The happy and the sad

Prior to my family and I seeing the movie “Inside Out,” my husband remarked to our guys that their mama–me–might be moved to tears because the film features a young girl moving with her family several states away.

“Me, cry?” I scoffed at the thought. It’s an animated movie, for crying out loud, no pun intended.

Yeah. So. Okay, I cried.

In the movie, eleven-year-old Riley moves from Minnesota to California and it is an emotional upheaval, which is, as you know, the premise of the movie.

In real life, thirteen-year-old me moved from Alabama to Texas and, like Riley, I found the transition difficult.

Also like Riley I experienced the horror and embarrassment of crying at school.

It was in Mr. Whitlow’s eighth grade history class. Mr. Whitlow was giving a test that day and having joined the class mid-year I was not only ignorant of most of the test material but also overwrought and overwhelmed and I cried.

Interestingly the only student in the class to pay me any mind, to even notice my tears much less offer any sort of comfort, was a boy of brashness and bravado, the kind of guy who seemed destined to be a drop out statistic. “Hey, it will be okay,” he told me. “Don’t cry. You’ll be fine.”

I’m ashamed to admit it but we probably never spoke again. You know as well as I do how the middle school social structure works. Though I have long forgotten his name, his kindness to me I will remember.

However ignorant my classmates may have wanted to appear, Mr. Whitlow noticed my tears and called me outside. He too assured me that I would be fine. Is it the test? Do you miss your friends? Are you okay? Yes, yes, and I didn’t know. He told me I didn’t have to take the test after all. He told me to come by and talk to him anytime. I didn’t but I knew I could.

Call me a martyr but I did take the exam and out of sheer grace Mr. Whitlow gave me a twenty-point bonus so I could have a B. Mr. Whitlow, I do not know where you are now but your kindness to me I will also remember.

Transition is hard. Moving away from friends and all that is familiar is heartbreaking and sad. But, as “Inside Out” attempts to portray, sadness gives weight and perspective to joy. The movie character Joy tries to preserve the happy core memories, not realizing that the sad ones are equally as critical. And this is Biblical, is it not? Paul discovers grace through his thorn in the flesh. Not only that but he reminds us that it is the light and momentary struggles that achieve an eternal weight of glory.

We see this most starkly in the death of Jesus. What greater heartbreak than the cross? But what greater joy than the Resurrection three days later? Sadness may endure for a night, the Psalmist writes, but joy comes in the morning. This is the tension of life as we know it: sadness and joy, heartbreak and hope, struggle and glory.

Though thirteen-year old me surely doubted, I did survive. Forty-seven year old me can see the Lord’s hand at work then and since, weaving a story, yes, a story of both loss and gain, but ultimately a story of grace and redemption. The sad times become as precious to me as the happy because there I see and know the provision and providence of my good and gracious God.

A lament

I live in the United States of America. Not only that but I live in the city limits. Houses a mere 100 yards or so from ours have unlimited access to the Internet. We, however, do not. This may be the ultimate in first world problems about which to lament over but I have to tell you the lament, warranted or not, is real.

We do have Internet but it is linked to data usage of which we have only a certain allotment each month. Certainly not enough to stream anything. Between the four of us we blow through our data well before the month is over, leaving us with Internet access, thank goodness, but at dial up speed. Yeah. For real.

So no Netflix for us. No streaming podcasts. These privileges eat up copious amounts of data very quickly. We have learned to disconnect Wi-Fi before closing out all devices. We update our apps at church. Any blog posts I write, I write first in Word and then connect to the Internet to copy and paste into WordPress and publish as quickly as possible. We cram as much Internet usage as we can into the bonus data time period before 8am. We love Chick-Fil-A and other places of business that offer free Wi-Fi.

We hate it.

