Hannah

A woman, desperate for the one thing she can’t have, implores her God, and when she receives her heart’s desire, hands it all back to him.

 

Faith. It’s a funny thing. It can grow, be lost, be found, shape, transform, be betrayed, help us, harm us, kill us and bring us back to life. Humanity kills and wars over it, battles for that of others, manipulates and relies upon it, and uses it to get what it wants. Yet it is one of the most important parts of the human experience. Without faith in something, we are nothing. Without the faith that the sun will rise tomorrow, we dare not sleep lest tomorrow never comes at all. Without the faith that good will overcome evil, we dare not step outside our doors, read books, watch television, live in community. Faith shapes all that we do, even for those who say they have no faith. We all have faith in something.

 

Heartache and yearning. It is a rare person who has not felt one or the other. From a young age, we face disappointments and sorrows. The beloved grandparent/neighbour/pet hamster dies. We don’t get the Birthday present we wanted. Our friends hurt us. The person we thought we loved didn’t love us after all. The job we worked so hard to get didn’t work out. Our child is lost. There isn’t enough money left at the end of the month for what we want or need. Our trust is broken.

 

Hannah desperately wanted a child. Her husband’s other wife had borne several children, and rubbed it in Hannah’s face. Their husband may love Hannah more, but Peninnah was the one who was having his babies – Hannah obviously wasn’t doing something right, Hannah was cursed, Elkanah didn’t really love her if he couldn’t get her pregnant, Hannah was a disappointment, she wasn’t a real woman because she was barren. Just imagine getting that much spite in your home, and then going out into the community and seeing the pitying looks on the faces of all the other women, thinking many of the same things that Peninnah had spat in Hannah’s face in her spite. No matter how much Elkanah told and showed her that he loved her, Hannah still yearned for a child of her own, not to be nanny to her step-children.

 

Desperation brings even fervent non-believers to prayer. Lord, let them live. God, if you’re there, fix this. Save me. Please don’t let him leave. God, stop this horror around me. Help them. Help me. Give me courage. I need this. If I make it out alive, I’ll go to church. End this pain. Are you there God? Why is this happening? What now?

 

Hannah went into the Lord’s house and prayed. And wept. Bitterly. She asked her Lord for her heart’s desire – a son – and promised to give him back to the Lord. She prayed and prayed in her heart, her lips moving but no sound coming out. In the corner sat one of the priests, an old man with two sons who were as wicked as the day was long. Eli was outraged that someone would come into the Lord’s house drunk, and confronted Hannah. Shocked, she explains her sorrows to Eli, and he blesses her. She and her family leave the following day, and the Lord answers her prayer. She has a son, naming him Samuel, because the Lord heard her prayer. Once he is weaned, she takes him to Shiloh, back to the Lord’s house and entrusts him to the care of Eli and the service of the Lord.

 

If someone gave you a fantastic gift, how willing would you be to give it back to them? I know I couldn’t, not easily. Now imagine that thing is your child, and you’ve wanted nothing more than to be a parent. I can only imagine the pain that Hannah felt with her sacrifice. And yet, she freely and joyfully dedicated her son to the Lord, and saw him only when their family visited Shiloh for the annual sacrifice. How often do we give of ourselves and the things we cherish, perhaps more than life itself? How often is our giving generous and with joy?

 

As a student and in my gap year, I had very little money after the rent and the bills were paid, every penny taking me further into my overdraft. I was also very often ill, and spent most of second and third years of university in bed. My family were incredibly generous to me, keeping food on the table, but it remained, my overdraft became my dearest friend, and pyjamas my most worn clothes. When I had little, all I could do was pray and hope and trust that I’d be able to afford what I needed and manage to do the important things. And yet, I couldn’t help being generous. I’d pick up a bag of chocolate for my church group, or wash the dishes for my housemates. I handed out water bottles to people coming out of clubs, and baked cakes for friends. God called me to give back everything I had, to give of the bare minimum I possessed. He called me to give of my time, of my money, and of my heart. Even when we weren’t on the best of terms, He would guide my heart to give, to sacrifice.

