Christianity, Family, General

About Vision

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I’ve been working on  a few different projects over the past several months,  and as I research more about these projects – and about entrepreneurship in general – one of the common threads I am finding is that I am often being asked to define the vision that I have for my life and my business pursuits. The reason for this is pretty simple. If you don’t know where you want to go, it’s highly unlikely that you’ll ever get there.

One of my favorite Bible verses comes from Proverbs 29, in which we are told, “Where there is no vision, the people perish: but he that keepeth the law, happy is he.” – Proverbs 29:18.

From a Biblical standpoint, I think that “vision” probably refers more to the big picture of putting God and others first in our lives. But it’s also true that not having vision causes us to wander along in life – sometimes ending up in great circumstances and sometimes not.

So I thought I’d spend a few minutes typing out my vision.

Firstly, I want whatever I do with my life to be God-glorifying. Since childhood, it’s been on my heart to please God and although I don’t always make the right decisions or do the right things – the intention is always there. I’ve always been a person with various ideas, ambitions, and interests, but I think I am starting to understand which of my ambitions and interests God wants me to use to serve others.

Secondly, I am a huge family person. It’s always been a dream of mine to be a stay/work at home mom. It took us a long time to get pregnant and finally make my dream of becoming a mom come true, and now I am working on the “stay at home” part. In fact, I’d love it if both my husband and I could work from home and be with our son and any other children we have, full time. As someone with a background in education, I know I would enjoy homeschooling and have been looking into starting a homeschool co-op. I’m sure that many people have the desire to work from home – it’s a very appealing thought!

If I were able to work from home and be on my own time, I’d love to get involved in various volunteer activities. I’d like to work with CASA, an organization that helps to advocate for foster children. I’d like to become a foster parent and have the time to spend with the children I am fostering. I’d love to spend time in hospitals with babies who need simply to be held and cuddled. If you can’t tell, I love children!

The final part of my vision is all about location. For years, I’ve been obsessed with the idea of living on a beach. I’m not sure yet about which beach – I’d love to explore the West Coast and certain islands – but I am always watching HGTV’s Beachfront Bargain Hunt, Island Life, Caribbean Life, and Mexico Life, because I love envisioning what it could be like to live near the water. The ocean is my happy place and I don’t think I could survive without it!

As I’ve thought through the things I’d really like in life, I’ve found that I am not as interested in wealth as I am in time freedom. Sure, it’s necessary to have money, but I only want to have as much as is needed to gain the freedom of my time. If I love what I do and where I live, I don’t even mind not retiring.

There’ve been a lot of things that I’ve wanted to do for a long time, and when 2017 started I told myself that this would be the year that I’d lay the foundation for those things. I’m really proud of myself for keeping my word, it is so easy for me to get sidetracked and the execution of my ideas is something I have always struggled with. I am hoping that the work I am putting in now will help me to be able to live into my vision in the future.

What’s your vision?

Christianity, Family, Religion

Finding A Spiritual Home

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I mentioned in another post that my husband and I have finally found a place of worship that we feel comfortable calling home. We’re pretty excited about having found this unique little gathering of believers and I wanted to share some of the journey that brought us here.

After getting married in 2008, we both felt that we wanted to be more disciplined in attending some sort of worship service regularly. At first we were attending a church where the people were great, but the church itself was entirely too big and we felt that the leadership was always trying to “sell” us something – books, CDs, videos, etc. We wanted something that felt more genuine and so we kept searching. We’d tried a few different places, but became more and more disillusioned and disconnected with each new place. For me, a huge part of the problem was that I kept feeling as though I was “going” to church, and not “being” the church. Outside of the Sunday praise, worship, and sermon ritual – there was nothing authentic throughout the rest of the week to help connect and sustain us spiritually.

Another issue for me was the fact that most churches we visited felt more like Christian self-help groups. All of the messages were centered on a specific topic, for instance – how to build good relationships in the workplace – and Bible verses that supported the pastor’s view of that topic were discussed. Although it is important to gain wisdom about different aspects of life, I wanted to be a part of a church where the Bible was read, taught, and discussed as it is – not manipulated and taken out of context in order to fit a particular pastor’s views.

When my husband and I found out we would be moving to another part of the U.S, one of the things that really excited us was the idea that we might be able to find something out here that we had not found in our 6 year search of our home state. I didn’t want to feel like I was “shopping” for a church, but at the same time I knew that there were certain things we needed in a spiritual home. We created a short list of things that we felt were important for us in a church.

