Finally Getting My Heart And My Body In The Same Place

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And here I am, speaking at my home church. It was a special moment for me.

It was kind of funny…and one of those ironic-God-is-chuckling-at-me moments. At the close of last year’s ladies luncheon at my home church of Kennesaw First Baptist, a friend asked me an interesting question. She was curious how it felt for me, sitting in the audience, knowing that I could be up there speaking. While I was honored that she thought me capable of it, without thinking very long at all, I said, “They’ll never ask.”

First of all, I didn’t think anyone at church really knew who I was, my gifting, or what I do.  I didn’t feel very “seen” or “known”. While I am blessed to occasionally travel to teach to college ministries, to other women’s groups, and in Europe, and while I love, love, love the college students I get to work with every week in Sunday school, I sometimes feel like I haven’t really found my place at my home church just yet. It’s that weird loneliness-in-a-crowd feeling we all have experienced at some point. In fact, my last few years have involved a lot of soul-searching about my identity (Who exactly am I?), about God’s calling on my life (What exactly am I doing here?), and about how to get my heart and my body in the same place…because, while I live in Kennesaw…to be honest, most of the time, my heart has been somewhere else.

And second, while I am not exactly sure what a “ladies luncheon” speaker is, I am pretty sure I am not that. I’m a Bible teacher. A messy one too. I talk about matters of the heart, and our inner world – the complicated, deeply broken places inside each of us that only we and God see – and how God wants to meet us there. I focus on those seasons of life when things get really dark, of what it looks like to walk with Jesus in pain, and how it can cause the ground to disappear underneath us. I wrestle with deep existential questions of the faith that defy black and white answers. And while the goal is to let the struggle lead us to intimacy with Jesus and the joy available to us as we let Him do His work in our hearts…such joy is often seasoned with a lot of tears along the way. Hardly the stuff of polite conversation over chicken salad and fruit.

P1010530So, imagine my shock when the leaders in our church’s women’s ministry asked me to be the speaker at this year’s event. I was incredibly honored. And humbled. And more than a little terrified. Because getting in front of people and vulnerably pouring your heart out, opening yourself up to criticism and risking epic fails in public…it is one thing to do it in another city or on another continent…it is very different to do it in front of people you see every week and who teach your kids’ Sunday school class.

But I gave it a go. Because deep down, even with the fear of failure, even with my concern over whether or not I would be what the ladies expected or wanted…I really do want to be known. I really do want to be at home where I am. I really do want to learn to be fully present where I live, and to also be fully who I am among those I do life with on a regular basis. And somehow I knew that offering my story and gifting to the women in my church and community would be an important step on my journey to all of those things.

And a funny thing happened that day. As I walked onto the platform…at the same time… it felt like I finally arrived home. It has been a long time coming, with many other “homecoming” events along the way, but this was a big one. Somehow, my heart and my body…long in a bit of an adversarial relationship, finally made peace with each other. The experience wasn’t as much about what I do, as being who I am, where I am. I wish I could explain it more fully than that, but…I’m pretty sure I got much more out of that day than anyone sitting in the audience.

Click here to link to the talk I gave , if you would like to hear it. It is titled The Wise Woman. It is in 3 parts. I love how it came out. 

An Unexpected Ache

The picture made me so unexpectedly sad that I just sighed. And my shoulders slouched. Then my heart got heavy. It was such a surprising reaction on my part to what was actually quite a happy photo that I knew I needed to pay attention to it. To what it was revealing in my heart.Older, younger woman hands

It was a photo of a not-too-old-but-older woman and a not-too young-but younger one, together on an outing. The photo showed the two standing side by side with the younger’s arm resting on the older’s shoulder. And the older woman was tenderly and affectionately grasping the hand of the younger. I know a little bit of their back story. The older came alongside the younger when she needed some help. A soft place to land. A safe relationship to sort some things out. A season passed. The two became friends. Then the younger one figured things out and launched out on a new trajectory – one that will lead to an intertwined and sweet continued relationship with the older.

My emotional response had nothing to do with who the women are, but from what the picture represented. And what it surfaced in me came from such a deep heart desire on my part I almost feel a bit too vulnerable writing about it here. I am confident however that the desire is a very common one among women, so I’ll take a chance and share.

