Letting Go*

Mt 14: 23-27

…he went up the mountain by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone, but by this time the boat, battered by the waves, was far from the land, for the wind was against them.

And early in the morning he came walking toward them on the sea. But when the disciples saw him walking toward them on the sea, they were terrified…and cried out in fear.

But immediately, Jesus spoke to them and said, “Take heart, it is I. Do not be afraid.” 

This boat I’m in

Battered by waves

Filled with saltwater foam

I can’t see my feet any more

Much less the shore

The wind is against me


Storm magnified

Grief till I’m beside


A distant shape

Shrouded in mist

Veiled in mystery


Do not be afraid.

Mt 14:28-32
“Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.”
He said, “Come.”

So Peter got out of the boat, started walking on the water, and came toward Jesus. But when he noticed the strong wind, he became frightened. Beginning to sink, he cried out “Lord, save me!”

Jesus immediately reached out his hand and caught him, saying, “You of little faith – why did you doubt?” When they got into the boat, the wind ceased.

Letting go of the side of the boat

Letting go of control

Of fear

Of assumptions

Of belief in miracles and

Walking on water


But the wind is strong

And my faith is small

And I fall.


We get back into the boat together


*photo credit Sarah@thestudiobythesea

Another grief, observed*

Last week doctors told our family “There’s nothing else we can do.”
When people ask how we’re feeling, finding words is excruciating.
Metaphors and mystery are all we have.

No words.
Phrases form and
Fall flat

Shards of glass
Pierce, slash, and tear
An open wound

Slammed into curb,
Knocked into neutral
The car unaffected
(or so it seems)
I keep driving

Waves of nausea
Froth under the surface
Crash against the shore
When least expected

I can’t breathe,
Drowning in pain
Suffocation a proclamation of my
Indignation at
the [in]justice of God.

I can’t sleep
but dream in color.
Nightmare with no end
Falling with no place to land
And wake in pain.

In-between diagnosis and despair
A thin blue line forestalls my
Descent into chaos
Fear in the rearview mirror.

Panic in the pandemic

Only prayer and pain in a
Quarantine of grief
Holding my heart in Your hand

*in recognition of the book by C.S. Lewis, A Grief Observed.

Remembering Dad

When I was in third grade, we moved into a Cape Cod house in Nashville, Tennessee. The magnolia tree begged to be climbed, mimosa blossoms scented the yard, and a sloping driveway went all the way around back to the basement sliding door. The basement included a den along with bedrooms for my brothers and me. Upstairs was a rented apartment accessed only by an outdoor stairway; the flat roof of the garage served as its porch. The formal living and dining areas were reserved mostly for Sunday dinner guests who entered the front door

But our family entered through a breezeway between kitchen and garage. The year dad remodeled that kitchen, I fell in love with home design watching the 1930s galley become a 1970s L-shaped wonder with avocado green appliances. At one end was the door to the formal dining room. At the other end were two doors; one led to the garage, and one to my dad’s study. That door was always open.

Dark paneling and carpet sucked the sunlight out of the study, window to the front yard notwithstanding. Along one wall, bookshelves extended ceiling-ward, and along the opposite wall was my dad’s desk. There were lower bookshelves next to the desk, and stacks of Bibles and commentaries across the top. And on a plastic mat in the middle of the floor was my dad’s office chair. Curved and smooth, the well-worn arms of tiger oak radiate strength and stability just like my dad. The base was a metal post with four swivel feet and it rocked backward. But dad always leaned toward his desk, eyes straining at the text as he hand wrote sermon notes for Sunday.

Decades later, I’m in another study of dad’s, helping them pack for a final move to Phoenix. Because I’ve moved quite a bit myself, I’m incredulous at some of the items my dad kept. What in the world was he thinking? The reason behind such choices is surely subconscious; we’d be hard-pressed to describe those selections to anyone else. But what we choose to keep communicates something about what we value.

A glimpse of our past; what we treasure most.

Dad’s desk was like a paper trail of the last five decades. I found pocket calendars dating to 1994; mail from siblings as well as high school classmates; programs from musical performances he was in or directed; ancestry notes on his family; term papers from high school. Of this last category, one was titled “That Inferior Feeling” and described the uncertainty of not-quite-measuring-up to (self-imposed?) standards. I imagine my dad at that young age and I wonder whose expectations he was trying to meet. I think of myself at that young age, and my dad making note of the one “B” on my report card of mostly “As.” Compassion and empathy increase as I realize that his parenting grew out of his own experience, with parents and teachers alike. We are all products of our past, sometimes broken, doing the best we can with what we’ve received.

