I have an article up at Plough magazine

Hi Everyone,

I know it’s been ages since I’ve posted, but I just had a piece published at Plough, a magazine (both print and online) that I highly respect. Plough provides lots of thoughtful/reflective and change-prompting reading that I’ve appreciated over the past year. The piece I have there is “Belonging.” Just follow the link to read, and while you’re there, check out the magazine and website.

Blessings,

Jen

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The Washing of My Feet

 

Last fall I was invited to a women’s gathering at a church right around the corner from my home. This church is intentionally pressing into the unity of the Church, across ethnic and economic divisions, and I knew the women at this gathering would be coming not only from the Austin neighborhood (my neighborhood) but also from surrounding suburbs. I would see African American, white, and Latina faces, and the leadership team would reflect this diversity as well.

The theme of the morning was service, and the leaders put flesh on this theme. They served every woman there. I rushed in late, and while one leader gave up her seat so I could have a spot at a table, another brought me breakfast, and still another got me coffee and orange juice. I was almost overwhelmed by their service,.

After some fellowship with table mates and a sermon about our call to servanthood, one of the leaders stepped to the podium. “We’ve been praying about this gathering for a long time,” she said, “and we asked God to show us how we could best serve you. We felt led to wash feet as an act of service.”

Ah, foot washing! I’d never encountered it till I was a college student and I went to a Grace Brethren church that practiced it as part of their communion service. Since then, I’ve participated in foot washing in several contexts, but I’d never just had my feet washed. I’d always washed another’s as well. Foot washing always has an uncomfortable element to it (which is good, I think), but this felt particularly strange because I would be receiving only, not giving, and I’m not exactly great at that.

The other women and I pulled off shoes and stripped off socks. I brushed lint away from my heels and curled my toes into the carpet. I stared at my feet.

Leaders began coming to the tables, kneeling before the seated women.

Suddenly a leader was in front of me.

She, an African American leader was in front of me, a white woman.

I am very often aware of my whiteness, on a number of levels. I live in a neighborhood in which whites are only 2% of the population. When I walk or drive down my street, I often get second looks. Though I wouldn’t say I’m completely relaxed with this, I see it as being good for me.

But this: an African American woman in front of me; kneeling in front of me; about to wash my feet…

I instinctively pulled my feet back. Tears began streaming down my face.

And I don’t know what she was processing, but tears started streaming down her face as well. Still, she pushed the bowl of water toward me and held out her hands.

And I put my feet into them. And we cried together. And she washed my feet.

When she finished, we both stood and embraced. I was close to sobbing.

This next week, as part of the Maundy Thursday service of Holy Week, in which we celebrate Jesus’ last night with his disciples, we here in Cornerstone Parish will wash each other’s feet. We are a parish of multiple congregations. Our congregations span economic levels, ethnic divides, educational levels… I don’t know whose feet I will wash. I don’t know who will wash my feet. There will be, no matter what, uncomfortable moments.

And it will be strange.

And that is good.

Because we all, brothers and sisters in Christ, are called to love each other in ways that let the outside world know we follow Christ. We are called to serve each other in ways that run counter-cultural to the world around us.

And though this service and love should reach far, far beyond foot washing, the foot washing itself is a wonderful start. It’s a reminder and a call into depths of love only possible in and through Christ.

Two tables

Pete was trying to learn how to talk with them, but it was difficult even to understand their different ways of eating, their strange foods. He still had to mask his shudders at what he sometimes found on his plate, had to bite his tongue at the questions that rose instantly to his mind. He still thought of them as smelling odd; the scents that rose from their clothing and skin were unfamiliar.

Most of all, though, he just had to get over the fact that he was sitting arm by arm with them. Was this really the way it was supposed to be? His mind still circled round and round the barriers that had always existed between his people and these people—were they supposed to sit at the same table? Share meals together? Come together in complete equality—not as the “haves” and “have-nots”—but as the equally grace-given? As brothers? As family?

He often watched his friend interact with them. How did he seem so natural? Was he not struggling with the same thoughts? His friend had adopted some of their mannerisms; he seemed to enjoy their food; he laughed at jokes that were not quite kosher. He accepted their hugs; he hugged them back.

