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In which love looks like the pilgrim soul

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Thirteen years ago today, our marriage began. I brought out the big wedding album for the tinies to see us in our wedding finery. Do kids today still have the big official albums? We said our vows long before Pinterest and digital cameras, let alone iPhones with apps. Instead, we have this heavy leather-bound gold-embossed album with nicely staged photos in the stock poses. Here we are lighting a unity candle.  Here we are with our parents. Here we are walking away into a soft-focus background. But you can still see the real us peeking through the tulle and the tuxedo: our enthusiasm, our youth, our joy, our curiosity, our hope. Remember when we were that certain boy and that know-it-all girl?

To celebrate, we went out to the ocean town for supper last night. I shaved my legs, you put on a clean t-shirt, aren’t we getting fancy? We stood on the western shoreline before supper with our arms wrapped around each other, staring into the abyss. Teenagers were just down the shore from us, taking selfies and posing by the water. Thirteen years, we said in a sort of disbelief. I suppose this makes us grown-ups. In some ways, these years have flown by – weren’t we always together? – and in other ways, we see every single day of it, stretched out to the horizon, remember this, remember that, remember the dozens of men and women we have been throughout these years? We’ve gathered shadows and light.

I briefly considered writing an article with thirteen things we have learned in thirteen years of marriage. But who are we kidding? It’s an art, not a science, not the fodder of click-bait on the Internet, not a performance. We’re not reductionists. It’s a mystery, a thin place between the heavens and the earth, made all the better and richer for the secrets we keep for each other and the freedom we enjoy. I could write those damn thirteen-things-we’ve-learned-in-thirteen-years-of-marriage but I’d still be left with an inadequate shrug and the je nais sais quoi that defines all marriages. We’re still that slow dance under-the-stars, finding our steps together, moving further and further out onto the water. Sure, there are practicalities we’ve learned about how we move through life – budgets and bills, babies and basketball practices, sex and laundry, communication and callings. But underneath it all, really, we’re still curious, we’re still saying yes, it’s poetry that makes the prose worth living, and it keeps us a bit wild, hosanna. 

We sat in the cool spring sunset to eat seafood. When you kept refilling my glass, I asked if you were trying to take advantage of me and you waggled your eyebrows at me: “absolutely.” The bottle of Pinot Noir was empty by darkness.

We talked a bit about the years that lay behind us, of course we did, but really we wanted to talk about the years ahead. We talked about our curiosities: what sounds like fun to learn about? If I wanted to follow a rabbit trail of knowledge for a while, where would I begin? I’m curious about seminary, oh, and I think that after this second book is done, I might try to dig out that novel again. You want to geek out about furniture building for a while, oh, and gardening again. You’ve turned into quite the tree hugger. Perhaps you could find a way to use all of your business expertise towards justice and peace-making. I think I’d like to chase a bit of knowledge about the French woman’s aesthetic, quilt-making, fashion, maybe think about a doctoral degree in what? women’s studies? poetry? who knows? oh, and let’s talk again about living abroad. Maybe England? Which part of England? Holidays in France, of course. So much to discuss and dream.

Over these thirteen years, we’ve often felt like we’re running to catch up with the consequences of saying “yes” to God, yes to our best hopes instead of our worst fears. Would we have been so agreeable and fearless if we knew how much courage it would take to abandon our neatly laid out plans for life, let alone how much we would change? I think so. I hope so. Maybe it’s best that we don’t know what waits at the end of the aisle. Let it come, we’ll keep walking together. I like you curious.

We drove home in the moonlight, listening to old songs from back in the 90s when we were dating. I slipped off my shoes and put my feet up on the dash. You kept your hand on my bare thigh, the window was down, we took the the backroads. Your hair is scattered with grey now – it suits you – but that Midwest-boy grin is the same, can’t you drive a bit faster?

Maybe this is the oneness of marriage then: there is no editing for any part of our selves. We bring it all to each other and abide into the end of it all: body soul spirit mind past present future dreams despair curiosities evolutions desire deference silence song weariness wonder.

You’re waking up again, I think. You’re re-imagining life, emerging into yet another new self. I’ve loved every iteration of you. You have always loved those lines from Yeats for us:

But one man loved the pilgrim soul in you,
And loved the sorrows of your changing face

I write now and again about what love looks like for us.

Continue Reading · brian, love, love looks like, marriage · 18

In which you are a beloved warrior

beloved warrior

Who do you think you are?

It’s the lie that whispers like smoke, breathes down our necks, and dismantles our vision and hope.

How odd that a simple question can sound more like an accusation.

Who do you think you are?

