A Servant’s Heart is Here!

Beautiful young woman with bouquet of lilac in spring garden

I am pleased to share that my Christian historical romance, A Servant’s Heart, is now available on Amazon in paperback and for Kindle. This is the long-awaited story whose original title was River Farm. 

Idealistic, independent, and utterly alone, seventeen-year-old Catherine Abbott arrives in the Virginia colony in the spring of 1774. Now an indentured servant, she is determined to leave her painful past behind and build a new life.Dr. James Craig has lost his entire family and his fiancée. He immerses himself in his work and surrounds himself with a surrogate family of employees and servants to assuage his loneliness. When he hires Catherine and she comes to live at his farm on the Potomac River, it seems as if God has brought them together for a reason. But has He?

As the colonies teeter on the brink of war, the future is uncertain. James joins the Continental Army as a surgeon and is shaken by the suffering and death he witnesses. As Catherine’s steadfast faith draws her closer to God, James finds himself doubting God’s goodness.

A Servant’s Heart affirms that God is present and working for good even when we can’t understand the process or know the outcome. It is the story of a woman searching for a home, a man standing in the way of his own happiness, love thwarted by the course of history, and a message of hope about the power of God.

 

 

Good Night, Oppy. You Were Us.

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I have spent the better part of the day going back and forth between crying over the “death” of Mars rover Opportunity, and trying to understand why it has affected me so deeply. There is something at once poignant and terrifying at the thought of a small, silent ambassador of humanity stranded—perhaps forever—on a distant planet. Cut off from any and all contact with those who sent it, disconnected from the mission that once gave it purpose, beyond any hope of return or recovery. Dead.

Tributes have been pouring in from all over the world. An achievement like this captures the imagination. It confirms our shared humanity. It is a communal triumph of the human spirit and of human ingenuity. It affirms our thirst for knowledge, our drive to discover, our insatiable need to ask “why?” and perhaps more importantly, “why not?”

Opportunity was meant to last 90 days. Three months. A span of time smaller than a blip, not even worth mentioning or quantifying in an infinite universe where millennia have passed in the blink God’s eye. Yet Opportunity outlived its expected lifespan and increased its usefulness. Months turned into years. And for nearly two decades, much less than one human lifetime but longer than anyone could have hoped or predicted, the little rover that could gathered data, processed information, took photos, and brought us all just a little closer to the stars.

Now that contact has been lost and Opportunity has been declared dead, my mental image of a brave and intrepid little robot trundling over the surface of Mars has changed to that of a sad, lonely, and abandoned heap of metal and circuits. Logically I know that Opportunity is not a person, not an animal, not a sentient being. Emotionally, though, my heartstrings are remorselessly stretched to the limit by the message, “My battery is low and it is getting dark.” Even now, reading these words makes me want to sob with despair, and rage against some kind of unfairness I can’t define. And as I ask why this should be, an answer suggests itself. Perhaps it’s not the defunct machine I am crying for, but for myself, and for all of humanity.

How often have we felt similar sentiments? I am tired. The darkness is too deep. It’s so cold. I can’t do this anymore. I am alone.

Somehow, a little rover on exploring a new world gave us a reflection of ourselves. It moved over the surface of a planet that has stirred our imaginations since we first knew of its existence, and has starred in our popular culture since we created such a construct. It did just as you or I would do, have done, when set down in some new place. Explore, learn, tell our friends what we have discovered, take photographs, share selfies. In this way, a manmade machine was humanized. It was like us.

Human beings built Opportunity and launched it to the stars. Humanity is its creator and commander—we sent it out into the world to see what we could not. And we waited and watched to see what it would do. And now it sits, abandoned, in a world colder and darker than we can imagine. It’s not so different, really, from the story of us. After all, God created people, and launched them into a new world. Granted, it was a lush garden where every need was met, a far cry from an alien world of dust and rocks, a true howling wilderness. But then God found it necessary to banish humankind from that ideal, into a world that was bigger, harsher, scarier, and more dangerous than anything we had seen before. And while He hasn’t abandoned us, I know it sometimes feels that way.

