Monday, January 23, 2017

March On, Sister

"Oh my soul, march on with strength."
 (Judges 5:21)
That's what Deborah said.

It was her victory march, her conquering song. She led a march against oppression - the oppression of God's people. She marched alongside a reluctant man. She gave praise to God. She attributed the victory to Him

"Hear, O Kings! Give ear, O princes!
I, even I, will sing to the Lord;
I will sing praise to the Lord God of Israel." 
(Judges 5:3)

I kept thinking of Deborah on Saturday. What would she think of this march?  Those posters? Those hats?

"Thus let all your enemies perish, O Lord!
But let those who love Him be like the sun
when it comes out in full strength."
 (Judges 5:31)

Would she have been able to sing that on Saturday? Would there have been solidarity around those words?

I also thought of Miriam.

"Then Miriam the prophetess, the sister of Aaron, took a tambourine in her hand, and all of the women went out after her with tambourines and dancing." 
(Exodus 15:20)

All of the women. All of the women went after Miriam singing and dancing. It wasn't to demand their rights. It wasn't to require respect. They were dancing to raise awareness of the Majestic One, the Holy One.

"Miriam sang to them: Sing to the Lord, for He is highly exalted;
The horse and his rider He has hurled into the sea." 
(Exodus 15:21)

She led them to rejoice in the goodness of God. They were delighting in their deliverance by His hand. Would Miriam have gone to Washington? Would she have taken her daughter? Gathered the other Hebrew women for this event?



I thought of Lydia.

"On the Sabbath we went outside the city gate to the river, where we expected to find a place of prayer. We sat down and began to speak to the women who had gathered there. One of those listening was a woman from the city of Thyatira named Lydia, a dealer in purple cloth.  
She was a worshiper of God." 
(Acts 16:13)

I thought of the way Lydia chose to gather with women - in prayer. I thought of how this businesswoman is memorialized in Scripture - as a worshiper of God.  As one whose heart was soft to the things of God and to the men of God.

I thought of Esther.

"Go, assemble all the Jews who are found in Susa, and fast for me; do not eat or drink for three days, night or day. I and my maidens also will fast in the same way. And thus I will go in to the king, which is not according to the law; and if I perish, I perish."
(Esther 4:16)

I thought of how confused Esther might be by the women who marched on Saturday. No fasting? No praying? No risking of life in approaching the authorities? This is how you plan to garner safety for your gender? Respect?

Maybe I'm putting words in Esther's mouth; I don't know. Maybe she and Deborah, and Miriam, and Lydia would have all shown up and worn their p---y hats. I'm just having a hard time reconciling the marches, the songs, and the gatherings of my heroines of the faith with the women who marched on Saturday.  I'm having a difficult time understanding why my Christian sisters participated. And I'm having the toughest time with my Christ-following girlfriends who very eagerly and proudly posted photos of themselves on social media marching when the same eagerness and pride is not given publicly to Jesus, the object of their faith. Isn't He the only way, truth, and life?

Where are your Jesus posters?
Where are your public invitations to church?
Where are your links to great sermons?
Where are your gospel hashtags?
Where are your smiling photos from your small group Bible study?
Where are your protests on behalf of the persecuted church?
Where were your outcries on behalf of the pro-life women who were excluded on Saturday?

Will you also be at the March for Life in March?
Will you take your daughter to the next Christian women's conference? Prayer gathering?
Will you tell your daughter that Bill was no better than Donald when it comes to objectifying women?
Will you teach her the beauty of being single from I Corinthians? The beauty of marriage from Ephesians? The high calling of motherhood from Proverbs?
Will you spend your money to support a female missionary who risks her life on behalf of third world women who are truly marginalized?

Saturday's march also brought these verses to mind...

Whoever acknowledges me before others, I will also acknowledge before my Father in heaven. But whoever disowns me before others, I will disown before my Father in heaven.
Matthew 10:32-33

For whoever is ashamed of Me and My words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will also be ashamed of him when He comes in the glory of His Father with the holy angels.
Mark 8: 38

Participants in Saturday's march received the praise and affirmation of the world, but Christians are called to be different. In the world, yes, but not of the world. Jesus says the world will hate us as it hated Him, but many don't seem willing to take that risk. And it's not that I don't struggle with the fear of worldly rejection, I do. It's just that I felt a little abandoned by some of my sisters on Saturday. I thought we were in this together.

