What Mary Chose

The story of Mary and Martha is well known among Christians, Christian women in particular. Its a story that can be used to place women.

See? This a woman’s natural physical tendency, to be in the kitchen. And see? This is a woman’s natural emotional tendency, to be worried and anxious about many things. Whether Martha, or by extension all women, is worried and anxious simply because there is a lot of work to do for one person or because she is proud and her ego in hospitality is getting in her way, doesn’t ultimately matter. We just know, or think we know, or are told, that Martha is in her rightful place, the kitchen, and seized by her natural, sinful attitudes about the work before her.

And, we know, are told, or think we know, that Mary has summoned the spiritual character to eschew the kitchen, to set aside her sinful nature, and sit at Jesus’ feet.

One writer said the lesson here is that we should not be so distracted by good things, even serving and hospitality, that we neglect our own spiritual growth.

Another emphasized the value of listening to Jesus and spending time with him.

Another described the differences between the motivations of the two sisters. Mary, he claims, is motivated by love. Martha, by anxiety.

Another contrasts the Martha Spirit and the Mary Spirit, the busy busy buy spirit and the spirit of restful adoration.

The assumption in all these, (good and positive lessons) is that what Jesus is contrasting is Martha’s harried posture and Mary’s worshipful posture.

I think we have read this passage with far too small an idea of who Jesus is and what he came to accomplish. I wonder if there is something more at play, something that adds to the story and makes it powerfully relevant and not just to overworked women.

I imagine most meal times when a mixed group of guests was present as: women in the kitchen and men at the table. Possibly the guest of honor is speaking, or teaching, or leading a discussion. Probably, that’s what Jesus was doing. The text is not explicit, but I think we can conclude from the first sentence and from the amount of work put on Martha’s shoulders, that the disciples were also present for dinner.

Martha chose the expected position and role for women.

Mary insisted on her right to sit with the men.

Martha didn’t look outside the box of culture and took up her work.

Mary decided she belonged with Jesus, which is to say, where the men were. She had every right to be there, too. Jesus himself confirmed it.

When Martha complains to Jesus, everyone expects him to say, “You’re right! Mary, get up and go help her.”

We don’t, generally, expect Jesus to either:

+ Say, “Hey, Martha, I know you aren’t actually upset about the work. You are actually upset because your sister has just overturned the cultural norms and you are feeling anxious about that, and slightly confused.”

+ Summon fishes and bread from the heavens and wave his hand around to create a nice meal and clean it up, ala Mrs. Weasley?

+ Or, tell some of those lazy-bum disciples (somewhere between 12 and 72 of them), to get off their lazy bums and help? That would have been radical!

But no. Jesus says Mary chose what was best and that it wouldn’t be taken away from her. She chose to place herself right in the front, in the middle, in the center, near the Teacher, and she wasn’t going to be kicked out to the ‘women’s place.’

Mary probably had to elbow her way up there, or maybe she manipulated the situation by carrying a bowl of washing water and when she reached Jesus, instead of moving on after he washed his hands and feet, she simply plopped right down in front of him. Who knows how she got there. What we know is that she is, likely, the lone woman in this room.

Jesus does not say that Mary is so enthralled with him, or so deeply spiritual, or so eager to learn, that she is allowed to stay. He does not praise her for choosing learning over serving. That is what readers assume about this passage.

Neither does he say he is explicitly commending her for her courage in taking her rightful place as a woman among men. But I think we can equally assume that about this passage.

Maybe this is not a story about choosing love or service. Or about checking our motivations. Or about harried women versus worshipful women. Or a quaint tale to teach women the value of choosing Bible reading over dish washing.

Probably, its all that. Probably, it is so much more than all that.

This is a radical story about a woman courageously asserting herself, claiming the humanity that is her right by dint of being created and imbued with the image of God, and being dignified for that courage.

In sitting there, Mary is saying she belongs in the Kingdom, too. She demanded a place, edged her way in, neglected the opinions of men and women and the cultural norms. She saw that Jesus offered himself first to the lowly and the outcast, and said, “Me, too. I, also, belong in the presence of Jesus.”

