Biblical Sisterhood


Two weeks ago I served on a retreat team, and made a presentation. I’m sharing it here in edited form. 

The story of Ruth and Naomi in the Bible is the source of that beautiful church song “Wherever you go, I will go”. It’s popular at weddings, but the deep truth of that Scripture is about sisterhood:

Once upon a time there was a famine in the land. A man from Bethlehem in Judah left home to live in the country of Moab, he and his wife and his two sons. The man’s name was Elimelech; his wife’s name was Naomi;

 Elimelech died and Naomi was left, she and her two sons. The sons took Moabite wives; the name of the first was Orpah, the second Ruth. But then the two brothers, Mahlon and Kilion, died. Now Naomi was left without either her young men or her husband.

One day she got herself together, she and her two daughters-in-law, to leave the country of Moab and set out for home;

Naomi told her two daughters-in-law, “Go home and live with your mothers. May God give each of you a new home and a new husband!”

They cried. Orpah kissed her mother-in-law good-bye.

But Ruth said, “Don’t force me to leave you; don’t make me go home. Where you go, I go; and where you live, I’ll live. Your people are my people, your God is my god; where you die, I’ll die, and that’s where I’ll be buried, so help me God—not even death itself is going to come between us!”

I don’t know why bonds of friendship are different for women than men. I just know that they are. We have been uniquely gifted with a natural sense of connection and nurturing. We are intuitive, empathetic, and seasonal. Cooperative learners and consensus builders.

This is not to say that we are limited to positions in life that are only related to these gifts.  We can do anything to which we set our minds.

But it is to say, that when we are doing anything to which we set our minds, we bring these gifts with us.

The Bible is full of women who show us that these gifts are truly God-given. Like Ruth, who stayed with Naomi and became a great-grandparent of King David. Queen Esther, who stood up for her Jewish people during the Babylonian exile and saved them. The Blessed Mother, who said yes. Martha and Mary, true sisters who showed us there is not one right way to follow the Christ. Mary Magdalene who humbled herself to follow Jesus, and followed Him even unto his death on the cross.

And on Good Friday, when the men fled—all except John—the gospels tell us the women were there, huddled together in their sorrow, at the foot of the cross.

This says to me that sisterhood—true, deep and meaningful community among women—is biblical and essential.

And yet, we make sisterhood hard. We let the secular world drive us apart. All of us carry wounds from sisterhood gone wrong. Mean girls in school or at work. Unkind grandmothers, mothers, sisters. Friends who have betrayed us. And friends we have betrayed. Even in the churches, women have been responsible for destroying communities with gossip, petty arguments and power struggles.

In our throw away world where everything and everyone is expendable, we are losing our generational sisterhood. The voices most dominant in female culture are young, and our crones—the true meaning of this word speaks of wisdom and respect—our crones are left with no one to hear them.

And now this age of instant social media brings the constant pressure of comparison which, as the saying goes, truly steals our joy. It sows the seeds of dishonesty, confusion and distrust and then we reap the harvest in higher levels of fear, anxiety and depression.

I know there is a better way. Sisterhood in my life has evolved as I have aged, but the foundation rocks—God, family, team—have always been the same.

My first sisterhood started in the whirlwind of my 20s. I had a job and an apartment in a beach town in So Cal within walking distance of shops, bar and restaurants. My sisterhood was a group of semi-Catholic, rowdy, ride or die, Happy Hour, Sunday Bender, boyfriend problem solving, dancing queens.

We were not living our best lives.

But we have some crazy stories to tell.

These women are still the closest friends in my life. Partly because there are 25 years of friendship between us. And partly because we all grew into an adulthood together. They know me at my best and my worst. It is impossible to lie to them, and we have gained the right to speak truth at each other in love and support. Our relationships are sacred and timeless. And even though we are now, in our second seasons of life, spread from Hawaii to Eastern Canada, the connections are strong and intuitive.

I call them my Committee, and when my husband married me, he knew they were part of the package. Sometimes I talk to them before I talk to him, which he doesn’t mind because it saves him from all the female processing.

After our marriage, Shea and I moved 70 miles away from LA and made some new friends. This time they are marriage-making, baby-having, toddler chasing, no sleep getting, queens of their castles. We are guided in our wifehood and motherhood by Proverbs 31: 28-29

She is clothed with strength and dignity,
and laughs at the days to come.[m]
26 She opens her mouth in wisdom;
kindly instruction is on her tongue.
27 She watches over[n] the affairs of her household,
and does not eat the bread of idleness.
28 Her children rise up and call her blessed;
her husband, too, praises her:.

