That Time Paul Talked About Breastfeeding {Velvet Ashes}

by Elizabeth

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My husband and I worked in local church ministry for over ten years before moving abroad to serve for the last five and a half. There’s something I want you to know about this life: you’re going to need a lot of fortitude for the journey. Working with people, in any time and any place, is hard. It doesn’t matter if it’s in your home country or a host country. Working with people is heart-wrenching and soul-filling, and you need endurance.

This is something else I want you to know: in the years ahead, never hesitate to serve out of your feminine strength. A lot of teaching models are filled with masculine metaphors. There’s battle this, and army that. There’s fighting here and soldiering on there. The Bible itself is filled with battle-speak. We are to put on the full armor of God so that we can take our stand against the devil’s schemes. But the same Paul who told us in Ephesians 6 that our battle is not against flesh and blood and that we were to arm ourselves and stay alert and be persistent and stand firm, that very same Paul was not ashamed in his first letter to the Thessalonians to compare himself to a woman.

In I Thessalonians 2:7, Paul, Silas and Timothy jointly describe their conduct among the believers there: “We were gentle among you, like a nursing mother taking care of her own children” (ESV). I was in a training session this summer when I first truly took hold of this verse. We had studied the great faith and love of the Thessalonian church in chapter 1, and now we were in chapter 2 studying the attributes of the men who’d told them the Good News. When we got to the verse about these three men acting like a mother, some of the men seemed to want to brush it off and focus instead on verse 11, where the letter writers compare themselves to good fathers.

But I couldn’t brush Paul’s words off. I remembered how physically demanding it was to be a nursing mother. I had to speak out: “We have this idea of a mother with her nursing baby that’s all sweetness and light. But it’s not. It’s really hard work. You have to feed yourself well, so you can feed your baby. You have to get up at all hours of the night to care for a crying child, and you have to try not to be cranky about all that lost sleep.”

As I spoke, women all around me nodded their heads in agreement, and several told me afterward how glad they were that I had said that. They had lived it, too, and they knew the challenges of mothering. You need a lot of stamina. You don’t sleep through the night for months on end. Sometimes you get painful mastitis or yeast infections. You have to keep up your water and calorie intake. To your embarrassment, you leak milk everywhere. Or you have to work hard to make enough milk. Sometimes you can’t figure out for the life of you how to make this child stop crying, but somehow you have to stay calm while you do it. On top of that, you’re basically tethered to your child because you don’t know when they’ll need to eat again. You sacrifice many things for this child, this child whom you love so tenderly and so fiercely.

Somehow this was something the apostle Paul understood. When we serve people, we have to make sure we’re getting our spiritual nourishment first, before we can pass anything of value on to them. Living and working among the continual, desperate needs of other people can physically and emotionally deplete us. And sometimes other people’s needs interrupt our planned and preferred schedules. Paul knew all this. He lived all this. At the same time, Paul felt incredible affection for the Thessalonians. Paul, Silas, and Timothy loved them so much that they shared not only the good news with them, but their own lives as well (verse 8). And they’d spent plenty of time praising them in the chapter before.

Over the past few months I have been unable to let verse 7 go. I’ve learned that in the Greek, the noun was unmistakably feminine. It was trophos: a care-giver, a person sustaining someone else by nourishing and offering the tender care of a nurse. I’ve learned that it had the connotation of mother’s care, of holding a child close, wrapped in her arms. There is familiarity here. Affection. Tenderness. The verb was thalpo: to cherish, nourish, foster, comfort, nurture, or keep warm. There is action here, decision, deliberate investment. And the phrase “her own children” (heautou teknon) indicates belonging. An inclusion. A turning towards.

All of these feminine-sounding words can illuminate our own roles, wherever God has placed us. They are not weakness. They are not unnecessary or irrelevant or dispensable. They are strength and they are resiliency and they are essential. Whether or not you’ve ever been a nursing mother, you have a yearning for relationship that can solidify your ministry, not undermine it. Whether or not you’ve ever been a nursing mother, you have an instinct to care for people sacrificially. Whether or not you’ve ever been a nursing mother, you have the capacity to lead with endurance.

