What if your weakness is your super-power?

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I’ve been helping friends write resumes. I’ve also been talking to friends who are looking for reliable employees. Frequently, friends who are writers (or want to be writers) ask me to read their articles and books-in-process. Others are looking for recommendations for reading material. Busy, busy, busy.

I can lose embarrassingly large huge chunks of time following links on social media. At the moment it takes over an hour to keep up with my Facebook feed in the morning (and you know I don’t limit myself to a morning perusal). Daily, I am notified of the arrival of possibly excellent blogs I probably won’t have time to read if I want time to write anything myself.

I was the kind of kid who read everything – cereal boxes, instruction manuals, and terrifying lists of side-effects tucked inside packages of tablets. I read quickly and constantly, but even I am overwhelmed by the barrage of words coming at my eyeballs lately. Like the employers who spoke to me this week, I sometimes look for reasons to scroll past and go on to the next thing. Disqualifiers. (A note to my young friends: potential employers do look at your social media party pictures and rants about unfair teachers, over-sensitive co-workers, and unreasonable cops. Just sayin’.)

The problem is that hasty judgments can be misleading. Sometimes I need to go back and look again because sometimes I have been very wrong. I know this because I have felt harshly judged and dismissed myself. That may be who I was then, but it is not who I am now.

Lately, I have been listening to the stories of people I admire, people who have developed proven character and live lives that effectively communicate the love of God and his ways. These are people who mentor the young, heal the sick, speak the truth, serve the poor, and encourage the stumbling to pick up their feet. I am amazed at how incredibly unqualified some of them would have appeared to be if I had known them twenty years ago.

This week I have also read critical dismissals of people I have learned carry a depth of understanding the shallow, fearful, and defensively religious don’t recognize. I have heard posters say they have nothing to learn from anyone who is a single parent, too young, not academically-inclined, divorced, physically weak or ill, not endorsed by an institutional church, endorsed by the wrong institutional church, unpolished, too slick, female, unattractive, fashionable, unequally yoked to an unbelieving spouse (or a spouse who voted differently), “obese” (seriously? maybe a little husky) or, in the case of a fine writer, dead.

When I listen to the stories of people I admire, both living and dead, I am impressed by the fact that nearly all of them originally presented with disqualifiers for ministry. She failed the same grade three times, she lived with an alcoholic for forty years, he drank for forty years, his wife divorced him, she failed the physical for missionary service, he was attracted to the same sex, he couldn’t carry a tune, she fainted if she had to speak in public, he lost years to depression, she was seduced by a pastor, he was diagnosed with autism, she had a criminal record, he was drowning in debt.

The Bible records many stories of those who were uniquely unqualified for the roles God gave them. We read about prostitutes, collaborators, murderers, convicts, fraud artists, and cowards rising up to become God’s secret weapons. The abandoned, abducted, emasculated, robbed, wounded, harassed, orphaned, and misunderstood eventually found themselves in positions of power and influence only God could arrange.

God’s tendency to use the weak to confound the mighty is not new, yet it is consistently surprising.

Remember, dear brothers and sisters, that few of you were wise in the world’s eyes or powerful or wealthy when God called you. Instead, God chose things the world considers foolish in order to shame those who think they are wise. And he chose things that are powerless to shame those who are powerful. God chose things despised by the world, things counted as nothing at all, and used them to bring to nothing what the world considers important. As a result, no one can ever boast in the presence of God.

God has united you with Christ Jesus. For our benefit God made him to be wisdom itself. Christ made us right with God; he made us pure and holy, and he freed us from sin. Therefore, as the Scriptures say, “If you want to boast, boast only about the Lord.”
(1 Corinthians 1: 26-31 NLT)

When I am tempted to dismiss someone for lack of obvious potential, I have to look at the bitter, depressed person I was twenty years ago and remember how the grace extended to me made change possible. I am grateful for those who saw more than my list of disqualifications and offered encouragement in dark days. They saw potential when I did not. I am thankful that even now God doesn’t define me by my weaknesses.

