Monthly Archives: March 2013

f.l.y.: finally loving yourself

i discovered the writings of emily wierenga last week via sarah bessey’s international women’s day sychroblog. on her own site, emily has issued a challenge to fellow writers to participate weekly with her in “a dare to love yourself.” her posts thus far have been beautiful, & since my 2013 theme is love, it has really hit home to me along with other various aspects of love that i’ve been pondering & learning.

i had long forgotten how to f.l.y. it’s an acronym that i spent a semester teaching to college girls at our weekly bible study — finally loving yourself. i taught this to others, & yet, i have forgotten how to live it myself. ouch.

i loved this quote from emily:

Until you learn to like the way your left ear hangs lower than your right; the way you limp a little when you walk, or the way you snort out laughter; until you learn to say “Thank you” to your body for bearing your babies and for carrying you through life and for pumping oxygen through your veins, you’ll never be able to truly love another person.

i agree wholeheartedly.

Jesus taught love as the greatest command(s):

Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” [Matthew 22:37-40]

i’ve often heard this simplified as “love God & love others.” as i’ve been reading about agape so far this year, these are the words that have echoed over & over in my mind. but conspicuously absent have been Jesus’ words about loving myself… if He said i need to love others as i love myself, what happens when i don’t really love myself? [this was the premise of that bible class i taught so many years ago.]

it’s been so long since i’ve thought about loving myself, i’m not even sure where to start! years ago, a trusted counselor told me to experiment with treating myself like i was my own mother. what time would she wake me up in the morning? what would she make me for breakfast? what clothes would she lay out for me? how would she take care of me? she suggested i do those very things. what a revolutionary concept: to take care of myself. i think that’s the beginning of self-love. even if i don’t feel like it, if i go through the motions of the experiment, the feelings will eventually follow the actions. it’s true in so many other areas of life, & i believe it to be true here, too.

like emily, i’ll be posting for the next several mondays on this topic. next week, i want to talk about taking care of yourself, what it means, what it doesn’t mean, how to do it, what to do when you don’t feel like it, & how changing your actions changes your mind & heart.

may God teach us how to love ourselves so that we can more fully love Him & others.

gibor chayil! — a tribute to a man of valor

perhaps you’re familiar with the increasingly popular phrase “eshet chayil” which is hebrew for “woman of valor.” it is a more accurate translation of the words used to describe the heroine of the poem found in proverbs 31. it’s an epithet rachel held evans discovered & embraced during the research for her book “a year of biblical womanhood.”

but the title of this post is gibor chayil… in all the precious shout-outs to women of valor via social media, sarah bessey asked what was the hebrew phrase for men of valor because there are men of valor in our lives, too, & they just as surely need this outpour of affirmation & encouragement. so gibor chayil was learned & shared & bestowed.

today, in honor of his day of birth, i would like to bestow this title to a most worthy gibor chayil.

anyone who knows my husband, shaun, likes him. even people who have openly hated &/or distrusted me still like, trust, & respect shaun. he’s so friendly & kind, people can’t help themselves! even more astonishingly, in the more than ten years that i’ve known him, i’ve only known him to dislike two people! [and he still treats them kindly so they would never know.] he is an extroverted introvert, which means he is outgoing & loves talking to people, but at heart, he’s quiet & more of a listener. his unaffected & selfless manner is magnetic. he is as genuine as they come. children flock to him, & like Jesus, he relishes it. [he has more girlfriends under the age of 10…] he is gibor chayil because he cares about everyone he meets & actively demonstrates that care to them.

