I had lived backward. No, not in a Benjamin Button way—born old and growing younger, but a very human, self-first way.
My life was filled with good things: sound works and the fruit of that labor. A twenty-year-old marriage that was still new and children—five of them, unique and bright—gems in my crown. My house is safe and warm, a place of peace. We have a business. It is successful. We attend a church we love and have deep relationships there. Oh, life is good. And this isn’t a story of losing it all—but of finding a better way to have it all.
I saw the fingerprint of God in my life but felt as though I was a holy disappointment. That I wasn’t walking in a manner worthy of my calling unless I was producing, and even then, it was too little, too late. I strove against my flesh, frustrated by my inability to do enough, well enough. Oh certainly, dear friends encouraged me.
Rest, Dionne. Wait on the Lord. Work in the strength he supplies. But wasn’t I? As a woman set apart by God and a woman who deeply loves God, I am responsible and burdened to walk worthy. Instead of living set-apart lives, many Christians live mixed-in lives—one would be hard-pressed to discern their true allegiance—so I would make mine obvious. But now I saw I had lost my way too. I had gotten it wrong. I had lived backward instead of Christward.
A Better Practice
Once, I heard an online pastor say to live a life of honor, find someone who’s done it, and imitate them. He called it reverse engineering. So, if I sought a healthy marriage, find an older couple who had survived the peaks and valleys of fifty years and dissect their experiences to discern my next steps. In business, this is “best practices.” Find someone who’s done it well and replicate it. I think I did this. I lived this. It's a start but there's more--much more.
Plans fail for lack of good counsel but succeed with many advisors (Proverbs 15:22), so there’s no doubt I can and should learn from others who’ve done it longer and did it well. But Paul didn’t merely instruct his audience to imitate him but to be imitators of him as he imitates Christ (I Corinthians 11:1). And it's not a marriage or business on the line here—but my soul. Eternity. This really matters.
The key is Christ.
Jesus is the key.
It wasn’t best practices and reverse engineering that would carry me to the next level of living but Christ himself.
Living toward him. A heart posture that has me leaning forward, leaning into the Divine Presence. It was falling into Jesus, even. Because getting it just right, probably doesn’t happen either. Because the path of obedience, of faithfulness, is a path of skinned knees and fumbled words. It’s a vertical and horizontal repentance journey—seeking forgiveness from God, asking forgiveness of others, and living forgiven by faith. Living whole in a broken world.
It’s the cruciform life. We embrace the cross—its rugged ugliness and its perfect beauty because Jesus did. Not because we like pain or death but because we desire joy and life, and if we want Sunday’s resurrection, we must first pass-through Friday’s crucifixion.
The Apostle John says Jesus is the Word (John 1:1) and the Light (John 1:9). The Word by which I hear. The Light by which I see. The Wordlight who gives life.
It’s not mainly about living forward (progression, improvement, acquisition) or upward (growing in self-awareness, stature, building a more prominent platform or network) or onward (continuing, keeping up) but Christward. Jesus isn’t one way, but the way. He’s HPS, the heavenly positioning system. Follow me, he says.
The secular world encourages passion, but do they know passion, from the Latin root pati means suffering? Compassion, compati means suffer with. Jesus, the Key of David, the always-existing Word, the Light of humanity, the Holy Way, suffers for us and with us, so we can “suffer with” one another.
The Christward life is for the faint of heart. The proud and self-assured will never look for light in dirt, yet that’s where it is. The Christward life is marked by the things we assume must be eliminated before we can genuinely live, yet they are the passion promises. They beckon us to crucify self and all its idols—vain grabs for comfort, security, and status and trade them for Jesus.
In Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis said, “Aim at Heaven, and you will get earth ‘thrown in’; aim at earth, and you will get neither.” I want it all.
The Christward life will call us to different spaces—and shouldn’t it? The world is overflowing with suffering--passion, in every corner on every continent.
My prayer is to passionately embrace the Christward call, come what may. Diligence as I read and study my Bible. Faithfulness in gathering with others. Obedience in my activities. Repentance. Stillness in the Divine Presence.
And bloody knees when I’m pressed into the dirt, searching for light.
They spoke of a kingdom of magic. Where adults become children again and princesses abound. Where a majestic candy-colored castle sits amidst a fantasy land, where laughter abounds and dreams do come true.
The citizens of this kingdom come from all over the world, called, beckoned by the promise of delight, the tug of nostalgia. They wait in line for entrance and surrender many “rights” granted by inferior kingdoms (no weapons, no wagons, no-selfie sticks!) They relinquish privacy and are photographed, tracked, corralled. They don the regalia—ceremonial mouse-eared headpieces, t-shirts with giggling dogs, happy mice, an angry duck and join myriads of others, past and present, in the rituals of happiness—traditions that only money can buy.
