Saturday, January 31, 2009

Bride of Christ

If you are anything like me, there are days when you feel like whatever it is you are trying to accomplish in life isn’t enough. Whether you aren’t doing enough to win or keep the heart of a man, working hard enough for a degree, loving your children enough, putting in enough effort at work, exercising enough, eating right, cleaning your house enough, relaxing enough, spending enough time with God… fill in the blank, I’m sure you can come up with other ways you feel like you fall short.

If we’re not falling short, we’re not sure whether we’re doing what we ought to be doing. Am I spending too much time at work and not enough time with my family? Am I staying up too late and waking up too early? Am I getting enough sleep? Am I getting too much sleep? Should I be single or should I be dating someone? Should I get married? Should I have kids or should I have a career? Am I serving enough? Am I giving enough? Should I give more? Am I stretching myself too thin? Am I being selfish? Am I being selfless? Should I be more sympathetic or should I be firmer? Am I working hard enough? Am I working too hard?

If we’re not confused about our state of affairs, we’re convinced we know exactly what God has in store for us, what we’re supposed to be doing. In college, my friends and I were going to classes to pass the time until we found a man, married, and could begin our real purpose on the planet – to be fruitful and multiply. Sure, God had given us certain gifts and talents; yeah, God had a plan and a purpose for our lives: we were meant to have babies. And that was it. That’s all we wanted. In many ways, we would have been happy living in the fifties.

Regardless whether you have been on the hunt for the man of your dreams so you could settle down and begin the work of baby-making or whether you have had your eyes focused on the PhD, CEO, or VP title, at one point or another, you’ve been sure of what God wanted for you. And then God laughs.

The women in Mona Lisa Smile all share one thing in common – their visions of the future ended up slightly or drastically different than what they expected. How do we come to grips with that? How do we face the harsh reality of a shattered dream? How do we respond when the man of our dreams never shows up? How do we keep going when the job doesn’t work out? How do we react when the babies don’t come? How do we keep going when the babies leave the house? What do we do when the wrinkles start showing?

When everything on the exterior is stripped away – make-up removed, hair undone, designer clothes turned in for some comfortable pajamas – and we’re honest with ourselves, what is left? What is left once we take off all of the roles we’ve adopted: mother, daughter, wife, sister, employee, student, grandmother?

God has always had a better design and model for women. Whatever our circumstances, each of us has a soul. We have been designed unique and are continually shaped into the image of God. Jesus destroyed the societal constructs against women throughout Scripture – he talked to the woman at the well when she was both a woman and a Samaritan – two big no-no’s in his day. He loved Martha and Mary, two women with drastically different gifts but both blessed to be in the company of the Lord and to discover themselves in his light.

What does it mean to be a woman of God? I think being a woman of God begins by trying to see ourselves as God sees us and not as the world wants us to see ourselves. The ideal image of womanhood projected by the world is that of power, control, youth, sexual appeal, dramatic beauty, a kind of do-it-all and do-it-yourself feminism, self-reliant, strong. The image of perfect womanhood provided by our culture is impossible to strive for, impossible to sustain, and does not bring any sort of sustained peace or joy. Reaching to become all things to all men and women will only lead us to despair.

But in Hosea, God promises that he will make the Valley of Achor a door of hope. In Hebrew, “Achor” means trouble or despair. There have been many times when I have felt desperate – for love, affection, stability, peace, friendship. We can get stuck in those places and just keep looping through what our world’s definition of success and happiness is: getting what we want. What we are doing is worshipping the gods of this world rather than the God of heaven and earth. Hosea goes on to say that, “On that day, says the Lord, you will call me ‘My husband,’ and no longer will you call me, ‘My master.’ For I will remove the names of the Baals from her mouth, and they shall be mentioned by name no more… and I will take you for my wife forever; I will take you for my wife in righteousness and in justice, in steadfast love, and in mercy. I will take you for my wife in faithfulness; and you shall know the Lord.”

How do we respond to the husband of our souls who has taken us in righteousness and justice, in steadfast love and mercy, in faithfulness? We know him – we spend time with him. We figure out what he likes and do special things for him. When I was getting to know the guy I dated before getting married, I thought about ways I could make him happy all of the time. As a new bride, I tried to be the best woman for my husband. As a wife of five years, I’ve gone through my own valleys of self-centeredness and I’m not always as focused on how I can be nice to my husband.

