A heart of stone is a protective measure often resulting from trauma.
How many of us I wonder are experiencing a type of trauma from the pandemic? I can feel it. It creeps in quietly. I have less to bemoan than many. Still, there it is. Encroaching. Pervasive.
I have been finding comfort in the prayers of saints that have gone before me. This morning I pray with St Ambrose for a heart of flesh.
O Lord, who has mercy upon all, take away from me my sins, and mercifully kindle in me the fire of thy Holy Spirit. Take away from me the heart of stone, and give me a heart of flesh, a heart to love and adore thee, a heart to delight in thee, to follow and to enjoy thee, for Christ’s sake. Amen.
When I was a teenager I was told by high school advisors to set a career goal for myself. I had always received fairly good grades with very little effort on my part. But I hated going to school and had zero desire to attend college. I had a serious boyfriend that I intended to marry. As long as he went to college I would probably be okay I reasoned.
I remember reporting my aversion to higher education and answering personality type questions on a career evaluation form. Those supposedly wise in the ways of counseling young aspiring students shared their findings and advice based on the evaluation results. My most exciting prospect among the proposed career paths? File clerk.
I went home and told my dad I was going to be a file clerk. He laughed.
“That’s what they told you to do? That’s what you want to do? Sit in a room and file papers all day?”
Despite not rising to the standard of the extraordinary high intelligence that runs in my family, I think my dad knew that I was capable of a more intellectually challenging job.
Now I don’t have a problem with doing any job, file clerk or otherwise. There is value in faithfully carrying out one’s duties regardless of what those duties are. One of my favorite jobs when I substituted as a para-educator was filing the returned library books back onto the shelves. In a world of disorder and chaos there is something so gratifying and so peaceful about the Dewey decimal system. A place for everything and everything in its place. Maybe file clerk wasn’t far off the mark. But I digress.
Back to high school. Having been ridiculed by my father for accepting the advised career, I set about discovering who I really wanted to be and what I really wanted to do. I decided on the most worthy thing I could think of at the time. I wanted to be a stay at home mom.
My mother worked outside of the home only occasionally when I was young and after the fourth child, ceased outside work altogether. She dedicated herself to raising her children and volunteered massive amounts of hours at our church. I admired her more that anyone else I knew. To this day, I can think of no one more loving and giving.
So my answer on the fill-in-the-blank career questionnaire? “After high school I plan to be a stay at home mom.” My counselors told me that was not a career. It was a foolish plan. “How do you know you’ll even get married? How do you know your husband will make enough to support you? What will you do if you end up divorcing?”
I found it infuriating that they would diminish the value of the noble job of motherhood. I still get red in the face when people say “just” a mom. Motherhood is indeed a high calling, just as fatherhood is.
Thirty years later, I now find myself in a different corner of the discussion. Recently there’s been a tweet going around that says:
“Raise your daughters from an early age that their highest and best calling is to be a wife and a mother!”
As one who once thought of this as my only calling, I want to now say of above tweet:
While we should never minimize the importance of parenthood, it is wrong to speak of it as the “highest” calling. Jesus never said that. In fact, when faced with the request to advise Mary to return to domestic duties in the book of Luke he responded as follows:
“but few things are needed—or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.”
What was Mary doing? Sitting at the feet of Jesus and listening in the position of a disciple.
A disciple learns, follows and carries out the instructions of a master. This is our highest calling whether male or female.
The wife and motherhood promoting tweeter and others of like mind use the “call” to spousal duties to support their belief that young women need not attend college. (Ironically, something I would have used in my favor 30 years ago.) They generally find common ground among those who believe women’s roles in the church are to be restricted.
However, Christ has not come to restrict us but to set us free. The Holy Spirit was not poured out to limit our function but to empower and expand our effective witness to a world needing the gospel. To advocate for women to remain uneducated, inside their homes is antithetical to the great commission!
The sin fullness of telling women what they should or should not aspire to in life is that it puts the advisor in the place of God as the one who created us for his good purposes.
“For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” Ephesians 2:10
We need women’s voices in the workplace and the pulpit. We need educated men and women engaging in intelligent discussion. We need them both in political positions and in our educational systems.
To circle back around to where I started, I do think being a wife and mom is important. I did marry that high school boyfriend. We raised four children together. I was a stay at home mom for part of the time and a working mom at other times. My high school counselors were wrong.
However, motherhood becomes a limited role as years progress and I did pursue higher education later in life when I knew what I wanted to do with it.
I became a licensed pastor fifteen years ago, initially serving as a children’s pastor. Seven years ago I planted a church that I now serve as senior pastor. And I find myself in an interesting reversal of roles in this current debate.
