March 25, 2020No Comments

How to Serve the Vulnerable Right Now

“Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.” -Matthew 25:40

After a week and a half of quarantine and more wide-spread testing, you might have started to settle a bit into your new reality. And now you’re wondering what you can do to help. While you are not a policy maker or the head of a hospital, you have the power to impact your neighbors, community, and friends in a positive way. 

Part of the survival instinct is to circle the proverbial horses and take care of your own. But there are ways to reach out and help in tangible ways while also following the CDC guidelines and government mandates. Many of us cannot make a vaccine or bail out our favorite small business. But there are small steps we can take to generously care for our community and the most vulnerable. 

Don’t try to do all of these at once. If you are able, start with one and then go from there. 

Stay Home

You’ve heard this over and over, but it bears repeating. If you are able, please stay home. Thomas Fuller wrote in the New York Times daily email last week, “America is a very individualistic society, built on the idea of individual rights. So this is a big test… for America--the question being: Will people in America sacrifice individual liberty for the sake of the community?” It’s a sobering question, and one I ask you to wrestle with. 

Pray

In his sermon this past Sunday, the senior pastor of my church said this:

On the one hand, there’s nothing more helpless and weak than prayer. You sit alone in a room, your body isn’t acting, in face we take our hands and place them in our lap. And all we do is speak words. There couldn’t be a more poignant symbols of human helplessness. And yet, precisely in that moment of helplessness, we’re tapping into the eternal power of God himself… It is precisely where our limitations and weakness slam into the power and the love and the grace of God.”

Abe Cho

If there was ever a time for prayer, it is now. Pray big, bold prayers of healing. Pray the Psalms. Pray God’s promises and character. Pray for your neighbors, friends and family. Pray for the incarcerated, the immunocompromised, the chronically ill, the elderly. Pray for those who are isolated. My church is offering a daily time of prayer, which you can join here, during which we read passages of Scripture, and we are led through prayers for specific places and people. 

Who do you know?

Chances are you have a friend who continues to be deeply impacted by this, as you have been. Do you know a nurse or doctor? Do you know someone in the restaurant or retail industry who has lost their job? Do you know someone who lost paid gigs? Offer to bring them a meal, or do their laundry, clean their apartment, or make a grocery run. 

Put out a Social Media Blast

If you don’t know anyone and want to help, put out a blast on social media. Ask if anyone knows anyone who is vulnerable who needs groceries. Make sure to clarify that you’re offering to make a run to the store, not free groceries. Or start a GoFundMe for groceries or money for bills for the vulnerable and distribute it or use it to buy groceries for people in need. 

Reach out to the infected

By now you probably know someone who is infected and is in quarantine for 14 days, assuming they are not hospitalized. FaceTime them, see if they need groceries, send them cookies or chicken noodle soup (being mindful of any dietary restrictions and allergies). 

Check in regularly with those who live alone

If you live alone, create a buddy system where you’re checking in with someone on a daily basis. If you don’t, think about someone who does and set an alarm in your phone that will remind you to text them at a certain time each day

Find an Organization Already Serving the Vulnerable

If you’re in the city, check out this list from Hope For New York. They keep it up to date as to ways you can safely serve, and places you can send money. If you aren’t in NYC, reach out to your pastor or a local community leader and ask who has been reaching out to them with needs.

Contribute to a Relief Fund

My church has set up a relief fund to help those most affected by COVID-19. If your church hasn’t done so, or you aren’t part of a church, google local, established organizations that have. Look for organizations that serve the homeless, the elderly, food banks, or any at risk population. 

Send flowers to a nursing home or hospital

Reach out to a local florist and see if they can send an arrangement to a local nursing home or to the hospital. You’ll help a local business that’s hurting, and you’ll bring hope and beauty to the isolated, desperate, and overworked. Most will let you include a card, on which you could write a brief message of encouragement. 

Write to the incarcerated

Those in prison are among the most vulnerable, as they live in tight quarters and have a high rate of chronic illness. You don’t have to write the next Pulitzer, just a few words of encouragement--a prayer, a verse, or message of hope. Check out organizations that already serve this population and see if they can facilitate. 


There are probably many other ways to serve, and a simple Google search will likely bring up articles and blogs with more ideas. But I hope that at the very least, this inspired you to come up with ideas of your own and challenged you to pray and stay home. Be well, y’all.

March 24, 2020No Comments

23 Verses for Fear and Anxiety

We’ve all got it to some degree--that wiggly, gnawing feeling in our guts. In the last week, I’ve noticed my own moments of upheaval and how my body is responding to them. It manifests in a frenetic energy that must be channeled or feels liable to consume me. That channeling these days has meant writing like I’m vomiting a dictionary, keeping my workout regimen, and posting on Instagram with the vigor of a twenty-something wellness influencer. It has also manifested in so. many. spreadsheets. 

You might get the picture of what one might call a profound lack of rest. I’m still figuring out my own quarantine boundaries along with the rest of y’all. Whether you’re team GET EVERYTHING DONE NOW or team brownies on the couch mindlessly watching Netflix, we’re all in need of some deeper truths to rest on. So, for all of us, I’ve curated a list of Bible verses that we can take to the bank. 

As you are figuring out what life even is right now, mayhaps try beginning each day quietly reflecting on one of these verses. Read them in context, or mayhaps you just focus on one verse per week and use it as a breath prayer. As you go through, notice the tone of your internal voice. Try reading them out loud with different inflections and intentions.

I pray that you are met in these words and you take just a little time each day to train your brain and spirit towards hope, not fear.

