Reflections from an Unknown Woman Preacher

Twenty years ago I preached for the first time to 350 Indian school children in the foothills of the Himalayas. From what I can remember, the message was dripping with American self-help slogans and “you can do anything you set your mind to” mantras. It was warmly received. Mostly because I included a very captivating illustration that the kids loved. That was the first time I had an inkling that preaching and teaching was something I might enjoy (mostly due to the aforementioned warm reception).

I have spent hundreds of hours preaching and teaching the Bible. I’m known or remembered by a very small amount of people. I have no platform or brand. My Twitter following is abysmal. I think this uniquely qualifies me to give some reflections on twenty years of persevering in this calling. These are my reflections on my personal journey and where I hope women preachers and teachers will go.

“Big changes happen in small rooms” -Jenn Wilkin

I’ve heard a lot of very well known women, preaching some version of, “I started teaching in Sunday School, a nobody! But if you are faithful in the small then God will entrust you with much” (the much being large crowds). Or perhaps you’ve heard this sentiment, “Be faithful in the small, your promotion is just around the corner”

All this makes me want to barf. Implicit in a lot of American Christianity is this: the goal is large crowds, big stages, and thousands of Facebook likes. Such self-promotion should embarrass us and make us break out into hot sweats.

Being well known or having influence to more people is not inherently bad! Some woman become known by many. This is God’s calling for them (and burden for them to bear). But it should never be our goal. It is not Christ like. It is not what Paul modeled.

Jenn Wilkin says, “Big changes happen in small rooms.” I long for more woman preachers and teachers who love to see big changes in small rooms.

Someone once said to me, “Don’t worry, you may be teaching small groups of people but you never know who is in the room. You may change be teaching the next president of a country!” Again, shaping a future president is wonderful. But, implicit in their words was a belief that small crowds are a failure… unless a future famous person might be in the room!

This is not the way of the Kingdom. 

While large rooms full of a lot of people are not inherently wrong in any way, to set our hearts on this as the goal should be something we zealously guard against, not put on our dream board or idealize as success. May God save us from ever seeing small rooms as mere stepping stones to big stages.

Jesus taught the crowds and well as the one woman who would sit at his feet in rapt attention. I can only imagine someone coming along to reassure Jesus, “Don’t worry, you are preaching to nobodies today but your promotion is just around the corner!”

I recently flew across the country to spend a week teaching to a group of… wait for it… 8 people! Someone actually asked me, “You flew across the country to teach eight people?” Yep! Big changes happen in small rooms. And time spent with God’s precious people is always amazing. Teaching to anybody is always an honor. We must prepare for the 2 like we would for the 2,000.

Success is not large crowds, big stages or developing my own brand. This is not the way of Jesus and His kingdom.

If you live by praise you will die by criticism.

I’ve learned this the painful way. Praise and compliments are great. But the more I love the praise, the more I get flattened when the criticism comes. 

Human opinion is a two-sided coin. Both praise and criticism can be extremely helpful as a public speaker. But there is this place in our hearts that can crave the praise… and it makes us so vulnerable to devastation when the inevitable criticism comes. 

I’ve had my fair share of devastating moments. Public speaking is unique. When you fail or do a sub-par job, it is in front of a whole room of people. There is no hiding. People often felt freedom to come and tell me exactly how I could have done it better. Ouch.

Sometimes my speaking disasters took me months and months to recover from. I still have a few moments that can make me cringe… years later!

I know for sure, if I live by the praise, I will die by the criticism. 

Be faithful to the end.

What is it like to be a “woman” preacher? A real joy and a challenge at times. I’ve never written about this. But, why not now?

This is the reality.

I’ve spoken to large crowds of thousands and small rooms with just three people who faithfully showed up (thank you to those three!)

I’ve heard compliments that made me blush. I’ve also had men stand up and walk out on me in protest of a woman preaching (multiple times). 

I once had a man sit in silent protest to an entire week of my teaching, refusing to take one note lest he learn from a woman. I’ve had several men decide they would listen to my teaching but make it a miserable experience for me by challenging me at every turn. It once got so bad that I had to remove a student from a class because he was harassing me so badly. I literally stopped the class and told him in front of everyone, “I will not continue teaching until you leave this room.” He did not go quietly.

I’ve also had many, many men thank me for my exposition of scriptures and how I’ve impacted them. So many have stayed late after class to ask question and wrestle with the scriptures with me.

