Category: Blog (Page 1 of 5)

Sleeping On Sinai

Swaying to the lollop of the camel’s stride, again awe and wonder expand in my chest, joy-full to bursting.

I am in Egypt.

Riding a camel.

About to hike Sinai by moonlight.

And sleep under the stars.

How is this my life?!

Forty-five minutes later it was time to dismount, which was no small feat–camels kneel by bending their front knees first which can send you careening forward in the saddle if you’re not expecting it. Most of the men in the group, and not a few women, swore this would be their first and last time riding one these gangly, mangy, snaggle-toothed beasts.

               Indiana George

“We’re not into ‘square-inch’ here,” George reminds us. He had hoped to take us up to St. Catherine, as he has with other groups, but for reasons that were never quite clear, “God didn’t give us Catherine, but this will be good.” (That part was a modified version of his favorite mantra, repeated throughout the trip: “We’ll see what God gives.” I’ve repeated it a thousand times since I’ve been home.) The square-inch part I appreciate. Truth is, we don’t know exactly which peak is the biblical Sinai. St. Catherine is a monastery established in 565AD that marks a potential spot. Another is Jebel Musa, the “Mountain of Moses” which is apparently now a tourist destination full of souvenir shops. The purpose of this hike, and much of the rest of the trip, was not to say, “I’ve been to the exact spot…” but instead to be given eyes to see a clearer picture. This is what the Sinai mountain range looks like, this is the type of terrain trekked by Moses and the Israelites of the Exodus.

Our eyes adjust to the darkness as the sun sets behind the saw toothed ridges, and a full silver moon illuminates our ascent. We hike for hours, my stomach growling as we near the top. Down one last sheet of steep stone we tuck into a Bedouin camp for the night, where dinner preparations over the open campfire are well underway. We slurp hot soup and tea, then receive a portion of rice and some sort of what was maybe a curry? I don’t remember, I was too hungry to care.

Full and sleepy, I pull on all the layers I’d tied to my pack. I’m always paranoid of being too cold, and the temperature had dropped considerably with the elevation and hours. A friend, Katie, and I grab a couple thin mats and thick, rough camel blankets (I’d discover at some point during the night mine was full of sand) and choose a spot near the experienced backpackers, mooching off what we assume is their strategic placement. I pop a melatonin for good measure.

                            Photo cred: Nico B.

My eyes open sometime in the dark, still covered by my knit beanie. Pushing it up my forehead, I am met with a spectacular swath of stars. Glimmering, swimming across my field of vision in every direction. Smiling, I slip back into sleep.

Day breaks over the red rocks and I sputter sand, sneezing and snorting into my tissues. Giggling over my apologies for apparently having snored all night. Laughing hard, doubled over as all of us girls try to use the “ladies’ room” which was “cut by the hand of God.” I can see how wilderness life pushes people together. You can’t help but bond as you share tips for best practices to not pee on your boots–or worse.

We hike up a bit higher to watch the rest of the sunrise over the terra cotta cliffs.  Our devotional time begins, as it does every morning of the trip, with reciting the Shema, first in Hebrew then in English. George teaches about the meaning of aliyah, the Hebrew root of my name, Aleah. It means “to ascend.” Aliyah is a pilgrimage word and it’s always uphill. The ascent works our legs and our lungs as we live and breathe to a heavy Yah-weh rhythm. His teaching lines up with my experience.

As dreamy as the morning has been, as the whole trip has been thus far, I’m still not quite sure why I’m here. I’m glutted with gratitude, but, and I know this is silly, but I’m looking for a sign. Surely Sinai would have been a great time to give it to me. It worked for Moses. I’m hoping for a burning bush, some divinely heavy-handed hint as to how all this comes together for me. Not just the why-I’m-here-on-Sinai, but the ontological why am I here on this planet?! These opportunities that stalk me start feeling selfish. I sense I’m on the edge of something new and I’m afraid. As we know, fear is my catch-all emotion.

Did God’s people wonder along the same paths? As they followed the pillars of cloud and fire, did they question their course? Not just grumble, as I am also prone to do, but try to peer through the cloud, past the brilliance for a glimpse of the Promised Land? “I think there’s something about the evil one who wants to give us stuff before we’re ready,” George had told us on the first day. It’s folly to be given something early if you aren’t mature enough for it to be useful. In God’s timing is wisdom.

Little did I know then, I was about to walk into a lesson that would change my view of the Promised Land forever.

 

This post is second in a series highlighting some touch points from my recent trip with Under the Fig Tree Ministries. “Out of Egypt” is the first post, and I guess I’ll have to commit to writing at least one more since I haven’t actually succeeded in getting us out of Egypt yet!