As I said, I know quite well that this is a first world problem but can I just say how difficult it is to have had unlimited Wi-Fi only to not? It’s been a year, a long year. We had hopes that with the new year would come trucks and equipment and cable and a team of workers ready and able to make all our Internet woes disappear. Not so fast, my friend. Today my husband forwarded an email to me from his contact at the cable provider. Quite succinctly he stated he hadn’t seen our neighborhood on the list for 2016.

I know it’s dumb but I wanted to cry.

Is the Internet such an idol? Maybe so. I will say I’ve realized a few things about myself over the past year of learning to live without unlimited access. For one thing, I see how often I am bored and how tempting it is to distract myself with Pinterest or Twitter or the like. In other words, the Internet can be a great time waster. Hello, no big news flash, but I have been surprised by just how true it is in my life.

I’d like to tell you I am free of the big, bad evil trap that is the Internet, that I’ve embraced my inner Luddite, that I have no need of such trivialities such as the Internet provides, that I now read more and write more and do crafts and exercise and pursue all sorts of other non-web-based noble ventures, but none of that would be true. Every day—and this despite that nefarious email my husband received—I will still be on the lookout for the cable truck and I will hope that someday soon, maybe today even, I can once again watch Gilmore Girls on Netflix.

Soon, maybe? Hope, it springs eternal.

A prayer for the New Year

Thy goodness has been with me during another year,
leading me through a twisting wilderness,
in retreat helping me to advance,
when beaten back making sure headway.
Thy goodness will be with me in the year ahead…

See the rest of the post at Out of the Ordinary.

Happy New Year, friends!

P.S. I also wrote a Christmas reflection for Out of the Ordinary a couple of weeks ago. If you’re still in the Christmas spirit, you can check it out here.

New Year’s 2016

Y’all. Tomorrow, it will be 2016. Can you believe it? Not too long ago, I was rummaging through some past posts here at the blog and I ran across a post from New Year’s 2010 in which I expressed my very great surprise at that particular turn of events. And here it is suddenly six years later. How do these things happen?

I love New Year’s. I think maybe it’s my favorite holiday and not for the reasons you might expect. We don’t get all dressed up and go to fancy parties. In fact we don’t really party at all. I don’t do resolutions and the attempt to reinvent and reorganize and remake myself isn’t what I find appealing.

No, I love New Year’s because it’s a holiday free of expectations and obligations. I have nowhere I have to be, nothing I have to cook or buy, no plans I need to make. It is usually a day spent with the family sprawled out on the sofa watching a lot of football. Just the way I like it.

I love New Year’s because it comes at the end of the deep exhale that is the week after Christmas. After the frantic pace of hurrying and scurrying through Thanksgiving and Christmas, New Year’s comes as a pause, a sweet respite, a chance to finally be still and to rest.

And when I said I don’t do resolutions, I didn’t mean I don’t take the opportunity these slower days afford to reevaluate the old and to ponder the new. The transition from December 31 to January 1 is, really, a day like any other. There is nothing inherently magical about one day over the other. But I cannot escape the weighty reminder of the old being past, the new having come, forgetting what lies behind, and straining forward to what lies ahead.

2015 was a good year for us. So many big, wonderful life changes. A new home. A new church building. An engagement and the promise of a wedding this coming summer. So many blessings, both large and small, too numerous to count, all gifts purely of grace from the hand of a good God. And had none of these things been ours, He would still be the good God who gives good gifts. As I reflect on the old, I am grateful.

2015 has its regrets too. Much to confess and to grieve and to repent. As I turn the page to 2016 tomorrow I will know that I cannot resolve myself better. My only hope is Christ and His righteousness that is mine because of His life and death. I am nothing without His grace.

So I love New Year’s. I love the reflection it prompts and I love its slow and easy celebration. Though I will be missing my husband and two sons who are on the other side of the world sharing the hope of the gospel, tomorrow, New Year’s 2016, as crazy as that is, will be a good day. Not only that, but I have great hope that 2016 will be a good year. I pray that you and I both will see the Lord’s faithfulness in ways yet unimagined and that we will grow in the grace and knowledge of Him who loves us so. Yes and amen.