One entire bookshelf was filled with 9×6 inch black notebooks, each one a three-ring binder of sermon notes, carefully typed outlines from his decades of preaching. In the mid-90s (when his old typewriter died but he hadn’t yet made the move to a personal computer) you see a shift to hand-written sermon notes, still in outline form. As the years progress (and his job becomes part-time) the hand-writing becomes more wobbly and the dates of sermons less frequent. As far as I can tell, he kept every single one, noting both date and location of its delivery. They are didactic in nature, not reflective or contemplative. Still, I struggle with whether or not to keep them as is, let them all go, or translate them all into an eventual festschrift of his preaching career. The notebooks serve as a window into his belief set, a time-worn record of his lived-out theology.

I always loved dad’s study. I loved the books, and the sound of my dad’s pen, and the atlas that rivaled the size of my younger brother. I loved the swivel chair so much it now sits in my own office where I write blog posts, research papers, and yes, sermons. My path to ministry has often been a winding and surprising journey. My daughter and I both followed in his footsteps as ministers, an ironic detail he missed in his commitment to a men-only church leadership model. We are shaped by our past, but we don’t have to be permanently defined by it. I think I honor him best when I follow God’s will, just as he did, even if he couldn’t understand the path I travel.

Maybe someday Dad’s chair will belong to my daughter. Maybe she’ll look through my books and files someday, wondering why I kept and wrote what I did. She’s walked a different road than mine, finding affirmation for her call through her college years, and ministry with a Chicago church plant. She’s also published articles, and walked through lots of open doors. Sometimes I think about ministry doors that slammed shut because of my gender. But the door to dad’s study was always open.

March Madness, Social Distance, and Doubting God.*

It’s been nearly nine months since a blog post.

It could be that the job I started in July has kept me pretty busy. (It has.)
It could be that an academic presentation eclipsed my blog writing. (It did.)
It could be that after waiting so long, it seems trivial to write when the world is turning upside down. (It does, and it is.)

But here we are.

Last year, friends told us 2018-19 was one of the hardest, longest, snowiest winters ever in Omaha. This year’s weather pales in comparison to last year’s. But oh my goodness, how long the winter has seemed. Not because there was a ton of snow, but because we’ve been counting hospital stays, logging miles, and waiting for test results for our granddaughter, Isla. And now, on top of our family struggles, the world’s gone mad about COVID-19, social distancing, and self-quarantine.
Uncertain times indeed.

We’re longing for spring…aching for the promise of Easter.

While our life has had twists and turns, it’s been pretty easy overall. Except for one scary car accident where both of our kids needed stitches, parenting was a cake walk for us. We always had a comfortable home, plenty to eat, and jobs we enjoyed. You know, it’s easy to be faithful and obedient when things go well. It’s easy to be lulled into complacency when life is easy. It’s easy to fall for a“good life” prosperity gospel when everything is going your way. Our first 34 years of marriage and parenting were pretty great.

And being a grandparent is even better. As Nana and Pops, we have the unique blessing of enjoying all the fun and little of the day to day stress. It’s easy to think that our good fortune is somehow related to our good behavior. Even the Psalmist agrees, saying “the Lord’s love for those who respect him continues forever and ever, and his goodness continues to their grandchildren” (103) Obviously, according to this author, God blesses those who obey the rules.

But last July we found out that our 3 year old granddaughter had cancer – Acute Myeloid Leukemia. Nothing really prepares you for news like that. It’s been hard to put words to my feelings over these past several months (another reason for not writing, perhaps). But I found some words now.

Anger. Confusion. Denial. Frustration. Doubt. Sadness. Despair. Uncertainty.

Obviously, this diagnosis either did not align with the Psalmist’s theology, or someone in my family must not be living right for this horrible thing to happen. How in the world could this be? Why my kids? Why my grandkid? Who wants to live in a world where 3 year olds get leukemia?

Job had some questions like that for God. In his response to unhelpful friends, he cries out  (Job 29:2) –  “I long for the months gone by, for the days when God watched over me…for the days when the Almighty was still with me and my children were around me”  

Like Job, I didn’t just feel like God was inattentive. I felt like God was absent.

Life was much simpler when our kids were little and the biggest problem we had was trying to get them to eat their broccoli at the dinner table. But as the song Here Again reminds us, we can’t go back to the beginning. And we can’t control what tomorrow will bring. But we can choose to trust God’s presence in the middle of the pain, in the middle of the doubt, in the middle of the suffering. 