The banishment from the Garden of Eden is the world’s first morality story. A cause and effect narration that explains the introduction of sin into the world. Yet God himself placed the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil in the garden, along with the Tree of Life. Of course he knew that His people would seek knowledge. I’m sure He expected it. The Bible tells us that wisdom is more valuable than gold and that only fools despise knowledge. When humans moved from the Garden of Eden into the wider world of God’s creation, I am sure He watched with great expectation to see what we would do. Like Opportunity, we began to learn, to explore, to investigate, and to discover. But unlike Opportunity, we are not abandoned. There is no place dark enough, cold enough, far enough, that we can go where He won’t look for us, find us, and call us back.

Even if, like Opportunity, we can’t, or won’t answer, He won’t cease communication, end the mission, or declare us dead. God’s grace is everywhere and we can’t lose it or shake it off. God Himself may call us to go where we don’t wish to go. Far from friends and family, into places that are dark, or cold, or lonely. But He goes with us. Opportunity allowed us to look beyond ourselves, into the infinite worlds of God’s creation and to find, not only the eternal, but ourselves.

The Death of Personal Responsibility

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I thought it was just Twitter, but apparently there is nothing you can post on Facebook that isn’t subject to provoking someone’s existential angst. People will make it all about themselves, use it as an opportunity to “educate” you about some non-issue, invite you to check your privilege, suggest you’re not being nice, police your tone, or flat-out tell you you’re wrong. Trolls and gatekeepers don’t care about starting productive dialogues, they just want to be right, even at the expense of making things worse instead of better. Everyone’s entitled to their opinions, of course, but words have consequences and we need to be aware of just what it is we’re saying, and what kind of messages we are sending to society at large.

I just don’t understand people’s need to shame some of their peers, and choose to die on some random, unimportant hill for others. I’m referring to a rash—no, an epidemic—of people sticking up for virtual strangers no matter what they’ve done. Today, I saw two different posts in local Facebook groups that I follow. In the first, a woman posted a photo of a motor vehicle (no license plate) with the information that the driver had raced right past a school bus that was stopped, with its lights flashing and stop sign fully extended, loading children. She suggested that if anyone knew the driver, they might remind her that her behavior was reckless, dangerous, and selfish. Many people reacted to the post with the angry or sad emojis, but there was more than one person who immediately leaped to the driver’s defense. It’s always the same: you don’t know what that person is going through.

Really? That is a valid and legitimate excuse?

Of course people have issues. People have problems. People have cares and worries and fears, often beyond anything we can imagine. So we try to be understanding. We try to be kind and tolerant. We try to be patient. To have empathy.

But there is no excuse whatsoever for putting the lives of children at risk. You are running late? Leave earlier, or just be late. You’re distracted? Don’t drive. Personal issues don’t trump the law and every person who gets behind the wheel of a motor vehicle has an obligation and a responsibility to operate it safely.

It’s kind to suggest we should offer grace. It’s wise to suggest we should consider what someone else’s life might be like on any given day. When someone deliberately bumps my cart in the grocery store, or yells at a service provider, or cuts in line, it’s okay to let it go. It’s wonderful to practice grace and assume the best. But when it comes to automobile versus human, there are no do-overs. It’s not okay to say, “whoops,” and move on. The possible outcomes are too severe, and they are permanent.

In the second post, someone related that they had narrowly missed hitting a dog that darted into traffic. Several steps behind the dog, was an owner, leash in hand. The law in our community is that dogs must be leashed. This is for their safety as well as the safety of others. Immediately, other people began to clamor that the original poster did not know the whole story. Maybe the dog slipped out of the house, or jumped a fence, or any number of other, more innocent possibilities. These could all be true. But why the dog was off leash would not change the outcome if the driver had hit the dog. Calling attention to these issues is not necessarily “judgy,” as someone rather judgily suggested. If we are going to continue to push the you don’t know what other people are going through scenario, then we shouldn’t assume we know why a person makes a particular post. ‘The dog was off the leash accidentally’ is believable and true, but the original poster just wanting to call attention to a safety issue is not believable or true? Her only motivation was to shame and judge? Nope. You can’t have it both ways. If you’re going to insist on extending grace to one person, then you must extend it to all people.

