Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Worth Reading Wednesday: On Friendship

Last year around this time, I became aware of something called the Sacred Friendship Gathering, because my friend Katie Driver was speaking at it.  The Sacred Friendship Gathering seeks to affirm friendships between men and women.  The SFG believes that healthy friendships between men and women help accomplish:
  • promoting understanding
  • demystifying the opposite sex
  • desexualizing interactions between men and women
  • overcoming sexism in our churches and communities
  • helping us tap into our deep longing to reflect the image of God
  • helping us enter into the deep unity and communion God desires
Friendships, whether same-sex or opposite-sex, can be hard no matter what.  We often call people friends when they really are just acquaintances.  In general, there is often a lack of intimacy and trust with people (this is especially true, if like me, you have moved around a lot and have to start over making friends each time).  There are a lot of questions about who can and cannot be friends.  Should men and women be friend?  Should an employer and employee be friends?  Should a pastor and congregants be friends?  (For the record, I think anyone can be friends with anyone else).

Here are a few articles about whether or not pastors should be friends with people in the congregation.  The first article says no, while the others are a response to it and say yes.

"Pastor, Not Friend" by M. Craig Barnes

"Pastor AND Friend" by Landon Whitsitt

What do you think?  What boundaries, if any, should friendships have?  Are there any people who should never be friends?  What about these articles in particular?  Should a pastor be friends with her congregation?  If  not, who should her friends be?

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Is Forgiveness Conditional?

Photo Credit:
I had planned to do a long series on forgiveness during Lent, but am only getting started on it now--and I'm not sure how many posts- it will be.  I hope you will forgive me.  Ironically, one person who I know was excited about this series gave up social media for Lent, so she probably won't even see the posts.

Forgiveness is a key word or concept in Christianity.  Ask almost any Christian and he or she will tell you that because of Jesus' death on the cross, our sins are forgiven.  God forgives  me.  Jesus forgives me.  I am forgiven.  But what do you notice about those phrases?  They are all about me, me, me.

Is that the way it is supposed to be?  Is it really all about me being forgiven?

Because I grew up in church, and grew up in churches that said the Lord's Prayer weekly.  This is the version that is embedded in me.

Our Father, Who art in heaven
Hallowed be Thy Name;
Thy kingdom come,
Thy will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread,
and forgive us our trespasses,
as we forgive those who trespass against us;
and lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from evil. Amen.

The prayer can be found in Jesus' "Sermon on the Mount" in Matthew 6:9-13.  In this sermon, Jesus lays out the type of life his followers are supposed to live in the Kingdom that he is bringing.  Look at the two lines that I highlighted.  Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.  In this prayer, we are praying about forgiveness in such a way that it is not just about any of us as individuals.  It is about how we forgive others.  And look what it says afterwards, in verses 14-15:
For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you; but if you do not forgive others, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses. 
And, not only should we think about how we individually forgive others, but if we realize that Jesus is talking to a group of people, we also should ask ourselves how we forgive others as a group.  Do Christians as a group forgive non-Christians for what we may deem offensive?  Or do we fight against any and every offense?

I'm not sure I can remember hearing any Christians talk about our forgiveness being conditional.  In fact, usually what we hear is how unconditional it is.

So what do we do with some verses that say just the opposite?

According to N.T. Wright in his commentary Matthew For Everyone, what this is saying is that "The heart that will not open to forgive others will remain closed when God's own forgiveness is offered" (page 60).  In other words, in order for us to understand and accept God's forgiveness, we must practice it too.  And that means getting hurt.  That means getting offended.  That means we must pick up those broken pieces of pain and hurt and anger and turn them around.  We must live as kingdom people, forgiving others who hurt us individually or a group, whether or not they ask for it.

Do you have someone that you need to forgive?  What steps can you take today to start this process of forgiveness and healing?

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Worth Reading Wednesday...on Thursday: the Sovereignty of God

For today--er--yesterday's edition of "Worth Reading Wednesday", I want to highlight a series that Ed Cyzewski did on the topic of God's sovereignty.

We all wonder what elements of life that God does or does not control, what God chooses to do and what God allows us to choose to do.  Ed walks us through some of the issues and questions.

