The F-word and church

It started as a practical offer.

One of the guys who usually helps pass the plate with Jack and two other guys at church wasn’t there on Sunday. There are four aisles. There need to be four people.

“I’ll do it,” I said casually, hoping I wouldn’t hear what I was about to from the men I was standing with, but knowing I probably would.

“Wait,” our friend said, “is that allowed?”

It’s a question I have been afraid to ask about a lot of things inside my church’s four walls. I grew up in traditional baptist churches, where men lead, men teach, men deacon, and men decide.

What am I allowed to do here?

I have been on a journey over the last few years, one that has lead me to really study the Bible and what it says about issues that bothered me. To challenge the ideas that I grew up with and always accepted as truth because I had been told how certain scripture should be interpreted.

I have been learning what it means to be an adult Christian. One who decides to love Jesus because of who He is and not because my parents told me we do.

It started when I didn’t marry Ben Sisney.

Ben was the best-friend-boy I grew up with that my parents imagined me marrying. At least, they imagined me marrying a Ben Sisney. Someone who had also spent his childhood running around in a baptist church like I did. As I became a teenager, that’s exactly what I imagined too. He would know the Bible backwards and forwards, would probably be able to quote scripture, and would be able to make intelligent, witty jokes that referenced obscure Bible stories at (alcohol-free) dinner parties.

Sorry, Mom and Dad. We'll never have Bible-verse memorizing babies together.

Sorry, Mom and Dad. We’ll never have Bible-memorizing babies together.

The problem is, I didn’t fall in love with a Ben Sisney. I am confident that I was never meant to.

Instead, I fell in love with a boy who grew up in a Catholic church instead of a Baptist one. He hadn’t memorized scripture and his knowledge of basic Bible stories was fuzzy. He couldn’t open his Bible to just the right verse because they just didn’t have to do that in his church. His upbringing was different but the result was the same: he loved the same God I love.

So who cares? Well, I did at first. I spent a while trying to reconcile the fact that the person I had pictured being THE SPIRITUAL LEADER OF MY HOUSEHOLD would have to catch up to me in the “look how fast I can look up a Bible verse” department. And OMG(osh, obviously) did that mean that he couldn’t be THE SPIRITUAL LEADER OF MY HOUSEHOLD after all?

Turns out, Jack has led in a way I could have never planned or expected. He has shown me that serving and loving our God means more than being able to pray pretty or quote the entire Romans Road sequence on cue. He has shown me what kindness and humility mean. He has supported me and pushed me in ways that have grown me. And he has challenged me to lead when it time for me to lead.

If that isn’t a spiritual head of a household, I don’t know what is.

I think if I had kept my caps-lock version of that principle in my head, if I had married a Ben Sisney, there’s a good chance I wouldn’t be the person I am today. That husband might have allowed me to only follow instead of pushing me to become a leader in the right areas.*

*Dear THE Ben Sisney, I apologize for the bad rap you’re getting as my metaphorical good Christian husband. I’m confident that you’re a lovely, non-misogynistic husband to Marci.

And so, fast-forwarding through these years of becoming an adult Christian, of deciding what I would keep or reject from my accept-everything-I’m-told churchy upbringing, I have found myself in the often-confusing role of Christian feminist.

There are those reading this who will find that word dirty. I actually have a hard time stating this publicly because I am acutely aware of all the ways feminism gets misinterpreted. Also, I feel it’s more impactful to live out what you believe than to place a label on it.

I have had other Christians (men) warn me against making Christian feminists my role models, against accepting any of their ideas. I have had friends (and probably my mother) worry about my spiritual security when I mention that I’m not comfortable with ways certain scripture (especially scripture about women) has been interpreted. I have been surprised by blatant sexism in my career. I have noticed the disparity in women who lead vs. men who lead in this world.

I have been not allowed to do things in this life for the sole reason that I’m female. Things I would have been great at. And I can’t stop wondering whether my church will stop me from doing things for that reason too.

I have perpetually not fit into the typical church lady mold that seems to exist, even though some of my friends do fit into that mold and seem to be comfortable with it (and use that mold to be amazing servants of Christ).

I love the way Sarah Bessey puts it:

Women have more to offer the church than mad decorating skills or craft nights. I look around: I see women who can offer strategic leadership, wisdom, counsel, and teaching. Their whole lives are an offering, and sometimes, the best way to properly celebrate that offering is with a dozen cupcakes and a fashion show, and that’s okay, too.