More thoughts on blogging in the middle years

Well. It seems I struck a chord with my post on blogging in the middle years and while I haven’t been able to keep up with all the conversations it spawned, I am grateful I do not lament alone.

Here are some of the follow up posts I do know about and if I have overlooked any, please let me know and I will be sure to include them here.

Aimee Byrd, Where are the Mature Women Writers? and Platform, Blogs, and Why We Write

Persis, What are the Expectations of Women’s Ministry?

Deb Welch, The Blogging Chronicles, My Take On Where the Mature Bloggers Went

I am thankful for the wise input of these women and the others of you who commented on Facebook and Twitter and here at the blog. You’ve all given me much to think about and, as I said, I am grateful that I am not alone in asking these questions.

Speaking of comments, my sweet friend Jessalyn posted my favorite. Actually my two favorite. You’ll have to click over to the post and read them to see why. :)

As I continue to think on the void of mature women’s voices in blogs and books and social media, I agree with what most of us have concluded: it’s complicated. There are, I think, certain mitigating factors of this stage of life that contribute to our reticence…

Our circumstances. As I attempted to highlight in my post, a lot of us are finding ourselves in situations and struggles for which we are totally unprepared and inadequate. Life is just hard, whether we are dealing with aging parents or rebellious teenagers. Along with these new challenges comes new uncertainty of what is appropriate to share in terms of the privacy both of our situation and those we love. And we are busy. We’ve transitioned out of the mommy years and our time is less our own. Many of us have returned to work full time and no longer have the freedom to write and comment.

The medium. Those of us who began blogging ten years ago or more fondly recall when blogs were places of conversation and community. As Twitter and Facebook have taken over the community aspect, blogs have become less dialogue and more monologue. Blogging itself has become more professionalized both in terms of monetization and publication and thus increasingly intimidating and isolating.

The industry. Some of you mentioned other possible reasons; for instance, how the publishing market seems to be geared toward younger women. Youth does sell, that is true. Maybe I’m naïve but I’m not certain publishers are actively discriminating against the older woman in favor of the younger. I just think there are a greater number of younger women writing.

“Women’s ministry.” I do agree that another possible factor may be how women’s ministry has been modeled in the local church over the past couple of decades, particularly in churches that hold to a complementarian position in terms of women’s roles in the church. As I’ve observed before, in a small complementarian church often the only places open for a woman to serve is in the nursery and children’s ministry. It’s not discrimination against the woman teacher; it’s the need and size of the church defining her opportunities. In that scenario it is difficult for a woman’s active pursuit of theological training to be modeled. Not impossible, but difficult. Added to this is the prevalence of video based studies forming the sum of theological dialogue among women. I’ve talked to many women who think they have nothing to offer the conversation because they don’t fit the mold of the dynamic, skilled orator.

Pushback against the egalitarian position has also resulted in a lack of investment in a strong theological foundation for women which in turn leads to less women writing and talking of theological matters. I once read an article, years ago, that advocated all Biblical instruction for women be taught through Titus 2. As if that were the only passage of Scripture relevant and necessary for the woman of God!

As I said, it’s complicated. We could offer up reason after reason and personal story after personal story—and I would seriously love to hear your story if you’d share it!—but my hope is not that we would merely have forum to complain and commiserate but that as we reason through our silence, we would find our voice. How I hope more women will be thinking and talking–and yes, writing–about theology and real life! Young or old, I pray that we will all use whatever sphere of influence the Lord grants us to joyfully assert the hope we have in Christ.

So many of use are eager for more mature voices! I love that. Maybe more of us will blog; maybe some of us will write a book; maybe there will be more honest, deep conversations between friends and across generations. You have a voice. You have a story. Go. Tell. Speak. We want to hear from you!

Writing from the middle years. Or, not.