We wanted to be in a place where we could truly learn the Bible, in all of its confusing, seemingly contradictory, messy glory. I quickly lose interest in places where all the hard verses are ignored and all the pleasant verses are cherry picked to prove a point. I enjoy that the place we’ve been visiting spends time studying and dissecting entire blocks of scripture. This makes it harder to take a particular reading out of context. Instead of using scripture to support whatever topic is on the speaker’s mind, the topics arise from these blocks of scripture being studied.

We wanted to be in a place small enough for there to be genuine community, but big enough for us to find ways to get involved. I don’t know about anyone else, but for us, going to church is always just a Sunday thing. We go on Sunday and the rest of the week we’re on our own! To that end, we needed to find a place that embraced the idea that we (believers in Christ) are an organic, living church – and that being the church doesn’t end on Sunday afternoon when service lets out. So far, I have met people at this place who have immediately gotten involved in our lives. And they didn’t get involved in that creepy, cultish sort of way. They are just intentional about not leaving us out as they live their lives and develop on their own spiritual journeys. More importantly, my husband and I have been able to seamlessly get involved as if we had been there all along.

We wanted to be in a place that does not discourage ritual and/or the historical traditions of the church, but is not dogmatic about it either. I really love how the Catholic and Orthodox churches allow for perpetual spirituality because their sense of community and their traditions are built into the way they live. Although we highly respect those groups (and sometimes borrow from some of their practices!), we have not felt led to join any particular denomination. At the same time, I have grown weary of those who teach that ritual is inherently wrong or idolatrous. I like that this place we’ve been visiting recognizes the beauty of the historical church traditions and rhythms of life, without forcing those traditions on anyone.

We wanted to be in a place that is diverse in many ways. We wanted a place that has a mixture of ethnicity, age, physical/mental ability, and socioeconomic status. For the most part, we’ve found that here. What is lacking in racial diversity is made up for in the diversity of age, ability, and tax bracket. And that’s not to say that there is no racial diversity – just not a whole lot.

I guess the biggest factor in our decision to join with this particular group of believers is that we have felt God’s gentle nudge in this direction. It may not be where He has us forever, but we definitely think that this is where we are supposed to be for now.

We’re excited to see where this path leads!

What about you? How did you find your spiritual home?

Christianity, News and Current events, Religion

How Can You Believe the Bible, When [insert objection]?

Last week, a friend of mine posted a link to an article that was written to show that Christians who say they take the Bible literally on the issue of same-sex marriage do not (and cannot) even follow all of the Bible’s rules concerning hetero-marriage. The article had a list of Biblical instructions concerning the hierarchy of husbands over wives, the practice of polygamy, and what to do in case of a rape. She followed up on the article by asking a few genuine questions for her Christian friends to answer. I thought this was an interesting topic, but I didn’t want to answer on her newsfeed because (1) it would be too long, and (2) although my friend might be genuine in her questioning, I’m sure there would be others who would read my comments and only be looking to pick a fight. I thought that perhaps it would be better to answer these questions in blog form. It is important to note, though, that there is a lot of diversity within the Christian faith. Each Christian has his or her own view on issues of Biblical interpretation, doctrine, and the spectrum of how literally they follow the Bible. In my opinion, it doesn’t make a person any less of a Christian simply because they have a different view of the Bible than I do, but I want to be clear that my answers to these questions are my own. Christians (and non Christians) with different views are welcome to chime in on the comments section – or even answer these questions for themselves in their own blog posts! It would be neat to see the diversity of responses. So, without wasting any more of your time…

What do you do when you read something in the Bible that you clearly don’t believe?”

I’ll be the first to admit that there are plenty of things in the Bible that seem pretty crazy. I’ll also admit that, to my extreme disappointment, when I have asked other Christians about questionable Biblical passages – they became defensive and have either labeled me as someone who didn’t really have faith, or have uncomfortably tried to gloss over my questions with shallow “pat on the back” answers that really held no weight. This is a huge problem that Christianity seems to have – we don’t like to face the hard stuff. We want to pick all the nice, happy scriptures and focus on those without really looking at the whole picture. When we do this, we are not only doing ourselves a disservice but we are also keeping others from understanding who we are and what we believe. I have learned, unfortunately, not to ask the hard questions to other Christians because I never know how they will respond. This is not a good thing, and this is something that I hope will change, but it is where I am right now.

In my personal study time, however, I enjoy delving deep into the tough stuff. Here are a few things that I look at when I face a passage of scripture that seems brutish, cruel, and/or unlike the God that I have come to know and believe in.

