Surprise us, Lord!

Twice in the last month, I’ve been prayer circles where someone prayed “Surprise us, Lord!” It stood out, partly because I heard it twice, but also because I couldn’t remember ever praying for that, specifically.

Not that God never surprises me, as previous posts affirm. It just that I don’t remember asking for God for those surprises. Looking back, I was definitely surprised by our move to Omaha. Before then, I was surprised by a sense of deep loss during a season of transitions. But I can’t remember a time when I was any more surprised by God than I am today.

Over the last several months, as Harold and I have settled into life with our new church here in Omaha, I’ve reached out to leaders to brainstorm ways I might volunteer. We talked about how to equip people to serve, the need to mentor younger women, the possibility of teaching a class or training volunteers, ways to help guests become regular attenders, and many other passions – the possibilities are limitless! I love my work teaching and mentoring students, but also want to invest my gifts well in our local church.

Those conversations opened a door I never expected. About 7 weeks ago, our lead pastor asked me to consider applying for a position on his executive team. Harold and I prayed about it for 3 full weeks, and sought prayer and counsel from others who knew me well (across the country, and over the last 3 decades!) After another 3 weeks (and 7 interviews!) I was offered the position and will be joining the ministry staff at Christ Community Church on July 10.

Sometimes when you’re in the middle of the “every day,” you don’t see how dots connect, or how random experiences and incidental choices may set you up for the next chapter God has in mind. That has certainly been true for me. In May, I shared some Facebook reflections with the hashtag #MayMinistryMemory. In fact, if you look back at some of my posts over the last two months, the quotes, prayers, and songs I’ve shared bear testimony to the journey I’ve been on. It’s been a blessing to look back to see how God’s been moving, even when I wasn’t fully aware of the plan.

A few days after the initial phone call, I’d scheduled a day away for prayer and reflection. Early that morning I spotted a bald eagle, teaching her baby to fly. Since I was in retreat mode, I immediately started spiritualizing the experience. Could God be using this experience to speak into my situation?

Is this a sign from God that I should continue coaching and teaching my college students?

Or wait – is this a sign from God that I should lead and teach ministry staff, and mentor other women?

I’m not sure exactly how many moments passed before I laughed aloud and realized… God is the eagle parent.
You’re the one who needs to follow.

In 2016, I wrote “I am confident in my calling to equip God’s people for works of service so that the body of Christ is built up (Eph 4:12) but I do not yet know what doors might open for me to do that.” Even then, God was working, and now the door has opened wide. The same day I was away on retreat, Rachel Held Evans passed away. Her ministry inspired me to lean in to hard things, to obey courageously even in the midst of fear, to “rise up” as a woman of valor. But courage and confidence are not enough, and should not be based on our own strength or ability.

So I am confident that this will be the most challenging, stretching, and yet rewarding role I’ve been asked to fill. My responsibility and my privilege is to lean on God’s strength, even in my own weakness. And I am confident God’s faithfulness will see me through.

Remembering an Anniversary

I grew up in churches that didn’t practice anything “like” ordination, and where they didn’t have women serving in any official leadership capacity. (There were plenty of women leaders, nevertheless). In the 90s, we attended a church where women had a more visible presence in worship and in leadership. Later, through more than a decade of struggling through the biblical text and participating in discernment conversations in seminary, my view on ordination (as a practice) and women in ministry (as theology) continued to be shaped and formed.

Part of that time I was serving in ministry as a volunteer. Part of that time I was serving full-time on a ministry staff. But it wasn’t until being part of the family of God at Grandview Christian Church (Johnson City, TN) that I was invited to consider the possibility of an official “setting apart.” I can still remember the elders’ hands pressing onto my shoulders, the salty taste of tears that flowed freely, and the words of affirmation shared by so many church friends and seminary professors.

Often scripture reminds us to “remember what God as done.” The Israelites remembered with feast days and weekly Sabbath celebrations. The early church remembered as they celebrated the Eucharist. In these last two “anniversary” dates of my ordination, I’ve made it my practice to go back and remind myself of the words spoken over me (and my friend Brandon Waite, ordained the same day). Below are some of the words of blessing that are helping me “remember what God has done.”

from Michael L. Sweeney’s charge…
Ordination doesn’t change your personality. It doesn’t make you more pious than you were before. The fact that you are ordained won’t make people more anxious to open up to you or lean on your every word. Heads of state won’t call you in for spiritual guidance.