Did God Do That?  Announcing a New Series

Did God intend for me to write this blog post?  I’m not so sure about that, and that partially is what this new series is all about.  Christians have a habit of saying things like:

  • “It was all just God’s timing…”
  • “This is his plan, not mine…”
  • “It just wasn’t God’s will…”

While there are points in my life where I genuinely sensed that God was intervening in my life in order to lead me in a particular direction, there have been plenty of times when I’ve also figured that, simply by default, God must be up to something.

My question is this: what if we’re attributing the wrong things to God?

The other posts in the series are as follows:

Did God Do That?  Calvinism Is Not the Problem.
Did God Do That?  How Do We Pray and Make Decisions?
Did God Do That?  A God Who Controls the Future--Sometimes
Did God Do That?  Why Jesus Told Us to Pray
Did God Do That?  Why We Can't Systematize God
Did God Do That?  Why It's Hard to Write About God's Sovereignty
Did God Do That?  When You Choose the Wrong Path
Did God Do That?  What I Didn't Understand About God
Did God Do That?  How to Make Big Decisions With a Sovereign God

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Split Personalities

I didn't get today's planned posts written, much less posted, so here's something off the top of my head.

About a year ago, I created a secondary Facebook account so I could join a blogging challenge group because I didn't want to do it under the account I'd already had, for various reasons.  At this time I also created a fan page for myself but never published it.

Today, that changed.  I am in the process of switching friendships to my first account and letting everyone know about the now-published fan page.  Lately, I've been realizing that I've enjoyed interacting with many of the people I have met through writing, blogs, and Twitter.  But I felt as though I was living in two different worlds.  One world was with people I know in "real life" and the other was with people I've met online.  Yet, some of my online friends are better friends than some of the people I know in real life.  I didn't always share the same things on both accounts and so both sets of people probably weren't really getting to know the real me.  It was getting complicated.

To me, this felt insincere and inauthentic (especially since most of the people I was interacting with were using their real accounts), and because in Christianity we talk a lot about authenticity and building relationships, I wanted to change how I was using Facebook.  I didn't want to have separate identities anymore and instead allow myself to build friendships with people based on who I really am.  While I still am not the type to share everything with everyone, this is a step in the right direction.

So, if you'd like to "like" my brand-new Facebook page, please do so here:

Kelly J Youngblood, Writer

Promote Your Page Too

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Book/DVD Curriculum Review: Chase by Jennie Allen

I received a free copy of this study after being contacted by a publicist, for the purposes of this review.  All opinions expressed are my own.

Overall, I think many women will enjoy this study, Chase, by Jennie Allen.  Using the life of David as well as a variety of scripture from the New Testament, Allen leads people into exploring their identities by looking into their hearts.

The study is seven lessons that can be used in small or large groups, and there are different tools available (the video, the conversation cards) to allow the study be flexible.

Leader's Guide
The Leader's Guide is easy to understand and follow.  There is a repeated emphasis on the leader needing to be open, authentic, and vulnerable.  If this is difficult for a person, my recommendation would be for the leader(s) to do the study with each other ahead of time to feel more comfortable.  (One sidenote I must make is that on page 20, Allen contrasts "shyness" with being extroverted.  Being introverted and being shy are not the same thing).

Participant's Guide
The Participant's Guide is also easy to follow.  It is set up in sections:
  • short story/essay by the author
  • reading and questions of a portion of scripture from 1 & 2 Samuel
  • other verses and more personal questions
  • a "project" that could involve journaling or drawing
  • conclusion, with more questions
The video sessions are of an adequate length and Allen is engaging.  She comes across as passionate and--as she encourages people to be in the Leader's Guide--transparent and authentic.  For example, in the first, on identity, Allen uses the image of a small town in Texas that has its own distinct identity to introduce the topic; I thought that was well-done.

Conversation Cards
I didn't look too much at the conversation cards.  They seemed a little gimmicky and unnecessary to me as there are so many questions in the Participant's Guide.

Overall Impressions
I think that many people could benefit from this study.  There is enough of  a balance between learning about David's life with applying it to our own, and I love how the author used Psalms in each of the lessons.  Jennie Allen has a heart for God and for sharing this heart with others.

I'm torn about calling this a study about David, because really it is a study about our own hearts, using David as an example.  This is common in studies that are geared toward life application, though and that's what most Christian: "Bible Studies" are designed to do:  tell us how it applies to our own lives .

