11 Things I Learned in November

After a hiatus last month due to 31 Days in the Word, I’m back with a hodgepodge assortment of what I’ve learned this month. For the fourth time, I’m linking up with Emily Freeman and other bloggers to give you a recap of November’s fun and memorable discoveries. Enjoy!

1. We finished our fall Share-a-thon at KVIP radio a few weeks ago, and I learned (again) that I’m exceptionally and increasingly comfortable on live radio, almost unnaturally so for my level of introversion. Of course, a lot of it has to do with it being this radio station and these co-workers/co-hosts and those listeners, but it still boggles my mind sometimes.

2. For my birthday dinner at Olive Garden, I tried wine for the first time. I’m not a fan. At least, not of the particular white wine I sampled.

3. Speaking of alcohol, intoxication in this country is defined as having a blood alcohol content level that is at or greater than 0.08%. When I went in to retake a portion of the written test as part of renewing my driver’s license, I realized I had no idea what the legal limit was. Luckily, I’m a good guesser (on that and a couple other questions), or else my trip to the DMV might not have been so quick.

4. I am a Jesus Feminist: “I have always accepted the basic complementarian understanding of gender roles without giving it much thought: Women are to submit to their husbands, and preaching is for men. … Now, I’m starting to question it. I’m finding strict complementarians and those who take Paul’s words on submission to their literal extremes. I’m learning to walk in the freedom and love of Christ. And for the first time, I’m asking questions. Why can’t a woman preach? I wonder. For the first time, it’s bothering me.”

It was a big step to write about something so controversial (or potentially controversial) here, but I desire authenticity, and for me authenticity means allowing myself to wrestle and ask hard questions outside of the safety of my own head and home. And I’m glad I did.

5. Hunger Games: Catching Fire is the best film adaptation I’ve seen in a long time. It’s a great movie in its own right as well. I look forward to seeing it again.

6. November 3rd was the International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church. I learned which countries have the most extreme persecution. China isn’t as high on the list as I expected it to be. Also, I found out about Iranian-American Pastor Saeed Abedini, who is currently imprisoned in Iran for his faith. Read his story and sign the petition here.

7. Not every American makes pumpkin pie from a can. I’d always assumed that was the norm, since it’s what we’ve always done — in fact, if it hadn’t been for a pumpkin carving activity in high school, I might’ve never, in all my 25 years, interacted with the insides of that gargantuan vegetable (or fruit?). Granted, I don’t know what percentage of Americans opt for the can over pureeing the pumpkin themselves, but I can no longer hold my can with the same pride and joy that I did before.

8. It’s worthwhile to enter book giveaways. Though I am biased, seeing as how I’ve won four much-desired books in the last month or so.

Lizzie and her books
I’ve won four out of five of these books in giveaways. (from left to right: When We Were on Fire by Addie Zierman, Jesus Feminist by Sarah Bessey, A Million Little Ways by Emily P. Freeman, and The In-Between and Wrecked by Jeff Goins)

9. I love Advent. Last December was my first year of truly observing this pre-Christmas season of waiting and expectancy, and now I’ve taken things to the next level by bringing the celebration to my radio show. Of course, one of the consequences of doing so — particularly this Christmas — is that I’m already halfway through Advent on my program while in the real world Advent hasn’t even started yet. But I don’t mind this head start. In fact, I’m interested in the Christian year even beyond Advent, so I purchased the book Living the Christian Year: Time to Inhabit the Story of God by Bobby Gross.

10. I’ve never owned a dog (and never really cared to own one), but after taking care of a couple’s border collie/Australian shepherd for three weeks while they were on vacation, I realized there’s more to dogs than loud barking, slobbery licks, and poop. Dogs are very affectionate, and I loved being welcomed home from work by my canine companion, Ozzie.

11. I’m not a Whovian (yet?), but after watching “The Day of the Doctor” (the 50th-anniversary special for the beloved British TV show, Doctor Who) I understood why people love it so much, why this is a big deal. I was also confused a lot of the time, but that’s to be expected for someone like me who’s only seen a dozen Doctor Who episodes in total.

Story as it’s meant to be

old cinema

Last night, I went to the cinema with my dad and sister to see the 50th-anniversary episode of the British television show Doctor Who.

I’d only seen about a dozen episodes in total, and was going mostly for my sister, who wore her Doctor Who T-shirt and carried her sonic screwdriver and cheered at all the right times.

Even as the homages and references and plot points jumped over my head and skated every which way around me, I couldn’t help but feel the momentousness of it all.

We all have stories and characters we love. We move in close to them, pressing in as we would around a fire, hands and faces turned toward the warmth.