Our relationship with God is so often the same way – we get all hyped up on how much he loves us at the start and then we kind of get used to it and don’t try as hard to show him our love. But both relationships are a process – both relationships go through phases, seasons, valleys, and peaks.

Our lives are constantly in a state of transition. Fortunately, we do not have to be everything to everyone. God does not expect us to be worshipping at his feet and simultaneously preparing the meal – there’s a time for both. One of my favorite passages in Scripture that deals so directly with women is Proverbs 31. The Proverbs 31 woman is not one woman; I think she is “Every Woman”, like Joan declares in the beginning of Mona Lisa Smile.

The Proverbs 31 woman glorifies God – whether she’s a businesswoman, single, a mother, a wife, a grandmother, or a widow, or any combination of these at whatever phase of life we find ourselves. It isn’t that she is signed up on a half-dozen church committees, singing in the choir, leading a Bible study, or tithing every week. She glorifies God by her attitude, her servant heart, her wisdom, her kindness. Proverbs 31 ends - “Charm is deceitful, and beauty is vain, but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised. Give her a share in the fruit of her hands, and let her works praise her in the city gates.”

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Daughters (David Sherwood)

From Dave Sherwood

How does a pastor see women in his church and the culture that surrounds it


Daughters be careful to remember who you are
Because there are identity thieves everywhere
And they promise you, as they always do
Power, position, safety…

But do they tell you

The wonder of life growing in you
When you and a man become one
And god overshadows you
And you carry his creation
Into the world

That our Father in heaven is a good dad
The dad we never had
The dad of cuddles and teaching and healing and…and
So much more
So dance before him with abandonment
And cuddle deep into his strong shoulders

And don’t try to be a son
He has enough of those strange
Adrenaline riddled,

Be a daughter

Dance…cause most boys don’t dance well
Cry…cause your tears are precious to Fathers
Nurture…cause boys just build and destroy
They plant and harvest
They don’t remember to water
And if we all want some food to eat
It’s up to you

And forgive men
They are monsters at times
They have their own demons to wrestle
Help them find their own masculinity in God
By finding your femininity

And one last thing

Vogue magazine is lying to you
Stop trying to be an object for others and the fickles flowing definitions of beauty
Adorn yourself on the inside
With the feminine attributes of beauty

Because the pastors heart is torn

Watching you be enslaved to a culture that lies to you
And promises you so much
And delivers
Exhausted emptiness

Mona Lisa Smile

This weekend, the ladies of 5 Stones and other women interested are invited to watch the film, Mona Lisa Smile. Afterward, we are going to break up into small groups and talk through a few discussion questions, followed by a short message.

The night before, I drafted some discussion questions for the movie, and last night, I sat down after the kids went to bed and began typing. I do my best thinking at the keyboard - don't ask me to think standing up in a conversation because I'm sure to fail. The main question on my mind last night was, how do I translate the roles and shifts in perspective that occur in Mona Lisa Smile into today's culture and the lives of women in the church? At first, I started by looking at advertisements and sitcom summaries to see what common denominators I could find here, but as I wrote a few paragraphs, the message I needed to get across still wasn't clear. No, no, no, that's not it! and I'd pray again, Lord, what do you want me to say about this?

Eventually, the problem surfaced - I was trying to look at the outside issues, like choosing between career and family, rather than addressing the heart and soul. This essential root opened up the topic for me. I'm excited to talk about what it means to be a woman of God this Saturday. I wrote a poem a while ago about the woman at the well that illustrates a bit about how God takes us from where we have been and transforms us in ways we could have never imagined, in the metaphor of a crocus.

The Merciful Gardener
“Come, see a man who told me
everything I ever did.” – John 4:29

It feels as if I’ve been buried here
forever, dehydrated, covered in dirt,

a crocus stagnant and frozen with scales
wrapped tight and tunic pointing skyward

waiting for signs of spring. And now
water trickles down, sunbeams warm the soil,

I can feel myself changing, breaking!
All I’ve ever done was wait and rot.

