Leadership

Only A Woman

Joy Williams recently released a song, “Woman (Oh Mama)”. It’s a tribute to womanhood and while I prefer her earlier music, there is a line in her new single that perfectly describes how I am feeling at this moment.

“I am The Universe wrapped in skin.”

The universe is full of mysteries that will never be solved. It is complex, containing great big wondrous creations and tiny intricate slivers of life. It is full of light and dark. The universe is in constant motion but contained in the stillness of space.

I am the universe.

I want to speak honestly here, but I confess that I am afraid. I am afraid of what you might think. I am afraid that I might seem weak. Still, I know I am not alone in the place where I kneel. I know there are others with the same aches, same questions. So it is with fear and trembling, yet with humility and strength that I let my heart bleed out into my words.

You see, this past week, leading up to Mother’s Day, my tiny world was flooded with questions of a woman’s place.

I preached a sermon, my first, this past Sunday and it went well. I believe that God spoke through me, that He used me to say things that my church family needs to hear. But, I grew up in a tradition, different than the one I find myself in now, that taught me that men are preachers and pastors and leaders of the church. Women lead women and children and never men. So I wrestle with my place at the pulpit even when I’m sure the words in my mouth are from The Father.

Two days prior to my inaugural sermon, I came across a post from someone I respect that reiterated what I’d learned in my youth about women taking the pulpit. Doubt flooded my mind and heart. And the questions wrapped around my throat. More than “What is my place?”, the questions were “Woman. Who am I?” With prayer, and knowing I stood also in the support of many Godly men and women, the waters of doubt subsided and I spoke in the authority of The Spirit on Sunday.

Still, I’d be lying if I said I am certain now of where I stand as a woman.

And it wasn’t only my own questions. I had conversations with two students last week about women in leadership. Women in marriage. Women in life. They came to me, with hearts laid open. Looking for wisdom. Asking for a sounding board. Offering the pearls formed by the questions turning over in their minds. And I told them what I know. And I told them what I think. And I told them what I wonder.

See, this place in history, in MY history as well as in our collective history, is tearing at the soul of woman. On one side, the quest for equality is being blamed for the fall of mankind. But on the other, the strength of woman is being lauded as the missing piece finally found. From one voice I respect, “why women should not preach” and from another, “why shouldn’t they?“.

And then there was this:

“As a man gets more powerful and successful, he is better liked. As a woman gets more powerful and successful, she is less liked.”

And that makes women fear growth. As a single woman, it feeds the fear that if I continue to follow my ambition, my desire to grow into the things God has wired into my soul, that I will outgrow the possibility of ever being desirable to a man. It’s a lie. It must be. Men surely cannot be so intimidated or turned off by a woman following her dreams that he can only imagine life with a woman who has done nothing but wait for him to show up.

And yet, that is the lie that is fed to us so often.

And here I find myself, wrestling with these questions, this place in history ripping holes in the universe of my soul. I do not yet fully grasp who I am as a woman. Who I am meant to be. Where I am to stand.

Here is what I know:

  • I delight in what God is doing with my days.
  • I cherish the opportunities He has given me to grow.
  • I desire to use whatever platform He gives to speak life.
  • I enjoy this season.
  • I ache for a new season.
  • I  love adventure and dream of someone to journey alongside.
  • I pray for students and friends whom I am privileged to nurture in the now.
  • I weep for the not-yet of my children whom I long to hear call me mama.

See, there are mysteries within me that will never be solved by anyone other than the Life-giver. There are within me great big wondrous creations and tiny intricate slivers of life. Both light and darkness fill my skin. I am constant motion contained in the stillness of the Maker’s hands. I am a woman.

On Becoming a Grown Up

The invention of the teenager was a mistake. Once you identify a period of life in which people get to stay out late but don’t have to pay taxes — naturally, no one wants to live any other way.
 –Judith Martin

Kids these days are so quick to grow up. I watch and listen to the choices they are making and the information they have stored in their brains and think, “Oh my gosh! Slow down!” And the things that they look to as “grown up” activities…well, let’s just say that many of those things haven’t been experienced by some adults. So what is the true rite of passage? How do you know when you have become an adult?

