Days 11-20

Day 20: "Societal expectations."

"Jesus twelve disciples were all men, but they were not his only disciples."

—From Ch. 20 ("Mary, Mary"), Jesus Journey

As a younger woman, I didn’t struggle much with the story of Mary and Martha in Luke 10:38-42. I was a wannabe Mary. An arts student at university, I would spend many hours searching out the face of Jesus in prayer and scripture, literature and philosophy.

In my present life as a mother, co-running a busy household with hungry hobbits to feed, I confess I have often sympathised more with Martha. After all, I reason, somebody had to cook dinner that day.

I can’t imagine cries of protest coming from the guests when Martha emerges from the kitchen with a fragrant, home-cooked meal at the end of a long day. 

Trent’s reflections on this interchange have helped me see that Jesus is not simply reprimanding the actions of one sister and applauding those of the other. He goes beneath the behaviour to probe into their hearts.

"Martha, Martha," he says, "You are fretting and fussing about many things."

Martha was clearly panicked and operating out of fear.

"Master, don’t you care…?"

How familiar her words are to me.  How familiar the accompanying emotions of self-pity, panic, and rage that rear their ugly head when I operate in a graceless pursuit of worldly usefulness and human praise. Striving to be the hostess-with-the-mostest, the capable parent, the faultless professional.

“Only one thing matters. Mary has chosen the best part, and it’s not going to be taken away from her.”

As Trent points out, Mary’s desire to learn from Jesus, to be around him, clearly overwhelmed any pressure to conform to the societal expectations of her as a woman. This is what Jesus affirms in Mary. Her resistance to that same temptation he himself had contended with in the desert—the temptation to pursue an identity that pleases others, instead of responding to the invitation of God.

Mary's resolve liberates her to discover an identity no human can bestow on her or take away from her. And, in affirming this heart in Mary, Jesus is inviting Martha to do the same.

That invitation. That promise. I long to reclaim the heart of the disciple Mary, to look up into His face again. Whether I am emptying a dishwasher or sitting at a boardroom table, I want to choose the best part.  

Today's guest post is by Angela Lake: "I am an Egyptian/Brit, married to a New Zealander, living outside Liverpool in the UK. Consequently, our three daughters all speak fluent Scouse. I met my husband on a factory floor fourteen years ago, and we have been somewhat preoccupied with factories ever since. We help companies address modern slavery in their supply chains: On most days, I love to cook dinner for my family."

Photo credits: "girl" & "preparing dinner"—Chelsea Hudson / "red flowers"—Bill Pekrul

Day 19: "If I make my table small."

"For Jesus, sin wasn't the most contagious thing in the world—he was."

—From Ch. 19 ("Contagious Touch"), Jesus Journey

This is one of my favorite things about Jesus: how he opposes the arrogant religious scholars with their petty laws and exclusionary tactics, and welcomes the lowly, the sick, the suffering, the sabbath-breaking, prostituting, tax-collecting scoundrels in all of us.

“Jesus, as he so often does," Trent writes in chapter nineteen, "broke their boundaries. Because he redefined the rules of who was in and who was out solely around himself." Come to me, Jesus still says, you’re welcome here, along with everyone else.

It’s hard to relate to people who are different than us—I think we all know that. We gravitate toward sameness, and it’s all too easy to judge and to label and to exclude.

But what helps us be drawn to each other despite our differences?

Suffering... I think it’s suffering.

I think about my neighbors—before we got to know them—with their Trump signs and NRA flags and "a cannon" (i.e. potato gun) eerily pointed at our house when we first moved in. (By the way, it’s still pointed at our house; it's just no longer eerie to us...)

Our neighbors were intimidating. It would have been easy to build walls, but instead we brought each other cookies. They are so very kind and thoughtful and generous with our kids.

When their daughter, also our neighbor, was diagnosed with ovarian cancer, I heard the fear in their voices and I saw the worry in their faces. It was hard for her to lose her hair. She doesn't want to be bald for her son’s high-school graduation.

She desperately wants to live.

How can you feel anything but love and empathy when someone shares their raw fears with you? Especially when those fears look a lot like your own.

See the hurting parts in others, and share your own places of pain as well. It won’t erase our differences, but it will make us kind.

“Jesus showed us that holiness is about how we treat others," Trent explains in this chapter, "especially those who are suffering and those who are different, those who may well be outsiders to your way of living, your way of voting, and, yes, your way of believing."

If I make my table small and invite only those that I feel comfortable with, I miss out on so much beauty, so much love, and most of all—so much Jesus.

