Running From Something

I have literally hung this bird-feeder up at the past two houses I have lived in, leaving it empty because I am too cheap to buy bird food and because I don't want bird poop to collect on whatever is underneath it.

We are all running from something, and it’s name is suffering.

Well, in my case, I’m only figuratively running, because I have a foot problem that makes it really painful to actually run. This pain in my feet drives me to avoid a lot of things—shopping, for one. I cannot stand to ambulate slowly around a store and look at things that I can’t afford, because it literally hurts me.

There was one time in college that I had a friend push me around Target in a wheel chair because we needed to do some shopping, and at the end I had to admit it—I kinda liked this whole shopping thing. For a long time, I had held a holier-than-thou attitude in my disdain for shopping, like it was some sort of spiritual badge that kept me from further pollution by the world.

But it turns out, I was avoiding shopping because I was avoiding pain.

The question has swirled in my mind since yesterday… What am I avoiding now?

What pain am I taking steps to avoid in my life?

What suffering am I navigating away from, purposefully?

Don’t get me wrong—I am in no way advocating that someone seek out suffering for her life in order to become a better person. But in the course of human events, in the path of choosing to love the person in front of me (even when that person is me), suffering will come. And when it does come, I have two choices: I can choose to endure it or I can choose to avoid it.

Avoidance of suffering looks like wisdom a lot of times. Running hurts my feet? Then I won’t run! Putting a bird feeder on the back porch leads to a pile of bird droppings for my kids to step in? Then I won’t fill that stupid feeder with any food. (I have literally hung my bird feeder and left it empty in the past two places I’ve lived for this reason.) Spending time with an old friend opens wounds that I’ve dealt with, for the most part? Then I won’t accept her phone calls.

But I realized that if I focus my world around the avoidance of suffering, then I will miss out on so much life.

To save my feet from pain, I will never experience that feeling that runners talk about or the burst of endorphins that keep them coming back for more and more.

To save myself the task of cleaning off my kids when they have trotted through a mound of bird poop, I will miss out on the mockingbird’s song and the sight of the cardinal and his wife coming to visit our house.

To save myself from the uncomfortable and unwieldy awkwardness that is a friendship that has grown cold, I will lose a mirror of my past and a friend who has challenged me and forced me to dig deeper into my identity as a child of the Most High.

At some point, I have to acknowledge that the way of suffering is the way of the Cross. If I spend my whole life avoiding uncomfortable or painful situations, I am robbing myself of walking with Jesus through the pains and the deeper resulting joys of life.

Suffering will come, whether at my own hands or the hands of another. But it is not something to avoid when I discover it. Suffering is an invitation to walk with God and to learn that He leads me beside still waters. Jesus is not afraid of suffering with me. He does not shy away from it. He knows that in the fire of suffering, I am opened up to receive from Him in a way that is not possible if I avoid it at every turn.

If you read my last post, To All the Fat Girls, you heard me say that our wounds are our treasures. We need to let go of the fear of the pain and suffering in our lives. When we are confronted with our own weaknesses, the confrontation is an invitation. In our pain and suffering, Jesus teaches us who He really is for us.

Don’t run away from it.

~Amanda

P.S. This song below is called “How to Deal.” In it, I wrestle with suffering that I have caused for myself and the pain the others have inflicted on me. The thesis of the song (if a song can have a thesis) is that Jesus is not an escape—He walks with me through suffering and teaches me who He is in a greater capacity than I could ever have imagined.

To All the Fat Girls, Part II

Take Up Your Pen

The response to my blog post yesterday, To All the Fat Girls, has blown me away.

Obviously, my experience is not an isolated one.

You women have been broken and weak, and you have been beautiful. Others have overlooked you because of what you look like or sound like. But there is a treasure inside of you that needs to be shared.

I would love to hear your stories and to help share them with other people. Would you want to do that?

Your story is powerful. It is worth listening to. You are full of beauty and wisdom.

Write down your story. Tell me what you have experienced and what you have learned from it. Show me how God has met you in weakness.