Great question. I’m not sure there is a generic answer that we can slap on every person. But, I’ve made a list of the defining moments in my life. The palpable moments when I thought, “Oh my gosh! I’m an adult!”

 


1. Writing that first paragraph.

I mean, honestly. I just typed the words “kids these days”.  If thoughts like that are so strong they are making it through my “cool” filter, I’m definitely not a youth any longer. My days of thinking, “Old people just don’t get me” are over. When I did have those thoughts, “old people” were 35 or beyond. I’m now incredibly near to being “old people”

2. Driving a van full of middle school kids on a mission trip.

   I was 23 years old, interning at a church in Austin, TX and they gave me the keys to a 12-passenger van. We loaded in and the kids frequently loaded up on Monster energy drinks and I was never more terrified to be behind the wheel. I was a 23 year old who was responsible for safely transporting the precious (combustable) cargo of other people’s pre-teens! By the grace of God, we made it safely to and from Arlington. Although, at one point, I informed them that I was cutting them off…no more energy drinks. At the next stop, they were allowed water. WAH-TER.

3. Apologizing to my parents for being an entitled brat.

I don’t remember exactly how old I was when I made this decision. It was in my later twenties. I just realized that I’d spent so much energy carrying around the boulders of how “unfair” life is. My brother and I have had plenty of “who’s the favorite kid” conversations. Naturally, we disagree on this topic. I am completely the older brother in the prodigal son story. “I did things right! Treat me better! Give me more! This is so unfair!” And one day, the Lord just pressed on that hard place in my heart until it cracked. I went to my parents house and apologized. It was strange bringing that to the light. But I knew it was right. It was taking responsibility. It was what a mature person would do. (Parents, hang in there. You may see a day like this down the road, too.)

4. I didn’t cry when I met with my boss.

    Y’all, I had this….um…issue(?) well into my twenties where anytime an authority figured wanted to discuss something with me, I automatically felt like a twelve year old. Really. I dreaded any conversation with a person of authority because I did not know how to handle feeling unheard or corrected. I went in expecting a lecture every time. Once I began to realize this unhealthy relationship I had to authority figures, I started asking begging The Lord for help. One day I knew I was going to have a meeting with my boss for my annual review. This boss in particular never seemed to hear me. (He made an declaration one day as though he had made a great discovery…I’d been telling him that exact thing for an entire year.) As I prepped myself for our meeting that day, I just kept telling the Lord that I wanted to be able to communicate clearly and maturely in our meeting. After we wrapped up, I walked back to my office with a title bounce in my step as I celebrated not having shed a tear. Progress, y’all.

5. I quit my job in obedience.

We all have those jobs that are training jobs. The jobs that we never would choose but God uses to shape us. I had that job for much longer than I’d have liked, and while I learned much about being responsible there, there came a day when I just did not think I could last another moment. I actually left work one day and wept with the Lord the entire way home telling Him that I didn’t like myself when I was at work and that I couldn’t do that job any longer. His response, whispered to my aching soul was , “Then quit.” Quit?! He hadn’t given me another job! It’s irresponsible to walk away from benefits and a paycheck with nothing lined up. I couldn’t quit. But over and over the Lord would ask, “Do you trust me? Then quit.” So I did. I was nervous but felt so much peace once I moved in obedience. And of course, He provided. But in trusting Him enough to know He would take care of me even if I didn’t have income for awhile, was evidence that my faith had matured. I was an adult.

6. I found a job doing what I was made to do.

Living in your calling, is a completely different feeling of being grown up. In some things, you feel like an adult because you are doing things out of necessity and obedience even though you would just really rather not. But, when you get to live in the job that God has wired you to do, you feel like an adult because the pieces of your heart don’t feel severed. They seem to come together in a way that is brand new. You feel a little more whole than before. And that is where I am now. Oh, don’t get me wrong, living in the career I’ve dreamed of since my teens is not easy. In fact, youth ministry is probably the most difficult thing I’ve ever done. However, I feel most like myself here. And in feeling authentically me is a very grown up thing.


What were the moments for you? When did you find yourself looking around at your life, realizing you had grown up? 

