Category Archives: ebenezers

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. 

[a different calendar] PURIM

so when i talked about how one of my goals for 2013 is to observe the religious calendar, i have always meant both the christian calendar & the jewish calendar. at least, any holy days from these two calendars that have some significance & application to my walk with Christ.
ever since i went through beth moore’s esther bible study a couple of years ago, i have wanted to celebrate purim.
purim is a feast day celebrated by the jewish people in remembrance of their deliverance from the evil haman. the story can be found in the book of esther, also known as the megillah. they were threatened by an edict demanding their destruction & annihilation because of haman’s anger & pride. they were saved by God’s providence, as He worked through a man of integrity named mordecai & his courageous niece, the queen at the time, esther. when the bad news came, it was a season of repentance & returning to the Lord for the jewish diaspora in babylon. after they were victorious against their enemies, they feasted & celebrated. mordecai then wrote to all jews in the land that they should observe this same day annually with feasting & celebrating, & also by giving presents of food to each other & gifts to the poor.
there are four main requirements for purim:
1. the reading of the whole book of esther
2. a celebratory meal
3. giving gifts of food to friends & neighbors
4. giving to the poor
purim is not considered a sabbath feast, so you can carry on with business as usual the day of if it falls on a workday. as with all jewish days, it begins at sundown the night before & continues until sunset the next evening. some people will fast that day before in remembrance of the fast that esther called for. traditionally, jews will gather at the synagogue that first evening to hear “the whole megillah” read. my favorite part about this is the “blotting out” of haman’s name — whenever haman’s name is said, everyone is supposed to make noise so you can’t hear it. this is done by booing & hissing, noisemakers, &/or the stamping of your feet. you can even write haman’s name on the soles of your shoes so that as you stamp your feet, his name is literally blotted out! and you cheer for mordecai when his name is read. “cursed be haman!” “blessed be mordecai!” the next day, the people gather to hear the book of esther read again & party it up with a feast, costumes, plays, drinking, laughing, & giving gifts. it is suggested that each adult must give two gifts of food to two different people, & each adult must give generously in some way to two different people in need.
with all this in mind [plus much more information from beth’s study than i can keep in my leaky brain or recount here], i decided to have a purim dinner party.
last year, our dear friends bob & nan had us & three other couples over for passover. it was one of the most enriching experiences of my christian walk. shaun & i decided to invite our eight “passover peeps” to celebrate purim with us. we kinda waited till the last minute to do this, so only bob, nan, chuck, & betty were able to come. but did we ever have fun, the six of us!
before we gathered for the feast, we each found ways to give to others in need, whether it be through money or a visit or a meal. and we each brought gifts of food to exchange with one another.
here is a glimpse of the meal in pictures:
[it’s important to set a fine table.]
[blue & white are associated with judaism & mordecai.]
[we used our fine china for the first time ever.]
THE FEAST:
forgive the funky pictures… most were taken after the dinner!
FIRST COURSE:
i forgot to get a picture of the potato dumpling soup…
[sugared almond salad]
[homemade challah, traditional jewish braided bread]
MAIN COURSE:
[chickpea fritters served with tzatziki, a cucumber dill yogurt sauce]
i also forgot to take a picture of the roasted veggies:
sweet potatoes, carrots, turnips & red onions with rosemary & feta]
[poppy seed fruit salad]
[more challah]
[wine & cider — this is a scuppernong cider made in my home state, north carolina.]
you may have noticed the meal was vegetarian. i chose that so we could be kosher[ish] & still use dairy products like the tzatziki & feta cheese.
in between the dinner & dessert, we read the whole megillah! we passed the bible around & each read one chapter until we had completed all ten of them. we would often pause between chapters to talk about things that struck us or questions we had. bob is very knowledgeable about the bible & a great teacher, & every one else at the table is an avid student of the bible, & i learned so much from them! i’ve never laughed so much while reading the bible. between trying to pronounce all the strange names & the blotting out of haman’s name, i believe we captured the raucous spirit of purim! we booed & hissed & stamped our feet sometimes every time haman was said. for us christians, having never experienced purim before, it was quite the unique experience in scripture reading. we told bob we thought it should be a continued tradition in his sunday bible class!
[the megillah, the only book in the bible with no mention of God!]
DESSERT:
[the buffet set for dessert & coffee]

