Thirsty (Karen Dabaghian)

thirsty

A few years ago, Karen Dabaghian took a class on the Psalms. The course involved reading the Psalms deeply, and then writing their own poems of response. The experience was life-changing for Karen. In her book Travelogue of the Interior (reviewed here), she recounts how she wrestled with Psalm 1, and its promise of blessing to “the one who does not walk in step with the wicked or stand in the way that sinners take or sit in the company of mockers, but whose delight in the law of the Lord, and who meditates on his law day and night.”

“That person,” writes the Psalmist, “is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither—whatever they do prospers.”

Karen was stumped. She writes this in Travelogue:

“I ask too many questions and press too earnestly for answer; I worry constantly that my spiritual and intellectual appetites are off-putting to people around me, and I worry that they make me even more of a failure as a “good Christian woman” than I already fear I am. I have tried at times to be less thirsty and less hungry, someone who asks and offers less of herself and the world around her. At the ripe age of forty-two, I can confirm categrotically: it is pointless.

Yet in an instant, in the sacred space of my living room and my heart, a lifetime of shame melted away the moment God looked me in the eye and said, “There you are, My thirsty, blessed tree.”

THIRSTY

(Psalm 1)

A tree grows on the bank of the river

that flows from the City of God.

Its roots twine and twist

unashamed by its thirst.

It will be satisfied.

 

By Karen Dabaghian, Travelogue of the Interior (David C Cook, 2015)
Illustrated by Corrie Haffly

The Most Important Thing About Caitlyn Jenner

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I’ve been thinking about Caitlyn Jenner’s cover photo on Vanity Fair this week, and All The Things that have been said and written about it/her/the former dad of the Kardashians this week.

I am related to a person who had gender-reassignment surgery: I met her at an extended family reunion with her new boyfriend. I didn’t know her in the days when she was a son, and a husband, and a father – and so, for me, it was not that hard to greet her by her new name. (Things did get a little weird when, a few hours in, we crossed paths in the women’s bathroom and she wanted to trade girl-tips on finding cute shoes in bigger sizes… I mean, I do have big feet, but that felt awkward.) My heart went out to her, but also to the family members who didn’t come to the reunion because she was there. They didn’t want the confusion of explaining why their uncle/brother (the identity they’re retaining) looked like a woman. My heart went out to her sons, who have a person who is still their parent, but not their father.

It’s all very messy.

I don’t know the answers on this. I don’t know how it works when people feel there is a disconnect between their biological identity and their gender. I really don’t understand how sexual orientation and identification develop: it’s complex and I think there are 1000 ways to get it wrong in our response. Especially for Christians.

I think one sure fire way to get it wrong, though, is to react with disgust and outrage and rejection, especially towards people who are not claiming to be Christians. We have no business passing moral judgment on those outside the church.

Of primary importance is not whether Caitlyn Jenner, or anyone for that matter, identifies as a woman, but whether she identifies with Jesus.

Of course, if people do come to know Jesus – then we are committed to a life-long overhaul of patterning our lives after His – something which will affect everything from the way we text and spend and talk to who we sleep with and how we map out our future. That future with Jesus certainly DOES place (life-giving) limits on our sexuality and sexual expression, just as it does on everything else.

What does that look like in practice? I’m not sure. A lesbian teen recently asked, “if I become a Christian and I’m still gay, does that mean I’ll go to hell?” Her youth leader looked around at her peer group and wisely answered, “What if Peggy is still a liar? And what if Kate is still sleeping with her boyfriend? And what if Brianna is still sending gossipy texts?”

Touche. If our acceptability to Jesus depended on our performance, we’d all be up the creek without a paddle.

But that’s not to say that our moral choices don’t matter. They DO matter to God, and they do matter to society. It is not okay to abuse people, or to participate in sex trafficking, or to cheat on your taxes and treat those things as if they are “personal choices” and so we can’t comment on them. Our evil choices cause societal harm and so there HAS to be a place to talk about things which promote and protect and flourishing of society. The conversations about sexuality form part of this (and, judging by my relative’s kids: no-one can deny that their parent’s gender reassignment surgery has not caused them harm.)

