Woman: Rejected, Reborn Again

Almost a year ago, Rachel Held Evans passed away suddenly. On June 1, 2019, I watched the livestream of her funeral while sitting in my favorite chair with Polly snuggled up next to me, and I bawled my head off. While grappling with my faith and frustration with hypocrisy and double standards woven in and through the American evangelical church, her words had been carrying me. And though I had never met her, Rachel helped me dispel many untruths I’d learned as a child and adolescent, untruths that held my heart and spirit hostage for years.

When I was in high school, I began to see talents and gifts of mine stirring under the surface, pushing their way up through the fresh soil of my youthful self. But because of the church community in which I grew up, these gifts were limited, apparently, because I was not a man. I could teach, but only to girls. I could be on stage during worship services but only to sing, not pray or read scripture or preach unless the room was only full of women or kids in elementary school. All because I was female and not male.

The message all of this communicated to me was: you are missing this very important thing that you have no control over (being a man) that would make you qualified to do the work you think you’re being called to do. And because you are missing this thing, you’re going to have to find some other calling. In fact, since God says women shouldn’t do those things, this calling couldn’t have been given to you by God. So it’s probably something that you’ve misinterpreted or misunderstood, or worse, have conjured up all on your own because you want attention.

Some of these things were actually said to me, but most of them were simply implied in our church culture. Or said in my presence about other women by well-meaning church members and leaders.

To be clear, my parents always encouraged me to pursue my gifts. They were some of my biggest supporters (and still are). From gifting me a brief internship with missionaries in the Dominican Republic for my sixteenth birthday to advocating for me when a local church leader tried to undermine my standing in the church because I was pursuing a divorce from my then-husband, my parents have walked with me through this life so faithfully. But the culture we grow up in can be so suffocating, and in my case, the message from our church culture in my youth stomped out any truth my parents spoke to me during these years.

I stumbled through the rest of high school in a bit of a haze, feeling unseen by the people I loved and trusted, seeking solace in things like relationships with cute boys and unhealthy amounts of exercise and obsession over food, either depriving myself or indulging myself depending on the day. And in all of it, what was lost the most was the love I felt from God. Because not only had my church rejected my gifts but so had God. And in rejecting my gifts, hadn’t he rejected me, too?

From that time on, I’ve been walking with a limp. Not only did I feel rejected by my Creator and my church community, the people our lives were centered on, but I also started doubting my intuition. I questioned my ability to see and know myself. I questioned my ability to hear from God at all. I felt so stupid for getting it so wrong.

Looking back, what enrages me most about this is that I never considered that maybe the church had gotten it wrong, not me. And it wasn’t until I stumbled upon Rachel Held Evans’s blog a few years ago that I even entertained this notion.

The first essay of hers I ever read was “Confessions of an accidental feminist.” What started with an attitude of skepticism (because how could a Christian also be a feminist?) shifted to dumbfoundedness and then relief and then open weeping.

Evans’s perspective and her truth-telling about who Jesus is and how he treated women contrasted with what my church upbringing taught me about women gave me the permission I needed to start asking some pretty big damn questions. Not just about my religious experiences in childhood but also about who I am as a beloved woman in the eyes of God and about how God sees all of us.

The optimist in me would like to wrap up this whole recounting and reflection with a neat little bow. But that’s just not real life. Eight years later, I am still walking with a limp. But the more I read the Scriptures, and the more I surround myself with wisdom and insight from people who don’t align themselves with the complementarian beliefs my childhood was steeped in, the closer I am drawn to the heart of God and find peace in seeing who he has created me to be. In a way, it’s been a sort of second rebirth for me.

And you know what? I think that all of those years ago, when I felt God nudging me to be a truth-teller about his love, to teach about his mercy and unending lovingkindness and acceptance of “the other,” I think that I didn’t get it wrong after all. Thanks be to God.

Lament as a Gift

I cry out to you, O Lord; I say, “You are my refuge, my portion in the land of the living.” Be my strong rock, a castle to keep me safe; you are my crag and my stronghold. O Lord, I cry to you for help; in the morning my prayer comes before you.

Psalm 142:5, 71:3, 88:14

I don’t remember a time when I didn’t know the Easter story. Of the nails and the blood and the torn flesh and the cross. Good Friday.

