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The Heron

the heron :: sarah bessey

I have been feeling creatively empty. It’s a combination of a few things that are real: the baby won’t sleep, I have four children and there aren’t enough hours in the day for everything to get done, I have obligations and duties and work and requirements demanding all of my attention and my time just like everyone else – trust me, I’m no special snowflake.

But it’s also the unreal, the unseen, the you-feel-it-but-can’t-say-it of times of creative quiet: I’m empty and I’m tired, I have nothing from which to pull the water out of the well, there isn’t a bucket or a scooper and even if I could find one, I suspicion that there isn’t much in the bottom of this old well right now. I hope it’s not death, I hope it’s gestation of winter sleep but whatever it is, I’m feeling the failure of it, the loneliness of it. I’m unable to write and this inability is both an indictment and a fear.

What if I never write again? What if this is it and my time of creativity is gone? What if I’ve lost my voice and my passion? What if I am being submerged and sucked under by a tidal wave of obligation and regular life? diapers and meals, breastfeeding and navigating preteen dramas, spreadsheets and budgets, phone calls and toilet scrubbing, and good gracious how are these laundry bins full again? how is that conducive with a life of the spirit and a baptized imagination and a hankering for goodness and the mind embodied in ways of, well, even art?

I have had to find a way to create, to be my whole self, in this space and in this time with the life I’ve chosen. Because I chose this. And I would choose it again. This is the life I love and I have to believe that there is enough abundance, enough room, for even this Canadian chubby mum of many to show up and try to articulate a bit of truth, that somehow my voice would matter not in spite of this season of my life but maybe even because of it.

So I tried to write an essay one morning, an essay about prayer. I love to pray, or at least, I think it’s prayer: it’s more like holding space for God in my mind and in my heart, an invitation and a clearing away, a shifting over in the booth and the “hello, this spot is for you, go ahead and sit down if you like” in my soul and always somehow the spot is taken and filled and we eat and we are together even without words often.

But the essay wouldn’t come and I started to think black thoughts about white male theologians with wives and housekeepers and grown-up children who only visit once a while and while I’m at it, I should probably start writing letters again and delete Facebook from my phone and what am I even doing with my life, trying to write about prayer from this place when I’m pretty sure there’s little kid pee on the toilet seat that still needs to be cleaned up?

But I kept trying and it kept being awful. Now that I’ve published two books and countless articles, I have some legitimacy to my scribbling hobby. People call me a writer and the big miracle is that the word doesn’t make me feel like an imposter anymore, I even say it out loud when people ask me what I do (“I’m a …writer….”) but it’s a hard kind of life to nail down. I think that’s what frustrated me: I made the time and the space and then it didn’t happen. I booked a babysitter to come here to my house for two days a week, six hours each of those days. She looks after my two littlest ones while the two big kids are at school and I’m supposed to “create” during that time.

I hear from big and good writers that they require regularity and discipline to write: I am the same way. I know when I write the best stuff (early in the morning) and I know what helps me to write my best stuff (time outside in the wilderness, a clean house, a plan for supper, quiet, solitude) and yet I am rarely in that sweet spot. When I do try to create the sweet spot, I sit here at the page and I think in great blank spaces of nothing happening.

I try to coin words that don’t exist and craft sentences to explain how it feels when I look at the curve of my daughter’s cheek while she nurses at my breast or how I learned to pray by doing laundry or how dignity is overrated and how the Holy Spirit feels like a bracing cold wind to me and how you only really learn that when you have nothing left or how I believe in a God who climbs down into the obscurity and calls us beloved but I keep coming up with nothing much. Or how it’s when you’re down to the essence of yourself that you realize even cynicism is for the well-rested and undesperate, and how God deals so gently with us, more gently than we can suspicion, and I feel like I could lay down on the floor and just rest in the love I feel so strongly while I’m here in this daily luminous life, and then I think I should just quit and tell everybody to go read Brennan Manning or Madeleine L’Engle because this is absolutely ridiculous.

