I originally shared this on Instagram / Facebook but it’s important enough to me to preserve it here. As nearly 1/3 of the world is under some form of coronavirus related social restrictions, there are varying degrees of loss happening. Please share if it resonates with you.
Now the dust is settling. Yesterday, I caught a glimpse of my April calendar. All the plans we’d made. My oldest’s birthday. A trip to see grandparents in Texas. My little brother’s wedding in Colorado. Two nights in Sun River.
I realized I need finally stop and take a moment to grieve what we’ve given up. I’m going to take that moment now and invite you to join me.
If I don’t do it, it will be harder to stay the course, to stay home and stay positive through these next few weeks. Or longer. Unacknowledged loss leaves my heart yearning for things to go “back to normal”, opening a door for discontent and bitterness.
If I do acknowledge the impact all this has had on me, it helps me let go and embrace the changes, both now and long term. It will be easier to let God redefine life as I know it, to create a new lifestyle, craft new dreams, and move forward in uncertainty.
It may feel odd given the magnitude of what our world is facing and the fact that we likely all know someone who has been impacted more than we have, who has lost more. However, I promise you it helps to acknowledge your own losses and frustrations, both big and small.
Trips to the park or the zoo or the gym.
Coffee with a friend or date nights.
5ks or marathons, the fundraisers or awards.
Eagerly anticipated vacations.
Visits with grandparents and playdates.
Weddings, graduations, birthday parties.
Weekly Bible studies, monthly book clubs.
Loosing these makes me feel:
Disappointed, angry, frustrated, sad, cheater…lonely, scared.
My daily routine or my family’s schedule.
How/ When/ Where/ If I work. Or Workout.
How I do simple errands or connect with others.
My budget and how I use my resources.
Financial goals. Fitness goals. Family goals.
If/ When I get time to pursue any goals.
Travel plans. My certainty about the future.
These changes make me feel:
Annoyed, uncomfortable, anxious, stressed…unhappy, restless.
Even though I still have hope
Even though I have reasons for joy
It’s okay to grieve what I’ve given up
It’s okay to lament all I’ve lost
I know I’m not alone
I will be kind to myself and others
I will be okay
Even if things never go back to the way they were
I believe God is with me
Even if things get worse before they get better
Vivian Mabuni‘s latest book Open Hands, Willing Heart: Discover the Joy of Saying Yes to God comes out today! A while back, I jumped at the chance to join her book launch team so I could get an advanced copy.
I first learned about Vivian Mabuni when I stumbled across a video of her speaking at an international conference. I’d attended a local event telecasting that conference but they hadn’t shown her message. What a shame I almost missed hearing her speak. Not only did she challenge and encourage me spiritually, but it was memorable for me because it was the first time I’d ever seen an east asian woman breaking down God’s word and speaking in front of an audience of any size, let alone a worldwide audience. I got a bit emotional, folks. #representationmatters
ANYWAY, I immediately started following her online and that is how I learned about her upcoming book. Which is crazy timely for me. Because there are a lot of things God is asking me to say YES to and I know I am dragging my flat feet all about the hills and valleys.
So here we are. I’ve read the book and saved my favorite quotes. I’ve considered how I can convince the women’s group at my church to use this for our fall study. And there are some things I’ve learned I want to share with you all. Here goes.
The first section of the book introduces us to the story of Esther in the Old Testament. Christian ladies, you know it well. Although what you probably know is a very sanitized version that’s been presented as “a Biblical beauty pageant queen uses her position to convince the king to save her people”.
Vivian uses the story of Esther all throughout her book. A young girl, thrown into the extravagance of the Persian empire ruled by a dangerously volatile king , forsaking her Jewish heritage and breaking several commandments from Mosaic law just to survive.
But, as we know, she risked execution for the chance to change the fate of her people who were scheduled for genocide. In fasting and prayer, she turned from self-preservation, back toward the God of the Jews, and let God use her.
As the author, Vivian, re-introduces us to Esther in this book it struck me how differently I understand this story now as an adult. And what new things I learn about God here.
