul and wonder:  Is this how the Universe vibrates, with the echoes of the Creator’s voice….“Let There Be Light”…. humming through an infinity of tiny strings strung between all of creation that glows and breathes and sings?

Perhaps true worship is simply playing in tune with Him. (click to tweet) A Rhapsody on a Theme by El Shaddai, sung by a choir not bound by time or space or the limitations of flesh.  Do you know these moments?  When what began as poetry or paint or the pressing of black and white keys, the draw of a horse-hair bow across silver strings…becomes transfigured? When light falls in and through and lifts art from human hands to God inspired, when every note or word or brushstroke is praise and you know, you know that there is more to it than ink or paint or notes splashed across five thin lines. And as the last note sustains and washes over you, you just want to stand there and raise your hands and whisper his name….Jesus, Jesus, Jesus.

In Heaven, friend, that’s how it’s going to be.  Every day, every word, every breath.

Why we humans create, why there is art and music and poetry must be this:  Our hearts were created after His own image, they long to hear the symphony and strive for those moments in which they resonate in perfect pitch with the Creator, in which they catch a glimpse, as in a mirror dimly, of the glory that is to come. And in that moment the soul understands that it cannot understand, only give in entirely to that which is incomprehensibly greater and more beautiful than we can imagine.

A post from the archives

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When you feel burned out

burnout

Burnout.

Chances are good you’ve experienced it…if you’ve got a ministry, you know what ministry burnout feels like. Whether you’re a missionary, a pastor’s wife, a counselor, a teacher, a mother, a wife, a worship leader, a Sunday school teacher, a writer, a nurse, an evangelist, a manager…you know what I’m talking about when I say that some days, despite the fact that you’re following your calling and despite the fact that you fervently want to live out God’s will for your life with joy and perseverance and despite the fact that really, you honestly do love what you’re doing, some days you just feel done.

You feel like you’ve been working so hard for so long, you feel like you’ve put your everything into this and nobody has even noticed. You feel like you have given it your all, everything you have, and despite that fact (or maybe because of it) you find opposition all around you. You’ve spent years, money, sweat, blood and tears on this venture only to reach a point where you’re wondering if it was all in vain, all for nothing. You’ve done your best to do the right thing and it’s been hard and it’s meant sacrifice and you really didn’t want credit for that, you never expected a parade in your honor or even a “thank you,” but on the other hand you also didn’t expect dishonest gossip and backstabbing from the very people you were serving. You’ve run the marathon and you’ve spent the last shred of energy you had left to reach the finish line, only to find that the line’s been moved another 3 miles away and yeah, maybe that’s the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back.

Maybe you weren’t cut out for this.

Maybe this just isn’t your calling.

Because if it were, if it really were, wouldn’t this kind of opposition be easier for you? Wouldn’t you be equipped to deal with it? And while we’re at it, would you even be facing this sort of trauma, drama, and grief if you were on the right path? If God really were calling you to continue on in this crazy, hair-brained scheme of His, wouldn’t you be stronger/better/more patient/thicker-skinned/smarter and in general just plain more than you are right now? You started out feeling confident that this was the path you were supposed to take. You prayed about it, and it seemed like God opened doors. But now, you’re wondering if maybe the whole thing was just a big mistake. Maybe you misread it all from the beginning.

You’ve had enough, and every fiber of your being is exhausted.

You.

Want.

To.

Quit.

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Christian, I understand. I’ve been there, been in the thick of it, been right there in the middle of it. And the thing I’m learning is, it’s not failure to feel burned out. It’s not a sign of weakness. It’s not happening because you’re not good enough, or because you’re not strong enough, or because your faith is lacking. You’re not struggling with burnout because you’re not cut out for this.

If you’re feeling burned out, it may simply be because ministry burnout is part of ministry. (click to tweet)

And if you’re feeling burned out, you’re in good company. Consider this:

Elijah, the prophet, had just come down from an amazing showdown between God and the prophets of Baal. Do you remember the story? If you’ve got a moment, go read it again. In a spectacular act of faith and courage Elijah, the lone prophet left in Israel, set the stage for God to show His people that He was the one true God. The Lord was vindicated, the false prophets were destroyed, and surely that must have been the most triumphant moment of Elijah’s career as prophet. Surely, this was the moment that the music swelled, the triumphant hero raised his hands in victory, and the credits rolled!

What really happened was that Elijah, who by all rights should have been basking in what must have been the conference high of all time, was forced to run for his life because of the wrath of the wife of king Ahab. A prophet at the peak of his powerful career, with the image of God’s consuming fire still etched on his retinas, was forced to turn and run for his life…from a woman. The very next chapter of 1 Kings finds him cowering under a broom bush, feeling utterly spent and worthless, praying for God to take his life.

Yeah, burnout happens.

What I find helpful is how God dealt with Elijah’s burnout. He didn’t get angry with him, he didn’t roll his eyes in frustration. God didn’t tell Elijah to snap out of it, to pull himself up by his bootstraps and get on with life for crying out loud. God, the same God whose awesome power and wrath condoned the destruction of the prophets of Baal, treated Elijah’s broken spirit with gentle compassion. The Lord let Elijah sleep, then gently woke him and fed him. He let Elijah rest some more, then once again strengthened him with food and helped him on his journey. When Elijah hid in a cave, God didn’t throw up his hands and walk away from him, he didn’t give up on him and choose someone else to finish his work. Instead, he pursued Elijah.

And the word of the Lord came to him: “What are you doing here, Elijah?”

He replied, “I have been very zealous for the Lord God Almighty. The Israelites have rejected your covenant, torn down your altars, and put your prophets to death with the sword. I am the only one left, and now they are trying to kill me too.”

