You’re Doing It WRONG–Pandemic Redux

I was reviewing some memories on social media this morning and I came across this post. It still rings really true for me three years later, and I wanted to revise and revive it a bit, and add a paragraph acknowledging our current state of being. Right now the last thing we need is to down on each other or ourselves for not being perfect in the middle of a pandemic. Some of us are sending our kids to in-person school while biting our nails, some of us are facilitating virtual school while trying to work from home, some of us have transitioned to home school and are outside of every box we thought we knew. Some are even doing home school like normal, but can’t escape into a coffee shop or go on a Target run; or our business is struggling; or someone we love is sick; or we’re finally processing all the pain we haven’t let ourselves acknowledge, because we’re 40! We all have extra on our plates right now. So here is what I hope for each of us today: finding five minutes today to breathe deep; finding beauty in a falling leaf, a cloudy sky, or the voice of a friend; finding delight in something new; finding encouragement in the knowledge we are not alone.
Pandemic Grace,
Charity

(Pandemic Updates in Italics)

I read another one today, a mommy blogger who mixes all the perfect things together like fashion modeling and Jesus, telling all the leggin’s-clad, stained XL t-shirt-wearing, run down moms exactly how much we are all failing.

It totally worked.

Now I am going to LOVE every minute of motherhood.
Now, I am going to cook only homemade, organic, gluten-free food for my family.
Now I am going to finally BE that Proverbs 31 woman! (Let’s ignore for a moment that this woman never existed as a single entity, and that if she did she had domestic help.)

NOPE!

Reality–these posts tick me off.
Reality–I am blogging right now in my pajamas.
Reality–posts all about how women are doing it wrong when it comes to marriage, family, parenting, and all-things-domestic really only serve to grind women’s faces into the dirt while heaping more responsibility for unachievable perfection onto their already overwhelmed shoulders. (Check out the length of that sentence! I think a little of my personal feeling on this is coming through here.)

Can we bring it down a notch, please?

Modern life is hard. I realize that is such a #firstworldproblems kind of statement, but let’s examine the truth for a moment:

*300 years ago it was enough to keep your children alive and marry them off at 13 or send them to be an apprentice.
*150 years ago it was enough to make sure they finished the local school course which ended around 8th grade.
*50 years ago it was enough to see that your children were individual people (thanks Dr. Spock).
*Today, you have to know your child’s unique personality, temperament, love language, and fill-in-the-blank-with-whatever-is-trending [previously spirit animal (this was appropriation and I repent) and patronus (this was my next choice, dang it J.K.!)]. You have to scrapbook/photo-blog every second of their life. You have to make sure they play a sport, play an instrument, and have sufficient playdates. You have to make sure they are challenged, but not too much; given grace, but still develop grit; have firm schedules and boundaries with enough flexibility to make their own decisions once they leave home–which may be never if the economy doesn’t rebound or if you chose the industrially farmed broccoli instead of organic, or this pandemic never ends and we end up in a dystopian novel nightmare.

What we all really need right now is another blog telling us how we are failing and ruining our children’s lives, not to mention tearing down our houses with our own hands like that foolish woman in Proverbs.

I want to say something to you, caregiver of small humans:
If you grew a human in your body, delivered them into the world, I recognize that you care about them. If you drove to the hospital or flew across the globe to pick them up and take them home, you want good things for them. If you wept and worried through fertility treatments, surrogacy, adoption, supported your partner as they grew a small human inside of them, I see that you would do anything to love them until you can’t breathe–they are so beautiful.

I also see the heaps of laundry, the piles of dishes, the disaster of a playroom, the incessant bickering, the insomnia, the teething, the talking back, the full-blown fits in the middle of Target (those were the days, am I right?). I see you tired and overwhelmed by all the demands. I see you struggling to realize that you shine at 6 month-old baby care, but suck at embracing the Kindergarten stage. We all have our sweet spots, maybe one of those super organized blogging mammas could make a spreadsheet and then I would raise your 2 year-old and you could have my 11 year-old until the next phase hits and we could all trade again.

Parenting is hard. We don’t need someone telling us all the ways we are falling short, we need cheerleaders for those beautiful moments where we do smile at our children and mean it when we say, “I love you, sweetie, have a good day!”