Money goes in, and dreams come out.
It’s true. My son said it when he was twelve about Disneyworld. We said it four years later at Disneyland. Because magic costs and the likelihood of a Disney dream coming true is directly proportional to the money, you bring to the kingdom.
Want that souvenir cup? Want to skip the line? Want to dine with Goofy? Because it’s all for sale.
Disney magic is so powerful that even knowing this; I gave my daughters’ coins to toss in a wishing well—literally emptying my wallet and giving the kingdom every last cent!
(One of those daughters felt wisher’s remorse. She returned to the fountain, climbed in, retrieved her coins and a few extra. Oh great! Now my kid is stealing from Disneyland’s wishing well! What curse will this invoke? Plus, she’s soaking wet! When I asked her why—she looked at me plainly and said, “I wanted my money back.”)
Wishing well robbery aside—this is no bait and switch. Walt Disney told us as much in 1950’s Cinderella. When the clock strikes midnight, fantasy fades, and reality resumes. Magic has limits. Once a pumpkin, to a pumpkin, you shall return.
And still, we bought it. And still, I’d rebuy it! The sparkle, the spectacle, the wonder--
We were made for beauty and abundance and Disneyland delivers.
Not far from Disneyland is another kingdom. A kingdom of beauty and fame—where not one but several castles sit on hills. For a fee and 90 minutes of your time, you can gawk at celebrity homes and imagine what it would be like if all your dreams come true.
Back on Hollywood Boulevard, full of tourists and the tormented, the air smells of street food and urine. Everything clamoring for attention. Everyone begging for money: stores with movie-themed tees, tour companies, vendors, the desperate and destitute. And in the shadows—darker deals are made.
Deliverance by dollars. Miracles, only money can buy.
Does money save? Is it worthy of all the striving, begging, promising, selling and selling out?
It’s pretty hard to pay rent or a mortgage without it—but I’m not trying to be that extreme. Is the pursuit of material wealth and all the “magic” it brings the salvation our souls seek? Can wealth bind what’s broken, provide security and get the greatest happiness?
From my assessment of culture—the answer is yes. Both rich and poor (and I’ve been both) seem to prefer more than less.
This is as close to heaven as we’re going to get, so get all you can before the magic ends. Once a pumpkin, to a pumpkin, you shall return.
The Happiest Place Isn’t On Earth.
I’m no Walt Disney, but can I tell you a story?
Once upon a time, the world had a wealthy and impetuous king who possessed great power, wealth, and magic. Okay, he wasn’t magical—but he had an entire team of magicians, enchanters, sorcerers, and astrologers who divined, conjured, and read the stars on his behalf. He consulted with them yet doubted them. Sometimes they were spot on. Other times they lied through their teeth.
The king, prone to flashes of rage and violence during the best of times, had become quite irritable as of late due to a lack of sleep. He dreamt the most troubling dream, night after night, and it kept him awake. If only he could understand its meaning—perhaps he could get some rest. He called for his team of magicians, sorcerers, and dream interpreters and asked for help. But first, he tested them.
“If you can tell me the dream, I’ll make you exceedingly rich and bestow great honor on you. And if not, I’ll have you torn into tiny pieces and burn your homes to ash.”
(Disney villains are mild in comparison!)
Note, the king wasn’t asking for an interpretation of the dream (yet) but for them to tell him what he dreamt. The wise men weren’t fools and they spoke honestly.
“No one on earth call tells the king his dream! And no king, however great and powerful, has ever asked such a thing of any magician, enchanter, or astrologer! The king’s demand is impossible. No one--except the gods can tell you your dream, and they do not live here among people.”
I love when truth manifests in unlikely places—and the mouth of Babylon’s soothsayers is as unlikely as anywhere—but they were right. The king’s demand was impossible. Magic has limits; even magicians know this.
Anyway, the enraged king makes good on his threat to end all magic in the kingdom—by murdering every last one of his enchanters. This falls on the ears of one wise man--Daniel, who uses wisdom and discretion instead of chants and divination to seek a real solution—to transcend magic.
This Hebrew “magician” was compelling. He was strong, healthy, and desperately handsome like every Disney hero. He was educated too, gifted in language, learning, and literature. Taken captive by Babylon’s king—the one who now wants to tear him limb from—Daniel is an older orphan of sorts. And yet he evidences no self-pity. He’s trained in the ways of the Chaldeans yet holds fast to his roots. Though captive in a dark kingdom, he seeks a kingdom of light just beyond its reach. Threatened by one king, he seeks security in another. It was to this king, the King of Heaven, Daniel called for help.