Let’s talk about weakness and how valuable it is.

Let’s talk about being broken and finding Jesus to be enough.

Maybe the stigma you’ve lived under is that you’re fat. Maybe it’s that you’re unstable. Maybe it’s another one of a hundred possibilities.

I want to hear it, to learn from it, and to share it with others who are also learning to in weakness and beauty. Email me your story at paintedwithoutmakeup@gmail.com.

Remember—And they overcame [the accuser] by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, and they did not love their lives to the death. 
Revelation 12:11

To All the Fat Girls

 

A doctor called me fat once.

My husband wasn’t in the room. In the previous appointment, when my husband had been present, the doctor had used words like “overweight” and “obese.” Still not pleasant words to think about, but professional and appropriate for the situation.

He waited until my husband wasn’t there and then he called me fat.

He wasn’t even satisfied with using that word to describe me. He wanted me to acknowledge that it was part of who I was.

“So when did you get fat?” he asked me, looking directly at me. It wasn’t even an uncomfortable question for him. He was bold in his rudeness.

I explained that I had been at a certain weight for many years, but in grad school I put on weight.

He commented on the previous weight, that it was still not a satisfactory weight. And there I sat in his office, 70 pounds heavier than I had been before the weight gain.

I felt like a piece of chewed up bubble gum.

This morning, this episode came to mind as I was going through today’s lectionary reading.

“…as having nothing but possessing all things.” 2 Corinthians 6

When someone sees the outside of me, they might assume that I have nothing to offer.

That man, that doctor, who was charged with helping me with a life-altering condition caused by the weight gain, avoided an opportunity to encourage me to be healthy or to be anything more than fat.

The memory of this still bothers me often. 4 years later, 3 pregnancies later, lots of inner healing later. It occurred to me this morning that for me, being called ‘fat’ is very much like being called ‘slut.’

Think about it–as a society, we use the word ‘slut’ to describe a woman who wantonly allows anyone to presume upon her physical body. She lets it out to be used and mistreated, from what we assume is her own free will.

But we are learning now that many women who have received this denigrating title have had little to no control over the choices they appear to have made. It is not as easy at it seems to come out of a lifestyle that is familiar. It is not often as black and white as we have made it seem in our heads.

I have never (to my face or to my knowledge) been called a slut. And if I were to encounter a woman who is carrying that around as part of her identity, I would ask her to rethink her definition of herself. That label is not who she is. It is not her name. It is not her identity.

Over the years since the episode with the unkind and unprofessional doctor, I have thought a lot about the current condition of my physical body. I have learned that food addiction is real and that it is hard to break. I have come to understand that so many choices, food choices included, are made out of a place of mere surviving and not with the mindset of thriving. I have realized that issues with weight are far more complicated than “calories in, calories out” calculations.

And yet, like the neighborhood slut, I–the fat girl–hide in the background when I’m around religious people, not believing that I have anything worth saying. And even if I did have something to say, why would someone listen to me? I’m so fat. Automatically, my words are discounted, because OBVIOUSLY I don’t have it all together.

I have believed that fat people are not worth listening to, that people who struggle inordinately with their weight have nothing to say that is of value.

I would never say that out loud, would I? I have many friends whose weight struggles do not discount their words of love and advice to me. But I do believe it, deep inside, where the light of truth has yet to shine.

Say it with me: Being overweight does not discount my wisdom, my experience, my story, my worth. 

Replace “overweight” with whatever adjective you have taken for yourself that needs to be discarded.

Say it with me: I have something worth saying and worth listening to.

Listen to the words of the apostle Paul from earlier in 2 Corinthians:
Consequently, from now on we regard no one according to the flesh…

What is seen in the flesh does not define me.

I have to let go of that “fat” word and applying it to myself. Yes, the fact is that I am overweight. But that does not define me. I am Amanda, and OH, the wisdom of my parents and of God, whose name means “Worthy of love.”

