Scandalous and Scornful

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graceScandalous. Scornful. Unusual.

 

And no, I am not talking about any current political or celebrity figure.

The book of Matthew and thus the New Testament begins with a genealogy. You know, the ever long passages of scripture going “so-and-so begat so-and-so.” The passages we are tempted to ignore, skim over, or skip past to get to the meaningful text. The verses we can use to support our stance or encourage or admonish. Who cares about a long list of someone’s family tree. The thing is, you can learn a lot about a person by exploring their ancestry. You can find out a lot about someone by knowing where they came from or who was in their family line.  Association via one’s family can make you famous or rich or notable. It can also make you poor or small or forgotten.  So to fully understand Jesus, we need to look at those included in his family tree. Don’t worry, I know He was the son of God and Divine incarnate, but Matthew starts his gospel with Jesus’ earthly family tree and thus we should pay attention.

 

There are two unique things about Jesus’ family tree. His lineage included women, which never happened and included a bunch of rowdy, off-color, far-from-perfect characters. I want to spend some time on the first point. Today we might not think twice about including women in a family tree. Matriarchs throughout history have done incredible things and stepped up to often change the course of history itself. But in Jesus’ day, women were second class citizens. They were rarely included as disciples of great teachers or participants in great works. Not only did Jesus welcome and include women as disciples, he gave them an often equal seat at the table, instructing, including, and admonishing them much as he did to the men who followed him.

 

In Jesus’ family tree- five specific women are named and counted among those who were part of his lineage. These were not your spiritual matriarchs. According to author Stephen Binz, each of these women was considered an outsider and each had a scandalous and scornful marital or sexual history.  The women included in the line of Christ were prostitutes, adulteresses, unwed mothers-women today we may view with scorn and disgust. Women today we may not even welcome in our churches, much less give them an equal seat at the table.

Jesus’ family tree begins the gospel in the most beautiful way. It paints a picture of a kingdom in which the scandalous, the scornful, the corrupt, and the sinner are welcomed in and given value and dignity. Jesus called the invisible and those with no voice. He spent His days with the lowly, the less than, the sinner. And in a society where women were often nameless and worthless, Jesus gave them a voice, courage, and eternal purpose.

Do you see why this matters so much? When we claim to follow Jesus, we must know who we are following and we must understand not only his ministry, but his family tree. There is no room for any of us to feel disqualified or unqualified or to remove a seat from someone else. Jesus didn’t come blasting society or fighting for laws-instead, he quietly invited the lowly and the forgotten into his community. He gave them a seat and a purpose. He gave prostitutes the chance to save His people and an unwed mother the chance to be the mother of the Savior of the world. He started a revolution by including those who had been discounted.

 

Scandalous. Scornful. Unusual.

 

Those are the women in the line of Christ. And my friend, those are still who Jesus is continually calling to himself.

 

Trash Your Ideal Self

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A few days ago, I sent a group of friends a picture of part of my kitchen. I have included it for full-disclosure. I would like to write a long post about how this was a rare sight and normally my kitchen is perfect, clean, and could be found on Pinterest, but far more often, the picture is the reality.

I imagine, for a lot of you, your kitchenday-to-day reality may look similar to my kitchen. Perhaps it’s a different room in your house or perhaps it’s a part of your soul that feels messy and disorganized.  It’s a part of your life you will never find on social media. And I get it. I have spent countless hours attempting to clean up my house, my life, my resume and picturing what life would be like when I just got “there”.  When I had the perfect house, the perfect job, the perfect group of friends, the perfect life.  I had created a version of my ideal self in my head and spent so many hours striving towards becoming like the image in my mind.

Sometimes I caught a glimpse of my ideal self in real life. In fleeting moments, she would show up and I would feel as though I was finally getting somewhere. My striving was finally paying off.  To my delight, I went to a conference and the speaker started her talk by asking us all to imagine our ideal selves. Oh, I had this one down. I knew exactly who the ideal Amanda was and could write you a book on her life. I could also write you a book on the guilt and regret and shame I carried around because my everyday self seemed so far from this version of my ideal self.

After a long lead up, the speaker said “your ideal self is not your most influential self.”

Read that again and let it sink in. “Your ideal self is not your most influential self.”