1 Peter 5:6-7Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time. Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.
Psalm 119:49-50Remember your word to your servant, for you have given me hope. My comfort in my suffering is this: Your promise preserves my life.
Romans 8:38-39For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Jeremiah 29:11“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”
Isaiah 43:2When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze.
Hebrews 11:13All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance, admitting that they were foreigners and strangers on earth.
Hebrews 11:1Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.
Matthew 6:27Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?
Matthew 6:34Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.
Ecclesiastes 3:1There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens.
Psalm 62:1-2Truly my soul finds rest in God; my salvation comes from him. Truly he is my rock and my salvation; he is my fortress, I will never be shaken.
Matthew 6:33-34But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.
Job 42:2-3“I know that you can do all things; no purpose of yours can be thwarted. You asked, ‘Who is this that obscures my plans without knowledge?’ Surely I spoke of things I did not understand, things too wonderful for me to know.
Philippians 4:6-7Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
Job 23:10But he knows the way that I take; when he has tested me, I will come forth as gold.
Psalm 145:18-19The Lord is near to all who call on him, to all who call on him in truth. He fulfills the desires of those who fear him; he hears their cry and saves them.
Colossians 1:19-20For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in [Christ], and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.
Philippians 4:19And my God will meet all your needs according to the riches of his glory in Christ Jesus.
2 Corinthians 4:16-18Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.
2 Corinthians 1:20For no matter how many promises God has made, they are “Yes” in Christ. And so through him the “Amen” is spoken by us to the glory of God.
Isaiah 41:10So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.
Isaiah 58:11The Lord will guide you always; he will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land and will strengthen your frame. You will be like a well-watered garden, like a spring whose waters never fail.
Philippians 1:6Being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.

*Note: All verses are from the New International Version

February 19, 20202 Comments

The Parable of the Nachos

I sat on the cool tile of my bathroom floor waiting for the feeling to pass. I knew that evening, sitting in my favorite writing bar, that this would happen. But I made the choice to order the pulled pork nachos. I shook my head contemplating the moment of decision for which I was now facing the consequences. My favorite bartender, Roberto, walking over and asking if I wanted something to eat. The pause. The vacillation between the kale salad--no pickled onion, and the pulled pork nachos. "I'll have the nachos," I said.

Pulled pork nachos. Home-made tortilla chips, melted cheddar, pulled pork, guac, pico, and a drizzle of sour cream. There I was, six full hours later, still basking in the after effects of my meal choice. I knew the reflux that awaited me, but I ate every last morsel on the plate.

Two in the morning, sitting on my bathroom floor, dancing between reflux and full on yarfing. As I sat there waiting for my stomach to forgive me, I considered pondering the chapter I worked through that evening. Instead, I had “Right Hand Man” from the musical Something Rotten stuck in my head. I sang the words in a loop, and thought about my most recent voice lesson. I started, winced from the sudden moment, and recalled that reflux is detrimental to one's vocal cords. So I shouted out a couple of prayers to Jesus in my head, then immediately felt guilty about my perfunctory tone. I mulled over the general lack of fervor in my spiritual life, vaguely asked Jesus what that was all about, then asked the Holy Spirit to help me not talk to God like a robot.

Then I cleaned the grout in my shower.

I recalled meeting people who say this is the hour they most connect with Jesus, those moments of sleeplessness, tossing, wide-awake exhausted, or nursing a baby. They feel Jesus woke them up to hang out with him. I have no doubt this is the case for them. For me on that particular night, it was the pulled pork nachos.

I sat on the rim of my tub, scrubbing the inexplicable grime out of my grout. It felt weird, having this awkward disconnect, almost like I’d forgotten how to pray. I hadn’t, because I could still do it for other people… but for myself and by myself? It could feel like I’m practicing my times tables over summer break. I wanted to go all Ann Voscamp and wonder at the majesty of a bubble. It left me wondering, What is wrong with me?

Months after the nacho situation resolved itself without incident, I continued to mull over this question, most times I sat down to pray. Then one day, I felt a mental nudge, and a different question presented itself.

Why do you feel the need to impress God with your prayers? 

This gave me pause. And when I wasn’t trying to impress God with how holy I was, as exhibited by my super spiritual prayers sprinkled with scripture references, I was guarded and my prayers came out stilted. I wondered, Why do I approach God in the first place? Am I trying to earn his approval?

I thought back to my most genuine moments of prayer--the gut-wrenching, swear-word-filled, incoherent mumblings of the pain that periodically overtakes me. Or the time when, on a hike with friends, I was struck with the goodness of that moment, noticing that a deep contentment had settled in me somewhere on the way down the mountain. I was bringing up the rear and paused as my friends navigated a tricky section of the trail. As I watched them pick their way down the rocky incline, I asked God to help me remember this small moment in which I realized that life is impossibly good sometimes.

Dramatic moments were all well and good, but what about the day in day out boring moments permeated with the most ordinary of tasks and responsibilities? How was I to pray when things were just mediocre, neither devastating nor exuberant?

When that question entered my mind for the first time, I wondered about my picture of God. Did I think he was the type of deity that demanded hyper-spiritual piety when I was on the verge of blowing chunks? I remembered a sermon from one of the pastors at my church, in which he asked us how we imagine God’s facial expression when he looks at us. He said that he used to feel like God looked at him with vague disappointment. In a later sermon, the pastor posited, “Do you ever picture God smiling or laughing when he looks at you?”

In my twenty-nine years in various churches, living as a Christian that whole time, had I ever considered this? A pastor I had in college used to remind us that God rejoices over us with singing. He compared it to his son spontaneously making up a song about Spongebob out of sheer delight. I’d forgotten how much that meant to me at the time. As my mind recalled it nearly a decade later, it still struck me. 

I didn’t have an answer to my question at that moment. But finally asking the right question was a start.

January 1, 2020No Comments

New Years Revelations

Change is slow. I should specify—lasting change is slow. Perhaps you know that already, or mayhaps like me it’s a reality you keep forgetting. I came into 2019 with big ideas about all I would have figured out and accomplished by the time 2020 rolled around. I was going to have Jesus and what it means to follow him, etc down pat. I was going to have made unprecedented strides in my career and personal life. I was going to have figured out the optimal way to date, more specifically date as a slightly feral farm child and as a Christian. I wanted to be realistic though, I didn’t expect to have my book published this year… but I did plan to land my top choice agent and at least have a book deal in the works. 

