On Being Gluten Free, God, and Community

It’s all the rage now — gluten free, grain free, dairy free, SUGAR free living. But it hasn’t always been the rage. In fact, eight years ago, a simple blood test revealed that our son was allergic to peanuts, and that was about the most castrophic news that anyone near us had ever heard. Just trying to keep the peanuts out of his diet was a stressful task for family, friends, and teachers.

At first, I was embarrassed by my son’s allergy. I would make separate treats and carry them discreetly in my purse. Bu then, a funny thing happened in our church. There was an explosion of food allergies! And while it may not have been convenient — or cool — to have allergies, we parents started bonding over our kids’ peanut-, dairy-, soy-, and wheat-free lifestyles.

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At first, we got excited and shared recipes and great brands. But then things got a little more serious. We started deeply caring about one another’s kids. We started looking out for each other’s families.

“No, Ben can’t have a cupcake, but he can have the twizzler stick….”

 

We over stepped the boundaries. You know, those nice clear lines that say “Do Not Cross (because I have it covered).” We realized that as much as we watched our kids like hawks, kids will be kids, and we needed more eyes watching them. We knew we weren’t going to catch everything. And we also needed friends that would be willing to speak up and protect our kids, sometimes from themselves. We had to let people in because it was serious and it mattered.

It felt really good to have someone else care, especially about the most precious lil’ things in the world to us. But then, unexpectedly, things went even deeper. Because we cared sometimes, we now cared all the time. In fact, as I write this, six years later(!), I still feel the worry weight of a friend who lives nearly eight hundred miles away. I still worry with her about her son’s allergies. There’s some that would say that’s enmeshed behavior. I call it loving my friend and being willing to bear her burdens with her. But, for sure, that’s a whole ‘nother level of caring right there. That’s like … what … family does. 

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Getting to this final step seems to be really hard for us in western societies. We follow the same pattern over and over. We hide. We share superficially. We bond almost as an accident. And then we have this hesitation built around these questions: Should I really care? Will you let me care? Will you let me love you? Will you care back? We have to consciously tune down our fear filters to experience this explosion of blessing.

But what if community is more than being able to be strong next to someone else who’s strong? What if the only good community really already starts with the assumption that we’ve been hit. If we haven’t been hit by the big ones — disease, financial burdens, divorce, or addiction — then we’ve certainly been hit with disappointment, loneliness, boredom, frustration, anger, and cynicism.

What if, in the middle of admitting that you are in the center of that ‘hit,” you HAD to let someone love you? What if you had to let someone provide your gluten-free, dairy-free, sugar-free dinner because you would be sent into shock from eating just anything on the plate. Could you do it? Could you let someone love you by caring for your body? Could you do it, trusting that they WOULD care for your body? Could you do it without feeling guilty or fearful or controlling about it?

And could you do it with God? Could you do it with the things He provides you?

Sometimes the restrictions in our lives open doors to friendship and support and love like we’ve never received before. Sometimes, gluten-free can just mean wall-free. I can’t keep my wall up around you anymore.

 

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Lonliness, Community, and Religious Celebrations

Being born and raised in Chicago, I’m used to cold winters. Really cold winters. I’m used to freeze-your-face-off winds and you-better-wear five-layers days. What I don’t think I’ll ever get used to is the loneliness that I see happens in my life and others’ lives during the brutal winter months. That bitter cold forces us to withdraw into our homes with occasional one-on-one conversations in drafty coffeehouses. It causes a lapse in community, and ultimately a feeling of being unloved and uncared for.

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While generations before us would hope that their friends would still be alive after those long, hard winters, I often find myself wondering if my friends will emotionally make it through the harsh weather and what toll it will take on them.  What bad choices will they make in an attempt to be loved? What lies will they succumb to because no one is by their side to check that lie with the truth? How often will they think that they are alone?