BUT, BUT, BUT… we need to be so careful about how we talk about this. We can’t say nothing and freeze people out by silence, but we need to save the hating and disgusted speech, and pray hard that God will help us to speak as Jesus would in these circumstances: somehow, he always managed to speak graciously, even while never compromising.

I doubt Caitlyn Jenner will ever visit my church, but it is not beyond the pale to imagine that one day my relative might come to visit. If such a day was to come about, I hope she would know that we are so much more concerned about her spiritual orientation than her sexual orientation, and that God bids us WELCOME. He loves us just the way we are, and yet loves us too much to leave us that way.

Oh Lord, teach us to speak the truth in love, just as you do.

Why I’m Glad I Broke His Favorite Coffee Mug

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This morning I woke up hungover from life and late night reading. I thumped downstairs and, amid the din of chatter, started to scramble through the morning routine. Reaching into the overhead cupboard to retrieve the life-giving coffee ingredients, my hand caught on something, sending half a dozen coffee mugs  crashing down on me like ceramic lemmings. I caught two. Three landed safely. But one, The One, didn’t survive the fall. Of all the mugs in the closet to break this morning, the one which shattered was my husband’s favorite mug of nearly twenty years: a Dilbert classic—the perfect combination of nerdy and hilarious.

Usually I am quick to clean up broken shards, but I left the remains of coffee mug out so that I could confess when he appeared at breakfast. “I’m sorry,” I said a few minutes later, “I broke your favorite coffee mug.”

“Oh no!” he said in surprise, “Oh well, everything is just trash waiting to happen anyway.”

I looked over at our kids, bent over bowls of granola, and in that moment my sadness was replaced by a tremendous gratitude that not only had my kids seen me break something, but they’d seen their Dad’s theology in action. We spend a lot of time talking about possessions in our house: trying to temper the wants generated by advertising and peers with conversations about stewardship and generosity. Our kids have heard us ask our one question we always ask when wondering “should we buy this?”, and have seen us try to put this into action.

And, again and again, they have come to their Dad in tears about a lost toy, a broken truck, a misplaced whatchamacallit; asking if we can please buy a replacement. The answer is almost always no, with this gentle explanation given: “I’m so glad you got to enjoy that for a while, but everything on this earth is just trash waiting to become trash.”

This morning I broke my husband’s favorite coffee mug, and our kids got to see him respond: first in disappointment, and then with truth. The things that really matter—every spiritual blessing which is his in Christ, and ten thousand more besides—will never perish, spoil and fade.

I’m sorry I broke his mug, but I’m so grateful my kids got to see what happened next. As great as it is for us to be positive role models of hard work, kindness, academic rigor and politeness, it’s important for them to see us make mistakes, burn dinner, experience rejection, lose our tempers and break other people’s favorite things… because it’s in the moments after everything comes crashing down, that character shines through.

Coffee Mug

 

Photo Credit: In Pieces (An Auditory Experiment) – Dusk Photography (Flickr Creative Commons)

 

When Messing Up Is A Chance To Practice – {Sheli Massie}

Today’s guest is Sheli Massie: a brave friend and fellow writer in the Redbud Writers Guild. I love Sheli’s honesty, her grit, her gift of encouragement… and I love her message in this post. Leave her some comment love, won’t you?

What if, instead of seeing ourwe saw

There are things that start to happen to you when you are on the other side of healing. And by other side, I mean be brave enough to say you need healing. To acknowledge that you are a broken person who needs to slow down and that you have pieces to put back together. When things are clear in my head and I don’t feel like I need to be in therapy three times a week I find myself being able to complete thoughts and realize where they need to go and where they came from. For example why I repeat patterns when certain times of the year come around or something someone does triggers a reaction that is let’s just say is “not sane healthy “. Well to someone who has lived in trauma for so long I am met face to face with the crap I have kept in there. Like for instance. I can improve on relationships. ( I suck at it) Now before you go all “Pollyanna” on me, realize that I have learned coping strategies through the years and some are not all good. For instance.