He seemed comfortable in ways Pete could not understand. For Pete, the questions still circled. He fought the impulse to sit apart, to surround himself with those who felt familiar to him, who shared a common tradition, culture, codes—both written and unwritten. Yet he kept being surprised by joy. In the midst of meals and gatherings that felt awkward and fumbling, he felt sudden flashes of joy, a joy beyond and above the sense of belonging he’d always had with his own people. It was a joy outside himself, and the joy didn’t bring ease and comfort. Even in the moments of greatest joy he felt himself longing for conversation in which he knew the right things to say, in which the other person knew the right things as well. He longed to have a meal with people who shared his cultural codes. He ached for an evening of storytelling that made sense to him, an evening in which he understood each person’s point of view, an evening in which any differences were simple ones, arising out of a shared culture.

Here, with this group of mixed backgrounds, he had to watch his quick tongue; he had to swallow his pride and ask pardon—often—when he unknowingly stepped on toes; he had to learn to see from others’ perspectives. His sense of humor felt squashed; they didn’t understand his jokes. He didn’t understand theirs. He often felt as if he were stumbling around in the dark. It was hard—it was work! And he wondered if it wouldn’t be best to just keep some separation, just a little?

But again, that Joy, that unmistakable Joy! Could this really be what God wanted? This uncomfortable mixing?

This night one of the men was in the middle of telling a story—a story of his growing up years. Pete had to smooth his face to hide the shock at what the man was describing. Such shameful actions, so much profanity! So different from his own carefully guided upbringing! Did this man have no understanding of decency? Was there no order to the relationships in his family?

Suddenly the door opened.

Pete felt the blood rush to his face. He sprang to his feet and stepped away from the table. He slowed his breathing and calmed his features and then looked at the men who had just entered the room. He took in their clothing and read their faces.

They recognized him. They knew his name. Pete took another step away from the table.

Pete watched as the men’s gazes slid across the table, the food on it, the men and women around it. The men nodded and smiled at several people, but Pete knew what they were thinking. There was such a mix of emotion in his own heart—sorrow, frustration, shame—but there was also relief. He knew what they were thinking. He could identify with them. They spoke the same unspoken language.

A woman at the table asked if they all wanted to squeeze in. “We can make room,” she said, but one of the men shook his head. “There are too many of us. We would crowd you too much.” Pete saw the face of the one who’d offered space, and he swallowed. He could read that face, too, now.