The summer before this last, I attended The Gospel Coalition Women’s Conference in Orlando. It was reported then that half the conference attendees were under the age of 40. In my own group of real life friends who made the trip together, of the four of us I was the only one above that age marker. Not only that but of the authors and bloggers I had the privilege to meet in real life there at the conference, all appeared to me younger than their profile pics might indicate. In fact I finally admitted as much to my friend and fellow blogger Staci, exclaiming “Everyone is so young! They all look so much younger than they do online! Wait, it’s the same for me too, right!??!?”

She said so but then again she is my friend and she loves me and thus she may be somewhat prejudiced or at the very least unwilling to hurt my vanity.

My vanity and youthful (or, not) appearance aside, I’ve observed that much that is currently being written to and for and by women seems to be written by the younger generation, those under that 40 year marker. My experience at the conference bore that out as I sought to get a book signed as a gift. “She’s adorable, isn’t she?” my friends and I remarked as the author walked away. And she is. And young. Young and adorable she may be but she is also serious about her craft and using it for kingdom work.

I am excited. I love that there is a generation of young women the Lord is using to reach the world with their words. I applaud their efforts, I seek their wisdom, I buy their books. I have such respect for these young thinkers and theologians, young women earnest about their faith, hungry for the Word, passionate about reaching the world for Christ.

My desire is for women to know and love the Word of God, that knowledge and affection fueling a knowledge and affection for the Lord God Himself. I see that in these young women, in their words, in their blogs, in their determination to spend a weekend in Florida to attend a conference about the gospel.

That being said, I feel keenly the void of the older voices among them. Where are those of us writing from the middle and late years or from grandmotherhood? Be it books, blogs, or tweets, it seems to me we are underrepresented in the world of words and ideas.

Awhile back blogger Tim Challies observed there are more and more women neglecting and even abandoning their blogs (present company included, ahem). I think of his comment often and I wonder if the real question may be where are the older, more “mature” women bloggers?

Tim published a follow up post in which three women offered their explanations for the falling number of women bloggers. Interestingly, all were of the younger set.

I have one friend who recently had her mother to move in with her and her husband and daughter. She purchased a hospital bed as well as renovated a bathroom in order to be able to care for her mom. I have another friend enduring the heartache of a rebellious son, another who hasn’t spoken to her daughter in months. One friend suffers ongoing health problems, nothing life threatening, but the kind of difficulty that is both annoying and debilitating in its own way. Another friend is looking for a job for the first time in many years in order to help with college expenses for her child. Just last week I met a woman whose family has sold everything they own to pay for their son’s drug rehabilitation program.

I offer their examples to say this: a lot of us aren’t writing not because we don’t have anything to say but because we can’t say what we have to say. Not on a public forum. It’s one thing for a mommy blogger to write a post about a two year old’s tantrum at the grocery store; it’s another thing entirely when it’s the rebellion of your twenty something year old, not to mention the heartache and confusion therein.

So to my young writer friends: please, keep writing! Use your words and your platform for the advancement of the kingdom of Christ, yes and amen. As you do so, do not forget the wisdom or experience of the older woman in your life. Maybe she isn’t on Twitter but she may be in your church or your Bible study. Seek her out and be her friend. She needs you and you need her.

To my sisters in the middle and late stages of life: let’s support our younger sisters! And as the Lord may grant us freedom and grace, yes and words, let’s use our voices to fill this void with encouragement and edification. We are not alone in this journey, no matter how heavy our burden or unique our circumstance. Whether our conversation happens online or in real life, we can speak up and speak out in friendship and fellowship.

Thoughts

I once thought thoughts. You know, deep and meaningful thoughts, thoughts I pondered and wrestled with and deliberated over and contemplated and, well, thought and sometimes wrote about, sometimes not.

“I don’t think stuff anymore,” I told my husband awhile back. He assured me that I did, in fact, think, and think loads of stuff, just maybe it’s the stuff and the kind of thinking that’s changed. Not necessarily less than, just different.

