Handle With Care: An Interview with Lore Ferguson Wilbert

Touch is a topic not often discussed or written about, especially within the church, yet it is such an important issue for life, health, and relationships. So, it was an absolute privilege to interview author Lore Ferguson Wilbert on this podcast episode about her thoughts on faith, the body, touch, and relationships. Lore recently wrote her first book, Handle with Care: How Jesus Redeems the Power of Touch in Life and Ministry, in which she delves into the topic of touch from the perspective of faith.

During our conversation, we talk about friendship, body image, and the importance of touch in relationship. Lore shares how the act of caring for her body became a key part of beginning to heal after experiencing trauma in her life. We also discuss the differences between self-care and self-worship, and how mindfulness can be a helpful tool for navigating the relationship we have with our bodies and food. Additionally, Lore explains how the embodiment of Jesus means everything to the Christian faith.

If you enjoy today’s podcast episode, and you’d like to hear more from Lore, check out her book, Handle With Care, or visit her website, sayable.net, where you can read more of her writing. If something from today’s episode resonated with you, I’d love to hear about it. Please comment below today’s show notes, or join the conversation on PRN’s Facebook page.

May you be encouraged on your journey with Jesus.

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Body Freedom

An ugly, pink scar graces the top of my left shoulder. It’s really unfortunate, because I used to enjoy wearing sleeveless shirts in the summer. After my left shoulder became scarred, I mostly gave them up. Now, rather than looking attractive and confident in a sleeveless top, showing off my shoulders leaves me feeling insecure.

This insecurity became concrete through an uncomfortable experience. A few years ago, while wearing a tank top, I was approached by a child who touched the scar and started asking incessant questions about it. Leave it to a child. Adults play off their curiosity in more socially appropriate ways, but there are no boundaries for curious children. Since that day, I’ve been careful to only wear sleeveless shirts when I felt I was in a confident enough mood to handle questions that might arise.

In my opinion, some scars seem more honorable than others. They tell a story and can be worn with pride. I mean, imagine being asked about a scar and being able to say, “Oh, that was left over from my brush with a mountain lion,” or “I was in a motorcycle accident years ago.” Those kinds of scars can be worn like badges of courage.

Mine, on the other hand, has no great story to accompany it. No, it’s just the leftover remnants of a dermatology surgery to remove an “abnormal” mole over the top of my left clavicle. My skin stretched while healing, and the result is a large, pink scar.

With this backstory in mind, I want to tell you about a shopping trip I took last weekend.

Clothes shopping is delightfully fun but can also be fraught with body image nightmares!

It was my first venture back out into normal shopping since the pandemic began, and I was so happy to be out and about. My shopping companion and I were chatting next to the women’s athletic wear rack. She remarked, “There are some cute pieces here, but I’ve decided not to wear sleeveless anymore. It’s not flattering as I age.”

I quickly replied, “Oh, yeah, since I got a scar on my shoulder, I don’t wear sleeveless anymore either.”

Another customer was hovering nearby and overheard our conversation. She jumped in, “I think you should both wear sleeveless. Don’t worry, be proud.” I looked up at her, and she was smiling encouragingly.

Attempting to respond with kindness, knowing that she was trying to be helpful, I said, “Oh, well I do when I’m in a confident mood. It just depends.”

Her smile dropped a little, and she nodded, continuing her shopping.

Let’s pause here. Now, I am a counselor who has frequent, honest conversations with women who struggle with low self-esteem and poor body image. I find myself preaching often how important it is to become friends with our bodies. I have recovered from an eating disorder myself and know the damage that an inner critical voice can wreak. In fact, I recently have been reading and thinking about how God made us embodied beings and spoke with author Lore Ferguson Wilbert on an upcoming podcast episode about faith, the body, and the importance of touch.

I can preach and think about healthy body image, but apparently I struggle to act on it. While considering all of this, maybe 45 seconds elapsed.

I found myself calling out to the woman, “Thank you! I love your spirit and your body-positive words. You’re right, God gives us all one body, and we get to steward it and enjoy it.”