And then he – And then he showed me –
I am compelled to tell, can’t help but bloom –

Do you see how he knew just what I needed?
Do you see how he knew what I could do?

Monday, January 19, 2009

Faith, Family, and Electric Carving Knives

This weekend the fam and I went home to visit our extended families, since it was a longer weekend. Family has become increasingly important to me (in my old age, ah ah ah), and I find myself longing to be closer to home. On my way home to Ashland tonight, I started thinking about home and how we relate to our family members those things that are most important to us.

When I first became a believer, I was gung-ho nutso about sharing my newfound hope with my parents, friends, cousins, aunts, uncles, brothers, and pretty much any poor sap who happened to cross my path. I even entered into a scary debate with a guy on a sailboat in Australia about evolution. It was heated. I was irrational and emotional. It was embarrassing.

It can be so hard to show our love and how we've been changed by God to family, especially, because they all know we're not that great. It's a whole lot harder to fool family with our holy acts than it is our church friends. They know us too well to believe that God made it all 100% better and now we're a no-sinning saint. Ba-loney.

Anyway, I went on a Bible-buying spree. Anyone related to me got a Bible - birthdays, Christmases, I made sure that a Bible would be in-hand, and that it would be somehow user-friendly (study Bibles, women's application Bibles, etc.). I wanted to share the wealth of Scripture - I had found so many truths, so much hope, from its pages, and I just couldn't keep myself from gushing about God. It was great fun!

But, as I am with all things, I kind of got impatient with the Holy Spirit. They had these amazing books within reach and yet weren't taking advantage of them! I could picture these books sitting on shelves or stashed away in closets like the two electric knives Brandon and I got for our wedding - sharp, shiny, powerful, even, but completely unused and therefore rather useless, except for the special occasion - like Thanksgiving - when one might want to carve a turkey in electric super-speed, double-fisted vibrating knife fashion.

I found a Bible up in one of the bedrooms this weekend. I gave it to my brother a few years ago after I found out he gave his life to Christ at a youth retreat. It was still in the box - the gold-leaf pages still stuck together when I flipped through it. At first, you might think that this is a sign of disregard - maybe disinterest. I would have, if I had found it a few years earlier. But my brother isn't much of a reader. He's a listener. He cares deeply about people. And this weekend, I hung out with my brother and his fiancee for a while, and we talked about faith and God and the Bible and their church. We also line danced and laughed and had a few drinks.

What I've come to realize recently is that God has his own timing. God moves in people's lives in many, many different ways. Even though the physical Word of God spoke loudest to me as a new believer, others come to know him in other ways - maybe it is worship music on a Sunday morning that brings along some stirring in one's soul. Maybe it is the kindness and love of a friend that speaks ten times louder than the words in a book. Maybe it is "through the back door" as the modern poet, Mary Karr, says about her alcoholism and prayer and the Holy Spirit, first, and then Jesus Christ.

Whatever way it is, what is most important for me is that it does not depend upon me. It is the Holy Spirit's job to use us however he can, we just have to make ourselves available. What a relief it is to know that it isn't up to me alone to save family, friends, or strangers. The Lord stirs people's hearts in strange ways, and if we have made ourselves open to discussing the experiences we have had, it is a seed that the Farmer can sow, and one day, without our even being aware, there will be this amazing vine growing and showing off its fruits.

One last thought - if you are feeling discouraged or impatient with family in regards to spiritual matters, remember that even Jesus Christ's brothers doubted him, and it wasn't until after Jesus died and was resurrected that James became one of his own brother's disciples. Faith is a funny creature; there's no predicting how or when it will grow in someone's heart. What we can do, however, is follow Christ's commandment to love one another - can we do something so daring as to show love to our family members, those people it is so easy to disregard - mostly because they are stuck with us? And, pray. Pray, pray, pray. The Holy Spirit can work across the miles and in our own homes when we're sure we've done enough to annoy them with our holy-roller stories of how God is the greatest and I'm saved and you should be too so accept him already okay?!? As a consolation (LOL I had constellation before) prize, here's an electric carving knife...

