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Being Brave Together

In the moments when we wonder why we bother, when we feel futile and small and ridiculous, when we feel misunderstood and mischaracterized, when we are paying a price, it’s in those moments that we learn the truth about being brave: it doesn’t always feel good.

If, as Aristotle supposedly posited, the only way to avoid criticism is to say nothing, do nothing, and be nothing, well, then that’s certainly an option. And sometimes a very alluring option. Be nothing, do nothing, say nothing, watch more television, buy more stuff.

Everyone likes to talk about being fearless, about owning your truth, about standing up and being counted. We sing songs in church about being brave, we blast music in the minivan and shake shake shake it off, we hang prints up in our homes about courage, we talk about brave people or follow them on social media until we somehow make ourselves believe that we ourselves are somehow brave.

I think we like to talk a lot about being brave because the actual doing of it is so freaking terrifying. And tiring. And ordinary.

It’s my belief that true fearlessness comes from living loved. When we find our worth and our value in Christ, then, as the Psalmist wrote, what can man do to us? I don’t think we can be a people-pleaser or an approval-addict AND be brave with our lives. Perhaps that’s why fearlessness or bravery starts with our identity first, it’s the deep well from which we draw living water, enough for today.

I believe that bravery is born in the quiet and ordinary moments long before it’s seen by anyone else. Sometimes it’s as simple and devastating as the moments no one else will ever see – the moments of daring to be honest with our own self, of laying down our excuses or justifications or disguises, of asking ourselves what we really want, of forgiveness, of honesty, of choosing the hard daily work of restoration, of staying resolutely alive when every one else is just numbing themselves against life. These are why our friends matter so deeply: they are witness to the sacred secrets. Not all secrets are terrifying things, some of them are beautiful and transformative.

But then come moments – those turning point moments, when you know it matters more than anyone else would know from the outside. The “yes” you need to say, the “no” you need to enforce, the truth you need to speak, the life you dare to imagine, the risk you take, the art you create, the establishment you defy, the danger you face, the living out of what you profess, whatever. Those moments are our turning points because when we look back on them, we say and then something changed.

That is true. Usually it’s us, we’re the ones who change. We take another tentative step out onto the water, a bit further away from the boat of our safety. And we do it alongside of each other, hand in hand, never alone.

I have learned the hard way that we usually can’t be brave on our own.

The ways we connect with each other might be quite typical – Sunday morning services or school pick-ups or bible studies at church or school or work or afternoon walks. Or more typical to our generation – Facebook, Twitter, blogs, podcasts, texting. Either way, we don’t feel quite so alone in our moments of choosing brave. We feel seen, we feel heard, we feel prayer at our back and a sisterhood waiting up ahead of us on the path.

Together makes us braver.

I am surrounded by interesting and dangerous women. Sometimes this is wonderful, other times it’s exhausting, it is always challenging. Because they push me. They push me to think harder, to be more honest, to read more widely, to listen more broadly, to get my hands dirty, to stop compartmentalizing my life, to live more seamlessly. They make me examine my choices and my priorities. They question me, they pray for me. When I grow weary, they hold my arms up and growl “don’t you dare sit down.” These women have stretched my opinions, my theology, my mind, and my heart until I hardly know my own shape anymore.  The funny thing is that they do this just by getting on with it – no sermons, no programs, no big manifestos, just a company of women being brave in ordinary ways, each so different from the other.

They are being brave with their own lives and so, because I am alongside of them, I am learning to be brave, too.

Their lives are a cadence I want to carry: others first, pay attention, open heart, work well, rest radically, open doors, live prophetically, make room in your life to be inconvenienced, challenge, love well. I stumble so often, I get cranky and melodramatic and self-important. March, they say. Pick up your one small stone, they say, we’ve got a mountain to move.