So, Saturday was disheartening to me (as was Friday), because I also long for right views of women, proper treatment, equality, safety, protection, honor, and justice.  I missed the inauguration (which is no great loss), because I spent the morning with a woman suffering in an abusive marriage. I encouraged and supported her in drawing a firm boundary (as in him out of the house), for her protection. I spent much of the day today corresponding and problem solving with a single mom doing the very best she can, but still in need of basics like a car, food, and tuition to complete her education. I sat in divorce court a while back in support of a friend making a difficult, but necessary choice for her own safety and the well-being of her kids. And I've wept with many women over the abuse of their fathers, the assaults of their boyfriends and even brutal rapes by complete strangers. (That last woman stayed a week at my house this summer - we prayed, we cried, we talked, we spent a day in the E.R.)

I'm just not sure marching on Washington (or Boston, or Chicago, or Los Angeles or wherever) is the answer to these deeply grievous situations.

In fact, I know it's not, and so I'll keep marching right here - for Christ and for women, too.

For the deep healing He offers them.
For the high value He bestows on them.
For the great dignity He instills in them.
And most importantly, for the precious salvation He purchased for them.

It's a march I believe my sisters Deborah, Miriam, Lydia, and Esther would lead if they were here today.

I think their prayer would be, their poster would read:

Oh my sisters, march on in strength.
The joy of the Lord is your strength!


(P.S. Came across this video. Do you listen to Beyonce? Watch Friends reruns? If so, you may be contributing to the problem. Check it out:  You Didn't Vote For Trump - Or Did You?)


Friday, January 13, 2017

Birthday Gifts: Part 2

Here's a better view of those Topo Chico bottles-turned-drinking-glasses. Aren't they great? What a cool gift. I just love seeing them in my cabinet. I love that the "cut" is just above the textured part of the bottle giving them a bit of a decorative flair. And that green tint? Perfect.
While I was uploading photos of Topo Chico glasses, I came across this photo - also of gifts. The gift of two of the cutest nephews you ever did see is obvious, but it's what they are wearing that was kind of a Christmas gift miracle. See those sweatshirts? Those, along with matching sweatpants, are what we sent to the California nephews this Christmas. (The fact that they live in Palm Springs, CA and have absolutely no need for sweatshirts and sweatpants is beside the point.)

Now, look at their shoes. We did not give them the shoes. My brother texted me this photo on Christmas to show me that the sweatshirts we sent perfectly matched the shoes they already owned! Wow. I'm pretty sure that making these guys the coolest kids at the skate park that day (new scooters for Christmas!) with their matching Nike gear makes us the coolest aunt, uncle, and cousins. I don't think it's any secret that the whole extended family is vying for that title, so thank you, TJ Maxx.

This post is getting really off topic, but I just HAVE to show you who I now ALMOST share a birthday with.  It's the above pictured Nike nephews' new little sister, born on Monday, just one day after my birthday. Talk about a gift and an answered prayer. Meet Taya...
Okay... back to the main point of this post.  I got to give gifts for my birthday which is what I desired this year over getting gifts. I really am happier that way.  

The gift of preparing communion. The gift of helping with babies.  The gift of shoveling snow. The gift of giving rides to and from church.

I was kind of tickled over how the Lord answered the prayer for gift giving on my birthday right off the bat that Sunday morning, but wondered if He wanted me/us to give any more gifts after those church-related ones. As I drove home to meet the two kids, I prayed this: "Ok, Lord.  Was that it?  Or are there more?"

Immediately after that prayer, I did a quick check of my email (while waiting in my driveway for the kids to load in the van) and discovered one announcing a new (one month early, but perfectly healthy) baby - one whose mom and dad only recently started attending our church. Robert has been meeting with the dad regularly to discuss the Bible and faith.  Together we have spent time with the mom to discuss the couples' unique situation. I knew Robert would regret not being able to make a baby-visit, since he is traveling, and it seemed pretty obvious that it was the next gift-giving opportunity. I sent an email offering a meal and my cell phone number, and got a text message within the hour.

