Her Permission

I am a feminist deeply concerned about the liberation of men.

Just as in the case of equality for my black brothers and sisters being interrelated to my own thriving and wholeness, I recognize as a deeply feeling and mothering woman that there are certain spaces I occupy which the more powerful gender does not get to inhabit. And that is to all of our detriment.

It is not easy for women to admit wrongdoing, to about face, to express emotions particularly negative ones, or to differ to others, partially because we have been forced into silence and submission too many times, they have been used to disqualify us, and we are constantly aware of our vulnerabilities physically and vocationally. At the same time, our wired-ness for connection, our internal responsiveness to vulnerability, and our reciprocal permission for emotionality amongst ourselves all work to undo and unlearn the walls. The pride. The scariness. We, amongst ourselves mostly, have created a different economy that rewards, or at least respects, wholeness and authenticity. 

For men I see a different landscape. I can count on one hand the number of men I’ve known in authority positions who have openly admitted to wrongdoing and sought help, humbly led and sidestepped accolades, and expressed and esteemed emotions appropriately. And I have been in more than my fair share of places with men in authority roles. I can count on one hand the number of lay men I know make public apologies or change their minds about a position, a conclusion, and a line in the sand. And there have been a lot of things to change our minds about.

These observations lead me to wonder how many walls do men have to scale to get from the unhealthy, the codependency, the pride, the shame and insecurities we all build homes in, to the wide places of vulnerability, process and connection? It is more than I have to scale. How is the journey different for my male counterparts, for my husband, for my father, and how can I contribute to mapping it for my sons? 

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There are different pressures on different cultures and socioeconomic landscapes, and so the risks for men vary. The positive reinforcements for rigidity, authoritarianism, stoic demeanors, and self-reliance fluctuate. But I’d like to learn more despite the complexities.

As a woman and as a leader, I hope to do whatever I can to allow for men to admit their mistakes, change their minds, and be fully present to their emotions. I would like to help them do this because I know from experience that it is in acknowledging the misunderstanding, the inadequacies, the feelings, that we assert our identities over them. We differentiate from the shame and arrogance; we look fully in the mirror. I can’t help but think that women lead this revolution; we lead this integrity. We know the unlearning. We contribute to the paralysis or tip the scales of new permission.

Do I keep space open for Ryan to emote? Do I allow men who have wronged me the real opportunity to apologize and change? Do I encourage my sons to name failures and mistakes without becoming anxious or rushing it away with reassurances or successes, inadvertently suggesting that the failures or mistakes are too powerful and scary?

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Integrity means all mixed in, combined, and through and through the same. Integrated. I picture bread, leavened, beat up, but rested and rising. Men of integrity are not so much marked by being the same as they were 20 years ago in doctrines, family role, finances, and job security. Men of integrity are fully in touch with how 20 years has changed them, how that brokenness meant this mistake and that mistake meant this need and that need mean this community. In our culture, we’ve exchanged an idea of men of integrity for men of stability, a first cousin of rigidity. But we were created for change and growth. No wonder men especially are lonely and self-protective. No wonder our society is so deconstructed. No wonder our parties are polarized. No wonder lobbyists rule. No wonder the church is nearly irrelevant. No wonder we are hurting.

There is no shalom without the whole band involved. Without liberation on all fronts, under all shadows, behind all doors. Shalom, wholeness, centeredness–that is what Jesus announced. And yet His bride more often than not is ruled by bottlenecked power, decisions made by money because no one has time for another rubric, and control. The gender that holds the power can still be empowered by the gender that does not, slowly and barely, because despite all the mess and disparities, our familiarity and comfort with vulnerability as women is the key to the wholeness of men. As Christians, as leaders, as feminists, as women, we promote integrity and shalom in this brutal world through including men in these conversations. We must recognize our role to play in redefining masculinity.

Did you know your strength is in your brokenness? Did you know there is power in the stepping aside? Do you know the past you’re avoiding predetermines the future until you feel it? Did you know I have the same problem?

Brother, be free. Sister, make the way. Spirit, lead us.

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Feels Like September

I have a half-written grant proposal collecting dust in my computer. It talks about the dream of sitting under someone much farther along, who is not emotionally invested in your identity and protection in the way that your mother, or even grandmother, is, and should be. But she is someone who still knows, and who, because of her completed steps, can guide or understand or cushion your own. The brewing idea is one of intergenerational community of sisterhood, that debunks the mommyblogs and echo chambers we fall into, because like tends to like, and our technological toys silo us as much as they can connect. She is the see-er. The voice missing in our confounding mental loads as women doing it all, fighting competition, pushing justice, weighing obligations and avoiding high fructose corn syrup.

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I have this idea of learning from older women, not in spurts but in rhythm, and making it more possible for others, because of the incredible women who are already a part of my life. But in practice, I’ve struggled to do this.

Because the ladies in the shallow end at swimming lessons have also recently given birth. The women in my grad classes were career-minded, seeking first mortgages, internships, and noble peace prizes. The ladies on my feed are in the trenches, reaching out in the nano seconds of alone time our thirties give us for a like, a laugh, a lunch break. And it’s hard to stop and visit with my senior neighbor when the whining pulls. It’s hard to interview and take long walks and listen to senior women when I am chasing, scrambling, and budgeting every minute and dollar.

