I needed to hear this.

Mind a little mid-morning theology? I just finished A Year of Biblical Womanhood by Rachel Held Evans. Wowzers. Here’s the best cut of the meat:

The Bible isn’t an answer book. It isn’t a self-help manual. It isn’t a flat, perspicuous list of rules and regulations that we can interpret objectively and apply unilaterally to our lives.

The Bible is a sacred collection of letters and laws, poetry and proverbs, philosophy and prophecies, written and assembled over thousands of years in cultures and contexts very different from our own, that tells the complex, ever-unfolding story of God’s interaction with humanity.

When we turn the Bible into an adjective and stick it in front of another loaded word (like manhood, womanhood, politics, economics, marriage, and even equality), we tend to ignore or downplay the parts of the Bible that don’t fit our tastes. In an attempt to simplify, we try to force the Bible’s cacophony of voices into a single tone, to turn a complicated and at times troubling holy text into a list of bullet points we can put in a manifesto or creed. More often than not, we end up more committed to what we want the Bible to say than what it actually says.

So after twelve months of “biblical womanhood,” I’d arrived at the rather unconventional conclusion that there is no such thing. The Bible does not present us with a single model for womanhood, and the notion that it contains some sort of one-size-fits-all formula for how to be a woman of faith is a myth.

I have a million other things I should be doing right now (tending to my sick nine year old, getting my six year old started on his handwriting lesson, wrapping up a freelance assignment, finally eating my breakfast, taking out the dog), but I just wanted to share this with someone who may need to hear it. This was an excellent book. Like her previous one, it was as if the author read my mind and transcribed all of my thoughts and questions much more eloquently and intellectually than I ever could. Throughout my entire Christian experience, until now, there has been a canonical insistence that I be a “Proverbs 31 Woman,” whatever the heck that meant. To be free from the “one-size-fits-all” mindset is really quite wonderful. (Cue Mel Gibson in Braveheart, “Freeeeeeedoooooom!”)

Carry on with your Monday, readers, and I’ll go carry on with mine.

The Sticky Nativity Situation

We’ve rolled Advent into our homeschool schedule, which I did last year so it’s not particularly new information for the boys. I don’t remember how detailed our lesson got last year but I certainly don’t remember being so uncomfortable about it. On Friday I read aloud scripture from both Matthew and Luke and then read the nativity story from a children’s Bible storybook to pull it together in kid language. The boys listened intently, and per usual, Jeremy interrupted a few times for clarity.

On all three accounts I glazed over the word “virgin.” Something in my throat prevented me from saying it, and then my jaw clenched and I fumbled over the word. I just wasn’t ready to say it and then explain it, which is exactly what would’ve happened because Jeremy picks up on every detail.

I also had trouble reading the parts about Joseph wanting to divorce Mary quietly, because obviously he thought she had been unfaithful and I certainly didn’t want to explain THAT to my kids either.

This is a bit of a dilemma because Mary’s marital and virginity status is essential to the story. Her role as the mother of Jesus is so important, but so is her supernatural conception of the child. But do I really need to say “virgin” to my nine year old? And if so, how to I explain it without starting sex ed in third grade?

I welcome your input because I really am asking for help. I feel like they are missing a big piece of the cosmic puzzle by glazing over the incarnation, but something in my Mommy bones just can’t say the words. When we were talking about Mary giving birth in a stable, Jeremy gestured to his stomach and nether regions to clarify (as I knew he would), “So she, you know, pushed the baby out with animals all around?”  My entire body cringed as my nine year old described childbirth.

This is what happens when your children are adopted and as a result they never see their mom pregnant!

I realize that this is what’s called “parenting out of fear” and that it’s not the best strategy. So, if you have kid language for explaining the virgin birth, please share it with me.

