The Ingredients We Have

The Ingredients We Have

I’m not much of a baker.  Something about the preciseness of it intimidates me.  I’m much more of a “little of this, little of that, add a hunk of butter to the sauce and it will taste great, dance around my kitchen to old Jimmy Buffet” kind of cook.  I can host a holiday meal or a summertime cookout for 20 with my eyes closed, but will someone else please bring the pie?  

Unfortunately for me, something about baking with our children has been sold to us mothers as holy ground. There are times one of my children will bring home a cookbook from “library day” at school and request that we spend the afternoon making cupcakes that resemble butterflies or unicorns.  And though I always consider “losing” that particular library book and forking over the $12 to replace it, I walk to the pantry and try y’all.  But, because I’m not a baker, I never have the right ingredients for the unicorn cupcakes.  Inevitably, we find what we need for a cobbler, a dump cake, a loaf of banana bread, and the holiness descends anyway.  Because the magic is not found in the final product, but in the togetherness…in the journey…with the ingredients we have.

I have learned in my 13 years of motherhood so far, that many will tell you mothering is like the careful art of baking.  There is some sort of formula, exact measurements, perfectly timed outcomes, all the while trying to peddle just the tools we need.  “It should look, and taste, and feel this way… See, here is the picture.” But time and time again I have gone to the pantry and realized those are not the ingredients I have.

Motherhood, like all of life, is the journey to embrace what we have, while laying what we thought we would have, what others tell us we should have, on the alter over and over- day by day. 

I thought I would be living this life and raising these 4 children a stone’s throw from my own mother, just the way she had done.  Instead, I have traded the flip-flops of my Floridian youth, for the boots appropriate for planting deep roots in the west Texas desert.  I have cried a thousand tears for that dream, and yet… I have cultivated a sisterhood here I would not have known I needed had that expectation been met.  There have been seasons when my marriage looked very different than the fairy tale we all want, and yet… the muscles built in prayer during those years have made me a strong intercessor and know what miracles look like.  I have children that fit this culture’s mold, and I have children that do not.  When the only successes we know how to measure at this moment are in the classroom and on the sports field, so very much goes uncelebrated.  Things like kindness, and creativity, and epic forts in the back pasture, and childhood.  So I give high fives to the ones on the stage, and I honor the hearts of those who may never be, as I trudge out to admire their fort. 

See, I never want to live in the shadow of my expectations, letting them rob the sunlight of my reality.  This little unexpected piece of promised land may be thousands of miles away from my mom, but there is no more magical spot on a Fall evening to gather friends around the fire pit, lights twinkling in the trees above. It has my heart and has become my home.  And that cowboy of mine?  Oh, we will forever go round and round I suppose, but he loves us fierce and what more could “happily ever after” be made of?  As for these children of ours, so beautiful, so different, growing so quickly… they will all be just fine because they know how to love big even on the days they strike out.  And they know they have a mamma who is not afraid to turn her back on this culture of achievement to celebrate all that makes them unique.

We were not tasked with procuring the “right” ingredients.  We might as well rip that shopping list up the moment we say “I do,” the moment our first child is born, and every moment after.  I can fret over not having what I need on hand for the unicorn cupcakes- the sparkly life I thought I wanted- or I can lovingly gather the ingredients I have been given to create a life that is so much more delicious.  In the end, I have realized mothering is nothing like baking (except for the messy kitchen).  There are no precise measurements, perfect tools, or timers set.  The only way to count every bit of it as joy is to relinquish the picture, lose the book altogether, and dig into the sweet realness of what you have.  So, add a hunk of butter and dance around to old Jimmy Buffet, trusting that God knew the ingredients He gave you.  He only asks us to steward them well, Mamma, knowing that the outcome will be a sweet aroma to Him. 

Late to #internationalwomensday

“For He Himself is our PEACE, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility.”  Ephesians 2:14

Have you ever found yourself in a season where God keeps bringing you back to the same thing over and over again?  Like no matter what you thought you were reading, studying, listening to or talking about, you end up unintentionally swimming in the exact same waters?  All roads lead back to a single path He obviously wants you on.  In fact, at some point, it feels cosmically comical and you just have to surrender.

