The Great Pumpkin Thief

Yesterday my daughter’s 1st Grade class took a field trip to a Pumpkin Patch.  She had been looking forward to this for weeks, literally counting down the days.  Being 7 is great!  There are such simple pleasures, like getting a day away from the classroom to take a school bus across town with all her friends.

Just look at this girl!


The experience was everything she had hoped for, she was SO PROUD of and SO PLEASED with the pumpkin she picked out (there was NO green on this one, mama!) and even prouder that she could carry it by herself and got to go on a hayride with it.

Of course her younger brother’s class didn’t get this same field trip so after school we ran to a local pop up style ‘pumpkin patch’ set up down the road where he could pick one, too.

This boy has me wrapped around his finger.  Big time.


As I set the pumpkins next to each other on our fireplace hearth when we got home, it was clear that Zachary’s was perfectly smooth and blemish-free all around, however Evangeline’s pumpkin had some scratches, dents, and a noticeable gauge on one side.

Unfortunately, I was not the only one who noticed this.

Aaaannnddd so began the tears.

In between sobs I managed to discern some words about how Zachary’s pumpkin was so much better and perfect and hers was…not.  I could practically see in her eyes the contempt she had for that poor scratched-up pumpkin.

This is nothing new in my world.  The kids always seem to be wanting what the other one has (the purple plate, the bigger Lego set, the better stick found outside, and on and on it goes) . Many fights and tears and conversations have taken place around this issue.  It honestly makes me want to tear my hair out.

But this time I was struck in a new way.  My girl had SO MUCH  joy in her pumpkin – and now it was all gone.  And I was not okay with that, I grieved for her and her heart.  Something had been stolen and I wanted to get it back.

So I sat down, pulled her in my lap and told her a story.  A story about how mommy LOVES leading bible studies and teaching God’s word.  It brings me joy, it brings me pleasure, it brings me purpose.  I love the men and women I have gotten to serve through this act and the ways God has ministered to them through it.  But one time (okay more than one time, but I didn’t tell Evie that…) I started noticing another woman – who also was a writer and teacher and leader -who seemed to do everything better than me.  More creatively, more powerfully, more impactfully and in cuter clothes than me.  When glancing down at my own work, all of a sudden what was in my hands appeared dull and hollow and small.  Like dents on a pumpkin.

I painted a picture for my daughter of how comparison, dressed all in black to be an extra sneaky burglar, broke into my heart and stole something from me.  He stole my joy and the love that I had for the work in front of me.   My work hadn’t changed.  I hadn’t changed.  The only thing that had changed was the presence of comparison.  And that changed everything.

Remember how much fun your field trip was, Evangeline?  Remember the hard work of traipsing through a field?  Remember how there were lots to choose from, but you picked just the right one?  Remember how you carried it around with your classmates? Remember how excited you were to show it to me when I picked you up from school?   Girl, that is YOUR pumpkin!

She remembered, I could see it in her eyes (I love when my parenting talks actually work!)

Zachary’s pumpkin doesn’t change ANY of that, don’t let comparison steal your joy.  

She sprang up from my lap and after heading over to the fireplace she knelt down and draped her arms dramatically around her pumpkin, looking as if she never wanted to be separated from that thing ever again.


She remembered her first love.  Well, her first pumpkin, anyways.

Whether it is my work, my abilities, my kids, my appearances, my car, my home, my bank account – I am often times perfectly satisfied….that is until my eyes wander over and see an image presented of someone else’s work, ability, kids, appearance, car, home or bank account. I swear I have been tempted to trade in my own personality.   And I begin to feel contempt for what I have and what I have to offer.  So measly and meager my life becomes in just a moment!   I have to remind myself of the same things I reminded my girl.

And I know that for a long time whenever comparison is threatening to rob me blind, I will remember the innocent joy and pride on Evangeline’s face when I picked her up from school yesterday, holding her flawed but beautiful pumpkin.


I also want to remember the way she repentantly embraced that precious pumpkin on the fireplace, remembering that while what I have may be different from what someone else has, it is mine.  It is what I chose, or what God has chosen on my behalf.  It is mine to use and to treasure and to enjoy.  I too want to hold these things close, draping my arms around them just as dramatically as my daughter, filled with thanksgiving.

Free Woman/Slave Woman

The words sounded so lovely coming from my mouth; so kind and considerate and selfless.

“I don’t have a roommate preference, I’d be happy to stay wherever there is a need.  If someone needs a roommate, just put me with them!”

I was signing up for my church’s women’s retreat, and part of the registration form includes the ‘roommate’ blank to fill in.   And I wanted to ask a friend to room with me but worried about looking needy or loser-ish.  More than that I was worried about putting my request out there and being rejected.  Flashbacks of getting picked last or not getting an invitation to a party flooded my brain and took over.

Never has adulting felt so much like Junior High as when signing up for a lady’s event at church!!!

See, deep within my heart is just a little girl.  That’s all.  A little girl. She wants to be wanted as a roommate, but bigger than that, she just wants to be wanted as a person.  Preferred, chosen, worthy.  Wanted.

But that little girl lives inside a 35 year old woman, and letting my longing be seen and heard – or even worse, to have that longing rejected – felt like TOO MUCH for that particular Sunday.  So I cut it off at the pass.  Rather than living by the Spirit, I hid behind a veneer of righteousness. I didn’t know legalism could look like that.

‘These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. Matthew 15:8

Outwardly one might see a woman so secure and free that she is led to love with amazing flexibility and thoughtfulness.  Wouldn’t that be nice if it were the truth!   Sadly just beneath the surface lies a fear of being seen as needy, not sure of her value to others, and afraid of rejection.  I was RULED by those feelings in that moment, and anyone who is RULED by another is also known as a slave.

Experience has shown me that we will all be slaves to something, we will be ruled.  Slaves to what other people think.  Slaves to money or success.  Slaves to an image or an idea or an idealogy.  Slaves to fear, slaves to shame, ultimately:  we are slaves to our own brokenness.

So when the bible offers all these nice words like Peace and Freedom – but then I see what is actually ruling my own heart in the most trivial moments – I wonder if I am missing something?

