So, last night was my the first night of my summer bible study (and the first time I led a bible study ever). I think it went pretty well. I mean, I thought it did. They all said, “See ya next week!” so I guess it wasn’t too hideous. My natural inclination is to pick apart the weakness of my questions and “leadership” abilities and stuff like that…but nobody is judging me on those things. Nobody except me. We veered off topic a lot, which I loved. I want this to be free and easy and open. And it was. I’m sure it will just get freer and easier and…opener.
It is said that when two or more people gather in His name, He is there. And He was. The Lord wants these specific women to get together and talk and learn about Him. He will give us all the words we need for each other.
So, what did I learn? I learned that I need to remember that God has a sense of humor. As someone who loves to laugh, loves to be silly, loves to think outside the box…how do I forget this?? As one of my friends said last night, if we are made in His image, obviously he has a sense of humor! Obviously we can use our sense of humor in connection with Him. I forget that sometimes.
I also learned that despite how much I’ve mellowed out in the past few years, I am still a total worrier. Am I (*gasp*) a MARTHA?!?!. I’d like to think I’m a Mary, but I’m not so sure. I wish I could truly not care about what others are thinking about me (or what the house looks like or how the food tastes or is everything good enough). I assume others are thinking the same things I am thinking. Like, as I’m blathering on about whatever: “Man, this girl should NOT be leading a bible study.” “Yikes, how did she not remember the details of that story she is trying to reference?” Yes, I know this stuff is only my own insecurity. And it’s the enemy trying to discourage me. Well, it ain’t gonna happen. This could be the crappiest, lamest bible study in the world and I am not giving up and I’m not gonna doubt myself or worry what anyone thinks. Yeah, right. Shut up, enemy!! You sound like a crazy person. Yeah, what else is new?!
I would also say that I learned that I am blessed beyond measure, but I already knew that. That is one thing that I will never, ever doubt.
Tonight begins my foray into home bible study (Women in the New Testament). I am super-stoked! I have missed these ladies so much! I need them more than they realize…I find that unless I truly have fellowship with others – like talking about what The Lord has done in our lives, how we struggle, how we succeed, how we need Him so much – I risk feeling far away from God. Then I go to my church and see my friends there and I just love it there so much. I’m excited to be a part of things there. I also love that I can wear an old, wrinkled Grateful Dead shirt there and nobody bats an eye (which totally happened yesterday because I was rushing and I just grabbed it and it’s basically my favorite shirt, so…yeah). But then all week long I am a stay-at-home mom and I’m isolated much of the time – meaning, I can’t just pick up and go meet a friend for coffee or whatever to talk if I need to. There’s nap times to consider, spending money that I shouldn’t…and even if I go, I end up entertaining the little people, not speaking candidly to my friend about life and whatnot.
But don’t get me wrong; this is my job, and I LOVE my job! Like, big time. And I found a way to make it work: I’m just going to have a bunch of awesome women gather at my house once a week! This is beneficial to me in two important ways: 1. Aforementioned fellowship. 2. It forces me to keep my house clean.
I am really excited about what the next year has in store regarding my spiritual walk. I have this summer study, and then at the end of July I am doing an online study on my own, “What Happens When Women Say Yes To God,” which is a book by the fantastic and fabulous Lysa TerKeurst, whom I met and heard speak several weeks back at a women’s conference. If anyone wants to do this with me, let me know! It’s a 6-week study and it looks great. We can meet up at my house, or anywhere else. Here’s the link to sign up for the emails.
In September it’s back to BSF, where we begin our intensive, 9-month study of Matthew. I wish I could tell you how excited I for this. AND at my church we are currently studying The Sermon on the Mount and how we are to all be on the same page as a church to be the believers, followers, disciples we are instructed to be. It is all such beautiful synchronicity. There is such freedom in knowing exactly what you are supposed to be doing. Of course, living that out is another story. But the instruction book is right here for everyone. You just have to open yourself up.