Please tell me I’m not the only one.

It seems strange that I didn’t choose these waters, this path, on purpose because I should have.  It is important.  Sometimes we have to jump into the deep end to “get used to it,” as my kids say.  But Mamma is more of a “one inch at a time” girl, and so it has been on this journey as well.  Now that I am here, I can tell you that the water is fine.

Women.

Women in the church.

Women in leadership.

Women with a calling.

It’s a frightening feeling to know that there is a fire burning in your bones that may have no way to escape.   What must it burn down to get out?  Will it just burn me up?  Such has the need to speak God’s Word aloud to the world been in me.

When I say “speak,” we are all comfortable.

What about “teach?”

What about “preach?”

Anyone squirming a little?

Maybe you are not.  Maybe you have been floating on your back comfortably in these waters for years and you are confused a bit by the girl on the shallow steps tiptoeing tepidly.  Give me a hand, will you?

Would God give me a passion and then give me so many perimeters that I bump into myself with every step?  That doesn’t feel like my Great Big God.  Is He just grand and big in creation, in the scriptures, for my brothers, but very very small with his daughters?  I can’t believe that.

But it’s exactly what I believed.

So, I began the journey in secret.  I was afraid that what I would find would challenge what I thought I believed.  But what I thought I believed was already being challenged by a calling I could not deny.  Where was my place?  Where were my people?  Were these safe waters for a 40 year old stay at home mom? Would the progressives laugh at me?  Would the conservatives shun me?  All I knew was that I needed my beliefs to reflect the Truth and the character of God. and nothing else..

So I picked up Sarah Bessey’s book “Jesus Feminist” and snuck around with it like it was porn or something.  I was terrified my husband, friends, or mother-in-law would see the word FEMINIST on the front of the dog-eared, highly highlighted copy and assume I had lost my mind.  (The cover is golden and so is every word on the inside in case you were wondering).  It led me to “Half The Church” by Carolyn Custis James and I could feel my theology being stretched like an underworked muscle.

And as it did, I became braver and left the books about to be seen.  And conversations were had.  Questions were certainly asked.  And I don’t know that I am ready to take some official stand, and I don’t know that it is what is being asked of me.  But growth is.  ALWAYS.  God is not afraid of hard conversations and neither should we be.

Here, from the first few shallow steps, let me whisper, speak, teach, preach (?) the three most profound lessons I have learned so far…

First, according to Genesis 1:27, God “created mankind in his own image, in the image of God He created them; male and female He created them.”  There are masculine and feminine qualities to the character of God.  BOTH male and female were created in His image and BOTH male and female reflect aspects of His character.  Just like no one, imperfect human can represent the whole spectrum of God’s character and image, no one, imperfect gender can either.  There are parts of God’s character that resonate more strongly with me as a woman than they maybe do with my husband.  But, if the only voices we hear are male, won’t we be missing half of God’s heart?  I believe the answer is yes.

True, the Word of God is the Word of God, eternal, unchanging.  But a woman’s voice, a woman’s experience, a woman’s filter brings a different depth than a man’s.  Isaiah 49:15 says, “Can a mother forget the baby at her breast and have no compassion on the child she has borne?  Though she may forget, I will not forget you!”   This is God’s love seen through a mother’s eyes.  A man can read this.  He can study it.  He can preach on it.  But he will never, with tears in his eyes, remember the first time his first born latched on.  His heart will never ache, searching his mind for the final time he nursed and rocked his last baby.  How it felt.  How tiny fingers wound around his hair.  How tiny heads smelled.  He has never lived it.  God knows.  And so do mothers.

Would that sermon not reflect a Truth more, well, true coming from a woman?  For BOTH men and women?  It isn’t about OUR voices at all. It’s about reflecting His.

