Learning From the Experiences of Courageous Women

We learn so much from each other.

Recently, I finished reading When Others Shuddered: Eight Women who Refused to Give Up by Jamie Janosz. Exploring the lives of women known throughout history for their courage and perseverance brings me pleasure. I imagine a dinner party or afternoon tea gleaning wisdom from their experiences.

I may not live in their time frame but character knows no bounds.

Convictions catapult us into action. Risks are inherent. But, as Morecai says to Esther, “…. Who knows? Maybe you were made queen for just such a time as this.” So God uses our talents and skills to make his voice heard and his love known.

Women have challenged the status quo through writing (Jane Austen, Hannah Moore), teaching (Mary Bethune), advocacy, (Dorthea Dix, Elizabeth Fry), preaching (Amanda Smith), generosity (Nancy McCormick), hospitality (Sarah Dunn Clarke) , and even military spies (Emma Edmonds, Elizabeth Van Lew)

“We’re all traveling through time together, everyday of our lives. All we can do is do our best to relish this remarkable ride,” says Richard Curtis through his movie “About Time.”

Who inspires you?

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How Van Goh’s Talent Points Us to God

We can learn so much from him.

A few years ago, my daughter and I ventured down to the Art Institute of Chicago to view a special exhibit of Van Gogh’s paintings. He is one of our favorite artists because because of his colorful moving works of art as well as his “scandalous” eccentric personality.

It is widely believed that he struggled with mental illness. That reality, combined with (or perhaps because of) his ability to see the divine intersect into the landscape of our everyday lives, resulted in his unique portrayal of the world.

His life story is fascinating and once you become aware of it, his pictures emerge as sacred messages of the way heaven intersects earth. We can hold onto the hope he held because in Van Gogh’s terms, we are “companions in sorrow.” He often pictured people in their wearied states in order to get the viewer to resonate with them.

But he always infused the image with hope.

Yellows, scenes (the “Sower”, orbital shapes (“the galaxy”), vibrant colors and strokes, and hints of light became venues of depicting that we are part of a bigger narrative. One that points to a Creator and Sustainer who interacts and watches over what is created.

Carol Berry, in her book Learning from Henri Nouwen and Vincent Van Gogh, writes, “Vincent, as a true contemplative, could see beyond the surface of things and reveal the metaphorical implications of the material world. He could sense the eternal message in the temporal. This is what he hoped to be able to convey through his art.”

Van Gogh’s talent incorporated all aspects of who God made him. He inspires us to not only see the landscape of our lives through the lens of our Creator but to come baring our souls to however we are called to God’s purposes.

How do you see the Divine in your view right now?

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Why I Am Learning to Consecrate my Life in all Seasons

Winter’s seeming stillness presses upon my body and soul. The gray days’ hues blend together with the exception of a tint of yellow occasionally swirled in.

The absence of colorful vibrant life touches my senses. Blooms do not greet me as I make my way outside into the crisp air. The silence of chirps, crickets, and lawn mowers is deafening. Stillness appears on the landcape.

Including my spirit.

I long for movement. It’s so easy for it to define who I am. The familiar rhythms of motion appear to inform my identity. But when they change or pause, restlessness emerges. Who am I?

The view outside my frosted window reminds me that nature has not lost It’s identity in the pause. Life is still at work even if I can’t see it. The giver of life is cultivating something new in the rest. Nothing has really ceased its purpose. God is still at work.

So I am reminded that my God defines me and calls me into different seasons. In all things, God is still at work.

Take my life and let it be

Consecrated Lord to Thee

Take my moments and my days

Let them flow in ceaseless praise

Let them flow in ceaseless praise

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Embracing Sacred Relief When Something is Found

I noticed it was missing.

The diamond on my engagement band adorned my finger for 24 years. After a while, certain pieces of Jewelry become second “skin.” They form familiar senses in your movements and often carry stories of your life.

