Author Archives: Stephanie

About Stephanie

I am a wife, mother of three (Seth-17, Lena-15 and Eli-12), ordained pastor, follower and vessel (albeit sometimes a broken one) of Christ. One of my other titles is that of homeschooler to my daughter (never saw that one coming!). Iced coffee, reading, baking, exploring, friendship, and musical theater are some of my favorite things. I enjoy speaking to and empowering women as they navigate various seasons in life. I hold a special passion for encouraging families with a child struggling with a mental disorder or other unique challenge.

Learning to Hold Space and Hope Rather Than Control

We tend to be fixers. Solutions become placebos to keep a certain comfortable narrative in place: “we keep residence in a world that affirms our expectations.” The problem is that living according to that premise will never bring fulfillment because nothing of this earth will satisfy. We hold little control.

When brokenness unfolds as is inevitable, we feel restless. Why did that happen? Who is at fault? How can I alleviate the discomfort? If we refuse to acknowledge the reality of pain and drawn out uncertainty, it affects the ability to have shalom (being in right relationship with God and others.) Responding to others bears witness to what we believe to be true.

So, when encountering someone in crisis, what does Shalom look like? Setting down control and holding onto other things. Space. Hope. Recognizing we are all in this together, although our losses do not necessarily unfold all at the same time.

It might be the shortest verse in the Bible but it speaks volumes. Jesus gets word that Lazarus, brother of his friends Mary and Martha has died. He has the power to raise him from the dead but he doesn’t do that right away. In the in between, Jesus weeps. He sits in the anguish of what surrounds him. It is believed that the source of his grief is his anger at death. He feels the pain of the flesh. He hears the wails of the mourners and laments that their current connection to Lazarus is broken. He sits in the anguish. God sits in the anguish.

As image bearers, we are compelled to do the same. And while there, we echo the groaning that the Holy Spirit is muttering through us. The noise of brokenness that is in process of being redeemed.

Meanwhile, the moment we get tired in the waiting, God’s Spirit is right alongside helping us along. If we don’t know how or what to pray, it doesn’t matter. He does our praying in and for us, making prayer out of our wordless sighs, our aching groans.” Romans 8:26

NT Wright, in his book God and the Pandemic, wrtites, “Not only do we, the followers of Jesus not have any words to say, any great pronouncements on ‘what this all means’ to trumpet out to the world…but we the followers of Jesus, find ourselves caught up in the groaning of creation and we discover at the same time God the spirit is groaning with us. That is our vocation: to be in prayer, perhaps wordless prayer, at the point where the world is in pain.”

Wordless prayer

Make no mistake, God will keep using us to be agents of restoration. Even if we don’t end up seeing the fullness in our lifetime. We are compelled to be peacemakers, mourners, advocates for justice, mercy gifters, (Matthew 5:1-12)…..because that is central to our identity as Kingdom builders. And through it all, may we recognize Shalom doesn’t require answers. Just presence.

This post is written for the Five Minute Friday Writing Community. Come join us!

What Else Can I Learn From the Story of the Good Samaritan?

It stopped me in my tracks. Scanning through my social media landscape, I encountered a post that drew my attention. Though it alluded to a familiar story, it challenged me to re-examine the lens through which I read it.

Looking for a loophole, he asked, “And just how would you define ‘neighbor’?”

30-32 Jesus answered by telling a story. “There was once a man traveling from Jerusalem to Jericho. On the way he was attacked by robbers. They took his clothes, beat him up, and went off leaving him half-dead. Luckily, a priest was on his way down the same road, but when he saw him he angled across to the other side. Then a Levite religious man showed up; he also avoided the injured man.

33-35 A Samaritan traveling the road came on him. When he saw the man’s condition, his heart went out to him. He gave him first aid, disinfecting and bandaging his wounds. Then he lifted him onto his donkey, led him to an inn, and made him comfortable. In the morning he took out two silver coins and gave them to the innkeeper, saying, ‘Take good care of him. If it costs any more, put it on my bill—I’ll pay you on my way back.’

36 “What do you think? Which of the three became a neighbor to the man attacked by robbers?”