Add to that, our culture can’t possibly understand what ordination means. We’re all about the individual. We decide for ourselves what we’re going to be when we grow up. We choose what we’re going to study in college and where we’re going to work. We make our vocational choices on the basis of personal interest, period. None of this family-or-group-decision stuff about OUR future that we find in Asian and African cultures. The American way would have us lay hands on ourselves – or, at least, pull ourselves up by our own bootstraps.

So ordination just doesn’t fit the mold of our culture or our church movement. But, in spite of all that, it really does have a special place in the life of the church. Outsiders looking in may not get it. It defies analysis and precise definition.

…the decision to ordain someone does not belong to the person being ordained. We often think it does. After all, most of us who have been ordained asked to be considered for it. But this isn’t the same thing as applying for a job.

When you’re called to ministry, you are called to the impossible. No one is really qualified for vocational ministry. No amount of preparation will ever be sufficient to make you successful. The amount of skill you have will fall short. The results of our labors are always out of our control. In fact, part of the message that Paul wanted to get across to the church in Corinth was that he was way out of his depth, but that God seemed to be OK with that. In fact, it was a good thing, since Paul’s weakness was an opportunity to show the strength of God. And so it is with us.

In Acts 13, setting Saul and Barnabas apart was God’s idea, and it was communicated to the leaders of the church in Antioch because they were deeply involved in worship, prayer and fasting. They were connected to God and attuned to his will. And so today, by their willingness to ordain you, the leaders at Grandview are saying that they believe it is God’s will that you be set apart for ministry. It’s not just their idea of a nice thing to do. But it’s because, through their prayer and worship, they have been led by the Spirit of God to call you in this way.


From my daughter Elizabeth’s prayer…
Like Paul, knowing he was likely to face many trials and hardships, may Brandon and Dawn face the unknown and say, “I consider my life worth nothing to me, if only I may finish my course and the ministry I received from the Lord Jesus Christ – to testify to the gospel of God’s grace.” Holy Spirit, may Dawn and Brandon hear your voice over and above the voices of this world. Grant them with your wisdom, courage, and discernment as they continue to follow your lead in vocational ministry.

From my friend Theresa’s prayer…
May this body, Grandview Christian Church, sustain and support Brandon and Dawn in their work, whether they minister among us or be sent out from us. Let us offer encouragement and instruction when needed and love and grace always.Guide their steps. Invigorate their spirits. Fill them with wisdom. Remind them of the responsibility and privilege they have accepted in being set apart as your servants

Many church leaders (and denominations) have widely varying practices regarding ordination in general, or the ordination of women in particular. This is not an invitation to debate its theology or practice. Rather, today’s post is a celebration of an anniversary, one that causes me to both look back at what God has done, and look forward to what God can and will do through obedient servants. I thank God for the privilege, and pray that I may finish my course and the ministry I received from the Lord Jesus Christ – to testify to the gospel of God’s grace.

Solo Deo Gloria!

God’s sense of humor

In this anniversary month of many ministry moments, including our call to Omaha last year, I’m sharing again the story of how we laugh with God along the way. (Originally posted in May of 2018 on the old site)

Have you ever laughed at God?
I have. In May of 2011, my husband and I were moving Elizabeth into her house for the summer. She was staying in Johnson City for a ministry internship after her first year at Milligan, and we were getting ready to head back home to Indianapolis. That spring I was considering graduate school and we had visited Emmanuel while we were in Tennessee. We both loved the area, but I wasn’t sure if a residential MDIV program would work for me, or how we could afford it while Elizabeth was in college. We raved at the beautiful mountain scenery and talked about the possibility of someday settling here. I remember saying “Man, I love it here, I hate to think of waiting 3 more years till Elizabeth finishes school.” At which point my husband said “Well, you never know what might happen, but I’m sure God will make it clear to us if and when we’re supposed to move.” As we came across a hill to a (literal) crossroads, this truck (pictured above) was parked in the neighborhood directly ahead of us.

We laughed a long time.
It was not the last time God would amuse us with an ironic hint at what was to come. When we got home there was a CD of new worship music that our minister wanted us to learn for praise team. The fourth song in was called “Moving Forward” by Israel Houghton. Later that summer, I was invited to speak for a women’s retreat in Indianapolis and the theme was, “A Time to Move.” I had been praying for a while about how God might use my leadership and teaching gifts in the church where I currently served. But it seemed like everywhere we looked, we were reminded that when we open ourselves to God’s leading, God often answers prayers in surprising and unexpected ways.