I lived many selfish and wasted (literally) years for myself. A few years ago I knew it was time to change my path. I’m on my way, but still have so far to go. We all do. It literally takes our whole lives. But Jesus never lets go of you. NEVER. He certainly never let go of me. Even when I broke His heart time and time again. Even when I ignored Him or thought he was ignoring me. He was right there. He was there when I was too drunk to walk or too high to move or too angry to speak or too lonely to say no or too afraid to call out to Him. He is ALWAYS there…not only when you think He’s not, but ESPECIALLY when you think He’s not. “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” -Matthew 11:28
What does this mean? Well, for one, it means He loves us. Period. He loves us like crazy. And I am living proof of the positive change that is possible when you come to Him, weary and burdened, messed up and hungover and potty-mouthed and lost and afraid and sad and used and JUST DONE. I came to Him, like TRULY came to Him, and He gave me rest. Gives me rest. Will always give me rest. I still struggle with lots those those old things…if I go out and decide to leave Jesus at home that day, there’s no telling what I might want to get up to. But now I don’t ignore that little voice inside me, gnawing away at my brain like an annoying beaver on a log. That’s the Holy Spirit, y’all. Not my “conscience” per se…it’s the Lord saying, “Stef. Seriously. I know you’re out having fun, but just stick with two beers.” “Stefanie. You seriously do not need that record, Put it down.” “Woman, you are NOT EVEN HUNGRY. Why are you eating 12 cookies?!?!” (I’m not sure that last one is so serious. But hey, maybe it is. It’s gluttony, for sure. And with having small children…you just can’t be a good parent unless you bring your A-game every day. They can’t think 12 cookies is the perfect amount. 2 cookies, sure. 12 is kind of cray-cray.
Wow, where did all that come from?
This is what my son says if I, for example, tell him it’s time to come inside (or help clean up the 16,000 crayons on the floor or finish his lunch). “No, I’m busy right now.” It would be infuriating if it wasn’t so darn cute.
I’ve been busy right now, too. Busy creating a blog for my summer bible study I’m having at my house. You may feel free to follow along with us!
We meet on June 17th for the first time. I cannot wait!! I have at least 10 friends coming and that is a beautiful thing. So, every week for the summer study I will be posting the topics. I’ve never done anything like this before, so I hope it goes well. I didn’t create “test”-type questions…just application-type stuff to try to understand these women and what Jesus did for them and what He can do for us. It’s been amazing to research this stuff, and I know I’m going to learn so much from the group of ladies that are coming to the study.
By the way, if you know me and want to come join us on Monday nights, just let me know! There will be food, if that entices you.
My first night away from my kids was a complete success on many levels. They were so happy and excited to see me when I got home! And I missed their sweet happy little faces so much! I did not overindulge in wine or food. We had just the perfect amount. I talked and talked with my sweet friend until the wee hours. It was a total grown-up slumber party and it was great. Thank you so much, my sweet Shari muffin.
I even got home in plenty of time for church, and I’m glad I did. I am really excited about the current sermon series that we are delving into for the next SIX MONTHS! That is so exciting to me. I love an intensive study, for sure. So, the next few months will consist of our church really learning to be disciples of Jesus, and then my small group at my house about Jesus’ relationship with the women he knew, and then the BSF study of the Gospel of Matthew. It’s gonna be awesome! That’s a whole lotta Jesus.
Shari and I were talking about my blog, and she was wondering if my blog was some sort of Bible study assignment based on the amount of Jesus talk. At first. And then she realized that this is just where I’m at right now, what I’m interested in talking about because Jesus is a huge part of my life now. And part of that fact is wanting to tell other people what He is like. This blog lets me do that. If you want to read about Jesus and what my life looks like now that He’s truly the center of it, that is awesome. If not, come back tomorrow when I might talk about music or books or my kids or my awesome recipe for double-chocolate low fat vegan muffins. Or don’t. It’s all good. But I have passed the point that I worry about stepping on toes or being offensive in some way or looking “uncool” or being afraid of what people might think.
