Archive | Women’s Issues

On Quitting My Job

I’m employed by a secular company (I still struggle a bit with complementarian stereotypes, and I am nervous about admitting that to the larger conservative evangelical culture, though I think Christian culture is settling down a bit on that topic). I taught middle and high school math back in the day. But since we moved to Seattle in 2002, I have taught math at the local community college. Since we had kids, I’ve only taught one or two online classes (which isn’t really teaching at all with the computer program we use) because it allowed me to keep my foot in the door at the community college but stay at home with the boys with maximum flexibility.

During any given week during the last 6 years since I’ve had kids, if you asked me that familiar question–“What do you do?”–the true answer would be I change poopy diapers and clean macaroni off the walls. But the answer I always gave was, “I teach math at the community college,” despite the fact that it was about the smallest number of hours of anything I did in a given week.

Well, all that’s coming to an end. I am “retiring” from the community college. And I’m nostalgic. Teaching math defined my life for a long time. I used to be really good at it. Now, I’m marginally effective, though I won’t go into a discourse on the value of traditional verses online classes. My husband says I have the gift of teaching, and I have tried to steward that. I enjoyed teaching, and I enjoyed math. Watching the light come on in a student’s eyes after they had struggled with a math concept has always been an amazing, rewarding moment for me. Someday, I’ll write a post on the value of mathematics to theology, but for now, I’ll just say that those moments when a student finally understands that math has value to their daily lives make teaching it totally worthwhile.

Teaching online classes at the community college was helpful to our family for a while. However, I’m relieved to move on in one sense. It’s been a distraction from things that now are much more important to me. In another sense though, I’m sad, fighting the concern I think most moms have that their lives will get swallowed up in the meaningless practical daily tasks of raising kids, being a wife, and keeping a home. Yes, I said meaningless. Because sometimes no matter how many times someone tries to paint it as beautiful and valuable, cleaning up ravioli off the floor just seems meaningless.

I struggle like everyone else. WHAT WILL DEFINE MY LIFE?! And answering “I teach college math” when someone asks “What do you do?” has at times been a bandaid over a deeper struggle. I feel overwhelmed by the gushing river of responsibilities that is my home and ineffective at my attempts to manage it. And I so often feel GUILTY.

I don’t feel guilty because I DON’T value what I do in my home or don’t see raising my boys and loving my husband as my first priority tasks, but because I DO. I don’t need lectures on my home as my ministry. I know how important this job is. And that’s what makes it so painful when I fail. My husband thinks I’m a good mom, and that has helped me tremendously, but more often than not, I feel like I’m flying by the seat of my pants, running as fast as I can, just to not lose track of all the good moms I’m trailing so far behind.

But, boy howdy, I can teach math!! I need to be good AT SOMETHING. And when I applied myself to teaching math, I seemed a lot better at that than cooking meals, cleaning house, or raising boys.

Teaching was a cool thing over the years because the rewards came a lot quicker. You had high school kids for 9 months (or college students for just 11 weeks). My objectives were completed quickly, and once I turned in grades each quarter for a batch of students, my obligation to them was done. I could watch them walk out of my classroom with satisfaction knowing I had met my personal objectives with them. Not so with husband and kids. I talked about the long term nature of our investment in our family here, and that seemed to resonate with a lot of you. Raising kids takes multiple decades. Marriage is for a lifetime. It’s not a sprint. It’s a long, hard marathon.

I had a conversation with a friend recently about motherhood. She and I have similar mental battles. While lots of women struggle with pride in their homes, both she and I struggle with self condemnation—certain that our children will one day, instead of rising up and calling us blessed, will call us something else, possibly unfit for publication. She said her adult child regularly tells her now that she IS a good mom and seems to genuinely love and appreciate her, and yet my friend STILL struggles with self-condemnation for mistakes she made as a young mother.

It’s not logical. But it is real in her heart. And for her and I, no amount of external affirmation can fill us in that place deep in our psyche that whispers, “Failure!” to us over and over again. Only Christ can meet us there, and only a full and robust understanding of the gospel upon which we regularly meditate and practically apply can meet us in this need.

*I am made in the image of God.

*I am a sinner marred by the fall who is being conformed back to the image of Christ through His sacrifice on the cross.

*God hasn’t just forgiven me for my sins and failures, though He most certainly has done that! But He has also lavished on me His grace, clothing me in Christ’s robe of righteousness. He sees me through Christ’s sacrifice, and I never appear inadequate to Him in that robe.