 

Hannah’s desperate prayers for her heart’s desire led to her giving the greatest thing she could claim, her son, and her sacrifice gave Israel one of its greatest leaders – the last of the Hebrew Judges, and the first of the Major Prophets. Whilst our prayers and sacrifices may not shape nations and history, they are important all the same. For we all have people spiting us and things that break our hearts. We all yearn for things, and we all cry out to God in our most desperate times. And God, in His faithfulness answers. All we have to do is decide what to do with our answers. Do we keep the gifts we are given to ourselves, or do we dedicate what we have to the Lord, and share with others the good things He has done for us?

 

Hannah’s story reminds us of the faithfulness of our God, and calls us to respond to it with our whole hearts. It calls us to be generous with even the things we hold dear to our hearts, to give even when it is hard. All we have belongs to the Lord.

Thrive 2015

So I’ve been trying to find my words for this for nearly two weeks now, but now I just need to chuck this out there.  My One Word for 2015.  I’m not throwing away ‘Brave’- I’m still trying to be brave with my life- in fact, I think I’ll possibly need it even more this year.  In 2015, I want to focus on Thrive.

 

The last few years, as you may have picked up, haven’t exactly been easy for me.  I’ve been chronically ill for nearly four years now, I’ve battled depressive episodes, fought through some not so great things happening to and around me, and somehow God has brought me through it all.  I’m at the point now, where I know that He is greater than all the rubbish things, and I need to respond.  It’s time for me to thrive.

 

Whilst I was thinking about what word I wanted to focus on this year, I had a Switchfoot song going round in my head.  “I want to thrive not just survive”.  For so long I’ve been coasting through, just weathering the storms, keeping going, but not living to my full potential.  This year, I want to become more of who I was created to be.  I want to fight for that woman.  To be someone that seven year old me would be proud of.  I want to thrive.

 

My Mum has a beautiful garden.  Well, it’s more of an allotment really- crammed with plants, you can only just get to the back gate, and only if you’re very careful not to trip over something.  There’s a rosemary bush in the middle of this garden.  Every year she prunes it right back to a small shrub, and every year it grows to a massive bush bigger than me.  Every year she prunes it.  Part of thriving is in being pruned- nothing can grow if it’s holding on to bits that are dead or unfruitful.  When thinking about thriving, I’m reminded of all the things I still hold onto from my life that have left me with scars, and I think this may be the year where I finally surrender them all.  Lay down the brokenness and hurt and unfruitfulness at the foot of the cross and walk away from that part of me.

 

To thrive means to prosper, to grow vigorously, to flourish.  God created us to be alive- Jesus says “I came that they may have life, and have it to the full” (John 10:10).  We were created to be more than just beings- we were created to love and worship God, to walk with Him, to follow where He leads.  Being around God causes us to thrive- He is goodness and with Him is goodness found:

Seek the Lord while he may be found;
    call on him while he is near.
 Let the wicked forsake their ways
    and the unrighteous their thoughts.
Let them turn to the Lord, and he will have mercy on them,
    and to our God, for he will freely pardon.
 ‘For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
    neither are your ways my ways,’
declares the Lord.
 ‘As the heavens are higher than the earth,
    so are my ways higher than your ways
    and my thoughts than your thoughts.
 As the rain and the snow
    come down from heaven,
and do not return to it
    without watering the earth
and making it bud and flourish,
    so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater,
 so is my word that goes out from my mouth:
    it will not return to me empty,
but will accomplish what I desire
    and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.
 You will go out in joy
    and be led forth in peace;
the mountains and hills
    will burst into song before you,
and all the trees of the field
    will clap their hands.
Instead of the thorn-bush will grow the juniper,
    and instead of briers the myrtle will grow.
This will be for the Lord’s renown,
    for an everlasting sign,
    that will endure for ever.’

-Isaiah 55:6-13

I could be selfish about focusing on THRIVE this year- make it all about me growing and being better, but that is not what I want to do.  I want to learn more about the world, and I want to give back, and give away- to help those who need it.  I want to learn more about what I can do to help others thrive.  And then do it.  I want to prune back the unnecessary things in my life and be more generous with what I have- my time, posessions, money, heart.  I want to spend more time being close to God, and learn more of His heart for His world.

