When Your Son Asks: Remembering Our Deliverance

Mancub at age 10 sleeping on the way home from Arkansas.

I want my kids to remember me with a soft kind of fondness–that perfect balance of light and hope, discipline and humor, friendship and love. A warm and fuzzy mama–but at the same time tough as the lady who delivers our mail. Have you seen her? She can bench 400 pounds, I know it!

I want my kids to think of me as a good example, someone they want to imitate.

One problem: I’m far from perfect. I screw up fairly often. At least as much as Donald Trump says offensive stuff on TV. I mean well, but …

I was reading through Exodus (actually, that’s inaccurate. I’m so lazy I have somebody else read Exodus to me, on an app. Because there’s an app for that). Anyway, this scripture refers to the story of the deliverance of the Israelites from Egypt. I just love the first sentence.

14 “In days to come, when your son asks you, ‘What does this mean?’ say to him, ‘With a mighty hand the Lord brought us out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery. 15 When Pharaoh stubbornly refused to let us go, the Lord killed the firstborn of both people and animals in Egypt. This is why I sacrifice to the Lord the first male offspring of every womb and redeem each of my firstborn sons.’16 And it will be like a sign on your hand and a symbol on your forehead that the Lord brought us out of Egypt with his mighty hand.”

When your son asks you, “What does this mean?”… how well we know this feeling, mamas. How well we know that frightening reality that somebody put us in charge of these precious human beings as IF WE WERE GROWNUPS. Grownups with answers. Grownups who hold those memories in the palm of their hand.

Sometimes, I sweat bullets when my son asks me questions. They used to be so easy.

“Hey Mom. How do you make instant oatmeal?”

“Hey Mom. Can you watch me go down the slide?”

“Mom. Mom. Mom. Mom. Why doesn’t the dog eat at the table with us?”

Lately, the questions are much more hard core.

“Mom, how does God feel about transgender people?” (This one’s easy: LOVE)

“Mom, I think my friend is in trouble. Can we help?”

“Mom, why does God let bad things happen?”

I don’t know all the answers. But I don’t ignore the questions. We look it up. We talk about it. I want to be the one, along with my husband, that is able to answer those “What does this mean?” questions.

In this verse, God is instructing the Israelites in the importance of remembrance. There’s no way these children, or grandchildren, or great-grandchildren, will ever know the sound of the cries of Egypt as they woke to find their firstborn children dead. It’s just too horrific. Over 400 years of slavery, of the Pharaoh killing the baby boys–the Jewish mothers hiding their babies, shushing their cries.

And the angel of the Lord passed over…

There’s no way the children would remember the unreal feeling of freedom. What? We are free? We can go? The feeling (and then, the eventuality) this freedom can’t last– that the Egyptians would change their minds and maybe call for the blood of the Jews to rectify Pharaoh’s hasty decision. The absolute miracle of the Red Sea parting down the middle as thousands of slaves left forever. The smell of the sheep and goats (and all those people) and the heaviness of the hastily packed possessions–the sheer terror and doubt that any of this was real. But they were told to try to make them understand–the importance of storytelling and ritual. Unleavened bread eaten in haste as we planned our escape. This is what it means, Son. This bread–it is a symbol of our deliverance.

I’m fortunate (NOT gonna say #blessed because I HATE that) to have never been in this kind of bind–this kind of slavery. But we all know a type of bondage.

Addictions.

Debt.

Disease.

Abuse.

Pain.

Crippling fear.

Anxiety.

God is not JUST the God of the past. He knows us. He knows you. HE has the answers.

I don’t always know what things mean, but when my son asks me, I’ll tell him.

I’ll tell him that we are free.

 

 

 

 

 

Ruth, Naomi and Faithfulness

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But Ruth replied, “Don’t urge me to leave you or to turn back from you. Where you go I will go, where you stay I will will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God. Where you die I will die, and there I will be buried. May the Lord deal with me, be it ever so severely, if even death separates you and me.” Ruth 1:16-17

Ruth’s husband and his brother were dead. Her father-in-law was also dead. All the men in the family–dead. This was a worrisome time to be a woman. Options were few. When Ruth and Orpah (not to be confused with Oprah) attempted to follow Naomi (the mother-in-law), she told them, “Return home, my daughters. Why would you come with me? Am I going to have any more sons, who could become your husbands? Return home, my daughters; I am too old to have another husband. Even if I thought there was hope for me–even if I had has husband tonight and gave birth to sons–would you wait until they grew up? Would you remain unmarried for them? No, my daughters. It is more bitter for me than for you, because the Lord’s hand has turned against me!”