Of course, some of you know how this story turned out because we’ve been living in Johnson City since August of 2012. We laughed at God’s extravagant grace and provision often over the next several months. A full tuition scholarship. Selling the house in two days. Surprise payment of travel expenses. Generous gift card to stock our pantry. Managing our daughter’s college bills while being under-employed. The joy and delight of a “secret Santa” during our first Tennessee Christmas. We laughed at the realization that every time we threw our hands up in frustration or despair, God was ready to clasp those hands and laugh, saying “Hold on! I still have another plan!”


We’re not the first God-followers, of course, to be amused at God’s promises or provision.
Then one of [the messengers of God] said, “I will surely return to you about this time next year, and Sarah your wife will have a son.”
Sarah was listening at the entrance to the tent, which was behind him. Abraham and Sarah were already very old, and Sarah was past the age of childbearing. So Sarah laughed to herself as she thought, “After I am worn out and my lord is old, will I now have this pleasure?”
Then the Lord said to Abraham, “Why did Sarah laugh? … Is anything too hard for the Lord?”
Gen 18:10-14

We can’t really fault Sarah for this incredulous response – she’d already been waiting more than 20 years! She knew about God’s promise to give them a son (Gen 15 and 17). She even tried to help the process along by stepping in with her own plan (Gen 16). So here she stands, at the door of the tent, hearing the promise repeated once more. Of course she laughs! And then she settles in to wait and see that indeed, nothing is too hard for God. Her laughter is contagious when Isaac is born and she says “God has brought me laughter, and everyone who hears about this will laugh with me. (Gen 21:6)

We’ve continued to laugh with joy at God’s provision over the last six years. Harold got a good sales job and we found a wonderful church family to serve alongside. I completed my MDiv in 2016. We put down roots, buying a house and investing in relationships – a community of friends who laugh with us in celebration when God shows up and answers prayer in unexpected ways. After graduation, I was equipped and educated, ready for whatever God had in store. I claimed complete faith and trust in waiting for God’s provision.

But then, like Sarah, I made some assumptions and put some plans into play to “help God out” with the timing and resolution to my season of waiting. I sent out resumes to some local jobs I thought might fit. I volunteered my time and networked for connections. And yet, every door I approached remained tightly shut. Don’t misunderstand – there have been some surprising open doors as well, including community theater and teaching a writing class. I don’t feel my past two years have been wasted – they’ve just not been invested the way I thought they would be. “Hold on!” God says. “I still have another plan.” God often answers prayers in surprising and unexpected ways.

Because God has quite a sense of humor.

Part two –

Throwback to July of 2014. My daughter and I were attending the North American Christian Convention in Indianapolis. We were in the hotel lobby eating breakfast and I saw the Academic Dean from Nebraska Christian College, whom I’d met through a conference a couple of years previous. We shared a bit of small talk as I walked by his table and then he asked the question, “Do you think we might convince you to move to Nebraska to teach in our Children’s Ministry program?”

I laughed out loud. (It’s usually no big secret as to what I think or feel)

Mark took it in stride as I gave him a few clarifying, and emphatic, comments as to WHY I wouldn’t consider a move to Nebraska.

  • #1 – SNOW
  • #2 – Tornadoes
  • #3 – We JUST moved to (and expected to retire in) Tennessee.
  • #4 – We LOVE our church.

I was only halfway through my residential seminary program, anyway, so it was not time to move. But I probably shouldn’t have laughed.

Over the next few years, I began to have opportunities to teach at Nebraska Christian College. Their focus on ministry training and “creating church leaders” resonated well with me. Because of this focus, they offer one-week “intensive” classes for students often involved in off-campus residencies. In both 2015 and 2016 I taught an August intensive in Children’s Ministry. Then last spring, they had a faculty position open up and I was able to join the team part-time, teaching both ministry and Bible classes.

About the same time, the dean revisited his earlier question as to whether I would be interested in relocating. This time I didn’t laugh, but knowing my husband’s reticence to move to Johnson City in 2012 (and how he was finally feeling settled here!), I assumed that he would nix the idea completely. In other words, I hoped to not have to be the one to decide, and figured my husband would just say NO at the outset. After all, he’d moved to Tennessee for my education/career goals – it was only fair he be the one to decide if and when we ever (which I didn’t expect!) moved anywhere again.