“My mission in life is not merely to survive, but to thrive; and to do so with some passion, some compassion, some humor, and some style”

-Dr Maya Angelou

The Year of Brave

At the start of 2014, I decided that I wouldn’t make the normal sort of resolutions- I really am bad at keeping to them!  Instead, I chose a word to guide me through the year.  Or rather, the word chose me.  My inner Gryffindor won the day, and my One Word for 2014 was Brave.

Such a rich and meaningful word, I decided, would have little impact beyond stepping a little out of my comfort zone every once in a while.  Oh, was I wrong.   I’ve not performed great heroic deeds, or saved the world.  This year has seen me go to new places, struggle through tough times, and do things I didn’t think were possible on 1st January.  By daring to be brave, my life has been shaken up and there is no way that I saw myself where I am a year ago.

 

“Courage is not the absence of fear, rather the judgement that something else is more important than fear.  The brave do not live forever, but the cautious do not live at all.”

-Meg Cabot, The Princess Diaries

 

Brave saw me preach at morning prayers.  Brave saw me cut all my hair off (it was shoulder blade length in January.  By the first weekend of February it was a pixie cut).  Brave saw me help run a weekend-long conference.  Brave saw me go on a ministry trip to Scandinavia.  It gave me adventures in the Peaks.

I claimed the phrase ‘eshet chayil’ for my own.  I stood on the edge of education and fell freely off.  I faced and scared off illness again and again.  I took a week of heartache and turned it around with people I’ve always trusted.  I sent one of my best friends off to be a missionary for two years with joy in my heart.  I celebrated with old friends in their happiness.

Brave saw me through the tough decision about whether I should move home, then through the moment God turned it all around and gave me a new job.  Brave saw me through rejection and fear and loneliness, moments I just wanted to give up, and moments where it was all I could do not to scream.  Brave was in choosing joy and fighting for it, no matter how small the spark.  Brave was in letting go of what was not meant for me, and that which no longer belonged.   Brave was the building of my grown-up life, of forming traditions in my own way, and sharing them with others.  Brave was in allowing my words to walk away from me for months on end, and being at peace with my own silence.

 

“Have I not commanded you?  Be strong and courageous.  Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged; for the LORD your God will be with you wherever you go.”

-Joshua 1:9

 

One of the biggest things this year that stood on the foundation of Brave was letting go of something that had become my identity, and was woven deeply into the fabric of who I was.  During my first year at university I got really ill and gave up eating gluten.  And my tummy got much better.  As a teenager I’d given up eating nuts because they burned my throat and made it hard to breathe.  I gave up eating raw tomatoes two days before I started university because they stared bringing my face up in a rash as they had when I was a child.  I risked being really ill again this summer and started eating them again.

And I wasn’t ill.  My body didn’t throw a hissy fit when I had some cake, then some chocolates, then a normal sandwich with salad in.  I was so fearful of getting ill that I didn’t dare see what God could do in my life and in my body.  One of my friends asked me about something I was eating, and when she asked how, all I could reply was “Jesus loves my tummy”.  By being brave, I found that God really could heal me from these allergies and intolerances that were, frankly, annoying and expensive.  Things that controlled how I lived my life and looked after myself.

 

“I think- I don’t know- but I think I could be brave enough.”

-Lucy Pevensie, The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe, C S Lewis

 

My year of Brave challenged me about so many things, but nothing more than where I put my identity, and how I fashioned it.  I’m not going to say I’m a completely changed person (I’m still writing this from under a blanket whilst wearing mismatched pyjamas, listening to indie music and eating a box of After Eights, alone at home on New Year’s Eve- and I love that), but I’m certainly not the same person I was a year ago.  There are still things that scare the living daylights out of me, and things that worry me to the depths of my being, but this year I’ve proved to myself (and hopefully the world) that I can face it.

I can be brave.

When the words don’t come like they used to before

I’ve always been a noisy person.  I come from a family of loud people, where you have to shout to get a word in edgewise sometimes.  I always have music playing.  My head is a busy cacophony of thoughts.  I love to talk.  I’m a storyteller.  Words pour out of me.  I love being immersed in words and language and sound.  I’ve even said one of my spiritual gifts is being vocal.