It’s a risk. Don’t let anyone tell you differently. There is a price to pay, a cost to be counted. Reorienting your life around what you believe about God and what it means to be truly human and believing every small life or act of justice matters comes with a cost. We are counting that cost. And it’s worth it. Every time. Even when we’re wrong, even when we screw up, even when we sink beneath the waves and find ourselves scrambling back to the boat, licking our wounds, being brave together is worth it. It means we get to try again. Together.

Continue Reading · faith, fearless, journey · 25

Flutters and faith

Faith and Flutters

I have three tinies and this is my eighth pregnancy. Those kinds of odds can mess with a woman.

As I said a few weeks ago when I first told you about this baby, it’s been a bit of a roller coaster. I spent the first four months of this pregnancy convinced that it wasn’t viable, unable to muster up any hope that Tiny #4 would actually be in my arms in February.

I spent those days waiting for a sign, just one sign, to demonstrate to me that this baby had half a chance. I prayed for it. (I never had a single sign.) Then came no heartbeat and then another non-heartbeat and then finally, crazily, 173 beats a minute and the assurance that so far, so good.

I had a heartbeat confirmation. And that was it.

You name the pregnancy “symptom” of your choice – morning sickness, sore breasts, exhaustion, mood swings, food sensitivities or aversions, whatever – and I had it with the three babies I carried to term. More tellingly, I did not experience them with all of my losses. That was always my first indicator that something wasn’t quite right with the pregnancy – my body quietly returned to normal and so I quietly began to grieve.

Tiny #4 continues to defy my script.

I have longed for morning sickness in a way that must baffle and offend women who are severely struck down during pregnancy. I don’t mean to make light of those who suffer in this way. But I went through my days perfectly fine, bright and energetic – and I hated every minute of it. My body still felt, well, not pregnant.

Come on, I would bargain with my body. Let me be sick today. It would sure help my anxiety.

When I carried Anne and Joe and Evelynn, I leaned heavily on those little indicators like morning sickness or migraines, swollen feet and exhaustion because they meant that something was still happening. Someone was still there. Someone was taking up space in my body and making their presence known. With Tiny #4, I have not had those reassurances.

My last rung of the hope ladder was this one: feeling the baby move. I always feel my babies moving very early, perhaps because I’m paying such close attention. As I passed day after day of this pregnancy without a single indicator to justify any hope, I waited expectantly for week 14. (I felt Anne at 16 weeks, both Joe and Evelynn as early as 14 weeks. This is uncommonly early but it’s usual for me.) This is a sure one, I thought, soon I’ll know I can relax and just enjoy this pregnancy instead of always waiting for the other shoe to drop.

Surely, surely, surely with a fourth baby, I would be feeling this one move at the same time, possibly even earlier. Then I would know what to expect, then I would be bold enough to pray with assurance.

Week 14 passed, no movement.

Week 15, then 16. I voiced some concern to my family.

Then we passed week 17, then 18, then 19 weeks.

Still no movement within me, still no flutters, still no someone making their presence known.

As Week 20 drew near, it seemed that I was even being denied this milestone. The books and my midwife all said it wasn’t time to panic yet and so I waited (not-so) patiently for my next ultrasound appointment, this deviation from my expected script sent me reeling. Even if it wasn’t a big deal to anyone else, to me it meant everything.

Every small thing that I have used to justify my faith and confidence and hope during a pregnancy has been denied to me during this pregnancy. I don’t know why.

The days are a bit long when you’re waiting without assurance.  I think I used to confuse faith with my longing for control, particularly of outcomes. Even now, it’s a lame sort of faith, mine, the kind that waits for a sign before taking the risk. Faith feels like a release to me, it’s safer to put my confidence in my abilities or in hard work or proper behaviours or whatever new thing I’m using to wrest control in my life.

Like so many aspects of my spirituality, I am still a bit in-between, figuring out what I reclaim and what I relinquish, living with a few unanswered questions while relying heavily on the few things I do know – and almost all of those can be summed up in my complete and utter confidence in Love. God is for us, who can be against us?

Over these weeks, I felt like a fragmented woman, believing and unbelieving all at once.