 

Out of Egypt

“Come, let’s go,” says the tall, sixty-something year old Dutchman as he strides off the bus, while the rest of us gather our gear and clamor off behind him. It’s only the second day of the trip and already the voice of our leader, George, has imprinted his invitation on my brain. We’d arrived in Luxor on a chartered flight, landing against the backdrop of the oversize desert sun dipping behind the cracked, craggy hills.  I reach for my hat as the dry blazing heat radiates, sweat running down my sides under my dry-fit shirt the moment I’m out of reach of the bus’ cool air conditioning.

This is the kind of heat that pushes you past vanity. You’ll wear the dumb hat, the zip off shorts-pants, the backpack with the water bladder, past the point of caring about trivial things like personal style preferences. You’ll bless God as you gulp the salty electrolytes and slather your skin with sunblock. “You are investments, not tourists,” George reminds us–again. “Tourists stay on the air conditioned bus and drive up to tourist destinations. Investments…” I don’t remember what exactly he said next, but from experience that blank could be filled with: sweat, hike, put in the work, take the road less traveled, and/or generally hit their 10,000 steps by lunch.

We never knew what to expect when the bus came to a stop, only having the vaguest of itineraries beforehand. This was intentional. Everything, we would discover over the course of two weeks, was intentional. By the end we’d follow George’s invitation to come and follow off the bus, then look around for the highest peak, the most unreasonable-looking hike, and certain assumptions about the day were made.

I loved every minute.

We’d already taken a boat across the Nile this particular morning, and stood in a field where George had knelt and grabbed a fist-full of dark soil into his tanned, weathered hand. We’d watched amazed as he poured water into it and the soil soaked it up so that not even a drop of wasted water slipped through his fingers. In an ancient world of drought and famine, Egypt was a miracle-land. How had I never noticed before that in the Old Testament, almost without exception, Egypt has food? The annual flooding of the Nile, leaving behind a fat layer of rich silty soil, was life. This wouldn’t have been seen by the ancient peoples in terms of lucky geography or environmental superiority, but as directly connected to their gods. Egypt had many, and by the ancient assessment they must be powerful to offer such provision.

Didn’t get a pic from that moment, but you can see the fertility in the foreground here with the wilderness behind.

As we follow George toward the ruins of a mortuary temple constructed of stones of mind-bending mass, he makes an abrupt stop. Dramatically he points (epically, some might say) to the left from whence we’d come. The land stretches out before the temple’s ceremonial gate, lush with green fields and dark dirt. Then he turns us around and we’re confronted with a landscape opposite from our former view in every way. Dry, desert plateaus rise up, barren of vegetation, rooted in the surrounding desert.

To the left, fertility. To the right, wilderness. You can see the clear demarcation between the two. You were either in Egypt, in the fertility, or you were out. There was no in-between. As I looked at that almost-martian landscape of certain death, I was convicted that I’d been much too hard on my spiritual forebears. I imagined Moses pointing toward those hills as the way out of slavery, and everything in me instinctively rejected that trajectory.

Now I understand the grumbling for Egypt, for food, for fertility. I can see how enticing even slavery would be compared to what by all appearances is a never ending sun-scorched wasteland. The oppressive heat made me obsessive about having both a full pack of water and a bottle of electrolytes on me at all times. Could I imagine walking my children out into that unknown, trusting that something better awaited us?

The moment upended me. It was all upside-down and backward, this plan of God. Here is the sure thing, the booming economy, the fertile fields, the technology. Egypt is organized and impressive and by any measure a successful superpower. And it’s also the land of slavery and idols and death.

There, out in the wilderness, in the barrenness, under the scorching sun and over the dry peaks. There, where there is every appearance of death and certain destruction. There is life. There is the place where God’s people would learn to trust their God. There they would fail and circle around and try again. There they were free from their bondage, every need met by miracles. There was their training ground for the Promised Land… but I would learn more about that a couple days from now on Sinai.

Today, I shake myself from my reflection and tap my quick thoughts into my iPhone. Picking up my pace to the beckoning of Joel, George’s back of the pack lackey, calling “faster is better than slower” and “flat and fast, people” I weave my way toward the front as we near the Ramesseum. I don’t want to miss a moment.

 

More travelouge posts to come. Well, I can promise at least one more. We’ll see what God gives for the rest. 🙂 If you’re interested in checking out a trip for yourself, I can highly recommend my experience with Under the Fig Tree Ministries. For upcoming tours check out their website: underthefigtree.org

 

Strong Moms And Daughters

Start Naming Strength While They’re Young

The outfit I have chosen is discarded in the clothes-swamp floor of her room. Jeans and a sensible t-shirt strewn among sparkly dresses, floral skirts, and chunky sequined sweaters. I know this walking down the hallway before I even enter. “We are going to be late,” my voice rises in warning as my footsteps fall heavy on the hardwood floors.

