Does Lent make you squirm?

Several weeks ago it dawned on me that Lent was just three days away. I experienced a sinking feeling—the kind of feeling that made my shoulders slump and my head drop a little.Prodigal son

As I reflected on this physical and emotional response, I realized that Lent felt like a burden—one more thing to add to my already-full life. I felt weary and I didn’t want another thing to have to manage.

Lent is often described as a season of repentance and reflection. Growing up, I was taught that repentance meant “to turn away,” and more specifically, “to turn away from sin.”

I’m a person that tends to feel guilt and shame easily. Because I already struggle with feeling bad or “not good enough,” the thought of entering into a season focused on “turning away from sin” felt oppressive. I know God isn’t oppressive, so it got me wondering if there was something missing or off about my understanding of repentance. It turns out that there was.

The Hebrew word for repentance is “t’shuvah,” which means “to turn” or “to return.” It can mean to turn away from sin, but it can also mean to turn toward God or to re-turn to God.

When we focus solely on turning away from sin, we can get caught up in the willpower game and we get stuck. A better approach is to ask God to help us identify the things that we tend to turn to for security instead of turning to God.

Through this kind of prayerful reflection God has helped me see that when I’m under stress I tend to put my nose to the grindstone and work harder. My tendency is to turn to over-work and my own abilities, rather than to God, for help. Much of my life I’ve also turned to sugar to comfort me in times of distress and sadness instead of turning to God for consolation.

With this fuller understanding of the meaning of repentance, Lent feels different. I’m experiencing Lent as a reminder and an invitation to return to my Beloved and to my identity as God’s beloved. This, of course, is not just a once-a-year invitation. It’s the ongoing, central invitation of our lives.

Are you aware of the things that you tend to turn to under stress? What practices or life rhythms might help you turn, or return, to God throughout the day/week?

Practicing the Art of Neighboring

Three months ago I was pulling up to my driveway at home after a day of meetings and work at the church office. As I was pulling in I saw two of my neighbors talking in one of their driveways and I decided to go say, “Hi.”

As I approached, one of them said, “Hi stranger! We’ve missed you. We hardly see you anymore since you starting working.”

It was an honest comment, but a slightly different version of it ran through my head for the next three days: We hardly see you anymore since you became a pastor.

I became a pastor a year ago and my neighbor’s comment got me wondering if I might have been a better pastor before I became a pastor. Was I more present as a minister among my neighbors and in my neighborhood before I became a paid minister in a church?

When a Pharisee asked Jesus which of the commandments was the greatest, Jesus replied: ‘“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.’” (Matthew 22:37-39, NIV)

Jesus said that all of scripture hangs on this: Love God with everything in you and love your neighbor.

Simple, right?

But what Jesus stated simply, we’ve complicated (and ignored).

We’ve done this by making Jesus’ words metaphorical. We’ve made the mistake of broadening the definition of neighbor so much that we think he meant everyone everywhere.*

And how has this played out? When everyone in the world is our metaphorical neighbor, do we actually try to develop a loving relationship with every person in the world? Of course not.*

When we’re faced with an impossible task, we usually get overwhelmed and do nothing, or very little.

In other words, by believing that we’re supposed to be neighbors with everyone, many Christians end up being neighbors with no one.*

It’s a sad reality that most people know very few of their neighbors. In fact, most people don’t know the names of the people who live in the 8 houses or apartments closest to them.*

How can we love our neighbors if we don’t know them?

In Denver, Colorado, a group of 20 pastors met with the mayor of Denver to ask how their churches could best work together to serve the city.*

So the mayor started talking about the various problems that most cities face. He spoke of child hunger, drug and alcohol abuse, dilapidated housing, elderly shut-ins who have no one to look in on them, and the list went on and on.

And then the mayor said this: “The majority of the issues that our community is facing would be eliminated or drastically reduced if we could just figure out a way to become a community of great neighbors.”

When the meeting ended, the pastors felt stunned and embarrassed. Here they were asking their mayor how they could best serve the city, and he basically said it would be great if they could get their churches to obey the second half of The Great Commandment—if they could inspire followers of Jesus to do what Jesus said.

In the prayer that Jesus taught the disciples (The Lord’s Prayer) the kingdom of God gets quite a bit of airtime:

“‘Our Father who is in heaven. Hallowed be Your name. Your kingdom come. Your will be done, On earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And do not lead us into temptation, but deliver us from evil. For Yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen.’” – Matthew 6:9b-10, NASB

Four out of the nine lines in this prayer have to do with God’s kingdom.

Jesus talked about the kingdom of God more than anything else and taught his disciples to pray for his kingdom to come. I think it’s safe to say that Christ wants his kingdom to be a high priority to us—something that we spend time thinking about, praying about, and talking about.

I’d like to challenge us to start a new habit.

We’re most likely to successfully create a new habit when we attach it to an existing habit, so here it is: I challenge you to say The Lord’s Prayer every time you brush your teeth.

(It’s probably best to say it silently in your head, because it could get messy if you try to say it out loud.)

I also challenge you to localize it.

If you live in Newberg, Oregon, for example, when you get to the third line you’d say, “Your kingdom come, your will be done, in Newberg as it is in heaven.” Include the name of your street as well: “Your kingdom come, your will be done, in Newberg and on Sheridan Street as it is in heaven.”
That’s the simple challenge. Say The Lord’s Prayer every time you brush your teeth, and apply it specifically to your city and street.