Recently Jack and I have talked a lot about this. I can’t stop wondering if women aren’t leaders in our own church because it’s not allowed, or because we aren’t stepping up. Maybe the women are doing craft nights and teaching kids’ Sunday school and doing Bible studies about emotions because that’s what they want to do. But what if women are only doing craft nights and teaching kids’ Sunday school and doing Bible studies about emotions because we think we aren’t allowed to do anything else? If I’m being honest, that’s why I’m doing all of those things (except craft night because I can definitely rock a hot glue gun).

What if we are allowed to lead and just aren’t doing it?

I told him I feel like it’s important for me to be a part of changing that. To be that woman who volunteers for things that only men do when there’s a need for it. To see what they say when I do. And God bless him, he cheered me on.

(He always cheers me on.)

Honestly, I’m terrified about the follow-through here. What if I find out that this church I love, full of people I adore, this place where we finally feel at home, comes back and says I can’t, only because I’m a woman?

(This is how I know when God is telling me to do something, by the way. I never, ever want to do it.)

So I have been studying and praying about this for a while. I feel like this is both a “if anyone knows the good they ought to do and doesn’t do it, it is sin for them” thing and a “make up your mind not to put any stumbling block or obstacle in the way of a brother or sister” thing.

I don’t want to challenge the status quo for the sake of causing trouble, but I don’t want to not challenge the status quo because it’s scary.

So I offered to pass the plate at church. And yeah, it annoyed me that it was even a debate, that anybody even questioned it. It reminded me of how far I feel the church needs to go. Because to be quite frank, unless these men are passing the offering plate with a part that God gave only men, there is no reason I or any other women can’t stand in the aisle and wait for an offering plate to get to the end of a row.

It was time to step up. It was time to know the good I ought to do and do it.

And you know what? It was allowed after all.

Pop goes the cancer!

It was one of those cringe-worthy conversations, the one I overheard today.

He asked where she had been the week before. She kind of avoided the question. He started listing reasons she might have been gone.

Were you sick? Were you traveling? Were you on vacation?

Red Alert! Danger! Back away, dude; it’s about to get scary.

And that’s when she said that a very close loved one died unexpectedly last week.

And the room’s hearts collectively twisted. Ouch.

I had heard it coming. I knew the tone too well. I could tell she was trying to avoid saying what went down last week, and I could tell he was just about to step in it by innocently continuing to ask.

Because it deflates a room, that whole “my brother died” thing. I know all too well the awkwardness that surrounds answering a seemingly harmless question (“Do you have any siblings?”) with a horrifying bombshell (“I used to but now I’m an only child because the brother I absolutely adored got cancer at 30 and died a month later, leaving a wife and a 15-month-old son behind!“*). People don’t know what to say, and why should they? I never did either, and I was the one going through it.

*I try to answer that question less insanely now. But I’m still not the best at it. I’m an awkward mess, really. I’m the Jack-In-The-Box of terrible news.

POP GOES THE CANCER!

I keep seeing articles about “what not to say to a person who is grieving!” and “What to definitely say to a person who is grieving!” and “Ten simple moves you can try tonight that will blow your man’s mind!”**

**That might have been Cosmo. Which I was never allowed to read. So after I got married, I bought and read one. BECAUSE I WAS A GROWN UP. Unfortunately, that magazine is indeed complete (sexist) crap. I hate it when my mom is right.

Anyway. The problem with these articles is that they don’t take into account that oh hey, we are all different people who grieve in different ways and somebody might want to cry in your arms and somebody else might want to make wildly inappropriate and morbid jokes about it with you.

(Guess which category I’m in?)

But you can count on the fact that at some point you’ll cause an incredibly awkward moment in a room, and you will definitely say “THE WRONG THING!” to somebody going through A BAD THING.

Because, say it with me: people! are! DIFFERENT!***

***(Did you read that in the “Wheel of Fortune” crowd voice? If not, please kindly leave. You do not belong here.)

So yeah, it will happen to you. But don’t worry.

I’m sure there’s an Internet article out there somewhere of ten things to say that always make things less awkward no matter who you just said the wrong thing to.

One

I have been at my new job for one month today.

People keep asking me how I like it.

The answer is “lots.”

I am overwhelmed. I am exhausted. I am just trying to get through most weeks.

But I am learning a language I couldn’t speak before, and little by little, word by word, jargon web term by jargon web term, I am starting to understand. I am starting to envision what it will be like (in a year? Maybe?) when I don’t suck at everything anymore. I am starting to think maybe I could do this someday.

(And then I think I can’t. And then I think I can. And then I think I can’t. I live in a constant state of “whatdididoilovethisjobbutwhatdididoilovethisjobbutholycrapwhatdidido?”)

I am getting on airplanes in pointy shoes and attending meetings with incredible clients (I don’t talk in the meetings, no, but I’m there! In my pointy shoes!).