anyone who knows my husband, shaun, can tell you i married up. first of all, his family descended from pirates, so there you go. so cool. also, he’s more than a foot taller than me. my family was glad i brought some height into our below six foot clan. but i also landed the sweetest fella. he takes such care of me & puts up with so much. don’t shake your head in disagreement because it is painfully true! just last night i was bantering on facebook & twitter with friends about their definition of “doing laundry.” shaun disagrees with me that it just means getting clothes into the washing machine & maaaaaybe the dryer. poor boy! a housewife, he did not marry. i “do the laundry” but rarely fold it & please don’t make me laugh about putting it away. he does all the dishes in our casa because i won’t. [in all fairness, i do cook & i’m pretty good at it.] he keeps gas in my car because i hate pumping my own. he regularly gives me backrubs & footrubs without asking for their return. he carries my pillows up to bed every night just because. and if that weren’t enough to convince you that “bless his heart” never applied to any man more than shaun — he puts up with my extreme moodiness & my temper & my venting about the latest thing that raised my passion [or ire]. he works hard in his work field to provide for me so that i can pursue my vocation that rarely gets paid. he supports me in all my latest schemes & wildest dreams & never tells me it can’t be done. he tells me i’m beautiful when i’m a wreck. he takes incredible over-the-top care of me when i’m sick or hurting. he indulges my whims & cravings. he loves me fiercely in his own quiet way, so much so that he willingly speaks out on my behalf in situations his personality would rather avoid. i’m convinced God will take him home first of the two of us, just to give the poor boy much-deserved rest! if that’s not gibor chayil, i don’t know what is.

but there’s more. anyone who knows my husband, shaun, knows he is a man of God. and is there any higher honor that can be spoken? he loves God & loves His written word. shaun’s not much for reading, & he has to do so much of it in his work, but he’ll read his bible daily anyways. he is always up for that. he loves the church. he is the very definition [other than Jesus] of servant leadership. he’s comfortable up front, saying a prayer, teaching & preaching, organizing a group or event. but you’ll more likely find him in the back greeting people, or washing dishes, putting away tables, & fixing a broken pew. he’s not threatened by my gifts & enjoys complementing them [in the true spirit of complemtarianism!] with his own. he likes to let me take the lead in planning or teaching, offering his ideas & assistance. he also isn’t afraid to take the lead so i can have a break! he is confident in who God has made him to be & confident in God to use him accordingly. it is the most attractive quality he has. [& if i may say so, that is saying something!] he is gibor chayil because he pursues Christ with his life & spurs along the rest of us to come follow, too.

so happy birthday to my gibor chayil, shaun nathan casteel! may God bless us with many more years together so i may grow as eshet chayil as you grow as gibor chayil. may we grow in God together.


a pioneer, a pacifist, & a prodigal

what do a pioneer, a pacifist, & a prodigal have in common? they have each indelibly marked my life in Christ. if they were tattoos, i would be covered head to toe in the ink of their influence.

the pioneer was born a few years after me into the same household, by the same two parents. she is my blood sister. my younger sister. and yet, as she has grown up, she has blazed a trail in the spiritual life that has compelled me to follow. when i was in college and she was still a teenager in high school, i realized she was a mentor to me in the faith. i watched & learned from her how to pursue relationship with Jesus & relationship in a faith community even when your own church lets you down & offers you nothing. i watched & learned from her how to stand up for what you believe in & to challenge your peers to do the same. she was not concerned with converting everyone to believing the same things she did. she just wanted her fellow christians to know why they believed what they believed, rather than to continue being spoon fed by a youth pastor or parents. she challenged her friends, & she challenged me, to take ownership of our faith, our beliefs, our commitments, our actions. i watched & learned from her how to reach out & embrace my friends who were gay. to me, she is an icon for Christ’s love to this group of people so often marginalized & despised by the church. these lessons from my younger sister shaped me so much that they become major aspects of my own identity. one of my own mottos has become to stand up for what you believe in no matter what the consequences might be. [we both learned this from watching our father do it growing up, but it took me watching her live it out to put it into action myself.] we both have a plethora of reasons to be cynical about the church & “have every right” to walk away from it. but we don’t. one reason i don’t is because she spoke so often about her passion for God’s kingdom & reminded me that beyond the ugliness of the church, there is also beauty. her passion was contagious. and now it is my consuming passion. and within that overarching passion, one of my deepest desires is to see the church welcome all people with the love of Christ, making the church a safe place to ask questions & to learn about Jesus, even & especially the lgbt community. anyone who knows me well knows these to be three important tenets in my life, yet so few know to whom i am indebted. to this pioneer in the faith, my younger sister, to whom i ought to have been the example, i am humbled & honored to learn from, to imitate, & to now walk alongside on the fiery path to God.