Since most of us brush our teeth in the morning and at night, the flourishing of God’s kingdom will become one of the first things we think about as we start each day and one of the last things we ponder as we end each day.

Try it and see what kingdom fruit may come of it.

* From The Art of Neighboring by Jay Pathak and Dave Runyon

Summer [Justice] Book Clubs for Kids


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Jenae Head shotJenae Dryden is an educator and mom who is inspiring a passion for justice in kids through summer book clubs.

I met Jenae fifteen years ago on a month-long trip to India and Nepal when she was a student and I worked in the Spiritual Life department at George Fox University. A decade and a half later our paths crossed online because of our parallel justice awakenings and shared desire to instill a passion for justice in our children.

I hope you enjoy this interview with Jenae. Perhaps you’ll be inspired to read some of her favorite justice books with your kids, share them with other kids you know and love, or start your own justice book club.

Jenae on blanket


Q: Who is the book club for and when and where do you meet?

For practical reasons, the book club has been for girls who are about the age of my daughter, plus or minus a few years, and their moms. Initially, the ages were about 4-7, now it’s closer to 6-10. The content and discussions have matured each year.

We meet about four times during the summer because the girls are out of school and as a school-based speech-language pathologist, I am off during the summer too. Most of the moms who come are either stay-at-home moms, work part-time, or are teachers.

We live in the Pacific Northwest, so summer is a lovely time to meet outside at a park and it makes it easy for moms with younger/older children to come and have a place for the kids to play while we meet.

The downside to summer is families’ vacation schedules, so sometimes attendance is sporadic.


Q: What led you to start the book club? 

When my kids were two and four, and were finally, consistently sleeping through the night, my brain woke up after a four-year hibernation and I had the energy and mental clarity to read interesting books again and think about things outside the four walls of my home.

At the same time, God was drawing me closer to him and opening my eyes to truths in the Bible that I hadn’t considered before. I came across a book written by Gary Haugen, the president of International Justice Mission (IJM), a human rights organization that rescues and restores victims of violence, sexual exploitation, slavery, and oppression.

Good News About InjusticeHaugen’s book, The Good News About Injustice profoundly impacted me. The reality of human trafficking, modern-day slavery, and other forms of violent oppression in the world, along with Haugen’s numerous references to scripture about God’s passion for justice confronted me. As a woman, a mom, and as a person who claims to follow Jesus, I cared deeply about these issues. I just didn’t know what to do about it.

So I followed the example of Haugen and his IJM colleagues and I prayed. I thanked God for sparking a passion inside of me for justice and asked him to show me how to work for justice, contribute to the work of IJM, and do it in a way that my little family could be on the journey with me. Within a short amount of time, God answered that prayer very clearly.

One night I was meditating on a passage from Ephesians 5:8-11: “For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light (for the fruit of the light is all goodness, righteousness, and truth). And find out what pleases the Lord. Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them.”

The next morning, the words ran through my head again and the idea of a mother-daughter book club flashed through my mind. What if, together with some other moms and their daughters, we lived as children of light, teaching our girls about justice, compassion, courage, and love; and shed light on the darkness in our world in a way that was developmentally appropriate, drew others into the journey, and raised awareness and support for IJM? I mentioned the idea to some friends and started the book club that summer.

Jenae activity


Q: What is a typical book club meeting like?

Each year has been a learning process, but I thought the format we used last summer worked really well for their ages. We met about four times during the summer. About a week before each meeting, I’d send out an Evite to everyone I had talked to who had expressed interest in the book club. (There were about 20 moms altogether, and usually, between 6-10 moms with their daughters were able to come each time).

We met up at a park and gathered our blankets around on the grass. I’d always start with a brief introduction about why we were meeting together. I had asked the girls to bring a book from home that they liked and to share something about the book (e.g., title, author, setting, characters, etc.). I’d model first, then have the girls practice answering the question with their mom, then share with the whole group.

Then I’d read aloud a chapter from the book we chose for the summer (last year it was “The Hundred Dresses”) and have a discussion about that chapter as well as the previous chapter, which they would have read at home during the week. The questions were simple, and my goal was to get them to think about the story, apply it to their lives, and make a connection to justice.

I then talked a bit about fiction vs. nonfiction and I brought in some children’s biographies (from the local library) about a historical woman or girl who was a real life justice hero. We talked about how she exemplified love, justice, courage, compassion, etc. with her life and were able to touch on some difficult moments in history (slavery, holocaust, etc.).

I planned a short activity for the girls to understand the concepts better. For example, when we talked about Mother Teresa, I gave each girl a Band-Aid to put on her mom and practice saying compassionate words to someone who is hurting.

Finally, we talked a little about IJM, modern-day slavery, and worked on our “Freedom Friends,” stuffed toys the girls and moms sewed which we gathered and sold at the end of the summer to raise money for IJM. Each time we talked about how the girls were helping to free slaves by making Freedom Friends. The whole thing took about an hour.

Jenae freedom friend


Q: What’s been the biggest benefit or highlight of the club?

I don’t know if I can pick just one! I have loved finding a “tribe” of like-minded moms; teaching children about God’s heart for justice and how that applies to us at home, at school, and in the world; and getting to empower small girls to actually work toward the end of modern-day slavery.

Introducing more people to the amazing work of International Justice Mission is also a highlight. Last summer, someone from IJM found out about the book club and visited one of our meetings. That was really encouraging.


Q: Do you have another book club in the works? 