She beamed back at me.

The whole conversation was over in 2 minutes flat. Still, I have reflected on it multiple times this week. Our words have power. That conversation could have turned into a gab-fest of sharing body flaws. All women know that conversations can devolve into negative body-talk quickly, especially when clothes shopping. Instead, one brave woman stepped in and spoke truth over the lies that my inner critic had been spreading.

Now, I’m not telling you that I’m going to start wearing sleeveless tops every day this summer, but I am proclaiming that I want to work harder at living with body freedom. I don’t want to just preach it. I want to live it. I want to encourage others to live it too.

Our bodies tell stories. They age, they sag, they scar, and they carry cellulite. They also move, breathe, sing, hug, and hold great beauty. Let’s collectively agree to lift one another up and encourage each other towards body compassion rather than body scorn. It’s a beautiful thing to embrace our bodies as sacred and an incredible legacy to pass to the next generation of little bodies growing in our midst.

Pause: Take a moment to read and meditate on I Corinthians 6: 19-20. What stands out to you in this passage?

Renew: In what ways do you find yourself being critical towards your body? How can you begin to challenge those old ways of thinking and instead treat your body as a gift given to you by a God who loves you?

Next: As you go throughout your week, pay attention to the way that you think and speak about your body. If you find that it’s continually negative, begin a gratitude list of what you are thankful for about your body.

May we find freedom to enjoy and find gratitude for the bodies we’ve been given.

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Craving Connection

Lonely. It’s a sad word.

Loneliness isn’t the same as solitude, which entails a willingness to be alone. No, lonely means being alone against one’s wishes. It can feel needy, pathetic, and vulnerable. Loneliness can surface anytime, when one is actually alone, or in a room full of people. In fact, sometimes being alone in a crowd is the most extreme form of loneliness.

Loneliness is like an emotional alarm bell for connection.

There was a time after college when I spent much of my time feeling lonely. I had recently moved to a new town and a new state where I had very few friends. My husband was my best friend, but after he left for work each day I found myself with hours to fill and no one to talk to. I took my dog on walks at the park, went shopping, or spent time in the local library, just so I could be around other people. Even if I didn’t speak to other patrons, the simple act of being around other human beings seemed to dissipate the panic of feeling so very alone.

Fast forward to having children, Bible studies, a job, church small groups, and homeschool co-ops to belong to, and my moments of loneliness felt few and far between – until this year. Life changes have shifted some of our family routines, and the result is that I have seen friends less frequently this year. I was in the process of contemplating how I could remedy this issue when the quarantine hit.

Granted, even now, during the long weeks of social distancing I am rarely alone. With four children in the house, I find it difficult to even find moments of quiet, nevermind solitude. Still, I find my desire for relationship increasing as the weeks go by.

There’s always the beacon of belonging via social media, but this kind of connection is a double-edged sword. Although social media allows us to view each other’s lives and keep up to date on life events, it is just a mirage of real connection. It never quite scratches the itch. Actually, I find that social media increases my loneliness, as it often leaves me feeling left out and discontented.

The thing is, I know I’m not alone in the experience of loneliness. (See what I did there?)

There may never have been a time in the history of the planet that people have felt more lonely than they do right now.

There is absolutely nothing shameful about feeling lonely. Read that again: There is NOTHING wrong with you if you feel lonely. The catch-22 is that loneliness often leads us to a place of shame. As we register the emotion of loneliness, it can send our thoughts into self-questioning, self-loathing, or at the very least a loss of self-confidence. You may find yourself questioning what’s wrong with you that you don’t have more friends? Why has no one called or texted you today? Has everyone else moved on in life and forgotten you? The questions loneliness conjures up can be unique to the situation, yet almost always tinged with shame or fear.

