Swimming between the flags

Summer Lovin' 249

Australian beaches are renowned for their deadly rips.  From an early age you are taught to swim between the flags to avoid getting into trouble. It is a part of our collective memory and consciousness as a country – ‘swim between the flags’, ‘never try to swim against a rip’, ‘stay calm if you get caught’.  It is hard to spot a rip, they are hidden, running deep and fast under the surface.

For most of my life, by some Great Orchestrating Hand, I have found myself surrounded by people who’s understanding of women has reflected the impartiality of God’s grace.  Churches that honour the gifting planted, birthed and nurtured in and by both men and women have been my home.

I have swum between the flags.

Mostly.

As an eager and naive 19 year old I set off to fulfil my ‘calling’ to study theology. I was determined to make my mark and to become a diligent student. I was little prepared for the rip tides I would get caught in.

Because of my gender here were those who believed that I was sinning by committing my life to studying the word of God, men who told me I was going to hell for assuming to teach and I was told that I was dishonouring God for having my ears pierced.

I wish I was joking.

This was not a conservative college, not by any measure.

It was a gathering of people who were all attempting to understand God and his words more. But for some their starting place, and eventually their conclusions, were so vastly different to mine. Some had found their home deep in the words of the Old Testament, others in their deeply rooted church traditions.

There were times when it felt like unsafe water to be swimming in.

But home was always between the flags amongst God’s people who knew that God’s Kingdom was wide and generous. They would call me back into the safe place of truth and speak words of life over me. Men and women who were certain of their standing before God and who whispered to me to lift my eyes and my head, who told me to hold my head straight and keep my heart true.  I have been one of the ‘lucky’ ones. Despite the rip tides that attempted to drag me under and suffocate truth, there have always been people to guide me back to safe waters.

In many ways I have not had to do the hard work of working out a theology of gender. God’s people have worked it out for me, in front of me, guiding my and gently showing me the way.  By their words and their simple declaration that ‘everyone gets to play’ they have taught me that God’s grace has no prejudice and that God’s justice is extended to me, as it is to all the men and women who have doubted my ability, motive and heart.

I am grateful that I have ‘swum between the flags’ for the most part. And I am grateful for the men and women in my life who have guided me through dangerous seas.

God’s Kingdom is wide and generous. And we all get to play.

(Celebrating the lovely Sarah Bessey and the release of ‘Jesus Feminist’ with a little synchroblog action)

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Day 31/19 – Where there is no beauty

31 days

I’ve circled around this for a long time.  I am no expert.   I only have my own story and my own battered heart.  It is a story I do not enjoy telling.  It still resonates too deeply.

When our daughter was 4 weeks old she became really ill. Life threateningly ill. We watched her be resuscitated over and over. Wordless prayers and suffocating fear blanketed us as we watched her struggle.

A week later I walked away from the hospital forever changed. My faith damaged, fear tucked up under my arm and my fragile daughter in my arms.

Our darling girl fought and she recovered and continues to recover. She is delightful and sweet, witty and clever.  My gratefulness for her is beyond measure or words.

I wish I could tell you that my unwavering faith held firm and sure in the weeks after, but it did not. I was ravished with uncertainty and fear. It sent me reeling down a path cloaked in shadows and confusion.  It is has been a long few years.

In the months that followed our daughter’s illness we were plagued by people’s well-meaning declarations of God’s ever present love and His ‘working towards good’.  I had people ask me if I prayed ‘enough’, read the Bible ‘enough’ and trusted in God’s goodness ‘enough’.  And each time I bit my tongue, smiled, walked away and raged at a silent God.  I questioned His sovereignty, His goodness, His Lordship and love.  The great irony was that in the midst of this I was also trying to finish my post-grad in Missiology. My nights were spent studying the Word and the words of the great missiologists Bosch, Kraft, Newbigin and Winter. I was swimming in words rich in the wonder of God’s salvation story for the world while I questioned His very presence in my life.

The collision of the Words and my doubt did not bring me peace. It bought more questions and more uncertainty. And it has taken me a long time to accept that sometimes the answers will remain unknown.

I had to work out the theology of our daughter being ill. I knew that if I didn’t commit to working it out there would always be a whisper of doubt in my heart.  I had to find the meeting place between her being sick and God.  And the meeting place was not in a question, it was in a statement. I had to be sure that Jesus was Lord.  And after years of raging and study and tears and fear I know that Jesus in indeed, simply, and terrifyingly, Lord.

I believe that the Lordship of Christ is constantly moving and yet ever static. It twists and dances its way to meet us in the joy and in the grief. It is also still and deeply rooted in the ancient truths of YAWEH.

And now, in stiller moments, there is a gentle peace that encroaches on my heart. Where once there was only fear and doubt, there is now a glimmer of grace.

I still have moments of confusion over those days and I still don’t like talking about it. But now my heart is certain that Christ is Lord. He is Lord now and he was Lord when our girl was sick.

I am yet to find beauty in the midst of this long struggle. But in the centre of the storm there has always been the quiet and grace-filled beauty of our daughter. And that is where my heart finds its rest and home.

(This is part of my 31 Day Challenge to write on Wedded Beauty. You can see the post that kicked it all off here)

Day 31/18 – I am curious and I am learning

31 days

I have hinted here before that pursing beauty as a way of discovering more of God’s truth and life is new to me. I have been skeptical of the possibility. And I have long been enveloped by the pursuit of God through study and fighting for God in the midst of doubt and fear. God and I have struggled through the last few years. It has rarely been easy.  I feel like this new season of God revealing himself is a gift. I am curious as to what this season will teach me.  I am curious to start thinking about God creating us to crave beauty as a way of revealing himself. I see Him wedded to beauty in ways that I did not expect or imagine.  There is a depth and grace to the way God created the world that evokes more than just beauty for beauty’s sake.   His great salvation story can be seen stretched across the sky and in the tiny yellow wattle blossom.