While I found places where I think Jennie Allen and I disagree theologically, I don't think they were anything that would make me advise anyone against doing the study, and are more likely to be points of conversation that people could have different opinions about.   There were a couple of places where it seemed as if the study guide wanted people to come up with specific/concrete answers but where I personally don't think that is necessarily feasible.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Demanding Grace Without Giving It

We Demand Grace and Understanding, But Do We Give It?

Yesterday, I tweeted this:  "We so often want people to understand and see our point of view, but do we do the same for them?"  I recently wrote some thoughts about "the other", in which I said this:
What can we do?  How can we lovingly help open the eyes of others who don't know what they cannot see?  How can we do that for ourselves?  We want people to look at "the other", the people they don't know, or don't care to know, the people they write off because they disagree with their religious beliefs or their lifestyle  or their political positions or any reason at all.  But do we do it ourselves?  Can I look at a hatred-filled fundamentalist, see him or her as "the other", and then turn it back on myself and look at myself through that person's eyes?
That's very hard to do when we think we've got everything all figured out.  And we do think that, don't we?  I know I often do.  When I think about how much I have learned and studied and I am with people who have not learned what I have, who do not know what I know, I can inwardly feel a bit snobby about that.

But then I remember that there are a lot of people who know a lot more than I do, and my pride recedes.  But unfortunately, I see a lot of pride in a lot of Christians.  I think that while many of us believe that faith is a journey, and while we want others to understand that, we forget that they are on a journey too, and their journey is not the same as ours.  It is as if once we've "arrived" we want everyone else to hurry up and get there too.  How can we in good conscience do that?  How can we demand of others what we do not want demanded from ourselves?  If faith is a journey, then shouldn't we give grace to those who are not at the same spot as us?

If a topic has been discussed for some time, and a person enters the conversation with some new-to-them thoughts, and perhaps an audience who hasn't yet thought or discussed the topic, then shouldn't that person be encouraged and welcomed, not belittled and put down and treated as if he or she is stupid?

Conversations do not always have to be battles fought, and it seems to me that too often, it is a battle.  Educating others on issues that we have come to be knowledgeable about is a great thing, however, sometimes it is not done in a loving way.  Just because we may be correct does not mean we have to be arrogant about it.  If we do that, then are we not becoming that which we find abhorrent in others?

People watch how we treat each other.  And sadly, too often, we treat our fellow Christians badly, no matter which side of which issue we find ourselves taking.  We are failing in the new commandment.
"I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.  By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another." --John 13:34-35
In this article from Christianity Today, "The Westboro Baptist in All of Us", Marlena Graves writes:
There's no doubt that some of us evangelicals do have a penchant for bludgeoning those Christians unlike us; we zealously use godless means to accomplish what we believe to be God's ends. We fail to realize that God cares about the means we use just as much as he cares about the ends. 
Even though Ms. Graves specifies evangelicals, I would suggest that Christians of all categories do this.  I've seen it on blogs, Twitter, and Facebook.  We talk a good deal about brokenness, healing, redemption, grace.  We open up with our personal stories.  And then we expect others to conform to our stories.  We want people to see their own pride and judgmental-ism, but we can't see our own.  We pick apart and find fault with so much, forgetting that these are real people, broken, and so are we.

I see a lot of blogs, Facebook posts, and tweets that give me much to ponder.  At the same time, though, I feel disappointment when I notice when what is said appears to be done in a manner that often can come across as self-righteous.  And you know what?  I recognize it because I've done it.  I remember a number of years ago when I would participate in online discussions and feel very proud of how I wrote out my points and my arguments.  While I would likely still stand by the content of what I wrote back then, I don't think it was necessarily done in the right manner.

All of us need to be mindful of how we present ourselves (and I am sure I fall short at times too).  As a Christian, I try to stay keenly aware that my writing represents not only myself, but is how I represent Jesus, too.  I think Paul's words to the Galatians are appropriate here, in learning how to navigate this very public world in which we live:
By contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness,  gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against such things.  And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.   If we live by the Spirit, let us also be guided by the Spirit.      --Galatians 5:22-25  
As Christians, I think we need to take seriously our call to be guided by the Spirit.  While this will not look exactly the same for everyone,  we can always ask if our words and actions are bearing this type of fruit.  If they are, wonderful.  If they are not, then, our God is a God of second (and more) chances, making us new and whole and beautiful.