A few months ago, I posted an anecdote where a woman literally shoved past my child on the way to the (one-person, and only) restroom in a store, slamming the door in my child’s face. My only reason for posting the story was that it was so incredible and I thought I might see some solidarity from others who might empathize and believe that it is bad behavior to take advantage of a child that way. Most people agreed that the woman’s actions were in poor taste. But I got plenty of the you don’t know what she’s going through variety of responses. Maybe she had a medical condition. Maybe she really, really had to go. No one considered that my child might have a medical condition (she doesn’t). No one considered that my child really, really had to go. (She did). And she got there first.

All these knee-jerk reactions online are essentially people blaming the victim. We are seeing the death of personal responsibility, not just by the perpetrators who think their time and their feelings and their physical needs are more important than those of others, but a whole group of other people out there who agree with them and their behavior. That is what is most disturbing to me. The person who takes a handicap parking spot may have forgotten to display their permit. The man who parks in the fire lane to drop off library books or dry cleaning might have mobility issues. The woman who darts around a school bus might be running late. The person who takes up two parking spaces at the grocery store might be a teenager learning to drive. I can have empathy for others without being stupid, because none of these things matter. We have rules and laws and yellow lines painted on pavements for a reason.

This problem is even more insidious when it comes to victims of crime. How dare a man operate a motor vehicle while being black? What did that woman do to make her husband hit her? Why didn’t the young man in his own apartment not respond to verbal commands by a police officer? What was that rape victim wearing or drinking? Why was that young woman jogging by herself?

We are asking the wrong questions, and creating sympathy for the wrong parties. We are normalizing bad behavior and blaming victims for things that are no one’s fault but the perpetrator’s.

When everyone blames the victim, and everyone comes up with excuses for the guilty, we have an awful lot of people who begin to believe that any excuse for wrongdoing is a good one, and that no one will be held accountable. Even our president is not being held to any standards of decency or personal responsibility. If he can’t or won’t govern his own words and actions, why would anyone else feel the need to behave appropriately?

God forgives us and calls on us to forgive others. But he has given us commandments to follow, too. No commandment that begins with Thou shalt not continues with the word unless. No caveats, no excuses, no wiggle room.

Empathy is great. Kindness is so important. Trying to understand the struggles of others is a wonderful exercise. But we can do all these things without excusing bad behavior. We live in a civilized society. It is still up to us to say: No. This is wrong. This will not happen here. It’s okay to be annoyed. It’s okay to be angry. And it is vital to speak up. Our safety, security, and well-being depend on it

Profile of Lonna Seibert and her manuscript “A Servant’s Heart” on Susan Preston’s blog

I’m so pleased to be featured as a writer of Christian/inspirational fiction on Susan Preston’s blog. Susan is the award-winning author of the Apostle John series, books that explore what was like to be a Christian in the first century, A.D. You can find the post about my manuscript, “A Servan’ts Heart,” here:
 

The Painful Art of Letting Go

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My life has been the same for so long I can’t remember anything different. One day, I was a stay-at-home mom struggling with the question of whether my life had meaning, and floundering in my new reality. I was no longer an employee or a professional, but my workload was heavier and more significant than ever. My self -esteem was ebbing away and I was depressed. I felt like I wasn’t good at anything. I felt like a failure. And then, I was given a life-changing opportunity to turn everything around. Of course, it wasn’t really as quick or as easy as one day, this; the next day, that. I struggled for years, and just as quicksand is said to suck its victims under all the faster if they fight the inevitable, the more I searched for a way out of my self-loathing, the more mired I became.

I prayed for a long time for something to change. For some great and profound development that might positively affect everything. I always kept my faith, but my hope was waning. And then, coinciding almost exactly with the jarring crash of hitting rock bottom, there it was, a light shining out of the darkness, a hand reaching out, offering help and hope and salvation. Everything was going to be all right. Not right away, and not completely, but soon enough and enough-enough that I was saved. I will always be grateful for that.