It was not the custom for widows to return to their father’s house. Once they were married off and the dowry was paid, the father was released of his duty to his daughter. To come home as a widow would have added another mouth to feed. Perhaps that is one reason Ruth refused. Initially, Orpah “cried bitterly.” This is such a testament to Naomi’s character, that both her daughters-in-law ached to stay by her side.

We often hear of Ruth and her faithfulness, which is definitely worth mentioning. Her words to Naomi are often repeated at weddings as the ultimate symbol of the truest love. But I often wondered about Naomi and what actions she must have done to warrant such a devotion from her daughters-in-law. Ruth’s speech is a testament to her character, but it is also a testament to Naomi’s.

Dear Jesus, please let me be the kind of woman to warrant such love and devotion–whether from my daughters or my future daughter-in-law. Let them say of me “I will follow you.”

 

 

Absalom: When Kings Remain Silent

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My friend Leigh Ann and I were hanging out in my living room on a chilly January afternoon, each enjoying one another’s company and fuzzy blankets when the conversation took a very weird turn. To be fair, if I’m involved, conversations usually take a weird turn, but I digress…

LA: So, have you read the story of Absalom?
Me: Yeah. 2 Samuel is one of my favorite Old Testament books.
LA: Did you read how he died? He was FREAKING CLOTHESLINED!
Me: Yeah, so violent!
LA: CLOTHESLINED! I mean, it’s kind of funny. But he was a bad person so it’s okay to laugh.
Me: His hair was STUCK in a tree! And his horse just kept on running! I mean, what a bad way to go! 

After we laughed at Absalom’s unfortunate demise, we talked about Absalom and David. I asked her if she knew about Tamar. I’m no bible scholar, but it seems that Absalom behaved himself until Tamar’s tragedy.

Oh, Tamar.

The story breaks my heart.

Have you read the story of Absalom, King David’s son, who rose up against him and made the once proud giant-slayer frightened of his own shadow? Was he just a bad seed? Or was it something more?

2 Samuel 13 New International Version (NIV)

Amnon and Tamar

13 In the course of time, Amnon son of David fell in love with Tamar, the beautiful sister of Absalom son of David. 

Amnon became so obsessed with his sister Tamar that he made himself ill. She was a virgin, and it seemed impossible for him to do anything to her.

Now Amnon had an adviser named Jonadab son of Shimeah, David’s brother. Jonadab was a very shrewd man. He asked Amnon, “Why do you, the king’s son, look so haggard morning after morning? Won’t you tell me?”

Amnon said to him, “I’m in love with Tamar, my brother Absalom’s sister.”

“Go to bed and pretend to be ill,” Jonadab said. “When your father comes to see you, say to him, ‘I would like my sister Tamar to come and give me something to eat. Let her prepare the food in my sight so I may watch her and then eat it from her hand.’”

So Amnon lay down and pretended to be ill. When the king came to see him, Amnon said to him, “I would like my sister Tamar to come and make some special bread in my sight, so I may eat from her hand.”

David sent word to Tamar at the palace: “Go to the house of your brother Amnon and prepare some food for him.” So Tamar went to the house of her brother Amnon, who was lying down. She took some dough, kneaded it, made the bread in his sight and baked it. Then she took the pan and served him the bread, but he refused to eat.

“Send everyone out of here,” Amnon said. So everyone left him. 10 Then Amnon said to Tamar, “Bring the food here into my bedroom so I may eat from your hand.” And Tamar took the bread she had prepared and brought it to her brother Amnon in his bedroom.11 But when she took it to him to eat, he grabbed her and said, “Come to bed with me, my sister.”

12 “No, my brother!” she said to him. “Don’t force me! Such a thing should not be done in Israel! Don’t do this wicked thing. 13 What about me? Where could I get rid of my disgrace? And what about you? You would be like one of the wicked fools in Israel. Please speak to the king; he will not keep me from being married to you.” 14 But he refused to listen to her, and since he was stronger than she, he raped her.

15 Then Amnon hated her with intense hatred. In fact, he hated her more than he had loved her. Amnon said to her, “Get up and get out!”

16 “No!” she said to him. “Sending me away would be a greater wrong than what you have already done to me.”