Yes, we can get lost in stories and escape in make-believe and find our hands and faces charred in the end.

Story can go wrong, and we can argue endlessly about whether it’s the story’s fault or your fault.

But then, then there are the times when story goes right, when story is as it’s meant to be.

Story as it’s meant to be draws us into its world … and then back out into our own worlds. In some little way or some big way or some unknown way, it connects us with what it means to be human.

We like these stories and characters because somehow, we can connect with them. He said something funny, and I laughed. That look in her eyes almost made me cry too. That story crushed me or resonated with me or reminded me of something important.

But then scripts and performances, editors and formulas, platforms and special effects, audiences and critics, it’s-not-like-the-book and it’s-barely-based-on-a-true-story, politics and hidden agendas … how easy it is to lose the magic of story.

But it’s still there, if we will only be open to it.

We all have moments wrapped in beauty, in the doing and in the thinking and in the living. And we all have moments wrapped in pain.

I drove home with my dad from that Doctor Who special without saying much of anything. Mumford & Sons filled the car and all outside was dark and same. And I was thinking of how characters and stories mean so much to every one of us, and art was alive inside me, and I felt so very full.

Moments like that, where the music and the mind come together to make something rich, even if it stays inside and unspoken, remind me of the other stories on screens and in books. Those started inside someone too, and now here they are.

Story connects us with what it means to be human. It happens when my unspoken meets your spoken, and I am changed.     

(photo credit)

Do what I write, not what I do

The wind is blowing in great gusts, and all the wood above me creaks, and the screen door slams shut and open and then shut again.

I’ve been thinking about what I should write today, what is crawling through me, back and forth from head to heart, what is ready to come forth.

And I keep thinking of the last blog I wrote, the one about making lists and finding meaning in living the well-ordered life and how that doesn’t bring life.

I have a confession to make: When I wrote that blog, I knew, deep down, that I wasn’t going to take my own advice. “It’s time to change the way I view lists,” I wrote. “It’s time to breathe and give myself grace.”

This is what I should do, I thought as I typed.

But it’s so much easier to write than to do.

The truth is, it takes more than inspiring words to dislodge me from this comfortable, sticky hole of mine. You can throw the words “change,” “breathe,” and “grace” at me, or I can throw them at myself, but that’s just the beginning. It takes strategy, resolve, prayer, accountability.

First, though, you have to want to get out.

And I’m not sure I want it enough.

I like the way I stay in touch with people. I like the way I have the ability to see what needs to happen in planning an event or project, and then to make it happen. I like the many blogs I read. I like my clean surfaces and neat, hierarchical folder structures.

Those are all good things.

But I can’t deny they consume me, robotize me, deaden me.

How can I hold on to the good and expunge the bad?

I don’t know how to change.

I can see myself setting the lists and the task obsessions aside for days, weeks, or even months. I can see myself breathing in the cold English air and letting it go and loving every unplanned moment.

But I’m afraid I will always come back to them, always revert to this and other default settings because they are familiar and comfortable.

Then I remember another time, a worse time. A time when I would look at my life and the way I was living it and see nothing I liked.

I didn’t know how to change then either, and like now I was afraid it would never happen.

But I did change. Years and years of stagnation and slipping deeper, and then, for the first time, I knew I was holding change in my hands and I stared and wondered, breathless, if it would last.

I finally got used to it, and I don’t think of it nearly as often as I did then, but it’s lasted.

I remember how change came even from that darkness, and how I’m in a lighter place now. If change could happen then, it can happen now.

It’s so much easier to write than to do, but writing is a step.

When Lists are the Enemy

pile of post-it notesRight now, my eyes are fixed on December 18th — the day I fly to England for my first Christmas away from home. I’m counting down the days, I’m making lists, I’m living the anticipation.

And then I remember what happened the last time I made a list before going on a big trip.

It’s what happens every time: I want to tie up every conceivable loose end before I leave so that I can be fully present while I’m there. It starts out simple enough with items like “do laundry,“ “respond to letters and emails,” and “make an iTunes playlist.” And then, then it turns obsessive-compulsive:

  • Skype with these people
  • Post those pictures on Facebook
  • Read these six books
  • Organize all those files

And on and on and on.

Many of the items on the list aren’t things that need to be done before I leave (not even close), and in fact they keep me from being fully present before leaving. Last time I made one of those lists, I was so focused on getting everything done that I wasn’t even excited until I was on my way to the airport.

So why do I keep making these lists?

Perfectionism.

This is it, I think, this is my chance to get all those things done that I have been putting off for so long.

