Friday, April 26, 2013

Dreaming about the Future, Pt. 2: Update (Or, the Lack Thereof)

Last week, I wrote about a post-seminary opportunity that materialized and our excitement over the possibility of what is next. I shared that as much as I love to dream and gaze at the horizon, I realized last week that my calling is to remain present here and now; to invest in the people and place He's given me for this season. 

This week, we spoke over the phone with the people who looked at our resumes, and the conversation was...inconclusive. As disappointed as I was not to hear "yes," and as curious as I remained at not hearing, "no," I immediately knew that this was the Lord's kindness to me. If I heard yes, I would be that much more tempted to "check out" of Dallas-- to disconnect from the present-- and begin planning my life in another context. If I heard no, I would be that much more tempted to go back to the drawing board and look aggressively for another option, or to crumple in discouragement and disappointment over the loss of this goal. 

Remaining in limbo, however, forces me to remember that the horizon is still unclear, and that it is out of my hands. It reminds me that my calling is not to have it all figured out, but to trust God-- something I'm still learning how to do. And it encourages me to reflect on His character, which He has proven in my life time and again; even-- and especially-- in seasons where He doesn't let me call the shots. 

What concerns distract you from living well now? What would trusting God with them look like? Can you see evidences of His kindness toward you, even if they don't feel good right now? 


Thursday, April 18, 2013

Midnight Sermon

We live on the 30th floor of a highrise downtown. What this means is that when a Texas thunderstorm rolls in, we hear it. Our bedroom wall is actually almost completely windows, and when rain hits those bad boys at 40 mph, it's pretty loud. I know this because it woke me up last night. 

When the sounds of the storm roused me, my first thoughts were, "How annoying. This is interfering with my precious-- and limited-- sleep." It also woke my husband, apparently, because he whispered to me, "Isn't it beautiful?" I laid there and compared our reactions. I was pissed. He was peaceful. It made me realize that even in my sleep, I'm anxious and managing every moment, hoarding time like a beggar hoards pennies. 

I'm glad my husband shared his reaction with me, because if he hadn't, I may not have been convicted by how ridiculous mine was. Sometimes it takes an alternative narrative to realize that your own is destructive. His sweet words exposed my own anxiety, and helped me to see, "I don't have to live this way. Even in the two minutes I'm awake because of a storm, I can experience life differently. I know, because I'm seeing it lived differently right next to me." 

Saturday, April 13, 2013

"I Fear A Cage"

“What do you fear, my lady?” 

A cage. To stay behind bars until use and old age accept them and all chance of valor has gone beyond recall or desire.”

For those of you (less nerdy people) who don’t know the Lord of the Rings story, this quote is from Eowyn, a woman who feels trapped in the role society has given her. Having watched evil come over her city and snatch away the ones she loves most, she desperately wants to be a part of the fight to protect her people and stand against the forces that have wreaked havoc on her family. Instead, she is expected to watch the men ride off day after day and simply wait. To her, the inaction—imposed upon her by society’s constraints for a woman, she feels—is worse than any death on the battlefield.

Eowyn’s story is very different from my own. I don’t live in a pre-medieval society, and I have no desire to fight in a war. For those reasons, I never really connected with her in this scene, until I began to realize—and experience—the “cages” in my own story. At this stage in my journey, I am in seminary and so questions about a future in ministry are often on my mind. I’ll share two perceived “cages” I fear just when I imagine my future:

“Pastor’s wife:” The moment I begin to envision myself in this position, my insides turn upside down. Me? In that cage? Doesn’t that mean my house will always need to be clean, I’ll need to participate in the bake sale and host ladies’ luncheons, and be docile and pleasant? Doesn’t that mean I’ll have to be a stay at home mom and be so good at it, in fact, that I write books on the topic and take Q&A’s about domesticity on stage? In other words, doesn’t that mean I’ll have to meet everyone’s expectations?

