Roots (a post from the archive)

Dusting off the blog and doing a little housekeeping.  In the meantime, the State Fair was last week.  Here’s a post from the archives about the day I took the kids to their first Rodeo….
Little me, with my red cowboy hat (and unfortunate haircut) on my birthday.  
It has been so many years, and maybe I’ll never know why suddenly the desire welled up in me the way it did.  I planned the evening out, all excited to show these three kids a little part of my history, my roots that are twined a few hundred miles to the North of us–all wrapped up in the Lodgepole Pines and chain-saw grizzly bears, the Carhartt jackets and 4×4 pickup trucks with lab mixes faithfully patrolling their weather-worn beds.  And I can see how I’ve slipped in my parental duty to show these kids just where their mother came from when I share my plans and the youngest, she just looks at me and says:
“Wait, you mean people actually pay money to watch guys get catapulted to their deaths off the backs of bulls? I thought that was just a myth.”

Oh, I think we’ve been living in the city just a little too long.
So we eat dinner and we pick up some State Fair tickets and we meet up with friends and take six city-raised kids to the Rodeo, and I suddenly realize just how much I’ve been missing cowboy hats and boots and the smell of cattle.  And for some reason, when two cowgirls ride around the arena with flags unfurled and they play the Anthem and we all sing I find that I am wiping tears off my face with the back of my hand.
The kids, they warm up pretty quick and the rodeo clown has us laughing and singing along with music that I remember well from my own childhood.  The girls have always loved horses and their eyes are fixed on sleek bodies moving with wild grace over the turned earth of the arena, a flurry of bay and roan and chestnut.  When they set up barrels I lean to Youngest, sitting next to me, and whisper “this was always my favorite part” and I see her sitting up in her chair to watch in rapt attention as cowgirls race around the barrels and I can see how she’s picturing herself on one of those beautiful animals. This is no myth.
The town where I grew up was comprised of two worlds, the College world and the Cowboy. I belonged to the College side of things, with my dad putting on his cowboy boots and his felted wool hat and walking not so many blocks South to the campus each morning, where he taught people to build roads and fought for the best ways to keep the water clean.  In my earliest memory I find snapshots of gathering eggs on the farm, timidly feeding carrots to the horses (one of them bit) and a sorrowful moment when the neighbor’s German Shepherd got into the chicken coop.  But we moved to town before I started school, so most of my childhood was spent walking the tree-lined sidewalks of a quiet college-town, riding my bike through campus in the summer when the students left and the population suddenly dipped– leaving the streets lazy-silent. The air was clean and the blue of the Big Sky spread out endlessly.  I must confess, I did not own cowboy boots after I outgrew the little red pair I had when I was five. Still, we were a college town embraced by acres of ranch land and the cowboys, they were the “real Montanans” and the West was everywhere you looked.  It takes something special to endure Montana winters and you could see it in the weather-worn faces of the men who gathered at the Cowboy Cafe just off Main Street in the mornings.  If you drove very far in any direction, you’d find split-log fences worn silver-grey with age and barbed wire running along both sides of the road and you’d see the horses, standing in sweet clover in fields that seemed to last forever.
In the years since I left, my hometown has split even further….the College and the Cowboys have had to move over for the Tourists.  The Cowboy Cafe still exists, but I’m told its clientele wear cowboy boots with no mud on them and have been known to drive away in sports cars rather than rusty Suburbans and Blazers and GMC trucks.  Still, the West is out there and the Real Montanans shake their heads at the wine bars on Main and they let the tourists try on their over-priced Stetsons and pretend to be cowboys for the long weekend.  
And maybe I’ve become the same sort of voyeur, sitting here in the bleachers crying at the flying flags and the cowboys tough enough to wear pink.  But maybe I just needed to see some good, black dirt and smell the livestock and watch the muscles ripple under shiny chestnut coats. Maybe I needed to see the manes and tails flowing out like banners raised high, hooves pounding and heads tossing and for a moment, to feel the West tip its hat at me and wink.  
And to show these three, sitting beside me under indigo sky and blazing arena lights, a little piece of what’s inside them too.  Roots tied up in open spaces, the image of a lone cowboy on a fine horse silhouetted there on the horizon against a crimson-orange sunset burned into the Big Sky.  


