Some thoughts on Mark 4:35-41

In Mark chapter 4, Mark recounts a day of Jesus telling stories to a number of people on the shore of the Sea of Galilee. When evening came, Jesus told his disciples to cross to the other side. So, leaving the crowds behind, the disciples and Jesus set out in a boat, and other boats went with them. A great storm blew up, with furious winds and waves so large they began breaking into the boat, threatening to swamp it.

Jesus, meanwhile, was asleep on a cushion in the back of the boat.

If you were reading this passage, which is only a few verses long, you would discover very quickly that all ends well. In fact, most Bibles have a heading for this passage that is something like “Jesus Calms the Storm,” so you know the outcome before you even begin reading.

The disciples, however, did not know the ending. All they knew was that, because of Jesus’ instructions, they were out in the middle of the sea in a terrible storm that was filling their not-so-large boat with water, and they react in the same way as many other biblical characters, whose “hard times” left them uncertain and sorrowful and doubting. Unlike many other biblical characters, though, the disciples’ ordeal did not last very long. (A couple months ago I wrote a post about how waiting and suffering are often compressed in Scriptural accounts; ten seconds of reading, and we’re through months/years/decades of struggle. We have to identify with the characters—we have to take time ourselves—in order to gain a clearer sense of the story.) To identify with the disciples in this story, though, we don’t need to imagine the toll of a long stretch of time; we need to imagine the panic of a perfectly good situation suddenly gone terribly wrong.

As I read this story over and over, what caught my attention was this: the disciples were exactly where they were supposed to be. They’d followed Jesus’ directions; he was there with them; they hadn’t left him behind to follow their own whims. They’d made no bad decision or been foolish or rash. They were right where Jesus wanted and told them to be.

But they still encountered a storm.

A great storm, one with howling winds and waves tall enough to menace above the sides of their boat like monsters and then crash down upon them. A storm strong enough that even the seasoned fishermen among them feared for their lives.

Have you ever felt like that? Have you ever done exactly what you thought Jesus was telling you to do and then found yourself in the middle of a storm? Did you start to wonder if you’d done something wrong? Misheard his voice? Wandered off on your own path? Failed to do something right?

My brother-in-law recently suggested to me that perhaps Jesus knew the storm was coming and was actually leading the disciples into a test of their faith.

Could be. Could be that he wanted the disciples’ faith in him to stretch to cosmic proportion—beyond physical healings to authority over the sky and sea.

Could also not be. Jesus, self-limited as he was in humanness, might not have known the storm was coming. Perhaps he just went out on the boat with the disciples knowing he needed rest and in full assurance that no matter what happened, God would be right there caring for them.

We don’t know which is the case. All we know is that when the disciples woke Jesus, asking him, “Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?” Jesus got up and told the wind and the waves to be still. And after the storm stopped–immediately!–he turned to the disciples and asked, “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?”

And then the disciples were really afraid and they said to each other, “Who is this, that even the wind and the waves obey him!”

The boat, the disciples, and Jesus reached the other side of the Sea of Galilee with no ill effects. Not all our storms end this way, with every person accounted for, with no lasting injuries or loss. Some storms take years, even a lifetime, to recover from. Some storms don’t end. Some storms are of our own making, and regret compounds our pain.

But, no matter the circumstances of your particular storm, we can know that God has good for us–“best” for us–in the middle of the tempest. God is not spiteful; God does not have an awful sense of humor; God is not conducting a faith experiment for research purposes; God is not plopping us in the midst of it like numbered lab rats. Rather God, who calls His people the apple of His eye, wants us to find that He has provided an eye in the center of the squall specifically planned for each of us. He has for us the certainty that—even when all evidence points to the contrary—we are seen and known and loved and cared for.

We are much like the disciples. The best, in their opinion, was a trouble-free trip across the sea. For the landlubbers among them, the best was probably their feet touching solid ground on the other side after a smooth crossing.

But God, as we are told, sees things very differently. And in God’s view, our presence in His eye is His absolute best for us.

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a dose of gladness

flowersThis morning, as the dog ran in the park, I sat on a bench, leaned back, and lifted my face—and then had to squint because the sun hung in the air so bright it seemed to make the blue of the sky and the edges of the young leaves almost pulse with intensity.

It felt too sharp.

