Thankful Thursday – Maundy Thursday 2017

I did not grow up with a tradition of observing Lent but, as an adult, I have grown in appreciation for spiritual discipline in general and this season of church life specifically. God does great things when we give Him great access to our lives through disciplines that help to tune our eyes and ears to His work.

Before this Lent began I asked God: “What discipline would you have me observe to see you more clearly?” Funny (and I truly believe God IS funny this way, at least sometimes), He didn’t answer clearly. I could take on a discipline of reading the news; in these times, we all ought to read the news more broadly and more carefully. And I put on a ring my mother-in-law gifted to me; as my ‘not typical’ right-hand ring, its presence on my finger has reminded me of Jesus’ presence with me.

And then Lent took a quick left-hand turn into discipline. Situations arose that required prayer; people needed me; I needed Jesus. God knew I didn’t need more disciplined practices than the discipline He was already planning to send my way. (And oh, wowza, did I ever need that ring as a reminder of His presence…!)

Today is Maundy Thursday, which means Lent is almost over. The dark before the dawn, tonight we commemorate Jesus’ last supper with His disciples before He was betrayed. Tomorrow He was crucified. Sunday, at last!, Jesus rose from the grave.

We want to fast-forward the bad stuff to get to the good. We want to skip the pain in favor of pleasure. We don’t want bitter but sweet. In this Holy Week, God calls us to see His glory in the worst-ever scenario, trusting Him to redeem and transform it into more than all we could ask or imagine.

So what am I thankful for on this Maundy Thursday?

I am, as always, thankful for Jesus, who sacrificed Himself in love for me, for all of us, so that our lives not only exist, but matter.

I am thankful for a year, and that the situation that occupied my heart last year is no longer my concern. And I’m thankful for the hope that the situation that occupies my heart now won’t next year.

I am thankful for time, as in, time heals all wounds. The wounds of last year, but also more recent cuts and jabs that, with time, prayer, and careful tending, have already begun to heal.

I am thankful for kind and gentle human beings who willingly give of themselves to help the rest of us make peace–with ourselves, with God, with one another.

I am thankful for the continual bubbling over of last week’s Mexico trip, and the ways I see God has grown and shaped my Teen through this experience.

I am thankful for yoga, and my friends and their friends who filled a studio this morning for a laughter- and fun-filled sweaty workout, good for body and soul.

I am thankful for the rain showers earlier today, for the quail running down my fence line, for the twilight breeze rocking the tree branches outside my window. Peaceful beauty.

I have to laugh at what happens when I pull out my running shoes…

…and say “Thank you!” for what I see outside my door…

The first spring rose in my garden, a gift from a friend

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Known

Talking with friends last week I mentioned that I’ve taken just about every personality test out there, including the silly ones on Facebook. “Ooh, which Disney princess are you? [beat as Friend examines my face] Never mind, you’re Belle. Definitely Belle.”

Spot on.

I have seen Beauty and the Beast twice this month, three times if you include Crosswalk: The Musical (even if you don’t watch all of it, watch some. It’s silly and hilarious!). Our amazing high school put on the stage play, and yesterday our family saw the live action movie.

I may be prettier than James Corden, though not as breathtaking as Emma Watson, but Belle is my Disney princess doppelganger. Like Belle, I am bookish and odd, with my head in the clouds. Belle is outcast for her unusual priorities. The Beast is feared for his appearance. While Gaston, the handsome doofus, receives the admiration of everyone–women want to be with him, men want to be him–even though he may be the scariest character of all.

One line in the movie version caught my heart: the curse caused everyone who loved someone in the castle to forget they existed. Beyond the castle walls, they were no longer known. So sad!

Every human being wants to know and be known. It sounds simple enough. Yet too often we allow our own priorities and our judgments to obstruct how we perceive others. We get in our own way and miss the beauty and love of others who are not like us.