I have worn out my soles
pacing this pebbled shore
eyes grown weary
watching the distant other
I have the courage, I think
to cross the water
cast my paper boats adrift
 set them afire, watch them 
blaze down the river
like burning stars against
a watery blue sky.
all that holds me here
is the fear of one day standing
on that other shore
and (improbable as it seems)
longing for this one

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 Gluten-Free Love…

This one was too good not to share.  While sitting in the shop waiting for new tires to be put on the van, I had the opportunity to thumb through some Sunset magazines.  I ran across this cake recipe, which I adjusted to make gluten and dairy free.  It’s so good!  The concept of eating orange peels is a little odd, but it turns out that the peel really adds something special to this cake.  It’s moist, full of flavor, and you don’t notice the gluten/dairy free aspect at all!  I added some orange zest to the glaze as well, because it didn’t taste orange-y enough for me. Here’s the recipe:

  • Cake:
  • 1 cup butter substitute, softened (I used Nucoa)
  • 1 1/4 cups granulated sugar 
  • large eggs 
  • oranges (about 1 lb. total), ends trimmed, then cut into chunks and seeded
  • 2 1/2 cups gluten free flour mix (I use Tom Sawyer brand, or King Arthur.)
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda (use 1/4 tsp. if you’re not making it gluten free)
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder (use 1/2 tsp if you’re not making it gluten free)
  • Glaze:
  • 1 1/2 cups powdered sugar
  • 2 tablespoons plus 1 tsp. orange juice
  • 1 tsp. orange zest
  1. 1. Preheat oven to 325°. Coat a 10-cup Bundt pan with cooking-oil spray. In a large bowl with a mixer on medium speed, beat butter substitute and granulated sugar until fluffy. Beat in eggs.
  2. 2. Whirl orange chunks in a food processor until mostly smooth but not puréed. You want some small chunks of peel still left.  Add 1 1/2 cups orange mixture to batter and beat until blended (I added all of the oranges, which was closer to 2 cups and it turned out fine). Add gluten free flour substitute, salt, baking soda, and baking powder to bowl and beat until smooth. Spread batter in prepared pan.
  3. 3. Bake until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out with only a few crumbs clinging to it, about 55 minutes. Cool pan on a rack 10 minutes, then invert cake onto rack and let cool completely.
  4. 4. Whisk together powdered sugar and orange juice and zest in a small bowl. Drizzle over cooled cake. Let glaze set, then slice cake.
This one is quickly becoming a favorite in our family…enjoy!

My Whole House

It is another of those busy days, a Sunday. Our friends suggest dinner and we decline, too many loose ends to tie up before the work-week begins and too few hours to find some rest. And then we pick the phone back up again a moment later and un-decline, because the soul of our family cried out that we just need fellowship right now, more than rest and carefully tied-up ends.

It is the night that she comes in, on a tide of small children, looking weary.  And she comments again about how clean our house is and how her’s isn’t and I wince because I see how she judges herself, this beautiful God-graced woman measuring herself up against a hastily vacuumed floor and cursory dusting.

And I am suddenly done with looking perfect on the outside and having others break by measuring themselves against what the outside image projects.  I am done with breaking myself over the same thing, constantly coming up short because everyone else looks so much like they have it all together. Done with hiding my imperfections behind closed doors.

The truth? I don’t have it all together.

So as the kids are throwing cornmeal-crusted disks of pizza dough (moon-white wheels hang in the oven-warm night of the kitchen) and as laughter is ringing through the house, I lead my friend upstairs and take her to the place that’s not clean, to the bedroom door that stays shut when guests come over.  I show her the laundry, unfolded. the shoes on the floor.  The trash in the bathroom, overflowing.  I show her the mess. I brave the fear of embarrassment, of rejection, and I show her the ugly because I am choosing, at that moment, to stop hiding behind a barrier of perfect.