The men were now looking at him. Pete felt himself slide away from the table even further, till he was almost against the wall. He stepped toward the men. “Come this way,” he told them. “We’ll find a quiet table where we can talk.”

~~~~

It wasn’t what he’d hoped for. Oh, the food was familiar and the conversation was comfortable and easy. He knew what to say and what to do.

But something wasn’t right.

He pushed this knowledge down, tried to pull up the sense of belonging he should be feeling. He reminded himself that these were his people. This was what he’d been missing.

And then the door of this room, too, opened.

Paul stood in the doorway, his eyes wide.

“What are you doing here? Why aren’t you out there with the others? This is not right!”

Paul was in Peter’s face now, his finger nearly touching Peter’s nose. “You know, Peter. You know! This—” Paul waved his arm, gesturing toward the large room where Peter had been sitting not so long before and then back to the table where Peter now sat. “—this is not where you should be! We are one family now; one body; one people; one Church! You are wrong to separate yourself from them.”

           adapted from Galatians 2:11-14 

          For commentary on this passage, read “The Conflict at Antioch” on Bible Gateway.

O God the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, our only Savior, the Prince of Peace: Give us grace seriously to lay to heart the great dangers we are in by our unhappy divisions; take away all hatred and prejudice, and whatever else may hinder us from godly union and concord; that, as there is but one Body and one Spirit, one hope of our calling, one Lord, one Faith, one Baptism, one God and Father of us all, so we may be all of one heart and of one soul, united in one holy bond of truth and peace, of faith and charity, and may with one mind and one mouth glorify thee; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen. A Prayer for the Unity of the Church (the Book of Common Prayer)

Cross-shaped prayer

iron cross at Westminster

A picture taken in London just before heading to Scotland in January 2016–looking into the inner courtyard of Westminster Abbey

In January of 2016 Dave and I led a group of Wheaton Academy students on a trip to Scotland. It was a double-duty trip for us. We were praying for guidance; about which of two very different directions we should pursue. One of those directions was Scotland. We met with the UK field director of GEM (Greater European Missions) during that trip, and it was in many ways an exploratory time for us.

But we were also praying about moving into the city of Chicago, to live in a depressed neighborhood, for Dave to teach/work with underprivileged kids. It was strange how God used the wonderful, spiritually rich trip to Scotland to confirm that it was not the decision for this time, and Chicago is. One of the confirming moments came when we put on the program for an assembly at a Scottish public high school. We began with a video one of our students had made to introduce the team members and their home. After shots of Wheaton Academy and its grounds, the video moved to the downtown area of Chicago. One shot showed hundreds of people milling around the Bean. Watching it for the first time in that assembly, I suddenly got choked up. There were all those people, of all ethnicities and races and religions, gathered together to look at a reflective structure, but going home to segregated neighborhoods, going home to places sorely in need of gospel hope. Behind me in that auditorium sat rows and rows of students who needed to hear about Christ, and I was fervently praying for them, but my heart was pounding for the people of Chicago. When Dave told me—without my saying anything about my own experience—that he’d had much the same reaction when he saw the video, we knew God was stirring in our hearts.

Another affirming moment on that trip came in a coffee shop, where Dave and I had retreated while the students shopped in the area. Here’s what I wrote in my journal about that time:

We were talking about a topic we’ve often discussed: why are some prayers—especially those for “small” things—answered, while others, particularly those for very necessary, very important things, seem to be ignored. This topic had re-surfaced because I told Dave how glad I was that a member of our mission team who’d felt sick the day before was fully recovered. I remarked, “Several of us were praying for her.”

He got a funny look on his face and pulled out the book he’s currently reading: There Are No Children Here, published in 1991, written by Alex Kotlowitz, a Chicago journalist. It follows the lives of brothers Lafayette and Pharaoh, two young boys who lived in the Henry Horner Homes, a public housing complex just blocks from Chicago’s Loop that was a veritable war zone. Dave turned to a passage and gave me a preface before reading it aloud. Nine-year-old Pharaoh, seeking respite from the violence and drama of Henry Horner, has found a condominium complex nearby with green lawns and trees. He goes there to sit under the trees and simply be.

Pharaoh had long sought such a refuge. For a few months last spring, he’d attended Bible classes at the First Congregational Baptist Church. Washington Boulevard was lined with churches, but most of them now served people who had since moved from the neighborhood. Churches had lost their authority in areas like Horner. Pharaoh grew bored with the classes and began to question whether there was indeed a God. He often prayed to him, asking that he let them move from the projects. But, Pharaoh would say, “I be praying but he don’t do nothing. Maybe there ain’t no God.” It was as much a question as it was a statement. (page 143)

Dave read the last line and then looked up at me. “I’m struggling with this right now. How can we pray for such relatively small things as someone’s upset stomach when people all over the world are living lives like this?” He tapped the page in the book. “And how does God see these vastly different prayers? Why are our prayers for someone’s stomach answered when a young kid praying not to be molested or sold for sex doesn’t get the answer they so desperately need? When a mom who has prayed for food to feed her family watches her baby starve to death? I don’t understand!”