Neat and tidy religion

“Things stopped fitting into the neat and tidy categories of right and wrong, good and evil. Black and white slowly bled to gray.” (Evolving in Monkey Town, pg. 109)

We joined the church about which we were inquiring, and in the past several months I’ve been approaching theology in a new way. Now that I think of it, that statement isn’t entirely true. If I’m honest, the more accurate statement would be is that I’m publicly and openly exploring theology in a new way. I’ve actually been doing this for years most quietly, while still participating in Sunday School classes, Bible study groups and the like. I’ve held my tongue, discounted lessons altogether because they didn’t make any sense, and stirred in frustration over what I believed to be the dumbing down of God. We spent more than a year out of church altogether after we moved because I didn’t really want to start that process all over again just to stir up the conflict in my heart.

This summer Chuck and I realized that we really wanted and needed to go back to church, but we were stumped over where to go. Our previous affiliations were out of the question, so we explored other options on the occasional Sunday in an attempt find a better fit for our family. However, after each visit we’d drive home uninspired, experiencing that all-too-familiar feeling that said, “We know where this is headed. Let’s not go back.”

Happily, we found a place were we both want to be, where we want to sit and listen, absorb and learn, serve and grow. We took communion with this church body for the first time on Sunday (three cheers for the gluten-free bread option!) and watched the baptism of three adopted children a few Sundays prior. We’ve sung with them, recited prayers with them, and have already felt challenged by the sermons. So far, so good.

I’m currently reading Evolving in Monkey Town by Rachel Held Evans and seriously – it’s fantastic. Rachel is asking (and doing her best to answer) all of the questions I’ve been asking for years. In the past I was so quick to adopt catch phrases like “God’s ways are not our ways” and “because the Bible says so.” For years I approached the onset of faith with my eyes on the end of time (that ticket to heaven, you know), without giving near enough thought to the whole life lived in between. I began at the start line and went straight to the finish line and saw nothing of the race. And while I knew there had to be other lessons to learn, I always left the Sunday service having heard (yet again) that I had to accept Jesus Christ as my savior to have eternal life, even though I had taken care of that decades ago. I was ready to move on to the next thing but never seemed to get there. The result was a growing frustration not with God but with the church. To quote a friend of Rachel’s in her book, “It was like drowning in a pool of shallow water.” (pg. 65)

I underlined that sentence with a black pen, and then I drew a rectangle around it. Then I starred it in the margin. I couldn’t have expressed my own feelings any better.

For the first time in a long time I’m excited to go to church. Intellect is assumed and inquiries are encouraged. Asking questions is okay, whether you want to know more about the history of the Protestant Reformation or whether you want to know if all of this God stuff is real anyway. It’s so… liberating.

I won’t flood my blog with posts about church and religion, so no worries. We’re not getting too serious here! I just felt the need to get this out on “paper” and say it “out loud.” Thanks for indulging me.

A Humble Prayer

Dear God,

I saw the fall decor outside at Kroger today. You know how I love it. All of those pumpkins and mums and haystacks. Every September I have this problem, and here we are all over again. There I was with grocery money in hand and instead of going straight to the milk and soy creamer I considered buying cornstalks instead. How beautiful will my porch look with cornstalks flanking the front door! Did You see the UT orange mums, Lord? Five pallets of them! I mean seriously. You knew just what I wanted when You created a mum the perfect shade of orange.

Lord, I’m on a budget. This means I need Your all-powerful, super duper strength to keep my spending efforts on food to feed my family, not autumn decor to impress the neighbors. This means I can’t go to Hobby Lobby unless I have money from heaven to blow. (Is that a possibility, Lord?) It’s nearing my favorite month, oh God, and it will be especially difficult to hold back. I pray You keep me focused, Lord, so that I may not bankrupt my family on wooden scarecrow yard stakes and pumpkin-scented candles. I don’t need a new harvest flag to welcome people to my home because last year’s flag is sufficient enough. I am trying to be content.

And Lord, please limit my access to Martha Stewart’s website, because that woman does not help me at all.

