The Woman at the Well – How Jesus Modeled Love

This season of Lent led me to the gospels. The tender storytelling had me falling in love with Jesus all over again. Our sweet, strong Jesus, sent from heaven and recorded in God’s word so that we as Christ followers understand how to live.

Growing up a good Baptist girl, I heard all the Bible stories. And yet, in this season of Lent in early morning readings, a story unfolded for me in a totally new way. The woman at the well jumped off the page and into my heart. Never before had I thought about how she must have been broken open by Jesus.

I can’t even remember what I thought the message was about before when I heard her story. Maybe I thought it was about Jesus’s grace in reaching out to her. But maybe I fell into the “Truth” Christian category and thought the most important part was Jesus telling her to turn from her sin – forgetting “For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ” John 1:17. That grace cannot be separated from truth – that Jesus is grace and truth.

What spoke to me as I reread John, were the words in 4:39, “Many of the Samaritans from that town believed in him because of the woman’s testimony, ‘He told me everything I ever did.'” It wasn’t that her testimony was powerful because Jesus was a mind reader. The testimony is that Jesus saw her sin and was kind to her anyway. He saw who she was and loved her anyway. He knew that she was not the likely candidate to share his message and yet he chose her.

This new understanding undid me. Jesus was grace for this broken woman. Jesus spoke to her. Jesus validated her. Jesus invited her into conversation. Jesus wanted her to serve him. Mercy sakes people, Jesus is our example. When as believers we hold certain behaviors up as the ultimate sin while we sit in our high places, we are not living like Jesus.

Jesus loved the unlovable. He loved the outcast. When Jesus gave us the greatest commandment in Matthew 22, love God and love people, he had already modeled it for us. Jesus’s heart must be breaking for our world right now, the way we treat each other. So quick to tear each other down in the hopes that our self-righteousness will protect us from exposure. We don’t trust that if people see and know us that they will be kind. And why should they when we are so quick to put a wall up to those not part of the dominate culture.

I am the first in need of repentance; I am the worst of the rotten sinners. But I have been the woman at the well with my sin on display, and if you are honest, you probably have been too. I wouldn’t be here today loving Jesus if in my deepest despair I had not been treated kindly by the most unlikely person.

As we celebrate the resurrection of our Lord this weekend, let our hearts be broken open for the people Jesus modeled his love on. Help us not to let our desire to be right outshine our opportunity to be the light.

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Remembering My Grandmother

This week my grandmother passed away. She was 84 years old. Her heart gave out and she passed peacefully in her sleep.

We called my grandmother Nanny. I am not sure I even knew her real name for years. She was part of the team known as Papa and Nanny. We lost my Papa about 15 years ago in a car accident. And I can’t help thinking that a part of her faded away then.

Nanny was my primary grandmother, the kind of grandmother that knows with one look just what you need. My grandparents lived only two miles away from me for most of my childhood, and I saw them at least once a week if not more. They were an integral part of my youth.

Of course we had the big memories of Christmases and Fourth of July cookouts. But for me it is in between moments I most cherish. I have early memories of standing in her lap playing with her glasses and exploring every inch of her face with my fingers. She taught me how to play rummy, which way to deal the cards, and how to create a strategy that could lead to a win.

It was her house we went to if we got sick at school. She would make me cinnamon sugar toast and sit me on the couch to watch the Price Is Right and the Young and the Restless. She would always French braid my hair and let me dig through the flea market stash kept in my grandparents closet.

I remember when Nanny was baptized at our church. And how every Sunday my family would pick her up to take her with us. I’d slide over to the middle seat as she climbed in the car. Then later, when I was in high school I’d pick her up for church, and we’d talk about school and the week’s teenage drama.

Nanny was a listener, an observer, a rocker of babies, and maker of peanut butter and chocolate cake. She was a walker who drug grandchildren through the woods spotting the changing leaves in the fall and the wildflowers in the spring. She loved to read and carried a quiet wisdom.

Nanny was an introvert, not unlike my 6 year-old daughter, Grace Florence, who shares her name.

