There’s this tower in Italy. It leans. Maybe you've heard of it. When construction began in 1173, it looked fine, but over the centuries, as floors were added, the lean became more pronounced. This resulted in countless attempts to stabilize it—everything from adding counterweights to shoring up the foundation—and yet today, even though the tower still stands, it continues to lean.
Recently, there's been a growing conversation about something called “New Wave Complementarianism.” Some
have suggested that this conversation isn’t “new” at all but simply a return to original complementarian positions. Still others
have suggested that this new wave is entirely
necessary because the “old wave” reached too far. And others
have said that it is simply a reaction to what’s happened in some churches in the name of complementarianism, but isn’t really a discussion of its core essence.
But no one denies that the tower is leaning.
Still, don’t take my word for it. Remember that time Bob Yarbrough said these exact things
at the 2012 EFCA Theology Conference. (Remember that time D.A. Carson spoke at the same conference.) The truth is that there is a “lean” in complementarianism, and it is evidenced by what is being taught and modeled in our churches. Our practices reveal our core assumptions better than any talking points ever could and because of this, they end up being the best indicator of whether or not we need to check our foundation.
So for me, the pertinent question is: “What’s been missing from the conversation that has allowed the tower to lean?”
My approach is predicated on the belief that the Church is the pillar and ground of truth and that Christian truth is discovered through paradoxes. Specific to this discussion, 1) Men and women are the same and 2) Men and women are different. But the paradoxes of the Christian faith are more than simply a set of checks and balances; the tensions actually force us to think more deeply and articulate more fully what we believe. The tension forces us to better understanding (and sometimes humbly admit that we don't understand at all.)
Because of this, if something starts leaning (oh, like say our understanding of gender), we must go back and figure out what has not been held in tension that should have kept it straight. Like Tim Keller, I consider myself a “complexifier”
and believe that we must bring ALL of Scripture to bear on these issues, not simply the passages that speak specifically to gender. So for my part, the conversation surrounding New Complementarianism (a.k.a., New Wave Complementarianism, New Wave OF Complementarianism, a group of friends talking among themselves who stumbled across the concerns that others already felt)—for my part, the conversation must not be about simply recovering original complementarianism but about asking ourselves what has been missing, or at least underemphasized, that has allowed the tower to lean in the first place.
Today I’m laying my cards on the table. I’m doing this because we must have this conversation together. It’s bigger than any specific set of bloggers—bigger than any “movement.” I’m also doing this because while I am a writer, I am also a wife and mom, and at this point, my children need a mother and my husband needs an ezer
more than complementarianism needs another blogger.
So in no particular order, here’s what I believe this conversation must entail; we must:
- Develop a robust definition of imago dei.
- Define the differences between men and women in relationship to God’s nature, not simply in opposition to each other.
- Consider the limitations of gender-based discipleship. If gender becomes the paradigm for sanctification, we have unintentionally made gender more significant than Christ. The goal is not masculinity or femininity—the question is immaturity vs. maturity.
- Admit that if we’re going to use the categories of male and female, we cannot begin with them—we must base them on the foundational category of humanness. As a female person, I have more in common with a male person than I do with a female cat.
- Understand that Christianity does not have a masculine-feel or a feminine-feel. Christianity should feel Christlike—it should feel fully-human.
- Recognize that equality must be the basis for headship--not simply the ying to its yang. Headship, whether in the church or home, exists precisely because we are equal.
- Clarify that the goal of headship is union—that Christ's headship results in the uniting of all things in heaven and earth and reconciling all things to Himself.
- Differentiate between headship and manhood as well as submission and womanhood.
- Reinforce responsibility/authority paradigm of headship. Any authority is given in order to fulfill a responsibility; it does not simply exist.
- And while we’re at it, clarify a Christian view of authority—especially if this is the going to be the key difference between men and women.
- Understand that headship exists only in specific circumstances—headship is not unilateral and some men will never exercise headship because they will never hold a position that calls them to.
- Differentiate between headship and leadership as gifting.
- Realize that passages that speak to men and women’s differing roles flow out of deeper doctrinal paradigms. We understand roles best when we start with the doctrine and work toward application, not vice versa.