This is the reason I get really excited for early spring celebrations like St. Patrick’s Day and Lenten celebrations. It’s the reason I rejoice in days like Purim and Cinco de Mayo. I may not celebrate all of these holidays. And I may not even celebrate these holidays the way others do (typically, with large quantities of alcohol). But I see this deep desire in people just to connect again — particularly as a community. Because, let’s admit it, parade floats really aren’t that interesting. But laughing and hugging each other without feeling socially awkward is pretty amazing. And feeling like we’re not isolated from society — that we have a place of belonging in the larger scheme of things — is pretty hopeful.

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But what about church? Isn’t that what church is supposed to be?

It is. But I’ve found that despite most churches’ best efforts, we are failing as a body at this. Rachel Held Evans had a incredibly insightful tweet about two weeks ago. She said:

          For all the people who come home from church feeling lonelier than when they left, please know you are not alone today. (March 9, 2014 – 3:33pm)

There are some bodies where this is not true — Where people leave church feeling like everybody goes WITH them as they go out to be salt and light in the world. But, for the large part, I think many people leave Sunday morning service feeling the way Rachel described. They longed to be a part of something, and they’re not quite sure they are. They may know they have friends. They may even know they are loved. But they may not feel invited into something greater. And it causes a deep hurt in the deepest realm of the soul. Over time, it erodes them until they just give up on the body. They leave church every week feeling more drained than they came in until they can’t even convince themselves to come anymore.

Which brings me back to lenten celebrations. Where I grew up, lent was a holy thing. And by that, I don’t just mean quiet. It was a community movement trying to grapple with beauty and love in the midst of suffering and lament. But we did so in the form of gatherings and celebrations. Sometimes they were silly and sometimes they were fun, but they were always profound. It was joy. Joy in the midst of sorrow. Because we were together. We were going to get over the cold and the financial hardship and the hardness that is this life and ultimately, even death, together. And we were going to do it believing God was with us. But we never SAID that. We just did it.

I long for a tribe like this again. I’m very blessed to have some friends and family who have this same longing. But I really LONG for church like this again. And I wonder how we got away from it. What could have been so valuable, or so distracting, that we would have exchanged this glimpse of heaven for the hell of loneliness?

I wish I could end this blog post with an idea to fix it. But I don’t think I can. Because I think the only way this gets fixed is that a couple of people long for it enough that they get together and DO it. And then invite others into it. Not as an evangelistic tool. But just in the context of their own friendships. If you miss it like me, pray that I find it. I’ll be praying for you to find it, too.

The 3 Types of Women You’ll Meet in Women’s Ministry

Joe Pesci has a great line in the 1990’s cult classic With Honors. He said, “If a woman is willing to give you her love, .. it’s the greatest gift in the world.” Now, he may have been advising a collegiate young man towards a romantic relationship, but I love that quote in a broader context. Women have so much life and love to give, and it really is a gift to work with, and for women, because of their sharing of themselves is the greatest gift in the world.

The most difficult thing about working with women though, is that they often have trouble working WITH other women. Especially if those other women are not “like” them. I’ve seen some of the greatest potential for fruit fall flat because women started fighting, criticising, and undermining each other. This is been such a frustration to me that I’ve spent a lot of hours just asking God, “why?” And “how do we end this?”

And as always, the answer has been to start by understanding each other.

Although there has been a lot of clarity over the years, one of the most instructive lessons I received came while I was watching “Sleeping Beauty” with my daughters. My favorite scene from childhood appeared. The scene where the three good fairies are preparing a birthday dinner for Aurora. And as I watched the three ladies interact, eureka struck. And so I will share the brilliant metaphor Jesus laid on my heart: the three types of women — blue fairies, pink fairies, and green fairies. (And yes, I swear, this is biblical. I’ll try to prove it. And yes, I realize literature and film often explores these three prototypes. Can anyone say “Downtown Abbey?”)

