What Food Is For

Soul. Body. Soul


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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!

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Blind Tasting Truth and Spiritual Sommeliers

Late last year, Kevin DeYoung continued his cheerful one-pastor crusade against foodie-ism by linking to a video of a couple of Dutch pranksters crashing a European food industry event with a tray of samples from that bastion of epicurean excellence, McDonalds. The premise was straightforward – when presented in the right way, garnished with the right verbiage, even an experienced foodie can’t tell the difference between nutritious, well-crafted cuisine, and food from the original purveyor of cheap and fast over good. Sure enough, the films depicts people murmuring words of affirmation as the unwittingly chow down on McNugget and muffin morsels. Digitally sliced and diced with more precision than Thomas Keller’s mise en place, the video is a cute conceit, but the central argument still holds true. As I’ve noted before, our food preferences are shaped by all kinds of influences. And not all of those influences serve us well.

Professionals in the wine business understand this challenge particularly well. An aspiring sommelier’s (a fancy French word for wine steward) entire education is focused on learning how to make objective assessments of wine while under the pressure of subjective influence from the information on a label. For weeks, students learn to recognize all the sensory attributes – flavor profile, color, and aroma, even texture – that identify a wine’s essential characteristics through repetitive rounds of observation and tasting (and then spitting, for the benefits of my Baptist readers). Then, an aspiring sommelier’s abilities are tested through a process known as “blind tasting.” Wine from an unlabeled bottle is poured into a glass, and the candidate must correctly identify the wine’s varietal, year of bottling and even producer, using just their senses and memory.

Sommeliers who pass these tests put their skills to work selecting and serving wines at fine restaurants. They pair different wines with different dishes to bring out the characteristics of each. They keep a lookout for “cork taint” – wine that’s turned into moldy, damp tasting awfulness because of the presence of a compound called TCA. Sommeliers also serve as judges at wine festivals, putting their blind tasting skills to work in judging the quality of new offerings from both famous and not so famous wine producers. These events offer a level tasting field where small, unknown wineries can be recognized, and a big brand name winery to be taken down a peg or two if what’s on the inside of their bottle isn’t on par with the reputation and prestige of the label.

I’ve been thinking about the concept of blind tasting in relation to how Christians think about what and whom we read, or listening and what we think about what other people read, and how we talk about it all on the Internet. To put it bluntly, we are becoming increasingly bad at letting the exterior labels of name and platform influence how we receive or reject what’s being offered. Whether the issue is racial reconciliation or young earth creation, a book or a blog post, what seems to matter most to a lot of people is who is doing the speaking, and from what platform, instead of what’s actually being said and how connected it actually is to the gospel. Depending on one’s loyalties (or self-identified discernment in assessing all things Biblical) if it comes from the mouth or pen of TeamPyro/TeamTGC/the SBC/GCC/John Piper/John MacArthur/Russell Moore/Beth Moore /Doug Wilson/ Jared Wilson/Thabiti Anyabwile or Ann Voskamp, we shouldn’t go near it, or we shouldn’t go anywhere else. We’re becoming a culture of undiscerning spiritual wine snobs, refusing to recognize our favorite’s failures and flaws when they’re exposed, and equally uninterested in receiving genuine, beneficial truth when it comes from a source we don’t immediately recognize, or we’ve already decided deserves rejection out of hand.

This tendency to prejudge a message based on its source isn’t exactly new. Scripture is replete with stories of God speaking through timid and unskilled, marginalized or unexpected people, and people finding excuses not to listen. Sometimes, a listener overcame his biases and discovered nothing less than eternal life. But other times, they didn’t, to their eternal shame. The Apostle Paul took a particularly dim view of tendencies to identifying too closely with any human leader other than Jesus. He was so committed to exalting Jesus’ name over his own that even when unscrupulous men tried to take advantage of his imprisonment to get in on the ministry action, Paul cared only about Who they preached. He’d leave the “why” of it with Him.

Last week, I decided to take Paul’s exhortation to heart and do some blind tasting of my own, by listening to a sermon Voddie Baucham preached at The Gospel Coalition national conference last month. Brother Voddie has said some things publicly in the past that have, well, not exactly blessed my soul. Some of the labels he wears are ones I reject categorically. That’s precisely why I wanted to hear him preach on the significance of the resurrection from 1 Corinthians 15. It’s a profound portion of Scripture, one that I’d been meditating on as I fought off a severe strain of bronchitis, and as I had learned that a teenage girl in our church had recently been diagnosed with a fatal in human terms brain tumor. Voddie’s expounding of this text, with all of its implications for every day life and ministry, filled my soul with spiritual wine of such depth and clarity that I’m still meditating on it. When I set aside the labels I didn’t love, and took the time to listen, I was blessed.

Before the curmudgeons do that thing they do, let me say categorically that I’m not arguing that we separate man or woman from message all the time. There’s wine and there’s vinegar and sometimes reading the label is necessary to avoid dinner time disaster when your guests sit down and you pour them a glass. But what I am saying is that we’d do well to be better spiritual sommeliers – willing to speak out when a beloved and trusted purveyor of truth says something that’s tainted with error, and especially, able to recognize, receive and recommend spiritual nourishment wherever it can be found, no matter the label.