- Remember that the Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. Roles are given to enable relationships; relationships are not meant to serve roles.
- Discus how denominational and sociological contexts affect our applications and differentiate between application and doctrine.
- Reclaim an understanding of eldership that invests authority in the office, not the person. When we define authority by cultural cues or personality instead of the process of ordination, we can cordon off areas of ministry that the Scripture does not.
- Consider how we assign value. We cannot simply declare that men and women are equal; we must function in a way that displays this.
- Recognize that this will be difficult in a subculture that elevates pastors and teachers to celebrity status--how do you assign value to women when they will never hold those positions?
- Dismantle the false paradigm of gender vs. gifting. Gender is biological gifting and it flourishes alongside other gifting.
- Embrace a view of the whole person that elevates the providence of God to combine gender, talents, and personality into a unique package with unique strengths and unique limitations.
- Actively pursue women’s unique gifting.
- Consider whether focusing the conversation on “roles” has reduced people to functions instead of agents—do we simply become “workers” in a weird Marxist reality?
- Stop overextending Ephesians 5. A wife is not perpetually in a position to be rescued by her husband. Sometimes a wife will be Christ to a husband in need. (I Peter 3)
- Explore the role of husband as “husbandry”– including the responsibility to ensure that those under your care become all that God has made them to be. Explore the same for "wifery."
- Wrestle with whether or not “complementarianism” should be equated with a conservative reading of gender. Is it possible to have a conservative reading of gender and not be “complementarian?” (If nothing else, we need a new word because complementarian doesn’t spell-check.)
There. I’ve laid out my cards. Feel free to pick them up and play them. None of these ideas are “new”—but they are things that I believe have been missing and have led to the lean in our tower. It’s time for us to figure out why, to revisit established paradigms, and courageously press deeper into the mystery and wonder of God’s good design. Semper Reformanda
Today I'm posting at Fulfilling Your Vows,
a new website designed to encourage and support couples in their marriages. This month's topic is faithfulness, and just like me, I decided to take a less than conventional approach. My advice about how to pursue faithfulness in marriage? "Be true to yourself." Here's a selection:One of the saddest parts of the drama is watching as a spouse walks away, truly believing that the only way they will ever be happy is if they free themselves from the duties and responsibilities of this marriage. They believe that in freeing themselves, they will finally find themselves.
So here’s a piece of unconventional advice: in order to remain faithful to your spouse, in order to remain faithful to your marriage vows, you must be true to yourself.
You must not be faithful out of duty or obligation or martyrdom. You must not work on your marriage just for the sake of working on your marriage. You must not follow a three-point plan or adopt a “just do it” attitude. In order to be faithful, in order to be happy, you must be authentic to yourself.
But–-pay attention-–not your superficial self.
You must be true to your deeper self–-the real you–-the you that is made in the image of God and has been restored and redeemed in Christ. You must be authentic to your core identity and the core values that flow out of this identity–-values of truth and sacrifice and thankfulness and love.
You can read the rest here:
This past week, news broke that a Mississippi pediatrician has found a “functional cure” for AIDS. When I first saw it in my Twitter feed late one night, I wasn't sure what to think.
My generation has never known a world without AIDS. The first officially recognized case in the United States occurred in 1980, and it has been a growing part of our consciousness ever since. I remember learning about it at 10 when I watched a made-for-TV movie about Ryan White
, a young teenager who eventually died after he contracted it through a blood transfusion.
But because it is a sexually transmitted disease, AIDS has also been a highly controversial one. For a long time—and even today—those infected with the virus were stigmatized and misunderstood. After all, AIDS is God’s judgment against drug use and sexual promiscuity, right?
A judgment that has often fallen on the heads of millions of innocent victims worldwide.
Because of this, no other health concern has marked my generation like the AIDS epidemic. When we think of AIDS, we don’t associate it with promiscuity alone; instead, we associate it with the 16 million orphans who have lost parents because of it; we associate it with the millions of women who have unknowingly contracted it from faithless husbands; we associate it with the current 34 million cases—of which 3.5 million of are children. We associate it with the 2 million people who will die this year alone. In response, we host benefits to raise both funds and awareness. We wear red ribbons on the first of December, and we buy coffee
in the hope that a few extra cents might just turn the tide.
