When “Congratulations” Brings Unnecessary Anxiety

Sometimes it’s tough being a woman.*

Sometimes it’s tough being a woman who is struggling with infertility, just graduated from seminary, and is overweight.

Allow me to build my case.

First, I posted on Facebook that a friend had brought graduation to my house in the form of a cap and gown and snacks since I wasn’t able to fly across the country to attend my commencement ceremony. A lot of people liked this status on Facebook (also, a few people loved it, because we have that option now–thank you, Facebook!). A lot of those people attend the church where I am an associate pastor. So a lot of those same people will congratulate me when I see them at church tomorrow.I will appreciate that they are celebrating with me my completed the ThM because it was hard, and cost a lot, and took a long time.

Second, nearly every woman of childbearing age on staff at the church (or who is a wife of a man on staff) is pregnant or nursing and I’m struggling with infertility. My husband and I have been trying, unsuccessfully, for several years to get pregnant with child #2. It’s difficult enough, at times, to be surrounded by these women in all their pregnant glory, but it’s worse when people’s gazes shift inquisitively toward my midsection or when people have assumed I’m pregnant (either because I’m overweight and look like I could be pregnant or because people can’t seem to keep us ladies–the ladies who are on staff and the ladies who are married to men on staff–straight).

And so my fear is that tomorrow, when everyone is congratulating me on my graduation, the casual observer will assume it’s because I’m pregnant (because I am a women of childbearing age and I would bet that, statistically, that’s what we are congratulated on more than anything else, certainly more than graduating from seminary. I am not downplaying this, it is hard work to get pregnant–for some of us–and it is a very exciting thing–for most of us). I am anxious about the fact that someone might misinterpret someone else’s “Congratulations!” regarding seminary as a “Congratulations!” regarding pregnancy. I don’t know if I’m more anxious about the possibility of someone thinking I’m pregnant and not saying something to me or about the possibility of someone thinking I’m pregnant and saying something to me.

I would not have to worry about this is if I were an overweight male of childbearing age. And the sting wouldn’t be so bad if I wasn’t struggling with infertility.  And none of this would be an issue if I weren’t expecting to be showered with congratulations in a large church lobby tomorrow. But I am a woman of childbearing age who is overweight and struggling with infertility who will probably be congratulated a lot regarding my graduation. So tomorrow, when I go to work, I will be building relationships, answering questions, helping with baptism, and hosting a foster care awareness lunch while wrestling through a complex mix of emotions including joy at graduating, sorrow at being infertile, shame at being overweight while trying to convince myself that I shouldn’t think about or worry about what other people may or may not think.

And that is why I say: Sometimes it’s tough being a woman.

*I know that sometimes it’s tough being a man too. But the challenges in this post are particularly related to the fact that I’m female: bearing children, looking pregnant, people focused on my fertility, etc.

The thought of taking the summer off

I graduate on April 30th with my ThM. I will no longer be a student.  Perhaps at some point in my life a PhD will seem like a good idea. But it is not practical now so I can safely say I’m doing being a student for, what I assume will be, a long time.

I have been teaching online since roughly 2010.  Since then I have taught several in-person and online classes for undergraduates and seminary students at a variety of institutions.  I also recently taught a FLAME class (the Wesleyan version of non-accredited ministerial training). But this summer I am doing none of it. No teaching.  No grading. No studenting (that’s not a word, but it should be).

The thought of taking the summer off from being a student and being a professor is both thrilling and terrifying.   I’ve been working on my ThM for nearly a decade and have been either a Grad Fellow or adjunct professor nearly that whole time.  During that time my dad passed away, I  miscarried, given birth, switched jobs several times and moved three times…once across the country.  In the last year I became a full-time pastor, finished the requirements for my ThM, and moved to a nice little city along the shores of Lake Michigan.  I live a mile from the water.  I cannot imagine a better time in life to take a summer off and “only” have a full-time job as a pastor.

