Friday, August 25, 2023

Oh, Those Pesky Birthdays

 I recently had a conversation with an awesome group of friends when it came out that three of us have had birthdays this month. One friend expressed all the craziness she experienced around her birthday, leaving the rest of us amazed and relieved that someone had so adequately and so cutely verbalized what we have all been experiencing, but never acknowledged out loud. At one time or another we all had wished we were like those girls who got excited and announced from the mountain tops that it is their birthday month and celebrate loud and big all month, but we aren't. I can't remember her eloquent words exactly so I will simply try to express what has gone ion in my own heart and mind over the years when my birthday rolls around.  

I have one birthday picture I love that my mom set me before she passed away. I have held on to it because it was before all of the crazy thoughts and feelings centered around birthdays started. It was my fourth birthday, and I am standing in front of my birthday cake in a beautiful pastel plaid dress that my mom had made. I am posed in front of the cake, holding the skirt of the dress out, with joy beaming though my smile and the excitement written on my face. Within a few years my reactions to birthdays grew more reserved as I began to experience ambivalence bubbling up inside of me whenever my birthday rolled around.   

For me, that meant I wanted people to know my birthday was coming and at the same time I didn't want them to know. I wanted people to wish me a happy birthday and at the same time I was afraid they might acknowledge it. I wanted a birthday cake and at the same time I didn't want to have to have the cake placed in front of me, causing the attention to be squarely on me as I blew out the candles. I wanted people to sing Happy Birthday and at the same time I was petrified and knew my face would be beet red when they did, especially if we went to our favorite Mexican restaurant and the wait staff brought over the huge sombrero to don as the whole restaurant joined in lively song. And as I began to age, I also wrestled with not wanting others to know my age and at the same time wanting to grow old gracefully and learn to celebrate ever trip around our sun God gives me. 

And then there came this whole social media thing. When I joined social media, I filled in the information, which included my birthday, not knowing everyone would wish me happy birthday. I was so overwhelmed as I read so many sweet messages. I soon deleted my birthdate from my page for a year and found myself thinking about those messages left the previous year. So, after some contemplation I added my birthdate back to my profile and thought it is time to try to lean into birthdays and figure out where all the crazy angst comes from. 

As my friends and I were talking, I realized this was the first year that I can honestly say that much of the ambivalence around my birthday was gone. There are serval reasons for this. First by leaning into the birthdays through social media I have had the opportunity to read lots of birthday messages. That so many would take the time to acknowledge my birthdays floors me. And there are those that take the time every year to write beautiful affirmations, stating the things that they see and appreciate in me. Some have shared the way that I have impacted their lives, often in ways I didn't even realize as I know I have lived such an imperfect life. At times there has also been Bible verses left, speaking God's truth over my life. For example, Psalm 39-13-16 reminded me that I am fearfully and wonderfully made and that it was God who carefully perfectly knit me together in my mother's womb and that He knew my days before they even began. And there is Isaia 43:7 and Revelation 4:11 that remind me I was created for His glory. These verses all tell me I wasn't an accident, I was planned for and that there wasn't ever a time that I wasn't wanted by Him. And then Ephesians 2:10 reminds me I am God's workmanship. 

This year as I read my birthday posts, I was so amazed at the people that God has put into my life over the years and the many different locations and life stages we have lived. As I read each message, God blessed me with sweet memories and kindnesses given by each person. One friend who was in band with me in junior high left a message and two other girls that were also her friends left messages directly under hers. It was perfect because the memory that pops into mind as I read their posts is of the three of them standing with me getting ready to perform in a concert. They were a year older than I was and as a junior higher I looked up to them. They were always so sweet to me and modeled such beauty and grace. I don't think they knew how much of an encouragement they were to me as an awkward junior higher. There were other messages from women who were in my life from grade school, high school, and when I was a young mom, all of whom modeled so many things for me. There were also beautifully written messages by people who have seen me at my worst and privy to my raw emotions that somehow still saw beauty and value in me as I live life. This 70-year-old is an extremely blessed birthday girl whose heart is so filled.

The other thing that has helped me get more comfortable with birthdays is that I have been blessed with grandchildren who celebrate birthdays big. I have gotten texts filled with balloons and confetti, funny birthday memes, bitmoji's of birthday hugs and even birthday songs left as messages on my phone. I have even been invited on birthday lunch dates at Chick Filet! Who could resist? A few years ago, my daughter who is an educator and was in the middle of starting her new year messaged me from work and said we needed to come up with a plan as her sons were blowing up her phone reminding her it was my birthday and they needed to celebrate me. Who am I to argue with grandchildren over who deserves to be celebrated?

