what EASTER means for us today

happy easter!!! the greatest feast day of the christian calendar! in addition to my personal liturgy & daily devotional routines, i am celebrating today by attending early mass at the catholic church down the road [can.not.wait!], worship at my home church [we make a bigger deal out of communion this particular sunday], & a huge lunch with shaun's colleagues [one of my favorite traditions]. how are you celebrating the risen Christ today?

these thoughts from my book of liturgy challenged me to view easter not just as a day but, as it should be in the christian calendar, a season. i especially love how the authors reframe what our holidays are in terms of God's kingdom calendar. i hope you are equally blessed by this!

excerpt from common prayer: a liturgy for ordinary radicals:

"As Paul said in the first century, our faith means little if Jesus isn't risen from the dead. If Advent is our New Year's and Pentecost is the church's birthday, Easter is our Memorial Day, Independence Day, and Presidents' Day all in one. This is when we remember Christ's sacrifice for our sins, celebrate his victory over the powers of evil, and honor him as our true Commander in Chief.

"Holy Week begins with Jesus' inaugural parade on Palm Sunday and takes us through the drama of his last week in Jerusalem. In many ways, this is the week that teaches us our rhythm for every week in God's kingdom. It's often called 'passion week,' because it's full of suffering. (Passio is Latin for 'suffering.') This is one of the harder things to learn about following Jesus: his way to real life isn't easy. In the end, it'll get you killed. And most of us don't want to die. (This is why we have to practice denying ourselves through forty days of Lent, fasting from stuff that we usually enjoy so we can learn to hunger and thirst for God's kingdom.) . . . 

"Resurrection is such a big deal that we don't just take one day to celebrate it. Every Sunday is resurrection day. But we also set aside fifty days for the Easter season, putting aside our normal fasts and taking extra time to celebrate what God has done in our world. Forty days after Easter, we remember Jesus' ascension, when he returned to heaven and told the disciples to wait for the Holy Spirit, so they might become his body in the world. The ascension seals the deal for the disciples. (Up to that point, some of them had headed back to their familiar world of fishing and life as usual.) For us it is a reminder that the resurrection isn't just a miracle that happened two thousand years ago. It's a way of life we practice. Pentecost ends the Easter season, reminding us that we don't practice resurrection by our own strength, but have the Holy Spirit's power among us as a community called church. Jesus' story is now our story. And the next chapter begins today."


top 10 -- reasons to observe the religious calendar

10. any excuse to celebrate!
i have a friend who told me once that one reason she participated in the religious calendar was unabashedly because she loves to celebrate. that resonated with me as a lover of all things parties, & i have indeed enjoyed the preparations & celebrations thus far this year. [our purim feast is one great example.] i thrive on planning a party, inviting friends over, & sharing good conversation & laughter. the religious calendar has given me increased opportunities to do just this!

9. to experience something new
as a student of life, i believe one tenet to guide our "studies" must be the willingness to experience new things on a regular basis, even the proactive seeking of new things, & sometimes doing something new just for the sake of the experience & the story. experience enriches our lives, teaches us important lessons, gives us something to share with others, & helps us grow. when we shy away from a new experience, it is usually due to fear, fear of the unknown, & fear is the enemy of the student of life. we must not let our fears prevent us from living life to the fullest.

8. to learn more about our faith heritage
christianity has a two-thousand year history, & before that it is steeped in thousands of years of jewish history & practice. this is our heritage. to understand Christ's teachings, i must understand the religious audience to whom He spoke & His own life as a jew. to understand the current state of the church in its various sects & traditions, i must know our history, too. in looking to our future, we must first know where we've been to understand where we are going. knowing our faith heritage will enrich our current faith walk.

7. to identify with global christian community
millions of christians worldwide observe the religious calendar. [the same is true of jews observing their religious calendar.] it creates a sense of solidarity among us collectively & within each of us individually when we know there are others all over the world saying the same words, praying the same prayers, reading the same scriptures, meditating on the same thoughts. we become unified by our focus. we become thoughtful of one another. we remember we are not alone.

6. to establish new corporate traditions
i could write a whole post on how my particular faith tradition could learn & grow from incorporating some of the practices used in other churches, at least on occasion. but i'll suffice to say for now that we can all learn from one another, always. just as no individual is perfect, neither is any organization of individuals. every church has need to reflect, to reevaluate, to learn, & to change in some way to more live like the body of Christ. 