Yes! My son, who is two years younger than my daughter has tagged along, sometimes participating, sometimes just running around during our book club gatherings. Last year he started asking for his own book club. Well, if I care that much about justice, I figured I better do something about that! A good friend of mine who has three boys is joining me in launching a Justice Book Club for Boys this summer.



Q: Do you have any advice or encouragement for parents interested in starting their own book club?

1. Pray and listen to God.

My book club began as a result of prayer – I felt burdened with the desire to do something about the terrible injustices in the world and to raise my kids in a way that they would grow up knowing that God loves justice and empowers us as Christians to seek justice in our world. I believe the initial idea of the book club, the moms and girls who came, and the action steps and ideas that have sprung from it have come as an answer to that prayer.

2. Define your purposes for the book club.

They might be different from mine! I had a few purposes:

  • Encourage a love of reading, and help girls learn about books and how to talk about books.
  • Teach the girls about people and places in the world that are very different from us. I wanted to broaden their worldview and introduce them to some difficult topics in a positive and developmentally appropriate way.
  • Raise awareness and funds for International Justice Mission.

So I knew my book club had to have a literacy/communication component (each time I introduced a different aspect of the book and the girls learned to talk about it), a justice component (hands-on activities and discussions that help them understand justice, compassion, courage, love, etc. in real situations globally and locally), and a fundraising component (IJM has a great fundraising tool online.

3. Be flexible and don’t put too much pressure on yourself to do things perfectly or do too much.

Start small and remember that any mom that comes with her daughter is just glad that you’re doing something! Also, don’t be discouraged by a seeming lack of interest in the justice-related topics, even from your own kids! We’re planting seeds and trusting God to make them grow.

Last, include other friends and family who don’t have kids in the book club by telling them about it. Some of my biggest cheerleaders and prayer warriors for this have been people who don’t actually come to the book club. My husband, John, comes to mind immediately.

The No 1 Car Spotter


Q: What books would you recommend? 

These are the books we have used:

  • Betsy-Tacy by Maud Hart Lovelace. A lovely story about a friendship between two girls who were just starting school.
  • Rickshaw Girl by Mitali Perkins. About a girl in Bangladesh who tries to find a solution to her family’s financial difficulties. It discusses issues related to gender inequality, poverty, and resourcefulness in an accessible way for children.
  • The Hundred Dresses by Eleanor Estes. This timeless story touches on friendship, bullying, immigrants, empathy, and making the decision to “never stand by and say nothing again.” We had very rich discussions with this one.
  • Anything by Atinuke. This summer we are planning on reading Anna Hibiscus with the girls and The No. 1 Car Spotter with the boys. Atinuke is a wonderful storyteller and her books delightfully and poignantly capture the beautiful and ugly of two communities (rural and urban) in an unnamed region of Africa.
  • Last summer we talked quite a bit about fiction vs. nonfiction and I brought in biographies of real life justice heroes – women like Mother Teresa, Ruby Bridges, Corrie Ten Boom, and Harriet Tubman.

Jenae blogs at She also has a Pinterest board where she collects book club ideas:

Please share in the comments any children’s books you’ve read that you think would work well for a justice book club.

Dare Mighty Things


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Twice this week I’ve read that the word “resurrection” literally means “to stand up” or “to stand again.” Two days this side of Resurrection Day, I thought it fitting to share an excerpt from a new book that’s helping women stand up.

Halee Gray ScottThe book is Dare Mighty Things: Mapping the Challenges of Leadership for Christian Women by Halee Gray Scott, PhD, an author and independent social researcher who focuses on issues related to leadership and spiritual formation. I met Halee through Redbud Writers Guild and I admire and appreciate her and her writing. I think you will too.

Excerpt from Dare Mighty Things by Halee Gray Scott:

Christian women have been shamed into a corner. Many have bought the lie that they are the second sex—they do not matter and they are not gifted, at least not in the ways that matter most. They got the message that they need to limit their horizons, temper their ambitions.

They are leaving. Research shows not only are there less women in church, there are less women going to seminary. Women’s advancement in leadership has altogether stalled, right along with the wage gap. Women, especially Millennial women, see this lack of progress and start to wonder if leadership is even worth it. So they look for “the good life” elsewhere. As the French say, “Ça ne vaut pas la peine.” It is not worth the pain.

Dare Might Things bigIt isn’t enough for me to simply tell you the stories of Christian women who are daring mighty things and outline the challenges you will face, so let me tell you this:

Your life matters. We can learn from our ancestors, from Christian women who dared mighty things and brought about massive cultural reform. It was not too long ago that women in the nineteenth century, women with far more limitations than we have today, worked to abolish slavery, alcoholism, poverty, illiteracy. They created legislation to prevent women from being sexually exploited by men, built homes to keep them safe, and provided aid to immigrants.

You are gifted and called. The Lord can do more than you can possibly imagine through your life.

You are needed. The same problems that confronted the women of the nineteenth century confront us today. Women are still exploited by men. Slavery is not abolished for all. Fifteen million children go to bed hungry every night in America alone. We can find the good life by daring mighty things, by overcoming our personal challenges in order to make a good life for others.

God is working through Christian women. The first challenge for most Christian women? Believing you are a leader at all. Believing you have gifts. Believing that God wants to use your life as a force for good. Not every woman is called to be a pastor, a minister, or a CEO of a non-profit. Some women are called to lead in other ways—leading an at-home Bible study, starting a food pantry at their church—but these women are leaders, too, and their contributions have been minimized for far too long.

Sometimes the mightiest thing you can do is to do that which seems very small—dare to dream big dreams. Dare to believe that you can make a difference. Dare to believe that overcoming obstacles and facing challenges is worthwhile. Women have overcome them before; all you have to do is dare to believe that you can too. That is where you start.