I’ve had many male and female leaders open multiple doors for my gifting to be present in new places. I’ve also listened to many, many men tell me they would invite a woman to preach if they just knew of any women preachers! “They just don’t exist! Woman need to really start stepping up!” I just smile kindly and listen.

I’ve sat in the front row cheering on my husband as he spoke in a church that didn’t allow woman preachers. I am a member of a church that ordains and celebrates women.

There have been challenges and also so much to celebrate.

Where have all these stories left me?

Be faithful to God’s calling. That is the win.

“Well done my good and faithful servant” is only music to my ears if a life lived in faithfulness to Jesus is my win.

If a win is convincing everyone of my perspective or gaining greater influence, hearing these words of Jesus might be a disappointment.

I love to see women preaching and teaching… in small rooms or wherever God might lead them. I pray and hope for an army of woman who simply seek to be faithful to the calling of Jesus, speak truth boldly and leave the rest up to Him.

Jesus is the goal. Faithfulness is the win.

Digital Minimalism

The day was coming to an end and I wanted to check if it was my turn on a game of Scrabble with my mother (who lives in Seattle). I looked in the usual spots for my phone but couldn’t find it. I searched high and low. I recruited my family, “do you have any idea where my phone is!?”. It suddenly occurred to me where it might be. I looked into my purse and there it was! 

This is significant. 

I realised, I had not taken my phone out of my purse since arriving home four hours ago. In four hours it did not occur to me once to check something on my phone or escape a moment of boredom through mindless scrolling.

Victory. 

Reducing the distraction and noise is often called “digital minimalism”. I like this term, coined by Cal Newport in his excellent book, Digital Minimalism. How can we reduce the amount of engagement with our phones, the interwebs, streaming services, podcasts, and social media to the absolute minimum.

All these things create, what I call, “digital noise”. A constant stream of interruptions and distractions that play as a soundtrack to our lives.

What would it look like to reduce the digital noise down to a minimum?

Honestly, there are no tips are tricks that will magically transform this area of your life (although I’m about to give some to you.)

There is internal work that needs to be done. We need to be brutally honest about this area of our lives. The internet is designed to build compulsive behavior in us. We will not stumble in to digital minimalism. Ruthlessness is required.

Social media apps, after all, are designed after slot machines. They are specifically designed to build compulsive behavior in us. Refreshing our feed one more time or checking the comments compulsively is not an accident. 

The first step to digital minimalism is ruthless honesty about your personal state of affairs and the cold hard truth as to how difficult this might be. 

Once you’ve done an assessment. Pick one or two and slowly start on the path towards untethering. The goal is for their to be one Master in your relationship with the digital world… and it is you. When someone asks you how this area of your life is doing, the goal is to say, “Really well, I engage with it only as much as I’ve set.”

Here are some ideas of how to get started. 

  1. Take social and media apps off your phone. This includes Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, Netflix, YouTube… you name it. This is my #1 suggestion. I took all of these apps off and more. Best decision ever. After time, I have only added back Instagram. The majority of my social and media consumption is only on my laptop. This one move has reduced my mindless browsing by 95%. I cannot imagine having them back on my phone. The mental calmness and clarity I gained surprised me.
  2. Put a babysitter on your computer browser. You can actually install a add-on to your browser that will lock you out of Social Media or any other specific website (like YouTube) after a certain amount of time. It is lovely having a screen go blank after 15 minutes of scanning Facebook. Ask a computer nerd to help you if you don’t know how.
  3. Get an old fashioned alarm clock. Charge your phone either across your bedroom or in another room. The science is powerful… your brain does so much better when you don’t wake up and stare at your screen first thing in the morning. 
  4. Put your phone in detention at certain times of the day. When my family is all together at the end of the day, I often will put my phone upstairs on my dresser. I am not allowed to remove it from that spot. If I want to check on my messages, I can do that. I just have to walk upstairs, stand there at my dresser and awkwardly read the messages. It cuts down on my mindless scanning. My kids and husband also don’t see me staring at my phone while we are together for the first time all day.
  5. Make a personal rule that when you are in social gatherings, the phone goes away. Put your phone on silent (including no vibrating). Enjoy a dinner with eye contact, long conversations. Untether eating and digital noise on altogether.
  6. Set a day each weekend where you commit to not look at your phone for the first 2-3 hours of the day. 
  7. Set tasks in your life that have a “no noise” policy. I take my dog for 1-2 walks each day. I have a strict no phone rule on these walks. There is restorative power in a walk, listening to the birds, just looking around without a podcast in my ears. Other ideas for times to banish all digital noise: While cooking meals, when you are with family or friends at the end of each day or set a certain time period each day (such as 6-8 pm every day.) Commit to building your capacity to doing these tasks in digital silence!Choose one or two of these and begin! What other ideas do you have that help you pursue digital minimalism?