Friday night my husband came home from his inner-city school and went straight into our bedroom. I followed him in, took one look at his face, and shut the door behind me. Between tears, he shared with me one tragedy after another he’d learned of that very day. The violence and dysfunction in several neighborhoods had spilled over, and several students and one teacher had endured trauma and loss and setback.

No matter where you teach, there is always hardship. No matter where you live, there is always heartache. But we’re learning that when you teach in an inner-city school, when you live in an under-resourced neighborhood, the hardship and heartache seem to be the norm rather than the exception. The students and teachers at Dave’s school are always going through something, but this past week, there was simply too much. Their young, vibrant principal called a special meeting Friday and, in tears herself, relayed to her staff one story after another after another.

“We have to love each other,” she told them at the meeting’s end. “We have to encourage each other and love our kids and get rest. This is really, really hard.”

Yes, it is.

After Dave told me everything, and we cried together, he lay on the bed and fell asleep. And I went out and explained to our kids and our guest that it was going to be a slightly different evening than we’d planned. And our wonderful guest said that was perfectly all right.

The weekend rolled on. Soccer on Saturday morning and an evening spent with friends; church on Sunday and then, unfortunately, lots of homework. But underneath was heaviness.

So this morning, between sending Dave and the kids off to school and getting to work myself, I took the dog to the park and thought and prayed about the hard things I know about and all those I don’t, and then I just needed to sit down.

And the sunlight was too bright.

How, God, when you know all the darkness, all the sorrow, all the hurt and pain and evil inflicted by humans upon each other—and even on themselves—how does the sun still shine? How is the sky so blue, the trees so green?

If I were you, clouds would hover above the sites of such tragedies; trees would stand bare and stark in sorrow at what they have seen; the sun would hide; and the grass and flowers would shrivel in horror at what we humans do to each other, at what some humans must endure.

And yet…

And yet, the sight of a tree breaking into purple flower still caused me to smile—just this morning.

How?

I don’t know, but I do know that in the midst of all this, we need gladness in small doses and large, to whatever degree we can take it.

So today I pray that for a few particular students, one particular teacher, a couple of graduates, a student now in search of a new school. I pray that something—like purple flowers, the brilliant blue sky, the squinting-ly shining sun or the gleaming green of the trees—makes them smile today in spite of everything. Better yet, Abba, may a fellow human, bearing your image and your presence, make them glad.

In spite of everything, may they sense a love that cannot be explained or seen but which is real, is true.

Is you.

Taize, March 2017

I tucked the candle and its paper drip guard

in the hymnal rack of the pew in front of me

til we sang “Christ Jesus, light of our hearts, we praise you”

and a young girl made her way down the aisle,

lighting the tapers of those at each row’s end.

My friend Beth’s candle burst into flame

and I leaned mine to meet its glowing tip.

My wick, too, sparked to brightness,

burning fast, flame high, wax flowing.

My weary mind fixated on the flame and flow,

And the shrinking of my candle.

The candle—me.

Around me people sang in Spanish:

Nada te turbe/nada te espante/

quien a Dios tiene nada le falta/

nada te turbe/nada te espante/

solo Dios basta.

I translated bits in my mind,

but mostly watched the wax drip, drip, drip.

Melting, lessened, reduced.

Reduced.

Lower, lower it burned.

Then, same song, English words:

Nothing can trouble, nothing can frighten.

Those who seek God will never go wanting.

Nothing can trouble, nothing can frighten.

God alone fills us.

I remembered the Spanish: solo Dios basta

Basta—enough.

We filed to the front,

placed our candles in sand-filled bowls at the foot of the cross,

returned to our seats.

From there I could not see the candles,

But their collective glow lit up the Christ painted on the cross.

Another song began

and the cross was lifted from among the candles

Placed in front of them, flat on the ground.

Come forward, we were invited.

Come to the cross.

The line was long.

I watched the candles.

Many had burned down to nubs,

their flames low in the sand.

Others still stood tall.

My turn.

In the flames’ flicker, the painted face and hands

of the Christ on the cross seemed to move.

When I knelt, put my hand on his,

I almost expected them to clasp together.

Around me voices rose.

The final line washed over me.

Love and do not fear.