So I went for a walk. The babysitter was here anyway, what the hell? I drove to one of my favourite walking paths, striding along the lake. It’s been cold but not too cold so there is a skin of ice on the surface, even a duck wouldn’t dare to test it. I stuffed my rough bare hands into my coat and tucked the grey hair at my temples behind my ears. I haven’t gotten my hair coloured lately and it shows, I haven’t slept and it shows, I’m tired and so I’m here to walk and hopefully find something akin to a deep breath. I won’t find it sitting in my basement staring at the computer screen, I know that by now.

I walked and here, look, God is still here because there are people and there is beauty if you know where to look. One of the reasons why I love this walking path is that it’s always boasted a fine collection of senior citizens. I have my favourite paths for solitude and wilderness out in the mountains nearby but sometimes a little city walking park is just the right thing. Plus I’ve gotten more wary in my old age, I prefer witnesses.

The sun was low in the sky already and the trees are asleep with winter cold. I breathed in and out, counting my breaths. I shifted over in the booth of my heart and thought, okay, here’s your spot, Jesus, wanna walk with me? There was only silence and loneliness there. So I stood at the edge of the little lake and watched the geese fly in, the clouds resting like a gauze scarf on the mountains rising darkly in the deep light.

I turned towards the reeds and there, standing still and staring right at me was a heron, a big blue heron. Slender and regal, its long legs were in the water among the reeds. I’ve always loved great blue herons, their blue grey wings are like twilight, their elegance among domesticity, their perseverance and cleverness. I remember hearing once long ago that herons were considered good luck: when the aboriginals would head out on a fishing expedition, the sighting of a heron meant they were headed into success because they embodied patience and wisdom.

I stood silently watching the great blue grey bird caught between mud and cold water and a darkening sky. They’re a regular sort of bird, ordinary and yet beautiful.

Just then an eagle caught my eye far above: there is a nest way up high above the pines at the other end of the lake and sometimes we can see it soaring. Eagles are pretty amazing to see in real life: they are stern and beautiful and awesome. Their white helmets, their golden beaks, their black feathers are striking. Their wing strength is economic and around me I can hear other people gasping as it dips lower to us. I watched the eagle glide higher and then disappear into a horizon I can’t imagine, living far above the rest of us. My gaze returned to the great blue heron still standing patiently in the reeds and I said, all right then.

I went back to my home, the babysitter went home, I loaded up my small ones to go pick up the big ones at school, we came home and I presided over recorder practice and we made tacos for supper, we read books and we watched Jeopardy! together. I nursed the baby in the old rocking chair, knowing full well I would be back there again in about three hours, I bathed small bodies and clipped fingernails, I checked reading folders and signed permission slips and packed lunches. My husband of fifteen years caught my eye from the corner of the couch and winked at me and I grinned. I poured a glass of ordinary red wine and I sat down at the computer again to try to find a few words to say how I find God in this daily place and in this work, how I only learned to pray when I began to pray with my hands and my attention on purpose and how most of prayer to me now is listening and abiding, how I believe it would be nice to have a lovely housekeeper and a clean house and to create amazing soaring art with all of the white space of an uncluttered life and glorious heights of transcendent spirituality, I guess, but I need the God who sits in the mud and in the cold wind, in the laundry pile and in the city park, who embodies grief and joy, wisdom and patience, loneliness as companionship, renewal with simplicity and a good deep breath, and who even now shows up in the unlikeliest and homeliest of lives too, as a sacrament of and blessing for the ordinary things.

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Continue Reading · faith, women, work, writing · 60

Christmas Gift Guide to Empower Women

ChristmasGift Guide

I am so excited about this year’s Christmas Gift Guide! I know we’re all choking on gift guides these days – there’s one for mothers who love video games, one for children who are obsessed with Minecraft, another for the boss who has everything. I get it. So I wanted to offer up to you a different sort of gift guide: when you purchase something from these shops, you empower vulnerable women. 

When we empower a woman, we empower a community. Every one of the shops listed here empowers, educates, affirms, supports, or employs women all around the world. They range from large organizations to small grassroots shops.

I picked a favourite from each shop myself but don’t let my pick fool you – there’s a lot of good stuff in each of these shops, including for the men in your life!

