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Being Seen

Jill1Hi. I’m Jill, a writer, speaker, editor, pastor, and all-around person in need of grace. Particularly now, since currently, I’m working on moving my blog and website information over to this lovely and venerable site. But for now, if you’d like to read current or past blogs, please visit me here.

I talk about a lot of things on my blog and in my books and articles. But usually, they focus on a few main topics. Fear, faith, empowerment (particularly of women and the next generation), caring for those less powerful, and trying to live freely the abundant life God has given us.

To let you know I know what I’m talking about with this fear and empowerment thing, let me give you some background.

warriors-together4I’m the kids who refused to step too far into the back yard after dark. The woman who slept with a nightlight when I was twenty. The person who would still rather face a rabid bobcat than walk up to a stranger and begin a conversation. Fear has been a really close acquaintance of mine. For too long.

Yet there is God, telling me to live “adventurously expectant.” To look at each day and ask, “What’s next?” And that enthusiasm isn’t supposed to lessen when today’s “next” wasn’t as great as I’d hoped. Or when we’re terribly certain tomorrow’s will be worse. “Fear not” may be the most common command in the Bible, but fear is also perhaps the most common human emotion. What’s happening here?

I don’t want to live life as a grave-tender, so wrapped in fear of what might be that I lose the time in between. I want to live an adventure for God’s kingdom, and I want to do it with you. I want to know who I am, and I want you to know who you are, because of who He is.

I want us both to know the identity God put in us when he created the imago dei in the garden. He hasn’t rescinded that deal. I want to see you and hear you and know you–and I want you to know He already sees and hears and knows you.

To prove I’m serious, here’s your first story.

I’m terrified of spiders. If you don’t believe this, you’ve never seen me run out of the shower shrieking because there was an eight-legged creation of God on the tile wall. Which is a good thing. No one should see me run out of the shower. Ever.

I hyperventilated if I saw a picture of a spider. But before leading my fist mission trip, I decided, no more. Time to face it. It can’t be as bad in reality as in imagination. Sure it can’t. Totally believed that, except not.

Spider (1)I marched into the pet store (OK, I crept into the fourth pet store, after failing three times) to find a tarantula and–you got it–hold that baby. The very helpful pet shop guy talked me through the traumatic process. He assured me the spider would just sit there. And you know what? It did. You know what else? They’re actually soft. And even cute in a . . . creepy, way-too-many-legs-and-eyes, spidery sort of way.

Seriously, God gave me such a calm that the whole thing was kind of surreal and interesting. Plus, I made sure to get it on video. Because, you, know, this is not going to be repeated on an annual basis or anything.

I’m not saying I’m going to go out and get a bird-eating tarantula for a housemate anytime soon. But–fear only has the power we give it. And I was tired of giving it.

The Lord knows I’d lived through way worse than spiders by that time, anyway.

So, let’s join one another. I can’t wait to see what happens here.

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PS– I’d love it if you want to hit the button to subscribe or shoot me an email to be put on my mailing list!

Running Wild with Hope

img_9156So perhaps laughing uncontrollably through a video on ebola may not be appropriate. But appropriate is not always my spiritual gift.

Let’s be clear—ebola is not a humorous topic. Certainly not one to take lightly. Thousands have died, and that isn’t forgettable or funny.

But the video I happened upon, and shared with my daughter who appreciates British humor, poked fun at the media’s response to ebola, not the disease itself, and it put me in tears. Sometimes, we do laugh at horrible things. But I wonder if maybe the reason isn’t so much lack of taste as a desire to laugh at the horrible itself. To pretend we have some control over it and some ability to minimize it if we make fun of it.

Yet, as we continue to celebrate Easter, I wonder if there isn’t even more to it for Christians. Shouldn’t we be the ones who are perpetually laughing?

Laughter at Easter

Because we know. We know the truth of Easter—that God personally interfered in our messy world and gave us the forgiveness, love, and tools to set it right. We know that no matter the ugly, there was a cross on a hill, and a God-man who gave his own body to be nailed there, and a blinding light from an empty tomb first thing on a Sunday morning.

Christians should be the ones laughing.

Early believers thought so.