The Lord said, “Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by.”   1 Kings 19:9-11

The Lord allowed Elijah to rest, gave him food to build his strength, and pursued him when he retreated. He listened to Elijah vent his frustration at the situation, and then, rather than chastise him for being weak, or for lacking faith (and hadn’t Elijah just witnessed God’s miraculous power in a way most people can never hope to see?) He chose to give Elijah the greatest gift imaginable…to surround him by His presence, to show him a glimpse of His great glory.

Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake came a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper. When Elijah heard it, he pulled his cloak over his face and went out and stood at the mouth of the cave.  1 Kings 19:11-13

I find it fitting, and so very comforting that despite His capacity for awesome power, despite His righteous consuming wrath, the Lord came to the exhausted servant of God in a gentle whisper.

God’s example of dealing with Elijah should speak to all of us when we’re struggling with burnout…whether it’s our own or someone else’s. After all, Elijah’s ministry did not end there under the broom brush! He went on to do more for the Lord, eventually training his own replacement. I believe he was able to carry on fruitfully because God knew that what was needed was a gentle touch and rest, not ridicule or harsh discipline. Some lessons we can take away from Elijah’s story:

  • When dealing with burnout, treat yourself gently. Don’t beat  yourself up for feeling this way, just realize that burnout is part of ministry.
  • Allow yourself to rest. When you feel the signs of burnout coming on, schedule a break! It’s OK to tell people that you need some personal time in order to be more effective in your ministry. Even a few days at home with your phone and computer turned off can make a huge difference.
  • Allow others to help you. Share your situation with a few people you trust, being honest with your feelings. Don’t be afraid to ask for help, and (I know it’s hard!) say “yes” when help is offered.
  • Get some extra sleep…take a nap, schedule a day to sleep in (have someone take your kids for the day if you need to). Lack of sleep due to stress or the pressures of care-taking can really interfere with your ability to keep perspective.
  • Feed your body well. God sent an angel to feed Elijah…allow someone to bring you a meal or two, eat out, or order in.  Take a moment to evaluate your diet; sometimes stress, time or financial restraints can lead to poor eating habits which also contribute to exhaustion and depression.
  • Feed your soul well. Spend some quality time in the presence of the Lord. Take a day dedicated to just you and God, with no distractions! Just spend that time in prayer and quiet mediation, reading the Word and letting the gentle spirit of God wash over you.
  • Find a helper to work alongside you. God sent Elisha to help Elijah in the last part of his ministry, and it must have helped immensely to know that he was not alone and that the work would carry on after his time in ministry was over.
  • Don’t give up! Just because a person has gone through a difficult period of burnout doesn’t mean that they’re not right for the job. Pray for guidance on whether to stay in the situation, but know that often it’s a case of naturally needing rest and refreshment and not a case of not being in the right line of work. Unless you have clear direction otherwise, trust God to be able to refresh your spirit and turn the situation around.

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They’re talking about burnout over at The High Calling, too. If you or a loved one is dealing with this issue, consider heading over there for some excellent articles on preventing burnout.

 

 

 

 

 

The Leadership Influence of Mothers

biblenotes

I’m sitting in a quiet corner of the living room with an open book on my lap, not reading. The book is a decoy, the pages are still turned to the place where I haphazardly opened them because what I’m actually doing…what I’m honestly up to…is eavesdropping.

There are a dozen teens out on the back deck, plus a couple of dads. Eldest is leading a Bible study tonight, he’s been working all week reading scripture and commentary and writing thoughts on scads of little post-it notes, sprinkled like confetti throughout the second chapter of the book of John. He’s spent the afternoon in the garage, heedless of the heat and the smell of bike tires, wood shavings and motor oil, practicing what to say.  He has worked hard and I know he’s nervous, wanting to get everything just right. He’s hard on himself, this boy.  A lot of prayer (on both our parts) has gone up on behalf of this study. Does it ever get easier, as a mother, to watch your children step out in faith and take a risk? This mix of love and fear, this letting go…my heart out there in the open on the deck as I sit here inside.

From the time they take their first step, it’s a battle of emotions…cheering them on as they move forward, taking a piece of you farther away with every step. The sleepless nights, the hours of school work at the kitchen table and the fevered afternoons, cool washrag pressed to hot forehead. Who can ever sum up the job description of “Mother?” And all this, when they never really belong to us in the first place. Ultimately, the job of a mother is to make herself obsolete.

Mothering is not something you get recognition for, nobody’s going to give you a raise or a commendation and there is no hazard pay, no overtime, no vacation days. Sometimes I rail against that reality and sometimes, sometimes the Bible seems like a boy’s club and Biblical leadership seems to come with a sign that says “No Girls Allowed.”

And I hear from the deck, in a voice that’s stronger than I remember, Eldest reading John 2:3-5.

When the wine was gone, Jesus’ mother said to him, “They have no more wine.”“Woman, why do you involve me?” Jesus replied. “My hour has not yet come.”His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.”

Do whatever he tells you, she said. At this, the first miracle of Jesus, his mother put him forward in an act of confidence that showed her faith in who her son was, what he would become. And Jesus, God of the Universe Himself standing there on earth’s thin crust?

“He obeyed his mother,” Eldest points out to the group of teens.

Suddenly I remember a treasure I found in 1 Kings. Encouragement for mothers, hidden there in the list of the names of kings set forever in the Book for all to read. Some of them did evil in the eyes of the Lord and some did good. But if you look it over, the kings whose mothers’ names are mentioned….they all did what was right in the eyes of the Lord, every one of them.

The influence of a mother’s leadership may not earn worldly awards, accolades or prestige. But one thing we can be sure of…it makes a difference, maybe even all the difference. God-made-flesh experienced the love of a mother, He knows its value in an intimate and very real way.

Perhaps that’s why mother’s don’t get paid…our work is priceless.

 

Linking up with The High Calling for “Leadership Influence: Beyond the Stereotype”

When you want to press rewind

bwkids

It’s a strange feeling, standing here in this mostly empty house. It has been nearly 3 years, but it still feels like home. It’s hard, renting out the place that once was your home. Hard to let it go and hope that another loves it half as much as you.

