The Powerful Woman

“Your husband is a brooder. And brooders brood.” – Bates (Downton Abbey)

powerFor years I have been working through what I believe about women and power (I call it processing, but really, like Bates, it’s brooding). Because there are two extremes in our culture, and I disagree with both. There is the world’s definition of female power, distorted by our enemy until somehow women choose to do things that are absolutely terrible for us to demonstrate we have the right, and then the church’s definition of female power, which in many places is no power at all, or worse, no voice (although certainly not everywhere). Both extremes make me very uncomfortable.

I’ve not always thought about women and power in a righteous way – in fact most often probably the opposite. The rebellious contrarian nature in me (that aged my parents like my rebellious contrarian child ages me) rises up when someone addresses this issue, and I struggle to understand and work through what I believe about rights, submission, surrender, and the power that is mine as a child of the King. I’ll search the Bible for answers, and feel my spirit lift and fall as I read things that encourage or confuse me when it comes to women and power. Paul, for example, writes some pretty strict limitations on women’s leadership, but shortly after praises a female apostle and writes greetings to several women leaders in the early church, and after that says there is no male and female in the Kingdom. It is confusing, and anyone who tells you it isn’t apparently possesses some secret Bible decoder ring that I’d love to borrow for a month or two or forever. And again I’m a contrarian, so I want to know the truth, but I won’t believe something just because you say it is true.

I’ve always been this way. As a child, in my Christian school, I submitted a science fair project on my attempt to determine the point where life begins, studying it both in the Bible and from a scientific viewpoint, trying to work through what I believed. And let me tell you – the entire project didn’t go over well in the school I attended, despite my genuinely pro-life viewpoint (I think I got a 72). Sometimes questions, even asked innocently, make people uncomfortable.

And that discomfort certainly exists when you start discussing women and power in today’s church. We all have a point of view, often shaped by our experiences. For years I served in churches where women on staff were the absolute minority and relegated to non-ministerial “director” roles. On one staff, I was the only woman on the executive staff (terrifying, right?), and I felt like I had to represent all women at a table full of men, all of the time. It exhausted me. So I left ministry, aside from serving beside my minister husband, because I couldn’t figure out how to be me in those environments.

But in the meantime, I kept being drawn to these women who were both powerful and righteous – and I loved watching them be all God had made them to be. I longed to see more of that from the Church that I love.

So this position comes up at Community of Faith for me to serve full-time on a church staff again.  Honestly, I’ve never cried or agonized over a decision more in my life. I actually said no several times. And then I visited here and saw that this church is defined by so many things that move my heart: mission, Prayer, restoring the broken, redeeming the lost. This place is real and simple and powerful. There is freedom here. Beauty. Vulnerability. God’s presence so thick you can feel it. Prayer like I’ve never experienced. I wanted to be here but I was not sold on my role on the staff until I met a woman who demonstrated quiet graceful strength. She is our Pastor’s wife – but we also call her our Pastor. She doesn’t claim that title or call herself that as if it were her right – but she started COF with her husband and her wisdom saturates this place and she completely fills that role in the right way, so that is what we call her, because we honor her. On the drive back to Dallas, after seeing the church and meeting the Shooks, Justin and I talked and wrestled and prayed and processed like our life was on the line – because it was. During that talk, I cried when I told him that meeting her, I finally saw myself here. I knew if I came on staff I would never have to represent all women, because they are very beautifully represented in the women on staff here already. But more than that, I felt like I had seen the right kind of power displayed and honored, and it felt like coming home.

(There are some who will shut down as you read the last paragraph, and I get it. I  hope my heart is coming across correctly, but I also know we all have entirely too much baggage when it comes to the issue of women and the church. We have seen abuses and been taught rules and boundaries quite forcefully, so I get the complexity and discomfort).