There is no passion to be found playing small – in settling for a life that is less than the one you are capable of living.

– Nelson Mandela


Wash Someone’s Feet Today [Maundy Thursday]


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Foot washing 1Today is Maundy Thursday, or Holy Thursday, the day that Christians around the world remember Jesus’s “last supper” with his disciples and the way he shocked his followers by washing their feet (a task typically done by servants because it was considered low, dirty work).

Several years ago, on Maundy Thursday, I discovered a brown paper bag on my doorstep. Inside I found four rolls, four grape juice boxes, and a washcloth. My friend Doreen left it for our family with a note explaining that for many years she and her family had enjoyed the ritual of washing each other’s feet and taking communion together on Holy Thursday.

After dinner that night, I pulled out one of our children’s Bibles and read the story of the last supper to our two kids. Our family then took turns washing each other’s feet in a plastic tub of warm water. The kids were 3 and 6 years old at the time and they were very sweet and cute as they carefully rubbed our feet with the wet washcloth, then patted each foot dry with a clean towel.

Our kids were particularly fond of the grape juice boxes and rolls, so much so that the following year they asked me to buy the exact same brand of grape juice boxes and to ask Doreen which grocery store she had bought the rolls from so that we could get the same ones.

foot washing 2Over the years, the kids have taken more ownership of this tradition.

When my son Jonah was 4 years old he asked if he could hold the bread and juice and say “the words” to each person. (“The body of Jesus, broken for you” and “The blood of Jesus, poured out for you.”) When it was time for the bread and juice, he had his dad and sister get in a line facing him. He picked up a roll, held it out to his dad, then leaned over to me and whispered, “What’s my line again?”

foot washing 3Another year the kids wanted to invite their neighborhood friends to join in, so we bought more rolls and juice and enjoyed sharing this tradition with a small flock of kids.

foot washing 4The first year our church had a Maundy Thursday service, our family planned to attend, so I didn’t buy any rolls or juice knowing that we’d take communion at church. But as soon as the service was over, the kids asked if we were going to “do it as a family” when we got home. They insisted on stopping at the store on our way home to get our own rolls and juice so we could continue what had become one of their favorite family traditions.

Symbols and rituals mean a lot to children. They learn best experientially when they engage their sense of touch, taste, sound, smell, and sight. (Adults do too.)

Perhaps you’d like to try this with your family or others. If you don’t have a tub, basin, or large bowl for the foot washing, you can use the bathtub. Be creative.

If you try it, I’d love to hear about it. Please share your stories in the comments. If you have other Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, or Easter rituals and traditions that you’d like to share, please do!


Does “Bossy” = Leadership?


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BanBossyHoldBackHave you heard about Ban Bossy—a campaign initiated by the Girls Scouts and Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg’s nonprofit organization If you haven’t, here’s the core message of the campaign in a nutshell:

“When a little boy asserts himself, he’s called a “leader.” Yet when a little girl does the same, she risks being branded “bossy.” Words like bossy send a message: don’t raise your hand or speak up. By middle school, girls are less interested in leading than boys—a trend that continues into adulthood. Together we can encourage girls to lead. Pledge to Ban Bossy.”

I totally agree with this message. Parents, educators, and youth leaders need to pay attention to, and change, the way we talk to girls.


The words we use reveal the messages we live by.

Do I tend to think of men and boys as leaders? How often do I use the word “leader” to describe a woman or a girl? Am I more put off by qualities of assertiveness and directness when I experience them in women than in men?

By asking us to think about the words we choose, Ban Bossy is causing us to think about deep-seated myths about gender.

I’m grateful to and the Girl Scouts for challenging us to recognize that leadership is not bound by gender. I’d like to add that it’s not bound by temperament either.

Several years ago, my kids were playing with a little boy who had an assertive personality. He was speaking louder than the other kids, doing the majority of the talking, and telling the other kids what he wanted them to do. His mom, somewhat apologetically, said, “We’re working on trying to help him be a little less bossy.” After a brief pause, his dad said, “Or we’re just going to start calling him a leader.”

I laughed along with the other parents, but I remember being annoyed that this person was equating “bossy” with “leadership.”


Having an assertive personality doesn’t automatically make a person a good leader.  Unhealthy assertive types can make particularly bad leaders when their assertiveness disintegrates into aggression, dominance, control, and abuse of power. We rightly refer to these people as dictators rather than leaders.

Assertive personality types can be great leaders, of course, especially as they learn to listen well and often, welcome other people’s ideas, and share power.

But people with more withdrawn personality types can also be great leaders. They naturally tend to listen well and share power, and they can learn to assert themselves and exhibit confidence through their body language and the vocal volume.


Spiritual Direction Tip: Parents, pay attention to what bothers you most in your child or what you are most worried about for your child. Are you worried that your son will be seen as weak and called a “wimp?” Are you worried that your daughter will be seen as overbearing and be called a “bitch?”

Do you tend to judge a quality as bad or good? Can you see the value of sensitivity, or do you tend to judge it as “over-sensitivity.” Can you see the value of assertiveness, or do you tend to judge it as “pushy.”

We often try to shut down in our children the things that we haven’t come to terms with in ourselves.

Christians look to Jesus as our flagship example of a great leader. Jesus embraced and exhibited both lion and lamb-like qualities. He turned over tables and held young children. He challenged the religious establishment and wept over the city of Jerusalem. He was decisive about healing people on the Sabbath and he hesitated in the Garden of Gethsemane, questioning whether there might be another way.