You may not know that I have my own checklist for parenting success. I blogged about it here, but I will condense it for you:
1. Don’t kill them.
2. Do your best–whatever your best looks like in this moment.
3. Love them.
4. Trust God–if you are going to be a parent, you need a higher power.
5. Everything else can be worked out in therapy.

So if you didn’t score a perfect 10 this morning, don’t beat yourself up. Grab a cup of coffee, fold 5 minutes worth of laundry, call a friend and invite them to put their kids on Zoom to distract your kids so you can have grown up conversation on the phone in the next room. Give yourself some grace, it’ll go a long way toward your ability to offer grace to your kids as well.

Anne of Green Gables once said, “Isn’t it nice to think that tomorrow is a new day with no mistakes in it yet?” Here’s to a sea of tomorrows, and hope that we will take each one as it comes!

Grace for ourselves and others on this parenting journey.
ReFreshing

Zooming-out on Abortion, a Broader Perspective

What I learned reading the abortion statistics of my state.

Nebraska is thorough in its collection of abortion statistics. I’ve been curious for years about the details of what factors contribute to the abortion rate in our country. It occurred to me some time ago that it benefits both sides of the abortion debate to keep things vague. If we never think about why a person would come to the conclusion that abortion is their only or best option then we can assign whatever motive benefits our positional argument. Often the pro side simply argues that a woman has a right to choose. The con side simply argues that abortion is murder. Take out the complexity and we don’t have to face the deeper issues, and we don’t have to take personal action other than signing petitions or voting for our favorite candidate. Sadly, these deeper issues that go unaddressed are the very boots on the ground issues that you and I could have some influence over!

So what does abortion look like in the state of Nebraska? The most recent statistics are publicly available here as a pdf. Click and then check your downloads to open. http://dhhs.ne.gov/Reports/Abortion Statistical Report – 2017.pdf

Nebraska asks some questions that I have been wanting answers to regarding why a person would seek an abortion. You can go about asking that question in two ways, either by the average person seeking an abortion or by the ones who stand out. I will do a little of both here to keep us all honest.

In 2017 1,958 abortions were performed in the state of Nebraska. When asked the reason for seeking the procedure in a mark all that apply format the following information emerged. Lack of contraception or failure of contraception contributed in 1,238 cases (63% of total). Incest contributed in 2 cases, and sexual assault in 17 cases (1% of total). Fetal anomaly contributed in 16 cases, danger to the mother’s life in 14 cases, physical health of the mother in 51 cases, mental health in 34 cases (combined 6% of total). Socio-economic reasons contributed in 82 cases (4% of total). Some of these reasons overlap, and 579 patients declined to answer.

With those reasons in mind, turn with me to a section on the age and previous births of the patients. The thirty-two people age 14, 15, or 16 had no previous births, but 3 of the thirty-one 17 year-olds seeking to terminate a pregnancy already had one previous live birth. One of the forty-eight 18 year-olds already had two previous live births, along with 3 of the seventy-five 19 year-olds. One of the one hundred nine 20 year-olds already had three previous live births. One of the one hundred fifty 22 year-old people had already had five previous live births. On the other end of the age scale there are six women age 40 to 43 with zero previous live births.

Those statistics are heartbreaking as I think of the young person who is already overwhelmed with the issues surrounding their sexuality and fertility, and on the other end of the spectrum the possibility of nearing the end of reproductive years—possibly wanting a baby very much—and facing health complications that make carrying a pregnancy impossible.

Even more heartbreaking are the statistics surrounding the age of the patient and number of previous pregnancies regardless of the outcome. Remember those 14, 15, and 16 year-olds with no live births? One of those 14 year olds had been pregnant before. One of those 17 year-olds who hadn’t delivered a live baby had also been pregnant before. One of those 19 year-olds, and one of those 20 year-olds were experiencing their 5th pregnancy. One 23 year-old was on their 7+ pregnancy. Four of those 40-42 year-old people were terminating their first and only pregnancy. Four 45 year-olds were seeking termination. One had 3 previous births, two had 4 births, one had five previous births. Of those four people one was on their 4th pregnancy, one was on their 6th pregnancy, and two were on their 7th pregnancy.