there are not many foods that are guaranteed purim feast traditions. nuts, seeds, & dried fruits are favored [seen in the sugared almond salad, chickpea fritters, & poppy seed fruit salad]. and there is one item that no purim feast worth its salt would be without: hamantashen. it means “haman’s ears” or “haman’s hats.” according to historical record & legend, a person of position like haman would likely have worn a triangular hat. as for his ears, they are referred to as “twisted” for not listening to God. hamantashen are triangular cookies with some sort of fruit filling [or chocolate sometimes].

[hamantashen filled with cranberry-orange marmalade & peach preserves]
[dried fruit: dates, mango, & figs]
[chocolates topped with caramel & sea salt]
i don’t have pictures of our gifts that we exchanged, but i loved it! there were homemade cookies & bars, maple chex mix [which shaun had to restrain himself from eating in one sitting!], wine, cheese & crackers, & more.

we had a fabulous experience celebrating purim with our friends! as to its spiritual significance as a christian, here are some things we reflected on: God is still present in our lives today, even when He isn’t “seen.” He still delivers us by His mighty providence. celebration is important. taking the time to remember all the times He has rescued me, provided for me, & blessed me is a vital faith practice. every time i recount what He has done in my past, i am better able to believe He will be with me in my present & future. i can have faith when i can’t see Him, when i feel like my prayers are going unanswered, when the unknown future is scary, & when i feel threatened by the enemy. when we remember & celebrate these experiences with God in our lives, we set up a memorial stone unto Him. just like samuel did when the israelites got the ark of the covenant back from the philistines. 

“thus far has the Lord helped us…” and He will help us again!


words to LIVE by #2

this is something i frequently talk to our teens about. i always want to encourage others & myself to follow dreams! but sometimes life doesn’t work out the way you planned. okay, lots of times… but sometimes a better dream comes along.

when i was in high school, i planned to be an architect who ran my own design-build company, living in a big city & traveling the world. i went to design school for architecture, & while i wasn’t extraordinary, i was good at it. and i loved it. but i learned during those undergraduate years & since then that enjoying something isn’t the same thing as it being your passion. of course, i’m the kind of person who’s passionate about lots of things, so this becomes hard for me to decipher sometimes. but i learned to ask these questions:

is it something i’m good at? 
is it something i would enjoy? 
is it something that evokes passion in me?
is it something i can do [realistically]? 
and most importantly, is it something i will sustain for more than 1-2 years?

because i like to do so many things, that last question is key. that’s actually the reason i chose architecture as my major — i thought it would combine all my various interests [art, building, math, literature & language, photography, etc.] so it could be a long-term career for me.

but my life doesn’t look anything like i planned as a teenager. and i’m so thankful for that! not that i can’t still see myself being a successful urbanite architect. but it wouldn’t have fed my deepest passions. instead, i’m married to a farm boy professor, living in a large town/small city, & doing ministry in various forms as my vocation. when we were working with the youth ministry, i often told the teens that had my life not taken a different course from my teenage dreams, i would have never known them. and i wouldn’t trade being with them for anything in the world. they are my passion. sharing the life in Christ with them & others is my deepest dream. i just didn’t know it back in high school.

i still have a life planned or dreamed of for myself, although it has changed drastically from the one i planned all those years ago. i want to continue in formal ministry. i want to have a houseful of children in some way [whether by birth, adoption, or youth ministry!]. i want to live my days in the companionship of my husband. i want to live closer to all my sisters. i want to travel. i want to write books. and on the list goes. and if none of those dreams comes true, it won’t be because i didn’t pursue them! but it will be because there was a different life waiting for me.

one of my favorite verses in the bible is after the israelites have recovered the ark of the covenant & samuel sets up a memorial stone to the Lord. He names it ebenezer, saying “thus far has the Lord helped us.” and the implication is that He will help us again. God will continue to guide me in this life, in the Life of Christ, as He has yet faithfully done. and i will follow.

what life do you have planned? what life is waiting for you?