Finding my Identity

When I am hiking with my family I know who I am, because the world is a beautiful thing to be reflected in. Too bad we can't live in the woods all the time.

When I am hiking with my family I know who I am, because the world is a beautiful thing to be reflected in. Too bad we can’t live in the woods all the time.

If you want to learn how little you know about yourself move across the country. We heard a sermon in Akron before we left where our pastor used the illustration that you don’t know who you are until you see how you are reflected back by your community. You do something good for people, the community reflects your generosity, you learn you’re a generous person. That reflection forms your identity.

He then used the same illustration to explain the Gospel. Well, this blog post is not about that. It’s only about the first part of the illustration, how your self image is made up of reflections from your community. I know about 15 people here now, maybe 30, but only 10 or so I know well and see regularly. In Akron I knew every one and everyone knew me. I knew everyone because that’s the way Akron was. It was the biggest small town I’ve ever known. It was both comfortable and overwhelming. And all of that identity reflection was very comfortable after beginning a family life so quickly I felt like I was reeling a little. Put the pieces back together, make some good plans, do some quality work in the community and next thing you know I’ve got some pretty good self esteem and life is good. Then pick everything up and leave that mirror behind.

Trying to get back to work here has been hard. I have learned about myself that I’m not very good a being only a stay-at-home-mom. I’m too worried about what I’m going to do once the kids are gone and I’ve spent the last 20 years driving back and forth from playdates. I haven’t said that out loud very much because I don’t want to insult my fellow stay-at-homers who feel complete in their callings. I steer away from controversy because I can hear it clanging in my ears. But I’m going to try to be more honest in my writing. It’s time.

I digress…

So, I have been struggling to get back on the doula-work bandwagon. I went from 9 births in one year, to 1 birth in a year. The silence is deafening and misplacing my doula-work identity mirror has left me wondering who I am again. I’ve been trying to fill in some of the gaps in my knowledge of web design while I wait for my birthworkers network to grow. Some things about web design are well suited to my natural strengths, some are a major struggle for me to understand. I spent a few nights trying to hash out the discrepancies between my understanding of php and the reality of php only to come crashing head-on into an identity crisis. I am trying to get positive feedback about who I am as a person based on how well I understand computer stuff. I am lacking something.

Out of the group of wonderful people I’ve met here I’m growing close with a handful of them. I was very blessed that one of these people texted me for an impromptu park date the morning after my php-meltdown. She is going through a similarly disruptive year so we can talk about the things that are hurting us …and there is the mirror I’ve been looking for. She called me out for being too hard on myself, and said important things like, “You have to let yourself feel what you’re feeling.” And together we puzzled over what is going on and that’s how I figured out that I’m struggling to know myself as a mom.

I want to write about this. I want to figure out what’s going on in my mind and in the collective American mind. How does feminism and parenting fit together? How can I build my own life confidently while not pointing out how others are doing it wrong just to make myself feel better? How can I share my experience as someone who’s survived some really rough times, and how that informs my choices as a parent? And how can I do it without letting myself be a victim of the random internet-shaming from strangers? So much is going on in the collective American Woman experience that I have to share about, from the #yesallwomen movement to airlines continuing (STILL?!!?!) to harass passengers for breastfeeding on flights to trying to raise three STEM strong girls in a bro-technology culture. I’m going to start talking about this instead of just puzzling over it while I drive or take a shower. I’m going to share my struggles about it because it wouldn’t be Love and Blunder if I didn’t. And I’m hoping that once I find my voice again I won’t spend so much time looking for my reflection in the wrong mirrors.

 

 

Christian Feminism

I heard Rachel Held Evans on the Q last week talking about her recent book, A Year of Biblical Womanhood. I was very interested in her from the moment she answered the first question. The concept seemed so perfect, and so perfectly in tune with where my thoughts have been the past three or four years. I listened to the whole interview while I did the dishes and Cressida played with Chritmas themed foamies in the kitchen. And I bought the book immediately after the interview, not because of the concept, but because Jian Ghomeshi asked her, “Why not throw the whole thing out and just take the parts that inspire you? Why remain a Christian?” and she answered, “Because I am drawn to the story of Jesus Christ who is the fulfillment of the Old Testament, and he said the all of the Law hinges on these: Love the Lord God with all your mind, soul and strength, and love you neighbor as yourself… So I need to read these texts with the prejudice of love and wrestle with the parts I don’t understand.”

Now I don’t want to pretend that I already had Evans’ concept in my head before I read her book, but I had told my very good friend Jennifer days before I heard the interview that I always default to love when I have a problem with scripture and I fall back on forgiveness when I may have allowed too much acceptance of “sin.”  How could I not read this book when she so clearly understood what I’ve been trying to get out of my heart and into the world for quite some time?

