Finding Respect, Purpose, and Growth at Thirty-Ten

I know, O Lord, that Your judgments are fair, and that in faithfulness You have disciplined me. 
O may Your lovingkindness and graciousness comfort me, according to Your word (promise) to Your servant.  Let Your compassion come to me that I may live, For Your law is my delight. (Psalm 119:75-77, AMP)

All of these emotions are running through my mind.  I keep waiting for these feelings to pass, but they continue to be there.   I gravitate towards the psalms for comfort, but still these feelings persist.   Feelings of not being capable or competent enough, as if what I have to contribute isn’t valuable.  At the same time, I know that I AM capable and competent, which leads to emotions of frustration and anger that my comments or contributions are at the least carelessly disregarded and at the worst blatantly disrespected.

I don’t take my words in important conversations lightly.  If I am giving an opinion or observation in a group conversation it has been carefully and thoughtfully done.  These opinions and observations have many years of experiences and studies shaping them.  I don’t throw out random comments, especially when they contain concerns for the needs of others, without having put a lot of time, thought, and/or conversations with other peers into them.

So why do I feel like I am oftentimes chastised or belittled for not being compassionate enough, empathetic enough, positive enough, spiritual enough or educated enough to make these contributions to the conversations?

How do I speak positive affirmations into a conversation while also speaking my truth when necessary?  My life hasn’t been pretty (who’s has been?) and I have dealt with a lot of heavy things throughout it. Sometimes that means my experiences may color my perception and views differently.  Just because someone else’s experiences have been different doesn’t give them the right to disregard how my opinions or views have been formed.

Just to clarify, I don’t believe that I have the only valid and/or right opinions or observations, but at least engage with me respectfully when I offer them.  It isn’t even about right and wrong, but about allowing me to share my thoughts based on my perceptions, and then discuss with me in a conversation about where our views may differ in a way that doesn’t leave me feeling discounted, belittled, or in the wrong.  This is where learning and growth can occur.  I am a curious person and eager to learn new things, thoughts, and perspectives.


At the same time, I am feeling weighed down by exhaustion and fatigue.

Perhaps it is the stress from an overly busy time in my life with work, church, and family responsibilities.  Or it could be the ups and downs and guilt that comes along with parenting.  Most likely, however, it is the fact that I am getting older and starting to see life in a new way.  There is a lacking of willingness to continue on down the old familiar paths just because I have always trod along them for so much of my adult life. My perceptions are changing, my energy levels are changing, what’s important to me in my life is changing, and my self-worth is changing.

No longer do I feel I should hold back in conversations because those around me are older and more experienced.  It is time for me to move into that space of being one of the older persons with valuable life experiences and own it along with my story and all the baggage that comes with it.


It is during these trials in my life that I realize how much I need to depend on strength and direction from God.  At the end of the day, the only one that I need to be accountable to is God.  Am I loving as he would have me love?  Am I trying to live out his will for my life?  If I can answer yes to these questions then I can be content and rest in the arms of our heavenly Father knowing that he will use all of the experiences in my life for good.

This does not give me permission to stay mired down in places of discouragement.  Moving into this next phase of my life is going to require me to evaluate the things I do and the ways that I use my time.

If it is something that is life-sustaining or life-giving it stays, if it is something that is no longer supplying a need or bringing me peace, joy, or contentment then it may need to be changed or left behind completely.  Miring myself down in the things that bring constant frustration distracts me from the important things in my life and drains the time and energy that could otherwise be used for the good things that do fulfill God’s purpose and will for my life.


I think that I have spent much of my adult life wondering what God is calling me to be.  Now I am realizing that I already am what he is calling me to be – and that is His child.   I don’t know if I am discovering this because I am now thirty-ten and re-evaluating where I am at in life or if it is just a lesson that I am finally getting around to learning.  God has made me for good, he has a plan for me, and wants me to thrive.  If something isn’t bringing me calm, joy, peace and a sense of purpose or accomplishment, then perhaps it is time to move on.

It doesn’t change who I am, as my identity isn’t what I do, but it is in Jesus Christ that my identity is found.  Remembering this will hopefully help me to work through these emotions and feelings, make the changes that need to be made, and keep leaning on the courage, strength, and love that God equips each one of us with.

 For God did not give us a spirit of timidity or cowardice or fear, but [He has given us a spirit] of power and of love and of sound judgment and personal discipline [abilities that result in a calm, well-balanced mind and self-control]. (2 Timothy 1:7, AMP)

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Who is Rahab?

Who is Rahab?  