2 Corinthians 12:9-10 says “9 But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. 10 That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”

We often think when we get picked or when we arrive “there” or when we achieve our most ideal self, then we will be our most influential self. Then we will be who God called us to be and in the meantime, we just keep striving and trying to get better.  What if we were really at our best when we were our weakest? What if we stopped striving for our ideal self and realized when God saved us, it changed everything. When we were at our worst Christ died for us and this is where our freedom lies. This is where we operate with grace and freedom and humility. When we realize it is not about me or about becoming my ideal self, but instead it is about staring at the face of God and walking in the divine role He gave us as bearers of His image.

As the speaker closed out her session, I stood there with tears in my eyes. This was the point. The striving, the soul-crushing pace I operated at, the hustling had gotten me nowhere, but tired, lonely, and feeling even farther from where I wanted to be. But the goal should not be to reach this version of my ideal self. The goal should be to stare at the face of Jesus. This is where I find my peace and rest and acceptance. This is where I find approval and purpose. Not in the striving, not in the outside things, but in the most important thing-Jesus.

Hence the disaster of my kitchen. I had spent the better part of the day resting and praying and studying my Bible. My kitchen didn’t look like that when I went to bed that night, but it was nowhere near ready for a magazine photo shoot. And honestly it may never be. Because as I left the conference, I left my ideal self in the trash and came home with more peace and purpose than I have had in a long time.

Independent. Multi-Tasker.

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This was the description of women summed up by an author in a book I was listening to the other day. She polled a bunch of women and the theme which emerged was independent, multi-tasker. In other words, women think they can do it all and they can do it all alone.

Talk about feeling hit by a ton of bricks. I could totally relate. I feel the exact same way. All.the.time. Although I might replace the word can with the word should. I should do it all and I should do it alone. Isn’t that the message our culture sends?  Be the perfect wife, mom, employee, church attendee etc. Have a Pinterest-worthy house at all times and host Pinterest worthy events on top of every other thing you sign up to do. Join a board, volunteer, build a resume, or stay home and educate, attend play-groups, take adorable Instagram worthy photos all.the.time.  Are you tired yet? Because I am. Just writing that paragraph made me want to take a nap. But then again, if I take a nap, something else on my ever-lengthening to-do list won’t get accomplished. The author’s description of women was followed by the point of the chapter-Brave enough women know their limits.

Do you know your limits? Do you know when you have blown past what you can handle? Or did you give up a long time ago on limits because it seemed society doesn’t seem to care? Sure, I could find 100 articles on self-care, but for each article on self-care, I could find another on building your brand or image or resume or how to ensure your child is successful or talented or sociable. I will be the first to admit a discussion on limits coming from me is laughable at best. Aside from a husband, 15 month old, and full-time job, I co-chair a board for a local young professional group, co-lead a working group for a different non-profit, and lead a 3rd non-profit I founded a couple of years ago.  Limits? What limits?

Instead of listening to my inner soul and perhaps even the wise counsel of those around me, I am one who tends to keep pushing, keep going, and keep saying yes. That is until recently, I ran smack into a wall.  Not a literal wall, but a wall nonetheless. A wall forcing me to pause. To get help. To start to figure out what limits look like in my own life. I felt God asking me to place all my life in His hands and trust when it was all said and done, I would be okay. The things He was asking of me were not supposed to be so burdensome. They were not meant to destroy my health and marriage and relationship with those around me. But the expectations I had of myself, they were beginning to do those very things.

Matthew 11:28 says “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” Friend, are you weary today? Are you burdened? Perhaps for all of us, the bravest thing we can do in these moments is come to Jesus. To let Him take our burdens, societal expectations, families, and relationships. To give Him our future and stop acting like if we don’t do it, the world will fall apart. Jesus called us to love Him first and love those around us second. He didn’t call us to resumes, jobs, groups, or volunteer activities. Those things are not wrong, but they must come after we seek Him.

So today, let’s lay our burdens at His feet and just rest. Take a deep breath and trust in His hands it will all be okay.

 

One Christian’s Response to the 2016 Election

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presidentYa’ll, listen. If you haven’t noticed, there is this tiny little political election happening this year. I am not sure how you could have missed it. I don’t watch TV, but social media is rife with articles, posts, opinions, and every other type of political fanfare you can imagine. I normally try to shy away from all things political,  but today I hit a breaking point.

Someone on my FB feed posted an article about Trump with a line about how could you not support him after reading this article. Curious by nature and still slightly in shock at the candidates we have to choose from, I clicked on the article.  Perhaps it would sway my decision. I do not believe the article was written by a believer, but the person who posted it is someone whose faith I admire. The article was full of hate. And anger. And all sorts of awful things. But the line in the article which compelled me to fling my thoughts into the giant swirl of thoughts surrounding this election was this “Donald Trump is the last hope for America.

