Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Let's do this together, single or married

I just got back from our church office, where four women had another meeting of the minds. We're working on creating a basic curriculum that helps every woman understand and live out of her true identity--made in the image of God, created to function as an ezer--a strong helper, warrior, and rescuer.

And wouldn't you know, the stuff I got stuck on writing about this last week had to do with being a single Christian in the church. I got stuck because all the old emotions came back to me in force: I was single in the church for 35 years, and some of that time, I was extremely lonely. Now that's not to say that I didn't have good relationships with people, but that I often felt I was on the outs by not being married, that people would prefer I was married, and that while single I could be in the church, but not fully integrated. Does any of this make sense?

The bottom line is, single or married, we as women are a) made in God's image b) an ezer and c) a full, card carrying member of the Blessed Alliance God created between men and women. Now that I've got that out of the way, I'd like to share with you an essay I wrote after coming home from church on a particularly lonely Sunday. Let's face it, most of the time Sunday was the loneliest day of the week.

I'm going to share this in an effort to open up a dialogue between married and single women in the church, and I'm really hoping that after I go all vulnerable on you, exposing some of my deepest struggles as a single, that you'll go to the trouble to post a comment. Let's get talking, sisters. It's about time.

Titled, "Pain of Longing," written October 10, 2004

A dullness, tiredness, and small package of sadness arrived today. In the big picture, you are a good God full of love that you lavish on me…but for this moment my desire to love and be loved seems relentless and tedious. I feel as though I shoo it away with frustration, swatting at a fly that constantly alights on my being. I am weary, annoyed.

I haven’t asked you for perfection or even an absence of physical and emotional pain. I have only asked that I might find someone to share my journey with. Someone who loves you well…someone who would be thrilled to love me well. The same person that I would desire to love well.

Why this waiting without end? I know the whole deal about how this is only a shadow of my longing for you…but I do long for you. I truly want to know you and to serve you and to love you.

My humanity cries out, What must I do to be ready for a man? At the moment, I want to curse at the well-meaning ladies who say, “You’ll find him as soon as you’re not looking.” What rubbish and conjecture we produce to try to aid another or to assuage our need to “help.” Do you laugh or cry at our blathering? Do you wish often that most of us would shut our mouths and open our arms?

When you see a single soul battered and abused, buffeted by pain that stems from broken relationship, do you wish with everything within you to change things? Do you wish I had someone to pursue and cherish me? Do you know this particular brand of anguish? Did you cry when men pursued only to walk away, unable to commit to loving me? What were your thoughts on the matter?

I feel strangely out of words to describe my heart’s place. I want desperately to give up on the idea of romantic man/woman love. But I cannot. The desire remains, wholly given by you, and I know that truthfully speaking I want it more than ever. It is nonsense to deny my true heart, the most vital part of me—that which you have chiseled, broken, mended, held.

You have been hard at work through the years, and I would not trade my darkest moments to return to a more innocent, shallow spirituality—married or not. My soul is now satisfied with only the richest of fare. I have released many of my desires. But I want my desire for you—for purity, holiness, light, joy, laughter, camaraderie, community, and for the encouragement and salvation of souls to burn. May it burn in my lonely moments. May it burn in the presence of others. May it continue to burn when the man who will be my husband makes the decision to love me. May the flame be eternal.

I cannot demand anything of you. You have stretched out your arms and poured out the most you have to give. I come to you only with honesty and tears, asking that you help me be honest with my desires, that you show me how to keep hope alive.

And asking that your body sense the unmet longing and react with a generous dose of love, affirmation, and affection. As you ask us to take care of widows in their need, so may your children grow a desire to comfort, care for, and love those who are alone with many needs. May they be sensitive to our hearts, and may we be willing to join their families, to eat together, minister together, work together, do life together.