I’m watching other women KICK ASS in the professional world and I’m being inspired by them.

I’m working with people who are flat-out brilliant and working hard to keep my mouth from dropping open when I listen to them speak.

I’m walking into work and making jokes with new co-workers and being overwhelmed by the feeling of this is right.

(And also by the feeling of sweet goodness, this is going to be alright, right?)

(But mostly the first one.)

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to go Google 60 of the words I heard today.

My new job: a summary

Boss-man, on the way out the door: “How’s it going this week?”

Me: “Good!”

Boss-man: “You overwhelmed?”

Me: “Extremely.”

Boss-man: “Cool! We’re doing it right then. Have a good night!”

(I love this place.)

In which life has changed

Sometimes I have so few interesting things going on that I have nothing to write.

And sometimes I have so many interesting things going on that my brain can’t register them all and I have also nothing to write.

WHY, BLOG, WHY!

Here’s the thing: taking a toddler you like to Disney World is WAY BETTER than not taking a toddler you like to Disney World.

Usually I’m a professional cynic at Disney world. Everything costs so much money! The stupid people are many! LEGGINGS AREN’T PANTS!

But bring the kid with me? And all of the sudden I am Julie Andrews on that mountain, arms splayed and singing loudly because THE HILLS ARE ALIVE WITH THE SOUND OF MICKEY!

My buddy met Mickey Mouse, is what I am saying. And it was magical. Magical, I tell you!

Exhibits A-H:

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If you have made it this far in the nephew gushing, congratulations! You must be quite bored and therefore have earned the next set of news that will likely not really interest you all that much unless you are my mom, in which case you already know this and are therefore wasting your time – get back to work helping the children, Mom!

So anyway, this is the definition of burying the lede, but I quit my job at the radio ministry and started a new job at a web company today. I was at the radio ministry for almost seven years, and I’m really thankful for the time I spent there and the people I worked with. I feel really at-peace with the decision, but I also felt a little homesick today when I was the new kid at the new school.

The new school is incredible, though. It’s a place that will grow me and challenge me and give me a tummy ache for all the right reasons. And they are a family too, one that will accept me (and has already!) with open arms. I believe a lot of good will come from being there. I am overwhelmed, and I haven’t really felt that for a while.* These are really impressive people, and I would very much like to impress them with something I do too.

So I’m going to go read my HTML books. And maybe, day-by-day, I will get smarter and less overwhelmed.

Or maybe I will just bake them cookies.

Everybody likes cookies.

*Not technically true; I was very overwhelmed last week when I spent a night in the hospital with Jack, who was admitted for his bulging discs in his back. HOLY PAIN, Batman. He got a steroid shot in his spine and will eventually need surgery. He is still recovering from that and I am recovering from a stomach flu that took me down all weekend and kept me from attending my first day at New Work. All of that was overwhelming too.

Seriously. I am the worst at announcing lots of news. I should have done bullet points.

Unpathy

When I hear about people who have cancer who I don’t know personally – maybe a friend of a friend – I don’t feel much.

Maybe I should. Maybe I am not doing all that well with my word. Maybe someday I will? Maybe this is a phase, like the bad-sleep thing (and can somebody let me know when THAT phase will be over? IT DOES END, RIGHT?)

But I just… don’t feel much when I hear diagnosis news.

And I don’t think much, except one thought that consistently enters my head.

Either they will die, or they won’t.

Cancer treatments are improving. Tests for catching things earlier are improving. Awareness of the need to check for things are improving. And some people just get damn lucky.*

So I kind of assume people will end up okay. Because most people do these days, it seems.

Or they won’t. And they will die.

And for me, either way, I don’t have much to feel about it.

If they end up okay, it’s a wonderful outcome to which I cannot relate.

They don’t need me to get excited about it. They will feel enough of that on their own.

And if they die, I know all too well that there is absolutely nothing I can do to stifle the pain for whoever cared about them.

They don’t need me to be heartbroken over it. They will feel enough of it on their own.

*(Which is really what it comes down to. Luck. Dumb, dumb luck. Despite many ignorant (non-doctor!) people who think they have all the answers about how really to cure cancer. Chemicals this! Oils that! There’s a doctor in Germany that my cousin’s roommate knows who is developing a new chemo! Nutrition all the things! JUST HAVE ENOUGH FAITH AND CUT THE GLUTEN AND DAIRY!