When Paul tries to show the Freedom we have in Christ to the churches in Galatia, he allegorically refers to Sarah and Hagar from Genesis.  While most of the time when I read this story, I can’t get past the weird gross factor of Sarah asking her husband to sleep with her slave Hagar so she would get pregnant with a child for Sarah.  (Eww.  Just….eww!)  But truth is this wasn’t out of the ordinary for this time and place in history.  When a culture is completely steeped in patriarchy and passing on land and property, having an heir is extremely important.  So it was quite normal, wise and good even, to have a servant around to ensure an heir.   (Eww.  Just….eww!)

Outwardly, one might see a prudent woman taking matters into her own hand and doing right by her husband to provide a son and even fulfilling the promise God gave them for descendants, yet sadly underneath, her heart would reveal a woman insecure and afraid and anything but free.

Rather than trusting in God’s Promise, His Goodness, His favor, His Character – I think all she saw was year… after year… after year…after year…of a barren womb.

So, she yanked the reigns out of God’s hands.  Cut Him off at the pass, before she could be scorned and shamed and disappointed a second longer.

In the story, Hagar is the servant, but I think on some level Sarah was a slave, too.

Confession:  I don’t always believe God’s promises, either.  So I too will yank the reigns out of God’s hands to accomplish what I fear He won’t.  But you won’t see addiction or substance abuse or dysfunction, you will see prudent. Or smart.  Or selfless.  Or holy.  Or Loving.   Or volunteering to have a random roommate at a women’s retreat.

What Sarah did with Hagar brings out the ‘eww’ factor,  but my own heart when I control, manipulate, strive and people please under the guise of Good Christian Girl – is nothing short of grotesque.  Eww.  Gross.  I don’t want that any more than Sarah really wanted Abraham to have sex with Hagar and have a son by her.

I realize that everything I do, no matter how nice looking on the outside, can be done either from a place of freedom, or from a place of slavery.

That picture I put on social media?

The workout I just did?

The way I just served?

The great Jesus-y decision I just made – is this because I am free in Christ, or am I enslaved to the notion that God doesn’t really like me and so I need to try a bit harder?

Workouts and pictures and serving and Jesus-y decisions are AWESOME!  All of them!!!

But all over the pages of scripture from the Old Testament through the New, I see painted in bright and vivid colors a God that is looking right past my awesome words and deeds, and is peering deep into my heart.  He is not impressed with my sacrifice.  He is not impressed with my shiny happy picture or how my new dress fits me or how high I lift my hands during our worship service (pretty darn high, by the way).  He’s not saying those things are bad, of course, He just has other questions for me.

What is in your heart, Kirsten?  Are you afraid?  Are you ashamed?  Are you lonely?  Are you doubting?  What is ruling you?  

He cares about the What, but more deeply He cares about the Why.  And that is because He cares about me.

John Lynch in his book Truefaced shares how we have two paths as Christians – one  which leads to Pleasing God and one which leads to Trusting God.  One is entered via human effort and leads to a life of striving, standards, and outward conformity, while the Other is entered via humility and leads to a life of authenticity, grace and ultimately inner transformation.  He writes “If my motive is trusting God (as opposed to Pleasing God) then my value will be living out of who God says I am”

Who God says I am.  

I am prone to forget that I already am all those things that my little girl heart longs for.  Preferred. Chosen.  Worthy.  Wanted.

In those moments when I really, I mean really, understand this – I am free indeed.

And in this freedom I can run up to my friend and set my longing right out there in front of her and say “Hey let’s room together at the women’s retreat!”

or, as one who has experienced adoption, healing and acceptance I can declare, not as a slave hiding behind fake holiness, but as a free woman living by the Spirit:

“I don’t have a roommate preference, I’d be happy to stay wherever there is a need.  If someone needs a roommate, just put me with them!”

 “I don’t want your sacrifices—I want your love; I don’t want your offerings—I want you to know me.  Hosea 6:6

For freedom Christ set us free; so stand firm and do not submit again to the yoke of slavery. Galatians 5

Next weekend I am going on a women’s retreat with 70 of my closest church lady friends, all of whom I love and love me back, rooming with a girl I am getting to know a bit better and resting in the Lord’s love and provision in my life.  I can’t wait!

The Host

Have you ever filled out one of those Spiritual Gifts Assessments?

I remember in the past answering the questions a bit dishonestly ignorantly, not only because I didn’t really have a lot of experience to go on, but also because I had in mind what I assumed were expected or acceptable gifts for a young woman (and also ones that were not really that scary to me -Tongues and Healing, anyone?!) So, lo and behold – Kirsten is gifted by the spirit for Encouragement and Service and Hospitality!

I’d think my naivety was adorable if I wasn’t so busy laughing at how wrong I was.

Recently my husband and I were talking specifically about the gift of Hospitality and while I make an effort to invite friends, families and students into our home on a regular basis, it’s simply not an area where I really shine.

But when I pause to think about it, being a hostess is probably one of the most realistic ways that I can actually be the hands and feet of Jesus.  Because yes, God is King and Creator and Judge and Savior and all that, but God is also our Host.  The one who initiates, creates, plans and invites.

He is the Host who invites himself over when I’d rather just keep the door closed because my house is a mess.

When Jesus came to the place, he looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, hurry and come down; for I must stay at your house today.

He is the Host at whose banquet table we all belong. 

While Jesus was having dinner at Matthew’s house, many tax collectors and sinners came and ate with him and his disciples.  When the Pharisees saw this, they asked his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” On hearing this, Jesus said, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.  For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”

He is the Host who graciously and joyfully receives the awkward gift you bring to the party

While he was in Bethany, reclining at the table in the home of Simon the Leper, a woman came with an alabaster jar of very expensive perfume, made of pure nard. She broke the jar and poured the perfume on his head. Some of those present were saying indignantly to one another, “Why this waste of perfume? It could have been sold for more than a year’s wages and the money given to the poor.” And they rebuked her harshly. “Leave her alone,” said Jesus. “Why are you bothering her? She has done a beautiful thing to me.

