Always?


One of the best parts of teaching at the school where I work is that our students regularly lead us in worship. And our praise band is “if they cut a record I’d buy it” good. 

They are talented, but they are also so honest in their walks with the Lord. I spend enough time with them each week to know their hearts. I see them worship with abandon and then get snippy with a friend or parent. I know they’re fallen and fallible. And they know it, too, which is one reason I love them so much.

Tonight was Awards Night, and our praise band and chorale led us in a time of worship. We sang Chris Tomlin’s song “I Lay Me Down,” and when we got to the bridge, the student leading closed her eyes, raised her hands, and proclaimed, “This is my favorite part of the song,” before singing the statement, “It will be my joy to say Your will, Your way, always.”

Immediately my heart responded, “Always?” I realized that so much of my silence, my frustration of the last two years has been that it has not been my joy to say, “Your will, your way.” Not at all.

This time six years ago, I was working at the YMCA in Wake Forest, NC, interviewing to teach history at an English speaking international school in Kabul, Afghanistan. I was chasing my dream: Bekah Mason, world traveler for Jesus.

Four weeks later I was living with my parents, back home in Chattanooga. No job, no degree, no globetrotting.

It was not my joy to say, “Your will, your way, always.”

It was not my joy when a counseling position I was developing for a ministry with a local office didn’t receive needed funding and was eliminated.

It was my joy to receive a phone call about a long term sub position to finish the school year at a local Christian school. 

It was my joy because I had always wanted to teach there, AND it was for the remainder of the 2009-2010 school year, after which I intended to move to Louisville, KY, and begin my PhD. My plan, my joy.

Six years later, through changes in departments, internships, starting and failing that PhD, coaching, learning, and loving, it has become my joy to be here still. Not my plan, but still my joy.

I am reminded of the man in Mark 5 whom Jesus delivered from the legion of demons. The text says that the man was imploring Him that he might accompany Him. And He did not let him, but He said to him, “Go home to your people and report to them what great things the Lord has done for you, and how He had mercy on you.”

Go home to your people. For those of us with a wanderlust that is often unquenchable, there is no joy in Jesus telling us to go home. 

I love the travel, the short term, the excitement of new places and people and challenges. But my life is not about me, and in these last six years, I have learned one valuable thing about myself: to stay is to be known, and being known is a hard part of sanctification. Being known means tears and vulnerability, it means people knowing your weaknesses. Being known can be terrifying, but to be useful in community, we must be known.

The girl who moved to seminary nine years ago with plans of never coming home has ended up back in the same zip code her family has lived in for 21 years. I live in my grandmother’s house, teach at the school my sister attended, have the children of my friends in my clasess, and it is my joy. 

So is it my joy to say, “Your will, your way, always” in my heart? I’m still not there. But He is. Through the urges to run away, to self-destruct, to doubt and question and second guess. HE is always, and He is enough to bridge that gap on the days that I haven’t quite found my joy.

Because, you see, He is my joy, and He always finds me.

Guest Post: Give Her Wings Book Review


As many of you know, I serve with a ministry called Give Her Wings, whose mission is to “raise gifts and money for mothers who have left abusive situations… to give these brave ladies a chance to get on their feet . . . to breathe . .. to heal their broken wings and fly free again.”

Megan Cox is the director of Give Her Wings, and is herself a survivor of domestic abuse. She tells her story and provides insight into the experiences of domestic and spiritual abuse in her book Give Her Wings: Help and Healing After Abuse.

I recently asked several friends in different areas of ministry to read Megan’s book and write a review for us that gave their response to the book and how they could see it being used in their particular ministry. 

The following is the response I received from Sarah Mitchell. Sarah and I attended seminary together and served alongside one another in a variety of ways during that time. Sarah has served overseas and is currently serving in the (more than) full time role of wife to Chris and mother to their three preschoolers. The Mitchell’s live in Salem, VA, where Chris is the pastor of Tabernacle Baptist Church.
A dear friend of mine knows how much I love to read and how I used to like to write…well, I still like to write, I think, but I haven’t in forever (something about 3 kids 4 and under!). Anyway, I digress already! So, Bekah asked me to read a new book, knowing that the book would be a helpful resource as a pastor’s wife in a local church.