To follow Jesus’s example of leadership is to integrate both the lion and the lamb within us.


If a father hasn’t learned to embrace both the lion and the lamb within himself, and over identifies as a lion—believing that this is what makes him a man—he will shame his son when his son exhibits lamb-like qualities.

A mother can also over-identify as a lion, believing her lion qualities are what make her a strong woman. She may shame her daughter for exhibiting lamb-like qualities out of fear that her daughter will one day be taken advantage or abused by a man if she doesn’t become strong enough.

A mother may also over-identify as a lamb, believing this is what make her “feminine” or “a good Christian woman.” She may shame her daughter when she exhibits lion-like qualities, fearing that her daughter will not fit into the narrow view of “Biblical womanhood” that she lives by.


Words matter. Collectively they make up the messages by which we think and act.

We are not immune to cultural messages and neither are our kids. If we think certain messages are hurting our kids, we have the opportunity and the responsibility to change them.

So notice the next time you use the word “bossy,” or almost use it. Is there a better word? Better yet, is there a better way to think about and engage with the assertive person before you that both values the way God designed her, and at the same time values the other person with whom she is relating.

(A special thanks to Catherine Skurja for her work on the lion/lamb concept as it relates to spirituality and personality. Read more in her book Paradox Lost. Thanks also to Richard Rohr and Andreas Ebert for their insight on Jesus and personality in their book The Enneagram: A Christian Perspective.)


Bellies, Bikinis & True Love


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My short article “Bellies, Bikinis & True Love” was published on the Mothers of Preschoolers International (MOPS) blog on Valentine’s Day, but their server was overloaded for a couple of weeks and access was limited. It’s up and running now. For those who dislike Valentine’s Day, perhaps this will sit better with you on an ordinary day like today. Although today is Ash Wednesday, so it’s not really an ordinary day. 

bellies-bikinis-and-true-loveA bikini is no longer an option for me. After two pregnancies, my stretched out bellybutton turns down on both ends like it’s frowning. These days I want to be fully clothed when doing push ups or holding the plank position. Otherwise, my loose tummy skin hangs down like a wrinkly elongated bagel made of Jell-O.

It’s not totally hideous. I still walk around in my bra and underwear in front of my kids. But I’ve been tempted on more than one occasion to ask Siri, “How much is the cheapest tummy tuck in Portland, Oregon?”

When my husband, Andy, and I were lying in bed a few months ago, I said, “I’m just going to cover up my wrinkly tummy,” then pulled the sheet up over my stomach. Andy moved the sheet aside, kissed my stomach and said, “I love your wrinkly tummy and what it represents.”

No one else can say that to me, and mean it, but Andy.

3-stages-of-womans-belly-300x100I remember him touching and kissing my growing belly during my pregnancies, expressing his love for both our yet-to-be-born children and me. He’s continued to touch and kiss my tummy since then, sending me a beautiful, counter-cultural message: You are as beautiful at 40 as you were at 22.

When Andy and I were talking recently, we realized that we both think the other is more physically attractive now than when we were dating. We agreed that we were both more critical of each other back then. We didn’t criticize each other out loud, but we remember noticing things about each other’s appearance that we thought could use some improvement. I think that must have been part of immature love.

Today we see each other more clearly. We know each other more deeply. We’ve gone through hard times. We’ve asked each other for forgiveness. We’ve grown through failure and disappointment. Seventeen years of life shared together has adjusted our vision. We see clearly, now more than ever, that what we have is beautiful.

(Black and white 3-stages-of-a-woman’s-belly photos by photographers Sarah Sampedro and Savannah.)

Reclaiming Eve


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ReclaimingEveBlogTourSuzanne Cross Burden, MA in Theological Studies, is one of the co-authors of the newly released book Reclaiming Eve: The Identity and Calling of Women in the Kingdom of God (Beacon Hill Press). I know Suzanne through Redbud Writers Guild, an organization that amplifies the voices of Christian women in the church, community and culture, and am excited to share this Q&A about her new book with you.

Suzanne Cross Burden-thumbIn your book Reclaiming Eve, you encourage women to find their true identity and calling in the Kingdom of God. Why did you want to write a book like this?

My coauthors and I were separately studying Scripture and had become convinced that women need to own their identity as God’s image-bearers and the “strong power/strong helper” we see Eve to be in the biblical Creation account. It’s less about us wanting to write a book about this and more that we believe God compelled us to do so.

In fact, we were somewhat reluctant, wishing we didn’t need to have this conversation about women being freed up to be full participants in God’s Kingdom. But the fact is, we do. For me, it was personal at first: Would I step in to all God has for me, my marriage and other relationships and my calling? Or would I take my usual, safer, back-row seat? I couldn’t say no to God.

What is the purpose of the book and who is your ideal reader?

The book answers the question “What does the gospel make possible for women?” Essentially, it takes a straight look at who God created Eve—and every woman after her—to be. It causes women to look at long-held assumptions and evaluate them in light of God’s mission in the world. It leads an individual or group into a holistic understanding of the identity and calling of women in the Kingdom of God.

There are two stories of Eve. One says she is man’s inferior assistant, easily deceived and dangerous. The other says she is made in God’s own image, a strong power designed to partner with men to work in God’s Kingdom on earth. Unfortunately, the world and the Church have often parked their theology and practice with the first story. As a result, we have often taught and modeled that there is something lacking in women. This is deeply tragic, and it is why we must reclaim Eve.