You have to let go of the word that you define yourself with: fat, old, weak, depressed, anxious, crazy, unstable, afraid, small, stupid…

Whatever that word is, it is not who you are.

You are valuable, precious (of great price), worthy of love, beautiful, and wanted.

Consider the story of St. Lawrence, who lived from 225 AD to 258 AD. Under the emperor Valerian, Roman authorities demanded that Lawrence, a deacon in the church at Rome, gather all the treasures of the church to hand over to the state. So, obediently, Lawrence went and rounded up all the treasures of the church—the lame, the beggars, the blind, the suffering. The weak ones, he knew, were the true treasure of the Church.

You, my friend, in your weakness—whatever that might be—are the treasure of the Church. Your wounds are precious. Your story is valuable. Your voice is needed for the rest of us to know more fully the love of Jesus Christ.

Paul continues in his second letter to the Corinthians:
So we are ambassadors for Christ, as if God were appealing through us.

You have something worth saying. You are an ambassador for the Son of the Living God. 

Reject the lie that you have nothing to say or that no one will listen because of ______________ (fill in the blank). You have so much to say and it is so powerful that the devil will do what he can to stop you from sharing it. In as much as you have a story of pain and redemption, you carry a word of God for someone who needs it.

And they overcame [the accuser] by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, and they did not love their lives to the death. 
Revelation 12:11

Follow-up: If this has moved you and you want to do something about it, share it and then go read To All the Fat Girls–Part II.

The things of June 11: Your Input Needed

It’s June 11, which means several things this year.

It means that it’s my birthday as well as my dad’s. He’s 63 and I’m 31. Happy birthday, Dad.

It means that we have known for a day that our third baby is a girl. Big sister Lily is very excited, while big brother Brennan was excited to get a pink cake pop out of the deal.

It means that my friend Mary K. and I are about 5 weeks out from pitching our book to several publishers at a writer’s conference. That is, I will be at my sister’s wedding while Mary K. does all the hard work.

Our book is currently titled Staying in Love with God: A Guide for Lovers. We have received some feedback that the part about lovers is confusing (is it a book for couples?). We were going for lovers of God, but maybe that can come across in a different way.

We want to write about how creating a personal liturgy (a rhythm of life, not necessarily a schedule) cultivates the seeds of love that God has sown, allowing our hearts to stay in love with God even in a busy season and when a relationship with God doesn’t look like it used to (in youth group or college, when things were much more intense spiritually). Can we really be as in love with God as we were back when we had more energy and less distraction? (You can read the answer in the book!)

Creating a personal liturgy helps us to create space in our life to be intentional, to be mindful of the small moments and the stability that repetition can bring. We stay in love with God by giving space in three ways–for God to be Himself (space to stay), for me to be myself (space to seek, to create, and to remember) and for others to be themselves (space to interrupt). This pattern gives us a precious simplicity that is relationship-focused and ultimately, a way to bring the kingdom of God out of the abstract and into our intensely personal flesh-and-blood reality.

So, for your help. Can you answer a few questions in the comments? You can comment on Facebook or through WordPress, or feel free to email me at amanda dot marie dot beck at gmail dot com.

1. Does the title “Staying in Love with God” appeal to you?

2. Thoughts about the possible subtitles below?
“Creating a rhythm of life that connects you to God”
“How creating a personal liturgy keeps our hearts on fire”

3. Other suggestions for title or subtitle?

Thanks for your help! Pray for us as we prepare for the pitch to the publishers!

Christians and the Idolatry of Marriage

  In Ephesians 5, the Apostle Paul uses the image of Christ and His Church to give direction to married couples and their call to submission and sacrifice. These are valuable lessons, indeed. But I think that the matrimonial language used to describe our relationship with Jesus has misled American Christians to place a burden upon earthly marriage that it wasn’t designed to bear.

Perhaps because of a misunderstanding of Paul’s words about the mystery of the union between Christ and His Bride, in the minds of American Christians, marriage has taken a place that it was not meant to. As a consequence, it has become the ideological receptacle of two things: unrestricted sex without guilt and emotional stability.