Hours later, I still can’t decide if I want to cry or punch a wall or listen to some really depressing music with a glass of wine.  How in the world did we get to a place where we willingly support and post articles promoting Trump as the last hope for America?!? I do not care whether you love him or hate him quite frankly. I won’t try to convince you how to vote. Those things are your personal prerogative, but please, I beg you, stop calling Trump the last hope for America.

No human will EVER be the last hope for America. Because humans are not the source of hope. Hope lies in the person and work of Jesus Christ. Period. His death and resurrection provided hope. Jesus brings peace and love and an example of how to live.  His words should be readily on our lips as we talk about this election..

I am the way, the truth, and the light..”

“If they persecuted me, they will persecute you..”

“In this world, you will have many troubles, but take heart, I have overcome the world..”

“I will never leave you nor forsake you..”

“Go and make disciples of all nations..”

“Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. And love your neighbor as yourself.”

 

As Jesus followers, we are called to a higher standard. We are commanded to love our neighbors as ourselves. We are called to make disciples of all nations. We are called to peace. We are called to follow Jesus. And Jesus didn’t promise us a life without persecution or hardship or governments that disagree with us. He promised us His peace and love and intimacy.  The outcome of this election could very well shape history in America. It could very well be less than favorable for the American church. But friends, this is not something to fear. This is reason to fall on our face and pray. This is reason to be a church known by our love and actions, not by our words and hate. This is reason to defend the cause of the poor, care for orphans and widows, and seek justice in our nation. This is a call to the believer to place your hope in Jesus and to live as though God still sits on throne. He knows the outcome. He will not be surprised. And He will never leave nor forsake us.

Trump is not the last hope for America. Jesus is the last and only hope for America.

Dead Begin to Rise

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light_texture2320

When you walk into the room
Sickness starts to vanish
Every hopeless situation ceases to exist
And when you walk into the room,
The dead begin to rise
‘Cause there is resurrection life
In all You do

 

Sunday morning as we sang the lyrics to the song above, they hit me in a way they never have before. The last three lines rang in my head for the rest of the day. I could not shake the thought of how different things would be if we actually lived like we believed the words of this song.  As a believer, we don’t often question the cross and the message of hope it brings, but I wonder how often we live in light of the fact Jesus brings life.  As a Jesus follower, I bring His light and life with me each and every place I go.

Oh friend do you see what this means?  We should be running to every dark place, every place with the dead and the broken, every place with the sick and hopeless because when Jesus walks into the room, boom. Life, Hope, Healing. When I walk into the dark places, I walk in with Jesus. And when He walks into the room, the atmosphere changes. I can attest to this because I have walked into some dark places. Something changes when we bring the light of Jesus with us.

Because of Jesus there is no place too dark, too scary, too hopeless, or too lost. So let us run into those places with the light and love of Jesus and be amazed at what happens as we go.

 
Read more: Bryan & Katie Torwalt – When You Walk Into The Room Lyrics | MetroLyrics

Savoring Slow

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Dandelion-in-the-morning

 

For much of my life, I have been a morning person. Prior to getting married, I was up and at the gym between 4:30 and 5 every morning. I love the peace and calm of the morning. I maintained my early mornings after getting married for a while, but slowly the early morning gym workouts fell by the wayside. Add a baby into the mix and my mornings became “how late can I sleep and still get to work on time.” They were chaotic, rushed, and anything but peaceful and quiet. I was barely able to get to work on time and struggling. Majorly struggling.

 

Something had to change. And while I think some of my struggles were from some postpartum issues, I think many of them were from skipping my morning rituals I had loved for so many years. My mornings were so chaotic, the rest of the day just seemed to follow until I fell into bed exhausted, dreading the morning alarm. I ran across an e-book I immediately knew was what I needed- The Abundant Mama’s Guide to Savoring Slow.

Each chapter is a habit to work on in order to savor the moments of life. The book is designed to work through over an entire year so I am going to go through it slowly and then in January start over at the beginning.  The first chapter is entitled “Wake Up.” So with my journal, Bible, and book ready, I set  my alarm for 5:30am in order to give me 30 minutes in the morning to read, write, and pray before starting my day.