Maybe he’s right. Maybe it’s life here in the middle years with nearly grown children. Maybe my boys finally did rob me of all coherent thought. I suspected they might, from way back when they first entered my life and heart and I was so overwhelmed with love and responsibility that my thoughts merely stammered even then.

Of course sometimes I think perhaps it’s social media–Twitter and Facebook et al–making me dumber. All those people thinking stuff, amazing stuff, and filling my feed with their amazing thoughts expressed in beautiful prose and engaging commentary and, well, it occurs to me maybe they’ve already thought all the thoughts I might think and thus there’s no need for me to ponder or wrestle or contemplate. Where I once foraged for truth and understanding, here it is as easily accessed as the swipe of my thumb on my smart phone. I can just think their thoughts after them. Or not think at all.

Which is a real temptation, to piggyback on or merely observe another’s force of conviction. I remember my early days of blogging, you know, back when I thought thoughts, and part of the joy of the medium then was the sheer freedom of thoughtful expression. We all thought and wrote and commented and engaged. I miss those days of blogging but I think I miss the thinking the most. Like many of the young mommy bloggers of today, I had pat answers and firm convictions about almost anything and I liked to tell you about it.

Not anymore.

My husband is correct; it’s not that I don’t think. It’s that the thinking is different, now weighted with the extra baggage of doubt. Not that I doubt what I believe so much, I do not. Rather, it’s the sort of doubt that wonders over the journey and questions the objective. This is who I am? Where do we go from here? Who will I be?

These are the questions of the middle years, I think, questions of identity and regret and vocation and transition, and, if truth be told, they do not lend themselves to a blog post full of cheery certainty.

I once thought thoughts of fierce and confident opinion and sometimes I miss that. I miss writing them out as part of our ongoing faith conversation here in this space. Though I find myself in a different stage of life with different struggles–and there are joys too, let’s not forget that–I do know this: my hope is secure in Christ. As murky as life may seem today, I need not despair. I know whom I have believed and, glory to God, He is able.

Unless the Lord builds

Not quite seven years ago, my friend and I sat on my back porch discussing Psalm 127. I was presumably mentoring her but I was so shell-shocked at the time, and so very heartbroken, I really think it was she mentoring me. In fact, it is probably still she mentoring me to this day though she has since moved. Thanks to the wonders of technology she is only a text message away and I find myself often seeking advice and opinion and perspective.

At the time of our mentoring discussion, our church was in its very early stages. Psalm 127:1 was particularly applicable: “Unless the Lord builds the house, those who build it labor in vain.” How much we wanted the Lord’s blessing in this, the building of His church! How we begged for His work, not ours! We prayed together that day, my friend and I, and asked the Lord for those very requests.

My church began on a hot July day seven years ago in another friend’s driveway. Actually, I suppose you might say it began a Sunday night a couple of weeks before that when a bunch of us crammed onto my back porch in a swell of grief and shock. But it was there, on that July day, all of us fanning, kids wandering between the lawn chairs, the decision, the leap of faith as it were, was made.

We met first in a large conference room at my husband’s office, borrowing chairs from another church and setting up a makeshift nursery in one of the empty offices. It wasn’t long before we were able to rent a converted insurance office space large enough for our corporate gathering. We eventually rented three units in that same complex and there we have met for worship and Sunday school and fellowships and bridal teas and Vacation Bible Schools and all the other functions and privileges of church life over the past seven years.

However, this past Sunday we bid good bye to our “storefront” meeting space and we have spent this week moving chairs and desks and tables and bookcases and sound systems and everything else to our new church building.

Our building. Ours.

When we first began, a beautiful building with cedar columns and stone accents and gorgeous stained concrete floors was the very last thing on our mind. Sure, we would have liked a sink to make kool-aid and maybe some green space, but, really, as we brainstormed church names and drafted a church covenant and googled statements of faith, our overarching desire was to build a church, not a building, but a church and to do so together, according to the pleasure and provision of the Lord.