37 The one who treated him kindly,” the religion scholar responded. (Luke 10)

Could I be the wounded or the robber? I paused, sitting in the discomfort gripping me. Why I have I always navigated quickly to assume the role of the passersby or Good Samaritan?

There is no doubt that Jesus was driving home a point in this specific context. The lawyer, familiar with the Jewish purity laws of the time, was looking for a way to make Jesus incriminate himself. What “Messiah” would publicly advocate for deconstructing them?

Jesus recognized the laws had become stumbling blocks on the path to reconciliation: to God and each other. He saw that the road to abundant life for all meant recognizing the Levite, Priest, Good Samaritan, Robber, and wounded person in ourselves.

The Jericho Road was known to be a dangerous place. It’s geographic location lent itself to robbers. They took advantage of the vulnerability of passersby. Victims depended on “neighbors” who came across them to sustain their life: putting aside all judgements, ideological differences, gender and racial taboos, and concern for their reputation and safety.

To be honest, striving to become a Good Samaritan is hard. It means asking God to search my heart and reveal what it is I am afraid of sacrificing for others well being. And in that reflection, I encounter a revelation: very seldom have I felt like the wounded and even more rare have I considered myself the robber. My unrecognized privileges have allowed me to focus on one part of the story.

How do I contribute to the atmosphere of the Jericho roads near me?

Do I use my resources to support economic and educational viability in more oppressed neighborhoods?

Am I knowledgeable about the implications across the world to the lives of those affected by what I consume here?

Pondering my role in the story is a lifelong process. I long to be not just a Good Samaritan but a transformer of Jericho Roads as well. Jesus’s promise for abundant life begins in the Kingdom that he ushered in. Here. Now. In a place that doesn’t necessarily understand why the roads are in need of repair. I am compelled to help his vision materialize.

Martin Luther King exhorts us to look deeper into the story and act on it. “I admire the good Samaritan, but I don’t want to be one. I don’t want to spend my life picking up people by the side of the road after they have been beaten up and robbed. I want to change the Jericho road, so that everybody has an opportunity for a job, education, security, health.”

A Prayer for Breath

Breathe on me, Breath of God,
fill me with life anew,
that I may love the way you love,
and do what you would do.
-Edwin Hatch

Pneuma (Spirit), may your breath….

Revive me when my complacency keeps me from moving out of my comfort zone to make your life giving presence known

Resuscitate me when I feel trapped in the sinking sand of adversity that feels suffocating

Reconcile me to those whom I have hurt either directly or inadvertantly by not seeing them as my neighbor

Restore your creation through me as you open my eyes to the ways we sustain one another

This post is written for the Five Minute Friday Writing Community. Come join us!

What Is Your Image of God?

God uses us to feed each other. Sometimes bodies. Sometimes souls.

I savor Lauren Winner’s words, in her book Wearing God, Her observations and exegesis offer up an abundance of new understanding of God’s character. This image, in particular, lingers:

“When I think about the hard work of labor, I realize that my unreflective assumption is somehow that redemption is easy for God. Because God is all powerful, I somehow imagine redemption being a snap of the fingers. But Isaiah’s image tells us how hard the laboring woman is working to bring forth redemption, a kind of hard work that many of us are unaccustomed to in our technological, twenty first century world.”

My jaw drops as I read this. How have I glossed over this image through the numerous times I have read through Isaiah? Why is this image not emphasized more often? God taking on such a human posture leaves me speechless. Awed. It reminds me that birth pains are always going on behind the scenes. God is always working on our behalf to bring forth life. The laboring mother is present and entering the painful transition with us.

Scripture bears witness to the breadth of God’s persona yet earthly narratives greatly shape how we perceive them. We can only expand our understanding when we “feast” with others on the same quest. Coming to the table, sharing our God shaped lives and the ways scripture speaks into them. That requires sharing the ways we connect with God through our personal narrative and the bigger one being written.

Open your mouth and taste, open your eyes and see— how good God is. Blessed are you who run to him. Psalm 34:18

What is your newest image of God?

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The Powerful Paradox of the Church

The plan appears preposterous.