Daniel and three friends, who were more like brothers, sought the LORD together. Their lives were on the line. They didn’t want to be slaughtered on the king’s whim. They were desperate for rescue. So guess what four sage men prayed for?
No. Those are the baubles and trifles of the kingdoms of the earth. Hollywood, Disneyland, and Babylon all have that in common—but remember, the kingdom Daniel sought transcends the world. Just as Indian rupees don’t work in Nova Scotia or Canadian loonies and twoonies aren’t worth anything in Washington—human money has no value in heaven. And, anyway, what is human “magic” before heavenly beings?
They didn’t pray for money or more magic. They begged for mercy.
Mercy that God would reveal a secret—the king’s secret dream. Then compassion that God would show its interpretation which would lead to a reversal of the threat, the childish king had made on the kingdom's magic workers.
Mercy. Leniency. Compassion. Grace. Forgiveness. Charity. Mildness. Generosity.
“King,” Daniel said, “There are no wise men, enchanters, magicians, or fortune-tellers who can reveal your secret dream. But there’s a God in heaven who can. I have asked him, and he has revealed your dream and visions to me.” (Daniel 2:27-28)
Exhale. Daniel and the others were spared due to God’s mercy and Daniel’s wisdom. In proper Disney-villain form, King Nebuchadnezzar continued in his evil for time—but Daniel’s God continued to show him mercy, and as his reign comes to an end—as all earthly kingdoms do—he prays praise.
“My sanity returned,” King Nebuchadnezzar said, “and I praised and worshiped the Highest, El Elyon, Daniel’s God, and honored the one who lives forever! His rule is everlasting, and his kingdom is eternal. All the people of the earth are nothing compared to him. He does as he pleases among the angels of heaven and the people of the earth. No one can stop him or say to him, What have you done?! All his acts are true, and he can humble the proud.” (Daniel 4:34-37)
Named for the Akkadian god Nabu, the greatest king of ancient Babylon, whose name means Nabu Protect My Eldest Son, is recorded in perpetuity praising the God of Israel. How’s that for a plot twist?
Here’s the moral: It’s not magic or money that works eternal miracles—but mercy. And it’s available to all who ask.
*Read it for yourself in Daniel, chapters 1-4.
Many centuries later, a handful of descendants from the magicians, enchanters, sorcerers, and astrologers Daniel rescued read a message of mercy in the stars. They began a pilgrimage from their kingdoms in the East to a tiny village not far from where Daniel was born. They followed the star to a humble dwelling and were filled with wonder when they finally encountered a child with his mother. A child--a king from birth—how extraordinary! They laughed and wept with joy and gave the boy’s family extravagant gifts—though no gift could adequately match the gift of his life.
Once long ago, the wise men of Babylon defended themselves to King Nebuchadnezzar by saying, “only the gods can reveal your secret—and they don’t live among people.”
But what if there was a God, and he did?
Immanuel is God with us. God among people. God who is rich in mercy—who reveals secrets. And that God sent his son Jesus to those who will have him. Daniel believed. Nebuchadnezzar came to believe it too. So can you.
The Son of God is here.
train my ear
your voice to hear
grant me sight
to see through night
To the other end
of this conversation
where wrong’s made right
the Lamb’s delight
where angels praise
before your holy blaze
where the Word
and True Light
is real sight
until that day
Remember the iconic house lighting scene from National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation (1989)? Clark Griswold, played by Chevy Chase, desperate for “a fun, old fashioned, family Christmas” has painstakingly decorated his house with 25,000 lights. He brings his family outside with much anticipation. It’s chilly out there. Clark’s father-in-law is…freezing. And then the unthinkable. The house doesn’t illuminate.
“The little lights,” Art, played by E.G. Marshall, says, “they aren’t twinkling.”
“I know, Art. Thanks for noticing.”
Is it even Christmas without light? Certainly not for Clark. Is there even a wedding feast without light? Certainly not for the bridegroom.
This is the third of four short advent readings from Matthew 25:1-13. The first two look forward to Christ’s second advent—the one that hasn’t happened yet. The final two look back to the first advent. Please take a moment to read the passage. It’s illuminating!
Jesus says the kingdom of heaven will be like ten bridesmaids who took their lamps to meet the bridegroom. According to D.A. Carson in the New Bible Commentary, this is a village wedding where the bridesmaids are waiting to escort the groom and bride to the wedding feast. Five of the bridesmaids are prepared and five are not.