In the early days of Christianity, all of Easter Week was one continuous feast, a week of intense happiness and spiritual joy. Easter Monday is known as the Day of Joy and Laughter, Bright Monday, or White Monday. The custom was rooted in the musings of early church theologians that God played a practical joke on the devil by raising Jesus from the dead. ‘Risus Paschalis–the Easter laugh,’ the early church theologians called it.

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In fact, I find that the people who get angry the easiest, who get offended at the least bit of humor, are the ones who may, after all, be capable of atrocities against others. It’s the anger that gets offended easily, the dislike of thoughts other than our own, the distrust of laughter we can’t understand that causes a lot of the pain of this world. People who can’t laugh are often quite willing to abuse those who can.

If you don’t know this craziness ends? If you don’t know pain is temporary, and the hurt we do to one another defeatable? OK, I can see how nothing would be funny. Nothing at all. But we know. We know that, because of Easter, the world isn’t going to hell in a handbasket. We know where the power lies. Or, no longer lies but stands, strides, and rises in one great ‘Hallelujah!’ of resurrection joy.

Why So Serious?

So why do we sometimes act like those without hope? Why do so many Christians freak out over threats large and small? Why do we say we believe God is in control and act as if we believe it’s all up to us? Yes, there are horrors beyond our imagination happening right now. Yes, I am on the frontlines of helping refugees and praying for the persecuted. I hope you are too.

But I do not duck my head and scream that the sky is falling. Men do not hold up the sky.

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Some call this naïve. I prefer to call it belief. Belief that, because of Easter, God wins. Faith that, despite suffering, He has the final say. Trust that yes, things may get rough. Very rough. They may not go the way Christians would like them to go. Nevertheless, His purposes, not mine, finish the story. Victoriously.

We should laugh. We must hope. In my favorite Rich Mullins song (and it’s a tough choice among his glorious songs), he sings about running wild with the hope that we will one day be shaken into glory and abundance.

Running wild with hope. I can hear the wind roar just thinking about it.

It makes me smile. And laugh. And outright throw my head back and shout with joy.

Because I know.

That’s the wild laughter we need to have. The abandon that comes from certainty that we will not always thirst. The joy we need to embrace, not in the absence of fear and horror but in its midst. That is the only place it serves its purpose. Joyous, abandoned, holy laughter only makes sense when it’s in the face of a force that thinks it has won but most definitely has not.

Risus paschalis – the Easter laugh.

Jesus cried many times in this world, but he also laughed. A lot. I am sure he did it with his whole heart and soul, with abandoned, head back, hiccuping joy. Because he saw the horrors of this world better than we ever have–and he knew the end.

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The song is not sung in vain. Run wild with the hope this Easter Monday. Stifle the sour faces and dire predictions. Stop the endless blaming for this world’s ills. This world has a promise born in a stable and raised from a tomb. See what kind of peace on earth your wild, laughing hope can bring.

Fear, Get Outta My Way (#Neverthelessshepersisted)

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My last child is a worrier. She worries that her classes won’t be far enough apart that she can get to them ten minutes early. She worries that her cats will forget her while she’s gone. She worries that we will miss a bus or a train when we travel and be trapped forever in a foreign city where no one speaks English and she will be sold into slavery.

She may have some grounds for that last one. Traveling with me has given some close calls on missing trains.

Four years ago, a doctor told her words that gave her new worries, ones no seventeen-year-old worrier should have. Worries about pain, and struggle, and death.

I went postal on the doctor.

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I have inherited kidney disease. The only cure is a kidney transplant, which can take years and cause much illness and suffering because the waiting list for organs is so long. Many people die before they reach that magic match point. (Sign up to be a donor. Now.)

I watched my mother suffer and die from it. My daughter has watched me suffer and live through it. And on that day, a physician, who was supposed to only be dealing with her back pain and keeping her business our of anything else, informed my child without preamble that her MRI showed the tell-tale kidney cysts.

We knew this. My husband had seen them when he saw the MRI. We knew what it meant. We had decided to tell our daughter at the right time, not at a time when she was already stressed out on multiple levels by college applications, final exams, gymnastics pressures, and life. The doctor usurped that choice for our child. And yes, for the first time in my life, I let a person in a doctor’s office know exactly how I felt about that, at a volume people in the next building could have heard.

