Standing Naked Before God and Not Worrying About My Thighs…

You know, once upon a really, really long time ago… we were strolling through a garden, naked and unashamed (Gen 2:25).

It’s how we were designed. I don’t mean we were designed to be naked… although if original sin had never entered the world I wouldn’t be spending nearly as much at Target and Old Navy. But we were designed to not feel shame or be self-conscious about our bodies. Our bodies were created for pleasure and function. Not obsession and scrutiny.

I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately. Not just because I’m on a diet. But because I started trying to get healthy again. This time it’s more about feeling good… more about health than image. Don’t get me wrong… I’m female and with that comes wanting to look good. It’s what we do. And I truly believe that it’s part of how we were created – wanting to be desired and admired. Male and female alike require this – it just manifests itself a little differently in the genders.

My point to all of this isn’t really a new subject. There are many campaigns out there that are trying to rectify our media-skewed body image dysfunctions. I appreciate that there are people like Dove who are running a Real Beauty Campaign. But the problems here, is that we are once again, letting the media tell us what is beautiful. I mean, at least they’re sort of on the right track… but if you consider yourself a follower of Christ – think about this for a moment:

We are all created in His image.  All of us. ALL. Of. Us. This fact, is one of the reasons I love traveling to strange, exotic locations. When I stood next to a woman in the Maasai Mara (see photo below) I thought about how we were both made in God’s image… I couldn’t help but think, “God! What must YOU be like?” My idea of who God is expands. He is no longer in my North American box. On most days, I think of him as a white, middle class suburbanite… but He so, so far from that it’s mind boggling.

So that said, when it’s time to focus of how I view my body and my self-image… I need to step away from the media – good or bad – and take a look at God. I need to gaze at Him awhile. And I can do that through scripture for understanding His character. But I can also look around at creation and try to find those who are the most “unlike” me… and let my idea of who He is grow. And then, and only then, can I truly accept who I am and how I am created.

Yes, I’m still on a diet. The reality is that, thanks to the fall of man, there are calories that like to plant themselves firmly around my waistline.  So in order to be healthy and to be able to be as active as I’d like to be – I must do something  to counter-act that. But I also need to not make it an idol and to not judge my value or worth based on appearance or even ability.

And when I catch myself doing that… and I will because I’m human… and female… I need to take a deep breath, step back… and gaze at our great Creator for awhile. Which is much more appealing than looking in a mirror.

Grounded…

It’s Sunday morning and I’m writing this from my cozy green couch. If you know me, you know how significant a statement that is… considering the crazy travel schedule I’ve had the last 6 years.

Last Saturday, I grabbed a last minute lunch with a couple of friends at the Grilled Cheeserie truck that comes to East Nashville on weekends. We were sitting there slurping our gooey cheesey sandwiches when my friend Duane stopped mid-bite and said, “Wait! It’s Saturday! And I’m eating lunch with Debbie Barnett!” It’s a very good thing.

The number one question people are asking me is, “Are you going to miss traveling?”

Yes and no. What I love about traveling is discovering new places, seeing a world of people out there who are just like me and who are very different than me. Experiencing different cultures within our own country is fascinating. We Americans are such an eclectic people! More than anything, I love traveling abroad. It helps me see that this world is both awfully huge and quite small. The vastness of this world becomes evident when you climb on a plane in an all-familiar Nashville, TN  and some 18 hours later you step off into some wild, untamed place like Addis Abba, Ethiopia. But it’s that very thing that makes the world seem so small… because it’s all so attainable.

Anyway, that part of travel I will miss. But here’s a list of what I WON’T miss:

  • being stranded in yet another airport due to delays, cancellations weather and incompetence.
  • being lovingly frisked by TSA agents every few days
  • having constant jet-lag and a body that has no idea what time zone its in
  • swollen ankles & fingers from being 35,000 feet in the air several times a week
  • missing yet another friend’s wedding, birthday, dinner party, graduation, etc
  • feeling like a visitor in my own church
  • conversations back home that always with, “I haven’t seen you in forever!”

And here’s a few things I’ve discovered that I LOVE about being grounded (or not traveling for a living):

  • having a regular sleeping pattern
  • being home on weekends when everyone else is off work as well
  • my mailman now recognizes me and waves
  • not eating “out” for every meal and getting to cook more
  • being able to say “yes” to invitations
  • my plants don’t die
  • discovering the meaning to “Thank God It’s Friday”
  • not having to “catch up” with close friends because we stay caught up.