What’s harder, though, is the way I feel as I wash these walls that used to hold the little hand prints of my kids when they were still so small. Oh, I miss those days! I am aching with a deep longing to press rewind, go back in time and live those days over again…the simplicity of the then when they were small and when the days that they’d be grown seemed so distant. Eldest, he’s taller than his father now and Middle Child is borrowing clothes from my closet. Youngest had her 11th birthday a few weeks ago; and it’s beautiful how they’re growing up and they are wonderful at this age and still…oh, I just want the time to move slower. Sometimes being a mother feels like one big chain of goodbyes, every proud accomplishment also stitched with the ache of loss. We’ll never pass this way again, and if we do this thing right we’ll work our way right out of the job we love the most.

So I’m scrubbing and crying, and my husband comes alongside and he wants to know why. So I try my best to tell him how these feelings are swarming in my heart, this sense of loss and this grief over how quickly the days are passing, how you can’t hold onto anything more than the memories and how time just won’t stop stealing the days.

He says he understands. And then he says, it’s one thing he’s looking forward to about Heaven: That the loss we feel due to time passing will never be an issue again. And if I could go back, when would it be? A few years ago, when high school and college seemed distant? A decade ago, when all three of them fit on my lap? Back to 20, when our bodies were still perfect and the world was an open book? Or to our own childhoods, when worries were limited to passing Friday’s spelling test?

We didn’t feel the way we do now about those seasons in life then, when we were living them. It’s the now that gives us the perspective to love the “then” so much, the now of knowing that whatever crisis was bothering us at that time passed, whatever worries we had were really not as big as the blessings we had and it all turned out OK, it was all grace. We made it, and it was good. It’s the vantage point of “now” that puts life into perspective, makes the past seem such a warm, safe place to return.

As hard as it might be to believe?  The truth is, today is the yesterday we will long for tomorrow. (Click to Tweet) Time will grant us the perspective to see: Today is beautiful, and grace-filled, and important. We’ll never pass this way again.

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Oh Lord, please grant me the faith to live today as I will see it a year from now, or five or ten! Grant me the faith to really live in the knowledge that it’s all grace, all God-gifted, that the worries we have now are not as big as the blessings, that whatever comes our way we’ll make it and it will all be good. Grant me the grace to live this moment and this day and this season in gratitude and wonder, and see every minute of it as the blessing it is. Take my desire to hit “rewind” and change it into the reminder to hit “pause,” to stop and appreciate the beautiful now and love it for the gift that it is.

Linking up with these beautiful ladies:

 Emily at Imperfect Prose 

Jennifer’s Tell His Story

 
Laura at The Wellspring

On Autumn (the dying of the year)

leaves

There is beauty everywhere, in unexpected places, yes even in the spaces where it seems least likely of all.

All around me, the leaves are falling. This is a season of dying, of beautiful dying: the colors burn from every tree, they fly like sparks through brisk air scented with woodsmoke. It is beautiful, all this color, breathtaking. And what is autumn, if not the dying of the year? There, where only a month ago bees bumped against the blossoms on this tree, the branches now show patches of bare black against a brooding sky. And the oak tree, whose green shaded the whole yard, burns with the last orange-red of Fall. A breeze stirs, and the leaves, with their beautiful colors, spin slowly downward.

We go so far out of our way, these days, to avoid death. We don’t want to talk about it, think about, and we certainly don’t want to see it. I admit: I fear it, not what happens afterwards but the process, not the eternal but the loss, the change.

But I’ve seen the beauty, too. My friend, she watched her mother die last month. I sat with them on many nights and I saw the most beautiful picture of redemption in those last days. I saw that death is part of life, I saw the way that my friend’s ability to walk with her mother through that hard path was a gift to them both, and I saw that when we let go of everything we take hold of God’s hand. It’s always waiting, there.

“I’ll never doubt that there is a heaven, now,” she told me one on one of those long nights. “I’ve seen the look on her face, how she reaches out and calls.”  If she’d have given up this hard path, left death at the hospital and not taken it home with her, not embraced it as part of life, she would have missed out on something as beautiful as it is painful.

I do not understand, no I don’t…when death takes those who had so much more life to live, when suffering cripples families and little children are struck down and families lose loved ones too soon. I’ve seen people go through one loss after another in a short time and I don’t know how we can live with it, the prospect of death looming over us every day. Short of Jesus, I don’t know how we can. But then I see the leaves, how the light filters through all that red-gold fire and how a single leaf, caught by the wind, is borne up and over the trees. How it rides on the invisible breath of breeze, higher and higher until I can see it no more.

And I know:  I don’t have to know. I only have to let go, trust, embrace the beauty even in the brokenness. The leaves will change and they will fall, the winter will come and then, too…the Spring. To let go and take His hand means to be reborn. To trust Him when everything around you screams out “why” and when nothing seems good or right or beautiful, is to know that the last breath you take is actually your very first.

Lord, when I don’t understand, when I can’t see the beauty, lift me up in a breath of grace and give me a tiny glimpse of You.

Dear Foster Baby

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Dear Foster Baby,

Your third birthday is on Saturday. Three years old! It’s hard to imagine, and easy to picture at the same time. You left my arms just six weeks after turning a year old, how can the time have passed so quickly?

I want you to know, I think of you and of your brother every day. You are often the last thing I think of before I fall asleep at night, and you are in our prayers daily. I think of your mother, too, and pray for her. I miss your smiles, all three of you. I miss everything about you.

I wonder how you are, where you are. I wonder what kind of birthday you will have, a few days from now. I can still picture you here, a cake with three candles and balloons tied to your chair. I can hear the sound of your friends singing, the ones I’ve watched grow up these two years with the bittersweet knowledge that somewhere, you are reaching those milestones too. You and your brother are missed, sweet child, missed by many.