So last week, when I read that Dr. Hannah Gay of the University of Mississippi Medical Center had successfully treated an infant known to have been born with HIV, I could help but think, “This is the moment we’ve been waiting for.”
And yet, as the details emerged, it got even better. For me, at least, the most surprising part of the story isn’t that someone may have finally found a cure for AIDS, it’s how it happened. For me, the significant thing is the story behind the story
—a story that only a generation steeped in irony can truly appreciate.
The funny thing about us Millennials is that despite hearts of largess toward the less fortunate, despite our desire to see peace and justice reign in society, despite our commitment to find a cure for AIDS, we are also some of the first to draw up battle lines and construct paradigms. And the wonderful thing about Dr. Hannah Gay is that she doesn’t fit any of them. The wonderful thing is that God used a person that none of us would expect in order to find the cure that we all were looking for.
We thought that the cure would come from the halls of academia, from a research scientist who finally conceived and executed the perfect experiment in the perfect petri dish. In God’s wisdom, it came from a pediatrician loving her patients well and having the guts to try something out of the ordinary.
We thought that the cure would come from the places where we had invested vast amounts of money, places of prestige and knowledge, somewhere like New York or Washington D.C. In God’s wisdom, it came from Mississippi, the state with the lowest math and science scores in the nation.
We thought that the cure couldn’t come from a person of religious values because we all know that those
kind of people are close-minded, judgmental, and don’t care for the less fortunate. In God’s wisdom, it came through the hands of a woman motivated by her faith—a conservative faith that propelled her to teach children to memorize Scripture, be an overseas missionary, and attend a church that unabashedly proclaims that Christ is the way to God.
We thought that the cure would come from someone who would dedicate themselves exclusively to their career--who if she were a woman, would have (as statistics predict
) no more than 1.67 children. In God’s wisdom, it came through the hands of a woman who is the mother of four.
And some of us thought that the cure couldn’t possible come from a mother because being a mother meant never working outside the home. In God’s wisdom, it came through the hands of working mother who worked to save the life of a child who wasn’t even her own.
The irony of Hannah Gay is that she didn’t feel compelled to leave the church to work for the good of society. The irony of Hannah Gay is that she didn’t leave her work to focus exclusively on her children. The irony of Hannah Gay is that she didn’t abandon motherhood to pursue her career. The irony of Hannah Gay is that she didn’t care about the spotlight and was simply faithful to what God had called her to do.
As human beings, we tend to live in categories, to compartmentalize ourselves, to line up behind ideologies and lob invectives against anyone who doesn’t fit our paradigm. But it is just like God to come along and knock them all down.
He slashes through our presuppositions; He destroys our established notions; He brings to nothing the wisdom of the world.
Of course, there is still a long road ahead as other men and women build on this breakthrough. It will require long hours in the laboratory; it will require more funding. As Dr. Gay said of her work recently, ‘It may take a long time, but I hope it will point us in the right direction to come up with a cure we can consistently apply to other babies worldwide."
But for this moment, while the world is basking in the hope that we might just beat this terrible disease after all, I want to bask in the wisdom of a God who uses the foolishness of men to praise Him
. I want to bask in the power of a God who works outside established paradigms. And I want to bask in the good nature of a God who might just be more ironic than the hippest hipster among us.
Things will be quiet around here for the holidays mainly because I believe that both you and I have better things to do than to sit in front of a computer screen and ponder the mysteries of life. Instead, these days are better spent in simply living the mysteries, in wrapping the presents and feasting on sugar cookies and kissing under the mistletoe. These days are better spent rejoicing in His grace and resting--not because we've worked so hard and deserve it but because He has worked so hard and has given it to us. May the lightness of His grace fill you this Christmas and may you find that all your days are holy ones.
Every time our family moves, which to date has been eight times in the last eleven years, we run into the same problem. We own too many books. While we easily cull the rest of our accumulated baggage (“Do we really need more than one towel per person?” my husband asks as he packs the linen closet), we have a very hard time separating ourselves from such old friends as Lewis
. This last move, we even jettisoned our kitchen chairs because they wouldn’t fit onto the moving truck despite the fact that over thirty boxes of books had.