I sabotage good things. Like relationships. Or big occasions. I sabotage things are new or make me feel uncomfortable. I sabotage anything that makes me feel afraid. Do you see how I am operating here? Out of fear. But I am a work in progress and Jesus in his sweet gentle voice tells me this is something I am ready to walk through and figure out. That He and I will uncover what makes me feel so insecure and bless me with someone to hold my hand into this brave scary place called freedom.

I never wanted my husband in the delivery room. And until now I didn’t think this was a big deal. I just stated that he drove me crazy and I wanted my girlfriends in there, who knew what I liked and didn’t like. Do you see the problem? I didn’t want him near me. I didn’t want him to be a part of a very intimate moment that lasted 22 hours for one child and thousands of hours for the rest. I wanted other people closer to me. So when you begin to unravel what healthy is and your head comes clear, Jesus reveals things to you in small doses that you still need to unwrap. Like my inability to trust. I didn’t trust my husband, I didn’t trust hum to take care of me. I didn’t trust that he could comfort me. I didn’t trust him with my safety. I didn’t trust him as my legs were up in stir-ups and every stranger was up in my business yet I didn’t trust the one I made a covenant with. Perhaps I had some issues….

Do you see how alarming this is? I know others think this is crazy and strange. But I am seeing it as a chance to “practice” (new word I am learning from my wise people). It helps me to realign my thoughts that I am practicing and not making mistakes. I have to catch myself saying that I “messed up again” but this is just “practicing”.

I am learning that this is my turn to practice trusting. Practice inviting myself to pause in the unknown and sit there. Practice staying in the quiet when it makes my skin crawl and I want to hide in my bed and binge watch House of Cards. Practice sitting in the moment and finishing the conversation when all I want to do is say something sarcastic that others would find funny. Practice telling the truth even though it may make others upset. Practice slowing down. Practice leaving space. Practice saying yes to what really matters. Practice filling my space with things that are only useful and beautiful. Practice connecting to those I claim to love. Practice being present when my mind wanders to wherever I am not.

Practice is hard. Practice requires that I show up and put in my best effort. Practice makes me cry and wish for another coach. Practice leaves me exhausted and wanting a water break. But from what I have learned practice makes me ready for the game. It helps me to show up when it matters most and be ready to do this life thing together. It helps me know what works and what doesn’t work.

So when we “mess up” and get overwhelmed with how many times we have yelled or pouted or ignored to get our way. We take a deep breath and acknowledge that this was “practice” and we can try again.

So what if we all practiced together? Instead of repeating the patterns of our past or blaming it on a personality trait what if we all were brave enough to show up. In the little things? In the big things? If we were all brave enough to reach out to someone and say “help”. If we were brave enough to write that letter and say “I’m sorry”. If we were brave enough to fall and get back up again. If we were brave enough to tell that story. If we were brave enough to say “no more”. If we were brave enough to look him in the eyes. If we were brave enough to walk away. If we were brave enough to stay. If we were brave enough to turn off the TV. If we were brave enough to say the first words. If we were brave enough to love. If we were brave enough to forgive ourselves.

You can. We can. We can be brave.

You are brave sweet one. You are.

View More: http://snohling.pass.us/massieloveAbout Sheli: ​I am a writer on good days when a child isn’t puking or screaming or the dog hasn’t run away for the zillionth time or when the house doesn’t look like a Hoarders episode or I didn’t forget to pick up one of the five children from school. I live in the western suburbs of Chicago with my husband who has pushed me to be a better version of myself for sixteen years. I adore my best friends and I get anxiety attacks around anyone pretty or skinny, so I stay in my yoga pants and write about my redemptive story at shelimassie.com. I am a proud member of Redbud Writers Guild.

