Thursday, April 18, 2019

the unbearable love of Jesus

Today we celebrate Maundy Thursday, the Thursday before Jesus was crucified on Good Friday. “Maundy” comes from the Latin word for “mandate.” In this case, it refers to Jesus’ commandment in John 13:34:

“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.”

The portion of this verse that keeps leaping off the page at me is “as I have loved you.” Before we can fulfill the commandment to love one another, we must have an understanding of how Jesus has loved us. 

When you grow up in the church, you are likely to hear many teachings on the commandments of Jesus and the importance of obedience. As small-minded, imperfect, dualistic-thinking humans, we often reduce Christianity to a list of “do’s” and “don’ts.” I think Jesus’ desire for us is much simpler yet more difficult to carry out than what we tend to make it out to be. In Jesus’ statement, I see a commandment to let ourselves experience and know how Jesus has loved us. “Loved” is past tense; His love for us is already given and available before we have done a single thing to deserve it. 

When my now-husband and I started dating, we were completely smitten with each other. Sometimes when he would catch my eye, his adoration radiated so intensely from his gaze that it felt like looking into the sun without sunglasses on. After a few seconds, I had to look away. William Blake says, “And we are put on earth a little space, that we may learn to bear the beams of love.” Jesus chose to physically bear the weight of the wooden beams of the cross because of His love for us. Perhaps one of the most difficult commandments for followers of Jesus is to bear this unbearable, unconditional, unending love while we are painfully aware of our inadequacy. We are conditioned to hustle for worthiness, but God commands us to simply receive the love that has already been given. The act of receiving and experiencing this unconditional love is radical and transformative. It is an act of resistance in a world that tells us that we must be accomplishing and achieving in order to be worthy of love.

Jesus is certainly a man of action, as we should be if we are His followers, but the action must flow out of a deeply rooted sense of our belovedness. Otherwise, our actions become hollow, self-serving, and unhealthy. When we don’t believe and, more importantly, haven’t experienced love apart from anything we have done to deserve it, our actions flow out of a desperate desire to prove our sense of worth. On a recent podcast interview with Jen Hatmaker, Richard Rohr discusses the difference between finding Jesus’ love when we try to be “a good little girl” versus coming to the end ourselves and finding that we are still loved, despite our imperfection. Crisis positions us perfectly to discover the great depths of a love that never runs out.

How do we move from an intellectual understanding of Jesus’ love for us to a transformative experience of that love? Though God reveals Himself to us in many ways and contexts, the simplest discipline I know of is to sit quietly before the Lord with no agenda but to learn to “bear the beams of love,” as Blake says. When I sit quietly, asking for nothing but expecting God’s goodness, I learn to receive His love apart from anything I am doing. In The Life of the Beloved, Henri Nouwen says, “…the real ‘work’ of prayer is to become silent and listen to the voice that says good things about me. This might sound self-indulgent, but, in practice, it is a hard discipline. …To gently push aside and silence the many voices that question my goodness and to trust that I will hear a voice of blessing — that demands real effort.” 

This “listening prayer,” as I call it, has become vital to my spiritual life. Over time, I can see transformation taking place in my heart. I can enter into worship more quickly without having to wade through as much insecurity. I can more easily trust that God is welcoming me into His presence, even when I’m a mess. When I am about to do something that feels vulnerable, I find myself naturally taking a moment of silence beforehand to let myself be reminded that nothing I do or don’t do will change God’s overwhelming love for me. Relishing even one minute of God’s delight in me can shift the tone for my entire day.

Loved people love people. The amazing thing about “as I have loved you” is that the depth of love Jesus has for us is vast, rich, and multi-dimensional. We can spend our whole lives learning different ways that He loves us and still never come to the end of it. As we learn to let ourselves be cherished, we no longer need to hustle for worthiness. We can more easily believe in abundance, shedding the scarcity mentality that says more for you = less for me. We find rest for our weary souls, and we learn to delight in loving others the way we have been loved.

This Maundy Thursday, may we be people who learn to delight in God’s delight in us. What practices help you to “bear the beams of love?” I’d love to hear from you!