One old-school part of me was going all word-of-faith on this baby: praying Scripture, declaring the Word, binding and loosing all sorts of things, declaring life and not death, you name it, I’d claim it. Another part of me was already grieving and giving up. Another part of me prayed for belief even while acknowledging my own unbelief. One part of me wondered how I even dared to pray and expect God to move for me when I already had three beautiful children and there are far more important things in the world about which I should be praying, how selfish could I be? Another part of me relinquished outcomes, trusting God implicitly no matter the outcome while simultaneously raging against that very thing.

I am a woman of prayer. It sounds bold-faced to write it down, but there it is. I write it anyway. Prayer comes easily to my spirit – perhaps it is because a former pastor of ours once told us that the same part of us that worries is the part of us that prays. I knew I could worry constantly, so that meant I could pray constantly.

And so I do. I always have. I move through my day with an awareness of my companionship with the Spirit and we talk always, sometimes even with words. I pray, this is what I do. It feels small, so small, in the face of great pain or sorrow or injustice or uncertainty or even joy, but I pray anyway. I carry people and movements, requests and hearts within me like candlelight that I revisit often to hold in my hands and breathe over in prayer.

I don’t believe I can control God through prayer or through faith, I don’t believe God is waiting for me to “prove” that I have enough faith or know enough Bible verses to argue the points. In fact, I don’t believe in praying with an agenda most of the time. Yet as the days of my waiting for this baby to just move already went by, I prayed to or wondered at God, grappling with my questions and my doubt, with my beliefs about the nature and character and heart of our God and the very real reality of our fallen world.

Fearlessly, fearfully, I prayed for life.

And I prayed for faith. I prayed for faith to believe for life and for health for a small person. I prayed because who else was going to keep praying? who else was going to stand guard over this small one and hang on for dear life, who else but her mother? this is what we do, we stay even when it would make more sense to give up. I prayed because I wasn’t going to give up. I wasn’t going to be the one to back down from a fight over my child.

I felt more like the annoying woman of persistence from one of Jesus’ parables, she who stood outside the door of a judge pestering his life out until he gave in with bad grace. Jesus called her a woman of great faith, I call her my only hope.

I couldn’t muster up my old definitions of faith but I could keep relentlessly hope-knocking as my radical act of faith.

Two weeks ago on a Saturday morning, I was laying in bed alone (a rarity) when the baby finally made her presence known: I’m here. She shifted and moved within my womb with a small whoosh, and my heart throbbed. There you are, I breathed. There you are. I’ve been waiting for you.

Then she moved like a fish in water, a rolling and a stretching with natural ease that seemed to say, what? you were worried?

I stayed in bed, silent, feeling her move within me, like faith, a flutter of a presence, growing. There was plenty of time to tell my husband, my mother, my sister, my friends. Right then, it was time to pray and every word in my mind and mouth, every flutter was thank you thank you thank you thankyouthankyouthankyou.

Still I wonder about faith and the nature of prayer, I still hold my understandings loosely. Faith isn’t certainty, I know that by now. If I was certain, I wouldn’t need faith. I think it’s a gift and a choice, sometimes at the same time. I think it’s a confidence in the midst of doubt, it’s work and it’s rest. Faith is a risk and it’s gorgeous to let go into the free fall.

Barbara Kingsolver wrote in her book, Animal Dreams, “The very least you can do in your life is figure out what you hope for. And the most you can do is live inside that hope. Not admire it from a distance but live right in it, under its roof.”

These days, that sounds a lot like Hebrews 11 to me. So right now I think faith is figuring out what I hope for – redemption, wholeness, shalom, justice, love, life, one small baby to live and not die, all of it – and then fearlessly living under that roof.

It’s been a couple of weeks since that Saturday. As I write these words, this baby within me moves and kicks and pokes mercilessly, stretching and growing, I still nearly exhale with relief every time. Our baby is alive and well and growing stronger still – I take no credit and I am still wary of proclaiming anything definitive.