Six months later, we’re still sitting on folding chairs at dinner time.
When we arrive in a new area, one of the first things we do is apply for local library cards. Before finding a family doctor, before changing our voter registration, before transferring our drivers’ licenses, we find a source of cheap, sustainable books (preferably that have a four week lending period). Because as problematic as it may be to be pulled over and have to explain why you’re driving with a Indiana license when you reside in Virginia, nothing compares to the panic that grips my soul at the thought of not having bedtime stories or a pile of books waiting patiently for me on my nightstand.
For me, this love affair with books (which I suppose also meets the clinical definition of certain addictions) began when I was young. My mother was (and is still) an insatiable reader who was rarely seen without a book in hand—everything from Dickens to Horace to Austen–this woman taught me that while it’s fine for a girl to be pretty, it’s essential that she read. And do so often. My husband, on the other hand, didn’t discover reading until his sophomore year of college when his American Lit professor captured his imagination with an excerpt from The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.
(Consider this a plug for required college English classes—you never know what they may ignite.)
And yet, I really don’t count myself among the literati. There are lots of books that I haven’t read, lots that I should have, and probably even more that I shouldn’t have. I always feel slightly inferior whenever I see my friends’ Goodreads’ lists or overhear them discussing the latest, most significant, most groundbreaking new release—the one that I didn’t even know existed. And to be perfectly honest, I find myself projecting these insecurities as I smugly pass the Amish fiction section in the local Christian bookstore--all the while secretly wondering what I’m missing.
Still, according to Karen Swallow Prior
, Chair of the Department of English and Modern Languages at Liberty University, this isn’t a problem. In this interview
spotlighting her recently released memoir, Booked! Literature in the Soul of Me
, Prior suggests that it’s not so much what we read—although I’m sure she’d have a some recommendations—as it is that we read,
that we allow the process to shape our souls as it has hers. In doing so she echoes the words of G.K. Chesterton who argues in “The Ethics of Elfland”
that his faith began in the nursery where he acquired a “certain way of looking at life, which was created in me by the fairy tales, but has since been meekly ratified by mere facts.”
Simply put, what we acquire through literature is what we need to live in reality. When a story stretches our capacity to understand situations and characters, it is in effect teaching us how to “read” life. And through the process, we discover more about ourselves, our God, and others. Through His good gift of the book, our souls expand and we are given the opportunity to live beyond ourselves in order to gain perspective on ourselves. If only in those moments, if only through the slimmest of volumes, we are ushered into a “laboratory of life” in which we can experiment and dream, in which we can see the world as it should be or discover the tragic consequences when it is not.
It is no coincidence that Christians should be, not only people of “The Book,” but people of books. In His wisdom, our God has ordained that His words not simply be spoken by the prophets but that they also be written and preserved by the scribe. And perhaps more significantly, in His wisdom, our God has deigned to call His Son the incarnate Word—a living, breathing, walking… story. A Story within a story. The
Story on which all others rest.
We should not be surprised then if our souls, the very souls that were formed after His, resonate and thrill at stories. We should not be surprised if despite ourselves we love what He loves. And we should not be surprised, that as much as we like to think that we own our books, we often find—thirty boxes and eight moving trucks later—that we are owned by them instead.
This Thanksgiving, my family is smack in the middle of a time of peace and abundance so, in many ways, it’s been relatively easy to count my blessings. This year has brought us our first house, a fantastic job, the chance to live close to family, and multiple opportunities to use and develop our gifts.
It hasn’t always been this way. Quite frankly, we’ve had years when we simply didn’t feel like celebrating. Like the Thanksgiving that my husband was unemployed
and we had to be out of our house by the end of November with no idea of where we were going next. Or the following year, when he was employed but working an entry level job that kept us home for the holidays and far from family. Or any of the times our Thanksgiving dinner was bought with food stamps because despite having three college degrees between us, working hard, living frugally, and carrying no debt, you simply can't raise a family of five on $9-11/hr.