Like Clark outside on that chilly Chicago night, the bridesmaids should have been ready to light it up. Perhaps they’re cold, obviously, they’re sleepy but the mood is still one of anticipation, readiness. But when the groom arrives—jubilantly, buoyantly, unexpectedly—sadly, the little lights, aren’t twinkling.
Well, that’s not exactly true. Half of the lamplights cut through the night brilliantly, like Clark’s house eventually does. And as it turns out, half the light is all the bridegroom needs.
In John’s Gospel, we learn that Jesus is the creating, sustaining Word of God who is also the light and life of humanity. Jesus is Godlight that darkness cannot comprehend, appropriate, absorb or overpower. The darkness is thick and unreceptive—but still Jesus comes as heaven’s light to ignite ready lamps.
Clark needed 25,000 lights. This Christmas, we only need one.
Though the night is long and cold, though we grow weary of waiting, let’s stay ready to light our little lamps from the Light of lights, the Flame of flames, by faith. Let’s rejoice and sing and be merry in the revelation the True Light brings. May it never be said of us, at Christmas or any other time of year, that little light, she’s not twinkling.
All the secrets of the world are contained in books. Read at your own risk.
I’m echoing the sentiments of Lemony Snicket here—what I’m writing is unfortunate and unpleasant. This is our second advent reading—my attempt to bring trend to tradition. I don’t anticipate success.
Our scripture reading is from Matthew 25:1-13, where Jesus describes his kingdom as the reunion of a groom and bridesmaids. I'll wait while you look it up.
The group obviously know each other, in one sense. After all, the 10 bridesmaids are expecting the groom and the groom is returning to them. And they all look the part. I imagine the ten beautifully arrayed in crimson, violet and sapphire gowns, dazzling with jewels, eyes rimmed in kohl, eyelashes long and dark. Surely, they look exquisite, but I have a horribly limited imagination so who can say?
The good news is their appearance has nothing to do with the story—because this isn’t about pretty girls and parties but women (and men too) who live by faith in the Word of God.
All ten servants would have said they were there to escort the groom to the feast. But the devil is in the details, isn’t he? Despite stated intentions, similar appearances and shared sleepiness—half of the group wasn’t even close to being prepared for the bridegroom’s arrival.
Sure they had the dress and the lamp. Sure they had the good deeds and the church attendance—but they lacked oil. Which means, ultimately, they have a lamp without light which, unfortunately, is a useless kind of lamp.
Could the oil represent faith? Or the Spirit of the God? The point is they should've had enough oil to keep the lamp burning until the groom returned—however long it was.
Much of evangelism introduces Jesus to the world: Hello Person, meet Jesus. But this is one of those sobering passages that’s more about Jesus knowing us.
When the five panicked servants awaken to the groom’s arrival at night with dim lamps and no oil stash, they rush to town to purchase more. (It’s interesting they had money but not oil.) Upon returning to the feast, out of breath, eye make-up smudged, sweaty and hangry—they find the door locked.
They bang on the door. They can hear the music! It’s right there. It’s real. They can smell the food, hear the laughter. Open up, open up!
The door never opens but a voice moves through it.
“I do not know you.”
“But we know you! We’re your bridesmaids—we’re just a little late.”
“The sad truth,” Lemony Snicket writes in the Hostile Hospital, “is that the truth is sad.” Certainly for the forlorn five the truth—the one they never really believed or ever really lived in light of, was sad.
It’s a haunting echo of Matthew 7:21-23, where Jesus explicitly says that not everyone who calls him Lord—believes he is. That many (many!) who do mind-blowing feats for the kingdom were never, ever citizens of it.
As we look forward during our advent-ure, let’s reverse the common (and deeply important) question. Instead of asking, “Do you know Jesus?”
Ask if he knows you.
When you stay ready, you ain’t got to get ready.
RuPaul said it so did Will Smith. The Bible says it too in different iterations since time immemorial. In Genesis 18:15 Moses promises another servant like him is coming--You must listen to him! Or Isaiah writing of worshiping watchmen who sing and celebrate the return of the Lord--He’s returned and he reigns! (Isaiah 52:7-9)
Or Jesus likening his second coming to a returning bridegroom--stay ready so you ain’t got to get ready because if you’re not ready, you’re going to miss everything.
Read the passage in Matthew 25:1-13.
According to D.A. Carson in the New Bible Commentary, this parable of Jesus deals with the theme of readiness, contrasting the ready with the unready.
It’s a torchlight procession at the end of the wedding ceremony, he writes. The groom is escorting his bride home. The “virgins” in some translations or bridesmaids or perhaps even friends of the groom are there to light his path to the feast. They know their role. But something unexpected happens.