I am sitting with these verses again today. Breathing them in, tasting their goodness, swimming in the possibility of them.

For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse. Romans 1:20

Psalm 19:1-4

The heavens declare the glory of God;
    the skies proclaim the work of his hands.

Day after day they pour forth speech;
    night after night they reveal knowledge.

They have no speech, they use no words;
    no sound is heard from them.

Yet their voice goes out into all the earth,
    their words to the ends of the world.

(All the posts from this series can be found here. Thanks for reading along. x)

Day 31/16-17 – I am choosing

31 days

So I missed yesterday’s post. I am choosing to be ok about it. I’m still not very well and energy is minimal.  I am trying to keep things low key but with 3 kids – who am I kidding?

It is frustrating. For the first time in a long while I feel energised to pursue more writing and I sense God nudging me towards new things. But I don’t have the energy to ‘do’ anything apart from the basics. Having the flu is forcing me to sit with these ideas and lean into more of what God is saying. I am choosing to be ok about that. There is goodness here.

The wind is forcing mighty trees to give up their oldest limbs today. Driving home from school drop off was treacherous.  The sky is thick with clouds.  I love grey days.  They are easy.

And so what am I meant to learn today about beauty and truth?

I think it is this – stop asking questions. Start listening and start looking. There is truth and life to be found in the ordinary.  I can choose this. I can choose to let go of the struggle and the work of this. There is beauty to be found, wedded to glory and goodness, in my lounge room. God chose this. And I am choosing to lean into the ordinary, easy, grey days, and rest amongst the simple things.

The Bible is full of evidence that God’s attention is indeed fixed on the little things. But this is not because God is a great cosmic cop, eager to catch us in minor transgressions, but simply because God loves us–loves us so much that we the divine presence is revealed even in the meaningless workings of daily life. It is in the ordinary, the here-and-now, that God asks us to recognize that the creation is indeed refreshed like dew-laden grass that is “renewed in the morning” or to put it in more personal and also theological terms, “our inner nature is being renewed every day”. Seen in this light, what strikes many modern readers as the ludicrous details in Leviticus involving God in the minutiae of daily life might be revisioned as the very love of God. ”  Kathleen Norris, The Quotidian Mysteries

(Thanks for reading along! Here are the rest of the posts from this series)

Day 31/14 – The Morning After

31 daysIt’s the morning after.

All last week I was fighting off a cold, I could feel it lurking around me. My simple and short sighted pray had been, ‘Just don’t let me get sick before Sunday morning’. And I didn’t. This horrible cold/flu hit me at 1pm Sunday afternoon. It was an answer to prayer. One I thank God for.

Last week was busy. It was also humbling and a little bit lonely.  I was rostered on to lead our church service on Sunday, something I have not done before. It required more prayer and more planning than I expected (and resulted in an extraordinary respect and appreciation for those who do lead our services).  And a couple of my best friends are away. And even though our random text messages late into the night about Thor have delighted me beyond measure (they really have), I am missing their grace and truth in close proximity. They are my ‘go-to’ people for common sense and tea and laughter.

And now I am curled up on the couch trying to entertain a nearly 3 year old when really I just want to go to bed.  There is a good chance that ‘The Dinosaur Train’ will be on repeat today.

 

But yesterday.

Yesterday the church, in our cold and badly lit grey cement-block building, flared in magnificent colours and shimmering holy light. The building was flooded with goodness and laughter and a deep sense of heaven.

This is what it is meant to look like.

This is the beauty of the Bride.

In spite of all my planning and detailed notes, God chose to come and sit with His people and whisper to them about the wideness and glory and life of the Bride.  In all our brokenness, beauty thrived.

And so despite feeling sick and tired, I am content. The beauty of the Bride is wide reaching. It is wild and peace giving, beyond measure and holy. It requires me to show up. It requires our church to show up and choose vulnerability and forgiveness.

Yesterday, beauty and life and the church and goodness danced together. I am so grateful I was there to see it.

 

(Thanks for following along on this 31 Day challenge. Check out the previous posts here)

 

Day 31/8 – I will sit a little longer

31 days

I have few words today.
I am tired.
3 kids, friends struggling with sickness and grief, the loss of my favorite shoe, and my need for perfection have undone me a little.
But even still, I know the grace of God is perched next to me, ever-present.
I am becoming more and more convinced that I am asking the wrong question.
And I am stunned by the grace of a God that would overwhelm us with opportunities to see him at every corner turned.
A God who revels in the details and rides in on the gentlest breeze.
And so I will sit here a little longer.

31/4 – Maybe?

31 days 

‘Beauty is to the spirit what food is to the flesh’. Frekerick Buechner

As I write this there is a fire pit blazing and a paella pan simmering in our back yard. There are bursts of laughter amidst quiet stories being told.  AJ has gathered friends around to eat and laugh and rest in each other’s presence. And the only way AJ knows how to do that is around food. Lots of food (seriously, the paella pan is HUGE).

Food gathers us, sustains, fuels and nourishes us.

Beauty gathers us, sustains, fuels and nourishes us.

I say it quietly.

I find myself testing out this new theory. Does it apply to my favourite Monet painting? A setting sun?  Mary Oliver’s poem ‘Mindful’?

I think, maybe, it does…