Christian, marriage, ministry, women

He Sits at the City Gates

Her husband is known in the gates
Where he sits among the elders of the land.
(Proverbs 31:23)

It isn’t easy to be married to me. Let me give you an example of a recent conversation. (These interactions happen regularly in our home. This is just one area in which out views diverge.)

Me: You say you believe in a literal interpretation of “An elder must be the husband of one wife,” but you don’t. You believe an elder must be a man because of this verse, but you don’t believe the verse literally.
Jay: Yes I do.
Me: But you don’t think he needs to be married. You’d be okay with a single guy being an elder. If the pastor’s wife died, you won’t say he needed to step down because he didn’t have a wife.
Jay: Yes, because I don’t think that’s what that verse is saying. It’s saying that if the guy is married he can only be married to one woman.
Me: So, you’re okay with saying that the elder doesn’t need to be a husband nor does he need to have a wife, but you still claim to “literally” interpreting the verse to mean it must be a man because of the word husband even though that man doesn’t literally need to be a husband.
Jay: Yes.
Me: But you can’t possibly interpret it to mean that in a male dominated culture, where men were the vast majority of leaders and women were often uneducated, that the author was speaking to an all male audience, and not that he was specifically excluding women.

Jay: Correct.
(It was a lot longer than this abridged version. Obviously choosing the parts that make me look particularly witty and bright.)

Let me tell you why my husband sits at the city gates. That man needs a break. He has gone out to “sit with the elders of the land” just so he can hang with the guys. I suspect they have gone to the gates of the city so that they can be as far away from home without actually leaving the city. And because they are guys, they are probably out shooting each other with paintball guns, which I expect that they find less painful than listening to all the words that their wives and kids have. Maybe instead, they will go fishing and sit in utter silence. They’ll come back home ready for the chaos of kids, the endless chores, and the day in and day out grind of their jobs. They might have discussed theology or politics or what would be the best way to beat the land speed record without causing severe harm or death.

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The all male Elders Board and Board of Trustees at my church, along with the other male leaders of our congregation, are good men. They are doing hard things. While they are doing it with limited input from women based on their convictions, they are doing it with prayer, integrity, and pure intentions. Most of the men in the God fearing churches I know are living lives of servant leadership. And if they were to included some women in those decision making teams, I am sure they would still be “sitting at the city gates” trying to snag a few minutes of guy time. I not only can’t blame them for this, I fully support this. Guys need that time, and society doesn’t encourage it in the same way they encourage girls to build friendships. Too many men don’t have close male friends, and we are all the worse for it. When they come back from these times, whether they are weekend retreats or a weekly time of coffee and conversation, they are better equipped to navigate this crazy life. They are better leaders, teachers, husbands, fathers, workers, and better Christians.

So yes, I hope I am the kind of wife whose husband sits at the city gate.

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Side note: Yes, I know that the city gate was the place where business was transacted and the leaders sat. I understand the author wasn’t talking about guy’s poker night. I am somewhat twisting the line for sake of humor and to make my point. However, society has changed. The closest walled city I know of is Quebec City, and I don’t think Canadians are more spiritual as a result of this. The word of God transcends time, but I think its wise to look it scripture keeping this in mind.

And to the Godly wife whose husband isn’t sitting among the elders be it at the city gates or among the church leaders: it may be no reflection on you at all. You might sanctify your husband through your actions, but it’s neither your job, nor within your capabilities to make that happen. God’s got that.

 

 

 

 

 

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Christian, gifts from God

Why Grace is Hard

Grace. It is a gift so spectacular that we sometimes cannot wrap our minds around its beauty. Grace comes to us just when we need it. It gives us strength when our strength is failing us. It carries us when we cannot take another step. Grace is life saving and life changing.

But grace is hard.

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I know it is a free gift, undeserved, and glorious, but at the same time grace is hard because it is given out only in the immediate moment of need and only to the one who needs it. Grace doesn’t show up in the worry before hand nor for bystander of the trial. Grace often comes in the most bitter of moments as a companion to the weak and a life vest for the weary. Grace forces us to live in the now, seeking the daily bread.

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John Mark McMillan said it best. “If grace is an ocean we’re all sinking.” At times I have yearned for grace as I bear witness to the heartache of others. Other times, I have sunk beneath the waves of my own struggles in an ocean of grace that has simply allowed me to bob to the surface for a much needed breath at the very last moment.

Grace is hard and seemingly late to the game, but it arrives every time just as He promised.

 

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Christian, ministry, women

Room at the Church Table (Part 2)

38 As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him. 39 She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said. 40 But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to him and asked, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!”
41 “Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, 42 but few things are needed—or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.” – Luke 10:38-42

I find myself struggling with how the Christian church views the role of women in church governance. This is not a piece to argue for the inclusion of women in leadership positions within local churches, though I have definite opinions on this topic, but rather to look at the role women play within the local congregation that takes the complementarian view and how to better serve women within this context.

Complementarianism is belief that God created men and women different (though typically seen as equal) and prescribed different roles for them in life in general and in the family and church specifically. Examples of this are that husbands are the head of the household and wives the “helpmeet”. Churches with this perspective vary greatly in the execution of this belief with some churches not permitting women in any form of church leadership in any situation that includes men, from reading announcements from the pulpit or serving communion. Other churches allow women in all roles except as the pastor of the congregation. Most churches with this theological perspective fall somewhere in the middle.

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While I understand that stereotypes regarding what men and women are like can be grossly inaccurate, I’m going to, for the purpose of this piece, embrace some of the more common stereotypes. As a woman who has spent much of my adult life feeling inadequate because I didn’t fit the stereotype, there is a part of me that is pained by this, but also a part of me that understands that the stereotypes were formed in part because they do in fact reflect much of the general population of the church body. Even in my rebellion of these stereotypes, they reflect me in part as well.

In a typical congregation, you are more likely to fine women running the nursery and the Sunday School program for the younger grades. You are more likely to find men doing the more physical tasks of building repair, things that involve ladders and tools. If your church makes meals for new mothers, the ailing, or the homeless, those ministries are typically supported by women. If your church hosts a potluck, the men are more likely to set up and tear down the tables and chairs, and the women to cook and serve the food.

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Both men and women teach.  Even if not legislated by the church government, men are more likely to teach men and mixed audiences, and women are more likely to teach women and children.

If in fact, these differences are God created and ordained, then it makes sense that men and women would naturally fill different roles within the congregation. Let us assume that God has in fact ordained the prohibition of women from being pastors and elders. Then how does this impact women and the congregation as a whole?

  • When the elders meet to discuss finances, calendars, and building concerns, do they invite into their meetings the women who are running the Sunday School?
  • When a church member is struggling, is the hospitality ministry consulted on the best manner of meeting the practical needs of the this person/family?
  • When there is a conflict in the church that involves a woman, are female leaders consulted on the best way to address the conflict from a women’s point of view?
  • Do women’s voices lead worship for the female worshiper to follow?

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If women are really so different than men in the way we think and process information, if we are different in our nature and created to serve in different areas then men, then isn’t it important to at least include women at the table where decisions are being made? If men, who are very different in their nature and understanding, are left to make decisions the impact women, doesn’t it make sense to include women in the conversation?

If women don’t have a seat at the table where decisions are being discussed, they are not only not fully being represented, but they are not being ministered to in an effective manner.  Women aren’t being prayed over in person like their male counterparts nor are they able to offer their prayers in like manner. Women’s voices are vital to the health of the entire church community.

What if a football team only consulted offensive players and coaches in regards to practices, equipment, and plays, and never the defense or special teams? Why do we do just this in the church?

How can complementarian churches keep their convictions and still minister with and to women?

Make it a regular habit of include women in all church board meetings (elders, trustee, etc.), even if the men are the only ones who “vote” or need additional time alone. It’s not enough to go home and ask the opinions of their wives, or email some of the female leaders in the church for their input. There is a lot of wisdom found in the interaction of a group that cannot be replicated any other way. This is where the prayers of the faithful leaders are lifted up. This is where the congregation finds it’s direction, so why do churches intentionally handicap themselves by tying one of their hands behind their backs? The broader the perspectives and the more varied (age, race, gender, etc.) those seated at the table, the less likely you will be to fall into group speak or have blind spots within your ministry.

What if we simply invited women to the table? 

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Christian, family, parenting teens, writing

Resignation Instead of Resolution

“We are not necessarily doubting that God will do the best for us, we are wondering how painful the best will turn out to be.” – C.S. Lewis


Jay and I are growing into homebodies who don’t like to go out and party, like ever, but especially on on New Year’s Eve. Long gone are the days of staying up and ringing in the new year with friends and noisy parties. New Year’s Eve has become a day of junk food, movies, and barely staying awake for the ball to drop. One more thing: for the past eight years, it is a day to reflect on the past year and capture it in a post. Unfortunately, these past years seem to have been competing to earn the title of “The Worst Year Ever” and each year clinching the title. Until now. I can’t even say how grateful I am that I finally had a year that wasn’t the ultimate champion. So what was this year? This year was one of resignation. Not Joy, not relaxation, not hope, but surrender. While I would have loved a year of celebration, I am content with a year free from tragedy and registering lower in heartache scale than the years that proceeded it.

2017 was a year of accepting that our family is much smaller, and we will forever be missing people at our table.
2017 brought the realization that our children are growing up, moving out, and moving on. Maybe they aren’t out-growing us, but our time “raising” children has a shelf life of only a few more years.
2017 brought the letting go of dreams we had for our kids that they didn’t have for themselves. This was the hardest one for me.
2017 brought the letting out of so many words that I had stored up both in my soul and in text messages as I wrote the first draft of a memoir chronicling the loss of my mother.
2017 brought surrender to God’s plan for our family’s life, a plan that in his mercy He did not reveal ahead of time.
2017 brought reflection into who I am in Christ, regardless of any earthly relationship, position, or belief. I’m not confident in who I am, but I’m learning to lean into Him.

family 17This year wasn’t my favorite of all years, but giving in to the life you have is easier than the turmoil that comes with fighting it. Resignation is different than giving up, although sometimes it feels the same. Resignation brings peace whereas giving up brings hopelessness. And while I wouldn’t say this was a peaceful year, I will say that I’ve experienced more peace this year than I have in a long time. Surrendering to the idea that God’s plan looks very different from my own plan, and grieving dreams of a life I do not have are not easy, but they do lead to something far better. Resignation is just a step in my journey. It isn’t sexy or glamorous, but it’s where I’m at, and I feel okay with that.

A lot of years I write about my hope for next year, but I’m not going to do that. I have no idea what next year will bring or what God has planned for me, and I have no desire to even dream about that. I am resigned to whatever it is, and that seems like a good way to enter a new year.

 

 

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Bible Study, Christian, ministry

Room at the Church Table (Part 1)

Sometimes, when you start writing, your piece takes on a life of itself. That’s what happened here. What started out completely different, stirred up some memories that I hadn’t really considered for a long time. Remembering actually helped me understand more about how my views on church leadership have formed. This piece is dedicated to Pastor Lin, for faithfully shepherding me through my adolescent years. Thank you!

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I grew up Methodist. Our denomination runs much like government in that each local church is run by different committees and is headed by an Administrative Council. In addition to the different committees, each year the church had an Annual Charge Conference in which all church members voted on church business. United Methodist Church pastors are appointed in their pastoral positions (a year at a time for typically less than a decade before being reassigned) by a Conference and are overseen by a District Superintendent who is also appointed and serves in that position for a limited time. On a larger scale their are bishops who oversee conferences and a General Conference that meets every four years to discuss the business of the entire United Methodist Church. It was part democratic rule and part corporate America and of course ideally always lead by prayer*.

My family was steeped in this tradition and on more than one occasion I recall a conversation comparing our church’s form of government to other church systems. My family tree has at least one UMC pastor for at least four generations, dating back into the 1800s. I have a stack of conference minutes from the turn of the century and a pair of Bishop’s chairs from the 1948 conference in Boston.

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It made sense that my family was well represented in our home church. I think it was a rare period of time in which my mom and/or dad was not on the Pastor Parish Committee or Administrative Council. My parents understood not only church government but also the unique challenges of pastoral life. Every time a new pastor was appointed to our church, my parents were sure to invited them over and let them know that our home was a safe and understanding place. (Being a pastor is hard!)

I grew up active in my church, and in my senior year, when I was elected president of the newly formed youth group, I petitioned my pastor and the Administrative Council to include me in this leading council which was after all comprised of the presidents of all of the other church committees. And because I was too young to know better, I didn’t fully understand the value that my church instilled in me at 17 by agreeing to my request. As a result, I sat as a voting member on that council for a year until I went off to college.

I recall one Administrative Council meeting in which a financial issue came up, and my passionate, change the world attitude had me in opposition to most of the more fiscally conservative members of the committee. I had so little life experience, very little understanding of the true cost of things at this scale, and an unrestrained passion for doing good. I might have actually read aloud the parable of the rich fool where a man who has stored up his wealth dies and cannot take his money with him. If memory serves me right, I did this while sitting with the fake “baby” I had to carry around for a month for my health classes life skills project. Seriously, God bless those people for the grace they showed my 17 year-old-self. (For the record, I still think my perspective was right. We should have spent the money. I was, however, outvoted. Truth be told, I’d probably still read the Bible verse if I had the chance again.)

That was also the year I found myself in the pulpit preaching a sermon on Youth Sunday. Of all the things I am grateful for in my life, the fact that there is no evidence left of this is at the top of my list. I think I tried to cram a dozen sermon illustrations into the thing and share my deep love for Jesus with others. It was very emotional, for me, not for the congregation who had to watch me choke back tears as I concluded my ill written sermon. This is proof that some aspects of our personalities really do not change.

When my friends and I wanted to lead an after school Bible study in our public high school, Pastor Lin came and joined us/helped teach that study and supplied the Bibles that lived in my locker that year.

When I wanted to run a contemporary church service, my church supported it by giving us the sanctuary on Sunday nights and you guessed it, Pastor Lin came.

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My point in sharing this with you is to express the impact the church’s and especially Pastor Lin’s openness to including me in church life had on my Christian walk and faith. By including me in church life as an equal member, I learned that my voice mattered. I learned that my opinions had value. I learned that I wasn’t too young to live for Jesus. I also learned life skills like public speaking, what business meetings looked like, and how to civilly disagree while expressing one’s own viewpoint. I developed leadership skills, a strong work ethic, and learned a lot about ministry through trial and error. Eventually, I would lead youth ministry for over a decade in the church I would later settle into as an adult. My youth ministry time was directly impacted by the experiences I had in my own youth group days in my first home church.

My views on church leadership and ministry have changed over the years as a result of my life experiences and deepening understanding of scripture, but I am so very grateful that what I learned when I was young was that I mattered to God, and I mattered in his kingdom.

“We are too young to realize that certain things are impossible…
So we will do them anyway.” 
― William Wilberforce


*This is a brief and incomplete overview of this particular form of church government. All churches have some form of governance which are all ideally lead by Biblical teaching and prayer. 

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Christian, family, marriage, Proverbs 31, women

Proverbs 31: A Love Hate Relationship

Like every woman, I have sat through my fair share of Bible studies and women’s events that focus on the Proverbs 31 woman. I have wanted to love this woman, but I just don’t know how I feel about her. First off,  the Proverbs 31 woman is not so much about womanhood; it’s about wives and mothers. And while many people might think that is six of one, half a dozen of another, it’s not. Women encompass so much more. There are many women who have yet to become wives or who may remain single. There are women who are divorced or widowed. Those who are married may or may not be mothers. Where do these women fit into this passage and all those Bible studies? Secondly, this woman is loaded. Quite frankly, many of our income levels don’t allow us to be the kind of women who have servants to be feeding in the morning. But having a few servants would give me a little more time in my day to do all the things this woman is apparently able to do from dawn to dusk.

Of course, the Proverbs 31 woman, let us remember, is a fictionalized composite person not an actual woman, and she cannot be replicated by everyone….or maybe even anyone.

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As a wife myself, I have a bit of a love hate relationship with the Proverbs 31 woman. I desire to live up to the expectations set for me as a Christian wife, and yet I find her Pintrest perfect and there is a reason I don’t go on Pintrest. In addition to her unrealistic expectations, being a wife is only a part of who I am. Yes, I am a wife and mother, but I am also a friend, sister, employee, writer, social justice advocate, and human being. I cannot focus 100% of my efforts on being the Proverbs 31 woman, lest I lose myself in the task. And while many aspects of who I am can certainly fall under the umbrella of the Proverbs 31 woman, such as employee and social justice advocate, it’s important for me that my identity is more firmly rooted in Christ than it is on my role as wife and mother. I am an expert in what Brene Brown calls “Foreboding Joy.” I know that my positions as wife and mother can be stripped away from me in one tragic moment. I have imagined it a million times as my kids drive away in the car or my husband’s flight is taking off for a business trip. However, my position as daughter to the Living God can never be taken away. That is who I am first and foremost.

In A Year of Biblical Womanhood, Rachel Held Evans tells us that Proverbs 31 is a poem that men memorize and sing to their wives and the other women in their lives (mothers, daughters, sisters). Did you catch that? MEN. It was never meant to burden women with a task list of things to become. Wife (check). Mother (check) Domestic Goddess (check). Business Owner (check) Pintrest Perfect life (check). I have made it into a burden that is too heavy to bear.

I love the idea she shares in her blog post on this topic that Jewish women cheer one another on with the phrase “eshet chayil” or “woman of valor.” Women, we need to cheer each other on. Women building one another up. Men building women up. That sounds like a world I want to live in. It wasn’t meant to weigh us down but to lift us up.

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So, I’m working on becoming a woman of valor. Sometimes that is by making homemade doughnuts. Sometimes it’s by swinging by McDonalds on the way home from work so I don’t need to cook. Sometimes it’s by sitting and studying the word of God and learning more about His amazing character that moves me to grow more like him. Sometimes it’s by skipping my quiet time and watching a movie with my husband after a long week.

I haven’t arrived. I don’t expect to arrive, but this is my journey, and I’m still moving forward.

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Christian, marriage, Proverbs 31

Marriage: Loving Tension

“For the record, in Bereshit (Genesis by you) where it talks about the “helpmmet,” the Hebrew is not just Ezer, but Ezer k’gnedo, which means “the help that opposes.” The Rabbis explain this term like two posts of equal weight leaned against one another. They stand because of equal force.” A letter by Ahava as it appears in A Year of Biblical Womanhood by Rachel Held Evans

            I have a theory that solitude is a major contributing factor to people becoming a little crazy. I mean who hasn’t seen Castaway? My parents were very different from one another, but they balanced each other. Mom couldn’t give all her money away to the poor, and Dad couldn’t spend his entire life at caving conventions or Renaissance Faires. There was someone to talk to, cook for, clean for, to stretch you into doing things outside your comfort zone, and most importantly someone with whom to compromise. I don’t think people need to live with someone to have these kinds of accountability and stretching relationships, but I think the loss of my father meant the loss of that balancing factor for my mom. Mom seemed to slowly slide into a world of her own making, with total freedom to do what she wanted, or more often than not felt obligated to do, and she had no checks and balances. We like to think that there is nothing better than total freedom, but I’m not sure that’s true.

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Marriage is a partnership of two imperfect, sinful people joined in a permanent bond of mutual submission. They have different strengths and weaknesses. They come to the union with different upbringings, dreams, and expectations. Hopefully they are driven by common life goals and faith, but even with their commonality they are bound to have friction. They are going to pull and push against each other in a million tiny and not so tiny ways. And through the tension they will sharpen one another. They will refine each other, mold each other, balance and sometimes annoy each other. It is actually part of the miracle of the two becoming one.

I can’t say that Jay and I enjoy living out the “iron sharpens iron” part of marriage, but it’s part of the strength of our marriage. There is trust in our relationship because we know the other person isn’t just going to “yes” our ideas. We are going to give alternate viewpoints. We will argue our points until some more reasonable middle ground rises up. As a result, Jay isn’t going to buy every piece of new technology that lands on the market, and I am not going to take the family on road trips across Europe (even though it is clear my spending goals are way better than his.) We are not going to uproot the kids or quit jobs without diligently thinking through the implications and prayerfully coming to a mutual decision. Sometimes we practice giving up our desires for the other. We submit. We stand firm. And we are both better for it. Our family is better for it.

It is in the Ezer K’gnedo, the help that opposes, that we discover the strength of our union.

 

 

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