And as women, we often hear this as the answer: insecure. manipulative. can’t be trusted. gossips. bossy. only valuable if beautiful or married or the mother of children. controlling. catty. easily deceived. victim. used. damaged goods. too emotional. not logical. terrible friends. high maintenance. untrustworthy. dangerous. afraid. too fat. too thin. too smart. too ignorant. too strong. too weak. too pretty. too ugly. too feminine. too assertive. just too much and not enough. on and on and on and on….

Who do you think you are?

I think it’s a question that might change our lives, if answered honestly.

My life today looks very different than I expected or intended. And if I’m honest – with you and with myself – it has required and is requiring more courage than I often think I have.

It seems like every time I have entered into a new season or a new calling or a new opportunity, the voice in my head has always been, “Who do you think you are?”

Who do you think you are? to preach? to write a book? to raise these beautiful children? to pray for someone? to love? to lead a home group at church? to speak up? to challenge authority? to teach Scripture? to talk about marriage? to even try to move with God towards justice? to talk about peace making? to try to work with a developing nation towards justice? to push back on the powerful? to tell your story without sanitizing? to advocate for others?

Who do you think you are?

My insecurities – and answers – are likely different than yours but for me, learning to answer that question with the truth has changed everything.

Our lives often preach a very different Gospel than the one we think we believe. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus reminded us that we must begin with our own life-giving lives. Our true being brims over into our true words and deeds.

It’s an important question because to truly be able to love God and love others, to move with God to rescue, restore, and redeem humanity, we have got to know who we are.

Who do you think you are?

I’ve started to answer that question with one imperfect phrase: I am a beloved warrior.

Here’s why:

Right at the beginning, God separated day from night, land from sea, created animals and fish and fowl, and then on this sixth day, he creates humanity. And here, after creating man from the dust of the earth, God says in Genesis 2:18, “it is not good for him to be alone. I’ll make him a helper.”

That word, helper, is a Hebrew word, EZER. The word that accompanies ezer is “kengdo” which is often translated as “suitable”  so that is why translators often list this reference for women as “suitable helpmeet.” Many of us have heard a teaching or two on the word helpmeet, which solely focuses on woman as a man’s wife, mother, or homemaker for this defintion. But that narrow view excludes more than 60 percent of women. How many millions of girls and women are we leaving out? Focus on women as “helper” has led to the belief that God gave primary roles and responsibilities to men and second or supporting roles to women in the Kingdom of God. It has even led to practices that communicate that women are second class citizens at home and sadly sometimes in the church. The fallout from patriarchy chokes us still.

Ezer Kenegdo actually means “man’s perfect match.” It is the help that opposes, two parts of equal weight leaning against each other to stay stable and strong. It means that women were created to be man’s strongest ally in pursuing God’s purposes.

In the Old Testament, the word EZER appears 21 times in 3 different contexts: the creation of women, when Israel applied for military aid, and in reference to God as Israel’s helper for military purposes. God isn’t a “helpmeet” in the watered down way we’ve been taught or understood that word in our churches though, right? No, our God is more than that: he’s a strong helper, a warrior, an ever present help in times of trouble, bringing more than simple might or power.

God created the first woman out of Adam’s side, and he named his daughter after an aspect of his own character and nature. By naming his daughters – us! – ezer kenegdo, God did not name women as secondary helpmeet “assistants.” No, women were created and called out right at creation as warriors.

You are a warrior, right alongside our brothers, on God’s mission in the world, an image-bearer. (The other reason why this makes such sense is that it isn’t exclusive to men and women in a marriage relationship: holistically, men and women together in the Kingdom of God are meant to be allies.)

Throughout Scripture, we can see women of valour, women operating in their anointing and created purpose as ezer kenegdos. Warrior is an ethos or attitude, not necessarily a vocation, gathered against the forces of evil and darkness. We are deployed into creation as the perfect ally. And then we have a lineage and legacy of Church mothers, women of God, who were warriors in the situations where God placed them, in ways unique to their temperament and character, callings, gifting, and even choices. Women from Ruth to Rahab, Deborah to Mary Magdalena, Corrie Ten Boom to Evangeline Booth.

As we live in a world desperate for a glimpse of God, desperate for a rescue, crushed by evil and poverty and war and the grind of lonely existence in quiet desperation, we, the Church are part of God’s plan to push back that darkness and make space for his Kingdom. We are commissioned to multiply his image bearers, care for the poor, and minister life and hope and healing in the name of Jesus to the glory of God. We are warriors.

