“…you are worried and bothered by many things, but only one thing is necessary…”

If you grew up in church, or even stood next to someone who went to church a few times to make their mom happy, you’ve heard the story of Martha and Mary. Someone has told you not to be a “Martha” Someone has told you to stop working so much and just “rest at the feet of Jesus…”

In the stories retelling, one woman, Mary, sits at full attention, listening peacefully, while Jesus is a guest in her sister’s house.

The other woman, Martha, works hard for Jesus, doing all the things…not however, without a considerable amount of huffing and puffing. No doubt everyone in her immediate vicinity was made aware of her over extended hospitality through well timed sighs and strategic pot banging. In the moment she exposes her least sanctified self, she turns to her guest, the savior of the world, and pitches a fairly self-righteous pity party. “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to do all the serving alone?”…classic Martha.

This is a thing women do and we are quite brilliant at it. Female martyrdom is indeed crafty and, if directed in a healthy way, would probably at least solve one or two global issues…at very least, access to affordable healthcare and more skirts with pockets. We are never so stupid as to engage in a frontal assault. We groom allies. We hire mercenaries, and watch the carnage with weepy eyes from the sidelines. We cry out to God about our burdens and our busyness and then continue to set the same schedule for the next week…hopelessly waiting for Jesus to step in and tell everyone around us how tired we are and then guilt them into helping more. It is an incredibly efficient way to both victimize ourselves and punish anyone around us…I am no stranger to this method. In fact, I’m embarrassingly good at it…and so is Martha.

Anyway…back to the story. Jesus responds to Martha. “You are worried and bothered…only one thing is necessary…Mary has chosen the good part, which shall not be taken away from her.” I don’t really know what happened after that…none of the New Testament writers were brave enough to repeat Martha’s response…I’m guessing Martha reached a whole ‘nother level of unsanctified. Either way, that’s about all there is to it, and countless sermons as well as sage, womanly advice have been dispensed thereupon.

While I’ve always loved the story and I keep trying to “be the Mary” …I’m just not. I “do the things” and I like it that way. Churches always heavily preach in Mary’s favor but that leaves us Marthas of the world feeling some brand of religious guilt that makes us fake smiles and pretend sweetness when we really want to tell you to get off your ass and help! So I’m conflicted, because someone needs to get stuff done when Jesus comes to town, and yet Mary is the embodiment of a Biblical Millennial. You can find her at any time, crying around about this or that, asking for time off to pray while Martha pays the mortgage. I just can’t.

So I ask then, what is the one thing? Jesus said “one thing is necessary” but He also wanted to eat. In my head math, I am counting and I am not reaching logical numbers. Lots of grubby guys in her house, lots of expectations and asking “what’s for dinner”…easily more than one. I can only assume He didn’t want both of them to sit staring at Him while His stomach growled. His presence in the home required that work be done but it also required the honor of their attention. It required a working form of worship.

I wonder sometimes how different the story would have gone had Martha walked up to Mary and said, ” Hey, I get that you’re home from college and just wanna decompress, but we’ve got like 13 men in our house right now and its gonna be about 2000 years before they are culturally inclined to help in the kitchen, so would you please wash while I dry?…” I think that may have actually been closer to the one thing. That kind of awareness of what is necessary and that kind of humility in asking for help when overwhelmed. When I try to understand what it was that Jesus was saying, it seems less like I drop the workload and more like I introduce the worship.

Worship worked out in a life that is overfilled with things to be done then, simply looks like presence with the people He put around us and connection to the presence of a God within us. While Mary was materially useless she was eternally present. She was focused on the person and not the process. Martha understood that honoring the guest in her home meant that there needed to be a process, but she missed the person. She worshiped the work instead of the One. Like all things we give to that can never give back, she was left with the bitterness that incubates in exhaustion.

One of my favorite authors, Gregory Boyle, describes a homeless addict who came to his front door as “Jesus in his least recognizable form.” Meaning that whoever approaches your door is worthy of your honor and attention. Will we see them as Jesus in our midst or as a set of boxes to check? Whether our days are spent in a cubicle between driving children to sporting activities, or a staying at home doing “all the things,” or just as a human trying to help other humans while eating and living indoors, we are daily encountering Jesus in His least recognizable form. We are daily entertaining Him in our midst…the hurting, the lonely, the aggressive, and the annoying.

Work needs to be done, and we often legitimately don’t have time to “sit at His feet.” But we can be present. We can offer our full attention to those who enter our homes and our spaces and our sphere of influence with the kind of hospitality that doesn’t grow out of martyrdom but gratitude and worship. We can draw in and ask for help, we can step back from a checklist of our own overworked expectations. It’s the thing that Jesus wanted…a heart that knows what is necessary. It is a heart that continually looks for Him in unrecognizable form and does what is needed to make welcome the work that is born out of loving like He loves. It’s just one thing and it changes everything.

Again today, as all the feverish work we have done over the last three months becomes the temperate road ahead.  Not so much easier, but consistent and forward.

David is kept in a state of constant evolution, working a steady second job that steadily allows us to pay the mortgage.  Chris does what Chris does and works at all hours of the day while occasionally irritating me with impromptu budget discussions and the very unromantic side of paying for a new business.  I press through the day,  fitness classes at 5am whether anyone shows up or not, clients, a very glamorous cleaning job, and the selling of my own plasma for grocery money and, secondarily, the benefit of anyone with coagulation issues.  There it is.  The very exotic life of three social entrepreneurs who love Jesus and feel like life is better when lived out in service.