They anticipate his return yet don’t know the hour. And he’s taking forever! The ten grow sleepy while waiting and doze off.
With Jesus, a promise made is a promise kept. The bridegroom returns and five servants wake up ready while the other five panic. Their ancient lamps likely require oil-soaked rags. The flames burn hot, fast—so extra oil is a necessity. Five bridesmaids are prepared with backup oil flasks—the others didn’t even think about it.
“It’s the middle of the night! Who shows up at 3AM? He should have been here 12 hours ago. I don’t have enough oil to last ‘till daylight!” I can imagine one fretful sister saying to her friend. But the thing is, it’s not her role to judge the groom’s itinerary—it’s her job to the hold the lamp.
And her lamp just went dark.
Waiting isn’t just for Disneyland, doctor’s offices and diagnoses. Waiting is for Christians who need their strength renewed. Before we can walk, run or fly like eagles—we must first wait like watchful bridesmaids.
And it’s difficult!
Here’s conciliation. We wait expectantly. We wait with a sense of adventure. We vacuum the floors, attend the meetings and read stories to the kids. We fold the clothes and shake the hands and get a good night’s sleep but all the while, we’ve got an eye on the horizon and a go-bag ready on the closet floor.
Because the Bridegroom will return. And when He does, we’ll be ready.
The Latin word is adventus. The Greek word, parousia. It literally means, presence or arrival and biblically, refers to Christ's second coming.
For several centuries, particularly in the West, Christians have followed the six seasons of the liturgical calendar. It goes like this: Advent, Christmas, Ordinary time (post-Epiphany), Lent, Easter and Ordinary time (post-Pentecost).
If you didn’t grow up observing seasonal religion—you’re in good company because I didn’t either. My parents worshipped with a wide-open Bible. They prayed with, celebrated and served believers and non-believers from all walks of life. Our home faith was a raw, gritty, boots-on-the-ground with eyes-on-Jesus kind-of-thing. I knew the meaning of parousia years ago—not because of a fancy commentary but because my dad SO lives in anticipation of Jesus, it’s his email address! (Every time I hit ‘send’ on an email to my dad, I’m reminded of a theological reality that blows my mind!)
As I got older, I started craving religious tradition. The informality, fluidity and flexibility of faith is important but the ramparts matter too. It’s like a holiday dinner. I can cook or even enjoy a catered meal but there’s something about great-grandma’s macaroni and cheese that materializes from her vintage recipe card—something about pulling up to my parent’s home and feeling good.
Tradition is connection. Linking arms with brothers and sisters who’ve gone before—building on the foundation they laid, moving from elementary teaching to maturity as the writer of Hebrews says (Hebrews 5:11-6:3).
And that brings me to Advent.
It’s the four Sundays before Christmas where traditionally, two are dedicated to looking forward to Christ’s second coming and two recall the first.
Join me in this advent-ure with four short reflections from Matthew 25:1-13—the parable of the ten bridesmaids. I'll post a new entry each Sunday and we'll discover the mysteries this parable reveals.
I struggle with fear. I am often afraid. I don’t have the anxiety that 40 million American adults battle--a chemical imbalance in the brain, a disorder brought about by trauma or an inherited condition—nope, I’m just a scaredy cat.
Most of my friends wouldn’t know this about me because I do scary things. I moved out of one country and halfway across the next. I started over when I was 25 years old and again in my early thirties. My husband and I care for the children of people addicted to things and those in recovery. Scariest of all, we have teenagers—one of them even drives.
I dread having a life that lacks purpose and legacy. I don’t want to live for vacations and greater luxury. I don’t want to live vicariously through movie-stars or influencers but be influenced by God, the star-maker and experience satisfaction in Him.
So greater fear quells the lesser. Fear of life that lacks purpose motivates me to seek purposeful endeavors that often involve risk.
But it’s still fear. And since fear isn’t the antidote for fear, every once in a while, I get caught in my own snare.
There’s a scene in Matthew’s Gospel where a storm swirls on the Sea of Galilee and it rages with such ferocity that seasoned fisherman fear for their lives. Save us! We are perishing.
(Firstly, what a perfect request.)
Jesus who had been sleeping peacefully during the storm—speaks peace to the storm: Shalom.
Then he speaks faith to his friends, “Why are you afraid, O’ you of little faith?”
And from Jesus we learn, faith is an antidote to fear. Not necessarily faith that the storm won’t be fatal or disastrous but that it submits to the voice of God and will do no more or less that He has purposed. It’s not really the storm that has life or death power—but God, and through Jesus He’s our father and friend.