And yet for months I’ve had very little to say.  I can’t get my words out.  Expressing what’s going on in my head has been a struggle.  My facebook and twitter feeds have been mainly retweets and sharing videos- other people’s words.  I tried to do NaNoWriMo and ended the month with a grand total of 30 words.  I rarely sing in the shower.

This has been a season of silence.  I couldn’t find my words and I couldn’t really hear anyone else’s.

This autumn has been tough.  It turns out that being unemployed and having most of your friends move away is really dull and generally sucks.   The words I wanted to scream weren’t there.  The words I wanted to sob into the shoulders of old friends never formed in my mind.  I was silent.  I played the game I’d started as a student when I was ill- how many days could I go without speaking to another person?  How little could I speak in any one day?  It had become my safety blanket- silence my go-to coping mechanism.

And then the words broke in.  Not my own, but those of songs and bloggers and friends.  By being silent I wasn’t safe anymore, but listening, not to my own thoughts, but to the world.  And peace broke in.

I’ve been going to a different church on Sunday mornings in advent.  It’s a lot like the church I grew up in, somewhere I can hear the silence.  There’s a holy hush that I’ve been missing for so long.  We’ve become so locked into the need to be heard that we’ve lost the ability to hear.  We talk and put our words out into the world and make noise, yet forget the silence.

My words have been missing for a reason.  I needed to shut up for once.  Stop making it all about me and what I know and think and feel.

but the LORD was not in the wind. And after the wind an earthquake, but the LORD was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake came a fire, but the LORD was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper.

1 Kings 19:11-12

God is speaking all the time, but we don’t hear Him because we’re so wrapped up in our own lives.  He is always with us, but we don’t feel Him because we’re not looking.  He was in the still small voice for Elijah, and He is in the still small voice today.

I’ve been so wrapped up in my own words that I’ve lost track of His words.  In the silence, I’ve been able to know again that He is God.

My words have started coming back recently.  I can write again.  Tell my stories to new people.  Have a chat with God.  And yet I don’t need them as much.  I’m content to sit in the quiet of an emptying office and just listen.  To be still for a couple of minutes and listen to the silence.  There’s a calm that I’ve never had before.

Silence.  It scared me so much, now I know there is nothing to be afraid of.  There is only peace.  Life’s still a little tough, but that’s what life means.  And when all the noise is stripped away and silence is all that remains, I know that I am not alone, that I can live this crazy messed up wonderful life I’ve been given.

Seek

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About a week ago, a good friend sent me a facebook message.  He had a word for me from God, and part of it was the verse “Seek the Lord while He may be found” (Isaiah 55:6).  It’s a pretty good verse, and it’s a real challenge at the moment for me in so many ways.

I was writing Christmas cards at my desk at work last week and I was convinced this weekend that the reason I couldn’t find my Bible was that it was in my desk drawer.  This afternoon I searched all over the office.  It was nowhere to be found.  I went into all the shops I could think I’d been in and might have taken it out of my bag whilst rearranging my shopping or finding my purse- nothing.  I asked in the cafe I go to on Sunday afternoons after church.  They hadn’t seen it.

Walking back up the hill I started worrying- where on earth could my Bible have walked off to?  I started praying, Lord, help me find my Bible.  It’s nothing special, and no one’s going to have pinched it- it’s tatty and full of highlighting and post-it notes- but it’s my Bible and I love it.

Then it hit me.  I knew exactly where I had put my Bible.  It was on a pile of magazines in the living room at home.

“Seek the Lord while He may be found”

I sought the Lord, and I found Him.   Under the coffee table.

 

God has always worked in mysterious ways in my life.  He’s always done things at the last minute when I’m panicking, and in what seems like the most ridiculous way He can.  He’s always with me and making me get over myself.  He knows I love a good laugh.  He knows I get frustrated easily.  And He works with that.  He shows me time and time again that all I need to do is seek Him first, and everything else will fall into place.  With a heavy dollop of humour.

