Featured

I hated the Church, too.

When I was about 18 years old, I had a few not-so-great experiences with Christians and decided to leave the Church. It’s not worth digging up the details on all that right now; that’s another (long) story for another time. Let’s just summarize it all to this: it felt like a big decision for me, but it seemed like no one else cared at all.

No one chased this lost sheep.

No one attempted a conversation with this isolated woman at the well.

No one drew a line in the sand for this chastised sinner.

At that point, I was positive that Christians, aside from my own parents, were nothing more than hypocritical do-gooders who patted themselves on the back for saying, “Jesus” and didn’t actually know a thing about the real world.

If you’ve walked away from the church and felt unseen, unheard, unloved, unchased… I’ve been there, too. If you’ve felt like you’ve not only been skipped over for the invite but just straight up uninvited… I have been you.

When I was running from the Church, there were three little thoughts with big repercussions that I embraced. They gave me the freedom to not only accept the divide between me and the Church, but to find comfort and safety in it and spit venom right back at it.

 Here’s what I wrestled with:

1. “The Pastor isn’t leading me.”

The Pastor loves them more than me. Why don’t I get the same attention?

What I was missing in this season was the understanding that my pastor was just a person. If Jesus had twelve disciples that he poured himself into, why did I expect my pastor to give himself to the thousands that engaged his church? I had unrealistic and uncommunicated expectations.

The vision modeled by Jesus is that each of his disciples would be developed to then lead people of their own. Once I’m able to view the pastor as human, suddenly I can allow myself to be led by other people; perhaps, the very people the pastor has developed. It was easier to be mad at the pastor than to dive into relationship with the people standing next to me. God had placed people all around me, but I let anger block my vision and venom take over my heart.

2. “No one is seeking me out.”

Someone should be coming for me, but they’re not.

I remember sitting through a sermon during my period of reconciliation with the Church where the pastor explained how a shepherd actually goes for his lost sheep. For starters, the sheep is often baa-ing (bleating? let’s go with baa-ing), making it able to be found. However, I regularly responded to someone’s ask of, “Hey, how are you? Where have you been?” with “I’m good, just been busy.” I wasn’t making it known I was wanting someone to find me. People were seeking me, but I was not being honest and allowing myself to be found.

And, the shepherd… In the time when this passage was written, it was understood that when a shepherd would finally get to their lost sheep, they would do one of two things: a.) they would throw the sheep on their back and take away their freedom to walk, or b.) they would break the sheep’s leg so it literally couldn’t walk, and they would carry it until it healed. Both moves were made in love with an attempt to train the sheep to follow the shepherd. The shepherd was showing the sheep that it could trust his leading. The sheep either had pain inflicted and/or freedom taken. The outcome was a closeness and a deeper understanding of the shepherd, but I was going to have to swallow some pride, accept painful truths, and give up my freedom to get it.

I chose, “I’m good.”

3. “They’ve never invited me to something.”

There’s no real community happening here.

My perception was that while gatherings were being talked about and posted in bulletins, I wasn’t being personally invited so therefore I was uninvited. This is a lie straight from the pit of hell designed to keep you clinging to the gap that has been created between you and the church.

Community requires attendance and covenant requires acceptance. These things take work. When the announcements are made about gatherings happening, that’s your invitation. No one can get to know you during brief, post service interactions on a Sunday morning or on a Facebook Live Stream. However, they can get to know you when you show up more than once and choose to engage. They can get to know you when you honestly offer your brokenness instead of saying, “I’m good.” That announcement is for you. That social media post is for you. Your pastor is for you. Your church is for you.

These little thoughts have big repercussions.

If these ideas resonate with you, I challenge you to dig deep and ask, “why?” Anger is a secondary emotion that is rooted in something else… usually unmet, and often uncommunicated, expectations. Start the process of reconciliation. I promise it’s worth it.

You are seen. You are wanted. You are loved. You are invited.

You are an important part of the Kingdom of God.

And, I am sorry. I am sorry for every moment you have ever felt like those words are not true. Those moments carry very real hurt, pain, and scars. I absolutely understand those feelings.

But, if you just trust me, I promise you… on the other side of those big feelings is healing that is worth all the work it takes.

Will you step across the divide and take the invitation?

Distinction, Dissension, and Dominion

The Church loves the concept of redemption.

We sing about our living Redeemer and we praise the One who paid our debt week after week in our worship services. We’ve created after-school programs to redeem education inequalities, championed sponsorship programs to redeem third world poverty, launched non-profits to redeem racial divides in our culture, and pioneered conferences to redeem tired leaders who need a break.  For thousands of years Christians have been lending their voices for redemption to nearly every crevasse of society and thank God for that. It is needed and it is the Gospel made tangible to the world.

However, as we have made progress in many areas and are pursuing growth in others, the Church in America still has a long way to go when it comes to the respect and treatment of its women. Rather than go to war for our women, we have told them to get used to spaces that value them less because, “some people just think like that.” The Western Church has been willing to fight for the redemption of so many things, but for some reason on our own soil we have settled for a post Genesis 3 view of women.

In the creation account in Scripture, man and woman live in perfect harmony until sin enters the world. God grants dominion over all the earth to men and women together (Genesis 1:28-31).  There are no separate commands or expectations given to one gender over the other. Men and women are both created by God with equal expectations, equal opportunities, and equal adoration from their Creator.

When we read Genesis 3, we find the account of the fall of humanity and the entrance of sin into the world. It’s not until this point that we discover dissension between men and women. Men ruling over women is a curse of the fall, not a precedent set by God for humanity to live by (Genesis 3:16). The dominion of men alone is as a result of depravity. It’s at this point in the story that humanity moves from distinction to dissension.

Distinction and dissension are not synonymous concepts. Distinction, put simply, occurs through the contrast of two similar things. The distinction of men and women is the result of the creation of two beings, male and female, both made in the image of God and both given dominion over the Earth. The elevation of one over the other occurs only through the dissension of the fall, not the distinction of creation.

Let’s put this in real time.

If man alone was not pleasing to God for dominion over creation, then why do we find men alone carrying dominion over our Churches sufficient? If the God of the universe was not satisfied with men existing as the sole leaders over the Earth, then why have we created systems that allow men alone to represent the fullness of God at decision-making tables?

We have given dissension a voice of dominion in the Church.

As the Church, we should not be accepting the repercussions of the fall of humanity as our cultural norms. On the contrary, we should be fighting for the Garden of Genesis 1, a representation of Heaven right here and now, in every space we find ourselves. We should not tolerate the world post Genesis 3, rather we should use our every thought, action, and breath to destroy the mentality that’s already been conquered by the cross and move from dissension back to distinction alone.

We don’t need the patience to endure culture. We need the courage to combat culture because we believe with every ounce our being that the world was created to be better than how we’ve inherited it.

God called the dissension between men and women a curse, not an example of how women should be treated. After Genesis 3 and for the remainder of Scripture, God can be seen acting on behalf of mistreated women.

  • In Genesis 6 when God announces destroying the Earth with a flood, the announcement is preceded by naming sexual sins committed against women.
  • When Judah chose sleeping with a temple prostitute instead of honorably fulfilling his responsibility to give Tamar a child, God grants Tamar a son.
  • When the tribe of Benjamin horrifically abuses a young woman in Judges 19, God sends Israel into a civil war in Judges 20.
  • In 2 Samuel 6 when Israel was trying to overthrow David and couldn’t decide who would lead them, God used a woman to restore order.
  • When the Pharisees wanted to throw stones at a woman, Jesus drew a line in the sand.
  • When the disciples didn’t want to have a conversation with a woman, Jesus revealed his identity at the well.
  • When Judas wanted to sell a perfume, Jesus received a woman’s worship.
  • When the disciples overlooked a woman at the feet of their leader, Jesus healed her because of her faith.

God went to battle for women and ensured they were provided for. Jesus raised daughters from the dead and entrusted women with the Gospel.

Yet, in the 21st Century, the Western Church is giving more effort toward building hedges of protection around celebrity pastor reputations than it is protecting their women.

Why are we okay with letting our daughters live in a world that values them less? Why are we okay with letting our women be treated with less respect than our men? Why are we okay with having women with doctorate degrees in every place but the pulpit?

Why have we dressed up dissension in its Sunday’s Best and created people of celebrity who are set apart instead of creating communities that honor the distinction of men and women who collectively represent the Imago Dei to a world in desperate need of the right Savior?

God is not selectively redemptive.

Church, if we are to redeem all things, we need to start freeing our women to step into the fullness of who God has created them to be. We need to protect our women with the ferocity of the God willing to go to war for them. We need to treat our women not just like they are created by God, but with the knowledge of the Truth that they are created in the entire image of God. We need to be people seeking the restoration of the Garden, not people complacent with culture and satisfied with the repercussions of Genesis 3.

If the Gospel is not redemptive to all things then we are missing the fullness of it.

Nameless Women // The Bleeding Woman

She steps her toe out of the tent.

The sunlight hits her foot, and as she leans the rest of her body forward, she feels the magnitude of her movement in the pit of her stomach. Before her weight can move from the ball of her right foot to fill her heel, she shifts to her left and pulls herself back into the tent. Back under her covering. Back into the shade.