Faced with the sexual revolution of the mid-20th century which persists and thrives still, American Christian culture has scrambled to express ages-long held sexual theology within our modern context. Unfortunately, instead of a nuanced and well-developed theology of the sexual part of human identity, the good use of the body, and the power of creating new life through the sexual act, the result is a condemnation of sex outside of marriage and a celebration of lots and lots of sex within it.

There is a problem with this simultaneous condemnation and celebration of sex: it takes our natural human inclination to have sex and asks us to put a rubber stamp on it that must be witnessed and performed by those with legal and ecclesiastical authority. I think the marriage debate right now rests on this.

(In addition to the Christian celebration of lots and lots of married sex, American Christian culture has left behind the procreative expectation of conjugal bliss, and we have forgotten that originally, in addition to being delightful, sex made babies, and it was good. But that’s a topic for another day.)

Chastity vs. Virginity

I adolesced at the beginning of the True Love Waits movement, and although I never signed the pledge for that organization, I knew many who did. Virginity was touted as salvation from the many evils plaguing young people (it was presented as an exclusively young-people problem…). We were taught to hold on to our virginity above all costs, but not to worry if we had already surrendered it because if we asked, God would grant to us a second virginity.

Virginity was salvation, not Jesus, the giver of chastity. (Thanks to Lauren Winner and her book Real Sex: The Naked Truth about Chastity for her valuable insight. Read it.)

I am a witness to the harm of these well-intended but insufficient and damaging teachings. We have asked sexual human beings to lock down an integral facet of their personhood–sexuality–and save it for later.

Two problems: First, a healthy sexuality cannot be merely unlocked on the honeymoon night, nor even in the months of pre-marital counseling that leads up to the act of post-vow consummation. It takes years of conversation, prayer, self-examination, and shepherding to possess a healthy sexuality.

Second, marriage is promised to none of us. Not one. So if we press down and push aside consideration and practice of the sexual part of our identity, and marriage is not ‘in the cards’ for us, we usually see two results: 1) we will go crazy trying to control or ignore the sexual part of us and eventually go nuts or numb and transgress the call of Christ to holiness; or 2) we will live a stilted, crippled life, denying our sexuality from seeing the light of day, even though it is an integral part of our identity, and therefore submitting our souls to an unholy crucifixion.

The issue: Idolatry

To put this issue in a few words, American Christians have made an idol of marriage and have held it above almost all other goods in this life. This has limited (and even prohibited) the exploration and discussion of the sexual part of our identity as humans, setting up the expectation that true human fulfillment can only be achieved within the confines of marital bliss.

This has caused a fracture in our souls, and we are seeing it at a local and national level.

Please hear me clearly: I do not deny that “he who finds a wife finds a good thing” (Proverbs 18:22 ESV). Marriage is a powerful design of God’s love to bring healing, life, happiness, and stability into our world, into our cultures. But it is far from God’s only design to bring healing, life, happiness, and stability; it is not even God’s best and most effective design.

That, my friends, is friendship.

Friendship

What is the greatest love? Jesus doesn’t say the love between a husband and wife, but rather he celebrates the love of someone who is willing to lay her life down for her friends (John 15:13 generalized).

We as American Christians have traded the highest good of friendship and substituted for it the guilt-free sex zone of marriage. We have cared more about violating our consciences in sexual activity than about cultivating deep and lasting friendship outside of marriage. We have lost the valuable years of the practice of friendship in the Church, and we have done it in at least two ways. Some of us exalted married love above friendship, and some of us have assumed that no such friendship like that of David and Jonathan could be as binding as the Scripture makes it seem without some romantic attachment or sexual foray.

A majority of our churches have been dominated by married people. Suspicion has grown up around the single life. We shun it. We avoid it at all costs. We devalue the state of being single because we have redefined the good.

Unless we change our definition of the greatest love, we will persist in our idolatry of marriage and we will continue to see rotten fruit come from it. Tragically, those who reap a lot of that fruit are our single friends.