I look at historical context – what was happening at the time? What were the normal customs of the people I am reading about and the people around them? We have to try, as much as possible, to read the Bible through the perspective of the people about whom we are reading. We can’t read it with our 21st century American views and expect to come away with a full understanding of what was going on. I look at original meanings of words – the Bible was written in a few different languages, and I’m sure that there are puns, popular metaphors of that time period, and other words that have just gotten lost in translation over the years. There are probably words that they had in that time, that didn’t exist anymore when the Bible was first translated into English. Some Bibles have footnotes that tell you where a word used might have actually replaced another word or meant something different at the time of the original writing. Those are important clues to look at, as well. I ask myself whether the outcome of a passage is something that God wanted to happen, or something that happened because of the people involved. There is a huge difference. One of the scriptures listed in the article is about when Abraham slept with his wife’s servant-girl, Haggar, in order to produce an heir to his family line. The article incorrectly assumes that the Bible condones rape as a way to ensure your lineage. In actuality, God never told Abraham to sleep with or rape Haggar. Abraham and Sarah devised this plan on their own, independently of God. When reading the Bible, we have to remember that most of the Bible’s stories are stories of people who did not believe in or obey God. Most of the Bible’s stories are about people who take matters into their own hands and disregard God’s instructions. That doesn’t mean the Bible condones a certain thing, but the Bible just tells us what happened. Finally, if I find something questionable and it is a direct result of God’s instructions, I ask God about it and I continue to study the issue until I get an answer. Descartes talks about the need to doubt everything you know in order to know anything with any certainty. This has proven true in my faith journey. I think it is okay to respectfully challenge God. In fact, I think it is essential. How else are we supposed to get to know Him? I don’t want to walk away simply because I come up against something difficult. I want to understand it. I want to understand God to the best of my ability. And there are plenty of things in the Bible that I am still working toward understanding.

“How do you reconcile following the Bible as a whole?”

I think a lot of people see the Bible as simply a rulebook and we have to read it and do what it says. The Bible is more than that. It’s really the very (very) long story – spanning thousands of years and various cultures – of God’s interactions with flawed people. The Bible often tells what actually happened, and not what should have happened. Many of the Bible’s heroes are really just reformed criminals. Moses, David, and Paul were all murderers. Does that mean God wants me to go out and murder people, or is He just showing me that He can change lives? The Bible also has poetry, symbolism, metaphors, letters, and allegory. When I say that I follow the Bible as a whole, what I mean is that I believe its historical accounts are true. I mean that I have studied the history of and the laws created for the Israelites, and have studied how Jesus fulfilled those laws. I mean that I have sought to understand the hidden meanings of the Bible’s poetry, symbols, and parables. I mean that I have studied how Jesus is foreshadowed in the Old Testament and revealed in the New. I mean that I have read the letters written to the various groups of new Christians and learned about how the early church developed. I mean that I have read the stories of people who disobeyed God, and I have tried not to follow in their footsteps. Yes, there are certain commands in the Bible that I, if I say I believe, should apply to my life. However, following the Bible “as a whole” is really less about following rules and more of an attempt to understand this story of redemption that God is writing.

“Do you just not follow the parts that don’t work in society anymore, and then follow the parts that mean something to you?” 