See, my husband and I are raising 2 girls AND 2 boys.  Our fight is for all of them.  And in some ways, I think we as women have a richer opportunity for learning when we sit beneath BOTH male and female teachers.  We hear both voices.  We see a fuller representation of God’s character.  When men are only given the opportunity, are encouraged to only seek the opportunity, to learn from other men, I wonder if an echo chamber theology threatens them.  Is “half the church” cut off from half of God’s character because the other half of the church is relegated to children’s or women’s ministry?

So, first lesson… I believe both genders need to hear from both genders, in some form, to grasp more fully the complete character of God.

Next, my heart is broken as I hear from woman after woman that the world has so much more to offer them than the church.  More opportunities to lead. More encouragement to use their strengths.  More options.  More.

I cannot believe the Bride of Christ is less.

Recently I was chatting with a young couple that had just attended a marriage conference at their church.  They were eager to soak up some wisdom during a difficult season.  When I asked them about it, the husband said he felt like the material was “chauvinistic.”   They both said that the men were encouraged to lead and press into their callings while the women were encouraged only to support their husbands.  While I am a strong believer in headship in a home and traditional gender roles for the most part, I can’t believe a woman’s only divine assignment is to support that of her husband’s.

She doesn’t have a calling of her own?  Maybe even one that is distinct from that of her husband’s or children’s?  What about those women without a husband or children.  What of the empty-nesters or widows?  Nothing for them?

I’m sorry, but that is just not what I see reflected in the Bible over and over.

Ruth, Rahab, Deborah, Jael, Esther, Mary, Martha, Pricilla, Anna….

As Carolyn Curtis James points out in “Half the Church,” it was Joseph whose entire life became about supporting his (very young, pregnant out-of-wedlock) wife’s “calling”. She says, “I am not sure from our cultural context that we can grasp how radically self-denying this was in Joseph’s culture.  It was certainly not the “manly” thing to do.  Joseph doesn’t stop there.  When the angel finally corroborates Mary’s story, he shuts down his carpenter shop, gets behind Mary’s calling, and adapts himself to his wife and God’s calling on her life.”

Yeah.

When I hear that companies in the world are fighting over well-educated, driven women while the church is still fighting internally to make a statement about women, I am discouraged.  A friend who has her degree in theater and has been staging professional productions for years, just told me that though she had served at her church in a similar capacity for some time, when a lead staff position opened up in the department she wasn’t even informed.  The church hired a man from across the country.  I don’t know all the details but it looks pretty strange from where I am standing.  It makes me sad.  She hesitates to serve now.  I get it.

Just like the church should be the biggest advocate for social justice, and political reform, and the orphan and widow… we should have the very most to offer women!  Jesus’ church should always be more.  This has been lesson number two.

The third thing I have learned on these first few steps revolves around the identity statement and job title for women as man’s “helper suitable,” or “helpmeet,” from Genesis 2:18.  The English language has translated the original “Ezer-Kenegdo” into these familiar terms and in doing so, has lost so much of it’s depth and power.  The word “Ezer” appears 21 times in the Old Testament; twice for women, three times for nations Israel asked for military help, and SIXTEEN times for God as Israel’s helper.  In “Half the Church” Carolyn Curtis James points out that “Ezer” is consistently used in a military context.  She concludes, and this feels so right in my spirit, that an ezer is a warrior, a solider, a fighter.  Kenegdo, which we have translated “suitable” is more of “match.”  As in, “Boy, you have met your match.”  After Adam named all the animals, God gave him his match, his fit, his equal.

This feels different doesn’t it?  We are not merely men’s assistants, wives, managers of their homes, mothers of their children.  If this is all Ezer-Kenegdo means, then 60% of women in this country alone have no identity at all, as they are neither wives or mothers.  If it in fact means a co-warrior, a co-soldier, a battle partner, well this story just got interesting.