He is The Host who knows the hell your life has been, and offers you what you don’t even know you need.

“Sir,” the woman said, “you have nothing to draw with and the well is deep. Where can you get this living water? Are you greater than our father Jacob, who gave us the well and drank from it himself, as did also his sons and his livestock?” Jesus answered, “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water so that I won’t get thirsty and have to keep coming here to draw water.” He told her, “Go, call your husband and come back.” “I have no husband,” she replied. Jesus said to her, “You are right when you say you have no husband. The fact is, you have had five husbands, and the man you now have is not your husband. What you have just said is quite true.

He is The Host of abundant loaves, fishes and oh yes the very best wine.

He is The Host who leaves the best seat at the head of the table to serve the rest.

He is The Host cooking me fresh fish on the beach after I betrayed him to death.

He is The Host slaughtering the fattened calf because after years of running away I have finally returned home.

On a hillside or in a boat or at a well or in the dining room or at a wedding, He is Host.

In my room or in the sanctuary or on the street, He is Host.

When I remember who God is, as I remember his Holiness and Salvation and Power, may I also remember His hospitality.

On bad days I sit and pick at the food, mostly talking while He listens.

On good days I help in the kitchen and go around to talk to other guests, delighting in how much fun this party is!

He is the Host who doesn’t mind me coming through the door exhausted, crying, hopeless, helpless, wounded, scared, rambling, and starving because, after all, He is the one who invited me.   There is a feast ready, His presence close at hand, and He gathers me under His wing like a mother hen.


A beautiful day for God

 But Jesus, with a loud cry, gave his last breath. At that moment the Temple curtain ripped right down the middle. When the Roman captain standing guard in front of him saw that he had quit breathing, he said, “This has to be the Son of God!”

The simple spiritual truth of the tearing of the temple curtain (which by the way I recently learned was 60 feet high and FOUR INCHES THICK) always recaptures my attention and awe.  Whereas I was once separated from The Most High God because of my filthy sin nature, at the atoning death of Jesus I can freely come to God.   God’s dwelling in The Most Holy Place is now available to little ole’ me.


For the folks living in the first century at this time, that simple spiritual truth also impacted them in varying ways.

Whereas we see this as really good news, I’m not so sure the religious leaders would agree.  Although the Pharisees and the Sadducees and the Chief Priests and the Elders differ in their beliefs and roles,  generally speaking these guys and their lives and livelihoods were built upon drawing lines, keeping lines, and just in general determining who was in and who was out, who was right, who was wrong.

So with every word and miracle it seemed like Jesus was pulling a little bit more of the rug of power out from under them. This was a driving force in how they felt about Jesus, which started off as curiosity and interest, but which quickly turned to annoyance and then anger… and so they crucified him.  They did not foresee what would happen next.

At the moment of tearing, that beloved authority and control was completely stripped from their hands.  If God is so available now, who can they keep out and keep down?

There were some other implications for people at the other end of the power spectrum, namely women and gentiles.   Both groups were designated to ‘special courts’ in the temple that were tiered below the priest, and below the court for Jewish males.  While a court just for ladies doesn’t sound too bad in theory, as I imagine cry rooms for babies, comfy nursing chairs and a special restroom with nice hand lotions, special treatment was simply not the motivation here.  The sole reason for a separate court was due to the fact that they were not allowed any closer to the alter or the Holy Place because of their status as gentiles and women.

It must have been hard to get over that inferiority complex and feel equal to the Jewish male population.  Was it hard for them to believe they could really be brothers and sisters ?  Was it hard to believe they were part of God’s family to the same degree?  Was it hard for them to freely participate, having always been forced to be so many steps away from the inner courts of the Temple?

 I think so. 

So Paul in his letter to the Ephesian church encourages the Gentile population,

13 But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ. 14 For he himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, 15 by setting aside in his flesh the law with its commands and regulations. 

His purpose was to create in himself one new humanity out of the two, thus making peace, 16 and in one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility. 17 He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near. 18 For through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit.  Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with God’s people and also members of his household, 20 built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. 21 In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. 22 And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit.

Now this is the kind of temple I want to belong to!

At the moment of tearing, God was available for them, too.  In the same amount of intimacy and frequency and quantity as everyone else.

For the Pharisees, authority was stripped and I can just imagine them LOSING THEIR MINDS over it all.

For non-Jewish people and for women, authority and permission were granted in a way that was not available before.

And for all, we have been invited to approach the Throne of Grace, with no need for a priest over us, a bloodied animal sacrifice before us, or walls of division between us.


But there is someone else we are missing.  A Major Player in the story, and we haven’t talked about some of the implications for Him, yet.


More than what it meant for humanity, be it Jew or Gentile, Pharisee or Slave, Male or Female, it meant something for God. 

At the moment of tearing, our Creator’s original and best plan for humanity is reactivated.

And here my imagination runs wild.

Did God experience relief?  Freedom?  (Is it heretical to suggest these things??!!)

Did God experience great pleasure as his Plan and Purpose to dwell among us is finally redeemed?  Did He give a shout of triumph and shed tears of joy as the curtain was ripped victoriously from top to bottom?

I guess I’m not enough of a theologian to answer these, but I do know that the original vision at the creation of humankind did not involve a four inch thick curtain, because God’s heart was for intimacy and partnership with us.  We think it was a big day for us, but it was a beautiful day for God.

Shortly after the crucifixion and curtain tearing came the outpouring of the Holy Spirit – so not only are we free to come to God, but he actually takes up residence in us.  My husband likened this to God moving into the slums.  The slums of course being us.

This feels like pretty risky business to me, to take the Most Holy Place from behind that beautiful purple and blue veil and put it in me and you, yet God wills it and ordains it and wants it. 

What kind of God is this!?!?  What kind of God is this, who creates us for such intimacy?  Who desires a dwelling place with us?  Who asks us to abide in Him?  Who suffers crucifixion and living in the slums so that this might happen?

Creation means something to us, because it first meant something to Him.

Incarnation means something to us, because it first meant something to Him.

Forgiveness means something to us, because it first meant something to Him.

Redemption means something to us, because it first meant something to Him.