May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.--Romans 15:13

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Worth Reading Wednesday: Ash Wednesday 2013 Edition (and a linkup opportunity)

I'm pretty sure I attended Ash Wednesday services a lot growing up, but as an adult, it's been pretty sporadic.  Some churches I have attended do not do a service, other times, if they did, I probably just didn't go.  I still like the posts I wrote about Ash Wednesday back in 2006, though, so I am sharing them with you again this year (I linked to them last year on Ash Wednesday too).

Ash Wednesday Part I
I've never really felt a connection to this season. I have some memories of not being able to eat meat on Fridays when I was a kid, and I probably gave something up, but nothing really sticks out to me.

Ash Wednesday Part II
It was a solemn occassion. The lights had been dimmed, and a candelabra with three candles was lit. Tiny glasses of grape juice were lined up on the altar rail; communion bread on small plates placed every so often. 

Ash Wednesday Part III
It's easy to go through daily life forgetting about faith. It is easy to go through daily life without a distinction of who we are. But today is different. Today we are reminded of who we are when we are told there's dirt on our face, or people look at us in a funny way when we go to the store, or we simply look in the mirror.

Resources for Lent
Clothed in God's Grace:  Lenten Devotional from Luther Seminary
Lent & Easter Devotional from Ann Voskamp
A Better Atonement by Tony Jones (haven't read it, but it looks interesting, and I hear it's free today).

Have you written something, or read something good about Ash Wednesday?  Enter the link below, so others can benefit and learn too.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Who Is "The Other" to You? Are You "The Other"?

Back in November, I participated in a conference in which philosopher Peter Rollins was one of the keynote speakers.  I won't say it was easy to understand, because it wasn't (and even my notes confuse me), but there were a few things that I continue to keep in the back of my mind.  Here's a video of Rollins, Kester Brewins, and Barry Taylor speaking at Fuller Seminary on the same topic.

In both the talk I heard and in this video, Rollins speaks at one point of "the other".  In the talk I heard, during the Q & A Session, he said that we see "the other" as strange and monstrous but we need to see ourselves through their eyes, and in doing that, we see ourselves as strange and monstrous.

Too often, we exist in our own bubbles and don't ever really meet or get to know anyone who is very different from us.  Sure, we might have some disagreements in church about what kind of music to play or how to take communion or do baptism, but overall, we're pretty homogeneous, or at least, my various communities have been.  Most people I know are some sort of Protestant Christians.  Most people I know are white.  There is only one time I distinctly remember being "the other" as a minority.  We were spending the weekend in Indianapolis, and opened up a phone book to find a church.  We found one not far from our hotel that was part of a denomination with which were familiar, so we went.

And we were the only white people there.  And it was a church that had new people stand up and introduce themselves.  Everyone was great, though, friendly and welcoming.  I didn't get any vibe of "you don't belong here" or "what are you doing here?"  It was uncomfortable in the sense that I just knew that I was in a brand new place, I was a minority, and I didn't know what people were thinking of me.  I don't really know what they thought--but to their eyes, my presence there was most likely strange.

I was "the other", yet I rarely think about being "the other".  I'm not sure who "the other" is to me, personally.  I live in a largely white area, but there's a sizable Hispanic population, and I know to some people here, they are "the other".  From comments I've heard, or conversations I have had, they are not on equal footing in the eyes of some of the majority, and that is sad.

Sometimes, "the other" is subtle.  In "Here I Stand--A Feminist", Caris Adel writes about ways in which she feels as if she does not belong, secrets about herself she keeps, ways in which she is "the other", because people will not understand, or seek to try to understand.
"And so why would I reveal something that is so meaningful – so essential – to who I am, to people that don’t take an interest in who I am?   And it’s not that I want them to agree with me (although that’s always fun).  It’s that they don’t seem open to discussion.  They dismiss and write off what they don’t understand.  They don’t seem to realize that not everyone sees the world the same way.  They seem to think there is only one good way to love Jesus."
What can we do?  How can we lovingly help open the eyes of others who don't know what they cannot see?  How can we do that for ourselves?  We want people to look at "the other", the people they don't know, or don't care to know, the people they write off because they disagree with their religious beliefs or their lifestyle  or their political positions or any reason at all.  But do we do it ourselves?  Can I look at a hatred-filled fundamentalist, see him or her as "the other", and then turn it back on myself and look at myself through that person's eyes?  What would I see?  What would I see to look at myself through the eyes of an atheist?