I’ve been reading it very quickly. I am not done with it yet, so I’m not ready to share all of my thoughts on it. Though honestly, I’m growing weary of sharing my thoughts on the internet (especially controversial ones) because then everyone gets to just decide what kind of person they think I am. But I will say this, I am so glad that Evans is representing the Christian Feminist position. She is smart, likable, a good researcher, and willing to change her mind. And though I may not be ready to open up a debate forum anytime soon, I am finally willing to come right out and say, I am a Christian Feminist. I am struggling to figure out what that means. And though I struggle, I know for sure that it means I want to actively work to advocate for women no matter what they choose for their lives/families. And I want to live to see the end of the Mommy Wars. That would be a good thing, too.

But here I am… Opening up again. Maybe it is time to be brave… maybe in my next post.

Relief

Last week, Devona and I chaperoned our church’s youth group to the Higher Things conference in Scranton, Pennsylvania (I hope to write more about this in a few other posts, too). The conference was such a blessing, and it’s very possible that we got more out of it than even the kids did.

Specifically, though, the conference gave me the chance to recollect some of my most formative experiences growing up heavily involved in a modern evangelical church: Summer camps and conferences were a huge part of my Christian identity when I was young. I have fierce memories of crowding together into a darkened, sweaty gymnasium with hundreds of other teenagers, a stage washed in concert lights, the roar of electric guitars, raised hands, tearful repentance, the ultimate conviction that this was where we belonged.

It’s hard to shake off moments like that, and years of them piled up to convince me that I was called to be a minister–after all, that fire in my heart had to be a calling from God, right? Night after night, with the echo of those drums ringing in my ears, I’d lay awake with my certain future in ministry spreading out in front of me.

When it came time to pick a college, I was sure I needed to attend one of our loose denomination’s Bible colleges (later shot down by my parents). I wanted to join up with a good worship band. Maybe become a missionary. I hardly gave a future in the secular world a thought–I was certain I would be doing something in the church.

But then real life woke me up. As I finished high school and began college, leading worship services, mentoring newer Christians, and guiding Bible studies, I began to have real questions. Struggles with sin. Doubts. It just wasn’t always easy to stay on the mountaintop. I began to loathe the fire in my heart. I was angry about it, ashamed. How could someone called by God feel so conflicted?

it only got worse, and my wife (at that time, my fiance) and I came to a spiritual crisis. We were burnt out. We needed the Gospel, and we needed it desperately. And though it was being preached in some form all around us, we were deaf to it. The message was too mixed. Grace didn’t seem free, and we felt like we were in chains.

By the time we ended up in the small LCMS church we still attend, I’d walled off my heart from any hope of becoming a pastor. I was bitter with my Christian experience, certain that I’d fallen prey to my own emotions at a vulnerable age. I convinced myself that work in the church was something I could never do, someone else’s job, someone else’s problem. The ache to serve, though, never left. And over the last five years I continued to struggle with anger and sorrow at its persistence. Time and again, the desire would well up inside me. And in all that bitterness I had only one answer: “No.” Considering a life in ministry, after the emotional wringing I’d felt I’d been through, was impossible. But why couldn’t I get rid of this burden? Get on with clocking in and out of my nine-to-six job, living in my vocation as father to my kids, husband to my wife, and hard-working employee at my job?

At some point during the conference last week, though, something changed. There were no sweaty gymnasiums, no flood-lighted stages, no roaring electric guitars. No calls for tearful emotional repentance, and no emotional revelations. I laid awake in my bunk in the University of Scranton dorms, listening to the sound of teenagers talking outside–teenagers so much like I must have been years ago–and laying my spiritual past alongside these similar, but so tremendously different experiences at Higher Things. Day after day I heard the preaching of Christ, Christ, and Christ again. I received Christ, again, again, and again. I went to confession and absolution, I laid down my pride and heard that I was forgiven. And somehow, all that anger started to disipate. The six-foot thick concrete walls I’d built between myself and the possibility of a life serving the church started to crumble.

It’s so hard to put into words, but I guess I just started feeling alive again. And when I asked myself why I felt so alive, the obvious answer was because I’d just stopped saying “No. Not that. Anything but that.” Somehow, I found myself open again. Open to possibilities. And no longer afraid that caring about the truth of the Gospel would lead me over a cliff. Not certain of anything, to be sure, but I find myself with a heart that is more tender, rather than bitter. And a temperament that is more patient, not angry.

And the burden is gone. The weight I felt every morning when I woke up, and every night when I came home weary from the office has lifted. And for now, that’s good enough. I don’t know if I’ll ever pursue the ministry, but wondering, thinking, talking, and most of all praying about it does not seem so hard any longer. And if that means I can be a little more at peace, then that’s good enough for me.