Help One Now Legacy Haiti Necklace

If you’ve read any of my books or posts over the years, these folks are familiar to you, I know. I’m on the board of Help One Now and I believe in our work with all my heart. We are a collective group of churches, businesses, communities and individuals from around the world, all dedicated to using our gifts, talents and resources to help end extreme poverty, care for orphans, rescue slaves, and see communities transformed by serving our international partners through Help One Now.

You can help us sustain a community by purchasing this 2015 Legacy necklace made in Haiti: hand-punched leather sequins and brass accent beads. The funds raised by this necklace will go towards funding 12 classrooms, hiring new Haitian teachers, providing supplies, everything.

The necklaces are designed and made by the artisans at Haiti Design Co-op (another great place to buy Christmas gifts).

Imagine Goods

Imagine Goods partners with vulnerable and marginalized people around the world to make products that, in many cases, give them the first fair wages they’ve ever received. Imagine Goods takes a close look at the entire chain of people who are involved in making their products, particularly in Cambodia. Their tag line is “Sustainable Supply Co.” because they believe that when we buy a product, the cost of the item should be able to sustain every person connected to it with a living wage.

We worked with Imagine Goods to create the Jesus Feminist Collection about a year ago. 100% of the profits – yes, that’s all of them – from this line go towards Heartline Maternity Centre in Haiti and towards Help One Now.

My Pick:

Jesus Feminist Necklace 2Jesus Feminist Necklace

This simple circle necklace stamped with “Jesus Feminist” makes a statement with class. Made in Cambodia by disadvantaged artisans of brass recycled from old bombs, and hanging on an 18″ brass cable chain, it arrives in a 100% recycled jewelry box—perfect for gift-giving!

Another Pick for the woman of valour in your life: this Eshet Chayil print.

eshetchayil

House of Light Goods

House of Light is a joint partnership between my church and a family centre in Mexico. The goal is to keep families together by supporting and empowering single moms, allowing them to break the cycle of poverty, abuse and despair and live lives of wholeness and hope. Their work includes a Children’s Centre, focused on single and impoverished families, a pilot micro loan program for education and business development, an ongoing partnership for home ownership within the community, and a deep local commitment to the spiritual growth, empowerment and development of the community. Each scarf from House of Light Goods is handmade by single Moms and friends of Casa de Luz, with all of the profits going towards supporting single moms and children at risk.

My Pick: The Justica. I have this scarf and every single time I wear it, it’s all I hear about! If you are dreading a freezing cold winter, this scarf is going to be your best friend.

Krochet Kids

Their mission is to empower people to rise above poverty. Through their efforts, over 150 people in Uganda and Peru are working, receiving education, and being mentored toward a brighter future.  The products created abroad have been well received here at home and the collaboration of our staff and beneficiaries around the globe has created a sustainable cycle of employment and empowerment. Plus each piece is signed by the person who made it – which I love. My dear friend, Sarah Goodfellow, and her husband, Blake, pioneered Krochet Kids in Peru.

My Pick: Everyone loves Krochet Kids for their gorgeous hats, of course, but my personal favourite is this bag. I love a great big glorious bag like this one for carrying around a hardcover book in addition to the usual mum-stuff like diapers and changing pads and sippy cups and permission slips and snacks. Oh, and my wallet.

But I’ve also got my eye on this sweet little fox hat for one of the tinies….

 

Noonday Collection

Noonday offers you the opportunity to use your purchasing power to create change in the world while looking really good along the way. Your love of fashion can restore dignity to abandoned women in Ethiopia, empower communities in Ecuador, and create business opportunities for Ugandans. Orphan care and prevention remain a core value. Noonday believes every child belongs in a family and they work to alleviate poverty and economic orphan crisis through entrepreneurship.

My Pick:  these sterling silver Constellation Earrings – both edgy and delicate.

fashionABLE

The fashionABLE mission is to create sustainable business for Africans so they will not become dependent upon charity, but instead earn the dignity of a job. While FashionABLE offers opportunity to everyone, their primary focus is on empowering women.  Through your purchase, you are ABLE to provide opportunity, and a woman is ABLE to have a new choice.

