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The Desolate Woman: A Biblical Perspective on Rape

8 Jan

“Desolaton of Tamar” by James Tissot

A huge kingdom in a faraway land, a beloved king with a beautiful daughter, and a handsome prince who is heir to the throne—the story has all the makings of a lovely fairy tale, yet it is a horror story. The kingdom was Israel under the rule of King David and the handsome prince was David’s oldest son, Amnon, who just so happened to be in love with his half-sister, Tamar. Found in 2 Samuel 13, smack dab between David’s affair with Bathsheba and the revolt of David’s sons against their father is the passage about the rape of Princess Tamar.Nathan the prophet told David that “the sword will never leave your household” only a few chapters earlier and spoke of the turmoil that would erupt in the king’s family as a consequence of his sin. The unraveling of the kingdom began with this rape.

It all started when Amnon became lovesick over his sister, Tamar. He lamented to his cousin, Jonadab, that he couldn’t do anything to her because she was a virgin. Jonadab concocted a terrible plan, which Amnon carried out. Jonadab advised Amnon to feign illness and request Tamar’s presence from the king. King David did not deny his firstborn anything, so naturally Amnon’s request was granted.

Tamar, being the dutiful daughter, came to her brother’s house to prepare him a meal, which he refused to eat. Instead he told all his servants to leave and then said, “Tamar, why don’t you bring the food here to me in my bedroom? I’m too weak to eat on my own so I need your help.” Tamar brought the food into his bedroom. All of a sudden, Amnon grabbed Tamar and demanded that she join him in bed.

Aghast, Tamar refused his offer begging, “Don’t force me, my brother! Such a thing is not done in Israel. Don’t do this wicked thing. What about me? Where could I get rid of my disgrace? And what about you, you would be like one of the wicked fools in Israel. Please speak to the king: he will not keep me from being married to you” (13:12-13, NIV.) Tamar’s plea fell on deaf ears. And because Amnon was “stronger than she”, he raped her (18:14.)

There are a few interesting things that can be pulled from Tamar’s emotional statement. When Tamar said that things like this are not done in Israel, she was speaking of the law which forbade a man to have sexual relations with his sister. (Lev. 18: 9, 11) Disgraced, she could have been either put to death for having such a relationship or considered “unmarriageable” because she was no longer a virgin. However, Tamar then said that the king would allow Amnon to marry her, which was also forbidden by law (Lev. 20:17; Deut. 27:22.) Perhaps Tamar hoped this would dissuade Amnon for the moment so she could escape or she thought David would bend the law for his children. Whatever the reason, Tamar’s statement was ignored.

Tamar’s plea cuts to the heart of any girl or woman who has been sexually assaulted. Please don’t do this to me; do not take this from me. Yet often because a man is stronger than a woman, he takes violently what is not his to take. The woman is often left alone and confused, picking up the pieces of what she thought would be a good life.

After Amnon raped his sister, he sent her out of his house and said, “Get this out of here!” Again, Tamar pled for justice on her behalf and begged, “No! Sending me away would be a greater wrong that what you have already done to me” (13:16.) Modern women recoil at this passage wondering why Tamar would want to keep the company of her rapist. However, in the Jewish culture at that time, a woman who had been raped was deemed unmarriageable. Young girls and teenagers who were victims of rape were not only robbed of their innocence but their hope of marriage as well. The Jewish law made a provision for these women—if a man raped a virgin, he was required to take the girl as his wife (Deut. 22:28-29.)

The love that Amnon felt for Tamar before the rape turned to rage after the rape so Tamar was sent away disgraced and ashamed. The Bible says that she then put ashes on her head, tore the ornamental robe that the king’s virgin daughters wore, and wailed loudly—all signs of extreme mourning. As soon as Tamar’s full brother, Absalom, came upon her, he surmised what had happened. He told her to keep quiet about the incident, which she did. She was then taken into Absalom’s house and lived “a desolate woman” (13:20.) This is the last mention of Tamar in the Bible—that she lived the rest of her days as a desolate woman.

I imagine that Tamar, being beautiful and young and the daughter of King David, had a lot of promising prospects when it came to marriage. Like many teenage girls, she may have dreamed about her Prince Charming, her marriage, her children, and her future. Yet in an instant, her dreams came crashing down around her. It is not mentioned how old Tamar was in this passage, but she was probably in her early-to-mid teens–only a teenager. Full of hope, full of promise, full of life, and then desolate.

Unfortunately, in the time Tamar lived, rape against women was not a serious offense. Sure, God had laws against it, but since women were demeaned and treated as property, rape wasn’t seen as brutal and damaging in that culture. Yet the women who endured it felt the hot shame on their cheeks. They never felt safe again, some were even scorned publicly. Since Tamar’s rape was kept a secret, many may have assumed that Tamar willingly slept with Amnon or someone else. Her ornamental robe of virginity was gone—I’m sure the rumors ran rampant.

King David somehow received word of Tamar’s rape and was enraged just like any father should be when his daughter is violated. Instead of demanding justice for Tamar, David did nothing. It was Absalom who waited patiently for two years before he killed Amnon for raping his sister. It was Absalom who eventually turned against his father and slept with David’s concubines on palace porch for all Israel to see. Not only was Tamar affected by David’s inaction, Absalom, the next in line for the throne, was as well.