"A meal on Monday would be so wonderful. Thank you."

Not my actual birthday, but still a gift to give.

The kids wanted to treat me to a late breakfast, so we all attended the early service, and then drove to our favorite breakfast restaurant in Northampton. The one with GF ginger-buckwheat pancakes. A tiny cafe and a weekend breakfast means waiting on the wooden bench along one wall about two feet away from those already enjoying their meal. 

Shoulder to shoulder on that bench, I couldn't help noticing the woman on my right.  Alone and slightly hunched over, she stared at the ground, diverting her eyes only occasionally and very cautiously as people squeezed by to get their name on the wait list. A tad disheveled, she exuded weariness and sadness. She seemed relieved when they called her name and she was able to escape the bench and sitting sardine-like next to me. She sat alone at a table nearby and got her coffee right away.

"What are you thinking about, Mom?" Cooper asked.

"What?" I answered, wondering if we were thinking the same thing.

"That's what you always ask us when we're quiet," he explained.

"I'm thinking that we should pay for that woman's breakfast," I revealed. "Since you guys are paying for me, I'll pay for her."

I thought we might miss the opportunity, since she was nearly finished with her meal before we were seated, but when our waitress came and took our order, we asked if we could pay for the woman sitting alone at the table by the window. Her eyes raised just enough to be sure of who I was talking about, and she nodded in affirmation. She took my debit card to the woman's waitress.

The kids worried that the waitress would reveal our identity, so I got up to top off my coffee at the self serve counter and on the way there made sure the waitresses knew it was supposed to be a secret.

"So, tell her that her meal was all taken care of, but not who did it?" they clarified.

"Yes," I confirmed, and we all shared a secret smile.

"What? Really?" were the surprised responses of the woman at the window when the waitress explained that her bill had been paid for. I couldn't look, but my kids couldn't resist slyly observing how it played out.

After she left, Cooper said he had also observed that she seemed sad and possibly disturbed by something. 

What a joy to see her perk up a bit upon receiving the gift.

Paul said that Jesus said "It is more blessed to give than to receive," (Acts 20:35), and we were experiencing the truth of that statement.

This post is getting long, but I promised to tell you the rest of the gifts today.  Really there was only one more gift we gave on Sunday - times four.

I drive past multiple homeless people on a daily basis wondering what to do for them. I'd read about this care package idea somewhere a while back. Then, recently, my friend Betsy told me about delivering these packages to folks on Boston Common with teens in her youth group. So, a "theme" was developing, and usually that means I'm supposed to act.

A little more research and a trip to Target on the way home from breakfast led to the next gift. Kayla helped me assemble four care packages intended for those living on the streets. Shopping for and packing them up was the easy part.  I could have done that all afternoon. 

Here's what we packed in each bag based on great online info about what TO and what NOT TO include in packages like this:

wet wipes
lotion
bandaids
deodorant (not soap or shampoo)
toothbrush
toothpaste
lip balm
tissue pack
beef jerky (not trail mix or nuts)
chicken salad & cracker packs
cereal/breakfast bars (not granola bars - too hard/crunchy)
peanut butter sandwich crackers
applesauce (squeezable)
socks
mints (not sticky, meltable candy)
$5

(There are lots of opinions about what things are best to include. The non-sticky, non-crunchy guideline has to do with the dental issues of many homeless people. Money is encouraged for bus fare, coffee, etc. Also, females have unique hygiene needs, so male and female packs are a good idea.)

I'm estimating that these packages cost about $15 each including the $5. We filled gallon sized Ziploc bags, but you could do quarts and include fewer items.



The next step was more difficult: hand delivering them.

That was the other main suggestion: don't just throw a package out of your car AT people.

Rather, go TO them. Meet them. Give them the care and attention they deserve.

I thought I might get out of it due to a couple of birthday phone calls I received that afternoon/evening, but my cute little co-packer was persistent that we go driving around looking for folks who might need these care packages. It was about 6:45pm when we finished packing, and Cooper was meeting us for a movie at 7:40.