5. to reevaluate secular holidays
this is something shane claiborne writes about regularly, & his thoughts have affected my own views. as citizens of the kingdom of God, we define freedom, value, sacrifice, leadership, power, & a host of other concepts radically differently from our surrounding culture. these new ways of thinking should also affect our living & celebrating. while there exists a memorial day, an independence day, & a presidents' day particular to america, when/how to we celebrate ultimate sacrifice [Christ's on the cross], true freedom [found in Christ], & authentic leadership & authority [Christ's as King]? do we hail one kind of holiday as more important than the other kind? should we? what are our reasons & motivations? how should we as christians look different from this world? i wish i had more answers than questions, but it is very important to question & to think on these things.

4. to establish new holiday traditions
there are many holidays we celebrate that have both religious & secular histories & traditions. observing the religious calendar helps us review what secular practices are beneficial & fun, & which ones need to be done away with. observing the religious calendar also helps us learn about new beneficial & fun traditions that we can begin. for example, i have a friend who shared her how grandmother includes easter eggs within the normal egg hunt that contain slips of paper with scripture references written on them. once their family gathers back together, after the eggs have all be found, anyone with a scripture egg reads that passage aloud for everyone. there are hundreds of creative ideas for bringing our minds back to the purpose of these holidays -- some are unique to specific families & some are common in various faith communities -- & we can learn from them.

3. to enrich our personal faith practices
we have probably all been encouraged by various teachers to have a "quiet time" with God each day. but how that quiet time is shaped is unique to each person. for years, i filled it with just bible study from a bought workbook. bible study comes easier to me than any other faith practice. as i've grown older, i've tried to add in areas that i need desperately to grow in, like prayer. over the years, i've used various tools to help me learn how to pray -- informative books on prayer, devotionals that lead you through prayer, prayer journals, prayer lists, prayer schedules. all have taught me something, even though not all have been useful to me in the long-term. and what works for me may not work for you. this year, i added a daily liturgy [common prayer for ordinary radicals] & have been tremendously blessed by the practice. observing the religious calendar has helped me expand my understanding of personal quiet time but also ways to practice my faith in the rhythms of every day life beyond that set-aside morning hour. and so i continue to grow towards Christ as my quiet time evolves & as my daily routine includes putting my faith into action, too. [discalimer: i am not as consistent as i would like to be in having my quiet time or going through the prayer liturgy every day, so please don't be fooled by my speaking in general terms! still, God is faithfully growing me every time i do choose to spend with Him.]

2. to live by kingdom seasons & rhythms
i've written about this before in my post on marking my time by a different calendar, but shane claiborne says it better than i, & this portion deserves reposting:

every sturdy society has created its own calendar according to its own values. for some time now, western civilization has used the julian and gregorian calendars, which are influenced largely by the roman empire's traditions... but if we in the church are going to take our citizenship in heaven seriously, we must reshape our minds by marking our calendars differently. we must remember the holidays of the biblical narrative rather than the festivals of the caesars... the church's calendar weaves in and out of the world around us. it is not that we need a "christian" calendar because we want to separate ourselves from the "secular" world... the point is not to be sectarian or to try to put ourselves at odds with non-christians. the point is to keep God's story at the center of our lives and calendar... without liturgical time, we can easily forget our eternal identity. we can get lost in the hustle and bustle of business and efficiency that shapes our culture and society. likewise, without the cosmic calendar, we can become so heaven-bound that we ignore the hells of the world around us. and the glorious goal we are headed toward is not just going up when we die but bringing God's kingdom down -- on earth as it is in heaven.