The good work of waiting

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This is not quite the “waiting” I had in mind in this post, but I do a lot of this kind of waiting, too, these days. Good thing I have my 16-year-old chauffeur, plenty of portable writing work–and, sometimes, beautiful sunsets!

Most stories related in Scripture are quick—we rush through years in just a few verses. As a result, the emotions we experience as we read these stories don’t follow those of the people within them. We move straight from the “oh no” of the problem to the rejoicing of the climax: with Joseph over his success as the Pharaoh’s right-hand man; with the Israelites over their exodus from Egypt; with Hannah over the birth of Samuel; with Sarah and Abraham over the birth of Isaac; …

And in doing so we often glide right through the waiting period. We don’t recognize and sit in the grief, fear, doubt, and even anger of the loooong limbo that came before the climax.

I think we need to pay more attention to the waiting in the Bible—there’s quite a bit of it! The descendants of Jacob were enslaved for generations before the dramatic plagues that resulted in their rescue. Joseph, imprisoned after his double betrayal, must have eventually accepted his lot—until the cupbearer promised he would try to get him released. Joseph’s heart surely soared—and then descended to the depths when he realized the cupbearer failed him. The waiting years that followed must have been filled with some bitterness and wrestling—and lots of questions. Sarah chose against patient waiting; she worked and connived to get the fulfillment of God’s promise, but when she realized the folly and futility of her own way, she settled, opting for the numb loss of hope rather than the pain of expectant waiting. Hannah endured years of taunting by her husband’s other wife (who probably felt unloved by their husband) while Hannah prayed and cried for a son.

We read these stories and move from problem to answer in words and phrases. From the perspective of those living in the story, though, the climaxes did not come quickly. And often, when a climax did come, it was followed by more waiting.

Much, if not most, of our lives is spent waiting.

And waiting is hard.

A book that is on my summer reading list is The Patient Ferment of the Early Church. In it Alan Kreider argues that the early church saw patient waiting as one of its primary works. After all, the Church then saw itself as being in the already-and-not-yet time between Christ’s inauguration of the Kingdom and its complete fulfillment. We are in the same time! Waiting is an integral part of our lives as believers; it is, in a sense, one of the defining marks of our Christian faith.

Kreider believes the early Church grew and thrived through its focus on and development of patience; patience, he says, was a huge topic among the early church writers. They emphasized the use of prayer, catechesis*, and worship to help the church develop patient reflexes. And they saw that patience not only was work; it did work: good work.

We can and should develop expectant patience in the same ways; and some of our study should focus on God’s story as it wove through Israel’s history, was fulfilled in Christ, and is continuing to weave through the history of the Church. When we do this we realize, as the early church did, that our waiting is not new; waiting has always been required; and waiting does good work in those who accept it with patient expectation in God.

How do we do this? We can reflect on stories that had long lag times between the conflict and the resolution. Rather than gliding over the waiting verses, we can press into them; we can emphasize the in-between period more; we can wonder what sustained the biblical characters during this time.

We can also tell stories of our own waiting more often. Too often we only tell our fulfilled stories, our stories of answered prayer. Maybe we need to share our stories even while we are still in the waiting time; maybe we need to share the prayers we pray that are as yet unfulfilled. And we definitely need to affirm the good work all this waiting does in us; we need to examine it in ourselves and point out the growth waiting has accomplished/is accomplishing in others.

I waited and waited and waited for God. At last he looked; finally he listened. He lifted me out of the ditch, pulled me from deep mud. He stood me up on a solid rock to make sure I wouldn’t slip. He taught me how to sing the latest God-song, a praise-song to our God. More and more people are seeing this: they enter the mystery, abandoning themselves to God. Psalm 40:1-3, the Message (the link takes you to this verse side by side in Message and NIV)

Wait on the Lord; his day is near.Wait on the Lord; be strong, take heart.  (These are the words to a Taize song that I often sing to myself when the waiting [for whatever] seems long and hard. The link is to a beautiful rendition of it on Youtube.)

*instruction given to a person in preparation for Christian baptism or confirmation—basically, the teaching of the faith.

Father Heart

This past spring, when we felt certain the Lord was moving us into Chicago, one of our first steps was to explore school options for our kids. The search for the younger three didn’t last too long. We visited two schools; one of them felt like a good fit to both them and us; and that decision was confirmed when we attended their back-to-school night this past week. Yes, they will face the difficulties of making new friends and learning new systems, but we know already they will be in a nurturing environment, one in which they already feel comfortable.