My Pick: Really, their entire 2015 Gift Guide is phenomenal. So many gifts for everyone on your list. But I chose the Kalkidan wallet for men because my husband loves to grab just one or two cards for the day instead of carrying around the whole big wallet for everything and this slim-line minimalist leather wallet is just perfect for that. It comes in three colours but I’m loving cognac.

Trades of Hope

Trades of Hope empowers women to create sustainable businesses worldwide. They want women to realize their potential as world changers, business owners, dream creators, and heroes of their own stories. So many women live in poverty, not because they lack abilities, but because they lack opportunity.  Some women have been rescued from sex slavery. Others are raising handicapped children alone. Some are in war torn countries and others have AIDS. These women have never had the chances we’ve had, yet they are just like us in so many ways. They love their families and hope and dream of a better life for them.

My Pick: The Erin Scarf. I wear a scarf almost every day of my life – lightweight, preferred – and this is so beautiful. It would go with everything.

Sudara

Sudara advocates for women enslaved in prostitution in India, restores their broken lives, and empowers them to live free. What started with just six women sewing in a single room has grown to over 150 women and girls employed by one of Sudara’s three sewing centers in India. PUNJAMMIES are made from hope and made for comfort.

My Pick: The Dhana punjammies bottoms. But really, they’re all gorgeous and jammies are my love language.

Stitched Together Uganda

This shop features goods made by seamstresses employed by Abide Family Centre in Uganda. They design their own products and buy all materials locally, supporting the local economy and allowing for sustainability as seamstresses graduate from their programs and begin working from home to build their own businesses.

abide

My Pick: The Sumi Headwrap. For those days when you didn’t quite manage to get your hairs done before the day began – you’re welcome.

out of sorts pics

And of course, shameless self-promotion moment —- with all of these gifts, you could include a copy of my new book, Out of Sorts: Making Peace with an Evolving Faith along with one of these lovely free printables based on the book.

Happy Christmas shopping!

Let’s do a bit of good with our spending this year, eh?

P. S. If you would like to share some  info about a shop that empowers women in the comments, please feel free!

Image sources via shops

 

Continue Reading · christmas, Haiti, social justice, women · 18

What the Church Could Learn From the New Canadian Cabinet

Photo credit: CTV News

Photo source: Creative Commons

It’s not too often that the world is very interested in the Canadian federal election.

Things have changed.

For the past ten years the Conservative Party has been in power here in Canada. In a parliamentary system, this meant that their leader, now former Prime Minister Stephen Harper, had been at the helm, relatively uncontested by the more left-leaning parties. But in our recent election, change had been brewing and the storm finally broke over Ottawa. In a landslide victory, the Liberal Party took the majority of the seats across the nation and became the party in power. The Conservatives are now Her Majesty’s Official Opposition and the New Democratic Party is back in their familiar territory as third-place in the House of Commons. The leader for the Liberal Party has become our Prime Minister, the leader of our nation. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau (whose father was former and now late Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau) is now our first Prime Minister from my own generation and he’s moving into 24 Sussex Drive with his young family.

Personally I didn’t vote for the Liberal Party but like many Canadians, I spent the morning of the swearing-in for the new cabinet glued to my television, cheering and even finding myself a bit teary. And it wasn’t only because it’s such a privilege to witness a peaceful transfer of power in this day and age.

So why the elation?

Because – arguably for the first time – the cabinet finally looks like Canada and reflects our values.

I’ve been quite cynical about politics over the past ten or fifteen years, like most Gen-Xers, I’ve given up on the sport. I still show up to vote but my expectations for real and lasting change or positive impact is subterranean.

But this cabinet ceremony gave me hope because of what I saw with my eyes: equality, inclusion, and diversity.