 

Photo Credit: Georgio____, Silhouette (Flickr Creative Commons), edited by Bronwyn Lea.

A Letter to Men

LetterToMen

Dear Men,

A few months ago, a conversation on Twitter got my attention. Using the hashtag #YesAllWomen, women shared incredible and awful stories of ways in which they had been harassed, marginalized, ridiculed, leered at and exploited by men.

Yes, all women.

Soon the conversation changed, and people began to respond with #NotAllMen hashtags. Not all men are rapists. Not all men are addicted to pornography. Not all men pay for sex. Not all men disrespect and degrade women.

No, not all men.

This letter is for you: the not all men. And I’m writing to say We Need You. And, Please Help.

I am just beginning to uncover how close to home some very dark things are. Vulnerable women and children are being trafficked in our neighborhoods: they are preyed on and prostituted, and I didn’t know that so many of those who seem to be prostitutes are, in fact, victims who are drugged, manipulated and abused to be there.

Economics 101 teaches us that supply meets demand. This is true in the sex industry too. I didn’t know (and maybe you didn’t either) that the primary demographic of those buying sex are white, middle-class, well-educated, white-collar workers. Women and children are being trafficked to supply the demands of the very people society deems to be the most respectable.

But not all men are like that, which is why we need your help.

If you are a man who is white, or middle-class, or well-educated, or white-collar (or any combination of those descriptions), then you have a voice with these men that we don’t. You may not know who they are, exactly, but they’re among the every day guys at work, in class, at the gym, at the game. They’re the guys on the golf green, and at your business conference.

Women talk differently around women than when men are around, and men talk differently around men than when women are around. When women are around, men are less likely to suggest a couple of hours of entertainment at a strip club, or to make lewd remarks about how they’d like to “see her naked”.

Perhaps you hear men around you talk like that, and you find it uncomfortable. It might be funny, but it’s not who you are – so you say nothing. You let it go, finish your drink, and make your way home. I want you to know first of all that I really respect you not taking them up on the invitation.

But I am writing to ask you to do more. I’m asking you to please speak up and take a stand that it’s not okay to speak to women or about women like that. To point out that the massage parlor or gentlemen’s club they’re suggesting probably has trafficked women or children working there – did they know that? To say that prostitution may not mean what they think it means. To say you’ve heard some stories from women who worked the streets and it has changed your opinion on what was really going on there.

But maybe you don’t even need to say that much. A man saying something like “hey, that’s not cool,” in response to a “guy’s joke” might not seem like much, but it means so much.

If you stay silent, you may have protected your own character in that situation, but your silence is interpreted as indifference. “All that is necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing,” wrote Bonhoeffer. The sex trafficking industry relies on secrecy to thrive, and when we fail to say something, we allow it to keep its secrets. Our silence become complicity.

Art by Corrie Haffly.

Art by Corrie Haffly

Please, don’t let the sexist joke go unchallenged.

Please, don’t let the guy next to you jest about “showing her who’s boss” without speaking up.

Please, don’t stay silent when someone makes a “movie suggestion”. The line between pornography and trafficking is a very thin on.

Please, if you are on a business trip and are invited out for an evening of entertainment, don’t just say “no thanks” and walk away. Say, “You shouldn’t go either.” Perhaps even invite them to do something else.

There are men in our communities who are predators and pedophiles. But not all men are like that. You are not like that. So I’m asking you: will you please be our protectors? Would you be a voice of conscience to the men around you?

For my sake. For my daughters sake. For all the #YesAllWomen,

Please, speak up.

We need you.


End-New-3DChris and Beth Bruno have written a FREE E-BOOK entitled End: Engaging Men to End Sex Trafficking. Download your copy today.

I am grateful to the Brunos for offering this resource as part of the #ACourageousOne project.