Perfectionism meets procrastination.

Is this what perfection looks like? When I’ve Skyped with all of my long-distance friends, and there are no emails in my inbox, no books on my nightstand, nothing left to post, organize, or arrange?

Sometimes I think so, as I lean back and admire all my well-ordered surroundings. It is clean, it is finished, and I am complete. The days of mania and obsession seem worth it.

But it only lasts a day, if I’m lucky. The emails continue to fly at me relentlessly, and there are more books to read, and after a while it’s time to Skype again.

This isn’t how I want to find meaning — not in the weeks before the big trips, and not in the rest of life either. After all, how can I savor a conversation or a good book if I’m in a rush to get to the next conversation and the next book so I can reach an elusive “done!”?

I’ve already made my list, and I don’t leave for another month.

I don’t think doing away with lists is the answer. I’m a list girl. I enjoy lists and find them immensely helpful.

But it is time to change the way I view lists. They are “more what you’d call ‘guidelines’ than actual rules,” as the pirates would say.

It’s time to breathe and give myself grace.

Goodness knows there are enough chores and tasks out there without my turning my hobbies and friendships into chores and tasks as well.

Here is what I am reminding myself of today: My worth is not based on the state of my desk, Desktop, or Skype history. It is not based on how many books I read or don’t read, or whether I do this or that.

I am complete right now.

(photo credit)

Admitting my weaknesses and uncertainties

standing alone“I have a lot of doubts about … everything,” I said hesitantly over Skype.

“Like what?” she asked.

“God, the inerrancy of the Bible…” Gender roles. The charismatic movement. If I’ve ever really seen God do anything…

I was waiting for widened eyes and “Oh Liz” and serious and concern and promises to pray for me.

But it didn’t happen. Something else happened.

She understood. She could relate.

The same thing happened when I wrote my last blog about how “I might be a feminist.” The way people understood, the way people could relate to my journey surprised me.

I saw people come alongside me, people willing to share their journeys and how they too had wrestled or were wrestling with this issue. Some of whom I never would have guessed were in this with me.

“There is more power in sharing our weaknesses than our strengths,” wrote Brennan Manning in Reflections for Ragamuffins. He was right.

And I’m finally taking those nervous steps to share my weaknesses, my struggles, my uncertainties.

It started on my YWAM Discipleship Training School. I started actually talking with other people about my struggles, and none of them fainted in shock or distanced themselves from me. But then again, that was YWAM, where we were all a family “in this thing together.”

But out in the real world?

I’ve always known that I’m weak, but I always assumed other people were more confident, certain, and put-together than they probably were. I would hear a lively, opinionated debate between friends who seemed so sure of themselves, and I wouldn’t dare interject my opinion — partly because I didn’t know what my opinion was, and partly because I was afraid of what people would think of me if I disagreed with them — especially if I disagreed without the confidence and certainty that they seemed to have.

A few years ago, I never would’ve admitted such struggles as I’m now admitting in this public forum. I never would’ve said anything controversial unless it was about the TV show Lost, and even then my thin, sensitive skin might’ve bruised a bit if someone had challenged my point.

So there they are, my weaknesses (some of them, at least). I doubt. I’m all over the place. I often don’t know what I believe on issues of secondary and primary importance. I hardly ever read my Bible. My prayer life isn’t as robust as it was last year.

I wish these things weren’t true of me, but at the same time it does no good to hide them from all the eyes.

After I shared some of my struggles in the above-mentioned Skype conversation, I felt such a massive shift like you wouldn’t believe.

She had been speaking with such certainty and confidence, and talking about God and her convictions, and as I nodded along I just felt worse and worse. I knew I was being disingenuous. I was also feeling bad about myself for not having that same strength.

And then I took that tiny step and spoke words I was afraid to speak, and everything changed. I was honest, and she was honest, and suddenly that picture in my mind, of me as the weak one and her as the strong one, disappeared.

I understand now why we’re afraid to admit our weaknesses. We’re afraid what we’ve always feared will now be proven true: that we’re the only ones who struggle like this.

The thing is, though, even if you don’t struggle with the same things I struggle with, you still struggle with something, and there are times when that something seems big and crushing and isolating to you.

But it doesn’t have to isolate you.

I need you, and you need me. Let’s stop pretending we’re perfect and that we have everything figured out. Instead, let’s move toward greater intimacy, even when it’s scary. Freedom is there.

(photo credit)

I might be a feminist

church in NorwayPart of me doesn’t want to write this, not yet. Part of me wants to wait until I have everything decided and sorted out and settled upon, until I am ready to perfectly articulate and defend it all. Then it would be less scary.