Those of you who know me well and know my weaknesses also KNOW DARN WELL that for me to be in a tavern at a hotel all night long on someone else’s dime and show total restraint and not get drunk…well, I’m telling you right now that it was because I prayed for The Lord to stay close to me all night long, and I had others praying the same thing. There was a big part of me that wanted to totally get my drink on, but a bigger part of me wanted to obey Him and obey the covenant to my church that I signed when I joined. It was a perfect example that there is such freedom in obeying His will for us.
And I love that Shari, who is Jewish, and I can talk about our faiths with questions and wonder and agreement and disagreement. I love talking to Christian friends and friends that believe in something totally different or nothing at all. There is a place in my life for everyone that God has put there. Rule #1 is to love each other. Period. Because I feel like if you are truly wanting to follow Jesus and take those steps, he will lead you to where you need to go. And loving each other (no matter of race or religion or economic status or sexuality or your past) is showing the rest of the world why this way of life is so beautiful.
I want to thank Pastor Brandon for his message today and his plan for the next 6 months, thus reassuring me that I am indeed in the right church at the right time with the right people. It will be so exciting to go through the future together as a church and grow in the direction Jesus wants us to go. And I am totally along for the ride! Friends, if anyone is interested in attending St. James in West Reading, now is a perfect time. Let me know.
I thought of an awesome thing to write about on the way to the dentist yesterday, but I forgot all about it because it was the most pleasant dentist visit I think I’ve ever had! The dental hygienist and I were cordially chatting and SOMEHOW it came out that she’s a Deadhead and then if you overheard us talking you would have thought we knew each other for 10 years. When I left I was like, “We should be friends!!!” It was just so cool. As I left she said, “Have a Grateful Day!” I bet she doesn’t get to say that too often at her job. And look ma, no cavities!!
On a completely different note, I am hard at work on my summer Bible study on Women in the New Testament and with each woman that I research, I get more inspired by Jesus and His love for them, for me, for all of us. I’m learning how to put myself in the sandals of the Samaritan woman right now. How she came to the well at a different time than all the other women did, because she was an outcast. Because of her shame. And Jesus met her there. He made a point to meet her there, just like He will meet us anywhere. As long as we accept the offer, He will meet us RIGHT WHERE WE ARE. Broken and defeated and hopeless. That’s actually how He wants it. If you think you have it all together (and let’s face it, NONE of us do), how is He going to help you? Lift you up, give you hope, whisper the truth to you? This poor woman at the well is just rockin’ my world right now, man. Her and Jerry Garcia. Who my kids think is Santa Claus, because every time they see his picture they say “Ho Ho Ho!”
Facebook has become such a weird thing. I guess it’s the whole FB/Twitter/Tumblr/Instagram/Pinterest combo, really. I actively enjoy all of these, by the way. I like them. But one thing I DON’T like is how everyone is expected to comment on every news event, every crime, every picture of a sick child or abused animal, create a hashtag and do your darnedest to create a trending topic the moment a celebrity dies or shows too much leg at the Academy Awards.
I think the Oklahoma tornado tragedy is horrible, devastating, sad, and horrific. Yes, my thoughts and prayers are with the families of those children and the people that died and lost everything and are going to have to figure out how to cope. But I don’t think I have to update my Facebook status to let everyone know this. Let me be clear: absolutely no one is wrong for expressing this on their FB or any other forum. But why do I, Stefanie, instantly think, “Oh, there is this big tragedy and everyone I know is letting everyone else know that they are affected by this tragedy on Facebook. Am I a total DB if I don’t say something?”