Those are just numbers, but it all makes me wonder who these women are and what is happening in their lives that brings them to this place where abortion seems like the best answer. Here are some things I think it is safe to assume about women who have had several previous pregnancies carried to term: these are not heartless monsters, and the issues surrounding pregnancy and abortion are not taken lightly. Here are some things I think it is safe to infer about girls (14 years old) who have had multiple pregnancies: there are things beyond their active choice contributing to their pregnancies.

Here’s the person most likely to seek to terminate a pregnancy in Nebraska: White, 20-something, high school educated, never married, never had an abortion, never had a baby, fewer than 10 weeks pregnant. She will likely go to a specialized clinic and receive a medication abortion. She will have a 99.9% chance of recovering with no complications.

These numbers can’t tell us whether the pregnant person wants to carry the pregnancy to term. They can’t tell us what would happen in an ideal world. They can’t tell us if the person had a job, health care, supportive community, or involved partners. They can’t tell us if this person feels like they have any choice at all.

For some of these people abortion saved their life. There will always be cases in which terminating a pregnancy is a necessary medical procedure. Outlawing abortion will not solve the issue, because the underlying causes of why a person believes it to be their best or only option are not addressed. It’s time to stop condemning those who seek abortion as heartless. It’s time to stop ignoring the real social issues contributing to their choice.

What is very clear is that increased access to contraception, good sex education, and healthy relationships with medical care providers could have prevented at least half, if not two-thirds of these terminations. Sexual assault prevention and social support for young people would add to the prevention. Recognizing the needs of real people in our communities could make a real difference.

Flower Photo by Tamara Gore on Unsplash
Flag Image by Clker-Free-Vector-Images from Pixabay
Gray Photo by Genessa Panainte on Unsplash
Woman Sketch Image by chenspec from Pixabay

Taking the Side of the Side I’m On

The Problem

There’s an issue at the heart of many struggles in our society. The problem is uninspected power. Power is, in itself, a neutral. Troubles arise when power is not accompanied by accountability. That accountability has to come from others with power as well as those with no power. In essence, those with no power have to be given the power of oversight and authority over those who wield great power. We agree on this in our social contract. We are a democracy. If leaders do not live up to their end of the bargain we vote them out of office, giving those with no power authority over the powerful. We also have checks and balances among the branches of our government requiring accountability to other sources of power at the top.

The issue comes when only other power holders are in charge of keeping each other accountable. As humans we are inherently biased to take the side of others we view as peers. They are in our group, our tribe, and we are naturally bent toward defending them and believing their stories. We all do it. Everyday.

We don’t even have to have real connections or real allegiances for this phenomenon to appear. It’s evident in everything from Survivor alliances to color teams randomly assigned in larger middle schools. Green team is the best! That is what we believe deep in our minds because we are on the green team. One of my favorite short-lived television series was Better Off Ted. It played out the daily dynamics of working for a large, soulless corporation. One of the episodes showed the company randomly designating employees to decorative themes for their cubicles. It wasn’t long before the employees assigned themselves common characteristics that must be the source of their belonging to the group. Random assignment led to real allegiance.

We take the side of the side we are on. In human history this has led to both prosperity and destruction. We have a higher likelihood of survival if we are part of a group. Being part of a group can also lead us to destructive beliefs and behaviors. We will fight to the death for our group, even if our group is wrong. This leads us to the major issues in the news right now.

Racism

Power plus group identity is the origin of racism, it also perpetuates it. European colonists decided the land was empty–empty of people like them–so it was free for the taking. The labor of bodies not like theirs–brown skin, different features, foreign practices–was theirs for exploiting. Europeans had the power, they all agreed that this was the natural order of things. Slavery, Jim Crow, and even the War on Drugs became enshrined in law and “white” people prospered from the suffering of others. They did so with very few qualms. Their consciences were clear, and in fact they decided God must like it that way because the exploitation was so easy.

The roots of racism today echoes back to those first dynamics of power and group identity. We still propagate the idea that the land was empty, and that Divine providence brought us to this point. We cite the differences in culture and ethnic identity as the reason why “white” people prosper and “black” people struggle. I use quotations around black and white because real people aren’t either color, the terms exist to reinforce group identity. I say “we” because I am a white, middle-class woman. It’s my group that has been in power, justifying our prosperity and the degradation of others.