Genesis says God created Eve to be a helper for Adam. What did you find when you looked into the meaning of “helper”?

I am sad that the English word “helper” is so inadequate to describe the Hebrew word God used when he introduced Eve. He called her an “ezer.” For centuries we’ve diminished Eve and painted her as inferior to Adam. But the word “ezer” calls our bluff. Tucked right into the Creation story, we see a word for God used 16 times in the Old Testament to describe how he comes through for his people in times of desperate need! God is our agent of rescue, a strong helper. And, according to God, so is Eve.

When we looked a little more deeply into what Old Testament experts have discovered, we were blown away, surprised and relieved. The word “ezer” connotes strength and power, so it would also be accurate to call Eve a “strong power.”

ReclaimingEve2How is the definition of the Hebrew word “ezer,” used when God created Eve, transformational for women?

I can tell you how it is transforming me. For years, I found ways to be content with taking a back row seat to men at Church, at work and in my closest relationships. But we don’t get an “opt out” button, friends.

God is calling us to rise up as “ezers,” which can be translated as a “strong power” or “an agent of rescue,” because he created each one of us to be a strong advocate for his love and justice. And the beauty of this discovery is that we can be agents of rescue and redemption in any life stage or circumstance: as a homeschooling mother of five, as a teenager in your high school or youth group, as a professional working woman or a full-time single missionary. Even poor health does not disqualify us. One 80+ year-old woman heard the ezer message and said this: I’m glad to know I am still worth something in God’s Kingdom.

For centuries the church has taught that women cannot be leaders in the church. Is this because they did not understand God’s reason for creating Eve?

Following the Resurrection of Jesus, it appears that believers did begin to realize God’s reason for creating Eve. They were still a product of their times to some extent, but there was a leaning toward mutuality between males and females that actually made women want to become a part of the Christian church.

However, in the 4th century, the church united with the Roman Empire and things went downhill, slowly adopting the ways of the world and erasing women from Church history. To this day, [some] scholars still point to the fall and the curse of humanity and declare Eve to be subordinate to men. This would mean that while humanity’s relationship to God can be restored, Eve would remain in her fallen relationship with Adam, serving Adam instead of serving God directly.

If you believe this, it is easy to point out New Testament passages that say women are to be restricted in teaching within a particular context and then project them onto the creation story. But this approach negates the full redemptive power of the gospel. We must take another look at God’s intentions in Genesis if we are to effectively represent his interests on this earth.

What does it look like when a woman becomes an “ezer,” and when “adams” and “ezers” are partners?

Quite simply, a woman becomes who she was created to be from the beginning, a strong power designed to serve with her brothers as a powerful ally. We are so much stronger together than apart. Rather than separating men’s and women’s ministries or making up committees or teams of one sex or the other, there is literal power in strengthening a project or a ministry by involving both men and women. It’s not rocket science—it was God’s best plan in the beginning. Imagine what we could accomplish together as full partners!

What does “mutual submission” mean to you? How can it be possible in our relationships?

Submitting to one another is not an option for those who follow Jesus—it is a command. In Ephesians 5:21, Paul says, “Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.” This is only possible if we follow the example of Jesus and empty ourselves.

To see this practiced perfectly, we will have to wait until Jesus returns. But the Holy Spirit enables those who follow Christ to graciously accept and submit to one another. We seek to do this in all of our relationships, including marriage. And each time we submit to another in the healthy, Spirit-led way that God intends, we rejoice that we are following in the footsteps of our Savior.

You talk about “curse modification” in the book. Explain what that means.

The curse we write of is found in Genesis 3:16, “Your desire will be for your husband, and he will rule over you” (NIV 2011). The effects of sin entering into the world were vast, and so some sad predictions were made about toil in daily work, bearing children, and in men ruling over women. If we’re technical, relationships weren’t cursed but the ground was. Still, in popular Christian culture we think of all of this as part of “the curse” of sin.

As a result, many Christians (myself included) have practiced “curse modification.” We won’t completely agree with the notion of women being inferior and dominated by men; we’ll allow them to do some things, as long as they don’t go too far for our personal comfort. My views, however, changed dramatically as I embraced the power of the gospel and the example set by Jesus. I believe the curse was reversed through His life, death, and Resurrection. In Jesus the restoration of women is a done deal.

In chapter four, coauthor Carla Sunberg writes about the world being filled with wounded women. Do you believe the cause of gender-based violence (including the high incidence of abuse happening toward girls and women in the US) is related to what we believe about the role of women in the Church and home? And if so, how?

There is a global epidemic of mistreatment and violence against women, and it is happening in our homes, our backyards, even in our churches. Some of these women are sitting next to you in church—even closer. Maybe you are a victim of violence.

Christian leaders are called to speak out publicly, defending women and calling men to account for their brutalization. And although women are so often the ones experiencing the mistreatment, I believe they are also part of the solution. Get women involved by using their voice or exercising leadership at home, work and Church, and you will see justice rise up. Even better, get men and women engaged in this mission together, and the power unleashed will be amazing. As God’s imagebearers, we are his representatives for justice and righteousness.

ReclaimingEve3AdHow can spiritual disciplines help a woman fulfill her calling?

In Reclaiming Eve, Jamie writes, “When we are intentionally seeking to be formed into the likeness of Christ, believers often turn to the spiritual disciplines for help.” In whatever God calls us to do, he wants us to do that thing in the way Jesus would. Jesus regularly practiced these ways of staying close to his heavenly Father: prayer, solitude, fasting, worship, study and service.

