Any Time at All

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Gentle Reader,

Interrupting what is apparently going to be a series on the sisterhood of suffering (I often don’t know exactly what will develop when I begin writing something) to share some thoughts on motherhood.

What?, you think. She knows she doesn’t have kids, right?

Jen Wilkin writes:

Just as my biological children needed me to train them in self-control, industriousness, and obedience, so also do young believers in the church need those who are more mature to train them in godliness. Every believing woman who grows to maturity becomes, in her time, a spiritual mother to those following behind, whether she ever becomes a mom in physical terms. She fulfills that most basic calling of motherhood: nurturing the helpless and weak to maturity and strength. She helps the young believer to nurse on the pure milk of the Word, faithfully teaching basic doctrine and modeling the fruit of the Spirit. She sacrificially makes herself available, like the mother of a newborn infant, allowing her schedule and personal needs to be inconvenienced for the sake of caring for the spiritually young and vulnerable. And she understands the work to be not a trial but a sacred duty, finding deep delight in wobbly first steps of faithfulness and stuttered first words of truth. (emphasis mine)

My beloved youths chose to participate in 30 hours of fasting over the weekend, a fact that led to me being awake for 36-plus hours. For someone who loves sleep as much as I do, that was the real sacrifice. Not the logging off of all social media and leaving my phone in my backpack. Not the shunning of food (though I did come to realize how much I love coffee…and Nutella…and cheese [which I shouldn’t eat]…and all carbs). Keeping my bleary eyes open to make sure they were safe, not fainting, or fighting with each other – so hard. Part of me wanted to say, “Do whatever you want. Just don’t burn the church down,” and then find some quiet spot for a long nap.

But I’d do it again. No question.

There are not sufficient words to describe how lovely it is to watch them begin to process big concepts like compassion and justice. So many despise teenagers, find them annoying and basically useless. That many couldn’t be more wrong.

They got up very early on Saturday morning and (mostly) cheerfully served breakfast – that they would not eat – to homeless people. They want to go back and do it again.

They walked around a downtown section of our city, choosing to be bold and brave enough to approach strangers, to ask them for a bit of their stories and to offer prayer. Most of them were rejected. A few experienced the elation of being received. They want to go back and do it again.

They really had no idea that they go to school with people who don’t have food at home, or even a home at all. They want to do something about that.

They sat in silence on the beach for over half an hour, reading their Bibles, journaling, or contemplating nature. The majority said this was their favorite activity; they never have time for quiet. Some of them heard the Spirit’s whisper for the first time. The wonder on their faces…

They got hangry, like really hangry, but banded together and encouraged each other to see it through to the end, even as they made dinner together, a dinner that they would not taste-test (but turned out pretty dang good).

They served each other Communion.

…a motherless church is as tragic as a motherless home. Guiding the spiritually young to maturity is not solely the job of the vocational pastor, the elder, or the Sunday school teacher. The church needs mothers to care for the family of God. We must rise to our responsibility, eagerly searching for whom the Lord would have us nurture. There is no barrenness among believing women. Through the gospel, all become mothers in their maturity. And unlike biological motherhood, spiritual motherhood holds the potential for hundreds, even thousands of descendants. Older women in the faith, do you recognize the vital importance of your influence and example? Whom could you make room for in your life to guide toward maturity? Who needs the hard-earned wisdom you hold? Spiritual babies need help to open God’s Word, to live at peace with God and others, to be lights in dark places. Babies need mothers. (emphasis mine)

They really are “my beloved youths.” The affection that pounds in my heart is deep and real. I am their Cougar, their Sexy Grandma, their Second Momma. (Nope, I won’t explain the first two, because you definitely had to be there). I love listening to them, joking with them, being around them. I can hardly contain myself as they take those wobbly steps of faith.

So will I stay up all night, holding a young lady as she sobs?

Any time at all.

None of us needs ever to question our usefulness in the household of God. We have only to draw the next searching fledgling under our wing.