That’s good news.
Faith in God becomes fertile ground for love of God from which all manner of wonder flows.
“Beloved, let us love one another for love is from God and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. Anyone who doesn’t love doesn’t know God because God is love. In this, the love of God was made manifest among us: God sent his only Son into the world that we might live through him. There is no fear in love because perfect love casts out fear.” (1 John 4:7-9, 18)
If it’s true that “perfect love casts out fear” then the opposite is also true, fear casts out love.
Fear banishes love. Perhaps, as others have suggested, it isn't hate but fear that is the antithesis of love.
One afternoon, quite unexpectedly, I got a call from our foster care agency. We’re going on our 6th year with an active license and though we’ve done a little respite care, we haven’t taken a placement for a long time. This request was worth the wait as it was more intense than ever before.
Could we take an infant with an extensive medical history? We’d need to receive training from the hospital, add a lot more driving and extra appointments to the calendar. All this on top of the reality that babies generally require a great deal of care. Our agency was gracious, but they needed an answer as soon as possible—a team of health care professionals and social workers were waiting.
I was simply driving from one place to another when this “storm,” this emotional crisis, came upon me. It was a crisis because I knew the reasons we should do it, and the reasons we shouldn’t. We have five other children whose lives and needs stretch the course of the day. Would I be up all night? Could I care for someone so little, so fragile with so many extraneous appointments? I honestly didn’t know.
Here’s the faith part. We prayed. And asked close friends pray. I didn’t want anyone’s opinion or a pros and cons list—because I didn’t want anyone influencing me who wasn’t in the Spirit. I wanted to hear from God. Because I knew it would take God to do it well.
My husband and I prayed and went to bed. I woke up a little after midnight, twisting and turning this idea in my mind. I couldn’t just say no. I couldn’t just say yes. Jesus’ disciples felt they were perishing in their storm—I was paralyzed by mine.
And there’s one thing that paralyzes my mind like that. Fear.
In my inner room, sometime before dawn as I was meditating and interrogating myself (medinterrogation—where you think and ask yourself questions!) the Spirit led me to the right question.
What would your answer be if you weren’t afraid?
If I wasn’t afraid? I was terrified of a glass baby with a litany of unique needs. I was desperately afraid of not meeting the needs of my husband and children and incurring resentment. I was fearful of lost sleep, an interrupted schedule and no quiet time for myself. Fearful of taking on too much and not doing well by anyone.
But if I wasn’t afraid? If I was confident that Jesus was in the boat with me, with us? In an instant, faith spoke shalom to the storm in my mind.
Yes. We’re in! We can’t wait!
Dang. Is fear really that blinding? Paralyzing?
If perfect love casts out fear the opposite is also true, fear casts out love. My fear of failure, loss, interruption, uncertainty was inhibiting love. God was calling our family to love another family and fear was standing in the way.
I knew the next step.
Every foster parent who’s crawled through the trenches has encountered non-foster parents who confidently assert their desire to foster only they are impeded by their profound love which (ironically) prohibits them from fostering. “Oh, I love so big and it would hurt to give them back—so I won’t do it at all.”
Maybe they’re paralyzed by fear too?
Here’s what I knew to do. I prayed for love. Big, swelling, comprehensive, stay-up-late, get-up-early love. Brave love. I prayed that “other’s love” would surpass self-love in my heart. I needed more love than I currently had access to. New love. Fresh love.
I don’t naturally love big, I love selfishly small and to care for this child I knew I needed divine help. Since God is love and God manifested that love by sending Jesus to calm storms (among other things), I prayed for love to foster a baby.
I prayed for love.
And it came. Like a whisper. Like thunder.
That love was power! We received the required medical training. Made every appointment. Our family pulled together and we learned to care for Baby like we were born for the task. We prayed for and befriended the birth family during our time together.
And then, as quickly as the storm appeared, it subsided. We got to return this bundle to a hopeful mother and a gentle father.
The child we spent hours deliberating over was the child we didn’t want to leave. Isn’t that funny?
Baby’s gone now and doing well with family. A few days after the departure I found a tiny sock under a chair—this little one preferred to keep one sock on and kick the other off. In curling cursive, the word "love" decorated the cuff.
It made my eyes sting and it made me smile.
Faith is an antidote fear but love--the kind of love that God is, well that kind of love devours fear for breakfast.
This isn’t to say I’m not still a scaredy cat or that you should stop taking meds if that’s how the Spirit has led you. I don’t even mean to imply that all fears are all bad—the right kind of fear saves (Proverbs 1:7). I just want to encourage you to be aware. Fear can dampen faith and quell love. Don't let it.