There are two sections of scripture that have come to my mind as I typed that last paragraph.  The first, from Matthew, chapter 7
"Do not judge, so that you may not be judged.   For with the judgment you make you will be judged, and the measure you give will be the measure you get.   Why do you see the speck in your neighbor's eye, but do not notice the log in your own eye?   Or how can you say to your neighbor, 'Let me take the speck out of your eye,' while the log is in your own eye?   You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your neighbor's eye. (verses 1-5).
The second, from Philippians, chapter 2:
Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves.  Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others.   Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus,   who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited,   but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form,  he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death-- even death on a cross. (verses 3-8)
When it comes to "the other", do we humble ourselves, putting ourselves last and putting them and their interests first?  Do we judge them for whatever it is that makes them "the other" in our own eyes without taking a deep look into our own hearts and souls?  Are we so ready to be right about having our faith or our theology or our life figured out that we look with arrogance and disdain on those who do not believe or act just like us?

We all have "the other" in our lives.  We all are "the other" to someone else.  Think about it.  Think about the people most different from you, and look at yourself with their eyes.  Maybe then, we'll all be able to look at each other with more understanding, compassion, and love.

Celebration of Discipline: An Experiment

I'll be writing on the second Tuesday every month over at Soul Munchies.  Today's post was an introduction to the series I will be doing:  going through Richard J. Foster's book Celebration of Discipline.  Each month I'll be practicing one of the spiritual disciplines in his book.  To see what they are and read the intro, please visit Soul Munchies.

Update JUne 2013: Due to Soul Munchies being on hiatus, the post has been moved here.

I'm excited to be posting regularly here at Soul Munchies and getting to know all of you.  I'll be posting on the second Tuesday of each month and I'm going to stick to the same topic:  Spiritual Disciplines.  My guidebook for this will be Richard J. Fosters Celebration of Discipline (so if you want to get yourself a copy, go ahead).  I first read Foster's book during a seminary class ("Vocation of Ministry", if I remember correctly) and while I liked the book and liked practicing the disciplines with a friend, once the class and assignment was over, practicing them just kind of faded away.  When Crystal and I were talking about this she said "it's hard. i think that's why they are called "Disciplines"".  Touche.  

I'm not sure how these disciplines will all play out--if I'll just focus on only one per month or if I will keep adding one each month; I haven't really decided yet.  I can guarantee you that I'll fail at keeping them, no matter which way I do it.  

Foster has three different types of disciplines in his book:  Inward, Outward, and Corporate.  

The Inward Disciplines are:
  • meditation
  • prayer
  • fasting
  • study
The Outward Disciplines are:
  • simplicity
  • solitude
  • submission
  • service
The Corporate Disciplines are:
  • confession
  • worship
  • guidance
  • celebration
I can tell you right now that the one I am drawn to the most is study (because I love to study) and the one I am drawn to the least is prayer (because I stink at it).  

And, so, on to "meditation".  Foster writes that "Christian meditation, very simply, is the ability to hear God's voice and obey his word.  it is that simple" (page 17).  He further explains that "Eastern meditation is an attempt to empty the mind; Christian meditation is an attempt to fill the mind" (page 20).  

This will be a huge challenge for me, because in order to practice meditation, to have some inward silence, I will have to find a time when there is also outward silence. I have two boys.  Two young boys.  Boys who are loud all the time.  Right now, as I write this, they are both in bed (this is unusual) and my husband is traveling, and so the only sounds I hear are the sounds of silence broken by the gonging of the clock on the wall (and the train going by periodically).  It is beautiful and lovely and I appreciate it so much.  I feel relaxed and am trying to use it to focus and not just to fall asleep.  Foster writes that "if we are constantly being swept off our feet with frantic activity, we will be unable to be attentive at the moment of inward silence.  A mind that is harassed and fragmented by external affairs is hardly prepared for meditation" (27).

And so, with that, I leave you so that I can try to figure out how to start meditating.  I have the silence, and my mind doesn't feel as frantic and fragmented as normal.  I'll be back next month to talk about my meditation experience and to get ready for the discipline of prayer.  Won't you join me?