Most humbly and desperately,

Jennie

P.S. To show my sincerity, I have limited myself to only buying candy corn during the month of October. As you know, Chuck did not know about that rule, and therefore already bought candy corn to make me happy. And so to make him happy, I ate some. You understand, I’m sure.

Inquiring

We’ve been going to a new church for a little more than a month now, and by new I mean new in several ways. It’s the first church we’ve attended on a regular basis since moving back to east Tennessee last spring and it’s a denomination with which neither Chuck nor I have experience. Because it’s all new, we’re attending an Inquirer’s Class for a few weeks before we make the decision to join. In fact, I even had coffee with the pastor last week at a local coffee house because I had questions, and I felt it was better to just get it all out there instead of floating along confused. To date, I think it was one of the most honest conversations about religion and faith that I’d ever had with a pastor or church leader. It was really refreshing. In the Inquirer’s Class yesterday morning, after a detailed lecture about the history of the Christian church and how denominations came to be, Chuck leaned over to me and whispered, “I’ve been in church all my life and have never had it explained like that before.” I agreed.

The boys have been longing to go to church again, which is not only pleasing to hear but it’s also been a catalyst for getting us back on our feet on Sunday mornings. We spent a good year away from church, for a number of reasons, but mainly because we’d been living this crazy separated life between Texas and Tennessee, and frankly we were exhausted. We spent as many mornings in our pajamas as we could.

In other news, school is moving along nicely. Jackson is excelling (again) in reading, spelling and math. He’s attentive during science, though some concepts don’t yet register. Jeremy is thoroughly enjoying astronomy and government, but his struggles with reading make every subject a challenge. I’m continually looking into new programs and other curriculum that may help, because it certainly isn’t for a lack of interest. Jeremy is eager to read all the popular bestsellers, but with so many stumbling blocks on one page, he is easily frustrated. If anyone has advice, I’m open to suggestions.

Lastly, I’ve chosen to run one more half marathon this year, but this time it’s a local race, which means no traveling or out-of-town expenses. I’ve been trying to run a different state or two each year, but running nearby race is the smarter choice this fall.

Next year, I’m thinking coastal. All of those Runner’s World ads for Virginia Beach and Charleston are too tempting to ignore.

Salute

I got home late last night from Girls Weekend in Washington DC and spent just enough time uploading photos and editing a small few. Then I crashed into bed and watched mindless television.

There is much to post about Girls Weekend, but I will have to divulge more later since zoo classes are today and we’re all still sitting in our pajamas.

However, I will share this: On the flight from Atlanta to Washington, the pilot disclosed that there was a fallen soldier on board who was to be interred at Arlington. The pilot then requested that all passengers, minus the accompanying Captain, wait our turn to deplane. Obviously, we all did as we were told, because when you see something like this from your window seat, suddenly your plans for the day seem a lot less important.

A Rude Awakening

Indulge me for a second, because I had one of those moments that stops you in your tracks.

We were driving home from running errands and the boys were asking (for the gazillionth time) about buying something or playing something or doing something that required permission. I was over it.

So from the front seat I yelled, “Do you guys understand that ALL OF OUR CONVERSATIONS involve YOU asking ME for SOMETHING? Seriously. Give it a rest.”

They didn’t answer me, and even if they did, I didn’t hear them because instead I heard an audible vibration from the depths of my soul that whispered, “Well that sounds familiar.”

I sat there at the red light in a stupor, hands on the wheel, embarrassed and replaying my last hundred prayers. When we adopted Jeremy nearly nine years ago, I remember feeling that by becoming a parent it took me to another level with God, that understanding this parent-child relationship gave me the tiniest idea about what He must feel for me. It was one of those “A-ha!” moments, and now I’d just had another one.

The boys and I didn’t speak to each other until we got home, when I asked them to help me bring in the groceries. In the silence of the short drive, I asked for forgiveness and thanked Him for all of this, for these people He gave me, for this life He created, and for waking me up in a place where I’d obviously fallen asleep.