Yesterday I received a message from a friend I’ve known most of my life. I haven’t seen him in person in years, but we’ve kept up through online conversations that sometimes last days and go surprisingly deep (less surprising if you know either of us personally). He had been reflecting on something flippant he’d said about our friendship, something that reverberated. Which compelled him to share it with me.

He didn’t have to share, but he did. Others might have felt too vulnerable. He wrote about me, and the (in his opinion, uncommon) love and gentleness I’ve shared with him. That I am unlike others has been my strength and has had an unlikely effect on him. Though we disagree on core beliefs, my sincere hope and willingness to love him no matter what has allowed him to feel safe to meet me on common ground. He sees in me strength I don’t always feel, and he believes in me.

Reading his words, I felt seen, known. He knows me essentially in a way others with whom I regularly interact don’t. Despite the rejection I sometimes experience, his confidence inspires me to feel newly confident.

This might surprise the crud out of him, but I think God sent my friend at just the right time with just the encouragement I needed to know that God, too, sees me, knows me, and loves me. I don’t have to be afraid. I am not alone.

If I can leave you with a thought: take time to truly see people and acknowledge the best of who they are. Encouragement is a gift you won’t regret.

Jesus: Our Shepherd
Week 4 – Known: John 10

Connect
What sets apart someone you would follow from others you wouldn’t?

Study
Read aloud John 10:1-15.
Describe the difference between the shepherd, thieves and robbers and the hired hand.
What does the shepherd do for the sheep?
Why do the sheep follow the shepherd and not a stranger?
How is the shepherd good?
Retell this scene in a contemporary setting: who would be the shepherd, thief and sheep?Read aloud John 10:28-30.
What does Jesus promise, and how can that be comforting?

Live
How do you get to know the Shepherd?
How do you keep focused on the Shepherd’s voice when there are multiple voices calling for your attention?
Who are the “thieves and robbers” or “wolves” threatening the sheep today?
What can you do differently this week to tune your ear to your Shepherd’s voice?
What is Jesus saying to you through this study, and how will you respond?

Pray
Pray that you will continually listen for your Shepherd’s voice.

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A Sheep’s Prayer

Hi, Jesus!

Hmm, guess I don’t have to say “Hi,” do I? The shepherd never leaves the sheep. You’re always with me. Though the sheep sometimes wander off, don’t they? Um, don’t we? (Cough) Don’t I? Even when my feet don’t wander, I take my eyes off you. I forget you’re here. I forget you’re caring for me and directing me to the best life, the one you planned for me before I was born. I have a short attention span.

Maybe I need to say “Hi” to remind myself that you’re here and in charge. So,

Hello, Jesus!

I shall not want because you’re taking care of me—food, drink, shelter, protection, all covered. Except, to be honest, I do want. It’s not like I’m a shopaholic. I’m actually pretty good at avoiding online and brick-and-mortar stores. But I want enough money not to worry. I want fame and fortune, though I truly don’t all that hassle, I do want success. I want to (metaphorically) walk the red carpet, to be recognized for doing what I do well. I want the vacation I saw on my friend’s Facebook feed and, while you’re at it, I want my body to look like my friend’s bikini body. At least sometimes I want more compliant kids, less vim and vigor. I want a husband who anticipates—and meets—my every need before I say a word. I want a stress-free life.

You know stress-free doesn’t just mean me, right? I want peace in my life, but truly I want world peace. I want politicians to step down off their soap boxes and work together in humility. I want freedom and justice for all, no more slavery of any kind. I want food sufficient to feed everyone who is hungry and opportunity for everyone to live a meaningful life. I want an end to cancer.

So there you have it: I definitely want.

Some of those desires are good and come straight from your heart. Help me to know how to live and serve toward a better world. But please, Lord, forgive me for taking for granted all the good things you have already provided. Forgive me for wanting what you know I don’t need, things that would ultimately get in the way of our time together.

