Sometimes, when I post a photo of my family on Instagram, I consider being brutally honest and writing about all the chaotic “things” which happened before and after the peaceful pic was snapped.
(You know, like how someone had just finished crying because of a stubbed toe or how someone subsequently got angry about something her sibling did…)
One of my daughters has been suffering anxiety of late. She was enthusiastic about people and all things new, but in the past few weeks, she cries and begs not to go to places where there will be large crowds.
My son just went through a year of cancer treatments, and while we are finally finished, there is no guarantee the cancer won’t return.
At night, he breaks down. He wonders why life is so hard, and why the doctors’ appointments and surgeries never end and, and, what if he got sick tomorrow?
And I feel as though I am always trying on new hats, looking into this career then that like a frenzied bird, never alighting to say, “Aha! This is me. Now I can simmer down.”
Perhaps these struggles are common to most people, or maybe they are unique to my family.
I do believe that suffering and hardship are an integral part of the human experience.
You know what makes everything harder than it should be?
Fear’s messages sound something like this:
You should have…
Why did you....
What’s wrong with your child?!...
I could/would never have done that…
Just trust God…
Well, look on the bright side…
At least it’s not xyz…
Have you ever heard these mantras, friends? Have they been directed at you?
Have you ever said them yourself?
It's all right if you have. I know I've certainly said my share.
On Why My Family Really Doesn’t Fit The Proverbial Mold...
Have you heard the term “neurodiverse”?
According to Google, neurodiverse means “displaying or characterized by autistic or other neurologically atypical patterns of thought or behavior; not neurotypical.”
I love using this term because instead of labeling people whose brains are wired differently as “bad” or “disabled”, I get to use a descriptive term which implies that “normal” is a spectrum.
The neurodiverse are just more “diverse” in how their minds work.
Using “neurodiverse” also puts the onus on those of us who are more like the majority of people (neurotypical) to learn, learn, learn how the neurodiverse person thinks and moves through this world.
Having a family with members who are neurodiverse will sometimes make you stand out like an annoying sore thumb, especially in the standard places where people gather to socialize.
Church can be overwhelming for a child with sensory sensitivity: loud noises, crowds, weird smells, etc.
This makes church extremely painful for neurodiverse kids.
And most churches and church classes are structured to cater to neurotypical folks.
I’ve read stories about moms with neurodiverse children being told their littles cannot attend Sunday School or being asked to leave a church service because their kiddos were being too noisy or “disruptive”.
Then there are social groups, parties and functions.
Parties are so so fun for most children, yet for some children, they are torturous.
How This All Plays Out For Us In Everyday Situations
For us parents of the neurodiverse, we are always “on call”.
Our kids will appear to be clingy and whiny while your kids are skipping around and having fun.
We may not really get to visit with you much, though we are longing to.
We experience every stare and every question at 100% magnification.
It is as though folks are standing on boulders screaming through megaphones into our ears.
Yes, we know we seem strange.
Yes, we know our kids aren’t enjoying themselves like most of the other children are.
Yes, yes, yes, we wish our kids were having fun like yours. Of course we do.
No, we are not more overprotective than the average parent.
If our littles wanted to run and play and galavant, we would be thrilled.
Yet, It’s All Really A Gift...
Do you have an idiosyncrasy or quirk? Do you have any pet peeves no one really gets?
Do you hide these things so as to “fit in”?
Hiding is a luxury the neurodiverse do not have. Their struggles are always on display.
In spite of the constant hand-wringing and book-reading involved in the parenting of the neurodiverse, I am so incredibly grateful for my children.
They are truly a gift.
They are a gift because they have handed me empathy and compassion on a platter.
When I see another mother whose child is "unreasonably" clingy or who is having to rush home earlier than all the other moms, my heart goes out to her. I know how she feels.
When I read why many parents of neurodiverse children do not attend church, I get it.
My babes are a gift because they have taught me that true freedom is not found in “fitting in”; it is found in loving what I have been given.
They have taught me to look inward when I feel pangs of envy upon seeing families easily enjoying themselves in this world.
What does my sudden jealousy reveal about me?