The story of Tamar is horrible and hard to read; especially when one considers the real and raw emotion Tamar must have felt. Yet this story is in the Bible, not only to show the downfall of David’s household, but to teach readers something about rape, to show women who have been sexually assaulted that they are not alone in feeling shamed, unloved, and desolate. Sadly, women you know have been or will be victims of rape or sexual assault. While you may not want to take a friend or who has been a victim of sexual assault to this passage right away, it is a helpful reminder that rape did exist and was mentioned in the Bible. Here are a few things you can pull out of the story of Tamar that is universal in a women’s experience of rape.

*Tamar’s virginity and purity are compromised. Anyone who is a virgin when she is raped is still a true virgin, though she may not be one physically. True virginity is a spiritual matter. No one can take that away.

*Tamar’s pain was emotional. She showed her deep distress by putting ashes on her head and wailing loudly—both signs of deep grief. She is called “a desolate and bitter woman” in the Message Bible. Desolate may mean she never had sex again or it may mean that she simply never recovered after being raped.

While there is no time limit on grief, and a rape survivor should be allowed to express her rage, sadness, fear, and other emotions freely, God wants to heal His Child. He does not desire His daughters to be desolate physically, emotionally, or spiritually. He wants to fill the empty void, cover His daughter’s shame, and fully restore her as only He can. What man has taken away, God can restore and He so desperately longs to comfort His children. Point your friend or teen to the God who weeps with His daughters.

*Tamar’s pain was also physical. Tamar’s tearing of ornamental robes is significant, because this speaks to how her life was torn apart, but also because her vagina may have been torn and bleeding from a potentially violent rape. When a female virgin has sex for the first time often her hymen (a thin layer of tissue around the opening of a woman’s vagina) is ripped. While the hymen can be ripped for other reasons, including molestation, throughout history a woman’s virginity was determined by whether or not her hymen remained intact.

Women, especially virgins, may bleed or become sore from sex, especially violent sex. A woman who is raped may also need to make regular trips to the gynecologist, which can be terrifying. Her health may be forever affected if she received a STD, severe vaginal trauma, or other brutal treatment.

*Tamar was unmarriageable and may even have been suspected of being promiscuous. How often do we hear men say that a woman was “asking to be raped”? No means no—every time, all the time, no exceptions. After one girl in my former youth ministry was raped, she was called a “slut” by other students at school. While she may have been a bit of a flirt, she said no and was violated anyway.

Today girls who are raped do get married and lead fulfilling lives; they do not necessarily live as “desolate women.” Girls and women who are raped often feel “damaged and violated”. They feel unfit for relationships and even marriage. This is simply untrue, but girls need to work through these feelings, which can take years. Counseling is essential to achieving a semblance of emotional wholeness in a rape survivor’s life.

*Tamar wasn’t allowed to talk about the rape. Tamar was told by her brother, Absalom, “Be quiet…Don’t take this thing to heart” (18:20.) Perhaps he just didn’t want her to worry about the situation because he avenged her honor by killing Amnon, or maybe he just didn’t know how to react. While it is unknown if Tamar was ever allowed to talk about her rape to close confidants, it seems in this passage she was denied the opportunity to tell her story. She needed to tell her story and even receive support from others who may have been raped.

*Tamar was denied earthly justice. David, the king of Israel, could have punished Amnon for violating his daughter, but in refusing to do so he failed as a king and as a father. Even though Absalom killed Amnon, he may have seen Tamar’s rape as a slight against him and defended his honor, too. Survivors of rape should never be denied justice. Again and again, God refers to Himself as a God of justice, who hates injustice (Ps. 9:16, 11:17, 33:5; Is. 30:18, 61:8.)

Even though Tamar is never again mentioned in the Bible, a potential bright spark in her life can be found later in 2 Samuel. Verse 14:27 says that Absalom was the father of three sons and one daughter, who he named Tamar. Ironically, the names of Absalom’s sons are not mentioned, only his daughter, Tamar. While the passage does not say that Tamar was her niece’s namesake, I’d like to believe that. Despite all her hurt and heartache, I still want a happy ending for Tamar and perhaps it comes in the form of her beautiful little niece. While Tamar may not have lived happily ever after, she still lived, was taken care of by her brother (until his death anyway), and spent time with her nephews and niece.

Sometimes I wish every story was a fairy tale, yet far too often girlish dreams are shattered by harsh realities. Rape is like that–reaching across time, space, and culture to affect millions of women throughout history. It can happen to anyone—even to the daughter of a Powerful King who lives in a Kingdom that is not of this world. Yet that Father always wants justice for His Child and will never leave her to be a desolate woman.

***

If you’ve been a victim of sexual assault, please check out RAINN (Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network.)  They have great resources. Call them at National Sexual Assault Hotline | 1.800.656.HOPE | Free. Confidential. 24/7.

Feel free to leave a comment, if you like.  However, I have found when I post about sensitive topics, sometimes readers want to share their reaction with me privately, so feel free to email me. (You can always email me.)


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The Choice Mary Made

12 Dec

Did Mary have a choice?  It’s a question we were batting around at Bible study last night as we discussed chapters 3-4 of Liz Curtis Higgs latest book, The Women of Christmas.  One of the ladies in my study—an older lady from England—passionately stated, “We are discussing this as though Mary had a choice.  The angel told her that she would bear a son and she accepted it.  What matters is how she accepted it.”  As the Bible study leader (and usually the youngest woman in the room), it delights me when one of the ladies in my group surprises me with stunning insight.  This was one of those moments.  We continued our discussion, but the words of this woman stayed with me far into the evening.  I am still pondering it.

What matters is how Mary accepted it.

Let’s take a quick look at Mary’s angelic encounter.  Luke 1: 26-28 (NIV) records the event:

In the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. The angel went to her and said, “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.”

 Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be.  But the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found favor with God. You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus.  He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over Jacob’s descendants forever; his kingdom will never end.”

 “How will this be,” Mary asked the angel, “since I am a virgin?”

 The angel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come on you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be calledthe Son of God.  Even Elizabeth your relative is going to have a child in her old age, and she who was said to be unable to conceive is in her sixth month.  For no word from God will ever fail.”

“I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May your word to me be fulfilled.” Then the angel left her.

Mary only asks one question: How will this be since I am a virgin?  She doesn’t say, “Why me?!” or “Are you kidding me?  Where’s the hidden camera?”  Only one question is recorded—how?  In The Women of Christmas,   Liz Curtis Higgs draws out this point considering that perhaps Mary’s youth made her less cynical, more hopeful, and more wide-eyed with wonder.  In this case, Mary let her words be few, while her cousin Zechariah the priest needed a sign when Gabriel appeared to him in the temple and told him that his barren wife, Elizabeth, would also bear a son. Zechariah was struck mute (and perhaps deaf) by the angel until the birth of the baby who would one day be called John the Baptist.  I suppose that was definitely a sign, but probably not the one Zechariah was hoping for.  (I try not to judge Zechariah too harshly because I’m not sure how I would react to an angelic visitor, especially since God hadn’t delivered a word to His people in 400 year silence between the Old and New Testament writings.)

I don’t know if Mary could have said no or what would have happened if she did say no.  This is one of those situations where I’m not sure how free will and God’s will intertwine.  God created Mary, so He undoubtedly already knew how she would react to Gabriel’s proclamation that she would be the virgin to bear the long-awaited Messiah.

But what if she had said no?  Could Mary have said, “No, you’ve got the wrong girl”?  Would there have been a Moses-like moment where God said that He created her womb, like He created Moses’ mouth?  If she had tried to flee, would God have brought her back with a Jonah and the big fish sort of event?  Could Mary have wrestled with an angel like Jacob? 

If Mary had said no, what would that mean for us?  Who would’ve carried the long-awaited Messiah?  Would we still be waiting for the God Man to break humanity’s curse? 

Of course, that’s if she could say no.  What choice did she have?  And here’s where the Word hits me in the heart because while it seemed that Mary was the girl chosen for the task, she did have a choice in how she would handle her situation.  She could’ve despaired about what Joseph might do, what her parents might think, and what the other women in Nazareth might say about her as they gossiped around the town well.  Undoubtedly, being human, Mary  may have had all these questions and concerns.  Her response though—a question and the acceptance that she was the Lord’s servant—is probably not the same reaction I would have.

I would think about what everyone would think of me my perfect plans for my good life had been ruined.  This isn’t what I want God and I don’t know why You would ask me to do this, to go through this, to live with this.    I can’t do this, God.  You’ve got the wrong girl.

Notice Gabriel’s words in Luke 1:27.  In the NLT version, Gabriel says, “For nothing is impossible with God.” He didn’t say nothing is impossible for God; he says with God.  God could do it all by Himself, but He chooses to do it with us, even in spite of ourselves.

With God, the impossible is possible for me.  For you.  For Mary.  For Elizabeth.

Perhaps I could take a cue from Mary, only a young teenager at this point in the story.  Instead of bemoaning my life’s circumstances, perhaps I could say, “How, God, will we do this together?” and “OK, God, I am Your servant.” I imagine that would make all the difference in how I react to various circumstances that come my way.

Often times we don’t get to choose what diseases befall us, what those closest to us will do to cause us pain, or how the world will beat us up.  But we can choose how we react, knowing and trusting nothing escapes God’s loving attention.  When baby Jesus was finally born and presented in the temple, Mary was told her blessing was a double-edged sword.  Her heart would be pierced, just as her Son would be pierced for our transgressions.  My sins and yours.  The world’s greatest gift also came with huge responsibility, pain, and suffering.

The choice, dear friends, is how we react, what we do with what God has given us—the good and the bad.  May we have the courage, like Mary, to say, “I am the Lord’s servant.”

Book Review:: You’re Already Amazing by Holley Gerth

15 Mar

Since Holley Gerth writes for DaySpring cards (and co-founded (in)courage) it seems cliché to say that her book, You’re Already Amazing, is like receiving an unexpected greeting card saturated with wisdom and thoughtfulness only a dear friend could write. But that’s exactly what reading You’re Already Amazing is like!  Gerth engaged me with her girlfriend language, stunning insights into the heart of God, and helpful exercises that encouraged me to learn more about who I am and what I mean to my Creator.

What I appreciated most about You’re Already Amazing were the exercises that Gerth, also a trained counselor, included at the end of each chapter.  Instead of just telling me how great I am because I was created by God and proving her point with Scripture, Gerth’s tools helped me discover my strengths (and weaknesses) and how I can best use them for the glory of God!  Not only am I already amazing, I am also already uniquely gifted!  It’s nice to get a pep talk, but even better to take that encouraging energy to the next level—to actually live it out.

In some ways this book is similar to Captivating by John and Stasi Eldredge, but Holley Gerth’s work is more reader-friendly, and her charm is enticing, page-turning, and life-changing.  This is a book for the weak and the strong, the lost and the found, the hopeless and the hopeful.  Really, You’re Already Amazing is a book for every woman in every walk, on every journey to discover who she is, what she was created to be, and how she is desperately loved by her Father.  Stop striving to be “enough” and discover how amazing you really are to the One who loves you more than you can fathom.