For God alone my soul waits in silence, for my hope is from him. --Psalm 62:5

Thursday, February 07, 2013

Feminism and the Stay-at-Home Mom: My Story (and a linkup opportunity)

Edit:  this the post that explains why I am doing this linkup.
Edit:  February 15, 2013 article from Christianity Today on work-at-home-moms that fits in nicely with this topic.

I remember a time when I was attending a new church.  After the service was over, I was having a conversation with another woman who asked me a question that flustered me.  She asked, "do you work outside the home?"  I was confused because this woman knew my husband and I did not have children yet.  I remember thinking "Did she really just ask me that?  Why wouldn't I work outside the home?"  I wondered if married women without children who stayed home was more common than I'd thought (as in I thought it probably didn't exist).  

I don't read a lot on the topic of feminism and all of its nuances.  I don't claim to be an expert--or even that knowledgeable--on feminist theory or theology.  I bought a book called Evangelical Feminism a couple of years ago, but it's one of the many books I have that I have not yet read.  The one semester I spent at a Catholic college, I took a class in Women's Studies.  I remember finding it interesting, but I honestly don't remember anything specific from it; it was a long time ago, and since then I've moved around the country multiple times and have had two children.  That's plenty to make my memory not function so well.  However, I do consider myself to be a feminist because I believe that women are people and deserve equality; I have always thought this.  I think women should pursue any career they find they are interested in and for which they are qualified.  I don't believe they must fit themselves into traditional roles just because that could be what is expected of them.

This seems that it might somewhat contradict my actual life, because for now, I've chosen to be a stay-at-home mom/homemaker.  I cook, clean (er, well, I guess that is somewhat debatable), and take care of the kids.  I've been doing this for five and a half years, although during part of this time I did have a part-time job at a college as the Campus Ministry Coordinator at the college in our last town.  The kids take priority, though, which has meant having other people cover for me when I couldn't make it to chapel to lead services, or taking my almost-one-year old (at the time) on our spring break mission trip.  Talk about people being full of grace--he got sick while we were there and they helped clean up after him.  I even had to stay behind one day and take care of him while everyone else went to the work site (on the days I went, my sister-in-law, who lived in that city, picked him up and took care of him, but I didn't want to get her kids sick too).  It was one of those many times where two callings collided and I had to choose one of them.  

I believe that my children are my responsibility to take care of, especially when they are young.  I can't stand the idea of dropping them off at daycare in order for me to work a full-time job (please note:  this is what is best for our family; I am not making judgments on anyone else's situation).  I love when we can snuggle on the couch and watch Daniel Tiger and not get dressed until 10:00, or spend the afternoon baking cookies, or meet with friends at a local coffee shop that has a play area.  My older son goes to school 4 mornings per week and I do look forward to when he stays home on Fridays (partly because then I don't have to get up early to get him ready for the bus).  Being a stay-at-home mom, though, can have its drawbacks.  I stink at keeping the house clean.  I love to cook and bake, but sometimes at the end of the day after answering a zillion and three "why?" questions or playing cheetah or spies or superheros, I don't have the energy for it and it's pancakes for dinner.  I often get bored playing cars or dinosaurs and sometimes I just want to scream at the top of my lungs to get out the frustration that builds up over multiple minor daily events.  

I look forward to the one day a week (usually Saturday) that my husband stays with our children so that I can spend time writing at a coffee shop.  This happens on a semi-regular basis, but sometimes I am not able to do it, due to my husband's job (long hours, 6-7 days per week during the fall, and travel during the winter/spring).  And I am ok when I don't get to go because, ironically, all these years of putting my husband's job first has enabled me to do things I maybe wouldn't get to do otherwise.  It's taken us around the country, and although moving is always difficult, I treasure the friendships I have made and and am grateful for the variety of opportunities and jobs I have had.  Had I only been focused on one particular career of my own, I may have very well missed out on some of these blessings. 

Through all of this, though, I have been careful to make sure I do not lose myself and become only a wife and a mom.  I read.  I write. I spend too much time on Facebook and Twitter.  I read something recently in which a woman had no idea what her own interests were after raising her children.  She'd focused so much on their needs that she had no idea of her own identity.  I am sure this will not happen to me, and I hope that other SAHMs I know will prevent it from happening to them as well.  