When I listen to the stories of people I admire I realize the common element is that these are people who experienced the power of transforming grace in their lives. It is difficult to give what you have not received. They extend grace because they have known grace. Weakness was their superpower because the lack of personal qualifications for the job allowed God’s grace to multiply beyond anything they could imagine.

Is the job God is offering you beyond your ability? You’re hired!

Each time he said, “My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness.” So now I am glad to boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ can work through me. (2 Corinthians 12:9)

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Immersion

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“Teach believers with your life: by word, by demeanor, by love, by faith, by integrity. Stay at your post reading Scripture, giving counsel, teaching. And that special gift of ministry you were given when the leaders of the church laid hands on you and prayed—keep that dusted off and in use.

 Cultivate these things. Immerse yourself in them. The people will all see you mature right before their eyes! Keep a firm grasp on both your character and your teaching. Don’t be diverted. Just keep at it. Both you and those who hear you will experience salvation.”
(Paul’s first letter to Timothy 4:10 – 16 MSG)

Four of my grandchildren are in French Immersion schools. They all speak better French than I do, even the five-year-old.

I attended a school where French was taught conversationally and where only French was allowed to be spoken in French class. The experimental “immersion” method tested on us turned out to be much more effective than the traditional memorization of conjugation tables. I’ve used the words learned in that class to sing and to teach singing, but not as a part of regular conversation. Most of it has slipped away like the names of people from the past with vaguely familiar faces. I couldn’t assemble a grammatically correct essay en français if my life depended on it, not without supernatural intervention anyway.

When my granddaughter was only six, and in her second year of speaking only French all day at school, she asked me not to speak to her in my broken second language anymore. Part of the problem was the difference between my Parisian pronunciation and her Quebecois teacher’s accent, but more than that, she was simply more proficient.

“Grammie, do you mind not speaking French to me?” she said one day as I drove her to school. “I’m only a little kid and it’s embarrassing for me to correct a grown-up.”

She’s in high school now, writing short stories, giving speeches, and mastering courses in biology and mathematics, all in French. She has been immersed in the culture for ten years and doesn’t need to translate her thoughts like I do. She thinks in French as well as she thinks English. Perhaps better.

Last year I asked the Lord for a word that would show me where he was taking me now. In a dream, I saw the word “instill.” It means “to cause to enter, drop by drop.” I read and study as much as I am able. The quest for knowledge still provokes me to leave smoking pots of food on the stove while I look something up.

I believe the concepts the Lord has been teaching me about himself but, at times, they feel awkward and foreign. Effort is required to sit still as he instills a language of grace, love, and trust at a level where I can think differently and respond more automatically. (The delete key is the most worn key on my keyboard, I think.) I am learning a new language in which my actions are motivated by God’s love and not fear of condemnation. I’m learning to live in the freedom Jesus gave his life to get back for me.

This year, beyond the concept of instilling something into me, I realize there is more: the concept of instilling myself into the depths of his love. An immersion into his heart. A stepping into deeper experiences of his grace. Abiding in the place of rest he has prepared right in the middle of trying circumstances.

Standing on the familiar shore of rugged debate, theoretical platitudes, and pebbly doctrinal pickiness feels comfortably normal. What if I stop trying to understand everything and give up the need to prove myself “right” and instead trust Him to surround me and lift me up. What if I step into God’s culture and totally immerse myself in his grace. Will he hold me up? Teach me to breathe under water? Send a boat?

Sometimes I float. Sometimes I thrash about in a panic when I realize I’m in over my head and I don’t have all the answers. Then I remember Paul’s advice to Tim. “Just keep at it. Stay at your post. Read the scriptures. Don’t neglect the gifts God has given you.”

Maturity is something he brings about as I yield to his ways. For a person learning to let go of the baggage of a lifetime of trust issues, this is deep water.

This part of the journey is about more than the occasional Bible study class. This is about living, all day, with a new language, in a different culture than the one more familiar to me. At the moment I feel more quasi-lingual than bi-lingual. I’m trying not to compare myself to much younger people who are more advanced in understanding than I.