I used to find myself arguing with those outside of the church that would scoff at the value of a wife and mom. I now find myself at odds with those inside the church that scoff at any role other than that.
When will we learn to stop telling women what they should or should not do with their lives? My path is my path, uniquely designed and directed by my Lord. Your path is yours and yours alone. Only God has the authority to define and direct the call of his creation. He is the author of the soul. He knows the script he has written for his daughter. Everyone else, back off!
As I write, I am sitting in the rain on my deck contemplating life, death and thanks to my brother’s blog, dinosaurs. I feel slightly guilty. I should be being more productive. But wait, it’s after 8 p.m. Why do I feel the need to be productive at 8 p.m.? (And why does the period after the m in p.m. look wrong next to the question mark? Is that correct?)
Anyhow, I want to say something about the insanely fast pace of Western culture. Perhaps other cultures are fast paced also. Having not had the opportunity to travel, I cannot say firsthand. I am told that other cultures are more relaxed.
I feel that the pace of our lives has begun to seep into our ability to reason. It seems a quick lifestyle has translated to the need for a quick answer. To EVERYTHING. Sorry. Shouting is uncalled for. Plus it harshes my back porch vibe.
The scenario goes like this: person A reads a Twitter post that sounds ‘off’. Said person immediately replies with scathing witt. Dumpster fire starts. Nobody is happy. No one changes their mind. No one discovers a new perspective.
What if we did this another way? What if person A read the post and thought “How odd that someone sees life so differently from me. I must ponder this, look deeper, try to imagine myself with their life experiences.” What if this person asked respectful clarifying questions? What if ‘A’ said thank you for your perspective? Let me share mine.
I know, it will never catch on. Why? Because it simply takes too long and our lives are too busy.
We will never be thoughtful human beings as long as we are in a hurry. This is not a new concept. The book of James tells us that
“Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires.”
Our fast flyingrighteousindignation will not make the world right. It won’t even change the views of the source of our ire or stem the stuff that they spew. If we have any any hope of consensus or even civility we have to slow down. We have to listen to the views of the people who oppose us, think about it honestly and invite them to do likewise.
Will it work? I don’t know.What’s more, Idon’t have the time to find out. Neither do you.
Bleary eyed I rolled over to the sound of the alarm on my phone. (I had been awake for a while but refused to stir before the designated 6 am start time.) I’m up.
“Okay God, let’s do this. “ I said as I sat up to start my day. Yes, I often talk to God first thing in the morning. Most of the time my conversations are in my head but on mornings like this, when my husband is out of town, I talk out loud. I wrapped my robe around me and grabbed my phone. The morning ritual is as follows: go downstairs, let the dogs out, use the bathroom, get coffee (hopefully I remembered to set the timer the night before) then I sit outside and check my messages (text, email, social media) while I wait for the dogs to return to the porch and come back inside. This morning as I checked my phone a reminder popped up. Today – Kelley’s B-Day. I did not need to be reminded. I remember.
Most mothers don’t need to be reminded of their children’s birthdays. When those children are gone, the dates hold even more significance. I have had so many reminders of my baby girl these last few days. She is always on the forefront of my mind.
As I celebrated my third son Joey’s high school graduation, Kelley was there. My emotions were a chaotic swirl of heights and depths. I was so proud of him for making it through. Going back to the school he shared with his sister the day after she died could not have been easy. Getting through the high school years can be grueling. Traveling those halls and classrooms while your sister is the subject of the current gossip only adds to the strain. But he did it. It was a joyful day. It was a day of relief. I would never again have to ask, “Did you do your homework?” Never again would I be stressed out about one of my children passing their classes. No more shuttling kids back and forth for football games, band, choir, drama and all the other school related activities. A weight was lifted. But it felt wrong. I’m not supposed to be done yet. I’m supposed to be going through it all for one more year. I’m supposed to be seeing my youngest through her senior year. I’m supposed to have one more graduation party to throw. I am in the present and the past at the same time. I look forward. I look back. I remember.
I went to another graduation days later, this one in our previous town. We were blessed to be able to share in the graduation of Joey’s best friend. Over the years Kanyen has become part of our family. So we were thrilled to be invited to attend his graduation. So many names that night brought back memories made in the small town of Stanwood. Many of the names were of girls Kelley danced with. I watched them walk across the stage while I dammed up the tears behind my eyes. I used to celebrate their milestones together with their own “dance moms”. I remember.
I look on the Facebook and Instagram posts of my daughter’s friends. The sweet sixteen birthday that Kelley never had, the graduation stage that Kelley will never walk across. The engagement photos that I will never help plan. I am surrounded by reminders of what will never be.