Don’t get me wrong… I loved what I was doing these last 6 years and see it as such a gift. But suffice it to say… I’m loving the adjustment and thank God every day for the amazing life He has given me.  But I’m happy for the change and ready to embrace a new way of of living it for now. And who knows what the future holds? But I know that He holds me… so I will just hang on and enjoy the ride.

The Glass is Half.

During an interview, Bishop Lesslie Newbigin was asked, “Would you say you’re a pessimist or an optimist?”  He replied, “I’m neither an optimist nor a pessimist.  Christ raised from the dead!”

Really? That’s your answer?

My pastor quoted this in church last night and it got me thinking. Over the years I’ve been posed with the same question.  In job interviews, small group ice breakers, dinner table queries, you name it.

For most of my life, I’ve have been called an optimist.  I’ve even been called Pollyanna on occasion. Polly for short.

But over the last 10 years or so, I’ve seen enough hurt and injustice in this world; have personally been taken advantage of enough times; and have watched too many people I love find themselves scarred from the shrapnel of shattered dreams… that my rose colored glasses have fogged over and are really more of a grayish hue now.

Not to sound dramatic, though I’m good at that, but these tragic and seemingly hopeless situations have shaken my faith at times and caused me to question what I believed, and why I believed it.

It’s taken some time to attune my perspective. And honestly, if I were not a follower of Jesus and had my life not been rescued and renewed by the Spirit of the One who created me… I would simply throw my hands in the air and adopt the title of Queen Pessimist.

But as a believer there’s really only one answer to the question of whether I should be pessimistic or optimistic. The answer is, as Bishop Lesslie Newbigin said, “Neither”.

To be a total Pessimist would mean I’m blinded to hope because the disparity right in front of me has so has blackened my vision to see beyond the now. To be a total optimist means I chose to ignore any negative thought toward the future regardless of how dismal things are currently. The problem with this view is that I am not responding appropriately to what’s in front of me, perhaps burying my head while waiting in anticipation for what I believe is still to come.  But ignoring or being in denial of the negative in front of me renders me ineffective to being a conduit of renewal… right now.

How do I reconcile all of that? By learning to live in the now and the not yet. By being brave and broken, all at once. By willingly entering into someone’s pain because I know it won’t destroy me. When I know I am loved by the God of all grace, and I live in this world as if I really believe it… I can do nothing other than bring healing, reconciliation, new life and hope wherever I go.

So,I’m neither optimist nor pessimist… because Christ came, He died and He rose again. ‘Nuff said.

Psalm 16:8
I keep my eyes always on the LORD. With him at my right hand, I will not be shaken.

Bittersweet…

Change is never easy… and often bittersweet. And often it’s accompanied by having to say goodbye – sometimes to dreams… sometimes to places… and sometimes to people. And sometimes to all three.

Many of you know, that I’ve been working with World Vision for more than 14 years now. If you know me, you know how passionate I am about the work of World Vision, and my experience has deepened immensely over the last 5-6 years while being a part of the amazing team of people at Women of Faith, and being a part of the rich ministry that happens on the road through Chonda Pierce and her crew.

I’ve had the privilege of personally taking part in of over 80,000 World Vision children being sponsored through the tours I’ve been on the last decade or so. That, in and of itself, has been an incredible gift. Not to mention all the rich relationships that have been formed along the way. Thanks to folks like Twila Paris, Ron Kenoly, Avalon, Aaron-Jeffrey, Big Tent Revival, Newsboys, First Call, Cece Winans, Israel Houghton, Margaret Becker, Natalie Grant, Skillet, Martha Munizzi, Mark Lowry and countless independent artists. Oh the stories I could tell (don’t worry – I won’t – what happens on the bus dies with the bus).  All that said, I’ve never taken this gift for granted. There are some hefty sacrifices that come with this line of work… but there’s some pretty sweet perks, too.

However, for the last couple of years I’ve been feeling the weight of not being in “community” where I live. There’s something to be said for having people that walk with you every day. Something to be said for knowing… and for being known. And there’s something to be said when that’s missing in your life.

