Some thanks to my brothers

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Over the last few years, God has had me on a fumbling journey into ministry, marriage, and motherhood. I don’t have a thing for the letter M, really, it’s just that these three words hold so much weight because they have been the avenues God has used to shape me the most.

When I walked onto my Bible college campus in Cincinnati, eager and ready to study the Bible, one of my first meetings was with my academic advisor, who was there to help me select courses based on my proposed ministry goals. I enthusiastically expressed my desire to serve in ministry of some kind, maybe student ministry, and he let me know that it might be best to consider going into children’s ministry since not many (if any) churches would ever hire women for positions in student ministry.

I was shocked. I had never heard of this. My home church had women who served in ministry roles of all kinds, and I didn’t know some people thought women couldn’t use their gifts to minister to others because of their gender.

So I switched my major to music ministry because I could carry a tune. Then I realized I couldn’t figure out how to read complex music to save my life, and after many hours of struggling just to turn on the software to help me study music, I had a come-to-Jesus moment in my dorm room at 1 a.m., realized this was not my thing, and changed my major to biblical studies and general ministry.

Then something incredible happened. During my junior year of college, I got a phone call from my (new) academic advisor that a church in North Carolina was looking for a student ministry intern, and specifically wanted to hire a female to help grow their ministry to teenage girls. I went to visit, accepted the internship, and spent my senior year of college in a beautiful, southern town learning how to work in a church and ministry setting. It was a hard, brave, and beautiful year.

By far, though, one of the things I cherish most about that year was how much my two supervisors poured into me. They saw something in me that I couldn’t see yet, and they called it out when I was too afraid to pursue it. “You’re made for ministry,” they said, “and you have a gift.” I have to tell you very honestly that this terrified me. For all the right reasons, and then a lot of paranoid, made-up ones. I had heard some unkind things about my gifts and my gender going hand-in-hand, and it made me, at a minimum, nervous.

Something started that year, though, that gave me confidence. My student minister from high school wrote me a letter, too—encouraging and challenging me to keep pursuing Jesus and His calling on my life. I started opening my eyes and looking for the ways my brothers were encouraging women to use their gifts, and to my surprise, I found many.

In To Kill a Mockingbird, there’s a scene where Judge Taylor acknowledges a request that women and children be removed from the courtroom. While he denies the request, he says, “People generally see what they look for, and hear what they listen for.” And while I can tell you a lot of stories about the things that have been hard, I can tell you more stories about brothers who have encouraged me, who have gone before me, who have defended me, who have challenged and respected me.

Maybe my perspective has changed, or maybe I’m looking for something different these days. Regardless, today, on International Women’s Day, I want to honor and thank my brothers. Your support, encouragement, and affirmation of the women you know and work alongside means so much, more than you know. Your voice is a loud one in this conversation, and the words you use to affirm your sisters in Christ are heard clearly. We are grateful to you, for the ways you push and challenge us to grow and follow Jesus, first, and to use the gifts He has given not for our glory but the glory of God and good of humanity.

Thanks, first, to my dad, who always pushed me to think critically and deeply. Thank you to my husband, Kyle—you already know all the words I can hardly find to express my gratitude for you. And a big, long thanks to my brothers in Christ: Todd, Jeff, Jon, Shawn, Jamie, Nick, Danny, Aaron, Matt, Jake, Petie, Don, Greg, Jim, Neil, Eric, Jared, Anthony, Jay, Brian, Brett, Dan, Paul, Ron, Taylor, Ryan, Justin, John, Nate, Travis, David, Mike, Tyler, Nathan, Sean, and Josh.

To my sisters in the United States: let us remember to be so grateful that we live in a country where we have the freedom to vote, to use our gifts and voices, and receive an education. We live in a time where we don’t have to choose between gentleness and leadership, where we can seek both hospitality and knowledge of God—a world where we can nurture the children God gives us and do work we love and supports our families. Let us be so grateful, and let us not forget our sisters around the world who do not have the same. May we use our energies to fight on behalf of the voiceless.

Happy International Women’s Day, friends, and a special thanks to my brothers.

where else would I go?

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I feel like it is my duty to show you this picture.