My children have taught me that it is okay to dance to the proverbial beat of a different drum.
My decision-making thought-process often goes something like this:
“Everyone says we should be like xyz; but so what? We’re not everyone”.
My diverse family has given me the gift of stopping and resting when I have wanted to go, go, go.
The Myth Of The Lonely Sufferer
As you know, I’ve been reading The Universal Christ by Richard Rohr. I feel as though I am having an ongoing dialogue with everything in the book.
In one chapter, Rohr points out the universality of grief: all grief is really one grief.
Like, you know when you are sad about something and it builds up to a breaking point? And then, while you are crying, you think of more and more and more sad shit and the floodgates open? And soon you are weeping about the problems of the whole wide world?
I used to think it was wrong to weep that way.
Like, come on lady, you’re being too dramatic.
But now I see that weeping for the weight of the world is my participation in universal suffering.
And this connects me with Christ.
Grief and pain and heartache, loneliness and isolation and being misunderstood are opportunities to experience Christ's suffering, which in turn is an opportunity to connect with all of humanity’s suffering throughout all of history.
I still say, fuck cancer and fuck mental illness. All this needless suffering is devastating and shitty, and we should not paint it pretty.
There’s a reason God wept at the tomb of her friend.
So what is my point?
My point is that wherever you park while reading this post, however you are currently feeling, I hope you know that when you most taste your brokenness, you are indeed less alone than you've ever been.
You are in the sweaty grimy company of the hurting multitudes. You are in the blood gushing, nail-pierced, rejected and scorned company of the Suffering Christ.
“A Crucified God is the dramatic symbol of the one suffering that God fully enters into with us— much more than just for us [...].” (The Universal Christ, 162)
And so, dear one,
Weep all you need.
Do you hear the multitudes weeping with you?
Then,on the next clear star-studded night, drive out into some open field .
Turn off your car so's you can step, step, pitter-patter, naked-feet-to-spongy-soil, kiss, kiss.
Listen to the chirruping crickets and the breeze that's tousling that tall grass, snap, crackle, pop.
Let the glorious night air gulp up your exhale: out, out, out.
Do you hear it?
That rhythm, that beat, that cacaphonous melody of your one and only, uniquely-you drum?
Go ahead, crank up that beautiful music, dear, dance all crazy-like.
And when you pause to choke up some air, open your eyes.
You might glimpse me there, cavorting, snorting holy-night-air, caught up in my own hullabaloo, me being me...
Can you see it? The truth?
You're always, always, free to be you.
International news headlines always come to me in full color and with surround sound.
I attribute this to the fact that I grew up in another country.
I hear on the news about Syria, and I see a child, half-clothed, running, lost and scared, mouth wide with fear, eyes wild, confused, choking down snot, dripping tears, tripping ‘cross potholes dotting dusty streets, and wondering.
Where’s mommy? Where is she? Where did she go?
The child’s fear of abandonment having indeed become his reality.
I see mother’s rocking dead children, cradling them desperately, wrestling time itself.
If only. If only. I would have protected you with my very body, my own life, little one. If only.
I see spouses helplessly seething, beholding in agonized helplessness their beloved’s beautiful bodies being pillaged, plundered.
I am yours and you are mine. I, me, you, us. It isn’t enough. It’s. Not. Enough!!!!
I see family’s leaving homes which once felt cozy and safe in great haste, wondering whether they will ever again find such an abode, knowing that if, in the off chance they do, their deepest selves have been uprooted so as to never rest, really rest, again.
Home is gone. Rest is gone. I am displaced, alone.
I tell my children bits and pieces. They must know. They must know this world is not safe, easy or just for so many. They must know the privilege they have been born into. They must be inspired and moved and indeed unsettled.
To whom much is given, children.
And the questions come. What can we do?
Indeed, friends, what can we do?
We can refuse to live in fear. We can step outside of our pet politics and our favored political parties and SEE the real people behind every press release. We can let our hearts break.
We can refuse to remain ignorant. Research, friends. Read articles from a variety of news outlets. Do not let your hearts harden. Keep an open mind.
We can enlighten those around us.
We can volunteer and give.