You Should Read More Fiction

I know that some people only read fiction. But, overall, I am convinced people should read more fiction. Over the years I have had many people I respect tell me that fiction is a waste of time. I get what they were saying. Why read a bunch of trashy romance novels when you could read an inspiring biographies or a captivating account of history?

There are many great reasons to read fiction. In these times, I wish more people would read fiction to gain greater empathy. Most of us live very compartmentalized lives. We often hang out with people of the same race, economic status, religious belief or political persuasion. This has not produced a more caring society. We are a society that has become a stranger to ourselves.

Let me give one example. In the NFL protests, many players were “taking a knee” during the national anthem to protest the injustices that African-Americans were experiencing. I heard many, many opinions about these acts of protest. One thing that stunned me was this… not one person that disagreed with them showed much curiosity. I never heard something along these lines: “I am really shocked by this act, it feels so wrong to me. I really need to ask an African-American why they feel this is the right thing to do.” There was such a glaring lack of curiosity to truly understand one another.

We need less of, “What is wrong with those people?!” and more of, “What don’t I understand about their perspective?” It is not so much about having to agree with someone.  I wish we had more curiosity which leads to empathy. Empathy is better than outrage when it comes to our disagreements.

Enter, fiction!

May I just put it forward that reading more fiction books that tell of stories, lives and worlds that are different to our own can be one small way we can bridge this divide.

If you feel mystified or shocked at the viewpoints of another, fiction could be a great way to gain empathy and understanding. Even if you don’t agree, a good story might at least help you say, “I don’t agree but I do understand how they got there and I get it”

Here’s some recommendations from my reading in 2017:

Half of a Yellow Sun and Americanah:
by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

I loved Half of a Yellow Sun, the tale of a family experiencing the struggle for independence in Nigeria in the 1960’s. If you’ve heard of the many wars in Africa, this book will place you on the inside to taste, feel and experience what it is like with all it’s complexities. Great characters, great story. If you haven’t already, though, you could start with the author’s other book, Americanah. This is an absolute must read, I couldn’t put it down. It is the tale of a Nigerian couple immigrating to America. One makes it, the other doesn’t. Their journeys are captivating.

The Underground Railroad
by Colson Whitehead

This is the tale of an escaped slave girl in pre-abolition America. I loved this book because it was creative and you become very invested in the characters. The book has won multiple and well-deserved awards. Gripping, emotional and can’t put down.

The Round House
by Louise Edrich

I found this one by looking up National Book Award Winners. The setting is a Native American Reservation in North Dakota. A crime on the Ojibwe Reservation forever changes a family. This is the story of a young boys journey for justice and understanding. You will be immersed in a culture not your own. It is well worth your time.

 

Bonus:
Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry
by Mildred D. Taylor

My 12-year-old son was assigned this book in English class. I could tell it impacted him because he brought it up day after day. I decided to join him in reading it. It is fiction but based on true accounts of the authors family life. It is not an easy read at times. You see the reality of life for African-Americans during the Great Depression. It is well written, lovely characters and can really open up some interesting conversations if you happen to read it with your child. A good book read without your child too!

 

Books I Read in 2017

I’m so thankful I found a love of reading as a young girl and it has carried through my life. I do love reading but I also discipline myself to do it because I value how it shapes me.  Early in my marriage I read a fair amount, averaging 30-40 books a year. The arrival of babies decimated that and, honestly, the internet happened. I found myself reading a lot more short articles, blogs, etc.

The last 4-5 years my kids have gotten older so I can now stay awake longer to read. I also have found that internet reading is not as helpful or enjoyable as reading books. I’ve had a goal for about 4 years to get back up to previous reading habits. I read 30 books in 2017 and enjoyed so many of them. A friend recently encouraged me to post them. Perhaps it will give you some ideas of books you might want to read. So, here is the list.

Just briefly, I have put in parenthesis the type of literature of each book. You will see that I read a pretty wide variety of styles. I have also put an asterisk by any book that I loved and would highly recommend. I plan to release a few more posts in the coming week on some highlights.