To answer this question, I need to go over some of the different parts of the Bible. If we’re looking at what is considered the “Old Testament,” we are talking about three parts. The first five books of the Old Testament are what make the Torah – or the law (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy). These laws were meant for Israelites to follow, most of them were for ceremonial purposes. The laws were there to form a covenant between God and the people through whom He chose to reveal Himself. Some of these laws were only for priests, some of these laws were only for men, some of these laws were only for women – so not even the entire people-group for whom they were written could follow them all. And yes, some of these laws are weird and/or cruel! Even the people to whom they were handed down did not always understand them – but they sought to! Many of the Torah’s laws are expounded on, debated, and discussed at length in the Talmud – an extrabiblical source that helps Jews to make sense of Torah’s rules. Likewise, just because I don’t have a cultural or religious obligation to follow these rules – or because I don’t always understand them – doesn’t mean that I should disregard them. Many of these laws had symbolic meaning that looked forward to the coming of a Jewish Messiah – who I believe to be Jesus Christ. I personally do not believe that one can fully understand the New Testament without an understanding of the Torah, similarly, I don’t believe that the big picture of the Torah can be seen without an understanding of the New Testament. Christians who emphasize too much of one over the other – in my opinion – are missing out. After the Torah, you have the Nevi’im – or the prophets. This is the part of the Old Testament that has all of the fascinating stories and carries a lot of Jewish history (Joshua, Judges, Samuel, Kings, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, etc). These are mostly stories of the people’s disobedience to God and the resulting consequences and warnings that God gave. In these books are people from whose experiences we can learn, in order to make wise decisions in our own lives. These books also give us good background and historical context. The other part of the Old Testament would be the Ketuvim – or the writings. This is what I would consider the “wisdom” parts of the Old Testament – Proverbs, Psalms, Job, Song of Solomon, Ecclesiastes, Lamentations – and others. These books give advice, philosophical ideas, and insights into the meaning of abstract concepts like life, love, faith, and hardship. Many of them can be read alongside some of the stories of the Bible, because they were written simultaneously. For example, you may read in the book of 1 Kings a story about an incident that happened in King David’s life, and at the same time you can read one of the Psalms that King David wrote while that incident was happening. After the Old Testament, you get into the New Testament. The New Testament is also split up into different sections. You have the gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John) which are all firsthand accounts of Jesus’ life, written by people who knew Jesus. They tell mostly the same stories but from different perspectives. Then you have historical accounts of how the Christian Church began to form (the book of Acts). Then, you’ve got all of these letters – many written by Paul, some by other authors – that were written to instruct the early church on doctrine and conduct (books like Romans, Corinthians, Ephesians, the list goes on). Finally you have the book of Revelations, which is a book written by John after he was exiled for his faith to the Island of Patmos. The book of Revelations is the written record of visions that John had while he was on Patmos. In my opinion, the Bible is not meant to be followed as much as it is to be studied, learned, and absorbed. Although you may hear many Christians refer to the Bible as a “manual for life,” most of it contains stories and history, not rules. So, to finally get to an answer to the question, it’s not about following only what works in society or cherry-picking the portions of the Bible that you like, it’s about understanding the whole picture of a story that the Bible is trying to tell – and then making a decision about how you will respond to that story.

“Why [does] the Bible mean so much to people when they disagree with many parts of it?”

I can’t tell you why the Bible means so much to other people – but I can tell you why it means a lot to me. I like that it has real people who make real mistakes and are given second chances. Sometimes, when we hear of “holy” men and women, all we hear about is how perfect they are and how wonderful everything they did was. That’s not real life. No one’s perfect. It’s the reason why people don’t like the Duggars (although I do like them) – they seem too perfect and so it reeks of fake. I like that King David slept with another man’s wife, had that man killed, and then God changed his heart and turned him into a better person. I like that Jonah tried to run away from God, but ultimately ended up doing what God had originally instructed. I like that Thomas doubted Jesus, even after knowing him personally. I like that Peter denied Jesus, even after he’d been best buddies with Jesus for a few years. The Bible doesn’t sugarcoat. It doesn’t make people seem to be anything that they’re not. It doesn’t hide dirty laundry. It lays everything out there for us to see. I also like that the Bible has people who make real mistakes and don’t get second chances. Because, that’s life sometimes, too. Sometimes we screw something up and that’s it. There is no second chance. That doesn’t mean that we can’t find forgiveness or that God won’t help us, but sometimes the consequences of what we do are permanent. I like that I can read the Bible over and over and still find new things to learn and ponder. It’s like a bag that you can keep pulling things out of. I have been reading the Bible for all of my life and there are still things about it that I am discovering. It doesn’t get boring. It keeps me interested. I like that it leaves me with questions. I enjoy being intellectually and philosophically challenged. I don’t like to read something and just take it at face value. There are times when you really have to dig deep to figure out how to reconcile what the Bible says with what the present culture is telling you to believe. There are times when you have to look at science and look at the Bible and figure out how and if the two fit together. That’s good for me. It keeps me from being one-sided and helps me learn to look at things from a variety of different angles. I don’t want to be told what to believe or what to think, I want to discover what I believe and what I think. Studying the Bible really helps to challenge me in that discovery process. I love that the Bible’s wisdom has kept me from making mistakes. There have been times when I was about to do something, remembered what the Bible said about it, didn’t do it, and it literally saved the day. On the flip side, there are times where I’ve ignored the Bible’s advice and then felt stupid for what I’d gotten myself into. Finally, I love that the Bible has helped me to get to know God. God and I are friends. God is not some abstract concept that I struggle to understand, He is someone that I know. For me, the Bible has played a huge part in getting to know Him.