Am I willing to give-up my tendency toward self-preservation? Because, like Esther, a lot of my struggles to raise my voice against injustice or to “lay down my life” have to do with self-preservation. It is so much easier to go along with the culture around me. Sometimes I feel like it’s all I can do to just survive. Is my heart really willing to say YES to what God asks me to do, fighting my survival instinct and loosening my grip on all my plans, preferences and priorities?
The second section of the book tackles our common roadblocks head on; apathy & entitlement, self-reliance, busyness and bitterness. There was a lot of good prompts for self-evaluation in these 4 chapters and it’s hard to pick one thing to zero in on.
I’ll zero in a bit on the chapter on apathy and entitlement. Having a willing heart to do God’s work means we cannot have a calloused heart towards the PEOPLE God wants us to show His love too. We western Christians, myself included, tend to view ourselves as super charitable, truly loving all of God’s people, and yet if we’re honest, most of us function daily in very insular communities and spaces.
It’s easy for us think our hearts are willing for God to use us wherever, but then believe He just “hasn’t given us a heart for those people.” When really, that’s not the full picture. Really, we tend to have a “I’m a good enough person” kind of spiritual apathy and a Christian cultural that tends to focus more on what we know about or get from God than an actual, life-altering relationship with Him.
“The grip of apathy and entitlement gets loosened by challenging our perceptions through proximity, humility, and generosity.”Vivian Mabuni, Open Hands Willing Heart
Opening our hearts and hands to God means making the resources He has given us available for Him to use for others.
The last 6 chapters dive deeper into various aspects of living an open-handed life. This is section of the book is, for me, the most important and valuable. It would lend itself to some amazing conversation for group study.
Vivian touches on difficult topics like removing idols, forgiveness, dying to self. She shares examples from the lives of people she knows to illustrate her points. I won’t say more about it, though. I will let you get the book and read it for yourself.
I would recommend this book for all Christ followers, men and women. While you may find some of the themes in this book familiar to ones you’ve read in other Christian living titles, Vivian Mabuni brings a fresh and valuable perspective that, to me, makes these matters of faith so much more applicable today.
I highly encourage purchasing books if you can afford it as it is the best way to support authors. Start by asking your local bookstore to carry the book. That way you can support a local business and the Vivian at the same time.
However, if buying isn’t an option for you right now, there are other supportive things you can do like request that your local library get a copy.
I just found out there is also a free 5 day reading plan with excerpts from the book and additional scripture and reflection questions. This is a great way for readers to sample content of the book.
Read other book reviews I’ve written!
First of all, Happy Mother’s Day to any mom figures reading this! Today is my first Mother’s Day with our second child joining us. Huzzah! Okay…now I’m going to get right to it and say my goal here is to reality-check motherhood and how we celebrate it. I have my own motherhood confession to make and share an encouraging reflection on the Lord as our perfect Mother.
Should I just start with my unholy confession? Yes.
There. I said it. Growing up in conservative evangelicalism, I feel like motherhood is a sacred cow, and by saying I don’t love motherhood I’m outing myself as a devil worshipper. And you probably believe I think babies are ugly too now.[Someone somewhere] How dare you?! [I don’t, btw. Babies are wonky but cute none the less.]
So I don’t ‘love’ motherhood. What does that mean? Well, let me be clear. I do love my children! I’m not saying I regret having them. I do sometimes imagine what I’d be doing if I hadn’t had them. But I enjoy them and am thankful for them. In fact, I love them enough to give my life for them.
And that’s the trouble. Motherhood is about giving life; not just once during labor, or once as in sacrificing one’s physical life to save your child’s life, but daily giving up my life in a million small and unnoticed ways to facilitate growth in the life of my children.
Real, God-honoring motherhood involves many things, including dying a little bit every day. So no, I do not ‘love’ this death, but I know I need it. We’ll circle back around to this later.
In order to mom the way God made me to mom, I need to reality-check my view of motherhood. Culturally, we have idealized and idolized motherhood to death, we’ve taken a gift and made it a curse.
For me, having kids was always a maybe. I never had a desire to babysit and didn’t enjoy kids, but my mother kept impressing on me that “it will be different when you have your own.” So I thought about that a lot. I thought about what kind of mom I would be. And an ideal formed in my head, just that fast.