But he refused to listen to her. 17 He called his personal servant and said, “Get this woman out of my sight and bolt the door after her.” 18 So his servant put her out and bolted the door after her. She was wearing an ornate[a] robe, for this was the kind of garment the virgin daughters of the king wore. 19 Tamar put ashes on her head and tore the ornate robe she was wearing. She put her hands on her head and went away, weeping aloud as she went.

20 Her brother Absalom said to her, “Has that Amnon, your brother, been with you? Be quiet for now, my sister; he is your brother. Don’t take this thing to heart.” And Tamar lived in her brother Absalom’s house, a desolate woman.

21 When King David heard all this, he was furious. 22 And Absalom never said a word to Amnon, either good or bad; he hated Amnon because he had disgraced his sister Tamar.

Did you see the key text here? “When King David heard all this, he was furious.” What does that mean? He was upset? Well, he’s the king of Israel! If anybody can demand justice for Tamar (his daughter!), it’s him! After all, it was not too long ago when Nathan made David feel guilty with a fictional story about a lamb, and ordered that the man who stole it would not live. Shouldn’t his daughter, his very own baby girl, deserve more than this? Keeping in mind the time period. She’s ruined now. Nobody will marry her. She won’t be acceptable in social circles of any type. The once blameless princess ripped her gown, the one that identified her as a virgin, and put ashes on her head. She knew she was done for. Though Absalom said, “Don’t take this thing to heart,” he very much did so. He harbored hatred against his brother (he later killed him) and then he went after his father.

The next verse we read begins this way: “Two years later…”

Two years.

For two years, Absalom watched Tamar waste away. She’s not mentioned again in the scriptures.

For two years, Absalom watched as King David did nothing.

When Absalom turned, it was BAD. It wasn’t your typical young man’s angst. He actively charmed and recruited David’s people to support him. He raped David’s women on the rooftop of the palace. He was ruthless.

Now, I’m not saying that it’s David’s fault. Absalom crossed many lines when he went after David.

I just wonder–what would have happened if David has listened? If he had punished Amnon himself? Tamar would not likely be restored, regardless. But what would have happened if David had done the right thing?

We will never know.Cabanel-Tamar

 

On Authenticity and Servanthood on Facebook

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Sometimes I cannot believe Facebook. It looks like a high school yearbook! Everybody posts their kids awards, their husband’s promotions, a picture of the perfect peach pie. A post that demands you “like”  a picture of Jesus or scroll by and RISK YOUR VERY SOUL.

Sometimes, it’s too much.

To be fair, I’m guilty of this also–posting only the best moments from my life. Only showing the good side. I mean, nobody really wants to know the other stuff, do they? How my laundry looks like it’s been multiplying overnight and my son is mad at me. How I’m so stressed out I’m having trouble getting out of bed. How the holidays make me miss my dad so much I can taste it. How I had a disagreement with my husband, or daughters and it’s like Antarctica around here. That even the penguins are wearing jackets?

Nope. I’m likely not gonna share that on Facebook. First of all, it’s really not anybody’s business. Secondly, people don’t generally go on Facebook or social media because they are thinking,”You know what? I feel like being bummed out!” Or, “I feel like feeling inferior! Yes!”

On my page Nonpartisan Jesus, where I talk about authentic Christianity outside of political spectrums, I received a message from one of my acquaintances:

Maybe Jesus wants us to get off Facebook and follow him.

I’m not gonna lie. That one stung. I replied:

I’m not sure how/if Jesus thinks about Facebook much. However, since so many people use social media, doesn’t it make sense to try to make something positive of it?

On the flip side, I’m sure you might have a friend or two who shares every thought that comes to mind. The posts look something like this:

9:00 Thinking about coffee. #TheBestPartofWakingUp

9:05 Out of creamer. Have to go to the store. #Prayers

9:06 Can’t find a parking spot. Saw my pastor in the parking lot. #blessed

9:07 Walmart’s out of Folgers! AHHHHHH! #Agony

I somehow think this is worse.

Let’s face it–we all do it. We put on our best mask for Facebook. We only show the peanut butter sandwich with the crusts off. Everybody is guilty of this.

So what’s the alternative? How do we allow ourselves to be authentic without giving too much information? How do we share our struggles without seeming like we are looking for pity?How can we use Facebook as a ministry? Is it possible? 

Yes. We just have to be present.

For example, my friend Jennifer is the master of this. I’ll post something like:

Oh my gosh. Finals, errands, moving, planning a graduation party–I’m overwhelmed!

I have to admit, I might have seen the same post and kept scrolling. Of course it’s stressful to be moving around final exam times! That could have been better planned! Oh well.