Thank you, thank you, for the breath I breathe, this life you made possible. The ability to get out of bed this morning. For the rain that washed new the earth and watered our plants. For the sunshine in the blue sky. For the cozy little home that shelters our family and keeps us warm. For the family under this roof, and the unique way you made each one of us. Thank you for the gifts these people are to me and to the world. Thank you for our menagerie of pets. We are so weird it makes me laugh, but I also know that you have made us different and that’s a gift to the world, too. Help me to appreciate the overwhelming beauty and goodness of these green pastures and still waters.

Oh Lord, I blow it all the time. Why can’t I remember that you’re in charge, that you’ve got the right plan? I get distracted by worry, by busyness, by the glitter and glory the world offers. Even though I know it’s all funhouse mirrors and false promises. It’s the first lie, the trick that always works: you will live forever. I can offer you something the Lord can’t… And I fall for it.

Yet you restore my soul. You are so good, Lord! No matter how often, no matter the mess I make or how battered and bruised I get, you are always ready to forgive. You come looking for me when I wander off. You pick me up from the ravine where I’ve fallen. You put me back on your path, with you in front, leading to the right life for me, one that honors you.

Hey, Jesus, sometimes this life gets way too dark and scary. Illness, death, crisis of all sorts, suck the joy out of life. I get so mad when people I love hurt. I flail in the darkness. I cry out. But I don’t lose faith, because I know, even when life is hard—especially then—that you are with me. You love me, and you love those I love more than I ever can. I don’t need to be afraid because you will protect me. Even in those moments when I can’t feel you with me, when evil forces its ugly way in, you’re in charge. You’re ready to beat down the threats, and you’re ready to keep me in line. I trust you.

Back to my list of wants: no death and no bad guys. Why are there enemies? Why do I have enemies? I’m following you, trying to do the right thing, and still there are people who don’t like it, don’t like me. But what a remarkable God you are that you give those very people a front row seat to the good things you’re doing in my life. You mark me with your blessing, your fragrant anointing oil, and you make me sit down to feast as they watch. I guess, Lord, if I’m getting in line with what you want, so long as you’re pouring I should ask that blessings will overflow my cup so that even my enemies will get to sip of your best wine. There’s always room in the flock for a few more.

You go before me in goodness and mercy and goodness and mercy follow me. Mercy and goodness everywhere I look—open my eyes to see! Not one day of life has been untouched by your love. Your everlasting love shelters me now and will shelter me into eternity. There’s nowhere I’d rather be.

Let it be so.

 

Jesus: Our Shepherd

Connect
Whose hospitality have you enjoyed recently? What made it special?

Study
Read Psalm 23.
What does the Lord do in this Psalm and what does that tell us about Him? What do we do?
Where does the action take place, and why is that significant?
How is “the valley of the shadow of death” like/unlike “my enemies”? Why are both included?
A shepherd cares for a flock but the flock isn’t mentioned. How does that affect the tone?
How does this Psalm assure us of God’s presence and comfort in all circumstances?

Live
Which images from this Psalm most stand out to you and why?
Share examples of God providing for you, leading you, saving you and caring for you.
Does your life’s landscape currently look more like green pastures or dark valleys? Explain.
What threatens to make you afraid? How can God’s presence with you combat those fears?
Where do you sense God leading you currently?
What is Jesus saying to you through this study, and how will you respond?

Pray
Praise the Lord for His intimate love and care for us throughout life.

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For Cryin’ Out Loud

How many times have I sat with a group of women, Bibles open to Luke 10, as criticism of Martha zings around the room?

Martha’s too busy.
She’s caught up in the wrong thing.
She’s obviously Type A.
Clearly she’s a fussbudget busybody.
She’s overly dramatic.
She’s causing a scene.
Does she think she needs to prepare six courses? Hasn’t she heard of a one-pot meal? How about a sheet pan dinner?