I won’t even pretend I’m an expert on world events or humanitarian crises. I won’t pretend I’ve done a great job of giving or volunteering.
But I refuse to let my own faults and shortcomings keep me from writing my heart. Every little bit of good we do is worth it.
Love matters. Compassion matters.
I’ve been convicted of late as a light has been shone on my desire, indeed lust for, safety, security and peace.
Have a listen to these podcasts:
Looking Through A Lens of Compassion
It’s deeply ingrained within my crusty American heart to store up wealth for my future, for those “just in case” moments.
Not to mention that I just love a good shopping trip; the feeling of carrying armfuls of bountiful plenty home is intoxicating and as good as any drug.
But, am I called to love money and security? Is my spirituality to be measured in how much I have, in how good a steward I’ve been whilst doling out my monthly 10%?
Long have I pondered the Parable of the Talents (Matthew 25: 14-30), because upon first reading it, it made no sense.
I could not understand why the servant who had been given one talent and then buried it (in order to save it for his Master) would be so harshly condemned.
Hadn’t he been careful with the money he was given? At least he did not go out and squander it, right?
And why were the servants who took risks with the money they’d been given praised?
Why does the parable describe the Master in this way: “[...] a hard man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you scattered no seed [...]”, considering the Master seems to be a depiction of Jesus?
The parable indicates that it was right to take risks with the money because of the qualities of the Master (mentioned above).
I’m sure there are a myriad of deep meanings to this parable, and that I am only skimming the surface, but here’s what occurs to me as I ponder it:
I’m pretty sure this means I need to step out of the way and let my heart soften. I need to let go of the fear which encourages me to hoard safety and security, abundance and fun.
I can do this because I am part of a kingdom that doesn’t value wealth or power or hoarding. It values growth and giving, risk-taking and fearlessness.
I confess that even writing these words terrifies me. I know them to be true. I know it, deep in my bones. But I’m afraid.
If I let my heart soften, what will God ask of me?
In the stillness and dust which settles in the wake of that messy question, there hangs this portrait of abundance, multiplication.
And I’m simply sure I’m supposed to show up every day, whatever that means, with a soft and tender heart, unafraid.
In the wise words of Anne Lamott, “If you give freely, there will always be more.”
Have you ever made an agreement with someone who has then broken that agreement without so much as a word?
I’ve certainly been the person who forgot about an agreement or cancelled at the last minute.
Let’s take this question a step further.
What if you confronted the agreement-breaker and she acted like she had no idea what you were talking about?
What if she went on to treat you like something was wrong with you for imagining you had ever made an agreement with her?
When incidents like this happen, it puts you in a tight spot.
First of all, it places all the blame for the broken agreement on you.
Secondly, it moves you from an offensive position to a defensive one.
And thirdly, it leaves you in a lose-lose battle of “my word against hers”.
I have had companies I bought products from treat me this way. It is very difficult to get a refund when this happens.
A good term to describe the above situation is “gaslighting”. Gaslighting is a form of manipulation which causes you to question your own sanity.
Watching someone you love being “gaslighted” is infuriating. Especially when the person doing the manipulation is a close family member.
Often, manipulators who gaslight go out of their way to turn the people closest to you against you.
They subtly discredit you.
They may tell your friends, “Did you know Carissa lied to me yesterday??” or they may ask them, “Have you ever wondered if everything Carissa says is true?”
If a person like this is in your life, chances are that when your friends and family members are around, they will take the opportunity to make sarcastic comments or jokes aimed to mock you.
(Check out this enlightening article to help you spot more signs of manipulation: https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/communication-success/201510/14-signs-psychological-and-emotional-manipulation.)
Then, if you act hurt or defensive, they will criticize you for being too sensitive.
To make matters worse, a gaslighter will engage in a vicious cycle with you in which they treat you kindly when you hit your lowest point. They may even show you “grace” when you mess up.
Once you run back into their embrace, however, they will begin the process of subtly and not-so-subtly discrediting you, criticizing you, and lying to you all over again.
Pretty soon, the real you will disappear, replaced with someone who is confused and out-of-sorts, someone who needs the gaslighter to tell her what to do, someone other than Real-you.