Monday, March 18, 2019

#momand : Bethany, author, foster mom, & parent of a child with Down Syndrome

I’m so pleased to introduce you to Bethany Douglas! Bethany is a #momand author, foster parent, and mother of a child with Down Syndrome. She is a past flight nurse and has spent the majority of her life either in school or in the medical field. She has three biological children, ages 7, 5, and 3, and a foster son. Jesse, her firstborn, is smart, witty, charming, and strong-willed. Bethany and her husband will not be surprised in the least if Jesse ends up ruling a country some day. Jonah is 5 years old and is like a big teddy bear with a heart of gold. Anna is 3 years old and has Down Syndrome. Bethany describes Anna as the light of their family.

Bethany and her husband Gabe began having children a bit later in life. She believes they were more mature and better equipped to be parents because of their age. Her experiences as a flight nurse and a mother have given Bethany a unique perspective on parenting. She had been a nurse for a long time before she became a mother, so this helped prevent some of the typical fears and helicopter parenting that often come with becoming a parent. She began to observe that many mothers were victims of the pervasive culture of fear in parenting. As a flight nurse, she had had a front row seat to a parent’s worst nightmares. 

Though she had never planned to pursue a career in writing, God used these experiences to give Bethany the idea for her book, Helicopter Mom. In the book, she used her knowledge as a flight nurse to create a metaphor for the proverbial helicopter mom. She helps mothers consider a spiritual perspective that can alleviate their fears in the light of God’s truth. Bethany has several manuscripts in progress, but she has less time for writing in these days of raising young children. Though this can be frustrating at times, God has been gracious in revealing that her main purpose in this season is to raise her family. She expects her writing ministry to grow in the coming years. Currently, she writes a weekly blog for an international women’s ministry called Holy Beautiful and blogs on her own website, as well.

Bethany says, “I always told people you never realize how selfish you are until you get married. I think I’ve found that any ounce leftover is quickly taken care of by children.” She says that motherhood has intensified both her positive and negative emotions in every way. As a mom, she experiences more anger and frustration than before, but also greater awe, contentment, joy, and love. The most challenging part of the early years of motherhood was deciding to have a second baby because she loved her firstborn so deeply, she worried that she wouldn’t be able to love her second son as much. God used Jonah, her second son, to show her that love doesn’t have a maximum capacity; it simply multiples with each child. Once she made this discovery, she knew she wanted to have many children.

Bethany met her husband when they were working together at Camp Barnabas, a camp for children with disabilities. They had worked extensively with this population prior to Anna’s birth and had discussed adopting a child with Down Syndrome. They were surprised and delighted to welcome Anna into their family. 

More recently, in the spring of 2017, Bethany and Gabe had what she describes as “this bizarre meeting about how we felt God had put fostering in our hearts—individually… with no knowledge that God was working in the other’s heart, too. It was crazy.” They began pursuing a license for foster care, but these plans came to a halt. That summer, they lost more than half of their income when Bethany felt God calling her to quit her job as a nurse, and fostering was quickly forgotten. 

In August, two former co-workers called Bethany separately to tell her about a baby with Down Syndrome who had just gone into the foster care system. One of the co-workers was the ambulance driver who had taken the baby to the ER, and the other was an ER nurse who had taken care of the baby. Bethany and Gabe took the necessary classes and were licensed in January of 2018. Though the baby girl did not end up having Down Syndrome and was adopted by someone else, Bethany said that God used her to nudge them into preparing to become foster parents, despite their recent loss of income. They have been fostering for a year now and currently have a one year old foster son with special needs. He has significant delays and an undiagnosed syndrome but is blessed with impressive social skills and a wonderful personality. She is extremely grateful for this unexpected, beautiful experience!

Bethany says that having children has shown her much more clearly the father heart of God. Loving and parenting her own children has helped her develop a better understanding of God’s love for her, including the need for discipline and obedience as well as the way He is always rooting for her. In parenting and fostering, Bethany encourages parents to pursue God through it all, as in everything else in life.

