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.

algebra and homemaking

When I was in high school, I had a long, dramatic relationship with Algebra 2. There’s too much to even relay all that goes into this spiteful correspondence, but let’s just say–my junior year (the second round of Algebra 2), it got ugly and I spent most Saturday mornings in Steak’n’Shake with a tutor, crying my way through homework. Like most high school students, I wanted to spend time doing what was familiar and easy, so I put Algebra 2 homework last–until I was nearly failing–and my parents were all, “You actually have to do this homework or you are going to work at Taco Bell for the rest of your life,” and I was all, “Well, I like Mexican food, so that’s fine.” (Dramatic story short: I eventually passed. Ish.)

More than a decade later, I have to tell you–I met domestic life with the same resistance. I laughed out loud the other day when a friend casually said that she envied my homemaking skills, because can I just tell you? I spent the first year of marriage “bragging” that I didn’t know how to cook, and I was weirdly proud of it. (Read: really prideful and just gross.) Like a teenager refusing to learn how to do a math problem, I pretended like I didn’t need domestic skills (which is just stupid)–and even worse, that I was too good for it. In my insecure quest to make it known that I was above all that, I made a fool of myself.

Homemaking and mothering have felt a bit like Algebra 2 for me. Get up in front of a room in teach? Sure. Jump in a meeting and brainstorm a new concept, or work on a project and bring it to life? Take me to your leader. But plan out meals, play a support role, and keep everything afloat in the operations of our home? Yikes. If we had tons of cash-flow, I would immediately hire a full-time cleaning person. DO NOT LOOK AT THE BASEBOARDS IN MY HOUSE. You’ll never return. It’s astounding to me how unnatural this process has been, and quite frankly I’ve felt like the new kid in class over the past year.

But just like that pesky math homework, I’m learning something holy. Somewhere in the impossible process of algebra, a breakthrough usually came sometime around 10pm. With my dad leaning over, trying to help me through the frustration, suddenly something would click and I was able to fumble my way through problems. And I didn’t know it then, but I know it now: sometimes it’s good for us when things don’t come easy, and we have a lot to learn from leaning into things that at first feel foreign or difficult.

Maybe my identity is bigger than being someone who naturally leads and awkwardly follows. Maybe I’m in a season of following because I’m a really arrogant piece of work sometimes–and for a while there, my heart was in no shape to lead. I’m starting over, here. I’m in a season of life where in almost every area, I’m painting in the background. God has something new for me in this season, and I have lots to learn from the women who have gone before me.

I’ll start with learning how to clean my baseboards.

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.

a letter to graduating seniors

barely have the experience to speak with any sort of authority here, let’s get that out of the way now. Think of me as a slightly older sister, sitting across the table, listening and nodding along, and then pulling out a few pieces of advice that I’ve received from much wiser people than myself.

Can we start there?

After graduating from college in ’09 (I know, I know, it was hardly five years ago), I immediately went into my first full-time ministry position. Well, actually, I should back up. A month before graduating, I got married and moved two hours away from my college with my new husband. For the last three weeks of school, I commuted to class and studied for finals at Skyline Chili between Indianapolis and Cincinnati. It was a logistical nightmare, and then I don’t think I even thought twice about it.

And see, that’s the thing. Looking back, of course I wouldn’t do it like that, because it was pretty stupid. But I didn’t care because I didn’t know any better.

(Here’s proof. Just look at that awful haircut.)

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I think that’s kind of the beauty of where you’re at now, too, if you’re honest. You might take the first opportunity you’re offered because… what else is there? You don’t know quite yet, and neither did I, and that’s okay.

There are all kinds of ways to approach your early twenties, and I’d say that’s a pretty good thing. We’re all from different places with a variety of family backgrounds and the church needs more of that. So I’m not going to tell you a bunch of steps on how to do your twenties just right, or how to pick the perfect relationship, but I am going to tell you this:

Don’t close up shop on the learning and growing thing; this is only the beginning.

Shauna Niequist says it this way, “There is a season for wildness and a season for settledness, and this is neither. This season is about becoming.”

This may look like a million different things: going to graduate school, moving across the country, getting married, breaking up, starting over, staying put, acquiring lots of roommates, applying for scary jobs, and some just working and paying the bills with crappy jobs.