I read Titus 2:3-5 (below) and it describes something so beautiful, so natural and life-giving, that it should be a part of every woman’s life. It talks about how older women – those who have walked with God well, who have learned through the years how to love their husbands and children without bitterness and resentment, who have managed to end up closer to Jesus and more healthy in all sorts of ways than when they started – are to come alongside younger women. And love them. Share life with them. Teach them the things that we are supposed to know how to do, but that we have no clue how to do. To become spiritual friends. Sisters. Moms where the role is unfilled. Mentors. Wise counsel. And older women are supposed to initiate.

I long for this. Greatly. In fact, it almost aches within me. To have a godly older woman see something in me. To want to invest in my growth. To see a future me that I may not be able to see just yet and to say to me with her life, “I want to be a part of the unveiling of who God has made you to be. Of helping you figure things out. And I’d like to spend time with you, to be the place you can come when you feel like it is all falling apart. I can help you sort through the pieces. And then help you put it all back together. And I might even make cookies for us to share while we do it.”

I have spent the better part of my adulthood learning to be the older woman for others. It has been a source of great joy and unless the Lord has some unexpected twist upcoming in my future, will always be a part of what I do. But there is still something in me that feels like the younger woman. Like the one who really doesn’t know what she is doing and just wants an older woman to hold my hand for a bit and help me figure things out.

While there have been those in my life over the years who crossed my path at pivotal times and filled parts of this role to some extent,…this relational void in my life feels huge.

To be honest, Jesus and I wrestle about this. I worry that I am unlovable and not worthy. He assures me that He loves me and that He is enough. And so I work through the tension of wanting/needing something and Him saying either no or not now and trust Me.

The photo pushed this bruise on my heart. And it hurt a bit.

Likewise, teach the older women to be reverent in the way they live, not to be slanderers or addicted to much wine, but to teach what is good. Then they can train the younger women to love their husbands and children,  to be self-controlled and pure, to be busy at home, to be kind, and to be subject to their husbands, so that no one will malign the word of God. (Titus 2:3-5)

How Do You Not Get Emotional? (Being Human pt. 8)

Recently, I was on a tour of the CNN headquarters – a perk of hosting out-of-town guests. I got to spend time in the control room before a segment went live and briefly talk with a director of the news and some of her colleagues. She wasn’t a maker of the news, just an observer, gatekeeper and communicator of it. She has worked at CNN her entire career, doing almost every job behind the camera at one time or another. What a fascinating person! Question-asker that I am, I started with, “What was the biggest breaking story you were ever present for and got to cover?’ That was an interesting discussion, especially as one of her co-workers was present the morning of 9/11.

In light of that, the next question presented itself quite naturally. I asked, “How do you not get emotional doing what you do?”

Immediately, she and at least three different people in the control room answered emphatically, “Oh, we do!” Then, the director went on to point out something in the room I had missed. Boxes of tissue. Everywhere. She said they don’t get to look away from all the horrible things of this world. The child murders, natural disasters, injustice, tragedies… Yet they still have a job to do. Observing, gatekeeping and communicating stories. Often with tears rolling down their faces.

I’m getting a little emotional myself while writing this because…over the years I’ve ended up talking with a lot of young women. And some not-so-young. About stuff. Life. Their stories. Their pain. I wish I knew exactly how it happens. It isn’t that I want to stop this. Obviously it is a part of who I am – meeting people right where they are and walking with them a bit till they get where they are going. Wherever that is. But sometimes my life sort of feels like I’m in a great big control room, and all these screens are displaying what is going on in the world. And like the employees of CNN, I can’t look away.  I have to stay engaged, involved in the stories being played out not just before me, but in the lives of people I know and care about. And, like the employees of CNN, I am coming to the conclusion that not getting emotional isn’t an option. I just have to keep tissue nearby and handy.

Because I’m not unaffected by what I see.

I sometimes meet Vulcans out there – those people who try to disengage from their feelings. They have all sorts of reasons why their life-strategy is best: controlling their emotions lest they control them, leaning into rational analysis, embracing logic and rejecting the inner world of the heart, both in themselves and others. There most certainly is a place for some of this – and I’m speaking as a recovering Vulcan myself.

Yet…

Our humanity, where God chooses to meet us, is intricately connected to our emotions. Yes, it is messy. Yes, it is at times uncontrollable. Yes, it can make us vulnerable to pain, to the whims of others…to our human-ness. But to deny our inner world is to deny a basic part of our humanity… which denies Jesus a powerful place to meet us. 