Column: Miracle makes a family of four

You lucky ducks get to read this Sunday’s column right here, right now, before the rest of the city gets a chance. Don’t you feel special?

Miracle makes a family of four

When I was preparing for my previous column six weeks ago, I had no idea that by the time it ran on Sunday morning my life would be changing forever. Again.

On that early morning in June, our second son, Jackson, was born. We had no knowledge of his existence until a few short hours prior to his arrival. His birth into our family is nothing short of a miracle.

There is very little predictability in adoption. With the adoption of our first son, we had about four weeks to prepare. We found his birth mom through a friend and met with her and her entire family. Everyone was supportive and encouraging. This baby was who I longed and prayed for. Jeremy’s adoption was flawless. The fact that God gave us a miracle was more than I could fathom.

To be perfectly honest, I didn’t believe God would do it again.

And to be perfectly blunt, I thought I could do it on my own.

Last fall, I told my pastor about my struggle to believe a another miracle could happen. When I informed him we’d be signing up with an agency to adopt a second child, he quickly asked me why. I gave him run-around excuses, something about adoption being a long process and wanting to get on a list.

“But why not go for another private adoption?” he asked. I gave him more excuses, but this time, he called me on it.

“Don’t you believe God will give you another child the way He did with Jeremy?” he asked.

“No,” I responded with certainty. “I know He could, but I don’t think He will. It’s just not logical. Two miracles in one family? I don’t see it.”

He disagreed with me, but didn’t push. I left his office in tears, struggling to hold my head up. Weeks went on and we started the adoption process with an agency. We barely got to the formal application before backing out. It didn’t feel right for us and we couldn’t move forward. Our file was closed and baby No. 2 seemed more out of reach than ever.

Fast forward to the Saturday night before Jackson was born. We had dinner plans with another couple who were considering adoption and they wanted to get the inside scoop. I was happy to meet with them, though I knew my heart was still dealing with bitterness and confusion. I wanted a second child and felt like we had no where to go. How in the world I could inspire someone else was beyond me. Nevertheless, we met at the restaurant and eventually ended up back at our house to continue the conversation.

We shared our story about Jeremy’s private adoption, how quickly it all surfaced and how were there for his birth. We told them how much prayer and faith adoption required, and certainly, how unpredictable it can be. You just never know, we said. There’s no real way to prepare, we told them.

I received a phone call during their visit, but I let the voicemail pick it up.

They left around 9:30 p.m. and I went upstairs to get ready for bed. All the adoption talk left me thinking about another child. I longed for another boy, and I wanted our second adoption to mimic the first – private, comfortable, and through someone we knew and trusted. Before turning down the bed, I remembered the phone call. I went downstairs to check my voicemail and nearly dropped the phone as I listened.

“There’s a woman in labor,” I told Chuck, who was sitting on the couch. His face went blank.

“What?” he asked, as if I had spoken in Greek.

“Yes, there’s a woman in labor and wants to place the child for adoption! Is this really happening?” My hands were shaking and my heart beat heavy in my chest. I returned my friend’s phone call and got more information. In a matter of minutes, we got our neighbor down to stay with Jeremy and were out the door to the hospital. We had no guarantee that this baby was ours, but we were surely going to find out.

Four hours later, we returned home still unsure about what lay ahead. We met with the birth family, making them aware of our desire for another child, and left it in their hands. Neither of us slept. Every second was longer than the last. By mid-morning, we had lawyers on the phone. By early evening, we were able to view the baby through the nursery window. By Monday morning, we were awarded temporary custody and were able to hold him. Now we are awaiting a court date to make it final.

In a matter of about 36 hours, we became the parents of another beautiful blue-eyed baby boy.

Jackson is not just a second child for us. He is what my heart desired, even when I struggled to believe. He’s proof that God really does perform two miracles in one family.

Now I wonder if He’ll do three.