Illuminate our equality in you—single or married—help us to sense our belonging as dear sons and daughters no matter our circumstances, heal us to give and receive love. Make us one.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

And then there's spiritual formation

Inside Out by Larry Crabb, updated edition, Navpress, 2006.
The Pressure's Off by Larry Crabb, updated edition, Navpress, 2002.
The Emotionally Healthy Church by Peter Scazzero, Zondervan, 2003.
Renovation of the Heart by Dallas Willard, Navpress, 2003.
The Complete Green Letters by Miles J. Stanford.

Surely someone out there has read some of these? If so, let's hear about it. And right off the bat, I'll just let you know I think Larry Crabb is one of the great Christian thinkers of our day. He's also the only one I've read on this list, so take that for what it is worth.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Hitting the books

Anyone for some light fall reading?

Can't say I already have these on my shelf. But I will be glad to add them...a few more yet to come. I hope you can stand the suspense.

And by all means, if you've already read them, please post...

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

New article from President Jimmy Carter

Two friends, Pastor Carla and Keri, sent me a link to this article by Jimmy Carter yesterday. He seems to be severing all ties with the Southern Baptist denomination, while at the same time speaking up for female equality both inside and outside the church. Apparently with older age comes an ability to speak one's mind. I must say the article is nicely written. What do you think of it?

Saturday, July 18, 2009

So I cry a little

Sometimes you read something from a novel that perfectly describes your recent experience, and you simply must quote it:

" That's the strangest thing about this life, about being in the ministry. People change the subject when they see you coming. And then sometimes those very same people come into your study and tell you the most remarkable things. There's a lot under the surface of life, everyone knows that. A lot of malice and dread and guilt, and so much loneliness, where you wouldn't really expect to find it, either."
-from Rev. John Ames in a letter to his young son from Gilead by Marilynne Robinson

All I'm trying to say is that people everywhere are hurting, and when you step in as a chaplain or a minister and make yourself available, you are most likely not completely prepared for what you will hear and take in. What I'm learning is that the "biggie" emotions that cause the most suffering are these: loneliness, loss/grief, and fear.

A chaplain at a local hospital told me once that when she goes home at the end of a long, emotion-filled day, she often doubts if she can come back tomorrow. The grief is too much, the sorrows too numerous, and she feels the burden. But somehow, somehow God gives her the strength to rise anew the next morning and go back to work. He equips her for service and allows her to minister to those in crisis, those whose emotions are rubbed raw.

I have discovered in the last few months that I am approachable and empathetic to those I serve. This did not come as a surprise to me, as I feel that I am using the gifts God has given me when I serve as a chaplain. What has surprised me are the burdens that I bear, some of which move me to tears.

I picture the ideal chaplain as put-together and self-assured. Nary a hair out of place, with a warm touch, a steady heart, and a truthful, encouraging word at the proper time. I don't know how I measure up to the picture, I just know I have experienced my share of life's pain, and when someone experiences something similar, my heart goes out to them. And then I begin to wish I had used waterproof mascara.

Yet, even as I adjust to this new role, I thank God for the tears. For a heart that feels on behalf of another, for a desire to offer spiritual comfort as crises arise. My only prayer is this: "Lord, please help me to know what I should do and say. Then let me leave the rest to you, knowing it is outside of my control, and that your goodness is real and will be known in how you help this person through this trial."

So I cry a little sometimes, or perhaps the better term is "tear up." I don't know how much it has to do with me being female, but I do know this: I want to remain true to who God has created me to be, even if the way I offer assistance looks different than it does for the next person. I want to be faithful to who He has created me to be in the places that He wants for me to serve.

And I am a little surprised that each day I feel a bit more comfortable when confronting loneliness, grief, or fear. This must be God's good work in me, teaching me how to offer the gift of presence in the emotional moments of life.

Ephesians 2:10 (Amplified Bible)

10For we are God's [own] handiwork (His workmanship), a]">[a]recreated in Christ Jesus, [born anew] that we may do those good works which God predestined (planned beforehand) for us [taking paths which He prepared ahead of time], that we should walk in them [living the good life which He prearranged and made ready for us to live].

