What Food Is For

Soul. Body. Soul


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Learning to Feed Yourself With Christ, (With Help From a New Friend)

The last piece I posted was lightly edited one I wrote two years ago. Rereading it sent me on a bit of a meditative journey of gratitude to God, as I looked back on all He’s done in me through blogging, even as I get ready to take a month long sabbatical from it, and all things social media, to pursue some study in a very different direction.

A few years ago, God woke my soul from a season of slumber by transforming the way I approached Bible study. For most of my life, I had viewed the Bible primarily as a book to be studied and comprehended. But when I came to see God’s Word as literal food for my soul, my spiritual life was revitalized. That is, after all, what food does.

Food gives us life.

I started this blog as a way to think more deeply about how the way God created our need for physical food speaks to the greater reality of our need for spiritual food in the person of Jesus Christ. So deep did my study take me that I started take classes in microbiology, chemistry, and anatomy and physiology, in pursuit of a master’s degree in nutritional science. I wanted to understand the metaphor of food at the literal molecular level.

The deeper I went, the greater the insights God opened up, and I hoped to put all that I was learning into a book. Life and finances eventually intervened, so that I had to put my formal studies on hold and go back to work. Then, new friendships and conversations drew my thinking in lots of other directions, so that I didn’t invest as much time here as I’d planned. But I’ve never, ever lost my conviction that the way we were created to feed ourselves, and feed one another, declares some of the most vital and literally life-giving truths of the gospel, to ourselves, and to those who don’t yet know the Lord. Those convictions shape the way I read my Bible, or go to church, even today – on days when I want to, and especially on days when I don’t.

That’s why I’d like to introduce you to my new friend, Rondi.

Rondi Lauterbach and I met online last year as P&R was preparing to launch her first book. We all know you’re not supposed to judge a book by its cover, let alone the lady who wrote it. But when a book looks like this, can you blame me for being almost sure I would love it, and her?

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“Almost sure” turned into “absolutely” once I started reading, and you can read my full review here.   Spoiler alert – it’s one of the best resources I’ve yet read for helping new believers, or even not-yet believers, study the Bible in such a way that they will see and experience Jesus each time they read.

What I particularly appreciate about Rondi’s book is that it’s not the result of a couple of years’ striving on social media, building an Internet platform and a personal brand. It’s the culmination of literal decades of teaching women in the churches her husband has served as pastor. Her ministry is about helping people feed on Jesus, by seeing Jesus in His Word, way more than it’s about Twitter followers and blog traffic. Want proof? On the main page of her blog, if you click on Hear, you won’t find links to podcasts she’s created or radio programs she’s been interviewed on; you’ll read about hearing the good news of the gospel. If you click on See, you won’t get a list of her upcoming appearances at the biggest womens’ conferences; you’ll read about seeing Jesus.

Rondi isn’t overly gifted at exploiting the Internet so that people discover her; she’s tremendously gifted at teaching the Bible so that you’ll discover Jesus.

As I’m getting ready to take my Internet sabbatical to focus on some topics beyond food that have been gripping my heart and mind of late, I invite you to follow Rondi’s blog as she begins a weekly series of blogposts walking readers through her book. I hope you’ll be blessed as she teaches you, from  God’s Word, how all of our deepest hungers find their ultimate satisfaction in Jesus.

You’ll be very well fed.

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Eden and The Upper Room

When I was a microbiology student, I spent a lot of time looking at teeny tiny things through the lens of a big, clunky microscope. One of actions we had to take to bring those teeny things into view involved narrowing the field of vision – reducing the area of focus to increase your chances of seeing little microbiological somethingorothers. Sometimes, I was looking for single-celled organisms of mathematical beauty called diatoms. But most of the time, I was was  looking at the kinds of creatures that wreak havoc with our digestive systems when we, well, ingest something previous egested , or when we, ahem,  experience the consequences of an illicit bodily interaction someone.  (My search histories for homework that semester required a lot of explaining.) In class, I spent a lot of time twiddling dials and turning knobs to focus on a tiny field of view. On the way from the lab to my car, I would spend a long time squinting and blinking to remind my not-as-good-as-they-once-were eyes what my normal field of vision was supposed to be.