But hear this, friend: now is the season to hunt down a mentor, invite friends to speak honestly into your life, and start building relationships that will last. Now is most certainly the time to learn the hard truth about yourself, work hard, get counseling if you need it, read lots, and discover.

Now is the time to fail. And you know what’s really, really scary about failure? Failure doesn’t happen without risk. And risk doesn’t happen without putting yourself out there. So if you don’t get your dream job out of college, that’s all right. Not many people do. But invest yourself in your job, anyway … learn, anyway.

Here’s what’s really great: if you start developing those habits now, they will truly become second-nature to you as you keep growing. The most fascinating people I know are the ones whose kids are grown and out on their own and are still continuing in adventure. They’re still learning, reading, growing, changing, and evolving.

I hope when I’m nearing seventy, I can look back and say, “I never stopped growing.” I hope I learn something new about Jesus every year, and continue to change and adapt along the way. And for you, I hope and pray the same. I hope this journey is hard and beautiful for you. I hope you take great risks and learn the art of an apology. I pray you learn that humility is really the only characteristic that precedes growth, and that you can’t have one without the other. And most of all, I pray you that learn, anyway.

on working and mothering

Back in October, I was out to lunch with baby in tow when I overheard a conversation that usually makes me cringe. It was between two moms, and they were going back and forth about their other mom-friends, when one of them said, “It’s just sad to me that ________ doesn’t really get to spend time with her kids, you know… because she’s chosen to work and have someone else raise them.”

Oh, for the love.

I’ve been at this “working and mothering” thing for almost a year now, and I have big feelings about it. But before we get into my big feelings, I want to start by saying–hopefully with humility and grace–that this entire conversation is a privileged one. As human nature goes, we tend to insulate ourselves with people who look and talk like us, and forget that others live with many different realities. In 2012, only 64% of children lived in a home with two married parents. And of that 64%, quite a few lived beneath the poverty line. So, let’s start there.

Here’s my other disclaimer: I very much have an equal partner. When Kyle is out of town, it’s a felt loss. When he comes home from work, he picks Keegan up and spends time with him. Kyle does laundry, unloads the dishwasher, pays most our bills, and does almost all the outside work. I know that I am fortunate to have someone who is fully invested, and I do not take him for granted. He champions me, encourages me, and supports me. Let’s just admit it: without him, this conversation would look a lot different. I know that.

When we found out we were having Keegan, we began seeking advice and praying about how to tackle the working/mothering decision. If you haven’t caught on by now–I love advice, and sometimes to a fault I can’t make a decision without at least five people weighing in. So I asked many women, mostly those who were older than me, and they all had different responses with many contrasting circumstances. Some never entertained the question because their family couldn’t afford it. One couldn’t get a work visa because she wasn’t an American citizen, so the decision was made for her. Some worked part-time, in and out of the home, and some stayed home full-time or worked full-time. In every scenario, they were all mothers raising their children, regardless of logistics.

Three months after Keegan was born, I was given an amazing opportunity to do what I love with very flexible hours. And for us, it’s the perfect balance. I work part-time and our childcare situation is wonderful. I truly could not ask for a better person to watch our son while I’m working. And here’s my big conclusion: IT’S ALL GOOD. I believe every single mother should make the choice based on what is right for her family, her own unique makeup, and her family’s financial situation. We’re all sacrificing, and every woman’s decision will look different because she is different, and so is her family.

For some women, their dream includes the minivan with crushed up goldfish and that is beautiful and worthy and true. And for others, their dream might be that but their reality demands something else, so let’s encourage them instead of shame them. For others, they come alive doing all kinds of other things and you know what? That’s okay, too. That doesn’t take away from her motherhood. Let’s not shame one another because we’re living different stories. Isn’t there enough insecurity in parenting? Don’t we all wonder if we’re doing it right and if we should be doing something different or better or more? Is it just me? And mostly, why do we care?

I’m saying this because I sense that we’re all growing tired of this being an “either/or” conversation. We don’t need tribes on this one. We need life-giving conversations. So let’s champion one another. Let’s trade high heels and exchange yoga pants (well…) and share stories about the things our children do that make our hearts explode. And then can we put down the working/stay-at-home swords and replace them with laughter and solidarity? Let’s try that instead.

And yes, this is my call to go live in the clouds. I happen to like it up here.