Reminders of Kelley are everywhere. And they are good. Yes, that’s right, good. Even though I grieve the milestones I’ve been robbed of, even though I mourn the days that never were, these reminders bring me hope. Kelley is near in my heart. She is active in my memories and she is well in the arms of her savior.
For today, I see her in the smile of her best friend. I feel her dance in the flight of the butterflies. I look back at old photos and I tell stories of shared life in years past. I remember.
One day I will see her again in eternity. Her smile. Her laugh. Together before the throne of grace, we will once again swirl in dance, hand in hand as we did in years past.
I have been reading the book The Power of Moments by Chip and Dan Heath. In it, the authors speak of elevating moments to create experiences worth capturing. This week, my personal coach suggested that I take a moment to celebrate the close of our coaching sessions. In the past few moths, Coach Colleen has helped me to successfully move from daydreaming to doing in two separate aspect of my life, physical health and writing.
I spent the last few days thinking of what a celebration should look like. One thing struck me. A true celebration should include friends. So I am inviting you, my readers to join me in celebrating by sharing in a sneak peak of the book I’m writing. So enjoy this excerpt and then do a little dance party move for me, will you?
Oh, and if any of you are interested, Coach Colleen is great! She is available to consult online and the time invested is sooo worth it.
Journeys are unpredictable. They sometimes come across barriers, road blocks and dead ends. On rare occasions, one can round a bend to be astonished by breath-stealing beauty of rare brilliance. My journey in life has not been what I would have imagined. There has been such great and glorious beauty on the road. There has been some abrupt dead ends that have nearly been the death of me. Here is a mini trip report.
When I was a little girl, I wanted to be a dancer. I wasn’t one. I grew up, got married and had a little girl. She wanted to be a dancer too. She was a beautiful dancer! Then she died. This was not on my road map.
I write to express my pain. I write to share my hope. I write for me and hope it blesses you. I write about my experience, my attempts at healing and wholeness. I write about random thoughts, daydreams on my journey.
Those who have been following my earlier writings will find similar topics to those in the “my journey” section of this site. This is the most personal of my writings. I have added “current conversations” to the menu as a place for me to share opinions on the topics of the day. I will be adding “ministry conversations” as a third category of writing soon. The home page will always show the most recent in all three categories.
I wanted my readers to know of the slight change in format. I want you to know why. I have decided to pursue writing more intentionally. I have begun to write my autobiography. Part of embracing this new chapter means writing consistently, practicing the art of writing. The added categories will help me to do that on those days when I just cannot bring myself to dredge up more of my soul for public consumption. I will be able to sort out my thoughts on topics other than myself in my favorite way, through writing. This too is a part of my journey, a sign of growth and healing. There was a day when my own pain consumed my thoughts. I still have that pain but it is no longer all-consuming. I can think more broadly on the world around me. I want to share those thoughts with you.
As I read through my twitter feed lately I am bombarded with opinions surrounding the issue of abortion. Each slide blasts the other with moral arguments designed to shame the holders of the opposing viewpoint.
I try to keep clear of anything that smells like politics online or in public speaking. So I’m not going to attach my opinion to any one side or party. What I am going to do is argue for a higher level of discourse.
For too long there have been some in the religious right that have used shame as a tool to attempt to vault themselves above others and to keep their members from speaking out in dissent. I don’t believe this is honoring to God who seeks to justify rather than condemn us. (Rom. 8:1,33) Christianity is not about bringing shame. It’s about being met in our brokenness, forgiven our sins, being made new.
Not only is public shaming incongruent with God’s ways, it is not productive. I can’t see a way forward in our public conversation by attempting to bring shame on those who see the issue through a different lens. Do we really think that cruelty will bring anyone over to our way of thinking? We can disagree. We can share our reasons for it. We can even attempt to bring correction when someone’s facts aren’t straight. But we can do it with kindness. This is how we follow in the steps of our Father in Heaven.
God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance.
Romans 2:4 ESV
Now just so we’re clear, this shame based tactic doesn’t belong solely to the conservative side. Those on the liberal side of the fence are just as likely to play the shame game. State representative Brian Sims sets a prime example.
One side says shame on you for murder. The other says shame on you for telling women what to do with their bodies. One side values life above all else the other values freedom above all else. The end result is nobody gets anywhere in changing the hearts and minds of the opposition. In fact the only thing accomplished is that we now see each other as opponents rather than sisters and brothers.
We need a better way. We are tearing each other apart and building walls of separation that prevent any path to consensus. We need solutions not shaming.
