Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Church for every woman

 You are married and single, career women, homeschooling and full-time working mothers, grad students, professional counselors, church and ministry leaders, supermoms and supergrandmoms, and homemakers extraordinaire.

You are the "everywoman" in the church pew, and last week when I posted on how it feels to be an Atypical woman in the pew, you responded. What you said in the comments section and the church hallways surprised me.

It isn't just the single and the childless who often feel the sting of not fitting in when they approach the church doors. It's all of us. Whether you fit into a church's biggest demographic or not. Whether you are young or old. Whether you have ankle-biters pulling on your yoga pants or a boss pushing you to work 50 hours a week. You feel it. But like me, I don't think you talk about it much.

I think Pam described the problem best:
You asked what the church might start doing differently to welcome every woman. One thing is to stop pitting us against each other by emphasizing how we're different. I may have more in common with scholars and career women than with a homeschooling mother of six, but I know I have much to learn from her--and perhaps she might gain from that interaction as well. But as long as churches define womanhood narrowly by marital/parental/career status, we will always be at odds with those whose situations are different from our own.

Despite all those differences, we still share so much in common. What we really need is the support of other women, but we won't be able to give our sisters that support if we can't get past those differences.

In Anne Jackson's honest (and frankly tear-provoking) book and website about the church, Permission to Speak Freely, she talks about the "gift of going second." I wonder what would happen if we as women in the church approached other women who are probably feeling alone as well and started a conversation. Any conversation. If we opened up, perhaps they would follow.

If our Bible studies and outreaches were designed to help us find common ground, if leaders got up and talked very openly about their struggles to fit in and to be a part of a diverse community, to make the church a place where we live, eat, and breathe together, things can change.

This is the vision Jesus had for all of his daughters and for the church as the whole. Sometimes we will have to do parts of our lives alone, but I believe the church was and is God's answer to loneliness. We just have to start acting like it, with the Holy Spirit's help.

I had a bit of a chip on my shoulder when I attended last weekend's women's ministry retreat. My demeanor changed when the speaker, a woman who is so put together and seemingly perfect, started talking about periods of deep heartbreak, temptations to sin, and a God who is constant through it all. I led the discussion around my table with five women at completely different places in life, and one woman, with whom I outwardly appear to have nothing in common, encouraged me the most. Barb was quiet and unassuming, a servant with a deep joy behind her eyes that gives hope to all who come in contact with her. I'd never have met her otherwise. And that, sisters, would have been a real shame. 

What are you willing to risk to reach out to other women at church? What might that look like? Let's keep the conversation going.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Atypical woman in the pew

I've been surrounded by church ladies my whole life. But I don't feel like one of them. 

Does a church lady eat mostly plant-based meals? Does she do yoga? Does she study theology in seminary? Does she feel more comfortable in Barnes and Noble than at a women's ministry event? Is her favorite color RED?

Not according to stereotypical perceptions. I suppose I realized how much I broke the mold when I was invited to a "mom's night out" at my church--the church's ongoing social offering for women--after getting married at age 35. I explained that I had no children and asked if the event might be changed to "ladies' night out" so that singles and infertiles and married women could be included. The answer was no. I begged off.

Since that time, I've joined the "currently infertile" category, which only makes the designation sting more. There's got to be a better way to bridge the gap across generation and circumstance--a way that every woman would be welcomed at the church of the living God. I'm happy to tell you, there is.

When God named your grandmother Eve an "ezer" (Hebrew word) in Genesis 2:18, you earned your seat at the table, sister. You are a strong helper, warrior, and rescuer, fit for Kingdom service. Married or no. Mother or not. Professional or homemaker extraordinaire. (See this video for details on what it means to be an ezer.) You belong. Don't let any woman (or man) tell you otherwise.

In the spirit of celebrating the atypical woman in the pew, I'm going to a woman's event at my church this weekend. I'm thinking positive thoughts, believing that Jesus in me might draw other atypical women into the conversation. That we might be celebrated, enjoyed, and encouraged. There is room for us at the table. Perhaps we just need to insist on it and pull up some chairs.

Tell me about your experience as an atypical woman in church. How might we encourage our churches to invite all of God's daughters to the table?

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Notable Quotable: Eugene Peterson

"I work with words, in pastoring I work with people, but not mere words or mere people, but words and people as carriers of Spirit. The moment words are used prayerlessly, or people are treated prayerlessly, something essential seems to leak out of life."

Friday, January 14, 2011

Honesty v. Humility: how much should a Christian share?

Yes, we need to share our stories. I believe it, believe it in my bones. But at what point does sharing become oversharing? At what point does sharing = pride?

Last Sunday, I posted about a personal experience that showed me how costly love can be. And then I read Matthew 6 this morning--you know, Jesus' instruction on "not practicing your righteousness before other people to be seen by them." And it made me second-guess my blog post, honestly. It made me squirm. It made me feel like I was parading my "righteousness" in front of you.

But that wasn't my intent. My heart's cry was that all of us would learn to "be moved to compassion" for the broken; that we would take Scripture seriously and go outside of our comfort zones to love sacrificially and often. God knows my heart, and He knows yours. He knows our motives and discerns our intentions. Even better than we do. And for that I praise Him. And as I praise Him, I get down on my knees and ask: what do you want others to know through my story? What I can share that will enhance Your reputation, Father?