As I go, I learn. 

As we go, we cut a path.  The further in, the more entangled our purpose becomes with the purpose of those around us.  The further on, the more we see how a broken world seeks to break what is weak in us.  Anymore, I only see clearly when I look behind and realize that the path had been cut for me…that it was never about me…and that is sometimes a relief, sometimes a bummer.

I considered the potential of partnering 148 Ministries into a brick and mortar existence as 148 Wellness with a muddy mixture of unwavering confidence and absolute uncertainty.  Confidence, that even my bad decisions are malleable to the kind of God that uses foolish things as teachers.  Absolute uncertainty of what this process would even look like, what life would look like, what the heck whatever we did would look like…

What would a business with the heart of a ministry even look like?

Several weeks in now, I keep discovering uncharted difficulty and unexpected clarity, but I also keep going.  Still confident.  Still uncertain.  We all just continue to take the next step, do the next thing, engage the next fire.   Overwhelmed with gratitude, and literally crying from uncontainable joy at so much undeserved favor, and in the next moment crying because I’m tired, and stupid, and whose idea was this anyway…

It does not feel like I thought it would feel.

Somehow as the process began and each door opened into another, I simply walked. Cautiously optimistic. Woefully naïve. Wonderfully simple. It was only in the walking that I found the direction; only in the stepping did the ground form underneath to support the weight of each footfall.

I had a dream many years ago of opening a gym with the mission of building up women broken from a world of abuse and misdirected worth.  Now alongside a pastor and a PTA we have a gym that does that…and more.  Somehow, It’s better than my dream.  Somehow, what I thought would be hard isn’t as hard as what I never once thought about.   The attacks come from the sides and within…never head on…never straight forward.

There was something still in me that thought doing a “good thing,” following God’s prompting, building a dream, serving a purpose, or whatever you want to call it,  meant that the “good” and “godly” in this world would be excited and supportive, cheering their fellow soldiers on.

…Some are…some are not…some don’t really care.

Something told me I could discern who was “good” and “godly.”

…I cannot.

Something in me must have also assumed that the personal struggles with my own character flaws, family dysfunction, and chronic tardiness would somehow fade behind the heroic mask of purpose.  All at once, every insecurity, every lazy habit, every fear would just dissipate like some kind of vapor.  All at once, I would be competent with an Excel spreadsheet.

…they have not.  I am not.

Something told me I could do this. 

Something told me I could not.

Somehow I must have had the idea that stepping out in faith would smooth the road ahead.  I have never considered myself a “good Christian” and things always seemed to go poorly for me as a matter of consequence.  This time though…was different…I was different.  My heart was different.  Somehow in my head that meant that surely goodness and mercy would follow me all the days of my life.  Good friends would draw closer and share the vision. All conflict, if any, would be resolvable. People would like me. My character would be above reproach. My marriage bonded even tighter with the chords of a working partnership. I would lose ten pounds but not even care, and it would all be under budget…because Jesus.

…None of that happened.

The road ahead is still only revealed one upward step at a time.  Friends have pulled away; bitterness and questionable motivations are always hunting us. It is now even harder to make time for family.  The time suck of conflict has emerged from the stupidity of miscommunication.  I can’t make anyone like me.  I still have anger issues. I’ve been eating products that could outlive me through some wizardry of the food industry called red #5, and the other day David and I had a legitimate kind of fight about the sequence of room painting.

This just doesn’t feel like I thought it would feel.

It is, however, better.  More risky, more unstable, more of what I already don’t have enough of, but infinitely better.  I only get the next step by taking the first. I only get to see what is wonderful when I wonder what is next…and I have seen some really wonderful things in the last few weeks.   I could have spent the rest of my life asking for a presentation of the path and the purpose, But God only seems to be interested in showing me as I go.

He doesn’t work like I thought He would, but as I go, I get to watch what is otherwise overwhelming become a simple step…and it’s so much better.

This girl doesn’t think she’s ugly. She also doesn’t think she’s pretty. This girl doesn’t think much about how she looks at all.

This girl doesn’t worry about your opinion of her pony.

This girl is not concerned with the adequacy of her clothing, or money, or ability…and she certainly isn’t concerned that her mother for some unknown reason, thought it necessary to perm her hair.

It would be years before she would fight for the rights to her own hair.

It would be years before she learned that she wasn’t loved by everyone; that she wasn’t safe with everyone.
It would be years before she was told how unworthy she was…how ugly, how stupid, how fat, how weird, how messy, how loud, how poor, and how different.

But this girl is wild. This girl will mess up your house and eat all your food. This girl knows clothing is an option, but not a good one. This girl is always dirty and mostly jumping on things. This girl is a perfect little hedonist. She wakes up to play, eats her fill without guilt, and rests without making excuses.

She hasn’t yet realized the things she won’t be good at…or that being an astronaut or a mermaid is off the table.
She doesn’t know that fractions are hard and that prom is, at best, disappointing.
She doesn’t yet know that her clothes, her looks, and her grades will determine who wants to be associated with her.

This girl doesn’t know what’s ahead.
This girl doesn’t know that to some she will only be a punching bag and to others she will only be a body.
This girl doesn’t know that she will make decisions from fear and impulse, that she will shamelessly grasp for attention, or one day helplessly claw for the unconditional love she was born to crave.

But, this girl…right here…she knows…every hurt and disappointment. She knows every disapproving Baptist look, and every girl she wished she looked like, She remembers every boy that punched her in the stomach or threw her into a wall…or worse…ignored her. Every time the longing to be included was met with exclusion.

