Friday, June 08, 2012

Becoming Who We Are

I want to tell  you a story today. It's a good story - at least, I think it is. It's a story about young love, and mature love. About fear and overcoming fear. About unlearning and re-learning. But mostly, it's about grace, grace writ large, grace first, last and always. 

First-born children - yes, they were each first-born children. Raised in similar families, too. Conservative, loving, happy, Christian homes. With dads who went out to work and moms who stayed home to work. With church as a staple source of encouragement, fellowship and teaching, some of it in words, lots of it as subtext.

And they both learned the same things about love and life and marriage, and about the 'right' way to make choices and the 'right' way to live into those choices. So when they married - she a blushing bride of 20, midway through her senior year of college, he all of 23, finishing his MBA at a grad school across town - when they married, they knew what choices to make. 

And they made them happily, heartily, easily. She even researched their wedding ceremony, hunting for just exactly the right one, one that would include the word 'obey' in her vows - because, after all, that's what the Bible says, right?

They learned early to become a strong unit, connected to one another firmly as they discovered more about life and marriage while living far away from home for two years. And when they came back, they brought a tiny baby with them, the first of four years.

And they knew what to do, you can be sure of that. He would go off to work every day; she would stay at home and take care of those babies. And that's what they did.

And it worked pretty well, too. 

Oh, there were those niggling thoughts for her: "Is this what life is really about? Is there more that I should be doing? Is it enough to be at home with my babies all day?" 

But most of the time, those thoughts would flit into her head and then move right on out again, replaced with her mother's voice, "Yes, of course this is what you should be doing. This is what all good Christian women do - they stay at home, they keep a clean house, they cook nutritious meals, they keep their children safe. This is what life is about." 

And she really did love those babies of theirs. Yes, she really did. She did her bit at the co-op nursery school; she started a women's group at church as the kids got bigger; and she began to read a little about the changing views on the role of women in the church. 

And her heart was stirred.

She remembered that once-upon-a-time she had been a good student, that she loved learning, that she had some talent as a leader and a speaker and a writer. So she did a whole lot of reading. She went to a conference or two - after her children were in school all day, of course. And she prayed a lot and she talked with her husband a lot, and she wondered. "Maybe there IS more for me to do in this life. I wonder what that might be."

It wasn't easy getting there. She was so full of fear that she ignored what became an increasingly clear call from God to go to seminary. For five years she ignored it, convinced that if she did something so radically independent, her marriage would be over.

Sadly, she didn't trust either her husband or her God enough to know that the journey she was on was a shared one, that her husband was beginning to re-think things, too. So they got a little professional help, to sort it out, to unlearn and to re-learn. And they made a great big leap. Yes, indeed.  A great big one.

She enrolled in seminary when their youngest 'baby' was a senior in high school - and she was 44 years old and only two years away from being a grandmother.

He said, "The time has come for my shirts to go to the laundry - no more ironing for you." 

And then the doors of their hearts began to open wider and wider, allowing the fresh Wind of the Spirit to blow through, to change things, freshen things, renew things. While in seminary, she had a direct call to pastoral ministry. Nothing like that had happened to her before. Nothing. "What," she wondered, "do I do with this?"   

She and her husband talked and they prayed and they wondered. One day, he said something amazing to her, something she could scarcely believe she was hearing:

"You know what, honey? For thirty years, you have supported me in everything I've done, both professionally and personally. You've raised these great kids, you've created a good home for all of us, you've been a rock and the center around which the rest of us have orbited. So you know what I think? I think it's my turn, now. It's my turn to support you. So wherever God calls you, we'll go together, okay? We'll go there together."

And that's exactly what they did. Three years out of seminary, they moved 125 miles from home so that she could take a pastoral position. That meant that he commuted that distance - every single week. EVERY.SINGLE.WEEK for ten years. 

Without one complaint.

Because that's what partners do, isn't it? They support one another. They take turns if they need to. They encourage the best use of the other's gifts. They live the truth that each half of their union is a whole human being, created, called and gifted. They pool their resources, they look to God together, they seek the welfare, health and wholeness of one another and of their joint venture, too.  

It wasn't easy - good things seldom are. And it was very good indeed. They rode the road together. Through the tears and the fears, the laughter and the struggle, they believed in one another and they believed in the God who made them, named them, created and gifted them and called  them to be exactly who they are. Exactly.

Joining this one with Rachel Held Evans' synchroblog week, "One in Christ - A Week of Mutuality." I decided to eschew the technical/biblical/rhetorical approach to this topic in favor of a very personal story. Because I do believe it is in sharing our stories with one another, that hearts are changed, lives are enriched, and God is honored. And besides, I've spent the last 30 years or so making the biblical and exegetical arguments and I am DONE with that part. Kudos to Rachel, however, for taking it on so beautifully this week.

And a peek at those babies all-growed-up with their own babies, many of whom are also all-growed-up. Sigh. The baby born in Africa is the woman on the far right. 
Our middle daughter is in the middle of the photo and our son is in front of me.
This is a photo of a photo taken by Rich Austin of Austin's Photography in Arroyo Grande, CA,
 and I apologize for its blurriness.