2017 Book List:
  1. Freakonomics by Levitt & Dubner (Finance)
  2. How to Rob a Bank by Levitt & Dubner (Finance)
  3. Shoe Dog by Phil Knight (Biography)*
  4. Hillbilly Elegy by J.D. Vance (Memoir)*
  5. Brave Companions by David McCullough (American History)
  6. Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places by Eugene Peterson (Spiritual Theology)*
  7. Half of a Yellow Sun by  Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (African/Historical Fiction)*
  8. You Are What You Love by James K.A. Smith (Christian-Teaching)
  9. Born A Crime by Trevor Noah (Memoir- South Africa)*
  10. The Bertie Project (44 Scotland Street Series) by Alexander McCall Smith (English Fiction)
  11. Hannah Coulter by Wendell Berry (American Fiction)
  12. Ruthless by Ron Miscavige (Memoir, American)
  13. News of the World: A Novel by Paulette Jiles (American Fiction)
  14. Present Over Perfect by Shauna Niequist (Christian Living)
  15. The Round House by Louise Edrich (American Fiction)*
  16. Strangers in Their Own Land: Anger and Mourning on the American Right by Arlie Russell Hochschild
  17. The Amish by Steven M. Nolt (History/Current)
  18. The Way of the Dragon or The Way of the Lamb by Jamin Goggin and Kyle Strobel (Christian Teaching)*
  19. The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead (African-American Fiction)*
  20. Growing Young by Powell, Mulder & Griffin (Christian Teaching)*
  21. What’s Wrong with Religion, by Skye Jethani (Christian Teaching)
  22. My Italian Bulldozer, by Alexander McCall Smith (English Fiction)
  23. Evicted, Poverty and Profit in the American City by Matthew Desmond (Non-Fiction/Current Events)
  24. Immeasurable by Skye Jethani (Christian Leadership)*
  25. Where’d You Go Bernadette? by Maria Semple (American Fiction)
  26. Crossing Over by Ruth Irene Garrett (Amish Memoir)
  27. My Amish Childhood by Jerry s. Eicher (Amish Memoir)
  28. The Perils of “Privilege”, Why Injustice Can’t be Solved by Accusing Others of Privilege by Phoebe Maltz Bovy (Non-Fiction/Current Events)
  29. White Working Class by Joan C. Williams (Current Events)*
  30. Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry by Mildred D. Taylor (African-American Fiction)*

 

Living for the 50

When I was a young girl, we had a lot of dogs around. A lot. My dad was breeding hunting dogs for a while so the whole puppy thing was fun (well, my mother might disagree). Eventually, though, puppies started growing and what was cute before was annoying now. A two month old labrador, what is cuter? Attempting to jump on you when their legs are only a few inches long, licking your face and biting your nose as you wrestle in the grass. All of that is decidedly un-adorable when they are two years old.

So, my Dad would begin the whole training program. Daily teaching them to sit, stay, retrieve, not pee on your couch… the whole deal. At the beginning a little doggy treat and abundant affection rewarded every behaviour. But, this constant reward system subsides as time goes on.

Let’s be honest, in marriage, we can all be growing puppies sometimes. We know what to do to make marriage successful. Give affection, listen patiently, forgive and be forgiven, serve sacrificially, communicate needs. In the beginning of the marriage we want puppy treats and abundant celebration with each completed task and chosen moment of love.

Noticing and appreciating our spouse is so important. The reality is, though, that not every act is noticed. Not every moment of love receives a thank you note and flower. There are reasons for this.

For one, it is unrealistic. Not every act of love can be noticed and celebrated.

But what do we do when we realise marriage involves a lot of unnoticed acts of sacrifice? When the reality of the work it takes comes into clear view? What do we do when there is not immediate pay-check for making the right choices? When there is no immediate reward for choosing to love and serve our spouse?

How do we make choices to invest in our marriage day in and day out when we don’t get the immediate reward?

Here’s what we say in our marriage. We are living for the 50.

My husband and I have this framed in our home:
50-new

For most marriages, the most important date is their anniversary. Celebrating the day they got married. We have another date the we look at every single day, September 14, 2052.

On this day, by God’s grace, we will celebrate our 50th wedding anniversary.

This is the day we have before us day in and day out.

We don’t want to live because we once got married, when we looked so perfect and saw barely a flaw in each other. We have chosen to also live towards a day in the future. We want to live our marriage in a way so that we will still be married on September 14 2052. And not just still married. But having a marriage full of the life and love that we long for.

I want to love my husband not for today’s reward but rather towards the vision I have of our 50th.

Some days I serve my husband and there is an immediate reward… an affectionate hug, a thankful word. But many days there is no immediate gratification. Many days we annoy each other to no end. Many days our communication feels like we are literally speaking different languages.