 

My daughter has never known me when I’m not in school or not teaching.  My husband has felt the effects of my education and teaching for 11 of the 13 years of our marriage (I started my MA shortly after our first anniversary and took one year off between ending my MA and beginning my ThM…I also worked three jobs then.

I’m looking forward to enjoying my life, not just my accomplishments.  I am looking forward to spending time with my family, to going to the beach ALL THE TIME, to wanting to read again, to being creative, to resting, to not having all of this hanging over my head and weighing me down.  I am looking forward to a break.  And it begins, officially, in 2 days.

 

 

We Can Do Hard Things

I found this in my drafts.  I’m not sure when I wrote it, but my guess is probably fall of 2015.  Even though life has changed pretty dramatically in the last year, there’s still truth in these words…

“We can do hard things”

I was reminded of this quote when reading Carry On, Warrior last week. And I believe that I can do hard things. It’s the little things, piled up, that are killing me right now.

It’s my daughter being unexpectedly ill for the last few days so my schedule is out of whack.
It’s missing a few days of work during a busy season (but, honestly, is any season not busy?).
It’s having a flight cancelled when I just want to get home.
It’s the power going out for three days and losing all the food in the fridge.
It’s the stress of having too many good opportunities and having to decide what to hold onto and what to let go of.
It’s my daughter waking up early the morning after I finally, intentionally, go to bed at a reasonable time.
It’s getting an email accusing you of leading others to sin because you invited them to join you for coffee or ice cream (no, really, that just happened).
It’s going to one more family function and making small talk with family members who have unfriended you on Facebook as if everything’s fine when it’s clearly not.
It’s the stress of not knowing if my husband will return from work encouraged and grateful that he gets to do what he does everyday or so frustrated that he wants to quit.

When you’re weary it doesn’t take a wrecking ball to knock you down; it just takes a small breeze.

There are breezes blowing all over the place.

A Prayer for the New Year

Father,

As we begin this year reflecting on your faithfulness and as we look forward with hope and anticipation, help us not to miss what you’re doing in the midst of us now.  In the chaos and brokeness, in the sadness and tension in fear, in the joy and gratefulness help us to see you, your character, and your relational-ness freshly and more fully.  Help us to see where you are active, shaping and refining us.  Help us to see your hand at work and your provision in our lives.

Shape our hearts to long for what you long for.  For hope, redemption, courage, perseverance, surrender, dependence on you, love, justice, mercy and generosity.

Let us see your kingdom come and your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.  Make us sensitive to the movement of your Spirit as you invite us to be a part of reveling your presence and doing your work on earth.

We pray that you would give hope to the hopeless,
peace to those laden with anxiety,
light to those living in darkeness.

We pray for healing for sickness,
reconciliation in relationships,
freedom from sin.

We pray for more of you;
more experiencing your presence,
more seeing your miracles,
more of your conviction, love and power.

We pray that 2016 welcomes more of your wandering kids back home and that each person in this room will have the opportunity to having meaningful conversations with others about the grace and redemption they’ve experienced because of Jesus Christ.

We ask you to move.  In us and through us.  Help us not to miss it.

In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Hearing God’s Voice

Most often when God leads me it’s very subtle and I’m not aware it’s happening.  I’m jealous of the people who hear audible voices, have visions, dream dreams, who hear a consistent theme through songs, shows, conversations, etc.  I pray, I read my Bible I ask for advice, and then I make a good decision.  Every now and them I’m sure I need to say something or do something or I’m inspired to make a phone call or share my thoughts with a friend.  I’m always cautious to attribute this to God but often the fruit of these acts makes me think maybe it was from him.

Thankfully, I am not alone.

My friend, Michelle told me a story tonight.  On Sunday night she called her son into her room while she was folding laundry and asked about a friend of his whose mother is struggling with cancer.  She mentioned to her son how sad it would be if his friend’s mom passed away without having the opportunity to know Jesus and then asked if his friend’s family went to church anywhere. [pause:  Michelle has a huge heart, is very thoughtful and caring, she is committed to Jesus, but these kinds of words don’t usually come out of her mouth in this way]  When he said that he didn’t think so she suggested maybe he should invite him to youth group.  On Monday he invited his friend.  On Wednesday he went to youth group…and wanted to stay longer.  Tonight he came and served at a community outreach.  On Sunday he’s planning to come to church.