I know this was long.

And I don’t know whether or not this post was at all helpful, but – to my friend who asked these questions – thanks for bringing up such a neat topic that caused so many of your Christian friends to really think about what they believe. We need that in the Christian world, more than you know.

 

 

 

 

Christianity, Infertility

My Favorite Infertility Scriptures

Recently I was in a conversation in which someone asked what each person’s favorite scriptures for infertility were. I have plenty of favorite scriptures, but I passed on answering the question because I hadn’t ever thought about favorite infertility scriptures. In general, I don’t like taking scripture out of the context in which it was written and randomly applying it to my life! At the same time, I know that the Bible carries truths that can be used by anyone, in any situation, at any time. So I thought (not too) long and (not too) hard about the scriptures that have resonated with me the most through these last few years of infertility, and – if you are currently sinking in the gaping abyss that is barrenness – I hope that these several scriptures will encourage you, too!

Psalm 13

“How long, Oh Lord? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me? How long must I bear pain in my soul, and have sorrow in my heart all day long? How long shall my enemy be exalted over me? Consider and answer me, O Lord my God! Give light to my eyes, or I will sleep the sleep of death, and my enemy will say, “I have prevailed”; my foes will rejoice because I am shaken. But I trusted in your steadfast love; my heart shall rejoice in your salvation. I will sing to the Lord, for He has dealt bountifully with me.”

When you have been trying to get pregnant for years, and women all around you seem to be able get pregnant simply by washing the dishes with their husbands, you start to wonder “How long shall my [infertility] be exalted over me?”  This psalm reminds me of Rachel in Genesis, when she said to her husband, “Give me children, or I’ll die!” It can be that way, sometimes. And that’s normal. But this Psalm reminds us to trust in God’s steadfast love. No matter how badly you feel, God hasn’t forgotten you. And it reminds us to rejoice in His salvation. Ultimately, our lives are not about us. They are about Christ and His mission to restore our world. Whatever tragedies happen to me in this life seem so insignificant when I think of the fact that I will live eternally in a perfect world. And I’m grateful to Jesus for making that possible!

Job 1:21

“Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I will depart. The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away. May the name of the Lord be praised.”

A huge question that humanity has always asked is why bad things happen to good people. Job had just received the news that all of his children, servants, donkeys, sheep, and camels had been killed, stolen, and burned in ludicrous freak accidents and random invasions. He had literally lost everything he loved and everything he owned in one short afternoon. But Job was a good person. God Himself had referred to Job as “blameless and upright, a man who fears God and shuns evil.” The truth is, no one can escape tragedy. Even Jesus faced tragedy as He was crucified. And yet, Job’s response to his loss is that he is going to praise the Lord. I honestly can’t answer the question of why infertility happens to wonderful people who would make amazing parents, while those who do not want or respect their children are easily getting ‘knocked up’ all the time. But I love the example that Job sets. God’s way of doing things rarely makes sense to us. Nevertheless, He is an all-knowing God and He knows what He is doing. In the end, God restored Job to a position that was better than the one he’d had before. And whether in this life or the next, God will do that for us too.

2 Corinthians 4:16-17

“So we do not lose heart. Even though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed day by day. For this slight momentary affliction is preparing us for an eternal weight of glory beyond all measure, because we look not at what can be seen but at what cannot be seen; for what can be seen is temporary, but what cannot be seen is eternal.”

When I think of all the different types of illnesses in the world – and specifically illnesses that relate to or cause infertility – I think about the body wasting away. I often feel like my own body is wasting away. I used to have so much more energy, I used to be able to stay up late at night, work long hours, play sports, and take long walks (or runs!) without getting tired. These days, I don’t get through half a day without a chest pain, or a muscle spasm, or an ache somewhere on my body. I feel sad for friends of mine whose younger years were filled with so many medical issues that they were unable to carry children and are now past the point of ability (or desire) to do so. I sometimes feel guilty for having hope that I will one day carry my own child, when it seems so unfair to those who’ve never had that opportunity. If I get pregnant, how would that make them feel? But, when we focus more on what we cannot see (our inner nature), we realize that we all have our challenges that can help strengthen us. And these “slight momentary afflictions” are not the end of our stories. The hardships we face as infertiles – and in life in general – are preparing for us an “eternal weight of glory,” if we can learn to have the right attitude. God will redeem our stories, regardless of whether or not they end in pregnancy. So, don’t lose heart.