Naturally I was excited to get to read a book that was both hot-off-the-press and a potentially useful resource. Little did I know how helpful this little beautifully written book would be over the last couple of months. A lady I know is currently struggling with the decision to stay in or leave an abusive relationship. Aside from praying through Scripture with her, which is, of course, the richest resource on the planet and applicable in every situation, I was clueless how to help her when she asked me for counsel and prayer, but that VERY SAME WEEK I received this book in the mail. The Lord’s timing is so utterly perfect and He obviously knew that I would need Give Her Wings: Help and Healing After Abuse by Megan D. Cox to give me a glimpse behind the curtain of someone who is struggling in a situation of abuse and to provide a practical guide for me as I walk this journey with my friend!

Things with my friend are complicated and fragile and I feel totally inadequate as her confidant and life-line, but God has very definitively crossed our paths and I know that obedience looks like helping her in whatever way I can. As I began to read Give Her Wings, I instantly loved Megan’s ability to share her personal story, truth from God’s Word, and practical advice both for the victim of abuse and the ones seeking to help her. Towards the beginning of the book, Cox writes some of the most life-giving words to encourage victims of abuse to come out of their situation into freedom. She says, “A seed must first die and be buried, then life comes…I was made to be free. That thought right there is the new life peeking out” (6). LIFE, and life more abundantly is what Christ offers to all of us and it is what we, those who are believers and ambassadors of the gospel have to offer others. Cox reminds her readers of that purpose over and over again throughout the book.

Complicated. Messy. Scary. Ugly. Dark. Those are words that describe the life victims of abuse long to leave behind. As encouragers, we offer the hope of life after abuse but it often requires personal sacrifice. To me one of the most profound statements Megan makes for those seeking to be helpers to victims is this: “There really is something to our lives being messy…Look into the life of one person you knows God and you will find a bit of chaos somewhere along the way…What unintentionally separated the wheat from the tares in my life was the fact that some people decided to get into our mess and get all muddied up” (45). I have a choice to make…I can run and hide and leave my new friend to fend for herself or I can hang in there, push up my sleeves, get on my knees, and really just be a friend. I know what Jesus did for those who had messy lives, He reached into their messes and just loved them. Cox calls us to do the same.

If those of us who are in full-time ministry or are involved in ministry at any level are at all tuned into what’s going on in the lives of those whom God has surrounded us, then we will likely run across people who need us to get into their messy lives and help. And Megan Cox doesn’t mean fix them or their situation. No. In fact she will tell us that we can’t fix it and that fixing it isn’t ultimately the point. The point, according to Cox, is to love them well. We need to be available, loyal, truthful, and pointers to the One who made them and loves them. Cox writes, “Tell her [the victim] that God does not wish anyone to be abused. She needs to know this right away…If she understand that Jesus cares about the pain and loves her, the seeds are planted for her to be able to separate an abusive husband from the true God who loves her” (90).

I definitely found Megan’s book to be a useful tool for those who are counseling women who are victims of abuse or as a healing balm for those who have been or are involved in an abusive relationship. It’s a brilliant diamond hewn out of the rough grit of her personal experience leaving behind a life of abuse and straining toward the abundant life the Lord had planned for her. It’s a unique resource because Megan artfully weaves excerpts from her own journey in and around and through scripturally anchored advice and how-to’s. I highly recommend and urge those who are in women’s ministry or in church leadership in any capacity to read Give Her Wings. It is a must-have resource for the Church as we seek to demonstrate Christ-like love toward the hurting and the broken and the ones being put back together piece by beautiful piece.

The Law and Love


I’m not a rule follower. Some of my friends find true joy in following the rules and rest comfortably in the center of set boundaries. Those friends and I confirm the adage that opposites attract. If a hard and fast rule is placed before me, I will challenge it, question it, examine it for loopholes, discuss it with the rule maker… In my old age, I will follow the rule if it’s not immoral and is a part of participating in a group with which I align myself, but that has not always been the case. The concept of civil disobedience is thrilling to me. I’ll take your consequences if it shines light on your injustice.

 It’s not that I’m against rules. I’m just against unnecessary rules.

And I think God is, too.

Here’s the thought I’m pondering: if we are to love like God, we should take note of the fact that the more He revealed Himself, the more people could know Him, the FEWER the rules He put on them. I mean, we went from God’s 10 Commandments to 700-something man made laws, to God stepping in and instead giving us a Savior and TWO commands– love God, love others.

If we are interacting and loving like God, should we let fellow believers “off the hook” as they demonstrate a growing walk with God? Can we better love one another by giving the benefit of the doubt when we are concerned about a situation involving a brother or sister in Christ?