How blessed is God! And what a blessing he is! He’s the Father of our Master, Jesus Christ, and takes us to the high places of blessing in him. Long before he laid down earth’s foundations, he had us in mind, had settled on us as the focus of his love, to be made whole and holy by his love. Long, long ago he decided to adopt us into his family through Jesus Christ. (What pleasure he took in planning this!) He wanted us to enter into the celebration of his lavish gift-giving by the hand of his beloved Son.                                    Ephesians 1 (Message)

Lean In Chapter 10: Let’s Start Talking About It

I LOVE that God made me a woman and could certainly spend a lot of time expounding on the positive experiences I’ve had of being made in His image as a female.    However, when I think of the lives of women world-wide and throughout history, unfortunately the word that comes most strongly to my mind is…disappointment.  For the all the power, strength, dignity and beauty that women carry, we are all too frequently a disappointed group.

Just from reading Lean In, I think of all the women who fought for equal pay, yet never received it.  But it goes beyond that.  I think of the women who asked eager questions, yet were belittled or patronized.  Women who spoke up against harassment, yet were unheard or harassed further.  Women who showed up, yet were ignored.  Women who were denied justice over rape or abuse.  Women who were bright and competent and hilarious and kind, yet were asked to stay in a box.  Women who were beautiful, yet shamed for their looks.  Women who were intelligent, yet disliked because of their brains.  Women who were powerless and fearful, and given no one to speak up on their behalf.  Women who gathered their courage and found their voice, only to be called curse words.  Women who dreamed and risked and wondered and studied, all in vain.

The silent multitude of disappointed women cram and even burst our history books, our offices, our churches, our homes.

This seems like something worth talking about, right?

In her penultimate chapter of Lean In, Sandberg addresses the simple significance of beginning the conversation around gender issues and equality in the workplace (and to a lesser degree in the home and in society at large.)

Shutting down discussion is self-defeating and impedes progress. We need to talk and listen and debate and refute and instruct and learn and evolve.

She shares the usual convincing slew of anecdotes and research statistics that show more satisfaction, productivity and health occur across the board in both men and women, when both sexes are working as equals and engaging in the gender discussion.  So not even landing on a perfect solution, merely talking about it makes a difference!   Sandberg’s entire book, and specifically this chapter, urge women and men onward to start new conversations and continue old ones, to press on from disappointment.

Here are three words I pulled out of the major theme of the chapter that I think are key to encouraging this conversation.

First, the nasty “F’ Word. 

Okay, it’s probably for the best that I whisper this one……feminism.

It’s hard to have a conversation about equality between the sexes without this one flying around #amiright?   Sandberg herself says she avoided the label of feminist in her early days..

“It sounds like a joke:  Did you hear the one about the woman taking a feminist studies class who got angry when someone called her a feminist?  But when I was in college I embraced the same contradiction.  On one hand, I started a group to encourage more women to major in economics and government.  On the other hand I would have denied being in any way, shape or form a feminist…we accepted the negative caricature of a bra-burning, humor-less, man-hating feminist”

Post-college and in the early years of her career she still struggles with the label even in the midst of trying to have this dialogue…

“It was a no-win situation.  I couldn’t deny being a woman…and defending myself just made me seem defensive.  My gut and the signals I received from others cautioned me that arguing the issue would make me sound like a strident feminist.  And I still did not want that.  I also worried that pointing out disadvantages women face in the workforce might be misinterpreted as whining or asking for special treatment.  So I ignored the comments…”

If I talk about women’s issues on my blog, will I be labeled a feminist?

If I highlight injustices and inequalities, will it be assumed I am a man-hater?

If I share my own hurts and experiences, and those of my sisters, will I be called whiny and divisive?

It’s hard to advocate for change and not be called a trouble-maker.  It’s even harder to advocate for women’s rights and not be called a feminist (as an insult).

But thanks to women in the secular world like Sheryl Sandberg and others, I think that word is being reclaimed for good.

I mean, Hermione Granger is talking about it…

Chapter 10 A

Internet memes are talking about it..

77 cents

And everyone shuts up and listens when Malala talks…


But what encourages me even more is the way Christians have added their voices.  Even if one is not comfortable with the F-word, (many) men and women in the American evangelical church are realizing that things are not quite right between the sexes and even if they stumble and struggle and disagree on the nitty gritty, earnest conversations are happening.  Christians like Author Sarah Bessey even attempt to reclaim the idea of feminism:

One needn’t identify as a feminist to participate in the redemptive movement of God for women in the world, The gospel is more than enough. Of course it is! But as long as I know how important maternal health is to Haiti’s future, and as long as I know that women are being abused and raped, as long as I know girls are being denied life itself through selective abortion, abandonment, and abuse, as long as brave little girls in Afghanistan are attacked with acid for the crime of going to school, and until being a Christian is synonymous with doing something about these things, you can also call me a feminist.

So, for some it is a badge of honor, for some it is an insult.  I suggest, and I think Sheryl would agree, that we don’t let the lingo get in the way of the issues.

What are your thoughts on the F-word?

Okay next, the awful “B” Word…

Bias.  Something other people have, certainly not me!  (<– sarcasm font)

Sandberg illustrates how delicate this subject is – NOBODY wants to be told they have a bias!  But she shares some important research:

A 2012 study found that when evaluating identical resumes for a lab manager position from a male student and a female student, scientists of both sexes gave better marks to the male applicant.  Even though the students had the same qualifications and experience, the scientists deemed the female student less competent and offered her a lower starting salary and less mentoring.

This study was a killer:

When evaluating identically described male and female candidates for the job of police chief, respondents WHO CLAIMED TO BE THE MOST IMPARTIAL actually exhibit MORE bias in favor of male candidates.  This is not just counterproductive but deeply dangerous.  Evaluators in that same study actually shifted hiring criteria to give men an advantage.  When a male applicant possessed a strong educational record, that quality was considered critical to the success of a police chief.  But when a male applicant possessed a weaker educational record, that quality was rated as less important.  This favoritism was not shown to female applicants.  If anything, the reverse happened.  When a woman possessed a particular skill, ability, or background, that quality tended to carry less weight.