I am not a go ballistic person. But this was my kid. And someone had just told her she had a new worry for the rest of her life that she was not ready to hear. And she was crying. Mama bear is strong with this one. My eyes crossed and I yelled and I’m pretty sure sparks shot out or my nostrils. It was ugly.

But God made something beautiful out of the ugly.

Beth cried in the car. We talked. I knew exactly how it felt to get that diagnosis. By the grace of God He put words in my mouth that I did not know I possessed.

“Beth, you can use this either to get scared or to get brave. You can worry about it for twenty years or you can live like you’ve only got twenty years and you want them to count. You can be frightened and let that fear control you. Or you can choose to tell fear you have your huge mountain, you know it now, you have its name, and you will take courage to tackle anything else, because what more do you have to fear?

You can allow fear to be your master or you can look it in the eye and tell it you will crush it. You and Jesus. Jesus and you. You can make this choice, at seventeen. It can bless you, if you let it.”

My daughter is a brave soul.

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I have watched her take those tentative steps. I have seen her make courageous decisions. I have known her heart and her fears as she steps out, and she has stepped. She has strode.

She has looked at experiences that frightened her, like spending a semester in a foreign country, or standing up for immigrants, or learning who she is and what she’s made of (the scariest journey of all), and she has asked the fateful questions.

Will I get this chance again? Will I regret not doing this? Will I let fear stand in my way? Will God get me through this and will He love me ferociously?

Oh yes. To that last one, oh yes.

Nevertheless, she persisted.

She persisted in taking something that could have swallowed her whole and allowing it to create power in her instead. She persisted in looking this horrible disease in the face and saying, “Not me. You don’t get to take me down. I will not live in worry about you.” She persisted in developing deep love for others who have far greater worries than she.

She persisted.

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Sometimes, we are graced by God with the gift of children who make us want to stand in awe and clap. Loudly. Ferociously. This is a gift beyond expectation or belief. I have such a gift, in all three of our girls. But this one—this one persisted.

We have a generation of young women who need to see us persist. They are persisting themselves. They are amazing. And together, what fear can stand in our way?

Great Expectations–Parenting in Public

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How could you get angry at such a face? Well . . . 

One huge trigger for anger as a parent is when our kids embarrass us in public. I’m sure yours never do. But mine made quite a successful career out of it.

I’m over at Christian Parenting today telling a story that may sound familiar–how to handle our anger when kids don’t live up to other peoples’ expectations. Please join me for a fun–and all-too-real–story of parenting.

God’s expectations are simple: teach your kids to love what matters and know who matters.

#Nevertheless. She Persisted.

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I remember the first time I taught someone the meaning of the word “persistence.”

Our oldest daughter was about four. Maybe less. My husband and I took her to the townhouse complex playground—a sad affair consisting of an old school metal slide, haphazard swings, and one ancient set of monkey bars. But those monkey bars—they were the holy grail. She wanted more than anything in life to cross those monkey bars.

So she tried. And tried. And tried again. After about ten or twelve tries, she did it. She crossed the whole set. These were full size, big kid monkey bars. And she was a 10th percentile in height and weight four-year-old. (Maybe less.) An achievement indeed.

When she ran back to us, triumph in her eyes, my husband bent down to her and said, “Becca, you are persistent!”

“What is persistent?” she wanted to know.

So we told her. One of my daughter’s first identifying labels that she pinned to herself that day was “persistent.” I had no idea how much she would need that label. I wish I could say all the others we gave her over the years have been so positive. But that first one—that was a worthy beginning.

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This is also what it feels like.

We women label ourselves at every turn. Bad mom. Too emotional. Incompetent. Not enough. We pin those words on ourselves and accept them as our identity, taking them into our very souls. What power there is in having one of your first labels be something so positive and strong.  Persistent.

It’s a good word.

Yes, it’s a hashtag now. But I don’t think it has to be a political hashtag. (Although, you know, I have many political thoughts. Many.) I think it represents something higher and far more encompassing than mere politics. It’s all the women who persist. All of us who, despite outside odds, inside demons, or people who simply do not support our dreams and try to shut us down, persist. Those women drive us. They give us hope. They keep us striving for our hopes and dreams.