I don’t understand either. Part of his question does have to do with God, to be sure, but Scripture tells me God is not indifferent to suffering, and Christ proved to me God is not indifferent to suffering. But we, the people of God, the Church, are the body of Christ here, so why is it that Pharaoh was left so abandoned? Where was the church? Why weren’t the churches of Chicagoland agonized by Henry Horner and the other housing projects? And the violence and hopelessness of areas like Englewood and Lawndale and Garfield Park? Why aren’t we agonized now?

I asked Dave to hand me the book. I wanted to look at one line in particular. I read it aloud to him. “Churches had lost their authority in areas like Horner.”

“What if the churches were supposed to be the answer to Pharaoh’s prayer?” I asked. “What if they were supposed to pray about Henry Horner—along with all the personal requests they had—praying BOTH, until God so changed their hearts they were ready to act and intervene and enter in, even if in small ways at first? Until they served the people who lived right nearby rather than those who’d had the resources to move out?

“I know it’s not really an answer to your question, but I don’t think the answer is an either-or proposition. I think we should pray about all hurts, even the ones we see as small.”

I looked back at this journal entry a few times during the months that followed, as we prayed for both “big” and “small” and received guidance for all and then detours and then more guidance. For us the conversation was about the inner city and inequality in education and racial reconciliation in the church. But even more so, it was a conversation about prayer and change–heart change. And that’s a conversation for everyone. Not everyone is being led to the inner city, but all of us are being led somewhere, even if it’s right out our front door, even if it’s simply onto our knees.

Prayer opens our blinded eyes and guarded hearts to the needs we are meant to see, meant to enter into.

So I’d like to end this post with some words I read recently in The Challenge of Jesus by N. T. Wright.

The Christian vocation is to be in prayer, in the Spirit, at the place where the world is in pain, and as we embrace that vocation, we discover it to be the way of following Christ, shaped according to his messianic vocation to the cross, with arms outstretched, holding on simultaneously to the pain of the world and to the love of God. … Learn new ways of praying with and from the pain, the brokenness, of that crucial part of the world where God has placed you. And out of that prayer discover the ways of being peacemakers, of taking the risk of hearing both sides, of running the risk of being shot at from both sides. Are you or are you not a follower of the crucified Messiah? (The Challenge of Jesus, chapter 8, “The Light of the World”) 

Consider others…

I read this quote today: “This election was a referendum on the echo chamber, and the echo chamber won. We can choose now to retreat once again into those echo chambers or begin to listen more attentively to one another—to love our neighbors by learning about them and their needs and perspectives whether black, white, Asian, or Latino/a; whether Christian, Muslim, or none; whether upper, middle, or working class; whether voter or one of the nearly half of eligible voters that sat out this election. Following this election, I’m convinced that we don’t know our neighbors well enough to begin to truly love them.

The quote above is from Karen Swallow Prior, and it was included in a Christianity Today article on evangelical leaders responding to the presidential election. Prior, who wrote the above quote, was speaking of a divided country, and I agree with her point that it is important we get to know people who are unlike us. But as Christians, we are first, before dealing with a divided country, dealing with a divided Family, and I want to start with getting to know some Family members who have different viewpoints than I. One of the ways I’ve been trying to do this is through reading the writings of Christians who are minorities in this country and in the American church.

Today I’m sharing some of those voices with you. I’ve gathered a lot of articles and blogs and websites; some are specifically responding to the election; others are simply blogs in which the authors share their heart; still others are looking at specific issues from a particular perspective. I’ve listed them below under the name of the author or the organization, even if what is linked is a specific article. One area that I feel is lacking in the list I’ve gathered below is the perspective of individual Latinos/as, so if you are a Latino/a writer or you know of a Christian Latino/a writer with a blog, please comment and share the address. (I have, though, included the websites of two Latino evangelical groups–and they do not share the exact same views). One thing: I realized after I had compiled the list that I included more women writers than men. Sorry about that.

Last weekend my kids watched The Hunger Games. In the film, when the people in District 11 revolted and rioted after their Hunger Games representative (Rue) died, the ruling people in the capitol were bewildered and shocked, but, of course, my kids weren’t. They’d been able to watch the film from the perspective of Katniss, a representative from another district very like District 11. This allowed my kids to understand the anger and hurt. In the same way, some of the pieces shared below also express strong anger or sorrow. They may make you feel uncomfortable. You may feel diametrically opposed to the writer’s views. Try to work through this and consider this a window into the writer’s world,  a chance for you to look deep into someone else’s heart.

One last thing: this is certainly not meant to be a substitute for actually getting to know people; it’s simply a starting point.

Thabiti Anyabwile

Esau McCaulley

Kathy Khang

Dennis Edwards

National Latino Evangelical Coalition

Dr. Soong-Chan Rah

Ruthie Johnson

National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference

Andrea Ramirez

Patricia Raybon

Austin Channing

Deidra Riggs

Osheta Moore

This last one is not a particular person, but I thought the women highlighted in this article had some great wisdom and thought I would share: “How do we parent our kids during this political season?”

Kingdom Vision

