Five Minute Friday: Influence

Gentle Reader,

North Idaho has decided that mid-January is the right time for winter to begin. Its residents have been spoiled with unseasonably warm temperatures (for the most part) and a distinct lack of the white stuff, which has been falling from the sky since I got up a little after five this morning because the dog simply could not wait for breakfast any longer. It’s pretty. I recognize the privilege that it is to sit here in my cozy house, drinking coffee while I read the book our youth group is going through. But…I’m not sure that I’m prepared for six-to-eight weeks more.

Kate says: influence.

Make yourself an example of good works with integrity and dignity in your teaching.

– Titus 2:7b (CSB)

I am the non-energized bunny, always ready for a nap or five. The odds of me taking on some great, extended adventure exist within the realm of imaginary numbers. I don’t tackle anything in life with gusto. Give me peaceful walks among the flora and fauna, a la scenes in a Beatrix Potter story. Quiet days. Interesting conversations with friends, pitched at reasonable volumes. 

Not exactly what anyone thinks of when they hear the words “youth worker.”

The first official ministry thing I ever did was run a small group for middle school girls. I still remember their names. I was so young, still discerning the gifts and passions God had given me. If time machines were real, I’m sure I’d cringe at some of the things I said to them. Thankfully, the Lord is big and kind enough to work through our missteps and mistakes.

Life went on. Marriage, work, writing, illness, volunteering. I know now that my heart is to teach Scripture to whoever will listen so that they can receive and respond to the God of, in, behind and around the text. I’ve led adult groups. Briefly served on the church board. Stood as the kid wrangler during children’s classes.

Today – full circle. With the teens again. Chris started a year ago. He knew, right away, that this was where he was supposed to be. It’s taken me longer. Some days, I’m still not sure. I’m older now (34 is practically ancient in our society), so my role has changed. Before, there was a seven or eight year age gap. Now, it’s two decades and more.

I’m stepping into that spiritual mother role. Or maybe spiritual auntie. Someone with a lot more life and lot more scars under her belt. They don’t need me to have all the answers. They don’t need me to be perfect. But they do need me to be honest. And they definitely need me to point them to Jesus at every turn.

God, let me wield this influence well.

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Review: Why Her?

Why Her

Gentle Reader,

Comparison. A trap that keeps us stuck in “less than” mode. A snare that hinders us from developing relationships. A prison that slams its doors faster than we can blink.

Such an ugly word. Such an ugly trait.

I first “met” Nicki Koziarz earlier this year through her study on the book of Ruth, 5 Habits of a Woman who Doesn’t Quit. She is a warm and witty writer, creating an atmosphere of coziness between herself and the reader. I could easily imagine curling up on a couch, cup of coffee in hand, as she and I had a quiet, unrushed conversation. For one such as myself who is admittedly not the best at navigating relationships (why can’t everyone just be logical?), I am very drawn to people like Koziarz who go out of their way to say (or write), “Hey. You’re safe here. We can be real.”

Why Her? is a very real book. Koziarz doesn’t sugar-coat her story and struggles, nor does she shy away from the sordid details of the biblical account of Jacob, Leah and Rachel, a classic case-study in comparison and jealousy if there ever was one. Two women forced to share a husband. One beloved by that husband, the other tolerated. Competition for babies. Drama. Bitterness.

It’s not pleasant.

In the first chapter, Koziarz writes,

When anything other than God becomes our everything, disappointment is soon to follow.

– p. 18

That single sentence is a sermon all on its own. The rest of the book rests on coming to grips with the fact that God knows best. What other women possess or accomplish does not have to be threatening. Their successes do not have to prompt us to jealousy or self-loathing. If we can embrace God as our everything, trusting that He designed and gifted us in ways that bring Him glory and pleasure, we can break free of the comparison trap.

When our desires are front and center and we experience what feels like rejection, we can become so easily offended. Offended by God. Offended by others. Offended for ourselves. But I’ve learned something about all this. Being offended is not a condition inflicted on us. It’s a stance we choose.

– p. 139

Koziarz is right. While it’s natural and even normal to feel sorrow if someone else gets the opportunity we were hoping for, it’s not healthy for us to dwell in that sorrow. We get to choose how we handle the emotions attendant to disappointment and rejection. We get to decide if we will see the world through the lens of competition or the lens of collaboration.

I’m convinced one reason we struggle with a sense of lack in comparison with others stems from the lack of gratitude for what we’ve been given. Without gratitude, our gains in life don’t last very long. Those who sustain their ability to carry out God-assignments are those who walk quietly, humbly and with grateful confidence in what He’s given them.

