Tuesday, January 24, 2017

on being women in church leadership

Yesterday, one of my children lay in the hallway of the YMCA, in rebellion to the suggestion that he go play in the gym. Another yelled in my face when my gentle teasing was found incredibly annoying. A third child was offended deeply by the dinner they were forced to accept. 

I know everyone else's kids are perfect angels, but mine seem to be full-blown human beings grappling with all sorts of soulishness.

My people are tired. My people are grouchy. We are straining against the currents of our weary souls. We trudge upstream every day, and we are making it through the week one bad attitude adjustment at a time.

All along the way, words keep accumulating in my heart. I know I have pages and pages to write before I am done. I feel the book growing inside me. It taps my shoulder and pulls my mind away from all this mothering and ministry. It is a beloved burden, and I treasure its presence in my life.

The burden I treasure the least is the call to subdue the mess in our house. That is a responsibility I would like to shirk completely, thanks so much.

Every night, Morgan and I have strategic church conversations, strategic children conversations, and a schedule to organize. We sit close and cozy in the quiet of our home and focus on everything except that schedule so romance can catch us up above the crowded calendar.

Life is good. Life is full. Life is hard.

When I hear women say that their only real priority is their family, I want to applaud them. They seem so sure. It seems so obvious and simple to have a singular focus. I sometimes wish my own journey could be as clearly defined as that. Most days I am a piece of saran wrap stretched over a compartmentalized cafeteria plate that God filled a little too full. I'm just trying get through lunch with everything still in the spot God dished it.

God's loving call will not relent until the work is done- in my soul, in my marriage, in my kids, in my writing, in ministry, and in His Kingdom. Some days, it's more than I know how to manage.

But the truth is I love the spontaneity and unpredictability of our life. I (mostly) enjoy hopping from homeschooling to writing a chapter to baseball practice to baking cookies to reading for Bible study to planning meetings to folding laundry to blogging to painting the kitchen to praying with someone in need. I cherish each moment one role at a time: wife, mom, minister. I cram it all in but don't do it all at once- that would be soul suicide.

This method of living is insane and wonderful. Along the way, though, arises a general inadequacy in understanding what it means to be a married mother in the ministry. I've tried dumping a responsibility here and there, but it's impossible. God delights in creeping up on me and tenderly laying the responsibilities back at my feet every time.

Here lies the challenging part of the woman+ministry equation: there is no playbook to follow. Many of us are the first women in our families to attempt this hat trick of leadership.

We are the first generation of women collectively attempting to lead well as we also correctly grasp the biblical definition of submission. We grapple with the strange call on our lives to bear the full glory of womanhood in the modern world. Hopefully our people see the tension we face, and can muster the courage to help us find our way when leadership roles, schedules, and church/family structures are difficult for us to navigate.

We are among the first to preach in the pulpit, to publicly lead men as well as women in worship and in wisdom. We have the eyes of our culture locked on us in search of answers to the dilemma birthed by the desire to represent women well and mother graciously in the midst of other leadership roles and responsibilities.

It isn't that it hasn't ever been done, it's just that it hasn't ever been attempted so publicly, or by so many.

I stand in wonder at the sight of all the women who long to be everything God has called them to be.

I believe in all of you. 

It takes work and sacrifice and a magnitude of love to make your life happen. I see you up late writing sermons and up early packing lunches. I feel your despair when you have to choose who to lovingly disappoint: the woman who needs counsel or the child who wants his mama at home all the time. I know the strain of laying aside your own plan because your husband has to work late after all. I can even smell the rottenness of criticism levied against you by people who could love you better if they tried. You are brave to patiently wait as they find their own way through the darkness.

You are all my heroes, and the words I spoke to myself today, I also give to you: God's plan is to love you forever, and nothing can ever stop His plan. No matter what. Not even if you are Saran Wrap that has come a little loose and made a bit of a mess. You are a pioneer in the Kingdom, and if you follow well, Jesus will lead you right where you need to go.

It's a privilege to walk beside you and to be a small part of what God is doing in the earth through His daughters. May His Kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven, and may our hearts thrill as His presence meets our perseverance and we see His glory expand.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

middle-aged mom life is a real thing

When I imagined myself as a mom, it was always as a young mom of very small children. It is a pure shock to me that that stage has ended in many ways for me. I can't really explain my utter lack of reality, except to say I like babies and wish my kids could be Peter Pan.

However, my oldest will be a TEENAGER on Saturday, and I feel like Alice when she went through the looking glass.

This whole middle-aged mom life thing is really weird to me.

A few weeks ago, I went out to dinner with a friend from church. She’s about a decade older than I am, and somehow we started talking about birthdays and how hard it is for us to get older. I turned 40 last year and I’m still reeling from the shock of it. Everyone promised me that 40 was the new 30, but that is a lie. 40 is 40, THE END.

My friend didn’t make me feel any better about turning 50 one day. (But by the time I hit that decade, she’ll be 60, and still the world will spin on its axis. This truth is shocking to my very core.)

Which is ridiculous. We are both women of deep faith. We love Jesus. We love watching our kids grow up. Our latter is better. Heaven is our destiny. We love what God has brought us through, and all we have learned, and we don’t want to be young and lacking the wisdom that we’ve gleaned through the years.

And yet. There we were, in a diner, eating pancakes and enchiladas, comparing the elasticity of the skin on our hands.

Aging just goes to prove that the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak. (And wrinkly and a maybe a little thin and crepey.)

However, one of the perks of my new, middle-aged status is that my kids are old enough to stay at home while I run to the grocery store, or workout at the gym, or run away from the madness for thirty minutes of peace at a coffee shop.