She knows the pride, the anger, the bitterness, and the shame of being human. She may have been wounded, but she did her share of wounding. She may have been hurt, but she returned her share of hurting.

She knows the world is broken.

When she looks back on that tiny version of herself, she thinks she understands a little of what heaven is like…a little of what God is like.

We are born helpless into brokenness. We are born flawed physically and spiritually and from there, we tend to navigate poorly.
Some are allowed stability and ease; some are born into depravity, and many, are somewhere in between.
But in every childhood there still exists a kind of freedom unrestricted by self-protection, an ability to be present and a joy that is not yet mixed with sadness…that has to be close to heaven.

I love this girl.

I know what she’s in for and yet I still don’t know what awaits her. What I do know is that she is unconditionally loved and fearlessly accepted. I know that regardless of what is done to her or what she does, she is protected and forgiven. I know she will love and lose and fail and fear, but I know God is a good father who gives good gifts and doesn’t waste the suffering of His children.

And even if she suffered a little she would enjoy far more grace than is common. That girl rode horses and swam all summer. She traveled the world. She had deep friendships, good health, and sound sleep.

Bad will happen. Live long past childhood and it is inevitable. It is when we learn how dark the world is that we can truly appreciate what is light. If nothing has been bad enough for you then I find that nothing will ever be good enough.

This girl looks back on that girl with gratitude and perhaps a little loss, but looking forward, can only smile at the future and perhaps demand another pony…

Occasionally, my generally content, mostly grateful heart becomes generally, mostly unsatisfied.   I experience a laps in what most would consider “good character” and occasionally I feel what most would consider to be something akin to “ungrateful entitlement”…This bothers me about myself.  Perhaps I am confessing as a way to finally kill my private darkness with light, but I thought I’d tease out shameful behavior in a shamelessly public way. 

In these moments, I tend to think about what it is that I am and what it is I have and hold it against what I should be and am not.  Simply put, I compare what I have learned from the world around me as the standard of awesome, and recognize that I fall embarrassingly short of the mark…which, I suppose, is a normal human thing to do.  What unsettles me about this undesirable comparison is that without anyone else in the world to have anything different than what I have, I would never ever think to want anything else.  I have all that I could ever need, I am cared for, I have clothes, I have food, I have shelter, I am really, generally, fortunate.  I have crazy amounts of undeserved blessing.  I am every day humbled by grace and everyday blessed with abundance…and yet….The thought that other people might not think I’m blessed, or  awesome, or significant, really just nags at the ugly parts of my soul.  And whether you like it or not, I am going to assume that you do this as well…or social media as a dominating force in this culture would not be a thing. 

I sat at dinner the other night with my husband, and, as I generally do, asked him annoyingly weighty questions like, “If there were anyone else you could be, would you quit being David Storvick and go be that person?”….also, “how many burgers do you think I could eat before people started judging my ability to process emotions in a healthy way…?”

His answer, “No one…and, about four…” 

I agreed.

Of all the wealthy, fabulous, fancy people I have known, I wouldn’t ask to be any of them…so why would I envy what they have or feel “less than” what they are?

There are very few people I have met who, once knowing them, I would change places or circumstances with.  I have traveled to places of extreme poverty and obscene wealth.  I have known and worked alongside the struggling factory worker, the Pakistani refugee, the independently wealthy child of an even wealthier father, the missionary, the single mom, the trafficked orphan, and the spoiled brat.  I have spent time in Papua New Guinea, Israel, Egypt, Qatar, Jordan, Cambodia, Ireland, Scotland, and Greece.  I have worked for family farmers and for wealthy sheikhs.  As I have watched their lives lived out, witnessed their character, shared their space, there is not one I can say has any more peace and purpose than I have.  I would not want their power, and I would not choose their path.  They are as flawed and floundering as I am.  They have perhaps different problems than myself, but they are all essentially hopelessly fighting their own version of discontent.

The very rich are as miserable as the very poor…except perhaps even more so because they have exhausted all the resources the poor can only hope for…and there is something in the hoping they have lost. 

One country is as corrupt and violent as another except where it benefits the powerful to keep relative peace.  While America is full of the fairly entitled and is mostly distracted by nonsense, I still like it the best, because the water is fairly safe and the infrastructure is mostly reliable.  So you see, there is no amount of being anyone else or living anywhere else I should possibly long for.

When I slow down enough to think about the “why” for more, I usually stop before the truth…not today.  

Why would I want more money? What would I do with it that would bring me more joy than I have right now?  It stresses me out to think of how to get it, keep it, and who to leave it to when I’m dead.

Why would I want to have a different body or be more attractive?  What is the point other than the manipulative power that comes from beauty…It is a currency that evaporates as soon as you are savvy enough to use it.  The value of beauty is that it is only ever valuable to others, and often enslaving to its bearer.   

Why would I want a bigger, nicer house other than the envy it incites and the status you’d assume?  I don’t like entertaining, and I don’t have time to clean it.

When I think about why, I am ashamed to think I thought it at all.  When I have all that I need, could the reason that I want more be that what I really want is for you to think I am more awesome than I really am?…gross.

Just as penance, I am right now laying what is true out there.  Quite literally, I have nothing.

The only material wealth I have had as an adult, I have had because the man I married is educated and a good provider.  There is very little that I possess that is due to my ability to earn what the world says I should have to be at such and such a status. 