– p. 157

Quietness, humility and gratefulness do not come easily to us. We have to ask the Holy Spirit for eyes to see the blessings that He has given us and for the ability to celebrate the blessings He gives others. Koziarz shares several practical tips throughout the book that help the reader in this quest. Additionally, she poses simple yet thought-provoking questions that will stay with the reader well beyond the last page.

The world is not kind to women. We are always too much or not enough. Sadly, we have learned to be unkind to ourselves, tearing down when we should be building up, competing when we should be celebrating. Why Her? calls us to embrace and empower each other as the sisters we are. This is God’s good plan for His daughters, the holy warrior-princesses who have no need for arrogance or self-loathing because they know who and Whose they are.

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I RECEIVED A FREE COPY OF THIS BOOK IN EXCHANGE FOR MY FAIR AND HONEST REVIEW.
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Me Too, You Too, All Too

MeToo

Note Before You Indignantly Comment: Yes, I know that not all men do these things. I am not operating from the assumption that they do.

Yes, I know that men can be and are harassed and assaulted. I simply write from the perspective of womanhood.

No, I do not believe or claim that women are perfect and all men are monsters.

Gentle Reader,

I was 11 the first time a boy tried to grab my breasts. Several of us were playing on a trampoline. He lunged at me. I shoved him away. No, I was not mistaken as to his intent. He laughed when I shoved him. Made a rude comment.

Before that, long before that, boys made fun of me for being “too smart” and “ugly.” (To be fair, some of the girls made fun of me for these things, too). Freshman year of high school I even made it onto the official “ugly list.” Yes, the boys in my class made a list detailing which girls they liked and why (suffice it say that “intelligence” and “personality” were not factors). I remember some hand flapping from teachers, but nothing more than that. We girls were basically told to ignore them.

I attended a small, private Christian school for six years, so we got a “purity talk” every year around Valentine’s Day. Boys and girls split into separate classrooms. The boys’ talk lasted about 15 minutes. They went to the gym to play basketball. My junior year, the girls were lectured for close to two hours. Don’t put yourself in a situation where your purity will be compromised. Don’t wear a skirt shorter than this. V-neck shirts are not a good choice. Boys are boys; they can’t help themselves, so you need to have good boundaries.

The message was clear.

We were the responsible ones.

Our bodies, instead of being good, instead of being beautiful because God made them, were inherently dangerous. Seductive. Boys could hardly be expected to exercise self-control. They could hardly been expected to respect us.

Three girls (that I know of) were expelled from school because they were pregnant. One of those girls, her boyfriend attended the school. There was quite an uproar among the students because he wasn’t expelled. (To his credit, he chose to leave, although neither should have had to do so).

I have been groped, pinched, grabbed, slapped, screamed at, cussed out, manipulated, stalked. My “no” has been ignored. When I was a teen, grown men followed me around as I did my job at the library. Teenage boys used to pull my hair, snap my bra straps and even, on a few occasions, when they sat behind me, unhook my bra in the middle of class. I have received pornographic images from strangers on all of my social media accounts, despite having them locked down as tightly as possible.

I am far from the only one who has experienced these violations.

This is why the #MeToo Movement exists.

A movement that should prompt national mourning and reflection has, instead, pushed some to ask the same tired, old questions. Well, why did she/they wait so long to say anything? You know, she benefited from that, so what gives her the right to come forward? What was she wearing? Why did she put herself in that position? Why didn’t she just say “no?”

  1. Everyone knows why women don’t come forward: We aren’t believed. Even if/when we are believed, we aren’t a priority. In this country, there are tens of thousands of untested rape kits just sitting on shelves. Perhaps worse, the majority of perpetrators do not go to prison.
  2. Define “benefit.” And even if a woman did benefit, at one point, from someone doing something wrong, does that mean she can never raise her voice and say, “Yes, that was wrong”?
  3. It doesn’t matter what a woman is wearing. Women who wear burqas are harassed and assaulted.
  4. What position? Being alone with a man? Are we supposed to view all men as brutes who will hurt us? Are we supposed to be able to see the future, to know how this person will behave if we go on the date, take the meeting or have the drink?
  5. “No” is ignored. All the time.

Again, the message is clear.

The responsibility is on us.

This is all rage-inducing enough, but then throw in the fact that the Church – the worldwide people of God – is just as bad at dealing with sexual harassment and assault as everyone else and I genuinely want to tear my clothes and coat myself in ashes. Pastors – perpetrators – who should be permanently disqualified from the office are instead allowed to preach freely. Popular books encourage “lust management” instead of the soul-purity that Christ commands. Instead of the freedom to interact with each other as siblings, as fellow heirs and stewards, men and women are taught to view each other in terms of suspicion and danger – because, once more, men can’t control themselves and women are always and forever temptresses.