Because somewhere in each of our lives there is a mess, an area of chaos that we just haven’t gotten around to yet.  And I have been so quick to protect that, to hide it away and project a careful image of order, beauty, strength. Because who wants to talk about the ugly? And so we each end up looking at each other’s clean surface and convincing ourselves that we are worse off than everyone else, that the mess in our closet is that much uglier, that much more un-cleanable than the one in everyone else’s. And it drives us to hide it all the more, and to try to be even more perfect on the outside, and to judge ourselves harshly.

It leads us to forget who we are, who we really are in Christ.

The truth?  It doesn’t really matter if my closet is a mess or if the bathroom trash needs taking out.  It doesn’t matter…the stretch marks, the way my body has changed over the pregnancies and over the years, the way the laugh-lines crinkle when I smile.  It doesn’t matter, the pain of the past and the ugliness of grief and the millions of ways that I don’t add up yet to what I’d like to be. What matters is that all the scars, all the messiness, all the ways in which I’m broken…they are all God-ordained.  He gave them to me, and he will use them to his glory if I am not afraid to let him.

Our wounds, our scars, our ugly messes?  Those weaknesses we hide, the ones we build walls around? They are warrior-weapons in the hands of a broken, wounded savior…the scarred hands of One who turns grief into laughter, weakness into strength, even death into life.  They are the arrows that can pierce darkness with light, that can speak to another’s life and say:  Forgiven. Loved. Accepted.  Not because of any sort of perfect that ever came from me, but because of the one and only Perfect One who lives in me now.  Why do we still doubt that he can use even our most ugly scars to his glory? Do we not trust him enough to give him all of who we are?

The depth of life that God created us to experience can’t be fully appreciated if we don’t let the dark colors show, if we whitewash over our lives in matching, neutral beige.  I will not glory in the ugly, the messy, the painful scars.  But I will glory in the One who can use them to make something new, to do something beautiful.  And if that means sharing what I’d rather hide, well…come on in, let me show you  my whole house.  The beautiful, and the ugly, and everything in between.

Linking up with Emily Wierenga today…

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!

A Little Truth for February…Part 1 (the Jelly Donut Gospel)

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. 

Part 1:  The Jelly Donut Gospel

What is Truth? Society would like us to believe that truth is relative, different for everyone.  But we know this is not the case!  God has put the desire to live in truth in our hearts. There is an abundance of evidence for that throughout time and around the world. I feel that I would be remiss if I did not outline the truth for you, in case there is someone here who’s never heard it. I know that I never get tired of hearing it, and I know I get weary and need to hear it often…especially when I think I’ve got it sorted in my own mind.  So in a nutshell here it is:  God is perfect.  He is infinite and His plan has been in place forever. God created the universe, he created the world and he invented men and women, and everything he created was good perfect and right.  Through his perfect will and his perfect plan, God gave us free will, and from the beginning we’ve messed that up. Humans chose to sin. In the garden, sin entered the world and tainted creation. We humans can’t help but sin, we’re born that way. Nobody who is 100% human can be 100% good, it just isn’t possible.  Even if you’re 99% good and 1% evil, you are tainted by sin. 

God is perfect, God’s righteousness cannot be in the presence of sin.  Here’s an illustration as to how being 99% good is still not enough.  If I take a donut, a really good-looking nice fresh donut (this one is plain, so just project your favorite type onto it.  For me, it would be a jelly donut):

 and I dip it in the toilet….

Would you eat it?  What if I just dipped it in really, really fast?  What if you were really hungry? Let’s face it, even it I just waved it around in the bowl and it never touched the water, and even if you hadn’t eaten all day, you wouldn’t eat that donut. If you and I wouldn’t eat a donut tainted by toilet water (even a very small amount of toilet water!), how much more would a perfect, holy, righteous God not tolerate a soul tainted by sin?