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(Yet Again) Five Minute Monday: Touch

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Gentle Reader,

I was so on top of things last week. Back to a regular posting schedule. Back to a regular life schedule. Except for the headache that wouldn’t go away, I felt pretty good.

As The Beatles sing, “I shoulda known better.”

My beloved youths shared their germs with me again, and I’m on day three of being stuck in my bed with a nasty cold. All I’ve done is sleep, drink orange juice, and watch movies. Try to read, by my eyes swim and I can’t focus.

Go.

I’ve never regained feeling along the left side of the scar that bisects my abdomen. Too many nerves sliced up. Between the white line and my belly button is a field of nothingness. Except that it itches, practically all the time. But when I scratch the itch, I can’t feel the scratching.

Don’t ask me to explain this.

Skin is an amazing thing. So many different shades and textures. Senses the slightest movement of air. Responds to the tiniest pinprick. Blushing cheeks. Freckles bursting across shoulders in the summer sun.

Our church culture is not touchy-feely. The world around us has given way to the oversexualization of every person and interaction, and, rather than being a people who redeem and restore, we succumb to paranoia. “Noli mi tangere,” Jesus said to Mary Magdalene in the garden that day (John 20:17); we take up “touch me not” as our mantra. So our hands never feel a squeeze in a moment of celebration. Our backs never feel encircling arms during times of grief.

Our bodies are not evil. We can give and receive appropriate, healthy, loving touch. In fact, this giving and receiving should be a natural, normal marker of our communities.

We embrace.

Stop.

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Love Them, Love Them, Say That You Love Them

Gentle Reader,

The Apostle John fascinates me.

…on the way they entered a village of the Samaritans to make preparations for Him. But they did not welcome Him, because He determined to journey to Jerusalem. When the disciples James and John saw this, they said, “Lord, do you want us to call down fire from heaven to consume them?”

But He turned and rebuked them…

– Luke 9:52b-55a (CSB)

Like a gangster’s lackeys in a Depression-era movie, they ask, “Hey, Jesus? You want we should whack them?”

I wonder if Jesus paused before turning around. I wonder if His head dropped to His chest the way a father’s does when he’s exasperated with his children. I wonder if He rubbed his temples. I wonder if His words came out clipped or if they were measured. I know that He surely looked both of them in the eyes and, from the deep well of patient love within His heart, the Savior spoke, telling James and John to knock it off.

James and John, the sons of Zebedee, approached Him and said, “Teacher, we want You to do whatever we ask You.”

“What do you want Me to do for you?” He asked them.

They answered Him, “Allow us to sit at Your right and at Your left in Your glory.”

– Mark 10:35-37 (CSB)

They want the places of honor. The top spots. Of course this makes the other disciples mad. I wonder if Jesus sighed heavily. I wonder if He cast His eyes to Heaven. I wonder if He shook His head, marveling at how little they understood.

Then, Gethsemane. The betrayal. The arrest. Everyone flees. At some point, John circles back around, following the proceedings from a safe distance. He is there, at the foot of the Cross, with the women. Jesus tells him to take care of His mother (John 19:26-27; church tradition maintains that he did so for the rest of her life). Dark, quiet hours as the Light of the World lay in the tomb.

Ah, but as the song says: Bursting forth, in glorious day, up from the grave He rose again. Fifty days to wrap their minds around resurrection, salvation. His feet lifted off of the Mount of Olives. They watched, blinking at the brightness. Confusion, waiting.

Pentecost. Tongues of fire. Preaching and teaching as they’d never preached before.

About that time King Herod violently attacked some who belonged to the church, and he executed James, John’s brother, with the sword. 

– Acts 12:1-2 (CSB)

No mention of how John reacted. No doubt he mourned. As the eldest is usually listed first in ancient documents, including the Bible, James was probably his big brother. If John was like other little brothers throughout the ages, he wanted to be just like James. Followed him around. Tried to act and think like James did.

Suddenly, he is left alone. The community of faith, the family of God, remains, but there’s something about losing a sibling. Your first friend. The one who knows you the best.