2 Corinthians 1:3-4

“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and the God of all consolation, who consoles us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to console those who are in any affliction with the consolation with which we ourselves are consoled by God.”

Paul (the author of Corinthians) is the King of making sentences longer than they need to be, but this passage is simply a reminder that when we go through various challenges in our lives – we are supposed to use our experiences in order to help others who are going through the same thing. Our world is so heart-broken. There are so many people with so many different types of challenges and traumas – and we can’t do something about everything. But we can do something. At the heart of the gospel is the story of a God who suffers in order to lighten our burdens. And we can live out that example each day as we suffer on the behalf of others, using what we have suffered through as an opportunity to lighten the load of another person.

Psalm 37:23-24

Our steps are made firm by the Lord, when He delights in our way; though we stumble, we shall not fall headlong, for the Lord holds us by the hand.”

It’s a lot of responsibility to think that, with everything you are going through already, you have to find the emotional energy to continue to trust and worship God, focus more on the whole of His story than on your personal pain, and tap into your sufferings in order to help someone else! Actually it’s impossible to be able to do all of that consistently. Sure, you’ll have your good days, but you will have bad days. You will have fits of extreme envy. You will be angry. You will feel spiritually dead. You will have pity parties. But if the Lord delights in your way, though you stumble, you will not fall headlong. He holds you by the hand. You don’t have to be perfect. He already is.

I hope that one or more of my favorite infertility verses has encouraged you in your journey to parenthood! Comment below or on Facebook to share your favorite infertility (or general hard-times) verses with me! I’d love to hear it!

Christianity, General, Religion

Purim Sameach!

One of the most entertaining aspects of my studies on various faith groups is learning about all of the different traditions and holidays that are part of each faith culture. When I was eleven or twelve, I used to go to the religion section of the library to look for books that explained how the holidays of different faiths were practiced. Sometimes, I would even go to the children’s section and look for books that explained – to children of a particular faith – why they believed what they believed and how celebrated their holidays. It was around this time that I discovered the Jewish holiday of Purim, celebrated today at sunset! Tonight, synagogues everywhere will be filled with people celebrating their deliverance from a plot that was intended to wipe out their entire people-group.

The story of Purim can be found in the book of Esther.

Esther’s given name was Hadassah, and she was a Jew living in Susa – a city in modern day Iran. As a child, she was orphaned and taken in and raised by her older cousin, Mordecai. Meanwhile, the royals were experiencing a little trouble in paradise. King Xerxes was upset with his wife, Queen Vashti, for her public display of disobedience to him during a banquet he’d thrown. King Xerxes wanted to set an example that wives everywhere need to obey their husbands, and so he divorced Vashti and began looking for a new Queen.

Esther, along with all of the other beautiful young women in King Xerxes’ 127 provinces, was sent to the king’s harem in Susa in order to compete in the ultimate episode of “The Bachelor.” Hadassah donned her new name, hid her Jewish identity from everyone, and found favor with those she encountered at every turn. Eventually, she caught the attention of King Xerxes.

While Esther was vying for her spot as Queen, her cousin Mordecai discovered a plot that the King’s most trusted advisor, Haman, had created to exterminate all of the Jews in King Xerxes’ realm. Mordecai urged Esther to use her influence over King Xerxes to thwart this plot. Esther was hesitant, but Mordecai convinced her. What is probably the most quoted line from the book of Esther comes from Mordecai’s plea to her, “And who knows but that you have come to royal position for such a time as this?” (Esther 4:14). Esther was convinced by her older cousin and after three days of fasting and prayer, approached, unsummoned, the throne of the King (for which the consequence would be death), with a plan to reveal Haman’s plot. As the story goes, Esther eventually reveals Haman’s plans to get rid of the Jewish people, and that she herself is a Jew. King Xerxes becomes angry with Haman and has him hanged.

But the details of Esther’s story may extend further than what’s recorded in the Bible. According to Jewish tradition, it is suspected that Esther had a much harder life than the Bible lets on. Mordecai loved her, perhaps, but it may also be true that he was sort of an over-controlling “helicopter parent.” It is also said that King Xerxes was more an abusive than romantic husband. Again, he may have loved Esther, but with the way that women were treated at that time, it would have been perfectly acceptable for a King to rape and hit his wife for no other reason but as an outlet for his personal stresses and frustrations. And, running 127 provinces from India to the Upper Nile region was probably the source of a whole lot of stress! We also don’t know whether or not King Xerxes and Queen Esther ever had children! If not, I’m sure that was reason enough for marital rape and abuse in those times. Esther risked sacrificing her life by approaching the King to warn him of Haman’s plans, but she also may have sacrificed the type of life that she probably dreamed for herself – a decent, hard-working husband, sons to fill her home and give her validation as a woman, and the ability to live simply, working and worshiping as she pleased.