I do wish I had learned these lessons earlier in life as I know I would have celebrated my husband, my children, my parents, my grandparents, and my friend's birthdays more consistently and in much bigger ways, recognizing they, too, deserve to be celebrated and rejoiced over even in the midst of some discomfort they might feel over birthdays. I am so thankful that those pesky birthdays have become reminders of the beautiful people God has placed in my life at just the right time to give me companionship, encouragement, comfort, love, and more joy than I could have ever asked for or dreamed of having. I encourage you to remember that it isn't selfish to celebrate your birthdays, God planned you, knitted you together, and has ordained your days just as He has mine! Don't believe the lies centered that feed the birthday angst. You worthy of celebration.


Sunday, August 13, 2023

Houston, we have a Humanitarian Problem

In 2012, I had the opportunity to watch a movie called Trade of Innocents and was awakened to the ugly truth of child sex trafficking. It started the conversation in our country but did not have as big of an impact as I hoped it would. I am so thankful another movie, The Sound of Freedom, has had a much larger impact and that more people are seeing this film and talking about it. However, I have been frustrated that some news casters have claimed the film is made up conspiracy theories. I suspect that is because they want to politicize the film, so they don't have to take an honest look at the human (both adult and child) trafficking being spawned by open borders and human smugglers. 

Trafficking of humans and sexual abuse is not a conspiracy theory. Both have been around from the beginning of time. The Old Testament makes it clear that it was woven into various pagan religions when children were offered as human sacrifices and virgin daughters were sacrificed to priests who then used them as temple prostitutes. If we read through the Pentateuch and the prophetic books, we can see all sorts of ugly, horrendous actions perpetrated by mankind. The Bible tells stories that reveals that women were little more than property, not viewed as image bearers of the living God. It is clear that there were times wives and daughters were less important than men and not protected. I am going to share some stories from the Bible and encourage survivors to take care of yourself as you read.

The first story I want to talk about is found in Genesis 19. Lot and his wife and daughters had settled in Sodom and Gomorrah. Tso angels in human form came to warn Lot that God was going to destroy the cities because of their moral decline. Lot invited them into his home and soon the house was surrounded by men of all ages clamoring for Lot to deliver the men to them to gang rape. At first Lost seems like a good guy wanting to protect his guest, but things took an ugly turn when he stepped out to offer the crowd two virgin daughters to abuse instead. They tried to press past Lot to get the "men" and the angels reached out and pulled Lot inside and struck the whole group of men with blindness so that they could not get in the door. This is one place where the daughters had no agency over their bodies and lives and were seen more like property and less value than guests who were strangers. 

Now we will skip to Genesis 34 and look at Dinah's life. She was the daughter of Jacob and Leah. A Hivite prince named Shechem thought he loved her and seized her and raped her and then decided he wanted her as his wife. She again had no agency over her body or her life and like some women in our day became a political pawn. Her brothers became angry and acted like the prince could marry her, if all the men in the Hivite community would get circumcised. So, they did. Then the brothers attacked and killed all the Hivite men on the third day of surgical recovery and plundered everything belonging to those they killed, including their wives and children.

Next, we will visit 2 Sammuel 11-12. This is the story of David and Bathsheba. Most of the things I learned about early in my faith was that she seduced him. The more I read this story and the more I learned of the culture of that day, I realized that isn't true. It was a case of power rape. David as the king was supposed to be out of town fighting battles and she was bathing as was customary after her period. He was walking around his roof and saw her and sent men to bring her to him, knowing her husband was at war. I don't believe she had a lot of choice, because in the story of Esther even a ruler's wife was at the mercy of her husband if she approached him uninvited. When Bathsheba got pregnant, David had her husband killed in battle so he could hide his sin and look like he was simply providing for her. The prophet Nathan came and confronted him and him alone, by exposing his predatory choice to take someone that did not belong to him. Nathan warned him that his secret actions that had so dishonored his God would be dealt with publicly. 

The last story we will discuss is the story of Tamar found in 2 Samuel 13 and reveals an example of generational sin. David had a son named Amnon and a beautiful virgin daughter named Tamar. Amon thought he had fallen in love his half-sister and confided in one of his friends who crafted an ugly plan. Amnon followed the plan and pretended to be sick and had his dad send Tamar to bake him cakes. So, David sent her and when Tamar arrived at Amnon's house, he was lying down. She made the cakes in view of his sight and when she emptied the pan before him, he refused to get up to eat. He sent everyone else out of the home and told Tamar to bring the food into his chamber and feed him. She took the cakes to him and when she leaned over with a cake in hand, he told her to come lie with him. She said, "No, my brother, do not violate me, for such a thing is not done in Israel; do not do this outrageous thing." She went on to remind him of the shame she would bear and that he would be considered a fool. She suggested he talk to their father to see if they could marry. He took her by force and violated her and immediately Amnon hated her with a hatred way deeper that the "love" he had loved her with. He he told her to go, leaving filled with shame and grief she put ashes on her head, robe that signified her status as a virgin daughter. She wept hard and lived a desolate life in her brother Absalom's house. And even though David got angry when he heard about the rape, he asked Absalom to spare his life, offering Tamar no words of comfort with the lack of justice for her.  

