Two Sisters

My husband, Zack, not-so-affectionately calls it “The Do Monster”  —  That pervasive, nagging feeling that we should always be doing more for God. Whether it’s never missing a Sunday service, or volunteering every weekend, or leading that home group, or living under constant pressure to study-more-pray-more-fast-more-repeat, it doesn’t take long before the “shoulds” in our lives overwhelm us into burnout and stagnation.

Toward the end of 2021, Zack and I reached the pinnacle of our wrestling over this. At the time, we ran a tiny, unofficial home-based community service called The Acts Kitchen that cooked and delivered free homemade meals to those in need. We truly loved what we did… But in our drive to never “waste” a moment, it regularly left us exhausted and overwhelmed, especially when paired with spending our Saturday mornings volunteering with our favorite local homeless ministry, and serving as greeters and prep team trainers at both our Saturday night and Sunday morning church services… All while managing daily life with chronic lung illness. My breakdown came suddenly and swiftly one evening during a routine trip to Wal Mart for necessities, right in the middle of the boys’ clothing section. And in response, Zack re-routed our cart and myself off to a quiet side aisle, cocooned me in his arms, and said gently, but firmly, “It’s time to take a break.”

For the first time in over five years, I didn’t argue.

We stepped back in phases. First, from the homeless ministry downtown. Next, from serving every weekend at church, and eventually, organized service altogether. And last, our beloved Acts Kitchen that we’d created from the ground up in the midst of the COVID-19 outbreak. At first, it was tangibly relieving to have the freedom to breathe, worship, and discover what it meant to pick up our crosses and follow Jesus daily on our own terms. But it wasn’t long before we realized just how much of our confidence had been tied to the boxes we checked off at the end of any given day. Not having that perpetual compulsion to do do do more should have been liberating… But instead, because it was all we’d ever known, it felt like emotional, spiritual, and even identity upheaval.

Until late one night, well into our discomfort, when what I considered to be a fairly profound series of questions dawned on me:

“If Ephesians 2:9–10 tells us,

For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them…’

Then might it be safe to say there are times when He doesn’t have anything for us to do?

Might it be safe to say there are times when He intentionally clears space, sometimes even whole seasons for us, so that we may rest?

Might it be safe to say that it’s our own insecurities that pile up that free time with things we think will please Him?

And might it be safe to say that the to-do lists we create, with every intention of feeling closer to Him by earning His approval, become the very things that keep us too busy and too scattered to just be His?”

Enter: Two sisters.

An impromptu dinner party is being thrown in the small town of Bethany by three of Jesus’ closest friends, Mary, Martha, and Lazarus. The King of kings and the Lord of lords is the guest of honor, and Martha wants everything to be perfect for Him. (Don’t we all?) But as she busies herself making preparations, we get a glimpse in Luke 10 of the offense burning within her heart:

“A woman named Martha welcomed Him into her house. And she had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to His teaching. But Martha was distracted with much serving. And she went up to Him and said, ‘Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Then tell her to help me.’”

And how does Jesus respond?

“Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her.”

Please don’t hear what I’m not saying — Living in service to our Savior is not wrong. Jesus wasn’t rebuking Martha’s service as wicked. Nor was He scolding her for her gracious and hospitable desire to open her home to Him. He was, however, reframing her perspective on priority. And He was gently reminding her that as long as her service stemmed from the wrong heart posture, it was all for nothing anyway.

It is only at the feet of Jesus, humbled and captivated by all He is, that we’re able to experience the overwhelming adoration and awe that drove the disciples to lay down their lives for Him and for their fellow man. We can not muster that up on our own, and what we consider to be good deeds will never be able to produce it. His love is our source. His rest is our refuge and our refuel. And one thing is always for certain  —  Our Martha serving must flow from our Mary devotion. Never the other way around.

Sometimes, a half-hour recharge in the morning is sufficient. Others, it may take days, even weeks. In my own walk, regardless of the season, I have come to envision my heart as a satellite dish that can deliberately make the choice to pause and “ping” for Him at any time, even in my busiest of moments. And when I find Him, I find I no longer have to strive for His rest and His refreshment. It comes as naturally as breath.

It’s not our job to save the world. Only to shine Him into it. And we can’t do that, in spirit and in truth, if we don’t take the time to just be with Him first.

“Come to Me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.”

He always does the heavy lifting.

So let us rest in our portions, and our portions alone, today

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    Chayil | Proverbs 31

    Chayil. (Khah’yil.)

    The first time I heard this beautiful Hebrew word in April of 2014, something about it resonated deep within me. As a baby conceived with Cystic Fibrosis – a life-threatening genetic illness that pegged my life expectancy at around 8 years old – I was, quite literally, born a fighter. However, CF was only the first of many fires awaiting me in this lifetime, and as a result, I spent the better part of ten years self-destructing in every way imaginable, determined that if I was going to die young, I was going to have a heck of a time doing it.

    So when I was introduced to the marrow of chayil while deep in the trenches of my rock bottom… And I learned the black and white of it to be “excellence” and “valor”… My shame and unbelief found it easy to shrug off.

    What I failed to understand then was that chayil isn’t something we muster up on our own. It knows no separation from, and is entirely dependent upon, our relationship with our Abba. And in time, we learn that to be a woman of chayil is to be a woman of innately-driven excellence. Strength. Beauty. And honor.

    It is quiet courage and confidence that knows it doesn’t have to roar to make a difference, or shove its way into the spotlight to be heralded.