I have had only secondhand reports of how things are going for you, and I wish what I’ve heard was better news. I want to fix it for all three of you so badly, and I can’t. I don’t even know where you are. And this is the thing:  sometimes there are no answers, only questions. Sometimes there is no happily-ever-after, storybook ending in sight; there’s nothing in sight at all but a haze of sadness. Sometimes there is no comfort, only the sort of blind faith you cling to like a life preserver. Faith in a God who loves you even more than I do; Father to the fatherless, Hope to the hopeless, Help to the helpless.

It’s enough, and nowhere near enough, all at the same time.

Just know, you will always be a part of us no matter where you are. We are always here for you, all of you, with open arms. You are a blessing, a precious blessing…never forget that!

Happy birthday, sweet boy.  You are deeply missed and very loved.

Love,

me

The Bullies Do Not Win.

I’ve been thinking a lot about bullies lately, for multiple reasons.  Nick Vujicic came to our state to speak on the topic in the public schools, and for the last month I’ve been reading a lot about bullies in the Bible.  It’s got me thinking.

The bullies I’ve been reading about, they were recognized leaders of the Jewish faith.  Pharisees, teachers of the law.  Yet they used their position to bully the people, lording over them with their books of rules and their pious attitudes.  They used their place of leadership to make themselves look better, and they gained and kept their positions of power by putting others down.

Into this mess walked Jesus.

Jesus, who was free of sin.  Jesus, who was free of pride.  Jesus, who was the absolute authority on the word of God because he was the Word made flesh. Jesus, who was the ultimate example of leadership because he was the Leader of the universe, God-made-flesh, the alpha and omega.

And do you know what?  Those Pharisees, the Sadducees, the teachers of the law?  They bullied Jesus.

They taunted him with their words, they belittled him with their actions.  They put him down, they teased him.  They gathered crowds around them and then pointed out every flaw they thought they saw in him, putting him down for everything from his hand-washing habits to his identity itself. They baited him and tried to get him in trouble with the Romans.  They bragged about their extensive knowledge of the law and tried to use the word of the law against the Word himself, forgetting entirely the spirit of the law and thus shutting themselves out from the Spirit Itself.

What made them do this?  What makes a bully act as he does?  At the core, bullying is carried out by people whose identity is not secure, by those whose own leadership and character will not stand up by itself, but needs to be propped up by putting others beneath them.  They exclude others and spread lies about them, they act in dark corners rather than stand in the light, they belittle the accomplishments and abilities of others while they exaggerate their own. And the difficult thing about it is, the more upstanding and impressive another person’s abilities….the harder the bullies fight to bring him down.

They killed Jesus.

But the bullies, they didn’t win.  They were, in fact, being used by God to carry out his greater plan; the plan by which the God of the universe came to Earth to turn things upside down, to show us that it is the meek who inherit the Earth, the suffering who will be comforted, the poor in spirit to whom the Kingdom of God belongs.  Jesus came to show us the perfect vision of leadership, the kind that operates out of kindness and gentleness, the kind that serves others rather than serves self, the kind that does not break a bruised reed or belittle a child. Oh, the bullies seemed to win for a moment there…but by their own words and deeds they will be condemned. And, I’ve read the Book…in the end, Jesus will ride through it all with his army of light, wash through all the darkness and expose every malicious act, every deceitful word.  In the end?  There will be no more bullies.

One instance in the book of John struck a chord.  The bullies, in their drive to take down Jesus and show themselves as the true authority over the Jews, they caught a woman in the act of adultery.  Sensing an opportunity, they waited until they saw Jesus surrounded by people at the temple.  Seeing those people listening to Jesus, hungry for his words, it must have infuriated the Pharisees…and bullies love to put others down in front of a crowd.  So out they came, the poor wretched woman dragging along behind, and they interrupted the conversation to bait Jesus with a problem.  Here was a woman caught in adultery, the law of Moses said to stone her!  What would Jesus say?  They were thinking, their minds overcome with malice, that Jesus would now be in a bind.  To say no to the stoning would be to go against Mosaic law!  But to say yes, would be to go against Roman law.  Either way, Jesus would be in trouble.

Never mind that the law stated that both the woman and the man caught in the act were to be stoned. Never mind that this law was almost never actually carried out.  Never mind that they themselves were taking no responsibility for the problem.

We know what Jesus did here.  They persisted in questioning him (and oh, aren’t all bullies persistent?) until he said, “Let he who has no sin cast the first stone”.  And he stooped there, and wrote with his finger in the dust while the crowd uncomfortably shifted from one foot to the other, then slowly walked away.  And Jesus, alone with the woman, looked up from the dust and told her that he, too did not condemn her (and Jesus was the only one there with the authority to do so!).  “Go,” he said, “And sin no more.”

What hurts my heart, friends, is Christian bullies.  How can we look at the example of Jesus, claim to know him, and then act like the Pharisees?  Christian bullies give us all a bad name.  They haul out people they catch in sin and brandish them in front of the crowds, calling for damnation even as their own sin hangs out for all to see.  They put themselves first and ridicule those who they are meant to serve.  They serve self before Christ, and certainly before others.  They put others down to make themselves look better, trying to cover the red stains of their own sin with the crimson blood of those they deem weaker than they.

Jesus shows us what it is to lead:  It is to die to self, to die if necessary, to put it all out on the line in order to serve those you have been trusted with.  Jesus shows us how to treat others, to accept them, love them, and call them to be better.  He does not condone the woman’s sin, nor does he ignore it or gloss over it.  He simply says, go, and sin no more.  It’s up to her to change, and I think the chances of her deciding to do so were much better because of how Jesus handled the situation than they would have been had she been ridiculed, judged, and finally stoned. There is no place for bullying in the body of Christ, for if we follow His example it should be clear that this is not the heart of Christianity, nor of Christ himself.