If my engagement ring could talk, it would share it’s adventurous and somewhat scandalous journey. My now husband found the jeweler through a friend who agreed to offer a whole price deal on it. It’s trek to my finger included meetings between strangers in a mall parking lot to exchange ring for currency. And a funny story about my husband proposing to me on a Thanksgiving morning and me thinking he was joking at first. The ring has immense value to me.

So when I glanced down on a July evening two years ago and noticed an empty spot between the prongs, it felt as though my heart stopped. How could something that means so much to me be gone?

Immediately, those in my midst began searching. Fortunately my home is small. But so is a diamond. On our hands and knees, we crawled. Exploring every corner and examining every crevice.

And then my teenaged son found it! He went down to the basement with a flashlight. There, near the washing machine on a gray concrete floor, laid my gem. His shout of discovery caused a flood of relief through my veins.

The story reminds me of the “lost parables in scripture (Luke 15). We are worth so much more than the diamond yet God seeks us. May we be reminded of our immense value and proclaim it to others in word and action.

We love  because he first loved us. 1 John 4:19

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Why Sacrifice Results in Abundance

Jesus reminds me there is a cost.

In October, I traveled with 30 companions on a Sankofa journey. My denomination, the Evangelical Covenant Church, offers this enlightening and transforming opportunity to journey toward racial righteousness. “Sankofa” comes from the Twi language in Gana which means to go back and fetch. Together, our racially diverse group engaged in hard conversations regarding historical civil rights events in Southern locations. How does our past impact the present and the future? What is necessary for restoration of a people and a country to take place?

My senses absorbed the sounds, sights, and smells of these prominent places where evil was confronted and liberation from earthly kingdoms sought. The faces of those who crossed bridges, boycotted buses, arranged sit-ins, carved out escape tunnels and gave up their lives remain etched in my mind. They remind me of the cost.

I ponder: what would I have done? What am I doing? To love neighbors as ourselves, demands movement into places of discomfort, vulnerability, and risk. Because that is what we long for from others. What am I willing to sacrifice?

“Simply put, if you’re not willing to take what is dearest to you, whether plans or people, and kiss it good-bye, you can’t be my disciple.” Luke 14:33.

Being a kingdom builder involves sacrifice but the result is abundance: for all.

I embrace Martin Luther King’s words, “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.”

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Learning to Trust God When the Direction Makes No Sense

God’s answers may involve movement to unexpected places. And sometimes we find ourselves scratching our heads as we head in the direction.

So Naaman came with his horses and chariots, and halted at the entrance of Elisha’s house. 10 Elisha sent a messenger to him, saying, “Go, wash in the Jordan seven times, and your flesh shall be restored and you shall be clean.” 11 But Naaman became angry and went away, saying, “I thought that for me he would surely come out, and stand and call on the name of the Lord his God, and would wave his hand over the spot, and cure the leprosy!”  2 Kings 5:9

The word that came to Jeremiah from the Lord: “Come, go down to the potter’s house, and there I will let you hear my words.” So I went down to the potter’s house, and there he was working at his wheel. The vessel he was making of clay was spoiled in the potter’s hand, and he reworked it into another vessel, as seemed good to him.” Jeremiah 18:1-4

When they had come near Jerusalem and had reached Bethphage, at the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two disciples, saying to them, “Go into the village ahead of you, and immediately you will find a donkey tied, and a colt with her; untie them and bring them to me. If anyone says anything to you, just say this, ‘The Lord needs them.’ And he will send them immediately.” Matt 21:2

God meets us in places that seem mundane: villages, potters houses, a river, waiting rooms, grocery lines, neighborhoods, and work environments. But they become “burning bushes” when his voice speaks to us through them.

How many times have I fretted as I waited for God to move only to realize he’s been moving all along? But I had to move too. Into the Holy places.

Trust God from the bottom of your heart; don’t try to figure out everything on your own. Listen for God’s voice in everything you do, everywhere you go; he’s the one who will keep you on track. ” Proverbs 3:5.