Paul wasn’t ashamed of these qualities, and neither should we be. It is good and healthy to identify as a woman and serve out of our God-given identity. Of course, men can be nurturers too – just see verse 11. And women can be warriors – just see Deborah. But when I read these verses, I feel so much validation. Validation of my work and validation of my worth. All those years living and ministering as a woman, they weren’t wasted. And as someone who has had a fraught relationship with the Apostle Paul over the years, these verses are yet one more reason I can love both him and his letters, for he wasn’t afraid to lean into the feminine for the sake of the people he was serving. It is something we needn’t be afraid of either.

Originally published here; reprinted with permission.

How I Learned My Belovedness {Velvet Ashes}

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Czechoslovakia felt like home to me. Well, not Czechoslovakia exactly, but my mom’s large Czech family. Their love was a constant throughout all my TCK moves. I never fit in at school, but I never, ever doubted my belonging in the Musel family. And wherever I go in the world now, the memory of my mom’s relatives is a comfort that I return to again and again.

Nobody loved or accepted unconditionally like they did. Friends and significant others were always welcomed, no questions asked. It was mind-boggling, really, the inclusiveness they demonstrated, especially as I view it now through adult eyes. They are the ones who taught me my belovedness. That knowledge is a gift that sustains me anywhere I go (and one that the Church would do well to imitate).

Each Christmas we cemented our family relationships with a tradition that harked all the way back to the “old country”: The Apple. Every Christmas Eve after a special meal of noodle soup and hoska (traditional Czech pastry), we gathered around Grandpa (or the oldest living male relative) and listened to him tell the story. It was the same story year after year after: a story about getting lost and finding our way back again.

Grandpa would take an ordinary apple and cut it into the same number of pieces as the people present at the meal. One piece for each person, right on down to the fidgety toddler or the newborn baby. He would pass the plate around, and we would all take a piece, even the little ones who didn’t like the peel. Then we would each eat our piece of apple.

And as we ate, Grandpa would tell us that whenever we felt lost and alone in life, we could sit down, quiet ourselves for a few minutes, and remember eating apple together at Grandpa and Grandma’s house on Christmas Eve. He told us that if we did that, we would find our way. He told stories of family members who had been physically lost in the woods who found their way home because of this communal memory. But the promise wasn’t limited to physical lostness. It was for metaphysical lostness too.

There is nothing magical about a shared meal, or even a ritualistic one. And there is nothing magical about finding peace through the memory of that shared meal. But there is something mystical about it.There is something calming about sitting quietly and remembering how very much you are loved, regardless of what you do or how you perform, but simply because you are part of a family.

Science shows that sharing a meal together produces the same hormone as that produced when you give or receive a hug or when a mother bonds with her baby: oxytocin. The first time I read about the physiology of shared meals, I marveled at the wisdom of a God who instituted a Church tradition that chemically bonds us together. This tradition goes by various names — communion, the Lord’s Supper, Eucharist. Regardless of what we call it, it’s been commemorated by the body of Christ for nearly two thousand years now. It goes back much further than my family’s life in the “Old Country.”

I grew up in churches that practiced open communion. Open communion means that anyone who was a follower of Christ could participate, no matter your history or church membership, no questions asked. It was customary to wait till after baptism to take communion, but over the years I witnessed actual open communion of both adults and children, pre-baptism.

I love this practice of open communion. God’s love and forgiveness are free for all, and open communion is a physical representation of that spiritual truth. The bread and the cup are offered to all; there is no judgment here. Everyone is welcome at this Table. We eat together, we gather people into our family, and we remember the love and sacrifice of Christ that created this family.

In the churches of my childhood we celebrated communion weekly, so I have literally a thousand memories of ingesting the bread and wine together with my brothers and sisters. A thousand times of remembering Christ’s sacrifice for all of us regular, ragamuffin believers sitting (and sinning) in those red-padded pews. It was a tradition much like my Musel family Christmas Eve Apple: capable of bonding us together and teaching us how loved we really are.