As Christians, our ideals are influenced heavily by how we read our Bible (or how it is taught to us) and the dominant Christian culture of the time we live in. Our broader culture itself is influenced by the ideals of those we look up too (teachers, pastors, politicians, filmmakers, icons, etc). The things they hold up as praiseworthy and exemplary shape our view of what is valuable.
Today, Christian women are still influenced by the traditional misapplication of Proverbs 31, by a history of hyper complementarian views of gender roles where women are valuable primarily because they have babies, plus some other variables. For example, questionable ideas we might pick up, like “God gave you this kid because He knew you were exactly what he/she needed” or “Your love will be enough/ all they need.”
What happens when motherhood isn’t as expected? When the children who were supposed to rise up and call us blessed, don’t even appreciate us or get along with us very well? What happens when my husband has a more nurturing character than I do? Or when I absolutely cannot be what my child needs me to be?
Me, personally? I constantly struggle with perceived expectations. Meaning that my husband and children do not truly expect me to do XYZ but I assume they must because somewhere along the way I learned that was what I was supposed to do or who I was supposed to be as a mother. It is hard to turn off the internal pressure to be someone or something I am not.
Real motherhood, I believe is momming in a way that is authentic and honoring of the giftings and character traits God gave me. Real motherhood, therefore, will look a little different for each person. No cookie-cutter mommies allowed!
The greatest calling of any woman is NOT to be a mother. It is to love and follow Christ in whatever role He has given you, whether you ever parent children or not.
The most fulfilling thing in life is NOT to be a mother either. It is to let God use you for His purposes, whether that involves having children or not.
Many times I have heard sisters in Christ say that all they ever wanted was to be a mom. That is not necessarily a bad thing. God does give some women the role of mother. It is a good role. Nothing wrong about desiring that role.
How-ev-er, we should never look to motherhood and/or our children to give us fulfillment, joy, place, purpose or worth. That comes from God and God alone. Motherhood does not define you, but it can inform you.
Yes, children can be part of how God gives us joy, place, purpose and worth, but that is true of any gift God gives us; like the gift of a friendship, of a mentor or a disciple, or a sibling or a spouse. Still, our love and our source of fulfillment is always the Giver, not the gift. Let’s not take God’s gift of motherhood and make an idol of it.
Is that evil, too? I do like that we have a day to honor and respect mothers because, dammit, momming is a pretty thankless job more often than not and it’s good to be appreciated. However…
There are some questions we should ask ourselves when we celebrate moms on Mother’s Day. What aspects of motherhood are we praising? How are we praising those things? Might our words/approach contribute to an idealization or idolization of motherhood?
Is it good for individuals to show love and honor to all the mother figures that they respect today? Yes! No doubt about that.
Is it wise for us (churches especially) to publicly and communally make a spectacle of praising mothers?
I’m serious. We’ve probably all read the reminders of how Mother’s Day can be a triggering and sorrowful day for a myriad of reasons. Let’s not shrug that off.
It has devastating effects: stigmatizing and pathologizing childfree/childless women, setting moms up for failure with unrealistic standards/expectations, harming children as moms start looking to them for identity/purpose instead of God, etc.
So, can we celebrate moms (and dads) without encouraging the idolization and idealization of a role that God only calls some people too? I think so, but how exactly is something I think we should think more carefully about, friends.
Okay, so this might sound weird to some of you. It feels a bit weird for me, I admit. But…look…if we can talk about God being our perfect example of fatherhood when so many of our earthly fathers fail us, we can do the same for motherhood. In fact, God likens Himself to a mother in the scripture.
So, in the spirit of honoring God as our source of everything good about motherhood, I will henceforth use a feminine pronoun for Her. Whose squirming? Just me? Okay.
Isa 49:15 “Can a woman forget her nursing child, that she should have no compassion on the son of her womb? Even these may forget, yet I will not forget you.”
In this scripture, the Lord uses a picture of a mother to tell us something about Herself. While we human mothers will fail (we will not always meet our child’s needs and not always love them rightly), the Lord is our perfect, ultimate mother, who does not forget the children She loves. She will not fail to meet our needs.
Isa 66:13 “As one whom his mother comforts, so I will comfort you;
you shall be comforted in Jerusalem.”