Whatever field of vision Adam and Eve had in those first days in Eden, we can surmise from the description God gives that it was beautiful. And delicious. With all that modern agriculture has done to bring back so-called “artisanal” fruits and vegetables to our diets, can you imagine how fruits and vegetables grown directly by the hand of God must have tasted? And with the cost that modern farmers incur to bring these varieties to market (and then pass on to consumers, so that a pound of heirloom tomatoes can set you back $10), doesn’t the language of generosity that God employs to invite Adam and Eve to eat what He’s grown seem rich?

This lavishness is what makes Satan’s enticement of Eve all the more insidious, and her acquiescence more tragic. In a single, short conversation, Satan reorients Eve’s field of vision away from all to which God has given His generous “Yes”, and fixed it on the one thing to which He has said “No”. In a rapidly spiraling series of half truths, distortions and lies, Eve infuses the one thing she is denied with a universe of meaning. Her vision is now fatally fixed. She sees fulfillment in finite creation, instead of its infinite, divine Source. With Adam silent at her side, Eve takes Satan at his word, and for the first time, her eating brings death, instead of life.

Any of us who have ever fought an addiction, or just inordinate attachment to food or other creaturely pleasure,  can easily recognize Eve’s battle in our own. Satan draws our eyes away from the incomparable riches of His grace, and onto what we don’t have, but suddenly crave with all of our being. Our marriage is crumbling, our kids are rebelling, our career is imploding, our ministry is dying, and suddenly a fridge, or a bottle, or a website, or a chat room, or a risky deal, is all we can see. It offers all that we think we lack.

We look away from God and toward what He’s made, we eat, and we die.

When I think of how often we rehearse Adam and Eve’s deathly ritual of disordered disordered eating in our daily life, I can’t help but marvel at how Jesus replaces it with one of life in His supper. In the giving of bread and wine, to His disciples in the upper room, and to His people whenever we meet together, Jesus does for His bride what Adam neglected to do for his. Jesus reminds us, with the bread and wine, and with His words, where true joy and fulfillment, and life, is to be found. In Communion, Jesus undoes the fatal distortions of Eden and refocuses our spiritual field of vision of food as a picture of our true life in Him, instead of death in our sin.

In Eden, Adam and Eve made food about themselves.

In His Supper, Jesus reminds us that food is about Him.


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Jesus is Better Bread

Is bread a blessing, or the bane of the modern American diet? Creators of low-carbohydrate eating plans like the Whole30 argue that breads and their high carb-cousins (pasta, rice and especially sugar) are the biggest culinary culprits of obesity, diabetes, and other chronic health conditions. But a recent article in Smithsonian magazine reports new research that suggests we were literally made to crave carbohydrates. For followers of Jesus, that finding shouldn’t raise any eyebrows. After all, Jesus identifies His very life with bread. We remember that truth each time we take communion, that He is the Bread of Life, broken for us. If bread is really all that bad, why didn’t Jesus pick something more healthy to represent Himself-like kale?

Those are some of the questions I asked myself recently as I began researching different eating plans in the wake of my husband’s disappointing medical checkup. The numbers my husband notes to track his Type2 diabetes had been moving steadily in the wrong direction. So had the numbers on my bathroom scale. It would be easy to write this all off as sweetly symbolic of our one flesh state – a slow, collective surrender to middle age. But it wouldn’t have been accurate.

The first six months of 2016 had been a season of significant trial for my husband and me. Job instability, sudden family health crises, other longterm trials, plus the everyday emotional exhaustion that comes from parenting a house of preteen women, had sapped the reservoirs of our circumstantial joy bone dry. Eating out (or ordering in) after a stressful day at work, or late night snacking in peace and quiet after the kids were finally (finally) in bed, had become my coping mechanism for stress and anxiety. In a toxic tradition going all the way back to Eve, I was infusing food, and wine, with a level of meaning and fulfillment they were never created to give, and enticing my husband to do the same. We were bearing in our bodies the due penalty of our errors, and our collective health (both spiritual and physical) was suffering. To paraphrase John Owen – we needed to kill our nutritional sins, or they would, eventually, be killing us.