“Done!” She shouts, breathless, as she flings open her door. A whirl of bright mismatched colors, patterns, and textures rush past in a blur. She grabs her red faux leather Minnie Mouse backpack with the giant red bow, then reaches for her hot pink lunch box on the kitchen counter before stuffing it inside her bag. Sighing, I follow her out to the car where her siblings are impatiently waiting for this five year old fashionista. Today I can smirk at the sleeveless sky blue tulle dress she is wearing over denim capris and under a bejeweled pink and yellow long sleeve emblazoned with a unicorn.

Mornings are orchestrated chaos in our home with four kids. The first time she came out wearing a gaudy getup, the second week of kindergarten, I had her march back into her room to change. Without giving much thought to it, this became an almost daily ritual: she ignores what I set out for her, I send her back to her room to change. We will have no divas in this household. …

For the rest of this story, check out my guest post for Beth Bruno’s Strong Moms & Daughters series– and be sure to check out her upcoming release A Voice Becoming: A Yearlong Mother-Daughter Journey into Passionate, Purposed Living (Hachette, Jan 2018) while you’re there! https://www.bethbruno.org/blog/startnamingstrengthwhileshesyoung

And, no, I was not exaggerating: 

A Lament for Little Years

I have been avoiding writing this week, this summer, and my soul feels sick, anemic in lack.

My youngest started kindergarten on Wednesday. I read the last words on the last page of this chapter of little years, and have been staring at the blank space beneath ever since. It’s good and right and he shed no tears–and neither did I.

I wanted to. Thought I might. I could feel the crumbling edges, but I braced myself against the torrent. In my pride, in the old ache for safety in self control, I walked into a confusing, emotionally charged situation and I came out numb.

The numb has lasted. I have sought it scrolling, hours of scrolling, endless scrolling, scrolling until my eyes would bleed tears but not feelings. Scrolling that kept me insulated underwater, going through motions dulled and muted by the pressure.

For a dozen years, as of two days ago on the anniversary of the fruit of that first thirty six hours’ labor, two weeks after my twenty first birthday, my world has orbited around at least one of the four bright stars in the Marsden galaxy. Or maybe they are more like my moon, affecting and directing the tides of my life. Either way, I felt the heavens quake and I chose to bury my head in the sand for fear of being consumed by the vacuum of empty space in the empty seats in the rear-view mirror.

I missed it. I know I did. I closed my eyes and grit my teeth and held my breath and covered my ears and now the silence shrieks. Golden afternoons for training wheeled bike rides and playdoh and pretend rend me with their accusations, mixed with my own howling lament. It all ended just as I was finding my way, just as I was learning to open my eyes and arms to it.

Oh God forgive me! Was I faithful with this talent? With these little years now cast at Your feet? I  burn with regret, with this little-year lament.

But I am not consumed.

May faithfulness mark the next chapter, mark me: more heroine less damsel in distress. Not by working harder, faster, longer, stronger, but by increased dependence, confidence, open to experience in the present tense. To walk wounded, grieved and grateful. To take the hand offered me and step off the edge into the New. Father, catch me on eagles’ wings, direct me with great updrafts of Your Spirit.

You heard my three a.m. cries when I flung accusations at You in droopy-eyed still dark hours’ rage. If You are so awesome, so omnipotent, then make this baby sleep! Get on with it and do the impossible already! Don’t You care about me even a little bit in these little years?!

God, You met me in the fire.

Fearful, I fought to not be consumed, struggled to hold on to my dragon-scale armor, even as each scale floated toward our low ceilings in tissue paper flame leaving me cloaked in embers and ashes. Surely even in this death the susurrus of resurrection gather like a great wind to blow off the still smoldering ash to reveal a new thing. A new me.

I am raw and trembling.

I was not consumed.

Marked by the scars of the piercing of the little years–even Jesus kept His, gloried in them–may these wounds remind me to open my eyes my arms to the present. To open myself to the burning, to the violence of letting go.

Emotions in Mason Jars

I’ve had an emotional couple weeks.

My dear friend and mentor, my Moses in Red Heels, is moving to Texas. We attend a beautiful send-off BBQ for her and her husband. Our church family gathers on a wide green lawn, eating brisket underneath a gigantic oak tree. I wrote a speech that was providentially interrupted by a call to move cars from the orchard due to oncoming tractor traffic–my words kept catching in my throat. I shed some tears that evening, but I hate crying in public. Instead I wake up crying in bed the next morning.