There is another voice I have missed, in addition to the one far in front of me. It is my own. To a lesser degree, to a smaller detriment, but still. Interruption is my norm. Bending and adjusting is the plan. I forget things when I only have to think about myself at this point; I am more awkward and uncertain the fewer moods rely on my preparation. I have sought the help of professionals and brutal/beautiful friends to help remember me before us.

Not to put too fine a point on it, but women throughout history have traded their very lives for the idea that there is nothing more important than nurturing others. In some ways, I believe that. In other ways, I know that idea, unexamined, threatens my sanity and health.       –Courtney Martin

I promote solitude in theory, primarily as a mode through which we hear God’s heart, not just our own. Not to brag but I have exercised it in 90-120 minute parcels irregularly over the past 11 years of adulthood/marriage/motherhood. The last time I had solitude that was not measured in minutes, but days, in which I was not completely anxious, was probably when I was 20. I am soon turning 33. I tried taking an overnight solitude retreat a few years ago. An alarm kept going off and there were no curtains in the sweet cottage nestled in the woods. I was officially citified by that point and completely distracted and edgy. Barely slept. When I was 20, I had 48 hour of solitude on a rock face, with a clif bar, a journal and bible, a sleeping bag, a headlamp, a water pump and bottle, and some sunscreen. It was one of the best things of college.

Tomorrow I embark on both a time of sitting for extended times with a woman much farther along than me, and being alone with my self and God, for not a matter of hours, but days. And I have no idea what to expect. It is a completely different situation than the past, oh, all my years, and I’m so grateful and humbled in advance, but also have trepidation. What does a day look like without a deadline and nap schedule and bell system? What DO I want to eat for breakfast, that meal that always eludes me? What will God show me as I sit, awkwardly quiet and un-needed? How will my life of planning, devoting, working, fighting for causes, and connecting with friends leave me to be, or inform who I am, away?

This summer has left some scars and presented good gifts. The school year is in full swing now. I remember that feeling of September, up in Oregon when we’d start school after Labor Day. Excitement. Unknowns. Courage and nerves, holding hands. Tiredness from that summer still on our shoes. This kind of feels like all of that. September is about diving in, and stepping out, and back to school. This year, me too.

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Start Small

It has been a summer, and it is barely even summer.

I cannot talk about all that has happened here, but I have felt the wrongful use of power from within the ekklesia–the adopted family of faith, the light-holders, the called. This is a special grief.

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When I was young, my family experienced a profound betrayal. At the heart-wrenching news of a sibling’s diagnosis, the inherited virus that struck fear in the hearts of the most educated and powerful at the time, a church responded as though they were not heirs to a different Kingdom, as though their inheritance did not set them apart to love and courage.

New to the mission field and missionary kid identity, a hemisphere away from the congregation, my heart was still in those stateside walls. I had grown up there. I had stenciled its bathrooms. I had flipped those worship song overheads. And my faith and discipleship had flourished within that loving community. I didn’t have many friends in Kenya yet. We were sent but had not completely left perhaps. On the ground, but maybe a little in the air.

When as a family we were in the throws of the grief of the surprise diagnosis, I was incredibly unsuspecting that loved ones could respond in any way except empathy, sadness, and love. I didn’t know the word stigma yet, and I wasn’t versed in the rationale behind HIPAA. So when that home church board, which had shown Jesus to me in so many ways, rejected my sibling, and questioned our new livelihood and partnership, I grappled. The silence of others was an injurious as the words blasted out. (My parents tried to shield me from much of this, but they also taught me how to use e-mail and read, so…) Grief upon grief. One parent eventually flew back to the States in an effort to find reconciliation, with the help of a mediator. I remember the other parent crying in their bedroom, when the water tank decided to leak through the roof, alone in a foreign country with 5 kids, spotty electricity and that hovering sense of abandonment. Water pouring down the walls, and my own sense of belonging and home pouring out with it. It was disorienting, and though we did not speak of it much or share about it then, it was defining.

That experience forced my faith to differentiate from a place, or an outcome. And it showed me that the most mature, the most devoted, by word, may be the youngest in deed. Everyone has work to do. And fear is a convincing hurricane pulling up the tallest trees.

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A few months ago, I was working with some colleagues to address some sensitive and serious matters. I heard the words “stay small,” during one time of prayer. As an advocate, a first-born, a leader, and achiever, we can all be confident that these words did not come from my head. The words helped me with patience, and to work within the given system, to wait behind leaders, and watch. And the words help me today as I am forced to continue waiting and watching from this place of betrayal and grief, as I see false narratives and am left alone to check my own attitude and actions in this Church.

I find comfort in the smallness, the humility, of the passion of Christ. The disorder he endured and the abandonment central to our Good News disarms my expectations while hosting my pain. I compare alluring human success, the touting of statistics, name recognition and acquisition of comfort, with his rhythm of ministry, his walk of suffering, and I don’t see much connection. I know from his life that collecting successes and platforms was not the aim; the power and the transformation he preached was in the visit to the prisoner, quiet and inconvenient, the feeding of the individual, unknown and undocumented. His stories are small, like the vulnerability of confronting and empowering a woman, in the heat of the day, at a pivotal moment. His record was one of investment into real relationships. Proximity to the pain was central. His acquisition of status did not overlap a hair with this world’s. His smallness and humility was our very victory and salvation.