That’s the bad news.

The good news, the reason why we’re here tonight, is that God loves us and He doesn’t want us to be lost to him. God is our loving father.  Maybe you had a wonderful, loving father?  He’s even better than that.  Maybe you had a father who wasn’t there, or one who hurt you instead of protected you?  God is waiting to fill that void. He knows each and every one of us, our likes and dislikes, how we like our eggs in the morning, our deepest thoughts, our wildest dreams, our darkest fears.  He knows how many hairs are on our heads and he created every one of us, by hand, one-of-a-kind, knit stitch by stitch. He knew what we were going to be like before our great-great-great grandmothers were born. We are his precious daughters, his most treasured children. Each of us is of infinite value to him (way, way more precious than a jelly donut!). He wants us to be with him, he longs for us, he desires us. He wants us home with him in heaven forever. 

We are sinful, and God is perfect.  There is a divide between us deeper than the grand canyon, wider than the ocean.  Back to the jelly donut….what could I do to a jelly donut that’s been floating in the toilet, to make it acceptable for you to eat?  Wash it? Drench it in hand sanitizer? Microwave it?  No amount of washing will get it clean.  What could I add to it to make it more appealing?  Wrap it in bacon?  Cover it in chocolate?  Add a mountain of whipped cream with a cherry on top? 

There’s nothing that you can add to the donut, no whistles and bells, no upgrades, no sweet sugary topping that’s going to make it OK for you to eat that donut.  Even if your mouth is watering for it, even if it’s your deepest desire, even if you are longing to eat it.  But God is God!  He can do things that we can’t do.  He can take the jelly donut and make it new again, as though it just came out of the oven.

What God offers us is a bridge across the grand canyon, a first class ticket on a cruise boat across the ocean.  God’s plan to bring us back to him was in place before Eve even considered snacking on that apple. His plan was to come to earth himself, to become human like you and I.  What we cannot do by washing or adding toppings, God did through Jesus Christ.  Jesus is the only one who could save us, because he is the only jelly donut who never took a dip in the toilet.  He lived among us, loved us, saw and felt and smelled and heard every broken, beautiful element of the world.  He knew what it was to be tempted, yet he did not sin. 

And he willingly took our sins upon himself, upon his perfect being, as a sacrifice to purify us from the sin we were born into.  Jesus….perfect, holy, beautiful Jesus….became sin itself for our sake.  He was broken, forsaken, rejected, and hung on a cross, and every sin that had ever passed and every sin that was yet to come was hung on him on that day.  Jesus spent it all for you, for me. . But he rose again three days later, conquering death itself!  And he left each of us with an open offer, a simple question:  Will you accept him?  Will you take the gift that Jesus offers, believe that through Jesus, all your sins, all your faults, all your shortcomings are forgiven, you are a new person and God welcomes you with open arms? The truth is that we cannot reach God on our own, but He has provided us with a way to start over, to become acceptable and lovely and pure and holy and beautiful in his eyes.  He’s given us Jesus, and by giving ourselves to him we are not only made pure and new…a jelly donut fit for a king…but I believe that we also make God very, very happy.  His longed-for children, safe in his arms again.  

That’s what Truth is:  Trusting fully in Jesus and accepting his gift of salvation is the only way to bridge the gap between us and God and to finally be home one day, in Heaven with him, where our hearts long to be. 

God made it simple, friends.  He didn’t want it to be hard or confusing or to require a lot of study or a list of requirements and hoops to jump through; he’s not trying weed people out based on whether or not they can grasp difficult theological concepts.  He made it so simple that a child can easily understand.  All we have to do is pray to him, tell him that we’ve made the decision to belong to him.  If you have questions about that, please talk to somebody today because we’re not just talking about jelly donuts here, we’re talking about heaven and hell and where you will spend eternity.  And I want the chance to hang out with each of you in heaven, over coffee and donuts!