I call them my Women Who Come Running When—in the middle of the night so I could take a child to the ER, on a Friday afternoon when it was either me or the kids but someone was going to die, on birthdays and moms nights out, for a cup of sugar or two eggs to make pancakes–for dinner—we share the struggle of being wives and mothers with young children. They are also Catholic and we all attended the same parish. Many the times we spent our Saturdays together in fellowship and celebration and met again in the pews Sunday mornings.

These women—the Committee and the Women Who Come Running When—are the reason I survived my cancer in 2010.

Cancer, as anyone whose had it knows, is both terrifying and clarifying. Shea and I grappled with trying to keep life as normal as possible in the beginning, but were forced to finally strip away all the excess and admit: there was a great big ol’ pile of cancer crap in our lives and we were sitting in it.

In my experience, there’s only one way to handle cancer: honestly. But not everyone is prepared for that. At times, we felt like emotional roadkill. The trainwreck where no one could look away. I can tell you what happens to the eyebrows of a person when they are already imagining the tragedy of your funeral. I called them Emotional Jackals, feeding off our tragedy.

Which by the way, was not a tragedy. My cancer was in my thyroid, and it had a very clear path of treatment, and 95% survival rate, and I have been cancer free for 8 years now.

But the jackals don’t care. They want to watch the struggle. They want to pick up bits and pieces they can report back to their gossipy prayer circles. Let us pray for the mother dying young

Some of the women who I had considered friends became emotional jackals during my illness. They were very frustrated by the fact that there was no outward sign of my illness. I did not lose my hair or my appetite. I wasn’t tired.  They didn’t like that I was still working, still going to the gym, still cheering on my kids at practices and games.

They would ask how I was, but only as an opportunity to immediately turn the conversation to themselves and talk about their aunt who died from cancer in her 30s.

One day I showed up to a meeting feeling great. My surgery was finally scheduled, my hair was newly colored, and I felt hopeful. Right away, one of these women met me at my seat. “Oh my gosh, you look so tired!” she said—which is code for “you look awful”—“let me get you something to drink.”

I remember deflating like a balloon. But then, I got angry. I did not look tired. I looked great. I felt great. I don’t think she meant to be malicious. But I know for sure that her actions in that moment served her more than they served me.

That was the day I circled the wagons. I realized that a lot of my energy was being spent on making others feel better about my cancer, to the point that I stopped telling people I was sick.

This is not sisterhood.

Sisters show up. They witness. They listen. They do not fix, or save, or change. But when you sit a group of them down at your dinner table and say you want to go radio silent on your cancer so that people will leave you alone, they might growl and ask you to name names.

Shea and I always wanted three kids. I discovered my tumor in January of 2010. If there had never been a tumor, we would have started trying for a third baby that summer. Instead, we got a tumor.

Standard treatment for my type of cancer was dictated by size and spread. My tumor was encapsulated, which means it had not spread beyond the thyroid, and not even the whole tumor was cancerous. So the doctors said that the safest course of action would be a total removal of my thyroid and one round of radiation.

Removing my thyroid meant taking a daily dose of synthetic hormone for the rest of my life. It is very difficult to moderate this hormone and can affect a woman’s ability to get pregnant. In addition, one round of radiation meant I would have to wait a year before I could consider having a baby.

On the day I heard this news, I was 38 years old. I would be 39 before I could start trying to have another baby and 40 when I delivered. If all went well.

Or. I could have the thyroid removed, have and nurse the third baby, and then have the radiation.  I would be waiting 18 months to 2 years to have the cancer killing radiation treatment and in the meantime, my body would be full of HcG, a pregnancy hormone that grows all cells, not just baby cells. I could be growing a baby and a new tumor all at once.

This was a hard decision for me. I struggled with the idea that I was sick, since I didn’t feel sick. I was reluctant to let go of my own plan for my life, because I’m human. And I was uncomfortable being the center of everyone’s attention. Part of me felt that choosing to have the baby first was self-sacrificing and noble. And part of me was trying to wrest some control over my life back from the cancer.

I needed to explore the options. That was my process. I needed to speak out loud that I may not have my third baby. I needed to speak out loud that having the third baby could make my cancer worse. I needed to hang on the cross of my life in that moment and grapple with the unfairness of it all.