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I can no sooner slow the growth of my children as I can solve my current problem or convince people to do the right, small thing. So I am left to start small, to stay small, with my self. Am I one that employs language of reconciliation and love but do not meet at the table with the complicated friend? Do I outwardly suggest all means of generosity and inclusion, but side step relationships when they smack of sacrifice? Do I stay at his feet, do I quiet the demons, enough to be draw near to the God of the margins, the Lord of kings? Do I build equity and justice in the small ways, in the daily steps?

There is enough work to do in me to keep me thinking small and to extend far beyond the puffing chest or the raised fist. Giving helps the grief, and blessing out of brokenness is the only way to heal. So far Life keeps reminding me that it is in the pouring out and the breaking, the kneeling and washing that we meet, we share in, and enjoy, the holy. We echo him, and we find him, and that is all we ever could hope to do.

 

Eyes to See

I have to see my neighbor to respond. I have to be near them to identify they’re hurt, that there in their face is Jesus, and in the space between me and them is the salvific command, “Love your neighbor as yourself.”

Perhaps others have better memory. God has seen it fit for me to stay in physical proximity to arrays of need, since moving to the equator at 13 till now, at 32, living on an equator between rich and poor. And I still forget. I still forget we belong to each other and the good samaritan example is the climax of this life of Christian discipleship.

Yes, there are needs everywhere, and so many under my own roof, but there’s something forceful about living in a place where your looks don’t match, your culture and background don’t match, and your norms are shown to be privilege, with daily reminders of the inequity and blight of this temporal world. It is my pleasure, my privilege, and my pain to be a guest here. Yes, becoming less and less each day but no matter how it all develops, it started with choice, and that sets me apart. It will always set me apart.

I live and love in a beautiful neighborhood with lush, inventive yards, gourmet home chefs, majestic magnolias, and strollers and children and small businesses everywhere. There are also money stores, robbing the poor, and failing schools, feeders to a criminal justice system that feels more criminal than just. Heat reverberating off the cement, bouncing off the stucco, gleaming in the sweat of hardworking people, pointed in the bars on the windows and burning in the hearts of the mothers wanting the best for their children.

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It is here, between three planes of cement, with a faraway sky looking down from above, that a neighbor was attacked, stabbed more than a dozen times, in the middle of the thoroughfare between the middle school my husband works in, that started my entrance into this zip code, and the elementary school my children attend. At 11 in the morning, before God, in the alley that looks like a gutter, blood was pooling, and people poured out from all the walls.

It is here I was reminded with scarlet and shrieking alerts that good samaritans do not work remotely. And though physically I may live in the midst of need, I can emotionally and mentally relocate. Her cries echo still in our community, pulling us out of our silos, pointing us, pointing us, back to the road to Jericho. Asking us, asking us–when was the last time you touched the stranger, risked your safety? When was the last time it cost you something to prepare for this eternal life?

The men called the professionals and offered advice. The impromptu team of women bent low, the first to touch, to ask about her kids, as though meeting in the market–the lifelines of connection, family and what to live for. The Lord shielded the eyes of the children, no classes out between nutrition and lunch, no transfers between electives and schools. Pressure, and touch, and prayers applied. Blood thickened, the loss slowing. Hearts went out, and were returned emboldened.

We didn’t know where all the wounds were. We never do.

In time the uniforms arrived. She was taken to better help. Her son on the way. Her attacker found. A young man, wounds inside, being chased by his own attackers. God have mercy.

I was on my way to precious office hours. The privileged work I’m paid for, the place where children are not tugging and the climate is controlled. I saw my friend running. The screaming was not a normal screaming. The interruption was glaring, the invitation stark. I couldn’t miss it. But so often, so often, I do. In less dramatic stories, I find the angle to the other side of the street. I don’t look up from my text, my text of Christian employment, domestic hurry, measured sacrifice, as though that could be true. I miss the bending to the ground, the giving and finding of life, the neighbor I so need.

I forget that the commands are in the middle of the gift, the good samaritan told in the context of how to gain. The mystery of this Christian life is not how well it coincides with our American identity and sensibilities and comfort. The mystery of this Christ-filled life is how the giving and the lessening and the kneeling is our only way of promotion and purpose. The broken hallelujahs. The breaking of the bread. The exposure of scars.

“In shattered places, with broken people, we are most near the broken heart of Christ, and find our whole selves through the mystery of death and resurrection, through the mystery of brokenness and abundance.” -Voskamp, A Broken Way. Blessed are you when bad things happen and faćades fall down–favored, preferred, attended to by God are you when…

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This morning I was replanting feeble seedlings in a garden bed. I am a stranger to growing green, to trying new things, and risking failure. As I pressed on the good soil I had mixed in with the old, surrounding the small plant–propping it up with a hope and a prayer–I heard “you hem me in, behind, and before…you lay your hand on me…” I felt so lucky to have laid my hand on that dear woman in a time of brokenness, and a few days later, replanting for abundance, both pressing and feeling pressed upon. A couple hours later a friend sent me the same text, graphic and new.