1. to become increasingly centered on God
this is mentioned in the quote above, so i won't belabor the point. but this is ultimately the reason for observing the religious calendar because ultimately this is the purpose of our lives -- to become ever more focused on God, growing closer to Him, becoming more like His Son, & being Him to a dying world.


f.l.y. // why taking care of yourself is important

this is a series of blog posts i'm writing called f.l.y. // finally loving yourself in response to emily wierenga's dare to love yourself challenge.

my thesis is that we cannot truly love others [& thereby obey Jesus' second greatest command, matthew 22:37-40] until we learn to love ourselves.

part of loving myself is taking care of myself. or, taking it even another step back, believing that taking care of myself is important. women are notorious for not taking care of themselves for one reason or another. some say it's because they don't have time. they have to take care of so many other things & people. some have a distorted view of self-care. eating what they like is taking care of themselves. some are distracted by other interests. some feel "so far gone" they don't see the point anymore. some take it for granted. some think self-care is an unnecessary luxury, selfish in nature.

so, perhaps it would be good to start with a common definition of self-care. what i mean is keeping oneself in good working condition, like a car. my car isn't in perfect condition, & she has over 100,000 miles on her. she's got a few dings, a crack on the back bumper, & i like to use the floorboards as my trash can. one of the doors doesn't open up as easily as the others. the old wipers scratched an arc in the windshield. it doesn't have all the perks, & its gas mileage is only marginally decent. but i love my car. it's fun & comfortable to drive. it can haul tons of stuff & hold lots of people. it has lots of cup holders [which is a big deal to me]. it has a cd player & radio that work. the heat & air conditioning are insanely effective & fast. it's safe & reliable, & it's kinda sporty looking.

[my car back when she was new to us]

i'm not worried about the little dings, but i do touch up the paint when it gets scratched so it doesn't rust. i don't keep it perfectly clean all the time, but periodically, we like to wash it & vacuum it out. [and by we, i mean shaun.] we make sure to take it in for oil changes & tire rotations on time. and for her 100,000 milestone, i had her professionally detailed. not something we splurge on much [or ever], but i want this car to last, & we use it & use it hard. so, in gratitude for its reliable service so far & in hopes for continued reliability for many miles & years to come, i pampered my car a little. i plan to do it again when she turns 150,000 miles because i want to keep her until at least 250,000 miles. she's a good car, & if i want to keep her around, i have to keep her in good working condition.

the same is true of ourselves, body, mind, & spirit. if we want to stick around for very long & be of much use to others, we have to keep ourselves in good working condition. i may have a few blemishes & a few extra pounds hanging on. a few of my parts may have started working less efficiently with time. but i'm fun to be around, & i work hard. i take on lots of stuff & help lots of people. i have some awesome attributes that are unique to me. and i'm still pretty hip for a 31-year-old! i can't get worked up about every little imperfection or extra pound, but i do need to keep myself healthy. if i have too many extra pounds that keep me experiencing life & doing work that i've been called to because i don't have enough energy, it's time to take me in for service. and by service, i mean to the gym. even when i'm in top running order, i need to have regular check-ups & maintenance to keep me in good condition. i don't have to have my nails perfectly manicured, my hair perfectly styled, my clothes perfectly posh, my makeup perfectly radiant every single day. [thank goodness!] but i should keep my nails clean, my hair brushed, my clothes well-fitted, my makeup done when appropriate. and sometimes, when i hit a big milestone, i may need a little extra care! there's nothing wrong with getting your nails done, but that's not critical to self-care. still, it's nice once in a while to pamper yourself because it helps you keep going in top condition.

self-care is important to God.  >> it's one way we worship Him, by caring for His temples. we are collectively, as the church, His temple. don't you know that you yourselves are God's temple & that God's Spirit dwells in your midst? ... for God's temple is sacred, & you together are that temple (1 corinthians 3:16-17). and we are individually each little temples for God Himself to dwell within. do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? (1 corinthians 6:19). God set aside an entire tribe of israel to care for His tabernacle & temple. caring for God's dwelling place is an important act of worship toward Him, even today. 

self-care is important to our loved ones.   >> to serve others, we must have energy, stamina, & longevity. we receive these first & foremost from God above. He blesses us with every breath & every minute of our lives. He strengthens us when we are weak. He heals us when we are sick. the Lord gives & the Lord takes away (Job 1:21). but we too play a part in keeping ourselves well. we choose what we eat, whether to worry, whether to go obey God, whether to exercise, whether to pray, how much we sleep, how we spend our free time... these choices affect how often we get sick, how we feel each day, our stress levels, what we are able to do physically, mentally, & emotionally. these choices affect every person we come into contact with in some way or another, most especially our families.

our God & our loved ones deserve our very best. to give it to them, we must diligently take care of bodies, minds, & souls in appropriate ways.

may God teach us how to love ourselves so that we can more fully love Him & others.


words to LIVE by #6 -- PALM SUNDAY edition

"Let us say to Christ: Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord, the king of Israel. Let us wave before him like palm branches the words inscribed above him on the cross. Let us show him honor, not with olive branches, but with the splendor of merciful deeds to one another. Let us spread the thoughts and desires of our hearts under his feet like garments, so that he may draw the whole of our being into himself and place the whole of his in us."