While I do not believe our country will ever land in a place where all people are satisfied, there is hope for a majority consensus. It turns out according to polls that 80% of Americans believe abortions should be limited to the first trimester. In these polarized days, it is hard to get 80% of Americans to agree on anything. Let’s start there. Let’s ask compelling questions. Let’s work towards solutions.
One inference we might make based on the above statistic is that the American people see a fetus as a baby sometime before she is born. If this is so, why do those same Americans believe abortion should be allowed in the first trimester? Is it for scientific/ medical reasons or as a concession to the practical difficulties of having children? The answer is not uniform among all people but it is probably more to do with the practical. It goes something like, ‘Having a baby is a life altering event and I don’t have the right to force someone else to change the trajectory of her life.’
Okay. So instead of arguing over who’s rights are greater, the infant or the mother, let’s look at those practical difficulties and how we can minimize the negative impacts on the mother’s life and maximize the positive impacts.
One example may be that pro-life business owners and managers look at the realities of the work environment they control. If a woman were to become pregnant would she have to worry about being passed up for promotion due to her need for maternity leave or because as primary caregiver she may take more sick days and be less available for overtime? Let’s be real. Kids change life and priorities. That manager can minimize the negative impacts and reassure prospective parents by proactively developing an environment conducive to child rearing employees. What if instead of overlooking the pregnant applicant, the boss looks first to promote that person with an extra mouth to feed? What if companies provided a raise or a childcare allowance to those with growing families? On-site daycare is a popular pro-family concept. These can be expensive options. But if you are pro-life, isn’t it worth it? If we aren’t willing to share the inconvenience and cost of the baby, do we really have the right to condemn those who would end her life for those same reasons? I believe life is worth the expense! Other ideas may not cost anything at all. Creative options such as more work-from-home days for those with kids can allow for continued workflow during a child’s sick day.
And that’s just the work environment. What about the environment at church? In her neighborhood? Is she receiving love and acceptance or is she being judged and shamed? The conversation should continue. I am convinced that there is a way to better the environment in which the unexpectedly pregnant woman suddenly finds herself.
Bottom line. There are reasons women get abortions. Right or wrong, that is the reality. If pro-lifers are serious about saving lives, they need to be serious about changing the environment that those lives are born into. Women need solutions, not shame.
I have hoped for a real life mentor for years. Finding a seasoned pastor willing to mentor a woman in the art of pastoring is like finding fireflies in Bellingham, Washington. Impossible. Non-existent. Or so it seems. Most pastors are men and most men don’t want to mentor a woman.
So when the voice on the phone began talking about setting me up with a coach, I thought this would be an answer to prayer! In my mind I was thinking of an older senior pastor, maybe retired at this point, mentoring me in how to better live out my calling. Coaching and mentoring were pretty much the same thing, right?
I would soon discover that mentoring and coaching were two very different things. And that my coach, despite my earlier preconceptions is not a pastor that functions in the same way I do. While she and her husband do pastor a church in Montana, she herself does not hold the responsibility of preaching weekly in the Sunday service. She is not the sole person setting the vision and direction for the church, etc. She is also fairly close to the same age and so does not have much additional life experience. How, I wondered is this person going to be able to guide me into being a better pastor?
It turns out , that is not the intended role of a coach. While mentors are typically people who have more life experience and skill in a field and offer the wisdom and advice of their years to those younger and newer to the work, a coach is not there to advise at all. Rather, a coach, I would learn is there to listen and ask questions.
To what did I just agree? Was this some secret plot to get me into counseling without telling me up front? What on earth would I talk about for hours a month to this total stranger? All of my skepticism was on full alert.
Here’s what I’ve found. This coaching thing has the potential to be immensely helpful. Over the last few weeks, my coach has asked me to clarify my goals and make a plan towards accomplishing those goals. She doesn’t give me the plan, but rather forces me to make one. She asks me to identify road blocks and come up with a way around them. She holds me accountable to actually carrying out the action steps I commit to during our sessions.
Coaching has the effect of taking the nebulous thoughts of “one of these days I’m going to __________ (fill in the blank)” and transforming them to “tomorrow I will start the work of __________.” Coaching is a tool to move one from daydreaming (something I could teach a college course in) to accomplishing lifelong dreams.
This blog post is a product, albeit a small one, of coaching. One of those afore mentioned daydreams in my life has been to write a book. Thanks to Coach Colleen, I have begun. Today, I am announcing to the world, “I am a writer.” Okay, maybe not the world, it’s really a small handful of people who read my blog. But I’m putting it out there. My coach says that is a brave thing to do.