We can choose to “let God’s love rise above every fear”.

Yet every day, if I’m honest with you, can feel like a battle. So many unanswered questions. So many unknowns. So many medications and treatments. I think of the verse in 2 Chronicles 20 where they cry – “We have no power to face this vast army that is attacking us. We don’t know what to do but our eyes are on you.”

We don’t know what type of treatment to choose,
but our eyes are on you, God.
We don’t know what the outcome of this battle will be,
but our eyes are on you, God.
We don’t know how to navigate this uncertainty,
but our eyes are on you, God.

When I think about this battle (against time, against leukemia, against doubt, against pandemic) I’m thankful for the God who goes before us and stands behind us. The song Defender begins with the line “You go before I know that you’ve even gone to win my war.”  Our eyes are on the God who is already there in the hospital, already there in the chemo in her bloodstream, already there in the room where a doctor will report her prognosis. Like Moses reminded the Israelites at the Red Sea, “The Lord will fight for you; you need only to be still.”

Be still.

“God is our refuge and our strength, an ever present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear…The Lord says – “Be still and know that I am God…” (Psalm 46)

The Lord Almighty is with us.

*I shared a version of this post as a worship testimony at our Mar 1st Access service at CCC (starts around 17 minutes in).

Surprise us, Lord!

Twice in the last month, I’ve been prayer circles where someone prayed “Surprise us, Lord!” It stood out, partly because I heard it twice, but also because I couldn’t remember ever praying for that, specifically.

Not that God never surprises me, as previous posts affirm. It just that I don’t remember asking for God for those surprises. Looking back, I was definitely surprised by our move to Omaha. Before then, I was surprised by a sense of deep loss during a season of transitions. But I can’t remember a time when I was any more surprised by God than I am today.

Over the last several months, as Harold and I have settled into life with our new church here in Omaha, I’ve reached out to leaders to brainstorm ways I might volunteer. We talked about how to equip people to serve, the need to mentor younger women, the possibility of teaching a class or training volunteers, ways to help guests become regular attenders, and many other passions – the possibilities are limitless! I love my work teaching and mentoring students, but also want to invest my gifts well in our local church.

Those conversations opened a door I never expected. About 7 weeks ago, our lead pastor asked me to consider applying for a position on his executive team. Harold and I prayed about it for 3 full weeks, and sought prayer and counsel from others who knew me well (across the country, and over the last 3 decades!) After another 3 weeks (and 7 interviews!) I was offered the position and will be joining the ministry staff at Christ Community Church on July 10.

Sometimes when you’re in the middle of the “every day,” you don’t see how dots connect, or how random experiences and incidental choices may set you up for the next chapter God has in mind. That has certainly been true for me. In May, I shared some Facebook reflections with the hashtag #MayMinistryMemory. In fact, if you look back at some of my posts over the last two months, the quotes, prayers, and songs I’ve shared bear testimony to the journey I’ve been on. It’s been a blessing to look back to see how God’s been moving, even when I wasn’t fully aware of the plan.

A few days after the initial phone call, I’d scheduled a day away for prayer and reflection. Early that morning I spotted a bald eagle, teaching her baby to fly. Since I was in retreat mode, I immediately started spiritualizing the experience. Could God be using this experience to speak into my situation?

Is this a sign from God that I should continue coaching and teaching my college students?

Or wait – is this a sign from God that I should lead and teach ministry staff, and mentor other women?

I’m not sure exactly how many moments passed before I laughed aloud and realized… God is the eagle parent.
You’re the one who needs to follow.

In 2016, I wrote “I am confident in my calling to equip God’s people for works of service so that the body of Christ is built up (Eph 4:12) but I do not yet know what doors might open for me to do that.” Even then, God was working, and now the door has opened wide. The same day I was away on retreat, Rachel Held Evans passed away. Her ministry inspired me to lean in to hard things, to obey courageously even in the midst of fear, to “rise up” as a woman of valor. But courage and confidence are not enough, and should not be based on our own strength or ability.

So I am confident that this will be the most challenging, stretching, and yet rewarding role I’ve been asked to fill. My responsibility and my privilege is to lean on God’s strength, even in my own weakness. And I am confident God’s faithfulness will see me through.

Remembering an Anniversary

I grew up in churches that didn’t practice anything “like” ordination, and where they didn’t have women serving in any official leadership capacity. (There were plenty of women leaders, nevertheless). In the 90s, we attended a church where women had a more visible presence in worship and in leadership. Later, through more than a decade of struggling through the biblical text and participating in discernment conversations in seminary, my view on ordination (as a practice) and women in ministry (as theology) continued to be shaped and formed.