You can find Bethany’s blog and information about her book on her website here 

The Holy Beautiful Ministry she is a part of can be found on Facebook here

Tuesday, February 12, 2019

why I'm grateful for panic attacks: anticipating rescue

“For thus says the Lord GodBehold, I, I myself will search for my sheep and will seek them out. As a shepherd seeks out his flock when he is among his sheep that have been scattered, so will I seek out my sheep, and I will rescue them from all places where they have been scattered on a day of clouds and thick darkness."
--Ezekiel 34:11-12

Panic attacks feel like I'm leaving myself, like my rational mind has flown away and the anxiety brain has taken over. When I first started having them on a regular basis, I began to anticipate the predictable rise and eventual fall. The fall feels like a slow returning to myself. My whispered prayer, repeated over and over, has been, "Return me to myself." Though I know God is there in the middle of it, it's very hard to feel His presence at the height of an attack.

When I read the words in Ezekiel, they felt like a description of my anxiety: "scattered on a day of clouds and thick darkness." My mind starts to feel scattered, on warp speed with unproductive, irrational worrying. My very self feels scattered, as though one part of me has left and another part has remained, my anxious body waiting for the Self to return.

I recently heard Lauren Daigle's "Rescue" for the first time and have not been able to get it out of my head. This morning, as I felt my anxiety beginning to rise in response to circumstances, I sang "Rescue" quietly to myself, praying for the Lord to settle me. As I prayed, I felt Him answer me:

I'm going to rescue you a thousand times, in a thousand small ways, over and over until you just come to expect being rescued. It won't be a big event, but many times over again.

Any on-going suffering, be it anxiety, grief, depression, chronic illness, or any number of things, gives us the opportunity to be rescued again and again until we come to expect the rhythm of distress and comfort. I'm reminded of my dad's foster parent trainings in which he explains that healthy attachment between a baby and caregiver happens through the cycle of the baby experiencing distress and then being comforted consistently and appropriately. This cycle repeats itself many, many times, occurring each time the baby is hungry, tired, overwhelmed, sad, in pain, or afraid. Every discomfort is a chance for the baby to develop a healthy attachment to the caregiver who is meeting her needs. Over time, the baby learns that the world is a safe place where her needs are met. Once she feels safe, she can begin to take the necessary risks to learn new things and mature. 

Most of us don't want to be in a position where we need to be rescued. By definition, it means we are uncomfortable and suffering in some way, possibly even in actual danger. But maybe those of us who are weak and in need of frequent saving have been given a unique gift: we are given a thousand opportunities to call out and be rescued by the Lord, developing a healthy dependence on Him that eventually leads us to expect Him to actually be there every time, all the time. Then, maybe instead of anticipating the hardships that will surely come in life, perhaps we can begin to live our lives anticipating rescue. We wish that we didn't need help so desperately and so often, but if we're going to be vulnerable in this way, let's milk it for all its worth. Let's not miss one bit of the treasure hidden in the secret places of suffering. Suffering can be so isolating, but it allows us to have those life-altering moments where we look around, see that we are in a place no one else can go, and then find Jesus there.

Then, one day, as we are singing the love song that only pours out from one who has been rescued countless times, we will find that we are in good company. Many others who have gone before us, will come after us, and are currently standing by us are singing the same song to the same good God. We are the rescued ones. We will find ourselves in deeper and deeper intimacy with Him until we realize that had we never needed saving, we would have missed out on the relationship that has come to mean more to us than anything else in the world. 

When He spoke to me those intimate words this morning, painting a picture in my mind of Jesus coming to save me many times, day by day and moment by moment, I found myself overwhelmed by His completely irresistible love for me. So today, I find myself in the odd place of thanking God for panic attacks. The next time you see me taking deep, calming breaths, don't worry. I'm just anticipating rescue.

Tuesday, February 5, 2019

dreams deferred

Two years ago, almost to the day, God completely changed my life. In November of 2016, I remember talking with a friend and telling her that I felt like something was coming, but I didn’t know what it was. As we sat together in her car in the parking lot, she prayed with me and helped me spiritually prepare for I-didn’t-know-what.

That same month, my mom sent me an email about a conference she thought I might be interested in. I was just coming out of haze of taking care of a new baby. She had just turned 1, and I was finishing up breastfeeding, still praying for her to sleep through the night. I had battled postpartum depression, anxiety, long-term sleep-deprivation, and illness after illness due to a weakened immune system. When I read the email about a Beth Moore conference for women who were felt called to ministry through speaking, teaching, and/or writing, my own future was the furthest thing from my mind. I was still trying to make it through one day— sometimes one moment—at a time, riding the waves of hormonal shifts that accompanied the rapid process of weaning my baby.