We make promises to them, that “God has someone for you, just wait.”

We treat Christian marriage as a right, not as one of many paths in the family of the Church.

But the only right I can see in the Scripture of such a nature is the right to become a child of God (John 1:12-13).

May I be so bold as to say that in the economy of God, we don’t have the right to marry. Marriage is not a promise to any of us as we take up our cross and follow the Godman.

We have the right to become children of God.

Loneliness and Despair

In the past several years, I have attempted to navigate the rough waters of the national conversation on gay marriage, and to navigate it faithfully as a Christian. For me, this means to remember the heart of my compassionate Father who has been so kind to me on my own journey of understanding the sexual part of my identity. My experience of fractured sexuality and the experience of those closest to me have caused me to force myself to be slow to judge and quick to listen, understand, and pray. On the journey to sexual wholeness, I have found no easy answers.

At Rachel Held Evans’s suggestion, I watched the testimony of Matthew Vines, author of God and the Gay Christian. Vines is a gay man, a self-described conservative Christian, extremely articulate and careful in his speech and research. After a lot of searching, he has found himself a proponent, and a powerful one at that, for gay marriage in a Christian context.

He tells the story of growing up in a loving, supportive family where the Bible was held as the life-giving Word of God. He has a good relationship with both his father and mother, which challenges the conservative Christian position that homosexuality is always linked to a poor relationship with one’s parents.

But as Vines grew and experienced attraction not for women but for men, his despair grew. He felt sad and depressed because if what the BIble taught was true, that homosexuality was not God’s portion for humans, that he would be lonely and alone for the rest of his life. He described his acute longing for companionship and a family of his own, in tender and compelling words. He laid out his well-researched and thoughtful biblical and cultural defense of gay marriage.

As I watched him speak, I recognized myself in his story. It is true that attraction to my own gender has been present in my story, but more than just that echoed in me—the loneliness, the desire for a family of my own, the despair at the prospect of never being married—these were familiar.

I remember when I was 18 and freshly graduated from high school. I was traveling with 3 other women, all happily married, to a Christian women’s conference several hours away. I sat in the back of that Chevy Avalanche and wept, convinced that I would never have a companion to love me, and that I would be alone forever. At that time, it was the most acute pain I had ever felt, and it was miserable.

The ladies with me noticed my crying, and as I attempted to share my pain, they assured me that I would get married someday, that I would not be forever alone. Their words comforted me then, and I have indeed gone on to be married and happily so. But what if I were still single, like many of my dear friends? What place do the words of those well-meaning ladies have in the life of a lonely single person?

Effectively, we are saying this: Don’t worry…when you get married, it will be better. Wait for God’s timing in your fulfillment.

If, not when

The issue I take with this common comfort given to Christians who are single is this: For the Christian, marriage is an if, not a when. If we in the Church handle it as a when, an expectation or right for the faithful, marriage becomes a looming idol, with the hearts of the expectant sacrificed at its altar.

It is only when we handle marriage as an if that we can make headway in this necessary conversation. It is a matter that is tied up so deeply in our incarnational reality as spiritually and physically relational beings made by a good and kind God.

Perhaps you will think that mine being married disqualifies me from commentary on this issue. But I can only share my story and my observations, because they are all that I have.

Conclusion

In the Christian context, we have limited rights. If it is possible to separate the two, please understand that I am separating human rights and the rights of a person as a Christian before God. Our king teaches us what it is to lay down our lives and our rights for the sake of others.

But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God.

John 1:12 NKJV

This situates each of us in a family, the family where God is the head and we are the children. Being His child is what defines us and identifies us. Family is the answer to our loneliness and despair, but it is so much bigger than biology. The church at its most basic expression is a family. Yes, we are growing up into a bride. Yes, there is a marriage feast coming. But dare I say, before all that – – we are a family, God our Father and Christ our brother.

And this family is held together by the love of God and the friendship of His Son.