"If we don't find anyone, we'll just keep them in the car for when we do," I suggested to my eager assistant.

But we drove downtown and there they were. It was dark, and the temperature was in the teens

We parked and gathered our gifts. A bright-eyed, bundled-up young woman was the first we approached. We pulled out our gift and asked if it was something she could use. Her eyes lit up even more as she assured us it was and delighted in the "snacks" that were enclosed. We asked her name and told her ours. We asked if she had a place to stay that night, and she did. The overnight shelter at First Baptist doesn't open until 9:30pm, though, so she still had over two hours in the cold. She thanked us with much humility and sincerity.

A block away was a man with a sign and another man talking with him. We approached the man with the sign, and inquired again if our little package was something he could use. When he took it, the other man looked on with such interest and praised the gift so much that it occurred to us that he was homeless as well, but we had only taken two bags out of the car.

"Would you like one, too?" I asked. "We have another, and my daughter can run and get it from our car."

Though he kindly protested, and said not to worry about it, Kayla ran back to our car and grabbed him a bag. While she did, I learned their names, where they were each from, and where they planned to spend the night - one at the shelter and one on a friend's couch.

As we said goodbye, the men thanked us profusely and kept expressing how thoughtful the gifts were, and how nice that we had come out in the cold, and....and...

There was no denying their genuine appreciation.

As we drove the ten minute route to the warm movie theater where we would sit eating hot buttered popcorn for the next two hours, we prayed for each of gift recipients. Kayla was mesmerized by the encounters (as was I), and uttered these words after a few moments of silence in the car: "They were so nice. They were just regular people."

Yes, they were. And because of them our hearts were stirred, our spirits were lifted, and what Isaiah says will happen, happened to us that evening...

And if you give yourself to the hungry, and satisfy the desire of the afflicted, then your light will rise in darkness, and your gloom will become like midday. 
Isaiah 58:10 (NASB)

I like how Eugene Peterson puts it as well...

If you get rid of unfair practices, quit blaming victims, quit gossiping about other people's sins, if you are generous with the hungry and start giving yourselves to the down-and-out, your lives will begin to glow in the darkness, your shadowed lives will be bathed in sunlight. 
Isaiah 58:10 (The Message)


Yep. My birthday was bathed in sunlight. Giving - even these very small acts of giving -  is the true having, the true receiving. I can see some new habits and traditions forming.

Want to know what happened with the 4th package? Well, it stayed in Cooper's (who's home on college break) car, which is the one we happened to be using on our evening excursion. Cooper wasn't with us, but we told him all about our experience. The following evening, he had to drive out of town and came across a homeless man with a sign at an intersection. It took him a moment, but he remembered that one of the packages was still in his car. The light was green by this time, but despite honks and hand gestures, he reached for the bag, held it out of his window, and waited for the man to come and get it.

I made up four more bags today (and got a better picture of them), and when Cooper saw one of them sitting on the kitchen table, he asked if he could have a couple to keep in his car.

"Maybe our suffering and brokenness begin a kind of healing when we enter into the suffering and brokenness of the world, right through the brokenness and givenness of Christ." (p. 72)

My own brokenness and selfishness certainly received a bit of healing that day. That of my kids as well.

What a gift that was...and is.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Birthday Gifts: Part 1

"What do you want to do for your birthday, Mom?"  With Robert typically gone to Texas and Oklahoma for the first two weeks of January, my kids are usually left with the burden responsibility of "making mom's birthday special" on their own. I kind of hate that. I love special days and gifts, but I enjoy giving them more than receiving them. And not because I'm super selfless like that.  It probably has more to do with my unrealistic expectations that all gifts given to me will perfectly match my temperament and desires, reflecting that I am truly known and loved, yet somehow they usually fall short of that expectation.

Hard to believe, I know.

The sad thing is that if you had asked me what gift would be THE perfect birthday gift for me this year, I would not have been able to come up with anything. And if I can't come up with anything, how in the world would anyone else be able to?
I do love the gifts the two kids left at home gave me: bowls.