Yes, there is no where we can flee from His glory. In death, in pain, in the gutters of our own selfishness, we are not abandoned. We are surrounded, as though a woman in an alley, bleeding but helped, wounded but rescued. We are each so human, so broken. Vulnerable. And these very things, which Jesus tenderly modeled, are the currency of God’s favor and love–of transcendent life. Give and receive; break and find life.

See and be seen.

Her Missing Voice

“…the insight of women whose hearts are attuned to the heart of God are silenced because so much of our ministry endeavors arise from a culturally derived false sense of masculinity…We are forcing a theological famine upon ourselves by ignoring the voices of women.” ~Soong-Chan Rah, Prophetic Lament, p. 64

I see hunger everywhere. And I find the malnourishment especially painful to understand, early in this adult life, as it thrives in this Church, this love of mine. To accept that conferences and services and studies led by men are for men and women, and those led by women are for women (usually ones with a ring on and a mortgage). To hear excuses made for men that would endanger the jobs and influence of women. It’s hard to know that a woman in leadership is still a living, breathing debate, and to constantly live where men and misinformed masculinity are the decision-makers.

Half of God is neglected when half His people are not at the table.

Adopting the roles of wife and mother has both sharpened my appreciation for being a woman and my sensitivity to the ways in which women are ignored and discriminated against, especially if they don’t fall into the privileged hats and stereotypes I happen to possess. I hurt with those who don’t desire to ever have these titles, or do but have not found or pursued them yet; I can see how living in the pressure cooker of churchy society often make both women feel out of place.

In my humble daily, I strive with others to set a different table and divest from such mean, narrow, Bad News culture. I long for the day we don’t have to apologize for being women. I’m encouraged and taught by so many doing similarly, mindful of God’s femininity and motherhood, of the voice and might of women in Scripture. As much as I hold men responsible for perpetuating or breaking down the confines around my gender, I also feel the burden and calling of putting forth a more cohesive and comprehensive image of woman.

We are uniquely qualified to speak as God’s children when we work from the truth of our experience on the sidelines. From the time we are labeled bossy when he is named leader, to the first time we are called a bitch for having a thought threatening to a man, to the observation that men are asked to pray and women to babysit, while the sermons rattling around in our heads have no venue. We remember the debut of our physical figures and the ensuing comments, hollers, and assault. We are aware of brokenness because we have been subject to it, with greater frequency and less recompense than the other gender. Women can be present and affected by another person’s pain because we have faced our own, and brought it before others and Abba God, again and again. The complexity of our bodies and our sexuality, our nuanced intellect and our God-given emotions, are qualifications and indications, not apologies and caveats.

The voice of women implores the Church, the Bride, to greater honesty and empathy. She calls the family to remember, to lament, and to a patient and inglorious resolve that introduces Jesus where we need Him most.

Women, you –we– are necessary to the task of love, the Shalom that calls. We still have the hard work of pushing, gripping one another’s hands, and screaming through the pain of bringing forth a more whole picture of Jesus to the world and one another. Because we have found God as Parent, and Good News in our own experiences, we can offer non-judgmental space for others who are hurting, who have made big mistakes, who are slow and disappointing or just completely different. We are great about embracing the cause. We are half of Christ’s body left here on earth and imperative to the Already and Not Yet.

The women I know have been the bravest and the quietest, the most overlooked and underpaid, the best qualified and the least promoted. Men, I ask you to share the pulpit and agenda, invite women to the team, and defer to their advice. Making space may mean moving aside. Listen. Copy their rhythms, ask God to make you sensitive to language and theology that excludes us. Repent of the assumptions made about us. Women, let’s share the mic. Bring a friend to the opportunity that’s been given you. Maintain vulnerability. Invest in each other’s stuff. Name bravely what is happening. Keep unlearning and repenting of the stereotypes and prejudices we have absorbed against ourselves and each other.

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From the dinner table to the conference table, from the pews to the platforms, your womanhood and way of seeing and being, is impactful; do not relent. You are commissioned and seen, encouraged to not neglect the gifts in you, named chosen, royal, holy, beloved.

I take heart in your sisterhood.

Staying

It is no small and unholy thing to stay.

I don’t know about you but I sow my wild oats in the wee hours of my soul’s nights. I rebel from my heart, not my body. In my deviance, I move through my own life as a visitor, a reluctant tourist, as though my connecting flight was delayed and I flirt with fantasies of departure. Mentally, emotionally. I wish to be impenetrable. I think that it, that my presence, makes no difference.

In the morning, when dawn starts and I feel the relief of new mercy, I relearn that becoming absent is not the answer, but rather full presence is the promise. Compartmentalizing is not often our strength as nurturers; integration is. On the other side of my leave, I resolve that one of the most powerful and transcendent things I can offer my own health, my Lord, and my family community, is the posture of staying. I pray for the faith that suggests that God is for me here, with my longings and fears. I believe that God is for them—the children, the friends, the others—here, so we can all stay and I can be present to whatever this holds.