So let us leave aside the idol of marriage and seek friendship first. We have so much to learn from friends who have gone before us.

Marriage is not for everyone, but friendship is.

April 2: Praying for Ourselves

Today, we conclude this Lenten Media Prayer Journey–40 days of praying for our newspeople. We conclude by praying for ourselves, that we may be honest and upright in the new we report and share, and that we may seek God’s kingdom with charity, hope, and endurance.

God, I come to you in the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Today I pray for myself. May I seek the truth with justice and charity, and may I report the truth to others with honesty and integrity. May my voice rouse myself and others to hope in the power of Your love and to greater prayer for peace and charity in our world, specifically that Your kingdom come and Your will be done on our earth as it is in heaven. Amen.

On the eve of becoming Catholic

I am thankful for Odessa Bible Church, who offered the communion every week that drew me in to a relationship with Jesus at a very young age.

I am thankful for Fellowship Bible Church of Longview, who instilled in me a delight in and hunger for the Scriptures that has never left or abated.

I am thankful for Jim Foster’s Bible study in the FBC youth group for teaching me what a confession is and prompting me to seek one I could confess.

I am thankful for Grace Community Church of Waco, who met my hunger for the creed and for communion and who first taught me what the liturgical year looked like.

I am thankful for Antioch Community Church of Waco, who showed me how to walk with the Holy Spirit through depression and anxiety and who taught me the value of spiritual authority.

I am thankful for the Episcopal Church of the Holy Spirit of Waco, who welcomed me with grace and hospitality as I learned how to use the Book of Common Prayer and partake in the life of a liturgical community.

I am thankful for St. Andrew’s Church of Gainesville, who opened her heart to me and let me in so deep, for the friendships made and cemented there, and for the spiritual wisdom I gained through her teaching.

I am thankful for Dayspring Baptist Church of Waco, who taught me that I did not have to sign up for everything the church was doing to still be a part of the Body of Christ.

I am thankful for One Hope Presbyterian Church of Longview, who showed me hospitality and welcome in the waiting place.

I am thankful for the Body of Christ. I am honored to be a part of Him. The local church is the hope of the world, because that is where Jesus is, and He is our one Hope.

As we follow our Lord’s leading into the Roman Catholic Church, I pray with Jesus,

Make us one as You and the Father are One, Lord! May the walls we have built fall, and and may Your Church feast in friendship together.

April 1: Praying for our Newspeople

Today we pray for World Magazine—specifically its owners, writers, producers, editors, camera people, other support staff, and reporters.

God, I come to you in the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Today I pray for World Magazine’s owners, writers, producers, editors, camera people, other support staff, and reporters. May they seek the truth with justice and charity, and may they report the truth to us with honesty and integrity. May their voices rouse us to hope in the power of Your love and to greater prayer for peace and charity in our world, specifically that Your kingdom come and Your will be done on our earth as it is in heaven. Amen.

March 31: Praying for our Newspeople

Today we pray for both National Review and Newsweek—specifically their owners, writers, producers, editors, camera people, other support staff, and reporters.

God, I come to you in the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Today I pray for National Review’s and Newsweek’s owners, writers, producers, editors, camera people, other support staff, and reporters. May they seek the truth with justice and charity, and may they report the truth to us with honesty and integrity. May their voices rouse us to hope in the power of Your love and to greater prayer for peace and charity in our world, specifically that Your kingdom come and Your will be done on our earth as it is in heaven. Amen.

March 30: Praying for our Newspeople

Today we pray for the New York Times—specifically its owners, writers, producers, editors, camera people, other support staff, and reporters.

God, I come to you in the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Today I pray for the New York Time’s owners, writers, producers, editors, camera people, other support staff, and reporters. May they seek the truth with justice and charity, and may they report the truth to us with honesty and integrity. May their voices rouse us to hope in the power of Your love and to greater prayer for peace and charity in our world, specifically that Your kingdom come and Your will be done on our earth as it is in heaven. Amen.

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