Parallel

What did you expect when you
tied on your robes, donned your chains,
your bells, your incense and oil;
when you saw him walking through crowds
paying his taxes, spitting in mud,
loving his enemies?

What did you expect when he unrolled the scroll,
broke your rules, fulfilled the law;
when he challenged your pride and died
on a thief’s cross?

Who did you expect:
A righteous warrior?
A crown prince?
Certainly not the Suffering Servant,
the Sacrificial Lamb.

What did you expect when you
put on the respectable clothes,
drove too fast, went to his house,
looked for your seat, the one with your name?

What did you expect, arms folded
mouthing songs about more about yourself than him;
critiquing the offering protocol, the message,
waiting to feel better?

Who did you expect:
A good-looking rock star?
A charismatic politician?
Certainly not the Risen Christ,
the Almighty Lord.

What does he expect, but a
heart broken and pure:
clean hands, empty of straws
grasped in a rush of fear;
eyes fixed on him?
Who does he expect?
The ones he calls “Beloved,”
even them,

even me,

even you.

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Everything You Ever Wanted

“Take delight in the LORD, and he will give you the desires of your heart.” – Psalm 37:4

I decided my sophomore year in college to change my major from Sociology to English. Admittedly, I wanted to study sociology because Zora Neale Hurston did, and she wrote characters that walked off the page and into your mind, flipping through the filing cabinets of memory and reading aloud long-forgotten accounts. I wanted to observe people, to study people from a safe distance. I did not know how much science was involved, and my research papers were cleverly written, but complete scientific bunk.

What else does one do with an English major, though, except teach? I had daydreams of scenes from Dead Poets’ Society, sitting on the big desk and philosophizing about Hamlet and Frost, molding young people, inspiring, high-five-ing in the halls. Steady, respectable, interesting employment.

God has the habit (perhaps, His character) of giving us exactly what we want, and what we need, but in completely different packaging.

After five years of teaching seventh grade English (no philosophizing or even inspiring, although lots of high-fives), I felt an undeniable urging from the Lord to leave my job and raise my child, later children, at home. It was the hardest decision I have ever made. I left the thing which had made up so much of my identity for so long in exchange for full-time occupation in something that I was never truly pursuant of or prepared.

I took that in which I knew I was successful and left it on the altar. I grieved for it and looked back many times, quite frankly. I took up the position for which I was ill-equipped because God said.

The last three years have been a trial by fire, one of learning and correcting, the practice of grace.

My son is four and will begin Kindergarten next fall. I have been counting down the days, making plans for focusing on one child again, and eventually returning to some type of work. But through a series of events and realizations too lengthy to detail here, I am beginning to see that home school for the first few years may be our best option.

I am not a home-schooler. I was not even an elementary teacher. I was never a mommy-ing woman, even as a mother. I believe in public education.

Yet here I sit, flipped on my rear again, asking God why and how and “Seriously?”

In these three years I’ve also published one book, nearly finished another, and I whip out an occasional haiku for kicks. And I remember Zora Neale Hurston and that I wanted to observe people and write. I want to write transporting truth and beauty and something so familiar it makes you check your rear-view mirrors.

I have realized that my desire to work is not about my identity; it is about a deeply buried notion that my ability to add economic value is what makes me valuable.

God asked me one time in a desperate place if I would be willing to give up the vain accessories that decked my heart’s desire. Would I lay down the visible extras to do the thing for which I prayed? And as I answered, and the external vanities were cut away, I felt peace and direction which had been clouded.

God is allowing me to have the opportunity to pursue the occupations I always wanted while doing what is best for my family, even if I never earn an income or notoriety as a writer. My faith must rise to the uncertainty of finances and to the strength to face the tasks given. I must trust my fragile soul in the hands of my Creator, who gives me the true desires of my heart.

 

Book available now – Sparrow: Devotions in Prose and Verse

http://www.lulu.com/spotlight/amycford

Don’t Judge Me

We live in a world of sound bytes. A world where messages must be short and loud and plentiful. And everyday I encounter feeds full of quips and quotes and visually appealing images with mantras in pretty fonts, all attempts to define self behind a screen.