In February of 2017, through a series of unlikely events, I found myself sitting in a room with over 700 other women, worshipping God and then waiting expectantly to hear from Beth Moore. She wasted no time in getting started, talking a million miles an hour like she does, and began to take us through the processes she follows in preparing for speaking, teaching, and writing Bible studies. I sat there in shock, thinking, Is THIS what I’m going to be doing?? I felt like I didn’t belong, but at the same time, I was strangely certain that I was supposed to be there.

As we stood worshipping the Lord together, I prayed that God would let this be a turning point. I didn’t even know what I meant, but looking back, “turning point” is the most accurate description I can think of for that weekend. I had a powerful encounter with the Lord and left there trying to make sense of it all. My two goals after leaving the conference were to get back into the habit of reading my Bible every day and to dust off the cobwebs of my brain and start writing regularly again.

When I read the Bible, it became alive to me as never before. Bible study became an interactive experience. For the first time, I practiced sitting and listening for the voice of the Holy Spirit and then acting on what I sensed Him saying. As I read scriptures, my mind exploded with questions and new revelations that overwhelmed me again and again. I had an insatiable hunger and thirst for learning and began absorbing everything I could from books, conferences, workshops, podcasts, and people. I began a deep-dive into the Enneagram and then began learning about issues related to racial justice. I was thrilled with the new sense of purpose, overwhelmed by God’s goodness as He revealed Himself to me in new ways. I felt an undeniable need to share everything I was learning, so I wrote and wrote, started a Be the Bridge group, and began finding small opportunities to teach other adults for the first time.

Everything happened so fast. 

Until it didn’t. 

Last summer, my daughter and I battled chronic illness, and I found myself in survival mode again. Everything I had been working on came to a screeching halt. It felt like such a loss, but underneath the sadness, I worried that I had messed up somehow and that everything God had lavished on me in the past year was going to be taken away. I lost momentum on some projects and felt discouraged. Even the weather has mirrored a state of dormancy. This winter has been so grey and wet and dreary. My continued struggles with health issues and anxiety have left me wondering if I just need to accept this new reality.

Then. On Sunday, our pastor preached about worship, and we had extra time to worship freely after he encouraged us to let go of our inhibitions. We talked about worship as a way to fight battles. Sunday morning, I fought hard. I raised my hands, knelt to the ground, and shouted declarations of truth as we sang together. I prayed and heard from God and cried through nearly the whole service. I left feeling emotionally and spiritually spent but hopeful for a breakthrough. 

Yesterday, the fourth day of February—our coldest month in Texas—was sunny as the temperature climbed to a balmy 80 degrees. I took my children to the park and we basked in the sunshine, and the whole day, I felt hopeful again, like maybe everything that has been hard wouldn’t last forever. My spirit felt lighter and happier. This morning, I woke up feeling energized, grateful that for the first time since I can remember, both children slept though the night. I woke up early, relishing the dark and the quiet. Then the Lord showed me Isaiah 43:19:

Smack in the middle of the verse, the question came at me over and over again, as though the Lord Himself were standing before me and asking, “Will you not be aware of it?” 

Suddenly, I knew He was telling me that He is at work, and I thought of the scene in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe when the Beaver says, “Aslan is on the move!” I have seen the Lord “on the move” before, and I could never have predicted where He took me. I am ready and expectant, reminded yet again that His plans are so much better and bigger and more adventurous that anything I could dream up. Today, in answer to His question, “Will you not be aware of it?”, I pray that He will give me eyes to see what He is doing and where He is leading, though I suspect it will be hard to miss. 

If you are in the space of dreams deferred, languishing in an eternal winter like in Narnia during the reign of the white witch, don’t believe the lie that the Lord has forgotten you or the dreams He gave you. Ask Him to give you eyes to see the new thing He is beginning. Look around for signs of new life breaking through the cracked soil. Though everything may seem quiet and dead, He specializes in resurrection. Dormancy allows the death of the things that needed to go. God always takes the death of things He prunes and turns them into rich soil for the birth of something new. 

Oh God, give us eyes to see You breathe new life into our dreams deferred! 
Will you not be aware of it?