The next week my youngest graduates from preschool. This has not been an emotional event for me any of the other three times I’ve experienced it with my children. I’ve been more like, “Yes! One kid closer to everyone in full-day school!” I’ve been looking forward to this for the last dozen years. So it catches me completely off-guard when, in a sudden spontaneous burst of inspiration, I decide to pop into the office of the preschool director to thank her for the years of faithful service and to let her know what a blessing this institution has been to our family. The thank you comes out just fine, but then when I try to explain that this is my last preschooler the words pool in my eyes. She smiles knowingly and gets up from her desk to embrace me. I feel as if I am watching the scene from the hallway, a sappy moment in a movie of someone else’s life.

Then last week I receive a call that I had given up on receiving years ago. I nearly miss it because I never answer numbers I don’t recognize, and who would be calling me from Grand Rapids, Michigan? Right before it goes to voicemail I remember my processing application and answer, but I had figured I’d receive an email about that… On the other end of the line is an admissions guy from Calvin Theological Seminary informing me that I have been accepted into the distance program to pursue a Master of Divinity degree. I have been accepted under a special provision since I don’t have a bachelor’s degree. I am stunned numb with joy.

“Holy cow!” Verbatim, those were my first words to mark this sacred journey. Followed by, “Wow… Thank you… Wow… Man… Thanks… Wow…” I filled all the silence with word-sounds to the point he graciously let me know that I didn’t need to say anything. Thank God he gave me permission to stop saying nothings! It gave my brain enough time to catch up with my life.

*****

I tend to interact with my emotions as if someone else is having them. I take these charged-up experiences and shove them into individual mason jars, screw the lid on tight, and store them on a shelf in my heart to be safely studied from a comfortable distance. “Hmm, so this is grief,” I wonder aloud at the shifting shadows in the jar and wax poetic about its depths. “Wow… This joy is bright and also misty like fog. Interesting,” I jot a note in my journal. The sterile, controlled environment suits me, but the pressure in the jars builds to bursting. The lids rattle and steam. Then comes the explosion, spearing sharp shards in all directions of my messy heart. A siren of anxiety blares and I struggle to seal the exits to contain the incident.

My body interprets all of it as fear. For as long as I can remember this is my default setting, part of the trifecta of my signature sin cycle of gluttony-lust-fear.

Reluctant and stumbling, I decide to take a solo hike for space to process–to feel. This is embarrassingly difficult for me. It’s a gorgeous day and there are hundreds of people in the park, and I am afraid of them all. As I make my first ascent on an empty trail a rustling in the brush causes me to gasp and jump. A small lizard zig zags across the path and up a tree. I am waiting for horror and tragedy to overtake me. Always anxiously waiting, vigilant to search for signs everything is about to go sideways.

*****

Praying a wilderness prayer, trying to answer the Lord’s questions to Hagar, Where have you come from? and, Where are you going? I fight my way up another steep incline. My legs and lungs burn, and my eyes, as I name where I have come from: I list my fears one by one.

At the top there’s a metal bench, a memorial to a father who I know died of cancer. Who endured the sudden loss a son before he succumbed. I think of his wife. I do not feel safe in this world. Sitting on the bench, surveying the summering valley below, I turn at a sound from behind me and notice the bench has a bronze plaque engraved with Matthew 11:28: “Come to Me all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” I pull my journal out of my pack as tears make tracks from behind my sunglasses down my dusty cheeks. I wipe my nose on my arm and hope the couple coming up the trail excuses what I hope they will interpret as allergies.

Can you be allergic to emotions? I think I have that.

Struggling in prayer, and seeking solitude, I begin to make my descent. Where are you going? I step carefully and still slide on the loose ground in rhythm to this question. Where-step. Are-step. You-step. Going-slip. And again. I’m not familiar with this trail. I chose it thoughtlessly to get away from the couple by the bench. I think I know where it meets the road, though. Where. Are. You. Going? I respond without further consideration, “I don’t know. With You. I am going with You.” And in the mysterious way that the right words unlock and unstick and unbind and unfold, I feel the tension leave my neck and shoulders. I breathe deeply; inhale-With, exhale-You.

*****

Lightheaded with new old-hope and relieved I have almost survived being alone in a public place, my steps quicken across the open meadow as I make my way back to my minivan. I must pin this grace down.

An unexpected rustle near the path stutters my steps. Instead of jumping away this time, I am still. A tiny nutmeg rodent pops partially out of a hole. I watch for five minutes, hustle back to my van and write a poem:

Gop(her)

A sound next to the path startled me.

Overcoming my anxiety and flight reflex,

I turned and

Behold!

A gopher.

He–she?–came out of her hole

Just enough to reach sustenance

Tender greens growing on her stoop.

I reached for my phone to record this wondrous moment of nature

And the sound sent her diving back inside for safety.

I recognize that move,

That sudden flash of anxiety that catches in your chest.

I waited quietly until she returned,

hoping she could sense my friendship,

we have a Creator in common, after all.

