Christ-Like Middle-Aged Womanhood

What does it look like for a middle-aged female to be “Jesusy”?  Jesus wasn’t a woman. Jesus didn’t face the loss of youthful beauty and the tortures of perimenopause.  Even though I can’t see a literal picture of what I’m supposed to look like, God tells me to open my eyes and look around.  He put some Jesusy women in my life to show how I, a middle-aged woman, can be more like Him. 

My Jesusy girlfriends just seem to ooze God’s love and grace through their pores.  It’s not that they go around with cheery smiles and happy dispositions.  It’s a quiet, joyful strength in the midst of raging battles.

They wrestle with the flesh, with relationships, with low self-esteem. They experience deep suffering through financial disaster due to job loss or difficult marriages or the death of those they love.  Yet they grow stronger in their faith and are full of hope in Jesus.  Their joy runs visibly deep.  The element they all have in common? Jesus is their everything and it shows in their work and in their lives.

They didn’t go to seminary or Bible college, but they long to have more knowledge. So how did they get to be so Jesusy?  George Barna says, “Some people reach the ultimate stages of wholeness and maturity within just a couple decades while others failed to achieve such maturity after more than five decades of consistent religious activity and positive intent.” Why do some grow and mature while others stagnate? 

With menopause approaching, more than ever it seems that life careens out of control while I simultaneously grasp for control of things I have no business controlling.  Add to that a face that is growing more haggard, a waistline that expands when I look at a cookie, freckles peppering my body in places they’ve never been, and ‘silver’ hairs taking over faster than I can pluck them, things that I can only control to some degree by artificial measures – getting older doesn’t necessarily mean it’s easier to be Jesusy. 

But I can choose – choose to try to be in control or relinquish everything to Jesus, to continually turn to Him inwardly, and outwardly to seek to overflow His love.  I can choose to open my eyes and ears to see and hear what He is speaking into my life to grow me, so that I, too, can be more Jesusy.

Jesus did suffer. He suffered loss, battled the flesh, and endured inconceivable pain. And He was victorious.  He gives us women the power to endure, to grow and even find victory through the mountains and valleys of middle-aged womanhood.

Linking up with: Soli Deo Gloria Party at Finding Heaven and A Pause on the Path 

Jesus: Pure & Simple - Book Review

I was cutting multiple pieces of string to 8 inches in length.  First, I measured the original strand and snipped.  I used it as a pattern for length of my 2nd one and snipped. Then I used the 2nd one to measure the 3rd one and snipped. By the time I got to my 15th string, it looked significantly longer than my first one. When I measured it, it wasn’t 8 inches, but 8 ¾ inches.  By failing to use the original as my pattern or measured each strand individually, I fell off track.   The same thing can happen to our faith when we start mimicking other believers rather than measuring against the original source, Jesus. 

Wayne Cordeiro tells a similar story about cutting planks of wood to build a fence and relates it to our faith in Jesus – always go back to the true original.  If you don’t, you’ll slowly go off. This is the premise of his book Jesus: Pure and Simple.  We must be willing to correct the drift.  He claims to show us how to focus on what matters most, which in turn changes how we see the world around us. Then everything else falls into place. And what matters most is Jesus – pure and simple.  Sounds a little bit like prosperity gospel, but perhaps that depends on how we define “falls into place.”  I was not reading this book through a prosperity gospel lens.

Before this book, I had not heard of Wayne Cordeiro, founder and senior pastor of New Hope Christian Fellowship in Honolulu, so I do not know what he preaches or what he stands for, and I did not approach the book with presupposed bias. (After doing some research, I guess I’ve been in an isolated bubble to not have heard of him!)  He uses Scripture, re-tells Bible narrative, and illustrates using both famous and unknown Christians to support his points of how we can get back to Jesus, pure and simple.  Short questions at the end of chapter can be used for individual reflection or group discussion. 

When I started this book, I was so excited about what I read in the first few pages that I told a dear friend that she just had to read it too! In the first half of the book he presented his points in living the spiritual life in a fresh way that really resonated with me.  He shared about pure and simple devotion, how it’s not about doing more OR doing less. We tend to measure our worth by how many are following what we say and do on Twitter or Facebook rather than how close we are following what Jesus is saying or doing.  He claims distraction is one of the fiercest enemies to following Jesus.  And he provides the solutions.

He also shows what it means to truly be a servant of Christ, ways to make sure you’re walking where Jesus is walking.  We find Him when we serve. (Hmmmm…is this contradictory to the idea of devotion about not doing more or doing less?)

