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.

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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 revealing 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.