Today's guest post is by Jenna Mosely Lohnes: Jenna lives in Morgantown, West Virginia with her family. She has three little rascally kids and is married to an aspiring geography doctor. Jenna loves her job working with all kinds of different families at the local community and family resource center: The Shack Neighborhood House. More than anything, she wants to be a kind wife, mother, and neighbor. (She finds the mothering part to be by far the hardest.) Although Jenna is happily settled in West Virginia, a chunk of her heart will always be in Portugal, where she grew up. “Herois do mar, nobre povo…”

Photo credits: "Oregon58" & "Oregon59"—Chelsea Hudson / "crumbling wall"—Stephanie Pekrul

Day 18: "Together."

"Jesus called the disciples to follow him together."

—From Ch. 18a ("Nicknamed"), Jesus Journey

In the small town where I grew up, acquiring a nickname was the ultimate sign that you were “in” with the in-crowd. I would look up to the older, cooler kids and long for that acceptance—I wanted to be known and well-liked. During my years of playing high school sports, I finally got my nickname.

Those years were the first time I felt the deeply human craving to belong. To be known, named, and liked. I imagine that Jesus’ disciples felt that craving, too, and it’s so heartening to think about Jesus (I can’t help but think of him with a smirk on his face) referring to some of his disciples by a nickname, affectionate and playful.

They, too, must have felt the relief of acceptance—of knowing that they were dear and loved by their friend and teacher.

It wasn’t until I moved to East Boston (thirteen years ago!), rekindled my faith journey, and met and married my husband that my need for belonging changed. I stopped searching for people to impress and instead settled in to my new life as a wife and daughter of the Heavenly Father.

I was happy in these roles, but there was something missing—friends who would meet me and love me right where I was. I remember praying for friends who would walk with me on my journey from non-practicing, skeptical Catholic to renewed and redeemed follower of Christ...

God, as he tends to do, placed me smack dab in the middle of a quirky little neighborhood and surrounded me with the most unlikely yet completely perfect group of friends. This group has coalesced into Eastie Ekklesia, a home church...but so much more. We’ve raised babies together, joyed and grieved together, and journeyed together in our life of faith.

The thing that most struck me about chapter eighteen in Jesus Journey is the simple line, “Jesus called the disciples to follow him together." The fact that he didn’t just choose one perfect person to be his disciple is such a glimpse into the person of Jesus. Instead, he carefully crafted the improbable, diverse group and called them to “dream and scheme" together.

It is much the same in our own improbable group who gathers on Sunday afternoons to worship, catch-up with each other, and yes, even dream and scheme together. In those special gatherings, it isn’t hard to see the immense value of a group of people who serve you as teacher, cheerleader, listener, sounding board and, most importantly, friend.

Today's guest post is by Ally Simons: Ally lives in East Boston with her other half, Mike, and two small humans, Willa Hope (3) and Miles Grove (nearly 1). She spends her days pushing swings, doing art projects, and going on adventures with her littles. Outside of being a mama, Ally is also a preschool teacher, and continues to be involved with advocating for accessible, enriching early education for all.  

Photo credits: Chelsea Hudson

Day 17: "My Best Friend."

"There would be other close friends in Jesus’ life, but I doubt any of them could ever take the place of his one-of-a-kind cousin and friend John."

—From Ch. 17 ("His Cousin, Of Course"), Jesus Journey

For a season in the life of our family, we found ourselves living with my in-laws (who also happen to be Trent’s parents, Glenn and Jackie Sheppard) on their small farm a few miles east of Kansas City, Missouri.

It was during that time that our middle child, Hudson, found his inner farmer. Hudson was four years old then and he became a sort of animal whisperer for all the various forms of animal life on the farm. Remarkably, in fairly short order, our little Doctor Doolittle had begun to tame the clutter of feral cats, which my in-laws kept to keep the mice population down.

One cute little gray, tiger-striped kitten became a source of reciprocal affection for Hudson. When we asked if the cat had a name, he responded matter-of-factly: “Yes, that’s My Best Friend."

After the smiles and chuckles, we asked again, “Yes, buddy. But what’s his name?”

“I told you Daddy”, Hudson said, “that’s My Best Friend.”

It was a friendship of deepest accord. They seemed to just get each other—Hudson and My Best Friend. When they were together, they were inseparable and seemed to share something beyond a natural connection between a boy and his pet.

Needless to say, over time, we lost many of the nomadic felines, and eventually the day came when My Best Friend came to an untimely end. We were heartbroken. Something rare and precious had been lost. And our beautiful little Hudson was introduced all too soon to the reality of death and the grave.

There were more than a few “But why daddy’s?” and plaintive: “but he was My Best Friend"... as if somehow this explanation could persuade the unseen forces which had taken his companion to return him.

Heartbroken. And we humans were never designed to deal with it.