If you know anything about goal setting, you might have noticed that my method is 1000% not optimal. If you use the SMART template, they should be Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Time-Based. Well, they met a couple of those criteria. But none were what one might call attainable. In previous years, my M.O. would normally be to wallow a bit, feel like a failure, and resolve to work harder next year. This year things are different. 

Let’s take the example of dating. At the outset of 2019, I resolved to go on a date with someone who wasn’t a sociopath, a seemingly SMART goal. Having been on exactly one date in the previous decade (not an exaggeration), I was determined to get it together. I joined a dating app, then a second. I went on four first dates and one second date. One was horrendous, but the rest were pretty ok. I went in with the ambition to be less intimidated by the process of dating, and mayhaps learn stuff about myself, about my preferences, and about dating… really nailing the “specific” mandate of goal setting. Looking back, I did learn some things, but certainly not what I was expecting. And I can’t say that I achieved anything measurable. So what was the point? 

If you’re on dating apps, or you’ve done speed dating, or been set up by friends, you might be asking yourself a similar question. Or mayhaps you were expecting to make major progress in your career and it feels like you stalled instead. Or you were hoping to have more answers than questions at this point in your life. Maybe you feel like you’ve been working exceptionally hard and you don’t have much to show for it. 

In her piece for The New Yorker last year, Alexandra Schwartz wrote,

In our current era of non-stop technological innovation, fuzzy wishful thinking has yielded to the hard doctrine of personal optimization… It’s no longer enough to imagine our way to a better state of body or mind. We must now chart our progress, count our steps, log our sleep rhythms, tweak our diets, record our negative thoughts—then analyze the data, recalibrate, and repeat.

Perhaps it’s because we are more aware than ever of all the progress the people we surround ourselves with (mostly digitally) seem to be making. But to me, it can seem like, if I am not making measurable progress on all fronts at once, I’m getting left behind. And so I try to come up with a system, a strategy, and a formula to guarantee exponential growth that I can show to the world as proof that I, too, am doing exceptionally well. I may not be perfect, but I am implementing steps and working very hard to become as close to perfect as I can. After all, if I don’t have anything tangible to show for all my effort, then am I moving at all? Questions like this nag at me in my moments of insufficiency, impotence, and impatience. Then derp brain starts in with, You should be doing better. You should be better. You should be going faster

I’ve become a fan of a particular passage in the Bible lately, Jeremiah 29. The Israelites have been exiled in Babylon. I’m not going to get into the minutiae of the history and the implications of that, but there are some false prophets who have been saying that they’ll be able to return to Jerusalem super soon. As is implied by the fact that they are “false” prophets, this is not accurate. In this chapter, we read the contents of a letter that Jeremiah, a for-real prophet, wrote to the exiled people. He writes that, actually, they’ll be in exile for seventy years. In this letter, God asks them to get comfy, to put down roots, to grow crops and get married and have babies. “Seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare” (7). After that, God promises to visit them and fulfill all the promises he made to them. 

In reflecting on this passage in the season of New Year’s Resolutions, I’m reminded of all the impossible goals I set at the outset of 2019. I see myself in the impatience of the Israelites, in how easy it was to believe the false prophets who promised a quick jaunt in Babylon before returning to their ideal lives. It must have been discouraging on some levels to hear that they would, in fact, be there for seventy years. Not only that, they should settle in and work for the prosperity of the place to which they had been exiled. God would come and God’s promises would be fulfilled, it was just going to be a bit. 

As I did not achieve my goal of figuring Jesus out this year, there’s a ton going on in this passage that I am not able to see or understand. Here’s a thing I do see. Whether we’re where we want to be or not, we are where we are. Maybe there’s some perceived ideal we’re chasing, whether it’s marriage or living somewhere better or paying off debt. Anything we want to work toward takes time, and while that time is passing, we are in neighborhoods and workplaces and schools and churches. The encouragement here is to hope for good things in the future, but not at the expense of where we are. As an obsessively forward-thinking person, I find myself so caught up in how things could be and where things are going, I forget about the life I’m living right now and the people God has placed in my life. Instead, I expect certain things for and from myself. I expect awareness of an unhealthy habit to be enough to fix it. And, like the Israelites, I expect it all to happen in 3-5 business days. Thank you, next. 

I didn’t figure out how to win at dating this year, mostly because “winning” is not the point of relationships of any sort. I did, however, figure out some things about my motivations in dating. I learned that I am obsessed with achievement in every area of my life, including relationships. I learned that there isn’t a formula to figure out, but there is wisdom to consider. I learned that I like control far more than I care to admit most days. Over the course of the year, I became a more open and emotionally intelligent person, and I had honest conversations with friends about the absurdities of dating. 

I can’t take a picture of that and post it. I can capture it in these words, but honestly, the growth was so gradual that it happened almost without my conscious effort. I can’t pinpoint a single moment where a flip switched and I was different. I just know that I am.

That’s one of the cool things about the God who knows how we operate and what we need. Anything that lasts takes time, and we are not capable of manhandling our way into optimization on all sides at all times. That doesn’t mean we are passive. Remember how God asked the Israelites to do stuff like build houses, etc? I think it just means that it’s way more ordinary and gradual than we, as Americans at least, expect. Whether it’s the change we want to see in ourselves, or the change we want in our relationships, our culture, our church, or our world. As you enter into this new year, by all means dream big, pray impossible prayers. But don’t underestimate the small steps and ordinary moments that make up our lives. They are the things that actually move us forward.


Picking up what I’m putting down?

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November 20, 2019No Comments

What’s Up with Ruth?