She said she knew where the words came from…the Holy Spirit…but that she’s not sure how because she didn’t hear God talking to her.  Still, she knew there was more to what she was saying than she would normally say herself.  She may not be sure how it happened, but she’s sure it did.

We ask for him to speak and lead, we obey when we’re sure it’s him and we make the best decisions we can along the way and are sometimes surprised when he leads without us realizing it.

Leading Blindly

Today I co-taught a pre-release class in a men’s prison.  It was the first class I have taught in prison.  It will not be the last.

It’s funny to me that a large part of the reason I am co-teaching this particular class is because my friend and co-teacher didn’t feel comfortable doing this new thing alone. She is extremely capable and will do great once she feels comfortable (and then we will follow our plan and I will abandon her).  I don’t feel particularly called to this class at this time, but I do feel called to empower others for ministry to the vulnerable so I know that I am exactly where I need to be.

And then I thought about the church services the team from my church lead at the county jail a couple months ago.  I had not set foot in the jail before planning the church service and leading my team of 8 to lead the inmates in worship and teaching. I didn’t know what it looked like, I just jumped in and pulled others along with me.

It’s not that I had no idea what I was doing.  I teach (college students) on a regular basis, I prepared and lead services for Celebrate Recovery for over a year, and through various recovery ministries I’ve met and befriended a large number of people with complicated backgrounds.  So, with the exception of the one guy on our jail ministry team who had been incarcerated previously, I am the most knowledgeable/experienced person on the team about our ministry context but I am by no means a seasoned pro and I’d still never lead a church service in a jail or taught in a prison until a couple months ago.

I love drawing people deeper into ministry, but I don’t particularly like leading blindly.  I’d rather know and understand the context and feel completely comfortable before slowly introducing others.  As a leader you don’t always have the luxury of knowing the road ahead or even understanding terrain you’re currently on.  So you learn as much as you can, pray as much as you can, and go where God guides.

Things I don’t like: June 24th Edition

I do not like when I’m planning to move on Friday and the home I’m moving to gets sold on Monday so I can’t really live there anymore.

I do not like the stress that kind of uncertainty brings to my home.

I do not like having a cold in June.

I do not like how much of a gloomy cloud I am to those around me.

do like how helpful and thoughtful and supportive my online community and church community have been and I like most of their suggestion.

do like funny TV shows that make me laugh and make everything seem a little better.

do like my friends who don’t feel the need to fix everything or make it seem alright.

I do not like being in this situation.

I do not like having to wait to see how this all works out.

But it will.  Because it always does.

a thesis pep talk

I am convinced that degrees are not awarded to the smartest people. While you do have to have some level of intelligence to get an advanced degree, intelligence is not enough. Advanced degrees are awarded to the people who are stupidly persistent and have chosen to make their degree a priority.

You have to be willing to get up every day and waste hours upon hours finding the right resources. You need to type letter after letter, word after word, and footnote after footnote. You have to edit and then edit again. Then edit again. You have to fight boredom and insecurity.   You have to have courage to cut entire sections that you’ve poured blood, sweat, and tears into because those sections, while necessary for developing your thinking, are not necessary for developing your argument. You have to be willing to focus on things that don’t have immediately application for your everyday life. Even if you chose well enough to have a topic that does have real life application for you or others, it’s value is probably disproportionately low compared to the hours upon hours that you will spend reading, writing and wrestling with words, concepts and readers to get everything just right.

Then, not only will you be “graded” on your project based on whether people liked it or not, found it useful or not, but you will be literally graded on it. One person, or a few people, will determine if your project is good enough. Your peers, mentors, potential colleagues (I say potential because the quality of your project may determine if they’ll ever allow you to work along side them) will read, critique and judge your work and they will be judging you. And, unless you’re one of those people who are lucky enough to be overconfident, this is a terrifying place to be.