I’m not ready, but I have decided to come forward anyway.

Reading what women like Sarah Bessey, Rachel Held Evans, and many others here and there and in between have written is changing me.

Love is becoming more important. Grace is becoming more important. Justice is becoming more important. I am open to your stories and your viewpoints; I am ready to wrestle out in the open and be challenged.

And I might be a feminist.

I have always accepted the basic complementarian understanding of gender roles without giving it much thought: Women are to submit to their husbands, and preaching is for men. In this blog post, I’ll be focusing mostly on the second one.

It was never a big issue for anyone around me growing up. It was what it was, and people accepted it, and it seemed normal and uncontroversial. After all, I never wanted to preach, nor did I know any woman who did. It didn’t affect my life as far as I could tell.

Now, I’m starting to question it. I’m finding strict complementarians and those who take Paul’s words on submission to their literal extremes. I’m learning to walk in the freedom and love of Christ. And for the first time, I’m asking questions.

Why can’t a woman preach? I wonder. For the first time, it’s bothering me. Women can do this, but not that or that. Did you know that Wayne Grudem, cofounder of the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, came up with an 83-item list detailing what women can and cannot do in the church? Why do so many people refuse to accept that a woman might have the gift of preaching (or try to find a way around it by calling it “teaching”)? Why is it considered okay for a woman to preach as a missionary in a developing country, but not here in American churches? Why are so many afraid of her sermons and her leadership and her voice? Why do they say his words are approved by God and hers are not, simply because she is a woman?

Why can’t a woman preach? She is just as much of a person as the man in that pulpit is. Her insights and understanding and voice are just as valid as his. Men and women are co-conspirators in sin … and co-heirs in grace. We have an equal measure of both.

I know many people could come up with Bible verses to “prove” there is no room for questions like these, that Scripture is plain and clear on the subject. Why can’t a woman do that? Well, because the Bible says she can’t, that’s why!

For example, I could say, along with Paul, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus,” but then you could counter me with this other statement of Paul’s: “I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man; rather, she is to remain quiet.”

But I think there is room to question, to wrestle, to allow ourselves to consider the possibility that, maybe, the interpretations many of us have grown up with, in one form or another, may not be the right ones.

In her book A Year of Biblical Womanhood, Rachel Held Evans showed me that there are strong, biblically based arguments for mutuality … egalitarianism … whatever you want to call it. Other people have also challenged my old assumptions.

One of those people is Sarah Bessey, whose book Jesus Feminist was released one week ago today. In this interview, she defines feminism as “the simple belief that women are people, too. At the core, feminism simply means that we champion the dignity, rights, responsibilities, and glories of women as equal in importance to those of men, and we refuse discrimination against women. That’s it.”

Her book is called Jesus Feminist because she became a feminist because of Jesus: “I learned about the Kingdom of God, I learned to look at my life and even the world through the lens of Jesus’ life, ministry, and teachings,” she says in the same interview. “And as I became more active in women’s issues, I began to see specifically how Jesus interacted with women in the Gospels. It was revolutionary. It was profound. It was just plain normal. And I loved it. Jesus thought women were people, too, and at that point, I decided that I wanted to be a feminist in the way that Jesus would be a feminist.”

This is still so new to me. I don’t know all the right definitions and terminologies, let alone how to argue for one side or the other. But maybe it’s not about sides. Maybe it’s okay to be right where I am, right now, with my wondering, questioning heart and my hands empty of weapons and tactics and “all the right answers.” Maybe that’s the best way.

I always want to be open. Even when I reach a read-and-researched-and-thought-and-prayed-through conclusion, I want to be open to the fact that that might change someday. That knowing Jesus might change me in radical ways. And I always want to save room to listen and learn from your story, your interpretation, your relationship with Jesus. I need your voice.

Interested in reading more on this subject? This blog post is one of many in a synchroblog about being a “Jesus feminist.” You can read more about the book Jesus Feminist here. I’m really looking forward to reading it; I hope you check it out too!

Quote from Jesus Feminist

Share-a-thon and Letting Go of Control

microphone

I can’t make things happen. At least, not in an honest, relationships-driven environment.

I don’t think I’ve ever realized this more acutely than during our Share-a-thon fundraisers here at the radio station (we’re just finishing up our fall Share-a-thon today). We ask people to call in, we say the phone numbers every few minutes, we remind them that any amount helps. We encourage, we invite, we repeat, we sound as interesting and persuasive as we can.

Yet even with all this, sometimes nobody calls.