But he didn’t say no.

We spent the last year praying about the possibility. Assessing his current job, and changes that were happening in his profession. Becoming acquainted with the culture and faculty at Nebraska Christian. Realizing that flights to visit family in Phoenix and Chicago are half as much from Omaha as from Tri-Cities. Exploring Google Maps to note that our grandkids are 6 hours closer to Omaha than here.

That might have been what tipped the scales for him.

For me, the decision was gradual and painful. My own reticence was based on all the same reasons I gave in 2014; none of those have changed. But I have come to realize that when you follow God and walk through doors that are opened to you, you aren’t promised “comfortable” or “easy.” We certainly aren’t promised good weather! (This year’s endless winter, in both Tennessee and Nebraska, has brought that point home clearly!)  I absolutely love teaching, and am incredibly impressed with both the people and the programs at Nebraska Christian College. I’m well aware that higher ed jobs are few and far between. Add to that the reality of my being (1) a woman (2) in the Restoration Movement tradition (3) who wants to teach Bible and ministry classes (4) who doesn’t yet have a Doctoral degree, limits the opportunities quite a bit. Even so, I didn’t go searching for this opportunity. It came searching for me.

For more than 15 years, I’ve prayed that God would use my gifts, experience, and education to equip others for ministry. That has been my passion since 2003, from the personal ministry mission statement I wrote for one of my earliest seminary classes. God often answers prayers in surprising and unexpected ways. A couple of years ago, I would never have imagined I’d say “We’re moving to Omaha!” But now we are, and I’m incredibly thankful that God has opened a door for me to teach full time at Nebraska Christian College in the fall.

Please pray for us during this transition. Knowing we have to leave our church and say goodbye to dear friends is heartbreaking. There are many details to pull together. But nothing is too hard for God, and we’re excited to see where this next chapter of our lives will lead. And knowing how God was faithful through our previous move gives us great hope and grateful courage for this upcoming one. Just like Sarah, we trust a God who loves surprises…and laughs with us.

Solo Deo Gloria!

Women of Valor, Rise Up!

I had the privilege to meet Rachel Held Evans not long after moving to Tennessee, and not long after reading her second book A Year of Biblical Womanhood. To say she’s had an impact on my personal growth and professional choices would be an understatement. I’m thankful to have known her, mostly through her writing, and want to honor her legacy with a brief reminder for others – wives, daughters, fellow bloggers, and seminary friends – that we still have work to do. Eshet chayil, Rachel.

Rachel, Woman of Valor, Rise Up!
Come to me, I will give you rest
You have done well, good and faithful servant.
You have expanded our vision of “biblical womanhood”

Women of Valor, Rise Up!
The world needs your hands.
Like Ruth, care for the aging.
Like Lydia, practice hospitality.
Like Tabitha, faithful serve.

Women of Valor, Rise Up!
The world needs your hearts.
Like Esther, stand up for justice.
Like Mary of Bethany, pour out extravagance.
Like the Widow of Zarephath, offer all that you have.

Women of Valor, Rise Up!
The world needs your faith.
Like Martha, claim the resurrection.
Like Hannah, pray without ceasing.
Like the Samaritan woman, put down your water jar, and testify.

Women of Valor, Rise Up!
The world needs your voice.
Like Priscilla, teach with authority.
Like Deborah, lean into leadership.
Like Phoebe, and so many others, work hard for the Lord.

Women of Valor, Rise Up!

it is finished…

By this early morning hour (around 7:30 a.m. as I write this) on that Friday long ago, Jesus had already been denied by Peter, questioned by the high priest, and turned over to Pilate. The mocking and flogging was still to come, and (in contrast to the weather I see shaping up outside my window), the day would be long and dark.

The gospel accounts vary in some of the details – partly because even among eye witnesses, perspectives can vary widely. But sometimes the gospel accounts vary because the authors themselves wanted to craft their story in a way that connects with a particular audience, or because they had a specific theological goal in mind.

For instance, only Luke mentions the conversation with the thief and Jesus telling him they would be together in paradise (Lk 23:43). This, combined with Jesus’ emphasis on forgiveness for those “who do not know what they are doing” (Lk 23:34) reminds Luke’s (mostly Gentile) hearers that Jesus’ mission is one of grace and inclusion.