I’m willing to bet that at some point in your life you’ve come across this sort of toxic manipulation.
The only solution I’ve found?
Refuse to let this person into your life.
If the person is already in your life, draw some very big boundaries around yourself:
Here are some excellent tips in addition to the thoughts I shared above: https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/communication-success/201406/how-spot-and-stop-manipulators.
Unfortunately, I believe many “Christian” churches use manipulation as a tactic to control people.
When our oldest child was preschool age, he came to us after Sunday School claiming that another kid in his class had put his hands around his neck.
Horrified, we asked our son whether or not he had told the teacher what happened.
He said he did, but the teacher didn’t do anything about it.
We decided it was time to speak with the pastor of the church. Ironically, his wife was the Sunday School teacher.
In our meeting, we simply asked the pastor that the teachers be made aware of what had transpired so it would not happen again.
We said we did not want to reveal the teacher’s name, afraid the pastor would think we were criticizing his wife.
The pastor, however, pressed us for the teacher’s name, and we finally revealed who it was.
He then mentioned he would look into the matter.
He also cautioned us not to be “too overprotective” of our son.
Do you hear the subtle shaming message here?
“Don’t be too overprotective”...
Already, we were not to be taken seriously, since we were “protective parents”.
The following Sunday, the pastor informed us that his wife had no memory of the incident or of our son bringing it up during class.
Now we were in the awkward position of wondering who to believe: our son, or his teacher.
Foolishly and naively, we ignored the red flags, and, bearing some shame and doubt upon our shoulders, dropped the matter.
A few Sundays later, my husband happened to be looking out a church window when all the Sunday school students and teachers went outside to play games. To his utter astonishment, a group of children formed a circle around our little boy and began to push him back and forth, in full view of the church.
That did it.
We decided to leave the church.
My husband had some obligations he had to fulfill there, but I never brought my children back.
Years later, I shared what had happened with my therapist. I still blamed myself for the whole incident, and wondered if I was indeed too overprotective.
The therapist helped me to see that what had really been going on was spiritual manipulation.
While this is one way a church may manipulate its members, by not believing them when they have critiques or complaints, there are multiple other ways churches manipulate.
If you are never allowed to ask questions, this is a red flag.
If the leader or leaders of the church seem to have all the answers and are never wrong, that is also a red flag.
If you are compared to others, whether individually or corporately, say, for how much money you give, that is a red flag.
Here is a useful article outlining the warning signs that a church is engaged in spiritual manipulation: https://relevantmagazine.com/god/spiritual-manipulation-how-spot-it-and-what-do-about-it/.
It is never bad to trust your instincts, my friend. You and your family do not deserve to be ignored or put down.
Everyone agrees that the theater of politics often involves manipulation.
I’m not going to get into critiquing one political party over another, as I think both parties engage in varying levels of manipulation.
I do believe manipulation is subtle and occurs slowly over time. For this reason, being aware of the warning signs can go a long way towards keeping you from being sucked under someone’s control.
Here is an excellent resource to use as a litmus test: https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/in-flux/201610/9-classic-traits-manipulative-people.
Some of the questions I ask in regard to politics are:
There are so many more excellent questions we could ask. It’s worth googling for resources on how to spot manipulators/manipulation.
If you recognize the qualities of a manipulator in someone you either know or are in a relationship with, it’s worth seeking therapy so you can learn how to spot the deception and set up boundaries.
About two years ago, I found myself looking for therapists in my area.
The therapy I went through was enlightening and healing.
I learned to set boundaries and not feel guilty for doing so.
I learned to love and value myself.
I learned coping strategies to deal with certain trauma which lingered inside of me.
I have grown so much through the process of being hurt and then healing.
It gives me a glimpse of the beauty in that ol' death-to-life paradox.
I feel her.
Her whispers tickle my ear,
Breath, holy zephyr,
“There is no hope without despair, honey
No risen without dead
Darling, love never says
When I laid this banquet
I invited the least and the lost,
The broken and confused
Your Belief-castle’s brittle,
Without bending it will break
Come closer, child,
Forage, find out,
A secret revealed holds no allure,
Can there be passion without desire?