I like men. I married one. I have a dad and a brother. Grew up around several uncles and lots of boy cousins. Have always had male friends.

But some of you are wringing your hands. Some of you are saying that you don’t know how you’re supposed to act around women now. Come on. You aren’t that stupid. I know you aren’t.

Treat us with kindness and respect. Listen to us. View us as something more than breasts and a vagina. Something more than an object that exists to satisfy your desires.

Human beings.

Stop trying to roll your sin onto our shoulders. Your lust and bad attitudes – that’s you. Go before God and deal.

#MeToo is also #YouToo and #AllToo. Your sisters are screaming, exposing long-festering wounds to the light. Resist the urge to defend your fellow men. Hear the screams. See the tears. Absorb the full horror. Our torment is part of your experience, because we are family – adopted by Christ.

And family, when it functions the way God intended, sticks together.

Sexual sin – for that is what harassment and assault is – negatively impacts the whole Church. When one suffers, all suffer. There is no room for justifying, minimizing or rationalizing. Perpetrators are not to be coddled, excused, given a platform or hidden. Boys are not to be taught that they “will be boys,” but rather that they will be held accountable for their actions (just as girls are). The Church must become a community that emphasizes justice as equally as it does mercy.

Please, Church. Believe us.

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Photo Credit: Rachael Crowe
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Five Minute Friday: Steady

Along the Way @ mlsgregg.com

Gentle Reader,

I’m a country girl, born and raised near woods filled with hidden creatures and disappearing streams. The sound of owls hooting in the night draws up pleasant childhood memories of smoky barbecue and badminton and fat slugs. More often than not during the hot summer months, dirt gathers beneath my nails, evidence of yet another battle with weeds. The prairie on which I’ve lived for nearly a decade is ringed by ashy blue mountains, like those found on picture postcards. Ten minutes in one direction and one runs into a river. Ten minutes in the other, a lake.

My people – pioneers and farmers and horse thieves – trekked across thousands of miles in wagons or on foot. I know. The history there is complex and at times truly awful. No truly pure saint has ever lived this side of Eden. Still, I can’t help but admire the grit and moxie it must’ve taken to pull up stakes and leave the familiar behind, in the dust. To square your shoulders and press on, toward the hope of something better.

For all my love of London and New York, I could never live in a city. Give me the open spaces, the land where crickets cry.

Doing the link-up thing with the sass machines and the moustache crushes. We pontificate on the prompt: steady.

Go.

I’ll be 33 in roughly six weeks. There is now officially a Stacy London/Rogue of the X-Men/Anna from Frozen (pick your fandom) white streak in my hair. I guess I’m supposed to feel bad about both of those things. That’s what the vague, faceless mass called “society” tells me. Start shaving a few years off my age when asked and scurry off to the salon to hide the follicular evidence.

Why?

See, any day that I haven’t been told that I have cancer or that I’m in need of a transplant or that I’m dying is a pretty good day to me. Why should I waste time and energy worrying about age or hair color or wrinkles or whatever else it is about which I “should” be worrying? I have so little energy anyway. I’d rather spend it in other pursuits. (Not throwing shade at women who dye their hair or spend money on anti-aging treatments; I could not care less. It’s just not my jam). Besides, after experiencing the horribleness of waking up in the the night with a pounding heart, in the midst of a panic attack, anything I can definitively choose not to be anxious over, I will.

Maybe I’ll feel differently a decade down the road. Doubt it. If men become “distinguished” as they age, then so do women. Let’s reject the idea that the fairer sex decreases in value and significance the moment we slip past age 21. (Oh, there’s nothing that could entice me to be 21 again).

Time beats a steady rhythm, one we cannot pause or change. It is out of our hands. A thing we cannot control. All the creams and dyes and lotions and potions and injections and diets in the world will not stop the passing of the days, weeks, months, years. The body grows old. It breaks down. The very steadiness of time creates unsteadiness for skin and bone, muscle and organ.

How comforting it is to know that there is One outside the steady and the unsteady, One who is not ravaged by changing seasons, One whose eyes never grow dim. He is light and fire and radiance and goodness and beauty and mystery. He sits, enthroned, never to be toppled. He knows the number of hairs on our heads – white or otherwise. He determined the length of our lives long before that steady time even existed.

Yes, we age. We break down. Wrinkles and glittering strands and dimmed vision.

And yet – somehow – He builds us up. For the break down is not a winding down, but a winding up. An aching walk toward the Forever Place, the Eternal Home, where pain and sorrow exist no more.

Perhaps we’ll have polka-dotted hair and plaid skin there.

We won’t care.

Stop.

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Photo credit: Daria Nepriakhina