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TGCW14 – Reflections From an Overgrown Garden

I came home from TGCW14 with a heart full to bursting with all that God said and did over the four days, through the speakers, the workshops, and through the 4000 women from all fifty states and (?) different countries who attended. I also returned to an empty fridge and a burgeoning vegetable garden. Not being ready to fully return to the trials and tribulation of daily life courtesy of the teeming hordes of humanity at Costco, I decided to tackle my overgrown tomato and cucumber vines first. As I picked and pruned and tied and tidied, I thought on the words my husband had shared as he left for work that morning, courtesy of his company’s CEO. “After a major learning experience, you have about three days to create and begin executing on a plan of action that applies all of you’ve learned. After that, insights evaporate quickly, and all the time and money invested is lost.” I walked back into the kitchen with a large bowl of tomatoes and cucumbers ready to be transformed into sauces and salads, thinking about how my morning’s efforts were a powerful metaphor for the spiritual work I needed to do to make sure the spiritual investments of so many in Orlando weren’t squandered.

Harvesting

Planting a vegetable garden can be an enjoyable way to spend a day, but the ultimate goal for most people is the food the garden produces. Had I left my plants to themselves, my tomatoes would have fallen to the earth to quickly ferment into food for worms instead of food for my family, and my husband’s long hours invested in the planting and tending would be for naught. The memory of Paige Brown’s exhortation about Nehemiah’s fears being relieved by the saving grace of God, and Jen Wilkin’s workshop on fearlessly raising daughters, had returned to me with a jolt when I discovered on returning home that, in my absence, one of my daughters had checked out some books with content that was far beyond her maturity. For a moment, I panicked. Thinking on Paige’s reminder that it is the perfect love of Jesus for my daughter and me that casts out fear over her heart being drawn away to worldly things, and praying for wisdom, was a way of harvesting the fruit Paige’s session had produced.

The workshops and many conversations with friends into the wee hours of the morning about the trials and grace-fuelled triumphs of women’s’ ministry gave me a new desire to serve the diverse community of women in my own church. At my husband’s encouragement, I sent off a quick email to one of my pastors, asking if I could share with him some of the insights I’d received in the hopes they might bless our church. Because he is a leader who listens, he replied almost immediately, asking for my “top ten list” of things I’d learned and ideas I’d gleaned, just as a start. My prayer is that in the coming months and years, the women at my own church will also be recipients of the great harvest of fruit produced at the conference.

Pruning

Because God has promised to do abundantly more than we could ask or think, I’m believing in faith that my desires for my church’s women’s ministry to flourish may call for my willingness to serve in it more intentionally and regularly. With only so many hours in the day, the need to be faithful and available to serve as needed may mean doing some careful directing and pruning of my schedule. That means less time on purposeless social media activity and some adjustments to my sleep and work schedule so I can leverage some before and after hours time in the midst of my other important ministries as a wife, mom and student.

Weeding

Prior to attending the conference, I had been wrestling for several months over whether my writing and teaching gifts needed to be retired along with my former career technology. God in His kindness had been doing a season of necessary and painful weeding on my heart, exposing some occasions when my sharp tongue had wounded, not blessed. I had repented and sought forgiveness, and the garden of my soul was stripped clean, but I flew to Orlando wondering what fruit, if any, my words could ever bear, and I asked God for direction. He gave it, not once, but multiple times, as people I met spoke of words I had written that had blessed them. That unanticipated encouragement blessed me deeply. John Piper’s admonishment from Nehemiah that, because of Christ, we have never sinned so much in word or in deed to be beyond the mercy and blessing of God, restored my hope that my words might yet be used to build God’s Kingdom, and I returned home newly committed to be fruitful as God enabled.

As I tidied my garden, I noticed that the tomato plants that had been weeded so recently had already begun to be assaulted once again by one of the most hated of all weeds – bindweed. With its pale green tendrils and tiny delicate flowers, bindweed is notorious for mimicking a beautiful budding vine, even as it twines around a growing tomato plant and slowly, insidiously, chokes the life out of the plant until it dies. I muttered imprecatory psalms against the evil weed, reminding myself that Tim Keller’s convicting admonishment from Nehemiah that vengeful prayers against the ungodly are no longer right in light of the cross applied to my fellow image bearers, not vegetational adversaries. In her workshop on raising daughters, Jen Wilkin invited us to consider whether sins of the tongue might be of particular challenge to most women, just as the sin of lust is for many men. As I ripped the weeds away, I prayed that God would keep the weeds of unhelpful, unkind words away from any fruit He might help me bear.

I am beyond thankful for the investments made by so many to enable women from all over the country and world to gather together to hear from God through the book of Nehemiah, and through the teaching of so many gifted men and women. I want to harvest the fruit the conference bore in my own heart, and multiply it in the lives of my family and my church. By God’s grace, with faithful, intentional effort, I will.