Loved and Beloved

I see her standing there, silent and calm, in the larger Swiss airport where chocolate lines shelves in the shops and little outfits hang to remind people of Heidi running the snow covered Alps.

Quebec was elegant with its French language and wine, but Switzerland is charming and peaceful. Even in the airports, one can pick out certain cultural qualities and appreciate them. But always, I notice the women.

Some are confident, marching along in slacks and brief cases for business. Others wear the exhausted look of a traveling mother. Some are clearly retired, with an older but carefree expressions on relaxed countenances. For them, life was well lived, and now enjoyed without work or pressure.

In Quebec, I had headed to the wine bar for a glass of Chardonnay, but in Switzerland, I head to a well-covered nun to see how I might relate to her in some way.

She’s shy and immediately tries to cover her mouth with her hands as she speaks. I look past her fingers to yellow teeth and wide open gaps. She’s a dear, quiet soul who somehow has given her life to service—and I wonder, who will love her?

Our plane lands in Tanzania where women live in poverty and cultural manners are distinctly different from America. The airline worker bumps into me on numerous occasions—and she, too, wears the deadpan look of a woman whose deepest longings have long been lost.

The cook at the shack where we stop to purchase breakfast of soup and chapati is a prostitute. At night she sells her body, and in the day she sells soup out of a smelly little shop looking more like a barn. Men with no integrity line her tables, and we choose a side spot to avoid stares.

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I’m thinking back to the beautiful, smartly dressed woman in America who waited behind me in line at security. Confidence oozed from her persona, beauty emanated from her being. She’s loved, admired, beautiful, and comfortable, but what about the nun with silent longings and wide gaps between her teeth, who never feels beautiful and lives a hidden life of service to others? Is she less of a woman?

Or does God speak something of value that reaches every woman?

Opportunity varies just as much as culture. Culture varies from one continent to the next, and we can’t choose our country any more than we can choose our parents. We are born where we are, and life begins, there.

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How is it possible, then, to place greater dignity and value on one woman than another?

I’m wondering if Jesus weeps a little (or a lot) when he loves his daughter so passionately that he designs her in the womb with thought and detail, but she enters the world and never receives the slightest resemblance of love from those surrounding her.

The little African girl seated at my sister’s table with her own five kids eats quietly, gratefully. Just a few years back, she roamed her village while her mama ran off to live another life and her little brother and young uncle cared for her. She slept with them in a small mud shack and basically survived.

Today, because someone chose to love her, her eyes hold a little more light, but there is still the old-soul suffering in her young countenance as she silently chows down as much food as she’s allowed. If she wasn’t guided to stop, she’d get a tummy ache.

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Do we know that this little girl, sleeping in a mud hut with her little brother is worth as much as the little girl dancing in the studios back home, face alight with happiness and body clothed in princess attire? Do we know that the color of her skin makes no difference to her worth, and her limited opportunity does not equate limited value?

And you, sister, who’s been rejected and left behind—do you know that in Christ, you are sought after and claimed? Just as opportunity and culture cannot determine a child’s value, so your circumstance cannot determine yours.

What a culture says to you, or what a man gives (or doesn’t give) to you can in no way define your worth. Many of the women here walk about with life-less eyes. They are used by men rather than loved by one man and they ask my sister, “Your man wants only you, only one? You are so lucky!”

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If I knew Swahili, I’d make it my mission in the next two weeks to assure every single woman that her worth isn’t measured by a man, her circumstances, her house, food, clothing, or opportunities.

It’s unbelievably cool that in the eyes of God, the lady chanting loudly to sell her wares outside the compound is worth every bit as much as the lady standing behind me in the airport dressed in smart business attire. One may despise the other, but God loves both equally.

I chat quietly with the nun, wishing there was more to bridge the gap between us. I wave to the lady balancing a log atop her head while she swings her youngster onto her hips—without losing balance. I smile at people behind me in long, weary lines.

Because the people of God are called to live out the heart of God, called to love each person equally, called to value, honor, and cherish each individual life whose worth began when God decided to create that life.

The nun with crooked teeth may know, just as well as the girl dancing in the studio, that she is loved with deeper love than she could ever imagine–a love not based on humanity but on a God from whom all  existence flows.

Because we owe our existence to his handiwork, we may as well go one step further and derive our value from his heart!