Sexism

The same game is played between the sexes. In a system of social hierarchy where sex determines your allotted power, our Western culture has placed men on top. To justify that power, legends have arisen regarding men’s and women’s innate characteristics. Men’s rational minds and women’s emotions. Men are providers, women are nurturers. Men run the world, women run the home. Men are strong, women are weak. These legends are repeated until they carry the rule of law.

Clergy Sexual Abuse

One of the most damaging and destructive power and group identity issues that has been uncovered in recent years is that of clergy sexual abuse being swept under the rug. This has happened in both Catholic as well as major protestant denominations. Group bias led clergy to excuse the behavior of other clergy, religious conviction required forgiveness, and ministers were shuffled from one congregation to another leaving a trail of trauma in the lives of their victims. The fear of a loss of power and prestige kept those in charge busy covering up the latest scandals instead of cleaning house.

Police Violence

The most prominent headlines in recent weeks are also due to power and group bias. Police violence has generally been evaluated, investigated, and justified by fellow officers and a justice system dependent on police cooperation. Police policing police has allowed gross injustice to flourish in the very center of institutions meant to protect and serve the populous. This has happened in coverups of racially motivated violence, police sexual assault, and massive corruption rings.

Break it down

What it all boils down to is this: if you have all the power, and you have no accountability to those without power, expect that your decisions will likely foster corruption. If “white” people get to decide when racism is real, racism will continue. If men get to decide when sexism is real, sexism will continue. If clergy get to decide when accusations of abuse are real, clergy abuse will continue. If police get to decide when excessive use of force complaints should be taken seriously, police violence will continue.

All of these problems have a common cause. They share a common solution, as well. Voices of the powerless must be given authority. Those with power will cringe at that suggestion. I can hear the objections now–in truth I have heard them all before:
“Those people can’t be allowed to play the victim!”
“Those people have an agenda!”
“Those people want to take down people like me!”
“My power is threatened!”
The last objection sums up all the rest. Group bias is a factor, but combined with the threat of losing individual power and personal identity feels life-threatening. No wonder people with power fight tooth and nail to defend their own. It’s their own interests they are defending.

WWJD

Seriously. Here’s the theology to wrap up all this sociology. What would Jesus do? What did Jesus do? Did he come and live among the Romans? Did he abuse his male privilege? Did he justify and gloss over religious power-fueled abuses? Did he take the side of state violence? If you know the gospels, you know the answers.

Jesus came as a marginalized person. He lived most of his adult life as a wandering rabbi. He spoke to women, touched lepers, blessed children, held men accountable for their actions toward women, called out religious leaders for their hypocrisy, and died on a Roman cross as a political dissident. Following Jesus means setting aside our group biases and listening to the voices from the margins.

This is uncomfortable, it feels dangerous to put your power and position in the hands of those who have been traditionally underprivileged. You may fear reprisals, or overreactions, but rest assured most people just want to be treated with respect. They want their voices to be heard. They want their stories to be believed. They want justice for what has been taken. They want peace in their homes and on their streets and in their churches.

It will require risk. It will take faith. Most of all, it will require us to follow the Bible’s commands to look not to our own interest, but the interests of others; to view ourselves with sober judgment; and to love our neighbors as ourselves.

Featured Image by John Hain from Pixabay
Hands Image by mmi9 from Pixabay
Chess Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay
Cemetery Image by Angela Yuriko Smith from Pixabay
Typewriter Image by Markus Winkler from Pixabay
Bible Image by James Chan from Pixabay

Your Politics Are Idolatry

If you think I’m talking to someone else, think again.

I’m talking to everyone, even some days myself.

Democrat, Republican, Independent, Libertarian, Green Party–these are not denominations in the Christian faith. Belonging to one party, or no party, does not make you right with God. Being politically “right” or politically conservative does not make you religiously conservative. Being politically liberal or politically “left” does not mean you reflect the heart of God.

Political affiliation has nothing to do with your faith in God.

Need proof?

Ok, let’s hear from Jesus shall we?

“You have heard that it was said to those of ancient times, ‘You shall not murder’; and ‘whoever murders shall be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that if you are angry with a brother or sister, you will be liable to judgment; and if you insult a brother or sister, you will be liable to the council; and if you say, ‘You fool,’ you will be liable to the hell of fire.” Matthew 5:21-22

Anybody call a political rival a fool lately?