*My home is now, as my teaching was then, a place to steward my gifts for the kingdom of God. I’m a steward for King Jesus. And He will equip me for every good work to which He calls me in this season.

*His approval of me is not based on my maturity or perfection, but on Christ’s maturity and His perfection. And my failures teaching my students or raising my children are TRULY covered by His sacrifice.

As I resign at the community college, I’m letting go of that last little tie I had to a time in life when I excelled (or at least when I FELT like I excelled). And I’m going to firmly live in the middle of a place where I don’t excel. The good thing is that it pushes me out of my comfort zone and reminds me of the basic truths to which I must cling at every stage of life—those big, robust truths encapsulated in that little word GOSPEL.

[Disclaimer: this post is not intended to influence either for or against working moms. It’s about our identity in Christ and security in Him. Period. ]

For Moms, Former Moms, and Wannabe Moms

I’m reposting my thoughts from last year’s Mother’s Day, mostly because I needed to reread it myself.

Mother’s Day is a tricky holiday. Like any holiday, it is sweet for some and bitter for others. For some, it’s both. I remember feeling on the outside looking in on Mother’s Day, first as a single woman and then after I miscarried our first. Our church had an entrance near the nursery called the Family Entrance. Could I use it? Were we a family? I finally just used it regardless, almost as an act of defiance. Now as the mother of a 4 and 6 year old, I can deeply appreciate someone setting aside parking near an entrance that kept me from having to walk my toddlers across a busy intersection. But at the time I was dealing with emotions that weren’t swayed by practical realities. I just wanted to be a mom. And that sign at the church entrance reminded me I wasn’t.

It is an age-old conundrum in humanity in general and Christianity in particular. How do you honor someone who has something good that you want too? How do you applaud the sacrifices of one without minimizing the suffering of the other? I don’t know exactly, but I do think there is an over arching principle that is helpful.

Motherhood is not the greatest good for the Christian woman. Whether you are a mom or not, don’t get caught up in sentimentalism that sets it up as some saintly role. The greatest good is being conformed to the image of Christ. Now, motherhood is certainly one of God’s primary tools in His arsenal for this purpose for women. But it is not the end itself. Being a mom doesn’t make you saintly. Believe me. Being a mom exposes all the ways you are a sinner, not a saint. Not being a mom and wanting to be one does too. We may long to get pregnant, looking at motherhood from afar. God sanctifies us through that longing. We may lose a pregnancy or a child, and mourn the loss of our motherhood. God conforms us to Christ through that as well. We may have a brood of children of various ages, and heaven knows God roots sin out of our hearts that way. It’s all about THE greatest good, being conformed to the image of Christ – reclaiming the image of God that He created us to bear through gospel grace. And God uses both the presence and the absence of children in the lives of His daughters as a primary tool of conforming us to Christ.

Single woman watching your biological clock tick away, I encourage you to look today at your longings through the lens of the gospel. You don’t have to deny your longing or talk yourself into a happy attitude for all the good things you can do without kids. It’s OK to mourn the loss. God said children are a blessing. But after the fall, we do not all get to experience that blessing. The gospel makes up the difference. While you are disappointed in deep ways and that disappointment is real, you will one day sit with Jesus in heaven profoundly content with His work in you through this disappointment. In heaven, you will have no longing for something you missed. You will not be disappointed. May confidence in that hope sustain you.

Married woman experiencing infertility, I encourage you with similar words. People can be callous with their words, especially in the church. But believe in confidence that God in this very moment loves you with a deep love. You may feel estranged from Him, knowing that He has the power to give you that sweet infant that He has given so many around you. It seems like He is dangling a desire in front of you, teasing you with it. But understand that unfulfilled desire is a tool He uses to give you even better things – things of Himself that you cannot know in easy ways. Believe in confidence that this time of waiting is not just a holding pattern with no discernible value, but it too is a blessing, albeit in disguise, as it increases your strength to run and not grow weary and to walk and not to faint. Wait on the Lord, dear sister, in confidence.

And mom who fails her children regularly (because that’s everyone else), preach the gospel to yourself this day. If you have any grasp on your reality, you are likely painfully aware of every failure you’ve made with your children. And maybe you are fatigued by the fears of future failure as well. It’s okay that your children expose your own sin to yourself. In fact, it’s the mom who doesn’t seem daily aware of her failures that most concerns me. Christ has made the way for you to be at peace. If you sinned against your kids, ask their forgiveness. If you are kicking yourself for your failures, preach God’s grace to yourself. Don’t learn to live with your sin – don’t embrace it with the attitude “that’s just how I am.” But don’t deny it either. Be honest about it. You sinned. You confess. God forgives. You get up and walk forward in confidence. It’s called gospel grace, and THAT is the legacy to leave your children.