This, however, has not been the scenario for our oldest child, Emily. Our first choice fell through. Then she found a magnet school she really wanted to attend. She made it past the first round of selections, but not the second. That was heartbreaking and sudden and late. We scrambled and discovered a charter school option. It wasn’t close; it didn’t have some of the classes she wanted, but we thought it would do. So she started classes there, but we found, after a week of trying to make it work, it simply was too far away.

So late Thursday night, Dave and I discussed, again, her schooling choices. We weighed pros and cons and talked through different scenarios, and then, with exhaustion sucking us into sleep, we prayed a plea of confused desperation.

The next morning I woke before the alarm. As I lay there, quiet, I received an insight into my daughter. I got a glimpse into why the less obvious, more complicated schooling choice might be the very best thing for her.

I looked over at Dave and saw he was also awake. I shared with him the insight I’d received. He nodded and told me what he’d woken up thinking about. The two insights meshed; they fit together; they formed something that was enough of an answer for us to move forward with peace.

But even greater than the answer was this: the Spirit’s whispered insights were not just a reminder of God’s great wisdom, they were even more a reminder of God’s Father heart for our girl, for our family.

In that moment of shared insights I got a glimpse of God’s great, beating heart for my girl, who is, even more and always, HIS girl. He knows her, inside and out, through and through, better than I know her, better than her dad knows her, better than she knows herself.

And He loves her.

He loves her oh so well, so tenderly, so knowledgably.

And that understanding is the best answer of all.

 

Post script: When I opened up the Daily Office on my phone later on Friday morning—just after what I described above—I discovered the day’s hymn was “Day by Day,” one I remembered from my childhood. It was like a loving letter written just for us, but I suspect, in God’s incredible way of loving all his people, together yet so uniquely, it’s for many of us, so I’m sharing the words below.

 

“Day by Day” by Karolina Sandell-Berg

Day by day, and with each passing moment,

Strength I find to meet my trials here;

Trusting in my Father’s wise bestowment,

I’ve no cause for worry or for fear.

He, whose heart is kind beyond all measure,

Gives unto each day what He deems best,

Lovingly its part of pain and pleasure,

Mingling toil with peace and rest.

Every day the Lord Himself is near me,

With a special mercy for each hour;

All my cares He fain would bear and cheer me,

He whose name is Counselor and Pow’r.

The protection of His child and treasure

Is a charge that on Himself he laid;

“As your days, your strength shall be in measure,”

This the pledge to me He made.

Help me then, in every tribulation,

So to trust Thy promised, O Lord,

That I lose not faith’s sweet consolation,

Offered me within Thy holy Word.

Help me, Lord, when toil and trouble meeting,

E’er to take, as from a father’s hand,

One by one, the days, the moments fleeting,

Till I reach the promised land.

Today I Awake

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The Garfield Conservatory is just down the street from our house–so beautiful! And free! This is the entrance to the fern room. (shot by Emily Underwood)

In the Daily Office app I use on my phone (The Daily Office from Mission St. Clare), yesterday’s hymn was “Today I Awake” by John Bell. (I’ve shared another of John Bell’s hymns, “Take O Take Me As I Am,” in a past post [click on the title above to see the post, which has the words as well as a link to a recording of the hymn].) Bell’s treatment of the Trinity is beautiful, and it reminded me of the book Delighting in the Trinity (this link leads to a blog post recommending that book–so good!)

I re-read this hymn all day long yesterday, and last night I found a Youtube recording of it so I could also hear the tune. Click on the title below to listen to the recording. Hope you enjoy as well.

Today I Awake” by John Bell

Today I awake and God is before me.

At night, as I dreamt, God summoned the

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Fish @ the Conservatory  (by Em)

day;

For God never sleeps but patterns the morning

with slithers of gold or glory in grey.

Today I arise and Christ is beside me.

He walked through the dark to scatter new light.

Yes, Christ is alive, and beckons his people

to hope and to heal, resist and invite.

Today I affirm the Spirit within me

at worship and work, in struggle and rest.

The Spirit inspires all life which is changing

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Another Conservatory pic (by Em)

from fearing to faith, from broken to blest.