I am a big, big, long-time Doors freak. I have loved them for 25 years. I met Ray Manzarek. I was attending one of the most powerful events of my life last night (more on that later) and my phone kept buzzing. It was a bunch of people with texts about Ray passing away. Bummer!!! And I did RT something about it that got posted to my FB feed. But…I don’t know, maybe this was a bad example. Awwwww, Ray. I think you were a musical genius, a bit insane with keeping up the Doors myth, totally wrong in wanting to pimp out your music to sell cars and attempt to sell out venues with the guy from Fuel singing (I mean, what was that all about?)…but you are RAY, man! You were nice to me when I met you that time at a hippie festival up north in the rain in 2001. I asked him a question about film, which he answered, and I wrote an article for the Doors Collectors Magazine. It didn’t make it onto the site, but oh well. I also saw him perform with Michael McClure about 15 years ago or so and it was pretty epic.
Okay, now for something that I just CANNOT stand. FB posts showing dying kids with cancer, saying “If you don’t like this picture, you are saying YES to cancer.” “If you don’t share this photo of Jesus, you are not really a follower of Jesus.” “If you don’t change your profile picture to this red equals sign, then you clearly hate the gays.” “If you don’t make this long and convoluted and wordy and nonsensical status update YOUR status update for one hour, I will know you are not my real friend and I am going to delete you and let’s just see if you’re paying attention and this kid’s dream is to get 1 million likes and you better support our troops, you communist!!!!”
Well, guess what. I don’t like cancer and following Jesus involves a little more than following Him on FB and you are like 40 years old, WHY OH WHY are you participating in the 21st Century version of a chain letter??? I have always been a friend of the gays. I think our troops are the bravest people i can imagine. But for reals. Can’t we just go back to Facebook being what it once was – a place to tend to our virtual farms and stalk the people we used to date or went to high school with? I don’t want to look at bloody, mistreated children, adults, and animals when I’m trying to see what’s legitimately going on with my friends and family and church and the various musicians and parenting groups I follow. I don’t even mind a zillion pics of your kids. I really don’t. I think I’m one of the few people who actually likes seeing pictures of your kids. As long as they are not holding up a sign telling me to like this pic or else I don’t want them to have a fruitful life somehow.
Ok, so let’s review: Facebook is not a race to see who can be the first to post “RIP xxxxx” to show how on top of current events you are. “Liking” a picture or sharing a status is not going to cure baby cancer. Stop trying to shame me into publicly proving how big my heart is.
I was at the final BSF last night for like 4 hours where we ate together and shared what The Lord has done in our lives through the study of Genesis this year. As my friend Melissa put it, these women were truly a vessel for God’s glory to shine through their testimonies. It was really powerful. I saw answered prayer (my own and others) and love and confession and real fellowship. It was amazing and special. There were hundreds of women there and so many shared such beautiful and awesome things. God is just so, so good. Yes, I gave a little testimony, but I went 2nd and I kept it kind of light. I was basically in tears or on the verge of tears for the rest of the night. We all were. It was just awesome.
So, my heart overflows with love for my Sisters and for Jesus and Oklahoma and Ray Manzarek and the troops and the gays and the animals and the sick and the downtrodden. Okay? Now leave me alone!!!
Monday is my last BSF class until September, and I. AM. BUMMED. BSF stands for Bible Study Fellowship. This thing changed my life, and I am not exaggerating when I say this. I won’t delve into all the details of the study (check out their site if you are interested), but it is a fairly intensive study that covers one book of the Bible or one major person (like Moses) per school year. September-May, and then summers off. There are men’s versions of this, but the one I attend is all women (and school-age kids, but we get taught separately). It is just amazing. This past year we did Genesis. Incredible to really see how God took these really broken people and their really broken families and really broken lives and spoke to them (audibly and directly) appeared to them, literally showed up to wrestle with them…and worked everything in their lives for His glory and to create Christ’s bloodline. It was awesome! And if you ever think you’re being a crappy parent, just read yourself some Genesis. Crazy parental and sibling dysfunction abounds! And it’s comforting to remember that God is a PERFECT parent and all of His kids are a total mess! Well, except one.