Part of that time I was serving in ministry as a volunteer. Part of that time I was serving full-time on a ministry staff. But it wasn’t until being part of the family of God at Grandview Christian Church (Johnson City, TN) that I was invited to consider the possibility of an official “setting apart.” I can still remember the elders’ hands pressing onto my shoulders, the salty taste of tears that flowed freely, and the words of affirmation shared by so many church friends and seminary professors.

Often scripture reminds us to “remember what God as done.” The Israelites remembered with feast days and weekly Sabbath celebrations. The early church remembered as they celebrated the Eucharist. In these last two “anniversary” dates of my ordination, I’ve made it my practice to go back and remind myself of the words spoken over me (and my friend Brandon Waite, ordained the same day). Below are some of the words of blessing that are helping me “remember what God has done.”

from Michael L. Sweeney’s charge…
Ordination doesn’t change your personality. It doesn’t make you more pious than you were before. The fact that you are ordained won’t make people more anxious to open up to you or lean on your every word. Heads of state won’t call you in for spiritual guidance.

Add to that, our culture can’t possibly understand what ordination means. We’re all about the individual. We decide for ourselves what we’re going to be when we grow up. We choose what we’re going to study in college and where we’re going to work. We make our vocational choices on the basis of personal interest, period. None of this family-or-group-decision stuff about OUR future that we find in Asian and African cultures. The American way would have us lay hands on ourselves – or, at least, pull ourselves up by our own bootstraps.

So ordination just doesn’t fit the mold of our culture or our church movement. But, in spite of all that, it really does have a special place in the life of the church. Outsiders looking in may not get it. It defies analysis and precise definition.

…the decision to ordain someone does not belong to the person being ordained. We often think it does. After all, most of us who have been ordained asked to be considered for it. But this isn’t the same thing as applying for a job.

When you’re called to ministry, you are called to the impossible. No one is really qualified for vocational ministry. No amount of preparation will ever be sufficient to make you successful. The amount of skill you have will fall short. The results of our labors are always out of our control. In fact, part of the message that Paul wanted to get across to the church in Corinth was that he was way out of his depth, but that God seemed to be OK with that. In fact, it was a good thing, since Paul’s weakness was an opportunity to show the strength of God. And so it is with us.

In Acts 13, setting Saul and Barnabas apart was God’s idea, and it was communicated to the leaders of the church in Antioch because they were deeply involved in worship, prayer and fasting. They were connected to God and attuned to his will. And so today, by their willingness to ordain you, the leaders at Grandview are saying that they believe it is God’s will that you be set apart for ministry. It’s not just their idea of a nice thing to do. But it’s because, through their prayer and worship, they have been led by the Spirit of God to call you in this way.

From my daughter Elizabeth’s prayer…
Like Paul, knowing he was likely to face many trials and hardships, may Brandon and Dawn face the unknown and say, “I consider my life worth nothing to me, if only I may finish my course and the ministry I received from the Lord Jesus Christ – to testify to the gospel of God’s grace.” Holy Spirit, may Dawn and Brandon hear your voice over and above the voices of this world. Grant them with your wisdom, courage, and discernment as they continue to follow your lead in vocational ministry.

From my friend Theresa’s prayer…
May this body, Grandview Christian Church, sustain and support Brandon and Dawn in their work, whether they minister among us or be sent out from us. Let us offer encouragement and instruction when needed and love and grace always.Guide their steps. Invigorate their spirits. Fill them with wisdom. Remind them of the responsibility and privilege they have accepted in being set apart as your servants

Many church leaders (and denominations) have widely varying practices regarding ordination in general, or the ordination of women in particular. This is not an invitation to debate its theology or practice. Rather, today’s post is a celebration of an anniversary, one that causes me to both look back at what God has done, and look forward to what God can and will do through obedient servants. I thank God for the privilege, and pray that I may finish my course and the ministry I received from the Lord Jesus Christ – to testify to the gospel of God’s grace.

Solo Deo Gloria!