I’m blessed by examples of Christ-like leadership in my own life, and I have seen first hand how this changes lives and brings the joy of salvation into the lives of many.  But I have seen also the damage that bullying does, from Christian leaders whose fame is built on the broken backs of others (and whose eventual downfall shames the church at large) down to bully behavior in young Christians who ought to know better. And it makes me sad, and also angry.

There has been much speculation as to what it was that Jesus wrote there in the dust, surrounded by the crowds who found they could cast no stone.  There are many good theories but so far no solid answers, until the day we can ask him ourselves.  Some people think that he wrote the names of the woman’s accusers, and their own sins. I wonder if among the words he traced there in the dirt may have been…The bullies do not win.

A Little Truth for February: Part IV (Woman of Valor)


This is a talk I gave a church this month, on the topic of “To Stand for Truth or to Abandon it.” I’m sorry to have been MIA for so long…I’ve been working on the talk, and on some other writing. I thought I’d share this, although some of the talk is specific to where I live I think it’s food for thought wherever you may be. 

Please read Part I first, The Jelly Donut Gospel



Part IV:  A Woman of Valor


If you’re struggling with feelings of perfectionism and finding yourself feeling anxious and inadequate, you are not alone. I think it’s very common for Christian women to find ourselves caught up in those feelings, it’s something we have to be aware of, something that has always been a trap for people of faith.

It’s human nature to take simple truth and make it into something rule-and-works based…in Bible times, the Sabbath was an example of this.  God made a day for us to just relax, take the day off, and revel in His love for us!  And over time, his people came up with 1,521 rules surrounding what could and could not be done on the Sabbath.  That’s a real count…1,521 rules!  So instead of resting, people were spending the whole day looking over their shoulders, stressed out about accidentally breaking one of those rules.  And, as we’ve read in the Bible, they also wasted a good deal of time watching other people to see if they were breaking the rules! I can just picture God rolling his eyes in frustration as people tip-toed around, not enjoying their God-given day off! Jesus addressed this issue in Mark, 2:27: 

Then he said to them, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.”  


It’s pretty easy to fall into making Bible verses that are intended by God to build us up into lists of rules that stress us out.  I’d love to say that Christian women never fall into that trap…who, me?  But….Let’s talk about Proverbs 31.   I’m going to read the passage for you, in case you haven’t heard it in awhile (this is from Proverbs 31:10-15)

“A wife of noble character who can find?  She is worth far more than rubies. Her husband has full confidence in her and lacks nothing of value.  She brings him good, not harm, all the days of her life.  She selects wool and flax and works with eager hands. She is like the merchant ships, bringing her food from afar.  She gets up while it is still night; she provides food for her family, and portions for her female servants. She considers a field and buys it; out of her earnings she plants a vineyard. She sets about her work vigorously; her arms are strong for her tasks. She sees that her trading is profitable, and her lamp does not go out at night.”


And it goes on from there, you can read the whole thing here.  I’m pretty sure that most of you guys have some experience with these verses.   How many of you…honestly now…read these verses and feel like you’re doing a good job measuring up to them?   We tend to read this passage like a laundry list of things we are not doing right. We know that the Proverbs 31 woman is something we want to aspire to be like, and don’t get me wrong…my heart is not to say otherwise!  It’s good to be realistic about areas in which you need to improve and it’s good to be honest about your own shortcomings.  However, when we set a goal for being perfect and we measure ourselves against an image of perfection that we think we see in every other Christian woman we know, we are setting ourselves up for some issues. 

How many of you have done a study on the  Proverbs 31 woman?  And…honestly again…how many of you came out of that study still feeling like you weren’t good enough or maybe even feeling worse?  Women are bad about comparing ourselves to others. We can get so caught up in ways to fulfill each of those verses that when we discuss them we end up mentally comparing ourselves to each other and feeling either smug because we think we’ve got that particular couple of verses down, or inferior because we realize that other women are doing great in an area that we are weak in.  

I think we’re sort of wired to compare ourselves to other women.  What happens all too often, even in the case of Proverbs 31, is that we end up focusing inward and become so self-critical that we forget that there is no condemnation in Christ, and that He doesn’t want us going around feeling bad because we’re not perfect.  We know for sure he doesn’t want us going around judging other women because they are not perfect, but we tend to forget that it’s also not OK to do that to ourselves!  Wait…don’t feel guilty and judge yourself for judging yourself!  Just kidding.  Sort of. 

I realized I had an issue in this area awhile ago when I was driving somewhere and accidentally missed a turn.  Twenty minutes later I was still berating myself for not paying attention and wasting time…not just being annoyed with myself but really giving in to negative self talk. And I realized how much I do that day to day over all sorts of things!  The missed turn was really the least of my worries.  It had been a really stressful, difficult few months and I realized that even more than the actual circumstances that were causing the stress, my unhappiness was due to forgetting who I was in Christ and focusing on feelings of not measuring up.

Back to Proverbs 31:  I read something recently that really made me rethink this group of verses, and it changed not only my point of view about the P31 woman but also about myself.  Did you know that in the Jewish tradition, these verses are sung by the man of the house to his wife every week at the beginning of the sabbath?  The family gathers around the table and the man sings this to celebrate his wife and how awesome she is.  They call the song “Eishes Chayil”,  which means Woman of Valor. Now, I’m sure that Jewish wives and mothers are indeed awesome, but I’m also pretty sure that the average Jewish woman isn’t doing things much differently than we are!  Her worth lies in her faith in God. I’m certain that in the week leading up to that sabbath song, the woman being sung to has not done each and every one of the verses in Proverbs 31.  But I bet that Jewish women don’t feel threatened by the P31 woman, and I suspect strongly that this particular set of verses might not even drive Jewish women to spend an hour pinning 47 different types of hand made gifts on Pinterest.  Um, not that I’ve done that or anything.