Fast-forward to now and I’m stuck. Stuck in a salvation that feels more like a prison. I’ve reached a crossroads and I don’t know what to do. I was so loath to make the decision that I must make that I am ashamed to say I briefly stopped praying about it. I was afraid of what God’s answer would be. I knew that this was shortsighted. I knew I was making a mistake. But my fear was and is very real. Still, after days and weeks of pretending I was not facing a great change in my life, I began to pray again. I asked God for forgiveness and for direction. For the wisdom to know the best course and the humility to accept His will. I asked for a sign, a sign that would be unmistakable. Because my greatest fear is that my discontent comes from Satan. That I have been happy for so long, that I have been glorifying God and rejoicing in his light, so that Satan is jealous. Satan is angry. And maybe he wants to wreak havoc. Wouldn’t the perfect way of doing that be to turn me away from the right path, to turn me against the people who have been my friends and champions, to turn me away from the community I have created? Yes. And no.

Just because God guides us down a certain path doesn’t mean we are meant to follow that path for the rest of our lives. Change is constant and necessary. Without change there would be no growth, no learning and no chances for salvation. Change is hard and change is scary. This is especially true for me. So when I see change looming on the horizon, I don’t go boldly to meet it. I run and hide. And that’s what I was doing when I stopped praying. It didn’t work, though. The more I hid, the more obvious it was that change was coming, whether I wanted it to or not. And now it’s here. Or almost here. I am still scared. It’s up to me to look that change full in the face, to acknowledge and accept its inevitability. And especially, to take it in hand and make sure it works for me, rather than against me.

I asked God for a sign. And that very night, I had a dream. Its meaning was crystal clear to me. In the dream, I was having a meal with a group of people who make up a big part of my life. I didn’t want to be at this meal. I didn’t exactly resent that my presence was required, but I would have been happier if I were somewhere else. That was the first sign. Being in a place you don’t exactly hate being, but knowing you’d be happier elsewhere is a pretty big red flag. Of course we won’t love every place, every moment, every event in our lives. Not everything can be the best, the favorite, the most loved. But spending large chunks of time in a place that drains our energy or costs too much effort is not a good use of our time.

In the dream, delicious-looking food was being passed around the table and I couldn’t wait to serve myself. As it was passed, each person broke off a piece of the food for themselves, taking what they liked, taking what appealed to them. By the time the food reached me, the last person at the table, it was almost gone. And then, the person next to me, who had already served herself, broke off a piece of food for me. It was the smallest portion that anyone received. It wasn’t a part that I liked or wanted. And I didn’t get to choose for myself. This was the second sign. I don’t have much control over certain aspects of my life right now. I am not resentful about this, but I am disappointed. I like to have ownership over the things I contribute to. I like to have a certain measure of control. Not control freak-control, but some say-so in what happens or how things will proceed. I like to feel that my opinion is heard and valued. I like to be acknowledged and appreciated. I especially like to feel that I exhibit some level of proficiency in what I do. In the distant past, I had a great deal of autonomy in my life. Leadership positions and the opportunity to use my special gifts and talents. I was good at what I did.

Finally, in the dream, I left the table for a moment and when I returned, someone had put some more food on my plate. And everything that was there was something I didn’t care for. Foods that I don’t, or won’t, eat. This was the third and final sign. The things that are being put “on my plate” are things that I don’t want there. That should be all I need to know.

Still, I worry. I worry that my decision will hurt people’s feelings. I worry that it will change their perceptions of me. I worry that they won’t like me anymore. And I worry that once I have relinquished what I no longer want, I will suddenly want it again and it will be too late. All of these worries are simply excuses, though. Excuses to keep me from making the right decision, which is to move forward with my life. I am not being held back, not really, but I’m not being fulfilled, either. There are so many aspects to what I am giving up that I absolutely love. But when I don’t have ownership, when I am not in a position to receive appreciation, when I fumble and feel unsure of myself, when others reap the benefits of time and effort I have expended, I feel the only way I can be true to myself is to become a little selfish.

I go forward with no idea of what comes next, but with complete acceptance that God has directed me toward a more fulfilling future. I am going against everything in my nature and taking a leap of faith. I am stepping out blindly, yet secure in the knowledge that this is what He wants from me. I’m terrified by my boldness even as I am certain in my obedience. Someone once told me that my presence was an answer to a prayer. I don’t pretend to understand the ways of God, but that sentiment, while sounding lovely on the surface, bound me with guilt to an unhappy existence. I thought, if I was the answer to a prayer then I must have been where God wanted me to be. I have since discovered that I want and need to find out what are God’s answers to my own prayers. He may use me to help others, to fill needs and smooth the paths of the people around me, but He will also work everything to my good. And when what is happening is no longer to my good, He will make that abundantly clear. And so He has.