God’s sense of humor

In this anniversary month of many ministry moments, including our call to Omaha last year, I’m sharing again the story of how we laugh with God along the way. (Originally posted in May of 2018 on the old site)

Have you ever laughed at God?
I have. In May of 2011, my husband and I were moving Elizabeth into her house for the summer. She was staying in Johnson City for a ministry internship after her first year at Milligan, and we were getting ready to head back home to Indianapolis. That spring I was considering graduate school and we had visited Emmanuel while we were in Tennessee. We both loved the area, but I wasn’t sure if a residential MDIV program would work for me, or how we could afford it while Elizabeth was in college. We raved at the beautiful mountain scenery and talked about the possibility of someday settling here. I remember saying “Man, I love it here, I hate to think of waiting 3 more years till Elizabeth finishes school.” At which point my husband said “Well, you never know what might happen, but I’m sure God will make it clear to us if and when we’re supposed to move.” As we came across a hill to a (literal) crossroads, this truck (pictured above) was parked in the neighborhood directly ahead of us.

We laughed a long time.
It was not the last time God would amuse us with an ironic hint at what was to come. When we got home there was a CD of new worship music that our minister wanted us to learn for praise team. The fourth song in was called “Moving Forward” by Israel Houghton. Later that summer, I was invited to speak for a women’s retreat in Indianapolis and the theme was, “A Time to Move.” I had been praying for a while about how God might use my leadership and teaching gifts in the church where I currently served. But it seemed like everywhere we looked, we were reminded that when we open ourselves to God’s leading, God often answers prayers in surprising and unexpected ways.

Of course, some of you know how this story turned out because we’ve been living in Johnson City since August of 2012. We laughed at God’s extravagant grace and provision often over the next several months. A full tuition scholarship. Selling the house in two days. Surprise payment of travel expenses. Generous gift card to stock our pantry. Managing our daughter’s college bills while being under-employed. The joy and delight of a “secret Santa” during our first Tennessee Christmas. We laughed at the realization that every time we threw our hands up in frustration or despair, God was ready to clasp those hands and laugh, saying “Hold on! I still have another plan!”

We’re not the first God-followers, of course, to be amused at God’s promises or provision.
Then one of [the messengers of God] said, “I will surely return to you about this time next year, and Sarah your wife will have a son.”
Sarah was listening at the entrance to the tent, which was behind him. Abraham and Sarah were already very old, and Sarah was past the age of childbearing. So Sarah laughed to herself as she thought, “After I am worn out and my lord is old, will I now have this pleasure?”
Then the Lord said to Abraham, “Why did Sarah laugh? … Is anything too hard for the Lord?”
Gen 18:10-14

We can’t really fault Sarah for this incredulous response – she’d already been waiting more than 20 years! She knew about God’s promise to give them a son (Gen 15 and 17). She even tried to help the process along by stepping in with her own plan (Gen 16). So here she stands, at the door of the tent, hearing the promise repeated once more. Of course she laughs! And then she settles in to wait and see that indeed, nothing is too hard for God. Her laughter is contagious when Isaac is born and she says “God has brought me laughter, and everyone who hears about this will laugh with me. (Gen 21:6)

We’ve continued to laugh with joy at God’s provision over the last six years. Harold got a good sales job and we found a wonderful church family to serve alongside. I completed my MDiv in 2016. We put down roots, buying a house and investing in relationships – a community of friends who laugh with us in celebration when God shows up and answers prayer in unexpected ways. After graduation, I was equipped and educated, ready for whatever God had in store. I claimed complete faith and trust in waiting for God’s provision.

But then, like Sarah, I made some assumptions and put some plans into play to “help God out” with the timing and resolution to my season of waiting. I sent out resumes to some local jobs I thought might fit. I volunteered my time and networked for connections. And yet, every door I approached remained tightly shut. Don’t misunderstand – there have been some surprising open doors as well, including community theater and teaching a writing class. I don’t feel my past two years have been wasted – they’ve just not been invested the way I thought they would be. “Hold on!” God says. “I still have another plan.” God often answers prayers in surprising and unexpected ways.

Because God has quite a sense of humor.

Part two –

Throwback to July of 2014. My daughter and I were attending the North American Christian Convention in Indianapolis. We were in the hotel lobby eating breakfast and I saw the Academic Dean from Nebraska Christian College, whom I’d met through a conference a couple of years previous. We shared a bit of small talk as I walked by his table and then he asked the question, “Do you think we might convince you to move to Nebraska to teach in our Children’s Ministry program?”

I laughed out loud. (It’s usually no big secret as to what I think or feel)

Mark took it in stride as I gave him a few clarifying, and emphatic, comments as to WHY I wouldn’t consider a move to Nebraska.

  • #1 – SNOW
  • #2 – Tornadoes
  • #3 – We JUST moved to (and expected to retire in) Tennessee.
  • #4 – We LOVE our church.