 

Forgetting what lies behind . . .

Honestly, forgetting is easier than ever when the aging process kicks in and you forget what you did yesterday.  However, if you check the recesses of your closet or the boxes in the attic or the cupboards in the garage, you’re certain to find some special long-lost or long-forgotten “treasure” which will swoosh you back to a moment that evokes pleasant (or maybe not so pleasant) memories.

Such was the scene a year ago when my husband plowed through boxes looking for who-knows-what when he discovered a childhood toy I had hung onto and carted around for 62 years.   Angel Casey’s Playhouse, a popular children’s program back in the fifties, held an art contest with the coveted grand prize being a platform hobby horse. Knowing my propensities as a five-year-old to both artwork and competition (which surprisingly has never dissipated), my mother encouraged me to enter.  She eagerly waited for me to come home from school the day my name was announced on television as the winner.

It was probably the first, and subsequently only, award I won for my art.  Was it really that terrific? Not so much. You’d be happy to know my artwork has definitely improved over the years, but it certainly represented a significant accomplishment in my young life.

Yes, a good memory indeed, but like all things we outgrow or forget, the little hobby horse was eventually dismantled and stuck in a box to make the rounds from Illinois to Texas and California before coming to its final resting place in Washington. Hoping to surprise me by assembling this long-forgotten treasure, my husband was shocked when I told him that I no longer wanted the hobby horse and had planned on getting rid of it.

“But what about our children or grandchildren?” he protested. “They would love it.”

Had he uttered that at a moment of temporary insanity?

“Today’s children have zero interest in non-mechanical, non-technical and potentially dangerous toys,” I reminded him.

“Perhaps an antique dealer would pay big bucks for this classic,” he responded.

No, not even an antique dealer was interested.

Eventually I came to the decision to dismantle my rusty-hinged “prize” and carted the remnants down to the firepit one night.  Amid continuing protests from my husband, I threw the pieces onto the burning logs.  Although a slight burst of nostalgia hit me as the flames engulfed the little guy (whose name I couldn’t even recall—or if I ever named him at all), surprisingly I had no regrets.  The brightly colored picture I had drawn, now housed in the cedar chest, and the memory of it all were enough to savor.

Paul goes on to remind us in Philippians 3:13 that after we have forgotten what lies behind, we are to reach forward to what lies ahead.  What exactly is that?  What is worth more than all those wonderful accomplishments? What can take the place of prizes and titles and awards and degrees? He tells us in verse 8—the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus as Lord.  The same year I labored over that award-winning picture is the very same year I invited Jesus into my heart as Savior and Lord.  Ironic, isn’t it?  But how very special.  I have had the privilege of knowing Him for 63 years now.  Just as Paul confessed, I can’t say I’ve arrived or that I never wrestle with a desire for material possessions or personal achievement.   However, I am understanding the eternal rewards that come with knowing Christ more intimately as I study His word and serve Him in the new ministry to which He has called me.  Things that speak to His heart.  Things that bring satisfaction and joy.  Things that cannot be destroyed or consumed.

Got the urge to do some exploring through those memories hiding in your closet or attic or garage?  It’s good to know where we’ve been and what we’ve experienced, but it’s better—even heavenly—to reach forward to what’s in store.

Post by Nancy Vance

 

 

 

Blessing or Impressing?

I’m waiting in the MOPS classroom, looking up at the screen, and I see it there—my face, name as the speaker of the day, and two published books. My heart is still, quiet, as if in the eye of a storm louder and greater than any I could venture into, so I retreat.

The storm I’m in has nothing to do with public speaking, because I happen to feel almost as at home behind a microphone as I do in my kitchen. But my life—it’s a hurricane—and I’m not sure how to speak without sharing parts of it because speaking is more about sharing than about impressing.

We all connect soul to soul more than theory to theory. All of us want heart to heart more than accomplishment.

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But I’m wondering why life is so utterly finite and we’re all so human we end up with lives we never dreamed we’d live.

I was looking at my daughter’s friends a few weeks ago, and I saw brokenness on their faces long before they opened their mouths to describe their families. I’m crushed for them, for all kids who face life with a broken home.  