My last post was seen by a few as being somewhat divisive. Division is not my hope for my blog, for my voice, for my life. One of my deepest desires is for unity in the Church, for us to look more and more like the kingdom, where people from every nation and tongue and people stand shoulder to shoulder and worship God together, where we see ourselves as one people—God’s people—together, and THAT is our primary identity, where there are no poor, no mentally ill, no addictions (other than the supreme, life-giving one of being addicted to our God!), no wars…

All right—clearly, the Church can’t do all of that now. That’s a beautiful, Revelation picture of the future when the KING is visibly reigning, but that vision of the Kingdom should drive us now. If that’s what God’s love fulfilled in all our lives looks like, then that should dominate much of the work of the Church. Think of what a picture that would give to the world—to those in our communities who have no eternal hope, who have no community, who recognize a longing deep in their soul.

I think the division in my last blog post came because I was lamenting the election of our new president, and some reading it concluded that I would not have been writing it had Hilary Clinton been elected.

They’re right. I wouldn’t have. But nor would I have rejoiced. She wasn’t my candidate either. I didn’t have one. I don’t think either of them gets us closer to the Kingdom of God vision.

Truth is, they’re not supposed to.

That’s the vision for the CHURCH, not America. The Church is supposed to look different, is supposed to BE different and winsome and beautiful (though messy).

So why did I “rant” about Trump if I wouldn’t have about Clinton?

My answer follows, but, please, before/if you read any further, please know that what I write next comes from years of the Lord moving in my heart, comes from a place of personal repentance and not finger-pointing. It comes from a growing-ever-deeper love for the Church—and from the understanding that I, too, have recognition and continual repenting to do following this election.

So why did I “rant” about Trump?

Because the white church in America (of which I am part) hasn’t done a good job of working with all its might for the Kingdom vision. It hasn’t crossed racial and ethnic divides; it hasn’t encouraged humility and lament for past sins; it hasn’t stayed in the places of greatest need; it hasn’t continually welcomed the stranger and shabby and needy ones.

And because that is the history of the white church in America, and the current white church (I hate that it’s still so divided that this adjective still very much applies) hasn’t made serious steps to heal that history, we must take some ownership in this very divided America, an America in which a lot of marginalized people are seen as “other” by the white majority, an American in which a lot of marginalized people feel they are seen as second-class and not completely welcome among the white majority, not as equals at least.

But, white church, we must go beyond this because this is true inside the Church as well. Inside Jesus’ church here in America, our brothers and sisters who have a skin color other than white often do not feel that the white church at large sees them as equals—they do not feel that the white church fully welcomes them—particularly not in leadership positions. Many see our separateness as a way for us to continue to have our own worlds. Many feel they are welcome to visit or even be in our worlds, as long as it’s not in such large numbers that they affect our culture or have some element of authority. Many have deep wounds of mistrust caused by centuries of supremacy and oppression both outside the Church as well as within it.

With these feelings and this viewpoint, can we understand, have we tried to understand, what it must have felt like when the white church turned out in large numbers and voted for a candidate whose rhetoric and proposed policies support a form of white supremacy? Have we tried to understand why some of our brothers and sisters feel so hurt and so threatened by his election? I understand that many of us voted for Trump for totally unrelated reasons, but now it is time–in the humility Christ calls us to–to look at the other side of it, at another’s view.

We have not progressed beyond separate-but-equal thinking in the white church (there are times I’m not sure we’ve progressed that far). And if you’re reading this and you’re part of the white church and you find yourself thinking that separate-but-equal church sounds okay, if you think, What’s wrong with that? Or if you can say, Well, we have some minorities in our church, and I think that’s great—but no person of color is in a position of leadership in your church and it would be a little surprising to have a person of color in leadership… well, I would say there is work to do, vision-casting work—and acknowledging there is work to do is a wonderful first step.

I know the last few days have put many white evangelicals on the defensive, that they’ve been accused of racism and sexism, and that’s hard. But it’s nothing—nothing!—compared to what our brothers and sisters of color collectively have endured—for centuries—and are enduring even now. As followers of Christ, we must not go on the defensive; we MUST empathize; we MUST try to understand; we MUST listen and learn. We must practice stillness before God and allow the Holy Spirit to give us supernatural insight into the pain of others.

I am not saying this is easy. I am not saying there are any quick solutions (far from it, in fact), but we must remember that we will not be segregated in the kingdom.

And we are called to start practicing the kingdom now.

The Body, Broken and Whole

I have a short story up on The Redbud Post. It’s titled “The Body, Broken and Whole.”  Here’s an excerpt. If you want to read the whole thing, just click on the link above.

Ming moved down the line of Eucharist ministers, her pastoral robes swaying gently each time she stopped. “The body of Christ, broken for you,” she said, pressing bread into the outstretched hands of the minister in front of her. Another pastor followed behind her, carrying the cup, the two of them serving communion to the ministers so the ministers could then serve the rest of the congregation. At the far end of the line, Leah dropped her head and stared at her hands. One laid over the other, they formed the shape of a cross, ready to receive the bread, but without realizing, she’d pulled them close against her stomach. She noticed her fingers were curled, ready to close tight, ready to refuse the offering.