Today I enjoy the Trinity round me,

above and beneath, before and behind;

the Maker, the Son, the Spirit together

They called me to life and call me

their friend.

Lots of “Q”s and one “A”

James 1-5

I wrote this in my journal in late January. We’d been quietly praying about direction for months, and this verse came up as the verse of the day on Bible Gateway. I wrote it in my journal and then took a pic of it so I would have it on my phone as well.

With our upcoming move into the city of Chicago, we’re facing lots of questions.

Where will the kids go to school? Don’t know.

Where will we go to church? Ditto.

What ministries will we be able to plug into as a family? Another unknown.

Where will we live? Still in process on that one, too!

But the biggest one of all for me is not one of the “W” questions, but the “H” one. How? How, in all these different, new places and contexts, do we learn how to live out our faith? How do we approach others with sensitivity and get to know them well? How do we make authentic friendships in which Jesus is evident? How do we become good neighbors and trusted members of a neighborhood?

Each time I’ve opened my daily prayer app this spring, I get the answer.

flashback of venture corps

The picture above was taken in spring 2008 in Uganda. See the little guy on the right side? That’s our Patrick. He was being cared for by all the other people in this picture while we, in the States, were in the process of adopting him. That was also a time filled with questions! In the picture below, taken just outside our house in West Chicago, Patrick is front and center, and his brother Jake is kneeling on his right. Four of the other people in the picture above are also in this pic–joined by two of Jody and Aaron’s children.

It is the season of Pentecost in the church calendar, and the opening sentence for this time is Acts 1:8. “You shall receive power when the Holy Ghost has come upon you; and you shall be my witness in Jerusalem and in all Judea, and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

I am reminded: the disciples in “real” Pentecost time experienced some of the same feelings we are experiencing. After three years of following Jesus around, of always knowing who their leader was, of seeing his example of love and faith and care, they lost him to the skies.

They returned to their upper room and huddled together, unsure of where to go, what to do, and how to do any of it.

Yep, same questions.

But the beginning of Acts, written later in retrospect, begins with some of Jesus’ last words to his disciples. “You’ll get the Holy Spirit,” he told them, “And when the Holy Spirit comes on you, you will be able to be my witnesses…”

Matovus, Hoekstras, and PJ and JakeAnd where will they be able—enabled—to be his witnesses?

Answer: Everywhere.

Downtown Chicago, therefore, is covered by this promise. It may be new to us, but it’s not new to him.

The “when,” the “what,” the exact “where”–he’ll answer all of these.

And he’s got the “how” covered, too.

Held, always

daveandpj hands

My husband’s and youngest child’s hands–in an incredible shot taken by my oldest

“Mom, how do you know you’re a Christian?”

My child who has never seen shades of grey—least of all in herself—has begun wrestling with some of the hard questions of faith. Tonight she is struggling with a question I remember from my own growing-up years.

How do I know I’m saved? I don’t feel saved. I’m not doing a very good job as a Christian right now. I’m not loving God much—others either. I feel distant, and God seems vague—or worse. What if it was all fake—and I’m not really saved?

Oh, yes, I remember.

I also remember what I did in response: said the sinner’s prayer again (and again, and again), just to be sure, just to “seal the deal.”

But that’s not what I suggested to my troubled child. Instead I used a metaphor.

Do you remember when you were little and I would carry both you and your brother on my hips from the car into the store?

A nod.

Did you always hold onto me?

Head shake.

Sometimes you did. Sometimes you clutched tight, arms and legs. I could have let go completely, and you would have still hung there like a little monkey.

But much of the time you were like a sack of potatoes—you left it all up to me—and other times you actually struggled to get down. You pushed against me. I had to hold on tight.

I looked into her eyes.

We’re all like that with God. There are times we cling, times we know our desperate need for God, and we hang on for dear life. But that’s not all the time; it’s not most of the time. Most of the time we sit like a disinterested sack of potatoes. We’re not really concerned with our relationship with God. We’re not working on it. Sometimes we actually push him away. We don’t want anything to do with Him.

Her look changes from worried to thoughtful.

Did I ever just drop you when you acted like that?

No.

Neither does He. He’s still holding you, no matter what.