I DO feel things during those conversations; believe me. And I get a little surprised about how often people tell me stuff like this, considering I don’t think anybody can claim that their natural cancer remedy brings people back from the dead. Hey guys? The ship has sailed for my family. Lecture somebody else about your witch doctor cures. Kthanks.)**

**I feel like I should end with something good and not so ALWAYS-DEPRESSING-MANDY, so I will tell you that Jack and I get to take Devin to Disney World this month and I am PEE MY PANTS EXCITED about that.

Let’s all think about that instead of cancer now.

(Well. Let’s think about Disney with Devin. Not me peeing my pants.)

Some words from my brain

I keep opening new blog posts. Because the last one is super depressing and I don’t really want it on top anymore. But then I abandon said new blog posts and that depressing one just stays on top.

Life is overwhelming right now, so writing about life, trying to summarize it, to tell just one story, that’s overwhelming too. Maybe I won’t tell a story or worry about making sense at all tonight. Because no matter what I write, at least it will bump the depressing post down one.

Today’s devotional told me that rest can be a form of worship. To stop being so busy. To stop running. To stop being overwhelmed.

But until I can figure out exactly how to add in all that rest-worship, I’ll be here trying to hold all the pieces together. The marriage pieces and the business(es!) pieces and the grief pieces and the joy pieces and the health pieces and the change pieces and the pieces of the messy, messy house.

They’re kind of everywhere, the pieces. And people keep trying to hand me new pieces.

And it’s not all bad, and it’s not all good. But it is all demanding. And unsummarizeable. The little red squiggly line has decided that “unsummarizable” isn’t a word. I have decided to agree to disagree with the little red squiggly line.

There was a speaker at church a few weeks ago that talked about how much better things were for Christians 40 years ago (Hello, racism? Sexism? Drug use and sexually transmitted diseases? War?). He was 8 years old then.

I don’t know if that is true, because I wasn’t alive then. So it’s hard for me to connect or agree with somebody who is basically saying “things were so much better before you got here!” Plus, the things I remember from when I was 8 are kind of inaccurate. Like how awesome those wafery chocolate covered peanut butter Little Debbie things were. I loved them when I was a kid, but really they taste like wax. We remember things better than they really were, probably in part because our parents shielded us from reality and probably in part because kids are dumb.

And precious and gifts from God and all that too. But c’mon. Also dumb.

The speaker went on to say how Christians are so persecuted now, that we don’t have the rights we once had (you know, how he remembers when he was 8). I guess that’s kind of a hot button issue for me, because I have been to countries where there is actual danger in being a Christian or something else and I have seen groups of people who really are persecuted, and I have never been in that category. And being a white, upper-middle class American Christian? I’m just not terribly worried about my group. Maybe you are. I guess that’s okay too. But I won’t be convinced that my Christianity is in ALL THE DANGER, is all.

I added Meghan Trainor Radio to my (long) list of Pandora stations. You know Meghan, right? She’s all about that bass?

I feel it’s a public service to tell you that. Because it’s a very happy mix. If you like that sort of thing. Or if you’re also all about that bass.

I have been taking pictures lately. People keep asking me to do it for them, which is kind of perfect since I really love doing it. I believe that’s what they call a symbiotic relationship.

And it’s one of the many aforementioned pieces that definitely falls in the “not all bad” category. In fact, if there was a “hardly bad at all” category, it would belong in that one (missing the “not bad even a little bit” category by a narrow margin due to the unfortunate need for business bookkeeping. Bookkeeping and I are not buddies. Nothing personal, Bookkeeping, it’s just that I’m seeing other people and I only hang out with you because it’s part of my custody agreement with Photography Business.)

Also. Fall is creeping in, a few degrees at a time and a few pretend-pumpkin-syrup coffee drinks at a time.

And because Fall requires no bookkeeping (aside, technically, from the extra family photo sessions I book during this season) it belongs into the “not bad even a little bit” category.

That’s a category I can rest-worship in for a minute, at least.

I still wonder that

A year ago he was here. Except he wasn’t really.

A year ago I was there. Except I didn’t want to need to be.

A year ago they moved him down a few floors, to That Floor, where everybody who gets on the elevator with you or passes you in the hallway also has red eyes. And you’ve never seen or spoken to one another before in your lives but you immediately know one another intimately, without a word, as you pass in the hall.

A year ago I learned that they tape a flower to the patient’s door after they die. It seems like a sweet gesture but the first thing I thought was “oh, that’s how they let the nurses know when there is a dead body in the room.”

A year ago I watched him struggle and wondered how people do it for longer than the few weeks we did. A year ago we made morbid-but-fitting jokes to the slightly-horrified hospice nurse just a few minutes after his last breaths. A year ago we saw him for the last time as they wheeled his body away.

A year ago the nightmares started.

A year ago I wondered if it would ever be okay again before I am finally, mercifully home with him.