*Thanks to Revell, a division of Baker Publishing Group, for providing me a review copy of this book.*

Coming Home: Thoughts on my church membership

3 Mar

Clearly, this is not me.  This is just how I feel.  🙂

Sunday.  For the past 7 years, it has been the day I perused the newspaper ads, the afternoon I went shopping or ran errands, the evening I feared what the week could hold.  But it was NOT the day of the week I attended church, though for 24 years of my life, that’s exactly what I did.  Every. Single.  Sunday.  (And many other days/nights of the week as well.)

In the fall of 2004, after moving out of my hometown, I just stopped.  Devastation, brokenness, heartache, and a long string of failures followed after me as I tried to live a life apart from God, apart from the Church.

I could never really get away, as friends, near and far kept in contact with me—at times, saving my spiritual and physical life with a phone call, a card, or even a trip to Friday Harbor, Washington (thank you Bill & Shannon, you saved my life.)  I thought that BFF Sarah was my only constant in ever-changing circumstances.  But, no, God was with us both—guiding, directing, wooing His daughters.

Earthly fathers fail.  Mothers turn their backs.  Dreams get broken. Hearts are crushed.  How could God let this happen?  God, how could You let this happen to me? It was my angry prayer as I shoved Him away.  He “deserved” my rage, my bitterness, my hatred.  I shook my fists, and still He calmed me when I let Him near.

It became a game—I’d let myself get so close to God, but then I’d run away, like a scared puppy trying to find its home.  The puppy wants to trust the kind stranger who can offer safety and security, yet she runs close and dashes away, comes closer and dashes further out of reach.  I thought, God, You cannot reach me.  You cannot have me.  You’ve ruined my life and I will not let it happen again.  I know You’re God, the Lord of Heaven and earth, I just can’t surrender my life, my all to You…what will You ask of me?  What will you take from me?  How will I survive it?

In September, I started to come apart—physically, emotionally, and spiritually.  A tangled mess of humanity, I sought healing in all these areas.  Strangely enough, these intertwined issues led me to discover my spiritual crisis—I had no idea who I was [in God]!  My spiritual sickness trumped all my other issues (though admittedly, they were painful and horrible as well).  My hope was scant, but I know what God can do with just a tidbit of faith.  So it continues to this day.  He continues to breathe life into dead areas of my life, heal infected, pussy wounds…for He makes everything new! (And one day He will make ALL things new.)  Most of all, He makes beauty from ashen dreams and builds on the ruins of our broken lives.

God has given me a new beauty for a handful of ashes, and has shown me that ruins are truly redeemed through His power.

Tomorrow, Sunday, March 4, is a culmination of the past four months—the search for a church, being found by Bethany Church, and belonging to a loving congregation that empowers women!  After how I’ve hated the “church,” been spiritually abused in the past by church leaders, and experienced panic attacks when I set foot in a church, I can’t believe that I am once again becoming a member of an actual, physical church tomorrow!

I am so excited I can barely contain myself!  I am jumping around my apartment, singing loudly, smiling from ear-to-ear, and ready to explode with joy.  I’m not sure that anyone can really understand what choosing to become a member of Bethany United Methodist Church means to me.

Lyrics from Bebo Norman’s song, “Ruins,” keep flitting through my head:

“This is my holy hour, This is my world on fire
This is my desperate play, This is where I am made
This is my kingdom come, This is my freedom song
This is my helpless state, This is where I am saved

Let my ruins become the ground you build upon
Let my ruins become the start
Let my ruins become the ground you build it on
From what’s left of my broken heart”

I’ve quoted “Ruins” before, but only the chorus.  Right now, my focus is on the pre-chorus (though the chorus is too lovely and meaningful to leave out!)  If I burst out in song during our reception into the church (not likely to happen), you will understand why. (See YouTube video with lyrics below.  It was made by some random Bebo-lovin’ person out there in the world!)

So this Sunday is no ordinary Sunday, at least for me.  I’ve found a home and the people in my home are giving me an official welcome—dorky name tag and all—thank you, God, for my temporary place amongst Your people, in Your Church (and church!)

It’s good to be home.

Go with me to the Sadie Hawkins?

29 Feb

"Li'l Abner's" Sadie Hawkins

According to Wikipedia—a fount of knowledge on all things Leap Day/Sadie Hawkins—the practice of woman asking men to MARRY them was allowed once every four years on Leap Day.  Though often attested to Birgid’s major crush on St. Patrick (and really, who wouldn’t be beguiled with the man who drove the snakes out of Ireland?),  the Leap Day major proposals appear  to have started in the 19th Century, not in the 5th Century with Birgid and Patrick.

Leap Day marriage proposals by women have been allowed across cultures—and if a man refuses a lovely bachelorette, he was required to buy her a gift to soften the blow. “In Denmark, the tradition is that women may propose on the bissextile leap year day, February 24, and that refusal must be compensated with 12 pairs of gloves. In Finland, the tradition is that if a man refuses a woman’s proposal on leap year day, he should buy her the fabrics for a skirt,” says Wikipedia.

So, just who is Sadie Hawkins and how does she figure into all this?  It all started back in the 1930’s with a hillbilly comic strip called “Li’l Abner.”  The town’s most eligible spinster, Sadie Hawkins, couldn’t find a suitor so her father created an event in which Sadie could “catch” a husband.  No, seriously, she’d catch him.

Click on comic to see FULL SIZE!