Back into the darkness.

She dances forward and back two more times before she pauses with her eyes closed.

Let all that I am praise the Lord. With my whole heart, I will praise his holy name.” She whispers the Psalm of David to herself.

Before she was outcast to this tent, her mother taught her all she knew of the God of their people; the God of Israel. Her mother used to visit her once each month during the time she was also sent away as unclean. Together, they would pray. She knew the faithfulness of Yahweh.

“What are you doing? Nobody wants you out there, cursed woman,” one of the ladies spits at her. She is drawn back to her reality and turns to glance behind her.

“Stay where you belong.”

More venom. But, it doesn’t sting the way it used to. After twelve years in this place, there is no insult she hasn’t heard, no doctor she hasn’t seen, no dollar she hasn’t spent, and no prayer she hasn’t prayed. She has begged God to let her die, to finally let her bleed fully out, but she continues to wake each morning. Inexplicably. Against all odds and against her own desperation.

With each day she wakes up, she feels resilience forming within her. The devil has come for her and the world around her believes his lies, but slowly she has recalled the words her mother spoke over her as a child.

“Let all that I am praise the Lord; may I never forget the good things he does for me. He forgives all my sins and heals all my diseases. He redeems me from death and crowns me with love and tender mercies. He fills my life with good things. My youth is renewed like the eagle’s!”

She steps her toe back out to the sunlight.

“What is she doing?”

She hears the whispers behind her. Her left foot passes her right.

“Where does she think she is going?”

Right. Left. Right. Left. Right. Left. Slowly at first, then with a quicker pace.

She stepped out of the tent.

The Prophet was coming this way. If she can make it to the road before he leaves her town on his journey through, she knows he can help her. She’s heard the stories of this man. Some say he is the prophesied Messiah, some say he is the prophet Elijah who has returned to Israel, others say he is a blasphemer. All have something to say of him and his reputation has made its way to her tent of outcasts.

In her heart, she knows he is the hope she has been seeking. She dares to have faith despite her life experience saying it is absurd to do so.

“The Lord gives righteousness and justice to all who are treated unfairly.”

She closes her eyes and repeats these Truths in her mind. Until this moment, her awakening has remained within her soul. But, with each foot placed in front of the other she is sharing her faith with the world.

“Teacher, where are you going?”

She hears someone shouting from the road. She opens her eyes to see a crowd descending just up the road.

“He said, ‘teacher.’ Could this be him?” she whispers to herself. She takes a deep breath, holds it, and steps back to hide behind a small home she’s near. She knows she cannot be seen.

She’s wearing her head-covering, but she pulls her garments up to cover her entire face. If anyone identifies her, they’ll send her back to the tent. If she touches even the sandal of another, they’ll have to go through an entire cleansing ritual. She doesn’t recognize her own bravery in this moment; she is focused on just catching the shadow of the One she is seeking.

“If I can just touch his robe, that is enough to heal me,” she thinks to herself.

As the crowd passes her secret place, she steps from the shadows and joins in the back. Small and frail from over a decade of illness, it is easy for her to press toward his location in the center.

“There he is…” She sees him and begins to tremble. His presence alone is like nothing she has ever experienced. She cannot see his face; she is hidden behind him. She hears his gentle voice as he speaks with those surrounding him. He is on a path to heal the young daughter of a synagogue leader.

Her heart sinks as she hears of the young girl’s illness. She immediately prays for the girl. She knows what it is to be struck with illness that doctors cannot heal. She hears the girl’s father plead with love-filled fear. This daughter is so cherished.

“Father, if not me, then please heal her. She still has her youth, a whole life ahead of her,” she prays.

The crowd continues to walk and she realizes how far she is from the tent that has held her for so long. When had such boldness filled her? When had God brought her so far? The tent held the worst years of her life, but also the years where she came to know the Word of God more fully than ever before. She feels the tension within her, recognizing she has found comfort in the familiarity of that dark place. Now, it is here among people whose presence she has longed for that she is a foreigner.

“The Lord is like a father to his children, tender and compassionate to those who fear him.”

She looks down at her hands. She has dreamt of meeting the man they call “Jesus” from the first stories she heard of his miracles. She’s heard of the boldness he preaches with and she’s heard of the paralyzed man he healed. But, could she reach her hand to touch him for herself?

Would he scold her for making him unclean? Would he be angry she did it without asking? He is going to heal this young girl, he cannot be bothered with her, too. Who is she to think that he would even want to see her healed?

“The Lord is compassionate and merciful, slow to get angry and filled with unfailing love. He will not constantly accuse us, nor remain angry forever. He does not punish us for all our sins; he does not deal harshly with us, as we deserve. For his unfailing love toward those who fear him is as great as the height of the heavens above the earth.”

The Truths she’s memorized and the doubt within her are at odds, both fighting to win over the next actions she will take. Her hands are trembling as she reaches out, slowly at first. She is within an inch of his robe when desperation takes over. She spreads her fingers wide and opens up her palms.

She presses her hands to the back of his robe and the feeling is overwhelming. Her heart feels like it is going to beat out of her chest. Her stomach twists and she feels like her entire body is lifted off the ground, yet her feet stay planted. In an instant, she knows the bleeding has stopped.

His feet stop moving. “Who touched my robe?” Jesus asks.

She holds her breath.

“Look at this crowd,” his disciple, Thomas, laughs. “How can you ask, ‘who touched me?'”

“Master, the whole crowd is pressing up against you,” Peter replies more softly.

But, Jesus knows. He knows that someone has reached with purpose. With hope. With faith.

Conviction and worship are bursting within her. She falls to her knees, face to the ground, and weeps. The crowd steps back, expanding the circle surrounding Jesus. Some of them recognize her and are repulsed. Others are confused, unsure what is happening. The synagogue leader is anxious.

Jesus reaches his hand down to touch her shoulder. The feeling is so unfamiliar. It has been years since anyone has touched her.

“Daughter,” he whispers.

She whimpers and falls lower to the ground. For twelve years she has been called nothing but unclean and unwanted. Daughter. She wants to lift her eyes to meet his, but reverent fear fills her. “Who is this man?” she asks within her soul.

“Your faith has made you well. Go in peace. Your suffering is over,” he speaks softly over her.

She looks up. No one has ever said such a thing to her and in the depths of her soul she knows that every word is true.

As Jesus is speaking with her, they are interrupted by hurried messengers. The synagogue leader begins to weep. She overhears the news, “Your daughter is dead.”

Jesus looks deep into her eyes, squeezes her hand, and turns to the synagogue leader, “Don’t be afraid. Just have faith.”

With mixed emotions, she prays for the faith of the synagogue leader and knows that he is about to experience something that will change his life forever.

She turns her back to the crowd and walks in the opposite direction.

“Praise the Lord, everything he has created, everything in all his kingdom. Let all that I am praise the Lord.”

Right. Left. Right. Left. Right. Left. Slowly at first, then with a quicker pace.

Until a few moments ago, her awakening remained within her soul. Now, it has been witnessed by a crowd. With each foot placed in front of the other she is sharing her faith with the world.

She stepped out of the tent. Now, she steps back into the world. Healed, whole, and filled with a new hope. Her faith has made her well, and for the rest of time, her story will inspired the world.


Inspired by Mark 5:21-36, Psalm 103, NLT

Image: “Starts with the First Step” by Scott Erickson

Nameless Women // Talitha Koum

He has never felt so helpless in his life.

In twelve years of parenting, fear has never run so deep and failure has never felt so close. She’s been laying in this bed for what seems like an eternity, and each day she’s gotten worse.

He is a leader in the local synagogue, a man of deep devotion and faith, but he hasn’t left her bedside for days. In the early days of her illness, he spent hours on end at the altar on his knees in prayer; but lately, he cannot drag himself from her side. His prayer feels more real here; the agonizing cries of a father’s heart, beckoning from a bedside altar. He worries that every breath will be her last and he could never forgive himself if he wasn’t with her.

This is his little girl.

“Jairus, please eat something,” his wife says, carrying a piece of bread and a small clay bowl of water. He knows she is right. He cannot remember the last time he’s eaten, but his appetite left him when his little girl stopped opening her eyes.

They kneel together next to her bed, clenching each other’s hands but not making eye contact with one another. They sit in silence and stare at the nearly lifeless body before them; a shell of the once joyous little girl whose sweet giggle filled their home.

The illness came on quickly. Unsure of the cause or the cure, they called on every doctor they knew. Some were able to ease symptoms, but none were able to pinpoint the source. One by one the doctors came and left, each of them taking another piece of hope out the door with them.

“When I was at the well this morning, I heard a woman from the next town over say the Prophet was in her town,” Jairus wife shares, breaking the deafening silence of the room.

“The Prophet?” Jairus responds.

“The one named Jesus, the man the other leaders say is a rebel of sorts.”

Jairus has heard stories of this man. The other synagogue leaders say he is trouble, a man practicing dark magic. Some say he is not to be trusted.

“I heard from one woman that he cast out a legion of demons from the cave dweller,” she shares in hushed whispers. The tone of her voice alludes to more than sharing well gossip.