That’s crazy!  As an added challenge, when the idea (or gentle accusation?!) of being biased is brought up, people either discredit that as not being true, or at worst are put on the defensive and made angry.  We are seeing this a lot in the race discussions happening in our country right now, but I firmly believe it is absolutely essential to be humble enough to admit that entire systems, and our own human hearts, are riddled with bias.  It’s actually 100% natural and to be expected as a result of living in society.  Being able to admit bias not only removes the huge burden of pride and the desire to pretend we are perfect and live in perfect communities, but it is also necessary to move the conversation forward in a productive way. 

How do you react at the suggestion that you might be biased in some areas?

And lastly, The Beautiful “S” Word

Shalom. So Sandberg doesn’t use this word, but it is the Hebrew word for Peace and she is Jewish so, um, it sort of belongs?


Harmony, Wholeness, Peace, and Unity between men and women, what a vision to behold!

Truthfully a lot of what Sherly Sandberg talks about in Lean In such as board meetings and private jets and working with congressmen feels so far away from my life.  I don’t even own a blazer or a pair of sensible pumps!  But I am drawn into this conversation because of my faith, because of God’s heart for Shalom, for The Blessed Alliance of his Sons and Daughters.  So while I can’t really name any CEOs, male or female, I can share my passion for God’s creation.

Long before Sheryl and Malala and Hermione (sorry, I know her name is Emma, I just am a Harry Potter super fan)  and long before the Suffragettes and Gloria Steinem…there were two men engaging in this.

The first is the apostle Paul who based on little snippets of scripture seemed to work quite well alongside women and who, while honoring the uniqueness of the genders, was talking about some pretty counter-cultural things for his day.  The Message version of his first letter to the Corinthian church puts things like this:

0-12 Don’t, by the way, read too much into the differences here between men and women. Neither man nor woman can go it alone or claim priority. Man was created first, as a beautiful shining reflection of God—that is true. But the head on a woman’s body clearly outshines in beauty the head of her “head,” her husband. The first woman came from man, true—but ever since then, every man comes from a woman! And since virtually everything comes from God anyway, let’s quit going through these “who’s first” routines.

And then he writes to the Galatian church,

 In Christ’s family there can be no division into Jew and non-Jew, slave and free, male and female. Among us you are all equal.

And then there is the certain somebody called Jesus.  He’s my favorite.

His love for women, treatment of women, honoring of women and inclusion of women brings me to tears.

Every. Single. Time.

My personal belief is that God’s vision for men and women is one of Shalom that is characterized by intimacy, equality, joy, and partnership to reflect the very heart of our Creator.  I wonder what our relationships and spheres of infuence and world would look like if we embraced this, if we started talking about it more?

Where do you see glimpses of Shalom between the sexes?  Where do you long to see it more?

Gender equality is messy because we live in a broken world, and it is so awkward to talk about even in the healthiest and most well-intentioned situations.  It’s easy to feel accused, demonized or misunderstood as men.  It is easy to feel like man-hating, whiny troublemakers as women.  Add the many layers of religious ideas, cultural norms, pride, ego, fear, privilege, race  (and throw it all on the internet for good measure!) and oh my goodness what a HOT MESS we have!

I hope we can, ahem, Lean In to this hot button issue because as Sandberg writes (regarding office dynamics)  “while gender was not openly acknowledged, it was still lurking below the surface”.   So talking, even if it is a heated debate, is always better than lurking.

Issues for women across the globe range greatly from extreme ones like gendercide, spousal abuse and sex slavery to things like equal pay and breastfeeding in public – but regardless of the degree or severity,  there is a robbing of dignity and an inflicting of trauma that occurs with each and every instance.

While I can cling to hope for the day when there will no longer be disappointment, inequality, or oppression for women because of my faith in Christ and a coming Kingdom that is promised, I am also called here and now.

So, I talk about it.  

blessed alliance

Perfect Systems

About once a year I come up with a new and improved brilliant plan to become more organized (and as a result be an overall better human, obviously).  A lot of them involve bins and folders and color coding and sometimes a trip to the craft store.  My most recent scheme was to have a plastic crate in the hallway out to our garage that could serve as sort of a ‘transition’ spot for things that needed to be sent on or returned or shipped elsewhere like library books, loaned tupperware, etc….  Thanks Pinterest!!!  So about nine months ago, while feeling like a G E N I U S over this new created system, I put some books that needed to be returned to friends into the Transition Bin

No clutter on our desk?  Check!

Returning items to people in a promptly manner?  Check!

Except…can you believe that those darn books ARE STILL SITTING in a stupid turquoise plastic crate in my garage?  I completely forgot about my brilliant idea and have yet to return these books to my friends.  (You know who you are, I’m so sorry!)

It was a really smart idea for handling such items provided that the person implementing this was not a scatterbrained, head-in-the-clouds kind of person.

I got pretty frustrated with myself over all this and a parade of unused chore charts, abandoned filing systems and wasted money at Staples floated through my mind, along with one very specific memory.   Back when Jon and I were not yet married, he was out of town for a work conference so I, pulling a CLASSIC new girlfriend move,   majorly cleaned and organized his house without him knowing, permitting or requesting.  Upon returning his immediate reaction was not oozing gratitude over how much better his house looked (it looked sooooo much better!), but rather he pointed out that just because I changed his piles of paper and laundry and books – didn’t mean I would change him.


But he was so right.  I hate that.

All the mail organizers in the world will not change the fact that my husband is, what I will affectionately call, a pack rat.  Alternatively, all the pretty multicolored crates in the world will not change the fact that I am, what I affectionately call, helter skelter.

Perfect systems + broken people = you still don’t have your books back. 

I have recently been studying the story of the Rich Young Ruler from the gospel of Mark.  It starts off like this,

As He was setting out on a journey, a man ran up to Him and knelt before Him, and asked Him, “Good Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” 18 And Jesus said to him, “Why do you call Me good? No one is good except God alone. 19 You know the commandments, ‘Do not murder, Do not commit adultery, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Do not defraud, Honor your father and mother.’” 