Creative Commons: Distant Shores

She is mentioned three times in the New Testament, however, we know her best from her story which is found in the Old Testament book of Joshua.   If you aren’t familiar with the story of the prostitute from Jericho you can find it in Joshua 2 and Joshua 6

To the Israelites, everything about her is undesirable.  First and foremost, she is a woman living during a time of patriarchy.   Secondly, she is a Canaanite – a foreigner – one of the people living in the Promised Land that the Israelites have been told must be removed in order to take possession of the land.  Thirdly, her profession is that of a prostitute making her as immoral as they come.

But who is Rahab the woman, and what is she like?   She isn’t a made up character in a story book, but a real living, breathing woman.  Rahab is an outsider, or foreigner, living inside the Promised Land. We first meet her when two Israelite spies – insiders living outside the Promised Land – show up at her house.  The irony of this is that Rahab is also most likely also an outsider among her own people due to her “chosen” profession. Not that she willingly chose to be a prostitute. This is something women fall into as a result of having absolutely no other way of supporting herself.  


Although we read about the weaknesses and brokenness of  Rahab based on her career, which the writers of both and Old and New Testament just can’t let her overcome, we can discover a lot of about Rahab’s character and strengths.   In the pages of the book of Joshua we can also see the kind of person she is.


We know that she is intelligent, quick-witted,  and resourceful. She is able to think on her feet.  She sees the arrival of the spies for the opportunity that it is, and she is quick to take them in.  She is wise and perceptive. Rahab realized that God is giving her a chance at salvation with the arrival of the two Israelite spies on her doorstep.   

At the same time, Rahab is also able to quickly dismiss the king’s men.  She doesn’t hesitate to admit that she did indeed have company that day. She basically on the spot comes up with a story and says more or les, “Sure, the men you seek WERE here, but I had no clue they were from THOSE people.  And anyways, they are gone now. They finished their business with me and took off to make it outside of the gated to be on their way before the gates were closed for the night. But you look like strong, smart men! If you hurry you will surely still be able to track them and catch them!”

The very fact that she took the spies in shows that Rahab is hospitable.  At her own peril, safety and shelter are offered to the spies. As her guests, she knows that she is honor bound to care for them.  She protects them from being discovered by the king’s men – something the spies are unable to do on their own – despite the nasty consequences that she and her entire family can suffer from should the spies be discovered.   Rahab has the abilities to keep them safe and knows just where to hide these men. You see, Rahab doesn’t just entertain customers, she also is very industrious and spends time making linen. She has wet, soggy, smelly flax drying out on her roof for her next batch of linen on the very day these two bumbling spies show up on her doorstep.  She uses this big smelly drying pile of yuck to conceal the spies.

Once the king’s men are gone and is it safe to go back upstairs, we discover that Rahab is a skilled negotiator.   She goes in with a quid pro quo approach. I have dealt kindly with you, now you need to promise to deal kindly with me.   And what can the spies do? They know they are still neatly caught. They can either agree and negotiate with Rahab, or refuse and risk having her turn them over to the king.   We also discover during these negotiations that Rahab has a great love for others and she puts her love of others before love of self. Her request for salvation isn’t just for herself.  She ensured that her entire family will be spared and kept safe from the destruction that will inevitably come.


But most importantly, Rahab is a woman of incredibly strong faith.    Not just any faith either. She makes a confession of faith in the one true God of Israel , the  God of in heaven above and on earth below. A statement that is made by only two other people in the Old Testament – Moses and Solomon.  

Can you imagine how shocked the spies must have been by this Canaanite woman who is standing before them protecting them while at the same time declaring and confessing that she believes in their God?  And what a confession! It is perfect!

In his book, The Faith of the Outsider: Exclusion and Inclusion in the Biblical Story, Frank Anthony Spina sums up Rahab and her confession like this :


Rahab, a Canaanite prostitute, is familiar with the Israelite theological language as though she has graduated from an Israelite religious academy…she presents herself as fully and comfortably conversant with information that would typically characterize an Israelite insider completely knowledgeable about Israel’s religious patterns…In fact, Rahab’s confession is arguably the best one in the entire Book of Joshua, even better than anything offered by the great leader himself, Joshua.” 

 


Now how on earth would a pagan woman, who is lowly and poor with a horrible job, not only learn about the God of Israel, but also come to such an absolute and faith in him as her God as well?  Divine revelation is the answer.

All of the Canaanite people in Jericho  heard about the miracles the God of Israel had done and continued to do.  They knew about the other victories the Israelites had won battles over other powerful kings on their way to Jericho.  But only one Canaanite, Rahab, heard these stories and realized the strength that the won these battles came from the God of Israel, and she somehow sought to encounter and know him for herself.  God had a divine plan and purpose for Rahab just like he does for each of us. He met Rahab where she was in her current circumstances and accepted her belief in him. And just like Rahab, no matter what our circumstances our,  we to can have faith and trust in God to take us forward to our salvation.