After all, if I say that God performed a miracle this time, what does that mean for my other babies, the ones I never got to hold except in my folded-up tea towels? I can’t forget them. Yet if I say that it’s just a happy coincidence, am I taking away from the miracle and the glory for God’s mighty act for a seemingly small and ordinary woman and her unborn child? It’s both and it’s neither, it’s holy ground for that very reason, for the uncertainty and the praise, one in each hand. I can only say that fearless prayer did what it always does: it changed me.

I still pray and will always pray like that one thing is true: God is for us. And it’s worthwhile to keep knocking.

That’s about all I know about faith for sure.

Just a couple of days later, we had our ultrasounds. It confirmed what I already knew well by now: our wee one is healthy and whole, all is well. The technician might as well have hung a big neon sign up that said: Chill Out, Sarah. And Congratulations.

Because, didn’t I mention? …. we’re having a girl.

photo by Rachel Barkman Photography (from back when I was VERY pregnant with Evelynn) 

Continue Reading · baby, faith, fearless, journey · 60

May God bless you with anger

Last weekend, I was in Winnipeg’s historic west end with the YWAM Urban Ministries and the Little Flowers community. It was a very dear time for me in many personal ways, absolutely, because I’ve been writing alongside of Jamie Arpin-Ricci as a Canadian theological blogger since the dark ages – back in the day when there were only about five of us writing about that stuff online and we were all so a-flutter over the emerging church, bless it – and he’s been very influential in my own life from afar over the years. He’s a bit of a misfit – a YWAMer who is a Franciscan priest in the Mennonite/Anabaptist tradition. Go figure, eh? But it works. In fact, the longer and better I know him and his work, the more respect I have – not too many folks you can say that about, I know. So having a chance to spend time with him and his wife, Kim, their son and their community was very life-giving.

But the weekend was more than just my own time sharing about Jesus Feminist and even more than our personal connection and conversations – it was also about justice and community, church and calling, all things that we talk about a lot here in this space, particularly on the grass roots level.

So I’m going to be writing through a few aspects of my time with these folks over the next weeks as their work and posture impacted me deeply – and I want you to know them.  I don’t have a big agenda or timeline though, I’ll just write as I can and look forward to the conversation that may unfold.

***

As you might have guessed from their church name, Little Flowers has been deeply influenced by Saint Francis of Assisi. This past Saturday was the Feast of Saint Francis so we had a conversation about the life of Saint Francis and if, like me, your knowledge of saints is pretty rudimentary at best, I’ll just say that he is way more than the guy on the bird baths and the pet blessings. We’ve domesticated our saints, perhaps, in order to make them fit on our pedestals. A good hint of the kind of man he was – and the order he founded of Franciscans – is to look at the new Pope Francis who took his official papal name from this saint with very clear purpose and inspiration.

Anyway, as a bridge into writing about the ideas that my weekend woke up in me, I wanted to share with you a Franciscan blessing that we prayed together as part of our small Sunday gathering.

And then I dare you to pray it.

franciscan blessing

Continue Reading · church, church planting, community, journey, missional, prayer · 14

Accusations and Accolades

We had a few laughs over on my Facebook page and on Twitter yesterday because yet another person wrote a book about all the ways the rest of us are doing this Jesus-following-thing wrong. I’m an evil leftist menace to the Gospel – that’s about the gist of it. It made me laugh – by this point, that sort of stuff feels as hurtful as someone telling me that I’m Cookie Monster – and so I created a new (fake) blog header for a laugh:

evilsarah

This is just part of life, isn’t it? Accusations against us never end, we never outgrow them. In a way, the stronger we become, the louder our accusers become. But here’s the other side not too many people will tell you: the accolades also pile up. And neither one of those things are especially good for my soul, not on a steady diet.

Someone told me that I’m disgustingly prideful. They talked and wrote about my hubris, my vanity, my self-importance and self-promotion. Someone else told me that my hallmark is my humility and self-deprecation.