Poor Martha! Every once in a while a woman seated around the circle will eke out a timid comment in her defense: who among us hasn’t acted like Martha at least once? Who truly feels qualified to cast these stones?

Mary gets the honor, while Martha gets vilified. I think we might be missing the point.

I think Martha lost sight of Jesus.

Martha welcomed Jesus into her home. She made Him and His traveling entourage feel comfortable. Hospitality was a BIG big deal back then, way more so than these days. Dirt floors and mud walls might have made housecleaning less of an obvious burden (or moreso?), but inviting at least thirteen hungry travelers into your home meant you probably had to slaughter a goat or two. To skin it, clean it, cook it, how long would that take? (asks the vegetarian…) Plus the side dishes: I imagine tabbouleh and unleavened bread, eggs and nuts and fruit, cheese and wine.spice-370114_1920

I’m getting better, but I used to turn into a whirling dervish before hosting a dinner party. Except way less graceful. I have a soft spot for Martha.

No, I don’t think it’s Martha’s hospitality that got her in trouble. She worked that gift in spades (go, girl!). The key is in her question. Interrupting the party beyond the kitchen, Martha cried:

“Master, don’t you care…?”

Martha forgot who Jesus was. If God = love and Jesus = God, then Jesus = love. Okay, I’m willing to concede that maybe Martha didn’t know Jesus well enough yet. Maybe the if/then hadn’t been made clear.

And yet: I believe Mary’s stillness at Jesus’ feet and Martha’s busyness in the kitchen were separated by only one thing. Mary was attentive to Jesus and Martha was attentive to her preparations.

Can we do whatever we’re doing and still be attentive to Jesus? I sure hope so! I’ve pretty much built my life and faith on paying attention to God while I also do business. In Out of Sorts, Sarah Bessey claims that real, undignified life is the classroom for holiness. “If you can’t find God while you’re changing diapers or serving food or hanging out with your friends, you won’t find God at the worship service or the spiritual retreat or the regimented daily quiet time or the mission field” (p117).

If Martha had taken off her apron and plunked herself down next to Mary, she still might have missed Jesus. She needed to focus her heart, not her hands.

Martha’s cry recalled for me Mark 4, the disciples in the boat when the storm came up. Jesus was sleeping, which might have been a good tip off that God was not going to sink them. But their fisherman training got the best of them. They’d seen storms and this one seemed bad in the worst way.rembrandt_christ_in_the_storm_on_the_lake_of_galilee

They cried: “Teacher, don’t you care…?”

Of course He does. Jesus loved them. Jesus loves us.

Jesus loves us in the boat. In the kitchen. In the green pastures and the dark valleys, wherever He leads us He also loves us. Psalm 31:7 promises, “I will be glad and rejoice in your unfailing love, for you have seen my troubles, and you care…”

Thinking about Martha’s cry, the disciples’ cry, brought to mind the phrase, “for cryin’ out loud.” I did an online search and each site that popped up confirmed the same origin for the phrase. While consistently an expression of frustration or exasperation, its origin comes from the phrase, “for Christ’s sake.”

Which made me laugh: crying out to Christ, in frustration and fear, for Christ’s sake? That seems appropriate. We call out to Christ–maybe with the wrong motives, sure, but still–we cry out to Him and He draws us near for His own sake. Because He loves us.

“Come & See…”

Advent is a season of anticipation, and each year I find myself looking for two things: perfect and imperfect.

As I wrote about here, I look for that moment when the Spirit of Christmas arrives. When I can’t shut out sublime tears, when goosebumps shake me with shivers of joy and revelry and hope: Christmas is coming! Christ is coming!

That describes the perfect Christmas moment. I also look for the imperfect, the things that remind me that all will be well even though nothing on earth will be perfect, that my longings will never be perfectly fulfilled, that I myself and all my striving will still result in something less than. I wrote about that here and here, and this year I laughed every time I looked at our evergreen wreath sticking out its silly tongue at me…wreath-silly

I look for these moments, these encounters. I seek miracles in the mundane. And yet, I’ll be the first to admit, I’m not all that observant.