Thursday, January 31, 2019

#momand : Deborah, mom of a child with special needs & a rare disease

Meet Deborah Rice, mother of two and parent of a child with special needs and rare medical condition called PANS/PANDAS. Her children are Jayden, who is 10, and Aria, who is 4. As she has learned to navigate this diagnosis and all of its implications, she has become an advocate for other families affected by the disease.

Before she became a mother, she was addicted to her work. She loved getting ahead in the business world in her role of managing high-end jewelry stores. Though she had always wanted to be a mother, she wasn’t sure whether she would be able to because she suffered from severe endometriosis that required multiple surgeries. After a couple years of trying unsuccessfully to get pregnant, they had a surprise pregnancy and were blessed with the birth of Jayden.

Because Deborah was so invested in her work, the transition to motherhood was difficult at first. For the first two years, she flew back and forth between Las Vegas and Boston for work every other month. When Jayden was almost two years old, Deborah became a Christian. At that point, her priorities in parenting shifted as God began to reign in her heart. She sensed the Lord showing her that her demanding work schedule was not in alignment with how he wanted her to fulfill her role as a wife and mother. Six months after becoming a Christian, she quit her job in order to stay at home with her son. Later, she went back to school, but Jayden’s diagnosis does not allow the time to work a traditional job outside the home. For now, her work includes ministry, writing, and advocating for families affected by PANS/PANDAS. She enjoys coaching women who are stepping into their calling and is also piloting a program for high school seniors at her church.

Jayden was developmentally delayed as a baby but caught up in most areas. He was diagnosed with high functioning autism and a reading disability. Deborah’s second pregnancy was difficult but led to a special bond with her daughter, Aria. Through the complicated pregnancy, Deborah learned to trust in the Lord. She describes Aria as being full of life and smiles, incredibly smart, and a light in showing Deborah how to be the parent Christ has called her to be. Through Aria, the Lord has taught Deborah about strength, perseverance, love, and patience. 

Just under two years ago, Jayden began to display an onset of concerning psychiatric behaviors that eventually led to a diagnosis of PANS/PANDAS. PANDAS stands for Pediatric Autoimmune Neuropsychiatric Disorders Associated with Streptococcal Infections. Deborah describes it as an autoimmune response in which the body has an abnormal reaction to the strep infection. This causes inflammation in the brain, which can lead to various degrees of symptoms including but not limited to sudden changes in behavior, OCD, anxiety, tics, personality changes, and intrusive thoughts. In practical terms, she says it felt like she had suddenly lost her child as she knew him due to the extreme and sudden changes. PANS stands for Pediatric Acute-Onset Neuropsychiatric Syndrome, which is very similar to PANDAS but is not associated with strep; instead, it is linked with other infections and viruses.

Since Jayden’s diagnosis, Deborah has learned a lot about the disease and has become an advocate for families affected by it. While PANS/PANDAS can present in a completely psychiatric way, Deborah has learned that sometimes there are medical reasons for the onset of troubling behaviors. She and her husband have seen the difference antibiotics and other non-psychotropic medications can make.

Because of these experiences, Deborah has a strong desire to educate and help others. She has a dear friend who lost a child to the disease. In advocating for these children, she is fighting for her friend, her own family, and every other family that has suffered as their child seems to “go missing within their own brain.” Though we tend to view many behavioral issues and mental illnesses as being separate from the medical world, Deborah is learning that they can be closely linked. She believes that many children end up in psychiatric facilities due to a lack of awareness about PANS/PANDAS. If children display sudden and alarming changes in behavior, she recommends checking for medical reasons first and considering whether the child has been consistently sick. Jayden had had strep eight times within an 18-month time frame, and his behavior improved noticeably when he took antibiotics. Deborah has learned that gut health and the ability to metabolize food properly are also factors. She recommends asking doctors lots of questions and trying to get at the “why” behind medical issues. Her advocacy involves sharing her story, praying, and raising awareness. Her family has joined in medical hearings at the capitol, and Jayden’s case has even been used to help fight for better insurance coverage for this diagnosis.

