Some thanks to my brothers

DeathtoStock_Medium5

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.

embracing the mundane

Processed with VSCOcam with f2 preset A few years ago, we were living pretty disconnected and frazzled lives. Kyle and I barely passed each other in and out the door each night, and we were beginning to deprive one another of companionship. When we had Keegan, we decided to make some significant changes in our family rhythms to create a slower life, and in doing so–we redefined the word “boring.”

I’m over at Today’s Christian Woman this week talking about how embracing the mundane has changed the rhythm of our family, and also my spiritual life. See the article here.

why I’m quiet about my messed up story

why I’m quiet about my messed up story

This past week, my close friend and mentor Kelli wrote an article for Today’s Christian Woman entitled “Your Messed Up Story.” When she originally asked a few us of to consider being interviewed for it, I was in a particularly busy season of life and at first denied the request. Not because I didn’t want to, but I just didn’t have time. But the more I thought about it, I couldn’t put her article out of my mind—mostly because of a promise I made in recovery years ago: I wasn’t going to be defined by my mess, but if there ever came an appropriate time to talk about it and give God glory through it, I would.

Bulimia nervosa is defined as an eating disorder characterized by binge eating and purging, or consuming a large amount of food in a short amount of time followed by an attempt to get rid of it. I started binging and purging when I was 17, during my senior year of high school. I had started gaining weight due to a back injury from cheerleading, and with a serious shift in metabolism, and I started feeling really out of control. There were a lot of other spiraling circumstances during that time of my life; my body was just one of them. But for whatever reason, I was hyper-focused on my body, and pretty soon I was in over my head. During my freshman year of college, I backed off a bit—making promises to myself that was “my last time.” But you can’t really talk yourself out of a disorder, so by the time summer came, I was back into the routine, and binging and purging had become a “normal” part of my life.

The irony of all of this (besides the obvious) was that I was a biblical studies & ministry major at college, and a ministry intern at a non-profit (and later a church). I feared if I told anyone I would be seen differently and “unfit for ministry,” although I know now that I could have been honest–back then, I was living in a state of anxiety and paranoia. Perhaps what’s most frightening about the whole thing was my ability to hide and pretend. When people asked about my rapid weight loss, I had answers ready. “I’ve been working out,” (total lie) “I’ve been watching what I eat” (kind of the opposite, actually), etc. Perhaps my ability to lie was the scariest part of it all—I was in a giant web and felt like anyone close to me would have walked away had I been honest. How could anyone trust me after I had been so deceptive? I was ministering to teenage girls while I was suffering from an eating disorder, and who would ever hire (or listen to) someone like that?

To sum it up: throughout the next year I was broken in a thousand ways—sharing my struggle with close friends and my then boyfriend (now husband), confessing to my parents, and going through a year of counseling. Oh, and did I mention? I was a resident assistant for our dorm on our Christian campus that year, too, so while I was counseling others and leading them in weekly Bible study, I was going through my own personal hell. Looking back, it would have been more honest to give myself a leadership break, but I didn’t because I felt a compulsion to not let everyone know what a real and serious mess I was.

It’s been seven years since then, and I’m fully recovered. One would think that after the hard work of recovery, I would have no problem sharing my story and giving God the credit for all the ways I’ve been healed—emotionally, physically, and spiritually. But when Kelli’s article released on Thursday, my first reaction was panic. I said to my husband, “Oh… crap.” When he asked what was wrong, I responded, “Oh, well—nothing. Kelli interviewed me for this article and I was really honest and now I kind of regret it.” After reading it, Kyle said, “Wait, why do you regret it? It’s the truth.” “I know,” I said, “But now people will actually know I’m kind of a hot mess.”

“But isn’t that the point?”

Husbands, I tell you.

I don’t talk much about my eating disorder and recovery because—here’s the embarrassing truth—I don’t like how it makes me sound. It makes me feel like a crazy person, or that I’ll be perceived as one, even though I never have perceived anyone else with an eating disorder as crazy. So I’m quiet about it because it’s not really a conversation starter, and I mostly just want to manage the way I’m perceived by telling you all the lovely things about me, first. Which is actually just gross. But I think that’s how all of us are when it comes to our sin, mess, and baggage. We don’t bring it out into the light not just because we’re ashamed of it, or because we don’t believe God can use it, but because—frankly—we’re worried about people’s perceptions. What will people think if they know __________? It sounds so elementary, right? How can we be adults and still be trying to manage people’s perceptions?