Still, if there’s one thing I’ve learned through those lean times, it’s the necessity of celebrating when you don’t feel like it and the importance of feasting when you think you can’t afford to. And to celebrate, not in spite of the difficulties or by tricking yourself into forgetting the struggles; but to celebrate precisely because of them
Throughout human history, feasting has been the privilege of the rich, to be enjoyed by those who could afford it while fasting was the daily existence of the masses. Even today feasting and fasting are often little more than economic realities applied to the dinner table. But in his wisdom, our God turns even economic realities on their head--in his divine wisdom, he actually commands us to do both.
For those of us who are rich in this world, fasting becomes a way to remind ourselves of our spiritual poverty, of our dependence on Him for our daily bread. But for those who are poor in this world—whether in spirit or pocket book—it is the feast that requires more faith and is ultimately more instructive. For in the feast, in those fleeting moments of abundance, we remind ourselves that through His generous grace, we are indeed rich.
When Moses was instructing the fledgling nation of Israel about how to celebrate the riches of the harvest, he said this:
Before the LORD your God, in the place that he will choose, to make his name dwell there, you shall eat the tithe of your grain, of your wine, and of your oil, and the firstborn of your herd and flock, that you may learn to fear the LORD your God always. And if the way is too long for you…then you shall turn it into money… and go to the place that the LORD your God chooses and spend the money for whatever you desire…whatever your appetite craves. And you shall eat there before the LORD your God and rejoice, you and your household. (Deuteronomy 14:22-26)
So celebrate--use your money for luxury instead of frugality--because in doing so you dedicate it in praise to the One who ultimately cares for you. You show your dependence on him by consuming it instead of saving it. You show your thankfulness for his provision by receiving it and rejoicing in it. And as you do, you remind yourself that all the budgeting, all the couponing, all the thrift in the world means nothing to a God who owns the cattle on a thousand hills.
So while this is probably not Dave Ramsey approved, here’s a piece of unconventional holiday advice: even if you think you can’t afford to celebrate this Thanksgiving, you really can’t afford not to.
You must find a way--whether small or great—to mark this coming Thursday as a day distinct, as a day of thankfulness and dependence. And one way to do that is to dedicate yourself to the spiritual discipline of feasting. Roast the turkey, mash the potatoes, and heap massive gobs of real whipped cream on top of that pumpkin pie. And then sit down and delight. For one day, for one moment, feel no guilt, no worry, no fear about what tomorrow holds. And rejoice. Because in your poverty, in your loneliness, this is your sacrifice. Your sacrifice is letting go of the pain, letting go of the weight in your soul and reminding yourself through the briefest moment of luxury that your God cares for you and that he always will.
Last Friday night found me and my family (along with several dozen other folks) sitting in Miss Kay’s proper parlor singing at the top of our lungs.
We almost missed it. Like the classic “big picture” person that I am, I had mixed up my dates, double-booked house guests, and created the very distinct possibility that we would be absent from a mainstay of the church’s yearly calendar. File this one under “How NOT to Be a Good Pastor’s Wife.”
Fortunately we didn't miss it. A little rearranging and a couple blushing conversations later, we ended up at Miss Kay’s front door promptly at 7:00. (Okay, not promptly… but we did get there.) The evening began like any other social gathering—food and small talk—but then about forty minutes in, something happened. A whisper spread through the house and with the enthusiasm of children, this eclectic group aged 17 months to 77 years assembled themselves in the front parlor (yes, I do mean parlor). Out came the guitars; next a mandolin; and before you knew it, someone was seated at the piano, running gospel scales up and down.
Then it began.
And with the initial chord, with the first blend, I knew that I was witnessing something special. I was witnessing what is fast becoming one of the rarest (and soon to be extinct) forms of social interaction in our culture—communal singing. Now this wasn’t the embarrassed-national-anthem-mumbling type of singing that happens at ballgames and graduations. No, this was classic “daddy sang bass, mama sang tenor”
and everyone instinctively did seem to know how to “join right in there.” Song after song, voices called out favorites and all of us--from the boy soprano to the bass who in a another life had traveled with a gospel group—sang with abandon. At times, a soloist would take over and the rest of us would simply drop back without a word. We repeated choruses and elongated final lines all via a silent understanding that only exists between people who have lived a lifetime together.