I stood before the group of women that day and chose the honorable way of transparency. They saw not only my message but my rawness. They heard not only my goals of parenting but the challenges  as a single mother whose husband has just chosen another way and left the kids reeling with emotions to match Hurricane Katrina.

I spoke my heart out. All of our eyes welled in tears. I walked back to my seat and sat down, wondering why on earth I’d chosen, again, to share something I could have hidden. I could have left the building that day feeling just a little better about what they thought my life was like.

I chided myself immediately. My calling hadn’t begun with hypocrisy, and it wouldn’t flourish with it, either. The death of a life didn’t have to mean the death of a calling unless my own sin came in the way.

And then, she came, this beautiful little mama wanting to open up about her life because I had opened up about mine. The next one, and the next, until I left with more friends and open hearts than I’d dared hope for.

The authentic life is the beautiful life.

The honest life is the honorable life.

The blessed life is the bare life, because God has always clothed the naked.

I’m loading my plate up with muffins and cheesecake, because you can’t speak to a group of mothers without thinking of your own children, and one of mine’s a foodie. I smash the jumbo chocolate muffin right into the half-eaten piece of pumpkin cheesecake, and I know she won’t mind.

Sisters, if your name’s on a screen, make sure those listening to you see Jesus in your eyes. Allow him to strip you of all need to impress and fill you with a desire to bless. You’ll emerge from your broken places, knowing with Paul, that there is nothing to boast of except Jesus Christ and Him crucified.

By Sara Daigle

When Women Love Well

By Sara Daigle

Sometimes Instagram is inspiring.  For instance, one post that got over 7,ooo “likes” said,

“Peace and love are popular.  Truth isn’t.  All are Jesus.” wine glass

Peace and love without truth end up being a distorted version of love–like labeling the contents of a septic tank with the name of your favorite drink and trying to convince your friend of your good intentions for her health as you hand it to her in a wine glass. No one is silly enough to judge a woman for refusing the liquid labeled sewer water–even if it’s served in a wine glass. We don’t accuse her of judging but applaud her for speaking out on what’s really inside that wine glass. Yet, if women dare speak up on things that really matter, they are instantly judged for judging.

Weird how people who say they hate judging can judge so harshly. Peace, love, and truth meshed together epitomize the character of Jesus, who spent his days healing people who needed Him, but speaking out against sin because it destroys hearts and lives.

Ladies, did you know we can love the sinner but hate the sin? Any other world view instantly removes our ability to stand against anything, including murder, pedophilia, or any other crime. Loving people like Jesus did means we love all people but we don’t love all the things they do. Regardless of what is done in the name of love, only God has the right to define love, since it wouldn’t exist at all had He not created it to begin with!

A Living Legacy

redwood-treesMuir Woods was one of our favorite places to take visitors.  The awesome beauty and majesty of the redwoods surrounded by the mossy trails always brought a sense of peace and inspiration.  What a testimony of God’s marvelous creation! Looking at these magnificent trees, truly the largest living thing on earth, provides inspiration enough, but knowing the mystery behind these trees reveals so many spiritual  lessons for all of us.

First of all, the redwoods require an abundant supply of water. They must take in plentiful nourishment on a consistent basis or they will fail to thrive.  As believers, ignoring our need to drink daily from the living water is certain to stunt our spiritual growth, but resupplying our spiritual roots daily through prayer and Bible study keeps us vital and effective.

BF475A3A-AF20-41E2-A85A-DE88B3479195-4589-00000B040CC61B3F_tmpSecondly , the redwoods are highly resistant to fire, indeed seemingly indestructible.  Their cones, which may take only two years to mature but contain up to 200 seeds, await heat from a fire to open and release their seeds. This produces regrowth within a year. Believers are told to expect fiery trials which will test us (I Peter 4:12), and the fire will reveal our work for what it is (I Cor. 3:13). In this is the divine plan so that we may be mature and complete, not lacking anything (Jas. 1:4). What a perfect opportunity to use our trials to become the catalyst for maturing us in Christ and grow us in new ways~to use our scars to tell our story.

Lastly, contrary to popular assumption, the roots of the gigantic redwood trees do not grow deep but spread under the surface as much as three times the height of the tree, intertwining with the groping roots from the other redwoods in the grove. After a couple hundred years, these root systems are so interwoven, there is no way a tree could fall down. Such a significant parallel to our need for fellowship, indeed unity, among believers. As David ascribes in Psalm 133:1 “How good and pleasant it is when God’s people live together in unity!” Or as Paul urges in Galatians 6:2 to “bear each other’s burdens,” by which our love provides strength to hold each other up.