Wisdom Verses the Law on Women’s Issues

In an article posted at Desiring God today, I wrote about my journey to understand Scripture’s instructions to women through the lens of the gospel. Apart from the gospel, the law kills. Presenting instructions to women apart from a thorough fleshing out of the gospel sets women up for failure, and I have sat under much teaching and read many books that do that very thing. In fact, I have myself done this very thing to others.

Furthermore, among the books I read and teachers I heard, I wasn’t just presented with the law, I was also often presented with the teacher’s personal application of the law. I’d like to think I haven’t done this myself, though I probably have. But I have had a conviction since I was a teenager that Scripture was sufficient—sufficient in what it says is wrong and sufficient in what it says is right—and have tried to let that conviction constrain me in anything I might project onto others.

The law says tithe, but the legalist pressures others to tithe their spice rack. And that’s exactly what has happened in many presentations on women’s issues. As a new wife, I felt constrained by other’s applications for their families of general Bible principles. My husband finally had to tell me point blank, “Honey, I don’t NEED that.” I was stressed over color coordinated, organic meals when he just needed clean socks. I was greeting him in a state of anxious self-condemnation over the clutter in our home when he is actually more comfortable IN clutter than in a precisely organized room. But no one clarified for me the difference in general Bible principles and personal application.

I had an interesting conversation with a friend over brunch a few weeks ago. This is a friend who regularly gets provoked on a topic on which she has a passion. I have learned that when she starts, I need to grab a pen and paper and start taking notes, because her thoughts are usually quite profound. Such was the case when I brought up my struggle at times to figure out what choices on many different fronts were best for our family.

She pointed out Christians’ confusion at times over the difference in wisdom and law, Proverbs and the Ten Commandments. There are no opposite laws, but we are all familiar with opposite proverbs. “Look before you leap” verses “He who hesitates is lost.” Or for a Biblical example, consider Proverbs 26:4-5.

4 Answer not a fool according to his folly,
   lest you be like him yourself.
5 Answer a fool according to his folly,
   lest he be wise in his own eyes.

Wisdom is not law. And wisdom is only wise when applied correctly in the right situations. You can’t read Proverbs the same as the 10 Commandments, yet in our fight against moral relativism, conservative Christians fear situational wisdom. The result is silly, one-dimensional conclusions.

The answer to our fears of moral relativism as we apply wisdom in ways that are actually wise is the indwelling Spirit. Yet, we are suspicious of Him. Wouldn’t we all rather spend 3 years in person at Jesus’ feet as did Peter? Yet compare Peter after 3 years in Jesus’ presence with Peter after 3 years of the indwelling Holy Spirit. As Jesus Himself says, it was better for Peter, resulting in greater growth and maturity in his life, that the Spirit indwell him than he continue to sit in person at Jesus’ feet. It’s a profound concept.

Paul exhorts us in Galatians 5:16 to “walk by the Spirit,” which literally means to “keep in step with the Spirit.” It is this pressing into God via the Spirit that equips us to apply wisdom in wise ways without fear of moral relativism. It equips us to distinguish principle from application and to know what application God has for us as opposed to what He has for the zealous teacher at a women’s conference. Remember that you have something BETTER than sitting at the feet of Jesus. And He will teach you well.

John 16 7 Nevertheless, I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you. 8 And when he comes, he will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment: … 13 When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth,

The Gospel and My Weight

I’ve mentioned before on this blog that I am notoriously undisciplined. I don’t have any genetic disposition toward neatness. I do not enjoy exercise. And I’ve never been able to accomplish a goal simply because I just decided to get it done. Pretty much every accomplishment I’ve made in life is because it was attached to something I enjoyed doing. If my heart is in it, it gets done. If it’s not, it doesn’t. I’m not necessarily proud of that, but it’s the reality in which I function.

I am overweight. Not obese, but overweight. I’ve known this for years–since my oldest was born over 4 years ago. And it’s particularly hung over my head since my youngest was born 2 1/2 years ago. I’ve tried a lot of things–multiple different exercise plans, joining a gym, low calorie diet, sugar busters diet, the cabbage soup diet, atkins diet, etc. I tried the treadmill, the stationary bike, weights, walking in the park, walking in my neighborhood, Wii sports, etc. But while I saw an occasional pound lost, it always came back and my weight has been stuck in a 5 pound range for years.