Unlike a lot of my other mom friends though, I have only two children and I feel that is plenty.  While I don't want to wish away the time, I do look forward to when they are both in school so that I can pursue some of my own interests more (more writing, maybe finally get that Master's degree).  I sometimes have difficulty at events like MOPS (even though I enjoy going) because the organization as a whole seems to be geared to moms as moms, not moms as individual people.  I admire my homeschooling mom friends, but I know that it is not something I am interested in doing.  

It is, at times, like I am straddling two different worlds, belonging in both and belonging in neither.  It can be a lonely feeling.  And yet, I am not alone, because I know that I am listening to God's call on my life and am trusting Him (yes, I am a feminist who still refers to God as Him.  Old habits die hard, right?) in guiding me on paths that I could never have imagined for myself.  

Sometimes--maybe a lot of the time--I think we are all too hard on each other.  There are feminists who are outspoke about everything, it seems, and while they are much more knowledgeable and give me a lot to think about, its sometimes seems there is a lack of humility or grace or patience, qualities that I think I have grown in only because I have experienced being a SAHM.  And I think many SAHMs need to learn from feminists and not fear them in order to be more than just a wife or a mom; they need to cultivate their own identity apart from their husband and children, because, some day, they will need it.  

I don't think feminism and traditional roles need to be in opposition to each other, rather, I think that they can work together (I almost said complement each other, but I don't really want to go down that road right now!), for those reasons expressed in the prior paragraph.  In my own experience, choosing to have children and stay home wasn't an easy decision.  I didn't particularly want to make such a drastic change in my life; I didn't want to sacrifice my own wants and needs.  But I did decide to have children and my boys are such joys (well, most of the time!).  The cliche about not knowing what you are missing out on is pretty true--whether you like or dislike other people's children, it's a different story when they are your own.  

It is great that feminism has helped to make this a choice for me.  I didn't have to have children just because that was what was expected of me in my role as a woman.  I don't have to continue to have more children.  I was able to get a college education, work some, start a master's degree.  I was never directly told "you can't do that; you're a girl" (there was one, indirect time when I heard a sermon about elders and it was clear they needed to be male, but that's it).  Because most people in my life didn't see women as secondary to men or having to have specific roles, there have been many things I have been able to do and accomplish.

And because I am able to stay home with my sons, I have a lot of time to spend with them to teach them and shape them into the people they will turn out to be, and I am directly affecting their lives rather than spending 40+ hours per week away from them (again, this is not a judgment on women who do work full time).  

There is so much more I could add to this for myself.  There are so many stories to be told of women who are living in both of these worlds, some way or another.  I can't even begin to imagine the many varied and unique stories that will be told here through this link up.  So, please, add your story.  Add the story of someone you know.   Or, simply add your thoughts on how the two connect to each other.  The linkup will be active until February 28, 2013, and I'm going to try to tweet every time someone adds a new story (depending on the amount of them).  

I believe in equality, I believe women (and men) should strive to discover all that they are created to be, and live life abundantly.  Do you feel the same?

Wednesday, February 06, 2013

Reflections On My Past Year

It has been one year.  One year ago today, I took one last look around my home and my yard, got in my car, and cried as I pulled out of the driveway.  "Why are you crying?" my 4 1/2 year old asked.  "I'm sad.  I'm going to miss this town and my friends.  I know I'll make new friends (I said this to reassure him), but I'll still miss my friends here."  "You need a book," he told me.  His preschool class had made him a book of pictures of them and drawings they had done so that he could remember them after he moved.  I smiled.  I have Facebook, I realized.

To say it was hard to leave that place is an understatement.  It was my home for five and a half years.  My children were born while we lived there, the older one started school there, we had friends, a church, we played golf in the backyard.  I loved my job.  We had great neighbors.

It had slowly changed, of course.  In the two years prior to moving, two of my best friends had also moved away.  The place where we worked had changed, some for the better, some for the worse.

It wasn't the same.  It never stays the same.

And I love where I am now.  It is a new chapter in my life, that, although I didn't write it, has been wonderful.  It is a chapter in my life that I have seen, felt, experienced (pick which word you relate to best!) God's leading more than any other time in my life.  Even before it was certain we would move here, I somehow knew that this was the place we would go.  It was strange too, because there was the potential of another place, closer to where I had grown up, that was becoming an option.  I would have preferred that place, but I knew it wasn't the time yet.