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

First semester, at a glance

I talked with my eight-year-old niece on the phone the other night and told her I was going back to school, but that I wouldn't be in second grade. She giggled. And giggled again when I told her I have my book bag ready to go.

Apparently it is quite funny to think of a grownup in a classroom. It's not that funny to me, but it does make me slightly itchy. It's been about fifteen years since I was in college, and although I consider myself a lifelong learner, I'm just hoping I'm up for the challenge of seminary.

ESV wide margin reference Bible, campus edition. (Perfect for writing in.) Check.

Messenger bag acquired for .50 at a garage sale. Affirmative.

Mac Powerbook ready to roll.

Old, but respected, commentaries on the shelf.

Mechanical pencils still needed.

I am 95% ready to go. Almost feel like a kid waiting for the school doors to open. Actually, that's exactly how I feel. 

I'm life ready for Hermeneutics, Understanding World Religions, and Spiritual Formation. I'm counting the days till I'm in orientation, acting like a freshman. (Officially, they call us "new students.") It will be joy to sit in chapel on Tuesday mornings and worship the Lord with like-minded students and faculty. And the mentoring group will be challenging and rich.

And I don't know if I mentioned it, but the adventure begins in just 45 days. Or a month and a half, depending on how you look at it. Thanks for coming along for the ride.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Calling all ezers--women, that means you!

Within the last year, a book started turning my world right side up. Read the beginning of the journey at  this blog post

The book Lost Women of the Bible pointed out who I am as an ezer--the word God used when he created Eve. Every female, simply by virtue of living, was created to be a strong helper, warrior, and rescuer. And there's more: this word Ezer is used a total of 21 times in the Old Testament; in 16 of those instances, it refers to God rescuing us. There's untold significance to unpack--and the study is well worth it.

If you'd like an entree into this subject, you'll be thrilled to know you can listen to *free* audio sessions from the Synergy 2008 conference, led by the book's author, Carolyn Custis James. Just go to this page on the synergy site. I just crossed off two of them myself. You've got to love free resources--especially when they help you get a clearer view into God's intention when creating woman to join with man in His grand purpose.

Thursday, July 9, 2009


I attended a Catholic funeral mass today. A first for me.

This is but one of the new activities I'm involved in as a part-time workplace chaplain. I was happy to attend on behalf of an employee. Still, growing up as a Baptist pastor's daughter and becoming a member of  a Nazarene church does not prepare you for how to do mass. Are you getting a mental picture already?

I sat about 2/3 of the way back on a wooden pew, with many of the attendees in back of me. I had no idea when to stand up or sit down, so watching others with my peripheral vision was key. At least I knew the hymns that were played on the organ, though the organist sped up and slowed down enough that it was hard to sing along. 

The liturgy was beautiful and rich, although I seldom prayed along or recited after the priest, for fear of wandering outside of my doctrinal comfort zone. At least I was safe with the Lord's prayer, until I boldly uttered "forgive us our debts," when they said "trespasses." The NIV slip made me smile.

Then there are the kneeling benches, of course. I chose to forgo them, feeling I had my hands full just following along with the sitting and standing. But opting to sit instead of kneel presented its own awkwardness--I had to lean forward quite a bit so the man in back of me could kneel over the back of my pew without knocking me over. 

Clearly, it was a first. And as firsts go, I would call it a success. Did I fit in? Hardly. Was my presence appreciated by someone facing a very personal loss? Yes. And that is what this whole journey is about--representing the love of Christ wherever he calls me to minister to whomever is in need.

The apostle Paul talked about being a fool for Christ in I Corinthians 4--and sometimes, I admit, I feel foolish. Offering the gift of presence as a chaplain is an art, not a science. Sometimes I am welcomed and appreciated; just this week I was rejected out of hand; many times I offer the love of Christ with a smile or a simple and brief word of encouragement, spoken or written. Always I stand out from the crowd.