Of all the eating plans I’d researched, the Whole30 was the one that seemed to hit all of our nutritional and behavioral issues the hardest. People following the Whole30 abstain from all food and beverages containing any ingredients associated currently associated with overeating and poor health. All foods containing added sugars (both real and artificial), bread, rice and other grains, dairy, soy, legumes, and all types of alcohol, are forbidden. “Frankenfoods” made to recreate the taste and texture of forbidden foods (e.g. muffins made from almond flour, coconut milk ice cream, nutrition bars, etc.) are also out. What is permitted are so-called “whole” foods – proteins, animal and vegetable fats, fruits, and all the vegetables you’d like. This method of eating is designed to help two, often overlapping, groups of people. The first category is people struggling with chronic inflammatory or digestive problems, seeing to understand which foods might be exacerbating their condition. The second is people like me who have been drawn into a cycle of unhealthy eating to mitigate negative emotions, or amplify positive ones.

The Whole30’s instructions are written in the love language of the Pharisees, with lengthy lists of restrictions and permissions, and a lot of ““suck it up and have some self-control it’s just a month you weakling” hyperbole. For people trying to isolate food sensitivities, this counsel is scientifically sound; the presence of even the smallest morsel of an irritant can trigger problematic symptoms for hours or days. For those whose battles are more about self-control, trading the popular sentiment of “everything in moderation” for “not even a hint” keeps people from the small slips that lead to larger ones, and the eventual return to the same bad habits.

On a purely scientific level, the Whole30 read like a healthful and helpful way to eat. But how to reconcile such a seemingly anti-bread approach to eating with pro-bread Jesus? Another report published several months ago in the Wall Street Journal offered an intriguing answer.

In an article titled “Can you Carbo-Load Your Way to Good Health”, Elizabeth Dunn describes how artisan bakers are eschewing the commercial grade flours that are mechanically milled to make bread that rises faster and lasts longer on store shelves. Instead they use flour made from freshly milled, locally sourced wheats and grains. Breads and other baked goods made this way differ in taste in the same way that coffee made from freshly ground beans differs in taste from the pale, shadow-of-death beverage that is freeze-dried instant crystals.

The difference in nutritional quality is even more significant. Bread made from commoditized flour, even bread labeled as 100% Whole Wheat or enriched, is devoid of the vitamins and minerals contained in the components stripped from wheat during processing. But bread made from flour that has been freshly milled, permitted to rise for several days, contains more fiber, more vitamins, and less gluten (a protein that has a disease rap sheet all its own). In the article, a baker named Adam Leonti reports that he lost 15 pounds by eating bread baked this way. “You have all these enzymes that are alive and volatile…those are the things your body is searching for to make digestion happen, to make nutrition happen.” Leonti’s testimony is anecdotal, and Dunn notes that full nutritional data on milled wheat is minimal. But reports like this suggest that the average American’s problem is not that eating bread is so bad; it’s the bad bread that we’re eating.

We need bread that’s better.

Considering this possibility sent my mind to Jesus’ words to his disciples in John 6, after the crowds He’d miraculously fed were determined to turn Him into their permanent meal ticket. The root cause of their sin, and mine, was the same – a determination to find life and sustenance from the gifts God gives, instead of the gift who is God in Jesus Christ. We are all sick and weak from our striving after the wrong kind of bread. Only when we orient our appetites and desires around the One who feeds our souls will we be truly satisfied, and whole.

Whether intentionally or not, the Whole30 plan patently acknowledges this by way of one remarkable exception buried deep in the legalistic list of “thou shalt nots”. While bread and wine are entirely verboten on the Whole30, for both elimination and emotional reasons, both of them are permitted in the context of weekly communion. “God > Whole30” the diet plan’s founders state unequivocally. “We would never ask you to compromise your faith for our rules.”

With that concession, the Whole30 way of eating seemed to offer a way for m to literally honor God with my body – to confess with my mouth that Jesus was Lord of it and all my hungers, and that He was my only true source of joy and comfort. For my husband, the benefits would be much more straightforward- a likely reduction in his glucose levels so he could avoid escalating medication methods and longterm circulation damage.