What say ye?

Fearless?


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Four weeks ago, a friend from Beauty for Ashes invited me to join a Facebook group called “One Word.” It is a group of women who declared one word that summed up their goals, dreams, and prayers for 2015.

I boldly posted my word: “FEARLESS.”

I want to walk this year in a spirit of power and a sound mind.

I want to enjoy serving without the distraction/crutch of my own school work.

I want to quit waiting for my life to begin and I want to LIVE, now and well.

I want to embrace who I am, strengths and weaknesses, struggles and victories, propensities and empowerment.

I want to lead and teach and serve and see new parts of the world and unexplored areas of my own life and potential.

I want to shatter my fear of “when” and “what if” and LIVE.

Three weeks after declaring my word “fearless,” one of my best friends from high school delivered twins, and I spent days seriously contemplating how I felt about the prospect of motherhood not being part of my journey in this life. At 35, motherhood has a real expiration date that is no longer an abstract idea. And for me, that is not a fear inducing possibility.

Being single doesn’t scare me, not having my own kids doesn’t leave me with a sense of being incomplete or less than. Truth be told, I like being free to serve others, and, selfishly, to not serve when I can’t– or just don’t want to.

While singleness or childlessness does not scare me, what is terror inducing is the phone call I received the day after I met those babies this week. I learned that my home study is being considered, not for fostering, but for adopting. A 16 year old.

FEAR. What do you with a 16 year old?!? I spend 8-12 hours a day with them in a classroom and on a court, but at home???

Do I trust He has my best interest at heart, knows my end from BEFORE the beginning?

I’ve had many friends open up about their sexual identity and attractions and struggles, and I’ve started talking more candidly in small groups when people ask why I’m still single. But I fearfully wonder, “Can I REALLY be open with others about who I am, what my struggles are, without fear of their responses?”

Can I be honest about the fact that fearlessness is a front, a wall that protects my insecurities from a watching world?

“Fearless” is a tested word. And test day is here.

Tested in my seriousness in my declared desire of sharing my life with a child who needs a family.

Tested in being honest within community about who I am and how God is working that out in me.

But there is great comfort in knowing that the test giver is the perfect Teacher, and He never passes us unprepared on to the next level.

I will pass this test, walking fearlessly, no matter how many times I must be tested until I pass it.

Jerusalem


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This afternoon I went to see National Geographic’s IMAX movie “Jerusalem.” While mentioning the Jebusites, the earliest known inhabitants of the land, the film focused on the histories of the three current faiths which share the city: Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. Throughout the film, Jews and Muslims who live in the city stated repeatedly that their faiths believe Jerusalem is the place on earth closest to God, that on that one particular spot, humanity can be heard by the Creator.

As I watched and listened, however, the words of the man responsible for building the first Temple for the Jewish people kept rolling in my mind:
“But will God indeed dwell on the earth? Behold, heaven and the highest heaven cannot contain you; how much less this house that I have built!” ~Solomon (1 Kings 8:27)

We serve a God not limited by location.

But then Isaiah foretold, “Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel” (7:14).

And Matthew explained, “20 But as he considered these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit.
21 She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.”
22 All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet:
23 “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel” (which means, God with us) (Chapter 1).

Muslims and Jews revere Jerusalem as the place humanity can reach God.

Christians celebrate it as the place God came down to man.

Will God indeed dwell on the earth?

Yes, Solomon, the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, just as He said He would.

On Sharing Life and Death


The thing that hath been, it [is that] which shall be; and that which is done [is] that which shall be done: and [there is] no new [thing] under the sun. Ecclesiastes 1:9, KJV

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I sleep just like my grandmother. Curled up on my side, one leg stretched out, the other pulled into my chest. A pillow between my arms. I didn’t know that she slept that way until last night, as I watched her curled up in a hospital bed, finally sleeping peacefully. For a little while, she is not consumed with pain.

I share her feisty nature, which is still obvious in spite of the fact that she has wasted away to skin, bones, and the cancer that fills them. That peacefulness was disrupted briefly when Robby the CNA rolled her over and she let him know that he had “messed up the bed.”

I wonder as I wander, just like the gentleman next door, who also paces in his pajamas between his room and the kitchen.

Shared bathrooms between suites. Pajama clad people shuffling, half awake through the halls, in search of coffee. Other people sleeping, oblivious to what’s going on around them. It’s like my college residence hall, only it’s the Hospice unit where my Nana has come for her final days.