“Leah?”

Her head jerked up. Ming’s face was next to her own, and Leah could read concern in Ming’s dark eyes, in the expression on her almond-brown face.

Leah’s hands clenched shut. “I can’t, Ming,” she whispered. “I can’t take Communion.”

Ming looked at her a moment longer. Then she slid her arm around Leah’s shoulders and led her away from the others. Inside the small prayer room off the sanctuary, Ming nudged Leah into a chair, and then sat in one herself, pulling it close enough their knees almost touched.

“What is wrong?” Even after years in the U.S., faint traces of accent from her childhood in Cambodia still colored Ming’s voice.

Leah couldn’t meet her eyes. “I got angry with Bree this morning.”

Ming waited. When Leah didn’t say more, she asked, “What happened?”

Leah swallowed. “It was all little things. She didn’t do her homework from two nights ago, took some gum from my purse without asking, left clothes all over her room, and then, when she was supposed to be getting ready for church this morning…” How could she tell Ming what she had said?

The rest is at the Redbud Post. And while you’re there, check out some of the pieces by other Redbud writers–there’s some fantastic stuff! 

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.

Let the Mom Wars…Stop

One year ago, as the mom of a 7th grader, I was on the games committee for the 7th and 8th grade gala at my daughter’s school. I chose that committee because I assumed it wouldn’t involve decorating and because, during the actual event, my only responsibility would be to run a game and hang out with kids. But on set-up day, after I’d put together an indoor basketball hoop (which I enjoyed doing), I was asked to hang some fancy paper on the walls. Other moms were busily—and seemingly happily—doing similar jobs, but with each passing minute, I wanted more and more to escape to a quiet corner, pull out my laptop, and write.

The parents of 8th graders have virtually no responsibilities for the gala, so this year, after taking a few pictures of Em and friends in fancy attire, I went out to eat with a few other 8th grade moms. At some point one mom asked, “So what does everyone want to accomplish this summer?”

One mom said she wanted to paint her kitchen. Another wanted to work on memory books for her child moving on to high school. I didn’t voice the writing goals which jumped up immediately, waving their hands—because they had nothing to do with running my household or mothering my kids. I cast about for a less self-absorbed goal: plant a garden? (I’ve thought briefly about it!), clean the attic?… and decided to say nothing.

A few years ago my daughter was dealing with some girl drama at school. It involved an “in group” and an “out group” and those who were somewhere in between.

When she asked me for advice, I said, “Just give it time. It gets better as you get older. Women are more sure of who they are and less worried about what group they fit into.”

I don’t think I meant to outright lie. I must have been feeling fairly self confident in that second, and maybe there is a little truth to it; she was in fifth grade, after all.

But I don’t think we’ve outgrown this.

Deep down we are afraid that others’ callings or gifts or interests have more significance than our own. So we compare to convince ourselves that our own interests/gifts/callings (i/g/c) matter—and since sin always takes a good thing (in this case, significance) and twists it—we cannot simply accept our own i/g/c as valuable but must de-value others’ differences in order to feel better in comparison.

My family has recently begun attending a church that strongly emphasizes the unity of the Body, so I’ve been doing much thinking about differences and gifts in the context of the church.

But it applies to my mom-world as well.

To look down on someone else’s i/g/c—be it paid or volunteer—is to denigrate the body of Christ (whether it is represented by a church family or a group of moms pulling off a school event). A single human—or mom—cannot do all the different tasks and assignments God is weaving together into one great whole. Therefore, each person’s unique contribution is needed. Crayola doesn’t produce nearly enough shades to accomplish God’s varied and beautiful masterpiece: one mom must color with her chartreuse; I with my burnt umber; another with cerulean blue:.

So some moms like to volunteer a lot in their kid’s school; some don’t. Some enjoy working outside the home; others don’t. Some like crafts and scrapbooking and recording life events in beautiful, handmade books; others—like me—hate that. Some are convinced that motherhood is the best phase of their lives; others of us are still wondering how it happened.

When we compare differences instead of celebrating them, we harm God’s work. Comparison keeps us from relationship with those who have varied interests or passions; it strips from us enjoyment and appreciation of another’s i/g/c (and therefore we don’t encourage others to use their gifts); ultimately, comparison robs us of joy in our own work.

I’ve thought a lot about valuing those who are down-and-out, who have a different ethnicity than mine, who feel “other.”

But what about valuing those who, from the outside, look so much like me?

Yesterday morning I attended the final session of the spring women’s Bible study at my church. With my contribution in hand (a plastic bag of bagels and cream cheese still in its container), I looked for the food drop-off area before heading to the chapel. I found a table laden with wonderful food, beautifully staged with lovely fabrics and antique pieces. Each of the eating tables nearby had sprays from a bridal veil bush artfully arranged in pots and jars.

I couldn’t do that if I had step-by-step instructions with a kit provided.

I wouldn’t even think of doing that.

And in spiteful moments, I might even look down on that gift as less necessary or valuable than the gifts of the women about to minister to me with their teaching and music and administration.

But—God be thanked—spite was absent.

Instead I noticed. I valued. I enjoyed.