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My Favorite Book of the Year: Braiding Sweetgrass

Author Robin Wall Kimmerer aptly named her gorgeous book Braiding Sweetgrass. Within it, she braids together indigenous wisdom, perspectives on our Creator, and scientific theory through the pages that are both essay and autobiography. Never have I read a book similar to this. It’s information, wisdom, and beautiful storytelling cultivated an awareness of my ecological “relatives” that barely existed previously .

Kimmerer’s membership in the Potowatami Nation and background as a professor of botany weaves together seamlessly as she shares lessons learned from the earth. Indiginous ideologies acknowledge a commitment to a harmonious relationship with plants: ” “Knowing that you love the earth changes you, activates you to defend and protect and celebrate. But when you feel that the earth loves you in return, that feeling transforms the relationship from a one-way street into a sacred bond.” Because of what is shared here, I will forever be indebted to wild strawberries, pecans, and maple trees.

While lamenting the loss and dismissal of indigenous wisdom, the author shares how colonization and industrialization affects both her personal story as well as the bigger narrative of our country. “The consumption-driven mindset masquerades as “quality of life” but eats us from within. It is as if we’ve been invited to a feast, but the table is laid with food that nourishes only emptiness, the black hole of the stomach that never fills.” It left me pondering how we have messed up the commandment to be stewards of creation. What blessings are we missing as a result of a zest for control and accumulation regardless of cost?

Through sharing stories of her own pain staking experiences restoring nature, Kimmerer does not leave one in a state of discouragement. She lifts up hope. But it will involve commitment to doing the hard work together. “How we approach restoration of land depends, of course, on what we believe “land” means.” It’s on this premise that Kimmerer engages the reader. She paints an exquisite and compelling picture of a demographic of creation. Historically, our nature family is taken for granted at best, and treated with disregard at worst. But, as she says, we all live in a circle of reciprocity, not a line.We need each other. Even algae and salamanders. For her words, I will forever be thankful.

” “Action on behalf of life transforms. Because the relationship between self and the world is reciprocal, it is not a question of first getting enlightened or saved and then acting. As we work to heal the earth, the earth heals us.”

Jesus Birth was Not Reason for All to Rejoice

Not everyone was happy.

In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men[a] from the East came to Jerusalem, asking, “Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? For we observed his star at its rising,[b] and have come to pay him homage.” When King Herod heard this, he was frightened, and all Jerusalem with him; and calling together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah[c] was to be born. They told him, “In Bethlehem of Judea; for so it has been written by the prophet:

‘And you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
    are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
for from you shall come a ruler
    who is to shepherd[d] my people Israel.’”

Jesus posed a threat. His birth was not cause for all to celebrate. For those who enjoyed power at the expense of profiting off others, the Messiah was no welcome citizen. For Herod, this child did not symbolize life because it meant death to his kingdom. What were the chances that the Messiah would actually arise out of this little town as foretold? Certainly he didn’t really expect him to come as a baby. But the Magi’s inquiry about him confirmed his fears. And he was willing to keep his power no matter the cost.

Naomi Hanvey writes, “It’s kind of obvious why we don’t usually see Herod in the Christmas story. We don’t want to complicate the pure, sacred narrative with this subplot of murder and intrigue, right? The image of the nativity creche isn’t quite as picturesque when you add a paranoid king slaughtering children in the periphery.”(http://www.thechristianleftblog.org/blog-home/lets-put-herod-back-in-christmas?fbclid=IwAR0yvpscB4oPj76D-lYhm4cOKG1tkock0oyobBl_Wrh8O3XPxrZxgezoTKE)

But it matters. God’s hand can be threatening to those who find comfort in what the earthly kingdom values. Understanding the whole narrative helps us hear all that God says to us as his hand weaves through the plot. If a baby caused such fear in a ruler, we have to wonder why. When Mary and Joseph are exhorted to flee to a foreign country, we have to wonder why. Jesus’ life was speaking volumes before he could talk.