From Wikipedia:

“When ah fires [my gun], all o’ yo’ kin start a-runnin! When ah fires agin—after givin’ yo’ a fair start—Sadie starts a runnin’. Th’ one she ketches’ll be her husbin.” The town spinsters decided that this was such a good idea, they made Sadie Hawkins Day a mandatory yearly event, much to the chagrin of Dogpatch bachelors. In the satirical spirit that drove the strip, many sequences revolved around the dreaded Sadie Hawkins Day race. If a woman caught a bachelor and dragged him, kicking and screaming, across the finish line before sundown—by law he had to marry her!

This inspired the real world “Sadie Hawkins Dance,” where girls ask guys to be their dates to a wonderful dance.  No doubt these are women who are still reeling from Valentine’s Day singleness, which makes the placement of the day—exactly two weeks and one day after the lover’s holiday—so sweet.

The Sadie Hawkins’ Dance also inspired the hilarious song “Sadie Hawkins Dance” by Relient K.  There are several fan-made music videos for the song, but this one is my favorite (I like the Rock Band instruments)…

So happy Sadie Hawkins Day, everyone!  If you don’t have a date to the Sadie Hawkins Dance, you could always take advantage of 29% off sales at the retailer of your choice (as if a sale that pitiful inspires would-be bargain hunters.)

Cards Still Make a Difference & Giveaway!

26 Jan

{More info on these cards}

We have more excuses than ever not to send cards for birthdays, anniversaries, and other special occasions: The price of stamps just increased.  Again.  Cards aren’t eco-friendly (even though they can be recycled and are often made out of recycled materials).  And, of course, there just isn’t enough time to buy a card, address it, and pop it in a mail box.  Besides, e-card are often free…and nothing says, “I love you, Mom” like canned music and a mouse jumping out of a birthday cake.

In our tech savvy society, do conventional cards really make a difference?  That was the question I sought to answer with my brand new DaySpring cards—the Hope & Encouragement by (in)courage’s Holly Gerth  My test subjects?  The ladies in the Monday night Bible study that I lead.

First, I needed a control card to ensure that each member of my Bible study received a card that is equal in value and appearance.  I chose “Thank You For What You Do” from Holley Gerth’s collection.  What better want to tell the ladies in my flock how much I care about each and every one of them and thank them for the support they offer me weekly, as their fearless shepherdess.  As I addressed each card, I asked God to help me write a pithy message to each lady.  Despite using the same card, I didn’t want to express exactly the same sentiment to the varying personalities present at Monday night Bible study. 

Second, I wanted to give my Bible study a chance to spread the blessing to others.  I went through all my DaySpring cards, picked out about 12 (admittedly, it’s hard to part with any of my beautiful cards, but I was on a woman on a mission!), and placed them on the table at Bible study telling the ladies to pick a card or two to send (or give) to someone else.

After receiving their personalized cards from me, the ladies were more than delighted to choose cards for their own use. I overheard comments like, “Wow, these are really nice cards!”  “Amy, did you buy all these cards for us?” “They sell DaySpring cards at the local Bible bookstore!”   Most of all, they were excited that cards geared towards Christian women were relevant, beautiful, and affordable!  Someone remarked that the cards were great for anyone—Christian or not! 

One lady asked us to help her find a card that would be appropriate to encourage a friend whose mother just died.  Another wanted to use her card to uplift a co-worker who is going through an incredibly rough time.  A few ladies picked out cards and didn’t disclose how they would be used…yet.  Since one member of our group was unable to attend our “card shower,” we decided to sign and send her a card to let her know that we love her and she was missed!  Naturally, the choice of card was a group decision!

{This card, featuring a crown and a bookmark, was my favorite.  Oh, how I need to remember these words!}

While my experiment was wholly unscientific, I can safely say that greeting cards are still relevant.  There’s something about the tactile sensation of opening a card, especially when unexpected, knowing that the sender thought of you!  I like to save my cards and read the messages again and again—a reminder that people do love me when I feel unloved and unlovely or celebrated when I feel defeated. Will a card change the world?  Probably not.  But it can make someone’s day, and I’m grateful that DaySpring cards gave me the opportunity to bless others, who in turn, will use DaySpring cards to bless even more.

Yes, friends, cards really do make a difference.  Get a book of forever stamps, make a list of people who could use a beautiful card, and head over to the DaySpring Online Store to nab a few cards of your own. And, ladies, check out (in)courage for uniquely feminine musings as well as the fabulous (in)spired deals to get cute cards like mine!

Win a $20 code to use at DaySpring’s Online Store!

And I’m going to make it even easier for you to bless others with DaySpring cards, simply enter my giveaway to win a $20 coupon code to DaySpring’s online store,which offers a bounty of cards as well as other inspirational products.  To enter, simply fill out THE FORM.  For an extra entry, leave a comment about how a card cheered up your day OR how you used a card to bless someone else.  The giveaway will end at 11:59 PM EST on January 31, so get entering.

*If you really want to win, then head on over to my friend’s blog, Shari’s Sentiments, for another chance to win a $20 gift code.  Imagine if you win both of our giveaways…$40 can bring a lot of cheer!

*To my dearest FTC, I selected and was provided with the Holley Gerth Hope & Encouragement Pack from DaySpring, free of charge for review. These opinions are my own and do not reflect those of Dayspring in any way.* (P.S. I totally copy/pasted this disclosure from Shari’s blog.)

Kari Jobe: Where I Find You

24 Jan

Note from Amy:  While I’m working on my DaySpring review, editing a post that will appear later this week, and gathering material for Friday Faves, I hope you enjoy this article by my friend, Christa Banister, about Kari Jobe.  Kari is an incredibly talented artist whose dynamic voice really packs a punch.  And I should note that Christa, who has contributed to BSW before, did not write this article exclusively for BSW!