John includes the conversation between Jesus, his mother Mary, and the disciple John asking they take care of one another as family (Jn 19:26-27). John then mentions Jesus’ statement “I am thirsty” (Jn 19:28). Both of these statements bring Jesus’ full humanity into view, even in the context of his divinely appointed death.

Both Matthew and Mark include only one statement by Jesus, his comment in Aramaic, Eloi eloi, lama sabachthani, translated “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Mt 27:46, Mk 15:34). This quote from Psalm 22 has often led theologians to focus on God’s abandonment of Christ. (Think of the hymn “How Deep the Father’s Love for Us” with its line the Father turns his face away). Mark’s gospel suggests this happened at 3 p.m. (which interestingly, corresponds to the Jewish “second hour of prayer,” called minchah, which means gift-offering).

This connection to Psalm 22 brings me to my point. I’ve heard others teach about the fulfilled prophecies of Psalm 22, some of which are intentionally called to mind by these gospel writers.
vs 1 – “why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew and Mark)
vs 6 – “scorned by everyone, despised…all who see me, mock me…” (Mk 15:18-20, Mk 15:29-32))
vs 8 – “let the Lord rescue him!” (Lk 23:35)
vs 14 – “I am poured out like water” (Jn 19:34)
vs 15 – “my mouth is dried up…my tongue sticks to the roof of my mouth” (Jn 19:28)
vs 16 – “they pierce my hands and my feet” (all four gospels)
vs 18 – “they cast lots for my garment” (Mt 27:35, Mk 15:24)

What’s fascinating to me is that scholars suggest that when the gospel writers quote from the Psalms, they expect their hearers to remember the entire Psalm in context. These Psalms were used as prayer in weekly synagogue services and would have been familiar. So their focus is not on “why have you forsaken me?” but on the full promise of God’s faithfulness. as seen in the following verses from Psalm 22:
vs 10 – “from birth you have been my God”
vs 19 – “You are my strength; come quickly to help!”
vs 22 – “I will declare your name to my people…I will praise you”
vs 24 – “[God] has not hidden his face…but has listened to his cry for help”
vs 27 – “All the ends of the earth will remember and turn to the LORD”
vs 28 – “dominion belongs to the LORD and he rules over the nations”
vs 30 – “future generations will be told about the Lord…”
vs 31 – “…they will proclaim his righteousness”

Finally, we come to John’s final statement of Jesus, “it is finished!” (Jn 19:30). Jesus completed the work God asked him to do. (Jn 17:4)
There is nothing more to be done. Jesus gift is enough, and we can confidently proclaim his righteousness with the Psalmist,
“He has done it!” (Ps 22:31)

His righteousness becomes our righteousness. “In [Christ], we might become the righteousness of God.”(2 Cor 5:21)
It is finished.
Amen.




Opening Doors for Women*

While in seminary, I helped plan a chapel program with the theme “Opening Doors: How Men can Create Welcoming Environments for Women in Ministry.” The idea grew out of the commonly held, chivalrous view that men should open doors for women. While there are a variety of views on whether or not that act is still necessary or appropriate, I don’t have a dog in that fight. If I get to a door first, I will probably open it for you out of common courtesy, whether you are male or female. But I do find it ironic that men are often expected to open doors for women physically, but in other avenues of life (including church ministry contexts) “it ain’t necessarily so.”

No matter your church context – whether your church ordains women as ministers of the gospel, whether they involve women as preachers or only in potlucks, whether they draw the line at eldership, or grant full equality in role and function – there are steps men can take to help women feel valued, welcomed, and included. Here are some ways you can “open doors” for women in ministry.

***Choose language carefully. Words and phrases are culturally conditioned. Sometimes words that don’t seem like a big deal to you come across as hurtful, demeaning, or dismissive to the women in the room. Choose to rise above cultural expectations and use language (consistently) that uplifts, encourages, and affirms women. Call out those in your circles that use off-color jokes, gender stereotypes, or otherwise demeaning language toward women. If you use a masculine metaphor for God in the worship service (Matt 6:9; Ex 15:3), be willing to include a feminine one as well (Deut 32:11, 18, Matt 23:37).

*** Be willing to sit in the discomfort of your privilege pressing hard against the reality of oppression. White male privilege can blind you to this reality in women. The fact that you feel right or comfortable is not license to assume that those who claim oppression, marginalization, and vulnerability are wrong. Listen to their stories and concerns. Recognize the tendency for privilege to blind you to others’ perspectives. Pray for humility and teachability.