I take great comfort from the idea that God comforts like a Mother! God created both masculine and feminine, fatherhood and motherhood. Therefore, She is the source of what is best, what is glorifying about both roles. She is all that we need. God is our Mother in a way that our earthly mothers never can be.
When we talk about salvation, we often talk about how Christ lived the perfect life that we could never live. That His perfect life fulfills all that God required of us. That, in dying, He gives us a new life, an eternal one.
So again, mothers, has Christ’s sacrifice not covered all the ways we have missed the mark as moms? Let’s reflect on Christ as being the perfect Mother so that we do not have to be.
Again, I’m going to change the pronouns to the feminine, even though Jesus Christ was a physical human man. I really like the challenging mental shift this is forcing me to make so I’m rolling with it.
1 Peter 1:3 “Blessed be the God and Mother of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to her great mercy, she has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead”
Our new life in Christ is likened to being born again. This time, instead of an earthly mom giving us life, it is Christ. Instead of the physical pain of childbirth, it was the physical suffering and dying on a cross.
John 10:11 “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down her life for the sheep.“
John 15:13 “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down her life for her friends.”
Life and death are connected. Maybe like two sides of the same coin. These verses talk about laying down one’s life. What does that mean?
Life here is translated from the Greek, “psychē” (a feminine noun, btw). It does not simply mean our physical life (like the Greek “zōē“) and is distinct from our immortal soul (the Greek “pneuma“), but incorporates the aspect of life that is the “seat of the feelings, desires, affections, aversions”, etc.
Laying down one’s desires, affections, aversions for someone else is about as honest a depiction of motherhood as I can imagine.
And Christ did that for us. Let’s not forget that Christ did ask God for another way. Jesus, the Christ, as a human being, had feelings and desires and an attachment to this world. But ultimately, Her greater love was for God and fulfilling the plan of salvation for us. So She willingly suffered the pain of bringing us out of the darkness and into the light, of birthing us into a new life. Did Jesus enjoy it? No. The scene on the cross seemed agonizing. But Jesus, our spiritual Mother, needed to do it.
I started by confessing that I do not love motherhood. Inherent in motherhood is life-giving pain and death. It is willingly laying down my desires, preferences and aversions, daily, for the sake of my children. It is painful. It is a kind of death. I am willing because I love my kids, but that does not mean I enjoy it.
I did not enjoy the aches and pains of pregnancy, the birth contractions and pushing, and the fact that, 3 months later, I am still struggling with a lot of minor physical problems postpartum, like death by a thousand paper cuts. I really don’t want to do that again.
I do not enjoy the daily laying down of my desires, of what I wish I could give my kids but can’t, or what I think my kids need, or my needs often going unmet. I do not relish my recurring failure to be patient and loving, or the frequent self-doubt and guilt feelings.
I do not enjoy the constant fight against unrealistic ideals of motherhood, or battling the lie that I have to choose between doing the work God has placed on my heart or “momming” in the way I’m “supposed to” mom.
Yet, God is wiser than I. She saw that giving me the role of mom would serve Her purpose. So here we are. I can see how I need the death of motherhood to better live for God.
Not (just) because it gives me cute kids to swoon over in a lifetime of precious moments. Motherhood is a gift because it forces me to lean on God in a way I don’t know that I ever would otherwise. Motherhood is exposing so much of my selfishness and pride and revealing how much more I need Christ. Motherhood is showing me how mysteriously deep God’s love is for me and how much greater She is than I will ever know.
The cute kids are awesome, yes. When I think of parenting I most often think of how God is using me to shape them. But really, it’s equally the other way around. God, our wise Mother, uses our children to shape us. I think that is what is most praiseworthy about motherhood (and fatherhood) – all the things that it teaches us about God.
So. Happy Mother’s Day.
In a not too distant life I had a crumb of success blogging about fitness and portraying an image of myself as strong, optimistic, and going after inspiring goals. When I wrote about failures they were safe ones, small ones, and I put a positive spin on it. The unresolved, unredeemable stories of weakness and woe were never told. In fact, I’m not sure I’ve seen or heard an example of anyone telling those stories. That is, not until I read this book by Alia Joy, Glorious Weakness: Discovering God in All We Lack.