Friday, January 16, 2009

The Stronghold of God

For those of you who enjoy reading a book every now and then, the women of 5 stones are going to read through the book, The Stronghold of God by Francis Frangipane and get together to talk about the book Sunday, February 22 at 9 AM. It is just a little over 100 pages. In these uncertain economic times, it is always good to be reminded who are stronghold is. The book is only $6.05 used (including shipping) on -

Keep warm, ladies!

Sunday, January 11, 2009


For no particular reason, I have been amazed lately. At everything. I can't seem to help myself - the snow falls and I think, "how amazing! It's white and fluffy and mutes the world and each flake is unique and it is just so stinkin' creative! How did he think of it?!" But I guess that's not so unusual - everyone looks at snow and thinks, neat-o. But there are some things that I've gotten hung up on lately that I think if taken to their farthest conclusion would render me certifiably insane.

For instance, our bodies. Have you ever thought about how cool they are? It takes foreign objects (like brussels sprouts and pork chops and sauer kraut), smooshes it all around in one organ with these chemicals and then takes the stuff that's in those foreign objects and uses it, magically, for the health and well-being of the rest of our body. And then there's the disposal system, which I won't go into here, but let's face it - it's pretty amazing too. Beyond food and that amazing process, there's what happens with blood. Blood brings all the nutrients to all of the other interdependent organs in the body. And, some of its cells fight the bad guys that sneak in with food and air and water. And, by some amazing process, the deoxygenated blood keeps itself separated from the oxygenated blood to and from the heart, which pumps non-stop, on demand at timely intervals from somewhere around two to three weeks of existence in the womb until the very last second here.

And don't even get me started on the brain, bones, joints, skin, muscles, five senses, spinal cord, lungs, liver, reproductive system. Besides the fact that they even exist and function, they grow! They heal! They change! They weaken and strengthen! They bend and wiggle and stretch and shrink!

It's amazing. AMAZING! The very hairs on our head are numbered. We don't have to look any farther than the fingerprints on our thumbs to see that we have been fearfully and wonderfully made, unique down to the microbiological level, with slight variations to make us different but ultimately half of the population could mate with the other half of the six billion people on the planet and create a fully-functional human with some new combination of chromosomes and DNA, with her grandma's curls, her daddy's blue eyes, and her momma's unusually shaped little toe.

I think part of this astonishment and wonder comes out of watching my children grow and learn. Elvis, my son, almost died when he was born because of problems with his lung development, even though he was full-term, and whenever he chokes on a cup of water, I remember those first few days. But thanks to the help of a bunch of healthcare physicians who were on the watch those first critical days and thanks to a miraculous Healer in heaven, who created bodies that can take on almost anything and still survive and thrive as if they had normal beginnings, he survived and looks and breathes just like any other 17-month old. It's amazing.

Lydia is just as amazing as Elvis - she has all of these words that come out of her mouth - phrases and word combinations and thoughts that are unique to her mind and heart. She has such compassion and care, such love and joy, and it just pours out. I certainly didn't teach these things to her - they are innate, stored up somewhere in her soul. And... to be repetitive... she's amazing.

I haven't even gotten into the other things that bring wonder and awe -- the seasons, the sunset, the earth and its solar system, the galaxy, the universe... zooming back in to the bees and pollenation, the trees and carbon dioxide and oxygen, the water cycle, the sea star, the sea horse, the grass... I could go on and on. I am in awe.

If you have a chance each day, think about something commonplace, something you've taken for granted. It doesn't have to be anything high and lofty - it could simply be the fact that you winked, or sneezed. Investigate it - what does it take to do this? Why do we sneeze? Why do we blink? How do we see, really? What is involved from a scientific standpoint? And then, once you've seen how complex that single process is, think bigger - cloud creation, volcanoes, earthquakes, oceans, ice, islands, palm trees, sand, rocks, stars, light, sound. And now that you've effectively overwhelmed yourself, think even bigger - all of this, everything and everyone, God created. God knows. God has touched. God has breathed the breath of life in each of us. God has the power to heal us of our deepest hurts and addictions. God has the power to be larger than the entire universe and yet more intimate than a lover.


Friday, January 9, 2009


The New Year is always a good time for reflection, a chance to take a look back on how the past year has played out. What did God teach me this year? How did I grow? Did I grow??