In addition to the medical and physiological aspects, Deborah believes that there is a spiritual component to these experiences, as well. She is confident that the Lord has a mighty purpose for Jayden, which makes him vulnerable to spiritual attack. Despite, and even in the midst of, the adversity he has faced, he is on a mission to share the love of God with everyone around him. He preached at church when he was just 8 years old. Also, Jayden raised $2000 within just a few weeks by speaking at different organizations. The money was used for his school to put in a “buddy bench” for kids who need a friend at recess. He was in a facility while in the middle of working on this project but did not let that stop him from meeting his goal. Since then, he has begun work on new kindness projects. While he was in a facility, he prayed over all the kids—many of whom had experienced abuse and trauma. He read scriptures over them and told them about Jesus. 
An article appearing in 501 Life Magazine about Jayden's buddy bench

To address the spiritual aspect, Deborah and her husband have been learning about spiritual warfare and joined a trusted pastor in fervent prayer for Jayden’s healing. One night, Deborah and her husband were praying together, asking desperately for the Lord to help. Though there was not a cloud in the sky, they saw a bright flash of light at the foot of the bed, where there was no window. They believe the light to have been an angel. Within two weeks of this incident and after seven months of searching, they finally found a medical professional who was willing to take on Jayden’s case. Jayden was only the second case this physician’s assistant had seen, and even before any bloodwork was done, she was confident of the PANS/PANDAS diagnosis. Deborah knows that this was the Lord’s answer to prayer because the very next day, Jayden was institutionalized, and if he hadn’t had the diagnosis from the day before, he might not have been able to get the antibiotics he needed while in the facility. 

Though the Rice family has been on a long and difficult road, they have experienced firsthand the grace and goodness of God provision. They hope that sharing their story will be an encouragement to others who are struggling.

You can follow Jayden’s Journey on Facebook here.

For more information about PANDAS, click here. On this site, you can search for doctors by state. 

Thursday, January 17, 2019

lies I have believed

I feel it creeping in again against my will. Rationally, I know I am fine, but my body rebels against my mind and tells me something isn’t right. Sometimes when I name my anxiety, it becomes a passenger that I know will come along with me for a while and then leave. Other times, like today, it keeps pulling at me, and I feel like it has pulled me down. I fight to avoid becoming overwhelmed.

Why is it that as I have gotten closer to the Lord, my battle with anxiety has raged on with greater fury and frequency? Even though I know better, sometimes I still feel ashamed of this struggle. I’m tempted to think that it’s because I’ve done something wrong or haven’t had enough faith, as though if I could just be good enough, the struggle would fade and I could move through life with ease.

As I prepare for my quiet time with God, I feel a nudge to get an old journal instead of the new one I selected for 2019. 

Sometimes, you need to be reminded, He whispers. 

I get my Bible and journal, and before I begin, a text pops up on my phone with a song* my sister has sent. I sit down and close my eyes while I listen to this song that reminds me that God works through broken people. The tears race down my face. 

I am confronted with my weakness again and again, Lord. I’m so tired. 
The struggle seems relentless.

When the song finishes, I feel strengthened and a little more hopeful. I sit in silence for a brief listening prayer, receiving whatever gifts He deems appropriate to lavish on me this day. Love, joy, peace, patience, self-control, faith… these words seem to fly through the air, into my mind and heart. 

As I wait to see if He will direct me in what to read, instead of a scripture, a date pops into my head. January 14th. I know I need to find the journal entry for that date, to be reminded of something, as He said. I begin the search for January 14th. Every time He sends me on a search like this, I wonder if it’s really Him. I wonder if I will even find an entry for that exact date. It takes some time, but I find it.

About a year ago, I began a practice that I have since forgotten. (Scroll to bottom of post to see a picture.) I would take a short passage of scripture and write down a line or phrase at a time, leaving space below it to record a response underneath. In the space below the Scripture phrase, I would use a different color of ink to write my own thoughts, questions, ideas, or extra information from my study Bible in response to the Scripture. The passage for this entry was Isaiah 62:2-4, 12. As I read through what I wrote this time last year, God reminded me of who I really am. The scripture is in italics, and my thoughts are in blue. I wanted to share for anyone else who needs a reminder today:

v. 2 …You shall be called by a new name, which the mouth of the Lord will name.
Your identity will come from God. He loves you enough to name you and has an intimate knowledge of who you are/were made to be.
New name: Rev. 2:17 and Rev. 3:12 - God authors our transformation as well as our new name.

v. 3 You shall also be a crown of glory in the hand of the LORD, and a royal diadem in the hand of your God.
I will bring God glory, point to Who He is, and add beauty. We are precious to God - His inheritance in us - Ephesians 1:8.

v. 4 You shall no longer be Forsaken, nor shall your land any more be termed Desolate;
Old hurts, pain, sin, wrong identity will pass away. No longer alone, no longer dry, isolated, afflicted, not bearing fruit, without purpose.