So let's hear from you. How much of your story should others hear through your blog or ministry? What is off-limits? What is appropriate to share for the growth and encouragement of others--even if it makes you uncomfortable? Do tell.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Loving You Is . . . Costly

Hey Suzie
I love you. Thank you for all you do. I know my God now thanks to you. Your a blessing.

Just today I read this note from someone I've been introducing Jesus to for the last six months or so. I'd have to say that up until 2010 I hadn't taken Jesus' commands to help the poor and the broken seriously. But through a supernatural chain of events, I started leading a Bible study for women in drug and alcohol recovery, and the Holy Spirit's been revealing just how messed up my priorities can be. The result is that my Wednesday morning Bible study has become the highlight of my week. I just show up, really, and offer love and dignity, pointing others to the truth and light of Scripture, and the Spirit does the rest.

Anyway, this year I watched the gospel of John split this young woman's heart open. And I watched her begin to respond to Jesus' pure offer of love, and the movement was significant. It brought deep joy to me and to many others around her. So it's no exaggeration to say I was torn, bummed, distraught, and fearful when the young woman left the facility I was ministering at without a goodbye. There are many reasons this made me want to cry and scream, but suffice it to say, loving someone in recovery holds a lot of ups and downs. Actually, loving someone--period--holds a lot of ups and downs.

But without time for even a tear, I walked into Bible study with a new set of women searching for hope and love and Jesus. Searching, period. And then two weeks later, I open this Christmas card, which apparently I had not read, and I see the inscription above from the young woman I mentioned. And my heart melts. And I remember what Jesus said in Matthew 25:

“Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me...whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’"

Of all people, Jesus understands . . . loving can be costly. But every hug, word of truth, visit, note, encouragement done in His name ushers in the Kingdom we say we're a part of. Count me in, no matter how costly. What about you? What are you willing to give relationally for the sake of God's Kingdom?

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Why I edit my life . . . and other mysteries

Over New Year's, my husband and I spent time in a usual up-north location with our usual friends, Jack and Lahree. These friends of ours are priceless, really beautiful souls, and I've been spending the New Year's holiday with them for years.

These priceless friends are dear partly because of the hell they've experienced. I didn't expect to use "h-e-double hockey sticks," but there you have it. I got to know them just as their 17-year-old daughter experienced a traumatic accident that left her brain-injured for life. We heard more of the story this last weekend, in one of our long talks in the cabin, as we chewed over God's involvement in the most excruciating times.

The way they walked through this pain, and having to find care for her, etc., taught them how to live with a brokenness that continues to sting, how to be grateful for God's goodness while so many dreams were dashed. And because depression and physical challenges have brought me a fair share of brokenness, too, their journey has inspired me. But that's not the end of the story.

Just a month before I got married in 2008, something tragic happened on Easter morning. Jack, who is the most athletic man I know, collapsed of a massive heartache. He went without oxygen for quite a period of time until an ambulance rushed him to the hospital. Honestly, it didn't look good. There was a small chance he might make it. David and I were in shock. After losing my Dad the previous summer, Jack was on tap to walk me down the aisle at our wedding. Suffice it to say, in a twist that can only be termed miraculous, Jack woke up, had major bypass surgery, and recovered to walk me down the aisle ONE MONTH LATER. I still, to this day, cannot believe it. Lord, have mercy. The Lord had mercy!

But what stunned me again in all its plainness was something Jack said this last weekend. He talked about how joy and pain coexist in the same room for him, how they mingle together in all their intensity. And it got me thinking about life. How I'm afraid to blog because I might offend this group or that group. The people who believe women should minister and those who don't. The Nazarenes or the Baptists. Liberals and conservatives. The high school facebook friends who knew me in a former life or the seminary students who know me in this one. The addicts in recovery I minister to or the churchified people I've come to love.

And it all felt rather silly, to be honest. The story God calls each of us to is distinctive, filled with deep joy and often-times deep heart surgery that occurs through searing pain, but no matter what our stories look like, it feels as if they need to be told. It feels as though I need to let mine be aired out, understood, appreciated for the way God's movement runs through it, sometimes appearing clear and sometimes cloudy, but always for my good and the good of His Bigger Story.

So I'm praying for help in sharing more of my heart through this blog, through my teaching, through my writing, through my life. It might not always look pretty. It might at times even be shocking. But it will be true. And redemptive. I'd like to stop editing my life to please the masses. I'd like to believe that God gave me this particular story for a reason--and with His help and discernment, I'd like to allow Him to use it.

Are you with me? What have you "edited" in your life that might bring hope, resolve, comfort, or understanding to others? I'd love to hear your thoughts.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

A poem for 2011

A poem from my journal dated 1/1/11:

Your Word
brings light
and I want it,
Your Word.
I want my story to be
part of Your story.
I want people to 
experience Your Love.
I want smaller disasters
to end in a bigger victory.
I want still waters;
quiet pastures;
and the raw strength of a God
who can help me scale a wall.
High places or low,
medication or no,
I love Your law.
It is a gift
whose blinding light is most appreciated
when it is absent.
I need more of it:
in the morning
at noon 
with a client
in the classroom.
Oh, help me not be satisfied
with lesser things,
when your Word
is the thing I need.