Cry out, darling,
There is no succor without want.
True joy is paired with mourning
Hunt for me, honey,
There’s no seeking
What’s been found
For only she who loses her life
Will find it.”
"God is always bigger than the boxes we build for God, so we should not waste too much time protecting the boxes." -Richard Rohr
I used to worry that if I asked too many questions about my faith, God would punish me.
I grew up hearing how illness in a Christian was God’s discipline: depending on a person’s “walk with God”, illness was either punishment for wrongdoing or a trial-like test of faith.
How can we know whether our suffering is a punishment or a trial, I wondered?
My son was born premature and had to remain in the hospital for six weeks. One night, the doctors were concerned about him. Not to be dramatic, but we spent that night terrified our son was going to die.
I searched my heart.
Was I not trusting God enough?
Had I sinned in a big way recently?
How could I know which types of behavior constituted punishment and what sort of faith warranted trial?
I heard many cautionary tales over the years: so and so was gay, and they died in a car wreck; someone was filled with faith-questions, and they were diagnosed with cancer; such and such a city was carnal, didn't care about God, and was hit with a hurricane.
I was taught fear was a good thing:
First, because fear of hell forced me to see I needed a savior. Fear was an excellent tactic for rescuing people.
Second, because fear kept me on the “straight and narrow”. It encouraged me to obey God without question.
What the people who instilled a healthy faith-fear in me failed to realize was that fear gave me a skewed view of God which kept me from fully experiencing God’s love and acceptance.
It also gave me a judgmental stance toward “others” who weren’t "walking with God".
Then I had children.
I vividly remember when my oldest child, a son, reached 18 months of age, the prescribed spanking age a la Focus on the Family.
I recall gazing into that little boy's clear blue eyes and imagining the pain, betrayal and hurt I’d see there if I spanked him.
I stepped into his little world and pictured life from his point of view.
Here was his mommy, who he ran to when he was in pain, or hungry, or tired, or anxious. His safety net.
What if one day, Mommy hit his hand because he became curious or distracted and touched something mommy said not to touch.
He would snap to attention, smarting, stung, and look into mommy’s eyes, wondering why she hurt him, wouldn’t he?
He would still love mommy, but he would feel a teensy bit scared of her.
Over time, and multiple repetitions, he would either become terrified of accidentally not hearing his mommy’s commands and therefore getting punished, or angry and vicious and ready to fight in his own defense.
Fight, flight, freeze would become the rhythm of his childhood.
And though perhaps his mommy would tell him she always loved him, unconditionally, he would know experientially that unconditional love did not, could not, in fact, exist in the face of Perfect Justice.
Therefore, he would never feel 100% safe with mommy.
He would never fully rest.
Additionally, when he messed up, he would wonder if he needed to be punished first (or even punish himself??) in order to be welcomed back to his mother’s arms.
While I pondered my son’s emotional reaction to corporal punishment, a verse went ‘round and ‘round my head, a veritable ping pong ball spouting truth:
“There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.” (1 John 4: 18)
So I chose not to spank my son.
Over the years, I was touched again and again by the vast profundity and power of God’s love as I parented my children without wielding fear as a parenting tool.
But some things still confused me.
Though I believed God’s grace was wrapped around me tightly and that God loved me unconditionally, God still scared me:
You see, I believed in a punitive God who demanded death as payment for my sins.
Yes, I believed Jesus paid for those sins by offering his life on my behalf, and that I was forgiven. It's just that some things didn't add up.
Why did Jesus have to hide me from God?
As I understood it, if Jesus ever so much as stepped out of the way, God’s wrath would be pouring like hot lava all over me, right?
This is the reason we sang songs every Sunday thanking and thanking and thanking God for saving us, wretched wriggling bottom-feeding worms that we were.
I couldn't wrap my mind around a Trinity seemingly at odds with itself, wrapped in a vortex of wrath and appeasement, bloodthirst and forgiveness.
Why were God and Jesus so different in their attitudes towards people?
The Punisher and The Martyr.