And finally, we know that Rahab was a woman of great courage.  Can you imagine the nerves of steel it took for this woman to hide spies on her roof and then lie to the soldiers literally standing on her doorstep?  She took a ginormous leap of faith and courageously grasped on to the situation unfolding under and on her roof to secure salvation for herself and her entire family in exchange for her protection of the spies.

Then she has to wait, not knowing what is to come next or when whatever it is will come.  She really had no idea if the spies will keep their word once the battle has begun. All that she has to comfort herself with is her faith in the God of Israel.  Can you imagine the currents of terror that envelop the city of Jericho as the Israeli army arrives? The seven torturous days as the army marches around the city leaving the inhabitants inside shaking with fear wondering what will come next.  And then finally, the courage it takes to stay inside her house in the walls of Jericho as the great stone walls all around Rahab’s house come tumbling down?


Joshua gave the people of Israel God’s message to them in verse 1:9 to be strong and courageous.  Rahab, who hadn’t even been present to hear Joshua deliver this message, takes it to a whole now level.  Rahab shows us that absolute faith gives us the courage and strength we need to stand against anything.

Today we have been looking at a familiar story.    Before our time together today, have you ever given any thought to why Rahab the prostitute was given such a prominent place in this story?  A woman living in poor conditions trapped in an immoral job and a foreigner at that. Rahab’s story shows us that sometimes we are being prepared for a part in the story and really have no idea what it is or when we will need to use it. This past month I have spent a lot of time with Rahab and her story and feel like I have gotten to know Rahab as a person.  In doing so I have learned these two things as my takeaways, one is an encouragement and the other is a caution:

  1. No matter how marginalized you are, you have a place in the Kingdom, but it doesn’t always come easy.  You have to be ready and willing to move when God tells you it’s time to move. Have faith and be courageous.    No matter how bleak your current situation, you can have hope. God won’t leave you where he found you. No matter your circumstances, God will prepare you for whatever tasks he has for you.  Sometimes he is preparing you for a role that you would never dream you would have in the Kingdom. Rahab certainly didn’t know as she was learning who God was that she was going to play a prominent role in the Israelites taking of Jericho.  
  2. We can be too quick to judge a book by its cover.  Prior to taking a closer look at Rahab, I never realized that she had such a profound and deeply rooted faith in the God of Israel.  I guess that I just assumed that since she was a prostitute that she was a sinful person who just happened to get the right opportunity to ensure she survived the siege of Jericho.  I never looked beyond her title of prostitute to actually meet the woman of faith we have uncovered here today. We all have great potential in the Kingdom of God.

Going forward, I hope that when you hear the name Rahab, you aren’t so distracted by the title of prostitute that always seems to accompany it.   Instead my hope is for you to recall of a faithful woman filled with courage and strength who rose above her circumstances and found redemption and her place among God’s chosen people as well as a branch on the family tree of Jesus.                                                                            

Each of us has at least one Rahab moment in our lives.  A time when we have to choose to believe and trust in God and the promises he has made us despite our circumstances.  

My most recent Rahab moment came this past spring when my husband was suddenly incredibly sick, needing emergency surgery to clean out an infection that had found its way into his knee.   This resulted in him having to be off of work for a month. Perhaps in the greater scheme of problems in the world this wasn’t so big, but for me it was huge and seemed to be a recall of our financial hardships earlier in life.  In my past I would have been in complete despair and afraid that we would find ourselves without a home again. However, throughout the entire month I chose to lean into God and trust in him and I felt a deep sense of peace knowing that God would supply all our needs.  

This is just one of the Rahab moments in my life, what are some of yours?


Thirty-Ten: Reaching the Middle

Middle age has found me! 

             I can no longer avoid it or hide from it.  No sense in denying it.  This Friday will mark my fortieth birthday.  Someone out there in the cosmos has said they refused to turn forty, instead they are turning thirty-ten.  While clever, it still equates to the same thing.  Youth is over, young adulthood has flown by, and I am now officially entering into the stage of life known as middle age.  And it is okay.

Thinking back over my life so far, I see that I have a lot to be thankful for.  A good marriage that has survived over twenty years and counting.  A healthy son who is now fourteen and entering into high school this fall.  God has been gracious and with a lot of hard work we have overcome most of our financial struggles (including bankruptcy and foreclosure) and have been blessed with a beautiful house that is the perfect place for us to call home. 