This was never more obvious than when I went through a divorce a few years ago and was left with the nothing I had come into the marriage with.  (side note: if a lawyer divorces you, get a lawyer)

In a western world where most are entitled to so much paid vacation time, 401k matches, and weekends off, those things are only unicorns to me…magical, and above my pay grade.  I grew up quite poor, I have no formal education beyond high school, and the vocational path I chose has been a rugged series of roots and crevasses, and not the structured and predictable corporate ladder.  As a result, sometimes, while struggling over a particularly unwieldy root, I stare with longing at the lives of those who have what appears to be stability.  Deep down, I understand that there is no such thing as “safe” and that stability is a fantasy… but it is a fantasy I would sometimes very much like to get high and live in…sometimes.

So perhaps the discontent I sometimes feel is more about what I  want you to think of me, rather than what I actually think.  Could it be I am more concerned with you thinking I’m happy than actually being happy?  Could It be that what I want is respect whether or not I am respectable?  And is it possible that what I desire is honor, instead of humility in the presence of a God who gifts it all.   If that’s the case, and I’m afraid it may sometimes be… then I have some business to do with this particular character flaw.

I hereby release the effort to make you think I’m awesome.

I release my horrifying desire to be envied and honored and even elevated.

I release the image I wish you’d see rather than the reality of my reflection.

I release the strength I pretend to have.

I release the intelligence I project when I’m fairly uneducated.

I release the hypocrisy of projecting myself as a “good person,” when I know that I’m really not.

I release the god’s I’ve made of the worlds opinions, and the worship I give to temporal things.

 It is when I let my gaze drift that I find the discomfort of my discontent.  It is when I choose to look at a fantasy.   It is when I take my eyes off of the purpose of my own life and with no small amount of insolence ask God for more.  I have seen enough to know it’s a phantom…I should know better.  I should know enough not to chase wind.  Ecclesiastes says “All things are wearisome…there is nothing better for a man than to eat and drink and tell himself that his labor is good. This also… is from the hand of God.  For who can eat and who can have enjoyment without Him?”

When I look for enjoyment from creation instead of the creator, when I look at shadows of perfection instead of a God who is perfect, when I chase wind, I always end up unsatisfied and weary.  In these moments, I remind myself of what is true.  I slow down enough to notice that I have all that I need and have been created to be nothing other than what I am.  There is nothing better…and that’s pretty awesome.

Sundays are good days. Intentionally quite days. Days David and I rest from the endless cycle of production and expectation. This Sunday was not much different with the exception of my breaking one of those quiet moments to be irrational and insecure…Sometimes, I needlessly chase those thoughts other people seem content to ignore…That just how I roll…like one of those obsessive greyhounds…its charming.

I wake up first from a nap and gaze at my husband, still sleeping peacefully.

He is patient. He is kind. He is the human I trust the most and the place where I can rest.

And yet…looking at him in that moment, like many moments since we’ve been married, my sense of calm is disrupted with inaudible tension. When I should be blissfully grateful I am instead uncomfortably fearful. I hate being afraid, so I move into much more manageable emotions…aggression and insecurity.

He wakes… possibly from my blink-less staring and writhing internal energy, and I start up…

“Are you always going to like me?”
“Where’s the anger?… When is that going to show up?”
“Is this the real you?… when are you going to start shutting down? When are you going to flip the switch?”
“…It’s fine…I know it’s my fault… I just need to know when because I’m getting soft…I’m getting too accustomed to this niceness, and it’s making me nervous”….”When is the other shoe gonna drop?!

To which he responded, “Um, what?…”

So yeah.. I begin the kind of cry that is not cute. His initial confusion giving way to concerned listening. He has no choice. I had to exercise that demon at last and he has already learned that it’s best to be still and wait for the end. When at last I look up, He says,

“You are a blessing to me, and never a burden.”
“This is who I am.”
“I love you like crazy. I see your crazy, and I’m not going anywhere.”

I had spent nine years in another marriage. He wasn’t a bad person, but he was a broken person and I wasn’t much better. Nine years living a cycle that continues in my mind three years later and has now poisoned my nap time.

A week maybe two, into that first marriage, depression, anger and anxiety took him over and would be my real spouse for the remainder of that decade. I remember numbly making an internal calendar where I could keep track of the good to bad day ratios. Where I could prepare to wall up against the inevitable hurt. Where I planned for winter.
One day good: One week bad.
One week good: Three weeks bad.
One month good: Four months bad.

It was the cycle I would come to live by and count on. I could hunker down in the bad and wait for the good. I walked on eggshells in the good because I feared triggering the bad. Every moment was edged with tension as I absorbed the next swing, the next week of silent treatment, the next outburst, the next dark cycle. Just before I felt I might break, he broke back into a moment of normal where I could convince myself that everything was fine. It wasn’t. I tried to be perfect. I tried to be strong. I tried to be pretty, and happy, and awesome. I wasn’t. In the end, I failed…hard…and I was really tired. My pride kept me alone. My insecurity kept me quiet. My grief kept me angry.

Here’s the thing…I am not living that life anymore.

So why am I still re-living that cycle?… Why am I still braced for bad? I struggle to rest in the good I now have because I could never trust the good I had before. And yet… if I continue to live an old life, I let the new life die. I give honor to those broken things instead of pouring energy into the future before me and hope within me.

That thing back there. That relationship, that failure, that hurt, that sin, that embarrassment, that anger…they have no power here. That thing happened, but it is no longer happening.