And because I have learned much lately about the Body of Christ and our deep responsibilities as members of it, I told her this.

Darling, I see the evidence of God’s work in you. I’ve seen it for years. I remember the first moment you said you really wanted to follow Christ, and I saw transformation even then. It’s still happening now. I am testifying to you of God’s work in you, of His faithfulness to continue His work in you.

Not long after this conversation, I read a book about us Christians being invited into a community of atonement, and I remembered a story someone once told me about a man, a Christian, who was in deep distress. He’d lost a dear loved one and his grief was overwhelming him. A fellow Christian encouraged him to continue coming to church, and the man responded, “I can’t participate. I can’t pray. I can’t even recite the Lord’s Prayer or sing the Doxology. I can’t do any of it.”

His friend told him, “That doesn’t matter. We will do it for you, on your right, on your left, in front of and behind you. We will praise and confess and worship around you, for you, in a sense. It will carry you along, and when you are ready, you can join in again.”

I have long loved the prayer cried out by the father who asked Jesus to heal his child: Lord, I believe; help my unbelief. I have prayed it many, many times myself. And I am beginning to understand that not only does the Lord personally help—with the Father’s strong, gentle hand, with the whisper and comfort of the Holy Spirit, with the active Gospel accomplished by and in the Son—but He also helps through His Body, His Church.

Hebrews 10:23-25 (RSV)~ Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful; 24 and let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, 25 not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.

Hebrews 10: 19-25 (Message)~ So, friends, we can now—without hesitation—walk right up to God, into “the Holy Place.” Jesus has cleared the way by the blood of his sacrifice, acting as our priest before God. The “curtain” into God’s presence is his body. 22-25 So let’s do it—full of belief, confident that we’re presentable inside and out. Let’s keep a firm grip on the promises that keep us going. He always keeps his word. Let’s see how inventive we can be in encouraging love and helping out, not avoiding worshiping together as some do but spurring each other on, especially as we see the big Day approaching.

The foot of the cross

green leafTears pool at the lower eyelids of this child who rarely cries. The teen years are hard and confusing. But as she talks with me this day, I sense something deeper, something beneath the frustration with herself, beneath the fears of all the mental/emotional/physical changes she is dealing with. And what I sense is very, very familiar to me.

I sense shame.

“I want you to imagine something,” I tell her.

She nods and closes her eyes.

“You are standing at the foot of the cross.”

I wait a moment and then ask, “Are you facing it or turned away from it?”

“Turned away,” she whispers.

“In your hands is your guilt, your fear, your shame. You’re not running from it any more. You’re holding it, admitting it. You don’t know what part of it is real or is your responsibility—it doesn’t matter anymore. You can stop fighting.”

Her eyes are closed, but I see her swallow.

“You need to turn around. You need to face the cross.”

An expression, almost of pain, ripples across her face.

“You can do it. It’s okay.”

I give her a minute.

“Are you facing the cross?”

She nods.

“What are you looking at?” I ask.

She doesn’t open her eyes. “At what I’m holding.”

“Look up, honey. Trust me. Trust Jesus. Just look up.”

I see her chin lift. Her face relaxes.

“Jesus is looking at you, isn’t he?”

She smiles.

“It’s not what you expected, is it?
She shakes her head.

“Sweetheart, he knows all your shame, all your fear, and he’s not shocked. He took care of all of it. Are you still holding it?”

Another nod.

“Drop it. Let go.”

Her hands, still cupped together on her lap, now pull apart.

“Jesus is not fixed to the cross anymore. We bring our burdens to it, but his work on it is finished. His arms are free.”

I don’t have to speak anymore. I watch as her hands lift.