Kari Jobe: Where I Find You

By Christa Banister  After being established as one of the industry’s premier worship leaders with her Dove Award-winning, self-titled debut, Kari Jobe continues to serve as a worship pastor at Gateway Church in Southlake, Texas, and will release her highly anticipated follow-up album, Where I Find You (Sparrow) on January 24, 2012.

Produced by Ed Cash (Chris Tomlin, Chris August) and Matt Bronleewe (Natalie Imbruglia, Josh Wilson), Where I Find You, which includes Kari’s new hit radio single “We Are,” is an engaging departure from her previous effort—both sonically and thematically speaking.

Rather than simply emphasizing the beauty found in God’s presence, Where I Find You is a clarion call for listeners to experience His presence to the fullest. And not surprisingly, the accompanying soundtrack is just as bold with a buoyant mix of fresh musical textures and timbres.

“After singing about the importance of making time for intimate worship on my first album, I wanted to take the next step on Where I Find You,” Kari shares. “These songs come from such a honest place of praising God for what He’s done—and what He’s continuing to do in our lives—because of His grace and goodness.

“Ultimately, it’s about declaring who He is and enjoying the simplicity of knowing the Lord is near,” she continues. “He’s for us, He loves us, and sometimes, we need to just stop, enjoy His presence and take that in.”

While recording the album, Kari says she was often reminded of that very truth—a theme that resonates through the lyrics of “Here,” a reminder to press pause, even when our culture insists we constantly keep moving.

“There were many instances when we had to stop whatever we were working on because I needed to go outside, take a walk and have my own time with God for a few minutes,” Kari remembers. “Again and again, I was so overtaken by how present He was while we were recording, and it’s my hope and desire that people really feel the strength and intercession that was taking place while I worked on the album.”

Another decidedly counter-cultural idea that resonates in these new songs is how God never lets believers, including worship leaders, get too comfortable in their faith or permanently reside on the proverbial spiritual mountaintop.

“This past year has been the season of being completely uncomfortable and going through things I didn’t understand that were really hard,” Kari shares. “I was literally having to hold on in my heart and trust He had everything in control. You can even hear that a little in my vocals, especially on songs like ‘Love Came Down,’ ‘Run To You,’ and ‘What Love Is This.’ It was a season that stretched me.”

Even through all the growing pains, however, Kari says she was continually reminded of God’s faithfulness.

“I think there are times as believers when we feel entitled and that life shouldn’t be hard. We live in this culture of convenience that says we can do everything ourselves and find all the answers on Google,” Kari says. “But if we can learn to fall more in love with the Lord and trust Him in the middle of every storm, we build our endurance to keep running the race.”

Naturally, these declarations of God’s faithfulness couldn’t help but make their way onto her album.

“‘We Are’ is a song of commission for us as believers,” says Kari, “to be reminded of what we’ve been called to, and that is to impact people’s lives in everything we do.”

In the track “One Desire,” which she co-wrote with Jason Ingram, Kari uses simple, heartfelt language that reminds her of one of her favorite worship anthems when she was young.

“During our writing session, Jason and I were talking about the simplicity of worship; how it doesn’t always have to be so ornate,” she explains.  “When I was a kid, I remember how much I loved singing the song ‘I Love You, Lord’ because it was this sweet, simple song straight from Scripture.”

In stark contrast to the straightforward worship of “One Desire,” another key track, the aforementioned “What Love is This,” features powerful imagery of the Centurion soldier’s reaction to discovering that Jesus was the Son of God after He’d been crucified.

“I often think about what it would’ve been like to experience that and to say ‘Truly, you are the son of God,’” Kari shares. “You realize you were part of His death, you were the one of the people who’d nailed Him to a cross. He must have felt so incredibly broken—to believe the lie and then experience the truth. I really think that’s like all of us. We’ve got to have the perspective that without the Lord’s presence, we’re all in darkness, and ‘What Love Is This’ is my love song to the Lord for His love song for my life.”

Also serving as a grounding force for Kari when life gets complicated is her tight-knit Texas family. Although she turned 30 this past year, she still considers being a daughter one of “life’s greatest blessings.”     

What’s also been a blessing is a new dimension to her ministry. In addition to ministering in churches, arenas, theaters, festivals and conferences across the globe, Kari has also found another outlet for sharing God’s love in partnering with the A21 Campaign, an organization dedicated to abolishing human trafficking in the 21st century.

“I’ve become really invested in that ministry and strongly believe that we all have to play a role and do our part to fight against the modern form of slavery that affects 27 million people and growing,” Kari says. “It’s so incredibly dark, and I feel a responsibility to do what I can. Most of these victims are girls like me, and I can’t imagine what life would be like to be stuck in that place.”

Along with her sister, Kris, Kari has created an exclusive line of jewelry and t-shirts where all the proceeds go to the cause of bringing an end to human trafficking and injustice.

“Whether I’m participating in an effort like this or leading worship, it’s all about making a difference,” Kari concludes. “That’s the reason I’m doing what I’m doing at this specific moment—to see God’s name lifted high, to encourage the hurt and the broken and to remind everyone to draw close to Him because He really, truly does care about each and every one of His children.”

And that’s ultimately the message behind Where I Find You, enjoying the beauty of God’s presence, praising him with your whole heart and letting your light shine in a world that needs to experience the true grace and hope found only in Jesus.

For more information on Kari Jobe and her ministry, please visit www.karijobe.com.