There is, coincidentally, a Perfect System set up in scripture for us to be good human beings, a little something called The Ten Commandments.  Follow this and you will perfectly honor God and your family and your neighbor!

While Jesus sort of cuts this guy off at the pass…

“No one is good except God alone”

The man goes on anyways…

20 And he said to Him, “Teacher, I have kept all these things from my youth up.” (aka I am awesome sauce)

But secretly, waaayyyy  underneath it all, I wonder if he is as frustrated with himself as I am with myself?  I wonder if he is tired?  I wonder if, regardless of his striving he knows deep inside there must be something more, something he is missing?

The never ending list of things I have to do to be a good Christian stare me down.  And Jesus is soooooo serious about them all, I bet he is mad at me!  But this Perfect System will not change me.  If anything it just mocks me in my failure and impotency.

Neither does The Law change who I am in my core.  Nor could it truly change this man in scripture.

We’re all doomed I guess.

But fortunately, The Story goes on

21 Looking at him, Jesus felt a love for him and said to him, “One thing you lack: go and sell all you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.”

To be honest it’s easy to read something along the lines of “Close but no cigar, brah, try again, try harder!!” in how Jesus responds.  But I’m wrong in that.  God is actually not interested in putting more hoops to jump through in order to be saved.  He’s not suggesting ONE MORE SYSTEM of rules to see if WE CAN FINALLY GET IT RIGHT FOR CRYING OUT LOUD!  But perhaps instead He wants us to see our hearts as He sees them.

22 But at these words the man was saddened, and he went away grieving, for he was one who owned much property

I wonder if he was sad over giving away his wealth, or sad because he was indeed able to see the state of his heart.

As Paul says in his letter to those legalistic Galatians

We know very well that we are not set right with God by rule-keeping but only through personal faith in Jesus Christ. How do we know? We tried it—and we had the best system of rules the world has ever seen! Convinced that no human being can please God by self-improvement, we believed in Jesus as the Messiah so that we might be set right before God by trusting in the Messiah, not by trying to be good.

After the rich guy leaves,  Jesus says some more hard things and the disciples share their reaction…

They were even more astonished and said to Him, “Then who can be saved?” 27 Looking at them, Jesus said, “With people it is impossible, but not with God; for all things are possible with God.”

So it is true you guys, I am not organized.  And to be honest I probably never will be even though once a year I will spend some cash on those pretty, floral organizers at Target. It’s probably for the best if you don’t loan me your things.  And it’s true that I still follow my husband around the house throwing away cleaning up his piles of clutter.

And maybe that’s okay, I’ll leave it to the Type-As.  Because when I look at who I am today it is truly nothing short of a miracle and sometimes I don’t even recognize myself.  To see the ways that God has completely changed me from the inside out, not through rules, but rather through the mysterious workings of a very Holy Spirit I am in awe and I have hope for myself and I indeed have hope for what happened with this rich guy in the bible.  I have proven to be pretty crappy at changing myself, even when I give it my best effort.

But what is impossible for me is done through God with power, completeness and goodness.

Now THIS is a perfect system!

Perfect System + Broken People = I am a new creation


Anne Lamott

Yeah, I do

Do you remember eleven years ago, this month? We were leaving another game night at Nathan and Andrea’s house.  We walked outside together, but before we said good-bye you asked me a question.

Do you want to get lunch after church tomorrow?

“Yeah, I do” I answered, trying to play it cool.  “that would be great”

Okay, then see ya tomorrow.  And you got into your Chevy Lumina and I got into my Pontiac Sunfire.

At Chili’s I got the chicken crispers and we talked about our families and March Madness and when lunch was over I still didn’t know a lot about you, except that you were kind and smart and really tall which of course was a must-have on my list.  But I knew, from a whisper in my heart, that I was going to marry you. 

One of our next dates, you took me swing dancing but beforehand, in my crammed grad student office, Carolina sugar scrubbed my hands so they’d be soft in yours as we jitter bugged around the Student Union.  A year and a half later, after the dinner dates and movie dates and the first kiss and long walks and some hard conversations and meeting each others’ parents and falling in love, your dad asked me an important question, in front of God and our family and friends.

Kirsten, will you have this man to be your husband; to live together in the covenant of marriage?  Will you love him, comfort him, honor and keep him, in sickness and in health, and forsaking all others, be faithful to him as long as you both shall live?

Yes, I will.  I answered.

I remember the first year of our marriage so vividly. The long hikes in the mountains and long games of Trivial Pursuit at The Wine Loft, a bottle of Elk Cove Pinot Gris always on our table.  Peaceful evenings in our little cabin, under the Flagstaff stars.  I loved popping into your office on campus and driving out to Chad and Joy’s house on Monday nights.  I loved cold mornings with you headed into town, sometimes we’d have to pull over again to scrape more ice off the windshield, both of us clutching our travel mugs and listening to Morning Edition.

Then, a move to Tucson that was scary for me, but we were in it together.  Finding friends, finding a church, finding a job, finding out we were pregnant only to lose that baby.  Finding out we were pregnant again a few months later only to lose that one too.  You loved me so well and endured the violent waves of my emotions with me, never minimizing or rushing or shaming.  I know you weren’t sure what to do with me at times, but you did exactly what I needed; you stayed by my side. 

Then this daughter of ours arrived on the scene, and new parts of our hearts were stirred. In under two years we had two babies.  It changed the way I loved, it changed the way I saw you, it changed the ways I needed you.  A blur of diapers and sippy cups and sleepless nights and temper tantrums – some by the kids and some by me -and for awhile there I knew we were just hanging on by a thread.  A very, very thin thread.  But you’d hand me my ipod and my running shoes and I’d mouth “thank you” as I headed out the door to find some peace and sanity on the pavement.

And we laughed a lot and yelled a bit, and tried to capture first steps and first words and first days of school and we bought a house and lost patience with one another over plumbing problems and money problems and life problems.  But always there would be a bottle of wine to linger over, or one extra cup of coffee in the morning, and while the kids ran around us like little monkeys we would talk about God and life and hurts and hopes.  Our song would come on the radio while cooking dinner and right then and there we swayed back and forth in each others’ arms.  Sometimes we couldn’t finish our dance because the oven timer would go off or our daughter would be tugging at your shirt wanting her turn with you.