For my part, I joined in when I could although I was raised more Watts
. Mostly though, I just sat in awe—in awe of the secret that I had been entrusted. A secret best kept in mountain hollers, family reunions, and small country churches—the secret of singing as community.
We are people who are quickly losing the capacity to live together in peace. We are consumed by our private issues and personal angst; so much so that we can’t even elect a president in civility. At the same time, we are losing the ability to sing together; and as this piece
notes, even when we want to, we don’t know what to sing. And as we lose the music, I’m afraid we’re losing something more. We’re losing a metaphor for life, for how to live and engage in community, how to be silent when the soloist is singing, how to support the melody with our harmonies, how to not need the spotlight. Because as we lose the ability to sing together, we also are losing an opportunity to learn how to work together to reach larger goals.
What’s saddest to me is that we’re losing this in our churches as well. After decades of projecting lyrics onto overhead screens, the gradual disappearance of hymnals, and the repetition of simple melodies, we may have just raised an entire generation that never once encountered the beauty and wonder of singing in parts. (To quote Church Curmudgeon
: “Worship team practice is canceled. Use the four chords from last week.") This is not a rant against contemporary music—our family has been part of communities that have been exclusively contemporary and those that have been strictly traditional. And in every case, there’s been good... and otherwise. This is simply a call to not forget that corporate singing must be corporate.
It must be more than simply singing in unison because our congregations are not uniform. They represent people of different backgrounds, giftings, personalities, and ages; and what better way to embody that than through music that lets you find your place and sing at the top of your lungs.
Because honestly, corporate worship was never intended to be--nor can it ever truly be—simply a collection of individuals expressing their private worship to the Lord. No, we must sing in parts. We must embrace the unique callings that we each represent and then combine our voices in harmony to praise a God who can orchestrate the motliest crew into a beautiful chorus. And we must teach our children this—it is as necessary as any other educational experience or process of socialization. We must teach them the magic of harmonizing and the joy of not having to be the soloist; we must teach them the wonder of singing as a group.
And along the way, we might just learn a little something about life in community as well.
This summer, I had one of those experiences where the universe seemed to align itself, where the threads of different lives intertwined so perfectly that you knew something significant, something more than normal, was happening. You knew God is at work. And yet the circumstances themselves--as is often the case--were not unusual or dramatic.
I was at the wedding of a college friend, a friend I hadn't seen in years but thanks to the wonder of Facebook, a friend that I feel like I know better now than I did then. Being eleven years out from our baccalaureate degrees, the wedding was also an impromptu reunion, a chance to catch up with the other friends from the past. The bride was smart enough to seat me next to my long-lost classmate, Christa Bohannon, and after that initially awkward conversation that happens between two people who haven’t seen each other in the flesh for over a decade, we easily remembered why we had been such good friends in the first place.
The wedding and reception ended too quickly for our purposes, so Christa and I adjourned to a local coffee shop to continue catching up. And so we did. For the next six hours. (Don’t tell anyone, but I didn’t crawl in bed that night until 3:00 in the morning.) In those hours, we covered everything we had missed in the last eleven years—life, love, dreams, fears—you name it. And in a divine sense of irony, one of the more significant things that we discussed was the very thing that had brought us back together—marriage and singleness. Because here we were, our friend newly wed, Christa single, and I--well, I was the old married lady with three kids. Yet, we were all women. Women passionate about our faith and passionate about the work God was doing in the world.
So in those hours, Christa and I discussed gender, marriage and singleness, how the church community relates to each and how we as individuals navigated our separate callings. Married at 22, I had spent my entire adult life as a wife and (quickly after that) as a mother. And if I were honest with myself, I had to confess that I knew very little of Christa’s paradigm as a single woman. So this was my opportunity to ask—to find out what it was really like for her. And boy, did I ask.
As I listened, I realized very quickly how little I understood about singleness in the church. Because while there are a lot of resources written to singles about how to find their place in the larger community, there are not an equal number written to the larger community about how to engage and support our single brothers and sisters. And quite frankly, it made me feel very ignorant. Very silly. And at times, very self-absorbed.