I took a short video–

I can’t help but share when inspiration distracts me:

Look! Did you see this?! Isn’t it incredible?!

She quakes at the click of my pen

How can I not record such a marvel?

I watch her for five minutes and know we are alike.

Those skittish, un-trusting movements relax.

She becomes a little more bold as she surveys me, pen in hand–

my hand not hers–

although I couldn’t see hers, so who’s to say?

Perhaps she recognized me,

kindred in our fears and flightiness.

There may be safety down there,

but there’s no nourishment in the dark.

Surfacing is sacrifice.

Light on our faces comes with its own risks.

I point her out to passerby

They call her a mole!

I commit her to our God’s faithful care

and continue on my journey

lighter than I’d left.

I am fearful, likely will always be. I am sensitive and try to control this by limiting my exposure to my emotions, to the world; I’m working on that. I pay attention and share what I see–I can’t even help that. It’s time to do a new thing, I am excited and afraid, and alright with that. This is how God made me, and He is with me always–come what may.

 

 

 

 

 

Mother’s Day Gift Books!

My fellow procrastinators,

May I make a quick suggestion? Before you’re forced to brave the mall because you think it’s too late to order something online that will arrive in time for Mother’s Day, how about I make this super easy for you? I have two book suggestions that you can order on Amazon and they will arrive tomorrow. What’s faster than that? I mean, I guess driving to a store and wandering through crowds and picking over what’s left on the shelf is technically faster than tomorrow. But is that how you want to live your life?

My first suggestion is for any mom on your list, but especially for a new(ish) one. Long Days of Small Things: Motherhood As A Spiritual Discipline by Catherine McNiel is a book of “rich, soul-inspiring practices for moms who have neither quiet nor time.” Every mother of littles’ heart just skipped a beat. Yes, this is the book you’ve been searching for. It does exist. A mom who totally gets how hard it is to try to force a “quiet time” into a day which allows for neither, wrote a book for you. And it’s not some fluffy you’re-so-great-you-don’t-really-need-a-quiet-time let’s just color and call it a day kind of book. It’s opening your eyes to the opportunities for spiritual growth through the stuff you’re already doing.

In the words of Reading Rainbow, “You don’t have to take my word for it.” Here’s a little excerpt that I absolutely LOVED and have totally LIVED:

I’m ready to leave the shop, but one thing stands in my way–the door. Not exactly a formidable barrier, but the odds are against me. My preschooler is running in circles, while my toddler pulls at my left hand. My right hand grips the terribly unwieldy baby carrier. Inside the carrier is, of course, my infant daughter. She is hungry and tired and howling. My purse is falling off one shoulder, my diaper bag off the other. Children are asking about snacks and water fountains, and I’m wondering, How are we all going to get through that door?

No one jumps to hold it open for me, though more than enough people are watching to ensure my embarrassment when I attempt to hold it for myself. Myself, that is, and my entourage: these three precious ones who know life only through my own life, who see me as the primary source of all things. Somehow, with bags crashing down against my forearms, I bang open the door with my hip, weave the toddler under one arm, and lift the baby carrier over the preschooler’s head. Somehow, we all stumble through before it closes on any small fingers and toes.

Yes, ladies and gentlemen, I have done it. I have walked through a door.

Later that day I read an article about a Christian teacher I deeply admire. The writer described this hero-of-the-faith as so spiritually enlightened, he radiated peace just by walking through the door.

This stops me in my tracks. It testifies mightily against me, against the fruit of my life in this season. I’m not quite the picture of enlightenment. If radiating peace (with or without a door) is the measure of spiritual success, I’m certain I will never arrive.

How many moms reading this can feel the crazy-making tension of trying to get multiple tiny people from Point A to B?! All moms, that’s how many. Click away weary friends: https://www.amazon.com/Long-Days-Small-Things-Motherhood/dp/1631466437

The other book I want to recommend is for all moms (all women, really). This book is particularly special to me, not only because one of my favorite essays I have ever written is published in there, but because it’s full of the stories of my Redbud Writers Guild sisters. In Everbloom: Stories of Deeply Rooted and Transformed Lives Redbud Writers “offer essays, stories and poetry: intensely personal accounts of transformation, and the journeys to find their own voices. Best of all, they invite you to join them, with writing prompts that encourage a response of honesty, faith and imagination. Accept the invitation: set out on the journey to find your own voice.” Yep, clickity click: https://www.amazon.com/Everbloom-Stories-Deeply-Rooted-Transformed/dp/1612619339

Now here is my most genius Mother’s Day idea: Buy both books. Give both books, maybe some flowers or beverage of your choice (or both!) to the lovely mom in your life and offer to watch her kids for a bit so she can enjoy them. 