Professional chaplains finesse the art of this ministry of presence. Their work relies on the theology that the Diety indwells the humane and in one another’s company, we draw nearer to God. Whether visiting a person in a coma, or incarcerated, a premature infant in NICU, or a chatty outpatient, the chaplain offers their presence to the pain, and enters the space having been honest with their own condition and capacity that day. Their effectiveness is not often measurable; it must be undergirded with a sound theology of Immanuel. So too is ours.

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We do not wear badges, nor chart our visits, but mothers and wives and women are full time practitioners of the ministry of presence, the discipline of staying, and it is a powerful cadence in the milieu of constant updates, upgrades and uprooting.

As missional women, the fire in our spirits and the thrust in our activism can lead us to a restlessness that bankrupts our confidence. Because the rubric of the empire, which American Christianity has often adopted, involves fame and fortune, statistics and stages, we itch. We measure our success on a faulty scale and despair, when all the while, our steadfast presence, our dwelling here and with, is the salve to our want, and the world’s searching. It is resistance and it is confounding. It is growing up and it is an anchor to the tossing.

Sharing reflections from the transformative community of Benedictine life, Joan Chittister speaks straight to me in the middle of my sticky linoleum: There comes a time in life when everyone else’s family seems to have been better than my own. There comes a moment when having everything seems to be the only way to squeeze even a little out of life. There comes a day when this job, this home, this town, this family all seem irritating and deficient beyond the bearable. There comes a period in life when I regret every major decision I’ve ever made. That is precisely the time when the spirituality of stability offers its greatest gift. Stability enables me to outlast the dark, cold places of life until the thaw comes and I can see new life in this uninhabitable place again. But for that to happen, I must learn to wait through the winters of my life (Wisdom Distilled from the Daily, p. 151).

We know this irritation and this wait. And we also know, when by God’s grace we’ve approached Him with our misgivings, and sat with ourselves and each other, warding off both the guilt and the flight, that the ministry of presence is disarming in all the right ways. We know, for when we receive someone’s full attention or we feel the Lord’s pleasure after the full arc of a day alongside a child’s wonder, that the ministry of presence is healing. Renewing. Soothing.

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As a chaplain of communities such as the family, the church, the school, the neighborhood, the mother figure announces God’s goodness and steadfastness even as she relies on it herself. As a person vulnerable to other people, she demonstrates the invitation of the triune God. As a person rejecting the chains of perfection, consumerism, and control, she presents herself as an approachable companion to others. As she sits without judgment with an overwhelmed new mom, quietly occupies an overtired child in a hospital waiting room, or listens to a child’s unreasonable plans for a birthday for the tenth time, she suggests a Love and a Grace we only learn from one another. She resembles a weeping Savior, a cooking Messiah, present, stayed in the smallest and deepest of ways.

Even when it costs. Even when the night before she took a little trip through the weeds of want and the rushes of regret. She is present not because she does not have any other options or distractions or because it is easy; she is present because God is present to and in her, and this station is a conduit of the calling, not its culmination.

And so, my sisters, I see your choice to stay and I raise my glass. I applaud your outstanding grit to remain present over the years that you cannot speed nor slow, the surprise visits, the illnesses, the chores, that bleed into each other, that step on the heels of the next, and on the toes of your own securities. May the meaning of the moments neither pass us by nor overwhelm us to despair. We are here, together, injecting the daily with the divine. Thank you for staying.

Missional Women and Skyscrapers

When I first became a mom, I was also in my early years of adulthood and vocational ministry. I had just graduated with a masters in theology, and as grateful as I was for the gift of a child, I also deep down felt a little cheated. Like I had let everyone down, like I was going in the opposite direction as planned. I was very young, and I had many ideals and intentions that seemed incongruent with being a mother. I careened into motherhood like I did other stages of my life, and as quickly as I could I resumed roles and responsibilities, out to prove that being a mom wasn’t the end of me. Mostly to myself. In doing so, I delayed forming a more congruent sense of identity, and fostered a belief that motherhood competed with a better purpose.

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Looking back, I wonder if I spent too much time fighting against my role as mom, disliking the embedded stereotypes I felt defensive towards, as opposed to seeing this new part of my life as a conduit through which those ideals could manifest creatively. I wonder if I could have been a little easier on myself, a little more trusting of God’s work through me as opposed to relying on my effort. I am now seven years into my irreversible tenure as a mother and I’ve settled down a bit. I had a short, glorious reprieve from diaper bags, leaking sippy cups, and pack’n’plays. Now, we are a year into our third son, cherishing the good with the hard, a little less rushed, a little less pressured, and, honestly, a little less together.

I can tell you that being a mom has not become the definition of who I am but it has determined most of my waking and sleeping hours for the past 7 years. I can also tell you that, at the same time, it hasn’t been a death sentence to my ideals, my sense of calling, and my dreams. I guess what I’m trying to say is that you, yes you, that new mom, or the woman who had an unexpected, irreversible detour of any kind, are still on mission. I’m glad to report, even just 7 years in, that the socially-minded, justice-fighting, feminist, grown-ass Jesus-loving woman can co-exist with this honor of motherhood. That, as Donald Miller articulates in describing his friend David in Scary Close, maybe while life is declining “in earthly validation [it is] all the while ascending in the stuff that really matters.” You don’t have to become a mom to learn some of the things I’m learning. But you don’t have to not be one also.

I am writing against the doubts and shadows of despair that I myself still face occasionally. You know the ones: the flat one-liners that reduce us to who we are in relationship to one other person, or box in our dreams to a specific shape, size, and color. I’m writing to you from a fellow trench of deafening needs, long days, and short years. You are still you, and your heart for others is going to grow, not wither, from your station in the home.

// .  // .  // .  // .  //

 

Women who are primarily labeled stay-at-home-moms in this blessed world routinely practice a very profound behavior: the act of invitation. She invites the tears of her children, the sighs of her husband, the stories of the cast of characters in her ever-growing community. She invites care when she is exhausted or confused, and help when she is sick. By nature of being a woman, she is vulnerable to surprise, cycles, changes, setbacks and regrouping. She receives people, in her physical space and her emotional depths. She reflects Trinitarian reciprocity and extends the hospitable nature of God as wife, mother, neighbor, friend, visitor.

As a woman translates her self into her leadership in the home, in developing familial and extra-home relationships, and in turn allows her self to be affected and matured through that role, she embodies a powerful combination of structure and adaptability. These are the crossbeams of a good invitation.

In family systems theory, boundaries, adaptability, and the permeability of family norms and rules is discussed. When a family dance is met with a new person through birth or adoption, or a crisis occurs in a particular person’s life, the system has choices. Does everyone’s life come to a screeching halt? Do family rules end up in the trash bin, never to be considered again? Does everyone except one person make sweeping changes, protecting a particular person’s rigidity? Does the family grow out of touch, strangers under the same roof? How elastic is the microsystem?

In Los Angeles, buildings are designed or renovated with an earthquake in mind. The techniques engineers use to mitigate damage to the structure given a seismic crises are mind-blowing to this onlooker. And useful for the ideas of family systems and missional women. There are a variety of technologies but what I found most interesting are the innovative ways in which engineers equip a building to be flexible, and move in counterbalance to the earth’s movement. Rigidity is not reinforced; tension cables, swinging masses, steel tendons, rubber bearings, shape memory alloy…any of these may be the ying to the earth’s yang. To think that our ever-changing beautiful LA skyline is invisibly fluid, absorbent, and responsive.

It occurs to me that in so far as a woman equips her self to be responsive, yet stable, to the larger world, whether the bassinet beside the bed, or the neighbor everyone else calls crazy, she accomplishes the holy task of making room for the Other. In a spontaneous and unglamorous act of allowing her day (not to mention her night) to be run by a pre-verbal life-sucking bundle of joy, or in visiting the lonely with a front carrier and a curated portfolio of puree pouches, she is practicing divine invitation. As she becomes practiced at changing her plans to host a school playmate, inviting an unlikely guest to the Thanksgiving dinner, or promoting her home as a place to drop by unplanned, she demonstrates to her children, her self, and her community that perfection and predictability are not the priority. She acts subversively to the isolating American norms of privacy and refusing liability. She calls to the carpet the evangelical idol of the nuclear family unit and the consumerist approach to making a home.

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When a family system is moderately cohesive, and moderately adaptable, it achieves a flexible structure, a retrofitted connection. Family boundaries are neither rigid nor transparent but permeable. So it is safe for a crisis to arise in or out of the home; the system will hold. It is okay for someone to have an autonomous thought. The connection is not threatened. The dance will change. The change can be painful. But the building does not fall down. It is safe to go to this family with a need. It is appreciated when a guest invites their friend to the party. The children remain the children; the adults remain the adults, but the home is not a bunker. It is a port.

As a missional mom, it’s life-giving to me to continuously and awkwardly sort out how to use my home, my errands, my little realm of supposed control, in a reciprocal manner. I ravenously watch other women who have achieved these maneuvers. A dream that has birthed from the labor of motherhood is to instill an attitude of invitation in my family. My default as a mom is structure, preemptive organization, lists, and routines; these are my Ritalin. (I’ve been known to tape a newsletter-like document to the car dash when my husband and friend road-tripped with our oldest two kids. Because control.) But as a player in the larger mission of God’s upside-down economy, with creative agency instilled by our Creator, I’m compelled to counterbalance that structure by subjecting it to interruption.

The biblical account reinforces this idea of holy invitation, and dynamic family structures. Ruth and Naomi come to mind. Ruth, though she was the guest to Naomi’s family and land, opened up with her pain and adopts and attaches in response to calamity; their family dance shrunk and continued. In the Law, YHWH makes multiple considerations for guests and foreigners, establishing that even when His chosen people were a specific nation, that those boundaries were absorbent. His expectation was that they remember who they are and be responsive to the needs and guests around them (Deuteronomy 10:12-22). Structure and adaptability. Their family feast of booths included the visiting Levite, the servant, the sojourner, the fatherless. Permeable family lines. Jesus demonstrates innovative family makeup, and a hospitable heart always. Stopped on his way to bigger things, tending to basic needs of thousands, positioning his earthly mother to be cared for by his best friend. The culture of our faith is a radical hospitality. The sermon of our Gospel is simple invitation. Our realm lies strategically within this call.

This is unclear work. There is no syllabus. With every additional birthday of my children, additional personality type to the mix, job change, heck, counseling session, this goal of permeable family lines is adjusting. And it’s incredibly inconvenient but it’s a small price for remaining a congruent, missional person. Ladies, this is not win or lose. This is not pass or fail. Your heart is too big, your life too short for that binary garbage. Mine is too. We are committed to our families and that requires different things on different days. We are also committed to our gift for invitation and inclusion. Finding that sweet spot where these are mutually beneficial is a moving target, but what a holy opportunity. Our homes, our emotional space, our maddeningly ordinary tasks, may be the skyline of hope and belonging another soul needs. Stoicism need not apply. Perhaps never before have we been so in touch with our own humanity and limitations as now, here. What a perfect time to extend an imperfect invitation.

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Recipe Sharing

It was once recommended to me to walk into a room and consider myself the worst sinner there. Not to paralyze or dismantle identity or purpose, but to deteriorate the pride and pretense, and diffuse the human condition of anger and judgment.

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Social media is the room these days.

 

I raise my hand as the first among sinners in this room. I will say that I have done all the talking and none of the listening. I have engaged when I should have ignored or just watched. I have been condescending and used my privilege and power in unproductive ways. I have experienced the remorse that comes after speaking online, and after not saying a thing.

I confess this even as I brazenly share what I wish to keep in mind going forward (I know, I have some nerve…), because this environment isn’t ending anytime soon for most of us. And self-correcting, changing our minds and resetting is what keeps us human. I collect and share these things not as a teacher but a learner–humbly, acknowledging my blunders and gaffes. For some of you, this is too conservative advice; for others, you just wish everyone would return to their recipe sharing and crafts, me especially. For the two of you interested, here is where I am working from right now. I am still writing mid-way. This is the recipe I’m interested in and tinkering with and trying to crave.

None of these are original thoughts (obvious considering your unreliable source)…They are conglomerates of advice and note-taking and scripture and reading. Take what you will to your reflection in the mirror, or in the screen; lay whatever sticks before your God and test. I’d also like to hear your approach as we strive to live into this space with integrity.

 

7 Practices in Internet Hospitality

  • Identify truth as holy. Any little blip of it. Celebrate the holy. Dwell on the holy. Proliferate the holy.
  • Bear in mind your relationship with the person, and how much you value them. Affirm this if you can, whenever you speak. We are sensitive people, changing, reacting, hiding. Keep the humanity and personhood of the other in view. You may be doing all right today. Someone else may be at their worst. Don’t compare your best to their worst. Review your relationship. Get nostalgic about the other.
  • Pray about a response. Name what you want to say or not say before the Lord. Ruminate if this is the Spirit prompting or permitting you, or if the problem is a tickling in your sense of identity or pride or fear. Consider the Beatitudes. Would speaking put you closer to one of the groups mentioned that are blessed? Would sharing align with righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance and gentleness (Eph. 1:6-11)?
  • Consider who has the least power, both in the conversation, and in the topic at hand. Give them extra room. Pass them the mic. Share their stories if you are speaking on their behalf. Accept that narrative or point of view and sit with it for a day or two. It may be packaged in something you could tear to shreds, or in a way you fundamentally disapprove of—the powerful get to walk away and define what is respectful, what is appropriate, how something should come up, and when something should end. Defer to the less powerful. Practice Jesus’ downward mobility. This is terribly uncomfortable and divine.
  • Excuse yourself from the binary tug of war that says speaking is wrong, silence is right or vice versa. Turns out social media is a place where people have to share the Good News, be the light, fight the good fight, apologize, forgive, shut up, laugh and connect over tough stuff. Hospitality looks a lot of different ways and when we make space for another person, we make space for their approach and consider what responsibility and Love look like within that. We don’t control it. We ride it. We avail ourselves here to someone else. “Hospitality means we take people into the space that is our lives and our minds and our hearts and our work and our efforts. Hospitality is the way we come out of ourselves.” – Joan Chittister
  • Self-assess your limitations. How is my anxiety today? Am I in a self-preservation mode? Is my conclusion already set? Does this person remind me of someone else that I have unresolved issues with? Do I believe I am an established expert about this and therefore have no space to hear, and, maybe would have been invited if wanted? Some other great questions from Christena Cleveland specifically:
    • Am I believing the lie that if I don’t say it, it won’t be said?
    • Am I believing a lie that this person is bigger than God?
    • Am I remembering all humans are like grass?
    • Am I confusing taking up my cross with placing myself as a martyr?
  • Give and receive grace. What is your heart here? What is their heart here? Conduct yourself with integrity; there are no points. This is not debate class. Remember a time when you believed something wholeheartedly differently than now. Be prolific and sincere in your apologies and vulnerabilities; overlook whatever you can that is offensive and skip the vain defenses. Forgive yourself, and sit with the Lord to receive His forgiveness. Pray for the other person, the other pilgrim. Mercy is poured out each new day over us all. Grace is glory.

 

May the God of hope dwell within you richly.

Pancakes

Ironically, having a baby forced me into contemplation today. This almost never happens.

Lucas is sorting out his sleeping demons, which is really fun for us, and in a last ditch effort we went for a walk this morning. With each step I found myself able to pray for quiet, consecutive minutes, a luxury I used to ignore.

So many things facing us, aren’t there? Personal health. Court trials. Paperwork. Bills. Activist hearts, cluttered brains, booked calendars. Faith and fear. Life and death.

We ended up at a large cemetery, a block away. It had been years since I had been there. It’s a quiet walking area in the middle of our densely noised neighborhood. It’s also where we honored a student and friend who died unexpectedly in 2007. I found his resting place.

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I was so young and inexperienced with grief at the time. He had been my student the year before, and was in his freshman year of high school when “Pancakes” suddenly became very sick. The questions outlived the answers.

Today is his birthday. Today this young man would be 24.

My prayers turned to his family. I couldn’t believe the math, the date. This rock and this contemplative place, where so much grieving has taken place, reminded me that God has asked us to mourn. He has invited us to be a lamenting people who kept the faith, a grieving people who looked at the truth of their hearts and situations, not deny it. One of the main things God has been teaching me over the past 11 years is grief. I am still so young and inexperienced, I know. But experiences like losing Cesar and witnessing the pain in his family and the community have been formative and eye-opening.

Forced contemplation today reminded me that God is very, very big. The stretch of His reach and power are not dismissive to the list of needs I brought today; the true burden of those things inform my appreciation for His superior breadth. The grandeur of our problems and burdens, of the losses we face or carry, are enveloped in, and indeed inflate, our view of His greatness.

I felt that reassurance today, as I found myself at this grave, warmed by the sunlight, and the memories of this young man, on his birthday. I feel so lucky to learn grief with those who have become my neighbors and family, and want to give others the permission to name their own. I am encouraged by the reminder that God is larger than the scope of my concerns and inadequacies this week.

Wherein I Say Nothing About Any of the Things

I went to high school in East Africa. Nairobi in fact. Sometimes I forget this. Sometimes it’s like a dream. Because, in many ways, it was.

While in said high school, I had the opportunity to fly back to the US and attend a youth leadership conference in Washington, D.C. It was one of those programs made to look very prestigious, bringing young leaders from near and far. Eager to build college admittance resumes, we were attending our first overpriced conference, strategically and suggestively set in the nation’s capital. We dressed up in professional garb as though we were not sixteen years old, wore lanyards, and stayed in a college dorm. Not a parent in sight. I was very fortunate to go, with people sponsoring my trip and registration. The theme for the week? Medical Ethics.

Never once did I consider a medical profession, mind you. But nonetheless, that was the option that fit best with ticket fares and summer travels and so why not. There I was surrounded by high school students who had set their pubescent sights on med school, or at least their parents had. I was headed towards an English Department somewhere, glad to have finished my high school (and lifetime) science credits with Environmental Studies.

The Thai food in D.C. was incredible. But one other thing was especially impacting (…other than the Korean guys who were interested in me, yes me, the nerdy girl in the permanent friend zone back at home in Kenya…). We all watched a movie one night, as a part of this Medical Ethics Conference: Wit, starring Emma Thompson. I was moved deeply by the film, but very soon after couldn’t quite describe why. It was obscure and no one had seen it apparently, except that select group of lanyard-clad young leaders, that I knew of. Its title stayed with me all these years and I finally watched it again yesterday, a mere 15 years later.

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Wit still touched my soul, the first taste nostalgia, the rest merited profundity about the human condition, life and death. I had forgotten the strong elements of poetry, language and academia which would have been intriguing that week, way back when. I had forgotten the nurse, who always cared and rubbed lotion on the hands of the lonely patient. I had forgotten the pretentious rigor of the researchers and attending doctor. I had forgotten the main character’s journey towards both death and kindness, by way of suffering.

Wit likely watered my love for writing and studying poetry and Donne. It probably loosened some fears of the hospital, 7 years before I would work in one for a summer, and it probably planted a seed about bedside manner that made rubbing lotion on a dying woman’s back when she asked not that strange, but rather, a privilege. It tickled my appetite for academics, words, and the deep respect for women who become experts. It still speaks today to the value and pain of suffering and the great equalizing force of health and illness and endings.

Endings, health, ethics, and maintaining people’s humanity are themes that weigh on my mind these days. Also, always the thoughts and feelings about identity, my work, my worth, my gender…how I am changing and how I am not. These mazes are human and however difficult they are, whatever conflicts they may rise, and cloudiness they waft…they show life. The awareness of my own fragility, mortality even, however upsetting, is also an indicator light that my heart is beating and compassion is still kicking.

And maybe 15 years later, something will make sense. Or maybe along the way there will be a connection that leads you to give thanks, or a theme you recognize as directive, definitive, and distinctively tender. A theme God’s been showing you, patiently, relentlessly. We are alive, and yes, we are struggling, but the long game is still afoot. Our kindness, our attention to people’s humanity, our memory—these are of utmost importance now and our hurt may be the best indicator that these things are indeed on the rise. I must remind myself: the illness isn’t the story. It is the filter. Refining. Focusing.

Continue, sister and brother: forward.