This was the true testimony of the OPWF Inspirational Weekend 2017~a beautiful grove of redwoods~400 strong holding up their sisters in Christ. Oh, may we continue to grow unified in strength and maturity and love.

 

An Open Letter to Elisa

Dear Elisa,

As difficult as it may be to put into words exactly how we were impacted by the OPWF Inspirational Weekend 2017, I will attempt to share my thoughts, along with so many others who provided feedback.

What a foretaste of heaven to see so many women from this area together in fellowship and prayer in a true spirit of love and oneness. This provided new insight into the heart of God for all of us.  The vision of our OPWF leadership team was realized as women found encouragement in their walk and their desire for extending their ministry~whether across the street or within their church.  Elisa, sharing your life experiences created a safe atmosphere for women to be honest before God and confess their own brokenness and desire to see themselves as God sees them~beauty-full in all their brokenness. How God-ordained that you would be the one to speak at our inaugural event and start us off on a path of acceptance which we hope will culminate in doing what we can with what we have where we are.

Special comments from some of the women:

Elisa, I found you to be engaging and challenging.  You were open and honest in sharing your brokenness with love, truth, and grace.

I felt challenged to step out of my comfort zones and reach out to those who don’t fit in my “circle.”

Average is beautiful.  After the discussion, I would choose beautiful, and I’m putting a sign above my bathroom doorway BEAUTIFUL!  Just a daily reminder of what God sees.

The teaching session reached several of my hurting places, ie. adopted kids who have been difficult and permission to do what I can versus overdoing.

I have felt God’s nudging to do things in my neighborhood and church, and this weekend was the final push to proceed.

I loved the fellowship!  I’ve been a Christian since I was four, but the Lord showed me areas that I need to grow in my walk.

Since I am super-involved in women’s ministry and worship at my church, it was lovely to be ministered to and just relax and take it in.

I am not going to listen to the HISS because I am HIS!

God used this weekend to reaffirm His love and His calling on my life.

Being a 70-year-old woman dealing with cancer, I was feeling like there was not much left for me to do in this life.  I don’t feel that way anymore!

Elisa, I loved your story at the end about God howling for us when we walk away…..instant tears.

Makes me want more!  I will attend again.

A Time to Heal

Martin Luther King, Jr. said the worship hour on Sunday morning is “the most segregated hour in America.”  In his December 5th broadcast, Scott Pelley covered the healing that is taking place between two churches in Macon, Georgia, in the aftermath of a shooting in Charleston last year.  The churches had split back in 1845 when the black slaves who attended outnumbered the white slave owners present.  Two churches a block apart who have had nothing to do with each other for over 100 years. His story tells of the unity these two churches are experiencing as they dialogue and fellowship together after so many years of distance and division.  Albeit, their initial separation was over racial lines, churches all across this land and throughout the world divide over theology, styles of worship, prayer, as well as very insignificant issues, such as clothing, versions of the Bible, difficult people . . .  and on and on it goes.  One of the pastors in the video comments, “We wouldn’t worry so much about that one hour a week of being divided if we weren’t so divided the other hours of the week.”  There are certainly many issues that Christians will never all agree on and we will choose to worship at different churches, but the truth is that our testimony before the world comes when we experience harmony as the body of Christ.

How much God desires that we “dwell together in unity” (Ps. 133:1).  There are more than 60 verses in the Bible that talk about unity.  In the Apostle’s Creed, we proclaim “the communion of saints.”  We read in Romans 15:5, “May the God of steadfastness and encouragement grant you to live in such harmony with one another, in accord with Christ Jesus, that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

The vision of Olympic Peninsula Women’s Fellowship is “to be a catalyst for unifying and encouraging Christian women on the Olympic Peninsula through Biblically-based annual events.”  Over the the past couple months in our discussions with women from many different churches, we sense that same desire.  We are praying that many women across the peninsula will plan to attend our inaugural event in February to sing and pray with one voice and listen to Elisa Morgan bring a challenge from the Word to make a difference in our own communities and spheres of influence.