Why would evil cast out evil? Jairus thinks to himself. If he truly did that, dark magic doesn’t make sense, but surely he possess power of some kind.

Quiet moments pass. Jairus sits deep in thought, his wife looks with curiosity.

“I’m going to find him,” Jairus stands and proclaims.

“The Prophet?” his wife answers.

“What do we have to lose? We’ve tried everything. If he casts out demons, he cannot be evil as they say. Perhaps, he can heal as well,” Jairus explains.

They both look to their daughter. Her breathing is labored and quiet. Her body is still.

“Go,” his wife says. “Go as fast as you can.”

He takes the hands of both his girls. He leans to his daughter and kisses her forehead. “Wait for me,” he whispers.

He grabs nothing and instantly is gone.


His feet have never moved so quickly.

Lord, hear my prayer. Listen to my plea! Don’t turn away from me in my time of distress. Bend down to listen and answer me quickly when I call to you.

He resonates more deeply with the cries of the Psalmist than ever before. His feet have never moved so quickly on the dirt road.

“Jairus!” a neighbor shouts. He is recognized because of his prominent place in the synagogue, but he doesn’t have a moment to spare today.

“I’m sorry,” Jairus responds without a moment of hesitation in his footsteps.

My heart is sick, withered like grass, and I have lost my appetite. Because of my groaning I am reduced to skin and bones.

He has cried out every possible prayer to Elohim and finds comfort in lament. He is not the first to experience such agony and he will not be the last. God accepted the cries of David; he knows his suffering is heard.

The sweat begins dripping from his brow and he is drawn from the cries of his heart to the reality before him. When did he start running? How long had he been moving at this pace? It must have been quite sometime because he sees a crowd ahead of him that he hadn’t noticed before.

Jairus had heard the way people come in flocks to get close to the Teacher. He instantly knows Jesus is at the center of this crowd. He presses to the center and falls weeping at his feet.

“My little daughter is dying,” he choked the words out through tears. “Please come lay your hands on her; heal her so she can live.”

Jesus lifts Jairus to his feet, locks eyes with him, and with two hands on his shoulders and two words from his lips, he puts fear at total odds with hope.

“Take me.”

You will arise and have mercy on Jerusalem and now is the time to pity her. Now is the time you promised to help.

“This way,” Jairus leads with intent.

The disciples talk amongst themselves and the crowd expands as they walk. Words are being shared, but none are able to be processed in his mind. Jesus is a man of few words, he is mostly just listening to those around him. He is stoic and his presence alone draws so many emotions from Jairus.

He had heard stories, he had been told to keep his distance, he was taught to believe this man was someone to be hated, but why then did he feel so drawn to him? Jairus stays close to his side and focuses on prayer.

He will listen to the prayers of the destitute. He will not reject their pleas.

The crowd stops suddenly.

“Who touched my robe?” Jesus asks.

Confused, Jairus looks around. Are people not to touch him? I’m fairly certain I have been touching him this entire walk? Is he talking to me?

The disciples mutter a few things when suddenly a woman falls down weeping. Jairus steps back and anxiety fills his heart. Unsure what’s going on, his mind races back to his home. What is happening there? Does Jesus not understand the urgency of my little girl’s sickness? Does he care less about my daughter? Surely he knows my heart is more open than the rest of the synagogue leaders, he is not punishing me, is he?

Jesus is in deep conversation with this woman when two men approach Jairus. “Your daughter is dead,” they say with low voices and heads bowed. “There is no use troubling the Teacher now.”

In an instant Jairus crumbles.

“My little girl,” he gasps, head in his hands and hot tears filling his eyes. He blinks, sending them streaming down his cheeks. “I should have been there! I told her to wait for me…”

Jesus overhead what was happening and looks to Jairus as if they are they only two present, “Don’t be afraid. Just have faith.”

The crowd goes silent. This man was just told his daughter is dead. What could Jesus possibly mean?

“Stay here,” Jesus commands the crowd. He glances to the woman who was at his feet and gives her a nod. She smiles and the look in her eyes is like nothing Jairus’ has ever seen before; her joy is radiating. Jairus glances back to Jesus.

“Peter, James, John,” Jesus says. With no other words, only being called by name, then men come immediately. The rest of the disciples stay with the crowd and begin telling stories of their time with Jesus.

“Who is this man? Could he be…?” Jairus wonders out loud.

He leads the four men silently back to his home where they are greeted solemnly by mourners.

“Why all this commotion and weeping?” Jesus asks. “The child is not dead; she’s only sleeping.”

Before he can finish his statement, the crowd laughs at him as if he is a lunatic.

“What a waste of time, Jairus,” one of the mourners scoffs. “You left her side to go find an insane man.”

The insult stings, but hope is at war within him. “This way,” he leads.

They walk to her room to find a lifeless little girl and distraught mother.

“Oh Jairus…” his wife sobs into his arms.

“Wait,” Jairus says as he directs her attention to the Teacher approaching their daughter’s bedside.

Jesus looks deep into the position of their little girl. He closes his eyes and rests for moments that feel like hours. The crowd is making a commotion outside their home, but in this room the atmosphere is thick with silence.

Jesus reaches out his arm and holding her hand he says to her, “Talitha koum,” which means “Little girl, get up.”

In a moment, everything changes.

Jairus stares as his daughter’s eyes open for the first time in days. She sits up and turns her legs to the side of the bed. She stands to her feet, turns to her parents, and walks across the room.

“MY LITTLE GIRL!” Jairus exclaims. They wrap their arms around their daughter filled with awe like the day she was born.

“Thank you,” his wife says in the only voice she can muster between tears.

“Get her something to eat,” Jesus says with a smile. He turns to Peter, James, and John and together they exit the home.

“As I said, she was only sleeping,” Jesus says as they leave.

Let this be recorded for future generations, so that a people not yet born will praise the Lord. Tell them the Lord looked down from his heavenly sanctuary. He looked down to earth from heaven to hear the groans of the prisoners to release those condemned to die.


Inspired by Mark 5:21-43 and Psalm 102

Little girl, get up.
Photo: Juliana Cole Photography

Nameless Women // The Woman Who Anoints Jesus

“I have to get there,” she thinks to herself. Sweating a bit from the run back to her house, she grabs the jar and stares at it for a moment. She rolls it around in her hands to admire the way the alabaster creates a marble swirl and feels cool to the touch.

“I have never seen something so beautiful,” she mumbles out loud. “He is deserving of this and so much more.”

She tucks the jar under her arm and runs out of the house.

She races down the dirt road with so much haste that her head covering begins to slide. She fixes it with one hand and she clutches the jar with the other. She has been saving this jar of perfume for a special occasion, possibly her own wedding, and in this moment she can think of nothing more important than blessing the Messiah.

Some have called him Prophet, others Rabbi, but when she heard him speak with such authority and felt the Spirit heavy over the hillside, she knew he was something more. She felt he could be the prophesied Messiah and knew that even if he wasn’t, he was a man of authority and someone who had healed and freed many.

He was someone worth honoring.

She arrives at the doorstep of the house Jesus is in and pauses. She can hear the voices of the men reclining at the table. She peers in slowly and sees the only women present are serving.

“There’s the leper!” She recognizes Simon from the crowd following Jesus when she was first introduced to his teaching.

“Lazarus, come sit.”

“Could that be….” She has heard stories of the man Jesus raised from the dead, but has never seen him for herself. Hearing Jesus speak his name, she can feel the power within her own spirit. “It must be.”

Her heart is racing, no longer from running but from the understanding of what could happen to her for entering as a woman and an uninvited guest.

She bows her head, lowers her eyes to the ground, clenches the jar with both hands, and steps into the home. No one notices her at first. She takes a few more steps and the room goes silent.

“They must have seen me,” she thinks to herself. She cannot tell if they are staring because she has not lifted her eyes. She feels her temperature rise; her ears become hot with nervousness.

She keeps her eyes fixated on the feet of Jesus and does not stop moving until she reaches him.

She bows to him and cracks the alabaster jar. The sound of the material splitting pierces their ears and, somehow, makes the room quieter. She pours the essence of nard over his head and tears begin to stream down her face. She drops to her knees and the tears flow more fervently.

She is overcome with emotion, overflowing in worship.

She takes the remaining perfume and pours it over his feet. Without hesitation, she removes her head covering and allows her hair to fall to the ground.

At once, the men gasp. The first sound made, breaking the thick silence of the room.

A woman’s hair was not to be shown before a man unless he was her husband. In this moment of worship, she cannot imagine herself committing her life to any man but this one. She is not desiring marriage, only a life of faithfulness to someone worthy of all her devotion.

Her tears fall to his feet, mixing with the perfume. She grabs her hair and rubs the mixture into his skin, cleansing and soothing his feet from a long journey and anointing him from the depths of her soul.

“What a waste of money,” Judas declares defiantly, being the first to speak. “It could have been sold for a high price and the money given to the poor.”

“Why criticize this woman for doing such a good thing to me?” Jesus corrects gently. “You will always have the poor among you, but you will not always have me.”