Fear is impatient and harsh. Love is patient and kind.
Insecurity is envious and boastful. Love prefers humility.
Selfishness is irritable and resentful. Love is neither.
Jealousy rejoices at other’s failures. Love rejoices with the truth.
Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
And of the triple-ingredient antidote: faith, hope and love, the greatest is love.
(1 Corinthians 13:4-13)
They deny God and set cities aflame (Psalm 14:1, Proverbs 29:8). They’re sowers of discord and fear. They move in arrogance and prayerlessness. They wield words without reading the Word and speak like kings though they’re submitted to none.
Their end is certain. They will receive condemnation (Proverbs 19:29) and be “astounded and perish,” (Acts 13:41).
Who are the scorners of Proverbs, the fools of Psalms? Who sits in this abominable assembly content to live unblessed by God? (Psalm 1:1). Murderers? Liars? Thieves?
The answer is less dramatic to our unholy ears: Scoffers.
Experts in throwing shade or discrediting with a laugh and smile. Clever and smart—a mocking retort on the tongue’s tip. Bitterness rolled in sarcasm. An elegant eyeroll. A pedigree of pride that spreads its rot like mold in a damp basement.
A sin so putrid to God yet so common among his people.
The Apostle John tells us Jesus is life which is the light of men. He’s the invincible light that overcomes the darkest darkness and moldy basements. The Baptizer John tells us that making space for God’s light begins with repentance.
Repentance. The act that transforms the scoffer in the mirror to a mourner who is comforted, that empties the spirit of pride, revealing its poverty while preparing it for heaven.
Let God’s people with our varied ethnic expressions and lived experiences, our staggered social status and spectrum of comprehension, our measure of giftings and spiritual maturity, remember foremost, we are God’s people.
We’re the lost lamb that was sought. The rebellious prodigal who was restored. The bleeding woman who was healed. The wailing leper made clean.
Seasoned with salt, our words preserve truth and add flavor to bitter life. Our arrogant self-boasting is crushed, washed, recycled into Christ-boasting. Critical speck-finding becomes a plea for eyelog extraction. And the reward is great. It is living blessed. It is being known by God. It is like sheltering inside a house built upon rock, hearing the storm scream and slam against the exterior while knowing collapse is impossible. Impossible.
We can disagree but we can’t say, “I have no need of you.” We aren’t to scoff at one another or ridicule a weaker member of the family because they are, in the Apostle Paul’s words, “indispensable” (1 Corinthians 12:22).
And when we contrast scoffer’s synonyms--belittler, detractor, persecutor, tormentor with its antonyms--comforter, praiser, soother, champion—the point becomes crystal clear.
The One who could justifiably scoff, didn’t, but emptied himself becoming a servant, humbling himself unto death, even death on a cross so that the mouths of mockers would be filled with praise.
Blessed is the man
who walks not in the council of the wicked,
nor stands in the way of sinners,
nor sits in the seat of scoffers;
but his delight is in the law of the LORD
and on his law he mediates day and night.
Take care of yourself first—then you can take better care of others.
I heard this for the zillionth time but for the first time, I wondered if it was true. I have a circus and a farm—many children, lots of animals. Because we like animals and foster children, we keep the door open.
I have a lot of creation to tend to—how can I tend well? How do I love and serve and teach and protect without dissolving into a puddle by day’s end?
The answer I’m told is self-care.
Psychology Today extols the virtue of “me-time,” something we shouldn’t feel guilty for. “Learning how to eat right, reduce stress, exercise regularly and take a time-out when you need it are touchstones of self-care and can help you stay happy, healthy and resilient.” (Self-Care: 12 Ways to Take Better Care of Yourself, December 28, 2018.)
I get that. If I’m incapacitated or dead because I haven’t taken time to eat with wisdom, sleep with peace and manage anxiety—which is just a fancy word for fear—then I’m of little use to my circus-farm.
I’m not sure this is self-care in my books though—seems more like common-sense survival skills. And maybe that’s why I’m pondering this modern gospel because it’s often ambiguous and self-defined.
We all agree that sleep, nutrition and stress management are essential. I have worked in the weight loss and nutrition industry for more than a decade—I believe this. But is that what the self-care gospel is really about? Is it simply reminding me to eat my veggies and go to bed early—or is it something else?
In 2019, prior to COVID, Americans spent 1.1 trillion dollars on travel. Trillion. (In full disclosure, a few of those dollars were mine.)
The average American spends a little more than $3000 per year on restaurant food. A study conducted by OnePoll for Groupon said women spend more than $225,360 over a lifetime on hair and skincare. As one writer for Byrdie put it, “we probably couldn't have guessed that on average, the amount of money we spend on our appearance could pay for four years of college tuition.”