Even more importantly, she is not saying she, only, belongs there, but that women belong there. The oppressed, the neglected, the overlooked, the discriminated against, those at the margins. We all belong in the presence of Jesus. We all have the right to claim our place at the table.

Mary chose to belong. That will not be taken away.


Luke 10:38-42, (NIV)

As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him. She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said. But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to him and asked, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!”

“Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, but few things are needed—or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.”


New Expats, Old Expats, Hold On to What You Believe

Quick link: Don’t Forget the Things You Know Are True

In case you missed it, A Life Overseas published my post this week about some of the things we know are true that are deeply challenged in the first year abroad. And in every year after that.

All the training, preparing, packing, and planning has left you utterly exhausted, unprepared for reality, insufficiently packed, and carrying plans that will be chucked out the window upon arrival. Those who sent you and those you received you have done their best, but they haven’t been perfect or complete, and I want to remind you of some important things.

There are some things you know to be true. These things will be challenged to their very deepest core in your first few months abroad. You’ll forget them. You’ll call people liars (even if just in your head) when they remind you of them. You’ll wonder how you ever could have been foolish enough to believe them. That’s part of the process. That does not change the fact that these things are things you know. They are true. They have not changed, even while life is only wild, chaotic, and stressful.

Read the rest of Don’t Forget the Things You Know Are True here.

Word Made Art, a Book Review

My friend Heather Lynn Caliri is releasing a book today, a Lent devotional unlike anything you’ve probably read before. It takes the Word and makes it art, it gets us to engage physically with the Bible again, rather than just reading it on our phones: Word Made Art: Lent: A Scriptural Encounter for Ash Wednesday through Easter

The book itself is short but that’s because it is mostly suggestions and directions and then sends you to the Bible to interact with the pages, the words, the ideas, and your own self. Heather asks deep, probing questions that can guide your time and she has you do art projects with the word. I love this unique way of getting back in literal touch, after spending the past few years on my phone.


I already read the book myself, but am going through it again, with a small group. Each time, it can be fresh, which is something I long for and need, in my faith walk. Lent isn’t a practice I knew growing up and I enjoy this guided way to think about this time before Easter. I really loved this book and am happy to recommend it. Head over to Amazon and get your own copy, Kindle versions are just $2.99 and a paper copy just $7.99.



I received an advance review copy of this book

The Bookshelf: All Our Waves are Water, a Review

(I received a free copy of this book)

I first read Jaimal Yogis’s work in his book The Fear Project: What Our Most Primal Emotion Taught Me About Survival, Success, Surfing . . . and Love. Fear is a common theme in my own writing – feeling it, describing it, facing it, overcoming it, living with it…so I was curious about his perspective on fear, through the lens of surfing. It was a beautiful and challenging exploration of living with fear, but not bending to it. Here is just one quote, of many, that I wrote down:

“If we can understand fear rather than demonize it, reframe fear as a natural part of our biology rather than avoiding and repressing it, stretch our comfort zones just a little every day and walk peacefully and courageously into those scary memories of embarrassment and trauma, we will gradually learn to transform fear into focus and compassionate action, and our sons’ and daughters’ world can be better than the one we live in. Will we collectively freeze, fight, and stagnate? Or will we learn and act?”

When Jaimal contacted me to review his newest book, All Our Waves Are Water, I was eager for the book to get all the way to Djibouti. I’m not a surfer, but a runner, so a fellow athlete. I’m not Buddhist but I seek to uncover the holy and the Divine in daily life and the exploration of all faiths intrigues me. I am a lover of water. I grew up in Minnesota, land of 10,000 lakes. I’ve lived 15 years within a mile or two of the ocean. So – sport, faith, water, book. So many of the things I love, yes, this would be a great book for me to read and review.

I read it in two days, even during the holiday season.