They make us persist.

And that’s a good word.

So I’m going to give space to those women. We’re going to explore their stories. Those who have persisted, tried something new, believed in their dreams, overcome (or persisted and not overcome), and learned something about themselves in the process. I pray that they give you hope. I would love to hear your stories of persistence. I will be featuring some gifted to me.

Let’s change our labels. Let’s peel off the ones that say, “Unable. Quitter. Daydreamer. Too late. Not enough _____.” Fold them up into tiny balls of sticky paper and toss them away. They are not your names.

Together, let’s forge some new ones. “Fighter. Carer for that which matters. Worker. Grace-giver. Journeyer. Dream-creator.”

“Persistent.”

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What’s your story? Have you a story of triumph through persistence? Has someone in your history? Have you a story of disappointment and labels you’d like to shed? Maybe your story is being written right now, and you’re in the trenches of trying tho persist, but you’re not sure if you’ll survive.

“Let us not lose heart in doing good, for in due time we will reap if we do not grow weary.” Galatians 6.9

Don’t grow weary. Persist. Come back and listen to the stories of those who did. And please, tell your own.

Happy Birthday Mr. Fudge Guy

33422_445689050125_6454112_nIt’s my husband’s birthday today. That makes it a holiday, because as far as I’m concerned, this is one of the best days ever to have happened. In its honor, I’m rerunning our story. Love stories aren’t always the way we expect them.

I’d love to hear yours.

 

A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away, in the midst of one of those full-blown college girl frenzies caused by (of course) college boys, I cried out to God. I had no choice, which is how most of our best cries to God work out.

The text went something like this: “OK, Lord, I’m done! I’m done picking out guys. Clearly, I don’t do it right. Each and every choice I have made has been wrong, dear sweet Jesus in heaven. I don’t even know.” (And, don’t get me wrong. They weren’t bad guys. I never went for the “bad boy” vibe. Just no. Ain’t nobody got time for that. But they were not the guys for me.)

“God,” I thought it best to add. “This is the kind of man I’m looking for” (here I listed the specific attributes I wanted), “and if he’s out there, I’m leaving it up to you to find him. I quit.”

IMG_0200Yes, I did give God a list of my qualifications for a man. I’m not sure why I thought he couldn’t figure that out in his own. But I definitely remember what I heard next, in the quiet after my rant. Not audibly, as in heard this voice in my bedroom, which would have been a little creepy. But when you hear from God, you know.

“OK, deal. It’s about time, really. But you already know someone who meets all those criteria. Have you thought of him?”

No, I hadn’t. Probably on account of I was a junior and he was a freshman with Coke-bottle glasses and an ROTC haircut. And a girlfriend back home. That boy had been friend-zoned right away.

That was near the end of the school year, and friend-zone guy and I went home to or respective states, and we wrote letters. Yes, those things you printed on paper with a pen and needed a stamp and a mailbox for. (We were, after all, pretty good friends.) I sent one letter with the sticker you see here:

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It was just a fun sticker. Although, in fact, that was one of the worst summers of my life, and chocolate would definitely have been welcomed.

He sent it. A box of chocolate. Not just any chocolate, but homemade fudge, without nuts (just the way I like it), made not by his mother but by him. I think that’s when I fell in love. (Plus, somewhere in there he dropped out of ROTC, grew curly dark hair and a beard, and got contacts. Those things helped. A girl’s got eyes, after all.)

Three years later, I married Mr. Fudge Guy. Hey, if God says he’s the guy for you, AND he bakes fudge, I do not argue.

The course of true love never did run smooth. (Thanks, Shakespeare. You are almost always correct.) Sometimes it’s paved with college tantrums, desperate prayers, hippo stockers, cancelled stamps, and even fudge. His parents’ was paved with war and bath towels mailed from an army base with an engagement ring attached. My daughter, who will celebrate her first anniversary this spring, found her way through banjos and homemade soap and rain storms during church picnics.

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One never knows.

In any case, it has been a good road. What’s your story? I’d love to hear it?