My maternal grandmother collected Hummel figurines. She’s gone now so I can’t ask when she got the first one, which one?, or how she decided to collect them. She was my grandma, my Mor-Mor, and Hummels were her precious thing. I never thought to ask.

Mor-Mor gave me my first Hummel, from her collection, when Guy and I got engaged. Over years she gave me one, then another, then a couple; I don’t have many but I have some. Truly, they’re not my taste but they feel like a tangible connection to one of my most dearly beloveds, and so I treasure them.

I wish I remembered the occasion on which she gave me Mary and Joseph. I found them a home in our display case and for many Christmases I have forgotten to put them out, precisely because they have a permanent rather than seasonal home. This year, though, as we were “behind” in our typical decorating game, I plucked and placed them center-mantel.

A few days later a friend asked if I had a creche we could use to adorn a Christmas brunch table; I texted her a picture of my Hummels. She replied (with a chuckle, I imagine), “Except, Mary is holding Jesus, so that might be post-creche…?”mary-joseph

Egads! I hadn’t noticed Jesus! I hadn’t noticed that this wasn’t Joseph and Mary en route to Bethlehem but, more likely, fleeing to Egypt! I kept them front-and-center to remind me that Christmas is not about my vision of perfect but about Jesus who is Perfect.

Sadly, I feel like I fled through this Advent, more hustle-bustle than present to the moment. The To-Do List eclipsed attempts at a To-Be List and I found myself squelching sobs through Christmas Eve and Christmas Day services, feeling so not ready for Christmas…

I don’t want to flee through life, living on the run. I want to live in the moment, fully present, listening, seeing, full-body sensing what’s going on around me, what God is doing in and around me. The To-Do List will always be longer, but I want the To-Be list to matter.

Mostly, I want To BE with Jesus, the little guy in arms I hadn’t noticed, The Big Guy who holds me close, who holds together all things–including me.

Like the first disciples, I want to hear–and respond, and mostly, to follow–Jesus’ invitation to “Come and See.” I want eyes to see Him. I want to spend time with Him. I want to let Him change up my priorities. I want to be so excited about who He is and what He is doing that it becomes easy, essential, to issue that same invitation: Come and See…

Come & See
Week 1 – John 1:35-51

Connect
What sights would you like to be invited to come and see?

Study
Read John 1:35-51.
Notice all the words that have to do with sight (look, see, find…). What role does sight play in our relationship with Jesus?
What can we learn from this passage, both in how people refer to Him and in what He says/does, about who Jesus is?
Describe the steps of their transformation as these first disciples encounter Jesus (John pointed Jesus out, they followed, they spent time with Him…).
In vv. 43-45, Jesus “found” Philip but Philip tells Nathanael they have “found” Jesus. What truth does that convey about our relationship with Him?
How is Nathanael’s response to hearing about Jesus different than the others (v. 46)? What different responses have you witnessed when people hear about Jesus?
Jesus offers a word of truth to Simon (v. 42) and Nathanael (v. 47). What might that have been like?

Live
What helps you see Jesus? Or, how do you spend time with Jesus?
Compare the first disciples’ “come and see” evangelism approach to contemporary approaches. How is it like/unlike? How might it influence your own style?
Jesus spoke blessing to Simon and Nathanael. Do you think people expect blessing or curses from Jesus? Explain.
Who would you like to bring to Jesus? What would you tell them about Him?
What does this passage communicate about what it means to be Jesus’ disciple? About how to grow as Jesus’ disciple?
What is Jesus saying to you through this study, and how will you respond?

Pray
Pray that the Spirit will open your eyes to see God in all your circumstances, and that He will give you opportunities to bring others with you to come and see Jesus.