This is Mother’s Day GOLD, people. Trust me. 

Always ready to save you from making an extra trip out of the house (but make sure you order TODAY),

-Aleah

Imagination and Marriage and Closure

I’d like to say briefly, especially to those of you who know us well, that Mike and I are in a good place. This piece has been years in the making and by God’s grace we will celebrate our 13th anniversary in a few months. I have written and shared this piece in hopes that it may encourage others who find themselves in low seasons of marriage. I wrote this with Mike’s input in every draft. Honestly, while I’m a little nauseous over the vulnerability of these words being out in the world, I’m also feeling a sense of closure. It’s not that we’ve made it and it’s all sunshine from here on out, but that was a particularly rough time in our story.  Today I’m especially grateful for our God who reconciles and redeems, who always hopes.

I stood before the rack of cards and let out an irritated sigh. I folded another sparkling heart-smattered card closed after reading its equally garish sentiments. Wiping pink and red glitter from my fingers onto my jeans, I reached for another Valentine’s Day card. With each new expression my heart sunk and my frustration rose. Lies! These cards are full of lies and empty romantic nonsense! I wanted to shout in frustration in the middle of the aisle. Were there really married people out there who felt this way? I couldn’t imagine it to be true.

My husband and I were in the midst of a particularly difficult season in our marriage. The stresses of finances, caring for small children, and my own journey pursuing work outside the home added tension to an already tenuous connection…
You can read the rest here: http://www.christianitytoday.com/women/2017/april/imagining-better-marriage-actually-improved-mine.html

Minivans and Mortification

If you had asked me last month what I thought about minivans, I would have told you I thought they were great. Such a convenient option for growing families! In fact, I would have mentioned that I drove a minivan for a few years when our kids were tiny–before we got our SUV.

Our SUV was a gift from God. Seriously. We were batting around the idea of getting a new car, and it just happened that a friend was able to get us a CRAZY deal on a fully-loaded used SUV at the dealership where she worked. It was such a gratuitous gift at that point in my life that I was a little afraid of it. Why is this happening to me? Am I reaching for things beyond what I should? Is this some sort of temptation or test? (I may be prone to *slightly* overthinking things. Obviously.) Finally, I got to the point where I just received it for what it was: a gratuitous gift. We needed a new car. We wanted the space. We were offered an SUV that fit the bill, and then some.

Last month I thought minivans were awesome… for you. I wouldn’t have said it exactly like that, but it’s what I meant. Or maybe I didn’t really know that I meant that, but it’s the truth. I know that now because this month we’ve been having some troubles with our SUV and decided that our best option financially is to trade it in and look into purchasing… a minivan.

I don’t know when being an SUV-mom wheedled it’s way so deep inside my persona. There’s really no denying it, though. At Mike’s first mention of the possibility of moving to a minivan I was surprised at the bitterness of my reaction. How stupid. Who cares what I drive? What a privileged position I’m in to be considering trading in one working vehicle for another! Most of my life I’ve been a drive-it-until-it-dies person. What changed?

The best I can come up with is that while I initially received the gratuitous gift in gratitude, somewhere along the way I decided I was entitled to it.

Entitlement starts small; a slippery seed dropped onto the soil of our soul. It’s dangerous and deceptive because most of the plant is under the surface. It sprouts something tiny. Puny leaves that are easily ignored. A twinge of pride over our sweet new ride. A flicker of avarice shoots up; this is good and it is mine. All the while thick roots twist downward at breakneck speed and wrap around the base of our gratitude. The large leaves of gratitude are meant to catch the light and remind us that our source exists outside our self. Everything we need to grow and flourish is freely given.

But those stubborn roots of entitlement stunt the growth of gratitude, and we begin to think that what we have is of our own doing. The once wide plumage of gratitude shrivels, crinkling brown and dropping away until all we are left with is the ugly weed of entitlement. We can try to dress it up a bit, maybe tie on some fake blooms–look at my lovely life on social media!–but the reality is that we are left clutching and hoarding and protecting a plant that will never produce good fruit. This not only leaves us lacking, but is unable to nourish anyone else.

The most common use of the word mortification is to indicate embarrassment or shame, but it also means “the action of subduing ones bodily desires” or “the practice of asceticism by penitential discipline to overcome desire for sin and to strengthen the will.” The medical definition is, “the death of one part of the body while the rest is alive; gangrene; necrosis.” It’s practicing discipline to overcome sin. It’s putting something to death. In my case, the thing that needs to die is my feeling of entitlement to be an SUV-mom. The cool-mom. The slightly-better-than-you, side-eyes at Minivan Mom.

What needs to be mortified is the entitlement that sprouted pride.