***Show intentionality in whom you invite to speak, read, sing, and pray. You can choose to limit white male access on the platform because of your commitment to diversify the participant line up. There will always be MORE experienced men available, because men have been groomed from a young age to participate vocally in the service. That doesn’t mean women’s voices have less value. It means they have more often been silenced.

***Allow the silenced to have their own voice. Don’t just be the “voice for the voiceless.” Pass the mic to others. A different perspective is always valuable. Invite women into conversations about vision, leadership, perspectives, curriculum, a teaching series, church-wide changes, and pastoral care. When you implement ideas that they helped develop, give them public credit for their contributions.

***Pray for boldness to break the status quo, and the willingness and wisdom to know how and when to do so. If only white men have power (for instance, all elders at a church), they have the most ability and responsibility to make a change. Be willing to make changes that empower all members to join God in kingdom building work.

*** Accept your responsibility, without assuming you have ALL the responsibility. Women have to lean into their opportunities and follow God’s leading, whether or not the men in their lives open doors for them to go through. God often opens doors for women, regardless of men’s complicity or agreement. When God clearly opens a door for women, don’t stand in the doorway blocking God’s will.

***Honor each person’s uniqueness and giftedness. Our embodied reality includes gender, but that is not all it includes. Not all men are leaders. Not all women are nurturers. Not all men are teachers. Not all women like to cook. Honor those inherent differences in order to allow each person to realize their full potential in God’s image.

***Normalize women’s involvement at all levels. Don’t make it a big deal when you do invite a woman to speak or participate on a leadership team. Don’t treat her as if she is an anomaly, and you are making special concessions for her participation. Simply include them equally, and according to their gifts and calling.

***Offer your presence and be willing to dialogue with women who have experienced closed doors in ministry. Your presence is often more important than your words. Your presence communicates “You matter to me. We are all made in God’s image. You are not alone.” Your willingness to dialogue shows an openness to learning and growing. Your willingness to dialogue may be the reason she stays at your church, even if some doors remain closed.

***Choose faith over fear. Years of cultural conditioning, misguided worldviews, and sex-saturated media have led men and women to fear each other instead of forming deep friendships. Choose to see women as your sisters, made in the same image of God that you are. Choose to believe that the Holy Spirit can and will empower you to have healthy relationships with the opposite sex, instead of avoiding all contact with women over fear of temptation. Choose to be in deep community with both men and women as part of the image of God manifest in the church.

During the previously mentioned chapel, many women shared how men had opened doors for them in ministry…some told stories of how they had not. In every ministry context, there are dozens of untold stories, and women who need safe space to tell them. One video published by the United Methodist church addresses some of the oppression, frustration and even abuse women in their ministries have experienced. Their denominational policy affirms the common humanity and equal worth of women, along with the value of including women on decision-making teams. But church leaders have realized that their practice did not always align with their theology. As they shared stories of women in their denomination, they remind us

“Healing begins with first acknowledging the injuries. Faithfully hearing the stories of our sisters begins the healing process because we cannot mend what we are unaware is broken.”

When you become aware of what is broken, you have the power to assist in the healing.

What doors will you open for your sisters today?

*this post originally appeared as a winner in the 2017 Junia Project blog contest at https://juniaproject.com/men-open-doors-for-women/

The featured image is a painting by Heather Hodges Heflin and its story can be found at https://heatherhodgesart.com/collections/originals/products/copy-of-the-open-door
The door can only be opened from the inside.

PS – This painting now hangs in my office, next to my ordination certificate and graduate diplomas.

Seen by Many, Known by Few

After being out of the spotlight for more than a decade, Monica Lewinsky recorded a TED talk where she tells how, as a 22 year old intern, she had an affair with her boss. Some of you know her name from rap lyrics and retrospect – in fact, after her story broke, many asked why she didn’t change her name! Others of a certain age remember her story well – her public shame was plastered all over the internet in a most unflattering way. When this scandal was reported, I was busy raising two kids and building a business, plenty self-righteous in my church-going, devotional-reading ways. I watched just enough national news to assume I knew her “type” – some loose bimbo making love to President Clinton in his office, probably as manipulative and power hungry as I imagined him to be.