Within seconds, I get a text:

Want to have the party at my house?

And I’m crying, unable to fathom what I’ve done to deserve such a sweet friend who would not only see a problem but propose a solution. A solution that creates work for her.

Jennifer has a servant’s heart. I have been the beneficiary of her heart many times over the years. It’s not easy to see somebody struggling and offer to help. It’s much easier to whine about Folger’s. It’s easy to like the Jesus post and ignore the friend who’s drowning.

Because of Jennifer, my girls had the nerdiest Star Wars Graduation blowout ever. For three hours, we invaded her house, bringing smelly tacos and balloons. For three hours, the girls and their friends walked around in Chewbacca masks, celebrating their achievement.

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Because Jennifer and Josh are the best friends ever.

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This year, I want to be more present. I want to be more proactive. I want to have a servant’s heart–seeing need and thinking a solution.

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Thank you, Jennifer and Josh. Thank you both for being Jesus on Facebook! You guys are the BEST and we love you.

But right now, I have to go. The dryer beeped because my fuzzy socks are ready. #blessed

The Power of Water

“With one sigh of the Spirit, the waters could come crashing in and around the earth, drowning its inhabitants in a moment.”–Rachel Held Evans

The power of water is undeniable. Ask the survivors of Hurricane Katrina. 80% of New Orleans was flooded by the storm, and more than 1,000 people died because of it.

http://www.cnn.com/2013/08/23/us/hurricane-katrina-statistics-fast-facts/

What’s worse than too much water is too little. Ask the 358 million people in Africa who live in fear that they or someone they love will die this year from thirst.

840,000 people will die from bad water (Water.org). People are so desperate for water they will drink anything. People are thirsty–their children are thirsty. But water that is poisoned is worse than no water at all.

We need it so much–it’s essential to life, but too much of it is deadly as well. The Bible talks of water at least 722 times, depending on the translation you use. The necessity and power of water cannot be understated.

A few drops of water can quench a thirst, but too much can overwhelm us and kill.

Water is symbolic of birth: “Except a man be born of water and Spirit, he cannot enter the Kingdom.” What does that mean? If you’ve ever seen a baby born, you know the magic that happens: it’s pain and pushing, blood and water, tears and joy. We must experience this spiritually–and share the experience–to truly call ourselves Christian.

Jesus talked about water. He told the woman at the well that only he had the power to fill her thirst forever.

What happens if we keep all the water to ourselves? What happens if we refuse to share with those who are thirsty?

We can’t call ourselves believers then. Not really. Too much water in one place is disruptive, dangerous, deadly.

But the sharing of water–the sharing of life: that is what we are here for.

Should Christians Advocate Amnesty?

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http://www.nytimes.com/2014/11/14/us/obama-immigration.html?_r=0

What do you think of Obama’s plan to grant amnesty for up to 5 million unauthorized immigrants? Predictably, many Americans are upset by the thought, arguing that they should be deported immediately, without concern for children who were brought over before they were too young to have a say.

Whether or not you agree with the President’s method, we need to look at the bigger picture. If we make decisions about helping others based on their citizenship, what does that say about our commitment to Christ? By building fences and pointing guns on those who approach our borders, who are we really serving but ourselves? Man-made institutions, borders, and politics should not come before the words of Jesus and his teachings.

Gregory Boyd writes, “So too, in following our Master we are to seek to do good and free all who are “opressed by the devil” (Acts 10:38) while we voluntarily bear others’ burdens (Gal. 6:2). We are to “outdo one another in showing honor” (Rom. 12:10) and never be competitive with others (unless, of course, it’s for fun) (Gal. 5:26). We are to “put up with the failings of the weak, and not please ourselves,” always asking how we might “please our neighbor for the good purpose of building up the neighbor” (Rom. 15:1-2). We are to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, take in the homeless, befriend the friendless, and visit the condemned prisoner (James 2:15-17; 1 John 3:14-18; cf. Matt. 25:34-40).

When Jesus said to serve our neighbors, I don’t think there was a asterisk next to the word. I believe that being a Christian should come foremost before our politics.

I believe that as an American who descended from immigrants that I should remember where I came from.

What would Jesus say about amnesty? Would he advocate the spread of fear and selfishness that implores kind-hearted people to circle their wagons to keep “the Others” out? What scripture could be used to support the argument to not help others?

By scripture, I don’t mean our wallets. If we shake our fists and say “We can’t afford it! I’m not paying for you! I’m not helping anyone outside my family,” where is our foundation to say so? Where does the Bible discuss this?