What I found on the other side of confession was that no one—not a single person—was as hard on me as I was on myself. And I was met with grace. So much grace. As Kelli so eloquently wrote, “Sharing not just our ‘before and after’ stories but also our ‘in the middle of it’ realities points others not toward ourselves but instead toward the Cross—toward the redemption and grace that saved us and keeps on saving us.” Yes, it would be easier if God took a big magic wand and waved it over this part of my story. He hasn’t. But he continues to save me every day, in the bathroom, at a restaurant, in my kitchen, and in the mirror … directing me back towards someone so much bigger: Jesus. So I should be over perception management and striving for perfection because that’s kind of the entire point: Jesus is perfect and I can never be. So there you have it: I’m kind of a big hot mess and saved by the only One who has ever been perfect—and I continue to be rescued from the darkness that lives inside of all of us.

making room for two

Did I ever tell you about our full-size mattress?

Yes, that’s right. We spent the first four years of our marriage sharing a 20-year-old full-size mattress. Kyle is over 6’ tall. It was stupid, but we didn’t know you could—you know—save and buy a new mattress, so for years we tossed and turned on a little full-size mattress because it seemed good enough and we didn’t really consider doing anything different.

Then we realized (as most grown-ups do) that if we saved a bit every month, we could save long enough to buy our own mattress—and behold, a queen mattress at that! The night we bought it, we slept almost eight hours straight, and were both totally baffled that such a thing was possible.

Is it totally weird that I started this whole thing off with an illustration about our bed?

Sorry.

Now that you’re good and uncomfortable, I’ll tell you that when Kyle and I got engaged over five years ago, we were asking questions and wrestling with decisions that were a lot like fitting two grown adults (and sometimes a dog) onto a full-size mattress. Whose work should we follow? Where should we live? What was God calling us to? In the fall of 2009, we decided to move to Indianapolis—my hometown—because we believed God had given me the opportunity to do what I really loved: minister to middle and high school students and serve the local church. It was a risk for Kyle, because he moved with no job prospects or connections, but he still made a (pretty huge) sacrificial decision for me.

That first year was full of complex questions, crappy part-time jobs, and late night conversations. We wrestled a lot over calling and giftedness, questioning if we had made the wrong decision. We also prayed. A lot. Near the end of that year, Kyle was offered a full-time job that he now loves. And over the past four years, I’ve watched him completely come alive and spill over with passion. But I’d be leaving out a big part of this story if I didn’t tell you that over the last 15 months we’ve found ourselves in familiar territory … full of late night conversations about calling and work, and now there’s a beautiful, little person added in the mix.

If you know me personally, it won’t be a surprise to hear that of the two of us, my personality can be a little on the—what’s the word—commanding side. Up until recently, one of my top five strengths in Strengths Finder was “command.” (I retook it this past fall and all but one and changed. Apparently I am very affected by circumstances.) I push, hustle, and strive. I jump first and think later. I say “yes” without considering the implications on our family life and often find myself with ten too many things on one plate. And it usually lands us in a place of burnout and exhaustion.

So when we had our son and our priorities started shifting and shuffling, we found ourselves a little tangled up in logistics. I was striving again, trying to push forward and do everything and then some, because—you know—that’s what I do! I thought because I was “only” working 20 hours a week that I needed to “fill in” all the other hours with more, more, and more. More accomplishing! More doing! More pushing! We can make this work. I can raise a baby, take care of a house, love a family, work, cook meals, volunteer everywhere, lead a small group, be friends with everyone, get to know all my neighbors, read every book in sight, speak in hyperbole and save the world, yeah?

No. 

I’m trying to say that word out loud a little more, just as practice. Can you hear me hesitantly whispering it? “No… okay maybe! No… no, I can’t, wait, yes I can! No, I so wish I could, but I can’t right now.”

My intentions are good. Almost always. I mean well, of course, and say yes for the right reasons. But I often fail to see that making room for two callings means both people have to say no sometimes when they would otherwise say yes. How many times did Kyle say no to what he wanted or needed in our early days of ministry together? So many. The weeks he went to middle school camp with me, sacrificing time to research, prepare, or rest … the weekends he spent helping me prepare sermons, or came early to help me set up or tear down … the nights he opened our home to people when he was–frankly–exhausted. There are too many to count, and he did it gladly. We both did. Student ministry was hard, to be sure, but it was also so rewarding and so much fun.

(Here’s proof, by the way, that we rocked out the lanyards and backpacks together.)