But I am learning.

And it’s true, you know. God is love.

Were the whole realm of nature mine,
That were a present far too small:
Love so amazing, so divine
Demands my soul, my life, my all.

– -Isaac Watts

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Voiceless No More

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In the way that texting while driving is a bad idea, blogging while wrestling with anger is also a bad idea. Both are dangerous distractions with the potential to put serious dents into bystanders.

I’ve not been posting as frequently lately because anger has been flashing like a check engine light on my car’s dashboard. Something needs tending to. I submitted to self-imposed silence and listened instead (well, mostly.) With the Lord’s help, I’ve needed, again, to examine what was going on under the hood before going any further.

I think it started with reading an innocent hashtag on Twitter: #ThingsOnlyChristianWomenHear. What followed was an unexpected mass chorus of voices expressing the pain of living in a religious system that kept -or still keeps- women voiceless. I may have added a few tweets myself. A lot of dashboard lights flashed on the internet last week. Not everyone was comfortable with the spontaneous outpouring that exposed more misogyny than they realized was a normal part of many women’s lives. Exposure is embarrassing and uncomfortable for everyone. Push-back from onlookers called for cover-up or, sadly, invalidation.

Here’s the thing, you can’t forgive what you don’t acknowledge and you can’t clean up corruption when it remains covered up. (We learned that lesson when our son-in-law almost died from undiagnosed flesh-eating disease.) Sometimes healing involves mess or pain first.

I discovered I still had more forgiving to do because listening to other women’s (and men’s) painful memories triggered some of my own. There were still some lingering lies I accepted about God liking men more than women. They were planted in my soul as a result of observing the way women of my mother’s generation were treated, and their resignation to silence and subservience to men as the norm. The seeds grew as I was taught to interpret scripture in a way which ignored the character and practice of both Jesus and Paul. (Paul wrote the words to Timothy I was told imposed a gag order on all females for all time in all places, but he also praised women like Phoebe, Junia, and Priscilla who were obviously not silent.) There was still some toxic residue in the unseen corners of my heart that kept me from saying with all honesty, “I thank God he made me a woman!”

The Lord and I have been working on that together. He is the one who establishes my identity. And he likes me.

Then Christianity Today published an article which asked the question, “Who is in charge of the Christian blogosphere?” The author suggested that female bloggers who write about spiritual matters should be under the supervision of denominational or institutional authorities who are credentialed and better educated in matters of proper doctrine. (Which proper doctrine the author doesn’t say.) The article, and responses to it, triggered another memory.

One of the most difficult times in my life was when a physician who specialized in voice problems prescribed a season of silence. I was less talkative then, but people who know me will understand the enormity of the challenge.

I had finished studying, rehearsing and performing the role of Amina in Bellini’s opera, La Sonnambula, a few weeks before. I caught the flu before ensemble rehearsals began. It morphed into a long-lasting nasty cough monster that barked in a register much lower than my usual coloratura soprano range.

The role of Amina is a kind of vocal high-wire act involving agility, stamina and a lot of very high notes. I was onstage most of the opera singing not only solos but duets, trios and other ensembles. A run-through of my music took nearly 90 minutes. You can imagine how much time was involved in practice to learn the role.

My voice was not recovering fast enough. It sounded okay in short sessions, but it didn’t feel right, and I was worried about stamina. Reluctantly, I spoke to the producer and director about my doubts in my ability to perform. The response was not what I expected. The director said, “I believed in you. You disappoint me! If you don’t sing I stand to lose $10,000 of my own money I invested in this production.” I felt the pressure and forged on.

Nerves were a bigger problem than usual on opening night. I knew I was forcing at times. Except for one embarrassing note on the final night, I made it through the performances though. The standing ovation and bravas from the audience almost made up for the burning pain in my throat.

Two weeks later I sang with another orchestra and choir. I had only two solos in a Bach cantata which should have been easy, but I struggled. My voice was not responding as it should. I made an appointment with the laryngologist.