We all do this in one way or another. We all let the memory of an old pattern bind our forward progress. We operate from places of familiarity even when they are wrong or painful. We make excuses for our hesitation in risk and expect nothing to change. We accept poor treatment or bad behavior because we are convinced its all we’ve known and all we deserve. We drag a lifeless past into the places meant only for the living.

I can stop waiting for the shoe to drop because it already did. I endured that thing. I felt that fear. I lost that fight. I had enough. I was enough. I am enough, because I’m still here…that’s enough now. There is enough danger in the present to need my full attention. There are other opportunities to be brave. There is a good life right here if I am willing to let what was bad die. Not because I’m still angry, but because it’s useless and heavy.

You’re not dead yet, but perhaps you keep dragging what needs to die along, for no other reason than the stench is familiar. Acknowledge it, drag it into the light and have a good long look, then pull the life support you supply and walk away. Perhaps it’s a habit. Perhaps it’s a relationship. Perhaps it’s a job. Perhaps it’s a mindset.

For me… perhaps it’s time. It’s time to stop living old lives. It’s time to let them die. It’s time to kill old fear and starve old hate. It’s time to forget what is behind and press into what is ahead… (Philippians 3:13) It’s time to let my husband love me and live the life ahead of me.

And probably, I will wake him up from many more naps, with many more irrational things to cry about… and he knows that… and he doesn’t ask me to be any other way… I like this life.

1 Chronicles 28:20

“Be strong and courageous, and do the work. Do not be afraid or discouraged, for the Lord God, my God is with you…”

Another week goes by. Another Sunday I sit and can barely believe the direction we head.  One step, one moment one breath at a time we proceed in spite of fear and fatigue.

Last week was the first of many Tuesdays at Hope Center Indy.  Last Friday we again held chapel service for the women of the Volunteers of America Fresh Start program in downtown Indianapolis.  This week we look to extend yet again.  We work through complicated scheduling and uncertainty.  We wrestle internally with inadequacy and sorrow.  At the end of each day, David and I stare blankly at each other and cannot find the words to define the day.  We simply marvel at a God who allows us to share in the work.

Another week as their stories become a part of ours.  Another door opened, another scale falls from our eyes, another reason we can never turn back.  We hear them sing, we let them cry.  We get to be a part of their recovery and they are among the most refreshing parts of our day.  Gone is pretense. They can’t afford the walls the rest of us have built.  They are raw and they are wonderful.  

A girl asks for prayer,  she just wants her kids to forgive her.  A girl is abused as a pawn in her mother’s Satanic worship.  A girl fears going home knowing her pattern of relapse.  A girl wants her baby back but lives with the shame of the past.  A girl is beaten by someone who should have loved her. A girl has been raped by her father.  A girl has lost her husband to overdose…A girl recoils at kindness when hate is all she knows.

And yet… A girl sings with beauty and boldness, fully alive in her gift.  A girl commits her life to Christ.  A girl is hopeful.  A girl presses in to moving forward.  A girl embraces the God who sustained her.  A girl holds tightly to forgiveness.  A girl is baptized.  A girl releases her past and grins about her future.

Take it in.

These girls are your neighbors. These girls are your sisters.  These girls are in need of more than a government funded detox program or a well-meaning Christian handout.   They need us to get over ourselves.  They need us to stop worrying about things that don’t matter and get to work.  They need to walk out into a community that doesn’t fear them…doesn’t judge them.

So many of you want to help.  So many of you have offered support. We need it.

We need your prayer. We need your encouragement.  We need your talent.  We need your money.  We need your time.

But they need more.  They need foster parents who can weather the demons of addiction. They need a church family that is ferociously devoted to condition-less love.  They need know that they are not alone in their brokenness.  They need to know  that Jesus stands up for us in the midst of an accusing world,  and without flinching says “…Neither do I condemn you” (John 8:11)  They need to see that in us.

The work is unfamiliar.  The outcome is uncertain.  The call is unmistakable: Be strong and do the work.  In our case, we just show up and watch God work.  Every time, It is a miraculous exposure of His power perfected in our weakness.   

If I can require anything of you today, it is this:  just show up.

Do the work you are called to do.  Hold comfort and competence lightly in your hands and trust that God is with you.  There is something more for you to do. There is a need.  You have a purpose.  Now you know.

The question came simply enough, “So Amber…how did you stop purging?…”

She sat curled up on a single chair, her entire frame easily fitting its width.  She had maintained that posture for most of the weekend, only briefly allowing herself to participate in the sample fitness classes myself and a few group instructors had designed for the purpose of introduction.

A few weekends ago, I was asked to give a testimony to the women at the Hope Center Indy and to share a little about 148 Ministries and the purpose of its formation.  In that testimony, I happened to share that for 16 years I had struggled with bulimia…I say “struggle” only because it took no small effort to hide my habit, but, in reality, I was really quite surrendered to the obsessive drive to purge what, in shame and excess, I had eaten.

If you yourself have any experience with an eating disorder, then you know the absolute prison it is.  You know the obsessive uncontrollable urge.  You know the absolute hate you have of what you know you will always submit to.  You know the insanely brilliant ways you develop to keep it hidden…to keep it fed.  You also know that it has very little to do with food.  It is a secret relationship you both need and despise.  People are surprised when I tell them.  They expect the bulimic to be skeletal, and I have never been described as anything but “healthy or big boned.”  For me, the binge always offset the purge, and my inability to become rail thin was just another in a long list of failures in my life.  Such was the sick thought cycle that made constant circular trips through my mind.