I can’t ignore how perfectly timed all this is playing out in this Lenten season where we are reminded of sin’s stranglehold, and thus our desperate need for a Savior. Jesus gets this. Paul writes in Philippians 2:5-8:

Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.  And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. (ESV)

Even though He was already God and lacked nothing, Jesus emptied himself to become like us, so he could obey the Father and die to redeem us. And not just die to redeem us, but “who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame” (Hebrews 12:2, ESV). The ultimate mortification: the shame of a criminal’s death (though innocent), the complete submission to the Father’s will, the death of His body to pay for our sin.

Jesus humbled himself with pouring himself out to death.  

I’m humbling myself with a new car.

Let’s just sit in the inequality of that for a moment, shall we . . . ?

(Father, make me more like your son!)

With this image fresh in my mind, I am choosing to be grateful for the opportunity to uproot my entitlement.

I am grateful to let go of SUV-mom to embrace minivan-mom.

I am grateful to be shaken awake to see this is not a step backward in some crazy carpool hierarchy, but a tiny death to the sin that SO easily entangles us; has entangled me.

I am grateful for another opportunity to invest in growing my gratitude.

And I’m grateful for affordable, family-friendly, reliable transportation with ample cargo space–perfect for towing a large dose of humility.

 

 

The List: Books and Podcasts Edition

 

Who needs those end of the year book-lists when you have a book and podcast list randomly in the spring, amiright?!

I’ve separated The List into three parts, with each entry in random order. Because I could no sooner choose a favorite star (bonus points if you catch that movie reference). This is just the stuff I love that I find myself sharing with anyone who will listen. I’m kind of like the dad on My Big Fat Greek Wedding who thinks all maladies can be solved with Windex, except that when you tell me your problem I will exclaim the solution is, “A BOOK!” Or, in this case, a podcast.

Let’s start at the very beginning (a very good place to start). I’m going to use Amazon links (because Prime & real life), but feel free to search out any of these titles at your local bookstore!

Books:

  • Strong and Weak: Embracing a Life of Love, Risk and True Flourishing by Andy Crouch  This is my favorite book on leadership (although Henri Nouwen’s In The Name of Jesus is a close second). Basically, I now stalk Andy Crouch online and read anything of his I can. He is SMART and engaging and can break down a complicated concept into a 2×2 like nobody’s business. He has a new book coming out in a couple weeks called The Tech-Wise Family: Everyday Steps for Putting Technology in Its Proper Place that I am already praising God for and I haven’t even read it yet.
  • You Are What You Love: The Spiritual Power of Habit by James K. A. Smith I’ve read this book almost three times in the past year. Twice so I could steep in its profound wisdom enough to distill it into this review for The Well: Orienting Desire: Training for the Good Life. Then once more so I could lead discussion on it for a leadership group I’m a part of at our church. It’s short and, while admittedly not a beach-read (unless you’re a nerd like me), I think it’s an important read for any believer concerned with doing discipleship well.
  • A Chance to Die: The Life and Legacy of Amy Carmichael by Elisabeth Elliot This is a dense biography, but don’t let its size intimidate you. Amy’s story will pull you in from page one and keep you turning pages late into the night. Amy was an Irish missionary and writer who spent fifty-three years in India working with orphans. I borrowed this one from our public library, but I’ll likely end up purchasing it. It was that good.
  • The Pursuit of God by A.W. Tozer This classic has been called a “devotional masterpiece.” It has nearly five stars on Goodreads with over 38,000 ratings, so you don’t have to take my word for it. Tozer writes in the beginning that he’s writing because, though others “have gone much farther into these holy mysteries than I have done, but if my fire is not large it is yet real, and there may be those who can light their candle at its flame.” Maybe just the spark you need?
  • Soul Survivor: How Thirteen Unlikely Mentors Helped My Faith Survive the Church by Philip Yancey My favorite books tend to take me down the rabbit-hole to finding other great books (like Booked: Literature in the Soul of Me by Karen Swallow Prior) and this was no exception. Yancey’s immersive storytelling style is on display in these mini-biographies-meets-memoir that each left me wanting more. Already I’ve read two books from people he profiles (Orthodoxy by GK Chesterton and Life of the Beloved by Henri Nouwen). I still can’t believe I’ll get to hang out with him in Alaska this September for the Harvester Island Wilderness Workshop! Remind me to tell you the crazy story of how God provided for that sometime…

Podcasts:

  • Cultivated: A podcast about faith and work This is put out by the good folks at Harbor Media. I listened to the entire first season and I can’t wait for season two. The interviews are insightful and inspiring, and the guests are diverse. From think-tank types to writers to rappers, and trying to cover every square inch of creation in-between, this podcast has something for everyone.
  • Pass the Mic “Dynamic Voices for a Diverse Church” This is the podcast of the Reformed African American Network. Are you curious about racial reconciliation, but feel a little overwhelmed in finding a starting point? Me too. I’ve found this podcast to be both nuanced and unapologetic in its approach, and a safe space for someone like me to ask questions and be confronted with my blind-spots in this area. Highly recommend.
  • The Calling An interview show put on by Christianity Today with: “One church leader, one calling, one honest conversation.” Richard Clark or Kate Shellnutt ask great questions and really draw out peoples’ stories in unexpected ways. I’ve been surprised by some of the answers even familiar leaders have given. It never fails to inspire me, with God’s sovereignty on display in the divergent stories of His people seeking to follow Him. (If you’re a woman in leadership/ministry you won’t want to miss the most recent interview with Jen Wilkin).
  • Quick to Listen Another podcast from Christianity Today (which I want to emphasize says something about the quality of work CT is putting out–in a world of “fake news” and sensationalism they’ve become one of my go-to’s for their commitment to Beautiful Orthodoxy).  In this show co-hosts Morgan Lee and Mark Galli (shout-out to original co-host Katelyn Beaty!) are joined by a guest to “go beyond hashtags and hot-takes and set aside time to explore the reality behind a major cultural event.” I’ve found the discussions to be challenging and helpful for me to sharpen my own thoughts around a popular topic. I especially love the “Gut-check” segment at the beginning where everyone lays out their initial reaction to the issue at hand–a practice I’ve stolen and found works well in discussions with youth group students.
  • Persuasion with Erin Straza and Hannah Anderson I could listen to these two talk about ANYTHING. For reals. Pick a random or familiar topic and they will hold it up to the light and display a facet of it you have never considered before. (This podcast is put out by Christ and Pop Culture, who also have an awesome online community worth checking out). Host Erin Straza describes the aim of Persuasion on her blog: “Our goal with the show is to offer feminine insight on culture, theology, and everyday minutia—without reducing it to a podcast about “women’s issues.”” I have found myself so deeply engaged in their discussions that more than once I have replied out loud to them as I’m folding laundry.

Bonus: Books By My Friends!

This is NOT some attempt to smush in all my author buddies at the end just-because. This is because I have been blessed with some crazy-talented friends who are putting out first-rate words into the world. I promise I would not waste your time with books I didn’t back 100%. I’m just putting the ones I’ve read here because I couldn’t bring myself to choose between them for the books section above.

And these are just the ones I have in my possession right now! I hope this list motivates you to explore some new titles. Because whatever your issue, I’VE GOT A BOOK FOR THAT!

 

Ministry of Silly

I trend toward the serious. I’m probably more concerned with what I think people may be thinking about me than you realize. It’s not that I don’t like being silly, but I prefer it to be in a controlled environment on my own terms (don’t I sound like a party?). “Look how much fun we’re having!” –in this Insta-filtered, curated and perfectly captured moment. I’m so silly, and btw doesn’t my hair/life/outfit look great?!

God knew that the perfect balance to this was Michael Marsden. My husband is silly and self-confident. He’s pretty sure that if you’re thinking about him it’s definitely good things. He looks in the mirror in the morning and thinks, “Man, I’m looking great today!” He does not care who’s watching and certainly doesn’t need to curate an experience for the internet.

However, on a whim one Sunday morning in early 2016 he posted a DubSmash of me getting ready for church. It was pretty funny. I was mildly irritated when he posted it on his Instagram account, but more eye-rollingly shaking-my-head amused. He posted one the next Sunday, and then our friends started to encourage this behavior and it turned into a weekly thing. Basically, it’s him lip-synching to a short song clip while I’m in the background flossing or putting on makeup or generally trying to hide from the camera. 

When he first started, I untagged myself from all his posts. Sure, I thought it was funny and so-Mike. Endearing even. But you can’t post me getting ready sans-makeup/hair wearing my pajamas on the internet! What will people think?!

And then I heard myself: You can’t show my REALITY to people I’m trying to impress. I was taking myself too seriously.

In a weird way, these weekly videos have become part of a liturgy of my life. I am being trained to not take myself so seriously. An opportunity to practice humility. It’s also part of my Sabbath practice to keep off social media, so half the time I don’t even know what he’s posting until Monday, anyway.

I think this kind of practice at letting go of our so carefully often over-cultivated images is a good thing. Ann Voskamp writes that, “Perfectionism is slow death by self. It will kill your skill, your spark, your art, your soul.” What a high cost for such little reward, the fleeting ‘likes’ of your online community. The ministry of silly pushes back at this, gives us space to be us, and permission for others to be them. And isn’t that social media at its best?

In case you’re now morbidly curious to see this strange Sunday ritual carried out in our home, here is Mike’s compilation of videos from 2016. I hope you’re inspired to find some silliness of your own to share:

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