I’m encouraging both of us, you and myself, to challenge those thoughts. We don’t need to challenge the feeling of loneliness. It’s a valid emotion, and it’s okay to acknowledge it. No, I want us to challenge the thoughts that accompany loneliness. Rather than turning them inwards in a self-questioning fashion, let’s embrace ourselves instead. If anything we need to give ourselves grace right now. We have the right to desire friendship and relationship. Relationships are beautiful. We are wired for human connection. This is a hard time, but we will make it through. We will hug again. We will socialize again. We will reunite with old friends, and we will make new ones. This won’t last forever.

On the other hand, right now is an opportune time to contemplate relationships. After all, when will you ever have this much thinking time again? Two questions for contemplation might be:

  • How can I cultivate my relationships while social distancing?
  • In what ways do I want to invest in relationship more or differently when I re-emerge from social distancing?

If you’ve been feeling lonely, hear me come alongside you and tell you that you’re not the only one. It’s a valid feeling, and it’s completely normal to experience it right now. Our grandparents are feeling it, our children are feeling it, our single friends are feeling it, our extroverted friends are especially feeling it, and, you guessed it, so are the introverts. We are absolutely made for connection. Let’s give ourselves and others grace as we navigate the waters of loneliness on our way back out into normal life.

Pause: God said in the beginning of Genesis, “It is not good for man to be alone.” Contemplate/journal about your need for relationship. When do you feel most connected in relationship? When do you feel most connected to God?

Renew: What are you learning about yourself during this time of social distancing? How do you want to work on cultivating friendships now and in the future? How can you give yourself grace to experience loneliness without shame?

Next: In your circles of relationships, who can you think of who might be especially lonely right now? How can you reach out to them this week?

May you be comforted by a God who promises to never leave or forsake you. You are never alone.

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The Fostering Journey: An Interview with Julie Long

Since May is National Foster Care Month, this seemed like the perfect time to have a conversation about foster care. My friend, Julie Long, has been a licensed foster parent for many years, and she graciously agreed to be on the podcast to share about her own experience of fostering. She explains how she and her husband decided to enter into the world of foster care and the challenges and rewards they have faced along the journey.

During the conversation, Julie shares some of her favorite memories of foster care and discusses what it has looked like for her to co-parent with birth parents as they work toward reunification. She also talks about the impact fostering has had on her own children and how parenting foster children differs from how she would regularly parent. Additionally, she highlights the importance of her support system and how using respite care and setting boundaries has been a key component to her own self-care.

I love Julie’s heart for “the least of these” and her passion for advocating and spreading the word about foster care. If something you heard on today’s podcast episode resonated with you, I’d love to hear about it. Leave a comment below, or join the conversation on PRN’s Facebook page. If you know someone who is considering become a licensed foster parent, please share this episode with them.

May you be encouraged on your journey with Jesus.

Pause, Renew, Next!

That’s Not What I Wanted

It seems I was always meant to be a boy mom. As a little girl, I didn’t enjoy playing with dolls. You would more likely have found me making mud pies, floating boats through overflowing ditches, or catching bugs and small, unsuspecting animals. Even as an adult, I enjoy finding and exploring wildlife. I love plants and animals of all sorts!

Naturally, when we filled our pond last summer, the first thing I did was buy goldfish. I found great joy in feeding them and watching them swim around their new home. However, goldfish were not the only wildlife that took up residence in our pond. It’s as if a sonic blast sent the message to amphibians in the area to come make themselves at home too. We began finding frogs sitting nonchalantly on the lily pads. At first it was one, then two, and by the end of last summer, we were counting six frogs at a time!

Although I didn’t plan to stock my pond with frogs, this addition did not phase me one bit. In fact, I was almost as excited to have frogs as my 8-year-old son who is passionately in love with amphibians. I curiously set about trying to discover what kind of frogs we had living in our pond. Soon, I had narrowed it down to two types: the American bullfrog or the green frog.

Peek-a-boo. This is the best picture I could get of these sneaky frogs!