To Unite Creativity to Communion with God

Today’s guest post comes from a precious friend of many years with whom I have spent far too little time face-to-face. In fact, had I not opened an email from a stranger, we might not be friends at all. Some years after Guy and I graduated from Fuller Theological Seminary, Danielle and Matt followed in our footsteps. As married seminary-educated ministry teams are all too rare, friends and mentors told them we needed to meet and passed on our contact info. We exchanged emails until we all moved from SoCal to NorCal and finally met in person. We are so grateful others thought to introduce us! Three Humphreys babies and a couple of churches later, they are in Oregon while we remain in NorCal and we remain grateful for social media that keeps us connected and praying for this sweet family.

Create Challenge #32: Danielle Humphreys

When I was a kid, I loved to doodle, cut-and-paste paper creations, and would go to school sick so I wouldn’t miss that week’s art project. In third or fourth grade, my teacher looked at a paper mask I made and told me I outdid myself. I glowed in the affirmation of what I loved doing. From FIMO creations to beaded necklaces to decorating homecoming floats in tissue paper, being creative just seems to be in my DNA.

In college and beyond, I grew as a visual artist, squeezing in a few art studio classes with whatever free electives I had as a science major. Sculpture and interactive art that invited engagement, like the swings I hung in the university plaza and the “GO” signs I made and installed along bike paths, or even the paintings dealing with my own biracial identity played on themes of whimsy and the potential for deep commentary and conversation. I would have switched my major to art studio, but let’s just say my parents were already disappointed that I got off the pre-med track.

In college and beyond, I grew in my relationship with Jesus and found that the intersection of faith and art just made sense to me. I was invited to use creativity in worship services and retreats through response stations and by designing the environment. My own participation in creative response stations and taking in the visual environment are ways that help me have a heart connection with God while reflecting on how to live out my faith in everyday life. In an increasingly visual world where so much is communicated and felt through design, image and color, I am almost equally if not more impacted by the visual “message” of a worship service (yes, even the fonts matter!) as I am by the sermon itself. I imagine I am not alone in this reality.

Sometimes, my creativity feels like it has shifted to satisfy more utilitarian needs like cooking, making Halloween costumes for my kids, throwing themed birthday parties, and designing print communications for our church. And while I can lose track of time pouring myself into these things (I once spent an hour carving a watermelon to look like the Death Star), it doesn’t satisfy the desire to go deep; to unite creativity to communion with God, truth, wonder, and wrestling. Where the process itself is like entering another dimension where time slows down, I can hear the whisper of God and sometimes see life more clearly. The most recent experience I had where the process of creating art drew me closer to God was a couple of weeks ago when I helped paint and redesign the high school room at church.dhumphries-1dhumphries-2

 

As a long-time youth pastor/leader, I strongly value involving students in the creative process and invite their ideas and input. Would it be easier to just design and execute the ideas I have in my head by myself? Absolutely. But I have found that the benefit of working on a collaborative art piece far outweighs the messiness of involving others and the balance and simmering down of many ideas. Students especially need the affirmation that their creativity and faith are valuable and beautiful. And so I may gently guide and nudge ideas I’ve been collecting for months on my Pinterest board, but I try to be an adult that says, “YES! That’s a great idea, let’s do it!” because I want to help students not only have a hospitable place that inspires their faith, but I want their creativity to feel at home in the church and see how this might be a way God wired them to connect with their Creator. Working with students on art projects is not only a way to create a mosaic or stage design or mural, but an opportunity for discipleship, encouraging reflection on one’s spiritual journey.dhumphries-3