The Church is supposed to be that safe family atmosphere. And communion is meant to be our oxytocin-creating feast. It’s supposed to be a shared meal, a shared message, and a shared memory. It’s how God wants us to learn our belovedness. But we all know that doesn’t always happen. Sometimes the church fails to live up to Christ’s dream for His Bride, and communion doesn’t become the inclusive, bonding event it’s designed to be.

If any of that is true for you today, let’s reclaim communion for our ever-wandering, never-belonging-anywhere hearts. Let’s remind ourselves that communion and other shared meals are an opportunity to rejoice in Christ’s offer of love to us. Let’s reframe time at the Table as a way to remember Jesus as the One who initiates relationship with us, over and over and over again. Let’s pick up the bread and reach for the wine. Let’s put them in our mouths and pass the plates on to the next person. Let’s remake communion into a time to breathe in our belovedness.

The promise offered to me as a child around the Christmas table is no stronger than the promise offered to us when we partake of the bread and wine. It is the promise of becoming one with Jesus and with His people. It is the promise that He is always with us, always welcoming us, always wanting us. So the next time you take communion or share a meal with your brothers and sisters in Christ — yes even the ones you don’t like or who don’t like you – may you remember that you are dearly and truly loved, and that you don’t have to do anything to gain this love.

 

Originally published here; reprinted with permission.

An Open Letter to Single Ladies Serving Abroad

by Jonathan

You are loved. Cherished, even.

Not because you were brave enough to move overseas “alone.”
Not because you ignored the caring relatives who asked, “How in the world will you find a husband over there?”

You are loved. Adored, even.

Not because you’re an independent thinker, a strong person.
Not because you’ve sacrificed.

You are loved. Anticipated, even.

Because of Him.

You are loved by the eternal God, your Harbor.
You are loved by a Dad who wraps you up in his everlasting arms.

You are loved by the One who knows the true depths of loneliness and the rich intimacy of friendships.

Indeed, you are loved.

You are valuable.

And you are needed. Our churches, our teams, and our families need you.

You probably know that already. You probably feel that already. But just in case you don’t, as a brother, father, husband, team leader, pastor, and friend, let me remind you how much we value you and need you.

We don’t need you to be a wonderful Christian woman. We need you to be a wonderful Christian human, unique because of your personhood, not just because of your womanhood. We need you to love people uniquely, heartily, and with passion.

You see the woman caught in adultery differently. We need your eyes. You are more aware of the emotional needs behind the physical needs. We need your awareness. We need your heart.

We need you to lead. Your perspective is valuable, your needs valid, your abilities real. You see problems and solutions differently. We need your intellect.

We need you to support us. Not like a cook supports the troops, but like a soldier supports a comrade. We serve side by side in this thing.

My kids need you. And not as a babysitter.

My sons need you to show them what a strong woman looks like. Teach them that a woman’s value does not come from the fact that she’s got a body, or a husband, or kids.

My daughters need you. They need to see a woman who’s willing to follow God’s call regardless of who joins her. They need to see a woman who pursues God on her own, enjoying her own relationship with him.

You are not half a unit. Some stray ingredient that I guess we’ll mix in with the “real” ingredients of teams and churches and potlucks.

You are not leftovers.

Without single women serving abroad, there would be a gaping hole in the Church and in the history of modern missions. And in my own life.

Growing up, the names (and books) of Amy Carmichael, Gladys Aylward, Corrie ten Boom, and Elisabeth Elliot taught and inspired and coached me. I read their books, listened to their stories, and learned from their faith.

Single women still teach, inspire and coach me. I am grateful for ladies like Amy, Sara, Yvonne, Tanya, Christina, Rhoda, Ann, Jenny, Sue, Sarah, Mary, Sovannara, Emma, and so many more. I listen to them speak, I read what they write, I watch them love people, I observe their journey through Facebook status updates, and I am grateful.

I need them. The Church needs them.

And Jesus loves them. And he loves you too. Not because you’re awesome or beautiful or perfect. Not because you’re really good with Instagram filters. But because you are part of his Bride, his people. Immensely valuable.