Anyway, you read your assigned passages each day (often with cross-references to other verses), and answer some questions. And these are not easy-peasy questions, but it only requires like 10-15 minutes a day (or if you have small children, about 6 hours). Then once a week you go to BSF and break up into your small groups. You have the same group leader and the same group of ladies all year, which is nice because you (hopefully) develop friendships. I’m meeting up with one of my BSF friends tonight for coffee! Also, your leader checks in with you weekly to stay connected (I actually think mine just called, but I have a Max and a cat on me right now so I will have to call her back later). Then you discuss your questions as a group. Then all the groups assemble to hear a lecture (which is always fantastic) on what you studied all week (usually sprinkled with ways to apply this stuff to your life). Then, as you leave, you get a booklet with extensive notes and reading about what you studied all week (I think the notes are my favorite part). You also get your new set of questions. Lather, rinse, repeat. They call it a “Four-Fold Approach.”
Yes, it’s intense. But it is really amazing. In September we are starting Matthew. I. CANNOT. WAIT. I need me some Jesus!
One crucial thing that BSF has shown me is how to break down scripture and really understand it. I read all of the New Testament a few years ago and after I got through the Gospels it just kind of ended up like “dwrhjhufhtgs:!hsghjkvdjbk” and I had no idea what I was reading half the time (until the nice happy short books like James) and I was thinking of what to make for dinner instead of comprehending what I was “reading.” And Revelation? FORGET IT. That is, until 2014 when BSF does Revelation. I’m kind of nerding out over that one. Can’t wait. But I digress. The point is, I can now read it with better comprehension and more clarity.
BSF also has seminars periodically. One really good one was how to lead a small group. I knew halfway through this seminar that I wanted to do one over the summer when BSF was over. After reaching out to people and lots of prayer, starting in a few weeks Yours Truly will be doing my first Bible Study on Women of the New Testament. We’re talkin’ about Mary Magdalene, Mary and Martha, The Samaritan woman, the crippled woman, the menstruating woman, and the adulterous woman.
Now. I have read all these women’s stories before. But I am starting to fully research them in preparation for this study. I’m not using anyone’s study kit or anything, I’m just kinda doing my own thing here. I’ve pretty much exhausted the Mary Magdalene situation, and right now I’m working on Mary and Martha.
This is just fascinating to me. I mean, He changed these women’s lives not just by healing them, but by HEARING them. Valuing them and honoring them in a world and a time when women were totally NOT valued or honored. Mary Magdalene dropped everything and financially backed Jesus and followed Him everywhere. There are some other women mentioned, too, like Joanna and Susanna, that followed the Jesus Tour all the way. I’d like to know a few things about these women: What kind of life did they leave behind when they decided to follow Him? What did the Twelve think of a bunch of chicks tagging along? Did they like having them there (to do the “women’s work”) or were they seen as interfering with what the men were trying to do? Did they compare stories while hanging out together? “Dude, Jesus drove SEVEN demons out of me.” “Oh honey, you shoulda seen ME…I was a complete mess when He found me…” Jesus stayed with Mary and Martha a lot. They were friends. But was he friends with THEM, or was he friends with their brother Lazarus, and got to know them that way?
These are the things I ponder. If any of my Summer Study girls are reading this, please don’t worry. There will be legit questions and application and stuff like that. But I am just trying to imagine what happened behind the scenes and during the downtime. Probably a lot of incredible stuff. And probably a lot of boring stuff. I mean, I GUESS. Jesus wasn’t exactly a boring dude.
So, thank you, Mary Magdalene and Martha and Mary and Joanna and Susanna and Samaritan woman and all the rest of you. Jesus changed your lives just like He changed ours, and you followed Him so you could learn all about Him and tell others what He was like. And this summer in a backyard in Reading, PA, we’re gonna try to do the same thing.
*note: if any of my friends reading this has a desire to attend BSF with me in the fall, let me know and I’ll bring you to a welcome class. And it’s free!