I’m waiting…be honest. Look at these pictures and don’t make Jesus cry with your denial.

Did you remember any politically motivated name-calling?

I thought so.

Listen, we are human creatures and as such we are constantly looking to belong. We want to belong in our families, our communities, and in the broader world. There is nothing wrong with that. I don’t even care if you are Democrat or Republican. Although I like to feel morally superior by remaining unaffiliated, the truth is that I know committed Christ-followers in all political classifications. They work toward solutions to the world’s problems with different approaches, but all with the driving desire to honor God. They are committed to calling out their team when they get it wrong. They are more interested in the Kin-dom of God than the accolades of human beings.

Here’s the problem: if you are politically affiliated first and a Christ-follower second you are on dangerous ground. If you are listening to a media pundit more than you are listening to the voice of Jesus, you are on dangerous ground. If you are tearing down others for the ways they fall short while defending the shortcomings of those on your team, you are on dangerous ground.

How do we walk in the grace of God and follow Jesus while navigating the murky waters of political identity?

Repent.

Speak the truth in love.

Live such good lives among those who do not share your faith that they will praise the God they don’t believe in when He comes for a visit.

Be ready in season and out of season to give a reason for your baffling hope.

Bless those who curse you. Pray for those who persecute you.

Love your enemies.

These practices will not win you favor with your tribe, but they are the commands of your master. If you think it is more important to tow the party line, spew talking points, and tear others down that is your choice. Just make sure you are clear that you are not following Jesus when you walk that road.

Key Image by Arek Socha from Pixabay
Prayer Beads Image by Henryk Niestrój from Pixabay
Immersion Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay
Dewy Dandelion Image by InspiredImages from Pixabay
Path Image by Me, Charity Sandstrom

Leaving the Ninety-nine

“For I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice,
the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings.”
Hosea 6:6

Jesus quotes this verse twice in the Gospel of Matthew. He brings it out first when criticized for eating with “tax collectors and sinners,” and again when criticized for his disciples eating raw grain plucked in the field on the Sabbath. In both of these scenes the religious and faithful followers of God are using right interpretation of scripture to condemn behavior that has long been solidly placed in the “sin” category. If you follow the letter, they are right. So, was Jesus wrong?

Don’t act so shocked. Jesus was constantly telling those steeped in the right interpretation of religious scripture and tradition that they had it all wrong. Go read the Sermon on the Mount and count the number of times that Jesus contradicts unquestioned truths held by believers then, and sometimes even now. He shook things up. Why do you think they put him on a cross?

Are you willing for Jesus to prove you wrong?

I once had a friend ask me a life-changing question, “When you go to the scripture (to investigate a certain issue) do you simply read to find where it supports your view, or are you studying with a willingness to find out that you are wrong?” What I am finding among my fellow Christ-followers is a majority using the first method, and very few using the second.

Over the past several months I have witnessed some in the church professing ideas and ideology that directly contradict the teachings of Jesus. They would join the Pharisees and religious leaders criticizing Jesus for eating with tax collectors and sinners, they’d be criticizing Jesus’s disciples for harvesting to stay alive during the Sabbath. Their actions and language mirror the self-righteous (which let’s be honest is simply an “I am RIGHT” approach to the world) attitude based on rigid certainty expressed by the criticizers in these stories.

If you are promoting what Jesus refuted, you are anti-Christ.

My response to these churched friends has often been to argue or try to convince them that the world is bigger than their narrow interpretation. I desperately want to believe that others truly want to follow Jesus who taught us to love others and stand in judgment only over our own actions. This has left me discouraged, worn-down, and disheartened. What is worse, it has left some of my not-churched friends with the impression that Jesus is rightly represented by those anti-Christ expressions.

What do you do when your churched friends are driving your not-churched friends away from Jesus?

I’m really glad I don’t have to make up an answer for this question. Jesus answers it for me. When he was criticized for eating with tax collectors and sinners, he took the side of the sinners. When his disciples were taking heat from acting to preserve their lives, Jesus took the side of his disciples. He sets the example both in action and in his teaching.

Luke 15 holds three parables in which Jesus speaks of precious items gone missing. The coin, the sheep, and the brother are lost in different ways, but the response by the one who lost them is the same. Set aside the 9 coins, the 99 sheep, the scorn of the other brother and prioritize bringing back what was lost. That applies whether the separation was from neglect, ignorance, or rebellion. Prioritize the one who needs to be drawn near.