The coming years will bring us the frustrations of parenting a teenager, and we expect to have trials and tribulations but we are a family and we will take each trial as it comes.  I think what I am realizing the most is that this is a time of also trying to prepare for the transition from care taker to supporter as our son finishes his high school years and sets out to conquer his own path. 

As my thoughts skip about on the path of yesterday, things I thought would be impossible to recover from we have since recuperated.  A lot has been accomplished as well.  A stable job, an associate degree and most of a bachelor’s degree, leadership programs and intentional discipleship programs.  This blog.    

Do I think that the struggles are over?  Not a chance.  Life happens in living the moments of ordinary days and living is never perfect. 


Thirty-Ten will come with new challenges to take on and I can’t help but look forward to what I hope my life will be and won’t be.  The loss of one of my aunts last summer has made me realize how fleeting our time on earth is, and I don’t want to spend my life at a job that I don’t absolutely love.  Work life shouldn’t be something that we settle for. 

I want to eventually take a new career path that leads me to a place where appreciation is felt and that brings me pleasure daily; to enjoy what I do so that I don’t feel like I am working my life away.  Instead work should be able to be something I am truly passionate about so that each day begins with excitement to start the day’s tasks. 

Recently I was certain God was leading me to this dream position.  There was an opening for a job that seemed to be tailor made for me.  It cobbled together all of the unrelated experiences from the different segments of my personal interests and professional careers.  It was like all of the different puzzle pieces of my life were being put together to create the most beautiful picture of contentment and shalom in a new career direction.  But alas, it was not to be. 

I would be lying if I said that I wasn’t distraught to find this out, but I know that the Master of all the puzzle pieces of my life still has a beautiful picture that will be completed for me.  I just have to wait and trust that when the time is right, the doors will open to a new adventure that will take me places I could never even begin to imagine.


This can happen.  History is full of people who were able to change directions and begin careers that were based on their passions, not just getting by.  Many of my own personal heroines appear in this list:

  • Laura Ingalls Wilder – didn’t start writing until her fifties for newspaper columns on farm life and didn’t begin her Little House books until her sixties.
  • Louisa May Alcott – worked as a domestic servant, and then as a nurse during the Civil War and was thirty-six when Little Women was published.
  • Lucille Ball – she had a successful modeling and movie career, but it is her television shows that we remember her for. Lucille was in her forties when she decided to give tv a try with the show I love Lucy.
  • Julia Child – didn’t begin cooking professionally until her late thirties and was forty-nine when her cookbook was published.

Turning forty isn’t the beginning of the end.  It is the beginning of a new and exciting decade of life.  Life lessons from the past free up expectations and constraints for going forward.  I am more content both in myself and with my life. 

Going into the great age of Middle, I choose to focus on my health, my family, and simple pleasures.  Gone are the high ideals of success from my youth. 

Somewhere over the past decade I feel like I lost pieces of myself trying to live up to worldly definitions of success that society has created. I have learned it is more important to focus on being grateful for what I have and where I am than to be constantly hungering for more.

I intend to spend this next decade finding myself again, forgetting who I thought the world wanted me to be, and embracing the person God has created me to be.

Thirty-ten, forty… poTAYto, poTAHto…The middle is here, and with God all things are possible (Matthew 19:26). 

So I say bring it on!


 I hereby command you: Be strong and courageous; do not be frightened or dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.” (Joshua 1:9, NRSV)

Mystics and Misfits – A Book Review

Book reviews are something I have thought about doing for awhile now but never got around to doing.  Until today.  It took the beautiful work of my dear friend, Christiana, that spoke to my own weary heart to compel me to write my very first one.

So here it goes.

Insightful and achingly human


Insightful and achingly human with humor and grace throughout.  These are the words I chose to begin my review on Amazon of the amazing book, Mystics and Misfits – Meeting God Through St. Francis and Other Unlikely Saints, by Christiana N. Peterson.

Honest and vulnerable, this wonderful book is filled with part autobiography, part spiritual journey as Christiana remembers her time living in an intentional community called Plow Creek in Tiskilwa, Illinois.   The correspondence she sends to the mystics she admires throughout the book are delightful!  She holds back nothing of herself as she shares her struggles with faith, ideals, motherhood, and life.  I was drawn into her story and read the entire book within the first twenty-four hours of having it in my hands!

Bridges my Catholic roots with my Mennonite faith


Christiana is unafraid to cross denominational lines and beautifully intertwines current Mennonite faith and values with the wonderful mystics of old from the Catholic church, as well as some modern-day ones.  The examples they leave us as their legacies are definitely worth taking a look at to serve us as guides in right living and navigating our consumeristic, me first culture.