Her heart is elated. He feels honored and is defending hers. She keeps her eyes fixed on the ground.

“She has poured this perfume on me to prepare my body for burial,” Jesus continues.

The pause after his statement feels like an eternity.

“Is he going to explain that statement? He speaks of his own death… surely he is the Messiah, as I have thought!” Her mind is racing. Her heart pounds so quickly she is sure they can hear it.

The men reclining at the table begin shifting uncomfortably. Jesus’ rebuke strikes them all in a way they are unsure how to respond to. Judas leaves the table, a behavior common for him.

“I tell you the truth,” Jesus begins. “Wherever the Good News is preached throughout the world, this woman’s deed will be remembered and discussed.”

She falls flat to the ground and her cry becomes audible. She has wanted nothing more than for her love to be made known to Jesus, but she had not been prepared for how lovingly it would be received.

For all her life, she has been told to stay hidden and stay silent. Today, she exposed her heart and was promised it would be cherished forever.


Inspired by Matthew 26:6-13, Mark 14:3-0, John 12:1-11

Worship
Photo Credit: Ryan Cartwright

Nameless Women // The Wise Woman

            Her people had been engaging in a civil war of sorts for far too long. Her heart was grieving for the lives being senselessly lost, but even more so for how easily persuaded her people had become. Breaking her heart even more still was that King David, a man once most beloved, had become controversial as his son, Absalom, formed a rebellion against him.

            Hatred consumed Absalom for most of his adult life. Since the rape of his sister, Tamar, Absalom never again found peace. He became obsessed with revenge, assuming it would satisfy the fire in his soul. Absalom arranged for the murder of his sister’s rapist, but it could not quench his thirst for destruction. Without realizing it, hatred had consumed his heart to a depth only God could redeem. Precisely what Absalom hated so deeply, no one was quite sure of, not even Absalom himself, but the fruits of his life proved the tumultuous condition of his heart.

            With surprising ease Absalom convinced Israel to rebel against his father and force the king out of Jerusalem. David’s heart was broken by his son long ago, but he never stopped loving the child he once held close to his heart. As the king was driven away, the same man previously driven mad with revenge for the rape of his sister chose to have sex where all could see with every one of his father’s concubines who were left behind to care for the palace. Absalom stole the throne by becoming the same evil he once hated. A repulsive act of insult against his father and women was his decided first act as king.

This was the man Israel chose as their king.

            The war was not easy for women to endure. With men of all ages being deployed by the thousands, the women were left behind to keep the city running. Mother’s nursed their infant sons wondering if one day this baby would, too, be lost at war. They stared into the deep brown eyes of their children wondering if this child would have the chance to know his or her father, or if they had just said “goodbye” to their husbands for the last time.

            Her home was never restful in times of war. With a reputation for wisdom and a deep knowledge of Yahweh, she had visitors all hours of the day. Young boys trying to fill in the gaps of their fathers’ absence; young mothers trying to balance a household and keep their husbands’ businesses profitable. Everyone needs something from her in this time, and she considers it a gift from the Lord to be able to serve His people from her life’s experience. She knows what comes with war, so her patience for visitors is plentiful.

Her wisdom is as deep as her fear of the Lord.

Married at a young age to a man with a gentle spirit, she lived a good life. Her husband used to tell her the tales of war. He had been sent to battle many times, and the battlefield is eventually what left her a widow. From him she learned the ruthless nature of battle, but she understood it with a tender balance of necessity for survival and mercy for the opposition. He recited Scripture to her every night, wrote it over their door frames, and ensured their household deeply loved the Lord.

She knew that not every woman was as fortunate as her to be married to a man of unwavering faith who loved her deeply and took time to teach her. She didn’t just know the ways of managing a household; she knew mathematics, basic reading, and the Torah. She thanked God daily for the way her husband cherished her. He used his privilege as a man to uplift her, not overpower her. He sang her praises at the city gates when he was alive, and in his death she sang the praises of God for all he taught her. He knew his life as a warrior was one that could leave her widowed and he ensured she could manage in his absence.

She wore a widow’s clothes but she lived a wise and plentiful life.

Word was beginning to spread that Absalom was killed by David’s men. Much of the town was unsure how to respond, but she was grieved knowing that no matter the situation, David would be mourning the loss of his son.

Arguments were spreading amongst all of Israel as quickly as the war had begun and ended.

“King David rescued us from our enemies and saved us from the Philistines!”

“But Absalom was the new king.”

“Absalom chased away King David, he never willingly abandoned us.”

“Return King David to the throne!”

“Down with the dynasty of David! We have no interest in the son of Jesse,” chanted Sheba, a man returning home from battle. He blew a rams horn and called whomever would follow to retreat from David back toward the legacy and mission of Absalom.

Sheba was rooted in the tribe of Benjamin; a tribe known for their ferocious nature on the battlefield. Although the tribe of Judah emerged as the leading tribe in Israel, Benjamin’s history in leadership and battle was not forgotten. The men of Israel withdrew from David and followed Sheba.

After gathering a following, Sheba led his men through all the tribes of Israel to the town of Abel-beth-maacah. His arrival to her town was loud and disruptive. While Sheba’s men assembled for battle against the tribe of Judah who was fiercely protecting their David, the rest of the town fled to their homes. It was clear Sheba’s men were planning to make the town a place of hideout. As his clan followed him and passed by her home, she felt a chill. In her heart, she knew who was God’s chosen leader.

“Sheba has chosen a battle he cannot win,” she thought to herself. “Has he not seen the fate of Absalom with his own eyes?”

She knew better than to speak in this moment. While she could not lead a rebellion in the streets, she knew there would soon be people waiting outside her home.

            The next few days were fairly quiet, but not in a comforting way. There was the hush of rebellious whispers mixed with an unrest amongst the women; the combination creating tension within the town walls. While women did not have the power to make decisions for the community, many had the intuition to know something evil was stirring.

            Her reputation surpassed her societal gender limitations. Since Sheba’s arrival, her home had seen little rest. Both men and women knocked at her door at all hours seeking her wisdom for where to align their loyalties. She could easily see that not all visitors were there with pure motivations, so she spoke with truth but chose her words carefully. She remembered the stories of how Israel struggled when Moses went up Mount Sinai, choosing to worship idols and easily forgetting the God who freed them from slavery. She was not surprised to see this rebellion, only disappointed her people had not learned to stop opposing God’s appointed leaders.

            Rumors began circulating that Judah’s army was mobilized and heading into Israel. Surely, King David knew of Sheba’s rising rebellion. She knew this would not be good for her town, for Judah’s army had the favor of God behind it. Sheba and all the men of Israel would be no match for them.

            With an unceremoniously loud crash, the army of King David arrived.

            Abel-beth-maacah was under attack. A ramp had been placed against the town’s defensive wall and the army was aggressively trying to tear it down. They knew Sheba was here and would stop at nothing to capture him.

            “King David’s army is here! What do we do?!”

            People of the town burst through her door, unannounced and terrified.

            “There’s already been bloodshed outside the wall and it won’t be long before they break through.”

            Joab.

            He was a ruthless leader in the king’s army known for sparing no one in his path. He would have no issue taking lives along the road to Sheba.

            “It’s Sheba they want,” she responded softly. “Does he have men at the gates prepared to fight?”

            “He’s hiding. They all are.”

            They will sacrifice us rather than fight the rebellion they’ve started.

            “Take me to them,” she said.

            She could hear them before she could see them. Their rage broke through the city walls and soon their men would, too.

            “JOAB!” She shouted. Her voice carried, but not enough to stop their efforts. “JOAB!” she shouted again. They quieted slightly. “Listen to me, Joab. Come over here so I can talk to you.”

            A man appeared at the gate. She could see his face through the opening.

            “Are you Joab?” she asked.

            “I am,” he responded crassly.

            “There used to be a saying,” she began. “’If you want to settle an argument, ask advice at the town of Abel,’” she recited. “I am one who is peace loving and faithful in Israel. But, you are destroying an important town in Israel. Why do you want to devour what belongs to the Lord?”

            Joab was taken aback by her boldness. A woman had never spoken so courageously to him before and he could feel the authority within her. She spoke with kindness and truth in the face of adversity. He could sense that she was to be trusted.

            “Believe me,” Joab responded. “I don’t want to devour or destroy your town! That’s not my purpose. All I want is a man named Sheba, son of Bicri, from the hill country of Ephraim, who has revolted against King David. If you hand over this man to me, I will leave the town in peace.”

            “All right,” she replied, pausing for a moment to think. She knew that Sheba would not come willingly and the words of her husband began to fill her. His stories of war flashed before her mind. “We will throw his head over the wall to you,” she stated plainly.

            The confidence in her voice matched the feeling in her spirit.

            She had never beheaded a man and had no intentions of doing so today, but she knew the warriors in her town would understand the necessity of this action. Quietly, she gathered those who had recently returned from war. They had seen the strength of Judah’s army and knew better than to oppose such a force. She told them her conversation with Joab at the town wall and they received the wisdom of her plan instantly.

            Sheba’s men had done nothing with silence or secrecy since their arrival, so locating him within the town was simple.