I love our mural of the Sisters Mountains with its taped off edges and facets, the night sky and sunset. The concept for this wall went through much evolution from my initial offering of building trees out of reclaimed fence boards or using something more temporary like canvas banners. But it’s awesome. And it’s not perfect. Parts could be touched up, and the door still needs to be painted, but many hands and minds came together to create this majestic offering. And while I thoroughly enjoyed working on this mural with others, I didn’t mind when the school year started and our students weren’t able to help as much. I happily added the finishing touches from writing the verse to individually gluing tiny Swarovski crystals into constellations on the night sky, smiling at the idea of someone with eyes to see noticing the unexpected twinkling reflection of light. In my alone times, I cranked up my favorite worship songs and blended colors into a sunset while God blended love through music and paint into me. I thought about the real Sisters Mountains I’d seen earlier this summer; the expanse of the night sky with its starry host declaring the grandeur of God, the same God who created all of it, and who created me, too. I hope that those who use this space, created with a heart of worship, will encounter God’s loving Spirit and hospitality.

dhumphries

 

Danielle is a native Bay Area gal, adjusting to life in Oregon, married to Matt and mom to 3 pint-sized humans. She has a B.A. in Aquatic Biology, an M.A. in Theology (Fuller), and enjoys conversations about church, community, Jesus, and gardening. She is also a lover of good food, music, creativity, and outer space. Her neglected blog is daniellehumphreys.wordpress.com.

Jesus & Women

jesus-womenThis morning Guy and I taught one of our church’s adult classes on the topic of “Jesus & Women.” We talked about 1st century Greek, Roman and Jewish culture in which women were powerless possessions of their male head-of-households. We looked at biblical examples of Jesus’ interaction with women and saw how He respectfully engaged with them and how, in more than one case, He used them to preach and teach and effectively spread the good news. And I told my story, or at least some of it in view of the topic. This is what I shared:

When Guy first mentioned that I had been asked to speak on Jesus & Women, I hesitated. I took a deep breath. I thought, “Ah, here we go again, the woman issue…” Why are we talking about Jesus & Women? I don’t see Jesus & Men on the list… But women.

We talk about Jesus & Women because women have been culturally disrespected, in and out of the Church. We talk about women because the Bible was written in a patriarchal culture. We talk about women because the Bible has been used to endorse disrespect for women and their God-given gifts. We talk about women because Paul wrote some things that the Church has long chosen to read literally, and I believe erroneously, rather than understanding that the patriarchal culture was firmly in Paul’s view. Given that Paul himself recognized and honored gifted female leaders as partners in ministry – Lydia, Priscilla, Junia – I wonder if Paul isn’t shaking his head in heaven at how his comments continue to be misunderstood… And so, if we’re talking about women because women are still a misunderstood segment of God’s beloved, then I wonder if perhaps a man could best present that argument.

We talk about Jesus & Women because, thankfully, Jesus had a radically different, inclusive approach to women, uncommon to His culture. We talk about Jesus & Women because our Creator God made all of us, male and female, in His image; our Savior Jesus died to redeem and restore all of us, male and female; and the Spirit of God indwells and gifts all of us, male and female, equipping us to do every good work He has planned for us since the beginning of time.

And we talk about Jesus & Women because, thankfully, we, at this local church, in this Presbyterian denomination, want to learn from, be shaped by, and emulate the grace and love of Jesus in our dealings with all people. I am grateful. And that gives me the courage to get personal with you. To be vulnerable. To be myself.

I am not a politician. I am a woman, and I believe God has gifted and called me into ministry. Not ministry to children, nor music ministry, nor even women’s ministries – all good, but not my immediate calling. But being a woman who believes God has called her to ministry, and professional ministry, in a non-traditional woman’s role does not make me a politician. I don’t like feeling like I have to defend myself, my gifts, my place in ministry, even my God-given desire to pursue Him and honor Him in the way He has made me to love and serve Him. I’ve never felt excited about being a “token” or a “representative,” even though I have occasionally recognized it as an honor to model for other women that they, too, can serve God in whatever ways He has called them. I have seldom felt any enthusiasm about continuing to break through the jagged edges of glass ceiling women in ministry before me have shattered. I don’t want to be defensive, and I don’t want to be angry. And yet I recognize the injustice that I and other women have endured as we seek to be true to God and His calling on our lives. Hence my hesitation.