I’ve been a journaler since I could write legibly, and I have the elementary pre-teen angst journals to prove it. They’re mostly filled with elaborate stories about boys I liked and American Girl dolls I wanted, but in between all the elementary crazy, there’s a question or two tucked in those pages about the meaning of life and spiritual curiosity. We grew up going to church on occasion, and we always showed up for the big holidays, Christmas and Easter. We dressed in our best, sang carols, and read the story of baby Jesus coming into the world as a yearly tradition.

Ever since I was a little kid, I loved learning about this big, infinite God who created everything there ever was. In my little eyes—I could never get enough of him. For as long as I can remember, I’ve wanted to know God. I’ve been curious about what God had to do with the human existence, if anything at all. As a fourth grader, I can remember being up late at night wondering if life had meaning, if any of this was real, and if the way I saw the color red was the same way someone else saw the color red. I was a spunky, philosophical little thing, asking adults questions like, “Do you think God exists?” as icebreakers to conversation.

During my middle school years, a family friend invited some of us to attend church with them one weekend. I’d never heard of a “Christian” church before, and coming from a very mainline Protestant background–those evangelical-types always seemed a little funny to me. It was everything I didn’t recognize or understand; people were dressed in jeans and approaching God like a familiar friend instead of a frightening man in the sky. I envied the way they spoke of God, as if they are referring to someone they’d just been with that morning, and I wanted to know if I could have access to a God like that.

When the worship leader got up to lead us in music, everyone all around me started singing right out loud, which was startling at first. A few raised their hands, some sang while sitting, and a small crowd quietly hummed to themselves. Because I loved music, I sang along with them, and wondered if the God they were all singing to could hear me, too.

I don’t remember anything about the sermon that day, but I do recall picking up a Bible for myself that morning and reading it with my own eyes. The first thing I read was in Romans 10:11-13, “For the scripture says, ‘Everyone who believes in him will not be put to shame.’ For there is no distinction between the Jew and the Greek, for the same Lord is Lord of all, who richly blesses all who call on him. For everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” I couldn’t stop reading. I took a Bible home with me that morning and poured over its pages for the next several weeks.

I met Jesus that year.

I was in seventh grade, and seventh grade is a particularly cruel time in anyone’s life—much less a girl’s. Seventh grade was a hard year for me for all kinds of reasons, but mostly because in lots of ways, I felt like I was losing my sense of home. Although my parents tried their best to maintain stability through the divorce (and I can never thank them enough for that), there was an inevitable piece that always felt broken and torn, no matter how much we wanted to put it back together. I had two addresses instead of one, different closets, different school busses—all kinds of different, really, and I had the zits to prove it.

But there on that Sunday morning, Jesus became my home. And every time I come to write, I come back to that truth—that there in my awkward years of wearing leopard-print pants with clogs (true story), Jesus met me. It was a naïve and simple faith, but it was Jesus all the same.

I’ve grown since then. My understanding of who Jesus is has continued to change and evolve, my perspective of God is bigger and richer, and in many ways harder and more complex. I don’t believe there’s a simple answer to everything anymore and there are days I actually long for the simple faith of my youth. But even still–even in the midst of my existential wandering, questions, and doubts, every time I come back to the Word, he is there, reminding me. Jesus is my home.

As I prepare my heart for Advent this year, I’m reminded of the picture at the end of John 6 when Jesus is talking to his disciples. At that point, many of his followers had decided he was no longer worth following, and Jesus says to them, “You don’t want to go away too, do you?” And Peter replies, “Lord, to whom would we go? You have the words of eternal life.” I relate so much to Peter in this exchange–as I continue to grow and pursue God, I’ve watched people walk away from Jesus or just quietly drift into a faithless sleep. And I’ve drifted, too, of course–I’ve been in and out of a vibrant faith, sometimes even crawling my way back to trusting and believing God. But Peter’s words to Jesus touch me. When the uncertainty or pain of life feels like it might swallow me whole, I am just like Peter, saying, “Where else would I go, Lord? You are my home.”

During this Advent season, it has not escaped me that regardless of our circumstances, or no matter how far away God feels sometimes, he is not like our feelings. He is so much more, so much bigger. We can have as much of God as we want, and he withholds no good thing from us. 