I was only halfway through my residential seminary program, anyway, so it was not time to move. But I probably shouldn’t have laughed.

Over the next few years, I began to have opportunities to teach at Nebraska Christian College. Their focus on ministry training and “creating church leaders” resonated well with me. Because of this focus, they offer one-week “intensive” classes for students often involved in off-campus residencies. In both 2015 and 2016 I taught an August intensive in Children’s Ministry. Then last spring, they had a faculty position open up and I was able to join the team part-time, teaching both ministry and Bible classes.

About the same time, the dean revisited his earlier question as to whether I would be interested in relocating. This time I didn’t laugh, but knowing my husband’s reticence to move to Johnson City in 2012 (and how he was finally feeling settled here!), I assumed that he would nix the idea completely. In other words, I hoped to not have to be the one to decide, and figured my husband would just say NO at the outset. After all, he’d moved to Tennessee for my education/career goals – it was only fair he be the one to decide if and when we ever (which I didn’t expect!) moved anywhere again.

But he didn’t say no.

We spent the last year praying about the possibility. Assessing his current job, and changes that were happening in his profession. Becoming acquainted with the culture and faculty at Nebraska Christian. Realizing that flights to visit family in Phoenix and Chicago are half as much from Omaha as from Tri-Cities. Exploring Google Maps to note that our grandkids are 6 hours closer to Omaha than here.

That might have been what tipped the scales for him.

For me, the decision was gradual and painful. My own reticence was based on all the same reasons I gave in 2014; none of those have changed. But I have come to realize that when you follow God and walk through doors that are opened to you, you aren’t promised “comfortable” or “easy.” We certainly aren’t promised good weather! (This year’s endless winter, in both Tennessee and Nebraska, has brought that point home clearly!)  I absolutely love teaching, and am incredibly impressed with both the people and the programs at Nebraska Christian College. I’m well aware that higher ed jobs are few and far between. Add to that the reality of my being (1) a woman (2) in the Restoration Movement tradition (3) who wants to teach Bible and ministry classes (4) who doesn’t yet have a Doctoral degree, limits the opportunities quite a bit. Even so, I didn’t go searching for this opportunity. It came searching for me.

For more than 15 years, I’ve prayed that God would use my gifts, experience, and education to equip others for ministry. That has been my passion since 2003, from the personal ministry mission statement I wrote for one of my earliest seminary classes. God often answers prayers in surprising and unexpected ways. A couple of years ago, I would never have imagined I’d say “We’re moving to Omaha!” But now we are, and I’m incredibly thankful that God has opened a door for me to teach full time at Nebraska Christian College in the fall.

Please pray for us during this transition. Knowing we have to leave our church and say goodbye to dear friends is heartbreaking. There are many details to pull together. But nothing is too hard for God, and we’re excited to see where this next chapter of our lives will lead. And knowing how God was faithful through our previous move gives us great hope and grateful courage for this upcoming one. Just like Sarah, we trust a God who loves surprises…and laughs with us.

Solo Deo Gloria!

Women of Valor, Rise Up!

I had the privilege to meet Rachel Held Evans not long after moving to Tennessee, and not long after reading her second book A Year of Biblical Womanhood. To say she’s had an impact on my personal growth and professional choices would be an understatement. I’m thankful to have known her, mostly through her writing, and want to honor her legacy with a brief reminder for others – wives, daughters, fellow bloggers, and seminary friends – that we still have work to do. Eshet chayil, Rachel.

Rachel, Woman of Valor, Rise Up!
Come to me, I will give you rest
You have done well, good and faithful servant.
You have expanded our vision of “biblical womanhood”

Women of Valor, Rise Up!
The world needs your hands.
Like Ruth, care for the aging.
Like Lydia, practice hospitality.
Like Tabitha, faithfully serve.

Women of Valor, Rise Up!
The world needs your hearts.
Like Esther, stand up for justice.
Like Mary of Bethany, pour out extravagance.
Like the Widow of Zarephath, offer all that you have.

Women of Valor, Rise Up!
The world needs your faith.
Like Martha, claim the resurrection.
Like Hannah, pray without ceasing.
Like the Samaritan woman, put down your water jar, and testify.

Women of Valor, Rise Up!
The world needs your voice.
Like Priscilla, teach with authority.
Like Deborah, lean into leadership.
Like Phoebe, and so many others, work hard for the Lord.