But as Mordecai wisely said, “…you have come to royal position for such a time as this…”

Queen Esther may have been the Queen mentioned in Nehemiah 2:6 as well, in position to convince King Artaxerxes (after the death of her own husband) to allow Nehemiah to go and rebuild the Temple. Although the book of Nehemiah appears before the book of Esther in the Bible, we do know that the Bible is not put together in chronological order. A little light research informed me of the possibility that after King Xerxes died, he was succeeded by King Artaxerxes and Queen Esther acted as the Queen Mother. When Nehemiah, the king’s cup-bearer, asked King Artaxerxes to go and rebuild the Temple – a Queen is mentioned as being there, in on the conversation, and I wonder if Queen Esther had anything to do with the Temple’s rebuilding as well. If so, Queen Esther didn’t just save her people – but helped to restore the traditions of Jewish worship that had been destroyed and forgotten as well!

On a personal note, I have always felt a deep connection with Esther. I have always aspired to live my life in a way that protects and rescues others, and she has been my favorite Bible character ever since I learned of her story. If I had to say that I had a role model or if I were asked that famous “if-you-could-have-dinner-with-one-dead-person…” question, my answer to both would be Esther. I’m delighted to have been compared to Esther on more than one occasion in my life, and I’m always excited around Purim to celebrate someone who so selflessly endangered her life in order to protect and restore the lives of others.

There is so much to learn from the story of Esther, and I’d encourage everyone to read it!

Happy Purim!

Christianity, Religion

Adventures In Rosaries // Hail, Holy Queen

As I came to the end of the Rosary, I found that I had recited five decades of the Hail Mary (also called a chaplet), with the Lord’s Prayer, the Glory Be, and the Fatima Prayer interspersed throughout. At the end of the chaplet, the final prayer is a prayer called the “Hail, Holy Queen.” As with my first time praying the Hail Mary, I felt that I couldn’t genuinely say this prayer. Some of the language used is more affectionate toward Mary than I actually feel at this time. I am just not used to Mary being part of my spiritual life, other than looking toward her example as a role model for obedience to God. Still, as with the Hail Mary, I wanted to give all the prayers of the Rosary a fair and unbiased chance. So I read over the “Hail Holy Queen” a few times, and tried to put myself in the position of someone who had grown up with this prayer.

“Hail Holy Queen, mother of mercy, our life, our sweetness and our hope.”

As we have already discussed, the word “Hail” is simply a greeting and as Revelation 12 suggests, Mary is crowned in heaven. Mary is the mother of Jesus – therefore she is the mother of mercy. She is also the mother of our life, the mother of our sweetness, and the mother of our hope – all of which are found in Christ.

“To Thee do we cry, poor banished children of Eve. To Thee do we send up our sighs mourning and weeping in this valley of tears. Turn then, most gracious advocate, thine eyes of mercy toward us, and after this our exile, show us the blessed fruit of thy womb, Jesus. O clement, O loving, O sweet Virgin Mary. Pray for us, O holy Mother of God, that we may be made worthy of the promises of Christ.”

I have already discussed the idea that the (physically) dead in Christ may have the ability to pray for those of us who are still (physically) alive in Christ. Therefore, sending up our “sighs mourning and weeping” to Mary does not seem odd when in the context of the idea that Mary and all the saints are still very much alive and can interact with us as we are all part of the living body of Christ. Furthermore, the possibility of Mary’s assumption into heaven means that she may never have actually physically died – so not only is she alive in Christ and potentially able to hear our prayers and pray for us – this means that she is also still physically alive and so prayers to Mary are not being directed to someone who is physically dead.

The mention of being “poor banished children of Eve,” kind of compares Mary to Eve as Jesus is compared to Adam in the Bible. Jesus is the “new Adam,” the obedient man. While Mary is the “new Eve,” the obedient woman. The most important part, though, is that this portion of the prayer requests that Mary reveal to us her son. This aligns itself with 1 John 4:2, “By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God.” Regardless of whether one feels that it is right to pray to Mary – it can’t be denied that the Catholic position definitively confirms Christ’s virgin birth, sinless life, death, and resurrection.