My husband and son, reading Unwrapping The Greatest Gift by Ann Voskamp
My husband and son, reading Unwrapping The Greatest Gift by Ann Voskamp

what i’m listening to, watching, and reading | march & april

Spring took a really long time to emerge this year, and I will be the first to say that wow, I was struggling. If I saw snow one more day, the suitcases were coming out. I have always loved cold weather and seasonal change, except this year when the snow held on for dear life, I wondered if my flesh was actually going to leave an imprint on our living room walls. (I clearly do not exaggerate.) And since having a tiny person makes it harder to leave your house in the winter months, we may or may not have made a “game” out of bath time. Twice a day. But actually, we have a pass to the Indianapolis Children’s Museum and our church has an unbelievable indoor park, so we took serious advantage of those things the past couple months.

As I look back on the past couple of months, I feel all kinds of grateful. While they have certainly been long and dreary, they have also been full of growth and (necessary) change. And most of it has come from what I’m listening to and reading, so I’m excited to share some of those things with you, as well. Here’s what I’ve been into the past couple of months…

Listening… The podcast rage has continued, so first up, N.T. Wright. One of his fans collected a bunch of his (free) talks/sermons and put them in podcast form. Thank you, fan, I am loving it. Also, The Art of Simple with Tsh Oxenreider. She’s taken a little break from podcasting this month, but since I recently discovered this podcast, I’ve been digging through the archives. There are lots of others I could pass along, but the simpler the better, so we’ll start there.

Watching… Only two shows are happening around these parts, Parenthood and Mad Men. It’s true, I live-tweet my heart out during Parenthood and ruin the show for people with DVR or Hulu+. Apologies all around. The season finale was this past week, which means you are now set free of my Twitter feed. (Although, I won’t be offended if you unfollow me. If it was possible, I would unfollow myself.) And to my fellow Mad Men friends, what did you think about the first episode of Season 7? I have so many thoughts but I want to wait for the next few episodes to flesh them out. I will say this: if the series ends with Don jumping off a building, I will spontaneously combust. (As a side-note: being married to a history teacher and watching Mad Men is the greatest combination. Right when the opening scene started this past week, Kyle casually whispered, “Oh okay, this is right before Nixon’s inauguration.” I’m sorry, what? He just knows everything.)

Reading… Our life group has been going through the gospel of Matthew this month, so that’s been at the top of my list and where my heart is really resting. But the reading challenge continues, and Kyle is winning by a long shot. I’m in the middle of The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger and he is… almost finished with my list. His self-discipline and fast-reading skills are unmatchable, so I should have known. I’m also reading Every Good Endeavor by Tim Keller, Sabbath as Resistance by Walter Brueggeman, and On Writing by Stephen King. And I should also mention here one of my new favorite cookbooks, The Kinfolk Table by Nathan Williams, which is full of unfussy, understated recipes from people all over the world.

Eating… We’ve established that I go in phases, right? Okay, so now I’m in a homemade biscuit, blueberry crisp, and sparkling water phase. All three of those things, all day every day.

Needing… Since I’ve mentioned laundry almost every time here, I will say instead that I clearly need a laundry system. Help, friends. HELP. I am open to all suggestions and will consider throwing out most of our clothes.

Feeling… Grateful for spring, the fresh air, our life group, our church family, and our back porch.

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on Lent: what do you do?

I’ll just come out and say it: this it the time of year I’m a little jealous of my liturgical friends. As an evangelical at heart (and in practice), our church doesn’t practice Lent in the traditional sense … but me? During this season of my life, I’m slowly becoming a sucker for stillness and rhythm, longing for a sense of balance and accountability.

So, I’m curious (you know I love input)–for those of you who practice Lent as a part of your church community and/or in your homes, what do you do (or not do)? What practices do you put in place during this time of year? What habits do you reevaluate or reconsider? And how do you (and your family) intentionally draw closer to Jesus?

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(That’s one of mine, by the way.)

transitions

It’s been a life-changing 9 weeks. We feel so blessed and honored that God gave us the gift of being parents to Keegan. Let’s be real, it’s also been hard. There have been a lot of late nights, early mornings, and days I’ve gone without brushing my teeth.

When we found out we were pregnant, we immediately began praying that God would guide us as we made decisions for how to parent Keegan. In 2 Chronicles 20, there’s a story about young Jehosaphat defeating Moab and Ammon. I am not comparing our journey into parenthood to the battle Jehosaphat faced (although . . . just kidding), but I do resonate with his plea and crying out to God. When he found out that an army was attacking him, Scripture says that Jehosaphat was afraid, so he “set his face to seek the Lord.” He then called everyone together to seek help from the Lord, and they came from every town in Judah to seek him.