It’s humbling to realize that I can’t control the pace and progress of Share-a-thon as much as I would like to think I can. I can say what I think are “all the right words” in “all the right ways,” but they don’t always bring about the desired results.

And then I had an epiphany. I realized that I enjoy Share-a-thons much more when I let go of this semblance of control. Sure, I would prefer it if people called more often and Share-a-thon wasn’t a two-weeks-long endeavor. However, I don’t want it to be all about the numbers.

It’s so easy to make it all about the numbers, though — to get excited about the matching challenges and the ringing phones and the changing numbers on the screen when we’re gliding effortlessly to the next milestone … and to get discouraged about the silent phones and the unchanging numbers when the next milestone seems stubbornly elusive.

Certainly we can’t forget about the numbers in a fundraiser. But we’re a ministry, and being people-focused means more than just saying all the right words when the microphones are on. I’m more interested in saying the real words.

That’s why I want to focus on being myself and having good conversations. I want to laugh and reminisce and learn more about my co-hosts and our in-studio guests (many of whom are involved in local ministries). I want to be more people-driven than results-driven. I want to be real and not just speak in cheery cliches and “right answers.” When callers do join us on the air, I want to really listen to what they have to say. Yes, I will say the phone numbers often and update you on the stats and invite you to call to “help us out financially” or “share your story.” But I will try not to define the success or failure of my airtime by the numbers. It’s a conversation, not a performance or a sales pitch.

This isn’t so easy. Especially when you’re tired and Share-a-thon is overstaying its welcome and you’re running out of words and starting to feel disingenuous. Combining fundraising and ministry isn’t easy.

But I’ve committed to showing up and sitting in front of the microphone and talking for three or four hours every day. It’s not up to me to make things happen, but I can be there and share from my heart and create a space where you can share from your heart too, and that’s what really matters.

It’s up to God for the rest.

(photo credit)

You are Still Worthy

“To handle yourself, use your head; to handle others, use your heart,” said a wooden ornament hanging from a bathroom cabinet.

“The only person I have to be better than is the person I was yesterday,” said a signpost outside a church.

Are these really the best mantras to carry with us?

view from mountain

Growth and maturation happen as life progresses, but often it isn’t tangible and visible and right there. It isn’t like climbing a mountain, where you can look back or unfold a map and see how far you’ve come. Even when your body screams and your throat is dry and your head hurts, you can still see progress.

Real life isn’t like that. Real life is subtle and grey and hazy, even when you look back. Either you don’t have a map, or it doesn’t seem trustworthy anymore. Your body may scream and your throat may be dry and your heart may hurt … and in all this, there is zero concrete evidence of progress.

Sometimes, you will sink down, and it won’t be ladylike (or gentleman-like). The nice bench next to the nice signpost — that acceptable resting place — is just around the bend, but you couldn’t make it that far. You’re a heap on the side of the road, sweaty and red.

What if you’re still there tomorrow? And the next day? And next year?

I must be better than I was yesterday. And you aren’t. At least, not in any way you can see, not even as you rise heavily to your feet. You don’t feel like you are being particularly strengthened, like any character traits have sharpened themselves into any kind of tool. In fact, the ground seems to have given way a bit, and the wind pulled you back down a few hundred yards. If anything, you’re worse off than you were before. You’re not better than yesterday, or the day before, or even the year before.

You might as well lie down again. You aren’t getting any better.

This is why I think comparing oneself with previous versions of oneself is toxic.

In many ways, life is more about the journey than the destination. Maybe the only way to truly be “better than the person you were yesterday” is to forget about that person and forget about that saying.

Just live today, no matter what the world looks like through your half-opened eyes.

God isn’t using his head to handle you and his heart to handle everyone else, so you shouldn’t either. Give yourself as much grace as you possibly can, because that’s what he’s doing.

It’s not about getting to the top of the mountain. It’s not even about making sure you pull yourself a few steps closer to the peak today. What is this “summit of perfection” you’re striving for? Your worth isn’t based on perpetual upward motion!

Be in Christ, even if you’re not better.

Maybe you won’t see growth for a long, long time, but one day you will put your hand at your side and you will feel polished metal. Surprised, you will look down and see new tools in your tool belt that you didn’t realize were there. New bits of wisdom, new confidence, new depths of love and hope and patience.

And yes, another day will come when you will reach down again and some of those tools will seem to be missing, and you won’t know why, and you will feel like all the progress you were making has been lost.

Remember, even in loss you are not lost. Life is subtle and grey and hazy. Hold on to truth and God even when every outward sign of value and progress and comfort is torn away.

You are still worthy.

(photo credit)