I love bowls. I gave away bowls filled with goodies myself this Christmas. I'm guessing what happened is that Cooper and Kayla went to TJ Maxx to get me gifts. Kayla probably informed Cooper that I like bowls. (I could be wrong here. Sometimes he surprises me with his gift giving.) She got me a large white bowl with pretty ridges, and he got me a small white chip and dip bowl with the price tag still on it.  Hers had French macarons, a candle, and a coloring book inside.  He included a Starbucks gift card inside the Anniversary card which he edited to make a Birthday card to accompany his bowl. Both of them wrote me sweet (and funny) notes.  I loved it.

(Side note: Speaking of gifts, here's one of my favorites from Christmas...
You probably can't tell too well from this photo, but it's a set of smallish glasses hand cut and upcycled (and adorably packaged!) by my sister from Topo Chico bottles. If you don't know Topo Chico and you like your water "with bubbles" you're missing out!  Check it out here. Such a fun gift!)

Back to Kayla's birthday inquiry...

"Hmmmm...maybe we can make a couple of special deliveries for my birthday? Maybe hand out some Dunkin Donuts gift cards to strangers like we planned to do with Sarah and Jessica a couple of weeks ago? Maybe take some food to some of the homeless folks downtown?" was my reply to Kayla's efforts to plan a special day, and she seemed to really like the idea. If you've read Ann Voskamp's new book, The Broken Way, you may recognize this birthday plan. Thoughts I'd had before, she'd actually put into practice, and so I was encouraged to be bold.

"It's all like a small match to me that could start an explosion. Could there be a better way to celebrate another birthday, than to break through the anxiety that keeps a life bound and small?

...learning the art of living is learning the art of giving...

For God so loved that He gave...

...For God so loved that He gave...Is there any word more powerful than giving? Thanksgiving. Forgiving. Care-giving. Life-giving. Everything that matters in living comes down to giving.

Giving is the true having," is what Spurgeon said." (p. 67)

The Sunday birthday approached quickly, and we really didn't have a set plan. A couple of prayers for ideas and opened doors for giving were lifted up on Friday and Saturday. For open eyes and hearts to see the answers, too.

Prayers the Lord answers quickly and specifically. I'm learning.

We pulled up to church at 8:30am, because Kayla has communion and kid duty, only to find Cindy, our worship leader stuck at the bottom of the incline to the parking lot.  She'd not been able to make it up due to snow and ice, and now her car is stalled and she's blocking traffic and calling AAA and there's a newborn in her back seat. So, God allowed us to give the gift of a baby transported to a warm spot and a mama with one less thing to worry about in the moment.

Up the church steps with baby we go, through the...snow.

Snow? Snow on the side church steps. Snow on the front church steps. Snow on the front walkway and sidewalk. 3 inches or so and not the way things are supposed to go.

Oh, but I prayed for this. Yeah, I prayed for gift giving opportunities.

And so now...the gift of snow removal is given to a congregation arriving any moment. First by two hastily recruited, yet very willing volunteers. Then given by me and the one who overheard me worry that the town gets upset about that front walk not being shoveled, not to mention our neighbors, and... "I'll take care of it," Brett said.

Him at one end. Me at the other. (Despite his protests.) We meet in the middle with a high five and grab the sand bucket so no one else slides down the incline and needs AAA.

There was...More baby holding. More communion cup filling. Diaper changing. Rides home.

All gifts we got to give on my birthday.

"Just what you wanted to do on your birthday...shovel snow." Jenna laughs.

"And change diapers," Cindy chimes in.

"Actually..." I say, "It kind of was..."

No, not kind of. It was what I wanted to do. I'd actually hoped, prayed, and planned for this.

And the answers just kept coming.

We got to give several other gifts that day, and I'll tell you about the rest of them on Friday.

They were a little scary, but so worth the small risk. Life changing, really.

"...there is no life worth living without generosity because generosity is a function of abundance mentality. And abundance mentality is a function of identity and intimacy.  When you know you are loved enough...you have abundantly enough to generously give enough. And that moves you into the enoughness of an even more intimate communion." (p. 68-69)

Yes.  Thanks, Ann.

Happy Birthday to me!

(Oh, and maybe on Friday, I'll have a better pic of those cute Topo Chico glasses!)