When we were finally wrapping things up, I asked Christa if she would be willing to write about what it was like to live as a single woman in the church, to be alone in the midst of community. I wanted to capture the things that we had shared at that coffee house in the wee hours of the morning. More importantly I want to move them past theory and conversation to a place of usefulness. So with that introduction, look for several guest posts by Christa over the next couple of weeks and by all means, please join in. Because if I learned anything in those moments we shared together, it’s how much we need each other—married or single--and how much that is precisely how God always intended it to be.
(This last weekend, we traveled to Pennsylvania for my baby sister's wedding. This is part of a letter I wrote to be read at her bridal shower last month.)
It’s funny to think of you getting married—not because I didn’t think that you would, but simply because baby sisters, by definition, are never old enough to get married.
I remember life before you ever existed. I was the only girl wedged between two brothers and while this was beneficial when it came to things like playing baseball and learning to wrestle, it left a lot to be desired in the realms of dress-up and fairy princesses. My solution was to pray for a sister, and so I began my personal crusade to convince God that an addition to the family was in order.
He agreed and you came along.
But I soon learned that the compliant, accommodating sister that I had planned to lead in playing house and dressing up had her own plans. Eventually, you and I found a way to bridge the personality and age differences and one night, before I left for college, I found you crying because you didn’t want me to leave. I tried to comfort you, to convince you that nothing really significant was changing, but with a perception beyond your ten years, you knew that family life would never be the same for us. There would be fewer and fewer dinners together, fewer and fewer television shows to fight over, fewer and fewer vacations, and ultimately the rhythms that had marked your young life would be gone entirely.
Life has a way of never staying what you want it to be. Just as you are savoring the moment, just as you get comfortable, it flies away and you find yourself entering a new normal. Soon you will enter one of those transitions. You will be married. I’m only eleven years into that journey myself, and while there are many things that I have yet to learn, let me take this opportunity to give you some advice. (I am your older sister after all--so just sit there and take it or I’ll tell Mom.)
The first thing that I want to tell you is that, despite what you think, you are not marrying Prince Charming. None of us do. Instead, I’ve discovered that you often marry someone better. And you learn this, not through candlelit dinners or romantic cruises, but through moments when
>He doesn’t want to you to make a big dinner when he comes home because he’d rather just spend time with you...
>He buys you your favorite candy, just because…
>He helps you fold the laundry while he’s watching the Steelers’ game...
>He walks through the ups and downs of pregnancy with you and still thinks you are beautiful...
>He packs school lunches at 9:30 at night because that’s when kitchen is finally clean enough to have the space to do it...
>He gives you room to continue to grow and change as the years pass even as he grows and changes himself...
>And through it all--despite the changes--he stays by your side for a lifetime.
No, you’re not marrying some storybook character. You are marrying a man, a good man. But even in this, you must remember that he is a man--a man with feet of clay, made from the same pitiful, earthy dust that you are. Because know this: whatever weaknesses you have, he will have them too.
And really, that’s one reason why we get married. It’s not because we’re perfect people, but precisely because we are not and God knows that we need all the help and support we can get to make it through this life. And ultimately He uses marriage to make us better people. Through every fight, through every disagreement, through every time that you humble yourself to ask forgiveness and every time that you extend forgiveness.
Some people think that the gospel is best displayed when we are doing a good job at being a wife or a husband. But I’ve come to learn that often, the gospel is best on display when we’re not. When you’re weak and selfish and he loves you anyway--just like Jesus does. Or when he’s stubborn and frustrating and you forgive him anyway--just like Jesus does. And when you spend a lifetime sacrificing for the good of each other, dying daily to your own desires, your own preferences, your own wishes—just like Jesus did. Because when you love like this, you can’t help but be changed and then the gospel will truly be on display through both of you.
But this is not an easy thing. So when you stand before us and make vows to love and care for each other for the rest of your earthly lives, understand this: you are not capable of keeping those vows. You need Someone bigger and stronger and more faithful to keep them for you. And He will.
Because even before you ever thought to make promises to each other, He had already made some of His own. He has promised that He will never leave you or forsake you. He has promised to uphold strengthen you and to give you joy and laughter along the way. And He has promised that even when things look darkest—when despite your best efforts, you still end up hurting each other—He will be there to pick up the pieces, offering grace and resurrection.