-- Andrew of Crete [8th c. martyr]

this quote reminds me that palm sunday is something i read about taking place in a foreign place & ancient times AND something i can live out in my world today. i can shout Hosana! Hosana in the highest! praising His name today & every day. i can honor Him as my King by living as He decrees i should, acting justly, loving mercy, & walking humbly by His side [micah 6:8]. i can honor my King by preparing the way for the Lord into me, into the church, into the world. i can honor my King by letting Him draw me to Him as He so longs to do. palm sunday is happening today as much as it was two thousand years ago. palm sunday is happening in me. 


readings for HOLY WEEK

as i participate in the lenten season, i have found myself increasingly excited about holy week. the anticipation is palpable. one practice i've wanted to incorporate into my experience of the week is reading through the passion week in the gospels. i looked several places to find a "reading plan." and i never found one that was comprehensive, for lack of a better word. so, i did my own trek through the pages of my bible to figure out the passion week. hopefully, my list is decently accurate. i will be reading through all four gospel accounts this year, but in the future, i may just go through one writer's accounts. i thought i would post it here for anyone else who would like to follow along, too. have a blessed holy week!

>> matthew 26:6-13
>> mark 14:1-9
>> luke 7:36-50
>> john 12:1-11

palm sunday:
>> matthew 21:1-11
>> mark 11:1-11
>> luke 19:28-44
>> john 12:12-19

>> matthew 21:12-17
>> mark 11:12-19
>> luke 19:45-48
>> john 2:13-22

>> matthew 21:18-27
>> mark 11:20-33
>> luke 20:1-8
>> john 12:37-50

[nothing specific is recorded for this day, but these passages are appropriate.]
>> matthew 24
>> mark 13
>> luke 21:5-37

>> matthew 26:17-75
>> mark 14:12-72
>> luke 22:7-65
>> john 13:1 - 18:27

good friday:
>> matthew 27:11-61
>> mark 15
>> luke 22:66 - 23:56
>> john 18:28 - 19:42

>> matthew 27:62-66

easter sunday:
>> matthew 28
>> mark 16
>> luke 24
>> john 20:1 - 21:25


my top 10 list [march]

in case you're interested, here's a smattering of things that occupy my time right now, in the form of my favorite kind of list-making, a top 10 list.

10. books on my nightstand: 
       >> show me the way by henri nouwen
       >> my utmost for His highest by oswald chambers
       >> eclipse by stephanie meyer
       >> wizard's first rule by terry goodkind

9. song stuck in my head:
       >> "50 ways to say goodbye" by train

8. latest memory verse:
       >> "don't be afraid, for I am with you; don't be discouraged, for I am your God. I will strengthen you & help you; I will uphold you with My victorious right hand." [isaiah 41:10]

7. can't-do-without accessory:
       >> my locket with my midday prayer inside

6. next party i'm planning:
       >> a harry potter party for our teens [it's gonna be epic! 13 hours of shopping in diagon alley, getting sorted into our houses, attending magic classes, playing quidditch, & competing for the house cup!]

5. must-see tv [or netflix]:
       >> college basketball [go duke!]
       >> psych, season 7

4. annual goal i'm most focused on:
       >> reading 48 books this year [i'm trying to read 12 books in the first quarter, & i still have 5 to go before the end of the month!]

3. biggest news:
       >> my little sister is getting married! i'm the matron of honor & her wedding coordinator, & i'm loving it.

2. what i'm saving money for:
       >> shaun & i are traveling to greece for our 10th anniversary in may, so every spare cent is set aside for that. i cannot wait!!!