I’ve never liked the phrase, honestly. An upside-down way to describe the pain and grief and despair of this day. Even as a child, I felt twisted up inside when people in church would call the day of Jesus’s crucifixion “Good Friday.” I mean, I understood the reasoning and all. And still do. But it felt – and still feels – dishonest to me.

Several years ago, a relationship in which I had put a gut-wrenching amount of effort and hope came crashing down around me. It was the first time in my adult life that I experienced the sort of grief that cuts right through your skin and muscle to the bone. I remember waking up the next morning, face so puffy from bawling myself to sleep I didn’t even recognize myself in the bedroom mirror. And I remember wondering how a person could survive feeling an emotional pain so deep and overwhelming, an agony of the heart that seeped into every inch of my physical body. Just getting out of bed and walking down the hall to brew coffee felt impossible.

I didn’t know that heartbreak could feel like that. But I know now.

I think Christians don’t spend enough time in this place. The dark of pain.

We wave our palm leaves on palm Sunday and shout (or whisper) “Hosanna!” to celebrate Jesus coming into Jerusalem. We talk about Good Friday and the excruciating experience that must have been for Jesus’s family and followers. And then we jump right into Resurrection Sunday to celebrate life rising from death.

NT Wright recently published an essay on the value of lament in the Christian life. He says, “Lament is what happens when people ask ‘Why?’ and don’t get an answer.” It’s a feeling that God himself feels.

And yet in the face of devastating loss and pain, we Christians are at the ready, armed with silver paint to line the darkness. Instead of sitting in the grief of the world, of our own hearts, and letting God meet us there.

O God, you sent Christ Jesus to be my shepherd and the lamb of sacrifice. Help me to embrace the sorrow of loss, the mystery of salvation, the promise of life rising out of death. Help me to hear the call of Christ and give me courage to follow it. 

Adapted from People’s Companion to the Breviary, Vol. 11

 

Word of the Year 2017 | Assured

Looking back on 2016, it seems like I feel heartache and unspeakable joy all in the same moments. The year holds many beautiful experiences… Charlie proposing to me under the fireworks on the 4th of July, our wedding, surprising the boys with a waterfall tour through Tennessee, a new job with supportive and encouraging faculty and administrators, and many everyday moments that were so special they literally took my breath away.

But 2016 also holds a lot of pain… Charlie’s Crohn’s diagnosis, surgeries, and treatments turned our lives upside down this spring. We are still wading through the grief and uncertainty that comes with the diagnosis of any disease that has no cure. I have watched people I love suffer unimaginable loss this year – infertility, unemployment, failed relationships, deaths of loved ones, fear of those in authority in our country, and on and on. On a personal level, the hate and bigotry and misogyny and prejudice that I have seen more publicly declared and displayed in our nation this year has left me feeling broken-hearted and completely incensed.

When I think about the upcoming year, I’m not looking through the same rose-tinted lenses that I usually do around the end of December. I am honestly afraid of what sort of unrest and disunity President-elect Trump will cultivate in our country. I am fearful of the pain and suffering that Charlie could experience with his illness. My sons are entering the pre-teen years, and that brings with it myriad challenges that I feel ill-equipped to face. So instead of walking into a new year with lots of hope and promise, I feel like I am already stumbling into January with a burdensome, trembling load.

As I considered what word I need to guide my heart this year, I ran through lots of possibilities. But as always, when I stumbled upon one, it seemed to fall right into place: assured. 

Adjective. 1. Guaranteed; sure; certain. 2. Bold; confident.

The truth is that there is a lot in our lives that is uncertain, that is not guaranteed. For a planner like me, that stirs up a lot of anxiety and frustration. This year, I want to learn how to rest in the things that are sure and certain – the faithfulness of my family, the gifts that I have been graciously given, and the love and trustworthiness of God himself. When I start to wring my hands in fear of the unknown, I want to learn even more how to lean into that fear and wrestle with it instead of shutting it out or trying to sweep it under the rug. And I want to be able to pour into others who are feeling fearful or anxious about the future, too. This life is a gift. I don’t want to miss out on the beauty because I’m so focused on the what-ifs and the trials I know are sure to come. If I can rest assured in the things I know to be true about God and His love for me, then I can face whatever comes with a thankful heart. That is my prayer, not only for 2017 but for all the years that God sees fit to give me.