Image
There are a lot of things I could say about the positives and negatives of this over-stimulated and isolated world we’ve created for ourselves, but I will choose to address one for today.

One trend among my peers is to collect bumper sticker-like memes to adorn social media, to make a statement, to 

inspire, to procure identity. Some are true and lovely and noble, and my digital connections are daily populated with them. Some, however, make my heart break. These all take different forms, with varying degrees of poetry or pointed-ness, but they can be summarized as such: Don’t judge me.

That’s from a popular Bible verse, right? “Judge not, lest you be judged…”

I see these mostly from women –  women about my age, intelligent women, strong women, Jesus-loving, born-again women.  Yet when I see these memes or quotes, I feel as though the woman behind them is taking some kind of defensive posture and I wonder why.  Not, “What did you do?” But, “Why do you feel judged?”

You see, I believe in no condemnation in Christ (Romans 8:1). I believe that whom the Son has set free is free indeed (John 8:36). I believe His mercies are new every morning (Lamentations 3:22).

Those beliefs are freeing. They turn my deepest shame into my greatest testimony. They cause me to wear my past like a scar with a story I can tell to anyone who’ll listen. I can tell of His love and His goodness and His grace.

So when I see women I love waving their “Don’t judge me” flags like banners of war, shouting it in 24 point font from smart phones to the audience of the world, I can only come to a few conclusions:

1. We’re trying to justify open sin. Okay, that was the harshest one, but it needs to be addressed. I would rather be the friend who tells you when there’s spinach in your teeth than the one who smiles on the outside and laughs on the inside. When Adam and Eve sinned, their first response was to cover it themselves. They hid, they covered, they pointed fingers and threw out distractions. And, ladies, it is our first defense as well when we aren’t ready to give up or admit a sin. Jesus forgives. He does not pass judgement. But He also told the woman he saved from stoning to, “Go and sin no more” (John 8:11). His kindness leads us to repentance, not defensiveness. Simply, God did not send Jesus to die so we could continue in the same sin which

 draws us away from Him. If there is the ache of conviction in our hearts, throwing our fig leaves in people’s faces and daring them hold us accountable only causes a deeper gulch between ourselves, our Savior, and the people we love.

2. Someone is condemning us unjustly. I have to be honest: for all the talk about hypocritical Christians and gossiping women, the reality is much less dramatic than the belief. By and large, most people are not spending their precious minutes or hours throwing shade at you. Our enemy, his powers and principalities, would certainly like to make us think so, but it just isn’t true. Some people do gossip or pass judgement, and that is a terrible thing, but it is an indicator of their own issues, not yours. However, can I make a freeing suggestion? Let them! I said above that my past and all my sin (recent included) is my test

imony of His grace. I will own it. I will share it. And, if that doesn’t silence the naysayers and ninnies, nothing will. I won’t lose my joy, or develop a self-righteous, don’t judge attitude about it.

3. Someone is condemning us unjustly, and she’s living in our heads. This is the most poisonous answer, but the one I fear is most common. Maybe you’ve had the talk with Jesus, the teary and snotty on-your-face talk, but there is a linger. That linger is not a voice but a sense that easily projects onto others, particularly other women. It is applied to looks in a hallwa

y or a concerned question or even to the lack of someone else’s communication. We quickly chalk up every misinterpreted signal as evidence that someone knows, someone condemns, someone judges. Beloved, we must get free of this. It is not only dangerous to ourselves, but our sisters. It is the same spirit that caused Cain to look at Abel with hatred and murder. It is the spirit that perpetuates isolation or drama in female relationships. It is a root of the real war on women. Satan has a field day with it, and it grieves the Holy Spirit and retracts the advancement of the Kingdom.

So, how do we deal with the linger? We take our thoughts captive. We shut the mouth of the liar every time the notion of condemnation enters our minds. We own our faults so no one else can use them against us. And, if we have sin in our lives, we stop justifying it and submit it to God with open and rendered hearts.