Someone called me an uppity woman, like it was the 19th century all over again. Other people tell me I’m too nice, that I avoid conflict, that I should get better at arguing and confronting, and at taking a stand.

Someone thinks I’m a terrible feminist because I don’t tick the proper boxes in their political opinion notebook. I’m just palatable to the pablum-craving masses, that’s all. And someone else thinks I’m a terrible follower of Jesus. Oh, yes, don’t forget the heresy: I’m an apostate. I clearly don’t place any value on Scripture. I’m weak and easily deceived with a disdain for the Word.

I can’t listen to the ones who think I’m evil – or the ones who think I’m perfect. The truth is probably somewhere in the middle anyway.

I can’t find my identity or my voice or my worth solely in the words and opinions of others. Those opinions are fickle and changeable when they aren’t rooted in hard-fought and long-standing relationships.

I mean, I’m open to criticism from the ones who’ve earned a right to speak into my life, absolutely either through their own earned influence or through relationship. And trust me: those trusted ones hold my feet to the fire sometimes. (But make no mistake: to me, there’s a difference between someone who speaks from an earned place of love and trust and influence into your life, and the drive-by critics with an ax to grind against you and no investment in the outcome beyond hearing their own voice.) And I’m deeply appreciative of the folks who receive life and wholeness and goodness from anything I would ever write or say – it is an honour I don’t take lightly, not for one single moment. And yet:

My identity can’t be found in the accusations or the accolades.

Here is the thing about standing up: some people would rather if you sat back down.  People prefer status quo. Boat-rockers make us nervous. Just like people in the wilderness wearing camel hair coats and eating locusts with a side of honey disrupt us, people who think Jesus actually meant all that stuff he said don’t always fit in with any empire or echo chamber.

But I won’t be silenced simply because I’m not perfect. My failings are real and I am well acquainted with them.

My prayer now is that my weakness shows the strength of Christ and his Kingdom.

I will call attention to my feet of clay and my own contradictions over and over again because no one is more aware than me that I only carry a priceless treasure – the life of Christ – in this (quite) cracked pot of earth. The treasure and the validity of the message can’t be dependent on my ability to please everyone all the time.

God is at work despite me and through me and in me – all at the same time.

I believe in being a feminist the way that Jesus would be a feminist, absolutely. I believe that our HOW matters just as much as our WHAT and our WHY and our WHO. And I want my ways to reflect the man from Nazareth, I want to walk in his footsteps faithfully, I want to engage in a way that is faithful.

And right from creation, we’ve been called to be an ezer kenegdo, a warrior. We’ve not been called to the people-pleasing life, to the approval seeking life, to the bow-down-and-give-up life. We’ve been called to the peace-making life, the truth-telling life, the he-who-the-Son-sets-free-is-free-indeed life. We’ve been called to the spirit-filled and God-breathed life, living out the ways of the Kingdom and the life in Christ to every corner of our humanity.

We’ve been called to the life of the beloved. We’ve been called to the life of the disciple. And sometimes that means people love what we do, sometimes it means they hate what we do. (In my case, they’re probably both right because I’m a mess and I make mistakes. I have, and I will, disappoint you.)

But we can’t engage in our lives from a place of worthiness without having a core belief about that worthiness: We are loved. We are free. We are redeemed. We are whole in Christ. Your true identity is Beloved. Start there. And then we can live out our lives and our callings from a deep well of love and freedom and wholeness – because we are.

There is something to learn from both the accusations and the accolades, make no mistake. We need to be teachable, to be listeners, to receive the wisdom of others. We need to be open to change. I pray that I am but I know I have a long way to go.

Even – maybe especially – it’s our imperfect, contradictory lives are still miraculously that are singing a beautiful prophetic song of invitation to the Kingdom of God. We all belong. We all fit. With all of our failings and our victories, our imperfections and glories, our wrong opinions and our correct doctrine, our connections or the lack thereof, our platforms or our obscurity, we all belong.

Whether we’re surrounded by accolades or accusations, our identity remains the same: beloved.

 

Continue Reading · journey · 36