That is a hard teaching. I’m a Church girl. Born to pastors, granddaughter of missionaries, career pastor myself, I have deep roots in the Church. Church people are my people. All of this makes it excruciating (look up the origin of this word) to think of severing ties with some people in the church-world. This is what I believe I am being called to do.

How can I do this?

First, I no longer believe it is my job to change their minds. I know that people in the church have unfettered access to information, study, resources, teachings, and the Holy Spirit if they need their minds changed. God has done so much in me to change my mind and open my heart that it would be ridiculous to think I would be indispensable in the process of God doing the same for others.

Second, my Jesus came to seek and save the lost. He came for the sick, not the healthy. He came for the sinners, not the righteous. I must follow Jesus.

Does this mean I am leaving the Church?

Of course not. Go back and reread the paragraph that starts with “That is a hard teaching.” The Church is not something I can sever myself from. There are those in the Church who are also looking to the interests of others, seeking those far from the Kin-dom, venturing out to tend the wounded. These are what Paul called “my fellow workers.” There are other people in the church that are throwing stones at those already wounded, and I cannot allow my connection with the stone-throwers to outweigh my connection to the wounded.

There are others called to be prophets in the church. I will let them do that work. I am called to bind up the brokenhearted, to bring the healing grace of Jesus to those who are suffering, to tend the wounded no matter who hurt them or how they came to be on the outside.

The ninety-nine are safe.
The one is where I am called to do my work.

I am writing this in part for those I leave behind. My desire is that you follow Jesus. My heart is for your good. You are not my enemy, but you have made enemies out of my friends and those I have been called to love. Seek Christ. Listen to the Holy Spirit. I hope to see you someday venturing beyond the sheep-fold to seek the wanderers.

Thanks to Artists who share their work:
Sheep Photo by Emilie Crssrd on Unsplash

Christ Photo by Jon Tyson on Unsplash
Church Photo by Timothy Meinberg on Unsplash

Sanctifying Emotion

Sanctifying Emotion

I wrote this post for Misfitstheology.com and wanted to share it here. I hope it offers freedom to be fully human and engage our full selves as we approach our Creator.
In academic circles broadly, and theological circles specifically, emotion has a bad reputation. There are efforts to shut down feelings so that pure, logical thought can prevail. Today I am saying, “Enough!”
People who study theology of the Christian faith base their foundational beliefs in the writings of faith bound together in the Bible. Scripture is full of feeling, both human and divine, and in no corner of the Holy text are we instructed to stop having emotion in order to be in right relationship with God.
Moving heart of the Crab Nebula

 

From the first chapter of the first book in our scriptures we find God expressing great emotion as creation leaps to order at the Word of God. At every stage, God pronounces creation “good.” When God finishes on the sixth day, creation is pronounced “Very good!” This is not a mathematical statement. It is not a cold, reasoned proposition. It is the enthusiastic, joy-filled, emotional proclamation of our God who delights in what has been made!

 

Throughout the first testament, the Jewish scriptures declare God’s delight, anger, sadness, frustration, eagerness, disgust, and hope. These are statements of deeply felt, and unapologetically expressed emotion.

 

If we zero-in on the life of Jesus, we see the very same emotions experienced by God-made-flesh. Jesus is puzzled, joyous, compassionate, angry, frustrated, sorrowful, and apprehensive. He weeps. He smiles. I can almost hear him laugh as he calls out to his disciples in the boat in John 21, “Hey guys, did you catch anything yet?”

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All of this emotion from a God who created us, made us in the Divine image, and longs for connection with us enough to dwell among us. And what is irksome to me today is the denial of these same emotions expressed by humans as we explore and puzzle out who this God is, and how to join Heaven’s work on earth.

 

Logic is useful. It is necessary. It is a wonderful tool and gift from God to be able to think with a measure of objectivity. Cold logic, used while denying our humanity and the humanity of others, is deadly. (This is why so many are afraid of artificial intelligence.)