But let me talk about Jesus and me, Jesus and this particular woman standing in front of you. I have known that Jesus loves me as long as I have had the ability to think. My mom told me that, before she knew she was pregnant with me, she felt like God asked her if she would like a baby. She said, “Whatever you want, Lord.” He replied, “You will have a daughter.” So when two doctors told her she would have a boy based on how she carried her pregnancy (pre-ultrasound, of course), she said no, she had it on Ultimate Authority that she would have a baby girl.

That’s my birth story: God chose me first. God knew me. God planned me. That absolutely shaped my self-identity. [Honestly, I wish my story for every baby, that every baby would know from their very own beginning that God loves them, chose them, knows them inside and out, planned them and has plans for them…]

As a kid, I was at church every time the doors opened. Once I even showed up at an Elders’ meeting because it was on the church calendar (they sent me home). I did stuff that boggles my brain now – door-to-door evangelism, passing out gospel tracts on San Diego beaches – all because a church leader asked me to. I was on every leadership team through high school. I went to Westmont College, a Christian liberal arts school, where I had fabulous male and female teachers and mentors and my faith continued to stretch and grow. Throughout my life, I have loved Jesus and I have loved His Church.

It’s interesting to me that so many churches allow young women to serve in youth leadership positions but once they hit adulthood that door slams. At the first church we served our female students could be greeters and ushers, but I couldn’t. I had to promise the elders, all men, that if I taught male students, Guy would be in the room. I loved and led to Christ and discipled a group of young girls; Guy had the privilege of baptizing them, whereas I couldn’t because of my gender. Later, we finally left that church because a new senior pastor wouldn’t talk to me directly – he’d call Guy in to his office to answer my questions. At youth ministry conferences, I have crossed paths with at least two of my own youth pastors – and neither would talk to me because they couldn’t respect a woman holding a ministry position. Guy and I eventually aligned ourselves with the Presbyterian Church because here more than elsewhere I am free to exercise my gifts and be who Jesus created me to be.

As a young adult I thought my professional path would be in the arts – during and after college I worked in PR and Events at the Santa Barbara Museum of Art. But Guy was working with students at a church and I fell more and more in love. I wanted to do what he was doing. Our church did a series on spiritual gifts and my top gift came up “Prophecy.” I didn’t want it. I did not want to be a man with a big stick telling people what they were doing wrong, things they knew better and didn’t want to hear…

[See, even then, my own biblical view of women was misshapen – I hadn’t been taught, hadn’t noticed, that Miriam and Deborah were Old Testament prophets; that on the day of Pentecost, Peter quotes the prophet Joel:

God says,
I will pour out my Spirit on all people.
Your sons and daughters will prophesy,
your young men will see visions,
your old men will dream dreams.
18 Even on my servants, both men and women,
I will pour out my Spirit in those days… (Acts 2:17-18)]

I thought prophets were mean old crazy men. And people generally don’t like prophets. But others confirmed that gift in me – they saw my deep connection to God’s Spirit and willingness to speak His Word. And while some would say prophecy is a dead gift, others affirm that preaching and teaching was the prophets’ true role. And I do love to write about and teach God’s truth. It wasn’t long after that first spiritual gifts test that God miraculously moved people and hearts and landed me a position on a church staff.

I have never doubted that Jesus loves me. And I believe that Jesus has given me gifts that are only satisfied as I use them to tell His story, His truth, to share His Word. Like the woman at the well sharing the good news of the Messiah with her village, like Mary exclaiming the Best News Ever: “I have seen the Lord!”

The music director at the first church we served was a woman. She laid out the reality of a hard path before me as a woman in ministry. She warned that if I thought I could do anything else, I should run hard and fast in that direction. From time to time I recall her advice, but God still hasn’t given me any freedom to run anywhere but to Him.