Why did God say Eve was needed?  “It is not good for the man to be alone.  I will make a Ezer-Kenegdo for him” (Gen.. 2:18).  To do his laundry?  To snuggle at night? I  mean maybe.  But I think it is not good for man to be alone because we are in a war.  God knew what would happen in Genesis 3.  He knew the battle that would rage for centuries afterwards.  He knew the enemy was coming for our souls.  It isn’t good for any of us to fight alone, to war alone, to solider alone.  It isn’t good for man to be alone in life or in ministry.  We are co-warriors and any man who doesn’t appreciate a woman having his back in this war, who isn’t willing to have her’s, isn’t going to last long.

A couple of weeks ago, a couple of months into this journey, I had the rare opportunity to spend some time with my parents without my husband and children.  I got to play the sole role of daughter for a weekend.   The conversation turned to books we had been reading, the things we had all been studying… and I learned the coolest lesson of all.  My mom is a boss Bible teacher, that I knew.  She has taught a large “women’s” Bible study every week for years.  She and my dad also teach an adult Sunday school class at their church.  What I didn’t know is that TWICE they have left churches because her teaching gift was questioned and the fact that men had the opportunity to sit under her, and were coming, was causing a stir.  TWICE.  I wanted to stand and cheer for my parents!  Instead, I took the chance to tell my mom that I honored her for how brave she had been in paving the way for women who know there is a fire in their bones too.  She didn’t mean to do it… she just had to speak the Word of God to those within her hearing.  AND I told my dad that I honored him for standing up for her, for being secure enough to affirm her, and recognizing the calling on her life as well as his.  To say I am proud is an understatement.

When I got home from that weekend away, Facebook announced one morning that it was #internationalwomensday.  I laughed to myself.  Of course it was.  I see you God.  I am here for this, even if I am a little late to the game.

So, maybe you disagree with some of this.  That’s totally okay.  Maybe you wish I was holding a bigger sign and shouting louder.  That’s okay too.  We’re all on our own journeys.  I just want to talk about it.

And I want to thank the women who have been brave and let their fire out.  It has lit the path for me… So to Kay, Beth, Priscilla, Christine, Ann, Jennie, Jen, Sarah, Rebekah, and my favorite Suz, way to go girls!  I’m honored to even be in the shallow end of this pool with you.

*And to my church, thank you for empowering women the way you do.  Thanks for being more.

 

 

A Spark and a Bridge (Part 3)

A Spark and a Bridge Part 3

To Bridge: to make a way, to join, to connect, attach, bind unite

Be a Spark and a Bridge….  Those are the words I felt God give me as perimeters to all the other things the world would shout at me to be, to do, to accomplish in 2018.  A spark, even a small one, can light a great forest on fire (James 3:5).  An inspiration, even a small one can light a life on fire with passion.  So I have found the few fires that burn within me, and have committed to throw my spark.

A Spark and a Bridge Part 3

But sparks can be thrown from afar.  I have received sparks of inspiration from books I have read, testimonies I have heard from a stage, lives I have respected in history.  I bet you have too.  A spark cannot be held.

A bridge, on the other hand is solid under my feet.  It is trustworthy, for if it were not it would not be a bridge.  It is built and it is present, step by step.  A bridge connects and joins, unites and binds.  A bridge makes a way.

After a spark is lit, after an inspiration has caught in our hearts, do we know the way from aspiration to actuality?  The journey from idea to truth?  From theology to reality?  That journey takes a bridge.  And in my life, those bridges have always been flesh and blood humans that know the way.

When we made our trek to this West Texas town a dozen years ago, we were a family of 4… my husband, me, our extremely vulnerable and bruised marriage, our 1 year old daughter, and our 2 week old son (yep, you read that right).  I didn’t know a soul, but loneliness had been my companion for awhile.  Motherhood twice over in the same number of years had isolated me to the land of survival, but barely.  My soul was emaciated.  And then, by way of the unlikely bridge of an old high school friend of my husband’s, I found my way to an extraordinary group of women.  I recognized the wear of young motherhood in their eyes, but they were lighter than me, freer, bolder, connected.  I decided in the first 5 minutes that I would never let them go.