Consider the story of the good samaritan (Luke 10:25-37):

25 On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”

26 “What is written in the Law?” he replied. “How do you read it?”

27 He answered, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’[a]; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’[b]

28 “You have answered correctly,” Jesus replied. “Do this and you will live.”

29 But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”

30 In reply Jesus said: “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he was attacked by robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. 31 A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. 32 So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. 33 But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him.34 He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him. 35 The next day he took out two denarii[c] and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’

36 “Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?”

37 The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.”

Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.”

If we really claim to be Jesus followers, we must abide by His example, and pay attention to the words written in red.

On the Dangers of the Prosperity Teaching and Televangelists

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When the hubs and I were first married, he joined the Navy. While he was in training, he was gone for 12-16 hours a day, and I was alone with a tiny baby most of the time. I was also super homesick (we were living in Idaho then) and suffering from postpartum depression.

I knew I needed to be reading my Bible and going to church, but it all just seemed so overwhelming to do by myself, so I settled for Christian radio and the Televangelist channel.

You know the one I mean.
I figured I was being “fed” spiritually so I was ok.
I was wrong.

Being “fed” by most televangelists (Billy Graham excluded because I believe he is the real deal) is the equivalent of eating air. Not only is there no nutrition whatsoever, you also end up with a giant stomach ache, weaker and sicker than when you began.

I remember one day watching John Hagee and hearing him say, “If you’re depressed, you need to get off the pity pot and praise the Lord.” The implication was made over and over that depression and poverty were self-inflicted. A more spiritual person would not suffer from either, because it was God’s will that everyone be well and rich.

I was neither.

It was then that I began to wake up to the dangers of this teaching. Although the sermons often began with quotes from scripture they always ended the same way, telling the viewers that God wanted me whole, God wanted me well, and God wanted me rich, and if I wasn’t, it was my fault. My walk with Jesus was in danger. I needed to pray and he would deliver me from all physical, emotional and financial stress. Mr. Hagee (and others on the same channel) promised a two-step program to finding my way back into God’s graces. Step one: pray and ask for it. Step two: send money as an “offering” to God to show I meant business. If I wasn’t willing or able to do both, then my situation would remain the same and there was nothing I could do about it. I had no one to blame except myself.

Eating air and getting a stomach ache? That’s the best case scenario. The worst thing that can happen is that a believer who longs for spiritual sustenance is instead starved to death under the teachings of these false prophets. They are our modern-day temple merchants,  prospering from the offerings of those who take their words to heart while their flocks are left worse than when they came to the table.

Don’t listen to these preachers, dear one. Find a church that sticks closely to the scripture. Surround yourself with those who love you and will pray for and with you.

I realized it had been about 10 years since I had listened to Mr. Hagee so I pulled up one of his sermons on depression on YouTube. After a cheerful greeting from Mr. and Mrs. Hagee, a quick “opportunity” for the viewer to donate appears well before the actual sermon. I’m ashured that my donation is tax-deductible, so not only am I helping God and all those sinners, I can also get a break on my taxes. Woo. Hoo.

He’s still saying the same thing. He actually said the words “pity pot” but he makes a small disclaimer: he now says, “I’m not talking about clinical depression. I’m talking about when you are feeling less than happy, or a bit blue.” That’s not depression. That’s a bad mood. I don’t need your help with that Mr. Hagee.

As Christians, we are not promised that we will not suffer. Anyone who tells you otherwise is a liar. We are not promised that we will always be healed. We are not promised that, no matter how much we pray and rage that people we love will be sick, and maybe even die. We are not promised wealth.

All we are promised is that Jesus resides within us. Can God heal us miraculously? Yes. Will he always? No.

Jesus is able to restore us, and he doesn’t need $20 to do it. But sometimes, he doesn’t restore us. Sometimes we are left broken, mourning, and poor. That’s just how it is, dear one. There are some things we will never, ever understand on this side of the veil. We must cling to the Word and remember that God tells us that all things work for good for those who love him.

Even if we can’t see it now.

The best we can hope for is that Jesus is with us in our pain. He never leaves us. He sent his Spirit for our comfort. He sent his people to minister us for us to minister to. Sometimes Jesus looks like my best friend. Sometimes, if I listen and obey, He looks like me.

Take heart. I can promise this: your pain will not always be so intense. Everything is for a season, and the seasons are always changing. Look, dear one–the leaves change and time passes. With pain is also blessing.