You guys, in hindsight, I know this was a silly wringer I put myself through. The answer was clear and since I am here and I already told you that we have 3 kids, we picked the obvious answer.

I had the surgery, the radiation and the baby at 40. God is good.

That is not the point of my story. The point is that when I brought this silly conundrum to the sisterhood in my life, not one of them asked what the heck was wrong with me. They didn’t tell me to fight the cancer, how they wanted me to live, how they couldn’t live without me. They didn’t cry, judge, get angry.

The sisterhood gathered at the foot of my cross. They promised to stay in the lives of my children if I died. They promised to show a picture to my 2 year old every day so she wouldn’t forget my face.  Most importantly, they let me talk about the fact that I might die. They didn’t let me dwell there, but they understood that I needed to consider these things, and that I needed them to bear witness to the considering.

I made them all promise that if I got really sick, was dying and decided I was done fighting, they would respect that decision and help me plan the most amazing funeral in the history of funerals. They promised.

Although my cousin Lesley, who is my person in this world, later made me promise back to never do that to her again.

They got on their knees for me. They prayed for God to keep His promise from Isaiah 45:2-3:

I will go before you and level the mountains; Bronze doors I will shatter, iron bars I will snap. I will give you treasures of darkness, riches hidden away, That you may know I am the Lord, the God of Israel, who calls you by name.

Like the women at the foot of Jesus’ cross, they weren’t completely sure what was going to happen next. But they had faith that what Jesus had promised—a resurrection, earthly or heavenly—was possible.

Do I know now how hard it was for them to hold my pain? I do, because since my illness, one of my sisters lost her dad to cancer; another, her mom to dementia. One had her only child diagnosed with autism. One lost her marriage to a man wracked with untreated mental illness. Two suffered postpartum mental illness requiring intervention.

In each moment, I have witnessed at the foot of their crosses, gotten on my knees for them and held their pain, with the same strong faith that resurrection was coming.

That is sisterhood. That is what we do. As faithful sisters we believe what Paul told the Romans in chapter 8:28:  “We know that all things work for good for those who love God,[f] who are called according to his purpose.”

Or, as Glennon Melton Doyle Wambach says: “First the dying. Then the rising.”

I wish I could tell you that my sisterhood is eternal and unchanged. But of course, it is not. We are human, and we sin and we fail. Our lives change. Some of the women who stood by me during my illness are no longer part of my sisterhood. That is ok. Sisterhood should be easy. When it gets hard and honest conversations can’t fix that, it’s ok to let relationships go. Everything in its time and place.

And the goal of biblical sisterhood is not perfection. In fact, it is an acknowledgement that we cannot walk alone, that we need those around us who share our Christian values of faith, hope and love.

In writing this presentation and realizing how soundly this type of relationship is rooted in scripture, I’ve started to reflect on all the ways the secular world puts us in competition with each other and threatens the power and sacredness of sisterhood. As active, vibrant women of faith, we are uniquely situated to change this, in ways big and small.

Not as the values police. More by our actions than our words. Starting with reflecting on who and where and how we spend our time with other women and the ways that could or should change.

In closing, I will say this:

I believe we can do hard things, for ourselves and each other, clothed in our strength and dignity, gifts uniquely given to us by God.

I believe that when God tells us He is with us ALWAYS and in ALL WAYS, that often looks like the dear friend holding your hand.

I know we can refuse to live in fear, jealousy or judgment because we are each in control of our own joy.

And I believe with every hopeful, faithful and loving fiber of my soul that together we can bring peace and joy to our families, our friendships, our parishes and our nation.


And Then I Said “Younger Self, listen to me”

Too much, women lie to each other to soften the blows of life.

We—you and I—do it. Not so much anymore, but when we were in the throes of our twenties, we did it. I get why we did it, because when our best girlfriend is a puddle of hurt and anger at our feet, we just want to make it go away.

You’re fine. It wasn’t your fault. You did your best. You’ll get over this. Something/one better is waiting.

What we–you and I–have learned is that none of those words are helpful. When someone’s life falls apart, it’s not a thing to be gotten over. We can’t just leave pain behind us, like it never happened. Neither can we pick up our brokenness and carry it with us. We have to mend.

The thing is, mending is hard work. It requires courage and strength and faith.

So we have to be careful what we say to our sister girl in the puddle of hurt and anger at our feet. It’s not our job to make it like it never happened.

Our—yours and mine—friend is having some of the worst trouble of her life. There are no easy ways through the trouble, nothing to do but walk straight through, and for a while.