Very early on, while I was still wading in the extreme shallow end of these relationships, we sat in my living room for a Bible Study, and I surprised even myself when I meekly eked out a prayer request that had been weighing heavily on my heart.

And then Emmy prayed.

See, you just read that sentence as any other… words that conveyed information like all those before.  But within those 4 words, my life changed.  Dramatic?  Maybe.  True?  Absolutely.  I don’t know what to tell you…  I had never heard anything like it.  The passion, the authority, the authenticity, the familiarity…It was like prayer was the air she had been breathing all her life and asking for a miraculous healing was the most natural thing, the most logical thing she had ever done.

I did not know this scripture then, but I know it now and it is all I can use to describe this moment in my life: “For the Kingdom of God is not in word but in power.”  I Corinthians 4:20.  See, I had lots of words and I knew The Word, but I had never seen this kind of power.

And I wanted it.

This new friend of mine (please read “almost-stranger-in-my-living-room”) was no different from me, it appeared.  She was a stay-at-home mom just a few years further down the road than me.  She did the laundry and fed the Cheerios, and fumbled in marriage, and got frustrated when the toddler poured the water out of the bathtub by the cupfuls.  But when she opened her mouth that night, I knew there was a definite chasm between the two of us.  Not a shameful, or lonely chasm, but one that beckons to more.

A spark was lit in me that night that burns still.  A spark for prayer and the presence of God’s power in my life and in the lives of my family.  A spark lighting the authority we have in Christ.  A spark for wanting to see- no EXPECTING to see-the miraculous in our day to day.  A spark for an authenticity and familiarity with the God of the universe I had never known.

And if Emmy had walked out of my living room and life that night, that spark would have been lit still, and been real, and life-changing.  But she didn’t.  She took my hand and spent years walking me across the bridge of my reality to her’s. She was the bridge in fact… steady, trustworthy, strong.  She showed me the way, in word and deed.  I watched her life, her relationships, her passions.  I listened to the heart behind her “yes’s” and “no’s.”  I followed a few steps behind as she pursued Jesus in a way that was new and scary and unsure.  But she wasn’t scared or unsure.  She knew the way.  She wasn’t perfect, but she was the flesh and blood picture of where I wanted to get to in my apprenticeship to Jesus.

In I Corinthians 11:1 Paul says, “Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ.”  Does that feel audacious to you?  Make you feel a little twitchy at all?   I mean shouldn’t our eyes only be fixed on Jesus and nothing else?  Shouldn’t He be enough?  Of course He is our one and only Lord and Savior.  But this is how He does it.. It’s how it has always worked.  Flesh and blood examples a few steps in front of us.  Bridges from where we are to where we want to be.  From who we are to who we want to be.  Paul was.  Emmy was.  Am I?  Are you?

The Great Commission in Matthew 28:19 says, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations….”  In other words, “Go. Be a bridge from them to the Father.  From theology to reality.  From ideas to truth.  Go take hands and lead them from there to here.  Bring them to Me.  Let them follow you as you follow Me.  Show them.  Be a bridge.  Bridge the gap.”

If “calling” boils down to  finding the fire that burns within and throwing your spark, maybe making disciples is simply bridging the gap between Christ and those a few steps behind us in our journey.

So I pray I am that for someone out there, someone close to me.  I pray I have the chance to take a hand and walk someone across the divide.

How about you?

Look around.  Is someone looking in closely to see how you mother, how your family functions, desperately wanting the same?  Is there someone looking at your marriage, your community, your friendships, the way you handle the grind of everyday?  Has someone asked what your prayer life looks like, what you are reading lately, to walk her through a study?  She is begging you to bridge something for her.  Be the bridge.  Take the time and take her hand and lead her to Jesus.  Have the guts and the character to join Paul in saying, “Follow my example as I follow Jesus.”

So, 2018 I am coming at you with a Spark and and Bridge.  I pray to inspire and promise to stick around and join theology to reality wherever I can.  It is simple, yet weighty.  A Spark and A Bridge.  Who is in?

And Emmy, I love you.  I am forever changed because of the bridge you were to me.