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.

Sometimes, God Speaks to Us at a Party Next to Apples

The beauty of community pops up in the most unexpected places. Sometimes it’s in the produce section of a grocery store.

Last week, a big party took place in my town. There were no formal invitations. Instead, signs posted in the ground along a busy road beckoned people to mark the date. It wasn’t held at a fancy venue in the evening. But rather at a family owned grocery store in the middle of town at 10:00am.

Truthfully, I almost forgot. I had woken up later than expected on Friday and I was preparing to go to the fitness center, I remembered. And, despite my commitment to remain consistent in my workout routine, I knew I had to go to the party. Danny has been a part of our family’s sphere for twenty years.

Truthfully, most of the town could say the same.

Danny is a familiar face in our community. He is often trekking down the main thoroughfare, hanging out in the grocery store, or prompting the train engineer to honk as the commuter train approaches the station.  Danny is known to all of us. But more significantly, we are all known to Danny. By name.

Our town, like many others, has experienced change. In the last twenty years, we have grown from a small sleepy, agricultural suburb to one with big box stores and increasing housing developments. Our schools added buildings and the students contribute to one of the now three high schools in our area. We have adjusted to growing pains that occur when communities change zones and character. We have argued sharply about referendums, and local politics.

But we are still neighbors. I believe we all honestly want the best for each other. Even when things get hard and messy. But we all need to be reminded of our identity as a group of people doing life together. One that shares backyard bonfires, block parties, snow hills, volunteers at schools, participates in church together, and sometimes fights.

Danny reminds us that we don’t need to be related to have each other’s backs. Having lost his mother to cancer and navigated through a life involving developmental disabilities, he knows the significance of depending on your “people.” And he has modeled that for us. So, on Good Friday ironically, one hundred people turned out to sing and to celebrate forty years of a life that transforms a neighborhood. One that challenges us to see the Imago Dei in those around us.

It’s through each other that God speaks into our lives in the most profound and unexpected ways. Sometimes, it happens in a crowded, impromptu party “room” that resembles a space next to apples.

For more info about the party, read here:https://www.chicagotribune.com/suburbs/daily-southtown/opinion/ct-sta-slowik-berkots-birthday-surprise-st-0421-story.html

This post was written for the Five Minute Friday Writing Community. Come join us! https://fiveminutefriday.com/

 

 

 

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The “Fourth Word” of Jesus: Accepting the Paradox of Feeling Abandoned Yet Beloved

 

This moment for Jesus is a far cry from the one on the mountain. There, he stood with his three closest friends- Peter, James and John. There, God’s presence was affirmed in the bright cloud which appeared overhead. There, God’s voice proclaimed publicly once again, This is my Son, the Beloved;

Now, God’s presence does not appear in such a tangible form. God’s voice is silent. No public affirmation of his identity. No reminder that he is God’s beloved.

Instead, he is surrounded by the noise of dehmanizing voices mocking him. Alone. Most of his closest friends have left him in the valley. Jesus is left in anguish, physically, emotionally, and spiritually. Seemingly alone; yet surrounded by a crowd.

And like a child whose parent is in the room but not within sight, a cry erupts from his gut.

Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?” My God, My God, Why have you forsaken me?

Eloi. Not Abba.

Hours earlier, Jesus began the descent into desperation. The predictions of betrayal began to materialize. The road ahead of him began to appear. He needed his human companions the most-to touch, to pray, to weep, to simply stay awake and offer presence. But they failed his expectations. “And going a little farther, he threw himself on the ground and prayed that, if it were possible, the hour might pass from him. He said, “Abba, Father...(Mark 14:35). Abba-The word is recorded only three times in the N.T. The nuance is undoubtedly familial. Jesus still reaches out to the one he knows without a doubt sees him and will comfort him.

But, on the cross, something has changed. Eloi. Not Abba.

According to Father Brown, In his essay, “Jesus’ Death Cry,” if we accept that Jesus in the garden could still call the Father Abba, then we should accept this cry as“screamed protest against abandonment wrenched from an utterly forlorn Jesus who now is so isolated and estranged that he no longer uses ‘Father’ language but speaks as the humblest servant.”

The familial bond is strained.