I felt as though I was in the middle of some ancient Greek myth.
Must I, should I, ought I be afraid of God?
When I was repentant and weary, I ran to the forgiving arms of Jesus, while simultaneously wondering where the punishing blow would land.
Was God really this punitive and bloodthirsty?
Did God demand my death in recompense for my sins?
Some scriptures seemed pretty clear on this subject.
Yet, what about this verse (John 3:17):
“For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him?”
This verse sounded like God and Jesus were about doing the same thing: saving the world, not condemning it.
In fact, if God was about redemption, renewal and restoration, and not about insatiable wrath, then I needn’t fear.
But how could I reconcile God’s wrath, which never stopped pouring out, with God’s redemption?
Not that long ago, I discovered there were multiple theories of atonement (aka why did Jesus die?).
The theory which I had always held to was called Penal Substitution, but that was not the oldest theory.
As it turns out, there were several other theories which were even older than Penal Substitution.
The most ancient theory is called Christus Victor. This theory depicts Jesus and God working together to defeat the powers of Satan, sin and death.
Here is a brief summary of the main atonement theories across the history of the church: https://www.churchtimes.co.uk/articles/2018/29-march/features/features/is-there-one-doctrine-of-the-atonement-ransom-substitute-scapegoat-god.
I urge you to study these theories and ask these questions (as well as others):
How were these theories influenced by the culture of their times?
What do they have to offer? What do they tell us about God? What do they say about us as humans?
What are their drawbacks?
When all is said and done and the dust of your queries settles, what is left?
For me, what was left was this: Jesus crucified and risen; the Godhead working to redeem me from sin, evil and death.
The more I read those New Testament books, the more convinced I became that the focus ought to be on resurrection, not death, on peace, not wrath, and on restoration, not judgment.
When all was said and done, what did the risen Jesus mean for this whole wide universe?
What did God want, ultimately? I'm still pondering this one.
Sometimes, while I was wondering about God, asking if there were things I had gotten wrong, I would have the strangest experience.
I would be thinking, and my muscles would all tense in anxiety. My stomach would ache. Fear would grip me so tightly, I’d lose my breath.
What was I so afraid of?
I could not put my finger on it.
I was talking about this fear with my husband one day when he said, “If God does not allow God’s people to question God, then God is a fearful God and not really all that powerful in the end. God should be able to handle our questioning.”
I sat with the questions.
I began to embrace the inevitable mystery that comes with “I don’t know” answers.
Meanwhile, I imagined God, holding all those answers.
I let go.
It was not my job to know everything, to have it all fit neatly into a box.
After all, if God could be perfectly explained, why should I pursue knowing her? Why should I ask her hard questions?
Didn’t God invite and encourage a yearning after him?
“As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God.”
The truth was, I yearned after God more when I was questioning then when I was holding on to a God I could explain.
I realized my version of God had become a sort of idol.
For so long, I stood at the ready, armed with arguments to defend this god in case anyone tried to attack it.
I had forgotten that the true God was so much bigger than me.
God didn’t need my apologetics.
God needed me.
I decided it was time to let go of the god I had fashioned from my own limited understanding: the god who threatened me and scared me, the god who would be out for my blood if I went too far off the beaten path.
If God said God was love, it was time for me to embrace that.
If the Bible seemed to be wrestling with an issue, it was time to acknowledge that, to realize that faith involves struggle and dissonance, that there aren't always easy answers, but that the questions can lead us to wisdom.
There is this story about Jacob, who received a blessing and a new name after he struggled with God.
“Your name will no longer be Jacob, but Israel, because you have struggled with God and with humans and have overcome.”
What if God didn’t ever want to be fully defined, other than with the fullness alluded to in the phrase, “I am who I am”?
What if God wanted endless quest, endless wonder, endless relationship-desire?
I had to let my version of god die.
Then I stepped back and gazed in awe at the shadow, the enigma, the great loving mystery before me.