God speaks to the world through the whole narrative. When we leave out the uncomfortable parts, we miss seeing parts of God’s character and how the story speaks to us today.

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Why We Must Offer Up Our Full Selves to One Another

37 “Do not judge, and you will not be judged; do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven; 38 give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap; for the measure you give will be the measure you get back.” Luke 6:37-38.

We enter the season of giving. At least that’s what the ads and cultural nuances tell us. Perhaps it’s time to re-evaluate.

As God’s people, we show whose we are by the never ceasing laying down of our lives. Not just seasonally. Throughout scripture, God calls us back to trusting Him and recognizing our sacred commitments to one another.

Human nature longs to hoard and control. Kingdom nature longs to share and liberate.

God addresses measurement in scripture because intentional inaccuracies became a way of profiting off of others. ” You shall have honest balances, honest weights, an honest ephah, and an honest hin: I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt. (Leviticus 19:36. also see Leviticus 25). Accurate measurement was integral to the ancient trade economy. Measurements are made through pressing down, shaking, or running over. Regardless, measuring accurately is the focus; particularly when it affects one’s well being. A full trade was expected. not a few pinches off.

Women carried the measurement in a “pouch” around their mid waist made by wrapping a long piece of fabric around the body. The merchant poured the substance of dry goods into it. The exchange was very personal. From imago dei to imago dei.

Our transactions with others characterize whose we are: Loving God and loving our neighbors as ourselves. No matter what the season.

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Why We Can Embrace the Cost of Building God’s Kingdom

Building God’s Kingdom will cost you something.

Jesus didn’t spare words regarding the cost of following him. ” I’ve told you all this so that trusting me, you will be unshakable and assured, deeply at peace. In this godless world you will continue to experience difficulties…  John 16:33

Scriptural narratives bear witness to the struggles experienced when choosing to be part of God’s people. We are defined by the way we flip the earthly status quo on its head. Powers that profit from others feel threatened. Whenever Earthly systems of security are dismantled, resistance ensues.

In October, my church opened a homeless shelter in our building. After months of preparation and communicating with the village in hopes of gaining their support, our Tuesday night refuge began. And so did the resistance from the community.

The village government accused us of not following proper protocols (we did). Neighbors reacted with knee jerk reactions rooted in fear. Our pastor was depicted in a scandalous light. But we continued to fight for our brothers and sisters who can also be described as the “least of these.” Building Jesus’ Kingdom will cost you something.

As we continued, the anger rose. We were threatened with shutting down if we didn’t follow newly implemented codes for newly created zoning. We received slanderous and hurtful comments from others. But we continued to open our doors. Building Jesus’ Kingdom will cost you something.

Then something amazing happened. Evidence of God’s hand prevailed. High profile attorneys volunteered to represent the church. People sharing our vision spoke up; through emails and at the board meeting. Money was sent in. People came together to advocate for the restoration of others. Because following Jesus compells us to do it.

Here’s the paradox of Jesus’ kingdom: The “difficult” life is also the abundant life.

” The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly. “ John 10:10

As Ann Voskamp writes in her book The Broken Way, “The abundance is in the breaking.” When we experience difficulties for offering shalom to others, we are living abundantly. Because abundant living opens up a kingdom to others; not shuts them out. How we treat others has always been the defining characteristic of God’s people. Jesus modeled it and exhorted it.

He offers us this promise as we gain sore muscles, injured bodies, and discouraged spirits:

“But take courage; I have conquered the world!” John 16:33

*for more on our story, read this: https://patch.com/illinois/orlandpark/homeless-shelter-can-stay-open-after-smoke-alarms-are-installed?utm_medium=social&utm_source=facebook.com&utm_content=illinois&utm_campaign=blasts&fbclid=IwAR3K1IZFJ1Sta_O0o5zpo333Os-lUVI-2XkvhkKx1gGdUMPQcGQJZS-rQU8

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