And so, I sit today, the day I have set aside to work on my thesis (my second draft is due in less than a week), paralyzed by the magnitude of what lays before me. As much as I tell myself I just need to pass, I just need to get this done, I just need to get this degree so I can move on, I want to do so well so badly. My desire to do well, my inability to judge the quality of my own work, and the fact that I really like approval and sometimes feel like a fraud is crushing me.

My ability to succeed in this venture seems to be based less on my actual intelligence and more on my ability to manage my emotions and my fear and my ability to be persistent when dealing with the overwhelming combination of big ideas and small formatting details and I do not want to deal with those things today; I want to crawl back into bed and pull the covers over my head.

I know I will graduate, I will finish this degree, I will complete my thesis and I will probably even make significant progress on it today. It’s hard to manage these emotions right now but I’ve done it before. I will do it again. And I will keep moving forward. I’ve submitted my graduation paperwork, I’ve got deadlines for turning in my thesis drafts and paying my grad fees. The end is in sight. And I will get there, not because I’m smarter than anyone one else but because I will stupidly persist and will keep putting one foot in front of the other until I get there.

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Pondering Patriarchy in the Primeval and Noahic Blessings

I’m playing with the idea that God’s blessing to Noah and his sons in Genesis 9:1 (which is a direct quote of his blessing to Adam and Eve in 1:28) is an indication that patriarchy has entered the picture when we don’t see it in the original design.  The blessing was originally given to humanity, “male and female” (1:27) and is now given to men (as representatives of their families?). Which begs the question, is God an active participant in patriarchy by addressing only Noah and his sons, by condescending to culture, or is just evidence of selective details written by an author steeped in patriarchy?

What do you think?

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On Receiving Charity in the Form of a Convertible

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“I’m afraid to get my hair cut or go on a date with my husband,” I confided in a friend of mine. She smiled knowingly and laughed with me at the reality and absurdity of the situation.

Being the recipient of charity from within our church has been an awkward but important experience for me. Last week I found out that my car (the reliable car that I took out a small but manageable loan five months ago for my new job as a pastor at the church) is going to need about $2,000 in repairs. My husband and I have done a pretty good job at building up our emergency fund to $1,000 but $1,000 isn’t that useful when it’s only half of what we need.

Last Monday when I dropped the car off at the mechanic, he warned us that it might be a gasket issue. 8 hours later, when I picked it up, he confirmed that it was. I don’t really know what gaskets are, or what they do, but I know they’re critical for keeping your car running and not overheating and that they’re buried deep within in the engine and repairs cost about $1,800-2,000 because of labor.

And so I cried. I hate that I cried but that’s what I do with overwhelming car problems and, for me, most car problems are overwhelming. And then I prayed. I prayed really pious (and honest) prayers that God would be glorified in the midst of this crappiness and that he’d help us figure out what was next

Within an hour and a half of getting the news (and crying) the pastor in charge of benevolence at our church walked me out the church parking lot and showed me a car that had recently been donated to the church. It was a 2005 Sebring convertible (a maroon Michael Scott car). He said we could have it and that we could either use it or sell it and use the selling price to repair our Subaru. I thanked him, told him that I’d talk to my husband and let him know within the next day or two, tried to keep my emotions together and headed inside to another meeting.

Here are my honest thoughts about this process is no particular order.

1. It’s just not fun being the one who needs help. It’s not fun to be in your mid-thirties, to be relatively responsible with your money and still struggling with finances. My husband and I have both chosen careers that don’t pay well and don’t offer a strong hope of ever paying well. We’re not in poverty; we have everything we need (except, apparently, the ability to fix our car) and we’ve been getting better at building financial margin. It is disheartening when that financial margin is repeatedly exhausted with unexpected car repairs, medical bills and other financial surprises.