Of late, I have been reading The Universal Christ by Richard Rohr. I have been in awe of the many ways God steps into our world to be known by us:
“Most of us understandably start the journey assuming that God is “up there,” and our job is to transcend this world to find ‘him’. We spend so much time trying to get “up there,” we miss that God’s big leap in Jesus was to come ‘down here’. So much of our worship and religious effort is the spiritual equivalent of trying to go up what has become the down escalator. I suspect that the 'up there’ mentality is the way most people’s spiritual search has to start. But once the real inner journey begins—once you come to know that in Christ, God is forever overcoming the gap between human and divine—the Christian path becomes less about climbing and performance, and more about descending, letting go, and unlearning. Knowing and loving Jesus is largely about becoming fully human, wounds and all, instead of ascending spiritually or thinking we can remain unwounded.”
One day soon, I will write a post about everything this book is teaching me, but for now, that is an excellent intro.
I no longer live in fear of what God will do to me because of all the faith-questions I have. I do not worry that if I’m wrong about something I believe, God will strike me with some sort of punishment.
God’s love has to be love in its purest form if it is really love. And I believe it is.
Breathe in, breathe out,
Focus on your breath as it enters and leaves
Allow distraction to flow past you like water
I am in a barren brown-dirt land
A peace rests in me and around me,
It sits in the air,
Mouth-watering and tangible
I watch as
Leafless gray vines knit a dome over me
Leaving gaps for the light
I feel warm,
So safe and secure,
My body tingles in anticipation
Then I hear it,
All my secrets,
All the hidden doubt and insecurity,
And the myriad things I haven’t yet discovered
The voice speaks.
Is it deep?
It is a well filled with water…
Is it soft?
Oh yes, yes it is,
Tender on my ears,
Mother with newborn babe,
“I know you,
I know everything about you,”
And though I understand The Voice sees my awful ugly
And all the hurt I’ve ever caused
I feel no shame
I swim in the ecstasy of
And I know something too:
This is what Love tastes like.
The best pastors I know have this uncanny ability to speak words which directly apply to what you are going through in life. It is as though they have insight into your soul.
This, I believe, is one way God’s spirit moves.
And when it happens, you are left reeling, open, vulnerable... seen.
I haven’t shared much about this on my blog, but my son was diagnosed with cancer about a year ago.
Throughout the grueling treatment process, a few wonderful pastors walked by our side.
When our son first received his diagnosis, one of the pastors sent us the following message:
“The main thing we’re going to do for now is: we’re going to keep getting together [...] on Sunday nights to sing and pray and listen to Jesus. We’re going to keep refilling our reserves of faith, hope, and love. And you will know, whatever is going on in your family life, in the hospital or elsewhere, that there is this little group of people clinging stubbornly to faith, singing in the dark, even if you can’t on any particular day.”
Somehow, these were the exact words we needed to hear.
After our son’s cancer treatments ended, we began attending this church. The pastor regularly greeted us with hugs and tear-filled eyes.
Throughout our time there, we have been blessed, nourished, filled and challenged by every message preached.
This pastor is a Reverend and a a Doctor, and I can honestly say she is a wise, intelligent and eloquent pastor who listens to the spirit’s voice.
If I believed women shouldn’t be pastors I would be missing out on so many blessings.
This leads to my first big thought...
Perhaps you are “happily” settled within your own personal belief framework, confident women shouldn’t preach, happy with your male pastor.
You may be wondering, “What’s the big deal?”
Why should we spend our precious time trying to figure out whether or not women can preach?
Why Is It So Important To Figure Out What Women’s Roles In The Church Ought To Be?
Well, for me, the answer is obvious: it matters to me because I’m a woman.
I remember a time in my life when I thought women should not preach. An elder in my church (a man) asked whether or not it bothered me that God was always referred to as a man and never as a woman, though God is not gendered.
At the time, I had no answer. I never seriously considered the question. But the query stuck, and I am so glad it did.
Because God says these things about godself:
“Yet it was I who taught Ephraim to walk, I who took them up in my arms; but they did not know that I healed them. I led them with cords of human kindness, with bands of love. I was to them like those who lift infants to their cheeks. I bent down to them and fed them.” Hosea 11:3-4
“Like a bear robbed of her cubs, I will attack them and tear them asunder…” Hosea 13:8
“As a mother comforts her child, so I will comfort you; you shall be comforted in Jerusalem.” Isaiah 66:13
“Can a woman forget her nursing child, or show no compassion for the child of her womb? Even these may forget, yet I will not forget you.” Isaiah 49:15
“Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!” Matthew 23:37
Who better to help us understand the heart of God portrayed by these metaphors than a woman?