One thing that unites all of us who are living is that, one day, we will be living no longer. For all the differences that we think separate us as people, life and death unite us like nothing else.

There is nothing new under the sun. The older I get, the more I see in the now, and the more I learn of the then, the more I recognize that we all have a deep yearning to be different, be unique. We want to be seen and be known.

And we are. Unique. One of a kind. Fearfully and wonderfully made. We are Imago Dei.

The struggle comes, I think, in the fallen desire for our uniqueness to be recognized as better, as right. And so diversity is not celebrated, but scorned. We fail to be unified in our diversity because we fear what we do not know.

As I sit in the quiet, at that moment when the sky is gray and pink with all the anticipation of the coming day, all I can think is, “What am I anticipating today?”

The last day of classes before Thanksgiving break.

The birth of babies.

News of a former coach receiving a life saving transplant.

The day my Nana steps into eternity.

War overseas and rioting at home.

Christmas being provided for mamas and their kids by generous people.

Glimpses of grace.

Words of encouragement.

Hugs. Prayers. Laughter. Family.

There is nothing new under the sun.

But if the best is only possible with the possibility of the worst, bring it on, whatever the day may bring, because each day confirms that we share so much more than we will ever know.

Why I Am (& Always Will Be) Pro-Life


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Here in Tennessee, abortion is once again the debate of the day. With Amendment One on the ballot today, the last few weeks have seen a dramatic spike in television ads, conversations, debates, and the return of the same old arguments both for and against abortion in general. I’ve heard the typical arguments: “God gives life. We must protect babies who cannot protect themselves. Abortion is murder.”  and, “It’s a woman’s body and it’s her right alone to choose how to deal with it. A child who will be neglected or unloved shouldn’t be brought into this world. If a woman is raped, it’s simply inhumane to expect her to carry a reminder of the horrific event.”

Yeah, yeah, yeah. To both sides.

There are philosophical and rational reasons to be pro-life. I appreciate bio-ethicist Scott Klusendorf’s argument of simplifying the debate to one question: “What is the unborn?” It removes the religious element altogether and places the discussion on a philosophical level.

But in all of the level headed discussion that’s possible, this debate quickly digresses into emotional and experiential arguments. People tell me that I don’t know what it’s like to be in the position of being pregnant and being unable or unwilling to care for the child. I’ve never been raped and don’t know what I would do if I was in the position of dealing with the aftermath of both rape and pregnancy. And those people are right. My personal experience doesn’t lend me the opportunity to speak from that perspective.

However, my experience allows me to speak about abortion from a very different but still VERY personal perspective; some of my favorite people in this world were born out of the circumstances described above, and I refuse to believe my life would be better without them.

When I hear people say that babies who will be born to people who will neglect or abuse them should be aborted, I hear them say that this world would be a better place if my three sisters and several of my best friends weren’t here.

When I hear people say that babies who are the products of rape shouldn’t exist, I think of my ministry friend Ronnie Hill, and I think about the work that wouldn’t be done if his mom had decided to abort him after she was raped as a teen.

When I hear people say that women who aren’t ready to have babies are better off when they delay parenting until they’re in a better position to parent, I think of my friends and women I have counseled, who made that decision 15 or 20 years ago, and still weep with grief over the loss they never realized they would experience.

I’m sure that the suicide rate of people who grow up in abusive environments is higher than in those raised in better childhood situations, but if we’re going to argue for choice, shouldn’t that person have the choice to end their life rather than the choice be made for them?

I am well aware that my parents (and all foster parents) are the exception and not the rule to caring for kids, and I know that countless children do live horrific lives of abuse and neglect, with no known way of escape.

But I also know that there is love and care beyond the two people who gave birth to those children. As I mentioned above, there are three incredible women who are my sisters who had really crappy birth parents, people completely incapable of caring for them. And the only reason I have those three sisters is because their crappy, drug addicted, abusive, neglectful mothers didn’t have abortions when that would have been the easy and even understandable option.

So why am I pro-life? I could give you a theological explanation and spout a lot of Bible verses. I could lay out a debate full of philosophical laws and rhetorical devices. But today, I have friends and family who have spent weeks hearing tv ads and talking heads say that they shouldn’t be here, and I want to be pro-sisters. And pro-friends.

I want them to know that they are loved. And valued. And wanted. I want them to know that I am pro-them.

Sisters

 

(top photo credit: http://imgarcade.com/1/human-fetus-at-12-weeks/)