So, two years ago I started trying to find something full time, off the road, with which I could be as earnest… but it seemed nothing short of futile. However, a few weeks ago, I began conversations with an organization called Siloam Family Health Center. It’s a local clinic here in Nashville (15 min from my home) that serves immigrants and refugees from around the world. They believe in providing quality health care in the name of Christ… to those who are uninsured and could not afford care otherwise. http://www.siloamhealth.org

They have offered me a full time position (w/benefits!) as their Development Writer & Coordinator. My role is to write all content for the organization including web, print, media, donor correspondence and grants. They have also asked me to focus on donor engagement – an area that’s needed more attention.

I’ve gratefully accepted the position.  As a communications & journalism major, I’m thrilled to be “officially” using these skills. And simultaneously saddened to let go of something I’ve cherished for so long. Bittersweet indeed.

Yes, change is hard. But change, in this case, is very good. My soul is already being nourished at Siloam as I’m finding myself smack dab in the midst of my given-by-God abilities and brushing off skills that had become a little rusty. But as they say, it’s like riding a bike. Balancing creativity and business, along with honing my marketing motor skills… is all quickly returning.

I realize there are changes that are not welcome…  a loved one is no longer in your life; you lose a job you love with no immediate prospect; “the change” of life for women 🙂 ; or suddenly being struck with a debilitating disease… the list is literally endless. So please, please do not hear me say that all change is good. I know that many of you are fighting it with all you’ve got. I merely want to encourage those who may be fearing a change that could be life-altering in a great way… to just take the leap. Because the good news is… there’s a God who never changes. Who never wavers. Whose goodness and justice is constant. So even when this world throws us a curve ball we didn’t see comin’… we can rest assured. We are in good hands.

“Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.” James 1:17

a little too personal…

Being a believer and follower of Christ… I have come to terms with the fact that, for now, we live in a broken and fallen world. I don’t like it, but I know that “It is what it is” (to quote my friend Bone Hampton – he says this phrase almost never follows anything good).  But because my hope is in Christ and I know that this life and these circumstances are temporary – I wait. And I hope. And I wait.

But every once in awhile. I struggle. Not with doubt, but with patience. With not understanding why earthly restoration is taking… so… stinking… long. “Why Lord, why must You delay your coming back? Why must we wait any longer for You to make all things new and right again?”

Mostly I get like this when the brokenness hits close to home. Because my occupation is one that deals with some of the most broken places and people in the world… it’s important that I learn to sit in the “now and the not yet”. Reconciling current reality with a hope for the future. But I have to admit… this is easier when I don’t have a personal relationship with those who are suffering. I am moved by their photos, their stories, their pleas. But I am not usually undone by them.

But then things hit closer to home. Suddenly friends and family are in the fire. And I don’t like it. Not one bit.

I’m a fixer by nature. And when things are beyond my scope of abilities… I’m not happy. Arrogant, I know. And I’m especially frustrated when I am “reduced” to faith and praying. I say “reduced” in quotes because I know that faith and praying are elevated callings and are by no means considered a reduction. But my sinful nature wreaks havoc on my perspective… and I feel reduced. Oh yea, John 3:30 says “He must increase, and I must decrease.” I often (conveniently) forget that verse.

These last 2 weeks have weighed heavily on my heart. Many of the people I care very much for… have been suffering. And there’s nothing I can do about it. And my ugly arrogant pride rises up and wants to take action. But I’m learning to die to that. Learning to decrease so He will increase. It’s a life-long process, I’m afraid.

Here are some of the people I am praying for if you want to join me – though, I totally understand if you already have your own overwhelming list.

  • Two young teens who I used to tutor just lost their sweet mama, Gwen, to a heart attack this past Sunday. They bury her tonight. Gwen was also an Aunt to one of the other students I tutored.
  • Another friend called me to tell me that her dad was just diagnosed with cancer.
  • Another friend’s mom passed away last week from Scleroderma.  He buries her tomorrow.
  • My own mother called to tell me her “numbers” are bad again. She has Stage 4 Bone Cancer.
  • Another friend who has cancer was told he should have those final conversations with his wife and family.
  • My oldest niece has been in and out of the hospital due to an ulcer and chest pains. She’s 23.
  • Another friend’s marriage ended.
  • And yet another friend recently gave birth to a still born.