1. heavy on my heart:
       >> people around the world who don't have easy access to clean drinking water [join me in participating in 40 days of water with blood:water mission.]
       >> my friend julien in haiti, struggling to continue his work with the church & to support several orphans without consistent monetary support
       >> my prodigal girl

happy friday!


f.l.y.: finally loving yourself

i discovered the writings of emily wierenga last week via sarah bessey's international women's day sychroblog. on her own site, emily has issued a challenge to fellow writers to participate weekly with her in "a dare to love yourself." her posts thus far have been beautiful, & since my 2013 theme is love, it has really hit home to me along with other various aspects of love that i've been pondering & learning.

i had long forgotten how to f.l.y. it's an acronym that i spent a semester teaching to college girls at our weekly bible study -- finally loving yourself. i taught this to others, & yet, i have forgotten how to live it myself. ouch.

i loved this quote from emily:

Until you learn to like the way your left ear hangs lower than your right; the way you limp a little when you walk, or the way you snort out laughter; until you learn to say "Thank you" to your body for bearing your babies and for carrying you through life and for pumping oxygen through your veins, you'll never be able to truly love another person.

i agree wholeheartedly.

Jesus taught love as the greatest command(s):

Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” [Matthew 22:37-40]

i've often heard this simplified as "love God & love others." as i've been reading about agape so far this year, these are the words that have echoed over & over in my mind. but conspicuously absent have been Jesus' words about loving myself... if He said i need to love others as i love myself, what happens when i don't really love myself? [this was the premise of that bible class i taught so many years ago.]

it's been so long since i've thought about loving myself, i'm not even sure where to start! years ago, a trusted counselor told me to experiment with treating myself like i was my own mother. what time would she wake me up in the morning? what would she make me for breakfast? what clothes would she lay out for me? how would she take care of me? she suggested i do those very things. what a revolutionary concept: to take care of myself. i think that's the beginning of self-love. even if i don't feel like it, if i go through the motions of the experiment, the feelings will eventually follow the actions. it's true in so many other areas of life, & i believe it to be true here, too.

like emily, i'll be posting for the next several mondays on this topic. next week, i want to talk about taking care of yourself, what it means, what it doesn't mean, how to do it, what to do when you don't feel like it, & how changing your actions changes your mind & heart.

may God teach us how to love ourselves so that we can more fully love Him & others.


gibor chayil! [a tribute to a man of valor]

perhaps you're familiar with the increasingly popular phrase "eshet chayil" which is hebrew for "woman of valor." it is a more accurate translation of the words used to describe the heroine of the poem found in proverbs 31. it's an epithet rachel held evans discovered & embraced during the research for her book "a year of biblical womanhood."

but the title of this post is gibor chayil... in all the precious shout-outs to women of valor via social media, sarah bessey asked what was the hebrew phrase for men of valor because there are men of valor in our lives, too, & they just as surely need this outpour of affirmation & encouragement. so gibor chayil was learned & shared & bestowed.

today, in honor of his day of birth, i would like to bestow this title to a most worthy gibor chayil.

anyone who knows my husband, shaun, likes him. even people who have openly hated &/or distrusted me still like, trust, & respect shaun. he's so friendly & kind, people can't help themselves! even more astonishingly, in the more than ten years that i've known him, i've only known him to dislike two people! [and he still treats them kindly so they would never know.] he is an extroverted introvert, which means he is outgoing & loves talking to people, but at heart, he's quiet & more of a listener. his unaffected & selfless manner is magnetic. he is as genuine as they come. children flock to him, & like Jesus, he relishes it. [he has more girlfriends under the age of 10...] he is gibor chayil because he cares about everyone he meets & actively demonstrates that care to them.