For a woman who homeschools her kids, this is a kind of glorious liberation I knew not of before now. I’m practically sixteen again, driving in my car BY MYSELF to Walgreens to pick up a bottle of Pantene and a bag of gummy bears. Since having my first baby thirteen years ago, I have been alone in my car exactly eleventeen-shmomething times. (I can only count these solo trips in mythical numbers, because being alone is the unicorn of early motherhood.)

Being alone is so rare, in fact, that I have become a real superfan of the single public bathroom in recent years. Any restaurant or shop with a bathroom with only one room and a lock on the door should be rated as a multi-star Michelin establishment. First of all, I love that these bathrooms give me an excuse to shut a door and lock it. This alone makes for an experience that is akin to a trip to the spa. I’m in a public place, and yet no one is shouting at me from under another stall or talking too many words in between flushes about the thing they want for their birthday in two Novembers.

I try to take my time and really squeeze the joy out of those blessed single person bathroom facilities. I let the water get really warm before I wash my hands like a surgeon about to operate. I reapply lipstick twice. Sometimes I take a minute (or ten) to do some anti-anxiety breathing exercises. I look for a mint in my purse because I can. I give myself a pep talk in the mirror, “Hey Girl, there will be shenanigans you will have to deal with when you get out of here. That’s okay. They are kids. They like to be dumb most of the time. Just smile and wait for your moment to unleash your amazing mom-ness. It always works out alright.” Then I go back and try to be a really great mom.

Thank you, very small local businesses with tiny lavatories, you really are the wind beneath my wings.

This new freedom to leave the kids at home for an hour or two during the day has caused a new reality to set in, though. Someday, I will no longer need any babysitters at all. Not for late night events. Not for overnight trips. Once these kids are all grown up, they will not need any supervision at all. Ever.

I can't tell you how odd this fact is to me. For years now, many parts of my professional life, and my entire social life have hinged on my ability to get a babysitter. Babysitters aren’t unicorns, exactly, but they are close. I’d compare them to reverse leprechauns. Much like those little Irish fairies, babysitters are very hard to find, and the nice ones are even rarer. Leprechauns give you money though, and babysitters take all your money. (That’s the reverse part.)

I can't imagine a world in which I don't have to text three different people to find childcare just so I can go to a planning meeting or have dinner with my husband. I think this is because I haven't really accepted that my children will actually grow up one day. I mean, I know I won't be doing their laundry and packing a snack for them at the library twenty years from now, but it feels like I will have to do all this stuff for an eternity. In fact, it feels like I've been doing this mom life for an eternity already- folding laundry and doing dishes and picking up dirty underwear and carrying everything they don't want to carry and listening to endless explanations about things that aren't even important and pretending to care about new apps and fantasy football stats and American Girl Doll minutiae.

I'm so tired, you guys. But even this season won't last forever.

Someday I’m going to go to my daughter’s fortieth birthday dinner and tell her that 40 is the new 20, what with that new infrabluish transformative light that makes all the wrinkles go away forever by changing your DNA. (The miracles of science astound in the year 2048!!)

I’ll be 72 by then, which is completely impossible.

Gosh, I wonder who I’ll text when I need a babysitter for that party? I hope she doesn't charge too much....

Thursday, January 5, 2017

the bittersweet road home

Meanwhile the disciples were urging him, saying, “Rabbi, eat.”  But he said to them, “I have food to eat that you do not know about.”  So the disciples said to one another, “Has anyone brought him something to eat?” Jesus said to them, “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to accomplish his work.”
-John 4:31-34

I sat in the car watching the scenery of the southwest speed by at 70 miles per hour last week. The long drive from Colorado to Texas was like water through a sieve and my thoughts kept coming back to this passage in John, when Jesus talked about food that no one can see.

And I wondered, How does a woman learn to eat God’s will?

Is it like the proverbial elephant, consumed one bite at a time? Is God’s will supposed to be a banquet, or simply a bite of bread and a sip of wine? How do we remember how low our place was before we knew the grace that brought us to God’s table, serving us dishes like salvation, restoration, and friendship with the eternal and the divine?

A few things have gone terribly wrong in our little world recently, and our days have tasted bitter and painful. Words have been spoken that we don't understand. We have discovered we are surrounded by circumstances we can’t seem to sort out. I have held out my hands to God and asked Him to show me my part in it all. Have I failed Him, where am I blinded by my brokenness, how can I help to put the pieces back together?

Then some child of mine loaded the dishwasher with all the sloppy spaghetti plates and coffee-ringed cups and poured regular old dish soap in that machine. I walked into the kitchen and saw great mounds of suds all over the wood floors.

Down on my knees with beach towels in hand, the truth bubbled up from my own heart and I answered my own deep questions about eating God’s will.

I want to taste the sweetness in all the bitter things.

I looked up the scripture in Proverbs 27 after the soapy floors had been dried up. “One who is full loathes honey, but to one who is hungry everything bitter is sweet.”

I realized that to taste the sweetness in the bitter things, I must stay hungry. And maybe the hard things in life remind me of how hungry I really am. Hungry for God’s word, hungry for His presence, hungry to love a whole world full of people in need. In order to savor our great need for God in the depths of my soul I have to look the pain of humanity square in the face.

So today I am not staring at the mysteries of my circumstances, trying to sort out all that they mean. I am eating them. I am tasting the ways I have been disappointed by people I love and the ways I have failed them, too. I am chewing every bite of hope and sadness and tender vulnerability that is in my life. I savor the bitterness because somewhere in this meal there is nourishment for the journey ahead.

I have a God who makes all the sad things untrue. He turns the bitterest things into honey flowing from His hands. I’m not afraid of the darkness or of the sour meals life offers us.

Every road He leads us on ends at the sweetest home we’ve ever known, and today I am one step closer to heaven.