Over the weekend of August 14, I cleansed the kitchen cupboards of sources of hidden sugars with the zeal of a Jewish housewife ridding her house of yeast before Passover. My daughter lent a compassionate hand, cleaning and dividing the fridge into the requisite “Whole30 Clean/Unclean” sections. On Monday the 15th, with memories of the previous night’s last commemorative chocolate chip cookie fresh in my mind, our Whole 30 journey began.

Like any new convert, the first few days were filled with zeal and “hey, this isn’t too bad!” moments of (mostly) unforced enthusiasm. But the days dragged like weeks, and hours dragged like days. Temptations and mental triggers abounded – a stressful day transporting emotionally overwrought daughters to school and from sports, my husband’s discouragement over slow progress at his new job, brownies discovered at the bottom of the freezer, joking internet memes about when it would finally be “wine thirty”. In the past, self-justifying “All things are lawful for me” thoughts would begin the slow fade to black of my resolve. But this time – “But I will not be mastered by anything. Jesus is better” thoughts replaced them.

Because I had started the program on a Monday, Sunday signalled the end of each full week. Never was I so glad that our church celebrated communion every week. With my head full of the week’s trials and Holy Spirit-empowered victories over a thousand moments of temptation, the walk to the table holding the better bread and wine of communion was a true victory march. Jesus had been better every time. He was better. And He would be better in the week to come.

And He was. Today marked the last day of the plan.

For 30 days, my husband and I exchanged lesser foods for greater food, and our bodies and soul were both strengthened by it. The physical changes we experienced were significant, although I’m reluctant to reduce the outcome of my commitment to just lower numbers on a scale or a glucometer. Far be it from me that I tempt anyone to see Jesus or His Word as a means to bodily salvation, just like the Jews of His day did.

But if you have been wrestling with deep hungers in your soul, and you find yourself trying to fill it with things you know will never satisfy, a radical setting aside of those things for a season, and replacing them with the fullness of Christ, will feed your soul in a way those lesser things never will.


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Real Food and True Womanhood 201

When my children were babies, I determined that nary a French fry nor a nugget would ever taint their tender stomachs. But as they grew into high-maintenance toddlers and preschoolers, some days would wear me down and I’d pull into a drive through to buy ten dollars worth of kiddy joy and mom relief like any other sentient woman. The shiny packaging and suboptimal contents would be greeted with songs of exultation, even as I died inside with guilt over my nutritional hypocrisy.

As the years passed, my commitment to pushing back against the constant pressure of BigBurger didn’t change, but my strategy did. Partnering with my meat and potatoes loving husband, we christened two Fridays a month “Make Your Own Burger” night. We invested in some essential tools – a sturdy Weber grill, a high end deep fat fryer, and a French fry cutter. We stocked up on high quality ingredients and fixings – grass fed beef, brioche buns, even truffle salt for the French fries. After nearly a decade bi-monthly messes and grease of elbows and other sources, my kids are almost totally deaf and blind to the siren symbols of the Golden Arches, red arrows, and all the rest. They know the difference between the taste and the composition of homemade food vs. mass produced, and know why they like homemade better

I got a taste of how that same kind of difference applies to women’s Bible studies when I spent two and a half days at a Simeon Trust workshop on Biblical exposition last year. The Simeon Trust has been teaching the principles of expositional preaching and teaching to both pastors and laypeople in ministry for well over ten years. In their workshops for women, they walk women tasked with leading Bible study and other ministry to women in their churches through basic principles of biblical exposition, help them hone their own skills so that they can grow beyond being fed what others have prepared, to studying and preparing texts to serve to others on their own.

Over the course of two and a half days, we worked our way through the entire book of Titus, learning fundamental expositional disciplines such as:

  • Staying on the line of the text, neither straying above or below it
  • Letting the Bible shape our framework, instead of the other way around
  • Apprehending a text’s structure to uncover its emphasis
  • Looking for the melodic line of the book to inform each passage in it
  • Travelling through the Cross (looking for natural connections between the text and the gospel)

We put these disciplines to work as we presented expositions of small portions of the book of Titus to one another during our small group time. We also sat together as a large group as the different Simeon Trust leaders lead us through longer expositions of selected passages.

