Monday, November 25, 2013

Thankful?

By Caryn Rivadeneira
Two Thanksgivings ago, I was in a panic. We were out of money. And by "out" I mean dead broke: run through the savings we had relied on while my husband shuttered his business and looked for employment. The money I'd received from book advances had carried us for a while, but since mortgage companies and utilities still come looking for money every month and since kids need food and clothes and shots without regard to income, that money evaporated quickly too.
Though I had some freelance gigs, I had no idea how the main expenses of our life would get covered. I was terrified. And hardly in the mood to be thankful.
Of course, I knew I should be "counting my blessings," tallying up the many good things that were present in my life, but it felt fake. Forced and untrue. My desperation was such that every thing I'd thank God for - clothes, heat, food - only fed my worry over how much longer those "blessings" would last.
So when I opened my Bible that morning two Thanksgivings ago, I resisted the typical psalms of thanksgiving and went straight to the laments. One of my favorites - Psalm 69, in which David is once again stuck in the mire, crying out for rescue, as he chokes and gasps on the floodwaters ready to engulf him.
In that Psalm, David was panicked, terrified, desperate. Like me.
And yet, unlike me, David was thankful.
"I will praise God's name in song and glorify him with thanksgiving," David writes. He does this because, "The Lord hears the needy and does not despise his captive people."
Then, in Psalm 70, while still desperate for rescue, David says this: "But may all who seek you rejoice and be glad in you; may those who long for your saving help always say, 'The Lord is great!'"
David thanks God simply because God hears his cries and loves his hurting people.
Reading that - on my unthankful Thanksgiving - caught something deep in me and turned my mood, and the day, around.
I never did count up my blessings that day - because it still felt trite and untrue - but I did join David in his ancient song of thanksgiving toward The Blessing. Toward the One who from generation to generation, from beginning to end has heard and will hear, who has known and will know, who has loved and will love me. And all of us. Whether we're in a place of abundance or in a place of desperation or anywhere in between. Whether we're in the "mood" to give
thanks or need to lament. We've got a God who hears, who knows, who loves. And for that, I'll always be thankful.
Caryn Rivadeneira is the author of Known and Loved: 52 Devotions from the Psalms (Revell, 2013) as well as the forthcoming Broke: What Financial Desperation Revealed about God's Abundance (IVP, 2014). Caryn lives outside Chicago with her family. Connect with her at www.carynrivadeneira.com

Monday, November 18, 2013

Great News for Women!



By Carolyn Custic James

Nancy Beach’s book Gifted to Lead opens with the story of a Q&A session where she was handed a scribbled note that read, “Help! I am a leader trapped inside a woman’s body.” 

Not to minimize in any way the frustration expressed on that note, but the problem extends to every other segment of the female population.  It gets worse. Being “trapped in a woman’s body” involves vastly greater numbers and more sinister outcomes, sweeping through every culture globally resulting in unspeakable atrocities and flagrant injustices that violate the human-rights sensibilities of the civilized world. 

Today there is a growing consensus worldwide that the three deadliest words spoken are “It’s a girl.” 

So as leaders, there’s too much at stake for us to be content with looking for answers only for ourselves. We need to know if the Bible’s message for women speaks with meaning and purpose into the lives of every woman and girl—those who have broken through glass ceilings as heads of state and corporate CEOs, those who have been trafficked and trampled, and everyone in between? Does that message affirm women in leadership roles and also dismantle the value system that results in atrocities against women? Is it indestructible and does it encompass all the days of our lives? 

That quest drove me back to Genesis to the creation narrative where God is vision casting for his world—a text loaded with good news for women. Statements God makes about his daughters there not only dismantle the world’s way of viewing us, they take the value and purpose of God’s daughters into the stratosphere. I’m not kidding. 

For example, right off the bat God bestows on us (along with our brothers) the exalted identity of bearing his image (Genesis 1:26-27)—a designation that comes with enormous privileges and responsibilities. This is not a static definition intended to distinguish us from plants and animals. God is assigning our mission. 

It is an open invitation into a relationship with God—the lifelong pursuit to know who we are, why we are here, and how we are to live by knowing and loving him. It is a call to flourish—to develop and use all the good gifts God entrusts to us for the good of others and his world. It is a heavy responsibility—to speak and act for God. It is a glorious venture—to be agents in the grandest enterprise imaginable, the kingdom of God. 

Abuses against women (against any human being) escalate to an affront to Almighty God whose image we all bear. 

There’s more … much, much more. This barely scratches the surface. The conversation continues in Half the Church

The good news is that a woman’s body is not a trap, but a marvelous bearer of God’s image, a builder of alliances with her brothers, and a fearsome warrior God has summoned to join the battle to crush serpentine heads (Genesis 3:15).

Carolyn Custis James is the President of whitbyforum.com, a speaker and the author of several books on the influence of women including Lost Women of the Bible, The Gospel of Ruth and Half the Church. Click here to buy now.