First of all, our new Prime Minister followed through on a campaign promise to form the first gender-equal cabinet. Out of 30 cabinet positions, 15 of them went to women. And we’re not talking the Mickey Mouse spots, women hold priority portfolios. Each of these women were chosen based on their merit, not simply because of their gender. They legitimately earned their spots. Women are now serving as Minister of Justice, Minister of Environment and Climate Change, Minister of Trade, Minister of Employment, Workforce Development, and Labour, and even Chief of Staff. Don’t get me wrong: I’m still plenty cynical about politics and I’m under no illusions of perfection, there are still gaps. But even so.

Other bright spots of the day’s events for me were:

  • Jody Wilson-Raybould became the first female Aboriginal Justice Minister in Canadian history. With a promised inquiry into murdered and missing Aboriginal women on the top of many of our minds, her appointment is powerful statement. Plus, she’s a total boss.
  • Maryam Monsef was a refugee to Canada from Afghanistan in the 90s along with her mother and sisters after the Taliban killed her father. Now she’s serving as the Minister of Democratic Reform. During this current refugee crisis, I think it sends a powerful message.
  • The Minister for the Status of Woman is actually a woman. (Imagine that!)
  • Really, across the board, quite a few Canadians are feeling mighty proud of this cabinet for many reasons.

As I watched the ceremony, I kept one eye on my Twitter feed. Across Canada, people were – for the most part – celebrating these choices because they so tangibly represented our values.

Whether one voted for the Liberal Party of not, Canadians were thrilled to see a cabinet that reflected a fuller picture of who we are – First Nations, immigrants and born-and-raised Canadians, men and women, regional representation, gay and straight, Christian and Sikh and atheist and Muslim among other religions, differently abled, different socio-economic stories, and so on.

At the press conference following the swearing-in ceremony, Prime Minister Trudeau was asked why gender parity was so important to him. Perhaps we were all expecting a few carefully crafted talking points, the typical boring old political speech with stats and taglines designed to humble brag a bit and provide a snippet for the evening news.

But instead, our new Prime Minister said, straight-forward and without guile, “Because it’s 2015” and then he shrugged like a hockey player picking a fight, as if to say “come at me, bro.”

Mic drop.

Of course, as you all know, I love to over-spiritualize all the things so I began to think….

So often we hear from Christians that we value these same things….we claim to honour women and minorities and other ones our culture often despises or disappoints or devastates like refugees or immigrants or the differently abled or indigenous, the marginalized and oppressed and so on. We claim to honour the “least of these” and to be a people who lay down power, who believe that the greatest is the servant, and that the way to really get ahead in the Kingdom of God is to put others first, to amplify other voices, to make room at the table. We want to be a beacon, a city on a hill, an outpost for the Kingdom of God. We see in Scripture a vision for the Kingdom of God that celebrates every nation and every tribe, every tongue and every person.

But instead, we often simply maintain the status quo in our churches and on our conference stages and in our non-profits or parachurch ministries: white men up front and in the lead. 

And so the church can be just like most of the world, perpetuating archaic and cultural standards for leadership, rather than God’s standards for leadership, just doing things the way they’ve always been done with the same people. 

I believe it’s past time for the church to prophetically lead here. For too long, we’ve confused a 1950s Leave It to Beaver episode with the wild ways of the upside down Kingdom of God.

The world is hungry to see what reconciliation and equality look like – so what if we made it a priority to model it?

What if we placed a priority on gender parity in our pastoral staff?

What if we made it a priority to give positions of power and visibility and vital decisions to people who come from a different socio-economic backgrounds?

What if we didn’t just look for a balanced photo op to keep Twitter off our back but instead really and truly welcomed and promoted and amplified the voices and experiences of women, minorities, immigrants, refugees, or those less formally educated right into valuable positions of power and influence at our conferences?

For too long we’ve hidden in the false justification that “there just aren’t enough leaders of colour or women or whomever” to choose. That’s a lie. And it’s an admission that your circle is too small. The leaders already exist. And we won’t lose a single speck of leadership capability or anointing by choosing them either – no one’s asking for a hand-out, buddy, don’t do us any favours.  

And while I’m at it, how about that equal pay, folks?

Can’t you see? By placing a priority on the Kingdom ways, the entire church will receive the favour, we only stand to benefit and to be blessed from a richer tapestry of leadership, a vision for leadership that includes the whole people of God.  