Alia’s book is lesson after lesson in how to boast in your weaknesses, not to solicit pity or “make an exhibition” of our failures, as she puts it, but to highlight God’s grace. I was amazed when I finished the book. I’ve not read anything like this. Her poetic and even beautiful way with words balances out the severe subject matter as she invites you into uneasy vulnerability.
In no uncertain terms, Alia recounts the things that caused her pain and shame; from sexual assault to poverty, miscarriage and mental illness. She describes being someone people do not want to see; the isolation of living with the kind of struggles people do not want to hear about. I had a difficult time reading some parts; sometimes because of tears and sometimes because of feeling convicted and called out on my weaknesses and failures.
Alia shows us how God meets her, sustains her and refines her in her weakness. The circumstances may not change, the struggles may not cease, which is hard to sit with, yet God is good. Walking through this heart process with Alia over and over again encouraged me apply this to my own weakness and sorrows.
So first I had to ask myself, what ARE my biggest sorrows? When have I struggled with unanswered prayers or un-healing wounds? Was I or am I able to see God’s grace and goodness through those seasons?
Let me tell you what, I’m not saying I can or we should ever compare struggles or sufferings in life, but the first thing I thought was,
“My life has predominantly been one of human strength and successes.”
Which is to say there are much fewer times and spaces in my life where I’ve been desperate for God, learned to lean into Him no matter what, and clung to a sliver of hope that God still loved me.
My response to my reality contrasting with what I read in
Glorious Weakness was twofold; courage and conviction.
Courage in knowing that whatever weakness and sorrow is ahead of me, God does not change. The God that Alia clings too is the same God that will be with me through whatever is to come.
Conviction in realizing how much I rely on myself and how little I’ve learned about being poor in spirit. Conviction in acknowledging how many hurtful reactions I’ve had toward those who have walked a different path. I have to confess I have dismissed other’s suffering because I believed “they brought it on themselves”. I have assumed they could improve their situation if they just tried harder or believed God more. My privileged experience and perspective has not taught me a loving or learning posture.
Still, I do have places of deep shame and weakness. They are there. But, like I said in the beginning, I have minimized them. I’m in the habit of putting a positive spin on things. I’ve often protected myself from embracing my human weakness. Which means I’ve prevented myself from truly admitting my complete need and utter dependence on Christ.
“True vulnerability,” Alia writes, “is a confession of the places where we doubt, the places where we’re not sure God is going to heal or touch or show up – the places we worry will always remain a little too broken, a little too human, a little too frail for polite company and pristine Sunday mornings.”
That being said, God has begun to graciously bring me to his feet these past couple years. When the trauma of my adoption surfaced an enduring ache broke through my anesthesia of denial. When the racial fog lifted and I began to see how my faith had been used to obscure part of who God made me to be, a kind of anger and grief ignited that I still wrestle with.
These are a few of the areas where I can see God stripping away my pride and self-assurance. Where I can answer the call to let Him use my weakness for His purposes. And thanks to Alia’s example, I better understand the importance of this; the glorious way that embracing our human weakness amplifies and accentuates God’s faithfulness to us and connects us more deeply with one another.
I HIGHLY recommend you request Glorious Weakness by Alia Joy through your local book store or library. However, you can also purchase Alia’s book on these sites:
This was the 2nd book I got an advanced copy of in 2018. Makes me feel like a I’m in the book world’s cool-kid group. Seriously, though, it was an honor to get to put eyes on these books before they hit the shelves and engage with the authors online. The Color of Compromise is already making an impact. I’m excited to share more about that and how I hope to see this book used in Christian community.
When I talk to (usually white) people about racism, the idea of “complicity” is often a struggle; like holding onto a slippery wet fish. Especially when we start talking about complicity among Christians and the church in general.
The failure to act in the midst of injustice is itself an act of injustice. Indifference to oppression perpetuates oppression.Jemar Tisby, The Color of Compromise
Jemar Tisby helps us nail down that fish. Surveying over 350 years of American styles of racism and inequality, readers can see how the church has (as he put it) “chosen comfort over constructive conflict”, often creating but always maintaining a status quo of injustice.
So how does The Color of Compromise use a historical survey to present us with this information?
As I read, I saw three interwoven timelines, spanning from the colonial era of America to the present day:
Going chronologically, this book connects the dots between the 3 timelines to reveal the patterns of the church’s response (or lack thereof) to various forms of racism, focusing on the black-white binary.