She crosses the divide, while staying true to anabaptist beliefs, and has given back to me the stories of saints from my childhood to inspire me and making them relevant to Mennonites everywhere of lives lived well for the glory of God.  I am convinced that had St. Francis lived during the reformation period, he would have had some important influence to wield.   He is extremely radical for his day, embracing poverty, promoting creation care and nonviolence, and loving people the way Jesus did.

 

Validates my own feelings of loneliness and awkwardness


Finally, Christiana is able to put a voice to the struggles so many of us have experienced or are currently experiencing but haven’t been able to voice.  Instead we struggle on in silence and wonder if anyone else has ever struggled the way we are or felt the pain and loneliness that we are feeling.

As I turned the pages of this fantastically well written books I found myself often nodding my head in understanding and exclaiming “me too!”  to myself as I found a kindred spirit with Christiana, having experienced/still experiencing the same feelings of loneliness, stress, and anxiety that she is sharing with us.  I came out of this book feeling a little less alone, if not still my awkward little self!  I am very glad to be counted among the misfits!

Throughout this journey, Christiana’s deep faith and love for God and her fellow man comes shining through.  She encourages all of us to lean into those dark places of our lives to come out with a stronger faith and deeper connection and devotion to God.

This is a must-read book for anyone trying to navigate their way through life and live according to the law of love taught by Jesus!  Pick up your copy here and also check out Christiana’s author page to take in her other writings.

From one misfit to another, I hope you connect with and enjoy this awesome debut book as much as I did and come away feeling a little less alone, and a little more secure in the knowledge that God loves you always.  No matter what.


Feeling Sheepish

Did you know that the last time Valentine’s Day and Ash Wednesday happened on the same day was in 1945?  There are many funny memes on social media that are wondering how you celebrate the day of chocolate indulgence while engaging in a Lenten fast.   Still others are pointing out that you can’t have a valentine without the LENT in it.  The mixed up feeling of these two things colliding on the same day have not been lost on me.


Given the mixed up kind of day VaLENTine’s day is today, I guess it should come as no surprise that we are not having a typical candy and flowers kind of a week at Cattywampus Corner (our home).

Sunday I was overwhelmed by recurring grief and loneliness caused by the loss of a beloved beagle back at the end of November.  Monday brought feelings of disconnect as well as the most recent parent vs. child episode about school and the importance of grades.  Tuesday was one of those days at work where nothing is going well and everything is moving fast.  Then today arrives with a sick husband


Poor sick husband at dr’s office!

and a sump pump that has stopped working in our basement.  Did I mention North East Ohio is about to get rained on for the next few days?

They say desperate times call for desperate measures.  Some people have stress balls, others sip on glasses of wine to soothe troubles away, still others practice yoga. For me what made the most sense was to buy a stuffed emotional support sheep.


Emotional Support Sheep – Elloise

 


Yes, I will confess to feeling slightly sheepish about purchasing a children’s toy at the age of almost forty for comfort, but perhaps reverting back to the simple things that helped us face things as children are still useful in midlife.

It also feels fitting to me that it was a lamb (sheep, same difference, only age seperate them – haha!) that I saw that made me feel soothed and safe.  It is the sacrificial love of the Lamb of God that we begin to reflect on during the coming forty days of Lent!

It is during weeks like this past week that I need to be reminded the most that the troubles of this world are fleeting.  Seasons of struggle come and go, but because of the Lamb of God, we have hope for an eternal future!

Our God is a God of love.  Even in our loneliest hours amid struggles of this world, he reminds us that we are never alone:


‘Do not fear [anything], for I am with you;
Do not be afraid, for I am your God.
I will strengthen you, be assured I will help you;
I will certainly take hold of you with My righteous right h
and [a hand of justice, of power, of victory, of salvation].’     
                                                        – Isaiah 41:10 (AMP)

It seems very appropriate to me that the season of Lent starts in the dark and cold days of winter.  Jesus entered into a dark and cold world.  The broken world of humans.  Jesus came to restore us into right relationship with God.   The Good Shepperd reclaiming his flock.

This world Jesus entered became even darker and more dangerous for him once he proclaimed himself as the long awaited for Messiah and began his ministry here on earth.  Until the darkest day, Good Friday, when the Lamb of God was slain by the very people he came to save.

I am entering into this Lenten season as a lost and lonely wandering sheep.  However, just as the psalmist proclaimed, I know that eventually at the end of every dark night, joy comes in the morning.   We are never alone, the Shepperd is always near us.


Weeping may endure for a night,
But a shout of joy comes in the morning.

Psalm 30:5 (AMP)