The following is a re-post of a blog I wrote around this time last year. As we are headed into the holiday season, which can be extra tricky for singles, I thought it was worth sharing again. I've made a couple of minor edits for clarity and tone. Enjoy!


It occurs to me that many of the singles who read this blog might be spending Thanksgiving awkwardly and anxiously dodging questions about their lack of a life partner. Holidays can be filled with unsuitable feeling moments for people who happen to not be married. I'd like to use this platform to address both those who are excited about Thanksgiving and family, and those who are dreading it.

Stylistically, this blog will be a bit of a departure. Instead of a personal anecdote, I'm going to talk about a story from the Bible, mainly because I'm in one of those mythical Sasquatch families that doesn't pressure me to get married or have kids. Don't worry, we have plenty of other dysfunctions. This week I want us to reexamine a story the might be familiar from a slightly different angle.

Let's talk about Ruth. I know, classic Christian lady move. I'm right there with you. I avoided the book of Ruth for a long time because of all the cheesy stuff I'd heard about it. But when I started writing my book, I decided to dive in and y'all... Ruth is a boss. If you think that Ruth is only a sweet love story about a poor woman faithfully following God and being rewarded with a husband, I strongly encourage you to read it again. Because this is just a blog and not a full blown sermon, I'm going to peel back a layer or two and ask questions that encourage you to keep digging into this story on your own.

Ruth opens with a family that leaves Bethlehem to live in Moab because of a famine. We don't have a ton of context as to why this family left when there isn't any indication that the Israelites were fleeing en masse. In fact, the implication is that most families did not leave Bethlehem in spite of the famine.

The dad and two sons die within five verses, but not before the sons marry Moabite women, Ruth and Orpah. By verse six, we now have three single ladies as protagonists, one displaced by ethnicity and two by their conversion to Judaism, all living in a world that was often hostile to women in their situation. Naomi, Ruth, and Orpah are now almost completely reliant on the generosity of their neighbors for survival.

In verses six and seven, we read:

Then [Naomi] arose with her daughters-in-law to return from the country of Moab, for she had heard in the fields of Moab that the Lord had visited his people and given them food. So she set out from the place where she was with her two daughters-in-law, and they went on the way to return to the land of Judah. (ESV)

There is an initial presumption in these verses that Ruth and Orpah are in it to win it, ride or die with Naomi. They are bound together by their situation and their commitment to men who are now dead. But in verse eight, Naomi relinquishes Ruth and Orpah from their familial obligation, and gives each permission to go back to her "mother's home". After much weeping, Orpah leaves. Ruth unfathomably stays.

Why?

In verse 15, Naomi pleads,“Look... your sister-in-law is going back to her people and her gods. Go back with her” (ESV). Ruth ups the ante, saying, “Don’t urge me to leave you or to turn back from you. Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God. Where you die I will die, and there I will be buried. May the Lord deal with me, be it ever so severely, if even death separates you and me” (Ruth 1:16-17, ESV). 

Ruth and Orpah would have both converted when they married into this Jewish family. Both women were part of this family and this religion for ten years before their husbands died. So why is it that Orpah and Ruth react so differently to Naomi's plea?

To me, Ruth's proclamation sounds like she is a woman with nothing to lose. We don't know the details of Ruth's family or religious background. Maybe her family was abusive, or they disowned her when she married a Jewish man. After all, the Moabites and the Israelites have a contentious history. No matter her specific reasons, Ruth was willing to leave behind her culture, her religion, her family, and her homeland to live a life of certain poverty with her grieving mother-in-law in a hostile culture. Ruth could have gone back to what her life was before; she could have gotten remarried. Moab was not as picky as Israel when it came to the terms and conditions of marriage.

Ruth must have been compelled by a sense that the risk was worth it. She either felt so connected to Naomi and her God, or so disconnected from her birth family and gods, that she left everything she knew. Ruth made a conscious decision to make herself vulnerable, to make her home and belonging with Naomi.

When these women arrived in Bethlehem, they caused quite a stir. Naomi tells her friends, "I went away full, but the Lord has brought me back empty" (1:21, ESV). In spite of her anger with the Lord, and the fact that she passive aggressively changed her name to "Bitter", the chapter ends with a glimmer of hope and promise of abundance. We read that "So Naomi returned from Moab accompanied by Ruth the Moabite, her daughter-in-law, arriving in Bethlehem as the barley harvest was beginning" (1:22). Naomi couldn't see it, but things were looking up.

I want to point out just a couple of things before I let you go enjoy your turkey. Naomi is understandably consumed by grief and hopelessness. In spite of this, Ruth stands by her and constantly puts her safety at risk to provide for Naomi. Ruth meets Naomi in her grief and takes care of her. Naomi can only see what she has lost and cannot fathom what's about to come her way. And yet, her moment-to-moment needs are met by a woman who also knew what it was to be vulnerable. In fact, Ruth later puts herself in considerable danger of harassment and assault by going out to the barley fields to collect grain behind the reapers.

Whether you are joyful or mourning, married and single, vulnerable or secure, I pray that we would surround each other, and be willing to risk being inconvenienced for each other. We follow a God who meets us in our pain, who has been rejected and scorned, who can handle both our bitterness and our delight. Regardless of what we feel and see, we are promised his love and grace. If you're in a good place, consider reaching out to a friend who might not be. If your family is joyfully preparing for a time of thankful feasting, think hard about who around you can invite to join you. Sometimes, you are God's plan for abundance for someone else.

August 14, 2019No Comments

Never Done

Step 12: Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to [others], and to practice these principles in all our affairs.


I resent dirty dishes. It doesn’t matter how many times I clean them, there they are again, sitting like little sassholes in the sink all dirty and expectant. What, pray tell, do you want from me? 