I've been so grateful that God is showing me how to exhibit His love without fear of rejection. I offer encouragement and comfort to others, because to tell you the truth, I've seen a lot of pain myself, and God's comfort has overflowed through every trial.

2 Corinthians 1 became a bulwark to me in the past, as I realized in the tough times that God would use every ounce of grief and struggle for His Kingdom, that somehow I would turn around and offer his comfort to someone else in need. And I have to tell you, that's EXACTLY what is happening.

2 Cor. 1:3-5
 3Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, 4who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God. 5For just as the sufferings of Christ flow over into our lives, so also through Christ our comfort overflows.

Praise be to the God of all comfort. Who carries us through our many "firsts." Who can be trusted no matter what. 

Do you have your own story of how God has taught you how to comfort others by receiving His comfort first? Please post.

P.S. The seminary got back to me re: the online classes. Apparently you have to give them a reason you feel you  need this option--work schedule, etc. I'm thinking it's not so common for the few women who attend to consider having a baby while doing so. Perhaps this will be another "first"...if God wills.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

53 more days, and already, I'm wondering...

You heard it. Seminary orientation occurs in approximately 53 days, more or less. It's not top of mind, really. I could have procrastinated in thinking about it for at least a week or more. Maybe . . . not.

Except that today I received an email that got me thinking. I inquired about an online class and my adviser told me they don't usually let residential students take online classes. Which really, to tell the truth, made me want to bang my fists on the floor, just to let all the tension out before I carefully constructed a respectful reply.

Several months ago, I met with the admissions director and told him I was interested in a blended program, where I could take residential and online courses. He said that was a possibility, that they were flexible and could work with me, which, honestly, was one of the reasons I chose this seminary. (I live about 45 minutes away.)

From what I've read, most women who return to seminary later in life go between the ages of 40-55. I'm currently 36. (Hang in there, this is going somewhere...) I didn't happen to meet my life partner until age 34 (long story!), got married at 35, and now find myself staring longingly at two passions: the desire for motherhood and the desire to pursue ministry through seminary. I also do freelance writing on the side and very part-time chaplaincy work. All of which I consider to be God's good plan for my life.

Add to that some current hormonal woes, and presto . . . nothing is certain. And so lately people have been asking, "how are you going to do it all?" Which made me wonder how things might be different if I were a 36-year-old man attending seminary. Simpler. More straight-forward. With a heck of a lot fewer questions.

As you know, the comparison trap gets us nowhere, and clearly leads us away from God's good and unique plans for each of us. So I shook my head to clear the cobwebs and am trying to focus on just being me--the me who said yes in obedience to God's call to seminary and ministry and will continue to say yes no matter what the journey may bring.

As a chaplain and a friend, I've been ministering to a number of people lately who are going through difficult seasons in life. From my tongue and my pen have flowed Scripture and encouragement, comfort and consolation, hope and peace.

Tonight I remember the same promises I've been sharing and ask my heavenly Father to help me listen only for His voice. I do believe it is possible to hold what seem to be competing dreams in tension. I don't know if I will eventually have a child, or if my life-giving spirit will be poured out through relationship, teaching, chaplaincy service, and writing.

I do know that God is faithful. It's not a cliche. The Creator of the universe has literally sustained me a thousand times before through every kind of joy and trial. He's entirely good. And just this last year, over a period of months and a bevy of confirmations, He made it clear that He would like for me to attend seminary. Gulp.

Even when I am the only female in the class and I feel outnumbered. Even when I don't feel like telling my adviser I'm hoping for a child and may desperately need those online classes in the future. Even when I'm not sure how the next three years will roll, exactly.

He didn't ask me to tell the future. He just asked me to obey. And as this day ends, I feel a familiar peace settling in. From the outside looking in, my journey may not be linear and neat, tidy and predictable. But it will be entirely worthwhile. I am safe in the protective hands of my Abba-Father. There is nothing I desire more than to obey.

Have you as a woman ever fallen into the comparison trap? Do you have a story of how God called you to and equipped you to do something bigger than yourself?