Leaving your Kingdom in the hands of an eclectic group of people who are still learning about it’s implications themselves. And to choose a colorful cast of characters to begin it?

What was he thinking?

Jesus was familiar with the quirks and flaws of those twelve. He heard their disagreements about who would be the greatest and vying for a position next to him in the anticipated kingdom and Peter’s refusal to acknowledge Jesus’ prophetic words about the sacrifice that would usher it in.

What was he thinking?

He experienced the betrayal of those with whom he lived, taught, and loved. In his hardest moments.

And yet, he didn’t retract the vision. He trusted that the Kingdom would in fact flourish. Despite persecution from Earthly empires. Despite earthly crises which resulted in periods of scattering. Despite disagreements through the ages about theological understanding and flawed human logic regarding who is welcome in.

Now to him who by the power at work within us is able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine, 21 to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen. Ephesians 3:20-21

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Recognizing the Opportunities We Have to Bless Each Other

We belong to each other.

Currently, in this surreal season of change, I am working as a Door Dash driver. God has repurposed me numerous times. Not surprisingly, I am led down a path that I never expected. And I am always blessed in ways I never expected.

Originally, it seemed as if I was simply performing a task for someone. And truthfully, I have never been a fan of our ever increasing byte sized interactions with each other due to digital conveniences. But, as I thought about how I might be used for God’s purposes in it, I realized that there might be so much more going on behind the scenes than I realize. Maybe it’s the exhausted parent who simply wants a break. Or someone who, for various reasons, doesn’t want to venture out in public right now. Whatever the reason, God uses us to bless each other-however that takes place.

So with that mindset, I scurried to deliver an order last night. As I arrived, I could not find the address and called the customer. She came around the corner with her child. And as I handed over the pizza, her daughter handed me a hand drawn note with an attached ziplock bag of candy. Certainly shared from her own stash.

Byte sized moments of interaction resulted in large amounts of blessing. For both of us. In this age where connections with each other seem hampered more than usual, we still have the capacity to see the imago dei in each other. Sacred connections can still take place. Even if it looks like a hand drawn note and some tootsie rolls.

How could you bless someone today?

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When God Speaks in the Sound of Silence

A few weeks ago, my 38 year old neighbor died unexpectedly. I didn’t know him well, but we have literally crossed paths. However, even in those seemingly insignificant encounters, his life impacted mine.

While I didn’t know much about the intimate parts of his story, I was privy to some public ones. From my back porch, I gaze upon his backyard adjacent to mine as well as the yards of his sibling and parents. Their houses and big open green space form a “corner” at the end of the street. Sounds of life coming from that direction abound in the summer.

Parties, fireworks, and the sounds of music and people chatting into the wee hours of the morning characterize warm summer evenings. They live life loudly. And people around here know it. Though I didn’t always appreciate the noise, it somehow became a familiar soundtrack to our family’s life. There is something comforting about the familiar.

But the weekend of his funeral, the soundtrack came to a holy pause. And I noticed. No loud sounds. Not even a few random voices carrying over from across the yard. I understood the sound of silence. It speaks volumes at times because it communicates that something changed. In this moment, it was the sound of grief.

We often take for granted the connections we have with each other. What we don’t realize is the way God speaks into the world through the sounds, tastes, smells, and touches of each other’s lives. We are reminded who created all of us and that we belong to each other because of it.

In these recent weeks, I sit in the sound of silence with them. Recognizing I can’t fix the pain or erase the reality that we travel lightly here on Earth. But I know that God is in it too. “Meanwhile, the moment we get tired in the waiting, God’s Spirit is right alongside helping us along. If we don’t know how or what to pray, it doesn’t matter. He does our praying in and for us, making prayer out of our wordless sighs, our aching groans.” Romans 8:26. Tonight, I cling to that promise.

This post is written for the Five Minute Friday Writing Community. Come join us!

The Implications of Tasting God’s Mercy

Later when Jesus was eating supper at Matthew’s house with his close followers, a lot of disreputable characters came and joined them. When the Pharisees saw him keeping this kind of company, they had a fit, and lit into Jesus’ followers. “What kind of example is this from your Teacher, acting cozy with crooks and riffraff?”