God, I’m listening.

Future, I’m here.

There’s Something to be Said for Traditional Church Music

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I recently came across an online post that listed what are, in the author’s opinion, the fifteen best Christian hymns. It made me think how much I miss traditional church music. I clicked through the post with interest, wanting to see how many of my personal favorites made the list. It turned out the list was divided into three components: hymns I love, hymns I do not love, and a few hymns whose names were familiar to me, but that I have never sung. The list of hymns I love was the longest.

I grew up in a traditional Lutheran church that was founded in 1770. The sanctuary, constructed between 1795 and 1806, is historic and gorgeous. There are carved wooden pews topped with velvet cushions. There is an altar dressed with cloths that change according to the church calendar, with colors and symbols that correspond to Holy Days. There are stained glass windows by Tiffany lining the chancel. There are mosaics under a vaulted arch. There are fat hymnals whose pages are edged with gold. And there is a pipe organ whose voice is powerful, poignant and heartbreakingly beautiful.

When I was growing up in the church, the only microphones were to amplify the voices of the clergy and the lectors. On special days we might have brass or strings or timpani. Handbells on Palm Sunday. Triumphal trumpets on Easter. Harps and acoustic guitars on Christmas. Sometimes the children’s choir was accompanied by a piano. There were no electric guitars or drum kits. There were no amps or wires. The front of the church did not resemble an arena just before a rock band takes the stage. There were no lightshows.

In so many churches now, this is not the case. The music is not so much a part of the worship as it is part of the entertainment. I don’t know how everyone feels about this, but I, personally, do not go to church to be entertained. Nowadays there seems to be so much loud, electric music that there is little time for anything else. No readings from the Scriptures. No order for confession and forgiveness. Prayers that do little to ask for God’s intercession in our lives and in our troubled world. Instead we refer to God over and over again as “awesome,” with the implication that He is more “cool” and “neat” than He is glorious and almighty. We seem to address Him now as if He is a next-door neighbor, our bro, our bestie, our equal.

I suppose I could take the path of least resistance and declare that my words are not meant to diminish, demean or belittle contemporary Christian music. To say that it has its place, or to excuse it by saying it’s what the younger generation wants, or it is the magic bullet that will have potential new members flocking to church doors. But I’m not sure I believe that. During the several years I have been exposed to contemporary Christian music, I have found a few songs that I can tolerate, and only one that I truly love. The key difference between the songs I dislike and the one I love is, predictably, in the lyrics and the message. It acknowledges the pain of human existence, the power of God, and the reward for faith. Its message is true and sound, the language is grown-up, and nothing is dumbed down. I appreciate that.

The songs that I dislike are repetitive and simplistic. And when I’ve finished singing one, I feel depleted, exhausted, and strangely empty. When the songs sung in church are reduced to a handful of words, they become repetition and in repetition we see the loss of meaning. Words repeated ad nauseam, growing louder and louder with each iteration, aren’t delivering any message that anyone particularly needs or wants to hear. Where are the songs that are rich in emotion, that declare the true glory of God, that are unmistakable in their praise? Give us a few words and a catchy tune and it is nothing but spectacle. It is a show. And it is a distraction. If music is meant to set the mood, then the mood is irreverent. How I miss sitting peacefully during the Offertory, listening to the choir sing, or the organist play, calm and relaxed, feeling myself drawing to closer to God. My belief is that traditional hymns make worship a more personal experience, and a thousand times more meaningful.

We might sing to God about how He numbered the stars or can hold back the floodwaters, but He already knows that. As much as songs should be about worship, they should also be a way for us to connect with God, to come to a deeper understanding of His power and might. And to remind us that the path to salvation was not an easy one, riddled as it was with the pain and suffering that God’s son took upon himself, for our sakes. The contemplation of such unimaginable and undeserved sacrifice merits dignified language of beauty and grace, and a dignified presentation.