So we decide to move here after the Lord confirms our decision about eleven different ways, and I return to full-time ministry. We are at this church, this church of our dreams, serving with people who are fully alive to the world of the Spirit and fully on-mission to reach the world. Last weekend I filmed sixteen people as they were baptized, and our Pastor stood at the top of the steps of the baptistry and said “I’m proud of you” to each one as they timidly stepped into the water and into the new life of obedience to Christ. This place is not perfect, I know, but it is special and the Lord’s hand is here and we are moved by it week after week after week. So many times since we moved here Justin and I have said to each other, “This is worth giving up our lives.”

But even still, it hasn’t been easy for me. I brood. I feel unsettled. Awkward. Striving. Inadequate. Insecure. Too tall. Too loud. Too much. Not enough. I am fighting to process all of this because it is all so new. This new culture. This new paradigm. Even the new roles Justin and I are filling at home and my role at work. In every area of our life there are massive changes, and I am stuck in my head working through them. Most of all, I’m working through how to walk through this door the Lord so clearly opened for our family. Because it’s amazing and refreshing to meet a woman walking in the right kind of power, but it’s hard to be a woman walking in the right kind of power. I feel a little bit like I’m learning to walk again, wobbling between extremes, trying to find my way. Too fearful one moment, too bold the next. Too confident in my own wisdom, then plagued with self-doubt, all the time not relying enough on the wisdom of my Father. My feelings are all over the map, and although rationally I know my feelings aren’t truth – still I feel so many feelings and it makes me uncomfortable.

Finally I come to tonight – and the reason I am writing. There has been some serious violence in our new area in the past months, and the women on our staff were invited to a prayer meeting to stand together against the forces of evil in our town. So I go with some female staff members and staff wives, and we walk into a room with about 16 people total, where we are led in prayer. And it was powerful. All-caps POWERFUL. We are praying in unison, quiet at first, but with more and more boldness as we go. We are humbling ourselves, begging the Lord to intercede and move and change hearts and rescue. We have been afraid, but we aren’t going to live in fear anymore. Instead we are laying down our requests before the God who controls armies of angels. We are also stepping into the power that is ours to fight against the enemy. The leader of the prayer time says,  “We don’t have to take this – we don’t have to be subject to this violence and the schemes of the enemy. We have power in Christ to push back this darkness” and my spirit felt free to walk in that power. It was glorious… and I’m not a person who uses the word “glorious.” We are women, praying in power, as if we have the right to claim this victory and take back this land for the glory of the Lord. Because we do. And I just kept thinking as I left – this is the right kind of power. This is the undefinable thing that moves me about this place.

(As a sidenote, in that room praying with us was one of the most powerful and influential women in the entire Christian world – a name every single one of you would know without question, crying out to the Lord alongside us, revealing the Source of her very formidable strength. When the Lord shows me something, He often has to repeat Himself until even I can’t miss the lesson).

Tonight these conflicted ideas stopped being conflicted for me. The power is not in me, and yet is in me. I am a simple girl. A mess more often than I admit. I know better than anyone how utterly unqualified I am on my own strength to lead anyone or represent the Lord in ministry to a hurting world. And yet I am a dwelling place of the Holy Spirit, so His power is in me. He uses me despite my weakness. He empowers me with His strength. And when I walk in that power, there are no limits to what I can or should do for the Lord and His Kingdom. The difference between power out-of-control and beautiful righteous power is the Spirit in which I am walking. Am I walking in surrender to Christ, filled with the Spirit? Then I am powerful and I have no reason to fear or limit myself.

Pray for me, sweet friends, and I’ll pray for you, that we will walk in the power of Christ in the way we were intended, without fear and without a desire to glorify ourselves. And may we progress from infants struggling to walk in this power to daughters dancing and running, pushing back the darkness and bringing glory to the God who created us male and female, for His glory.

For consider your calling, brothers (and sisters): not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God,righteousness and sanctification and redemption, so that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.” I Cor 1:26 – 31.

I think this is appropriate given the subject matter. 🙂

Naked and Unashamed

As far as the Lord has brought me in my fight against insecurity, certain things still make me feel uncomfortably vulnerable. For example, I have always been a little anxious about my education.