 

Seek the Lord while He may be found.  You could find Him anywhere.  I found Him under the coffee table.  The shepherds and magi found Him as a baby in a manger.  Mary Magdalene found Him not in His tomb, but as the gardener.  Cleopas and his friend found Him on the road to Emmaus.  Moses found Him in a (not so) burning bush.  Jonah found Him in the belly of a whale.  Countless people found Him in the wilderness, or the battle, or the storm.  Seek the Lord and you will find Him.  I know people who’ve found Him in youth groups, churches, nightclubs, classrooms, bathtubs, the hills, the sea- the list goes on.

 

Seek the Lord while He may be found.

 

He might be under the coffee table.

 

He is always speaking

God is always speaking to us.  Always.  The thing is, I’m pretty bad at actually listening to what he’s saying to me.  Yesterday, I heard.  Three things.

Be Still.

Wait.

Joy.

Be still and know that He is God.  That He is King of all.  Let Him speak to me.  Let Him work in my life.  Rest in Him.  Be still.  Stop rushing around and frittering away my time doing very little.  Be still.

Wait.  For His perfect timing.  Stop being impatient.  Don’t rush things.  Let everything unfold the way it’s supposed to.  Let it go.  Be eager but trust.  Trust that what He wants will happen.

Joy.  Be joyful.  Be thankful for all the amazing blessings in life.  Lift up thankful hands and heart.  Choose joy.  Let it spill out and infect others.  Rejoice in the Lord.  Be alive in Him.  Hope.

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I’m at that point in my life (am I ever not?) where I have some fairly sizable decisions to make.  I’ve been worrying and fretting for months about them, and it’s wearing me out.  I’ve been a little unwell recently and struggling to see the good of each day, and it’s been grinding me down.  I’ve felt a little lost, and it’s made me a little fearful.

God speaks directly into every situation in our lives.  He knows what we need to hear.  Yesterday I needed to hear those words.  I need to be still, wait, and choose joy.

Yesterday the first Form mission trip returned from Zimbabwe, and we’d missed them a lot.  Like a lot a lot.  It was strange not having part of the family we’ve become, and just when it was starting to get tough, they were back.  They’re sleep deprived and now quite cold (it may have snowed a little last night) and their lives have been changed.  They’re full of stories they haven’t told yet, and excitements we can’t understand.  They’ve learned new words and new hearts.  And it’s making me excited for when I go with my trip to Scandinavia- what a different trip that’ll be, but with hope for the change God is bringing even now through the preparation for it.  Thankful and joyful don’t quite cover it.

Yesterday taught me more than before that I need to listen.  Because He is speaking to me everyday.  I just need to be listening.  To be still.  To wait.  To choose joy.

Brave 2014

I’ve finally picked my one word for 2014.

Brave.

I’m not saying it’s going to be an easy word.  For me, this is going to be really tough.  But this is a year where everything could change.

Brave means facing the challenges of life head on.

Brave means having courage.

Brave means not letting fear hold you back from stepping out into the unknown.

Brave means daring to do what needs doing, what scares you, what changes your life.  What changes the world.

“Being brave is when you have to do something because you know it is right, but at the same time, you are afraid to do it, because it might hurt or whatever. But you do it anyway.”– Meg Cabot, All American Girl

I want to remember this year that I have God by my side, that I’m not alone, and I have nothing to fear.  I want this year to be a year where I stop saying I can’t do things and actually try.  Where I am brave enough to follow where He leads me.  Where I am brave enough to stand up for the things I believe in.  Where I am brave enough to say enough.  Where I am brave enough to trust and seek and listen.

“There are so many ways to be brave in this world. Sometimes bravery involves laying down your life for something bigger than yourself, or for someone else. Sometimes it involves giving up everything you have ever known, or everyone you have ever loved, for the sake of something greater.
But sometimes it doesn’t.
Sometimes it is nothing more than gritting your teeth through pain, and the work of every day, the slow walk toward a better life” – Veronica Roth, Allegiant

Brave can be an adjective, a noun, or a verb.  You can be brave in so many ways, and I want to live that out this year.  This is a year that I want to challenge myself to be better, to do better.  This is a year where I want to see change, make change, be change, and be changed.  I’m in the generation expected to be world-changers, and I want to be that, to change the world in my small corner of it, however that is.

