of gentleness… and anvils

I’ve always wished I was one of those “soft” people.

Not weak, of course. But tender. With no rough edges. The kind of person whose presence makes you feel calm. The kind of soft that responds carefully and with compassion, rather than jumping to judgement and self-righteousness and a “my way is right” way of thinking. Without defense and thought of how it all affects me, but considers what else might be going on in the situation.


A very soft person has come into my life recently. I’m in awe of her. She responds to everything in love. She is always concerned for me and how I am adjusting to a whole new life. She is ready to jump in and help whenever it’s needed, and often anticipates needs I could never foresee. When a difficult situation arises, she has this way of making it all better without compromise for what is best.


She is modeling to me the great fruit of the spirit: gentleness.

I’ve far too often felt like a bull in a china shop. Stumbling over people with my agenda. Running wild and free with a grand plan ignoring everyone else’s. And any warning signs along the way. My clumsiness has gotten me in trouble so many times, I’m not sure numbers go high enough to count.

But also isn’t even about “getting into trouble,” honestly. That would be as if I just didn’t want to get caught in my sin, rather than actually not want to sin… to be changed from the inside out. To not “appear” like this bull is like the Pharisees with their shiny and polished cups on the outside. To actually not be the bull is to have a fully clean cup. 

Matthew 23: 25-26


For years, I’ve tried so hard to be the gentle and wise person on the outside (with varying degrees of success.) I make so much of trying to appear soft, that I think if I fix that part, the actually being soft will follow. It’s just like trying to glue the fruit onto the branch. So I know, deep down in my heart that I am going the wrong direction… so why do I keep going back to doing instead of learning about the being? For the task is so much easier for me to understand and grasp then the abstract idea of being present and considering everything holistically.

Deep-seeded in this sin of mine, and it may even be that all-important root (i.e.the idol, not just the surface sin) is self-righteousness. It’s a very strange thing knowing that I have a very low self-esteem, but realizing one of greatest sins I struggle with is self-righteousness. But it makes sense. I’m

simply looking for other ways to make myself feel better, and I am looking externally for those things. How I appear to the world is one of the ways I do that. And believing I know better than so many others is my sick and twisted way of trying to feel better about myself, forgetting how this causes me to view others as less than.

I don’t know how to be gentle. Maybe I never will. But I guess I can take some solace in the anvil. Knowing that I am being reshaped and formed into God’s image. An instrument is only useful if it’s the right shape for the task set before it. If I’m on the anvil, it means God still see me as worth reshaping.


sandcastles

Sitting on the soft mound of dirt and sand, I carefully craved a long and narrow path with my hands in this sandbox. Digging deeper in some places, I created ups and downs for the water to flow. Then dragging the water hose over, I filled up this path and began to imagine and dream.

The summer of my 11th year I was obsessed with making sandcastles. Every morning I first threw on a t-shirt and shorts, ran out to the barn to feed the rabbits. Carefully pouring pellets into their bowls and filling the bottles with water for the day, I impatiently did my chores. Then I was off to the sandbox my dad created, where I’d spend hours building.

It wasn’t really a sandbox. It was just a pile of sand over by the shelter of trees protecting our property from the country road that would often kick up dirt during the dry season. The sand mixed with grass and dirt, and when I added the water so I could have the all-important moat, it nearly turned into mud. But I had figured out how to contain the moat to perfection and even create a bridge with a discarded piece of wood… imagining the bridge drawing up to protect the princess from the dragon.

Small buckets created the tower and painstakingly I would create finials at the top of each tower, creating places for those watching over the princess to hide behind and shoot arrows at the dragon. Smooth out the sides perfectly, I created towers and towers of different sizes and shapes. It was my dream home. I relished the moment when I filled up the pathway with the water, watching it rush through and around the castle I built. This would protect the princess even more.

I look back on that summer of building sandcastles and wonder if there was some kind of metaphorical dragon in my life. I was clearly the princess, but at 11 years old, living a very sheltered rural farm life, I can recall no dragons. Perhaps the dragon simply resided in the holes of my heart. But for one perfect summer, those sandcastles created happiness with my hands. And my heart.