Every day, Elisabeth Elliot began her radio program with this reminder, “You are loved with an everlasting love – that’s what the Bible says – and underneath are the everlasting arms.”

May you remember his everlasting love,
May you rest in his everlasting arms,
Today, tomorrow, and everyday.

With deep appreciation and gratitude, your friend,
Jonathan Trotter

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*This article originally appeared on Velvet Ashes.
Used with permission

What I Want to Teach My Daughters About Married Sex {Velvet Ashes}

Elizabeth is over at Velvet Ashes today talking about something we don’t talk about very much: sex.

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I’ve been married for 16 years now. While that’s not as long as some of you — and certainly not as long as my husband’s grandparents’ 70 years (!) — it’s still long enough to have seen and heard a lot of marriage advice.

And you know what? Some of that advice makes me cringe. So I can tell you up front: I’m not going to advise you to make sure to meet your husband’s needs by having lots of sex with him. And I’m not going to tell you that the purpose of marriage is to make you holy. (It isn’t.)

What I do want to talk about is walking in sexual wholeness.

How can I possibly talk about a topic as big and complex as human sexuality in a single blog post? While I can’t offer the comprehensiveness or the nuance that a book or a therapist can offer, I’ll give you my basic framework.

These are the things I want to teach my daughters someday: what the foundation for healthy married sexuality is, potential obstacles in the bedroom and what to do about them, and potential temptations outside of marriage and what to do about them.

Read Elizabeth’s 3 points here, as well as her first comment which offers some additional resources.

The Answer to All the Questions {Velvet Ashes}

Elizabeth is over at Velvet Ashes today. . .

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I’ve always been a question asker, a seeker of knowledge. I hunger and thirst for answers, for insight, for understanding. And this question-asking has often served me well, for questions can lead to a greater awareness of God or of His cosmos or of the human creatures He so lovingly tends. Questions can lead to worship and wonder, to praise and appreciation, to connection and intimacy.

My journals are evidence of this incessant question asking; they’re littered with questions. They’re filled with their fair amount of lament too, and plenty of Scriptures-turned-prayer, but always and ever, questions.

You can finish reading here.

Taking Out the Trash {a toolkit for fighting fear}

Here are some practical ways to fight fear that I’ve never shared publicly before. I talked about them during this year’s Velvet Ashes online retreat and wanted to post them here in the hopes that someone out there might find them helpful in their battle against fear. I’ve reprinted all the quotes and Bible verses for easy reference, or you can simply scroll to the bottom for the video testimony. ~Elizabeth

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I used to take my pulse to make sure I was still alive. Because the ability to breathe and move my fingers to my neck weren’t evidence enough of life?? Thankfully by the time I realized why I did that and could verbalize it, I could see the humor in it.

And it was mostly health reasons that made me not want to come to the field in the first place. I’m a recovering hypochondriac [read: I’m still a hypochondriac, but it’s not out of control anymore].

Living here still plays tricks on my mind sometimes, and I have to consciously choose not to follow the rabbit trail my fears are digging. But I’ve got more practice at it now, and someone to keep me accountable (my husband), so it doesn’t take over my daily life the way it used to.

My go-to passage on fighting fear was always Matthew 6:25-34. I even committed it to memory 13 years ago when I was pregnant with my firstborn and finances were uber-tight, and I’ve returned to these words of Jesus again and again throughout the years:

That is why I tell you not to worry about everyday life—whether you have enough food and drink, or enough clothes to wear. Isn’t life more than food, and your body more than clothing? Look at the birds. They don’t plant or harvest or store food in barns, for your heavenly Father feeds them. And aren’t you far more valuable to him than they are? Can all your worries add a single moment to your life?

And why worry about your clothing? Look at the lilies of the field and how they grow. They don’t work or make their clothing, yet Solomon in all his glory was not dressed as beautifully as they are. And if God cares so wonderfully for wildflowers that are here today and thrown into the fire tomorrow, he will certainly care for you. Why do you have so little faith?

So don’t worry about these things, saying, ‘What will we eat? What will we drink? What will we wear?’ These things dominate the thoughts of unbelievers, but your heavenly Father already knows all your needs. Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need.