2. I’ve heard that if you can’t accept charity when you need it then you’re probably judging those you try to give charity to without realizing it. If I can dish it but I can’t take it then I’m probably a hypocrite. If I’m judging myself for needing and accepting help, I’m probably judging those I offer help to whether I realize it or not. This is one of the main reasons I believe I have to be okay with receiving this gracious gift of a car even though it makes me uncomfortable.

3. A convertible seems so over the top. The convertible is worth about the same as our (fixed) Subaru is but no one makes jokes about you being all rich and fancy with a 2003 Subaru Forrester. And we have already gotten (lovingly) teased about “upgrading” to a convertible and becoming snooty.

4. There are so many people who need money and a car more than I do. The worst was when we went to pick up the car and ran into a couple of friends. One had just been ripped off in a business transaction and had dropped about $1000 into his own car. The other had recently lost her job and has debt that she’s working to pay off. I don’t know if they needed it more than we did, but they certainly could have used it! Why should I get this blessing when so many other people are struggling to make ends meet? I think this is like survivor’s guilt…I’ll call it blessing guilt. I know that there will always be people better and worse off than more, more and less qualified than me, but it still feels awkward. I have not yet figured out how to reconcile this.

5. I’m afraid of being pitied (and/or judged). I’m a pastor at the church that gave us the car. I’m pretty sure everyone on staff knows that someone donated the Sebring to the church (we all saw it parked in the small parking lot for a week or two and wondered whose car it was) so if they see me driving it then they’ll know it was given to me. Then they’ll wonder why I got it and they’ll assume, rightly, that we were struggling financially and then they might pity us. And being pitied is not fun. They may not actually pity us or judge us because they’re awesome, nice people, but these are my fears. Because of these fears, I’m tempted to drive our ancient Volvo to work and let my husband drive the Sebring. But, let’s be honest, he probably won’t mind driving a convertible around for a little while.

6. I’m afraid of being watched and judged. I’m afraid someone will think, or say, “She just got her hair highlighted? Oh, my gosh, she needs to set her priorities straight. She’s clearly not poor if she can pay for that kind of pampering,” or “I just saw her post on Facebook that she went out to dinner with her husband and friends. It looked like a nice restaurant. Why does the church need to help her out?” I begin to feel like I have to justify how I’m in a bad enough financial situation that I can’t afford a $2,000 car repair but I can afford frivolous things. (I won’t even point out that spending the $25 I had in the budget for a night out would do almost nothing to close the $1,000 gap between what I have and what I need and that that $25 purchased a whole lot of sanity after a VERY busy and stressful week and that, yes, of course, we’re cutting back on expenses because our priority will be rebuilding the emergency fund and being prayerful about what we should do with the excess…or maybe I will begin to explain that because I feel like I need to justify myself, because I’m afraid of being judged).

7. I am Grateful. It took me a while to be grateful. The shock of a really expensive car repair and the frustration of dealing with car issues again had to be fully felt before I could appreciate the gracious gift that the car is to us. I was frustrated that there was a need for us to be given a car. But once that wore off, I was so grateful. I knew that God would take care of us, he always has, but to do so in such a big way in less than two hours? That’s a crazy good gift. On a related note, I’m afraid of people thinking that I’m not appropriately expressive about my gratitude.

8. Convertibles are fun. As showy as it feels to be driving around town with the top down it’s been so much fun. This weekend was unseasonable warm—sunny and mid to upper seventies—perfect convertible weather. It was super fun to drive around Art Prize with our friends, eating ice cream fully experiencing the night air.

Overall, I realize that being on the receiving end of charity brings up a lot of awkwardness and fear for me, which, I think, indicates that I struggle with pride. I’m committed to not live in this fear and to confess and repent of the pride and judgment, but I have to fight for this. I suspect many people on the receiving end of charity feel that way. I also know that owning my own neediness along with accepting the good gifts from God allows me to live a more free and untethered life. Sometimes it takes being “in need” to make us wrestle with our pride so we can come to a place of recognizing that we are not more than or less than others, that we are interdependent (God never meant for us to go it alone and he often mediates his good gifts and his grace through others), and that we all stand before God, and before each other, as equals.

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