At your age, we—you and me—would have saddled up the posse and rode into town to make it all right. We would have used our words of fire and anger to declare that this will not stand.

We would have slowed her healing and hurt her more than helped.

Crosses are part of life and they have to be carried. If we try to save people from their crosses, we only make the way longer and harder.

So the other day, when she said she wasn’t sure she could survive the pain in her heart, I told her the truth: You—the person you are today—are not going to survive this. But I promise that you will defeat that death and rise again wiser, stronger and more whole.

She won’t walk this alone.  I will be a witness. I will raise my hands in prayer and call down the power of Heaven. I will give her space to reflect in her darkest days. And when she rises triumphant, I’ll be there to rejoice.

I wish I could say that we–you and me–learned this from a book.

But we didn’t. We lived it. You still have those times ahead so just remember that you have chosen your sisters well.

You are all women of the Resurrection and you know the way.

We’re posting as part of Suzanne Eller’s livefreeThursday! See more posts on Twitter at #livefreethursday





When you move, there’s this: making friends.

Before we moved, I thought about it, but more like “Oh, we’ll make friends!” or “The kids will make friends!”

Not once did I remember that making friends is like dating.

I HATED dating.

We are a very social family. We say the garage door is always open because the front door is just too stuffy. Come over, come in and bring your kids, dogs, food and drink.

In California, after ten years, we had gotten to that super comfortable place where the house didn’t have to be flawlessly clean to have guests. Everyone knew their way around the bathrooms and the kitchen. The kids didn’t ask for something to drink, they just rolled into the house and got it.

Every time we have someone over now, it’s still the early stages. I feel like the house has to be spotlessly clean and the kids have to be well-behaved and I spend a lot of time pointing out the bathroom and the getting kids a cup of water.

Because we want people to come back, you know. And first impressions are important.

Usually I’m holding my breath and hoping that someone doesn’t say or do something that’s a deal breaker. Those little conversations between moms that have the potential to cause problems—“No, we don’t drink soda”. Or “Yes, I can my own jam”. Or “That’s right, the kids have their own TV downstairs”.

Tip-toeing through a minefield.


So far, lots of lovely folks have come through our garage and with some of them, I’ve even started closing bedrooms doors instead of insisting every room be spic and span.

I just wish I could fast forward a year and all the awkward getting-to-know-you stuff would be over.

In other news, we have snakes.

It's true that this little guy is less than a foot long. But does that really matter?
It’s true that this little guy is less than a foot long. But does that really matter?

Something to do with living on a previously uninhibited hill with two seasonal creeks and major construction above us.

Those of you who live where snakes also live, can you shoot me some advice on how to live with the stress? Especially the kind that rattle. We have a very fearless cadre of husbands around us who dispense of snakes at the merest shriek, but still. I heard a story at bunco the other night about a snake curled up under a car in a garage.

A garage that is right down the street from me.

Saints preserve us. Why does it always have to be snakes????


Oregon Trail Part 1: Campgrounds and Football Games


They said they were coming at 7 am, and the big truck rolled down the street at 6:45. Shea put flip-flops on to take the kids to school and when he came back, every single other pair of shoes was packed. I got distracted while moving the kitchen supplies into the trailer and when I went back at 9:30 am, all the pots and pans were packed.

I had a pile of laundry because I thought they weren’t unhooking the appliances until the next day. “Good news!” Dan the Moving Man told me at noon that first day. “You don’t have as much stuff as we thought! We are ahead of schedule so I am wrapping up the appliances.”

I texted JFK Amy: Can we come over tonight to say goodbye? And stay for dinner? And baths? Can I borrow some pots and pans? And can I do some laundry?

We planned to leave by 1:30 pm on Friday and by 1, there was a crowd of friends to see us off.

I will never forget that.

We drove 180 miles across LA on a Friday afternoon and made it to Bakersfield in four hours. I was feeling pretty good about that. We didn’t have to sedate the dogs. The kids were calm. And we pulled the trailer over the Grapevine with nary a shudder from the engine.

This is our sweet old girl Sugar, cuddled up with Kate in the backseat.
This is our sweet old girl Sugar, cuddled up with Kate in the backseat.

The only thing was, it was dark. And every person with an RV knows that you should never set up your brand new RV for the first time in the dark. This trailer has a side pop out. That’s new for us. We learned that you have to place the trailer carefully so the pop-out doesn’t pop into the water spicket or the power pole.