Scripture paints us a picture of Jehosaphat trusting and proclaiming God’s providence–that He was maker and ruler of all and that although he was afraid, and he did not know what to do, his eyes were focused on God.

I made a little bookmark with this very phrase, and placed it in every book I devoured over the course of pregnancy:

“We do not know what to do, but our eyes are on you.”

I am the kind of person that invests wholeheartedly in everything I do. I fail, a lot. But I try to invest wholeheartedly in my relationship with Jesus, my marriage, and my role as a youth pastor. When I became a mom, I quickly realized that the wholehearted way of life poured into motherhood, and that another role was added to the mix.

I am a child of God first. That has always been the case.

But now I am a mother, and it has changed everything.

And so, I asked God to make clear to me what I should do . . . if I could still be a youth pastor and a mom, if I could still do everything I did before with this new little person in our lives. Through it all, I felt overwhelmingly peaceful that He was going to give an answer, I just had no idea what it would be. Could I do this part-time? Should I go back full-time? Should I stay home with Keegan? Ultimately, we decided that I couldn’t come back as a full-time youth pastor.

I knew I couldn’t come back for one, big reason: I would be of no good to anyone. I wouldn’t serve Chapel Rock well, I wouldn’t serve students well, and I wouldn’t serve my family well. I don’t want to be a frazzled mess every Sunday, biting people’s heads off because I only slept two hours the night before. And I certainly don’t want to be a frazzled mess to my family, coming home exhausted and then only giving Keegan leftovers. He deserves more than that. Kyle does, too.

We prayed and waited patiently, as well as pouring ourselves into the word of God more than ever. From the first day I committed my life to ministry, I never expected that part of the story would be a ministry of motherhood. I guessed I would be a mother, sure. But I didn’t realize that motherhood would be a ministry.

I asked God to give me an opportunity to serve the Kingdom and be a mom. I didn’t know how that could work, but I prayed for it anyway.

He gave it.

In two weeks, I will start my new role at Traders Point Christian Church as a part-time writer for their Communications team. I will get to work from home a majority of the week, be a mom to Keegan, and give to the local church in a way that uses my gifts and passions. We are excited for this new season ahead of us, but it also means that we will be leaving Chapel Rock, and so we leave with conflicted emotions of gratitude and sadness.

To Chapel Rock: you have been all we have known as a married couple. I became “Anne Wilson” here. I learned to love people better because of mistakes I made here (I made many). You all listened to terrible sermons and made me a better communicator with your sleepy eyes. You pushed me to serve people in deeper ways because of the ways I have watched you serve others. We are sad to see this season end. But we’re not moving. We still very much hope to be a part of your lives, just in a different way. We won’t be at Chapel Rock anymore, but we will still be in Sunningdale. Thank you for all that you have given Kyle and me. We follow Jesus more deeply because of you.

living in the mess

This is what I’m working in this morning:

If you know me, you know that I suffer from what I like to call, “Annoying clean office phobia.”

That is, I do not function well in messy environments. Ironically enough, I’m not all that tidy of a person, so this especially paradoxical. See those piles on the corner? Yeah, trying to ignore that. See that stuff on the space in front of me? Yeah, that’s driving me crazy. Oh, and if you look closely, you’ll even see a black leather jacket laying on the floor next to my bookshelf. Embarrassing, right? Calendars falling off the wall… coffee mug from Wednesday… it’s getting ugly, people. There are even remains from Halloween in my office–that blue dress draped over my black chair–I was going to wear that for our GAG Night and decided not to, in which case it circulated the office and has now landed back in mine, and I have not put it back in the Costume closet yet. It has come to this.

This morning, however, I am living in my mess. My office has imploded on itself. If you know me at all, you know that while many other rooms of my life may be disasters, my office–hardly ever. Clean, tidy, and put together. It’s a façade, really. I know it. Because this–this is how I really feel this morning. Too excited about this weekend to care about cleaning my desk. Too many people to talk to, events to plan, and things to do. Too enthralled with the snow falling out my window and wondering if we are going to make it up to Michigan alright to sort through that pile of endless paper.

Today I choose mess. And I am okay with it.