The difference is in looking at Proverbs 31 as a celebration about what we are already doing, a reaffirmation that you a a woman of valor…and not as a laundry list of things that you need to be working on in order to measure up!  Understand my heart here, I’m not for a second saying that if you are kicking back on a daily basis spending your day watching re-runs of Gilligan’s Island and eating Ben and Jerry’s you shouldn’t let Proverbs 31 give you a kick in the pants.  I’m just saying that we should remind ourselves of who we are in Christ…that, as it says in Romans 8:1-3a:

“Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus,  because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death.  For what the law was powerless to do because it was weakened by the flesh,God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh to be a sin offering.”  


Friends, There is No Condemnation In Christ and he loves us completely, and he knows we are a work in progress, and if need be he’s even waiting right there to help pull us off the couch, flip off the TV, toss the ice cream and help us get back into gear. He is for us, not against us…he’s waiting for us to come to him with our burdens, our problems, our shortcomings.  

Another thing to remember about Proverbs 31 is this:  When those verses were written, I don’t think they were exactly rocket science.  Spinning flax into thread would be difficult for most of us today, but back then that’s just what you did if you wanted to wear clothes.  And she made her family’s clothes, but they didn’t have Old Navy back then and they each of them would only have had a few articles of clothing.  She was clearly not lazy and she clearly got things done, she was operating out of her faith in God and love for her family.  But she wasn’t doing ALL of these things ALL at the same time and ALL in the same season.  I wonder if those verses were written today, what would they look like?  

“She comparisons shops and clips coupons, she price matches at Walmart to get the best deal.”  

“Her arms are strong, holding the toddler in one arm while stirring the chili with the other.”

“She washes and folds all her kids’ outgrown clothes and sells them at the consignment store, she uses the money to buy seeds for her garden.”

“She burns the midnight oil making a costume for the school play; although he is only playing a radish her child will at least look good.”

“She serves dinner at The Road Home, and when she can’t be there she sends a turkey noodle casserole.”

In all seriousness though, rather than berate ourselves for all the things we are not, for the ways we fall short and the struggles we have, we need to remember to celebrate the truth of who we really are as Christians: Loved by God, cherished daughters adopted into the household of the King of Kings, saved by grace, washed of sin, cherished and loved by God himself.
  
I found this video on Youtube and wanted to share it with you.  When I first saw this, it really effected me.  I started laughing and crying at the same time, Andrew thought I’d finally cracked. This guy has taken the verses from Proverbs 31 and set them to rhyme in English, and the tune he’s singing it to is the traditional Jewish  “Woman of Valor” song.  Just so you know, his name is Ari Lesser.  You can look him up on Youtube and I bet he will wonder why a bunch of Christian women are all of a sudden stalking his youtube page. Listen to the words he’s singing, and the way he’s singing them… 





Am I crazy, or does that change things for you, too?  The irony of this is not lost on me.  It’s pretty funny that we Christian women may need to learn a lesson from the very group of people we so often hold up as overly religious. But it’s a good reminder of how something God created to be enjoyed and celebrated can turn into something that stresses you out.

Maybe some of you are planning to go home and ask your husband why he doesn’t sing that song to you every week.  But wait a second, doesn’t he?  I think many of us are very good at dismissing the praises our husbands are trying to sing us…he says you look beautiful, you say “except that I need to lose 10 pounds.” He says “This pot roast is great, babe…” We say “I should have taken it out earlier, it’s too dry.” 

Maybe you’re thinking, my husband is critical and he doesn’t even pretend to like my pot roast. Maybe you’re not married and this whole thing is making you feel lonley.  Do you know what?  Stick with me here, I know I’ve been talking forever and I know it’s getting late. This is important. In the Bible, Jesus refers to himself as The Bridegroom many times.  In Revelation 19:7 it mentions the wedding feast of the Lamb and his bride: 

“Let us rejoice and be glad and give him glory! For the wedding of the Lamb has come, and his bride has made herself ready.” 


Jesus is the Lamb, and the bride? That’s the church.  That’s you and I.  

So go back now and imagine these verses being sung just for you by Jesus…Jesus who knows you, who knows everything about your life and still sees you as fresh and innocent as though you were a child. Jesus who loves you  passionately and completely like the perfect husband, the perfect father, the perfect friend.  Jesus who already has everything he could ever need and yet values your every little effort so much that he wrote a song to sing to you, every week of your life. 
This is the truth: That in Christ, that’s who you are.  A woman of valor.  And for me, that changes things. It makes me want to please Jesus, out of love and gratitude to him for how He’s saved my life. It makes me want to do good things for him because he loves me and he believes in me and he’s rooting for me, and because when I do them…even the silly, little things…it makes him happy!  When I keep that in mind, it makes everything I do for the Kingdom of Christ a joy.

Let’s Pray:
Lord, thank you for each of these women and for their hearts.  I pray that each of them would accept you into their lives, that you would give them clear vision to see your love for them and your desire for joy in their lives.  I pray that we would do everything we do as working for you, Lord, not for men!  And I ask that you would bless us in the days to come, that we would go forth and be Salt and Light out of the love we bear for you.   AMEN!!!

A Little Truth for February, Part III (Salty)


This is a talk I gave a church this month, on the topic of “To Stand for Truth or to Abandon it.” I’m sorry to have been MIA for so long…I’ve been working on the talk, and on some other writing. I thought I’d share this, although some of the talk is specific to where I live I think it’s food for thought wherever you may be. 

Please read Part I first, The Jelly Donut Gospel


Part III:  Salty

Matthew 5:13 says: 

“You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot.” 