We pursue these means of becoming like Jesus because they transform us. When we meet with Jesus in the morning, we reset ourselves to see people and things and work his way. When we wait on God in solitude and fasting, he reveals things to us about what we should be doing or how we should approach our work or family or ministry. When we worship, study or serve, our hearts soar and we develop a God-confidence that cannot be shaken. We need a firm foundation. The spiritual disciplines are there to anchor us.

What are some things women can do if they feel certain doors are closed to them?

It is essential that we find a way not to be discouraged in who God has called us to be. Please receive this encouragement: You are a female imagebearer of the living God. It pleased God to create you this way on purpose, and you play a valuable part in building His Kingdom on this earth.

For some of us, this may mean prayerfully seeking out a church where we can fully use our voices and our gifts. For others, it’s finding a network of relationships where we are valued and appreciated, even if we are limited within our church context. But always we pray that our heavenly Father would give light to our path, that he would help us to process emotions of discouragement and find healing, and that when he calls us to step out and step up, we would do so with a mix of humility and boldness.

What is the most important change the Church as a whole needs to make in raising up women to freely use their gifts in God’s Kingdom?

The most important change is this: Stop identifying women as primarily fallen and defined by the effects of sin. Begin to see girls and women as restored through the power of the gospel. When women are defined by how Jesus sees us, we are set free to be all God has created us to be.

What is your greatest hope for every woman who reads this book?

To be set free. To know she was created on purpose to be a strong power and imagebearer in God’s Kingdom. Women are essential to God’s plan, and he delights in seeing us flourish.

“A woman’s biblical identity is broad enough to apply to the mother of five who home schools her children, to the 15-year-old worshipping the Lord in the church praise band, the professional working woman, the full-time single missionary, and any woman who feels limited by her health or social status . . . what the real Eve of Eden teaches us is this: In God’s Kingdom, every woman—no matter her circumstance—can be reclaimed.” – Reclaiming Eve

You say that women often tear each other down. How can they lift each other up instead?

In Jesus, we can say no to trying to compete with one another. It is not about not letting your light shine; it’s about shining together. Jesus has shown us what it means to love well and to love long—to love like he does. We can pray for discernment to see other women’s strengths or gifts and to praise and seek to develop them. We can provide opportunities for other women to flourish.

The Bible says younger women should learn from older women. How does this kind of mentoring work?

This is mentioned in Titus 2 and entire ministries have been created from this concept. But be careful: the passage referred to is set in the Greco-Roman culture where the only respectable option for a woman was to be married and have children. Mentoring and discipleship certainly cannot be limited to older women teaching younger women how to be good wives and mothers. If so, we will eliminate 40-50% of the women who desperately need to be mentored, too!

By taking a broader look at the New Testament, we see that each one of us is called to love the Lord our God with all of our heart, soul, mind and strength and to love our neighbor as ourselves—regardless of age. We are also called to make disciples of Jesus Christ, setting up relationships with one another that foster spiritual growth.

How did this group of authors come together for this project?

Truth be told, I think it was a man’s encouragement of a woman’s idea! During my coauthor Carla’s years in seminary, she read and studied about woman as ezer. The concept so touched her that she had theological materials on the topic translated into Russian during her time as a missionary. Back in America, Carla pastored alongside her husband, Chuck, in Indiana. As senior pastor, Chuck supported the idea of us writing this Bible study. About 40 women attended, and many of them grasped new facets of their identity in Christ for the first time. It was thrilling!

The process of coauthoring a book, however, was much harder than writing a simple Bible study. We plunged into it together and formed a multigenerational team with varied perspectives and experiences. We cried together, laughed together and supported each other through trying times. Is it possible for sisters to truly support each other without competing against one another? We say yes.

Is it best to read this book individually or in community?

Yes! The book starts with the individual, but it is also designed for small group study. Three to four questions are available at the end of each chapter for reflection. And in July 2014, our publisher, Beacon Hill Press, will release a DVD discussion piece that offers a ten-minute weekly video discussion among the authors for each chapter, leading into a downloadable Bible study to complement each week’s reading. We had a blast recording the video! We pray it starts a movement that gets women talking and sharing about their identity in Jesus, then living that identity out in their day-to-day lives.

Why This Year’s Super Bowl Ads Were Less Sexist


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My article “Why This Year’s Super Bowl Ads Were Less Sexist” was published by Red Letter Christians today. Here it is:

If you’re a regular Super Bowl watcher, you probably noticed that this year’s commercials were different from those of past years—they were notably less sexist. While a few ads still sank to Mad Men lows, overall, fewer ads contained hyper-sexualized, objectifying depictions of women. And some ads were distinctively empowering.

What caused this departure in Super Bowl advertising? Why did some of last year’s worst offenders like web hosting company Go Daddy take a decidedly different approach this year?

3% ConferenceKat Gordon, advertising veteran and founder of The 3% Conference, believes that much of the credit goes to groups like The Representation Project and Miss Representation whose #NotBuyingIt and #MediaWeLike campaigns have empowerd people to call-out sexist misrepresentations of women and girls in the media and to praise advertisers when they get it right.

“I believe [The Representation Project and Miss Representation] are absolutely a force that has gotten on the radar of brands,” Gordon said in a live Google chat Wednesday about this year’s Super Bowl ads. Speaking to a member of The Representation Project, Gordon said, “I really love what you have mobilized and [that you’ve] given people a way to talk back; giving brands a way to listen in and respond. I really credit you for being the force that has changed the flavor and temperature of the ads this year.”