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Rise

 

I first learned about Rise back last Fall, thanks to a few tweets from friends. Then I had the first hand of experiencing the power of what they do in April, when I attended the Festival of Faith and Writing in Grand Rapids.

I had the pleasure of writing this piece for them on their launch day. They have re-branded and are continuing to do amazing things to equip women to serve the church.

Read my piece here, where I wrestle with the tension between grace and the law.

pause

I was staring at my computer screen on Tuesday night, working on an article. I’d read through some feedback I got from a respected writer friend. He told me I had several places to move into the active voice.

(I’ve never been very good at keeping the voices consistent when I write.)

This week, I realized why.

As I read back through the parts I needed to change and considered what the active voice phrasing should be, it all rushed back to me. The moment I was describing, the moment of pressing, vulnerability, and the pain the followed.

Writing is pausing.

Good writing should be, I think. Tears were streaming down my cheeks as I relived that moment. I couldn’t keep writing and rewriting. I had to pause and remember. The rush of feelings forced me. To pause.

(I’m also not very good at pausing.)

In a world full of distractions, pausing is so much harder than it should be. Because pausing means pulling out and putting away all those distractions and sitting in the moment, sitting in the pain, sitting in whatever we are trying to avoid with all those distractions.

Pausing makes us feel.

I’m in the heart triad of the Enneagram. But my wing crosses over into the head triad. Much of the research done on this type talks about how fascinating that cross over is for the person. For me, it’s a simple as what my counselor always says to me, “You try and think your way out of your feelings.”

I do. So I must learn to pause, for there is where my feelings lie.

 

include

I am linking up for Five Minute Friday a five minute free write with a word prompt each week. Today’s prompt is “Include.” http://fiveminutefriday.com

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I think we spend most of our lives wondering if we’ll be included.

Wondering if we will get an invite to that thing we heard about. Wanting to be part of that one group of people that seems like a perfect fit for us.

And then our feelings are hurt when the invitation doesn’t come, and once again we see that group of people together and they smile and wave at you, but don’t invite you in.

What might it look like for us to flip the switch? To make room at our table for others rather than hoping to be included at the tables others have prepared? To buy that extra chair and placemat, to dig the leaf out of the closet, open up the table, and make it bigger?

There is rejection in both, surely. One makes you feel more in control than others, I suppose. Both involve a little bit of hope. One feels more empowering than the other, because let’s face it, when someone invites you to their table, we still aren’t sure how long we’ll get a place. We still might feel like the odd one out, the one with the different colored placemat and who doesn’t have the matching glass.

But the other opens your heart a bit more. When we include others rather than ourselves waiting to be included I’ve discovered it makes me much more open to hearing the other’s story. The other one always makes me feel like I’m trying to prove my worth​ in my own story. So what if we all learned to include others rather than worry about being included ourselves?

for what is small is not at all

It was such a small thing.
But it didn’t feel small.
And then I realized… that was sort of the point.
Lots of us have our online “community” of friends. People we interact with on facebook, twitter, etc, that we have not met in real life. We might someday, but for now, we’ve connected online likely because of similar interests or perhaps political views. Either way, it’s a community. It’s different from those in real life, of course, but it still feels faithful to call it a community.
A new and large part of my online community comes from one thing we all have in common: the subscription to a magazine called Christ and Pop Culture. Part of subscribing is a membership to a private Facebook group where we interact on all things Jesus and pop culture related. From there, friendships are “formed” and twitter followings have begun.
This is a story from that community.
I suppose it started when Matt Poppe and I followed each other on Twitter. I have no clue who followed who first. Then Matt wrote this article about why he abandoned the Billy Graham rule. (https://www.fathommag.com/stories/tired-of-making-enemies-out-of-allies) How a desire to keep himself from following through on a sin very much at the forefront of his life – lust – led to something sinful as well: seeing women as the threat. Not the sin.
“it was increasingly difficult to see my sisters as anything other than an unwelcome threat to my righteousness and reputation, a minefield to be avoided rather than a relationship to be nurtured. “ Matt writes.
By the end of the article, I was simultaneously sobbing and cheering. And I’m still processing why. 
Being a woman in church leadership is painful. More often than not. It can range from simply being frustrated with yourself that you didn’t say the right thing in a certain moment to feeling exhausted and overwhelmed at the expectations placed upon you… and most harmful, second-guessing everything you feel in your bones from the Lord about your call. 
It’s that last one I’d like to intersect with Matt’s article.
The church has a long way to go before its marginalization of women ends. From refusing to allow women to stand behind to pulpit to expecting women to see their highest calling as motherhood, the church has hemmed women in so tightly to a cultural narrative that we feel strangled each and every day. It’s hard enough for a woman attending a church, much less one who works for one.
But then this.
 