I only moved schools four times growing up, but one time I moved I went from a school district that taught grammar in the grade I was about to enter to a district that had taught grammar in the grade I was exiting. So, I was actually never taught grammar. I am a reader, so I can muddle through because certain things just look right to me, but I have this fear that there are major gaps in my knowledge of the English language.

So imagine my terror yesterday when I discovered a few gaps indeed did exist in my knowledge (those of you who have seen my wall on FB are laughing at this point). Did you know you aren’t supposed to double-space between sentences? Or that there is no plural version of the word toward? Oh heavens. As my hilarious friend Leah said, this makes me feel dumb.

I had things I knew I didn’t know – like I know you don’t end a sentence in a prepositional phrase, but I have no idea what a prepositional phrase is. I know I only somewhat understand adjectives and adverbs. And I know when I had to diagram sentences in high school, I faked it.

But I didn’t know there were more! What if I’m fundamentally illiterate?

As anyone who struggles with insecurity knows, we tend to steer away from the things that make us feel insecure. So as you can imagine, blogging, at root, was really frightening for me at first. Before I even get to the matter of topic or expertise (ha), there was the basic matter of sentence structure I had to figure out. But I did it, anxiously, because I felt compelled to do so as a way to reach out to my former students from the ministry where I served throughout my twenties. And the Lord has been faithful to use this as a tool of ministry beyond what I imagined.

Isn’t it funny how often the Lord brings us to our point of greatest vulnerability and in that place, that scary weak place, He chooses to use us? How many of you will raise your hand and agree with me that sometimes the Lord takes you to the one place you said you’d never go, and in that place, He shows Himself faithful?

I have loved blogging, and I love the friends who care enough to read what I have to say. It has been a tremendous connection-point to many women and I’m not sure I would have come to know those precious friends had it not been for this experiment in vulnerability.

So yesterday I had a choice, I could freak out and attempt to correct the things I have written and make this blog that has always been more about heart and vulnerability than excellence more “correct.” Or I could laugh at myself and move forward, just slightly less blissfully ignorant.

I’ll be honest, I had a few moments last night where I actually debated the choice in my head.

I am trying in my adulthood to be about vulnerability, but still, every time, it is a choice. Do you remember in the garden when Adam and Eve were naked and not ashamed, before sin entered in and screwed everything up?  I think that when we choose to make ourselves vulnerable, to be naked with the people around us, we are a little closer to paradise. I think all of the posturing and presenting ourselves as perfect is a big part of what is fundamentally broken about this world (and a big part of what is wrong with the church).

Because Adam and Eve were always naked, they just didn’t know it until sin entered the picture.  I am always flawed, it is just when it is revealed that I have to battle with my pride and my instinct to cover it up.

I am growing in this.  Today I can say honestly that I really dislike vulnerability, and yet I love it.  I have found it is, without fail, more fruitful than self-protection.  Great things happen when I push through vulnerability. I knew I wanted to marry Justin when I was around him without makeup, in weakness, and he still found me beautiful. I knew my girlfriends were heart-friends when I could reveal my doubt and sin and they loved me anyway. There is something special about relationships that are honest (naked, if you will) and unashamed.

So last night I decided to keep being vulnerable here, trusting the Lord to fill in the gaps. I will continue to muddle forward in my writing, adding an extra “s” where it does not belong and double-spacing between sentences (because, really, how do I train my brain not to do that when I’ve been typing that way for 28 years?), with a generous dose of prepositional phrases and improper sentence structure sprinkled in. I’ll try to laugh more and take myself less seriously, as I trust the God who made me to get glory even in my weakness.

So I present to you today, Jen’s Naked Blog. (You should all be proud of me for not actually renaming it. Those of you who know me well just checked the title bar in a panic to see if I crossed the line.)

I hope you’ll join me in this endeavor, naked and less ashamed.

**By the way – I have discovered a new GREAT resource in my battle against insecurity, and if that is a shared struggle, may I recommend it?   Simply click this link to purchase Beth Moore’s new book, So Long Insecurity.