Because God is sovereign and, obviously, has a sense of humor, one of the passages I was assigned to deliver was Titus 2:1-11. In the past, overexposure to cheesy, eisegeted-to-death approaches to this section have lead me to give it a rather wide berth in my personal study. Forced now to grapple with it in earnest, my discomfiture gave way to actual delight as I worked this passage through the grid of the expositional principles we’d been taught. Read in its historical and literary context, with the melodic line of “Not like this, but like this, because God our Savior has done this” running through it, Paul’s exhortations read as representative examples of gospel-grounded-transformation as an active defense against cultural capitulation. Washed, renewed, justified and made heirs of grace, not by our own works, but by God’s mercy, all of us are both called and equipped to live within our particular contexts in a way that displays to the world what’s been done for us. Our temporal circumstances may be similar to, or different from, those of ancient Crete. But the same God who was Savior of the Christians of Titus’ day has saved us as well, and it is that salvation which should shape our actions and attitudes, not the particular culture in which we each live.

On the drive home from the workshop, I pondered the insights I’d gained, not just regarding principles of expositional teaching, but also how those principles unlocked the significance of the book of Titus to my own life in a way that had previously eluded me. Why had so many previous studies left me more frustrated than filled with faith? A package waiting for me at my desk when I got home offered at least one possible answer.

Prior to attending the workshop, I had been kindly invited to participate in a study of Titus 2 using the latest study from True Woman ministries. Titled “True Woman 201: Interior Design: Ten Elements of Biblical Womanhood”, the study takes the same Titus 2 passage I was assigned at the Simeon Trust, and expands it into a ten week study. Replete with colorful decorations, illustrations and stories, it’s an attractive book to leaf through. But a deeper read revealed how consistently it differed from, and even contradicted, the Simeon Trust Bible study approach.

Where the Simeon Trust taught me to begin with, and never veer long from, reading and rereading and rereading a passage (and the ones that surround it), True Womanhood 201 literally pushed the passage to the margins of the study, so that the numerous invitations to “read the verses in the margins” really grated. The bulk of the study was comprised of stories (some extra-biblical riffs on Bible characters), personal anecdotes, and commentary from the authors. Some written exercises invited helpful personal meditation. But many others were remarkably simplistic, involving checklists, true/false questions and even crossword puzzles. When I offered the book to my 12 and 14-year-old daughters to look at, they both asked “why a book about womanhood had so much stuff for girls in it.” I couldn’t easily answer them.

Questions frequently veered off the line of the text, for example, leapfrogging Paul’s admonition to wives to love their husbands into an awkward exercise about how single women could be husband-lovers by not leading their friend’s husbands into temptation. With supporting verses plucked from all over the Bible, the melodic line of Titus was muted, the context was muddled, and the Cross was far from the study’s center (although by no means absent). The center was, instead, the framework of biblical womanhood, so that the text was set up as a model for all women in all places and times, rather than as a model for how the Christian women of Crete should live out the gospel in the midst of the culture they were in. This framework was what shaped the reading of each passage, the structure, and the content of the entire study.

Even more concerning in light of the recent Trinity debates, week 8 of the study, problematically titled “Disposition”, repeats the same concerning arguments about submission found in True Woman 101 (reviewed here by Rachel Miller). Instead of treating submission as a functional and situational component of a specific relational context (i.e. marriage), the authors argue that submission is ontologically inherent to womanhood in general. Grounding their argument in the relationship between God the Father and God the Son, the authors state, “….women are uniquely created to shine the spotlight on the ‘submissive to God’ part of the Jesus story.” Consequently, as with the preceding study, True Woman 201 is beautifully wrapped, but contains less than optimal ingredients.

A natural response to such a book would possibly be to simply put it down and keep looking for other ones. Indeed, at a closing Q and A session at the Simeon Trust, one participant asked about wisdom strategies for choosing Bible study materials, whether for individuals or for groups. One of the leader’s answers was obvious and yet unexpected.

“Why not make your own?”

And that’s what I’ve started to do, for my girls’ sake as well as my own.