MS Camp 2011

Before we found out I was pregnant, we were both starting to feel the tension of two callings in one house. And when I’m completely honest, a lot of it had to do with me—overextending myself with a sinfully large view of my own capabilities. I failed to see that God was divinely preparing me for this time… to slow down, to be a mother, to make a house a home, work a little more behind the scenes, and to learn how to be a more present wife.

I’m not saying I’m giving up or bowing out. I believe motherhood and calling can go together, that positions of influence aren’t just reserved for those without logistical challenges, and that there is space for passion and child-rearing. I don’t know what it all looks like yet, but that’s for another day. I just can’t shake it, though–right now, for us personally, it’s time to make room for two callings. And up until the past year, it’s been a little crowded.

It’s been a huge identity shift, I would be lying if I didn’t admit that. But I really believe God has me here and that I have something to learn that otherwise I wouldn’t. I can see now–with a little breathing room–that the incredible gift of motherhood is preparing me for ministry in ways I never dreamed. I’m learning how to love people more deeply because I now know everyone is someone else’s child. Every person has a story, a background, a family, a mother. I knew that before, of course, but now I feel it in my bones. And I have this extraordinary little boy, and I couldn’t love him more. I get a front row seat to his growth and development, and I get to help shape and mold this tiny, fascinating person. But that has also meant I need to slow down and say no to some people and opportunities where I would otherwise say yes. Because if I say yes now, I will sacrifice too much and spend my energy in ways I can’t regenerate for the places I actually need to be.

So we’re in brand new territory again—and what’s in front of me now is huge: a home I get to make a place of respite and joy, a son I get to raise, and a husband I get to support and love. And I’m so grateful for Jesus—who in every season so patiently unearths the prideful parts of me that seek status over His kingdom. I’m thankful for a God who graciously calls me to surrender my will and my pride, and now it’s time to make room for two.

i work in threes

A few years ago, a bright-eyed, blonde girl with the last name “Durham” decided it’d be a really clever idea to get married, move cities, and graduate from college all within three weeks. Everyone looked at her like she was insane. And she was.

Almost four years later, that same girl was confronted with having her first baby, raising said baby, and leaving one job and starting another (which also meant changing churches) all within three months.

Okay, I can’t write in third person anymore.

Seriously, life kicked our butt in April. But all I can say is I truly have never been more grateful (and excited) for any season of life. We love getting to know this little guy, and I am stupefyingly blessed for this new adventure as a writer. Oh, don’t worry–I have frequent moments where panic ensues and I think, “Am I cut out for this?” But then I pause, breathe, and remember to release control. I choose to show up and believe that God will equip me for the place He has brought me.

We’re thankful. And tired. So I ask you to bear with us, again, as blogging may be on the sporadic (and random) side of life over the next month or so.

Until then, here’s a picture to hold you over.

20130508-224154.jpg

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.

on criticism, trust, and context

So, I don’t think I was mentally prepared for the amount of readers (and anger?) that would come along with yesterday’s post about Boundaries & Love. A few people were really, really mad. One person even emailed me saying I was locked inside a cage of religious-fear and I needed released. What? Clearly they do not know me.

A few things in response to this:

1. I have lots of guy friends. Our friendships just look different from my friendship with women. We hang in groups. Read: we don’t lie around in our pajamas watching re-runs of New Girl together.

2. I am in full-time ministry, and have heard story (after story, after story) of men (and women) leaving their jobs because of an inappropriate relationship(s). So, boundaries are just a bonus to the consistent heart-checks that free me from that. I don’t want to be part of those stories.

3. I trust my husband more than anyone, outside of Jesus. Our boundaries are not created out of fear, but rather mutual love and respect for one another. In fact, they allow us to have great friendships with members of the opposite sex.

4. Criticism–especially that which does not come from a place of love–actually really hurts. I have usually been in the camp of “if you haven’t been through the grueling process of creating something, step back and don’t be critical just to be critical.” Yesterday I got a little personal taste of that. I am all for dialogue, conversation, growth, and different opinions, but not when they’re in the form of internet-rant-screams.

5. Before you critique something, read the entire thing. Context matters. I read a lot of comments yesterday wondering if they even read my post. I did not think our boundaries were a list for everyone to adopt. Rather, they were the overflow of principles we try to live within our own marriage. The encouragement was not to adopt my boundaries, but to think through your own heart/mind/desires and figure out what’s necessary for you and/or your spouse.

Thanks for reading and supporting! It’s been a fun couple of days.