This #ACourageousOne project is a 5-day series of blog posts to raise awareness, money and hope about the reality of sex trafficking right around us. There are tens of thousands of invisible women and children – courageous ones – in need of rescue and restoration.

We can help. This week, support a courageous one by giving #ACourageousOne of your own:

  • Donate ONE DOLLAR to fight sex trafficking (here, here, or here, if you need a suggestion.)
  • Pray for ONE MINUTE for God to rescue victims, and give courage to women and men to speak and act as we ought. (Here is a Psalm to meditate on, as a suggestion)
  • Share ONE POST on social media to raise awareness about this issue. This is happening in our communities, so if we speak up within our communities, someone directly involved is going to hear.

Thank you for supporting the thousands of courageous ones with your Courageous One. We can make a difference!

My Little Helper

We are currently doing a series entitled “Right Here, Right Now” at church, about what it means to walk day by day as a disciple of Jesus. Last week, Joe (the Joe who taught us these important things about where teens belong) talked about what it meant to be God’s helper. It reminded me of this story, which was first published over at the gorgeous (in)courage website.

"He's my little helper. And I am His."

“I don’t need your help!” I snapped, as I swatted his grubby little fist away from the dough.

The boy wilted at my rebuke. “But Mommy, I love to help you.”

“I know, but your hands are dirty and I can do it myself,” I muttered.

I had five kids under 6 in my care and was trying to whip up scones for lunch before the high-pitched hunger wails set in. My three-year old, seeing the bowl, had scraped a giant chair all the way across the floor and posted himself at my side, ready to be my sous chef. Now he stood there: swatted at, snapped at, and snubbed. He was crestfallen.

I don’t need you either,” I heard the still, small voice say. “Your hands are often dirty. You mess up and make mistakes. And I could do it myself. But I don’t.”

Words from Corinthians welled up from within: For we are co-workers in God’s service. Co-workers. Co-workers of the Great One who could create the stars just by speaking. Of the One whom angels worship. Of the One who holds every molecule in the universe together. Of the inventor of harmonies, peaches, mathematics, asteroids, and neural pathways. And yet He chooses to accomplish His purposes on earth through us.

He could have willed people to follow him. And yet He chose to have salvation come by hearing a message spoken by foolish and fallible lips. We corrupt the message, betray the message, miscommunicate the message. And yet, He has chosen to use us as messengers.

He could heal with a concoction of spit-filled mud, and yet He chooses to have us apply band-aids and give hugs, learn physical therapy, walk the long-road of chemotherapy.

Me? His helper? How could He possibly use bumbling, fumbling, grumbling me to accomplish anything? But again Corinthians whispered: Not that we are competent in ourselves, but our competence comes from God.

I am my Daddy’s little helper. I am His kid, pulling up her chair as He cooks up His divine, fantastic plan, and He invites me to stick my grubby paws in His dough. To learn alongside Him. To share in the creation of what He’s baking in history.

Gentled by my Father’s guiding hand, I turned to the little one at my side. I let my son knead the dough – he over worked it. I let him roll it out – it was uneven. I showed him how to paint the egg on the top – he painted more baking sheet than scone. But they were delicious, and we did it together.

He’s my little helper, and I am His.

{Photo by Corrie Haffly. This post first appeared at (in)courage}

 

Life as Dorcas: My Name As Gift, Burden and Calling

Today’s post is from my incredibly talented and kind friend, Dorcas Cheng-Tozun. I LOVE the way Dorcas lives her life, thinks purposefully, and crafts her words so beautifully to express things. I am so grateful she agreed to share her story of her relationship with her name as part of the Words That Changed My World series of reader submissions. 

 

Lone Tulip Dorcas

 

When I was young, I hated the first day of each school year. When the teacher was taking attendance, I always knew she had reached my name when she paused for a long time. “Dor… Doris? Dorsis? I’m sorry, I don’t know how to pronounce this.”