He said I had the beginning of nodules. That statement feels like a death sentence to a classical singer. I was scared. He told me to rest it completely for several weeks – no talking and definitely no singing. I followed his advice and my vocal folds did heal. I didn’t need surgery, but I learned some things in that time. 1) I yelled at my kids more than I thought I did. 2) People don’t talk to you if you don’t talk to them. 3) I didn’t appreciate submitting to authorities who were more concerned about their own project than my long-term well-being. 4) Being voiceless made me feel powerless.

You may express yourself in other ways, but perhaps you can still relate. My voice was my strength because it made me relatively unique. I could sing over a full orchestra and eighty voice choir without a microphone. My voice allowed me to comfort others and bring the joy of music into their lives. My voice was my vehicle for creativity and emotional expression. I was wrong, but at the time I felt like my voice justified my existence. People listened. They asked advice. Musicians I admired included me, gave me a place among them on the stage, and treated me as though I had value. Without a voice, I had no place in that world.

About ten years later chronic health problems meant I had to give up singing almost completely. I grieved deeply. I hated being voiceless. But my heavenly Father can use all circumstances and I grew because I learned instead to lean on the Lord as my source of justification for existence. Eventually, he led me to fill the void with other creative expressions. One of them is writing and blogging. I had a voice again, but this time it served a larger purpose.

When I read the CT article it felt like the people who were willing to sacrifice my voice to serve their own agenda had shown up again. I believe in the wisdom of an abundance of counselors. I believe in mutual submission, and yes, my husband does read and approve of my blog, not because he is my master, but because I respect his perspective. I have deleted and revised and parked articles in the draft file indefinitely on the advice of people I trust. But that’s the operative word – trust.

I wonder if the strong backlash to the article could be coming from people who have also lost their innocence when it comes to the lack of transparency of “experts” in positions of power. Yes, we need to forgive, but forgiveness does not mean trust is automatically restored. The type of servant leadership Jesus demonstrated is something we still need to strive to attain when it appears the response to error is more silencing control instead of more healing grace and better communication of love. We need more of the kind of discipleship training that encourages believers to have their own senses trained to discern right from wrong through practice.

The point of leadership is to produce competent graduates, not more dependent children in pews.

The point of the exposure of corruption in the body and submission to the kind of correction the One who loves us perfectly brings is to purify and build up this Church of living stones.

I almost posted two previous versions of this blog article. In them, I gave more evidence for the reasons for my distrust of some ecclesiastical hierarchical authorities (not all!) and defended my educational qualifications. Twice I felt the Lord saying to let it go, deal with my own heart issues, and start again. Learning to hear God for ourselves means responding in obedience. Sometimes submission to his advice means speaking up and sometimes it means hitting delete. Holy Spirit provides the fruit of self-governance in his gift basket for a reason.

The internet is like the printing press that triggered the Reformation. Blogs provide more people with the freedom to speak up. I believe we are on the brink of another Reformation in which greater numbers of the priesthood of believers will rise and raise their voices in praise to the God of our salvation who sets all the captives free.

I am not voiceless anymore. I don’t need the approval of people I don’t trust. I do need the approval of my Lord.

May the words that come out of my mouth and the musings of my heart
meet with Your gracious approval,
O Eternal, my Rock,
O Eternal, my Redeemer.

(Psalm 19:14 The Voice)

To my fellow Christ-centered female bloggers, and to all my brothers and sisters in Christ no matter the form your expression takes, I urge you to use your voices! May your sound go out into all lands and your words unto the ends of the world.

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After a Hard Winter

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If believers decay in their first love, or in some other grace, yet another grace may grow and increase, such as humility, their brokenheartedness; they sometimes seem not to grow in the branches when they may grow at the root; upon a check grace breaks out more; as we say, after a hard winter there usually follows a glorious spring.

– Richard Sibbes

God is the God of restoration. If he raised Jesus from the dead he can surely raise hope from the dead.

It’s never too late.