This has all happened, roughly, in the last 10 days or so. It’s easy for me to wallow in the chaos of broken places. To dwell my thoughts in places that are dark, and even add to their darkness by obstructing the truth of hope. This can happen when I find comfort in self-pity or delight in drama.

Don’t get me wrong… I’m not getting all Pollyanna on you. I’m not suggesting that I, or anyone else, deny the feelings of the pain of our own or each others’ hard places. We are to “bear one anothers’ burdens, thereby fulfilling the law of Christ” (Gal. 6:2). Bear… as in carry, feel, assist… and that can be wearisome for both parties. But, when we are strong enough again, it’s important to help point ourselves and each other toward the cross. Toward Christ Himself. Remember friend?  Remember self?  This is why He did what He did. He has absorbed the punishment and provided life when and where we could not.

So all that to say… I have caught myself being a little overwhelmed with sorrow and concern this week… and rightfully so. I mean, there seems to have been a land-swell of brokenness in the lives of people I care about.  Topped by my normal occupation which requires a passion for people I’ve never met…  it can be quite an emotional flood.

And my reason for blogging all this is simply to remind myself that God is on His throne… and sometimes that’s all I need to know.

Thanks for praying with me.

-Deb

The Temptation To Be Relevant

I have been fighting a handicap all my life.

I consider it a handicap because it can be debilitating at times. And often, I have to consciously decide to overcome it because it is so much a part of my DNA, that left unchecked, I automatically default to it.

What’s my handicap? My desire to be relevant. To be revered based on my abilities, talents and skills. To be thought of as valuable, that I have something to offer, that I am necessary.

Now, none of those things seem evil in-and-of themselves. But when they become my main motivation and expectation in relationships, when I have fully convinced myself that these things are the litmus for my validity… then I have a problem.

This disability has several names.

People Pleasing.
Savior Complex.
Sin.

It started at an early age. My family didn’t have a lot of money but my mom was a genius at fostering creativity. Teaching us to entertain ourselves and each other was a priceless gift. We weren’t inundated with toys and gadgets as so many kids are these days. So we learned to put on plays and fashion shows, we built blanket-forts in the living room, we made believe we were Indians while sleeping in a tee-pee in the back yard, we pretended we were various animals (once my sister barked for an entire day!) and we read books under our giant shade tree. Our entertainment was endless.

But once a year, usually during the long California summer, mom would take us to the toy store and my sister and I were to choose one item each.  It was to last us until Christmas, so we’d better make it a good one.

Being the animal lovers that we are… we usually gravitated toward a stuffed bear or a

floppy-eared puppy… or my favorite find when I was 5 years old – a stuffed monkey with tennis shoes, red suspenders and a plastic banana (I think he was supposed to be Curious George, but I insisted on calling him Mr. Bimm. this is really close to what he looked like).

Now, this is how I know that my handicap started early in life: My sister would spend hours, going through each and every stuffed animal, looking for the one that was perfect. It could have no flaws. No frayed ribbons or crooked bows. Her choice had to be perfectly fluffy, perfectly spot-free and was usually a perfectly smiling panda or cheerful puppy.

My choice took just as long to discover… but because I would go through each and every plush critter until I found the one that was stained, dirty, missing an eye, had its mouth sewn on crooked and/or had lost its buttons, bells or ribbons. Because… heroic 5 year old that I was… I was sure that if “I” didn’t rescue that down-trodden furry friend… no one else would! My goodness, I thought a lot of myself at the tender age of five.

I’ve told this story before and usually the initial reaction is one of sentiment (especially from women – just sayin’). “Oh, isn’t that the sweetest thing…”.  No people…. this is not sweet. It is sick. Sick. Sick Sick. I mean, I was barely ready for Kindergarten and I already had a Savior Complex! So certain I could save the world one rag-tag toy at a time!

Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not being overly hard on myself. I’m merely recognizing that we are all born with a sinful nature and each of us has a propensity towards certain sins… and this one is mine. All mine. Since birth, probably.

Here’s the Good News. We already have a Savior. And it’s not me (big unanimous sigh of relief). Yes, the Bible tells us we’re to emulate Christ. But it doesn’t tell us to try and replace Him. Cause, well… that’s impossible.  So I’ve had to try and figure out how to maneuver through life using this handicap to His glory and not to my own selfish schemes.