We must stop shouting from the rooftops we don’t want to be judged. Living in grace, living in “no condemnation” doesn’t mean screaming at others to mind their own business, but humbly and gratefully accepting the mercy of our Father, rejoicing that He has made a way for us to be restored to Him.  Instead, let us release with abandon the faults of our lives and the worr

y in our hearts. Let us use our social media microphones, our inspiring images, to shout His name and the glory of His goodness that we may walk in true freedom.

Searchlight

God is a roar of brilliant light,

the humming of ten thousand cathedrals,

an all-encompassing specter 

approaching with unmasked splendor and unveiled hope,

a beacon filtering through ancient trees,

ceaselessly seeking to bring you home.

30 Days to 30, Days 11 and 12

So, I missed an entry yesterday.  Here’s a twofer…

Day 11 – I Will Improve the Home I Have (and not pine after ones I don’t).

When we bought our house, we thought we would pay it off as quickly as we could (or at least way down) and sell it for our real forever home in five to ten years.  Since then, the housing market fell, God led me to stay home as a full-time mother, and we have used much of our nest egg to bankroll four mission trips and the remaining two years of a bachelor’s degree.  So, here I sit in our starter home in a subdivision in the middle of nowhere.

My husband and I are Nashville natives and never envisioned staying in this college town after I graduated in 2006, much less at this point in our lives.  We are city folk, and we often find ourselves looking around, daydreaming about moving back.  Plus, our house is at space capacity with two children buzzing about, and the bargain-basement carpet, paint, cabinets, and the like are all showing their, ehem, quality.

On Friday, though, as I rolled fresh paint onto the wall behind our dining room table, I felt a sense of pride.  Everything needs updating, and doing the work of updating is especially difficult when it is on an after-the-kids-go-to-bed schedule and performed by a couple of amateurs.  But, we will improve, little by little, until the cycle begins again.  We will love our place in the world until God releases us to go elsewhere.  We will be grateful to have a place to call our own, no matter what lies over the fence.  We have more than many.

 

Day 12 – I Will be Slow to Speak, Slow to Get Angry.

Not going to lie – this is the one I failed today, and that’s why I am writing about it now.  No long stories or details here, just the humble realization that I need to grow up a little, act in love a little better, and not allow environment or circumstances to create frustration in me.  

30 Days to 30, Day 8

Day 8 – I Will Control My Thought Life

I listened to a lesson on freedom today by my pastor, one I’d heard before and through which I was preparing to lead a small group.  The lesson centered on renewing the mind.  In summary, one of the main points was that our thoughts determine our emotions, our emotions determine our attitudes, and our attitudes determine our actions.  Therefore, the negative things that come from me are rooted in my thoughts.  I can control my thinking by taking captive every negative or sinful thought and submitting it to Christ, nullifying it with the truth in the Word of God.

My apologies if you weren’t expecting a sermon.  There is no separating me from my faith.  It is who I am, and it’s going to come out.

Now, I am an introvert by nature and one with an above average IQ.  Trust me that I am not bragging there.  The combination of the two makes for a fairly distracting internal world, and I tend to be very socially awkward and unaware of my surroundings because the buzzing of analysis and synthesis in my brain overwhelms my ability to engage in the moment.  The relevancy then is that my thought life can quickly and powerfully leap from normal and balanced to detrimentally askew.  Negative thoughts create fear, anger, worry.  Those emotions stimulate an attitude of hopelessness and anxiety.  It is usually right before those attitudes turn into actions that I re-secure the reins of my life and begin the process of getting the horse back on trail.

What would happen if I could consistently stop it at the thought-level?

Thirty makes me realize I am too old to play games with my bad emotions and attitudes.  I am too old to be sunk every time my mind takes a situation or word the wrong direction. And, I know I want to kill the habit of being controlled by my thoughts before I get too old. I know what God says about His people, and I am graced enough to claim it for myself.

30 Days to 30, Day 7

Day 7 – I Will Seek to Honor

While this resolution might seem to piggy-back on yesterday’s, I cannot avoid the themes I see stretching across the landscape of each day.  Today is Veterans’ Day, a day on which we honor those who have served in the military.  I spent my morning with my mother, who served her time in the U.S. Army, hoping to honor her not only as a veteran, but as a mother and a grandmother as she spent time with my kids.