Here, it is becoming my home.  My older son goes to school here, we have made friends, we have found a church, we play golf in the backyard.  We have great neighbors.

I am becoming the writer I have always been inside.  I have blogged more in the past year than in the six previous years combined.  I am writing a study guide on women in leadership that I hope to get published, and I have an idea for another study guide to start writing after I finish that one.  I have connected with so many great people on blogs, Twitter, and Facebook.

And yet, I know that it won't last.  I know that at some point in the future, we will likely move again, and another new chapter in my life will be opened up.  Knowing that can make it difficult at times, to really invest in a place and in people, because, I think "I'm just going to end up leaving."  But at the same time, I dive in anyway, to experience all that I can before the time here is up.  

I suppose that's how we should be living life all the time, really.  A long time ago, in a church bulletin, there were five questions about life that we should ask ourselves, and one of them was "If I knew tomorrow would be the last full day of my life, how would I spend my day?"  I think a question like that can help us to understand the kind of life we are living, and can help us live that abundant life that Jesus offers.

It's not a do-everything-you-can-cram-into-twenty-four-hours kind of abundance, but a willingness to live following His call, listening for the teaching of the Spirit, and doing it all wherever one happens to be in the present.

In a few years, this place won't be the same.  It never stays the same.

And that is why we should be more conscious of appreciating the days and experiences that we have, why we should sometimes slow down and savor the moments that so quietly and quickly slip through our fingers.  It is why we should strive to use the full potential given to us by our Creator and not waste who we were created to be.

Tuesday, February 05, 2013

Book Review: Unexpected Gifts: Discovering the Way of Community by Christopher L. Heuertz

I received a copy of Unexpected Gifts free from Howard Books for the purpose of this review.  The opinions expressed here are my own.   

Unexpected Gifts is a book about community, both the gifts of it and the struggles that come with living in community.  Through the book, Heuertz,, who works for Word Made Flesh, tackles topics such as unexpected communities (a bar), faith and doubt in community, burnout, sabbatical, diverse friendships, chemistry between people, betrayal, grief, and so much more.

Using examples from places he has lived and people with whom he has worked, Huertz gets the reader to wonder "What is my community?"  "How do I relate to people in my community?"  "Can I do better in my community?"  He speaks of his own struggles and mistakes he has made in community.  

Some of the most powerful image in the book come from his stories of time in India.  He tackles this as early as chapter two, in which 
he writes about doubt that comes through some of the questions people he has known have asked, yet he has never had to, such as "How long can my baby live without milk?"  "Where will I sleep tonight?  Can I find a place where I won't be raped again?"  "Does anyone know I am in this brothel chained to this bed?"  He writes of a woman named Sophia, who was raped while her husband was forced to watch and then he was killed, and her three month old daughter's arm was cut off with a machete.  Heuertz explains that these fellow humans who suffer are still our community, that we are all parts of the one body.  But instead of recognizing that, we are divided, and we do not suffer with our fellow members.  

Another difficult lesson Heuertz teaches is love despite betrayal of community or relationship.  "Our response to betrayal," he writes, "can be a powerful force, setting our life trajectories toward grace or bitterness" (page 109).   While we will all be betrayed, he encourages us to look to Jesus:  "Christ's fidelity in loving Judas in the midst of betrayal is the sign of faithfulness and the standard to follow" (page 117).

Too often, in our culture of going to church every Sunday and speaking the right kind of Christian language and expressing the right beliefs, we are so caught up in what we believe that we forget that we actually have to practice it.  In our church communities, do we have deep friendships?  Outside of our churches, do we connect with others who are different?  How do we really react when we are faced with the lessons we hear in sermons?  If these are questions you have wondered, or are  now thinking for the first time, I'd encourage you to read this book.  If you are looking for ways to improve your community, to have a healthier one (no matter the size), I'd encourage you to read this book.  You will not be disappointed.  

One downside to the book was that Heuertz talks about his current community, but it is not until page 144 where he explains what/who that community is (I will concede it's possible it was mentioned earlier but in my eagerness to read I may have missed it).  There were also a couple of other times I thought the writing wasn't clear, and some things that I would have liked to have had more explanation of, but they were minor.