The old hymns have much to recommend them. Through their words, we remember everything that God has done for us, and we celebrate his remarkable love and sacrifice. Children learn, not only about their God, but through hymns, their understanding of Christianity is enhanced and their vocabulary grows. How many seven-year-olds are regularly exposed to words like bulwark, sphere, tribulation, prostrate, successive, cleft, almighty, and so on. I don’t know whether J.K. Rowling’s wizards go to church, but I always suspected that if Harry Potter’s best friend Ron Weasley had ever been to youth choir, he never would have had to ask, “What’s a diadem?”

And personally, I feel that’s the way it should be.

The Orphan Bride by Brandi Gabriel

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A review of the book The Orphan Bride by Brandi Gabriel. Christian Historical Western Fiction.

The Orphan Bride by Brandi Gabriel is a book about the power of God, and His redeeming love, even in the face of a potentially impossible situation. It is 1883 and seventeen-year-old Lucy Weber’s time on the orphan train has just run out. No one adopted her when she was a child so now she must marry any man who will have her at the train’s next stop. When the train pulls into Saddle, Texas it looks like Lucy’s only recourse is to accept the proposal of the leering and frightening Clem Toeger, who claims to be Christian, although all his actions say otherwise. At the last minute, quiet and kindly Garrett Black appears. Garrett isn’t looking for a wife, but something compelled him to step into the church where Clem is planning to make Lucy his wife. Garrett knows Clem, and his awful reputation, and he knows he mustn’t let the marriage take place. With the backing of the local minister, Garrett is able to marry Lucy instead, thus protecting her from Clem. Garrett further shows his kindness and his Christian heart by agreeing to adopt Lucy’s five-year-old friend, Joan, who, after three years of being in Lucy’s care, is more like her daughter.

The new family of three begins an unfamiliar journey, getting to know one another, trust one another, and navigate the new relationships that have been created. The story of the orphan Lucy’s assimilation into the ready-made and large family of Garrett’s extended relations is a lovely touch–the girl who hasn’t known the love and security of a family for years suddenly finds herself blessed with many people to care for her. This adds depth and heart to the story, giving us characters to root for. The fatherly role that Garrett assumes for Joan’s benefit, the sub-plot of whether Lucy might someday be reunited with her long lost twin brother, Travis, and danger in the form of Clem Toeger, who repeatedly threatens and harasses Lucy, give us emotionally satisfying plots to entertain and outrage the reader in turn. Perhaps the most uplifting aspect of the story is how Garrett does not insist that Lucy begin performing the physical aspects of her wifely duties immediately, instead waiting patiently until she is ready. By putting her needs before his own he assures that true love accompanies their physical and emotional intimacy.

The characters’ love for, and reliance on God is inspiring and Lucy’s prayer at the beginning of the story, Please, God, give me the strength to face my future, no matter what it is, is both a heartfelt prayer for His mercy and His presence, and a surrender to letting His will be done. A wonderful reminder and lesson for us all.

 

Job’s Daughters and the Futility of Fear

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Job’s Daughters International is an organization for young women who are related to, or sponsored for membership by, a Master Mason. It offers a fantastic opportunity for girls to learn leadership skills and life lessons that will bolster their confidence and success for the rest of their lives. I was lucky enough to be a member of Job’s Daughters when I was a girl and I am so grateful for the experience. I have been wanting to write something about the organization for a very long time but I wasn’t sure what I wanted it to be. Finally, I just decided to start writing. I hope there are lessons here for former, current and future members, as well as for those who have never heard of Job’s Daughters. Thank you for reading!

“On the edge of an Arabian desert . . .” So begins the story of Job, as told by the members of Job’s Daughters International. When I hear these words I never fail to imagine some desolate and windswept place; the edge of the desert might as well be the edge of the world. And at the edge of this desert, just on the other side, is a place capable of sustaining life: a man, his wife, their seven sons and three daughters, their servants, their flocks of sheep and beasts of burden, fields and gardens, orchards, perhaps even vineyards. The place at the edge of the desert is hospitable, even beautiful. But the fact that it is on the edge of a desert, a place incapable of sustaining all but the most specialized life forms, gives it a precarious and tenuous feel. It hints at the trials and tribulations to come.