Something shifts in John as he grows and continues to walk with God. The narrative in Acts slides over to Paul beginning in Chapter 13, and we lose track of the man who begins, at some point, to think of himself as the Beloved Disciple. No more does he want to call down fire on people’s heads. No more does he seek a place of glory.

Dear friends, let us love one another, because love is from God, and everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. The one who does not love does not know God, because God is love. God’s love was revealed among us in this way: God sent his one and only Son into the world so that we might live through him. Love consists in this: not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins. Dear friends, if God loved us in this way, we also must love one another.

– 1 John 4:7-10 (CSB)

Brimstone and rage, power and position…to love.

Another church tradition tells us that, toward the end of his life, John settled on one sentence to sum up the life and teachings of Jesus, a sentence that he repeated over and over again: “Little children, love one another.”

I don’t believe it’s too far a stretch to think that John would be shocked by our practices in the church today, for this Apostle was not only the preacher of love but the great enemy of Gnosticism, a philosophy that downplays the importance of the physical and elevates mystical experiences in the pursuit of secret or special knowledge. Gnostics were either ascetics, denying bodily needs, or libertines, engaging in whatever activities they liked because it didn’t matter. In essence, “thou shalt not” or “do what thou wilt.”

These competing ideas influence us greatly. For some of us, there is fear of the body, and so we come up with long lists of rules. A man must not really be friends with a woman to whom he is not married, and he definitely shouldn’t hug women, because he will of course be aroused and there’s no way he can control himself. (I am not sure if this is more insulting to women or to men). For others, there is shunning of Scriptural ethics. That passage tells me not to do this, but that can’t be what the writer actually meant; they had no concept of this and so I can ignore what’s being said and indulge because God is basically a cosmic hippie who cares only about my happiness.

Neither is healthy. Neither is loving.

In the youth ministry context in which I currently sit, I listen as teens ask, “Do you really love me? Do I really belong?” They don’t always use words, but the question is ever-present. Of course, we tell them, “Yes! Yes!” But they are smarter than we give them credit for, despite the lack of fully developed brains. They watch how we interact with each other. They see our unease, our inability to avoid the extremes. They notice our fear.

Our answers don’t line up with our actions.

When John said, “Little children, love one another,” he meant it. As in, actually love one another. Recognizing that we who have been brought from death to life by the power of Christ are really family, we don’t have to be paranoid around each other. You can give someone a hug if he looks like he needs it. You can say “I love you” to her without having to rush to the marriage altar. At the same time, we also don’t get to cast off good sense and wisdom; we don’t get to make our own rules and demand that God and Scripture submit to them. Instead, we see the goodness and kindness in what God commands, and we ask Him to reshape our hearts into those that beat to the time of obedience.

We have to love one another. Love is listening. Love is responding in grace and truth. Love is playing, eating, serving, sitting in silence. Love is squeezing hands and shoulders. Love is hugs. Love is looking others in the eye. Love is creating space for God-given differences of abilities, gifts and perspectives.

Love is relationship.

The messy, up-in-your-business, no-room-for-hiding relationship.

Not this fakeness we’re used to.

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Worthwhile: Creating a Life of Purpose & Joy in Infertility

Gentle Reader,

“Are you really a woman if you can’t have a baby?”

I’ve been asked this question, in one form or another, many times. It’s on the rude end of the spectrum, and I admit to responding with equal rudeness on occasion. But mostly, I get it. The general assumption, especially within the Christian community, is that woman equals one who gives birth. This is God’s design.

“You must have sinned in a major way. God must be mad at you.”

The bolder sort move from the question to these assertions, which never fails to leave me wondering what Bible people are reading. The God I know is the essence of grace, love and truth. He is not vindictive. He doesn’t engage in tit-for-tat. Can you imagine if He did? We’d all be lost.

This, my friend, is why we must know our theology well…

To read the rest, head on over to Rachel Marie Lee’s site. While you’re there, stay awhile. You’ll find encouragement and hope in her words. Grateful to Rachel for sharing her space with me!

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