            The sun was nearing its descent for the day and everyone knew that Joab would not allow this plan to continue through the night. He would want the head of Sheba before the day was through. Quickly, the men of Abel-beth-maacah surrounded Sheba’s hideout and sieged. She waited outside.

            Her stomach turned to knots. She knew they were doing what must be done, but any life lost is one to be mourned. Her husband grieved every time he returned from war and she knew sack cloth and ashes were coming soon for her as well.

            Silence fell.

            The task had been completed. Men emerged from the doorway holding the severed head of the man who had brought chaos to their town. She pushed her shoulders back and strengthened her stance.

            “Let’s go,” she proclaimed. “Joab is waiting.”

            They made their way to the town’s gate. No one spoke a word. Every footstep felt heavier and the distance to the gate seemed longer than she remembered. She glanced behind her and saw the combination of blood and dust on the sandals of those following them. The cold reality of the death in their hands covering their feet.

            “JOAB!” She broke the deafening silence with her shout.

            “I am here,” he responded expectantly.

            Without another word, they hurled the head of Sheba over the gate.

            The thump on the other side brought relief to their spirits but a heaviness still lay within them.

            The deep bellow of a ram’s horn could suddenly be heard throughout the town and the land surrounding them.   The sound of victory and signaling of an armies retreat with just one sound. Joab was calling off the attack and the army of Judah would soon be returning to Jerusalem.

            Her words prevented a massacre and kept her town alive.

She knew that God had guided her steps and words in order to spare her town, but still she grieved that life had to be lost at all. Sheba was part of a clan; a mother’s son, a family’s child, a person created in the image of God. No matter his intentions and transgressions, her heart was distressed.

            “The Lord has led us to victory today,” she softly spoke as she turned her back to the town’s gate. “Now, let us give this man a proper burial.”

With wisdom and mercy, she led her people to the grieving clan of Sheba.

Photo: Juliana Cole Photography


Inspired by the wise woman found in 2 Samuel 20.

Nameless Women // Proverbs 31 Women

Her phone dings through the Bluetooth speaker on the counter and she knows who the text is from but the message will have to wait. She’s elbow deep in toilet bowl cleaner and smells like wild orange, baking soda, and white vinegar; a concoction she’s been blending since her first little girl, Sarah, was born and she was afraid of her toddler discovering a cabinet full of cleaning chemicals and using them as toys.

As she’s scrubbing, her middle daughter, Kaylee, runs in the room and slams a suitcase on the ground, making a declaration for all who would listen: “I am sleeping at Gram’s tonight! I love you, Mommy, but I need to go to Gram’s.” At the sound of her sister’s triumphant voice, the third baby girl gives her a swift kick in the side, which reminds her to wipe off her hands and check her text message.

“I love Jaymeson! Adding the ‘y’ is perfect,” it reads. She’d been texting her girlfriends asking for thoughts on names for the third little girl that will be joining her family in a few months. “But, you know me. I love different names,” her friend, Chelsea, adds.

Chelsea is a woman of unmatched grit. Her husband is a former professional athlete so, in social settings, most people see him first because of his size and confidence upon entering a room. But, it doesn’t take long to realize that standing next to him is a woman whose strong character, deep intellect, and fierce loyalty are worth noticing.

She’s known Chelsea for a few years and learned so much from their friendship. When Chelsea’s husband developed a drug addiction that nearly destroyed their family, she watched as this woman blossomed from a single parent struggling to find her footing to a woman committed to keeping her family together against all odds. At a time when no one would have blamed her for filing for divorce, Chelsea chose to find herself instead of a lawyer.

Today, Chelsea and her husband run a thriving ministry sharing their story of overcoming addiction, but more importantly their story of fighting for one another instead of against each other. In a world that would have understood, and even applauded, if Chelsea chose to leave and air out the dirty laundry of their marriage, she chose to bring Truth and challenge to their household. Chelsea chose to fight for who she knew her husband could be and he had the humility to recognize the good, not harm, she was bringing to their household.

Her pregnancy emotions are out of control as she’s scrubbing toilets and reflecting on the joy she feels over the woman Chelsea is today. Casual housework becomes a holy practice as she praises God for the redeeming work He does.

She’s feeling the exhaustion of the afternoon and heads to the kitchen for a pick-me-up. As she opens the cabinet to choose her flavor for the day, she giggles as she thinks of how this cabinet full of Arbonne ended up filling her shelves. Her friend, Denise, had been after her for years to try these products, but with the postpartum depression following her second little girl, she couldn’t handle the stress of changing her routine. Every time Denise brought up the idea of health products it felt like a glaring reminder of her body failing her and the hormonal issues that caused a miscarriage, kept her from being able to nurse her girls, and was leaving her in a dark mental state.

Of course, Denise had no way of knowing this; she was just trying to be a good friend and bring the healthy lifestyle that worked for her into the homes of her friends. It didn’t help their friendship that she was too exhausted to process her thoughts and communicate them with her friend. The resilient woman that she is, Denise stuck around but kept her distance until the timing was right to reconnect. She was bothered by the disconnect, but focused on what God had for her and her family.

Denise travels across the country growing her business and bringing back wisdom and resources from afar. Every mornings, she makes smoothies for her daughters to start their days, then she jumps on video calls to share with her growing team of women how Arbonne can pay their bills and Jesus can pierce their hearts. A planner to her core, Denise has encouragement and tasks ready for her team every time they gather. She adores her kids and husband, values every person she leads, and has become the chef and business leader she never dreamt possible.

“Passionfruit La Croix with the pink champagne fizz stick is the combo today. Literally amazing,” she texts Denise. As she hits send, she thanks God that he helped her swallow her pride and bridge the gap that had formed in their friendship. She knows it was her fault, but it took years for her to process the mental place she was in.

“You are the fizz combo queen! I have to try that,” Denise responds.

Thank the Lord that his redemptive process is never on a timeline but always just waiting for us to desire reconciliation more than self-preservation.

Turquoise Target cup in hand, she heads to the next room to keep cleaning. She checks on Sarah and Kaylee to make sure they’re actually cleaning their bedrooms and not fighting, only to discover they’ve emptied their drawers of every stuffed animal they own and are deep in another argument over what the baby’s name will be.

“Girls, finish picking up your things. Somehow, you’ve made more of a mess than when you started cleaning,” she interjects. They stare at her, unaware of when she entered the room but very aware that they are caught. She heads to the next room to start putting away the clutter her family has left sitting around during the endless days spent at home.

“Hi, it’s me, Hannah BigHair,” her speaker suddenly says. She laughs every time this song begins. Her friend, Hannah, sent her a recording of a song they wrote together. She liked it, so she added it to her playlist but didn’t know how to edit out the beginning and end where Hannah was talking to her in a voice message. She eventually decided she liked it better with the quirky introduction anyways.

As the song plays, she sings along and thanks God for her friend. Her children look up to Hannah and have come to love music because of how they watch her lead worship at their church and in their living room. What her girls will someday learn is that Hannah is also one of the hardest working women around. She is an accountant, just twenty-five years old but already promoted multiple times by the firm she works for. During tax season, she works upwards of sixty hours per week and her clients sing praises for how well she handles their accounts. Hannah is one of those people whose energy changes a room for the better. Accounting is her job, but faith is her passion.

She’s picking up dirty socks off the ground and her mind wanders to her friend, Mel, a quiet soul she met through Hannah. She’s made it a habit to pray for Mel each time she comes to mind, and to sometimes send her humorous cat memes when she’s finished praying.

Mel is a deep and complicated soul. She cares for marginalized people groups more intensely and tangibly than most others can fathom. As a social worker, Mel’s job is taxing in so many ways. Her prayers for Mel are usually surrounding mental health, physical strength, and the discipline to care for herself spiritually.

Caring for multiple case loads at a time, Mel’s days are filled with meeting the needs of others, opening her arms wide to whatever chaos comes her way. She takes her cases seriously and ensures that any house under her supervision has the clothing and necessities they need, food for every growing belly, and a parent that is mentally prepared for whatever emotions come with the day. She knows what it’s like to feel despair and her heart’s desire is to be tangible hope for others.

“I miss my women,” she sighs and says aloud. They are in week seven of quarantine in Ohio as the governor is attempting to protect his state from the global coronavirus pandemic. It’s a weird season where she is finding herself thriving from the results of a slowed down life and becoming a better, more patient mother to her children. However, she is beginning to miss conversations on front porches enjoyed over hot coffee and early morning catch-ups with her old roommate at the local bar that serves the best breakfast in the city.

“Mom, can we go play with Theo and Shiloh?” Sarah asks as she takes yet another break from cleaning her room.

“Not today,” she answers. “But, why don’t you color them some pictures and we can leave a surprise in their mailbox?” The girls don’t understand why they haven’t seen their friends in weeks, but she’s working on distractions to pass the time.

Jordan, Theo and Shiloh’s mom, is among the women she used to see the most. Their families have been friends since before any of them were married and she has always been amazed by the endless talent that Jordan is. She can sew anything and their house is decorated in some of the most beautiful and calming ways. If you entered their home without knowing her, you’d think Jordan was an interior designer by how thoughtfully curated every living space is put together.