The last time I saw Nanny, she took a ring off her finger and pressed it into my palm. “This is for Grace since you named her after me. I want you to keep it for her.” I kissed her cheek and said my good-bye. That was over two years ago. After moving out west a decade ago, I didn’t see her much. I wasn’t there to watch her health fail. I have to cling to those early memories. The long walks, late night rummy games, French braids, and cinnamon sugar toast. Those sweet grandmotherly memories I hope will pass from our generation to the next.

My grandmother lost her mom when she was a young child. I cannot imagine the hole that left in her heart. The whisper of suffering she must have carried throughout her life. I don’t know what heaven is like. But, I hope that when Nanny’s soul entered heaven that her mom was waiting to greet her. I hope that her mother cupped Nanny’s face in her hands and said, “Welcome home my baby, I’ve been waiting for you.”

Out of a Job. Finding my Gifts.

My twentieth high school reunion is next month. My senior year I was voted Most Likely to Succeed. I guess that was because I’d never met a club or activity I didn’t try to lead. Yep, I was the nerdy yearbook editor.

Back then, I hustled. I actually believed I could be successful at whatever I tried. I always had at least one job. I took a full load of classes, volunteered and worked. I was a spit fire.

Next week after almost eight years as a stay-at-home mom, I’ll be out of a job. My girl is going to kindergarten. My heart is sad yet excited.

A few years ago, a long time friend told me that of all the people she knew, I was the last person she thought would stay home full-time. Me too. And yet, it is the best decision I’ve ever made. This time with my sweet babies has been the biggest blessing of my life. If I live to be one hundred, I have no doubt I will look back and this will be the highlight. I have zero regrets.

However, I have spent the last year trying to find my hustle, trying to figure out my next step. Can I be honest? For the first time in my life, I’ve not been successful. When you step out of line for eight years, no one holds your place. Especially when that place was fifty hour work weeks and constant travel.

I was always the girl people believed in. The person that got the job because it would be done and done well. But, I’m not that girl anymore, because back then I only cared about myself. And now, my world is bigger and that life no longer fits.

At age 8, 18, and 28 I definitively understood my gifts and abilities. I knew where I was going and what I was good at. At 38? Not so much. I do know I can craft a sharp hospital corner when making a bed. I’m pretty awesome at calming my crying children. I can clean up a peed in bed in three minutes. I’ve got my strengths. But, no one’s lining up to pay me for getting vomit out of a carseat.

I have fretted and worried and obsessed. But, in the quiet space of morning devotions, conversations with kind friends, and lots and lots of prayer, I’ve found a tiny bit of clarity.

I don’t need to hustle. I have the life I busted my tail for. No one cares what I do. I guess that’s the burden. Trying to define expectations when there are none. And so, at 38, my lesson is being at peace right where I am. I don’t need to be voted Most Successful. I don’t need to prove I’m smart, or driven, or enough.

I can rest in the space of gratitude. I can lean into this beautiful life. What a gift! And this uncertain space? Part sad. Part exciting. I just walk through it, like all those uncertain spaces before. Only this time, it’s pretty certain. No matter what, I still get to be a mom to two little people who think I’m awesome. And my gift? It is being right where I am, right in this moment. The measure of my success in not in what I’ve accomplished but in who I get to do this life with. And by that measure, I have succeeded.

Media, Race and Doing Our Part

This morning I read an article from The Guardian about how media has shifted from research-based journalism to opinion-based journalism. Gone are the days of sleuthing to uncover the truth. Here are the days of feeding the target audience what they want to hear whether fact or fiction.

In the age of Facebook and Google analytics, readers are seeing only information that supports what they already think. Critical thinking and education of an issue or event are no longer valued. We, as the public, only want to be validated. But because vast information is readily available we can consume article after article that agrees and does not challenge.

Recent events have colored my Facebook feed with racist rhetoric. These posts are seen as fact although in most cases it is at best opinion, at worst hate mongering. The public is not taking the time to let events unfold, to let discovery and research prevail to determine what happened and why. You cannot find all the answers within a week. We must be patient.

It is a tragedy that police officers were assassinated while doing their job – a hard and thankless job. They risk their lives for our safety and it is deplorable that they were killed. Of course their lives matter. Of course we should mourn and be outraged.