Living here, I’ve discovered that it’s possible to be a missionary right where you are, to find that at times what is required of you is not packing up your life to go out and follow God’s will  but unpacking to do the same, right where you’ve been all along. It’s not always easy. Sometimes broken people don’t look like they need help from the outside, in fact sometimes the people in the most need are the very ones who are making your own life difficult!  But over the years I have heard stories, so many stories of lives shattered by religion that serves itself rather than those it professes to shepherd.  So many hearts broken, so many stories of loss and fear and pain. Ezekiel said it well:

 “You eat the curds, clothe yourselves with the wool and slaughter the choice animals, but you do not take care of the flock. You have not strengthened the weak or healed the sick or bound up the injured. You have not brought back the strays or searched for the lost. You have ruled them harshly and brutally. So they were scattered because there was no shepherd, and when they were scattered they became food for all the wild animals.” Ezekiel 34:3-5


As missionaries, We need to be the salt of Salt Lake City (and you can fill in the blank here with where you live).  What does that even mean?  If you research it, there are tons of reasons that salt is important.  It was used to purify things in ancient times, and salt that was contaminated with other minerals would lose its ability to preserve food, or to make it taste good.  It was also used to bind water to the streets in Israel, which would have kept down the dust and muck…so you might have tossed salt that was contaminated and not edible out your door to treat the path up to your house.  But I think that it’s possible to over-think the salt analogy.  The most obvious property of salt isn’t one that you have to know anything about chemistry or history to understand, you already know if you’ve ever been to a movie.  If you order the movie special, you’ll get a huge bucket of popcorn loaded with salt and a soda that’s mostly ice. If you want another drink, you’ll have to pay for it.  But you’ll get a free refill on the popcorn…why?  Because salt makes you thirsty!  They know you’ll be back for another five dollars worth of diet Coke.

They say you can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink.
You CAN make him thirsty!  

The joy we have in being free daughters of the King of Kings should make us salty, and make others thirsty for Jesus.  And the women I know are amazing and you shine like a city on a hill and I love you guys for it!  But sometimes the world can drag us down, and the fight with toxic perfectionism can really take it out of you, and it can be really hard to avoid slipping into feeling the same feelings that are causing depression in LDS women.  It’s on my heart that right now, in cold dark February, maybe we all need a little bit of a reminder as to the truth of who we are in Christ, to help us be the salt of Salt Lake City.

For Christmas, one of my kids bought me a clock radio where I can dock my iphone and charge it or listen to music.  Honestly I’m sure it’s not rocket science to run that thing but I am really not tech-savvy and somehow I managed to mess the settings up so that the two alarms go off at odd hours on their own, when I don’t need an alarm at all.  So I was constantly getting jerked out of a peaceful sleep at 3 a.m. for no reason, fumbling around to get rid of the false alarm only to fall back asleep and have it happen again an hour later.  The clock is a good thing to have and it’s important to have alarms when I need them, but those false alarms were preventing me from having peace and getting rest!  So I had to go get the instruction manual for the clock and read it carefully.  Then, using the knowledge I found in the instruction book, I was able to press reset.

Sometimes as Christians we fall back into thinking in a “religious” way instead of resting on faith.  When we do, false alarms keep jerking us out of peace and make us feel like we aren’t good enough and are not measuring up. When we start feeling weary and lost, and when our faith starts feeling like work, it’s a good indicator that we need to protect our hearts and press the reset button!   We need to go to the instruction manual (The Bible!) and read up on some verses about who we are in Christ, verses like John 15:15 

“I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you.”  


and Romans 5:1-2:

“Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God.”


Friends, if we’re going to be effective as Christians we need to remember that we should be operating out of love.  1 Corinthians 13 1-3 says 

“If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.”  


It’s a beautiful thing to do good works, to spend your time and your money and your heart in helping the poor and sharing the truth about Jesus.  But I think we also should keep in mind that it is possible to do good things for the wrong reasons Here are some “bad” reasons to do something good:  Keeping up with the Joneses, Guilt, Fear, Personal Gain.  And the good reasons for doing good works?  Love.  Pretty much that’s it, just love.  If I ask my kids to do a task at home, I don’t want them to do it because they are scared of me or because they know I’ll make them feel guilty if they don’t, I want them to do it because they love me! A child doing the dishes with an angry attitude and not out of respect or love does remind me of the resounding gong or clanging cymbal of 1 Corinthians. 

Sometimes we don’t love the good thing we’re doing out of obedience at the time, but if we are doing what we are doing out of Love for Jesus and love for the person that we’re doing it for, then it is good.  Doing something nice for bad reasons might result in the same thing as doing it for good reasons…for example, serving dinner at a soup kitchen.  In both cases, the person gets fed.  But the bowl of soup that’s served out of (guilt, fear, a desire to keep up with the Joneses) will fill a person’s stomach, not his heart.  A bowl of soup served with love and out of a heart that’s thankful to Christ for what he’s done for us and a desire to pass that love on to others?  That will fill the hungry person’s heart as well as his stomach.  And it just might also make them thirsty for more of what you have…Jesus!

A Little Truth for February, Part II (The Scaffolding)

This is a talk I gave a church this month, on the topic of “To Stand for Truth or to Abandon it.” I’m sorry to have been MIA for so long…I’ve been working on the talk, and on some other writing. I thought I’d share this, although some of the talk is specific to where I live I think it’s food for thought wherever you may be. 

Please read Part I first, The Jelly Donut Gospel

Part II:  The Scaffolding 

So if you know Truth, why would you abandon it?  Well, in case you may not have noticed yet, once you accept Christ the words “And she lived happily ever after” do not appear on the screen and the credits do not actually start to roll.  The happily ever after bit comes later, when your time here on earth is over and you get to go to heaven.  In the meantime, there are so many things that can draw you away from truth, and so many different directions I could go here as to how truth can be abandoned, it was hard to pick what to say. And I should point out that I’m not talking about abandoning truth as in losing your salvation, but as in letting the world slip little ideas in your head that contribute to forgetting who you are now in Christ. 