However, Jordan is a licensed professional counselor with far more wisdom than most people her age. Her husband is one of those people that literally everyone knows, and the way he brings her up in every conversation is priceless. He has adored Jordan since their first years together in college and any person who knows him knows that his heart belongs to her.

“I should tell Jo we are thinking about naming the baby Jaymeson,” she thinks. “With Jordan’s sister being named ‘Jamison’ she will probably love that.”

She sends the text then clicks the blue bubble to check her notifications. A few other messages have come through since the start of her cleaning frenzy.

A text from Roz with another YouTube video.

“I wonder what this one is,” she thinks as she clicks the link to listen and gathers up the last of the dirty laundry.

Roz has been sending her new worship music regularly since the start of their friendship. She’s always admired Roz’s ability to find God at work in every situation, good or bad, and to never lose sight of her thankfulness for all he’s done in her life. She is one of those friends that seems to never run out of kindness.

A single mother, home owner, and endlessly hard worker, Roz is an inspiration to so many women around her. There’s not a thing that happens in her home or family without her knowing it, and though at times she worries, she is endlessly confident in God’s protection over her future. She’s a women who draws people to her without even realizing it. Roz’s laugh is joyfully contagious and one of the most endearing things about her. She misses hearing her friend’s laugh.

Her back is beginning to ache and warn her that it’s time to rest.

“This is a good one,” she responds to Roz as she drops into the bean bag in the family room.

“I haven’t talked to mom today,” she realizes. “Girls! You wanna Facetime Gram?”

“YEAAAA!” the screeching shout is paired with feet moving as quickly as they possibly can. They dive into the bean bag next to their mom and the trio prepares to see one of their most cherished women on the screen.

Gram, as she is most affectionately known, has three children who adore her, three in-laws who she loves as if she held them at birth, and six grandkids who unanimously sing her praises. Her husband is a successful businessman who, while critical of many, would lay down his life to take care of his wife. All who encounter her know that she is a woman of unquestionable character and more precious than any possession on this earth.

Of all the women in her life, her mother is by far the one she loves the most. As a child, a mother is loved because of all she does to care for her you. But, as an adult, a mother becomes the heroine and friend you cannot imagine being without.

All she knows regarding how to live out her faith she learned from watching her mother. She learned to love Jesus and live with quiet boldness by simply observing the way her mother cared for others and gave away her possessions. For as long as she can remember, her mother has poured over her Bible, studying it as if it were going to come to life before her eyes. She remembers being a child and watching her mother sit in the recliner in their family room, writing down study notes from her bible wrapped in a pink, lace-trimmed protective covering that she sewed herself. Her prayer is that her daughters can learn even half the lessons from watching her life that she has learned from their Gram.

“Ok, girls, it’s time to say ‘bye’ to Gram and get ready for bed,” she tells her girls. Of course, they argue and refuse to hang up the phone, but eventually they oblige.

After what seems like an eternity, she finally gets her tiny princesses clean and in their beds. As they’re cuddled up, saying prayers, and listening to bedtime songs, an idea comes to her mind.

“I may be temporarily separated from the people I love, but that doesn’t mean I have to be without them,” she thinks. When the girls are settled, she kisses them goodnight and heads to her bedroom.

“These women, the tiny and the grown, make me better. They challenge me. Together, we reflect Jesus to the world around us,” she journals.

She brings him good, not harm, all the days of her life.” Proverbs 31:12

That’s Chelsea.

She gets up before dawn to prepare breakfast for her household and plan the day’s work for her servant girls.” Proverbs 31:15

This is Denise.

She makes sure her dealings are profitable; her lamp burns late into the night.” Proverbs 31:18

Hannah.

She extends a helping hand to the poor and opens her arms to the needy.” Proverbs 31:20

Mhmm. Mel!

Her husband is well known at the city gates, where he sits with the other civic leaders.” Proverbs 31:23

Jordan!

She carefully watches everything in her household and suffers nothing from laziness.” Proverbs 31:27

Well, if that isn’t Roz…

There are many virtuous and capable women in the world, but you surpass them all!” Proverbs 31:29

Our Gram.

“It’s no wonder I miss these women,” she thinks. “We need each other. Together, we are better. Together, we are the fullness of womanhood. Together, we are Proverbs 31.”


Proverbs 31 has been the nameless woman that’s plagued too many women for far too long. This poem was never written to prescriptively tell women who they should strive to be, but rather to descriptively celebrate women for who they already are. In its original context, Proverbs 31 was a conversation between a mother and her son where she was listing for him all the things women bring to the table. She was encouraging her son not to choose a wife based on her looks, but to look below the surface and value women for much more than their appearance.

In Jewish culture, husbands memorized Proverbs 31 and recited it at the dinner table to their wives to celebrate them. Proverbs 31 was written for men, not women.

And, what is perhaps the most liberating truth of all is that Proverbs 31 is not one woman. Proverbs 31 is all women, collectively, living out who they are created to be and together representing God’s goodness to the world.

Gram and I with my girls, Sarah, Kaylee, and Jamie.

God doesn’t need to show up.

With the recent acts of injustice that are being shared all over social media right now, there is an outcry from pastors and believers to see God move. My Facebook and Instagram timelines are filled with people crying out for the God of justice to show up and do something in our world.

This cry of lament is a healthy practice of the Christian faith. We see it from prophets like Jeremiah, kings like David, and in an entire Old Testament book called Lamentations. And, while it’s important to seek God in times of trouble and lay our burdens out in prayer, it’s equally as important to remember the God Whom we are approaching. As we lament, we need to remember the character of God and the command he gives his followers.

Let’s start with the character of God. When we ask God to show up in a situation, we are using language that negates his sovereignty. Asking God to show up is communicating the assumption that he is not omnipresent, that he is not already there. Yet, when we read the first two verses of the Bible, it tells us that in the beginning, the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters. Before a single thing was created, the Spirit of God was present. Then, this very same Spirit was set into motion forming all of creation. Throughout all of Scripture, the Spirit of God is active performing miracles, guiding prophets and leaders, raising Jesus from the dead, entering the believers at Pentecost, and is promised to fill the earth and all believers until the second coming of Christ.

If we believe as we say we do, then why do we feel the need to ask God to show up? If we believe God is who he says he is and does what he says he will do, then shouldn’t we be believing and living as if God is already here? If we believe God is the good, good Father that we sing about in our worship, then shouldn’t we approach him as One who keeps his word?

Church, we need to choose our words more carefully when we speak about the Sovereign Creator of our earth, the God of all eternity, in Whom and by Whom all things have been created. Wrong language breeds incorrect thought which leads to poor action.

Said a different way, God does not need to show up nor does he need to be asked to show up. God is already here, has been here, and will continue to be here.

It is you who needs to show up.

God has been waiting on humanity since Genesis 3 and the first moment when Adam and Eve hid from him in the garden. From that moment on, Scripture is a constant back and forth story of God giving commands, humanity saying, “nah, I got this” and then crawling back to God saying, “wait, actually, I could use your help.”

In all of Scripture, I do not see a moment where God leaves. I read that God is silent, I read that he gives people over to their sinful desires, I even see instances where humanity cries out, “where are you, Lord?” But, in every response to that cry, I never see that God has left. He was always present, ready and waiting for humanity to show up.

So, Church, it’s time. You need to show up.

God does not need to show up for Ahmaud Arbery. He was there for Ahmaud the same way he was there for Sandra, Alton, Philando, Trayvon, and sadly, so many others. God did not let these people down. God did not forget these people. God was not silent on these matters. You did. You were.

Do you want justice? Show up. And, keep showing up. Then relentlessly, unceasingly, and constantly show up some more.

A good friend of mine always says that if you want to know the character of God, look at Jesus. Jesus wept when he encountered death. He sought the marginalized and gave them hope. He spoke when those with societal privilege silenced the voices of people around them. He crossed into the lands that people avoided, he touched the people society said were unclean, and he elevated the people the world said were unworthy. Then, he sent his Spirit to all believers with the statement that, “you will do these things and more.” These are his commands.

So, Church, do these things. And more.

Show up for a Be the Bridge group or pick up Latasha Morrison’s book to start educating yourself on how you can move towards racial reconciliation. Attend the Absurd Conference when it comes back around this October and focuses on Kingdom Diversity and reconciliation. Educate yourself on our nation’s history and systems of oppression; the things that were left out of our elementary school textbooks. Watch the full version of Dr. MLK, Jr.’s “I have a dream” speech instead of just the clips posted every February. Read Letter from the Birmingham Jail, Unsettling Truths, Prophetic Lament, and Many Colors. Then, show up for organizations like Tiqvah Hands of Hope, Lighthouse Ministries, Chester’s Mop Shop, 3rd Street Community Church, Reach1, Citizens Akron, The Well, StarkFresh, Mount Olive Baptist, etc. who are doing the work of reconciliation and pouring into the youth and our communities right here in northeast Ohio. Show up with your time. Show up with your resources. Show up with an open heart and no preconceived ideas.