To see in black and white a fellow believer (and married man no less) call me “sister” broke me. My heart stopped a little and then the tears came and I was just… awash with gratitude.
He called me “sister”.
Like I said, it started so small, and then I realized why it wasn’t small at all.
I’m on my second career, my third home, my fifth car, my third computer, my second guitar. I’ve been called a feminazi because I dared say women have equal value than men in the eyes of God. I’ve been discounted for my theological hutzpah because I only do family ministry (and not “real” ministry) I’ve been emotionally abused by a boss who was also a pastor, and I have been not-so-gently nudged behind a pulpit that I wasn’t sure I was ready to stand behind.
My own story is as complex and it is layered, common as it is unique, and sad as it is joyful – just like the tears when I read Matt’s tweet. For no man has ever be willing to say that to me personally, in the context of Christianity. NONE.
The church has a long way to go. May these moments as small and as big as a tweet serve to push it further down the road.
Us women need it.

 

in the bleak midwinter

I’ve always been more comfortable in melancholy and sadness, more so that the average human being. It’s something that 2017 taught me to lean into more, but also be careful of, since it can lead to unhealthy ways of thinking and skewed perspectives on reality.

So I’ve been in a place where I’m learning to own this part of my personhood, but trying hard not to let it sink me deep into a place where I don’t belong. It’s a tricky tightrope, one I’m thankful to walk because it means I’m learning healthier ways to find proper perspective, rather than just the tried and true “snap out of it” attitude that is so prevalent in my culture. And I’ve never been more aware of that as I have this Advent season.

This advent season has so far been full of a lot of joy… but also a lot of sadness. It’s usually just sadness for me, so I’m thankful for those joyful moments. I’ve also learned to be thankful for the sad ones because in both I learn more about who God has created me to be, and who he wants to mold me into being.

And there are few things that help me see these truths in the way music does.

Christina Rossetti is one of the greatest poets of the 19th century in my mind, having written more than 50 by the time she was 16. (This is my story, too, those hers were much much better.) Her sense of longing and sadness has always resonated with me, and never more so than in the song In the Bleak Midwinter. I own several versions of the song, with my favorites being the Choir of Christ’s College and The Brilliance’s version from the Advent, Volume 2 album.

In the bleak midwinter,
frosty wind made moan,
earth stood hard as iron, water like a stone;
snow had fallen, snow on snow, snow on snow,
in the bleak midwinter, long ago.
 
Our God, heaven cannot hold him, nor earth sustain;
heaven and earth shall flee away when he comes to reign.
In the bleak midwinter a stable place sufficed
the Lord God Almighty, Jesus Christ.
 
Angels and archangels may have gathered there,
cherubim and seraphim thronged the air;
but his mother only, in her maiden bliss,
worshiped the beloved with a kiss.
 
What can I give him, poor as I am?
If I were a shepherd, I would bring a lamb;
if I were a Wise Man, I would do my part;

yet what I can I give him: give my heart.


The beauty of this poem for me is how it perfectly juxtaposes both despair and sadness… the despair and sadness of being a follower of Christ. Every day I am wrecked by the ravages of the Fall, and yet every day I live in the reality that Jesus came, lived, and died for me. For the rescue and redemption of this world.

Our hope lies in the truth expressed in verse two, that heaven cannot hold our God… that he will come to reign. The ravages of the Fall have made me poor, living in the bleak midwinter.

So what can I give him? I can give him my heart.