I’m “Gifted”

11 Jan

I like to tell people that I have a Master’s degree in counseling.  When I’m with Christians, I like to add that my degree is in “biblical counseling” from a seminary.  All this makes me feel terribly important, like I’m super smart and super spiritual…also that I once did something with my life.  As I’ve mentioned before, that counseling degree is sitting at the bottom of a storage bin somewhere in my closet.  I don’t use it vocationally and I sometimes wonder why I got it at all.  I realize that the things I learned in seminary (you know, like humility) do matter and that I don’t need to wear my “I have a Master’s degree” pin all the time.  Or at all.  One day I hope it’ll sink in. 

This week Shari and I started taking a Sunday school class required for Congregational Care at our church.  Caring for the congregation?!  I love caring for people!  I’m awesome at crying!  This will be great, I thought.  For the most part, the Congregational Care Team visits sick people and shut-ins.  My fear of the hospital, hypochondria, and fear of doctors, doesn’t make visiting the ill at all appealing.  And shut-ins?  I feel empathy for shut-ins.  I really do.  But the elderly, especially lonely elderly people, make me very weepy (told you I was awesome at crying) as I remember my grandparents.  Instead of launching happy hormones, I go home and cry. 

But I love caring for people and I’m awesome at crying?!

I *AM* awesome at crying, but do I really love caring for people?!  When my mom had her hip replacement, I was panicked for a month ahead of time.  What if I had to clean up pee?  Or puke?  What if she fell?  I was in a tizzy! 

I really like babies, but not their diapers.  I mean, I’m not sure how to change a diaper (I have the basic principle down, just not a lot of practical experience) and the thought of changing a diaper makes me dry heave.  I am even disgusted by little kids with snotty noses.  (Those of you who are wondering why I don’t have kids now understand.)

Besides crying, I’m really good at talking, too.  I’m probably even better at conversing than crying.  BFF Sarah says that I can talk to anyone anywhere about anything.  I suspect she thinks it’s my superpower.   A simple window transaction at the bank leads to a conversation about the teller’s engagement ring (and the story of the proposal.  I’m such a suck for romance) or a long line is an opportunity to talk to lady behind me about her amazing purse.  (Admittedly, I am a bit shyer around guys, especially ones my age…who are single.  I get all tongue-tied and speak like a woman with verbal Tourette’s.  Those of you who are wondering why I’m not married now understand.)

I also like to laugh.  And smile.  Depression sometimes sucks those attributes out of my life, but they’re important (Choose joy!!!).  One of my favorite quotes from Elf is when Buddy says, “I just like to smile.  Smiling’s my favorite.”

So I’m good at smiling, crying, and talking.  I can do all three at the same time actually.  But where does my spiritual giftedness lie within these personality traits?

My little flock tells me I’m a good Bible study leader and I do love teaching about the Bible and God.

Deep within me, I fear that teaching and perhaps leadership (or shepherding) are my strongest spiritual gifts.  I’m not sure how a woman can use those gifts in the Church today. I’ve been told (even by pastors) that I talk too much and try to take over when there’s no defined leadership (OK, I’ve been told that I try to take over, but I think it’s when there’s a lack of leadership).  I don’t want to believe the lies that women don’t make good teachers or leaders.  But I’m also not going to head up MOPS (lack of mothering and a pre-schooler), a bake sale, or speak at Women of Faith (for these reasons)…so what am I to do?  I’m asking God where my gifts would be best used. 

I thought by the time I turned 31 I’d have it all figured out, which is funny because I totally thought I had everything figured out when I was 23 (until I realized I was terribly wrong).  Still, at 31, I didn’t think I would still wrestle with that age-old question, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” 

My answer: Whatever you want me to be, Abba.  My life is Yours.

What are your spiritual gifts?  What do you do when you realize what gives you joy is the hard thing to do?  How has God used your gift for His glory?   Are you good at talking to single guys or gals your age?  Is one of your gifts being good at wrapping Christmas or birthday presents?

Shepherding My Little Flock

6 Dec

As a Bible study leader, I see the ladies in my group making decisions that are not in God’s perfect will.  While I don’t claim to know God’s perfect will for the lives of all, I do believe that God had given me this little flock to shepherd to teach them about the One who shepherds us all—Head of the Flock.  Therefore, God has given me special insight into the lives of the five ladies in my group as I pray for them, wait on God to give me the words to teach them from Scripture, and think of “hot topics” that will affirm my group in knowing how much God loves each and every one of them.

If I measured my success as a leader on the decisions my individual sheep make, then I am a true failure as a shepherdess.  A couple of ladies play daring games of “chicken” with the wolves, one lonely little lamb wanders here and there and it’s hard to figure her out, another lamb needs to be comforted, for she has endured much at the hands of others, and the other sheep sticks close to my side and sometimes shepherds me.

The hardest thing about being a shepherdess is watching the sheep who choose to wander dangerously close to the wolves.  “Come back, little lambs, for the Father wants to give you so much more.  Those wolves want to devour your hearts and steal your souls,” I cry out to the sheep.  They look back at me, acknowledging my words, come closer to me, and when I turn my head, dart back toward the darkness.  A young woman I once had the pleasure of knowing when I was a youth leader wrote a song that said, “I run full force into the dark.” She knew that running away from God, venturing towards the wolves, was choosing darkness.