No kidding, I sat down to work on this talk and accidentally wrote 33 typewritten pages on the subject. So I’m going to have to gloss over a few things…let me say this really fast:  We each have the chance daily to stand up for what we believe in or to keep quiet and not rock the boat.  It’s a hard line to walk and there is risk involved.  Many of us face opposition to the truth we’ve bet eternity on every day. If you have been a believer long you know there will be times when you get the chance to state your beliefs and stand firm by your faith, to speak out and risk ridicule and ostracism, and you know that some people in some places in this world even face torture and death in the name of Jesus.  You guys all have your stories and you all have your burdens in this area and I think we should just pray right now:

Jesus, I ask that you make us strong in our time of need, when our hearts know we should speak up for you and our flesh wants to smooth things over instead.  Lord, let us stand up for truth boldly and in love, and strengthen and protect our brothers and sisters who face persecution, bodily harm, and martyrdom because of your precious name. Amen.


I guess that this talk could be over right now, but God’s been putting something on my heart that I think we, as women…as women living in Utah…need to hear.

Friends, don’t let your faith be reduced to religion. I think one of the biggest ways we manage to abandon our faith, one of the biggest traps the enemy sets for us, is through religion.  On the side of our church building, we have a sign that says “Interested in God, but not Religion?”  I think many people have not stopped to really consider the difference between the two.  And it’s so very important!  You see, we humans are programmed to seek truth. We want it.  We know that there is that gap there between us and God, and we have this huge empty space in our hearts because of it.  We long to pass through that fathomless space, past the sorrow and sin and sickness of humanity to grasp the hand of God.  And the enemy keeps whispering in our ear, “you can do it, if you just work hard enough.” 

Religion is about trying to reach God through our own work. A central part of what you and I believe is that we get to go to heaven not because of anything that we’ve done ourselves, but because of what Jesus did for us. Ephesians 2:8-9 says:

For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—  not by works, so that no one can boast.”  


But we live in a culture that stresses religion over faith…picture it this way:  Religion is like building a scaffolding to try to bridge the gap between earth and Heaven. We try to build a structure that will reach God, one stone at a time. We make that structure beautiful, we gild it and paint it with frescos and we pour all our most precious things into it…our toil, our creativity, our intelligence, our good works, our money.  The structure is beautiful, intricate, and also dangerous. Because sooner or later, the focus becomes the structure itself.  People are working so hard building this bridge to heaven that they forget why they started in the first place.  Sooner or later, they realize that they no longer believe that the structure will work.  No matter how high they build, they still fall frightfully short of their goal. They lose passion for it, it all becomes rote and empty, their hearts grow cold. The futility of trying to reach God through our own merit exhausts us and steals our joy 

It breaks my heart how easily people can know so intimately the man-made structure, but be a stranger to the One that the structure was meant to reach out to!  Because if we would only take our eyes off that structure for a moment and look up, we’d see that God in heaven is standing there, his open hand is reaching down to us. Christ died to build that scaffold for us, and his death and resurrection are a thousand times more beautiful than anything the human mind could imagine or build. There is freedom in Christ! Freedom from running around and around in the hamster wheel of religion, trying to earn something that we weren’t designed to attain on our own.

Friends, living in Utah can sometimes be tough. This culture is burdened by the weight of  religion. I read a newspaper article last week in the Desert News that had the headline “LDS women in Utah are at risk for depression due to ‘toxic perfectionism’ and a host of other cultural factors.”  One of the factors mentioned in the article was “feelings of being judged by others.”  The researcher said that “the church’s teachings on striving for perfection led to misinterpretations and contributed to feelings of inadequacy.” And the participants in the study described feeling like they had to be the “Perfect Mormon, ” the “Perfect wife” and the “Perfect homemaker.” 

Toxic Perfectionism.  Ouch.  And living here, really living anywhere, it can be very hard for you and I to resist falling into that, too!  We may not believe that we have to work to attain our salvation, but if we’re not careful it’s very easy to slip into the mindset that we have to be perfect women.  Perfect Christian women, but still, perfect women.  It’s something I think all women have to look out for, but I do think living in Utah makes it even harder to resist. 

It’s easy to forget, but here in Utah we live right smack in the middle of some of the toughest mission territory in the world.  Consider this:  There are only a few places on earth where religion plays as big a part as it does here in Utah.  We are one of only a handful of places that are known for being the religious epicenter for a particular type of faith, where there is a main temple, where the roots of the religion are located, and where people make pilgrimages.  Mecca in Saudi Arabia, Vatican City in Italy, Jerusalem in Israel, Salt Lake City in Utah.  In the city where I live, 59.34% of people are LDS.  Would it shock you to know that all but three countries in Sub-Saharan Africa have higher rates of traditional Christianity than Utah?  
People here are in need of hearing truth, and we need to be ready to share it with them. It’s clear that God’s moving here in Utah.  But we have to keep in mind that we need to be aware of what’s going on behind the perfect-looking exterior of our neighborhoods. Because what that newspaper article didn’t say is that these women are working their hearts out and wearing their souls out not just to look good for the now, but also because they believe that if they are not perfect, it will negatively effect where they spend eternity.  That’s a whole lot of weight for a person to carry, isn’t it?  No wonder Utah has the highest rate of antidepressant use in the country.   Friends, a lot of suffering is going on here!  If you are finding yourself struggling with depression and anxiety, I think it’s good to keep in mind that we are right in the middle of a spiritual battle that if we could see with our eyes, would rival any battle scene from “Saving Private Ryan”.  At any rate, it can be very easy to get discouraged and lose heart and struggle to keep perspective.  And the predominate religion where I live is not the only one guilty of fostering toxic perfectionism, I think human nature drives us all in that direction. Our perfection, our salvation, comes in depending on Christ…Christ who is the only human ever to be perfect…and not on our own efforts.  Praise God for that!