In those moments, that framed date reminds me to not just love Chris for today’s reward. Whether he notices or not, I’m living and loving for the 50. I make daily decisions in our marriage that will get us to that 50th in the way we want.

Today’s culture tells us to “live in the moment” and “do what’s good for you”. Some moments what is good for me is a sarcastic comment and silent treatment towards my husband. That’s what would feel good in the moment.

Don’t forget to live for the 50. When you live your marriage for the 50 you don’t always do what feels good in the moment, you make daily little decisions that invest in a future reality.

Some days I think, “Why should I be generous towards him, he won’t even notice?!” In that moment, I think of September 14, 2052 and remind myself… live for the 50.

We don’t arrive happy, in love and best friends at our 50th because of one grand event or one big romantic gesture. You arrive there little by little. Day by day. Living each day for the 50.

The Temporary Break-Up

When crisis hits, we cry out.  Bad times come, religious fervor strikes. We cry out, “God, come to the rescue!” It’s kind of human nature. The amazing thing is not that we do this. The amazing thing is that God actually responds to such shallow cries of desperation.

The book of Judges cycles over this sort of situation, ad naseum, within the nation of Israel.

The people of Israel said to the Lord, “We have sinned; do to us whatever seems good to you. Only please deliver us this day. So they put away the foreign gods from among them and served the Lord” (Judges 10:15-16)

God is merciful, so he did rescue them. They put away their idols as a show of good faith. In order to secure a rescue from very bad circumstances.

This is human nature: we change actions or habits in order to gain a temporary reprieve or rescue.

We change because we can no longer manage the consequences of our actions, habits and true heart desires.

We do not throw away our idols because we relise they are false. We throw them away because the consequences of serving them is temporarily too great. Once the consequence becomes bearable again, we quickly rush out to the dustbin, brush off the idols and welcome them back with open arms. We never threw them out because we hated them. We just couldn’t live with the reality of loving them as much as we did. So, we took a little holiday.

The classic picture is of an alcoholic. The drinking goes from bad to worse. Family threatens to walk out. Law enforcement threatens to lock up. Employers threatens no more grace. So, the alcoholic says, “I’m done! No more drinks!” Of course, this won’t last. He doesn’t truly hate the alcohol. The consequences simply got to be more than he could bare. At least for now.

It is winter here in South Africa. That means my boys need to wake up in the cold and dark for school. The desire just isn’t there. I found myself coaxing, cajoling, coaching, outright threatening. The whole circus was employed to get the oldest out the door on time.

I finally said, “Enough!”.

Now, my boys get to play a video games for 30 minutes a day on a Saturday and Sunday of each weekend. That’s all they get, so weekend video game access is highly anticipated.

On the way to school I said, “No more! If you don’t wake up, get ready, do the whole shebang without a word from me, then no video games. No warnings. No threats. Poof, it will be gone. I can’t do this anymore, it ruins my mornings. You know what to do and I need you to do it.”

The next morning was a picture of military precision. The day after that was the same. Up early, dressed, packed, teeth brushed, not a hair out of place. I hadn’t seen such a turn-around in a while.

This morning I pulled my son aside and thanked him. “I just so appreciate that you listened to what I said. Thank you for respecting me. Thank you for stepping up and making the changes.”

What a son I had, listening to his mother!

Without missing a beat, he looked at me and said, “Oh Mom, I live for video games. If I loose that I couldn’t survive!”

Just like the Israelites. Just like me. My son was the same. He didn’t change behaviour out of true heart transformation. He changed because the consequences had temporarily gotten too great.

What about you? What issue do you keep coming back to? What idols do you keep digging out of the dustbin after you swore you were done with them?

Perhaps the truth is, you simply threw them away because the consequences of serving them had gotten too great.

We all do it. “That’s it! I will never over-eat again! I’m done!” Perhaps our blood pressure was dangerously high or the doctor was giving us dire warnings. The current consequences caused us to declare a holiday with our idol of food. But, once the storm passed, life returned as normal.

When change in our life is not precipitated by deep heart work we can be sure the idol will return as quickly as it departed.

These are the questions I’m asking:
How could I journey with God this?
How can I move towards truly choosing God over idols? Choosing because He truly is more beautiful and merciful and my heart knows that and chooses that and truly rejects the idol.
In what areas am I only “returning to God” because I need a break from a toxic relationship with something that will never truly save?

Photo Credit: Cory Schmitz