Mamas and friends, this is the best decision I have made. It is tough. Some mornings, I want to just stay in bed. And I will admit, a few times I have. I am growing in giving myself grace to not to be perfect. But more times than not over the past three weeks, I have gotten up early and positioned myself on the couch for 30 minutes. Sometimes my little one decides to wake up early and interrupts my time and sometimes I end up talking to my husband for part of it, but it has made the biggest difference. Those 30 minutes have meant my days are less rushed, I have more energy, and I feel better equipped to love my family.  I am learning the moments of life to savor are the small ones. The moments when I hear “ma-ma-ma” coming from the kitchen and I drop whatever I am doing to make sure little H knows his mama is right here. The moments when I spend a few extra minutes eating ice cream with J instead of rushing off to bed. I needed my mornings. They are fresh water to a thirsty soul.

Want to join me on this Savoring Slow journey? Sign up for my e-mails or comment below.  What does “Wake Up” look like in your world? Maybe for you it is getting up earlier. Or maybe it is unplugging from your phone. Or maybe it is reading one extra book or playing one more game. Whatever it is, enjoy the moments and learn to savor them.

The Dark Side of Social Media

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phone2For all I love about social media, there is a side a loathe. The side which often rears its ugly head after holidays or vacation days or even some ordinary weekends. Honestly, it’s not actually an issue with social media, but more the way it brings out the dark side in me that I hate.

This morning as I was scrolling through my Instagram, I realized how quickly my internal emotions shifted to anger, jealously, and disappointment. It happened in a moment and when I realized it, I quickly set my phone down like it was on fire. This has to stop. I needed to re-direct before I spent the day wallowing.

Another holiday had gone by and another weekend in which not a single friend had invited us to celebrate. Truth be told, I hadn’t invited anyone over either so I cannot blame this totally on everyone else. Plus, I know life is busy. I get it. But nevertheless, as I saw those in my life celebrating with friends, I felt this heavy weight of feelings. In that moment, I had a choice. I could keep scrolling through my social media or I could put it down and give the weight over to the One who holds my heart.

Hence the dropping the phone like it was hot. As I finished getting ready, I flipped over to a devotional I had been reading and spent my time in prayer. God promises us His burden is light and His yoke is easy.  He knows our deepest thoughts and sacred moments. He saw an almost 30-something feeling like the junior high girl who got kicked out of the popular kids crowd. He saw the heart so desperately in want of community. And He reminded me as I overheard the sweet conversation between my husband and 10 month old of the amazing weekend we had just the three of us. These moments are fleeting and while sometimes incredibly tough, I cherish them deeply.

Although I wish I could tell you I left for work feeling all peachy keen about life, I can tell you I left for work knowing the heaviness of my heart was laid at the feet of Jesus. I re-focused on my sweet little family and how thankful I am to be married to my best friend. I put the desires of my heart squarely in the box of Jesus. He is the only one who can meet the deepest desires to know and be known. He is the only one who can strengthen my soul and equip me in the fight. And He knows. He understands. We serve a Savior who can relate to us in our weakness.

So dear friend, remember today Him whose burden is light and yoke is easy. Remember the One who knows our deepest struggles and who meets us in the low places. And trust He will answer every prayer whispered in the secret.

2015: The Year of Patience

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This time last year, I was considering my resolutions for 2015 and rather than a list of things I wanted to accomplish, I chose a word. Ironically the word was patience. Somewhere along the year, I lost track of my word, however, my word never lost track of me. This was a year of patience. The definition I used last year was quiet, steady perseverance; even-tempered care; diligence. I can definitely see those themes woven throughout the year, even when I may not have even realized it.

Perhaps because I was pregnant a good chunk of the year, patience was consistently a theme. Growing a baby is a slow process. And our sweet little guy waited an extra two weeks to make an appearance. I had to laugh today when I looked back and saw my word for the year was patience. Whether I wanted to learn it or not, my baby boy has taught me a lot about patience and a lot about living in the moment. From his late arrival to his sweet baby coos and snuggly demeanor, I never knew I could love so fiercely. And I have a feeling he will keep me on my toes for the rest of his life.

I also learned a lot about patience through launching and running a ministry to women in our local strip clubs.  I kept telling people it would be a slow ministry, but telling people and fighting the discouragement that can bring are two different animals.  As I look back over a year of consistently hanging out in a strip club, I can tell you I learn more about patience each time I go. I am continuously reminded pursuing relationships with broken people is never easy and takes time. However, this is what Jesus called us to do and time and compassion are exactly what is needed inside those walls.