With my daughters now well past preschool age (praise be to God), I ‘ve struggled to find Bible study resources for them that are age appropriate (but not cheesy) and theologically rich (but not dull as dirt). When I say struggled, I really mean “totally failed”. So this week, as my dear girls made their way back to school with varying degrees of joy, I pulled out the notes and study questions from my time at the Simeon Trust, and started the beginnings of a 3 week study on Titus for high school aged girls. I’m sure it will be difficult, and messy, but I’m confident the effort will be as beneficial spiritually as much as my previous efforts were nutritionally.

In the meantime, all this food talk has made me hungry. I think I’ll go read the book of Titus.


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On Nursing Babies and the Nature of God

Of all the memorable moments at TGCW16, probably few will stick in our minds quite as certainly as much as Jen Wilkin’s extended riff on 1 Peter 2:2 about newborn babies and their craving for milk.

Part of the reason is the probability that any of us have ever heard our pastor describe himself as a “lactation consultant” is probably close to zero.   But hopefully another part of the reason it stuck with us long after we closed in prayer and made our way home was because it’s true. And it’s the kind of true statement that has a whole lot more underneath it that’s also true (and good, and beautiful), but until Jen said it, perhaps not too many of us had ever stopped to think about it before.

I started this blog several years ago because I was increasingly gripped by the way God uses food and our dependence on it to depict our spiritual dependence on Him, and I wanted to understand how deep the metaphor might go. Four years of graduate classes in anatomy, physiology, microbiology and chemistry later, I’d only scratched the surface. The more you study the human body, the more you will be awestruck by the way every system, every organ, every cell, illustrates and amplifies God’s words about Himself, and His work in His world.

Which brings me to breastfeeding, and breasts, and what it means to be a woman made in the image of God, versus a man.

Over at my newer blog, I’ve been writing about the influence the rediscovery of imago dei has had on my understanding of what godly living as a woman looks like. My central argument is taken largely from Hannah Anderson’s book, Made For More, in which she lays out the case for how our understanding of womanhood needs to be grounded in our understanding of our being made in God’s image and being in Christ through repentance and faith in the gospel

A reader took my argument to its logical next step by asking how I would distinguish living out God’s image as a woman, contra living it out as a man. It’s a natural question, and not as easy to answer as some quarters of the Internet rabidly insist. But it seems that one place to at least begin the answer is with our bodies and what makes them unique, and what that uniqueness communicates about the character of God.

Which means we really do need to think about the meaning of breasts.

((Cue a bunch of you clicking away in horror))

And maybe even their connection to the Trinity.

((Aaand there go most of the rest of you.))

Maybe you don’t think about these things because you don’t have a house full of emerging women who are asking those kinds of questions in their adorably adolescent way. I do, so it’s part of my job to not just think about those questions, but give my girls answers from God’s Word that are as close to truth as I can find it.

One of the many questions that my girls have asked in relation to this topic is what it means to live like Jesus,who can sympathize with our weaknesses and yet was without sin when (news flash) Jesus was never a woman. Jesus didn’t have breasts, or ovaries, or a uterus. He never struggled with PMS, or any MS at all. He never suffered the humiliation of bra shopping with his mom, he never had to endure the eye-rolling conversations about modesty at youth group, and he never had to deal with creepy boys (or creepier grown men) making nasty comments about their bodies.

These are all true statements, worthy of full acceptance. But they’re not the only statements that are true. Because (second news flash) Jesus was not just a man. He was, and is, the God Man, very God of very God, begotten and not created. He was with God in the beginning when He made women, breasts and all, to display His image.

So breasts are about God. Breastfeeding is about God.

Peter understood that. So did Paul. So did the writer of Hebrews. Jesus certainly did . He reminded everyone that they shouldn’t miss His point about why He invented them.

When a woman raises her baby to her breast and gives that baby what he is begging the universe for, she is reminding that child, and herself, of  those words of Jesus, and many more. She is declaring with her body that she has come that that child may have life, and have it abundantly.

She is saying things about the nature and work of God, in her body, with her body, in a way that a man can never, ever do.