I would then raise my hand and correct her, simultaneously enunciating and softening the central consonant that was the bane of my existence. “It’s Dorcas.”

The laughter always came, and I would always stare straight ahead, refusing to make eye contact with anyone. Later came the questions from my classmates, who didn’t know much outside of their affluent, white suburban existence. “Is that a Chinese name?” Snicker. Giggle. “Or are you Japanese? Do your parents have weird names too?”

I would answer them directly because I didn’t know what else to do. “It’s a Greek name. It’s from the Bible. I’m Chinese, not Japanese. My parents’ names are Robert and Grace.” This was usually enough to confuse my peers into silence. But only for a few moments.

Biblical names are par for the course in my family, now Christian for four generations. After previous generations exhausted all the usual names, my parents wanted to get a little creative with me. But as new Chinese immigrants to the US, they had no idea what they were signing me up for.

By the time I reached high school, I had learned to hide my hurt well. But if anyone had been able to penetrate my outer shell of indifference, they would have found a heart full of shame—over who I was and who I thought I never could be, all because of a moniker that invited ridicule in a majority culture I was desperate to fit into.

The ninth chapter of Acts records a beautiful story of a woman named Tabitha, or Dorcas in Greek. She is described as a disciple “devoted to good works and acts of charity.” When she dies, all the widows in her community gather to mourn, clutching the articles of clothing she made for them. The Apostle Peter comes at the insistence of other disciples and raises her from the dead, the only record of Peter’s resurrecting someone. The town’s grief turns to celebration, and word of this miracle spreads throughout the region.

I love this story, but I have not loved bearing the name Dorcas. More often than not I have felt my name as a burden.

When I was in college, my eyes were opened to the burdens that less fortunate members of our society bore, burdens that were much more oppressive and degrading than a culturally inconvenient name. I then started a student group whose sole purpose was to build relationships with the homeless community near campus. My peers and I would go out and spend our weeknights asking questions and listening, in hopes of offering some dignity and care to struggling individuals.

One evening, a Vietnam vet I regularly saw named Jerry asked me to remind him of my name. As I always do, I hesitated before answering. “It’s Dorcas.”

His unshaven face, wrinkled and dusty, lit up. “From the Bible!” he exclaimed.

I returned his smile. “Yes! Most people don’t know that.”

He looked at me carefully. I couldn’t have been a particularly impressive sight—I was twenty but often mistaken for someone much younger—but Jerry held my gaze as he said, “You’re really living up to your name.”

Something inside of me stilled. I don’t remember what I said in response or what we discussed after that. But in the fifteen years since that conversation, I have not forgotten Jerry’s words. I thought of them when I decided to pursue a Sociology degree; I remembered them when I signed the contract for my first nonprofit job. His words stuck with me through more than a decade of development work, which took me from low-income communities in California to villages and cities in Malawi, China, India, and Kenya.

Now well into adulthood, I still occasionally run into the too-blunt adult who smothers a smirk before saying, “You must’ve been teased a lot as a kid, huh?” Whenever this happens, the old vestiges of shame threaten to return. But, thanks to Jerry’s words, I think instead of my parents and their pure hopes for me when they named me after a compassionate woman with a servant heart. I think of the amazing opportunities I’ve been given to try to change this world for the better. And I find myself being grateful for this unusual name that has helped shape an unusual life. It has occasionally been a burden, but the reality is that my name has always been a gift, a calling truly worth living up to.

Dorcas Cheng-Tozun HeadshotDorcas Cheng-Tozun is a writer, blogger, and editor who has found healing and hope through words. Previously she worked as a nonprofit and social enterprise professional in the US and Asia. She lives in the San Francisco Bay Area with her husband and adorable hapa son. You can find her online at  www.chengtozun.com or on Twitter (@dorcas_ct).

Photo credit: ‘Lone Tulip’, copyright here. Edited by Bronwyn Lea.