Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Mommy Come Home

When my son was first learning to put words into sentences, he very quickly learned a sentence that would cut me to the quick - "Mommy, come home!" Usually, I'd hear this over the phone when I was at work calling to say goodnight or on a trip somewhere. Sometimes it was even en route to coming home, but no matter what circumstances I was in, my heart broke a little. I began to question again, "Should I be working? Am I harming my child be being away from home? Is it selfish to be a working mom? Am I just a terrible parent?" All these insecurities would flow out and I'd instantly remember every single thing I'd done wrong in my parenting that week. Every selfish thought, every moment of impatience, every time I wasn't fully present with him even when I was home because of all the other things in life that were pressing down upon me to be accomplished.

Now my son can put much bigger sentences together and, in fact, talks a lot more than I do. He could probably put together a much more guilt-inducing plea if he wanted to but as he's grown in his verbal abilities, so has he grown in his understanding. I still don't think he likes it when I leave the house for any reason, but I can at least attempt to explain where I'm going. I can try to tell him why it's good for him to go to school and why I won't go with him, but still there's sometimes that look of betrayal and instantly again I hear his 18 month old voice in my head-"Mommy come home"- and I wonder if anything I'm doing is right.

As I wander through this sabbatical, one of the things I'm trying to let God deal with me on is my fear of motherhood. For a long time I didn't want to get married, to have kids, to settle down. I was not one of those girls who planned out my wedding at the age of 10 and knew exactly what dress I'd wear and what song I'd dance to with my dad. I wasn't really interested and didn't think I'd be missing much if I didn't have kids. I think sometimes because of all those years of indifference I now deal with insecurity thinking that since I didn't want this enough I'm probably not unselfish enough to do it well. I also let my mind wander into a place that thinks that since I'm not so good at this, maybe that's why God is witholding a second child from us. I know that's not how God works, but the lie creeps in. If I were a better mom, if I didn't work, if my son hadn't spent months asking me to come home...and I begin to wonder what I can do to manipulate God into letting me get pregnant. Messed up, right?

It all comes back to fear. Fear of failure, fear of not measuring up to...something, although what that something is still feels elusive. Fear that I'll royally screw up this precious life I've been given to raise and make decisions now that I'll regret when he's older. Yes, I've realized that some of the biggest craters in my battlefield have been caused by fear and that they can be so deep that I don't even know how to begin to pull myself out once the shelling has stopped. Though I often don't believe it, I'm thankful that God is a God who says not to fear and that He is trustworthy. That he reaches down from the edge of that crater and offers His hand as a stronghold. I'm hoping that as I slowly climb up He'll erase those insecurities and replace them with a confidence that can only come from being secure in Him. That I'll figure out who I am as a mom, without the use of any social measuring systems, without the comparison game, and learn to take this motherhood thing one day at a time.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

The Wide Setting

Typically, when I type something up I set my margins to the "Narrow" setting. I want to fit as much as possible on one page and who cares if it looks like a crowded, unattractive manuscript? I've maximized space and I'm not wasting paper, right? This week it struck me that I really often live life the same way I write papers. Fit as much onto one page as possible and the margin size be darned.

As I've spent yet another week enjoying this sabbatical time, and finding myself in a period of self-discovery and hope that is quite probably unparalleled in my life, I've been reading about the margin. The idea that most of us create a life structure that has very little margin, very little space for leisure, rest, even family. I was driving through Richmond about a month ago on my way up to NY for a fundraising trip and as I passed the exits for my former home and my job, I felt this immediate rush of panic and a sense of deep worry that I had forgotten to do something. It was as if I had a hundred things on my list to do again and no time to do them. Needless to say, I put my foot to that pedal and drove faster than normal up 95 until I was safely out of reach of that marginless existence. Since then, I've been thinking a lot about it because right now I'm experiencing the total opposite. I'm on sabbatical, we haven't found a church yet which means I'm not yet overcomitted and my only weekly obligation besides driving my child to school is my painting class.

James Bryan Smith says that "we live in a culture that rewards busyness and overextension as signs of importance" and that lives without margins often become tired, lonely and joyless. Check. This was largely the state I found my soul in when I started this journey in August and as God slowly reveals to me what brought me to that point, I'm finding more and more hope that I don't have to stay there. For the first time in a long time, I can honestly say I do not feel stressed out. I'm well-rested, I'm enjoying a lot of time with family and find that I look forward to my many hours of reading and soul-searching, rather than avoiding time with a God I know will penetrate my rough exterior and ask me to change.

As we settle into a new church in the coming months and as my sabbatical comes to a close, I'm trying to figure out how to set my document to the "Wide" setting. To schedule my life only enough that I'm saying yes to those things that are "necessary to the well-being of my soul or the welfare of others" and being ruthless towards the other opportunities that will just crowd my paper. I know I have to do this and I know it will take tremendous strengthening from the Lord and honesty with myself. I know my tendency to say "yes" to everything and that sinful temptation to feel important the more filled up my schedule gets. Oh, that my words would not honor that marginless, "important" lifestyle and that my choices would reflect worship of a God who desires for me to live a life with margins, a life full of joy with a soul that is restored and verdant with new growth.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Sit in the shape of a what?