Though we wait upon God’s mercies, though we rely on his protection and redeeming love, we live in an imperfect world where fortunes can change in an instant, where all that we have, all that we have worked for and worried over, can disappear. Life on the edge of a desert, or life on the edge, they are really the same thing. God never promised that life would be easy. He never asserted that pain and suffering would not be part of our earthly journey. Deep unhappiness, disappointment, accidents, injuries, poverty, strife, loss, death, are all inextricable and even necessary parts of the human experience. Learning and accepting these hard truths is, in my opinion, the greatest lesson the Book of Job teaches us. God watches over us and is with us through every trial. He feels our pain and counts every tear. He loves us unconditionally and sends comfort and hope to us in a thousand different ways, both seen and unseen.

That doesn’t make these experiences less painful, it simply gives them meaning.

I am so blessed to have been a member of the wonderful organization that is Job’s Daughters, as my mother was before me, as my sister was alongside me, as I hope my own daughters will be someday. It makes me sad when I hear other women say they will not encourage their daughters to engage in any particular activity, whether it is Job’s Daughters, sports, cheerleading, a spelling bee or math competition, chorus tryouts, band, even summer camp or babysitting, because of bad experiences they had when they were girls. I don’t believe everything is ever all bad, or all good, either. Life isn’t like that. Even moments of deepest happiness can be overshadowed by memories of grief or loss or pain. Even in our darkest hours we can find instances of hope and light. I would never judge another person’s decision or try to quantify the weight or measure of the pain they have felt. But I do know that bad experiences can happen anywhere. At school. On the job. Within one’s own family. At the grocery store. Trying to hide from what we fear might happen, trying to protect ourselves and others from what we worry could happen diminish our lives and our purpose.

I like to think that Job’s Daughters is where we can learn the truest lessons of life: that people can be mean, that not everyone will like you, that some decisions are impossible to make, that sometimes, nothing you can do is right, that this journey is fraught with difficulty. Many, many people learn these lessons in a very hard school and it makes them bitter, cynical, and afraid to reach out to people and for experiences that can ultimately heal and enrich them. It is better, I believe, to learn these lessons sooner rather than later, and to do so surrounded by a network of sisters, adults, and most of all, parents—family, who can guide and advise. To navigate pain and heartache and disappointment with a safety net, as it were.

Job’s Daughters is a wonderful organization. It is not perfect. A Daughter gets out of it what she puts in. Often she gets more than she expects, in ways both good and bad. When something is imperfect, it can feel like the only choice is to walk away. But the best choice is to walk on—to let your way out be your way through. To hold your head high, struggle through the desolate places, and come out on the other side of that desert, into the beautiful garden of God’s perfect love. Just as Job was led to a life “rich in blessings” after his trials and through his unwavering faith in God, so, too, will we be enriched and strengthened, both by what new and joyous experiences we welcome, and by the trials and tribulations we survive, with hope and with His grace.

At Home with God

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I have always gone to church. Always. I was born into the church of my parents and grandparents and was baptized there. Throughout my childhood my family and I were at church every Sunday. My siblings and I received awards for perfect attendance every September on Rally Day. Once I fell down our basement steps about thirty minutes before we were to leave the house for church. I tore my panty hose, bruised my elbow and skinned both knees. We went to church anyway. But it was never a burden or an onerous obligation. I loved church. I loved Sunday school. I loved vacation Bible school in the summertime. And I loved God and Jesus.

The church I grew up in, the church where my grandparents and parents were married, the church where I was married and my children were baptized, is a very old church. Founded in 1770, with construction completed in 1776, the church is visible somewhere in the background of every historic photograph of my hometown. Its steeple served as a lookout point during the Civil War. To me, a girl whose presence in the congregation began nearly two hundred years into the church’s history, it seems as if it has always been there. Certainly it has always been in my life.

That church was a second home to me. It is astonishingly beautiful, full of stained-glass windows by Tiffany and boasting a Moller pipe organ. The pews have velvet-covered cushions and the Communion cups are tiny pewter goblets. There are mosaics and a vaulted arch and candelabra that hold smooth white candles. It is stunning, awe-inspiring, and humbling. It was in this church that I experienced, as a young child, my first numinous emotions, although I didn’t understand what they were, didn’t have words to describe them and didn’t know there was a name for such deep feelings until I took an anthropology course as a college freshman.