I will save the repulsive methods and techniques for another blog with another purpose.  It is important enough to mention that the shame and embarrassment ran deep enough to keep me secretly confined for years.  Friends did not know.  Family did not know.  For 9 years of marriage my ex-husband did not know.  While vulnerability and exposure may be the great healer, the disease is one of general mistrust and self-protection making the very tonic undrinkable.

 I sat across from that lovely girl, only a year and a half from my own last purge, and helplessly searched for her answer in my mind.  I wasn’t sure I really knew… I wasn’t sure I could put into words what finally killed the beast.  I took a deep breath, and said the simplest thing I could to paraphrase almost two decades of war against myself.

“Well, hmmm…I guess I stopped trying to stop”

Brilliant…this poor kid is looking to you for help and you come at her with that psychological oversimplification …why don’t you just read her tee shirt quotes for the next hour.  At least that was my critical internal dialogue at the time.  She and I talked for the next 45 minutes.  In real time, I attempted to build out my answer in such a way that we both gained a clearer understanding of how I may have quit.  Yet she was still hungry for answers and continued to bring questions that would make even a seasoned theologian re-consider their calling.  I am not a seasoned theologian; I am barely an adequate theologian so I prayed desperately in those moments for either wisdom or at least a distracting explosion somewhere.  No such luck.  God calls us to work through our understanding and sometimes that is accomplished through awkward and ungraceful conversations.  Sometimes it’s just being present and listening and recognizing that there are no good answers.

I cannot explain the circumstances of this girl’s life; I cannot even after hearing them myself explain away the brokenness of this ruthless world.  I cannot tell you why she was there and I am here or why the degree of brutality life chose to bring her through made any comparative experience of mine seem pedestrian.

What I can say is that what put us on equal footing was the same struggle to gain freedom from the same prison. By His grace, in that moment, God walked me through an understanding of the healing only He can give.  Healing I was too weak to even ask for, healing I was too helpless to even reach for.

Two years ago I was fatigued, and panicked, and broken by a broken marriage.  I had up to that point, performed so heavily in my own strength, that I found myself completely paralyzed with exhaustion and self-doubt. The casualties of failure left me with nothing left to prove or pretend and I was altogether uninterested in continuing to force myself to be anything other than what, in genuine weakness, I genuinely was.  Whatever hidden system of works I had used to keep a running equation of worth was dismantled.  I was forced to accept that If God really loved me, then He was going to have to love the ugly version.  He was going to have to love the girl curled up on the bathroom floor, crying, covered in her own vomit, and quitting.

I pulled away from that memory, Looked back up at this girl now not so different than myself and just  said,  “He does… he loves us when we are too weak to love ourselves and too hurt to love anyone else… When we are broken.  When we are fearful. When we can no longer cover our flaws with good behavior or self-discipline.  He is there with you on the bathroom floor…so you don’t have to be afraid there anymore.  You have no secrets. You cannot hide. You are not alone.  You can stop fighting and start accepting that he has already won your battle. You can surrender this one and let him love you in the middle of the ugly.”

He loves us perfectly in our imperfection.  Not the future version of ourselves where we have hidden what we hate, but the real one…the one who is addicted, angry, and anxious.  We are told by a man who knew Jesus himself that “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear.” (1 John 4:8)  You can choose to recognize this and stop fighting to make yourself worthy of recognition.  You can stop operating out of fear, when you are no longer afraid of losing love.  When you understand that God already knows that you are broken and doesn’t need you to fix yourself. That is when I was able to stop purging, and that is when, regardless of the circumstances, you are free from the prison of your own making.

As I was preparing to enter 148 Ministries’ first weekend working with the clients at the Hope Center Indy, I had no idea what kind of effect it would have on me personally.  I adhered to my normal sermon prep routine, I prayed for wisdom in an unfamiliar setting, and I stepped out with faith that God would lead.  I had no idea just how unprepared I was for the unsettling reality I would be forced to confront, and that the lesson would be mine to learn.

The Hope Center Indy houses and rehabilitates women of all backgrounds who have been victims of human trafficking.  All through Friday and Saturday we got to know the girls.  I spoke multiple times about the value God places on us, we shared personal testimonies, we shared workouts, and at one point, my wife offered me as a human punching bag.  She has this belief that most women would be better off if they could hit things really hard, so, with my core braced and arms padded, I offered myself up.  And yet for me, one of the most profound things that happened that day was a simple note, casually written on a sticky pad, shoved in an envelope with my name scrawled across it, and handed to me as we were packing to leave.   I had not realized it at the time, but the women and girls had written us each a few sentences anonymously throughout the weekend and it was these that our host had unexpectedly given me as we left.  It wasn’t till I got home that I was able to read them.  They were all unbelievably kind and overwhelmingly precious.

And then I came to the note that changed the way I look at women, the way I see men, and the way I   confront sin.  It revealed to me the true, honest, and very raw perspective these girls have towards the men who should have protected them, but instead, have scarred them.  It read:

“You give me hope that I won’t always feel uncomfortable near men. You seem to be pure in your thoughts and not a predator; which I thought was impossible. I thought all men were perverted. Thank you for not making me feel “looked at.”   I see Christ in you!”

 I finished reading and I froze.  Standing in the kitchen, holding the little sticky note, my stomach turned as my head searched for understanding.  In that moment, just to be honest, I never wanted to look at a woman ever again… ever.  A “predator” can be defined as “an animal that naturally preys on others” or “a person that ruthlessly exploits others.”   So which one of those definitions describes men?  Probably both.