However, police killing black males is a separate and important conversation. The killing of black men by police is a conversation about the imbalance of power. The murder 0f the police officers does not invalidate the injustice against the black community. And we should not use their murder as rhetoric to argue that black people are the problem.

It is true that killing police officers is unquestionably evil. At the same time, it is true that we have a national crisis of black men arrested, prosecuted and incarcerated because of systemic racism. Both are true. Hear me, it is okay to believe both.

Let’s not be the lazy public only consuming information supporting our beliefs. Read, study, research. Learn to think critically and examine issues from all sides. Have compassion. If you find yourself looking for stories to invalidate the argument that there is racial inequality in our country, or if you seek to find a reason why an act isn’t racist, it is time to dig within yourself and ask: Why is my desire to defend the white person? What inside of me feels threatened? Why am I searching for articles that counter the truth? Is my behavior racist?

We can choose not to consume and believe journalism that is biased. We can also refuse to share on social media information with racist undertones that lacks compassion. Be the light. And right now the light needs to shine not only on our fallen officers but also on racial injustice.

 

 

 

Explaining Racism to Young Children

The south will always be home – sweet tea, the southern drawl, sassy women, and a church on every corner.

Recently on a trip south, the humidity enveloped me when I stepped off the plane. It was a welcome blanket and respite from the Colorado dryness. I love the southern climate and warm spirit.

Yet, every rainbow has a sneaky leprechaun trying to steal its gold. It’s only been two years since my last visit, but in that time a racist flag came down from the South Carolina state house, and too many to count went up on porches.

As I drove through the Blue Ridge Mountains, Confederate flags peppered the landscape. My heart broke for the brokenness that leads one to express that kind of hatefulness. I grew up there. I know people say it’s displaying history, but we’re all adults here. We can speak the truth.

When your symbol of history celebrates the bondage of people, people held against their will and forced to labor for another man’s benefit, that is evil. Slavery is thievery. At least that is what I told my seven-year-old son when he asked about the stars and bars. “What’s that flag momma?” I paused. How do you tell a child that the land you love has a history of greed and violence? Especially when you’ve spoken so fondly of the generous people and warm sunshine.

I wasn’t sure what to say, but I didn’t whitewash the sin. I didn’t clean it up in order not to offend the offensive. I spoke the truth. It’s meanness. The flag was used during the Civil War as the south fought to keep slavery legal. Slavery is stealing sweet boy, and it is wrong.

He understood a little, but his mind didn’t grasp how an atrocity like slavery could happen in the land of the free.

After thinking more on the subject, I realized it wasn’t slavery he needed to understand. We paint red X’s on our hands in unity with the End It Movement. We talk regularly about human trafficking and how even if it’s scary, we stand up for justice. I needed my children to understand racism – some people think they are better because their skin is white.

I explained this in plain terms to my five and seven-year-old. After I explained that some people hate other people and want to harm them because their skin is different, my kids looked at me like I was crazy. “Why would they think skin makes you different?” I don’t know sweet girl; it does seem silly.

I found three books at our local library that helped facilitate this discussion. These books put the subject of racism at a child’s level. I highly recommend books like these for your little ones to help grow their compassion and prepare them for the inevitable discussion of racism. Whether we prepare our children or not, they will have to face injustice. When we equip them with truth and righteousness, they will know to stand on the side of good.

This is the Rope by Jacqueline Woodson

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Amazing Grace by Mary Hoffman

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Champions on the Bench by Carole Boston Weatherfordbench

 

Will I Ever Finish Anna Karenina?

For the life of me I cannot finish Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy. Three different times I tried to read this epic tome. Three times I failed. I am quite defensive about the endeavor. So, let me tell you upfront that it is not that the book is too complex or difficult. I need you to know that I am smart enough to read Tolstoy, got it?

It took years for me to come to terms with my true disdain for the book. For most of my twenties I thought it was the detailed descriptions in the chapter about Levin going to his country estate that undid me. The truth is that it was Anna’s desperate need for validation that I hated. This is the same thing I disliked about the Twilight series. Even though I voraciously read every single book, ahem.