 

I can hear the arguments building, “But so is unbridled emotion. It kills, too!” Emotion can be threatening. It feels wild and uncontrollable sometimes. We can learn to engage both our emotions and our logic, to be curious about what we are feeling and make decisions that honor those feelings while recognizing the value of others. A person who is fully-engaged with their emotions, enough to feel both anger and compassion for the person in front of them, is someone I would trust with my life.

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I’m not arguing for an end to logic. What I long to see is the full-inclusion of our humanity as we approach divinity. Humanity, after all, is part of God’s creation. It is how God made us. It is how we reflect God’s image into the world. To cut off part of ourselves in order to better honor God is like a child disfiguring their family resemblance in order to better honor their parents.

 

God is not afraid of emotion. Bible writers were not afraid to talk about God’s emotions and their own. We are even commanded to express emotion even as we are directed to find our peace in God. Let’s recognize our emotions as a gift and an inheritance. Let’s learn to notice and be curious about what we are experiencing as we walk through life, and as we study the scriptures and theology. Let’s integrate ourselves and be fully human as we approach God who made us to both think and feel.

I know that you fear God.
Genesis 22:12

 

I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you,
and that your joy may be complete.
John 15:11

 

I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart.
Romans 9:2

 

Be angry but do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger. Ephesians 4:26

 

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice.
Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near.
Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.
And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding,
will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

 

Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable,
if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise,
think about these things.
Philippians 4:4-8

Grief

Wracked with sobs that threatened to squeeze the life from my body, I held hers and felt her grief writhing in her, too.

I sat on the kitchen floor holding my sixteen-year-old daughter like I did when she was small, her head on my shoulder, my arms wrapped around her holding her up. I had known for just over an hour that a good friend—possibly her oldest friend—had died in a car accident. No other details came with the email sent to the fellow pastors in our denominational region.

Email Please Pray

“Please pray.” When I read the message subject my stomach dropped, the family has had their fair share of difficulty in the past few years with older grandparents sick and dying. The thought never crossed my mind that I was about to find myself on the floor with wailed prayers to God forcing the breath from my body. Their beautiful dancer, the one he’d toted around in his strong dad arms, the girl she was so proud to mother, their baby girl is dead.

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We’d connected over our shared grief fourteen years ago. I was losing the first of three miscarriages. She had lost four. We both had our living children, and our heartaches. She helped me know I was not alone. Our girls, only months apart in age, became event friends. We connected about once a year in person, with notes and emails in between. She just posted her dance recital video. We just opened their Christmas card.

Today I wish I had the power of teleportation. I would be in her kitchen five hours drive from here. I would be making her cookies. I would be washing her dishes. I would be holding her sobbing shoulders. I would be picking her up off the floor. I would be letting her sleep, and wail, and grieve, and sit silently, and watch old videos, and plan a funeral service that never should have been hers to plan. I would be there in a flash.

But I am needed here, to hold other set of shaking shoulders. My heart breaks for my friend. My heart breaks for my daughter. My heart breaks knowing this family is not the only family wailing tonight.

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Precious one, you are going to grieve. It sucks. Here are the rules:
• Feel everything, don’t stuff it down or hide
• It takes as long as it takes, there is no getting over it
• Sometimes you are going to feel fine, then you won’t
• Grief comes in waves
And at the end of the day, there aren’t really any rules.

That is how I spoke to my baby’s broken heart. Her first big loss, I didn’t want it to be this soon. Or this big. That’s the other thing about grief. We don’t get to choose. We don’t get to decide when we are ready to lose a friend to an accident, or to cancer, or to a heart-attack, or the flu. We don’t get to decide. And that sucks. And I hate it. And I know there’s no avoiding it.

I sent the family a text message. “This is Charity, I don’t expect a reply. I just want you to know that we are devastated with you. We are crying out to God alongside you. There are no words. No words to make anything better. Just a prayer that you would know God’s presence with you.”

It’s not nearly enough.

It’s all I have.

It is enough.

Hold your babies. Hold your parents. Hold your friends.

They’re all we have, and they’re gone too soon.

Alabaster Jar Harmony

Who anointed Jesus with expensive perfume? Some think it was Mary Magdalene, others will say it was a prostitute. Why can’t we remember the details of such a familiar story?

Find the answers in the PDF below in our harmony of the four accounts given by Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. Take note of the highlighted sections that tie all four stories together.

Alabaster Jar Scriptures