  Satan is also described as a predator…the ultimate predator, a Lion.  In 1 Peter 5:8, the Bible tells us that “Satan prowls around like a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour.”  In other words, Satan is a methodical hunter who is intentionally looking for ways to cause Jesus’ followers to stumble and sin.  He is quiet. He is calculating.  He is patient.  He is going about his work as if his life depended on it, and He is hungry.  He does not strike when we are healthy and surrounded with protection; He strikes when we are weak, wounded, and alone.

 Men, do we have the courage to confront that kind of predator …and do we have the self-awareness to recognize when it’s us?  Before you dismiss the ugly possibility, examine your heart, your mind, and your motives.  It doesn’t have to be physical or sexual abuse.  There are many ways to devour.

Ask yourself, as a Christian man, do I do the same thing to women?  As a predator, do I seek women out to exploit them and cause them to sin?

…Too strong?

Ok, how do you think of women? Do you hide your thoughts in the safe stalking ground of your mind, using them secretly and justifying it deliberately?

 …Still too strong?

 Ok then…do you manipulate your wife or girlfriend in a way that is demeaning and devaluing to her as a person, as a wife, as a mother, and as a child of God? Do you use guilt to get your way?  Do you use anger and lack of self-control to intimidate? Do you deny her gifting and purpose to pursue your own?   In the hierarchy of your love, are her needs a priority or a pawn?  Do you protect her heart, or do you prey upon her emotions?

I went last weekend to teach these women about how God sees them…I left questioning how I have viewed women all my life.  Questioning how women must navigate this exhausting narrative all their lives.  I left, analyzing my thoughts and actions, and I left with a mind that is reinforced against the schemes of the predator. 

Check your motives men of God. Take every thought captive.  Where we are called to protect, love and cherish, we have earned the title of predators.  We are called to be providers, leaders, or spiritual examples, and yet, most women have learned that we are not worthy of their trust.  This culture has always been a consumer of women and yet we have not stood up against it as protectors.  We are as guilty as the men who abuse, and sell, and exploit our sisters if we continue to refuse or underestimate our God given roll to reflect the heart of Christ in our relationships toward them.

So, which category do you fit into?  Predator or Protector? And will you choose to see where God is calling us all to examine our hearts as we navigate a broken world.

After what was for me, a fairly brutal week, I am driving downtown to the Volunteers of America building where they house their “Fresh Start Recovery” center.  It is a relatively new and desperately needed program where the mothers of opioid addiction are allowed to keep their children through the grueling process of recovery.  It is a beautiful provision in an ugly situation.  It is by grace alone that I have been allowed to work with these women who are far braver than I will ever be.  It is a sweet breaking of my heart, and a bitter reality to face.

I’m wearing a shirt my husband, in his kindness, had made for me, per my specifications, featuring our logo and the word “FEARLESS” embroidered on the front.  I had wanted our ministry to project boldness in a broken world…at least that was my intent…but, as I drive, I am filled with what I can only describe as fear itself.

As usual, I left the house in a series of random scurrying movements, always underestimating the amount of time it takes me to do basic things. My dog-owner guilt is in the red as I leave Sherman without a walk, suffering from an ear infection and food allergy that is costing me more money than I have.

The week behind has been filled with boxes checked and schedules filled.  I completed a certification exam I had expertly procrastinated and had long been dreading.   We had our very first board meeting as a fledgling non-profit.  Up until this point, I had no idea what “bylaws” even were and, after sitting through a two and a half hour meeting Wednesday night, I am discouraged to think that I still don’t really know…I’m cold, I’m behind at work, I’m tired, discouraged with feelings of inadequacy, and despite my best efforts, crying.  Ah yes…just what everyone wants to see as they roll up alongside someone at a stop light…a messy haired, pasty complexioned, white girl… weeping…claiming to be FEARLESS…inspiring.

148 ministries began as a quietly held breath in my mind over 2 years ago as I sat one morning at 4 am in the middle of reading a book by Christine Caine called “Unashamed.”  I had found myself in a circumstance I never expected to be, in a place I didn’t want to be, and working a job I had told myself I would never again be working.

There I sat, divorced after 9 difficult years, in Michigan, on a horse farm.  In those small morning hours, I would read, or pray, or cry, or do all three at the same time in an unexplainable feat of emotional acrobatics. 

There, for the first time, I became aware of the trafficking exploitation of women and children with all of its global proportions, and its moral implications.  And like waking up to a sharp pain, I adjusted my cramped, narrow position.  I am not formally educated, I am not degreed, I am not even easily focused, and yet in that moment I knew I wanted to use the only thing I knew, as the Lord chose to lead, to serve in the healing of His daughters.  As I turns out, I understood only too well the scars of physical and emotional abuse, about the self-inflicted lies that bind all women in fear, and the healing, proving ground that physical stress and unconditional support could have.  I did not know how or when, but I did know God was speaking there, and admittedly with some fear I trusted that He knew the plan, and that it was to give me a future and a hope. (Jer 29:11)

Still a bit sulky, I haul what feels like 497 pounds of workout equipment onto my person and trudge through sloppy snow to the front door, I’m buzzed in by the always cheery attendant, and without a hesitation force an equally cheery face that must have been on retainer for such occasions as this. 

I rush to clear the all-purpose room of tables, I accidentally set off an alarm that could wake the dead, and follow that up by locking myself out. I am helpless as I wait to be rescued from the hallway…ln defiance, I crank up the grittiest Christian rap I can find on Pandora but get annoyed by it and land on a fairly clean station featuring Jenifer Lopez…whatever…I’m not proud.  