Celebrate!

In this post we touched on the idea of writing down the victories for the days that criticism buries us alive. In the days since, that idea has been percolating in my heart. Here’s why…

As we acknowledged in the aforementioned post, there is no shortage of criticism. The fount of those who point out our failures (real or perceived) is ever flowing with boundless opportunities to practice self-control while the fount of those who have come to thank you for your hard work is an intermittent drip from the faucet. If I had to guess, most of us, if asked, would be able to list 15 ways we’ve been discouraged this week, 15 negative words spoken to us,15 areas where we aren’t seeing results. But how many of us could list even 3 victories we’ve had in the last month, much less this week?

In my typical approach to life, I would be in the camp of those who could easily tell you my faults, places I’m failing at work, at life. And most of that would be based on how I perceive how others perceive me. My natural bent, my factory setting, is to not be satisfied with anything less than something better than this. There’s a problem there, because “this” is always changing. Even if “this” is a million times more effective and successful today than it was a year ago, I am still not satisfied. And if the critics are louder than the supporters (which is usually the case), I take out the magnifying glass and find the errors. We, most of us, human beings as a creature, are fixated with improvement.

Don’t misunderstand me. Improvement is a great thing. Working toward better physical health, deeper relationships, increased effectiveness is an honorable and necessary endeavor. However, when we constantly are striving for better than “this”, without stopping to check in, we may just be killing our effectiveness unknowingly.

Consider Orthorexia Nervosa. No, it’s not a spell from the wizarding world of Harry Potter. It is an unofficial (for now at least) eating disorder. What starts out as a desire to make wise choices in one’s diet, turns into a fixation on the quality, quantity, and purity of food. According to Dr. Karin Katrina, for those who struggle with this obsession, any failure to stick to the rules, any moment of bending to temptation, leads to self-punishment. And this…THIS is what really gets me about this disorder….

“Eventually food choices become so restrictive, in both variety and calories, that health suffers – an ironic twist for a person so completely dedicated to healthy eating.  Eventually, the obsession with healthy eating can crowd out other activities and interests, impair relationships, and become physically dangerous.”

Eventually, the desire to improve oneself, to be healthier, make wiser choices, without stopping to assess what is and isn’t working, what progress has been made, actually becomes more harmful than helpful. Telling, isn’t it?

Just like we need regular physicals, or dental cleanings (which we all know means appointment for dental judgment), we need to have those moments in every aspect of our work and personal lives as well. And while those check-ups serve to bring to light the areas where we still need work, they should also serve to point out what is going well. And unlike physicals and dental visits, these check-ups need to happen often. Daily even.

So, I’ve been trying to make it a point to celebrate the victories. They may be small. They may not seem like victories to anyone else but me. There may even be some who would tell me my victories are actually failures. But with all respect, and rarely out loud in real life, I tell them they are wrong and they don’t get to define victory for me. Much like the medical world may tell a woman who is 5’3 that the goal waist measurement is 25 inches. And women everywhere answer back with a resounding “HA!” and begin to define healthy goals as something besides inches and pounds. Experts have all sorts of ways to measure our lives. But you are an expert in you. You know what success is for you. You know what is cause to celebrate.

Here’s what I’ve been celebrating lately:

  • Students trusting me enough to tell me they don’t believe in Jesus or sharing their pain and mistakes with me
  • Parents knowing that they can call me and will be heard, and even asking me for advice about parenting even though I don’t have kids of my own
  • Ten first time participants in our High School mission trip
  • Seven 5th-7th graders going on their very first overnight mission trip
  • Being brave enough to say yes to some scary opportunities
  • Taking a class that is life-giving and discovering ways to put to use what I’m learning
  • Losing 12 pounds
  • Not having a soda in 25 days
  • Finding the floor of my closet

Some of those may seem silly. In your life, maybe it’s no big deal. But in mine, those little victories deserve a party. And so I’m breaking out the confetti!

What are you celebrating these days? If you don’t think you have reason to throw a little party, just slow down long enough for a check-up. Great things are being accomplished. Don’t miss them.

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Photo by Amanda Tipton (No changes have been made to the photograph)