I think this commitment to equality in our institutions would signal hope. It would signal that we believe what we preach about the ways of Jesus. I think it would signal that we actually believe that we have much to learn and that sharing power is prophetic. I think it would signal that we honour the ones whom the world dishonours, that this is a safe place and a good place and a holy place.

I think it would change our churches and our ministries and each other for the better as we learn friendship and respect for one another. I think it would change how we minister and how we worship and how we speak of the mysteries of God and how we read Scripture. I think it would change the church coming up behind us and heading into the future, we would see leaders empowered among our children from all corners.

I think we would be changed, from the inside out, as a worldwide church – transformed even.

I think it would surprise and amaze and intrigue the world, giving a glimpse of what God intended for wholeness within the body of Christ – and it would be a sigh of “finally at last” from the Holy Spirit.

And then when people ask us, why is it so important to you? Why is it so important to you to have men and women leading together, to have visible minorities in positions of power, to seek out and elevate and amplify and submit yourselves the voices of people outside the usual leadership and power narratives? Why do you make it a priority to model this crazy way of working together?

Then we can reply it’s not because it’s 2015, but because this is the Kingdom of God, hallelujah, taste and see.

So, what would it look like if our churches looked like what Scripture tells us about the Kingdom of God?

I think they just might look a lot more like the new Canadian cabinet.

 

Continue Reading · canada, church, social justice, women · 24

When you feel a bit selfish for pursuing your calling

In our new house, I have a little room of my own. Well, technically it’s not “my own” – it doubles as a guest room. But since the guest bed is a hide-a-bed, I’ll just go ahead and call it my “office” so that I feel like a proper adult. I’ve always had a bit of a laugh when serious well-meaning folks ask me about my “writing space” as if it’s a magical area. Nope. I have done 99% of my writing at the kitchen table or a noisy coffee shop or the public library. But now I have my own little room at the bottom of the stairs in the basement: the carpet smells a bit musty, there’s a hearth for a wood stove that doesn’t work, and cedar paneling that has endured since 1983. I love it mostly because I’ve established a No Tinies Allowed Here rule.

The other night, I had to do a few final checks on my book manuscript and it was urgent. It has been a busy month with our move in particular, so busy that I hadn’t really properly written or worked for the entire time except as snatches during 30 minutes of Phineas and Ferb for the tinies, so that night after we had cleaned up the supper dishes, I passed the baby to Brian, he set up the Monopoly board with the tinies, and I went downstairs to get my work done. I turned on a bit of music, made a cup of tea, lit a candle, and entered into my work with my full attention for the first time in far too long.

I came up to nurse Maggie an hour later and tuck her into bed. Brian put everyone else to bed. He came down to check on me at our usual bedtime four hours after I had begun, and I turned to him as one resurfacing after a spectacular deep sea dive, my grin wide and my whole being excited. He laughed at my euphoria. I said, I’m just so happy to be working! I love my job! I love having a quiet spot all to myself!

I finished the manuscript checks, got organized for the next week or two, made some plans, outlined some articles, that sort of thing. Hardly any great creative work but it was the kind of work that lays the groundwork for creativity. When I set up the scaffolding, it’s easier to build, I find. I sent the final docs off to my publisher, shut down the computer, blew out the candle, and floated off to bed. I slept like a champ, nursed in the middle of the night with joy, woke up in the morning singing, all of my energy restored by the simple act of doing the work I love to do. I felt more alive, more engaged with my life, in every way.

Virginia Woolf identified a woman’s need for “a room of her own” for creative work, both figuratively and literally. I haven’t had a literal room before and so I’m deeply grateful for it now. But the big thing I realised at the end of that evening was how important it is to also create the figurative “room” in my life altogether, to create just a bit of the emotional and spiritual room necessary for living out my calling.

I’m happier when I’m doing what I love to do and what I’m called to do and what I enjoy doing. The truth is I’m a better person in every way when I’m doing the work I feel called to do.