Is it possible to feel both abandonment and connection at the same time?

Jesus, in his gutteral cries points to the answer. Although it appears to us to be a breathless wail signifying betrayal, his words speak of hope.

Jesus recites the beginning of Psalm 22:one that begins, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Jesus and anyone else familiar with this Psalm would have known it moves toward hope. as is evidenced by the turn in its middle:

he did not hide his face from me,but heard when I cried to him.”  (verse 24)

The whole prayer of lament was ingrained in his mind and in his spirit-even if his lips never finished pouring it out.

Though no voice bellows from a bright cloud above, though the darkness intensifies, though life literally drains from his body, Jesus still knows God is there. His cry tells us that there is still relationship-even if it changed.

Author Aubrey Sampson, in her book The Louder Song writes,“What kind of God do we have? He is not a passive, distant, deistic God, but an incarnate God. A God who reveals his withness in our darkest hours. An Immanuel God, a God who is transcendent over all creation but imminent with his people.”

Jesus’ cry punches us in the gut not only because we compassionately feel his pain, we have tasted it as well.

Like Jesus, we are Beloved. And that identity will hold hope for us when nothing else can.

This post was originally delivered as part of the “Seven Last Words” of Jesus on April 19, 2019 at Hope Covenant Church, Orland Park, IL. You can find the whole service here: http://orlandhope.org/media/103139-2824999-1838960/seven-last-words?fbclid=IwAR3LcjIRcv8UqUOtpF7Sbb0O94uZE82S-Fw8vxZLEgwEG9bjqYlHkbsZCvE

Longing To Have The Scandalous Eyes of Jesus

Several years ago, I was teaching jr. high Sunday School. I decided at Christmas time to engage them in understanding how God meets needs through our sharing with each other. Even if our brothers and sisters in Creation live across the globe. As we scanned through the World Vision catalog, I mentioned several possible gift ideas: a chicken, clothing, Bibles. As I tossed out the options, one of the boys who usually remained quiet spoke up, “We can give them Bibles but if they are starving, what good will that do?”

Like the boy who saw the Emperor with no clothes, he revealed the truth. No filter. No mind acrobatics to convince otherwise. He possessed Jesus’ scandalous eyes.

Jesus’ treatment of others brought rebuke. His interactions smacked of heresy and cultural taboos. Why would someone who claims to be born of Heaven interact with those viewed as tainted on earth?

Truthfully, he was modeling and reframing what God had already communicated numerous times.  God’s people are set apart from other nations by how they see and treat each other.  Period.

That’s scandalous. Thankfully the early church bears witness to the fact that others thought Jesus was on to something.

“For instance, you come upon an old friend dressed in rags and half-starved and say, “Good morning, friend! Be clothed in Christ! Be filled with the Holy Spirit!” and walk off without providing so much as a coat or a cup of soup—where does that get you? Isn’t it obvious that God-talk without God-acts is outrageous nonsense?”  James 2:16-17

Jesus noticed what was lacking: physically, spiritually, emotionally. All of it. When He encountered others, everything was laid bare.  So he offered bread and fish, shared meals, put mud on eyes, touched those with skin diseases, and empowered those relegated to the lowest rung of the cultural ladder. And exhorted those who long to follow him to do likewise.

Jesus was scandalous. If we really want to be like Jesus, we should be too.

This post was written for the Five Minute Friday Writing Community. Come join us! https://fiveminutefriday.com/

Learning to Lament When Our Offering to God Involves Pain

Liberation is found in naming.

While reading Aubrey Sampson’s book, “The Louder Song,” I recognized the phrases and rhythms pouring from my lips as lament. The last few years have brought lots of unexpected pain and confusion. At times, it felt as if God had simply forgotten me and my family. The season of  blessings packaged in tangible form seemed to come to an abrupt halt. And, like a child, who cannot read the mind of a parent who sees their condition but does not offer immediate satisfaction to small out stretched arms, I felt disappointed.

These cries from the depths of the heart are often named something else: complaining. However, complaining is often misunderstood. We utter words that communicate our displeasure in an outcome. From human reasoning, it makes no sense. Often, we look for someone or something to blame. Ultimately, we long for someone to understand our pain and acknowledge it.