    It is borne in the hard and holy and hidden places of our hearts. Places that are steeped in the value of being before doing, and that understand why Jesus promised that Mary held the better portion.

    It is fully recognizing that we hold both the sword and its victory in our hands, yet still kneeling before Him and asking Him how to wield it.

    It is a war cry, a desperate reminder of who and whose we are when the fight in front of us feels too big… Because most of the time, it is. And we should never be ashamed to admit we don’t have what it takes without Him.

    It’s bold. It’s counter-cultural. It’s often mistaken for weakness, and almost always viewed as insane.

    But that’s OK. So was our Jesus.

    The essence of chayil is most often depicted as a fierce warrior woman. If I’m honest, that’s what I had in mind myself when I sat down to render this image. But as it began to come more and more alive, I realized He was driving home the heart of where our excellence, courage, and strength truly come from: Our union with Him.

    Daughter of God, if this all seems intimidating to you, take heart, because you were made for this. The walk of a godly woman isn’t easy… It goes against every societal norm we’re taught, it draws mockers and critics, it costs us close friendships, and it consistently forces us to shed our comfort zones and step into the unknown, where tensions can be high but our Greatest Prize is higher. And by His grace, we come to realize we have nothing to fear. Because we’ve been bought with a price and adopted into His army to overcome lies with Truth, fear with faith, hatred with hospitality, and bitter with forgive. We weren’t made to give the world a piece of our minds, but a piece of His heart. And we were created to help heal, and leave this world that we’re in, but not of, in better shape than we found it.

    Expect difficulties. Expect attacks. Expect setbacks, to be sure.

    But more importantly, expect victory. Expect freedom. And expect to know the love and companionship of the God of the universe… Who is somehow also our personal Lord and Savior… Who is somehow also our Father who bends low to hear His children cry… So deeply that we shine His radiance from the inside out.

    It will feel impossible at times, but that’s why He made us warriors.

    That’s why He made us women of chayil.

    © Farrel DeBaltzo | January 3, 2023

    Love > Fear

    There are two diametrically opposed choices we’re faced with every day, multiple times a day, as human beings: Life and Death.

    They are driven by two diametrically opposed forces: Love and Fear.

    And of them are borne two diametrically opposed realities: Light and Darkness.

    They can not co-exist. We live from one or the other.

    The Greek word for “casts out” here is “ballō”, and it does not convey fear as a worthy adversary that love gently tells to bugger off. It is much more fierce, painting fear out to be worthless and a waste of time and energy. Other Scripture where this context is used is Matthew 5, when Jesus says salt that has lost its saltiness has no other fate than to tread underfoot and be thrown out; Matthew 13 when it describes fishermen sifting through their catch and throwing away the foul ones; and John 15 when Jesus invites His followers to abide in Him continuously, warning that those who refuse to will be like branches that wither and are thrown into the fire — Not as a threat, but a very real picture of what happens when we choose to cut ourselves off from Life Himself.

    Fear appears daunting to us, but it doesn’t have to be. And notice it doesn’t say “authority” casts out fear, but “perfect love”. When we fix our eyes on the beauty of all Jesus is, all He has done, and all the love that drove Him to do so, there is no other logical result than for fear to disintegrate before our very hearts and eyes. He always does the heavy lifting.

    There are certainly times in our human frailty when we will stumble. But at the end of the day, and the end of all days, the core of our beliefs and allegiance belongs to one or the other.

    May we all who bear His name today choose Love, choose Light, and choose LIFE ♥♥♥

    © Farrel DeBaltzo | April 4, 2024

    Home

    I grew up right outside of Lindale, Texas in blink-and-you-miss-it Garden Valley. When Dad had to leave, Mom and I relocated to a rent house her father owned in Tyler, where I spent years 10 through 20.

    At age 21, I hightailed it as fast as I could out of East Texas and to Dallas, then across the country to Washington State, then back to the Dallas/Fort Worth area, then across the country in the other direction to Florida, before finally ending up back in Tyler in 2017 — A place I swore to my love, my friends, my family, and even my God I would never, ever, under any circumstances return to.

    I imagine that gave Him a pretty good chuckle, considering He knew what sovereign plan He had in store for me. In His perfect grace, He let me run for a long time — 13 years, to be exact — because only He knew exactly when I would be ready to tackle my past, piece by piece, and heal from it.

    And now… Just about the time I’d finally gotten used to being back in Tyler… Here Zack and I are, plunked back down in Lindale, in a home where our route in and out of civilization takes us directly through downtown. Past the old post office I reference in Love You More Than Life: A Memoir. The post office where I used to go with Dad every couple of days to check his business box. The post office that, if I had words for it, I could still describe exactly how it smelled inside. Past the brick corner store, now a guitar and gun shop, that once housed Rexall Drugs and filled my Cystic Fibrosis prescriptions as a baby. Past First Baptist Church, where I was dedicated as a newborn. Past all of the places and memories and emotions still sailor-knot-tied to a ranch and a home where another family lives and whose kiddos now play.

    There is no such thing as coincidence.

    Especially when it comes to redemption.

    Coming home — really, truly coming home in every sense of the word — is both comforting and uncomfortable. Familiar in the best and the worst ways. Messy. Confrontational. And, in the end, utterly freeing.

    Because nothing, nowhere, and No One knows you like home ♥

    © Farrel DeBaltzo | February 19, 2024