It's not often that I come back from dropping my son off in the nursery at church to find my husband shaking with barely suppressed mirth in his lonely pew. It was as I sat down and was about to lean over and ask what joke I had missed when I heard what was being read from the front: The passage in 1 Corinthians 14 about women keeping silent in the church. Why was my husband laughing? Well, as we've been forging ahead in this tedious church search, he had asked me to consider a church in a denomination whose position on women in ministry I wasn't particularly enthused about, saying that every church is different and surely they'd be excited for me to be there and to contribute in vital ways. Come on, it wasn't like they'd stand up front the day we visited and quote scriptures about the "woman's place" in church, was it? Right.

We stayed through the rest of the service because I was keeping an open mind and I wanted to hear how the pastor interpreted the scripture. After it had been read, it was sort of left hanging out there like a big uninspirational quotation supposedly meant to spur me into a frenzy of excited devotion. Needless to say, when he finally attempted to explain it, I was left unsatisfied and disappointed. We won't be going back but we did laugh the whole way home.

Most days at church haven't looked like this for me. My journey with the church and gender has actually largely been positive, that because I think a lot of my growth has happened in the context of InterVarsity, a place that has affirmed my gifts and demanded that I use them. I have been on church leadership teams, led tracks at camps and conferences, given sermons, led co-ed worship teams, mentored both men and women and largely felt like I was valued, not in spite of being a woman, but because I was a woman. But there are those moments when I just get frustrated.

I have known men on my journey, who upon finding out that I have "feminist tendencies" would hurry to find or quote scriptures to me about women submitting or keeping their heads covered and then stare at me expectantly. I'm not sure what they were trying to do, but it usually resulted in extreme anger and frustration on my part. I've had women on my journey tell me that it is sinful and even "murderous" to my child to keep working in ministry now that I'm a mother. I have sat at women's retreats listening to a speaker who is only attempting, and often rather shallowly, to engage my emotions or my funny bone and wonder why more female speakers in the church won't attempt to engage my mind and challenge me in my theology.

While there are definitely things I've doubted about God or had difficulty understanding about his character, I am thankful that at each of those moments, moments when people would have me believe that I'm less than or silly or only emotional because of my womanhood or that I'm evil for continuing to work, that God has responded in truth. That He has created me in His beautiful and perfect image, that He has gifted me in ways that are meant to glorify Him and that when I'm working as a young mother that yes, maybe my child has to sacrifice more than a child whose mother is at home in terms of how much time he gets with me, but, to quote a friend, "he is learning that there is sacrifice involved in the gospel" from a very young age. That has gotten me through mornings when guilt would have had me turn my car around and drive home.

This morning, I am deeply thankful for the people in my life, who have loved me in this, who have helped me see truth, who have helped me deal with my anger and apologize when necessary, who have laughed with me (thank you, Husband) about the absurdities we sometimes encounter in the church (and who may remember being asked to sit in the shape of a "womb" at a women's conference) and who believe alongside me that as men and women we are called to work together, to reflect in unity that beautiful image of God as we live out his calling as co-laborers.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Uncritical for the Day

About a year and a half ago, I attended a conference with colleagues from around the country. One of the first speakers opened his talk with an encouragement to suspend our critical natures for just 24 hours. To try not to find something wrong with what we'd hear, to open our minds to the positive reception of information that might actually change us. Just 24 hours. Easy, right?

Now I don't know about my colleagues, but that exhortation has really stuck with me because at some point along my journey, I became a really critical person. I started to see things as half empty, to focus on what I don't have rather than the abundance of what I've been given in my life, to always see more of what's wrong with something that what is right about it. I use to consider myself a pretty positive person and I think at heart I still am. But I fell prey to that Christian subculture that says that being angry about something or always seeing what's wrong about a situation, even concentrating on what's bad about the church is cool. As if being content about what God is doing or even excited about something might label me as shallow and unthinking. Where did that come from?

I've been thinking a lot about the character of God for the past two weeks, since as I maneuver my way through these Ardennes, I'm realizing more and more that a lot of the obstacles in my way are untruths about the narrative of God. Just as I have believed the lie about crying being weakness, I have let my soul turn healthy critical analysis into cynicism, anger and sadness. I have been unable to translate a lot of the truths about God's character from my head into my heart and find myself at a place where I have real trouble believing that God is Good and that He is Trustworthy. Not all the time, mind you. I can objectively look at my life and thank God for the good; the husband he has given me and the beautiful son that makes me laugh harder than anyone I know, but at the end of the day I seem to go to bed sad a lot of the time because when it comes down to it, my heart still doubts His Goodness. And where I doubt goodness, fear seems to replace it.

I don't want to be a cynical or fearful person. I want to see and know the goodness of God no matter how bad the day is. Or the month or year. I want to suspend that wrongly directed criticism for more than 24 hours at a time. I want to be characterized by the hope and joy that being found in Christ brings. I can't yet see the open sky that is so vivid and obvious when you emerge from the forest, but I am starting to feel hope that it's there. Hope that God can truly transform me from fearful and stubborn to trusting and malleable. Hope that when I go to sleep at night, my mind will be resting in the knowledge that God is Good and I have nothing to fear from Him. Hope that all of the truths I know about God will actually be real in my life, rather than this mottled battlefield of half-truths that have entrenched themselves in my soul. I may have to ask God each morning to help me be uncritical for the day, but I'm ok with that because I know He is replacing that cynical piece of me with more of Him.