If I spend too much time trying to get my girls all excited about the glories of womanhood in a cultural vacuum, they’re not going to buy it. If my daughters think that the specifics of gender is primarily about which bathroom everyone is supposed to use, they’re going to be frustrated. But if my daughters come to understand that the glory of womanhood is directly connected to uniquely displaying the glory of the triune God, (a glory that is wrapped up in mystery and thus too great to be overly bound by excessive and culturally-derived proscriptions),

then maybe they won’t laugh so hard when someone at a conference alludes to its implications.

Maybe they’ll stop and wonder at it.

Maybe all of us should.

(For more thoughts I’ve written on what womens’ bodies are for, go here.)


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Getting Ready For a Five Star Feast

Being a dedicated foodie, I keep a running list of aspirational restaurants I’d love to experience, should a business trip or a sudden shower of financial blessing permit. Having been blessed to actually realize those aspirations a few times, I’ve managed to compile a kind of “best practices” list that help me appreciate and remember the experience. Some of those are:

  • Dialing up my workouts and dialing down my eating to account for the major caloric investment I’m going to make
  • Browsing the restaurant’s website to review the menu and get a sense of the ambience (and what I should wear so I don’t stick out too much amongst the hordes of the cool and the beautiful)
  • When the day finally arrives and I’m seated at our table, taking a minute to soak in the atmosphere and compare it to what I imagined and read
  • As each course is served, pausing to appreciate it with my eyes, before I begin to eat
  • After I’ve come home, writing an online review to tell others what I enjoyed, or (as does occasionally happen) what surprisingly fell short

These habits help me make the most of these special experiences and inform everything from how I might try and replicate a dish I enjoyed, to whether it really was a once in a lifetime experience, or if it would be worth selling a body part or two to return.

With TGCW16 now only hours away, it’s been a lot of fun to scroll through my social media feed and see how many women are coming for the first time. I have vivid memories of registering for the inaugural one, and arriving in Orlando all by myself, not really sure what to expect. I know the phrase “life-changing” can be a bit overused, but I won’t use it some other time, because in this case that’s the only phrase that fits. The teaching, the fellowship with like-minded women, the bookstore – all of it was a feast for my soul, and as soon as it was over I was already anticipating when I might be able to come back.

In God’s grace, I was able to return for TGC14, and now I’m coming back yet again for this year’s conference. Just like with my restaurant experience, I have a list of “best practices” I’m mentally reviewing, to help me be the best possible Matthew 25 steward of the money and time I’m investing to be here (not to mention my dear family). I thought I’d share them with some of you first-timers in case they’re helpful, and also to hold myself accountable to them!

(My list is fairly high level, but Jenilyn Swett has some great tactical ones as well.)

Redeem Your Travel Time
Whether you’re on an epic cross-country road trip with your church besties, or enjoying the glamor of twenty-first century air travel courtesy of the TSA and 14-inch wide economy class seats, invest some of that kid-free travel time to read through 1 Peter. As you read, feel free to marvel at how Peter’s words to Christians scattered across Asia Minor read like they were written just this week to us in America. The theme for this conference was chosen nearly two years ago, and there’s no doubt in my mind that this was part of God’s sovereign timing.

As an aside, and because one of the leading themes of 1 Peter is submission in the midst of trial, you might have been following along with some of the online back and forthing over the topic of submission as it relates to the Trinity. It’s been some heavy stuff, but it has immediate relevance to us as women. So, for more travel time reading, here are a few links you can follow to learn more, to whet your appetite for the teaching time, or the bookstore:

Eternal Submission in the Trinity – A Quick Guide to the Debate (Andrew Wilson)

Eighteen Theses on the Father and the Son (Fred Sanders)

The Eternal Subordination of the Son (and Women) (Hannah Anderson and Wendy Alsup)

On Imago Dei and Ways Forward Down a Winding Road (Me 🙂 )

Pray
Whether you’re on the road, in the air, or already in your hotel room, pray for God to speak to us through His Word and by His Spirit through one another. Specifically pray for:

  • The speakers in the main sessions and breakouts – for strength, clarity, boldness and faithfulness to the text
  • Us as hearers – that we would receive what God has for each of us to hear, that we would be strengthened for the seasons that lay ahead; that God would grant those of us who are now in seasons of great trial with special grace and strength, and that if there any with us who do not yet know Christ, that this would be the week where He makes Himself known to them.
  • All of the conference workers and logistics – thanks for their faithful service, and grace for the monumental task of administration it takes to serve multiple thousands of women in one space at one time for four days
  • The city and workers of Indianapolis – that they would know we are Christians by our love for one another, and for them, in thought, word and deed