So I plead on their behalf, beg God for guidance in what to do, how to approach them, and how to handle the situations which entrap them.  And I get frustrated, tell these sheep that they’re “dumb sheep,” and fail them again and again.  Human sheep are forgiving creatures, at least the ones in my flock, and they overlook my weaknesses again and again.   Should I always call out the sin I see in my group?  Set up camp outside their houses like an Old Testament prophet proclaiming God’s wrath and judgment on these women?  Do I act tenderly like Hosea to his wife, Gomer?  What is the right thing to do when you see the people you shepherd acting so very wrong.

Here is what I’m learning—there is no right answer.  Like everyone, I have to get down on my knees before God and pray, address the issues that come out at Bible study, pray for these woman and my own heart (which can pour out judgment like I’m the Supreme Justice for Human Morality).  When I pray, I plead for all the woman in my small group.  Tears roll down my cheeks and stain my journal as I see the impossibilities in their lives—abuse, divorce recovery, mental illness, physical illness, financial problems, troubling relationships—and I am challenged as I deal with my own impossibilities (which are fairly similar to my group’s).  There is no doubt that we were not thrown together by the “fates,” but rather are a flock predestined to meet by the grace of God.

There are imperfect, full of folly, and sometimes rowdy.  They dance with the wolves and talk when they’re supposed to be listening.  But they are beautiful, especially their scars and hurts, and transparency.  They are not only beautiful and precious to me, but to God, who created each and every one of His sheep, including me.  To shepherd a flock is to love that flock, to care for that flock, to bind their wounds, cry with them and for them, and to plead for the needs of that flock before the Great Shepherd.  Being a shepherdess is not an easy calling, nor does it come with an actual wooden staff (though that would be nifty), yet it is one I accept from the Hand of God.  I love my little flock.

Are you a shepherd or shepherdess?  If so, what challenges do you find with your flock?  What are some joys you find in shepherding both flocks big and small?  If you are in a “flock,” what advice do you have for your leaders?  Shepherd-folk, how can I pray for you?  Flocks, how can I pray for you and your shepherds?

Guest Post: Christa Allan on Writing

13 Sep

If I’d been more serious about writing a book years ago, I’d have a much cleaner house. No, not because I would have sold millions and been able to afford a full-time housekeeper. The good news/bad news is that I could have accomplished the turbo-clean without publication.

It seems that all I have to do is sit at my computer, lift my hands to the keyboard a la concert pianist, and dust bunnies start multiplying before my eyes. I notice the coffee cup rings on my desk, the cat hair floating lyrically to the brick floors, the sun glistening on the polished wood floors which are almost now evenly covered with their protective layer of microscopic crud, the open-mouthed toilets–not even in view–are taunting me. Yesterday, after 30.6 seconds in front of the monitor, I pounced up to (gasp) vacuum. And (double gasp) I walked/ran on the treadmill.

Writing is lonely. Not counting the three mildly neurotic cats (save me the animals reflect their owners psychobabble….you’re doing it anyway, aren’t you?), it’s just me, my lukewarm cup of coffee, and stacks of papers. Not that I’d want an audience. Might make for a quirky SNL skit though. Massive desk, state of the art computer, spotlight on the keyboard, writer dressed in tuxedo (yes, women can wear tuxedos) slowly walks on stage, gently slides back ergonomically designed chair, flips on the monitor and starts his/her fingers dancing on the keyboard. The audience follows his/her progress on the large screen projected to the right and back of the writer. Chapter ends. Applause.

But, seriously, what I did not understand until I came to the keyboard in pursuit of writing with the intent to actually produce something publishable, is that while I may be surrounded by external silence, my head is crammed with uninvited guests.

In one corner, the petulant children whining about where they’d rather be, asking why we’re spending so much time sitting in this boring room when it’s really such a pretty day outside and we could being doing something like pulling weeds. In another corner, the brats who are causing all sorts of trouble with house cleaning distractions, playing with the telephone reminding me of calls I should be making, telling me I need to compulsively check my email because the editor whose name I added an extra “s” to might be knocked off his chair by my query, completely overlook my written lisp, and be attaching a contract AT THIS VERY NANOSECOND (brats scream…yeesh). And somewhere, roaming around aimlessly, is the worrywart aunt, wearing mismatched ankle socks with her orthopedic shoes, wondering about the physical and mental healths of my immediate family, genoicide, taxes, and world peace. The worst of the pack is the sneering and arrogant bullies, rocking back on their chairs asking me who I think I am that I could be on a bookshelf with the likes of ___________(insert almost any author’s name here), don’t I know that I’m justateacher.

Just when I quiet everyone else, one of the bullies yawns and stretches to his/her nine feet tall self, looks at me, and laughs. It’s then I realize that the only way to shut them up is to drown them in words and sentences and paragraphs and pages and chapters. And when I’m finally there, I’m going to throw my book at them.

So, is the choice being thin with an immaculate house and no book? Or lumpy with dust layers protecting the furniture and publication? Is that why book jackets rarely show full body photos of the writers? And how many writer’s cribs are featured on those house shows anyway?

I just may be able to pull this one off. . .

About Christa Allan…

A true Southern woman who knows that any cook worth her gumbo always starts with a roux and who never wears white after Labor Day, The Edge of Grace is Christa’s second novel. Her debut women’s fiction, Walking on Broken Glass, released in February from Abingdon Press. She is under contract for three more novels that will release in 2012 and 2013. She has been teaching high school English for over twenty years, earning her National Board Certification in 2007. The mother of five adult children and the totally smitten Grammy of two granddaughters, Christa and her veterinarian husband, Ken, live in Abita Springs, Louisiana.

Visit her website at www.christaallan.com.

You can connect with Christa at Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/ChristaAllan.Author.

Check out Christa’s latest book!

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