Complaining becomes a form of lament when God’s character fails to be manifest as expected. We know that people will betray us but God? As Aubrey writes in her book, “To lament is to speak the reality of our formless, chaotic suffering and to ask God to fill it with his very good.” Unlike complaining, our words of anger, despair, and confusion are not thrown randomly into the air but are directed at the One with whom we are upset: our Creator and Lord.

And that’s the rub. At once, feelings of betrayal and hope connect. There would be no reason to direct our words at God if we don’t think he is listening.

The psalms become templates for my laments. The schism between human understanding and holiness is laid bare. I cling to the hope, as the writers did before me, that God is still good; even if I am still learning what goodness means. The lyrics of Tree63’s song “Blessed be Your Name” reiterate what I long to be my practice:

“Blessed be Your name
On the road marked with suffering 
Though there’s pain in the offering 
Blessed be Your name”

This post is written for the Five Minute Friday Writing Community. Come join us! https://fiveminutefriday.com/

 

How Jesus’ Words About Measuring Life Speak into Today’s Headlines

It can be viewed as a modern day parable. Yet, the lesson is timeless.

The story of wealthy families accused of cheating the college admissions system rocked the headlines. The resulting public outrage exploded on talk shows, blog posts and online comment sections.

When I heard, my jaw dropped. A whirl of thoughts spun inside my mind. A mixture of emotions swirled in my heart. Why would they do such a thing? How did they get to this place? I felt anger at these people who never considered the cost of their actions to others. I wondered how parents could place so much value on a college admission.

And then the fallout commenced. And so did the heaviness in my heart. Because no one wins.

Not the families involved, those who were complicit in carrying out the scheme, the students who were cheated and even those of us not directly related to the events.

Recent news reports have shared updates on the families which include feelings of despair, fear, and fractured relationships. All because of a lure for security which, ultimately, cannot be bought for any earthly price.

Because nothing on this earth will ultimately satisfy.

Jesus had a lot to say about money. Not because, in itself, it is evil but because of the way it easily becomes a pathway to attain power and security on earth. God know us better than we know ourselves.

Then he said, “Beware! Guard against every kind of greed. Life is not measured by how much you own.” Luke 12:15

Life is not measured by how much money, degrees, investments, children in college, you tube followers, social media friends, “likes,” and travel teams in which your kids belong.

Any of those things can change in a moment and then where do you root your hope?

May we learn from this cautionary tale. In addition, may we be reminded that we are all extended God’s extravagant grace and unlimited mercies as we continue to find our way. Thanks be to God who knows us better than we knows ourselves.

This post was written for the Five Minute Friday Writing Community. Come join us! https://fiveminutefriday.com/

When God’s Provision Looks Like Coriander Seeds

How quickly we forget.

Those memories of God’s miraculous intervention in our lives seem to run away in our most desperate moments. Anne VosKamp, in her book “The Broken Way,” terms it soul amnesia.

When our feet feel as if they are floating on a cloud, the words of gratefulness for God’s provision can’t come fast enough. Our eyes, wide and stunned, once again capture the image of divine intervention that we vow to never forget.

The scripture attesting to the faithfulness of a God who intimately knows the number of hairs on our heads, knit us together in the womb, is all knowing of the the dark places of our hearts, and promises to never abandon us  speak in a concert of voices in the mind.

Life is good.

But then it takes a turn.

How quickly we forget. Apparently, it’s a part of our DNA.

Then the foreign rabble who were traveling with the Israelites began to crave the good things of Egypt. And the people of Israel also began to complain. “Oh, for some meat!” they exclaimed. “We remember the fish we used to eat for free in Egypt. And we had all the cucumbers, melons, leeks, onions, and garlic we wanted. But now our appetites are gone. All we ever see is this manna!”  Numbers 11:4-6

It’s so easy to read the narratives of the Israelites and judge. How could they forget what they experienced? 