For example, Chapter 2 starts with explaining a dilemma in the Virginia colonies over baptizing African slaves who converted to Christianity. The old-world custom was that spiritual brothers in Christ could not enslave one another. Therefore, if a slave converted, there was religious pressure to set him free. Therefore, many slave owners refused to let slaves hear the gospel. However, that didn’t sit well with the church. What to do?!
Tisby explains how the economic priority of free labor influenced the Virginia General Assembly (the governing body at the time) to dictate that baptism would not change someone’s status as free or slave. The church and the slaveholders no longer needed to be at odds over the spiritual salvation of slaves. Missionaries began to focus on the spiritual, not physical, liberation of Christian slaves, and obedience to their masters as a biblical concept. In other words, the church not only went along with chattel slavery but twisted truth to support it.
This clash of economics, politics, racism and the church over the status of slaves is how chattel slavery became law on American soil; 109 years before the Declaration of Independence.
Well, it’s one thing to read that “ancient” history and say…“Yeah, they were so wrong back then.” We are far enough removed from the colonial era that the truth of complicity back then isn’t as threatening to us today. So it’s quite another thing to follow the timeline of racism to our front door and realize how little has really changed in the church.
Yet that is what this book does. It keeps connecting the dots through the Great Awakening, Antebellum, Civil War, Jim Crow, Civil Rights era, turn of the century and on to today with a look at the varied responses to Black Lives Matter and Donald Trump as President of the United States.
Here is one example of how The Color of Compromise brings historical complicity home to the present day.
The idea that the church’s realm is confined to spiritual and ecclesiastical things (like individual salvation or church organization) as opposed to physical or societal things (like slavery or social justice) might be rooted in the early church’s struggle with heretical gnosticism. At any rate, the tendency to think this way was demonstrated in the above example of the Virginia General Assembly.
So it’s no surprise, then, that leading up to the Civil War, an influential southern theologian, James Henley Thornwell, would crystalize this sentiment into a doctrine of the “Spirituality of the Church”.
Tisby explains how this doctrine allowed pro-slavery Christians to sleep at night and kept others silent on the issue. Tisby doesn’t stop there, though. He connects the dots to how this doctrine is still selectively applied today for ignoring racism (e.g. “That’s not a gospel issue”), but is conveniently forgotten for other social, ethical and political issues (e.g. legalized abortion) where the church suddenly springs to action quite visibly.
By chapter 10, the historical survey is complete. The footnotes throughout are more than sufficient for us to do our own further research. Tisby could’ve stopped there, but he doesn’t.
He dedicates the final chapter to presenting solutions and suggestions for the church to break the pattern of complicity. These selective ideas are not exhaustive, but enough to encourage readers to action; to move against the current of racism, instead of continuing to go with the flow of racism by remaining still.
That is why this book makes such a huge impact. The Color of Compromise isn’t about shaming and blaming white Christians. Jemar Tisby presents the church’s racist history and present reality from a place of deep love for the church and desire to fight for true biblical unity and racial solidarity.
If the twenty-first century is to be different from the previous four centuries, then the American church must exercise even more creativity and effort in breaking down racial barriers than it took to erect them in the first place.”Jemar Tisby, The Color of Compromise
I believe The Color of Compromise will help us move beyond asking “Is there a problem?” and get on with the business of “Let’s fix this problem.” Any church community, whether or not it is currently racially diverse, can benefit by learning from our collective history.
The church can learn to be a credible witness in the midst of injustice and oppression. The church can learn to lead the way in love and unity, showing the world the power of the gospel to reconcile us to one another as well as to God.
I believe The Color of Compromise is an essential resource to that end.
There can be no reconciliation without repentance. There can be no repentance without confession. And there can be no confession without truth.Jemar Tisby, The Color of Compromise
It’s time to listen to and tell and retell the truth.
BUY THE BOOK:
LISTEN TO THE FIRST CHAPTER FREE:
Click here to open iTunes and listen to Jemar Tisby narrate the first chapter of The Color of Compromise. You will appreciate the gracious and loving way he introduces his book without diminishing the urgency of the church’s current situation.