I want to honor my husband as he tells me stories about his day and as he struggles with the difficulties and injustices that sometimes accompany college classes.

I want to honor my children by training them up in the way they should go, whether it means telling them stories or calming their fears or sending them to time-out.

I want to honor my Creator my making sure that every word, action, and thought is worshipful.

Honor does not always require a parade or a salute, but instead it demands that the little things of our lives have an intent to lift up and to respect.  That is my goal for today.

The Extravagant Praise of King David, or, Why Can’t My Life Imitate Art?

I’ve been thinking about musicals a lot lately.  My husband and I re-visit the same discussion about musicals every time a movie comes out in that particular genre that I want to see.  This time, it was Les Miserables.  He always says musicals are ridiculous.  Silly. Over-the-top.  Most of all, they are unrealistic.  And I get it: many of them are silly, and it’s not like we randomly burst into song in our daily lives, lifting up operettas in cubicles, or waltzing with potatoes up and down the produce aisle (well, unless you are the parent of a preschooler, but I digress…).  If something like a scene from a musical actually transpired in front of us in real life, most of us would take a few steps backward, look around awkwardly, and make for the nearest exit.

But then, I found an argument for the musical way of life in Scripture.  There are moments throughout both the Old and New Testaments in which godly people, overcome with love for God, cannot help but stop what they are doing to lift up a song of praise to Him.  Moses and Miriam both did it; so did Mary, the mother of Jesus, and the Apostle Paul.  And, of course, there is the most prolific songwriter of them all, King David.  I get the feeling that his life was much like musical theater: there was an underdog story, followed by a little romance, betrayal, a chase scene, a bromance, and yes, some adultery and murder (shield your ears, kids).  All the while, David sings songs, plays the harp, and dances in the streets.  In fact, why isn’t there a Broadway show about the life of David? (Mental note: write a manuscript.)

I was reading one of David’s psalms this week, Psalm 18, which is given the following introduction: For the director of music. Of David the servant of the Lord. He sang to the Lord the words of this song when the Lord delivered him from the hand of all his enemies and from the hand of Saul.[1] First, I noticed that David sang, not wrote, this song initially.  While I do not know the entire context, I know David was not one to sit quietly and write a poem.  This is a man who faced lions and giants and bears.  My guess is that he sang this loudly, in front of many, and he probably danced while doing it.  The next thing I noticed was the sheer grandness and depth of the language:

4The cords of death entangled me;

the torrents of destruction overwhelmed me.

The cords of the grave coiled around me;

the snares of death confronted me.

In my distress I called to the Lord;

I cried to my God for help.

From his temple he heard my voice;

my cry came before him, into his ears.

The earth trembled and quaked,

and the foundations of the mountains shook;

they trembled because he was angry.

Smoke rose from his nostrils;

consuming fire came from his mouth,

burning coals blazed out of it. [2]

 

Forgive me, but this is no namby-pamby, Christian radio-friendly pop song.  This is a declaration of the power of our God.  He continues:

30 As for God, his way is perfect:

The Lord’s word is flawless;

he shields all who take refuge in him.

31 For who is God besides the Lord?

And who is the Rock except our God? [3]

 

The entire psalm reads this way.  It is a grand, over-the-top, epic of a song to glorify the one true King.  This is the kind of worship God desires.  David was called a man after God’s own heart not because he was the most well-behaved or most holy guy, but because he poured out his life in adoration and devotion to God.  Everything he did was done with a posture of praise, and not just any “Thank you Lord for this day” praise, but the kind of big, all-encompassing praise which scatters the enemy.  In victory, David praised God; in frustration, he praised God; in sorrow, he praised God.

Some might argue that this kind of praise is just emotionalism or attention-seeking, and maybe, for some, it is. But I believe that issue is between us and God.  Besides, I would hope that when I stop to worship Him who has given me all, my emotions would be touched as well.  After all, I never want to be accused of holding anything back from Him who holds nothing back from me.