But you shall be called Hephzibah, and your land Beulah; for the LORD delights in you, and your land shall be married.
Hephzibah: “My delight is in her” 
Beulah: “married.” 
God delights in me. His delight in me will define me (be my name) — how others will see me and how I will see myself.
Married - one with God, permanence, commitment, intimate, sought after, honored, wooed, protected, provided for, beloved, wanted.
I will be defined by His delight in me and my intimacy with Him.

v. 12 And they shall call them The Holy People
Set apart by God

the Redeemed of the LORD;
Baker’s Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology: “The central theme of redemption in Scripture is that God has take the initiate to act compassionately on behalf of those who are powerless to help themselves.”
I am defined by His act of compassion toward me when I cannot help myself.

And you shall be called Sought Out, A City Not Forsaken.
I am pursued by Him, worth fighting for. He hasn’t left me. I have significance and purpose.

Praise God for His goodness in reminding us who we are when we forget! If you are facing a struggle that you feel powerless to overcome, He acts compassionately on your behalf. He delights in you and defines you by His delight, not by anything you could do or refrain from doing to make yourself more lovable. Join me today in the joy of trading the old lies you have believed about yourself for the Truth of who you are in Him!

*This is the song my sister sent:

**Here is a picture of my journal to show the method I described of writing and responding to Scripture:

Thursday, January 10, 2019

My Body is Not a Conversation Piece: when small talk is not so small

Ladies, we need to talk. To start with, I'd like to share an excerpt from my book-in-progress:

“Rachel!” a voice said.

Rachel looked up to see a long-time friend approaching her. 

“Marion! Hello! Sorry, June’s having a rough morning.”

“No worries, I totally understand! I won’t keep you. I can see that you’re busy, but it’s good to see you! We’ve missed you at book club!”

“Thanks! I’ve missed you guys, too! Just a little overwhelmed right now,” Rachel smiled weakly.

“I know how it is. The newborn days are tough. Hang in there! You look fantastic, by the way! Sooo thin! I’m jealous!” Marion flashed a smile before waving and continuing down the hallway.

Rachel thought of all the meals she had started and never finished since June’s birth, partly because she and James traded off holding June during the “witching hour” at dinner time, and partly because she had so little appetite lately. It was hard to relax and eat when June was screaming and crying for hours at a time. She thought of hour after lonely hour of breastfeeding June to soothe her in the evenings when she was so fussy that nothing else worked. She thought of all the foods she could no longer eat since she had cut dairy, soy, red meat, and gas-producing vegetables from her diet in response to June’s probable food allergies. It was unintentional, but the pounds had dropped rapidly after giving birth, and her weight was now well below what it had been before pregnancy. 

She sighed. At least I’m thin, I guess, she thought to herself, though she wondered if she wouldn’t rather be overweight, well-rested, and free of anxiety. Remember this when you gain weight some day down the road and feel bad about it, she thought. Remember that you’d rather be happy, even if it means being less thin. Remember how hard this was.


The above text is an excerpt from my book-in-progress. Though it is fictional, it is based on real experiences, thoughts, and feelings. During every one of the hardest seasons of my life, I have lost a significant amount of weight unintentionally due to anxiety and/or physical health problems. Every time, people notice. As I’m muddling through whatever crisis is happening at the time, people who see me at church, in the neighborhood, at the grocery store, or on vacation comment on my weight.

When this happens, I never know how to respond. If I give a real response, (“Thanks! It’s because I’ve had a chronic illness for six months and haven’t been able to eat.”), it feels inappropriate because I know the comment was meant as small talk. The thing is, though, my weight should not be the subject of small talk. Small talk is for things that are impersonal and relatively inconsequential, like commenting on the weather or what you had for lunch that day. In a society where women’s sense of self-worth is so closely related to their appearance, when did it become ok to talk about my weight as though it were of no more consequence than the oatmeal I had for breakfast?