The list could go on of ways I have seen God build patience in me. And while I am no master at patience, I can honestly say God used this year to grow in me a quiet perseverance. 2015 has not been one of long lists of accomplishments, career climbing, or resume building. However, it has been a year of sweet conversations, baby cuddles, and saying no to a myriad of activities. It has been a year of refocus and new identities. It has also been full of plenty of moments when I wondered what God was doing.  I am still not sure in a lot of those moments, but  I do believe with all my heart each moment was and is being used to teach me patience.

So see you later 2015. Thanks for the memories, lessons, and experiences.

Called to Heart Ache

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Seven months ago I stepped into a local strip club for the first time. Unprepared and unsure of what would happen next, we went and simply asked if it we could keep coming to support the girls who work there.  I believe with my whole heart Jesus loves them and His love compelled us to go. While I believe God can open any door He feels like, I was still a little surprised when we were met with excitement and an absolute yes. In fact, the #1 question I get when I talk about our ministry is “what do the club owners think?” And honestly, I can’t explain it. Perhaps they understand at some level the job is tough and perhaps they are just curious. I think they struggle to comprehend why a group of church ladies would care about them or their club. We are typically the ones picketing outside, not the ones sitting across the table from a dancer asking her about her day and her kids.

Seven months later, going into the clubs hasn’t gotten any easier. As I left last night, my heart was broke in a million pieces once again. I listened to a girl recount a story of incredible loss and addiction and I struggled to respond.  My heart ached for her. Over the last seven months, not only have I worked hard to grow a ministry, I have been growing a child inside of me. Perhaps more than anything in my life thus far, this has changed me. As I sit and listen to the girls we serve, my new mom heart gets so easily overwhelmed. I ache for them. I hurt for them. And some days, I want nothing more than the ability to wave a magic wand and change their lives. But I don’t have a magic wand or all the answers. All I do have is a deep relationship the One who can heal broken hearts. The One who can take loss and hurt and pain and make it new.  So we pray. And we keep going. And we keep loving and pursuing.  And my heart keeps aching. I am confident this is what God has called me to do. To ache for them as He does.  To pursue them as He does. And to point them to Him. Because I don’t have the answers. I can’t change their life. I can’t make the hurt and loss go away.  But I can sit with them in their hurt and listen.  When the words escape me, I can simply be there. And isn’t that what we all want?  Someone to listen. Someone to care about our story. Someone to ache with us or rejoice with us or laugh with us.

So while I will never say going is easy, I will keep going because God has called us. His heart aches for them and He has called us to the mission of aching for the things that break His heart.  It’s messy. It’s tough. It breaks my heart. And it pushes me to dig deeper into Christ and pray hard for my own heart and for the ladies I see week in and week out in the club.

Give In to the One Who Gave it All

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Lent is one of those interesting times in the life of the church.  You have people from all ends of the religious spectrum-Catholic, conservative, to contemporary-who celebrate the season in a myriad of ways. Some people deny themselves something, some take the time to reflect, and there is a growing trend of participating in acts of kindness or justice.

 

Personally, I tend to vary in my approach to lent. In past years, I have sacrificed something, participated in acts of justice studies, and done nothing.  As I head into this Lenten season, my heart and mind are struggling in the world of balancing life, preparing to enter parenthood, work, and a quickly growing ministry. I have a pile of books about 9 high beside my bed waiting to be read, my inbox is bombarded daily with baby e-mails, advertisements, and well-meaning e-mails from individuals wanting to get involved or needed me to do something.

 

As hard as I have been working to clear my schedule and focus on simply being, each week seems to come and go in a blur. Perhaps this is because I have been working hard.  Somewhere in all of it, I forgot I am not in this alone.  I am more aware than ever of my feelings of unworthiness and fears over the future. Something about all of a sudden being responsible for the well-being of a tiny person does that to you! So oh what a glorious reminder it was this morning as Lent begins, I am not in this alone. My imperfections, sin, and inability to manage everything are nailed to the cross.  My fears and feelings of unworthiness are no longer mine to bear.

 

All of this caused me to pause, step back, and focus on something a little different for this season of Lent.  I am committing to carving out a portion of each day to pause, breathe, and spend time giving everything over to the One who does hold it all and who can do it all. He is the hope, the encouragement, and the answer to my imperfections and fears.   And while there are many tools out there to help, the one I settled on for this season is by She Reads Truth.  Rather than giving up, I am giving in to the One who gave it all. Join me in a journey to focus on Jesus and our inability to do anything without His guidance.