Thesaurus.com handed up these words synonymous with brave, and I love what they imply:

adventurous, audacious, bold, chivalrous, confident, courageous, daring, dauntless, defiant, enduring, expectant, fearless, feeling, fortitudinous, gutsy, intrepid, lionhearted, pioneering, resolute, spirited, spunky, strong, stalwart, valiant, weathering.

It’s five letters.  Just one short word, but full of meaning, challenge and strength.

Who knows where I’ll be a year from now.  I’m challenging myelf this year to be brave.

“Above all, be the heroine of your life, not the victim.”– Nora Ephron

Here’s to 2013

2013 was a year of change- I graduated, moved house, started Form and my internship, friends got engaged, friends got married, my home church got a new rector, my little brother started university.  In amongst these events were the less time-restricted things: I laughed, spent time growing, built amazing friendships, I gave up on holding onto my brokenness, forgave myself, allowed God to take control.

For 2014, I am going to focus on one word.  OneWord365 is a movement of people who, instead of making resolutions that they know they’ll forget about, choose one word to focus on for the year.  I’ve been thinking about what my One Word 2014 will be, and reflected back.  If I had chosen one word for 2013, it would have been a simple four letter word that I see now has guided me through everything.  One word that I have tried to live by, and has shaped everything in the past year.

That word?

It’s found running through this year in its many forms.

Love your friends.

Love your family.

Love your life.

Love yourself.

Love your home.

Love where you are, whenever you are.

Love the LORD your God with all your heart, mind, body and strength.

I’ve spent the year trying my hardest to be guided by the simple word love.  I’ve not been afraid to tell my friends I love them.  I’ve learnt to love who God made me to be.  I’ve learnt to love God more.  I’ve learnt that love makes you stronger, not weaker (thanks Once Upon A Time).  I’ve learnt the importance of celebrating love.  I’ve learnt that it’s okay to want love, because it’s a great thing.  I’ve discovered how to love the people around me.  And I’ve learnt to accept love, from others and from God.  To take down the walls I’ve been hiding behind for years.

2013 has been good to me in many ways, and no matter what, I made it through.  I’m not going to stop living in love next year, but I will have a new word.  One that I’ve picked at the start of the year to challenge and focus me.  I’ll tell you about it tomorrow!

Equal?

This is a big, controversial issue, which really isn’t all that hard to sort out, but it seems to be a breaking point way too often in the modern church.

Are men and women a) equal in the full definition of the word, or b) are they equal with different roles, or c) are they not equal?  (okay, it’s definitely not c.) If you think it is, you really need to re-read the Bible.)

The simple answer is a).

We are all created equal, in God’s image, no one person is greater than another (Genesis 1 & 2).  When Eve is created from Adam’s rib in Genesis 2:18-25, she is called his helper.  In Hebrew, this word is ezer, which is a far more complex word than our modern English concept of helper- rather than being a sidekick or servant, when it is used, ezer usually refers to God helping Israel, and so indicates someone who fights for another, supports and strengthens them.  I mean, is God a sidekick?

“The woman was made of a rib out of the side of Adam; not made out of his head to rule over him, nor out of his feet to be trampled upon by him, but out of his side to be equal with him, under his arm to be protected, and near his heart to be beloved.”– Matthew Henry

So why not b) equal with different roles?

I was raised to believe that I could do anything I wanted to do.  I’m fairly sure at various points in my childhood I’ve wanted to be a warrior princess, a doctor, a teacher, a pirate, a firefighter, a forensic scientist, an actress, a police officer, an author, a priest, and a cat.  My parents never told me I couldn’t do any of them (although they dissuaded the feline and dramatic). Most of the careers listed above are traditionally male roles, or subverted the feminine ideal.  It doesn’t mean I was any less the girl God had created me to be.

(I’d like to emphasise here that there is absolutely nothing wrong with being called to be a stay-at-home mother.  My Mum is, and I have been so grateful for her being called to that, and for what it has meant for how I have grown up and the young woman I have become.)