Budget your Bookstore Time
Oh, the bookstore. It’s an experience worth the price of admission just to stand and survey it in al its vast splendor. How to best avail yourself of a resource of such wondrous yet temporal beauty? Try and visit as soon as possible, but with a firm commitment to buy nothing on this first go through. Just go to get the lay of the land and make mental notes, (or take iPhone pictures) of books you may want to buy. Then go back as you’re able, and choose the books which have kept coming to mind as a result of the different sessions you attend.

Strategize the Sleep Deprivation
“You can sleep when you get home” is a common phrase at TGC Womens’ conference. With several days almost certainly free of kid drama and general family responsibilities, why would you want to squander so many hours of talk time on sleep?! Still, many of you with littles have probably been deep into the 1:1 rule just to get here (the rule that says that for every one day you’re away from your family you need to invest one day in meal prepping and schedule mapping and so forth). So, if you’re like me, you’re arriving in Indiana already a little short on shut eye. Bear that in mind and try and pace yourself with the late night/early morning fellowshipping. Even if your soul is absolutely on fire when you get back, if your body is exhausted, “reentry” into every day life will be a challenge.

Be the Body to the Body
One of the most glorious parts of a conference like this is being surrounded by sisters in Christ from every walk of life. (Yes, introverts, it’s so glorious you’ll love it too.) From the worship in the main hall, to the breakout areas, to the bookstore, you will be amongst women of every age and stage, ethnicity and nationality. You will be able to strike up a conversation with practically anyone and find yourself talking about Jesus and the gospel and eachother and it will be awesome.

But that’s only if you do it. So you should. If you’re with a group, try and make time for moments to talk to women you don’t know. And if you’re one of the bravest of women and you’re here by yourself, that goes double for you. The woman you decide to talk to on shuttle on the way to your hotel could become a lifelong friend. (Hi Cheryl. Can’t wait to catch up with you!)

N.B. There is one very tactical way you might go about this. (Delicate gentleman readers who are lurking – feel free to scroll down.) You are going to be amongst many thousands of women in one place at one time. Pause to ponder the concentration of estrogen that will be hovering over the atmosphere of the Convention Center. Think back to your college dorm days and what was common knowledge about this phenomenon, or just take it from me, a mother of three adolescent girls. It’s not a myth. So pack extra supplies so you can be a very specific minister of bodily grace to another sister in her time of need. She’ll bless your name forever.

Manage the Magnetism of Social Media
In Reclaiming Conversation, Sherry Turkle describes how social media feeds and even digital note taking actually interfere with learning, instead of enhancing it. I definitely appreciate following Twitter feeds when I’m not able to be at a conference in person. But for this conference, I leave my laptop in my room, and I stow my phone (okay, after I take a couple of pictures with the friend I see that I haven’t seen since last year). Try it.

Start Preparing for Reentry Now
Another common experience of attending a conference like this is travelling home full to overflowing with the joy of the Lord and renewed zeal and energy – only to return home and, whether in hours or days, be suddenly overwhelmed by a trial – a sick child, a terrible argument with a family member. Especially this year, because of theme, start praying now over the possibility that part of God’s plan for your presence here, is actually to prepare you for that, to actually put 1 Peter 1 into action.

On the positive side, if you haven’t already mentioned to other women at your church that you’re here, do it when you get back, and make some time to talk through what you’ve learned. I’m actually doing this with my daughters – I’m having them read through 1 Peter each day while I’m gone, and Monday morning after Dad has gone to work, we’re going to make brunch in our PJs so we can talk together about what we learned. You can do this with with your husband, or your roommates, or your Starbucks barista on Monday morning. But what happens in Indianapolis shouldn’t stay in Indianapolis. Because what’s happening this week in Indianapolis is about what is happening now, or might happen soon – in your family, in your city, and certainly in the world. And after this week, you’ll be ready.

I’m looking forward to being with everyone!