These love stories touched on a base quality within myself that I desperately despised. That sad need to be validated by love. Most ladies call this romance or intimacy. I always called it weakness.

Only after marinating and maturing did I come to terms with my condescending attitude toward other women who swoon over a love story. It showed in my resentment of how the book of Ruth in the Bible is interpreted as a love story between Boaz and Ruth. That resentment was really a stabbing in my own heart. It was a deep fear of being vulnerable enough to fall open. To lay oneself out on the ground with all your baggage and need exposed. What if we are rejected? Do we die like Anna? What if Boaz does not become redeemer? Do we just scrape our innards off the ground and go about our business?

I wanted to shake Anna. I wanted to tell her that her husband does love her but that he is a man and men are driven by sexual desire and power. I wanted to tell her that Vronsky would be no different, that Anna needed to buck up and validate herself. I wanted to tell her that her need to be heard and have her passions and dreams admired were just weakness. I wanted to shake her hard and change her story.

That is until I realized it wasn’t Anna I wanted to shake. Until I understood that it is better to have our innards on the floor than to be caged up in denial – to live an anxiety ridden and insecure life.

Maybe Anna’s tragic tale of innards laid out, maybe Ruth at Boaz’s feet, maybe a pale girl loved by a werewolf and vampire – maybe these stories that resonate with the world’s women, maybe they are not weakness. It takes strength to be vulnerable. Standing firm and owning the side of one’s self that seeks love is a virtue.

This revelation shattered my armor. The bookmark two-thirds of the way through Anna Karenina may never move, but finally my deep held resentment shattered and healed, replaced by vulnerability and voracious love.

…And Then I Threw Up

Last spring I attended Big Sur in the Rockies sponsored by The Andrea Brown Literary Agency. The three day workshop provided hands-on writing critiques from publishers, literary agents and authors. Because I had written an entire middle grade novel, I felt it was time for this next step.

Over the course of my life, I’ve mostly been successful. An unrealistic and dreamy part of me thought I would share my novel and the publishing agency running the conference would beg to publish my work. Okay, not really but I did think I’d done a good job and this would be a doorway to publishing.

I’m a nerd from way back so I’d of course done my homework and read materials from all the workshop faculty. My first critique group was led by an author whose work I loved and respected. I sat next to her at dinner and asked questions about her book like it was our own little bookclub chat. I was like a teenage groupie at a boy band concert.

I gathered in our leader’s cabin with four other aspiring authors. We would read seven pages of our work and then receive critique. I should have gone first, pulled the bandaid off in one big yank. But, I didn’t. I was intimidated. Another lady went first. After three sentences, I knew I was in over my head. These people were real writers. Their work sounded like something I’d order from Amazon.

Redness spread from my chest up to my ears warming my entire body. That must be what a hot flash feels like. My stomach filled with a nauseous ache. I wanted to bolt. No way I was going to read my silly story to these people. Especially not this award winning author sitting three feet from me. I thought I was going to die. Surely one cannot survive that kind of humiliation.

And yet, when my turn came, I read. By this point I knew they would comment about my point of view. I didn’t know omniscient point of view was out of fashion. My first paragraph needed a better hook. Somehow I managed not to cry, gracefully read my seven pages and prepared for the feedback.

They were kind to me. So kind. Yes, I received my medicine, but my work is better for it. However, I did not feel better. My pulse still beat fast, my body was still flushed, and my stomach still ached.

I drove home late on that cold, rainy May night. At one point I thought I would have to pull over to be sick. I made it home and out of the garage. But then it happened, I threw up all over our patio. This is the first time in my life I’ve had a panic attack. I didn’t even know panic attacks could cause vomiting. Looking back I can’t believe I made it through the evening.

I went back the next day and the day after that. I finished the conference and gained a critique group that teaches me so much about writing and preserving. The conference humbled me. But it also taught me that if ever I do find my book on a shelf in a bookstore or listed under books on Amazon, it’ll be a triumph.

It isn’t as simple as putting words on the page. It’s sweat, tears and determination. It may also be losing your lunch. And, that award winning author, she told me she’d written four books before she ever got published.