Life takes over at times, we all get it. We need to shelve our dreams or our creative work for many good and important reasons or make it accommodate the rest of our lives and the schedules of everyone else for whom we bear responsibility. My work right now revolves around Maggie’s nap schedule and the tinies school schedules and the unpredictable tiring rhythms of a young family. It’s not perfect and sometimes it’s frustrating, for sure, but the priority is there for me in this season of life. (When I was still working full-time outside of the home, I would write blog posts on my lunch breaks because that was my only free time.)

But here is the thing that I believe: we need to do the work we were meant to do in order to be who we were meant to be. And what’s more, I believe that honours God.

We are whole beings. We aren’t living out of just one aspect of our humanity to the exclusion of all the others.

Sometimes I can think that pursuing my calling is selfish. I don’t know where I picked that up – perhaps it’s cultural conditioning, leftover bad theology, or something. On some sub-conscious level, I can feel guilty for taking time to create, for taking time to do the things I love to do, simply because I love to do them.

But the truth is that I start to falter without it. I become frustrated, tired, empty, if I’m not creating something, even if it’s just as simple as a few hundred words a day. I know this but I forget it sometimes. I skip creating in some grand self-sacrificial way but then everyone else ends up missing the best and most whole version of myself altogether. It isn’t until I sit down and do my work again that I return to the rest of my life – homemaking, raising children, community, church, school, marriage, all of it – as my most true self.

I’m better everything when I’m doing the work I was meant to do, however humble or unimportant that work is to anyone else.

That night of work downstairs reminded me of a quote from novelist A.S. Byatt that Elizabeth Gilbert shared on the first episode of her brilliant podcast, Magic Lessons.

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image source

And on the flip side, I find that my whole life informs and enriches my work. The way I was raised informs my work. The ways I encounter and experience God informs my work. Falling in love with my husband all those years ago, the way our relationship has unfolded over the past sixteen years  informs my work. Becoming a mother and now the experience of raising my children informs my work. Ordinary life enriches my work. All the things I do and experience and live out inform my work. If I didn’t have all these other things, what in the world would I have to write about anyway?

I’m not sure, but I think this tendency might be more common for women. I think we struggle more with the perceived “selfishness” of living out our calling or vocation with abandon. So we feel guilty when there is no need for guilt, sometimes even adopting a martyr complex of all the things we are denying ourselves in service to our families.

In reality, God placed those gifts and callings inside of you for a purpose and it’s profane to stifle them in some misguided attempt at honouring God. If you want to honour God, come alive.

It’s entirely right and appropriate to bring your whole self to your whole life. I think God created us for an abundant life, filled with joy and meaningful work and service.  And I think it’s important for our children to see us working, to us loving our work (even the kind we do just for the fun of it, because it makes us feel alive).

I saw this in a friend recently. She is a gifted Bible teacher and she kept putting it off and putting it off because it was hard to figure out a way to make it work in her season of life as a mother to young children and a full-time job. But when she made space to engage in that aspect of her calling – teaching, leading, training others how to study and love the Bible – she came alive! It was incredible to see. She came home from the nights of teaching as if she were on an adrenalin high. The joy of it would carry into her whole week, affecting her family and all the rest of us. The work she did mattered, of course it did, and she changed lives with her work. But the act of doing the work itself was also life-changing for her and for the ones who loved her.

If teaching or preaching or writing or managing or leading or painting or film-making or delivering babies or studying astro-physics or whatever it is makes you feel more whole, then darling, do it all to the glory of God and you’ll see that the way it makes you come alive will stain your entire life with joy. 

The work is good and purposeful and necessary in and of itself, absolutely. I’m always flat amazed at the ways that my words, tapped away on this smudgy laptop wing into lives all around the world in ways I never would have expected. That’s worthwhile! But I also love the gift that the act of working gives to me. Isn’t that just like God? For even during the Fall, when we were “cursed” with work, we find goodness hiding there, too.

Because it’s never just about us. That true version of yourself – the one that needs the wholeness of creativity and work and service altogether – exists in a family and in a community and as part of God’s love letter to the world. When you are fully alive, as Ireneus famously said, it glorifies God. And when God is glorified, all of us are drawn to the light and life of that moment. 