Around 10 minutes past the time I have been scheduled to start, girls uncommittedly filter in.  There are six.  Two are quiet and look like they hate me.  One is pregnant.  Two others are uncontrollably running around and disorienting the equipment I strategically laid out. One leaves because she has reconsidered her choice of pants…she may or may not return. None of them have reasonable shoes.

I don’t know how…every time I’m pretty sure I black out…but the next hour is a mess of introduction, warm-up, explanations, instruction, adaptation, exasperation, laughter, complaining, quitting, explaining again… and again.

They are unconditioned, unmotivated, and pretty unimpressed by my attempt to share my love of fitness.  

Heroine or Meth or some other drug I’ve never even heard of has rung their lives out.  Every day, every moment, for them is suffocated with the overwhelming call of a chemical relationship that can numb their pain and remove their shame.  Every moment they have to fight to love their kids more than they hate themselves.  Every moment they have to be fearless.  

We sit stretching in a circle on the floor.  Some tell their story while I fight for the ability to relate.  I cannot.  I am out of my league here too.  I ask if they want help with workout ideas they can do without equipment, if they have questions about nutrition or weight loss.  Some do.  I ask if they have anything they would like me to pray for or with them.  In doing so, I am asking them to give me the privilege of their trust I don’t yet deserve. Some do, and I pray with and for them.

They filter out. I pick up the 497 estimated pounds of crap I hauled in there…somehow its lighter…and leave the building without setting off an alarm this time. 

I sit in my car and exhale that quietly held breath.  

I am not without fear.  I am not without anxiety, sadness, anger, or complete disorientation.  Somehow I thought this would be easier, but I had no idea just how perfect.  No idea how an incomprehensibly good God could use my clumsy effort to show a few women on a Friday afternoon that hears them when they pray.  148 Ministries was a thought placed by God, a path provided for by God, with a human effort protected by God.  I know for sure just how insufficient I am, but I also know just how sufficient He is. 

Driving home, I know there is infinite work to be done, plans to move forward and expand and to step into a mess I don’t even understand.  Tears start to fill my eyes again, but this time with the overwhelming recognition that I just got schooled in His undeserved faithfulness.  God provided a way for the last thing and He will provide a way through the next thing.  I can step forward, not without fear, but in spite of it.  Not because I am good, but because He is.  Not because I am strong, or smart, or steady under pressure, but because He is steadfast, and patient, and He works all things according to his purpose and timing.  In that promise I can rest fearlessly.

I write it at the top of a new entry, 1/1/18.  This is the first time I have written it out and acknowledged the existence of a new year.  I am sitting comfortably in an over sized  chair,  wrapped in a ridiculously, large blanket, in a cozy room decorated with my particular style of “random things I like”.   I am married to a man who knows me fully and still loves me…even likes me, have a job that is a blessing to me, and a ministry in the hopeful stages of beginning before me.

I am overwhelmed.  I am weary.  I am speechless. I am unworthy. I am fearful, grateful, peaceful, purposeful and just plain in awe of what the turning of 365 days can do.  The last 3 years…arguably the last 10 years, perhaps even 20 if you’ll allow me to dig that deep have been a constant cycle of nomadic, restlessness, lonely, and without grounding or purpose.  Held captive by wandering, discontent with contentment, limited by my own arguments, and arguing for my own freedom.

I have landed, it seems by grace, for a moment, in a place where I feel loved, where I feel my home is.  I am where I feel that illusive lightness of knowing that I am cared for, protected, and safe.  I am shocked by the power in such simplicity and am led to consider that once we leave home for the first time under the pretense of autonomy, we are from that point forward working to re-create those feelings we once knew as unconditional love and unchallenged safety.  No matter what we end up doing in the world of adulthood, we are nevertheless only doing it so that (If we had a good childhood) we can reestablish the feelings of a safe family unit, and (if we had a bad childhood) we work to create what we think that may be.  In opposition and far more destructive, are those who passively attempt to forever remain children or passively slide into further dysfunction.  Neither is desirable but are nonetheless working from a frame of reference that they believe will bring comfort.

As I see it, we long for peace, community and everlasting acceptance.  The moment we realize that these are not the characteristics of this present world, we are forever straining consciously or unconsciously to create at least a pocket-sized version of protection.  

So, yes, after 20 years I feel at home, and yet, I am not.  If I see myself rightly, I see a nomad.  Walking the earth for a breath and then gone.  Our lives are short.  I am perhaps half way through my own if I allow natural decay to run its course and avoid stepping in front of a bus.  When I consider its brevity, I become sometimes painfully aware that if there is a point, I am missing most of it when I settle for what makes me comfortable and safe.

1 Chronicles 29:15 states “For we are strangers before you and sojourners, as all our fathers were.  Our days on the earth are like a shadow, and there is no abiding…”

I still sit here, comfortably in my chair, grateful for a moment of rest but mindful that I am transient.  This life I take hold of, and all of its pitfalls, glory, disappointments, and joy, cannot be taken lightly.  I tumble through it like so many bulls in so many china shops. I fail.  I fall.  I break things.  I learn.  I rest.  I move again.  All the time I recognize that fearing the journey is a waste of time, and falling hard is a result of running hard.

Be mindful of what you are searching and longing for, but know that you won’t find it here.  We are created for relationship with God, for work in His kingdom, and for resting in His presence.  Regardless of where your journey takes you, that is where you are home.