And now we are busy and have oceans of thoughts and stresses and feelings keeping us like silos under the same roof, and days will go by where even though we are exchanging schedule information and jars of peanut butter for jars of jam – I don’t see you.

Eleven years later, after those chicken crispers at Chili’s, it’s true that there is more grit to us, more communicated when our eyes meet, and definitely more at stake than a first date could ever hold.  But then again, it’s still just us.

This morning you were headed out the door, but before we said good-bye you asked me a question.

Do you want to get lunch together this week?”

“Yeah, I do” I answered, trying to play it cool.  “That would be great”


Happy New Year?

My goal every New Year’s Eve is to be in bed by 11:00pm.  That is like a WHOLE HOUR past my normal bed time.  I don’t get too jazzed up over most of the holidays, New Year being one of them.  Plus I am obsessed with sleep.

But reflection and vision, I could do that all day!

So, it is time to reflect on 2015 and pray for and receive vision for 2016.

Like any teacher I geek out over a good old fashioned T-Chart.  In my reflection over the last 365 days I am tempted to create such a chart.  “THE GOOD” in one column, “THE BAD” in the other, and then determine from there, depending on which column has more, whether 2015 sucked or not.

good bad

But as I was thinking back over my year, try as I might, I couldn’t quite separate the events, emotions, struggles, and blessings in such a neat and visually pleasing manner.  And more surprisingly, I didn’t want to.  I felt God urging me to see a fuller picture, to take away a greater and far better remembrance from 2015 than simply what went well, and what didn’t.  And I was led to Philippians chapter 4.

I know how to be abased, and I know how to abound. Everywhere and in all things I have learned both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need. 

I have received things I never imagined I would be given, and had things taken away that I thought were off limits.  I had beautiful answers, but am left with heart-wrenching questions.  I felt supported and I felt alone.  I succeeded and I failed.  I rejoiced over new seasons in life, and grieved over unforeseen challenges.  I made both good choices and bad.  I spent less time on the internet and also nearly threw my computer in rage over said internet a few times.  I was a good wife and a crappy wife.  I was a patient mom and a yelling mom.

I stumbled upon joy in a great struggle, and was hit with struggle in a great joy.  The good mixed with the bad in many layers and hues. 

Perhaps what happened, or what didn’t happen, in 2015 isn’t as much the point as I am tempted to believe. 

I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.

Often when I read this verse, I focus on the words CAN or ALL THINGS or STRENGTHENS or ME, and my life ends up looking a bit like a T-Chart.

But in the center of this verse is Christ.  Jesus Christ.  All other words revolve around Him.  aa

All events, circumstances, emotions, obstacles, failures, successes, seasons, and even all doubts, fears and questions are just that.  Nothing more, nothing less.  I can divide them up into the GOOD and the BAD.  I can hope for more or less of them for the New Year.  I can slide my finger over to the delete key and forget the bad and give thanks for the good.  I can glare at the GOOD column, wishing it were bigger, resolving that 2016 will be better, greater, happier, healthier skinnier, and more organized!

But that would just be a two-dimensional chart on a page.  Words and events.  Circumstances and seasons.  ALL and I and THINGS and CAN.

What God gave me in 2015, and what I expect he will give me in 2016, is Christ.  Christ in the hard.  Christ in the good.  Irresistible Jesus.

In the darkest of the year, when I couldn’t handle what was going on in my life or my heart, when theology and people and words and ideas were not soothing to the soul, there was Jesus waiting, washing, crying, seeing.  Oh how I love himHe is good and kind and gentle and worth-giving and worth following. 

In the brightest of the year, when I was full and satisfied and confident there was Jesus, leading me on, clapping for me, empowering me and teaching me.  He is good and kind and gentle and worth-giving and worth following.

May what sticks with me be that yeah sure, I had GOOD and I had BAD, but in all these I had Christ.

May my 2016, and yours too, be yeah sure, there will be GOOD and there will be BAD, but in all these we will have Christ.

Eugene Peterson phrases Paul’s words nicely

Actually, I don’t have a sense of needing anything personally. I’ve learned by now to be quite content whatever my circumstances. I’m just as happy with little as with much, with much as with little. I’ve found the recipe for being happy whether full or hungry, hands full or hands empty. Whatever I have, wherever I am, I can make it through anything in the One who makes me who I am.

Happy New Year, let’s all go to bed early!

Dear Santa, I’m just not that into you

I don’t think it phases my children AT ALL when I tenderly tell them Santa Claus isn’t real.  I can’t imagine why they ignore me on this (sarcasm font in case you’re missing it).  Hmmm…perhaps it is because he is actually at the mall, sitting on an over sized green velvet armchair welcoming small children to come sit on his actual lap and feel his actual fluffy white beard.

So yeah it’s true, I’m the meanie, scroogy mom that encourages her wide-eyed sugar plum fairies NOT to “believe”.

Yet, somehow we found ourselves in the line at the mall yesterday waiting to see the jolly ole’ fellow so my children could tell him what they want for Christmas presents (A puppy, in case you are wondering.  My daughter wants a puppy.  And a crossbow for my son, thank you very much). It was all so very Miracle on 34th Street, what with their eager gift requests and me trying not to roll my eyes in front of the other kids. 

I don’t hate Santa.   I hate the mall.  I loathe the mall.  But I don’t hate Santa.  Promise!

I’m just not that into him.

I love Christmas and the holidays.

I love tradition.  I refuse to abandon my grandmother’s orange ice cream jello for family holidays, multicolored lights on the tree or watching my favorite Christmas movies every year.

I love wild imagination and wild wonder in children, especially my own.

I love the music (although admittedly I am more Vienna Boys Choir than Jingle Bells and Frosty)

And I admit drawing lines can be hard.  We all, whether for ourselves or for our children, have to make decisions about where to draw those lines in life.  Santa Claus, even with his jolly Ho Ho HO and giant sack of presents, doesn’t make it any easier.  But the stark contrast between Christ and Claus (at least how we celebrate Old Saint Nick today) are just too, too great.