So, I hope that I can aspire to praise God the way David did, in a way that gets as close as humanly possible to the way He deserves.  To the rest of the world, it may look silly, over-the-top, and unrealistic.  But I know, we know, that it is the most natural thing for those who have found Love of our lives.


[1] The New International Version. 2011 (Ps 18:title). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

[2] The New International Version. 2011 (Ps 18:4–8). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

[3] The New International Version. 2011 (Ps 18:30–31). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

A New Feminist

“I am strong. I am invincible. I am woman.” – Helen Reddy

I played the tomboy role well as a young girl.  It seemed to fit me: I had short hair (for my mother’s convenience, not my choice), many of my clothes were hand-me-downs from my brother, and boys were always much easier to get along with than the girls at school.  Some pretty flowers

As a teenager and college student, I embraced the principles of the feminist movement myself.  I was strong, independent, and I didn’t need a man to make me complete.  I could do anything, and I would, come what may.  No emotion.  No crying.  No pink.  I cussed like a barkeep and sneered at any male who dared look my way.

Even after I came to know Jesus, I fought for my fierce independence tooth and nail.  In pre-marital counseling, I argued with my pastor about a woman’s submission to her husband.  Thank God he understood my background and helped me see the context and meaning, but that’s for another blog.  I worked all through college to prove I could support myself, and I swore after graduation I would never be one of those stay-at-home moms.

The past few years, however, and particularly since having a child, I have realized that I have been fighting a battle against myself.  We all know that motherhood brings out a lot of emotion due to stress, hormones, and the overwhelming responsibility of it all.  In the back of my mind, every time I felt that emotion, I heard my drill sergeant father, “Quit crying, or I’ll give you something to cry about,” and my feminist mother preaching about women’s liberation and how women can do everything a man does better.  I felt like a failure.  I truly began to wonder if, somewhere in the name of women’s equal rights, we swung the pendulum too far, expecting women to be something we are not, nor should want to be.

I think many of my generation have been infected by a culture that gives us only a few options for our identities as women: we are either dowdy soccer moms, tough and ruthless working women, or women using out sexuality to gain power or attention.  I do not want to be any of these women.   To many still in our culture, breastfeeding is disgusting, showing emotion is a sign of weakness, and working in the home to raise and educate one’s children is a sign of either laziness or ignorance.  Frankly, I am sick of living in a culture that permits these perspectives, and I do not want my daughter growing up in that world.

While the feminist movement told us we were the same as men, biology tells us differently.  We have different hormones, different eyesight, and, of course, different anatomy.  To cast aside our natural feminine design for the sake of being considered independent or strong is not feminism at all.  In fact, I would argue that it promotes misogynistic attitudes because it maintains that the male way is the only right way.  Why did “girly” and “ladylike” become negative terms?  True feminism should embrace that which is feminine: those natural characteristics that make women strong, wise, and beautiful for who they are.

So just who are we created to be?  Ladies, we are the pinnacle of God’s creation, the final brushstrokes on the most beautiful masterpiece of all time.  Think about that: God’s created things in an increasingly complex and beautiful way, and the last thing He created was woman. We are designed to captivate, shine, and be a pleasing aroma to God and the world around us.  We are built to rear, nourish, and nurture human life, and if anyone tries to call those things easy, he is a buffoon.  We have the mind of Christ and hearts of mercy, compassion, and wisdom.

So, let’s remove the taboo from the word “feminism” and reclaim it for our own.  Beloved, embrace who you actually are, not who society says you should be.  It’s okay to cry and show emotion because it reveals your passion.  It is okay to submit because, “in quietness and trust is your strength” (Isaiah 30:15).  It is okay to be vulnerable because only those who are confident can withstand revealing their faults.  And, yes, it’s okay to be beautiful because our God designed us with such a purpose.

Yes, I believe women can do anything.  But the best thing we can do is be ourselves.

And, for goodness’ sake, it’s okay to look pretty, to wear skirts, and to enjoy being womanly.  Don’t let anyone tell you that you are overdressed, flighty, or an attention-seeker — just tell them you are a feminist.