“More than 80% of all purchases are made by women,” Gordon says on the conference website. “Yet most women say they don’t like the way they’re marketed to.” Gordon gave The 3% Conference its name because women make up only three percent of the Creative Directors in advertising agencies.

As followers of Jesus, we’re called to align our passions with God’s passions and “to promote justice” (Micah 6:8 NET). We live in a culture that habitually devalues women, subtly and overtly. Much has changed since Jesus walked the earth two thousands years ago, yet women and girls continue to be objectified and marginalized.

miss representationThe movement sparked by the Miss Representation documentary and The Representation Project reminds me of Jesus’ knack for speaking truth to power (think Pharisees and Sadducees). Will the church take the opportunity to live into her prophetic tradition and live out Jesus’s values by participating in these types of movements? Is it time for some streams of the church to put the protest back in Protestant, as author and activist Shane Claiborne has said? Catholics, Protestants, Contemplatives, and Calvinists, our voices make a difference.

“Advertising is broken due to a failure of imagination” Gordon said in a recent TEDxTalk. The next time you see an ad that undermines the value of women, seize the moment and employ your prophetic imagination; wield your phone and tell the power brokers of Madison Avenue and Corporate America what you think. Why? Because changing the messages we live by, changes the world.

Why We Need to Read More Women


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My article “Why We Need to Read More Women: Our book choices reveal whose influence we value and whose we don’t” was published by Relevant magazine today.

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“It’s a truth universally acknowledged that, although women read more than men, and books by female authors are published in roughly the same numbers, they are more easily overlooked,” Joanna Walsh wrote in a column in The Guardian last week.

And it seems she’s right. Though we can all think of a few women authors we love, most of our bookshelves seem to be laden with material mostly from male authors.

There’s more evidence of this beyond our own bookshelves. Vida, an organization that counts the number of times women and men are published in many of the world’s “most respected literary outlets,” publishes an annual “Count” with pie charts and reports of gender imbalance in the writing world. The numbers are sobering.

But does it matter? Does it matter if men only read books by male authors? Does it matter if women mostly read books by male authors? Yes. Because who we choose to read is who we allow and invite to influence us. Our book choices reveal whose influence we value and whose we don’t.

Blogger Rob Carmack recently lamented the fact that many Christians, especially Christian men, miss out on the powerful voices of women because they refuse to read what they refer to as “girl books” (books by women authors). Carmack believes part of the problem lies with Christian publishers that market books authored by women almost exclusively to women, in cover design and promotion. But Carmack has chosen, quite literally, not to judge a book by its floral or pastel cover in order to read more books by women. In doing so, he’s encountered compelling and insightful voices such as Rachel Held Evans, Sarah Bessey, Shauna Niequist, Sarah Cunningham, Susan Isaacs, Lauren Winner, Nadia Bolz-Weber and more.

In his post, Carmack specifically challenges Christian men to read more women authors. “It’s not just about equality or fairness—it’s about being part of a vibrant, relevant conversation,” he said. “If you want to miss it, that’s your choice, I suppose. As for me—not only for myself, but for my wife, my daughter and my son—I will listen to these great voices, and I will continue learning from what they have to say.”

I wanted to stand up and cheer when I read those words, but I also felt compelled to examine the male/female author ratio of the books I had recently read to see if I too needed to take up his challenge to read more women authors. Women’s bookshelves are certainly not immune to gender imbalance, since Christian women are as likely as men to hear messages that devalue the voices and influence of women, both within the Church and in the culture at large.

That’s why voices like Carmack’s, which acknowledge they have much to learn from those whom their culture (and Christian subculture) has marginalized, are so important. There’s a beautiful Kingdom-of-God quality to voices that question the status quo and confront culturally ingrained systems of power and privilege.

And giving equal weight to male and female voices is important in all areas of life, not just literature. Marriage researcher John Gottman found that husbands who are willing to be influenced by their wives experience happier marriages than men who resist their wives’ influence. His research revealed that the happiest, most stable marriages were those in which the husband respected his wife and willingly shared power and decision making with her.

This research isn’t surprising, and its implications seem to extend beyond the realm of marriage relationships. Even a cursory glance of the Gospels reveal that Jesus was a man who treated women with respect. Have you noticed that the healthiest and strongest men, the most whole men, the men who most resemble Jesus are the ones who respect, befriend, learn from and empower women?

These men see through counterfeit perceptions of masculinity that equate maleness with dominance. They refuse to be gatekeepers of male privilege and the “good ol’ boy” network, and if that means having to endure insults and attacks on their “manhood,” they do so.

The hope for the Church is that men and women will relate to each other from a posture of love rather than fear, realizing that God’s Kingdom is not a Kingdom of scarcity, but abundance. God’s table is big enough for all of us and all our voices.

The author of Genesis said that God created us—male and female—in God’s own image. When we intentionally or unintentionally cut ourselves off from listening to half of the world’s population, we miss out on the fullness of God.

The next time you’re on Amazon, notice the authors of the books in your browsing history. Notice the books that Amazon is recommending to you based on your history. If there are few or no women on your lists, you’ll face a decision: You can react defensively and try to convince yourself that your predominantly male library is in no need of change. Or you can see it as an opportunity to grow your library and yourself, and experience more of God as you embrace all the bearers of God’s image.

Rachel Held Evans recently posted a list of 101 Christian Women Speakers, many of whom are also writers, authors and bloggers. If you need a place to start, this is a good one.