The squishy, velvet chair at the mall doesn’t exactly fit well next to a ruddy manger in a cold barn.

The flying reindeer and elves are lots of fun and flash, but cheap and shallow and false compared to the poor shepherds’ awe, the magnificent angels singing and the beauty and calm of Mary – all of whom are centered around the miracle of God himself putting on flesh in the most vulnerable and humble way.

I get that these aren’t huge dilemmas, I mean I have a Christmas Tree and bake gingerbread houses every year, things that obviously have absolutely nothing to do with the birth of Jesus.  But like I said everyone gets to draw their own lines.

Yesterday afternoon, when we had returned from our Santa encounter, the kids were out playing in the backyard, when I saw my son doing something he knew he was not supposed to do.  I went out back and barely even had to put on my stern mommy face for him to burst into tears.  I was glad he was showing remorse, but then through sobs he wailed out “Santa isn’t going to bring me any presents!”.

He obviously knew enough about the old man to have heard the whole naughty and nice shtick.  While I will admit I am not above bribing my children, there was an important teaching opportunity here I did not want to miss.

Mommy:   “So what is the consequence from Santa Claus when you are naughty?”

Zachary:  (through more tears) “No presents”

Mommy:  “That’s right.  No presents.  Now what is the consequence from God, when we are naughty?”

Zachary:  “He forgives us”

Mommy:  (by this point my preaching voice is in FULL effect…)  “That’s right babe.  I am so thankful Santa isn’t real, and that he isn’t the one deciding things because we would probably not get any presents!  But God is different.  God gives us presents even though we are naughty.  He gives us presents BECAUSE we are naughty.  He gave us Jesus on Christmas.  I am so thankful for that.  Mommy and daddy will give you presents because we love you, just as God loves us.”

They still love Santa.  They still want to watch The Polar Express and sing Rudolf the Red Nose Reindeer and that’s fine.

But I am hoping as they grow up in the world, their hearts will not be of this world.  I am hoping that while they are free to enjoy and be entertained by the fun things of the holidays, they will  be singing like the angels, pondering like Mary and bowing down like the Magi – entirely swept up with the gift of Emmanuel.  God with us.  

Christmas PIcture Books

One of the best parts of my parenting gig is the books.  Now that the kids are getting older, we have dived into the world of chapter books.  Spend an afternoon reading the tales of Laura Ingalls Wilder and Lucy Pevensie and Junie B. Jones out loud to my kids?  Yes, please!!!

But we still love our picture books.

Here are some great Christmas ones to check out this year!

Full disclosure #1:  we don’t ‘do Santa’ with our kids.  They have learned about Saint Nicholas, and have fun with the character of Santa Claus since he is EVERYWHERE, but that is about it, and so I purposefully avoid checking out books that are all about Santa and reindeer and stuff.  These are all family oriented or Jesus-y. (Jesus-y is totally a word)

Alright, so here we go…

1. The Crippled Lamb


Please read this book.  Not only can I not get through reading this book without the waterworks coming on, I can’t even explain the plot to my husband without tearing up.  (Full DIsclosure #2 – if a book makes me cry it earns extra points).  I won’t give the synopsis here because I don’t have a box of tissues nearby so just trust me, go check this one out.

2. The Little Drummer Boy

Book - The Little Drummerboy

Full Disclosure # 3:  I have never really liked this song.

However, this book takes the lyrics to the song and accompanies them with vivid pictures of a little boy tagging along with the Magi to visit Jesus in the manger.  It is fun to read with my kids because I will sing the main line, and then they sing the “pa rum pum pum pum” bit.  And they can bang their hands on the book as if it were a drum.

But why this one is making the cut is pretty much because of the illustration that goes with the line “I played my best for him”, which is also the illustration on the front cover shown above.  As this poor boy plays his heart out for Jesus, the angel wings drawn in the background capture perfectly that mystery and miracle of our simple songs being transformed into a beautiful and holy offering received by King Jesus, just as he would receive worship from the Heavenly Hosts.   Absolutely amazing.  Aaaannnd I ‘m crying again.

3. Probity Jones and the Fear Not Angel


During a season where I constantly tell my children that these really fun things like Santa and Elves don’t actually exist, to be able to boldly proclaim that YES! angels are real, feels good to me.

This book is longer, but Evangeline is at an age where she will sit through a lot of narrative if it is holding her attention.  While this precious little protagonist misses out on being a part of her church’s Christmas pageant due to a fever, an angel appears and brings her back to the birth of Jesus, where she gets to proclaim the Good News to the Shepherds with The Fear Not Angel who is guiding her.

It’s beautiful and sad and full of hope.

4. The All I’ll Ever Want Christmas Doll. 


Man, my kids can fight over toys.  This sweet story shows a lesson I REALLY REALLY REALLY want my kids to learn – how relationships and community, especially sibling relationships, are more valuable than toys and getting their own way.  Plus, we don’t spend very much in the way of Christmas presents and keep things pretty minimal so a book that shows other families not rolling in cash or having mountains of toys under the tree is important to me.

5.  Tonight You Are My Baby


Full disclosure #4:  This book isn’t for the kids.  It is for me.

The refrain “Tomorrow you will be King, but tonight you are my baby” is repeated throughout this poetic and gorgeously illustrated book.  Lines like “This star will bring the others and I will start to share.  But tonight you are mine – to give my tender care” make me love Jesus and Mary even more.  It is a perfect read during the this season to contemplate the Virgin Mary and her thoughts, actions and role in the Christmas Story.  It is also a perfect read for any mother as they realize, or realized, the moments of holding their newborn are precious and few.  Waaahhhhhh! 

As a mom it is easy to make Christmas all about our children and miss out on God speaking to our hearts.  I look over to our stack of ‘grown up’ books and see my advent reading and prayer book, knowing full well how little I will get through this season.  So I am thankful for the simplicity of children’s books such as these and others that pierce my heart and allow me to worship and connect and be moved.

Any Christmas chapter books I should know about?