I’m a pacifist so my definition of warrior is a bit more spiritual, perhaps. I see it as an advocate or a peace maker or a shalom prophet, a warrior living into the Kingdom of God, a worshipper, a disciple – courageous and unafraid.

Who do you think you are?

Warrior.

Sometimes the truth of who you really are is a wake-up call, and other times it’s a challenge. Because we’re not after behaviour modification. We don’t want to “try harder” to be warriors. It’s not another addition to the to-do list or an addendum to some weird Proverbs 31 job description: “be a warrior.” No, we’re after transformation.

And so, we are here, where I begin and end always: Jesus. (You know me.)

In 2nd Corinthians 5:17, Paul writes that therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!

That old identity from your past or from your culture aren’t actually your identity. Not anymore.

Through the life and ministry of our Jesus, we know what our God is really like. He pulled back the curtain on all the ways we have misunderstood and mischaracterized his very nature. And what did we learn from Jesus: we are loved.

Who do you think you are?

Beloved.

We are worthy of a rescue, worth saving, worth loving. We are the one sheep in the ninety-nine worth leaving everything behind to rescue. We are redeemed. We are whole.

Loved. You are loved. You are loved. You can engage in your life from a place of love because you are.

We believe that we’re only worthy of love if… if we do this or if we do that. That’s what our culture or our broken world tells us, right?

But Jesus does not love us conditionally. In fact, if you look in 1 John 4

This is how God showed his love for us: God sent his only Son into the world so we might live through him. This is the kind of love we are talking about—not that we once upon a time loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as a sacrifice to clear away our sins and the damage they’ve done to our relationship with God….God is love. When we take up permanent residence in a life of love, we live in God and God lives in us. This way, love has the run of the house, becomes at home and mature in us, so that we’re free of worry on Judgment Day—our standing in the world is identical with Christ’s. There is no room in love for fear. Well-formed love banishes fear. Since fear is crippling, a fearful life—fear of death, fear of judgment—is one not yet fully formed in love. We, though, are going to love—love and be loved. First we were loved, now we love. He loved us first.

Are you weary? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Get away with me, you’ll recover your real life. Those are the words of our Jesus in Matthew 11:28. Walk with me, see how I do it, learn to live freely and lightly. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace.

Abba invites us to the banquet tables, to communion, to community, and to life in the Vine, not to a religious treadmill or a life of conformity to someone else’s best-case scenario for your life until you finally measure up, until you are no longer too much or not enough.

We’ve not been called to the people-pleasing life, to the approval seeking life, to the bow-down-and-give-up life or the sit-down-and-shut-up life. We’ve been called to the peace-making life, the truth-telling life, the she-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 are, what N.T. Wright calls, parables of hope.

We’ve been called to the life of the beloved. We’ve been called to the life of the disciple.

Who do you think you are?

I am a Beloved Warrior.

Your true identity is this: you are a Beloved Warrior. Start there. And then we live out our lives and our callings, the seasons and roles, the challenges and the victories, the healing and the mourning, from a deep well of love and freedom and wholeness – because we are. Creation tells you that you are created, called, chosen, made in the image of God as a warrior. Jesus tells you that you are loved, you are free, you are redeemed, you are beloved. Even – maybe especially – our imperfect, contradictory lives are singing a beautiful prophetic song of invitation: you are so loved.

Who do you think you are? 

And I know now to say and to live out the truth: I am a beloved warrior. 

And in the midst of my life, as it stands, I’m walking out that truth, sometimes moment by moment, choice by choice, sometimes faltering and stumbling but still walking in faith. Old things are passed away. New things have come.

Wherever life may take us, regardless of our choices or our roles or our story, regardless of the seasons of our lives, of our failures and imperfections, let us make living like we are beloved warriors the radical discipline of our lives, filling our minds and our hearts with the truth of Jesus Christ, and the goodness of the freedom he offers to us as his own.

Who do you think you are? I am beloved. And I am a warrior. 

 this post is based on a sermon that I recently preached at our church

(There is such richness in our identity in Christ – too many to name – but I’ve had my life changed by this one in particular.)

Continue Reading · faith, jesus, Jesus Feminist, journey, love, women · 34

In which it snows in the morning

Every day do something that won't compute :: Sarah Bessey

Wake up to a brighter bedroom, the snow has been falling outside all night. Take a lazy look around the room, look at the life it is reflecting back to you: a sturdy homemade bed; tangled and worn white sheets; a man with a beard is sleeping, his hand still resting on your spine; bright yellow baby rainboots tossed in a corner; piles of books. Stretch the length of your life.