I believe that the Bible defines male and female as entirely equal, no difference in roles.  Why?

Women served in Israel and in the early Church.  Look at the influence of Miriam, Deborah and Huldah in the Old Testament, holding positions otherwise held by men, as leaders and prophets.  In the New Testament, it is women who recognise Christ before His male disciples do.  Lydia, Phoebe, Chloe, Priscilla, Junia, and a whole raft of Marys are crucial to the growth of the early church.  They do what the men do- they pray, fast, worship, prophesy, speak in tongues, preach, evangelise- because they are called to.  If they were not created with equal roles, would God have called them to these positions?  Would He have given them these gifts?

There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus. (Galatians 3:28)

Paul’s letters are often taken out of context and used to argue that women should be quiet in church, and excluded from leadership.  But he so often speaks of the importance of women in the church.  If we are all equal, and he was supportive of women in ministry in the early church, it is absolutely ridiculous to suggest that he rejects the leadership of women.  (I could write an entire post on this, so I won’t elaborate here, and leave it a little blunt.)

Likewise, it should be argued that men have the ability do traditionally ‘feminine’ roles, such as raising children and ‘homemaking’ (whatever that is).  Men can be gifted at baking and sewing.  Some are called to change nappies and go to toddler groups.  Many men I know, whether consciously or not, subvert the masculine ideal in their behaviours, callings, and what they enjoy.  There is nothing at all wrong with this.  Gender roles are not strictly biblical, and the only gender specific role expicitly defined in the Bible is child-bearing, and you can’t argue much with physiology.

After explaining an egalitarian position, the next question usually asked is whether there is a place for chivalry and men helping women.  I’m not entirely sure why.  We are clearly called to support each other and use our skills and abilities to help others, so I see no issue with asking for help from someone who has the abilities I don’t.  If I can’t reach the top shelf, there’s nothing wrong with asking one of my guy friends who is taller than me to get what I need off the shelf; there are some situations in which I can’t do certain things, and there is absolutely nothing wrong with asking for help.  I strongly belive that gentlemanly behaviour is necessary.  Chivalry is not dead, neither should it be.  But I’m going to hold the door for people too.  It’s called being nice to others.  Kindness counts.

I can only cover so much on this topic in a blog post.  It’s a complex subject, and whilst I am not saying there is no value to complimentarianism, it is fatally flawed as an ideology.  We do not fit into different roles because of our gender differences, but because we are all individuals, our differences therefore independent of gender.  I don’t have all the answers.  I could never claim to.

If you want to read further into the issue of women in leadership and the roles of women, I really recommend Influential by Jo Saxton.  It’s an amazing book written by an amazing woman of God, and I always get so much out of it with every re-read.

Some good blog posts I’ve read:

Cassi Clerget- ‘The Feminist Christian’

Alise Write- ‘You don’t have to take off your clothes to be egalitarian’

Elizabeth Esther- ‘Covert misogyny in progressive churches’- guest post by Stephanie Drury

Elizabeth Esther- ‘The New Misogyny: “bro-culture” pastors, sexist Christian comedians and abuse apologetics disguised as female empowerment’

Elizabeth Esther- ‘On so-called biblical womanhood’

Stuff Antonia Says- ‘Feminism & me, whether I knew it or not’

This post originated in a few conversations I’ve had over the years with friends, and was prompted by what I presume will be an ongoing conversation with one of my friends over the last few days.  I’m coming from a liberal evangelical Anglican feminist perspective, and having studied Biblical Studies at university.  This is not a new topic to me, and I’m sure this won’t be the last time I write on it, particularly with my passion for seeing women empowered within the church and raising up leaders from amongst the community of young women I have the privilege to be serving and working with during my internship, and because of the calling I believe that God has placed on my own life.  It’s what’s on my heart right now, so, yes, it’s a little messy, but that doesn’t make it any less of a truthful understanding of the Word of God.

Of Plans and Endings

“It was amazing how you could get so far from where you’d planned, and yet find it was exactly were you needed to be.”- The Truth About Forever, Sarah Dessen

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Right now, I should be in a relationship.  I should be getting engaged this summer.  I should be starting my PGCE in secondary RE or English.  I should have my grade 8 in singing.  I should have a first class degree.  I should have a manuscript completed and another in the works.  I should be a size 8 and have perfect hair and teeth.  I should have dozens of close friends who I see regularly.