 Jesus, overhearing, shot back, “Who needs a doctor: the healthy or the sick? Go figure out what this Scripture means: ‘I’m after mercy, not religion.’ I’m here to invite outsiders, not coddle insiders.” Matthew 9:10-13

Jesus is not addressing an issue of social etiquette. He isn’t even encouraging sympathy for the lonely. He makes a political statement at a table during an ordinary daily routine.

However, for the Pharisees, nothing about this scene is ordinary. Middle Eastern culture emphasized hospitality. In fact, God specifically instructed the Israelites to feed the foreigner and stranger. But this rebel rouser initiated this moment. He has the audacity to not only invite an unorthodox cast of characters to follow him but publicly displays sharing a meal with more of them.

Sharing a meal has sacred implications. It points to our common need to be nurtured in body and soul. And offers us the opportunity to taste the “Bread” that provides both. It can become a catalyst of reconciliation when we come to the table estranged. From God and each other.

Jesus’ feast speaks volumes. The Kingdom of God has arrived. Look. Ponder. Embrace. It does not thrive on oppression but liberates. And when you taste of it, you want to invite everyone else. Every One. To savor this life “on earth as it is in heaven”

N.T. Wright, in his book, “The Lord and his Prayer, writes “After all, we are ourselves only at Jesus’ table because he made a habit of celebrating parties with all the wrong people. Isn’t it about time we start to copy him?”

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Why We Can Never Escape God’s Presence

“Though the Lord may give you the bread of adversity and the water of affliction, yet your Teacher will not hide himself any more, but your eyes shall see your Teacher. 21 And when you turn to the right or when you turn to the left, your ears shall hear a word behind you, saying, “This is the way; walk in it.” 22 Then you will defile your silver-covered idols and your gold-plated images. You will scatter them like filthy rags; you will say to them, “Away with you!”” Isaiah 30:20-21.

We see ourselves in the Israelites’ narrative. While they gripped onto their faith in God’s promises, they also lay vulnerable to reaching toward earthly gratification. In the midst of waiting, physical and mental hardship, and persecution they were tempted to feast on things that brought quick satisfaction to famined bodies and souls. Though God’s presence was constant, it didn’t always bring the contentment expected. And they turned away.

Consequences make us regret our faux feasts. Like the Israelites, we experience the taste of a broken covenant. But thankfully, that’s not the end of the story.

Even when we change our posture in resistance, God does not. Left. Right. Up. Down. Front. Behind. He is there. Ancient ideologies emphasized the “right” as the side of favor and the “left” being associated with evil/ fighting off danger. Yet, Isaiah’s prophetic words tell us that God’s presence shows no spatial preference. His voice and posture hem us in from all sides. Regardless of circumstances.

Thanks be to God.

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Re-Evaluating the Definition of Progress

Unexpected circumstances can lead to a holy pause.

We easily become creatures of habit. Our days operate according to a somewhat regular liturgy. And when seasons transition, we adjust to a new one. Typically, what they all have in common is aiming toward some measure of progress.

It manifests in different ways. For some, progress is measured by the amount of tasks completed in a given day. For others, clinching a business deal, witnessing a student achieve a prescribed benchmark, or achieving a fitness goal becomes the target. And all too often we run on a treadmill of progress with an assumption that it informs our identity.

But is it accurate?

The last few months have interrupted what we thought individually and nationally was what defined us: making progress. Certainly remaining stagnant and comfortable does not shape our character or lead us to become better versions of ourselves. But what is the end goal and who informs it?

Perhaps, this interruption can challenge us to evaluate what we identify as the end goal. How is progress manifest? In standardized test scores? Financial bottom lines? Educational degrees? Church attendance? Digital platforms? Organic relationships? Character transformation? Awareness of a world outside of ourselves?

Sometimes a holy pause is an opportunity to do just that. Stop. Listen. Evaluate. And believe that even if change happens, God still has the world in his hands. And it doesn’t depend on human defined measurements of progress.

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