In our case, it took two tries to learn that lesson.

The next morning we were up and off pretty early. It was the Day of a Thousand Stops. In our hurry to leave Bakersfield, we forgot to send the kids to the bathroom one more time, but we did make sure they had full water bottles.

Why can’t everyone have to pee at the same time?

We were trying to get to Merced by 1 pm, since there was a very important football game that needed watching and I had picked a campground with cable hook-ups for this very reason.

There is no shame in this game. Every new trailer comes with this kind of outdoor tv hookup.
Even Lizzy likes the Tide!

It was a little slice of river heaven.

The Merced River
The Merced River

The next day was our long day, 250 miles to Redding. It was colder, and the landscape was changing from the flat farmland of California’s Central Valley to the rolling ranchland of Northern California. We started to see more water, although I can tell you that California’s drought is real. The lakes and rivers were disturbingly below their normal levels, with sometimes hundreds of feet of exposed bottom. At Lake Shasta, we drove past a houseboat marina that had dropped more than a football field below the dock, left dangling on the hillside.

Redding looks more like Southern Oregon, and it was the first time we were cold during the day. We huddled up in the trailer with the TV on and had a movie night with Maleficent.



We arrived home the next day, ahead of the furniture. We slept on the floor in the master, all seven of us, and woke up to frosted sidewalks.

In the first week, we unpacked all the boxes that came into the house. Which doesn’t mean that we found all our things, only that we unpacked all the boxes that came into the house.

I don’t want to sugar coat something that was hard for us. The sound of Gabe wailing as we drove away from the best friends he has ever known left a wound on my heart. Sometimes when Kate feels lonely, she says “Mom, remember the day we left California and all my classmates gave me a hug and a goodbye card?” Overall, I think they were a great age to make a move like this, and they have adjusted well in Oregon. But Shea and I knew that we needed to get the trip part–in-between the old life and the new–right. It had to be a fun adventure, a special time for us to be together as a family. The kids needed to know that while lots of things were changing, this part, the family part, was not. It was still the same mom and dad, same way of doing things, same crazy dogs.

Things they can count on, things that don’t ever change.

Friday: Oregon Trail Part 2: The First Six Weeks



Women Who Come Running When

I bought these as favors for Anne's baby shower. There have never been sisters in my family before, and I wanted to let the important women in my life know that I learned about sisterhood from them.  This is who we try to be.
I bought these as favors for Anne’s baby shower. There have never been sisters in my family before, and I wanted to let the important women in my life know that I learned about sisterhood from them. This is who we try to be.

On Halloween we trick or treated with neighbor friends, because that’s how we do. Steffani and Laurie know each other through me. They both have three year old daughters, Clare and Abigail, who decided that they had to trick or treat holding hands. Since Annie refused to get out of her stroller, I kept up with the older kids as they ran from door to door. Pretty soon, Steffani and Laurie were half a block behind us.

We all caught up again at Lara’s home, where as we stood outside with the kids milling around, Laurie gave Steffani her phone number.

Suddenly I was twelve years old again.

Wait, what? Why are they exchanging phone numbers? If they become better friends, what will happen to me?

Now, I  know that this is silly.

And I further know that I am the one moving away.

But for one really solid moment, I felt alone.

I am blessed with an abundance of wonderful women friends. They live everywhere, from Maui to Canada and points in between.

But Steffani, Lara, Dana, Laurie, Amy, Jennifer, Angela. These are the women within shouting distance. They are the ones who come running when. And any woman—but especially a mama—knows that you cannot do life well unless you have a solid core of other women who come running when.

From midnight trips to the ER to parenting advice to playdates over muffins and coffee while the babies play, these are the friends who make the daily business of parenting joyful from the simple knowledge that I am not alone and there is always another way to cut the cake or skin the cat, depending.

So I’m sad.

Because these women right here, right now? They will always be my friends, but they won’t be within shouting distance, and for a while I’m going to feel like I lost my safe place to land.

They have taught me: we all need women who come running when. Women who love us and support us and answer the phone at 2 am. Women who laugh with us and at us and don’t see the dirty dishes or the pile of laundry. Women who travel with us and celebrate with us and cry with us when it all goes wrong.

They see us at our best and our worst and they still come running when. They show up for it all.

I want to say thank you to these women for making my life here so beautiful and full of love and joy. I couldn’t have done it without you and I love you.

And here’s to all the women who come running when.

May you know one and may you be one.