Even though these are Biblical Stories, the behaviors of the people involved do not reflect the heart of God. God cares about children. Matthew 18:10 says, "See that you do not despise one of these little ones. For I tell you that in heaven their angels always see the face of my Father who is in heaven." In addition, Jesus crossed the social norms of his day to serve children and women. Matthew 10:24 says, "And whoever gives one of these little ones even a cup of cold water because he is a disciple, truly, I say to you, he will by no means lose his reward." Matthew 18:6 says, "But whoever causes one of these little ones who believes in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone fastened around his neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea."  

Jesus actions crossed the social and cultural mores of his day. He healed two daughters in Mark 5:21-43. The first was a 12-year-old whose dad was Jarius, a leader of the synagogue. The second had been bleeding for the entire 12 years the other had been alive. Her bleeding wasn't an inconvenience, it was a matter of life and death and had left her poverty stricken and exiled from social activities. But for some reason she believed if she could touch His clothing, she would be well. She reached. She touched and she was healed and Jesus' words, "Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace and be healed of your disease," sweetly reestablished her socially into the community. Jesus then went to Jairus's home where is little girl lay, having passed away. He raised her from the dead and told them to give her something to eat. This passage of care is a powerful antidote to misogynistic tendencies of men in that day. It proves that women and children are not less valuable than men in God's eyes.

John 8:1-11 is the story of a woman who was caught in adultery. She was thrust at Jesus feet without the partner of the adulterous act. Jesus penned untold words in the sand and challenged those who were without sin to cast the first stones. And one by one the men turned and left, and Jesus tells looked her in the eye and said, "Neither do I condemn you." Jesus made it clear that church is to be a place of compassion and grace, even for women. He also made it clear that women were not to be expected to pay for the sins of the men in their life. 

In John 4:1-30, Jesus crossed the barriers of gender, nationality, tribe, and religion when he conveniently sits by a well so that he can have a lengthy conversation with a Samaritan woman who had had five husbands and was now living with a man to whom she wasn't married. After touching on her life's story, the conversation turned into theological debate that resulted in her believing in Jesus and God used this socially ostracized daughter to bring her community to Himself. 

In Luke 13:10-17 Jesus was confronted for healing a woman who had been suffering physically for 18 years on the Sabbath. He stood up to the religious leaders who condemned the healing on the Sabbath saying, "Ought not this woman, a daughter of Abraham who Satan bound for eighteen long years, be set free from this bondage on the Sabbath day?  

And then in Mark 14:3-9 another woman poured costly ointment on Jesus' head, causing those in the vicinity to complain about the waist. Jesus again defended her for showing Him love in the way she did. He said, "Truly I tell you, wherever the good news is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will be told in remembrance of her." He was defending and celebrating her lavish act of love in the anointing of His body and the fact that women are often the intuitive and compassionate ones to meet important needs. 

With what I have shared I hope you can see that the stories of abuse are nothing new to this world. They are not conspiracy theories. They happen everywhere--both inside and outside the church. It happens in families, friend circles, in communities, in schools, in every people group across the world. When will we wake up as human beings and realize this is not a political issue, not made-up stories of hysterical women, it is a critical humanitarian crisis that needs immediate attention, Our God's heart is weeping for every victim, and the Lion of Judah--He is roaring to get our attention. How are we going to respond? What actions are we going to take. 


Several years ago I realized that I often sped through my Scripture reading and gave it little thought. Yet, when I had meaningful conversations with friends or family members I replayed them over and over in my head. One day it occurred to me, that if I thought more about what God says in his word that I would not only know more about Him, but I would come to know Him in a personal way. I would know more about His thoughts, His character, His intentions, His passions, and His actions. So, I began to take one verse at a time and think on it and then journal about it. At the time I was served as a volunteer in youth ministry and shared my “Thoughts on God” with those girls. For a while I have been rewriting and posting them on this blog. I have realized when I am in the Word or move through my day focusing on God's presence that I have wonderful opportunities to Meet God in the Everyday. The Everyday can include storms, blessings, hard things, scary things, exciting things...just any where, anyplace, any time. I hope that you will be able to engage with what I write with both your head and your heart. I also hope you will be challenged to love, trust, and know the God of the Scriptures. It is my prayer that as you read you will experience Him at a deeper level and share pieces of your journey in the comments. It is my desire that we form a safe community of believers who pursue the God who loves us radically, eternally, and without reserve. As a precious pastor once told me, "Don't forget, Wendy, God is Good!" I find myself compelled by His Goodness and His Love to share so others can know Him through all the ups and downs of life. Please feel free to dialogue back and to share how each passage impacts you. If if there is a passage you would like me to write on or if you would like to be a guest blogger, please let me know. I am just learning to navigate this blog and appreciate the kind comments you have made in the past...I promise I will even try to respond if you leave a note. If you are blessed please share the blog with friends!