But as I watch Monica tell her story now, I am shocked at how differently I feel toward her. As the survivor of my own #MeToo moment, along with a counseling experience gone bad, I understand Monica’s vulnerability and feel empathy for her experience. And as a seminary student who’s read more than my share of research about honor and shame, patriarchy and power, I realize that Monica’s story is one of millions about women who go “looking for love in all the wrong places” and the men who take advantage of them.

One of the self-descriptors Monica uses is that she was “seen by many but known by few.” Doesn’t that describe a lot of people in your world? We see them often, maybe daily, but we only see the exterior view, the one they want us to see. Or maybe just as often, we see the view we want to see. We make assumptions based on how they are dressed, where they hang out, who their friends are. We cast judgement and lump them into categories without ever actually hearing their stories. They are seen by many, but known by few.

Let me tell you the story of another woman.

It’s recorded in the gospel of John, chapter 4. When we meet her, she’s gathering water, a mundane task she’s done every other day. Whether from familiarity with John’s gospel or the mention of gathering water, you probably already know whose story I’ll tell. You might even have some unconscious assumptions about her come to mind.

But John gives us far fewer details about the Samaritan woman than the Starr report gave us about Lewinsky. We don’t know her name or ancestral background. We don’t know if shame brought her to the well at the hottest hour of the day. And we don’t know why she was married five times, or why she was living out of wedlock with another man.

She is seen by many, but known by few.

We make plenty of assumptions about her, though. One commentary calls her a 5-time loser who is currently committed to an illicit affair. I daresay many of the sermons you’ve heard on this chapter assume her immorality; I daresay many of us who heard about Lewinsky in the 90s assumed the same and more. But when we view the text through a 21st century lens of what a 5-time divorcee would look like (Elizabeth Taylor comes to mind), we may be reading something into the text that simply isn’t there. One of my seminary professors urged us to consider the presuppositions of a patriarchal society in 1st Century Palestine. The Samaritan woman may have been widowed at a young age (even 13!)– she may have been divorced because she was barren – in either case she would have been in dire financial straits with need of a provider. She may have settled for being a concubine or a slave, just to have her daily needs met. Jesus knows all this about her, and brings up the fact of her 5 marriages. But Jesus suggests no shame, no condescension, no condemnation.

So why does Jesus engage her in conversation?

Perhaps because of the woman’s willingness to ask for help – “Sir, give me this water!” She is thirsty for more than she knows. In chapter 3, John describes a conversation which Nicodemus initiates with Jesus under dark of night. Nicodemus is a man – a Jew – a religious leader – a respected member of the community. Now in chapter 4, it seems John wants to show us the extremes to which Jesus will go to share Living water, and introduces a character at the far opposite end of the spectrum from Nicodemus.

A woman. A Samaritan. A nobody, An outcast in the community.


John’s gospel is full of irony and this woman’s story is one of the best examples. In contrast to the conversation with Nicodemus, Jesus initiates the conversation with this woman in broad daylight! Nicodemus thought Jesus came only for Israel – the children of the promise – Jesus shows he came with a promise for all children.

The Samaritan woman realizes Jesus is a prophet; we see the conversation switch from physical water to spiritual worship. She focuses on God’s will and presses on with hope for a Messiah, one who will be her salvation. She knows the coming Messiah is a shared expectation of Jews and Samaritans. We also know that Jesus affirms this expectation with his emphatic pronouncement ego eimi – I AM – the one speaking to you. And based on what we know from the text itself, this is the longest conversation Jesus is recorded to have had with anyone.

As her story progresses we learn that the disciples return, astonished at this turn of events but more concerned about Jesus eating lunch than his engaging lesson with a woman. The woman seems undaunted by the disciples discomfort and (as a recipient of living water) runs off without her water jug, ready to share her testimony with an entire town. And while she is an unlikely emissary for the good news (as was Mary Magdalene at the tomb), she nevertheless becomes an evangelist to the Samaritan people, and the text says “many Samaritans believed in her testimony.”

Two stories, two women, seen by many but known by few. I don’t know if Lewinsky is a believer, but the fact that she is able to move beyond her shame and the notoriety of her name is evident. She seems to have found hope, if not redemption, in sharing her story with others. While we don’t know the Samaritan woman’s name, she is finally known by the one who can take away her shame. Jesus offers her love and acceptance, not accusation. Though seen by many, she is known by the One who matters most, and that makes all the difference in the rest of her story.