This week as we were sorting things to be moved and other things to be given away, my friend and I were surveying the pile of giveaway items. We realized we each had things we had donated, me a pack and play and a toy box and a few other nursery items, she various other things needed and necessary when the church is new and the budget small. She laughed and said, “We just kind of all threw our stuff and whatever we had in together didn’t we?”

That’s exactly what we did. We threw our lot in together seven years ago, for better or worse, richer or poorer. We had no idea where the Lord would lead or how He would provide. We loved each other and we loved the Lord and to us that was enough. The Lord would build the rest.

And so He did.

This Sunday we will worship together in a building the Lord in His rich and abundant grace has provided. We will humbly, gratefully acknowledge Him as we rejoice in His faithfulness to us. We know that unless the Lord builds it, we have labored in vain. We believe this is the Lord’s work. We have seen His hand, we have known His faithfulness, we are recipients of His mercy and His grace.

To God be the glory, great things He has done.

 

For the abortive mom

There seems to be an unspoken expectation in today’s blog culture that if one were to comment on the hot button topic of the day, one does so immediately and thoroughly, with carefully constructed opinions and arguments. In fact, I think this may be one reason, no doubt among many, for my tendency toward reticence in posting. Maybe I’m a wimp, but I generally shy away from the brouhaha of social media commentary.

Except for today.

I cannot read of the Planned Parenthood videos and not weep. I haven’t watched any of the footage; merely scrolling through my Twitter feed reading the headlines and quotes is enough to bring tears to my eyes. The screenshot of the hand in the tweezers, like so many have said, I cannot unsee it.

My heart is broken.

I grieve for these precious little lives taken so soon and in such brutal fashion. I grieve for the evil and the lies that call wrong right and right wrong. I grieve for the medical personnel who deal in such atrocity.

I grieve for the abortive mom.

My heart breaks for the many women who have endured the violation of abortion and are now seeing what before was only imagined or ignored. The hand, they cannot unsee it either.

I have friends who are post-abortive. Though they have found healing and hope in Jesus Christ, they will not hesitate to tell you that it is a horror that lingers.

I do not want to be overly dramatic but I am convinced we would be surprised at how many post-abortive women we each know who are suffering in silence. Yes, in your pews at your church.

Dear friend, if this is you suffering in silence, please know there is hope. You need not suffer alone. Your sin, like all sin, is evil rebellion against God and His ways. But Jesus bore the weight of your condemnation when He died on the cross. He paid the penalty for your sin, yes for the sin of your abortion, and He offers you His perfect righteousness. Repent in genuine grief over your sin against Him and turn to Him in faith, believing His promise to save, and His free and full forgiveness is yours. Forever. Completely. His grace covers all your sin, all of it, every single one.

And please, sister, talk to someone about your shame and your guilt. At the crisis pregnancy center where I volunteer, we offer post-abortive counseling. We have women there who know exactly what you are experiencing. They too aborted a baby and they want to offer you friendship and support as well as the healing they have found in the grace of the Lord. If you are local, you are more than welcome to email me and I can get you in touch with someone. If you’re not local, then please find a pregnancy center in your area that will support you as you work through these issues.

I know that the condemnation of the enemy in regard to your abortion—and yes, sometimes of the world, especially the evangelical one—is an ongoing attack. Stand firm, friend, and know that the grace of the Lord is not without effect. Remember your hope is in Christ! Remind yourself of the gospel, that there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. And “no” means none. Zero. Zilch. You are free!

How I pray this freedom bring you joy and healing in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, to the praise of His glory.

And to others who may be reading this, may we speak with care as we rightly condemn the horrific practice of abortion. It is an evil and it must be stopped. We must stand for the unborn and we must defend the image of God. But let us do so with speech that is as gracious as it is bold and uncompromising.

Please, Lord, have mercy on us all.