the pacifist was born a few years after me in a state far away into a family i did not know. we did not meet until both in our twenties [me in my late twenties]. she has become my sister in every sense of the word. we have become family by the blood of Christ & by shared ministry. when i moved to lafayette, my husband shaun was sure she would become my best friend. she & i both anticipated it to be so. while we became friends, it wasn’t until we had a common ministry that we became best friends & then sisters. we have so much in common — love for reading, aptitude for design, obsession with shoes, marriage to farm boys… but it has been our differences that have catapulted me along my faith walk. she’s a pacifist. i am not. she’s an analytical thinker. i am not. she’s a deliberate communicator. i am not. and while i still won’t claim to be a pacifist [mostly because i won’t claim any -ist or -ism], i have come a long way in understanding the nonviolence of our Savior. many of my views & beliefs have been overturned by my exposure to this pacifist sister. she has taught me how to approach people, especially difficult people [as this was our shared ministry — one very troubled young woman], with more compassion & less condemnation, with more calmness & less calamity, with more wisdom & less assumption, with more deliberateness in word & deed rather than with reactionary anger & frustration. she is my go-to editor & advisor in everything because she always takes me down a notch. [or two, or ten!] she brings me back down to the molehill when i’m insistent on climbing the mountain. she imparts godly perspective. i have not lost an iota of my passion but rather learned how to control that passion in appropriate, more effective, & Christlike ways. everything about who i am — my conviction of what is right, my passion for the Lord’s church, & my love for marginalized people — has found necessary balance. not balance as in “not going to far with it.” oh, no! but in balancing goodness [truth] with kindness, balancing passion with compassion, & balancing love for the marginalized with love for those who have done the marginalizing [whether intentional or not]. the pacifist has brought balance to the passionate.

and the prodigal. oh, my sweet, beautiful, messed up girl. the prodigal was born ten years after me, & yet she is as much a spiritual daughter as a sister. she is the troubled young woman the pacifist & i worked with together. we met her as a late teen, having been through a life no one deserves, having never had a real break, having never really understood God. so we worked with her, we met with her, we listened to her, we studied with her, we prayed with her, we took her in, we kicked her out, we cried with her, we cried for her, we fought with her, we held her, we loved her. after months of incessant drama & effort with her, she chose Christ. we had the privilege to baptize her into Christ together. to date, it is the greatest highlight of my life.

as with any new christian, there were ups & downs that followed. by the end of the year, we hit a major downswing. she was walking deliberately away from God in every decision she was making. we told her we would not keep meeting with her every week while she continued to do that. she walked out, & we didn’t see or hear from her for two months. it was agonizing. we were so afraid of what she would do, whether she would live through it, whether she would ever come back to God, to us. i had never understood the parable of the prodigal son so acutely. i am not a parent, so there are many things about being a parent & having a child that i can’t understand. but this is one experience that i do understand & i pray most parents never have to. fast forward: what a hallelujah moment when she came home! we all moved in together to help her rehabilitate & rediscover the life in Christ. it was hard, it was messy, but it was worth it. she changed & grew, wrestled & learned. she wrote beautiful psalms nearly every day. she increased prayer in our home one-hundred fold! i learned from this sweet prodigal how to love someone who has hurt you so badly, how God turns mourning into dancing. i learned a new definition of patience. i learned how to yield to & rely on the fruit of the Spirit within me. i learned so much about how God views, loves, treats me. i learned how i am the prodigal, too. our beautiful, messed up girl is wayward again. prodigal again. still, she teaches me: to love long-distance, to pray without ceasing, to hope in the impossible [because that’s what God specializes in]. it hasn’t turned out like we hoped yet, but i’m still learning that while it was hard, & it was messy, it was absolutely worth it. she was absolutely worth it.

three beautiful women who have written Christ more deeply into my life. what do a pioneer, a pacifist, & a prodigal have in common? they have all exemplified our God in beautifully unique & desperately needed ways. for me, & now, i hope for you, too.

i have written this as part of sarah bessey’s tribute to spiritual midwives & patron saints as we celebrate international women’s day & “the spiritual achievements of women, past, present, & future, who have mattered to us.” i have written about only three women in my life who have made a difference for Christ. i could have written volumes trying to include every precious women throughout my life & through pages of their writing who have blessed me, taught me, challenged me, & mentored me in the faith. to all of you who make this difference, in my life & in others’, THANK YOU. please visit sarah’s post & be encouraged by the stories of other women taking the world by storm & by love.