He touches on a gamut of worthwhile topics that brings us back to Jesus - the error of the modern-day Pharisee, problems of self-righteousness and judgment, the value of solitude, letting the Word study you instead of just studying the Word, reflecting on our experiences and letting the past tutor us (instead of torture us)…. and he claims the answer is pure and simple.  But I disagree.  It’s a battle that we must fight for and work toward for as long as we walk in this flesh in this world.

I changed my mind about insisting my dear friend read the book after I dragged through the second half of this book, which was much more shallow and uninteresting.  I didn’t underline anything after page 92 (of 200 pages). 

At the end, I had a hard time pinpointing just exactly what the book was about.  Still, while he bounces around from topic to topic, I found the book worth reading to help me keep my eyes on Jesus and become more like Him.  I think it’s a good read.

Disclaimer: I received a complimentary copy of this book from Bethany House Publishers in exchange for my honest review.

Evicting Ungratefulness

Ungratefulness, bitterness, resentment – they become your acquaintances when life does not unfold the way you planned.  Having them around makes you feel suspicious and cynical when they whisper to you that you’ve suffered unjustly, that you are a victim of circumstances.    They keep you from seeking forgiveness and add difficulty to your relationships. When you’re not looking, they rob your joy.  They crave attention and invite others to their parties – pity parties.  

If you try to just ignore them, they do not naturally fade away.  If you don’t kick them out, they will set up house, get comfortable, and stay for as long as you let them.  They are exhausting company to keep.  If you cling to them, they will try to find a way to become your identity.  You become the things you are against.

Getting rid of them is no easy task. They are not just a single emotion or attitude that needs to be turned off.  If you kick them out, they will come back. 

But if you fill your house with other guests, there will be no room for them to stay.  Even better, you need to fill your house with guests that are incompatible to them. 

Gratitude – she becomes your acquaintance when you choose to see beyond the surface and see how God has led you to this moment through everything that has happened in the past, and with that is sending you into a future that is part of His plan if you yield to Him.  Gratitude will disintegrate the fatigue that comes from resentment and bitterness and move you forward to new possibilities, energizing you. 

Gratitude kicks out feelings of entitlement as you become aware of the abundance of gifts poured into your life.  With her around, you will see what you have as quickly as you see what you don’t have.  She helps you treasure and value other people just the way they are.  

And no matter what happens, if you allow gratitude to flow from the cross of Jesus into your life, you will be able to see that Jesus is the main house guest, changing your identity into something even more beautiful.  You will be able to keep Him near, no matter what happens, and gratitude is your friend that helps you along the way.

You get to choose your house guests, who will take up residence, get comfortable, and eventually become part of your identity. 

Linking up with A Pause on the Path and Finding Heaven

The Cure for a Grumbly, Critical Spirit

First thing this morning when I saw my 7th grade son, he didn’t give me his usual good morning hug.  Instead he looked at me with disdain and asked me why I didn’t bring his shirts upstairs to his bedroom like he had asked after I washed and hung them to dry.  Excuse me? Don’t you mean “thank you mom for washing my clothes”?   He tried to argue with me and I told him he wasn’t going to win this one and moved on.  It left me feeling grumbly.

Last night in our small group Bible study on Ephesians, a dear friend said her husband brought her coffee every morning while she was in the shower.  She didn’t say it to brag, but to complain – that he should be showing love by doing the hard sacrificial things, not easy, routine things, and learning her ‘love language’.  Excuse me? Don’t you mean “thank you honey for bringing me coffee morning after morning”? Thank you for loving me regardless of which ‘love language’ you choose?

Hearing others grumbling stirred up critical feelings toward them, but as I was pointing, this time I saw the three fingers pointing back at myself. How often I catch my own self feeling entitled to something or expecting a behavior from someone that doesn’t line up with reality and leaves me feeling grumbly?

Grumbling and criticizing is a heart attitude that develops when things in life don’t unfold to our liking. It begins with how we interpret the facts.  We have the power to choose our interpretation.  We can choose the path that makes us passive victims of people’s remarks or of random incidents.  Or we could choose the path of gratitude.

Gratitude isn’t about psyching ourselves up to have a good attitude.  Choosing gratitude must flow from God, our reliable source.  In fact, He desires for us to be able to live feeling thankful in any and every circumstance.  He has to tell us to do this because thankfulness doesn’t come naturally.

Henri Nouwen believes that gratitude is a difficult spiritual discipline to constantly practice. “It is hard precisely because it challenges me to face my painful moments – experiences of rejection and abandonment, feelings of loss and failure – and gradually to discover in them the pruning hands of God purifying my heart for deeper love, stronger hope, and broader faith.”

Adele Calhoun beautifully describes thankfulness as a thread that combines together all the patchwork squares of our lives.  It is a discipline to choose to stitch our days together with the thread of gratitude.   

Gratitude not only squelches grumbling, but it annihilates the critical spirit, at least temporarily for as long as we are upstage the critical spirit by practicing gratitude. 