The tinies will come clumping down the hall soon, their voices filled with wonder: “Mum! It snowed!” That man you kissed last night will roll out of the bed because Sundays are your day to sleep in, a deal’s a deal, you do Saturdays. But you both know you won’t go back to sleep – you never do. Watch him head upstairs to the ministry of coffee and Bubble Guppies on Netflix.

Get out of the bed and go to the window, look out into the forest. The snow is still falling, thick and lazy, almost predictably. Open the window for a few moments, just to smell it. Crawl back into your bed, pull up the covers, and grab a book. Once a week, you get to read first thing when you wake up and so here is a stack of Wendell Berry and Flannery O’Connor and Luci Shaw, practice the resistance of reading of good books.

When you go upstairs in an hour, make a pot of tea. No solitary mugs will do for a snowy Sunday, get out the big sturdy brown pot and your mother’s discarded delicate white teacups, the ones with blue and silver flowers on the rim. Hug your babies, good morning, good morning, yes, I see you. Listen to the dishwasher chug, everything is brighter and slower when it snows.

Church is cancelled, you’re pretty sure everyone is relieved for a day off anyway, an excuse to stay in their jammies, watch movies, work puzzles, roll in the snow, read novels. The more judicious might catch up on housework, pay the bills online, answer emails: the kindred spirits will make a bit of room for delicious indolence.

Decide to do something real today, then bake a loaf of bread. Yeast, flour, water, salt – simple is good for the soul and the belly. Guide small hands into kneading properly, let everything rise in its time.

Scratch a few lines into a journal. Write a bit but try not get frustrated because you are interrupted seven times in fifteen minutes. Read a psalm. Pray in the shower. Listen as you go through your day. Clean the kitchen. Bath a baby. Make the beds. Use the good dishes for a lunch of plain soup. Scatter children’s books around the house like bait. Put on lipstick. Flirt in the kitchen in quiet saucy voices. Comfort tired children, prescribe naps and quilts with seriousness. Promise a movie later on. Later when the snow settles, you’ll go for a walk in the dim, into the in-between for a conversation with yourself, you’ll be so relieved to be away from them all for a few moments but yearning to return to them all by the end of the block.

Watch the snow fall in the ordinary beauty of a Sabbath spent practicing what makes you feel most fully human.

 

Continue Reading · abundant life, enough, family, gratitude, love, marriage · 15

In which we plant gardens in South Africa

Blogging has made the world seem small to me, like we’re all a big family, but it’s made my world expand, too. Now it feels so normal to know and love people – not causes, not projects, not pictures, not stereotypes, not just stories, no, people! – all around the world. I’ve discovered men and women around the world who love, people who throw open doors, who work for justice, who plant gardens in exile.

Those kinds of people will change your life.

Today is Valentines Day. Usually as a SheLoves Community, we participate in a Valentines Day fundraiser for women – do you remember when we purchased identity cards for the women of Bubanza a couple of years ago? We all told our husbands or boyfriends or friends that instead of roses, that year all we wanted were blue identity cards (we even called them “blue roses”). It was amazing.

But this year, we’re taking a year off so instead, I’m throwing my heart in with my friend Lisa-Jo Baker and her family in South Africa.

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Check out her post today:

Love runs faster than fear. Love runs toward hopelessness. Love runs past doubt. Love runs the race wild and true and on shaking, determined knees.

Love runs to its friends and invites them in.

Love sees everyone as family and every day a start of something beautiful.  Love runs through doors even where there aren’t supposed to be any.

This is my family.

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You are my friends.

Here is the door.

I’m holding it open, run through and fall in love.

This plan has been a year in the making and the goal is to raise $150,000 to fund the entire project between Valentine’s Day and Mother’s Day – because love is more than a date on the calendar, and it never leaves anyone out. And Mother’s Day is a 365 days a year adventure, always worth celebrating.

Phase 1: Community Vegetable Garden {watered by the water point you all built last fall}

Phase 2: Community Kitchen and Welcome Center

Phase 3: Community Outreach Hall

Phase 4: 12 Classrooms

Phase 5: Playground

Click here to donate.

Because there’s a whole community of women who are raising more kids than just their own and still have all the same hopes, dreams and fears that we do.

And there’s a whole community of kids who would tell you that there is nothing ordinary 

 

You see what I mean? This is Lisa-Jo’s family, her community, her heart. And because she’s my friend, I love her friends, too. And I want to be part of this community of women, to say “we love you and we stand with you” to them.

Click here for the full Pure Charity page for details and donating.

The first phase of the project is a community vegetable garden.

This is good ground – literally and figuratively.

Let’s plant a garden in South Africa today.

Continue Reading · love, social justice, women · 2