Women of Valor, Rise Up!

it is finished…

By this early morning hour (around 7:30 a.m. as I write this) on that Friday long ago, Jesus had already been denied by Peter, questioned by the high priest, and turned over to Pilate. The mocking and flogging was still to come, and (in contrast to the weather I see shaping up outside my window), the day would be long and dark.

The gospel accounts vary in some of the details – partly because even among eye witnesses, perspectives can vary widely. But sometimes the gospel accounts vary because the authors themselves wanted to craft their story in a way that connects with a particular audience, or because they had a specific theological goal in mind.

For instance, only Luke mentions the conversation with the thief and Jesus telling him they would be together in paradise (Lk 23:43). This, combined with Jesus’ emphasis on forgiveness for those “who do not know what they are doing” (Lk 23:34) reminds Luke’s (mostly Gentile) hearers that Jesus’ mission is one of grace and inclusion.

John includes the conversation between Jesus, his mother Mary, and the disciple John asking they take care of one another as family (Jn 19:26-27). John then mentions Jesus’ statement “I am thirsty” (Jn 19:28). Both of these statements bring Jesus’ full humanity into view, even in the context of his divinely appointed death.

Both Matthew and Mark include only one statement by Jesus, his comment in Aramaic, Eloi eloi, lama sabachthani, translated “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Mt 27:46, Mk 15:34). This quote from Psalm 22 has often led theologians to focus on God’s abandonment of Christ. (Think of the hymn “How Deep the Father’s Love for Us” with its line the Father turns his face away). Mark’s gospel suggests this happened at 3 p.m. (which interestingly, corresponds to the Jewish “second hour of prayer,” called minchah, which means gift-offering).

This connection to Psalm 22 brings me to my point. I’ve heard others teach about the fulfilled prophecies of Psalm 22, some of which are intentionally called to mind by these gospel writers.
vs 1 – “why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew and Mark)
vs 6 – “scorned by everyone, despised…all who see me, mock me…” (Mk 15:18-20, Mk 15:29-32))
vs 8 – “let the Lord rescue him!” (Lk 23:35)
vs 14 – “I am poured out like water” (Jn 19:34)
vs 15 – “my mouth is dried up…my tongue sticks to the roof of my mouth” (Jn 19:28)
vs 16 – “they pierce my hands and my feet” (all four gospels)
vs 18 – “they cast lots for my garment” (Mt 27:35, Mk 15:24)

What’s fascinating to me is that scholars suggest that when the gospel writers quote from the Psalms, they expect their hearers to remember the entire Psalm in context. These Psalms were used as prayer in weekly synagogue services and would have been familiar. So their focus is not on “why have you forsaken me?” but on the full promise of God’s faithfulness. as seen in the following verses from Psalm 22:
vs 10 – “from birth you have been my God”
vs 19 – “You are my strength; come quickly to help!”
vs 22 – “I will declare your name to my people…I will praise you”
vs 24 – “[God] has not hidden his face…but has listened to his cry for help”
vs 27 – “All the ends of the earth will remember and turn to the LORD”
vs 28 – “dominion belongs to the LORD and he rules over the nations”
vs 30 – “future generations will be told about the Lord…”
vs 31 – “…they will proclaim his righteousness”

Finally, we come to John’s final statement of Jesus, “it is finished!” (Jn 19:30). Jesus completed the work God asked him to do. (Jn 17:4)
There is nothing more to be done. Jesus gift is enough, and we can confidently proclaim his righteousness with the Psalmist,
“He has done it!” (Ps 22:31)

His righteousness becomes our righteousness. “In [Christ], we might become the righteousness of God.”(2 Cor 5:21)
It is finished.

Opening Doors for Women*

While in seminary, I helped plan a chapel program with the theme “Opening Doors: How Men can Create Welcoming Environments for Women in Ministry.” The idea grew out of the commonly held, chivalrous view that men should open doors for women. While there are a variety of views on whether or not that act is still necessary or appropriate, I don’t have a dog in that fight. If I get to a door first, I will probably open it for you out of common courtesy, whether you are male or female. But I do find it ironic that men are often expected to open doors for women physically, but in other avenues of life (including church ministry contexts) “it ain’t necessarily so.”

No matter your church context – whether your church ordains women as ministers of the gospel, whether they involve women as preachers or only in potlucks, whether they draw the line at eldership, or grant full equality in role and function – there are steps men can take to help women feel valued, welcomed, and included. Here are some ways you can “open doors” for women in ministry.