I just chatted with my son and we exchanged pleasant good-byes before he left to get on the school bus.  We showed each other we had moved on and weren’t holding a grudge over the earlier exchange.  Next Saturday I’ll be filled with gratitude as I watch him do his own laundry.

Linking up with Finding Heaven's SDG Party.

Book Review: Jesus - A Theography, by Leonard Sweet & Frank Viola

I used to wonder why the God of the Old Testament seemed so different than the God of the New Testament.  Bible study with other Christians helped me to see that He isn’t so different in either era after all.  The Old Testament came to life for me when I learned that much of it was a foreshadowing of Christ.  Jesus, A Theography, by Leonard Sweet and Frank Viola, portrays the parallels between the two testaments through a telling of the life of Jesus from the grand narrative of all of Scripture with a theological perspective. 

From reading a couple other books by Leonard Sweet, I knew this “theography” was not going to be told in a dry or boring manner.  Sweet has a reputation with me of taking something familiar and putting a different spin on it, helping me see it’s beauty again, in a way that is personal and touches the heart.  Sweet and Viola lived up to my expectations.  They tell the story of the life of Jesus, beginning not at his birth here on earth but at the beginning of creation, and continue all the way beyond His resurrection to His next return. They show how much of the Old Testament foreshadows the life of Christ. They find Him in every nook and cranny.

“I’d rather see Jesus where He isn’t than miss Him where He is.”  While I can’t remember who said this quote, it came to mind repeatedly while I was reading this book.  In seminary, my hermeneutics professor taught that as we interpret the meaning of the Old Testament in light of the New Testament, we must be careful to do it the same way the apostles did, and only where the apostles did.  At the time, I wasn’t sure I was in complete agreement with the professor, but after reading this book, I see what he was cautioning against.  A few of the places where Sweet and Viola see Jesus just seems like a bit of a stretch.  But that’s okay – I don’t mind pondering the possibility, even if it’s stretching it to see something that really isn’t there.

When I got to the section that suggested that Eve was created on the 8th day of creation instead of the 6th, I appreciated that the authors caused me to consider something that I never thought of before, and that they didn’t insist that they were 100% right in the proposition.   But they lost a little credibility with me from that point forward.  I found myself continually referring to the footnotes, or at least wanting to but too lazy to follow through sometimes since they were in the back of the book instead of the bottom of the page.

I still think it’s a pretty good book.  The writing style is simple and not at all academic (except the footnotes).  Any reader who is not familiar with how the two testaments tie together to tell a single story, or any reader who wants a deeper understanding of Jesus’s foreshadowing in the Old Testament, then this book is a good place to start.

Disclaimer:  I received a complimentary copy of this book from Thomas Nelson Publishing in exchange for my honest review. 

Walking on Water When You Feel Like You’re Drowning – Book Review

Anxiety and depression are not experiences that the average Christian wants to admit to enduring, at least not in the present tense.  Doesn’t it mean that you are placing your hope in the wrong place, focused too much on yourself, and worrying about things you shouldn’t?  No, not at all, according to Christian leaders Tommy Nelson and Steve Leavitt in their new book Walking on Water When You Feel Like You’re Drowning.

Tommy Nelson and Steve Leavitt tell their stories of falling into depression, anxiety, and obsessive thinking -- one for no apparent external reason (aside from a ridiculously crazy-busy life), and the other following the death of his wife.  One could easily sympathize with the impact of grief, but for me, something clicked when Tommy discussed living a very meaningful, fulfilling, and enthusiastic life influencing many lives for the Gospel.  While he was consumed with teaching, preaching, and writing at a high point in his life, he became overwhelmed with anxiety and had to stop completely for a time.   

As they each tell their stories, they weave in advice and counsel along with Scripture.  While there is not a lot of substance (the usual answer of reading the Bible and praying), they do have much to add that you don’t typically hear in Christian circles.  If you are struggling with a similar issue, know that you are not alone and there are answers – not easy pat ones about going to church and praying. 

They show that there is a place for medication, that it is not something objectionable for Christians. The emotional, spiritual, and mental causes of depression and anxiety have a physical and medical manifestation.  Treating the cause does not necessarily treat the physical impact/damage that has taken place.  Christians do have a bias against doing anything medical to treat depression or anxiety, but the authors show it may be necessary to bring the body back on track and into equilibrium.  Still, the rest of your life, you will have to continually train your thinking, root out the lies, and replace them with truth.

If someone close to you is dealing with anxiety or depression and you want to supportively understand, or if you are experiencing it yourself, this easy read will offer you understanding and hope.

Disclaimer: I received a complimentary copy of this book from Tyndale Publishing in exchange for my honest review.