Monday, November 11, 2013

The Language of Broken Shells



By Carla Foote

When I walk on the beach I always pick up shells. I’m not sure why I still do this, since I have hundreds of shells at home. Perhaps because I live so many miles from a beach, the shells are a tangible reminder of time spent slowing down, walking, watching and marveling at the ocean. 

My habit is to collect all types of shells and then sort at the end of my trip, saving my favorites and discarding the rest. As I sorted shells from my latest beach foray, I noticed that there are many variations on broken shells – and I wondered at the forces that caused each to break.  The complete shells are definitely a treat, but I also keep some broken reminders.

There is the shell that looks perfect nestled in the sand, but when I reach down and pick it up and turn it over in my hand, smoothing away the sand, chips become obvious on the edges.  Oh I can relate to this shell – the positioning of life at just a certain angle so that no one sees my cracks.

Then there are the shells stabbed straight through – perhaps broken in the process of becoming prey for the predator. I am always surprised that anything can penetrate the hardness, but I have evidence of shells broken in this way. This kind of brokenness reminds me of sudden grief – quickly and deeply piercing – and all the life sucked away. 

I noticed another kind of shell this trip – not broken but just worn down. Perhaps from the endless tumbling on the sand. The ridges smoothed, not by one big trauma or chip, but by the daily grind of the sand. This is the weariness of broken that didn’t just happen once, but the days, weeks, years of grit – a weary and weathered broken. A “How long, Oh Lord” wearing down. 

Maybe it is a bit strange for me to be a connoisseur of broken shells, but over the past few years I have been drawn to them as much as to the whole shells. Perhaps as I move through the years, I realize there are so many ways to be broken – the hidden chip, straight through the heart or just worn down. But somehow in the process of redemption, the “Christ in me” I have been reading about in Colossians lately, I can live as a hopeful person in the midst of brokenness. In Colossians 1:24-27, Paul is still in the midst of his suffering while he asserts, “… the glorious riches of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.”
Sometimes I am quick to try to discard the broken, especially the weary, wearing down brokenness. Because I sometimes forget that I can live hopefully today, through Christ in me.

Carla Foote has written more about broken shells. Read her “Broken Shells” essay in the last section of The Beauty of Broken by Elisa Morgan. Carla is thankful when her travels take her near a beach. She is the blog manager for FullFill, does freelance editing and writing through www.FinePrintEdit.com and is also Executive Editor of MomSense magazine.

Monday, November 4, 2013

Out in the Open



By Elisabeth K. Corcoran

“Here’s the thing I can’t say out loud to anyone who knows me: I’m in a miserable marriage and I don’t know what to do.”  I have heard this sentence more times than I can count in the past ten or so years and it never ceases to break my heart.  But there’s an even deeper sting when the secret-teller is a pastor’s wife or women’s ministry leader, which I come across more often than you want to know.

And I get this, I really do.  Not only was I a woman in a difficult Christian marriage, but I was a Women’s Ministry Director for ten years, part of that time holding a staff position at my church, all the while fighting – and hiding – my marriage demons.

I didn’t want anyone to know, for so many reasons.
I didn’t want to ruin my husband’s reputation as a good Christian guy with a heart to serve.
I didn’t think anyone would understand or believe me.
I didn’t think my situation was all that bad (turns out, it really was).
I didn’t think anything could be done about it.

I was trying to be an example to other women and this would blow the lid off of that.  (Who would want to follow my example if they knew?, I assumed.)

I didn’t want my precious little Christian life to be exposed.

Does this sound like you?  Are you a leader and your marriage is falling apart, but you are expending every ounce of your energy keeping the fa├žade in place?  

Can I tell you something that I believe with all my heart?

Jesus doesn’t want you to hide anymore.

He sees you.  And he knows your heart.  And he cares about your pain.  

There is nothing that will shock him.  There is nothing too broken that can’t be mended.  There is nothing too far out of his reach.  

He can help you.  

Now, I’m not saying this as if he’s a genie in a bottle.  My marriage did not end in reconciliation.  But God absolutely did help me deal with the mess, look it full in the face, and surround me with a loving, godly support system to walk me through a reconciliation attempt, and then, sadly, my separation and divorce.  But I’ve seen just as many marriages turnaround.

Jesus says in John 8:32 that “…the truth shall set you free.”  He wants you walking through your life with integrity.  He wants you to be open and free.  He knows it’s terrifying – as do I.  He knows you do not want to upend your life – as do I.  But Jesus and I know something you might not yet know: authenticity in ministry is the best gift you can give to the women you’re serving, to yourself and to God. 
It may be a mess for a time, but sweet one, Jesus will walk you through it.  The dark will not stay dark forever.  Your best life waits on the other side of you telling the truth about who you are and what you’re hiding.  It’s time to be free.  It’s time to stop hiding.  It’s time to tell your truth.


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Elisabeth Klein Corcoran is the author of Unraveling: Hanging Onto Faith Through the End of a Christian Marriage, speaks several times a month to women's groups, and is a member of Redbud Writers' Guild. Visit her online at www.elisabethcorcoran.com. If you are in a difficult marriage or find yourself going through a difficult divorce, she has created two private groups on Facebook – for more information email her at elisabethkcorcoran@gmail.com.