I still wonder that.

Unchill

It’s VBS week. I haven’t done VBS since I was in VBS but for some inexplicable reason I am helping with it this year. And I use the term “helping” loosely because if the crafts leader were being honest she would probably have to admit that she’d be more efficient without me.

See also: I had to count a stack of papers four times today. I am still not quite clear on whether there were 16, 17, or 18 in it. (They only taught us to count to 10 at A&M.)

And of course, the other reason the word “helping” is used loosely is that I may or may not have a moderate fear of groups of children, which as I understand it is a socially unacceptable fear when you’re working with groups of children.

BUT ISN’T ANYONE ELSE WORRIED THAT IF THEY ORGANIZED THEMSELVES THEY COULD TAKE US ALL OUT!?

Deep breaths, everyone.

Anyway, there’s me and some other volunteers in the crafts area (because as we have learned, Mandy is crafty!!), including a new friend from my Sunday school class, and then a group of teen helpers too.

So Rachael, said friend from said Sunday school class, jokingly asked one of the teen girls last night whether the kids still say “cool” these days, to which the teen replied “uh, no, not really.”

Rachael and I exchanged that certain incredulous glance that two 30-year-olds exchange when their illusion of youth suddenly comes tumbling down around them.

“Wait, what?” she asked.

“You’re kidding, right?” I chimed in.

The three girls exchanged uncomfortable glances and looked back at us like students who just gave the wrong answer in class.

“Um, no, nobody really says ‘cool’ anymore,” the girl replied.

Within moments, we were both peppering them question after question, all of them some variation of:

“WHAT do you say instead?”

(The answer? “Chill,” “sick,” or maybe “neat.” The internet* later added the words “shiny,” “dope,” “nifty,” “spiffy,” and of course “tizight.” to my new, very uncool list.)

As Rachael and I got more and more intense in our drilling them with questions, they got more and more uncomfortable. (I can’t imagine why.)

By the end of the conversation I had one of the kids by the shoulders, shaking her with wide eyes screaming “JUST TELL ME WHAT DID YOU REPLACE IT WITH AND WHY!?” **

I’m not crazy. I just really need data. In a crazy, crazy, socially unacceptable manner.

When our group leader mercifully excused them from the awkward conversation, me holding Rachael back as she tried to charge and swing at them,** they grabbed their belongings and darted at lightening speed toward the staircase in uncomfortable silence.

As they rounded the corner, we heard all three bust into uncontrollable laughter and immediately begin chattering about the preceding conversation. Rachael’s eyes lit up and she whipped her head around toward me.

“They were totally making fun of us!”

The group leader tried to convince us that that was a good thing because they were bonding! And that the joke’s on them, we can drive and they can’t! Score!

Later, Rachael and I were texting.

“What I usually tell kids when they think I’m uncool is that I eat ice cream for dinner sometimes and that nobody tells me no.” I typed. “I’ll take a grown-up paycheck over being cool. I wasn’t cool before anyway.”

“Man. I’m lactose intolerant and a stay at home mom. Burn,” Rachael responded.

Oh.

Well.

Um.

At least she can drive.

Driving is pretty cool.

*YES, OKAY, I spent the evening Googling “Do kids still say cool?” I am a thousand years old.

**That didn’t happen.

Brace

I’m starting to get spam comments on this blog because it has been so long since I have written.

I haven’t had a lot to say.

Life has been going on. There have been photo shoots and black belt testings and trips to see friends weariness and contentment and life. We committed to a church. We laughed over pizza. We had hard conversations.

Life has been going on.

Shane’s birthday has come and gone, and yesterday the year mark from that day he got back from Brazil came and went as well. On Monday the year mark from his diagnosis will come and go, and I know what came after that.

And I am bracing myself.

I already feel it sneaking into my thoughts. I feel myself reliving it even though logically I don’t make much of anniversaries and he’s not any more or less dead now because it’s been exactly 365 days since something.

It shouldn’t matter. June shouldn’t matter. July shouldn’t matter. It’s the same. He’s gone anyway.

But it’s there. Sneaking in. And I am bracing myself.

That makes me think of Shane in the ICU, bracing himself on a walker as he struggled down the hall, looking much older than his short 30 years. He had to walk! We said! He wouldn’t recover without walking!

It was a struggle but with Nurse Jen by his side and his walker in front, he braced himself.

And they held him up.

I have that too. I have that in friends and family and my Godsend of a sister-in-law. I have that in my little dog and my church family and oh how I have that in my Jesus.

I am not happy about feeling a need to brace myself for this month.

But I am so, so thankful in all the things God has given me to brace myself on.