Straight Outta Context

29542-img_0057When I was on the debate team in high school, we learned one helpful reality—if you look hard enough, you can find a statistic to prove just about anything. See, in debate, you have to be ready to argue either side of a position at any moment. So, you learn to find “truth” that can be looked at from several different angles. Depending on the source, there is “proof” of anything we want to find proof of.

That this is so has never been more evident than in the last couple months.

Yet, don’t we Christians play that game just a bit, too?

–How many times have you had someone tell you they found the perfect scripture verse for your situation? (And how many times has it not been perfect at all but seriously guilt-inducing? I see those hands.)

–How often have we wailed, “I don’t understand why God didn’t keep his promise! I claimed that verse as my own.”

–How many people have told you, in trolling comments or in your face, that whatever you are doing, want to do, or are contemplating doing, it is wrong and this is the one verse in the Bible that proves it?

Well, maybe I get that last one more than you do, being a female preacher and all.

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When it comes to truth, how often do we play Bible roulette, able to find a verse for any situation that will prove anything we want it to prove? Is that dealing honestly with God’s word? Or is it our debate-style proof of what we already wanted to believe?

Yes, God can and does give us the word we need to hear on certain days for particular times. But what if we’re sometimes playing finger roulette with the Holy Word, finding it simpler to open and point to what God wants me to hear that day than to pursue both a deep and broad knowledge of His story and our place in it?

Like finding a Shakespeare quote on Pinterest and thinking we know all of the Bard’s work now.

Like randomly picking a guy off of Tinder and being sure this is The One.

(Seriously, do not do that.)

That very night the believers sent Paul and Silas to Berea. When they arrived there, they went to the Jewish synagogue. And the people of Berea were more open-minded than those in Thessalonica, and they listened eagerly to Paul’s message. They searched the Scriptures day after day to see if Paul and Silas were teaching the truth. As a result, many Jews believed, as did many of the prominent Greek women and men. Acts 17.10-12

See what they did there? They heard a good thought. They liked it. Then they searched the Scriptures. They figured out how this new idea fit with God’s whole story. They determined if it checked out against all they had been given.

They sought context.

I mean, if we really want to play stick-the-finger-in-the-Bible and find our verse for the day, what happens when these come up?

  • Go marry a prostitute and have children with her. — Hosea 1:2
  • Throw the first stone. — John 8:7
  • There is no God. — Psalm 14:1
  • Go to Bethel and sin.— Amos 4:4

You can see the problem.

But what about a few others, a few we are far more used to taking on their own and making, can we say, almost idols out of?

  • I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.—Philippians 4:13
  • Judge not, that you be not judged.— Matthew 7:1
  • Train a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not turn from it.—Proverbs 22:6

Do those words you keep using really mean what you think they mean?

When Philip came across the Ethiopian eunuch reading the Scripture, he asked, “Do you understand what you are reading?” Then, he gave the whole story.

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Why does this matter?

There are a lot of teachers out there. I try to be one of them. The reality is, some Christian teachers are dishonest. This should not surprise us. Some plumbers, carpenters, doctors, and lawyers are dishonest. Some people in any profession will tell us lies. Some will mislead us out of the best of intentions, maybe not even realizing they too are victims of pick-and-choose verseology. Some are so wrapped up in their particular belief or cause that they cannot see the big picture.

The truth has nothing to do with the size of the person’s audience or the feeling you get when you hear him or her speak.

The truth is in the whole story.

It matters, because in a world of alternative facts and fake news, we need more than ever to know what the whole arc of God’s story has to say about something. We do not need to know one or two or five carefully chosen verses planned to sway an argument the way a person wants it swayed.

God help us, we do not want to live our faith out by a few verses we like best and miss the rich context God has for us.

So how do we do that? How do we be like the Bereans (that sounds like a great dance move, by the way) and find context to the story?

Ask questions of the teachers you listen to and read.

  • What is the writer saying?
  • Can he/she draw that conclusion?
  • What is the context of the verses he or she is using? Is it valid?
  • Is whole of scripture in agreement?
  • Does this contradict any command of God?
  • Would Jesus say this? Seriously, would this ever come out of Jesus’ mouth?
  • Does this make logical sense?
  • Would believers I respect agree?
  • Is there someone who teaches the opposite? What does that person say? How do they inform one another?