So don’t worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring its own worries. Today’s trouble is enough for today.

But what really helped me several years ago was reading a book designed to help kids with OCD. It’s called What To Do When Your Brain Gets Stuck, and it teaches kids (or in this case, me) to identify “brain junk,” which is basically the thought patterns we have that are false and hurtful and don’t belong in our mind. After we identify the brain junk (the lies, the fears, the negative self-talk), we can throw it away, literally discarding it from our lives.

For me, following the advice in the OCD book has been a working out of the truths of Hebrews 5:14, which says the mature have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil, and Titus 2:11-12, which talks about the grace of God that teaches us to say “no.”

I had to practice distinguishing the good from the evil (or unhelpful) thought patterns. But I recognize that it is the grace of God that helps me to say no to those irrational thought patterns. And it all came about from a children’s book on OCD.

Another thing that helped tremendously was a section in a book that Cindy Morgan wrote, Barefoot on Barbed Wire, which was all about fighting fear. I “randomly” picked it up at the library when I was pregnant with my 3rd child (when the fears were the most out of control they’d ever been).

“Fear can have so many faces. We can never really escape from the things that cause us to be afraid. For everyone we secure ourselves against, there will be another waiting to take its place. The world is not under our control. So it all comes down to learning to trust God.”

Her book and this quote in particular really convicted me that fighting fear wasn’t about addressing my specific fears and trying to talk myself down from them and over-researching on the internet and reminding myself of the science.

No, my fear was actually something broken inside me. It didn’t come from risk factors on the outside. It came from within. The OCD strategies helped enormously in fighting my fear on a practical level, but I also needed this heart-level truth as well.

I talk about these things (and more) in my 10-minute testimony for Commune, Velvet Ashes’ 2016 online retreat, which is re-published here with permission. If you missed the retreat earlier this spring, Velvet Ashes plans to make the entire thing available again sometime in the future. And if you’ve been blessed through the ministry of Velvet Ashes, consider donating to them here

The Screeching Voice of Lack and the Bounty of Jesus

by Elizabeth

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I’ve been stumbling around for weeks now, gathering my identity from the things other people might say about me. I’ve been scooping it up from my deepest fears of failure, harvesting it from my ripening field of inadequacies. But you know the thing is, I know better than this. I know better than to do this; yet I did it anyway. I listened to the voice of darkness, that screeching voice of lack inside my own head, and I flagrantly disregarded the bounty of Jesus and the abundance of His love.

I didn’t know where to begin again. I knew I’d misplaced my identity, but I was scared to approach God with my missteps of belief and doubt. How could I lose that precious gift of identity in Christ, after searching so long and so hard to find it before?? But one day last week I finally worked up the courage to ask God what He thinks of me. Sincerely expecting a reply, I ventured a quiet and tentative, “God, who do you say I am?” And Jesus, mysterious Son of Man that He is, simply and immediately asked back, “Who do you say I AM?”

“Who do YOU say I AM???”

Not an answer did the Promised One provide; merely, like so many instances in the Gospels, another question. Who do I say Jesus is?? Because maybe that’s where I went wrong, forgetting who Jesus is. Because maybe I don’t have to ask so many questions about myself, if I know the answer to the question about Jesus. And maybe I don’t have to get lost in my own dark, dangerous head, if I can get lost in the majesty and glory of the Creator, of the Redeemer, of the Comforter, of the Trinity.

Don’t get me wrong: it’s a legitimate question to ask “Who does God say I am?” But now I know it’s just as legitimate to be asked by Him — as Jesus asked Peter and the other disciples — “Who do you say I AM?” Because maybe, just maybe, that’s the question that can transfer my focus from Self onto Savior. And maybe, just maybe, the moment I answer that question is the moment the clouds will start to lift.

Turns out, the way up out of the pit isn’t to believe in myself better, it’s to believe in Someone Better. For as Peter answered, I believe Jesus is the Christ, the son of the living God, and HIS identity alone is what holds sway over the clinging darkness.

Linking up with Velvet Ashes