How much more pronounced it must have been for Yeshua when his beloved cousin, his best friend, John, died. Can you imagine the deep vexation, the deflation over the end of their camaraderie? John was most likely one of the the only people in the world that truly understood at least some of the depth of Jesus' identity...

And so, when John dies, here again in Jesus Journey, we see a snapshot of Jesus in full-blown emotional conflict over the clash of the two incompatible worlds: this Matrix-like existence we’ve come to know as “reality” and the mysterious other-world His beloved cousin has introduced as “The Kingdom of Heaven."

In just a short time afterwards, doesn’t Jesus raise Lazarus from the dead in Bethany? Hadn’t he already raised Jarius’s daughter? Couldn’t they just collect John’s corpse and He do likewise?

But he doesn’t. In fact, He doesn’t often do the things we would do with that kind of supernatural power. Clearly, there is something else going on here.

For me, the observations that Trent facilitates in Jesus Journey reaffirm the profound truth that Jesus was in all ways human indeed. He ate and drank and performed all the bodily functions to which we are accustomed, got annoyed, cracked jokes, cried, got tired and required sleep, bled when cut, and hurt—just like me. And you.

But He didn’t “cheat” by slipping into God-mode when things got hard. And this Man, the tekton from Nazareth did something that He has now enabled us to do as well: to live with a perspective that transcends that which our limited sensory faculties report to us; to live on a different plane; to see what the human eye cannot see, even when it pains us and is counter-intuitive to do so.

Somewhat amazingly to those of us with the benefit of retrospect, Jesus allows John’s remains to decay—just as He did His dad’s, leaving him alone with a handful of disciples/knuckleheads on whom the entire universal revolution will depend.

But in doing so, he opens wide the door to a new set of best friends: us.

Of course.

Today's guest post is by my bro-in-love/law, Mark Harris (aka "Markravius" in the acknowledgments): Mark and Krista Harris are former long-time Youth With a Mission volunteers, having gone conspiratorially rogue to develop Lifetree International LLC, an entrepreneurial network intended to equip and fund families and ministries through business opportunity, personal leadership development, and practical tools and training.

Photo credits: "pondering"—Stephanie Pekrul / "panels" & "plant"—Chelsea Hudson

Day 16: "All about family."

"This is the all-out wonder of what Jesus does for you and me. He makes a place for us in the family of God..."

—From Ch. 16 ("Intervention"), Jesus Journey

Each day of Jesus Journey feels like it is building on the last. Like watching an artist drawing a portrait, the humanity of Jesus and who he is becomes clearer and sharper with each day that passes...

Today's reading is all about family, and Jesus' interaction with his own family:

"Family is one of God's greatest gifts, which is why it can wound us so deeply. For better or for worse, family has the incredible capacity to hurt, to heal, to affirm, to abuse, to forgive, to inflict, to restore, to expose, to confuse, to clarify, to comfort, to frustrate, to lose, to love—and sometimes all in one day.

Jesus understands that. He really does. Because Jesus has family too. And it's complicated." (pg. 107)

My family is complex too. And figuring out my place in both my own family, and in the wider family of God has taken a long time.

I'm a New Zealander, who spent many of my growing-up years overseas. I'd traveled the amount of most people's "gap-year'" before I turned eleven.

My parent's divorced when I was five, and I've almost always lived a long ways away from my Dad. (In that sense, I can identify with Jesus who may well have been brought up by a single Mum for at least some of his life—check out chapter four, "Jesus and Joseph", for more on that point). Because my parents were divorced, I assumed the man-of-the-house role from as far back as I can remember, and I had a huge fear of failure.

It was only as I spent time with people who had spent time with Jesus—people who had found their place in his family—that I started to realise my identity was not centered in all of those things (though they have all shaped who I am), but that first and foremost I am God's son.

In affirming my identity as God's son, Jesus took situations and fears that the enemy meant for evil, and turned them for good.

Keeping in mind the complexity of Jesus' family helps us know that what was true for him, is true for me and for you: "our genetics—'good' or 'bad' do not ultimately determine us." Instead, as Jesus proclaimed,  "Anyone who does God's will is my brother! And my sister! And my mother!" (Mark 3:35)

My very real prayer for you as you read this, is the prayer that Trent asks us to pray at the end of this chapter: "That you will know how much God loves you, and that regardless of your family background, challenges, and genetics, your true identify will be founded in Jesus."

Because: "He makes a place for us in the family of God."

Today's guest post is by Quintin Lake: Quintin and his wife Angela work with companies to address the challenges of modern slavery in global supply chains. They are the founders of Fifty Eight, and live with their three girls in the North West of England—where it is sunnier than most people would have you believe.

Photo credits: Chelsea Hudson