When reading Scripture, read large bits of it, not just a verse-a-day devotional.

Make a reading list for yourself so you can get a but of the whole picture progressively. Like this one we use at our church:

  1. Mark
  2. Paul’s letters–Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, Thessalonians
  3. Genesis
  4. Acts
  5. Proverbs
  6. John
  7. 1, 2, 3 John
  8. Romans
  9. Exodus
  10. James
  11. 1 and 2 Peter
  12. Jude
  13. Ruth
  14. Luke
  15. Isaiah
  16. 1, 2 Corinthians
  17. 1, 2 Samuel
  18. 1, 2 Timothy
  19. Titus
  20. Matthew
  21. Deuteronomy
  22. Hebrews

keep going!

Keep it in context. God didn’t put verse numbers in, after all. He gave us a love story, a whole one.

Alternative Facts and Truth We Can Touch

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What is truth?

Pilate asked that question before he washed his hands clean of the guilt of crucifying Jesus.

But he is not the only one.

Everything we hear is an opinion, not a fact. Everything we see is a perspective, not the truth. — Marcus Aurelius

If this was a man’s belief in the first century, perhaps the notion that we can choose our own truth isn’t as new as we think it is. Certain politicians may lean on it (a lot) more than others, but apparently truth bending and fact creation has been with us since, well, since a snake in a garden said, “Nah, that’s not at all what God told you. I know.”

And if we need more evidence, consider the eerily accurate prophecy of a famous futuristic writer:

The very concept of objective truth is fading out of the world. Lies will pass into history. — George Orwell

As we’ve been discussing truth here for the last month, and as the world has been discussing truth and lies and “fake news” and “alternative facts,” it’s easy to wonder where to look for facts that are not created by the whim of fallible humans with an agenda to push.

What is truth, indeed?

While we scurry around looking, let’s look at one great aspect of truth we often forget.

Truth is a person.

I AM the way and the truth and the life. — John 14.6

This is truth on a whole new level. We are used to truth as an idea. Truth as a set of rules. Truth as a logical explanation, like those proofs we had to do in freshman geometry. (I loved proofs. I find I am in the distinct minority for this affection.)

But truth as a person? A god-person? How do we even wrap our heads around that?

If Jesus IS the truth, then all searching for truth ends in him. All that I don’t understand is clear through the truth I can know. All things that claim to be truth have to be held up next to the one life that WAS truth.

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If they waver next to Him, they aren’t true.

See, I think God knew that we would need truth with skin on. I think He knew we would never understand the truth until we met it. In person. I think that once we fall in love with a true life, we will recognize it whenever and wherever we see it. We will settle for no less.

We can hold all the rules, create dozens of propositions, and read systematic theology cover to cover. (Trust me, I have.) In end, though, here’s the thing. It is we who must be true, not static words and rules. This is the most important thing truth does for us.

Truth gives us a relationship where we discover true living

We needed to see a true life to live a true life. In relationship with the Truth, we discover true living. The closer we get to him, closer we get to being true people.

Being true people is more important than knowing truth.

One day in high school I looked at a friend and thought to myself, I don’t know all the details about God, but I know the truth about him is there. Right there, in her.

She lived a true life.

I want the kind of life that others will see and say—I’m not sure what truth is, but I know it when I see it. And I see it there.

When we live lives of truth, cascading with transparency and integrity, Jesus tells us we will be telios—complete, lacking nothing, at peace. Can you imagine the effect of that kind of truth on others?

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This is the biggest reason truth is important. Because truth is a person. Truth is a relationship. Knowing that person, having that relationship, gives us true lives, something far more valuable than any win in any debate I ever entered or score on any apologetics test I ever took.

When we are confused by alternative facts, fake news, and subjective but vehement opinions, remember. Hold it up to the One who lived true. Can it stay there? Or does it wither away next to the Way, the Truth, and the Life?

We can handle the truth because the Truth made himself ultimately handleable—to be in flesh and blood and skin and sweat what we needed. He made Truth accessible.