God has already done the work of showing up and setting an example. Now, Church, it’s your turn. It’s our turn. Every single one of us. It’s time to fix our language, repair our view of who God is therefore repairing our view of all humanity, and start showing up. Relentlessly, unceasingly, and constantly showing up.

Image by Scott Erickson
IG @scottthepainter

For such a time as this // Isolation and Esther

I still remember being in my 9th grade science class and my teacher turning on the TV while saying, “Remember this moment. Someday, your kids are going to ask you where you were when 9/11 happened. You’ll be shocked how you remember every detail.”

He’s right. I remember leaving English and seeing the panic on my teacher’s face as someone told her what happened. I remember seeing my classmates freaking out in the hallways and I didn’t believe what they were saying. I remember going to science and Mr. McGraw turning on the TV. I remember Edison Jr. High, the old desks, the blinds discolored from age and sunlight, and the green and off-white tile floor.

Now, here I am, 33 years old and living through another time in history that my kids will someday ask, “What were you doing during the coronavirus pandemic?”

My oldest child is 5.5 years old, so she may have vague memories of this time. It’s more likely that she will just remember the period of her childhood when her Aunt Ruth lived with us and painted her nails and played Old Maid than it is that she will remember the chaos of the world around her.

But my youngest… my youngest child is 19 weeks young, still in the safety of my belly. While we are still wondering if we’re having a boy or girl, someday this same child will be assigned in history class to interview someone who lived through COVID-19. He or she will ask what the world was like at this time, how we passed our time, were we scared… The same questions my generation asked when we were assigned projects interviewing Vietnam Veterans and people who remember the assassinations of Dr. MLK, Jr. and JFK.

It’s a strange phenomenon to know you are watching history unfold.

I wonder if others knew they were watching history unfold when it was happening? Did the followers of Malcolm and Martin know their social movement would be discussed for years to come? Did Rosie the Riveter, whoever she may be, know she would become an icon for working women everywhere? Did Esther know her winning a beauty competition would place her at a time in history that would be read, studied, and learned from thousands of years later?

There is no way of knowing which moments in our lives will become imprinted on those in our immediate surroundings and which will fade into the background. But, what we can confidently know is that the lives and lessons of those who have come before us are there to be learned from and applied so we can do better for those we are leading with every decision we make.

Take the life of Esther, for example. Will most of us ever find ourselves summoned by a king, judged for our beauty, and brought to live the rest of our lives in a palace of misogyny, gluttony, and polygamy? No. Most likely not.

However, Esther’s story is so much more. Esther finds herself quarantined unless summoned to flaunt her beauty, unable to directly communicate with her family, and without any freedoms she has previously known in her life. She lives a life entirely uprooted from all she has known.

The beginnings of this transition prove tough for Esther. She’s unsure how to handle herself and she plays by the rules because that seems the best way to survive. Aren’t we all a little like this? We follow what we are told as we find our footing, but get a little more brave once we are familiarized with the situation.

Then, suddenly everything makes sense. Esther’s placement is given purpose and all she’s endured fades away as she sees a bigger picture. The most famous verse of Esther’s story are the words of Mordecai encouraging her, “Who knows if perhaps you are here for such a time as this?”

Esther learns the unbeatable combination of careful planning, well-placed boldness, and faith in God.

Esther’s story of separation from the life she’s always known becomes one of purpose, bravery, and victory. We see spiritual disciplines that lead to direction from the Lord, courage that brings freedom, and hardened hearts turned from selfish desires to obedience.

Will this be the story of our strange experience with 2020’s COVID-19? Maybe not. Or maybe so.

Perhaps we are here for such a time as this… A time to learn the disciplines of silence and sabbath. A forced time to wrestle with the thoughts we’ve pushed to the back of our minds. A pause in our busyness to re-discover what true connectivity is and to value things we have taken for granted. A forced time without the gatherings we’ve at times complained about, but in their absence have come to appreciate. A time to silence our inner-critics and take up gratitude and thankfulness.

As I’m choosing how to spend this strange time in history, my strongest consideration is how I want to one day answer the questions from my children. Do I want to tell my kids that I let fear make my decisions or that I made the most of my time with them? Do I want to tell my kids that I looked out for just myself or that I did my best to love our community, too? Do I want to tell my kids that I discovered how weak my faith in God actually was or that I learned to cling to Jesus more tightly than ever?

My time in isolation may not result in something as epic as MLK Jr.’s Letter from a Birmingham Jail or the story of Esther, but the decisions I am making today can and will impact my tomorrow. Each day we spend in isolation will result in something my children remember as a time of fear or a time of family.

I don’t know how to live quarantine flawlessly, but I am committed to doing my best at living it intentionally.

My sweet oldest girl, alone and exploring
Photo by Juliana Cole Photography

Papa // Joy & Grief

Chapter 4 – Papa

            I was 23 years old when I found out my grandfather was Santa Claus.

My grandfather, or “Papa” as he was most commonly and affectionately known, loved Christmas with every fiber of his being. The only things Papa loved more than Christmas were Grandma and his family.

Papa grew up in-and-out of the foster system, and when he met my Grandma he vowed that their family would never experience what he did growing up. Papa did things like winning a guy’s suit in a poker game and then wearing that suit to a job interview for the place he ended up working the next 20+ years. He also hitchhiked from his Airforce base all the way back to Canton just for the weekend to see my grandma, and would spend all his money to buy her a single bottle of perfume when he was overseas.

But, these acts of love pale in comparison to what Papa would do at Christmas.

Traditionally, Christmas preparation in the Porter family begins in June, sometimes earlier.

Grandma would begin shopping when she and Papa would go on their summer vacations. When the two of them took trips, Papa would always remark jokingly on how much money Grandma saves him, and they would pack an entire extra suitcase on the way home for everything Grandma bought. Then, on Christmas Eve when Papa would hand out gifts, Grandma would tell every single person about where she bought that gift and how great the sale was. About halfway through the evening, Papa would cut her off saying, “Janet, just let them have their presents. No one cares. But, yes, you save me so much money.”

Gifts could be purchased anywhere from six months prior to Christmas or right up to the morning of Christmas Eve. If Grandma spent even three dollars more on one grandkid than the next, she would begin spending another three dollars on every single grandkid. Everything had to be fair and everything had to be perfect; there is no skimping on Christmas.

And then there were the cookies…

Christmas cookie baking begins immediately following Thanksgiving.

Aunt Lorraine and Grandma send everyone a schedule of what is being baked when, and you are welcome to show up and be present but helping is not really an option. When two Italian women are in the kitchen, they fight the entire time over the proper way to do something and any additional people present are understood to be nothing more than company and decoration. You don’t help, you don’t touch, and you definitely don’t take a bite of anything that’s pretty enough to be worthy of the cookie trays.

There was no place like Grandma’s when the cookies were being baked.

Aunt Lorraine has taken this tradition into her home as our family has changed in the past few years. When the cookies start baking, it smells like the best years of our collective cousin childhoods and with all the noise of, “don’t touch that!” and “girls, no! You can’t eat those!” it sounds like home.

And, every year, the same story is told.

The story of the year that Papa changed how we make cream wafers.

Cream wafers are light, buttery, sugary wafer cookies that create a delicate icing sandwich and melt in your mouth the moment you take a bite. For years, Aunt Lorraine and Grandma would stress over getting the perfect amount of icing into the cream wafers without breaking the cookies from the pressure of pressing the icing onto the wafer. It’s a daunting task and by far the most difficult cookie to make.

Until one year, Papa entered the kitchen looking for burnt or imperfect cookies to eat. He watched Grandma and Aunt Lorraine angrily icing the wafers with backs aching from being hunched over the table for so long and reached down to grab a broken cookie. Standing there for a moment, Papa casually said, “Why don’t you use a piping bag to do that?”

Aunt Lorraine, a woman who bakes wedding cakes and has made every birthday cake in our family for decades, stared at the table then looked back at Papa.

“Why the hell have we never thought of that?!” Aunt Lorraine yelled.

And that’s the moment cream wafers changed forever in the Porter house.

But, Papa gave more to Christmas than just revolutionizing the greatest cookie of all time.

Papa created a Christmas experience in our family.

Papa would gather grandkids in early December to spend an entire day making eggnog and cream puffs. He helped grandma roll meatballs and soak endive so the wedding soup for Christmas Day would be perfect. He would wake up early on Christmas Eve to have doughnuts for breakfast and get New England Clam Chowder cooking on the stovetop. He would bellow the name on every gift in his deep, Santa-like tone, then hold the gift in his lap as one-by-one each recipient stumbled their way through the tangled up legs of family members sitting on every chair, table, and floor space available to retrieve a perfectly wrapped package from Papa’s hands.

On top of this family Christmas, Papa always participated in a special Christmas tradition at Gregory’s Galvanizing, the company he worked for wearing that special suit he won in the poker games of his youth. In true Papa fashion, not only did he participate in this Christmas party, but he played a special role and made sure that all eleven of his grandkids attended.