“Then the Egyptians—all of Pharaoh’s horses, chariots, and charioteers—chased them into the middle of the sea. But just before dawn the Lord looked down on the Egyptian army from the pillar of fire and cloud, and he threw their forces into total confusion.  He twisted[b] their chariot wheels, making their chariots difficult to drive. ” Exodus 14:23-24

Even those who didn’t have a relationship with God were stunned. “Let’s get out of here—away from these Israelites!” the Egyptians shouted. “The Lord is fighting for them against Egypt!”” Exodus 14:25

And then, just as they approached the Red Sea, God unleashed more special effects: they walked through the sea. Think about that one. THEY WALKED THROUGH the SEA! They continued on their journey of liberation. Life was good.

Until it wasn’t. At least it appeared that way.

The riffraff among the people had a craving and soon they had the People of Israel whining, “Why can’t we have meat? We ate fish in Egypt—and got it free!—to say nothing of the cucumbers and melons, the leeks and onions and garlic. But nothing tastes good out here; all we get is manna, manna, manna.  Manna was a seedlike substance with a shiny appearance like resin.”  Numbers 11:4-7

The truth is, their food was never that great in Egypt. The previous menu was not not much different from the new one. So what changed?

Their expectations.

In Egypt, they felt crushed under oppression. Literally. They pleaded for God to hear them. Both cries for deliverance and hunger arose from the gut. And Heaven descended down to deliver them from both. When God gave them a vision for something better, they held expectations for how that would unfold.

But it didn’t happen the way they expected. In the midst, they took their focus off the  Provider and focused on the provision.  And that’s not where sufficiency is ultimately found.

As I read their narratives once again, I see myself in their story. The hands of Heaven have reached into my circumstances to rescue me too. Despite the fact that I am surrounded by burning bushes on a daily basis, I forget that I matter to a Great God. One who, as a friend described, “sometimes shows us his goodness and sometimes shows us his glory.”

God’s provision for me doesn’t always fit my expectations. It isn’t always flashy or announced with fanfare. Sometimes, it resembles Coriander seeds. And often, like the Israelites, my response is, “What is that?

“When the layer of dew had lifted, there on the wilderness ground was a fine flaky something, fine as frost on the ground. The Israelites took one look and said to one another, man-hu (What is it?). They had no idea what it was.” Exodus 16:14

It isn’t at all what I expected. It isn’t my version of fulfillment. Conjuring up words of gratefulness from my heart through my lips takes longer than it should. But I need to remember that God hears the cries for deliverance and “hunger” arising from my gut. And will give my bread to satiate my needs. It just may look different than I expected.

“So Moses told them, “It’s the bread God has given you to eat.” Exodus 16:15

Maybe eventually, like the Israelites, I will get exactly what I hoped. But in the meantime, I pray for a spirit of contentment; to recognize that sometimes God’s provision looks like Coriander seeds. And that is sufficient because God is.

 

 

 

 

 

How We Are Rewarded When We Wait for God’s Answer

 

“Don’t bargain with God. Be direct. Ask for what you need. This is not a cat-and-mouse, hide-and-seek game we’re in. If your little boy asks for a serving of fish, do you scare him with a live snake on his plate? If your little girl asks for an egg, do you trick her with a spider? As bad as you are, you wouldn’t think of such a thing—you’re at least decent to your own children. And don’t you think the Father who conceived you in love will give the Holy Spirit when you ask him?” (Luke 11:10-13)

But sometimes we think the snakes are the gifts. They appear in the most deceptive,appealing masquerades. Relationships. Clothes. Status. Jobs. Houses. Desires.  We don’t feel complete peace about receiving the gifts but the human reasoning of the mind shouts loudly over the still small voice of the Holy Spirit speaking to the heart.

“I don’t have time to wait.”

“What if nothing else comes through?”

“I’ve always wanted ….”

“I don’t want to be alone.”

“That’s not what I hoped for”

“All my friends are getting….”

“I can’t take it anymore.”

When we resist waiting for God’s best for us, the result is a conflict which slithers itself through the biggest decisions as well as the routine moments of life.

It’s a human problem attested by the narratives found in scripture. The golden calf wasn’t created as a decoration.

Waiting isn’t for the faint of heart. Sometimes, it stinks. But God wants to offer us not just the gift but Himself.  It’s more than we asked for. It’s a reward that can’t be measured by human value; even if we get what we wanted. Because God knows we deserve better than a snake in disguise.

This post was written for the Five Minute Friday Writing Community! Come join us! https://fiveminutefriday.com/