anyone who knows my husband, shaun, can tell you i married up. first of all, his family descended from pirates, so there you go. so cool. also, he's more than a foot taller than me. my family was glad i brought some height into our below six foot clan. but i also landed the sweetest fella. he takes such care of me & puts up with so much. don't shake your head in disagreement because it is painfully true! just last night i was bantering on facebook & twitter with friends about their definition of "doing laundry." shaun disagrees with me that it just means getting clothes into the washing machine & maaaaaybe the dryer. poor boy! a housewife, he did not marry. i "do the laundry" but rarely fold it & please don't make me laugh about putting it away. he does all the dishes in our casa because i won't. [in all fairness, i do cook & i'm pretty good at it.] he keeps gas in my car because i hate pumping my own. he regularly gives me backrubs & footrubs without asking for their return. he carries my pillows up to bed every night just because. and if that weren't enough to convince you that "bless his heart" never applied to any man more than shaun -- he puts up with my extreme moodiness & my temper & my venting about the latest thing that raised my passion [or ire]. he works hard in his work field to provide for me so that i can pursue my vocation that rarely gets paid. he supports me in all my latest schemes & wildest dreams & never tells me it can't be done. he tells me i'm beautiful when i'm a wreck. he takes incredible over-the-top care of me when i'm sick or hurting. he indulges my whims & cravings. he loves me fiercely in his own quiet way, so much so that he willingly speaks out on my behalf in situations his personality would rather avoid. i'm convinced God will take him home first of the two of us, just to give the poor boy much-deserved rest! if that's not gibor chayil, i don't know what is.

but there's more. anyone who knows my husband, shaun, knows he is a man of God. and is there any higher honor that can be spoken? he loves God & loves His written word. shaun's not much for reading, & he has to do so much of it in his work, but he'll read his bible daily anyways. he is always up for that. he loves the church. he is the very definition [other than Jesus] of servant leadership. he's comfortable up front, saying a prayer, teaching & preaching, organizing a group or event. but you'll more likely find him in the back greeting people, or washing dishes, putting away tables, & fixing a broken pew. he's not threatened by my gifts & enjoys complementing them [in the true spirit of complemtarianism!] with his own. he likes to let me take the lead in planning or teaching, offering his ideas & assistance. he also isn't afraid to take the lead so i can have a break! he is confident in who God has made him to be & confident in God to use him accordingly. it is the most attractive quality he has. [& if i may say so, that is saying something!] he is gibor chayil because he pursues Christ with his life & spurs along the rest of us to come follow, too.

so happy birthday to my gibor chayil, shaun nathan casteel! may God bless us with many more years together so i may grow as eshet chayil as you grow as gibor chayil. may we grow in God together.


a pioneer, a pacifist, & a prodigal

what do a pioneer, a pacifist, & a prodigal have in common? they have each indelibly marked my life in Christ. if they were tattoos, i would be covered head to toe in the ink of their influence.

the pioneer was born a few years after me into the same household, by the same two parents. she is my blood sister. my younger sister. and yet, as she has grown up, she has blazed a trail in the spiritual life that has compelled me to follow. when i was in college and she was still a teenager in high school, i realized she was a mentor to me in the faith. i watched & learned from her how to pursue relationship with Jesus & relationship in a faith community even when your own church lets you down & offers you nothing. i watched & learned from her how to stand up for what you believe in & to challenge your peers to do the same. she was not concerned with converting everyone to believing the same things she did. she just wanted her fellow christians to know why they believed what they believed, rather than to continue being spoon fed by a youth pastor or parents. she challenged her friends, & she challenged me, to take ownership of our faith, our beliefs, our commitments, our actions. i watched & learned from her how to reach out & embrace my friends who were gay. to me, she is an icon for Christ's love to this group of people so often marginalized & despised by the church. these lessons from my younger sister shaped me so much that they become major aspects of my own identity. one of my own mottos has become to stand up for what you believe in no matter what the consequences might be. [we both learned this from watching our father do it growing up, but it took me watching her live it out to put it into action myself.] we both have a plethora of reasons to be cynical about the church & "have every right" to walk away from it. but we don't. one reason i don't is because she spoke so often about her passion for God's kingdom & reminded me that beyond the ugliness of the church, there is also beauty. her passion was contagious. and now it is my consuming passion. and within that overarching passion, one of my deepest desires is to see the church welcome all people with the love of Christ, making the church a safe place to ask questions & to learn about Jesus, even & especially the lgbt community. anyone who knows me well knows these to be three important tenets in my life, yet so few know to whom i am indebted. to this pioneer in the faith, my younger sister, to whom i ought to have been the example, i am humbled & honored to learn from, to imitate, & to now walk alongside on the fiery path to God.