Jaimal had a significant challenge on his hands in writing this book. Faith, especially the mystical aspects of it, is one of the hardest things to describe in words without sounding, well, not quite sane. And to get non-surfers to understand and appreciate the thrill, terror, and irresistible pull of a wave without sounding condescending, redundant, or confusing, must have felt daunting. I’ll admit I didn’t quite grasp all the surfing scenes, or quite understand some of his more deeply experienced religious moments. But that works in this book. Faith is embracing mystery. The surfer’s high, or low, like the runner’s high or low, is intangible. Writers throw words at meditation or the ocean or God and they are our attempts to name the unnamable. I didn’t mind that I couldn’t exactly picture what he described and instead, I imposed my own mystical faith experiences and sport experience over his, and felt a sort of kinship.

The book is poetic, especially when he writes about the water and describes waves. It is a story about friendship and love and faith and surfing around the world. But ultimately, it is a story about Jaimal’s search, which is the search of so many of us. Through nations, girlfriends, friends, studying, working, yoga, meditation, and surfing, Jaimal takes the reader along on his search for self and for grace.

He finds both, even while acknowledging that every day presents a fresh opportunity to search yet deeper. But grace and his sense of identity are not actually in the waves, or the water, not in his work, not in his romantic relationships, not in the experiences he had of traveling all over the world, not in the yoga meditation or retreats. At least not in any of these things exclusively or eternally. He finds himself and uncovers grace in daily life.

The holy in the ordinary, grace in the mundane, self where you are.

After a rather shocking experience, he writes, “…had given me a gift. He’d made me recall briefly that nothing beats spring pasta on a Tuesday with your girlfriend, the sensation of breath in your lungs, a walk on the dunes after dinner, the full moon sinking behind the city.”

I finished the book and wanted to do two things: run to the ocean and dip my fingers in, to taste the salty water that so perfectly accompanies the book, and to be more faithful in practicing meditation. A book that calls the reader to experience nature with joy and to sit quietly, exploring the soul, is a good book. Even if you miss some of the the surfing nuances or don’t follow the same specific faith ideas, there are depths of beauty and honesty to enjoy in All Our Waves Are Water.

And more of Jaimal Yogis’s work here

A Christmas Story about a Surprising Baby Named God (not that one)

Quick link: A Muslim, a Christian, and a Baby Named God


This is a story close to my heart because it is about my first friend here, someone who was and remains exceedingly precious to me and my whole family. Someone who made me believe that this place, so different from Minnesota, could become home. Someone, without whom, I sincerely doubt we could have stayed so long.

When I needed someone to love my kids, she did. When I needed someone to make me laugh, she could. When I wanted to understand a cultural thing, she untangled it for me. When I need someone to hear my anger or my sorrow, she welcomed it.

This is a story of two women, coming from such different places, with such different faiths and such different ways of living, and finding each other, finding ourselves, together. It is about becoming mothers and about digging into our souls and finding beauty there.

When God and his mother were released from the maternity ward they came directly to my house to use the air conditioner. It was early May and the summer heat that melted lollipops and caused car tires to burst enveloped Djibouti like a wet blanket. Power outages could exceed ten hours a day. Temperatures hadn’t peaked yet, 120 degrees would come in August, but the spring humidity without functioning fans during power outages turned everyone into hapless puddles. I prepared a mattress for Amaal* and her newborn and prayed the electricity would stay on so she could use the air conditioner and rest, recover.

In 2004 when my family arrived in Djibouti, I needed help minimizing the constant layer of dust; Amaal needed a job. I needed a friend and Amaal, with her quick laugh and cultural insights became my lifeline. My husband worked at the University of Djibouti and was gone most mornings and afternoons, plus some evenings. We had 4-year-old twins and without Amaal I might have packed our bags and returned to Minnesota out of loneliness and culture shock.

I hired Amaal before she had any children. She wasn’t married yet and her phone often rang while she worked, boys calling to see what she was doing on Thursday evening. To see if she wanted to go for a walk down the streets without street lights where young people could clandestinely hold hands or drink beer from glass Coca-Cola bottles. She rarely said yes until Abdi Fatah* started calling. He didn’t drink alcohol and didn’t pressure her into more physical contact than she was comfortable with in this Muslim country. She felt respected. She said yes.

Click here to read the rest of A Muslim, a Christian, and a Baby Named God