Men (and women) are missing out if they do not hear women interpret the Bible through their unique lens.
As evangelist, feminist and abolitionist Sojourner Truth famously wrote in her speech “Ain’t I A Woman?”:
“Where did your Christ come from? From God and a woman! Man had nothing to do with him! If the first woman God ever made was strong enough to turn this world upside down all alone [sic] together women ought to be able to turn it rightside up again. And now they are asking to do it, and the men better let ‘em.”
The issue of a woman’s role in the church— Can she lead? Can she preach? Can she pastor? — is so so important, friends.
It is important to our full understanding of God.
It is important because the church is missing out on so many wise and powerful voices in not hearing from women: https://carolyncustisjames.com/half-the-church/.
It is important because women are equal to men in every way.
It is important because many women experience a pastoral calling, and ought to be leaning into that calling.
Now, before anyone stops me with some choice Bible verses claiming, “But the Bible says women can’t preach!!!”, let me point out some incredible women the Bible extols.
Wise, Strong, Brave: Women In The Bible…
These are just a few of the many women the Bible extols.
Of course, I have heard alternate interpretations for these stories.
I have heard Deborah led because there were no men available to lead.
I’ve heard that Junia was really a guy named Junius.
In the end, we all bring our own point of view to the biblical text.
If we are certain the Bible has a patriarchal agenda and that women should not teach men, then we will be quick to explain away the stories of Deborah and Mary (at Jesus’ feet).
If we believe God created men and women as equals, then we will see in these texts an incredible precedent for women in spiritual leadership.
After you read the Bible and read who God is throughout, what do you think is the best interpretation?
I see God as loving.
I see God as a God who rejects any kind of human hierarchy, whether based on gender, wealth or intelligence.
Therefore, I believe God wants women to lead in the church if they are so called.
10 Reasons I Disagree With The “Women Can’t Pastor” Interpretation Of The Bible.
As I was pondering women in the church, a thought took my breath away: when God told Mary she would have a child out of wedlock, God appeared to her, not to her father or even her future husband.
God wanted to know if Mary was willing to bear a child out of wedlock and carry the shame which would accompany such an affair.
God gave Mary choice over her own body.
God spoke DIRECTLY TO MARY.
And this was at a time when the entire world (it seems) was patriarchal.
If there is any doubt God communicates directly with women, look no further than the story of Mary.
God did not tell Mary, “your future husband will protect you” or “your dad will protect you”.
Instead, God let Mary stand on her own two feet. This communicates a confidence in Mary, in her strength, her dignity, her courage and wit.
After God spoke to Mary and Mary said "Yes!" to God's request, she penned the following words:
My soul lifts up the Lord!
My spirit celebrates God, my Liberator!
For though I’m God’s humble servant,
God has noticed me.
Now and forever,
I will be considered blessed by all generations.
For the Mighty One has done great things for me;
holy is God’s name!
From generation to generation,
God’s lovingkindness endures
for those who revere Him.
God’s arm has accomplished mighty deeds.
The proud in mind and heart,
God has sent away in disarray.
The rulers from their high positions of power,
God has brought down low.
And those who were humble and lowly,
God has elevated with dignity.
The hungry—God has filled with fine food.
The rich—God has dismissed with nothing in their hands.
To Israel, God’s servant,
God has given help,
As promised to our ancestors,
remembering Abraham and his descendants in mercy forever.
As I read the final stanza of Mary's poem, I cannot help but see prophecy in her words.
Mary responded to God's call upon her and heard God's voice. She was filled with gratitude and words of spiritual wisdom and insight.
Now it is time for us women of faith to do likewise: listen to God's voice, follow God's call upon our lives, do God's work with courage and dignity.
"It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery."
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I'm a busy mom of three asking hard questions about my faith.