And I know she is in his arms.

~~~~~~~~~

I tell this story with my daughter’s blessing. She wanted me to share it because we have talked about how she is not alone in her struggle with shame. We experience shame over so many different issues, but the reality of the cross sets us free. It allows us to stop our frantic and pessimistic striving, to accept our failings and know that God would/will use them for his good. We can listen to the Holy Spirit and allow ourselves and others to be on a journey rather than in a series of tests. Together, my daughter and I share this in the hope that it will help someone else today.

My friend, Aubrey Sampson, has written Overcomer: Breaking Down the Walls of Shame and Rebuilding Your Soul. Aubrey writes and speaks with authenticity about this battle. If you or someone in your life wrestles with shame, please consider buying her book. The link connected to Aubrey’s name above takes you to her personal website. The link connected to the book title takes you to its purchase page on Christianbook.com’s website.

Our bodies–declared GOOD

redeemedI think it was my sister who got me started on Popsugar/Fitsugar workouts, which are offered free on Youtube. (Don’t worry, this is not a commercial for Popsugar, nor is it a plug for exercise!)

The vast majority of the workouts feature Anna R, a fitness expert. One of the things I appreciate about Anna is that, though she looks exactly as our culture would expect a fitness expert to look, the other women in the videos with her do not, and she always treats them with the utmost respect. Her goal for them is fitness, not the “perfect” figure, and she doesn’t seem too terribly focused on the fact that she herself pretty much has the perfect figure.

The other day, though, I got a new perspective on Anna R. I pulled up Youtube in the early morning, typed in Popsugar fitness, and all the little squares came up, each a video choice. The human figures in the little squares were about an inch high. Intrigued by the caption on one—which promised a full-body workout in 20 minutes—I clicked on it.

When it popped up in full screen, I was surprised. When it had been limited to a tiny square, I had assumed the thin, athletic figure in the middle was Anna, and the figure to the left, who was still shapely but not quite as svelte—was one of the “other women,” the “normal” women, the ones I identify with when I follow the workouts.

But no. The woman in the middle was the very tall, very thin fitness expert Astrid M, and the woman to the left was Anna. Since Astrid’s thighs are probably the size of my upper arms, Anna didn’t look quite so thin next to her, particularly when their images were shrunk down.

And I suddenly wondered if “perfect figure” Anna plays the comparison game, too.

After all, most of us women do.

I do it, but I grow increasingly frustrated with myself for engaging in this body-comparison game. It’s a waste of my energy; it’s ridiculous; and I see clearly that no good comes from it. More and more I also understand that obsession with or subtle shame for the appearance of my body is connected to a twisted view of sexuality. Deep within I believe my worth is tied to my attractiveness, and this view is linked to the curse.

I was reading N.T. Wright’s Surprised by Hope when he made an almost offhand comment about one of his students hoping her resurrected body would have a different nose. I identified immediately (except I happen to like my nose; perhaps my ears, though? My thighs?)

But then I wondered, Why would she have a different nose? What is wrong with the one she has right now? I understand our resurrected bodies won’t bear the effects of sin and the curse (no heart failure, cancer, blindness, missing limbs, aching knees, etc.) but do we really believe that God looks at her nose—or my ears/thighs or your hips—and says, “No, that is not good”?

After all, our justification for calling parts (or the whole) of our bodies “not good” is generally in comparison with others’ parts/wholes. If my thighs are strong and get me places and can climb mountains and walk trails, why do I care that they might jiggle a little in the process? Why would that make them “not good”?

Answer: because they don’t look like Anna R’s or Astrid M’s thighs.

We have a terribly skewed version of “good.” It must mean “perfect,” we think, and we then imagine “perfect” to be uniformity, complete symmetry, fitting within a narrow definition of beauty and perfection.

But with this view, Eden becomes a very sterile garden. Did every piece of fruit have to look exactly the same? Were funky shaped pears forbidden? Did all the tree trunks have to be straight?

Or did it include lumpy fruit and gnarled branches, and were these considered GOOD because they showed in unique ways the beauty and creativity of God?

Did God rejoice in their distinct, individual beauty?

Does God do the same with that woman’s nose—and my ears—and my thighs—and your hips?

I’m reminded of the verse that often ends wedding ceremonies, “What God has joined together, let not man put asunder.” (Mark 10:9)

I’m not trying to wrongly use that verse to speak to our body image (it’s clearly referring to marriage), but there is a principle here. God put my body together. I must stop denigrating it; stop ripping it apart with my words and attitudes and thoughts. And I certainly must never denigrate someone else’s body.

We should feel free to work out and eat well to allow our bodies to serve us better, to serve God better, to serve others better, but we must love them in the process. God loves our bodies; God made them. He will eventually restore the damage done to them by sin, but they are still his creation.

Who knows—my resurrected thighs may jiggle just as much as my current ones.

And my resurrected mind and spirit will fully agree with God’s assessment: they are good.