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The Pink Fairies

The CONS: Flora, the pink fairy, has it all together. She has a voice, a brain, and resources, and she’s going to use them for the good of people. She sees things in black and white and considers her views superior to others because technically, she is. She is the leader. She really believes that she could save the world if everybody just listened to her and did exactly what she tells them to do. But she’s completely oblivious to the fact that she’s alienating people with her behavior. To work with a Pink Fairy is frustrating. If they are a leader, you won’t feel like your voice is heard. If they work under you, you might feel like they are trying to take control from you. In friendship, you never know where you stand with a pink fairy because they won’t be honest about their struggles. They won’t let you know they need you. She often has wealth, beauty, and leverage, and has often not had deep pain in her life. Biblical examples of pink fairies are Rachel, Merriam, Peninnah (Hannah’s sister wife), Mary (of Mary and Martha), Michal (1st wife of King David),and of course, the Proverbs 31 woman.

The PROS: Pink fairies are stable and they tend to create stable families. They know how to have fun and create beautiful homes and communities. When you do listen to their advice, things really do turn out well. They also don’t give up their femininity easily, and won’t let you either. To have a Pink Fairy on the team means that your organization will succeed. Pink fairies also know how to stay calm under pressure. Every time. (Think Mary Poppins and Queen Elizabeth)

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The Green Fairies

CONS: Fauna, the green fairy, represents some of my favorite people in the world, and I’m sure you, too, because everybody loves a green fairy. They are the peacemakers. They are the quiet women who go with the flow. They are sweet. But that’s just the problem, green fairies are usually oblivious, absentminded, and incredibly hard to motivate. They don’t want to say or do anything that would make anybody upset, and usually tremble in fear in the face of a foe. Biblical examples of green fairies are Queen Esther, Dinah, Ruth, and Leah.

PROS: Green fairies call out the best in you. They’re the easiest people to talk to, and often, to love. And when you do get green fairies motivated, they are supremely powerful. All of their introversion means that they have a really great perspective on how people feel about things. They are extraordinarily compassionate, and green fairies often facilitate some of the deepest inner healing.

 

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The Blue Fairies

CONS: Merryweather, the blue fairy, is feisty and strong. Maybe a bit too strong. And that’s often how blue fairies are perceived. Because they have seen great evil, they often are obsessed with being the strongest in the room. Blue Fairies see the writing on the wall, but then they either make war or give up. They lack wisdom. Their impulsiveness can create division. It can also get a lot of people hurt. And because some of their risky moves are life saving events, they often don’t learn easily. Biblical examples of blue fairies are Sarah, Rahab, Bathsheba, Deborah, Hannah, and Naomi.

PROS: A blue fairy is fiercely loyal and protective. They won’t let anyone hurt you — including you. They make excellent accountability partners because they won’t judge you for your actions (they probably already know anyway), and they won’t let you make the same mistake again either. They’re bright. They’re quick. They’re insightful and have ingenuity. And they don’t lie. And if you meet a mature blue fairy, one who has learned how to have self-control, you have a mighty woman on your hands. This is the woman you want standing behind you as you face a storm. This is the woman you want praying for you. She will simply NOT backdown. She makes a great coach, mentor, and sister.

 

SO WHAT DOES THIS HAVE TO DO WITH THE CHURCH?

I don’t know anything that can divide a church as quickly as women who don’t like each other. Because we are the relational glue of our communities, we have the power to make or break a church. If one of us isn’t being served, or worse, is being threatened, we all are threatened. If you are a pink fairy who has been assigned to lead the women in your church, think about how the blue fairies feel when you shut them down. You are not just pulling a power card. You are creating division. If you are a green fairy, realize that you might want to take your whole family to that nice, quiet, introvert church on fifth street because you don’t like confrontation. But you may be robbing the church you’re supposed to be at of your voice. And they might just need it to be compassionate. And my dear, fellow blue fairies. The next time who are distrustful of your leadership team, realize it may just be because you really are rebellious. You do have a voice, and it should be heard. But you need to seek wisdom about how and when and why. As much as it kills you, you’ll probably learn it from the pink fairies.

We can’t live without each other. As need the perkiness and perfection of a pink fairy to remind us of the beauty that feeds our souls. And we need the green fairies to teach us how to hear each other. And we need the prophetic voice of the blue fairies who remind us that we are in the midst of war, and we need to guard our hearts. The more we understand each other, the more we can appreciate the differences between us. It might not be our way, but we need to learn from each other. We need to love each other.