the pacifist was born a few years after me in a state far away into a family i did not know. we did not meet until both in our twenties [me in my late twenties]. she has become my sister in every sense of the word. we have become family by the blood of Christ & by shared ministry. when i moved to lafayette, my husband shaun was sure she would become my best friend. she & i both anticipated it to be so. while we became friends, it wasn't until we had a common ministry that we became best friends & then sisters. we have so much in common -- love for reading, aptitude for design, obsession with shoes, marriage to farm boys... but it has been our differences that have catapulted me along my faith walk. she's a pacifist. i am not. she's an analytical thinker. i am not. she's a deliberate communicator. i am not. and while i still won't claim to be a pacifist [mostly because i won't claim any -ist or -ism], i have come a long way in understanding the nonviolence of our Savior. many of my views & beliefs have been overturned by my exposure to this pacifist sister. she has taught me how to approach people, especially difficult people [as this was our shared ministry -- one very troubled young woman], with more compassion & less condemnation, with more calmness & less calamity, with more wisdom & less assumption, with more deliberateness in word & deed rather than with reactionary anger & frustration. she is my go-to editor & advisor in everything because she always takes me down a notch. [or two, or ten!] she brings me back down to the molehill when i'm insistent on climbing the mountain. she imparts godly perspective. i have not lost an iota of my passion but rather learned how to control that passion in appropriate, more effective, & Christlike ways. everything about who i am -- my conviction of what is right, my passion for the Lord's church, & my love for marginalized people -- has found necessary balance. not balance as in "not going to far with it." oh, no! but in balancing goodness [truth] with kindness, balancing passion with compassion, & balancing love for the marginalized with love for those who have done the marginalizing [whether intentional or not]. the pacifist has brought balance to the passionate.

and the prodigal. oh, my sweet, beautiful, messed up girl. the prodigal was born ten years after me, & yet she is as much a spiritual daughter as a sister. she is the troubled young woman the pacifist & i worked with together. we met her as a late teen, having been through a life no one deserves, having never had a real break, having never really understood God. so we worked with her, we met with her, we listened to her, we studied with her, we prayed with her, we took her in, we kicked her out, we cried with her, we cried for her, we fought with her, we held her, we loved her. after months of incessant drama & effort with her, she chose Christ. we had the privilege to baptize her into Christ together. to date, it is the greatest highlight of my life.

as with any new christian, there were ups & downs that followed. by the end of the year, we hit a major downswing. she was walking deliberately away from God in every decision she was making. we told her we would not keep meeting with her every week while she continued to do that. she walked out, & we didn't see or hear from her for two months. it was agonizing. we were so afraid of what she would do, whether she would live through it, whether she would ever come back to God, to us. i had never understood the parable of the prodigal son so acutely. i am not a parent, so there are many things about being a parent & having a child that i can't understand. but this is one experience that i do understand & i pray most parents never have to. fast forward: what a hallelujah moment when she came home! we all moved in together to help her rehabilitate & rediscover the life in Christ. it was hard, it was messy, but it was worth it. she changed & grew, wrestled & learned. she wrote beautiful psalms nearly every day. she increased prayer in our home one-hundred fold! i learned from this sweet prodigal how to love someone who has hurt you so badly, how God turns mourning into dancing. i learned a new definition of patience. i learned how to yield to & rely on the fruit of the Spirit within me. i learned so much about how God views, loves, treats me. i learned how i am the prodigal, too. our beautiful, messed up girl is wayward again. prodigal again. still, she teaches me: to love long-distance, to pray without ceasing, to hope in the impossible [because that's what God specializes in]. it hasn't turned out like we hoped yet, but i'm still learning that while it was hard, & it was messy, it was absolutely worth it. she was absolutely worth it.

three beautiful women who have written Christ more deeply into my life. what do a pioneer, a pacifist, & a prodigal have in common? they have all exemplified our God in beautifully unique & desperately needed ways. for me, & now, i hope for you, too.

i have written this as part of sarah bessey's tribute to spiritual midwives & patron saints as we celebrate international women's day & "the spiritual achievements of women, past, present, & future, who have mattered to us." i have written about only three women in my life who have made a difference for Christ. i could have written volumes trying to include every precious women throughout my life & through pages of their writing who have blessed me, taught me, challenged me, & mentored me in the faith. to all of you who make this difference, in my life & in others', THANK YOU. please visit sarah's post & be encouraged by the stories of other women taking the world by storm & by love.