I loved my church life. There was a poetry and a mysticism to the words of the Scriptures, to the liturgy and to the order of worship we followed. I loved returning to our pew from the Communion rail with my parents, after they received the sacrament and I received a blessing. My mother would turn to kiss me and I would smell the red wine on her lips and feel very much at peace. By the time I was six or seven I had the service memorized. Most merciful God, we confess that we are in bondage to sin and cannot free ourselves . . .

How comforting it was to know that I had no power to save myself, that my salvation is out of my hands and already promised by the unimaginable sacrifice of Jesus. How calming and steadying to be surrounded by a community of believers, to grow up with teachers and choir directors and youth ministers and fellow congregants who loved me and cared about what happened to me.

For many years I have lived approximately ninety miles, one way, from the church of my youth. I attend services there whenever I can but it is not often. Every time I do, it is like coming home. There is a certain smell to the building that defies description. It is not a bad smell, nor is it a floral smell. It is not the smell of cleaning products or mustiness or old books or even of candles and melted wax. It is just what it is and I would recognize that smell, in the dark, one hundred years from now. The interior of the sanctuary has not changed at all. It could be 1975 or 1983 or 2006 every time I step inside. It feels familiar, comfortable, eternal.

Today I read the obituary of a ninety-four year old woman I have known all my life, a woman who, like me and my family, has always called that church her home. It was startling to read of her passing, to realize that the next time I attend a service there, she won’t be there. Something I have always been able to rely upon when I return to this church is the familiar faces I will see. People I have known all my life, grown-ups who taught me in Sunday school or who brought the most delicious Texas sheet cakes to church picnics in Doub’s Woods, kids I grew up with, sang in the youth choir with, served as an acolyte with. It’s true that I can’t look across the crowded expanse of Mary-Martha Hall during coffee hour after church and see my grandparents sitting together, or find an aunt or an uncle standing on the Oriental carpet drinking lemon punch from a styrofoam cup. They are all gone now. And that’s why the passing of a woman I knew so well jars me. There may well come a time when I walk into that church and no longer recognize anyone from my youth. They can renovate the bathroom, rearrange the furniture in the public spaces, change the refreshments they serve, even indulge the younger crowd with “contemporary” services and praise band theatrics, but as long as I can walk in those doors and see some of the same faces I have known since I was a baby, it will still be home. I wonder what it will feel like when I am the stranger.

This worry isn’t all-consuming. And it’s not even a worry. Not really. God has given me a home and a family, both within the church, and external to the church. I carry my memories and my love for Him inside of me. Those things cannot be destroyed or taken away, and even the passage of time will not erode them. People will come and people will go. Even the church may be gone eventually. I have been perhaps too fond of the things of this world, forgetting that the physical is far less important than the spiritual. I have the promise of my eternal home, where I will rest in Him. For we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. 

Red Tent Living: The Comeback

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Today I am so pleased and blessed to share that I am a featured contributor on Red Tent Living for the month of August. What is Red Tent Living? In its creator’s own words:

“Red Tent Living is an invitation.  Here, women come to just be and be together.  Amidst all of the impossible, confusing, and shaming ideas of what femininity is in our culture today, we find respite and meaning in gathering together and sharing our lives with one another.  Your femininity is not an essence to be quickly taken in, nor is it contained in the labels of your age, location, season of life, or vocation.  That is why in this venue, we choose to reframe what it is to be a woman.”

The words I chose to share were written in May, when I was experiencing a dark and frightening time in my life. Things have changed for the better since then, and I know God has been walking beside me and my family, guiding us through the storm. He has given me safe places to rest, surrounded me with unbelievably kind and supportive people to lean on, and never, ever, let me feel his absence.

My contribution to Red Tent Living may be hard to read. It is raw and emotional and came from a place of deep confusion and hurt. I was more honest with all my potential readers than perhaps I have ever been with myself and I stand now, exposed and utterly real, wondering if I did the right thing. My prayer is that what I so fearfully but needfully shared will give some hope to others who are struggling. That it will serve as a reminder that there is One who loves us above all others, who knows exactly what we need, and will never forsake us. When you fear a present and a future you cannot control or even imagine, put your trust in Him. He will provide, and He will never leave you. For lo I am with you always, to the end of the age.

Please visit Red Tent Living and read my story:

The Comeback