On the other hand, if I respond to the comment as though it were the small talk the speaker intended it to be, I am perpetuating the problem. Thanking someone for noticing my body when all I want to do is hide doesn’t seem helpful to me or to other women. Perpetuating the idea that weight loss is automatically a sign of health and the result of hard work feels disingenuous because that has not been my experience. At all. Because weight loss is so inextricably linked to deteriorating mental and physical health for me, when someone compliments my weight, I immediately begin to wonder what they will think of me when I get healthier and gain weight again. I can’t pretend anymore that no one notices, so if I’m “good” when I’m thinner, what are people saying and thinking when I’m healthier but heavier?

I know that the people who compliment my weight have no ill intentions, and they are simply responding to the same system of cultural norms that plague us all. I don’t want to shame anyone. However, I do think this is a conversation worth having, so I thought maybe we could have it here, divorced from any particular incident.

Ladies, we need to talk. If we are going to keep talking about our bodies in casual conversation, let’s do the conversation justice. Let’s talk about a few of the things our bodies actually are. 

Our bodies are couriers, allowing us to carry out the will and message of God. Our hands are agents of comfort, hard work, and healing. A mother's hand comforts her child by stroking the hair. A writer expresses all the ideas floating about in her mind through strokes on a keyboard so that her words may be carried far and wide. A surgeon's fingers work carefully with incredible precision to remove whatever harms and repair what has been broken. Our legs carry us to the far reaches of the earth for work and pleasure and ministry. The same legs allow us to walk the short distance that can seem impossibly far to cross a room to initiate an apology or comfort someone who is hurting. Sometimes our arms let us hold onto what we love, and sometimes they rise up in surrender as we let go of the things that are holding us back. For many of us, our bodies allow us to realize our God-given dream of becoming a mother. For me, even when I have been unwell and felt that my body was betraying me, unable to adequately protect and nurture the lifeless body within it, it paved the way for an intimacy with and dependency on the Father that I had never experienced before. 

Our bodies are the temple of the Holy Spirit—the container where the Almighty God of the universe has chosen to take up residence. This is no small statement of fact. We carry the all-knowing, all-powerful, healing presence of the One true King with us wherever we go, and Scripture says that nothing can separate us from His love. Our bodies are physical reminders of Emmanuel, God with us.

Our bodies are imago dei, God’s image. We were crafted carefully, made in God’s image—all of us. Every. Single. One. We are His image-bearers, so whenever we look at one another, we are beholding the sacredness of God. When we begin to really believe that every single person bears His image, we value each other as family and begin to listen to one another’s stories that we might develop love and understanding and acceptance for His children.

Our bodies are unparalleled wisdom. If we learn to listen, we discover that, unlike our hearts and minds, our bodies never lie. They hold wisdom that we can gain access to if we will slow down and validate what they are telling us. They let us know where we are carrying stress, anger, fear, anxiety, joy, peace, and wholeness. They tell us when we need to speed up or slow down or pay attention. We read books and pay professionals and run around in circles trying to figure out what we need, but I wonder how often our not-knowing comes from ignoring the wisdom our bodies have to offer.

Our bodies are gifts. As I get older, I am beginning to view my body less as a thing—or THE thing—that defines my self-worth and more as a precious gift entrusted to me to steward. When I wash my hair or exercise or eat good food, I feel an almost maternal love flowing from my soul to my body. In her book Traveling Mercies, Anne Lamott says, “You tend to your spirit through your body.” Every act of physical self-care tells my body, “Let me take care of you. You’ve worked so hard. Be refreshed. I love you.”

For some people, losing weight is an indicator of health and well-being, but for others, it is quite the opposite. Dear sisters, could we make an agreement? Unless we know each other well enough to know how the other is really doing, can we keep our small talk focused on actual small things? On seeing that I have lost a significant amount of weight, the people who know me best would look at me, pause, and say, with concern in their voices, “Are you doing all right?” And then, like the grocery store employee that I have been chatting with for years in the aisles of the grocery store and who took a surprisingly maternal interest in my well-being after I had a baby, they might say, “Don’t forget to take care of YOU.”

My sisters, our amazing bodies are many, many things, but a conversation piece—the subject of small talk—should not be one of them.

For additional posts on body image, see:

What I didn't tell you at church on Sunday

Reflections on Embody Love Movement