Perhaps in another eleven years, I can give you more insight—maybe you can give me some as well. But whatever road God leads you on, whatever path you take together, remember that I love you and I’ll be rooting for you all the way. And then maybe sometime, after the dishes are done and the children are grown, you and I will have time together once again. Time to catch up on all the years we’ve missed and time to play fairy princesses like I’ve always wanted.
All my love,
This image has nothing to do with my post--I just love fall.
Over the weekend, our little house welcomed two extra adults and four extra children when family friends came to visit. That’s right, this brought the occupants to a grand total of four adults, seven children under the age of eleven, and 1.5 bathrooms. From the time they arrived on Friday until they left after lunch on Sunday, life in these four walls was a whirlwind of freckles, toothless smiles, pajama parties, and the unending attempt to fill hungry bellies.
My husband and I have known these friends since we were newlyweds in the same church. We started the cycle of family life together—the first anniversaries, the first pregnancies, the first homes, but work and out-of-state moves have taken us in very different directions over the last several years. And while we've kept up through Christmas cards and Facebook, our families have spent very little time together and our children hardly know each other. (I had to remind my children that we had
actually visited our friends before—they remembered once I described the toys in their playroom.)
So shortly before our friends arrived, in the middle of the final dusting and picking up, I had a moment of panic. Here we were, about to enter a weekend of very intimate circumstances with only our past friendship to carry us through. Who knew if the children would get along? What if the weekend turned out to be one extensive fighting match with the parents caught in the middle? What if we weren't as good friends as well as I had remembered?
As normal, my fears turned out to be unfounded. The children got along marvelously and so did the adults. But this wasn’t necessarily because we did everything the same way. I quickly noticed that we engaged our children differently and we had very different dynamics as husbands and wives. In fact, what struck me repeatedly throughout the weekend was how two families both pursuing the same things could go about it in distinct ways.
It’s easy for us to avoid people and families who function differently from us because when confronted with differences, we often feel threatened and uncertain about our own choices. One way we handle this is by doubling back, assuming a defensive position, and launching attacks to prove to ourselves (and others) that the opinions we hold are just as significant (if not more so) than anyone else’s. And some of us handle the uncertainty, not by fighting back, but by simply adopting every new philosophy and every new paradigm because we secretly fear that everyone else is obviously doing a better job than we are.
But a funny thing happened this weekend. Because I didn't feel threatened by our friends, because I knew I was loved by them, I was free to learn from the differences. I could observe their children’s politeness and academic success without feeling inferior. I could watch my friend mother with gentleness and strength without needing to be defensive about my own mothering. And I could evaluate our family’s decisions and remember why we had chosen certain things without thinking I had to change just because they had made different choices.
And amazingly, as I did, I could see the gaps. I could see areas where I needed to pick up my game and where they had been more successful. It wasn't that I compared my children to theirs or even that I compared my mothering to hers. It was simply that by being close enough and loved enough, I was free to be able see the areas where she did some things better than I do. And oddly enough, instead of being confronted, I was challenged. I was inspired. Inspired to take my children’s spiritual health more seriously. Inspired to take my own spiritual health more seriously.
A lot of times, we think of diversity in God’s kingdom as simply a way to get more accomplished—a.k.a., you work in your corner and I’ll work in mine. Or we think it's primarily about learning to exercise patience with each when we disagree (although that is part of it). But I think diversity serves another function. Diversity is a means by which God can change us, a way of challenging our presuppositions and pushing us past our comfort zones. After all, iron may sharpen iron
but not without resistance, friction, and the occasional sparks. And diversity offers us the opportunity to be sharpened. It offers us the chance to humbly evaluate our choices, to reflect on our own process, and to change when we see a better way of doing things.
But ultimately this requires humility—the humility to recognize that maybe, just possibly, we don’t have it all together. This requires grace—the grace to believe that despite our differences, God loves us each equally. And it requires remembering, when given over to His hands, our individual strengths and weaknesses coordinate together to fulfill His purposes, both in our own lives and for the sake of His kingdom.