It doesn’t have to be pretty. It doesn’t have to be seamless and easy. It doesn’t have to come together without struggle. In fact, I can pretty much promise you that it’s going to be hard at times to create the room for your calling to be lived out. But it will be worth it. Because if it makes you feel alive, if it’s what God gifted and called and created you to do right along with everything else in your life, then we all need you to do it and also you need to do it.

 

 

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A Voice for the Voiceless

A tired trope, isn’t it? a voice for the voiceless. The problem with this is, of course, that so few people are actually voiceless. The problem isn’t their “voicelessness,” it is that we are not listening. We don’t value their voices and so we do not listen.

I have never liked the phrase. Few people need us to be a “voice for the voiceless,” instead I believe it’s more powerful to elevate and amplify the voices from the margins, from the ones we overlook and pass over, to say that everyone is worth listening to and that – regardless of race, socio-economic status, geography, ability, and so on – people get to own their own stories.

There is one notable exception though: the unborn, the babies still in the womb of their mother, they have no voice. These are truly the voiceless.

So I’ll use mine for them without apology.

I am a pro-life Christian feminist. Christians have a long history of valuing the undervalued, saving the discarded from society, and welcoming the differently abled as icons of Christ. Our Jesus came to bring us life and life more abundant. So to us, life is sacred, a gift from God, precious. Every person carries the breath of God. We are made in the image of God.

But there is also a long history of pro-life feminism. In the first wave of feminism, our foremothers believed women deserved better than abortion. They saw that abortion was violence against women by a society who did not value women.

Because of both my faith and my feminism together, I believe in advocating for life, more than ever.

“A voice for the voiceless”: well, this week the voiceless have cried out.

I have made myself watch the Planned Parenthood videos – now I owe the voiceless these small words at least. Not because of the possible sale of fetal tissue, horrifying as that is: but because it told the callous truth of what this medical act is for once and for all. Legal or not, that is not the issue. Telling the truth is an act of revolution. This week has revealed it. Here is the truth of it, here is the truth of what it is, here is the truth of what it means and what it meant and how it will always mean something.

As a woman, as a mother, as a Christian, as a feminist, my entire being revolts against abortion and the Orwellian language with which we excuse ourselves.

I carry no judgement, how could I? This is incredibly complex and I offer only my deep compassion to the women who find themselves here. I carry no easy solutions, there are none. I make no promises and I write no screeds or manifestos or declarations or accusations.

I want women to be safe and I want babies to be born. I want all of the reasons why women abort to cease, to be healed, to be legislated right out.

So I want equal pay and decent healthcare for low-income women that includes contraception and supportive partners and a wide availability of midwives and supportive birth environments and real material support for children who are differently abled in mind or body and at least a year of maternity leave and on and on and on.

Abortion is a sign that we have failed women somehow, I think.

I don’t have much hope of legislated change when it comes to this issue. So I encourage us, Church, to continue to speak out, absolutely, but also to put our money and our time and our compassion where our outrage has risen up. The best way to save babies is to support women well.

Our pro-life ethic has to outlast our outrage. It has to show up in our communities and churches and clinics.

 

This video is by Gungor. As they wrote on their release, “In 2014, a woman tweeted that she would be faced with “a real ethical dillema” if she became pregnant with a baby with Down Syndrome. Richard Dawkins responed “Abort it and try again. It would be immoral to bring it into the world if you have the choice.” Also in 2014, we had a beautiful little girl with Down Syndrome and two heart conditions. We named her Lucette, which means ‘light.” Lucie has taught us how much every life matters. This song is for her and all the beautiful people on this planet with special needs. We think that you make this world a better place.”

For more:

Feminists for Life

You Don’t Have to Be Afraid to be a Pro-Life Progressive by Benjamin Corey

Why Progressive Christians Should Care About Abortion by Rachel Held Evans

On Planned Parenthood and the Language We Use Around Abortion by Hilary Yancey

I’m closing comments on this post. I don’t want careless words to wound any further.

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