Stubbornly, I have been trying to figure which type of frogs we have for months. It’s trickier than it seems. Apparently, bullfrogs and green frogs are very similar and easily mistaken for one another. It turns out there are two main ways to tell them apart. For one thing, bullfrogs grow to be a lot bigger than green frogs. The juveniles however, look very similar. The other distinguishing factor are the lateral ridges behind their eyes. Getting a good look at those ridges is easier said than done, because those stubborn frogs like to hide under the water whenever I get close enough to look!

Truthfully, I have an opinion on the matter. I am hoping for green frogs. Bullfrogs tend to be bullies, and they eat smaller animals, including other frogs. If bullfrogs are around, not a lot of other small animal life will be. Plus, they’re big and ugly. I like frogs, but I tend to like them on the smaller side. The bigger they are, the more disgusting they become.

Recently, I was sitting by the pond, trying to get a good look at those sneaky frogs, praying that they were green frogs. (Yes, really praying. God cares about all of our thoughts and feelings, even if they’re silly.) While thinking about this, it occurred to me that whether they were bullfrogs or green frogs didn’t matter. My 8-year-old and I were still blessed with frogs. They might not turn out to be the kind of frogs I wanted, but they are still frogs nonetheless.

Now here is where I’m going to take a turn from the ridiculous to the serious. Buckle up while we switch gears. Frogs aren’t the only gift I’ve been given that didn’t turn out like I’d hoped.

Isn’t it true that while we pray for good gifts, when they arrive differently than we expected, we often feel immense disappointment, discouragement, or frustration. Somehow though, when the cloud of disappointment lifts, hindsight shows us that our prayers were answered anyway, and the gifts we received were beautiful in their own way.

For me, this principle has taken on many forms: from praying for a pregnancy and being given the gift of adoption instead, to praying for healing and being given the gifts of endurance and compassion through suffering I didn’t want. In each circumstance we face, the Lord is faithful to give the best gift of all: Himself. He walks with us, reassures us that His ways really are good, and reminds us that He will never leave us.

The apostle Peter learned this lesson firsthand. I love Peter. Like him, I live passionately and often find that my mouth gets me into trouble. I have a lot of compassion for his spiritual foibles. In John 21, we find Peter carrying on a conversation with Jesus, soon after He had risen from the dead. Graciously, Jesus forgives Peter for denying him in the hours before his death and reinstates him with a spiritual calling. He then gives him a vision for his future which will include not only leadership in caring for the church but also suffering and death. I guess Peter didn’t like this vision too much, because he turned to Jesus and asked about John’s future. Jesus directly responded to Peter’s question, answering:

“If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you? You must follow me.” 

John 21:22 NIV

I can imagine that this was not exactly the answer Peter was hoping for. I’m sure that if Peter had written out his own future plans, he would have wanted it to look a little more optimistic and pain-free. Still, God’s plans for him were unique and tailored to his gifts. His wisdom and leadership were fundamental to the early church. Even his suffering was used to encourage and inspire his fellow believers. He wrote eloquent and important letters to instruct them about how to suffer well. Those instructions, found in I Peter 4, still influence and teach us today.

So, what about you? What prayers have you prayed lately that turned out differently than you’d hoped? Can you trust that God’s plans and gifts for you will be good anyway? If no sparrow falls without Him knowing (Matthew 10) and if He knows every hair on your head, then you can bank on the fact that He will give you just what you need…even when it doesn’t look like what you want.

Pause: Breathe in slowly and fill up your belly with air. Now, slowly exhale. Find a quiet place and read John 21: 15-23. What stands out to you in this passage? How was Jesus offering grace to Peter?

Renew: Reflect on gifts the Lord has given you in the past year. Were those gifts exactly what you prayed for? If not, how are you learning to appreciate what you’ve been given?

Next: Be on the lookout for how you can encourage your neighbors (literal or figurative neighbors) who are in a season of not receiving the gifts they’ve prayed for. You don’t necessarily need to offer words: maybe just support in the form of a hug, a listening ear, or an encouraging verse. Sometimes gifts come in the form of comfort and friendship too.

May you be given good gifts and receive grace to appreciate them, even when they come in the form of bullfrogs!

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