My parents have an arrangement that began when my brother and I were wee tots. My dad would clean up after dinner; my mom would bathe the babies. What a team. Even though my brother and I presently bathe ourselves, the tradition of my dad washing dishes persists. I love cooking. But being single means that I also have to be the one to clean the dishes. If you grew up in a home where you had to do household chores, this possibly hasn’t been a rude awakening for you. However, as I grew up doing farm chores and manual labor, I find the monotony of standing over a sink night after night wearisome. After I cook and eat, I set my bowl in the sink, miffed at the injustice of the fact that I must also clean. 

To be clear, washing dishes is not a difficult task, nor is it particularly time consuming, particularly the dishes created by one human. And even more particularly when that one human has a dishwasher. 

I am told that this tension of reality meeting our idea of how things “should” be is common in marriage. Each person brings their own customs and ideas of how a marriage works into their new life. If each party grew up in vastly different households, this can cause a lot of friction as they are confronted with these deeply ingrained "rules." Each party likely thinks that their upbringing is the normal and right one. My indignation at the dirty dishes I made makes me think that it is not only married people who run into this issue. I don’t have roommates or a spouse, so there is no division of labor. If I don’t do them, they won’t get done. Unless I hire someone to do them, but what am I, made of money? No, no I am not. 

One of the beautiful things about the Twelve Steps is that they are never done. Another is the community aspect. The supposition of AA is that sobriety is impossible in isolation. I think spirituality works the same way. Heck, almost all of life works the same way. We need support in order to continually come back to work that is never done. And unless you’re a straight up narcissist, you will find that there is joy in being part of someone else’s support system as well. Mutuality in relationship keeps them healthy, aka the presence of both give and take from each party, or an equal interest in the well-being of each other and the relationship. 

There’s this idea of transformation all up in the Bible, especially in the New Testament where there’s talk of baptism, death to life, and being born again. Based on stories I heard from Christians, I thought I was supposed to have had this big, dramatic moment of transformation. I thought it meant that, once that happened, I would never struggle with doubts and I would magically become this sunny, bubbly person. But I don’t think it works like that most of the time. I was working off of a perfectionist’s assumption: that faith is something to be achieved. I didn’t take into account the habits and expectations that we bring into our faith, which as we have previously discussed don’t die easily. 

There’s a phrase I love in 2 Corinthians 3:18, that we are being transformed “from one degree of glory to another.” I know that glory is a really religious word and I try to steer clear of exclusive lingo here. But basically, the idea is that it is a continual process. Like the 12 Steps suppose, the implication of spiritual awakening is a new radiance that comes from having our wounds slowly healed and our missteps constantly forgiven. 

When I get overwhelmed by the monotonous slog life can be, and more specifically, a life of faith, is it generally because I forget that I do not have to do any of this alone. I have a God who has promised to never leave me. I have a group of humans who care about me. What if there, in the unglamorous moments of washing dishes, writing blogs, and ordinary catch-up chats, that is where the miraculous happens? What if in the small moments of our lives we are transformed the most deeply? 

I hope you have enjoyed this series as much as I have. It's been humbling to wade into the 12 steps and wrestle with them on the pages of this blog each week. I'm going to leave y'all with the serenity prayer, which is said at the end of each AA meeting.

God, grant me the serenity
to accept the things I cannot change,
the courage to change the things I can,
and the wisdom to know the difference.


If you or someone you love is struggling with addiction, check out the resources on the Alcoholics Anonymous website, or call this National Helpline for Substance Abuse and Mental Health. 1-800-662-HELP (4357)


What do you think?

Leave a comment below or use my contact page to shoot me a message. Looking to join the conversation? Sign up for my newsletter to get an exclusive, thought-provoking message from me every other Wednesday plus recommendations for content I think you'll love.

August 7, 2019No Comments

What Is Possible

Step 11: Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God as we understood Him, praying only for knowledge of His will for us and the power to carry that out.


The stinging pain of the needle repeatedly poking into my skin had dulled. After the first ten minutes, it had become a temporary unpleasantness between me and my third tattoo. My friend Abby sat near me in "The Iron Rose," a tattoo shop in Tampa, Florida. It is apparently a new tradition when we are together, me getting a tattoo, as she and I had ventured together to a mall on the outskirts of ChangMai, Thailand where I got my second tattoo. The timing for each was practical. In Thailand, I paid the equivalent of 50 USD for what would have easily been a $100 endeavor in the states. In Tampa, I avoided being charged almost double for the privilege of being tatted up in New York. What a town.

The trip to Tampa had been somewhat spontaneous. I was in Grand Rapids at my very first writer's conference. It was the end of April and, in true Michigan fashion, an ice storm grounded every plane and trapped us in the airport for 12 hours with the empty promise of take-off times that would never happen. When the voice over the intercom finally admitted that our flight was cancelled and we would be booked on flights the next day, I called Abby to see if I could crash with her. It was during this unplanned time that she suggested I spend a week with her and some family at their beach house in Tampa.

The tattoo was somewhat spontaneous as well. When I booked my plane ticket, I reasoned that if I was going to get another one, Tampa seemed like a better place than New York from a cost stand point. If the stars aligned and I found a good shop with an artist I liked and could come up with a design, might as well. I googled "best tattoo shops in Tampa" and found a list. After looking through the websites, I found the right man for the job.

We arrived at the shop and I showed him my derpy drawing/approximation of what I wanted. He googled "Ebenezer stone" and sketched a few options. We went through the fonts until I found the line between messy and legible that I was looking for. Not fifteen minutes later, I was lying face down on the table being stabbed repeatedly by an inky needle.

I first learned what an Ebenezer was at a youth retreat called Happening, outside the context of Dickens' A Christmas Carol, of course. Ebenezer means "stone of help," and comes from a story in the Old Testament. I'm not going to get into it here. If you want to read it, head to 1 Samuel 7. The story is bananas. Basically, the stone was set up as a marker, a reminder to remember how God had helped in a particular situation. As someone who hates asking for help, I need the reminder to remember everything that has been done for me, that God is trustworthy.