Every year, the adults of the family would get all of us cousins dressed up fancy to go to the Gregory’s Christmas Party to see Santa Claus. My mom and aunts would sew matching Christmas dresses for all of us girls and the boys would be in those epic 90’s Christmas sweaters that everyone likes to wear now as a joke. We would stand in line with our parents and impatiently wait until Santa would call us individually by name to go see him. We would sit on his lap and he would ask us questions so specific to our lives that we were convinced that Santa knew us personally.

It never occurred to us that he did.

We were also convinced that we had the best Grandma in the world because she was standing next to Santa handing out his gifts. How does someone get that job?! Grandma must be a celebrity.

As Santa would hand us a gift, we would turn and smile for the person just ahead taking our picture on a Polaroid camera. These weren’t the now trendy, pastel colored Polaroids of today; these were the big, clunky, black Polaroid cameras of the early 1990’s. The picture would pop out and someone would write on the bottom white strip, “Gregory’s Christmas 1993.”

The party would continue with trays of cookies (the pretty ones from Grandma’s house that we were not allowed to eat on cookie baking days) and a magician and games. Just as things were winding down and only a few people were left, Papa would come walking into the room and announce, “Did I miss the party again?! Where did Santa go?”

We kids would riot. “Papa! You missed Santa! He was just here! He knew my name!”

Papa would explain to us that the rest of his office was at the party, so his boss made him stay to work. Every year I would tell Papa that he needed to get off work the next year because this Santa has to be the real Santa; he had a big belly that was real, not stuffed, and his hair really was gray and he really did wear glasses just like in all the pictures.

“Next year, I’ll make sure I don’t have to work,” Papa would say.

This went on every year of my childhood, until eventually I got older and I no longer believed in Santa. We still went to the party for my younger cousins and every year I thought, “This really is the best Santa.” The party would end, Papa would arrive, and my younger cousins would yell that Papa missed Santa again.

            One Christmas Eve when I was about 23 years old, my cousins were talking about how my Uncle Bob was now Santa for the Gregory’s Christmas parties. Grandma responded with, “Bobby is good, but no one will ever be as good of a Santa as Papa.”

            My head whipped around so fast and the words came out before I could catch myself, “Papa! You were Santa?!”

            My family stared at me in hilarious disbelief.

            “Yoyo,” my cousin Bradley has called me this for as long as he could speak. “You seriously didn’t know Papa was Santa? You do know that Santa isn’t real…”

            By this point, my family is laughing hysterically.

            “Honestly, I just never thought about it. I haven’t thought about the Christmas parties since I was little! Papa always said he was working and my Papa would NEVER lie to me, right Papa?”

            Papa sat grinning and chuckled, “Never, sweetie. I would never lie to you.”

            I started laughing with everyone and we moved on.

            Now, here I sit, alone on my back patio on a cool October evening with tears streaming down my cheeks as the two-year anniversary of the day my Papa left us approaches.

            Have you ever known a person that you loved and trusted so deeply that you never questioned them? A person that you knew would never hurt you because they truly never did, so your every memory of them is unaltered joy?

            I have. That person is Papa.

            It never occurred to me to re-visit the Christmas parties of my childhood to assess Papa’s whereabouts. Of course, as an adult, it is painfully obvious that my Papa was dressed as Santa Claus, which makes the magic of my childhood all the more special.

            To be so loved and adored by someone that your childhood feels unbelievably perfect amidst accidents that blind you and family financial struggle is a gift nearly impossible to put into words.

            Papa didn’t have a tragic illness or a quick moment that took his life. He passed from the weight of a tough life well-lived. As I saw Papa’s days with us reaching their end, I wept almost daily.

            I remember one difficult day in the ICU. I stared at the strongest man I’d ever known plugged into tubes with skin a color I had never seen. He couldn’t speak, but our eyes met and I could read them instantly. He didn’t want me to see him this way, but I didn’t want to leave his side. My brother and sister-in-law were there and my grandma sat at the foot of his bed.

            After a little while, I pulled a chair up next to Papa’s bed. He was trying to talk to us, but he couldn’t get the words out. I saw his struggle and the trembling that followed and I did everything I could to keep my tears in; a headache was forming from the strain. I thought that maybe if I spoke, he would feel less pressure to talk to us.

            “Papa, you know, I tell all of my students about you.”

            He turned to look in my eyes and I felt every ounce of fear and pain from inside him.

            I held his hand.

            “Remember the girls I was teaching dance to? Some of them are going to college now. I tell them all about my Papa who grew up in their neighborhood and who once dropped out of high school, the same high school they go to. I tell them about how you fought for our family, about how you never wanted any of us to go through all the struggle and pain you did. I tell them about how you wanted to be a better dad than you had and how you changed everything for us.”

My voice is shaking and I am holding in tears so hard that I feel like I might puke. My back muscles hurt from tensing every muscle.

“ Papa, they’re all graduating from high school now. Some of them have college scholarships. Some of them have dreams they want to work towards. They’re breaking the cycles in their families the same way you did for us. We got to baptize one of them at church last week.”

            I hear my sister-in-law sniffle and I feel a little better about my emotions. I can sense this moment being forever etched into my memory.

            “Papa, you raised an amazing family and your life is inspiring more than just us. I tell everyone I know about my Papa.”

            We sat in silence after that, holding hands until the nurse came back in. When she arrived, I bolted for the parking garage. I let every emotion flow from my body and sat in a parked car for what felt like an hour.

            Papa made it out of the ICU that day and came home for the rest of the summer. We celebrated his birthday, played cards on the patio, and let the great grandkids do whatever they wanted.

            Later that fall, on another cold October day, my mom called me and said, “You need to come see Papa.”

            I don’t remember what else she said, I just know that I wept as soon as I hung up the phone. The next day, I found someone to watch the girls and spent all evening at Papa’s house.

            For most of the time, we just sat together. Family and hospice were in-and-out, and I did anything Grandma or the nurses would let me do to take care of our Papa.

            As things quieted down a bit, I got to sit next to him. There was a moment where his breathing became so labored that I thought it might be the moment we were going to say goodbye. I saw the sadness in Grandma’s eyes as we sat on either side of his bed. I hated how stressed and strained I saw him.

This is the man who had more wisdom than anyone I’ve ever known. The man who held and loved every baby he ever met. The man who always had an open seat at his table. The man who always had something to give and asked for nothing in return. The man who never missed a major life event and suddenly, in one moment, I knew that every major event after this would be without him.

I did the only thing I could think to do.

            Since I was a child, Papa had sang me the same lullaby. Whether I was an inconsolable baby or a bride on my wedding day, Papa sang and danced with me to the same song for three decades of my life. I held his hand and sang quietly to him, “too rah loo rah loo rah, too rah loo rah lai, too rah loo rah loo rah, that’s an Irish lullaby…”

            I sang as best I could until things calmed down. As they did, he turned his head a bit, closed his eyes, and hummed that chorus with me. He hadn’t been able to speak more than a word or two all night, but in that moment he hummed the melody to our song, squeezed my hand, and Grandma and I cried. I stared at the man I believed to be somehow untouchable and the gravity of that moment sank into my heart.

            When I left Papa’s house that night, that was the last time I saw him with air in his lungs. The next time I would see him would be less than 48 hours later in the same room surrounded by his best friends and as much of our family as was in the state of Ohio.

            In honor of the Papa we all so deeply love, we threw the most celebratory Manhattan-and-cigar-filled funeral that I am sure has ever existed.

And now, as I sit on my back patio, I take in the taste and scent of plastic-tipped Swisher Sweets, the cigar he smoked almost daily for all of my life. My eyes are stinging from the tears and smoke and my heart aches from the memories of being so loved by such a great man.

I sometimes wonder if a day will come when I no longer grieve the loss of our Papa. I’m not sure that grief is something we ever stop experiencing as much as it is just something that we become accustomed to living with.

Grief comes in waves and in seasons.

It’s strong in August when his birthday passes.

It’s intense in October when memories surface of his death.

It’s heavy in December when his favorite holiday emerges.

It’s hard in March when St. Patrick’s Day arrives and I hear his Irish voice singing.

It’s difficult in summer when we go on vacation to his favorite spot.

It’s hard. It’s just hard. It is never not hard.

It’s hard when my kids order the same doughnuts as him and I know where they got that love of sweets from. It’s hard when I am insanely stubborn and my husband says, “Your Porter is coming out again” and I know he means that as advice to calm down but I’m just flattered because I know that deep resilience comes from the greatest man I ever knew.

The very thing that gets me through these hard moments are the words of the man whose absence causes them.

When my husband and I were younger and entering the most difficult years we have lived through up to this point in our lives, I asked Papa what advice he would give us. He said without even a moment of hesitation, “Sweetie, when you reach the end of your rope, tie a knot and hang on.”

And so, when I grieve, I cling to that knot with all my strength. I let the emotions fill me, I write out his memories, I smoke his cigars, and I let the tears flow. I do not grieve because I am weak, I grieve because I am strong enough to let myself ride this wave with white knuckles on the knot of hope that comes with Jesus and the truth that I will see this great man again in a life with no more tears.

And so, for today, I grieve.I grieve with hope. I grieve with joy that is not conditional upon circumstances. And I grieve knowing that his legacy lives in me and every person I choose to share it with.

%d bloggers like this: