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.

worship

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, 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.

bible

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?

silly hat

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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Proverbs 31, women

Idleness or Idling?

She looks well to the ways of her household
And does not eat the bread of idleness.
(Proverbs 31:27)

When I think about being idle, I think about doing nothing. Sometimes that thought sounds downright glorious; I work a lot. My career as a teacher with additional after school responsibilities, along with running our household, added to my personal aspirations as a writer, I figure that I am working something like 14 hours a day. That gives me just enough time to sleep and spend a little meaningful time with my family over dinner. I mean, clearly I am not an idle person. I am always doing something. Of course, I do take some time to “relax” at the end of a hard day, because we all need rest, and I can’t imagine God would mind that.

I yearn to do nothing once in a while. I remember a male friend of mine explaining the “nothing box” as described by Mark Gungor in “Tale of Two Brains.” I was fascinated and extremely jealous. My brain is in constant working mode. I want to stop running through my to-do-lists in my mind and stop troubleshooting, lesson planning, and re-hashing everything. Honestly, a warning for women to not be idle seemed to me like it might be misplaced. The women I know are mostly like me, running like crazy and stretched too thin.

 

But what if we aren’t talking so much about idleness in the sense of doing nothing, and look at it more like idling, in the way that your car idles. The car engine is on, it’s using fuel, it’s humming along, but it’s not actually taking the car anywhere. It’s putting wear and tear on the car’s engine, but producing nothing of value. Sometimes, I think I’m eating the bread of idling. My engine is racing, but I’m not making any forward movement. I’m stressed, I’m busy, but I’m not accomplishing a whole lot.

Here are 5 things that I have found helpful for me when I find myself eating the bread of idling:

Turn To-do-lists into goals: Sure we have a ton of to-do-lists, whether on paper or in our heads, but do we have larger plans with steps to achieve them? Here is a goal: This summer I want to de-clutter the house. I am going to work every Tuesday mornings for 3 hours and work my way through the house starting in the sunroom that has become just a giant closet. I will end each cleaning session with a trip to Goodwill to make donations. Etc. (More detailed and the smaller the steps and having a definition of a completed task makes for a better goal.) Instead of goals, we just add “de-clutter the house” to the long list of things that looms over us. That long list with no action plan actually feels heavy. Carrying around that list makes us feel tired which makes us need more time to relax even though we haven’t actually done anything. Plan with specifics.

dishes

Make a schedule: I’m not a Type A personality. I am disorganized and more fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants, so schedules are not something that I’m good at making or keeping. However, carving out time to work towards your goals really matters. Once I started setting aside a few hours on a Saturday morning dedicated to writing and promoting my writing career, shockingly, things started to move along. When I set aside specific times each day/week for Bible study or exercise, I am more likely to actually accomplish those things than when I just assume I will “get around to them.” As much as I love school breaks, I actually find that I am far more productive in achieving my non-teaching goals during the school year when I’m on a more structured schedule then when I am on break and technically have more time to achieve those goals. Being on a schedule, like being on a budget, is simply telling your time how it will be spent rather than letting your time tell you. Plan your life.

Take a Sabbath rest: A few year’s back, I made a decision to start taking a Sabbath rest each week. From the time I come home on Friday until church is over on Sunday, I try not to do any work. And by that, I mean paid employment tasks. Setting aside time to not work helped me to be more productive when I was working. In part, I found that without limitations on when I would work, I find myself working whenever I was thinking about work or whenever the email came to me which was all the time. I also found that if I worked on Saturdays I would still find more I could or “should” do on Sundays, but if I put it off until Sunday, I could still finish what was important.  In the same way, I made a choice to leave work at work most nights. Sure, there are nights you have to do work, but for the most part, if the work came home “just in case” there was time, I carried it back to work feeling guilty. Define your boundaries.

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Plan your free-time: This might sound ridiculous if you don’t have much free time, but it’s so easy for your free time to disappear without actually making your feel rested or relaxed. Let’s say you only have 30 minutes and you go on Facebook or Instagram or whatever’s your poison. You will skip around to what is important and get off. But if you go on without any limit, you might find yourself 3 hours later watching some video of a cat for the 4th time. You are wasting time, but not really relaxing. Had you read for 2.5 hours and then spent 30 minutes on FB, you’d probably felt so much more rested and maybe even a bit accomplished. If you enjoy taking walks or being crafty or whatever else, schedule time for those things and then let social media or Netflix fill in the remaining gaps, not the other way around. The same is true for longer periods of free-time such as vacations. If you plan the “fun” things you want to do, you will end vacations with memories, but if you wait until you feel like it to do something fun, you might find yourself heading back to work or school having zoned out on a computer for a week and time has simply passed you by. Plan your fun.

Know your self: I spend a lot of time on a computer for work and writing and I enjoy social media and movies for fun. I could spend an entire day in my chair on a computer without ever doing anything physical. I love movies, but I know my limitations with TV shows. Nothing robs my time more than a Netflix binge. I start off watching one episode of a TV series and then I tell myself I’ll just watch one episode every weekend, then it’s every evening, and then it’s, “Maybe I can just finish the season over the weekend.” The next thing you know I’ve spent 8 hours a day “catching up” on 6 years of a TV show I didn’t have enough interest in to watch when it was on the air. I know I get caught up in TV shows, so I try to really avoid them and stick to movies, which are over in an hour and a half. The same can be true for book series for me, but it’s not quite so bad. Be honest about what is a time suck rather than breathing life into you. Make time for what rejuvenates you and set limits on what is mindless and steals your time. When you finish 3 hours of hiking how does your soul feel compared to when you finish 3 hours of YouTube videos? What about 3 hours of knitting with friends verses 3 hours of Facebook? Chose wisely.

In this day and age, it’s so easy to get sucked into living life in idle mode. My goal is not to work harder, but more efficiently. Work hard; play hard; live life more fully.

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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.

donuts

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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family, women

Having it All

As women, I think we feel this pressure to “have it it all” or at least have what we do have all together. We want to be content and competent and loved and valued. These are all good things. They are not, however, easy to achieve. We talk about the elusive work life balance. We talk about “having it all, but maybe just not all at the same time.” What does that mean even?

Here is what I have all of:

All the exhaustion:

I am tired ALL THE TIME. I can’t even remember a time when I wasn’t tired. It was before having kids for sure. I thought once they slept through the night, I’d be rested again, but nope. And bonus, everyone keeps telling me that once menopause starts I’m going to start having insomnia. Seriously? What a genetic load of garbage. So basically, by the time I’m actually able to relax again with my kids out of the house, my body will actually reject sleep. I can’t not tell you how I really feel about this because I’m a good Christian girl.

All the confliction:

If I am at work, I am thinking about what I should be doing for my husband or kids. When I am at home, I am thinking about what I should be doing for work. I am always thinking about how I should be serving more (in my church, my community, my world). I am thinking about how the time and expense of my writing “career” is taking away time and financial resources from my family. I am confident that I am missing out on my kids lives in ways that will irreparably damage them. I don’t even use Pintrest, because I already have enough guilt in my life. Thank you, unrealistic expectations.

family wall

All the feels:

I occasionally see this phrase and think this describes me exactly. I feel things so deeply. I cry just about everyday. Not in a bad way, but in the maybe I’m not completely emotionally stable way. I tear up reading novels to my students in class. Novels I have ready half a dozen times by now. I get choked up during movies I am only half paying attention to. I think about my son at college and I get choked up thinking about the man he has become. I cry in grief, in joy, in pretty much any context. I wear my heart on my sleeve, and I feel all the feels.

flaming grill

All the chaos:

I dreamed of having a lovely family life where my children were polite and calm and we took walks in the woods and always helped each other. We’d be those people at all those town fairs or the ones taking day trips on the weekends. I should have known better. I came from an eccentric, crazy (read: AWESOME) home, and about the only thing I was able to bring to my new home was the crazy part. We are more of a “watch movies in our PJs” than “stroll through a quaint Christmas village” family . We are more loud voices and bickering than homemade Valentines and family service projects. Our separate lives mingle together more like a Jackson Pollack than Seurat.

This is my family <or life>. I found it all on my own.
It’s little, and broken, but still good. Yeah – still good.
– Stitch from Lilo and Stitch

So, no, I don’t really have it all. I don’t want it all. I’m still trying to juggle the plates I’m already spinning.  I’d rather drop a few of the less important ones, than keep going at this pace. I want less rather than more. I want less commitments, less stress, less frantic, less inches in my waistline. (But more doughnuts!)

 

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book review, elder care, women

Life with Extra Cheese: A Book Review

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Many of you know that I’m working on my own book about caring for my mother through her illness and death. And because you know me, you also know that this is a dark comedy. Well, as part of the market research for my book proposal, I began looking for books that would be similar to my own. That’s when I found Heather Davis’ book Life with Extra Cheese. It was HYSTERICAL!
I picked this book up on Amazon and began reading it slowly as I fumbled my way through writing a book proposal and beginning the first weeks of school. The last thing I had time for was pleasure reading, and yet I couldn’t help but grab it any chance I got. I even read several passages aloud to my husband, who is used to being the target of the overflow of my excitement.

The Sandwich Generation: (n) A group of people, typically in their 30’s and 40’s, who are raising their own children while also caring for aging parents.

Heather Davis really nailed life in the sandwich generation. From her opening passage when her sister calls to say her mother is on her way to the hospital, to her daughter’s desire to use the shower chair, to getting frisky with your husband while your mother in the house, everything was spot on. This book really nailed the crazy moments, the hard moments, and the beautiful moments. I loved that she understood the struggle of the working mother torn between so many responsibilities, motivated by love and family, and just plain tired. This is the sandwich generation struggle in a nutshell, a hilarious nutshell.

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In short, buy this book! You’ll love it.

 

You can find more by Heather Davis here.

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Adulting, women

Housekeeping Made Simple

People are always saying to me, “Your house feels so lived in.” You know why that is?  We live here. We don’t have a separate breakfast parlor for company, or a media and game room in the basement for the teens to congregate. We have basically one living area in which we all share. All 5 of us. You might think that this means that our little space is neat and tidy, but you’d be wrong. It is a magnet for everyone’s everything. So here are a few tips that have helped us maintain that “lived in” look without crossing the line into Hoarders.

carpet

Carpet

Get rid of carpet. If you must have carpet, limit it to small area rugs or mats. Anywhere you can have hardwood floors, tile, or linoleum the better. Outside of the occasional spot cleaning, you can go a very long time without cleaning these floors. Hair, lint, dust, even dried leaves and dirt will be blown across these surfaces and collect at the edge of the room and even more specifically, corners. Grabbing a few of these dust bunnies occasionally, can give you home a lovely fresh look with almost no effort. I use my vacuum cleaner so infrequently; I would need to think about how to turn it on.

vacuumChild labor

There is no reason to do a chore that your spawn is capable of doing. The earlier you train them up the better for everyone. They are learning important life skills. Who cares how sloppy they put away their clothes, you didn’t have to do it. Laundry, dishes, scrubbing toilets, whatever. I’m not saying they need to work like little Orphan Annie, but they can be responsible for themselves and contribute to the family. They should be doing all their own laundry, cleaning their room, clearing their place, putting away their things, and doing one or more chores that contribute to family life. What that means in a practical sense? I don’t wash dishes anymore. I do all the grocery shopping and cooking, along with the vast majority of cleaning, so unless they would prefer to do the grocery shopping and cooking every night, they can do the dishes. Oh, kiddo, you missed a spot.

hoopla

Multi-task

There are only so many hours in a day. I barely have enough time to get the most crucial things done, like feeding all the humans I am responsible for. So, I scrub the bathtub while I’m in it taking a shower. This gives the conditioner a little longer to work while I wipe crud from tiles. This is a quick spot clean process done without the benefit of corrective lenses. It’s not going to be pretty, but it’s going to be better then it was yesterday. Occasionally, I wipe down the microwave after I pull out that cup of tea I made and forgot and had to reheat now for the third time. Also, I listen to audio books on my phone while I grocery shop.

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Don’t Do It

There are certain chores that are just not that important and, bonus, not doing those chores makes your life easier. Take linens for instance. Sure, it’s nice to climb into a bed made with crisp new sheets, but not only does it take time to change those sheets, but it takes time to wash those sheets, dry those sheets, fold those sheets, and put away those sheets. So don’t.  Put those kind of chores off as long as possible. Win-win.

It won’t look like a Better Homes and Garden Magazine spread, but whatever, I’ve got better things to do.

car freshener

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