That being said, I do a fair bit a gripping to God about how he's not coming through for me on any number of issues. I don't know why God doesn't recognize that my time table is the best one. Something about God being omniscient, I guess. It's interesting, though, if I'm only going to God to complain, or demand something, or as a last resort, am I just treating God like a vending machine or a genie?

Step 11 guides its participants to improve their conscious contact with God, focusing more on God's will than our own. This is a totally different practice than asking God for what we want. I will say that is an important type of prayer, but prayer has more potential than trying to get God to give us what we want. Richard Rohr writes,

For many, if not most, Christian believers, however, [prayer] became a pious practice or exercise that you carried out with the same old mind and from your usual self-centered position...Prayer was something you did when you otherwise felt helpless, but it was not actually a positive widening of your lens for a better picture, which is the whole point. (Breathing Under Water, pg 95)

I spend a lot of time on my own. This is great for introverted me. But it also means I spend a disproportionate amount of time in my head. And what comes along with too much time in my head? Tunnel vision. I get so focused on what I think God owes me I forget to look for what God has already given me. Not only that, I am limited in how I believe God will answer my prayers. I can't imagine any scenario other than the one I have come up with, and so when it doesn't happen, I am disappointed.

There are, of course, times in our lives when we will be more needy and petulant than others. God isn't surprised by this. In fact, Steps 4-10 focus on becoming more honest with ourselves, our needs, and the harm we have caused. But think back to steps 1-3. We admit we are powerless, come to believe that God could restore us, and make a decision to turn our lives over to God. Asking for help is the catalyst for all of the other steps. But traveling through those steps, we arrive at a place of greater maturity when we are ready for more, and God is ready to show us more. One of the nice things about the steps is that they allow for relapses and derpy moments. In recovery, you're never really done with them, whether you go through them repeatedly or it takes you years to master a single step.

There are countless stories in my life where God has come through for me in ways I could have never imagined. Having a friend in Grand Rapids when I was stranded by a freak ice storm who was able to host me in spite of a hectic work schedule then invited me to Tampa, for example. And yet, it is absurdly easy for me to forget. It's easy for me to start to think I am above God's help. But in the moments when I have the audacity to believe that God is exactly what God claims to be, that God might even love me and want the best for me, my picture of what is possible broadens. And I remember.


If you or someone you love is struggling with addiction, check out the resources on the Alcoholics Anonymous website, or call this National Helpline for Substance Abuse and Mental Health. 1-800-662-HELP (4357)


What do you think?

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July 31, 2019No Comments

Not This Again

Step 10: Continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly admitted it.


Between my first and second years of grad school, I participated in a summer program called Greensboro Light Opera and Song. The stories from those six weeks are legion and could fill an entire book. In this intensive program, my anxiety reared its head whenever I walked into a rehearsal or class. One day I worked with this coach, whomst we shall call Dr. Henry. In the classical singing world, coaches help with language, stylistic choices specific to certain composers and time periods, and performance decisions, whereas voice teachers focus on vocal technique.

I went in ready to sing a difficult piece called “Mi Tradi” from Mozart’s opera Don Giovanni. The first thing one generally does in a coaching, after some small talk and introductory information, is sing the piece all the way through. I was nervous, having never worked with Dr. Henry before and generally having more than my share of performance anxiety. So to try and keep myself loose, I started swinging my arms. Anxiety causes tension, and tension is no bueno for singing.

I made it all the way through the piece and looked at Dr. Henry. He asked why I was swinging my arms. I explained about the tension. He replied, “Are you aware that as the song went on and got more difficult, your arms moved faster and more rigidly?” I don’t know if y’all are good at forcing yourself to relax, but I approach it with the Type A manhandling posture that I use for virtually every task. OK, Marebs, I think, You’re going to relax. Here we go. OK NOW STAY EXACTLY LIKE THAT AND DON’T CHANGE ANYTHING DON’T EVEN BREATHE. Healthy? No. Effective? Also no.

Dr. Henry proceeded to tell me about his own struggles with tension as a young pianist. He said that he was so nervous, his right quad would seize up and his leg would start bouncing. It got to the point where he was unable to effectively use the piano pedal because he couldn’t control his leg. Then one day, he let go of his obsessive perfectionism and his leg loosened up.

I used to believe I would have that moment as a singer. And maybe I would have, had I stuck with it full time. I’ve generally found that, for me, unlearning anxiety and its physical manifestations has been gradual. I have a monthly voice lesson, during which my voice teacher and I work to undo the habits of fear. It is painfully slow, but it is there. Because for me, it’s about trust, trust of my voice that I will have to build. My voice is like an enraged toddler whom I must coax to come out with the promise that it is safe to do so, possibly even fun. Like a defiant toddler, it responds with a metaphorical screech of I don't believe you and proceeds to lock itself in its room and throw things. Bless it.

This fear is not limited to my singing life, it’s just the most obvious place it manifests right now. It goes much deeper than that, and so the recovery process has been as much spiritual and emotional as it has been physical and mental. As much as I would like to have a one and done moment of epiphany where I magically no longer struggle with performance anxiety, I don’t think it will work like that. It’s something that pops up all over the place, and I’ve had to learn to identify and call it out. It is not only detrimental to my well-being and flourishing, but also to my relationships.

Step 10 is about continuing to take an inventory and promptly admit when we are wrong. I’m not going to discount the dramatically miraculous here, but I will say that, for most people, spiritual and emotional habits are not unlearned in a moment. At my church, we just finished a series on freedom, looking at the Exodus. Each week, the pastor reiterated, “It took 40 days to get Israel out of Egypt, but it took 40 years to get Egypt out of Israel.” While Israel had been physically taken out of bondage in Egypt, they didn’t know how to live as freed people. They had to learn the habits of freedom.