A few lessons and experiences keep surfacing for me in regards to this past year: one is redemption, and the other is wonder. I had the great joy of leading a small group of women for a few months through a study of David's life (at least the first part of it... we've got a long way to go this spring!). Lots and lots of bad things happen to David early on in his story - he kills a giant, he plays the harp, he writes some songs and poems, he is hunted by a mad king, his best friend is killed, he gets married (twice)... all while being secretly anointed the soon-to-be-real king of Israel. It's like a super-double-secret, too, because Saul turns into this mad man that tries to kill David every chance he gets, and when David gets the chance to kill him he doesn't. It's craziness.

All this to say that a TON of junk happens in David's life, early on, and it left many of us in our study dumbfounded. What is going on here? Why do bad things happen to good people? It's the same old question we've heard hundreds of times, maybe even thousands of times. And then I think the most enlightening conversation I've had this year happened with one of the young women in my study.

The fiance of one of her friends died unexpectedly shortly before their wedding, and friends who were doing their best to console her said, "God works in mysterious ways... It must have been his time..." and her friend railed against this in grief and anger, saying, "NO - God did not kill my fiance in a car accident; God does not cause evil to happen so that he can do something good. He takes that something evil and awful and is able to turn it for good, in spite of the devil's handiwork." And I was like YES. That's it. Redemption.

God does not cause bad things to happen so that he can do something good. Bad things happen. Evil is in the world and its handymen are doing everything they can to turn our hearts away from God, and yet, and yet, God always sticks around after the rioters have come in and ravaged our hearts. He sits quietly, sometimes so silent we're not even sure he's there in the midst of that overwhelming grief and sorrow, and he waits until it is the right time, until we are ready to let go. And then, while the enemy is off rejoicing that he's ruined it for you, God is there, picking up the broken pieces and reassembling them into some strange mosaic you could have never imagined. You created this masterpiece out of all this rubble? All of these shattered mirrors and severed dreams... everything I thought lost... you redeemed.

Redemption. We don't even realize it is happening until it has happened and then we are surprised by joy, surprised by gladness, surprised that it all worked out for good, even though he said so over and over again in that one book. The goodness doesn't knock out the fact that what happened to you, to me, to us, wasn't dark and miserable and lonely and fierce. It is a smile with hard-earned, angel-wrestling tears of gratefulness to have felt very deeply and to continue to survive in spite of such deep hurt.

The bad and difficult events in your life have not happened so that God could do something good with you. They happened because there is an enemy who wants to see you beat down and separated from God. The miracle is that God is bigger than that, so big that he can take the downward spiral you feel like you are on and slowly ease it back to a slow road of recovery, put a bend and hill in here and there, and before you know it you can see how he worked that spiral right into a winding country lane.

It's amazing. And that's one thing I've been dwelling on late in 2008 into 2009. The others will have to wait for another night.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

A Soul That Sparkles

Gemstones, also called precious or semi-precious stones, are pieces of attractive minerals, which — when cut and polished — are used to make jewelry or other adornments. Most gemstones are hard, but some soft minerals are used in jewelry because of their lustre or other physical properties that have aesthetic value. Rarity is another characteristic that lends value to a gemstone (thank you, wikipedia).

We women of 5 stones community church and all women in the body of Christ, should consider ourselves "gemstones" -- God is constantly tumbling us along the shore, cutting away the grime and polishing our souls until they shine: "being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus" (Phil. 1:6). Each of us sparkles in unique ways; we are rare, beautiful, gifted, valuable... the apples of His eye.

This blog will serve as a place of reflection on being and becoming a gemstone here -- what is God doing in my life to polish until I shine, or shape until I catch His light just right? How can we work with the Lord to see more clearly the gifts He's given us? What does the Word say about women? What is our role as women in Christ? And how do we come closer to knowing and serving Him?

It will also be a place of resource -- as I read or discover books, websites, videos, tapes, etc. that seem worthwhile in this pursuit to be a woman of God, I'll stick 'em here.

And, of course, there'll be times to just laugh at this existence. God knows we need it, right? We stumble along enough to allow for a few guffaws at our trip-ups.

So, here's to sparkling and shining --

-- Sarah