***Choose language carefully. Words and phrases are culturally conditioned. Sometimes words that don’t seem like a big deal to you come across as hurtful, demeaning, or dismissive to the women in the room. Choose to rise above cultural expectations and use language (consistently) that uplifts, encourages, and affirms women. Call out those in your circles that use off-color jokes, gender stereotypes, or otherwise demeaning language toward women. If you use a masculine metaphor for God in the worship service (Matt 6:9; Ex 15:3), be willing to include a feminine one as well (Deut 32:11, 18, Matt 23:37).

*** Be willing to sit in the discomfort of your privilege pressing hard against the reality of oppression. White male privilege can blind you to this reality in women. The fact that you feel right or comfortable is not license to assume that those who claim oppression, marginalization, and vulnerability are wrong. Listen to their stories and concerns. Recognize the tendency for privilege to blind you to others’ perspectives. Pray for humility and teachability.

***Show intentionality in whom you invite to speak, read, sing, and pray. You can choose to limit white male access on the platform because of your commitment to diversify the participant line up. There will always be MORE experienced men available, because men have been groomed from a young age to participate vocally in the service. That doesn’t mean women’s voices have less value. It means they have more often been silenced.

***Allow the silenced to have their own voice. Don’t just be the “voice for the voiceless.” Pass the mic to others. A different perspective is always valuable. Invite women into conversations about vision, leadership, perspectives, curriculum, a teaching series, church-wide changes, and pastoral care. When you implement ideas that they helped develop, give them public credit for their contributions.

***Pray for boldness to break the status quo, and the willingness and wisdom to know how and when to do so. If only white men have power (for instance, all elders at a church), they have the most ability and responsibility to make a change. Be willing to make changes that empower all members to join God in kingdom building work.

*** Accept your responsibility, without assuming you have ALL the responsibility. Women have to lean into their opportunities and follow God’s leading, whether or not the men in their lives open doors for them to go through. God often opens doors for women, regardless of men’s complicity or agreement. When God clearly opens a door for women, don’t stand in the doorway blocking God’s will.

***Honor each person’s uniqueness and giftedness. Our embodied reality includes gender, but that is not all it includes. Not all men are leaders. Not all women are nurturers. Not all men are teachers. Not all women like to cook. Honor those inherent differences in order to allow each person to realize their full potential in God’s image.

***Normalize women’s involvement at all levels. Don’t make it a big deal when you do invite a woman to speak or participate on a leadership team. Don’t treat her as if she is an anomaly, and you are making special concessions for her participation. Simply include them equally, and according to their gifts and calling.

***Offer your presence and be willing to dialogue with women who have experienced closed doors in ministry. Your presence is often more important than your words. Your presence communicates “You matter to me. We are all made in God’s image. You are not alone.” Your willingness to dialogue shows an openness to learning and growing. Your willingness to dialogue may be the reason she stays at your church, even if some doors remain closed.

***Choose faith over fear. Years of cultural conditioning, misguided worldviews, and sex-saturated media have led men and women to fear each other instead of forming deep friendships. Choose to see women as your sisters, made in the same image of God that you are. Choose to believe that the Holy Spirit can and will empower you to have healthy relationships with the opposite sex, instead of avoiding all contact with women over fear of temptation. Choose to be in deep community with both men and women as part of the image of God manifest in the church.

During the previously mentioned chapel, many women shared how men had opened doors for them in ministry…some told stories of how they had not. In every ministry context, there are dozens of untold stories, and women who need safe space to tell them. One video published by the United Methodist church addresses some of the oppression, frustration and even abuse women in their ministries have experienced. Their denominational policy affirms the common humanity and equal worth of women, along with the value of including women on decision-making teams. But church leaders have realized that their practice did not always align with their theology. As they shared stories of women in their denomination, they remind us

“Healing begins with first acknowledging the injuries. Faithfully hearing the stories of our sisters begins the healing process because we cannot mend what we are unaware is broken.”

When you become aware of what is broken, you have the power to assist in the healing.

What doors will you open for your sisters today?

*this post originally appeared as a winner in the 2017 Junia Project blog contest at https://juniaproject.com/men-open-doors-for-women/

*for another perspective on the “wide open doors” some complementarians claim to offer, read Marg Mowczko’s article “Wayne Grudem on What Women Should do in the Church” found here:

The featured image is a painting by Heather Hodges Heflin and its story can be found at https://heatherhodgesart.com/collections/originals/products/copy-of-the-open-door
The door can only be opened from the inside.

PS – This painting now hangs in my office, next to my ordination certificate and graduate diplomas.