On the AA website, the reflection on Step 10 states, “For the wise have always known that no one can make much of his life until self-searching becomes a regular habit, until he is able to admit and accept what he finds, and until he patiently and persistently tries to correct what is wrong.” Remember from Step 4 that this inventory process is done with the full knowledge of God’s love and acceptance, and is therefore fearless. There is a saying in AA, progress not perfection. We can’t work this all out on our own, then emerge into our relationships with all of this perfectly sorted out. I wish it worked like that, but it doesn’t.

I am fortunate to have in my arsenal a rude therapist. By rude, I just mean uncomfortably accurate in his assessment of my true motivations. He calls me on my bologna, aka the nice stories I tell myself that keep me in the same patterns that brought me to his office in the first place. Sometimes it's hard to assess my motives and actions because I'm too close to them, and more often than not, my ego is mixed up in there. Just like Dr. Henry was able to notice my arms swinging at manic speed, I can't always clearly perceive my actions and motivations. Good friends and trusted mentors can help us here as well.

Even though our path to recovery starts with a moment of epiphany, our old patterns and temptations often follow us. Or perhaps it would be more accurate to say that the patterns are symptoms of something deeper and more basic: fear, loneliness, anger, pain. It takes time for our knee-jerk reactions to change. As much as I want to manhandle my way into immediate change, it's about as effective as forcing myself to relax. Maybe I can imitate the behavioral change for a while, but the old spirit still lives inside of me. So I have to keep going back and looking for those same dusty patterns. Maybe the more we do it, the quicker we are to admit when we are wrong, and the more humble we become.


If you or someone you love is struggling with addiction, check out the resources on the Alcoholics Anonymous website, or call this National Helpline for Substance Abuse and Mental Health. 1-800-662-HELP (4357)


What do you think?

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June 26, 2019No Comments

Honest to God

Step 7: Humbly asked [God] to remove our shortcomings


My prayers sound super holy. My out loud, in-front-of-others prayer, that is. And by holy, I mostly mean sincere and humble with all sorts of Christian-y words. My by-myself prayers? Much less impressive, and depending on the day, far more swearing than I'd like to admit.

I remember sitting in community group one time (that's our church's word for Bible Study) and we were individually out-loud praying for the person to our right in front of the whole group. There were probably eight people in the room that evening. I was praying for a friend in medical school who was struggling with the rotation he was on at the time (read: the specific field he was learning about in action in a hospital), and I started with my customary deep breath and casual "Hey Jesus," because we're old pals, me and that guy.

I started in with a series of effusive thank you's before laying my request before the Lord, as I was taught. I then proceeded to wax rhapsodic about the wonders and beauty of the human body and prayed for my friend to be filled with awe at the... and I completely lost my train of thought. Not only that, I started thinking back to the words I had been saying and thinking, "Wow I sound mad pretentious," so any hope I had of continuing had been drowned by self-conscious incredulity. I stumbled through the rest of the prayer, tacking on a "in Jesus' name" to cover my bases, and the next person in the circle mercifully took over.

I would like to think that out-loud prayers are a good practice and that mine might even be earnest. But how much of it is me trying to game the system, thinking that the exact right phrasing is all that is keeping me from getting God to bend to my will? Do I really believe that the quality of my prayer, the amount of Scripture I reference in said prayer, or the amount of affirmative sounds I get from the people listening is what will wrestle the begrudging "yes" from God's lips? And I wonder, am I praying to sound impressive and clever, or out of a humble desire to draw near to God?

I touched on ideas of control, honesty, and surrender over the last couple of weeks: getting to the point where we can admit the exact nature of our wrongs, then becoming entirely ready to have these defects of character removed. Now we have made it to the action step, and it is maddening for the task-oriented among us.

Step seven states that we humbly ask God to remove our shortcomings.

It's hard for me to think about humbly asking for anything. If I do any humble asking, it is a last resort. I will do absolutely everything I can to figure out and fix on my own before even considering an ask, and even then it is rarely humble. I have always wanted to appear impressive and put together, as if my life depended on it. But I suppose I wouldn't be so interested in these steps if my manhandling, steam-roller method actually worked out well for anybody.

A humble ask means surrendering the timing and the means and the method of the answer. Anne Lamott writes that grace is being all out of good ideas. The humble ask isn't predicated on good behavior or strength of will or having a solid strategy. The humble ask says, "I'm out of good ideas." It requires a great deal of honesty. Luckily, the prior steps serve to increase our honest self-awareness. But it also requires that we be gentle with ourselves. Brennan Manning writes, "...the more fully we accept ourselves, the more successfully we begin to grow. Love is a far better stimulus than threat or pressure."

We can only humbly ask something of someone we trust, someone we know will not hold the favor over our heads or use our vulnerability against us. When it comes to the intimate act of removing shortcomings, I find it difficult to trust anybody that much, even God. A couple of weeks ago, I wrote that building trust is like dropping out bread-crumbs of vulnerability and honesty. If it goes well, then we can continue to drop crumbs until we are certain that the person is trustworthy.

I tend to do the same with God, measuring God's trustworthiness by my standard of whether or not God plays by my rules. Fortunately for me, love is patient, and if God is love, then God is also patient. There is a phrase that is repeated several times throughout the Old Testament that describes God as, "gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love." Or, as Richard Rohr describes, "God is humble and never comes if not first invited, but God will find some clever way to get invited."

Just as I drop breadcrumbs of trust for God, God also drops breadcrumbs of faithfulness for me. I think that the humble ask is more about honesty than agenda. Sure, something happens, but it isn't a fear and shame-based obedience. It is a transformative grace and presence, a steadfast love that proclaims over and over that God is faithful and trustworthy. But it's not like the clouds part and God magically makes us perfect with the snap of a metaphysical finger. The humble ask is about saying the out-loud prayer knowing that the answer isn't up to your phrasing or your good ideas. It is finally agreeing to the honest invitation that God has set before us and saying, "Alright, then. Let's do this your way."