I’ve had friends tell me (repeatedly–ad nauseum) what worked for them. There is always something new to try–some miracle diet that really works. It’s the smart, moral, wise choice. Because it worked for them, it should also work for me. I always feel pressure in those conversations that really stresses me out. Usually instead of feeling motivated, I feel condemned.

So I’ve prayed. Alot. For months I have wrestled with God over my weight and lack of consistent exercise. God, how am I supposed to think about this? God, I keep failing each time I try to follow a program. If I’m ever going to lose weight and get in some kind of shape, I need your supernatural help, because all I ever do is fail.

And an odd thing has happened. I’ve have slowly started to lose weight. Now–I want to stop right here and point out that this post is NOT about how to have success losing weight. Because I personally think my “success” (if that’s what you want to call it) started long before I ever lost a pound. I believe it started the moment I began to wrestle with God on this issue. When I began to look to the gospel instead of a diet program, the Lord began working in my heart in a peaceful, sustaining way that has affected my outlook on much more than just my weight.

After months (maybe years?) of wrestling with God on my weight, He has answered me. He has changed my heart so that the lifestyle changes I’ve made are not chores, but pleasures. I can only attribute this to His grace and mercy–to the gospel itself. I’ll tell you the specifics of my lifestyle changes, but let me preface it by saying that I would HATE if you read this and felt contrained and burdened to do the things that I have done with diet and exercise. I hope instead to simply encourage you to wrestle with God on your knees with your Bible open about how He would have YOU to think about these issues.

When I tried the stringent Atkins diet, I noticed that my blood sugars stabelized (I am a type 1 diabetic). So after giving up on the strict Atkins, I have generally kept to a low carb, high protein diet. Thankfully, I am a certified carnivore (my dad used to raise beef cattle), so this has been easy for me. Then, for my birthday, my husband gave me a Wii Fit. It’s been fun, entertaining exercise for all of us in our family. My two boys and I especially enjoy working on it together–certainly a gift of God’s grace and mercy because I have banged my head against a wall for a year or so trying to figure out exercise that I could do with the boys.

Now, again, I hope no one reading this who struggles with their weight feels motivated simply to start a low carb diet and buy a Wii Fit. THAT is NOT the answer. My hope is to encourage you to wrestle long and hard with God. Endure with Him. Persevere in pursuing Him on this issue. Ask Him to saturate you in the truth of the gospel as you seek His face on this issue. And may the hope of your calling and your inheritance in Christ give you His perspective on this issue. May His grace and mercy meet you on this issue for your good and His glory.

Ephesians 1 18I pray also that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, 19and his incomparably great power for us who believe. That power is like the working of his mighty strength, 20which he exerted in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms, 21far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every title that can be given, not only in the present age but also in the one to come. 22And God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church, 23which is his body, the fullness of him who fills everything in every way.

Miscarriage and the Father

A friend called me last night. She went in for an ultrasound yesterday and found out her baby had died. She was in her 2nd trimester. Now she has to decide if she should have a D & C or wait on a natural miscarriage. There are emotional and physical pros and cons of each. While I have miscarried and could identify with her at one level, I have never had a D & C and didn’t have much wisdom to offer one way or the other on that.

But we talked about God the Father. She already knew the truth of God’s character, but it was helpful to us both to talk through it again.
God the Father is sovereign—in laymen’s terms, He’s in control.
God the Father is wise—He knows what He’s doing.
God the Father is compassionate—He loves His children.
After our conversation, I started to meditate on this 3rd attribute of the Father. Thanks to Mrs. Kissam, my 8th grade Latin teacher, I know that the term compassion is from the root Latin words for suffering together (com—with or together, and pati—to suffer). And meditating on the root of this term opened my eyes to something about my Father. He doesn’t just generally feel sorry for me or love me with a standoffish type of concern. He enters into my suffering. He suffers WITH me.
Exodus 34:6 (NIV) And he passed in front of Moses, proclaiming, “The LORD, the LORD, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness,
Understanding the term compassion, that God accompanies us in our suffering, leads me to wonder about this verse on Paul’s desire to enter into Jesus’ suffering.
Philippians 3:10 (NIV) I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death,
I can’t say I fully understand either one—God entering into my suffering or the possibility of fellowship with Christ in His. But as I go through my own suffering, it changes my perspective significantly to think that my Sovereign Father is walking intimately with me through it.