The other Good News is that Christ has the ability to take what can be my downfall… and turn it into something that fulfills His purposes. Can I get an amen? Its a constant challenge, to question my motives and confront my handicap. Granted, my life’s work and my extra-curricular activities have benefited from this savior complex of mine… I just have to be faithful and asking the Lord for forgiveness every time I try and get in the way. For example, if I’m honest, when I’m helping someone out – my natural inclination is that I want them to experience me, not Christ. I want them to walk away thinking, “Deb’s so great… so helpful. I’m so glad she’s in my life.” When they should be walking away praising God that He has provided for them and the whole experience should draw them closer to the One who truly loves them well. Yea, I can easily get in the way if I’m not paying attention.

So that’s why I’m so grateful for authors like Henri Nouwen who address this topic so openly, simply and profoundly. Here’s an excerpt from one of his many books, In The Name of Jesus (you need to read this especially if you’re the head of a family, a ministry and even a business). I could easily have quoted the entire book here – but here is what is speaking to me at the moment:

…it has become apparent that more and more people are suffering from profound moral and spiritual handicaps without having any idea of where to look for healing. It is here that the need for a new Christian leadership becomes clear. The leader of the future will be one who dares to claim his irrelevance in the contemporary world as a divine vocation tat allows him or her to enter into a deep solidarity with the anguish underlying all the glitter of success and to bring the light of Jesus there.

The mystery of ministry is that we have been chosen to make our own limited and very conditional love the gateway for the unlimited and unconditional love of God.

– Henri Nouwen

One of the underlying themes in most, if not all, of Henri’s books is that the best way for people to experience Jesus through you… is for you to enter into deep relationship with them. To feel their pain, to cry with them, to laugh with them and dance with them.  Not to answer all the questions or provide solutions to their “why’s”. Not to become their social worker or to be their problem solver or their rescuer or their faux-savior. Just be with them.

There is beautiful relevance found in Christ… and it’s felt most profoundly in our irrelevance.

why am i still single, you ask?

Generally, I avoid this topic like the plague. But it’s been coming up more frequently these days and I’m feeling the need to make an official statement.

Because the masses cry, “Deb, why are you still single?”

Okay, so maybe not the masses… but I do get that question more times than I care to admit. Granted, sometimes I’m flattered, like when people say they’re shocked I’m still single. But then there’s always that follow-up question… “So… why is that?”

Friends, Family, Countrymen. I wish I had an answer that was satisfying to all.  But I don’t.  In past blogs, I’ve tried to wrap things up with a neat bow.  I not only wanted to encourage others who are in my same position, but I wanted to provide an answer. And though I still stand by what I wrote… I don’t think it’s as complicated as I may have made it out to be.

It’s true. I am single. And I have never been married. Sure, I’ve come close a couple of times. I even returned an engagement ring once. But “sealing the deal” just hasn’t happened. And I realize, that as a forty-something year old woman, I’m somewhat of an anomaly. And I’m okay with that… I mean, it could be worse.

Back to the topic: Why am I still single?  What a great question. Often my friends try to answer it for me. “You’ve spent too much of your life working in a career that isn’t really conducive to meeting someone.” “You’ve just not met Mr Right.” “Maybe you’re being too picky.” Or my favorite, when they blame the men, “They just don’t know what they’re missing!”

But regardless… here is the only answer I have:

Because so far, God has deemed it so.

Hard to argue with, I know. Hard to blame-shift or point an accusing finger.

Reality is, it doesn’t matter what my career is or who I have met or haven’t met and it doesn’t matter if I’m picky or not.  If I’m living in a dung hut in the middle of the Maasai Mara and God decided he wanted me to meet someone, He would make it happen.

Now don’t get me wrong. I’m not advocating hiding or running from love and seeing if God will still make it happen.  If that’s where you are then I have a couple of counselor friends I can recommend to you. Seriously.

Love is wild and wonderful and illusive and consuming. It can cause you to be fabulous one day and do something utterly stupid the next. But we were created for this very thing. Flawed as it may be… for now. The only Perfect Love out there is from the One who created us. Everything, and everyone, here on earth is merely a foretaste of what’s to come one day. So for now… we can only stumble through it all… merely praying and hoping to receive AND give grace generously.

So why am I still single? Because God has deemed it so.

For now.

Whether He changes my status here on earth or whether I must wait a little longer… I could be in no better hands.

And that, I wouldn’t change for the world.