Although this prayer is entitled the ‘Hail Holy Queen,’ the aforementioned is really the only part of the prayer that is addressed to Mary. The rest is directed to God, asking for the ability to imitate the virtues of what the glorious mysteries teach, and to obtain, through Christ, what is promised within the glorious mysteries. Finally, the one praying asks God to be an ever-present help, to grant rest to the souls of the faithful departed, and to not revoke His blessing on us. The Rosary is then concluded by making the sign of the cross.

Dissecting the Rosary has given me a lot to think about, and has challenged some of my current views on Christianity and the Bible. I enjoy being challenged in this way and I am so glad that I have had this opportunity to investigate the Rosary and learn more about what it means and why it is recited. I want to thank my Catholic friends for the articles and resources they’ve sent and the helpful explanations both in the comments and through private messages! And of course, thank you for graciously letting me stumble through your faith for the past couple of weeks!

In the next (and final) Adventures In Rosaries – a brief summary of things I’ve learned, re-considered, or have been challenged to think more about!

Christianity, Religion

Adventures in Rosaries // Hail Mary, 1.0

“Hail Mary, full of grace. The Lord is with Thee. Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus. Holy Mary, mother of God, pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death.  Amen.”

Whenever I read stories about how a person converts to Catholicism from either another Christian denomination or a strictly monotheistic faith (like Judaism, Islam, or Baha’i), one of the first things I want to know is how they came to accept the practice of prayer to a person who is (physically) dead. Perhaps one of the biggest points of contention between the Catholic church and other Christian denominations lies in the Catholic devotion to Mary, which is perceived by some  Christian groups as idolatry.

When I decided to learn to pray the Rosary, I worried that it might be difficult for me to take the Hail Mary seriously. While I have never been opposed to the idea of praying for the dead, I have never felt the need or desire to pray to the dead. Even after coming to an understanding of the Catholic viewpoint on prayer to saints, I never felt the need to do so. But I’m the type of person who likes to either go all the way in, or get all the way out. So, I decided to go all the way in on this one. I recited the Hail Mary, all fifty-three times. And what I experienced in the week that followed was somewhat interesting and unexpected.

The “Hail” in “Hail Mary,” within some non-Catholic circles, has always seemed to imply some form of Marian worship. But the dictionary definition of “Hail” is simply to cheer, salute, greet, or welcome. It can also mean to enthusiastically acclaim or approve of something. We can salute and approve of the sacrifice of Mary’s obedience to God just as we salute and approve of fallen soldiers who sacrifice their lives for their nation. I personally do not see any idolatry in that.

In fact, when the angel came to greet Mary, he greeted her with these words: “Hail, thou that art highly favoured, the Lord is with thee: Blessed art thou among women (Luke 1:28, KJV).” In other words, the first four statements of the Hail Mary come almost directly from the Bible.

Maybe a Catholic reader can shed some light as to why the term “full of grace” is added to Mary’s name. But my initial conjecture would be that it takes a lot of grace for a person to submit to God in the way that she did. She agreed to become pregnant before marriage and risk the security of her engagement, her good name, her family’s reputation, and even risked the possibility of being stoned to death. Mary didn’t know the future. It must have been absolutely horrifying for her to respond to God with the words, “Let it be unto me as you have said (Luke 1:38).” And yet, despite the threat of ruin and death, she agreed to allow God to have his way with her life. Only someone full of grace from God would be able to respond in such a manner.

I think it is probably the second part of the Hail Mary that gives much of the non-Catholic Christian world a bit of pause.The basic idea, as I understand it, behind prayer to and for the dead is that those who die in Christ are actually still alive. We are all part of Christ’s church whether we are in the physical world or the spiritual world. No one who is in Christ truly ever dies. Therefore, those who are not physically present are not unreachable. Through Christ, we are still all connected to one another and have the responsibility to fulfill the law of Christ by bearing one another’s burdens (Galatians 6:2), and by rejoicing with those who rejoice and mourning with those who mourn (Romans 12:15). I am not here making any assertions as to whether or not the Catholic viewpoint on prayer to saints is correct, but I am only explaining it to the best of my understanding as a non-Catholic.

Admittedly, I prayed the second half of the Hail Mary without really believing that Mary was praying for me in return. But I had an experience later that week that helped to shed more light on the experience of praying to Mary.

You’ll have to read about that in my next post.

In the meantime, what has been your experience with conversion to the Catholic faith and acceptance of prayer to Mary and other saints? Or, if you’re not Catholic, but have converted to a faith that required you to drastically change your views on something – I’d love to hear about it!