And into this congregation of well-fed, professionally maintained, well-travelled parishioners, culture preaches: You first. You are useless to others unless you keep thinking of yourself.
Wait…does that even make sense?
I can look into the eyes of a Starbucks employee and order a menu-noun with eight adjectives—and be taken seriously. Or I can have faster food on wheels delivered to my doorstep courtesy of Uber Eats. I can book a trip around the world from my phone or order anything I want on Amazon and then—to make my joy complete, post a picture of me and it on social media and bask in the warmth of approval with a cascade of “likes” and the hashtag #selfcare.
Is this really the way? If it is, why aren’t we satisfied yet? Why are there so many people suffering when so many of us (talking to the mirror, here) have focused expertly on self. Shouldn’t I have enough “oxygen” by now so that I can metaphorically put the mask on my suffocating neighbor?
Creation has a creator. So I go to the Word, the Bible for help. Is there a verse where Jesus—or anyone really, teaches me to do this? A Self-Care Sermon on the Mount? A Psalm of Self? A pro-me proverb?
-Jesus, what’s the most important thing for me to do?
Dionne, love the Lord your God, love me, with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. And when your heart, soul and mind are saturated with the limitless, eternal, cleansing, healing love of Me let it overflow to your neighbor and love them the way you want to be loved. This is the greatest command (Matthew 22:36-40).
-But Lord if I give myself away so completely—what will be left? They said I’ve got to put my oxygen mask on first before I help someone else. Me first—then them.
Dionne—the lives of the travelers in the plane are not dependent on plastic masks but on the competency of the pilot and I have a way with storms. If a tube connected to recycled oxygen is helpful imagine what’s possible when God himself breathes the breath of life into you.
If you put yourself first, you will run empty before long (you know this; you do this!) but there’s another way. Me. Trust in me and I will supply all your needs according to my glorious wealth (Philippians 4:19).
Look at the birds. They’re terrible at self-care. They don’t plant or harvest or store food in barns and yet your heavenly father feeds them. You are so much more valuable than them! You don’t have to take care of yourself first because I’ll take care of you best (Matthew 6:26).
It’s not you first—but Me first. Seek my kingdom first, my righteousness first and I will share my power so that you will bless and be blessed.
Because it’s not two steps but one.
I will fill you as you fill others.
I will serve you as your serve others.
I am the vine. You are the branch. Abide in me and YOU WILL PRODUCE (John 15:5).
It’s not self-care but trusting God’s care that leads to caring for others well.
There’s more. Those commonsense survival skills—eating veggies and going to bed early, can be elevated from something small like “me-time” to glorious acts of worship—in fact, they’re supposed to be (1 Corinthians 10:31).
I don’t always get this right. Sometimes I’m still a puddle by day’s end. Sometimes I’ve poured it all out and still feel empty. Sometimes I feel that if I don’t hoard or gather or store-up resources for myself, no one else will or worse, I’ll have to take what God provides. And his “gifts” can be bitter at times. They can cut. They can pierce the self I’m trying hard to protect.
They can crucify.
Just days before his flesh would tear, his mouth would run dry and his heart break with grief, Jesus, whose life was marked by others-care more than self-care, preached to his friends.
“It’s time for me to be glorified. Watch and learn. I won’t sit on a gilded throne and require the life of my citizens. As the King of kings I will give my life on a rugged cross for my citizens. This is the truth: Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone—but if it dies, if that seed breaks open, it bears much fruit! Whoever lives for self, lives as a renter—paying rent for a lifetime and owning nothing in the end. Whoever lives for me owns spiritual property and will receive a deed to eternity” (John 12:23-26).
This is the Jesus-gospel. Repent of the self-life with its shelf-life in exchange for eternal life who is Christ. (Read that again.)
Maybe Jesus would say to me—to us, what we call “self-care” is an off-brand knock-off that isn’t beneficial to anyone long term. Maybe he would say, it’s a lie that doesn’t deliver what it promises. He would say, we are made for more because we are made for him.
So I tip my Ringmaster’s hat to another day, slide tired feet into farmer’s boots and step forward, cautiously, joyfully. I know Jesus will take better care of me than I could ever take of myself. I’m linked to truth through faith. I crush that piddly, plastic oxygen mask underfoot. I don’t need an emergency dose of canned air, I need the moment-by-moment inhalation of the eternal God who knows my needs before I ask.
And so do you.
"Lay aside every weight and the sin that so easily entangles and run with endurance the race set before you. "