“Pastor:” The moment I begin to envision myself in a career ministry position that “weds” me to the church in an official way, my insides turn upside down. Me? In that cage? Doesn’t that mean my home and family life will be turned upside down, I’ll never be able to take a vacation, and that Sunday morning worship will become “business as usual?” Doesn’t that mean I’ll have to spend hours in a study every week coming up with something impressive to say, and be good at answering difficult questions on the spot in front of lots of people? In other words, doesn’t that mean I’ll have to meet everyone’s expectations?

What I’ve begun to realize as I pray through these fears and anxieties is that they are largely driven by my perception of others’ expectations—what they think I should be like, do, or not do—and wanting to appease everyone’s opinion of me. Ironically, therefore, the cages I fear are actually self-imposed. God’s good news for me in the gospel is that He determines my destiny, not others’ demands or expectations. If He calls me to be a pastor’s wife, in other words, it will be in a way that is Hannah, not anyone else. And as Creator and Redeemer of Hannah, God gets to be in charge of what that looks like, not the PTA or the womens’ ministry at a church. And if He calls me to be a pastor, it will be in a way that is Hannah, not anyone else. And God gets to be in charge of what that looks like, not “Celebrity Pastor A” or even my own congregants.

This calls me to repentance of my fear of others’ expectations as the driving force of my life, and to step out behind the bars of their (spoken and unspoken) demands; to choose to fix my eyes on Christ, my True Master and the determiner of my destiny. It calls me to follow Him in freedom to whatever future He has laid out, and to trust and obey Him through the difficulties—because I know they will come, no matter what the future holds. And it calls me to sleep in peace each night, no matter what Betty Lou or John Doe might currently think of me.

Whose expectations do you fear? How has that maybe driven you in one direction or another? What would following Christ instead look like for you?

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Dreaming about the Future

Today, it hit me. In one year, we'll be graduating from seminary. That means in one year, we'll be moving on. Taking the next step. Relocating. Will that be geographical? I don't know. I think so, but I'm not in charge. I can't make things happen or create an opportunity that will work. 

Today, we sent an email with our resumes to a potential "next step." It sounds like a small detail that should get lost in the immediacy of papers to write, vocab words to learn, events to plan, neighbors to visit, and friends to see. But it has consumed me. The thought of the future-- the unknown, the potential, the "yet to come but on the horizon"-- animates me like black coffee in the morning. It makes my heart race. It distracts me from things like the syntax diagram in my hand or the dirty dishes in the sink. It distracts me from the now. 

Today, I was reminded that I am a dreamer. God created me, fashioned me, with a sense of adventure. For me, "the next step" is like the chapter following a cliffhanger that is so tantalizing, putting the book down isn't an option. I'd rather keep going and bite my nails down to stubs and lose sleep and have to sneak under the covers to see what's next than to wait it out. In fact, waiting often doesn't feel like an option for me. I may try to let it go, but the still unclear vision of the future-- and all its accompanying questions-- finds its way back into my mind over and over again, like a song on repeat.

Today, God met me with His love. He affirmed my desire to know, my excitement about what's next, and my eagerness to see what He will do. But He also reminded me of my inability to make it happen. He confirmed the fact that I can't force an answer out of the people looking at our resumes, and I can't make them choose us. He reminded me that I can't make this year go faster and I can't work out all of its details. He reminded me that not too long ago, Dallas was "the next step," and it was nothing like I envisioned. I couldn't have dreamed up this season of life, and in fact, what I did have "planned" proved to be far inferior to what God actually had in store. In getting us here, He showed up and showed off. He confirmed that He is in charge, and that He cares about the details that I sit endlessly contemplating. And He reminded me, kindly, that He is far more competent in addressing them than I am. 

Today, He invited me to trust Him with the future, and to be fully present where I am. He provided for this season, and He did so on purpose. I have a year left of important stuff to do. And if I spend this whole year living in a fantasy-future, I'll be less prepared for reality's future. I'll miss some of what God has for me now; and now is never wasted with Him. Every minute He asks me to wait is for a purpose. And every minute I choose to release to Him the tension in my stomach that screams, "what's next?" is a minute of great significance. 


Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Sex and the Gospel, Pt. 9: Pornography

Today I sat in on a student discussion during lunch that my husband attends every week as part of his degree requirement. I thought, "It'll be nice to come listen for once, just to see what it's like." Walking in, two things became clear instantly. First, the topic was pornography and masturbation. Second, I was the only female in the room.

If I were even a little more, well-- shy-- than I am, I might have found an excuse to bail out of what would likely be an awkward conversation. But, I didn't. Instead, I felt thankful for the opportunity to hear my brothers share from their own experience concerning this issue. I felt privileged to hear a room full of men discuss the freedom they've found in being open about once secret struggles, about the grace they've experienced in community, about the growth in intimacy with God and others they've had as a result of deeply and honestly evaluating their addiction to a two-dimensional non-reality. But I wanted to speak up when comments were made about how this is a "man's problem" or something women need to know "about men." 

I wanted to tell them it's not just a man's problem. I wanted to tell them that all of us-- male and female, "users" and non-users-- are affected by pornography. I wanted to tell them that though I didn't grow up looking at porn, I did grow up around people who did, and that dramatically influenced my own sexual development. I didn't have to sneak a Playboy, for example, to learn that women are supposed to be unrealistically thin with unrealistically huge breasts, and I didn't have to watch a video to know that we are supposed to be willing objects-- accessories to a man's every sexual whim. I barely had to turn on the TV or walk through the mall or listen to a song on the radio to learn that. 

But I listened. I listened to them describe their own realizations about the cause-and-effect downward spiral of pornography use. I listened to them say that real, interpersonal intimacy is risky and inconvenient, and that pornography is an attractive replacement. Think about it: how much rejection does one risk exposing his body to a lifeless magazine? None. How much does he have to adjust his sexual fantasy to accommodate the other active participant? None. How much work does he have to put into a complex, committed relationship with a porn star who doesn't even know he exists? None. I listened as they explained how pornography and "solo sex" is a safe, but sorry, replacement for interpersonal intimacy. 

I'm glad I chose to listen, because in doing so, I was convicted. I realized I had not only been affected by pornography, but that I had bought into its lie. See, in accepting that women are objects of a man's sexual pleasure, I was avoiding real interpersonal intimacy as well. I was reducing myself to something that (I thought) men wanted, and hiding away the parts of me I feared them rejecting.  I went along with whatever (I thought) a guy wanted, and avoided bringing my own desires and interests into the dynamic. I made myself available for little or no effort on a guy's part. In short, I tried to become a two-dimensional non-reality; an available object, who requires no commitment to enjoy. 

I became a character in the narrative that objectified me, for the same reasons my "objectifiers" did: a desire for, but fear of, real intimacy. And I realized that in doing so, I was objectifying them as well. I was reducing them to jerks who aren't capable of real relationships; who would never be interested in me as a person; who would lose interest if I ever said "no;" who can't be expected to feel or commit to anything beyond a few minutes of pleasure. 

This narrative, and the role I cast for myself and the men around me, went largely unchallenged until I met my husband. He was actually interested in and attracted to those things about me that I tried to keep hidden in romantic relationships. "Wait, you are more interested in my thoughts than in my breasts? You find it attractive that I read theology and poetry?" He respected what I brought to a relationship and didn't want to set the agenda for all of our activities. "Wait, you don't just want me to be an accessory to your life?"  He saw me as a person he wanted to commit to, not an object he could use. "Wait, you don't care what I wear? And you don't want to sleep with me before you marry me?!" 

Slowly, layer by layer, the narrative that pornography gave me began to fall away. I began to realize that I am not an object, but a person. And I began to realize that men are not objects either; they are persons. As I sat quietly in that classroom, I saw the men around me not as something totally other than me in their experience with pornography, but as friends who have been victimized by it in the same ways I have. All of us-- male and female, "users" and non-users-- are stripped of our humanity when we enter into a pornographic narrative; we become heartless objects who use each other for a chance at connecting in the only way we think we can. And all of us-- male and female, "users" and non-users-- are in need of an alternative narrative by which we understand our sexuality and its role in intimacy.

To be continued....