Like the CNN employees, I am coming to realize that not getting emotional is not an option. Not a healthy one anyway.

Women, Dignity, Choice and Jesus (Jesus pt. 25)

When she heard about Jesus, she came up behind him in the crowd and touched his cloak, because she thought, “If I just touch his clothes, I will be healed.” Mark 5:27-28  

(Jesus asked) “Who touched my clothes?”  “You see the people crowding against you,” his disciples answered, “and yet you can ask, ‘Who touched me?’ “But Jesus kept looking around to see who had done it.”  Then the woman, knowing what had happened to her, came and fell at his feet and, trembling with fear, told him the whole truth. He said to her, “Daughter, your faith has healed you. Go in peace and be freed from your suffering.” Mr. 5:30b – 34

In Mark chapter 5, we find a powerful story of a woman who had been bleeding for twelve years, how she meets Jesus and how He heals her. It is one of my most favorites in all of scripture. Perhaps because it involves a woman at her most vulnerable, with the life literally flowing out of her –  and Jesus at His most compassionate, with life literally flowing out of Him. Perhaps because it is about a woman, dealing with very womanly things – and a man who chose not to play the stereotypical man card and excuse Himself from the situation.

Recently I was teaching at a university student retreat on this particular story to an audience of both young men and women. And that evening, I had one of the most eye-opening, most heart-breaking experiences I’ve ever had as a Bible teacher. I was commenting on how awkward this story is – a bleeding woman. Is there anything more gender separating than this? As I said something like, “You men just cannot understand how this must have felt for the woman…”, a young man piped up and said, “Amen!” Everyone giggled. Ha ha. But this only proved my point.

At that moment, that young man unknowingly did something very destructive, very emotionally damaging. He introduced shame into the room. While trying to get a chuckle, to prove his masculinity, he actually told more than half of the room that it wasn’t ok to be a woman. That the things that give shape to our femininity are not ok.

Yes, I know all about what we mention in polite conversation. Yes, I know all about cultural and social mores and norms. But this story is in the Bible. Jesus wasn’t embarrassed by it. And if Mark, the author was, he still included it in the scriptures.

The passage tells us that she had suffered for twelve years from a debilitating disease with no medical cure. No man could ever understand what this type of vulnerability, wired into a woman’s very body, feels like. In fact, I don’t think I’ve ever met the man secure enough in his masculinity to even try. And I have to wonder if she was afraid of the men who guarded access to Jesus. I’ve seen men actually take pride in how little they know about women – as if who we are and how we were created is shameful or less than a man. Was this part of the reason why she hid and kept her distance? Is it possible this still happens in our churches today?

She experienced deep shame. The narrative tells us that she came up behind Jesus in a large crowd and touched His cloak. She wanted to “remain unnoticed”. (Luke 8:47) Surely her condition, her gender, her fear, her uncleanness, her helplessness, her poverty-both financially and emotionally, led her to hide, as it does for many of us today. Who among us hasn’t wanted to deal with our issues quietly, hoping no one else has to know?

Into this situation, Jesus does something unexpected. He is busy and actually on His way to perform a miracle for someone else – a respected religious leader who, on the surface, was everything this woman wasn’t. Yet, when He knows power has gone out from Him He stops, asks who it was who touched Him, and refuses to move on until that person reveals themselves. We all know that He wasn’t asking this question because He didn’t know the answer. Of course He knew who it was. He knew her name. Her story. The depth of her pain and desperation. He wasn’t seeking information. He was seeking her.

And He didn’t call her out. He asked for her – then He waited till she was ready to engage Him. He let her choose how she approached Him. He gave her dignity.

As a woman in a male-dominated culture, as a victim of a shame-inducing medical condition of which she had no control, as a non-person according to the culture around her, He gave her a voice. A choice. And choice, or lack thereof is almost always linked to dignity. He chose to wait on her, when we all know He should never have to wait on anyone.

I can see that in my relationship with Jesus today, 2000 years later…even though He still holds all the power, even though my relationship with Him is started and sustained by His grace and not my efforts, even though He knows all about me, my name, where and how I am, even though there are many reasons I could give for hiding or giving in to hopelessness…He asks for me. He waits for me. He doesn’t want me to hide. And He gives me choice in how far I go with Him, in the depth of relationship He and I will have. He gives me dignity. He gives me Himself. As much of Him as I choose.