If you or someone you love is struggling with addiction, check out the resources on the Alcoholics Anonymous website, or call this National Helpline for Substance Abuse and Mental Health. 1-800-662-HELP (4357)


What do you think?

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June 19, 2019No Comments

Entirely Ready, Sort of

Step 6: Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.


My senior year of college, I suddenly found myself enamored with Coca-Cola, preferably of the Vanilla variety. It was weird because I have never been a sweets person. Sure, I enjoyed dessert, and as a true Southerner, I could down some sweet tea. I found myself drinking multiple sodas per day. I figured it was under control as long as I wasn't buying 12 packs. Then I started buying twelve packs.

I knew that all that sugar couldn't be good for me, but on a certain level I didn't care. I felt I should want to stop drinking soda, but I still craved it. So even as I tried to moderate my habit, I found myself daily giving in, then feeling like a failure. Because while I knew that this was a habit I needed to break, I couldn't get enough of the bubbly, syrupy goodness.

This lasted for over a year. I would go between loving the stuff and feeling content with it, to hating myself for loving it so much. It was just soda, what was the big deal? Plenty of people drink it all the time and they seem fine. I felt like I was under a lot of pressure, what with my senior research project and performance just around the corner. I told myself I could have this one vice. Maybe I would regret it, but that was a problem for future Marebs.

April of the following year, I was in Cambodia. I had gotten dengue fever during the hottest month of the year in a country without the medical resources to which I was accustomed. Basically, I had to take Tylenol to try to break the 104 degree fever and hope I would get better on my own. This isn't just a Cambodia thing; to my knowledge there isn't actually a cure or vaccine for dengue.

I did anything I could to try to cool down, including drinking cold beverages. The only cold beverage I could get was canned Coca Cola. As I was also constantly nauseous, it seemed like a God-send. I forced myself to drink water occasionally, but I basically lived off of Coca Cola for the five days my fever lasted. It seemed like one upside of this miserable disease was getting to drink all of the Coke I wanted and a solid reason to not feel guilty about it.

As soon as my fever abated, so did my taste for Coca Cola. To this day, I cannot drink full sugared soda. For the rest of the mission trip that took me to Cambodia, I would occasionally drink a soda, but it no longer created the same euphoric effect. Suddenly, I was aware that it was too sweet, the flavor artificial, and the experience no longer enjoyable.

Now, I can't even think about Coke without also recalling lying on a child-sized mattress on the floor of our tin-roofed dorm, body aching, unable to cool down, miserable and making everyone around me miserable. If you've ever watched the show House, I think I was only 2% more pleasant than Dr. House during that month.

Step six talks about being "entirely ready" to have our character defects removed. I'm not saying that liking soda is an issue of character or to shame anyone who likes soda. I think I knew, even in the midst of it, that for me it wasn't just about wanting to drink soda. It was like a switch flipped and soda suddenly comforted the place where my anxiety and fear live. That's why it was so hard to kick.

For the purposes of this discussion, let's define a character defect as a habitual response to stress, pain, or fear that is ultimately harmful to us and the people around us. Lying, arrogance, lashing out, isolation, [insert your thing here]. We may know that these things are not especially good for us or our relationships, and yet we still reflexively reach for them when we feel vulnerable. Have you ever, through sheer force of will, tried to get rid of one of these old habits? Were you able to or, like so many New Years Resolutions, did you slowly lapse back into your default?

Perhaps I couldn't initially kick my soda habit because deep down I didn't really want to. I was too enamored by the comfort and familiarity of the habit, and how good it made me feel in the moment. It felt empowering and satisfying to defy what I knew I shouldn't do. When given the choice, I just wanted to experience that indulgent feeling. So until my brain began to associate the experience of drinking soda with something neither positive nor comforting, I was always going to choose the soda.

If we put this into spiritual terms, we know that there are things we do, and can't seem to stop doing, that are harmful to our relationship with God, ourselves, others, and creation. Personally, I have this idea that, because I am a Christian, I shouldn't experience this tension anymore. After all, Paul writes, "Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!" (2 Corinthians 5:17). I feel like I must be missing something. I should be a new creation, and yet I find myself falling back on my same old comfortable habits.

I think that becoming "entirely ready" is a process. Just feeling the desire to put aside unhealthy patterns in part of that process. In his book Bold Love, Dr. Dan Allender describes this gradual growth thus:

"The believer has been grafted into the vine, and over time, she will have the capacity to bear fruit... This implies a process--a development from the day of attachment to the vine to the day that her roots are embedded in the vine, then to the day that her branch buds, and finally to the day she offers fruit to the tender Gardener who grafted her to the vine."

I don't think that we can guilt ourselves into better behavior, especially when it comes to our most deeply ingrained and harmful habits. I think there comes a moment when, though we have been fighting for better habits and failing, we reach a sort of rock bottom, a moment when the behavior is no longer associated with anything positive, or the supposed positive no longer outweighs the negative. We move from shaming "should" thoughts and into the reality of true, deep conviction. And we understand, maybe for the first time, what it is to be entirely ready. It's that moment when we stand at the crossroads and we decide to turn the other way.


If you or someone you love is struggling with addiction, check out the resources on the Alcoholics Anonymous website, or call this National Helpline for Substance Abuse and Mental Health. 1-800-662-HELP (4357)


What do you think?

Leave a comment below or use my contact page to shoot me a message. Looking to join the conversation? Sign up for my newsletter to get an exclusive, thought-provoking message from me every other Wednesday plus recommendations for content I think you'll love.

Communicator. Creator. Coach.

© 2020 Mary B Safrit LLC. All Rights Reserved.

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