Two days ago my family did what most American families do on July 4th; we celebrated Independence Day. As I put on my red lipstick, I thought of how just a year ago, I would have done that with my daughter. Kelley’s love of holidays matched my own. (Her love of make-up greatly exceeded mine.) She would have approved my patriotic cosmetic efforts. Any chance to celebrate was always grabbed hold of with both hands. If one can dress up for the occasion – excellent!
Even without my partner in beauty products, I enjoyed celebrating with my family and friends. I find myself in a strange new reality. I cry so often I have pretty much given up wearing eye make-up. Yet I can still laugh, play games, enjoy good food and great company. I can carry on a conversation with a friend uninterrupted even while tears roll unapologetically down by face. This duality of living a life of both grief and joy is perplexing to me. It’s not what I would have imagined.
It takes no imagination however, to predict that my pain would open doors to ministry opportunities. I know God never wastes the difficult experiences in our lives, but uses them to further the spread of his love, his kingdom.
“We know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” Romans 8:28
I don’t ever seek to use my experience. I still find myself resentful of anything that smells of consolation. In my mind and heart, nothing can ever be worth the loss of my precious daughter. But opportunities do come unbidden onto my path whether or not I seek them. One such opportunity took place at a conference in May.
I was searching for nothing more than a seat when I found a woman who looked up at me from her phone. Despite not knowing me she shook her head, sighed heavily and proceeded to tell me in an exasperated tone that she had just about had it with one of the women in her church to whom she had been ministering. It seems this tiresome woman had lost her son and just couldn’t “get over it.” When she revealed that this had happened almost two months ago I repressed the visualized urge I had to do a fancy karate spin ending with my swift foot to her teeth and said a mental prayer for wisdom instead. I was able to share how I had lost my only daughter in August and assured her that at two months, this woman had not even begun to grieve. I talked to her at length and encouraged her to be compassionate. I shared what little wisdom I had through my recent experiences and she left with a changed heart.
And now one more heart has melted, just a bit.
Our church rents space from another business. One of the women who works for that company is kind-hearted and thoughtful. However, during one of our earliest conversations, in an attempt to preempt any spiritual talk, she told me flat out, in no uncertain terms that she did not and could not believe in God. Yesterday as I was praying, for some unknown reason she approached and asked me about my children. Normally, I talk about my three boys and do not mention Kelley to those I don’t know well. After telling her about my sons, I felt a nudge in my soul to talk of Kelley. As I talked smoothly and calmly, seemingly disconnected from the tears that started to flow, she was moved emotionally. She shared that she too had lost a child. Her only son had been killed at the age of seventeen. We talked for only a short time. In that time, we connected. As she walked away after a brief hug, this woman that I had only just begun to get to know said, “I love you.”
While nothing is worth the loss of my Kelley, I thank God for his mercies in allowing me to use my grief to reach others, to connect on a deeper level and impart some level of blessing.
May you too find hidden fruit blooming from the soil of your sorrow my friends. Until next time, be blessed and be a blessing.
Today would have been Kelley’s sixteenth birthday. Naturally, this is a day of deep reflection for me. I decided that I might as well share some of my thoughts with you, my online friends.
As I sit here at my desk, I have had the pleasure of watching multiple Western Tiger Swallowtail butterflies flitting around just outside my window. (Yes, I had to look up the official identification so I could impress you all with my knowledge of insects.) There are many more than I am used to seeing. I’ve decided to take this as a special gift from God today. He is so kind and generous to me. Butterflies reveal life transformed. This is how I think of Kelley. She is alive in a way I have yet to see, beyond my imagination. She now exceeds any man-made beauty or cleaver costumes one could design.
These thoughts bring me hope and even a small smile to my lips. Yet I still grieve. I mourn the loss of this day as it should have been. We had talked of an elaborate sweet sixteen party with a white tent in the back yard, Eiffel tower vases with white ostrich feathers on the tables, music and friends. I love all the friends Kelley and I made together through the years and I am truly happy when they have opportunity to celebrate life and its milestones. However, it is still painful to see all the birthday parties and proms and graduations posted on social media. I mourn the lost times that never were.
Kelley’s 15th Birthday
I know there is no earthly celebration that compares with her joy in Heaven. There is no dance performance that matches the exhilaration of dancing before the throne of God. But there is one thing lacking in these experiences, the ability for me to share it with her. The lack is felt only by me as there are no tears in Heaven. I have not been able, no matter my efforts, to put aside my selfish desire to be with her. I miss her smile and her laugh. I miss getting up early and driving her to school for jazz band. I miss singing in the car to the radio. I miss making up dance moves to songs while playing board games and I miss twirling around the dance floor at weddings or wherever the opportunity arose. I eagerly anticipate the day when we will dance together again in Heaven. Until then, Happy Birthday Princess.