I have none of these things right now.  The plan I had when I was 17 and applying to universities went right out the window within days of starting university, almost three years ago.

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Tomorrow morning I will get my degree classification in the post.  I’m not expecting it to be a first.  I know it will almost certainly be a 2:2.  But I don’t mind.  The battles I have fought in my time at university have plunged me into a giant vat of weird soapy goo, run me through a few rinses in hot water then cold, squeezed me through a mangle until I’ve been completely rung out, then hung me out on the line to dry in the warm sunlight and strong breeze.  I have been battered and bruised, emotionally, spiritually, even physically.  I have scars both inside and out which I didn’t have when I left home.  I’ve had my heart torn and flung around and stitched back up so many times.  I’ve got cuts and bruises from my own clumsiness and anger and frustration.  I’ve learned where my old wounds are.  Some have been reopened, others understood, others healed and closed for good.

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When I was about 12 or 13, I got annoyed with my oldest friend and I poked him in the arm.  My finger swelled up twice the size and went dark purple.  I had ignored it for years until this January when I looked at it.  The finger I had thought for seven or eight years was fine suddenly reminded me of that moment.  Its shape suddenly became clear to me.  It took me all those years to realise that, yes, I had broken my finger that day.  I had been broken by my own stupidity, bent out of shape by something, only to ignore the impact it had on me.

Over the time I’ve been at university I’ve discovered more about myself and rediscovered old wounds.  I’ve learned what they’ve really done to me, and I’ve learned new lessons from my old mistakes and hurts.  Without all the crap I’ve been through, I wouldn’t be me.  I sometimes don’t think I’d be here today.  Without the stuff I went through at school, I wouldn’t be living in the north, I wouldn’t have just finished my degree in Biblical Studies & English at a Russell Group university, I wouldn’t be doing an internship year at my church next year.  Without the faith that kept me going through everything, sometimes, in my darkest times I have thought I wouldn’t still be here, I’d have given up at some point.

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I’m single.  There is no ring on my finger.  There probably won’t be for some time.  I don’t mind.  I so often say I don’t mind being single because it means I don’t have to share my chocolate, but really the reason should be much simpler.  I’m single because that is where I am in my life.  I’m not ready.  I need the independence away from a boyfriend and away from my parents.  I need to grow.  I need to be me before I can be part of a we.  It doesn’t mean that it doesn’t hurt.  It still smarts a little to think of my past relationships.  It’s not all that easy to see my friends get coupled up, although I am always so happy for them.  I still eat tubs of Ben & Jerry’s and watch romcoms and cry.

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I’ve not got any of the things I thought I’d have by now because the things I thought I wanted are not the things I want.  I’ve fought so hard to be here at the end of my degree.  I’ve battled through illness and fear and pain and I’m still standing.  I’m a warrior.  I’ve earned my stripes.

And I had an army surrounding me throughout.

I’ve had strangers who’ve found me and drawn me in and called me friend.  They’ve clothed me in kindness and love and shown me the path beneath my feet.  They’ve walked beside me in the pain and sorrow, danced with me in the joy, sustained me in the struggles.

I’ve had family, both blood and adopted, who have reminded me of who I am, loved me no matter what I’ve done or said, and guided me when I was lost.  People I know well and people I barely know have prayed for me, spoken with me and helped me, not just in my time at university, but throughout my life.

And I am so grateful.  My heart bursts with the love that has been poured into my life, so much that I can’t stop it from spilling out.  I am reminded of the song we sang when I was little about love meaning nothing until you give it away.  I just hope I’ve given away as much as I can, and that I can keep giving.

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When I came to university I had my whole life planned.  I knew where I wanted to be at 21.  Now that I’m nearly 21 and graduation is just three and a half weeks away, I don’t want that planned life, and I have none of it.

But I have so much more.

I have freedom.

I have abundant, unfailing, everlasting, enveloping love.

Faith, hope and love.